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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Muddy Kanza

Weather has been a huge factor in some of the big gravel races so far this year with Land Run's mud destroying derailleurs left and right and only one person making it past the first Trans Iowa checkpoint before the cutoff. Hopes that Dirty Kanza would avoid the curse were dashed by constant rain over Emporia in the weeks before the race. Every look at my weather app during the 10-day forecast window (and there were many such looks) was highlighted by the big red FLOOD WARNING bar at the top of the page.

Source
Despite this, I was at peace. I had trained for a DK PR, hoping for a 17-hour or maybe, in my faintest everything-goes-perfectly-and-miracles-really-do-happen dreams, a finish time that started with 16, but when conditions made it apparent that this was most unlikely I changed my focus to adventure.  A challenging Dirty Kanza would be sure to yield good stories, and adventure racing has left me no stranger to finding fun in difficult conditions.

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Wet roads at the Fig AR back in November. It had snowed that morning,so that water was COLD.
My equanimity was shaken at the rider meeting Friday afternoon when race director Jim Cummins noted that some of the water crossings were 8 feet deep. I was fully prepared to carry my bike through chest-deep water but not to swim. Obviously the promoters weren't sending anyone in literally over their heads, and he reassured us that contingency plans were in place if the waters didn't recede enough to be safely crossed.

The majority of the DK route is gravel, but there are several dirt roads which can be real issues in wet conditions. More rain hit Emporia Thursday and Friday, and the intel was that an early 3-mile stretch of dirt road was so bad that one of the Jeeps scouting the course had gotten stuck. Hike-a-bike skills were going to come in handy if things didn't dry out quickly.

Mother Nature tempered her May bitchiness with a generous race-day forecast: unseasonably low temperatures, no rain, and a relatively gentle wind out of the north (I spent a considerable amount of time with the course map figuring out exactly how many miles we'd spend riding into a headwind once the course turned back to the north: 44, if you're interested, broken up into 1-11 mile stretches). She must have woken up in a bad mood, though, because we woke to a misty morning and increased wind: the forecast of 10 mph max winds became 15 mph with gusts in the 20's at times. Not cool, Mother Nature. Not cool at all.

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The morning mist was so insignificant compared to the rain we could have faced that it didn't factor into my thoughts for the day, but it could have ended my race before I reached the starting line. Shouldering my bike to descend the outdoor staircase from the hotel's second floor, I took about three steps before slipping on the wet metal and falling the rest of the way down to the ground...except I didn't fall, somehow managing to surf the stairs on my flip flops, landing on my feet at the bottom without dropping my bike or my purse. My heart rate probably didn't return to normal for an hour, but I took the incident as a sign of a charmed day.

We were at the start line early enough that I had plenty of time to be ready and lined up in the 16 hour group without any last-minute rushing.  My faster Momentum teammates were staged a few pace groups ahead of me, but I didn't have any desire to hang on to a faster pace than I was comfortable with, especially so early in a long day, and I still had friends around me.
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Dirty Kanza has been such a Team Virtus thing since before I'd ever heard of it that it was weird to be there without the whole group. I was really glad to have Travis there with me.
Travis, Justin, Craig, Tara, and Chris were all right there and I could see other St. Louis area friends nearby.  Even Jim, who's much faster than I'll ever hope to be, was back there with us, riding singlespeed and hoping to avoid getting caught up in the lead-pack craziness that eventually derailed his race last year; his presence was a real perk because he gave me some last-minute tutoring in the on-the-back bike carrying style I'd first seen employed in his Land Run blog post.


The one person missing was my DK buddy from last year, Matt. We'd tentatively planned to ride together as long as our paces matched, and I knew he and his friends were also in the 16 hour group but couldn't see them. Oh, well. I assumed things would sort themselves out once we got moving. Being so far back in the pack, it was impossible to hear any of the pre-race instruction at the front, so we only knew the race was starting when the people ahead of us started to move.

Leg 1: Emporia to Madison ~73 miles - 6:47:51 ride time

A Dirty Kanza roll-out is a special thing. The street is packed with spectators, all cheering and ringing cowbells. You really do feel like the rockstar on all the DK merchandise.  We hadn't made it more than a few blocks before we stopped, blocked by one of the trains that runs through town every 25 minutes.
Photo credit: Mickey Boianoff

"Great," somebody muttered, "Now I'm not going to win."

The pack split into two lines as we turned onto the gravel roads. Damp but very rideable, they showed clear signs of having been underwater recently, most notably the large carp lying by the side of the road. In addition to being the toughest race I've ever done, DK now holds the distinction of the only time I've ever had to avoid a fish while on a bike.

Right around this point Matt and his buddies came rolling past me, so I jumped into their draft. We all rolled together until about the ten mile mark, when we hit the hike-a-bike. I stopped at the edge of the road before my tires touched mud and hoisted my bike the way Jim had showed me earlier. It was surprisingly comfortable. Crowds of people lined the grassy edges of the road, but I stuck with the group in the muddy middle.

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Not me, but you get the idea.
Photo credit: Jason Kulma
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We're having fun now!
Photo credit: Josh Johnson
I really felt for the people on tandems; the hike-a-bike was an ordeal for them. I had a much easier time; in fact, it was weirdly fun. My adventure mindset was in full swing, and the situation was so ridiculous that you had to laugh: not an hour into a 200-mile race we were carrying our bikes through peanut-butter mud with no end in sight.  Mud-splattered faces were only outnumbered by shoes that looked more like fluffy bear-paw slippers. Some people grumbled while others shared my entertainment. "Well," one guy remarked, "no good story ever started 'We were sitting on the couch...'"

"Right!" I continued with one of Bob's favorite lines, "and no good story ever ended 'It got hard and then we quit.'"

The mud seemed to last forever, making me even more apprehensive about my chances of making it to the first checkpoint before the cutoff, but everyone was in the same situation and there was good camaraderie in the ranks. Very occasionally someone would ride through, but I knew that was beyond my abilities. While I'm not a particularly fast cyclist, it turns out I can carry a bike pretty well. As the hike stretched on I passed a lot of people and caught up with more and more of the Momentum guys, who typically I'd never see until the finish line.

After about three miles of this craziness the mud came to an end; I knocked as much mud as possible off of my bike shoes and climbed back onto my bike. I was a little worried my legs would be tired from trudging through all that slop, but the only lingering after-effect was a gigantic blister on my heel, the consequence of a slipping ankle sock.  My relatively speedy hike had another negative consequences, though. Once I was pedaling again, rider after rider flew past me like I was standing still. This was somewhat demoralizing until I finally realized that these were all the fast people I'd passed on the HAB; typically they'd have been miles ahead of me by this point.

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Photo credit: Jeff Maassen
The gravel was in pretty good shape, some muddy spots but nothing like the road where we'd carried our bikes. Now the issue was water crossings. Most of them were small, but the recent rains had me worried about washouts you couldn't see beneath the water. Approaching one, I saw a guy ride in, hit something, and fly over his handlebars. That was enough to convince me to walk it, and as others rode past me into it I felt like a wimp until a couple others crashed in the same spot.

Coming through the cattle pens about 24 miles in.
Photo credit: J. Greg Jordan
I'd lost my riding companions during the hike a bike, though for a while I repeatedly leapfrogged with Joe, Jeff, and Shaun, who were faster than me but made some stops for mechanical issues and at the neutral water stop.  I'd worn my camelbak so I could avoid stopping for water this early in the course, concerned about crowding and water availability with a stop so early into the race (around mile 32). Just past there I saw the one person I never expected or wanted to see on the course; Mickey was walking his broken bike back towards the water stop, out of the race after beating the sun last year. I was so disappointed for him but reminded him of the silver lining that now he could clean up my bike for me at the checkpoint. I'm not entirely sure he was comforted by that thought.

I rode the remainder of leg 1 by myself, but not really alone, talking with people who were riding near me or reliving memories of past trips along some of the familiar roads.  There were no more prolonged hikes during this leg, though we did have some bigger water crossings and reroutes due to high water.

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Water crossing
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I opted to carry my bike through the water because, you know, I hadn't done enough of that yet.
Screen grab from Dave Leiker photography slideshow
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Low-water crossing on the reroute. The water got higher towards the middle and was really moving. I was very nervous walking across this. (Photo credit: Matt Gunter)
The reroutes were easy to follow, but they created confusion because I had no idea how they affected the mileage to the first checkpoint. Would it be longer or shorter? What were my chances of making the cutoff? I was skeptical that I'd get there in time and not completely broken up about that. Leg 1 was hard. I wasn't going to quit (been there, done that, didn't like the feeling), but if I gave it my best effort and didn't get there in time...well, chalk it up to a tough year. I'd join the people crewing for my Momentum teammates and do what I could to contribute to their finishes.  I had mixed feelings when I reached the checkpoint with over an hour to spare, seeing the smiling faces and hearing the cheers of not just my crew but my STL-area friends there to crew for Chris, Kate, Teresa, Lo, and Alice.

My friend Emma was crewing for me. She has years of DK crew experience as well as volunteering at many other races, and she was totally invested in my success. I rolled up to a 3-person crew, though, as Tiara (who I know) and Loralee (who I met right then) were hanging with Emma waiting for their own riders and in true AR-family fashion, jumped right in to take care of me.

With the cool temps I decided to ditch my camelbak in favor of one extra bottle in my jersey, so in addition to refilling my food, getting me full bottles, making sure I was fed, and cleaning up my bike, they also emptied my pack to make sure I had everything I needed for the next leg. I have been so lucky in all of my DK experiences to have friends who are willing to give up their time and spend the day taking care of me.  I can't even tell you how much that means to me.

Compared to previous races this year, I'd been much more purposeful and conscientious about nutrition and hydration, and it showed. I felt much less foggy than at mile 47 at Cedar Cross and overall pretty good.  As best I can tell, within 11 minutes I had on dry socks and was off for leg 2. Nearing the end of the block, I heard my name and saw Matt with his wife, Valerie, who was crewing for him. He waved me off, telling me he'd catch up with me, and I hit the hill out of Madison with lighter spirits in anticipation of company for leg 2.


Leg 2: Madison to Cottonwood Falls ~81 miles ~8:55 ride time for leg - 15:42:18 total race time
Note: all of this happened, but it may not have happened exactly in this order. The bad thing about using a Garmin over cue sheets and going with happy ignorance over paying close attention to mileage and time is that you have no real idea where on the course things happened.

There was another reroute just out of town, which meant that once again I was going to be flying blind regarding end mileage. Since I was using my Garmin for navigation, all I could see was the arrow pointing where to go, the miles remaining to the next turn, and the estimated time to the next turn. If I switched screens I could see the time or my current mileage, but I did this very rarely, preferring the zen that comes with just following the road until you get where you're going.

At the same time, I was getting a little sick of riding on my own and started to consider stopping to wait for Matt. I'd enjoy the break. I'd have company. Win-win. On the other hand, Mickey would kill me if I stopped, plus our ride-together agreement was based on us going at comparable paces. Nearly 90 miles in I was starting to wear down and wasn't positive I could keep up with the guys when they caught me.  I wouldn't take it personally if they dropped me, but I'd feel stupid to wait around and still have to ride alone.

My deliberation ended when Matt and Dave caught me at yet another hike-a-bike muddy road. Dave started riding before we did and was soon out of sight. The road became rideable even for me, but pedaling on the packed mud was exhausting and tricky, keeping momentum on a soft surface while riding in ruts. We were going slightly downhill and averaging 4 mph. I was even happier to reach the end of that stretch than to finish the first bike hike-a-bike...and way more tired.

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You're going to have to trust me when I tell you it was so much worse than it looks.
Tara was at the end of the road with a broken derailleur as she and Craig were discussing converting it to a singlespeed so she could keep going.  As disappointed as I was for her, I was also a little irritated with my own derailleur for its own continuing health.  All day long the course was littered with broken bikes and shattered dreams and here my stupid bike was refusing to give me an out. We may have "joked" about "accidentally" breaking our own bikes so we "couldn't" keep going, but in anticipation of a short break the upcoming neutral water stop we moved on.

Between us and that water stop rested some pretty sketchy bridges and "the bitch", a steep S-curve climb where I didn't make it far beforewalking. Another guy rode it halfway up before giving in, only to realize "This is just as bad walking!"  We proceeded to give him a hard time about taking the easy way out and riding part way.

The course turned north (into the wind) at mile 107, giving me the opportunity to put Mickey's advice into practice: You need to stop taking the conditions personally. I definitely do that. I get tired and every hill is a personal insult. The wind is killing me. The race director wants me to suffer. This time, when the wind was in my face I used Shaun's line: I'm a knife cutting through the wind. I focused on the fact that I just had to get through this stretch before the wind was at my side again. "The good news," I told Matt, "is that we're also going to be riding up hills that block the wind."

He may be a gentleman, but not enough to let me rest in my delusion. "Not these hills! They aren't steep enough to block the wind." Isn't it just like Jim Cummins to send us up hills that don't give us a break from the wind?

The day was getting long and the miles and hills were wearing on us. Again and again we marveled, "We paid for this! Remember how we swore last year we were never doing this again? What's wrong with us?" We also had the opportunity to play Good Samaritan to a rider who was stopped along the road; after several flats he needed a tube and a pump, both of which we had, so we pulled over, gave him the things he needed, and waited for him to get his tire changed and aired up.

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I think I took this while the Kuat guy was changing his tire. My hands were so disgusting. 
It seemed to take for-ev-er to get to the mile 124 water stop, and when we did there was a big crowd. There was one 5-gallon cooler with GU brew, one 5-gallon cooler that still had some water, and some of the volunteers had gone for more. This left a line of around 10 people for water. I hated losing the time, but one thing I've learned is that I have to have one bottle of plain water; I can't drink only flavored stuff all day.

As we (finally) pulled away from the water stop, my Garmin died. Having anticipated this, I'd borrowed an extra Garmin from Chuck; since Matt had the course on his (not dead) Garmin, I kept riding while I switched computers and got Chuck's going. I hadn't thought about the fact that his settings were different from mine, little details like his mileage is set on kilometers instead of miles and his readout doesn't show the time of day, so it was basically just useful for recording my track and showing me where I was going unless I wanted to do math. Which I didn't.

Matt did do the math. At this point it was around 6:45; we had 35 miles and 3.5 hours to make the CP2 cutoff. Should be plenty of time. As we rode along, he noticed, "Hey, there's Wendy!" We caught up and passed her, then she caught back up with us, so I got a chance to ask about our mutual friends before she moved on. Matt urged me to chase since he was dragging a little and knew I was feeling strong at that point. I thought about it but decided that in the long run I was better off sticking together and having company for the last leg of the race, generally a dark time mentally for me, than fighting out a couple of places in the standings. I fail at being competitive.

Photo credit: Matt Gunter
Other than Matt feeling lousy, this was a very pretty, very fun section of the race with non-terrible climbs and a nearly ten-mile stretch of downhills.  We were probably 10 miles out from Cottonwood Falls when the sun began to set enough to use our lights, and I was very glad I'd just put them on in the morning instead of waiting until the last checkpoint.  The temperature, which had been comfortably cool all day, started dropping. I was chilly, though not miserable, in my jersey and arm warmers and really looking forward to the jacket waiting at CP2, which we reached at about 9:45.

Finally warm and ready to finish this thing!
Photo credit: Mickey Boianoff
Once again my crew took awesome care of me. Matt's wife had picked up coffee, and Emma had hot chicken noodle soup waiting for me. While Emma loaded my pre-opened food and my bottles onto my bike, Loralee wrapped me in a blanket, sat me down, and changed my socks for me. Meanwhile Mickey took my bike and cleaned it up. Amazing teamwork and care from a group of people who'd been up every bit as long as I had.



Leg 3: Cottonwood Falls to Emporia ~44 miles, ~4:20 ride time, 20:02:07 total time

We'd heard conflicting information all evening. One guy told us the volunteers at the water stop had told him that the CP3 and finish line cutoffs had been pushed back an hour, which would make them 11:15 p.m. and 4 a.m. respectively. I didn't think this was necessary; after all, the course was what it was -- either you could finish it in the allotted time or you couldn't.  At CP2 our crews told us that a nasty rumor was circulating that the finish line cutoff had been changed to 2 a.m.; I'd have flipped out if that had been the case but couldn't worry about it at the time. Surely the promoters wouldn't do that. We'd also heard that leg 3 was a piece of cake compared to the other legs.

None of that was true. No cutoffs had changed for the 200-mile riders, though one had for the 100-mile group, and while the last leg may not have been as challenging as the first two, after already riding 158 miles, the only thing that would have been a piece of cake would be lying down for a nap.  Why would Jim Cummins put hills here? He must really hate us.

As strong as I'd felt for the last half of leg 2, I felt lousy for leg 3, dragging behind on flats and struggling up hills. Matt did an awesome job of checking in on me, maintaining a pace I could manage, and previewing what we had coming up.  Last year I did a lot more walking up hills than I did this time, but I was also a lot faster on the downhill side. This year's wet conditions had resulted in more than one sloppy mud hole towards the bottom, robbing me of the kind of confidence I'd felt in 2014. Even my typical exhaustion-induced loss of fear (if I crash, someone will drive me back) deserted me. Against all of my pre-race expectations it appeared we were going to finish this race. I wanted that more than a car ride.

This was a joke, but one I clung to all day, and Matt and I spent a lot of time commenting about how glad we were to be washing away the shame of our "easy year" finish in 2014.
At midnight or so I started feeling really sleepy. Not quite fall-asleep-on-your-bike sleepy, but almost. I started eating more, and that seemed to help. Another help was the roadside party set up on our way. I think it was the same family from last year, though in a different location, and I'd been fantasizing about their yard and a can of Coke when we came across them earlier than expected. They had beer, Coke, oreos, and a fire. I took a soda and some cookies and stayed away from that fire. One racer was there waiting for a ride after getting sucked into a rut on a downhill, crashing, and destroying his wheel. So close, relatively, but too far away to run or walk it in. I felt terrible for him.

Snack break over, we pushed on.  Groups kept approaching and passing so quickly that we kept asking ourselves, "How were they behind us??" But we'd had an incredibly lucky day, absolutely no mechanicals of any kind, no flat tires, no crashes, and no health issues other than just minor struggles. Many others hadn't been so lucky, and we'd been able to keep riding while they were stopped.

Finally the lights of Emporia grew nearer and nearer.  Jim Cummins just had to put us on loose gravel right at the end! He probably had it brought in specifically for us. We sped into town and onto the smooth, smooth pavement of the home stretch, through the Emporia State University campus, and down the street to the finish line, crossing at 2:02 a.m.

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Getting my hug from race director Kristi Mohn
Post-race triumph
What a great riding partner!

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My awesome crew...couldn't have done it without her support!

I can tell you without a doubt that this was the hardest race I've ever done, and if that doesn't come across in my writing that's because I've had a couple days of space.  It was SO HARD. And I finished, taking just one hour more than for last year's "easy" conditions. I never would have finished this course two years ago, but that DNF has fed my training ever since and made me stronger and more determined.

My determination has its limits, though. During the race, I swore repeatedly that I was never coming back and doing it again. I hadn't made it back home before the thought of not being at next year's race started to hurt. It's become a little bit like Cheers, where maybe not everybody knows my name but an awful lot do, and I can't imagine not being there. I'm not racing DK in 2016 (I can't...I have other plans and told too many people to punch me in the face if I talked about registering), though I'm hoping to at least salve my FOMO by going to crew.  But in 2017, I'll be back with a vengeance.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Creve Coeur Heartbreaker

Seems like my Friday Facebook news feed was filled with posts from people headed out of town to go mountain biking with their significant others. And OK, maybe "filled" is an overstatement, but where I don't envy material things (much), I'm definitely jealous of people whose significant others share their love of endurance sports...or, failing that, can at least enjoy hanging out with that group. So I was having a minor pity party (party of 1) when I saw Laura's suggestion that someone do the Creve Coeur Heartbreaker MTB race on Saturday.
While I couldn't go out of town, a quick conversation with Jeff ascertained that I could get away for the morning and go "race" my mountain bike. With DK looming next Saturday, the last thing I want to do is get hurt, but Creve Coeur is pretty tame. Since this was to be my second mountain bike ride since Easter weekend, my goals were moderate*:

1. Avoid injury
2. Have fun
3. Get in some saddle time/mountain biking practice

*In actuality, these are always my goals, but avoid injury was moved up from the third spot in deference to Dirty Kanza.

My normal pre-race doubts surfaced Saturday morning, but I ignored them, arriving at the park with plenty of time to get registered and catch up with lots of bike friends...but not, unfortunately, to adjust the helmet I'd grabbed in place of my normal one. This will be painfully clear in every picture from the day.

I raced marathon, where you ride as many laps as possible in 3 hours.  If you cross the finish line before the 3 hour mark, you can keep going and finish the next lap. The winner is the person with the most laps, and if two people have the same number of laps, the winner is the person with the shorter time. 

Start times were staggered, with marathon, cat 3, and juniors starting at 9:30 and cat 1, cat 2, and singlespeed starting at 11.  This meant that an hour and a half into the race we were going to get passed by an onslaught of fast, fresh racers. I much prefer races where we all start at once and those way faster folks have an entire lap to spread out before passing me.

Lap 1: The Creve Coeur trails are fast and flowy, very similar to my local trails but less rooty. The first lap started with a lollipop on the road and then a trip through the grass in order to spread out the field before entering the singletrack. I managed to be not at the back as we hit the trails, which was kind of cool, and I stayed in that spot through a longish, super-fun gradual downhill that contoured along a hillside.

Photo credit for all pictures: Mike Dawson
The downhill ended with an uphill right turn switchback that I blew and had to scramble out of the way of the people right behind me, giving up a bunch of spots in the process and ended up behind several younger riders who were awesome but slower than I'd have been going. I'm not much of a passer (having little opportunity to practice), and I was really uncomfortable trying to get around the kids on that tight trail, so I ended up spending a lot of time behind them.  But hey, if I was better at racing my bike I'd be better at passing people, too. Lap time: 40:04

Lap 2: No kids in front of me, not much of anyone in back of me. Other than once again blowing the uphill switchback as well as one later in the loop, it was a fast, smooth ride. Super fun. Lap time: (35:35).

I think I was telling Mike that every picture was going to have my look of fear as I rounded these turns. 

Lap 3: The 11:00 group was getting race instructions as I passed through the start/finish area, so I hoped the announcer was long-winded enough to give me a decent head start. I caught up with Dean on the long downhill and he told me to let him know if I wanted to get around.  "That's ok, I'm about to blow that uphills switchback and don't want to get in your way," (I'm not sure why Mickey keeps telling me I need to work on my self-talk.)

"Get in your granny gear and take it wide," he coached.  This is how awesome the STL cycling community is...we're in a race, I look like an idiot with my helmet askew, and someone who's never met me is giving me pointers.  I didn't shift down far enough, but his advice got me further up the hill than I'd gone before.  We both pulled over shortly afterwards to let Roggo through on his way to crushing the men's marathon race and I guess I passed there.  

Hitting the first switchback-y field section, I could see Carrie ahead of me as she completed that out and back.  I was excited, both for the opportunity to cheer for my friend and because I was that close to someone who's much stronger than me on singletrack.  Shortly after that, Renee hit one of the nasty ruts in the field and went down, giving me the opportunity to pass after making sure she was OK.  

Unfortunately, right after I got back onto the trails a couple guys passing told me my saddle bag was falling off.  One of the straps had ripped, so I pulled it off the saddle, watching Renee pass me back as I rushed to stuff it into my jersey pocket.  I caught sight of her in the second field section and had almost caught up with a mile to go in the lap, when I had to pull over for about 6 minutes while what seemed like the entire cat 1/2/ss field rode by. Sigh. Lap time: (40:45)

The helmet seems to be getting worse...

Lap 4: This felt pretty fast but I was getting tired and it showed in my handling. I was riding sloppy, which is where I typically start clipping trees and crashing.  In addition to the two switchbacks I never successfully rode, I also pushed my bike up the hill to the second field section.  

I would finish this lap in plenty of time to go out for another; both leg cramps and mental negotiations started up. The devil on my shoulder was convincingJust hang out before the finish until 12:30. You don't want to get hurt right before DK. It's probably smarter to just quit before you get hurt. You're just out here for fun anyway, remember?  There was an opposing voice, though, one that reminded me how I've read that the real training starts once you get tired and that you don't build mental toughness by quitting: Surely you're not really talking about quitting 2.5 hours into a bike ride?

Any remaining thought I had of stopping at 4 laps was squashed when Renee headed out for her fifth as I passed through the start/finish. (Lap time: 37:06)

Not sure when this was taken, but it's a good representation of my grim determination face, so it's fitting here.

Lap 5: I stopped briefly to chug the Gatorade I'd left on the picnic table, hoping that it might help chase away the leg cramps, and then rode back onto the singletrack.  While I didn't let myself quit, I did back off on the intensity in the interest of staying uninjured, and I was glad I'd kept riding. It was a great course, a beautiful day, and the downhill sections were a blast. Maria passed me just before the start of the second field section, and maybe it was the sight of her that kept me from walking that field hill again.  I could see the 4th place girl ahead of me in the field but couldn't close the gap and then got close again on the switchback after the stairs but had to run it again.  I tried hard to catch her in the final grassy section before the finish line, but she stayed ahead and finished 7 seconds before I did.  Slightly disappointing, but it certainly kept the finish interesting for me.  Lap time: 38:30.

Momentum Racing post-race groupie
Issues, I've got 'em: Eating on the bike is always an issue for me, but most especially on singletrack. I'd hoped to remedy that some with Perpetuem in a water bottle, but unlike on gravel, reaching down and grabbing a water bottle -- even on the smooth trails at Creve Coeur -- is still really hard for me. I didn't bonk, but my nutrition was suboptimal at best.  Drinking wasn't much better. I'd gone with a Camelbak but used a smaller bladder than my normal ones; turns out the bite valve is broken and runs constantly unless closed, so grabbing a drink wasn't quite the one step process it normally is.  

I lost time on those switchbacks I had to walk; that's hopefully just a matter of training and riding more.  The most annoying time waster was that stupid seat bag because I'd decided even before the race that any flats or mechanicals and I'd just walk back to the finish, so I didn't even need the bag.

Fun, I had it: The weather was fantastic, and it's hard to imagine better trail conditions. The race was well-organized, and the course was well-marked. I've had a great time with all of the gravel training we've done and don't even remotely have that "I can't wait to be done with this!" feeling, but this race makes me really excited to put in more time on my mountain bike. Also, Strava tells me that my max speed was 30.4 mph, which is almost certainly a new record for me on singletrack; it wasn't so long ago that I didn't like going that fast on my road bike!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Teamwork makes the dream work! (Hairy Hundred 2015)

Falling just two weeks before Dirty Kanza, the Hairy Hundred offers mid-Missouri-area gravel fans one last local-ish opportunity to race before the DK taper begins.  This year it also afforded some prime weather-stalking, as the chances of rain swung wildly in the lead-up to the race before settling Saturday on a 20% chance of rain.  Which made it all the more surprising to see this when I checked the weather on race morning:

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Well this looks fun...
Luckily, in the sleep-deprived haze brought on by a 3:30 alarm I'd neglected to check the weather, so I was an hour away in O'Fallon before I saw the forecast. Any temptation to go home and kiss my entry fee goodbye was overridden by the knowledge that Mickey and Shaun wouldn't bail and that we certainly have no guarantee of good weather in Kansas. If conditions were as bad as they appeared, we'd get in some bad weather training, possibly secure ourselves some good weather mojo for DK, and, as long as we avoided death by lightning strike, probably come home with some good stories.

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Good call, weather man
We made it to Rocheport really early; it was weird to not be rushing around in last-minute panic. All of the spaces in the bike rack near the start line were taken, so we stood there holding our bikes and somehow everyone else lined up behind us.

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Laughing with my friend Renee (who I met here last year) about being in the front. "We'll probably win the whole thing!"
Mickey's pics
Pre-race team photo

The guys are waaaay faster than me, but Mickey was riding with me so as to avoid the temptation of racing hard and Shaun planned to stick with us. The guys' take-it-easy strategy did not mean a relaxing day for me, though. Hairy Hundred was to be part two of Mickey's enduring quest to turn me into a bike racer instead of rider, but the additional pressure did come with some perks this time.

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Company for the entire race and pizza delivery. Score!
After some words thanking Michelle, who'd done the lion's share of prep work for the race, and talking about the really cool finisher's prizes, we were sent off with a low-key, "OK, go!" Having no desire to be at the front of a race, even for the neutral roll-out (which so often are anything but), I rode way over to the right behind the guys. It actually stayed neutral, leaving us in the lead until the turn off of the Katy.

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Neutral rollout on the Katy.  Photo credit: Tracy Wilkins
I'd been in my big ring for the flat trail and failed to downshift in time for my bike to actually respond before hitting the first hill, and my slow crawl gave me a nice view of pretty much everyone riding past.   We'd been warned of thick gravel and sloppy conditions, so I was pleasantly surprised by how rideable the roads were.  The light drizzle we'd experienced before the start had tapered off, and though threatening clouds loomed no subsequent rain appeared.

I had to work a lot harder than I'm used to in order to keep up with the guys' easy pace. Pushing harder was the point of the day, but I was still feeling some anxiety about both my effort level and the fact that the guys were going to spend 91 miles waiting on me.  Sensing this (which isn't brain surgery...if I'm quiet something is probably wrong), Mickey started checking in on me with some encouragement, coaching, and much-needed reminders to eat and drink.

Shaun flatted about nine miles in and sent us ahead while he fixed it.  Knowing how fast he is, I spent the rest of the race waiting for him to catch up. I thought he was there at one point when I felt a push from behind, but it was Benji who slowed to say hi before passing us easily on his singlespeed.

For all the gray in the sky, it was a beautiful day and I was really glad we'd ignored the weather man's gloomy predictions. I eventually settled into a more relaxed demeanor, enjoying the rural scenery and downhills while watching the number of miles remaining tick away.

Tracy's pics
Stealing another of Tracy's pictures to break up the words.
One race goal was to practice keeping up with my nutrition.  I'd struggled with this at Cedar Cross, finding it difficult to combine a harder pace with a) the bike handling necessary to get out food on the go and b) being able to eat enough food to sustain the effort.  My solution for this last year at Dirty Kanza was to try and get a large share of my nutrition in liquid form (Perpetuem then), and I'd intended to use Hairy Hundred to test out CarboRocket Half-Evil, which was first suggested by Emily and has since been highly recommended by several area friends. Instead, I'd accidentally grabbed CarboRocket's energy drink, which provided 100 calories per bottle instead of 300ish. That's a helpful calorie supplement, not replacement.  Whoops.

I'd realized my mistake the night before while preparing my bottles, so I'd brought enough food to make up the difference.  I was helped in my efforts to eat regularly by the fact that I was starving. No matter what I ate, I was still hungry. As we closed in on Fayette (and Casey's) I started thinking about pizza. Instead, Mickey rode past the store.

"Um....I guess we aren't stopping at Casey's, huh?"

"Did you want to stop?" he asked.

Well, yeah, I wanted to stop. I mean, pizza. But I took a mental inventory: two full water bottles, plenty of food, riders parked at the gas station...I didn't need anything, and the idea of leapfrogging people was appealing. "Fine. But I'm stopping at the bag drop."

Mickey's pics
Coming to the top of a hill somewhere on the course.

Not long past Fayette the course turned west and the wind became much more noticeable.  I slowed down some, but the most annoying thing about it was actually how difficult it made for me to hear. I was proud of how little it was bothering me, and I just focused on keeping the pedals going.  More troublesome was the fresh gravel we encountered in this section.

I did have to stop at about 40 miles in to switch out an empty bottle with the full one in my jersey pocket (doing that on the move is still a work in progress and not something I'm comfortable with on the thicker gravel), but otherwise we made slow, if steady, progress towards the bag drop and pulled in with plenty of full bags left on the table.

Matt was just heading out after fixing Renee's bike, and she left shortly after we arrived. In the interests of speed, I grabbed food and a drink from my bag (Starbucks mocha double shot and a rice bar) and devoured them on the way to the bathroom. By the time I'd finished that and put fresh water into my bottles, Mickey was waiting. After he grabbed a couple of bars out of my bag for me, we were off again.

Hairy Hundred has two distinct segments. The first 60 miles features near-constant rolling hills.  Once you leave the bag drop, only about 3 miles of hills remain before the final, flat 30 miles of the race.  Much of this runs along the Missouri River, and nearly all of it goes south...which conveniently was also the direction the wind was coming from.

Tracy's pics
Photo credit: Tracy Wilkins
The part with the hills wasn't too terrible. For the most part I was able to cling to Mickey's rear wheel and take advantage of the draft. After we turned from the pavement back onto gravel we could see a figure in black ahead of us, and we gradually began to close the distance until we realized it was Renee.

"OK, she's struggling...we need to pass her fast enough that she doesn't try to hang on," Mickey coached.  I wasn't flying up any hills myself and warned him I wouldn't be able to hold any pass on an uphill, so we waited until it flattened out and made our move.  I followed along with the plan but felt conflicted about it. I've been careful to base my goals on experience instead of results because I worry that being competitive could easily take the fun out of things for me, so I'm much more of a social rider than a racer. My instinct was much more to ride with my friend and, if not work together, at least suffer together.  Still, this was a race, and I was racing, so we made our pass and kept pedaling hard until no one else was in sight.

As the course flattened out and turned south, however, all of my wind-related serenity was replaced by a sense of persecution. Why are we riding straight into the wind? How can every single turn send us more directly into the face of the wind? What is it with these race directors and their flat finishes? This would have been the perfect time to take advantage of the opportunity to draft off of a much stronger riding partner, but I'd let the wind defeat me to the point that I just trailed miserably along behind. Mickey really tried to work together, but I did a lousy job of keeping up my end of the bargain. My mental game still needs work.

While I didn't manage to benefit from the draft as much as I should have, Mickey's presence kept me riding harder than I otherwise would have and kept me from stopping for a break.With 11 miles to go, we hopped back onto the Katy Trail and rode east or, as I'd been thinking about it for the past hour or more, finally not into a headwind. Somehow this did little to dispel my misery since I still had to pedal my bike.  

We passed Matt and Nathan helping Tracy with a flat. The guys quickly passed us back, and the next mile or so of conversation helped pass the time quickly before I couldn't hold onto the pace anymore and dropped back to elderly shuffle pace.

Mickey's pics
Thumbs down for bikes.

I was trying mightily not to complain, and while whiny pouters bring out the worst in me Mickey showed a lot of patience, trying to encourage and distract me into riding faster. I was only moderately receptive to his help, threatening once to punch him in the face and telling him another time, "I hate you so much right now!"

At last we spotted the tunnel that came right before the finish. Mickey, who insists that I ended last year's race in a surprise sprint finish, asked me, "When are you going to start your sprint?"

"This is my sprint," I grumbled, but when he picked up his pace, I did too, and we kept it up until I edged him at the finish, raising my hand (just one) in victory. Even though I know he let me win, it was still pretty satisfying.

Mickey went to get changed, but my first priority was food and a drink that wasn't CarboRocket (note to self: make sure you always have one bottle of plain water). I'd just sat down with my pizza when a guy came up to me. "So, you know you won, right? So we need you to come pick out your prize."

Whaaaat? I'd had no thought of winning, because Dirty Dog Race Pack's Shelby had been ahead of me and riding strong all day long. We'd last caught sight of her leaving the bag drop, but it turned out that she'd missed the reroute in New Franklin, riding several miles out of her way.

Mickey's pics
Winning! The print, from a painting by local artist James J. Froese, is of an iconic local tree. It's going to look great in my dining room!
It feels a little cheesy to win because someone else missed a turn, but I guess the fact is that my race put me in a position to take advantage of her bad luck.  By "my race", of course, I mean our race, because while I did my own pedaling, Mickey's company gave me a lot of advantages.  I do wonder how much of my end-of-race meltdown can be attributed to the wind and how much was due to starting off harder than usual.  Either way I need to start cultivating some mental toughness, because this winning thing is pretty cool.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mother's Day

I grew up outnumbered by three brothers. Though I longed at the time for a sister, in retrospect it was pretty cool to be the only girl, and it was great training for both my own family of all boys and my place as the lone girl on my adventure racing team.
Celebrating my mom and the kids who made me a mom (or stand-in mom). I love these people with all my heart. I love seeing my adult children grow into incredible people, and I'm enjoying still having one at home. My house is emptier, but my heart is full.
My mom, my boys, and my bonus daughter
I had awesome parents. I know I can't live up to my mom's baking or her ability to function on minimal sleep while making sure her family had clean clothes and home-cooked meals, but I hope that my kids have felt the kind of unwavering support and love I got from my parents.

I've got great kids, and that's probably more due to good luck than anything. Starting out with this mom gig at 19 -- and not a particularly mature 19 -- meant that my parenting philosophy was comprised of my parents' model plus liberal amounts of winging it.  There were plenty of challenges, of course, but none of the type that leave lasting scars or insurmountable consequences once you've made your way through them, and some of the rewards for those rough times make it all worthwhile.

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My best Mother's Day gift
My niece lived with us for some pretty big chunks of time during the last few years of grade school and early high school (ranging from one week to a year while her dad was fulfilling military obligations or deployed), and it was overall a wonderful experience for all of us.  That last year, though, was a rough one as we dealt with what is, in retrospect, very basic teenage stuff that we just weren't prepared for.  Though a year younger than Daniel, Kelsea hit some of those stages earlier and so was our crash course in parenting a teenager.  It felt very difficult at the time, so waking up to the above message on Sunday was incredibly touching.

Seeing your children gain perspective is only one of the joys of seeing them grow into adults. Other perks, of course, are reduced financial obligations, gaining another driver on family trips, and really, really enjoying watching them turn into the people they're meant to be. There are surreal moments as well, like watching your son graduate from boot camp or get married and wondering how the hell am I old enough for this to be happening??

And there are bittersweet moments. Like driving Nathan to the airport as he prepares to leave the country for military service. Like reading Kelsea's messages and seeing her baby grow up on Facebook because she's living in Alaska with her husband.  Like celebrating Mother's Day with Daniel two days before he and his wife loaded up a moving truck and headed west to Oregon, their new home.

If a parent's job is to give their children wings, I've done that. Though I miss them, I'm also excited for them.  What a cool thing to be able to see the world or to be free to move across the country! And I can't be too sad...I'm still got one chick left in the nest; he's at a pretty cool stage right now, and since I know what's coming I'm going to enjoy the heck out of him while I still can.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

"Racing" Cedar Cross

Note: Unless otherwise credited, all photos are by Lori Vohsen.

My idea of racing is typically to show up and complete the race, whether that's riding out the mileage or the clock, rather than competing.  Focusing too much on results takes the fun out of a day where the results aren't so impressive, and to be honest I rarely put in the kind of training that would justify high expectations. Much better to just enjoy the experience.

I mean, sure, sometimes I have glimpses of greatness competence that lead me to wonder, "What could I do if I really tried?" but I'm basically lazy, and it's much easier to ride for fun and take lots of breaks.  Despite this, through a combination of Mickey's goading and Emily's blogging, I managed to get talked into racing Cedar Cross. I mean, how do you argue with logic like this:
 When I'm racing the "bigger" races like NUEs, I like to ride rather conservatively. A strong finish is more important to me than a podium finish, which is WAY more important to me than a DNF...mostly because I've usually invested significant money and travel time into getting to that start line. But for local, less-big events like MFXC and Cedar Cross, all bets are off. I use these events to ride hard, above my perceived all-day threshold, because if I blow up, it's not a big deal. And if I don't blow up, then I know I can go harder at the next big race. It's SO beneficial to my development as an endurance racer to have these low-risk opportunities to push myself.
 Right?  Now, to clarify, my idea of racing wasn't aimed at beating other riders so much as it was a plan to give my own best effort and minimize stops. I had no set plans to ride with anyone. My hope was to latch onto a person or group going the same general pace I was, but I was comfortable with riding the course solo if that's how things played out.
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Rather than get up at 4 am to make the 8 am start in Jefferson City, I stayed the night with some of my Virtus family. The start/finish had been moved to Red Wheel Bike Shop, but Luke and I still went the wrong way and drove across the bridge "for old times' sake".

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About an hour pre-race
The parking lot was already filling up when we arrived, a veritable smorgasbord of hugs to dole out and friends to catch up with, so much that more than once I was asked, "Are you racing today?"

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Neutral rollout
Race start to SAG stop (~49 miles):


With one last-minute run back to the van to grab the tool bag that held my co2 cartridges and my money, I made it to the start line in time to witness the regular Cedar Cross festivities: National Anthem on electric guitar by Andrew Laffoon, my Team Virtus teammate Adam's son; Bob ripping off his shirt, and 100+ bicycles following a flag mounted to the back of Chuck's lead bike as we crossed the Missouri River and then rode down the pedestrian ramp from the bridge (check out the cool video from the ramp that Jeff Chase posted!) and met up with the car that was going to lead us to the gravel and the real start of the race.

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Our guitarist, Andrew, waving the flag out the window.  Quick note: in a 'Merica touch, we were actually supposed to follow Bob's red truck down the road, a plan was stymied by the flagging boxing him into the Red Wheel parking lot.
It was here, during the neutral rollout, that I had my first (and, spoiler alert, only) mechanical of the race when I shifted into my big ring and promptly dropped my chain. Apparently it's possible to shift back down and pedal it back into place, but I'm pretty bike-ignorant and wasn't privy to this wisdom; that meant I had to coast from the middle of the pack over to the side, passing through a sea of bikes on my way. When what seemed like everyone had passed me by, I finally got to the side of the road, replaced my chain, and got moving again.

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Well, crap.
Things improved markedly from this point on, though. The transition onto the gravel and the first small inclines, places where I'd been a little shaky in the past, were no big deal. I caught up with and then briefly passed Luke and Robby, and while Robby quickly re-passed me on the first big climb, the hill itself wasn't terrible.

Photo credit: Jeff Chase
This first segment of the race features two of the three singletrack sections, one that crosses through some fields in the Mark Twain National Forest, passing cows, rolling down what I thought at the time was a seriously bumpy hillside, and finally dumping us onto a rocky downhill through the woods and back out to a gravel road where we split from the Cedar Sapling (shorter course) riders.   The other is more traditional trail (rather than through pasture), and it was thankfully rideable except for a short section through a dry creekbed and, of course, the "Jeff Yielding staircase of pain".


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Credit for above photos: Brandon Blake
(L) Creekbed, (R) Much steeper than it looks hill

Sandwiched between these was rideable gravel, a few low water crossings that I approached with an abundance of caution after last weekend's swim, and some climbs that weren't nearly as bad as I remembered. I rode some with my Momentum teammate Mary and Alpine Shop's David and bounced back and forth with the Walt's crew, only managing to keep in touch with them because they had a couple stops that I didn't.

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Last year on Rutherford Bridge. This year I was too busy riding my bike to take pictures.
The next landmark was Rutherford Bridge, which is followed by a semi-rideable doubletrack uphill. Robby caught up with me at the bridge, and then Mary, David, and the Walt's crew passed, riding much more of the road than I could.  Back on the gravel, we had some fun rollers, but somewhere after that I started fading and really looking forward to the SAG stop.  Figuring out just how far away it was took some significant mental gymnastics and calculations that were only slightly more accurate than randomly selecting a number, and I spent the last 7 miles or so looking ahead hopefully for the turn to the SAG stop.

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Sanctuary!
My friend Janie was there for the day supporting her husband Jim and had graciously taken me under her wing as well. She, Chuck, and Lori got my bottles refilled for me while I stood by the truck feeling at a loss. I hadn't eaten much, so I didn't need to restock my food. None of the nutrition I'd brought sounded good, and despite (feeling like I was) doing a pretty good job of staying hydrated, I was so thirsty. The one appetizing item was Janie's tub of strawberries, so I ate several of those and, committed to keeping my stops minimal, set off again.

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The smile may be a bit of a facade at this point.

SAG - Callaway Nuclear Power Plant ( ~ mile 50 - ~mile 80):

The final singletrack segment came just after the SAG stop. "It's really rough," Chuck had warned me as I left, but I wasn't fully prepared for the horse-inflicted carnage I was to encounter. The pictures above can only hint at what conditions were like.  Downhills were akin to holding and sitting on a jackhammer, and the flat sections left you struggling to pedal your bike over a million oversized rumble strips -- if rumble strips came in the shape of horse hooves.  I don't know what riding uphill felt like because I didn't bother to try.

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I probably walked the majority of the singletrack; the minimal (for me) increase in speed didn't justify the effort required or beating delivered by riding.  I'd worry that maybe I was just being a wimp, but a much stronger rider than me posted to following recap of the singletrack ordeal on the Cedar Cross facebook page:

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Photo credit: Don Buttram
The one place where my experience differed from Don's (other than his vastly faster pace) was that I saved my wrath for a different target. I encountered a couple of horseback riders on the trail, and they were friendly and courteous enough that I almost felt guilty for the feelings I was having towards the equestrian community. It's hard to imagine how the trails could have been any worse if someone had set out to destroy them.

I truly believe that few if any horse riders set out to ruin trails for everyone, but since their actions don't affect their own use they don't really understand the repercussions of taking a 1,000+ pound animal on muddy trails. Maybe we need to set up some kind of outreach or, failing that, strap them to a rigid bike and sent them down what we rode. They might emerge with a new understanding of our complaints.

Finally the singletrack hell ended. Chris had caught up with me right before the end, so we talked briefly as we emerged onto the gravel, but he was moving a lot more quickly than I was. Rather than being energized by the return to a rideable surface, I was feeling sluggish and defeated. It seems like maybe the course covered some thicker gravel  around this point, too, but I don't remember for sure.

In retrospect, I definitely hadn't had enough to eat by this point: couple bottles of Gatorade/beet juice mix, half a Mounds bar (left over from last weekend), 1.5 packages of chomps, half of a salami roll-up, a maple syrup packet, an Ensure, and a handful of strawberries. Even assuming I've forgotten a few things, that's not nearly enough food for what was now about 5 hours of ride time.

I continued my bike version of trudging along, not unhappy, just not feeling as amazing as I had earlier in the day, until I heard a voice call out behind me, "Teammates coming, Kate!" Having Mary and David back made the miles go by much more quickly, both literally and figuratively, and before I knew it we were pulling into the surprise hot dog stop.

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Terry, a hell of a guy.
The master of ceremonies at this roadside oasis was none other than the father of Nick Smith, owner of Red Wheel Bikes. A few years ago, during the first Cedar Cross, Terry noticed that bikes kept passing his year. Correctly surmising that a race was going on, he quickly threw out a cooler with some drinks, which had to be a lifesaver on what was a very hot day. Almost every year since, he's been out there supporting not just his son's shop, but any racer who comes by. I'm not a big hot dog person, but the one I ate while stopped there totally hit the spot and carried me through to the gas station at Hams Prairie, where I met up again with Janie.

Once again I was pretty blank on what I needed. I wandered into the gas station to see what sounded good and immediately spotted the ice cream cooler. One Snickers ice cream bar later, I was standing as far inside the refrigerator holding the gatorade, letting the cool air wash over me for a while.  I refilled my water bottles in the store, paid, and went back out to the truck to get updates on everyone else while I devoured my Snickers and drank half a coke.

This stop was considerably less efficient than my first one (my fault...Janie was ready with anything I wanted, I just didn't know what that was), but around 3:15 I headed out for the last stretch of hills before the 30 miles of flat roads at the end of the race.  This solo stretch passed by pretty quickly, and before I knew it I was at the bottom of what I remembered as the terrible hill before the reactor. Like all the other hills of the day, it wasn't nearly as bad as my memory had suggested. Hard, yes, but I never felt like I was going to die or even throw up.

This section of the race was miles 50ish to 80 or so.
The heat (Garmin tells me the average temperature was 82.5, though it also says the max temp was 107, so I think we can agree to take that with a grain of salt) was definitely taking its toll on me, and I wasn't the only one. On the road leading to the reactor, I came across Batman and Robin sitting on the ground in a shady spot. "Do you need anything?" I asked.

"Only a new Batman."

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The dynamic duo, during happier times
Unable to fill that role, I wished them well and continued on my way, reminding a couple (here all the way from Oklahoma) in front of me that race rules require a picture at the nuclear plant and trading photographer duties with them.
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If you look closely, you can see the salt stains beneath the lettering on my jersey.
The abyss (miles ~85 to 116):

With the reactor behind us, it was all over but the crying (very nearly the literal truth). After one last very fun downhill, the course turns onto the Katy Trail and remains pancake flat until it climbs back up to and over the Missouri River bridge. After 85 miles of hilly, this sounds to the uninitiated like a piece of cake.

It's not.  Even the Katy Trail section, which I remember from last year as being a fast, fun ride (helped along by the Virtus-TOG paceline...drafting and awesome company do wonders for my attitude), was a slog, albeit a much-needed shade-y one.  The Oklahoma couple soon passed me, and then Jeff and Carrie cruised by. I made a halfhearted attempt to grab onto their wheel before drifting off the back and returning to my previous pace.

At about 95 miles into the race, the course turns off of the Katy and onto the gravel roads of the river bottoms. The gravel was thicker, and  nearly every turn seemed to direct me into the headwind blowing from the south. For the first time of the day I felt the lack of company; if there was any place in the race where I could have used the distraction of conversation and the respite of someone to trade drafts with, this was it.

Usually when I reach this mental point in a long bike race I start walking hills. The walk breaks are something to look forward to, and the inevitable downhill gives me the chance to have fun, chew up a little distance more quickly, and forget for a moment how much I currently hate my bike.  The unremitting flats offered no such respite; there was no point in walking a flat road, and the combination of gravel and headwind made coasting counterproductive.

I saw one of the Red Wheel guys stopped for a break at exactly mile 100 and had a brief flare of hope that I'd have company for the last 16 miles. I stopped for a moment to talk, but he didn't seem in any hurry to start moving again, so I rode on with just my angry thoughts for company.

Why would Bob route the race through here? Why ride back and forth on these gravel roads when we could just take the Katy back? He just wants us to suffer. Why are these roads so curvy? Why does every turn steer me into the wind? I thought this section was shorter.

Bob wasn't the only target, though. This was Mickey's fault. If it wasn't for all his stupid pushing to race this, I'd be riding along with my friends. I wouldn't be suffering this stupid, flat, windy last 16 miles alone.  I should call him. I should tell him he needs to get back on his bike and get back out here and ride in with me.

If I'd had little voodoo dolls and the bike handling skills to use them while riding, both guys would have felt a thousand tiny stab wounds. Possessing neither the dolls nor the requisite skills, I kept riding and counting down miles and wondering why the hell is it getting so dark when I've gone so much faster this year?? This question, at least, was answered when I realized I was still wearing sunglasses.

Eventually I reached Jefferson City and guessed my way back around to the pedestrian ramp (the Garmin route included a road that was now closed and couldn't be used), picking back up the Oklahoma couple, who'd been unable to find road signs to match the cue sheet's directions, on my way. We retraced our tracks from the morning and finally, finally crossed the finish line.

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Finished!
Final results aren't out yet, so I'm not entirely sure how I placed. I was a lot closer to some strong riders than ever before, and I cut a lot of time off my previous years. For all the smile on my face in that finish line picture, though, I wasn't all that pumped at the end of the race.  The whole experience was colored by that last couple of hours, and they"d been hard. On the other hand, it was great to have a faster time than before, pretty cool to get to watch people come in after me, and really nice to hear people tell me I'd done well. I guess in the end it's a mixed bag.

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Our Momentum group post-race
 My time of 10 hours and 23 minutes was almost 1.5 hours shorter than last year's time, which is awesome, but only about 10 minutes faster than last year's moving time, which is disappointing.  There are a couple of factors that play into that: the race this year was about 3 miles longer, and that last section of singletrack was infinitely worse. So I guess the biggest lesson for me is the benefits of time management and limiting stops. I have several friends who finished after me but with shorter moving time, whether that's because of mechanicals, regrouping, or longer breaks.

A secondary lesson is that I'm stronger and faster than I give myself credit for, but that I definitely need to work on fueling during those harder efforts. I never bonked, but more food may have prevented a few of the slumps I experienced, so I need to plan better for both on-the-bike nutrition and what I'm going to eat at those crewed checkpoints (thinking ahead here to Dirty Kanza).

The final takeaway is that my mental game still needs work. I missed some opportunities (riding with Chris, sticking with Mary and David longer, holding on to Jeff and Carrie's wheel) because I was ok with giving in rather than fighting a little harder. One faster race notwithstanding, I have a long way to go before my mentality is more compete than complete.