Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Pisgah 55.5k

I woke up at 4am Sunday morning. My legs were sore and hurting, I could barely stretch out my arms they were so tight from all the hiking and bike carrying of yesterday. My stomach was cramping from hunger. I grabbed my phone and started poking around our air bnb room searching for food and ibuprofen. I found a cliff bar and a bagel and luckily my mom woke up and told me where to find ibuprofen in her suitcase. All of that down the hatch and then back to bed to try to catch a few more hours of sleep before race time again.

I woke up again at 8 and looked out the window. It was teeming down with rain. "Are you sure you want to do this again today?" my mom asked. I didn't answer right away, but I already knew the answer in my head. I committed to a weekend of racing in Pisgah and a little or even a lot of rain wasn't going to deter my plans. I wrapped up my blistered feet as best I could, slid them back into soaking wet shoes and headed out to the start line.

Starting off in the pouring rain: Photo courtesy of Steve Barker

I want to give a huge thanks and shout out to the guys at The Hub, who helped fixed my suspension after the race yesterday. Although they didn't have a replacement lock-out in stock, they were able to rig up some type of solution so that I had at least a working front fork and a partially working rear suspension for the race today. I really can't thank them enough for helping me. 

I had heard from a bunch of people that the 55.5k is harder than the 111k with more technical trails and no "free miles" on fire roads. I knew that were were going up Black Mountain the way we had finished yesterday, across on Turkey Pen, which was going to be a new trail for me, and then repeating the hardest 17 miles of singletrack that included the descent down Pilot and long hike-a-bike sections on Black Mountain again. At least today, I knew exactly what to expect. 

We started off in the pouring rain, and it rained all day, never letting up. The trails were just comical, rivers literally running down them, muddy, slippery - it was going to be an epic day of riding for sure. We started the climb up Black Mountain. Allison was definitely looking peppy. She was running up sections of trail, jumping onto her bike cx style, pedaling away. I was definitely not feeling that limber. I just let her go and focused on steady deliberate hiking up Black Mountain. Again, my main goal today was to finish. However, at the top of Black Mountain, I was saw Allison again turning right down Turkey Pen, and I was only a few seconds behind her. Hmmm. I thought. I seemed to be catching her without putting out too much effort. Maybe I can make this into a race. Turkey Pen was a mess. Wet, muddy, steep, slippery downhills. As much as I want to push the limits of my descending skills, I also enjoy having a job in the ED and 4 fully functioning limbs, so I decided to run my bike down one of the steepest parts on Turkey Pen. Allison road it and came shooting past me and got a good gap right before aid 1. Oh well. 

I was actually feeling pretty good at Aid 1. I had plenty of water in my camel pack and just rolled through without stopping. The rest of the course I knew from racing yesterday. The river crossings today were super high with strong currents. I almost went under across the largest one but luckily my foot found a rock and I put all my weight against it and stood up and forced my tired arms to get my bike above my head so it wasn't dragging me downstream. They guys I was crossing with made some comments about my good save. 

On the climb up 5015, I saw Allison again in front of me. I decided to go catch her and passed her just before Aid 2. I filled up my camel pack and was off up Laurel. It was still pouring, but I felt great and was riding really well for me. Even with all the rain and mud, the slippery roots and rocks were not causing me any issues. I made it up to the top of Pilot and again did the scary descent down the back, this time with rivers running down the trail. Into Aid 3, and back up Buckhorn Gap. Today it was not a fun fast climb. Today, it was a deep muddy mess that your tires just sank into. I met another racer named Tony, and we talked for bit as we rode along and then did more hiking up Black Mountain. I just focused on constant, deliberate forward progress and tried to roll my bike up everything since my arms were too tired to carry it. 

Finally I hit the last descent. Finally, a few minutes of fun before this race was over! However, mid way down the mountain, both of my brakes finally failed. I couldn't stop. OMG. So scary. I unclipped my left foot and started skimming the ground trying to control my speed. I finally turned my bike straight into the woods, off the trail and was able to stop. F. It seems fitting that had to run my bike down the rest of the descent. Pisgah made me work for every single mile of that race. I finished though, 1st place, drenched, bruised, blistered, tired, with a totally destroyed bike. It was pretty epic!

At the finish! Photo from Steve Barker
I feel like I conquered Pisgah, and I did it in the rain. Finishing back to back races there definitely makes you feel like you can do anything! Many thanks to the race director and all the volunteers who put on a great weekend of racing and who braved the elements to make it a great day for all us of racing. Much thanks too to Maxxis Tires and ESI grips which held up great in the terrible conditions, Ridge Supply socks (blisters were from new shoes not the socks!), Huma Gel, Joe's Bike Shop, my coach, Chris Beck, and of course, my mom who only questioned my insanity once!

Women's podium. Eleanor finished 3rd both days on a single speed which is absolutely insane!
Cool belt buckle prizes from I9

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pisgah 111k

After this weekend, I can cross one off my bucket list: to do a race in Pisgah. It has been my goal to race in Pisgah ever since moving to North Carolina. Jeff and I have never had fun biking the singletrack in there. Roots, rocks, overgrown trails, hike-a-bikes, getting terribly lost because we always try to figure out routes without bringing maps, 4 hour planned rides that end up taking 7. That has been our experience with the Pisgah singletrack the 2 times we have tried to ride there. But for some reason in my mind, doing a race in Pisgah means you are a real mountain biker with real technical riding skills, which is what I have been working hard on over the last couple of years. I wanted to put those skills to the test. I had no idea what to expect. The trails listed on the cue sheets (Laurel Mountain, Pilot Rock, Black Mountain) had no meaning to me.

New kit day! Jeff and I designed summer racing jerseys

Before the start.

Saturday was the 111k. Dylan told me at the start that the trails were just like Shenandoah. That made me feel better about the day since I can handle Shenandoah. Let me just say that the trails are in no way like Shenandoah. Dylan said after the race that he hadn't actually ridden those trails in a really long time and had forgotten how hard they were. Wonderful. 

At the start. Photo credit to my mom!

And we are off!

We started up the dirt road climb behind the horse stables. I was feeling good, nervous about what the day held, excited to be actually racing in Pisgah! The weekend for me was not about racing other people. It was about riding my pace, staying within my head, not getting wigged out on the super steep rocky downhills, and keeping something in reserve since I had no idea what Pisgah would serve up for me around the next corner. 

Maybe actually having fun riding in Pisgah?

The race was actually going incredibly well. I made it through a bunch of singletrack to Aid 1 without too much difficulty and it seemed like no time passed at all before I was at Aid 2 at the top of a fire road climb up 5015. After that, there was some more fire road and we hit Spencer's Gap trail, which definitely made it onto my list of top 10 favorite trails to ride. I hit Aid 3 around 50 miles and was still feeling good. 50 miles into a Pisgah race, and I wasn't yet having death wishes. Ah, how naive I was. 

The last 20 miles is probably the hardest 20 miles of singletrack riding I have ever done. Laurel Mountain trail is ok. There are some really tricky rocky sections that I had to walk over and the roots always seemed to want to slide me off the trail and down the mountain side, but I managed those fine. Then there is a long hike-a-bike section to the top of Pilot Rock. The descent off Pilot Rock was super challenging. Steep, huge rocks in all the switchbacks, gullies to navigate through. Ugh. To make matters worse, my lock out had stopped working somewhere along the way, so I had a rigid frame to navigate down the mountain. If anyone from the bike industry is reading this, you should really reverse engineer lockouts so that if the lock out breaks, your suspension is full squish instead of fully locked out.

I made to aid station 4. There was something like 8 or 9 miles to go. Woo! No problem. Climbed up Buckhorn Gap trail which was a gradual, fun, fast climb. 5 or so miles. OMG. Those last 5 miles were THE WORST. At least 4 long hike-a-bike sections, super steep, slick rocks. I was definitely not expecting that. Blisters on both feet made each step painful. I started losing it and cursing the forest. It felt like La Ruta, although I kept telling myself nothing was ever going to be as bad as La Ruta. And it wasn't. I hit the descent, walked down a few really sketchy sections up high with big drops, and then flew down the lower part of Black Mountain which was so so fun! And then the finish line was right there! 8 hours and 45 mins. It was a long day, but first race in Pisgah was done, and I was still in one piece!

No longer new kit day

Finished in 1st place for the women. Congrats to Miko and Elenaor and everyone else who raced too

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mother's day

This post is dedicated to my mom. I really don't think I would be where I am in racing right now if it wasn't for my mom, and since it is mother's day, I thought I would share some stories about how much my mom has supported my racing adventures. It started off freshman year of college. I decided I wanted to run a marathon. I found the closest and cheapest one that I could. It was called the Race of Champions Marathon in Holyoke, MA. My mom drove up from CT to pick me up from college in New Hampshire, and we drove to Holyoke together. She was there cheering for me at all the aid stations and volunteered to help hand out water and gels to runners while she waited for me to come through. She was at the finish line to give me a big hug and say congratulations and share in my enthusiasm and post-race stories.

A few years later, I decided to try a half Ironman in the Poconos. Again, it was my mom I called after I paid the registration fee to see if she wanted to go with me. "Of course," she said. "I would love to." She went with me to race registration and was there to try to comfort me when we found out the swim was cancelled due to flooding of the river and the half ironman turned into a half duathlon. She was there to help me across the finish line and take my picture when I finished 2nd in my age group. During the pre-race dinner, we sat with some seasoned triathletes who were talking about their Ironman experiences. My mom thought they were crazy for trying that distance. I couldn't wait to sign up.

Poconos 70.3 (minus the swim)

The next year, we were off to St. George, Utah together. That was back when St. George was still a full Ironman distance tri. We met at the airport in New York and flew out together, just me and her. She was there to drive around the bike course with me before the race so I could see just how hilly it was going to be, she was up before dawn so that she could see me off at the race start, she mapped out a route around the course so that she could cheer for me at multiple sites, and she was there at the finish line to hear them announce my name as an Ironman finisher.

The start of the St. George Ironman

Exploring The Narrows at Zion National Park during our trip to Utah
Hiking at Bryce Canyon

There were lots of other races my mom came to. Countless soccer practices and tournaments in high school, crew races in college, other marathons, triathlons, and cyclocross races. She is still the first person I call after a big race to give her the results. My mom doesn't always understand why I like endurance racing or the sometimes obsessive training that goes along with it, but she has never stopped believing in me or cheering for me.

My mom in the yellow raincoat (and dad) braving the Connecticut blizzard to cheer me on during cyclocross nationals this past January 

After the racing at cx nats

My mom is the one who gave me my sense of adventure, who taught me a love for the outdoors, and who taught me not to be afraid to try new things. Without that spirit that she instilled in me, I probably would have never started mountain biking in the first place. She also taught me that if you are going to do a job, you should put in 100% and do the job right. That is still something I try to live by everyday.

Winter skiing with mom in VT
Summer hiking with mom in NH

This coming weekend are races in Pisgah. Jeff is away in Baltimore that weekend and isn't racing. Guess who is coming with me instead? Thanks mom. You are best. And happy happy mother's day!

My mom trying mountain biking last summer! Never afraid to try something new

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Cohutta 100

Sometimes races are won not on strong pedaling performances but on pure grit, perseverance and determination not to give up. That was certainly the case for me this past weekend at Cohutta. Maybe it was a crazy residency work schedule recently and constantly switching from working nights and days. Maybe it was not unloading enough from a tough training block prescribed by Coach Beck. Maybe it was simply the fact I had an off day. Whatever the reason, Saturday's race involved a lot a suffering, and I got lucky that I was still able to pull off a win. If someone had challenged me especially late in the race, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to counter their attack.

This is the 4th year I have raced Cohutta, I'm not sure how many times Chris has raced, but every year we take a picture on the same rock

We drove out to the Ocoee Whitewater Center on Friday. Before we had even had time to park, we had the windows open were saying hi to friends we hadn't seen in a really long time. Chris, Kathy and Mark from the Joe's Bike Shop team, Brenda and Lee Simril, Tom Haines, Jen and Anthony Toops, Dylan Johnson, Jeff Clayton. It was really fun seeing everyone again and catching up. We went for a fun pre-ride down the first 10 miles of singletrack and then set up camp at Thunder Rock Campground. We got invited to a delicious dinner of homemade lasagna and strawberry cobbler cooked in dutch ovens with Brad and all of his friends from Chattanooga.

Group photo from our pre-ride

I'm not going to lie. I was feeling really tired on Friday night. But Saturday morning rolled around and we biked over to the start line under the Kenda arch. After the annual prayer, we were off. There were some last minute course changes unfortunately due to the forest service not letting us bike on some trails in the area or use the usual forest roads. Instead of 100 miles and a big gravel road loop, the course was changed to 83 miles with a smaller gravel loop and an out and back section on a gravel jeep road. Hopefully next year we will get to ride those new back country trails.

Race start

The start was fast. Up the first road hill and into the first 20 miles of single track. It was also hot. Sweat was pouring off my face within the first 20 min of riding. I felt pretty good through the first single track and got a lead on the rest of the women's field. Then we hit the 14 mile out and back jeep road. I was with a group of guys and decided to just sit in with them. I wanted to push, but my legs were already feeling too tired for only being 20-30 miles into the race.

Here is my GoPro footage of the first singletrack section:

Somewhere around mile 40, I was riding with Dan Kotwicki. We usually end up riding together at some point during these NUE races. He said something about how last year I was hammering this course and how he couldn't keep up. That motivated me a bit to get my butt moving. I took up off a hill and actually felt ok for about 20 miles and maybe put in a little more of a gap on the 2nd place woman.

The last 20 miles were a straight out suffer fest. The fatigue I was feeling at mile 20 felt like it was doubling with every mile. I haven't felt that bad in a bike race in a really long time. I wasn't racing anymore. I was simply pedaling to finish, head down, slow spinning up the hills, just flat out focusing not to give up. There were parts of the last singletrack section that were really fun, but then a steep kicker of a hill would pop around a corner and that brought all the misery back. Finally, I hit the last downhill that brought me out to the road and finish line. I looked behind me and still didn't see any other women. Thank goodness. It was a huge relief crossing that finish line.

Crossing the finish line

The result was a great one but the racing was not, and I know I have way more to put out there on the course. Dan also told me during our ride together that I was riding like Cheryl Swornson and Amanda Carey. That was really nice of him, because I look up to both of those women who destroyed endurance mountain bike races and who are also just really nice and encouraging people. I didn't ride like them at Cohutta this year, but I have another month of training, some technical racing in Pisgah, better tapering and then Mohican, where I am already looking forward to personal redemption!

Thanks so much to ESI grips (best grips out there), Maxxis Tires (once again, Ikons with sidewall protection did great, no flats), Huma Gels, Ridge Supply Socks, Back Alley Bikes for getting my hardtail ready, Chris Beck for all the coaching and Joe's Bike Shop for all the support.

Women's Open Podium

Hanging out with Chris, Brad and Dylan after the race

Me, Tom and Jeff
Enjoying post race beers with Janis at Wicked Weed in Asheville on the way home