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...

Mack Cycle Miami Road Tri

1st place AG out of 17, Top 10 Overall Female, 19.7 mph average speed on my beautiful mountain bike! Such a hot but gorgeous day, and pretty location for the race.