Tuesday, August 26, 2014

End of Summer, Start of Off Season, and Fishes

I have about 2 more days of summer left before teacher work days start. Over the past week I have been enjoying every last minute of summer, from staying in bed until 9am, to swimming in the ocean, to wrapping up a few house projects I started WAY back in June.
My fave beach in Laguna, at least until the waves tried to drown me on Thursday.

The bike racing season seems to end just in time to squeeze every last drop of goodness out of the freedom of summer before the routine of waking up early and real world work begins. Each year when bike racing is over I feel a bit lost as to what to do with all my time. Last year I started going to yoga, obsessively. I would go for 2-3 hours a day up to 3 days a week. It was a bit crazy, but I loved the challenge of doing a new sport, one where I wasn't even close to being the best one in the room. This year I am still doing some yoga, but Brendan started taking me rock climbing as well. I have no pictures because every minute in the gym I want to be climbing and or watching Brendan climb. It's a great sport because it's like putting a 3-d puzzle together, and it obliterates my arms and back each time. Anyway, that is how I'll be spending my off season, yoga and climbing, and cycling to school. Life is good here in Orange County :)

The last thing on my mind is an analogy that I head twice yesterday. It goes something like "It's better to be a big fish in a small pond, then a small fish in a big pond". Two people used it when discussing my dreams with me, but one said I should be the small fish, and the other said I should be the big one. This really got me to thinking about which I would rather be. Right now I think I want to be a relatively small fish. Yeah there is the danger I will get eaten, but if I stay in that small pond I wont have room to grow, to improve, to be inspired by or pushed by bigger fish. I love winning bike races, but I think I am happiest when I cross the line with nothing left in my legs and lungs. I'm happiest when I survive until the last lap in a field stacked with legit women, and even though I finish 15th I know that I gave it all I had. I have done a lot of personal growth this year in races where I don't finish in the top 5, when things went wrong, and when I had to learn to deal with disappointment. I think the successes are sweeter when you put yourself up a bigger challenge as well.

Anyway, that's where I am right now. It's been a bit of a rough week so far, but I guess off season is a good time to reflect on past decisions, and future plans, and to recommit myself to my goals and dreams.
Thanks to all of you who wholeheartedly support me. I could not make it without your cheers, advice and love.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Third Time's a Charm: Annadel Race Recap

This past weekend marked the last race of my second year of pro mountain bike racing, and my third pro victory at the Annadel XC.
2013 and 2012 Annadel Podiums 

Although I am a little sad that the season is over, and that I have to wait SOOOO long before racing mountain bikes again, I could not have had a better last race, or season for that matter! To make the weekend even sweeter my team mate Mike Hosey won the men's race (read his recap here), Marin Factory domination all around!
Here is how the race went down.
I could not sleep at all the night before because I was so excited. Like Mike, I dreamed about racing in Annadel as a kid, so every year this race feels like coming home after a long time away, to trails I have a special connection to.
The race begins at 9am with a mass start roll out on pavement in downtown Santa Rosa. The start was blistering fast, and I tried as hard as possible to stay near the front as Levi and Mike led the group down Sonoma Ave towards the park. I think we averaged more than 25mph on the 2.5 mile paved section (QOMs for days!)
See me sitting to the left of Mike! It was pretty fun to stay with the big boys on the pavement!

We hit the dirt at mach speed, and I was immediately engulfed in a cloud of dust that wouldn't settle for at least 5 miles. The first few trails in the race are always a bit hectic, so I had no idea where I stood until we reached Warren P Richardson climb, where I was told by spectators I was the first female. This climb is one of my favorites, so I hunkered down and started picking off men one by one (which was both satisfying and motivating). Upon reaching Lake Ilsanjo I was feeling great, and got blasted with lake water in the chest by Adem Smith's Super Soaker. The water felt good, but it also almost knocked me over! The climbing and subsequent man passing continued up South Burma trail, where I channeled Jolanda Neff on my CXR 29er (I choose to rock the hardtail for this reason). Even with a serious steep headtube and no rear suspension I was loving the feel of the CXR during the entire race, and think it made me super speedy on the climbs. Some bumpy fun descending ensued post South Burma and I was still in the lead when I hit pavement again on the far side of the park. Sister handed me a feed at the base of the last climb/informed me I was ahead of Danny Stuart :), and I dug in again to pass as many men as possible. In past years the last climb has meant cramping like crazy for me, but I think all those muscle tensions my CTS coach had me doing earlier this year paid off. I still felt good by the top of the climb, with not even the slightest cramp, and the descent to the finish was just an exercise in staying upright! 
I wish you could see how dirty my face was in this picture!

It's pretty special that Bike Monkey is willing to put in so much work to make such a rad race possible, and really cool to cross the line of my favorite race in my favorite park in 1st place. 

And that is it, a full season of xc racing from February to August, ending the best way possible. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to shred on such fun/capable bikes all year, to have the best and most supportive coach around and to have such amazing sponsors who made every race possible. 

Most importantly, thanks sister, for coming to my race, taking Brendan's place in the feed zone, and cheering for me even though your voice was still all messed up from crashing ON the Annadel race course a month ago (which was basically my fault)! You rock. The end. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

World Cup Recap

One of the things I love most about mountain bike racing is how accessible it is as a sport. In the past two years I have gone from your regular mountain bike racer, who had pretty average goals about finishing/winning expert level races to a World Cup XCO competitor. It's the feeling of putting yourself out there, stepping up to the starting line of the next level of competition that I love. Last year, starting my first XCT race gave me that feeling, a mix of extreme nervousness and accomplishment of getting to start a race with the best women in the US. This past weekend the XCO (world cup cross country) was my first step into the top level of mountain bike racing in the world, and it was again terrifying and extremely exciting. I was lining up against the very best in the world, women I have watched and idolized for the past few years, women who are incredibly talented and strong. Although I was among the lowest ranked riders, starting in the very last line of call ups, I was pretty stoked to just be there!
That 'holy cow, I'm racing a world cup' moment at the start.

The race started out like any other cross country race, except there were about 60 women in the field, 20 more than the biggest race I had done previously. Somehow I moved from very last line, to about 45th position going into the climb on the first lap, and the legs felt good, so I started picking girls off as we climbed the ski resort style ascent. When we got to the downhill sections I would follow the wheel in front of me as closely as possible, and was surprised to realize that I wasn't getting dropped. Descending used to be my weak point, but loads of work this summer at getting faster have apparently paid off. at the end of lap two I was in 28th position, and still feeling good. I tried to chase down a group of three on the climb of the third lap, but made no progress, and by lap 4 I was starting to feel a little tired. 

The best part of the race was having Brendan's parents cheering for me on the climb, as well as all the other amazing spectators. On a steep uphill section one group of hecklers had a chainsaw, loudspeaker with police siren, and tons of air horns. It was deafening in that little foresty part of the course and super motivating, I looked forward to it each lap! There was also a cute little dude who ran alongside me on the fire road for a good distance yelling with a thick accent that I could rest tomorrow, and to go faster. At some point my face hurt from smiling so big, but it was like living a dream, being out there riding my legs off. On the last two laps I got passed twice, and didn't have the legs to respond. It was still exciting to finish all 5 laps without being pulled, and 30th place was a better result than I had expected. I crossed the line smiling ear to ear, but within an hour or so I was already beginning to itch to do it over again. I love how racing puts the fire in my belly to train harder, and to chase a better result, to push myself to improve.

Brendan didn't get many pictures of the race because he was doing such an excellent job in the feed zone, but if you want to watch the race it is still online here. As we were eating dinner on Sunday night I got a few text messages from friends saying I was on their TV, which was like a cherry on top of the race experience :) Thanks for watching/cheering friends and family! Your support is super encouraging!

Some folks at the race went the extra mile to help me out this week, and I am crazy grateful for their support. SRAM MTB threw a new bottom bracket on my bike on Friday because the old one was clicking, and then they helped me install new brake pads Sunday morning an hour or so before the race. Those guys not only make the best 1 by 11 drive train on the planet, they are also beyond helpful! Stan's No Tubes also helped me out a lot this weekend, installing my spare tire when I tore a hole in my sidewall pre-riding on Sat. Then Richie cheered like crazy for me during the race. 
I even got to meet Stan himself, which was pretty darn exciting! Thanks guys for being there, keeping my bike running smoothly and believing in me!!! 

I can't wait till my next world cup XCO, hopefully early next year!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

World Cup Week!

I wrote this post before the World Cup and failed to post it, but I still wanted things to appear in order, so here it is!

Tomorrow at 1pm I will be toeing the line behind the world's best cross country racers for my first ever world cup XCO! We have been staying in Harwinton, CT all week preparing for the race and visiting with almost all of Brendan's extended family. Here are some highlights of my world cup week leading up to the big day tomorrow!
The town of Harwinton and all the surrounding towns are ADORABLE! Here is the pretty church in Harwinton as seen on my Tuesday morning spin.

I stopped many times to take pictures on my ride Tuesday. I couldn't get over the cute houses and beautiful rock walls.

Found some dirt while exploring on my bike. The trails were very technical. Tons of rocks and roots everywhere. 

We stayed at Uncle Larry and Aunt Marry Ellen's house. They have the most impressive garden complete with dozens of raspberry plants. I spent a good amount of time eating raspberries right off the vine :)

On Thursday we went for a hike up Kent Falls. The waterfall was very impressive, and the mushroom hunting didn't disappoint either!

Pre-riding the course is maybe my favorite part of bike racing. No pressure, get to stop and snap some pictures, and have a great time with all the cool people I will be racing with! The course had lots of rocks and wooden ladder features which made it really fun to ride!

Pretty excited to be at a world cup race. It doesn't get much harder than this!

Brendan and I spectated the down hill course on Saturday afternoon. The course had many large jumps. These competitors are straight crazy!

I don't know who this dude is, but I think I timed the picture pretty well :)

This, plus a bunch of family gatherings spread throughout the week made the week leading up to the race pretty darn fun, and kept my mind from getting too terribly nervous. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

D-Ville Race Recap

363 days is way too long to wait for next year's Downieville Classic All Mountain World Championships. Seriously, what a weekend. This picture pretty much sums up the vibe of the event, fun!
Marin Bikes River Jump and a mess of people trying to stay cool after racing their bikes for 2+ hours.

First though, let's talk about the race. Saturday's cross country race was a blast, as usual. The course starts out with an hour long climb, which was a little harder than usual this year due to soaring temps and dry dry conditions. My goal was to be the first female to the top, but a few critical mistakes (trying to pass men in bad places etc) cost me the unofficial QOM by about 30 seconds. 
The views help distract riders from the pain of the initial climb.

At the top of the climb riders hit Sunrise Trail, a twisty fun little single track that rips through gigantic trees and over some rocky rocks. I think I took about 2 minutes off my time on this trail from last year, and the improvement in descending was super motivating. Then we hit Baby Heads, an aptly named trail which I lobbed down in a haphazard way. Baby Heads is followed by Pauley Creek, another rocky mess of beautiful, mostly downhill trail. I found my flow at the end of Pauley Creek and got a push from a gigantic eagle mascot at the top of the short climb to Third Divide trail. Third Divide is a terrifyingly fast descent, and I held on for dear life as the Mt Vision and I screamed down the hill towards my favorite trail, First Divide. I held onto my second place position throughout the LONG descent, and eeked out the last drops of energy I had on the short road climb at the end of the race. I was stoked to finish second to mtb legend Keli Emmet, and almost immediately jumped into the river to cool off after the race. 
Pretty cool to stand with these rad ladies on the Dville podium!

The Downhill race on Sunday was a whole other animal. We started the day with a lot of waiting around at the top of the mountain, with nerves making my stomach feel pretty upset.
The ladies of the Downieville DH. An awesome, inspiring group for sure!

By the time I finally got to start I was ready to get down the hill as fast as possible. Within a few minutes of the start of my run I saw good friend and favorite competitor Erin on the side of the trail with a flat tire. My heart sank for her because I had hoped Erin would be first or second in the DH (she is flippin' fast). 
The first half of my race was pretty sloppy because I had a hard time keeping my momentum up on the crazy rocky, sometimes wet Butcher Ranch Trail. Eventually I found my rhythm again, and started having a blast tearing down the now familiar trails. Then, disaster struck! On a short, punchy climb I heard a loud bang/PSSSSHHHHHH and my bike jolted to a stop. I had broken 2 spokes and suffered an instant flat in my rear tire (still no idea why this happened). After quickly wrapping the broken spokes around other non-broken spokes, I worked on getting the sealant in my tires to fill the hole that caused the flat. Believing I had been successful, I used my only C02 to fill the tire with air, and took off down the fire road. No one had passed me in the first half of the delimah, so I was still feeling good about the race.  About half a mile later, another complete flat. Determined to finish the race on two wheels I threw a spare tube in the tire, and started running down the fire road to find someone with C02 or a pump. The volunteers I came across a mile later had neither, I kept running. Many of the other pro women passed me during this phase of the ordeal, so my only goal at this point was to not give up. A woman passed me on First Divide trail, I called out for help, and to my great relief she quickly stopped and gave me her C02. I was back in business. After double checking the rim strip and tire I inflated the tube and babied the bike to the finish. Although the race obviously didn't go as planned, I was pretty stoked to finish with a shred of dignity, on two wheels and in one piece! Pretty sure I was even smiling (I was seriously thinking about you, Darin Maxwell and how you might be disappointed in me if I wasn't, haha).                                                    
It's always a bit of a let down to put so much prep into a race just to have such an epic mechanical, but I learned a lot from the experience, and I still enjoyed almost every minute of the weekend. I guess disappointment may be a big part of mountain bike racing, and I'm learning that how I deal with catastrophe is more important than how I deal with success.                               The highlights of the weekend made the whole ordeal worthwhile. Riding the Mt Vision in its natural habitat was a blast, especially after a long season on the hard tail. Being surrounded by real trees and riding some of the best trails in CA was a real treat, and something I did not take for granted. And I especially loved seeing all the rad people who come out to this race, like old friends who inspire me. I got to stay with some of the most amazing people in the sport, and spent some quality time with old college friends/teammates. I met a ton of new folks this weekend too, either through hitch hiking, pre-riding, or just hanging out at the expo. Mountain bikers are the coolest people, I'm pretty stoked to share this sport with such an awesome group of masochists.