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!


  1. Sounds like you had good showing and learned a lot about altitude will prosper with this new information