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.