Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pocahontas Race, April 7th, 2013

Oh hey, hi. Yes. All none of you that read this since I haven't updated in forever. But! I wrote up a race report for my team email group and it was suggested by a friend (hi, Richard!) that perhaps I could PUT IT ON MY DAMN BLOG. He said it nicer than that, but the aggression was implied. Okay, here you go:

The start for Pocahontas is a beast - wet field, off-camber trail, more wet field, loose gravel, stupid, narrow-pointy-bendy bridge, more gravel, fire road climb, gravel, fire road, finally the trailhead. It was a fast start! I am cautious on gravel and when we hit the trail I think I was in fifth place. I passed #4 after the big creek crossing and once I recovered from the starting sprint I picked up the pace until I caught #3. I rode behind her for a while until I felt strong enough to pass and then I decided to try and catch Sonya and Melissa, who were currently in 1st and 2nd place.

I found them eventually though I kept losing them on the climbs and then making it up on the flat and downhill sections. They switched place a few times and towards the end it was Melissa, Sonya and me. If I could keep it up, a podium finish! A mile or so from the finish, Sonya hit some rocks and crashed right in front of me (quite spectacularly - she's very graceful!) and nearly gave me heart failure. She was okay and told me to keep going, so I chased after Melissa. I finally caught her and we rode the rest of the way to the finish line. I was exhausted and didn't have much left, but in hindsight I wish I'd tried harder to pass her! She pulled away far enough at the finish that she totally had it. I was delighted with 2nd and Sonya came in almost immediately afterwards in 3rd! She's a trooper.

Usually I end up by myself in races, so it was pretty exciting having some ladies to compete with!

obligatory podium shot

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sorry, honey, I have to work late, Part II

I’m happy to say that all the things I did wrong last week didn’t apply to this week at all:

- Get a good night’s sleep. Check
- Eat a reasonably healthy lunch. Check
- Don’t get all edgy and nervous. Check

I was much more relaxed physically and mentally going into this one, plus I’d heard that the course was going to be a lot of downhill singletrack and not as much gut-busting climbing. This made me happy because, while I’m not much of a climber, I can go reallyfast on some of the downhill sections. The course was a bit shorter than last week (maybe a mile and a half? I’m bad at estimating distance) and it was FAST. It went something like this:

Confusing zigzag pattern up and down the big field, long stretch of field down to the trailhead, fast fast trail around the edge of the field, down a hill, up the bridge with the stairs, across the walkway, more up-and-down singletrack, out and around the parking lot, down a really twisty switchback, down a long fast straight decent that ends at theconcrete bridge, across the bridge, a right onto fire road, over the cobbles and a right across the dam bridge, around the walkway and UP THE HILL OF DOOM. Then a quick left, ride down stone stairs, bunnyhop up a stone ledge, then another horrible steep climb up to the race start. Then again, then again.

Oof. On every lap the fun ended where the Hill of Doom began. It was paved, but long and steep and endlessly horrible. (Did I mention I don’t like to climb?)

First lap: I got a decent start and dropped into the trail in a good place. Unfortunately that place was somewhere behind 20+ other riders and the trails were all a haze of dust. Like last week, I couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t swallow. Awesome! I stayed behind a couple of riders who were going slower than I felt like I could be going, but it was fine because I needed the time to gather myself back together and relax into a steady pace. I passed them before the twisty switchback (love!) and freaking sailed down it and also the long awesomely fun oh-my-god-I’m-going-too-fast decent after that. The decent ended at the concrete bridge and the dude in front of my chose to walk, so I passed him and rode right across.
Then, I made my first mistake. The section of road between the gravel fireroad and the dam bridge is pretty wrecked from the last hurricane - buckled asphalt, cracked pavement and giant rocks, with a thin strip of cobblestones to the very left edge. That thin strip is the only clean line across and I missed it. I ended up standing in a pile of rocks while everyone behind me passed me in a blur.

I realized pretty quickly what that meant - I was going to have to catch them all at the Hill of Doom or not at all. So up I went, red-faced, panting and mad as hell. I caught, I passed, I thought I might die. (I didn’t die.)

Second Lap: It went better and it ended up being my fastest lap. I rode alone for most of it and took the switchback down so fast that some dude ahead of me pulled over to let me past. I think I was freaking him out. I was feeling great until I hit the Hill of Doom for the second time and where I thought I might die the first time, I was SURE I WOULD the second time. I think that four or five minutes was possibly the worst I’ve ever felt in any race, ever. I vaguely remember a friend cheering me on as I hit the second part of the climb but I was so close to stopping that I couldn’t even spare the energy to acknowledge him. I didn’t stop, though, instead I went for my third lap.
Third Lap: At this point it was after 7pm and the sun was setting. I kept seeing lights through the trees and eventually realized they were the street lamps around the lake. The wooded trails get dark really fast and by the time I hit the switchback I was riding more from memory than sight. I spent the entire lap dreading the climb at the end and wracked my brain for a way to make it suck less.

Then I remembered something from an article I read years ago, which is sometimes all you need to make it up a climb is a better attitude. I stole a mantra from that article and spent the entire climb chanting (out loud, mind you) “I LOVE TO CLIMB. I LOVE TO CLIMB.” And, while it didn’t actually make me love to climb, it did force me to breathe more deeply and pace myself more evenly up the hill. I made it up the first hill, rode down the stone steps, did the saddest bunnyhop up the curb and began my final slow ascent up the steep grass hill to the finish. And I finished, red-faced and shaking, but I finished.
I came in 4th place in women and 27th overall, which means I beat nine dudes. Yeah! Oh, and the guy I beat last week, Mr. You Could’ve Used A Harder Gear? Didn’t even show up.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sorry, honey, I have to work late.

It was a lot to do after a full day’s work and a not-full-night’s sleep. The night before the race I did not sleep well at all, maybe three hours tops. I woke up that morning in a Benedryl haze feeling less than awesome. I dragged myself to work, drank way too much caffeine, had an unhealthy lunch that my stomach did not love and, around 3pm, realized I was nervous. Crazy, green-around-the-gills, stomach-clenching nervous.

It was stupid to be nervous because this was just a small, casual, training race. No prizes, no crowds, nothing but trails i ride all the time and a group of riders I mostly know. Stupid to be nervous, but OH I WAS ANYWAY.

Because it was being run concurrent with a cyclocross race, there was a confusing start that zig-zagged up and down a large hilly field before the two groups split, the mountain bikers (men and women together) hitting the single track for a two mile short loop, the cross racers cutting back towards the field. I’m a bad starter in any kind of terrain, but man, I do not do great on steep grassy fields. Despite starting relatively slowly I still entered the woods sucking wind, nauseous, and feeling like I was going to die. The usual sprint race feeling.

The entire first lap felt like this:


I couldn’t breath, I couldn’t swallow, I could barely see for the dust, I felt like ten different kinds of awful. I did manage to mostly hold my position (near the back) as we dropped into the trail, crossed a bridge, up a steep climb, sharp left, up and down some fairly intense singletrack, around to the switchback on the very top of the hill, down the hill, a sharp left onto the short gravel fire road, across that cement bridge (the one I posted about in my last entry), up another long climb, up a short switchback section, down and around the parking lot, back into the trails, more up and down roller coaster type stuff, up a hill, across a walkway, back down the trails, onto another walkway, ride down some stone steps, bunnyhop up a stone curb, ride up a stupidly steep hill, around the cones and back in for another lap. Or something like that.
I did three laps, the first two were both at about 17 minutes per lap which is pretty slow comparatively, but, while I’m familiar with the trails and can ride them pretty fast, some sections were super dusty and I was afraid of slipping out and going down hard. (Hi! This is foreshadowing.) I am also not the best at climbing and tend to pace myself slower than I probably should in a race.

My second lap was much better, overall. I was feeling a more recovered and was definitely more collected. I rode everything clean and barely saw another rider.  I was pretty much expecting to be lapped by the leaders at any point, but this didn’t happen until my third lap and it happened at the most awkward spot imaginable:

Yeah. The edge of that turn is just a drop down a steep hill. Luckily those guys are REALLY fast and know how to pass, but I was still all, “wha?” and slightly shaken. I got to the bottom of the hill, took the sharp left to the fireroad, hit a patch of gravel and went down like a ton of bricks. Is that not the uncoolest way to crash in a race? On a patch of gravel? On the fire road?  I was MAD. Not to mention filthy and bleeding, but I picked myself up and got back on and just kept going. I just wanted to finish this thing. I think I messed up my derailleur when I went down because I couldn’t seem to stay in my middle ring and had to ride the whole second half of my last lap in my granny gear. But I finished, and I didn’t come in last.

At several points during the race I remember thinking how much I absolutely was NOT going to do the final series race next Wednesday. No way. Not a chance. But afterwards, as the pain wore off and stories got bandied about I found myself saying things like, “Well, next week I’ll know to avoid that spot.”  And the guy who was behind me for the entire race (who I beat, mind you) mentioned that I seemed to be spinning too fast when I could’ve been in a harder gear. ORLY? Thank you, dude, for telling me how to beat you more next week. I call this phenomenon “race amnesia” because if it didn’t happen nobody would ever do more than one race, ever.

So yeah.  Banged up and bruised but already plotting next week’s torture session.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Nine-Hour Race Report

Short Version:

It was fun but anticlimactic.

Long Version:

I should start by explaining that mountain bike mile is not the same as a road bike mile, so when I tell you the laps were 6.2 miles long please don’t think that is necessarily an easy distance. See, the course where the race was held is famous for it’s gnarly roots. It’s a wooded, rooty single-track course with short steep (rooty) climbs, steep (rooty) ravine drop-ins and a fun (to me) dirt mogul section near the end. It’s technical, is what I’m saying. So, while i could probably do 6 miles on flat pavement pretty quickly, this 6 mile course took me anywhere from 40-45 minutes to complete. (Which is pretty slow, but my main goal was to not crash. And I usually crash on this course.)

So! After a night of not very good sleep my husband and I got up painfully early Saturday, packed up the bikes and gear, and hit the road. The race course is about 30 minutes away and we made good time. We joined our friends under their team tent to set up camp and then we went down to the registration tent and got our team numbers:

That’s us, team Bitey Badger.

The race worked like this: Each team of two rides laps in whatever sequence they like and the team with the most laps completed within the nine-hour time frame wins. We were not in it to win it, I should put that out there right now. We were competing against folks who do nothing but train for endurance races so there was no pressure on us. We were gonna lose! And it was going to be fun.

My husband started first and completed three laps while I sat around all antsy and impatient. Then I went out and did two. My first lap felt slow but it ended up being my fastest. My second lap was clean, but I got a stitch in my side which went from annoying to really painful to annoying again. It slowed me down, but I didn’t stop.  I finished the lap and went in to eat while my husband went back out for two more. I looked really pretty:

Pretty gross, I mean.

My third lap was fine, I think.  I get the race amnesia where I forget about the pain and suffering immediately afterwards but I do remember being halfway through the lap and realizing I was digging the ride.  I wasn’t riding fast but I felt pretty good overall. I was relaxed and enjoying the challenge until about 2/3rds of the way through when I started to feel a little twinge in my right knee. Ugh. My husband did another lap while I rested and then I went out for lap four. My knee started hurting pretty badly and I had to pedal gently to give it a break. Gentle doesn’t really cut it in a race, but I finished the lap in 45 minutes. My husband went back out while I tried to figure out what to do. My knee was not feeling good and even though I otherwise felt capable of riding at least one more, it wasn’t worth making my injury worse. I was disappointed, but we weren’t in contention so there was no point in pushing it.

My husband completed two more laps and had a bad crash on the last one. He’s fine, but it was the race-ender for him. So we finished 11 laps between us and were happy to call it a day and break out the beer. The best part was hanging out under the tent between laps, trading race stories with our friends:

PS. I’ve since self-diagnosed my knee pain as an IT band issue, so at least I know why it hurts and how to fix it. Apparently ramping up your distance all sudden-like is a bad idea. Oops.

PPS. I took Sunday completely off and thought I was recovered enough yesterday to go lift weights and I was SO NOT. Note to self: two days of rest post-race.  I mean, really.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Two Sundays.

I've been slack about updating, but here's the thing: we've been riding the same trails all summer long and there's only so much you can say about doing the same thing over and over again. I will say this: I'm not sick of it yet. Really! Even though it's the same 16 miles, there's always some element of nature or humanity or weather that makes it new and different every ride.

Yesterday we dragged ourselves out for an afternoon ride, still feeling slightly hungover from a late Saturday night out. The weather was glorious. It was just picture perfect yesterday and even though I felt stiff and hadn't been on my bike in a week, I was anxious to get outside.

September is probably my best month on the bike because I have the springtime slog behind me and a summer's worth of fitness still hanging in. (I also have a mysterious patch of poison ivy in a place on my body where poison ivy has no business. WHY.)

We started on North Trail, crossed the pedestrian bridge, rode the lost trail around the far side of Belle Island, hit Buttermilk and then did the loop of Forest Hill. Kenny wanted to take the road home from there but I wanted to take the trail home, a suggestion I began to regret because man, was I tired. I make mistakes when I'm tired and ended up missing a few tricky sections. No injuries or bloodshed, thankfully.

We also rode last Sunday (same trails, opposite direction) and I actually remembered to bring a camera! Woo.

Somewhere in Forest Hill Park:

Kenny saw this branch seething with tiny white bugs:

Oh, that is the grossest thing ever:

The climb known as Heartbreak Hill. Oof:

One of the ravine whoops in Forest Hill:

What's that up ahead on the trail?

Why, it's turtle business time and we interrupted:

Sorry little dudes.

This switchback is one of my favorite sections of Forest Hill:

Kenny going down the hill on North Trail:

I love the crazy giant monster kudzu shapes:

The End!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Race Report: Camp Hilbert

Amateur racers. We drag ourselves out of bed at 6 am on a Saturday and haul ourselves to a race we have no chance of winning. It's either a noble rage against cosmic meaninglessness or, like, way more fun than mowing the lawn. (Bicycling, March 2004)

Having finished the Urban Assault race, feeling all good and full of endorphins and post-race amnesia, I blithely stated OUT LOUD that I'd probably be doing the Camp Hilbert race in June. At the time, June 28th seemed a long, long ways away. Or, you know, yesterday. Oops.

I didn't train for it so much as I just rode my bike every chance I got. This isn't a terrible strategy for me because nothing makes me a better rider than riding. If I go too long between rides I get more fearful and cautious and start avoiding some of the more technical sections of trail that scare me. If I ride a lot those sections still scare me but I ride them anyway. So there, trail.

Anyway, I registered for the race on Friday and felt good about it in general. I hadn't raced (or ridden) Camp Hilbert in a couple of years so I couldn't really remember much about it, specifically. For me, ignorance is bliss. If I don't know what parts to be freaked out by, I can't be freaked out by them, right? Right.

(Note: Camp Hilbert is the site of my disastrous Very First Bike Race back in 2002. I entered the Sport category because I'm stupid and then rode the entire thing in my small chain ring. I came in dead last, went home and slept for the rest of the day. )

Early Sunday morning and the weather was perfect. Perfect! Warm but not hot and slightly overcast. We ate breakfast and loaded up the car. Kenny proved that it is completely possible to put two full-suspension mountain bikes in the back of an Avalon:

Impressive! I was feeling okay, aside from flashes of pure fear when I thought about the race start. I hate the start. I'm usually fine once I'm in the woods but the start always sends me into red-lined horror. It's the part that leaves me panting and panicked and I'm always afraid if I go out too fast I'll blow up immediately.

We drive out to Camp Hilbert, gear up, pee 200 times (me) and before I can even blink, I'm lining up with the other Sport Women. Wow, that was fast.

WE GO. The start was blissfully downhill on a gravel fireroad that led around to the left and then down into the singletrack. It's fast and I manage to go in with the front four or five women. We hit the woods and I'm panting and winded, but handling the fast, twisty trail just fine. We head towards the bottom of the woods near a creek and there is a small disaster- a sideways (and giant) root has taken hold of my friend Malissa's front tire and she crashed. A flat takes her out of the race before she'd even got started. Totally sucks. I rode on and tried to pace myself. Donna is behind me and Amy ahead, though (I think?) at one point Amy pulls over and lets me pass (I think. I always get confused as to who is where.) She stayed behind me for the whole first lap (hey, that's my trick) pacing me and never quite letting me pull away. I felt TERRIBLE for most of the first lap. I rode everything and never stopped, but I felt like I was dying. (This is the part you conveniently forget the minute the race is over, which is why anyone ever does more than one race, ever.)

I rode the whole first lap clean and Donna passed us right as we started into the second lap. I was starting to settle in and feel better when I came to the root section that had taken out Malissa. For some dumb reason instead of taking the left line (like I had in my first lap) I went straight into it and my tire caught the root and over I went. I managed to do one of those weird flying dismounts and landed on my feet, but it didn't matter. I was shaken and Amy got her opportunity to pass me. Go Amy! She earned it.

She was gone by the time I got back on my bike and got myself going again. I settled back in and was concentrating on catching her when I hit the little tiny mud-slicked bridge that was right before the steepest climb in the race. I hit that bridge and my bike slid off it like it was covered in ice. I landed in the underbrush and had to push up the hill. Not a big deal, but I lost a fair amount of time.

After that, I just rode. I just rode my bike and enjoyed the fast, whippy trails and pushed as much as I was able. This was the first long race I've done since September of 2007, so I just didn't have the race endurance that comes from, well, racing. So! I finished a very respectable 4th place and I'm happy with that. Funny, the 1st - 4th lineup is the same four women as my last race, but with a few places rearranged. I was in good company, for sure. Donna came in 2nd place despite the titanium plate she just had screwed into her collarbone after a crash in her last race. I was a little worried that she was back racing so soon, but, um, I shouldn't have been. That plate just made her faster, I swear. Andrea won both races and she's so fast I never see her after the start. She gets out in front and stays there. Solid.

Sport Women podium.

Kenny rode with the early group and came in 7th, which is admirable. His field is way bigger than mine. He was happy, I think. We watched the noon start:

Go Paula!

the iPhone doesn't so much do speed shots.

And then packed the bikes up and went home. And immediately took naps because that's all we were good for. And that's still kind of how I feel today. Bleh.

sweaty and gross.

Kenny chilling with my bike.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Race Report - Urban Assault 2009

(photo courtesy of Ben Madden:

I wasn't going to do it. No way, no how. How could I race when it had done nothing but rain for weeks? And then I got a cold? The race was fast-approaching and I'd barely gotten more than one ride a week in, if that. It was a bad idea. A BAD IDEA. 

My friends Paula and Malissa were both signed up, so on Tuesday I joined them on a practice run of the course. I felt pretty good to be out but definitely could tell I wasn't recovering after climbs as fast as I would like to be. 

The, on  Thursday I went out with Kenny to join Paula on a slow last-ride-before-the-race ride. I felt great. Legs were strong, lungs were hanging in, my confidence was up. But I wasn't racing, no way was I ready. At one point I confided in Paula that I didn't want to race because I didn't want to embarass myself by coming in last. Paula stopped her bike and looked at me like I was crazy. Then she started working on me and by the end of the ride, I was on board. I was racing? Oh, shit. She totally missed her calling as a motivational speaker, or something. That woman could talk anyone into anything.

Kenny wasn't so sure, but he wasn't quite saying he wasn't going to do it. (He did it.) I was pretty certain I had no choice. Paula was right - this race is on our home course and there's no reason not to do it. None at all. Except for the PAIN.

The start of the race had a few things going for it:  

1. Unlike previous years, Sport Women got their own start. No lumping us in with beginner men, a practice I loathe. I don't enjoy dodging spazzy, nervous newbs. 

2. No Lemans start! Woo! I firmly feel that all bike races should start on bikes. If I wanted to run, I'd sign up for a duathalon. 

3. Noon start! I hate it when my race starts at 9am and my husbands doesn't start until noon. That's your whole day, right there. 

The short course started at Tredegar, followed fireroad up and around to the Lee Bridge, across the bridge, down to outdoor stairs (nine, count em, flights) more fireroad, up another set of stairs (again, nine. flights.) then finally singletrack down the southside of the James River to the Boulevard bridge, across that bridge and more singletrack on the north side to the finish. It was about 8 miles. It was a death sprint.  

There were ten of us in Sport Women and I only knew one other person in that category, so it was hard to know what I was up against. We started fast (well, they started fast) and I was too afraid of blowing up to try and keep that pace right away. As soon as we were up on the bridge, though, I put it in my big ring and started picking them off. One, two, three, four passed on the bridge. I think there must have been a couple of girls behind me, but I'm not sure. 

On the bridge (thanks Billy!)

We dropped down to the the stairs and I had one girl right on my ass. We trotted down the stairs with our bikes (ugh) and hit the fireroad. I passed two more on that stretch and was feeling winded, but not too bad. Then, more stairs. Carrying a bike upstairs is way, way harder than carrying a bike downstairs. By the time I got to the top and was facing actual, real singletrack, I felt like I was going to explode. I was sucking wind and my knees were wobbly, but I got on my bike with another rider right behind me. The first real technical obstacle was a rocky creek crossing that I've never been comfortable with, so I jumped off to run it rather than risk crashing. The girl behind me was much closer than I thought and I nearly de-biked her. Eek. I apologized and jumped back on to head down the trail as fast as I could manage. 

On the next creek crossing I bobbled and got out of her way so she could ride it, but somehow our bikes got tangled and we both floundered. We got loose and she continued on, asking over her shoulder if I was okay. I was, but I couldn't actually talk at that point, so I couldn't answer! I think she thought I was mad, but no way, man. That's just the way racing is! I got back on and headed up the trail, starting to feel a little better and more recovered. This section of trail is really, really technical and it also on a steep hillside, so you really need to be sharp and pay attention. I rode everything fine and headed up the hill to the second bridge crossing.

There was another girl who was riding with me and passed me at one point, who was riding a singlespeed with amazing dexterity. I think I managed to weeze, "You're kicking ass on that thing!" because damn, that is impressive. She and I traded spots back and forth a bit, depending on hills. I think I finally caught her after the ramp on northside and rode behind her until we hit a climb in northside, at which point I passed her again. Then she rode up behind me and started to ask to pass and I decided to put the pedal down and just use up everything I could to get some distance between us.  At some point on the northtrail I also caught the girl who I'd gotten tangled with and passed her. She told me afterwards that she was so impressed that I managed to come from a deadstop to catching her that she felt like I'd earned that pass! I don't know about all that, but thanks! Those two ended up sprinting together to the finish moments after I finished, which was pretty exciting.

I crossed the line not having any real idea of what place I was in, but I felt like I'd ridden a good race and I'd put everything I had into it. I checked around and, woo! 2nd place. Not to bad! The girl who won was someone I never even saw. I think she must have taken the lead immediately and just kept it the whole race. That is impressive, for sure. So, here's the top four lineup (from the right: me, 1st place, 3rd, 4th)

(very cool photo courtesy of Ben Madden, who you should check out at:

And here I am with my prize-winning razor! It was one of the items in the backpack I won. I was the only one who got a razor and I think everyone was totally jealous. Who's hairless now? That's me. 

Kenny finished his race handily in 14th place (his field is way bigger than mine) and Paula unfortunately had a mechanical and couldn't finish. Totally sucks considering she was the reason I did the race. 

So thank the lord that's over. There's another race at the end of June I'm considering, so apparently I've drunk the Kool-Aid. We'll see.