Thursday, May 25, 2017

2017 Mountain Biking Marathon Nationals - Racing with the Pro's

MTB Marathon Nationals, Arkansas

Equipment used / Products used: 2017 Trek Procaliber 9.9 RSL from City Bikes Miami with a 1x12 SRAM Eagle setup. Bontrager Velocis Helmet, Bontrager XXX MTB Limited Edition Women's Shoe’s, Magura MT8 Brakes, Bontrager XXX Handlebars, Syntace FlatForce Stem, Bontrager XXX Seatpost, SelleSMP Composit Saddle, Xpedo M-Force 8 Ti, NoTubes Valor Carbon wheels – 27.5, Schwalbe Rocket Ron's and Racing Ralph's,  SquirtLube Chain lube, K-Edge Garmin Mount, ESI Grips, Rotor InPower Crank, Rotor QX1 34t Chainring,  CeramicSpeed 4130 Bottom Bracket w/ Coating, Kuat NV 2 Bike Rack, Seasucker Talon, Clif Shot Gels, Oakley Radar Sunglasses with Prizm lenses and Garden of Life nutrition Every Day of my Life... I also train with TrainerRoad every day at home with my Cycleops Trainer. My husband tracks me during the race with Pocketfinder.

Right now, we are on our flight back home form a very joyful trip to Iron Mountain in Arkansas.

Racing the endurance events nowadays is my favorite form of racing so I was very excited to come back to this very beautiful site. Gorgeous forests, creeks, massive lakes and some mountainous terrain all around. It’s very peaceful and green here and I have to say I didn’t see that many stars in the night sky for a long time. The trail system is so joyful, it’s completely never ending single track with continuous roller coaster like riding. The fun keeps on continuing and fast descents and swoopy turns make up for the little climbing that has to be done. To be honest you hardly can feel that you are actually climbing since there is not much of continuous and sustained climbs, all of the uphills are a matter of seconds and welcome you with another roller and some nice rest for the legs. The descents however are super flowy, filled with rocks and small rock gardens and little creek crossings and are totally amazing. I had lots of smiles on my face and did throw around some whippies, even during the race. One, and still quite tiny rock garden but most obvious of all but a massive smile on my face. That’s definitely an awesome place not only to race but also to just ride for pure pleasure. It’s good to hear that race director Fred is focused to add even more miles for the next year’s race here so our laps can be even longer. I’m sure we are all going to feel it in our legs and spines but that’s the price for a good time. So, let’s hope that they can accomplish that.

Our travel to the race this year was pretty tough. After a long day at work we flew and then drove, to arrive in Arkansas in the early morning hours, at 5am local, 6 am home time to be exact. That was a lot of sleepless time and we got only 3.5 hours of sleep and had to get up to arrive on the race course at a decent time for our preride.

Besides the fatigue we managed to have a really brilliant time. There were moments when my tiredness was kicking in and my focus was drifting away but most of the ride I really experienced nothing more than happiness of being here once again and just simply love riding my bike in a different place.

I knew this course quite well since I raced here last year in an off-road triathlon but the amount of rocks on the course for sure surprised me and I realized quickly how much I forgot from last year.

It was raining the night before our arrival, therefore the mountain was still draining and there were some solid potholes and mudfest sections scattered along the course. From what I heard, lots of people managed to slather that, “out the front door” style training into the mud bath. The more riders went through the clear standing water at first the more it became a brown dirty mass and whatever was hiding below the deeper puddles was unknown.

I was happy to see a lot of strong Floridian racers make it all the way here and I know how much work and dedication it takes not only in the preparations for such a race but also all the arrangements to get here. One way or the other we all got here and I was glad to see familiar faces and spend some quality time together and share some laughs.

Race Time.

All and all I did come here to race, and not at any other but in National Championships. It was a known fact for me that I will be here for sure, the class that I was going to race however was something that was pondering my mind for a while. I felt that after finally achieving my goal last year and winning the National title as an amateur and owning this so sought-after stars and stripes jersey it was time for something new. Owning another title and another jersey would be for sure also really good and quite incredible but racing in the Pro/Open class was for sure very tempting. Stepping up and racing with the best in the country and standing on the line with Rose Grant who won the Pro title already 4 times in a row and was after her 5th one was pretty incredible.

Even though I knew that some of the women will be on a completely different playing field, I still wanted to see how I would end up against the best.

The start was at 8 am, right after the Pro Men. We had a mere 5 minutes to our start and were taking off from the paved parking lot right off the lake edge. It was pretty nice to be called up and make the first row of racers. It was funny when I finally pulled to my start spot the race director Fred welcomed me and we exchanged “Hey, Beata”, “Hey Fred”. The minutes and seconds were counted off, I started my timer and 30 seconds later we were off. I didn’t get that far and right off the paved turn there was a crash to my right. I had no idea how many people went down and how bad was it. Apparently, it was a one rider that crashed. Instantly we went to the climb and the whole group was all together. We were climbing hard but it seemed like everyone was looking at each other and pushing strong but still not fighting that much for position. It was this waiting and observing game, it was cool to be part of it and also watch. Rose was already in the lead and I tried to stay close, just two people off to her left. The whole group stayed that way until we got to the top of the highway and this is when the crazy started to happen.

Pace picked up even more, people were flying down full speed and it became quite chaotic. I was out of gears but still staying with them all, at one point with the speeds reaching 38 mph, a girl in front of me jammed on both brakes and skidded like crazy a few times left and right. After seeing the crash, just a minute earlier, I was for sure not looking forward to be part of the next one at full speed on the asphalt.


I moved as quickly as I could away. I did not care anymore about drafting and saving my energy. I knew the race is not going to be won here but can be lost very quickly. Things improved after the next right turn but the speed was still very strong and everyone was fighting for a spot, we were going back and forth tiring each other out. And then comes the yellow gate. Probably my least favorite part of the race course, I don’t know why but this dirt double track that slightly slanted upwards gave me the most disappointment and I felt I was losing way too much time here. After this was a short section of a very rocky single track and some cool descending into the flat start/finish area which consisted of gravel double track. This is where the main feed zone was located as well was the beginning of the true race course. Instantly we were turning into an upward facing single track and later a super fun descent into the below dam section. I was not happy at that moment where I was and how the race was unfolding. Not that many miles later the fast age group men started catching up and even though they were super courteous and polite I felt I could not just get down and dirty and race to my potential. I was constantly occupied with making sure that the next upcoming person is going to make a safe pass.

That was pretty much my whole first lap. I was glad to see my Pax at the 1st feed zone while going into, I guess, voted by almost everyone, the most fun section of the course. He told me I was in 12th position and stayed very composed and calm and really kept like that throughout the whole race. I didn’t know if that was good or a bad thing, I was expecting him to be more excited. Not that much later I had another male rider approaching and asking for a pass. He told me you have a female chasing you and I asked how far, and he replied instantly “she is right here”. That was a bummer. He made a pass and a girl seemed to want to sneak by me at the same time as he did. She rode with me for little longer and managed to pass on a little wider climb, I let her go and stayed with her for as long as I could. But one thing came to another and more men showed up, quite a few my Floridian racers. Sadly, two of those passes cost me getting some branches in my back wheel and one bigger one that really was aiming for my derailleur. I had to stop and pull it out of my bike. I was riding smooth but kept getting interrupted, now it was time to climb out to the top of the mountain and get into the fun and bumpy descent.

This time I started getting some metallic clicking noise from the front of my bike and could not figure out what was wrong. I never heard that before and the section of the course that I was on required some serious speed and bombing down the rocks and having concern that something might be wrong and possibly loose in my headset was making me quite worried. I had to spend the next few miles riding rather safe instead of attacking. I knew I will be doing a pit stop after the lap end for sure. So, I managed to get to under the dam section and to the last miles with a little creek crossing, final jeep road climb and rocky single track. The noise seemed to disappear but when I stopped in the main feed zone to refill my camelback I had my, best in the world, personal mechanic check out my bike and tighten up the headset. Even though I was wasting some time in the transition, it was the beginning of good things to take place. Pax looked at me and said two girls are right there with you and I looked ahead and the second one just pulled out of the feed zone into the second lap and initial climb. I could not see anyone else at that time. I looked up and saw her slowly disappear going up the whiny trail. I knew she was mine. Less than a minute went by and I was right on her wheel, I didn’t wait long to find some room in the sharp turns and pick the longer and tougher line on the outside over some rocks and passed right above her. It took some energy but I could not care I was a totally different person now. I felt like my race had just begun.

The focus, drive, determination and excitement entered my body and I started searching for the other girls ahead. I barely got to the top and she was right there. I got on her wheel really quickly and was already looking for a spot to pass. I really wanted to get before her into the descent but there was not enough time. Bunch of rocks and mud holes started showing up on our path. She cleared the biggest mud bath and when I slid through it, a chunk of mud flew somehow from under my glasses straight into my eye. For a minute or so I hardly could see from one eye and felt like I had a pound of sand in it. This did delay my pass a little but shortly I was able to speed up again. Once again, I was on her wheel and when I had the first opportunity I made a clear pass. I was flying down now into the fun descent under the dam once again. It was another roller coaster that felt so good and so enjoyable and I was charging so hard that I could see slowly gaining ground and losing the rider. She managed however to get closer to me on a little climb before the end of this trail section. One more descent and I had my distance once more. I was not going to slow down, there was not catching me, I kept on pushing and speeding up. The worst part was ahead of me now and I had also two guys here which I really wanted to get by and get to the single track before them. I didn’t have enough time again and had to settle for small bit. Some two minutes later I was ready for a pass.

This part did hurt and I knew it was going to. I felt warm now and the climb seemed to be never ending with some steeper pitches that I had to balance not only myself and my bike but also the riders around me who were going at the same time for the same lines. Things become more difficult the more tired you are but I managed through all no matter how tough it was. On one little mud/water crossing suddenly I spotted the guy standing in the middle holding a giant rock upwards and saying something. He pretty much said he picked everyone’s line over the rock and held it in his hands, I had to go through the deep mud. He yelled to me “you will be fine, there is a hole”. Apparently, there was a massive hole where I was intended to go and lots of people flipped already there, so he actually saved me from a possible crash. Now I got to the flat rock garden section which I really dislike and a second after crossing the road to the fun and tricky descent where everyone tries not to slash their tires in the turns. This is where caught up to the girl who passed me some 2-3 miles from here on the first lap. I was chasing her with full focus and caught up in no time.

I could see she was fast in descents but was slowing down on the climbs. And this is what this whole section was all about, constant up and downs with no end in sight. Each time we went up for a few seconds I was on her wheel, then she picked up the speed again, mile or two went by and I was still looking for an opportunity. I finally saw it, the little more constant and longer climb was just ahead and it was my only chance, I charged, moved to her left and went around. Right before the feed zone 3 I was ahead. I went into the single track and knew I have to be smooth here, this is the exact spot where the girl just behind me now passed me so I was aware that she can ride this section fast. I stayed focused, smooth and didn’t want to make mistakes but also had to keep on charging. It was funny when I got to a little rocky uphill which I was not sure if would cause me trouble when I’m tired or not but I cleared is so nicely with no problems, I smiled after I told myself “like a Pro” ha ha.

Coming back to the little climbing section was not so bad and I made some passes on the tired guys ahead and I felt I did have a nice gap in between us. Now it was all about the fun and ultra-bumpy descending and mini rock gardens that always put a smile on my face. Wish there was even more challenging things on the course but this is what we got so I enjoyed what the trails had to offer. I could not complain because the smallest descents felt like little miracles for someone who for the most of the time rides in rather flat Florida. I remember having one of the riders that I passed just glue himself to my back wheel and he had been tracking me for the longest time. Thankfully he just sat there for the ride and never caused an issue. When I did come down the mountain into the paved road below the dam it seemed that I didn’t have any women in sight behind me and I knew for fact that the girls who were at that point a few minutes ahead were simply not catchable in those final few miles. Therefore, I stayed smooth and even though I wanted to have a decent time I was really about just enjoying the rest of the ride and hold my position. Entering into the last single track from the road is always fun since some cool and young volunteers were there and they always have some energy filled cheers waiting for me. After that little stream crossing, small climb, the dreaded yellow gate dirt road upwards and the bumpy rocky trail.

Few glimpses back in the open areas and still I was in good standings, one final fast descent and I got spilled out into the gravel path that led me to the finish line. I had my Pax waiting on me there already. It was hot already and the area was already filling up slowly with finishers. This was a relatively long race but went by pretty fast. The food afterwards was really good actually and it was good to catch up and talk with my fellow Pro class racers and simply get to know them. Some brave ladies were battling it out today and it was really sweet to take part of it and finish pretty well. I watched the amateur awards and looked down on the medals and another championship jersey which belonged to me once again, but I was content and satisfied with my decision. Now I think I have a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses and where I stand. I think if I decide to race in the Pro class again I will come in with a little different mindset and even more focused approach and I can possibly pull an even better result.

I had great time catching up after the race with Rose Grant who once again won the Pro race and showed that even when dealing with adversity and injuries she can still pull through and race to the top step. Very inspiring. I have to mention that It was a blast also hanging throughout this trip with my fellow Floridians, from Tania who kept us company, to Jonathan who rode with us both days and brought lots of smiles on our faces with his fun personality and positive attitude. We ended up having a great time with the fastest guys from Florida at lunch and dinner time and it was really a great thing to do to just have fun together.

We stayed a day longer after race therefore we had a little quiet time to ourselves the evening after the race. I could not resist to get out once more to the beautiful DeGray lake and watch another wonderful day slip away. We sat in quiet watching the sun set and it was the most peaceful moment of the trip. I will be happy to return back to Iron Mountain again…

Big props to race director Fred who did a really good job putting this event together.

Next year they are hoping to add a few extra miles to the trail system to make the event slightly longer and even more challenging.

Thanks goes to my Pax for the best support ever and to all my sponsors below.

City Bikes, Castelli, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, Trainer Road, ESI Grips, Clif, XpedoGarden of Life, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, EVOC, Oakley, Pocketfinder, KMC Chains, Rotor Bike Components, K-Edge, Squirt Lube, SelleSMP and for 2017 - Trek and CeramicSpeed

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