Feb 18, 2015

Jamming at the pass

Race number two of the Leadville Winter Bike Series was at the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center just outside Ski Cooper. The course was held on the Nordic trails and snowshoe paths - but all the non locals had for reference was a course map. I knew there would be lots of climbing after looking at the map - we dropped from the base area all the way down into the Fish Flats area of the Nordic trails and then back up. I didn't know how much climbing there would be besides the obvious... 

Of course, we tried packing as much as we could into one short weekend. Why not play in the snow for a bit before our race? We brought our skins and skis, as well as all our back country gear. Ski Cooper has a generous uphill policy, so it was time to practice. We got to the ski area, got all geared up (easier said then done, even with the van) and headed up. Literally up the ski slope! As requested, we stuck to the edge of the slope, in the shade of the trees. Keeping up a steady, but comfortable pace, we trucked to the top of the hill. It took us about 45 minutes to reach the bathroom building at the summit. Not bad for just a trial run of our gear. However, when we got to the summit, getting organized to ski down was a little more complicated. That took way too long - we need to practice that step a lot more! 
Nick heading up the hill

I was feeling better heading into this race and really wanted to make the hour pedaling harder and fast. We spent the couple of hours between our skiing and the race just chilling, reading and people watching in the lodge. Then the skiers started vacating and the fat bikes started arriving in the parking lot. That was the signal! We went to get our numbers and started getting ready to race. It wasn't as cold as the first race, but still cold enough. I was wishing I'd been smart enough to make up some hot Apples and Cinnamon Skratch for my hydration. Keeping the tiny hydration pack under my coat works, but the cord still gets frozen - and the nice, warm liquid encourages me to drink more. Oh well. With numbers and lights on our bikes, it was time for a short warm up. One issue from Copper was the tire pressure - both Nick and I had been running too much air pressure for that race and I didn't want to make the same mistake twice. So after a short loop, I lowered my air pressure and rode a little more. Better. Could have been a little lower, but didn't want to go too low on a course we didn't know.

I had three main goals for this race. One - stay upright at the start. It was a much wider start then at Copper, but also a downhill start. I was worried about that down hill and getting run over as everyone careened into the first tight corner. With the ten second count down underway, I turned my attention to the narrowing course. On go, we all started rolling downhill, faster and faster. Goal one success! Around the first corner and I was still upright and pedaling hard. I was in second place, but with a few women right around. I'd make a catch, then loose some ground. Back and forth for the first few miles, until the eventual winner motored past and vanished. Second place was just ahead and I was right with third. 
My second goal was to keep the bike upright. I'd done more crashing at Copper then at almost any race in years. Had a few close calls in the opening miles of the race as my tires slid in loose snow, but managed to keep it upright. Ease off the pedaling a little and focus. My hesitancy when the bike started slipping slowed me just a little - enough to lose contact with second place. And the we got the first section of singletrack. I was one rider behind third, but wasn't going to try to pass in the narrow groomed section. I could see where people had face planted into the banks getting off the groomed track. And we weren't going super fast as a group - there was a guy on a regular bike leading the train. Until we got the singletrack climb. Then he pulled over and let us all by - but I was still one rider behind her and not getting around on the single track. Oh well. I calmed myself by saying that as long as I could keep her in sight, I'd be fine. Besides, the pace was comfortable and would save energy for the back half of the race. Little consolation when at the top of the hill, the third place woman vanished. She hit the descent and was gone. Me? I was taking it slower, babying the corners since I had no clue where I was going!

My third goal was to actually make it a race this time. At Copper, after the third of many crashes, I kinda gave up and just pedaled around the course, having fun. Well, I didn't want to do that again. I wanted to race and race hard. And that meant when the third place woman vanished down the hill, I had some serious chasing to do! The course soon opened up into the Fish Flat area and I hit the gas. Time to start pedaling. I reeled in all the guys who'd caught me on the descent and motored around. I had no clue where she was, but I knew she was there some where. Down in the Fish Flats, it was easy to get distracted with the starts and the brilliance of the lights reflecting off the snow. Had to keep my eyes in my own lights thought, the brightness of the Exposure Lights turning the snow into daylight. With each guy I caught, I got closer without realizing it. And then I saw the yellow barmitts. Eased up for a few seconds to catch my breath and made the pass, hoping to make it stick. I got some ground, but not enough and I didn't want to look around to see where she was. At the start of the long, long climb up from the valley, she caught me back. I was able to keep her in sight until a short little descent and she was gone. 

For a movement, I resigned myself to fourth place and thought about easing up. But I didn't. I kept pedaling hard, working to keep the traction under my fat tires. Another long, long climb back up to the Cookhouse. Still no sight of her, but I knew she couldn't be that far in front of me. Then we hit the last section of singletrack. Narrow groomed trail, just wide enough for one bike. Think Endor during the winter time... I could see where other racers had slipped off the trail and nose dived into the deep snow. Yikes! But it was so much fun, I couldn't help but laughing. Not even giggling, laughing as I wrestled the bike through the narrow gaps between the trees. And all of a sudden, the third place woman was right there in front of me, pulling her bike out of the snow. I slowed to see if she was okay, then bolted. Always prefer to pass someone based on skill or ability, not accident but I wasn't going to let it slide. It also meant that I really needed to focus on staying upright and not adding to divots alongside the trail. Took a few chances and slide a couple of times, but kept the rubber side down. Once the trail opened back up on the Nordic track, I sprinted away. Had no clue what the gap was but I wanted it to stick the time! 

The Tennessee Pass Night Jam was really a fun race. From the challenge of the course to the yummy dinner after the race, it was truely designed to bring people together, to ride bikes hard and fast and then hang out afterwards. Well organized, lots of cool raffle prizes and great time for everyone. 

Feb 14, 2015

Missing the madness

Of 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo that is... For the first time in eight years Nick and I decided not to make the presidents day weekend pilgrimage to Tuscon. Six years of racing duo and one solo for Nick and it's time to take little break. It's been nice having the early season big race to keep our training focused through the winter, but this year we're just moving the start back a month - if you don't count the Leadville Winter Mountain Bike Series, that is! We've had our eye on True Grit for a few years, but haven't been able to swing two long trips that close together. Our trips to Old Pueblo were all race, but also all vacation with plenty of trail riding before and after we beat ourselves up turning laps in the desert. 

So this year, I'm watching 24 Hour Town develop thru pictures on Facebook, seeing photos of friends heading out for prerides of that 16 mile course I know so well. I'm a little jealous of them, knowing that we are usually there, chilling in camp and getting ready to race. But only jealous of the chilling in camp part and hanging out with Back of the Pack and the rest of the OP family. I miss the chilly, early morning sunrises and spectacular sunsets. I miss the antics of the BPR team as Beer Tree develops (movies last year were awesome...) I don't miss the wind and dust from last year though - or the bone numbing cold of other years. I really don't miss the staring and the nerves as the race gets closer or the cut-throat attitudes in surrounding camps. The brutal start lap - either waiting for Nick to come in or like last year, having to sharpen my elbows for the craziest run I've ever done. I'm happy I got a chance to do the start lap - but will leave it to Nick if we return. And I'm happy to not have to be worried about the passing this year possibly dictating the outcome of the rsce - or getting run off the trail into a cactus. But I will miss returning to camp after and seeing the smiling faces of the BPR compound. I'll miss the nervous chatter of the exchange tent at 1:00am and the rebelling of ride stories Sunday night. 

So good luck to everyone racing in Tuscon this weekend. Be nice, be smart, be fast - and keep the rubber side down and the pointy things away!

Feb 7, 2015

Fat bike racing

Another Fat Bike race coming up tonight. This one at the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center - on the Nordic trails below Ski Cooper. It sounds like we will be using some of the singletrack snowshoe trails as well, so I'm really looking forward to another awesome night of racing. And that's what it needs to be this time - racing. Focused pedaling, keeping the bike upright and moving forward. Being aggressive on the descents, but intelligent about it. At Copper, it was my first time ever riding in those conditions. Outside of the pre-ride, I had no clue what to expect  when it came to fat bike racing in the snow. It showed in my riding. I was spending almost as much time in the snow as I was pedaling on top of it! I'd wanted to in the race - a factor in the top three, but my crash right at the start (among all the others) precludes that. So I'd turned my attention to having fun and gaining experience. Still had a decent race, but was never a factor. This time, I need do what I can to avoid some of the stupider crashes so I can be a factor. It's still going to be fun and exiting - but it's also a race.

I don't think we will have a chance to pre ride much of tonight's course - it's one big loop instead of two smaller ones at Copper. So it will be interesting once we start racing - without really knowing where the course goes in the Nordic Center. I've never cross country skies there, so I don't even have that to draw on! All I know is there is this big open (but not flat) valley in the middle of the course. But it's a descent to get there and a climb to get out. So I'll need to be hyper aware of trail conditions and use the clues from guys around me and where they are riding. Try to stay in the packed trail and out of the chunder...

Feb 2, 2015

Super Half

As the defending champion and with great running conditions on Sunday, I had high hopes heading into the 2015 Super Half. I also had some pretty high goals - I wanted to defend my title and break the course record. My training had been focused on the running since we'd gotten back from our Utah trip, building both the endurance, volume and speed. Coming into the race, I was confident about the edurance but still felt my speed was lacking. My workouts were indicating that I should have been able to run just around 1:29 - but it would have been close. Between a low running volume and focused training on endurance mountain biking, speed on two feet has been hard to to find!

After my warm up, I gave my coat and pants to Nick and found a spot on the line. It was a little nippy in my shorts standing in the shade, but I knew I'd be fine once we got started. Tim gave us a few last minute instructions and blew the starting whistle. Once again, the Woodland Park HS band and choir sent us on our way. A bit of a fast start - everyone was in a hurry to warm up! I was in second, right on the heels of leader, trying to find my stride. The pace should have felt comfortable, but I wasn't settled. I just felt off. Hopefully it was just the shock of racing again. I tried to settle the doubts in my mind and kept my focus on the purple jersey in front of me. She looked smooth and comfortable while I felt choppy and stiff. First mile came and went - faster then I'd wanted but expected given the downhill start. It would be the next mile that would tell the tale. 

Due north on the Santa Fe Trail, I was sliding slowly backwards - losing contact with the leader. Just about mile two and another woman caught me, sending me into third. I was feeling better, but still not settled. And we weren't even at mile 3 yet. On the little jaunt out to the road and back, two more women caught me. Nick was waiting to take some photos there and I indicated my displeasure in how I feeling to him. As usual, he ignored it and told me to keep pushing.

Time to get my head together and focus on the race. I was in fifth, and starting to feel a little better. My mile times weren't as fast as I wanted, but I was consistent. The workouts I'd done on the course were also helping as I knew the little hills and dips. At the turn around, I was able to see how far back I was from the other women - further then I could make up in six miles, but maybe I could close the gap a little. There were also some women very close behind me. Up until then, I'd been working to hold 7:00 pace - well off my goal of 6:45s. But the physical issues I'd been dealing with seemed to have subsided. If I could pick up the pace and hold, I would be able to maintain my fifth overall.
Last few miles of the race, finally able to turn it on and run smooth!

Finally. The feeling of running that I loved. It was still harder then I wanted but I was flowing and feeling smooth with each stride. It wasn't super fast, but it was faster then I had been running! I was no longer sliding backwards - actually starting to reel in some of the guys around me. I stopped fretting over my watch and the pace it was telling me. I wasn't going to meet my time or place goals, so it was time to just run as hard as I could. I still hit the split at every mile, but I wasn't looking. Just running.

Nick was just before the entrance of Monument Valley. He gave me some intel on distance between me and fourth. Two miles? Wasn't gonna happen. He also told me I had a tail - needed to keep moving. I hit mile 13 right at 1:30 - slower then I wanted but with a good back half, unlike last year. I'd held on to fifth overall and gotten 2nd in my age group against some very fast women, with a two minute improvement from last year. And I realized that I'm far enough away from my running that I need to keep a better base. I can't just expect to be able to run 6:45s any time I want anymore without training. But it was a great day for a race - and nice to see so many people out supporting the Colorado Springs running community. 

Womens 35-39 podium with the Head Ref, Tim B

Jan 28, 2015

Copper En Fuego

Fat bike racing... A new experience and what a blast. I haven't ridden Fatso that much since I've gotten the bike, but the Leadville Winter Bike Series was high on the winter fun list. The first race was last Saturday at Copper Mountain and I had no clue what to expect. After a short warmup and pre-ride of half of the race course, I realized I was in for a treat. A hard, challenging treat with high potential for crashing and snow sampling. The biggest challenge was a steep climb and descent up and over the tubing hill - I was able to ride it all one way but not the other on the pre-ride. With other riders around, it would be much different. And then there was the soft, powdery snow scattered around the course. It was well packed in some places, but deep and loose in others. In the chundery snow, it was a challenge just keeping the bike upright. My learning curve was going to get very steep very quickly.

As the start approached, fat bikers appeared out of the woodwork and buildings surrounding the plaza. Yikes! This was bigger then I'd anticipated. Nick and I lined up a few rows back from the start - a narrow banner on the snow at the base of the ski slope. I was more then a little nervous as the starting corral became more and more crowded. A count down from 10 to go and we were off. At least the crowds were off. I'm still not sure what happened - if I got bumped, pinched out by other riders or if my front tire got washed out in the snow. Regardless, down I went right at the start line, narrowly avoiding the metal barricades forming the chutes. Whoops! Watched the race flowing by as I got back on my bike and started pedaling. I couldn't drill it because of the soft snow - had to keep nice even pedal strokes to keep moving forward and not get swallowed. Had a few more near wipe outs in the deep snow, but kept it moving and slowly started working my back up through the field. All for naught as I wallowed in powder just before the base of the tubing hill. Down I went again! 

Back on the bike and steadily pedaling up to the summit of the tubing hill. Made it to the top still pedaling and turned my attention the plummet down the back side. Plummet it was! Weight far back over my rear wheel and try to keep the front tire from diving into the snow. Whew - made it down in one piece and giggling the whole way down. Time for the loop to the south. I was just behind the main group of women after the descent and making up ground. I was still fighting the bike, trying to stay steady in the snow. It was so different then normal riding - stomping on the pedals just meant spinning out. But it was so much fun - I couldn't keep the smile off my face.

At the base of the steep hill, it was off the bike and hiking time.  I was just behind three woman at the start of the climb and worked my way through the herd to the front. I'd figured out a good technique for hiking up the hill in cycling shoes on the preride and was able to put it to good work there. People were slipping and sliding all around me, but I was able to keep it upright and into the lead. Unfortunately, I decided to take a few too many risks on the descent off the hill. You know it's a good wipe out when the bike is a few feet above you and your headlight is buried in the snow! I was digging snow out of my glasses for the next ten minutes of riding.... Couldn't help but laugh at myself after I got going again - mountain biker I may be, fat biker I still need some work.

I actually didn't lose that much time in the crash and could see a few of the women ahead of me. But me and the bike weren't getting along that great in the snow. It was loose, powdery and I was slipping and sliding all over the place. And I didn't manage to keep myself upright or moving forward. All the snow packed into my brakes lead to a moment of panic as I descended into the village - rotors squealed but I didn't slow as much as I wanted. Double yikes. But they came back before I really needed them. The course meandered through the village - on and off snow and blacktop. Then it was back to the groomed course, climbing again. I saw lights through the trees above me - riders dropping down into the finish. I was still right there, right behind two women and slowing creeping up on them as we neared the summit. 

Thru the start/finsh line and back for another lap of fun. I was starting to get the hang of riding through the snow and having fun. Made it through the powder without wiping out this time, but the snow surfing was making me laugh. I got to base of the climb over the tubing hill just behind Rebecca Gross and started slowly crawling my way to the summit. I wasn't able to make it all the way up to without unclip in and had to run up. I watched several guys ahead of me sliding down the steep descent, but figured I could ride down it. Yeah, not so much. Another head over heels tumble, this time with the bike landing on top of me! I had to re-adjust my bar light after I slid down to the midway of the hill. Nick was hiking up as I started back down. Brilliant I might not be - I really wanted to ride the rest of the way down and gingerly remounted. Success! Made it to the bottom in one piece and still on my bike. After that crash, I completely lost site of everyone around me. I wasn't moving as quickly and really struggling to keep my momentum going. I attributed it the snow and just not being used to riding on it. I was finally starting to handle myself a little better in the powder and made it all the way back to the village without doing any more snow sampling.

Riders were finishing as I rolled through the village. It was still a party atmosphere, fueled by the fireworks a few minutes before. If I'd been thinking, I would have put two and two together. I'd been riding for an hour, with my Diablo on high the whole time. Nick had set it for one hour mode before the race.... But instead, when I hit the darkness of the ski slopes again, I couldn't figure out why my head light wasn't working. Duh! I would be riding there last climb and descent with just my bar light. The climb wasn't a problem. I was still feeling sluggish but catching the guys in front of me. Could I hold them off on the descent? The answer was yes. With minutes left in the race, I just let the bike fly thru the snow. Fun! I was giggling the whole way down into the finish line. 

Nick was waiting for me, having finished nearly 20 minutes earlier. He'd also had a crazy but fun race, placing 10th overall in a record field of 171 starters. I took 5th out of 25 women - a huge field for the women in these races. And it was so much fun. I have a lot to learn before the next race at the Tennessee Pass Noridc Center - but the most important will be staying upright at the start!