Monday, July 22, 2013

The Gnar Weasels Shredeth: It shredeth some other people, but I was actually okay for the most part...

Once again, I am late in getting this out . . . 

. . . But if you follow my blog, you should be used to that by now.

It’s Gnar Weasels Race Report time, and in an effort to be brief while conserving time, I’ve opted to incorporate some new features into this blog post. 

Let’s start with this . . .

Top Ten Reasons to Race Gnar Weasels

Colin Reuter aka @resultsboy - doing the results
10.  The race is designed and promoted by dudes who like to shred real trails – This means that you’re

not going to find a bunch of double-track or boring ski-slope climbs.

9.  The podium is a bunch of boulders in the woods – No need for anything fancy because rocks make everything more awesome.

Thom Parsons aka @BigBikesThom
aka Ultra Enduro Dyude
aka The Face of Dirtwire.Tv
8.  People come from all around to race it – Texas, California, Connecticut…  It’s just that awesome.

7.  If you are a mountain biker you will have an advantage over the fittest of the roadies – sure, they might stomp you into the ground at Winding Trails, but at Gnar Weasels, the ground grows teeth and devours them! (Gnom, Gnom, Gnom…)

6.  Weasels are cute – plus, Weasel races are known to be great fun in the cyclocross world… Night
 Weasels and Ice Weasels. Good and Good.

Photo by Ben Stephens
Thanks for making me look fast.
5.  Beer Marshalls – If you’re really thirsty and need some carbs on the fly, you might be lucky enough to encounter someone offering you a nice cold beer.  Oddly enough, nobody offered me a beer, but that might be because I looked really focused (which I was).

4.  Bacon – I don’t typically eat meat.  Nor did I have any during the race.  Nor was I offered any (probably for the same reason nobody offered me any beer), but I am told that there was a fine young man out there making sure that people would not go hungry.  I’m also told that you had to eat bacon to get beer… that might explain why I didn’t get offered beer. 

3.  Since I’m on the topic of food… TACO TRUCK – Where else can you find a taco truck out in the middle of the woods!?

2.  Gnar Weasels is the week before nationals (at least it was this year) – It turns out that the nationals course for 2013 is extremely rocky and technical.  Gnar Weasels is the ultimate primer for the rocks at Bear Creek in PA. 

Feed Zone - That might be a bowl of bacon on that table.
1.  Rocks, Roots, and GNAR – As I’ve already mentioned, this course requires some tech know-how. 
And riding rocks is my absolute favorite, so this makes Gnar Weasels number 1!

Now here's how the race played out for me:

With 7 elite women at the start line, I was looking forward to a competitive race, and Gnar Weasels and the rest of the ladies delivered.  The first five minutes pretty much predicted how the race would turn out.  Karen got the hole-shot while Mo followed close behind, and Ellen and I were back and forth for much of the first lap.  By the second lap, Ellen pulled away as I stopped for a bottle, and then the traffic started to get congested. 

Photo by Russ Campbell
Bike race PRO-tographer
Eventually I lost site of her as I had to continually battle against the traffic as men passed me and I passed them back.  With legs still tired from the Patapsco race less 7 than days before, I didn’t have much fight in me. 

I finished in a solid 4th within 5 minutes of the Karen, and ten minutes ahead of 5th.  I’ll check that one off as a success, and maybe next time, I'll rest in between races (yeah right).  

I hope you enjoyed the new format.  I’m also going to try this (here’s hoping the interactive features are compatible with blogger – if not, too bad, so sad):

And that should do it.  I’ve got to get to my MTB Nats race report some time before the next race.    

**Now that I've hit publish, it looks like that interactive thingy works... sweet.  Enjoy.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Patapsco - 100 Really REALLY Tough Miles in almost 13 hours

This. Race. Was. Epic.

The word epic is way overused these days. It should really only be used for events like the Patapsco100. 

Let me put it to you this way… the website said things like, “Feel. Your. Heart. Beat.” and “The Most Challenging Ultra Endurance Mountain Bike Race on the planet” and “16000 feet of climbing in three laps” and “the pure pain epic” and “who would do this crazy event”…

You get the picture.

Just in case you don’t, there was also this, “All 100 mile racers who finish the course within the cutoff time of 15 hours (6am – 9pm) will receive a 2013 Patapsco 100 Finisher’s Jersey… it is not for anyone who finishes at 9:01pm. If you want it you are going to have to earn it.”   Obviously, these race promoters weren’t messing around.

I found out later that a huge portion of the our entry fees were going towards two different charities.  One was the race promoters' main cause diabetes via Adventures for the Cure; At the bottom of this post, I am copying the content of an email I received after the race that shows you just how awesome these guys are and where the money is going.  I am still blown away by the good that can come from an event like this.  

You might ask what would make me want to do such a thing.  Honestly?  I signed up on a whim.  I knew that I wasn’t racing that weekend, and I also knew I wanted to be.  Then a guy I made pals with during the NH100, Jeff, posted the link to bikereg saying that he was in.   Well, I scoped out the bikereg page and figured, what the heck, I may as well do it. 

Almost immediately, I started having doubts.  “Am I ready for this?”  “Have I trained enough?”  “I haven’t even been on a road ride over 40 miles this year.”  “16000 feet of elevation is like, 6000 more than NH100, and that was freakin’ hard!”  “I have to drive all the way to Maryland after work?” “Shit, that’s a holiday weekend.” “Oh crap, I have Skyler that weekend.” “Will my rapidly deteriorating fork last long enough?” “It’s only like four weeks away.” “Oh my God, nationals are two weeks after that… will I be recovered?”

Needless to say, I was a bit worried.  Everything seemed to come together though…  my brother came to Maryland with us, so Skyler hung out with him while I raced. 
If you finished two laps (100k) you got this.

There was no camping at the venue, so I used my AAA card to get a discounted room at the Best Western only ten minutes away, and they had a pool.  Skyler got to swim and hang out with her uncle all day.  We made it to the hotel with plenty of time to get settled, and enough time for me to try to get a good night’s sleep. 

The morning of the race, I got out of bed at 4:45.  I probably should have gotten up earlier to have more time to prepare, but it seems to be my thing lately to wait until the last possible minute for everything. 

I had Jared and Skyler drive me to the venue, and they helped me carry all of my gear over to the start/finish area.  What was really great about these race promoters is that they really made sure the racers had everything they could possibly need.  Not only did they supply water and food for us, but they had a tent for us to leave our coolers under so that our stuff didn’t have to bake in the sun all day.  I can’t tell you how great that was – it was a very very hot and humid day. 

As I mentioned, I was last minute and super unprepared for this event, so with 20 minutes until start time, I was attempting to make myself some breakfast.  With limited resources of my own, I made a nutella sandwich and ate it as fast as possible.  In fact, I made it to the start line just after the pre-race speech was given, so I had only moments before we were rolling out on the parade loop before starting off on the actual course. 

Up until that day, it looked like I was the only woman signed up for the 100.  I was pleased to find out that I wasn’t alone on the day of the race – a gal on singlespeed had arrived.  In our pre race chit chat, I found out that she hadn’t finished a 100 miler yet.  With all of the talk about how hard this one was going to be, I wondered what she was thinking riding a singlespeed if she wanted to finish.  As it turned out, the men’s 100 miler was won by a singlespeeder. 
NoFilm Photography: AFC Patapsco 100 (2013) &emdash; Ptap100

So, we rolled out nice and easy at the start, and I kept telling myself to take it easy.  Knowing that the course would be predominantly singletrack with an insane amount of climbing, I didn’t want to blow myself up at all.  So I sat back with some other guys and just felt it out. 

I realized quickly that the pack I’d settled with was going way to slow if I was going to finish the race before dark, and my goal was not to crush it but to be off the trails before dark.  Basically, I just wanted to finish and survive.  I ended up picking up the pace as soon as I had a chance and eventually found myself riding much of the first lap with a guy on a fat bike. 

The course was spectacular.  With over 80% singletrack, at no time did I find myself bored.  Most basic xc race courses don't have a fraction of the logs that this place had.  Not only that, but there were sections filled with small sharp rocks and tons of roots, and other sections where the rocks were laid out nicely over water crossings.  From what I'd heard, a lot of the trail had been newly built to accommodate this race, and boy did they build it right.

There were a lot of sections where you could really move while other sections took some serious time because you weren't quite sure what would come around the next bend.  I found it very similar to the sort of trails I ride as often as possible in New England.  With all of the good stuff, you had to be okay with the little that wasn't so good - for a short portion of trail, a very very steep and somewhat rocky area, we were required to get off our bikes an walk until the end of the trail because it was a designated hikers only area.  No problem, except that it was longer than I like to walk.  

Also on that first lap, I realized about two miles in that I hadn’t put any of my food in my pockets.  If you know anything about endurance racing, you know how important it is to be eating food all day whether you are hungry or not.  Going an hour without any calories will inevitably cause you to bonk at some point.  I calmly told myself it would be okay.  I knew that at mile 17.5, there’d be an aid station with food, and my drop bags would be there.  So I chugged my water and my GU Brew and kept
Delicious Homemade Energy Gel
 Here's the link to my recipe

At one point on the course, just before the 17.5 aid station, we had to ford a river.  I don’t mean some puny little stream crossing – there were plenty of those too, but I’m talking about a real river.  It was impossible to ride through it (especially if you value working parts on your bike), so each lap we had to get off of our bikes, pick them up, and wade through the water.  Sure, it felt wonderful with it being so hot out, but imagine every lap getting your chamois and your shoes saturated with river water.  By the time you dry out (not that you are ever dry because you are sweating profusely all day), you are getting wet again.  

Another interesting moment in the first lap came when the lead group of the 100k racers came up behind me.  They were hauling like a freight train, and I realized there was a familiar face in the pack.  Cheryl Sornson, NUE Series champ was right there with the guys.  I found out later that she was doing a two-person team with Chris Eatough – yeah, he’s the same guy with the Eatough Training Plans.  So my witty retort as Cheryl came cruising by was, “Are you Cheryl? [yep] Holy shit!”  I guess I was a little starstruck, and at the same time, I was a little nervous that I might have some serious competition.  No worries though…  as it turned out, there weren’t many people who would finish the 100 miles, and Cheryl wasn't out to do that... this week. 

So, the first lap went pretty well.  I was overly concerned that I’d taken it too slow because it took me just over 4 hours, and I wanted to keep the pace pretty steady on the next two laps to hopefully finish around 6pm.  I knew there was a fair chance I would slow down a bit though…  and I sure did.
NoFilm Photography: AFC Patapsco 100 (2013) &emdash; 2013 Patapsco 100
Around halfway through lap 2, I started to feel some serious fatigue set in.  It was blisteringly (is that a word??) hot in the sun, and fortunately, the singletrack kept us in the shade for a large portion of the day.  (Did I mention that this race was over 80% singletrack?) 

The climbs were starting to really hurt.  I just kept telling myself to keep it all going in a forward moving direction.  Somehow, that worked. 

Going into lap 3, a guy came up to me asking if I was still feeling strong, and as I opened a can of coke, he questioned me on how the heck I could handle drinking that…  Obviously he wasn’t in on the secret.  Coca Cola is a freakin’ lifeline when you’re endurance racing and you are on the verge of death.  I drank half the can and told him it was the perfect thing and that I only drink it during races.  He didn’t seem to believe me, but maybe someday he will try it for himself.  Coke also saved me at the final aid station… more on that shortly….

Also at that point, I had to take my contacts out.  I'd gotten dirt in my eye, and I couldn't see very well for most of the second lap.  I'd planned for the worst, so my glasses were in my bike bag.  Contacts out. Glasses on.  Good to go.  (If you've read any of my other race reports, I'm sure you are sick of hearing about my contact woes.)   

So, I set out on that last lap with a pocket full of my homemade chia seed/blackstrap molasses energy gel, some caffeine and sugar coursing through my veins, and hoped for the best.  That last lap was tough.  Really tough.  The worst part was being alone out there, but at the same time, that was also the best part.

I don’t remember much about that last lap before the water crossing except that I walked a lot of the climbs.  I remember the water crossing distinctly because when I got there, the course marshal told me that there was a storm coming in; he said that a lot of people were dropping out, and it was very likely I would get pulled.  He also told me that all of the volunteers were getting pulled off the course.  I politely told him that there was no way in hell I was stopping there and that I’d take my chances.

At that point, I was tired…  autopilot was on, and I just kept turning the pedals when I could and walking when I just couldn’t turn over the cranks.  I was elated when I finally reached the 17.5 aid station.  Again, I was strongly urged to stop because the storm was coming.  That being said, the volunteers worked overtime to get me fed and make sure my bike was running smooth before I set back out. 

Let me elaborate here a bit…  these people were getting me food, pouring me cold coke, cleaning my drive train, lubing my chain, filling my bottles, and forecasting the weather.    They. Were. Awesome.   They took such good care of me.  I went out for the loop that would bring me back through there (yeah, there was a section where we had two-way traffic going in and out of that aid station… more about that in a bit). 

Feeling a bazillion times better with a whole ton of sugar in me, I hammered the hell out of that loop.  There was no way I was quitting.  The only way I was coming off that course was if they forced me to.  As I came back to the aid station – possibly about an hour later, all of the tents were down and there were a lot of people there.  I assumed they were going to pull me, but when I asked them, they said I could keep rolling if I wanted to, but there wouldn’t be a place to get any water on the course.  No problem – in my effort to hammer the previous loop, I hadn’t had much to drink and still had plenty in my three bottles. 

Off I went… ten miles to go.  For the entire last lap, I’d been dreading what I knew was the last dirt climb of the race.  It was a steep long-ish hike-a-bike strewn with loose rocks.  Without a doubt, it was my least favorite part of the race. 

And the climbing didn’t end with that.  It kept going a bit into some singletrack before leading back into some swoopy fast stuff.  What a nice treat!  There was even a view through the woods of a huge waterfall.   The last portion of singletrack dumped us out onto a rail trail type of thing, which eventually lead to a short section of paved road…  then it was a turn back into the park where it all began. 

NoFilm Photography: AFC Patapsco 100 (2013) &emdash; Ptap100The route back to the park was paved, but it was not kind.  It was Straight. Up. Hill.   Man, did that hurt, but I was so stoked to be done that I was up out of the saddle and hammering.  I rode to that finish line like I hadn’t done anything all day. 

When I came through the line – which happened to be the pavilion where everyone was hanging out, I arrived to a whole crowd full of clapping.  It was awesome – just straight up awesome.   My time was just under 13 hours. 

Within seconds of taking my helmet off, Thom Parsons of  was there with his camera, and the helmet went right back on.  I am just vain enough that I couldn’t handle being on camera with a big line across my forehead.  I’m so glad that smells can’t be captured on camera because I smelled terrible.

I didn’t find out until a couple of days later, but there were only 13 finishers of the 100 mile race.  That’s a pretty large attrition rate.  For being the first-place woman, I scored a sweet payout of $400, and for being a finisher in general, I received an original 2013 Patapsco 100 Finisher’s Jersey.  Plus, there were cookies in my goody bag.  I practically inhaled them. 

The fun didn’t exactly stop there.  When I finally left the festivities, I got to yell out the window of the car to some of my fellow competitors who were in the process of making their way up that awful hill.  It felt good to cheer some people on, but it felt even better to be sitting on my ass in a car. 

Finally back at the hotel room, I couldn’t decide what to eat…  it was pathetic.  I finally settled on some greasy disgusting Chinese takeout and sent Jared and Skyler out to pick it up so I could shower.  If you’ve ever showered after being in the saddle for… well, for all day… then you know that it’s not all that great.  I was dirty beyond belief, but it hurt to get clean.  Everything hurt – right down to my pinky fingers. 

As soon as I was clean, I went directly to the bed, and that’s where I ate my dinner.  You might think that a person who had just done the hardest 100 miler known to the U.S. would sleep in the next day and maybe not get out of bed much…

…Well, I promised Skyler we would go to D.C., and that’s what we did.  We were up and on the road by 8 or so, and we walked just under 10 miles around the capital city.  It was awesome and awful all at the same time.  The heat was ridiculous so I’m really grateful for the exceptional air conditioning in all the Smithsonian museums.

We had a fantastic day, and Skyler was in bed and asleep as soon as we got back to the room at around 8pm that night.  And no, I didn’t sleep in the next day either.  We were up shortly after 5am and on the road for home.  I had Jared drive for a bit so I could study for my class, and when we got back to town, I got dressed and head off to the new job and didn’t get home until after 9:45pm…  It’s been exactly one week, and I’m still tired.  (But that didn’t stop me from racing yesterday… Gnar Weasels race report to come… must sleep first).  

Here's the email I received after the race.  It goes to show just how kickass the Adventures For a Cure team is:

Congratulations on finishing the Patapsco100!! We only had 13 people to do so. You are among the few. Every one of you should have already received a finisher's jersey. If you would like to purchase additional jerseys you may do so here:

[I took that link out.  Sorry, you are not a finisher.] 

We are giving you 2 days to purchase as many jerseys as you would like before we open this page to everyone else. We understand and agree that only true 'finishers' should have these jerseys, however, our charity mistakenly purchased too many jerseys and we need to offload the costs.

[I completely agree with their decision to do this. The money needs to go to the charities.]

Adventures For the Cure gives money that is crucial to our causes. Half the money raised from this event goes to supporting a diabetes camp for children ( where they learn to manage their diabetes while living active lifestyles. People with type 1 diabetes can die or suffer serious consequences of poor management. This camp gives these children one more tool/resource to help them live with their disease.
The other half of the money goes to Kupenda for the Children (, an American organization that assists children with disabilities in Kenya who are at risk of being killed, abused, or neglected due to a local belief that they are "cursed." This organization is literally saving and changing lives. I have personally seen children who could not walk, learn to run. I have seen children in despair, being kept in the closet of their homes because their parents were embarrassed to have a child with a disability, later living at a school with other children, smiling, laughing, and living!
When you know where our money goes, you can see how we cannot not sell these jerseys. Thanks for understanding!

Come join me next year.  I am definitely going to try to get back down there again.  

Oh yeah, and take a look at the Dirtwire.Tv Patapsco 100 Movie!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Windham Pro XCT - Fun With Friends and Epic Finish Failure

I’ve been rather busy in the past couple of weeks, and I now have a backlog of things to talk about.  Rather than put up one ridiculously long post, I’ll do you a favor and do 3 separate posts because I’m nice like that.   

Windham Pro XCT
I held off from writing about this right away for a couple of reasons:
1.     I was really busy.
2.     I was disappointed.
3.     I was trying to focus on the next race (more to come on that shortly…).

The overall experience Windham weekend experience was first-class.  I met up with my teammate, DAS on Friday because races were Saturday, and it’s a three-hour drive from Danielson to Windham.  We made good time, and arrived at the mountain shortly before 2pm – almost at the exact same time as our Death Row Velo buddy, Gary.  Tracy had arrived about an hour or so before us. 

Priority number 1 was to pre-ride the course, and it was easy to see that there were no major changes from last year.  There was certainly no less climbing than in previous years.  Because they’ve used it as a World Cup race course, it’s really well designed.  The rock gardens are laid out well, and there are some bridges and other slightly technical features. 

Probably the most challenging section is called the “Mini Wall” – a reasonably steep exceptionally rooty downhill with a sharp left hand turn at the end. Previous years had left that section super loose and dry which was scary enough, but this year the rain made it muddy and almost unrideable.  Notice I said almost

All-in-all, the course looked good, and I wasn’t worried about racing on it… I was just worried about who I was racing against.  I’ll get to that…  

After checking in at registration, I found out that my super-d registration included a weekend-long lift ticket so that I could practice the super-d course.  As it turned out, this was both good and bad.  Seeing the course ahead of time reassured me that it could be done on my hard-tail, but the course was extremely muddy at the topmost part of the mountain so I got my bike pretty dirty in the process.

The other plus-side of the lift ticket was that I was able to talk John and Gary into racing the super-d as well.  I don’t think it was that hard of a decision…  A race where all you have to do is ride up to the top of a mountain on a ski lift and then come down some super sick trails?  Who wouldn’t?

After some cleanup and dumping our stuff off at our motel room (the Windham Inn at Johnny O’Connors), we set out in search of food.  Without any argument, we settled on Cave Mountain Brewery.  I don’t remember what everyone ate, but I’m pretty sure we all had at least one beer.  However, we noticed they had a stout float on their dessert menu, and that foretold where we would eat dinner on Saturday night as well.

Like the dedicated cyclists we all are, we had lights out by 10pm – John and Gary had a start time of 8am, and we all wanted enough time to get the easy-up tent set up before the races began.  Plus, we had the bright idea to cook eggs and stuff on a camp-stove and make French-pressed coffee…  as you can probably guess, we didn’t do that the following morning. 

Race day was all sorts of exciting, and the weather was gorgeous; both of the guys had a good race. Tracy was up next, and she looked really strong out there.  My race was midday at 1pm…

…What’s cool about my race is that instead of racing at the same time as all the other cat 1 men and women, the pro women had their very own race time.  I guess this is how they do things in the big leagues. 

So, lining up at the start of this race was a bit surreal.  Not only was I standing next to some of the fastest women in North America, but I got to have my name called as I made my way up to the line – super exhilarating. 

Here’s how the race went down:
  • ·      First 3 laps, the legs felt heavy and tired, but I rode pretty much everything - even the sketchy mini wall. 
  • ·      Last lap, I started to feel like I wanted to be there, and I started pushing it.  Unfortunately, it was too late.  At the top of the last climb, I heard the motorcycle that rides in front of the leader. 
  • ·      Before the race, we were told if we got lapped by the leader, we would have to pull ourselves.  So, I knew I’d have to do that.
  • ·      Shortly after Lea Davison passed me, my left contact lens ejected itself from my eyeball.
  • ·      I had to walk the mini wall on because I couldn’t see a damn thing.
  • ·      I didn’t know where I was supposed to go since I’d gotten lapped.  In the other UCI races I’d done, we weren’t supposed to go through the start/finish area if we got lapped by the leader.
  • ·      I pulled off the course just before the final straightaway so it wouldn’t look like I was in second place and immediately reported to the officials.
  • ·      I had worked really hard on lap 4 to get a good gap on two other riders, and succeeded.
  • ·      I couldn’t find the results posted anywhere and had to get ready for the super d and find some food.
  • ·      I found out two days later that I got recorded as DNF – even thought they told us we were supposed to pull ourselves if we got lapped, and even though I reported to them immediately.  
  • ·      Next time, I will ride through the start/finish area pretending like I’m second.

Needless to say, Windham was fun, but the whole organization aspect of the race, with the UCI and their confusing rules, was not so much fun. 
The super d was a new experience.  It was a bit unorganized and weird, but after riding the lift up and
hanging out for a bit at the top of the mountain, we lined our bikes up, walked back about 20-30 feet, and waited to be told to start.  Then we ran to our bikes, hopped on, and raced to the bottom of the mountain. 

I think it took about 10 minutes or so…  I don’t really know.  There was no timing system; they just marked us down in order of how we finished.  It was funny – some women were decked out like downhillers, some were on hardtails, and some were a bit in between.  Appearance meant nothing when it came to rider ability.  Apparently, I got 5th out of however many of us there were. 

Another problem I ran into had to do with my bike…  somehow, the xc race messed with my front derailleur, and I couldn’t get my chain to stay on the big ring for the super d.  I suppose there could have been worse problems – like for instance, getting a DNF when you actually did not DNF.  

The day got wrapped up with another trip back to the brewery.  I had two delicious glasses of their chocolate hazelnut porter (and bought a growler of it to take home), and the guys got their stout beer floats.  Because of my dairy issues (migraines), I didn’t order one, but I had a taste…  holy shit, that’s good stuff. 

There was talk of riding somewhere nearby in the morning, but with my bike all dysfunctional, I told everyone I was out.  Rather than leave me to my own devices, everyone else decided to just head out in the morning too.  So that was it.  Homebound. 

My plan for the week was to only do a few rides, and I was starting my new job, starting summer school, and throwing a July 4th party – all before heading to Maryland after work on Saturday so I could do a 100 mile race on Sunday at 6 am on what was touted to be the hardest 100 mile course in the U.S.