Gowdy Grinder

“Everybody hurts. When I don’t have words to articulate my pain or
frustration, I get crude. But crude is probably better than repressed”

I went back and forth for a bit before deciding to write this, it doesn’t portray me in the best light–surprise sometimes I’m aggressive when I race–usually only with myself but this time it spilled over. My mom pointed out that there are people who lead us. They lead us to the realization all the amazing experiences we’ve had and also make me grateful for all my male friends and racers who have given me space and not been threaten by the fact that I’m a female and sometimes fast (and also sometimes last).

The Gowdy Grinder started like most races, debating if I should race. “Yeah, but you like racing.” Ohhhh yeah, I do like racing my bike. I was debating pulling the plug on racing to go ride with friends. To get the best of both options I moved my race time up to race the expert category instead of the pro. Which meant that the two hours I had to warm up was now reduced to 30 minutes. I quickly changed and realized that warming up wouldn’t do much so hung around the finish to see a friend finish her race and do some jumping jacks.

Won’t be replacing my warm-up with this anytime soon

At the start I chatted with the other women in my race that I knew. Sully and Katie gave me some final words of wisdom and told me that the start is a bit of a climb and to take the inside corner.

We started two minutes behind the pro men, which I didn’t think much of because they’re pro men. For not having a warm-up I started pretty hot. I followed Heidi, one of the women I knew around the corner on the inside and then pulled ahead of her at the top of the short hill. I looked up to see that the hill kept going, so I kept going. It was about 90 seconds into the race and given my track record was expecting anyone to come blowing by me at any moment. I realized that I could either settle in or just push a little hard to try to get some space for when I really blew up. I dug in and saw my heart rate soar. Within about 5 minutes of the start, we were on single track and encountering the first male. I called out ahead that the women were coming and the three guys ceded way. I kept pushing because I was convinced that soon I would explode so figured the faster I went the less I would have to limp home.

I should have just followed Heidi since she actually knew the course

I vaguely remembered the course instructions (another reason I should never lead) at the start was told we do the short loop first. I got to a fork with signs that said “long loop” and had arrows pointing. I stopped, and looked around, no arrows for the short loop. So I waited, it probably wasn’t more than 30 seconds when my cousin, Sarah crested the hill and descended to where I was, “which way do we go?” we debated for about 15 seconds and then opted for the long loop arrows and figured if we both took the wrong way we would just tell them. I got back on and with Sarah right behind me and called out to let me know when she needed to pass.

We worked our way up through a technical section and a small gap opened up between us. I rode a rocky feature and came up the trail in front of me to see a guy who must have had to walk that section attempting to get back on his bike and he turned and looked at me. I get it, I’m in a sports bra and probably look like a prepubescent teenage boy, but he didn’t just do a quick glance, it was long enough for him to give that look of “oh crap, the women are catching me”. And I’m not proud of what I did next, maybe it’s because I dealt with egos in law school or that I had spent last weekend at a women’s only mountain bike race (where everyone was so nice) or that my heart rate had been insanely high for the past 10 minutes. So he stares at me and then turns to get back on his bike to get in front of me on the trail. And I go, “Are you F-ing kidding me?” (Except I said it for real) which at least got him to give me the trail. As soon as I said it I felt bad, I’ve never done that in a race. And then I realized I couldn’t let up because I didn’t want this guy to immediately pass me again. I kid you not that I spent the next 10 minutes of that loop questioning what I had done and telling myself I would immediately apologize to him at the finish. And then I questioned that, why should I apologize, he’s the one who was getting caught, I’ve given the trail to plenty of faster guys and girls. And then I decided I would apologize for what I said but not for what I’ve done.

Sonya Looney is a World Champion and still has issues like this

I went through the finish area, realizing that we must have taken the correct route because I was at 4 miles and the longer loop was 8. I headed back out and glanced behind me, that guy was still a little too close, I wasn’t racing him but still felt bad and didn’t want to run into an issue again. About a mile after the start area, the course diverts and goes to the left, which proved to be a more technical trail than the previous one. I was going down a big rock that hooked around into a bridge, I wasn’t going to make the turn so hoped off and kind of scooted down, the guy came in hot behind me, so I called out “Oh so sorry if I messed you up” and “I’m also really sorry about what I said earlier.” And then he started yelling at me, and I think he was joking because he kept saying, “I’m f-ing kidding” but I told him to just pass me, I don’t want to deal with this, which he kept saying “I’m just f-ing kidding”, to which I told him there are plenty of guys that aren’t kidding and apologized again for how I had acted earlier. It’s one of the most striking altercations I’ve had on a trail. I looked around to see if anyone else was nearby, they weren’t and realized how vulnerable I was at that moment. I scooted away as fast as possible, and I think he was kidding because he gave me a lot of room following that; I didn’t see him again. It reminded me of earlier this fall, I was riding a trail and came upon this guy and he wouldn’t let me pass him for a good mile with me asking nicely to please pass. I finally took him over on the inside of a corner to get around him. And then immediately realized how stupid that was and sought the nearest exit from the trail.

After that interaction I was trying to get my emotions back in check just to focus on riding so that I wouldn’t make a stupid mistake. Shortly thereafter I came upon a group of young girls at a trail intersection that were there to cheer and they were so excited to see me and cheered super loud because I was a girl. Which definitely made me feel better and reminded me that if I had stayed silent with that guy, the next generation would still have to deal with this bull shit (and they probably will, but hopefully less!).

The back section was pretty rocky with more technical feature than the short loop and I was having to hop off and run up something and get back on. The few other guys I ran into on the trail were super nice, and actually got out of the way before I even needed to say anything. There was a little uphill which I was starting to fade on but towards the top was able to catch a second wind. I soon hit the first section and I at least knew what to expect but I still had to run up a few things. I took advantage of the last two miles that were mostly smooth and downhill. I saw one lady gaining ground on me but was able to hold her off long enough to finish. The first three finishers were all within 2 minutes of each other so I think any longer and they would have caught me. Sarah came in third and I asked her if she had any issues with that guy and she said she didn’t see him and then we chatted about guys and egos for a bit while waiting at the finish for our other friend, Heidi. Unfortunately, Heidi had snapped her chain on the first lap, which given the insane power spikes and some of the technical things I had to get up was glad that I didn’t run into a mechanical.

I thought about waiting at the end to talk to that guy but realized it wasn’t worth it, I apologized on the trail and there was no point in dragging it out.

After the race my friends camped in the area so I was able to meet them the next morning for a ride at Happy Jack, which was nice because I feel like sometimes my brain is over thinking so they were able to navigate the trails and I just followed them around.

How much skin can I show while also still being warm…a fine line was walked

Bar studying is going well and then it’s not and then it is and then it’s not. Just riding the waves of emotion right now. I’m taking the 4th off to race the Firecracker 50 with a friend in Breckenridge which is something nice to look forward too. But I think after that it will be mostly short rides and no racing in the last few weeks before the exam.

But to reward myself I’ve also decided to do the Maah Daah Hey again–okay not the 100 because as much as I want to because it’s amazing I think July will really see my training take a back seat to studying and to take the bar on Tuesday/Wednesday and then turn around to race 100 miles on Saturday is even a little much for me. So instead I’m going to race the 50 and this is for a few reasons, first I feel like the MDH is like the room of requirement in Harry Potter, that trail gives you exactly what you need even if you don’t know what that is, and secondly I feel like the last oh 20 miles of that race I essentially blacked out on so looking forward to seeing that section of the course again. It’s not confirmed but it seems like they let you split the course so if someone wants to race the first 50 miles, I would be down for a team.

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.

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.