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Monday, June 27, 2016

The route to Spearfish

I go out of town frequently for races, always traveling with friends because crewing or waiting for me at the finish line isn't my family's idea of a good time. With the trip to South Dakota for the Motherlode being a longer one and having vacationed there 12 years ago and loved it, I thought this race was the idea way to finally combine race life and family life.

That didn't quite work out as I anticipated. Jeff remained steadfast in his refusal to crew for me, but we did schedule our vacation around the race, leaving around 5 AM the Thursday before Motherlode. Several of my in-laws joined on the trip (my mom was supposed to go as well, but her plans changed when the vacation conflicted with the first part of my niece's visit from Alaska), so we drove westward in a caravan of three cars, two pop-up campers, two 12 year olds, two dogs, and 8 adults.

My child, a virtual only child because of the age separation between him and his older brothers, has no memory of the crowded trips he once experienced in a car seat. 
Though traveling as part of a group sometimes results in about four times the stops of a solo journey, our breaks were held to a minimum, combining bathroom breaks with gas refills and eating picnic lunches at rest areas. We drove through Missouri for what seemed like forever...

...first driving across the state to Kansas City and then north along the western border. While Race Kate would have preferred to push ahead further, Mom Kate was OK with stopping in Mitchell, SD (home of the Corn Palace, one of the few tourist traps we didn't hit) around 5:30 so the boys would have a chance to swim.

"Indoor water park!!"
Translation: one big waterslide, a structure that dumps water on you occasionally, and a really cold pool.
After an unimpressive hotel breakfast the next morning we saddled up for the remaining 4.5 hours to Spearfish (for us...everyone else was heading to Custer, where we would meet them after the race.). Our original plan had been to make a stop at the famous Wall Drug Store on the way, but a bathroom break at a gas station next to 1880 Town led to a change in plans when everyone decided to stop there.

One of the buildings

Located on what seems to be basically a blank spot on the map, the "town" is filled with around 30 structures from the 1880-1920 era as well as numerous photos and artifacts. I love history and historic buildings, so I probably would have enjoyed it more had a) it not been about 100 degrees out and b) I hadn't spent the entire time calculating how far behind my preferred schedule this stop was putting us.

I tried to stay relaxed and not be a pain about it since it wasn't just my trip, but my stress level rose with each new building. Finally, Jeff asked if I was having fun, and I gave him the rundown on exactly how long it was still going to take us to get to Spearfish and how late a stop in Wall was going to make us. My stress level subsided a bit after we all decided to postpone Wall until later in the trip.

The rest of the drive was smooth and unremarkable except for my growing intimidation as we entered the Black Hills and I imagined riding there the next day.  We rolled into Spearfish City Campground at around 2:30 (ahead of schedule!), checked in, and set up on our site. The long drive was over, and after months of training and anticipation it was almost time for the long ride.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


I looked out the window with equal parts wonder and trepidation. "The Black Hills are really hilly," I told Jeff. "Really hilly. A lot more hilly than the Flint Hills. Where do they draw the line between a hill and a mountain, anyway?"

I knew the Motherlode had significant climbing. I'd seen the elevation profile and done a lot of training in preparation. Seeing that elevation in person, however, was daunting. I did my best to shove this newly sharpened worry into my mental Pandora's Box, already crowded with things like Jacob's please God don't let my child need an appendectomy in South Dakota stomach pain, our income tax payment plan, a non-functioning home air conditioning, the loss of a key player from our mud volleyball team, the question of whether or not our aging minivan would survive the long trip pulling our camper, and -- oh, yes -- the forecast of record heat and high wind for race weekend.

Saturday, of course, was race day, and the temperature never even dipped to the 70's.

"This is bullshit," I muttered, looking again at my weather app in the hopes that the forecast had miraculously changed in the last 30 seconds. "The average high for South Dakota in June is in the 70's."

Then, looking away from my phone and out the window, I repeated, "Those are really big hills."

My family, fears, and I checked into the Spearfish City Campground around 2:30 the day before the race. Other racers were staying there as well, so it was fun to see all the bikes and meet gravel-famous Greg Gleason in person.  My friend Renee, who I'd conscripted to join me in this adventure, and her friend Margy, who would be crewing for us, stopped by as we finished setting up our campsite.  Jeff and Jacob made a Wal-Mart run for things I'd forgotten to pack while Renee and I went for a ride. We both needed to stretch our legs after a long drive, and I wanted to make sure everything worked smoothly with my Garmin and the South Dakota maps I'd installed.

Mid-ride picture. It was this pretty only about 3 miles outside of town.
After a few issues getting out of town we cruised along the first couple miles of the course, marveling at the scenery. Turning around rather than waiting for the escort car at a road construction site, we rode up a long gravel driveway "just because", and then turned back towards town against an intimidating wind, one we feared was only a preview of coming attractions. The forecast for race day suggested about 100 miles of headwind.

Race check-in went smoothly, followed by the pre-race meeting where Kristi and Perry reviewed the course and where we could expect to get water, then explained the requirement to sign in at each checkpoint. Someone from Spearfish-headquartered Quarq explained the Qollectors we had the option to use and then passed them out at the end of the meeting. I threatened to steal Greg's tracker, thus confusing anyone following the race as to why he appeared to be standing still/why I was allowed to drive the course, but alas he was too quick for me.  After the meeting, Craig Groseth, whose report from last year's Motherlode was one of the few I found in my obsessive search for race info, introduced himself, so the next morning, even though I only knew one other person racing, I still had three familiar faces.

Because we were camping next door to the start line, I slept in until 3:45, waking to multiple good luck messages. I dressed, took care of all the last-minute details, and then rode the block or so to the start.

Looking way too happy for 4:30 a.m. but SO ready to finally start pedaling and stop worrying.
Photo credit: Randy Erickson
With only 30 registered and 22 starters, it was much more intimate group than the Dirty Kanza scene I'm used to.  The entire solo women's field consisted of three.

Renee, me, and Micki Harris
Many of the pictures taken that dawn show sweaty faces. The promised low in the 60's had never materialized. The temperature at 5 a.m. was already 81*, an ominous hint of the sweltering conditions that awaited us.

2016 Motherlode starters
Photo credit: Randy Erickson
In the days before the Motherlode, I first heard the Goo Goo Dolls' song "So Alive".  It completely spoke to me.  Other than a stretch that afternoon when the phrases "Black Hills" and "Gold Rush" melded into "Black Gold" in my heat-addled brain, triggering a one-woman "Beverly Hillbillies" sing-along, it was lines from "So Alive" that played in my head as a soundtrack to the day.
Open up my heart like a shotgun
Blinded by the light of a new sun
Get up, get up, get out and get done
For the first time I feel like someone
Right at 5, race director Perry Jewett led us on the neutral roll out through town.  The morning wind, which the forecast had assured me would be the gentlest of the day, quickly proved that prediction quite wrong.

It's a sign of how far I've come in my ability to be at peace with conditions that all I did was laugh.  I may obsess nonstop in the lead up to an event, but once I'm actually riding I do much better at putting my head down and just accepting what is.

More upsetting, though unsurprising, was the growing gap between me and the majority of the pack. It takes me a while to warm up; I know this, but it doesn't make it any more pleasant.  And yet, with my slow starting, bargain bike, and minimal handling skills, I do feel like someone in the gravel/endurance sports community: it's where I feel most alive, most myself, and maybe even most valued for who I am rather than for what I do.

Renee and I had agreed to ride together, so while she surely could have kept pace with the neutral roll out she instead eased up so we didn't get separated. Finally, about five miles out, I managed to close the gap.  The wind was dumb, but the views were incredible. "We're doing it!" we celebrated. "We're finally here!"

The lead group was long gone, but I'd expected nothing less. In a 200-mile race with this few entrants, you can assume the people who sign up know what they're doing. By this time, I've got the experience to know what I'm doing, too, but my strength is a steady, consistent effort rather than speed.
I'm so alive, I'm so alive, I'm so alive
You can make it on a wish if you want to
You can make it on a wish if you want to
I'm so alive, I'm so alive, I'm so alive
You can make it on a wish if you want to
You can make it on a wish if you want to
Within the first 10 miles I'd hit my stride and started feeling great. Though the elevation profile looks like the first 70 miles are steady climbing, miles 10-14 actually feature some gradual descents, and maybe that's what I needed to remind my body how fun bike riding is.

For the first time since last August I was using cue sheets in addition to my Garmin and savored ticking off each line.

"We're finished with the first cue sheet! That means we're 1/9 of the way finished!"

"Woohoo! Our first cattle guard of the race!"

"Sand Creek Road! I remember this from the video!"

The roads wound between hillsides and streams. Between the lovely shade and the cold water nearby, there were times it felt like we were riding through air conditioning. In the weeks before the race I'd tried to figure out what a 2-4% grade would feel like. The hills we ride here tend to be relatively steep but short, so I couldn't wrap my brain around 70 miles of steady climbing.  As it turned out, it reminded me of riding on a slightly mushy Katy Trail -- something I had experienced frequently this spring -- only vastly more scenic.

The temperature was comfortable and my legs were perfectly happy with the climbing.  Occasionally we'd turn into the wind, but between the shelter from the hills and the winding nature of the roads our time in an actual headwind was limited.  I felt incredible.

Renee was having a harder time.  Though a better, stronger rider than I am, she was struggling with her breathing. We both live at elevations less than 1,000 feet above sea level. The lowest point of the Motherlode was around 3700 feet, and Renee felt like she was breathing through a straw. She pushed through it like a champion, and I did my best to encourage her. "Are you eating? Keep drinking. We're doing great, we're on pace to comfortably make that cutoff. Hang in there, you're doing great."

We stopped when we needed to, and I tried to make sure to get in front and pull during windy stretches. Otherwise we kept steadily chipping away at the miles, knowing that the mile 69 cutoff was really going to be key to finishing the race. Obviously we had to beat it to continue, but mile 69 also signaled the end of the steady climbing. From there the course transitioned to more of a roller coaster profile and, as importantly, more closely spaced checkpoints.

There was a neutral water stop at mile 32. With a 100 oz hydration bladder in my frame bag as well as three water bottles, I hadn't anticipated needing to stop. Instead, I filled my bladder and 1.5 bottles. Even in the relatively reasonable temperature we were going through water and salt tabs in a big way.

Six miles later we arrived at one of the first Missouri-style hills (as in you could actually tell it was a hill) of the race. Grinding my way to the top in full sun I saw a vehicle parked at the next intersection. Race director Kristi Jewett and photographer Les Heiserman were there taking pictures and offering water.

In high spirits talking with Kristi.
Photo credit: Les Heiserman

My cue sheets informed me "Bail point #2. Stop at L. turn on Reynolds. Cell reception."  Oooohhhh, cell reception!! I was under strict orders to refrain from Facebooking during the race ("you're racing!"), but I felt great and Renee was still having breathing issues. I definitely had time for an update.

"Mile 38! The climbing hasn't been awful but the air is thin. Onwards!"
8:38 a.m.
Renee rode away while my picture was still uploading. "I'll catch up!" I called to her.

"I know you will," she replied.

9:05 a.m.
The Moskee loop offered some rolling terrain and one somewhat misleading cue. Reading "**Caution on Descent" at mile 42.1, I assumed that point would have a downhill. Instead, we first had to climb. The view at the top was gorgeous, though.


Around this point the leaders of the Gold Rush (110-mile) version passed me, flying past like I was standing still (which, moments earlier, I had been).  I exercised an abundance of caution on the descent, which was fast and twisty.  I caught back up with Renee, who hadn't stopped to take pictures, and then gradually the wheels started to fall off.
Breaking down the walls in my own mind
Keeping my faith for the bad times
Get up, get up, stand like a champion
Take it to the world, gonna sing it like an anthem
The picture below shows more gorgeous South Dakota (or Wyoming? I was rarely sure which state I was in) gravel and one big change from earlier. As the sun climbed higher in the sky, my glorious shade disappeared and, just as Renee's breathing issues seemed to subside, I began to struggle in the heat.  Now it was her turn to hold back and encourage me.  From miles 50-60 we (I) struggled to hit a 10 mph pace, and our cushion for the time cutoff shrank.

11:39 a.m./about mile 60
I didn't get down, even as racer after racer from the 110-mile race cruised past us.  Avoiding the missteps of Cedar Cross, I kept eating and drinking on schedule. I never cramped, I never bonked, I just...couldn't...ride...any...faster.  I began watching for roadside water so I could cool off, but the cold creeks of the early morning weren't in evidence. I still had drinking water, but it was all warm.

At mile 60 we were just 9 miles away from the first checkpoint and had 50 minutes to get there. Kristi Jewett passed us around mile 65, driving the course backwards and filling up water for people who needed it. While the race is designed to be self-supported, they definitely stepped up the support level in deference to the weather, and while I often felt miserable in the 15 miles before the checkpoint I never felt unsafe.

The last four miles -- so close! -- my body began quitting on me. Or maybe I began giving up in the heat; it's hard to judge the difference between what you can do and what you will do at tough times, so maybe I just needed to push harder instead of giving in to how bad I felt. I joke sometimes that my central governor is more of a central dictator, though, and just after we met Kristi he pretty much shut things down.

My race became a slog from one shady spot to another, catching my breath and sucking down water before struggling through the next sun-drenched stretch.  Craig, who'd leapfrogged with us for a while fighting the same battle with the heat, gradually moved ahead. I wanted to tell Renee that she needed to go on so that she could make the cutoff, but she was far enough ahead that I couldn't call to her.

Finally, on a gentle uphill, I had to stop. I leaned over my bike, struggling to breath without throwing up, and the two-ish miles to the checkpoint might as well have been 100 for all my chances of beating the cutoff. Eventually the nausea subsided enough that I could slowly walk my bike, and it was here than another racer passed me in his car. "Do you need anything? Water? A ride to the lodge? I couldn't handle the heat. I had to make the call."

His wife and kids looked at me with sympathy (and probably relief) as I turned them down. "No, I'm going to get to the checkpoint under my own power, even if I have to walk the rest of the way."

I eventually reached a stretch that was mostly flat and downhill, and in what seemed like moments I was at CP1, fifteen minutes past the cutoff, my long-anticipated race over not even a third of the way in.
Gonna disconnect from the hard wire
Time to raise a flag for the cease fire
Staring down the hole inside me
Looking in the mirror, making peace with the enemy
I checked in with the race tent in front of Trailshead Lodge and then Renee, who'd made the cutoff by 3 minutes (I think), and Margy waved me down. I rode over to them and dropped my bike. Margy got me a cold drink and a cold rag and sat me down in the shade of Craig's crew tent with a bag of ice in my lap. I covered my face and tried to hold back tears, wanting nothing so much as to call my husband to come pick me up so I could cry in privacy for the rest of the day in our air conditioned camper. (And I'll be honest: while I thought I'd made my peace with that day I'm tearing up as I write this two weeks later.)

All that work, all that training, all that driving to South Dakota. All that hope and excitement and planning. Whenever I told anyone what I was planning, invariably the question would arise: "Why 200 miles? I don't even like to drive 200 miles!"

I've wondered the same thing many times, and my answer to myself and others is that shorter distances don't call to me in the same way. "I know I can ride 100 miles," I'd respond. "Where's the adventure in doing something you know you can do?" Ironically, I didn't ride fast enough to beat the Trailshead cutoff for the 110-mile course, either.

Even if I'd made the cutoff, I was in no shape to leave quickly enough to have a chance to make the next one, so I wished Renee good luck as she rode away and sat in the shade with my bag of ice and disappointment. Margy brought me a bag of chips, and I think I ate half of it while talking to Craig, Shaun, and Margy.

Gradually I started to feel human and stopped wanting to curl up in a ball and die. I hadn't come all this way for 70 miles; my race was over, but I could still ride.  At first I considered riding the next stretch of the race since Margy would have to be at the checkpoint for Renee anyway, but Margy convinced me a better option would be to ride back to Spearfish. That would give me 110 miles and, if not a completed race, at least respectable mileage.

Margy borrowed cue cards for the 110-mile course so I could copy them down (not yet having made the connection that I already had the route back to Spearfish on my Garmin because it was the last leg of the Motherlode), and then after a wobbly walk to the bathroom that made me question my ability to ride back, newly restocked food, and ice everywhere I could fit it in my jersey, I turned back in the direction I'd come from.
I am no man of steel
I have no heart of stone
Don't tell me how it feels
I'll find it on my own
As soon as I turned off the main road my Garmin picked up the course; I realized to my relief that I didn't need the hastily copied cue sheets and was free to return to autopilot.  I'd expected to cry my way home a la DK2012, but I only mustered a few tears before remembering that a crying session would cloud up my contacts.

With zero urgency remaining, I pedaled when I could and stopped when I needed to, taking in the scenery and appreciating the opportunity to ride my bike somewhere so beautiful.  Entertained by noisy cows, I stopped and recorded a short video to sum up my race experience.

There was a short stretch of climbing before a long descent that I'd looked forward to in my pre-race planning. The last leg had a definite downhill trend, and I'd anticipated it as being much easier. Shaun and Craig had warned me otherwise, but I was still surprised by just how rough and rocky the road was, interspersed with surprise sandy sections, and I was very glad to be riding it in daylight.

Once I was through that area, the roads returned to being lovely and rideable and, if they weren't yet shaded, at least the heat was tempered by the occasional merciful cloud.

I had a decision to make at the turnoff to the Cement Ridge lookout tower, where the 110 and 210-mile courses separated. I could ride the easier, mostly downhill, route back to Spearfish or I could follow my cue sheets to the lookout, which required a big climb. I looked again at the cue sheets, doing the math.

Taking the Cement Ridge route would only be an extra 8 miles. Jeff and Jacob weren't expecting me back until after midnight, so I had plenty of time. Cement Ridge had potatoes, whiskey, and (the kicker) cell service that would enable me to let my husband (who, lacking access to the internet, had basically no idea what was going on in the race) as well as my friends (who, having access to the internet, might be wondering where the heck I was going if my tracker was updating) know what was going on.  Cement Ridge it was.

My turn led to some gentle climbing, which I'd expected, and then a fun descent, which I hadn't. It's hard to enjoy a downhill when you know it leads to a climb. At the base of the road to Cement Ridge I looked up and groaned. A mile of pushing my bike uphill later, I turned a corner and saw more hills. Kicking myself for making this stupid detour I pondered turning around, but I'd come too far and, frankly, was afraid to ride back down the hill I'd just walked up.  I pushed my bike over a couple more little kickers and then stopped to admire the view.


Breaking down the walls in my own mind
Keeping my faith for the bad times
Get up, get up, stand like a champion
Take it to the world, gonna sing it like an anthem
I was SO disappointed in how my race had ended and this climb was stupid hard, but I was suddenly thrilled to be right where I was, finishing things on my own terms and seeing beautiful sights. After still more climbing I reached the lookout tower. Manned by a very cool crew from SRAM, this stop was more balm for my scorched ego. They reminded me how hard the heat had been for everyone, how many people had to drop, how few people even registered for the full race.  They iced my bottles , gave me potatoes and apple pie moonshine, and sent me on my way feeling much better.

Thankfully the return trip didn't require defying death on the steep road I'd walked up, instead directing us down a dirt road on the other side of the ridge. From this point on, the race was pretty much straight up downhill fun on smooth, lovely roads.

The last 15 miles or so of the race follows Spearfish Canyon. It was scenic and beautiful and, as we got closer to town, occasionally scary with cars rounding blind curves in the middle of the road.

The gravel eventually gave way to pavement, and after 100 miles I was speeding along downhill over 20 mph. Even at the relatively high speed and beautiful scenery, by the last few miles I was over it. Yeah, yeah, canyon walls, ok, a waterfall...now where's that last turn??

The turn onto the bike trail was a little tricky and again I was glad to be hitting it in daylight. From there, it was a short ride to the finish line, where I pulled up short instead of crossing so as not to confuse the results. Out of six 200-mile races this makes my fourth DNF, but the chance of failure is what makes the challenge interesting and the occasional victories so sweet.
Feeling like a hero, but I can't fly

I'll be honest. The disappointment is a bitter pill to swallow and leaves me feeling like less. I know the weather was not ideal, but half the field finished under those conditions, so it can certainly be done. I did a lot of things right; I think I was trained to finish, and I stayed on top of hydration and nutrition. I just couldn't cool my body enough to make it do what I needed to do. My friend Aaron has this quote I've pulled out before, "There's no failure, only feedback." Clearly my feedback here is I need to a) work on acclimating to heat and b) figure out some workable solutions to deal better with early season heat.
No, you never crash if you don't try
I got an incredible amount of support from friends both before and after the race, and another quote that stuck with me was "Don't let success go to your head or failure go to your heart." I'm still working on the latter part of that one, but I haven't regretted going for a moment.  Motherlode was a great race. The parts of the course I saw were incredible, and the race directors were wonderful. Spearfish is a neat town, and if you like grass roots gravel you'd love this race. Of course I'm already plotting my return, so maybe I'll see you there.
Took it to the edge, now I know why
Big thanks to the race directors, volunteers, and sponsors. Thanks to Renee for being an awesome riding partner and to Margy for being an amazing crew. Most especially thank you to everyone who took the time to encourage me and/or commiserate with me about the race. It's easy to say the right thing when things go well, but you guys nailed it when they went south, too.
Never gonna live if you're too scared to die

Randy Erickson album

Les Heiserman album

Luke Meduna's video from 2015 Motherlode (same course, different weather)

Friday, June 10, 2016

Motherlode race info

The Motherlode version of the Gold Rush Gravel Grinder is 210 miles. The race starts at 5 am on Saturday morning and the cutoff for finishers is 2 am Sunday morning. (Note: SD is on Mountain Standard Time.) The Saturday forecast for Spearfish, where we'll start, is a high of 98, low of 60, and windy. 

The course is basically two loops joined by an out-and-back section, and we'll have four checkpoints where we can meet our crew. 

Leg 1: 69.3 miles. Cutoff: 12:30 pm
Cue sheets 1-5. This leg is basically one sustained climb. And we ride into Wyoming. 

Leg 2: 53.7 mi. Cutoff: 6 pm. Cue sheets 5-7. This segment looks more like a sawtooth. We enter the Black Hills National Forest at mile 92.7. 

Leg 3: 29 miles. Cutoff: 9 pm.  Cue sheets 7-8. Mostly a downhill trend before beginning another sustained climb. We ride on part of the Mickelson Trail. Bridges!! Tunnels!!

Leg 4: 20 miles. Cutoff: 11 pm. Cue sheets 8-9. Sustained climb. 

Leg 5: 37 miles. Cutoff: 2 am. Cue sheet 9. Downhill trend. We'll ride through beautiful Spearfish Canyon. At least the pictures look beautiful. It'll most definitely be dark when I get there. 

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned about the heat and wind. My hottest race last year was a 17-hour race in 97 degrees, and it was rough for a few hours there. We'll definitely have to take care of ourselves. 

I quit Dirty Kanza three years ago in challenging conditions and still regret it. This race is getting my best effort. As long as I can keep pedaling, that's what I'm going to do. If I miss a cutoff I'm going to miss it riding, not quitting. I've never been more prepared for a race. I'm so excited to ride in South Dakota and looking forward to incredible views, good company, and riding across the finish line! 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

New Horizons

Gravel cyclists from all over the country converged on Emporia, Kansas, ground zero for the gravel world this weekend. My Facebook feed was filled with weather reports, last minute crew scrambling, packing lists, and all the excitement that accompanies road trips and goal races.  Me, I painted my dining room wall, went mountain biking, and stalked the internet for race updates.

Yes, my gravel family had its annual reunion, and I stayed home. After four years of obsessively thinking about and training for Dirty Kanza, I sat this one out. Not registering was surprisingly painless, but as race day approached I started suffering withdrawal pains. I love the yearly pilgrimage, seeing familiar faces every time I turn around. I love the incredible big-ness of the open range. I love coming home with epic stories and pictures from the amazing photographers.  

Though the race sold out insanely fast, last-minute spots became available as plans changed. I could have raced again this year and definitely had the miles logged to support another finish, but skipping DK was a training decision. This year I'm trading the Flint Hills of Kansas for the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Two years ago some of the DDRP guys went west for Gold Rush and have only had good things to say about it. Jeff and I went to South Dakota the summer before Jacob was born and loved it. We've talking about going back every since. When Gold Rush caught my eye, a family vacation seemed like a great way to make us all happy, especially me. 

Photo credit for all pictures: Gold Rush Gravel Grinder Facebook page
The scenery looks incredible and, importantly, the Motherlode is 210 miles with around 13,000 feet of climbing. I'm not sure why I feel called to do these long races when perfectly good 70 and 110-mile routes are also available, but there it is. I'm one of three solo women and only 30 racers total registered for the long course. This promises a very different experience than Kanza.

I'm typically pretty comfortable tackling things on my own, but this time I'm glad my friend Renee will be there, too. Thinking about the distance, the elevation profile, and the potential for isolation gets overwhelming, Still, every time my holy shit meter hits the red zone, I look again at the pictures of where we'll be riding and realize how lucky I am. 

I've certainly questioned myself, my sanity, and my ability to complete the race during some some shorter events this summer, but I guess the challenge is what makes it interesting. Where's the adventure in doing something you know you can do?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Hairy Hundred "I'm not racing!" report

Cedar Cross left my ego bruised but my legs in pretty good shape. Granted, I wasn’t particularly happy to sit on the saddle Sunday morning when Chuck guilted me into a ride to Mokane, but pedaling wasn’t the problem.  Given the amount of strenuous activity the weekend held, it was beyond irritating to somehow tweak my right hamstring while sitting in a chair at work Monday morning.

Unable to extend my leg or walk stairs without pain, I took a week of rest and ice and heat and foam rolling and trying really hard to ignore the taunting Strava notifications of all the miles my friends were logging.  By Friday I was feeling optimistic enough to take my bike on our family camping trip.  I had a great short ride Saturday evening and was excited about the 120-ish mile route I’d planned for the next day until I woke up unable to extend my leg again.

Instead of biking back from the campground the next day, I sat  in the car, quietly combining massive self pity over missing a perfect day to ride with full-on panic about Mother Lode next month.  The pity party lasted for about two days until I got sick of myself and reined it in; I have two friends who’ve been hit by cars in the last couple weeks while biking, one with significant injuries, and in comparison my worries about a goal race were minor.

Thankfully, my new perspective was untested because I woke up the next morning feeling much better. By Thursday I was confident enough to register for Hairy Hundred, and Friday evening my leg felt great while mountain biking…so imagine my distress when I once again woke up in the night unable to extend my leg without pain.

This was me for two weeks
Luckily, the pain wasn’t as severe this time.  I foam rolled, used a heating pad, took it easy on Saturday, and drove to Rocheport Sunday morning with my fingers crossed.  I thought there was a good chance I’d ride a few miles, start hurting, and have to turn around, but a day spent relaxing and hanging around with bike friends is hardly a tragedy. If the race went well, I’d be relieved. If it didn’t, I’d cloak myself in denial and avoid my bike until Mother Lode.  So far the problem only cropped up after riding my bike; I could deal with a limp for the rest of vacation as long as I could still race.

Pre-race: "Hmmm...what are the chances I finish this ride?"


While I know Mickey really wanted me to race again, I had no such intentions. I had two main goals for Hairy Hundred.  First, I wanted to set a strong but sustainable pace and see how I felt at the end. The last couple of races we’ve done together have featured aggressive starting paces and quickly declining performances (to be fair, that "quickly declining performance" is in comparison to how we started; one of those two races also featured a 2nd place AG finish).  I’ve been pretty sure there’s a direct relation between the two, but you start to question yourself.  Second, I wanted to improve on my poor Cedar Cross fueling.  I planned out nutrition much more carefully and learned how to set a time alert on my Garmin to remind me to eat something every 15 minutes.


I lined up near the back with Jim, Renee, Steve, and Eric. Renee and I are racing Motherlode together and keep planning to ride together but failing to execute.  Steve and I were riding together as long as our paces matched, and Eric and I had planned to ride together with the caveat that if one of us (most likely me) was too slow the other was welcome to ride away.


The race started with a neutral roll-out on the Katy Trail, which was a nice opportunity to warm up and chat before we turned onto the gravel 6 miles in.  Having a reliable rear derailleur meant I was able to shift into the correct gear for the first hill and was only passed by most of the pack instead of everyone.  Steve and Renee both passed me*, and I never saw either of them for the rest of the race. I had to laugh at how bad Renee and I have turned out to be at riding together. Hopefully in South Dakota we’ll manage better.

Eric slowed at the top of the hills for me to catch up, and we spent the next miles talking.  Riding with a new person is a little like going on a blind date; I’d been a little nervous about it because I’m more tortoise than hare, and I talk a lot. I’m sure I can be annoying. Eric is either very patient or somewhat hearing impaired, though, because we ended up sticking together for the whole day.

After a slow start on the first hills I started feeling stronger and was really enjoying not feeling like death. About 15 miles in we passed the Sonas on a hill; I reached over to very cautiously slap Carrie’s butt and, shortly after, more aggressively smack Jim’s as we caught him. I almost paid for my overconfidence, swerving and almost crashing. “It’s that instant karma,” he laughed before telling me, “I kept hearing your voice behind me and decided to wait up.”

Tracy's pics
Photo credit: Tracy Wilkins
With that, our gang of three continued on. Despite having done this exact route two previous times, I was surprised how little I remembered of it, but my Garmin was super easy to follow. After missing the first couple alerts in the excitement of the start, I got on track with my eating and made sure to drink regularly. The first potential stop was at mile 32 in Fayette; Jim stopped, but Eric and I had stocked up so we only needed to stop at the mile 57 bag drop.

Jim caught up about 7 miles down the road. We were wondering how his time trial was going and had just stopped for a bio break (Eric)/bottle switch (me) when I heard the familiar ding of a bell. Together again, we made quick work of the 17 or so miles before the bag drop, the only negative being when Eric already knew the punchline of our favorite rural joke. Very disappointing.

While the gravel in the first third of the course was in great shape other than one deep patch that took out on of the strongest women in the race, there were a lot more thick sections in the middle. Sometimes we could skirt along the edge of the road where the rock hadn’t yet spread to, and other times we had to make the best of faint lines through the middle. We were all relieved to hit the pavement on the outskirts of Glasgow and enjoy some fast, smooth miles into the bag drop.

We’d planned a 5-minute stop but took twelve due to my disorganization. At least two girls passed us here, including the eventual winner. I’d prepared spare bottles ahead of time but was slightly flummoxed by which needed to be switched out and which needed to be refilled with water.  Enjoying the company and the ride, I was missing the sense of urgency necessary to make our stop faster. That said, I clearly need to leave specific instructions for our Motherlode crew rather than count on myself to know what I need during the race.

The morning had started out cool but gradually warmed up into the low 80’s. Thankfully, the hill leaving Glasgow was heavily shaded, so much so that I was almost sad to reach the top and emerge into the sun again. From there, we only had one more climb before the flats that make up the remaining 30 miles of the race.

Tracy's pics
Descending to the flats.
Photo credit: Tracy Wilkins

30 flat miles sounds awesome, but in reality it’s this purgatory of constant pedaling and somehow this stretch always seems to have a headwind. Last year it about broke me; despite Mickey’s efforts to get me to draft I spent most of the time hanging dispiritedly behind, convinced the wind was out to get me.

This year I did much better. There were a lot of times I really wanted to stop pedaling and just dawdle along behind the guys, but I stuck with our paceline and did my share of pulling. It was still pretty breezy, but instead of sinking into my old persecution complex I just laughed to myself every time the road looked like it was going to turn out of the wind only to quickly disappoint me.

Still, it did wear on me. The plan had been one stop, at the bag drop, but as we approached New Franklin and the final Casey’s, I mentioned that I wouldn’t mind a quick stop there, just to get off of my bike. I think Jim had already planned to stop there, and Eric was happy to grab a cold Gatorade, so we pulled off the road with just ten miles left. This was my one real lapse in focus for the whole day. I could easily have made it to the finish without any extra supplies.

The guys bought drinks; I picked out an ice cream bar, which I ate while waiting in line. While they filled bottles and drank their purchases I ran back into the store to fill my water bottle with ice. Half of it cooled my drink and the rest went into my jersey. Our Casey’s stop was about 10 minutes.

We burned another three minutes just a few blocks down the road when, despite having loaded the same exact route on our Garmins, Jim and I were getting different messages. After some discussion, we went with his, which ended up being correct. “Right,” I grumbled as we began climbing, “Listen to the Garmin that sends us uphill!”

Only one or two hills remained before we closed the loop on the route and headed back east on the Katy Trail. Unlike our teamwork against the wind, this stretch was more good company and conversation (and, in my case, being really eager to see the tunnel that signals the end of the race). Because Mickey always accuses me of sneak-attack last-minute sprints, I was careful to stay right in line with the guys as we reached the Mulberry Grill and the pizza I’d been looking forward to since we started. 93 miles down!

Post-race sweaty jersey

It was a very encouraging day. I felt really good for probably the first 70 miles and OK afterwards, confirming for me that my race experience is better when I set my own pace. That part may be kind of a “duh” observation, but I didn’t just feel better: my effort was more consistent as well.

Cedar Cross: Strong start, precipitous decline

Hairy Hundred: overall much more consistent

And, finally, my performance compared to last year improved. One of the disheartening things about Cedar Cross wasn’t just feeling awful; it was comparing this year’s segments to previous ones and coming up short in every single one.  It’s not a perfect comparison since the overall Cedar Cross course was different and this year’s weather was much harder on me than previous years, but it’s telling that, in all areas that were the same, I was slower than my previous self.

In contrast, despite this year’s Hairy Hundred temperatures being warmer than last year and me setting my own comfortable pace, I had personal bests on many of the segments.


That said, my time this year was slower than last year by 24 minutes (6:52 in 2015, 7:16 this year). I’m not thrilled about that, but I’m not worried about it, either. Last year I was racing; this year I just wanted to have a good, consistent race, and I did that. Now to work towards a faster good, consistent race (and avoid the lure of unnecessary gas station ice cream).

*As it turns out, this isn’t entirely true. Steve passed me at then waited at a turn. I was completely oblivious to him there and for the next miles he was on my wheel. Renee apparently hadn’t passed me and later was slowed by a flat. Basically, I’m an idiot.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cedar Cross 2016

Note: I don't know if it's because I've done Cedar Cross so many times or because I spent the majority of the race suffering and trailing behind Mickey, but my race report turned out to be very much a "my race experience" report than information about the race itself. But if you're looking for that, you're in luck! The Gravel Cyclist came all the way from Florida to race with us and has posted a great race report as well as a video that really showcases the course.  Check out those links!

Also, commentary from Mickey in pink with occasional replies from me in blue.

My four years at Cedar Cross have been very different. The first year, Adam pretty much babysat me all day, leading me through the course and practically holding my hand for the last few miles as it started to get dark and I was so over being on my bike. Year two we rode together again, but this time he was sick and I felt awesome. Last year Mickey convinced me to "race" it; I spent much of the day alone but had my fastest (albeit grumpiest) finish yet. This year he offered to ride with me if I wanted to race it again. This would mean less fun but better training; I tend to be pretty conservative about my pace and knew he'd push me to ride faster.

And that's something we talked about. In fact, he even messaged me a couple days before the race to make sure I really wanted to race it instead of riding it for fun, so when you read me pondering whether our pace is too fast for me to sustain or trailing sadly behind just know that I knew what I was signing onto.  It works well for us: he gets to watch me suffer and say mean (helpful) things to me, and I get pushed out of my comfort zone and to not worry about navigation.

This year's start/finish was at P4 Pub & Grub in Tebbetts, MO, conveniently located right next door to the Turner Shelter, where Jacob and I stayed on our Katy Trail overnight back in 2013 and perfect for weary racers to stumble into after a long day on the bike. Chuck got us all reservations and was nice enough to claim beds for those who didn't hit town early.  (I was pretty impressed with the shelter.  I’m not a camper by any stretch of the imagination, but even I’d consider staying there.) 


I left work early Friday afternoon and drove straight to Red Wheel Bike Shop in Jefferson City for early race check-in. A slow but steady stream of people showed up, and I passed my down time preparing our super fancy number plates, visiting with old and new friends who stopped by, and eating Jimmy John's (thanks, Kyle!).

So fancy. Only people in the BAMF class got personalized number plates. 
After check-in I headed to Tebbetts. Since several racers were also staying at the shelter, I did some impromptu race registrations there as well.

"I don't care if you wear a dress [which he did -- check out that link]...you still can't register in the women's division."
In between collecting money, getting waivers signed, and visiting the electric chair in the museum next door, I tried to get my bike and food organized for the next day, finally heading to bed around 11.

Such a professional looking crew. Incidentally, all four cups on that table are mine. :)
Saturday morning registration started bright and early. With Lori making numbers, Cara marking off pre-registered racers, and Janie filing completed waivers, we had a pretty smooth operation. They kept trying to chase me off to get ready and I kept planning to go in "just a minute". My friends are wonderful, so Chuck got my bike ready and Amanda heated up my breakfast while I worked and enjoyed the multiple cups of hot chocolate/coffee brought in response to my facebook plea the previous night. 

Hey, I know what I like. Thanks Janie, Josh, Scott, and Renee! 
The thirty minutes before the race were a bit of a mad dash, but I was ready on time. Mickey and I lined up way further forward that I would have chosen, following the lead vehicles onto the course after Bob's last-minute words and the now-traditional electric guitar National Anthem.

Photo credit: Scott Shaw

Rolling out next to my friend Alice.
Photo credit: Lori Vohsen
This was the second time I'd used my new Garmin 520 to follow a route, and I haven't entirely figured it out. When I pulled up the course, the Garmin asked "navigate to course?" I selected yes, assuming it would beep or something when I hit the beginning; instead, while the course displayed perfectly and was very easy to follow, it included a pink line drawn from my current location back to Tebbetts. During low times I enjoyed imagining following the line straight back to food and ice and seats that weren't attached to a bicycle, but my Garmin died after just over 11 hours, far short of the 15 it's supposed to last. Hopefully the reason for the the shorter battery life was the extra step of navigating to course all day.

Start to first singletrack: 

The first miles of the race were familiar from February's Callaway 50 60 (70) ride, but it was slightly disorienting to have no real idea when I'd be on the regular Cedar Cross course or where we'd hit it. Though we started at a more aggressive pace than my default I felt ok in the beginning and spent much of the first 25 miles in my big ring (a sadly rare occurrence).

Even before we hit the first section of Mark Twain National Forest land, however, I was weirdly uncomfortable. My back hurt, maybe because I'd worn my Camelbak to ensure having enough water for the 45 miles to the bag drop, and both hips were achy. "What's up with you?" Mickey asked. "I feel like your heart isn't really into this."

It was, though. I was committed to the race plan and didn't feel like I was soft pedaling, but first Christine, then Emily and Erl, and then another coed pair passed us. I could feel Mickey itching to give chase. "Come on...that's your competition," he urged. 

"I don't want to think about what the other girls are doing. I just want to ride the best I can."  

We have such a different approach to bike races.  He tends to win, I don't, so it's clear who knows what they're doing.  Riding with someone so much stronger, though, it's hard to objectively evaluate how I'm doing or how I'm feeling. Do I really suck, or do I just look painfully slow in comparison to someone really fast? Am I being way too conservative, or will pushing this hard early just make me blow up sooner?  (In retrospect, you did the right thing by holding back.)

Eventually we rode onto traditional Cedar Cross territory. When I could catch up with Mickey (when he slowed down enough) I told him how this was the first non-Katy Trail gravel I ever rode. When I couldn't catch up with him (most of the time), I noted landmarks from the Deuce and smiled at the memories.

We passed some super fast guys changing a flat on the side of the road (an enduring theme for many of this year's CCX-ers) and then later passed them again changing another flat.  (Point of note:  We actually ended up beating those “super fast guys”, even if only because they DNFed.)  I got a chance to ride and talk with Alice for a little bit as we leapfrogged back and forth, her far stronger on uphills, me slightly more comfortable on the descents. 

"We're getting close to the field section," Mickey told me, "Make sure and eat something now since it'll be harder to do that on the dirt."  (Teamwork makes the dream work!)

~25 mi, ~1:50 total time

The decline: First singletrack to drop bags: 

Part of the first field section.
Photo credit: Michelle Townsley
We rode into the fields of the Mark Twain National Forest through cattle gates manned by the Lamb family. The grass was pretty high in some places; you could see the path, but I worried about hitting concealed rocks or hidden ruts and crashing. Mickey started to make a wrong turn at the end of the field, but I've ridden that section enough to recognize where we needed to go and called to him. I was as timid as ever as we rode into the woods and down a rutted, rocky stretch before popping back out onto the road.

My "local knowledge" came in handy again as we rode toward the powerline connector to Bob Veach Rd. Mickey's cue sheets were dead on all day and he was careful to keep his mileage matched up with them; still as we passed a gate on the side of the road, he slowed: "I think that was our turn."

"No, it's not."

Just a little further down the road he asked again, "Is that it?"


(If I’d have just followed the mileage on my cue sheets, I would have been fine.  I just didn’t remember the connector being so close to HW Y.)

Moments later we reached the actual connector and then had about 10 miles of gravel to the next singletrack section, where the GPS tried to send us up the wrong road. It was gated with a "no trespassing" sign, so without a course marking I wasn't about to ride up it.  The Red Wheel guys had mentioned the night before that we'd be starting the trail at the actual trailhead, so we felt better when we spotted the Moon Loop sign just a bit (Like a ¼ mile!  There was definitely something goofy with the Garmin course at this spot.) further down the road.


Back on singletrack my sad lack of confidence was evident as I walked things I could easily ride. There were some muddy spots, but overall the trail was in fantastic shape compared to what I'd expected. I was in less fantastic shape, struggling more than I should have and moving really slowly. Eric caught up with us (He caught up with you!  LOL) shortly before the end of the singletrack and put on a little mountain biking clinic as I walked my bike down a slightly sketchy downhill. The three of us climbed the staircase of pain and rode more or less together until we popped back out onto the gravel, where he stopped to wait for the rest of the Momentum group. I spent the next several miles expecting them to pass us, but they had stopped in the forest to help an injured rider.

This next section of the course was familiar territory, riding gravel to Rutherford Bridge and then riding up the doubletrack road afterwards (also in incredibly good shape compared to previous years). Had I been alone I almost certainly would have missed the next turn, not because my Garmin misdirected me but because I "knew" that section of the course followed the gravel rollers past the crazy guy's house.
Rutherford Bridge in 2014
Except that the "new, improved" Cedar Cross turned off the road and back onto singletrack. This is where things really started to go downhill for me. Mickey had been reminding me to eat and drink, and I'd been trying, but as I gasped for breath on trails that weren't difficult I began to realize I'd fallen way behind on food. We continued to leapfrog another coed pair; Jessica and I did a little bonding in this section, commiserating with each other about how bad we felt.

"I've already cried twice," she admitted.

"I'm really close," I told her.  (Damn it!  I still haven’t seen you cry.   )

Hearing voices ahead of us I was relieved that we were almost to the bag drop. Instead, it was group of equestrians out for their annual Derby Day ride (incidentally, one of the participants had contacted Bob to find out where they should expect us, offer to pack in beer for racers, and just generally try to ensure smooth relations between groups. There's frequently a lot of friction between mountain bikers and equestrians, but thanks to her outreach and Bob's openness, a situation that could have been unpleasant ended up being positive).  They were very cool, but I was moderately crushed by the disappointment of not being at the bag drop.  (One of the female equestrians gave me a Stag & told me I was the only one they had seen riding up that section of trail.  Everyone else they had seen were pushing their bikes.  I wonder if she’s married.?.)

"Not much further," they encouraged, and finally we pulled into the Boydsville bag drop. 4:15 for about 45 miles...we weren't setting any land-speed records, for sure. I rode straight to Scott's truck and filled my sports bra and jersey with ice. Janie brought me the bottle I'd left with her and took my camelbak, which I couldn't take off fast enough. I think Scott iced up my bottles and made sure they were full while I grabbed some of my food, ate a Reese's, and downed a bottle of cold water.  Mickey came over: "So I guess we're just riding the rest of this for fun? No more racing?"

I looked at him in disbelief. "Who's having fun? I'm not having fun! Let's go."

~20 mi, ~2:26 (~45/~4:15  total mileage/time)

The abyss: Drop bags to Hams Prairie

Shaun had dropped us early in the race but, struggling in the heat and bonking, was still at the bag drop and decided to roll out with us.  After a moment of confusion at the end of the road, we continued onto more familiar singletrack. Again the trail was much better than the horsed-up disaster of last year.  There were spots I had to walk, but overall it was very rideable.

That's not to say I was moving fast. My main goal at this point was to eat everything I could without getting sick, trying to repair the calorie deficit I'd dug earlier. I wasn't the only one dragging. Early on I caught up with the guys, Shaun leaning over his bike and Mickey digging for his phone.  "I think I left it in your truck," he told Shaun. "That’s why I haven’t been taking pictures."

"Well I'm not giving you mine to take pictures of me like this!" Shaun told him.

"Here," I helpfully interjected, "Take mine!"

I'm really glad I handed over my camera so I could get quality shots like this. ;-)
I'm not sure whether the shirt full of ice, the constant stream of food, or Shaun's suffering gave me the biggest boost, but the combination certainly made me a happier person.  Seeing someone else struggling was almost a relief: Oh, this isn't all me. It's just the tough conditions. Granted, Mickey showed no ill effects, but I've long suspected he's a vampire and always suffer in comparison to immortals.

The singletrack went pretty quickly, and then we hit gravel for a few miles before turning into Dry Fork equestrian campground and one last section of trail. Chuck, manning the aid station, claimed that it was "only 1.5 miles".  The longest 1.5 miles ever. It was the bicycling equivalent of that old diamond commercial: "How can you make 2 months' salary last forever?" Naturally it was while walking a just barely uphill section of trail that I saw Lori with her camera.  (You must have been *really* hurting to not get back on your bike when you saw the camera.)

I swear it was a little bit uphill. Just a little. 

Once we were back on gravel, Shaun and I took turns feeling worse for the next 15 miles or so, trudging along on shadeless gravel roads.  (We had a glorious headwind in this section, too!  And that mailman in the Snatch Wagon playing leapfrog with us, stirring up the dust didn’t help either.)  Oh, that guy. I hated him, his aggressive passes, and his dust. But I was actually grateful for the wind because it helped cool me off a little. My ice had long since melted, and this year's unseasonably cool temps had left me totally unprepared for a high near 90.  My sock, wet from the singletrack creek crossings, had gradually slid down in my shoe, causing an uncomfortable hot spot.  Finally unwilling to ignore it any longer, I stopped at the top of a hill, sat down in the road, adjusted the offending sock, and then...stayed there.

Shaun found himself a comfortable spot under his bike, and Mickey documented (and savored) our misery.  (That video has over 1000 views, and I’m pretty sure 800 of them are mine.)

Could he be having any more fun? Actually yes, as you'll see in a moment.

As we grudgingly got back to our feet, I spotted Renee approaching. Having been sidetracked by an early flat, she was riding strong and quickly moved to the front of our group.  Meanwhile, the death march continued as did the videographic stylings of Schadenfreude Scorsese.

We weren't the only ones suffering. Around mile 72 we found Aaron lying on the grass beneath a bush. After fighting cramps all day long he'd made the call for a ride. I was bummed for him, but seeing another strong rider out was confirmation of what a hard day it was.  (I tried to get Aaron to ride with us to Ham’s Prairie by telling him it was only ~4 miles.  He was too smart for me and immediately knew I was lying.)

Pretty much everyone had a similar message for Bob.
A few miles after leaving Aaron, we reached the highly-anticipated hot dog oasis. Cold water, a bite to eat, and a few minutes in a lawn chair did wonders for my mood. Mickey decided to have seconds just as I was ready to roll out, so I left on my own.  (I think I’ve eaten ~6 hot dogs in the last year, and every one of them has been in that man’s front yard.)  He caught me shortly after and told me Shaun had said to stop waiting on him. This was most unwelcome news since I'd been a fan of our slower pace and was particularly sad to have lost my partner in misery.

So much sun, so little shade.
Luckily, the Hams Prairie gas station was only a few miles down the road, and while I lagged behind on the gravel I managed to at least draft on the pavement. Scott was waiting at Hams Prairie and filled up my bottles while I ran inside to take advantage of indoor plumbing. I'd planned to buy something in the store, but nothing sounded appealing and I left empty handed.  (Thanks, again, for the Coke, Scott!)

~35 mi, ~4:30 (~80 miles/~8:46 total time) 

Hams Prairie to finish: 

First Shaun, then Dave, Amanda, and Scott rode up as we were preparing to roll out. We waved and then hit the road. The wind, which had been blowing steadily from the west/southwest all day, had turned and was now coming out of the east, bringing with it much cooler temps.  I was almost chilly. It was lovely.

From Hams Prairie, it's only about 8 miles to the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant and the obligatory selfie with the cooling tower, but that 8 miles includes a big climb. I've ridden it in the past but didn't feel good about my chances this time around after feeling so bad all day. My dark suspicions were confirmed when I was in my granny gear before I even hit the hill itself, but I surprised myself and made it to the top without walking.  (You did a great job on the gravel hills for the majority of the day.  I know you were hurting, and you weren’t flying up them, but you didn’t walk like I would have expected in the past.  Kudos.) Knowing I can ride it makes it hard to walk it; also, after some of the climbing we've done this year, it no longer looks *quite* as intimidating.

Top of the hill

In the past, the power plant has signaled the end of climbing. From there, the race followed flat gravel to a fun downhill and then nearly 30 miles of drudgery on the Katy Trail and flat roads. This year, Bob had minimized the Katy Trail section and routed the course back through a series of hills on the return to Tebbets.

There aren't many rules at Cedar Cross, but one of them is the nuclear selfie. 

That last flat 30 miles was always the worst part of the race, so I was actually glad about the additional hills...until we hit them.  We made good time on the roads following the nuclear plant, and the big downhill was a blast, but I didn't take advantage of the opportunity to draft on the Katy, instead ambling along and counting the miles we had left.

Around mile 97 we turned off the Katy.  It took a moment to locate the road that was little more than a sketchy doubletrack trail (i.e. mud puddle), but it was marked and once we made the turn I recognized where we were from a previous ride.  This recognition filled me with dread because I remembered a huge hill on that route, but luckily it wasn't part of the course.

Unluckily, every other hill in the area was. After a brief, flat respite we started climbing. At first I maintained a good attitude, anticipating the descents that were sure to follow, but every time I thought we must be at the top we turned a corner and faced another incline. It was as if M.C. Escher himself had designed the course.

Eventually, defeated, I started walking some of the hills even though they were smaller than many of those we'd been riding all day. Even though I knew we were almost finished I was closer to tears here than at any part of the race. I did manage to ride up what I think was the final big hill, where I found Mickey waiting at the top still trying to motivate me.

"There's a girl 3 minutes ahead of you. She was walking up this hill and didn't look very happy to be getting back on her bike. Let's go chase her down!"

He turned to bolt off and then looked back at me.  I almost felt bad to disappoint him as I said, "I'm doing all I can to keep pedaling. I don't care if we catch her."  Thinking back on it now, I'm laughing because we're totally Tigger and Eeyore towards the end of the race. He's all "come on!! Let's go!!" and I'm moping along behind thinking that finish lines are overrated and the side of the road sure looks comfortable.

Not an exact quote. 
My misery evaporated when we reached the corner I recognized as the downhill to Tebbets, and we cruised triumphantly downhill and around the corner to the finish line.  (Liar!  Unless by “we cruised”, you mean that you realized that was the last turn and bolted to the line ahead of me, just like you always do.  One of these days…)

~34 mi, ~2:45 (114 miles/~11:30* total time)

My mental game continues to need work, particularly as it pertains to my physical state. So far, no matter what my brain has told me, I haven't actually been dying and my legs haven't, in fact, exploded; I probably could go a little faster. This year's first half, like 2015, was marred by poor fueling; this is a mistake I'm way too experienced to keep making, but I keep making it.  (You really need to set that Time Alert on your Garmin, and quit relying on your brain.)  On the other hand, I've improved at dealing with conditions like the wind without developing a full-on persecution complex.

Since the course was so different -- more singletrack, more hills at the end -- and the temperature was so much harder on me, it's hard to compare this year's performance with last year's. Strava shows that I was slower this year on every single segment. My total time was just over an hour longer than last year; granted, this year featured more trails, more hills, and hotter temperatures, but last year the singletrack was virtually unrideable so that probably balances out the increase.

I think I felt worse this year, which is frustrating because I've put in more training than ever before. And maybe that's part of the problem because it leads to higher expectations for myself. Mentally I do better if I go into a race feeling unprepared and hoping to survive. It's much easier to feel good about a race when success is measured in not dying.

Still, my friend Christine came up after the race and told me that all my work has really paid off and I've improved a lot since we first met. When I told her my disappointment with how the race went and how much I'd struggled all day, she replied that she felt pretty good all day and only finished 1/2 hour ahead of us. Now, she was all changed and clean when she said this, so maybe her timeline was a little off. Still, her encouragement made me feel a lot better. I probably need to be a little harder on myself during races and easier on myself afterwards.