Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thank You Sho-Air and Scott Tedro!!!

You may have seen the press release this week, but if not, some shocking news hit the MTB community Monday. Sho-Air Cycling Group has ended a 10 year run of supporting the US mountain bike race scene by putting an end to sponsoring the US Cup XC series. This news was a bit of a shock to me, because as long as I have been racing SCG has been putting on the highest level XC mtb races in the US. Because of the dedication of Sho Air International President Scott Tedro, I had access to a bunch of armature races, and then when I upgraded to 'pro' I had access to high level races with international competition. Races that lit the fire in my soul to race bikes, to start training with a coach and to give mountain biking everything I had to see how far I could go. I'm almost certain that without the financial support, hard work and enthusiasm of Tedro there wouldn't have been an XC season at all in 2015.
Team Ridebiker with Tedro in 2016


I am feeling incredibly grateful right now. This news is a huge reminder of the opportunity I received as a byproduct of SCG putting on the US Cup. I am so grateful that Tedro spent so much time and energy fighting to hold World Cup level races here in the US, where I gained valuable experience and earned points towards World Cup qualification. I'm grateful that because of the prestige and payout of the US Cup international riders, Olympians, national and world champions came to the races here in the US, giving me the chance to race with the world's best. I got to watch these riders, learn from them and build my name when I landed on podiums with them.

Thanks Scott, I'm so lucky to have raced XC in the height of US cross country, when your races gave us all reason to be excited and to duke it out for the US Cup title, jersey and belt buckle.

There is so much more I want to say, to thank Tedro for, but this has been an epic-ly long/hard week, and I need to go to sleep. This early to bed thing makes it hard to get stuff done, but I know it's what is keeping me going.

US Cup series podium 2016 

It's hard to imagine what's going to happen to the XC race season now. I'm sure there will still be a PRO XCT series, the US national series which usually includes 7-8 races across the US, but it's hard to believe that any of them will be HC level, the highest ranking of XC races outside of a World Cup. It doesn't affect me too much now that I am focusing mainly on endurance racing, but I wonder what will happen to the development of US mtb talent. How will up and coming racers get the experience they need with high level competitors in large fields? How much harder will it be for those riders to earn the points necessary to qualify to race world cups? Will any other sponsors step up and help shoulder the financial cost that SCG generously provided for so long? 




Monday, September 18, 2017

Aspen50

Student: 'How was your weekend, Mrs. Connors?'
Me: 'Well I met Lance Armstrong, so it was pretty awesome!'
Student: 'Who is that?'

Highschoolers, reminding me every day that no matter how great you think you are, soon you will be replaced/forgotten/unimportant. hahaha

This weekend Lance also told me that blogging is so dead and that I need to get with the times and take up Snapchat and Instagram live instead... being told I'm out of date by an old dude and teenagers in a 48 hour period, yeah, this is my life.

I looked forward to this past weekend for so long that it's hard to believe it's over. After Park City Point 2 Point this is my second to last race of the year, and the last trip to the mountains outside of CA for a while. I was stoked to see fall in Aspen, to ride in cooler temps with a carpet of yellow confetti on the trail and vistas of glowing yellow, orange and green mountain sides. And I got all those things plus some quality time with Aspens finest residents, Pam Alexander who put me up and who spent hours helping prep me for the race along with Rachel Beck and (non Aspen-ite) Nicola Carnmer my team manager. I am one lucky kid. 

The race itself was a blast, highlights of which include:

A 5 mile neutral roll out that had me itching to go fast, chomping at the bit and maybe taking selfies with Lance... 
Yep, I did that... nerd status!
Thought I could hang with this kid... WRONG!!! :)
The first climb annihilated me, because I am 100% unacclimated to altitude and thought it was a great idea to try and keep up with the boys. No, not a good idea. Racing from 8,000 to 10,000 from the gun is NOT something to be taken lightly... oops, again.

A collection of trails on the east side of the valley had my jaw dropping due to ridiculous views and screaming fast fun single track. 

We also got to ride Hobbit trail on the east side, which basically felt like a fairy tale, green moss on the ground crowding a perfectly moist rooty strip of trail that wound its way through a tight forest of evergreen trees. I wanted to cry it was so perfect and beautiful.


The descent out of the first loop was crazy fast, full of rocks and roots and waterbars to jump, and while I was trying not to die I had a blast riding stupid fast, pushing the Edict to its limits. Oh and then we rode past Hunter S. Thompson's cabin... I didn't even know he was a real person until this weekend!

The lady taking this picture said I got the most air of anyone she had seen so far, hahaha
Photo: Liz Kreutz

The second half of the race was on the west side of the valley and started with Rim trail which contains even more stunning views, this time of fresh snow on rocky, scraggly peaks. The trail was smooth and ripping fast both up and down. Somehow the trail builders in Aspen know how to build climbs that feel like descents and I was so psyched on the way up that it was as much fun as the down!

Following Rim trail we got to ride all of Government trail, a technical traverse from Snowmass to Buttermilk ski areas. Government trail is like being punched in the face over and over because you think it's going to be all downhill and then you get smacked with ANOTHER technical climb, over and over, and just when you think you are loosing your mind it turns into a stupid fun and fast descent through Aspen trees on another perfect 6 inch wide strip of hero dirt littered with roots. The Edict LOVED every second of the descent (and the climb too, but oh man that descent). Again I wanted to cry it was so fun, and beautiful. Pushing that bike into the turns and floating over rocks and roots, dipping and weaving through the tight sections of trees, it was a mtb race dream. 

And honestly it feels like the whole thing WAS a dream because here I am, at the end of a Monday where I taught all day, hit Trader Joe's and came home to clean the kitchen for 2 hours (since I'm married to a 7 year old). Life. It's pretty crazy and rad, beautiful and brutal!

Time to go to bed so I can do it all again tomorrow. Thanks Pam and Nicola for making the weekend of my dreams happen! I wont forget this weekend for a long long time. 
#dreamteam but we are missing Rachel in this pic :(

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Pulling the Plug and Other Random Thoughts on a Tuesday

Riding home today I could not get my HR to 130. Try as I might, it just wanted to hover between 116-120. So after twenty some minutes of trying to warm up, and 2 pathetic power intervals I texted coach to tell him, and got the reply that I should pull the plug and go home. While my immediate reaction was a feeling of relief, the second text that read 'and take a rest day tomorrow' immediately made me regret telling coach anything and filled me with a bit of despair (drama queen much?). 

Happy place for sure :)
During the 45 minute pedal home I reflected on this funny reaction. Leaving school I was not looking forward to the workout, to be completely honest I was feeling burnt out and just plain tired. But being told to drive to work flips a switch in me and makes me want to suffer (I even texted back begging to do the workout tomorrow instead of taking an off day). How weird is that? I know in my head that the rest will make me stronger, but oh it is so hard to get in the car and leave the bike at home! This probably sounds nutty to most people, but riding to work and back is my meditation. It's the hour in the morning when my mind can be blank and I can focus on the feeling of the cool air on my face and turning smooth circles with the pedals. It's the 1-3 hours in the afternoon when I can reflect on how the lessons went, take out any frustrations of the day on the pavement. I do my best thinking on the bike, and feel empowered by the ability to transport myself to work without a motor or gasoline. It's my happy place. 

But, despite my desperate desire to ride my bike to school tomorrow I will drive, like a regular, normal American adult, and I am sure I will live through the ordeal :)

And another point I've been pondering lately, I HATE admitting I'm tired, to a fault. It feels weak to need a day off, or to not feel great after a 5.5 hour ride in the mountains. So instead of acknowledging the stress put on my body from training full time and working a physically demanding job, and continuing to travel to races on the weekend I press on and tell myself and others that I am NOT TIRED! I push myself to do hours of yard work after 50 mile mtb rides and then wake up early the next day to go ride more. I pack in all the chores and errands after school to get stuff done, instead of sitting my butt down and letting my poor legs rest from riding and standing all day. So this it me, admitting to the world that it is ok to feel tired, and that it is ok to take an extra day off (I usually don't ride on Fridays already, so tomorrow is an EXTRA day off the bike). And that's where I am at the moment, a little burnt out, a little tired, and trying to use my brain and do the right thing by resting. Legs up, Chai tea in hand, on my butt for the next 2 hours. And it feels kinda good :)

Hope everyone has a chill week with some good 'feet up' moments!


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Real-ness

If you read this blog at all last year you know that there were some hard times in the Connors corner of the world. I am one to wear my heart on my sleeve and struggle to hide the illness, injury, sadness completely so despite smiling a lot, I hope it doesn't appear that I am unrealistically happy. It came to my attention recently (in the context of another athlete) that always seeming happy can look fake or robotic. And while I agree with the sentiment I think it's interesting this pressure we place on ourselves to project just the brightest, shiniest portions of our lives for social media consumption. And of course this goes both ways, as when we consume we are only seeing the brightest, shiniest parts of other's lives.
From that one time I got to race in Europe... Seems like a lifetime ago now. 
So, along those lines, I am having a day of struggles. I see all the posts about World Champs in Australia, all the smiling beach photos and gnarly course pre-view videos and I'm going to admit, I'm struggling with jealousy/regret/sorrow that I am not there. This season has been especially full of ups and downs but I did a pretty good job of isolating myself from the World Cup scene so that I wouldn't have to feel these feelings, but maybe hiding from it didn't really solve the problem, because here we are, September and I'm feeling the feelings I tried to avoid all year.
It's been especially hard going to work every day, knowing that I can't take days off to travel to races I want to do, which could numb my pain for missing Worlds.
But, in the last 30 years of my life I've learned that sometimes just accepting the sad feelings, letting them wash through you and then moving on is the best answer. So while I like the idea that Larissa is happy all the time, and always smiling, I'm taking a week to feel the feelings, be grateful for the good things and people in my life, and be human.
That is all.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Another Team Effort @ PCP2P

Being part of a community, or having a team makes this bike racing thing so much more fun, and I got to experience this again at the Park City Point to Point this past weekend.

Before I go into the nitty gritty details on the race, I have to say that I was pretty anxious about how this race weekend would play out. I taught my first full week of class for the year, left school and drove straight to the airport Friday, landed at 9:30, asleep by 11pm, and raced at 7am the following day. On paper it looked like a recipe for disaster. My legs were so swollen at the end of each school day that my skin literally hurt, and I thought I felt a sore throat coming on all week.

BUT I am pretty much the luckiest girl, and the Redel family swept in to pick up the pieces and help me out turning what could have been a very stressful weekend into quite possibly the most enjoyable race of my life. I own a lifetime debt of gratitude to Karl, Lori, Sienna and Mila for giving up their weekend to make my race go smoothly and for going WAY above and beyond as hosts and race crew.

The race itself was rad, like 100% pure mountain biking, the kind of ride we would plan out and execute on any given weekend, maximizing singletrack, elevation and views, pretty much everything I love about the sport.

We started with a fruit loop cannon (none landed in my mouth sadly) in a trail network called Round Valley, and twisted through some pretty fun smooth trails for 15 miles before the real suffering started on the way up to Deer Valley (I think). I got a bit of a gap in the first 5 miles, and then worked to extend my lead through the race, kinda scared the whole time that one of the other ladies would come up on me later in the day. I've decided my race tactic usually falls into the category of 'go out too hard, then panic all day that someone else paced themselves better and will catch me as I get tired'. Maybe I shouldn't be sharing this... but that's what I do!

The race started in waves, pro men then a 2 minute gap, pro women followed by a 2 minute gap... somewhere around mile 20 some dudes from the group behind me caught and passed me. I was stoked it took them so long to catch me (as I had been passing dudes from group one all during the Round Valley portion of the race). I rode with the dudes for a long time, keeping my power in check because Park City is at high enough elevation to do some damage if you go too hard. The trails were all super dry and loose, which reminded me of SoCal and I had a ton of fun sliding around and getting rad.


Photo: Angie Harker


As I had gone into the race pretty stressed from work and travel I didn't really do much research about the course profile, heck I didn't know it was 75 miles until two days before! As a result every climb was a mystery and the locations of aid stations vague in my mind. Around mile 33 I got a fresh bottle of GQ6 from Karl and was stoked to think we were almost halfway done. The next 30 miles is a blur in my mind or ridiculously fun singletrack and gorgeous Aspen and Fir lined climbs. John's trail stands out in my mind because it was so crazy rooty and fun. I LOVED twisting and weaving through the super tight Aspen trees, so narrow that I hit my bars over and over. The roots were gnarly and I had to concentrate to keep momentum up.

Following all that goodness was the 'hardest climb of the day' which I didn't realize I was on until after the race when someone asked me how I liked the Shadow Lake climb... I spent much of this part of the race thinking I had missed a turn, which distracted me from the climbing pain, and then before I knew it I was at the second important aid station at the base of the last sustained climb up Armstrong trail.

Somehow I missed Karl and Lori who were yelling my name (and who I was apparently looking right at) and I got the the end of the crowd wondering where they were. My stubborn side said 'keep going' so despite being almost out of water and GQ6 I pressed on, and was overcome with joy when Sienna rolled up next to me with a new bottle on her bike. The plan was for the girls to ride the remainder of the race with me, which I thought sounded super fun since Mila and Sienna don't mind me singing One Direction at the top of my lungs when we ride. Also they shred, and watching teenage girls rip down rad trails with Tahnee Seagrave like body english is pretty dang cool. Anyway, after chatting with the girls and doing a bit of singing (about ice cream) I may have been feeling good enough to turn the power back up to 11 and I accidentally rode away from them without taking new bottles!
Photo: @photojohnphoto from MTBracenews.com

Since I knew the last 5 miles were all down hill I just counted down miles to mile 70, not too worried about my increasing state of dehydration. There was one small aid station 'oasis' somewhere in there, and here I stopped to see if they knew what kind of a gap I had and to see if the girls would catch me. Somehow my tired brain didn't process the fact that I could have REFILLED MY BOTTLE so I rode off with no liquid to finish the never ending last 10 miles.

Somewhere in that last 15 mile portion of the race I distinctly remember flying down this one amazing tacky dark trail with all these little jumps that pushed me into the air. The feeling of floating was heaven after all the rough technical rooty stuff, and the forest was cool and dirt so perfect.

And then, after a series of psych out 'one more steep climb's I was finally on the last down hill. Following the theme of this race the last down hill was NOT easy. It involved many many tight switchbacks, causing the going to be slow, and lots of sharp rocks, threatening to give you a flat right when the finish is in sight. Needless to say I slowed down a little and choose my lines carefully, but the Kenda Saber Pros were studs and I didn't really need to worry.
Photo: @photojohnphoto 

And then almost as fast as 5am came the race was over and I was honestly a little butt hurt that I didn't get to ride another 25 miles (when you raise the ceiling and then keep it at 100 mile races it's hard to be satisfied with anything else) until I realized it took me just as long to do this race as Leadville Ha! Then the dehydration took over the euphoria of winning a bike race and I had to hang my head in the shade for a minute to collect my whits haha. This was followed by consuming all the dates I could get my hands on, my first experience with compression boots (holy hell, why didn't you people tell me how great these things are before?!?) and McDonald's ice cream thanks to Karl (see, going WAY above and beyond AGAIN!!!!)

And now it's 9:01pm, one minute past my bedtime. I have many more thoughts about this incredible race and how I just love Utah and all the things, but they will have to wait until another time. Until then, thanks for always reading the race recaps, and for cheering for me and saying all the nice things in the internet. I am so lucky to have so many friends and family and fans (that's weird to say that but I think by this point it's true :)




Friday, September 1, 2017

Ooofa

This has been the roughest return to work I have ever experienced. An amazing summer, a super quick trip to Tahoe (because I couldn't say no to Brendan after all the travel he has done for me) the weekend before the first day with students and starting will a full week of class all made for a painful week. Throw in 100 degree temps all week and Brendan being out of town for work... ooofa.

But when it's all said and done I very much enjoyed teaching those little fresh minds this week. The new freshmen are adorable, and quiet and so diligent with their work. I am trying to set a president of rigor and calm and discipline in my classes, but I can't help finding myself smiling at them, and getting giddy when I read their insightful responses to open ended questions about observing patterns in math. I am so excited with the possibilities we all face this school year, these fresh faces and me :)

So that explains why I have been off the backfoot with blogging lately. I get home every day after 6pm, have to force myself to do a chore or two, make and eat dinner and pass out by 9am. My legs are so swollen at the end of each day from standing/walking around my classroom that my skin feels stretched and painful. And then wake up at 5am to walk out the door to 85 degree heat BEFORE THE SUN IS UP and do it all over again... it gets easier, right?

And NOW I'm at the airport getting ready to board a plane to Salt Lake City to race my bike 75 miles. Something must be wrong with me. Thank God for the three day weekend.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Life Goes On

Goodbye for now #vanlife!!!

Home means doing A LOT of this :) 

Home from Colorado, soaking in the last week of summer, looking back on an amazing #vanlife trip that took my all over Utah and Colorado, and it feels like time is flying by. Just a moment ago I was cooking salmon and edamame on the $18 butane stove in the van while a summer monsoon poured down outside the van at a free campsite near Turquoise lake in Leadville. Just yesterday I was pulling my bike out of the back of the van to go ride up Columbine from my favorite parking spot at Twin Lakes. It's hard to let go of summer, but harder still coming back from such a beautiful place full of awesome memories and some legit personal accomplishments. 

But life goes on. And if I learned anything from the brief stint of full time professional athlete-ing I did, it's that the down time, fun rides, travel and racing is even more enjoyable when you are working full time and have to wait for it/earn it. 


On another note, I'm having some conflicted feelings about this social media/marketing oneself thing. Obviously I am very proud of my race results this summer, and I don't think that's wrong. But I see other people posting over and over about a single race win, or trophy/belt buckle earned and it's just interesting to me the line between marketing yourself and going too far. Sure getting exposure and sharing successes is great for sponsors and helps promote your brand, but at what point are you overdoing it, being obnoxious and causing people to roll their eyes? Someone mentioned this summer that I posted a ton about BWR and I didn't really think I did, so that was interesting to hear, and has changed the way I think about what I put out there. I see the truly successful cyclists, like Howard Grotts and Kate Courtney, and they hardly mention their big wins and successes, and I think that's pretty cool. We all know they are incredible athletes and they have too many race wins to dwell on any one achievement. And on the flip side I see others who drag out one win as if they changed the world, which looks tacky to me, but is that just good marketing? Anyway, just a thing I am pondering on this Monday morning. 

Life goes on, and right now, while I feel a great deal of satisfaction with a summer of racing well spent, I think what is on the horizon is more important than dwelling on things I achieved in the past. So onward to a new school year, a few more races (hopefully) and continuing to grow as a human. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Random Thoughts and Thanks


The view from the passenger window.... always beautiful. 


The drive back home from Colorado was rough. I looked in the rear view mirror a lot, wishing I could stay in the mountains, riding bikes, reading and sleeping in the van. But while my heart wants to live in the eternal summer of mountain biking I know in my head that working makes the free time so much more valuable. And to be honest, spending time in my classroom yesterday made me a little excited about the new school year. 







I left some loose ends and thoughts about Leadville unaddressed, so this is just a random collection of thoughts and thanks to the people I haven't acknowledged yet. 

It all seems like a blur now, but Jenny Smith mentioned in a comment on social media that I won 3 100 mile mountain bike races at extreme elevation in 4 weeks. And then when I thought about it, I raced 7 weekends in 8 weeks, all of which were endurance races, and all but Lutsen were at elevation (although big Bear and Tahoe were only 7,000ft max). AND the first race in the string of races, Lutsen, was my first ever 100 mile mountain bike race. What a wacky and cool way to spend the summer. 










Three 100 mile race podiums in 4 weeks... kinda nutty!

I am on a rest week now, which sucked for the first day but has been getting easier and easier as time goes by. Today, day 4 of not riding my bike, I actually am happy to not ride a bike... it's a scary feeling. I am very much looking forward to the weekends rides though! 

Van kitchen w/ podium flowers :)
You would think that living in a van would be cramped and lonely and hard, but I 100% am in love with the van life. I wouldn't have come home except that Dave dog was home alone as Brendan was in Asia all week. We used to joke about living in our van full time, but I'm at a point where I think I could seriously do it. We just need an internet connection, and a sink and I will be happy as a clam. I spent A LOT of time just chilling in the van alone, reading, getting healthy when I was sick, cooking... with the great outdoors just outside and a warm bed inside I can't really think of a reason to own a whole house besides the dog. I didn't really miss my worldly possessions, and it's kinda nice feeling like a shower is a luxury. When the small things become big things I think it's WAY easier to feel gratitude. 

My Leadville camp spot was pretty amazing. I did a lot of yoga and stretching here in the sunshine. 

And now the thanks part. 

Obviously the whole Leadville journey would not have happened without Brendan, and as my biggest supporter, and the hardest working guy I know I owe all the credit to Brendo. Brendan has tolerated so many weekends of insane training, my going to bed at 8pm on a regular basis, he gave up having a wife and van all summer so I could acclimate, he worked tirelessly on the van to get it ready for my summer of traveling, he has built and rebuilt bikes for me, and he flew all the way to Colorado for 2 days before heading straight to Taiwan for work, just to stand around in a feed zone waiting for me to zoom by twice and grab a bottle. Brendan is my hero. I know it looks like I'm the one racing bikes, but really WE are racing, his role just doesn't get finish line photos. Thanks husband. You are the best.

Getting to connect more with my team director Nicola Cranmer this summer has had a huge positive impact on my racing and on the outcome of the summer. People always tell me she has done so much for women's cycling, but I got to experience that first hand this summer. From the strategizing, to fun rides in Aspen, to always helping me out with the social media/marketing part of the job, Nicola has been an invaluable part of team Connors. I feel so lucky that Ridebiker brought me to her two years ago and that I get to be part of her team. 

One of the funniest aspects of the summer to me is that I FINALLY got to spend some time with my real life neighbor Erin Machan who lives 1 mile from me in Silverado, but whom I have never spent time with until we went to Colorado. Erin has the most generous heart, the kind of person who would give you the shirt off her back, and her helpfulness and generosity this summer had a huge positive impact on my race. Erin lent me everything from course knowledge to air compressors, she selflessly spent an HOUR helping me understand the different climbs on the course the first day I was in town, and though I really had nothing to offer in return she just continued to give. And as if that wasn't great enough, Erin is contagiously happy, which made hanging out with her and her boyfriend JJ ridiculously fun. 

Can't remember if this picture is in the last post. 
I already included the details of riding with Robert and Brian in the race recap, but I am still thinking back to how lucky I am to have ridden with them for the first half of the race. The weekend before the race Nicola, Pam and I were talking about how important it is to be in a group across the pavement during the race, and it was like Brian and Robert were sent there by an angel to be my group, haha. Also the two SRAM dudes I rode with on the way back, if only I remembered their names to thank them for letting me latch on and not help out! 

I have some pretty amazing sponsors, but among the best of the best is Brady Kappius. I had some issues the week before and Brady dropped everything Monday morning to help me get them sorted. I was in a panic before Brady stepped in and offered to help, and as a result I was able to pre-ride on the Edict all week which was ideal since I wanted to race the edict. 

Roger Hernendez is another sponsor who goes above and beyond for me, even when I screw up and fail to let him know what I need. Roger got me new tires for the race, which I'm sure resulted in my ability to descend so fast due to the extra grip, and to not get flats. Roger has been there for me through thick and thin, like really been there, and while I love Kenda tires a lot, I think it's the support I get from Roger that really makes it the best sponsorship deal. Thanks Roger :) 

And of course I'm so grateful that Lauren tolerated me for the first two week and pushed me to race Telluride and Breck. Those races helped so much and I WOULD NOT have done them if L-dawg had't been there encouraging and shaming me into racing. 




Tuesday, August 15, 2017

WE DID IT!!!!

It was still so cold out at 6:30am that I could see the breath of every rider around me as 1,400 of us rolled across the line on Saturday at the start of the Leadville trail 100. One of the things I like most about these ultra endurance races is that the start is always so early in the morning that my brain doesn't have time to process that it is a new day until I am 10 miles into the race. You wake up at 4, eat oatmeal with peanut butter and a banana, kit up, and roll to the line in a haze, and before you know it 10% of the race is behind you! The morning of Leadville was blissfully the same, a daze of sleepiness that drowned out nerves and anxiety.

The start was FAST though, and the cold woke me up, as did the small talk from two SoCal friends, Robert Freeman and Brian Gordon, who found me just before the start of the first climb. As we ascended St Kevin's it became apparent that maybe we would be the same pace all day (even though Robert had NO idea what he was doing and Brian destroyed me at Tahoe Trail 100k). At the top of Kevin's we were still together, and Robert was a saint to wait for me when I got gap-ed off the small group that formed descending the pavement as I struggled to eat a Clif Shot and aero tuck at the same time.
Leading my group up Sugarloaf. Robert kept telling me to stop dropping the dudes... :)
By the base of the second climb a gap had formed between the top 20ish men and my group, and I led the guys up Sugarloaf working hard to pace myself for the long day ahead. The start had been so fast and exciting that I was worried I had gone out too hard on the Kevin's climb. I had assumed the lead of the race early on in the first climb, but a sense of panic that it was just a matter of time before another woman caught and passed me, a panic that I wouldn't shake for the next 7 hours, set in as soon as I was in the lead. As we climbed Sugarloaf I repeated the words from an email that 3 time Olympic gold medalist Kristen Armstrong sent me friday (!!!), to race my own race, and control the controllables.
The descent after the second climb is well known for being the place where people crash and hurt themselves, but when we got there I was stoked out of my mind to be bombing down the rocky/rutted fire road. My Edict effortlessly floats over the rough stuff and I was giggling with joy as we tore down Powerline. I also may have been screaming with glee... a dude said he wanted to ride with me because I reminded him that mountain bike racing is fun :)

Rippin' the singletrack. 
At the bottom Brian, Robert and I were still together with one or two other dudes, and once again, Robert was a hero to come back for me twice when the group rode away from me on the long flat road leading to the first aid station. I was freaked about being by myself on the road (everyone warned me to NOT be alone there) but also trying to pace myself because even the lowest parts of the course are at extreme elevation.


Soon we were at the first aid station, and then tearing down the only singletrack portion of the course, where Brian aired it out on anything that even slightly resembled a jump.

The boys stopped at the bottom of Columbine, the longest sustained climb of the race, and I took a bottle from Taryn, who is pretty much the best friend ever to hang out at an aid station all day just to hand me two bottles.

Columbine is about 3,000ft of consistent climbing, topping out around 12,500ft. I fell in love with it on Tuesday the week before the race and kept that positive association with the typically dreaded climb in my mind the whole way up. I also counted the feet I had left to go on my Garmin... I know it sounds lame, but I LOVE the idea that every few seconds you have a few feet less to go up, and if you just keep turning pedals the elevation ticks by and then you are suddenly at the top!
And that's how it went. At some point Robert caught back up, rode with me for a while, and then decided he was going to go for broke and rode away. It was hard to watch him go, but I was being as patient as possible with the pacing, and knowing how hard the top of the climb was meant saving something for the last 4 miles. I felt good the whole way up, and at the top the helicopter hovering over the mountain made me feel so cool... leading the 'race across the sky'. I kept my mind in check though, it's a long race and anything can happen.
I think this is from the top of Columbine, where the climb flattens out a bit before the turn around. 

On my way back down, pretty close to the top I saw basically all the women I was racing against all together and the panic resurfaced because they were closer than I wanted them to be. I turned the descending back up to 11 because I knew this was where I would gain time on my competition, and the Edict again made my day because I could take even the worst of lines and the bike turned them into rad rowdy fun.

I think the Columbine descent was my favorite part of the race because the entire way down I was passing a stream of people on their way up and it felt like a mountain bike party. I cheered, screamed, hooted and hollered my way down the fire road, thoroughly enjoying the fact that 1,400 people were all out on the same mountain, loving the heck out of the same sport I love. It was glorious.

And then it was a matter of catching a few dudes and hanging on like glue as they pushed their way back to the pipeline aid station where Brendan was waiting for me with a feed. At some point I begged two super strong dudes in SRAM kits to not surge and drop me, apologizing profusely for not doing any of the work, and thankfully they were super gracious and agreed to not attack me/leave me for dead.


The hardest part of the race is probably the climb back up Powerline, a crazy steep mile of rutted out fire road at mile 75ish. Again, I focused on turning the pedals over, and divided the climb into little chunks, just make it to that tree, ok now that spectator. Near the top a dude dressed like a piece of pizza gave me a little push (he was pushing the dude ahead of me for a while and I was seething with jealousy!) and then it was just a matter of a few thousand more feet of climbing, two descents and an annoying flat/slightly uphill finish loop.

The last 4 miles contains a seemingly endless, straight, false flat climb on fire road and I started to come unraveled here, watching the Garmin, knowing I had 4 miles left, then 3.9, 3.8.... The last 4 miles took FOREVER. I got passed by 4 dudes, but I just kept thinking about Kristen's email, and telling myself that I could do it. When I was reasonably sure there were no women behind me I settled into a 'just get this done' pace, and finally I turned onto 6th street, crested the last rise and saw the finish line.



I wanted desperately to wheelie across the line, but when I got there my brain and body were too tired to put together the necessary steps to pull off said wheelie. I also could not have balanced with no hands on the bars for the life of me, haha, but I did drop down to hug my bike as soon as I crossed the line. This bike, I can't get over it.

Disbelief, and overwhelming joy.
It's hard to describe the feeling of crossing the finish line as the first woman. This was a goal I set back in March, a race I feared and respected so much that it just never seemed realistic to think I could win. Of course I always wanted to win, but it seemed too big, too important, too far out of the reach of my physical ability. Riding around the course all week, after my mindset shift to positivity I kept thinking about how grateful I am to have so many people supporting me, giving me encouraging messages and emails, and such great sponsors. As I approached the red carpet on the ground, and the tape stretched across the finish line I just kept thinking 'we did it'. This wasn't a thing I did, it was a thing that my whole community did, from Brendan designing the best xc race bike, to Matt coaching me through the shift from XC to endurance, to Nicola always getting me whatever I need to train and race well, Carl riding bikes with me all winter and spring, Erin lending me all her course knowledge and camper amenities, Taryn, Bill, and Brendan feeding me during the race, to all the people who have been there for me, have encouraged me, and who have believed in me.

We did it guys, we won Leadville!!!!











Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wednesday: Less Freaked Out, More Stoked Out!

Driving into town yesterday. I'm falling...
In some respects a LOT has changed since last week at this time, in other respects things are much the same. Most importantly I have basically made a 180 mentally. Last week when I pre-rode the Leadville course (over the course of 3 days) I was so freaked out. Seeing other people pre-riding made me anxious, thinking about if I would find a camping spot in the increasingly busy town, if I would find a seat in the coffee shop (the best place to get online and check email...), if someone way faster than me was coming to do the race, if I could stay with them on the climbs... all freaked me out. I was running around getting more and more worked up, anxious, nervous and scared. Then my back started hurting, probably because that's where I harbor my stress, and that REALLY freaked me out.

Twin Lakes, near the halfway point of the course has become my favorite place lately. I have parked here and eaten lunch with a view of the lakes and mountains half a dozen times in the last two weeks!

But that weekend away from town, all the rad people in my life sending encouraging messages and being reminded what a great team of people I have working with me made such a HUGE difference. From the awesome body work from CTS coach Dave in Colorado Springs to the personal message on Facebook from Chloe Woodruff (!!!!) I am SO lucky to have so much support and so excited to give it my all on Saturday. The anxiety and freaked-outedness has been (almost all) replaced with confidence in my coach's plan, in the super rad bike I get to race and in the little fact that mountain biking is supposed to be fun, and that's why I'm here. I'm going to give it my all on Saturday, but I'm also going to be smiling from ear to ear if the race is anything like the last two rides I've done here.
The top of the largest climb in the race (called Columbine) is INCREDIBLY beautiful! Sadly I wont be up there long on Sat, but at least the sights on the way up will distract me from the pain :)

Tuesday I got a second shot at climbing Columbine and instead of focusing on the pain and power numbers the whole time, I actually enjoyed it. I concentrated on percieved effort and the top, which was agonizing last week, was actually fun! And then the descent was SCREAMING fast and wicked fun. I know it's fine road, but hey, it's still mountain biking!

And today I took a second shot at the other hardest climb of the race, Powerline. Last week I felt like someone was stabbing my left shoulder with a steam knife when I climbed this trail, I was in agony, and I hated how the climb reduced me to a crawl. It was still hard today, but this time I felt like I was actually riding, my back felt great, and the worst part was over in a mere 8 minutes!!

What a difference a week makes :)

Thanks friends and family and coaches and team and team managers and all the people who got me here and support me. You guys are amazing and I love you and I am SO stoked to race my bike 100 miles one more time this summer!!!

You see these snowy mountains everywhere you go here. I love it, it's like having a majestic mountain watching over me :)  Every time I see this range it's beautiful in a new way, with a brilliant blue sky, wrapped in low clouds, covered in a new dusting of snow (two mornings ago!), I can't get over their beauty.
Now I need a shower... real bad :)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Leadville: Thoughts and Prep and Stuff

Major edit (I'm putting this first because I feel bad that I may have come across as too self depreciating before): I don't feel inadequate per say, just I don't think I do well with pressure. I have an amazing coach and team of people in my corner and I know that the preparation has gone well, and that coach has gotten me where I need to be for this test of physical ability. I am excited to be at this place in the process, where you get to see how that work pays off. I am excited to represent such an awesome team and to participate in such a rad race, and most of all I feel incredibly lucky to be here. To everyone who said all the encouraging things this week and this year and all the time, thanks :) You all really do make a difference and I am also so lucky to have such great friends. 

I'm not one to hide my feelings, or pretend to be super confident when I'm not. I know there is a school of thought out there that you should pretend to be healthy and happy and confident all the time, and then your competition (and sponsors and all the people) will think you have everything under control. I just can't do that though, when I feel nervous or scared or worried or sick or injured it feels fake to hide that. And I've been struggling big time lately with feeling inadequate/worried about this Leadville thing.


Yeah, I just did 2 high altitude 100 mile races, but this is the big one, the only one that really matters. Hearing about the super fast women who will be there is making me nervous/uptight. Thinking about their times from the race in the past seems unattainable to me. I'm scared of how much it's going to hurt riding back up Powerline on the way back, I'm worried I'm going to fall apart and my pace is going to slow to a crawl on the back side of Kevins (the last real climb), and I'm nervous I won't live up to everyone's expectations of me (heck, I'm being honest, I know that sounds ridiculous). I think there is also this added pressure I'm putting on myself because of the fact that I essentially moved out to Colorado for the past 4 weeks specifically to acclimate for THIS race. I was so freaked out that last week I had to LEAVE the town of Leadville physically because just being there was making me freak out. I blew my last workout, and ended my long ride Thursday with back pain so severe I was almost in tears (most likely from carrying all my anxiety in my left shoulder blade).
A picture I snapped at the top of the second to last climb on the course, I wasn't a happy camper when I took the picture, but at least it was pretty out. Hopefully I can focus on the beauty on Sat, and not the pain!

The time away from the course has provided some perspective though. Along with some soul rejuvenating rides with some amazing women over the weekend, spending time focusing on enjoying my bike, the scenery and taking care of my body has helped me re-focus my perspective. I'm going into this week, the last 5 days before the big day, concentrating on making good decisions, and worrying only about the things that are actually in my control. When Saturday morning comes all I can do is my best, and if my best is second or third or fifth place, then I will be proud of that. I will spend my energy thinking about eating and drinking enough in the race, pacing myself like I did in Breck and keeping a positive mindset when things get painful. If I apply everything I've learned this summer about racing long distances at altitude I know I will make my sponsors and friends and family proud. I already know I CAN finish this race, now I get to see how fast I can do it.

In the mean time, some pictures from a weekend of remembering what it's all about and continuing to fall in love with Colorado.

Friday and Saturday I got to spend some time in Colorado Springs with my old teamie Amy. We went on a wicked good ride Saturday morning, and Captain Jack's trail had me smiling till my ears hurt and giggling like a little kid. The dirt was perfectly tacky from Friday afternoon's rain, and screaming down twisty, pumpy singletrack was a good reminder that it is after all summer vacation, and I just really LOVE riding mountain bikes! I also got to have coffee and ice cream with road teamie Leah, which was icing on the COS cake!
Amy and I both rocking Kenda tires, and loving life. Following Amy was rad because she shreds. Riding with talented women is so inspiring :) 

Amy took me on a rad tour of Cheyenne Canyon from her house, which included LOTS of single track, some getting lost, and these SWEET tunnels on Gold Camp road! 
Immediately after the ride I jumped in Van Diesel and headed to Aspen to spend a little quality time with mentor and team director Nicola. I don't get to see Nicola often, so it was really nice to spend part of the weekend hanging out with her and even going for a ride Sunday! The drive to Aspen alone made me want to cry it was so pretty, but Aspen outdid the rest of Colorado with it's gorgeous trees, wildflowers and mountain views.
Driving to Aspen over Independence Pass. 
 On Sunday Nicola and I rode to Maroon Bells with local Aspen crusher Rachel. Again, the beauty of the Rocky mountains blew my mind the whole time, and again it was SO fun riding with such good company. Rachel rocked my 2015 floral kit and made me laugh the whole way up the climb, which was upsetting to a road biker we passed ;)
I had to choose who to match, kinda wish I had rocked the floral for this one :)

Apsen is like Switzerland, it keeps getting better at every turn!

At the top of Maroon Bells there is a beautiful, crystal clear lake and a stunning view of the mountains that feed it. I can't believe this place is real!

After the ride we had a race-strategizing sesh with my gracious host Pam, which was equal parts hilarious and terrifying (thinking about how fast I have to ride on Sat). It feels so good to have such a great team in my corner, Nicola and Pam were all over it and it was exciting to talk race strategy with them over lunch :) 
Sadly after lunch I had to jump back in the van and head to Boulder because I needed to wrap up some bike maintenance stuff today on my rest day. BUT it meant driving back over Independence Pass, and this time I stopped at every chance I had to make the most of the scenery!



I think Independence Pass is my favorite place in the US. 

View looking back at Aspen before finishing the ascent to the pass. 

View on the other side of the pass looking toward Twin Lakes. 
 And now here I am, on Monday afternoon, sitting in a coffee shop in Boulder, feeling much more relaxed and actually getting excited about this race. It's going to hurt, but it's going to be fun riding with 2,000 other crazy people who think 100 miles at extreme elevation is a good time :) Bring it Leadville!



Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Colorado Road Trip Update: SoCal to Telluride Recap and Pictures

I realize there hasn't been much in the way of a trip play by play this summer, and at first I wasn't really going to blog much about the whole ordeal. Then Brendan's brother sent the family a photo essay of his trip to Greenland (which I LOVED) and I realized that maybe family members would like to know where we/I've been and to see pictures. I've been taking pictures like nobody's business because I can't get over how pretty it is in CO, so here is a run down of how I got from Orange County to Leadville (part 1), and a photo essay of the trip so far. (Long post warning, this is mostly for my grandma, who I can't call because of no cell reception, and who I want to share these photos with. Love you Nana!!!)

I heart Convict Lake.
On July 13 I drove from Silverado to Mono Lake, CA en route to Tahoe Trail 100(k). Of course I stopped to soak my legs in Convict Lake, and timed it to have dinner at the Tioga Pass Mobile, where you can get the world's best fish tacos. The Mobile was CRAZY busy (summer tourists coming out of Yosemite) but there was an AWESOME free concert on the back lawn which I stayed to listen to for a while, and an unbelievable sunset across Mono Lake. And then I pulled the van off the hwy still in view of the lake to sleep for the night on a little dirt road/pull out.
Fish Tacos, seriously worth the stop if you ever end up driving up 395.  
Muggy, pink, blush sunset over Mono Lake. It was breath taking in person.
So many people, such a good band, this seems like the peak of summer to me. (I hope the video works)

Van in my camping spot taken the next morning. 
 Friday I finished the drive to Tahoe, spun my legs out along the lake (which was stunning) and then somehow lucked into swimming at a private beach (the kiosk boy pretended I was a resident!). I parked the van in condo complex at Northstar where friends from SoCal were staying, a short pedal to the race. Saturday I raced the Tahoe trail 100, and then followed the race up with a nice ride with college friend Marcus who happens to live nearby!

Getting champagne showers... my favorite, especially when it turns into a champagne WAR.
Dinner views from the van in Tahoe and a picture from the top of my post race ride with Marcus with a great view of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierras.

 Saturday night I drove to Reno, NV to spend the night with college friend and room mate Amanda. We had a blast catching up, but it was short lived because I had to be on the road Sunday am to drive to Salt Lake City. Along the way I stopped at the Bonneville Salt Flats to spin out my legs. The Salt Flats are where people go to set land speed records, and it was WAY cooler than I expected it to be! It looked like a snow-scape, and I tasted the ground to confirm that it is indeed VERY salty! Ironically I went to the salt flats to ride as slow as possible, as it was a recovery day.


In Salt Lake City I met up with my travel buddy Lauren, and we spent the night with another good friend from college, Taryn and her boy Bill. On Monday Lauren and I met up with the coolest Iranian mountain biker I know, Sina, and I showed them my favorite ride in Park City, Mid mountain trail to Wasatch Crest. The wildflowers were outstanding, and the trails so flowy, fun and fast. After a quick McDonald's ice cream stop, I dropped Lauren off in SLC and rushed to the airport to pick up Brendan's parents, who, by an incredible stroke of good timing, flew into SLC that day to start a road trip with friends. We took a detour through little cottonwood canyon to look at wildflowers, saw my first wild moose, and then had an incredible Irish meal at Flanagan's in Park City where I learned the history of father Flanagan! The evening was complete with a high mountain thunder storm and another awesome sunset.
We are all weird, but at least they make me feel normal?

Trails lined with wildflowers. I wish my cell phone photos could do the flowers justice. The hillside to the right is covered in flowers of every color. It was spectacular!

I also LOVE the aspen and fir trees, crowding together, creating a beautiful canopy of green.

Tuesday Lauren and I hit the road for Colorado. We drove 7 hours to Durango, which took a little longer than expected because of tons of road work (the theme of our time driving together). When we arrived we immediately hit the yoga and stretching in a grassy patch by the river. Then we had a picnic dinner, and walked through the adorable but touristy town. We especially liked the train that runs from Silverton to Durango, complete with guy shoveling coal in the engine!!! Sadly I didn't take pictures of the tiny pull out we camped on Tues night, but we kinda just rolled in, slept and then rolled out. It rained all night though and I kept Lauren up all night with comments like 'I hope we don't roll off this cliff' hahahahah (we weren't actually that close to the cliff...)

This picture is for you Thaddeus, don't pretend that you don't read my blog!!!!
 Wednesday we rode out and back on the Colorado trail, where both Lauren and I crashed multiple times because we were having so much fun swooping and dipping and weaving through the rocks and roots, and between aspen trees. Turns out Lauren cracked some ribs in her crash (we didn't know until literally yesterday, 2 weeks later) but we still had a ridiculously good time. Before the ride a super nice lady gave us some water from a wine bottle, making Lauren look like an alchy ;) The people we met everywhere we went were so so nice. We also took 20 minutes at the end to sit in the creek, which I called a river and was promptly corrected by a local that it was in fact WAY too small to be a river (socal perspective haha).


This part of the Colorado trail blew my mind. It's just a perfect strip of dirt surrounded by fluffy green plants, and trees sitting on the hillside just perfectly. And the dirt was so tacky... in short it was NOTHING like trails in SoCal :)

Trees and trees and trees for days. I can't handle how much I love trees!

Riding back down the road with our bibs down post creek sitting. I'm lucky to have had a travel buddy as weird as me.
Tuesday night we camped on another dirt road above town, which I also failed to document because it wasn't particularly exciting (although the views driving back to town were amazing!) And Wednesday morning we parked at my favorite Durango Bakery, Bread, for cinnamon rolls and coffee before our rides. 
Lauren and I split up for this one because she was sore from the crash and I had to do torture intervals. I followed a route my team mate Levi recommended and post hour of climbing intervals later I looked up to realized I was in the back country, alone, like really out there. At first the rugged back country nature of the trail was thrilling and I was wishing with all my being that Carl could be there to experience it. But then I realized I was ALONE in the BACK COUNTRY where bears most definitely live. At this point it was kinda too late to turn around, so I stayed extra alert, and prayed for no bear sightings, they are nocturnal, right?! Fortunately I was distracted by some incredibly fun, techy features on the trail, like rad dh rock gardens, and steep steep switchbacks with drops hiding around the corner. My bike ate up the tech, and once again I was thinking about how lucky I am to have ridden for years in Socal on steep, rocky trails, which made all this so so so fun. At the bottom of the back country loop I had to walk my bike over quite a few fallen trees and across several muddy water crossings, adding to the back country feel, but making me an hour later back to the car than I told Lauren. As soon as I got within cell reception I called to have her pick me up at the bottom (rather than ride 10 miles back to town) and the final stretch was a glorious, stupid fast, rocky single track descent called Halfin Creek, which had me squealing with delight. I highly recommend riding this trail if anyone reading this ever goes to Durango, it was incredible!
Lauren met me at the golf course at the bottom, and after another picnic lunch of PB&J we hit the road for Telluride. 

The scenery was pretty out of control good on this ride too! This is the mountain on the east side of Durango, on the backside of that mountain. 


Trail features on back country Durango rides.... :)
The drive from Durango to Telluride is without a doubt the most beautiful drive I've ever experienced. We were oooh-ing and ahhhh-ing the whole way. We saw a marmot (my first ever), there was an epic rain storm when Lauren was driving the most sketchy/cliff-y portion of the drive, and we stopped a bunch to take pictures and to check out the town of Silverton (the town most race announcers mistakenly say I'm from). 

Not sure what the view point was called but this is from around 11,500 ft looking out at the San Juan National Forest. 

Same spot as the last photo, looking North towards Silverton. That pond has lilly pads! How is this even real?!

The rain added to the drama of the scenery. I love how moody the mountains are here in the afternoons. 

Found some great soap in Silverton, and grabbed a cup of coffee at the cutest ice cream parlor. 

Lauren in the cute ice cream parlor. The mining history in Colorado is pretty rad. 

We drove on that road! It was crazy, not just because it was so pretty, but also because it must have cost a fortune to build it!

And one more mountain picture. The red peaks in the San Juans were pretty spectacular!
And since I already blogged about how amazing Telluride was I think this is a good place to stop for now. Soon I'll recap T-ride to Leadville, complete with 1,000 more pictures.