I have been contemplating moving away from the shorter distance XC races and going more towards endurance or even ultra-endurance events. Already having my race season planned out this year and not having the time or training to switch it up this Arizona season, the only race left on the schedule at this level is the Whisky Off-Road. This has now become my focus. I have definitely noticed that all the training geared for the XCT races has not exactly helped my endurance…or my climbing, So I need Whiskey training! Already registered for the Pro race for MBAA’s Prescott Punisher, I am thinking about switching categories to do the marathon and when I found out about the change to a much later start time of the pro race, I opted last minute to go ahead and follow my gut and just do it.
Am I taking away from what I’ve set out to do with this whole pro journey by skipping the pro race & choosing to do marathon today? No, I don’t think so. This is my first year in the big girl scene…I’m learning this year. It takes time to understand how to race at this level of play; however, not being a tender age of 25 anymore (I know, can you hardly believe it?!), I also need to go after what I enjoy doing most right now and to stay where my strengths lie. I believe this comes down to the challenge of longer endurance racing. I can better teach my brain to enjoy pain & suffering for longer periods of time then teach my body to be a sprinter for short ones. This is just who I am..and there are plenty of endurance events out there.
So there it is. I again find myself standing on a start line, this time lined up with both men and women seeking to ride as much as possible before the 3.5h time cut-off. This course- or so I’ve heard, not having pre-ridden it, I will just be surprised- is not technical and has a lot of climbing. Good. A perfect jump into marathon, a perfect training tool. I feel calm and collected, talking with Katie Ellis, waiting for the start whistle. Katie is always fierce competition and with her and Liz Vito usually battling it out on course, I am sure to have a tough race ahead of me. I am ready to just roll with it. And we’re off!
Lap 1: Too hot as always! I really try to hang back at first and think I’ll just ride with Katie and Liz for awhile, try not to kill myself too early in the day; but as always, that doesn’t sit well with me and I am off and around them searching for the next rider ahead to catch. The hills on the first half of the course are killer and I decide early on how long I will try to keep myself in bigger gears grinding away at them. Most of the course is jeep road, a little rutted, a little loose; but I have recently learned a new cornering technique I have found extremely useful and decide to focus on doing this. Once you plug away to the top of the saddle and thru the first tunnel under a road, the course becomes quite fun. Twist and turn downhill and a sharp left turn onto the singletrack. Here it flows. I concentrate on pushing into my handlebars into the turns and pointing my belly button thru it. I’m having a ball! The singletrack turns upwards and switchbacks to another saddle. A local racer catches up and motivates me thru the trail. Down and around thru the second tunnel, one more short singletrack back to the jeep road thru the venue. An incredible lap time! Boy, I hope I can keep that up…
Lap 2 is much of the same. I descend faster now knowing what is ahead and I’m climbing well. Now, just keep hydrated and the nutrition going…its still early on a long day in the saddle.
Lap 3 is when I hear the SNAP! What the..? And as soon as I feel myself pogo-ing off the bike seat, I know. I have just busted my rear suspension! I feel myself bouncing all over the bike every time I run over a little rock or bump in the trail and as I climb I’m sagging towards the ground. Ugh, I have to figure out how to manage this. I get to a spot I can get off and assess things. I turn the Brain’s rebound all the way to slow and the shock is already as firm as it will go, so not much else I can do..I am assuming, because in all honesty, I’m not completely sure of what I’m doing. I get back on the bike and keep going. It feels weird back there. Like I’m smashing my rims into everything, I know its really just me bottoming out the rear shock that no longer works, but I can’t get my mind back to the task at hand, so I get off the bike a second time and make sure there isn’t a flat back there, too. Nope, just a busted oily mess. Ok, keep going. I come thru the venue and yell out to my teammate Tom if there is anything else I can do to help it and he basically shakes his head no. And so I deal.
Lap 4: I’m just getting used to the feel of the bike. The longer I go, the less I seem to notice the bounce and sag. It does make climbing just a little more difficult…
Lap 5: How am I ever going to be ready for the Whiskey??! This is the thought that plays on repeat in my head. These climbs are killing me. I’ve been down to my little ring since last lap on most of the hills and they just keep getting harder. Stop thinking about it and focus on the task at hand. Pedal thru. Keep pushing. Good job. One more hill ’til a bit of relief. Oh, the fun part is coming up! I’m good, feeling better. Singletrack! Keep practicing your cornering, focus on that. Here comes the last bit of climbing. CRAMP! AHH! Ok, I know how to deal with this. Spin thru it, easy gears, keep the legs moving. Gone..for now. Better drink more…its only lap 5 and I should have two more to go at these times..
Lap 6: Getting closer to the finish, I know I will be going out for a 7th. I have no idea where any of the other women are. My last couple of laps have been fairly consistent in time, but I am afraid with being on the verge of cramping and already using easier gears, I will be slowing. I try not to and just keep talking to myself, keeping it going. More hills, more descents, having to work harder to keep focus on each individual aspect I’ve given to different parts of the course to manage my mind and my body. Then in the same place as lap 5, cramp. This time a little worse. Oh my god, my adductors! I shed an invisible tear at the shearing pain and talk myself thru it…aloud, for the brush and dirt and world to hear. Spin, move the legs, easy gears, don’t stop. Oh the pain. Ok, its better. Oh the pain! I get to the second tunnel and the tearing in my legs has dissipated. Whew. Let’s go. My lap time wasn’t too off the previous ones, a good sign and with 8 minutes remaining before the cut-off, I head out to…
Lap 7: Throwing down my Camelbak as I ride thru the venue, it’s empty and I have no desire to continue carrying it, my neck is sore and the removal of it sends relief thru my shoulders. Teammate Tom is (and has been) yelling out encouragement as I roll thru, grateful for the mental support! At this point, if I had actually heard someone telling me that I needn’t go out on that 7th lap, I probably wouldn’t have; but I didn’t hear that and I still didn’t have any sign of where any of the others were and knowing Katie if she had the ability to go out again, she would; so I did. Honestly, I’m glad I did. I didn’t come here today to stop just because I could; but now I just want to get thru this lap. I have hardly any liquid left. I’ve eaten my final GU. Its fine, 30+ minutes and I’ll be done. I push as best I can and just try to keep a grip on where I am and what’s next. The hills are a bitch, but I climb them all. The juniors are out there and I see them climbing, motoring themselves up those hills as if they were floating feathers, as I crawl around them filled with lead. I send them encouraging words as I pass at the descent. My arms are fatigued from descending, but I roll down them. I forget that my rear suspension isn’t working, but am reminded with the occasional buck off the seat. Out of fluid now, I’m almost 3/4 way to the finish line. The fun sections, the singletrack and that’s it. Luckily there are still other riders out there as the other races have continually been sent off while we strive on thru the day. As I hit the singletrack, I see him coming up from behind and move over to let him pass. Hunter Keating, the men’s marathon leader, laps me. He finishes his 8th lap about 2 minutes before I will cross the line. He looks and sounds like its lap 1! Amazing! Sweating up the last hill, it hits again. Cramp! I am talking to my legs out loud pretty much continuously. I come up on riders who look at me wildly and get out of the way of the crazy girl talking to herself. I try to reassure them, but it doesn’t matter. The pain is tremendous with every push of the pedals. Again, spin, move, go. And again, just as the other laps it vanishes as I get to the final descent on the jeep road into the finish line. I am done! “You looked strong out there all day!” I hear…yea, no one but a select few riders lucky enough to be out there were witness to the agony in my legs..it always dissipated before lapping thru the venue.
I managed to win the marathon doing 7 laps. This equals out to 50.7 miles and just over 4500ft of elevation gain (only about 3/4 of the Whiskey gain!). I see Katie at the finish line and talk with her. This is when I finally learn that none of the other women made the cut-off to get a 7th lap. I am happy with my performance and how I managed the day..altho I do need to work on that cramping issue. Maybe I am not quite ready for the big Whiskey as a pro this year. So..tomorrow off to Mt Hopkins to get in another big climbing day and on fatigued legs.
After finishing, I get to see Kata and Chloe before their race. I was there to cheer them on as they lapped thru the venue. The smile on Kata’s face when we stood there screaming at her, trying to motivate her was priceless. Did I miss being out there with them? Yes, there are some great girls racing the pro category here in Arizona and I’ve had a blast competing with them. Am I glad that I listened to what I need and went forth with the marathon? Yes, definitely yes.
Team OVB had a great day out there, as well! With Kit earning himself a 1st place and Cassi and Caiden working hard for 2nd. Most of all watching our two juniors (Caiden and Bryan) be able to mentally push themselves all the way to the end even when their bodies were fighting against them really shows what strength they possess and what kind of racers they are and will become! I am proud! Way to go guys!!
A huge thank you to Oro Valley Bicycle for giving continual support to me! I seriously have the best bike shop standing behind me and they work hard to get my Epic fixed up and even into a new bike as quickly as they can. Also, a big thank you to GU for keeping me stocked with lasting-energy; I certainly wouldn’t be half the racer without it!