Monday, March 31, 2014

US Cup

Race season is back, and so are my wee race stories!

I decided to race the early 2014 US Cup/ProXCT races as soon as they were announced,  because I really like having early season race goals to push me in training during the winter months.

Texas: Mellow Johnny’s is one of my favorite races, but due to a number of mechanical issues, I was unable to finish the race (bummer!). I was then sick for few days after the race, which was frustrating, but I decided to be really patient and take a few days off the bike to completely recover.

California: I raced Bonelli 2 year’s ago, and I remember it being a constant barrage of short steep climbs, followed by quick descents with little, to no recovery. Pre-riding the course it had changed from 2 year’s ago, with even more climbing (I think one of the climbs was a 25% gradient!) and with some technical features thrown in, which definitely added more of a fun element. 
Pre-race focus
Race day was extremely hot. After the start loop, I found myself dangling off the lead group, chasing my teammate Nina. I had avoided an early crash, so expected some of the faster (read: Olympian) ladies to pass me on one of the early climbs. I was still in a good position, however, when we turned on to the 25% grade climb on the backside of the course. But as soon as the climb started to pitch up I had absolutely no power in my legs, my breathing was heavy, and I was wheezing. UGH. About 8-10 women passed me, and there was nothing I could do. I never recovered, and felt progressively worse as the race went on. I was pulled after 3 laps. I have never been pulled in a race before, so I was very disappointed. 

On my recovery spin, I still felt my chest super tight. I have made some headway this winter with trying to sort out my asthma/allergy problems. I feel like they have been getting worse each year that I live in the USA. Last year I felt like I was never 100%, with bad bursts during Whiskey 50 and TSEpic. I have seen a sports doc about the asthma side of things, but I am eager to see an allergy specialist. Sometimes it’s all too easy to focus on the training and numbers, and ignore the other things that can  make you a faster bike racer, like allergy problems, or ensuring your bike is working the best it can. I am going to try and be a better all-round athlete this year!

Bonelli short track on Sunday was even hotter, but I was determined to re-deem myself, and have a better race. This was my first short track race, and I loved it. I finished 18th.  I was in the mix for at least the first 5 laps, but drifted back as the efforts went up. Boy, did my lungs hurt afterwards, like they had been burnt!

Loving Bonelli short track
I spent the following week in LA at Kenny’s dad’s house, with Kenny and our newest team member Ben Sonntang. We took it relatively easy, with lots of coffee shop rides, Fontana pre-rides, and a visit to Crankbrothers. The offices at Crankbrothers at Laguna Beach are very nice; artsy yet functional. There were dusty bikes everywhere, attesting to the fact that these guys test and ride their products. It was very nice to see product testing going on.

Kenny laughing at Crankbrothers as I accidentally pinched his bum! 
Photo: Bill Freeman, Crankbrothers
Pre-riding Fontana. Photo: Bill Freeman, Crankbrothers

Cheryl arrived on Thursday. It was lovely to have her around. I was relieved the weather had cooled off some for our pre-ride, and with lower temps forecasted for the weekend.
Race day rolled around again, I got another good start, but was being so overly cautious on the climbs. I was petrified of blowing up and wheezing. I rode a pretty consistent race, but never felt like I pushed myself, which is also frustrating at the end of a race. I finished one spot behind Nina in 27th in a stellar field, but lots to work on.

Sunday short track was a very rubbly course. My start, I have to say, was AWESOME! 
Short track. Yes, this was me in 4th place ahead of some very fast women! Just need to maintain it
I luckily found myself behind Katerina Nash on the start line, followed her wheel, and was in 4th place behind Nash, Gould and Batty for the first 2 laps. I could barely contain myself. All I was thinking was, I hope someone gets a photo of this!! I felt great for 3 laps, but then went from the front to the back….rapidly. At least I showed to myself that I have the potential to be up front, if I can just work on maintaining my power, and not freaking out that I am up there with the bets of them.

The trip was again another huge learning experience racing against some of the the best in the world. You have to be 100% mentally and physically ready, which is kind of difficult coming from an east coast winter.

Back home in Pennsylvania now, looking forward to spring and the next round of races.

Thanks for checking in (I know, it's been a while!)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

NUE Hampshire 100

Even though it’s August, and the mountain bike season is supposed to be winding down, I am still really, really excited about racing my bike! Usually once the Wilderness 101 is over, I am less than excited about racing. This year, I am trying to fit in as many races as I can before the season officially ends. Last week I could barely sleep from excitement thinking about the Hampshire 100.

On Friday, I drove to MA and stayed with Karen Potter (Mountain Bike Racing News) and her adorable pug, Bruschi. I have raced Karen in a fair few NUE races over the years. She is a super strong rider, and always had a talent for turning it on in the last few miles (often passing me!). She was great to race against and always had me riding scared! This year she is taking a break from the 100 milers, so it was great to catch up since I haven’t seen her all year.

I raced Hampshire 100 last year, so I wasn’t too stressed about pre-riding etc. The course is full of short, punchy and loose singletrack and doubletrack climbs. Some say it’s akin to a really long cross-country race. I have been very happy on my Scalpel for the 100 milers this year, as the rear suspension allows me to climb singletrack using less energy, and relax more when descending than on a hard tail  Little did I know just how essential that would be during this race.

Come Saturday, I took my sweet little time getting up to NH. I had arranged to stay in a cute farmhouse with Jukka, a colleague from work who won the masters race at W101. It was actually part of a working farm, where hoards of children were staying. We only had to go up to the main building (with all the children) for dinner, which was animal meat and veg from the farm. It was adorable. I really like New England. It feels familiar (like England perhaps?!), but also very foreign. Jukka (who is from Finland) thinks it looks like Scandinavia.

Vicki and Jukka

When Sunday morning rolled around, I was still excited to get going, which is a good thing. For me, there is nothing worse than being on the start line, minutes before the gun goes off, and the “why am I here?” thought creeps across my mind (ok, this usually only happens at ‘cross races!).

The race started pretty fast as usual, and I managed to hop on some fast wheels with a bunch of guys, including Jukka. Everything seemed to be going well, and I was comfortably sitting in first place, until about 25 miles in when I went to shift my rear derailleur; I was stuck in the hardest gear. Don’t panic, right? I tried to manually move my chain up to an easier gear, and check to see if the derailleur was actually broken. It wasn’t broken, but the cable had snapped. After pushing my bike up some of the steeper trails (and realizing exactly why the race is known for being un-singlespeeder friendly!), a very nice gentleman in a Hammer Nutrition kit, and singlespeeder Scott Green, stopped to help me loosen the bolt, move the gearing up a little, tighten the bolt again and tie away the loose cable. This worked for a little while, and at least I could power up most of the climbs.

I kept eating and drinking, knowing that I could easily blow up later in the race if I exerted too much energy, and didn’t keep a check on my calorie consumption. I was taking on GU chomps and Elete electroltyes, with plenty water. This has been working really well for me this year, with little gastric distress during or after the race. I did start to feel a wee bit weary, however, just as Scott passed me again and commented that the gearing had slipped back to the hardest gear, uggg, no wonder my legs and back were screaming! 

I stopped at the aid station around the 50-mile mark, and tried again to secure an easier gearing, but even the mechanic was struggling to get the chain to stick higher up. I usually spend <30 seconds at aid stations; today, I was off my bike, chatting with the spectators and actually ate half a banana! By this point I realized that I was fully committed to finishing the race with two gears: one really, really hard gear (big ring up the front), or one really hard (small ring up the front). Yes, two speed for 75 miles.

Once I settled into the rhythm of the bike and what I was dealing with for the day, I actually started having a lot of fun, challenging myself up climbs, and not being able to wuss out and spin at any point. Plus, it always helps when you are riding in first. Thom Parsons caught up to me in the singletrack towards the end of he 100K loop. He asked why I was riding my bike like a gorilla! His interview of me can be found here:

I know what your thinking, why didn’t I replace my cable and housing before the race? Truthfully, it was replaced 3 weeks ago. I think it was just bad luck (and maybe I shouldn’t have been so stubborn and ridden some of the mud bogs, and put strain on the derailleur/cable).

Thankfully I managed to hold on to first place, and was even more happy than usual to see the finish line. Congratulation to Liz Chabot Allen on a stellar 2nd place finish too!

Women's podium Hampshire 100. Photo credit: Lowell Von Ruden

What I find so fulfilling from racing this year, is the number of people that comment on how our Stan’s Women’s Elite Team are present at so many races, across the country. Sue mentioned this recently on the twittersphere, and I hear a lot of comments too from people like “you guys are everywhere!” Now that’s cool!

I am hoping my burning enthusiasm keeps on burning towards Shenandoah in 2 weeks. Before that, I plan to race Mike Kuhn’s, Stan’s NoTubes sponsored, Rattlin’ 50 event this Saturday in PA. The course is ubber technical (yes!), and the proceeds go towards developing PA trails. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

NUE Wilderness 101

100 mile racing takes patience. Good job I am a patient person!

Twenty miles into the Wilderness 101, I was, as they say, contemplating life and the sanity of racing such distances. I had been spat out the back of 2 groups on the road after the first climb, and Kathleen Harding had managed to get away.

Luckily, Rich was riding really well, caught up, and reminded me to eat. So I happily chewed down a packet of watermelon GU Chomps (YUM), and bided my time until my legs came around.

Loving the rocks as usual. Photo: Mike Bush

When I got to Aid Station #2, my friend Cathy DeSanto was there to hand me bottles (such a great benefit of a local race, thanks cathy!), but looked concerned and told me the radio had told the aid station I had dropped out. I thought to myself, yeah, I’m feeling a little off, but there’s no way I would drop out!! Unfortunately, Rich had come through the aid station a minute ahead of me, had received the same information, and told Kathleen when she passed him on the next climb. What a palaver!

I rode steadily up the next climb. When I passed one of the guys that had shot off ahead of me earlier, he said “consistency pays off!!”. Yes! From there on, I felt very strong, trying my best to rip the down hills and stay relaxed and focused on the ups. I did feel terrible when I passed Kathleen and she was totally confused as she had thought I had dropped out. Sorry dear friend!

The course was a little different this year for various reasons, but I think everybody agreed, it was for the better. The rocky singletrack was super fun (of course), and getting more of the climbing out of the way in the middle meant we avoided the dreaded Mingle climb near the end. Thanks to all you landowners, who opened up land for us to pass through at the end of the race.
Riding the three bridges. Photo: Bob Popovich

I went on to finish in first place!

Podium! Photo: Bob Popovich

Interview by the talented Thom Parsons from DirtWire can be found here:

After now attending countless 100 milers, I have to say that Chris Scott puts on the most well-run events out there. That is one of the only reasons I am again contemplating racing the Shenandoah 100 in September! I have such a love/hate relationship with that race! I never seem to have good luck. Maybe this year will be different?!

The other reason I am contemplating the race, is that I will be able to run the Kenda Honey Badger tire up the front!!! I have been training on the Honey Badger on my Stan’s Crest Wheels and I am amazed at how much more confident I am at descending and cornering on that tire. It would be the perfect tire, in my opinion, for the Shenandoah 100. So hook ‘er up!

Monday, July 29, 2013

British Cross Country National Champs

After been married for only 3 weeks, and still not a USA resident (which takes so much time and paper work!) I was unable to race US cross country nationals in PA (what a bummer, love that course), so decided to take a shot at British nationals instead. For once the race was to be held in Scotland on the 2014 Commonwealth Games course, so it was a great chance to stay at my parents house before racing, and enjoy having my mum and some friends there to watch.

I was slightly apprehensive about how the race would go as I seem to have been unlucky over the past few months with different types of colds/chest infections. I also ended up in hospital the night after the wedding with near-septicemia, after a bug or a thorn punctured my knee at some point during the wedding (maybe during the photographs), which resulted in a nasty infection with a red tracking line moving rapidly up my body towards my heart! A couple of days on IV antibiotics followed by a week of oral antibiotics were not doing my system any favors.

I arrived in Scotland on Thursday before Sunday’s race. Once I had recovered from the jet lag, I made the short trip from Edinburgh through to Glasgow to check out the course. It was nothing like the trails I was previously used to riding in Scotland before I moved to the US, and a far cry from my natural habitat amongst the rocks in PA: it was smooth gravel trail with the odd drop worked into a “A” line route. Despite it being completely different and my pre-race nerves, I was super excited to be racing in the national championships!

The "double dipper"

2014 Commonwealth Games course

Scotland has been experiencing a heat wave this summer (even I had to admit it was warm), but I prefer to race in warmer temperatures so was pleased to see the temps in the 20’s (oC) on Sunday. The race started at a blistering pace, and I managed to stick with a group of three other girls for a short while. They actually gaped me on a downhill section called the “double dipper”, which was a long section of steep berms with two lanes. The trick to going fast, I noted, was to launch the jumps. I was on the brakes too much, and would definitely love to go back and spend more time practicing.
The Team!

I had great support at the race with my mum and friend Katie Logan there waving Scottish flags and honking a big horn. It made me laugh every time I passed them! Mum’s friend Roger was there to take photos, and my sister’s neighbor who also races, fed me at the feed zone. What a team!

I was happy to cross the line in 9th place at nationals! Being in the top 10 means that I will also get some UCI points, which is always nice for future races.

After a few days in Scotland doing some work and catching up with friends, I flew back to the USA on Wednesday, in time to race the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Wilderness 101 on my home turf on Saturday.