Sunday, January 1, 2017

Festive 500

This isn’t a story of epic proportions. It isn’t about how many miles biked, how many extreme weather conditions endured or how many miles climbed. It is about an average person riding an average bike and trying to make sense about what drives her to keep pedaling. There are certainly many reasons to stop. The disappointed tone in her mother’s voice when she tells her, “yes, mom, I’m going to be bringing my bike home again for Christmas” and her mother replies, “oh honey, you’re not going to do that silly biking challenge again, are you?” The alarm going off at 6am every morning during a rare week off from work at the hospital and dragging a tired body out from underneath the warm blankets. The constant worry that every dark patch on the road is black ice that will send her back wheel flying and her face into the unforgiving asphalt. The unspoken pressure applied by parents and family to be around to eat meals and play games together and not to be off cycling alone.

But the trouble is, there is meaning to what she does, to what draws her to the bike and solitary winter Connecticut roads. The rhythmic churning of legs, lungs and beating heart together. The feeling of the frosty wind across her face. There is a solace in the solo hours alone at dawn. The world is awakening for a new day and awakening a new sense of purpose in her soul. There comes with long hours alone an acceptance. An acceptance of the head wind that blows her backwards, an acceptance of the pain that comes with pushing up hills, an acceptance of the slow deliberate process of moving forward and checking off the miles. It’s a daily meditation. A resetting of stress and energy. It’s the one part of the day she has to let go of learning how to be a doctor and instead to think only about the road ahead.

Her dad is sitting in the living room watching a PBS special on Shackleton. They are recounting the story of how he and his crew became stranded on Elephant Island near the South Pole after their ship was crushed by ice and then had to make a daring open ocean crossing in a small sailboat to South Georgia to get rescued. Those were the days of true explorers, enduring the harshest of conditions, having the chance to stare death in the face and live to tell the tale. There is such a lack of adventure in the mundane life of constant work and studying. What does it mean to be alive when you spend your days enclosed within sterile walls, feeling the weight of the stethoscope around your neck like a yoke, driving home in a car, falling asleep in a heated house and repeating it again and again and again? She craves to break free from the monotonous routine. She craves to experience in any small way the same journey that those early explorers sought. To push herself beyond what she thought her body was capable of, to feel the icy wind against her face and do battle against it, to ride and discover new backcountry roads, to find herself completely broken mentally and physically, down to the raw essentials of being, and then learn how to build herself back up.

The bike is what makes her feel like she exists in the world; a living, breathing part of it. There is wildness in the descents, a sense of child-like playfulness in the trails, incredible views to take in from the top of hills, the feeling of flying along flat straightaways. Heart pumping, lungs sucking in air, arms pulling, muscles searing in pain. A sense of feeling strong, powerful, in complete control of body and machine. Numb fingers and toes, wind burned cheeks, drenched in sweat and rain. How many people get to experience that in their lifetime?

The thing her parents don’t understand is that she is not riding to escape. She is riding to be more present. There is more gratitude and gratefulness after suffering and pain. Sharing a warm cup of coffee on a couch with cousins is the best thing on earth after being alone for hours on the bike. A home cooked meal tastes ten times more delicious after a 40 mile ride in below freezing temperatures, and yes, she would love seconds. Going for walk in the woods and watching the dogs run through the snow seems like such a peaceful way to enjoy a windy afternoon.

And so, she rides on through the wintery scenery, a lonely bike against snow covered pines. There is nothing extraordinary about it, but there is a deeper meaning in what she does. She puts herself out there day after day to experience the world, to meditate, to test herself, to find the adventure in the routine, to satisfy a deep yearning to live and most of all to understand what it feels like to truly be alive. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

La Ruta

Ignorance is bliss when first attempting La Ruta. The stories of hell about this race abound. A man swept downstream by the river found 3 days later, barely alive, naked, no clothes, no bike. A picture of racers crossing a river completely unaware of a huge anaconda in the foreground. Hiking thigh deep through mud. Falling between the railroad ties of a bridge and dangling in the air holding on for dear life to your bike handlebars. I was mentally prepared for the worst, hardest race of my life, and still I was not prepared enough.

Pictures friends sent me in preparation for the race

Day 0: 

Woke up in Jaco, Costa Rica at the Best Western, about 500 meters from the start line. There is a beautiful blue pool, palm trees, a green lawn that gives way to the sand and Pacific Ocean. Open courtyards let the ocean breeze blow through. Idyllic, some would say. Like trying to enjoy a last meal before your execution if you are staying there the day before La Ruta. For me, the trials and tribulations of the race had already started. Despite all our other checked bags making it to San Jose the night before, my bike box was left in Houston. After hours on the phone with United Airlines and being told they were unable determine the exact location of my bike, it miraculously turned up at the hotel at 4pm. Just enough time to put it back together and get prepped for the next 3 days. 

Day 1: 

The race starts at 6am Tico time right on the beach. Which means more like 6:30 am. We had to wait for the helicopter to show up. Blades whirring, it circled low around us filming as the entire race snaked its way across the sand and almost immediately onto a muddy gravel road leading out of town. Day 1 went like this: holy steep climb, slogging through the mud across the Carara Jungle, holy steep climb after steep climb until the finish 100k later. I can’t really describe how steep the hills are here. Just when you think that was the steepest hill you have ever climbed up, you round a corner and bam, there is another one that seems even steeper. The only thing that keeps you going are the people cheering for you at the top, handing out baggies of water and Gatorade, sponging down your neck with cold water as you pedal on. When you pass through remote towns, there are entire schools of children cheering for you and wanting to give you a high five as you pass. It is a very supportive and jovial atmosphere which is needed because the kilometers tick by incredibly slowly. It took me just under 7 hours to complete stage 1, 4th overall in the women’s field, 10 minutes back from Olga Echenique of Cuba in 3rd and 50 minutes back on Angela Parra, the leader. Finishing times for the leaders of both the women’s and men’s races were super impressive.

At the start line on the beach in Jaco

Pace car and helicopter ready to lead out the race

Riding along the Costa Rican roads

Day 2: 

Breakfast was at 3am. The race start was at 5:30 am which today meant a 6:30 am start. I was ready for another day of climbing, but I was not prepared for what this day had in store. Today gave me a whole new definition of hike a bike. 2 hours up a muddy, rutted, bloody steep “road” that was definitely not passable except by maybe the most daring of dirt bikers. The downhill was just as steep, muddy and rutted out and was almost harder to hike down then on the way up. The hiking went on from there. It was first time I have finished a race in tears. There was not a single fun part about the day except crossing the finish line and lying down in the massage tent. Surprisingly though, I finished in 3rd with enough of a time gap to move up into 3rd place overall in the elite women’s category.

Starting the day under a rainbow

Crossing the finish line after the worst day I have spent on (but mostly off) the bike

 Day 3: 

The day started off with a white water kayaking trip down the Pacuare River. The rafting is technically optional for racers, but if you do it, you get 5 minutes off your total time for the race. (If you opt not to do it, you get to sleep in for 4 more hours which was definitely tempting after day 2). I only had a 2 minute lead on Olga in 4th, so rafting was not really optional for me. It was a beautiful trip though. We were floating along a swiftly flowing milky green river winding through the jungle and then narrowing through canyons with closely spaced fun rapids. We were completely soaked by the end. The rafting ends at the start of stage 3 which began at 1pm. This time, 1pm actually meant 1pm. Stage 3 was flat, flat, flat; a straight out hammer fest for 35 miles with 4 railroad bridge crossings and a small amount of riding in between the railroad tracks on chunky gravel and jarring railroad ties. I was ready. I was determined to fight to keep my 3rd place spot so I could be in a podium picture with Lea Davidson. I was also fairly confident in my ability to hammer since a lot of my training in Chapel Hill is done on fairly flat roads. It was a fast start, and I was in a bad position off the start line. Olga had a teammate riding with her letting her draft. I knew I had to work hard to catch up, but I was able to do that relatively quickly. Lea, Olga and I were in the same group coming into the railroad bridge crossings. I don’t think Lea liked the railroad crossings very much and the group of racers we were with moved past her on the high bridges. Just before aid 3, I think Olga flatted or something went wrong with her tire. The next time I looked behind me, there was no one there. Suddenly I found myself about 10 miles from the finish line leading the women’s field. I couldn’t quite believe it. I ended up taking the stage win and holding on to a 3rd place overall finish in the elite women’s field. It was such was incredible experience and so awesome to be on the podium with Olympian and silver medalist this year at the UCI MTB World Championships, Lea Davidson. 

Rafting on the Pacuare River

Ready to start stage 3. Dylan and I rocking our Ridge Supply Socks!

Crossing the railroad bridges. They are high and you have to be careful but I did not find them too scary

Finishing La Ruta! Ended up taking the stage win.

Me, Dylan and Drew at the finish line

Hard fought 3rd place finish! Angela Parra in 1st, Lea Davidson in 2nd. Very very happy with the result.
Got to meet and race with Olympian Lea Davidson which was super cool 

Everyone else in the group traveling with us finished the race and was super competitive in their divisions. Jen took 3rd in the women’s 30+ age group, Dylan took 17th overall, Drew got 6th and Anthony got 42nd in the men’s 30-39 age group. I think Jen said it best after the race. After completing La Ruta, you feel like you can do anything!

Jen on the podium too!

It was my first time doing a stage race. I will say it was pretty fun being totally engrossed in biking for 3 days without having to think about much else, and I think I got stronger each day. Having the Specialized bike service to clean and fix your bike and getting a massage each day were key. By 6pm, my body completely shut down. I would stay awake long enough to order dinner and then would feel too sick to eat it and would pass out in bed. By 2am, I would wake up starving, eat a cold dinner, then go back to sleep for a few hours before it was time to wake up for breakfast. It was a rather weird schedule but seemed to work for me.

We had a wonderful additional 3 days in Costa Rica after the race exploring the national park and beaches at Manuel Antonio and the hot springs at the Arenal Volcano. We saw monkeys, went parasailing over the ocean, swam under a waterfall, and ate ceviche while watching the sunset. I managed not to tip the car over backwards on the steepest dirt road hills I have ever driven. Me in 1st gear: “OMG, what’s that sound?” Jeff sitting next to me: “THAT’S PEELING. MOMENTUM, MOMENTUM!” And no matter how hard you try to leave La Ruta behind at the finish line, a bit of the race stays with you leading to several mad dashes off the beach and out of the hot springs to find the nearest toilet :-).

I really can't say thanks enough to Joe's Bike Shop for all the support this season, Ridge Supply Socks for the coolest socks around, and Chris Beck for coaching me and helping me achieve more than I ever thought was possible this year.

Monkeys and beaches at Manuel Antonio 

Waterfalls and hot springs at Arenal Volcano 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Dirty Kanza 200

5 days finished, back to work in the emergency department and I still can't stop thinking about the race. My body is wrecked. I wake up tired every morning wishing I had 5 more hours to sleep. My legs still feel like jelly when I get on my bike to ride. But all I can think about are those white gravel roads, green prairie grasses waving in the wind and the bright blue Kansas skies. How soon until we can go back?

The Flint Hills are a truly unique place, a place I would have never experienced if it hadn't been for this race. "Kansas?" everyone said when I told them about my vacation plans. Even as we were driving out to Emporia from the airport, we joked that the largest hill we saw was man-made on a golf course.

Getting prepped for the race took almost as much energy as the race itself. What would happen out there? How many flats would we get? What would my stomach feel like eating? I had read stories online of people getting 6 flat tires in a row, converting their bikes to single speeds after a derailleur break, having to be rescued by their support crew. The race instructions are very clear: this is a self-supported race in a remote and rugged environment with minimal aid. My only goal was to finish the race, and I wanted to make sure I had the tools to be able to do that. It took multiple trips to multiple bike shops and in the end, I barely used anything I had brought. For anyone considering the race, this is what I packed with me: 3 tubes, 3 CO2s and inflator head, tire lever, chain lube, multi tool and chain breaker, 2 quick links, tube patch kit, 3 tire boots, external battery and cord to charge my garmin, credit card. I had 6 additional tubes and CO2s out on the course at aid stations and 1 spare tire.

We flew into Kansas City, MO, rented a minivan, met up with Ethan, one of our friends from Joe's who now works for Salsa, and set off for Emporia. The next 2 days were spent preparing for the race: re-assembling bikes which luckily made it through unscathed (thanks to overkill bubble wrap), prepping drop bags, going to the rider's meeting, making playlists, pre-riding the gravel, adjusting tire pressure, charging garmins and lights, eating, hydrating, wondering what we were about to start in less than 48 hours. We were lucky enough to stay with a wonderful, kind, and incredibly generous host, Grace, who we met through air bnb. She lived less than 1 mile from the course start and went out of her way to make sure we had everything we needed for a successful race. She even had official DK kolsch on hand for us!

Our host and new friend, Grace
The morning of the race, we were up at 4:45am, out to the start line by 5:30, and rolling out of Emporia at 6. There is a neutral rollout led by last year's champions and the town's law enforcement vehicles. The race was on.

At the start line
Unfortunately, what had been dry and dusty gravel the day before during our pre-ride had turned into thick clay mud and standing puddles of water with overnight thunderstorms. Immediately our bikes and bodies were covered in mud. I was charging through the puddles and mud bogs still feeling excited and fresh. I started feeling my chain skipping across the front chain ring. Skip, skip, skip, grind, and then it fell off. Fuck.

Road conditions for the first 5 miles. The mud got deeper
I pulled off to the side of the road. I put the chain back on, spun my pedals once around with my hand, and off the chain fell onto the outside of my chain ring. Panic set in. I couldn't get my chain to stay on the gears. I watched almost the entire field of riders pass me by. All that travel, all the planning and now I was here, sidelined, less than 5 miles from the start. In that moment all of my goals and plans for the race disappeared. All I cared about was getting back on my bike and pedaling again. How was I going to make that happen?

2 guys had pulled off next to me with similar shifting issues. One told me to clean as much mud off my bike as possible. Done. After more tinkering, the other guy somehow got my chain to stick in a single gear. Omg. I was going to be able to pedal. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I cannot thank you enough. I was off. I didn't care I had only 1 gear. I was back on the road and working towards aid station 1. After a few miles of dry road, I dared to shift and found that I had 3 working gears. One for the flats, 2 for the hills. All plans about conserving energy for the first 50 miles went to abandon. My only thought was going as hard and as fast as I could to work my way back up through the field. If someone passed me going faster, I caught their wheel and stayed with them until someone faster passed us and I was off at a faster pace with them. I pulled up to Ted, another member of the Joe's Bike Shop team, and he burned a match to give me pull. I really can't thank him enough for that. Just before aid station 1 at the 48 mile mark, I caught up to Jeff on his pink mountain bike. Making progress. I felt good.

At aid station 1, I restocked on water and got my shifting fixed. Still not perfect, but I had more than 3 gears and was psyched about that. Now I could more comfortably spin up the hills. I caught Ethan around mile 50. All I could think was push, push, push. I would pass people who told me I still had a long day ahead but I didn't listen. I just kept pushing those pedals down.

Around mile 90, a peloton of riders came charging by including Kris Auer, who I used to ride with Baltimore, and Amanda Neuman, last year's winner. They definitely caught me by surprise because I thought they would be way ahead of me. I found out later Kris had gotten lost and Amanda had been held up with a flat tire. We pulled into aid station 2 together. That was the first time I found out I was in second place.

I spent too much time at aid station 2. I was feeling a bit tired by the effort of the first 100 miles. It was also hot. I had to pee and there were no bathrooms. The cold mountain dew never tasted so good. I finally pulled out of Eureka by myself. I did a double take about a mile up the road when Tim Johnson and Yuri Hauswald (last year’s overall winner) rode past me. “Aren’t you guys supposed to be up with leaders?” I asked. They probably didn’t appreciate my question very much. A little while later, I saw Yuri pulled over on the side of the road with a flat tire. A little while after that, I caught back up to Tim Johnson and a few other people he was riding with. That was definitely a highlight of the race for me. I was riding in the Dirty Kanza with Tim Johnson! Then a little while after that, I pulled away from Tim Johnson and kept pushing towards aid station 3. That was also a highlight.

Getting to aid station 3 was the hardest part of the race. We were headed north about 63 miles from Eureka back to Madison, and there was an unrelenting headwind the entire way there. Each rolling hill seemed longer than the next, the wind was blowing us backwards, and the sun was baking us overhead. There were no trees, no long downhills, no recovery, no escape from the elements. Progress was frustratingly slow. 

Ethan met me at aid 3. His frame had cracked on one of the downhills. I felt bad he couldn’t finish the race, but he seemed in good spirits and assured me he would be back next year. He helped me load back up on water and perpetuem. I didn’t stay long at aid 3. I knew I probably wouldn’t get going again if I did. My body had never felt so tired before.

I was back out crunching gravel under my tires. I crested a hill. Below me, all I could see for miles around was green pastures dotted with brown cattle and above a blue sky dotted with white clouds. It was beautiful, isolating, the grasses and shadows constantly shifting with the winds yet seemingly unchanging and monotonous after 180 miles. I was an inconsequential speck to the vastness of this land.

Rolling into Emporia was the most incredible experience. Suddenly, life mattered again. A huge crowd was cheering for me. I crossed the finish line, 206 miles, 13 hours 28 minutes. No more gravel, no more wind, no more mud. I wanted to start crying but all I seemed able to do was smile. I didn’t know anyone at the finish line. Volunteers from the town were giving me hugs. I was so grateful for that. I wanted to remember how it had felt out there, how hard it had been, those dark places I had pushed through, but I couldn’t. All I could think about was that feeling of rolling into Emporia and crossing that finish line and what an incredible sense of happiness, relief and accomplishment I felt.

Jeff finished just under 15 hours. We biked our exhausted bodies back to Grace’s house, showered and passed out. Jeff drank my celebratory beer because I was too tired. Everyone we talked to after the race wanted to know if we were planning to come back. “Maybe,” I said. “Definitely not,” Jeff said. “One and done” was his mantra. It took a little longer for Jeff to realize, but by day 2, he was already thinking about how he could improve his time, his bike and his fitness for next year. We’ll be back Kansas. Those striking, austere, dusty, unforgiving, awful, beautiful gravel roads are calling.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Conquering the Cramps

During endurance races, it's not uncommon to pass someone stopped on the side of the trail stretching, moaning and sometimes doubled over with leg cramps. Post-race campfire stories inevitably include guys comparing where along the course the cramps started, how long they lasted for, and how those muscles are still tender to touch. So for this post, I decided to look at what can be done to prevent and treat these dreaded leg muscle cramps.

Why do muscles seize up?
There are 2 theories as to why muscles cramp. The first has to do with dehydration-electrolyte imbalance. Because athletes exercising in hot and humid conditions experienced muscle cramps, it was thought that a combination of the heat and resulting dehyrdation/electrolyte loss from sweating might explain why muscles cramp. It is true that a correct electrolyte composition is important for muscle relaxation. Too much potassium, low sodium, low magnesium and low calcium levels can all cause muscle cramps. However, evidence for dehydration-electrolyte imbalance theory is lacking. In studies of runners, fluid losses, sweat rates and blood electrolyte compositions were exactly the same in those runners that cramped and those who did not. Furthermore, when given proper hydration, carbohydrates and electrolytes during exercise, cramps still occurred in 69% of athletes, suggesting that simple hydration and nutrition is not enough to prevent attacks of the cramp monster.

The second theory of why muscles cramp has to do with the communication between your muscles and your nerves (neuromuscular theory). There are 2 main sensors that send feedback to your brain about muscle contraction. The first are called muscle spindles. These sensors are in your muscle and detect muscle length. When you lengthen or stretch your muscle, they send a signal to your brain (via sensory neurons) to immediately contract that muscle so that the muscle doesn't tear. The contraction signal is carried back to your muscle by the motor neurons. The second sensors are called Golgi tendon organs, and these are located in your tendons, which connect the muscle to the bone. These sense muscle tension, so when your muscle is contracted, these sensors are activated and motor neurons from your brain tell the muscle to relax. In short: muscle spindles tell your brain to contract muscles. Gogli tendon organs tell your brain to relax them.

Muscle cramps usually happen when the muscle is contracting in an already-shortened position. For example, bend your knee and point your toes to the floor - this shortens your calf muscle. Now actively contract that muscle. That is the position your calf muscle is most likely to be in when it cramps up. In this position, there is not a lot of tension on the muscle for the Golgi tendon organs to detect, so there are no "relaxing" signals being sent to your brain. In addition, studies have found that fatigue causes the muscle spindles to be more more excitable and the Golgi tendon organs to be inhibited, meaning that your brain receives a lot more "contract, contract" signals and not enough "relaxing" signals. As a result, your muscle seizes up uncontrollably.

Is there a way to treat muscle cramps in a race?
Most of the riders I've talked to recommend just pedaling through the cramps. After 2-3 minutes of excruciating pain, the cramps go away. The experts in the literature recommend stretching. Stretching a contracting muscle puts more tension on it and gets the Gogli tendon organs firing, which tells your brain to relax that muscle. Here are some ways to stretch your muscles without getting off the bike.

For your calf muscle: put the crank in 4-6 o'clock position, slide back in the saddle, lock your knee straight and slowly drop your heel as far as you can get it to go (or think about pointing your toes towards your nose).

For your hamstring muscle:  put the crank at 4-5 o'clock position, slide back in the saddle, bend forward at the hip, and lock your knee straight (don't point your toes down, but don't pull them up either). Pull down on the pedal stroke in the 3-4 o'clock range.

For your quad muscles: Unclip, reach down and grasp your ankle or the heel of your shoe. Keep straight at the hip and use your hand to pull your heel to your butt. If you inside thigh is cramping, bring your heel a little to the outside of your thigh. If your outside thigh is cramping, bring your heel up a little to the inside.

Jeff informed me the other day he was going to start taking quinine for his leg cramps. The anti-malarial drug, I asked questioningly? Apparently, quinine was once prescribed off-label for treatment of leg cramps. However, in 2006, the FDA issued a news release on risks of quinine use linking it to serious side effects such as cardiac arrhythmias, low blood counts and 93 deaths. I think I would rather suffer through a couple minutes of leg cramps than risk some of these.

Vitamin E, magnesium sulfate and magnesium citrate have also been studied as possible treatments for leg cramps, but the studies showed no improvement over placebo. There is weak evidence that 30 mg per day of vitamin B6 or 30 mg of a calcium channel blocker, such as diltiazem, may reduce the number of muscle cramps, but these studies included only a small number of patients so more research is really needed before any drug regimen can be recommended.

Is there a way to prevent muscle cramps in the first place?
The best prevention strategies are ones that make common sense. Good conditioning and proper hydration appear to have the best results. If you are going to be racing in the heat, train in the heat. Same for the mountains. And despite the lack of direct evidence, maintaining hydration and adequate electrolyte levels is still important. During training, your body adapts to the work load and the way it processes fluids and electrolytes so that cramps become less of an issue.

Other prevention techniques target the Golgi tendon organs in an effort to delay neuromuscular fatigue. Plyometric exercises may be beneficial for increasing the efficiency of Golgi tendon organ firing and delaying the onset of Golgi tendon organ fatigue. These exercises involve combinations of explosive jumps, squats or short duration all-out sprints on the bike with the goal of having muscles exert maximum force in as short a time as possible. If a particular muscle is prone to cramping, exercises aimed to increase that muscle's strength and flexibility may also help prevent cramps during races.

Finally, there may be a biomechanical cause to leg cramps during cycling. If your bike is not set up correctly, some muscles may have to work harder than others when you are riding, and those muscles may be more prone to cramping. It can't hurt to get a proper bike fit.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mohican 100 Race Report

What a great weekend and race! Mohican 100 was the second NUE race that Jeff and I signed up for this year. It takes place in Loudonville, Ohio, about 6.5 hours west of Baltimore. The race starts on the main street of Loudonville and finishes at Mohican Adventures campground where a lot of race participants camp out, including us. Jeff and I headed down on Friday morning and arrived around 3pm. We camped at a wooded, mosquitoey site with our teammate Chris and one of his friends, Matt, who flew in from Boston for the race. After setting up our tents and watching Matt expertly reassemble his full suspension MTB, we headed to race check-in and then out on the trails for a quick spin to stretch our legs and see what the singletrack trails looked like. The trails were really fun: they were dry, fast, and twisty with enough technical roots and rocks to keep Jeff and Chris happy and me constantly on my toes. Riding dry trails is somewhat of a novelty for us this spring because we have had so much rain in Baltimore. We were having so much fun on our pre-ride we joked we should just keep riding into the evening and forget about the race the next day!

We did eventually turn back and hit up Trail's End restaurant for our pre-race dinner of pizza, burgers and chicken wraps. We also invested in some fire wood and bug spray, which worked miracles back at the campsite. At some point in the middle of the night, Jeff woke me up. "Do you here that?" He sounded very concerned. "There is a wild animal right outside our tent." I listened groggily, but didn't hear anything, so I rolled over and went back to sleep. Matt was also awake though. He and Jeff got out of the tents to investigate.

Matt: I heard that too. It was definitely attacking something.
Jeff: Yeah, that was scary. What was it? I think I can still hear it breathing on the hill behind our tents.
Matt: I know. Is there any food out? Should we get rid of the trash here?
Jeff: I don't know. I think you can hang it from a tree. 
Matt: Do you think it was a fox? What does a fox sound like?

I don't know guys, but I'm pretty sure that's a song.

On race morning, we were up at 5. We left our campsite to cycle to start line just as the sun was peeking through the trees. It promised to be a beautiful day. There were 600 racers lined up on main street as both the 100k and 100 mile racers started together. My goal for the start was to stay upright. I did not want to get caught up in a crash on the road. That happened to 2 riders last year:

The start was fast because there was a $200 prime for the first rider to reach the top of the first big hill climb on the road. I was well back in the pack, but felt good on the road. There were a few bottlenecks once we hit the trails but generally the line of cyclists in front of me moved along well.

The first 30 miles of the race was all singletrack trails. I rode them decently. I went over my handlebars on one steep downhill section but both body and bike were fine so I just kept right on going. I'm not very smooth or flowy through the trails. This is how things usually go for me: pedal, pedal, pedal, oooo tricky corner, brake, use lots of energy trying to get over some roots...ok, now remember to stay relaxed....omg rocks, I'm going to die, brake, pedal, pedal, pedal to catch up back up. It's very draining. Chris captured some of the trails on his GoPro:

After 30 miles, we exited the trails onto a road. I was able to eat, drink, and generally relax so much more. Now I felt like I was racing! I think maybe this is a sign I should concentrate more on road racing next year.

I stopped at aid station 3 for some food and refilled my camel pack. My Garmin was reading about 48 miles and just under 5 hours. This was going to be a long race. I mentally prepared myself for another 5 hours on the bike.

Luckily, the second half of the course was a lot faster. It was a mix of paved and fire roads with some steep but short climbs and a 10 mile section of relatively flat rail trail. I pulled into aid station 4 at mile 72 and downed a Red Bull and some watermelon. Jeff was getting ready to go just as I was pulling in. I said hello and watched him disappear up the hill in front of me. My legs were feeling starting to feel pretty tired.

Somewhere along the trails between aid station 4 and 5, I hit a mud bog. My front tire sank in and came to a complete stop. I couldn't unclip in time and fell over sideways into the mud. Gross. I sloshed my way out and cycled along the road by a river. There were families floating down on yellow rafts. I wanted nothing more than to jump into that river and join them. I daydreamed about floating downstream to the finish.

I came to the last aid station which was supposed to be at mile 92. The last few miles were all singletrack trails. If anyone had been watching me ride those trails, they would have questioned whether I had ever ridden a bike before. If there was a root or rock in my way, I got off my bike and just walked over it. I pushed my bike up some of the hills and even walked some of the rocky downhills. I was mentally finished with riding in the woods. After about a mile into the singletrack, a rider passed me.

Rider: Get on my wheel. We can still break 9hrs.
Me: You have to be joking. We have miles of singletrack left.
Rider: Not true. There are only 2-3 more miles left.
Me: Seriously? That is best news I've heard all day.

I didn't break 9 hrs, but I finished that race and actually came in 2nd place despite all of the singletrack riding. I was beyond exhausted, but happy to have my finishers growler in hand. It was only later in the evening, after 2 lbs of chicken breast, refried beans, pasta salad, oatmeal cookies, 2 slices of pizza and 2 cups of beer, that I finally started to feel better. The next day, I was still pounding calories. A McGriddle from McDonalds, a full breakfast of eggs, sausage and grits from Cracker Barrel, beef jerky from a gas station rest stop - I think I ate more meat that day than I have in a very long time!

Here is Jeff's race report:

Never having ridden this course before, I again should have listened to the advice "push on the road to get into the singletrack with a good group." Our pre-ride on Friday at a peppy-fun pace was a hair faster than the pace of the giant single-file line of bikers. Any rider's bobble would slow the long conga-line down. But maybe it was a blessing in disguise. As Carla described, there was LOTS of single track in the first 45-50 miles. It took me about 5 hours to make it to mile 50. A finishing time of 10 hours did not sit well in my mind.

But then I hit the flat rail-trail, road and double track sections and really picked up the pace. You could see the miles ticking away on the GPS. I was very happy about this.

The conservative pace upfront left me with legs for the last 40+ miles of road, ups and double track. I really felt great ascending. Given how I had been feeling this season, I needed this confidence boost. If you follow Carla's musings, you know that I think I have Lyme disease or some sort of illness, but it is more likely a case of the lazies and beers-ies. But on Saturday, I finally found my race mode.

The inner thigh cramps and hamstring cramps came around mile 80, but I have learned that if I just keep pedals and ignore them, then go away in a few minutes. They did.

Back in the final single track I did some quick math, and I knew I could break 9 hours if I kept pushing. So I was on it, as hard as my legs could push me. There were lots of 100k riders finishing up on this same stretch. Most of them heard me coming, or heard my "rider back" warning and cleared away. However, there was one tricky rock spot on an uphill corner. There were 3 men standing there with bikes... there was room for me to squeeze between them, but not with a good line choice. Of course I bobbled, could not unclip, and tipped over slow-motion style directly onto one of them. It was hugely embarrassing, and lying there I could not muster the energy to get up. "Could you help me stand up?" My beet-red face uttered "I'm so sorry" about 4 times before continuing on. Funny how picking myself up off the ground was impossible, but back on the bike I felt good again. Back to the goal: beat 9 hours.

I did it. 8:52:33. 40th place. I could not be happier with that. At the finish, race volunteers immediately stop you and say "good job! Growler or Pint glass?" I asked if I could come back to get them, because if I stopped, the legs would surely lock up. After a quick spin around the campsite to move the good blood into place, I picked up the growler. I saw my teammate Chris Lane, and he said he had just come in a few minutes before me (8:46:49). Knowing how strong Lane is, I was super psyched to finish near him. Matt also did well too, crushing all of us and finishing in 8:18:24 despite getting lost and riding some extra miles.

Chris, Jeff and my muddy bike on Saturday evening

Like Carla wrote: amazing post-race dinner, great course, amazing weather, great camping and love hanging out with Lane and Williams. This is the most fun of the 100's. Most FUN (by far, not the most challenging). Now, on to more training for PTAP100: the hardest MTB race in the universe.