Monday, April 7, 2014

The Lowell 50

Beautiful day for a race!

I had woken up early, felt great, and was super excited to race! I finally felt as though I had everything on lock-down and was comfortable with my pre-race routine: wake up, lay in bed for a while, make coffee, eat oatmeal, stretch, cuddle the dog, drink coffee... it's really a great routine! I was planning on getting to Fallasburg Park around 9am to set up the GRBC tent, for registration, and to warm up. I wound up doing all of those things except for setting up the shop tent... Once I got to Fallasburg park, parked the van, grabbed my number plate, and locked down the perfect base layer/jersey/jacket combo... I had about 20 minutes to race start. Whoops.

Stoked to be rockin' the new 2014 GRBC team kit!

I spent those 20 minutes spinning my legs riding up and down McPherson street making sure I wasn't going to overheat and before I knew it we were lining up for race start. I had chosen to do the 34mi route on my fat bike just a few days before Saturday and was really happy with my decision. My Mukluk is so much fun! The Barry Roubaix was 36mi and I was hoping to beat my time by a half hour-ish.

Photobombed by Steve Fartzen

The first segment of the Lowell 50 started out great. I had accidentally lined up near the middle for the start and I was rapidly making my way to the front just as we left Fallasburg park. We took a sharp left on Covered Bridge road and started going uphill. Then we turned on to Montcalm and started going uphill more. My body went from feeling really chipper and feeling not so great. I'm still searching for an explanation as to what had precisely happened, but all I can chalk it up to is that my knee had a relapse. Maybe it wasn't as strong as I thought it was. Maybe I didn't drink enough water all week. Maybe I didn't get enough sleep. Maybe I didn't eat enough greens, or maybe someone had accidentally moved my saddle. Maybe I stood too much at work all week. I wore my Sugoi knickers under the new GRBC bib shorts and maybe the double-chamois did something. I used a different type of chamois cream, would that make a difference? Maybe it was the wind, or the cold, or all of these things added up together? Whatever it was, it really stunk.

When I tore my ACL, I also tore my meniscus. That was what hurt the worst when trying to get back to putting weight on my left leg. That's what has kept me from jogging. If there's a lot of impact on my leg, especially repetitive impact, it gets sore. Here within the first fifteen minutes of the Lowell 50 it felt like I had been running all week. Every pedal stroke uphill, under the pressure, I felt like my knee had a knife or two jabbed in to it. This is not something that you want to feel when you know you have 30 more miles to ride. I could have quit, maybe I should have quit, but I didn't. I couldn't. I've ridden my fat bike so many times over the winter and if there was any race I was going to stop riding it would have been the time that my bike broke, or the time that temperature was so cold that people were getting frostbite. I was getting really frustrated with myself because I knew I had it in me to push hard and I knew my lungs were healthy, and I knew my legs were strong... why were my knees holding me back? Why were they screaming at me?

I was nearly an hour slower riding the Lowell 50 course than I rode the Barry Roubaix course just two weeks ago. I tried to ignore my legs by distracting myself with interesting things on the sides of the gravel roads. "How many cow skulls mounted to people's mailboxes would I pass in 30 miles? Where was that rotting animal smell coming from? What if I bought that farm and became a friendly dairy farmer? Would that be a good spot to search for morel mushrooms? Whyyyyyyyyy do my knees hurt?!" If anyone had been going the same pace as I were (slow) they would have heard me talking to myself. When the corner marshal told me I had about 2 miles to the park I wanted to hop off my bicycle and to kiss her. Instead, I asked her to repeat herself, because it felt so good to hear the words "just 2 more miles."

Deliriously happy to have still made the podium

Despite my aching knees, I still finished the race with a smile on my face. No matter how difficult the terrain is, how strong the wind is, or how much my body hurts, all of that is wiped away the second I see the finish line. I get re-energized and just so excited to have done it! I had forgotten the pain and all I could remember was how beautiful the course was and how much fun it was to ride the gravel roads out that way. There were more flat spots than the Barry Roubaix, and definitely more open spots where you were at the wind's mercy. The Lowell 50 doesn't get as much recognition as the Barry Roubaix, but in my opinion the riding was just as good. The best part about the Lowell 50? I have a chance to redeem myself come October; the Lowell 50 meets twice a year. I can't wait!

Ready for a nap, Fatty Musto, Mackenzie Woodring

I called it an early night on Saturday, on account of feeling pretty beat up after the race. Sunday was a really great recovery day, and it really made up for feeling restricted the day before. My knees still felt a little achy, but it was a retreating ache and I felt relieved that everything would be okay. I grabbed some Bartertown in the morning with friends from Detroit, grabbed a soda from the Birch Lodge for another friend's birthday shindig, went on a two-mile hike with Ninja, and then went for a pretty long recovery ride on my Salsa Fargo. Hills still hurt, but the flats felt fine so I just stuck with that. Sunday night ended cuddled on the couch with my boyfriend and our fat cat watching Netflix. The sunlight felt good and I'm feelin' all excited for the spring. The Hellkaat Hundi is coming up pretty quickly and after getting my butt handed to me after 34 miles of gravel I'm going to play it safe and sign up for the 50 mile course. It's just one small step closer to racing 100 miles...

Great recover ride with my Salsa Faygo... I mean, Fargo.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Barry Roubaix

Last year, I raced my Salsa Vaya in the 24-mile Barry Roubaix just a few months after having reconstructive ACL surgery. Not to mention I had opted to use my own tissue (which failed, so I have a cadaver tissue instead), so I was missing a chunk from my hamstring (which still cramps up when I do a lot of climbing), and it was the first time since that surgery that I could ride my bike outside... I was also in a really weird part of my life where I had broken up with my boyfriend because I was depressed and unhappy with my life and I missed him a lot, which made me even that much more depressed. I wore a knee brace, I walked up every hill, and when I finished riding 24 miles I had to go home and go straight to bed -- my butt was kicked!!

I had finished though, and that is what mattered most to me. This year was so entirely different than last year! It's really crazy what 12 months can really bring. After hurting my knee and being unable to play roller derby I sort of lost a little bit of my identity. That's what was so depressing-- I didn't know who I was when I was unable to move and unable to do the things that I had spent my life doing. Group rides from the bike shop? Couldn't do that. Roller derby? Yeah, right. Spin class? I sat on my bike all winter and moved my legs, but really didn't spend much time spinning. Hikes with my dog? Skiing? Commuting to work via bicycle? Sledding? Anything? Nope, just pretty much staying stationary. I don't wish a torn ACL on any athletic person. Or any type of person, for that matter. It's a real bummer.

Back together, back to being happy.
But that's all in the past. This year was so different. This year was SO MUCH FUN! I really had a blast at the Barry Roubaix this year and it was so amazing to see so many friends and customers out there riding the course. Chelsea Strate, one of my favorite fat biking friends I made this winter, came out from Minneapolis for the 64-mile course. She stayed at my house two nights and came to visit me at the shop. I really wish she lived in Grand Rapids because it's really great to have more friends that are girls that want to ride to the same extent that I do. She really killed it over the weekend, too, and placed in the top 20 overall women's field!

Chelsea Strate finishing like a beast!
So race morning Chelsea, myself, and B loaded up and headed to the race. I'm still getting used to this whole getting-ready-at-home thing. I couldn't find my riding glasses and just gave up and left the house without them. I knew it was going to be a muddy mess and was really hoping I could scrounge something up to protect my eyes. Sometimes riding with contacts really stinks, especially when you get a little spec of sand in your eye. I wound up finding a red pair of shades I had bought for 50 cents at Goodwill just before race start. They made for some really awesome photo ops.

I was doing a really great job at hydrating and needed to desperately relieve myself before my wave took off. I was in wave 9 and knew I had about 10 minutes before it was my turn to go. By time I got out of the bathroom and made my way to the line I realized that wave 12 was lining up near the GRBC hospitality tent... whoops! I looked towards the front of the ginormous line and saw that wave 9 was on deck! I maneuvered my way as best as I could through a huge crowd of people and made it to the back of wave 9 just as they were counting us off! Whew.

I started gaining speed and was on the left side of the group on the road, following a guy who had the same idea that I had: get to the front. A car was headed our way, so we both started to get over. I'm not entirely sure what happened, but I must have been too close to him. He yelled at me and told me not to ride near him. I was surprised by his 'tude and dropped back a few riders. A guy next to me started chuckling and said, "some guys take this really seriously." I guess so. I wanted to take it seriously, too, and really wanted to have a good race. I couldn't be too serious about it, though, because I saw a lot of familiar faces around me and knew there would be some friends real toasty at the finish line. I shrugged it off and just kept pedaling.

The week before, a group from the shop had pre-ridden the 36-mile course. They had returned home with sad-looking bikes and photos of puddles and ruts on the gravel roads. I was really happy that I was on fat tires but found myself wishing I had more air in my tires. There were a few peanut-buttery spots in the first half of the course, but there was also a lot more road segments than I remembered there being. I felt a little bouncy on a few of the spots, but otherwise felt really good. My friend Kent was riding fat, too, and we rode together for a big portion of the race chatting as though we were on a stroll. At one point I heard someone joking and talking behind me and I started spinning my legs faster and tried to pull away... it was another friend, John, who had jokingly smack-talked with Danielle and I at spin class just a few days prior. I didn't want him to pass me, but he had been putting miles in this winter too and was on a cross bike. He rode with me for a while, until I lied and told him Danielle was just a little ways ahead of me. Ha! He took off, excited, after his decoy rabbit and I didn't see him again till the after party. He never saw Danielle. What sweet revenge. ;)

Sweet shades, amirite?!!
Despite the mud, and the fact that the mud broke the fender I had just put on my bike to be courteous to the riders behind me, I had a really great time at the race. I was able to ride my bike up every hill and was surprised when I saw the Hastings city limits sign. I passed the finish line with a huge smile on my face and was so happy to see Tom and some other GRBC folks hanging out at the finish line recovery tent. Tom had brought hot dogs and beer to hand out to race finishers, but ran out way before I crossed the finish line. I was the third female fat biker to cross the line and was happy with my results. Danielle had finished first, and Dana Baurhenn racing for Vanderkitten came in second. The men and women fat bikers were all grouped in to the same fat bike category, so they only awarded the top overall finishers regardless of gender. I hope to see that change next year and hope both the top men and women will be acknowledged.

There was so much food here BEFORE the race.
After the race, I was able to hang out for a little while before having to rush back to Grand Rapids. LadyfestGR was happening downtown and I had been asked to help teach a bicycle mechanics class with my friend Tara, who works at another shop in town. Despite knowing that LadyfestGR and the Barry Roubaix were both the same day, I really wanted to be a part of both of them. Two really awesome events going on in West Michigan the same day? Especially when both events involve bicycles? Yes, please!

Bike maintenance while The Blow sets up in the background
So I'm hoping now that I'm caught up to date I can begin to be more timely with my blog updates. It's a little embarrassing that it's taken me so long to finish the GLFBS and the Barry Roubaix. Tomorrow is the Lowell 50, and I'll be racing the 34-mile course on my fat bike! If I don't have an update within 4 days someone please punch me.

Cari Niewiek, myself, Jenny Scott
P.s. the new 2014 Grand Rapids Bicycle Company kits make their grand debut tomorrow! They look so good!


Great Lakes Fat Bike Series: (not racing) Cuyuna & the Fat Bike Birkie

On the drive home from the frozen 40, Danielle and I couldn’t decide if we should go to Cuyuna or not. The goal had been to snag first and second place overall for the series for Tom and for the rest of the Grand Rapids Bicycle Company, and we had the series on lock down so long as we finished one more race. Knowing that the final race, the Fat Bike Birkie, was going to also be the last race of the series… we made a decision to stay home and to race that weekend at Pando Winter Sports Park in the duo category…

But then, a few days before registration closed for race #7, Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout, I got anxious and started panicking over missing one of the races in the whole series. “We’ve gone to every other race! What if the promoter hates me?” I tried reasoning with Danielle. I felt real guilty for a while there and almost had Danielle convinced to hop back in her mom’s maroon minivan with me… until I realized something was wrong with my best friend, Ninja. My 10-year-old humane society special fur-machine wasn’t acting like his usual self. He just spent a whole a weekend with his grandma in Grand Haven, and he should have been perkier. He should have been more excited to see me as soon as he got home from the beach. His furry black body usually waggles with excitement when I get home from work or when he gets home from being gone all weekend. He just sort of walked in to the apartment and lay down on the living room floor without acknowledging me. I went to bed worried, with plans to take him to the vet in the morning.

This is Ninja being all dreamy on a log in the woods.
Turns out my buddy had cancer on his spleen and needed to have a very scary splenectomy. A stressful and miserable couple of days followed in which we didn’t know if he’d survive and fed him his “last meal” consisting of chocolate and KFC, decided to fight for him no matter what it cost,  spent a day and a half at the vets in a kennel with a woozy dog trying to get him to eat, and finally sleeping on the bedroom floor next to Ninja waking up every few hours to make sure he was doing okay. It also consisted of feeling incredibly lucky and humbled by the amount of friends and family we had who pooled together funds to help us pay for the surgery. I cried a lot that week, both out of extreme sadness and out of disbelief at how awesome our little community of friends over the years has become. Ninja is a rock star and he survived! He’s still kicking it with us and is doing really well! The vet removed a mass that weighed at least five pounds out of his body and kept it to show to us. The piece of the tumor that was sent in came back cancer-free… which is awesome… but we were warned that false negatives happen a lot. So I spent race #7 of the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series at home not wanting to be anywhere else but right next to my dog. That doesn’t mean that I’m not planning on going next year, though! The pictures posted from the race looked really fun!

Caught being dreamy again by Katy Batdorff.
Danielle and I did wind up racing duo at Pando Winter Sports Park and had a lot of fun doing that, too! The Le Mans start at the beginning was something I don’t think anyone racing had ever seen before—we had to set our bikes down at the bottom of the tubing hill and catch a lift to the top before Brent from Fun Promotions LLC shouted, “GO!” Or rather, Danielle had to do all of that since she was racing the first half of the race. She claimed that she was on call and might have to go in to work so she should race first just in case, but I think it was secretly because she wanted to go tubing for free at Pando, which neither of us have done before!
Tubing Le Mans start
The first half of the race went by really quickly, and before I knew it Danielle was coming down the hill and I was getting ready to roll out. She was laughing uncontrollably when she came up to me and I began laughing just as hard when I rolled out. I knew parts of the trail were getting sloshy and witnessed some pretty impressive crashes down that final hill while cheering at the bottom. The second half of the race went by just as quickly and I was able to head back out with 2 minutes to the cut-off time. I wasn’t sure how many laps our competitors had logged in and was really afraid of letting my partner down! Danielle didn’t know how many laps the other duo team had done, either, and was just as nervous as I was (probably for the same reasons I was, too!) The results were posted and we had lapped them a few times. We were so excited we couldn’t stop laughing and cheering!

First and Second place duo teams
Mackenzie Woodring had raced as Peter Piper and had placed fourth in the men’s and Kim Thomas had come in first in the women’s. I couldn’t wipe the grin from my face and am still so excited to be on a team with these kick ass ladies! What a fun race!

GRBC Ladies: Mackenzie Woodring, Kim Thomas, Fatty Martindale, Fatty Musto
The Fat Bike Birkie was rapidly approaching, and as the final race in the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series, I knew it was going to be bitter sweet. The winter had been so much fun and I had met some really incredible people, but I was so tired of traveling every weekend. There were 10 weeks in a row where every weekend I was at a race and having a couple of weekends off of that was actually pretty nice. I worked at the shop those Saturdays and was surprised that I had actually missed working Saturdays! The bike shop has been so lenient and awesome in letting me race fat bikes this winter and I really hope they know how much I appreciate it. It seriously has been my favorite winter ever and has sparked a love of racing in me that I didn’t think existed. I am going to have to work extra hard this summer to make sure I can make up all the time I took off! Thanks again, guys!

I was trying hard not to stress about the Birkie because I knew it was going to be different from racing against the same ladies I had been racing against all series. We had all gotten to be really good friends over the last couple months and I knew there were going to be some really fast riders, including Jenna Rinehart and a very tough Rebecca Rusch, who had just dropped out of JP’s Fat Pursuit the week before because her asthma had been so bad she was coughing up blood. Going in to the Birkie I felt puny and like such a fresh, baby-faced rookie compared to these women. Danielle made me feel better by reminding me that I play roller derby and rode my bicycle around Lake Superior unsupported last fall. I can be tough too! My goal for race #8 of the series was to finish the race and to have fun doing so. It was all going to be a learning experience.

Boy, was it an experience. Thursday morning when I woke up I felt a little nauseous. I sat down for a moment to tell myself I wasn’t sick before gathering the rest of my stuff together and heading over to meet Danielle and Scott. We hopped in the minivan and headed out towards northern Wisconsin. Before reaching Chicago, my stomach started feeling like a knife or two were jabbing in to it. After Chicago it felt worse. By time we made it to our traditional Chipotle stop in Madison, I told Danielle and Scott I was going to go to the nutrition store next door to get some aloe vera juice to help ease my stomach. I puked in the bathroom for a long time. I chalked it up to food poisoning, thinking I had eaten something the day before, and refused to admit that I was sick. I puked again in Chipotle before we left and tried to sleep in the back of the van for the rest of the drive, puking at each rest stop on the way to the River’s Eatery in Cable, Wi, where I puked some more and then ate a can of split pea soup. 

The next morning I was feeling better, but the thought of putting anything in my stomach made me feel queasy. So much for the food poisoning theory, Danielle’s stomach was starting to feel just as wonky as mine. I felt like such a jerk. Danielle had invited me to travel with her and to race with her, and here I was making her feel nauseous. Total jerk move! I ate some rice noodles in broth that day and went to pre-ride part of the course. It was all super slick corduroy and at one point, so icy that my wheels kept spinning on a climb and when I put a foot down to catch myself it was swept out from underneath me and I fell! I could hear Danielle laughing at me as I tried to catch hold but kept sliding down on my butt. (There was a caption contest later that night on Mountain Bike Radio’s Instagram of my captured embarrassing attempt to get back on my feet.) After pre-riding we went back to our cabin for pasta and to meet up with our friend Chelsea Strate, who was also racing the next day. I called it bedtime pretty early on and was hoping that another good night’s sleep would have me feeling back to normal in the morning.

Nope. I still felt terrible. I was able to put half of a banana in my mouth and a couple spoonfuls of oatmeal before I lost my appetite and felt nauseous again. My parents had confirmed Friday night that they were making the drive out from Richmond, Mi to come see their first fat bike race and I kept trying to mentally will away the upset stomach. I found myself in the porta-john minutes before race start and was able to find my parents for a quick hug just before being called up to the front of the 500+ mass start.

Dad, the favorite child, Mom
That was actually the happiest I felt during the whole race—hearing the race promoter announce Ned Overend, Rebecca Rusch, Danielle Musto, Jorden Wakely, and all these other fast and inspiring mountain bike racers to the front of the pack. I didn’t get a specific name shout-out but I got to line up with them for doing so well in the overall series. That was pretty awesome!

They counted us down and we were off! Well, sort of… I started pedaling and people started passing me. I looked over and saw Danielle struggling next to me. We shouted about how crappy we felt and cheered as Chelsea Strate pulled away from us. I felt like both of my tires were flat and as though I had been riding my bicycle for days. A few racers tried making conversation with me as I rode, and I could only grunt back single-word responses until they pulled away from me. The trail was really beautiful and I kept kicking myself in the butt for being sick. I know it really wasn’t my fault for getting the stomach flu, but I couldn’t help but think that if I had just drank more water, or more orange juice, or if I had just gotten a few more hours or sleep during the week…that maybe I could have avoided it. There were a lot of aid stations along the way and I tried my best to be cheery as I was handed water or warm tea. The more I drank the crappier I felt, so I stopped drinking. I finally made it to the turn-around point and found a little more energy to keep going. I knew I wasn’t going to finish fast, but I just wanted to finish period. When I heard the music at the finish line I was so relieved! I rolled through the finish and felt really spacey for a minute before I went in to the warming tent to find my parents and my friends. I had finished 21st overall female and 4th in my age group. 

GLFBS Overall Series Top 5 Women
For all of the races I did over the winter, I’m glad I only felt this terrible at one of them. I can’t help but wish, though, that I had felt crappy at a different race. The Fat Bike Birkie was such a cool event and was organized so well. Everything about it, from the Rivers Eatery packet pick-up and the race after party, to the warming tent and the volunteers, was just incredible. Racing with over 500 other fat bikers was so much fun and I can’t wait to see how many more are there next time! Next year I will also be living in a quarantined bubble for a week before the race drinking Emergen-C , Echinacea tea, and getting plenty of beauty rest.

Gah! So that’s the series in an over-extended wrap-up. I honestly had so much fun I can’t even put it in to words. This winter really has been the best winter ever! Not only compared to last winter, where I was laid up, wearing a brace, and having my knee bled (thanks, torn ACL), but compared to any winter I can imagine. I’ve always really enjoyed the outdoors and winter sports, but fat biking to me is so much more fun than cross country skiing, snowboarding, or sledding. Every person will have their favorite winter activity, but mine will forever be fat biking after this Great Lakes Fat Bike Series. Every bit of it was an adventure! Great people, great food, and great fat bike trails. Part of me is a tiny bit sad that it’s April already, because that means I have nearly 8 more months until more fat bike races! The good news is that this summer is full of more races and time spent on a bike so I really can’t dwell on the post-race blues too much! 

Martha Flynn, Bill Fartindale, Danielle Musto, Chelsea Strate, April Morgan, and some photo bombers.