TAT CN Header

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Tour of Hermann grand finale

Photo credit Mike Langille
Photo credit: Mike Langille
Tour of Hermann has been a fixture of my spring gravel training for the past few years. With a hilly course and the possibility of back-to-back hundred mile days for the bargain price of $40, it's hard to beat in terms of challenge or value, and it's perfectly positioned to gauge your fitness in advance of the spring big boys like Dirty Kanza and Motherlode.

I've never finished the whole thing, so with no long race on my schedule until October's Spotted Horse, a full ToH became my spring gravel goal. I've ridden 200 miles in a day twice and many gravel centuries but never two 100 miles days in a row. That, combined with the proximity and low cost, made it fit perfectly into my plans for this year. As an ironic bonus, since Jacob was sick I didn't even have to miss his last soccer game.

Despite being off with my sick kid on Friday, I did all my packing late and yawned my way to Hermann on race day. The forecast, which had been ominous all week, miraculously cleared Saturday morning. Other than a soggy drive and a few sprinkles while prepping at the park, the day was dry. Though undeterred by the rainy forecast I'd felt more than a twinge of "this again?" weather weariness and was happy to leave my mental toughness untested in that regard.

Photo credit Mike Langille
Pre-race socializing while I put off trading my warm clothes for riding gear.
Photo credit: Mike Langille
I knew sticking out all five loops would be challenge enough and was quietly worried that my commitment to finish the whole thing was lacking. While it's a goal that has eluded me, it definitely doesn't pull with the same force as the majors. Knowing the multiple opportunities to stop at my car and call it a day would grow more tempting with each mile, I hoped I'd be able to challenge the same dogged determination that saw me through Land Run.

Mickey had offered to ride with me, likely assuming that I'd be less likely to quit if I had company. I had mild reservations -- not sure that my intention of riding a conservative, sustainable pace would survive his speedy influence -- but we've trained together for long enough that we have pretty good communication (that is, I'm pretty good at ignoring him when necessary).

Loop 1: 29 miles ~ "Are these legs even on?"


Photo credit Mike Langille
Just after the turn onto the Katy Trail
Photo credit: Mike Langille
The forecast's toll on participant numbers was clear as a considerably smaller than usual group crossed the Missouri River bridge towards the Katy Trail. The first flat miles provide a deceptive prelude to the hilly pain to come; this changes as soon as the course turns off the Katy and starts to climb. Still, loop 1 offers the least miles and climbing of the weekend.

Untitled
The easy loop
One would think that these facts in combination with my fresh legs would make for a good start to the race; instead I started flagging as soon as we left the lovely flats behind and never really got my legs under me. I felt like I was working way harder than I should be for the output I was getting. Even five miles in I was worried that I wouldn't be able to make it up the first big hill. In the end I rode everything, but it was ugly. Sweating in my waterproof jacket, I cooked on uphills, froze on descents, and alternated between frustration at my unexpected struggle and acceptance that I was just going to have to get through the day.

Strava shows that the sluggishness wasn't just in my head. Even with the possibility that I forgot to stop the Garmin until I was back at my car, my elapsed time was 10 minutes slower than my previous slowest time on the loop despite working harder than last year.

Loop 1:
2014: 2:03 moving, 2:13 elapsed
2015: 2:11 moving; 2:12 elapsed
2016: 2:08 moving, 2:09 elapsed; ahr 108, max 167
2017: 2:23 moving, 2:26 elapsed; ahr 134, max 165

Loop 2: 33 miles ~ More of the same

I'd loaded up with enough water and nutrition to ride the first two loops without stopping, but I stopped at the car to switch my waterproof jacket for a lighter windbreaker and remove the knee warmers I hoped were causing the weird numbness I'd felt in my left foot for most of loop 1. Not quite ready to accept the shift in the forecast, I tucked my jacket into a jersey pocket and rolled out just ahead of Mickey and Eric, who'd made a wrong turn on course and tacked on a few bonus miles.

In previous years this has always seemed like the worst loop of day 1, but this year it was absent much of the loose gravel that makes it more challenging. On this day it seemed lovely and scenic and...still really hard.

Untitled
Photo credit: Mickey, who had lots of time to compose shots while waiting for me.
More terrible slogging, more dead legs, more impossibly slow riding. The guys' company was both a nice distraction and a reminder of just how bad my pace was, and I spent the entire day fighting not to apologize over and over again for it. I told them once that they could go ahead and ride at their own pace, I'd be fine. Of course they refused.

The only other woman riding three loops Saturday passed me at some point on this loop, and I couldn't muster any concern about it. Just keep moving forward.  My foot was no longer numb, but my left hip was bothering me in the same way it used to on long rides. Overall I felt lousy, and the longer I rode the more I started to think I had whatever it was that had kept Jacob home from school. After I mentioned this to the guys, Mickey asked if I wanted to stop after leg 2.

I wanted so much to stop, but then I'd have no chance of riding all five loops. I decided to get through loop 3, then if I woke up actually sick the next day I could just go home. The worst would be to quit and then wake up feeling fine.

Untitled
So much fun.
As bad as I felt, I rode more of this loop than in previous years, only walking a tiny portion of a hill instead the big chunks I walked in the past. One of these climbs definitely had a photographer assist. I had some choice words when I saw him stop at the top of a hill and get out, but he'd gotten a really unflattering picture of me walking last year and I was determined to avoid that this time around.

Photo credit Mike Langille
Me looking straight down so the hatred in my eyes didn't set the man on fire. ;-)
Thankfully the last few miles of the loop are paved and primarily downhill, so we made relatively quick word of the trip back to City Park. I didn't let myself entertain thoughts of quitting, just swung by my car to switch out bottles and leave my jackets before heading back out to purgatory the race course.

Loop 2:

2014: 3:14 moving, 3:31 elapsed
2015: 3:00 moving, 3:12 elapsed
2016: 3:02 moving, 3:05 elapsed; ahr 108, max hr 161
2017: 3:11 moving, 3:14 elapsed; ahr 90, max hr 159


Loop 3: What we have here is a failure of motivation ~33 miles

The first five miles of loop 3 are paved, which makes the uphill trend much more bearable. I told the guys how the first time I rode it I'd made a deal with myself that I could walk any hill I wanted. Mickey was not in favor of this plan. "I'll make a deal with you like I do with my son," he offered, "I'll give you $1 for every hill you ride, and you give me $5 for every hill you walk."

"How about I walk whatever the hell I want to," I countered, "And you can go..." I trailed off, but he got the idea.

Untitled

The first year I rode this leg I thought it was easier than loop 2; last year I was surprised by how much harder it was than I'd expected. This year, even in survival mode, I spent the first half of the loop thinking, "Oh, this isn't so bad," followed by a second 15 miles of hills that were like one punch in the face after another. There was also more loose, thick gravel than I remember in previous years. On the other hand, the day had turned out to be absolutely lovely, and when I wasn't wishing for death I was appreciating the blue skies, sunshine, and comfortable temperature.

Untitled
That smile was just for the camera.
I limped through the loop much like the previous two, though I did considerably more hill walking. Getting off the bike was a nice break for my sore hip and my achy back, but most of the hills hurt almost as much to walk as to ride. Mickey, who often would ride ahead and wait, kept telling me the other woman was just a few minutes ahead of me. "Come on, we can catch her."

I steadfastly refused to be motivated. "I don't care. This is Tour of Hermann...all you have to do is finish. I'm doing everything I can just to move forward."

Like loop 2, this also ended with a good stretch of pavement, albeit with more hills, and finally we rolled back into town. In its last year, the race was operating with a shoestring staff and had a distinctly DIY vibe. The race director had already left by the time we got back to the park, but the "crushed it" stickers for our number plates were still there. We affixed ours, changed into clean clothes, and went in search of Mexican food.

Loop 3:
2014: Didn't ride loop 3
2015: 2:52 moving, 3:08 elapsed
2016: 2:50 moving, 3:10 elapsed; ahr 97, max hr 150
2017: 3:12 moving, 3:18 elapsed; ahr 90, max hr 158

After dinner, I set up my tent near Jim and Chuck, who'd both bikepacked to the race and ridden part of it before their planned ride home on Sunday. We hung out for a while and then I headed to bed, lulled to sleep by self-doubt. If you're struggling at Tour of Hermann, how are you going to ride Tour Divide?

My sleeping bag was cozy until the sun touched my tent, and then it was like being in a furnace. I quickly packed up, enjoying the luxury of being able to throw everything into my car, moved the car back to a spot near the start/finish pavilion -- though not nearly as close as on the previous day when the bad forecast kept so many away -- and then met the guys at Hardees.

Untitled
Breakfast of champions...where's everybody else?
Carbed up with my favorite hot chocolate/coffee mix and some delicious B&G, I hugged my teammates goodbye and rode back to the park to change and line up. Even at 8 a.m. it was clear that we were in for a beautiful day; the rain jacket could stay in the car.

Loop 4: Teamwork makes the dream work! ~52 miles

Momentum had a pretty good crowd on day two, so I said my hellos, passed out a few more hugs, and got myself to the start in plenty of time. The Sunday crowd stayed neutral until the turn onto the main road, at which point they shot off. I resisted the urge to follow suit...and by that I mean my legs were tired. By the time I reached the Missouri River bridge I was firmly in last place.

Except, of course, I wasn't. Relatively few of the people ahead of me had been there the previous day, and even fewer had ridden all three loops.

Photo credit Mike Langille
Pro tip: when you're the only one around you don't have to share the shot with anyone else.
Photo credit: Mike Langille
Loop 4 starts off with nearly 20 miles on the Katy Trail, which conveniently is one of the only places I can successfully draft behind Mickey. He waited for me on the trail, and I fell in behind him. Slowly we crept up on the lone other three-lap woman from the previous day.

Photo credit Mike Langille


Photo credit Mike Langille
This picture makes me laugh . Shades of the picture from Pere Marquette that caught my face as the guy in front of me wiped out, here I'm wincing as a truck flies through an intersection right in front of Mickey.
Photo credit: Mike Langille
Before long we were closing on a longer train of riders. Left to my own devices I'd probably have dangled along on my own, and even if I'd caught up with the pack I'd have just tucked in behind them. Instead, I clung to Mickey's wheel and we passed them by, and we opened up a big gap.

By the time we turned off the Katy at Portland, my back and left hip were bothering me and my foot was experiencing the same weird numbness as before. I actually looked forward to hills I'd have to walk as an opportunity to ease the discomfort from being on my bike, but overall I felt worlds better that at any point from the previous day.

Photo credit Mike Langille
Laughing because the photographer had just watched up blow by a turn. Incidentally, that bulge by the words on my outer thigh right by the words is swelling from a mountain biking fall that Monday.
Photo credit: Mike Langille

I've ridden this loop every year I've done ToH, so it was a ride down memory lane as I crossed familiar spots. Of course, that familiarity didn't prevent my typical race amnesia where I've blocked out large portions of the course. Ok, we get to the top of this hill and then we're basically back on the Katy, for example, was not accurate. After "the top of this hill" was another hill. And then another. And then another. Some hill walking ensued.

Untitled

And then, thankfully, we were back on the Katy and cruising back to Hermann or, as I framed it, "CP3 at Dirty Kanza". Both years I finished DK, reaching the 150 mile mark of a 200-mile race felt like you had so much momentum behind you that you couldn't possibly quit. While I classified each Saturday loop as its own short ride (It's only 33 miles. Anyone can ride 33 miles.), I looked at Sunday as the second half of a 200-mile race.

2014: 4:43 moving, 5:41 elapsed
2015: 4:25 moving, 5:25 elapsed
2016: 4:08 moving, 4:51 elasped; ahr 111, max hr 171
2017: 4:21 moving, 4:32 elapsed; ahr 109, max hr 154

Loop 5: Motivational math ~52 miles

I stopped by the car long enough to lose my base layer, switch bottles, and guesstimate how much water I needed to bring without carrying an extra ounce, then after a quick bathroom stop and hug from a Momentum teammate who was done for the day we set off again. The other five-loop woman had come into the park slightly after us, and Mickey suggested, "I think you need to try to keep her behind you."

Once again I steadfastly refused to be motivated. "I'm doing all I can. If she passes me, she passes me."

Most of loop 5 was uncharted territory for me, but it shared its first (mostly paved, largely uphill) 7 miles with Saturday's loop 3 and returned to town (mostly paved, largely downhill) on the same stretch. So, basically, I only have to ride 44 miles before pretty much coasting back to town. Some Springfield friends had ridden the loop for the past two years and described it to me. "It's the prettiest loop of the whole race. It's got some hills, but it also meanders through a valley."

Meanders. That sounds pretty flat. And I like to meander.

Untitled
Not. flat.
Brandon, who'd finished loop 4 ahead of us but rolled out slightly behind, caught up within the first several miles and, having spent a lot of the race solo, decided company > speed. I always enjoy having someone new to talk to, so that helped pass the time and miles, but I was also keeping a close eye on the mileage and giving updates. "Hey guys, we're a fourth of the way to halfway finished!"

Photo credit Mike Langille
Grim determination
I was trying hard to appreciate this "prettiest stretch of the race", the gorgeous weather, the fact that I had friends who were nice enough to hang with me, and the ability to go out and participate in events like this, but my attitude was much more like, "Where does the fucking meandering come in??"

17 miles in, Mickey announced, "35 miles to go! You know what that means?" I looked at him blankly. "It's like a medium Trailnet ride!" he continued, citing one of my favorite comparisons.

"This is no Trailent ride," Brandon replied.

Untitled
Photo credit: Mickey
I alternated between trailing sadly behind and feeling pretty good. During one of those former times, I caught up with the guys where they'd stopped at a corner to wait. Mickey got ready to start pedaling as I approached. "Don't you dare start riding again before I get a break," I called. Perhaps remembering a similar incident where he finally got to see me cry for the first time, he waited.

Untitled
"Hey...G for Geisen! You should take my picture here!" The sad thing is that I really thought I was smiling.
Trying to distract myself from the growing discomfort, I came up with an alphabet game where we had to list names of mutual friends. Each of us had to come up with a name for each letter. Despite having spent several miles rehearsing names before getting close enough to suggest the game, by letter O, I'd already been handed a decisive defeat. I was still uncomfortable and now also annoyed with myself for losing.  A better distraction was deciding on where to eat post-race.

I was basically living for mile 44, where Mickey had told me we should rejoin the part of the loop (lollipop in this case) we'd already ridden and start going back downhill. It was a terrible betrayal when this point didn't arrive until mile 45 and then (thanks a lot, race amnesia) we found there was still one more gravel hill to climb. And by climb, I mean walk. As Brandon said, "I was promised no more hills. I'm not riding any more hills."

Our group been leapfrogging and riding with another man out on the course for most of the second half, but by the time we'd reached the stick of the lollipop he'd disappeared. "I guess they're done waiting on us," Brandon said.

"No, Mickey will be there," I told him, and indeed, he was waiting at the turn back onto the highway. Five more miles to go. He was doing something on his phone, so we rolled past him, knowing he'd catch up. Brandon and I worked in a nice little group, and before long we could see the other guy ahead of us. We didn't say much about it, but we had a new goal of passing him before the finish line.

Brandon pulled for a while, then I took my turn. Mickey took a surprisingly long time to catch us, and when he caught up he asked, "Trying to hold me off?"

"No," I replied, "We're trying to catch that guy."

He immediately jumped on the front and pushed the pace. "Wait!" I called, "I can't draft you if I can't catch you!"

Brandon got back in front of me and brought us back up, and with less than a mile to the finish we caught and passed our rabbit, rolling into the park again triumphantly. It was a very quiet finish line, with only Joe and Eric still there waiting. They'd both finished way before we did, so it meant a lot to me that they stuck around. The race director had left bottles of wine, t-shirts, and the traditional jars of gravel for everyone who'd left on loop 5, so I happily collected mine and dug that final "crushed it" sticker out of the trash for my number plate.

Untitled
Finally a full jar of gravel!

2014: Didn't ride loop 5 - broken shifter
2015: Made the cutoff but decided 52 miles was plenty for the day.
2016: Missed the cutoff to ride loop 5.
2017: 4:57 moving, 5:12 elapsed; ahr 116, max hr 146

Thanks to Jeff Yielding and his volunteers for putting on a quality event and kicking my butt for the last 4 years. Thanks to Eric and Joe for waiting around to see our finish. And major thanks to Mickey for sticking with me for all 5 loops and helping make it possible for me to finally reach my goal.



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

TA1

Back in February I had the chance to talk with Randy Ericksen on his TA1 adventure racing podcast, and the conversation went up yesterday (on my birthday!). We chatted about adventure racing, mountain biking, gravel racing, fear, family, big plans, and the search for balance. Give it a listen if you're interested!

Link to podcast

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Land Run 2017: Unstoppable

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




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

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



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

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

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

UntitledUntitled

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: 241 Photography

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

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

Photo credit: 241 Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Want more?

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

Thursday, March 2, 2017

February recap

Books read: 

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

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

New recipes: 

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

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

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

Races/events:

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

2017 Rocheport Roubaix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, it wasn't.

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

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

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

Untitled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January Recap

Books read: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Races/events:

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

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

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

And now for something completely different


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

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

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

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

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

Untitled

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

100* Miles of Nowhere - Edwardsville edition

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

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

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

30359125713_835dacd889_o.jpg26478172680_b7ef3bb08e_z.jpg
No shame in my game.

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

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


31051060641_e63e762982_z.jpg


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


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


Leg 1: 2016 100 Miles of Nowhere


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


30797790780_e393ec785d_z.jpg


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


My Garmin 520 has most local strava segments enabled, which is an awesome feature for making you push yourself on shorter rides but less fun when your virtual partner keeps beating you to the finish. 8 laps in, I’d had enough of the constant beeping and stopped to disable the segments, accidentally saving the ride in the process.
30357866553_cc9f2d01a7_z.jpg


A lot of people aren’t crazy about loop courses, but I enjoy them. With my long list of mountain bike skill deficits, repeatedly riding the same thing helps my confidence. I intentionally chose the least intimidating, easiest trail possible, but trail 8 was a good place to work on taking curves with less braking, riding over a log, and carrying speed on (gentle) downhills.


30797839230_9ecb04a9a9_z.jpg


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


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


31129181166_e85921ce60_z.jpg


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


Leg 2: 2015 100 Miles of Nowhere


30343869444_de422edfc0_z.jpg

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


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


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


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


31021858622_3ce71b8fe8_z.jpg


Leg 3: 2017 100 Miles of Nowhere


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

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


31021762552_bcf9515468_z.jpg


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