Most people do crazy stuff when they turn 40 - the classic midlife crisis type affair. There's buying a snazzy new car (does a 4WD Merce...

Jun 29, 2018

Bear Bait 8

This is not how we usually roll - signing up for a race on a whim. But since we were there, we were going to make it count. The plan based on our pre-ride indicated that 10 laps should be reasonable with a potential for 11 depending on how we felt and the weather. Looking only at the 4:00 cut off for going out again, we decided that I should start and run the odd laps - that way if needed Nick would have a better chance of getting me out for 11. Nick went to the pre-race meeting while I got organized to ride. Minutes before I was going to pedal to the portapotty for the last time, one of the zip ties holding my number in place snapped. Yikes! Not how I wanted to start my day. A last minute dig through the tool bag got me another zip tie and I was on my way to the start. My watch read 7:50, so I had a just enough time to take care of business. Guess my watch was reading from different satellites then the starters' watch! I had 7:56 when I rolled up - much later then I wanted, but still on time - but he was starting the minute count down. I gave Nick a thumbs up, letting him know everything was good and focused down the track

Start/finish line and the timing shack. Bet the timers were happy when the rain moved in!
There was no Le Mans start here - just a short double track prologue loop prior to getting onto the single track. At the gun, the field surged from the line, riders sprinting away. I wasn't quite expecting the speed of the start and got a little swallowed. Then I found my focus and started working my way up towards the front. I was just behind Christy Olsen, one of the local Casper speedsters as we entered singletrack. I was hoping to be able to ride with her for that first lap, but she knew the course like the back of her hand and quickly climbed away from me. And she was racing solo! I settled into my pace, feeling comfortable and trying to be smart with the twisty terrain. It's not the kind of riding I excel at which made it a great challenge at any pace. I had to think the entire time to remember which hills needed shifting for, which hills I could just muscle up, where the branches were low enough to require ducking, which twists lead up and which ones lead down. I remembered some things from the pre-ride but didn't have the entire course dialed. Even with the prologue, I was about 8 minutes faster then on the pre-ride, coming in to hand off to Nick just about 50 minutes. If we kept that pace up, we'd have a great chance of getting 11 laps!

Because the timing was so quick between laps - about 30 minutes total in pit, it was really important to be efficient. The lack of lap racing lately showed a few times as I struggled to stay focused on the tasks at hand - write down my time, make a note on the plan sheet, refill water, quick wipe of the bike and get something to eat. I think the eating was the hardest part because there just wasn't time to allow things to settle before getting back on the bike. We'd been minimal with our setup since we'd poached the parking lot the night before the race. Just the table with the stove, the food tubs and one chair out to sit on. Everything else was put away. Granted, because we were on vacation and hadn't anticipated doing a race, a lot of the 24 hour race stuff like the hunting tent was still at home. So it was even more important to be efficient. The little metal table doesn't have that much room on it!

Ready to race! Yes, had to use my watch since I'd lost the Edge mount somewhere on the roads between KC and Minnesota
The transition set up was neatly done for the race - due to the timing chips, there was a 100' radius around the finish line where bikes were not allowed to be. But the route to and from the transition area was clearly marked, making it easy to get there. Most of the teams were just hanging out in the trees along side the course - there were a few tents, plenty of coolers and several hammocks strung between the trees. Very low key until a rider came into view. No fancy baton or check in table - just cross the line and tag your teammate. Butt slaps and high fives were the most popular method of tagging off. The only issue was the short runway to get up to speed! The rider finishing a lap was coming hot - full speed - and would always out shoot the tagged rider heading off onto course. But you could see your rider coming for plenty of distance to be ready to ride. Because of that, I ended up leaving my neon green gloves on the entire race. Easy for Nick to see!
 My second lap went nice and smooth. No issues at all and I was remembering a few more section of the course each time. I was starting to lap some people, but passing was a breeze. There were plenty of places where the course opened up enough to allow me to sneak around. I just needed to remember where they were! My legs were a little tireder then I would have liked for my second lap, but that was expected coming off a week of vacation and riding every day. No taper at all here! Even so, I pushed as hard as I could both up and down. After Nick headed out for lap 4, I asked someone about results. No live results up yet - but they would work on it. Fair enough. It wasn't like our plan would change based on where we were. The race wasn't halfway done yet. I would worry about results later. We were keeping track on our sheet like we always do. We were ahead of our planning, and so far seemed to be riding consistently.

I headed out for lap 5 at about 11:12. My first lap with the prologue had been about 50 minutes and my second had ben about 48 minutes. I am notoriously bad at math during races - and the more complicated the math gets, the worse I am. So I was just riding along, riding hard but not with a sense of urgency for most of the first long climb. I'd gone pretty hard on my second lap, hoping that perhaps Christy had slowed down and they wouldn't be using the first lap for the fastest lap prime. I was feeling it a little. And then... Something clicked in my head. There was a four hour race as well. The four hour race would be starting at noon. If I didn't drill the rest of the lap, Nick would be heading out just after that race started. I'm not sure what made me think about it, but once it hit me, I had no choice. I couldn't let up, couldn't settle into a comfortable pace. I switched my watch over to clock time, forgetting again that we had started 3 minutes early. That meant the 4 hour race would also start 3 minutes early but I didn't make that connection. I just knew I needed to get to the line before noon and had to pedal as hard as I could to make it happen. I took some chances on the tighter turns, dunking into lines I wouldn't have normally taken. Every second counted. On the final climb into the finish chute, my watch read 11:56 - plenty of time - if the race started at noon. I'd made it! But as I turned into the downhill finish, I could see both Nick and the crowd of racers waiting to start off to the side. I could also hear the race director giving the 1 minute warning. Yikes! I sprinted into the finish to hand off about 30 seconds before the start of the 4 hour race. I'd made it - but I'd shelled myself to do it.

Nick told me later that he'd been waiting there, wondering if I realized the timing of the finish for that lap. We'd missed it because on the original plan, I was supposed to be finishing the fifth lap at about 12:20. Well behind the start of the four hour race to not have to worry about it. But we'd both been riding about 4 minutes faster then our planned finish times, which put us right at the noon. As the clock ticked down, he was getting more and more worried that I wouldn't make it in time. Seeing my bright neon gloves rolling around the corner was one of the best sights that whole race.

That lap took it out of me though. I knew I would have to slow down the rest of the race. Went back to the van, got some food and drink and flopped in the chair. Whew. Two, maybe three laps left to ride. And a mark of well designed endurance lap course - after three laps, I wasn't bored with the trails. I was still having fun and enjoying the ride. The finish climb up to the transition area, not so much - but the rest of the course was still making me smile. It was also after noon - halfway done with the race, so time to figure out if I could check results. I left the van a little early and did some poking around - it wasn't easy, but I was able to figure it out and see what was going on. There were three Co-Ed Duo teams and I just needed to know the numbers to check laps. One team had four laps at 4:28, another had 5 laps at 4:36 and we had 4 laps at 3:58. Huh. Need to check those numbers again. Yep, showed that we had four laps at 3:58. So we were in second? Something didn't seem right. I was chewing the numbers around in my mind as Nick came around the corner. Totally wasn't ready for him, not even on my bike. Whoops. I'd get a gentle scolding on the clipboard when I got back.

Riding steady, still trying to figure out what sounded off with the results. I spun up the long hill at the start. Legs were tired from that last lap. I would definitely not be breaking 50 again. Four laps at 3:58. Something was off there. Yes, we'd finished a lap right about 3:58 because I'd gotten Nick out before Noon. That was it. That's why the numbers were off. I'd finished that lap, and I was the odd numbers. That had been lap five, not four. Somehow they were missing a lap. With the mystery solved, I turned my attention back to the trail. I would handle the missing lap when I got back. As anticipated, I was definitely slower on that lap. My push to get Nick out before noon had sucked all the pep from my legs, leaving me quite happy to just pedal and enjoy the trail at a slower pace. It was still challenging though! Sure enough, when I finished my lap, I had the note "Please B ready/moving..." scribbled on the plan. Yup. I know. Sorry about that. But I had more important things to deal with - a missing lap. I took our clipboard with the plan up to the timers. Now we were missing two laps! I explained the issue, showed them the clipboard with the plan and our scribbled completed data. Two sets of handwriting with the notes and the numbers. The timers took our numbers down, took a photo of the plan and said they'd fix it but to bring the board back when we were finished. Easy enough.

Now it was getting tight for that 11th lap. With how sluggish I'd been on my fourth lap, I knew the fifth would be just as slow - eating in to the margin we'd built up. And there was weather moving in. I don't mind riding in the rain, but I'm not used to how real dirt handles rain or riding on wet roots. I stuffed my rain coat in my pocket just in case and headed back to the transition area. I'd already decided that I would just ride smart. If it was fast enough to give us the margin to go out again, so be it. Nick told me to be careful when he tagged off. There'd been some sprinkles while he'd been out on the course and it was getting a little slick. Nodding, I headed off in the hills. With the clouds building, the trees closed in around the trail. Kinda spooky. There were more people on course now with the four hour race and it was nice to see the flashes of color from the other riders. Thunder was rumbling the background and the clouds were getting thicker. I definitely slowed down on that lap. Keeping the bike upright was a priority on the slick dirt. Decomposed granite gets faster as it gets wet - not so much real dirt! I almost beat the rain in - the sky was starting to open up when I tagged off to Nick. The temperature had dropped enough to cause the blue puffy to make an appearnce1 Nick said he wasn't going to get hurt trying to make back - was just going to ride smart. Fair enough. I was pretty sure I didn't want to do another lap anyway! So time to get cleaned up and dry. I wasted no time pedaling back to the van, making it just before the downpour started. Ahh, to be warm and dry. With the rain, I know we were finished, so headed over to the timers building to check in. While the lap times might not have been 100% accurate, they had the right number of laps. All was good. Now just to wait for Nick to finish.

The only time there was any sun on Nick's last lap
4:10, he came rolling in. We'd missed the ability to head out for 11, but it didn't matter. Two months after major abdominal surgery, Nick was back on his bike racing. Sure, the top end speed wasn't there, but we'd both kept it upright and had a great time. We'd signed up on a whim after the Facebook posts caught my eye at just the right time. We'd showed up after nearly two weeks of vacationing in Minnesota, with all that entailed - between riding, the reunion, plenty of adult beverages, humidity and heat - we were both tired. So the fact that we'd been able to keep the pace consistent and ride strong for the entire 8 hours was awesome.

Coed Duo Podium - Whiteout in third with 7 laps at 7:26, Team Marlow with 9 laps in 8:36 for second and Alien Baby with 10 laps at 8:10

Overall, this was a great race. We weren't sure what we were in for when we drove into Casper and this was a pleasant surprise.The course was well though out - and while it was short, it was challenging enough for every rider. The faster you went, the more you had to think about things with less time to react. Pre-race, they encouraged riders to mingle at the sponsor brewery in downtown Casper - Frontier Brewing Company. After the race, there was food - freshly made hamburgers, brats, delicious coleslaw and the best baked beans I've ever had. Beer from Frontier was available to those who wanted and we were able to hang out with other riders and swap stories. A band was playing in the lodge, adding to the festive vibe. The only downer on the after party was the downpour that moved in just before the awards! But since the lodge was open, we all got cozy and took the party inside! As we were driving back down Casper Mountain, Nick was already making plans to come back next year - this time ready to race!

Jun 26, 2018

On a whim and a prayer

There we were, driving west on 90 through South Dakota Thursday evening. The goal was Spearfish to explore the riding since we'd heard a lot about the trails. But the weather was looking questionable and I hadn't been able to find any resources about trail conditions. I also knew that there was an Ultra Trail run based in Rapid City, so the trails in that area were likely to be congested. Hummm.... What to do. And then one of the posts about the Bear Bait 8 in Casper caught my eye. Huh. I mentioned it to Nick "There's an 8 hour race in Casper on Saturday. Pictures look like it might fun." I didn't think it would go anywhere from there. After all, we were both tired from some solid days of riding and running, as well as being stiff from driving. And we were totally unprepared for racing of any kind, let alone an 8 hour event. To my surprise, Nick's response was "Let's do it! When does registration close?" In about 4 hours... Done deal - all we needed was a team name and some food for racing!

Team name was easy. "Alien Baby" Why? Because this would be the first race for Nick after his surgery and it does look like he had an alien baby removed. A silly name for racing on a whim. The food was a little harder. We were at the tail end of the trip, with only a little food remaining in the cooler. And nothing really resembling the kind of spread we usually have for a 24 hour race! But this was "only" 8 hours, so we didn't need that much, we just needed to find a grocery store. Once that was accomplished, time to chill for a bit before getting our numbers. Believe it or not, Casper has a really good sushi restaurant and that hit the spot. After getting out numbers, we drove up the mountain. I'm sure I'd been on Casper Mountain before - maybe one of the years I did the marathon - but I'd never ridden there. That was back before I was really even thinking about mountain biking and before people started realizing that there was good money in attracting mountain bikers.

The goal was to find a campground near the transition area at the Nordic Lodge. We'd been told that there was plenty of camping scattered around, but nothing was really in a convient spot for an easy race morning. Not wanting to dink around and miss a preride, we just pulled into the Nordic Lodge's parking lot. Pre-riding took priority.

It was a good thing we did - this was the kind of course that was challenging no matter how fast you were riding! There were plenty of long climbs and quick descnts, a few rock gardens and generally punchy riding. But what made it challenging were the twists. Nothing was straight forward riding - it wasn't rocks that made you think, but the trail itself. The faster you rode, the less time you had to react to the twists in the trail. Tight turns, ducking and dodging under the trees. In and out of shadows, never quite in shadow long enough to adjust before popping out into the next meadow filled with wildflowers. The course was both physically and mentally challenging. Without the excellent job of marking, I would have been completely lost. But the arrows and ribbons were perfect. While I never knew where exactly I was on Casper Mountain, I always knew I was on the course.

After pre-riding, we pondered the camping situation. In the end, we decided to go under the radar and just park in the back of the lot for the Nordic Center. Worst that could happen is we'd get told to move in the middle of the night. Best case, when we woke up we'd have the perfect location for our pit. During supper, we worked out the plan for the race. We decided that I would start and then worked on the lap times based on our pre-ride. Even on a whim race, we still wanted a plan!
Every race needs a plan - that's just how we roll. Even if it's scribbled in pen on the back of the race flier!

Jun 25, 2018

Detroit "Mountain"

Detroit Mountain Recreation Area - where Nick went skiing occasional as a kid. Now, they call it a mountain, but as a Coloradan I had to laugh when we drove up and saw the lifts. I'm sure they have some decent skiing in the winter, it's hardly a mountain. It might qualify as a bunny slope where I started skiing! But that's beside the point. This is not a story about how little the hill was, but how big the hill is hoping to become.

There is more then meets the eye at DMRA. Yes, the first thing you see when you drive up is the lodge and the most adorable little ski hill with the classic singletrack ascent winding through the tall grass under the lifts. But when you get the map of the area, there's easily as much riding per acre of mountain as any of the big resorts in Colorado. Might not all be black diamond gnarly descending, but there are plenty of miles of trail for the size of the resort. They call it the XC system and it's really well built. There's two different sections - one strictly XC and one that has a lot more climbing to connect into the downhill trails.

We started with the west side - the pure XC riding. Super fun. Not as manicured as the Cuyuna Lakes trails, but not as raw as the KC riding. A good blend of dirt and rocks - nothing super hard, but the kind of riding that gets harder the faster you go. Unlike at the Cuyuna Lakes, the trails were bidirectional - it was tempting to ride the west sides in both directions to get a feel for everything, but there was an entire east side to explore. And the downhill trails! So we rode the loops on the west side and then made our way back to the lodge in the center. A brief stop to look at the map again and we were pedaling. It wasn't like the map was really needed - the park was small enough that getting lost would be hard. We just wanted to know kinda how we should ride for the most fun.

After climbing up for while, we found ourselves on one of the downhill trails. I'm not used to wooden features on the trails in Colorado, so I hesitated a little at the start. But these were well built and not really high of the ground. It did take a little to get comfortable on the features though - I like terra firma under my tires.

And then... The downhill trail popped us out at the lodge, leading to the epitome of ski area riding. It doesn't matter how small the hill is. You have to have the trail under the lifts leading to the summit. In this case the trail only took about 5 minutes to climb - unlike the hour long climbs at home. But it was the thought that counted... I really think it would have taken more time to load onto the lifts, take the lift up and unload then it did to ride up the hill!
Managed to make the hill look big! The top of the lift is actually just behind those trees.

But because it was a short climb, that meant we got to hit all the downhill trails! Each one had a different style, from fast and smooth to huge wooden features to a little chunky. And the ski slope climb also allowed access to the XC trails with much less time spent climbing for the fun of descending.

So, Detroit Mountain Recreation Area - another gem in the rough that just needs a little polishing to really shine. And another dot on the map to ride again if we ever make it back out that way! They are actively building and improving trails and the city is working with the mountain bike association to expand that access. The mountain bike associate and the recreation area have big plans for the Detroit Lakes area and it's great to see. The next time we ride there, the miles of trails may have doubled.

Jun 21, 2018

Minnesota Red Dirt

After the fun of the weekend, it was time to find some riding. The original plan had been to head to Duluth and check out the riding there. There's been a lot of buzz about the riding in the Duluth so we had been looking forward to spending a few days exploring. But the rain storms that had inundated Park Rapids had also hit Duluth and everything was indicating that the trails were too wet to ride. All of the trail systems were showing that they were closed with no reports of when they would reopen. We needed a plan B! I did some scouring while we ate breakfast in Walker and found the perfect option.

Cuyuna County State Recreation Area just outside of Crosby. It was even closer then Duluth and looked a lot more convinent then anything up in Duluth as well. There was a campground right on one of the trails and multiple areas to explore. Perfect! We changed trajectory and headed south towards the red dirt of the Cuyuna Mountain Bike Trails.

Stop one - the Yawkey Section. It was right on the drive into town and easy access for riding. We quickly got ready to ride and studied the map for a while. Seemed pretty straight forward as long as we could remember the one way trails! Something we aren't used to in Colorado - directional trails that flowed together and allowed you to string miles of singletrack without ever having to worry about running into traffic. These trails were awesome - not a lot of rocks, but plenty to keep you on your toes. Weaving around trees, tight switchbacks to ascend the punchy climbs, and swoopy descents. And being one way, you could rail into the corners - the only thing that slowed us down was the lack of trail knowledge! We did multiple laps, hitting every trail in the Yawkey Section. I think Nick would have stayed and played for hours but we were both out of water. Time to head back to the van and find the campground.

Pretty cozy campground - and right on the trails!

After we got settled in the campground, I headed out to run. I'd been running early in the morning the entire trip, but wasn't able to that day. So it was time to face the repressive humidity and sun. But it was worth it to run on the trails around Portsmouth Mine Lake. Much easier then the Yawkeye section, but perfect for running. Sure, I wasn't fast, but it was still fun. I tried to do my planned workout knowing that it would be hard with the heat and the trails. There was nothing fast about the workout, but it felt decent running on trails outside of my comfort zone. A different kind of challenge for sure.

Getting the day started right
In the morning, I got up and ran again - this time staying on the blacktop path. It was the coolest morning we had seen and I finally felt strong running. The lack of humidity most likely had something to do with that - the minute the sun broke through the clouds and the humidity rose I was struggling again. But it was such a calm and pretty morning to be out. I didn't run as long as I wanted because we had another ride planned.

A welcome moment of stillness after a busy and crazy weekend.
This time in the larger section of the park. The maps online were a little outdated - some new trails had been built to keep with the one way traffic throughout most of the park. The first new trail was a flow trail on the south side of Huntington Mine Lake. Fun, but I'm not a fan of the flow style trails. Too sculpted and manicured for my tastes. But the trails on the north side of the lake? A mix of flow and chunk - some raw trails and some sculpted. We almost rode everything in that section, got a little turned around a few times trying to find the one black trail we didn't ride. Again, we could have ridden longer but we were both out of water and getting sticky. Doesn't take long in that kind of humidity to have jersey dripping and coated in salt.

We didn't take as many photos of the rides as we should have. Something about every time you stopped getting swarmed by bugs even with bug repellent on and the wet stickiness that made taking photos hard. But it was a worthy detour for riding and something to remember. If we ever find ourselves in Minnesota again, I know we will make Cuyuna Lakes a destination. The old iron mines turned lakes lend themselves to great riding in the red dirt.

Jun 20, 2018

KC Masterpiece

And I'm not talking about the BBQ - we never even got a chance to taste real KC barbeque! No, I'm talking about the trails that we got to ride in the KC area, Lee's Summit to be accurate. As part of our Midwest circle tour, we stopped in KC to visit Cam and Amber. It's been a few years since they moved out of COS and we miss having them around! So it was really nice see them both and hang out for a while.

Wednesday, we skirted traffic in KC to meet Cam and his Dad for the Lee's Summit Trek Store shop ride. The planned ride was changing a little due to rain the day before, so we all met at Cam's house and headed south. I think it was the Blue River park system - not entirely sure. I do know that if we hadn't had Cam and his dad leading the way, I would have gotten completely lost. If you're like me and currently thinking "Riding in KC? No way!" Trust me. Not only was there riding there, but it was fantastic. The kind of riding both Nick and I like - earning every pedal stroke both up and down with challenging rock gardens. The trails are raw - built with the terrain and natural features incorporated . None of this bulldoze all the rocks out of the way and then go build artificial jumps and moves. There were a few "flow" trails, but the majority were thinking trails. You had to work for the lines. Honestly, what we rode in KC puts the local trails in COS to shame. And it was so lush and green. Like riding in a jungle! Of course, in order to get that lush and green, that means there's plenty of moisture in the air - aka humidity. Whoa... Nothing like peeling a soaked jersey off when you've only ridden for 90 minutes.

Nick on his first "real" ride after surgery - working the rocks.
After the shop ride, we went to a local brewery about 15 minutes from their house. Cam had called around before we arrived and turned out that Martin City Brewing made a gluten free beer for Nick - and not a sorghum one either! The Yoga Pants Ale was a big hit - Nick said it was one of the best GF beers he'd had. And even better for him, they had cans available for purchase! Stocked up for the upcoming Minnesota weekend....

Thursday morning, we rode again, this time heading north from Cam's house. Again, the same raw trails filled with rocks and roots. Undulating climbing with no real long grades or descents - but punchy. As we were riding, it all became clear. I've always referred to Cam's riding style as being like a bull in a china shop - all over the bike. Well, he started riding on those KC trails and they don't lend themselves to a quiet sit and spin style of riding. No, you have to move the bike, using all the upper and lower body power you have to muscle through the rock gardens. And you have to be mentally on point the entire ride - there's no backing off and chilling. That will get a wheel stuffed and send you flying.

Unfortunately, we couldn't stay and ride again. Minnesota was calling and we needed to keep moving.

Jun 14, 2018


Lake that is... Having heard great things about the trails in Wilson Lake, Nick and I made it a point to stop on the long haul out the KC. As we were driving in, I wasn't sure what to expect for my run. There didn't seem like there was much around. But as we turned a corner on the road, all of a sudden the lake appeared. And then the trail was evident in the tall grass. Yes, there was a trail!

I changed quickly, knowing we were short on time. We had about an hour to actually play, which meant I could run about 6 miles. Nick and I looked at the map of the park - the trail on the east of the road made a nice loop. Nick figured it was about 3 miles, I guessed about 6. It was impossible to know how many twists and turns there were that didn't reflect on the map. I would soon find out. With the wind gusting and rain threatening, I opted for long sleeved shirt and no visor. Didn't want the visor blowing away! I set out, but quickly realized the long sleeve shirt was too much. Ugh. Humidity! I'd forgotten about that humidity of Kansas!

There's a lake and some super fun single track in the middle of Kansas!
But the trail... twisty turning, sharp switchbacks, steep climbs and quick descents. Wow. Not what I was expecting out in the middle of Kansas. There were times where I could see the trail just a few 100 yards away, but it was a mile away. I was so confused, but enjoying every step. It was longer then I though it would be, and as I approached the 3rd mile I had a choice. Keep moving forward or turn around. If I kept going, I'd see the whole loop - but I might be late returning to the van. If I turned around, I would never know the mysteries of the trail. So I kept going.

And was rewarded. The trail maintained its character the entire time. I also saw two snakes - small ones, two deer and one huge buzzard. I should have stopped and gotten a photo of the buzzard - he flushed from the cliffs along the trails as I ran by and then perched on a rock outcropping beside the trail. Magnificent. But then, after the run as I was getting changed - a not so magnificent sight. A wood tick crawling up my sock - almost on my ankle. Ick. A sign of things to come....

Jun 12, 2018

Giving into the FOMO

Sometimes I let the FOMO get to me - the fear of missing out, seeing all my friends and athletes talking about races and wanting to be a part of it. The Garden of the Gods was one of those races. It seemed like everyone was going to the training runs and preparing to tackle the monstrous hills of the Garden. Except for me. And for some reason, I wanted to race this year. I knew I wasn't ready for the ten miler - still not fully recovered from Growler! But the 10k? That that was just enough. It hit all the big hills, had a great course and generally looked like fun. It was also the weekend before we left for the reunion, so getting a hard run in would be good. Sure, playing in the mountains might have been smarter, but hard and fast is good pain. So I talked myself into it and signed up.

Race morning dawned smoky and hot. The smoke from fires burning all over Colorado was blowing into the city and settling. Not the best day for running! Add in the soreness from my run (hike?) on the Mount Rosa loop Wednesday and I was no longer sure it was a good idea to be running! But I was there and it was time to get serious. At least as serious as I was going to get with half of Colorado Springs stopping to say hello, that is! Serious meant getting away from Rock Ledge Ranch for my warmup, making sure I was drinking - ugh that smoke! - and generally see if I could finally get the timing right for finishing my warmup. Answer? No. I got there early enough that I had no issues parking - but way too early for the 30 extra minutes I'd have to wait for my start. Oh well. One day I will get it right, but between warmup, bathroom visits, socializing today was not the day. Not even close. And I somehow I still missed getting a photo of the 10 miler start!

A little late to get the real start, but this will do!

But finally, it was time for the 10k to line up. Nothing intimidating at all about toeing the starting line and seeing the road tip straight up ahead of me! There would not be the normal sprint from the line for anyone today. I stared up the hill. It was going to be a hard day. At the gun, the crowd surged forward and charged up the hill. Ouch. Starts are always a shock to the system, but this was worse then usual thanks to the hill. And it was only the first of many. The first mile of the race was almost 90% climbing! At the summit of the first hill, I was in second. The woman in the lead pulled away slightly as we dropped down the first small descent. We made the right turn to start up the first major hill - time to settle into my pace.

First place had about 100' on me already. But she didn't look settled on the lower slope of the hill. Humm. If I pushed hard now, would I be able to hold for another five miles? Wouldn't hurt to find out! I upped the tempo a little, driving back with my elbow and lifting up on my toes with each step. The gap closed slowly as I chased her up the hill. Just before the first water station, I made the catch. Now would I be able to hold it? I grabbed a small cup of water at the aid station to swish in my mouth. So dry already. Just a little further up the hill and then a long descent. While I haven't trained at all in the Garden, I remember the hills from when I was younger. This course is very much like the old MCI course back when I was in high school. I burned a few matches charging up the hill to make my move, so I'm looking forward to the downhill. Mentally at least! Physically it's a different story - I don't know how my quads will respond. So far so good - I'm able to float down the first major descent without issues.

Then we merge with the 10 mile course. I knew before the race started and when I signed up that where would be some traffic. What I didn't know if it would be the nightmare of the COS 5k or the smooth passing of the ADT 10k. It's hard to balance the speed of the shorter races and need to have the longer races start early. Luckily, the 10 mile field was already fairly spread out. While there was some weaving and dodging, it wasn't enough to slow me down. I just needed to pay more attention to where I was going. It also meant I had a little more cover from the women behind me in the 10k. I didn't know what kind of gap I'd gotten, but was doing my best to extend it as I cruised through the second water stop. Another cup of water to try to wet my dry mouth. Then the push up another hill, this one a shorter steeper grunt.

I was dodging more people now, moving through the thick of the crowd as I mothered down the next hill. This was another long descent, twisting around corners as we headed towards Balanced Rock. I normally would have worked the tangents through this section, but couldn't as easily with the crowds. But that also meant anyone behind me would be having the same issues, so I couldn't complain. It just took some adjusting my path at times for the smoothest course.

Around Balanced Rock we went and I was able to get my first glance of the race behind me. I had maybe a minute - but on this course that could get lost in a hurry. I had to keep my head on my shoulders and my legs moving. I was already counting down the hills towards the finish. Three more major hills, one little one. Just keep moving. As I crested the first hill, I caught a glance of a coworker cheering runners on. I waved and said hi as I breezed by. I'm sure I sounded happier then I was - two more hills to go!

The sun was climbing and getting hotter. Another cup of water at the next aid station. I debated running through the "rain" they had set up, but wasn't able to get around to it. A cup of water would have to do. There was one more aid station coming up in about a mile. I dug in for the upcoming hill. This one started gradual and then tipped steep near the summit. Those last few yards were rough. I was feeling the pace by now and starting to suffer on the climbs. But there were just two left - one longer and one shorter. I could hold the pace and keep moving. At this point in a race, my math skills go downhill. I'd looked at the course records before, but couldn't remember. Was it mid 44? 45? 46? And what pace would I need to hold to get there? Ouch. Fuzzy math indeed. At that point, you have to just turn the mind off and run.

I was never happier to be making the right turn towards the finish then at that moment. The 10 mile race turned left and climbed back up to the high point. We just popped up a little hill and then dropped into Rock Ledge Ranch. I'd run the finish loop before as part of my warmup, so I was anticipating all the turns and the last little climb. Finally - the finish like. I pushed as hard as I could, seeing the numbers clicking up towards 45 minutes. Keep pushing...

44:48. To my surprise, when I looked at the results, it was a new course record. I'd managed to keep the pressure up and broken the course record by about 2 minutes.
Women's 10k podium

And the most exciting thing? When I was cooling down I saw a huge rattle snake on the trail! Nice - but I got out of his way in a hurry.

Umm... Yes, I will yield the trail to you, sir.
I really liked the new course. It was challenging, but well supported. That there was a shorter race was even better - it allowed everyone to participate in the event. And the party afterward? While there were some issues with water and fresh baked pizza, it was a great time to hang out and socialize. I'm happy I decided to race and even happier that I finally had a good run. Maybe next year I'll train for the 10k

Jun 5, 2018

Sunshine on my shoulders - Growler 2018

I have never seen the sun shining so brightly at 6:59 on the Sunday before Memorial Day as I did this year. Yet there we were, 300 strong, ready to take on the rocks of the Original Growler and there was nary a knee warmer to be seen. For Gunnison, it was down right warm! I still had my wind jacket on to keep a bit of the chill away while I waited, but I knew it would be coming off quickly. It was going to be a hot day, with the race turning into a test of hydration and heat management. But that would come later. First I had to survive the neutral start and Kill Hill.

One of my biggest worries going into Growler this year was the 28 front chain ring. I knew it was the right choice for the trails and technical riding, but the start terrified me more then normal. If I wasn't in a good position at the top of Kill Hill, it would be hard to move up before Josho-Os and the first technical riding. I was worried that I would be spun out and not able to keep up as we sped up Gold Basin Road. After all, I've felt spun out in my 30 during previous races. I'd been working on my cadence during all my basement sessions and interval workouts - but I'm a masher thru and thru. But it turned out not to be an issue. This was a slow roll out year, with the cop car yo-yoing the entire time. He'd speed up, everyone would breath a sigh of relief - the racing was on. And then he'd slow down and 600 disc breaks would engage. Nerve wracking. The faster rollout is harder, but far less stressful. But because of the speed of the neutral start and my decision to ride aggressively, I found myself in second place as we started racing for real. And then, when Kill Hill tipped towards the sky, something unexpected happened. I was leading the women's race. I entertained the thought of going for the Kill Hill prime, but opted not to contest when eventual winner Liz Carrington edged around me about 15' from the top. I'd burned enough matches already. There was a long way to go.

On Josh-O's, on the first lap.
Photo - Dave Kozlowski

Main Street is a section I always have issues with and this year was no different. Despite my mental pep talk to dig deep and hold position on Main Street, I didn't have an ended when Jennifer W powered past me. As last year's winner, I knew she would be formidable. Again, a long way to go and much as I was trying, I found myself falling back into the old patter of telling myself to hold steady and keep something for the second lap. But that's not what I wanted to do this year. I had three goals this year - try to clean everything except for the Notch Climb and Rattlesnake, ride the first lap aggressively and hopefully move up a spot or two on the podium from last year. With Liz already fading into the distance, and several fast women in the train behind me and Jennifer, I knew that last one would be a challenge.

Tree limb Limbo at the bottom of Skull Pass
Photo - Dave Kozlowski
The first test of goal number one came on Skyline. I'd dropped down into 6th after stopping to grab my pack from Nick, but was in the train with the rest of the ladies as we approached the one major rock outcropping at the top. The several of the guys ahead of us missed the intial rock climb. Two of the women took a different line then I normally do. I thought about it, but opted to stick with my initial plan. Usually the best line is straight up and over. Without our pre-ride weekend (we'd planned on coming down the first weekend in May, but that got nixed - something about just getting discharged from the hospital makes a camping and riding trip not the wisest of ideas.) I had to rely on memory from last year for everything. But a year old memory of when a rock obstacle appears and what line to take to get through it doesn't lead to as smooth riding as multiple trail scouting trips. Memory would have to do.

Got that last rocky section! Only a few more to go...
Photo - Dave Kozlowski
Memory served well this year. Out of the entire race, I only missed seven obstacles, not including Rattlesnake. It was the same three things on both laps and one that I missed on the first lap, but got for the second lap. An improvement from last year! Some of the bigger things, like that one rock on Gateway (I know, there's a lot of rocks on Gateway. Which one?) I still had to talk my way through it though. Drop down left before the rock, cut hard right, pedal pedal, hard left, wheelie up, wheelie over, off the brakes and weight back to drop back into trail. I might not have completely remembered everything, but I had the order enough to ride it. Last year, that rock was a struggle. And on Ridge, one of the first rocks, where you had to pop up onto the rock, hugging tight left to a wall to avoids dropping off the edge before making a hard 100* right turn as you rolled off the rock. I made it my first lap last year, but missed the turn on the second lap. This year, I made it both laps. Sure there were sound effects, but everything is better with sound effects! I know the quick dismount and run is more efficient the riding some of the bigger obstacles, but there's that matter of pride. If I can ride something, I will. If I think I can ride something, I'll give it a try.

This year, the trail was loose and dusty. Like most of Colorado, winter hadn't been generous to the Gunnison Valley. Add in a very warm spring and conditions were challenging. It wasn't the tight and fast track we normally race on. I never thought that the gravel surfing skills developed riding the canyon would help during Growler. There were times this year that I kept the rubber side down simply because I surfed the sand instead of fighting with it. And there was plenty of carnage from people washing out in corners. One of the techy sections I struggled with this year was coated in a layer of dust and sand, making it even harder. I think this was the harderst I've seen the course in terms of looseness and conditions.

Focused on what's coming up next, suffering in the heat.
Photo - Matt Burt
Unlike Saturday, when a layer of clouds blew in and kept temperatures down, we had nothing but blue skies and full sunshine all day. Which sounds good, but not in Hartmans. That abundant sunshine meant ever rising temperatures on top of the already warm start to the day. It quickly became apparent that one of the biggest challengers in the race was not the other riders, but the waves of heat radiating off the sage. It was the hottest day I've seen, as evidenced by how much I was drinking. Unlike last year, where I skipped my first handoff with Nick and wasn't finishing my bottles, this year I was draining everything. Draining everything, slamming what I could before leaving the aid stations. And it wasn't enough. I wanted more but couldn't handle more. Balancing the need for electrolytes and the thirst for water was challenging. Luckily, the Skratch Labs drink was perfect for the heat. And the Energy chews saved me on a day when my normal real food snacks weren't going to work. Those chews were money!

At the base area to start my second lap and I'd ridden myself back into 3rd place. Given the heat and how loose the course was, I was happy with my lap time. I was about six minutes behind Liz, so if I kept to together and rode hard on the second lap, I hoped I'd have a chance to reel some of the time back. I knew it was going to be a tall order though - I was feeling that first lap more then I wanted. The imperfect build and stress of late April were starting to take a toll on me. The negative thoughts started creeping in as I rode and pushed up the Notch. Holding onto 3rd place seemed like the only reasonable goal at the time. Riding negative splits to keep my time under 7:00 was looking challenging. I'd stuck to goal #2 and ridden the first lap aggressively. Perhaps too aggressively...

Becky caught me at the top of Becks when I stopped to get a new bottle from Nick. She was riding great, looking comfortable and strong. We went back and forth a few times on Rattlesnake, but she pulled away on the climb of Josh-Os. There would be no catching here with how quickly she was riding. While I was starting to melt with the heat, she seemed to be in her element. My final goal of remaining on the podium was gone.

Still smiling! Even though I was melting at that point.
Photo - Matt Burt
For me, the wheels felt like they were coming off. After passing thru the primary feed zone at Skull Pass, it became a mental battle more the a physical one. It was so tempting to just give in to the heat and back off. I knew I couldn't do that though - i had to keep riding hard and at least hold onto 4th. Each section of trail became a mile point. One less section to ride and one chunk closer to the finish. Between the sun beating down on my shoulders and the heat radiating back at me from the sandy ground, I was melting. I'd done my last two longish rides mid day in the full heat, but there's shade in the CaƱon. There's no shade anywhere in Hartman's. My braids were dripping sweat, the ends building salt deposits. My eyes were throbbing from the unfiltered sunshine, despite my glasses. The sooner I finished, the sooner I could get cooled off. As is my tendency when I start overheating, I slowed even more. No mater how much I want to dig when it's that hot, I can't ever seem to find that gear to keep the pressure on. I can go forever in the heat - just don't ask me to go fast.

Just survive to the finish. That was my only goal. Survive to the finish. The guys around me had the same idea - ride smart to finish. One of them had already decided he was the driver of the Suffer Bus even though we were still moving pretty well. But all of us were suffering in the sweltering sunshine. We'd all seen our goal times come and gone, so it was a good day to just be riding. I'd hoped to ride about 6:45 - since we were going the same direction as last year, I figured going a few minutes faster was reasonable. My B goal time was the same time as I'd raced last year - 6:52. And here it was, 7:00 into the race and I was just starting the climb up Ridge. Such is the nature of racing. The break through races don't happen every year.

In the end, I held onto my 4th place, finishing in 7:16. I melted some, but not as much as I have in prior hot races. And even when I was tired, feeling the heat - I still managed to ride smoothly and make the rock obstacles. I'll take that minor win! Hopefully next year will finally provide the chance for that perfect build I keep dreaming about.