Riding with the big fish - Whiskey Off Road

Wow - my first major race with a huge and deep field. I've had good success at the local endurance mountain bike races - solid fields, but still local races. I was a big fish in a small pond. Well, the Whiskey 50 was the Atlantic ocean of races and all the apex predators showed up. Multiple national champions, Olympic medalists, World Cup racers, world champions and more. This was one of the strongest fields assembled for a women's mountain bike race, with over 50 fast and fit riders ready for the throw down. It was hard not to be intimidated when I read the starting list. Seeing my name on that list was cool - I was #2, right behind Georgia Gould. But would I belong in the mix or just be a face in the crowd? After the crit on Friday, I was thinking pack fodder, but I still had aggressive goals. Finish sub 4:00 and hopefully a top 20 placing. Both were tall orders, but I felt within my reach if I rode smart and steady.

After a short warm up, I said goodbye to Nick. He was playing bottle Sherpa for the day - lugging three bottles for me, two for Cameron, and one for Kalan, as well as red bull can, liter of ginger ale and a liter of coke. He also had plenty of food for sitting around most of the day, so his pack weighed nearly 40 pounds! He would pedal up to a few places on course and then wait at the Aid station for us to roll through. A long day in the sun for him after a long day of racing! His support was awesome this weekend and made my races go so much smoother. I would have been in a world of hurt without Nick's help.

During the call ups, I was reminded who I was racing and the caliber of the field. but we were all racing and anything could happen over the next 50 miles. Getting intimidated on the line was admitting defeat. I had as much right to be there in the next rider. Then the gun and we were off - 50 women setting off thru the streets of Prescott. It was a controlled pace with a police escort closing the roads ahead of us. But the controlled pace didn't mean easy - I was on the edge already. The first four miles of the race were the most stressful I've ever ridden. It was crazy! I was anticipating the crit being nuts, but the was so much worse. We took over both lanes of the road, but no one wanted to give an inch. I tangled my bars in someones elbow on a corner - scary, but we both stayed upright. There was more contact in those four miles then the entire group road rides! My front while was hit five times, my rear wheel four times. I had a handle bar in my hips, my ribs and my butt. I tried to stay near the front so I was out of trouble, but made a tactical error. Got boxed into the middle of the peloton and couldn't get out. Whoops! Then the escort pulled off and we really started racing. I dug deep, focused on keeping my front third position. I wanted to enter the single track in a solid position... Wishful thinking! I popped just as we crested the hill. I just didn't have the umph to keep up that power for that long. My position quickly plummeted from end if the first third to middle of the back third.
Back of the pack at the turn off the main road

Focused on the turn - hoping to move up

But now we were on single track. Time to ride my bike. I was near the end of a long line of riders - I wanted to pass, but didn't want to blow up making early moves. I knew I could ride that section of trail faster though. But I'm not very good at passing people who don't want to be passed. So I just followed – At least until the rocks. I had made it over easily on the pre-ride with Nick but that was just the two of us. A different story with a train of girls. I was surprised how many of them didn't make it - unfortunately, I was one of them. I tried the hardest line to see if I could get around someone but nope. Popped off the rock and nearly tumbled head over heels down the face. Collected myself and got back on my bike. It was time to focus and just ride. There was a lot of singletrack left a lot of opportunities to gain time. I finally made the pass I needed to - then crossed the road and headed into the unknown. Both Nick and Todd had given me some pointers and things to look for during that section, so I was cautiously confident.

That section of trail was super fun. I wish we'd had a chance to pre-ride it and learn the lines better, but it was still fun. Steady climbing with some short little rollers, tight single track with huge water bars and some challenging rock gardens. I could see the train of women in front of me - so close - but knew better then to chase. I didn't know the trail and I needed to keep my eyes on the dirt. I was riding everything at that point and feeling really smooth. Finally, everything technically was coming together - pulling up my front tire to clear the water bars, placing it neatly and then the little body throw to get the rear wheel up and over. The body English to throw the bike around and maneuver on the rock gardens. Just being able to ride everything - up and down - was a win in my mind. I saw a lot of the other women walking a lot of the technical single track. I was slowly reeling some of them in, making up the ground I'd lost at the start. As the trail topped out on the ridge, I was able to look down and see Hwy 89 far far below. Wow. No wonder it seemed like we'd been doing nothing but climbing since the start! But that meant the downhill Nick and Todd had warned me about was coming up. Time for some fun! Stay focused, use your legs, soak up the bumps and ride your bike. Flow. I caught a few women on that descent, including Beth Utley (from 24 Hrs in the Old Pueblo.) But it wouldn't last. Everyone and a few others would re-pass me on the three mile climb up to Aid 1.

This was my first race using the Chocolate Peanut Coconut rice cakes from The Feedzone Cookbook. I discussed the reasons behind my switch from using only Gu products for calories and electrolytes to using real food for fuel and Gu for electrolytes in a prior post. I took advantage of the road to eat one of my rice cakes and was looking forward to getting a bottle of fresh fluid from Nick.A good exchange - another rice cake and some gummy worms in my jersey pockets and the cold bottle on my bike. One of the volunteers doused me with some water just before I started the decent to Skull Valley. Ohh, did that feel good. I didn't know what the temperature was - I just knew it was hot! The descent wasn't really all down hill - which was good. I was able to pedal and keep my legs moving so I wasn't stiff when I turned around. Caught Chris J, one of the Xterra women I used to race with. We rode down to the turn around together, taking turns pulling. About four miles from the turn around, the first men started passing us on their climb. Then about 1.5 miles up, Kelli Emmett came charging up the hill. She was focused and moving fast - and had a pretty good gap on the next group. I didn't count to see how many women were in front of me. I knew it was more then I'd wanted. When we hit the pavement before the aid station, I decided to ditch my camelbac. The bladder was empty and I really didn't want to carry it back up the hill! I also wanted to get rid of it before I started overheating. Before the turn around, I sat up and pulled it off. Tossed it to Coach Adam who was waiting with my bottle of Brew. A smooth hand off, but then I decided I wanted some water as well. I knew that climb was going to be long, hot and brutal! Snagged another bottle and tucked it into my jersey pocket. If two bottles weren't enough to get me nine miles, I had problems!

There was a small group just ahead of Chris and I on the road. I decided I wanted to try and catch up on the lower, more gradual slope and left Chris. I was slowly, so slowly pulling them back - or so I thought. Then came the short downhill in the middle of the climb and I lost every inch I'd pulled back. And I never got it back. Chris passed me and climbed away from me. I was eating and drinking well, didn't feel like I was suffering too badly in the heat, but I couldn't maintain the power numbers I wanted to. I was getting a little frustrated with the low numbers, so switched the screen on my garmin - no need to stress out over something that was so minor. Jane from CTS was right behind me - we would yo-yo for the rest of the climb. Finished the bottle of brew about six miles into the climb and started on the water. There was no wind, the sun was beating down hard and no shade to provide any respite. Too hot for this Colorado girl after doing my last set of intervals in the snow! Finally, the scrubby trees opened up into tall pines. Getting closer to the aid station! I finished the bottle of water and tossed it just before the aid station appeared. And those volunteers were awesome. Not only did I get a bottle of water dumped on my head, a fresh bottle of perfectly mixed (for me) Brew Roctane and another bottle of water to drink there, I got enthusiastic cheers. Thanks to everyone who stood out in the hot sun for the privilege of handing us water bottles!
Climbing up the road with Jane 
Another rice cake and I decided to finish the bottle I'd gotten at the aid station. I knew exactly where Nick would be waiting with my last bottle - I just didn't know how long it would take to get there. More climbing, this time in the shade. I was getting tired, but still riding well. I didn't know where anyone else in the race. I was hoping I'd been able to hold the gaps to reasonable amounts - something I could bring back on the downhill. Nick was waiting right where he said he would be - and he was a mind reader. Not only did he have my bottle ready, he also had some coke for me! Normally, warm and flat coke is the least appealing thing - not in the middle of a hot race, with about 40 minutes left to ride! That was what I needed. I decided I wouldn't let Jane beat me to the single track and picked up the pace on that last section of road. I knew the trail was going to be fun and I wanted to enjoy every minute of it.

Of course, no race of mine is complete with out a crash. Washed out my front wheel on one of the corners, scraping up my right side. A good reminder to relax and ride my bike. If I was going to catch anyone, it would happen - but not if I rushed and got hurt. Yep. Flow. And the flow of the trail brought a grin to my face. There were a few differences in the lines between our pre-ride and the race, but it was still fun. I was launching the little berms, sliding around the corners. There were a few spectators at every trail junction and I  thanked all of them for cheering. There was one tricky section that I'd tried three times during the pre ride - hadn't made it on any attempts then. But now I felt good, I felt smooth and despite originally planning on walking through it - I decided to ride. Up over the rock - look where I want to go, throw the bike around. And I was over, still pedaling. Awesome! One more climb, then it would be all over. Splashed through the creek and started up cramp hill, gearing down for the climb. Then I saw a jersey in front of me. Another rider! I hadn't seen another race in so long! I wanted to catch her and attacked the climb. At least, I thought I attacked the climb - not sure about it now. Got to the top and she was gone. Had I been imagining things? Or was she just far enough ahead of me? No matter - ride my bike, flow around the switchbacks, over the rocks. Then the jersey re-appeared. It was Beth again. And I was gaining. I made the catch, called the pass and was around smoothly. Time to focus on the river crossing coming up. Gear down, right line, smooth and steady. Made it much easier then during the pre-ride and was super excited. I had enough of a gap and enough single track to keep ahead of her before the road descent. Until my chain dropped. I think I bent the front derailleur a little in the earlier crash and when I shifted into my little ring to get through the rock garden it bounced off. Bounced off and got wedged! Beth passed me back as I was struggling with the chain - it took a bit of muscle to unwedge it and re-seat it.
The river crossing near the end of the race - it's harder then it looks from this angle!
Thanks to Beth Utley for letting me use this

Now I was chasing again and I didn't  have enough single track left. We both knew it. She was out of sight when I popped out onto the blacktop road. Four miles of descending into the finish line. I got as aero as I could, pedaling as hard as I could. I wasn't giving up until I crossed the finish line! For the first few miles, we were sharing the road with the cars. I was dropping like a stone and was catching the vehicles in front of me. For the first time, the cars pulled over and let us pass! Wow! Then we got a coned lane and I didn't have to worry about cars anymore. I made the right hand turn off Gurley Rd - starting the final, short climb of the race. I could see Beth ahead of me now. I stood up and attacked the climb, ignoring the fatigue in my legs. This was my last chance. But she would make the left too far ahead and stay ahead of me into the finish. Nick was waiting for me at the line - with a glass of cold water. I was happy to be finished, happy with my performance, but disappointed. I'd hoped for better - but ended up simply pack fodder. Sure, it was an elite pack, but... I finished 33rd of 44 finishers and 51 starters. My time was 4:16:29, a far cry from Lesley Patterson's winning 3:35:21! But all things considered, it was a good race. I handled the heat and the unknown well and survived without a coughing fit! (those would come later, and stay around for a while.)

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