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.