The Alexander 380

I stood in my kitchen the morning after the Alexander with my wrist in a brace, one arm in a sling, and more sore than I have been in a long time, struggling to remember the basics of making coffee. Scrapes and bruises, swollen legs, a huge knot in my hair that stuck out from the side of my head that I couldn’t get out…I’m sure I looked as dismal as I felt. I hadn’t intended to end up in such a miserable state, but apparently it’s just not a good gravel race unless I arrive home exhausted, starving, and a little battered. Viva la gravel!

The Alexander is a free, self supported 380 mile gravel race through Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin with almost 30,000 feet of climbing and some of the most beautiful scenery you will find anywhere. Every turn brought a new view to appreciate, and there was never a dull moment. The terrain was mostly rolling gravel hills through midwestern farm country, with some long and very steep climbs near the Mississippi River. The event costs nothing, and starts on a Friday morning in Spring Valley, MN, the day before the legendary Almanzo 100. There are no time cut offs to make and no checkpoints anywhere, so you can ride until you are done, or broken. The Alexander was definitely one of the most beautiful and thrilling rides I’ve ever been on, and I hope to ride it again next year.

The Alexander was to be my fourth ultra cycling race already this year, having started with 24 Hours of Sebring in February, and Heart of the South 500 and Trans Iowa V11 in April. Heart of the South, Trans Iowa, and the Alexander are all each three weeks apart and definitely the most difficult combination of events I’ve ever attempted in such a short period of time. I felt pretty well recovered from HOTS and ready to race Trans Iowa. But despite that event being super short due to the poor weather and road conditions, by the time the Alexander rolled around I felt like I had lost a little something along the way. I had still wanted the experience of completing three long events that close together, so I did a pretty long solo ride the week after Trans Iowa. The weather sucked so bad that it took more out of me than it should have. Mother Nature had the last laugh even on my Trans Iowa do-over. I could have done without that and felt better for the Alexander for sure.

Kelsey Regan and me before the start

Kelsey Regan and me before the start

I drove up to Spring Valley Thursday night with my friend and fellow endurance cyclist, Kelsey Regan. It had done nothing but rain buckets all day, so the course was sure to be wet and mushy to start. After Trans Iowa, I was not excited about racing in those conditions again, but the weather for most of Friday was expected to be dry so road conditions would improve as the day went on.

The race got off to a late start, since they had real numbers for the Alexander participants I think for the first time in the history of this race and it took time to get everyone checked in and waivers signed. We finally got rolling at 5:16 am, and promptly got off course. The GPX file I was using to navigate had a different start location, and my Garmin refused to give me turn by turn directions, so I was relying on everyone else to point me in the right direction until we matched up with the cue sheets. Not even a mile from the start, and we were off course. The mistake was easily corrected though, and we were soon headed out of town in the proper direction.

Mark Skarpohl and I ended up out in front of the other cyclists, but I didn’t feel very good and didn’t make any effort to keep up with him. The gravel was mushy and wet for the first 200k, and my bike and I were soon covered in grey gravel sludge that hardened like cement on my bike and my legs. I could feel it cracking as I pedaled. Mark asked me once in passing if I had a time goal for the event, and I gave a pretty lame answer about just finishing. I always have a goal in my head of some sort, but given the state of the roads and my general malaise, I wasn’t too keen on sharing it. Trying to predict a finish time for a gravel event is difficult at best when you are uncertain of the road conditions, but I had 28 hours on my mind and sub 30 hours for sure if I had a smooth trip and didn’t stop for long. It’s good to have some kind of goal to keep me moving, but I’m never so attached to it that despair sets in when I inevitably get sidetracked. Gravel racing is all about the adventure, and adventure always takes a little longer than planned.

IMG_9029Mark and I never did ride together, but we crossed paths a few more times after he got off course and I bumped into him as he was coming back on route. He laughed and said he would probably get off course many times during the event, and I flippantly said “I won’t”. I knew as soon as I said that, it would come back to bite me. I don’t even know why I said it. I had gotten off course at each gravel event I had done last year except 24 hours of Cumming. I knew that course pretty well, otherwise I’m sure I would’ve gotten lost there too.

I rode alone for the entire ride, and only spoke a handful of sentences to Mark and people I met in passing along the way. Despite that, I never felt bored or lonely, as the trip was exciting enough to keep my mind engaged. There were the usual numerous encounters with farm dogs, and I even felt one touch his cold nose to my thigh as I sprinted away. The hills were constant and quite steep, and the descents were fast with loose gravel turns. I thought surely I was going to kiss the ditch on a few of them. I did not, and the descents kept me awake and focused at night, that’s for sure.

I was nearly out of fluids when I stopped in Mabel at mile 77. I pulled into a business that had an OPEN sign in the window, not even caring what kind of business it was. I just hoped it had a sink I could use to fill my bottles. It turned out to be some type of knick knack shop, and the elderly lady that worked there was reluctant to give me water. She said her water was bad and her sink didn’t get run very often, but I told her I was in a bicycle race and had been drinking dirt water for hours and anything she had that didn’t come from a sewer would be fantastic. I must have been quite a sight with mud up to my knees, and all over my face and glasses. She laughed and filled up my filthy, gravel cement covered bottles, then she let me use the restroom and I was on my way.

Nearly my entire bike was coated in gravel sludge

Nearly my entire bike was coated in gravel sludge

I stopped again near mile 100 and stole water from a farm house in Eitzen that had a pump next to the house, then fled their property before stopping to mix powder into my bottles. I chiseled about a pound of mud off my bike and re-lubed the chain, then continued on. I didn’t find a C store that was on route until mile 126. There were probably more options off route, and several bar/grill types of places I could have wandered into if I had wanted real food, but I preferred to subsist on what I had brought with me, and buy candy and soda along the way. In hindsight, I wish I had take the time to look at the pass through towns on google maps to find the C stores that were off route, as I wasted time and added bonus miles looking for them. I assumed they would be visible from the route as they had been for other events, but that was not the case. I know better than to make assumptions, as they are usually wrong.

Photo by Steve Fuller from the Alexander 2014. This looks a lot like Irish Hollow Rd.

Photo by Steve Fuller from the Alexander 2014. This looks a lot like Irish Hollow Rd.

The scenery for most of the ride was simply fantastic. At times I thought I should be taking pictures, but I decided I would rather just enjoy the experience and let the pictures go. Irish Hollow Road was one of the most beautiful roads I have ever been fortunate enough to ride on. I feel regret that I did not take at least one picture there, and of the Mississippi River crossings, but I know that my phone camera would not have done it justice.

The first B

The first B “road” where I hurt my shoulder. Photo by Steve Fuller, 2014

There were 2 B minimum maintenance roads, and the first was at mile 140, just past The People’s Republic of Turkey Run. The handlebars on my Crux are a little too wide for me, and my shoulders just don’t line up right. I entered the shaded area of the B road unprepared for just how bumpy and steep the descent was. I hit a bump and my right shoulder jammed back into the socket. It was extremely painful. I’ve know for quite some time that these handlebars are a problem for me, and I have a new bike shipping next week with different bars, but these were having one last go at me before I got rid of them. The pain from that incident faded initially, but as the day went on, I started to have increasing pain in my rotator cuff with the steep climbs and any kind of bumpy descent. Being that this was a gravel ride, there were a lot of bumps. I jarred my shoulder another time on the B road at mile 210, and from there until the finish it was pretty much constantly painful.

The slightly terrifying bridge across the Mississippi River into WI. Photo by Steve Fuller, 2014

The slightly terrifying bridge across the Mississippi River into WI. Photo by Steve Fuller, 2014

Shortly after crossing the Mississippi River into WI, the spokes on my rear wheel began pinging on each of the long and steep climbs. I stopped at the top of a long climb and cleaned a bunch of gravel sludge off the spokes, hoping that dirty spokes were contributing to the noise, but it didn’t help at all. I had two fiber fix spokes in my bag thanks to a suggestion from Steve Fuller, so at least I had a means to repair them if they broke. It was annoying and stressful to think that my spokes might break miles from anywhere, or in the dark hours of the night. But although they were noisy the rest of the ride, nothing ever broke and the wheel stayed true.

I made my first big unintentional detour at mile 171 on Shanghai road, and ended up in Eastman, WI. I misunderstood the cue sheet, and took a right hand turn where none should have been taken. My Garmin would show me the GPX route I had loaded on to it, but only if I had that screen displayed. It refused to give me turn by turn instructions, so if I wandered off course, it would not beep at me. I was not looking at the route screen, and did not figure out my mistake until I had reached Eastman without finding my next turn. My phone refused to fully load a map of my location, so it was a frustrating and time consuming process of trying to backtrack my way back on to the route. It added an hour and many miles to my ride. That’s what I get for teasing Mark about getting lost.

I made it to Prairie du Chien, WI mile 197 just before 7:30pm, and stopped at the Qwik Trip. It was 74 miles to Decorah, IA with nowhere to stop in between. I reached Decorah by 1:30 am, and stopped at the 24 hour Casey’s. The lady that worked there had surely seen every kind of oddball there was to see in the world, because she didn’t bat an eye at seeing a smelly dirt covered cyclist in the wee hours of the night. I bought what I hoped was enough food and fluids to get me through the 110 miles until the finish. I should’ve planned for 120.

The second B road. I rode it at night in light rain. Photo by Steve Fuller, 2014

The second B road. I rode it at night in light rain. Photo by Steve Fuller, 2014

It rained near Decorah, and the roads became wet enough that I could see Mark’s bike tracks in the wet gravel. It was reassuring to know that I was on route, especially near the road closures and construction sites. The first road closure was easy enough to get through, but the second proved to be impassable to me. I followed Mark’s tracks down to the site, and did not see any evidence that he had backtracked. There were three barriers to go around before reaching the actual construction, and I finally arrived to find a giant pit. It was pitch black, and even with my headlight on high I could not see a way to cross it without carrying my bike down the steep embankment into the hole, nor could I see if there was stable ground at the bottom to cross on.

I called out for Mark, thinking he must surely be lying broken at the bottom of this pit, but didn’t hear any answer. My right shoulder and upper back hurt badly no matter which arm I used to carry my bike with, and I feared I would fall down the embankment or tear my rotator cuff trying to carry my bike up and out the other side of this nightmare. I figured in daylight this would look pretty benign and harmless, but self preservation had kicked in (as well as the strong desire not to have to explain getting trapped in a construction site to my husband), and I opted to go around. I took the next street over, which took me up a painfully steep hill and dumped me on to the highway. Then I backtracked onto the route from the highway. It was a time consuming side trip, and added more bonus miles. I saw Mark’s tracks as soon as I got back on route, and was relieved to know that Mark was not dead. He and I traded a few messages after the event, and he did in fact find a solid dirt bridge through the construction after going down the embankment and made it across safely.

Photo by Kurt Stephens, taken during the Almanzo 100

Photo by Kurt Stephens, taken during the Almanzo 100

My Garmin by this point in the ride was becoming a frustration. It locked up for the first time in Decorah, and I was able to restart it by holding down the power and start/stop keys. It randomly shut down a few more times after that, and began adding excess milage on to my total that didn’t match the milage between turns on the cue sheets. Between mile 309-329, the route takes you on and off County Roads 10 and 30, and Highway 15 in a few different places. At that point my Garmin was now showing so much extra milage that I became convinced that this was just taking me in circles on the same three roads, and I was not heading back to Spring Valley, ever. I tried to zoom out on my Garmin navigation screen to see where I was on the route, but it looked like a big squiggly circle, and it was not at all reassuring. Fortunately this was not my first time at a 24 hour event, so I knew that this was just the paranoia I sometimes feel for no reason at dawn, and I kept riding and navigating with the cue sheets. My Garmin continued to randomly add on milage, and was up to 426 miles before it shut down 20 miles from the finish, and would no longer restart.

My next series of turns were all on target, so my paranoia faded. I just needed to keep riding, not tear my rotator cuff, and make it to the finish line without getting lost again. Unfortunately I took a large detour before the water crossing, and ended up backtracking to get to it. The stream wasn’t very deep, but crossing it sucked. No matter what I did with my bike, I felt awkward, unbalanced, and in pain, and I’m thankful I did not fall over in the stream. I was not happy. There were only 20 miles left at that point, but it was a sucky and slow 20 miles with two soul crushing steep hills and deep fresh gravel. I had run out of food and water about an hour before the water crossing, and had zero energy. Fortunately a wicked south wind had picked up that carried me north towards Spring Valley, and only the hills were any kind of struggle.

The finish! There weren't many people there.

The finish! There weren’t many people there.

When I got to Spring Valley, the cue sheets took me to Main Street to finish. I asked a group of people who looked to be associated with the race where I was supposed to check in to get my time recorded. One person told me the community center, and I was about to park my bike and go in when another said I had to go back across the highway. I got back on my bike and rode across the highway. Another person there then directed me to the Almanzo 100 finish line, which was set back a way from the road. I went there, but there was no one there either.

Given that I had already put in at least 20 bonus miles, a few unnecessary trips around town weren’t welcome, but weren’t that big a deal either. I still needed to drive three hours home though after having been awake since 3am Friday, so I really needed to be done wandering around town.  I told a random nice lady working at a tent near the Almanzo 100 finish that I had been riding my bike since early the day before and really needed to be done now, but I would like my time recorded in the results if possible. She didn’t know where to tell me to go either, but kindly took my picture and wrote down my finish time, and said she knew the woman in charge and would pass it on to her later. My name didn’t show up in the results, but I emailed a few people and I think we have it sorted out. I received an email that I finished second overall, behind Mark Skarpohl. It hasn’t been updated on the website yet, but I’m sure there are other results they still need to sort out before that happens. I know there were others that finished that are not listed either.  I don’t have a super exact finish time due to my crappy Garmin dying before the finish line, only the memory of looking at my phone when I rolled into town and Spot Tracker GPS points, which only up date so often. I have mapped out the areas where I went off course on ridewithgps.com, and a new friend fixed some of the corrupt data points on my Garmin file. I rode at least 400 miles in 30ish hours. 20 bonus miles….I am sorry to everyone I have ever teased about going off course in an event!

Thank you to Spring Valley Tourism for keeping this event alive! I had a great time, and thank you for sorting out the results. Hope to see you next year.

Thank you to Steve Saeedi for repairing my Garmin file. I have not smashed my Garmin with a hammer, which surely would have happened had I tried to repair that file myself.

Thank you, Steve Fuller for the use of your spot tracker/dog magnet, and for the photos.

Thank you Katherine Roccasecca for tracking me, and for being willing to come rescue me if my husband couldn’t get there! Thank you for checking up on me during my drive home, and making sure I got there safely.

Trans Iowa V11

When Katherine and I were talking about Trans Iowa in the last few days before the race, she wanted hashtag ideas for tweeting during the race. The days of me sneaking off to a race and telling people about it after appear to be over for the short term. I don’t speak hashtag, I rarely tweet, and I am a silent observer on twitter. The only idea I had, but did not share with her until the day before the race was #TIV11#weareallDOOMED. No one appreciates a pessimist, or even a realist in the face of what was certain to be a really hard day, so I kept my doubts mostly to myself and a few friends. I continued to plan, and contemplate what I would need to do to complete all 331 miles, but as the weather forecast continued to disintegrate, it was hard not to think about the possibility of my first real DNF.

Checking in

Checking in. photo by K. Roccasecca

The extended weather forecast looked good, but it also did last year for TIV10. In the last three days preceding that race, the rain chances and wind speed were dialed up significantly. The same thing happened this year; the forecast went from sunny to progressively more rain and higher winds. One of my last texts to Katherine Friday night before I finally tried to sleep was “I hear thunder”. Grinnell ended up seeing more rain than was predicted for both Friday and Saturday, with 20-25 mph winds and gusts over 30 mph. I didn’t really expect good weather, but this was atrocious weather for riding, and would turn the course into a mushy, muddy mess. I rode through a thunderstorm at Heart of the South 500 just weeks before, and a drunk woman behind my follow car at a stop sign opened her window and yelled “honey, y’all neeeeeed to get out of the raaaaaainnnn.” I didn’t take her advice then, and the weather didn’t appear to deter many for TIV11 either. 94 people took the start, with only 2 no shows. I am proud to be a midwestern gravel rider. We are a hearty bunch.

17267882662_0ab3c46b4a_o

more hugs at the pre-race meeting. photo by K. Roccasecca

The Meat Up at the Grinnell Steakhouse was excellent, just like last year. A great opportunity to reconnect with friends, and make new ones. I think I hugged everyone I had previously met at least once, and I’m pretty sure I got Mike Baggio at least twice. I may have hugged a few complete strangers too. I guess everyone deals with their nervous energy in different ways. I hug people, especially race volunteers. At the pre-race meeting, Mark announced that we could look forward to 14 B road sections, and three low water crossings. With a wet course, that would be quite a task.

Bike to You in Grinnell, IA

Bikes to You in Grinnell, IA. photo by K. Roccasecca

I got up at 2:15 am, and Katherine and I headed down to the start by 3:30. Last year I rode the 3 miles to the start, but this year I asked her to drive me. My excuse was that I didn’t want to stand around wet for 30 minutes in case it started raining, but the truth was I just wanted a few more minutes with my sane friend before I went forth into whatever awaited. I hugged several more people, and then it was time to line up behind Mark’s truck. I started up front next to Greg Gleason, last year’s winner. After Mark pulled his truck away from us just outside of town, the entire pack stayed behind Greg Gleason. It was a little way before anyone rode up next to him. He truly led from start to finish.

the start

Last minute instructions. photo by K. Roccasecca

Riding with the pack was both exciting, and a little scary. The road conditions were initially not as bad as they would become, but it was still difficult riding and pretty challenging to ride as a closely knit group. Two pace lines formed, with a short third line to my right that was nearly on the edge of the road. It was almost surreal to be doing that in the pitch black at 4:00 am, and to watch the group break apart and then come together again as we encountered hills, potholes, piles of mushy gravel, and standing water. It was one of the coolest things I have ever done on a bike.

17083529509_4d8462a9a8_o

The start. photo by K. Roccasecca

I knew there would come a point when I would either get dropped or choose to leave the group, and it happened around mile 10. We turned into a long hill, and I lost momentum in the mush on the turn. I decided not to hammer up the hill to catch them. I mentally wished them all good luck, and hoped I would pick up a couple guys to ride with on the other side.

photo by Wally Kilburg

photo by Wally Kilburg

There was a brief stretch of tailwind, and I got some momentum on the downside of the hill. I caught Dave Mizelle and Scott Robinson, and had brief delusions of catching up with the main group. We kept them in sight for several miles, but never did catch up. It started to rain, and I asked Dave if he needed his coat. I was trying to suggest that he should stop and put it on, without being a bossy old lady. Dave must have stopped to do that, because soon I didn’t see him anymore. It was just me and another Dave from Wisconsin, and Scott Robinson. A few miles into a 5 mile eastward stretch into the wind, the gravel got really thick and peanut buttery and we lost sight of the main group. Wisconsin Dave and Scott moved on ahead of me, as I could no longer keep up. That was the worst section of the race for me. The wind blew me all over the road, and I could barely keep my bike upright and moving forward.

photo by Wally Kilburg

photo by Wally Kilburg

I caught back up with Scott and Dave and one other guy on the B road at mile 35. I ran pushing the bike in the ditch when I could, I jogged with it on my back, and at one point even had the bike sideways on my right shoulder with the tires rolling along on the hill next to me. In dry conditions, this would’ve been a pretty easy B road, but the rain made it just crazy. When we got to the end of the B road, I tried to switch to the next cue sheet, but they were wet and stuck together. A little water had snuck into my previously bulletproof cue sheet holder, and I now had no cue sheets for the miles remaining to checkpoint 1.

my favorite photo, by Wally Kilburg.  I knew I had not made the cut off time, but I still enjoyed the ride.

my favorite photo, by Wally Kilburg. I knew I had not made the cut off time, but I still enjoyed the ride.

We turned east into the headwind, and I had the same trouble keeping my bike straight as before. I have ridden in all kinds of crazy wind, but I have never struggled that much to keep my bike straight and moving forward. I could at least see the men ahead of me, and with the ruts in the road from the bikes that had passed through before me, it was really no trouble navigating for the rest of the race. I passed a few guys pretty late in the ride, and one of the German fellows kindly told me the next turn after I passed him. When I got to it, the ruts from the bike tires turning were so deep and obvious there was no way to miss it, and they were for the two remaining turns after that as well.

checkpoint 1, and the end of my race. Photo by Steve Fuller

checkpoint 1, and the end of my race. Photo by Steve Fuller

I knew before the B road that time would be pretty tight, and there would need to be some seriously easy flat roads in the remaining miles to get me there on time. I knew after the B road that I was not going to make it on time no matter what. I made getting there before 9:00 am my new goal. I had a little hope that maybe Mark would extend the cut off time, but in my heart I knew that was not going to happen. It was just my effort to remain optimistic and provide an incentive to push through to the checkpoint as fast as I could. At 8:30 am, I was under 5 miles from the checkpoint. I made it there by 8:50.

Scott Robinson and me, with Mark Stevenson in the background. Photo by Steve Fuller

Scott Robinson and me, with Mark Stevenson in the background. Photo by Steve Fuller

Arriving at the checkpoint was bittersweet. Mark told me Greg Gleason was the only guy to make it, with just minutes to spare. The remaining field of 93 riders was not going to finish. Greg made it to mile 123 before it was over for him too. Although the weather ended the race for all of us, Greg was declared the winner of TIV11, and that is as it should be. He led from start to finish, and persevered through bad conditions long after the rest of us were warm and dry. I am proud to know him.

My initial emotion after hitting the checkpoint was disappointment. Profound disappointment. Disappointment in myself for not riding fast enough to make it there on time, and disappointment that I would not get to see any of the remaining course. No more crazy B roads, no beautiful scenery, no making friends along the way, no struggle to get through the cold night, and no dawn to celebrate. Mark is a genius at designing gravel road courses. He finds the biggest hills, and the best B roads in places that I will not otherwise have the opportunity to ride. I feel a keen sense of loss that I will not get to see and experience any of that, because I’m positive that it would have been awesome. And that is the worst part about this for me.

I’ve gotten some really nice messages from folks after the event, and I honestly don’t feel that bad about the DNF, just the loss of the experience and the weird sensation of being done with an event before I was physically “done”. The only other time I’ve not finished an event was when a friend of mine crashed, and I stayed with him instead of riding on. It was the right thing to do, and never felt like a DNF to me. I have persevered through terrible weather and road conditions before. I’ve raced sick, finished injured, coughed up blood for miles, and ended up in the medical tent after races so many times it’s embarrassing. But I’ve never ridden through pouring rain in cold temperatures for the first 53 miles of a 331 mile event before. It may not have ended well had I continued, and my desire to continue until exhaustion was purely selfish. While this event is self supported, it is not a brevet. This is a real race with volunteers and a race director dealing with the same rotten conditions that the racers were. Mark cares about everyone that shows up to Trans Iowa. That much is obvious to all who have met him and have been to Trans Iowa. I am thankful that with only one person making the cut off, at least he had far fewer people to worry about.

another soggy hug for Steve Fuller. Photo by Katherine Roccasecca

another soggy hug for Steve Fuller. Photo by Katherine Roccasecca

There were more soggy hugs at the checkpoint, and after a brief stay in Steve Fuller’s SUV, Katherine came to my rescue. It was scary how fast I went from feeling warm and well while riding, to shivering and hypothermic after stopping. We gathered up the two muddy German guys who needed a ride back to town, showered, and grabbed breakfast. Then it was on to home. I was home to help my family with some spring cleaning, and made it to my son’s jazz band concert that I otherwise would have missed. I ended up with scrapes and bruises on my legs and hip from the B road, and a good sized lump on my shin, but otherwise weathered the experience just fine. I had just woken up from a nap when I saw two texts telling me that the race was over, and Greg was done at mile 123. Well done Greg, well done.

Thank you, Mark Stevenson, for another incredible Trans Iowa experience. I am so grateful for the opportunity to start a second Trans Iowa. I still feel the loss of what was surely an amazing and challenging course, but I know that things played out the way they should have to the benefit of all involved. It wasn’t the experience I hoped for, but it was one I thoroughly enjoyed nonetheless. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, no matter the weather, and no matter the outcome.

Thank you to Katherine Roccasecca for being my support person, my cheerleader, and for your endless optimism and faith in me. You are a good friend, and I am lucky to know you.

Thank you to the tireless volunteers for all of your efforts before the race, for being out there in terrible weather, for your concern as we came into checkpoint 1, and for the hugs. Thank you to Steve Fuller for letting so many of us stink up your SUV.

Thank you to Kiley Mars and Ronni Scott for praying for me during this event. Both were up early, and I know Kiley actually set her alarm before dawn to begin praying for me. Your faith sustains me, and inspires me, and I am beyond blessed to have friends like you!

Thank you once again Kyle Robinson, and Kyle’s Bikes for checking my bike over before the race. I had no mechanical issues in severe riding conditions, and that is simply fantastic.

Thanks to everyone who offered support and encouragement going into this race, and after. I tried to dial down your expectations as the weather forecast worsened, but some of you would not be deterred. Your faith in my ability to get it done was inspiring, although somewhat delusional! Thank you!

17062272267_be7b6c7be8_o

Heart of the South 500

This last year has entirely changed my perception of difficult, and what I thought I knew about my own personal limits. What I thought I could do and what I have accomplished are surprisingly similar, but the how has been more challenging than I ever imagined, and painful in ways I could not have anticipated. I’m not prone to drama, nor do I participate in the celebration of suffering as do many cyclists. Having seen true human suffering, I have a hard time categorizing anything I do on a bike for fun as suffering. But the unique combination of weather conditions and terrain at Heart of the South 500 put me as close to the edge of what I can do physically as I think I have ever been, and I reached a state of misery that really defies explanation. Yet still as I sit here to begin writing this less than 48 hours after finishing, I am eager to ride again and well on the way to physical recovery. The human body is an amazing thing.

me, Rob, and Andy before the athlete meeting

me, Rob, and Andy before the athlete meeting

Heart of the South (HOTS)500 is 517 miles over, around, and back over the Appalachian mountains in Alabama and Georgia. You are either riding up or down the entire event, with very few sections of road that you could call flat. There is everything from rolling hills to miles of continuous climbing and 38,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain. The pavement varies from good to bad, with chip seal and wheel eating potholes in a few sections. The race begins in Birmingham, Alabama at 8pm on a Friday evening. The night time start is essentially to avoid Birmingham city traffic, but only adds to the difficulty as racers are awake for a much longer period of time before the start and the need for sleep will likely hit everyone before the race is over. IMG_8720

Finding crew for these longer events has been surprisingly easy for me for the events I have done thus far, yet I find asking people to crew to be very difficult. Crewing is a busy job and a lot of work without any of the physical exertion that we all thrive on, but so far my friends have embraced the challenge and the opportunity to try a new adventure. For HOTS, I had one experienced crew member and two rookies. Paul Black is a Race Across America (RAAM) finisher, a very experienced and successful ultra cyclist, and has crewed for Race Across the West (RAW). Joe Robinson is an Ironman, fellow Triracer, and my original mentor when I began racing triathlons back in 2008. Greg Grandgeorge is also an Ironman and fellow Triracer, and we became friends after I beat him on the bike leg of a local triathlon and we began sharing power files. That led to lots of discussions about everything related to triathlon, and I have learned a great deal from him over the years. He is super organized and a real data geek: the perfect crew chief.

IMG_8722

Greg and Joe doing the sign limbo

Paul and I drove to Alabama from Iowa, arriving late on Wednesday. Greg and Joe arrived Thursday, and much of that day was spent preparing the vehicle and bikes for the race. Ideally we would have met farther in advance of the race to review my gear, but there was just no time. So the day before the race they had to learn about the rules, route details, lights, chargers, Di2 electronic shifting, my clothing and nutrition, and the Cardo bluetooth communication device. It was a lot of information to throw at them last minute. It was so helpful to have Paul there, and his RAAM and RAW experience was a priceless asset.

IMG_3517

Specialized Venge and Tarmac

Thursday I went for a short ride in the neighborhood where we were staying. In addition to being the hilliest neighborhood I had ever seen, the pavement was in terrible shape. I dumped the front wheel of the Venge in a large pothole on a steep descent and the Di2 shifting quit working. It’s not the first time I’ve had to hike up a hill with my bike, but it was the first time I’ve hiked up a hill with something other than my gravel bike. I’m sure the cars driving past me had a nice laugh at me on their way to work. I made a few panic stricken calls to Kyle Robinson (Kyle’s Bikes) and Mike Wilson (my coach), and Paul and I ended up at Bob’s Bikes in Birmingham. One of the cables in my right handlebar had been jarred loose, and the slam into the pothole had caused the system to need a reset. Both simple fixes and they had me on my way in minutes. It was a good learning experience, and the only really bad thing about it was that it caused me to miss completing the workout that would allow me to sleep well that night, and hopefully sleep in a little on Friday. My daughter had broken her foot earlier in the week which also caused me to miss a few workouts and had me feeling both more stressed and more rested that I ideally would have been at that moment. Fresh legs are normally a good thing going into a race, but for this race the ability to sleep beforehand was a high priority, and if I’m not worked I usually don’t sleep.

busting my gut laughing at Rob's homemade Caution Bikes Ahead sign. It was just that awesome

busting my gut laughing at Rob’s homemade Caution Bikes Ahead sign. It was just that awesome

Friday morning I woke up at 4:55 am, after about 6 hours of sleep. That was better than I expected given the circumstances. I hoped for a nap later in the day before the start of the race at 8pm, but it never quite happened. I lay down twice, and started to doze off but never managed to fall asleep. I had not ever reached a point in a race where I could no longer stay awake, or felt like sleep deprivation was impairing my ability to ride. But with over 15 hours awake before the race even started, it looked quite likely that I would reach that point in this race. But this was one of the reasons Mike wanted me to do this race. I am planning on entering 860 mile Race Across the West next year, so it’s best to figure out how to deal with sleep in a multi-day race before I get there. I did not feel any anxiety about it, or dread. I was curious to see what would happen to me.

left to right, Andy Christensen, Rob White, me, Erik Newsholme, Brian Toone

left to right, Andy Christensen, Rob White, me, Erik Newsholme, Brian Toone

Vehicle inspection went off without a hitch, then the athlete meeting at 7, followed by the race start at 8pm. Mike had taken over as the new race director this year. He sent off the solo starters 2 minutes apart, followed by the two man team, my friends Rob White and Andy Christensen. There were only 3 solo starters this year: Brian Toone, Erik Newsholme, and me. Brian and Erik are both training for RAAM, as is Rob White, and Andy Christensen is training for RAW. I was the only woman, and the only one not doing RAAM or RAW this year. Greg had run some race projections based on my estimated power over the course, and it gave me hope that I would have a finish time I could be proud of if we didn’t run into too much trouble. Greg nailed my last ironman finish time, as well as my Silver State 508 finish time, so I have a lot of faith in his geeky projections. IMG_3547

Brian Toone started first at 8pm. I got to leave second two minutes later, and I knew I would soon have Erik and Rob breathing down my neck. Direct follow is required at night, so I had my crew in the car right behind me from the start. The first 6 miles of the course leading out of the city were on badly paved roads. We had been warned about it at the athlete meeting, and they were not kidding. Giant, massive, wheel eating potholes were everywhere. There were hills right from the get go, so some of these potholes were on significant downhills, or right after a curve in the road. Joe took the first shift driving behind me, but at times the headlights of the truck would still be cresting a hill while I was on the downward side. It was difficult to see some of the potholes until I was just on top of them. Even riding very cautiously I took a few pretty hard knocks.

Rob passing me.

Rob passing me for the second time.

As expected, Rob caught and passed me pretty early in the race, and it was fun to see Andy, Birgitte, and Leanne in his follow car go by. I caught Rob again a few hours later when they were stopped, and I called him a pansy for wearing a coat and leg warmers when it was in the 60s. I knew full well that I would be wearing that and more at some point during the race, but I had to get my digs in where I could since he passed me right back like I was standing still once they got moving again. That was the last time I saw them during the race. Erik got out ahead of me at one point after I stopped as well, but then I passed him back and we settled in to the order that we finished in, and never passed each other again the entire race.

The storm that hit us

The storm that got me

The temperature at the start was in the 60s, with a light tailwind pushing us along. Storms were predicted for the late evening hours, with good chances for high winds and hail. Almost from the start, Greg was on the weather websites watching the storms build and progress and keeping me updated. After Trans Iowa last year, I swore to myself that I would never wait out a storm again unless it was truly dangerous. When the rain drops began to fall, we made a quick stop to put on my rain jacket and helmet cover and then pressed on. Pretty soon it was raining buckets, and the wind picked up. I had to take my glasses off as I could no longer see through them, and rain stung my eyes and face. There were stretches of time where I only had one eye open at a time, because water had gotten into one of them. The wind was so strong, at times I was leaning sideways to keep my bike upright, and the rain came down horizontally and ponded on the roads. It was like riding along a stream. We were crossing a dam when I got hit by a big gust of wind. That was the only moment in the storm that truly frightened me, even though realistically  there was little chance the wind would actually blow me off the dam into the water below. I don’t like bridges on a calm and sunny day, so being blown around on one at night during a storm really sucked for me. IMG_3574

Once the rain passed, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped into the 40s. I swapped out my rain coat and short sleeve jersey for a long sleeve jersey, but left my wet bibs, socks, and shoes on. I was reluctant to change my shoes while the roads were still wet, as I only had one dry spare pair of shoes to get me through the rest of the race. I don’t recall at what point I began complaining to Greg about my feet (I think it was pretty late in the day on Saturday) but my feet were frozen and wet pretty much the entire first night. For the remainder of the race I would have stretches of tolerable discomfort, followed by waves of severe pain in both feet. There was a small wrinkle in one of my socks that eroded the skin on my left big toe over the course of the ride. It was about 400 miles of misery as far as my feet were concerned. I don’t know if the severe pain was due to the prolonged cold and wet I had unnecessarily put myself through, or from all of the climbing and pressure on the bottoms of my feet. Whatever the cause, If I had it to do over again I would have switched out my shoes as soon as the roads had dried out, which was 7 or 8 hours before we actually stopped.

Little River Canyon

Little River Canyon

Sometime during the night, we rode through Little River Canyon, where the storm had taken down lots of branches and there was debris all over the roadway. The road twisted and turned in addition to being up and down and it was just mind boggling. I had no idea what direction I was headed in at any point, and it seemed to me as if we we had entered a maze we were never going to get out of. Joe could not keep up with me in the truck on the sharp turns, so I put my light on high and hoped I would not run into any of the larger debris on the road. I think that is a road that would be a ton of fun under different circumstances, and I would love to ride it sometime during the day. IMG_3595

After the sun rose, we spent several miles talking about what needed to happen at Time Station 3, mile 219 in Resaca, Georgia. The guys needed to go on ahead in order to get the Tarmac ready, as I planned to switch bikes. Greg was reluctant to leave me too soon though, as the sun was just up and he was worried that the cars would not see me in the glare of the rising sun. There was quite a bit of traffic for a Saturday morning. Even when they were not in direct follow behind me anymore, having my truck in the vicinity with it’s lights and signs at least alerted cars to my presence on the road ahead somewhere, so I was thankful to have them near. Throughout the race, Greg was very cautious and concerned for my safety, and I felt so thankful for that. They finally left me just a few miles before Resaca, and drove on ahead to the time station to get ready for my arrival.

Climbing up to Fort Mountain

Climbing up to Fort Mountain

After I switched bikes and changed clothes in Resaca, we moved on to do a big loop in Georgia, including the most beautiful climb of the event up to Fort Mountain State Park. I say it was the most beautiful because it was the only major climb with views I could see during the day, and it was a spectacular seven mile ride up to the summit. The main downfall of the night time start was missing so much of the beautiful scenery, as the majority of my ride was spent in the dark.

The descent from Fort Mountain was slow in terms of speed, as most of them were. I would hit a high rate of speed, only to have the road tilt up again. Throughout the event, any descending was really a series of short high speed sections with sharp turns or climbing in the middle that slowed me down. Nothing like the long, sustained high speed descents out west. But although the really fast stuff was pretty short lived by comparison, it was still fun. Anytime you go fast, it’s fun.

more climbing

more climbing

As the race continued on into Saturday, the parallels between Heart of the South 2015 and Trans Iowa V10 were remarkable. I felt like I was in Trans Iowa, the 500 mile paved road version. I had been chased by countless dogs (some of them quite aggressive, but most just annoying), dodged deer and possums, been rained on, and the wind was relentless. The hills were never ending, and there was even gravel on the roadways in a few spots were the rain had washed it off the shoulder and across the roads. The wind speed was not as bad as TIV10, but it never let up. As the wind direction changed during the day, it seemed as if a tailwind would never materialize. The roads twisted and turned, so if you curved into a tailwind, it wasn’t long before the road turned again and the wind was blowing from the side or the front again. There was no escaping it. This race was an unrelenting challenge, from start to finish. IMG_8457

One thing about the south that made me progressively more angry as the race wore on is just how much trash was on the roadways. Alabama was bad, but Georgia was worse. Way worse. The state is so beautiful, if you could look past the garbage on the side of the road. I found it harder to ignore as time went on, and it really made me mad. The parks were very well picked up, the people we met along our journey were nice, but for hundreds of miles it was ugly, ugly trash everywhere. These are the things you see when you are riding a bike, and not zipping by in a car.

IMG_3636Our stops to that point had been only for essentials, and my crew was very efficient. I would relay to Greg via the Cardo what I needed in terms of clothing or nutrition, or if anything mechanical needed to be done with my bike. Then he would write it down and relay it to Paul in the back seat. Paul was on top of every detail. If something was taken out and used, when it returned he put it where it belonged. If a bottle came back empty, he filled it right away. He and Joe switched out driving as needed, and they both did a fantastic job with that. Greg navigated and kept me on track with my nutrition.

The stoplight dance

The stoplight dance

I never felt like we wasted any time when stopped, but I worried about them getting bored as the race wore on. They happened to be behind me at a long stop light around mile 300. Initially it started as stretching, but then I started waving my arms around and dancing to entertain them. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but Tom Robertshaw (the former race director and official for that section) happened to be there and watched the whole thing as well. I knew that Tom and Mike would be present on the course, but I hadn’t expected them to make their presence known and to cheer us on as much as they did the entire race. It lifted my spirits every time I saw them, so I was glad I could make Tom laugh as well. Watching an event this long has got to be a pretty dull job sometimes. And no, thankfully there is no video of me dancing. The photo is embarrassing enough.

IMG_3656

365 miles in. The picture looks way better than I felt

Right before Time Station 5 at mile 378 was where I finally admitted to myself that I was beginning to struggle, although I’m sure it was apparent to my crew before that. I only had 140 miles to go at that point, which sounded possible but only because I was naively optimistic about the difficulty yet to come. I remember telling Greg that I didn’t feel well. Usually when I have a lull or don’t feel well, I have some idea of what to do to make that better, but I was pretty much at a loss. My feet were in agony, and my right knee hurt a little. I was checking out mentally at times, and not responding to Greg when he spoke. That concerned me, and I made a big effort to check back in and was successful for awhile longer at least. We had to separate for a time, and I went on ahead while the guys prepared the vehicle and bikes to be in direct follow for the rest of the night. At 7pm they were required to be behind me again, so any stops they needed to make after that would require that I stop too. It was always such a relief when they came back after a departure. The beep of the Cardo switching back on and the sound of Greg’s voice was just such a relief…you’d think I’d never ridden alone before. It was evident to me that this race was giving me quite the smack down, and I needed them near me more than they may have realized.

Mile 375. Greg's caption on Facebook was 'doing great'. Definitely not feeling great right here

Mile 375. Greg’s caption on Facebook was ‘doing great’. Definitely not feeling great right here

As we neared Chiaha, a section before Talledega with some significant steep climbs, I swapped out my Tarmac for my old Trek Madone. It had a compact crank, long cage derailleur, and a 32t cassette. I hadn’t been able to emotionally part with the bike to sell it, so I had Derik Spoon at Kyle’s Bikes revive it for me as a climbing bike. I mostly intended to loan it to Rob for RAAM, but brought it along just in case I needed it. I was hoping the low gearing would give some relief to my feet and knees, but it really didn’t, and the fit wasn’t quite right so I swapped back to my Tarmac before the big climbs. It was worth trying, and it might be a good thing for Rob for RAAM, but I didn’t like it.

I felt a little better climbing up Chiaha with only 100 miles to go, and I perked up a bit. Greg was being quite funny and started calling it Chia Pet instead of Chiaha. For the rest of the ride we called it Mount Chia Pet. The Chia Pet had many long and steep sections over 15% grade. I weaved up several of the steep sections, and I could hear the truck fall behind and wait because they literally could not drive that slow. Or maybe Joe was afraid I would tip over in front of the truck. IMG_3678

I can’t recall when I first became interested in what the guys had to eat in the cooler, but at some point during the race I began to feel intermittently starving despite having stayed on track with my hourly calorie goal, and it seemed to happen at the tops of the climbs. I became convinced that the guys had something delicious in that cooler, and I WANTED IT. Greg ran through the list of what they had, and the pack of turkey lunchmeat was a winner. I am a big fan of processed meat. Kielbasa, hot dogs, lunch meat… it is the food of my people. Greg started feeding me lunchmeat at the tops of the climbs until we reached the summit of Chia Pet. My dad will be so proud! Next time I will pack Kielbasa! It was a fairly slow and pathetic climb up to the top, but I did not tip over and I made it up everything without stopping.

I put on my full winter gear I believe before climbing Chia Pet, and I remember being comfortably warm before beginning the descent. The descent was just like the other park roads; it was confusing, winding, and endless. The surface was chip seal with potholes. I would speed up and lose Joe on the tight turns, only to have to climb again before descending more. Greg told me several times according to the map, I had miles of descent but each time he would say that, the road would turn up again. It was funny and frustrating at the same time. We decided downhill meant uphill in Alabama. The Chia Pet was slowly killing me with it’s delightful road surface and steep climbs, and then I got cold. I was REALLY COLD on that descent. Although I had on the same layers and windproof coat that had gotten me through subzero windchill back home, it was not getting the job done even though the air temperature was a balmy 35 degrees. I’ve done 9 hour rides in temperatures colder than that, so it was so frustrating to me to be getting hypothermic at a temperature that would I would ordinarily consider just fine for riding. At some point Joe gave me his coat too, so I had normal winter cycling gear plus a tall man coat on top. Not very aerodynamic, which I’m sure drove Greg nuts.

The rest of the event is a blur of hypothermia and hallucinations with a few small doses of reality. I remember perking up and talking to Greg, and then not. At one point in an attempt to make conversation, he asked me a simple question about how long I was a nurse. I could not answer it. He asked me again a little later, and I just could not remember. I refused to even talk about it, because I could not access that part of my brain and it scared me. I don’t recall if that happened before or after Talladega. I zoned out on a descent just before reaching Talladega, and I remember feeling like I was on autopilot and not really riding the bike. Greg said I never swerved or misjudged a turn, and I am certain he would have pulled me off the bike if I had, but I felt like I wasn’t far from that. It was time to stop and pull myself together.

We stopped at a gas station in Talladega and I told the guys I wanted coffee and chocolate. I sat in the car with the heat on high while the guys went into the store. It was the first time I had sat down since the race started. I remember thinking I didn’t know if I wanted Greg to hurry up, or take his time. He was back pretty quick, so I ate super fast and got back on the bike, but didn’t get far at all before I was too cold to continue. I asked Greg if we had any of the hand and foot warmers left. Paul found some, and Greg hopped out of the truck and handed me a few packs of Little Hotties. I put a pack in my bra, and a big clump of them in my shorts on top of my tail bone. I thought for certain that this was a funny moment, being in Talladega in the wee hours of the night with a Little Hottie in my shorts, but there was really no energy to laugh about anything at that moment. The artificial heat helped a great deal, and I was finally able to ride with some momentum. I wish I had thought of that sooner. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve finished a ride with a Little Hottie stuck somewhere unusual.

At the finish with Mike. I'm wearing Joe's coat, which I had on for probably 75 miles.

At the finish with Mike. I’m wearing Joe’s coat, which I had on for probably 75 miles.

I had my first hallucination sometime before Cheaha, and then none for a long time. The floodgates opened in Talladega, and everywhere I looked there was something strange. I either hallucinate on a grand scale, or Talladega is one incredible town. The stuff I was seeing was very detailed, and quite fascinating. I have hallucinated at other events, but this was by far the best show I have ever seen. The streetlights and the lights from the truck shining on buildings and vegetation caused them to transform into animals, trains, and all sorts of weirdness. Once we got outside of town with less light, the show stopped. I was also a little warmer, which may have helped. I shared some of this over the Cardo with Greg, and I think I completely freaked him out.

There were 2 climbs over a mile long in the last 50 miles to the finish, plus the same relentless hills that had been present throughout the event. It was a pretty slow and sucky ride, but we finally made it to the finish. My finish time was 33:47, which is a new women’s course record and 11.5 hours faster than the old record. My time was just over an hour longer than my Silver State 508 time, and on a much harder course. I was awake for a grand total of 50 hours straight. It was another 36 hours after I finished before I slept more than a few hours in a row. In hindsight, stopping for longer in Talladega to warm up would’ve been a good idea. Had this been a longer event, that would’ve been a good time to sleep. Had I warmed up to the point that I could ride without Joe’s coat, or even just a little bit faster, I don’t think it would’ve negatively affected my finish time by as much as I thought.

IMG_3688Anytime I go to pieces at the tail end of an event, I have a difficult time celebrating the overall accomplishment. Physically I’m fine; I only had minor muscle soreness after the first day and some bruising on my feet. I’ll be just fine for Trans Iowa. But even though I’m being fussed over a bit with the TV interview, Facebook, etc. I am still stuck on Talladega. For weeks before this race, I found myself listening to the same few songs, again and again. A lyric in one of them was “split you wide open, just to see what you’re made of”. I had a feeling that this was going to be that kind of event for me, and it definitely was. Mike said this was the hardest 500 mile race in the country, and I don’t doubt that. Even without the additional challenge of less than perfect weather, this race would’ve been a challenge for me. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to participate, and to my crew for supporting me along the way, and for sticking with me when it got rough.

A big, heartfelt thanks to my crew for supporting me. Joe, I gave you nothing but a date and an address, and you showed up with absolutely no idea what you were in for. I knew I could count on you to be there when I needed you, to do what needed to be done, and to do it well. Paul, I’ve never cold called someone I don’t know before and asked them to crew for me, but I felt very strongly that I needed you. Your experience was a huge asset and I knew you could jump in with little direction. Thank you for keeping things together in the truck, and for doing so much of the driving on the way home. I really enjoyed your company, and I’m glad I can now call you friend. Greg, thank you so much for all of the time and planning you put in to this event with  me. Thank you for embracing the role of crew chief and running the entire show in your rookie start as crew, for keeping me going, and for getting me to the finish line safely. You were simply outstanding.

Kyle Robinson, thanks once again for the last minute repairs to my wheels, and for helping me trouble shoot the problem with my Di2 over the phone. I keep trying to not break stuff, or at least break it at a more convenient time, but it’s not working out. Thanks for your support!

Mike, you put together a fantastic event. It was amazing, beautiful, and as every bit as difficult as you said it was. Thank you for the opportunity, and thank you for your guidance. It was an incredible experience, I learned a lot, and I hope to be back next year.

Katherine Roccasecca, thank you for your unwavering support and tireless enthusiasm for my races. Thank you for all of the work you put into editing my writing, and for your honest feedback. Any remaining grammar errors in this report are entirely my own fault.

Thank you to everyone that participated in the Facebook and Twitter nonsense during the race. Greg read me your comments, and it was very amusing to hear what some of you were doing while I was riding my bike. Thank you for your interest, your humor, and your support!

IMG_8491

Sebring 24 hours 2015

 

It was a much different race at 24 hours of Sebring this year. Same course, same bike, same rider, but my experience was very different. Personal circumstances going into this race made it much more challenging mentally, and events during the race made things very difficult for me to stay positive and focused. Yet it also at times felt more like a happy family reunion than a cycling race. This was surprising to me considering I started doing ultra cycling events just last year, and yet not surprising because that is how friendly almost everyone is. Notice I say almost… I found “that guy” again. Every so often, I meet “that guy” during a race who can’t seem to coexist peacefully with his fellow competitors, but more on that later. I completed 460.6 miles, set a new Sebring course record for women on standard bikes, and finished fifth overall in a talented field.

December gravel ride

December gravel ride

A significant portion of my training this winter was indoors on the trainer, usually in the hours before my kids get up at 6am for school. Any intervals or hard efforts I prefer to do inside due to poor road conditions, cold temperatures, and the fact that it’s technically still night time and dark when I’m riding. I have a few more race numbers on the wall now, and I occasionally dust the top of the hot water heater, but otherwise I have done nothing to improve my indoor training situation. I’m essentially staring at a hot water heater and the wall for hours. My husband calls it my ‘serial killer corner’.

I did manage to get in quite a bit of outdoor gravel riding this winter. Usually on weekends with a group, or solo as a second ride after my trainer session. This was my first full winter of outdoor training. Last winter was ridiculously cold, and prior to that I never had need to ride so much during the winter. Initially it was quite a struggle dealing with the cold, but I felt that it was an essential experience for me to adapt to. Almost every event I did last year had long stretches of time where the temperatures were in the 30s or below, and I felt like I mentally struggled with the cold more than I should have. I had the gear I needed to prevent hypothermia, but being cold during a race wasn’t a discomfort I could tune out very well. I have a much better handle on that now, although I still don’t like it. I will celebrate when spring arrives.

January training ride. Beautiful, but unforgiving and so cold

January training ride. Beautiful, but unforgiving and so cold

Training went relatively well over the winter. I had a brief time off after the Silver State 508 and over Thanksgiving, but the weather was so nice in November and early December I ended up doing a lot of gravel riding. Nice weather is relative to where I live, and not California nice. Iowa nice means cold temperatures and high winds, but dry roads and very little snow. The only disruption to my training schedule was a minor bike crash in January when I hit a dog on a 200K permanent brevet route in northern Missouri. Fortunately I was only going 15mph when I hit the dog, so it survived with minor injuries and I ended up with bruises and a hip hematoma. I did my best to be stoic and continue training through that, but injuries were a lot easier to accommodate when my training volume was about half of what it is now. It could’ve been a lot worse though. The temperature at the time I crashed was in the teens with a significant windchill, and I was alone in the middle of nowhere. Frankly, I was very lucky I wasn’t seriously injured.

Friday group ride before the race. The weather was so nice, we behaved like goofy children let out to play

Rob, Brian, and me at the Friday group ride before the race. The nice weather lifted our spirits and we behaved like happy children let out to play

Sebring race day weather was very similar to last year, windy and cool during the day with highs in the upper 60s and night time lows in the 30s and 40s. My milage goal for the day was 450 miles, although that wasn’t a number I shared with anyone who asked. Last year I managed 433.8, so I hoped with better fitness and a little more efficiency on the pit stops I could crank out a few more miles. For pit crew, Rob White and I were sharing Leanne Short and then Brian Arnold would jump in to help after finishing the 12 hour race. My friends from Iowa, Bill Lorenz and Saraleigh Monroe would be there to represent Kyle’s Bikes as well. Saraleigh was crewing for Bill for the 24 hour race, and was available to help me out if needed.

Bill, Saraleigh, and I before the race

Bill, Saraleigh, and I before the race

At the start of the race I wore shorts, a short sleeve jersey, sun sleeves, time trial shoe covers, and a light jacket with two sets of cotton throwaway gloves. I was amazed at the amount of clothing almost everyone had on relative to me. Maybe the cold weather training did me some good. After 3 laps of the track, even though it was in the 30s I was too hot in my jacket and I stopped to give it to Lucia Parker before I left pit road for the big loop. I ended up having numb hands and feet and my face was cold, but my core was warm from the effort, and I never felt too cold despite being dressed for a summer day. It warmed up to 50 degrees 3 hours into the ride, and then 60s by afternoon.

On the long loop. Photo by Sean Rayford photography

on the long loop. Photo by Sean Rayford photography

Shortly after leaving the track to the 89 mile long loop, a draft pack caught and began to pass me. It was pulled by my Panache Elite teammate Wayne Dowd who was racing the 12 hour. If I were to ever race the drafting category, I would definitely jump onto his pack as he is a big, strong guy with a great smile who looks like Captain America. Since I was RAAM non-drafting, we just said a quick hello, and he gave me his million dollar smile and moved on. Unfortunately though, only a few guys out of the large group of people in that pack actually passed me, the rest just stalled out next to me. I hollered at them that I was non-drafting and that they needed to move on, but they did not. I glanced quickly over my shoulder to see if I could drop out the back, but I could not even see the end of the group as they were too many and filling in behind me. I was trapped. One of the guys started to crowd me, and move into my space. So I yelled at him “I’m on your right”. He must have taken great offense at that, because I was then told in a streak of profane language exactly what he thought of me. My intent had been only to let him know that I was still there, as I feared he was going to cut me off and cause a crash. At that point I decided it was time to end this situation before I got hurt, so I did pass several men on the right while dishing out my own heaping dose of profanity and rode up to Wayne and told him to get those guys out of there pronto. He looked over his shoulder, and it was clear that he was surprised to see one angry woman and a large mass of men behind him. He put down the power and pulled them well out of my way while I coasted out the back of the pack.

photo by Lucia Parker

photo by Lucia Parker

I have no desire to call this man out by name, or make any sort of issue out of this. I believe I ended up passing everyone in that pack as it broke up into smaller groups well before the turnaround in Frostproof, and I certainly passed all of them before the end of the race. He was clearly excitable in the early stages of the race and took offense where none should have been taken. What I would like my fellow athletes to realize is that as a RAAM non-drafting competitor, once their draft pack failed to overtake me and essentially trapped me, they were interfering with my race. I understand that it was not intentional but it is not acceptable! If you are not strong enough to completely pass me, then don’t pass. You are not allowed to ride next to me, or draft off me. Don’t assume that because I am a woman, you are faster than me or that you should pass me because you see me on the road in front of you. And when you are asked to move along, please do so. Not one guy out of that group of 20 or more moved to the front to inform Wayne of the situation, or made any effort to move faster when I asked them to leave. As a woman, I realize that many men can hold a similar speed as me in the early miles of a 24 hour race, especially those that are drafting. I need you to have some respect and give me the space I deserve.

As the group passed me, a few men made fun of the guy that was a jerk, a few had supportive comments, and I got one nice pat on the ass from a good friend. I was also told I needed to chill out and pace myself. I found that very insulting. I came to Sebring to win. I put a lot of time and thought into my race plan, I know how to pace myself, and I was riding well within my ability and according to plan. You chose to ride next to me when I did not want you there, despite being given explicit pre-race instructions not to do so. If I appeared impatient with you all, it was because I knew that if the draft marshall had happened upon that situation before I was able to escape, I likely would’ve been the one penalized even though it was not a situation that I entered into willingly, or had any good way out of. I will not cheat, but there is no rule to protect me in that situation, and I am not willing to allow a black mark on my record that I do not deserve.

Bottle exchange and having fun with Saraleigh Monroe

Bottle exchange and having fun with Saraleigh Monroe. Photo by Lucia Parker

The rest of the trip out to Frostproof was blissfully uneventful. I was largely alone for long stretches of time on the return trip. The wind had picked up quite a bit by then, and at times the crosswind gusts felt like someone was punching my front wheel.

At mile 70, I saw Rob White standing on the side of the road with an obviously broken collar bone. He had two people tending to him so I rode on, but I lost it emotionally for several miles. Rob is a good friend and one of the nicest guys I know. I am crewing for him at RAAM this year. I spent some time dwelling in worry about how he was doing and what this meant for RAAM.

When I got back to pit road, I stopped at the Cruz Bike tent and was told that Leanne had taken Rob in my rental car to the hospital, but that he was ok and would be back later. I had finished the first loop in 4:41, pretty close to on schedule. Saraleigh jumped in to crew for me with help from Lucia Parker, but initially nobody knew where any of my stuff was, or what I meant when I told them what I needed. Saraleigh asked me if I needed a chair, which made me laugh. I’m pretty sure I can’t set a course record in a chair! We weren’t the efficient machine I was hoping for, but we had a lot of laughs, and she kept me fed, hydrated, and rolling on schedule. She has now been drafted into my pool of forever crew, from which there is no escape.

Rob back on pit road to help crew despite his broken collar bone.

Rob back on pit road to help crew despite his broken collar bone.

The volunteers controlling the intersection at the stop sign on the 11 mile short loop did an amazing job of keeping things under control. I only had to yield to other cyclists once, and they kept all traffic under control. Cars were stacking up periodically, and I felt like my life was literally in the hands of those volunteers as they held everyone back so I could barrel through the intersection without slowing down. In order to avoid slower cyclists and cars, I ended up threading the needle between the two volunteers each time, and they never flinched. They were fantastic.

There was far more traffic this year at that intersection and on highway 98 than there had been last year. It was quite a circus. I felt like I was choking to death on car exhaust. Very different from last year, and much more stressful. Only one car honked at me the entire day, but he took time to roll down his window and yell at me before cutting me off and forcing me to nearly stop to avoid his rear bumper. Between the traffic, Rob breaking his collar bone, crew switching, and random angry men yelling at me, it was a very stressful race compared to last year and more work than usual to keep a good attitude.

On the short loop

On the short loop. Photo by Sean Rayford Photography

There is so much to think about in terms of time management in 24 hour racing. You need to plan and consider each detail of your stops and when they will happen. Time off the bike is just that, time off the bike, and the less time you spend moving, the fewer miles you accrue. I tried to minimize my stopped time throughout the event, but at night there were more things that needed to be done, and I had to stop for them. I needed to put full winter clothing on because the temperature dropped rapidly as the sun set. I wore a wool base layer, long sleeve winter weight jersey, tights, and wool socks. I switched from vented triathlon shoes to full cycling shoes with winter shoe covers. Initially I wore only lightweight cotton gloves, but later added lobster claw mittens and a windproof coat. Full winter ninja cycling gear.

I had my clothing bag organized so that I pulled out what I needed in the order that I put it on. Very much like an Ironman transition bag. And my shoe covers were already on my spare shoes, so I saved a few minutes not needing to wrestle them on. I also made another stop to air up my tires, as I had latex tubes and they just don’t make it 24 hours without going soft. I needed to charge my Garmin and my light, but my charger had disappeared in the chaos of the day and was no longer in my gear bag. Rob had come over to the track to help out with crewing and tried to help me find it, but he was pretty limited with his broken collar bone and one arm. We had some laughs about the situation, and I did have a spare that I found straight away. I also had a spare USB cable, but it was super long and I had a big mess of cable flopping around on the front of my bike driving me crazy for the next 10 hours. Yet again, I was not the machine of transition efficiency that I aspire to be. But I am improving.

Brian Arnold came to the track with french fries for me, and I stuffed them in the chest of my jersey. Because I had a wool shirt on, I couldn’t stick them in my sports bra like I normally would, I just zipped the jersey around them. I jiggled my fry cleavage at the guys and took off down pit road, but I didn’t make it very far before the fries slid down my shirt and settled on my stomach, just out of reach. That was a bummer. By the time I got to them several laps later, they were cold and icky.

09-Rob-Crew-02

Rob, my one armed crew. Leanne is to his left. Photo by Lucia Parker

Because it was cold and I knew I could get away with it, I took in just the bare minimum of fluid. It’s playing with fire, but I’ve done enough self supported training and endurance racing to develop confidence in just where that line is between tolerable dehydration and disaster. In gravel races, you often have long stretches of time with no access to services and only have what food and fluids you can carry. I’ve had a lot of practice at rationing. As a woman and especially at Sebring, stopping to go to the bathroom consumes a huge amount of time. There is really nowhere that doesn’t require a trip far off the road or into a bathroom during the day, or behind a wall on the track at night. The men have a definite time advantage in that regard, especially at night. They were stopping anywhere in the dark and a lot of them didn’t even pull off the track. They don’t even have to get off their bike. Each stop for me took several minutes, and I stopped once during the day on the short loop and twice at night on the track. On one of those night stops, I did not get my tights properly situated in my hurry to get back on the bike, which led to painful chafing. I should’ve stopped to fix it but I didn’t want to waste the time, so by the end of the 24 hours every pedal stroke felt like it was removing skin. It was horrible.

Leanne huddled up on pit road. Photo by Irma Baloh

Leanne huddled up on pit road. Photo by Irma Baloh

Midnight was a tough moment. It was dark and cold with still over 6 hours to go on that bumpy track. I don’t have accurate temperature records for the night because my Garmin was right next to my light and the warmth from the light made the temperature read much warmer than it felt. Judging from the state of the crew and racers I saw huddled in blankets on pit road, I’m guessing it was every bit as cold and windy as last year.

My crew, Leanne Short and I after the finish

My crew, Leanne Short and I after the finish

There were times when I felt cold, especially in the headwind sections, but then I was able to forget about it. I did much better at tuning it out this year than last year. My chemical foot warmer packs were another item that had gotten lost in the gear and crew shuffle, so I did not initially have them when I switched shoes. Rob was later able to locate a set for me, but even though my feet were a little numb I opted not to take the time to put them in. I would’ve had to stop and take off my shoes, which is not a quick thing with shoe covers. It would’ve cost me several minutes. I also considered whether I truly wanted to feel my feet 18 hours into the race, and decided that I really didn’t. I had smashed one of the toes on my left foot prior to the race, and it was still pretty bruised going into the shoe that morning. Judging from the state of my feet the day after the race, I’m really glad I opted not to warm them into full sensation. In a 24 hour race, these are the things you can get away with. In a longer race, I can’t imagine I’ll be able to neglect myself in quite the same manner as I did throughout this race.

Night time nutrition has been and continues to be a struggle for me. Last year at Sebring, there were several hours during the night where I consumed no calories at all and became hypothermic because I no longer had the energy to keep myself warm. Leanne Short took on the majority of the night time crewing hours, and thanks to her support I did manage to keep adequate nutrition going until probably 1am, and then it just became a trickle of chocolate milk and the occasional random stop to have her or Rob shove potato chips in my mouth. I had mittens on by then and couldn’t feed myself. I felt pretty decent until after 5am despite falling off the calorie goal, so it was a huge improvement over last year. I’m not really satisfied with that as this unwillingness to eat or drink during the night appears to be largely mental, and certainly something I should be able to fix in future events.

just after I finished my last lap.

just after I finished my last lap.

The finish line was fairly anticlimactic. I finished with time left on the clock because there was not enough time to complete another lap, and only finished laps count. So suddenly it was just done. My time off the bike was 39:35, which was almost 10 minutes longer than I had planned. I was still very satisfied with 460.6 miles and the new Sebring course record, but it was a few days before the accomplishment really set in.

A few days after the event, a friend contacted me about the UMCA 24 hour record. I was not aware of what the record was, or that I had been close to breaking it last year. My mileage total of 460.6 miles at Sebring exceeds that of the current 24 hour record of 439.65 miles. I have since learned that there is a process for establishing UMCA records within events, but I was not aware of it, and did not follow it. The process is laborious, and far better suited to individual record attempts on a small loop. I have no plans or desire to attempt an individual record outside of an event, and plan to remain focused on preparing for the events I have chosen to do.

Pascale Lercangee, 50-54 AG record holder and Cassie Schumaker, 12 hour upright winner

Pascale Lercangee, 50-54 AG record holder and Cassie Schumaker, 12 hour upright winner

Thank you to everyone who sent me texts, emails, and messages before, during, and after the event. When I turned my phone on late at night to put my music on, it literally went crazy with all of the messages. I didn’t take the time to read them until after the event, but I was very touched. Thank you!

Thank you to Daren Munroe for stalking the weather and my flights to let me know if I needed to make any changes when I got off the bike. I successfully dodged the ice storm and made it home on time. Even when you are not crewing for me, I find things for you to do 🙂

Thank you to Saraleigh Monroe for jumping in to crew for me last minute during the day, and to Leanne Short for managing most of the night. I couldn’t have stayed on record breaking pace without good support, so you both had a big part in that record. Thank you to Brian Arnold and Rob White for helping out as well. Rob you went above and beyond the call of duty crewing with a broken bone. I will see you in Oceanside.

Mike Wilson, Kyle Robinson, Katherine Roccasecca, and the entire staff of Kyle’s Bikes and Discount Tri Supply: There are countless little decisions I make over the course of a race. To push the pace when I’m tired, eat when I don’t want to, stay in aero when it’s uncomfortable, and stick it out when the conditions get bad. There are equally as many decisions made during training, and so many ways I could let myself off the hook. I never take it easy, and I never quit. I know that you all have made sacrifices on my behalf, fixed my equipment in a hurry, and spent time helping me to be well prepared for these races. Knowing that you support me and have my back helps me to be fierce out there during races, and stick with it when it gets tough. You guys keep me strong, and I thank you!

Beautiful Iowa

Iowa gravel. photo by Steve Fuller

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Silver State 508

IMG_6933

Left to right, Kyle Robinson, me, Daren Munroe, Deena Munroe, Rob White

I don’t recall the year I first read about The 508, but it was probably 2008 or 2009. I was more of a runner/triathlete at the time, and found the link to the Furnace Creek 508 on the AdventureCorps website as I was reading about the Badwater Ultramarathon. The idea of doing the 508 grabbed ahold of me. In 2011, I participated in the fall Death Valley Ultra Century and spent a few hours after the finish talking with Susan von Sosten as she waited for her husband to finish the double century. She made training for the 508 sound completely sane and entirely possible, and I knew that someday I would find a way to do this event. I competed in Ironman triathlons for a few more years until I reached a point where I either needed to spend a significant amount of time and effort to improve my swim and run times, or move on to something different because I wasn’t going to get any faster doing what I was doing. I thought again about the 508, but the logistics of training and finding crew were overwhelming. I mentally shelved the idea yet again, but then saw the UltraRace News story on George Vargas and Rev cycling. He helped me make the shift from triathlon to ultracycling in October of 2013. I thought the ban on events in Death Valley National park was going to derail my dream one more time, but with a change in venue to Reno, Nevada it was back on track.

Less than one year after finishing my first double century in Death Valley, I have a cycling coach and many friends in the ultracycling community. I have won several ultracycling events, a time trial series, broken course records, and won my very first 500 mile event, the Silver State 508. This has been a truly incredible year for me.

iowa sunrise

Iowa sunrise on a training ride

Training for this event was relentless. I loved almost every minute of it, but there was not a single aspect of training that I did not struggle with at some point. Our family schedule was very busy, and I couldn’t disappear for a lot of long rides. I started most days at 3am, and rode before my kids got up and often rode again later in the day. I didn’t get to bed most nights until pretty late, and if not for the time I spent sleeping in my truck with my feet out the window waiting on a kid, I would have averaged less than four hours several nights of the week.

The super awesome house we rented. It had rooms we never even went into.

The super awesome house we rented. It had rooms we never even went into.

Chaos reigned in my house in September. It was a super busy month for all of us, but despite that we decided to rescue a 7 month old Newfoundland mix puppy. In the two weeks before the 508, the neighbor’s lawn service  drove their tractor into our fence leaving a big hole in the gate, the clothes dryer died, the air conditioning died, and the neighbor stopped by to complain about our derelict yard and overgrown landscaping. There were clothes hanging to dry all over the house, kids everywhere, a barking dog, out of control yard… Pure awesome.

Rob and I at check in. The rest of my crew was off being awesome and missed the photo.

Rob and I at check in. The rest of my crew was off being awesome and missed the photo.

I left my saint of a husband in charge of the chaos, and the crew and I flew into Reno late on Thursday. The house we were renting was surprisingly even better than the pictures. That’s not how it usually works. It was much more affordable than a hotel, and we had so much more space plus a full kitchen and a pool table. Friday was spent building bikes and organizing the support vehicle. Rob fastened our magnetic signs on with clear contact paper which kept us looking pro despite the cheap plastic minivan we were driving. I went through all of my gear with my crew, so they would know what I had and how it was labeled. I talked over my various kit options with the crew, and they all agreed that I should wear the most fitted jersey I had, regardless of team or shop logos. Once I hit the high mileage training weeks this summer, what was left of my upper body faded away and most of my jerseys were flapping in the wind on me. The only jersey I had that wasn’t loose was a plain black jersey, and even that was a little baggy in the front but it was the best I could do.

Deena at the start with my Tarmac

Deena at the start with my Tarmac

Vehicle inspection and rider check in went off without a hitch. I slept really well Saturday night and got a solid 6 hours of sleep. I had thought I would be really nervous before the start, but I felt entirely calm and ready to go. I lined up front and center between Mike Wilson and Dave Haase. The first several miles were behind Chris Kostman in the AdventureCorps van, and then the race really started when we turned onto Geiger Grade road. It had gotten super cold right after we started, dropping down into the low 30’s, and I didn’t feel decently warm until well after Geiger summit and just outside Virginia City. Mike caught and passed me there. There were wild horses on the road, and Mike herded them off  to the side with his bike. One of them was a grey spotted horse and it turned to look at us before running away. That felt like a good omen.

The Venge and the plastic rental minivan

The Venge and the plastic rental minivan. Vehicle signs by Speedpro Imaging

Mike was out ahead of me on the descent through 6 mile canyon. I remember thinking climbing all of that steepness on the way back was going to be a real bitch in the last 30  miles of a 500 mile ride, and that sure turned out to be true. My crew was waiting for me at mile 29, and I transitioned to the Venge with the Zipp 808 front and rear. I would stay on that bike until 20 miles into stage 3 when the serious climbing began again. I had told the crew that for anything ‘pointy’ on the elevation profile, I preferred to be on the Tarmac with a Zipp 404 front and 808 rear.

Great crew, happy rider. This is Rob cheering me on

Great crew, happy rider. This is Rob cheering me on

This is where the story gets a little dull, as it was just riding along and cheering for the other riders most of the day. We had not practiced handoffs, but the guys had it down from the first try. A few times I had to laugh and tell Daren to slow down because he was running so fast I couldn’t get the bottle. That guy can run! Everybody took a turn on handoff duty, and during the afternoon when it was hot I had one guy with a bottle of water I could wet my arm sleeves with, and a second guy farther down with the nutrition. It all worked very well.

Kyle got nominated to wear the Cardo (bluetooth communication device), and did most of the talking to me all day and night, in addition to mixing bottles and dealing with anything mechanical on the bike. Rob drove the entire race, and Daren managed my nutrition and had the unpleasant task of trying to get me to eat. During leapfrog support when they were well behind me and out of cardo range, I would usually pass another crew or two, so I can’t think of a single time when I felt alone. Wild Turkey, Irish Hare, and Mute Swan were the teams in closest proximity to me for many miles, so even if I did not see the rider, I saw their crew and they all cheered as I went by. It was a very cool experience and much more fun than I expected it to be.

The epic landscape makes you feel small.

The epic landscape makes you feel small.

The guys got trapped behind a slow moving vehicle for the descent down the backside of Carroll summit, so I got way out in front of them. Partway down, I could see a car diagonally parked across the opposite lane. He was mostly on the road, blocking the lane heading up the mountain and just sitting there. I could see him for quite some time, and when I reached the bend in the road before his vehicle I sat up and started to slow. When I got even closer to him, he threw his vehicle in reverse and pulled directly in front of me. Thankfully I had started to slow, but still had to slam on the brakes. I came up nearly onto his bumper and pulled onto the rumble strips as he threw it in drive and drove down the mountain. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had partially rolled my tire off the rim, and I finished descending at high speed on a dysfunctional wheel. I know this guy saw me, I have no doubt this was a purposeful act. I can’t fathom why another human being would do such a thing other than he probably knew he could kill me right there and totally get away with it. In hindsight, I should have stopped right there to wait on my crew and not continued down the mountain where this guy could have been waiting for me again. I knew something was wrong with my wheel, and I am so fortunate that I didn’t wreck.

IMG_6996_2I filled the guys in on what happened after I saw them and we stopped briefly to switch out bikes and wheels. Then I put the entire incident away and didn’t think about it again for the rest of the race. I’m pretty proud of how quickly I discharged my anger and fear and moved on with my race. I’ve been hit by a car before; it hurt a lot, changed my life, and I lived with fear for a very long time. But it no longer controls me, and I can channel a calm state of mind when I need to, at least relative to my own safety.

We had been fairly efficient with our time all day, but as the sun set we needed to stop for layers, and then again for even more layers. I found the time we spent on those stops to be frustrating, but necessary. I think we struck the right balance of the right amount of layers at the right time, but I wasn’t happy stopping. I don’t like to stop.

The turnaround in Eureka should have been a welcome sight, but it was a complete cluster and I had my big idiot rookie moment there. My crew was parked in the near driveway, and a big van was parked on the road with a volunteer next to it.  I wasn’t directed to go anywhere, so I thought it was like all of the other stops where you roll by, yell out your totem, then move on. My crew yelled at me to turn around in the road so I thought they had already talked to whoever was volunteering there. But after I turned around in the road, they told me there were volunteers in the gas station lot telling me I needed to ride through there. So I did, and that’s when I could see the group of volunteers on the far side of the van, completely obscured from view. So I rode past them, called out my totem, and rolled out the far driveway. That could have been a complete disaster if I missed check in at the turnaround. It was frustrating and embarrassing.

IMG_6880

Climbing at night

Going up and over the mountain passes after Eureka was very slow. Kyle continued to talk to me over the Cardo, and told jokes. Some of them were funny, but I didn’t respond at all given the effort of the climb and how cold it was. I had thought by then they would be trading off driving and trying to get some sleep, but they stuck through every minute of that ride with me.

I felt bad for the guys trying to drive that slow for that long behind a mute rider, but we made up for it on the descents. I had never descended a mountain at night, so that was a first for me. It was fun in a terrifying thrill ride kind of way. We had a very tense moment on one of the descents. A four person team had passed me on the climb, but were descending a lot slower than I was in the dark. I was riding carbon wheels and couldn’t ride my brakes all the way down a long descent. My crew and I had a minute of anxious conversation about what to do when I caught up, and then before I knew it I was right behind their support vehicle. It was a steeper section, so I worried about not being able to stop in time if they slowed even more for a turn. My bike was shaking with the heavy braking. It was scary. Rob gave me the go ahead to go around when he felt it was safe. I let the other cyclist know we were coming, and the next thing I knew we were going 45 again and bumping over a cattle guard. I did not enjoy that.

eating my Cheetos in a cup

eating my Cheetos in a cup

It had gotten brutally cold pretty quickly after dark, and it would get colder still past Carroll Summit with lows in the 20’s. I wore the one item of clothing that I wished I had had at 24 hours of Sebring, my fleece jacket. It’s not aero, it’s not high tech, but it’s warm and I knew it would keep me out of the van and on the road. Everything came off my bike at night; bottles, food, seat pack. I carried nothing I didn’t have to. Whenever I needed a drink or something to eat, the guys came up alongside and took care of it out the window. They warmed all of my liquids on the car heater, and even plain water was served warm. I had brought chicken bouillon granules, so they mixed that up with water and heated it up for me. Getting me to eat and drink was a challenge. Daren would tell me I was getting behind on calories, but I found that surprising. It seemed like I had just eaten, and it was already time to eat again. They ran down the entire list of everything I had in the car, every time, and nothing sounded good. They were so patient with me, and Daren knows me well enough that he knew exactly the right tone to take with me. I was never annoyed or irritated, but I can’t think of a single thing they could’ve tempted me with that I would have looked forward to having. I wasn’t nauseous, but I was frozen and miserable and the idea of eating or drinking was disgusting. I was so cold, it was all I could do to just stick out my hand and wait for Daren to stick something in it. My hands were totally numb for what felt like hours despite my gloves and chemical hand warmer packs. Amazingly, the only thing that got dropped in all of those miles was one caffeine tablet. They finally did get me to eat some Cheetos, and broke them up and served them to me in a cup since I had lobster mitts on and couldn’t pull them out of a bag.

dawn, and minus a few layers

dawn, and minus a few layers

Dawn finally arrived, and with it some warmth. Then began the frustration of stopping to shed clothes, then more clothes, then finally ending up sockless in vented triathlon shoes. High temp on the second day was 95. Things were pretty good for awhile, but my throat was getting sore and very swollen. Sports drink, gel, water, and food all made it feel worse. The only thing that went down ok was chocolate milk, which I would not have had if Mike had not suggested it. Daren told me I was getting behind on calories, so I decided to try to choke down part of a Larabar that I had in my pocket. I numbed my throat up with a cough drop hoping that would make it easier to swallow, but one big chunk of Larabar got stuck high in the back of my throat. When I tried to wash it down, it shot right up into my sinuses. That was extremely painful, and I spent the better part of an hour riding slowly sneezing that out all over the front of me. At least I hadn’t choked on it. I couldn’t take in any calories during that time which turned out to be far worse for me than the sinus pain. No race is problem free, something always goes wrong, but I couldn’t believe a Larabar coming out of my nose was what I was dealing with. If I’d have felt better, I’m sure it would have been funny.

IMG_6858I was an absolute mess, and covered in snot, blood, and Larabar. The Cardo batteries had died, so I couldn’t communicate what was happening to my crew. The look of shock on the faces of the people that passed me was priceless… I know I looked like hell. I started seeing the Wild Turkey crew, so I knew Mike was nearby. I stopped to clean myself up a little bit, but was still feeling pretty rough when I rolled into Silver Springs. Mike was there, and instead of rolling on with his race, he stopped.

IMG_6982_3Daren brought me some french fries, and Mike stayed with me while I slowly choked them down. I have a passion for anything potato, but it was like eating a cup of razor blades. It really hurt to swallow, and required a great deal of concentration. I don’t really know how to put that moment into words. I felt physically horrible, but I had Daren and Mike right next to me, Kyle, Rob, Deena, and Mike’s crew all nearby. It was a good place to be right then and I knew I would be fine soon.

one of the many steep sections of 6 mile canyon

one of the many steep sections of 6 mile canyon

I actually did feel better heading out of Silver Springs, although the headwind stunk. At the turn off to 6mile canyon, Mike was was out in front of me and I stopped to choke down my last bit of calories until the finish. I apologized to Kyle that we weren’t done yet, which made him laugh. All I knew was that I felt like I had lost a ton of time in Stage 6, I most likely could not fully rebound from my nutritional lapse, and I felt bad for dragging things out. As I headed up the climb, Rob said a couple of times “don’t tip over”. I wondered why he kept saying that, but it didn’t take me long to remember why. 6 mile canyon is full of steep little ramps, some over 20%grade. It was hot, and the canyon reminded me of Odin’s Revenge, minus the mud, and the gravel, and the crashing. It was pretty nice scenery, and the only bit of shade the entire race. I wasn’t moving terribly fast at that point, but I felt ok and didn’t tip over. I think I even smiled a few times.

photo by THE ONE AND ONLY JAMES NICHOLS, Wild Turkey crew

photo by THE ONE AND ONLY JAMES NICHOLS, Wild Turkey crew

The UltraRace Report people were waiting for me at the top of the climb. They probably had time for breakfast, lunch, and a nap between when the top men finished and I finally came along. We talked for a minute, and then I took off down the descent. That last climb had finally torched my back, and I was no longer able to tuck into an aero position for very long. I sat up, coasting down smiling and enjoying the view. I hadn’t realized they were still filming me at that point, but of course that was the footage they used. Having fun and not looking terribly pro, but that’s me.

Susan and I at the finish

Susan and I at the finish

I caught up with Mike for the last city miles of stop and go torture. My crew had given me a cue sheet so we wouldn’t get lost in what felt like a maze back through Reno, but they were able to negotiate the lights and stay within sight for most of the turns. Really it’s only a few turns, but at that point in a race I am easily confused. It was hot, there was a lot of traffic, and we hit every single stop light before we finally got to the finish. Chris Kostman was there to greet me, as well as Deena Munroe and Susan von Sosten. It was super cool to have Susan see me come full circle, and win the event that had been just a dream and a random conversation a few years ago. And to finish with Mike was one of the best race experiences I’ve ever had. I’m not sure how I can ever top that. I worked so hard all summer to be ready for this event, and I’m so glad I didn’t let him down.

Me and Mike, glad to be done

Me and Mike, glad to be done

We hung around the finish line long enough to take a few pictures and give an interview. I felt pretty good right after the race, but later would end up in respiratory distress. It was pretty scary. I’ve been through worse, but not any time recently. I’m very thankful it hit after and not during the event as I heard happened to several other athletes.

I didn’t sleep much Monday night due to my breathing issues. Tuesday I was pretty much worthless, and Kyle cleaned up and packed my nasty, snot covered bikes. My crew sorted and packed the rest of the gear and took it all to FedEx while I finally slept. We went out for dinner on our last night in Reno, and they surprised me with a winner cake. That was so very thoughtful, and to top it off the waiter thought it was my birthday so I got to wear the big sombrero while they sang happy birthday.

Even though this a 500 mile solo time trial, it is far from a solo experience. The majority of my training is done alone, but really not much else. I had so much support from so many people coming into this race. Donated time, donated and borrowed equipment, advice…Thank you for stepping forward to give me what I needed and offering support, encouragement, and prayers. It means more to me than I can say. I try to not to ask for help very often, but you all overwhelm me with your generosity when I do.

Rob missed the Burger King Incident. We all should have missed that.. sorry guys!

Rob missed the Burger King Incident. We all should have missed that.. sorry guys!

Kyle Robinson (Kyle’s Bikes), Daren Munroe, Deena Munroe, and Rob White. Thank you for taking a week of your precious time to come along on my crazy adventure, and for making it better than I ever dreamed. So many fun moments didn’t make the write up, but I’ll never forget the Burger King incident, the Thug Kitchen, and a few other things I’m too embarrassed to mention. Daren and Deena, I’m still so touched by your thoughtfulness. Thank you for finding me a gluten free cake and donuts, and for making race Tshirts. Thank you all for being the awesome crew I knew you would be.

Kyle, so much of what went right this year was due to your help. Thanks for your bike mechanic expertise, the excellent bike fit, and all of the time you have spent helping me find the right gear. Thank you for taking the time away from your family and business to support me at this event.

Mike, I don’t even know if I can begin to summarize and thank you for all that you’ve done for me this year. All year long you seemed to know exactly what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear it. You have a true gift for coaching, and I can’t wait to see what we can do next year.

George Vargas, Rev Endurance Cycling, thanks for opening the door to the ultracycling world and keeping my dream alive. Thank you for supporting this sport, and supporting women’s cycling.

Pauline Tan, thank you so, so much for helping me with strength training this year. I could barely stand up after 24 hours of Sebring, and it took 490 miles of pretty serious cycling to make my back hurt at the 508. That was such a remarkable improvement, and I know we can do better yet for next year.

Rich and Steve at Great Basin Bicycles, Reno, NV. Thank you for taking good care of my equipment. Rich, thank you for meeting me late in the evening well after your shop closed so that I could pick up my bikes. Thank you also for talking with me about the course, and for the warning about the cattle guards. I hit them in just the right spot.

Chris Kostman and AdventureCorps, thank you for keeping this event going despite so many challenges. This was my third AdventureCorps event, and it was top notch as always. I hope to be competing in your events for years to come.

Greg Grandgeorge, Rachelle Little, Scott Newbury, Daren Munroe, Rob White, thank you for the borrowed equipment. Greg, thank you for the additional time you spent helping me with my race plan. Your finish time projections are scary accurate.

And last but not least, many thanks to my husband and kids for always supporting my training and racing. I know this hobby of mine isn’t always easy for us to manage, and I could not do it without your love and support.

 

 

 

 

White Mountain Double Double

IMG_6652This past weekend I completed the Highland and the Lowland White Mountain Double Centuries in Bishop, CA. I’m up to my neck in Silver State 508 prep, kid stuff, and puppy training so I’ll spare you the usual long story. Prior to the event, my coach Mike had asked me if everything was going well and was I ready. My answer was yes, which is short for NO, everything is in chaos but I’ll be on the plane as scheduled. This weekend was entirely about 508 preparation for me, and I’m so very thankful to have had the experience to train at such a wonderful and well run event in a beautiful location. The scenery was simply amazing. This was my first ever experience training at significant altitude. The highland course is 11,500 feet of climbing and includes a trip up White Mountain to 10,000 feet elevation and Montgomery pass at 7000 feet. Most of the course is in the high desert above 5000 feet elevation. The lowland double is the same as the highland double except it leaves out the 10 mile section of White Mountain and substitutes a different 10 mile outback with less climbing and no technical descent.

Mike Wilson and I at the start

Mike Wilson and I at the start

Saturday started in the dark at 5:15am and we rolled out in a big pace line behind the tandems. That was the safest way to travel on the big highway in the dark, so I enjoyed the draft and free ride for the first 12 miles until we turned off. The group broke up once the climbing started, and I settled in for the long climb from about 4000 feet up to 10,000 feet at the top of White Mountain. After reading the description of the climb and descent on the website, I had built it up in my mind to be something much worse than it actually was. There were a few steep sections near the top, and the altitude above 8000 feet was very uncomfortable, but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. My gearing was sufficient, and the descent was fine on the Zipp 404/808 combo I was riding. I actually passed a guy on the descent and never got passed, which was a first and probably once in a lifetime event.

Screen shot 2014-09-17 at 8.03.44 AMAfter White Mountain, there is a really long and fast descent into a valley before climbing back up to Gilbert’s pass. The high speed turns and dips in the road were freaking me out and I found it more unnerving than the more technical White Mountain descent. Fortunately another woman caught up with me there and showed me how to get it done. I followed her down, and the second day I was able to do it solo with confidence. I’ve forgotten her name, but she stayed behind me in my draft across the valley and then dropped off when the climbing began again. I don’t recall if I thanked her for the lesson in high speed descending, but if she’s reading this THANK YOU.

George Vargas, Lori Hoechlin, and myself at the start

George Vargas, Lori Hoechlin, and myself at the start

The rest of Saturday was about managing the heat and staying hydrated. It got into the 90’s (with a peak temp of 105 degrees for a short time), which is really  not that hot for this event but I struggled with it. I had to stop at every water stop and put ice in my shirt. Fortunately there were plenty of water stops not that far apart. I choked down a few bananas early in the day and had a smoothie at the smoothie stop, but got through the day mostly on soda, water, and salt caps. The idea of any kind of sports drink made me gag, even the products I’ve trained with all summer long. I was pretty nauseous most of the day, but I didn’t try to take in any more than the bare minimum of calories and fluid and dialed back my power so that’s as bad as it got. A little heat training this summer would have been a good thing.

I rode solo until the last water stop in Benton. I caught up with two guys there (one on a single speed!) and left the aid station before them. They caught up with me shortly after I left, and we worked together into the headwind for the last 33 miles to Bishop. About 4 miles out, we spotted another cyclist in the distance. I wasn’t thrilled about chasing anyone down since I had to ride the next day, but I did my part and we caught the guy at the last turn. It was a fun way to end the day and the four of us finished together.

The wild temperature swing during the day (low in the 30’s to high 105) hit me pretty hard and I had the shakes and chills for a long time after getting off the bike. I woke up several times during the night drenched in sweat and shivering. Fortunately the night was pretty short, and we were up and at it early Sunday for a 4:30 am roll out.

There were fewer folks riding on Sunday, and about 4:35 someone suggested we should probably start. Mike and I rolled out together, and sat in the back of a group of three riders for the trip down the highway. We dropped off the back after the turn, and settled into our pace for the climb. With fewer people around, it was much easier to relax and take in the beautiful night sky as it transitioned to dawn. It was just Mike and I riding together for the next several miles of climbing to the turn up White Mountain road.

Screen shot 2014-09-17 at 8.05.48 AM

Lowland Double Century elevation profile

My rear spokes started making noise a few miles shy of the turn. We stopped, and Mike found two that were just a little loose. His initial impression was that it would be fine, but we didn’t get far up White Mountain road before the noise got to both of us. Mike turned to me and said “you know, this is going to put a lot of stress on that wheel…”  And I decided to turn back and do the lowland route. It was disappointing, but definitely the safe decision. I feel quite blessed that we discovered the problem before I got farther up White Mountain road. The wheel was fine when I packed it, but given the abuse it’s endured over the past year I should have had it  looked over by someone other than myself. It’s a low spoke count race wheel I bought for triathlon, and not really meant for endurance racing.

The wind really picked up, which was a mixed blessing. It blocked out any noise from my wheel, and I didn’t have to listen to 11 more hours of spoke music which would have driven me bonkers. Fortunately there was a little cloud cover that kept the temperature down for most of the day. There were only a few sections that felt hot.

IMG_6642

50 miles to go on day two. Note the bag of Cheetos on the truck waiting for me.

Jim Cook was simply amazing as an event director, and Sunday he managed to be absolutely everywhere despite having riders of all abilities spread out on three different routes. He got to several of the stops just before I did, and his timing was impeccable. Just when I would start to worry because I couldn’t see anyone at the station ahead, he would pull alongside of me in the sag wagon. I hadn’t planned on having any solid food during the ride, but when I saw that he had an enormous box of single serving bags of Cheetos in the sag wagon I suddenly realized how much I had missed them. I haven’t had Cheetos in ages! I ended up leaving every aid station with a bag of Cheetos in my sports bra, and snuck a few extra bags in my pocket. At the Basalt stop, I ended up with a double size bag of Cheetos. It took me fifty miles to eat that bag of fake cheesy goodness. In total, I ate 6 bags of Cheetos. It was a little surprising how quickly I abandoned my race day nutrition plan once I saw the Cheetos. There is a lesson there somewhere. Jim tells me I set a new course record for the highland double, and I bet the 6 bags of Cheetos might be a record as well.

This weekend was a priceless experience for me. I am so grateful to Mike Wilson for suggesting it to me, and to Jim Cook for putting the weekend together. This event is a lot of work for Jim, and he and the volunteers did a fantastic job supporting the riders. I met many wonderful people, and hope to go back someday to do the Highland/Highland double double.

Thank you to Kyle Robinson (Kyle’s Bikes), for the last minute rear derailleur replacement. Yes, I broke my rear derailleur the same day I needed to pack my bike for travel. I am awesome like that.

Thanks to Great Basin Bicycles in Reno for letting me in the shop before you were officially open and adjusting my new derailleur. I appreciate the great customer service!

I won’t out the friend who loaned me the Zipp 404 (to head off the potential barrage of requests for loaner equipment) but THANK YOU! Your generosity is appreciated, and inspiring.

Thanks to Jerod Torrey at Krueger Chiropractic in Ankeny, IA for the last minute work on my sore muscles. Jerod has been instrumental in keeping me going this summer, and I am so grateful.

I have received so many prayers, texts, emails, and facebook messages over this year from people I know, and some I barely know. It means quite a lot to me to know that I have such amazing people supporting me at home, and it keeps me going in the rough times. Thank you all for your support.

 

 

 

24 Hours of Cumming

A B road photo taken from my pre ride. All dry here, but it was all mud on race day

A B road photo taken from my pre ride. All dry here, but it was all mud on race day

24 Hours of Cumming was my last gravel event of the season, and thankfully it ended on a high note. 22 athletes started the solo event, including 2 women. I placed second overall out of only 10 finishers, and am the only woman that finished. The race is 400K (247miles) broken down into four 100K loops starting and ending at the Cumming Tap with a 24 hour time limit for finishing. An 11 am start time guarantees that everyone will ride during the night. There is no support allowed on the course and no aid stations or C store stops, but crews were allowed at the start/finish area. This was a brand new event, and I was super excited to have an ultra event start just minutes from my house. No flights, no long drive, and no hotel stay! Fortunately I knew just the right guy to hang out for an entire day at the Cumming Tap to crew for me, Scott Newbury. My good friend Liz Bryant, who crewed for me at Odin’s Revenge, planned to help out as well so I had not one but two top notch crew. I am so blessed! They even put up with me calling them ‘my bitches’.

Loop 4 from my preride

Loop 4 from my preride

I rode loops 1 and 4 the saturday before the event, and the rest of the course was already familiar to me as much of it is on my regular training routes, so I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into. The race was going to be hard for sure; relentless hills with most being at least 8-12% grade and many that were much steeper. I saw several that topped out at 16%. There were a few muddy B roads as well. The timing of this event was not great relative to my fall events. Racing 400K normally would be good preparation for longer events, but I’m not sure 400K of Iowa gravel was a good decision given my two previous gravel race experiences. I’m putting in a lot of high milage and hard training weeks now, and I don’t have time to recover from an injury and still train effectively. Finishing without hurting myself was the big priority, and I was definitely not racing with the joy and reckless abandon that I did at Odin’s Revenge.

IMG_5780

Hot air balloons near Indianola on Loop 4 from my pre-ride

Race week did not go well for me. We had a great family vacation; truly one of those blessed weeks when everyone gets along, the weather is great, and we all had a great time together. The 10 hour drive home however, left my back in great pain. I also slipped on wet pavement in our garage Wednesday night and rolled my left ankle. By Thursday morning, I had swelling on a tendon in the front of my ankle. About the same time, I noticed that my tires were complete trash after two loops of the course and were no longer holding air. I’m not yet comfortable setting up tubeless tires, so I dragged my sorry self to Kyle’s Bikes and begged for some last minute assistance. I am a very organized and prepared person so I felt like scum going to the shop and fessing up to being a complete moron who didn’t notice that her tires were not going to make it 250 miles until two days before the race. This was made worse by the fact that I was standing there leaning sideways with a sore back and a taped up ankle and not even sure I would be racing. Derik Spoon set up my tires for me because he’s awesome, and even fussed over them again on Friday when they were still leaking air. He got everything fixed up, I spent a restless night on the couch Friday with back pain, and woke up Saturday morning feeling fine. No back pain, and the swelling in my ankle was gone. Race day weather was perfect, with mild temps, light winds, and mostly overcast skies.

Scott Newbury and I before the start

Scott Newbury and I before the start

I was planning on sharing transition space with Mike Johnson and Steve Fuller, so I got there early to claim us a spot behind the Cumming Tap. After we had everything set up and finished the pre-race meeting Steve and I went out for warm up rides. I finished mine without incident, but unfortunately Steve broke his pedal off at the crank arm and crashed his bike. He scraped up his hip and shoulder pretty bad and busted his helmet. His bike was no longer ridable, but he had brought two bikes so we bandaged up his wounds, the guys got his other bike ready to roll, and he was ready for the start with five minutes to spare. After that impressive display of efficient and effective crisis management, we were off.

All four loops

All four loops

Steve charged off the front right away, closely followed by me and my team mate Steve Robinson who was doing the first two loops as a two man team. Surprisingly no one else came with us. The three of us worked together, but Steve R’s ‘I’m crushing two loops’ pace was harder than I wanted to ride for four loops. I decided I’d stay with them until the muddy B road where I knew they would be faster hikers, and then drop back into my planned effort after. I started wheezing though, which is concerning as I no longer carry an inhaler so I ended up dropping off 45 minutes into the ride. Being sensible feels a lot like being a sissy. They stayed in my sight until the B road, and then they were gone. It wasn’t rideable, but it wasn’t a complete swamp which was nice. I opted to shove along in the tall weeds, moving at a glacial pace and trying not to mess up my ankle. Kyle Sedore and Taylor Webb caught up with me there. The three of us were fairly close the rest of loop 1. There was one more muddy B road to hike, and I made my way through cautiously.

Total gain recorded via my Garmin Edge was over 15,000 feet.

The rest of loop 1 was hilly and uneventful, and I saw both Steve’s heading out on loop 2 as I was finishing loop 1. My bitches did a fabulous job filling my camelbak and getting me ready to roll and I headed out of there in minutes. Loop 2 was entirely uneventful, just endless hills. I had some stomach issues and spent the rest of the race looking about 4 months pregnant, but nothing too horrible. I ran into Kyle Sedore again, and was disappointed to hear that he was planning on dropping out. I figured I would catch Steve Fuller during his transition to loop 3, and sure enough he was still there when I rolled in. I had not two but four people fussing over my bike for that stop. Rachelle Little and Daren Munroe joined Liz and Newbs, and I didn’t have to do anything but lube my chain. They filled my camelbak, put my lights on, hooked my Garmin up to the charger, and I was ready to roll before Steve. He was looking a little comfortable there with his hamburger and his group of friends, so I seized the opportunity and headed out ahead of him.

Before the race with Kelsey Regan. Her race ended in a trip to the ER due to a collision with a very large raccoon.

Before the race with my friend Kelsey Regan. Her race ended in a trip to the ER due to a collision with a very large raccoon.

When I reached the road closure on Loop 3, Steve still hadn’t caught me but I knew he couldn’t be far behind. Nate from the two person team had probably passed thru there ahead of me, but I couldn’t see how he had gone through. There was a massive pile of dirt in the middle of the road and I desperately did not want to climb over it, yet I also did not want to let my crew down by taking a longer way than necessary and ruining my race. I tried to go around, but the ditch was impassable and I got caught up in barbed wire. It took several minutes to extricate myself and hike out and then Steve rolled up. He is less chicken than me, and just climbed up the dirt pile. Since he was blazing the path, I decided to go along and hope for the best. I was pretty mad at myself at the time; I have two big events in the very near future, people have already gone to a considerable amount of effort on my behalf for those events… and what was I doing? Climbing a dirt pile in the dark with Steve Fuller. I need to have my head examined. There was not a good re route option, other than hiking through the farm fields. I doubt that would have been any safer than the dirt pile. Anyway, the dirt pile was entirely solid and completely harmless and I got my sissy self and crappy ankle over it without incident. Steve and I stayed together for the rest of Loop 3.

at the finish with Steve Fuller and Steve Cannon. photo by Scott Sumpter

at the finish with Steve Fuller and Steve Cannon. photo by Scott Sumpter

Our people had us ready to roll out for Loop 4 pretty fast, and as we were leaving Steve Cannon (the race director) told us we couldn’t tie. I promised him we wouldn’t, although Steve and I agreed to work together at least initially and didn’t discuss that detail until quite a bit later. I almost hit a skunk shortly after leaving Cumming, and screamed like a little girl. I took off in a sprint, and then I heard Steve yell “it’s not chasing you!” That was damn funny. We stayed together for quite awhile; I slowed up a few times to wait on him when he fell back, but we mostly rode together at a pretty decent pace considering the dense fog that had developed and the number of hours we had already been on our bikes. I don’t recall what mile we were at, but out of the blue I started having trouble breathing. I had been wheezing off and on all day, and grabbed my inhaler out of my gear box for Loop 4 just in case. Things got pretty ugly, and Steve said “don’t die”. I think that was his attempt at humor but the lack of a sarcastic response or obscene gesture from me must have indicated to him that this was kinda serious. He stayed with me because that’s the kind of guy he is. I managed to get myself together, although he did have to wait on me one other time. I sounded like an out of shape smoker the rest of the ride and for 4 days after. That was very unpleasant.

My fantastic crew, Scott Newbury and Liz Bryant

My fantastic crew, Scott Newbury and Liz Bryant

We did again get separated when I hit a pothole and almost wrecked. It was a lapse in concentration on my part, as this thing was massive and should have been easily avoided. Steve was in his own world and kept riding, so I was a little ways behind him for several miles. We did end up back together, but that is Steve’s tale to tell. Since we were back together, we came to an agreement about where to end it and picked a spot a few miles from the finish. Steve won, and I finished 19 seconds back. Several people have asked me how a 17 hour race gets won and lost by less than a minute. Sometimes it just does. We each had our strengths and weaknesses on that day, and that’s just how it played out. Steve was the dominant rider in terms of strength and speed, but I managed my time very well and kept it a very close race. We helped each other late in the race, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

awards photo

awards photo

Thanks to Molly, Matt, and Steve at One Race Events for putting on a stellar race on a very challenging course. You guys nailed it on the first year. The course rocked, the cue sheets were spot on, the awards were unique and well done, and the location was perfect. Well done!

Thanks so much to Liz Bryant and Scott Newbury for crewing for me around the clock. It was such an awesome experience to have you both there. I could not have asked for a better crew and I am so very grateful for your time and help. Thanks also to Daren Munroe and Rachelle Little for stopping by to help.

Derik Spoon at Kyle’s Bikes. You should’ve busted my chops for coming in last minute like that, but you were so kind. Thank you for the last minute tire replacement. You saved my race! I had not one bit of trouble with my tires the entire race. Thank you!

trophy for first place women's solo

trophy for first place women’s solo

Thanks to Mike Wilson for guiding me through this season, and getting me in good enough shape to consistently be in the front of the pack at endurance races. I’m done lugging my bike through mud and barbed wire, at least until next year.

Thanks to Mike Johnson and Steve Fuller for letting me share your transition space. Time spent with you two is always time well spent. Steve, it was a pleasure to ride with you. I’m so proud of how well you raced despite your crash beforehand, and I appreciate you sticking with me when I needed you. You are one of the good guys, and I’m glad to know you.

IMG_5920