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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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).
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. There 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
It has taken me a while to get together this blog post and I came to realize because I don’t exactly feel like it’s my story to tell and law school has taken a bit of time (lolz). Mainly I was there as a supportive role to Sharon but also felt like I had a lackluster performance in that area. I set the goal to have this written before Christmas break was over and since classes are about to start up figured time to start writing. Instead of boring you with an 11:30 hour race report mainly just pictures with some added commentary from the day–okay more than commentary.
At the start line I wasn’t sure how to ride with someone for the full day so I told Sharon if we get separated on any climb and descent and I’m in front I’ll wait for her but if she gets in front of me just go. Even with that I still managed to lose her, a few times.
The gun started and I wasn’t sure what to expect, sure I’ve done the race 3 times before but was starting only one corral from the last one and still get worried about St. Kevin’s getting bogged up. I followed Sharon’s pace on the pavement and towards St. Kevin with the plan to jump ahead of her and create a pathway going up St. Kevin. It worked well with me glancing back occasionally to make sure she was not far behind me.
Unfortunately I soon realized that the woman I thought was Sharon was actually not and I had forgotten what helmet she was wearing. I rode on until the first aid station and stopped there for her. She wasn’t too far behind and handed my arm-warmers off to Doug (who was volunteering at the aid station there). Sharon raced by and I jumped back on to catch up with her.
Sharon is an amazing descender and it was all I could do to stay behind her on the pavement descent. The descent down powerline was pretty uneventful too. Being further back than my pace in previous years it meant that even less people were opting for the B line. I had one woman yell at me to be careful, I replied back, “thanks, mom!”. Sharon and I hit the pavement and started forming a pace line, I took the front thinking Sharon could save some energy here, soon she was in front pulling me. We alternated with another person going towards the next aid station and the pace line blew up when we hit the dirt. One woman came up to the side of us and said all the men should thank us for pulling them, thinking it was only one or two I looked behind to see at least 20 men had been on our paceline– wimps.
The next section is rolling and we chatted with other riders and each other. One woman was on her 11th (or some outrageous number of Leadville) and had just finished Ironman Canada like 3 weeks before. I was just like, oh I just spent my summer writing a thesis soooo…
At Twin Lakes we were greeted by the the WBR tent with Sully and Michelle which is always such an energy boost. I swapped bottles and we took off again. Just across from the dam Sharon had an issue with her camelbak so we stopped and diagnosed it. I did mental math of how many fluids I had to get us to the top and realized that I had left my camelbak on when I meant to drop it. So plenty of fluids. Sharon was able to dislodge the drink mix that had clogged up her hose and we were off again.
We split up for the climb and I started going to a dark place. I kept eating and drinking but my stomach had been giving me problems on and off the whole day so not my usual schedule and I just kept thinking get to the top and make it back to Twin Lakes and take a breath. So that’s what I did, I focused on getting to the top and once there focused on getting down. I saw Sharon at the top as I was headed down and she was just about to the aid station. I figured I was maybe 3 minutes in front of her. I had thought of waiting for her at the top but had gotten cold and thought it was best to get down.
At Twin Lakes I handed my bike off to Sully and took a minute to sit behind the tent and just breath and refocus. Sharon showed up quickly after and I hopped back up, grabbed some new bottles, new food, and a full camelbak and took off behind Sharon. The next section back to Pipeline was again uneventful and even back to Powerline I was able to sit into a paceline that pulled into the bottom of Powerline.
I rounded the corner and saw Sully and Michelle at the bottom so I pulled off, Sharon was in a groove and said she was going to keep going so I said I’d catch up. I restocked and told Sully this was really hard. He told me I was almost done. I started up Powerline knowing Sharon was in front of me and made it to the point where riding brings diminishing returns and walking is more beneficial. I started hiking and focusing on drinking.
This section was the most frustrating for me because I could ride a lot of the uphill beyond Powerline but there is only one really good line to do it on. I would yell out “rider” for those hiking up taking the good line and no one would move. It happened over and over so I would either take the B line if it was feasible or get off hike around the person and get back on. I couldn’t figure out if it was because it was all men and I was a woman and they didn’t want to move for a woman who was riding or if they were just tired. This was the biggest thing I noticed from having a slower pace- in the past if I said “rider” people would move no problem and usually say ‘nice riding’. It was so frustrating at one point I almost started crying and then realized I didn’t have enough energy to waste on crying. I got to the top and still didn’t see Sharon, it was starting to drizzle and I wanted to get down so opted against putting on my jacket. It was pretty foggy and starting to rain as I descended the back side of powerline and onto the road. Hitting the last road climb I knew it was only 25 minutes till the aid station and should make the 12 hour cut off mark. I still hadn’t seen Sharon and while I thought I would have caught her also figured she had probably put time into me on the descent.
I got up to the aid station and stopped when I saw Doug, he asked me where Sharon was and I said, “she hasn’t been through?” But in my mind it was more “ohhh fudge” and then he said, well I haven’t been out here the whole time so she probably went past. I debating staying at the aid station for a while longer but not knowing if she was in front or behind me opted to keep going and assumed she must have been in front. Even though the back half of St. Kevin is uphill it still pulls you through and I was soon enough at the crest. I calculated time to finish and knew that (fingers crossed) no mechanics I would finish well within the 12-hour mark. I cruised down the front side St. Kevin and made it back to the pavement without any issues but still no Sharon. I rode the dirt section that takes you to the Boulevard and tried to find a pace line to get on to to pull me but there was no one. With about 2 miles to go and knowing I would be well-within the 12 hour cut off I saw some wildflowers so put my bike down by the side of the trail and wandered into the field to pick some up.I was putting together my bouquet when I heard, “Kate?” and it was Sharon. I stuff the flowers into my back pocket and grabbed my bike. “I thought you were in front of me- where did I pass you?” She told me that she had stopped on the side of the road with a group of people to put her jacket on and it must have been there and I missed her. I told her that I bet Rebecca Rusch never lost her pacee. I apologized for not being a better pacer but she told me that I was there when she needed it so I’ll believe her. We cruised into the finish area and I congratulated her and stayed back a bit to try and get a photo of her but instead the announcer thought I was taking a video of the crowd so people started cheering thinking they were on video. I crossed the finish and was so happy to be off my bike but also so happy to be a part of helping Sharon get to the finish (although she definitely did all the work to get there) although she definitely helped me.
My motto for most of the day was “Fourth and Final” it was my fourth Leadville and convinced that it was also my final. Which I had planned on it until I put in for the lottery and now just waiting to find out if it will be a “Fifth and Final”.
A lot of my struggles of the day, my stomach, aches and pains, and even my dark places (almost crying) I actually blame on getting my period at 6am that morning. I know my body pretty well but usually it throws a whole wrench into the system and when I get it I take the day off from training so this was a big 180 for my body. I debated mentioning it but it is a reality for 100% of the women racing and it was the first race that I’ve had to deal with it which I guess makes me lucky.
I realized that in years past when I’ve done Leadville a lot of the fun comes from the prep work, the rides and other races that I do in preparation for the race. This past summer though it was a lot of intervals and time on the trainer to balancing getting in shape with writing a thesis. I really debated not putting in for the lottery but figured, uh why not. I think I find out in about an hour if I got in but wanted to get this done first! Ha
I finally got my racer’s jacket and 2 years ago I tried to put on “K8 the GR8” which they rejected and just put on “Katherine” so the next year instead I put on “Princess Kate” thinking they would also reject that but they didn’t. This year I put on “K8 the GR8” again and when my mom opened it up she texted, “what does that mean?” So maybe a fifth year to finally get it right?
I raced Derby City Cup this past weekend. It might have been the most challenging cross course I’ve ever been on– or I’m really out of shape–maybe a little of both. I can tell you this whole Law School thing really cramps on my training (and blog writing- if you haven’t noticed).
I only planned to race on Saturday, because law school and was hoping for a decent result. I raced in Boulder over Fall Break and did okay and was hoping to get a good enough result here to at least get a decent starting position at nationals. Saturday started as a bit of a mess, I forgot to pre-register so did day of. This is the only race that this has happened in but there were 4 categories starting at once and instead of dividing us into those categories or some division it seemed that they called us based off of when we registered, where did homegirl end up? Second to last called! Which isn’t a big deal when only 10 women show up but fortunately more women are racing so that means I was about 6 rows back from the front. Yikes!
I took off with the group and quickly found myself passing people, I mean when you start in the back that’s the only viable option. Alright! After about 50 yards it’s a little incline and left turn to get onto the grassy, slicky course. I wasn’t too worried about it but soon found myself getting bumped at less than optimal timing and my bike getting hooked around a pole. I went down and my bike created a barrier so nobody ran over me, just my bike. After getting untangled I got up and found myself quickly in the position I had started. Dead last.
I jumped back on my bike which made a few cantankerous noises and gingerly pedal through the remaining mud. Back on course I slowly caught people going into the stair flyover. There was one girl that I felt really bad for, I think she had crashed or just wasn’t feeling it- either way she was crying (we’ve all been there) fortunately for me, her name was Kate too so it seemed like a lot of people were cheering for me.
The middle part of the course was the toughest with the course dipping in and out of a bowl. After going by the pits the first time, it’s a long off-camber descent followed by a short punchy climb into an off-camber slope that loops around a tree and then followed by stone stairs. Some relief is granted with a descent that was filled with muddy ruts and really poor line choices. The kicker was then a slope steep enough that everyone was running followed by a slow-grind up a patch of pavement then back down into the bowl and another hill to climb out and back by the pits. After the pits there were two barriers on the back section and then back through the start. Enough of a space to recover and see the lap counter that said 3 to go. Oh this is going to be fun.
I started lap two being mindful of the pavement to grass spot where I went down. Having ridden one lap I knew where my strengths would be (descending) and where my weaknesses were (climbing) but I also knew that I could ride smoother through some areas. Lap two remained uneventful, minus the dry heaving after the stone stairs. I’ve also come to realize that I am most terrible at getting back on my bike on a slight incline–like embarrassingly terrible.
Through the finish line of lap two I saw two to go. Uhhh I can’t believe I have to do this course two more times. I don’t have a powermeter on my cross bike (I know, slumming it up) only heart rate and I was maxed out; between the hoping off, running the stairs, descending, and sustained climbs I was doing all I could to hold on. The third lap was better, smoother, more consistent. Still I dry heaved after the stone steps–man, is it possible I had too much bacon this morning (the answer is always no-even if you are dry heaving).
By mid-way the third lap I had caught up to a few women and figured I would be able to work on passing them the rest of the race. I settled into a pace with them and held on. Over the barriers and around to the finish. One lap to go…oh nope- they are pulling us–which occasionally happens when you’re not fast enough or they miscalculated and need to stay on schedule. I rode past the finish with a girl that I know from racing and we talked about how challenging the course was. Disclaimer: Only three women in my category didn’t get pulled (which made me feel slightly better…)
Well shoot, I wasn’t planning on racing on Sunday because of law school but after a lackluster start I wanted to do better. At dinner on Friday night I had been talking about how law school has really changed my priorities for racing, it went from focusing on trying to win, or at least top five, to okay maybe just finish and have fun–one girl chimed in, and maybe don’t get pulled, and I was like welp, even then it’s not a problem. It’s also tough because after Saturday’s race it felt like I wasn’t able to give my best, I would have been fine with my result otherwise but with the poor start it just left me wanting more. If you haven’t picked up by now law school, at least for me personally, makes me feel like I’m terrible at a lot of things; law school, bike racing, personal relationship (like if I don’t wish you Happy Birthday, it might be because my mom hasn’t reminded me- that’s where I’m at right now- and I’m sure most of you reading this have been on the receiving end of a text reply at least a few days old). I labored over lining up on Sunday morning: Well it’s only 30 minutes instead of 40; it starts at 8 and we have the time change; but I’m on call in class on Monday; how much am I giving up vs. how much am I gaining. It wasn’t until Sunday morning at 6:20 am that I decided to race.
The nice thing about Cyclocross is that it usually is a Saturday/Sunday event which allows for redemption if you have a bad race on Saturday.
They didn’t do call ups on Sunday either but they at least put us in our respective categories. I took the outside line (as opposed to the inside from the day before). It still looked a wee bit slicky and thought it would at least give me more room to maneuver if I needed to. We were off! I was assuming that they hadn’t changed the course from the day before so still opted for some of my old lines but the mud was a little bit thicker so alternated with hitting the grass patches when I needed too.
My legs were a little tired from the day before but not as bad as I thought they would feel. I also knew going into the race we would only be doing 3 laps today and knew I could survive that. The top of the flyover is a little short and each time would only get one pedal clicked in before descending and praying that I wouldn’t manage to crash. I’m not sure if it’s the course design but gaps opened up rather quickly and they were big- I felt for the most part that I was riding alone.
I had talked to one of my friends (who has lots of experience bike racing) the day before about my dry heaving, she asked if I was panic breathing. I didn’t think so but maybe unconsciously after crashing and trying to chase back I was. On Sunday, I tried to be conscious of my breathing and focus more on yoga breath. That didn’t work and I ended up dry heaving more times than the day before– I actually thought I was going to vomit on course and then everyone would know I’m terribly out of shape! Fortunately that didn’t happen. The race went smooth, and I felt content with my day on the bike. I moved up 3 positions from my finish the day before from 9th to 6th. Last year at Derby City, I won both days in my category but that’s okay–I knew this season would be a little rough.
I also think the dry heaving has to do with the humidity more so than my fitness. It didn’t happen to me during my race in Boulder, just places where it’s humid. Unless someone else has a different theory or we can just go with me being out of shape…
The next race before nationals that I’ve thought about doing is in Indianapolis next Sunday for our conference championships. That will really be a game time decision if I go based on how much work I can get done this week.
*Also please forgive all typos- I’m out of time to proof read and must get back to studying.
I bet you thought this post would be about the Leadville 100–me too but it turns out that writing about a 40 minute race while in law school is a lot easier than an 11:30 race – stayed tune though.
I moved up categories at the end of last season in order to get to nationals which was great at the time but some what regrettable going into Jingle Cross. Primarily because it put me in a faster category with less training. It was hot in Iowa City, which meant deciding if I should ride with a bottle or not. After doing a lap preview I decided against it so I could more easily carry the bike. I knew either way I would probably regretting having it or not having it.
All women started together (cat 1-4) which was good and bad. Good because I wouldn’t necessarily know who was in my category, bad if I got last out of everyone not just my category.
The race started on a flat paved straight away before funneling in the dirt/grass section. The gun went, everyone lurched forward and started sprinting, my heart rate spiked and I immediately questioned why I was doing this. Hitting the dirt I settled into my pace and the group quickly got strung out. At this point I might have lost sight of the leaders but early on it became a game of survival. The course went through some curves up over a flyover and then into Mt. Krumpit. Sidenote: Mt. Krumpit is the premier feature at the race with two small logs at the bottom of a steep hill. Perfect location for spectators.
Going into it I knew that I wanted to be off the bike before the logs to run up. Run up? I meant walk up. Thank goodness my category all took the quick, brisk walk up instead of running up the incline (is that the mentality I should have for racing?).
Getting back on the bike at the top was never a smooth transition, there is something about still being on an incline that really just throws me off. At the top it shoots down into the sandpit which after entering I would take about three pedal turns, hop off and run the rest of the 20 yards or so. I was able to make up a few spots here each time but it would seem almost just as quickly relinquish them.
The next feature on the course were two barriers, of all the cyclocross features this is the one that I’m the least worst at. I think it stems from my brief, uninspiring career as a track hurdler. In this moment I also realized why people where bibs/skinsuits to race as my jersey had pulled up exposing my blinding white stomach. Which then I spent most of the race wrangling to pull it back down. The course is on the county fair grounds so we actually weaved our way through two different barns with another little sandpit that fed into a staircase. The last little technical section was an off camber climb up which meant I had another disjointed hop back on the bike to descend and loop around to the finish. One lap done. Three to go.
As the race wore on I regretted not having a bottle more and more. Each time up Mt. Krumpit was like getting sucker-punched, getting off the bike and climbing straight up the heat was all encompassing and leeched out any last resources that I had in my system. The breeze on the descents did little to offer reprieve because of how hot and dry it was. I finished the race in a sprint finish with a girl who I later found out was not in my category but it still counts…? I was 14 out of 22 for my category. I was hoping to get top-10 but given how little riding I did leading up to the race and the heat factor I was just happy I didn’t pass out.
I was able to get off the bike and lay in the grass and roll over just in time to dry-heave. While the heat was a factor, probably not a direct correlation to wanting to throw up. I was also in much better shape than a girl in front of me who was suffering from heat stroke and had to get a ride in the ambulance.
The race served as a good motivator to actually start getting back into training and work to get faster and smoother on the technical aspects. Next up I’ll be racing in Boulder over fall break.
I didn’t plan on doing the Leadville 100 this year, at least not after I didn’t get in through the lottery. I didn’t think about it when I was trekking through the Grand Canyon, finishing finals or traveling in Viet Nam. In fact, most of the time in Viet Nam I thought about how out of shape I was getting and thank goodness I wouldn’t be racing 100 miles. Then I got to Switzerland and started running and had a few long days on trail in France and the thought began creeping back in that maybe I can ride 100 miles with Sharon. When I got back to the states I contacted WBR and it was almost serendipitous as one guy had to drop out due to a medical condition and was willing to give me his spot to ride with Sharon.
That’s been the thought the whole time, at least since Michelle planted the idea in my brain last December that the only way I would do Leadville is with Sharon. Sharon is another member of WBR and due to circumstances outside of her control wasn’t able to finish the Leadville 100 last year. Since we’re both passionate about WBR and riding long distances (she has quite the impressive stage race resume) thought we would be stronger together.
I really thought after Leadville last year I would be done, knowing I would be traveling for a good chunk of the summer and thinking I wouldn’t be able to do enough early season riding to build up the engine I would need to PR (4 years of training for Leadville has taught me a lot). I’m convinced that riding with Sharon is the only way I can top last year’s experience is to help someone else reach that finish line.
This year, Sharon and I will both be riding for World Bicycle Relief. WBR is a program that helps distribute bicycles in Africa. After a year studying global health I truly believe that the one thing we can do that will create the largest impact and ripple in a community is to educate young people, girls especially. With a Buffalo Bike (the one that is designed for WBR) a student increases classroom attendance by 28%. In all my years of schooling, I’ve been granted the privilege of never having to worry about how I would arrive for my education.
When focusing on writing and defending my thesis, my blog posting fell to the way side–Here’s just a brief recap of what I’ve been up to since arriving back in the states in mid-June.
I arrived back into the states, did two trainer rides and signed up for my first mountain bike race in almost 10 months– and my first go back on my mountain bike in 7 months.
It was a bit ugly and 2 hours later I wondered why I didn’t sign up for the 10 mile option instead of the 20-miler. I somehow survived and was surprised that my legs went out much sooner than my lungs, so maybe running actually did something. I decided to do the race to help ‘race my way back into shape’.
Within the first week of arriving back into the states I secured a spot for Leadville (yikes!) but with no aspirations of defending my age group title. Instead, I’m hoping to be in good enough shape to ride with another WBR team rider and get across the finish together (more on it all later, promise). It should be a great day and I’m looking forward to it.
Given the limited time frame to get into shape and the fact that I was writing my thesis, I got in touch with my coach from last year to come up with a plan, which meant a lot of road and trainer rides.
I did not tell my parents about Leadville until I absolutely had to because was worried my mom would worry more about my stress level between training and writing. Riding gave me a good excuse to take a break and ruminate on what I had been working on. Only once did I go to the doctor to get some blood drawn and have a resting heart rate of 92, minor detail.
I defended my thesis and passed, if you’re interested in reading 97 pages about influenza vaccines, lettme know! I found that prepping for a thesis defense was similar to an endurance race.
You spend a lot of time, resources and energy working towards the goal. Don’t change your equipment the day of– I walked halfway across campus with the podium I had practiced with, and the night before you realize you have done everything you can at this point and just need to get some good sleep. Afterwards, I was able to spend about a week and half in South Dakota before heading back to ND for graduation. I was able to get some trail riding in with Barb why home. I’m now on my way back to South Dakota and will head down to CO in about a week for Leadville. After Leadville, it’s back to law school!
It happened to be baton twirling national championships at ND this weekend and I found a discarded baton in the grass that allowed me to relive my glory days, much to the amusement of my family- ha!