Crazy Weekend Part 2 - Return to Battle the Bear

After a good night's sleep in the Walmart parking lot, it was time to get going for Take 2 of Battle the Bear. A perfect morning, with only a few low hanging clouds greeted us as we made the short drive to Bear Creek Lake Park. The staging area was already hopping and the pit zone was getting full. We set up the tent and dragged over the cooler and a chair. Our tent was gonna be a busy place this race, with four racers in the Marathon pitting under the shade and Nick in the half marathon. The air was still heavy and damp from the thunderstorms the night before, but the moisture did nothing to chase away the mosquitoes! I have never been so happy to have bug repellent in the camper - otherwise I would have been eaten alive while racing! A few shots of DEET to my clothes, my neck and my helmet took care of those little annoyances... Then time to get a short warm up - I wasn't going to make the same mistake with my air pressures in my tires again. It wasn't long before the announcer started calling the marathoners to the line. I took one last mental inventory, reviewed my race plan and wheeled over to the starting line to wait.
A much better day to race - me and Cam all smiles before the start
Photo - Nick Thelen
 We started right behind the Pro men again. Our group was small; two single speeders and me and Natalie. We were missing a few of the brave souls who'd started on May 19th for the first attempt. It was the same story off the starting line. I bolted to the front, looking for the hole shot, with SS racer Cristina Begy right on my wheel. We took a slightly different route up to the main trail this time, a little steep and rockier. At the top, I shifted into my big ring and set my attention to getting a gap and keeping it. It would have been much harder to ride away from the field if Natalie hadn't also raced the 24 (20) Hours of E-Rock Friday thru Saturday. She was rightfully very tired from that race - and her team did great, winning the co-ed 4/5 class with only 4 riders!

It was amazing how much faster I could ride without the wind, rain and mud of May. Instead of worrying about my bike and trying to stay in the middle of the river so my tires stayed mud-free, I was pushing the pace hard. I managed to hold off the leading SS men until the top of the third hill in the race - one that I'd walked up last time because of the mud. On the long down hill that followed, I tucked onto wheels, drafting as much as I could. It didn't make sense to pass the SS men - they'd all just have to pass me back on Mt Carbon. I did manage to hang with them until the climb up Mt Carbon. Then they were gone. I was pretty happy with that, normally when the single speeders pass me, I'm left in the dust. Halfway up the climb, the AG men started slowly bridging through the start gaps. But it wasn't a steady mass of riders like at Ridgeline - whether it was because I was riding faster or there were fewer racers, I don't know.

I'd ridden the first seven miles of the course on the 19th, but the last three miles held the most surprises. In start contrast to the straight up, straight down and long flowing trails of the first half, the last three were twisty and filled with sharp turn and punchy little climbs. On the descents in the first seven miles, getting the weight back and floating around the bermed corners was awesome fun - I was able to go faster then some of the road cyclists on the drop off the dam! But the last three were completely different - winding along the creek, through trees with tight, off camber corners and those little steep kicker climbs that really started hurting in the last half of the race. There were also a few short, little rock gardens in that took a few racers by surprise - I saw a few waterbottles scattered among those rocks. Than across the last bridge and onto wide and fast single track leading back to pit row. A fast course with the fun riding coming at the end to keep things honest.

And truly a pit row this time. Unlike a Ridgeline, where people where handing off on both sides of the trail and there were a few near collisions between thru riders and pitting riders, there were two clearly marked lanes. One for pit, one for thru riders and a volunteer monitoring traffic so there were no accidents. I was running solely on bottles for this race, so was planning on five exchanges with Nick. The first one was so smooth and fast - I hardly needed to slow down. Tossed my bottle a little early, then easily took the one Nick was holding for me. The second exchange was just as quick and smooth. We've practiced a few times because nothing is worse then fumbling an exchange... I did have to slow down a little more for handups 3 and 4. I was getting both a bottle and some food those times and only have hands for one thing at a time. This was the perfect race for no camelbak, especially as it started getting hotter later. I didn't have to get off the bike once - no issues. Nick makes an awesome pit crew! I'm not sure I did as good a job later for him!

After the hard start, I settled into a sustainable race pace for laps two and three. I kept the tempo and HR high, focused on smooth up the hills and efficient down. The clouds started burning off, going from muggy but tolerable to windy and hot. I was tactically smart this time around - with the long straight sections, fighting the wind alone was silly. So I used the men around me, making the small accelerations to get on wheels and drafting where I could. Might not be nice racing, but it was smart racing. I kept monitoring my effort levels, making sure I was drinking enough and eating enough. Getting a fresh, cold bottle every lap certainly helped with the drinking enough part! The heat got to me a little on laps 4 and 5 and I slowed a little. But not much, maybe a minute or two for the whole lap. I noticed everyone around me was also slowing, with the guys not gaining any ground after they passed. I was starting to bring a few of them back as well. On lap 5, the two leaders in the pro men lapped me - Kalan just before the entrance to pit row.

Flying past pit row on my last lap Photo - Nick Thelen
Then at the start of lap 6, I flipped my watch from split to total time. Uh oh. I'd already lost the shot at my fastest goal time - 4:15, but if I wanted to meet my second goal time, I needed to kick it up a notch. I would actually need to ride close to my time from the first lap! I had no clue what the gap was to second, but knew that I could afford to go a little crazy to try to get my time. So I did - I was hammering up the hills in my big ring for a few, then flying down. I started reeling in the men in front of me and just set my sights on passing each one. At the bottom of Mt Carbon, I caught two who had passed me at the start of lap 4. I rode by one like he wasn't moving - in my big ring, standing. I heard him say as I passed "Holy shit, where did she come from?!" Awesome! At the creek crossing, I knew I had to keep the pressure on - the split was good, but I needed to be smooth and fast in those last three miles. And I had my best run through that section - clean through the rock gardens, no brake squealing on the tight corners. Across the bridge and it was gonna be close - a minute either way. I put my head down and flew, focusing on nothing but the trail in front of me. And crossed the line in 4:19:16, just beating my goal of 4:20. It was the third fastest women's time for the 60 mile course and I was pretty happy with how the race turned out. I'd keep the pressure on and hadn't had the last third fade like at VooDoo and Ridgeline. I'd actually ridden my second fastest lap time on that last lap! I also felt a lot better - my back wasn't spasming and cramping.

Women's Podium - Natalie already went home and went to bed!
Photo - Scott Mulvaney
I sat in the shade for a few minutes, then rode back to the camper to change and get something to eat. Nick would be starting soon and I needed to be ready to take care of him. I watched his start - he got right to front of the SS half marathon men. Came through with a 30s lead at the end of lap 1, but it was down to 5 seconds at the end of lap 2. I did catch that he'd tossed his camelbak, but had no clue where. Turned out Heather W of Dirt Divas had picked it up for him. Then at the finish, Bryan Smalley of Rocky Mountain Racing came through in first, with Nick about 2:20 back. The long weekend had caught up to Nick and he'd had some really bad cramps in that last lap. But the good news was the cramps went away pretty quickly after he finished - they used to last much longer.

A few short races, one 24 hour race, one Xterra, then time to start thinking about the big one. Breckenridge 100 - July 15. My date with true, Rocky Mountain ultra endurance mountain bike racing - my first 100 mile race!


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