Syllamo Ride

At some point early in the week, Poolboy Matt decided that he really wanted to ride at Syllamo at some point before Syllamo’s Revenge later this month (he’d been back and fourth about which bike set up how, and wanted to test geared/rigid). I had another hard-ish training week scheduled, so I told him I’d go with him if he had a day off of work to ride Tuesday or Wednesday. Lucky for me, it was Wednesday, because my legs were still recovering from the weekend on Tuesday, and I ended up trading that day’s scheduled interval ride for another recovery ride. Tuesday afternoon, once Matt was home from work, we GTFO’d to the cabin. The last hour of that drive when you’re a little tired and it’s dark will put hair on your chest.

Wednesday morning, after breakfast, we loaded up and made a cooler drop to the Highway 5 trailhead (about the halfway point, distance-wise, if you’re riding the Revenge Race Loop). We then drove over to the Blanchard Springs trailhead- not my usual M.O. for riding out there, but it’s where the race starts. I wanted to get a feel for the starting climb on my full suspension bike. Since the hardtail has been set up as my dedicated gravel racing machine, I thought I’d save the hassle of swapping parts around and try racing my Jet 9 carbon. I’ve become extremely comfortable on non-technical gravel climbs (like the race opener) on the hardtail, and I wanted to make sure that my comfort transferred to something that’s not as rigid in the rear.

It worked out pretty well. The race start is always a ridiculous madhouse. There’s basically a 1 mile doubletrack climb before the course turns and dumps you in to another mile or so of descending before one of the more technical parts of the entire trail. So, it devolves into everyone going apeshit up the climb in an attempt to not get stuck in a conga-line of people who can’t ride the technical parts of the trail. I sort of hate it.

Once we were on the trail, we picked up a steady, but not-too-fast pace. Other than the big climb up the blue trail at around mile 26, the race course generally gets easier and faster as you go. So, starting out slow is not a bad thing, because it’s incredibly easy to blow yourself up within the first 1-2 hours. It went pretty OK- the trail is in decent shape as far as overgrowth and deadfall, but the recent deluge of rain has been really bad for the erosion on the steep parts (which, if you’ve ever been to Syllamo, you’ll know that “steep parts” make up about 99% of the trail). It took a good bit of time for me to get my rock-mojo back- especially on a bike that I don’t ride over there much at all. Somewhere near the Orange trail parking lot, Matt flatted. Not as a result of a puncture or tear, but from a rock hitting his valve and breaking it off.

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Not long after that, I was going for it up a super tech rock section on the green trail when I spun my rear tire only a fraction of a second before my front tire lodged up against the next rock, making my bike shoot backwards from beneath me and jamming a pedal into my calf. That’ll leave a mark…

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The remainder of the ride down the Orange trail to the Highway 5 stop was thankfully uneventful. That’s definitely one of my favorite sections of trail, because the couple of short climbs out there are some that I thought were impossible when I first started riding at Syllamo, and, with a little practice, they were provided me with some of my first “OMG I CLEANED IT” moments.

We had a little come-to-jesus moment at Highway 5. Matt sat on the ground and debated waiting there for me to ride back to the car and come get him. Before you think he’s nuts, realize that not only is Syllamo one of the most physically demanding trails you’ll ever ride, it’s also one of the most difficult places to take in calories without stopping. Since we’d been trying to do a race-simulation-ish ride, we hadn’t stopped for much other than the flat tire, and, as a result, he was behind on calories. He got his shit straight, though, and we ended up banging out the next section of blue trail to the next highway crossing and up the “big climb” at a pretty good pace. Since we were a little behind schedule, we decided from there that we’d bail on the remainder of the loop. Once you’re at that point, there’s nothing else technical, and it’s basically just rollers and short climbs until you make it to the finish.

We picked up the cooler, showered, and packed up the cabin with a quickness  before stopping at Anglers catfish restaurant for late lunch on the way out of town. Luckily, the drive back isn’t so bad since, like the trail, it gets easier as you near the finish.

So, I’m somewhat indifferent about the impending race. It’s bound to be a hot mess since it always seems to rain sometime in the 48 hours before the start. I’ll survive, though. In other, “coming up soon” news, there’s something huge that might happen mid July, but since it’s a big “might happen” event, I can’t talk about it any more until I get more information myself. Let’s just say that the prospect of this “might happen” wakes me up with excitement at all hours of the night. Stay tuned…

Well Behaved Women…

…Seldom make history.
-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

I don’t know how many of my readers have kids (seeing as I somewhat regularly express my dislike of kids), but kids are a little bit of a motivator for today’s post. Last week’s Tiger Lane crit really made me think about how women are treated and plucked a bit of a feminist cord with me. So, what you’re about to read is just stuff that’s been running through my head during my long weekend of training.

After my race,  I was talking to a local guy while his daughter (teenage-ish… I’m not good at guessing ages) was longboarding around the parking lot. She came over to talk for a second, and we got on the subject of MMA (I’d seen them out at a couple of the fight nights here in Memphis, so I knew they were fans). She’s into Muay Thai, and we chatted for a minute before she was off again. It was the next day before I really started thinking about how cool it is to see a young woman who (at least, based on our brief interaction) isn’t afraid to come across as a little daring and assertive. In other words, she’s not listening to anyone who is telling her to calm down and act “like a lady.”

Also occurring after my race- the Category 1/2/3 men’s race. While the Marx-Bensdorf women had arguably raced a tactically more interesting race than the men, the owner of Marx-Bensdorf wasn’t on our sidelines writing out checks for $100-300 primes in an attempt to “spice things up.” Their ladies squad went out to kill it over the weekend at the Mississippi Gran Prix Stage Race- winning the overall GC and filling 5 of the top 10 spots.

Young women (and older women) experience those things on a regular basis- don’t be “bossy” (“bossy” being the female-shaming-word used in place of “assertive”) or aggressive, and we’re usually not encouraged to take risks the way a male would be. Those of us who do are often called “man-ish” or “lesbian” or something of the like (it doubly pisses me off when I hear “gay” or “lesbian” hurled as some sort of insult, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). There’s a grown man in town who, in a conversation about the women who ride bikes in Memphis, once referred to me as “Mandrea.” While that doesn’t change a damn thing about how I personally look, act, or race my bike, think about how it might effect the woman who overhears it… “Oh, if I am a fast, aggressive bike racer, then people might associate me as being overly-masculine, so I’d better just stick to the occasional charity ride.”

The same goes for boys who want to do anything considered “feminine.” Teaching your son how to cook, nurture, or express a full range of emotions is taboo for a large portion of our society. To me, it just doesn’t make sense to keep following those contrived gender roles. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with teaching your kid to both kill and cook his or her own meals.

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^Carey Lowery‘s daughter bringing home the (turkey) bacon^

I’m grateful that when I was young and wanted to learn how to shoot a gun, go hunting, fishing, roughhouse, climb trees, catch frogs, play in the mud, and do other “boy” stuff, my parents didn’t force me to “act like a lady.” I did occasionally get called “bossy” by my peers, which only partially put a damper on my personality at the time- I didn’t like that I was being made fun of, but in my mind, bossy didn’t register as a totally negative trait the same way as something else a kid could get made fun of for being, like “stinky” or “dumb.”

I was also somewhat fearless, and found great entertainment in things like climbing as high into any tree or playground structure as I could and running around on a glacier the one time we took a family trip to Alaska (I was a 9-year-old wearing sneakers and a pink London Fog windbreaker in the company of dudes in full ice climbing gear- no joke). While my parents tried to keep me safe, they never tried to discourage that sort of behavior by telling me that I wasn’t being lady-like.

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^Clint Austin, another FB Friend of mine, posted this pic of his daughters just yesterday.

On the “older person” end of the spectrum, things get a little uglier. I dare you to read the “comments” section on any large cycling media publication involving a woman like Selene Yeager. While most people respect her for the strong, fast, and intelligent female cyclist she is, there’s always a handful of men who want to point out that they are very uncomfortable with the fact that she’s built like a brick shithouse (I mean that in the most complimentary way possible, of course). Again, like someone calling me “Mandrea,” men who want to try to bully Selene Yeager into looking like their version of what women should look like are obviously not at all successful in that endeavor, but it doesn’t mean that other women don’t see their sexist diarrhea of the keyboard and feel pressure to conform to that sort of bullsh*t standard.

Until we stop telling our girls that they have to be well-behaved (and stop raising boys to think that girls have to fit into that cookie-cutter look and personality type), we’re going to continue to see the product of that way of thinking. At the acute, local level, it’s things like unequal treatment of men’s and women’s bike races (and any other sport short of beach volleyball). At a larger level, it’s things like the lack of females in leadership positions and pay discrepancies between men and women.

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^These Afghan female cyclists are acting out and making all sorts of history.

There’s not really a way of changing the current generation of male internet trolls and dudes who can’t handle mine and Selene Yeager’s awesomeness. There’s no way that you’ll turn on the TV tomorrow and see a floor cleaner or paper towel commercial that doesn’t portray a guy as being a clumsy, mess-producing dunce, either. However, there is a whole generation of impressionable young people who can be taught and encouraged that personalities, hobbies, and physical activities don’t have to have a gender. It’s us, as adults who have, will have, and/or will come into contact with those young people, who are responsible for setting an example and being good mentors. Otherwise, they’ll keep learning from the trolls and marketing departments who want to put them into neat little categories of what’s an acceptable look, behavior, and personality for their respective genders.

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Tiger Lane Crit #2

Because I was still feeling less than recovered from OGRE, I hadn’t planned on racing Tiger Lane Ladies’ night #2 until Tuesday night when Matt guilt-tripped me into not showing up to a local women’s race. He was right… the more women who show up and pin a number, the more promoters will realize that we’re worth having around.

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If you recall from last week’s race, I was able to capitalize on some tactical errors made by the M-B women and get free of the group for a solo breakaway win. This week, they had their heads on straight from the start.

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The strategy was, like last week, to keep me working. Unlike last week, the attacks were more frequent & slightly harder to follow, and Pam, their strongest lady, was stuck like a tick to my rear wheel. I managed to pull off an early prime sprint for $25, which is nice for getting money, figuring out which line is the “good” one, and for checking out everyone else’s sprinting legs.

I got kinda bored with being in the pack at about 13 minutes in (of 25), and decided that I’d counter their next move into the headwind. It mostly worked, with the exception of Pam, who made it across the gap.

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I attacked her at least a couple of times into the wind, but she was able to close the gap every time. This is where post-race analysis with of power data is interesting…

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Yesterday:
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The initial snap was there, but my inability to follow it up with a 30sec-1min watt bomb was keeping me from permanently unhitching Pam from my draft. If you’ve ever wondered what happened during a race and thought it may have something to do with recovery, then a powermeter is an excellent way to analyse your efforts to know for sure. Yay, science!

So, back to the story…

I realized quickly that I wasn’t going solo. Pam was being smart and not taking a pull, leaving me to waste my energy to keep us out in front of the pack. I figured that no matter what, with my inability to get away, I was going to have to sprint her, and, I could either drag her around for the remainder of the race OR I could sit up, let the group come back up to us, and tuck back in to rest before the sprint. It took some work to get someone else on the front once they were back, but I made it happen.

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At that point, we only had 2 or 3 laps to go. I stayed tucked in, following occasional attacks, until the rider on front (Julie, who would go on to win 3rd), pulled off just before the final turn. I claimed my next-to-the-curb line that wouldn’t anyone else sprinting head-to-head to get a draft from the crosswind.

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Hey… I didn’t say I couldn’t sprint, I just said I didn’t like to. Lucky for me, the territorial dogs on most of my rural training rides keep me on my toes.

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OGRE 150 Race Report

As I mentioned in my previous post, this weekend’s race was about the furthest thing from Wednesday’s criterium that you can possibly get. I entered the OGRE (short for Ozark Gravel Road Expedition) 150 as a shorter, presumably “easier” rehearsal for the Dirty Kanza 200- a chance to test my legs as well as my strategy and bike setup for the bigger, longer race. This bike wasn’t quite finished yet…

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So, the Air 9 RDO got the long distance gravel machine conversion- XX1 drivetrain parts (36t chainring), Matt’s Specialized rigid fork, some skinny/fast mountain tires, frame pump (Topeak Mountain Morph), and extra storage space for food, extra bottle, two tubes, and the race required mandatory first aid kit/emergency blanket (the seat pack is a Jandd Mountain Wedge Expandable and the large top tube and handlebar bags are from J.Paks).

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Friday morning, I loaded up and headed to Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. My lack of nervousness was actually making me nervous. For whatever reason, the only thing I worried a little bit about was the course navigation. However, once I saw the layout of the cue sheet and heard during the pre-race meeting that the corners would be subtly flagged, I was somewhat relieved. Lots of riders at the pre-race meeting were chattering about the size/steepness of a few specific climbs on course… I told them not to name them, otherwise, that’d give the climbs more power.

A few course notes that came with the cue sheets:

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Bonus 4.7 miles!

My hotel room was 1990s fancy as hell…

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(note the lack of a proper shower)

I had a nice Friday afternoon spin from the Oz Cycles shop where racer check-in was. I also got a chance to meet Barry (who’d heard on JRA that I needed a crewperson) as well as his sister, who’d be my (excellent) crewperson for the race.

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Saturday morning reminded me of one of the reasons I grew tired of 100 mile mountain bike races. A 6am race start is soooooo eaaaaarly… even though I’m generally a “morning” person, I’m somewhat of a “wake up at 6 and drink coffee for 2 hours” type of morning person.  I did, however, hear one of the best pre-endurance race songs ever recorded:

The starting line grid was set up for predicted finish times. I wasn’t sure how long it’d take me, but I was hoping for less than 13 hours, so I lined up somewhere around the 12 hour marker. Once we got the “go,” we had a police escort out of the parking lot and to the first gravel road of the race course. I immediately put my pacing plan into effect- easy. I’ve done hours of sub-threshold riding, and I know the intensity well enough to do it without even looking at my powermeter. I have also, through a healthy amount of singlespeeding and tons of practice on a hardtail, developed what seems to be a somewhat unique skill of standing while climbing without raising my heart rate. On a straightforward gravel hill, I feel like it’s much easier to stand than to sit. It also means that I’m shifting my position around more, which is great for super long rides.

So, that’s how I rolled it- a zone 2 effort all around with my “comfortable” standing pace on climbs. The hills would turn out to be relentless- you essentially climb and descend the same 30-180 feet of elevation repeatedly throughout the race (various websites and electronic devices estimate between 12 and 14k feet of gain). Many of the hills were pretty steep, too- well into the teens on grade percentage.

Somewhere in the first hour, my tail light fell off of my seat pack (a first for me with that style light- they’re normally very secure).

I arrived at the 37.7 mile checkpoint (a spot with water and a couple of people recording numbers) in a nicely paced group of friendly guys that included a guy named Brian who was 6’7″ and had a draft like a vacuum cleaner. I refilled my bottles, used the bathroom, and took off with the same group towards the first pit stop (a spot where you met your crewperson and received a slap bracelet to prove your progress). There were a couple of bigger hills in that section, and the group kinda started to split apart. The last hill to the pit stop was one of the “scary” ones that people were talking about beforehand, though I didn’t realize it until I spotted people from the pit stop standing at the top and cheering. It was the one spot on the course where I found the 36×42 gear to be just right, and one of the few times I sat instead of standing.

At the pit stop, I picked up some food (I’d been eating a pack of Gu Chomps per hour and drinking Roctane in my bottles), and forced down a rice bar (the famous Alan Lim recipe) and some cheetos. I say “forced down” because I’d eaten and drank enough at that point that I was pretty full feeling already. That’s how you gotta roll, though. I did start alternating half packs of Chomps with shots of Roctane and Salted Caramel gel once I was further along and solid food became less appealing.

When I left the stop, it just worked out that I rolled out with tall-guy Brian. The next part of the course was down a big hill then around a 15-ish mile loop and back up the same hill to the same pit stop. Brian and I rode together for the loop and shared life stories. I’ve always found it fascinating how briefly riding with someone you’ve never met can be bonding enough to facilitate somewhat deep conversations that you’d likely not have if you’d only known them for 3-4 hours in any other situation. It makes this sort of racing very special compared to your run-of-the-mill hammer-time event.

As we were approaching the spot in the course where the loop ended and the two-way climb back to the pit stop started, we rounded a corner and came upon a concrete-bottom creek crossing with about 8 inches of flowing water over it. Not wanting to get my feet wet, I carried enough speed to unclip my feet from the pedals and lift them up in front of me to avoid the splash. Simultaneously, Brian yelled at me that the crossing was probably slick, and, simultaneously, my bike teleported out from under me as soon as both wheels were in the water. I went in up to my neck and slid almost all the way across on my knees. I was generally fine (just soaked with some bloody knees), and my bike was mostly unscathed. However, the head of the lower bolt on my seat tube bottle cage had pulled through the cage, and my handlebar light had broken off the mount, leaving part of the light body in the mount.

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I needed that bottle cage. Luckily, the Arundel sideloader has two sets of bolt holes. I told Brian to go on while I got out the multi-tool and moved the bolts to the undamaged cage holes. Bonus- it gave me better clearance between the top of my bottle and my frame pump. Looking back, that was the absolute best place on course to wreck. It wasn’t sharp, and I was very close to the pit stop, where I was able to change socks and gloves so that I wouldn’t have saturated contact points for very long (I could have changed kit, but I was dry enough to be comfortable by the time I was up the hill).

Brian was at the pit stop when I arrived, and left after me. However, about halfway to the next checkpoint, I had my next minor mishap- a flat tire. It seemed to be a slow leak, and I couldn’t find a leaky sealant spot in the tire, so I was hoping that I could shoot it with CO2 and go on (side note- if you find an active leak, it’s a guarantee that you should just go ahead and tube it… your sealant hasn’t worked so far, and it’s going to continue to not work when you add more air). Within a mile, it was obvious that CO2 wouldn’t work, and I thought I heard air coming out from around the valve, so I went ahead and found a good spot to install a tube. As I was doing so, Brian came up the road and stopped to help. Once I was back in action, we rode together the last few miles before the 77 mile checkpoint. At that spot, though, I had plenty of water and didn’t really need to stop other than to make sure my number was recorded. Brian wanted a break and told me he wasn’t going to be able to keep up with my pace much longer, so I should go on alone.

From then on, aside from a few brief passes/chats with other riders, I was flying solo.

At 87 miles (more than halfway through!), I reached pit stop #2, still feeling great. I took another bathroom break (indoor plumbing FTW!), ate another rice bar, RedBull, and handful of cheetos, picked up fresh bottles, and got my second slap bracelet & cue sheet. I also got an update on the weather- there was a black cloud hanging over the next part of the course, and it seemed as if I might run in to a little rain. I didn’t mind too much- I was more appreciative of the fact that the lingering clouds & spotty rain were keeping the temperature down for much of the day. Soon after I left the pit stop was the one spot where I decided to stop and take a few photos:

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The next section of the course was definitely my favorite. It was largely through a state park, and was a gorgeous, rolling tunnel of dogwoods and redbuds that concluded at a unique, old swinging bridge. It was somewhere in there that I passed the 100 mile mark, too, still feeling pretty good. I soon reached the 107 mile checkpoint.

It was soon after that I had my next minor mishap. At 109 miles, there was a left turn off of a road that rolled somewhat quickly across the top of a ridge. I wasn’t paying enough attention and rode right past it. When I arrived at a paved road intersection with no flagging, I knew something was wrong. Once I looked at my cue sheet, I realized I’d gone about 2 miles too far and started back. Along the way, I caught another rider doing the same thing as I had. Elapsed time off course- about 15 minutes.

Soon after going off course, at around 113 miles, I hit my “low point” of the day. Every long day has one, and you can’t let it break you. The sun had come out, the wind was in my face, and everything seemed uphill. My legs hurt, my garmin randomly shut off (I caught it pretty quickly and think I lost less than half a mile), and I kept thinking, “damnit, I’m just tired of being on a bike right now.” The third pit stop wasn’t until mile 127.9 (otherwise known as mile 131 with my added detour).

At around 9.5 hours and 123 miles, I took a “get your head out of your ass” break. I found a good place for a “nature stop,” then sat on my top tube a minute to eat a highly caffeinated gel, drink half a bottle of water, and put a headphone in my ear. That’s the first time I’ve ever used music during a race. In anything USA Cycling, it’s illegal, and in many other races, the promoter will ask racers not to use even just one headphone. However, at this race, it went unmentioned. So, I was immediately greeted by the sound of Rick Ross telling me to “Push it to the Limit.”

The break was just what I needed to get my isht together and get to the next Pit Stop in a timely manner. I picked up some cold bottles (definitely makes a difference when it’s getting hot out), drank one more RedBull, and ate another rice bar and handful of cheetos. The next few miles from there were great- there was a nice tailwind, and the road was mostly small rollers. Of course, that was over quickly, and it was back to steep climbs with not much help from the wind. I did realize, though, that I’d likely finish very close to the 12 hour mark. I ended up walking up a couple of short, steep kicker hills on the last gravel sections before the finish-  I could feel my left toes trying to hurt (somewhere around 10-11 hours for that pain is an improvement over the 4-hour mark where I was feeling it before all of the injections and whatnot), and the walking breaks were successful in holding off the full-on pain.

Those final few miles were somewhat of a blur. I remember passing a farmer spreading what smelled like chicken manure in a pasture and almost gagging, being cheered on by some kids in a trailer park driveway, and being very happy to see the last checkpoint (3 miles from the finish). Those last 3 miles are mostly uphill on a sidewalk. They were probably the easiest hills on course, though. I finished in 12 hours, 1 minute. First woman, and 14th overall.

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I was pretty wrecked and just sat around in a chair for a while, absorbing everything that had happened.

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At some point, Barry’s sister showed up, and I shuffled around to change and eat a little before she drove me back to get my car from the start area. I was super lucky to have her help… driving around and dealing with sweaty, needy bike racers allll day long is probably more demanding than actually racing.

After a shower, I went back to the shop/finish area to have a beer and watch more people finish. There’s always that one person who has had many beers…

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You people who did Trans-Sylvania last year know who I’m talking about. You people who do Mohican know who I’m talking about, too.

The amount of caffeine that I consumed meant that I wasn’t even close to going to sleep until sometime after 11. I eventually fell out while watching COPS reruns. The next morning, I finally had my appetite back.

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I made a pit-stop in Jonesboro on the way home as well.

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…and, as I write this, my stomach is growling, so I’ll probably go to Brother Juniper’s and get a ridiculously large breakfast of some sort to polish off my post-race days of hunger before returning to my normally-sized diet.

 

Tiger Lane Crit

The Tiger Lane training crit series is a Springtime staple of Memphis put on by local team 901 Racing. Historically, if you’re female and want to race, you slot in with the Cat 4 men. It’s not terrible- the course is pretty open, and the local guys (with the exception of a few that are easy to ID/avoid) aren’t sketchy to ride with. It does make it very much just a training effort, though, because being a solo woman in a men’s race that 99% of the time ends up in a sprint doesn’t give you a chance to be competitive unless you’re good at sprinting.

Side note- I’m not terrible at sprinting, but I’m not a sprinter… especially so now that I don’t really road race anymore. It’s a skill that definitely takes practice, and I have more important things to practice with my training time… Important info for the rest of my story.

This year, there was enough interest following the first two of four races that the promoter added a women’s race to the front end of the schedule of race days three and four. Sandwiched between a nutso hard training week and a 150 mile gravel grinder billed as being “harder than Dirty Kanza,” I wasn’t 100% sure that it was the best Wednesday activity, but it was kinda like…

I figured, at the least, it’d be a great mid-week wake-up call for my legs.

The turnout of 10 ladies- 5 from Marx-Bensdorf, 4 from Memphis Velo, and myself, was excellent for a local race-

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My strategy for crits (actually, for any road racing) is to never be in a sprint finish. Road racing is all about playing to your own strengths and your opponents’ weaknesses. In that respect, my plan was to sit in until the planets aligned for the correct timing to attack and separate myself from the group. You always hope that such a separation can occur as late into the race as possible, but, as I’ve often found, planetary alignment is something you have no control over.

I knew my toughest competition would come from Pam Tate (the tiny M-B lady on the Cervelo w/Reynolds wheels). She’s won plenty of races, and she’s likely got a better sprint than me. Additionally, she was backed by four other strong teammates. I hadn’t raced with anyone on the Memphis Velo side, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from them. I knew that being the lone solo in between two good teams would be tough. One other thing that I had going against me was the wind… or lack thereof. It seemed to come from all directions, but always at less than 10 mph. I had been hoping for a gusty, 20 mph hairdryer from the South.

When the race started, the M-B ladies quickly took over. I was happy to sit on the wheel of whoever was in front. It seemed like the strategy was to take turns attacking off the front, but I was able to hear all of them coming and slot over to whichever wheel came by. Within two laps, it seemed to frustrate someone on M-B, because as we were rounding the final couple of corners, someone yelled something at Pam about “just pulling her around.” In the confusion, Pam launched some sort of attack as we came through the start/finish area.

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Team confusion… strongest rider attacking… Planets align. Time to wind it up-

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I’m not going to lie- going off the front exactly 6 minutes and 30 seconds in to a 25 minute criterium when you’ve got two teams that could organize and pull you back doesn’t exactly have the highest potential for success. I knew that, but I had to capitalize on the opportunity, because if I didn’t, it may not happen again.

So, I went all-in.

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I was definitely checking over my shoulder. The gap to Pam was steady for a lap or two, then, suddenly, there was a similar gap back to this group…

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Once I saw that they were together behind me, I knew that my chance of staying off the front had just been reduced. I was feeling all 20 hours of the previous week’s riding in my legs. I formulated Plan “B” in my head, but kept hammering away in hopes that they wouldn’t organize well enough to close the gap.

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It wasn’t until around 3 laps to go that I started to feel like I had gained enough ground to stay away.

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ERMAHGERD, A FINISH LINE!

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I was feeling a little rough by then, but came around after a good cooldown, podium, a little beer, and easter candy. Major props to 901 Racing for putting on a great race for us and to the local ladies who all came out and pinned a number.

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Now I’m switching gears to probably as far away as you could possibly get on the bike racing spectrum… the Ogre 150. For reasons I don’t totally understand, I’m not at all nervous of the thought of 150 miles of gravel grinding in the Ozarks. My bike is loaded, my legs feel good, and I’m approaching it with the mindset of “I’m gonna go ride my bike allllll day long.”

 

 

 

 

Training Camp Wrap-UP

My Friday recovery day that was basically comprised of eating, picking up my new kit from Nimblewear, sitting on the couch, and getting acupuncture…

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I don’t like the “needles going in” part of acupuncture, but from there on out, it makes me feel amazing. I leave the clinic feeling like I could run a marathon while doing backflips on a pogo stick.

Saturday and Sunday, I wrapped up the last of my training camp with two road rides. Saturday was interval day, and, despite some slight protest from my legs, the intervals were pretty boss. Being one of the first rides of the year with temps warm enough to necessitate at least 1 bottle of water per hour, I finally did a test fit of the downtube cage on the Cysco road bike. It’s a tight squeeze, but it’s safe and sound down there (Matt even tried to lay in to the front brake and force it to rub tire on bottle, but he was unsuccessful in doing so).

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On my way home from my interval-ing spot, I met up with roommate Matt and Matt Robbins. I did not participate in the tow home.

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Sunday’s 4 hour ride was just long enough to finish me off at about hour 3. I was doing 3, 1-hour tempo +Z4 on hills intervals. The first two felt amazing.

Side Note- exceptional “I should be tired right now” workouts have been a theme of this training camp. I attribute this in part to immediate post-workout consumption of a Gu Recovery shake mixed with Pure Clean Beet Powder and later, plenty of rest and good whole food.

However, I could tell as I started the 3rd one (at about 2:35 into the ride) that my legs were starting to argue. I made it about halfway through that one before a combination of warmth, built-up fatigue, and “I haven’t ridden a road bike for this long in months” pain all snowballed into implosion. I was satisfied with what I’d already done and conceded to calling it a day on the interval and spinning easy the rest of the way home. The good news is that, in spite of my slowdown, the average wattage on that last hour was still as good as or even a little better than what I was doing on similar rides earlier this season.

Once I was home and cleaned up, I all but gorged myself on leftovers, Easter supper at my parents’ house, and Easter candy (like Penny- seen here getting to clean my dad’s ice cream bowl).

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This morning, I was up for an early recovery ride/video shoot at Shelby Farms. Drones still give me the heebie jeebies because they’re big, sharp, and sound like a swarm of angry stinging insects. Definitely can’t wait to see the finished product, though…

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I’m also very excited to experience the finished product of this training camp. Final total? 28 hours of riding in 9 days. I feel surprisingly good, though my quads protested quite a bit any time I had to pedal uphill this morning. I am super excited about the Ogre 150 this weekend, because I think after a few days of recovery, I’ll be prettymuch bulletproof.

 

 

Training Camp- Days 5 and 6

Day 5 was not one for lots of photos and sightseeing, as my instructions were “climb in Zone 4.” Wednesday morning, I packed the Steel Box and drove west to Lake Sylvia- a small state park on the eastern edge of the Ouachita National Forest. From there, I rode this route: 46 miles from Lake Sylvia and basically hammered up any climb that I found. I generally felt pretty great, and I found a couple of roads and climbs I’d never seen before.

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It left me incredibly excited for more exploring the next day, when I just needed at least 4 hours of endurance-pace saddle time.

Where I only stopped for a couple of minutes total on my ride the day before, Day 6 I vowed to at least try and capture a little more of the amazing scenery of the mountains of Arkansas. I picked my route based on the out and back portion of the Arkansas Traveler 100. The plan was to follow that until its turnaround point then continue off the course and back to the car once I’d reached it. I ran in to a few snags along the way.

First, within a couple of miles, I found that the recent rains had put the level of the Saline River crossing on 132B up to about “thigh” depth. As I’d run into on my previous adventure at Syllamo, it was, at the time, about 50 degrees, and I had almost 5 hours of riding ahead of me. So, I wasn’t looking for wet feet just yet (I figured I’d come back on the same road, though…)

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I turned back and detoured on the high road, which added a cool 500ft or so of climbing to the beginning of my adventure. From there, I rode a familiar road to the next ridge over where there’s a tower with some satellite dishes attached to it. If you ride past the tower, there’s a “closed to motor vehicles” road just on the other side. It’s a very nice bench-cut dirt road that follows the contours of the ridge over to a gnarly little jeep road labeled as Reform Rd. on the map.

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When I arrived at Reform Road, I was surprised to find a forest ranger on a small trackhoe chilling out near the gate. I stopped and talked to him for a minute… turns out, he was there because they were just about to start a controlled burn in the area, and he was around to contain any fire that tried to cross the road. After we chatted, I continued on my way south to Lake Winona. My plan was to take forest road 778 (also known to locals as the “Pig Trail” because of its ruggedness) along the south side of the lake. However, it was there that I ran into my next water-related detour…

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That path lined with posts/cables is where I needed to cross. It’s generally a trickle or thin sheet of water at worst, but this was about 6-8 inches deep and moving FAST. The river coming out of the bottom was rocky and boiling as well… a very bad place to lose footing and end up in the drink.

Not wanting to turn around and go back, I started looking for options. Over the top of the spillway, I noticed a pedestrian bridge and some picnic areas on the other side. They were behind a 6 foot tall chain link fence and a bunch of “restricted area” signs, but I wanted to check it out.

Lake Winona is really pretty

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To further try to kill my fun, the walkway to the pedestrian bridge had a “no bicycles” sign. I split the difference and dismounted to walk my bike across

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Once I was on the other side, I still had to deal with the chain-link fence at the top and a barbed wire fence at the bottom of the hill that extended from the picnic area to the road at the bottom. Let’s just say I made it without getting arrested or stabbing myself on barbed wire…

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I continued up the Pig Trail and on to Barton Mountain. Between the spillway and the top of Barton Mountain (Smith Pinnacle) is about 15 miles, and it generally goes uphill the whole way… except for when you descend a few hundred feet and then climb back up that plus an extra hundred. The road is everything from nice, hard pack “Cadillac” forest road to chunky bedrock forest “road.” As I was nearing the westernmost end of my loop, I popped out from behind a gate looking for the next road, only to find this guy…

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The road I was looking for is under that pile of logs on the right. The guy stopped what he was doing and asked as nicely as possible, “WTF are you doing on a bike out in the middle of the middle of nowhere?” and I told him I was trying to follow the road that went up the hill behind him. He was also polite in letting me know that it’d be a good idea to not try and do that because they were actively felling trees onto it at the time. It wasn’t too big of a deal- I was already behind schedule because of my water-based detours, so cutting that 5 miles or so of my loop off would only put me back on track.

The last climb of the day was a bear. I got nearly to the top and saw that there was a vista if I could grind out just a little more…

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Worth every drop of sweat…

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(you can see Lake Winona as well as the smoke from that aforementioned burn on the left of the last photo)

From there, it was mostly downhill. I found the “other” end of the road I’d turned back on at the beginning. It’s one of my favorites, because it parallels the Saline river. Which, like many other nice rivers & creeks in Arkansas, is a gorgeous shade of blue/turquoise in the deeper spots.

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At 67 degrees and 10 minutes to the car, it’s not a big deal to ford the river

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With all the photo stops and random detours, I wound up with close to 5 hours of riding. Once I was cleaned up and the car re-organized, it was back home to Memphis (with another detour to Chipotle on the way through Little Rock). Today is all about rest and recovery. I’ve got an acupuncture appointment after lunch, and I’ll probably go for a walk or easy spin this afternoon.

So far, I’m feeling good about my fitness and setup for the Ogre 150 (a week away) and Dirty Kanza. The handlebar bag I’m using from J-Paks is super convenient for holding an extra bottle and whatever trash and wrappers I have (I plan on using the top tube bag for the extra-long rides as well). Also, I’ve figured out that the skinny Maxis Ikon is a superb gravel tire. It’s fast rolling and just voluminous enough to be super stable on anything that’s not Cadillac Hard Pack. Now all I need is for my hardtail to get here from Cysco and I can really get to gettin’

 

 

 

Training Camp- Days 3 and 4

Monday morning, I got an early start over to the cabin at the Syllamo Trails. It had rained a bunch, so I had no intention of riding the trails, though I did need some very focused climbing efforts. So, I set up the hardtail with tires I’m likely going to use for the Ogre 150 and DK200 gravel grinders and headed west.

After unpacking and eating lunch, I bundled up (it was cloudy, damp, and barely 50 degrees out) and went over to do a route that would hit 5 decent-sized climbs just off the main gravel road- Green Mountain. For whatever reason, I felt compelled to take a selfie at the bottom of each one with the exception of the “opener” up Green Mountain Road at the beginning of the ride.

First was Sandy Flat. My hopeful plan was to take Sandy Flat road across from Green Mountain to Bear Rd. However, I knew there was a very strong chance that the road would be flooded at the bottom- normally not an issue if it’s warm outside, but definitely an issue when it’s under 50. Of course, when I arrived at the bottom, it was about knee deep. I bushwhacked up and down stream a bit, but couldn’t find a good place to get across without soaking myself. So, it was time to snap a couple of photos and hammer back to the top the way I’d come in…

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Next out & back was down to Gunner Pool Campground…

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At that point, I was feeling almost like I was going too fast  up the climbs. I kept the pace conservatively fast since I was only three climbs in to a 5 climb (and endless numbers of steep rollers) ride. At the top, I made the turn back on the Green Mountain and took it easy until I got to the Tie Ridge Rd split to go down to Barkshed Campground.

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I continued to feel awesome going uphill, and, once I was at the top, ate a snack and headed back down Green Mountain road to hit the final out & back (Blanchard Road) before continuing on to the car. I realized pretty quickly that I should add some extra climbing inside the Blanchard Springs park in order for my ride to hit its 4 hour prescribed time. However, the temperature was dropping, and I was getting really cold…

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I hammered my way back to the top of Blanchard. My quads finally started to protest, but, being the final climb of the day, I pushed through it all the way back to Green Mountain road. There, I donned my windbreaker and took off for the last push to the White River Bluff trailhead where I’d parked my car. It was only about 5 big rollers away from being all downhill…

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Back at the cabin, I drained the hot water heater trying to warm myself up in the shower. Once I was cozy and settled back in, it was time for a killer dinner for one (ok, I may have “accidentally” dropped some for Indy)…

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Indy and I rotted our brains with hours of TV in the recliner

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The moon was pretty amazing on Indy’s pre-bedtime walk-

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Tuesday morning, I was up early to pack the car and get moving so that I could get home and do some afternoon recovery stuff (blog update, chiropractor, and an easy spin) as well as do laundry and re-pack to head out again for another two-day dose of Arkansas mountains.

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Training Camp 2014- Day 1 and 2

On Saturday, I began what has, so far, been a very successful block of training.

The kickoff was a ride with Matt over the Mississippi River to the levee system in Arkansas. He’d been making plans to go on his own epic overnight adventure via the same route, only taking it all the way into Missouri. The ride out of town is always scenic…

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Once we were across the river, we made our way to the levee. What we soon found put a bit of a damper on our enthusiasm… gates. Lots of gates. You can’t go more than a mile without stopping and hoisting your bike over one or two gates like the one you see in the background of the first photo.

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Some rare gate-free views…. and cows.

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By about the 11th gate, the novelty had worn off, and our progress was painfully slow. So, we bailed off the levee onto a road that took us west until we were on the north side of Marion, AR. The wind was a feisty 20+ MPH  straight out of the south, and, after pushing into it for a while, Matt finally succumbed to “head on saddle” disorder:

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…which I found to be amusing

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After a few minutes, it was back out into the wind, where we made our way back to the levee and to the bridge, where we did some sightseeing before braving the wind and trucks to get back over (it hadn’t been bad on the way out, but on the way back it was both hands on the bars and hang on for dear life as the combination of speeding trucks and wind gusts buffeted the pedestrian crossing.

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With all of the photo, gate, bathroom, head-on-saddle, and navigational stops, we ended up with 70 something miles and about 6.75 hours of time (elapsed). The pace had been mostly easy, so I felt pretty good afterward, and looked forward to the plans for Sunday’s training intensity.

Sunday morning, I watched a little bit of Paris-Roubaix with breakfast while Matt headed out on the scooter to the LosLocos Duathlon to spectate/heckle. I left on my road bike soon after and met him on the outskirts of the course. From there, he motorpaced me for about an hour (my first time to do that for an extended period of time). I fell in love with motorpacing out there- it’s essentially the same feeling/intensity of a group ride, but without any of the obnoxious stuff that comes with a “swinging dick” group ride.

I didn’t take any photos, because once Matt got the hang of being the scooter pilot, I was basically sweating out of my eyeballs. It was an excellent training ride. Here’s a photo from afterward, though…

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Recovery Week

Life has been turned down to a dull roar since 6 Hours of Warrior Creek. I’ve been recovering- much better, I might add, than I have in the past from racing Ouachita Challenge, which is ALWAYS the same weekend. I was feeling prettymuch back to normal by around Wednesday. The most exciting thing for me? My “winner’s interview” was posted on the Trans-Sylvania Epic facebook page.

Matt, on the other hand, was feeling more than back to normal, and raced the local training series crit…

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He was 2nd in the race, but a winner in the “how to not look like a cat 4 on the podium” contest.

All of this resting has given me lots of time to get impatient about waiting for my mountain bike to get here…

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Its arrival should happen sometime next week… which lands it right in the middle of a gargantuan training camp week that coach Andy has requested of me. I’ve got a very loose, weather and bike shipping-based plan to go on a grand tour of Arkansas. Normally, I’d just let it sit and ride the bike I’ve been using successfully for the past two years. However, because of the relatively close proximity of the Ogre 150 and DK200 races- both of which I plan on doing on the new bike, I want to get home and get it built ASAP.

So, I’ll end up kicking off the Arkansas Epic in somewhat familiar territory- riding from home, over the Mississippi River, and finding gravel on Saturday, then driving over to Syllamo early in the week to train until I get an exact arrival time on the new machine. At that point, I’ll come home, take a rest day to build, then head back out for places like (in no particular order) Lake Sylvia, the Ouachita/Womble/LOViT area, Eagle Rock, and possibly up to North West Arkansas to explore trails and gravel that I’ve only heard about on the internet.

It should be a fun, quasi-spontaneous adventure, hopefully resulting in killer fitness and a good story or two.