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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Land Run 2017: Unstoppable

You skate across the finish line, dragging your foot to stop like you've had to for the last 40 miles, and roll right into his waiting arms. He beams as if he's been waiting for you, specifically, since you left Stillwater 13 hours ago. For a moment you're the only finisher, the only one who matters, and you begin to forget about the tears and the fear and the way that you swore off Oklahoma and its hateful red mud. You don't even like beer, but you drink from the can he hands you because you're so damn happy to see him and he's so damn happy to see you and oh thank God you don't have to ride your bike any more tonight.




Bobby Wintle is the gravel evangelist of Stillwater, multiplying IPA and jeeps and red mud until there's enough for everyone, and despite Land Run's consistently challenging conditions the faithful descend in greater numbers every March. Catholics have Ash Wednesday, consumers have Black Friday, and the gravel community has Mud Saturday. Virtus and Momentum, we heeded the call, rolling into town just in time for the 6:00 revival -- I mean, race meeting.

After a quick and delicious dinner at McAllister's (thanks to my wonderful teammates for indulging my baked potato craving), it was back to the hotel to prep bikes, gear, and pretty much every piece of winter-related cycling clothing I own. Over the course of the preceding week, the forecast had changed from delightful (70's and sunny) to abysmal (40's and 100% chance of rain), and I was filled with masochistic anticipation, confident that lousy conditions would be a competitive advantage for me. I certainly had the dubious benefit of a winter full of sub-ideal ride weather.



I'd learned a lot on those rides and felt confident in my ability to dress for the expected conditions. The first half of the race was forecast to be chilly and rainy, the temperature dropping into the low 30's that night. With that in mind, I packed a huge bag of cold-weather gear to leave with Lori, who was crewing for us. It didn't take long to get everything ready, and we were all in bed early enough to get nearly 8 hours of sleep.

Rain fell overnight, and we woke to ominously gray skies. After a quick hotel breakfast, we returned to the room to gear up. I started with a long-sleeved wool base layer under my jersey and a light wind jacket on top. I wore my regular Momentum shorts with knee warmers and thin wool socks under my traditional pink argyle. After some indecision, I opted to wear my regular bike shoes and send my boots to the midpoint. A cycling cap, fleece hat, and full-fingered wind gloves completed the ensemble.

My nutritional plan for the day was simple: two 500-calorie bottles of Perpetuem per leg, which should be enough for the four hours I expected each 52-mile segment to take, supplemented by a couple of candy bars for extra calories in case things didn't go as planned. Lori saved my ass before we even got into the car when she grabbed my forgotten bottles from the refrigerator as we were leaving.

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We lined up in the middle of the pack, further back than last year with Mickey but further up than makes me comfortable. I'm still not used to riding in a huge group of bikes, so it makes me really nervous. Bobby gave a rousing talk, ending things on a high note:
"Push yourself to the very limit, push yourself past the point that you think is the end, because it's not.
The end has no end. You will only be 40% done when you think you're 100% done.
Dig, run, walk, ride, DO it today. That is hashtag #unlearnpavement."
For the second Saturday in a row, I stood on the start line with zero nerves and quiet confidence. I used to show up at every race wondering what the hell I was doing there, but I felt ready for whatever Land Run had to dish out. A cannon blast ushered us onto the course, and the race was on.

The first miles were smooth and fast. I started more aggressively than usual, hoping to make time while the roads were good. Riding solo, I focused on grabbing the wheels of people ahead of me instead of my normal habit of just pedaling along in my own little world.

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So clean, so early
Photo credit: Gravel Guru
Though disappointed by the favorable conditions I enjoyed the smooth sailing and comfortable temperatures. I caught up with some of my Momentum teammates around mile 20; Jeff gave me a dirty look when I celebrated, "What great riding weather!", but I meant it. I hate being hot on the bike. Shortly thereafter, it began to sprinkle and then rain in earnest. Initially I stuck with my light jacket, which was quickly soaked. As the downpour continued, I eventually pulled over to put on my rain jacket. Almost instantly the rain slowed to a drizzle.

Unlike last year, where the line between walking and carrying your bike was pretty obvious -- and, just in case you weren't paying attention, littered with racers who'd pushed that line and were now walking slack-chained bikes towards a SAG pickup -- it was a little more hazy this year. The day's rain initially left the roads a rideable mud soup that mostly rolled right off the bikes. Just a bit further, however, conditions forced some walking.

Photo credit: 241 Photography

I don't know how much hike-a-bike we did in the first half. It seemed pretty minimal, and I was glad. Between the additional mud accumulated on my bike and my frame bag, I struggled a bit to get comfortable carrying the bike. It felt really heavy, and while the frame bag made a nice cushion for my back, it also limited my hand positions. Still, everyone was in a similar situation, and knowing that hike-a-bike is my strength I made the best of it and plowed ahead, chatting with other racers as we walked.

Before long I was back on the bike and cruising along sloppy roads towards Buckhorn Cattle Company, which had been my biggest let-down of the pre-race meeting. When Bobby announced, "Thanks to Buckhorn Cattle Company, at mile 46 we'll...," my mind had immediately jumped to an aid station with hot, delicious, hamburgers. Then he continued, "...turn onto their land."
Source
This crushing disappointment aside, the cattle company road was wide, dry gravel and easy going. When I spotted an aid station off to the side I skipped it without even needing to ask myself "what would Mickey do?" A little later came a cool off-road section that was super fun until it wasn't.

Photo credit: 241 Photography

My rear brake hadn't been particularly confidence-inspiring all day and now the front one was barely slowing me down. I've come a long way from the girl who was afraid to top 20 mph on a downhill, but I'm still a big, big fan of my brakes and being unable to stop was scary. I turned onto a rocky downhill with a sharp left turn at the bottom and couldn't slow down. Not confident in my ability to negotiate the turn at speed, I rolled off to the side of the road dragging my foot, finally coming to a stop flat on my back.

I wasn't hurt, but the fall shook my confidence. Afraid to build up more speed than my brakes could handle, I soft-pedaled the rest of the way to Guthrie, finding Lori, Janie, and Travis at the timing mat. I hit the midpoint in about 4:25, a little more than 30 minutes faster than last year but after much less hike-a-bike.

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Halfway done or all done?
I described my brake woes and got into dry clothes. I changed into thicker wool socks and my Fasterkatts, having opted to wear my more comfortable bike shoes for the anticipated first leg hike-a-bike. I kept my wool base layer but put on a dry team jersey and a fleece jacket, topping it all with my rain jacket. I also switched to a buff over my ears, a thicker fleece hat, and traded my wind gloves for lobster gloves. I was set for the dropping temperatures.

Meanwhile, Lori took my bike to the Mulready's tent where a bike mechanic was supporting their riders. Even though they didn't know me, they rinsed off my bike and threw it up in the stand. The back brakes were toast, but he adjusted the front ones. When I tried it out, though, I couldn't even stop on the sidewalk. There was no way they'd help me out on the course.

I had another 52 miles to ride and no brakes. I felt good, I was riding well, but my race was done. I mean...right?...you can't ride 52 miles without brakes.

But I really, really didn't want to quit, and it wasn't like my bike was unrideable. Doing the opposite math that I normally do on a long ride when I'm getting tired, I did some rough estimating: it's probably a third flat, a third uphill, and a third downhill. I can just walk all the downhills. I didn't carry that math further to the fact that a third of 52 is still 17ish miles of walking my bike or the fact that in the second half of the race I was likely to be walking some uphills as well. I almost cried when Emma prompted, "You're going back out, right?" but her question sealed the deal.

I put new bottles of Perpetuem onto the bike, filled another bottle with the remainder of the heavenly hot chocolate/coffee mixture Lori had brought me, and walked apprehensively down the hill leading back to the course. There I passed Josh Schrock, manning SAG for the Dirty Dog Race Pack crew, and told him about my brake problem. He immediately offered to look at my bike, and while he too was unable to do anything about the rear one, he got the front brake working again. I pedaled cautiously away, rejoicing in my renewed stopping power but afraid to completely trust it.

The second half of the course was much emptier than the first as attrition had taken a steep toll on race numbers, but I still got a chance to ride with Kevin and Randy for a little while. They were planning on sticking together to the end, but I figured I wouldn't be able to keep up. About 12 miles into leg 2, my front brake gave it up, and I immediately lost touch with the guys when I was afraid to ride down the next hill.

While I was disappointed to lose my company, it was easier mentally than trying to keep up while constantly terrified of not being able to stop when necessary. The next miles were a haze of fear as I nervously approached every rise, peering over it to see if I was comfortable riding what came next. If the downhill looked rideable and led into a long flat or uphill, I usually rode it, but if it led into any kind of turn or extended downhill with limited sight lines, I walked.

"Why are you walking?" passing racers would ask.

"I don't have any brakes," I'd explain.

"Neither do I," they'd call as they sped away. Jim, Renee, and Jim Phillips all passed me walking, and I pushed aside my frustration with my situation and my stupid fear and stayed focused on the finish line. Josh had warned me of some hike-a-bike around mile 75, so we'd all be in the same situation at that point.

Somewhere past the 70-mile mark I hit a section of unrideable mud. I definitely pushed my luck riding this year, but with my inability to ride downhill I tried to maximize my time on the bike. This was fine until I was sagging under the weight of my mud-laden bike. Jim Phillips was mired in this section, too, standing by his bike. He'd run the 50K run the day before and been riding singlespeed after breaking his rear derailleur during the first half. He looked exhausted. "You don't want to quit," I told him.

"No, I don't," he sighed, and started walking. Trying to distract him from how lousy he felt, I started chatting about mutual friends and his new fork and what kind of tweets thin-skinned Mother Nature would put out in response to his taunting. We separated when the course got more rideable, then met back up during the next hike-a-bike, then separated again when he stopped to scrape mud from his bike.

There was a surprise aid station near the 80-mile mark. I didn't really need anything but a break from pushing my bike, so I grabbed a pickle and a sprite and commiserated with Jim Smith and Renee, who'd beaten me there. He looked shelled from lugging his fat bike through the hike a bike, and they said something about another 13 miles on this road before a turn. "It can't all be this bad," I told them. "There's probably pavement in another mile or two. Let's go."

Renee and I started off, but Jim was on the fence. "Don't you quit," I urged, but when we left I expected we'd soon see his bike ride by on one of the SAG jeeps rolling in and out of the aid station like it was a MASH unit. One arrived just as we were leaving. "OK," I heard a volunteer ask the waiting racers, "Who's the coldest?"

I alternated between carrying my bike and rolling it along the grassy edge of the road when possible. John came riding past with Jim in his wake, having convinced him to keep going, and after a quick hug from my buddy (also without brakes but far braver than I was) they all rode away.

Even at my slow pace I was never alone, accompanied by passing racers and a steady stream of jeeps. This must be what it feels like to see the cavalry come in, I mused. Each driver would slow and give me a thumbs up, providing a steady combination of reassurance (someone will be here to help me if I need it) and temptation (the Jeep is right there, wave it down and this could all be over right now).

The last 24 miles dragged on as dusk fell. Once I needed my light the lack of long-range vision on downhills multiplied my fear. I'd watch the taillights of riders ahead of me to gauge how long and straight the hills were and whether the road turned back up. My heels developed blisters from so much walking in boots, and I began to take a few more chances, praying desperately as I flew downhill, "Please let there be an uphill, please let there be an uphill..."

If you ask me what's the worst that can happen, I'm already picturing it in my head, so every blind downhill was accompanied by visions of crashes and head injuries and broken bones. The most frustrating thing was that I wouldn't have thought twice about riding any of these hills -- likely without touching my brakes -- had I known I could stop if necessary. Absent that ability, I was cloaked in fear, and towards the end of the long day a random nice comment was enough to leave me crying for the next 20 minutes. "I will never, ever come back to Oklahoma. Ever."

I rationed peeks at the Garmin. I only looked at mileage, knowing the time and pace data would be depressing; even so, the math was almost heartbreaking. 24 miles left; if I'm going 10 mph that's just over 2 hours...am I even going 10 mph? At 7 mph that's just over 3 hours...how fast do I walk my bike? At 6 mph that's...oh, no, no more math!

I inched closer to the finish line, meeting another Kate from the St. Louis area with 3 kids along the way, and her company was a bright spot in that last slog. Thankfully the course flattened out enough that I was comfortable riding more, and suddenly I was back on pavement heading into Stillwater. Instead of racing through those last easy miles I was stuck soft-pedaling, afraid my inability to stop would dump me into a busy intersection at the wrong time; no way was I was riding all those miles only to be hit by a car right before the finish line.

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Stoic as ever at the finish line. ;-)
Photo credit; Emma Gossett
I made a couple of wrong turns in the last few blocks, but after 13 hours on the course a line of Land Run luminaries led me home. I rolled into that legendary Bobby Wintle hug, and while he might be the high priest of gravel it was me who was suddenly ready to grant absolution. Mother Nature and her cold rain, Oklahoma and its sticky red clay, my useless brakes, Bobby and his brutal course, all forgiven in the finish line jubilation.


According to the Land Run website, 850 people started and 165 finished.  It was probably my toughest day ever on the bike, but I successfully managed the things I could control and dealt with the things I couldn't. I wish I could have handled my no-brake situation with more grace and courage, but that regret isn't enough to taint how proud I am of this hard won finish. I feel like I've been through the fire and come out stronger. Huge thanks to my wonderful friends for crewing for me and waiting for me, and of course thanks to Bobby, Crystal, and all of their volunteers. They put on a first class event, and already my "never again" has shifted towards "next year".

Want more?

Jim's report
Robby's report
Neil Chanter's Roadie's perspective 
The Gravel Cyclist report

Thursday, March 2, 2017

February recap

Books read: 

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe  - A childhood favorite of mine, this is the first time I've read it to one of my first grade classes. While it hasn't been quite as fun an experience to read it to them as Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM, Swiss Family Robinson, or The Indian in the Cupboard, I've been amazed by the great predictions and connections they've made.

No books for myself. Sad, sad, but mostly a function of really full weekends and evenings.

New recipes: 

Ummmm...I kind of defaulted to my old reliables this month instead of meal prep. I think we were busy every single weekend, and if I was home on a Sunday evening it was mostly enough to throw my dirty clothes in the wash and go to bed.

Goals: This year I set several training goals for myself: 5000 miles (or 500 hours, since mountain biking for me yields way fewer miles for the time) on the bike, 500 miles on foot (running/walking/hiking/etc.), 52 hours of yoga, and 30 hours of strength training. Thank goodness for youtube; I can never manage to commit to a class, but I can usually fit in a 10+ minute yoga video.

Feb. foot miles 49.2
Feb. strength training 2:48
Feb. yoga 2:02
Feb. bike miles 263
Feb. volleyball hours: 7:30

Races/events:

  • 2/19/17 Meramec O meet (SLOC orienteering meet). Cleared the course, felt pretty darn good, and other than a 20ish minute mistake had a clean run.

General fun:
  • 2/4 Monster Jam - a first for me and a fun night with Jeff and Jacob

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Female driver. :)
  • 2/5 A fast (for me) pre-Super Bowl loop of the Berryman trail, getting me home just in time to make it to the party before kick-off and fall asleep before the half-time show.
Berryman
Gorgeous day. SO much fun.
  • 2/11 A sluggish (even for me) 84 miles of gravel. Not a good day, but it made me feel slightly better to not be going into Land Run on a long ride of 50 miles.
  • 2/12 Family hike at Marquette Park. Largely unwilling 13 year old made this super fun.
  • 2/18 Family/friend hike in Ste. Genevieve, MO. We'd switched plans to avoid hiking the Shawnee in the rain, only to get rained on in Missouri. 
RIMG2246
Why our hikes are long on time but short on miles. I'm not complaining; I'm happy just to be outside.
  • 2/19 Post-orienteering mountain bike ride at Forest City. Great trails, but with my confidence at an all-time low after smashing my hand into a tree, I spent most of the ride in the cycling equivalent of the fetal position.
Forest City
Ample opportunities for me to take pictures of my bike not being ridden.
  • 2/20 Much more fun MTB ride at Indian Camp Creek Park. :)
  • 2/25 Much better 75 mile gravel ride, despite the seasonable (much colder than we've gotten used to this "winter") weather and wind.
Hawk point
20 mph wind out of WNW. That first 40 miles was rough.
  • 2/26 Short family hike

What's up for March:  The LBL Challenge 24 hour in Kentucky on March 4, Land Run 100 mile gravel race on March 11, and tentatively the Beaumont O-meet on March 18. With Land Run out of the way, I'm hoping to get in way more mountain biking, but Tour of Hermann (another gravel race) looms in April, so it won't be all play.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

2017 Rocheport Roubaix

The Rocheport Roubaix is a pavement/gravel hybrid starting from the little town of Rocheport, MO. This was my third year participating in the 50-mile race. Ultramax does a great job with this event; it's a bit more expensive than a typical gravel race, but roving support vehicles in January are a perk I don't mind paying for.

I was only able to go after the race was rescheduled due to icy conditions and, being low-grade sick all that week, didn't commit to going until Friday night -- and only then because I had a ride.  It wouldn't have broken my heart had Eric messaged race morning to bail, but instead we made the 2-hour drive to Rocheport, grumbling about the cold, wind, and occasional snow flurries.

My nutritional plan for the day (anticipating ~4 hours of riding) consisted of a 500 calorie bottle of Perpetuem, two Reese's PB Christmas trees (170 cal each), and a mini Clif bar...basically whatever I could grab from the bottom of my dwindling race food tub. Unfortunately, I left the Perpetuem bottle in my refrigerator at home but was saved by Eric's donated (and just as bad as he advertised) tub of Lemon-Lime Gu Roctane (250 cal/bottle) and extra bike bottle, Between that and a quick text to Renee for one more bottle, crisis was averted.

Eric and I were the only Momentum people and no one else from Virtus made the trip, but lots of familiar faces were at the start. I'd thought Eric, Renee, and I had a loose plan to ride together, so I had to laugh when she immediately shot away...yet another episode in our history of repeatedly planning and failing to ride together. Most of the field quickly pulled ahead, and while I'm no stranger to the back of the pack I was a little surprised by how few bikes I could even see ahead of me.

Rocheport Roubaix 2017
Sinking Creek Rd, outer gloves already off
Photo credit: Donovan Evans
Despite my previous weather dread, riding conditions were great: smooth gravel, cold but comfortable temps. It was windy, but not ridiculous. My double-gloved hands quickly overheated, and I cautiously removed the outer pair and stuffed it in my jacket. In the process I slowed enough to lose Eric but caught up when he stopped to make some adjustments.  Worrying that my pace was too slow, I told him, "It won't hurt my feelings if you want to go ahead." We stuck together for a while, and Eric attacked the next paved section like the former roadie he is. I was comfortable hanging in on the flats, but once the road started to climb he disappeared.

I wasn't alone for long. The fast pace over the early part of the course had clearly taken its toll, and I gradually began seeing and catching other riders.  One of these was Jim, who'd set a new standard of efficiency in intentional self-destruction. I commiserated with him and then, doing my best to apply the momentum lessons I'm learning on my new singlespeed, said goodbye and attacked the downhill to get a good boost into the upcoming climb.

The wind was a non-factor until I turned onto Burr Oak Rd. where the open landscape provided no shelter.  I made my way up behind a couple Columbia guys with cool old bikes and a lot of hair, and together we bridged up to a lone rider who turned out to be Renee. We rode together as the road's turn provided a glorious tailwind, and then we caught John after turning onto Mt. Celestial Rd.

Overall I felt pretty good, not particularly fast, but steady. Being accustomed to self-supported races, I skipped the aid stations and didn't need any bathroom breaks, though I made one quick stop for electrolytes when my legs started warning about impending cramps. When we reached the loop at the far end of the course, my Garmin directed me straight ahead. Clearly remembering riding in the opposite direction last year, I had a bad feeling about what was coming. In the other direction this loop has featured a screaming downhill into a tough climb; I was not excited about discovering how that felt in reverse.

While the hill situation was bad news, riding Smith Hatchery Rd in the opposite direction was a great change. Absent last year's awful crosswind and trending downhill, it allowed a speedy pace. All too soon, though, the turn onto Dothage Rd confirmed my fears. There was the barn that signaled the normal end of the climb and, further ahead loomed the hill we normally ride down, looking practically vertical.

It looks too scary to even ride down, I thought to myself...but maybe it's one of those hills that looks worse from a distance.

Yeah, it wasn't.

About 3/4 of the way to the top I gave in; even Donovan's waiting camera wasn't enough to keep me on the bike. I might have made it to the top, but I was afraid my legs would be toast for the rest of the day. I mean, they've never actually exploded on a tough hill, but there's a first time for everything. I swallowed my pride and did the walk of shame as a crowd of 70-mile racers and Renee rode past.

Rocheport Roubaix 2017
Back on the bike near the top of Dothage. You know the photographer is a nice guy when he waits until you're pedaling again to take the picture.
Photo credit: Donovan Evans
From there, I closed the Old Plank loop and headed back the way I'd come, distracted by my Garmin's track, which kept pointing me in the opposite direction. Did I miss a turn? I don't remember any of this. Oh, wait...the track shows that I rode this way earlier. I guess this is right.  

Thankfully the more familiar Mt. Celestial Rd. finally put my routing questions to rest. Turning from there back onto the pavement, I finished off one of my Roctane bottles and took advantage of the smooth road to switch my full one to the front cage. I was just congratulating myself on completing this task without stopping or crashing when John and Renee swept by. "Hop on!"

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We fought the wind in a tight three-person paceline, John leading until Renee pulled ahead of him. Then John rode back to the front spot while I hung back, confused. In my minimal experience riding in a group, the front person has always pulled off and dropped to the back, but after another such switch in positions, I figured that was just how this particular paceline was going to work and offered to take my turn in the lead.

The wind was awful, but the sort of awful that makes you laugh at how stupid hard it is rather than the kind that makes you want to curl up and die on the side of the road, We inched ahead until finally reaching the relative shelter of the Columbia guys we'd ridden behind earlier. Once I'd caught my breath I told them they'd acquired a three-person tail, offered to share the work, and was not sad at all when they declined.

We lost our windbreak when they dropped off at the aid station, but we were out of the flats and missing the worst of the wind. I celebrated that we had just a little bit more and then it was all downhill to the finish, getting a little snarly when Renee brought up the small fact of the hills between us and that downhill finish: "I only want to think about the happy part!"

I'd been looking forward to the timed hill climb, having won it the previous year, and attacked it with quickly waning enthusiasm, slowing to what felt like a crawl. Somehow I still took 6 seconds off last year's time, but it wasn't enough to repeat my victory.

Around mile 40 I started looking at my Garmin for mileage. Typically I leave the map screen up and just enjoy the ride, trying not to think about how far, how fast, or how many miles are left; once I start to suffer I start peeking. I did a lot of peeking (and suffering) in that last 10 miles. Though I'd glossed over them in my memories of the downhill into Rocheport, numerous hills lay in wait before that point, and each one was a nasty surprise.

At long last I reached the approach to town, and the sight of a bike ahead of me was good incentive to pick up the pace. I gradually closed on him, only to see that he was riding a mountain bike with chunky tires, and then sped past on the long-anticipated downhill finish, crossing the line in 3:54:08, 22 minutes faster than last year.

Rocheport Roubaix 2017
Photo credit; Donovan Evans, who was basically everywhere all day long.

I ended up taking 2nd in my AG to Renee, which is only impressive if you don't know we were the only two in our age group.

Rocheport Roubaix 2017
More gigantic Rocheport bling!
The good: 
  • Faster overall time
  • No navigational issues - Garmin was on point (it had the weird arrow pointing me in the wrong direction, but the actual track was right) and the course was very well marked.
  • No saddle discomfort
  • Good job on clothing/gear choices
  • Post ride hard cider
Areas for improvement:
  • I don't actually think I rode much faster, but I did a lot less stopping: two quick electrolyte stops and a walk up the hill on Dothage. Improving my bike handling or figuring out a no-stop system for grabbing those pills would eliminate the need for those stops.  
  • As far as nutrition, I usually have a timer set to remind me to eat or drink ever 15 minutes, but that's not set up on the "race" profile I selected on my Garmin. I did pretty well with eating in the first half and then tapered off as I got tired. In total, I drank 1.5 bottles of Roctane (~325 cal) and ate 2 Reeses peanut butter trees (340 cal total) and about 1/4 Payday bar (~60 calories). That makes about 725 calories. I shoot for about 250/hour, so the deficit probably helps explain my sluggish final 10 miles.
  • Post-ride tortilla soup was gone. :(

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January Recap

Books read: 

The Art of Keeping Cool  - coming of age type of story about a boy who's living with his mother near his paternal grandparents while his dad is a pilot fighting in WWII. I had picked it up a couple years ago at a yard sale for Jacob. He never read it, and I was trying to decide whether to save it for him or just put it with our donation pile. It was OK, but I don't think he'll ever read it. Goodwill it is.

The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman) - After the murder of his family when he's a baby, a boy is raised in a graveyard by the inhabitants. Assigned reading for Jacob's Language Arts class. It sounded interesting, so I read it before he took it to school. Really enjoyed this one.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (George RR Martin) While part of me wants to refuse to read anything GRRM writes until he finishes the Game of Thrones series, the less disciplined part of me just wants to get back to that world however I can. I really enjoyed this prequel, which has a considerably different tone (less violence, no sex) than previous books in the GOT series.

The Sleepwalker (Chris Bojalian) When a mother with a history of sleepwalking suddenly disappears, her older daughter seeks to learn what happened. So good!

New recipes:
  • Roasted Broccoli, Radicchio, and Chickpeas (Shape mag) - gross
  • Jamaican jerk chicken with swiss chard (Shape mag) - delicious! I need bigger pans or something, though.
  • A bunch of new recipes shared on my friend Kristen's meal prep/clean eating Facebook page. I've wanted to be more organized about meal prep and not been disciplined enough to figure it out for myself, so the page has been a huge asset. I really love being able to come home and just heat up one of several healthy meals I prepped on Sunday.

Goals: This year I set several training goals for myself: 5000 miles (or 500 hours, since mountain biking for me yields way fewer miles for the time) on the bike, 500 miles on foot (running/walking/hiking/etc.), 52 hours of yoga, and 30 hours of strength training. Thank goodness for youtube; I can never manage to commit to a class, but I can usually fit in a 10+ minute yoga video.

Jan. miles run 33.6
Jan. strength training 2:10
Jan. yoga 6:20
Jan. miles biked 189.7

Races/events:

  • 1/7/17 Last Man Standing/Little Woods Progressive Ultra - 3* at the start, surprisingly comfortable, I ran two 4.1 mile laps and called it a day. 
Littlewoods-0607
Photo credit: Robin Misukonis
  • New (to me) bike! Because I definitely needed a third mountain bike.

    North Trace/St. Joe
    New bike day is the best!
  • 1/28/17 Babler Cold Nose-O (SLOC orienteering meet). Cleared the course, felt severely out of shape hiking up the steep hills there.

  • 1/29/17 Rocheport Roubaix - 50 mile gravel bike race  
    Rocheport Roubaix 2017
    Photo credit: Donovan Evans
What's up for February:  The Meramec O-Meet on 2/19, lots of gravel riding in preparation for March's Land Run, and more time on my feet to get me ready for the LBL 24 hour.
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Monday, January 16, 2017

And now for something completely different


I didn't register for Dirty Kanza. I didn't register for Motherlode. I don't have a long gravel race on my schedule until October's Spotted Horse Gravel Ultra. Of course I'll still be at the usual mid-Missouri spring gravel races, but it feels very empty to not have a spring 200-miler hanging over my head this year.

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Dirty Kanza, 2015
I love those races, the incredible locations, the awesome people behind them, and the excitement of facing a big challenge. Dirty Kanza feels like part of me, and I'm dying to go back to South Dakota for redemption in the Black Hills. So why am I staying home?

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Motherlode, 2016
Goals. One big one, in particular. Four years ago I watched the movie Ride the Divide and, like probably 95% of the people who did so, fell in love with the idea of doing it myself.  I'm happiest with a ridiculously out-of-my-league goal to chase; this qualifies in every way possible, but here it is, four years later, and I still haven't been out bikepacking.

I love racing, but the last two years I've raced so much that I didn't have time for a lot of things I wanted to do. When my friends have scheduled bikepacking trips, I've either been committed to a race or I've just spent too many weekends away from home to leave for another one.

I got a seat bag for Christmas, and the money I would have spent on DK registration will pay for a handlebar roll for my bike. Instead of scrambling (and paying) for a hotel room and crew I'll be planning for weekends in the woods full of long miles and big hills with friends and loaded bikes, hopefully somewhere without an internet signal so I can temper my FOMO.

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Jeff and Jacob apparently aren't going to fall in love with bikes, but they're both excited for backpacking, and I want my calendar to allow as much of that as we want. I'll probably still race too much, but this year I'm going to be better about scheduling my races around my priorities instead of trying to fit everything around races. After all, kids don't stay kids forever, and that 2021 date I picked for Tour Divide looms larger with every passing day.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

100* Miles of Nowhere - Edwardsville edition

2016 was the ninth year the Fat Cyclist hosted his charity race, the 100 Miles of Nowhere. Basically the point is to design and ride a course where you ride 100 miles...nowhere. People have ridden it on trainers, around small parks, around circular driveways (!!). Sometimes the race is completed in installments over multiple days. Sometimes it's shorter than 100 miles. You can do it on any bike -- or many bikes.

It's truly a choose your own adventure. Fatty gives his participants lots of leeway; the main goal is to adhere to the spirit of the event while raising money for Camp Kesem, a recreational camp for kids whose parents have cancer. And the icing on the cake is that because you are the designer of your own race, you're also sure to win your division.

I've ridden plenty regular centuries, so last year when I registered for 100 Miles of Nowhere I intended to complete the race on singletrack. I had the perfect 2-mile loop picked out for my event, but weather/trail conditions never cooperated with my schedule and 100MON 2015 became my first ever DNS. I still wore the jersey.

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No shame in my game.

I registered again this year, both to redeem myself and because it’s such a good cause. Not having learned my lesson, I once again planned an all-trail edition. That is, I planned to plan it. The weather-dependent nature of our local singletrack makes it hard to schedule something too far ahead, and life kept getting in the way.

Luckily, our summer-like weather (82* that Thursday!) held as the calendar inched closer to December, and suddenly I realized that Sunday, November 20, was completely open.  Even a rainstorm on Friday wasn’t enough to derail the race thanks to previously dry conditions and the super windy day that followed. The wind was a double-edged sword, though, chasing in a cold front that dropped the temperature below freezing.


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I wasn’t about to let a little cold weather stop me, though; I had a plan. A brilliant plan! Invoking the dirt to pavement multiplier, I was going to ride 33 miles on on trail 8 (1.1 mile loops) to check off the 2016 100MON. Then, I’d move to trail 3 (2 mile loops) and ride 33 miles to redeem the 2015 100MON. Finally, I’d switch to a stretch of doubletrack (not really sure of the distance, but I’d have plenty of time to find out on race day) for 33 miles of out and backs, pre-emptively winning my division for 2017. Not only would I *actually* ride 100 miles for the day and tick off my first singletrack century, but I'd triple podium.


The alarm rang at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning, plenty of time for me to eat breakfast and hit the trails by 6, thus knocking off a few miles before daylight; however, overnight I’d belatedly grown nervous about being in the woods alone in the dark, and that fear probably contributed to my slow morning and eventual 7:30 arrival. Luckily the race director was super cool about it and pushed back the start time.


Leg 1: 2016 100 Miles of Nowhere


I started off with my first kit and first number plate. Trail 8 is all swoopy fun. My plan was to ride 10 loops counterclockwise and then reverse directions for the next 10. Two laps in I realized that was a terrible idea and switched to a 5/5 split. After all my happy anticipation I really wasn’t enjoying myself and pondered going back home to bed. Unfortunately, I’d already posted my intentions on Facebook and had no choice but to continue.


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Because my family was sleeping in and watching football all day, I was racing self-supported. I stuffed my camelbak with water, food, Perpetuem, and extra clothes and then hung it in a tree at the apex of the loop. I’d ride two loops, get a drink, ride three more loops, eat something. Switch directions and repeat.


My Garmin 520 has most local strava segments enabled, which is an awesome feature for making you push yourself on shorter rides but less fun when your virtual partner keeps beating you to the finish. 8 laps in, I’d had enough of the constant beeping and stopped to disable the segments, accidentally saving the ride in the process.
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A lot of people aren’t crazy about loop courses, but I enjoy them. With my long list of mountain bike skill deficits, repeatedly riding the same thing helps my confidence. I intentionally chose the least intimidating, easiest trail possible, but trail 8 was a good place to work on taking curves with less braking, riding over a log, and carrying speed on (gentle) downhills.


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A friend joined me around 10 and we rode some laps together here and there, but mostly it was me, my bike, trail 8, and the occasional other users who were always riding in the opposite direction, leading to a few close encounters. Interestingly, riding the loop clockwise felt fastest, but riding it counterclockwise consistently yielded faster times.


Another directional difference was riding over the log. It’s bigger than what I usually attempt, but I cleared it every time. Riding it cleanly was another story. The approach was slightly different depending on direction, and I hit my chainring on it every one of my CCW runs, more of a slow-speed chainsaw-ing than anything else. Luckily that big ring serves primarily as a bashguard rather than a shifting option.


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20 laps later I was finished! 33 miles down. Time to break for lunch and to thaw my frozen feet. The two pairs of socks I’d worn with my regular bike shoes were no match for the cold, and my toes felt like blocks of ice. Too bad I don’t have winter bike shoes or wool socks. Oh, wait...I do. Back home in my closet. In contrast, I’d overdone it with my top layers, which were now drenched and chilling me every time I stopped. Time for a kit change: my dry 2015 100 MON jersey was just the thing for my long-delayed 2015 race.


Leg 2: 2015 100 Miles of Nowhere


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A new race called for a change of venue, so I moved to trail 3. Another loop course, it afforded me the perfect spot to hang my one-woman aid station. Regrettably, the starting point featured a climb* in either direction. When planning my day, this had been an advantage -- Awesome! I can practice my uphills! -- after 33 miles and way too many hours this practice opportunity no longer seemed like a perk.


Because this course was twice as long as trail 8, I only had to ride about 15 laps to hit my 33 mile goal. Once again I started out counter-clockwise. With fewer laps to ride, I decided on 3 counterclockwise (easier)/2 clockwise. I wasn’t sure how the latter part of that pattern would go. Both directions start with climbs, but after the initial uphill, CCW is mostly flowy and fun. Ridden in the other direction, the trail begins with a rougher, rootier incline as well as two short switchback climbs further in. I really wasn’t looking forward to these, but they ended up being a nice change of pace.


In addition to the switchbacks, which are a major target for improvement, this trail also offered a small tree to ride over; its size has never intimidated me, but the slightly diagonal position across the trail makes me nervous enough that I’ve walked it more than once in the past. After 8 successful times riding it during 100 Miles of Nowhere, I think I’m over those nerves.


But wait...I hear you ask. 8 times? I thought you had to ride 15 laps here. You're right; I can’t slip anything past you. 5 laps in, I was over it. Even the vast brilliance of my 3-in-1 plan couldn't convince me into staying on the trail even through the remainder of the 2015 leg. I eked out another 3 laps to reach 50 miles for the day and called it good enough. I didn’t complete the race, but at least I shifted my DNS to a DNF.


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Leg 3: 2017 100 Miles of Nowhere


My plan for the last leg revolved around another area of weakness. Hill repeats! Both directions! Of course, by the end of my time on trail 3 the doubletrack out and back route I’d chosen sounded like the deepest circle of hell, so it was with great relief that I realized the 2017 100 Miles of Nowhere is still months away. Whew!

(But when it gets here, I’ve got my number plate ready.)


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*Climb, in this context, should not be interpreted as any kind of major climb, merely that the trail wasn’t flat or downhill.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2016 in review

Quick stats:

Total race: 24

  • Running: 4 (3 trail, 1 road)
  • Biking: 11 (7 gravel, 4 MTB)
  • Adventure races: 4 (one 30 hr, one 24 hr, one 18 hr, one 8 hr)
  • Orienteering: 6
  • Volunteering: 3
  • DNF: 1

Miles on bike: 3,442 (2,594 gravel, 848 MTB)
Miles on foot: 449 (145 road, 57 trail, 47 orienteering, 73 trekking/hiking, 75 walking)

Most miles in a month: bike - 402 (March), run - 58 (January)
Fewest miles in a month: bike - 145 (December), run - 10 (June)

Longest ride: 152 miles at Spotted Horse
Longest run: 13.1 miles at Frozen Feet

Bike centuries: 11

Nights camping: 19 (6 tent, 13 camper)

Coldest race weather: Frozen Feet had snow on the ground, but nothing horribly cold this year.
Hottest race weather: 100's in South Dakota for Gold Rush

Repeat races: Little Woods, Frozen Feet, Rocheport Roubaix, Tour of Hermann, Broemmelsiek MTB race, Cedar Cross, Hairy Hundred, Creve Coeur Heartbreaker, Thunder Rolls, BT Epic, Castlewood 8-hour, Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Race

New to me races: Land Run, Gold Rush Motherlode, Leadbelt MTB race, No Sleep - Shawnee, Spotted Horse Gravel Grinder

States I raced in: Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa



Recap:


January: 13:40 biking, 5:53 mountain biking, 2:26 orienteering, 6:14 running, 2:38 strength, 4:44 trail running, 3:08 trekking

With both the Little Woods Last Man Standing run and the Frozen Feet half marathon falling at the beginning of the year, I did more running in January than any other month of the year, but I still spent way more time on my bike.

First real snow of the winter and we got to run in it! Totally worth the couple miles of rain we had first. #trailrunning #running
Snowy trail run with Chuck
Awesome day on Missouri's Berryman Trail with friends. Winter temps mean mostly frozen trails and great riding weather as long as you kept moving. #mtb #singletrack #mountainbiking #berrymantrail #tothelimit #cyclingstateofmind #marktwainnatlforest
Mountain bikes on the Berryman Trail
Riding bikes in the snow is like being a beginner all over again. Definitely reminds all over again you about shifting and looking where you want to go. So much fun. Perfect snow for riding bikes, and the trails are in awesome shape! #mtb #snowday #gorctr
Snowy mountain bike ride
Following up yesterday's half marathon with a half-snowy, half-slushy 40 mile gravel ride. Thank goodness I'm not feeling post-race soreness (yet! That'll probably kick in tomorrow) because today's challenging surfaces wiped me out. #tothelimit #training
Regretting my choice of bike on a snowy Katy Trail
Midway through Saturday's Frozen Feet half marathon and loving the snowy scenery. My first half since last January and one of my slowest, but the running fitness (and enjoyment) is coming back. #running #halfmarathon #frozenfeet
Feeling surprisingly good at the Frozen Feet half marathon

February: 24:56 bike, 3:20 orienteering, 3:26 running, 2:36 strength training, 5:46 trekking

Rocheport Roubaix was my only event of the month. Between outdoor rides and time on the trainer, I had a decent training base but opted for the middle distance (50 miles) on the argument that it was too early in the year to suffer. I felt great that day. Chuck and I rode an overall relaxed pace, but with his encouragement I hit the timed hill climb pretty hard and ended up placing first on that segment for women.  Otherwise, with plans of an eventual Grand Canyon hike percolating, Jeff, Jacob, and I did some weekly hikes, including a trip to Giant City State Park.


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Surprised and delighted to have won the hill climb.
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The guys at Giant City
March: 30:31 bike, 5:09 mountain bike, 2:39 run, 2:13 strength, :41 walk

March's main event was Land Run, a very muddy 107 mile gravel race in Oklahoma. Mickey used his last-minute entry (thanks, Matt!), to pace/drag me to a strong finish. I ended up 2nd in my age group and 9th overall solo female. It's pretty rare for me to have a podium finish that's not by default, so that was an exciting day. I also made two trips to the Steelville, MO, area for the Death by Gravel ride. The first trip was thwarted by my over-optimistic dressing for the never-materializing highs forecast and my failure to prepare for the 3 hours of thick, wet snow we got. I went back the next weekend and finished the ride in much better conditions.

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Mud-splattered at Land Run
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2nd place!
DBG attempt
Death by Gravel attempt 1, ended at 38 miles
Death by Gravel, take 2. Success! 90 miles, 8000 feet of climbing, and a good day of gravel training. #tothelimit #bikes #momentumracing #CedarCrosstraining
DBG take 2, finished!
April: 26:27 bike, 6:46 MTB, 8:20 orienteering, 1:00 running, 2:43 strength, 1:55 trail running, 4:20 walking

April was another bike-heavy month, but it started out with a bike-less weekend volunteering at Adventure Camp, where I was talked into doing the zip line for the first time. Next up was Tour of Hermann, where I still haven't managed to complete all legs of the back-to-back 100 mile days. This year once again I managed all but the last 50-mile leg. Later in the month I raced the marathon (3 hour) division of the Broemmelsiek Challenge and finished out the month with a solo century while many of my bike friends were racing a brutal 150-miler in Southern Missouri.

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Not entirely excited about the zip line
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On the way down




Tour of Hermann 2016
Tour of Hermann, day 1
Tour of Hermann 2016
Less happy on day 2 of Tour of Hermann
Broemmelsiek
Broemmelsiek!
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Killing time on the solo century by taking selfies

May: 22:16 bike, 7:10 MTB, :28 run, :15 strength, 3:16 walk

The month started with Cedar Cross, where I made all of the pacing/nutrition mistakes possible, which only compounded the challenge of the first hot ride of the year. It was not a good day on the bike, but only my ego sustained damage. A few days later, when I somehow managed to tweak my hamstring while sitting in a chair at work; I spent the next two weeks mostly resting, occasionally riding and then paying for it the next day, and constantly stressing about it. Thankfully, by Hairy Hundred it seemed to have resolved itself, and I had a very enjoyable day on bikes with Jim and Eric. In between races, we fit in a family camping trip/shakedown run since our camper hadn't been used in the past two years.

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Sitting on the road at Cedar Cross with no interest in getting up.
Marquette park camping
Happy to be camping again!
Marquette park camping
Marquette Park overlook with Jacob
June: 15:07 bike, 13:03 mountain bike, 1:26 run, :40 trail run, 3:35 trekking

We left for South Dakota the second week of June, combining a family vacation with my goal race of the year, the 210-mile Motherlode. Race day temperatures were nearly 30 degrees higher than normal, and I wilted in the heat, missing the time cutoff for the first checkpoint. After cooling down, I slightly salvaged my day by riding back and ending the day with 110 miles, but it was a big disappointment. We spent the next week visiting cool places. Later that month Nathan came home on leave from Japan, the first time we'd seen him in over a year, and I finished up June by placing first in the beginner division at the Creve Coeur Heartbreaker.

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Taking ALL THE STUFF on vacation
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Gorgeous Motherlode scenery
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The women's field at Motherlode
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Photobombing Mt. Rushmore
Mickelson Trail
Getting a taste of the Mickelson Trail
Badlands NP
Hiking in the Badlands
Harney Peak
Near the top of Harney Peak
#winning CCLP
Podium at Creve Coeur
July: 15:16 bike, 20:44 MTB, 1:26 running, :40 trail running, 3:35 trekking, 1:21 walking

July was apparently the month to do all the things. We started out the holiday weekend in Hannibal, MO, playing mud volleyball (Jeff's family tradition for the past 30 years). Also up that month were a gravel century with Eric, a road 5k to support the Joshua's Great Things Foundation, marathon division of the Leadbelt MTB race, a brutal ride (or, more accurately, hike a bike) on the Karkaghne section of the Ozark Trail, and a much more fun weekend combining the Ozark Trail, camping, and the Council Bluff trail. I traveled to Kansas City to help crew for my friend Patrick's attempt to stand up paddleboard the MR340, we did a nighttime orienteering meet with some friends, and the final weekend of the month Jeff, Jacob, and I headed to Smithville Lake near Kansas City to camp, visit Chiefs training camp (them), and mountain bike (me).

Hannibal 2016
Mud volleyball
Hannibal 2016
Our "after" photo
Hawk Point
Century interrupted by small-town parade
Karkaghne
Crossing Bee Fork
Tuesday
Kaw Point at the start of the MR340
CB/Bass OT weekend
Council Bluff trail/lake
Smithville Lake
Smithville lake trails
Smithville Lake
Campfire time





August: 22:08 biking, 14:01 MTB, 4;04 paddling, 1:33 running, 1:00 strength, :32 trail running, 10:03 trekking, 12:07 walking

August started with another gravel century, this one with Mickey. Next up was a trip on the Courtois Section of the OT (and another river fording). Finally, towards the end of the month Chuck and I did our first AR of the year, the Thunder Rolls 24 hour, placing second in our division.

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Gorgeous day for gravel
Hazel Creek to Berryman campground and back
Bike carrying skills come in handy
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Putting in for the Thunder Rolls paddle leg
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2nd place


September: 20:10 biking, 13:15 mountain biking, 1:00 orienteering, 2:50 paddling, 2:16 running, :40 strength, 1:28 trail running, 13:39 trekking, :48 walking

Chuck and I did two ARs in September: the No Sleep 30 hour in the Shawnee National Forest and the Berryman 18 hour near Rolla MO. We placed first in our division in both races, though we only had competition at Berryman. Between races I managed to sneak in a trip to the Middlefork section of the OT.

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Chuck climbing for a CP in the Shawnee
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Me rappelling down
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First place (out of one team). Honestly, the biggest prize was all the cool stuff we got to see.
Middlefork
Lots of water in the creeks on Middlefork
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Individual kayaks for the Berryman paddle leg.




October: 14:39 biking, 18:33 mountain biking, 1;30 orienteering, 2:39 running, 2:00 strength, 2:06 walking

I met friends in the middle of their OT bikepacking trip, doing a day ride as they finished up the second leg of their bikepack. Being the only rider without a heavily loaded bike gave me a little taste of what it's like to be towards the front of a group instead of my normal place at the back. I liked it. We made another OT trip to preride part of the BT Epic course, and the following weekend we raced BT Epic, where I had a much better day than last year and felt so good that I hit an orienteering meet on my way home. I ended October with a trip to Iowa for inaugural Spotted Horse Gravel Grinder, riding a slow but scenic 150 miles.

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Derrick and Chuck at a regroup
OT/Bass/Berryman 2016
Finishing out the Three Sisters on the way back to Bass.
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Mandatory MMR picture
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With Spotted Horse RD Sarah Cooper




November: 10:49 biking, 18:03 mountain biking, 5:04 orienteering, :31 running, :50 strength, :45 trail running, 4:49 walking

After a very busy few months, a race-less November was both a nice break and kind of weird. I stayed busy, though. A big group of us rode from the St. Charles area to Hermann for lunch; at 85 miles, I had the shortest round trip but wasn't sad at all to be finished. Mickey and I rode some gravel miles around Busch Wildlife, and Mickey, Chuck, and I did some mountain biking around the Castlewood Park area. I also fell far short of my intention to ride 100 miles of nowhere on trails, managing 32 on a 1-mile loop and another 18 or so on a 2-mile loop. It turns out the sheer stupidity of an idea isn't always enough to keep me committed. November also featured two orienteering meets.

BW/LV/KT ramble
Gravel ramble
Long way to lunch v.4
Big group heading to lunch
CW, Zombie, BV
Mountain biking















December: 12:15 biking, 3:19 mountain biking, 1:43 orienteering, 1:26 paddling, 1:46 running, 2:45 strength, 2:15 trail running, 1:30 trekking, 1:49 walking, 5:44 yoga

I raced the Castlewood 8-Hour on a team with Mickey, Brenden, and Renee. Mickey talked me into doing the navigation for the trekking leg, though I think it's more accurate to say that WE did the navigation. Despite having pretty paltry running numbers, I finished Pere Marquette the following weekend with a time only a couple minutes off my PR. Since the end of my race season, I've worked on getting in more consistent workouts, both on the trainer and in the gym, and started doing at least 10 minutes of yoga each night. I had two weeks off for Christmas; a combination of family commitments and laziness kept me from maximizing my training time while off work, but Jeff, Jacob, and I finished up the year with a New Year's Eve orienteering meet. Any day I get willing family participation in one of my interests is a win in my book!

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Type II Fun before Castlewood
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Starting the trekking leg
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Team Virtus post-race picture
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Trying not to die at the end of Pere Marquette
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Post orienteering meet family picture



Things aren't perfect, but overall life is good. My family is healthy, my job is good, my friends are awesome, my bills are being paid, and my new bike fund is (slowly) growing. I have more to be grateful for than to complain about, so I'll appreciate that as I look forward to more adventures in the new year.