Gowdy Grinder – A Race Review

I should have known how my race would end when I missed the turn off Highway 210 for Curt Gowdy State Park.  Or maybe I should have known when the friendly folks working the number pick-up table couldn’t find my race number, despite the fact I was “on the list.”  Or maybe I should have known how the race would end back on April 23 when my pre-ride was cancelled because the trails were covered with snow.  These are just a few of the signs as to how my race would end right up to the seconds after the race director yelled “go”.  However, this post is intended to be more of a race review than the excuses for my 8th place finish in the Advanced Women category.  On some level, they do go hand-in-hand.

I left the house very early on May 13 for the drive from Arvada, Colorado to Curt Gowdy State Park in southeastern Wyoming.  My race started at 11:01 AM, and I planned to arrive before 10.  I was grateful to have left enough of a cushion in my drive time to accommodate the missed turn off highway 210 which added about 30 extra minutes to my drive.  The signage within the park directing race traffic was obvious and easy to follow.  Because the number of race registrants is limited to just 325, there was ample parking as competitors arrived and departed throughout the day.

This race is self described as a “bare bones” race and as such, there were only a handful of tents setup at the Aspen Grove Trailhead, making it easy to figure out which one was the registration tent.  Despite a thorough search, the registration volunteer was unable to locate my number and waiver.  The race director quickly got involved and reassigned me to another number.  This left me with about an hour to kill before start time.  I busied myself with applying sunscreen, suiting up, checking tire pressure, taking in some calories, and a half-hearted warm up on and off the race course.  The Advanced Women’s race consisted of two loops, one ~5 mile loop, and another ~8 mile loop.  The two loops overlapped in part.  My goal was to finish the race in under two hours even though I’d never ridden the trails before.

The start line was situated on an uphill jeep trail so as to thin the flow of racers before arriving at the single track on top of the hill.  I was thrilled that mom’s were called up to the front of the 10 person peloton.  That thrill quickly passed when I realized that I was the only mom.  I knew all those other women had spent less time in a hockey rink and more time pedaling their bikes than I had.  I was even less thrilled when I got passed within the first 5 pedal strokes after the race started.  (audible sigh)

Because the April snow had foiled my plans at a pre-ride, I was very concerned about how I would find my way through the race course.  The Gowdy Grinder was quite possibly the best marked mountain bike race I have done.  There were signs at every fork in the trail as well as ribbons tied to tree branches.   Despite all this great signage, I made a wrong turn during the long loop of my race.  (I’d give specifics on exactly where this happened, but I neglected to turn on my Garmin at the start of the race.)  I back tracked and found the turn.  I’m still scratching my head as to how I missed it given the great signage.

At some point into the second loop I began to recognize the terrain from the previous loop and I knew I didn’t have too much further to go.  The terrain at Curt Gowdy was an interesting mix of flowy single track and funky rock formations that were incorporated into the trails.  It was more technical than I had anticipated, but very fun riding nonetheless.  I uncerimoniously crossed the finish line in eighth place of 10 racers and went directly to my car to change.

At the food tent, the race crew actually made sandwiches for participants.  Being that I am responsible for the cooking at our house, I was beyond thrilled to have someone build a sandwich for me.  It was quite possibly the best turkey sandwich I’ve ever had!  They also had the best macarons west of Paris.  These alone would draw me back for the race next year! Thanks Pedalhouse and Laramie Racing for a fantastic experience!

The Golden Giddyup – A Race Review

2016 was the inaugural year of the Golden Giddyup.  You can read more about how it was founded on their website; they tell the story much better than I can.  I had decided not to do this race months ago when registration opened.  Then, a handful of days prior to the race, I met up with a friend who was not able to do the race due to a knee injury.  I figured she had already transferred her entry to some other person, but it turns out, it was still available.  When she asked if I wanted it, I checked my calendar and found the day to be wide open.   I had no excuse not to do the race and hated to see the entry go to waste.

Transferring the registration into my name proved to be a bit of a challenge.  While the registration page indicated that all you had to do was click a button and follow the instructions, it didn’t work for us.  After several attempts, we decided to contact race organizers for help.  Even with their intervention, I never received any confirmation emails indicating that the transfer had been successful.  I finally gave up and crossed my fingers that my name would be on someone’s list when I went to pick up my race plate late in the afternoon of Saturday, September 17th.

img_5597After all the effort that we’d put into transferring the race entry, I was somewhat surprised that my name was, in fact, on the racer’s list at packet pickup. The bigger surprise, however, was my race number.  Yep, I was lucky number 420.   After collecting my number and what few goodies remained so late in the day, I found a place to sit and wait for the “mandatory riders meeting”.

The meeting essentially covered rules and reiterated several times that if you come upon an injured person, you should stop to offer help.  It seems like a no-brainer to me, but apparently it’s happened, hence the reminder. The other message that was stressed was that passing riders have the right of way.  What that means is by the time a racer hears the words “on your left”, her time has already been beaten by the passing racer who started 20 or 30 seconds behind her.

The next morning I arrived at the start line at 7:15 AM – one hour before my scheduled race time.  As the announcers began calling up waves, I became confused.  It turns out I wasn’t the only one.  The announcers were calling wave numbers that no one had ever heard of.  For instance, my wave was number 38, but they were calling out something similar to “the fourth wave of the classic category.”  I brought it to their attention after several waves had departed.  They regrouped and started calling out the waves by the series of plate numbers included in that wave (even better), and everyone was happy again.

Unlike a traditional enduro race, this race had timed downhill and uphill stages.  The entry that had been transferred to me was a Giddyup Lite – North Table entry – meaning that I would race only the North Table Mountain leg of the race.  The race route had two timed climbing and two timed descending stages.   I’ve ridden on North Table Mountain more times than I can count, which was a significant contributing factor in my decision to do a last minute race.  Knowing the terrain so well,  I was a little nervous about how crowded it would be in the timed stages, even though the organizers were releasing racers every 20 seconds on the uphill stages and every 30 seconds on the downhill portions.  Much to my surprise, however, the timed release of racers really did wonders to ease trail congestion.  I  passed and was passed without any incidents; racers seemed to be respectful of the rules.

I’m proud to have finished the race 5th overall considering the injuries I had in June & July and their recovery time.  Sure, I’ve been riding as much as I can, but I haven’t been training for races.  I’m grateful to Linda for making my participation in the race possible.  I hope we can race it together next year!

One of the mantras of the race organizers was to “shape what you shred” – as seen on the pictured race plate above.   I can’t emphasize how much I appreciated that this was a core philosophy of the organizers.  I’ve been mountain biking in Jefferson County for five years and not once had I ever participated in a trail maintenance effort, until this year and for this race.  I found the experience to be so rewarding that I regret not doing it sooner.  I’ll be suggesting that this be an activity of every team/group that I’m involved with going forward.  Overall, I’d say everyone involved in this race was a winner, especially the trails!

Stay Calm and Take Calcium!

Have a conversation of any length with any cyclist and it will typically lead to a “JRA” story. A JRA story begins with “ I was just riding along…” Typically these words lead to an exciting or interesting cycling tale. A number of my JRA stories end with details describing how I was just riding along when I was thrown to the ground. While each of the stories is different in the circumstances of the crash, one thing remains consistent amongst all the stories, and that is my calm reaction following the crash.

After my first serious mountain bike crash, I remember being dazed and confused. One moment I had been upright, pedaling along with a gentle breeze on my face, feeling proud that I had reached the end of a long and technical ride, and in the next moment I found myself and my bike laying in the dirt. As I sat on the ground in a puff of dust examining my injuries, my radio beeped. I pressed the talk button and mumbled that I thought I saw bone. It turned out not to be bone, but was soft tissue that was not meant to see the light of day. It didn’t take long for my riding companions to return to my aid and get me to the ER for stitches. This crash happened so quickly and unexpectedly, that I didn’t have time to react with much more than surprise.

In my next serious crash, I had lots of time to think about the landing as I sailed though the air face first toward a boulder. At the last moment I curled my head backward to avoid hitting the boulder with my face and took the impact to my sternum. As I came to rest in the dirt, I remember trying to call out to my fast friend whom I was trying to keep up with. The exertion of attempting to yell hurt my chest and it came out as a whisper. It hurt to breathe and as I lay in the dirt, I wondered if this would be the crash that I was unable to pedal away from. After a few minutes had passed, I caught my breath, picked myself up off the ground, and giggled with joy.  I was joyful that I could get up.  I remounted the bike at about the same time my friend had come back to find me. Together we slowly rode back to the cars. An ER visit was not necessary, but a 6 week break from biking was.

When I crashed in late June, I was on a 25 mile ride beginning in Golden Gate Canyon State Park and ending in White Ranch Open Space in Jefferson County just outside Golden, Colorado.  It was a beautiful day without a cloud in the cobalt blue skies overhead as we pedaled away from the trailhead. Like an eraser on a chalkboard, enough moisture had fallen the night before to erase the tracks of trail users from the previous day. I could still feel the thickness of the humidity in the air. We settled into a prolonged climb on smooth, narrow singletrack. Eventually that smooth path gave way to rockier terrain surrounded by pine trees and aspen. It was on a rocky descent where I went down about 13 miles into the route. As I came to rest with my knee wedged between rocks and bike frame, I wondered how severe the damage to my bike and leg would be. I was grateful to be riding with a well prepared nurse because it was obvious the couple of bandaids tucked in my backpack wouldn’t be enough to handle the blood. There weren’t any broken bones, and I recognized from my first crash that soft tissue that isn’t supposed to see the outside world. Stitches would have been appropriate, however we were miles from anywhere without any cell phone signal. Walking or riding out were the only two options; it hurt less to pedal, so that’s  what I did.

MotoMan has been with me through all three crashes and he asked me the other day how I remain so calm afterward? It’s interesting he describes me as calm when I felt anything but calm on the inside.  Apparently I’m the only one who can hear my pounding heart. After some reflection on this question, I concluded that I stay calm because I like to be in control of what happens to me. If I’ve had a crash, it means I’ve lost control and, for me, that’s the worst part.  After the initial shock of the impact passes, I turn my attention to what I can control; like determining whether anything is bloody, broken or bent ~ on me or the bike. After that assessment, I take what action is necessary to get up and pedal away.

When it comes to stressful situations where others are hurt, I try to take a similar approach. If there is anything that I can control to contain the situation, I do that. At the very least, remaining calm can be comforting and contagious to the person in need.  I’ve heard that people are defined by their reaction to crisis.  How will you react in a defining moment?

Lessons From Dude #4

I went for a mountain bike ride today with a friend.  As I loaded the car, I was sure to pack a variety of clothing.  We were driving to the trail head and it sits about 2,400 feet higher in elevation than where I live.  I wanted to be prepared for wind, rain, and the potential for a hot ride as the sun climbed higher in the sky. I packed a variety of food.  Some of which would be eaten on the go as the trail (and my one-handed dexterity) permitted, while other food would require a stop to open and consume.  Lastly, I’d want something more filling for the drive home post ride.   Maybe I do this because I don’t like to be cold, or maybe it’s because I’m a mom.  Whatever the reason, I just like to be prepared.

I go through the same process in preparing my bike for the ride.  Tire pressure is checked and adjusted to the characteristics of the trail to be ridden.  The chain is checked and lubed if necessary.  The hydration pack is filled with water and checked for a multi-tool, tubes, pump, patch kit, and compressed air.  Having experienced a variety of mechanical problems along the trail, I like to be prepared to address the issues I may encounter or lend a hand to anyone else in need.  Ultimately, however, I’m there to ride and not push my bike back to the car.  The people I ride with seem to share this philosophy of preparedness.

As I was riding along a 12 mile loop called Centennial Cone, I encountered 3 mountain bikers from the same team* with matching lycra.  The third guy told me that I could expect one more dude wearing the same kit.  These were the kind of guys that like to go fast and I was concerned that I might meet Dude #4 on a blind corner.  There is some cliff exposure along the particular section of the trail where I was expecting Dude #4.  I kept calling out as I approached blind corners in the hopes of alerting anyone who might be flying along the trail to my presence.  Nearly two miles passed, and Dude #4 still had yet to make an appearance.

As I approached the crest of a hill, I stopped to wait for my buddy and have a snack (the kind that requires two hands to open).    We both took the opportunity to remove excess clothing as all the climbing coupled with the sunshine was warming us up.  At this point, we were roughly halfway ~ 6 miles~ into our ride.  As we began the descent into Elk Creek, we soon came upon Dude #4 who was pushing his bike up the hill.  As he limped along, I could see he had a rear flat, no water, no tools… nothing but him and his bike.  I asked if he needed a pump.  He replied that he also needed a tube.  I suggested that he could  use a 26″ wheel tube in his 29″ tire, but he declined.  He went on to say that he was the one who came out to ride unprepared, so he would continue walking the remainder of the way.  I suspect he had about a 2.5 mile hike ahead of him, based on where he had likely parked and began the ride with his buddies.  And his buddies probably still hadn’t realized that he’d crashed out miles before.

At the next stop as I waited for my friend to catch up, I continued to think about Dude #4.   How could anyone even consider riding this loop so….. unprepared??  The loop is 12 miles long with 1,850 feet of elevation gain.  At some point, even the best of riders will want at least a sip of water.  The climbing is strenuous.  Once again, at some point, even the best of riders will want a mouthful of energy.  I’ve seen broken chains and flats on this trail.  Mechanical issues can and do happen to bikes, no matter how well they are cared for.  Crashes can and do happen, even to the best of riders.

As I reflect on today’s ride, I’d like to thank Dude #4 for the lessons and reminders.  First, thanks for the reminder of why I prepare for a ride the way that I do.  I’m thankful that I carry all that extra gear that I don’t need 99% of the time, because I’m there to ride and not hike.  I’m thankful that the people I ride with wait for one another at periodic intervals and circle back when it seems to be taking someone too long to appear on the trail.    Lastly, thanks for owning your decision to ride unprepared and not interrupting my ride to fix the issues you could have addressed yourself, had you been properly prepared.  I suppose all that time hiking with your bike gave you lots of time to think about your ride.  I hope it was fun before the crash.

*  The team that Dudes 1-4 represent shall remain anonymous.

cone 1

Views from the Centennial Cone trail.

Firecracker 50 – My First Endurance Race

I was recently talked into racing in the Firecracker 50 mountain bike race in Breckenridge, Colorado on Independence Day.  I was told I would get a fabulous pair of Woolie Boolie socks AND get to ride my bike in the town parade.  Then, if I didn’t get to the cutoff point in time, I’d be sent down the mountain with a beer!  Having never ridden my mountain bike for more than 27 or so miles, I was a little concerned about my ability to actually ride the entire 50 miles (that’s what the 50 in Firecracker 50 represents).  But, I was really excited about the socks, parade, and potential for a beer hand up.  Besides, I can’t think of  a better way to start Independence Day then spending a few hours on the mountain bike.

Terry and I arrived early in Breckenridge on race day.  We went to the race headquarters and picked up socks, t-shirts (bonus!), and race numbers.  Then we returned to the car to suit up and warm up our legs for the race.  The race would be two 25 mile laps with ~4,000 feet of climbing per lap.  My goal was to make it to the aid station before the cutoff time so I would at least have the option to ride the entire second lap, if I thought I was able to do so.

We lined up on Main Street by category; as a sport woman racer, I found myself in the back as usual.  When the whistle blew, I took off up Main Street with about 15 other women in my category.  I rode as far as possible to the left so that I could hold out my hand and touch as many of the little hands reaching out to me from behind the barricade as I could.  So many people were clapping and cheering as we rode by… maybe because they knew seeing us meant the real parade was about to start?  Regardless, what a fantastic way to start a race!

For several miles, we pedaled up Boreas Pass Road to the first aid station.  This served to thin out the racers before we reached any single track.  I did not stop at the first aid station and continued onto the single track where I was able to pass more frequently than I got passed.  At one point I passed Terry without recognizing her.  As I pedaled past her, I heard her yell “go Amber!”.   Before I knew it, I was at the second aid station where I took in some of the plentiful nutrition being offered by race volunteers.  I knew that proper nutrition would be critical to successfully finishing this long race.

The aftermath

The aftermath. Yes my feet are that white and my legs that dirty.

Between Aid Stations 2 and 3 is a little section of the trail called Little French Gulch.  This section is full of loose, chipped slate and at one point, the grade is 25%.  I found myself, and all of my new mountain biking friends, pushing our bikes up this section beside the snow banks and through ice cold streams.  At one point, I had sweat dripping from my eyelashes.  This is something I’ve only experienced in a winter spin class at Defined Fitness Training.  When the trail finally turned and leveled out, it was extremely narrow.  It was so narrow that passing required the rider in front of you to actually stop and pull off the trail.  I went as fast as I could here as I didn’t want to have to stop and let anyone by.  Before I knew it I was going down a fun terrain park-like section where I crossed what would be the finish line had this been my second lap.

As I continued on to begin my second lap, I grabbed food and some electrolyte drink as the hike-a-bike section, heat, and distance were beginning to take their toll on me.  I just kept telling myself to get to that aid station before the cutoff time.  This time going up Boreas Pass Road, the spectators were few and far between; only the occasional honk from a passing car, or words of encouragement from another racer.  As I reached Aid Station 1, I parked my bike and stood in the shade to have some food and catch my breath.  I asked if I had made the cutoff and was told yes by one of the volunteers.  However a few minutes later, another racer pulled into the aid station and asked the same question.  This time the answer was different from a different volunteer.  We had to make it to the second aid station in 20 minutes if we wanted to try to finish the race!  I debated about turning around now, but a little voice inside my head piped up “I didn’t come this far just to turn back now.”  So I hopped on the bike and pedaled.

I missed the cutoff at Aid Station 2 by about 8 minutes, but I was very proud to have made it there IMG_3150in the first place.  I was 37 miles into the Firecracker 50 when I was offered my choice of cold beers for the ride down the service road.  Heineken never tasted so good, and I didn’t spill a single drop on that bumpy road, steering my bike one-handed.

Lessons learned: read the race rules and COMMIT them to memory.  I wasted valuable time at Aid Station 1 on my second lap and could have made that cut off time at Aid Station 2 if I’d kept moving.  Gatorade is not a good drink choice for me; test the products being offered at a race BEFORE race day.  Oh, and let’s not forget to actually RIDE the distance of your race before race day.

I can’t speak highly enough about how well the race was organized, marked, the nutrition and hydration offered at aid stations, and the volunteers.  Oh, and let’s not forget that parade and all those little hands wishing us good luck… See you all next year!

 

Listen and Learn

IMG_2956One beautiful October day last fall I was out for a mountain bike ride near Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado.  I was riding with my usual mountain biking buddy, JQ.  We got off to a slow start as it had rained the night before making the first section of the trail muddy and slippery.  Our pace picked up as we reached some smoother single track.  Eventually, we got very near to the amphitheater itself and the single track became very groomed and un-technical.  Maybe that was why I let my guard down.  As I crossed a road and jumped over a water bar, I landed all wrong.  As I was sent sailing over my handlebars into the air, I saw that I was headed face first toward a group of large boulders, strategically placed next to the trail as a barrier.  The only thing I had time to do as the precipice of a rock rapidly approached my face was roll my head back toward my shoulder blades.  This slight movement prevented me from breaking my face, but the full force of the impact was taken in my chest.  I was not wearing a chest protector.  And I don’t have a lot of “cushion” in that area, if you know what I mean.

I laid in the weeds wondering if this was going to be the crash that I didn’t walk away from.  As I tried to catch my breath, I began to wiggle fingers and toes.  I tried to call out to JQ to stop and wait for me, but it came out as a whisper.  I slowly sat up and continued to gasp for breath.   Eventually I stood and was shocked and pleased that everything still seemed to work.  My bike was laying in a heap about ten feet away.  It, too, still seemed to work, so I climbed on and started to pedal in the direction of JQ.  By this time she was coming back to find me.  We took the shortest route back to the cars, which was up Morrison Road.  As the adrenalin started to wear off, the scrapes and bruises started to voice their discomfort.  I had an x-ray the next day which showed a bruise to my sternum.  I was told I could ride again when I was able to do a push up.  I was back on the bike about four weeks later.

Four weeks after the crash puts us in November, and I didn’t ride the mountain bike much through the winter.  In the last couple of months, I’ve been doing more mountain biking as I gear up for summer races.  As a result of that crash, I’m a little gun shy of riding over boulders that normally wouldn’t even give me a reason to pause.  It’s so frustrating to know what you are physically capable of only to have your brain bring it to a complete stop.

JQ and I recently weexpertnt and rode at Alderfer/3 Sisters Park outside Evergreen, Colorado.  The trail system there was great because there were many shorter loops you could connect into a substantial ride.  We started on some flat trails with minor obstacles.  Normally I have to try and chase JQ down to keep up with her, but that day, she held back and talked me through lines and over obstacles.  I guess she, too, had observed my mental block on previous rides.  Before I knew it, I was rolling over boulders like nobody’s business.

It would have been easy for me to let my pride get in the way of being open to her coaching.  But I decided when I started this cycling journey that I would have to listen if I wanted to learn.  I’ve learned so many little gems along the way because of that decision.  And those lessons often come from unexpected sources.

listen

Ridgeline Rampage – a race review

Having raced in the Ridgeline Rampage on Saturday, I can cross the first mountain bike race of the year off my list of things to do.  When I arrived in Castle Rock for the race, the weather was somewhat cool and overcast.  The weather forecasters had been predicting afternoon rain showers.  I had packed a variety of clothing so that I would be prepared no matter what conditions I would be racing in. I had ridden this race last year, so I knew what to expect for the most part in terms of course terrain and elevation changes.  However, this year, the course was going in the opposite direction.  Somewhere in the back of mind I thought this might mean that there would be more climbing involved, but overall, it should be very similar in either direction.

I picked up my race number, t-shirt and goody bag at the registration table.  All the while the sun seemed to be hinting that it might actually make an appearance and warm things up for the afternoon races.  I was early enough that I had time to cruise around looking for team mates and visited the pit area just in time to see my team mate, Carol, pass through.  After that I returned to my car, suited up, and began the process of riding up the nearby hills to warm up my legs.  I had heard that this year’s field of racers was bigger than ever and wondered how that would play out during the first mile or so of the race.  Last year, bikes had literally been tire to tire at the beginning, making for a frustrating and challenging traffic jam to navigate through.

As I pedaled around the neighborhood surrounding the race course, I came to see that the first half mile of so of the course went uphill through the neighborhood streets.  I suspected the course had been routed in such a way to thin out the racers before we rolled onto single track.  To some degree, it worked.  But eventually, there came an inevitable traffic jam when too many riders come together in one place on an incline.  This is my least favorite part of racing the Ridgeline Rampage.   I can’t help but think that spacing out start times would alleviate this problem.  As a few cyclists hopped off their bikes and began running them up the hill, I decided to do the same.  This turned out to be a mistake because everyone I had just passed ~and then  some~ eventually got rolling again and it was impossible for me to find a gap big enough to squeeze into to get rolling again.  Lesson learned.

Once I was on the move again, I settled into a steady rhythm of climbing, calling out “on your left!” , and assertively passing other

Bebe the Niner equipped with gels readily available for the bumpy terrain.

Bebe the Niner equipped with gels readily available for the bumpy terrain.

racers as I cruised up the hills.   Before I knew it, I was starting in on the food that I had packed with me.  I was surprised that I was feeling the need for energy so soon into the race.  This is when I concluded ~rightly or wrongly~ that more climbing was required to ride the course in this direction.  The good news was that the course was designed with the pit in the center of a figure 8, meaning that I could grab a hand-up of food or liquid if necessary at the middle and end of each lap.

I did pass a lot of guys and a few gals, but I never was able to chase down the one or two women in my age group who passed me during the run-up fiasco at the very beginning of the race.  As I was closing the second half of my last lap, my triceps were burning, my thighs were screaming at me, and I’m certain I let out more than one whimper as my body protested the continued pain of climbing.  After reviewing the statistics later on Strava, I realized that each ten mile lap of the race had 1,000 feet of climbing… no wonder my body was protesting!  The wind and rain moved into the area during the last few hundred feet of my race.  I rolled across the finish line and went directly to the food tent.  Peanut butter and honey sandwiches never tasted so good!Post race