Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Fool's Gold - Last race of the 2016 NUE series

3rd Place Open

Fool's Gold National Ultra Endurance Race 3rd Place Open Women - culmination of the long and demanding day! The course was tough, rocky and unpredictable at times but thankfully I was able to sail through it to the podium finish. It was a pleasure to see so many Floridians making the long trip up here and tackle such an unusual for us terrain. Great job to everyone for finishing strong and in one piece such a challenging race!

So 62 miles later, 5:42 hours of riding and 7 thousand feet of climbing I am covered all over with dust but happy to say, I am finally done! 

Read about the race at:

This was not my first take at the NUE Series Fool’s Gold race since I had an opportunity to race it a year ago and was fortunate enough to take the win. I was looking forward to coming back on this challenging course and have some fun. Making a drive all the way from South Florida makes for quite a trip but myself as well as other Floridians find it well worth it.

Just two weeks ago I raced in Val Di Sole, Italy in the Cross Country Masters World Championship where I can proudly say I podiumed and shared the stage with an Olympic medalist and 3-time World Champion and other top European riders. I felt already accomplished but realized that this endurance event would be a good aid to clear my mind and enjoy the quite different scenery to our local bike scene as well as a good moment to finish my season on a good note.

The race site here was beautiful and mountains awaiting were rough, especially the first and last section.

The truly off-road part of the course was pretty spectacular, especially the flowy single track and super tough and fun Bull Mountain. I had a wonderful time riding those sections and tackling the small creeks, steep uphill’s filled with roots which were so tough that only strong riders could make it all the way up, as well as having a blast on the super-fast and technical downhills. It was all so enjoyable that often I was forgetting that I was actually racing. There were times where I was battling my competition and swapping spots but also times when I felt like I was on my own in the whole forest and could hear only the trickling of water, rustling of leaves and my own breath.

I don’t think I will ever forget how I felt on the final rocky descent coming back to the finish line. The descent was so loose, rocky and bumpy that I experienced at the same time pain and almost complete numbness in my hands and feet. For sure my body was not used to descends like this and it made it more of a challenge for me than anything else. Coasting to the finish line after that was quite elevating and I had a brilliant time going back and forth with a few male riders and giving one rider a sprint finish which made if fun for both of us as well as spectators. Finishing third and still placing on the podium this year leaves me completely content and satisfied, especially knowing how deep and stacked with the talented riders the field was. Now I just wish we had more races like this closer to home. I hope one day I will be able to focus solely on endurance racing and hopefully compete for the overall NUE series points.

Monday, September 5, 2016

UCI Mountain Bike World Championships - Val Di Sole - Trentino, Italy

UCI Mountain Bike World Championships
4th Place

Val Di Sole

The most important race in my whole biking career so far. What an honor and an excitement to take a trip all the way to Italy for a biking event. When I started biking and racing I did it for pure joy of being on my bike and overcoming challenges and obstacles that for us mountain bikers are all the time in our way as well as on our path. But all of it grew and grew, I kept wanting to ride more, to be better, to be faster, to be one of the best, to be unafraid of almost anything. I also enjoyed challenging myself, setting goals and working on accomplishing them. With time I wanted to go to and win bigger races. How a little girl gets from local bike circuit to the stage of a world class race I just don't know. Lots of passion, loads of stubbornness and a lot of hard work filled with good and bad days. One way or the other we flew across the globe for my dream race!

At this very moment we are in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with still over 6 hours to go and some 3200 miles. The path that our plane is taking is not the usual one; usually you would fly to and from Europe up high near Iceland and Greenland, this time we are going way lower than that and straight across the middle of the ocean. The storm passing through Florida in our absence made its way up here and that’s why our route had been modified. It was the worst part of it all and the plane would be jumping in the air for hours, I knew I had to suffer through this to get where I needed to get. Sadly teleportation is not in order yet for us, but if it was I would be one of the first in line...

But the trip begun a whole week ago with relatively much more peaceful travel to Venice and then a scenic drive of about 3.5 hours though the beautiful Dolomite mountains to Val Di Sole. By the time we arrived in the hotel up in the mountains it started to rain. It was already around 5 o clock and we were up with pretty much no sleep at all for some 26 hours. I had best intentions despite my exhaustion to get out on the course just to see what was there, but we were quite some time away and still would have to put my bike back together. The pre-ride was simply not happening. We took a nice walk through the rainy streets of the skiing village in Maddonna Di Campiglio and grabbed something to eat. We were more than ready to simply collapse.

The practice the following day was starting already at 10 am and I knew I had to go get my race number and get out on the course as soon as I can. The time slot was for two hours and I didn’t think I would be there for that long either way but like everything in life, nothing is ever just as we imagine or plan for.

I was excited to see the course but right from the first look the side of the mountain looked just ridiculously steep. It was not the California nice and round rolling hill, it was this cone shaped straight up and down kind of look.

The beginning of this 3-mile-long loop was on the grassy open field at the foot of the mountain, in a matter of 0.45 miles it took me straight to the wet double track climb. It would start more mellow and keep getting steeper and steeper as it progressed. Along the course there were many volunteers signaling with a whistle when the rider would go by. I passed by already, 2, 3 and the climb just kept on going. Each time you look up, it just looked steeper and there is no end. Far far above there is another volunteer but by the time you get there you quickly realize that the climb kept on going. The final portion of this climb was just plain brutal, the pain from pushing for so long and so hard up this mountain cannot be described. I wanted to get off so badly quite a few times, I was sitting on the tippy end of my SelleSMP saddle, leaning forward s much as I could, cranking my smallest 28 Rotor Q-Ring at some 49-55 rpm’s and was just trying not to faint from the effort. The was no "easy way" unfortunately to pre-ride this course.Video of the course below.

It was not fun and at the top there was no reward, not even a foot of a flat surface, the trail instantly aims down into a little narrow on the side of the mountain path. It was filled with little loose wet rocks and mud. Riding it down was tricky. Than it went straight back up to the next small climb which by surprise leveled out for a little while and led us to the waterfall section. It was full of rocks and twisty climbs; it would be extremely tough when dry if even possible but definitely not rideable now when wet. It was quite nice up there and after crossing the fall the single track pointed straight down to the steepest downhill I ever got to ride.

I didn’t even know when to start gathering my thoughts when I saw it. The lower it went the steeper it got and rockier. It was big, scary, slimy slime that would end up consuming my whole day.

I ended up doing this brutal loop three times over. On my second one I felt like I spent there the whole day, trying again and again the same section, each time sliding down a few feet further. Sometimes it worked and others it didn’t. It was an exhausting process considering how steep the slope was to get back up again. On the last lap I crashed pretty hard, bruising my tail bone and looking on the back side like I was attacked by a Bengal Tiger. That’s right, not any other Tiger but a Bengal Tiger! I was completely fed up at that point and called it a day. It was unfortunate that I didn’t get an opportunity to practice on this course in better conditions like some of the girls I spoke to did.

The next day the sun came out and the guys had a great course to race on, it was really exciting to watch. Funny we got winded walking by foot to the downhill section on the side of the track with little wooden stepping spots placed. It was a really tough hike. I felt today completely beat and sore; most likely from my fall and also from riding too much, this course just used up entirely the whole freshness from my legs it was so brutal. I had no idea how I was going to recover for the following day. I just had one day to my race...

Besides the not so good weather predictions there was this beautiful blue sky on the race morning, that was really a good thing... Soon after arriving on the race course however I learned that it did rain here overnight. So the track was not as bad as it was on Tuesday but for sure not as good as yesterday.

Thursday, September 1st is the happening day. I tried to relax and just get to my pre-race routine and ignore the fact that I was going to race in my first world class event in mountain biking. There was no time also to worry about how my legs felt and how little sleep I got the night before. I was going on a little less than 3 hours of sleep as I was so stressed out the night before it. It was less of the course itself, which was really technically tough but even more how much pain I will need to endure. There was no skipping that in that event for sure. But now it was go time and I had to put all of it behind. Just getting on my bike and beginning my warm up I started feeling instantly better. It is the anticipation that is the worst. The knowledge that it was going to hurt really bad and also all the unknown. We rolled to the start line and I was called up 5th; the first four were the ladies who raced last year in Vallnord and the first to go to the line was no one less than Marga Fullana herself, the Olympic Silver medalist and 3-time World Champion, one of the times on exactly same course! It was quite insane but I just rolled in like I belonged there.

When I learned at home who I was going to race I could not believe. I was expecting regular people who work 9 hours a day and bike whenever they can, just like me. But I ended up having to race with one of best riders from Europe and best in the World. I found it pretty exciting actually more than intimidating and though it would be an amazing chance to have a real life test to see where I stand.

The position position I had in the first raw was not the best but it will have to do. In a minute time we were off.


I pushed through the grassy field having all those incredible riders on my right and in a matter of few seconds I was making ground and found my way around most and onto the smooth path. I was in second now after one Italian rider, Marga was just a little back behind to the side. There was just one bridge, two turns and we were on the bottom of the grueling climb.

I got passed by two riders and was thinking it would be the end of me seeing them, but I didn’t give up. To my surprise I managed to hang in there with the lead group and was cranking in misery and pain somehow toward the top. Now everyone was in line and I was sitting on Marga’s wheel. I was shocked a little I was doing so well again in such a tough group of women but at the same time I can’t remember a time when I was in such amount of pain last. My system was maxed out, my breathing, my heart rate, my gears, the tip of my saddle, the power left in my legs. If I could I would scream when I was in the final meters to reach the top, but I was too tired for that too. All I could do was to keep my head down and hide the pain and keep fighting and keep moving. It was so so so so hard…

My heart rate reached levels that high, that I was completely sure for many years now that my body is not capable any longer of taking me there. I think I didn’t see this heart rate for some 5-6 years if not more. It went beyond what I consider normal or my max effort. It all in theory should have stopped when we finally reached the top but the system is so fatigued at that moment that it’s so tough to recover in any way even when the trail is facing down. My group slowly started getting away from me and I could not keep my sight on them for much longer. It happened way too quickly.

I lost even more positions on the main downhill sections. I made it through and was happy to ride the spot on which I crashed two days back and made it safely down but I was concerned now. I didn’t know if I had any chance to catch up with my leading ladies. The lap went by in the blink of an eye, I could not believe we were doing 21-22 minute laps. When I pre-rode I thought 33 minutes was not bad. Goofy me, once again I didn't think I was capable of times like that. I also didn’t know how I’m going to make this climb two more times in a row at racing speed. It seemed totally impossible. Toward the top people started to get off their bikes, I biked as far as I could and I was making back some passes. Went down, up, waterfall, big deep breath and toward the three arrows pointing down. This time I didn’t make as far as last time I did go slightly off into a big rock and was off the bike. Now I got passed by my Swedish girl. This was getting really ridiculous and I tried stay near her when we were coming off the descent. On the flat section of the course there was a bridge with a huge Swedish cheering group and even bigger flag, I think they had like a 10 plus feet long across flag hanging off of it and were cheering her on. This is when I put on the gas and just moments later was able to make my pass. I tried to get away as far as I could and she would not challenge me much. Now I knew that the top 3 girls were gone and I was racing for 4th. It was going to be about all staying ahead on the climb and not losing that gap on the descent, then I knew I could pull it off. The third time up the mountain was getting slower, there was just as much one could give at that point, toward the top I had to get off and climb on foot my misery up. I was so shaky from the exertion that I was all over the place when the trail did head down. I crashed. I was trying to gather myself back up and on the bike but it was pretty hard. I knew I was losing a lot of time. I finally found some strength to start riding down, the whole ride now was so sketchy on the shook up body from all this effort.

I knew I had to just get through the waterfall and somehow down. Part of me wanted to take risks and ride the small section that I would skip each time, part of me wanted to be safe however and finish the race. That was really hard decision and it will bother me for a long time to come that I couldn’t ride it as well as I would wish for. Now it’s the time when my Swedish girl was getting close and I could hear her on the bottom of the descent on the loose gravel turn. This was my time to hit the gas once again, but now give everything I got because in just minutes’ time it was going to be all over.
In an instant I started getting away really really fast, I made a huge amount of distance that felt pretty safe. But I still didn’t want to stop. I kept on pushing and now finally, probably fist time since we started enjoying the ride and biked to the finish in a safe 4th position. My Swedish rival told me later that she had nothing left to match my attack.

The first 3 ladies already gathered at the finish line and were getting all the media attention as the top three in a world event deserves. It was very inspiring to see that even though it is a Masters event, the most attention, appreciation and pride surrounds the efforts put so forth by the racers.

It was great to catch up at the finish with all the amazing ladies that raced on this crazy course, so many talented and driven women from all around the world. I had an opportunity to meet some of them on my practice ride as well as now when it was all over. Everyone had a story, the will and the desire.

They truly inspired me to keep on trying to accomplish more no matter what age. I met wonderful girls from Spain, Italy, Peru, Australia, Sweden and more…

To my surprise there was an award ceremony that would include me also, and it was the most beautiful, emotional, professional ceremony that I ever was part of, truly an honor.

Sharing the stage and the podium with mountain biking legends and one of the best in the world was simply incredible.

I loved looking down from the stage at my husband Pax and we both would just feel it in our eyes how incredible this moment was, we both had smiles on our faces and the teary eyes at the same time. All this work of so many years and always dreaming big brought me here to this stage.

It is something that will never be forgotten…

Val Di Sole is beautiful, food is amazing and the mountains are breathtaking. I loved the fresh air here, the high peaks up in the clouds, the wildflowers and the charming little streets and villages.

And the food, the most delicious breakfast and dinners, deserts that we ever had…

I am going to miss a lot because I love here so much… I wish I had more days to just spend some time on those quiet trails and in the high mountains, biking for leisure or just relaxing at the river edge.

The atmosphere here is something very special…

Every mile or so there is another little village with its own precious and original church tower, you can see them popping out everywhere as you go and once in a while there are unreal old castles hugging the mountain edge…

I loved those views so much and my eyes still can see all those images and I can feel like I'm still there. There is this mystical presence of old times stuck in those majestic mountains... 

After leaving the mountains we drove back to Venice and spent a day there. What a sight. Pretty surreal views wherever you look. We walked the most we did in many years to make sure we see as much as possible. It was sad to leave but as much as we love adventures we also love coming back home to get inspired for whatever new is yet to come.

I’m so happy I got to share this beautiful journey and experience with my husband and I’m so grateful for all his support.

I didn’t forget when I was racing here of all those wonderful strong women back in Florida who contributed to everything I do whether they know it or not. As well as my friends who believe in me and felt it would be something I should do. Thank you for being incredible and thank you for positive words and wonderful friendships…

And last but not least, thank you to all my wonderful sponsors and supporters. You are also the driving force in what I do and a strong helping hand. I could not be more proud to represent some of the best companies in the world on my journey! Thank you so much!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Volkswagen USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships - Mammoth Mountain, Calif

Silver Medal

Who would think that just a little after competing in the Marathon Nationals I would be eager to take on another challenge. This time on a much shorter course and at altitude.

I was completely not planning for that and all of the sudden decided to give it a go.

The opportunity to go back after so many years to beautiful Mammoth Mountain was just so tough to pass. I knew there will be lots of things not going for me at this event, after all Cross-Country Mountain Bike Race is usually so short and explosive that I feel it doesn’t play directly to my strengths. Also, this time we were going to race at altitude, which of course was a major concern and there was really not that much that could have been done in that matter.

Lastly, most of my recent preparations were so targeted to triathlon training that I felt I had a big gap to feel and energy to reroute to be able to at least feel ready. From the moment, I decided to proceed to the moment the race was going to take place I only had four weeks to prepare. I was forced to drop lots of my triathlon activities, especially running and get to work. Interestingly it didn’t take long for me to feel stronger and notice significant bike fitness gains. It was surprisingly going fast and each and every workout showed really remarkable progress. I did not expect that to happen so quickly but for sure I was not going to complain.

The whole journey to get there and come back home was massive and never ending. I could have most likely made it all the way to Europe with all the flying and driving that had to be done. And I didn’t have a great length of time to stay in the mountains and get acclimated to the altitude. I rather jetted out Tuesday late afternoon the moment I logged off my work computer, straight to the airport and a 6 hour flight to Vegas and ended up exhausted in the hotel sometime around midnight. The next morning it was all about making the drive as flawless as possible to make it for my practice on the bike course at 5:30 pm, another 6 hours away. We drove through some scorching hot, interesting but lifeless looking and deserted terrain. Besides occasional donkeys there was nothing around. We still had to get to the hotel first which was some 45-50 minutes away from the race site, build our bikes, grab a bite (nothing like gas station gross sandwiches the day before the race) and really get there on time, it was not time to be fussy but rather focus on priorities.

The registration was closed already and I was ready to tackle the course. It was nice to see right away friendly faces of our quite numerous Floridian riders. Myself and Becky who traveled with us went eagerly on the course and right away were welcomed with a climb, soon after nice and flowy single track, some cool ramps to go over and a whole a lot of sand. The best part was when I got to the final almost 1 mile of the single track what was heading straight down to the finish area, the interesting part of it was that it was the trail we used to downhill with my husband some 6 years ago, on rented downhill bikes. It brought great memories back but in disbelieve I stopped my bike, pulled to the side and made sure to ask if I was still on the cross-country course. I was reassured that I still was. It really made me smile because it was so different to the rest of the course but I didn’t mind to continue and took on the challenge. It was really super fun part and I ended up repeating it once again on race morning.

But before that we had the long ride to the hotel, then back to the race site bright and early for my 9 am start. I think we got to the race site little after 7 am and the big mountain was going up and up to reach the blue sky. After my warmup, I spent some time hanging around and trying to relax, it happened that one of my competition ladies stopped nearby and spoke to the friend quite confidently and in energizing way about her upcoming race. He even asked if she was going to race Pro but she stated that she will race age group and she can ride this mountain all day long. This was my “Pro” girl who I knew would be one of my main competitors that day. Apparently, she used to race pro on the cross-country circuit and is a biking coach. Second, I had my Xterra Pro friend Genevieve who I knew has the skills, strength and will to go hard for long and will not be bothered by any discomfort. After all this is what kind of people XTERRA breads.

We rolled to the start line and got staged. It was quite an honor to be called up first, thanks to our recent changes in the local racing where finally we can get once again UASC points.

The position on the start line felt important to me and I was going back and forth with the left and right side, but none of them seemed suitable. There was the right corner that I would want to make if I stayed on the right to make for a smoother line to the first climb, but could get cut off if I didn’t have a good start. On the left I, could never make it all the way left and run out of time and have to take the worst line up.

I ended up picking the center line and only could feel my heart rate racing up and up to the point that I could not wait any longer and just wanted to race!

The countdown took place and we were off. What a start, from all my not so great starts during the local races here when it really mattered I had the best start I could think of. Sweet hole shot, I was some 10 feet ahead going to the first climb and having my line. I went to the top of the expo and was flying on my own having the whole group well behind. There was lots of clapping and cheering, especially for my competition who happened to have lots of local cheering groups. I went to the team tents and turned to the first climb which starts with the feed zone. Things were going great but soon after I started feeling the aftermath of my ridiculously fast start. My legs were going noodely soft and I was short of breath. I was not about to give up and slow down but I started hearing closer and closer bikes approaching me. I missed just by a mere few meters entry to the first single track as a leader and two riders went by me, one of them being my “Pro” girl. All I wanted to do now was to settle in, enjoy the ride, get my breathing under control and don’t lose my sight off the ladies.

It didn’t take me long to get in the “comfort” zone where I knew I could stay and things would be quite fine if not the other wheel was approaching behind me. This time it was my XTERRA Pro friend and she was quite ready to go. After a few sets of switchbacks where was little more space I let her go by, it was at mile 1. Now I was in 4th from my whole starting group. I could only hope that the passing on everyone else’s side was over and it was going to be me now to start making my passes. Thankfully when cranking up the mountain for over a mile and a half now I ended up pretty much on the wheel of my “Pro” girl and made an effort when I could to make my pass. I have to admit it rarely felt good to be able to make it happen so early of the race, I did foresee much more resistance throughout the whole race to be honest. While in front and having only my XTERRA girl ahead I was comfortably in the 2nd position in my class and was now fully focused to simply ride my best and within my abilities. I learned quickly that riding out of the saddle or trying to create any type of attack didn’t work well in this thin air environment. My body would simply collapse back to the saddle and let me know in that way that this is not happening today and I have to ride in more reserved, conservative to the point and steady manner. I was no longer in Florida for sure…

The way I saw my XTERRA girl biking away was telling me about what she just told me when we were talking about on the start line. When I told her I could feel the effects of the altitude she informed me that it was completely not a problem for her since she does live at altitude. That was a bummer, since for fact it was going to be one of the detrimental part to this race, but at the same time nothing that would stop me from riding at hundred percent of what my body can put out in this environment. So, when I looked up when she was passing me and getting away I have to say just one thing, she looked strong, solid, moving at the steady but faster than the rest of us pace. Soon after I would not see her for the longest time during the whole race.

The first lap went by pretty quickly and now it kind of feels like a blur, but when I look back at the feelings that I was experiencing on laps two and three, those are a different story. The small things started getting to me, like zapping sun on my back, even though there was still sort of little undertone of the freshness in the air. The long climb under the chair lift was getting longer and more annoying, I put the smallest Q-Ring that I had and often on the steepest parts I would be using just that. The reward of patience and getting to the top was the nice descent to the fun, sandy but so flowy single track. It was a matter now of having fun, speed, trusting your own skills and especially test my recent training practice in the deep sand. It all worked out good and I really had a good time and enjoyed this course. But there was one more climb, the 3rd climb which was pretty painful, constant in the full sun and for some reasons I really couldn’t get a grasp on my breathing now. I didn’t think I was getting sick but my sinuses just got completely clogged and breathing just through the mouth only and not being able to breath fully plus the lack of oxygen in the air already were not working out for me.

I started making such funky noises that wondered if whomever was approaching me now from the back will think if I am going to survive. I got passed very closely to the top, it took me a while to regain control of myself and I was back on the wheel of the girl that passed me. Going in to the really fun, uphill facing but still with so much flow single track I knew I can be much faster than her. I asked for a pass and told her to stick to my wheel. This was another very enjoyable section that rolled in the roller coaster like fashion taking us a little higher but we rode it without much discomfort of the standard climbing. This trail would lead me to the final double track section which also wondered slightly up and then the most memorable 1 mile of descending. It was rough, bumpy, sandy, rocks, deep sand holes, cement blocks and some wooden ramps would fill out our way down.

When I got to the bottom and through the finish line I was announced as being in 2nd place and knew I was slipping in time from the leader. I still enjoyed all the single track equally on the final lap, but the climbs were getting to me even more now, I started feeling dizzy, lightheaded and just was trying to convince myself to stay strong and do my best not to pass out and actually make it to the top. I was still in the self-preservation mode and any attempt to attack and speed up was really not an option. It is weird but racing in altitude is a totally different type of game and you just can’t approach it the same way and also your body will let you know pretty quickly what is and what is not possible. By the time I got over with the longest climb I looked up and I noticed my XTERRA girlfriend on her return way. I timed it and by the time I covered another single track and the 3rd climb and got to the spot where I saw here I was some six minutes back. it was a long time, there was no way I was going to catch her because there had to be less than 2 miles to go from there and mostly down. She was having evidently a great performance and I just did my best to stay on the gas, make my passes of other women that were ahead and get first to the final descent. Now it was all about being smooth, careful but also joyful and grateful for this amazing day. The bumpy, bad- ass track finally after a long while did come to the end and I got my official 2nd place in the Cross-Country Nationals.

There was one thing that was pretty obvious from the moment I crossed the finish line, 1st I got my first medal at the cross-country distance National event, 2nd my lungs were on fire. The pain in them was so strong, it felt like fire, like I was breathing glass for last two hours. Instantly I got an awful cough and then with each passing minute I would start developing the tremendous headache and later on all the symptoms one can get from having a flu. I felt awful and it was really tough to enjoy this beautiful place.

Monday, June 6, 2016

USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships - Columbia County, GA

USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships

After whole year of waiting... I did it!

1st place in my group, 7th overall including Pro's.

Stars and Stripes Jersey!!!

The course today was long and simply put brutal. The heat was extreme and made everything so much more difficult. The quote of the day was "Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee" and I just kept repeating it over and over again when I was flying full speed and when things were starting to get tough. It was mind over matter kind of day and I am so so happy I stayed strong and fought my way to victory. Monster thank you to my Pax who did amazing job supporting me today.! And another huge thank you to all my wonderful sponsors who stood by me for so many years... We did it all together!

What a race!

Conditions this year were quite extreme, definitely the same course, well almost the same, some modifications were made last second due to the constructions of the bridge, but otherwise quite similar as last year. What was different now was the fact that all the gulley’s and water crossings this time around were pretty much dry, the bumpy hay laid section on the first half which was extremely bumpy was full of mud last year. The never ending tree stumps on the first trail in the second half were reduced in number by kindly having the middles of the massive laying across the track cut out. But not all of them however. Everything seemed to be much easier this year but there was one thing that was completely off, it was the temperature. Since last year we raced a full month earlier the air was cool on the race morning, the beautiful fog was raising from the cold lake, it was this energy and freshness packed and awaiting to be grasped. But this time we were already in June and temperatures at the race start was already in the 80s with this hot, humid and stagnant air. It was worse than what we were already experiencing in South Florida. It was not fun.

Adding to it I traveled already a few hours straight from work on Thursday and Friday a few extra hours and went straight to the course. Pre rode some parts and tried to ride the sections which were not marked correctly last year. To our surprise we ended up riding far in to the gravel roads to find the race course being completely changed to what we saw and learned a few days earlier on the map. So besides a few hours in the car, we spent some 2 hours on the race course in the already extreme heat. I was so tired I had no desire to even go see the main race site and just went to the race meeting and picked up my packet.

We learned that evening that course had to be adjusted due to the bridge construction and it was totally fine however funny part was that this time the ugly log filled 10 mile section that I did 2x last year due to the missing tapes and course markings now I will have to do again in the same, slow and quite disturbing direction. Oh well at least I got prepped for it last time around.

Race morning didn’t remind me anything from last year’s event, at least not how I felt that morning. For some weird reasons I had no energy in me whatsoever. There felt like there was just nothing to give. In quiet, I did all my preparations in very low energy and snail like pace. I tried to stay calm and ignore all the bad signs, I felt almost nauseous and quite dizzy. Not sure if it was heat, travel, tiredness, whatever it was it was not going away. My warm up was pretty bad too but at least I got to ride around and scout some closer parts and marks on the course. I felt so not ready!

And the time did come and we were called to staging. I was going to start not only with my group but also the group below. Thankfully after the 2 girls from previous class were called out I was first called from my class and therefore received a spot in the front row on the start line, it was good.

I positioned myself still not feeling it but knowing it has to change quickly and hoped my natural racing instinct was going to kick in. The nervousness suddenly elevated when we got to the one-minute mark to the start announced. But it was good again, it was a sign that there is something in me that is quite awake and possibly ready.

Race start...

Whistle blew and we were off, for a few seconds I felt like I was in front, there was this one rider who was right by my side and before the first climb approached she was gaining the speed faster than everyone else. She flew up the climb and owned it, I was right behind and now battling for 3rd place with another girl (I called her Trek girl) from the other class. We went back and forth fighting for the spot all the way to the single track, which was a mile away. I didn’t feel I had legs as strong as last year and kept thinking how upset I was that I rode so much in this heat the other day. I needed my legs to be so fresh right now but they were not, I knew I will have to dig even deeper and try much harder than everyone else. Even though my Trek girl got in front of me for quite some time I found strength to challenge her and get to the single track in the 2nd place.

The battle begins!

When there I started realizing how much fun it was last time I rode here and started appreciating this full of flow and roller coaster like features track. Really fun and pretty part of the course. I also realized that the extra tire pressure that we set on my bike was a big mistake since I felt I was sliding out in those leaf and pine needle covered corners. There was no time now for adjustments however and I had to deal with it. By the time we got to the section with fenced in big cows in the middle of the forest (they were huge!) I had some girls on my tail. It was one that went by than the other, I kept sliding away and losing my spots, at some point sliding as far as 5th position from my starting group. It was becoming a little depressing but didn’t get to me really or affected in any negative way. I was in the wait and see mode right now and didn’t want to stress too much about anything since those were only the first few starting miles. I got concerned however when I heard again a buzzing noise behind my wheel, the girl was ready to go and I did let her. Seconds later I realized it was my main competition for today from my class (I called her the Colorado Girl) and she was now ahead of me.

On nice single track, still smooth and with a nice flow, but starting to feel the heat...

Lots went through my mind at that point, in an instant the memory from the last year’s race kicked in and I was reminded how my victory slipped away after I lead the race for 47 miles to “Cyclocross Girl”. I looked at my Colorado girl ahead and assessed, she was riding well, handling very good the single track but I didn’t see anything in particular that would say she can do it better than myself. I hung there on her tail to the end of the trail and eventually we got spilled on the grassy double track with some log hopping in between. She was still leading, we were only a mere 5 miles in. In a very short time I realized she was showing me she belonged in the lead but I didn’t see really a high effort from her to keep it that way, I knew it will not take long when I will be ready to make my move and attack. When I did accelerate and pick the tougher line to pass it felt like she was resisting a little and didn’t want me to go, but I was way too focused on having my spot back and I told myself before a while she was in front of me on the single track “I will not let this win slip away once again”. And I didn’t.

Engine fully engaged. Hot + full throttle On = Suffer Mode!  Just made my pass to gain good position into the single track...

I had my lead position back and was now chasing down the other girls from my start line. They were not that far ahead. I did catch up to them and made a pass on one of the hot, steep and brutal climbs. The heat now was getting to everyone and especially when things did turn upwards and were fully exposed to the sun. We were all suffering already. But soon after, something I didn’t know was coming up soon and we got dipped down to a pretty steep, narrow and loose downhill that led us to the big river gulley. This is where my girls were once again on my tail. Unfortunately for me I biked all the way to the bottom and did slide on the roots on the side of the hill and fell sideways. This is where two girls went by me and started climbing the muddy and steep way out of the hole in front of me. We went straight to the next climb and some road. I hit the gas again and made sure I passed all of them before getting to the single track. Now we were at mile 12 were the old feed zone used to be. The track after that was pretty nice I think it was called Lake trail and we would be on it pretty much until the feed zone 2 aka start/finish area. I rode at my own pace and made passes on guys or whomever was ahead. At the longest times however I felt like I was there in the forest by myself. It was a weird feeling. Lots of people happened to stand on the side of the trail and having some mechanical issue. I was only glad it was not me. When I finally reached feed zone 1 at mile 20 I told my husband that I got so spoiled with my camelback that I will want to continue using it for the remainder of the race. Initial plan was to use it for the first half and then go with bottles, I was completely sure I will be hot and sick and tired of something flopping around my overheated back for so many hours. But actually it didn’t bother me that much and gave me lots of freedom to drink at much as I wished and when I wanted to. It was a good change from norm.

Since the conditions were so extreme nutrition and staying hydrated was the key here and I was so very happy that I was executing my plan so well. By the time I got back from this crazy roller coaster ride on the first 30 miles I had my whole camelback empty and half of a water bottle. Unfortunately, on mile 26 I started hearing someone’s spinning wheel and I got caught by the Trek girl once again. We for sure had something going here that day. It was also in the spot where there was tape down on the ground and arrow pointing straight but another trail pointing to the right. I was like oh boy not again, I was hoping someone didn’t play this game with us again and reroute us from the race course. I confirmed with Trek girl and she felt we were on the right path to the finish. Soon enough I was riding on the side of the road and I was back. I had my Pax waiting for me in the feed zone filling out my camelback, but I did waste some time doing so but felt my gap hopefully was sufficient enough for it to be worth it. I packed a whole back pocket of Clif gels and biked away.

Ha, those volunteers were fun, cheery, super helpful and made my Pax put his overheated head into the bucket full of ice!

So now 30 miles in, 2.5 hours and temperatures being simply ridiculous I knew the second half will be a whole another race. Everything was different now, the heat was overwhelming, body was overheated, legs tired, course way more technical and bumpy than the first half and some serious road sections with full hot sun ahead. I wondered how I was going to do that. I kept mentally breaking those 30 miles into the small sections that I knew I will need to treat as one at the time adventure. I told myself that the first 12 miles will be the most brutal and if I can stay smooth, composed and mechanical free and somehow mentally strong it will be downhill from there. It was not completely the truth but it was worth a try. The miles ahead were however the worst one can imagine in such a long race. The slowest, bumpiest, root filled, log covered, tight, twisty trail one can encounter. Maybe I would feel better about this particular section if I went fresh on a few miles ride but by the time I got there it was the last thing I would want to see and ride, lastly race on. I though how much I did not enjoy it and how tough it was on my body each time I hit the new set of tall roots, each time the trail dipped down to a foot to three wide drop and mostly each time I had to get off my bike to go over a monster tree laying across the trail. Sometimes I barley had a chance to clip in to seconds later having to unclip to go over another huge tree. It was getting quite ridiculous and I was trying not to go to a dark place and be focused on the big picture. I would keep imagining the exit coming up soon, but the time kept ticking away and the end was nowhere near. It really required a lot of mental strength and patience. Getting some kind of bike problem was an easy thing here and at some point some massive branches just popped out from the ground at the last second and skimmed through my front and back Stan’s Valor wheels thankfully leaving it untouched. But really anything could happen there to anyone. When I got out of there finally I was spilled on the grassy stretch where we had feed zone 3 and 4. Once again I was so happy to see my Pax and I realized I was out of the water again. He was able to pour just some water to my camelback and handed me another water bottle with Clif electrolyte. He also shoveled some ice cubes behind my shirt and I felt the melting ice on my back for long time to come.

Lake Trail is really calm, smooth and sweet!

Now were the country roads that we had to take and we were able to see returning Pro men from the most interesting and fun part of the course, but at the same time the most difficult. The road ride was not easy but quite short and it turned to the dirt double track which changed to technical single track and now was going to go on for some 10 miles. I knew here was where certainly the race can be won or lost. There were so many obstacles in the way most of the time in form of dryer this time river crossings, steep downs that takes you up steep climbs without much warning. It was tough to have them memorized and quickly recall which one was which. Every little mistake here was going to add up, which meant that you can be coming in to this trail system called Mistletoe you can be with a five-minute lead and come out with none. At the same time the mind and body was in such a delirious state that it was very important to don’t over push and in some way self-preserve. No wonder I saw there on last river crossing over big rocks and on top of the final half way climb the medical personnel. It was easy at this point in the race to push just slightly too far and don’t make it out of there without needing some serious medical help.

Not a Camelback person I am, but this worked out really well for this type of race. I really enjoyed it.

Feeling "lonely" at times...
It was that tough. I was very happy when I covered the first more difficult part and was half way through the second, little kinder section. I passed some riders who were struggling already but to my surprise on one river crossing I noticed my Trek girl again. I said hi and followed her wheel for a little bit. I think it was around mile 50. We were almost out of there and I made my pass, little more of single track that was connecting us to the dirt road climb and I reached once again the feed zone, it was the final chance for me to grab a water bottle before heading for the final miles. With no warning my husband did pour icy cold water on my back and I just remember totally going short of breath of the shock to the overheated system. I loved the volunteers yelling to me to keep hammering that I’m in first place. Funny thing here is that my husband made a little bet with them and offered to put his overheated head to the bucket full of ice water if I was still in the lead at this point. So he did the moment I biked away! Would have loved to witness this major brain freeze in person1 Ha.

I got here however my first split in the whole race, I had 5-minute lead going into Mistletoe, which meant that my Colorado girl could be now anywhere behind me, from 1 minute down to 5 or maybe 10, who knows. I was concerned that she might be capable to ride the final miles really fast since I was told by someone that the last almost 10 miles are all gravel double track and pretty much hammer zone. This could play against me and I knew I will have to give everything I got now. But soon after I was on mile 52 than 54, 55 and realized we were back in some freshly cut single track, no gravel in sight. I think it went on to mile 56 and then finally we got spilled to the section I knew which was going to have a few fast descents and climbs and eventually would lead me to the road crossing and final trail. I was going back and forth with some younger male riders and they seemed to struggle on the single track but do ok on the gravel. I could sense the finish now near and signs were popping everywhere with 10 k to go, 5k to go, 4. I could not wait and kept speeding away in the opposite direction to where it all started a few hours back. I had some company on my way up and into the final turn where we had those most amazing three black arrows pointing straight down the finishing shoot…

I looked back but there was no one near me at the time that I was racing against, no Trek girl, no Colorado girl, it was just me flying down full speed and welcoming the huge Finish line finally here.

I was just smiling slightly to my husband when crossing and having my name announced. It was such a good feeling to accomplish this goal I was waiting for so long and know that it’s over, it’s done, I finally won, and I don’t have to worry about anything or anyone any longer. I got my win, I got my National Championship Jersey.

The Finish Line!!! It had been a long road to get here, but I did it!

It was a long and painful day for sure but it was all worth it and it was all for a reason.

I knew I was going to come back stronger to win and not necessarily as a stronger biker but as a stronger person overall. I am proud of how I handled myself at all those really difficult moments and that my spirit or belief never let me down. I stayed strong throughout and it was all this race was about.

Covered in dirt, sweat, grime but happy to have my NR 1 Place Finish!

I’m very happy I was part of this event and finished on top.

Thank you to all that contributed to my journey, to all who supported me, cheered for me, encouraged me during the race. I loved being surrounded by people and kind friends who wished me well and believed I am capable of doing something great.

Thank you so much for everything you did because the smallest word of encouragement went a long way in the event like that!

Of course massive thank you to my Pax, without whom all of it would not happened. He was almost as tired as I was from all the driving, pre-riding, setting everything up and supporting me during this event. He was burnt like a raisin from standing in the hot field waiting for me to hand me off bottles.

After crossing the finish with today's Pro winner Rose Grant! Let's call it, we both rolled on today The Wheels of Victory - Stan's Notubes Valors! :-)

And now about my bike, my super bike, my partner in crime (well besides my husband), my racing machine. It was flawless. Who would think racing on the rough terrain for over 60 miles on a hard tail is the way to go?  Apparently it was and worked out well. From my fast rolling Stan’s Notubes Valor wheels which rolled over everything so nicely and the Schwalbe Racing Ralph’s and Ron’s tires that stay put throughout the race, to the New sealant inside which I knew was going to keep me safe from getting flats, I knew I was going to have a great ride. I saw so many people on the side of the trail working on their bikes… I loved my reliable Magura Brakes which I always know I can trust, and comfortable ESI grips on my perfectly angled Syntace bar and stem. My KMC chain stayed strong even on the steepest climbs this track had to offer. The Squirt Lube of course was keeping my chain smooth and debris free no matter what kind of gook I was going through. My Rotor Inpower cranks and chosen to the type of the course Q-Rings were so important and informative with power data coming from this race. And everything was super smooth spinning due to the gorgeous and ridiculously performing Enduro Bearings. And the most important and interesting part was my saddle, the Selle SMP Composit which is stripped of all padding elements, but yet so beautify contoured to the human body that it really doesn’t need any. 6 hours of no chaffing on the hard tail, non-padded saddle was accomplished to the other Squirt secret weapon, Tea Tree Oil Chaffing Cream. Oh yes, it was quite important to load on this really cool smelling and anti-bacterial stuff! It all worked together in the perfect harmony which cumulates in the beautiful performance. Loving your bike, loving to ride your bike often comes down to being one with it when the time to perform comes. And when you feel that way, you become unstoppable. Build, customize and LOVE YOUR BIKE like I do!

Yeah on another failed mission to cool off, the lake was steaming hot! But didn't miss on having fun...

Huge thanks to my sponsors:

Syntace, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, Trainer Road, ESI Grips, Clif, Xpedo, Trainer Road, Garden of Life, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, KT Tape, Cycleops, Mack Cycle, Oakley, Pocketfinder, Specialized, Louis Garneau, KMC Chains,Rotor Bike Components, Health Fit Chiropractic, K-Edge, Squirt Lube and SelleSMP

Until next time!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Southeast Championships of XTERRA - Pelham, AL

XTERRA SOUTHEAST, 4th stop of Pan American series. 2nd place AG, 11th Overall including Pro's. 6th best bike split with Pro's. It was wonderful to actually compete in this great event after the scare I had on my preride. I was sent so high in the air on my bike and landed 10 feet further on the side of the hill, first hitting my elbow and knee and loosing almost completely feeling in my fingers and not having any grip strength. For the longest time I was certain I would not be able to race, but things started improving slightly. Despite the pain, the spasming of my whole arm I decided to still race and pulled some great times. The course was so perfect this time around and since the over predicted crazy rain never showed in the expected amounts. Truly a brilliant place to race... It was also great to see all my friends and fellow racers. As usual I had so much fun at Oak Mountain!

More soon...