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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Too dumb to stay home

“This is stupid,” I thought as I squinted through the curtains of snow replacing those my windshield wipers had just chased away. Driving in the snow is one of a long list of things that scare me, and in deference to that I’d packed my plastic baggie wallet with not only cash, my license, and a credit card, but also my medical insurance and road assist cards. If my slow departure hadn’t doomed me to being late, my overly cautious driving surely would. 

I’d woken up on time and stared for a while at the falling snow before texting Mickey to bail on our planned ride, one which wouldn’t thrill me under good circumstances and was a definite no in this weather. “How about the Katy?” he countered. “How soon can you be there?”

In truth, the roads were fine and the temperature, hovering around 32 degrees, was nowhere near the coldest I’ve raced and trained in this year, but somehow that never matters when it’s time to get out of bed. I’d dithered around trying to decide which layers would be best for a long flat ride instead of the protected trails I’d anticipated. Only after leaving the house for the third time did I realize I should have brought a rain jacket, but I wasn’t going back in again. 

A few miles down the interstate a grudging appreciation for the morning beauty kicked in. I’m a sucker for snow-covered trees, and they lined the first part of my drive. Pulling into the parking lot an hour later I had to smile at the cluster of cars. We were idiots, but we weren’t the only ones. 

I pulled on my riding gear — shirt and wind jacket over my base layer, boots, buff, and gloves — and stuffed extra layers in my pack in case I’d guessed wrong. Waving to the mountain bikers just returning to the lot, I headed down the Hamburg trail to meet Mickey, who’d started ahead of me with plans to double back. I hoped his head start had given him enough bonus miles that he’d hit his intended 50 without me having to ride extra. 

Snow still falling
I wouldn’t have driven an hour to ride alone, but I liked starting that way, easing into the cold with a few photo stops. Warm weather earlier in the week meant there was no ice under the fluffy snow, so I'd left my fears with my car and moseyed happily down the trail, waiting for the cold to numb my face enough that the pelting snow flakes would stop stinging. By the time I met up with Mickey near the Hamburg/Katy junction, I was comfortable and happy to be out on my bike.

The swervy tracks aren't mine, but they could be.
We spent a few miles talking about our upcoming adventure race before I began to drop back from our decidedly non-aggressive pace. I'd been excited about the ride; coming off an accidental rest week my legs should have had plenty of zip. Instead, they felt lousy, bad in a different way than normal. 

Sometimes you just need to resign yourself to being uncomfortable and settle in until suddenly you realize you feel fine again. My method of this is generally to pedal at whatever sad pace I want until the better feeling kicks in. I'm not one to push and suffer when I'm already feeling bleak. Is that a good attitude to take competitively? Probably not. Will it change? Also, probably not.

Wishing I'd brought a cycling cap to shield my face since the sunglasses just got covered in droplets.

"So are you just going to ride behind me all day?"


I ticked off the landmarks and mileage on the way to the restaurant. Defiance, 7 miles. Augusta, 13 miles. The stretch of Katy after Augusta is not my favorite, even covered with a light snow blanket, and a paved option was tempting. "If it wasn't so gray out and I had a taillight and wasn't wearing black, I'd vote to ride the road here."

Near Dutzow, Mickey mentioned, "I'd like to get to 30 miles before we stop."

I looked at him suspiciously. "What's your mileage now?" 

It only cost me another four miles, so I didn't put up much resistance. We made the first bike tracks after Dutzow, and we had a scenic bridge as our turnaround spot.


We left our helmets and wet jackets on the restaurant's porch, and I immediately replaced my damp top layers with the extra shirt I'd packed along. In the process, I dragged the sleeve of the shirt I'd just removed through the toilet. The water was clean, but still...ew. Guess I'm not wearing that back.

The only available tables were between the front and back doors, so every time someone came in a cold breeze hit me. I sat shivering until I realized I'd also brought a fleece jacket. Overpacking, like membership, has its privileges. 

The trail was no less soft on our return trip, but initially I was too distracted by how cold I was to obsess over anything else. Soon, however, I'd warmed enough to regret the (blessedly dry) fleece jacket I'd replaced my damp shirts with.  What pairs best with overheating? In this case, renewed struggle on the soft surface. This makes you stronger, I told myself, it’s good for you to have to work hard. Beneath that positive thought, though, was familiar self-doubt: I thought I was in better shape. 

Trailing far enough behind Mickey to avoid his gravel spray, I gasped out, “Road!” as we approached the Augusta Bottoms intersection. He pulled aside to mess with his taillight. Knowing he’d easily catch up, I kept riding. After 30 miles struggling to hit 14 mph, I sped along the pavement at a near-effortless 17. Relief swept over me;  wasn’t slow— the surface was. That’s right, Katy Trail...it’s not me, it’s you. 

The pavement helped the first third of the ride pass quickly, and when we pulled back onto the trail I was at peace with the sloggy pace. This time it was me stopping at the Augusta trailhead, giving Mickey the time to develop more ways to torture me. "Ok...Klondike Park, Matson hill, or the Lost Valley gravel: you have to pick one."

"None!" I scoffed, but he's pretty good at, if not convincing me, suggesting things I know I should do and then waiting for me to take the bait. I did some quick calculations in my head: Klondike would require a slog through soft gravel at the bottom, Lost Valley would require two wet gravel climbs, Matson was a long gravel climb -- that I'd almost certainly walk -- and then lovely pavement. "Fine...Matson."

Mickey peeled off to ride through Klondike as well, and my easy pace left plenty of time to enjoy the view and appreciate just how beautiful this part of the Katy is, sandwiched between towering bluffs and the river. My pace also left him plenty of time to catch me before Matson despite his extra miles, probably in part because he didn't fully trust me to take the detour.

I walked part of the hill, getting off the bike even before I absolutely had to. I can't remember if I've ever made it all the way to the top without walking. I should make that a goal for this year, should stop avoiding things that are hard, should stop hiding from my trainer and binge-watching old episodes of Modern Family...

We rode a few more bonus miles and then splashed our way through the lower part of Hamburg.  The subsequent climb was nothing after Matson Hill. We rolled back into the parking lot with bikes camouflaged in layers of gravel spray and a little over 50 miles for me. All in all, it was a pretty good day, especially considering I almost stayed in bed.

I just got these things cleaned from last year's Land Run! Also, my feet got soaked.
What got me going? It used to be the joy of going out in what many people would consider stupid weather. Today my main motivation was commitment and resignation. I'm not sure if that means I'm growing up or just getting old. Regardless, I'm glad I went.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

January recap

Races: Little Woods trail race and the Frozen Feet half marathon, both of which have their own race reports.

Frozen feet half
Frozen Feet
I also went to an orienteering meet at Babler State Park and managed to clear the red (most difficult) course with time to spare. That was a particularly good feeling because Babler was the site of my first (disastrous) attempt at orienteering solo.

My favorite control location
Training: This year I set both mileage goals (for bike and on foot) and time goals (for strength training and yoga). I did the same thing last year and fell pitifully short, but over Christmas break I got a new smart trainer (thanks, Christine!). That, in combination with Zwift, has contributed to me logging about twice my typical January bike mileage. Since this trainer can adjust resistance to simulate hills and Zwift has a number of available workouts, my indoor rides feature a lot more intensity than in the past.
  • Bike goal: 5,000 miles. January mileage - 330 (6%)
  • Foot goal: 500 miles. January mileage - 51.1 (10%)
  • Strength training goal: 50 hours (basically an hour a week, not counting the first two weeks of Jan. before I set the goal). January hours - 1:07 (2%...ouch)
  • Yoga goal: 26 hours. January hours - 1:36 (6%)
With Tour Divide creeping ever closer (2.5 years!), I'm feeling the pressure to add mileage (and hills! And get some actual bikepacking experience!), but it's important to me to still maintain some semblance of running ability. I'm hoping that some regular yoga will help return some flexibility to my increasingly stiff body. The strength training goal is the one that feels the most counterproductive. I love getting stronger and the way I feel after I've lifted weights, but if I lift too close to a bike ride, my legs are fried. That makes fitting in all the workouts challenging.

All the weather: Temperatures ranged from -2 just before the start of the Little Woods race to the mid 60's on one Sunday gravel ride.


Recipes: I got an Instant Pot electric pressure cooker for Christmas, and it's added some spark back into my relationship with the kitchen. I love to eat, don't mind cooking, and hate having to come up with all of the meal ideas. Having a new toy has been fun, and I've made probably ten new recipes since Christmas. Some favorites: loaded baked potato soup, Mongolian chicken, stuffed pepper soup, and beef stew.

Books: The Passenger (really enjoyed it), Behind Closed Doors (awful), The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (liked it, didn't love it).

Family: We're planning a vacation out west, which will certainly involve hiking, this summer. That's given Jeff and Jacob a little more motivation to done some training of their own. Towards the end of the month we hit Don Robinson State Park, one of the newer state parks in Missouri, for an afternoon hike.
Don Robinson SP
Adding a friend to the mix always makes the kid (who somehow is now my height) more cooperative.
 Such a beautiful park! We hiked into and along a sandstone canyon on a four-mile loop trail that would be a great place to run. I would have loved to explore along the other trail, but daylight and my 14 year old were fading. I can't wait to go back.

What's up for February: There's an orienteering meet at Meramec State Park, a possibility of bikepacking, and maybe I'll do the Rocheport Roubaix again. Other than that, lots more miles on the bike as I prep for May's Coast to Coast gravel race.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Frozen Feet 2018

It's like all of a sudden this turned into a running blog. Three consecutive running-related posts? I don't even know who I am anymore.

Though two out of my three brothers consider my racing endeavors excessive if not flat out ridiculous (to be fair, probably all three agree with the excessive part), they somehow chose significant others who are more on my page. Kristy was actually the instigator of my first 5K, and Katie has run all kinds of half marathons. That gave us a ready-made little running group.

Though complicated by busy schedules (and my resistance to early-morning runs), we've managed to hit the trails on a weekly basis since September. While that doesn't sound like much, it effectively doubled my weekly running rate.  Once such run came after Katie had gone out of town to meet friends for a race, only to have most of the group drop down to the 5K. A 7 hour round trip for a 3-mile race was hardly worth it, especially when you've been looking forward to longer miles with friends, and she was a little salty about it when she got home.

"We should pick out a half marathon," I heard myself saying. "I'll run it with you."

And that's how I found myself at LaSalle Middle School on January 20, waiting until the very last minute to head out to the starting line. In fact, because I'd misjudged when our wave would start, we actually crossed the parking lot just in time to see the final group of runners take off. We reached the start as the few race volunteers and spectators were heading back into the school. "Just go ahead," one of them muttered as we slunk by.

Frozen feet half
Thanks to my friend Dave for showing up pre-race to hang out with us and get this picture of our start.
While this was hardly the first time I missed my starting wave, it was the first time I've missed all of them. I wasn't even bummed. When you literally start last, there's pretty much nowhere to go but up. We quickly caught the walkers, and then a few runners.

Our first mile was in the 10:15 minute mile range, but we reined that in a bit as we hit the Al Foster trail. I'd worn my Garmin but mostly ignored it, running by feel and whatever Katie wanted to do. Well, unless she wanted to quietly listen to her music. She'd mentioned having her ipod charged for the race, but we kept up a steady conversation instead. This isn't the hashtag race report, but #sorrynotsorry. It's so rare that my training partners are close enough to talk to that I savored every chatty moment.

The temperature was just below freezing at the start and warmed to about 50 by the end of the day, so it was perfect running weather. Trail conditions, other than the frozen ruts on the mile of singletrack, were really good, and the paved trail was clear of ice. We passed mile 4, and a dark shadow of a thought passed over me -- 9 miles left...9 miles sounds like a really long way -- before I pushed it aside and committed to no more math until mile 10 or so.

Frozen feet half
When you're at the back of the pack, there's plenty of time to get selfies and few people to block while you're posing.
The climb up the paved Rock Hollow trail was as long and annoying as ever, but at least it's pretty and I was able to point out lots of points of (debatable) interest from December's Castlewood AR. I always endure the climb with daydreams of how lovely the descent will be, only to remember on the way back down how not fun running downhill with sore knees is. On the other hand, by the bottom we had less than three miles left, and that was a nice consolation prize.

I'd done a much better job of eating and drinking than at Little Woods, so while my feet and knees were sore from the unaccustomed mileage, I felt pretty good overall. We plodded out the remaining miles, still doing a combination of running and walking until we reached the final stretch. One runner stood between us and the finish line.

"Let's catch him," I told Katie, " The distance between us began to shrink. "I think we can do it!"

"I'm trying not to throw up," she hissed in reply, to which I helpfully suggested that the finish line wasn't that far away and would be a great place to throw up or fall over, though hopefully not in the same spot.

As we closed in on him it was quite apparent that we could indeed catch him. Because he was walking.

When we made the pass, I glanced over to say something friendly, either hello or nice job. Tall and thin, he looked considerably older than my mom and was startled to see us. Breaking into a jog, he said, "You aren't going to beat an old man, are you?"

"We're certainly going to try," I replied.

He picked up the pace, crossed the finish line just ahead of us, and walked proudly away. We let him savor the moment. What he didn't know can't hurt him, but as I whispered to Katie, "We totally beat him. He started way ahead of us."

In truth, I thought he was awesome. I hope I'm outsprinting runners 30 years younger than me when I hit my 70's, but for the time being I'll savor my tiny victories where they come.

Frozen feet half
Finishers! And while the clock behind us doesn't reflect our actual time since we started in (after) a late wave, our finishing time was a personal worst for us both. But not a bad day of training at all!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Little Woods 2018 #racereport

This was my fifth year running in the Little Woods Progressive Ultra. Set up in a last man standing format, participants run a 4ish mile trail loop each hour until only one runner is left. The race may be ultra, but I am not, so for me it's just (free) reason to get myself out of bed on a cold January morning and run some miles. #motivation

Just like last winter, my last and first events of the year were trail runs. Unlike last year, I won't have another 11 months before my next foot race. I'm signed up for the Frozen Feet half marathon next weekend, so I wanted to run 3 laps and at least have run double digits once before the race. #training

I've been running on a semi-regular basis with my friend Katie and my sister-in-law Kristy ("#Squirrel") and convinced them both to sign up for Little Woods as well. "Convinced" is maybe an overstatement because it didn't take much more than mentioning it to them. It's a good thing they both signed up; it would have been really easy to look at the temperature on race morning and roll back over in my warm bed, but I couldn't be the one to bail. #peerpressure

Temperature a half hour before the start
The 2017 starting temp was 3 degrees, so I knew that I'd be fine once I got moving. I checked back at my training log to see what I'd worn and basically copied that with the exception of different running tights since I've somehow lost the pair I wore last year (likely somewhere in my house). #disorganized

Each of us had a different attitude towards the weather conditions. Kristy was the most excited, I was more resigned, and Katie was questioning every life choice that led her to this point.


Unsurprisingly, I was the last one of our trio to arrive, and I had to smile at the packed parking area. 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday, negative temperatures, and a full house. I wasn't the only one who took note of the crowd.


We got checked in, dropped off our food at the smorgasbord-style aid station, and lined up as late as possible at the start. In fact, the RD called out 3 minutes to go as I was on my way to the portajohn for that last-minute bathroom stop, but at least this year I made it out in time for the start. #timemanagementyo

Lap 1: #Ican'tfeelmyface

The three of us held back until most everyone had gone by and then stuck with a pretty casual pace, fast enough to make it back in time for the next lap, but slow enough that we wouldn't have long to stand around. The first mile or two were really cold. I'd worn thin knit gloves, and they were not sufficient. I tried slipping on my lobster gloves as I ran but couldn't get them on and settled for just tucking my fingers inside. #brrr #manhands

After mile two I felt better, never actually warm but no longer freezing. We ran and walked and chatted and laughed about how stupidly cold it was. Having spent a lot of time running on these trails, I played tour guide some.  And of course we stopped for a group selfie.

The girls both have frosty faces, and my braid iced over.
We made it back with about 5 minutes to spare, just enough time to use the bathroom again and grab a quick drink before starting off again. #thatwasntsobad

Lap 2: #ifcomplainingisasportdoesthatmakemeaduathlete

I'd planned to run 3 laps, Katie had planned 2, and Kristy was going to do 1, but we all lined up again at the start when 9:00 rolled around again. Finishing this lap would be Kristy's longest run to date, and we celebrated when she reached her new distance PR.

Christmas Eve snow still hanging around on January 7.
There was little to celebrate besides Kristy's new accomplishment. Even around mile 6 my legs -- which had held up just fine for longer on the much more difficult Pere Marquette course -- were getting pretty cranky. So was Katie, which brought out my (annoying) first grade teacher/cheerleader side until she explained that she wasn't really (that) crabby, she just enjoyed complaining. We did a bit more walking on this lap, making it back juuuust in time for me to hit the start/finish and turn around for my final lap. #ThisiswhereIusuallymentiongettingmoreraceformymoneybutthisonewasfreesoooooo

Lap 3: #everythinghurtsandI'mdying

I initially thought I'll run this faster and then be back home in a hot bathtub that much sooner, but I quickly regretted this plan. Carried along by the self-inflicted peer pressure of the group of people around me, I hung in for the first mile and then stepped off the trail when we reached the uphill at the beginning of trail 3.

The rest of the loop I alternated between (get it over with) running and (my legs are killing me why do my legs hurt so much) walking. Eventually it occurred to me that maybe they weren't so much sore as cramping. I'd opted not to carry a water bottle and only had a couple of sips after lap one. It's been so long since I've done any kind of distance running that I kind of forgot about all kinds of important stuff, things like drinking during the race and body glide before it. #amateurhour

I survived the last couple of miles by rationing walking steps (OK, that's 50 steps, you have to run now) and finished with about 12.3 miles, my first double digit run in two years. While it wasn't particularly confidence inspiring, it felt good to have a longer mileage run on my legs before the half marathon, and hopefully I'll make fewer bad decisions with the mental tune-up. #yeahprobablynot

Starting temp: 0 degrees
Finishing temp: 11 degrees?

What I wore: Under Armor running tights (not enough...my legs were numb the whole time), thin wool liner socks with thicker wool socks, Salewa trail running shoes, thin l/s base layer shirt with 2 l/s tech shirts, fleece hat, buff, knit gloves (too light for the first couple of miles but fine afterwards).

Everything but my pants worked fine for the conditions.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

2017 Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run

Every year my pre-Pere Marquette Facebook post goes something like this: "Oh my gosh, I haven't trained. I'm going to die. This will be my worst year yet."

And most years my post-PMETR post is more like: "Hey, that went way better than I expected! I was close to my PR. If I train next year I could really have a good race."

It's not on purpose -- I really do expect to have the terrible race I deserve. Still, it's been such a pattern that this year I considered just quietly doing the race instead of posting about it beforehand (imagine that!), but my run mileage was abysmal this year, even by my modest norm. In January through November of 2016 I ran 181.3 miles; the total for the same period of 2017 was 96.6. I only had four months with double-digit mileage, with a high of 17 miles in November and a low of 3.1 in July. My longest run this year was 8 miles, back in January. It seemed unlikely that Pere Marquette's 7.5 miles could be anything but a train wreck.

Luckily, I run happiest with low expectations. My only real worry about the day was wardrobe-related. I know how to dress to run this race in the cold, but I wasn't sure what to wear to hike it, which I thought was a distinct possibility. I settled on tights and two long-sleeved shirts, plus a hat and gloves.

For perhaps only the second or third time in my history with this race I actually made my wave start on time. I ran the lovely flat beginning and made it about as far as usual on the first climb -- my first indication that the race might not be a total disaster.  I took the uphill at a fast hike and started running again as the trail leveled out, watching for my friend Robin, who always sets up with her camera on an uphill. She wasn't where I expected, instead waiting on a later hill, giving me the incentive to speed up and pass the guy in front of me.

Sorry, man, but there's a camera up there.
Photo credit: Robin Misukonis
I got to talk a little with my buddy JB, who's much faster but ended up in a later wave when he got into the race at the last minute, before he took off, and then I ran on my own for a while, marveling at how not awful I felt. Later on I also got to run some with another Jim, one of my long-time tri club friends, and in the last couple of miles I ran with a third Jim, this one an adventure racing friend who I met at the Skippo a few years ago.

Once the trail turned away from the river and the wind I quickly regretted my extra shirt and ended up carrying it for the next 5 miles. My gloves were the next to go, and I contemplated losing the hat but opted to wear it because, you know, hat hair.

Approaching mile 6 and about to finally toss that extra shirt to the side.

The trail was in great shape, still rutted out in  spots but overall clear of leaves and relatively easy to run with confidence. Despite this, I still managed to run right off it at probably the widest, flattest, smoothest section, landing on my feet in a knee-deep ditch.

That minor mishap was the most noteworthy thing that happened for the whole race. I could write hundreds more words, but the upshot would be that I had a really good race, less than a minute off my PR.

Why? I have no idea. I did a lot more running the first four years that I did this race and was thinner, too, but there have been a lot of adventure races and a lot of time on the bike since then. Maybe all those singlespeed miles helped, maybe these hills were less of a big deal after some of those I've encountered in recent races (um, don't get me wrong, I still walked all the big hills!), maybe there's something to be said for walking the dog a lot. Who knows?

So I went from expecting a personal worst to wondering if I could have pulled off a PR this year, and that's another maybe. Falling off the trail cost me some seconds. I stopped briefly at each of the three water stops to drink and throw my cup in the trash. I probably could have started running again sooner after an uphill, I probably could have pushed a little harder on flats and downhills. I could have not eased up on my sprint during the last quarter mile.


Still, my heart rate data shows a pretty consistent effort, and I was happy with my time. While they say almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, I guess that it's just fine for me, too. At least this year.

Friday, December 22, 2017

2017 Castlewood 8-Hour

Note: Written by me, of course. Commentary by Mickey in pink. Additional commentary from me (because it's my blog and I get the last word :D) in blue.

This year marked my sixth year racing in the Castlewood 8-Hour, my eighth year participating in some form, and only my second year racing it as part of the exact same team. Those years have included three different race directors and temperatures ranging from 16 degrees to 70. With all those changes, the one thing that has stayed the same is that Castlewood never fails to be a fun day.

That said, race eve found me decidedly unexcited about the upcoming event. I used to count down the minutes to my next race with the breathless anticipation of a kid at Christmas, but I've seen students walk to the principal's office with more joy than I felt as I drove towards Kirkwood. A difficult school week after my very busy Thanksgiving break probably didn't help matters, nor did the extra two hours at work preparing sub plans in advance of Monday and Tuesday's jury duty.

So it was a very grumpy Kate making the drive to meet up with Mickey, Renee, and Brenden to go over maps and plan for the next day. Mickey and Renee did the plotting, and Brenden contributed both dinner and a vast knowledge. I ate pizza and watched 20/20, and since they finished the map work before the episode ended I still don't know whether the wife killed her estranged husband or not.

The hour drive to the 5:45 a.m. bike drop made for an early alarm on race day, but I was the first of our team to Castlewood State Park. Mickey and Renee arrived shortly after I did, then we picked up breakfast (Mickey: Where we ran into the No Sleep Adventures crew for the first of several times that day.), dropped off my car at overflow parking, and realized we had no idea what the name of our start location was. Eventually we just searched for elementary schools in google maps and looked for a name we recognized.

Any lingering crabbiness was dispelled at the race start, which was basically a huge AR family reunion. It's such a great community, and many of my favorite people were milling around. Shortly before 8:00 Emily gave last-minute instructions, then everyone collected passports and headed out to the start line.

Trek ~6 miles, 1:05, CP 1-13 any order
This map includes CPs for trekking leg and the end of the final bike leg.
The race started with a run down the paved Rock Hollow trail. Though Renee and I have both been running lately and the guys have not, we trailed behind them as teams passed us by. I watched semi-desperately for the attack point for our first CP, when we'd start bushwhacking and thus move more slowly.

Photo credit: David Frei
The first four points were in reentrants on opposite sides of the paved trail, and we'd decided to attack them 2-1-3-4. From there, we did a mix of bushwhacking and trails to collect CPs 5-12, punching 13 at the paddle put-in. Brenden navigated this section while Mickey did all of the punching; I carried the clue sheet as a backup in case there were any questions, but mostly what I did was remind people to eat and compliment them.

Paddle:  ~6.5 miles, 1:25 (no CPs)

We put in at a Meramec River access point along the Al Foster Trail and paddled about 6.5 miles downstream to Castlewood State Park. Mickey had nominated me to do the paddle nav (despite the terrible job I did of it at Mission), but I "accidentally" "forgot" to get the map from Brenden. This leg was noteworthy mostly because of our team's improved paddling. Mickey and Renee were cruising. Brenden and I were usually close, but rarely in the lead, and both of us were very, very happy to finally reach the take-out point.

Mickey: I'm convinced the problems Renee and I had last year were due to bad weight distribution. That was probably the most enjoyable race paddle I've had. I think I'm finally getting this paddling thing!

Towards the end of the paddle
That said, it was a very pretty float and we even saw two bald eagles. As I told Brenden, if I liked canoeing I would have really enjoyed myself.

Bike 1: ~ 10 miles, 1:06

After a somewhat leisurely transition from paddle to bike, we set off onto the Castlewood trails, where Brenden once again led us straight from point to point. The points were in close proximity and could be found in any order, which meant bikes were zipping around in both directions on the narrow trails, and apparently in a race no one cares about the whole "uphill riders have the right of way" etiquette. After about the third time I was forced off the trail by someone flying downhill at me, my scowl started to feel permanent.

Singletrack CPs in Castlewood
Thankfully there were only a few CPs to find, and then we were off the singletrack and riding down the road. We only had one tow, and since Renee wasn't interested in using it I was happy to take the assist. Alpine Shop passed us during this section, and maybe it was the distraction of seeing our friends, but I let go of the tow just before starting the biggest climb of the day. (Mickey: Ugh!) I tried getting back on, but after dropping it twice I resigned myself to riding without assistance. It didn't feel easy, but it felt easier than I remembered it being in the past. And he can "ugh" all he wants...I wasn't the last person up the climb, so my dropping the tow didn't cost us any time.

Road section of the bike leg
Before long we were pulling into the parking lot at Sherman Beach State Park to get our optional extra map. We'd guessed ahead of time that the mystery leg would be a trek, but instead it held more bike points. I made a quick stop at the cleanest port-a-potty in the world, and then we hit the trails again.

Bike 2: ~9 miles, 1:14
(Mickey: Wow! I would have never guessed it was that long or took that long!)

The bonus map. CP39-42
The extra points were all set in the Castlewood flats, and we made quick work of them before heading onto the Al Foster Trail towards Zombie, one of the newest and best trails in the area. It's a great trail, but it has plenty of places, from rocks to switchbacks, where I struggle. As one of my most frequent riding partners, Mickey is well aware of my mountain biking issues, and as we approached the trail he reminded me, "Don't make it any harder than it has to be."

All of these final points were set along the trail, and we took full advantage of Brenden's trail knowledge. I had to laugh as Mickey, unaccustomed to being without the map, kept asking, "Are you sure about where we're going?" I could tell it was driving him a little crazy to be in the dark. Welcome to my world.

If his head was full of unanswered route questions, mine was full of self-doubt. I felt like I was riding badly, getting more frustrated with myself with every time I had to put a foot down, and I couldn't believe no one was passing us with me riding so slowly. At one point I told Renee, "I feel like the guys would have so much more fun if they raced together and didn't have to keep waiting on me".

We did some chatting as we rode, earning us a scolding from the guys. "Get your heads in the game! This is a race!" Eventually Mickey dropped back to provide some encouragement, and before long we were coming to the end of the singletrack.

One of the iconic Zombie photo ops.
Photo credit: Bill Langton
All we had left was the climb back up the paved trail we'd run down that morning, and I was happy to have the assist from the tow. (Mickey: We killed that climb! That 2P male team we passed couldn't even thing about jumping on.) Looking at the maps the previous night I'd been sure the race was going to take us a lot longer than last year's; instead we crossed the finish line in just under 5 hours, even faster than in 2015. We ended up 5th in our division (out of 23 teams) and 18th overall (out of 80).

Type 2 Fun at the finish!
Thanks to Alpine Shop and especially race directors Emily and Erl for a great event, thanks to all of the volunteers who helped the race run smoothly, and thanks of course to my teammates, who did an awesome job. (See? A complimenter's job is never finished.)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

BT Epic 2017

Last January I accidentally bought another bike. For those  keeping track (like my husband), that makes three mountain bikes (four if you count my first, a 26" base model hardtail, which I now consider Jeff's), but that's OK because this one is a rigid singlespeed, and I didn't have one of those.

Bike people joke that the correct number of bikes to own is N+1, where N=the number of bikes you currently own. An alternate equation is N-1, where N=the number of bikes that would cause your spouse to divorce you, and this most recent purchase might have fit better under the latter formula.

I'd gone to the outdoor expo with no plans beyond spending a miserably rainy day at least walking around bike-related stuff and went home with a new bike mostly because

a) it was pretty
b) it was super light
c) I could afford it
d) I'd heard that riding a singlespeed would make me a better climber
e) did I mention how light it is?

I rode it for the first time the following weekend, jumping into the singlespeed world with 25 miles on the Ozark Trail; despite my belated fears that I'd hate the bike  I learned that I'm stronger than I give myself credit for, and only having one gear meant that I never screwed up a hill because of a misshift. I still have to walk some hills, but I don't think I do any/much more on the new bike than on my geared ones, and when I can stay on the bike I'm definitely faster.

Actually, riding a fully rigid bike was a much bigger adjustment than the singlespeed thing. What I gained in uphills is tempered by increased timidity on downhills, but the fact that the new bike is 12 pounds lighter than my full-suspension MTB was a worthwhile trade-off. It immediately became my favorite bike, so when BT Epic registration time came I signed up in the singlespeed category.

Unlike 2016, when I spent a ton of the summer on the Ozark Trail, 2017 has been significantly lighter on miles overall and mountain biking in particular. As a cherry on top of the sub-par training sundae, two weeks before BT Epic I did Spotted Horse, a 150-mile gravel sufferfest. I knew I could finish BT Epic, but given the change in bike and lower training volume, I wasn't counting on any PRs.


Once again I camped with Chuck and Lori before the race, and while we missed our Orange Lederhosen friends, Scott and his cookie bars were a nice addition. I bought a race sweatshirt at check-in, hoping I wasn't jinxing myself -- I already have a 2015 t-shirt I'll never wear -- but my normal pre-race terror didn't kick in until the next morning.

I woke up on race day, looked at all of the fit, strong people around me, and thought how little I belonged there. Riding the trail with a group of friends is fun, but in a group of 600, even when most of those people will be long gone before I hit the singletrack, my comfort level sinks to zero.

How I felt on race morning
Despite the advice of Mickey ("Don't be afraid to be awesome") and Eric ("use previous race results to figure out who you should line up near"), I once again slunk to the very back of the pack. My typical confidence deficit was exacerbated by my stress over the first gravel climb. I've ridden it on other bikes, but twice this summer I couldn't make it up on my singlespeed. Both times were about 30 miles in on super hot days, but I was definitely worried about having to walk it with so many witnesses to my shame.

Can't get much further back than this!
Photo credit: Matt Johnson, who was gracious enough to retake the original picture when my helmet looked stupid.
Leg 1: Bass to Brazil Creek ~ 10 miles 1:19

Happily, that dreaded climb was no problem on fresh legs, but that led to a new challenge. Caught behind lines of geared bikes spinning up the hill, I passed where I could and slow-motion pedaled when I couldn't pass. The singlespeed was less of an advantage when the road flattened out, but I was able to more or less hold my own until reaching the singletrack.

I felt a little shaky on the trail, and a couple people passed me there. Gaps would open on curvy sections, and then I'd close them as the trail straightened out. I'd practiced one sketchy downhill this summer; determined that this was the year I'd ride it, but when I neared that spot the trail was crowded with a line of people waiting to walk down it. Someday I might have the confidence to pass them and ride down the hill, but I'm not there yet.

Overall the trail felt much more crowded than last year, and as we turned onto the Berryman loop near Harmon Spring my relative strengths and weaknesses were on full display. Every downhill would see a big gap open between me and the riders ahead, and every climb would find me caught behind them. I definitely could have ridden that section faster if I hadn't been held up on the hills, but even if I'd had the confidence to pass I'm not sure I could have stayed far enough ahead on the climb to offset my more timid descending. I wasn't thrilled to be stuck behind a bunch of other people, but it would have been much worse mentally to have them all stuck behind me on a downhill.

I felt like I was riding faster and better than last year, when I remembered reaching the Brazil Creek aid station in 1:12, so I was disappointed to see my Garmin tick past that long before I got there. So it's not going to be a fast day, I told myself, and that's ok.

2016 vs. 2017: My memory was a little off. I actually reached Brazil 3 minutes faster this year than last year. I could definitely have increased that improvement with a better starting position to limit how many people I was caught behind. Things to work on for next year: definitely descending and passing.

Leg 2: Brazil Creek to Berryman Campground ~10 miles 1:23

I rolled through the aid station and headed up the next climb, where I was once again caught behind a slower rider. I knew him, so we chatted for a little while as we rode, but without being able to downshift I had a hard time following him and felt weird about asking to get around. Towards the top of the climb we had a brief rain shower, and when he pulled over to dry his glasses I went ahead and didn't see him again.

The throng of riders had spread out, so this leg was much less congested. There were so many people off to the side of the trail changing flat tires, and I was very thankful for my good luck. For the majority of the way to Berryman I felt super strong, though I started to wear down towards the end and had to walk a chunk of one climb.

Chuck, who I hadn't seen since the beginning gravel, caught me around here. While I was happy and unsurprised to see my friend, who's a far better technical rider than I am and much braver on downhills, I was also a little disappointed to have failed to hold him off. That said, he was the one who noticed that a woman we passed was the only other registered singlespeed girl. We rode together into Berryman Campground, where Lori had everything ready for us. "Help Kate first," Chuck told her, "She has a chance to podium."

As I told him, I actually didn't have a chance to podium, since there was no female SS category, but Lori filled my water bladder, switched out my bottles, and got me right out of there.

2016 vs. 2017: I was 15 minutes faster than last year and felt equally as good, and I was probably slightly more efficient with my stop.

Leg 3: Berryman Campground to Bass' River Resort ~ 20 miles 3:00

I rode the switchback I've had to walk in the past and had people stop in front of me on my other normal walk spots. I'd have had to walk them anyway, so it was nice to see that I'm not the only one who can't ride them. Each climb showed that my legs were wearing down; I no longer felt strong, but I never questioned whether I could finish the race. Walk when you have to, ride when you can.

I was walking more hills now, but I wasn't alone in that. Some people rode past, but others were pushing the same hills. I really wanted to get off my bike on the climb to Whiskey Ridge, but I could hear Jim Davis's yells and wasn't about to walk up to his group. Last year I skipped the whiskey stop; this year I asked myself, are you really so serious you can't stop and have a little fun?

Nope. Not that serious.
Photo credit: Jim Davis
The rest of the Berryman loop went quickly, and soon I was riding back past Harmon Spring and up the forest road to the gravel. This stretch of gravel is relatively flat, so I did my best to keep spinning along the road, but I definitely didn't make up time on anybody this year.

All too soon I was turning back onto the singletrack leading to the dreaded Three Sisters section of the OT. Sometime after Berryman Campground I'd realized that I might be able to meet my goal of finishing the race in under 7 hours, but it was going to be tight. I was pretty sure my previous best time on this segment was around 37 minutes, and I needed to be around there to keep that goal in reach.

Unfortunately, my legs overruled the "ride the Three Sisters faster" plan. I did probably more walking than ever before on that section, which was super disappointing after last year when the guys riding near me at this point said things like "you go ahead, you'll just pass us on the uphills anyway". I saw almost no one through here, and when I did they were doing the passing. Whatever, just keep moving. Finally I made it to the top of the final sister; from there it was all downhill back to Bass.

2016 vs. 2017: I rode this section 9 minutes faster than last year, which is pretty surprising considering how much walking I did. I didn't feel great at the end of it, but I still felt focused and determined.  

Leg 4: OT loop west of Bass ~ 8 miles 1:07

I think this was my fourth time riding up the Butts Road climb. It's paved, but that didn't make it feel any easier 40 miles into the race. I'd been psyching myself up for the climb, telling myself it wasn't as bad as the highway W climb, and I'd ridden that on a hot day after a bunch of singletrack miles. Despite my pep talks, once I hit the steepest part of the climb I had to get off and walk, chatting briefly with a couple of girls who passed me there.

I caught and passed them again once were were on the flatter gravel, then rode with Matt for a couple of minutes until I missed the turn onto the singletrack and he got ahead of me. He needed to be there anyway; as soon as the trail turned downhill he was gone, while I rode much more timidly in his wake. There are a couple of spots -- a tight double switchback and then two rock drops -- that I'm still afraid to ride, so when I heard the girls coming behind me I stepped to the side so they could ride by.

I've now ridden this section a few times, and having looked at the elevation profile before the race I knew there were really only two big climbs. Get through those and I'd be home free. I did a lot of pushing on the first climb, but I was able to ride a lot after that. Eventually I came across the girls again. One of them had crashed; she was ok, but she was over the race. "C'mon," I encouraged her, "There are only two big climbs in this section. Maybe this is the second one. We're almost there."

Thankfully, it actually was the second one. I was delighted to have to get off my bike soon afterwards for the stone step because I knew it came just before the trail crossed the gravel and turned downhill to the finish. I didn't exactly rail that last downhill mile, but I was only 2 seconds off my best time there, set last year on a full suspension bike.

2016 vs. 2017: I was a minute slower this year, a difference that could probably be attributed to walking part of the first climb and waiting for the two girls to pass me at the rock drops.. This was the once leg of the race where I didn't have any new best times, but I had just enough left to be pretty darn close.

I crossed the finish line at in 6:49, 26 minutes faster than last year. I was totally thrilled with that, especially having been unsure about how using a different bike would affect my time. It took a long time for the smile to fade from my face, and the race is still one of my peak race experiences for the year.

Once again I have plenty of room for improvement, chiefly in downhill courage and any remotely technical riding. I also had 21 minutes of non-moving time. I was pretty efficient at the two aid stations and didn't spend long at the whiskey stop, so that means all the other non-moving time was accumulated getting on/off my bike and getting out food and electrolytes. Improving my handling skills so I can do more of this on the bike would help, as would improving my fitness so I don't have to walk so many of the uphills.

Huge thanks to Lori for spending her day looking after Chuck and me, and also thanks to Becky from The Cyclery, who despite the fact that I race for another shop was totally willing to crew for me if I needed the help. I had a charmed day with no crashes, mechanicals, or nutritional mistakes, and near-perfect weather, but the biggest stroke of luck is having friends who take such good care of me.