Nederland CX – A Race Review

Nederland CX – A Race Review

As I drove up Highway 72 to Nederland, I wondered just what the course for this inaugural Nederland Cyclocross race would be like.  The race flyer stated that the race course would wind through the heart of the town and include a mix of cyclocross features.  What exactly, did that description mean?  As visions or stairs and other urban cross features floated through my head, I parked and made my way to the registration tent.

The first feature I noticed was a very sharp, uphill turn onto a covered pedestrian bridge over a creek.  After retrieving my race number, I walked a bit more of the course.  I noticed another bridge and some railroad tie barriers.  I made some smalltalk with a woman nearby.  The topic of conversation quickly came around to the race course.  She mentioned on the other side of the course, that if you didn’t take the right line in one section, you were sure to end up in the lake.

At that point I decided it was in my best interest to get my bike out of the car and take a pre-ride of the course.  I didn’t mind getting dirty, but I certainly did not want to land in a lake astride my bike.  Once the current race was over, I pedaled on to the course.  I ended up behind another guy who must have already raced, because as we rode along, he told me about what was coming up around each bend.  In this section of the course that wound along the creek, the vegetation was so tall that you couldn’t see what was coming until you were there.  The first surprise was a sharp left turn.  The next surprise was a path of beaten down cat tails.  The mud below the cat tails was now being churned up by all the bike tires.  At the end of the cat tails was a steep run-up.

The next part of the course was the hard part: two- three off-camber ups and downs on loose dirt, and the steepest, loosest run-up ever.  This was followed by the steepest, loosest descent ever seen (by me!) on a cyclocross race course.  It was during this descent that I came upon the place where landing in the lake was supposedly a certainty if one were to take the wrong line.  My conclusion was that landing in the lake was only a remote possibility under the worst set of circumstances.  At the end of the lap, I began to question whether this race was something I could actually finish, let alone be competitive in.  I’d been nursing a sore shoulder all week and it would be impossible for me to shoulder the bike in any of the sections where it would make sense to do so.  I’d have to run the bike and lift it over the barriers when necessary.  I considered packing my bike in the car and going home right then and there.  Then my phone rang and Motoman wanted to know if it was raining in Nederland?  I looked up at the threatening skies and thought how miserable this course would become if the skies were to let go.

When Motoman arrived, I mentioned how hard the course was and that I was IMG_0925contemplating leaving.  His response was that it would be just as hard for everyone else as it would be for me.  As I pinned the number to my jersey, I thought to myself that I’ll just ride it; then I won’t have any expectations nor disappointment about how I finish.  Then we got a FaceTime call from our daughter who we hadn’t spoken to in a couple of days. It proved to be the perfect distraction.  When we hung up, I had only about 30 minutes before the start time to pedal around and half-heartedly warm-up.  Besides, who needs to warm-up for ride??

Promptly at 5:10 PM, the race started and we were off!  Racers were still rather clumped together when I reached the hard part of the course.  A crash in front of me forced me off the bike and to run more of the off-camber section than I would have liked.  However, as I trotted along, I realized that the women who were riding weren’t going any faster than I was.  I had started to run with my bike because I didn’t want to stop. But now that I couldn’t find a decent place to remount, I just kept going.  Two thoughts occurred to me as I finished that first lap 1) I did not want to run as much on the next lap and 2) this race was as hard for the other women as it was for me!

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Photo Credit: Cid Dennis

I dug in and settled into a pace I could sustain for five more laps.   I’m so proud to have finished such a difficult race!  Taking 2nd place was the icing on the cake!

 

 

 

 

Not only was this the hardest race I’ve finished, it was also the most expensive:

  1. Entry fee: $30
  2. Deductible for car repairs necessary from colliding with black bear on the way home: $750
  3. While tasty, the six pack of beer only drowned my sorrows temporarily.
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    Master’s Women 40+, 2nd Place Photo by: Cid Dennis

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    That’s black bear fur stuck in the wheel.

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The Golden Giddyup – A Race Review

2016 was the inaugural year of the Golden Giddyup.  You can read more about how it was founded on their website; they tell the story much better than I can.  I had decided not to do this race months ago when registration opened.  Then, a handful of days prior to the race, I met up with a friend who was not able to do the race due to a knee injury.  I figured she had already transferred her entry to some other person, but it turns out, it was still available.  When she asked if I wanted it, I checked my calendar and found the day to be wide open.   I had no excuse not to do the race and hated to see the entry go to waste.

Transferring the registration into my name proved to be a bit of a challenge.  While the registration page indicated that all you had to do was click a button and follow the instructions, it didn’t work for us.  After several attempts, we decided to contact race organizers for help.  Even with their intervention, I never received any confirmation emails indicating that the transfer had been successful.  I finally gave up and crossed my fingers that my name would be on someone’s list when I went to pick up my race plate late in the afternoon of Saturday, September 17th.

img_5597After all the effort that we’d put into transferring the race entry, I was somewhat surprised that my name was, in fact, on the racer’s list at packet pickup. The bigger surprise, however, was my race number.  Yep, I was lucky number 420.   After collecting my number and what few goodies remained so late in the day, I found a place to sit and wait for the “mandatory riders meeting”.

The meeting essentially covered rules and reiterated several times that if you come upon an injured person, you should stop to offer help.  It seems like a no-brainer to me, but apparently it’s happened, hence the reminder. The other message that was stressed was that passing riders have the right of way.  What that means is by the time a racer hears the words “on your left”, her time has already been beaten by the passing racer who started 20 or 30 seconds behind her.

The next morning I arrived at the start line at 7:15 AM – one hour before my scheduled race time.  As the announcers began calling up waves, I became confused.  It turns out I wasn’t the only one.  The announcers were calling wave numbers that no one had ever heard of.  For instance, my wave was number 38, but they were calling out something similar to “the fourth wave of the classic category.”  I brought it to their attention after several waves had departed.  They regrouped and started calling out the waves by the series of plate numbers included in that wave (even better), and everyone was happy again.

Unlike a traditional enduro race, this race had timed downhill and uphill stages.  The entry that had been transferred to me was a Giddyup Lite – North Table entry – meaning that I would race only the North Table Mountain leg of the race.  The race route had two timed climbing and two timed descending stages.   I’ve ridden on North Table Mountain more times than I can count, which was a significant contributing factor in my decision to do a last minute race.  Knowing the terrain so well,  I was a little nervous about how crowded it would be in the timed stages, even though the organizers were releasing racers every 20 seconds on the uphill stages and every 30 seconds on the downhill portions.  Much to my surprise, however, the timed release of racers really did wonders to ease trail congestion.  I  passed and was passed without any incidents; racers seemed to be respectful of the rules.

I’m proud to have finished the race 5th overall considering the injuries I had in June & July and their recovery time.  Sure, I’ve been riding as much as I can, but I haven’t been training for races.  I’m grateful to Linda for making my participation in the race possible.  I hope we can race it together next year!

One of the mantras of the race organizers was to “shape what you shred” – as seen on the pictured race plate above.   I can’t emphasize how much I appreciated that this was a core philosophy of the organizers.  I’ve been mountain biking in Jefferson County for five years and not once had I ever participated in a trail maintenance effort, until this year and for this race.  I found the experience to be so rewarding that I regret not doing it sooner.  I’ll be suggesting that this be an activity of every team/group that I’m involved with going forward.  Overall, I’d say everyone involved in this race was a winner, especially the trails!

Adventures in Retrofitting

My first official cyclocross season came and went without amounting to much of anything.  I found a bike in September, just before the season’s first race.  Finding the bike had been a challenge of it’s own.  Let me put it this way: had there been a handful of cyclocross bikes to choose from, I may not have ended up with the one I’m riding.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great bike, but it’s mine simply because there wasn’t another choice.  There just aren’t many bikes available in the small size I ride, which is probably fodder for another blog post.  Nevertheless, I finished a couple of races and then experienced a series of flats which resulted in a few DNF’s (Did Not Finish).

Since I had only one wheel set, I very quickly found myself in a place where I needed to make some changes to said wheel set in order to get back into the races AND finish.  The choices were 1. to use a conversion kit on the stock wheels that would result in a tubeless setup or 2. to upgrade the wheel set to a tubeless ready system.  In other words, choice 1 costs around $80 and choice 2 closer to $500 and up.  Since I wasn’t sure how long I would keep the bike, I decided to go with choice 1 and consider choice 2 next year after I had a few more races under my belt and a better sense of whether I wanted to keep the bike.

After doing some web searching, watching videos, and reading step-by-step instructions, I was confident in my (husband’s) ability to successfully complete the conversion under my supervision*.  The Stan’s No Tubes web site even states “Converting requires very little mechanical ability but it is important to follow the Instructions.”  I was confident that even a non-bike mechanic gal like myself could supervise this project flawlessly.

I purchased the cyclocross conversion kit.   The process of cleaning the wheel, drilling the valve hole, and applying the rim tape was easy enough.  The problem we encountered was that the rim was chewed up enough to leave a gap large enough that the rim tape, tire, and sealant combined weren’t enough to close that gap.  Yes, we tried the compressor.  It resulted in a shower of Stan’s sealant all over a friend’s garage before we finally gave up.  Here’s an image of the rim to give you an idea of the kind of ding that prevented this conversion from working.

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I wish the very thorough instructions and videos on the Stan’s web site would have mentioned that your rims need to be ding free in order to work with the conversion kit.  Unfortunately for me, the conversion kit was a failure and waste of money.  On the bright side, I have a sweet new wheel set on a bike I may or may not keep and another wheel set that is very likely to become wall art. I’d say everyone won in this case!

*Disclaimer:  I’m not a bike mechanic.  I don’t even play one on TV.  But I do have a very handy husband who helped me with the conversion.

Ridge at 38 Crit – a Race Review

Last year I missed out on this race due to a travel conflict, so I was very excited to race this criterium this year.  Wheat Ridge Cyclery and the entire Wheat Ridge community came together to put on a top notch race.  This was apparent from the moment I arrived early on the morning of June 7th.  I had pre-registered for the race and was able to quickly pick up my race bib from the registration tent.  I saw a couple of team mates on the way back to my car.  Just as I pulled my bike out of the car, one of my team mates pedaled over and mentioned the course was open for a quick pre-ride before the next race began.  I quickly grabbed my helmet and set off to ride the course with her.

The start/finish was right in front of the Wheat Ridge Cyclery main entrance.  From there, the course went south up a shady, Ridge at 38 Course Mapslight hill and then took a left.  There were two more left turns that brought racers back to 38th Avenue, followed by a quick series of right, left and left turns that brought you back around to the front of the store again.  This course was sure to be fast and fun with all the corners.  The pavement was smooth and swept clear of gravel.  Aside from the occasional man-hole cover, you couldn’t have asked for a better race course.  It was a clear, sunny morning (finally) so wet streets would not be a factor in today’s race.

Photo courtesy of Jay Hardesty

Photo courtesy of Jay Hardesty

I lined up at the start line with 16 other category 4 women and 7 women from the 50+ masters division, for a field total of 23 racers.  We were scheduled to race for 40 minutes.  When the whistle blew, we took off in a sprint up the hill.  I knew if I didn’t stick with the peloton, I’d get dropped shortly after that first turn as the speeds increased on the downhill.  I put forth whatever effort was necessary to ensure that the peloton didn’t pull away from me on that first corner.  After a couple of laps the peloton began to settle into a very fast pace averaging 23 MPH.

In the midst of one of these laps, we heard a noise reminiscent of a shot gun blast.  I had heard this sound one time before when a tube popped mid-ride, which is precisely what had happened to one of the racers in our peloton.  Fortunately, she didn’t go down, was near the outside of the peloton, and was able to safely pull to the side of the road and stop.  Eventually, the race officials put up the number of laps remaining and the countdown began.  I tried to find as much shelter as I could as often as I could during the 15 laps of the race.  My team mates had not been able to stay with the peloton, so I didn’t have anyone I knew to work with.  When we lapped the gals that had been dropped, my team mate slipped back into the peloton on the second to the last lap.

The speed picked up for the last lap to close to 30 MPH and I began to drop off the peloton with a half a lap remaining.  At this point, my team mate pulled in front of me and led me back to the peloton, enabling me to have a sprinting pack finish.  The tactic was executed flawlessly and I’m so proud to have been a part of it.  Thanks Jen!!

This race was by far the funnest of the season.  The course was fast and curvy, just what this gal needs to fulfill her need for speed!  Well done, Wheat Ridge Cyclery, well done!

Boulder Roubaix

There’s a race in Europe called the Paris Roubaix.  It is known for being brutal due to a combination of potentially treacherous Spring weather conditions, the distance (~150 miles) and the cobblestones.  Colorado has its own “mini” Paris Roubaix.  It’s called the Boulder Roubaix.  I couldn’t find a lot of history about the Colorado race, but what I do know is that it is held every three years in the Spring in Boulder County, Colorado.  When I first joined the cycling team, I remember hearing about the race in 2012 and had not seen it on the race schedule again until this year.  For that reason alone, it was a must do!

It had been recommended that I swap out the skinny 23 mm tires on my road bike to a slightly wider tire of 25mm.  This was to provide just a little more traction on the gravel sections of the race.  The race flyer also suggested doing a bolt check before the race…that’s something I had never seen mentioned on a race flyer before.  So I checked the bolts on my bike and ensured everything was tight and ready for bumps.  Because Boulder County, Colorado does not have any old cobblestone roads like in Europe, we would be spending roughly half of the 18 mile course on paved roads and the other half on gravel roads.  On a pre-ride of the race course in the days before the race, a team mate and I found the gravel sections to be surprisingly smooth.

On race day Saturday, April 11, I lined up at the start line with three other team mates under blue skies and sunshine.  Our race category would be taking two laps for a total race of 38 miles.  Our strategy was pretty simple: not to get knocked over on the bumpy sections and to stick together.  We intentionally dropped to the back of the peloton after the start because we didn’t want to be going through the first few corners with the group.  We didn’t want to risk being crashed out in the first few corners of the race, which were on a bumpy gravel road.  As we neared the first paved section of the race, I could see the peloton ahead of us and knew that it would be difficult if not impossible to catch them once they hit the pavement and went even faster.

Our strategy of sticking together also slowed down our progress because with varying fitness levels, you can only go as fast as your slowest rider.  We ended up dropping one of our own teammates near the end of the first lap.  There were a few gals here and there who jumped on to work with us rather than finish the race solo.  For the most part, everyone took their turn at the front of the pace line (pulling). Those who didn’t were dropped or shamed into doing their fair share.  For those of you reading who are unfamiliar with pace lining, the rider at the front of the pace line does most of the work while those following are able to rest and refresh their legs. The pace line goes faster than an individual rider because as a rider fatigues, she pulls off the front and tucks into the back of the pace line.  The next person in front of the line has fresh legs, sort of.  Occasionally, a pace line ends up with someone who wants to rest their legs and not take pulls.

As our group approached mile 33, I told my team mate it was time for us to break away.  We were approaching a prolonged climb and I thought we would be successful here in dropping the rest of the group.  Unfortunately, she didn’t hear me, so I soon found myself in a solo break away.  I kept looking back expecting that she would bridge the gap, but I didn’t see that happening.  So I was on my own for the last five miles.  I crossed the finish line at 2:03.  The race leaders were about ten minutes faster.

There were many lessons learned from this race.  One of the most important is to not underestimate your competition.  We had anticipated the peloton would blow apart much more than it did.  In reality, the top ten finishers must have worked together and ended the race with a sprint finish ~ or so it seems based on the results.  The race course itself was well marked with lots of mile markers and volunteers at every turn.  It was a very well run race and seemed very logistically organized… kudos to the promoter!  As for the gravel roads, I can’t say they’re my cup-o-tea.  Then again, I have three years to forget them before the race rolls around again.

Boulder Roubaix

2014 Cycling Year in Review

I was recently inspired by Heidi Rides Bikes to take a look back at my 2014 racing season.  I competed in 12 races:

1 Road Race

Carter Lake Road Race - photo credit to Shawn Curry

Carter Lake Road Race – photo credit to Shawn Curry

2 Hill Climbs

2 Criteriums

2 Circuit Races

3 mountain bike races

2 cyclocross races

All but one race was finished – see more about that here.  I was involved in two crashes.  The first crash was in my first crit of the year.  After the injuries healed, I did another crit and was involved in yet another crash.  Smashing into the pavement was beginning to take a toll on my body, and I wasn’t interested in totaling my new Cannondale ride.  By this time it was nearly June, so I turned my attention to other kinds of races.  I did the Guanella Pass Hill Climb again, which is one of the few races that make a cyclist feel bigger than life.  I did my first endurance mountain bike race on Independence Day.  I finished off the racing season with two super fun cyclocross races.

Strava stats indicate that I put nearly 3,500 miles on my Cannondale since I got her in January.  While I rode outdoors in every month of the year, I raced in 8 of 12 months of the year.  On the non-racing side of the fence, I participated in my first Triple Bypass.  I also started using my bike as a mode of transportation rather than solely as a recreational or training vehicle, all be it sporadically.

While the racing season didn’t turn out as I had hoped in the criterium category, I was pleased with my results and the number of races overall.  But most importantly, I’ve come to respect what my body is capable of and learned to listen when it tells me it’s time to try something different.  I’m the first to say that it’s important to have a plan; but it’s equally important to allow those plans to change when the time is right.

For 2015, I’m looking forward to more crits and more commuting; to continuing to improve my cycling fitness; and to sharing cycling joy wherever and however I can!

2015 bike

Lessons in Encouragement

This post has been percolating in my mind for several weeks.  It’s about the affect our words can have on other human beings.

At a recent cyclocross race I was very near another racer whose family speaks a foreign language.  On each lap when we passed her family members, I would hear them shouting to her in what could have been Russian or German.  Since I don’t speak the language, I was unable to understand what exactly was being said to my competitor.  Regardless of which language it was, I didn’t get the sense that what was being shouted at her was entirely encouraging nor supportive.  At the finish line, I saw an exchange between this competitor and her family that clearly was not supportive.  As her family walked away in what appeared to be disgust, the cyclist sat down in a heap on a curb in the shade by herself to catch her breath.  At about that same time, my family approached me and offered hugs, high-fives, and congratulatory words, despite the fact that I finished nowhere near the podium.  When I finally quit coughing, I looked around for that competitor because I wanted to congratulate her on a tough race, but she was already gone.  I was disappointed that I missed her and I thought of her and what I had seen at the finish line often over the next few days.

At the next race, I arrived at the start line a little early.  As I stood there, my competitor from the previous race appeared.  Since her family was not around, I immediately approached her and struck up a conversation about the previous race.  I told her that I was sorry that I had missed the opportunity to tell be positiveher after the previous race what a strong racer she is.  As I finished this sentence, I notably saw her stand a bit taller as her chest expanded with pride.  She began to radiate confidence as we talked.  Not long into our conversation I realized that she was just a child.  A younger child than my own, in fact.  I wished her good luck on the race as the call ups began.

I once heard a phrase or saying that went something along the lines of: you are responsible for how another person’s words make you feel.  I never agreed with the saying because it implies that one person’s words should have zero affect on another person.  But clearly from this example, they do.   Especially when they come from the people you know and love.  I’m grateful that the opportunity presented itself for me to offer kind words to that young competitor.

I challenge you to find one person each day who you can offer kind words of encouragement to, whether it’s a friend or a stranger, a team mate or competitor, a child or an adult, even your partner.  Then sit back and watch that little seed of confidence grow into something bigger.  Sometimes you’ll get to see it blossom before the conversation is over.

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Primalpalooza: From Excitement to Dread in Milliseconds

If you read my last blog post about cyclocross, you know that I was racing on a borrowed bike.  I’m pleased to report that passing the woman I borrowed the bike from in the Green Mountain Sports CX race did not result in a loss of  bike borrowing privileges!  I was even able to do a couple of mid-week cyclocross training clinics where I learned the proper form of a suitcase lift (where no suitcase whatsoever is involved) and mounts and remounts.  After all this practice and success with the last race, I was very excited to register for “Primalpalooza“… with a name like that, what’s not to like??

I had observed this race last year from a vantage point where I could see the stair run-up as well as the switchbacks leading up to the stairs.  For those of you unfamiliar with a stair run-up, it’s where you dismount from your bike and carry it (like a suitcase) up the stairs.  Here’s a video of a gal who happens to be pretty good at it:

Beyond the portion of the Primalpalooza course that I could see, I had absolutely no idea what the rest of the course was like.  I was in for quite the surprise as I started my pre-ride on race day.  Each lap was 2 miles of twisty, turny chaos with a couple of sides of barriers, stairs and whoop-de-do’s.  Oh, and let’s not forget the howling wind!  Despite all this, I was super excited about the race right up until the moment when someone mentioned that there were 64 women registered in my category for the race.  64.  My heart immediately sank as I thought about what it would be like to try and maneuver through this course, particularly the narrow sections, with so many other racers.

As the race official began call ups, I waited patiently to see if my name would be called.  Very near the end, I was happy to hear my name.    I guess one race earns you a call up!  With 64 women to contend with, I’ll take whatever advantage I can get!  When the whistle blew, we took off in a sprint down a fairly wide street that quickly narrowed to a one lane uphill dirt road.  The pack quickly thinned due to the incline.  The twisty sections of the course caused many women to fall; I’m still not sure if the wind played a factor or if it was inexperienced riders.  Some women went down in sections of the course where wheels were ~ or should have been ~ straight.  One woman rode forearm to forearm with me through two corners only to fall over when we entered the straight away.

On my third lap, I was pulled from the race, along with everyone else who was behind me.  Because each race runs for a specified amount of time, the officials stop racers at the finish line once that time is almost up.  This keeps all the subsequent races on schedule.  I’d never had this happen before and was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to keep going.  Nevertheless, when the race results were published, I was pleased to have finished in the top half: 25 out of 64.

One of the best parts of the day was having my family there to cheer me on and hand up water bottles.  I loved hearing “go Mom” all over the course; these cheers weren’t for me necessarily, but I love seeing and hearing kids of all ages cheering on their mom.  It makes my heart sing.  In reviewing the race results, it did not escape my notice that the woman who lined up in front me ~ very near the back ~ had a top 10 finish.  If she can do it, I can do it… with a little more practice!  It’s time to learn to race smarter…. and maybe invest in a bike of my own.

Reaching for water.

Reaching for water. AND it’s time for new gloves.

Cyclocross Race Excitement!

I finally did my first “real” cyclocross race.  By “real”, I mean that I raced on a real cyclocross bike.  I don’t count the other two races I’ve done because one was on a mountain bike and the other on a cross bike that was much too large for me. The latter IMG_2461race resulted in the lovely sprocket punctures to my calf after a stair run-up.  I had a friend who offered me her old cross bike for a couple of races because she had upgraded to a newer model.  She’s very close to my size and I was able to use her bike with minimal adjustment.  I carefully selected which race I would do.  I didn’t want to race in a large field of racers or on an extremely technical course.  After all, the bike was new to me and I had only a few days to get used to its nuances.  I registered for the Green Mountain Sports CX Race.  After registering for the race, I felt something I’d never felt about a race before: excitement!!  Typically, my pre-race feelings range from dread to denial to fear.

My excitement level for this race was almost on par with the excitement I have each year in the days leading up to my birthday.  All week I looked forward to the race, counting down the days.  I was excited that my whole family was coming to cheer for me because most cycling races are just not spectator friendly.  Even my dad, who would be passing though town that weekend, would be watching me.  He had never heard of cyclocross nor seen the shenanigans that are involved with a cross race.

On race day, the women who had completed other cross races would be called up to the start line.  This is great for those receiving the call up because it means you get to be in the front of the pack when the whistle blows.  Those who do not get called up are left to line up behind everyone who was called up.  The bottom line here is that racers with call ups definitely have an advantage over those who don’t.  Despite the fact that I was near the end of the pack, I was happy and excited to be racing on such a beautiful September day.  The field was small and I felt confident that I would have a respectable finish barring any major crashes.

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Photo credit: Gary Mullins

When the whistle blew, we took off.  There was much shuffling for position as we moved through the parking lot and took a sharp right onto a narrow sidewalk.  I was cautious as I didn’t want to crash before we even got to the dirt section of the race.  The day was very hot for September and I knew that pacing myself in the heat would be critical to a strong finish.  I was able to avoid a couple of crashes near me and kept going as fast as I could.  Hydration via water bottle hand ups was key.  I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to anyone I may have inadvertently thrown a bottle at… I certainly wasn’t aiming for you.  Disposing of a water bottle when you’re sprinting through a parking lot sounds easy until you actually try it!

As we settled into the second lap, I lost sight of the race leaders and hoped that I would eventually be able to catch them.  There was a group of about 5 of us clumped together.    We played cat and mouse and continued to shuffle our positions for the next two laps.  I had a wheel slip out in a corner, which allowed the group to pass me.  I didn’t let them get far and eventually caught and re-passed two of the three cyclist, while the the third continued to pull away from me.

Eventually I caught my teammate – the gal who loaned me the bike on which I was racing.  You can imagine the mental conundrum this created as I debated whether she’d loan me her bike for another race if I passed her.  We eventually came to a steep hill run-up, where I uttered encouraging words as I ran by.  This was the last lap and I wasn’t able to chase down anyone else.  I was thrilled to finish 11th out of 25 racers, particularly since I’d started in the back of the pack.  Best parts of the day:

* Having a bike to race on – thanks to Linda!

* Hearing my family cheer for me.

* Water bottle hand-ups on such a hot day and dusty course.

* Not crashing.

* This awesome picture from Ryan Muncy Photography.

* This awesome video from my honey that makes me look really fast!

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Photo credit: Ryan Muncy Photography

Firecracker 50 – My First Endurance Race

I was recently talked into racing in the Firecracker 50 mountain bike race in Breckenridge, Colorado on Independence Day.  I was told I would get a fabulous pair of Woolie Boolie socks AND get to ride my bike in the town parade.  Then, if I didn’t get to the cutoff point in time, I’d be sent down the mountain with a beer!  Having never ridden my mountain bike for more than 27 or so miles, I was a little concerned about my ability to actually ride the entire 50 miles (that’s what the 50 in Firecracker 50 represents).  But, I was really excited about the socks, parade, and potential for a beer hand up.  Besides, I can’t think of  a better way to start Independence Day then spending a few hours on the mountain bike.

Terry and I arrived early in Breckenridge on race day.  We went to the race headquarters and picked up socks, t-shirts (bonus!), and race numbers.  Then we returned to the car to suit up and warm up our legs for the race.  The race would be two 25 mile laps with ~4,000 feet of climbing per lap.  My goal was to make it to the aid station before the cutoff time so I would at least have the option to ride the entire second lap, if I thought I was able to do so.

We lined up on Main Street by category; as a sport woman racer, I found myself in the back as usual.  When the whistle blew, I took off up Main Street with about 15 other women in my category.  I rode as far as possible to the left so that I could hold out my hand and touch as many of the little hands reaching out to me from behind the barricade as I could.  So many people were clapping and cheering as we rode by… maybe because they knew seeing us meant the real parade was about to start?  Regardless, what a fantastic way to start a race!

For several miles, we pedaled up Boreas Pass Road to the first aid station.  This served to thin out the racers before we reached any single track.  I did not stop at the first aid station and continued onto the single track where I was able to pass more frequently than I got passed.  At one point I passed Terry without recognizing her.  As I pedaled past her, I heard her yell “go Amber!”.   Before I knew it, I was at the second aid station where I took in some of the plentiful nutrition being offered by race volunteers.  I knew that proper nutrition would be critical to successfully finishing this long race.

The aftermath

The aftermath. Yes my feet are that white and my legs that dirty.

Between Aid Stations 2 and 3 is a little section of the trail called Little French Gulch.  This section is full of loose, chipped slate and at one point, the grade is 25%.  I found myself, and all of my new mountain biking friends, pushing our bikes up this section beside the snow banks and through ice cold streams.  At one point, I had sweat dripping from my eyelashes.  This is something I’ve only experienced in a winter spin class at Defined Fitness Training.  When the trail finally turned and leveled out, it was extremely narrow.  It was so narrow that passing required the rider in front of you to actually stop and pull off the trail.  I went as fast as I could here as I didn’t want to have to stop and let anyone by.  Before I knew it I was going down a fun terrain park-like section where I crossed what would be the finish line had this been my second lap.

As I continued on to begin my second lap, I grabbed food and some electrolyte drink as the hike-a-bike section, heat, and distance were beginning to take their toll on me.  I just kept telling myself to get to that aid station before the cutoff time.  This time going up Boreas Pass Road, the spectators were few and far between; only the occasional honk from a passing car, or words of encouragement from another racer.  As I reached Aid Station 1, I parked my bike and stood in the shade to have some food and catch my breath.  I asked if I had made the cutoff and was told yes by one of the volunteers.  However a few minutes later, another racer pulled into the aid station and asked the same question.  This time the answer was different from a different volunteer.  We had to make it to the second aid station in 20 minutes if we wanted to try to finish the race!  I debated about turning around now, but a little voice inside my head piped up “I didn’t come this far just to turn back now.”  So I hopped on the bike and pedaled.

I missed the cutoff at Aid Station 2 by about 8 minutes, but I was very proud to have made it there IMG_3150in the first place.  I was 37 miles into the Firecracker 50 when I was offered my choice of cold beers for the ride down the service road.  Heineken never tasted so good, and I didn’t spill a single drop on that bumpy road, steering my bike one-handed.

Lessons learned: read the race rules and COMMIT them to memory.  I wasted valuable time at Aid Station 1 on my second lap and could have made that cut off time at Aid Station 2 if I’d kept moving.  Gatorade is not a good drink choice for me; test the products being offered at a race BEFORE race day.  Oh, and let’s not forget to actually RIDE the distance of your race before race day.

I can’t speak highly enough about how well the race was organized, marked, the nutrition and hydration offered at aid stations, and the volunteers.  Oh, and let’s not forget that parade and all those little hands wishing us good luck… See you all next year!