Storming the Castle (Rock) - Ridgeline Rampage!

Looking at the paycheck!
Kelli Emmett, (Sonya Looney not pictured,) Me and Natalie Ryan
For the second stop in the RMES, we made the trek north to Castle Rock. The race was held in the Ridgeline open space, on trails about a year old. Twisty, turny, off camber with punchy climbs described the course, with the loose gravel taking many riders down. The scrub oak did little to hide the trail from the blazing sun, as temperatures heated up into the 80s. The racing action was a hot as the weather, with Kelli Emmett (Giant) riding away from the field in 4:42:22. Sonya Looney (Topeak/Ergon) finished second with 4:55:09. I had a stronger race, but still faded near the end to finish third in 5:04.57. Local rider Natalie Ryan (Yeti Beti) used her knowledge of the trails to take fourth in 5:07:33 and Sonya Bugbee (Epic Pro Cycling) finished fifth in 5:22:29. After spending all morning handing me bottles, Nick still had another strong race, taking third in the half marathon single speed men again. He also finished in the top 20 overall at this race!

Without a place to park the turtle, it was a very early wake up. I made coffee and oatmeal while Nick finished loading the car. Then time to head north. I ate my oatmeal in the car, still nervous, but more settled then before Voodoo Fire. When we got to Castle Rock, Bison Park was already busy with racers. We set up the tent, chairs, and the cooler filled with bottles and ice. This was a short lap - only 10 miles, so we were both planning on running light - one bottle per lap and grab a new one each time through. After checking in, I looked at start times. A pleasant surprise - I was in the second wave for the marathon and Nick was in the third wave for the half marathon. Nice - clean courses to race on!

On the line and I was right next to Kelli and Sonya - two big names in the world of endurance mountain bike racing. And then the gun. Without a neutral start, the pace was quick and it turned into an uphill sprint to the single track about half a mile away. Kelli was setting the pace, with Sonya right behind her. I decided to just try and stay on Sonya's wheel, shadowing her into the single track. I wanted to follow her as long as I could and see how that first lap played out. Kelli started pulling away within the first few miles of single track. I felt really solid behind Sonya and decided to just hold onto that pace. We'd gotten a good gap on the fourth place woman already, but were still keeping Kelli in sight. On the first twisty section of single track, I realized I had too much air pressure in my tires. My mistake. I'd asked Nick to air them up, but hadn't taken the time to double check on the trail. Whoops! It wasn't a huge deal, but I needed to be mindful when going into and around some of the corners. Then, on the long descent and switchbacks just before the neutral water station, I hit the deck in one of the really right switchbacks. Ouch! It was a hard landing, but I was up pretty quickly. Everything worked - brakes and shifting, but my handle bars were crooked. Not by much, but enough to notice that the left was further away from me. That's what I get for chasing and not riding my own race.

I rode the rest of that lap with my bars askew and stopped at the tent so Nick could fix it for me. Sonya was only 30s up at that point - I did lose a little with the unplanned stop but was determined to try to hold if not bridge the gap. I felt good and was pretty comfortable on my bike and with the pace. I could still see both Sonya and Kelli around the corners, but the gap to Kelli was untouchable. I couldn't see either of the riders behind me, so it was time to settle into my pace and stay focused on smooth cadence, and a hard tempo. The AG men who'd started behind me were now catching up and passing - with the wide trails passing was pretty easy. I just moved over and let them around - only a few times was it more then a few seconds for them to get around. I came through the finish area and Larry Grossman said I was only 90 behind Sonya. So I was keeping the gap close, but she was pulling away slowly. I took a bottle from Nick and kept pedaling. Two laps down, four to go! I wasn't sure how much time I had on fourth, but I couldn't see here through the twisty corners and scrub oak.

As planned, I ditched my now empty camelbak at the end of lap three. Bottles only from that point. I've never run just bottles in a mountain bike race before, so I was a little concerned. But I did the preride with just bottles, so I knew I would be able to drink enough. Nick was awesome - we had every exchange down. He knew what I wanted and when. Ditching the camelbak and getting some food didn't take too long and I was back on course pretty quickly. It felt so good to get the camelbak off my back - it was really starting to get warm. The gap to Sonya was about four minutes, so I knew I wasn't going to be bringing her back. But I had another issue - from out of no where Natalie Ryan appeared behind me. Right behind me. I had no clue how shed closed the distance - I hadn't see her in three laps. But there she was. Right on my wheel. I wasn't going down without a fight - time to keep the tempo high and take some mild chances. Natalie didn't falter to much on that lap - staying a few corners behind me. She'd pull it back on the flats. I'd extend it back out on the climbs and descents. A game of cat and mouse - and I was the mouse!

Another smooth bottle exchange to start lap five. I was pulling away again, slowly but steadily. The elastic hadn't snapped, but it was stretching. Everyone was feeling the heat of the day. I was yo-yoing with a few guys for most of that lap. I should have tried to stay with them a little harder, but about half way through I let them go. They were all really nice and polite, but it was a little to much to pass and be passed. The men's winners were also starting to lap me - the winner on lap four and Kaylan and Brady in the middle of lap five. I have to admit to snapping at JJ when he caught me - it was in the middle of one of the few tricky downhills and no place for me to move over safely. It was only a few seconds until you got around - not worth taking chance at that point.

Finally starting that last lap - I took a fresh, cold bottle from Nick and snuck a look around. No sign of Natalie. I was starting to feel the pace of the first laps and my back was starting to spasm a little. I was okay on the climbs as long as I stayed seated, but I had no acceleration left for the off camber twists and turns. I was also watching my goal of a sub 5:00 finish time slipping away. I wasn't moving all that quickly anymore! I still caught and lapped several riders, always offering encouragement and support as I passed. I was a huge sense of relief when I rounded the last few corners and pointed my bike towards the finish.

Nick finishing his race - yes, it was hot out!
I didn't finish in time to watch Nick start - I was about a minute too slow. Because of the set up of the start finish area, I did have to wait for a bit before I could head back to our tent. The herds of half marathoners were taking off at pretty regular intervals and I wasn't about to get run over! But I didn't have that much time to get recovered and organized to hand up bottles for Nick. I soft pedaled back to the tent, washed a salt shaker's worth of crystals and grime off my face and changed into something comfortable. Tried to eat something - stomach still wasn't wanting anything in it. Then the insanity started as the pro men half marathoner started lapping through. It didn't take long for Nick to appear. A decent hand up, but I was on the wrong side of the bike! It took the gang around the tent about 20 minutes to figure out what he'd shouted after taking the bottle from me. The next exchange was better - I was on the right side and ready to go. I didn't catch that he'd tossed his camelbak off to the side of the trail about 30 feet up. After the race, when he asked about it, I was like "huh?" But I found it - and will look for the toss next time!
Single Speed Half Marathon Podium
Mitch Westall, (Travis Ekenberg, not pictured) and Nick

All in all, another well run event. I felt that the course was fun, reasonably hard, but doable for many levels of racers. It was well marked and there were people out on course cheering. A family even decided to have their Saturday picnic up on top of the ridge, complete with cowbells! Having the two separate start times worked, but some of the slower marathoners were feeling a little run over by the fast half marathoners. It also meant that Nick and I were able to help each other out during the race and save some time - unlike at VooDoo Fire, where we were both on course at once. The race organizers are listening to the feedback for athletes and trying to make the adjustments as much as possible. There was a major SNAFU with the half marathon and cross country results - the result of double clicking on the wrong key at the wrong time. But if that's the worst that happens, oh well.

One more "short" race in the series, then time to start prepping and studying for Breck. But first, another speedy circuit race at Battle the Bear!


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