A year is a long time to be working towards a goal - espcially when there’s so many individual milestones to be met along the way. In 2018, ...

Aug 25, 2017

Post Breck Blues

I've heard people talking about it - the dreaded mental let-down after a huge race. I've never really dealt with it before though; I've always been able to move the focus to the next race or event without much of an emotional toll. This was different. After the Breck Epic, it's been hard to refocus and recharge for that next event. I can't figure out why either - there was so much logistic stuff involved with the Breck Epic (drop bags! mandatory meeting! awards! repeat, repeat, repeat...) that it seemed hard to just settle down and ride my bike. Amber and I were a great team - I can't actually thing of another person I'd want to race as a Duo with. We communicated, helped each other out during bad patches, kept the mood positive and fun throughout the week and generally had a blast. We met some really fun people during the race - some I already "knew" through social media and some complete strangers. Every day was an adventure and capturing the emotions of the day was often hard. I tried, but I know the short reports were lacking in what we really experienced throughout 27 hours of racing. There were so many stories, so many people that went unmentioned. It's impossible to capture fully the enormity of the Breck Epic. Even if you combined all the race reports and blog posts now coming out, there's still so much left unsaid. Six days of racing, six hundred different stories each day - from the fastest pros to the last finisher on the stage.

Putting on an event like the Breck Epic is no small undertaking. From the course markings every day to the aid stations, it was one of the smoothest events I've raced. The meetings got a little tiring near the end of the week, but the information from the course review helped with the next day's racing. Things ran mostly like clockwork - drop off bag at correct aid station in the morning, go line up with some new best friends, follow the arrows around the back country of Breckenridge, collect needed goodies at aid stations, finish event to LG's announcing, go clean bike then back to condo, cram some food in before the meeting and awards, go to bed - rinse repeat! While I never really knew where I was, I always knew I was on course - there were enough arrows and flagging for a small army to follow. The aid station volunteers always had our bags ready - even when we didn't need them. Sometimes I think the volunteers were having more fun then we were! And for anyone to get mad at them - chill out, it's only a bike race. To all the race staff, course crew, sweep riders, aid station volunteers, course marshals and anyone else I forgot - thank you. I'm sure Amber and I said it many times throughout the week, but we would have been riding our bikes for six days straight without your hard work and time.
I may have been the only person smiling up there! The Wheeler Pass HAB.
Photo Timothy Faust

It was a long, hard week through - even though it was fun. I'm torn between the physical fatigue that such an event does to a body and the mental fatigue of staying focused for six days straight of racing. Which one is leaving me unmotivated for anything, cranky and just generally unhappy? The physical comes back - I have two weeks of recovery left before the next major undertaking. The mental? I'm not so sure that will bounce back as quickly. I'm not giddy to ride my bike right now, or even run for that matter. I want to be lazy and rest. Swimming is good, but there's minimal motivation for anything else. That's okay for now - the recovery is much needed and hard earned.

But in two weeks, I have to have my mojo back. I need to be ready to ride my bike and giddy to take on the next challenge. Four. On September 9th, I'll be once again lining up with the Vapor Trail 125 crazies - looking to attempt something only one other women has tried. Starting the Vapor Trail 125 - only Cat Morrison has started 4 times at the Vapor Trail 125. Simply by lining up and pedaling my bike, I will join her in history. If I keep the cranks turning and the rubber side down, I have the chance to make history. And that is my goal. I may never be the fastest women out there - but I can be damned persistent when I want to be!

Aug 20, 2017

Gold Dust and Donuts

Stage 6 - the last day. For some classes, it was still racing as the time gaps were tiny. For us, it was pedal party time. There was no surmounting the distance between us and the leaders and the third place team was several hours behind Amber and I. So we didn't have to race. We just had to have fun and remember that's why we ride bikes. We aren't getting paid to ride or do crazy things like the Breck Epic. We do these things because they are fun and we love to ride our bikes.

Ready to go for the last stage of the race
While the descent of Gold Dust trail on the south side of Boreas Pass is the highlight of the stage, it's a roadies dream. Two long climbs to the Continental divide on Boreas Pass Road with nothing to get in the way of putting the head down and pedaling. Before getting to Boreas Pass Roas, however the course followed Breck Epic Course Rule #1 - if there is a fun descent, at some point in time you will climb up it. This time it meant climbing up Aspen Alley and Banker's Tank trails - both awesome trails that we'd decended six long days before. Ugh. Five days worth of fatigue in our legs and we were still leading the train up the trail, and nobody wanted around (we asked - several times.) The French Canadian riders were behind us and all four of us were yipping away. (Amber and I used a loud yip to communicate throughout the week - we could tell where the other rider was without having to slow or look around. Once some of the other duos realized that, they joined in.) Our mantra for stage was to have fun and enjoy the ride. And when we heard banjos, that meant stopping for a photo. Yes, we brought the camera with us!

I hear Banjos!!
The first climb up Boreas was a good opportunity to chat with several of the men's duos we'd been riding with for most of the week. That made the gravel grinding pass much faster and actually made it kinda fun. We thought we were making good time until one of them looked up the hill a bit and asked "is that a racer coming back already?" And it sure was. A white streak flying down Boreas Pass road - Howard Grotts, racing hard for the stage win and to get the time he needed for the GC win. Holy Crap! He had about five minutes on the next two riders - the time it took us to climb to the summit. True to our having fun on the day pledge, when we heard the magic words "Donuts" it was time for a stop!

Donut time!
Photo - Linda Guerrette
Gold Dust!
Photo - Michael Kane
Then it was time for some Gold Dust. We weren't riding the entire segment - just down to the main road crossing. Gold Dust is one of those multiple personality trails - from the chunky alpine decent near the summit to the Star Wars-esq slalom down the center of a flume trench. By turning off early, we missed the really technical traversing section, but I was perfectly happy about that. It was a long week and riding the fun techy part also meant additional climbing which we didn't feel like dealing with. I was already not looking forward to the climb up Boreas Pass again for several reasons. Luckily, Amber was able to engage the diesel and drag us both up to the summit. We didn't stop this time. With less then 30 minutes left in in the race, we didn't need to stop. All that separated us from the finish was the descent down Indian Creek and the Blue River trail.

The return up Boreas Pass Road
Photo - Michael Kane
And then the Finish Line! Amber and I rode in together, hands in the air. We may not have won the day, the class or even a single stage. But that wasn't the goal of our journey around Breck on two wheels. Any great adventure will involve certain amount of fear. We woke up every morning for the past six days wondering what the day would bring. But allowing that fear to hole you back will limit the scope of the adventure. And every morning, we lined up with our new friends and prepared for another day, another 40 miles and 6000 feet of climbing. You have to step into the unknown with an open mind and eager heart.

The French Canadian team we spent many hours riding with. A yip with a French Accent is an special sound

Aug 17, 2017

Taking our bikes for a hike! Wheeler Pass

After four hard days of racing it finally arrived. The shortest yet perhaps hardest stage of the race Wheeler Pass. "Only" 25 miles, but those miles involved climbing up to and traversing along the Continental Divide before plunging back down into the trees. Amber and I both knew that if we had a chance to take a stage, this would be the one. It's the one that suits us the best - minimal long pedaly sections like the Aqueduct stage that we both suffer with, but hard climbing, Hike-a-Bike and then alpine singletrack descents. We were both facing several sections of trail that we'd never seen before and that would be the major limitation what we had coming into the stage. Trail knowledge on those alpine descents can mean minutes - especially on the long one that we would face today.

But first - the time trial start from the base of Peak 9. We watched the leaders blasting out of the start house and pondered warming up. Pondered. The prior four days and 150+ miles of riding (racing?) led to opting out of the warm up. We spun around a little and then called it a morning. There was plenty of riding left to do and the climb up Burro would be a great warm-up. Finally, our start time arrived and we gathered with the rest of our group. At the whistle, the field took off and we quickly found ourselves in the reverse hole-shot. Yep. We were not motivated much to start pedaling! The climb up Burro to Spring Creek Rd was a technical rooty half single, half double track. A few riders from the starts behind us caught up and passed, but not as many as we expected given how casually we started. Should we have done that warm up and started a little harder? Perhaps. It's always hard to tell at this point in a race, start hard and crash hard or start easy and still crash hard?

Our causal start did set us a little further back in the conga line of riders pushing their bikes up towards Wheeler Pass. And unlike other alpine singletrack, there was no room to pass at all - once you were in the line, that's where you were staying. Our group was a good one though - we were telling jokes, admiring the view and generally having as much fun as you could have while taking your bike for a hike. Finally we got onto the ridgeline and were able to pedal again. Amber and I set our sights on getting around a few of the men in front of us, knowing that we would be able to out decend them when we finally got a chance to go downhill. The alpine traverse to Wheeler Pass is one of the most stunning views you can have - huge mountain on all sides, the city of Breck spread out below. But there was no time to pause for photos. The wind was whipping up and we wanted to keep moving.

The first hurdle - the descent off of Wheeler Pass. I've ridden it twice - both times back in 2012. Amber hadn't ever ridden it and I was a little nervous about the intial descent. It's a steep drop with a hard left exposure, lots of loose rocks and rutted terrain. Not an easy drop in at all - and it doesn't get much easier once you get into the trees. But she rocked it - handling the terrain better then I did my first time around. Time to face the long traverse back into the sky. This one was more a mix of riding and pushing, with even bigger views to distract us. We kept pushing the pace as much as we could tolerate, trying to get some distance between us and the guys around us. We wanted a clean run at the next descent. I didn't even stop and put on my wind coat because I didn't want to stop moving and lose the place we were holding in the field.

Miner's Creek - the descent Nick had warned me to be careful on. Perhaps Amber and I are weird - at least for women- but that was easily the one of the best descents in the entire race. It was a hard, thinking descent, but we were loving every minute of it. We missed two switchbacks and one rut but managed to ride the rest of the trail - and that's without ever seeing an inch of the descent! At least until we got down to the chundery, rocky road that threatened to rattle my teeth loose! That part was hard. They'd also added some distance to the back end of the course, taking us all the way down Miner's Creek Road instead of the trail as the aid crews couldn't get into the station location last year because of the weather.

The last stretch of trail today was the hardest for me. The gradual climb up Peaks Trail back into Breck. I knew it would be hard. My climbing legs were definitely going on strike and Peaks Trail was adding insult to injury. Amber kept pushing the pace, climbing away from me on all the punchy little climbs. I had to dig deep to get back on her wheel and take the few descents on the trail to catch my breath. I knew why she was pushing so hard, so put my head down and rode. Time. We didn't know where we were on time and if we had a chance. There was no giving up until we crossed the line.
Following Amber's wheel towards the finish.
Photo Michael Kane

And it was close. So close. We finished a mere 2:16 behind the leading women's team - the closest finish of the entire race. Could we have found those minutes somewhere on course? Maybe. A harder start and having some knowledge of the descents would have helped a lot. But even being that close was awesome - we lost nearly 30 minutes on yesterdays pedaly stage.
Amber and I match! And we added a Podium Puppy this time!

Tomorrow is Stage 6 - the final day of the race. In the women's duo GC, the order is pretty well sealed. So I'm bringing my camera and taking some photos! After five days of racing, I have no photos to show of the amazing scenery we've been pedaling through. I aim to change that tomorrow.

Aug 16, 2017

Aqueduct aka when do we go downhill?

Consider us warned... Everyone we talked to regarding Stage 4 offered up various amounts of hard climbing and pedaly sections. It seemed that there was lots of climbing with minimal descending. A few people even said there were some sections that made them cry. So we were well prepared to utterly hate the 41 miles and another 6600 feet of climbing ahead of us. We also knew that this wasn't a stage that we would shine on - neither of are good on the pedaling sections. So it was settle in, hope not to lose to much time and ride our bikes. Work together on the climbs and have fun on the few moments of descending that we would get. That was the plan.

Here is where I need to stop rambling about the course and the riding and talk about Amber for a bit. Breck Epic was her idea. A random thought that popped up and gradually solidified last year that we would ride Breck Epic together. Racing something like the Breck Epic is more fun as a duo, with someone always there to share in the suffering of the climbing and the glorious fun of the descents. Amber volunteered last year and got a first hand look at the reality of the suffering and technical nature of the race. That only encouraged her even more that it would be something that we would be able conquer. Place didn't matter - as long as we had fun and rode our bikes strongly for six days in a row. We both knew that we'd have good days and bad days - that each of us have strengths and weaknesses. We would have to work together to balance everything out in order to finish. And so far, we've been doing just that. It's been a hard but great four days so far. 

What makes this even more amazing is that Amber has only been riding a bike for a shade under three years. That's right! Less then three years into pedaling a bike and she is not only racing the Breck Epic, she is crushing the Breck Epic. I don't know many other rider who would be willing to take on a challenge like the Breck Epic after only three years of riding. We might not be in the lead, but we are having fun racing and learning about riding hard. Amber has proven her chops as a climber, easily pulling me up the steeper hills we faced today and putting the guys to shame on some of the climbs yesterday. She rode up things everyone around her were walking and made it look easy. On the two burly descents yesterday, we held our own and even passed some of the other racers. I think every guy who started in the second wave today who caught us had nothing but compliments for our descending. We've gotten to the point that some of the men riding around us will let us lead down the hill or make an effort to let us around. We've been riding with several other duo teams and having a blast every day. The Canadians riding with us have even started yipping when we yip!

But anyway, today was a hard day. We knew it would be a hard day. We started strong on the road and stayed steady on the initial climb. There were some duos that were racing hard in their class so we let them go. We weren't racing against time, so didn't need to get in their way. We got another chance at a fun descent from day 2, and  made some good time through Aid 1. The plan was to just ride through and I was happy we did - it was crazy busy! Then came the climb up the Colorado Trail. We settled in and rode smart up the climb. The first riders in the Epicurious 3 Day started catching us on the CT climb. On fresh legs, they were easily able to make the passes, even on the downhills. The nasty CT switchbacks led to a new trail for both of us - and one that quickly tipped straight up hill. Aptly named Vomit Hill - it was a mix of pedaling and pushing. I missed the doughnuts at the summit of Vomit Hill - I was too busy trying to get back on Amber's wheel for the descent! 

After the drop back into the Ranch area came the pedaling, rolling singletrack into Keystone. We were following the old Aqueduct around the edge of the ridge before dropping down to the second aid station on the service road into the heart of the Keystone Ski Area. A quick stop for food before the grinding climb up the service road. We made decent time on the road, but I was already dreading the steeper ascent up the West Ridge to the CT. At least the double track was easy riding! I settled into my own pace and let Amber ride her own. It was easier that way - we could each pedal smart. I was able to keep her in sight, but she was definitely was pulling away. Finally, after an hour of climbing, we got some descending. The only descending of the whole day it seemed! We caught one of the Coed Duos who'd blasted out of the start on the descent. She was on the rivet on the descent, so we just took the chance to catch our breath. The finish was getting closer, but there was at least one more monster hill left to conquer. Another quick stop at Aid 3 and time to buckle down for the final climb. As Amber so aptly put it as we made the turn off Galenea Ditch - another "Bag of Dicks" road climb up to the finish! This one lived up to the term. Crap, crap, crap! I didn't quite have enough in the tank to make it all the way to top and ended up pushing just a little. We had a few other riders in our sights - people we wanted to be ahead of prior to descent of Side Door. That meant digging deep. Very Deep. But we got it done. Amber led down the descent and into the finish.

Tomorrow is Wheeler. We get to take out bikes for a nice hike up a mountain to tree line, followed by what sounds like a sketchy descent back into the trees. Should be fun!

Aug 15, 2017

Mount Guyot

So if I thought the Colorado Trail stage was fun yesterday, well today was even more fun. But I have also decided that in the Breck Epic, if there is a fun descent one day, then we will be climbing back up it the next day! At least for these first few days...

Another start on Washington Rd, another rollout on the gradual climb of Wellington Rd. I think on day two, we have finally gotten the rollout figured out because it was much smoother making that left hand turn. Amber and I right away settled into our duo happy place - riding with several of the men's duos that we've been riding with for the last two day. We were a much chattier group on the rollout today as well - taking our minds off of the 40 miles left to pedal. Amber and I started talking right away on the climb up Side Door, keep the pace real, keep the pedaling steady and just ride smart. We were starting the stage 31 minutes down, so riding intelligently and staying upright was more important then racing. Especially with the big, burly day that we had ahead of us. The circumnavigation of Mount Guyot - climbing above treeline twice, with two techy descents as well. Both Amber and I were riding blind, having never set tire tracks to the dirt we were about to face. Even more important to stay smart.

The first few miles went pretty quickly, despite the climbing. After the first aid station, we headed up Michigan Creek. It was wet, rocky and rooty. Amber made it look easy, pedaling up the trail without any issues, I got bucked off by a rock and ended up in the conga line of pushers. Luckly, I've been working on my HAB skills this year and was able to hustle my way back up to Amber. Then we were both hiking - the initial climb up to the false summit of French Pass was definitely hiking material. I hoisted my bike onto my shoulders and up we went. A little more pedaling, then the final climb. We made good time, able to catch some of the guys ahead of us on the HAB. A quick stop at the summit to grab some skittles and it was "Full Squish" Time! Todd had warned us about the descent off French Pass, so I was on top of my game, eyes on the trail, picking the best lines I could. And the guys we passed on the HAB to the summit? Never saw them again! The French Pass descent was awesome - the alpine descending that we both love so much. And being able to drop some of the guys in the process? Even better.

We did see them again on the climb up to the CT. But it took them a while... The road climb up to Georgia Pass wasn't too bad - a gradual grinder with some kickers. It was a good place to get some food in since we both knew that we wouldn't be able to eat once we got on the CT. Again, this was a new decent for both of us. Nick had told me horror stories about the chunky switchbacks at the end, so I was A-gaming the entire way down. Amber planted her wheel on mine and followed me down. The first half of the descent is bermy and smooth - super fun. And then there's a sharp turn and the entire nature of the trail changes. From bermy loomy dirt that we could just rail to chunky rocks and roots just looking to eat a wheel. Yikes! Time to slow down and focus. Breath, relax, ride your bike. I was talking aloud as I do on the techy sections. But I was also having to pick the lines and make sure Amber could follow me down. So I was talking a lot and shouting a few times on some of the switchbacks. We were able to ride some of the guys off our wheels on that section today... Amber even got to call "riding" both up and down on this stage!

One last major climb after Aid 3. We settled in again, keeping the tempo steady, the pedaling smooth. We had another 11 miles left to ride, with at least three miles facing us before another pedaly flume trail. Ugh. Amber set a comfortable pace for most of the climb, but on the steepest pitch, she was still pedaling and I decided to walk. Have I mentioned that she can ride her bike up those steep hills like nobody's business? We got on to the Flume trail and pedaled away. Lots of pedaling... Finally we started seeing familiar terrain and popped out onto the road. The last steep bugger of a climb... Again, Amber was able to pedal up all of it - I walked maybe the last 20 feet. Now we were just retracing our tracks from so many hours before! We were both starting to get cranky with the steep road climbs, looking forward to the final descent of Sidedoor. But it wasn't the final descent. Just for fun, we had one more little climb and descent before the finish.

Another second place on the stage - we are holding firmly onto second in the GC. I don't see things changing much in the next three days, but who knows... Our goal will remain the same. Ride smart, talk to each other and remember - it's all about having fun! I do wish I'd been able to get some photos on this stage though - so many amazing views!
Day 3 podium - Amber and I switched it up a little

Aug 14, 2017

The Colorado Trail!!

The Colorado Trail... Stage 2 is supposed to be one of the hardest, one of the longest and yet one of the most fun stages in the race. Amber and I had the same idea in the morning - our Swiftwick Vision Colorado Spirit socks for the Colorado Trail... Maybe the only time we will be all matchie-matchie... The Colorado Trail was definitely a fun day on a bike, with some of the most fun riding I've seen this year. But before we even got to the Colorado Trail, we had nearly 14 miles of trail to cover. After a semi neutral wave start, Amber and I settled into our climbing groove. Because that's what was coming up - some nice long miles of climbing. Including the aptly named Heinous Hill - four miles of step, grunt and lung busting grinding. Amber made it to the top easily, I opted to hike for a few minutes on the steepest portions. Again, we didn't know where the first or third place duos were, but that didn't matter. We were riding against ourselves at this point.
Colorado Sprit socks for the Colorado Trail! A before and after...
 After the "intro climb" we found ourselves on a swoopy singletrack diving through the trees. Couldn't tell you the trail name if I wanted to, but it was fun! There was even one section that was like riding a skate park! But unfortunately, all good things must end. And in the Breck Epic, that means either a rocky chunky pedaly section or another climb. In this case, it was the Galena Gulch pedal. Narrow trail with steep drops on each side - not the place to be day dreaming. We had a decent pace going, with some company the entire time. It was supposed to be 11 miles to the first aid station, but we were still pedaling along the gulch when 11 ticked over. Oh well - that just meant less distance between aid 1 and aid 2. I really liked the trail addition there instead of the old trudge up the road. It was fun and kept us engaged the whole time. A quick stop at Aid 1 and we were off towards the Colorado Trail. At this point, the speedy boys in the 8:50 start wave were beginning to catch us. We would have traffic for most of the rest of the race.

There is this thing about memories of trails you've only ridden a few times and a many years ago. When I rode the first section of the CT years ago, I thought it was a terrifying descent. I psyched Amber up saying that it was a burly descent. And then we got onto it... And I'm not sure what I was remembering! It was a fun descent for sure, and not the scary trail that I was thinking about. After the first descent, it was time for the climb up North Fork to the West Ridge. Long, very long. Amber and I were keeping it real, making sure we talking and checking in. I was laughing because the last time I'd riding that trail, I'd been on baby wheels with a granny gear AKA 26" wheels and 2x! We kept grinding away, with Amber pulling away a few times. Dang, that girl can climb! And then we were at the summit. Time for some fun! We were holding our own against the guys on the entire descent off the ridge, including the switchbacks. Every time I turned, I'd glance up and check in with Amber, as well as looking back. Only one guy caught and dropped us on that section. Another caught us, but then missed a switchback and ended up in a cloud of dust. We never saw him again.

One more climb up to conquer before the second aid station. We pushed this one a little harder, making good time out of the valley. A little longer stop at the aid station to refuel and... More climbing! Ugh. At this point, my legs were starting to get a little annoyed with me. We dialed down the pace and just kept pedaling. Up and up and up. We were on the road we'd descended so many miles ago, climbing up. Onto the singletrack for some more climbing, then finally we got a chance to take a break from the pedaling. I will never be able to find all those trails again, but they were a lot of fun - well built for climbing but not missing a lick descending. One more tight switchback and I finally recognized where we were. Near the end of the second loop of the Breck 100 - that meant only one more ugly climb left to conquer. Getting closer. We didn't have to do the entire road, opting for some easier singletrack to gain the top. But we weren't done climbing yet. A few more punchy climbs, and finally. The end was in sight! I could hear Larry G's voice and recognized the trails.

Day 2 Podium - same riders, same positions!
Five hours of pedaling to cover 41 miles and climb 6600 feet. Amber and I really rode smart on this stage, keeping our wits around us and riding together and working together. We finished another 16 minutes behind the first place duo, but put another 30 minutes into third. So the podium seems to be coming together - but a lot can happen in four days.

Aug 13, 2017

Breck Epic - Stage 1

Stage One. Here we go! Amber and I lined up further back then I normally do, but in a comfortable location. As long as we kept the rubber side down during the three mile climb up Boreas Pass Road, it really didn't matter. It's only the first day. You might not win a race in the first day, but going out too hard and we could blow sky high. It was the mass start that had me most worried for Amber - she's never done anything like this before and riding with 600 people handlebar to handlebar isn't exactly easy. I was also worried about me going too hard on the climb and putting both of us into the red. There was a lot of talking and checking in to make sure we were riding smart, but I was still going a little harder then we needed. I wanted to be in a good position entering the first section of singletrack. Once we got of the road and settled in on the Pennsylvania Gulch Climb, we had bit of a chat, and it was time to chill out a little. It's a long week to come. And that leads me to the next thought.
Ready to go! We think...

Why duo? Why not? It's a different challenge. Amber and I are very evenly matched on most things- I descend better just because of time on bikes; we both power the flats and gentle climbs well; but when it tips steeply uphill and rocky? Amber's got some ponies! And that's a good combo for a race like this. We both have our strengths and weaknesses. This race will play into both. While I might be able to power up the road, I know on things like Little French Amber can just ride away from me. And she did just that today. Even on Indiana Creek Gulch, she was able to ride smoothly things I had to think about. Hopefully, that keeps up as the days get longer - both of us riding smoothly.

Once we got the start nerves out of the way and hopefully the only stupidity of the race over with, we started ticking over the miles. Sometimes fast, sometimes a little slower - but it seemed that we were the only riders chatting and enjoying the day. It was too nice a day not to be enjoyed! And it was stunning scenery around every corner. We survived the first chunky double track descent and river crossing - I was wishing I'd put on my wool socks! That water was cold! Then the Indiana Creek Gulch climb up to Boreas Pass Road. I've ridden that twice - both back in 2012 when I was doing the Breck 100. I was hoping to be able to ride the entire climb this time, but got bounced off twice and did some hiking. I think this week will have lots of taking my bike for a hike.... Amber waited just a little at the top and we rolled into and thru the first aid station. Didn't need anything, so kept going. Time for some descending! At least that's what I thought would happened - but it seemed to take a longer time then I though it would to actually get there.

Aid 2 was just at the start of the the Little French singletrack. This time we stopped. I wanted some more fluids and some food before we tackled that bugger. Amber had some choice words for that section of trail - most of them unprintable! I'm sure that she could have ridden that entire trail easily, she was ticking it over smoothly. I on the other hand was a little worried about burning matches so early into the race and opted to join the line of people walking. Again, its a long week. I know my strengths and weaknesses and would rather give up a few minutes on that then blowup trying to ride something like that. Amber led the Flume trail descent - time to work on that left exposure! Yikes.

Then time for more dirt road climbing. I had an idea of where we were, but not entirely sure so was perfectly happy following arrows. We'd settled into the effort of riding and were comfortable the small group we were with. It did feel a little like no-man's land at times since we didn't know anything about our position and there weren't that many riders around us. Following arrows was about all there was to do! We were both riding blind - having no idea of what lay around the next corner. It was kinda fun, but we were definitely slower then we would have been had we gotten a chance to pre-ride. There were some giggle inducing descents, some grunter ugly climbs and a few more road sections. But we were still riding smart and talking. That was the key to pacing for the back half of the race since there was no one around us. I was leading for most of that last section since I'm a little more comfortable riding the descents blind. Finally, we turned onto the last climb of the day. Amber's raced that section recently, so she was able to talk us through the last switch backs. Some how, she did manage to forget the real, final climb of the day!

Duo Women's Stage 1 Podium
Rebecca Gross and Dani Arman 1st, Amber and I 2nd, Rocky Mountain Racing 3rd
In the end, we finished in 4:16, solidly in second in the Women's Duo - 16 minutes behind Rebecca Gross and Dani Arman. But a lot can happen in five more days of long, hard riding. The gap may shrink, the gap may grow. As long as Amber and I ride within ourselves, we will survive and have fun. And that's the point - to have fun and push ourselves to our limits.

Go time

I'm watching the sun slowly illuminating the 10 Mile Range as I write this. All the work had been done - the long rides, the hard intervals and the recovery weeks. The bike is ready and the drop bags have been packed. Things are real now - we are here and it's past day zero. A year in the making and we are here. It's almost go time. In less then two hours in fact, Amber and I will begin this long journey of self discovery through riding bikes. Finding our True North.

I would be lying if I said I slept well last night. So many thoughts rolling around in my mind. I know it really is just six days of riding bikes. Six big days of riding bikes. But there are so many unknowns to face - besides just riding bikes. I think the biggest challenge for me will be racing Duo in this manner. I'm used to riding my one race - my own pace. Not this time. It will be an ever evolving dance between us. When to push the pace, when to settle into pedaling. One of us might be feeling great and have to balance out a bad day for the other - and it could happen to either one of us. We have to work together on the roads, climb as a unit and descent within ourselves.

Today is a mass start - the entire field together up Boreas Pass Road until the singletrack. It's going to be nuts for a while - between the elevation and adrenaline, people are ready to just go ride bike and race hard. Weather is looking good for today so far, which makes one less thing to worry about. And apparently I'll have a tracker unit for this stage! Which gives me one more thing to worry about!

Huge thanks to Swiftwick Socks for the support in this race.

Aug 9, 2017

Watching the Weather

One of the most vivid memories I have of my 50 states + DC quest was sitting on a chilly bus, driving up Blacksmith Fork Canyon towards the start of the 2000 Top of Utah Marathon. The heat was on in the bus, but that didn't matter. It was still cold and the breath of the runners had fogged up the windows, obscuring the view of the canyon we were driving up. Not that it mattered. At some point, someone wiped clear one of the windows and his words sent shivers through the bus.

"It's snowing..."

It was the end of September and a wet cold front had dipped low across I-80 and pushed backwards into the Wasatch mountains. Top of Utah was only my 7th marathon and my 5th road marathon and I was about to disembark a school bus into a snow storm, faced with running 26.2 miles. 

Why do I bring this up the week before the Breck Epic? Because that experience taught me several valuable lessons. Lessons that might come in handy as I keep one eye on the weather for next week. I was still novice marathoner at that point and the fancy tech clothes around today were in their infancy. But I'd followed the weather forecast and knew there was a chance for bad weather and had packed the warm clothes I had for running in at the time. I knew even then that I had no control over the weather - I just need to manage how I handle the weather that I am given. Heading into Breck Epic is no different - I have no control over what is currently looking like a potentially scary week of rain, thunderstorms and frozen mix. Yes, that's on one of the weather apps I have....
So what does that mean packing? Beyond the basics, it means Amber and I have to be ready to ride in potentially ugly weather. From head to toe, we need to be able to stay warm and dry so we can focus on the trail and ride smart. I know we will have access to washer and drier, but I'm taking a cue from my 24 hour racing to guide my packing. Pack the entire closet.... Seriously. Washing clothes after each stage isn't the best use of time. I need enough to get through at least the first three stages regardless of weather. Different weight rain coats for different conditions - some to just stay dry, some to stay dry and warm. Multiple weight gloves and hope I have a pair or two that survives well in the rain. I might need to borrow the surgical glove technique to keep my hands dry if all else fails. Arm warmers, knee warmers, baselayers - including my long sleeved wool shirts. Hats and headbands - again thin and warm even when wet. I also need to have clothes for warm days just increase the weather forecast changes between now and then. 

Helping pack - as usual!
For me, the most important part is my feet. I have a horrible time keeping my feet warm when I'm riding, especially when it's wet and cold. Booties are great, but when there's HAB, they get shredded in about five seconds. I've learned that the hard way every year at Vapor, alway sacrificing my booties on the Granite Mountain HAB to keep my feet warm. What I've found works the best is to double up the socks and wear a size up shoe. Stick with wool (my choice is the Swiftwick Pursits) and my feet are happy. That means I need to double my sock collection for the race, just in case! I'm hoping I can wear some of my fun Aspire stripes as well, but if the weather is at all questionable, I'll sacrifice whimsy for warmth. It's too long a race to take chances with feet getting cold and wet - and that's for just one stage! 

The sock collection I'm bringing with me... Some for warmth and some for whimsy!
At least in 24 hour racing, I have the ability to ride a lap and then get into dry clothes for the next lap. In Breck, we will be looking at 3-4 hours of riding with the potential of getting wet early. Make a mistake there and huge chunks of time might be gone for good. But I've raced in crappy weather before - from the Arizona Huricane at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo in 2011, to the race pausing downpour during the 2013 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest. I've headed up into the mountains under clear blue skies only to find myself chased down the trail by hail and lightening. This is no different - except for the one-way traffic with a number plate. Either way, Amber and I have to be prepared to handle anything the mountains and the weather throw at us. And repeat for six days...