Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Few Race Reports From This Year

Here are a few race reports I had written from a couple of the races I had done this year. These are some lengthy reads, grab a seat and get comfortable. Each report was written shortly after the race itself:

Austin Rattler 100k, April 8th, 2017

This was my second year going out to Austin for the race, I had such a great time last year and loved Austin I wanted to go out and race again. Austin Rattler is part of the Leadville Race series, I had originally hoped to come out this year and snag a Leadville slot, but then I got my spot in the general lottery, so my goal of this race was a good finish time to get a good starting corral for Leadville 100 MTB race. I set a high goal of finishing under 5hr 30min, which would ultimately put me right where I wanted to be corral wise for Leadville. I knew 5hr 30min would be a stretch and things would have to go perfectly smooth for that to happen, but I always like to set hard-to-reach goals and this was one that was quite probable for me to attain.
This is my first year working with a coach (Steve Heaton) and this was my first “A” race, so I was excited to see where all the work leading up to this race would play out.
I got to the race site on Thursday to preride and campout for the next 2 nights leading up to the race. The course in on a ranch 45 min east of Austin. The course is three 20 mile loops for a total of 100k and somewhere around 3000ft total of climbing, so fairly flat. The first half of the loop includes some fast fire road and open single track in field/pastures going out to the far end of the ranch returning on single track twisting through the forest. I knew my strength was the first half of the course so my plan was really to hammer the first half of every loop and then once I got to the back half of the course, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hammer through the twisty single track through the forest and my heart rate would naturally drop to give me some recovery.
Race morning…things leading up to the race start went well. I was the calmest I had been leading up to a race this year. I felt good and strong, no nerves that made me want to throw up or question my sanity of what I was doing. Everything felt good and just right. I did a quick 15min warm up with some hard pushes and went down to the start.
500 racers, 1 mass start. By the time I got to the start, 20 minutes before race start, the corral was packed. I couldn’t get my starting position from the entering in the back, no one was letting me through with my bike. You must get a good starting position, as there is about ¾ mile of fire road before we get to the first single track section you must have a good start or you will get held up in the bottle neck. My coach and I talked about this and made a plan, start at the front and just hammer until singletrack.
So how do I get up front? No one is letting me through in the back of the corral. Well I went around the side of the corral picked a starting spot near the front, but not all the way at the front, which seemed about right. Threw my bike to some guy I that I was able to grab his attention and jumped over the fence into the corral. Now I had 15 min to stand there and size myself up to everyone else. Keep in mind almost everyone else was male almost 500 racers…maybe 50 women total. I tried not to let self-doubt talk enter my head. Instead I went with the positive self-talk, “yes you can start here” “yes your fast enough” “ you look just as fast as they do”…etc, etc. Just kept trying to keep myself calm and assured. 15 min is a long time to stand there and do that. They made a callup to the short list of pro’s and guest racer: Lance Armstrong…that lined up right at the front. Sweet, I’m racing against Lance Armstrong…how many people can say that? National Anthem and then the gun!
It was supposed to be a neutral rollout to the bridge about 1/10th of a mile from the start and then all game. Neutral rollout really didn’t mean much unless you were right at the front. But I waited until I crossed the bridge to lay it out and then I hammered. There was a short 300-foot climb about a ½ mile in of loose golf ball to tennis ball size rocks, I was surprised by how many were struggling to gain traction and actually make it smoothly up the hill. This really gave me more confidence because I had no problem and zoomed by the strugglers. I got to the single track with no bottleneck. Prefect! Right where I wanted to be. The pace in the single track maintained at a good speed and I pushed “just keep the wheel ahead of you” I kept saying to myself. I knew the pace was fast, and the effort was hard, harder than I could sustain for a 5hr+ race, but I wanted to take the chance and I went with it, just sticking to the wheel in front of me. About an hour into the race I knew I had to start dialing it back a bit, my heartrate was staying in Z4 and I knew that wasn’t sustainable. So ever so gently I eased up a bit. I watched as a few people went by, I couldn’t get back onto a wheel I could hang onto without pushing super hard, so I let people pass and let my effort come down a bit, it was early and I was starting to feel like I was going to bonk, if I didn’t ease up.  I needed to hydrate and eat.
I came into the first lap at 1hr45min, the first lap is always faster as the 2nd and 3rd have single track that is bypassed in the first lap due to the mass start. I did a quick water bottle switch at the feed zone and calorie intake. I knew I had to push a relatively hard effort to keep under a 5hr30min finish time. It got really windy on the second lap, I prayed for a wheel to catch and then this big tall guy went by and I caught his wheel. My prayers were answered, I hung onto his wheel and pushed hard to stay there. We passed a few handful of people. Once we got to the singletrack that winded through the trees, I lost his wheel, but kept pushing. I came into the second lap somewhere around 3hr42min, I did the math, I had to finish the last lap in under 1hr 50min, that’s 7+ min faster than the second lap. I knew what I had in me and how tired I was, I didn’t think it was feasible. I stopped at my feed zone and took the time to get some calories and hydration in. And went out for the last lap. I caught some wheels but once I hung onto I wheel, it was too easy. So I kept passing people without really having a wheel to ride. There was one open section with a nasty head wind I did sit on someone’s wheel for some rest but quickly gave it up because the pace was too slow for me. I didn’t get superwomen powers the last lap and knew I wasn’t going to break 5hr30min. I just held onto my steady pace and pushed it all the way to the end, I passed a lot of people on that last lap, I was happy with how I was riding.
In the end I finished in 5hr45min. That was a 53min PR from last year. I was really happy with how I had done, I took a chance and went out hard. I have no regrets as that was what I needed to do to break 5hr 30min my ultimate goal. I finished 18 of 37 women finishers and 268 of 437 total. 7th out of 11th in F30-39. A 5:28 finish would have gotten a 3rd place podium in my AG. I know I am ALMOST there. I feel my fitness is there, but it’s the bike handling that I lost time on, exactly in the areas I knew I would, the back ½ of the course where the singletrack twists through the trees. Overall I came away from this race with more self-confidence than I had before. I feel I am a strong rider but I know I lack certain technical skills, which I will continue to work on.
Post Austin Rattler

Tahoe 100k MTB, July 15th, 2017

Preriding the Tahoe 100k Course with teammate Megan Ruble

Tahoe 100k The Race That Wasn’t
I went back and forth about actually writing a race report, since the race did not go in my favor, but that’s not what race reports are about and we don’t always have the outcomes that we had hoped for.

Let me back up to a month before when I was at the start line for the Carson City Off Road 50 mile race. I’m not going to give a full report on that but I will briefly tell you what happened. It was HOT. I knew all week it was going to be a hot race. I was hoping that would play in my favor, I had been training in the heat and knew everyone else had to deal with the same conditions I did, so I wasn’t worried about the heat. The day before on my preride my Garmin topped out at 106 degrees. I knew I wasn’t going into this race 100% rested, my legs and body had some dwindling fatigue from training despite cutting back that week going into the race, but I was ok with that.  I’m training for Leadville, I didn’t need to be fully rested for this race. I also felt like I was fighting a cold all week, I did what I could to keep myself healthy and didn’t focus on that too much. From the minute I started the race things felt off, as the race went on the heat on the 2nd lap beat me down and eventually broke me. I’m a climber and I could barely climb, my heartrate wouldn’t come down despite me easing up my effort.  I eventually ended up pulling the plug after the 2nd lap, 35 miles. I couldn’t imagine heading out for the 3rd lap and having to deal with the heat all over again, it was a technical course and I was not at 100%, dealing with the heat exhuastion.  I felt like I was going to do my body more damage to continue.

Fast forward to last Saturday, Tahoe 100k. I was so ready for this race and had everything dialed in. My training had been going well, I was comfortable with my new nutrition plan my coach and I had been working on for longer endurance rides, my coach and I also worked on my training plan to make sure I was going to into this race well rested. The whole week leading up to the race I paid close attention to my hydration and sleep. I wanted to do everything that would put me in the best position for a good outcome at Tahoe. A good finish at this race would move me up 1 or 2 corral positions for my start at Leadville. And more importantly I was excited to see where all my work that I have put into my training was going to pay off.

The Sunday before the race I was able to preride the course with Megan Ruble. We both were super excited for the race and it was fun to have her crossing over to the “dirty” side of racing. I knew she would do well as a strong road cyclist and this course favors strong riders, without having much technical terrain, also a course that is very favorable to me. On the drive up to Tahoe I connected with my coach and we devised a plan to pace myself over the 2 laps of the race.

After a short warmup Saturday morning. I squeezed into the start line next to Megan, we had positioned ourselves near the front as to not get behind the weaker climbers as once the course hits dirts, the climbing starts with some fairly steep pitches. As the gun went off, Megan and I separated quickly in the mass start of everything. I tried not to get caught up in what everyone else was doing and stuck to the plan my coach and I had discussed. After the steep pitchy climb, the climb leveled out onto the fireroad switchbacks out of Northstar. I settled into a comfortable effort, that almost seemed too easy, but I kept telling myself to wait, wait until the 2nd lap then you can use the energy. After the climb the course hits a short curvy singletrack decent. “Just keep on pace with the wheel in front of you” I told myself, we were in a line and there was no opportunity to pass. Someone was getting antsy behind and yelling out to hurry up, I always find it comical when that happens, we were clearly all in line and only going as fast as the person in front of us, not sure how he figured his yelling would help, plus in less then a 1/10th of mile the course opens up to fire road again with passing opportunity galore.  Shortly after we hit the fast fireroad decent, I tucked in and went as fast as my wheels would take me, it was real dusty and hard to see any line. Riding the course the weekend before was helpful as I knew were the smoothest lines were. On the downhill I noticed Erin Machan pass me, I met Erin the first year I started racing in 2015, as we have mutual friends and have both race for the Wattie Ink team. She is a stellar mountain biker and always has strong finishes, she’s one of those riders you aspire to be able to be as good as. Since I met Erin, we always seem to be at most of the same races. She’s always finished ahead of me. Well, today, I was passing her on the climbs and she was passing me on the downhills. I finally settled on a comfortable position of riding behind her and keeping her in my sight. Effortwise I was right where I needed to be, it was still early on in the race so I didn’t need to waste energy blowing by her on a climb again, I just settled in and was feeling good about it. Then we came up to “The Wall” a steep descent with loose gravel and lots of ruts. I knew the line I wanted to take from riding it last week. And then it happened.

All I remember is following the line right where I wanted to be. Then the next thing I know the right side of my body is being slammed into the ground. I hear cracking, “was that me? Or the bike.” Then the world around me got really small. I could hear voices yelling out “Are you ok?” but they were so far away. Here I was on the ground and I couldn’t move. The first thought that went through my head was, “NO….not Leadville.” I calmly said to myself, “ok take your time get up in your ready”  I knew it was a bad crash as I lay in the dirt hearing people yelling out asking if I was ok…I couldn’t answer, one because I couldn’t get a sound out and two I didn’t know if I was ok. I mentally did a full body scan, “ok I think I can move” I got to my feet. OMG I hurt, as I stood I doubled over in pain from the hit my ribs took. There was a medic that was stationed at this dangerous downhill part of the course. She was running down to me. She said “Are you OK, you crashed really hard.” I said something like, “that really hurt, I hurt really bad.” Then I said, “I’m going to get on my bike and see how things go.” In the back of my heading thinking “you can still ride with broken ribs right?” I’ve heard of people finishing races with fractures from falls they’ve taken during a race. I’m not going to quit. Amazingly, I looked at the data from my Garmin, from the time I hit dirt to when I was back on my bike heading down the rest of the hill was only 3 minutes. It seemed more like 10.

Well, things didn’t go so well when I got back on my bike, it hurt to breath, downhill bumps hurt. People were passing me asking if I was ok. About 10 minutes later I see another medic on a motorbike. I stop, this time I have him check me out. No obvious external injuries compromising my chest wall. He asks what I want to do, we are in a really tough place for anyone to get to me. I can keep going forward till the next aid station or go back to the top of “the wall” I’ll keep going I say, he radios to his team in front of me to expect me coming. Well that was slow going. I had no power being generated from my right side of my body and I have a big climb in front of me. Pedal a bit. Get off the bike, push the bike a bit, get back on, pedal a bit, and it continues like this for the next two miles. I painfully watch as people are passing me left and right recognizing women in my age group and it pangs me  for me to see how well I was doing and how far in front in was of some of my fellow competitors.
Eventually medic on the motorbike comes up from behind me. Asking how I’m doing. “Not good” I say. “We can get you out here” he says. He radios his team and a big ATV comes down the hill. My bike and I get put into the ATV and off the course I go.

 UPDATE: Luckily, I did not break ribs, they were just badly bruised. So I knew my training was only going to be limited by my pain. I was off the bike for three days and back training for Leadville as Leadville was less than four weeks away. I am thankful I was able to get back on my bike and continue forward. The day of the Tahoe I accepted it for what it was…I accepted the fact I wasn’t going to move up my corral spot, I accepted that I missed Tahoe as a critical training day for Leadville. I didn’t have time to wallow in “what if” or “why me” moments, those would not help me. I only had time to put myself back to together and do what it would take to get me in the best physical and mental state given my new current condition going into Leadville. It hasn’t been the easiest, some days are better than others. I’m more than two weeks out from the crash and still having significant discomfort at times. But I will tell you this, Leadville has been such a big focus for me and my training this year and it’s been one of those bucket list races I’ve always wanted to do. I have to believe all the training, dedication, and love I have put into this sport, will me give me my moments of glory and continue to do so as long as I put the work in and believe that it is possible.

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