Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Warrior Creek

I actually wasn't planning to race Warrior Creek this year. But it turned out, I was already scheduled for the day off of work, Chris wanted to be my race partner, we came up with a great team name, and the race director let us in off the waitlist. Too many things were aligning perfectly for me to miss out on this race.

I wasn't sure how I would hold up 6 days after finishing Cape Epic. My legs were definitely still feeling heavy, but I was kind of excited to just race hot laps and not have to worry about pacing myself for a 6 hour ride.

Last year, Jeff and Chris teamed up to race in the duo category. Their team name was "Team Beat Carla." I was riding solo. They beat me by a whole lap. They even had a podium at end with champagne. This year, Chris and I decided that our goal was to beat their duo time from last year. And win of course.

Last year's cooler and champagne podium

There was some concern that the race might be cancelled or delayed due to rain the day before. Luckily, the trails dried out and the race was scheduled to start on time (or a little later as people were still at the registration tent when the 10am hour rolled around). Jeff, Chris, Reedy and I drove out together from Chapel Hill. We got a champion's breakfast of Chick-fil-A on the way there.

It was so much fun seeing and catching up with all the friends we normally see and hang out with at endurance races. Dunlap, Dillon, all our friends from the Wicked Wash team, Jeff Clayton, John Haddock.

Chris lined up to race the prologue. He was about 5 rows back from the leaders. The trick to getting in the front row is not to line up 1/2 hour before, but to casually roll up 5 minutes before the start and make a new row in front of the official starting line. Lesson learned for next year.

Chris was off and by the time he finished the short prologue loop was up in the top 10 heading into the woods. I cheered everyone on and then went to make sure my bike was actually working. The hubs on my hardtail were broken so Jeff helped me build up my full suspension bike the night before the race. Shifting seemed to be working well, and I got the seat height adjusted. I rode up to the start line to wait for Chris to come in.

There was a $50 prime for the 1st rider across the start/finish line. I knew we were going to be trouble when Byron Rice came through in 1st without a single other rider in contention. He was riding in the co-ed category with his partner, Zoe. Zoe took off, and I sat waiting for Chris. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 minutes went by. I stopped counting after 5. It was an eternity. From my first lap, I knew this was not going to be an easy walk in the park.

Finally Chris came through, and I went off as hard as I could. We were in 5th place in the co-ed category. I started my first lap contemplating not even making it onto the podium. The good news is, I love the Warrior Creek trails and now that we live kinda close to area, I felt like I knew the trails really well. "Cx pace," I kept telling my self. "Don't ever sit." My legs were tired, but I still felt like I was flying along a roller coaster. I definitely spun a little bit up the hills instead of attacking them like I normally do, but I felt that I was keeping up a good pace. The entire 1st lap, I just concentrated on picking off as many people as I could. I caught and passed everyone except Zoe, and managed to get Chris into 2nd place for the start of his 2nd lap.

Chris went off, and I hung out with Janis at our tent site. It was one of those days that was chilly if you were in the shade (esp in sweaty gear) but a perfect temperature in the sun. The guys on the other top co-ed teams were really fast. We were back in 3rd place again for the the start of my second lap. But I noted we were only 4-5 minutes behind Zoe/Byron. We were definitely making up time on them. Doing some quick math in my head, I figured we might have a chance of catching them before the end of the race.

My second lap was even more fun than the 1st. My legs felt good, and I was determined to try and catch Zoe. I kept pushing and telling myself she would right around the next corner. There was more traffic out on the course for the 2nd lap as riders were getting more spread out, but for the most part, people really nice about moving over and letting me pass. Around 4ish miles from the finish line, I actually caught up and passed Zoe. I put the hammer down as much as I could after that to try and get Chris as much of a gap as possible on the guys heading into the 5th lap.

Chris took off. I yelled to go as fast as he could. He probably didn't appreciate that much since we were both already going as fast as we could. But anyway, he put down a killer last lap and didn't let any of the other co-ed teams pass him. Which meant that I got to start my last lap in 1st place. My goal was to keep the pressure on, but also to ride smart and not crash or get a mechanical that might cost us the race. Mission completed. One the best parts of that lap was coming into the last bit of trail and seeing Jeff and the Wicked Wash guys drinking beer, yelling and cheering for all of the finishing racers.

I was definitely exhausted afterwards. We enjoyed the post-race bbq, a celebratory beer (Chris forgot the champagne to celebrate our podium), and sharing race stories with everyone else. After a slow 1st lap due to a leg injury, Jeff finally got himself into race mode and had an amazing 5th place finish in the SS category, which was his 1st race ever on a SS bike. Too bad they didn't go 5 deep on the podium because that would be have actually been the best part of the day. Congrats too to Gordon and Haddock for actually making it onto the SS podium, to Jeff Clayton for winning the masters race, to Dillon, Keith and Dunlap for 1st, 3rd and 4th place finishes in the men's solo, Angelina and Sarah for 3rd in the women's duo and to Chris for finishing 3nd in the women's solo category.

This year's real podium!

We ended up beating Jeff's and Chris's duo time from last year. Their time was 6h 44m 11s. Our time this year was 6h 30min 43s. Last year, not a single co-ed team did more than 5 laps. This year, the top 4 coed teams finished 6 laps. It was super fun to be out there racing against other really strong women riders. I really can't thank the race director enough for continuing to put on this race. It is a fantastic event, the trails really could not be any more fun to ride and it brings together so many great people. I can't wait to come back next year.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Stage 7

We made it! We finished the Cape Epic. I can't quite believe it is over. I was in tears across the finish line. It was pretty emotional. All that training, all that prepartion, all those nightmares about things that could go wrong. It turns out, everything paid off. Brad said he didn't know I was capable of crying. I will just say that I am. I had no idea I could bike that hard for 8 days straight. The only other stage race I have done is La Ruta, which Brad assures me doesn't count as an actual stage race. With the exception of 1 small crash and 1 mechanical, we had a pretty prefect race. I am so happy and so relieved that everything went so well.

At the finish. We made it!

The last stage was by no means easy. It was like racing Monster Cross again after 7 hard days on the bike. There was nothing fun about the stage. We started in the A corral today which meant a fast start and fast pace for the entire 85km. Brad was not messing around. He pushed the pace the entire time. I would have been happy to sit in the pack and ride at a comfortably hard pace to the finish. Brad had me riding at an uncomfortably fast pace, and I was chasing his wheel the entire time. He asked me at one point how I was doing. "Good," I said. My inner voice was saying "ugh, slow the fuck down." But I like being pushed and tried my absolute hardest not to let Brad down on the last stage. We finished 5th in the mixed category and 79th overall on the stage. We ended up in 6th place in the mixed category for the entire race, which I couldn't be more happy about. We were also the 3rd fastest American team there behind Jeremiah Bishop and George Hincapie, so I'll take that!

Packing up our suitcases one last time

The start line this morning for the final stage

We definitely sent it today!

My trusty and dusty hydration pack and race number. We are no longer newbies!

 The only fun part about the stage today was riding up a winding paved road climb and then descending down a series a wide swooping fast switchbacks. The rest of the race was pretty flat, dry, dusty, sandy dirt roads.

Brad and me with our physios, Heleen and Marlia

The entire CTS group! We made it.

The CTS group at the polo grounds at Val De Vie

Brad, me and Stephen at the finish and after showers!

I really can't thank my sponsors enough: Maxxis Tires (no flats the entire race), ESI grips (no slip, no blisters), Ridge Supply Socks (so much dust to shake) and Joe's Bike Shop for my amazing bike. Also to Motor Mile Racing, HandUp Gloves, Hunter packs and Hincapie Sports Wear.

To my coach, Chris Beck, for getting me ready for this race and giving we workouts that fit in around a busy residency schedule.

To Brad, the best teammate ever. He pushed me everyday to ride my hardest and outside of my comfort zone. I hope I was as good a teammate as he was to me.

And most of all, to my amazing and incredibly supportive husband, Jeff, who puts up with my crazy schedule and sometimes obsessive training, who held down the fort while I've been away, and who has helped me get so much better at all the technical aspects of mountain biking.

The bikes are all broken down and boxed up, we've had our celebratory beers and we are back in Cape Town now, packing to fly out tomorrow. Thanks so much for reading and following our adventure. See some of y'all at Warrior Creek this weekend!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Stage 6

Today's stage was a play day in the mountains. I loved it, and I think Brad did too. It was a day of climbing and descending. The day started with 2 long climbs up Groenlandberg and Die Nek. We had beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and valleys and farmland below. It was cool and breezy at the tops of the passes and the grasses that lined the trails were constantly blowing in the wind. The climbs were more gradual than Brad and I anticipated, and we had a great pace going. We had our best day on the bike today and probably our best finish. We finished 6th in the mixed category and 82nd overall. 

A picture our friend Stephen took from the top of one of the mountain passes

The climbing profile for today's stage

Brad and me with our new South African friends and starting line buddies, Alex and Robert.

CTS group with Sipho, the Cape Epic mascot. He pumps us up at the start line each morning and brushes our helmets with his green toilet brush

I can't believe we didn't get a flat tire today. The descents were very steep with very jagged rocks. Unfortunately, it was also the day my suspension decided to stop working. I was literally riding a rigid frame down the mountains. I wanted to murder my bike but decided that would be a bad idea. The entire point of schlepping a full suspension bike to the tops of those climbs is to be able to actually use the suspension for the descents! Jeff knows how mad I get when things like that don't work! A mechanic at the 50km aid station was able to partially fix my problem so I may actually be able to sit on my saddle tomorrow.

Last night, George Hincapie sent us a text about his stage win yesterday. He basically said that they got a small gap on their competitors and "then Cadel went ape shit for the last 30k." With 30k to go today, I asked Brad if he wanted to go ape shit. He initially said no, but then changed his mind at the 20k mark. We charged so hard to the finishing line. I definitely left everything I had out on the course today.

I am really tired right now. I was having trouble concentrating on the last descents today. I think my mind was processing everything 1 second too slowly which led to some near crashes, but I kept it together enough to finish the stage with a clean ride.

Tomorrow is the grand finale! We start an hour later which means an extra hour of sleep tonight. I am really looking forward to that.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Stage 5

If yesterday was a road race, today was a mountain bike race! It was probably the most spectacular scenery of the entire race today. Of course, it is also the day I wasn’t able to capture any of it on my GoPro. So I will just have to try to describe the ride today as best I can. I was actually pretty nervous about the stage today because there was so much singletrack, and I wasn’t sure how technical it would be or how well I would be able to keep up with Brad. 

Me and Grant, our bike mechanic from Trail and Tar, before the stage start today. The heat has broken and it was actually quite cool at the start today.

We always line up at the start with a team from South Africa, Alex and Robert, who are really nice and give us tips about the day's stage. Alex makes these front fenders as a hobby and gave me one for my bike which was super nice and helped keep the mud out of my face today.

The combination of ESI grips and Handup gloves have kept my hands blister free this race

The day started off with a bunch of climbing through beautiful craggy mountains with views over the farmland below. Then we started this climb up a mountain pass called white knuckle pass, which was a steep white sandy double track section. The descent off the mountain was like traveling across an alien planet. It was a white sandy rocky mountain side with the remains of charred tree stumps all around from a recent fire. The singletrack sections that followed were pretty fun especially the downhills. Lots of long easy switchbacks and swooping berms. We even came to a section composed of all wooden suspension bridges and ramps. It was like mountain biking on a jungle gym. The trails were really fun, but it was still a hard 5 hour day on the bike. As Brad says, “fun isn’t always easy.” Brad and I are doing a good job of keeping up a consistent pace. My legs actually feel really good on the bike, but the fatigue is definitely starting to sink in. When my alarm went off this morning, it felt like I hadn’t slept at all.

Here is the official Cape Epic video of some of the landscapes we biked through today. Just imagine 2 people in green jerseys cycling along well behind the pros.

I did make 2 silly mistakes today. The first was trying to mount my GoPro on my handlebars instead of the seat post to try and capture a different view of the race. Everything was going all fine until the mount slide down on the tapered part of the bars and the camera started flopping around. Then it completely fell off on one of the steep rocky downhills. I had to make a split second decision. Stop and go get it or keep racing and leave it on the trail. I decided to go get it. Luckily it was only about 20 feet back up the trail. I grabbed it, stuffed it in my pocket and was back on my bike pretty quickly pedaling to make up for lost time. Hopefully Brad isn't too mad at me.

The second mistake was wiping out in one of the sandy singletrack corners. It didn’t hurt, my bike was fine, I was up and back riding quickly, but of course I landed on the same knee that has been injured since Monster Cross and skinned all the newly healed skin right off. Oh well. It is the knee that will never be healed. Or at least the knee that will have the most impressive scar.

My poor knee that never gets a chance to heal
Tomorrow is the Queen Stage and will probably be the toughest one yet. 103km and 2750m of climbing; the most climbing of any stage yet. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Stage 4

Coach Beck warned me about a stage like today. Totally strung out, pace lined, working at maximal effort not to get dropped. Today was that stage. It was mainly a 112 km gravel grinder through rolling farmland, some singletrack but pretty minimal today, and a hard section of climbing right at the end. But hey, it’s hump day today (4 out of 7 stages done) so why not start to race each stage like it’s almost the last? Much of today’s stage was spent in a paceline trying (desperately at times) not to get dropped and not to let my partner down. There was a stiff headwind in the beginning of the race so it paid off to stay with a group. I did a good job with that today and was thankful there are lots of fast roadies to train with back home because it definitely felt like a road race today. There was some beautiful scenery too, and the mountain passes we climbed through at the end of the stage were pretty amazing. We rode by several bright blue lakes in the last 1/3 of the stage, and I kept thinking how nice it would be to jump in. Today was a point-to-point race so we started in Greyton this morning and finished in Elgin, where we will be for the next 3 nights.

A short video of the race today:

The stage finishing chute. So much relief when we make it here each day
The finishing line and view of the race village in Elgin

We have fallen into a pretty good routine here in South Africa. Our alarm goes off at 5:00 am, breakfast at 5:15, and buses leave for the race around 5:30-6 depending on how far away our hotel is. At the race start, we get our bikes from our mechanic, Grant, slather on sunscreen, and check into the starting corral usually about 20-30 minutes before our start so we can get a good starting position. At 7:15, the whistle blows, and we are off for a day of racing. It is such a relief when we arrive back at the race village and cross the finishing line. We get handed cold wet washcloths and paper bags with sandwiches, apples and full cream chocolate milk, which I usually try to drink down right away. We then change out of our soaking wet racing kits and board the buses back to the hotel. The rest of the day is all about recovery. Shower, massages, Normatech legs, snacks, dinner, lots of water, some blogging and then it’s time to pack for the next stage and get into bed before 9. Every other day, we have to pack up our race suitcases with everything we are traveling with for the race and they get transported to the next hotel for us while we are out racing.

Our hotel in Elgin - The Houw Hoek Hotel. One of the oldest hotels in South Africa

My room for the next 3 nights

Post-race meal with John and Reid. I'm pretty sure the salad balances out the french fries

The massage therapists getting our legs ready for tomorrow

The stomach issues have definitely started for a lot of us in the CTS group. Lots of Cipro, Imodium and Zofran being passed around. Apparently, because the water reservoir levels are really low right now, the bacterial content in the water here is higher, so we are on strict bottled water precautions for the rest of the race. Brad and I are keeping our food down though. Tomorrow’s stage is supposed to be a lot of fun singletrack, and we are looking forward to that. It's raining outside my hotel room right now, so I’m hoping the trails dry out before the start gun tomorrow morning. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Stage 3

Today’s stage was a 78km loop around Greyton ending where we started this morning at the race village. The start was flat, super fast and super dusty. My legs felt great this morning and so did Brad’s, so we were off to a good start. We must have been heading east directly into the rising sun along dirt farm roads. The dust kicked up by the peloton of riders in front of us made it almost impossible to see the road. I just focused on staying upright and trying my best to see Brad ahead of me. The first 10kms were over in less than 20 mins.

This is what the start of the race looked like

We then hit some climbs and fun singletrack sections. We skipped the aid stations at 20 and 30 kms because we both had plenty of water and were chasing a co-ed team who was in front of us. We almost caught them at the top of a steep singletrack climb, but unfortunately Brad’s chain broke. He pulled off to fix it and I did my best to help him get the quick link on. In an 8 day stage race, mechanicals out there are bound to happen. We finally got the chain back on after about 10 minutes of working to get the quick link to fully snap into place. When you are pulled off the trail at any point in a race, it feels like an eternity and it felt like so many teams cycled past us. We finally got going again and luckily were not too far from an aid station. The mechanic there was able to get Brad’s shifting straightened out so the chain stopped skipping during each pedal stroke. We re-filled our camel packs and were back out on the course, trying our best to make up for the lost time. We had a great pace going and were able to pass at least 20 or 30 teams in the last 25km.

It was definitely a day for mechanicals. We saw quite a few teams pulled over with flat tires today. My Maxxis Ikons with EXO protection are holding up great in the rocky terrain. I really think it is the ideal tire for this race.

Here is video of one of the climbs we did today. The soundtrack is the song they play at the start line each morning. It is stuck in my head for most of the day. Now it can be stuck in yours too. You're welcome.

We lost a bunch of time today but still finished the day 6th in the co-ed division, which we were really happy about. I am doing a much better job at descending; I think Jeff would be very proud of me. I kept up with Brad on almost all the descents today, and a guy from one of the other teams complimented me about how well I rode the Land Rover technical descent section at the end of today’s stage. I think that is the first time anyone has ever complimented my descending skills!

We are both still feeling really good, legs feel strong and we are ready to tackle tomorrow’s 112 km stage!

A new way to get infinite recovery down. Mainly it just ruins the ice cream!

Our wonderful team leader, Jane, one of the CTS coaches. She works non-stop to keep us all happy, hydrated, organized, supplied with clean clothes, and knows the answer to every question we have

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Stage 2

AARRRGGG. They shortened the stage today. Apparently it is the first time in the 14-year history of the race that they have done this. I think it is bullshit. It is called Cape Epic for a reason – it is supposed be EPIC. It’s not supposed to be Cape Easy. They are saying over 70 teams got cut from the race yesterday for not finishing within the cut off times. And I guess the medic tents were over-run with riders in various stages of heat-related illness. The temperatures and humidity were supposed to be worse today, so they shortened the stage by 40kms. I think I was the only person from CTS who was mad about the course changes when we found out this morning. As our bike mechanic Grant said, they have been running this race for 14 years and no one has died yet.

But whatever. There are some things about this race that are outside of my control, and this is one of them. Brad and I prepared to race the 64km stage this morning. We got moved up in start corrals today and got to start in the A corral which starts at 7:05, right after the pro men and right before the pro women. It was a fast start again, led out by Brad. I think Brad is a good starter and I am a good finisher in races. It took about 18kms for my legs to finally feel alive. Today’s race was a point to point race: starting in Hermanus and ending in Greyton. The race today was mainly shortish punchy climbs and descents with quite a bit of rolling and rocky singletrack and a long dirt road section through rolling farmland leading into Greyton. Brad and I have both been impressed by how much singletrack there has been so far in this race.

At the start of Stage 2

Sunrise in Hermanus. We got to start in the A corral today!
 At aid station 1 at 30 kms, both of our stomach’s were feeling queasy. I dumped all the infinite out of my camel pack and switched to just water, which helped a bunch. Brad threw up. We rallied though and finished in 3h 23min. We finished in 7th place in the mixed category today. Places 6th-8th all finished within 30 secs of each other. Needless to say, it is a pretty competitive co-ed field.

Here is a video clip of Sven Nys climbing past us today (#74-1)! Pretty cool to see him out on the course.

We got back to the hotel in Greyton, and I ate as many calories as I could: infinite recovery drink (so gross but I choked most of it down), chicken pasta stir-fry and a huge bowl of ice cream. Like always, I am having a really hard time eating during the race. Yesterday, I did 575 calories worth of infinite and 1 80 cal gel, and today I only got down about half a camel pack of infinite before I dumped it for water. Since I can’t seem to eat much during the stages, I am trying to get my daily calories in when I am off the bike, which means lots of eating at the hotels!

My legs after today's race. All the dust makes for great sunblock!

A view from our hotel in Greyton