Monday, September 22, 2014

Specialized Florida State Championship Series # 2 - Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park Trails - Jacksonville, FL

Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park Trails - Jacksonville, FL

Women Pro/Expert 4th

Not the best day out in the park or the greatest result. We raced on the slick, narrow and muddy trails after day and night of down pouring. Small crash on the pre ride made me sore for the following day and kept me from taking too many risks. Race turned out to be a training ride rather than a race but I was happy I didn't get hurt even more.

Almost everyone I talked to crashed numerous times during the race. So yes not the outcome I was looking for but I guess we have to take take good with the bad sometimes.

On to the Report:

Just like last week we are now on the drive back home.

Out the window there is a complete white out and it’s down pouring badly. One car flipped over on the side of the road and massive lightnings are striking everywhere. Not the best drive home for sure.

But it was not so much different actually on our way to Jacksonville also.

It was raining in and out and the moment we arrived in the park an awful front went by and started flooding the already wet trail system.

Ready or not I got out quickly on the course in the good company of friend Jim.

Besides us there were quite a few riders brave enough to bike through this tight and twisty trail system in this torrential rain.

I was wondering at first if I was going to be able to ride today but the moment we hit the trails even in the worst of conditions I started to enjoy the moment. Everything was narrow, twisty and covered with plenty of roots while from the above any little light was filtered through the dense foliage of this amazing tropical rainforest.

I thought for myself that no matter what happens the next day during the race I will be happy just with what I’m doing now, with that moment of just riding my bike in the completely new place, through the mud, through the wet roots systems and man-made bridges and all of it while being soaked by the rain.

It was just a good feeling to be out there…

We were doing great and we tackled everything with no issues on one of the trail connections we saw our friend Scott with his buddy also enjoying the ride. It had to be no earlier than 4.5 miles while on the most technical and demanding trail here where all of the sudden it seemed like some invisible monster just picked me up off my bike and threw me in the air and then slammed me hard into the ground. There was nothing there going on really besides a really densely muddy corner. My bar was completely twisted and I was laying there on the ground for a minute or so trying to figure out if I was Ok or not. I got slammed on my right arm, whole ribcage and felt an instant headache. I knew it could be nothing but also could be really bad. Thankfully after gathering myself with the help of riders that we had behind us I realized that nothing serious happened. But this definitely shook me up and I was little more careful on the final miles of the race course.

When we got out we were soaked head to toe and the outdoor shower while still wearing our full biking gear did wonders. I was cold now and thankfully my amazing friend Zee who drove all the way here to the park to see me and had plans for us and we all got out with a bunch of other biking fanatics to the local Greek restaurant. We had a great time and I was really grateful that I had this opportunity to stay with my friend overnight and get ready for tomorrows race.

However all of it was not so simple from the start. To be honest I didn’t even have this race on my schedule nor was considering driving up and competing here. After an idea planted by Zee and then some convincing from my husband we made this weekend happen. I knew by deciding to race I was not going to be in the form for sure since for the past few days I either worked 15 hour long days or pretty much did a triathlon for the whole Thursday, Friday and some of Saturday. So throwing the bike race in the middle of my triathlon training week was going to be not an easy a task.

It was raining whole Saturday into the night and we knew that trails were going to be really wet in the morning with no chances of drying out on time.

But Sunday morning was so beautiful, with gorgeous blue skies and even cooler feeling air. The park looked amazing in the full light and riding around during my warmup was great.

Just seconds away from the race start besides the beautiful lake filled with hundreds white herons there was the most gorgeous boardwalk that was leading to the beach. It was so relaxing to just listen to the ocean waves for a while and put everything in perspective.

But a race was about to start and I went to the start line. Big hug to my husband before I went off and I was now on my own.

We took off and I was sprinting on the grassy stretch in 3rd and getting into the narrow and dark single-track.

Quickly I realized I was not riding as fast as I would want to. The constant turning, wet roots in the corner and poor visibility at times because of all the shadows from the trees made me feel like I was not doing good enough right from the start. I had also the 4th rider right on my wheel. She was handling the course pretty well and no matter what the course threw at us she was always right on my wheel. The two girls in front however slowly started fading away and it was not a good sign.

Named after my friend - Thx Zee! ;-)

I was still in full racing mode and was doing my best considering all the circumstances. We fought a little for position on one long stretch of the double track and then everything that was already not so great started to get even worst. We got to the most technical section of the course named after my Zeelishes friend, Z-trail. The speed, at least mine come instantly to a halt, we were going in what seemed constant 180 degrees tight switchbacks with tons of roots and log overs which of course were all slimy from the rain. I had a train of people now on my tail. We paraded like this for a while but at some point I realized that the trail was not going to open up anytime soon and only way to let people go was to pull to the side and just let the whole group ride by me one by one, than watch them disappear. I felt here like a door man opening the door and directing everyone in the correct direction “This way ladies and gentlemen”. It was frustrating for sure but this part of the course was impossible as far as passing goes.

It was a start yet of what was going to come and there were more and more faster male riders which had to go by. I was still trying and my bike kept skidding left and right on all the wet roots. At some point once again a big crazy tree jumped out at me on the left and knocked me down. I hit the bar and lost the bar cap and gathered myself again. I knew the more I would try the more dangerous the course is going to get for me. Than we go to the sleek bridges that were crossing over a swampy water. After I cleared those the course took us to the final section of the Z-trail which was today, just like yesterday full of deep dark mud holes. We were sliding all over the thick muddy turns, roots while getting slammed in the face by giant palmetto leafs. I knew I was already a good chunk of time behind. When I did come out to the open and to the shoot I was probably some 30 seconds back. It was not much and there were so many people cheering me on and encouraging to keep on pushing and fighting and I thought I was going to give it another try. But at some point I realized how awful and dangerous the final sections of each lap was and I was not willing today unfortunately to take any chances. I had to actually make a conscious decision to just turn this race to a training ride and rather experience in order to avoid some serious injury that could possibly hold me back from what really matters to me the most at that time. And all it is right now is my race next month which I am keeping as a priority and if it requires me to hold back at one race and sacrifice it for a better good than let it be. When I accepted it I felt better already and was just hoping for the reminding of the race not to do anything goofy that I would really regret later.

And it is not my normal me, usually I give in every race everything I got no matter what are the circumstances, but today it was just not worth for me taking any risk. The second lap was partially relaxing when I didn’t have any pressure from the guys but it got a little hectic once again on the Z-trail where a few guys were trying to pass right before one of the bridges. One thing lead to the other and the rider in front of me slid off the bridge and ended up a few feet down in the swamps while his bike reminded laying up across the narrow wet bridge. Everyone now piled up in one space and seeing that he was fine we convinced him to gather himself up and to grab the bike so everyone can proceed. People in front of me walked and when I put my feet down on the wood I realized how slippery it was, it felt like ice!

I was glad I did come out once again from this section in one piece and was ready to go for my 3rd lap.

Like one of the riders today on the trails said, now I was riding to ride, to enjoy the day and be grateful for opportunity that we have to be on our bikes, be healthy and just enjoy this beautiful place and day.

So from being really frustrated on the first lap I transitioned to being completely at ease and relaxed on the final lap and enjoyed the chatter of other riders around me. You know you are not riding really fast when you catch yourself grasping full conversations and people behind you are talking about burgers, cats and beer. Why do they talk about the cats!?? No clue but I was obviously done racing.

Also never underestimate men with full head of grey hair sticking out of the helmet, yes seems like a lot of riders that often doesn’t get opportunity to pass me did just that today.

Oh well. I learned today that life is not all the time about the podiums and winning but rather about new lessons to be learned and new experiences.

I was happy to see all my friends to still keep encouraging me all the way to the finish when we all knew my race was long gone. I was glad to see also my husband in a calm and kind of happy spirit and I hoped that he understood the decision that I had to make today.

But after looking at the pictures that he took today looks like he was in a good spirit throughout otherwise this one juicy caterpillar would not get its photos session that it did.

So I’m grateful for this beautiful weekend with my husband and friends and for the experience and am looking forward to my next adventure.

And if anyone needs some convincing of having good and bad days here is a good quote to remember:

“It's not how many times you fall that matters, it's how many times you get back up.”

My AWESOME friend Zee and I after the race and great weekend together!

And for all you new riders out there that want to know what it feels like to get a medal for the first time - it feels kinda like this

Tonya Hutson with Encore Cycling getting her first medal on her 2nd Race - Great Job !!!

As always Thank You to my husband and all my sponsors the continuous support!

Big Thanks goes to: Syntace, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, ESI Grips, Clif, Xpedo, Trainer Road, Garden of Life, Pro Gold Lubricants, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, KT Tape, Cycleops and New for 2014 - Mack Cycles, Oakley, Pocketfinder, Hawk Racing, Specialized, Louis Garneau, Selle Italia, KMC Chains and Rotor Bike Components!

Nothing like a true kiss from a true friend!!!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Specialized Florida State Championship Series # 1 - Tom Brown Park - Tallahassee, FL

Women Pro/Expert

3rd Place, all top three within seconds of each other crossing the finish line.

FSC#1 Tom Brown Park – Tallahassee

We are now on our drive back from the first Florida State Series Race for the 2014 Season so I have some time to reflect. Yes in Florida everything is a little bit off from the ordinary so when everyone else is about to end the bike season soon we are just starting.

BMX Track was fun for sure, however for safety reasons was not included this year in the race course.

Last few months since my last bike race went by pretty quick I must say; especially since I kept myself pretty occupied with XTERRA racing and training. That was my main summer focus and still I’m in the triathlon training zone in a way since next month I’m traveling to Maui, Hawaii for the XTERRA World Championships. So I can’t say I was particularly well prepared for my first mountain bike race. Swimming, biking, running and working full time the whole summer definitely takes a lot of time and toll on the specific bike training. Plus, summer in Florida is not really very appealing or cooperating as far as biking goes. Usually it is way too hot or it’s raining and lighting like crazy, there is no winning here, simply tough times.

But besides all of the above: 1) I was looking forward to seeing where I stand at that particular time of my season, 2) getting out again on the fast Tallahassee trail system and 3) to see all my amazing bike friends from all over the state.

This time around we were very lucky with the weather in a way since it just drizzled before we arrived to the park and trails stayed in really good and shape with some only loose corners on the second part of the course.

So Saturday we had an Individual Time trial. We were going off at 3 PM, but the loads of people on the starting line waiting for their turn extended my go off time to almost 4 PM. No kidding around, it was hot, really hot; some 93 degrees in the shade with very thick, moist, stagnant air! I knew those 3.7 miles of twisty single track were going to feel like hell.

Finally I got my turn and I was off. Nice sprint to the trail system on the grass and I was pushing through the tight switchbacks. Everything was going pretty well until (it is what happens when you go really fast!) a big ass tree just popped out of nowhere. I had no chance to get around in time so I had two choices, ram it full speed or grab my brakes, I chose the latter. Seconds later I found myself balancing on the front wheel in the air doing all acrobatics I could to don’t go over. My bike wiggled left and right, some sticks seemed to get into my spokes and were making ugly banging noises and I was still trying not to crash. Somehow I put my foot down, back wheel down and I was able to resume with hopes that my wheels are fine. Thankfully everything was good but I was only on 0.9 of the course and already lost valuable seconds. This part of the course is winding, with lots of roots, switchbacks and consistently takes us up and down in the deep forest cover. Finally I got out to the Gun Range trail and into the open grassy space with a long and windy climb. This one is a burner especially when you get to the top and my heart rate definitely showed it, the heat of the day and full sun added to the misery.

I was back to the trails again and was making a 180 turn up the hill and my whole bike just slid and decided to lay down on the left side. It was a soft fall and slow and nothing besides a few scratches on my leg happened but to restart the race up the hill from the fall takes some time. I’m thinking on those both instances I had to have lost at least 20-30 seconds but I was determined to keep on doing my best.

My final time did come out to some 17 min and 23 seconds only 12 seconds to the 3rd place. Knowing that without the falls possibly I could have got it makes me feel like I did put a good effort.

Between Saturday’s Time Trail and Sunday’s race we had a nice little break and got out to a really nice Pizza Place – Joe Mamma’s, where food is simply delicious with my XTERRA friend Brook and a bunch of local Tallahassee bikers. Everyone was in a great and positive spirit and ready to tackle the Cross Country course the next morning.

It did drizzle some more overnight, making the trails tacky but maybe a little greased up on some rooty sections. I was not going to repeat my mistakes from yesterday and was planning to ride smoothly and without incidences.

At the start my bike computer showed 85 degrees and it was only 8:30 AM. This was probably my biggest worry for today, the possibility of experiencing the agonizing pain from heat exhaustion. Everything else was just about riding my own race and see what I got without going overboard.

We went off, flying down the grassy descent once again. I thought I had a pretty good start and was jetting down but obviously I was not going fast enough since I got cut off on the left by one of the girls and got locked near the fence and had to give my position away. We went quickly to single track for a second and then through the rocky stream.

After that there was very long, almost 1.5 miles of double track that was aiming mostly uphill. I was able after a few attempts to make pass on one of the girls. But the two still in front of me seemed to work together on that section and were trading the leading positions which I completely didn’t mind. We were going fast for sure but at some point I figured they were not really pushing as hard as they could and I started to get annoyed in a way. So I sped up and moved to the right to make my pass, while all of the sudden the lady ahead of me just veered to the right in front of me and I had to slow down to not crash into her.

I tried a few more times but it seemed each time I got to the speed, girls also accelerated so at least our overall speed increased and I just hung in there. Finally we went to the most fun single track on the edge of the mountain. I think it is called the Cadillac Trail and this is where Shelly totally disappeared. This section is so fun, technical at speed and reminds me at times of the Richmond course because of the ridge riding and the bridges along the way. In the few sections the trail splits and you can go either left or right and this is where you should remember your line of choice. All of it went almost as planned but on one of the splits I followed a lady and went the same direction I didn’t want to go and I didn’t practice that line but it ended up not being so bad. But on the other occasion she picked the easiest and smoother longer side when I went for the bumpy and rooty section and I was able to make up some good 15 meters or more that way. I was hoping to get out in front but unfortunately I got out right on her wheel.

Throughout the first full lap not much happened and I seemed to be sitting on some 10-15 seconds back. On the open field climb I could see a lady in front. However Shelly known for her blazing fast first lap was long gone. I finished the first lap with no incidences, grabbed a new water bottle and felt pretty good. I managed the climbs well the second time around and all the passing from the guys from different classes that was going on throughout the whole race. It had to be one of the nicest so far races in that matter since guys were incredibly polite and willing to work things out as far as passing goes. And all the cheering that was going on from the friends and onlookers was incredible; it really felt so good to have so much support from so many people.

My second lap went uneventful but it’s kind of a lame thing to say since there is so much going on every second. Paying attention to all the detail on the course was critical since light was in and out just filtering from the trees above. I loved toward the middle of the second half of the course the wall ride where so many people congregated and encouraged everyone to get up on that wall! It was fun and I was not going to disappoint anyone on that matter. I got on the wall and felt really good up there, even though it lasted only for few split seconds. And there was a grueling climb in the sun; this is when I got another nice complement from one of the riders telling me that I’m a great rider. It’s always awesome to hear kind words from fellow riders. And when I asked some guys if I could pass they say “oh yeah, you can pass Beata anytime you want”. It was just sweet.

We had some friends come out to watch my race and Travis who believed some years back that I’m capable of riding in Pro/Expert class had a chance to do a bottle hand off for me after cheering me greatly during my first lap. And I got to the third lap now and it was a time to consider bumping up the pace to catch up to girls ahead. 2nd place still had some 10-15 seconds but Shelly’s 1st lap 1.5 min gap on both of us turned to 40 seconds on the second. I had no clue where she was at that time, but I know I need to speed up for the 2nd. Slowly I was gaining ground throughout the whole lap, all the hundreds of roots and corners that we had to tackle were going by and my time to get the gap smaller was also shrinking. We were three quarters in and I got out on the big climb again. This is when 2nd place was right there in front. I felt like I was getting closer with each pedal stroke and when we got to the top she was right there getting to the next single-track. But while in the trees I really couldn’t tell how far she was for most of the time. The time was ticking and I was still going back and forth with some male riders costing some valuable seconds. We had to be in the final mile and the last switchback when I saw here in front with only two riders in between us. I passed the first guy and before I knew it we were making a sharp right turn and going on the climb out of the course next to BMX park and shortly after to that to the finishing shoot. I was shocked but right in front so close I had not only 2nd place but also Shelly just seconds away. With all the noise of people cheering I sprinted and got even closer but the push to the final climb and the finish line was just not enough to catch up and make a pass. Wonder what would have happened if course was just 100 meters longer…

We were all together 3 and 6 second apart crossing the line.

What a finish, I wish I got it and seems like I would if the course had been slightly longer but all and all I had a very good race. After all last season the leading girls were nowhere to be found after the first lap and with all my efforts and fast 2nd and 3rd laps it was still not enough.

Today we paraded to the finish all together and I had the fastest 3rd lap of all the ladies and of all my laps too. I’m proud to share the podium with such an amazing rider like Shelly who is dominating Florida biking scene for so many years. I’m also content with the finish as a good start of my bike season.

Overall the trip went really well and I was so happy to see some of my friend which I didn’t see for such a long time with one of them being my Cupkaze Super Zee! Also when I’m racing I think of our good friend Wally who we love to ride with and who is missing racing with us greatly. I hope he will be able to get out on the trails soon…

My Pax like usual was a ninja photographer and super bike mechanic and everything you can think of coordinator. At one point he sneaked himself behind the wooden wall and snapped some cool pictures of us riding it. We had my husband’s mom joining us on this trip also and she was our little off the course support and cheer group.

I’m looking forward now to my next race and hope even more strong and talented ladies will come out and joins us on this challenge.

I hope I represented my sponsors well and am forever grateful for all the amazing support that I’m receiving.

Big Thanks goes to: Syntace, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, ESI Grips, Clif, Xpedo, Trainer Road, Garden of Life, Pro Gold Lubricants, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, KT Tape, Cycleops and New for 2014 - Mack Cycles, Oakley, Pocketfinder, Hawk Racing, Specialized, Louis Garneau, Selle Italia, KMC Chains and Rotor Bike Components!

Until next time!