Dec 7, 2016

Gooseberries and Guacamole.

Timing is important on Gooseberry and has gotten more important every year as people discover how much fun the riding is up there. We figured on a Thursday Morning, it wouldn't be an issue and we would be able to get one of the nicer spots nestled in the trees. No such luck. We still found a nice quiet place to call home for a night or two, but it was more exposed to wind and sun then we would have liked. Oh well. After getting set up, time to ride!

The super moon was coming and Gooseberry was a great place for the moonrise.
We have a few favorite trails already on Gooseberry. North Rim and Hidden Canyon are among my favorites - a nice variety of trails and a great mix of what Gooseberry riding is all about. That was the goal on that first ride - ride a little shorter and find our wheels on the riding out there. It always takes me a few minutes to get used to the different styles of riding. It's not just pedaling on the dirt roads - it's darting in and out of the sage and juniper trees, up and over the domed rocks. I'm sure Hidden Canyon isn't on most people's lists of an easier intro into Gooseberry, but it always works for us. And riding in in the middle of the week meant very few other people so we could just ride.
Sunset on Goosebery - playing with my camera and trying to be creative!
As is usual, I got up early to run. The running is my time to just be out there, find some peace and reflect. There's no one else out there at that hour - just me, my breathing and my focus on the trail. And the sunrise. Things look different on foot and I had time to pause to enjoy the sun rising over Smithsonian Butte. Unlike last year, I wasn't worried about my hamstring and was able to really run. I could stay on trail instead of having to make sure I had an easy bailout back to the van.

Left before the sun on my run and was treated to a desert sunrise

The things you see on two feet instead of two wheels
We did a slightly longer ride on Friday - working on our rock and route finding skills. We were able to get away from the growing crowds and the Enduro Bros filling the trails. Always nice to be able to ride away from those kind of guys and be able to clean things that they had to walk. Doesn't always happen, but when it does...

Because of the increasing population on the mesa and our goal of exploration, we decided to head across the valley to Guacamole. Of course, we couldn't just go out the normal route. We decided to take the north half of the Smithsonian Butte Scenic Byway across to Rockville. After how bad could it be? The road right out of Gooseberry was in great shape and it's really rare that a road goes from perfect to impassable in just a few miles. Well, this one did. It was great until it wasn't. And it was bad enough looking that Nick actually parked the van and walked almost all the way down the hill to make sure that we would be able to get down! It was an interesting drive down for sure - I'm not sure I would have made it down driving the van.
Another near full moon shot! This one on Guacamole
The moon was bright enough to be acting more like the sun when trying to take pictures
Just a short ride playing on the rocks in Guacamole. We always seem to get there about when I need a break from the bike and a serious rest day. Because of that, we didn't ride much out there  - did a little lollipop and some rock work, then back to the van. We skipped the big loop that's out there and didn't do all the little loops and options available. I was wishing we could ride more but knew that I needed an easy day. And even Guacamole was starting to get crowded. The parking area was full when we finished riding. It makes sense - Guacamole is so much easier to get to then Gooseberry, even if it doesn't have the variety and different levels of riding.

Nov 27, 2016

Soaking up Zen

After spending Sunday night with the Steamboat/HoneyStinger crew it was time to start the vacation proper. We'd finished the race and were both upright and able to pedal. Bikes needed some love and attention and we were almost out of food. Next step? Condo in St George for a few nights to resupply, shower and get ready for some more fun! We were staying at a different place this time, right at the trailhead for Barrel Ride and Zen trails. Perfect location and very convenient for everything we wanted to do. I could run easy on the roads or drop down into the trail system for something a little more fun and challenging. We could ride right from the door and hit up the best trails without getting in the van. And we were able to get everything cleaned up from the race - the bikes, all the clothes and dirty dishes. Seriously, 24 hour races create a lot of clothes - and when the washer is and dry are tiny compact things, it takes a long time to get it finished... As such, Monday was a well deserved rest day that we managed to fill with post race chores.

I knew the first ride after the race needed to be a little easier, so we opted for Barrel Ride. It's still a climb, but on easier single track or double track. We could tell that there's been a lot of work done since our last trip out in March. There were new trails spider webbing off with road in all directions. If we'd both been more motivated, we could have explored all day in the Barrel Ride area. But I wasn't ready for a big exploring ride. My legs were tired and the easy pedaling of the double track felt pretty good. Besides, the main goal whenever we ride in the Barrel Ride area is to ride the singletrack traverse along the south west edge of the mesa and the Waterfall drop. It's the most challenging feature in the True Grit Epic and the one with the most consequences for messing up. Always a good idea to be comfortable riding that little section. And besides, it's a lot of fun!

It's a large world yet to be explored
We were ready for Zen the following day - or so I hoped. Because the short six miles of Zen is one of the hardest six miles I've ridden, I'm always a little concerned going into it after a race. There's nothing that can be faked out there. You either have to totally commit or get off. Usually I'm pretty committed, but this time, I wasn't quite as spunky or ready to ride as usual. I didn't ride as much as normal, missing a few of the bigger sections that I've gotten comfortably in the past. Mostly on the up hills though, when I didn't have the power in my legs to get up and over and stay committed to the move. Oh well. That is the nature of riding after a race. I did almost make the switchback into the wash this time though! No issues dropping down into the switchback and started to make the tight right - then I bailed. One reason to head back to St George! I need to work on that section a little more. That might not happen next year though. We may be taking a break from the desert racing in 2017.

Got this one to stop for a photo on the edge of Zen! Too bad the sun was in our eyes!

Nov 25, 2016

Of Dust and Darkness

We should know by now. After three years of racing 25 Hours of Frog Hollow and then having an extended vacation of desert play time, we really should know better. Apparently, we are slow learners, because once again we headed south to St George with the goal of racing hard and playing hard. Our plan for the race was aggressive, we both felt recovered from Vapor 125 and we were even thinking about riding through the night this year! But that would all depend on how we felt and the weather.

Banners against the clouds - and our wind break pile of rocks

Frog Town Friday night just before sunset
Frog town seemed busier this year - with more RVs and tents sprawling across the mesa. Getting there early Thursday meant we had our choice of spots. We set up camp in the same spot as last year, protected from the wind by a large pile of rocks, but far enough away from the edge that we were still able to stake down the tents. The rocks that make the course so much fun mean staking down tents can be a bit of a challenge. We've learned that the hard way - having to use the rocks themselves as weights the first year we raced. Once camp was set up, time to chill out. We did an easy pre-ride, reacquainting ourselves with steady climb, the JEM drop and the new lines throughout the descent. Ouch - super rough this year! I had been looking forward to some fast times on my Fate, figuring I'd be able to ride at least as fast as the first year. But no - not with how rough the course was. I was questioning my bike choices until the number plates went on.

Own the night - Exposure Lights USA has been one of the best sponsors for 24 hour racing that we have had.
Saturday before the race, we reaffirmed our plan, but also decided that having a fun vacation was still the primary goal. We would race through the night as long as we didn't ruin our vacation. With that decided, Nick headed to the starting line and I took his bike to the racks at the end of the run. One more start lap - one more watching the clock and waiting for the runners to appear. Soon enough, in a cloud of dust, the lead runners snatched their bikes and tore off into the desert. Nick wasn't far behind the leaders and then it was my turn to get ready to race.

Team names.... After racing 24 hour events since 2008, Nick and I have had plenty of team names. We usually try to keep them short and easy to remember - and with some meaning for that particular race. We've used "Overtime" and "Nap Time" at this race in the past, reflecting both the extra hour of racing and what we usually end up doing after about 20 hours of racing. This year, our name was a play on the other teams - the ones who came flying into the transition tent and had no clue what was going on. "Who's counting?" someone would always ask the volunteers. It also became a quick lesson on how to make the race director laugh every time we traded laps and confuse the poor timing tent volunteers.
"227 - Who's Counting."
"I am. What's your team name?"
"Who's Counting...."

Not so good at the pre-race selfies! And I'm not sure that I did my jersey justice this year.
I knew we were in a race this  year when the second overall rider was on a duo team and he handing off to his teammate. I didn't know how far behind I'd be to start my lap but I wasn't sure I'd be able to catch her. Nick was in the top ten coming in - I had a five minute deficit to try to make up. But once I started pedaling, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to make it up. I felt comfortable riding, but I had no fast on the climb. Riding steady was about all I had and with this course, there wasn't really any making up ground on the descent. So ride steady it would be. I was hoping to still break an hour for my first lap, but it wasn't happening. I was smooth through all the technical and rock gardens, launching over more of the rocks then in prior years. Some gains on the singletrack, but I knew the climb would be the end of  me later in the race. I was already worried about but realized that speed isn't the make or break of a 24 Hour race - consistency is. It doesn't matter how fast that first lap is - it matters how fast the first 4 laps are on average. Without my pure speed, I was hoping for the later - being able to maintain a nice consistent pace for the entire race.
Our first set of three laps achieved that goal. Both Nick and I were super consistent with our lap times. We were still losing time to the first place team - almost 10 minutes every two laps - but we were getting some distance on 3rd place. The dust was covering everything. The road through Frog Town was nothing but moon dust - two inches at least and getting deeper. I'd dry clean my bike at the end of each lap, only to be covered before I even hit the singletrack. I needed to give my bike a good cleaning, but that mean swapping bikes. As I prepped my Fate for my last daylight lap, I was nervous. I'd felt so out of synch with the bike during the pre-ride. How would I feel actually racing, when time was on the line? The answer to that question was just fine. I actually felt smoother on some of the course on the Fate, better able to flick the bike over the rocks. The dropper post Nick had gotten me for my birthday made the bike even more fun and I was confident even on the JEM drop. I passed a lot of people walking through the JEM drop this year - more then in years past. Part of it was the dust - it was nearly impossible to see the lines and rocks on the drop because everything was buried in dust.

Pit Crew? When you're on a duo team running without support, you are your own pit crew!

I wasn't really planning on doing any of my night laps on the Fate. But I was happy and comfortable on that bike. Might as well keep riding it for a few more laps! So on went the Exposure Lights - I was using the Reflex for the first night laps. I also bundled up more - fully expecting the darkness to bring the bone-chilling cold of the desert. Arm-warmers, wool base layer, my Swiftwick Pursuit Wool socks - I was ready for the cold. I tucked my wind coat in a jersey pocket and my hat in my bento box so I would be able to stay warm if something happened. And then it was off into the darkness for the first night lap of the race.

Sunset - are you ready for the night?
With darkness comes the realization of how much dust we've been inhaling.... Pulling off dirty socks in a small cloud of dust makes you think, but the sandstorm like particles in the air every time I caught another rider? Ugh. No wonder my lungs weren't happy. So far, the legs were fine. Still no fast, but still consistent. I'd done all my laps within three minutes for the first five laps, including the first night lap. Neither Nick nor I were eating as much as we normally do for that time in the race, and he'd left me a few notes about how he was feeling. His times were slowing and he was riding the same pace as I was for the last few laps. We were solidly in second, with the guy on the leading team still cranking out sub hour laps. His teammate was slowing a little - possibly cracking, but they were so far up on us. It was a question of when - not if - we would get lapped, and how many times it would flipflop before the lapping stuck.

After three laps on my Fate, I decided it was time to switch bikes again. My arms were getting tired from the chunky rocks and I was looking forward to having a little cushioning other then my legs when I hucked the rocks. I started out on my 7th lap - and instead of the steady, happy pedaling from the prior six, I felt nothing but fatigue. Uh oh... Not good. The climb sucked every ounce of energy out of me. I knew I couldn't make any of that up on the back half, and resigned myself to having a slow lap. Every race has one - this would be no different. I'd eat something back at camp and drag myself back from the brink. And that lap was the start of the lapping. He caught me on the road before Hurricane Rim and then put another four minutes into me on the final stretch of trail.

There was no eating something and finding another well of energy this year. I barely had the motivation to clean my bike and take care of my lights. And I was falling asleep waiting for the time to ring and send me back to the transition tent. This time at the tent, we were both there waiting - me for Nick and him for his girl. He was checking the results as Nick arrived and I felt his eyes on me as I walked to my bike. I knew that he would catch me again - there was no question. But when? How much time had we gotten back? I was hoping to at least make it to the top of the climb before he caught me again, but knew that wasn't realistic. I did make it about halfway up the climb though... More of a concern was would I be able to gather myself and turn out another fast lap. I knew before the turn off Sheep Bridge Road that the answer was no. There was nothing in the tank. My legs echoed the heaviness from Vapor and all I wanted to do was stop riding. Nick was waiting for me - depending on me. I couldn't slow down that much - I had to keep riding strong. I'm not sure which was stressing me out more - the fatigue, the thought that we had a great vacation planned and I was going so far into the red, or that I was letting Nick down.

Nick's note to me was that we needed to keep riding to consolidate second place. He was out on the 17th lap and we were a lap ahead of third place. That meant we needed to keep riding. That wasn't enough of a distance between us and them. I knew that my 9th lap would be ugly. Very ugly. But I just needed to keep riding. Pedaling squares was too polite to describe how I was riding. On that last lap, I found myself walking up some of the steep hills on the double track climb - I just didn't have the power to even spin up them! Onto JEM and I was able to ride everything, but slow - no flow or playfulness on the bike. I just wanted it to be over - a feeling I've never had before in a 24 hour race. I fluctuated with being upset that I was so slow to telling myself to not worry about the time. I just needed to reach the transition tent and give the baton to Nick. Then I could recover before doing another lap. I was anticipating that Nick would want an even 20 - that would make it hard for third to catch us. I knew I had one more lap in my legs, but very aware that it would be super slow. But Nick wasn't at the tent when I finished. I didn't waste time - I checked the waiting bikes to make sure he wasn't in the bathroom and then headed back to camp. Nick was there, studying the results. He was ready to ride, but his motivation was just as strong as mine was....

We had 18 laps finished at 19:50. Third place hadn't clocked another lap since their 15th at 17:10. With five hours left of racing, there was a chance - a slim one, but a chance, that they could pass us if we stopped. Nick was tired and hurting and didn't want to ride another lap if he didn't have to. I just wanted to be done. I didn't want to ride another lap. We discussed it for a bit, had some food, and then decided to take a short nap and look at results when the sun came up. If we needed that 19th lap, Nick would head out. In hindsight, it would have been smarter for Nick to just ride that last lap then.  That's what we've always done - when we called it a day, we were finished riding. There would be no chance of third catching us and we would have been at the top of the teams with 19 laps instead of at the bottom. But the warmth of the van was a siren and we gave in this year. When third place finished their 16th lap at 22:40, we realized that there was a slim chance that they would be able to get 19 laps. Nick decided to head out and ensure our second place.

2016 25 Hours In Frog Hollow Co-Ed Duo Podium
1st - S&P 500 (Sam Sweetster and Parker Tyler) 25 laps, 25:50:51
2nd - Who's Counting? (Me and Nick) 19 laps, 24:28:50
3rd - Red Rock Bicycle Duo (Colt Albrecht and Kellie Oliver) 18 laps, 25:09:58
It wasn't our best race - we both had some issues that we had to deal with. The level of competition in the Co-Ed duo was the strongest we've ever seen at Frog Hollow, which made having a bad race even harder. But we stuck together, adjusted the plan as needed and finished strong. It was nice seeing everyone with GRO rides again and hanging out in the desert with the Honeystinger crew after the race.
But I think we need a break from 24 hour racing....

Oct 25, 2016

Regaining my mojo

I'll be honest. The two months between the middle of July and middle of September just about crushed me. Tired all the time, unable to muster more then a slug pace for most rides, and shuffling my way through my runs. It was the worst two month I've had - made worse by my continuing to try to push through the fatigue. So after Vapor I made sure that I would listen to my body and not pressure myself into training until I felt ready. No matter how long it would take, I would take the recovery I needed. Two weeks of minimal activity - short swims that were mostly just paddling around, very short runs where I didn't look at my watch at all and the easiest of rides imaginable. After those two weeks, I was still tired, but feeling better. Getting more like myself again, with a little more energy. That meant I needed at least another week of easy recovery! It was not the time to succumb to FOMO and start up with the big rides and hard runs again. So I behaved even more, knowing every easy day and rest day would reward me later.

Finally. Just over a month after Vapor and I was feeling ready. One hard run as a test to see what happens. No deep fatigue. Time to try some bike intervals - just a couple and see how I felt. Success! The intervals hurt as they were supposed to, but I was still feeling good the next day and then the next. Perhaps I was back? Fully recovered from the deep hole I'd dug between Sheep Mountain and Vapor. The real test would be when I headed out for my second set of intervals the day following a track workout. And another success - although I could tell that I hadn't done a lick of VO2 max in forever. Ouch. That hurt!

But back to my mojo and the dreaded FOMO. Strava is both a blessing and a curse - feeding into the self pity of recovery when everyone else is doing huge rides and getting in the last alpine adventures before winter. Videos of big days on big lines, photos of stunning terrain, trails I'd never even heard of! I was missing out - I was recovering, but I was missing out. I wanted to be there - enjoying the trail and the company. So when Amber texted me and asked if I wanted to ride up to Barr Camp and back down with here, of course I said yes. Something new and different!
Looking back at COS from Barr Trail above No-name creek
It was chilly in the morning, but the climbing quickly warmed us up. Because the incline is closed, the trail was mostly empty - which was awesome. We set a comfortable pace, just grinding up the trail. Since I haven't' been on Barr in over 4 years, it was like riding a new trail all over again - and I was pretty happy with how much I was able to ride. The three groups of hikers we passed were all cool and seemed  astonished that we were actually riding! Finally, just shy of two and a half hours from leaving our cars, we rolling into Barr Camp.

Bikes parked - we were the only other people at Barr Camp during our short stay

Time for a snack and a coke! Nate, the caretaker asked if we'd ridden down from the top. Nope - up from the bottom! We chatted for a while, warming up before starting the plunge back to Manitou Springs. I actually changed into my long sleeved shirt - my jersey was soaked with sweat from the pedal up.

Ready to go down! Hoping the sun would warm things up a little...
The descent was fun - worth the pedal up. Chunky in spots, wide open in others and the occasional gravel pit. We were both bundled up - and it was still pretty chilly! We just came straight down Barr, bouncing off the stairs at the end with a giggle. I know there's other ways down, but I'm always more interested in playing it safe - the other trials can wait.

Amber with the mountain in the background - finally, the clouds were lifting!
After the ride, I realized something. It's easy to minimize your achievements when surrounded by everyone else's big days, epic rides and such. I'm as guilty as the next person on both accounts - posting photos of expansive vistas from midride, but then watching the video of someone riding a line I haven't made yet and thinking "I should be able to do that, I'm not as good a rider as I think." Even that day - sure we rode up to Barr Camp, but we didn't do Hiezer. We took the "easy way" down. So what? In the end, it really doesn't matter - we did what we set out to do - what for most people is a burly day and an epic ride. And it was our ride, our day. We had nothing to prove - we just wanted to do it. That's how it should be. Rides and races - especially ones like Vapor Trail 125 or the Breck Epic - shouldn't be approached as trying to prove something. That will only lead to mental stress and burn out. They should be approached as achieving a goal - doing what you set out to do because you want to do it. There will always be doubters and demons - but being strong in your convictions and your intrinsic motivation "This is what I want to do..." will provide the commitment to look through the clutter and focus. If the rides, photos or videos surrounding you tempt you to minimize or back away from the goal, the best reminders are to look back at your own rides and photos and say "I did that. This is my goal and I will own it." Chances are, those rides that you discount would make someone else jealous....

And then there was this little guy....


Sep 20, 2016

To the depths of determination - Vapor Trail 125

If I counted up the number of times that I thought about emailing Tom in the two months between Sheep Mountain and Vapor Trail 125, I would run out of fingers. I honestly thought that two months would be plenty of time to recover between races - after all I've done numerous big races stacked close together before and never had an issue. But I was wrong. It took me longer to recover from Sheep Mountain then I had anticipated. I would get on my bike for a long ride or workout and feel great one day and the next day I would be worthless. When even the gravel grind up Gold Camp Road felt like I was climbing Pikes Peak, I knew something wasn't right. A few easy days hoping to get some spark in my legs and nothing. It just wasn't coming back and I knew that I wouldn't be ready come 10:00pm on September 10th. Despite the inner dread I was developing as the race approached, I continued making my plans as if I was 100% and raring to go. Just finishing was lurking in the back of my mind, but I was determined to stick with my goal time. If nothing else, maybe I could mentally con myself into riding fast!

At the start with Nick - hopeful for the best
Photo - Kara Durland