Here we are in beautiful downtown Prescott, Arizona on the famous Whiskey Row prepping for a weekend of epic riding, racing and a little bit of suffering. This will be my first year to compete in the Pro race held on Sunday after Saturday’s Amateur open. I did the 50 miler last year for the first time, I know what I’m in for as far as the course is concerned; the difference this year is I will be competing amongst a highly stacked field of some of the best female mountain bikers in the world and I will need to compete in the fat-tire crit on Friday evening to avoid any time penalties at the start of Sunday’s race. I’m as ready as I can be at this point and I’m ready to get out there and shred some dirt!
OhMyGosh! This was the most fun I’ve had racing on the road maybe ever!
I wasn’t taking this part seriously, I didn’t feel nervous, I was just doing this so as not to get a time penalty in the real race on Sunday. I had no intention of wasting my legs on this part of the event. However; even tho I had watched the crit last year, I had no idea the state of absolute giddiness that I would experience actually participating in it!
It’s all about the fans. They totally make the race! All the spectators..yelling, heckling, handing out beers and dollar bills..dressed up as gorillas and human GU packets..it was truly spectacular!
Despite the fact that I had every plan to pull myself from the crit early, I just couldn’t do it, I was having too good a time! Don’t get me wrong, as each 1 km lap passed by, the giant hills got harder and I suffered just a little bit more; but all the motivation from the people on every corner completely overshadowed any pain. Each lap I would say “ok, I’m gonna pull myself this lap” and then I’d hear the roar of the crowd, the cowbells from every direction and squeeze myself thru the people like I was topping out Alp d’huez in the TDF and simply keep on going..I couldn’t help it! Each lap after the ridiculous monster-climbs, I would scream downhill faster and faster careening around the right-hander at over 30mph..it was absolutely exhilarating!
In the end, I was able to put in 5 laps and raced for 15m21s (a crit consists of 20m plus 3 laps) before getting pulled off. I was nowhere near the front of the pack, I was nowhere near the back of the pack. I am extremely happy to be in the middle..right where I belong right now. This shed a whole new light on what I was doing. This crit race wasn’t for us, it was for the spectators, all the people who continually support our mountain biking; but rarely get to see us race. It is hard work to watch a mountain bike race, you need to either hike or bike yourself out onto the course somewhere to watch racers go by once or you typically only experience the start and finish. This was different, this you could actually get involved in all the action. This was pretty awesome.
THE DAY BETWEEN:
Not having to race until Sunday, Saturday came as a nice little respite and the chance to support and cheer on the racers out there doing the Open race. I was going to the T-intersection aid station to hand up bottles to Kevin. I got in a great little in-between-day workout and experience the other side of racing. I stood out there waiting for Kevin to arrive and clapped and cheered and talked up a little motivation to the other riders. I got to see friends coming thru and root them on…seeing their smiles when they heard a familiar voice felt great! Once Kevin came thru on his singlespeed and successfully obtained his bottles of GU Brew, I hung out a bit longer and then slowly climbed back up alongside the others. I chatted for a few minutes with racers on the way up and then hung out at another intersection for a bit again cheering. It was a lot of fun to support all the people racing…and I know from experience, sometimes that can mean the difference between cracking and not out there. Riding back out and making it to the finish line for Kevin’s finish. He did awesome out there on that tough singlespeed course! We had a ton of OVB racers out there, a successful race for the team as a whole..way to represent guys and gal!
THE MAIN EVENT:
I’m not so nervous today, I have lucky number 13 to ride! I’m ready to ride my own race today. I’m not worried about the other women or where I’ll be in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely have goals set for myself; some definitely attainable, some maybe a little steep, but all doable. I want to enjoy my Whiskey and be proud of how I finish!
I get to chat a bit at the line with Georgia Gould, such a nice gal she is, and wish Chloe a great race. I can see my heart rate is below 100…a good sign I’ve got the nerves channeled and under control and it will be the last time I look at it throughout the entire race. I’m as ready as I can be for this. Lets go!
The road out of town is a killer climb right off the bat. With a police escort, we all ride as a group until he pulls off..then it’s all on, baby! I’m thrilled to be in the main pack until after hitting the dirt. It’s pretty cool to be able to ride along side some of the best female mountain bikers in the world! I still can’t believe sometimes that I am part of this elite group!
Once we’ve hit dirt, the group really starts to get strung out. I’m happy being in the position I’m in, somewhere in the middle. The climbs are tough, the singletrack is fun and the descents are a bit hairy in spots. I pop off a couple a times, some by my own missed step, some no fault of mine; but overall I feel I’m riding well and most importantly, I’m really having a lot of fun!
The first aid station comes after a lofty climb at about 16 miles in. Kevin is there ready to hand up bottles. I feel pretty great still and as always I’m happy to see him there. On to the descent into Skull Valley…which is not really all downhill, but the climb out is brutal.
I get in a pull line with a couple other ladies on the way down, fun stuff! And at the turn around, I grab up a neutral bottle and douse my back with the cool water. I already know the climb out is going to get warm with total exposure to the sun. Climbing out I feel pretty good still. I make sure to drink, using GU Roctane really helps keep the body fueled and engine fires stoked. I push hard when I can and push thru when it hurts. A couple of girls pass me, but I keep them in site and use them as my carrot. Then a little over a mile before hitting the aid station back where Kevin is, I start to get overheated. My pedals are barely turning over and I’m riding at 4mph at times. I’m starting to really suffer. I keep talking to myself and try to keep my mantras going. That last mile is the steepest and seems to never end. I finally see Kevin just coming into the station and I so so happy to see his face! I get completely drenched with water, so much my socks are soggy and squishing! But holy cow, it feels fantastic and both the cold shower and Kevin’s uplifting encouragement give me a push and I can continue the climb to the top..pedaling just a little bit faster. I am 30 miles in and 4 miles from the top: Sierra Prieta Overlook.
On the way, I see familiar faces and hear voices call out my name, it keeps me going & makes me want to push harder. My friend Steph follows me up the road a bit urging me on. And the next intersection is filled with more people cheering. It’s so wonderful to have excited spectators hootin’ and hollarin’, keeping the energy flowing!
I finally hit the top and start some gnarly, rocky, arm fatiguing descent. Holy crap! I decided to race my new Specialized Fate, my first real hardtail and am still learning to descend on it..not quite just running down everything in your path like on the Epic…but still the right bike choice for today’s big climbs. I make it thru with a hefty dose of fear and no other issues, take some big cleansing breaths and move onto the mini enduro and super fun singletrack..waiting for what I know is coming..cramp hill, as it is so affectionately known as. On some of the of the fun, sweeping singletrack I am surprised by more friends rooting me on..seriously wonderful! So, not once in the 2 years I’ve done this race have I made it thru cramp hill without doing exactly that and having to get off my bike. Today is going to be different. Today I’m riding on Sunday and today I’m going to make it. I try to pedal as often as I can on the downhills beforehand, keeping the muscles from locking into any constant position. And then, cramp! Before the hill! Argh! Ok, it’s not so bad. I spin the legs, I talk to my muscles, it gets better. And I see it. I gear down, ready myself both physically and mentally and spin into it. The legs start to whine a little, I keep spinning them. They protest a little more, I am not going to let you get the best of me Hill! And I make it up! This is it! I’m so happy and the final stretch is here! There is some sketchy downhill singletrack, I falter a little thru it and Tracy Thelan catches me, this is the second time she grabs me on a descent today. I was really hoping to keep my position, but she comes around and is riding the lines better than I today. I try to stay close. Thru the water crossing and I nail it perfectly, I hear more familiar cheers and Cassi runs along after me “You can catch her! You look great!” What motivation! I keep it up and then come up on Tracy off her bike fixing her chain. Oh, man! I feel for her, but without being a serious injury that needs my attention, this is still a race and I have to continue on past.
Now, I’m looking for the off-shoot onto the road. 4 miles of pavement. If I can hit it, I know I can stay ahead.
There it is. And I push hard giving whatever I have left down the pavement. And, after 48.1 miles and 6800 ft of gain, I cross the finish line in 4h15m59s, positioning me in 32nd out of 51 starters and 44 finishers. I am happy! For the first time this year while playing with the big dogs, I have finished mid-pack; make that twice if you include the Crit on Friday. I am stoked to have had the mental strength to push thru the pain, the suffering and the ebb and flow of emotions out there. To know that whatever training I did or didn’t do, I physically could still maintain. I am thrilled to feel absolutely proud of how I raced today….for myself and no one else. No expectations of grandeur. No pressure to do what I can not do and I did what I could do..race hard, keep pushing and enjoy the journey. And I certainly did enjoy myself out there!..most of the time! 🙂 Today I became an elite mountain biker.
Thank you so so much to my friends for being out there in all those tough spots and in the random ones! You all are what kept me going! The spectators who were just out there cheering and having fun-it’s you who helps keep the mind running strong! Again, the fans really make this race what it is!
Also, I have to thank Kevin for always being my rock and my biggest fan! Keeping my bike in perfect condition! Standing out there for hours to hand up bottles! Seeing him there gets my heart pumping and the legs spinning faster again!
Thank you Oro Valley Bicycle for helping get my bike race ready so quickly and for all your support that never stops coming!
Thanks to GU for keeping me stocked in the best bike nutrition out there! No bonking allowed!
Thanks to ProGold for having the best stuff to keep the chain running smoothly and the bike sparkling at the start of each and every race. And thank you to Northern AZ Gastroenterologists, PASA, and The Heart Center for helping fund my adventures in mountain biking..without whom, participating in some of these races wouldn’t be possible!
What an Epic weekend! Whiskey Off-Road, I’ll see you and all the brutal sun, dirt and sweat you can throw at me again next year!