Saturday, November 2, 2013

2013 Berryman Trail Epic: Race Report

It's been a while since I've banged out a race report. Odd, since it seems that's all I've been doing since March. Let's just say, it's been a busy summer. I do plan to catch up on the blog now that the season is over. Finally. But it wasn't over until I crossed the finish line at the BT Epic.

Leading up to the Epic, post Five-0 and post our annual trip to the Great Wide Open (more on that in another blog) I didn't know how motivated I'd be to try and contest the BTE. It's really, really hard to go out and do interval training on cold, windy days, especially when you have to drag your bike and gear to work every day just so you can get in a soul-crushing road ride before dark. But I did it and well, I'm glad I did.

The usual rag-tags came along with the Ginger and I; Carly, Adam and Jenni Stoll, Wixon and Larry. We let out early on Thursday after work and got down to KC where we got a couple of rooms for the night. By 7am the next morning we were eastbound and down, heading to Steelville, Missouri, float capital of the US. Home base would again be the Bass River Resort. We rented the same 4bed cabin as we always do, right near the start line. In fact, the race goes right by its front door.

We stopped in town for some provisions first so that we wouldn't need to drive the van again until it was time to go home. To our shock, the little grocery store in the dirty south did not sell liquor. What? Is it a dry town? An employee at the store gave us the lowdown on where to buy us some package. It was a dumpy ol place on the outside of town. Dust on the bottles and unlimited Bud Light. Hmmm, but to our fortune honey whiskey and Captain were plentiful. Whew! We all bought something to bring to the after party. Soon we were checked in to our place and getting ready to head out to ride. But before we did, one of the bedroom's smoke alarm's started chirping. I tried removing the battery but it was wired to the ceiling and kept chirping. I called the main office and they sent someone out pronto. He tested it and reset it before we left to go ride. Now that's service!

Soon we were off to preride. We took the van so we didn't have to slog up the gravel road to the hole shot and Jenni drove it back. This was our 3rd time at this race and it was the first time we could actually see the trail. Usually the leaves are so thick it's impossible to separate the trail from the rest of the forest floor. Not this time. The entire trail is crushed rock, not too dissimilar from the trails down in Arkansas. Throw in some thick roots, rocks, water crossings, sand pits, gravel roads and pavement, and that my friends describes the 55 mile course that is the BT Epic. For the most part it flows nicely. Not much sustained climbing and lots and lots of rock. We rode for about 35 minutes before we turned around. The first miles of the track are some of the rockiest so it was good to get on them and test out our suspension set up, etc. I was still feeling my big miles from the previous weekend so I rode pretty lame. I bombed descents but spun on the uphill because it was too easy to gas it due to all of the rock. I played around with my suspension a bit and called it good. After the pre-ride we registered for the race and to my amazement, my name was listed on the back of this year's T-shirt, along with the other 2 top women finishers and all the top men from 2012. Ha! First time for everything. That, I have to say, was pretty cool.

The promoters of this event are a couple of real good ol' boys. With big trucks, big dogs and big accents, these guys are all about good times. They're good natured, friendly and generally excited to have us at their event. They saw us in the parking lot of the grocery store earlier that day. One of them remembered Ryan from last year. We reminded them we were bringing the mother load of honey whiskey and that brought a cringe to one of their faces, saying he was not going to get drunk this year. (Last year the two of them split an entire bottle of honey whiskey that Ryan handed up to them during the awards ceremony).

The rest of the day was filled with the usual pre-race stuff. Eating, bike tinkering, eating, bike tinkering. Anything to pass the time. I found my Garmin file from 2012 (thought I should at least look at my time from last year) and plotted some strategies to improve my time and hopefully pull off another win. The cabin seemed pretty relaxed and orderly. Just how I like it. I went to bed feeling as ready as I could be.

The alarm went off around 5:30 a.m. The race meeting was at 8:15. I finally got out of bed around 6. Larry was already up, making french pressed coffee on the patio. Carly was on the couch trying to grab as much horizontal as possible. Seemed our good friend, the chirping smoke alarm that was in her bedroom, decided to wake her up at 4am. You could still hear it out in the living room. I felt really bad! Soon everyone was up and shuffling around the kitchen, nuking their prerace meal or drinking coffee. After I ate, I went back into our bedroom to lie on the floor next to the heat vents and enjoy a few more warm minutes of rest. By 7:30 I was kitted up and out the door. I headed up the gravel road, not only to warm up my lungs and my legs but also to get a sense of the distance to the trees. By the time I turned around, I had my puffy coat wrapped around my waste and I was down to my summer kit and arm warmers and I was hot. Perfect. I stopped back at the cabin for one last tinkle, loaded up my bottles in the van (Jenni was our pit crew) and then headed to the start line to find a sliver of sun. It was chilly!

I lined up about 6 or seven rows from the front. I could see a couple of ladies here and there (only 16 signed up). I saw Laureen, who I barely scraped by last year. I had to keep my eye on her. I saw another woman in a bright pink Hammer kit (roady, I thought). Carly was next to me and that's all of the women I could see. But it's hard to say when it's a mass start. The promoters gave a few words and sent us off with a gunshot. I clipped in, grabbed some gears and surged, trying not to get caught up in the cock fight. Once safely amongst the herd, I spotted my competition and kept them close. I followed a short trail of guys up the far right side of the road as the middle began to stack up. I broke free of them and gave a surge as I approached the long gravel climb to the single track. I took an inside line next to Laureen through some deep gravel, making sure not to lose traction. As we began the climb, I kinda got boxed in behind a spinner and a large SS rider. I saw Laureen take the outside lane. Once around the corner, I sprinted for better position and started to gain some ground. The woman up front (Laura) was a bit closer now and she was riding like a woman possessed. I took a pull and went by as the road climbed but on the descents she would blast by me. After she did that a second time, I stayed with her up the next climb, riding her wheel so I could recover a bit. Then I realized I might have a chance at the hole-shot prime. From my recon ride that morning, I knew we were close to the seeing the hole-shot. I decided that as soon as I saw it, I'd go for it and the plan worked. I swung wide and dove into the trees, making sure I made eye contact with the promoter who was standing there cheering us on. I just hoped that was worth the effort cuz I had 50 more miles to go.

Not long after entering the trees, Laura snuck around me when I moved over for a buy behind me. I was surprised and knew I had an aggressive rider to compete with. She was riding well and really putting down the power. So much so, that I eventually had to let her go. With any luck, she'd burn out at some point.

The pace was good. I was around dudes that were keeping it steady. After Aid 1, about 11 miles in, I was in a train of guys and I saw Laureen was amongst them. Our train came up on Laura. She was riding really well. I was two bikes back from her when, on a tight switchback, she couldn't get her big wheels around and I dove into the inside and suddenly had the lead. Yay 26ers! (more on that later). I was up around Adam, which always helps me mentally. He's a strong rider so if I'm around him, I'm probably up the field a ways. But so was Laureen. She's a NUE rider and carries everything she needs to get through a race without stopping. I knew this so when I came into check 2, I zeroed in on Jenni. She was ready for me. I was there for less than 15 seconds. But Laureen came right past me as we headed back into the trees. I was right on her wheel. We both then caught a couple of others, including Adam and group he was in that being lead by a guy on a fat bike. Also mixed in were a couple of SS riders. They weren't going that hard. At one point someone bobbled a rooty switch-back and they were all off their bikes. Laureen & I stayed steady and motored on by. At another choke point, both of us had to run by a troop of riders who were off the bike. After stopping at check 3, Laureen took a bit of a lead. It was open gravel and her big wheels had a slight advantage. The road had deep puddles that sometimes were edge to edge. Adam and another dude came up on me and Adam said, let's go get her! It was a nice gesture but he soon faded. The other guy stayed steady, in fact he was down-right chatty.

Dude: "Are those 26-inch?"
Me: "Yep"
Dude: "I don't like 26. Twenty-nine has more speed advantage, I think."
Me: "You're probably right."
Dude: "Did you get the hole-shot?"
Me: "Yes. On my 26"

I think I earned a couple kernels of respect because he told me to jump on as we clicked up a couple of gears. Laureen was slightly ahead but not for too long. Once past her, the dude wanted to catch the next gaggle of riders and trade pulls into the wind. We weren't far from aid 4. I tried to stay with him for maybe 30 seconds when I was like, wait, I need to race my own damn race. So I sat up and let him race his race. Soon, though, Laureen was right on my wheel. About this time, I felt something hit my helmet with enough knock that I thought it was an acorn. But it wasn't. A bug had kami-kazeed into a slot of my helmet, successfully lodging itself under it and in my hair. I could feel it crawling around. I tried digging at it and moving my helmet from side to side. I thought it was gone. We came up to a part of the course that was along a highway. The bug began to sting my head. Shit! Well, I knew there was a very long road climb coming up where we'd be going slower and I could deal with this bug situation. Still hoping it would fly away, I moved my helmet around some more. Laureen was chugging away at the hill, nice and steady. I could see SS riders scaling the hill, riding back and forth instead of straight up to maintain momentum. Yeah, kinda steep. The bug was still lodged under my helmet so I had to deal with it right then. I shifted down in my small ring in front, which caused it to get caught between the frame and the chain ring. I tried shifting it back to the big, but no dice. Crap! Ok, one thing at a time. I could still pedal, so I took off my glasses and unclipped my helmet and held it in my teeth by it's straps. I felt the bug on my head. It had to have been a beetle b/c it was big. As I was swatting at my head and shrieking, the promoter drives down the road. Now, had this been a USAC event, I could've been dq'd for having my helmet off. I finally got the bug out. I tried getting my chain to unkink itself but it wasn't having it. I had to stop and deal with it. Quickly though I was back on the bike and putting in a bigger effort to make up some time. I came into the check point, frazzled. I threw some food in my mouth and some Sport Leg pills. Bad idea! You can't chew and swallow pills at the same time! I swapped bottles and threw it in the big ring. Laureen was nowhere in site. Dammit! I kept trying to chew/swallow my pill/bar combo on the open stretch before I got into the trees. I'm such a dumb ass. Once into the trees, I was on a mission to catch her. I got caught behind a dude who really wasn't going that slow, it's just that I wanted to go fast. I'd have to go even faster to stay in front of him and I didn't know if that was a good idea, being that it was only mile 40ish and there was still another 15 to go. Eventually, he let me by and I was back on my pace. The course at this point was mojoflow. Nothing sustaining. Some switchbacks and some dry spring beds but for the most part, it's just capital F Fun! I was in my zone and bombing descents like I was on my Remedy. I had to keep my eye on my heart rate though. Fun can sometimes disguise fatigue until it's too late.

I'm not sure how soon it was that I saw Larry ahead of me. Sweet! Except he was looking like he was kinda chillin'. As I came up to him, I could see Laureen just ahead. Larry, like the gentleman he is, let me go by and I eeked by Laureen too. I backed off my chase pace so I could recover a bit. The flow of the trail kept me focused. I could hear both riders behind me on the gravel trail. We chewed it up! Once feeling recovered and after switching bottles from my bottom cage to the one on my down tube while still on the bike (a feat of skill I had to master a few times), I began to push the pace. Not crazy, stand up attack, but a slow, python squeeze, if you will. Soon Larry was behind me, not Laureen, telling me it was go time. He advised that we should pace off the guy that was a few bike lengths up the trail and to keep on the gas. That was a direct order I was willing to follow. And it seemed to be working. Our rabbit up front was in his local flow, slowing for nothing. He had a rabbit ahead of him as well. This went on for about 4-5 miles. Then we entered a section of trail that I recognized as the end of the single track. We rode through a small clearing that signaled the start of a the slow, ATV road back to the gravel road up top. It was on this road that I caught my rabbit and his rabbit. "Great pace out there" I said. Up! Up! Up! As I climbed I saw the promoter, Scott, driving down the road (seems some signage had been moved). I knew the gravel road was close. Once up there, the wind greeted me. I looked back hoping that Larry would be there so we could battle the wind together. But he must have fallen off because I was all by myself.  I put it in the biggest ring I had and took off. This was where I eventually caught Laureen last year so I was sort of in a panic that she might try the same. She had big wheels and if she was going to gain ground, this was it. But I felt like I was going backwards. The wind was that strong. And the road was that long. Turn after turn. Small rise after small rise. I was hoping I'd see someone ahead to latch onto. I looked back a couple of times to see if anyone was coming but nobody. No Larry. No rabbits. No Laureen. As the miles clicked off, I started looking for land markers. There was the hole-shot. There was the turn-about where we unloaded the day before. Closer. Then I started seeing the large purple circles on some of the trees on the side of the road. Closer. Then a big descent where I tucked and rocked that bike like my life depended on it. One more climb and then the last descent that lead back to flat road and the resort. Just need to stay upright this last hundred yards and not ditch it in the sand pit. I cleanly got to the other side and popped out at the resort's campground and the final straightaway to the finish. As I predicted, Ryan and Jenni were standing there, screaming their lungs out. I smiled and pulled into the finish tent to take first place, 31 overall. I was very happy at the outcome and even more so to be done (my favorite part of bike racing). I rode directly to the bathroom and then over to Ryan and Jen who were chatting it up with Larry. He came in only a few minutes after me. He said he cramped on the climb and was bummed he couldn't help pull me in. We stayed there until our whole crew crossed the line: Adam, Carly (6th place, scrubbing an hour off her time) and then Wixon, who cramped right at the start of the finishing straightaway and had us scratching our heads for a minute as he got off his bike to try and stretch his leg. We were like, what the hell is he doing?

Everyone was in and healthy and with bikes intact. It was a great day on the bike for all of us. Ryan secured 16th place overall, and only 2:30 from top 10 overall. For someone who was "chill riding" it was very respectable.

We all hung around for a bit to bathe in the euphoria of being done and exchanging war stories. I told of my bug situation and having to actually race someone the whole time. (So many times on these long races, you end up riding alone and racing the clock more than each other). Food was next on the agenda so we made our way back to the cabin to get cleaned up, fetch our meal tickets and head back to ground zero for post race festivities which included a meat buffet, unlimited beer on tap, a good ol' boy, back country bon fire and lastly the awards ceremony, which was held under a big top tent that the resort had set up. Carly won a commuter bike in the raffle! She was the only one to win of our group and she was so excited. I took the top step for open women. Laureen had to leave early, so it was just me and Laura, who I chatted with after the race. I love meeting these incredible women who can shred at middle age (or just under). So inspiring!

We capped off the night with some more time around the bon fire, sharing pulls of honey whiskey with anyone and having the pleasure or not, of seeing the two promoters dressed up as Hooter's girls as part of the costume challenge. I think they won! It was about this time that Wixon's order of 5 large pizzas from the resort's lodge were ready for pick up (They will also deliver to the cabins. Sheah!) Needless to say, those pizzas didn't have a chance. We brought them back to the cabin and ate them as we sat around our own little fire pit in the back of the cabin. We were joined by some neighbors and later by some other riders. Swapping stories and getting lit was pretty much the only thing on all of our agendas. Well that and trying to keep a drunk woman from burning the derma off her hands. Once our fire died down, she was hell-bent on bringing one of the larger, STILL-ON-FIRE, logs over to the fire next door. She drug it across the lawn, probably 20 yards, before depositing it in the fire pit. We were pretty sure she was going to have a painful morning, wondering why her hands were covered with blisters.

I sacked out, along with Carly and Jen while the boys talked bikes. I don't even remember Ryan coming to bed. Carly was behind on her Zs and Jen, who worked her ass off to feed us, deserved her sleep too. It was the end of the night, and for many of us, the end of the race season. As I've said many times before, being done is my favorite part of racing. And boy, I was done.