Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Why Telluride is the Most Amazing Town

I probably wont have time to blog about the whole trip we are on, but our weekend in Telluride, CO was so outstanding that I can't contain the urge to write about the events that made up the most memorable weekend of my summer (so far).

I couldn''t get over the waterfall at the end of town. 
When Lauren and I planned out the route we would drive through CO to get to Breckenridge we threw in Telluirde on a whim because Lauren had been there a few years earlier and claimed it was the most beautiful place ever. We had 2 weeks between our depatrure from SLC and when we needed to arrive in Breck for Lauren's race, and we wanted to hit a few fun and beautiful places on the way. So we decided on a few days in Durango (neither of us had ridden there before), driving the Million Dollar Highway through Ouray for the scenery, a few days in Telluride, 2 days in Crested Butte, and a day in Salida for Monarch Crest trail. We ended up staying in T-ride a bit longer than originally planned thanks to the hospitality of friends Billy and Kimberly, and to our tireless tour guide John form Telluride Sports.

Here's why Telluride is so amazing:
Day 1 We arrived in the evening and immediately hit the free box, yes there is a whole block of free stuff people don't want anymore in Telluride right in town! I snagged some sweet sandals and a pair of jeans! Then we drove to a rad waterfall to eat dinner, pretty much the most scenic picnic I've ever had.

Day 2 We jumped on the FREE gondola and went straight to the top of the mountain to ride Prospect trail (my 'recovery ride' which still had 1,000ft of climbing). The trails were absolutely magical, and we even had some sunshine! After the climbing, I had a freaking blast descending through the slippery rooty trails, and even hit a crazy steep fun extra credit called Kave trail with switchbacks I couldn't have ridden if it wasn't for all the practice on Yeager Mesa in SoCal. Post ride we raced into town to sign up for the T100, and ate all the pizza I could stomach. And then I decided to swap my tires and gearing for the race and John was so so nice, he took us to take us to his shop and helped with the bike conversion (which obviously was more complicated than just swapping tires haha).
Trails blowing my mind!

Day 3 Was the race, which you already read about, but AFTER the race we ate these amazing tacos at Tacos Del Gnar, and then the best hot chocolate of my life with SO much home made whipped cream.

Day 4 (when we were supposed to be in Crested Butte) we decided to stay to hike the Via Ferrata in Telluride as active recovery from the race with John. Pre-ferrata-ing we had the best breakfast burritos of my life at The Butcher and the Baker, a meal that easily stands out as the best of the trip.  The Via is a mile long hike along a sheer cliff face where the exposure forces you to 'clip in' to a cable as you traverse especially technical sections. There were a few points where there was no rock at all to stand on, and metal foot and hand holds were bolted into the rock wall. The sheer drop off 500 feet to the ground below made it pretty thrilling, and the views of the canyon and waterfalls were unbelievable from the Via. Just as we finished the scary, exposed portion of the hike the rain started and we hiked a couple miles up the fire road back to the car in a monsoon complete with booming thunder and lightning (which was actually pretty freaking cool when I look back on it). 
This was a section where we were clipped in, but still had rock to stand on, around the corner the rock footing disappeared and it got extreme. 
Lauren, John and I at Bridal Veil Falls after the Ferrata. 
AND THEN we went to a pig roast where we feasted on the most delicious pork carved from an entire pig that was slow roasted at a distillery just outside of Telluride. Where else can you do such a rad hike AND eat free pig in the same day!?!  

Not much left on the carcass, but this is when we started taste testing eyeballs and pig brains... JK!

Lauren and John at our second hot coco stop of the weekend. 
And of course the pig roast was followed by ANOTHER decision to stay in Telluride one more night, more hot chocolate with home made whipped cream (hey, I raced 100 miles on Saturday, I needed the calories) and spectating a naked bike race! 

Obviously all the events of the weekend made me fall in love with Telluride, but the people we met and spent time with made it the most special place I've ever visited. From Billy and Kimberly opening their home to us, providing us with hot showers/laundry to John acting as our personal tour guide, helping overhaul my bike, showing us the Ferrata, and taking us all over town while providing us with all kinds of history (some true, some hilarious) and introducing us to all the real locals. We are so fortunate to know some really special people whose kindness and generosity made our time in Telluride magical. Lauren and I are still talking about how much we loved the weekend we spent there, in awe of the opportunity to do the Via Ferrata, and laughing about the ridiculous conversations, and hot chocolate consumption. 
The view from the beginning of the Via with the town down to the left. 

Thanks Telluride, for being so beautiful and memorable. I can't wait to come back. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Most Beautiful Race in America

Living on the road is a beautiful thing, and I feel so so fortunate to have the opportunity to travel through Colorado this month riding and racing and taking in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Lauren and I have seen stunning vistas of scraggly, rocky mountain peaks, massive waterfalls and glowing green meadows shrouded with dark evergreens. We drove the million dollar highway from Durango to Ouray (a first for both of us) and almost cried at the staggering beauty of the San Juan Mountains. We have met some incredibly kind local people in the places we have visited, and ridden some crazy fun, challenging, awesome trails. 

Obviously there are a few drawbacks to living out of a van for an extended period of time as well, among them always being surprised by the lack of free time to do work online, access to laundry facilities and the constant 'where did the day go?!' feeling. 

Despite my limited access to social media however, I caught a glimpse of a tweet from Sonya Looney on Friday afternoon. It was a picture of a mug that said something to the effect of 'You can do hard things' (I just scoured the twitterverse to find the picture and now feel like maybe I imagined it because I CANNOT find said picture) and that message just kinda settled into my mind. 
That switchback-y fire road is the first half of the first climb of the T100. 
The next day, 6ish hours into the Telluride 100, when I started thinking about how I didn't want to keep riding, how I couldn't do it, and how my body hurt, the message from the mug resurfaced. I told myself that I felt good, ate a nut butter filled Cliffbar and then magically I really did feel ok. I continued the pep-talks all the way up to Alta Lakes, the third of 4 massive climbs in the race and was genuinely surprised how different I felt when I focused on positive thoughts and a general mind over matter outlook. 

Scared, but committed. 
The Telluride 100 (also know as To Hell You Ride haha) is a 100 mile mountain bike race that starts and finishes in Telluride Colorado, and which coins itself 'the most beautiful race in America'. When Lauren and I sat down and planned our trip we had no idea we would be in Telluride on the same weekend as the race. Lauren raced the T100 last year though and only had amazing things to say about the course (besides missing a turn and getting lost....), so when we found out we were coincidentally going to be in town for the race, after a little hemming and hawing about the suffering, I placed my coin in the board at registration, sealing my fate for 9 hours of Saturday. 

Before sunrise Saturday morning I joined a small (only 125 people are allowed to compete in the race) group of other possibly deranged cyclists, and as we rolled through the main drag in Telluride, looking up at Ingram Falls I prepared myself for 14,000 ft of climbing, all of which was above 8,000ft. 

Photo: Rob Greebon Photography
The first climb began right from the line, in the first 10 miles we ascended to 13,000ft, past two incredibly beautiful waterfalls and up to Black Bear Pass. I concentrated on pacing myself, and counted down the elevation left. At a few points I looked up and my breath was taken away both by the lack of oxygen and the absolutely incredible views. The fire road passed through the densest meadows full of wildflowers of all colors, making me wish I could pull out my phone and take pictures. But competitive as I am, I pushed on, keeping an eye on second place and on my power data.

After Blackbear pass we were rewarded with an awesome descend which I absolutely railed. My Felt Nine is pretty fun on bumpy fire road descents, and I aired out some rocks and drops, making the most of the fact that I wasn't pedaling. Soon we turned onto pavement, descended some more, and before I knew it I was climbing to Ophir Pass. The second climb was much shorter than the first, but still took us to 12,000ft. Again I focused on finding a rhythm and not going too hard. I reminded myself about 100 times throughout the day that you can't recover at altitude. The descent off Ophir was also super fun and bumpy, but seeing one of the dudes I was riding with get a sidewall tear made me slow down a little to avoid a similar fate.  

The first lap of the race was about 45 miles long, and after some fun single track following the Ophir descent we rolled into town and it hit me that we still had more than 50 miles to go. Fortunately the second loop was a little easier than the first, but it began with a crazy steep climb up a ski slope called Boomerang. The course continued to climb to 11,000ft at Alta Lakes followed by my favorite part of the race, Sunshine trail, a screaming fast twisty single track that took us through an unbelievably pretty hillside spotted with Aspen and out of control fluffy grass. 
Example of the view from the course, this is from Prospect trail, taken when Lauren and I rode it on Friday. 
Eventually I found myself on the plateau halfway up Last Dollar road, and a nice lady in a Subaru told me there were no women behind me, which was impotence to slow down a little and just survive to the end. Coach told me the day before that I would have to resume intervals on Tuesday so I shifted my focus to saving some legs to be able to do good work in a few days. Every time I felt unhappy I looked up at the beautiful mountains around me, and the Aspen trees densely packed along the sides of the fire road. I ate and drank and ate some more. A few dudes passed me on the last climb, three to be exact, but I didn't realize until later that I had been in 7th place overall until the last 10 miles of the race. I wasn't too stressed though, until the bottom of the last descent, when we had about 5 flat-ish miles left to the finish and I saw someone behind me. I kinda panicked (couldn't tell if it was a dude or not), and I pushed myself really hard back to town to stay ahead of them. Sadly for me, I got lost in a parking lot half a mile from the finish because of really poor course markings there, and that person, a dude thankfully, rolled into the lot, yelled to me that the course is 'over here' and proceeded to take 10th place from me by a matter of seconds. (bonus sad face when I found out later that some friends had made a bet that I would come in top 10).

And so what I anticipated as the most painful day of my life ended up just being a HUGE lesson in the power of my own thoughts. While I had prepared myself for feeling like hell, wanting to quit, being in unreasonable pain, the act of thinking 'you feel good' really did help me reset my perceptive, actually not feel too bad. Repeating the mantra 'mind over matter' in my mind played a huge role helping me persevere through probably the most physically challenging race of my career. 

And then there were amazing tacos, and hot chocolate with 2 servings of whipped cream, and a podium ceremony where I received yet another weapon trophy (this seems to be a trend hahaha). 

These ladies are all badasses in my book. We all pushed though and rode so hard, it was a pleasure to stand on this podium with some of the best endurance racers in the US. 

And to come full circle I have to leave this recap a little incomplete. SO much more went into this race than I just wrote about, and I want to give credit to all the people who made Saturday so incredible, but Lauren and I need to get dinner, shower, find a campsite and go to bed at a reasonable time... So I'm going to have to recap all that good stuff tomorrow... if we can find internet! 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tahoe Trail 100(k) Stoke

I'm just going to start by saying this is a race you shouldn't miss if you live in California (or a neighboring state!). The course was so fantastic, the organizers did an amazing job and the post ride meal was incredible. I was told for years that this race is all fire road and I went into it thinking that, but was surprised during the race to find myself on single track most of the day! For a 60 mile race it was a pretty awesome, fun experience, and I think it would be fun for anyone from a super competitive athlete to a beginning endurance racer.

I got super lucky with this race and it's worth thanking some people to start. To Rick Gravely, thanks for giving me your entry (sorry about your arm though!), Erin Machan, thanks for letting me use the bathroom in you condo and everyone from SoCal who was there, thanks for making me feel like a champion, haha :) It was pretty rad to travel so far for a race and feel like I was at home around so many familiar and friendly faces.

Overall I REALLY enjoyed this race, probably because everything went so smoothly, but that means it was pretty uneventful. Nevertheless, here is a quick play by play.

The race started with the organizers pulling the pro women up to the line with a call up and for pictures, and never even mentioned the dudes... that was pretty darn cool and meant that I got to start in the front. We rolled off the start behind the lead truck and began the 1,000ft climb up the ski resort.

It was easy to get swept up in the excitement and ride too hard but a nice man reminded me that everyone was going too hard and to remember about pacing myself, which helped me come back to earth and focus on the numbers/thinking long term. The lead group of 20ish men rode away from me as I dialed it back and I proceeded to spend the next 60 miles mostly alone, occasionally catching and passing a dude, but never really having company for long.

The first climb led us into a rad single track dh full of berms and little jumps, followed by a screaming fast fire road descent. After that, lap one was a blur of single track, beautiful mountain scenery, another crazy fast descent and some steep climbs that were painful until I reminded myself over and over to keep things in check and save something for lap 2.

I got a bit freaked out when I realized after 3 aid stations that there were no neutral bottle feeds (I had been told that there were but didn't do my due diligence to verify this) and being on track with hydration meant drinking both my bottle by hour 2 of a 4.5- 5 hour race. The worry faded to the back of my mind though when I dropped into the last descent of the race, dipping and weaving through sweet North Star single track. I was also stoked to realize that I was 12 minutes ahead of the time I needed to finish lap one to hit my goal time, leaving me with a nice buffer in case lap 2 was slower than lap 1.

Fortunately a super nice lady in the feed zone at the start of lap 2 handed me a bottle when I pleaded for water from the entire crowd of spectator gathered there, and I was on my way back up the mountain, still feeling good.

Lap 2 proceeded without much excitement, just me alone in the woods, loving the crap out of the course, trying to hold consistent power on the climbs and counting down the miles till the amazing single track at the end. I thought about my grandma a lot, but also spent a LOT of time going over the game plan in my mind, of eating, drinking, pacing... It seems sad that I need to concentrate so hard on such simple things, but when you break a race down to the bare basics, it's almost a blissful, mindful consciousness that clouds out mental hurdles like elevation or fatigue and stress. I ate and drank and begged for more bottles at every aid station (and was handed another one, with drink mix even!!). And then on the final climb, when I though the top was 'just around the corner' I started to slow down and feel the effects of racing 60 miles. It was a little hard to keep the motivation up with no one ahead or behind me, but eventually the last climb ended and it was all downhill to the finish.

Crossing the line in first (they even strung up the tape for me) was pretty special after so many races where I've struggled to put the pieces together, and it was even sweeter when I realized I set the course record (for the new Tahoe Trail 100 course that has been used for the last 3 years).

OH AND BEST PART... when I was called to the podium with the male winner, PETER STETINA (!!!!!) he said he knows my sister... PETER STETINA KNOWS MY SISTER?!?! haha, I thought that was really cool. Even cooler was the prosecco war we had on the podium that resulted in 2 empty prosecco bottles, of which not a drop was drank. Yes, I had prosecco in my hair on Sunday morning, and yes I was stoked to finally shower in champagne... the best kind of shower.

This week has been a bit nutty, I'm adjusting to life on the road/trying to fit in seeing all the people/doing all the things and remembering to take it easy so I'm not worn out at the end of this adventure. I wanted to write this blog on Sunday, then Monday... but I guess Tuesday night has to do. More on the trip and plan and making more Erythropoietin  later in the week :)

Friday, July 14, 2017

This One Is for Nana

Tomorrow morning I will toe the start line of the Tahoe Trail 100k mountain bike race. From 7am-noonish I will be suffering it out on long, hot, dusty climbs at altitude trying to stay with some super rad fast chicks. It will be painful, I will be breathing hard, my heart rate will be pinned, there will be pain in my legs and my head will most likely not feel too great by mile 50. At some point my feet will probably hurt, there will be dirt on my water bottle I will have to consume in order to stay hydrated, sweat and dust will be in my eyes.

This time the suffering means so much more to me than any other race though. On the drive up to Tahoe yesterday I found out that my grandma (my only surviving grandparent) has a tumor in her lung and cancer in her lymph nodes. This news has been a little bit of a shock because Nana who is in her 80's is a freaking survivor/badass. It never crossed my mind that something like this would happen (although it probably should have crossed my mind,,, aging is not a nice business), I was living in  ignorant bliss, not wanting to think about what might happen down the road.

So on the drive, somewhere between Lone Pine and Mammoth Lakes, as I was taking in the most beautiful light show put on by the sun and clouds over the Eastern Sierra, without cell reception and the ability to call Nana, it hit me that she is maybe the reason I have had some success racing bikes. I thought about all the traits I inherited from Nana's side of the family, like loving house shopping (even if you have NO intention to buy a house), being laid back but high strung at the same time, and fighting through tough situations/never giving up. Nana doesn't mountain bike, but when my cousin Casey described how she rode for 39 miles with her saddle rubbing her leg and never considered stopping to fix it it was evident to me that the Fitchett side of my family is where I get my ability to suffer for great periods of time (sometimes in a silly way, like not adjusting that leg warmer that cut a hole in my thigh).

Tomorrow's suffering will have much deeper importance to me than any race I've ever done. While I'm out there I'm going to be thinking about the radiation and cancer treatment Nana is going to endure. Knowing her, she will beast it out like a Fitchett, but I will be saying a thousand tiny prayers that everything goes well and that she doesn't have to endure too much discomfort. I will be thinking about Nana's life and her example she led which helped shape me into the human I am today. And I will be hoping that by giving it my all I am making her proud.

I love you Nana, this one is for you.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Crushed in the Tushar: A painful Re-introduction to Altitude and Humility

The view driving back down through the Tushar Mountains on Saturday afternoon.
Oh Utah and your mountain streams and Aspens!

I feel like a pretty lucky kid, for a lot of reasons really, but today specifically because I'm reminded as I sit down to write this, that my bike and racing has taken me to so many great places, and especially lately, I can honestly say 'You have to do this event next year'! How cool is that?!

I'm starting this recap with a bit of positivity because to be honest, I was not feeling too positive after the Crusher in the Tushar this past weekend. Now that it's Monday and I've had time to process my feelings of disappointment I think I've come out on the other end. Looking back on the weekend I feel extremely lucky to have the opportunity to go to Utah for a long weekend, ride bikes in an amazing mountain range with incredibly fast women, and to then get to explore the area with good friends.


Hot springs and slot canyons are some of the non-biking highlights of the weekend.

Enough of that happy sappy good stuff though, you're here to read about the nitty gritty details of the Tushar, to decide for yourself if it's a race worth driving 8 hours to get to, or to just live vicariously through my suffering (you're welcome for doing the painful part, haha).

Pre-race funny faces. 
The whole thing is actually a bit of a blur of pain in my mind. The day started out calm and cool in the town of Beaver, Utah, which sits around 5,000ft above sea level. Rolling around the start area a few people recognized and called out to me 'Hey! Didn't you win BWR...' only increasing my already overconfident attitude that all I had to do was ride hard uphill and victory was mine! I was also a bit taken that, at this event at least, my claim to fame seems to be a gravel event... like none of that mountain bike racing I did for the past 4 years was ever impressive, haha.

The Felt CX4 was the perfect bike for the course, just my sea level lungs were not...
As we rolled out of town I reviewed my mental plan, sit on the fastest women's wheel up the first climb, never go too hard, eat a lot, drink more. The forecast was for super warm temps, especially at the bottom of the only descent we got all day in the town of Junction and I was hoping that along with all the climbing, the adverse conditions would play in my favor.

Ten miles in though, when we turned right off a gentle paved climb onto the first dirt road which pitched up angrily, I was shocked into a new reality, there is no oxygen here and these ladies don't care! Two crazy fast women, Mindy and Janel both redlined the pace, out climbing the dudes we had been rolling up the pavement with and the immediately threw me deep into the pain cave. I tried to stick with my plan of sitting on the leader's wheel but after 15 minutes or so I had to let Janel ride away because I was worried about the long term affects of going to hard at elevation. I climbed for a hour with Janel just in sight, was able to reel her in by the top. I felt good, and when Janel had to stop because she dropped her saddlebag I was secretly stoked to be leading. I knew she would come back strong so I didn't do anything stupid, just maintained the pace and ate, drank and then drank more.
Start of the suffering, right before Janel and Mindy turned up the agony to 11. Photo: Catherine Fegan-Kim 

The first climb took us to about 10,000ft, and then after some small descents, rollers and a few flats we got to descend all the way back to 5,000ft. Janel caught me like I knew she would and again rode away on the last few rollers before the big descent. I stayed calm and kept drinking.

When we finally did start the epic plunge I opened up the brakes and had a blast out descending the men, hooting and hollering like a fool, and surprisingly caught Janel! I was stoked. We rode together through town and then around a big hot paved loop back towards the hellish Col de Crush climb. Just as we hopped back onto dirt another group caught us, including Mindy and my coach! I was pre-occupied with a loose front thru axel, but also started to freak out a bit. I was tired and it was hot, and the girls dug in as the dirt road pitched and the sand got deep. Eventually I stopped to tighten the thru axel and the leaders rode out of sight. I decided not to panic, drank some more, and focused on being consistent and steady. I caught and passed Mindy as the real climb began, and then overtook coach. This felt good and despite the heat I was feeling like I could do it, finish the race strong (remember that we were down at 5,000ft at this point).

Twenty minutes later though I slowly started to fall apart. The end of the climb, which I thought was at mile 56, never really came, and as we ascended into thinner and thinner air, my body decided it wanted less and less to do with working hard. My ambitious climbing pace slowly turned into a crawl, and then somewhere near the real top, as I was getting punched in the stomach over and over by the elevation, Mindy rode past me. I couldn't hold her wheel for more than 10 seconds. In my mind I settled for 3rd place, or really, just to survive. I caught and had a quick chat with Dave Zabriski, and then rode on, cramping, stretching, drinking. At mile 60 something, on the never ending climb to the final climb, another woman caught me and rode right by! I wondered aloud how in the living heck she was going so hard so late in the race and so high up. 'I've been going this hard all day' was her reply... obvi I went out too hard.

At this point I started to look around. we arrived at a beautiful meadow, with a sign that said 9,980ft... no wonder my boys isn't working! Then joy of joys, a descent! At the bottom of the short but fun dirt descent my cramps were gone, but just as I rolled onto the pavement of the final push it started to rain! Thunder rolled grumbly in the sky as the clouds opened up on me. Of course this is how it ends, of course.

There were some riders behind me, and not knowing if one of them was another pro/open woman motivated me to push with everything I had up the final pitch, counting down the 100ths of a mile to the finish.

As I rolled across the finish line smiling with relief that the uphill was over the only emotions I could register were disappointment and embarrassment. I had been so confident at the start, I love climbing and hot weather racing, and suffering. I had been certain that with this, along with the great prep coach laid out I would dominate, and instead I wasn't even in the top 3. I had greatly underestimated how difficult racing at such extreme elevations would be, and was so ashamed that all those people who mentioned BWR would see how badly I got destroyed.
Getting to cheer for coach was a pretty cool experience as well. It's rare that I get to do the same races as Matt. 
Anyway, after a few hours of pity party, once I got out of my wet clothes and off the mountain, we shifted gears to hanging out, eating and enjoying Utah. I stopped thinking about what a joke I was, and about how badly I just got beaten down. I'm super lucky to have the support system of Brendan, college best friend Taryn and Clif Team crusher Menso to distract me so the bad feelings could move to the back of my mind a process silently, and eventually fade to remembering that it's the journey, the training, the scenery, being healthy and whole, and the experience that matter, not the result.

In the end it just happens that there were three wicked strong, fast, incredible women in the field that day. They happened to be acclimated to altitude, and there isn't much I could have done to make up for the fact that I came from sea level. It would have been cool to have won Crusher in the Tushar, but the next best thing is to enjoy the heck out of the experience, to hit some sweet hot springs after and hike a slot canyon on Sunday before the drive home. Yep, I am feeling really lucky right now, humbled, and lucky.
Southern Utah plains, walking to the hot spring.
Utah hiking with these boys and Taryn = the best!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

I Heart Minnesota

I had no expectations on the flight to Minnesota for the Lutsen 99er last weekend. The only thing that came to mind when I thought about the race in the weeks leading up to it were flannel and lumberjacks (not even sure if that's accurate), and a bit of excitement around the idea of driving through Duluth, MN on the way from the airport to the race (Brendan's family always sings a drinking song with a verse 'the worstest place I've even been is Duluth Minnesota').

My uncle had told me last June how amazing Minnesota was, especially Gran Marais, the town 20 miles north of Lutsen where my cousin lives. He traveled there to visit last year and my cousin, who does not race bikes, raced the 69er and finished on the podium... like a stud. Even still, I didn't think to much about it, after all my previous bike race travels were almost exclusively west of the Rockies, leading me to believe all the good states were in the left half of the country. 
All these low expectations, and we were overwhelmed with how awesome Minnesota was/is! From the green rolling hills, endless waterfalls, lakeside towns that feel coastal to the incredible food and super crazy nice people, I think MN has landed a place in my heart.

Some of the highlights of our WAY TOO SHORT trip included...
A stop in Duluth on both the way from and back to the airport in Minneapolis. Duluth is super cute, with tons of industrial era buildings nestled right in a modern pretty city. There is an adorable main street where Brendan ate a breakfast pizza (the boy likes to try new things, haha) and I had an awesome bagel sandwich on our way north, and a beautiful waterfront lined with restaurants where we stumbled upon a gem of an Italian place on the way home and dined with a great view of the lake. (Lark o' the Lake was our breakfast stop, super nice people, great food, bottomless coffee... swoon. And Va Bene was our dinner stop on the return trip.)

Breakfast pizza even came on a piggy cutting board :)

We sadly didn't stay long enough to take any, but I was super impressed with the crazy number of classes offered by the Gran Marais community center, with everything from pastry making to bird watching to musket building classes. You could even take a house frame building class for $7,000 and they basically give you the lumber and help you start building your house!  I wanted to take almost every class in the booklet, but that would take years!

After the race my cousin Casey took us to Voyageur Brewery where she works and we had the most delicious cheese curds I've ever eaten. We ate them so fast I didn't have time to take a picture. The food everywhere we went was amazing. The following morning we had to stop at the donut shop called World's Best Donuts and I think they really might be the worlds best. I've never had a donut that was so crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, didn't taste at all like oil and also wasn't overly sweet! How the heck do they do it!? Bonus points for the awesome coffee, and lakeside atmosphere. We burned off some of the donuts we ate (I may have eaten 3... one for every 22 miles I rode the day before!) by exploring Artist's Point and then hiking to another incredible waterfall. I think we got super lucky because the rain that was lingering in the air kept the mosquitos down and the temperature was absolutely perfect.
This guy.... I'm in love with this guy!

Waterfall hike really did burn some donuts... there were like 250 stairs on the hike. After the race this was quite painful on my little quads!
Another highlight of the trip was just the fact that everyone in the state of MN seems to be super crazy unbelievably friendly. From people overhearing our questions and giving us advice in the airport, to the waiter who explained why the song may have said Duluth is the worst place, everyone was genuinely friendly. The dudes I was riding with during the race said encouraging things to literally every person we passed as the different route traffic piled up, no one ever got mad at another rider for being in the way (SO unlike CA). It was awesome being in a place where people are so nice to each other, kinda made me realize how harsh CA can be.

And of course, the reason we went in the first place, to secure my spot at Leadville at the 99er turned out to be an awesome race experience I wont soon forget. Thanks Lutsen 99er team for putting on such a great event in a place I might have never otherwise gone to visit. So stoked we got out to MN for the race and to experience what a rad state Minnesota is!

Oh and I almost forgot, thanks to the crazy friendly guys at Continental Bike and Ski for helping me with a more complicated than anticipated tire swap on Friday morning! Running the mud tires was clutch and we couldn't have done it without all the help!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Lutsen 99er AKA The longest mudbath of my life AKA the least inspired race recap about a pretty ridiculous, muddy, long, crazy race.

I haven't traveled to a race in a while, and didn't really know what to expect in a mass start, mostly flat 99 mile MTB race in the midwest. The weather, ambiguity about feeds and lack of ability to re-ride left me unable to mentally prepare well, and that contributed to not sleeping at all the night before the Ludsen 99er on Saturday. If I've learned anything from the past 4 years of racing it's that you can only control so many of the variables though, so Saturday morning I focused on doing my best, and not stressing about the negative variables I was taking into the race.
Chatting with CTS coach Jason at the start. 

Despite less than ideal preparation, at mile 35 I was cruising along in a group of about 8 dudes, in the top 20 overall, and feeling pretty good. My group formed after the 5 mile, 1,000ft climb up Caribou Trail Rd (the only sustained climb on the course), when the first dirt trail shattered the large lead pack. We weren't in the lead group, but I was happy to land with the group of dudes I was with because I could keep up on the ski trails and was greatly benefiting from the draft on the fireroads. 

For the first 40 miles I did a great job eating gels and drinking from my filthy water bottle. I could push hard on the climbs and wasn't having trouble keeping up on the descents. The dudes reassured me that we were on pace for about a 6 hour finish, and I even had time to look around at the scenery a few times.

The 99er course took us through a Network of cross country ski trails and dirt roads. The roads were beautiful, hardpack, surrounded by lush green forest. The ski trails were deceiving cruel though, with watt sucking grass hiding slick wet rocks that could easily take you out if you didn't see one. I concentrated on picking good lines and said a few silent prayers of gratitude every time we turned back onto fire road. I also concentrated on not swearing or talking too much, as I wanted my group mates to let me take advantage of their manly speed and draft-ability. This was hard and strange to me, multiple times I wanted to make inappropriate jokes, but I bit my tongue, I'm learning... :) 

Because we decided to interpret the printed race guidelines literally (over the few people who said bottle hand ups weren't allowed) Brendan was on course at miles 29 and 45 to hand me new bottles. The guys in my group either didn't read the guidebook or didn't have family/friends to feed them, so when we came to the rest stop with everyone's drop bags the second time my group all stopped to refill bottles etc... and I kept rolling, figuring they would catch me. This is where I started to feel the effects of riding too hard for the first 3 hours. Although I had been in a big enough group, I hadn't done a good job sitting in, and had to remind myself constantly to calm down and stop going to the front. 

Around mile 50 I began to eat the only solid food I had brought with me, a chocolate almond butter filled cliff bar (something I was actually really looking forward to), and after one bite I hit a bump causing the rest of the bar bounced out of my hand on the ground. Rather than stop and pick it up like an intelligent human would, I kept rolling. About 15 miles later I was paying the price dearly for dropping that cliff bar, because that's when a few dudes in my group (who had caught me around mile 55) started attacking. I hadn't eaten in more than an hour, and doing too much work in the first 35 miles caught up to me fast. Around mile 65 I got dropped from my group completely and had to face the idea of finishing the race alone. Instead of eating like a smart person, I just kept pedaling, trying in vain to stay with the two other dudes who fell off the once perfect group.

Between miles 70 and 90 the course basically just cruised along this always slightly uphill fireroad. You would crest a little rise to see another bigger rise ahead, and then another. There was no sustained downhill on which to rest, and the weather decided it wasn't hard enough to race 99 miles, so the sky opened up and rain turned the road into a squishy, inefficient, watt sucking death march. 

I was reduced to counting down the miles, one one hundredth of a mile at a time. Seeing Brendan again at mile 80 was my carrot for a while but the 10 miles before the last feed zone felt like a lifetime. 

I was pretty happy to see Brendan when we finally arrived at mile 80, but my relief was short lived as I had not prepared him to hand me solid food, and more bottles of drink mix didn't really do much for my severely bonked state. 5 miles later though I found a gel in my shorts pocket (I choose to wear baggies, Dirtbaggies to be exact, for the pockets and extra layer of warmth) sucked it down and almost immediately felt alive again. This was both exciting and frustrating, why was I so dumb that I didn't eat earlier?!

With newly fresh feeling legs and mind I enjoyed every second of the last 15 miles, bombing the ski-trail river of mud, sliding around of the 4 miles of new singletrack they routed us on and then slogging up the final 2 mile long climb to the ski resort finish. There was even small talk with the people I passed, hooting and hollering on the fun slippery hilariously wet singletrack and smiles at the finish. 

Looking back it feels like I underestimated how long 99 miles is. Doing a bunch of long road bike rides in May left me overconfident about how hard this race would be and for about 2 hours on Saturday I paid the price dearly. Now, looking back, it's still hard to process the day because although I won the women's overall and came in 17th overall, I am pretty disappointed with my time, my overall finishing position (I wanted top 15) and the decisions I made which contributed to the bonking and resulting time. I finish in 6:23:47, 23 minutes slower than I wanted. The most important goal was to qualify for Leadville, but being an elite athlete can mean being really hard on yourself when your result doesn't match what you think is your potential. 

This is a super uninspired race recap, to the point I feel like I need to delete it and start again, but my feelings about the race are still so confused I don't have any inspiration for an angle to make it different. The weekend ended up being about much much more than a bike race, so more on that soon. I also have some thoughts about the Leadville race organization that have been bothering me, but for now, I'm going to leave this here. Hope it isn't too boring :)