Sunday, August 12, 2018

Breck Epic: Stages 5-6

Thursday Stage 5:

Photo taken by Jeff

Wheeler Pass today! What a ride! What a hike! Today's stage definitely would have been better with hiking boots and a dropper post. We started today in 10 person waves based on GC standings, each wave was separated by a minute. I was in wave 6 and Jeff was in wave 20. We immediately started climbing up singletrack which turned to a rocky fire road and eventually turned to steep singletrack and the hiking started. We hiked for miles up to 12,500 ft. The views were incredible. We crested a peak and then there was some rideable rocky singletrack across alpine meadows surrounded on all sides by craggy peaks and towering mountains. More hiking along some switchbacks, and we crested Wheeler Pass. I got some more skittles and there were also bacon and fireball handups, which Jeff enjoyed. After a short descent, it was back to climbing and hiking for another long time over a mountain pass coined by Rich Dillen as Mt Gawdammit, which I have to agree with him, was a slog. Then we descended off the pass on a super rocky, steep, technical, switchbacky, jaw chattering descent. I rode it with some curses thrown in, Jeff loved it. Jeff says he loved it so much he can't find the words to describe it. Then we rode ~7 miles back to Breck on Peaks Trail, which starts off with a punchy climb with roots and rocks thrown in and then gets more fast and flowey with some fun log bridges to roll over. And then we were at the finish! Kathy and her son came to the finish to say and it was fun to catch up with them. Last stage tomorrow. Legs are holding up, it is getting a little harder each day to sit on the saddle but we are still having a blast being here!

At the race start

Coming into the finish. Photo by Chris M

At the finish with Katrina. We climbed up there today! Photo by Chris M

Friday Stage 6: 

Today was the last stage. It was called Gold Dust. It was definitely the easiest stage of the race and a fun course to end on. We started in waves again based on yesterday's results. I moved into wave 7 and Jeff had a great day yesterday and moved into start wave 11. We started up a singletrack climb that had some technical sections and some sections with smooth berms. We climbed up through aspen forests that were really pretty in the early morning sunshine. I did really enjoy by 30t front chain ring for the initial climb. Then we popped out onto a road that carried us up to Boreas Pass.

Jeff and I climbing Aspen Alley today. Photos by Donald

Then we descended a trail called Gold Dust. It starts out as a steep rowdy downhill and then turns into a smooth flowey S-turn trench trail that is fast but seems pretty flat. Then we climbed a forest road back up to Boreas Pass and from there it was about an 8 mile descent back into town and the finishing area. I was lucky to have a 40 min gap going into today's stage. My goals for today were to ride smooth, avoid crashes and mechanicals, enjoy the ride and save my legs as much as possible for Leadville tomorrow. Goals were accomplished! Katrina caught me on the last downhill so I didn't win the stage, but I still can't really believe that I won the overall race. Coming into the finishing line was the coolest thing ever. I got to take some photos with Jeremiah, who won the pro men's race and Gordon/Elliot, who won the men's duo race. It was a great year at Breck Epic for Virginians! After the race, we celebrated with crepes and I got a massage at Blue Sage Spa which felt awesome. Then we went to the post race banquet, got our belt buckles, and headed to Leadville for the Leadville 100 tomorrow. It is definitely going to be hard to come back to reality after this!

Climbing to Boreas Pass

Virginia representing. Beast Coast. Photo by Chris M

We did it! Photo by Chris M

Breck Epic 6 -Day Women's Pro Podium

I have a lot of people to thank for this and wouldn't have been able to do this without their help. First, Joe's Bike Shop who has supported me for years since I first started racing. East Coasters Bike Shop in Roanoke has been helping me with bike maintenance for the last year and helped get my bike dialed for High Cascades and this race. I ran Ardent Race tires by Maxxis, and their tires have never let me down in a race. No flats despite lots of sharp rocks out on the trails this week. ESI grips kept my hands comfy and blister free. Rudy Project kept my head protected and Huma Gels kept me fueled. Kathy was kind enough to transfer me her race entry. Maybe most importantly, my coach, Chris Beck, talked me down from wanting to quit racing completely a few weeks ago and helped me recover properly from some severe mid-season fatigue. And also Jeff, who is my partner in crime and crazy enough to agree to do Breck and Leadville with me in the same year!

If you have ever thought about doing Breck, you should do it! If you still aren't convinced, you can watch all the race videos here:

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Breck Epic: Stage 3-4

Tuesday Stage 3: 

The climb up French Pass
What an amazing day, by far one of the most fun days I have had on the bike. We climbed up over 12,000ft and crossed the Continental Divide twice! I felt a little bit better at altitude today, breathing is still an issue, but my legs felt like they had a little bit more power in them. The race started up a dirt road climb out of the town and then we ducked into a bench cut singletrack along the side of the mountain with a steep drop off on the right and sharp rocks to navigate across. After a fun descent, we started the climb up French Pass. It was a steep climb with a bit of hiking involved but the views were incredible. You traverse an alpine meadow surrounded on all sides by mountains and you can see a string of racers stretching out all the way in the distance, snaking up out of the bowl and descending down the other side. There were some guys at the top of the pass handing out skittles, and I ate a handful before starting a super fun descent down. Jeff already had a puncture and a sidewall gash in his rear tire by that point and took some extra time at the top to capture the views.

Jeff at the top of the pass

The next climb was up over Georgia Pass which was a grind, but the descent down the Colorado Trail from there was super fun with some tricky rocks at the bottom. Then there were some more punchy climbs that seemed longer than advertised on the elevation profile and some more traversing rocky bench cut singletrack until the finish. 39 miles, 6,600 ft of climbing.

A view from the trail. Photo by Jeff Brown

Libbey, Jordan, Jane and me after Stage 3. Photo by Chris M

Unfortunately, Amy Beisel, who was leading the pro women's field, crashed on stage 2 and broke her collarbone. (She also finished that stage with a broken collar bone, which is super bad ass). I really wish her all the best for a speedy recovery. It did mean that I was able to move into 1st place today. I have never gotten to wear a leaders jersey before and it was pretty cool to be on the top step. I never in a million years would have thought that was possible.

Women's Pro Podium
There was a fun east coast contingent at the race including Libby and Chris, Gordon, Jeremiah Bishop, Brian and his wife, Alicia, Jordan and Jane (although not an east coaster), and it has been really fun getting to hang out with all of them.

Jane and Jordan on the final podium for the 3 day race

Brian and Alicia finishing Stage 3

Wednesday Stage 4: 

At the stage start. Photo by Chris M
Today's stage was called The Aqueduct. It was a challenging stage: 41 miles, 6600 ft of climbing. The climbs today were steep. The singletrack was sandy. The descents were smooth, fun and fast (and sandy!). There were definitely fewer rocks on the trails today. There were several hike-a-bike sections at least for me. I heard Jeremiah rode everything, which is insane. I had a headache this morning and my legs definitely had some fatigue. I am finding it difficult to sleep at night. I can fall asleep easily but I wake up multiple times in the night, probably from the altitude. I tried to stay within my limits today, and was still able to get the stage win! It was super awesome to share the podium today with Libbey who finished 3rd! My legs definitely feel better this evening so I am hoping to push the pace again tomorrow. I also decided with the advice of some present and past racers to trade my 34 tooth front chain ring for a 30 tooth, so I am excited to feel more spinny on the climbs tomorrow. Jeff says the stage was awesome. He enjoyed himself.

Coming into the finish. Photo by Chris M

One of the volunteers handed me this Coke! Photo by Chris M

Stage 4 podium. Me and Libbey representing the east coast!

Monday, August 6, 2018

Breck Epic: Stage 1-2

Thanks Kathy!
I feel super lucky to be able to do this race and to share the entire experience with Jeff. The pictures that I saw from this race last year looked incredible, fun singletrack, big pine trees, huge mountains. Definitely a bucket list item. I owe an incredible thanks to Kathy, who gave me her entry for this race, and I wouldn't be here without her help.

The 2 things I was most nervous about was #1 the altitude and how it would affect me and #2 getting caught on a mountain pass when a storm rolls through and freezing to death. So far, #2 hasn't happened and #1, well, I am dealing with it!

The race vibe is pretty awesome. There seems to be a lot of local support for the race, which is cool to see. There are only 3 rules, which mainly boil down to be a good person and a good steward for the sport, and Mike, the race director, seems super friendly and is really excited to share the trails around Breckenridge with all of us racers.

Getting our race numbers
We are staying an Beaver Run, which is where the race headquarters are, and I would highly recommend. From the resort, it is a downhill ride into town for the race starts, you can walk to the morning bag drop and nightly race meeting, and there is a free shuttle into town as needed for dinners. Also hot tubs, and we have a full kitchen to keep up with healthy eating!

Sunday: Stage 1

Jeff, me and Libbey before the start
The race start was delayed due to storms rolling through in the morning. Instead of starting at 8:30, we started at 10:30 and instead of a mass start, we started in waves based on our category. The course was also shortened due to the weather conditions, so instead of 32 miles, it was only 17. I was a little bummed about not getting to ride the full race route, but I've also learned that in stage races you have to just roll with the punches, so I grabbed a couple hours of extra sleep and got psyched to finally start racing. I started in wave 2, which included pro women and 40+ cat 1 men, and Jeff started right behind me in wave 3. There was short road climb, and then we immediately ducked into the trails. There was some rolling singletrack, some forest roads that we climbed and descended and climbed again, and then a pretty fun singletrack descent down to the finish.

As expected, my lungs were absolutely burning the entire race. I had a cx cough by the end, but I kept pushing as much as my lungs would allow me to and ended up getting second in women's pro category, which was definitely unexpected. I waited at the finish for Jeff, who unfortunately frayed his shifter cable and got stuck in 34x10 and had to hike a bunch of the uphills. There was about a 5 mile descent back into town which we rode together and then started recovering, washing and fixing bikes, eating and getting prepped for stage 2.

A view from our ride back to town

Women's Pro Podium. Super excited to make it up here

Monday Stage 2: 

The real racing started today. 41 miles, 6500 ft of climbing, mass start in downtown Breck. We immediately started climbing up a paved road that turned to gravel and then hit a fun narrow singletrack that wound down the side of a mountain. After a short gravel road descent, we spent the next several miles traversing a narrow spine through the woods with little sharp rocks and roots littering the trail. Then we hit the Colorado trail, which was awesome. It took us through big pine trees and we climbed it up to 11,200 ft and then descended off of it down to ~9000 ft. The views on the descent were incredible, through alpine meadows with beautiful open vistas of the mountains in the distance. After the descent, we hit some sandy, dusty trails and had 3 more 2-3 mile climbs and fun bermy descents back to the finish.

Hanging out with Libbey after Stage 2 and sharing race stories

It was amazing singletrack today, I only wish I felt better riding it. My breathing was better probably because I was going slower, and I felt like I had absolutely no power in the legs. Ah altitude! I did the best with what my legs gave me, and very excited to still be in 2nd place! Jeff had no comments about his experience today (lets just say he suffered a lot out there) but he finished and is feeling better after a burger this evening!

Jeff and Chris. Chris unfortunately injured his arm and can't race this year. But it has been awesome to have him at the finish lines cheering for us and giving us jackets to keep warm 

Friday, August 3, 2018


With Chris before the race. Photo credit to Tarah

ORAMM was a great weekend. It's fun traveling across the country to races but nothing quite beats seeing so many friends at east coast ones. The highlight of this race for me was getting to catch up with friends and teammates. I drove down to Asheville with Chris and Tarah, who are riding friends from Roanoke. Tarah is a badass horse vet and has very entertaining stories about predicaments that horses end up in. We ate dinner on Sat night before the race at this great restaurant called Avenue M with JBSRT teammates Chris, Jen and Britt (highly recommend this restaurant, beat salads, tofu curries with fresh veggies, very yummy!). For years, everyone has been telling me how fun ORAMM is and how challenging the downhill trails are. ORAMM is always the same weekend as Wilderness Trail 101 in Penn. I have done Wilderness at least 3 times, so I decided to finally check out ORAMM instead. The course was shortened slightly this year due to a road washout, but Blue Ridge Adventures put on an amazing event nonetheless. 

The race start. Photo credit: Tarah

The race leaves from the small town of Old Fort, NC and after riding out of town, the course climbs up a road to the start of Kitsuma. I felt pretty good on the opening climb. There were 2 closed access gates and a large downed tree on the climb that created 3 bottleneck points, but I fought through and had a good position going into the 1st singletrack. The descent down Kitsuma was so fun. I have ridden that trail once before with some friends from Chapel Hill, but it was in the late fall when all the leaves were down and you couldn't really see what you were rolling over. The conditions on race day couldn't have been better. It had rained early in the week but the last 3 days had been dry and sunny, and the trails were perfectly dry without being too washed out or dusty. 

I finished the descent with a few other guys and pushed the pace through the flat roads back thru the town of Old Fort, and then we started the climb up Curtis Creek. I knew the climb would be a long one. I ended up with a rider named Z who had a good pace going. I just focused on staying on his wheel, listening to my music and keeping a smile on my face to make the time go by faster. I kept thinking how awesome it is living in Roanoke and having climbs just like this one to train on. Bring it on climb! The gravel road wound up eventually to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where we kept climbing on pavement for probably another 20 mins. 

Then there was a short hike-a-bike back into the woods followed by the descent down Heartbreak Ridge. It is a steep, narrow, rocky, rooty trail with a cliff drop off on the left and then tight switchbacks towards the bottom. I just focused on not dying. Definitely wish I had my FS bike for that trail but alas, it was still in Jeff's van somewhere in CO. I did go over my handlebars at one point but luckily did not break anything on my bike or my body except for some top tube paint scratches from the shifters. 

Almost at the finish line. Photo credit: Tarah
After Heartbreak, there was a gravel road climb back up the entrance of Kitsuma, which I was really looking forward to riding again. The descent down Kitsuma was so fun, I felt like I was flying on the pro cal. After finishing the descent, it was all power on the road back to the finishing line! I finished in 4:21, 1st overall for the women. It was really fun having Tarah at the finish line cheering and taking pictures.

The bridge was washed out in one of the recent floods so we finished going thru the river. It was fun cheering for finishing racers while soaking in the water
Chris coming into the finish. Photo credit: Tarah

I carried a camel pack and 2 bottles on my bike so I didn't have to stop at any of the aid stations and Huma gels kept me fueled. Afte the race, there was food, beers, a river to cool off in and then the 3 hour drive back to Roanoke. Everyone from Joe's had a great race: Chris Lane got 2nd in the SS, Jen got 1st for master women, and Britt got 3rd overall. Chris had a strong finish and will work on his nutrition plan for next race :-) Definitely will be back next year to tackle the full mileage of ORAMM!

Women's Open Podium

Singlespeed Podium

Master Women's Podium

Friday, July 27, 2018

High Cascades 100

I might have failed at my goal of trying all new races in 2018, but when the stars all align easily and I can take a trip to Bend, it's impossible to say no. Besides, since the High Cascades 100 course changes every year, technically I did race a new course, so maybe my 2018 MTB goal isn't completely kaput.

Sandy Ridge Trails
I just happened to have 5 days off of work around this race, and Jeff had already decided to take a summer road trip out west so it was relatively simple to book a flight and meet Jeff in Portland, who had my bike already fully assembled in the van. We drove immediately from PDX to the Sandy Ridge trails which are conveniently located just off the main road to Bend. We had a great time climbing up to the ridge and then snaking down a combination of trails through old growth Pacific northwest forest, past towering pines, huge ferns, and moss covered rocks. 

Jeff and I are really excited to be joining and racing for the Deschutes cyclocross team out of Roanoke this year. Rob, one of our teammates from Roanoke, also flew out for High Cascades, and we met Jodan, Matt, Craig, and Michelle (all from Bend who also race for Deschutes) for a ride up a trail called North Fork and then descended down a trail called Farewell. It was a really fun ride, we took lots of pictures, passed lots of waterfalls, and finished with beers in the parking lot and then more beers and dinner at the Deschutes Brewery. I am really excited for more team fun this coming fall. 

Meeting the west coast Deschutes team

Meeting the rock challenge

Parking lot beers

Deschutes Brewery beers
View of Mount Bachelor
The race was on Saturday, so I had a couple of free days to squeeze in some extra riding around Newberry Crater and some paddleboarding on Devils Lake and Elk Lake, which was scenic and fun!

A view from Newberry Crater rim trail

Paddleboarding on Devil's Lake

At the start line
The race started at 5:30 am on Saturday morning, which is quite early. And also quite cold. The temperature was reading 44 degrees on our way to the start line. Because Bend is in the desert, it gets really hot during the day and then pretty cold at night. I knew that Larissa Connors was registered for the race, so I figured that I would be racing for 2nd place since she is way faster than me, and so that is what I set out to do.

There is a fairly long neutral roll out at the start along the highway that leads to the trails. The first turn off of the main road takes you immediately onto a dirt road for the first of many climbs and the racing starts. The dirt road this year was not really dirt but deep sand and it took awhile maneuvering past squirrely bikes to get into a good position on the climb for the 1st singletrack section. 

I've been struggling the last couple of weeks with mid season physical fatigue and also just mental burnout from constantly trying to keep up with work and with training. There have been a lot of tears and questioning what exactly I am trying to accomplish on the bike. Since I still don't have those answers, I decided to simply focus inward for this race. I decided to be happy that I was feeling strong again after some rest days last week, that I was capable of riding 100 miles on my mountain bike and that I was lucky enough to be able to ride in an amazing place with incredible scenery. Not exactly race mode mentality, but I did have a smile on my face for the entire day!

After the 1st climb, there is a really fun descent on a trail called Tiddlywinks, which has fun rollers and tabletops and berms. With all the dust kicked up from racers in front and the morning sun squinting through the trees, it was nearly impossible to see the trail and I basically pointed my bike down and hoped for the best. 

I stopped at aid 3 at mile 50 to fill up on water and then started up this incredible climb that slowly wound us up a mountain away from the sandy desert trails and onto real soil, past alpine meadows, and we even passed pockets of snow that hadn't melted yet. It was definitely my favorite part of the course. 

I made friends with Eric on the way up the climb and followed his wheel on the descent back down to sandy fire roads and singletrack with some punchy steep climbs thrown in for good measure. I stopped again at mile 82 for more water. Dan Atkins, who I know from Baltimore, and I played leapfrog on the last part of the course, he would pass me on the descents and I would catch back up on the climbs. The last 18 miles had more descents then climbs, and I couldn't quite catch back up on the 5 mile road section back to the finishing line, and ended up finishing right behind him. It was a great day to be out on the bike, and I managed a 2nd place finish in the women's open field. 

Women's podium! Congrats to Larissa Connors in 1st and Courtney Boyd in 3rd

The race director, Mike, is one of the nicest people and puts on an incredible event. There are lots of pre-race emails that answer every possible question you could have, the course is super well marked and almost all singletrack, the aid stations are great, the volunteers are super nice, and there is Deschutes beer at the finish! It is a really quality race, and I would highly recommend this race to anyone thinking about going next year. 

Brian had a great race and took the overall win setting a new course record which was pretty amazing, Jeff improved on his time from last year, and Rob also finished and had a fun time too. We capped off the day with a float down the Deschutes River and a pizza picnic in the park with Heidi and Jeff. It was a great trip with awesome friends, new and old. Thanks so much to Deschutes Brewery, to Joe's Bike Shop, East Coasters Bike Shop, to Maxxis Tires, ESI grips, Huma gels, Rudy Project, and XX2i optics. Last year, I did not wear sunglasses and so much dust got into my eyes that I had blurry vision for the last 15-20 miles of the course and it took several hours and a bottle of eye drops before my vision was normal again. No vision issues with XX2i optics this year!

Post race float session down the Deschutes River with Brian and Jeff