Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Kicking off the SoCal High school MTB Race Season!

I totally get it now, at least I think I do. On Saturday, when I saw Morgan charging up the beach towards the feed zone in 1st place in her middle school mountain bike race I was so excited I almost jumped out of my skin. I screamed and ran and failed to get a bottle of water to her and lots my sanity for a second I was so excited for her to be doing so well. I think I get why/how parents get so intense at sporting events, it's such a rush to see a kid you care about succeeding, almost better than the feeling of succeeding yourself! The Laguna Beach Interscholastic MTB team, the group of middle and high school kids I help coach, had a phenomenal weekend in Lake Perris at their first race of the year, and Larissa spent the weekend trying to reign in the excitement in the feed zone, you know, so I wouldn't break the rules (too much haha).
Highlights from the weekend included:
I'm pointing at is my fire road to get up and over Saddleback
Maybe one of the best last minute decisions I've ever made, riding from home to Lake Perris on Saturday morning! The idea came to me on Friday at school when coach said to do Steady State intervals Sat morning before heading to the race. I thought, heck, why not just do my intervals ON THE WAY to the race, threw a route together on Strava and it ended up being significantly less miles than driving!

Down there is the maze of freeways Google maps wanted me to take... screw that

The route took me up Maple Springs (which is basically the road I live on), down Bedford fire-road and then all the way across Cajalco Rd. I didn't really think ahead much, aside from finding a Mexican restaurant to grab a breakfast burrito from en route, and was plesantly suprised by how AMAZING Cajalco rd was! It wound up and around and through the area between Riverside and San Diego Counties with a nice shoulder, no stop lights or signs and rad views of Lake Mathews! It just kept going and going in all it's awesome glory ALL THE WAY to Perris! No turns! AND THEN... a dude in a van loaded down with bikes headed to the race pulled up next to me on Cajalco and the high school kid in the passenger seat asked if I wanted a Breakfast burrito! WHAT?! Is this real life?! YES I WANT A BREAKFAST BURRITO! How even did they KNOW!
Happiest girl EVER right there. 

So I got to the race in 3.5 hours, did a lap with the kids, and right when I thought I would faint breakfast burrito man shows up WITH ORANGE JUICE AND A BURRITO! What a day! I cannot express the surprise, joy, and gratitude I feel for this generous human. He didn't even know who I am (I had thought he knew I was Larissa, you know, because who else would be RIDING to a high school mtb race from home?! )

Brady's secret to success: licorice and jelly sandwich. 
On Saturday, during the middle school races I got to watch Morgan dominate, her brother Dylan rode like a pro to take 2nd, and Brady put the pieces of training together perfectly to pull off a win as well. Our other middle schoolers had a great time, racing in stacked fields, and finished strong with smiles on their faces.

NICA races are like a family reunion. I also got to spend quality with with Roger, my homie who also happens to hook a sister up with the best rubber in the buisness, and Nikki (two weekends in a row!) who was so thoughtful and brought coffee and an amazing scone! It was seriously like my birthday, how did I get so lucky to have such great friends and strangers in my life!

Sometimes I just get into people's cars in parking lots, not to go anywhere... 
Thanks for the snacks Nikki!!!!!

Pre-race team pow wow. These kids are a great combo of hilarious and hard working/rad. It's so much fun to watch them grow, learn, challenge themselves and have a great time along the way!

Coaching can be challenging because I'm always torn between giving the kids a heavy workload with challenging workouts vs just having fun on bikes and learning skills/gaining strength through riding. I think coach Mike and I have struck a pretty good balance this year, and it was fun to see the hard work pay off. I love how these kids aren't crazy stupid serious, they still have fun, but are willing to push themselves/ get out of their comfort zones when they train and race. 

The girlies of the team!
We wrapped up the day with a beautiful sunset, riding around with empty disposable water bottles in our bikes to make all the noise, and team pizza.

And Sunday the three high schoolers raced! Freshman charger Brandon won his first race of the season by using the most amazing combination of strength and strategy in the windiest race of the weekend, making it 4 podium finishes for Laguna!!! Dylan and Tasha did great in their challenging races as well, making it another fun day of spectating, coaching, and cheering my lungs out.

And that's a wrap, race #1 is in the books, and now we are onto preparing for Victory at Vail, the second NICA race of the year! Gonna make the kiddos work hard tomorrow!!!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Making Lemonade out of Lemons

This past weekend Nikki Peterson and I were able to sneak away to St George for a few days to pre-ride the True Grit NUE course and have a little girls weekend in the desert. I looked forward to this trip for weeks, to the idea of riding my brains out on crazy fun, technical, rocky trails, drinking afternoon coffee sitting next to the van looking out at gorgeous views of red rocks, yoga in the warm sun, and maybe even sneaking in some reading. 
Sadly both Nikki and I came down with the flu a week before we planned to leave, and even though we were both still coughing and blowing our noses, it was the only 3 day weekend I had to make the trek out to Utah before the race. We decided to still go, but focus on taking it easy/getting a lot of sleep all weekend. Although the weekend didn't go exactly how I envisioned, I'm pretty pumped to report that I did in fact take it easy (despite having so much time I COULD ride, if you know me at all, you know this is a big deal) and that I came home healthier than when we left! I'm oddly proud right now that I used so much self control, although it was very very very hard, and didn't ride myself into the ground. 

Some highlights of the trip included:

Getting to sneak in a 3 hour shred in Idylwild before picking up Nikki on Friday. If you live in SoCal the trails in Idylwild are totally worth the drive, plus there is a seemingly endless amount of riding there. On my ride I accidentally found the jump trail, got lost at least 3 times, saw approximately 0 other people (until I got back to the van) and was blown away yet again by how much fun the Edict is. 

Friday night we slept in a Walmart parking lot in Mesquite, NV, you know because we are classy like that. One of my favorite aspects of #vanlife is being able to pull over and go to sleep on a whim, and since we were prioritizing sleep, Mesquite is where that happened! The cherry on top was being able to run in and grab almond milk in the morning for our coffee!

Saturday we got a late start, but still rode the first half of the race course together. There were TONS of other mountain bikers EVERYWHERE, mostly families with young kids which I thought was pretty much the best thing ever! 
Nikki and I getting our minds blown by the super cool rock features on the course!

We stopped to session a lot of technical features, tricky lines and fun descents, so the 30 mile ride took more than 3 hours. When we got back to the van we basically sat right down in the dirt and inhaled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

And then, since we didn't start the first ride until 11am, I basically had to jump right back on my bike to sneak in an afternoon ride before sunset. On my second ride of the day I hit the remainder of the course, plus a little extra credit, and flexed the self control muscle by NOT riding ALL THE TRAILS like I wanted to (It was hard, I mean come on, one was called 'suicidal tendencies', how could you NOT want to ride that!?
Perma-smile in the desert! So much cool scenery to distract you when you are trying to shred! 
On my Sat afternoon ride I met the Utah state high school shredder Truman and his dad after we played a little cat and mouse on the last loop of the race course. It was super fun charging down Barrel Roll with Truman hot on my wheel, and then chatting with them after about racing, Leadville and True Grit. The next day Nikki and I got to meet Isabelle, Truman's sister who is a sophomore in high school and is also racing True Grit. I admire these kids so much, to have the drive to do something so challenging as high schoolers, that is pretty freaking cool! AND they are wicked fast XC racers too!

Sunday I got to have a little van life moment drinking Badsea coffee and eating previously frozen Greek yogurt with granola since the van fridge is too efficient and froze all the food we brought. It's the simple things, like good coffee, home made granola and a book in the early morning that make me happiest.

When Nikki woke up she had to 'milk' the frozen Almond mike carton... it was pretty funny, like squeezing milk from almonds.

We threw down another lap of Zen trail on Sunday morning to dial some lines, and then rode some more of the course down the back side of the zen trail area. When we were riding Zen we ran into quite a few cool people, and my suspicion was confirmed that people from Utah are the nicest. 
Matching in our Boom Baby kits :) It's almost like we are team mates again!
 And Sunday afternoon I snuck in another afternoon ride at Gooseberry Mesa, somewhere I've always wanted to ride but never had the chance to before. The trails around the mesa are amazing, so many tricky, sneaky lines with constant power moves to climb seemingly impossible rock faces that have sand paper grip.
Mind being blown AGAIN!
 There are endlessly awesome views from the mesa as well, so I had to stop like 20 timed to take it in and snap some pictures, especially of all the cliffs. The trails require you to follow white dots as most of the route is across, over, up and through huge rock slabs, and it was pretty cool how my bran figured out about an hour in that everywhere the white dots let was ride-able. I would look ahead, think 'no freaking way', try it and be surprised every time that my tires gripped the rock enough to make it work. Such a cool feeling, and another trail network I highly recommend riding if you are in Southern Utah.
ALL THE ROCKS!!! Loved traversing this rad, unique landscape. 

Cliffs for days. 
 And I may have gotten a bit carried away, tried to ride more than was possible given the number of hours of daylight, and had to hitch hike to town. I'm proud to say that I didn't push it past what was healthy though, getting in that car and admitting defeat was hard :) Thanks to the nice people who drove my bike and I to Hurricane to meet Nikki.
The view at the end of the day as I rushed to end the ride before dark. 
 And instead of riding until my legs fell off I opted for hot chocolate with Nikki, a winter (errr, any time of year) bike trip requirement.

We woke up to snow on Monday morning, like flurries outside the van window, so after some hemming and hawing by me (since I was DYING to ride one more time in St George) we choose to be smart and start the drive home early.

I've been really lucky in the past four years of bike race related travel. Yeah, I've had a bike not show up in Brazil for a race, and I'e gotten sick on the road, but these little hiccups just make me more grateful for all the times everything has gone right, and I've gotten to ride to my heart's content. Stoked we still got to sneak away, ride some great trails, and focus on resting/getting healthy for the season to come. And super grateful for Nikki, who put up with my constant need/drive to ride more bikes, but who also helped keep me focused on rest and taking care of my body. We made the best out of what we had, and that was some pretty sweet lemonade!

Last coffee stop in Vegas and my first ever lavender latte... OMG delicious! 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Rock Cobbler Race Recap: AKA that time I learned about Valve Stems

Every year in mid-February I see all the posts and hear all the excitement from the people who raced the Rock Cobbler, and every year I think, darn, I missed it again! Well not THIS year, because I finally made it out to Bakersfiled to see what all the hype was about, and holy crap was it worth the drive!

Saturday started with a warm croissant, eggs, bacon and coffee in the van. It's February, and let's be honest, one of the things I like most about the races I do now is that I don't have to stress about every single decision like what to eat for breakfast. Are they serving eggs and bacon? Then yes, that's what I'll eat, it's not going to make or break me (XC be damned).

The 'really hard ride bordering on a race' started at the humane hour of 8:30am with a neutral roll out for 11 miles, much of which was on a bike path. Like I pretty much always aim to do, I pushed my way to the very front and inhaled moped fumes for the entirety of the roll out so I wouldn't get caught in the shenanigans in the pack (of which I heard there were plenty). I was nice and high on 2-stroke exhaust when the horn blew to start the race, and by the first dirt section I was still near the front. Unfortunately I wasn't near-enough the front because a few dudes running the first uphill in front of me caused a gap to open to the lead group of 20. As a result I spent exactly the first 1/2 of the 'race' within one and a half minutes of that group, sometimes alone, sometimes with others, trying in vain to make connection, until the sidewall tear disaster.
Just LOOK at that rad snake of riders! How cool is this image! I stole it from Derek Smith.
Basically this event consisted of equal parts road, and fire-road plus one insanely long, twisty luge-esque trail that snaked up a slot canyon blowing my mind the whole way. The fire road pitched up and down, sometimes manically throwing people off their bikes left and right and weeding out the riders around me until there was a select group of 5ish of us. Then the guys all stopped at an aid station and I kept rolling, right through some dude dressed like a taco's house! No joke, one minute I was on a dirt road, the next I was rolling through the back yard of Taco man, right past his pool, into his living room, out the front door, base heavy music pounding the whole time, pool party in full swing.

Eventually I caught some guys and the dudes who had stopped caught me, and another nice group formed, this time about 8 strong, and including my once hero Yuir. We struggled to pace line effectively, the two guys on mountain bikes got in the way, then out, then back in the way, and after much flailing we all just gave up and let Neil Shirley pull the whole group. Or maybe he got tired of armature hour and decided the front was less annoying than watching us try to be roadies.
Hey look, it's Yuri! Everyone's favorite draft! And my idol when I was a baby racer :)
Also from Derek Smith
Then THAT group stopped at the aid station located at the base of the 'long' climb, and I was alone again. As we approached the 'long' climb I caught a glimpse of the lead group and as riders began to pop off the back of the 20-something strong front of the race I acquired carrots to chase, or as I like to think of them wounded deer to hunt. I spent the entirety of the 'long' climb (all of like 20 minutes, yeah, not long) hunting down dudes, one by one rolling up to them, passing them with a huge smile, and riding off. It was awesome.

At the end of the climb there was a crazy steep dirt pitch and I took extra enjoyment out of passing two guys on that section, only to be passed back by them flying down the descent on the other side. Everyone told me before this thing that there would be ruts that could swallow me whole on this descent, so I was extra cautious... only to find there were NO LARISSA SWALLOWING RUTS! WHY DID YOU LIE TO ME EVERYONE?!

And then, just after I survived the very much not dangerous descent, in a stretch of field where there really was no trail, but course markings, my rear tire scraped a rock, and bam, I was riding the rim. The sidewall tear was the least of my worries though, because worse than getting a flat (I had a pretty big gap to 2nd place) was the fact that I had tightened the nut that holds on the valve core death grip tight on Thursday night with pliers, thinking that's how you get it to seal when setting up tubeless tires. WRONG! Death grip tight with pliers really just means you can't UNTIGHTEN it with your fingers when the time comes to throw a tube in the rim because you have a flat on race day. Poop. SO I begged a few dudes passing to try and untighten (hey, they all asked if I needed anything!) and when that didn't pan out, after wasting TONS of time trying in vain to get the damn nut off, I tried to plug the tear. I went through a few CO2's in the process, but thought I had the situation sorted out when reigning Rock Cobbler champ Amanda rolled by. Slightly panicked and shaky I threw all my stuff into the saddlebag and jumped on my bike in pursuit. Sadly, the situation wasn't sorted, and less than 5 minutes later, when I had just caught up to Amanda, I was riding the rim again and S.O.L. Fortunately I soon ran into a dude in a truck who happened to have pliers, I got the valve core out, tube in, inflated, back on my bike.
Just a picture, you know, because too many words. 
Not sure if I mentioned yet that I woke up Saturday sick as a dog, sore throat, head ache, congestion... and made the call to do the ride because hell, I was already in Bakersfield and the illness was 'just in my head' (haha, yeah, I'm an idiot). Anyway, after the second stop I decided the race was over and that I should just ride to survive the rest of the way back. There were moments when I got a glimmer of hope and started to chase, but then I made a wrong turn, or hit a huge sand pit and decided I didn't care anymore. The highlight of the remainder of the ride was the epic 'run up' where race organizers had us scramble up this crazy long 55% grade dirt hill. I fell on my knees at one point because it was so steep I could barely walk, it was freaking awesome! haha.

The last ten miles consisted of a dirt/sand wash littered with homeless camps, shopping carts, you know, Bakersfield things. I got lost at one point and ended up in a homeless dude's front yard, sorry dude. And then I hiked through these brambles and got all these sticky thorny things in my socks... it was an adventure that last 10 miles. The finish line came right around the time that I thought I could bear no more suffering/sand, and I rolled through feeling equal parts relief and disappointment that I hadn't won. Nevertheless, there was awesome 23 cheese mac-n-cheese back at the brewery waiting form me, plus super tasty pulled pork, and cold soda that felt like heaven on my throat.
O yeah, and there was a twinkie cake. Did I mention twinkies are still gross?
I am getting tired of writing now, haha, probably shouldn't say stuff like that, but I just need to say that SamBarn (the race promoters) do such an amazing job at every race I've been to. These guys obviously love putting on races because they love making us suffer/laugh/have a good time. I think everyone and their mother should go to a SamBarn race in their lifetime, guaranteed to have a good time, and a story to tell afterwards.

And that's my story from RockCobbler. If you weren't there, don't miss it next year, it's worth that drive to Bakersfield :)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Life Lately: Lessons from my Students Edition

I haven't written anything IN FOREVER, and really that makes my hear sad. You all know that I'm just really stupid busy right now with work, coaching, training, trying to renovate a bathroom and just doing all the normal life stuff like laundry that never seems to end. To be clear though, I LOVE being so busy. Yes it gets exhausting and I rarely have 10 minutes to read a book or reply to FB messages (sorry anyone who has tried to get a hold of me that way!), but I am horrible when I don't have a lot going on, like nothing gets done horrible. Why is it that I am so much more efficient/productive when my plate is too-full?

Anyway, I have A LOT I need to catch up on here, about sponsors for this year, my race situation for 2018, and about racing this past weekend, so look for more consistent posts in the  coming weeks! For now though, a quick update and some 'deep' thoughts as I lay in bed sick as a dog on a Monday (be forewarned, this may be excessive congestion meds talking...)

On Friday in my 'algebra support' class, a class for students not historically successful in math to give them an extra boost in Algebra 1, a student said to his peer "you know, you bring these problems on yourself" and I thought to myself, Jesus, you are so, so wise. (The whole topic of starting to see so many different forms of intelligence in my lower performing students is basically a novel waiting to be written, but this job of educating 9th graders is fascinating, and completely overwhelming in it's beauty sometimes).

Anyway, Jesus was more right than he knows, and I have been thinking about that eavesdropped conversation all weekend. On Friday around noon I could tell I was getting a sore throat. I hoped it was from the super ridiculously dry climate in socal, but deep down I could tell it was a head cold coming on. I had already signed up to 'race' a gravel event on Saturday in Bakersfield (a WHOLE blog post on it's own because it was one hell of an amazing event) and the weekend's plans also included a monster ride on Mt. Pinos on Sunday with friends, so getting sick was pretty much not an option.

Cue the deep thoughts on life I am currently pondering. So who I am, what makes me Larissa Connors, besides smiling a lot and being kinda obnoxiously loud, is that I really really love to push myself to the limit. Obvi this is why I love racing bikes, and why the ultra endurance stuff seems so fitting for me. But the problem is that sometimes don't know when to stop and raise the white flag, to  take a knee and give it a rest.

Who could pass up riding with these rad shredders?
Since the illness was just in my head/throat I opted to drive to Bakersfiled Friday night, go to bed early and hope that 9 hours of sleep would cure me. It didn't. But by that point I was already there, the idea of suffering for 5 hours with all the coolest kids in Socal was too tempting... I was out there pushing pedals despite that little nagging voice in my head saying 'is this really the right thing to do?'

Sunday was  the same situation, woke up feeling not too great, did half the ride with the guys, pushed that nagging voice that kept whispering 'bad idea' out of my mind.

I felt pretty miserable, but the scenery plus the two girl scout cookies Menso gave me after the 20 minute hike a bike made me a pretty content kid on Sunday. 

I bring these problems on myself. Being so sick right now is obviously a result of not resting this weekend when the cold was little and manageable and just needed time off, in bed. It seems obvious that the right thing to do would have been to take the weekend off and NOT pushed myself. It sometimes seems like this is a lesson I am forever trying to learn, and constantly failing at, BUT if I didn't have this ridiculously addictive personality, would I still be me? Like isn't this drive to push myself to the limit what makes me who I am? I know life is about finding balance and trying, failing, trying again, so maybe this is just my life long struggle. But, yes, Jesus, I admit, I bring these problems on myself. Once again (because I have said this many many times before, and I will most likely say it again many times before I die), I will try to do better, ride less, sleep more, do a little better job listening to my body.

Here is a pretty picture from Mt Pinos trail on Sat night to break up all the text :)
And most importantly, sorry coach, for not doing the best job listening to you. I'm hoping that you stick around because you know my addictive personality plus your guidance wins races. I will always be fighting this battle to reign it in, but I appreciate more than you know how patient you are with me. I will try to do better, that's life in a nutshell, right?