The American Birkebeiner

My first year in Boulder, I lived in a house with mostly engineers–and if you want an idea of what that experiences was like I suggest watching The Big Bang Theory–I’ll give you a hint, I was Penny.

While many hilarious antidotes came out of this living situation, so did some learning moments like the Fermi Paradox, Schrodinger’s Cat, and most importantly when throwing stars come out it’s really best to go to bed.

I think mostly about Schrodinger’s Cat at the moment (and quick recap for those at home: it’s this theory that if you place a cat and something that could kill the cat in a box and sealed it, you would not know if the cat was dead or alive until you opened the box, so that until the box was opened, the cat was both “dead and alive”– or you can watch it here–just like Wayne explained it to me). I think about it because I’m still waiting to hear back from anything and all those decisions are in this box where in theory I have something lined up for next year and also don’t have anything lined up for next year (and I’m sure I botched that analogy- but you get the point).

When your roommate gets you.

February was mostly this state of anxiety because one of the applications said they send out responses in Feb/March so most of February was spent refreshing my email. At the end of the month my professor told me to relax that it probably wouldn’t show up till after spring break (that would have been helpful a month ago).

It was so much that I thought about pulling the plug on the Birkie to just sit at home and wallow in my state of being, while also constantly refreshing my email. Instead, my roommate kindly pointed out that I like to exercise for long periods of time, there was a group of us going and all staying in a cabin, and she made me homemade granola for trail snacks. She made excellent points and so we set out on an 8-hour car trip to Haywood, Wisconsin.

1 dog, 3 people, 2 sets of skis, a million snacks

There were six of us staying at the cabin, with 2 doing the Korte (the 18 mile version); 2 doing the Birkie (the 31 mile race); and 2 along to crew and provide support (really the hardest job). It was nice because the 2 doing the Korte raced on Friday so we were able to go through the production of getting to the start line. Which involves parking in one lot and getting bused to the start line. We saw them off at the start and took the bus back to our car to drive back into Haywood to see them at the finish line in approximately 2-4 hours. I had some work that needed finished so headed to the public library (seriously, public libraries are soooo amazing!). I got back to the finish line just in time and when I greeted Ann at the end she said, “I wouldn’t want to have to ski another 12 miles- ha!”. Gulp.

Ann finishing the Korte!

The two of us racing the Birkie did packet-pickup where I bought another pair of gloves, convinced that the two pairs I had brought would not be optimal (I tell ya, you get caught in a blizzard during one mountain bike race without adequate gloves and it’ll leave a mark). Afterwards, we both picked their brains on a little more course information and race tactics but still slightly unnerved about what was going to happen. It felt different than any other long distance race I had done because my longest ski at this point (pretty inadequate snow conditions) was about 10 miles. And some of it was worrying about how to dress, balancing higher nutritional needs, and generally having no idea how my body would preform after 10 miles. After a few outfit changes and packing different clothes entirely for the start I okay about starting.

Still unsure of this whole skiing business

The morning was smooth getting there, the other guy doing it had a start time 15 minutes before me so I was knew if I just followed his plan I would be there on time. Megan and Jeff came to the start which was nice so they could grab our things and I could wait until the last minute to take my jacket off. They have staging gates (which really reminded me of a cattle branding) they herd you into one and then when one wave goes off release you to the next holding area until you get to the start. I jumped in right before they got to the start when you run for position and have to start in a track. If this makes no sense to you, I assure you it made even less sense to me at the start of the race. Because I had never done this race I started in the very last wave and while I had a good starting position before the gun went off by the time I crossed the start line (less than 30 seconds later) I was in second to last place. I looked around and everyone had left, there was one guy to the side of me who was literally leap frogging in his skis to gain position and boy did he. I blame him because I was so memorized by this form that I just stood there shell shocked and then realized I needed to go.

The last wave start

Right from the start the course went uphill, it reminded me of baby turtles making their way back to the water from the sand, everyone’s skis were splayed out and we all neatly formed four lines. The first few miles were pretty uneventful. Around mile 4 we were stopped at the top of a hill where someone had crashed and needed a medic (they were able to get up but the people were apprehensive to go down until everyone was on the side). I looked at my watch…oh wow, it’s been an hour. Now, I’m not good at math but knew I had 8 hours to finish and in my mind that didn’t really calculate to enough time to do so. I turned to a guy next to me who had a bib indicating he had done it multiple times, “how strict is the cut-off, will they pull us at the aid station?” He told me not to worry as long as I didn’t take 20-30 minutes at each aid station. I thought that seemed do-able but also have found myself laying on cardboard slabs at aid stations for well over an hour so really it was anyone’s guess.

I made it through the first 10 miles feeling okay. As soon I passed the 10-mile mark it was like my body realized this was the furthest it had ever skied and started to hurt. I made sure to keep eating as best I could but also knew I was behind on nutrition. I found the whole carrying a ski-pole, having to take off gloves and unpack some food, made me less wanting to invest in eating.

Snow nice to see people on the course (get it?)

I saw Jeff and Megan around mile 15 and stopped for a bit to chat and eat some more food. It was maybe the last time I felt good on the course and was entering a somewhat delirious stage. I went downhill (not a pun, there weren’t a lot of downhills) pretty fast after that and entered a pretty dark place for the next 11 miles. It was totally food related, the course was a bit crowded now with the two styles (classic and skate) merging onto one, but in my mind people were working together to keep me boxed in (yeah they definitely weren’t). One guy kept sprinting by and then halfway up an uphill would just stop to rest and turn his skis to take up a good chunk of the course. In my moment of wanting to ski over his skis to show him how inconvenient of a place it was to stop, I instead opted to eat some granola which helped.

The one thing I noticed is that when biking long distances, I definitely get tired and enter similar mindsets but my body knows what to do. It has ridden enough to keep turning the pedals over (like the MDH when all I wanted to do was sleep, my legs at least knew what to do). With skiing, there was no familiarity in the muscle memory, so each movement required conscious thought to keep propelling myself forward.

I had been leap-frogging with Judy from TDA most of the day and was also nice when I saw her on course, we both joked how we were ready to start biking after this with it being both our first Birkie. In the last few miles she pulled ahead of me and figured I would see her after the race was done. In the last four miles, I caught my second, really my first wind. I felt like I was able to somehow get into a groove, the snow was less slushy and more crunchy/icy, which was similar to what I was used to skiing in South Bend. I even got my sense of humor back, when one spectator said we were looking good another participant yelled, “you are definitely lying there is no way we look good.” I poked back, “speak for yourself”. The last two miles contain a lake crossing (1 miles) and then a passage through town over a bridge and down main street. The lake route was groomed and I felt like I could really move–and I did, I put in my fastest mile of the day going over the lake around 7:30.

I came into town and up the bridge, I was a little concerned about going down because of how many people would see you crash but was able to navigate it successfully. I came up the main street and saw Judy stopped right before the finish line, I caught up to her as she picked up her glove. Woooohooo! We made it and skated across the line together.

Skating in with Judy

Ann greeted me with warm clothes and boots- the other part of the group was with Aaron who had finished only minutes before me. We then went to the beer tent, and Megan bought me a sausage to get some real food and because I had no cash. We all talked about various aspects of the day and then went back to the cabin to cook dinner and decompress.

Megan was right, it was a fun weekend, despite having to ski for 6 hours, it was nice to get out of South Bend and hangout in the woods for a few days. I took a few days off without too much soreness only in my shoulders, before I started biking again.

Not a bad place to spend a long weekend

While I’m still waiting to hear back on applications, March seems to be so busy with deadlines that I’ve mostly stopped constantly refreshing my email and focusing more on what I have to get done. I won a free entry into the TommyKnocker 10 in Silver City, New Mexico this weekend. I changed my flights to reroute through Phoenix for break, but earlier this week realized that I just didn’t have the mental energy to race for 10 hours. So I pulled back and decided to stay in Phoenix for the Cactus Cup, which has a short-track, 40 miler, and enduro. I’m currently signed up for all three but still waiting for my bike to show up so might just end up doing the 40-miler. I definitely was not planning on starting my season this year, but also realize that when I’m studying for the bar I’ll do little to no racing so might as well even if I’m not in racing shape (12 days on the bike won’t do too much for fitness levels).

I’ve also been hitting up therapy again, because as my friend Gen pointed out on her blog, exercise is a great tool, but not really a substitute for actual therapy. Also realizing that anxiety and excitement mask themselves in the exact same physical symptoms, so now just tricking myself to be excited at the endless opportunities that are available instead of anxious about none of them being available.

The Opposite of Loneliness: Part II

The first year of law school I wrote a blog post called, “The Opposite of Loneliness” based on the short work by the same name by Marina Keegan. In it I talked about how the first year of law school and training was a struggle because I felt all alone in the space–now in my final year of law school I feel like I’ve cultivated a space that while I’m still often alone on plenty of training rides, I’m surrounded by this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people who are on my team.

Recently, I was putting together a list of races from this past season and counted up 26 times that I had competed from April to December. The most of any season. With times ranging from 12 minutes (crit racing with the boys) to 12 hours (Maah Daah Hey), distances from less than 5 miles to 104 miles. It was also the first season that I would have broken $1,000 in prize winnings. I ultimately fell short because races that advertised as equal pay had a asterisk; enough women had to register for them to offer equal pay–and instead if enough women weren’t registered downgraded what you would take home–so instead of getting $70, I would get $20 for a first place–and be told this after the race. Had I gotten paid equally with the men who were competing I would have been over $1,000 for prize winnings.

Don’t get me wrong, winning money is still great but also depressing when I have little control over who shows up to race against me. Fortunately, more and more races are offering equal prize money without the asterisk. The Maah Daah Hey offers equal prize money for the top 3 in both gender divisions regardless of how many racers show up–amazing! Cyclocross race organizers have been and are getting on board with this trend. The Beti Bike Bash has been a force for breaking down barriers, holding a women’s only race from beginners to pros and an incredible prize purse. A lot of teams are independently creating space for women by having equal representation (Donnelly Cycling, Cannondale, Trek, Kona) but there are also some amazing women’s only teams (LA Sweat, Amy D. Foundation, Bitch-n-Grit). Change is happening and largely in part because women and men are both willing to speak up, like Lindsay who used her voice when an announcer was making sexist remarks during a race weekend. Okay, stepping off soap-box now.

Felt like my body’s check engine light came on a while ago.

It wasn’t until I quantified everything that I realized the stress and strain I was putting on my body. This year was filled with a lot of discomfort athletically and personally. Athletically trying to reach the next level, fitting in training plans, dial in new nutritional goals, and having a bit of a break down this summer wondering if it was still worth it and still having fun. Personally, I’m slowly beginning to figure out what I want after law school. I feel like I reached new levels of insight but also continue to question at the expense of what. During National’s I pushed myself beyond any limit that I thought my body had. As well as finishing finals and racing nationals, I was also finalizing a PhD application (lolz)–not only was my body pretty battered at the end but also my mind.

The face you make when you realize you signed up to ski 30 miles…

I haven’t quite started training for this season yet — a 50K nordic ski race is still on the docket– but I’ve taken a lot of time to reflect on this past season and what this next season will look like. I’ve found a new profound sense of gratitude for what my body can do but also for my support crew.

I get asked a lot how I train and go to law school at the same time–while I’m unique in the law school as no one else seems to be racing; it’s not uncommon for most racers to be training and racing with full time careers, school, parenting, and other pursuits that require master juggling skills. My usually response is to joke that I have no social life, which isn’t that far of a stretch but mostly I’m able to do all I do because of an amazing support crew.

I would be remiss if I started 2019 without reflecting on all those individuals who made the 2018 season happen– so feel free to keep reading for a more sappier post than normal or discontinue now to maintain your image of me.

First of all to my parents who show up to crew races in the middle of nowhere and don’t bat an eye at the wake-up call times. Who share with me in my victories and my disappointment and are always willing to support me even though I’m sure they think a lot of what I do is borderline crazy.

Beyond just my parents, my extended family–Joyce and Margaret who also came to Nationals with my mom; Tom who keeps reminding me that at some point my body will break down and I won’t be able to compete at the level I am so I should keep doing it; Marty who has lent me socks when I forgot mine and wanted to ride home from his house. Barb (and by extension Pat) who has shown me that competing knows no age and has spurred me to sign up for races that weren’t on my radar (Maah Daah Hey) and will even commiserate the really miserable ones with me after (Tatanka).

Molly, Mary, Frank, Abe, and Wayne who all seem to send encouraging thoughts when I need them (and make me check myself before I wreck myself). Mainly I’m thankful to my family who have fully supported me even though I’m not convinced they still know what I do (or some of them).

Squad Goals

Sully who offered unwavering support this season, from warm-up space, to race recaps, to being in the pits, to answering dumb mechanical questions, to switching out parts, taking pictures, bike builds, FaceTimes when I have to pack and unpack my bike, being my race partner when everyone else bailed, and getting me kits from former Olympians.

Then when Sully wasn’t around, Drew who offered embro cream and tire pressure analytics. Alex, Wayne, and Rudy, who tell me my bike looks normal when it’s making noise. #ignoranceisbliss

Thanks Drew!

My coach, Chris who made training easier with school when I didn’t have to think about what I needed to do and who walked through race plans with me and reminded me to trust the process. Uri who helped me dial in my nutrition for the first time in my life and I feel like it actually made a significant difference in my body being able to hold up despite everything I was throwing at it.

Quite the upgrade from chips for dinner

Juliana Bicycles, who makes an amazing bike that climbed like a goat and descended better than me. And also provided me with an incredible group of women to look up to both athletically and professionally.

The ladies at Team Do Awesome who are continuously offering encouraging words and inspiration.

Brian at Boulder Bicycles Works and Chris who both took care of my bike this summer, whether it was replacing parts or packing and shipping it to me.

Lindsay and Leslie who offered warm-up space and dinner when I was alone at a race. People who have offered race course information and friends (Amy) who put me in touch with other racers to get more information (Kelly), especially for the Maah Daah Hey

Beyond the bike community, I have friends who constantly read emails before I send them, research proposals before I submit them, and paragraphs that seem wonky (Luna, Lalla, Danika, Cheska, Emma). All while offering up support to be able to go after those big dreams.

They will all probably hate me for posting this picture too!

Other friends who pretend to know what I’m talking about (Kara, Heidi, Hayley) when I short hand research and talk a million miles a minute. Rachel, who is always there when I call and can pick up without skipping a beat and after a good race asks me how close I am to the olympics (reminding me to always stay humble–lolz).

Laughing because they’re older than me

Caitlyn who communicates almost exclusively through memes or West Wing quotes always offering a good laugh. Plenty of other friends who garner a mention, Christina, Chris, Mary Carol, Jordan, Jessie, Christa, Katie, Allison, Dave, Nicola, Willie, Kristin, Katharine, Wayne, Neven, Abby, Cross, Sam, and Theresa (not exhaustive)

Not Cycling Clothes

Those at Notre Dame who have taken me to dinners and imparted their wisdom on my situation, including Judge Ripple, Dolly, Pete, and Heidi.

Kelly who is always available to print things for me (seriously game changer), go on a candy run, and hash through my life predicaments. Ashley who helped me prepare for a conference in November and understands when I’m on the fence for dinner.

My roommates (Ann, Megan, and Michelle) who are subject to endless cycles of laundry, constant rotating coffee in the fridge, and odd hour trainer rides. I feel like a lot of my achievement last semester was in no small part to having a place to come home and decompress and have a social life with. I think it also helps that three of us used to live in Colorado and all of us like to be active.

Morning Trainer Session

The women from my hometown who I feel like have been cheerleading for me for most of my life–Denise, Dana, Mrs. Muller, Lynn, Mrs. Stokes, and Mrs. Huddleston, and one who is not from my hometown but still amazingly supportive, Cheri. And to those in my hometown community who are carving out a place for MTB (mainly Nate Ritterbush) by doing trail maintenance and hosting a race.

My interns this summer, Laksumi and Allyson who still snapchat me hilarious antidotes and swipe me into the dining hall.

The guys at ND who often pull me around on their rides and no doubt make me faster as a result–Ron, John, Sam, Mike and Yuri.

The pain train

This year as with years past, this sport has taken me into the presence of truly great people who are pushing athletic and professional boundaries. I feel that I’m constantly trying to up my game because of them.

If you’ve read this far and have not been mentioned, my truest apologies–I almost thought about not doing this for that fear–this list is nowhere near exhaustive and if you’ve been a part of my life this year or really in any years past I guarantee you have influenced my direction. There are a lot of people I can’t thank–like the woman who saw me having a breakdown before I was to leave for nationals and hugged me for a good 5 minutes--the guy who jumped my car after having parked at the airport for MTB Nationals with my lights on and after getting a jump from the airport, with no gas left, I stopped at the nearest gas station and didn’t drive far enough and killed the battery almost immediately again, and he gave me a jump so I could drive home. Or the group of girls during the MDH who gave me food and water at checkpoint 77.

I get by with so much help from my friends.
Get yourself some Hufflepuffs like these two–haha


Cyclocross Nationals

I know with this post I’m bypassing mountain bike nationals, and two cyclocross races but figured I would at least catch up with Cyclocross Nationals. I jokingly called it the Cyclocross Nationals Stage Race because I signed up to do three races: Master’s 30-34; Collegiate; and Singlespeed. I’d also like to start off by saying I’m not 30 that’s just my racing age.

The week of nationals, I started Tuesday morning with a two hour final followed by three hours on the phone with my bank after discovering my bank account had been hacked. While the bank was accommodating having no local branch and all my accounts shut down I had about $40 left over from some prize winnings to get me to Louisville. Luckily my family was flying into Louisville the next day.

Emotions were running a little high and I’m pretty sure this is the point that I cried for a good 20 minutes. And then quickly added electrolytes to my water to replace what I just cried out. I departed for Louisville much later than anticipated, given my first race was at 9am the next morning. I made it there around 9:30 and stopped by Sully’s house to drop off a french press and make a race plan for the next day. He was also key in packing me breakfast since I hadn’t made or packed anything for breakfast.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

I picked Sully up the next morning around 7 and headed to the venue. I warmed up but didn’t preview the course–I had a general idea from racing there last year. I felt mediocre going to the starting line but was also sure that my body was on the verge of falling apart so felt like I had to gingerly balancing asking it to do more and being okay with what happened. At the start I knew that it was the most broken and battered my body has ever been going into a race. [To give you a brief preview of the week before I had two 10,000 word papers, one 8 hour final, one 5,000 word paper, and a two hour exam over the course of 7 days–I don’t think I slept more than 5-6 hours in the 10 days leading up to Nationals. That’s not to try and humble brag and be like look at everything I’m accomplishing (loosely applied), more of an observation that given some of the races I’ve completed and the limits I’ve pushed my body, this was the deepest I’ve had to reach into my well of resources.]

Rolling into the start gate–I know it looks like my legs are there but they are in fact not.

The race started and I had what was a pretty good start for me, finding myself just behind the leaders. The course is relentless, that’s one of the reasons I targeted nationals because I felt like it played to my strengths well–but only if I was having a good day, if my legs weren’t there, it would be a long race. After about 300 yards we reached the sandpit and the field started to spread out. At this point I felt like I had exhausted everything in my legs–it was going to be a long race. I spent the first two laps quietly asking my legs if they had anything in them. After that I pulled back and shifted into an easier gear to at least try to flush my legs out for the race the next day.

I know, I know, I’ve already been thoroughly made fun of for my socks

I also used the race as a true course preview, taking notes of various lines. The race finished and while the result might not have shown it (12th) I felt like I had accomplished what I set out to do, preview the course and get my legs ready for the next day. I also felt like getting to the start line was a win.

This isn’t to say I was confident about Thursday’s race. I wasn’t at all, especially the way my legs responded during that race. But I was optimistic, for most races throughout the season I seem to have performed better the second day of racing, and that’s what I bet on by doing back to back races at Nationals. I was currently doubting this reasoning given what I had just put my body through with finals. After the race Sully and I went and ate tacos, analyzed the course and race tactics, and then I went home and put my legs up the rest of the afternoon, worked on one last 10,000 word paper until my family arrived. (They were delayed from the day before so that’s why there is only one photo from the first race). We went grocery shopping, to dinner, and to bed.

If I was going to have expectations for any of the races, Thursday’s race was it. I went through my usual race morning routine and went to the course early enough to ride one preview lap. The course had dried out a bit from the day before and sections that I was running the day before were now ridable. I did one lap and then went back to the tent and warmed up on the trainer. I only really had one goal for the race: not to panic. If I could stay calm even when things didn’t go my way I knew that would be the difference.

Because my start was so smooth the day before I was hoping for that, but instead when the gun went off I’m not sure what happened but I was nowhere to be found.

I had a lot of work to do at this point– if you can’t find me I’m at very right edge of the photo.

I told myself not to panic, even though in the back of my mind I knew that the race would be mostly decided on the first lap. I didn’t panic and made up some spaces in the grassy section that lead into the “key hole”. It was a rooted out section around a tree and I took the highline that I had done the day before knowing I could ride it, unfortunately the girl in front of my couldn’t and crashed. I had to get off my bike and run around her…don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic. From the day before I knew that I was faster to dismount at the start of the sandpit and run through it than ride half-way through and have to dismount and then run.

Exiting the sandpit

I did this on the first lap and was able to make up a bit of ground. I kept working to catch those in front of me. I knew I had to be strategic while not burning too many matches. And I was, before pit 2 I was able to make up significant ground and found myself in 5th.

Thank goodness for MTB skills

I then switched my mantra from don’t panic to smooth is fast. Like I said the course was brutal, after the keyhole and the sandpit was a flyover and then pit one, followed by a steep downhill, a steep corner up, brief time on pavement, around a tree, up stone stairs, down a chute, across a field, up a steep hill, back down, back up, to pit 2, under the fly over, over the barriers, and through the finish.

It was a slog into pit 2

With two laps to go I had caught the girl in fourth place and was bidding my time to pass her. I followed her through the first section of the course and after the first downhill when there was enough room made my move to pass her and I got around no problem. She stayed on my wheel through the next section, and after the downhill chute she took me over again. I tried to stay on her wheel but I might have made the move too soon because this was the point in the race that my legs finally realized what they were doing.

They weren’t completely dead but another surge of power was not in my cards. I had 3rd and 4th in my eyesight for the remainder of the race and finished with no mechanicals and I didn’t even have to switch out a bikes because the course wasn’t that muddy. I was able to stay in 5th place which I was really happy about–especially because they do the long podium at nationals.

Clearly did not bring clothes in the event of a podium position…

After that race I had even less expectations for the singlespeed race on Saturday. I had only signed up for it because I was going to be there had a bike and figured another nationals experience wouldn’t hurt. Because that was my attitude, after Thursday’s race I joined mainly the mechanics for the (and I’m totally going to botch this) Second Annual Bi-Annual Mechanic Lap.

Off season here I come!

Where you drink a beer at the start, the first pit, the second pit, and the finish. Handup Gloves even gave me a glove to better grip the can for chugging #sopro. It was fun and for guys who mostly work on bikes they are fast at running. Doug defended his championship and won, and I think Sully got 2nd or 3rd. I finished closer to last than the start but my chugging skills aren’t what they used to be and since I was the only girl won that category.

Friday I did what my coach told me to do and ate a lot of food and finished up my last paper. I think I only left the house to go get lunch and that was about it.

Saturday because it had been raining all Friday and misting Saturday morning the course was completely different conditions from the previous two races. I had been joking with Sully that my off season had started and I was prepared to take all the drink handups that were offered during the race. At the start I met my long lost cousin, Sarah (okay she hasn’t been lost but for a while now I’ve heard from other people that they’ve met my cousin at races, and I’m like who? Apparently we have the same great-great grandfather and same last name).

We didn’t even plan our braids

The race started and with it being my third race I felt pretty familiar with the course. The start was on pavement with a slight downhill which gave just enough speed that we hit the grass and it became a slip n slide. Luckily I didn’t slide out but a few did. I felt surprisingly strong and was able to ride the sand pit (it had been packed down quite a bit from the races). The downhill which was slightly sketchy when dry and even more challenging with mud caking the lines and covering up any potential hazards. I found that if I took the high line I could slide down while still staying in the course boundaries. I somehow managed to stay up. Right at the bottom of the hill Sarah went around me and got in front. Unlike Thursday, I stayed on her wheel.

Trying not to bring shame to our family

I slipped and slid the whole next section making my way to the stone stairs. What was once favorable sections had been replaced with decrepit lines. I made it to the stone stairs, which offered some stable footing as I bounded up them. After the stairs I went to get back on my bike to go down the chute when I realize why it’s so necessary to wear bibs during cross races (because it was going to be muddy opted for a pair of shorts because they had more black than my other pair of bibs). In my attempt to remount I somehow hooked my waist band behind my saddle and when I moved up to swing over the bike, my shorts moved down. Welcome to cyclocross, folks. I then had to stop, pull my shorts back up and at that point wasn’t worth remounting and just ran, mostly slid down the chute.

I was able to gingerly ride the section that traversed the hillside, but being at the ready to put a foot down. I mostly slid down to the bottom and then had to hop off and run the hill up to Pit 2, where I remounted just to switch bikes with Sully (my first bike exchange of the season, happening at the last race of the season).

I exited and re attached to Sarah’s wheel. We went under the flyover and over the barriers and through the finish to start our second lap. Similar to the other races, the gaps that were created were large we didn’t have anyone in front or behind us for about 15 seconds. The section between the start and pit 1, while wet, wasn’t too muddy so didn’t need to switch bikes out. I followed Sarah down the hill, still managing to stay upright. As we traversed back up to the stone stairs I made my move back around her, all the while running.

Still trying not to bring shame to our family

Right as I was approaching the stone stairs I saw Emily (an aerospace PhD student that raced against me in collegiate), standing there with a dixie cup of bourbon–well it is the offseason, so chugged what I could and continued on my way. I made it down the chute and traversed back across the hill. I ran up to Pit 2, and switched bikes out again. I came through the finish and was noted by the officials that I was done. No bell lap, or anything. Because of the course conditions, lap times were much slower- both Wednesday and Thursday I did five laps; Saturday I did two with the leaders doing three in the same amount of race time.

With one of the hardest working mechanics in the biz

After the race my mom asked me why they announced my name wrong the first few times, and I told her they didn’t there was two Ginsbach’s in the race. It was a proper ‘cross race to end my season on and the only time it was muddy enough during the season that I had to switch bikes. I got off my bike that day an only got back on it two days ago. It was a nice and much needed break.

And also took a few showers

I was lucky that my mom and Aunt Joyce and Margaret were able to be at the races. They were able to stake out around various points of the race and I feel like it really helped during Thursday’s race. And feel like most races that I have a crew at, they have to do something because it’s usually 100 miles whereas this one they could just cheer–I think I saw my mom more times in 40 minutes than I did during the Maah Daah Hey which took 12 hours.

At the start with Drew–I’m sure he was offering great words of wisdom

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t thank Sully at Donnelly Cycling who was in the pits for me during Wednesday and Saturday’s races–and gave me warm-up space. And Drew who was in the pits for me on Thursday.

I loosely did exercise over break. I got Molly to hike Black Elk Peak with me when we were both home for Christmas.

Not even that cold!

I also did my first hut trip in Colorado (thanks to Sully and Jessie for all the gear). Which really just solidified my desire to move back there after graduation. It was my first time on skis in about 19 years and found that I really liked going up by was incredibly slow going down (you’re welcome, mom). The crew I was with was super nice about didn’t show annoyance with having to wait for me while I pizza’d down the mountain.

I spent my last weekend before school started in Miami with two college friends. It was the perfect ending to winter break and my time off the bike. It was nice to see my friends and the sun once more before entering the permacould in Indiana.


Cross is Here

 To catch you up on the logistics of my bike,  it showed up in South Dakota and by the grace of God, Sully would be coming through in 6 days, so I sent a shipping label to South Dakota and didn’t think much of it until 4 days later when I got an email notification that it had shipped, putting it here 2 days after Sully. Perfect training for therapy. So then I had this bike in a box in my garage because no way am I touching this super expensive bike with limited mechanical knowledge. 

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Instead he fixed one of my wheels 

Last weekend  I woke up sick, clearly my immune system didn’t take into account my racing schedule. Friday morning I scratched going to St. Louis and emailed my coach and was granted permission to take the weekend off racing and riding.  I texted Sully, “scratched St. Louis, half tempted to come to Madison if you would have time to build my bike” he texted back and asked if that would be the best thing if I was sick. Uhh, maybe not but it’s not like I’m going to race so it’s just drive time.  

Saturday morning I woke up and loaded the boxed bike into my car. I put limited riding gear in and left my cyclocross bike at home because I knew if I got to the race with a bike I would want to race and I really shouldn’t race. I got to Madison just after Sully beat 100 men in his field. I heard them call for Women Cat 3 and figured the race started in 10 minutes. Sully asked if I wanted to race and use his bike, “nah, there isn’t enough time” and unloaded the box from my car. 

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When you think you have all the time to drink coffee, not realizing you should be warming up

I got back to the tent and looked at the schedule, oh actually the race is in 35 minutes. Hmmm. “OKay, I think I might race, I’ll just go see if registration is still open.” I went to registration and after a bit delay got registered and back to the tent. I quickly changed and adjusted the saddle height on Sully’s bike. I ran over to another tent that has a major nutrition sponsor and grabbed some chews as I had only opted for coffee for breakfast. I had just enough to eat some chews, pedal backwards to check the seat height, and head to the staging area, clearly the optimal warm-up. 

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Camouflage handlebars, no wonder a girl crashed into them- haha

As they were calling names, mine never came up. After all were called, I rolled up to the officials and gave them my number and slotted into the last spot for the category. They put us in the gates a little prematurely and still having some time decided to warm up by doing some calisthenics. If that wasn’t enough to show how unprepared I was, I asked the girl next to me how long the race was going to be. Yikes.

The race started and I got stuck behind some traffic going into the first corner. There was one pretty good line but plenty of room to maneuver around other riders. I settled into a comfortable pace thinking I should spend the first lap warming up. About 3 minutes into the race I realized I had no idea how to shift, I had never ridden the brand and only remember someone briefly explaining it to me a few years ago. After a few shifts putting me into a harder gear I was able to figure it out just in time to hit the one steep hill. The course was was maybe the most ‘cross’ course ever. After the hill was a little rock hop, followed by a rock step-up, some log stairs, a flyover, barriers, a slight off-camber slope, a fly-over, and another fly-over just after the start. A lot of getting on and off the bike.

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One of the three fly-overs each lap 

The start of the second lap provided some space but I took a terrible line going down the hill that turned into the uphill. I cut the corner a little tight and came out wider than I wanted but had salvaged my poor decision. Or at least I thought until out of the corner of my eye I saw someone who had gone wide come up from behind and run straight into my handlebars, tangling us both up and taking me down. Being on the hill, I untangled it as people passed by and ran up the hill as fast as I could. I focused on staying smooth and worked to stay in front of those behind me while working to catch those in front of me. It kind of worked, I didn’t lose any more spaces but only made up 2 or 3 from the crash.IMG_7626.PNG

Most of the spectators were hanging around at the top of the steep hill and before the rock step-up. On the third lap I got to the top and took a beer hand up but immediately had to dismount for the step up and then remount and in the midst of a one-handed remount I dropped it. Not that I was going to drink it anyways because it’s not tequila, but sometimes you gotta give the people what they want.  The last lap was also pretty uneventful. Still not being able to breathe great I feel like I was right on the cusp of pushing it but not over doing it.  I finished 18 out of 39, which I felt okay with but also showed me some weaknesses early in the season. The plan as of now is to stay off the cross bike until end of October, with three more mountain bike races to go.

Oh yeah, and I got my bike all built, so stopped going to therapy because clearly all my stressors are gone! haha (just kidding)– No maiden voyage yet, but it’s coming!

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Woohooo!

 

A Different Kind of Lawyer

After the Maah Daah Hey 100, I took a week off and then started back to training. I knew I wanted a full season this fall and end in December with Cyclocross Nationals. In the past, I’ve usually taken about 3 weeks to a month off mid-August and then dabbled aimlessly for racing in the fall. Each year I’ve been in school (4 Falls) I always have the same thought of getting more in shape for shorter distances but then keep racing 100 miles. This year I’m making more of a concrete effort to get in shape and stick to shorter.

I had some issues with communication this summer on when a new bike would arrive. Part of the reason I left my old bike in Colorado, twice, only to have to figure out how to get it to Indiana. Less than ideal.

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Hand delivered! 

All of my stressors manifested themselves in this sole issue. It came flowing over when it was two weeks after the said ship date and no word on the arrival or the location it was going to ship to (yeah…). I found out the arrival date would be another month which really only put it here for nationals.  I was sitting at my kitchen table, crying over this issue when Sully reminded me that bikes should be fun, I agreed. Because my best friend, who is a therapist, was on her honeymoon, and there were no 100 mile races to be found, I signed up for a real therapy session with the counselor at the law school. I was hesitant about going, mainly because stress around bike racing is not really a common law student problem but it seemed kind of silly for how much it was impacting my life.

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When you’re just trying to be a ‘different kind of lawyer’ hahah (ND’s motto)

I went and talked through everything in 50 minutes (I’m cured!) and came to the realization that because I’m forging my own path forward (avoiding corporate law) it leaves a lot of questions up in the air of what next year will look like. Right now everything and everywhere is a possibility, which is amazing and terrifying! As a result I’m focusing so much on wanting good results this fall because in the back of my mind I’m like what if this is it, what if this is my last season. If I do terrible can I justify  racing when I have other things going on in my life that need priority too. The therapist thought maybe because bike racing is the one thing I can control, meticulously, with the racing schedule and all my training plans that I’m focusing so much on it as a result.

It’s somewhat comical that I decided to try and control the one area of my life that does not yield well to control. I haven’t had a clean race this season, either with mechanicals or crashes and have been able to roll with it.

 

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Lining up to start– photo from University of Louisville Cycling 

The first race of collegiate mountain bike started 2 weeks ago for me. The cross-country course was reduced from 4 laps to 3 the morning of. I didn’t think much of it because a 15 mile race vs. a 20 mile race is still the same in my mind compared to 100 miles. During the race, though, I was so glad we were only doing 3 laps. The race started on pavement and went up a climb of about 10-15% grade for 1/3 mile or so. Just enough to get my heart rate abnormally high. After hitting the trail I had to scramble with my bike to get over a log and then probably lost 30 seconds trying to get back on because my heart rate was just coursing adrenaline throughout my body, I scurried to the top of the hill to  find an even piece of land to get on from. The course was relentless, even the downhills offered little recovery as they were littered with rocks or technical turns that required ever vigilance. It was all I could do to drink.

Fortunately the start of the second lap took out the pavement climb and instead offered a traverse over the hill before zig-zagging up to connect to singletrack. On the traverse over I washed my front wheel out and went down, it happened so fast I didn’t even have time to react and took the brunt of the force with my knees and hip (better than my face!). I made the mistake of putting my Garmin mount from my road bike on my mountain bike (in the midst of switching parts over, I convinced myself it would be finnnnne! Jokes on me). The mount snapped off, luckily I found my Garmin lying in the trail and snatched it up and stuck it in my jersey pocket. The rest of the race was uneventful, and mostly just slogged away at the trail for an hour and 40 minutes. I got done and finished 3rd, more by default, only 4 women started and one dropped out due to a mechanical in the first lap. I thought she was behind me the whole time, which was nice to at least have that thought to push me.

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The next morning I debated doing the shorttrack race. It had rained overnight, so much so that I got a flash flood warning on my phone. Unsure of what the course conditions would be like I was hesitant to register before the first race of the day. The crew did a good job of restructuring the course at the last minute and avoided the areas that were flooded. To add a dimension to the now the mostly grass course they put in a death spiral. You ride all the way in for about 4 circles and then turn and unwind out. After the first race I saw that the bikes mostly picked up pieces of grass but not a lot of mud so decided to race (not looking to replace my drivetrain…again). They combined the A and B women so our field grew to about 9. After the pavement start we immediately hit the soft grass. It was slick and took one girl down when she slid out of a corner. I followed the train into the death spiral which was a really terrible idea because as I was circling in, others started circling out, while more were circling in and for someone who gets motion sickness, it was all I could do to orientate myself, and not throw up.

We raced for 25 minutes and after sitting on the 3rd place girl for 3 laps through the death spiral knew that I would be sufficiently dizzy if I followed her again, when we hit the pavement I went around and worked to put in some time in between the start of the death spiral, it worked but I still wasn’t completely out when she was entering but it was at least better. The race finished with pretty big gaps in between the finishers, I think I was almost 2 minutes from first place and 30 seconds behind 2nd (the girl who crashed and got up, yeah she’s fast).

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I felt good with my results (even if cross-country was by default). Since I’m trying to get my top end fitness firing for shorter distances, the weekend was more to figure out where I was and where my head goes during such short events. It’s much easier to stay in the race, I often find myself after 7+ hours of racing being like, where am I, what am I doing here, what food do I get to eat, yeah when it’s only 25 minutes those questions don’t come up…at all. 

 

Maah Daah Hey 100

The morning of the Maah Daah Hey 100 I surprised myself with how well everything came together. The chaos getting to North Dakota (shipping a bike from CO after I had left– thanks again, Chris! Driving from Indiana to North Dakota, somehow only forgetting my headlight, which Barb was able to save me with an extra one!) settled and I felt ready, excited, and nervous. One of my friends put me in touch with the 3x time winner, Kelly–thanks again, Amy! I was able to pick his brain about the trail, mechanicals, and even what time zone it started in. He was very generous with his accrued knowledge. He gave me a heads up about the third section, to mentally prepare for 30 miles and not 25. He also talked about what an amazing race it was and how I would probably surprise myself. He gave me enough confidence that I felt excited but not so much so that I still wasn’t nervous about what I was about to embark on. My plan was to go as hard as I could for first 50 miles and then go from there…I mean I had 18 hours to get there so what’s the worst that could happen?

I pulled into the campground with my parents and started going through my routine.

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The first of many sunscreen sprays for the day

I noticed that my front tire was a little squishy and figured I had a slow leak somewhere but it would hold for at least 18 hours, this logic was based on nothing other than optimism. I chatted with a few other riders which also helped to take the edge off. The staging area is self-selected depending on how fast you think you’ll be. I saw the first girl a few rows back from Kelly and slotted myself behind her. She turned around and said, “if you’ve won your age-group at Leadville you should definitely be in front of me…sorry I stalked everyone online.” I laughed and told her I had no idea how this was going to go so was going to stick to my spot.the start .jpg

The race started quickly, I moved up to get a good position for the climb as I didn’t want to have to maneuver around too many people. I missed the lead group but managed to get in a pack of 4. I knew from talking to others that the first climb was about 3 miles and 800 feet up. I stuck on the back of the group until about half way up I realized I could get around them and put more distance in between me and the others.

I got to the top and it released into–maybe the only flat section of the day. It was also the only two-track of the day and I saw that my front wheel looked a little low. Hmmm, it’s probably fine but just in case took my phone out (also probably the only place I got service) and texted my dad, “bring my pump to aid station”. I rolled through the first check point at mile 10 and shouted, “does anyone have a floor pump” and drew blank stares. One woman said she did but at her car down the hill, I passed, it wasn’t that low, and turned the corner. I shouted it once again and a lady grabbed one from the back of her car. I popped it on, 20 psi…hmmm I definitely had at least 24 in it this morning, pumping it up. Just make it to mile 25 and get more air.

At mile 14 I heard a noise I couldn’t place right away but my subconscious recognized it as it sent chills down my spine. I immediately searched for the culprit and saw it right in front of me, my front tire was shooting sealant out (bet you thought I ran into a snake). Nooooooo! I hopped off and spun my front wheel like I was on the Price is Right trying to get a dollar. Please catch, please catch, please catch as I kept spinning. It did and fell silent again. Ohhfta that was close. I hopped back on and started to catch the guys who passed me.

My brain quickly went through scenarios of what I should do. This happened to me once before at my very first 50 miler, I got a puncture, got it to seal and rode it for the next 27 miles to get 2nd. The next day when the tire was holding air Sully told me, “you did the right thing, ride it until you have to put a tube in.” Okay I told myself, ride it until you have to put a tube in it and then go from there. But here’s the thing, under no circumstances did I want to have to put a tube in. Given the terrain I figured if I did put a tube in it would puncture again and would need to be replaced at least 1 if not 2 more times. Less than ideal. 

I constantly fluctuated from trying to ride gingerly, including holding my breath at moments of peril when I thought it would go again to might as well go hard while I can. It blew again around mile 18 and I pulled off to the side and spun it again, and again, and again. And then in a genius ‘past Kate’ moment I realized that I had my hand pump with me (I didn’t want to use a CO2 in case I needed it for a tube). I pumped more air into the tire and spun it again. It was at this stopping point that a woman passed me. I mentally took note and finished as quickly as I could to keep her in sight.

I wasn’t sure my strategy now, I wanted to try to stay close enough that I could be within striking distance if something happened but also with 80 miles left in the race had no idea how it would play out. We traded positions once again and came into the first aid station together. I found my parents and a volunteer filled my camelbak while my parents restocked me with maple syrups, peanut butter, and bananas. I checked my tire again and put chain lube on.

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Almost took my finger off in one of those spins…

The tire was still sitting around 25 psi. I saw the woman lead out of the aid station and the volunteer was still fumbling trying to figure out how to close my bladder. I took a breath as this wasn’t going to make or break any position. Number one rule I have when racing: Don’t be an asshole to the volunteers, no seriously, they are amazing. I told him to screw it on and then jokingly asked, “is this your first rodeo?” He said yes, I told him he was doing great and he would have plenty more to practice with during the day. I headed out knowing I would meet my parents at the next aid station mile 50.

For the first few miles out of aid one I was able to keep the woman in my sights. I really tried to not let the mechanical get in my head. I reminded myself that it’s still a long race and that anything can happen, and that I’ve benefited from other’s misfortunes before- it’s part of racing. I prayed to anyone or anything that would listen asking them to hold the seal on the tire and get me to aid 50.

At the start of the race one woman was talking how her husband (who was racing) showed her a video of Devil’s Pass and she couldn’t even watch it because of the heights and exposure. My mom was like, do you know where that is? I responded, no, I don’t even know what that is while laughing.  I found it on this section.

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Image from: Maah Daah Hey Trail Association

There was a sign followed by a cattle gate and it pretty much turned into a narrow ridge that has dropoffs on either side. I hit the ridge line and starting singing very loudly, not even coherent words, just a automatic response to the build up of fear in my body.  Luckily, no one was around as my voice leaves much to be desired. I got to the other side and was greeted again by a cattle gate. I stopped and figured I might as well take a picture but just as I did my tire burst.

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The only photo I got from the day!

I did the same thing as before, spin, spin, spin, air, spin, spin, spin. It seemed to do the trick.

A few miles later and close to the 50 mile aid station I was greeted with the Little Missouri River crossing. I hoisted my bike and shouldered it across. The passage had smooth rock on the bottom and the water hit just below my knees offering a brief reprieve from the heat that had began to coat the land. The aid station was a short climb away and on the climb up my tire blew again. Noooo, seriously?!? I got it to catch again and rode into the aid station asking if there was a mechanic there. I put more air in and got it to catch, and then not catch, and then catch, and then not catch, and had a volunteer spinning it while another lubed the chain and I debated putting a tube in. My parents were rockstars and switched out my bottles gave me maple syrups, peanut butter, bananas, and potatoes.

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The only time I ever eat pickles…100 mile races

I left the aid station but didn’t feel super confident so asked my parents to meet me at the next check point, Mile 57. As I was about to turn onto the trail another rider said, “great riding” I didn’t hear him but saw that his wife had a Santa Cruz bike on her car, “Is that a Tallboy with non-boost wheels?!?” Homegirl was dessssssperate. They both looked at me and then I explained what was happening and thought maybe she would switch wheels with me (ha!). It was a 27.5″ wheel so no luck but then her husband who is racing goes, “do you want some more sealant”? “Oh my gosh you have some, that would be amazing”. Here’s the thing, I knew if it blew again at some point I would be out of sealant and would have no choice but to put a tube in. His wife pulls out this tool box with a valve-core remover, a syringe for the sealant, and then it dawns on me…Ohhhh this is what people have if they don’t have extra wheels or a mechanic on course, huh…I’ll have to remember this. They were quick and efficient putting a full shot of sealant into my tire and pumping it up to 30psi (I told them to just in case it blew again I would have extra air in there). I thanked them profusely and offered beers at the finish line (and #42 if you’re reading this please send me your address so I can send you all the beers!). I took off with more confidence in my tire. It did blow one or two more times but it was more when the sealant monster would fall off and pull what was cauterized with it before it could reseal. There was enough sealant in there that I didn’t have to get off my bike at all.

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All the snacks!

I checked in with my parents at Mile 57. It was still at 30 so the small blows weren’t really anything. I got another potato and said I would see them at Mile 80. Kelly’s info really helped me prepare for this section and I was grateful. There were two more checkpoints after that. The first one I stopped at and there were so many women there that I said, “this is the most women I have seen all day.” They were all part of this team that were either crewing or racing, they gave watermelon and filled up my camelbak at both checkpoints. I was feeling really good going into aid 3. I met my parents, grabbed more syrup, another potato, and a fresh bottle. I told my mom, “Uh, I think I’m going to ride back to town now” she looked at me, “you’re quitting?” “Oh, no I’m just going to ride this last segment.”  So maybe I wasn’t feeling that fresh and the heat was starting to get to me.

Soon after leaving Aid 3 my stomach started to resist anything and everything. I was able to force down another maple syrup to try to get some energy but was having none of my drink mix. I kept trying to force water down.  I went by the first check point and the workers asked if I needed water and I literally just stared at them because I couldn’t comprehend what that meant. I kept pedaling and forcing down the water.

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Just a few more pushes and I’ll be there…

The last 15 miles were the hardest miles I have ever done in my life. I was so tired, I could barely keep my eyes open and even tried to closed them twice for extended periods, “I’m just resting my eyes” really only works when you’re lying on the couch. I convinced myself that was a really good way to get another brain injury. I also debated taking a nap, I had 6 hours till the cut-off so I could take a little nap but then what if the lady in 3rd is close to me and I’m napping. Then I thought maybe I would just lie on the side of the trail that way whoever the next rider was would wake me because they would think I was injured or dead, also not a great plan. Finally, I convinced myself that getting through the last few miles would be the quickest way to take the longest nap. I settled on that reasoning and kept pedaling. I topped my bottle off with fresh ice water at the last check point.

I made it to the final 5 miles that I had pre-ridden the day before. Now I should mention the cattlegates, they are spring loaded so you lift from one side, it fans up, you go under, and it releases back down. Now I have been doing one pull-up so you can gauge my strength. There are probably 12-17 on the course. There were maybe 3 in the last 8 miles, which let me tell you were a struggle. I wondered at some point if I would just have to wait for someone to show up to open it. At the beginning of the race I would hop off, bend over, lift it up, wheel my bike under, release, and hop back on. Well, by the last few miles I would hop off, squat down, load my legs, use all my strength to thrust it over my head, hold it up, wobble underneath, while praying I didn’t release it onto the back tire, and after a moment of sheer panic thinking my bike would get smashed, get back on and ride away.

After getting through the last cattleguard I was somewhat relieved that I just had to pedal home now. I got back on and started down the first little descent when I suddenly saw the first snake of the day. At mile 103, I just stopped and went, “excuse me sir, I’d like to pass, would you be so kind to get off the trail.” Yeah, I was fully delirious at this point because I definitely did my best Mary Poppins impression. I wasn’t even scared I had no energy for any kind of emotion, it was like all my adrenaline was gone, there was no flight or fight response. But he obliged and slithered off the trail. “Thank you!” And I continued on my way.

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Okay, so maybe my parents could improve on the finish line photos hahaha

I hit the last section being the only pavement of the day and went under the finish banner. I immediately pulled off to the side, got off my bike, and laid down.  I laid there for a while, taking everything in, like when you do savasana in yoga to absorb all the good juju. I laid there as everyone talked around me swapping stories of the day with me interjecting when I could muster. I remember thinking this is what it is all about. nap at the end .jpg I finally got up and talked to the woman who beat me. She was an incredibly strong rider, having done the whole thing on flat pedals which convinced me that even without my mechanicals she would have beat me.

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When you finish just in time for the awards ceremony…haha

Am I going to do it again? Ohhhh you betcha! I’m honestly a little sad that I spent so many years doing Leadville because this race and community is so amazing. Every rider that passed me when I was dealing with my mechanicals offered to help, every volunteer was so great on course, my parents also put in a long day and even drove my car through a river to get to an aid station.

I for the life of me can’t figure out why this race isn’t sold out every year. The terrain is incredible, it reminded me of the Grand Canyon, where there is just so much life and levels of vegetation–definitely not what I was expecting spending time in the South Dakota Badlands. And it’s 99% singletrack. Next summer I’ll be studying for the bar so was thinking of doing it as a team with 50 miles each (yes, you read that as an open invitation), and hoping the next year to possibly go after the women’s course record. My time was 12:45 and I had 44 minutes of stop time, for a comparison at Leadville I usually have 8 minutes of stop time.

Here’s the thing, I’ve never had a race crack the ‘Top 5 Experiences on My Bike’ list but this one definitely did.

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Taken right before I ate a whole chicken.

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Barb won her division in the 25-mile distance

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My parents should definitely win an award for how willing they are to jump into my adventures!

“That’s what the trail means. You can go out there by yourself and cry and nobody will hear you except the spirits, and they’ll help you.” -Mr. Baker.

Spirit Journey 3.0

Did you think I sold all my bikes and stopped racing at this point? I thought about it. I can’t put into words how I’ve been feeling but most of the summer felt jumbled and messy and while I should have kept this up-to-date with the races I’ve done I could just never get into it. I still haven’t exactly figured out why I’ve felt so off this summer. I think it’s a bit related to thinking about graduating next year and not really knowing what my life will look like after that, where I’ll be living or what it will even look like to train and race. That in itself has created larger questions like do I want to keep racing and training, am I still going to be fast enough, am I still having fun, are the sacrifices worth it. So far the answer has been yes.

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There were a lot of South Dakota Spirit Journeys this summer

I started off the summer with a gravel race (the one race I actually wrote about) and then two XC races, both about 25 miles. I was able to win both of them, the second one by default as the conditions of the day (muddy and wet) made the other girls who were register not start. They were smart as that seemed to be the start of my bike problems.

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Definitely not worth the replacement costs

I ended up throttling the drive train and having to replace the chain, cassette, and chain rings-yikes. I should have just listened to Sully and shipped it back to Colorado right away but instead thought maybe I would get it all together in time to race the next weekend. I didn’t and ended up shipping it back to CO anyways. Since I didn’t have a mountain bike I opted instead to race a crit. They put the women and the men together and pull you when you get lapped. As a result the 40 minute crit turned into the 12 minute crit for the women. I ended up 4th, which was a bummer because 3rd place got $100 (they seem to pay way better for road racing than any other discipline).

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When you put a waterbottle on not realizing the race will be less than 15 minutes

I was able to fly back to CO/SD for a few weeks and work from there. I did the Firecracker 50 as a duo with Sully, he went first and crushed it. I went out and attacked the first climb and quickly realized that living in the flatland has made sustained climbing one of my weaknesses, or maybe it was the lack of oxygen. Either way I could never get into a groove. I finished the race and even though we did it for fun I was a little disappointed with my time. I was about 10 minutes slower than the previous two years (I was told later that most people were because of course changes) and had only beat Sully by 4 minutes. He’s deceivingly fast but it also made me question if I am getting faster. FullSizeRender  It was a rough few days after Firecracker, and even told my mom I wanted to sell all my bikes (dramatic, much?). Fortunately I had signed up for another race already and when my mom asked why I was even doing it I said the entry fee was too much to not show up. I showed up and had an okay race, I crashed twice, breaking my shoe and having to wrap it in duct tape to finish. I focused on trying to treat it like a training race. I was glad when it was over as the day brought temps to the high 90s and it was pretty miserable. I finished 4th, which again was a bummer because 3rd place got a pretty sweet plaque. What’s the rhyme, 1st is the worst…false– 4th is the worst. 

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But at least there was a snow cone involved

That’s it, I had hoped to do about 3-4 other races but between bike issues and traveling I just couldn’t make the others happen. I started the summer trying to do as many races as possible because I’ve been going back and forth with USA Cycling about points and upgrades, and I feel that’s part of it, if I’m only focused on getting enough results for USA Cycling. Like the race that throttled my bike, I was like oh I can get a podium result here when really I should have just driven home.

I signed up for the Maah Daah Hey 100, its been on my list for a few years. I don’t feel like I have been focusing on the endurance that I probably should for 100 miles. But I wasn’t sure the next time I would get back to do it and with the cut-off time being 18 hours, hoping I can struggle into the finish line if need be. It’s the first race that I’m actually putting a headlight into a drop bag to pick up if I need it. I’m not exactly sure what to expect but feel like it’s going to be a mixture between the Tatanka 100 and my White Rim adventure. It was a little chaotic getting to this point. I have a new bike on order and thought it would show up in time so had other bike in Boulder ready to sell. Having then flown back to Indiana I realized I wouldn’t have the new bike in time and I was fortunate enough to have a friend who was willing to change the handlebars, wheels, and pack and ship it out to me.

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Throwback to having a great support crew

One perspective that I’ve gained this summer is how much of a team effort is behind my racing. Being so far from Boulder made me realize how much I took for granted having a great community and support for myself and my bike, either with Sully or other friends when I needed it. Also going to more races by myself this summer it’s pretty anticlimactic; when you finish, you get in the car drive home and try to scour the internet for a race photo. If you’re lucky some random kid is cheering for you at the finish but it’s not the same community I’m used to. When I was back for the Firecracker 50 I ran into people that I used to race with or know from other areas and that was really nice. Even in South Dakota the state is so small that you end up knowing other people at the races. Fortunately, for the MDH 100 I have both my parents coming up and Barb. Barb is racing the 25 mile option and my parents are starting with me and going to head to the aid stations, which even if I don’t need that much from them it will be nice to see familiar faces on the race course. And unlike at the Tatanka 100, I doubt my mom is going to let me lie on a cardboard slab for an hour while I contemplate going on, if that happens she’ll be like, “no, you’re not doing this, we’re going home” and then I’ll get up and start riding again. Super helpful.

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Still working on that balance

Wow, does this blog post seem super depressing? Maybe that’s why I haven’t written  because it makes me seem like a Debbie Downer about racing and bikes but that’s why I signed up for 100 miles to press the reset button.

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Rattlesnake Rally- Grinding Gravel

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I can’t wait to stay warm and dry during this race!

I knew after about 2 miles into the Rattlesnake Rally that I was overdressed. My leg warmers (Sully’s) had fallen down. Which I was a little sad about because they were sized small, and I’ve been lifting so clearly not gaining. I soon went from fashionista to hot mess when I took my jacket off only to realize my handlebar bag was too full of snacks for it to fit and it also didn’t fit in my jersey pocket. I thought about dropping it on the side of the road but then realized it wasn’t mine (problems when you come to WY unprepared for a bike race). I entertained how I would wrap it around my waist but envisioned it falling out and wrecking my bike (it was easy too since it has happened before). I opted for the next best solution, wrapping it around my neck like a scarf.

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Things went downhill quickly.

Fortunately the first aid station was 8 miles in. I counted down the miles and during this time found myself all alone. The lead group (about 6 guys) had split from me and the guy behind me wasn’t too set on catching me. I reached the first aid station and stripped down my first layer as quickly as possible, while simultaneously shoving bananas into my back pocket. I got back on and pedaled away, again by myself, hoping to maybe catch someone by the next station. The course was rolling and smooth and I felt fast, or maybe it was that I had ditched 10lbs of clothing. Either way I was able to get to the next aid station pretty quick. After seeing strips of bacon blowing in the wind (was I hallucinating already?!?), I rode up to see them clothes-pinned to a rope in the tent. My stomach wasn’t really feeling it (as is often the case on gravel races) so opted for more bananas and took off again. 33246671_1189505434524231_2802199683689086976_nThere was a short, steep climb out of the aid station which after the crest the land fell away and exposed the harsh, wind-swept, Wyoming prairie. It was quite serene,  with endless miles to see, and the lush landscape juxtaposed against the dreary fog clouds rolling over the hills. I kept thinking, Wyoming would be alright to live in.  Finding a nice tailwind I tried to push it on this section knowing that when I turned around it would be a losing battle. About 3 miles out from the turn-around I saw the lead group go by, I jokingly called out, “wait for me” but secretly was hoping I could find someone to tuck behind to pull me back to the middle aid station. I got to the turn-around point and was greeted by the fresh smell of boiled potatoes; nothing like bland, tasteless food to make the Irish in me very happy. I shoved one into my mouth and then took as many from the bowel as I could and shoved them into my jersey pocket, I guess this isn’t a typical scene in Wyoming as the volunteers seemed slightly mystified that I would take so many for later. But I knew it would be the difference between riding and limping into the finish. I topped off my bottle and jumped back onto my bike to head back.

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Ultimate fat-kid status

I had been mentally preparing for this section, as the director told me that morning it’s a steady incline and would have a nasty headwind. I put my head down and stared at my computer for the next hour. I figured if I could maintain 11mph I would only have to suffer for one hour to get back to the second aid station and then it would let up a bit. That’s what I did and caught a break when two guys came up behind me and I hung on their wheels for about 2 miles–not a lot but enough to help (I later found out they were doing the 120 distance and got first and second place). I successfully managed to get back to the aid station in an hour, eating all the potatoes I had taken and with the help of two songs (this wasn’t on purpose, thinking it would rain all day I didn’t really think I would listen to music so I only had two and they were on constant repeat). I was able to grab about 4 pieces of bacon this time and put them in my jersey for later. The headwind was still persistent but a little better and with more rollers to help break it up.

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Grinding all the gravel

I had another 120 rider ride with me for a little bit and made small talk with him, he told me he thought the 60 was a better option for the day and I agreed. He also told me that there was no one back there for at least 10 minutes which gave me a little bit of confidence because I’ve had 50 mile races come down to a matter of 30 seconds and wasn’t sure if I could handle a sprint for the end. I also knew it meant I couldn’t take it easy, because there were still enough miles that the time could be chipped away if people worked together in a group to catch me. I let him ride away and soon was at the last aid station. This one was the most busy as the other distance (32) was also on the course now. I shed one more layer, and grabbed another banana. 8 miles to go, less than an hour, just ride smart.

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Getting ready for cross season with that cross dismount

I kept reciting, “smooth is fast” to keep my pedaling consistent and my mind on the race. When I had about 4 miles left to go, figuring I had a big enough lead close enough to the finish, I stopped and picked some wildflowers before getting back on. The last two miles were on pavement and during the roll-out I was busy jockeying for position so didn’t actually pay attention to how long it was–much longer than I thought (it probably helped that it was downhill going out). I got done and felt pretty good.

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Barb crushed the 32-mile version and I was a little behind her at the finish line

I ended up winning the Women’s 60 mile overall and was 8th overall (30 minutes down from the lead). I didn’t really know what to expect with this race, but took a risk early on by going off the front and it ended up paying off (this isn’t always the case). I still don’t feel like I’m in great shape and am still about 10 pounds over my racing weight (thanks, law school) but this race at least helped with some early season fitness and confidence going into the summer. I’ll also hand it to the race director, the volunteers, and the participants, everyone was so nice and helpful. It reminded me how much fun racing in less than ideal conditions can be.

I gave my dad the racer’s t-shirt as well as my trophy. They both had rattlesnakes on them and even fake snakes seems to scare the wits out of me.

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Plus, he’s really good at holding my bike at the start of races while I run around like my head is cut-off, without him I might even forget it- haha

I’m finally getting back on my mountain bike tomorrow, and pretty excited. I haven’t raced in a long time and have certainly missed it. Next summer I’ll be out of commission to study for the bar. It’s more of a bucketlist summer race season where if I’m inclined I feel like I should do it because who knows what life will serve up after law school.

 

 

Attack the Pack

I did my first collegiate road race and crit race a few weeks ago (okay, at this point over a month) and much to my astonishment, I did not crash. For some reason I had it in my mind that crits are just full of carnage, broken carbon, and skin shredded on the pavement. It was much more tactic based than I had thought given we were all riding for separate teams but still working together.

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Who knew that skin suits weren’t just for cross racing…

I went into the road race with the words of another collegiate racer telling me how fun and low-key it was, “we usually just sit up and talk during the race”- oh that seems nice. The race started very much that way, we rolled out and the girl next time me started chatting. I can definitely do this for 25 miles. Then about 5 minutes in we turned right and took a long descent and that was it, no more chatting. I stayed very much within my comfort when going downhill (thanks, brain injury–you’re welcome, mom) and soon found myself out of the lead group and for the most part by myself. Wow, the next 20 miles are really going to suuuuck if I’m out here by myself. Pretty soon a group of two road by and picked me and we continued to pick up stragglers as we worked to get back to the lead group and rotated through pulls. I kept trying to figure out how much energy I should expend off the front versus just tucking in the back and conserving my own energy. It was a delicate balance as I didn’t want to be perceived as not doing enough work but also didn’t want to do too much to be spent before the final hill climb. The final hill was a bit of a doozy, especially since I’ve only been on the trainer for the past 2 months. I was able to pull away from part of the group on the climb as it was deceivingly long and hold on for the half-mile flat stretch to the finish line. I finished 6th, which was nice for having no expectations.

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The one time I attacked was pretty short lived

The crit was similar to cyclocross racing as we just road around in a circle but less dirty, less barriers, and with much more speed. The course was a large lap following a road around a parking lot. We did 10 laps, the start was flat and turned into an immediate downhill with a 180 turn back followed by a left corner with a slight incline, two rights and back through the start/finish. I stayed with the lead group but was severely inefficient in doing so– that whole descending at high speeds- yea, still not my thing. We’d go down the hill, I would be in the back of the pack and then within the 180 turn we would all be grouped together. It was like doing intervals when you’re already going as hard as you can.

nate's trailI opted out of racing the next two weekends as it was Spring Break and headed to Colorado and then up to my parent’s for a few days. This is going to sound strange but having multiple bikes in 3 states (the same locations that I keep French Presses) is a little overwhelming when trying to plan for rides and the future. I ended up taking both my cross bikes up to my parents house from CO with the intention of leaving my single speed one there and picking up my mountain bike. The weather was so nice that while some of the trails were snowpacked there were enough dry spots to patch together a ride. I took my cross bike up Battle Mountain thinking it would be mostly dry given the exposure and it was until the very last pitch before the top where it was still deep snow pack and ice.

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Takes me back to Hartford Nationals

I didn’t think too much of it when I was up there and was trying to be mindful not to pack too much mud and clog up my derailleur. I made it to the top no problem and turned around to start descending. I’m not even sure at what point it happened but I could feel the tension give way in the chain and looked down to see my rear derailleur hanging off from my bike.

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At least the hanger did it’s job!

Ughhhh, fortunately it was all downhill so I kept riding and being conscious not to have it bang into the spokes of my wheel too much. I got to the bottom and turned onto the pavement. I ran out of momentum and stopped and called my dad, “Hi Dad, I broke my bike will you come get me- I’ll be in the courthouse parking lot.”  I texted Sully, he responded that I should have rode my singlespeed and asked if I had crashed. Uh, excuse me, I did not crash, I was just riding along and it happened. I sat for a little while longer and then realized all the times that I ran the Main Street Mile that it’s actually a slight decline down to my dad’s office. Tired of waiting, I hoped on my bike and adult stridered it down the road. I got some pretty weird looks from people driving as I was scootering but I feel like my hometown is definitely used to my antics by now.

If I had a dollar for every time I broke my rear derailleur at this point I would have $5…

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More of this, please!

I spent the latter half of break in CO, riding and running some of the trails. It was definitely needed, but it made it that much harder to come back to South Bend after spending 4 days on dirt with friends. I was even lamenting as to why I didn’t go to CU for law school but then realized I would probably get far less work done than I do now. 

FullSizeRender 5.jpgThankfully finals are just around the corner (yikes!) and then I’ll be back to try to get some rides and racing in before starting my summer gig.

 

The Best Kept Secret*

I thought for sure by this time I would have more of a reason to write but atlas, I don’t. I had planned to go to CX Nationals over break but with a lot of hoops to jump through with ND Cycling it didn’t exactly pan out and by the time I realized it wasn’t going to happen there was no way to orchestrate my logistics to get there. I was pretty bummed about having to miss it and commiserated the fact over a lot of fries with my dad. I decided over break that I would either go to Old Man Winter in CO or back to Fat Bike Nationals –both the same weekend in February. I was leaning more towards Old Man Winter (Ryan and his team put on a great event!), mainly because after I pulled the plug on CX Nats I took some time off so didn’t feel in shape enough to race at FB Nationals. I figured Old Man Winter would help me to get some early season base miles in too.

The races were last weekend and I didn’t attend either–I had decided to sign up for a three week course on transnational civil litigation and with my final being yesterday didn’t feel like I could take a weekend or day off to travel for an event. So instead I’ll catch you up with what I did over Christmas Break- which because of how cold it ended up being, it was a lot of running and hiking.

It did start with some biking- back when I thought I was going to nationals I tried to get into racing shape after finals.

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About to grind some gravel.

After about two days of riding, it got cold. Cold enough that having to ride outside would be miserable even with all my layers– and there was snow. Instead I opted to hike/run up Black Elk Peak.

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My mom worried less and my sister got her car cleaned–win/win!

The first day I was going to go up alone, but my mom always worries so my dad offered to come with. Which meant he sat and mostly cleaned out my sister’s car (finding $1.63 so well worth the trip) while I ran up and then back down. Going up was a little rough, coming from sea-level and not doing a lot of running to begin with–I alternated between running and hiking. I got to the top and was about to check in with my parents when my phone shut off from the cold. I then ran the whole way down the mountain to get back to the car before the cut-off time I had told my parents so they wouldn’t worry. I was a bit smoked at the end. But not enough to not do it again, and again, and again. Fortunately for me I found at least found a few friends who tolerated the 20 degree day (Laura) and the 7 degree day (Jessie).

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Buddy #1

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Buddy #2

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Finally had a photographer with me- haha

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I think I ended going up and down Black Elk 4 times when I was home. I’m about 25 minutes off the fastest time up and down so that’s something I have in the back of my mind.

I also made my way to the Badlands- which to be completely honest I’ve only stopped in once that I can remember. I’m pretty deterred from ever going there in the summer because of all the snakes but fortunately for me when the ground is frozen so are the snakes! I was able to run about 6 miles on various trails and just kept thinking (1) how did the pioneers reach this and decide to keep going and (2) how I’ll have to come back next winter when all the snakes are frozen again.

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And then because the pass was good for the whole week and I had spent $20 on it. I went back the next day too. Unfortunately it was under a winter storm alert so didn’t not spend that much time outside the car.

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Spending two days in the Badlands made me definitely want to do the Maah Daah Hey 100 race in the North Dakota Badlands (snakes be damned!). The race has been on my list for years but always was too close to Leadville to make both of them work and since I didn’t get into Leadville figure this is my window opening to a door closing. I’m already starting to mentally prepare- the man who has the MDH course record is really fast and it took him 8:56 – just for comparison the Leadville 100 course record is about 5:59 sooo yeah I might be in the pain cave for a while, but they don’t call them the badlands for nothing.

“Maybe the desert wisdom of the Dakotas can teach us to love anyway, to love what is dying, in the face of death, and not pretend that things are other than they are.” –Kathleen Norris

*I debating putting this post up at all because of how rad South Dakota is and I don’t want everyone to move there.

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And I hung out with this ham.