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 :)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

TASCO Sea to Mountains and Back

I left San Diego today with multiple thorns in my left arm, clumps of mud in my hair, a broken spoke, and a 26'' tube in my front tire (I rode a 29er hardtail today). I was unbelievably tired and we didn't even get to ride all 49.5 miles of the course we set out to conquer at 7:30 this morning, and all the suffering wasn't even for a race!
Sometimes being stubborn and persistent is an attribute, like 90 miles into 130 mile BWR when you want so badly to give up but know that if you keep going for 40 more miles you could possibly win. Or the time we were all strewn along the dirt roads in Calabassas at the Pedal's Fork Dirt Fondo, wiping mud off our tires, riding 10 feet and then repeating it, bu then rewarded with hero dirt on the second half of the ride. Today though, my stubborness was not an attribute, and Carl and I took the suffering a little past where we needed to on what was supposed to be a fun group ride turned ugly by unfortunate weather.

The plan was to ride from Hatch Cyclery in Leucadia (just north of San Diego) up through the awesome network of country roads and rad bike trails to Black Mountain and back on the first TASCO Sea to Mountains to Sea ride.

What should have been a super fun day of exploring some new dirt, riding with friends old and new, and a little good natured suffering started out on the questionable side when it started to legitimately rain on the drive down at 6am. We were blissfully ignorant though, with bagels and coffee in hand, blasting down I-5 thinking it was just some heavy June Gloom that would clear up by 8am.

We set off to ride with a group of about 30 rad dudes and a few ladies, still optimistic about the weather, all excited and anxious at the same time. then i got a flat maybe 3 miles in. Poo. My tire had no sealant, of course, and one bad tube later we were cramming in a 26'' tube Carl was carrying into a very wet 29'' tire. The tiny tube worked and maybe 10 minutes later Carl and I were cruising along again, the group somewhere up the road (they all assumed we would catch them).

One of the most exciting parts of the day was that Brendan decided to come ride with us, maybe because I promised him there would be a contingent of the ride who wanted to ride a mellow pace, and an overall shorter route. We caught up to and then passed Brendan's group all smiles and laughs, and soon Carl and I were on our own again trying to catch the faster group.

The first dirt portion of the ride was rad. Fun, unexpectedly techy singletrack in a suprisingly rural feeling open canyon. I had loaded the route onto my Garmin, so we were fine with directions, kinda. Only problem was us not being locals we didn't realize that the dirt we were on was going to turn into clay, and when mud did start to pack up on our tires we didn't know how to exit the route to pavement to save ourselves about an hour of pushing super heavy mud laden bikes across ever muddier dirt roads. We ended up stopping multiple times to wipe mud from our tires, away from our fork legs and out of out bottom bracket areas. Carl kept dropping his chain and in my stubbornness I ended up riding maybe 10 miles of pushing through ridiculous resistance, stopping only a few times when the wheels refused to continue turning.

Then, when we finally decided this was not worth it, we popped out at a park where a nice man had bacon and coffee! What an off, kinda awesome oasis to discover when you are soaking wet, covered in mud and starting to question all your life's decisions.

While Carl cleaned his bike I ate about 10 pieces of bacon, drank 3 iced coffees, and cursed a bunch about the weather, this was JUNE after all!

Some other riders from our group did eventually arrive at the 'aid station', but when we learned that no one else planned on continuing the ride Carl and I cruised out to ride back to the ocean on pavement. We only missed a small portion of the route (on the way out), and probably missed all the good singletrack, but heck, now we have a reason to come back!

And so, after getting lost and accidentally riding to La Jolla (adding about 8 un-necessary miles) Carl and i returned to Hatch around 11am to find almost the whole group, clean and happy chatting about the day over beers and more iced coffee. After much bike washing there was a raffle, for a free ride, with free raffle tickets we didn't even complete the whole ride to earn! Carl left stoked with a new pair of gloves and sunglasses, and Brendan and I left happy with a ridiculous memory of the wettest ride in June in Socal that we will one day tell our children about.
On the drive home we decided that we have had enough good luck, perfect weather, great mechanical-less days, and that every once in a while a ridiculous day with mud and flats and bent teeth on your chainring makes the flawless days that much sweeter. And heck, we still got to hang out with the raddest North County group of shredders... and bacon.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

I don't want to admit it, but....

As much as I would like the idea that 'Larissa never gets tired' to be true... the reality that everyone has a limit hit me like a 20 pound brick this weekend and I have to come clean, I could barely move on Monday. Thank heavens for a day off to relax and recover from a month of excessive riding and a weekend of non-stop fun. I don't really know when 300+ miles a week started to seem normal, but I'm going to be a big girl and calm the heck down now because coach was right, it's not going to end well if I keep that up.

But I'm not going to say I regret riding 1,500 miles in the month of May, May is bike month after all.

Highlights of the month of excess include a few epic rides that we started calling 'Bad Decisions Rides' and which I never want to forget. 

My bikes take me to some pretty rad places with some amazing people!

Before we knew how much suffering was in store :)
Bad decisions Santa Monica Hills Edition: Carl, Esther, Nikki and I rode all the miles with all the ocean views. We climbed until our legs almost fell off, laughed until I almost peed my chamois and drank cokes at the most ghetto gas station in the fanciest place. We had endless ocean views for the second half of the day and 125 miles with 13,000ft ascent to ponder just how many bottle of GQ6 and water are the right amount. Conclusion: 7 bottles, 2 with GQ-6 (all I had, but they had the endurance formula so that was rad!) 3 water (thanks rando man with the hose at the top of Mulholland) , 1 with Gatorade thanks to ghetto gas station and 1 with cucumber water from the ice cream shop I had free sample at. The ride concluded with me gorging on peanut butter stuffed pretzels while driving back to pick up poor shelled Nikki and Esther from the side of the road, followed by a meal at Peddler's Fork in Calabassas (and stem cell treatment for dessert?!). 
I brought this babe and was not unhappy about the 30 tooth little ring on the Deer Creek Climb! 

These girlies are so much fun to ride with (we missed you Lauren!!), and can we just talk about how Carl is the lone dude with three chicks... isn't it usually one girl with a group of guys in the cycling world?! 

The weekend before that was an epic bad decision day, but you already read all about BWR and the suffering/drama that went along with that. Still a little shocked with how well the overall ride went and how high my HR was for the first 3 hours... that's gotta do some long term damage!

Cruising through the dirt, wondering what not riding a bike feels like... at this point I was so ready to be done. 

Bad Decisions ride San Gabriel Edition was the weekend before BWR. Carl and I wanted to ride the Search Brigade LA route so we convinced seasoned Search Brigade veteran Lauren Mulwitz to come make questionable decisions with us. We had to cut the SBLA route a little short since I was supposed to ride only 6 hours (which became 8 hrs), but we still ended up with 134 miles and 13,000 ft. We got to charge sandy dirt roads, ride through tunnels and started the tradition of Coke and Snickers pit stops on long rides. Because you know when you are doing something healthy like riding bikes you have to counter balance it with eating the least healthy things! Carl and Lauren had a grand old time until the bottom of Hwy 39, when both of them started to unravel. The push back to the car was an interesting traverse through all the -dales, and Lauren got lost and ended up on the side of the road only 3 miles from the car, but post ride burgers never tasted so good. 

How Lauren feels about me 80 miles in... hahahaha
And the first Bad Decisions Ride of May was Carl and my attempt to ride the Dirty Devil route, also modified to fit my training restrictions but still 110 miles and 10,000 ft ascent. The forecast called for rain, but Carl and I threw caution to the wind and drove down to SD anyway and set out from Ramona with high hopes of staying dry. The absolute highlight of this ride for me was climbing Black Canyon rd, the most beautiful dirt road in all of Southern California. We started to get rained on about halfway through the ride and visibility was only 5 feet as we climbed back to Julian the second time so things got a bit dicey with the cars/danger factor but it was a glorious day none the less, complete with breakfast burritos from the most ghetto, I mean hole in the wall, Mexican restaurant in Escondido, plus hot chocolate for the drive home. 

So as we begin the month of June, one I hope will be a month of self control and solid training, when I look back on May I'm super grateful for so many amazing rides, the bikes that took me to so many great places, and the friends who suffered through those rides with me. 
And I am especially grateful for Carl, who is always up for almost any amount of suffering and who somehow continues to keep up despite being an 'old man' haha, jk Carl, you will never be old if you keep this up!

Carl suffering through our last ride in April, a 55 mile epic shred fest in Wrightwood.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Favorite Things

Currently bummed I don't get to participate in Vital Ditch Day with hubs because I gotta be a responsible kid and teach those hooligans in my classes ALL THE MATH today...

But a questions someone asked me this week reminded me that choosing to be happy is where it's at, so instead of thinking about what I wish I had or was doing, I'm trying to be happy where I am in life and committing to enjoying the things around me. 
#1 favorite thing right now is this bike. I got to borrow it from Felt's demo fleet, and it's making all my hopes and dreams come true (ok, that's exaggeration, but it is a dream to ride). 

#2 is any meal that consists of a ton of veggies in a bowl. I've been making Brendan eat an excessive amount of veggies and fried eggs and it never gets old!

#3 favorite thing is that all the most delicious fruits are ripening in my neighborhood, and I'm in heaven picking mulberries and Apricots from the neighbors trees on my way home from school each day. 

#4 is my Catlike mountain bike shoes... the more I wear them the better they get, I've been commuting in them every day and my feet have never been happier. 

#5 is that all the time I've spent at home this spring (as opposed to last year when I was traveling for races ALL THE TIME) means we have put in a lot of work on the yard and it looks so good (if you're into astro turf... which we got because it's green and stuff).

Life isn't bad in our corner of the world. Different than last year, but not bad. And there is a 3 day weekend on the horizon! Cheers to Memorial day and riding all the bikes!!!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

More than you wanted to know about the 2017 BWR

You know you're in trouble when 60 miles into a 130 mile 'race' you've already shelled yourself so entirely that you start counting down the miles to the finish. That's exactly the predicament I was in as I gutted myself on Mesa Grande to catch the group of guys ahead of me so I wound't have to ride the remaining 70 miles of the Belgium Waffle Ride solo on Sunday.

Very anxious about the impending suffering at the start. 
I've never done an event like BWR before, never raced such a long distance with so many unknowns. Is it ok that my tires aren't tubeless? Can I eat and drink enough to finish strong? How will I stack up against girls who thrive in long grueling races? And most importantly, do the pro's eat the waffles in the morning/ will there be enough waffles for me? 

A creek crossing soon after my flat, thoroughly enjoying the dirt.
That tubeless tire question was the first of my worries to pose a real problem. About 30 seconds into the first dirt segment, the Cougar Pass descent, I felt the dreaded thudding of rim on rocks when my 'I'm a mountain biker so I'm going to bomb this descent' approach to the gravel grinder brought my Felt VR to an abrupt halt. Fortunately the Shimano support moto was within a few minutes of me, so after doing a little 'what should I do' dance and contemplating riding the rim until help arrived, the amazing Shimano bros saved the day and threw a new wheel on my bike. 

The mechanical was a blessing and a curse. It definitely took away the pressure I had placed on myself, and I spent the next 10ish miles genuinely enjoying descending rad gravel roads and talking to all the random dudes. However I have no sense of patience or tactics, and when those random dudes and I hit Highland rd (the second of 3 timed climbs of the day), for some reason I felt it was a good idea to go all out to try and catch all the women who passed me during the flat tire debacle. It freaked me out beyond reason that I was an unknown distance from 1st and I felt I needed to bridge that gap, RIGHT NOW, immediately (despite the sound reasoning from Janell that 'we have 130 miles to catch them'). Thanks to the incredible VR, that bike is like a dream to climb on, I was able to regain the lead by the top of Highland and double bonus I found myself in a great group of about 8 dudes who were riding hard across the flatlands towards Ramona. 
Having a grand old time... before the real suffering set in. 
After stressing about all the red lights in Ramona, we surprisingly caught the lead bunch of about 30 guys at the turn onto Magnolia, and the massive draft gave me some time to relax, recover and reset. I was a bit giddy about the idea of riding with so many heavy hitting studly, strong dudes, and it may have caused me to get a little chatty, so it's no surprise that as soon as the road turned to dirt and pitched up the group started turning screws and most the dudes rode away from me. I climbed Black Canyon solo for the most part, trying to catch the small group ahead of me while trying to also enjoy the waterfalls and other scenery. At the top I was with one dude but he promptly rode away from me after we turned onto Mesa Grande. And so I found myself alone, on the one stretch everyone had warned me NOT TO BE ALONE! 

Luck was on my side though because the expected headwind was nowhere to be felt, and after about 4 miles of looking up the road at that group of 8-10 guys who were 'just out of reach, why don't they wait for me?!' I decided I needed to either sit up and let someone catch me or dig deep and catch the group ahead. Since there was no one in sight behind me the only option was to turn myself inside out to catch the group ahead, and I spent almost every last match I had to make that happen. 

By the time I caught the group I was too shelled/gutted to think straight and the next 30-50 miles is a blur of trying to drink/eat/get as much of a draft as possible.

Then, right when I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, around mile 97, the really crappy dirt started. Dirt segments that had crazy deep sand, and rocks and the worst part was that the road was RIGHT THERE IN SIGHT parallel to the pock marked trail we were riding!!! I got dropped by my group who just hammered away across 'Sandy Bandy', my feet burned, and my pace dropped. When relief in the form of returning to the road finally came we went STRAIGHT up a massive hill. Fortunately for me this gave me the chance to catch back up to some of the group of dudes, but as soon as we hit dirt again I got dropped. And then the technical dirt started! I was trying to figure out how many more miles we could possibly suffer before the 'it's all down hill from here' point, obviously I didn't study the map well, and also praying the the other women were as shelled as I was. I spent the last 20 miles thinking every turn would take me to the final climb, and vacillating between thinking I could ease off the pace because everyone was tired and freaking out that they paced themselves better than me and were going to come tearing up the road behind me. The miles were ticking by so slowly, and when I finally saw the street sign for Double Peak rd I was incredibly relieved... until I saw how far up I had to go. 
Getting pushed by Speedo man near the top of the last climb. 
I crawled up Double Peak, fighting the feeling that I was going to barf (pretty sure I was starting to get heat stroke), tried to smile at the nice people cheering, got pushed by a man in a speedo, downed half a coke at the top (first time I stopped all day) and then limped back to the Lost Abby. 

Crossing that finish line was the most relieving feeling, but the small fact that I didn't have to ride my bike anymore didn't take away from the agony. After a small adrenaline rush were I might have given some more embarrassing interview footage to add to the plethora of already existing footage on the interwebs, I promptly laid down and almost died for about half an hour. About an hour later I was back with the living, ate the amazing lunch provided by Gear Grinder Grill and completed the day with a waffle topped with ice cream, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream. 

When it was all said and done I would say that BWR was pretty much the perfect day in the life of Larissa Connors: see how far into the depths of suffering you can go on the bike with cool people and then eat fries and ice cream. But honestly the memory of the pain is still too fresh to think about next year... that was something else. And I loved it. 

To all the people who put on this event, volunteered, manned the aid stations- Thanks for a pretty unique and fun gravel grinder/gran fondo/race experience. I would not have lived without all those bottle feeds and the whole weekend was so well put together. 
To Gear Grinder Grill - Holy crap do you guys know how to make waffles and fries. I came for the food, let's be honest, and it did not disappoint. 
To my Felt VR- thanks for being the perfect bike, fast on the road, compliant on the dirt, I was never uncomfortable because of the bike, and every time we started going uphill the VR encounraged me to push harder, to climb faster. I can't believe one bike could be so good at climbing AND dirt. 
To waffles- thanks for being so delicious and letting me eat you twice in one day.
And to Carl- thanks for doing a bunch of long rides with me to 'prepare' for this. I enjoyed the training as much as I enjoyed BWR.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


I read something somewhere recently by some pro cyclist that described the phase between getting where you were and where you want to be as 'mid-bounce'. It had something to do with the idea that when you don't get what you want the low doesn't last too long and can be the thing that propels us higher in the future, you never know. Probably not the best explanation, but anyway I liked the idea of being mid-bounce and it's been stuck in my head all day.
Ok, so I had some low times, but now I feel like I am mid-bounce, on the way back up, finally ready to not let those bad times hold me down. A nice 'get your head out of your...' talk from someone who means a lot to me helped too. It's time to put my best foot forward and get back to living a life and doing the things and setting some goals, because not having goals leads to floundering. I've learned that floundering isn't good for me. So here's to new goals, and to focusing on being a better person, wife and friend.

That is all.

Oh and thank goodness this horribly tired Tuesday is over :)

Some pictures from life lately:

This winter it only rains when I am riding my bike... but that's ok with me :)

This rock, it's way cooler in real life, I swear. 
This Orange County is very pretty right now! 

This is on my commute to school when I take the dirt. I ride a different bike to school every day, so that is cool. And this view always makes the waking up worth it. 

More pretty green views. 

The flowers on my favorite trail are going off right now. This has been the best spring we've had by far!