Thursday, December 17, 2015

Getting ready for Winter ;)

So the last big race I actively trained for was the Fool's Gold 100. It was the last race of the NUE series, and quite frankly I was really relieved when I crossed the finish line. I had basically jumped right in to racing the NUE series immediately after the Great Lakes Fat Bike Series finished. The last race of the fat bike season was in March, followed by the Barry Roubaix (which GRBC sponsored -- and I HAD SO MUCH FUN AT!), and then it was April, and the start of my 100 mile mountain bike races...
Pic by Jenny Scott. Pretty much what all my dreams are made of.
Fool's Gold ended in September and I remember getting home and crawling in bed with Dan and telling him, "I'm done racing until December, I promise!"

That was a lie.

I couldn't help myself. It's an addiction, I swear! I seriously can't say no, especially when my friend Earl dangles a Cannondale tandem in my face and I've always wanted to try a tandem bicycle! It was quickly decided that we would race the Lowell 50 on his 26" tandem bicycle (complete with a fenders, a rear rack, a bell, and his family's Burley attachment...)

Earl and I did one shake down ride on the tandem before race day. We went out for a 30 mile ride from his house and I laughed hysterically the entire time. Riding a tandem is SO MUCH FUN! The Lowell 50 is a gravel road race that takes off outside of Grand Rapids, and they have two distance options: 34 miles or 57 miles. While we were out on our test ride, we decided to hit up some single track at Cannonsburg Ski Hill. Both of us were literally shrieking, screaming, and giggling with joy! Earl is a super fast dude who races for the Founders team, and I am so lucky he let me ride with him! What a riot. Race day came around and we had a good laugh at the start when we looked around and realized we were the only tandem on a 26". We were definitely the only tandem with a banana peel hooked to the rear rack, most definitely the shortest duo on a tandem, and most likely the shortest two people straddling a bike at the start line. One other tandem team, in a matching kit, asked us how many races we've done together. When we cheerily answered that it was our first race we could see them thinking, "aw, how cute!"

Thanks for the photo, Jack!
Oh yeah, the Lowell 50 was on Halloween, and although I had rush shipped a Mario and Luigi costume, they sadly hadn't arrived. I wore a dinosaur helmet as a last resort.

Earl and I somehow managed to maintain nearly a 21mph average for 57 miles. We came in 17th overall at the Lowell 50 and 1st place tandem by over a half hour! Needless to say, I LOVED IT, I loved dinging my bell, and I cannot wait to race another tandem race with Earl! (Barry Roubaix, perhaps?!)

The day after the Lowell 50 I raced the Grand Rapids Bicycle Company's sponsored KissCross race at Manhattan Park. I'm incredibly terrible at cross racing. I come to a complete stop before hopping over barriers.
Terrible at barriers.
I also can't resist the beer/fireball hand ups. I magically came in 3rd place at the race for B women, and I was really happy to bring some Pro Gold Bike Wash home as a prize for Dan. My poor Salsa Beargrease was COVERED in mud. :(

Photo by Patrick Helsel
I had told Dan I wasn't planning on racing the Iceman, but when my Dad got a Surly Pugsley and said that he wanted to race I couldn't resist that, either. (I might have a bike problem...) I'm really happy I did race the Iceman because I had so much fun! I was seeded in wave 5 and managed to snag 2nd female fat biker behind my GRBC teammate Kati Krikke! GRBC had a really awesome campsite with Gravel Bottom Beer, some snacks, and a bonfire at it, too! The Cannondale truck was nearby with a vat full of yummy spiked hot cider and I got to see a ton of familiar faces at the after party. The Iceman was my Dad's first fat bike race, and when I saw him coming through the finish line shoot in a GRBC Lumberjack jersey and heard all my friends and teammates cheering for him... I was so incredibly proud of him! It makes me so happy to see him loving the same things I love.

Kati rules.
What a BEIST!
I spent some of my "off season" doing bikepacking trips, too. Dan and I went on a trip with packable fishing poles and our fat bikes and we rode part of the North Country Trail. We walked our bikes across a suspension bridge and camped on the Manistee River Trail. I did a 200 mile round trip with a big group of friends in two days and we stayed in a hotel that was also having a sorority party the only weekend that we've had snow in Michigan this winter so far. 

Jane Van Hof was totally there.
Dan and I rode a lot together, too, which is typically rare when I'm trying to get some training rides in. Instead of worrying about getting a work out in, I was able to explore with him and to go on other group rides, like the WMMBA's last organized group ride of the year, the Turkey Burner ride at Yankee Springs. I've never been on the Turkey Burner ride before (I've always had to work Black Friday) but this year Grand Rapids Bicycle Co. had closed for a long weekend so that anyone who wanted to travel or ride could do so! (Thanks, Tom Smith!!!) I loved it. We got to ride with teammates, coworkers, friends, and new acquaintances, and we got beer and nachos at the Sand Bar afterwards. The community of mountain bikers in West Michigan is a lot of fun and I'm so lucky to be around them.

Speaking of the community here, we had a 45NRTH Ride Groomed event at the GRBC East Paris location and we were able to raise quite a bit of dough for the WMMBA to earmark towards grooming fat bike trails this winter! The amount of pride I feel when I think about GRBC and 45NRTH and all that they do for the community is ridiculous. It feels so good to be in cahoots with such incredibly brands and shops (including all the good folks at Velocity USA - thanks you guys for organizing group rides, for all the hangs, and supporting Skirts in the Dirt!) and I feel incredibly lucky any time I think about who my teammates, coworkers, or sponsors are!

I was able to do an interview with Andrea Pirkey on Mountain Bike Radio recently about fat biking and winter riding, too. Thanks Ben, Andrea, and Mountain Bike Radio!

Last weekend, Dan and I headed up to the Upper Peninsula for 45NRTH and Blackrocks Brewery's Winter Kick Off Party. We drove up and met up with all of team 45NRTH and a few other friends up in Marquette, Michigan. Holy cow. I've never had six pack abs before in my entire life, but I'm pretty sure after laughing so much this past weekend that I'm the closest I've ever been to having one! We did team photos, we hung out, we drank beers, we goofed off, there was a UPCross cyclocross race, we rode incredibly rocky single track that had me laughing out of nervousness because it was the most technical stuff I've ever ridden (the UP is a whole other animal of riding! I can't wait to go back!) and we got to hang out in beautiful Marquette, Michigan.

30 mins of cross was enough for me after having had a few beers...

 It completely blows my mind because my brother and sister-in-law went to Northern Michigan University for FOUR YEARS and they NEVER mountain biked! It's incredible up there!!! Beautiful, scenic, great people, great beer, great everything. I want need to go back! Thank you so much 45NRTH for bringing all of us up there. It made me so excited to get home and to help make our singletrack as amazing as it is up there and to work really hard on amping up my technical abilities. Next time I come up there, I will be able to ride so much more than this time around!

Photo by 45NRTH
Tomorrow morning, there's a few of us caravaning up to St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin for the FIRST FAT BIKE RACE OF THE GREAT LAKES FAT BIKE SERIES! I cannot believe it's fat bike season already, and I cannot believe that Arrowhead is a little more than a month away! Ahhh! I'm so lucky!
We also got Christmas Card photos by Katy Batdorff.. stay tuned to see our cards!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The NUE Series was a blast!

Sitting here writing this, it’s hard to believe that it’s already October and that the summer is officially “over.” Done-zo. The leaves are rapidly changing, everything is pumpkin flavored, I’ve already broken out the wool base-layer on multiple occasions, and I basically watched both Dan and my Spearfish sigh with relief when I unloaded the van after coming home from the last NUE series race of the year: the Fool’s Gold 100

Salsa Spearfish: my bike of choice. Perfect for long days of singletrack!
But DAMN! That was a summer well spent!

I am so thankful to have the support of my parents, my mechanic/boyfriend Dan, my coach and mentor, Danielle Musto, and of all of my coworkers and teammates at Grand Rapids Bicycle Company. Not to mention all of the love from Velocity USA and NiteRider. I am one luck mountain biking gal!!! 
Fools Gold 100
I’d be lying if I said it was a relaxing summer. I can count the amount of times I went to the beach on one hand, which is sort of sad considering I live not even 45 minutes from Lake Michigan. I’m really excited to be able to go on a camping trip with Dan this weekend because racing took up nearly every weekend since the Barry Roubaix! There were times when I took my Spearfish out on the road all cleaned and freshly tuned and I literally returned it covered in cow poop.  Sorry, Dan! Endurance racing really puts your bike through the ringer, especially when the race is in muddy conditions or if the rider is clumsy (aka me!) When I wasn’t traveling for a race, I was training for one. Or I was working at the shop or helping to organize Skirts in the Dirt. I did, however, learned some bike-life hacks this summer while participating in the NUE series:

1. Braiding your hair and wearing a hat helps with helmet hair and elongates the period of time you can go between showering. This is actually something I learned prior to the NUE series, but it’s something I wish I would have discovered sooner.  I wasn’t a hat person, and now I keep one at all times in my van. I also keep one in my locker at the shop. I like wearing a cycling cap while riding because it keeps mud, dirt, cow poopie, and bugs out of my hair. 

Early on the shuttle at the Tatanka 100
2. If you’re camping at the race venue, gather all of your bike gear together and plop it next to your sleeping bag. Remember a jacket and pants that can be shed easily before the race start. Some mornings it can be chilly and you’ll be happy to put on your bike clothing in the warmth of your sleeping bag. You can emerge from the tent like a little butterfly, ready to ride!

Skirts in the Dirt
3. Bring a thermos and fill it with hot coffee the night before the race. Make sure it’s a good thermos, because if you get the cheap one on sale at the store your coffee won’t be hot the next morning and you’ll be really sad when you have cold coffee. More often than not, hot coffee won’t be available immediately upon waking up. I don’t know about you, but I have to have coffee stat as soon as I wake up or else I am useless. 

Niagara Falls on the way to the Hampshire 100 with my family.
4. Speaking of coffee and waking up, make sure you wake up early enough so that you can comfortably eat a good breakfast. I’ve made the mistake of shoving food in my mouth before fully waking up and feeling nauseous for the rest of the day. Plus, my body has a routine: coffee first, morning BM, eat some yum yums, ride.

5. Are you using Schwalbe tires? Get Snakeskins. So. Much. Better! What wheels are you running? Get Velocity Blunt SS’s. So. Much. Better! (Also go tubeless!) Previously mentioned: I’m clumsy. I also wasn’t used to riding outside of the Midwest. Beyond the Michigan style single-track I know and love exists a whole world of single-track with rocks shaped differently from here. They’re sharp, pointy, they move differently, sometimes they’re slimier, sometimes they’re stacked higher. The ground is different too. I learned a word this season, “loam.” It’s like riding over a giant sponge and then having some moss covered off-camber roots tossed in for “fun.” Most recently, the Fool’s Gold 100 had shiny red dirt that left my skin covered in glittery dust. Having a tough sidewall on my tire kept me from having to put a boot in or fix a flat while out racing. I heard a lot of PINGS that should have given me flats. Having those wide Blunt SS rims gave me additional traction rolling over stuff that scared me and brought tears to my eyes. I literally saw so many folks with flats out on those courses! Another tip: bring extra CO2 cartridges. I didn’t want to give my only cartridge away in the middle of a 100-mile race, so I started bringing an extra because so many other people were asking if I had a spare and I hate being unable to help other racers. 
A little pause from racing to hike to the top of Bald Mountain with these babes!
I'm so lucky Dan puts up with me!
6. If something on your bike is pretty close to wearing out, replace it before the next 100 mile race! Don't try to stretch it through "one last race" because it'll probably break. Before leaving for the Fool's Gold 100, Dan told me I needed new pedals. I should have listened to my mechanic. ALWAYS listen to your mechanic! I wound up blowing my pedal up and trying to ride on the spindle through some gnarly single track. Luckily, Sarah Temby was at the next aid station and had been pulled due to a time cut-off. Aid Station volunteers allowed me to use Sarah's shoes and pedals to continue onwards with the race! Thanks Sarah!!!!!!!!

7. Enjoy it! If you're traveling to a race with teammates, friends, family, or even by yourself... stop and check out some cool things! How often are you able to see gigantic water falls, Wall Drug, or some other totally awesome stuff? My dad still gushes about the burger joint we stopped at in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I'm still laughing about how I forgot to bring my wallet when we drove down for the Mohican 100. The adventure can be in the actual ride itself, but a lot of the times there's adventure in getting there.

My goal for the NUE series was to make top 5 overall. I wound up 6th overall in the series after a string of mishaps that are no one else’s fault than my own. I can spend a lot of time playing the “what if” game, or beating myself up about making silly mistakes, but in truth I gave it my all. I jumped in to something that was a little over my head and I’m really happy with how things went this summer! I learn best by throwing myself at something and this summer I threw myself at a lot of riding that has pushed my limits and made me a better mountain biker. I took a wrong turn at one race, I crashed my brains out and kept trying to ride with a crooked cockpit in another race, I came across a BEAR in one, and I met some amazing humans. It ruled. I can't wait to participate in the series again. I highly recommend the NUE series, I highly recommend endurance riding, and I highly recommend riding outside of familiar trail. So good!

So what will I do now that the NUE series is over? GET READY FOR FAT BIKE SEASON! :)

So excited to represent GRBC and 45NRTH this winter!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I love being a LumberJack! (er, a LumberJill?)

Photo credit: Jack Kunnen
Finally, my Lumberjack 100 race report! I feel like I’m still grinning ear to ear after this race! There’s nothing like racing in Michigan and seeing all of my friends out on the trails. There’s nothing like racing on Michigan trails, period! They’re flowy with punchy climbs and fun little momentum spots that shoot you up the next hill. Plus, I feel like I’ve done enough races by now to conclude that I love lap races. I love coming up against the same features over and over; it makes it feel like practice to me and I love gauging how I improve with each lap. When you totally botch a climb or a downhill section, you have the opportunity to go back to it to try it again. When a hill sucks bad, you know exactly how many sucky hills are ahead of you (and if there are no more sucky hills ahead of you!) You also learn where all of the twisty spots are at so you can pedal, pedal, pedal on the fast parts of the trail and strategically take some drinks on the fire roads; try to pass people before it gets to a spot where they might slow down; and you can leave extra hydration packs and snacks at your own tent to grab quickly between laps, and you feel refreshed and recharged finishing a lap and heading out for another.  

Packing up the PIZZAAA mobile with Danielle Musto and Scott Spoo
Lucky for me, the Lumberjack 100 was 3 laps of 33ish miles. This year, the Lumberjack 100 course went the opposite way than it did last year. I thought last year had a lot of climbing… turns out last year was easier! The course had about 9,000 feet of climbing. Which wasn’t actually that bad considering the elevation from the other races that I’ve done this season! Another bonus from the Lumberjack 100 this year? There were some awesome people hanging out at the GRBC tent during the race! I made new friends from folks helping me to snag my snacks, including professional mountain bike racer Sonya Looney! Everyone was super encouraging during my pit stops and it made me want to get out there and to do a good job for them! Plus, seeing so many friends from near and far made me want to keep going: it was so much fun! The volunteers, the custom Lumberjack swag, everything about it... I absolutely love this race!

Fooling around with Danielle and Jeff Jacobi before race day.
Photo: Jack Kunnen
I think the best part of the whole race was seeing so many women out there racing! There were 36 women pre-registered for the Lumberjack 100, with 5 women pre-registered for racing it single speed. Huge, huge kudos to all of the women who were out there! Seeing so many women on the start list was awesome and made me really proud to be racing alongside everyone so close to home! It was amazing to stand on the podium with such fun women. PLUS huge kudos to the women who tackled that course on a single speed! I shift so often that sometimes I’ll catch myself down-shifting while pushing my bike up a hill. Doing 100 miles on a single speed is something that makes my knee shiver in fear. You women are strong and bad ass, no matter how long it took you to complete the course or how fast you were able to do it. Big thanks to Sonya for having such a positive, encouraging attitude at the race, and for being so helpful, despite having her injured wrist. It was really inspiring to talk to her after the race and to hear her cheering for me when I came through between laps. She also had a lot of great advice after the race to help me in future races. I cannot wait to try those tips out!

These women are incredible and I am so lucky to stand with them!
Sidenote: If you’re wondering what I’ve been up to recently, I’ve been pretty busy with helping to organize Skirts in the Dirt. Sign up and come out to play with us! Skirts in the Dirt is a women’s only mountain bike race, that I am so excited for this year – especially after seeing so many awesome women at this race!

Photo: Patrick Helsel
So last year during the Lumberjack, I found myself having to go pee really badly.  I always do endurance races in shorts despite thinking bibs are more comfortable because they call for quicker bathroom stops. Last year I dropped my shorts on the side of the trail and tried to force out the quickest pee – I took too long and the woman behind me caught me and passed me. I pulled up my shorts, hopped on my mountain bike, and tried to catch her. I was 2 minutes shy of 3rd place last year… I know my bathroom break didn’t take me 2 whole minutes and that I never caught her because she was stronger than me… but that was my scapegoat. That was where I went wrong, even if it really wasn’t. This year? I was going to try my damnedest to not stop for a bathroom break. Then I had to go to the bathroom before I was even finished with lap two… Dang it! So here’s my confession. Here’s my embarrassing Lumberjack 100 race secret. Here’s what I’m a little bit ashamed of and what I’ve finally stooped to the level of doing during a race.

What Rob didn't know... is that I had peed my pants.
I peed on the fire road. While riding my bike. I mean, I wasn’t technically riding my bike, I was more so coasting and standing up on the pedals. But I was clipped in on the pedals and I was cruising downhill pretty good. I just peed a little, because I didn’t want to have any pee running down my leg. I peed a little the next time I was on a fire road. A little more again on the next fire road. I wound up finishing the Lumberjack 100 in 3rd place with a time of 8 hours and 14 minutes, a whole half hour faster than my time last year – with more climbing! I found out in the end that fourth place was nearly 15 minutes behind me…. Way more than enough time to go to the bathroom like a normal person. As soon as I felt like I had to go, I just kept thinking, “NOT AGAIN!” I had heard that triathletes peed themselves, so I did it. I’m not sure if it’s for me, and it’s not a habit I am going to practice regularly… but I did a little research after the Lumberjack 100 to see what other female mountain bikers do while racing…

One woman on a forum said that she holds it. She said races never take more than 3-4 hours. Nope, that’s not going to work.

There were a lot of jokes about using diapers or depends.

Even more jokes referencing men and the tools that they are, erm, equipped to urinate with.

One article suggested shouting to the people you’re riding with that you have to go in hopes that they’ll stop with you… yeah, right.

What it kept coming down to as a last resort… go in your shorts. But most of the articles were written for men. “A hint is to put your weight on one foot, unclip your other foot, and bend the knee of your unclipped leg so that the flow of liquid will spill off your knee instead of running down into your shoe.”

After the Lumberjack 100, while making fun of myself to some other fellow female racers, I heard of a technique where you could pull aside the leg of your cycling shorts and do the quick pee standing up on the side of the trail. That’s a cool technique, no one will see your buns, but you still have to get off of your bike. So it looks like from here on out, when I’m in a big race where I think it’ll matter, I guess I’m going to pee in my shorts – or bibs. The bright side of this predicament is that at least I can start doing endurance races in bibs again. The downside?  I still feel ashamed. Any ladies out there have some good advice for how you pee during a race? I will gladly take any and all suggestions!

The good news is that this weekend is the Tatanka 100 in South Dakota and that last year the winning female did it in just under 12 hours. SO by that math, I should have plenty of time to hone in on my “peeing while racing” skills. ;)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Race Report: Mashed Potatoes 100

Erm, I mean the Mohican 100.

Team Grand Rapids setting up our camp

I've heard that boiled potatoes with a little bit of olive oil and sea salt are awesome when you're on the bike for an extended amount of time. I knew that the Mohican 100 would be really humid and I wanted to prevent having any gut rot that would prevent me from eating or drinking and getting the calories that I needed during those hundred miles. Sometimes when it's humid I crave salty and savory, and all of the drink mix and gummy things that I eat start sounding unappetizing and I have a hard time making myself eat and drink. Before loading up my gear and heading to meet up with my GRBC teammate (and now coworker!) Tyler Keuning for the drive down to Loudonville, Ohio, I boiled some potatoes, dressed them in oil and sea salt, and wrapped them in tinfoil: 3 lil guys for two drop bags, and 3 lil guys for my jersey pocket. Those potatoes, along with my Shot Bloks, Sports Beans, CarboRocket Rocketlytes, and CarboRocket Half Evil drink mix was my nutrition plan for a hot and humid 100 miles. That oughta do it, right?!

Roughing it

Flash forward to one of the hike-a-bikes up a loose clay climb: it was hot. It was humid. The man racing behind me started vomiting. I looked up and saw some turkey vultures circling around us. I swear I saw some human bones scattered on the trail (okay, okay, they were probably just deer bones.) It was all so crazy! I started laughing nervously. I told myself that I would eat my last jersey pocket potato once I made it to the top of the climb. It was my reward. All day long I had been rewarding myself with little treat ideas for pushing forward: Watermelon from the aid station, just make it a little further! Coca cola from the aid station, go get it! Ice cold lemonade from the gas station on the ride home, but you have to finish first! Get that finisher growler and take some IPA back home to Dan! Oh boy I wanted lemonade so bad. I made it to the top of the hike-a-bike and reached in to my sweaty back pocket. The tinfoil did not feel like a round, firm boiled potato... it was in patty form. A sure sign that the race had become about survival and not about speed. I was having a rough time, you guys, and my potato was mashed because the first 30 miles of single track had beaten me up and I had repeatedly fallen on it; mauling my precious little potato treat. What a disappointment to rally up a hike-a-bike, imagining eating your snack like a salty apple, only to find that it looks as haggard as you feel. I ate it anyways and started pedaling again. Potato, po-tah-to. I'll take it.

When the going gets tough, trust in your "go fast" sticker to get you across the finish line. Thanks, Dan!
For reals though, I'm really glad I did the Mohican 100! It was tough, it gave me bruises, it was hard, but it was also a lot of fun. Once the race became more about surviving and finishing, it became a growing experience. I'm still pretty inexperienced when it comes to slimy rocks and it was my first race on a full-suspension. I have a lot of learning to do! Honestly, I think I did pretty damn good holding my own out there, especially since I crashed so hard early on that I mangled my elbow and twisted my handlebars. I was bonking so hard. I couldn't quite figure out why I kept crashing when I'd try to roll over rocks or roots, and the moment of clarity where I realized it was because my bars were crooked was the point in the race where you can go one of two ways: 1) you can get down on yourself, decide to quit, and go back to bed, or 2) you can grab your multi-tool and straighten your bars, straighten your brake levers, adjust your headset, let a little bit of air out of your tires, ask a volunteer for some tape so you don't pack more dirt in to your bloody elbow, and you can find the humor in the fact that you're riding your bike with a bunch of really awesome like-minded individuals and that everyone is suffering a little bit and that's why you signed up for this race in the first place: to challenge yourself and to become a better mountain biker. And also to have fun. And also you thank your lucky stars that you remembered to bring your multi-tool. There was a man I passed through some singletrack who threw his head back and yelled at the sky in anguish and I hope he went with the latter option and wound up having a good time racing, too.

In my native habitat: food in mouth, minimal damage report, sweaty and muddy, laughing. Photo cred: Photoglyphix
I met some awesome people out there on bikes during the course that helped to perk me up quite a bit. I kept hot dogging with some ladies racing the 100k, and rode with them for a little ways on the gravel roads. It started to feel more like a group ride and it was cool to cheer for each other on the climbs. Sometimes I ride faster when I have someone to chat with, and this was one of those situations. One woman fell over from cramps going up a hill and I gave her some sticky snacks and Rocketlytes from my gas tank bag before continuing on. She had a really great attitude about the whole thing and I was really excited for her when I saw her roll across the finish line. There's a strong solidarity between female mountain bikers and I'm so lucky to be surrounded by these positive and kick ass riders. We're all out there rooting for each other and it makes me so happy to see other women stick with it and to hang tough: it encourages me to do the same.

The rest of the course consisted of more climbing, more gravel roads, some paved roads, more segments of single track, more hike-a-bikes, more turkey vultures, enthusiastic volunteers at aid stations, more humidity, a rail trail, a suspension bridge, some sun showers, some thunder and heavy rain, and a paved section towards the end where I saw signs for Maggie's Lemonade stand. YES YES YES YES YES YES! I felt like I had willed the lemonade stand to magically appear!! YESSSS. I saw a minivan with a girl sitting on the tailgate. YES! I saw a table. I SAW SOME ICE COLD MOTHER EFFIN LEMONADE. I honestly couldn't believe my luck. I pedaled eagerly towards it. Then I saw the sign, "$1.00." Nooooooooooooo. "Oh, are you selling lemonade?" I asked the little girl, hoping to look pathetic and for her to take pity on me and to give me a tiny dixie cup full of free lemonade. "One dollar." She wasn't going to budge. I really couldn't be mad at her for trying to get some lemonade bucks, and I really didn't want her to feel bad for disappointing me, so I tried smiling and wished her good luck and I kept going. Sigh. Po-tah-to.

Bright eyed and bushy tailed at the race start with my GR pals. Mike Bernhard, Tyler Keuning, and Tom Stritzinger
Finally I made it to the last aid station. Just a few more miles of single track was left and then I'd be at the finish line! The last bit of single track was the same trail that we had hit in the beginning of the race and I was a little nervous because I knew it'd be rocky. There were some dark clouds and I wanted to finish before those rocks got slimy again. I don't know if it's because I was in better spirits or if it was because the course was indeed easier in the opposite direction, but I felt like the course was immensely easier in the opposite direction!! I looked for chunks of my elbow on the rock that took me down and started the bonk in the first place. I didn't see anything. I didn't mean anything to that rock. I kept riding and saw that I was heading towards the campground. After coming out of the single track, I heard someone riding behind me. Out of the corner of my eye I recognized the jersey: it was one of my GRBC teammates! I turned to see who it was and saw that it was Jay Morrison! I hadn't seen him pass me at all, but for some reason thought that he had already finished the race or something and that he had seen me and rode from our campsite, so I started joking with him that we were going to have a sprint finish. Then I realized he hadn't finished and that he actually was sprinting past me! I started screaming and laughing and rolled across the finish line a few seconds behind him. Gah!! Lesson learned: never announce that there could be a sprint finish. (Congrats, Jay!)

Mohican 100 finisher! 11 hours, 11th female. Photo cred: Photoglyphix
After the Mohican 100, I'm incredibly excited for the Lumberjack 100. Despite beating my little Salsa Spearfish up, it was the best I've felt after crashing and riding over rocks. That bike is fast, comfortable, and awesome! I'm so excited to race it again next weekend! I can't wait! I'll bring more boiled potatoes, and here's to hoping they don't get mashed!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Note to self: Don't take a wrong turn at the Mohican 100 like you did at the Cohutta 100 ;)

At the end of April I raced the first of five races I've signed up for in the National Ultra Endurance Series: the Cohutta 100. I absolutely loved it! All of it! Here's to hoping my second race of the series, the Mohican 100, goes a little bit better and is just as much fun. :)

You can have the best coach, the best mechanic, the best bike, the best legs, the best blah blah blah... and then go into the race with the worst weather (the rain at the Cohutta 100 cleared eventually, let's hope it clears for the Mohican 100 too!) and the worst directional skills possible (which also remedied itself eventually at Cohutta... let's hope I don't have that problem at Mohican?!) In retrospect, I was always the worst at following directions in grade school and I've always struggled with doing things other people's ways. I joked about taking the tips sheet that was provided at the Cohutta 100 packet pick-up but left it at the car as I shivered in the rain at the start of the race.. Whoops! You better bet your booty I'll be bringing a course map with me at the Mohican 100 this weekend!!!

Honestly, the weather wasn't that terrible for Cohutta - chilly, down pouring rain, and the threat of a tornado could have been way, way worse. There wasn't any lightning and the rain eventually stopped. Trees were falling on the course up to the start of the race, but a tree never fell on anyone. If anything, the weather just pumped me up more: I felt pretty bad ass lining up at the Ocoee Whitewater Center, site of the 1996 Whitewater rafting Olympics as the sun was rising, getting drenched in my wind breaker and knee-high socks. I'm a fat bike racer for crying out loud; any race start that starts in above freezing temperatures is a great race start by my standards! Plus, I had pre-ridden the first 10-15 miles of single-track the day before in absolutely gorgeous weather and I knew where the trouble spots would be with a water crossing and a few slimy, slippery roots. Despite knowing that I was about to do more climbing than I had ever done in 100 miles before I was feeling really optimistic! Goal #1: have fun! Goal #2: finish and get that coffee mug! Goal #3: finish as one of the top 10 female racers! I'm happy to say that I had a blast, I finished in just over 10 hours, and I was the 7th female to cross the finish line and that was with getting lost and climbing some bonus hills. :)

We'll back up to the pre-ride: absolutely gorgeous scenery, perfect 60 degree temps, the incredible bad ass Carey Lowery showing us the route, my NUE Series travel BFF's Tyler Kuening, Matt Acker, and myself laughing hysterically as we roll around on the first few miles of the Southern Appalachian foothills. Absolutely amazing! Some of the most fun downhills I've ever ridden. It honestly kept blowing my mind that I was riding on a real mountain (I mean, the most real mountain I've ridden on so far!) and that on race day I'd be crawling up, up, up and flying down, down, down more than I'd ever done before. Plus, I was riding with Carey Lowery (who kicked my ass at 12 hours Nite Nationals back in October) and with Tyler and Matt (both incredible riders/racers from Grand Rapids) so I was STOKED! Sometimes my mind will wander while I'm riding over rocks and roots in another state and I'll find myself entirely bewildered, "How did I get here? How did I get so lucky?!" I am absolutely in love with endurance racing and never would have guessed it would be such a big part of my life. I'm always just incredibly thankful that I get to work at GRBC with such cool coworkers (and with the cutest bike mechanic in the world) and with some super awesome GRBC teammates. Gah! I am so lucky!

I rode my little Foundry Tomahawk for the Cohutta 100 and am curious to see how racing my new Salsa Spearfish goes at the Mohican!!! As much as I absolutely adore 27.5" tires and as zippy as that little carbon hard tail is, I've heard really great things about the Spearfish and I cannot wait to see how it feels after 100 miles! After some of my longer races last year my body was pretty beat, especially after single track that had more rocks and roots than I am used to... Speaking of Nite Nationals down in Alabama ;) - I had completely torn the sidewalls of my Schwalbe tires at that race and when I remembered that Tennessee would be similar in terrain, I had panicked and special ordered some Schwalble Snakeskin Racing Ralphs days before leaving to pop on my Velocity Blunt SS rims specifically for the Cohutta 100 singletrack. I was NOT going to drive all that way just to blow the sidewalls on my tires. I seriously am such a clumsy rider that if I had ridden with regular Schwalbe tires set up tubeless than I would have sliced them on one of the rocks on the course. I'm smiling as I type this because I had absolutely no issues with my tire/wheel combo and I feel like in the preparedness category I won first place. It's the little victories that make you happy in endurance racing, and I obsessively thought about this little victory for a good chunk of the race whenever my legs or back began to fatigue! "You got this! Your tires are awesome! Your wheels will never go out of true! There's no excuses, keep riding!" I'm pretty happy that the Spearfish is dressed up in Schwalble Snakeskins on white Velocity Blunt SS's with gold spoke nipples. Fist pumps all around!

I hear the Mohican course is easier to not get lost on than the Cohutta course... Man oh man I hope this is true. Down at Cohutta I was getting more and more excited because by time I reached the third aid station at about 50 miles I was told that I was sitting in fourth place. The aid station volunteers were nice, helpful, and I felt so fancy getting my glasses wiped and my chain lubed while I waited for a water refill. Then someone patted my butt - Danielle Musto! Agh!!! Danielle's been working her tail off getting a kids mountain bike team rolling in Grand Rapids - the GR Dirt Dawgs - and she's also been training for the Dirty Kanza (which is also this weekend!! Eeeep!) and was using Cohutta as a training race - she didn't taper down for the race and was picking up with training as soon as she got home. Versus me: Miss I-think-it's-a-good-idea-to-sign-up-for-the-NUE-series, who would get a week off for recovery as soon as I crossed the finish line... Earlier in the single track I was riding behind Danielle, comfortable with our speed, and she eventually had to get stern with me, "Jill, you're racing, you have to go faster!" When she caught up to me at the aid station I got worried she'd give me harder work outs and I took off, spinning my little legs as fast as I could! Go go go go go! Don't let Danielle catch you! Welllllll it could have been this go go go mentality that made me go go goooo past the correct course turn... Dang it! I was smiling and laughing down a careening hill until I got to the bottom and didn't see any of the blue course markings. I wasn't sure if the rain had washed them away in that spot or if someone driving had maybe stopped to tear the blue course markings out of the trees... so I rode in one direction for a little ways and didn't see anything. I rode in the other direction and didn't see anything. I was really starting to curse myself for not having a better cell phone carrier (I don't think anyone had service out in those foothills very well) and especially started cursing myself for not having the tips sheet with me, when another rider came speeding down the hill I had come down.

"Are you lost?" I asked him. "I don't think so." He said. So I watched him ride to the split in the road and scratch his head. I rolled behind a tree and took a bathroom break and rode back over to him. "We must have taken a wrong turn..." We started riding back up the hill when a group of four other guys came zipping down. "We think this is the wrong way!" We shouted at them. Then we watched them scratch their heads when they got to the split. I envisioned us lost out in the foothills for several hours and being disqualified from the race. Worrying was not going to get us back on course faster, so we started chatting, which quickly took the bitterness off from being lost - at least we were all still on bikes and the sun was out, right?! The six of us rode to the top of one hill for cell phone reception and called the number on the back of our number plates to see where we might have taken a wrong turn. There was a sharp right midway down that initial hill that we had all turned left on. Once we rode up to that hill you could just barely make out the blue arrow that we should have followed... dang it!!!

Finally back on course, I tried to pedal as fast as I could up all of the hills. Climbing is one of my strong points and if I was going to make up time anywhere it would be on the climbs. Unfortunately for me, I think climbing is one of a lot of women's strengths and getting lost is definitely one of my weaknesses. Dang it again! I had no idea how many women had passed me or how many more women were behind me. I was still feeling pretty good, so I just focused on my breathing on the climbs and I had Bruce Springsteen's Thunder Road stuck in my head on the descents. Finally back at the aid station Danielle had caught up to me at, I whizzed past, happy that I was on my way back to the finish line! The rest of the course on the fire roads went by quickly, and before I knew it I was heading in to the single track. Only 10 or so more miles to go! Only an hour left! I distinctly remember thinking as I turned in to the single track. At one turn, there were some volunteers who told me "only 8 more miles from here - it's all downhill!" The hills had done more damage to my legs than I had realized and it seemed as though my body had forgotten how to ride single track. My bike felt wobbly, my legs couldn't punch up the quick climbs, and it was definitely not. all. downhill... liars! I fought my way over some rocks and roots and finally looped past those same volunteers. "How many miles now?!" I asked, sounding way more perky than I felt. "Six!" Dang it.

For all I know it took me more than half of that finishing time of just over 10 hours to finagle my way through the rest of those 6 miles. (Okay, that's an exaggeration, but it seemed like it went on for forever!) When I finally made out of the single track a sense of accomplishment flooded in to every part me - I had finished the Cohutta 100, and without a damage report I might add! I'd be lying if I said I didn't get a sense of pride each time I drink coffee out of my "Cohutta 100 finisher" mug - and I'd be super lying if I said that I let Dan drink out of it. ;)

So bring it on Mohican 100. I can't wait to see what sort of adventure(s) I find on your course!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Training, training, cool events, more training, Yankee TT...

Between my last post and now, I've been busy trying to get my shoulder and my endurance back in shape, and having awesome opportunities to be involved with some really awesome events. I still can't believe that it's already the end of April and that the fat bike season is over.*

*Honestly, the fat bike season is never truly "over." I love my Salsa Beargrease, and aside from having a the most amazing friend/mentor/coach to help me with workouts and riding goals, I really do believe my fat bike is one of the best training tools I could have when it comes to building endurance. Plus, it's just a TON of fun!

I really owe a huge thank you to the sponsors that I had over the past winter season! Having their support meant the world to me and I'm so incredibly lucky to have been a part of team Grand Rapids Bicycle Company and team 45NRTH, to roll on amazing Sarma Naran carbon fat bike rims, and to extend my training into the night with NiteRider lights. The best coworkers and teammates, the best bike and wheels, and the best lights. I cannot believe that I got to spend my winter with all of them and am already looking forwards to next winter! Although I love the snow, I'm also really, really happy that I was able to race at the Yankee Springs TT this past weekend in short sleeves and shorts!

The fat bike season ended with a cabin full of friends in Cable, Wisconsin at the Fat Bike Birkie. The highlights of the race were that I got to 1) sleep on a mattress in a loft that felt like a tree fort and in the middle of the night my teammate Tyler Keuning tossed me some gummy worms, 2) the Fat Bike Birkie was my first race back since taking some time off because my scapula was winging and I have Jason Ross from Train Out Pain Chiropractic to thank for the speedy recovery time, 3) the race capped at 750 racers.... who all took off in a mass start. If the fun atmosphere, the amazing race course, and the amazing race volunteers don't draw you to the Fat Bike Birkie, then the giant wave of fat bikers should! Watching this video blows my mind. Every time.

Back in March the Grand Rapids Bicycle Company sponsored a Barry Roubaix clinic and course pre-ride, in addition to a start and finish preview the day before the big race. Seeing all of my GRBC teammates help out at the group rides and at the clinic, as well as seeing Danielle Musto give tips on first time racers made me really proud to be a part of such an awesome and down to earth group of riders. 

At the Barry Roubaix I was able to ride the whole race with my teammate and fellow Skirts in the Dirt co-founder, Julie Whalen. Julie's got the most amazing personality and is a riot to be around - her smile is infectious AND she's an incredibly strong rider. I was really happy when she suggested that we race together while we were both climbing the first three hills of the BR course, and thinking about how we crossed the finish line high-fiving will be one of my favorite race memories for the rest of my life! :)

This was the fourth year in a row I was asked to host a women's mechanics workshop at LadyFest GR, and this was the first year I taught it solo. I love seeing so many people celebrate women (especially women on bikes) in my community and I am so honored to have been asked back year after to teach the workshop. I'm also really, really lucky because GRBC is letting me host a few women's workshops at our Fulton location this spring and summer! May 2 I'll get to teach a basic maintenance workshop at 8am, followed by an urban group ride. Thanks to the organizers of the LadyFest for getting this together!

I also got to be on a panel at Harmony Brewing Company for a She Rides Her Own Way event to discuss how to get more women on bikes in our community. It really is amazing to have so many incredibly women and to have strong support right now. There's a contagious momentum right now in GR and I'm so excited to be a part of it. I'm proud of every woman I know out on a bike!

Then it was my birthday, then it was Dan's birthday. 

So caught up in busy days at the bike shop, training, and with life... The Yankee Springs TT really snuck up on me! I was excited for the race because five of the women in the elite category were GRBC teammates! FIVE OF THEM! Typically, the elite category consists of five or so women, but for this race there were 11 pre-registered and I couldn't be more excited/nervous/stoked for race day! Lining up for the time trial was hilarious, we were all wishing eachother good luck and cheering eachother on. I love that about the GRBC ladies and about the other mountain biking women in west Michigan! Marnie Tencate had taken me on her "secret yankee warm up" route and I felt as ready as I could be for the race! The elite women started and finally it was my turn! I took off as hard as I possibly could and tried to maintain that speed for as long as my legs would hold out. At one point I was riding with Kati Krikke and I was dying... I started thinking that maybe I had asthma because I was breathing so hard! No, Jill, you don't have asthma, you're just not used to pushing yourself 110%! I told her I was bonking and she snapped, "No you're not Jill, you're fine." Bahahahaha thanks for the encouragement, Kati!!! (Kati eventually passed me and went on to win the first place in the women's Elite field! Go Kati!)

The Yankee TT was a good trial run for my little Foundry Tomahawk. I spend so much time on my fat bike that there's an adjustment period when I hop on my mountain bike... I have to learn that there's not as much traction as my fat bike tires usually have. BUT this spring I have the Velocity USA Blunt SS rims on my bike, and I think that adjustment period has been significantly shortened! Those rims are amazing!! They're light, durable, and 30mm w i d e !  I had fallen in love with them back in October when I got them on my bike, but was totally reminded of why while zipping through Yankee Springs faster than I had ever ridden the trail before! 

Yankee also reminded me that I needed new pedals, new cleats, and that I needed to make sure my hydrapak hose isn't kinked at the start of the race. Those issues have all been resolved in the last week for the Cohutta 100. Dan also put the magic touch on my bike, so I should be good to go! ;) 

And now I'm en route to Duck Town, Tennessee for my first NUE race of the year!! I'll be racing in 5 of the series races as my main focus this season. Cohutta 100, Mohican 100, Lumberjack 100, Tatanka 100, and Fool's Gold 100. Eeeeep! How is it time for the Cohutta 100 already?! The forecast is rain, rain, rain and 12,000 feet of climbing. Wowza. Wish me luck!