True Grit Epic
True Grit Epic - the first big race of the season and a new race to boot. There were sections of the course I'd ridden a few times (Zen) a few I'd only ridden once (the Barrel Rides and Barrel Rolls as well as Stuki Springs) and some I had no clue about (Bear Claw Poppy and Rim Runner) - stringing all together would be a challenge. It was also the first chance to test out my training and see if short and hard on snow would translate into long and hard on rock and dirt. Adding to my stress was also the fact that this was the first big race that would see both Nick and I out on course at the same time. He had opted to race Men's Open instead of single speed this time and so would be starting with me and finishing well ahead of me. So I was a little nervous at the start and very quite - focusing on the 50 (or so) miles ahead of me. There was a very tough field assembled in the women's race and I knew making it into top five would be a challenge. Surviving the start had to be the first order of priority though - it was a mile and a half of black top followed by a steep dirt road climb. I was worried about an aggressive start and getting left behind before the race even really began. Luckily, the start was fast but mellow. I hit the dirt road just behind Wendy Lyall and with Liz Carrington. A decent position. The scariest part of the race was actually the high speed run down Cove Wash. It's one thing to make that ride with a few other people; a completely different picture when it's race crowded and race paced. I had to be very conscientious about my lines and aware of where everyone around me was.
And then the climbing of the Barrel Ride section began. The top three women had already vanished ahead - far enough out of sight to almost be out of mind. But I could still see Wendy and I was playing tag with Liz the entire time. I'd catch and pass her, she would re-pass me a few minutes later. No matter how much I tried I couldn't make a move stick on that first section. Part of the problem was I wasn't willing to go red that early in the race with the most technical sections coming up still. And Wendy was still just ahead, slowly stretching the elastic. Again, I wasn't willing to push it to catch up to her wheel. To make matters more challenging, the first wave of the age group men who had started seven minutes behind me were now catching up. Wendy's white jersey quickly blended in with the stream of riders effectively rendering her out of sight. On one of the last descents before the long climb up to technical section, I finally got a bit of a gap on Liz. I didn't know how much or if it would hold, but it was enough for me to be able to switch my focus to the upcoming descent. I caught a peek of Wendy running her bike up one of the climbs on the traverse - not as far as I thought but now too far to try to chase down.
And then it was my turn. Making the left hand turn into the singletrack of Barrel Ride, I flipped my suspension from climb to trail. Time to ride. Down the first little descent and up the chunky ledgy climb - humbling some of the guys around me. Yes I was riding my bike, not pushing! And then - there it was. The guy in front of me paused at the top and dismounted. I dinged my bell and he moved out of the entrance. With my saddle lowered and the line painted in my mind, I pointed the bike down the rocks. First drop done, weight back and no front brake. Control the speed over the little traverse and into the next drop. Not as smooth as I wanted, but it was good. Just the final turn and rock garden left. To the whoops and cheers of the spectators, I wrestled my bike back onto the line, making the last right hand turn. As I rolled out of it and started the descent into the canyon I was hooting. Hadn't really anticipated being able to ride it all with the number of riders around me! Nothing but compliments from the guys. My moment of celebration was short lived - I was still in the middle of a race and still had the Zen loop to ride.
Through the aid station - didn't need anything yet and onto Zen. I settled into a hard and steady tempo, tapping out a nice rhythm on the pedals as I climbed. The chunky rock moves seemed easier this time - only my fourth lap around Zen and I was finding peace with the rocks. I was actually riding everything on the climb except one thing - a steep ascent with some tight rocks, big ledges and a cliff to the right. No one around me actually made that, so I didn't feel bad about walking. The rest of Zen went very smoothly - able to muscle through all the big moves and pick solid lines over and around the rocks. I was getting a lot of compliments - both on how well I was riding and the ease at which I was allowing passes to happen. I missed one more thing on Zen - the steep rocky climb back onto the single track after the short road section. Oh well - gives me something to work on for next year. At the aid station, I just refilled the bottle on my bike. Had originally planned on taking a fresh bottle and not stopping, but the larger bottles they were using didn't fit well on my bike.
Now came the fitness part. A few technical things down from the Mesa to the valley (not being entirely sure where I was going, I ended up taking the middle finger down...) and some big whoops that meant for some fun air. But mostly, Bear Claw Poppy was fast, flowy and benefited people who'd ridden it a few times. I settled in behind one of the guys, a little slower then I wanted, but still quick. And I could read the lines based off his reactions. As we made the wide turn to head back uphill and to the west, I saw green helmet with green socks. It was Liz and she was gaining quickly. My break on Barrel Ride hadn't been enough. I debated going again, sprinting away, but opted not. She was gaining. Let her make the catch and I could follow her for a bit. So that what I did. She passed me and I latched onto her wheel, trying to stay right behind her. At first, she kept pulling away and I'd have to dig to catch back on. But as the long gradual climb dragged on with no sight of the turn, it was getting easier to stay with her. I was actually having to back off on the steeper hills to not run into her rear tire. (Which I did once, sorry.) I knew I was going to have to do something - try to attack again and make an escape. But where? With the gradual climb, I didn't really see any good places to try and make a move. A few minutes later, I saw it. The steepest and longest of the hills and an immediate fast descent. As we started up the hill, I bolted. Digging deep and powering up the hill to reach the super fast descent first. I had a gap. Not much of one, but a gap. Now to make it stick.
There were two more sections of trail left - Rim Runner and Barrel Roll. Rim Runner was a short and steady climb followed by a fast road descent. It did have an out and back which afforded me my first look at Wendy since the start. Only about 10 minutes ahead of me. The other constant was the bobbing green helmet in the back ground. About a quarter mile behind me - not dropping off pace but not getting any closer. With maybe 45 minutes left in the race, I had to keep that gap. Another quick pit stop to refill my water bottle and I was off onto Barrel Ride. I'd ridden that loop once before, but slow and easy. There was nothing slow and easy about this ride. Pushing hard, focused on the trail and trying to keep up with the guys around me. We were also starting to catch some of the 100 mile racers who'd started an hour before us. They had another loop yet to do! There wasn't much technical on Barrel Rolls, but plenty of undulating switchbacking singletrack. I could see Liz a few switchbacks behind me, still there, just close enough to be a threat. Into the one technical descent and traverse - finding my best line down and focusing on riding my bike. I almost made the traverse but slid out on one rock. Didn't dwaddle getting back on the the bike and cleaned the climb back up. Riding scared the rest of Barrel Roll, I blazed through the final check point. Just a little more singletrack and then the road back to the finish. Had a guy pass me just before the singletrack and tell me that the next girl was only 45 seconds back. Yikes. One last climb and we turned left - down the road and onto blacktop. I swung wide coming off the dirt, holding onto all of my speed and sprinted. With just a mile left I had no other choice but to dig despite the fatigue in my legs. I caught up with the guy who'd given me the time gap. He glanced back at me, shifted a few times and pointed at his wheel. Never one to turn down a free pull, I latched on. We time trialed down the main highway. As we approached the finish, I eased up, planning on letting him finish ahead of me for the pull. But he had other plans and waved me through. Okay!
Nick was waiting for me at the finish. He had a sprite and water for me, having finished about half an hour ahead of me, 43rd overall and 23rd in Open Men. I'd finished fifth woman in 4:26:16 and was 96th overall. Not bad for our first trip to the desert. Looking forward to next year!
Congratulations to Joey Lythgoe (3:52:17) Karen Jarchow (4:01:02) KC Holley (4:07:33) and Wendy Lyall (4:14:37) for claiming the top spots on the podium.