Alaska State Championship

After the bar when I decided to commit to racing cross, I realized I would be racing my way into shape. Even as I said that I had no idea what that would look like. I feel like in years past I’ve rolled into cross without top end speed, but enough base fitness that I never really thought about the fitness progression throughout the season. While studying for the bar I maintained some level of fitness but riding my bike 4 hours a week is a vastly different approach to the season from 15-20 hours/week in previous summers. But like most things in life, there are cycles of yin and yang and knowing this summer would be a reduction, I approached cross with mostly a development perspective. Spend this season working on skills and technique and then keep developing to build for next season when I move back south.

Ahh yes, one of the many joys of bar prep

I thought the last race would be in the Arctic Series, and I think my body was ready for it to be but realized there was one race left down in Soldotna that was being broadcast as the State Championship. With the snow about to set in I decided to race it, or at least plan that I was going to race it and if the weather looked terrible pull the plug.

I was able to catch a ride down which is good because I still can’t get to work without the GPS (yes, mom and dad making friends). Because of this when we got there we all pre-rode the course together. Which was nice because I was able to see how different lines worked and talk through options. One corner I took tight and had to get off and one of the guys had taken a different line and told me during the race to hit it wide like I’m about to ride into the berm and I’ll be fine. There was also a lot of sand on the course and was pretty convinced that since I had just written about how sand was a strength of mine, it would prove not to be.

When we lined up it went elite men, elite women and then another group of men behind us. One of the other girls from Anchorage and I kind of looked around and then slotted into spots right behind the guys. The course started on ski trails with a slight uphill, kind of like the last race. The gun went off and I took off up the hill, I got to the top and finally put my head up to see that some of the really fast men were right in front of me, “Oh shoot” realizing I had maybe started a little too hot, “this is not where I want to be” but no other option than to keep going.

The first obstacle were barriers which seemed slightly higher and farther apart than normal. I had even put embro-cream on my hip-flexers so my legs would be loose enough to step that high. I ran over them and hopped back on, only to realize that the sand on the course made it impossible to simply clip back in. I knocked my shoes on my pedals, while still trying to pedal/not crash and break my face. I followed three wheels into an “S” shape and up a hill, followed by another “S” shape in full on sand which I bobbled and had to scoot around, loosing precious seconds. Just in case my heart rate hadn’t spiked high enough at this point, my breaks squealed down a short hill before turning up into the long, sustained climb. Because of the pre-ride I took the right side line, which held long enough for me to stall out at the top before dropping down an equally sustained descent.

Blissfully unaware of the dark times ahead

The course took us through a blueberry patch, which was rideable to some but much faster for me to run it. Because the course doubled back on itself I was able to get a glance of the woman in second place who wasn’t far behind. I ran to the top, re-mounted and struggled to get my cleats clipped in, again. The second half of the course had more sections of punchy power singletrack sections and stretches of recovery which I tried to take full advantage of. The final feature of the lap was a death spiral, which has you ride in a circle in and then follow the same line back out. It might be my least favorite feature on a course, ever, because if enough people are riding around me, I get very motion sickness. The first lap had a few people going in and out at the same time I was, I tried to focus on the guy in front of me as a stable point to prevent my eyes from darting to the other riders, it mostly worked. As I was turning to go back out the woman behind me was just entering, ah shoot, she’s close.

I circled around to the start and began it all again. Up the hill, over the barriers, try to get clipped in, through the S, un-clip for the sand, struggle to get back in, up the sustained hill, back out for the blueberry patch, glance at 2nd place, try to clip back in, up the punchy singletrack and back down around to the death spiral, glance at 2nd place again, through the finish line area.

At the start of the third lap I finally looked at my garmin, yikes, my heart rate was excessively high, even for a cross race. Holy, moly, me, oh my it was at least 3 if not 4 more laps of this. I was unsure with my hot start if I’d be able to hold on but figured there was only one way to find out.

When it looks like you’re focused but really just thinking about fries you’re going to eat later

I’m unsure if it’s because I looked at my garmin, the realization of the length of the race, or because I only had 4 honeystingers instead of 6 but this lap I entered a pretty dark place, like the place I enter when I’m 85 miles into a 100 mile race and gone. Except I’ve never had this feeling in a cross race, it was like my processing slowed down and I was delayed taking anything in and only just reacting. Boy, was I sloppy out there and it was stupid things too, like taking a line over a rock instead of just to the side of it, or deciding I could ride up the blueberry patch and making it about two pedal strokes before my bike hit something and I lurched forward into the stem, immediately having to get off and run up. I got to the top and realized that if I didn’t pull it together I was probably going to crash myself out.

Ahh yes, my favorite activity of running with my bike

I tried to focus on what I knew how to do, keep pedaling and stick to the basics. I went through the start/finish area again, “3 laps to go!” someone yelled. Oh shoot, this is going to hurt. I vastly underestimated this course and the time length.

I kept coaching myself, “smooth is fast” and reminding myself that I was on the downhill portion. 

I tried to keep my focus on each feature and not make stupid mistakes, getting off the bike when I needed to and not trying to ride through the blueberry patch. My panic breathing had also set in, which I think was maybe at play with the cold but between my breathing being out of sync and my snot sitting at the back of my throat it was enough that I dry heaved, got a little bit of mucus out, opened up my airways and breathed into the pain cave. 

With two to go through the finish area, I asked if it was the bell lap but they just looked at me. With the doubling back on the course I was still able to gauge how far behind me second place was; she was still close that if I made a mistake she could have easily capitalized on it. I somehow pulled myself out of my bonk. I kept reminding myself that it’s not easy for anyone, which I’ve found to be oddly comforting, probably because misery loves company. 

Right before the finish area for the final lap, the men’s leader lapped me. As he went through, I got my bell lap and he was done. Oh wowzer, just one more lap to try and hold on. It was a bit rough but at that point at least my tunnel vision had gone away. I tried not to look behind me to see if second place was gaining ground and focus on what I could do, which was not take sloppy lines. I’m pretty sure anyone I passed at that point thought I was dying, as my breath wheezed in and out. 

I crossed the finish line for the last time, with the momentum carrying me up the hill I pulled off to the side and got off my bike and laid down on the side of the trail. Now, in high school there was this kid from our rival high school that every time he ran the 1600m, he would collapse at the finish line, and most of the time we were like “oh he’s so dramatic.” I like to think of this getting off and lying down as a savasana, trying to let my body take it all in, or at least that’s what I tell myself so it doesn’t seem dramatic AF. 

I was lying there when the race director came up to me, “Ah, good race! But you did one extra lap.” I sat up, “Por que? Um…what?”Apparently there was confusion when the lead man was finishing and with my bell lap because they weren’t sure how far he was going to get on the course so gave me the bell lap but then tried to yell at me to stop. It clearly didn’t work. It was mostly funny, especially because I had convinced myself on the last lap I was going to get caught, but it turns out there was no one behind me because they all finished on the correct lap. Okay, so maybe I never fully pulled out of my bonk.

World’s most northern cyclocross champ…err just Alaska

I hung out in my chamois probably a bit too long post-awards sitting near the fire pit. They ended up with some extra gift certificates and were nice enough that they gave me one for doing an extra lap, unfortunately it was to the brewery we went to after the race but I didn’t realize that so instead bought $26 worth of sweet potato fries with my own money— so here’s hoping one day I get some common sense skills and not just a book brain.

In other non-cycling related Alaska updates, I have studded tires on my car now, except South Dakota seems to be getting far more snow than I am at this point. I’ve found that drivers like to start in one lane and change 2-3 lanes in one go, sometimes even just a full on left turn starting from the right lane and crossing three lanes of traffic. The community continues to amaze me with how friendly people are, Costco still terrifies me with the sheer amount of quantities things are available in– do I need 50 gushers in one box, seems like I do. And every time I look up at the mountains a part of me whispers, “how am I going to leave this place”

This view from work is certainly a perk

But then I get a picture of Tenzen and remember that little nugget hates traveling more than 8 hours. 

Long distance belly scratches are tough


Unreliable Narrator

I’ve never done a full cyclocross series to recognize my strengths and weaknesses. In years past, I’ve ad hoc races together mostly depending on (1) Sully’s schedule, (2) no mountain bike races, (3) my study schedule. So there was really no rhyme or reason for picking these races. So I’ve never really thought about course design plus my abilities. When I decided to race nationals in Louisville last year it was based on the course the year before but in my mind I was just like, oh that course was really fun I want to race it again, and it’s only 5 hours away so why not.

Louisville= fun + sand!

I prerode the last race in the series and was cautiously optimistic because it seemed like it was going to be a fun course. It was mostly on trails with a long sand pit staked out in a sand dune that went up one side and down the other. I went to the start and took off all the layers I thought I was going to be riding in, tights, wool socks, two buffs, a baselayer and decided to race in what I’ve been wearing all season erring on the side of getting cold.

The race started and I started fast again, because of the course design I knew there was about 600 yards until we reached the single track which was technical enough that I figured the further to the front I was the better. I got the hole shot and kept pushing, there was a short hill that as I punched up it, expected the group of women to blow by me, I got to the top and realized I was still in the lead so figured I would at least have one lead lap on the technical section before the sand pit.


There were two small mounds which during preride I made a mental note of which lines to take on each, which came in super handy during the race when I realized I remembered the note but not which lines. The first one was rollable at the top which gave me a boost of speed for the second one. There were two people near the second mound and I called ahead to give them a warning since they were abnormally close to the trail, because of this I took a line to the left, and with enough speed, launched myself off the top, into the air and over, I somehow stayed upright on the bike-in that brief moment of landing with a thud I thanked Sully for designing a bike that has better skills than me. I navigated through the roots and shoots in the trail that ran along a fence line. I shifted down in anticipation of the sand and powered through as much as I could (which wasn’t far) before dismounting and running the rest of the way up.

This was the race after but gives you an idea of what we were dealing with

Halfway up the sand I heard the cheers change for those behind me, realizing they were hot on my heels. I crested the top and hopped back on my bike using gravity to pull me down the sand and loosely holding onto the bike to gingerly guide it around a tree. The exit out of the sand was more perilous than during the preride, with additional speed and the leaves covering any lines it was mostly a guessing game on where to ride down, again the bike landed like a champ with a thud and I was in fight mode.

The back half of the course was small punchy climbs and more singletrack. The course seemed to pull me along and up the climbs. There were a few spots were it doubled back and I could see the group was not far behind. I looped around to the start and went over the barriers and onto the start of lap 2. I tried to settle into a rhythm without getting complacent. I often think of Molly yelling at me to not slack off –like she did in high school during the 800m because the curve between the 400m and 600m I would always falter on.

Did not ever think sand was a strength, and yet here we are. Also photo from other sand race

I ended up being able to hold on to my lead for the duration of the race–and realized I must just really like sand since both courses I won on had sand in them. As a result of that placing, I ended up 2nd overall for the series. Which is kind of funny (and I’m terrible at math so still not convinced it checks out) because this whole season I feel like I’ve been less concerned with results and have become the person I would roll my eyes at, where I’m like, I’m not fast and then win and get 2nd overall, yeah I’m the worst. Don’t worry my parents continue to humble me, when I called to tell them I won my dad asked I won a participation medal and my mom asked if there was any prize money to pay bills-lolz. I won’t bore you with too many more race details, mainly because of the lack of pictures but was really happy with my tire set up once again and the overall course design.

I was able to get out and ride Sunday and Monday after the race. It’s a weird feeling here because unlike South Dakota which just gets blanketed in snow in early October the snow is slowly creeping down from the mountains here. I look up and they’re covered in snow and I realize there is only a matter of time before I’m blanketed it in as well.

My family still trying to convince me the weather is worse in Alaska than SD…

Sunday was just a long ride with a friend on some trails I hadn’t ridden before which were just steep enough that my legs felt more interested in walking than turning out power.

Monday I met a friend at the same local trails I’ve been riding but we rode by some cut up logs and I was like oh yeah, four moose were camped out here last week with the wood (I did not see them only heard from friends). We rode around and I mistakenly put my dropper post down in the cold and couldn’t get it to come back up so was mostly out of the saddle pedaling for the ride. I was fidgeting with the lever to see if it could come back up when my riding partner slowed down a bit and I caught up to him just in time to see us going by two bull moose on the side of the trail. We got out of the section and continued on without incident but I exclaimed, “oh my gosh, they were so close, I didn’t even see them!” Which is my fault for not paying attention, he said that he slowed down thinking it was better to have us both rolling through at once. We rode a little bit further and turned a blind corner to go up a small hill, I was still fumbling with my dropper when I heard the rustling of shrubbery and movement coming down the trail, it was a cow moose that was running down where we had hoped to go. We both stalled and it parted ways soon enough she wasn’t charging in any way but it was a little too close for comfort. I was more concerned that a bull would be following her but we were able to get out of the area before we saw another one. The rest of the ride everything seemed to shape-shift into a moose, including a short man in a black jacket.

The final cross race is tomorrow, it’s not in the series but the Alaska State Championship. It’s about 2 hours away which means I’m finally leaving Anchorage and seeing more of this state. Then slowly starting to make plans for winter.

Moose Count: 9

Bear Count: 0

Still bear free!

Hindsight

“Kate, how are you still alive?” While this question has been posed many times, in this context it was by my best friend who also happens to be an optometrist. It was the first time she had examined my eyes and apparently realized that I had absolutely zero depth perception. Molly seemed somewhat relieved by this information like “oh it’s just because of your eyes that you fall or crash a lot and not something serious.” Since then (2012) and really grad school I’ve made a habit of wearing my glasses but still struggle with contacts. I really hate eyes and having to try and touch mine to put the one lens on, well seems to be too much for this girl to handle. So that’s all to say that I wear my glasses for most everything except outdoor activities, which is really just how you want it.

Don’t worry- she was still willing to go to the Grand Canyon with me

Because of this, I usually preride the courses I can because I’ve been known to bust through the course tape only to then realize I was not going the right direction.

This is my nightmare

I did a preride lap on the course last weekend before beginning my warm-up. The course was long and strung out with limited course tape and mostly pink flags highlighting the direction of travel.

Photo: Josh Estes

I slotted into the start line, unsure of how my legs were going to respond, they felt tired which means one of two things, they’ll never wake up and I’ll struggle to the finish or they won’t realize what hit them and I’ll have a great race. I took off from the start, fast (is there any other way at this point) and hammered through the grass. We went up a steady hill and down a steeper pitch only to turn around and head right back up, except the line was too steep so I had to get off and run up. I was still leading when we went down the other side of a hill, into a tunnel to the other side of the park, up a short embankment and down onto a leafy, slick trail which briefly put you back on a path to send you back through another tunnel with enough speed to hit the back section.

Photo: Josh Estes

Unfortunately I was still leading so when we emerged from the tunnel it seemed there were two choices: left or straight. There were pink flags and I stared hard trying to decipher which way to go but a decision was rapidly approaching. I hesitated a moment and then veered straight, immediately overtaken by the pack going left. I slammed the brakes and rerouted going up. I killed any momentum I had to carry me into the hill, I shifted down and scampered up the hill doing my best to catch up and hang on to the lead group.

Photo: Josh Estes

It was mostly futile, after that steep hill there was only a brief moment of reprieve before having to surge up another hill. The three women started to surge ahead with a long downhill pulling them just out of my reach.

The next section presented a “S” that slunk around and out before putting me over the barriers. I did preride the barriers twice during the warm-up, and by preride I mean ran over them, still not interested in breaking my face and decreasing my market value (you’re welcome, mom). They were positioned slightly on a slope so if I got off on my normal side dismount then when I was remounting my bike was positioned higher than I was used to and felt clunky getting back on, so during preride I decided to dirty dismount, that way I would be on the higher side and then jumping back on my bike would be a little less terrifying. It wasn’t as smooth getting off, or going over and it seemed like a bit of a wash so after doing that for two laps switched back to the regular side for the last four.

Photo: George Stransky

The last section of the course had two sections that threw me each time when I was approaching them with which way to go, one area saw me running over a flag each time and the other area had a traffic cone that marked where the trail carved into the hillside in front of all the spectators.

Photo: George Stransky

I squinted real hard on this section because it was in front of everyone–not exactly how I want to be remembered in the cross scene here. The climb up was slightly off-camber and followed the fence line down to the field before going through the start finish area. It was a bit precarious as there were three lines that fed into the singular line at the top and found myself alternating the lines depending on the traffic. But being mindful not to do full pedal strokes and slam my pedal into the ground and throw my balance off.

Photo: George Stransky

At the end of the first lap the group was just far enough ahead of me that I still had the illusion I could catch maybe one of them, that was quickly quashed as the race went on. The course rendered itself to a lot of pedaling, which might be a weird statement to say but, is not my strong suit. I’m still totally fine with being a one-hit-wonder and back to my main position. I also don’t think that my missing the course made any real difference in my position, the women here remain fast and put in significant time over the course of the race. But did I spend this week trying to get a contact in, yes, did it work, no.

Photo: George Stransky

In other non-race news, I finally did a mountain bike ride by myself. I had ridden with a friend for a bit but she had to leave to catch a flight and I figured I would keep going. With notice of four moose on the trail (I avoided that section) I could hear my high school basketball coach yelling at me, “Keep you’re head on a swivel, Ginsbach, see that girl, she went by you because you didn’t see her.” I felt like my pace was much slower than when with a group because with others there is a sense that someone else will see what you don’t. But either way I survived and didn’t even see any animals. I did run into one moose when I was running with some friends in my neighborhood (why I should just not run) and cautiously trespassed through a yard to avoid it.

Last race of the series is tomorrow and then awards on Sunday, hoping to pick up the Lantern Rouge! There is one more race the next weekend about 2 hours away which depending on the weather might happen…

Moose Count: 6

Bear Count: 0