Mississippi Gran Prix Race Report

This was my 3rd year to race MSGP (I skipped last year because I was in the process of having a road-bike nervous breakdown). It was my first year to be there with a sizable team, and this was my first time playing “team captain” for this year’s Marx-Bensdorf women’s team.

Not really knowing what everyone’s strengths and weaknesses were, it was hard to make a plan. This was obvious in the road race. I will be the first to admit that I’d underestimated a couple of my teammates, and if I’d known better, I would have instructed them a little differently.

Since we had 7 people in the race, the other teams let us get right up front and control the race from the gun (though this was cut down to 6 when Julie flatted early and didn’t get back on). We kept it pretty mellow until about halfway through the first lap when we hit a stretch of light wind & rollers. Here, I started some attacks. Of course, there were a few counters and a little action, but nothing really stuck. The pace remained high, but not impossible until we hit the start/finish area, where Debbie attacked up the hill to what we thought was a time bonus (I could have sworn I heard the official say it was, but later read the race bible and saw that the time bonus was only for finishing)

The second lap was similar- mellow at first, then some attacks. Then Pam went off the front and got a nice gap. For a second, Debbie (Absolute Racing) and Louise (Metro Volkswagen) looked at each other waiting for someone to make a move. A couple of the S3 women stepped up & started to chase, but for a couple of miles, it was somewhat unorganized, and Pam opened the gap.

With about 5k to go, we hit the a long grade. It was enough to let the chasers catch on. Marda and Karin traded a few attacks/counters (which really made me smile), but then Debbie did what she’s famous for and leaped across the gap to Marda, only to keep on going and get a gap of her own. CRAP!

We chased. It was pretty unorganized. We were closing the gap with 1k to go when I made the executive decision to try and get close enough that we could possibly swarm Debbie, and I’d be able to hold on to get “same timed” with the group. I put my head down and hammered it. While not ideal by any means, it nearly worked out that way- she still won by a few bike lengths and got a time bonus, but it minimized the damage. Even after working her butt off and being off the front near the end of the race, Pam still placed 3rd, and everyone else was sprinkled throughout the top 10.

I went to lunch feeling a little frustrated and wishing I could have been a better leader. Thankfully, that night’s TT would help settle our places in the GC and make the decision-making process a little easier for the circuit race.

The TT was painful. It was just under 3 miles and finished on a hill that wasn’t particularly big, but, given its place on the course, at about the 500m to go mark, it made you feel as if your heart was about to explode and your eyes were going to bleed (I think that meant I was doing it right).

For some reason, the women’s RR results were never posted at the TT venue (the TT start times weren’t posted until 15 minutes before the first rider was supposed to go off, either, but that’s another ball of wax…) So, we wouldn’t know who was placed where until the next morning.

In the morning, I decided that in lieu of riding the trainer, I’d ride the 11 or so miles to Copiah-Lincoln Community College for the circuit race. It was both beautiful and relaxing. Even more importantly, it gave me time to think about my team and how I’d plan our strategy for the day.

When I arrived, everyone was there and excited about the results (neither the RR nor the TT results for the women were posted until that morning). I ended up turning a 6:57, which landed me in 3rd for the TT behind Louise (6:44!) and Debbie (6:54). Marda’s 7:01 would put us in 3rd and 4th. If we could get some time bonuses, we could move up. I had a quick pow-wow with the team, then we all went off to finish warming up.

From the gun, Julie jumped out in front. She was caught in the first few turns, then Pam attacked on the hill on the backside of the course. She stumped the field again! They looked at each other waiting for someone to go while she opened it up further. At 51 seconds from the top of the GC, she was somewhat of a threat if she were able to stay away.

In the 2nd lap, Debbie went for a bridge/counter like she’d done the day before. Going in to the 3rd lap, I caught her. She peeked under her arm & told me we had a gap going, and I told her “let’s work it!” A minute later, Louise caught on to us with Marda in tow.

A lap later, Kat came across the gap by herself. This was both good news and bad news:
Good: Kat was a few spots down in the GC, so I could put her to work on the front keeping the tempo up so that Marda and I could (hopefully) sit in to rest up to trade attacks later on in the race.
Bad: Debbie doesn’t like to be outnumbered. I knew that she’d attack relentlessly to try and shell off whoever she could.

I must be psychic, because the next time we approached the little kicker hill before the start/finish, she attacked. We caught her about 1/2way though the next lap. Then she attacked again. And again. And again. Marda and I quickly figured out that the best way to deal with it was to hop on Louise’s wheel and let her “diesel” us back up to Debbie rather than trying to jump with the initial acceleration. The only lap she didn’t attack was the one right before we expected the the time bonus prime lap. On that lap, Louise tried to counter Debbie and ended up leading our pack out for the sprint. Even though she’d been attacking repeatedly, Debbie still got the 1st time bonus and I was 2nd.

The next lap, Marda and I tried to trade attacks/counters, but after a few failed attempts, it was clear that it wasn’t going to happen. All of the chasing had toasted our legs. With 4 to go, I told Kat to give us her best 10 minute TT on the front in order to discourage any more attacks. It was moderately successful. She wasn’t really clear as to why she was supposed to go up and kill herself (it was only her 2nd race ever!) other than I’d told her to (kinda hard to explain that strategy DURING a race), so a few times, she sat up and looked like she wanted someone else to pull, and we’d yell at her to keep going. Of course, there were more attacks. We still hung on, though.

Kat was great to have on the bell lap. Usually everyone slows down and mean-mugs each other waiting for someone to make a move, but she did an exceptional job of maintaining the tempo. We went from the bottom of the kicker hill. Once again, Debbie powered through first, but I was able to hold on for 2nd and Marda 3rd. Kat rolled in 5th, which was excellent for her because just being in the break brought her up several spots in the GC.

Back in the pack, Pam, Karin, and Julie kept everything under control. Pam managed to win the field sprint, too! Unfortunately, getting out-horsepowered kept us off the top podium spots. The final GC placing was 3rd (me), 4th(Marda), 5th (Kat), 7th (Pam), 11th (Karin), and 13th (Julie). Casey was forced to DNF the Circuit race because of pain from a lingering leg injury.

More photos HERE (including other categories)

The team’s performance was excellent! We had a good plan, adapted it as the race unfolded, and did the best we could with what our legs would give us. With a few more watts, we’ll be making up those precious seconds in the TT and be able to lay down a hard attack/counter attack or two when it’s needed.

I’m pretty sure that racing against Debbie Milne is a pain akin to childbirth- severe, yet rewarding enough that you’re willing to do it again and again. The woman moves faster than a scalded cat, and she never gets too tired to stop hurting you all the way until you cross the finish line. Afterward, she smiles and gives you a home-made baked good of some sort… kind of like when the doctor gives a kid a lollipop after getting a round of booster shots. Looking forward to the next race!

Road Race, Take 2

After DNFing for the first time ever a few weeks ago because of ulnar nerve problems, I made some changes to my mountain bike setup and, even though it still gets a little numb when I’m riding for a long time, I’m not experiencing near the loss of strength and coordination that I had a couple of weeks ago. Of course, being the exercise science geek that I am, I have to have a metric of measuring improvement…


I’ll have you know that just two weeks ago, I had to use two hands to pick up the nearly-new 5lb can of whey protein. Now I can palm it long enough for Ryan to snap an iPhone photo…

So I’m ready to give the road racing thing another go with the Mississippi Grand Pix Stage Race. I missed it last year because of my miniature nervous breakdown that prompted me to sell the TT bike and get in to this MTB stuff. This year should be interesting because I’ll have a team with me. Of course, Debbie Milne will be there as well. She’s been injured, but I also haven’t been putting the time in on the road bike, so I’m sure the battle will be lung-searing as usual. One missing “player” that’s usually on the podium is Shannon Koch (see link to her site in the blogroll). Previously, she’s dominated the time trial and made us race for 2nd on Sunday. However, this year, she’s off racing in Europe (another on the long list of former Metro teammates that have since become even more awesome).

Hey, I’m working on it.


This semester at U of M, part of my teaching duties is to supervise several student interns. One of them happens to be a badass sponsored Kayaker who is doing her internship at a local community center where she and her boyfriend (also a badass) teach a kayaking class. So, as part of my supervisory duties, I participated in a class.

I’m sure I made a wonderful first impression- she gave me her spray skirt to use, couldn’t get it on over my butt, and had to have help to pull it on over my head. Then, when I went to sit in the boat (also hers), we had to remove the padding from the hip area.

Hey- life’s not always easy when you’ve got one of these:

Once I was in the water, the first thing I learned was how to bail out if I got turned upside down and couldn’t right myself. I thought it was pretty easy, though I can see how it’d freak some people out. Next, I started learning the basic roll- tipping upside down then using my paddle/hips to roll rightside-up.

After a little practice and a couple of failed attempts at doing it on my own, one of the instructors noticed that I wasn’t actually getting my paddle out of the water once I was upside-down, so I wasn’t really getting the “push” from it that I needed. So, next attempt, I fixed that, and BAM! Up I went! (which also elicited few cheers from some of the other people in the pool)

I managed a couple more successful rolls before moving on to how to paddle and turn. By the end of the class, I was actually a bit worn out. It was a lot of fun, and a useful skill to add to my repertoire.

SS day #2 @ Syllamo

Yesterday, Ryan and I headed out to the Orange and Blue trails to ride the portion of the Syllamo’s Revenge course that we’d skipped the day before. I found that not only was my hanger bent, but the cage on my rear DR was cracked, so I was still pushing a 36 x 23 and staying off the shifters.

Side note- I know a lot of Arkasas guys ride a 32 x 20, which I didn’t realize was nearly the same gear ratio until I did a little calculation. Woohoo!

Just to start the day off right, Ryan ended up taking a stick to his derailleur about 30 minutes into the ride. His hanger ripped apart- luckily he had a replacement, and we were back on the trail a few minutes later. I was still feeling good, and was really getting the hang of negotiating some of the steeper technical sections without the aid of a granny gear. Once we were a few miles into the Orange trail, we started a little climbing. My legs started to feel tired- not just from standing to get up some of the hills, but also from standing on the rocky descents.

If you’ve never ridden the Blue trail at Syllamo, I think the best way I can describe it is one of the more physically and mentally challenging things I’ve ever done. The descents and climbs are all rocky and steep- either large stuff you have to dodge (like Blowout Mt on the Ouachita Trail) or loose “shingles” that slide around as you roll over them. It’s also the only trail that drops all the way down to “river” level before climbing ~2.5 miles back up to Green Mountain Road. It’s the type of trail that some people will swear off and others will pay homage to for making them stronger and tougher.

After the first couple of short, steep hills, I could tell that my legs were getting ready to throw in the towel. At the Highway 5 trailhead, we stopped to have a snack and take a break before heading back uphill. The next mile or so of trail before the 2nd highway crossing was tedious- a couple of steep, rocky hills (and one 350 deg switchback w/a 2 foot drop in the middle) eventually ended in bike-hiking. My legs were really starting to disagree with what I was doing, and my brain was trying to bail with them.

Side note- I think that the term “curse like a sailor” could quite accurately be replaced with “curse like a singlespeeder.”

Once we crossed the highway (and Livingston Creek for the 3rd time), we started to ascend Scrappy Mountain. It’s a tough climb- every bit as steep as Chalybeate on the Ouachita and twice as rocky. The combination of fatigue and terrain took its toll on me as we hiked/grinded up the switchbacks. At one point, I was trying to charge up a short pitch when I accidentally steered into a rock that twisted my front wheel around and body-slammed me onto the ground.

Ow. That hurt. I sat there for a couple of minutes to re-group and let the sting in my hip and elbow subside. Mentally and physically, the mountain had broken me.

Luckily, we were near the top. I hiked up a couple of hills that I might have ridden if my legs hadn’t checked out a few minutes earlier, and eventually finished off the final pitch of logging road climb to make it back out on to Green Mountain road. That’s got to be on the top 20 list of toughest stretches of trail you can find this side of the Rockies. It’ll challenge your fitness and keep you on your toes (literally and figuratively) the entire time (I think its relative shortness will keep it out of the top 10). It’s gonna be a killer for some people in the upcoming race!

Sometimes you’re the hammer…

…sometimes you’re the nail.

Sometimes you accidentally leave all of the conventional tools at home and have to do it Macgyver style.


This weekend, Ryan, Eric, and I are in Mountain View. The plan was for Ryan and I to ride the Syllamo’s Revenge race course today, but, from the get-go, thing weren’t going as planned. Somehow, I ended up leaving my beloved Wingnut pack at home (luckily, Ryan had brought an extra hydration pack). That, in and of itself, sucks, because it’s soooo much more comfortable than anything else. However, inside the pack are mine and Ryan’s multi tools, my trail saw, and a spare derailleur hanger.

But wait, there’s more!

I also left my keys at home. I didn’t realize it until we pulled up to the cabin (thank goodness there was a spare in a lock box). To top it all off, I forgot my super awesome memory foam pillow. Crap.

Nonetheless, we headed out to the trails around 10 this morning. We started by dropping down Blanchard Springs Rd. to the campground so that I could get a feel for how the climb & initial singletrack would ride. The climb back was fine, but once we entered the singletrack, things got hairy. It rained a couple of hours last night, so the wet rocks and mud were pretty trecherous. We picked our way through the bad spots and eventually made it to the blue trail.

I was booking along when suddenly, a branch lodged itself in my rear derailleur. I heard it and immediately stopped pedaling, which probably limited the damage, but left me with a horribly bent hanger. I made several attempts at muscleing it back in to place, but it was still prettymuch unusable. I started to resign myself to walking out and ending my weekend early.


Then I reminded myself of the post I made just a couple of days ago about wanting a Singlespeed. Guess there’s no better time than the present, eh?

Ryan and I made a quick calculation about what combination of gears to use, set the grip shift to get close to it, then turned the barrel adjuster until the chain was somewhat quiet on the cassette. Bam. Singlespeed.

OMG! Fun!!!

The first time you ride with one gear, you quickly figure out that your brakes are your biggest nemesis, momentum your biggest ally, and muscle dominates where you once relented to shifting to a lower gear. I’m pretty hooked. I rode about another 30 miles after that on the green, red, and remaining yellow trail and ended up with just over 40 miles for the day. Freaking awesome. I felt like a rock star. Need. More.

So, tomorrow, we’re going out to the Orange and Blue trails. Lots more climbing and rocks. I can’t wait to try it. It’s going to hurt in the best possible ways.

I need a SS

I’m really, really jonesing for a singlespeed 29er. However, between taxes and recent purchases, the money tree has been pruned. If anyone out there is willing to help, I’m willing to be your schill… just shoot me an email: andrea @ brickhouseracing.com

Meanwhile, in Alabama…

While I was out gallivanting in the Ouachitas, Ryan was at the Tour de Tuscaloosa with the team. They had a pretty successful weekend of racing (including a 1-2 finish in the Women’s 3/4 crit!) Ryan managed to get into a breakaway during the road race and ended up 3rd! He wrote a nice race report on his blog

I’m really proud of him :)

Ouachita Challenge Race Report

First, I have to thank a couple of people-

Eric… my crew guy. He met me at most of the aid stations and did some lightning-fast hydration bladder swaps as well and having everything I could possibly need laid out each time. He also looks a lot like a short Colin Farrell. Any time I’d introduce him to someone, they thought he looked familiar, which was pretty entertaining…

You be the judge:

Next is Todd Henne- he’s been a great Womble/Ouachita tour guide to me the past few months, and he let us stay at his place right on the trail & play around on the pump track. He’s an awesome recon guy for both the trail and the people of interest that ride it.

So, on to the race report.

The race started from Oden, AR at 8:00 to the sound of a ringing church bell. The first 8.5 miles were a little pavement & some gravel. My plan was to really concentrate on pacing myself. I tend to go out too fast then end up “death marching” the last 20 or so miles of a race, so, when we hit a few rollers, I forced myself to sit back & spin while others kept the intensity up. It was painful to watch the ride away, but I knew that I wouldn’t last the entire 60 miles if I stuck with the lead group.
I kept the disciplined pacing going across the 3 Ouachita trail mountains (Brushy, Blowout, and Chalybeate). Over the latter 2, I was back & fourth with local gal Heather. However, once we hit the forest service road, my bladder was about to explode (NOT the one in my Wingnut pack!), so I was forced to pull off for a “nature break” while she rode away from me.
That stretch of gravel went on for about 8 miles and cut off the hardest part of the Womble. I made sure to keep my tempo pace nice & steady, and managed to find a guy to trade pulls with so we could make up a little time. Once we reached highway 88, I got my much needed pack swap. While I was stopped, Namrita O’dea from Topeak-Ergon flew past me onto the singletrack. When I started going again, it was tempting to chase, but I reminded myself that I still had a long way to go, including two more significant climbs.
The remainder of the singletrack before the 298 aid station passed quickly, though the gravel seemed to go on forever. When I got there, Eric told me that Namrita was a couple of minutes ahead, and that there was about 15 miles left. I was feeling good, so I decided it was time to burn the matches and empty the tank on the last bit of singletrack up & over Mauldin Mountain.
After numerous mudholes and creeks, the climb started. I finally caught sight of her and, unlike the other climbs, started to push the pace a bit. It seemed like forever, but I finally caught up and passed her. From then on, I rode as hard as I could and never looked back. Exhilarating!
Approaching the finish, I actually saw Heather up the road from me, though we were within a 1/2 mile, so there was no catching her. I ended up 4th in the women’s field (Carey Lowery won, finishing about 5o minutes before me!)

I am really, really happy with my ride. I now have a really good feel for what type of pace I can sustain for that type of distance. I finished with a little bit of gas in the tank, so I know that next time, I can push a little harder in the parts where it’d be most advantageous to me (like windy fire road sections where I could either draft off of someone faster or put my head down and go at it TT style). With one weekend open before the Mississippi Grand Prix, I am planning on heading out to ride at Syllamo with some friends to get in a little more rock garden practice before Syllamo’s Revenge in just over a month.

…and now, for something totally different.

I read this article about a month ago. I was immediately inspired to try something different. What can I say- I’m just a rebel like that. So, with the exception of my hands, I stopped using soap. Altogether… no soap for about a month now. I know what you’re thinking.


I never said I stopped showering, I just said I don’t use soap when I do it. I won’t go in to every detail, but it involves a washcloth and the usual warm water shower. I didn’t tell anyone at first, because I figured I’d see if anyone noticed, though Ryan didn’t even know until I informed him two weeks in to the experiment. (I also just use deodorant instead of antiperspirant… but that’s been for a couple of years now)

The result? My skin is obviously not dry. It isn’t greasy, either. It just feels nice. The texture of my hair is different as well. It’s naturally curly, and, even though I keep it really short, it is less frizzy and the curls seem to form more naturally (I still use a touch of some sort of styling product in it, and as far as I can tell, it all rinses out when I shower). If you’ve got curly hair, I highly recommend NOT using shampoo. Even if you don’t take the full plunge into soap-free-ness, the reduction in frizz is pretty awesome.

I’m still considering this to be an “experiment” since I haven’t been out in the real heat yet, but I have made it through a couple of races (road and MTB) as well as some 70+ degree rides, and, as far as I (and any honest friends I’ve asked) can tell, I smell normal.

Anyone else care to try?

Hell of the South (belated) Race Report

Not much to see here, folks, move along…

The race didn’t quite go as planned for me. First, rewind a little bit. Back at the Spa City 6hr, I had some pain in the palm of my hand & forearm. It subsided within a day or two, and I thought nothing else of it. Then, over Spring Break, I did a lot of MTB riding in Arkansas. The pain came back. When it started to subside, I was left with weakness in my 3rd and pinky fingers. It was causing me to drop things & generally be uncoordinated with my right hand. This is consistent with compression of the Ulnar Nerve…

So, I’ve been avoiding the MTB. I think that the padding on my gloves (swapped from winter ones to summer ones) was putting pressure on the area, and I’ve been riding my road bike in the meantime. It didn’t seem to irritate the area as long as I paid attention to my hand position.

Back to the race…
I lined up with the B race (W1/2/3 and Cat 4 men). The start was generally mundane. Someone attacked from the start, and rather than chase like crazy, a few guys got up front and rode tempo to bring him back steadily. Early in the first lap, we hit the short gravel road section. Unlike Rouge, I was able to stay with the pack’s little bit of a surge. My legs were actually feeling good. A few of the guys up front (including Dale Sanford, who eventually won) briefly picked up the pace in order to shed the riders struggling with the terrain.

A mile or so later, the pace slacked up a bit. It was at that time that I noticed that my problematic fingers were totally numb. I’d had my hands down in the crook of my drops and hadn’t been paying any attention to keeping the pressure off of where it didn’t need to be. I tried shaking my hand out a bit and resting it in a more neutral position, but it felt horrible. In the interest of saving my “tough the pain out” day for next weekend’s Ouachita Challenge, I pulled out of the race. My first DNF ever. Crap.

I made the “ride of shame” back to the start/finish area and waited for Ryan to get back from his race. Oh, well. Live to fight another day.