Monday, December 22, 2014

The Winter Solstice Chase

The holidays are stampeding towards me quickly and it's hard to believe that the Winter Solstice has come and gone already! It's been getting dark so early that I've had to switch working out from something that I did after work to hauling my butt out of bed to get a ride in before work. If you know me at all, you know that I have a very hard time getting out of bed in the morning. Especially if it's still dark out and especially if it's damp out, which it has been recently. Even Ninja has been ignoring the alarm clock! 
Happy Holidays from my roommates and I!
Photo by Katy Batdorff
SO it's a big sigh of relief that the days will now *hopefully* be filled with more and more sunlight! 
So excited for race day, we showed up before the race sponsors did 
I've also been a little nervous for the first race in the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series. I've been focusing on endurance racing for so long that a short race seemed a little intimidating. What if I'm not fast enough? I feel like such a weight has been lifted off of my chest now that the GLFBS race #1, the Winter Solstice Chase, is over. I'm back in the groove of things from last winter. I remember being really nervous for this race last year too, because it had been sort of a testing point for whether or not I wanted to pick up fat bike racing as a hobby way of life. The race was incredibly difficult last year and I was beyond thrilled when I crossed the finish line because I never thought the race would end.

This year conditions fared better. Way better. There wasn't a lot of snow and the course was for sure going to be quicker. I've put a lot of miles in since last year, and I felt really good at the start of the Solstice Chase. All of my insecurities and worries dissipated at the start when I saw a lot of friends from last year's races. The reason why I love racing so much is because it's fun doing it! Fat bikers are incredibly friendly and I was so excited to see familiar faces! I wasn't worried about how fast I would be and got a huge grin on my face as I wished my friends good luck. "Oh yeah", I thought, "I remember this fat bike race feeling!" On your mark, get set, go! I started pedaling and took off really strong. Then we hit the first hill. Then the second. Although I had dressed way down for the race, knowing I'd be putting forth more effort than my endurance pace... my wool jersey, vest, new 45NRTH Sturmfirst 5 gloves, thermal knickers and my Fasterkatts had me dying by the third hill. I took off way too hard and blew up! Noooo too hot! I panicked for a little while, scared that I would have a hard time finishing the 20-something miles, and then more scared that I was way over my head for what I've been training for - the Tuscobia 150. The course leveled out just enough for my heart rate to return to normal and I started pedaling a pace that didn't make me feel as though I would faint. 

Race start
Last year the course was a big loop that you rode twice. Looking at the map of the course this year they had changed things up. I was told there would be less hills. You should never believe anyone when they say less hills. The course this year existed of two loops. Each lap was the two loops, for a total of four loops; four times past the start line... Hair-brained Jill looked at the map and saw the two loops and thought that she would be going out for one loop/lap, and then heading out for the opposite loop for the second lap. Why would I think that!? The first time I came through the start I was totally shocked and thought that 21k had gone by incredibly quickly! Then I passed through the start again and realized that instead of it being the end of the race, I was just done with the first lap. Oh great, I'd had to hit those hills another time! Doh!
This was not the race finish...
This was one lap, Jill. Just one..
The course for the Solstice Chase at Big Rock Creek is incredible. Hilly, some quicksand-like leaf two-track sections, some rough bumpy spots, some icy spots. Absolutely gorgeous farmland and woods. At one point during the race a bunch of deer got spooked and took off darting through the trees. Beautiful. The race promoters have a heated changing room, music playing, and they had a huge barn decorated with strings of lights for people to hang out in. Last year I could count the number of women who had registered for the long race on one hand, and I'm still in awe of how much this race had grown in just one year! Tons more people were pre-registered for the race, including a super fast women's field of 12 female finishers for the 42k. If this is any indication as to how the rest of the GLFBS is going to go, I'm stoked! So stoked! I love seeing more women out on fat bikes and I love that we're all getting faster together. April Morgan was the first female to cross the finish line, followed by my race BFF Danielle Musto. Our friend Megan Barr from Twin Six took third, followed by Chelsea Strate and then myself for 5th place female. I'm super proud of these ladies and cannot to race with all of them again next month! 

Photo by Kurt Barclay - for real crossing the finish line ;)
Photo by Kurt Barclay
And honestly, I'm really glad there were hills. There are plenty of other races in the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series that have hills and this race was hard proof that I need to start riding them more frequently! I remember last year I would up walking nearly every hill in St. Croix Falls, whereas this year I only walked up one - and only for part of it! I'm also glad the race was "shorter" because I need speed work. The best part about the fat bike season is that your fitness gets increasingly better each race! Fingers crossed that by March I can tackle any hill that's in my way. ;)

April Morgan, Danielle Musto, myself
We left St. Croix falls and drove to Minneapolis to stay at our friend Brent's house before heading back to GR in the morning. Today I have travel-hangover, but it's good to be home and I'm excited to keep training for Tuscobia... it'll be here before I know it!
Twin Six B!

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Whole Lot of Thanks

Tofurkey day is one of my favorite holidays
The last six months have brought a lot of changes to my life (new home, new minivan, new things to look forwards to at work!), and I couldn't be more thankful for all of the neat opportunities I've been able to have. Especially the opportunities centered around bikes! :)

One of the opportunities I'm most particularly thankful for was the 12 hour Nite Nationals down in Auburn, Alabama this past October. Everything from the race promoters, to the course, to the drive down was amazing - especially being able to drive down with my favorite mechanic, Dan, and being able to make a pit-stop in Birmingham to be able to see my really good friends Reena, Joe, and Katie! (To top things off, my friend Jason came to the race to cheer me on with his girlfriend, Marla!) Everything I love about bikes, traveling, and racing was all rolled up in to one with this race.
Chewacla State Park
Dan killed it on the wall!
Me? Not so much...
Here I was hoping the course would be as much fun in the dark as it was in the light!
The 12 hour Nite Nationals is a race that I will go back for again and again! Sponsored by Nite Rider Technical Lighting Systems and hosted by Chainbuster Racing, it was an incredibly fun race that is only going to get better year after year. The inaugural Nite Nationals was the finale of a three-race series. I was happy to be able to make the trek down for the series finale... but doing all of the races in the series is now on my list of "things to do." 12 Hours of Zombie Apocalypse, 12 Hours of Insomnia, 12 Hours of Nite Nationals... seriously, each race in the series sounds amazing, and I know for a fact the last race in the series was! 

I'm incredibly thankful of Danielle Musto, who has become my mentor/coach/race travel bff in the last year. Without her, who knows if I would have gotten in to endurance racing. Just like any other race I had signed up for, 12 Hours of Nite Nationals wasn't any different: once we heard of the race, we decided it was a good one for me to train for! (Although I'm pretty sure we could talk ourselves in to thinking every race is a good race to train for!!) Nite Nationals was put on the radar after I had finished racing 12 hours at Wausau, and there wasn't much that didn't sound awesome about it! I had fallen in love with night riding, Tommy from Nite Rider is super awesome and he would be there, road trips are always a blast, and the race was in Alabama - which meant there was a possibility I could see those aforementioned pals of mine. I was in!
Half hour before race start!
I am also super lucky (and equally thankful) that the Grand Rapids Bicycle Company lets me sneak away for races. As responsible for my racing as Danielle is, GRBC is just as much to blame. I can't imagine working at any other bike shop or with any other coworkers. Everyone has been super supportive and it's been awesome to be a part of such a neat shop. Being able to lead women's group rides, host fat bike nights, to go on group rides that end with pancakes and coffee, and to watch kid's get better at riding... that's my dream job! To add in bike racing on top of all of those things really is the cherry on top. I was really excited to put the GRBC tent in the rental car and to drive down to Alabama to represent not just myself as a racer, but to represent my favorite bike shop. :)
I substituted Dan for Danielle for traveling to Alabama ;)
12 hours of Nite Nationals was one of the first races I would be traveling to without my race travel BFF, so I was a little nervous about that. However, it was the first (of hopefully many!) that I got to travel to with my mechanic, Dan Martinek. Dan started working at GRBC in April, and he's been constantly my favorite bike mechanic since! It's really important to find a good mechanic when you start racing, especially when you're dumping a lot of time into training, money into traveling, and you're driving a long distance in order to compete. Just think about how terrible it would have been if I had gotten myself down to Alabama only for my bike to break! I'm so thankful Dan was with me down in Alabama, especially because I didn't have just one mechanical... I had two! My mechanicals were pretty early on in the race and I wouldn't have been able to crush out 11 laps if he wasn't there to not only fix them - but to fix them quickly! After ditching my Foundry Tomahawk due to a bent derailleur and shifting issues, I came running through the woods less than 20 minutes later with a slashed tire sidewall on my back-up bike! Dan also helped me stay on my nutrition plan for the entire 12 hours of the race, kept track of the competition, and he cheered for me each time I rolled past. Seeing him waiting in the same spot every hour was really encouraging, and after I went back out lap after lap I began looking forward to see him and to tell him about the trail! When the sun finally came up in my 10th lap I told him that he should ride a lap with me after the race if he wasn't too tired, because there was a waterfall and it looked really cool. He just smiled and said, "sure" even though I know in his head he was thinking "eff that, you're crazy!" He later told me that there was a brown dust booger coming out of my nose when I asked...

Speaking of mechanics and mechanicals... I'm really thankful I swapped the stock wheels off of my Tomahawk for a shiny set of Velocity Blunt SS's! The course at Chewacla State Park where Nite Nationals was held was one of the rockiest, rootiest courses I had ever ridden! The sidewalls on my tires were beat but my wheels held up amazingly! So much so, that Dan made a mental note to buy the person who built my wheels a beer the next time he saw them. (Thanks Keean!) 
I didn't realize how dusty the course was until the sun came up! 
It was also really awesome that Nite Rider was at the race with a bunch of demo lights for racers to use. Dan already had a lot on his plate, so having Tommy and Kevin from Nite Rider keep track of my battery life and swap my lights for me was perfect. The lights that they let me use were SO BRIGHT. I never had an issue of out-riding my lights, or my lights dimming, or malfunctioning in any way - which is super important when the race you're doing starts at 9pm! Riding at night would definitely not be as much fun without reliably bright lights. Suuuuper thankful I can ride my bike at night!
Myself with Kevin and Tommy from Nite Rider
It was really weird to finish a race at 9am in the morning. The sun was out, the weather was warming up, and I was all twitchy from 12 hours of caffeine! I can never sleep after a long race, so Dan and I said good-bye to all of our new friends and hopped back in the car to drive for as long as we could before the caffeine wore out. It's always sad to finish a race after having it to look forwards to for so long, but I was really excited to be a tourist on the way home! We stopped at some flea markets before calling it a night outside of Nashville, Tennessee, and we got to stop for a tour at Mammoth Cave the next day! I was really exhausted from sleep deprivation on the way home, so I was super thankful that I didn't have to rush back to the bike shop right away. On the way down to Alabama, we had run over a piece of semi-truck retread, and although I stupidly didn't get the rental car insurance, I'm super thankful that that event didn't ruin the entire trip! We were able to safely drive the car, and the rental company is only charging me $788 for the damage to the front bumper...
Crossing the finish line, 11 laps in for a total of 121 miles!
Carey Lowery was an amazing opponent to chase, I placed 2nd, and Rachel Millsop came in 3rd
Thankful for equal payouts for both men and women! This went towards fixing the rental car!
Okay, so I'm not thankful that we damaged the rental car and I'm really hoping Hertz let's me make tiny, tiny payments... BUT the rest of the trip was really rad and I still consider myself pretty lucky.
Found this lil guy at a flea market in Alabama right after we left the race..
Room service outside of Nashville... I fell asleep before finishing my whiskey!
Dinosaur World
Heading in to Mammoth Cave
Who turned off the lights?
Now all I need is some more snow and the next couple of races should be equally as awesome! The Great Lakes Fat Bike Series starts December 20th, and my first winter ultra (the Tuscobia 150) is coming up all too quickly on January 2nd!! If anyone has a below 0 sleeping bag I can borrow I would be incredibly thankful! ;)
Sooo thankful Dan is also an auto mechanic! We were able to drive the rest of the way without hearing that bumper flappity-flap!