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Thursday, October 29, 2015

BT Epic

The BT Epic is a mountain bike race featuring 50 primarily singletrack miles centered around Missouri's Berryman Trail. It's one of "the" big races of the year around here, but I've never been able to do it. BonkHard Racing's Perfect 10 orienteering race, which I love, was always the weekend before, leaving BT Epic weekend for our family Halloween party. Without Perfect 10 this year, I convinced Jeff to schedule the party a week earlier so I could finally race BT Epic.

I had a very encouraging race at the Indian Camp Creek 9-hour MTB race back at the beginning of September (maybe one of those days I'll get around to writing about it), riding 57 miles over the course of about 7.5 hours. The ICCP trails are significantly easier than Berryman, but I felt strong enough at the end of the day to feel like my training was in the right place. Racing in the Tomahawk Challenge 24-hour AR the next weekend, though, I just felt tired. Not so much body tired as mentally tired, reminiscent of the burnout I was feeling back in January. Time to dial it back a little bit.

The rest of September was pretty light, and I've spent most of October recovering from my leg gash and the subsequent infection (I'm still on antibiotics) as well as making costumes for our family Halloween party. As a result, I rolled up to the BT Epic start line with a whopping 20 bike miles for October and probably around 100 total since the Indian Camp Creek race. My training log was definitely on the hungry side.

I woke up on race morning at 1:30 a.m. and couldn't fall back asleep, so I had no problem being on time to meet Chuck and Lori for the drive to Bass' River Resort. Once we got through the line at the gate and paid our day-use fees, check-in was smooth and we had ample time to get everything set for the race.

The one picture I took at BT Epic, which is a shame because the whole course was a panorama of singletrack winding through glorious autumn scenery. Even when I was suffering (most of the race) I could appreciate how lucky I was to be there, see that, and
The start line as viewed from the way back
We lined up in the back and had a nice view of the leaders shooting away as we followed at a more leisurely pace. The first few miles was a bit of a trip down memory lane as we passed the start of my first Berryman Adventure Race and climbed the same gravel hill that was my AR baptism. Before long we were being waved onto the Ozark Trail by some of the awesome volunteers from the day.

And it was soooo fun! Other than one steep, chunky downhill section and a hill that we pushed up, the trail was mostly smooth, swoopy goodness. Though the forecast had threatened various amounts of rain in the week leading up to the race, we ended up with near-perfect weather: overcast and cool.  My typical beginning-of-ride mtb jitters were absent, and once we turned onto the Berryman Trail I was on familiar ground. I had a blast chasing Chuck's wheel into the first aid station, which we reached in about 1:10.  Looking at my Garmin I thought that maybe Chuck's goal of sub-7 hours was possible. Maybe we could even beat it...

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All smiles coming into the aid station.
Photo credit: Josh Brown
The first thing I saw as we pulled into the CP was my teammate Mary sitting next to the water table with her knees covered in blood from a crash. I stopped to talk to her briefly, but she had friends with her and with nothing else I could do I gave her a quick hug and moved on. As we rode the short stretch of pavement to the the trail, I realized that I hadn't eaten during that first 10 miles, so I had a few bites of Payday bar and drank some of my Carborocket before we started climbing. That was pretty much the end of the smiles for the day.

I'd ridden the Berryman loop not quite a month earlier, on a (super nice) borrowed bike, and while my handling and descending sucked on the unfamiliar bike, I felt really strong on the climbs. Like good enough to ask a friend to let me ride in front of him, which is a rare thing for me to do.  I'm sure the fact that my bike weighed less than my purse helped, but it wasn't just the bike.

BT Epic was the opposite. Back on my own bike, I had fun on the downhills and, if I wasn't exactly confident on technical sections, at least I didn't give up on them before reaching them. Riding uphill, though...I could barely do it.  I was redlined on climbs that I've ridden without issue in the past. Now, I had assumed I'd struggle during the race -- I've only ridden the distance on singletrack once, and Berryman is a tough trail -- but I never expected to fall apart 10 miles in.

I ended up walking a lot of uphills, and my pace was pretty pathetic for many stretches that I rode. I was bewildered by the unanticipated weakness, which did nothing good for my mental state. Chuck, who was riding well and could easily have beaten 7 hours on his own, instead stuck with me as a bunch of people passed us and never once made me feel bad about it. "Hey, we just get more time on the trail!"

Obviously one issue was that I hadn't eaten enough, so I tried to eat my way out of the nutritional hole I'd dug and to appreciate the amazing conditions of the day: great weather, beautiful autumn scenery all around us, and glorious, buff trail.  Even while I was imagining all the garage space we'd have after I gave away all my bikes, part of me was still grateful to be riding my bike outside on such a day.

We pulled into the CP at Berryman Campground before I really expected to. Between starting the loop from a different spot than usual and the reroutes along the trail, I was never quite sure where we were along the trail. Mark waved us over to where he'd parked with our drop bags; I filled up my water, finished off my first Carborocket bottle and replaced it with a full one, and ate a rice bar. Mark was full of encouragement: "Lots of downhill on the Berryman, then a short stretch of Ozark Trail until you're back at Bass."

"Yeah, and the Three Sisters," Chuck said, referring to a series of hills also called the Three Bitches, if that gives you any idea of how fun they are.

"We're just calling that 'a short stretch of Ozark Trail'," laughed Mark. Jake, one of the race directors, came over while we were there and asked how things were going. His enthusiasm for the race and the trail were obvious, and he was all kinds of encouraging.

The race course continued to follow the Berryman trail from the campground until the turn-off to the OT. I was most familiar with this stretch because all of my previous rides here had started at the campground. I loved the fun, flowy downhill sections but continued to struggle on anything remotely uphill.

My teammate Melanie, reprising her role as "girl who rides way stronger than Kate", passed us around the 26 mile mark as I walked up yet another hill. I saw her coming and called out, "You're doing awesome!" She was, and while I was happy for her it broke my heart a little when she passed me. I'd actually worried a little before the race how her day would go because I wasn't sure how much mountain biking she did; obviously I'd been concerned about the wrong person.

I was in tears when I caught up to where Chuck had stopped for me. Poor Chuck...not only did he spend the day waiting as I dragged behind, now he had to deal with crying too.  As I joked in all seriousness later to some friends, babysitting me that day was a full-time job. Instead of rolling his eyes, though, he gave me a hug, joked me out of my tears, and reminded me that I'd spent the last month dealing with infection and antibiotics. I don't know how much impact the medical stuff really had, but the idea consoled me during the race.

Eventually we turned back onto the Ozark Trail and rode (walked) up a fire road to the mile 32 water station where we saw the smiling faces of Josh and his wife Shannon as well as Jake again.  I'm not sure I returned any smiles at that point, but it was good to see friendly faces and very nice to see one of the race directors there even though we were basically the back of the race. Maybe he was just there to help them tear down once the last people were through, but at the time it just felt like he was out encouraging everybody.

We rode a few miles of gravel from the water stop and then hopped back onto trail that I remembered from sweeping the OT 100 last year.  Maybe I'd eaten enough food, or maybe we just rode a lot of downhill (or maybe I'm forgetting the bad spots), but I remember this section as one of those points I liked riding my bike again. As I told Chuck, it was almost fun enough to make up for the hills that we knew were coming.

I rode more of the first sister than I had anticipated and decent amounts of the next two. While I'd love to do better, I don't remember this section as being demoralizing. I've never been able to ride them all, so the fact that I walked was just something to work on -- way less upsetting than my new inability to ride up easier hills I've ridden several times before.

After summitting the third sister, we cruised back down to Bass for the final 8-mile loop. I'd wanted to quit there for about 25 miles, but I could hardly destroy Chuck's pace and then cut out early. Besides, it was "only" 8 more miles, and a big chunk of that was gravel. How bad could it be?

We didn't need anything, so we decided we'd just roll past the campground and finish this thing.  Lori snapped away as we rode by, and for once I couldn't even muster a smile for the camera. I just wanted to be done.  Mark too was waiting before the start of the long, paved climb in case we needed anything from our drop bags (yet another awesome person looking out for me...he'd been registered for the race but sprained his ankle. Instead of staying home. he made the drive to Bass and offered his services as crew for anyone who needed it. Since we took him up on the offer, that left him waiting by the road for a long time that he could have been socializing and enjoying race beer.). We said no thank you and started up the hill.

The climb out of Bass on Butts Road may be paved, but it still sucks, and if you end up walking you're doing it in public because people are driving up and down the road...people who've already finished the race.  Chuck had done a lot of unnecessary (for him) walking to keep me company, but I didn't want him to have to do that here and urged him to just wait for me at the turn.  I rode more than I'd expected to but still walked a chunk of it. The only thing more humiliating than walking up a paved hill is doing it with stronger, faster people witnessing it as they drive by, but everyone who did was nice and encouraging, and I managed not to cry until I got to the top and was out of view.

We rode what seemed like a long way on gravel.  I hadn't looked closely at the route before the race, but in my head we basically rode out on gravel, turned onto the singletrack, and then coasted downhill to the finish. This, as it turns out, was not the case.

See that last 8 miles? 

Every downhill that didn't lead to the finish line was a betrayal. I couldn't even enjoy them because I was too busy mourning the upcoming climbs, and my definition of "climb" meant almost anything that wasn't downhill. By this point even I didn't like myself, and it's a measure of Chuck's vast patience and good nature that he didn't leave me to finish the race alone.

The best thing about finishing a race 3rd last is there's a huge cheering section at the finish line. And getting a post-race hug from this guy is good stuff.
One of the things that makes mountain biking so cool? When one of the top finishers is there to give a hug to one of the last finishers. Peat killed the race on a singlespeed.
Finally we reached the gravel road crossing that signaled the final stretch of trail and rode down to the finish line. With the after party right there, we had tons of people and lots of cheering for our triumphant finish, and it was a lot of fun to catch up on how everyone else's race had gone.  Mine...well, as I told my friend Rachel (2nd overall for women!), it was about 10 miles of fun and 40 miles of misery, but I guess sticking out 40 miles of wanting to quit is something.

The race took us 8 hours and 38 minutes total, with 7:22 ride time. I was third last overall and last of all female finishers. Before the start I'd have told you I would be happy just to finish, but it's taken me a few days to get to that point. I went home bitterly disappointed in how I'd done, not so much the time as in my total lack of endurance. Honestly, I think the time is pretty remarkable considering how badly I rode.

So what was the problem? There are several potential issues.

  • Training: I rode a total of 20 miles in the three weeks before the race and less than 100 since September 6. 
  • Nutrition: I didn't eat for the first hour and didn't eat enough the rest of the day. I had a baggie of dried mango, a Payday bar, a Mounds bar, a vanilla GU, 1.5 bottles of Carborocket (about 480 calories), and 2 rice bars.
  • Pace: I'm typically the queen of going out conservative and then staying steady. This time I went out harder than usual and maybe that's why I paid for it later.
  • I've been fighting a serious infection for a month.
  • I've been on antibiotics for a month. Some of what I've read on the internet since Saturday suggests a link between antibiotic use and detrimental effect on athletic performance. 


I'd love to blame it all on the last two, but no matter what impact the infection and medication had, there's no question that the other three contributed, and they're all thankfully things I can work on for next year. Because of course I'm going back next year.




Thursday, October 8, 2015

Frankenleg

My very first mountain biking experience featured a fall that resulted in surgery to repair a badly dislocated thumb. This was the beginning of both an lasting love affair with mountain biking and an enduring trend, one where all of my worst crashes are on decidedly non-epic terrain.

True story
It's likely that the main reason for that relates to my lack of confidence on more technical trails and my willingness to walk anything remotely scary. I'd be a better rider if I could just turn off the fear center in my brain, but failing that I signed up for a mountain bike skills clinic. Two of them actually: a beginner clinic in the morning and an intermediate one in the afternoon.

We had to lower our saddles as far as possible and put flat pedals on our bikes instead of the clipless pedals I normally use. I (read: Jeff) put on the set we'd just taken off of Jacob's bike. They're actually a great set of pedals, but at least once every ride he'd bash his leg with them and throw a fit. I replaced them with the cheapest set of plastic pedals my LBS had, conveniently leaving me with a spare set for Sunday's clinic.
Not necessarily the pedals but very similar
I've ridden clipped in for a few years now, so being on flats and having to stand the whole time was a very weird sensation. The beginners clinic focused on things like vision, braking, body positioning and movement, front wheel lifts, and cornering. It basically confirmed what I already knew, which is that you (I) can have ridden lots of miles of singletrack without being very good at mountain biking.

I was excited and nervous about the intermediate clinic, which focused on higher-level skills like rear wheel lifts (which I can do clipped in but had no idea how that worked on flat pedals) and going off drops.  We had a few new people in the afternoon, so we spent the first few minutes reviewing the skills we'd practiced in the morning, all of which felt more natural this time around.  Then it was time to learn about rear wheel lifts.

Jay broke it down into steps for us, demonstrated it a couple times, then had us try.  Basically (and I'm explaining it poorly, but I'm no MTB coach) you have to push down on the bars, pull up, point your toes down in the pedals, and kind of do a donkey kick with both feet. I'm sure I wasn't the only one with a dubious/nervous look on their face. "Remember," he told us, "even an inch off the ground is a win."

"Not crashing is a win in my book," I mumbled.

I didn't crash.

On my first attempt, I rode into the practice area, did the push/pull with the bars, and pushed both feet back.  Somehow my right foot slipped and went behind the pedal, raking my shin against the pins on its way to the ground.

I had enough time to reflect that Jacob had been right about those pedals hurting before looking down at my leg. The pedal had opened up a big gash in my shin and blood was already running down to my sock. I turned to look at my friend Brianna, and I'm not sure what my face actually looked like, but in my brain it was something like "Holy shit. Look what just happened."


I was pretty sure I was going to need stitches. Jay bandaged me up and asked if I had someone who could take me to the doctor. I texted Jeff, who was an hour away, a picture and then called my Virtus teammate Bob, who lives about 10 minutes from Castlewood, to ask if he could  take me to an urgent care.   Then, once I was all checked in, he rode his bike back to the park to pick up my car. I have awesome friends. 

Waiting at urgent care
I was a little nervous about just pulling up to some random immediate care facility, but it turned out the doctor on duty was a general surgeon. She was super nice and explained to me that usually with shin lacerations unless muscle/tendon was involved they'd just clean it really well and bandage it up. Then she unwrapped my leg: "....but in your case, you've bought yourself some stitches!"  


A whole lot of lidocaine and a bunch of stitches later and I was on my way home. The stitches come out in another few days and I'll probably be pretty gun-shy about banging my shin on anything for a while, but I'm in the clear for the mountain bike race scheduled for the end of October, so I'm happy. I've had several friends this year who've had injuries serious enough to force them onto the sidelines for months at a time. All I'm out is a little blood, a $75 copay, and a couple of hours in a waiting room, and in return I get a nice scar and a good cautionary tale of the dangers of mountain biking...in a flat field...less than 50 feet from the parking lot.

On a related note, I can make you a good deal on a pair of slightly used platform pedals.