Monday, May 14, 2018

Marathon MTB Nats

Sometimes in a race, it is victory to make it to start line and that is how MTB marathon nats went down for me this year. It was a disappointing result, but I'm not going to be too hard myself for a poor performance at this one.

I have wanted to race at marathon nats for the past 3 years. Unfortunately, there has always been something during residency that kept me from going, usually mandatory meetings or not being able to find another resident to cover my scheduled shift. So I was really excited this year about the prospect of finally making it to this race. And then I found out that I had been scheduled by the higher powers to take my oral boards the day before the race, which is a requirement to become board certified in Emergency Medicine and which is pretty important for the rest of my career. And no matter how much I pleaded with those higher powers, I was unable to change my exam date. Humph.

Oral boards is a nerve wracking exam that takes place in Chicago. You rotate between hotel rooms and have to work your way through artificial patient cases that you might encounter in the emergency room while an examiner sits on the other side of a desk behind propped up folders and furiously scribbles notes after everything you say.

Jillian and me the morning before our board exam

Many people ask how I have time to race while also training to be a doctor. The main answer is that I have gotten really good at figuring out scheduling conflicts. So, I figured out a way to take my oral boards in Chicago on Saturday afternoon and still make it to Arkansas for the race at 8am on Sunday morning. While I did not have the race I wanted, I did learn some valuable lessons from this adventure! 

Lesson 1: I have wonderful friends

My boards were scheduled to end at 7pm and I found the last flight from Chicago to Little Rock left at 8:25, so I figured I could physically get myself to Arkansas before the race. I just needed a way to also get my bike there. Yay for friends. Lauren was able to drive my bike from Roanoke to Cohutta 100 in Tennessee where she was racing the weekend before. Dylan also happened to be racing at Cohutta and was able to pick up my bike from Lauren, store it for a week and then drive it down to Arkansas on the CTS van for me. Both Lauren and Dylan crushed Cohutta 100 and won the women's and men's races respectively too! So huge congrats to them and also so many thanks for helping me out with the bike. I also got some course beta from Libbey (who collected another USA cycling jersey on Sunday!) and Anthony Toops who raced there last year. Thanks guys!

Lesson 2: Do not try to race in the pro field the day after oral boards

I made to Little Rock at 10:30 pm on Saturday night, rented a car, drove an hour from the airport to Arkadelphia, checked into a Days Inn, found out I was in a smoking room, tried to change rooms but they had no other ones available. Gross. Snuggled into bed at midnight and tried to get used to the cigarette stench. My alarm went off at 6:40 am. I woke up and felt like I had been run over by a bus. I was exhausted. I think all the nervous energy from the day before had finally caught up to me and my adrenaline stores were depleted. I knew I would be tired from the exam, but I did not think I would be that exhausted. I could not get my head into race mode. And, I knew from the effort of Whiskey 50 the weekend before, I really needed to have my head in race mode to have any chance at doing well in the pro field. 

Lesson 3: Do not wear heels before a race 

Having blisters on both pinky toes and then stuffing those toes into mountain biking shoes and plowing over rocky trails for 4 hours will leave your feet on fire. In case your brain, legs and lungs weren't sending you enough messages to slow down, now your feet are telling you that too. 

Lesson 4: Bring a support person

My usual support person (and wonderful husband) couldn't make it to Arkansas this weekend. I tried to be self sufficient but even with a camel pack and 1 bottle on the bike, I ran out of water half way through the second lap. I think it was a pretty hot and humid day, at least it felt that way for me. Having an extra bottle at the feed zones and someone to hand it to you is pretty key to stay hydrated.

Lesson 5: Even when the race goes poorly, riding in the woods will always put a smile on my face

I had to settle for just riding my own pace. I am still learning how to race 50 miles, and the effort seems more like a long cross country race than a short endurance race. Unfortunately, I settled into endurance mode early on. If people passed me, I just let them go. After that, I actually enjoyed myself! The trails are twisty, rocky, with punchy climbs, fast descents, winding ridgelines above DeGray Lake. I managed to stay upright on my bike and avoided flat tires. I posted a finishing time (4:05), it was not last place (7th/14), and my time was not astronomically slower than the rest of the field, which is encouraging. I feel like I am in this weird place of either being at the top of my age group but not yet quite having the speed it takes to really compete with the pros. But, I like challenges and I know racing in this field will make me faster, so I think I am doing the right thing. And I finally got my chance to race at marathon nats!

Playing catch up to the lead group on a short road connector between the trails: Photo by Weldon Weaver

After the race, I got to drink a curbside margarita, courtesy of Jeremiah Bishop, went swimming in the lake and then was able to get a ride home with Jeremiah, John Petrylak and Heath Thumel, who both got 2nd place in their respective age groups!

Much thanks again to everyone who helped me get to this race and back home and to Chris Beck for fitting workouts into my busy schedule and to ESI grips, Maxxis Tires, Huma Gel, Joe's Bike Shop and Rudy Project! 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Whiskey Off Road

There is so much I want to write about this event both generally and personally. I am going to try to keep it brief, hopefully I don't get too carried away!

First, generally: Epic Rides put on an incredible event. They really make you feel like a pro rider from the payouts to the fact they have a dedicated liaison to answer any possible question you have about the race or about Prescott in general. You know a series is going somewhere when the race director wants to compete directly with the UCI XCO races. When asked about conflicts with the UCI mtb racing calendar, the director answered "I want to double the current prize money so it will be a no-brainer which race to go to." Say what? It's also cool that there is and has always been equal payout for men and women at all races in the series. The result: an incredibly deep and talented women's field showed up for the race which was exciting and pretty intimidating at the same time. 

A view from our pre-ride

The race takes place in Prescott, AZ. The entire downtown square is closed off to traffic and the streets are lined with vendors, racers, cheering fans, a huge stage for music and podiums, people dressed in old western attire shooting off guns to start every race. It was a really fun atmosphere. With the fat tire crit on Fri, amateur races Sat, and Pro races Sun, it was a full weekend of pre-riding, warming up, racing, cheering, more pre-riding, more racing and constantly wiping off dust from everything!

Recovering hard between races and pre-rides

Second, personally: the weekend definitely had its ups and downs for me. Friday morning Jeff and I pre-rode some trails. I came around a corner too fast, my front tire hit some sand, my bike got all wobbly and I ended up over the handle bars into some bushes. Definitely not a huge confidence booster but I made a mental note to watch out for that on Sunday. And if I didn't have some blood on my knee, I don't think I would feel normal :-)

On the climb out of Skull Valley

Friday evening was the fat tire crit. It consisted of a very short lap with a steep hill, steep descent, sharp turns and what felt like no place to recover. My lungs and legs were on fire. I lost the lead group right away but kept pushing as hard as I could and ended up finishing 9th place, which was super exciting and a great result for me. Then I proceeded to cough up and blow out my nose an incredible amount of mucus and snot and could hardly breath. I sat on the curb coughing and wheezing my lungs out.

Fat Tire Crit

Saturday was Jeff's race and I cheered as he set off and then again when he came back to the finish. He gave me a run down of the course afterwards: climb out of town, techy singletrack climbing and descending, climb on some chunky double track to aid 1, dirt road descent into Skull Valley then climb back out, then some more single track, then a steep hill called cramp hill, then the singletrack section we pre-rode the day before, then road back into town.

Jeff finishing the Whiskey 50 on Saturday

Sunday was race day. They called up the top 10 from Friday's crit which meant I got to line up right behind Annika Langvad, Kate Coutney, Erin Buck and Chloe Woodruff. Woah.

I had a good start and I thought I would get passed by a lot of people in the 1st singletrack section b/c I knew there were many better technical riders than me who would be way smoother over the rocks and waterbars. Amazingly, I think only 3 people passed me. I was breathing super hard but also felt pretty good heading into the climb up to aid 1 and kept pushing the pace on the descent into Skull Valley. I was able to catch up to a couple more riders and was looking forward to the long climb out because I felt that would be one of my strengths. Unfortunately, I just never really found my legs on the climb. I don't know if it was the altitude or maybe I went out too fast at the start. I just couldn't make my legs pedal any faster. 

The thing about a 50 mile race in a stacked field is that you can't ever let up. The moment you become complacent is the moment you are no longer in the top 10 or top 15 or top 20. There is always someone right behind you (and also right in front of you if you have the fitness and willpower to catch them). Time margins are close and things never spread out like they usually do in NUE races.

I finished the race 13th. I was initially disappointed. I would have been so happy with a top 10 result. Looking at the field before the race, I knew that was probably an unrealistic goal but, if I had the race of my life, I thought I might be able to do it. I raced a solid race and was satisfied with my effort. It just wasn't the race of my life, and I felt a little let down.

Rehydrating at the finish!

There is a constant struggle btw wanting to do more on the bike but then also reminding myself that I am full time ED physician and biking is something I do on the side. I know that I have more speed and fitness inside, and that I can do better. But then I also realize I'm not a pro who can train full time. Part of me wants so much to find that next level to really compete with the best and the other part says I should be happy where I am considering all the other demands and crazy life in the ED. It's not always easy to reconcile those conflicting sentiments, but I trust my coach and the the process of training and maybe one day, I'll have that race of my life. So back to training and intervals and (hopefully) will make it to MTB nats this weekend.

Spending a day after the race enjoying the trails and red rocks in Sedona