The Wrong Gear # 12 – Austin Rattler Race Report

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This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. 

It was long and grueling, taxing us both physically and mentally. The weather was not at all what we expected and the crosswinds were nothing short of brutal and persistent, kicking up dust storms that reduced visibility to almost nothing, browning out scenery that was boring at best. Passing others was sketchy at times, and it took all the skill we had to keep it out of the cabbage and stay on course. There was nowhere to get food, and we were unprepared, having already eaten our peanut butter sandwiches a long time ago. After 15 hours in the truck, we had finally arrived in Marble Falls, Texas.

To be fair, it wasn’t all awful. Once off the Interstate, somewhere to the South and East of Lubbock, the short black scrub brush dotting the hills contrasted nicely with giant white windmills, as sporadically placed as natural growth. Some were spinning in synchrony with each other and I wished I could think of a less cliché metaphor for them, other than dancing giants. The reddish, stratified mesas were interesting to me as a mountain biker, and presumably interesting to some geologists as well. A few more hours and dust storms later, the wind finally backed off and we found ourselves driving through rolling farmland that soon turned into proper Texas Hill Country, complete with random Moab-like rocks, yucca fronds, Prickly Pear cactus groves (or do cacti run in a herd), extravagantly manicured entrances to giant ranches, leafed out shrubs, lush green grass, and an abundance of wildflowers. So many wildflowers! Mostly bluebonnets (lupine for the mountain folk), and some bright pinks, reds, and yellows I couldn’t pick out at 80 miles per hour.

Our hotel was a little seedier than expected, but the customer service was impeccable. They held a room for us that night after I called them because we were arriving a day earlier than our booking, and they really had no reason to, since everything else in town was full. They topped it off by rearranging something in the computer so that we could stay in the same room all three nights. They also fixed the pancake machine when Lee ran it out of pancake mix.

The Austin Rattler 100K is the first of the Leadville 100 Qualifiers of the year, meaning this was the first chance to earn a better starting position for the Leadville 100, and a first chance to get in, if your lottery attempt was unsuccessful. Since Lee and I are both already in for this year, and have a very desirable starting position earned from another qualifier race, for us, it’s a great way to get some bigger miles on dirt while our trails are still covered in snow until June. This was our third year for the Rattler, but after last year’s mud fest, the race changed venue to a rockier, drier location, Reveille Peak Ranch. The ranch is host to many different sporting events, including Spartan races and shooting tournaments, as well as day-to-day hiking and biking, so it already had plenty of established trails. To meet the needs of this race, however, they built portions of the course just earlier this year. Although people have been out pre-riding the course for months, and Josh, the race director has been running laps on it on his KTM990 for the past week, my first impression was not optimistic. I thought it was fun riding, but not good racing. There were lots of downhills going into loose corners that turned right into punchy uphills (and left too). Some of the course was still mostly grass, and was hard to follow. I managed to get lost for a while when my GPS directions didn’t match the course markings. The whole thing didn’t seem to flow or make sense, and I was not riding it well. Since there was little left to do but show up to the start anyway, here is how I did, based on my usual system:

Overall objective: This was my first race on dirt for the year, the first race on the new bike, and at 60 miles, the longest distance and estimated ride time so far this season. While the standing objective is to have fun and finish in one piece, there were additional things that I wanted to accomplish. One was to test the bike in full race setup at race speed. The other was to race the bike with intent, rather than just ride the distance. Both were successful and get and A. Lee has put in so much thought, research, and time building my bike into what it is, and it ran and handled like a dream. I got to reap the benefits and really feel what it can do. There is room for improvement on my end to better learn how to troubleshoot and handle potential mechanical issues, none of which happened. As for the racing aspect, I managed to stay focused and purposeful for most of the event. I was doing more than just letting the race happen to me.

Training/Fitness: After reading feedback about the new course, watching videos, studying the elevation profile, and finally pre-riding the course, I realized that Lee and I are obsessive nerds. I was also concerned that with the course riding like one interval after another, I wasn’t trained for this. A phone call with Coach convinced me otherwise. She said I put in enough of a variety of workouts the past four months to cover the race. The only reason I give myself a B is because I missed some key workouts the week before.

Preparation, pre-travel: I give myself an A. I booked our hotel months in advance. I started organizing clothing and gear several days before departure. Lee and I split packing responsibilities based on our strengths, and worked well together. We were mindful of the weather and left early to miss the snow and Denver traffic. This allowed us enough time to make the full drive in one day instead of splitting it.

Preparation, pre-race: Also an A. We took full advantage of arriving a day early. We did the full course preview on Thursday, so that Friday we could do an easy spin, hang out, and recover. By Friday evening, we did a final bike check, set up our race food on the bikes, had our number plates ready, clothes laid out and organized. Race day, we were up and at the venue early enough to finish getting ready at a relaxed pace, and still have time to sit for a little before the start.

Nutrition, pre-race: I could have done worse, but I also could have done better, so a C. There were some things I did right, like packing PB&Js and fruit to avoid gas station gut bombs early into our drive. Unfortunately, there were not many healthy options on our route or in the town where we stayed. I could have made more conservative choices on my meals out, and could have had less beer on Thursday, but I had a little bit of the “I’m on vacation” attitude as well as PMS attitude, so fish and chips it is. I hydrated well on Friday, and my pre-race meal of PB&J, an apple, and black coffee hit the spot.

Nutrition, during race: After the pre-ride, we realized there weren’t many spots on the course where it was easy to eat and drink. We ended up using hydration packs for water instead of bottles, though we did carry a small bottle of sports drink mix as well. For calories, we taped gels onto our top tubes for easy access, and put a couple more in our pockets for backup. I wish I could eat real food while riding, but it hasn’t worked yet. At our truck, we set up a couple of cans of soup (with a pull tab for easy opening), a jar of pickles, bags full of spare gels, blocks, and bars, a couple gallons of water, drink mix, and a cooler full of Gatorade bottles and filled water bottles. The aid station had much of the same minus the soups and pickles. I stuck to my strategy of eating two gels per lap, reminded myself to drink water, and managed a few sips of sports drink halfway through each lap. I stopped after the first lap and took in some soup. I will give myself an A, but because of how the race ended, I didn’t get to see my food strategy fully play out.

Execution of Strategy: The game was to start easy, finish strong. Coach wanted me to stay calm on the first lap, build on the second, and leave it all out there on the third. I thought that was a splendid idea. I positioned myself well at the start, and knew there were plenty of opportunities for passing and being passed, so I had little concern of getting backed up in traffic. I let the crowd pull me along when I needed to speed up, I let them pace me when I needed to chill out, and passed when the time was right. By the second lap, the race was way more spread out, and I was gaining ground. I was getting tired, but was ready for a third. I give myself an A.

Attitude: It was maybe a C after the pre-ride on Thursday. I was coming off a long week of being sick, recovering my back, packing, and travelling. The course felt loose from the get-go, and I felt like I had nothing for the punchy hills. I tried talking Lee into putting the easier gear back in my bike. After lunch, beer, and retail therapy at Mellow Johnny’s, where I got a new helmet to match my bike, and more beer, my attitude got a little better, though I was still skeptical of my ability to ride that course with any gusto. On Friday, we went back to the venue to meet our friends, and my instructions from Coach were to keep it super easy that day. With the pressure off and my mouth running, I noticed the first few miles of the course seemed to ride a little better, though that’s all I rode that day. Back at the venue, I ran my mouth some more, as we ran into friends and made new ones. By the time we headed back to town for dinner, my attitude was a solid B+. It stayed that way until a few minutes into the race, when I settled into my groove, and it went to an A. Two miles into the second lap, the skies opened up. A+.

 

We knew it was going to rain on race day, from what the hourly forecast said, for the first half of the race. We were actually pleased that it was still dry as we were getting ready, and still dry at the start, since it was already supposed to be pouring by then. As we took off on the dirt road, it didn’t feel nearly as loose as on the pre-ride. As we kept riding, it seemed that the damp air settled the dust, and tacked up the trail a little bit, even though it hadn’t rained yet. The trail fairies must have also done some magic, as a couple of water crossings that were spicy for a stampede of riders had a bridge put in for one, and some flat rocks filled in for the other. Some loose corners were tamped down and became way more rideable, some stray rocks were kicked off the trail. The gear I thought was too hard two days ago, I was spinning with ease, and though I was still off the bike for a couple of really loose, steep sections, I powered over pitches I swore I would stall out on. I was riding well, and the trail suddenly flowed and made sense!

The sky was cloudy all morning, but the darkness that settled around me at the start of my second lap was unmistakable. I yelled to the guy I was riding next to “It’s about to come down, you know”, as if I were some sage who has been living on this land for generations and can predict the weather by the flight pattern of the wrens. A minute later, it was raining, 30 seconds later, I was completely soaked. 30 seconds after that, the guy I so diligently warned about the rain pulled over to put on a rain layer that was also about to get soaked. I continued riding. One down. The mud was nothing like it was last year, this was all still rideable, but the new streams running down the established trails created a suction effect that forced me to increase my effort. I was working harder than I thought I should be, and was convinced that I was going to be walking way more than the first lap. After stopping to confirm that the brake rub I was hearing was more noise than malfunction, I continued on, staying on my bike, with very few exceptions, still passing people, and very rarely being passed. The thunder and lightning were unnerving, but I pressed on steady, and focused.

The second half of that lap went by much quicker. It was still raining on and off, but it just didn’t bother me. I loved being in the rain, still relatively warm, unlike Colorado rain, where it’s instant hypothermia. That part of the course was also sandier, so all that rain actually packed it down, and it rode faster. Soon, I was back on the dirt road, eating a gel, swigging some sports drink. I was tired, had plans to stop for some canned soup, and was ready to finish myself off on that third lap. Half a mile to the Start/Finish area, where outbound and inbound parts of the course converge, I saw Lee standing with his bike on the other side of the caution tape. I immediately assumed that something happened to him or his bike, and he was out of the running. He yelled “Push hard, this is your last lap!” I then assumed he was fucking with me, so I yelled, “No it’s not, I’ve got one more!” I was almost out of earshot when he yelled back “They called the race early, this is it!” then to the guy trying to pass me “You’re about to get beat by a girl on a singlespeed!” The two of us gingerly picked our way through a slippery muddy section, decided that Lee is probably not fucking with us, and started riding in earnest. The stretch to the finish line was flat, I was spun out, so he did not get beat by a girl on a singlespeed.

Lee stood at that spot for at least another half hour, freezing his ass off, encouraging racers to pick up the pace for a strong finish, making sure they don’t stop for an unnecessary refuel before they cross the finish. I was relieved to go shower and put on some dry clothes, but also disappointed I couldn’t do the last lap. I knew I had more in me, and a lot of folks that came in ahead of me looked very spent according to Lee. I also have this underlying guilt that I “owe” my training, or the bike gods, another 21 miles, since I was so set on doing the full 60. Not too dissimilar from how I felt getting cut off at Leadville last year, but this time it had nothing to do with me. We hung out for another few hours, drinking some beer, eating food, and hanging out trading war stories with people I’m liable to see back in Colorado in a matter of weeks.

This whole race and the events around it, have been a bit of a struggle for us this year for various reasons, from issues with the bike build (see The Wrong Gear #2) to not being able to get out on dirt much, to issues with scheduling, and work, and minor health problems (see the last post), to the drive itself. Lee had his own gremlins to deal with, trying to find time to train, and working the bugs out of his new bike. Maybe I wanted this whole chain of events to resolve itself into some glorious win (Lee won his class, and it’s awesome) but that did not happen for me, I was second out of two in my class, second to a superhuman. Instead, what I did get was a little vacation somewhere a little warmer and greener, hanging out with my type of people, and a little bike race in the rain, just for shits and giggles. I raced well, and had too much fun.

The Wrong Gear #11 – Rattled

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This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. 

The thing with minor injuries, other than the fact that they are blessedly minor, is that it’s sometimes hard to differentiate if the pain is coming from the ego or the body. If I had been riding at any decent pace, on a more difficult trail, or attempting a hard obstacle when I fell, then the small avulsion on my palm, the set of bleeding scrapes on my calf, and the already forming bruises on the inside of my upper arm from where I fell on my bar end would have been a really small price to pay. I, however, fell while climbing up around a switchback, one I knew was there because we already did this section of trail, at exactly .5 miles per hour, essentially at a standstill. So that hurt. Like with a lot of the riding we did that day, I saw exactly what I was doing wrong as I was doing it, but was unable to correct course. Some might call it progress that I at least noticed my mistakes.

That whole day had been a little weird. I woke up with a sore throat, and aside from a bit of whining, I chose to ignore it. Lee and I drove down to Buena Vista to get out of the snow, with plans to spend the night in the area and head to Canon City the following day. It was supposed to be all in good fun, and another chance to shakedown the new bikes, but neither one of us were in the right head space. Small things, like the temperature outside, or trying to get our shit together, or trying to figure out where to start, became big things. I also typically have a really hard time riding new trails and trying to get a feel for them, so I was not riding very bravely or well. There were a lot of obstacles that I should have just stopped to session, but we were already stopping so much trying to figure out how to piece the trail system together and not get in over our heads, that we just kept pushing forward. A couple hours in, after stopping at an intersection to decide where to ride next, a discussion turned into a fight that was a continuation of an earlier fight we had that day, and now we are divorced.

Just kidding. He can’t get rid of me that easy. But it is important to highlight some low points of that day, because as trite as it sounds, we can learn so much from them if we let ourselves. For starters, even though I am always right, I hope that I can see my mistakes when I behave wrongly towards Lee, even if my thick skull and big mouth aren’t able to correct them before they happen yet. That would at least put my marriage skills on the same level as my mountain bike skills. I hope the same for him. Awareness usually leads to action, so I trust that we will both eventually improve at riding bikes and being married.

We were able to ride away from that intersection, and from that fight, shaken and still upset, but moving forward. That was when I fell, and that was when I could have thrown a fit, could have demanded we end the ride ASAP and head for the trailhead. Instead, as Lee rode away, I sat up to assess myself, with my right foot still clipped into the pedal, and looked down at my bleeding palm, my torn glove, and the grit in the wound with the piece of skin hanging off, I thought “neat!” I extricated myself from the bike, got back on, and went after Lee. I knew he didn’t mean to ditch me, and I couldn’t wait to show him all the blood. When I caught up to him, I asked him if he heard me yelling, because in my mind it went something like “aaaaaafkhsdehfeifnfg wait for me!” He told me all heard was “Doh!” and thought I just stalled out. We did a couple more small loops, and worked our way back to the truck. It took all day, but Lee started to feel a bit better with his new bike, and I was finally starting to flow with the trails a little more.

We spent the night in Salida, and though I was feeling pretty stuffed up, we drove down to Canon City the following morning for some more riding. With our moods lifted, we were excited to try the Royal Gorge trails recommended to us by friends. We met up with our friend Staci, who we just met earlier in the year at Fat Bike Worlds, at the trailhead, and went off to explore. We were blown away by the views within the first two minutes of our ride. The whole day just went better than the day before. Lee rode up ahead, and Staci and I would catch up eventually, primarily because neither one of us would stop talking. The trails felt more flowy to me, the rocky features were more fun to session. I put my front wheel into a wheel-sized ditch and went over the handlebars, and I couldn’t stop laughing. We went for an early dinner at a Mexican place in town, and drove the two and a half hours home with our bellies and our hearts full. From then on, my week has been a shit show.

I woke up Wednesday morning with a full blown cold. Calling in sick to work made me look really good after posting about our bike trip on social media the night before. I had to skip a planned workout, fully aware that the past two days of riding did not meet specific training needs as prescribed by Coach. After a miserable day, I spent a miserable night on the couch, drugged up on NyQuil, sleeping upright so I can breathe. I managed a super light workout the following day, and forced myself to go to work the following afternoon, where I continued to be miserable, so I went home two hours early, without calling the boss first. Oops. I spent another night on the couch. After getting an earful about leaving early the following shift, I managed to piss the boss off again by not being good at following directions, and was punished with two days straight of cleaning heavy equipment. Other than being on the boss’s shit list, as well as my one coworker’s, since he had to clean equipment with me, I had a pretty good day. I chatted with other coworkers who were ending their shift, I put on my podcast, and I got into a sort of Karate Kid groove, pretending this was good training for something. Wax on, wax off.

At the 4,398th Wax Off, I felt my back go out. I barely got through the rest of the shift, crawled into bed, and woke up with a back that would let me walk upright sort of, lay flat on the floor, and not much else. I stretched, I attempted a spin on the trainer, failed, and gingerly managed my way through another shift of cleaning equipment. Now is a good time to mention that we are heading out towards Austin, Texas tomorrow, for the 60 mile Austin Rattler MTB race on the 13th. We will be racing our new singlespeeds. I have ridden mine exactly four times. The race is four days away from the time of this writing. I missed two more days of work because of my back, the same two days I was earlier begging my boss to let me work so that I wouldn’t have to use as many vacation days for this trip. I went to physical therapy yesterday, because Coach made me. The diagnosis was cautiously optimistic, a slight disc bulge that with proper rest and stretching, should subside and allow me to attempt the race. I also asked my PT to write me a note to excuse me from work, in the event the boss doesn’t believe that I am actually hurt because the boss’s wife walks by me at Wal-Mart as Lee is trying out all the folding chairs in the aisle the day before I’m supposed to leave for a bike race. True story.

On top of getting sick and being a little injured, there is a lot stacked up against both of us for this race. Lee feels under-trained. We do not have enough time and miles on the race bikes to trust them to run smoothly. We will be dodging sketchy weather to get there. I missed quite a few crucial workouts that could have had me running more optimally come Saturday. The venue is new, the course is new, and by all secondhand accounts so far, it is rough. I’m also going to miss my cat for five solid days, and I am dreading that. This race may not be my best choice, especially if you are someone who subscribes to facts, but I honestly just want to see where this goes. Can I work hard and enjoy myself regardless of setbacks? Can I handle the mileage and time on the bike that may be double anything I have done since September? Can I make the most of whatever situation I will find myself in? And will I still have a job when I get back?

Stay tuned for the race report.

The Wrong Gear #10 – Race Report and Other Musings

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This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. 

It’s been well over a week since my last race, so all the reflections and revelations I had immediately after the fact have subsided a bit, but I’ve been busy so this post had to wait. The race in question was the Fatty Patty 50k. It was a Fatbike race that took place on St. Patrick’s Day, in Leadville. The fact that the race happened at all was a miracle of god, snowmobiles, and grooming. The Snowpocalypse, as described in my last post, graced Leadville with about five feet of snow in the week right before the race, which made compacting the course to make it even remotely rideable a bit of a challenge. Instead of trying to beat the Mineral Belt Trail, a wide Nordic loop that circumnavigates Leadville that was used for part of the course last year, and all its new snow and relentless wind drifts, into submission, the good people of Cloud City Wheelers decided to focus exclusively on the singletrack. This resulted in a course that was five miles shorter than anticipated, with no places for riders to pass each other easily, but against all odds and conditions unsuitable for fatbiking elsewhere, the race went on. As always, here is my assessment of how things went.

Overall Objective: My only real job during these races is to go as hard as I can and have fun. It is typically a poor idea to aim for too specific of a result, since I have absolutely no effect on who turns up and how they turn up, or what conditions will be like. Perhaps as we get closer to my crux race for the summer, Coach and I may come up with more creative objectives for the training races, like practicing different pacing strategies, or working on the technical aspects, but for now, it is pretty straight-forward. I give myself an A, I went hard, and I had fun.

Training: As with the past races, my training has not been specific to Fatbike racing at all. I have been building on strength and base endurance, and an ideal race for me at this point would be more akin to a multi-hour gravel ride where my job is to just consistently crank out the miles. Fatbike racing is a bit more like cyclocross with fits and starts, dismounts and remounts, and shorter, more intense efforts that lead into easier downhills. I was definitely more tired the past couple of weeks before the race, and although I have been following my training plan fairly closely, I did not have as much “Grrr” for my workouts as I would have liked. Fortunately, I had plenty of fitness to cover this race. Perhaps a B.

Preparation: We considered this a local race, so this was not at all logistically challenging. However, due to Coach’s insistence, I decided to take preparation for this race way more seriously than last time, in order to get and stay in the habit covering my bases. I had the day before the race off from work, and used it to clean, tune, and inspect my bike. I was rewarded with a machine that ran flawlessly during the event. I had the rest of my gear and clothing together and ready to load as soon as Lee got home from work. We had everything we needed loaded in the truck the night before. This was an A.

Nutrition, Pre- Race:  I had dinner and breakfast planned out. Dinner was home-cooked, roasted chicken and vegetables. It may have been a little rich. Breakfast was a simple PB&J and a banana, as well as a latte. I give myself a B. Good planning and execution, but a slightly lighter meal the night before could have served me better the following morning, since I know my belly likes to act up before races.

Nutrition, During Race: This race did not physically destroy me like Fat Bike Worlds did. I was racing for three hours, and could have taken in more calories, but with less climbing than Worlds, I did not feel like I was working as hard, and I never hit the wall. This was fortunate, because the modified course of singletrack-only, severely limited my options for fuel intake on the fly. Unless I stopped, which I did not want to do, the only logical spot for me to fuel was the very short Start/Finish area, where I had the choice of either eating a gel or drinking. I chose drinking. My  water bottle had lots of sugary sports drink in it, and I decided hydration was more important anyway. I give myself a C. I didn’t start drinking until after the second lap, and I need to get better at eating on terrain where I don’t necessarily want to take a hand off the bars for very long. My next race will be on dirt, and some of it on smoother roads. It will also be a longer race, so if I don’t up my eating game then, I will feel the consequences pretty quickly.

Execution of Strategy: My current prescribed strategy from Coach involves a specific warm-up, as well the instruction to give myself a couple of minutes to settle into the race before opening it up. Instead, the improvised race course and Le Mans-style start kind of chose my strategy for me. I did not really get much of a warm-up because my stomach was not agreeing with me, so I spent a better part of the pre-race hour finding bathrooms. Then, running to our bikes to start the race was the only way to try and spread people out before going into the singletrack, but it wasn’t a long or hard enough run (it was downhill), to have the intended effect. I would have to be way more aggressive than it’s worth to try and outrun a bunch of competitive dudes, who may run fast for 50 yards, but may or may not be good on the bike. I took my chances with an easy trot to the bike, and decided to see what I can do once I was pedaling. While I was able to gain a few spots in a short wide stretch before we went into the woods, I ended up stuck in an easy-paced conga line for much longer than I was comfortable with. However, this early easy pace may have done me a huge favor by giving me the warm-up I failed to do in the first place, because once I got around the people in front of me, the course opened up, and it was go time. This was a B. I could have started more aggressively and gained a better spot right off, but I believe I better played to my strengths with my opportunistic approach.

Attitude: It’s a good thing attitudes change. For a while, mine was an F. I did not get to do this race last year because we had other things going on, and I really wanted a go at it because the course from last year was very much my type. It was a mix of everything, including longer climbs on wide trail where I could just put my head down and pedal. I was really looking forward to the race this year, especially since my last race was short, and involved almost as much time off the bike as on the bike. So, when the course change for this year was announced, I went through the all the stages of grief, minus the acceptance. I spent days complaining to Lee about how it’s impossible to pass on Fatbike singletrack, since as soon as you step off the trail, you end boobs-deep in snow. I griped about how chewed up the trail would get, and how we would all be running with our bikes, again. I told anyone who would listen that I think Le Mans starts are stupid, and that I, an endurance athlete, hate that my whole race will be determined by how well I start. Then Lee asked me if I would rather not race. I  told him would still rather race.

The morning of the race, I didn’t think I was nervous, but my stomach was telling a different story. I was still grumbling about the start, about my belly, and during the few minutes that we tried to warm-up, about how my legs felt like shit, how I felt like shit. I came out of the bathroom for the fourth time in one hour with a minute to spare before the start. And as the stampede of humans and bikes went one direction and then U-turned back towards the trail, I noticed that not only was I towards the back of the pack and Tamira, a new racing friend (whether she likes it or not) who beat me at Worlds, up in the front, I also realized that I was the last woman. As we settled into our rhythm, I noticed that said rhythm was kind of slow for a race. The girl at the front of our little group was not moving over for us, the guy directly in front of me was probably running too high tire pressure and kept falling over in front of me, but not in a way I could pass easily, and the guy directly behind me was losing his shit. He was bitching nonstop about how slow we were riding, and that no one was passing the girl or moving over so he could pass. By now, the racers in front of our group were long gone and out of sight, and I already imagined the fast group finishing their first lap while we were just barely getting started on ours. Other than the satisfaction of not letting Mr. Angry pass me either, in my mind my race was over, and it was going to be a long not-really-50K.

And that’s when it became a FuckIt race, with an attitude rating of C. For more on FuckIt races, please read Simon Marshall and Leslie Patterson’s book, The Brave Athlete. It turns out that FuckIt races are actually pretty fantastic. Sometimes, when the shitty things happen, or your worst-case scenarios play out, and you realize that you’re still there, you drop your expectations and allow for whatever happens next, and actually start having fun.

The first thing that happened was the decision that I was going to outlast most of the people stuck in our little train. The girl who was leading it would either let us pass soon, or even if she made us wait the whole lap until the Start/Finish zone, she would likely not catch us again. Mr. Angry behind me was working himself up into a tizzy, and would either wear himself out from all the anger, or spontaneously combust. And the guy in front of me with the high tire pressure, well shit, he fell again, and this time I was done being polite and stepped over him and his bike to pass. I just needed to wait for one more guy in front of me to fall, he did, and then I just asked the girl in front nicely if I could pass when she had a chance real quick. She obliged. And then, with open trail ahead of me and not a chance in hell of catching anyone in the leading groups, I took off, riding where I felt most comfortable: by myself. My attitude just shot up to an A.

My solitude didn’t last very long before I was confronted with more people ahead. There wasn’t a clean pass to be had, since riders usually had to get to intersections before they could awkwardly pull over without falling off the trail, as I clumsily tri-podded around them because said intersections were sloppy and the turns too tight, but I found everyone I encountered to be a lot more gracious about the fact than the first group. One lap done, more people picked off one-by-one. It wasn’t until I got halfway through the second lap until I passed Tamira. This was my first big surprise of the race, as she is a super strong rider. The next was when I caught Lee towards the end of that lap. To be clear, this never happens. Even more surprising, was that once I got ahead of him, I stayed ahead. The rest of the race, I managed to keep a solid, steady pace, in spite of the deteriorating trail conditions. I rode every inch of trail that I could ride, and pushed my bike as fast as possible on sections that became increasingly unrideable. For such a slow and seemingly hopeless start, I ran a strong race and did not let up or give an inch until the finish. For that I am proud.

Lessons Learned: I can’t expect myself to have a perfect positive attitude going into every race. It’s just not the kind of person that I am. Sometimes I need to whine and complain and imagine my challenges in detail beforehand, both to get it out of my system, and to make the conscious choice to try, in spite of the things that can and will go wrong. For me, confidence doesn’t come from false reassurances that everything will be fine, it comes from knowing that things can be less than ideal, but I can handle it. I also need to just allow myself to be nervous if I am nervous, instead of getting nervous about the fact that I am nervous. On the other hand, I shouldn’t let my expectations for how a race should go, be the reason that I get all worked up, especially after I have already decided to go forth with it after learning all the facts.

 

On kicking Lee’s ass: When I first decided to hire a coach, Lee jokingly said that he will be the experimental control. The coaching “works” if I become faster than he is. While beating him in a race for the first time was a pleasant surprise, there are several factors to consider. 1. This is just one race. I may or may not ever beat him again. 2. I am OK with this fact, because I love that he is my moving target, and I do well when I have someone to chase. 3. He is not a good control for this experiment because other variables came into play this year, including his long work days and extra hours, and less consistent time on the bike. Additionally, our diets and sleep patterns are different. 4. He had some bike issues during the race and wasn’t feeling his best that day. I wanted to make sure that he gets credit where credit is due, but I will gloat anyway.

Fruita: The anticipation of riding our new Singlespeed builds has been killing us both. A couple days after the race, we decided to make the drive to get out of the snow. We were a touch early for desert season, and although it was nice and warm there (temps in the 50s), the vegetation made no pretense of springtime yet. This was actually our first time in Fruita, and we were fully aware that we were riding in Big Travel, Big Knobby territory, so we opted for some of the easier, hardtail friendly trails off of 18 Road on the first day, and Kokopelli the second. I am happy to report that after all the trials and tribulations of building my new bike (see The Wrong Gear – #2), it rode like a dream, despite my awkwardness of riding on dirt for the first time in months. It was a bit of a whirlwind weekend, but we had a lot of fun riding in the sunshine, having dinner with friends who were passing through on their way to Moab, and deciding which hotel to stay in by the presence of a waffle machine in the lobby. Also, The Hot Tomato was as good as they say, and we had the best Calzone of our lives. A miscommunication with Coach led to longer harder workouts at the end of the week to make up for my time gallivanting in the desert, but it was worth it, and I nailed them anyway.

The Wrong Gear #9 – Avalanches and Plateaus

IMG_20190303_123347.jpgThis blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. 

The words and ideas for this post flowed so much easier in my head when I was spinning on the trainer, and as I sit here staring at the notes I wrote down, days after the fact, all I am left with is a few crude ideas to try and develop into something coherent. Had I done the workout I was actually scheduled to do that day, I probably wouldn’t have had the brain power for random musings about my blog, but instead of a two-hour effort with sweet-spot intervals, I spun the pedals for about an hour with the leisure of a boardwalk cruise because I simply didn’t have it. Again.

It’s been a long couple weeks, and a big month for snow so far. Considering I live within 15 minutes of five different ski areas, snow events shouldn’t be big news, or be overly disruptive. We had an overall good winter, and with all the snow this season, our whole county is torn between glee that only comes from skiing bottomless powder, and wishing it would hurry up and summer already. We are running out of places to put the snow, and even two-inch storms produce conditions sketchy enough to make weekend traffic more menacing than normal. Then things got weird. The warm Pacific air that came our way brought periods of rain in addition to snow. Heavy moisture content, wind, and the sheer volume of snow from the cycle put an inordinate amount of stress on Colorado’s already fickle, diva-like snowpack, which resulted in avalanche activity of historic proportions; in frequency, size, and destructiveness. Ski areas and road crews routinely perform avalanche mitigation by setting off smaller, frequent slides to relieve some stress on the snowpack and prevent larger ones. This time, they couldn’t keep up. Naturally triggered avalanches ran further, wider, and deeper down known slide paths than they have in years, and some slides created brand new paths, demolishing old-growth trees in their wake. They closed major highways and buried cars, one took out a gas line, and a dust cloud from another caked Lee’s truck in snow and debris when he was parked off the side of the road to help get another car unstuck. Later mitigation attempts resulted in additional prolonged road closures, and one ski area couldn’t open for almost two days because of the avalanche risk.

In other parts of the state, Red Mountain Pass, a terrifying and beautiful stretch of road between Ouray and Silverton, and a favorite among motorcyclists and jeepers in the summer, is closed indefinitely because several large snow slides have buried it beyond the current capabilities and resources of snow removal crews, and residents in Lake City (approximately 700 of them) have been evacuated from their homes after an avalanche demolished a house and injured several people inside it. In Crested Butte, several people have been caught and buried in roof avalanches, and unfortunately, one of these burials was fatal. Other fatalities included a backcountry skier who went out in spite of the conditions and multiple official avalanche warnings, and, tragically, a Colorado State trooper who was struck by an out-of-control vehicle while he was helping another motorist. For a ski and tourism economy that typically thrives on, and is somewhat prepared for snowfall, the overall cost from these last few storms due to closures, endless traffic, grounded flights, lost time at work, vehicle and property damage, overstretched resources, and the loss of life, is vast and incomprehensible to me.

In my own little world, all this snowfall meant extra hours and late nights at work, bouncing around in the loaders and plow trucks and dump trucks, clearing roads and moving piles. It meant having to leave the house earlier than usual to make sure I got to work on time, as well as planning additional time to snow-blow and dig out our driveway. Through all of this I still had to train. Coming off of a lighter training week before the snow started, I was supposed to start this new block feeling strong and ready to go. However, after two hard days at work, I couldn’t move. A failed bike session resulted in a text exchange with my coach, and we scrapped that workout for a rest day. More snow, and more continuous rattling from the equipment, and more shoveling, I stayed tired. Though I completed all but one planned workout, I can’t honestly say I did so with the integrity I expect from myself. After almost three months of what felt like progress, like I was developing a superpower, I have hit my plateau. I was more tired than I thought I should be, I wasn’t going as hard as I thought I should be, and my enthusiasm for leaving the couch definitely waned. Whereas just a few short weeks ago, I genuinely enjoyed going to the gym, having all the equipment at my disposal, and getting my extra dose of motivation watching other people work out, I began improvising workouts at home, unable to get moving early enough to have time to drive to anywhere. Where I would normally make sure that I completed my bike and cardio workouts to the minute, no less, I was bailing 10 or 15 minutes early to go shovel or feel sorry for myself. I also can’t remember that last time I rode my fatbike. Like, outside. In fresh air. Because there’s too much snow.

All these setbacks, yet not everything was garbage. I learned quite a bit about myself and this whole process from my lackluster performances. When I texted Coach about being unable to complete a workout, it was after a solid 25 minutes of actually trying to do the ride, unable to get my heart rate to respond in spite of breathing like someone with COPD. I still showed up. I learned, definitively, the physiological difference between not wanting to do a workout and not being able to. By listening to my body that day, I was able to get out the next morning, and have the best cross-training day to date: I earned some incredible turns with Lee, in perfect snow, in perfect weather, and I hit all the numbers I was supposed to hit for the workout itself, and then some. In the subsequent days, while I may have gone too easy even for my easy spins, I still showed up. While I could barely move the pedals in between intervals, I still showed up. While I was crying on my bike because I was exhausted and had no emotional energy left to deal with myself, I still showed up. While I had to switch and modify some workouts because I couldn’t do what I was supposed to do, I followed through the next day, I still showed up. And finally, as I worried about my waning enthusiasm, I also realized that my hunger for learning about sport, mindset, and human capability has been insatiable and inspiring. To fight the monotony of training indoors and driving trucks, I have been listening to podcasts and audiobooks about endurance sports, nutrition, meditation, psychology, and remarkable people from all walks of life. In turn these lead me to more podcasts, more books (audio and print), and infinite nuggets of wisdom that are helping me understand the world better.

One thing I am slowly beginning to internalize is just how crucial failure and setbacks are for growth and development. So as I have become increasingly dedicated to the process of athletic training and doing the internal work to be a better person, I find myself ever-so-slightly more forgiving of my mistakes, imperfections, and bad rides. I know that I just have to continue to show up, ride this funk out, give what I can, and eventually I’ll feel like I have my superpowers back, even if it’s just for a little while.

The Wrong Gear #8 -Why the Hell?

 

This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. 

At this point in my riding “career”, I have done a bit (shit-ton) of research, mining for information that resonates with me about how to get better at bikes and at life. From podcasts, to YouTube, to social media, magazine articles, and books, to daily videos from Summit County’s very own Coach Joe at the Summit Endurance Academy, I have been looking for common threads, or paths that will lead to fast race results and personal enlightenment. One of the themes that frequently comes up is referred to as “knowing your why”. Why spend so much money on a new bike when the old one works great? Why spend money on a coach and a training plan? Why spend most of your free time following that training plan, or going to races, or obsessing over how well you did or didn’t do while forgoing time with friends and loved ones? Why change your diet? What is it that you hope to accomplish by accomplishing that one goal, or finishing that one race? Those are all good questions that probably require unpacking quite a bit of emotional baggage in order to answer them honestly.  This “why” question is probably something I will continue to revisit in future posts, not to be confused with posts about “why can’t I ride over this stupid root” or “why was I too afraid to try”.

In the meantime, in order to try and begin to understand why I’m doing all this, I will start by saying that this happened before. This obsessiveness, this single-mindedness, is just kind of who I am. I was three years old, still living in Soviet Russia, and had never seen a horse in real life when I decided that I love horses and would do whatever it takes to be around them. It took a few years and overcoming a few small obstacles such as learning English after we immigrated to America, being poor, and living in strip mall country, but at the age of 12, after flipping through the Yellow Pages and asking around, I finally found an inexpensive riding program courtesy of 4H, at a boarding stable relatively close to home. This led me to another stable that allowed me to work for rides. Before long, I was basically living there, whenever I wasn’t in school, which by 8th grade, turned out to be quite a lot. More experience working with horses, more connections, and more leads, and I found myself at a large hunter-jumper barn in Bucks County, PA riding several horses a day when I wasn’t doing barn work. I spent a summer at a ranch in the mountains of New Mexico as a working student when I was 16. I spent the following summer going all over the East Coast as a horse show groom, working 18 hour days, travelling in the horse hauler and sleeping in stalls with my charges. This was my life, and I honestly thought it would be my adult life, except for one problem. I was not good enough. This realization was enough to get me to do the college thing, but it wasn’t enough to get me to quit riding altogether. I ended up guiding horseback rides in London, UK, after a working student situation on Withington did not work out. I guided rides in Kawakawa, New Zealand in exchange for room and board for a few weeks, in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, for my first job out of College, as well as Edwards, Colorado for my first two summers in the state.

When I was about 12, one of my neighborhood friends was telling about how she went skiing, another thing that my family could not afford at the time. But I have always loved snow, and knew that it was a matter of time before I would go skiing and love it. A few years and a few more obstacles later, like still being poor, and living about two hours from the closest mountain, I finally got my chance in the form of a Senior ski trip in high school. I was obsessed, like I knew I would be, from my very first turns. Since then, I managed to go with friends one or two days a year throughout college, but it wasn’t until I met some friends the summer I was guiding rides in Wyoming that I realized skiing could be my life. They convinced me to move out to Colorado with them the following winter, and they helped me get a job as a ticket scanner at Beaver Creek, where for half the day, I was literally paid to ski. So I bought some ancient skis and oversized boots at a thrift store in Jackson Hole, and off I went. Those first few winters, I was skiing at work, I was skiing on my days off, and when the season was over, we would go searching for snow to ski some more. I actively worked to improve on my skills, spending days upon days skiing alone until I got good enough for others to want to ski with me. This led to countless powder days, ski trips all over Colorado, and some really cool backcountry lines. I met my husband through skiing, and continued to work at various ski resorts until I landed at Keystone as a ski patroller for six years, during which I took an opportunity to patrol in New Zealand for a season.

In the fall of 2016, I started my first year-round job, one that pays a decent wage and allows me to pay my bills easier. I don’t ski as much anymore, in part because of the crowds, in part because our snowpack in the backcountry scares me more than it used to, and in part because I’m a bit burnt out from all the time I put into it. But I still get on skis a few days a year, and they are usually pretty quality days. I also don’t ride horses anymore. I got extremely tired of guiding, and that’s primarily the extent of the opportunity around here. But occasionally, horses still find a way into my life, whether I’m visiting my old trainer when I’m back in Philadelphia, or helping out a friend with her horses when she’s out of town. But there is a point to all this. These obsessions that I had, that had consumed my life, they didn’t really lead me anywhere in the traditional sense. I did not become a horse trainer, a winning show jumper, or a veterinarian. Nor will you see me in any big-mountain ski movies, or getting paid to go on expeditions. Those daydreams were there, like I imagine most humans daydream about what it’s like to be phenomenal and famous for something. My real dreams never had that kind of end goal, or any goal for that matter. What I wanted most was to live what I was most passionate about, and to progress, as an equestrian, as a skier, and I did.  This has introduced me to places, people, jobs, and experiences that I could not have imagined had I stayed in line, treating my interests as just that.

And so, as I have taken up this Leadville endeavor, I already know what it’s like to go all in, yet things are a bit different this time. I’m going into it with more maturity. I have no delusions about becoming a famous professional cyclist out of this, nor do I want to be. I appreciate the fact that my livelihood does not depend on my riding, as well as the fact that I am doing this on my own terms. Although I have an absolutely necessary support system, I’m doing this on my time, with my money, no begging for favors or chances. I am far more aware of my strengths as well as my athletic and mental road blocks than I ever used to be. Understanding your “why” tends to help you stay motivated in working towards your goal. The more noble the “why”, for example, racing to overcome immense life hardship, or working towards something outside of yourself, it magnifies the effect. My “why” is not that noble, but it’s the only one I have. So perhaps I’m doing this to see if I can break through those aforementioned road blocks. Perhaps I’m just out to ride this obsession (and my bike) as far it will go, and see what kind of person I can become while being a cyclist and an endurance racer, what kind of experiences and adventures I can have, and what other passion it will bring into my life.

The Wrong Gear #7 – Frisco Freeze Race Report

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Some people look really pro, and then there’s me.

This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. 

This past Saturday, I finished race # 2 of the 2019 season. The Frisco Freeze, which was held at the Frisco Nordic center, is in its third year, with a new course each year so far. This time, the course was three laps, for a total of 14k, and not a ton of climbing. A good chunk of it took place on new fatbike-dedicated singletrack, in addition to a few miles on the Nordic trails themselves. The Nordic trails were in really good shape, however the singletrack was soft, and deteriorated into long sections of run-a-bike for respectively long stretches considering how short the total race mileage was. For the sake of consistency and a mildly objective way to cover these races and assess my own performance, I will use the same criteria I laid out in my first race report for Fat Bike Worlds.

Overall Objective: This was quite a bit shorter in mileage and lower on climbing than I’m used to. The whole point was to go hard, and have fun. While this race was not particularly conducive to endurance racing, every race start, and everything I have to do to get ready for it, is great practice for more serious events. I want to give myself an A, but I’m not exactly sure. I had a ton of fun, but I can’t really decide if I went as hard as I could and was being reasonably cautious due to how soft the course was, or if I was limiting myself and could have gone harder at least on the climbs. I spent 70% of the race going about 80% effort so maybe I’ll give myself a B here because I wasn’t dead when I rolled up to the finish.

Training: Like the last race, this one was not one I was training for specifically. However, I consider the workload over the past couple of weeks, as well as my commitment to it, more than adequate for this particular event. As I was explaining to Lee, I felt really fit, but just tired enough that I wasn’t using all 100% of my fitness. However, this was an A.

Preparation: Since we did not have to travel out of town for this, I will skip the pre-travel stuff. In fact, I will give this a C. There were some things that I did well. I planned ahead to take the time off from work, and had a contingency training plan for the day if my day off request was denied. I made a pretty good call on layering, as well as what tire pressure to run. The bikes were ridden recently, but I slacked on cleaning and tuning this time around. There were a few things that we put off until last minute, like packing, which we wouldn’t  be so blasé for “away” races. There was a little bit of complacency there, however we have our local pre-race routine dialed enough that we can get away with it.

Nutrition, Pre- Race: I will give this one an A. I have been eating much healthier overall, and had no real temptations leading up to the race. I had my usual dinner at work the night before, a PB & J for breakfast, and a pretty healthy, veggie-packed Salmon Burger for lunch, a couple hours before the start.

Nutrition, During Race: None needed, so will not grade. This race was only an hour.

Execution of Strategy: I had two conflicting strategies to start the race. Per Coach, I should have taken 2-3 minutes to ease into it before going full bore. However, the race started on an uphill, and everyone was pushing hard to get a good position going into the first soft singletrack. I inevitably got stuck behind a few people falling over in front of me, and that cost me some time, but hey, it’s fatbike racing, so I left a few solid body prints of my own later in the race. Overall I think I raced smart, and did a good job of maintaining a good cadence when I could pedal, and forward momentum when I was off the bike pushing. I will give myself a B+. I wasn’t perfect, and like stated above, I’m not good at judging shorter, more intense efforts, so maybe I could have gone harder.

Attitude: This was an A. I was fairly relaxed leading up to the race, and the few times I had nerves come up, I was able to talk myself through it. I could have easily been much more annoyed at how much the soft, choppy snow had me running with my bike, but I kept smiling and pushing through it, knowing the snow sucked for everyone. I had plenty of fun.

This race was interesting because it’s not really my type of race at all. I lean towards events that test overall fitness and endurance, this one tested strategy and the ability to get through weird conditions. Fighting for a spot on the singletrack and later having my bike run over by a 250lb man while I’m chest deep in snow because I fell off the trail is usually not my idea of good racing, but as always, it was a learning opportunity. Because of my training, I felt better balanced to stay on in bad snow, fitter to run with the bike when I couldn’t stay on, and I had ample practice to dust myself off and say “oh well” whenever I fell.

The Wrong Gear # 6 – An Ode to Singlespeeding

This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. 

I have no idea what made me do it. In fact, years ago when I first moved in with Lee, I remember glaring at the broken down chunk of aluminum with two flat tires sitting out on his deck, wondering why he had something like this in the first place. Better yet, I was wondering why he still had it, taking up precious space, with no plans to use it again. He tried to explain it to me multiple times. It was something about the simplicity of it, how you’re just out riding your bike. I repeatedly inquired if it wasn’t better to be just out riding your bike with the ability to shift, because mountains, and he continued to assure me that it is just fun. It sounded too hard, and really stupid, and ultra-hipster, so I convinced him get rid of the old Mongoose singlespeed so we could move other junk that didn’t fit in the condo out onto the deck.

Lee used to ride and race both road bikes and mountain bikes in high school in the late 90s, a time he described as the first Golden Era of mountain biking. That Mongoose was from that era, before it became a Wal-Mart brand. He stopped riding after the bike maintenance became too much, and soon he moved out to Colorado, where skiing was king and motorcycling and hiking were his summer hobbies. After a single, disastrous day at Keystone Bike Park that ended with me deciding early on that I suck at this, and with Lee shouldering his rental bike with two folded wheels from halfway down the mountain, it was a few years yet before mountain biking was on our radar again. Fast forward to summer of 2016, and I decided that I need a singlespeed as a training tool to get stronger on my race bike. Kind of like when I started telemark skiing to get better at alpine skiing, and no longer alpine ski. Or that time I started mountain biking to get better at off-road motorcycling and found myself with almost no time for motorcycling. After giving me sufficient shit for giving him shit about his Mongoose, he found a cheap 29er Singlespeed for me on Craigslist, and down the rabbit hole we went.

After a few adjustments, I started riding the Single that August and through the fall. About a ride or two with me, Lee decided he needed one also. Singlespeeding was, and remains, humbling for the exact reasons one would think. For a brake-heavy rider like me, losing momentum from white-knuckling a downhill means stalling in the middle of an uphill. It’s so much harder to manage your effort, so there are plenty of pitches where I blow up and just have to walk. Flat terrain has me pedaling my brains out, and not doing much more than a glorified coast. I think singlespeeding is where the phrase “going nowhere fast” came from.

But it has been very encouraging too. In addition to looking cool, I love how it makes me feel. I was still riding way more terrain than I thought I would, and I was forced to look at the same old trails in a new way. I became a lot more comfortable with the fact that it’s okay to walk some things, and I had a ready-made excuse to my imaginary critics: “Hey, I only have one gear over here”! I love how a well-timed pedal stroke propels me up and over an obstacle. I love how on a pitch where I would normally rely on my easiest gear, I would crank right up and feel like the most powerful human alive. I fell in love with the simple, clean look of the bike – No shifters, no shifter cables, and no derailleurs. That simplicity gave me confidence in just how mechanically sound my bike is, and that made me feel unstoppable.

Last March, Lee and I went to race the Austin Rattler, about 40 minutes south of Austin, TX. We had done that race the year before, and wanted to try it on the Singles in 2018. We were watching the forecast, and saw that it would be raining a little bit the week of the race, but would dry up leading up to race day. We showed up in Texas to find out that the little bit of rain we saw in the forecast was actually a lot of rain in real life, and large parts of the course turned into mud bogs. I stayed completely optimistic that it would dry for the next day. My optimism gets me nowhere. With all the people pre-riding the course (us included), the trails were even more chewed up for race day. It was also a lap race, with several distance options available,  so the course got more and more destroyed with each tire track and each lap. We were walking through knee-deep mud in places (lots of places), and riding as far as the bikes would go until they bogged down to the hubs. After the first lap, many racers dropped out.

I was happier than a pig in ….mud. Not about other racers dropping out, their successes and failures have no bearing on mine. I was happy because it was so hard, because this dumpster fire was a shared experience with the intrepid among us who kept going. I was completely embracing how difficult it was, and I was literally satisfying some primal instinct to roll in it. I was happy because I was riding a Single by choice, using that pre-determined harder gear to plow through what was rideable, while many ended up singlespeeding by circumstance, after the mud chewed up their drivetrains. On my third and final 20- mile lap, I heard a rickety noise from somewhere on my bike. I did the logical thing, pretended it was coming from someone else’s bike, and just kept going. I got to the finish line a solid hour slower than I had the previous year. I was thrilled! I found out the noise I heard was the chain, stretched into a smile, magically still grinding over the ring and cog, barely hanging in there for me. That mud had eaten all of our bikes alive, and although I had gotten a lot of comments about how brave (stupid) and badass I was for doing the race on a Single, I believe that I finished because of that, not in spite of it. Lee was right all those years ago. It was simple, it was fun, and we were just out riding our bikes.

Progress Report:

I am two months in. Since last week, I ended up needing an extra rest day, because I was a little bit sick. I am back on track and looking forward to the work ahead of me. Today was supposed to be a cross-training day, but with conditions not so great for skiing, I went out for a three hour, easy-paced fatbike ride instead. I enjoyed the hardpack before it’s supposed to snow for the next ten days. Yesterday, I had two hours on the trainer that destroyed me (in a good way, I took a nap afterwards). I started a meditation practice a few months ago, and that trainer session was the first tiny flicker of evidence of being able to use my fledgling practice in the real-world. I have my iPod, but I don’t have a smart trainer, so like most cyclists, I typically find indoor time about as stimulating as reading ingredients on the shampoo bottle while in the shower. However, yesterday, as I tackled this long workout with long intervals, I nudged my brain into focusing on the numbers I was supposed to hit, and the workout became more bearable, it went by quicker. I felt discomfort, and I felt fatigue, but I consciously “leaned into” it and continued to push. This was completely different from most of my trainer sessions when I rely on daydreaming about winning every bike race in the history of bike races while simultaneously being an amazing singer with the voice of an angel or Beyonce to get by. Small victories.

 

The Wrong Gear # 5 – Why Leadville?

FB_IMG_1547497561197This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. 

Why Leadville? The short answer is that this is something that I never thought I would do, singlespeed or otherwise. The long answer is a bit more complex.

This race is both legendary and notorious. Most cyclists have heard of it, and many non- cyclists know of it as well. It sets the scene for many personal victories and devastating heartbreaks alike, and yet for some, the race is just…meh. I live in the Land of the Badasses. We are a community of cyclists, skiers, ski mountaineers, climbers, ultra-runners, dirt bikers, and a whole slew of miscellaneous extreme adventurers. Because I too participate in some of these sports, my online world is also full of stories about, and interactions with people who have truly done the incredible, and  who are just winning in sport and in life. This is both inspiring and intimidating as hell. It feels like no matter what I do, or how hard I push my own boundaries, I encounter super-humans for whom my accomplishments are basically a walk in the park.

So, as we go into my fourth season, and Lee’s fifth, of chasing Leadville qualifiers, and racing the 100 itself, the whole thing becomes normalized. The LT100 doesn’t seem as obscene because I know people, both personally and through the Interwebs, who have done what I do, but much, much faster, or have done significantly harder races altogether. For instance, I get the luxury of riding my bike for 100 miles, it’s not like I have to run it. And the race isn’t that technical, it primarily covers dirt and fire roads, with some pavement thrown  in, it’s not like I have to navigate non-stop rocky, rooty singletrack. And it’s only one day of riding, it’s not like I have to do six days straight of racing. And there are plenty of aide stations, well-stocked with food, drink, and enthusiastic volunteers who can get me in and out of there fast, it’s not like I have to carry everything I need on my bike. And so, the LT100 MTB seems like good, friendly fun compared to the LT100 Run, or the Breck 100, or the Breck Epic, or the Vapor Trail 125, just to name a few.  I’ve heard many gripes and complaints from the gnarly and the jaded about how the race is too crowded, too commercialized and not a Real™  mountain bike race because there’s hardly any singletrack.

And yet, this race has got it’s grip on me, as it does for so many who keep coming back year after year, or those trying it for the first time. When I zoom out of Endurance World, and look at the general population, I realize, that this is not normal at all. Yes, there are burlier, more grueling events out there, but the Leadville 100 is hard. The race starts at 10,200 ft, and only goes higher from there, with about 12,500 ft of total elevation gain. It is just rough enough that you have to do it on a mountain bike. Last but not least, it is still 100 freaking miles! 104, to be precise. Perhaps, the accessibility of this race is the point; from those seeking to win, to those trying to beat their own time, to those just checking a box, or for some, the hardest thing they have physically ever done. For me, Leadville is a gateway race, the race that inspired all other races.

I initially got into mountain biking a few years ago as way to improve my off-road skills on my motorcycle. I liked that if something was too hard and scary, I could just get off my bike and walk. Can’t do that as easy with my 400lb moto. I am not a natural athlete, and I am a total weenie, so after a few rides on a low-end 26er, filled with spills, tears, yelling, and the sincere desire to throw said bike off a cliff and never ride again, Lee decided I deserved a Real ™  bike. I ended up with the an XC race bike, the Specialized Epic Comp, even though I swore I would never race, I just wanted something that would eat up miles. Then Lee decided that he wanted to race the 100. He first did it in 2015, and I worked that year as as an EMT, at the Silver Rush 50, the LT100 MTB, and the Run a week later. I became completely absorbed in the culture, the support, the party atmosphere, and the athletes themselves. I had to hold back my own tears when I saw those who didn’t make the cutoffs, and was so thrilled for Lee when he finished both the 50 and the 100 faster than he ever imagined. I saw that there were a lot of normal-looking people doing this, which got me thinking, maybe I could do it too. And I was hooked.

By then, I had already done a few local races, in spite of myself. My rides started getting a little bit longer, those local races became training races, and I started treating myself ever-so-slightly more like an athlete, and by January 2016, I found out that we were picked in the team lottery to race the 100 in August. I learned that what I liked most about biking is covering distances that I once was only able to do by car, and riding all types terrain to get there; pavement, dirt, singletrack, hike-a-bike, whatever. I am admittedly terrible at technical riding, and my endurance improved exponentially faster than my skill set. I am working on this, and enjoy riding harder (for me) terrain sometimes, but I like having a bit more space for mistakes when I’m racing. I like pedaling along and getting lost in thought, or enjoying the scenery, or jamming out to my iPod. I love seemingly endless roads, and how if you’re patient enough, they take you to some spectacular views, better yet, they are the spectacular views. I love the pure physicality of it, how hard it gets, and pushing on anyway. Maybe I am not a Real ™  mountain biker, but it turns out that Leadville is my type of race.

Brief progress report: Almost two months into my coaching program, I feel stronger and fitter, yet too tired to use that fitness. We are in the “build” phase, I just learned today it means that I will continue feel fatigued until I get used to the training load. Obvious to some, but I was holding my breath for extra rest days. Just a few weeks ago, I was wondering if Coach was going too easy on me, now I see that even on my easy days, I’m not reaching the same power numbers as I did on easy days before. Lee and I are slowly learning how to work around each others schedules, which today meant that we worked out separately, but we napped on our respective couches at the same time afterwards. I guess I will just have to keep plugging away at it and see what my body does, and hopefully learn to stop feeling so sorry for myself.

 

 

The Wrong Gear #4 – Fat Bike Worlds and More

This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. 

This weekend I finished my first race of 2019. The Fatbike World Championship in Crested Butte, CO has been on our radar ever since we first bought our fat bikes at the end of 2016, and now that we made a point to go, it certainly delivered. Here is my race report:

It has already been a tough week. I was tired from training and tired from working extra days to make up for the time off I was taking for this race. We drove up in snowy, icy, death-trap conditions, so my anxiety was already on overload. As we made our way up-valley from Gunnison to Crested Butte, the sun finally came out, the roads were in good shape, and I was starting to feel better. We found our hotel, and after sifting through some conflicting information, we found the race venue – a ritzy nordic center and golf course clubhouse. I just think all clubhouses are ritzy. While the course was not yet marked, we ran into several people, including the race director, who pointed us the right direction. I kept my effort as light as possible to stay fresh for the following day. After the ride, we showed up at the Demo and vendor showcase at North Village right as they were wrapping up for the day since we had no idea where that was and how to get there. We picked up our race numbers and were super impressed with the level of swag included in our entry. They still had free beer to give away, so we sat around the fire and chatted with some folks, excited for the next day’s event.

I will write several race reports as part of my progress towards Leadville, so I would like to rate my performance regarding aspects of the race which I can control. I will rate my arbitrarily made up criteria on an A through F system based on my subjective experience, yet I will try to be objective as possible.

Overall Objective: To complete the full distance, 30 miles. This was a training race with no goal towards a specific result, however my job was to ride hard. I will give myself an A on this one. I came to the finish line feeling like I left it all out there.

Training: I give this one a B, but that was intentional. I’ve been training for a longer-term goal, and did not train for this race specifically, but the workload I have put in thus far would carry me over the finish line no problem. We have been focusing on base endurance and strength rather than speed, so a full race effort felt a little foreign to me, and Coach did not expect me to feel super strong for this.

Pre- Travel Preparation: This was an A. We were as diligent with our research as possible. With this event, we found the course information to be a little bit scattered, in part due to a change in venue, and because the course was conditions-dependent. YouTube videos showed a pretty wide, fast course, and an email from the race director said as much. We registered and booked a hotel well in advance, and researched the distance between both locations. We loaded the truck with everything we needed, including tools and parts for emergency repairs. The bikes themselves have been recently ridden, tuned, and clean enough.

Preparation, Arrival to Race Start: Definitely an A. We pre-rode the course, noted where our relative strengths and weaknesses were, felt out potentially faster lines, and on which stretches we could eat and drink. We got our race numbers on Friday so we wouldn’t have to do it the morning of the race. We had plans for both riding and driving to the venue so we could decide in the morning how to get there (parking was very limited). We repeatedly checked the weather to have a better guess at how to dress, and I bought disposable foot warmers in case I needed them. My layering turned out to be spot on.

Nutrition, Pre- Race: Fail. I have been eating a bit better the last couple of weeks, however, I treated this trip as much as a vacation as a race. We went to dinner with friends Friday night after skipping lunch that day, so ended up eating greasy pizza, and way too much of it. I drank just enough beer to add insult to injury. Breakfast the morning of the race was no better, as I went for all the rich, greasy options. No self control there.

Nutrition, During the Race: Also an F. I had packed some pocket food, but the course conditions changed, and I no longer had places on the course where I could just cruise and take on fuel. I was working hard the whole time: bucking the wind, climbing, trying to keep my bike under me in the descents and soft spots, or trying to make up time when I had a tail wind. I refused to stop. During 3.5 hours of hard racing, I only managed to take in part of a gel and half a bottle of water. And I felt it.

Execution of Strategy: I get a B. On one hand, the strategy itself was pretty loose. I just had to push for 30 miles, have fun, and finish. I did. However, I was hoping to start slow and finish strong, draft whenever possible, and eat a little every lap to maintain my energy. Instead, I started hard to stay with a group, but as a cautious descender, they left me on the first real downhill and I wasn’t able to catch them again. I hit the dreaded wall after my second lap, and was able to grab a wheel for the first windy section on the third lap. This gave me enough energy to complete the lap at a steady endurance pace. By fourth lap, I ran out of fuel for real, and a rider who had been chasing me all race finally caught me, and even though I got close a few times, I couldn’t catch her back. My lungs were starting to get tight, so I backed off to ensure a finish.

Attitude: Mindset has been, and will continue to be my biggest challenge as I continue to ride and race. For this one, I stayed relatively relaxed before the start. I prepared myself mentally for a hard, fast effort, and did not expect a hard, slow effort with conditions worsening by the lap. I reminded myself that the conditions got harder for everyone, and embraced the newly challenging course. I was working hard and running on fumes, but was okay with it. I stayed forgiving of myself in spite of my mistakes, and was proud of my finish. A rare for attitude.

Overall, the race was just fun. We met awesome people, hung out with familiar faces and enjoyed the sense of community among other cyclists. The longer I ride bikes and live in the mountains, the higher the level of badassery I encounter, and the better I aspire to be. The event was well -organized, even though we had a hard time finding all the information we needed as quickly as we would have liked. Our hotel was comfortable and awesome, and it was nice to leave the truck parked for about 36 hours since we could walk and ride everywhere. We now want to come back in the summer and partake in all the legendary singletrack that Crested Butte has to offer.

As a bonus, we skied Cranor Hill the following day. One of the hotel staff told us about it, and we could not resist. We used to be as passionate about skiing as we are now about biking. But as Summit County has gotten more crowded, we have gotten more jaded. The mega-resorts have drawn hordes of people that have jammed up the roads and cheapened the skiing experience. While there are still good days, and quieter spots if you hike far enough, the incessant signage and fencing, and masses of people bombing down the hill elbow-to-elbow with each other, has turned the resorts into a circus. It feels like skiing has lost its soul.

Cranor Hill, just a few minutes outside of Gunnison, still has a piece of that soul. Cranor is currently owned by the City of Gunnison and is only open on the weekends. It started out as a private ski hill, and although it eventually opened to the pubic, surprisingly, a single Poma platter lift and 300 or so feet of vertical drop wasn’t enough to keep the area financially viable. The Cranor family sold the Hill to the City under the provision that it remains a ski area, where at $17 for a daily lift ticket, it still operates at a loss. Complete with the original 1960s chalet, sprawling at 600 square feet, a staff of six people per day, and some old-timers who are happy to tell you all you want to know about the area, what Cranor lacks in skiable acres it makes up for in history and pride. With three different unload points as you get towed up the hill, your options are to ski the left side of the Poma, or the right side. Grooming is done by a snowcat from the Civil War era, dragging a beat up culvert just as old.

We took a few runs and enjoyed soft conditions and natural snow. We sat on the deck and watched parents teach their kids, and kids teach each other. Everyone had space to make their way down at their own speed, no one was in a hurry to get back to the lift. We loved every minute of it. Ski areas like this are endangered, as the big resorts offer bigger, better, newer, and more. We’re hoping to visit as many of them in Colorado as possible before their lifts stop turning forever.

The Wrong Gear #3 – The Bike

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Me and Hans, the old singlespeed.

This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. 

It is the lightest frame ever made, so says Specialized about their new Epic HT. At less than 900 advertised grams, it very well might be. It boasts a limited edition paint job, Oil Slick, they call it, changes with the light. A slacker head tube angle, engineered to pair with a 51mm offset fork, improves its handling on the descent without sacrificing its ability to climb a wall. The build features carbon everything-that-can-be-carbon, and titanium where it can’t be. The best 100mm fork that Fox sells, an oval chain ring, and a Stages power meter ensure that my ride will be smooth, efficient, and my effort well-documented. There is a bit of an issue though, other than the fact that it won’t shift. The bike I plan on racing in Leadville isn’t actually built yet. In fact, I’m just happy to have the frame and parts back in my possession after months of one issue after another, so my happiness is of the cautious variety. I will back up.

Earlier last summer we started talking about replacing my old singlespeed, Hans, the Felt. There is actually nothing wrong with Hans, I absolutely love that bike. He is about 10 years old and in great shape, and I had some amazing rides and races on him. In fact, none of the reasons I have for getting a new bike, such as lighter weight, newer fork technology, and ability to take wider tires justify the cost of the new bike. Neither does my desire to have two bottle cages on the frame, which Hans can only take one. Petty, I know, but bike shopping is fun. Lee and I decided to do our own build, since we shamelessly modify and upgrade everything we own anyway. We had our wish list narrowed down to two frames: Niner Air 9 RDO, and the Specialized Epic HT.

We spotted a Niner frame in my size on Pinkbike for a great price, and I bought it. Lee opened the box to find that the frame was cracked. Luckily, the seller took the frame back and gave me a full refund, but that was strike one. A few weeks later, after much agonizing on how much money we wanted to spend on a frame alone, Lee called me at work to tell me he ordered the Specialized frame through our local bike shop. Then he told me how much it cost. Then I got rear ended and totaled my car the next day. That was strike two. I ended up selling one of my bikes and got a fair sum for my totaled car, so we decided to keep going with the frame. I was excited because it was late August, and if all went well with the build, I would have all of September and at least some of October to start riding and debugging the new bike. All did not go well.

The fork I wanted in the color I wanted was weeks away from being available. No problem, I would wait and accumulate other components we would need. Then, one day, in mid-October, most of the parts we needed to get started on the build were more or less in one place. And Lee got to work as I handed him tools and bolts, and tried to learn something while I watched. For two days straight, Lee labored. First he threaded the rear brake cable through the frame. Then he put the fork and stem on the frame. He switched out the end caps on my wheels to fit BOOST spacing and mounted the brake rotors. Soon the wheels went on. All those parts were starting to look like a complete bike. Everything was meticulously aligned adjusted, and torque specs double checked. He agonized over chain tension, bottom bracket position, and whether the chain ring we had, paired with the crank set we had, would would clear the chainstay sufficiently. All Lee had left to do was tighten the bottom bracket with the torque wrench we bought specifically for this job and..Crack.

Lee was devastated. I know this because he said “I’m devastated”. I tried not to be, but I already named the bike and everything. Foxy. The bottom bracket shell had cracked. He was still well below the torque spec while tightening the bottom bracket, but it cracked anyway. Strike three.

When the dust settled, we braced for a warranty waiting game. Our options were: Find out if Specialized would accept the warranty and if a replacement frame was available in the same color. Or send the frame off to a specialty carbon repair shop. Or cut our losses, sell whatever parts we could, and call it quits with the whole project until things start to come together more organically. That would have been the smart choice. It was mid-November by the time we got an an answer on the warranty. Yes, they would accept it. No, the same color was no longer available. We decided to go with the repair instead.

I hated the thought of that frame just being crushed, and the repair would involve replacing the shell with a sturdier one that should be able to take repeated tensioning of an eccentric bottom bracket for the life of the bike. Calfee Carbon Repair wanted us to send the bottom bracket with the frame so they could get the fit right, and we decided to order a different bottom bracket that put less torque on the shell. In the mean time, we dropped more money on a different crank set with a power meter that would work in theory, with a different oval chain ring that should, in theory clear the chainstay. Thank you, Christmas bonus. It was late December by the time we got that bottom bracket, and we were finally able to send the frame off, just in time for the holidays.

The frame came back today in a severely crushed box. Lee picked it up at the FedEx, and was not allowed to open the box to see if there was damage until he signed for it. We are out of strikes, but he signed for it and took his chances. The frame seems okay, and he is really happy with the repair. He spent the evening putting the pieces back together in a mock-up, so that they at least it looks like a bike again. So far so good.

I still have so many doubts about this bike, in part because of the setbacks. Is this just a challenge, or a sign that we should have scrapped the build idea for an undetermined amount of time? Part of that doubt comes from my fear that I am not worthy of this World Cup level bike, that I am a poser, and other people will see that I am a poser, and that I should just stick with my old aluminum bike that has served me so well, the bike that better fits the kind of rider that I perceive myself to be. I am also worried that we are trying too hard, and putting all this time and money into a bike I won’t love the way I love my other bikes. The others, I was able to at least ride around in the parking lot, and get a general feel for, and I loved them all right away. This one is such an unknown, and the expectations for it are so high. Besides,this bike has already been such a diva, what the hell am I going to do the first time I crash it and scratch it? We can’t run permanent marker on this paint job like we do on my other bikes.

But Foxy is here now, at least in bike-like form, literally in the living room as I write this because I can’t stop staring. Well aware that there are plenty of riders that can school me on 45-pound, two-wheeled monstrosities from Wal-Mart if they wanted to, I am still trying to convince myself that I don’t have to justify having this level of bike. Yet I plan on training my ass off to feel like I deserve it a little more. I plan on growing into it as I get better and stronger. I also plan to have this bike for a long time, so why not have the best? If we ever manage to actually build it.