Blood, dirt, beer, and fun...the Tall Oak Challenge mountain bike race

To recap: I was going to do a nice, gentle 50-mile road ride near home, but instead I got roped into taking part in a 6 hour mountain bike race over 2 hours away.  And by "roped into" I mean some friends threw out an open invitation to ride with them and I jumped at it.  When I left you last, I was trying to fall asleep at my aunt and uncle's house in Columbia, MO, after a very successful preride of the course.

Thanks to getting to see the trail ahead of time, I was only a little nauseous on race morning rather than full-on panic mode.  Actually, I was pretty excited as I headed to Binder Park.  I had no illusions of contending for any place but last, but I was pretty sure I wouldn't die.

The tents to the right are along the course
The guys were there ahead of me and had a nice, shady spot.  Actually, pretty much the whole area was a nice, shady spot.  Since there were seven of us racing (5 official Team Virtus members, Luke's friend from work, and me, the self-proclaimed Team Virtus Ladies Auxiliary), we ended up with two 2-person teams and a 3-man team.  Bob and Robby teamed up; Wes, Adam, and Rusty teamed up; and Luke drew the short straw and got stuck with me (They asked if I had a preference for 2- or 3-person team, and I said I'd rather do 2, at least until after my first lap).  I have to hand it to him, if he had any tears to wipe away, I didn't see it, so I appreciated his discretion.

Bob and Wes.
 I think somebody had just suggested Bob team up with me.  Either that, or the guy behind him farted.
 It was a good thing Adam was able to go third on his team since he showed up at the race without shoes, a helmet, gloves, or a bike. Nothing like coming off of a 24-hour adventure race and going straight into a week's vacation to throw you off your game, I guess.  Luckily, he was able to accumulate everything he needed by go time and throw down way better lap times than me, so maybe I should try his strategy next time.  And under no circumstances should he be fired from the team for his multiple oversights.

We had about an hour or so to hang out before the race, so I got a chance to talk to Rusty a little more than just giving him a hard time about only being able to eat two donuts, and I got my very own Team Virtus sticker (sorry Casey, I think it was the last one. :D). 

virtus pic
Now where should I put it....
Luke had volunteered to ride the first lap.  Either that, or he couldn't find me curled up in a fetal position under Bob's truck and had to take off in a hurry when the start gun sounded ten minutes early.  (Sidenote: I'm pretty sure his missing the start is what cost us the couldn't have been my slow lap time or general lack of fitness.)  The start was a ways off and uphill from where we were set up in order to spread out the racers before they hit the singletrack.  I'd be more specific, but I had already refused to go first and so didn't pay attention to information about the start.

Bob giving Luke a CX send-off
It was really cool to watch everybody fly by.  I'm new enough to bike races to still be amazed by how fast people can ride; then again, I can't imagine that it'll be any less impressive in a few years.  It's such a cool thing to get to be around and to be a part of.  I enjoyed chilling out in the shade and talking teaching with Bob's mom, but as the time passed I started getting nervous for my lap.

I wasn't as worried about the trail; I mean, it's not like I'm all that confident on my mountain bike yet, but I'd managed to get through the previous night's ride without any major damage.  I was more  concerned about the whole passing situation.  In the only other mountain bike race I've done, I rode in the cat 3 race, which was the slowest of the categories.  Of course, none of the riders was as slow as me, but that just meant that they all started out ahead of me and I didn't end up getting passed until the last third of my race.  In this race, everyone started at once, so fast and slow and everything in between were out there. I didn't want to mess up anybody's race or slow anybody down by being in their way, so I was worried about being able to get out of the way. 

While I was busy stressing about this and poking around getting my stuff together, Luke made it back from his lap and was waiting for me to come and take the baton.  I rushed over and was chastized: "There goes our podium!" (But, remember, I already blamed it on the early start, so it can't be my fault. :D)

Lap 1:
I slid the "baton" (popsicle stick with our number) in the leg of my bike shorts and I was off! Sort of. 

I have to say, the first lap was pretty amazing.  Yeah, I got passed.  A lot.  And it turned out that it wasn't that big of a deal.  I'd hear riders coming and get over if I could.  I went out of my way to get out of the way.  And almost everyone was awesome. Some were quiet, but most were polite, or friendly, or encouraging.  My ride felt great.

Photo credit: Nicole Stacy
That long, long hill that feels like it won't end, the one I had to put a foot down on Saturday night?  I rode up it.

Those bridges where I'm nervous and have to chant "Look where you want to go...look where you want to go..." until I'm off? I rode across them.
The downhill where I got the coaching on keeping off the seat? I got my butt up (some)...and it wasn't jiggling at all because it was clenched tight!
The downhill creek crossing the guys coached me through the night before and I had to go back to try it again? Nailed it.
The creek crossing with the smooth rock on the other side...almost got it, but had to put a foot down.  And then figured I'd stop and take a drink, so Wes passed me.

That tricky uphill switchback I failed to climb Saturday night...yeah, I couldn't do it Sunday, either.  During the first lap it took me by surprise and I went straight up the middle until I couldn't go any more and had to put down a foot.
Photo by Nicole Stacy
Photo credit: Nicole Stacy
I won't say it was easy, because I always felt like I was working hard, but it had a flow to it.  I felt confident.  I really, really enjoyed the first three-fourths of that lap.  Towards the end, I was getting tired and, knowing there was only about 15-20 minutes of riding left from where we'd pulled out of the woods the previous night, started hoping I was seeing new terrain...only to be disappointed when I recognized something. :) Even so, that rocky hill that had convinced me I was done the night before was no problem; I just took it easy and rolled on through.  (I think there was a hill somewhere in here that I had to walk part of, though)

Finally I came out into the field, back into the woods, and saw the yellow arrows highlighting a big drop (OK, it's big for me...does the fact that they mark it mean that it's big for braver riders?  I don't know, but this is my race report, so it was a big drop) that was the one significant thing the guys had told me I hadn't seen on our preride.  It looked a little scary.  I stopped to look it over and figure out where I wanted to go and watched a couple of riders go through before I went.  No problem!

There was a little more time on singletrack, then we came out into a field and got to fly downhill.  You know me...I'm scared of hills, but this one was smooth and grassy and I wasn't scared or braking at all.  My bike was probably very confused by the lack of restriction.  I turned through the trees and rode into the alley to hand off to my teammate....who wasn't there, giving me the opportunity to complain, "There goes our podium!" when he ran up a few seconds later. (See, I told you it wasn't my fault we didn't place.)

I got a drink, rested a little, and decided better late than never on the chamois butt'r.  I had stopped off to socialize with Lisa, Steph, and Suzanne, all of whom I'd met through Team Revolution's rides and activities, and I was talking with them when my mom, aunt, and uncle walked up. This was kind of surprising since my mom isn't really into my racing at all...I think in a lot of ways she thinks I should be staying home and taking care of my family or something like that.  They found an open spot near us and hung out watching for a while.

I had planned to take my camelback on this lap, but once again, when Luke got back I wasn't ready, so I scrambled out with just one water bottle.  I'm still not all that steady on the trails, so drinking enough while riding is an issue for me.  Even with a camelback it's hard, but it's darn near impossible for me to grab a water bottle on singletrack unless I'm stopped.  "Luckily" I had plenty of chances to drink this time around.

Lap 2:
I had eaten some stuff after my first lap and felt okay, but not great.  I was definitely looking forward to getting some real food in me once I got back.  The beginning of the ride was pretty good, though.  I felt like this was going to be my lap.  The first hitch in that plan came on the long hill; I'd gotten out of the way of a faster rider, lost momentum, and couldn't get myself going, so I ended up walking the rest of it.  After that, though, I was feeling pretty good again.  Every once in a while when the trail was just right, I would catch a glimpse of Rusty through the woods and hope I could keep ahead of him.

It was going really well, too.  I made it through all kinds of stuff the guys had gone over with me the night before as tricky spots.  I was feeling really confident, and then I rode into a dry creek crossing so easy that we hadn't bothered to talk it over the night before.  There's not even much of a hill there. 

The scene of the crime.  This is looking back at where I came from. 
Somewhere in that sunny spot, a tiny little stump is laughing an evil laugh.
But there is a little bitty stump, and somehow I rode right into it and went over, banging my elbow and head on the rock.  (And let me just say right here, if you ride a bike and don't wear a helmet, GET A HELMET.  That's the second time I've hit my head HARD on the ground and haven't injured it.  That fall definitely would have hurt my head without a helmet.) 

See what I mean? NOT an impressive amount of blood.
Man, my elbow hurt.  And there was not nearly enough blood for how badly it hurt.  I got myself and my bike out of the way, got up to the side of the trail, and stood there shaking my arm and catching my breath.  Rusty and Steph both asked if I was ok, and I said I was and sent them on while I was still figuring out if I was going to cry or not.  (The verdict was NOT, in case you're interested.)

Back on the bike, my arm didn't hurt so much, but I'd lost a big share of my mojo.  It took me a little bit to get going again.  Plus, my bike was being increasingly unpleasant about shifting.  Sometimes I'd downshift when I still had gears left with no response.  Sometimes it would just randomly shift gears while I was riding.  It was kind of an adventure because I never really knew if I was going to have the gear I needed or not.  Other than that, though, everything was pretty non-remarkable.  I still couldn't ride the switchback (which may have been before I fell, I can't remember), but I made it up the other hill I'd had to walk.  If it hadn't been for having to walk that first hill and falling, it probably would have been my best lap.  Stupid falling.

I was passed by plenty of people on this lap, too, and most of them were really nice.  And like I said, I made every effort to get out of faster riders' way as soon as I could so they could get through.  Often before they asked me to.  So I'm riding along, and this guy rides up behind me calling, "Rider coming through!! Fast! Fast!" And I'm thinking, A-hole, if I could go any faster I would, and if I do you're going to end up riding fast over my body across the trail.  But whatever.  I got over as soon as I could.

Back at the start, I passed off the baton to Luke, let him know I was OK, and went to show off my elbow.  Such culture shock for my mom.  Here's how that conversation went:

Mom: "Is there a medical tent? Do you have a first aid kit?"
Me: "'s just blood.  I'm going to dump water on it.  After you take a picture."
Mom: [Sighs]

Bob came over, said, "You'd better put some ice on that," and handed me a beer.  So here's a little known fact: I'm not a big fan of beer.  I probably haven't had a beer since my freshman year in college.  But just holding that can against my arm felt a little wrong, so I opened it and drank it and now I'll have to amend that little known fact to read: I'm not a big fan of beer except maybe at bike races, because it really tasted good right then.

I grabbed a burger, ate some more of my aunt Nancy's awesome homemade trail mix, and talked with my family for a while before they left.  And then I hung out in the shade, talked, and wondered if I was done.  I really didn't want to go back out and ride another lap, but then I thought, I didn't drive 2.5 hours to ride 2 laps...suck it up, so when Luke got back I rode out again.

Lap 3:
And, it must be said, promptly regretted it.  My bike was back to its shifting tricks, which made for a fun time.  I told myself to just ride easy and try to enjoy myself.  I don't remember where it was, not too far in, when Adam came up behind me to pass, so I got out of his way, but a faster guy was coming through then, and it wasn't anybody else's fault but my own but it all threw me off and bloop! I went over onto the same side that had hit the rocks.  And in my head I was thinking forget this stuff, I wonder how long it'll take me to walk my bike 7 miles.  Only I wasn't thinking "forget" or "stuff".

I walked a lot more stuff in that lap.  Not the scary downhill stuff, but some of the climbs...and the little creek crossing where I'd fallen.  I also had a close encounter with a tree.  I think I was losing my balance on a hill or something and grabbed the tree to steady myself but slipped; I ended up with my right arm, my left leg, and my bike wrapped around the tree.  I got some nasty bark rash, but I didn't fall...and it led to one of the funnier facebook exchanges I've had lately:

After escaping the lecherous clutches of the tree, I was coming up to that last big hill when two faster guys called that they were coming through.  Once they passed, I was just about to start down the hill when that same guy from lap 2 yells, "Fast rider coming through! Contending for place!" or something like that and cuts me off.  Totally threw me off, and I had to stop.  And I guess that's all part of racing, but that guy was the one dark mark on the whole day.

I got myself together, rode the hill, and was on the last section of singletrack when the gun went off to signal the end of the six hours.  I was disappointed that I wasn't fast enough to give Luke the chance to decide whether or not to go out for another lap, but what do you do.  I rode the rest of the way in and clocked my slowest lap of the day.  I guess it was faster than sitting in a chair in the shade, though.  Which, incidentally, is how I spent the rest of the afternoon. 
Kinda like this...
Not only did the guys let me tag along and be part of the crowd, but they also fed me.  And with their wives, girlfriends, and kids around, too, it was a fun crowd.  Beers were drunk, BBQ was eaten, stories were told (I'll never, ever hear "I love you sandwich" again without laughing ), and I got a new nickname that I don't really understand yet, but it still makes me feel like one of the gang.  And whatever it means, it beats "Bobby Let-Down".

As a team, we ended up riding 6 laps, about 21 miles each.  Luke's were all considerably faster than mine were, but I guess that's to be expected at this point.  Somehow we missed the podium (probably a scoring error), though if there had been a co-ed duo division we'd have locked up third for sure.  Maybe second...some of those names could've gone either way.  And, my partner did get his turn on the podium after all...for best moustache.
Every dog has his day
Today, I'm walking like somebody's great-grandma. The only part of my body below my neck that doesn't hurt is my chest. My elbow has swollen up considerably and developed a noticable tint of purple (that said, it's completely superficial and only hurts if I lean on it).

Elbow, day 2: if you're going to hurt, LOOK like you hurt. :)
I'm a walking bruise, and every time I rub my arm or my leg, I find a new one.  And smile.  Because you know what?  I earned every single one.


  1. Ha, loved your last sentence! Wow, quite the adventure! Great report and photos! You really enjoyed this. I'm with you about that helmet. Good one Kate!

  2. Oh man what a day! Here you are nailing the hills and clenching when you're supposed to then wham! Blood and tree hugging. What an oddysey. I'm sure there was a scoring error. You're definitely podium material.

  3. Fantastic report! Great photos and it sounds like you had another of your amazing adventures. That facebook exchange was hilarious :)

  4. Amazing and awesome race report! That crash in the dry creek was a bad one, glad you are ok!

  5. That stands in the EPIC catagory. Great job.

  6. Great report! So much I could say! I always am surprised too when something really hurts and it doesn't look that bad. I keep checking it out as it must look bad!
    Do you just keep riding however many laps you can in the 6 hours as a team? This sounds seriously hardcore. Love that you didn't want a medical tent but had to take a picture. A blogger for sure!
    I am sure you missed the podium because they mixed up your numbers with someone else who took your spot.

  7. I apologize for costing us a podium spot by not being ready when you finished your first lap. I guess I underestimated your lap times. When am I going to learn to never underestimate you?

    You flat out rocked the race! I still can't believe how much you've improved. And I had no idea you didn't want to do that third lap. You seemed completely fresh and ready to go. It would have been completely fine with me if you wanted to stop, but I'm glad you pushed through another lap (thus getting 1 more lap than BLD).

    Anyway, thanks for racing with me and the rest of the team. And I think it's about time you stop considering yourself as "not an official member" of Team Virtus. You are everything our team stands for and more... Plus your balls are bigger than any of ours.

  8. Great report and many beautiful pictures. I like a lot the 6th.
    Glad you "survived" the crash but you are ... SuperKate!!!!
    Great job!

  9. Great RR and great pics! Sounds like your MTB confidence and handling are improving rapidly. Nice job out there!

    I always wondered how the passing worked at MTB races since I'm only Mike, not SuperMike I've never done one :-).

    For the shifting issue, turn the little barrel thing on the cable going to your rear derailleur a 1/4 turn in the direction you are having trouble shifting.

    Somehow I missed that twitter exchange. That was hilarious.

  10. Great RR and great pics! Sounds like your MTB confidence and handling are improving rapidly. Nice job out there!

    I always wondered how the passing worked at MTB races since I'm only Mike, not SuperMike I've never done one :-).

    For the shifting issue, turn the little barrel thing on the cable going to your rear derailleur a 1/4 turn in the direction you are having trouble shifting.

    Somehow I missed that twitter exchange. That was hilarious.

  11. Kate, that is ONE sweet badge of honor, girl - congratulations, I think you have finally out-done me on the bike injuries, woohoo!

    Funny about the beer! I thought about having a post-race beer for about 4 hours going up Pikes Peak and then when I finally got down to the bottom to get my freebie beer, I didn't even take it. By then, I think the altitude/dehydration cocktail messed up my stomach. I do like a good beer, I don't like wine much - unless you're carrying the cooler up Mt. Whitney full of it, then I'm all over it :).

    Nice job, had a great race and I love your spunk to venture out and just do whatever the hell looks good! If someone plopped this race in front of me, I'd be screaming the other way!!


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