Age is all relative. For sure.
This year I'm racing up an age class in the USAC races. For the USAC Marathon Nationals Firecracker 50 race, I was in the Open Women 40-49. Ladies, listen up. It seems that as we age, we get faster. Our class was the fastest class of all the non-pro women. Bam! U23? Nah, it's O40, baby.
So, yeah. I'm a bit stoked to place 3rd. Can ya tell? My goal was to podium (check) as well as come in under 5:30 (check, check!) I tell ya, it feels pretty good to do well in the alti-dude and dudette's playground.
We got to Breck on Thursday (thanks to my boss for the free day off). We ate and hung out. Got a great night's sleep. Friday (after a lot of rain) we went out for a hearty breakfast at the Blue Moose Mountain Grill (which is also a bike shop and gardening center. Hey, whatever works). Then we went for a walk to get some real coffee. The boys went off to hunt down some bike parts and I strolled through the Breck arts and crafts show. It was great. Then we did a light spin and some road climbs to wake up the lungs to the fact that they were about to work hard. We found a hill that had a 13% grade. Yeah, it sucked. After the ride we drove to Frisco to get the necessary celebratory beverages from the Back Country Brewery. Yeah, we were planning the celebrations a bit early. We all had been training and were ready to tear off some legs. We stood in line for packet pickup and saw the who's who of the Pro MTB world. Kinda cool knowing they have to stand in line in the rain just like all of us hacks. That night we ate at Rasta Pasta. I had gas pains so bad that I wasn't even hungry and only ate a half order. Altitude always does this to me. Luckily the pains subsided by the time I went to bed (yeah, I was a bit noisy). We set out our gear and tried to sleep.
Race morning was excruciating. Up early to eat so it had a chance to digest. Oatmeal with bananas, raisins and mixed nuts (we had this while camping at Ponca and now I'm hooked). The race didn't start until 11:00. Luckily the TDF was on TV and kept us relaxed. At 8am we dumped our aid station stashes off at the start/finish and went back to the condo to sit, stretch and ponder....and ponder.... and tinker... and stretch... I'm tellin you, it was nerve wracking. Finally around 10:00 we headed for Main Street to warm up and got caught up in the buzz and excitement of the event. With thousands of visitors lining the street waiting for the parade, you can't help but get butterflies. Everyone in their red, white and blue...balloons, flags, kids on their bikes... It was classic Americana, only this time, it was classic Fat Tire Americana.
After a half hour warm up I found my way through the 750 racers to my category, bumping into my trainer, Jason along the way. It was good to hear my sage before I lined up. All of us ladies were grouped in with the younger open cats. I chatted with a couple of them. Most were from the area but one was from WI and was stoked on my magic carpet. We gave each other a high-5 for representing the Midwest. Soon it was our time to be at the start line after all of the men and Pro cats went off. It was a neutral start, so we rolled along behind our leader, slapping kids' hands and waving. Suddenly half of the group started picking up the pace before the end of the neutral start which is grounds for disqualification. The other half of us stayed back looking ahead wondering WTF? Do I go too? Do I stay? Then one woman asked if she could go and well, then we all went. It was chill, not like a stand up and mash, because well, we had a 6 mile road climb to the single track so nobody was really eager to pace line it, including me. I got into a nice gear, put my head down and pedaled. It wasn't a steep climb, just long so it was best to get into a rhythm. On the last part of the road before it turned to dirt, a group of friendlies had a Wild Turkey stand and if you rode over their ramp, you got to do a shot. Some did it. Most didn't. But the dude in the bikini and wrestling mask was pretty convincing as he jumped around his driveway trying to get folks to participate. Ahh, mountain bikers. We're wacked.
So I finally made it up to the single track. I didn't stop at the first aid station b/c I was feeling good and had a most of my bottle still. (I'm a bad drinker). I followed the crowed up a steep, rocky and rooty section onto the single track with a feeling of relief. First climb done. Three left to go. I recovered for a minute, found my pace and cruised. It was crowded so it wasn't like I could just bomb away but I was among quick dudes so I just went along with it the pace. A combination of double-track, single-track, switch backy, long flowy, rocky, rooty, muddy, tacky. We had all of it in the first 15 minutes after entering the trees. But then, hill #2. It was a nasty jeep trail, on the fall line, rudded out like crazy so there was really only one line. If you wanted to pass, you had to work for it by riding the crappy side. I just settled in and looked at the wheel ahead of me. I rode the whole mile or so without incident. After that was a double track section that had lots of baby heads and I had to seek out my own line. I passed many in this area, which was nice. A group of folks up there were cheering us on and welcoming us to the highest point of the race. That really helped out the ol' psyche. BUT, I knew what was still coming. The shale climb. After a gravel road descent that was a two-way traffic section of the race, the 3rd of the quadruple bypasses was next. It started out all scenic and inviting. It seeme the steeper it got, the looser the rocks. There were three stream crossings as well. Riders were shedding their bikes left and right. I HATE walking my bike uphill. I'd rather have road rash. So I used all kinds of English to stay seated while passing the walkers and all the while trying not to slip into the loose stuff. It was really hard but I wanted to do the whole thing without walking. Well, I almost did it. I slipped once and ran to the nearest flat spot and just got right back on. While up there, I caught up to Larry, who had to walk due to cramps. He had his game face on so he didn't look like he was suffering but later he said he'd never cramped that soon. I finally made it to the top and had to slide down 50 feet of gravely dirt only to then power through the last stream crossing which was rushing with rain run off over large, greasy wet rocks. Yeah, good times at 11000 feet. To keep the party going, the trail continued off camber stylee through a shale rock slide. You only knew it's the trail by the mud left on the rocks by previous riders. As I was poking along, trying not to die, I saw Ryan, with his bike upside down, changing a flat. He yelled that he had it covered and cheered me on. But shortly after a long, crazy jeep road descent he caught me. He's a great descender! We rode together for a bit and then the trail headed up again on jeep road. I started climbing and he told me to do my thing, so off I went. I didn't see him again and later he said he just didn't have the legs to go any harder. Eventually the trail turned down a gnarly double track trail that had a pucker factor of about 8. If you went too far to the left, you would head down the mountain. So I looked up mountain the whole time until I hit tree line and then it was a hairy half-pipe descent over rocks. We rode up one side of the trial to the other, trying to find the best lines. My hands were clenched to the handlebars as my arms practically rattled out their sockets. And there was no stopping. Too many riders right on my ass to even think about that, so I just hammered on. Finally at the bottom, on a gravel road, I was able to shake out my hands and unwrench my back. And I wasn't alone. Everyone was doing it. Soon the last aid station was upon me. As I tried to get food and goos out of my jersey, all of my goos fell to the ground. I didn't care. I had a stash at the aid stations so I kept going. I stopped for a bottle swap and was off again. The fourth and final hill was the two-way traffic gravel grinder we came down a couple hours earlier. 2-3 miles of up. And I had to stay alert b/c racers were bombing down at 35 mph on the other side. Yeah, sketch! Finally, I saw the 3rd aid station and I knew it was all downhill after that. I clicked into the big ring, took a few swigs and a gel and bombed away!
After a couple miles of downhill jeep roads full of jumps and puddles we crossed a road and headed into single track, jockeying around trees and rocks and berms until we finally hit the open air on the last section of switch-back descents. This year the race coordinators put huge berms at each switchback which made it so much fun coming down. No longer did we have to break into the corner and put a foot down to turn. It was like a BMX track. Some SS guy was yelling and screaming to pass and finally did by cutting a corner, only to then get passed on the climb back up the mountain. What a tool. I made it through the start/finish at 2:24 for my first lap. I was okay with that, knowing if I totally cracked, I'd have 3 hours to get through the 2nd lap and still beat my goal but I also knew I couldn't dilly dally.
I won't bore you will all the details of lap two but I do need to plug the maker of my magic carpet. The Top Fuel is a machine meant for Colorado racing. I said it when I raced in Fruita earlier this year. It gives me the confidence of a seasoned racer. The longer wheel base is definitely a bonus, especially bombing down rocky stuff. I don't know if it was the Bontrager tires or the Fuel itself, but it just always felt stable and would recover from a fish tail with ease. Climbing was just as smooth. I gotta say, I'm impressed! Now, back to the race. I stopped at the top of the road climb on lap 2 to refuel, and get fresh bottle. Everything went well except that it started to rain. That made for slippery rocks and roots, especially the shale climb. I ended up having to put a food down twice but I never gave up on myself. I kept trying to ride instead of walk. I knew my legs had the energy but at the same time I didn't want to use it all. My arms were really starting to ache, especially after each rocky death-gripping descent. Most of the second lap I had to let go of my left hand and stretch it out. I adjusted my saddle before the race b/c I thought it had moved after we had to raise it to get both bikes on the rack and I think I tilted too far down and back, thus creating more pressure on my hands. But I managed. I came through the finish line at 5:09 on my clock. That was actual moving time. My official finish time was 5:15 so factor in that I stopped twice to refuel and who knows when they start the official clock. Regardless, I achieved what I set out to do and the feeling of accomplishment is undeniable.
After Ryan came in, we all headed back to the condo to clean up. Larry and Rick both unfortunately had to DNF but that didn't stop them from partying like rock stars later (or maybe it was the catalyst). We went back to the finish area for all the free food and beer (we even got free beer glasses). We also chit-chatted with former Omahan Marco Vasquez a la Kaos fame who came out with his fam to cheer on his former Omaha buds. That was awesome. Cam Kirkpatrick raced and finished well (by our non-super human standards, I mean). It was great to be among friends after such a big event. After the podium photo with the rest of the winners, we headed out on the town. We drank and ate anything that was put in front of us. I was mostly sober but the others, uh, yeah, not so good. After watching the local fireworks display we stumbled to an Irish Pub where Ryan, Rick and Bob took over the juke box and sang every Johnny Cash song listed. I hung out with Larry, who was teetering on the edge (but he doesn't remember) HA! Such good times.
The next day was tough for my traveling companions. Hung over and crabby, we checked out by 10am. After some eats we rode easy on a loop from Frisco. It was exactly what they needed to bring them back from the dead.
Looking back on the race and the training leading up to it, of course, I'm just so happy things went the way they did. It's always a crap shoot. It could have easily ended differently. So just finishing is a success but when the result is exactly what I wanted, the gratitude that comes with it is the first thing that pops into my mind. This is a solo sport for the most part and yes I do all of the hard work but if I didn't have a trainer to push me, a fiance to share my obsession, family and friends to forgive me for it and a job to allow me to travel, achievements like these would be much more difficult. So to that I say, thanks all for everyone's support!
Next up, Laramie Enduro. 70 miles at 7000 feet. For now, it's rest time.
Thanks for reading! Check out the motion-base link in the right-hand column. If you click on the chart below, it'll show you elevation and heart rate and speed.