Saturday, June 05, 2010

Banner - Summerset State Park

After a not-so-stellar day at Ingawanis a couple weeks back, I was ready (or at least as ready as I could hope to be) to get back on the mountain bike for the race at Banner (aka Summerset State Park). Last year, this race was held the day after Dam to Dam, and my legs were cooked. This year, I figured my all-thumbs style of racing was behind me, so I’d try to redeem myself from last year’s race and the Ingawanis debacle.

As soon as I started my recon/warm-up lap, I remembered why Banner was not one of my favorite courses. It is fairly technical and contains some tough, shortish climbs, not all of which I can ride. I survived the recon lap, then headed back to the registration table to find out how many laps of torture I was in for. Experts were to do seven laps! I talked race director Ryan Hanser into decreasing the women’s number of laps (in all categories) down one lap, as I was working my tail off to convince PRC’s Katie Fistler into trying out her first mountain bike race! Since she only had two laps to do, Katie went out and performed awesomely in her first (of many more to come) race.

While continuing my warm-up, I learned there was only one other woman (Sally Logan) entered in the Expert category, and, putting our heads together, we determined that perhaps five laps would be better suited to our abilities. Thankfully Ryan agreed to that, too!

The race started with Sally and me swapping the lead back and forth, based on who had screwed up most recently. Not too far in, Sally took a slider down a hillside and I went ahead. Lap one wasn’t pretty but it was done. Lap two started off much like lap one – I would alternately be having fun one minute then hating the whole idea of racing (or even just riding) at Banner the next. About 3-4 minutes into lap two, I threw my chain. Not just your garden variety chain-throw, though. No, I did it up real good! Somehow, I managed to get the chain wedged between the cassette and the spokes of the rear wheel. No amount of tugging, pulling, or swearing would make it budge even an inch. I was done for.

I carried the bike down the trail a ways and back to the registration table where I told them I was pulling the plug. They came over to take a look, and along with them came Katie Fistler. She offered to let me ride her bike for the rest of the race! Ryan gave the okay, so I jumped on her bike. She was quick to point out that her pedals and my shoes were not compatible. My feet are about one size bigger than her shoes, and her saddle height was about 8-10 inches too low for me. I still wanted to race, so we adjusted the saddle, I stuffed my feet in her shoes, and I was back in business! (Katie was double cool in that she had hand-ups for me at each lap!)

I quickly noticed a few other differences between our bikes: hers is a hardtail, is in need of some TLC, won’t shift to all gears, and weighs about 30 pounds more than the one I left at the car! Plus, as I rode away the saddle loosened itself and each time I sat down, the nose shot straight up! I restarted my lap two and quickly realized what a stud Katie was to have maneuvered this bike through two laps – I wasn’t going to last more than one on it! The extra weight was fun on the downhills because it carried so much momentum, but hucking it uphill was murder! As I made my way around – very slowly – someone asked what had happened to Cam. I figured I had missed him come by while I was messing around with bikes, so I had no idea what they were talking about. When I came through the start/finish area to call it quits for the second time that day, I saw Cam changing into street clothes at the car. He’d bent his rear der and wedged his chain into almost the exact same position I’d wedged mine on the first lap!

I rested for a second, asked him to fix Katie’s saddle while I thought about going back for another lap. In the meantime, another Katie (Bergman) walked over with her 29r and offered that to me! I thought, “What the heck?” and jumped on her bike for lap number three. By now I was down a whole lap to Sally, so I was just doing laps to avoid a DNF. Katie B’s bike offered some new challenges; most notable were the grip shifters, but let’s not forget that I’m still in Katie F’s too small shoes, as well! I managed to man-handle that around the course for another lap, before again contemplating just calling it a day and heading home. By the end of lap three, I had convinced myself to say that enough is enough and I should just enjoy a smoothie with Cam and take the DNF. I rolled back up to the car to return Katie B’s bike, and what did I see? Cam was standing there next to my bike which he’d fixed during my third lap!

As much as I wanted to be done for the day, I chose to take my bike out for one more lap. It felt great to be back in the correct size shoes and on a bike I felt very comfortable on! So good, in fact, that I ended up HTFU and finished lap four and five, thusly finishing the race.

It took three bikes, two pair of shoes, two very generous Katies, one frustrated boyfriend (who fixes bikes really well when he’s frustrated…), but I got it done! I still don’t really like Banner, but it hasn’t got the best of me yet!

Friday, May 21, 2010

State Fair Crit

I’ve called myself a lot of things in my athletic career, but never once have I considered myself a roadie. We found ourselves with another rare open weekend on the mountain bike calendar. We were pleased, though, to see a crit close to home, so for the second time this season, we went out and played with the roadies.

I’ve been to the Iowa State Fairgrounds a number of times in the last 15 years, and I always remember Crystal dragging me to some building at the top of the hill so she could buy a commemorative State Fair piece of pottery. That hike wasn’t a lot of fun, and when I heard that the crit involved laps up the backside of that hill, I wasn’t any more enthusiastic.

We arrived (late, as usual) with just enough time to get me registered and slightly warmed up before I toed the line with about a dozen women for the Women’s Open. The start/finish area was adjacent to the wienerschnitzel and Pabst Blue Ribbon booth (also a past State Fair memory). We all knew Lisa Vetterlein would put the hurt on us all; it was just a matter of how much it would smart!

We took off, and with my usual slow start and skittish descending abilities, I was off the back in a hurry. Over the course of the race, I made full use of my entire gear range, and just tried to pick off a couple of weary riders. Lisa lapped me once, then twice, and again mercifully with two laps to go (which meant it was only one lap to go for me!). The woman is crazy strong and crazy fast on a bike, and it is so good to see her back at it! She was the triathlete to beat in the Midwest, back when I first got into the sport. She took a little time off to start a family, but Maria von Ruhtenberg persuaded her to join up with the chicks of Punk Rock Cycling, and we’re all glad to have her back. Well, maybe not everyone who gets their butt kicked by her… but I’m more of a realist, and I think it’s awesome to watch her tear apart a field of great riders!

After sixteen tough laps, our race was over. I got changed in short order because I wanted a front row seat at Cam’s race(s). He did very well, winning the 40+ race over Dewey Dickey in the final sprint. He also got some action in the 1-2-3 race, and ended up a very respectable seventh there.
It was a fun day to hang out with the Des Moines cycling peeps, including a good dinner post-race downtown with Lisa, Maria, Doug, and some of the kiddos.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


They say that some days you’ve got it and some days you don’t. Mother’s Day at Ingawanis I definitely didn’t have it! I’d come off a great week of training, and I was feeling strong and ready to take on the world! In fact, we were slated to race on Saturday in Nebraska and Sunday at Ingawanis, but Saturday’s race at Platte River State Park got rained out at the eleventh hour. Cam and I opted to stay home on Saturday instead of heading south to Missouri for a race. I felt pretty decently rested, though my back had been barking at me the latter part of the week, but I do recall noticing that something just felt a little off on the car ride to Waverly.

I vividly remember racing at Ingawanis last year. It was a fun course with some good challenges, but nothing that was too killer. However, I heard that this year we’d be racing on the other half of the course – part that we didn’t see last year – so basically this was to be a totally unfamiliar course to me.

We arrived a couple hours before the race started and chatted with Cam’s mom who drove up to spend her Mother’s Day on the dirt! We suited up and headed out for a recon lap. I like it when Cam rides the recon with me, especially when it is totally unfamiliar territory. The first half of the 6-mile course is fast and fun. The second half kicks up the challenge and technical nature a couple notches.

Rock gardens have been a sticking point for me since my start in the sport. Even if it’s not that technical of a section, I still look and can’t see anything but the sharp, pointy shards of stone thirsty for my blood! But, after navigating long stretches of rocks at the Bonebender 3/6 with no mishaps, I rode into this section feeling better about my chances of survival. I rode and walked the first of two tricky sections during the recon, then hopped back on my bike and tried to catch back up to Cam who had by now ridden through the second section and on up the trail a bit. He heard the loud crunch as I t-boned a tree and launched myself over the bars. Pain and adrenaline spiked while I stood up, assessed the damage (to me, then the bike), and tried to calm down. By then Cam was back to check things over (me, then the bike…). It took me a while to get moving again, and I was pretty gun-shy from that point on.

It’d been quite a while since I’d crashed on the bike, and I was hoping to have my streak last much longer than it did! We finished the recon lap and headed back for the start. I still wasn’t totally feeling the love, but was happy to see the sun shining and to see so many women show up to race! We had six women in the Cat 1 race and probably five or so in the Cat 2! I knew Robin Williams and Brittany McConnell were gonna put the hurt on me, and Sandy Kessler had made the drive as well. Keely Shannon has been riding very well, and I figured she would be my main competition for the day, but you can never count out Kristin Reece, who finished less than a minute behind me at Waverly last year! So fun to have a big group like that!

We went off with the Cat 1 guys and I was left behind in everyone’s dust. We were all in for four long laps, so I figured I’d better not blow my wad on the chase up the hill! I concentrated on keeping Sandy and Keely in my sights and raced at a speed that I felt was on the high end, yet comfortable enough that I wasn’t gonna do another Superman. I opted to walk the rock garden, since I still was not back to 100% and there wasn’t anyone around me at that point. I still kept Keely in my sights and gained on her until we hit the big nearly washed out climb. I don’t think she knew it was coming ‘cause she was unclipped right at the base. I knew it was coming, geared down, and motored up and away. I didn’t see or hear any more from her the rest of the lap or into the second lap. I was starting to feel a little better and perhaps a little more (prematurely) confident. Early in lap two I caught up with Sandy who was moving very slowly. She pulled over and let me and another couple guys past. I asked her if she was okay, as I knew something had to be going on for her to be so slow. She said she was okay, so I kept moving. Two or three minutes later, she rides up next to me and we try to hang with the guys who just passed us.

Those three slowly gapped me, and I just did my own thing for a bit. I heard two more dudes come up behind me and through a slight lapse of judgment on a sorta tricky downhill, I found myself rocketing over the bars AGAIN! I didn’t get run over, and the guys made sure I was okay before they took off.

Crap. Again I assessed the damage (me, then the bike). This time, I was still fine, but the bike didn’t fare as well… The front was flat. In my dazed state at the start of the race, I’d neglected to grab any CO2, so my day was done. I was disappointed, but not totally heart-broken. I kinda felt like it was God’s way of telling me I was not meant to go fast today and I’d better just hike out of the woods and call it a day. I was reminded of a story I’ve heard a couple different times:

This is the story of the man named Ed who lived in the delta of Mississippi. One
day a great flood descended on his town and the torrents rushed down his street.
Ed prayed to God, confident that “the Lord would provide,” and he would be
saved. The water rose two feet, and a neighbor in a four-wheeler drove by and
called to Ed, “Come on, get in. I’m going to higher ground.” But Ed replied, “No
thanks, I’ll be fine. The Lord will provide.”

The neighbor drove on and the water kept rising. Now at five feet, Ed was at
an upstairs window when a sheriff in a motor boat came by and called out, “Climb
down. I’m going to the rescue shelter.” But Ed answered, “No thanks. I’m fine.
The Lord will provide.”

The sheriff floated away and the water kept rising. Ed scooted up onto the
roof and the National Guard came over in a helicopter and shouted down,
“Sir, grab onto the rope. We’re evacuating the city.” But Ed called back,
“No thanks. It’s okay. The Lord will provide.” The guardsman tried again,
but when Ed didn’t climb on, the helicopter drifted away and the water kept

Inside Heaven’s gate, God was shocked to see Ed. “What are you doing here?”

“You tell me! I prayed. I said over and over, the Lord will watch over me. The Lord will provide.”

“Well, beloved Doofus, I heard you! I sent your neighbor in the Jeep,
I sent the sheriff in a speed boat. I sent the National Guard for goodness sake!
If you were waiting for wings to fly away – well, I guess you got them now!

Instead of wishing I could get back on my bike and just assume that God would make all my poor handling skills go away, I avoided being like Ed and just started walking. I watched Keely go by and a bunch of other dudes. I probably walked 150-200 yards before Jim Logan rode up. He wasn’t moving really quickly either and asked if I was okay. He generously offered to attempt to refill my tire, and that might have worked if we’d had a little more CO2 to work with, but I had none and one of his two was dead. I was still okay with walking, but Jim offered his front wheel to me! He figured his day was almost over anyways and I was still out there “racing” for money, so we made the switcheroo, and I was off again!

This marks the second time in my racing career that someone has saved my butt from a very certain DNF by literally giving me a wheel to race on. The first was at Ironman Coeur d’Alene, where a resident watching the race from his front yard just ran into his garage, produced a wheel, and sent me on my way! I think Jim’s willingness to help even trumps the guy in Idaho, since Jim now had to hoof it out of the woods pushing a mountain bike. I intend to repay Jim’s generosity the same way I repaid the guy at IMCDA – with a box of F(l)at Tire!

I was so far back at this point (and just thankful to be riding) that I just cruised through two more laps, not killing myself and taking it very easy through the technical sections. I was tired, bruised, dirty, and cranky when I finally finished. The rest of the Cat 1 field was in street clothes and enjoying the day when I finally finished. I was out of the money but also didn’t DNF. I came away with a shirt and some sunglasses. Not bad for a less than perfect day in the dirt. Maria was the big winner – it was Mother’s Day, her birthday, and she won a new Surly frame set! Oh, and Cam won his race, too!

Next up is, um, well, hmmm… We aren’t sure yet! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


Our awesome spring streak of beautiful race days continued with another visit to the great state of Nebraska. Just up the road from Jewell Park where we kicked off our season, we drove into Swanson under bright beautiful skies. They’d had a little rain in the days prior to the race, but there were only a couple wet spots and the course was in awesome shape.

Nebraska fast girl, Roxzanne Abbott-Feagan, was wearing her race director hat again, so that meant I was the lone Cat 1 racer once more. The Cat 2 ladies had a great turnout, so I started with them but did twice the number of laps.

We headed off the line, and I took the lead into the trees. With no one to chase, I just concentrated on pulling away from the ladies behind me. By the middle of lap one, I was riding alone. And, though the leaders and Cam came by me during the later laps, I rode primarily alone!

I kept my lap times very consistent and really enjoyed the course. I love racing in Nebraska – the guys who race there are the best. Not only are they very courteous when they come by to make a pass, they always throw out some words of encouragement as they fly past.

Cam was more challenged in his race. Kent McNeil won by three and a half minutes, and Mark Savery finished about forty seconds in front of third place Cam.

With the sun shining above, we enjoyed rehashing the day with some good friends!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Iowa City Road Race

Road racing has never been that attractive to me. First, I know of far too many people who have crashed with broken bones and loss of skin to show for it. And, second, I know that successful road racing relies on strategy and teamwork – I don’t know the first thing about road racing strategy! The teamwork problem is a little more easily solved even though I am the only woman racing on the road in a Zoom Performance kit. The generous ladies of Punk Rock Cycling volunteered to adopt me into their team if or when I wanted to lay it out on the road.

With no mountain bike races on the calendar this weekend, Cam and I wanted to get to the Quad Cities to celebrate Cam’s niece’s third birthday. We figured we could hit the Iowa City Road Race on Saturday and the Old Capital Crit on the way home on Sunday.
We got to Kalona (an Mennonite community just outside Iowa City) early enough to get me registered and ready to face my first road race. Cam piled on the advice to help keep me out of any trouble. My job was to stay in front or far enough off the back that if something happened in the pack, I could avoid the carnage.

Cam took the Power Tap wheel off my bike, and I got to ride it for the first time with my Ksyrium wheels – much lighter! It took a little getting used to, and I could hardly believe what a difference they made! After a little pre-race meeting with the four Punk Rock ladies we all lined up for the start. I think there were about 30-35 women there for the Cat 4 race. I chose to line up on the outside and in the back, just to keep myself out of trouble.
We headed out, and the first thing I noticed was how slow we were going! It was a very relaxed pace for the first of our two 12-mile laps. There were a few surges, but when I glanced down at my heart rate, I was in Zone 1 much of the time! While many of the girls were working to improve their position, I rode around in the back, making sure my position was one of personal safety. To heck with trying to race!

In a Cat 4 race, nearly everyone is a beginner (me included), and this was very apparent. I saw a lot of near-misses that could have been avoided by using a little bit of common sense. There were also some close calls due to the lack of pack-riding experience of our field. The yellow line rule was a topic of discussion with the race officials before the race began, though once we got out on the course, there was no yellow line. The spirit of the rule was followed on lap one, but with everyone getting anxious for the finish, lap two had riders all over the road. We had no motorcycle official during the first lap, but one found us on lap two, about 2-3 miles from the finish.

This official tried to talk the field back over the (imaginary) yellow line, and then made a bad choice and just squeezed us to the right. This action caused a number of reactions from the field of beginners – a lot brake-grabbing and evasive actions. This rippled though the field causing some tires to touch and, at the back of the field, a rider to hit the pavement. I caught the sight of this out of the corner of my eye. I recognized the pink and black kit, so I knew it was a friend from the VeloRosa Team, but I wasn’t sure who. A couple riders stopped to help her. We were very close to the finish so the group exploded and the final sprint was on. I wasn’t close enough to the front when it was go-time, but I still finished in the main group, about 12th. Some one caught my final sprint on camera:

Kim Hopkins ended up with a collarbone broken in four places. The official eventually took responsibility for the accident and apologized to the field at the race on Sunday. I’m a little scarred by the vision of seeing her go down, but I was also assured by some of the other racers that this was an unusual Cat 4 race. So I might try another one. We’ll see…

Cam’s race was longer, and apparently he had too many glasses of water in the days leading up to the race. He emptied his bladder numerous times before the race, but couldn’t make it through the whole race without emptying again! With a lap to go, I watched the main field come by without Cam. Then a couple minutes later, he came slowly riding up the road. He’d had to make another pit stop and was done racing!

We both made it through the day with less than stellar results but good workouts nonetheless. The birthday weekend was very fun, we ate Atlas burritos on the way to Bettendorf, and we made it back to Iowa City for the crit (just to watch) on Sunday!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Coming off a great weekend at Sylvan Island, I spent the whole week looking forward to getting back out on the dirt. Since the mountain biking season is just getting started, there were few options for racing. There was a lot of talk about a race in Missouri – the Bonebender, offering 3- or 6-hour racing options – but I remembered hearing from last year’s racers that it rained a ton before this event and it was barely ride-able. Though it rained a bit during the week, reports from the race directors said that conditions were great and that we should all come out and race!

Cam and I headed down to KC on Saturday mid-day, checked into Hotel Streeter (his friends from college) and went out on a little bike path shake-out ride to test out Cam’s calf and remove the rot that accumulates in one’s legs when you sit in a car for 3+ hours. Cam’s leg felt near 100%, so it was game-on for him to do the 6-hour race.

I was really up in the air about whether to enter the 3- or 6-hour event. I went back and forth quite a bit. My longest ride of the season so far had been four hours. I’ve been feeling great on the mountain bike, but didn’t want to get sloppy as I tired and accidentally launch myself over a ledge or into a tree. Six hours would be good for me, from a training perspective, and I was pretty sure that there would be less competition in the 6-hour. But, in the end, I decided on the 3-hour. I could always ride more if I felt like it, and I knew that Roxanne Abbott (out of Omaha – a major player in the Psycowpath Series) had signed up for the 3. This would be a good test of how I stacked up against someone with her racing experience and prowess.

There was quite the festive atmosphere developing as we pulled into Smithville Lake. The weather was looking to be near perfect. A large contingent of racers flying the Rassy colors had already arrived and were busy setting up camp. On the women’s side were Maria Ruhtenberg and Sally Logan. Maria is still pretty new to the whole MTB thing, but is very eager to gain experience, so she signed up for the 6-hour and collected a few extra tough-girl points. And, though Sally is in training for Leadville, she opted to join me on the 3-hour circuit. I signed up immediately – before I had a chance to second-guess my decision to do three instead of six.

They do the start LeMans-style, meaning there is a foot race to your bike in hopes of thinning out the traffic heading into the singletrack. With over 200 entrants, that was a good choice in theory, but the actual application of it didn’t work out so well, as there was still a pretty major bottleneck and multiple back-ups throughout the first half of the first lap. For the most part, the men on the course were courteous when passed or passing.

Once I’d found some open trail and was able to ride at my own pace, I realized just how fun of a course this was. There were some pretty challenging rock gardens that would have been mostly un-rideable for me last year at this time, but I really enjoyed being able to push my way through them now! The next challenge was figuring out how to pace myself. Though it is a three-hour race, if you finish one of the 11.5-mile loops anywhere up to 2:59, you have the option of heading out for another lap. With my lap times being anywhere from 1:10 to 1:15, I could be racing for closer to four hours than three. I settled into a fairly comfortable pace, checking my heart rate monitor often to make sure I was where I thought I needed to be and began picking off women, one-by-one. Though I had no idea how many women got ahead of me at the start, I could at least tell if the women I was passing were 3- or 6-hour racers based on the color of their race plate. I knew Sally was ahead of me, as I could see her off in the distance or when the course would sorta double-back on itself in a few places. It seemed as if we were staying pretty consistently spaced during lap one.
I felt awesome after the first lap, managed to take in a little of my secret weapon – caffeinated Hammer Gel – and some water. I pushed the pace a little more on lap two and went in pursuit of Sally. We met up at a creek crossing that neither of us liked and we hung together to the rock garden. I think she was beginning to tire a bit, so she took it a little easier through there, and I took off to see who else might be ahead.

I still felt great after the second lap, so I kept up the pace until I felt like I might start getting a little sloppy from fatigue in the technical sections. I really enjoyed the course and found myself a little disappointed that I hadn’t just bucked up and did the 6-hour. I crossed the line around 3:44, and was pleasantly surprised to see that I was in second place, although I ended up about 30 minutes back from Roxanne. Even without the bottlenecks and traffic jams on lap one, I’m not sure that I could have gone 10 minutes faster per lap to keep pace with her. Sally ended up with third, about 10 minutes back from me. Once again, I avoided being lapped by Cam who had a very good race, finishing 5th overall and second in his category.
The weather could not have possible been any nicer. Temps were in the 50-60s and the sun shone most of the day, but never in a solar oven sort of way. Big thanks to Chad and Angie who hosted us in Kansas City, fed us, and gave us a place to call home for the weekend.

No dirt next weekend. We are heading to Iowa City for a weekend of racing and back to Bettendorf for Cam’s niece’s birthday!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sylvan Island Stampede

Last year at Sylvan Island, I was still pretty new to this sport and this place scared me enough that I was slow enough that they pulled me from the race. This year, with a whole year more experience under my belt, I was ready to tame this course and avenge last year’s debacle. Besides a ton more racing experience, the weather was about a night and day difference from 2009’s downpour and muddy conditions. The course was in great shape despite some rain earlier in the week, and the temps were perfect for racing in the woods.

I was simply hoping for a respectable finish, as I had no idea who would show up for this smack-down. When we pulled in for our pre-ride on Saturday, the car parked behind us was the vehicle of Brian and Kim Eppen. That scared me plenty, then Cam said that Kyle and Robin Williams were planning on racing, too! Kim and Robin are the two female big guns racing MTB in Iowa, and I was gonna get to see exactly where I stacked up against them!
The course was running backwards to last year’s race, which threw a little hitch in everyone’s giddy-up. Cam and I rode together for one lap, and I was finally able to see why he likes it there so much. Though it is very tight and twisty, there is also some pretty decent flow, once you get going. After three laps of fun, I was feeling so good that I would have ridden all day were it not for the race the following morning!

My mom stuffed us full of dinner and then breakfast again the next morning. We headed out early to watch Cam’s mom race in the novice race at 10am, then I geared up with the rest of the ladies and the sport men for a noon start. The officials decided to let the women go off about 4 minutes before the men, and I, for one, was glad they did. I got a fairly decent start, considering my track record, but still headed in about 8th or 9th wheel. I got past quite a few women on lap one. On lap two, I looked back to see Keely and Sally right on my butt. Sweet! We rode together for much of the second lap, where we lost Sally near the end, Keely stayed with me while we worked with the faster guys who were now starting to catch us. I had an altercation with three guys nearly running me into a tree, but I avoided injury!
At the start of the fourth and final lap, Keely passed me and took off. I had no idea where we were in the field, but I just wanted to hang on and not lose sight of her. About that same time, Jim Logan caught up to us and passed me. The three of us went through the water crossing together, but Keely crashed coming off the bridge. I made sure she was okay, then took off, as I knew she had the ability to make a comeback. I passed one more woman near the end and dropped the hammer to the finish.
I was very pleasantly surprised to see that I ended up fourth overall, behind Kim, Robin, and their fellow Iowa City Fast Girl Brittany McConnell. To finish fourth to those guys is a really good place to be! I was also amazed at how good I felt after the race. Besides my usual post-race migraine, my body felt overall good. Watching so many other racers get beat up and hobble around for the rest of the day, I think I am really starting to see some of the other benefits of working out so hard in the weight room this winter! Cam had a tough day: he had an altercation with a tree within the first few minutes of the race. He lost sight of the very fast duo of Brian Eppen and Jesse Lalonde. He rode most of the day in third place all by himself, and finished there as well. He was not the only one to suffer a casualty – there were numerous DNFs, flats, bloody wounds, and broken bikes at the finish area. Cam’s crash didn’t damage his bike, though he didn’t come out without bashing his calf into something (top tube?). Only time will tell what the long-term implications of that might be.
Next up is the Bonebender 3/6 at Smithville Lake in Missouri…if the rain holds off…

Friday, April 09, 2010

A Weekend of Firsts

Though this marked the start of only my second full season of mountain bike racing, this weekend was also one of many firsts:

This weekend marked the first mountain bike race of the season. After a long, cold, snowy winter spent on the trainer, Cam and I were both ready to get outside and rip it up on the dirt! We made the easy drive to Bellevue, Nebraska for the opener of the Psycowpath Series: the Jewell Park TT. Neither of us had been there before, but we’d heard really good things about the course. The racing got underway at 11am, but my start wasn’t until 1pm and Cam’s until almost 1:30pm. So, we arrived by 10am, got dressed and made a couple recon laps to check things out. It did not take long to realize why we’d heard such good reports about Jewell Park. Like kids on a rollercoaster, we went up and down and up and down, big smiles growing with pedal revolution! Thankfully it was a beautiful weekend, so we just hung out and enjoyed the weather and each other’s company for a bit over an hour between our recon laps and my warm-up for the real deal.

After pondering the decision most of the winter, I finally decided to upgrade and spend the 2010 season as a Cat 1. Iowa is doing better at getting a few more women to come out and race their mountain bikes, but Nebraska is still lagging a bit behind. So, while this weekend marked my first race as a Cat 1, I think it was also the first time that I raced against absolutely no competition! I was, in fact, the only female racing for either Cat 1 or Cat 2! That means that I scored another first this weekend: my first win as a Cat 1! While it was surely the easiest (maybe the only!) win I’ll see all season, I was just happy to be back out on the dirt!

Another first: a new (to me) race rig. This season I’ll be rolling on a 2006 Orbea Oiz, full-suspension, another hand-me-down from Cam. I got to spend a little time on this new ride in Texas over Thanksgiving last fall, then the snow came, and I never threw a leg over it again until this weekend – more than four months later! What little riding I’ve done on it has been great, much easier on my back, and just as much fun! I’m also getting used to the tubeless tires. Not a big change, but I can run a lower tire pressure, also making my back happier!

Back to the race… without any competition, there was little pressure to perform, but the drive to go fast on dirt doesn’t just go away, so I went hard, but never went so far as to turn myself inside out. Ryan and Roxanne, the race organizers, put a full 10-minute gap between me and the next guys to race, but I knew that I had better ride real quick-like to avoid having one of them potentially catch me from behind. I rode the course in 23:50, with the fastest time of the day being 16:19 (men's expert winner). Knowing the course served the locals well, but Cam rode strong and scored a fifth place finish, just over 40 seconds behind the winner.

We pondered sticking around to ride some more at Swanson, and scope out the next course in the Psycowpath series, but by the time we were through with awards, we opted to hit the road and get back to DM at a reasonable hour.

Sunday was another nice day – a little overcast, but good temps. And that meant I had the opportunity for one more first: my first ride on my new road bike! Back in 2003 when I first got into riding, I bought a Raleigh Grand Prix. And, I’ve been riding that bike ever since! Now that I’ve made the transformation from tri geek to bike geek, I figured it was time for an upgrade. And upgrade I did! I did some research and picked out an awesome 2010 Orbea Diva. While I certainly don’t consider myself a Diva, this bike is definitely a good fit for me! Cam (with just a little help from me) has been building this bike (in his dining room) for a couple of weeks while I gathered parts. Finally we got everything assembled, and the weather cooperated enough to let me christen her with a great 3.5 hour ride on Sunday. The differences between the Diva and the Raleigh are like night and day; actually it’s more dramatic than that…. I’m gonna be enjoying this ride for years and years to come!

The weather is improving quickly and enough that I can ride outside most days. That makes me very happy! I'm also very happy to be looking forward to a very full race schedule this spring, summer, and fall. Next up is the Sylvan Island Stampede, back in my hometown! Last year, it poured rain and was a big mess. This year, the weather looks to be perfect!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

I’ve got my first full season of mountain bike racing under my belt, and I’ve been doing a little reflecting on how it went, what I’d like to do next year, and what I hope to be doing in the meantime.

If you’d asked me eighteen months ago if mountain bike racing was how I would spent this time, I’d have called you crazy. I was a pretty content tri-geek, doing a couple of Ironmans and some smaller races in between. After the Coeur d’Alene Ironman last June, I started to notice a little change in my attitude about triathlon and running. I had spent a considerable amount of time training on the bike, and it was clear that I enjoyed that more than the other disciplines. About that time, Cam started to become more of a fixture in my life, and his obvious enthusiasm for the sport is pretty contagious. With a ton of help and encouragement from him, I gave this sport a try. A little success and more encouragement led me to try three races in 2008. It is a great racing outlet, but different enough from triathlon to give me a big heap of enthusiasm and lit a fire in my belly for competition that I hadn’t found in triathlon.

That fire was further developed by being ridiculously blessed to get to ride in some amazing places this year. Maui was the best training kick-off I could have asked for, but I also had great training trips to Arizona with the girls, and, of course, the week I spent with Cam in Colorado. Some early successes in the race season gave me an idea of what could be and really fueled my workouts the rest of the season. I was still not willing to let go completely of triathlon, so my bike-specific training was not as structured as I would have liked. However, getting into Chequamegon gave me the final push for the season. And, it is a long season. We started training January 1, began racing in April, and didn’t finish up the season til October. Then there was still a little time left for some cyclocross racing and the Dirty Duathlon into November.

I owe a lot to the peeps in the cycling community in Des Moines, and, more specifically, the mountain biking folks in Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The vibe at races is considerably more laid-back and grass-roots than triathlon. I was never quite Type A enough for triathlon! The men and women I raced against were, with only a few exceptions, very encouraging and great people to spend a Saturday or Sunday alongside. While I enjoyed the sheer volume of competitors in Minnesota and Wisconsin, nothing beats throwing down with the chicks in Iowa. We have such a good time together that the racing usually ends up taking a backseat. We race hard, but the overall goal is getting more women involved and better at the sport. While I race under the Zoom Performance flag, I feel like I’ve got teammates on both the Punk Rock / Rassy’s and All Nine Yards crews. I’m looking forward to the time that there are more women racing in Iowa and Nebraska.

Cam and I have discussed it over and over: how do we get more women involved in the sport? His clinics are a great start – a relaxed, safe environment for women to learn the very basics of the sport without any competition or fear. Once she has learned the basics (or at least learned what skills to work on), the development of those skills is the hard part. In every discussion Cam and I have had, we’ve concluded the same thing again and again. Racing forces those basics to improve. And the more she races, the faster she improves. I think I am a great example of what consistent racing can do for a new rider.

My first season gave me oodles of experience and tons of rewards. I ended up winning the Iowa and Nebraska series for Cat 2 women. I had some decent finishes in Minnesota and Wisconsin, but an overall (or even age group) win eluded me in the north. Chequamegon was a highlight despite a crash and narrowly missing all my goals for my first Cheq 40. I feel like Chequamegon is sorta like Ironman, in one regard. The first time you do it, you just do it for the experience and with few expectations. After that, you can truly try to race it. I’m really hungry to race Chequamegon next year!

Cam… It is no exaggeration to say that there is absolutely no way I could have done any of this without the help, support, encouragement, advice, equipment (!!), and love of Cam. Simply put, he literally made it all happen. I just showed up and rode the bike! Really it’s his fault I tried out the sport in the first place. Thanks to his first mountain bike clinic for women in 2007 - which I nearly didn’t attend - it got me hooked! Then his passion for racing anywhere within a 500-mile radius of Des Moines every weekend put me in the passenger seat of the Jeep (and into another race) when it might have been easier or more convenient to stay local and hang out at home.

I am pretty sure that there were days he would have rather worked on his own bike or just chilled out, but he faithfully prepared, maintained, washed, and otherwise handled every detail of the ‘Goose. He rode with me on days I know he could have had a better workout without me. If I got grumpy or bonky on a ride, he never said a word about it. On many weekends, we had to leave a couple hours earlier to get me to my race when sleep was probably a more attractive alternative. Though his season may very well have gone better without me to get in the way, he was often more excited for my successes than I was! I’m not sure how I got so lucky to have him in my life, but I hope that I have the chance to make it up to him somehow! Thanks, Cam!

Next year I’ve got some decisions to make. I know that I’m not giving up triathlon. And, much to Cam’s dismay, I’m not giving up running either. There won’t be an Ironmans in the near future, but I do have a couple local races I like to support and race. And I always run Dam to Dam. Other than those, I will be hitting the mountain bike race scene much like this year. When I look at my strengths and weaknesses from this year, I can already see how I will be spending my off-season and much of my training next year. The first order of business is some serious strength training. And, we’ve been hitting the weights pretty hard. I started back in October, have been very consistent, and am starting to feel a significant difference.

The “real” training starts next week, and the Zoom garage rides have started as well. While the snow continues to pile up outside my door, I am anxiously looking forward to sunny days and rides on the trail!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Season Finale - Sheboygan

I’ve been looking forward to the season finale at Sheboygan since last year. Not because I wanted the season to end but because we had such a great time there last year. I had my best race of 2008 (of the three that I did…) there. I was racing in the Citizen class (Cat 3) and almost won the race, but I screwed up a sandy section in the final quarter mile and finished 2nd. That was the single moment that fueled my desire to do better, go faster, and win more in 2009.

It was good to back in Sheboygan this year – everything looked the same on the surface, but things were actually quite a bit different. Most noticeably was the weather. Last year, we were basking in a long, glorious Indian summer; this year it was snowing when we pulled into the parking lot for our pre-ride on Saturday. The other big difference was between the Citizen course from last year and the Sport course this time around. Gone were all the “easy” routes, and in their place were some gnarly rooty climbs and descents. There were also a couple of new sections and re-routes throughout.

I had a great time on the pre-ride, despite the cold numbing my fingers and toes. It is no fun at all, but it’s just the way my body works in the cold – I can be sweating all over and still not have the use of my extremities. There were a couple near misses with trees as I tried to figure out how to brake correctly without hitting the dirt or doing a Superman over the bars.

Again this year, we were guests of Ty and Christine, so our pre-race dinner was quite a spread of pasta, chicken, salmon, bread, salad, and wine. Also like last year, we chased it all with a big slice of carrot cake. We really should have taken a picture of the table. Too bad there weren’t more people there to enjoy it!

Race day was a little colder, but the sun was shining and that made quite a difference in how things felt. Cam hung out in the warm Jeep while I pedaled around some Sheboygan neighborhoods for my warm-up. I felt so good afterwards that I shed my jacket and knee warmers at the start line and passed them off to Cam. A good-sized contingent (twenty-seven) of Sport women toed the line for the WORS season finale. A couple of them looked vaguely familiar, but I haven’t raced enough in Wisconsin to know who all the heavy hitters are. After a lengthy list of call-ups, I settled into a spot near the rear.

Don gave us the “GOOOOOO!” and the front of the pack took off while I tried to not get left in their dust. After alternating between some asphalt and off-road sections, we hit the singletrack with me sitting about mid-pack. I was able to get around 3-4 girls who had some trouble with a couple of the log piles and rooty climbs. I vividly remember my apprehension last year with the water crossing and this year sailed through it without giving it a second glance. Following that was a mildly tricky climb that was totally rideable if you had checked it out on a pre-ride. I was catching up to riders from earlier waves at this time, so traffic was heavy with a few riding and most walking. One dude was walking up the right side of the incline, off the main track. Per race etiquette, I called out that I was riding, as walking racers should yield to riders. This guy had apparently lost his mind in a hypoxic fog, walked directly into my path and announced, “Well, I really don’t care anymore if you’re riding.” I really wanted to go rugby on this guy and put him in his place, but instead I pointed out that he had some pretty crappy sportsmanship, and it was not cool. That’s the first time I’ve ever had anything like that happen to me in a race anywhere. I wish I’d gotten his number and let Cam loose on the guy! However, just knowing that clown was behind me put a big smile on my face and I powered on!

Next up was a log jump that made me take the easy way out in 2008. I flew over that with a huge grin on my face and a big cheer from the crowd who had gathered to heckle. I passed a couple other guys and gals as I finished up the first half of the lap. The Sheboygan course is pretty interesting in that it runs through two city parks that are located on opposite sides of a major road. We passed under the bridge and traveled along the creek towards the Equalizer, a long-ish steep climb I’ve never cleared. This year was no exception, but I am able to run up the hill cyclocross style and passed another gal.
Despite passing a bunch guys and gals, I really felt like I lost ground on lap two; I got stuck behind a couple slower riders for what seemed like forever. Twice I was right on the wheel of a gal in front of me who didn’t have either the skills or desire to pass the even slower guys in front of her. One in particular was causing a bigger log-jam behind me, and we all were getting frustrated. I was pleased, however, that when I finally got around the ones in front of me, I would leave the whole traffic jam behind.
Whether I felt like I was having a good day or not, I couldn’t complain after passing a very slow moving gal right after the singletrack along the river. She was moving so slow that I felt compelled to ask her if she was okay when I passed. As I rode by she said she’d actually fallen into the river! On a day with temps topping out in the low 40’s, I bet she was pretty chilly! When I reached the top of the Equalizer for the second time, I was told that I was sitting in about 7-8th place. Not where I wanted to be, but my diesel engine was just starting to get warmed up, so I put my head down and did what I could for the final lap.

I caught another two or three gals on the final lap, and when I topped out on the Equalizer for the final time, they let me know that they couldn’t see anyone behind me and the girls in front were not within reach, so I could cruise to the finish. I was feeling so good, that I just kept up the pace and hammered to the finishline. I ended up fifth overall and fourth in my age group. I was pretty pleased with my finish and felt like it might have been one of my better races of the season. It was a little disappointing to get aced out of a medal – my age group took four of the top five spots! I think it might have been the only WORS race that I didn’t get to stand atop a box. I’m certainly not disappointed with my finish, though. All the big guns usually turn out for this final race of the season.

With the season basically over as soon as I crossed the finishline, I took a very short cool-down ride, threw on a jacket, grabbed the camera, and turned around to get back to watch Cam start his race. I met up with Ty, Greg, and Tony for some pictures at the log jump, then high-tailed it back to the Jeep to get into some dry, warm clothes. Usually Cam makes us some awesome smoothies for post-race nutrition, but this year I opted for a couple very tasty Oktoberfest beers from the Lakefront Brewery! The sun was shining, so I was warm and happy.
Cam had a decent race going for the first four laps. I took lots of pictures, and then went to the finishline to meet him when he was done. The first ten guys came through; there was a long gap until I saw Cam hit the line. He was looking pretty tuckered out. Apparently he’d bonked pretty bad since the last time I’d seen him. He was pleased that he’d been able to pull out an eleventh place finish. It is very rare for him to bonk like that – we’re still trying to figure out exactly why it happened. He tanked a bunch of Gatorade and some food. Then we got him a beer!

We had fun hanging out with everyone at the awards eating candy and enjoying the tasty beer. The elite field was smaller than most WORS races since cyclocross season had started; consequently the payout only went eight places. We didn’t win anything in the drawing either. We settled for another great dinner with Ty and Christine (with a bigger slice of carrot cake!). Regardless of how the finish turned out, we are both still looking forward to taking another stab at Sheboygan next fall!