Tuesday, May 24

Stepping Stones

I promise that as I continue to stage race, that my race reports will become much more concise and fluid and timely. As of now each experience is so big and multi-faceted that it is hard not to fixate on even of the smallest signs of improvement and excitement. I still have one day of Gila to dig through, and that day, I finally felt like a bike racer. But until then, there is a slight side step to the Stepping Stones and Building Blocks that are becoming my weekends of hugging the fog-line on the local mountain roads.

So much happens each and every day and ride, its extremely hard to narrow it down. There have been crashes, but even those are far enough past that my hot pink sweatshirt lint is sticking to the uncovered scabs. Hot huh.

There was a crit in the rain, there was a turn with a large paint strip. Both my wheels went right, my body ejected left. Thanks to hours of softball as a teen and many afternoons spent on the slip-n-slide as a toddler, I kept my chin/face up and slid belly first into home. Er, almost the curb. I was shocked, and even more stunned as 2-3 racers behind me hit me as I lay prostrate on ground, launching them onto the slippery asphalt next to me. You slide really, really well on wet asphalt. I burned through two jerseys and a base layer to get some stellar road rash on my stomach, hips, and elbow. The worst is seeing your friends go down, and some sustain painful injuries.

The week following Rain Crit brought the largest volume and intensity of training I have had to date. The majority of my training period is done solo, and this week fell right into place. By Friday I was wrecked and fatigued, up against some huge climbing days.

This is where the fun began. Locally there are awesome roads, climbs, and places to experience! Friday I headed to Oak Glen for roughly two trips up the front side and realized there is virtually zero traffic up there.

3 hours, 5k of climbing 41 miles. Time for Mexican food!

After many Tour of California discussions, Brian and I decided to sit out the hype and pedal it out instead. One of our most favorite rides is Idyllwild through Hemet round trip. We picked up Mark on the way and embarked on an amazing ride. As we rose above the smog line and into the thin mountain air, I couldn't help but be thankful for the amazing place we live. And began wishing the boys we leave me alone! I was cooked and their pace was relentless, yet Brian would push me back into the group and keep me together. Oddly, I think this was statistically our best Idyllwild trip, but if I had read it strictly by the legs, I would have hung it up. They do lie sometimes!

92 miles, 7,200ft of climbing, 5:15 ride time. Plus a nap. And Mexican food.

Sunday Funday! Do you ever get an itch? An idea that won't go away and you aren't satisfied until you have explored it fully? Sunday was that day. All Brian said was "Don't do anything stupid."

The Plan: Ride to Big Bear round trip solo so I could see the finish of the Kenda Cup MTB race where I could see many friends and some of my awesome clients! I had no idea what would go down!

Riding up 38 it was smoggy and humid! The thick air stuck to my skin and clogged my lungs, I felt like I was back in Vermont prepping for Mount Snow NORBA national! As I got closer to Angelus Oaks the air cleared and the smell of pine started to over take the smog and I knew I was in for an adventure. I saw Jason Reynold (ZZ Top) and his pup heading for a walk and he offered me food and water, as did "Naked Man" (Those of you old-skool NORBA racers know him - now he works at a boys camp by Jenks Lake. And is no longer called Naked Man. His name is Rick.) Somehow, I seem to have people looking out for me and it is awesome. Rick passed me about an hour later and stopped, just checking to make sure I was dialed. I was since South Fork camp ground is open!

I have never ridden this far up HWY 38. From South Fork to Onyx hands down the worst, hardest, longest, when-will-this-end part of the ride! But I really really wanted a PayDay and a Coke, and there is NOTHING out there, so I knew I just HAD to get to Big Bear. And once you come this far, whats another 11-12 miles?! Unfortunately for the return trip, those miles rapidly ticked by as I descended into town! D'oh!

Here's the truth: Any part descending on this ride - INSANE head or cross winds. My triceps were on FIRE by the time I got home! The ride "down" the mountain contains about 3k of climbing. Jokes on ME! I never ever ride with headphones so I created training plans and wedding menus in my head in between spotting cloud creatures.

But getting to the race was the best reward! So many hugs and smiling friendly faces. I never thought I would be "that girl" that shows up to a mountain bike race on my road bike! But I have business to attain to! The ride home flew by, the PayDay and Coke were delicious, and I even ate some Cheeze-its for some salt. :)

94 Miles, 6:06 ride time, 9,300ft of climbing. :) My arms hurt the worst.

This ride was truly a breakthrough for me. Fatigued, solo, uncharted territory and success. I was never stressed, nervous, down, or unmotivated. I have some racing to do and exploring beyond our local San Bernardino mountains is to be had, the best thing I can do is prep myself both mentally and physically!

Total in 3 days: 230 miles, 21,500 ft of climbing and just over 14 hours. :) I did not ride my bike today.

Awesome to see Allison and Justin Mann out as well, and their blogs are awesome! Allison is coming off a rough spot of training with a foot injury, one day we will be lining up together in the dirt again!!

Tuesday, May 17

Gila days 3 and 4 and more!

The largest thing I learned at Gila was adaptation. The body is truly an amazing thing and experiencing a vast adaptation to training/racing stress through the event was so cool. I woke up Friday morning alert and ready to rock. Day 3 at Redlands had been polar opposite! At Gila we had already experienced 2 4+ hour days in the saddle and it was awesome to wake up ready to at least ride on Friday!

Now a time trialist I am not. I like to think that in the future, with my history of mountain biking and being a power rider, the TT is something I could sink my teeth into. But with limited training time and the lack of an actual TT bike, that art form will have to wait to be developed. I decided that prior to Gila there were only a few things I could stress about and the TT just couldn't fit on that list. I have only done TT's at the stage races I have participated in this year, which adds up to 4. I'm a rookie.

The Gila TT was LONG!! 16.5 miles with TONS of wind and climbing. I put my clip on bars on, grabbed my aero helmet and did what I could. Although I was told to ride it like a "hard recovery day" I actually did try, and came in 3rd from last. It was really, really, hard. But to save the day, Clara won the TT as well as moving into the over GC lead. Rad. I knew I would have work to do over the next few days so my finish was fine. I was just stressed to make the time cut!

Before the TT I saw our buddy Reid Mumford of Kelly Benefits and went over to say hi. He asked how I was doing and I just shook my head and said "This sure ain't SoCal crit racing" and we both had a good laugh. What a different world I have jumped into!

The second thing I learned at Gila was to rest and recover. Eat soon and much, sit/lay/nap much. I am a horrible napper, but found it relatively easy to fall asleep at 2pm given the opportunity. I could feel my body healing and coming back into form.

Day 4, the crit, was the first time I was no affected by the elevation. thank goodness because this crit was awesome! Most SoCal crits last 40-50 minutes. This crit was 70!! So cool for me because at these larger events, I usually don't feel ok until 30-40 minutes into the event which is right about when other people start to feel poopy! My instructions were to stay in, stop tail gunning and conserve for Sunday. My non-sister Desira Miller (everyone thinks we are related. Because we are over 5'5" and ride bikes, and are white?!) was there working with SRAM (this was AWESOME because I got to see one of my favorites every morning and after every stage, just the little slice of home I needed, and she got heckle me at the crit) every time we rode up the climb and past the pits she would yell at me to to get off the back, haha, its getting better!!

Clara won the crit, sealing her overall lead once again with an amazing sprint. The crit was livestreamed and I got word that Papa Paul, Brian's team manager aka the Godfather, had been watching it at work with the whole office and could even pick my helmet out of the peloton! So cool! He said they all knew Clara had the win coming out of the last turn!

It was pretty awesome to be part of a team, let alone a team in the leaders jersey! And to know the team had a few small tasks for me that were within my skill set making me not just a number in the peloton, but more like Baby in Dirty Dancing, when she carried the watermelons to the party. :) Someone else could have done it, heck they could have gone without the watermelons, but it was her way of being part of the group!

The main issue I had after the crit was eating. Brian thought I was lying but seriously, the body gets so taxed that nothing sounds good and you start force feeding yourself because you know you are in vast caloric deficit and if you don't eat, the next day will be horrid. Nothing like eating a burrito at 10pm in bed...

Tuesday, May 10

Tour of the Gila: Stage 2

Sometimes, bike racing is just plain hard. Because of that, I would like to dedicate this post to my Team Mom Cynthia Sjogren who enjoys taking the road less traveled and is on her 4th day of a hospital stay. Training with Cynthia has taught me many, many things, some of which I can share. :)

First and foremost, "Suck it up Buttercup!!"
Secondly - "if this old lady can do it, so can you!"
Third - when in doubt, sing a really annoying song, preferably out loud.

She dubbed one Brian-Induced death march in steady downpour and 40 degrees the "Unicorns *Pooping Rainbows Ride" and taught me that even in the most dire of straights, humor can bring you back to the front porch.

What does this all have to do with Gila, all the way in NM? The lessons I have learned on the wheel of Cynthia, Brian, Mark, Andrew, Craig, got me through this day. To many of the racers it was just another day in the peloton. To me, it was like getting kicked in the shins. Repeatedly. By 20 5 year olds. It just kept coming. As was my fitness. But doing these events on a solid aerobic fitness base bodes well for lots of development which I am sure to reap the benefits from down the road, but that Thursday suffering at 7,000ft, it was just one hard day.

The small peloton had a massive acceleration roughly 40 minutes in heading into the sprint, which I knew about. Yet that 4 minutes of complete VO2 effort left me dangling off the back with lack-luster stragglers and a few other worker bee's. Let the chase begin. Mentally I knew what happened, my heart was thumbing out of my eyes, my quads seizing up. But the lure of the caravan, just around the corner, inch-worming its way up the climbs, kept our group motivated to make final contact. It's a horrible feeling to be 50 meters off the last car of the caravan just as the front car drops over the crest of the climb to begin careening down the Gila Monster. Gapped. Out. Again. I found it interesting that I wasn't getting stressed or angry, just much more focused. We had a group of 5, which descending the gnarly Gila Monster - a route I did not know - I sheepishly thought to myself that I was glad we weren't with the other 45 riders at that time!

The hardest thing about the chase was eating. I didn't know my compatriots, some sketched me out, some attacked, and I just couldn't get food in riding a steady zone 3/4. I couldn't drink. This would pose to be my biggest downfall. I had learned the day before to surf the cars, ride the bumpers, hang on the tail just long enough to catch a breath and get up to the next car in the caravan that in the valley, our little group made contact. As I crawled past Michael and the car I grabbed a coveted bottle and headed through the group.

The group had been riding chill. For a long time. But once you are popped and you are 5 vs 45, you do the math. I found Clara and Flavia and they both did a really bad job hiding their amazement that I was back! Clara said "put it in the 27 and spin. Eat. Survive. That's it."

It had taken 1:10 minutes to get back!! That's insane. I paid for one 4 minute effort for 1:10. It was slightly eerie how the time passed descending the Enchanted NM forests and rolling through the desert like land. I tried not to look at my Garmin, I thought about those horrid, freezing winter rides, I thought about what Cynthia would do. Just keep pedaling, if you are steady, you will get there. It never even crossed my mind that we could get time cut, because we were going to make it back!

There were a few crashes in the bunch, some crazy tactics as I worked on my pack riding skills and hid as much as I could. Alas the final big long 15 mile climb came. And again, engage parachute, ride through quicksand, or straight drop back through the pack, it happened. I was alone again. As the caravan passed, Michael and Bea handed me extra bottles for the ride out and encouragement "Just ride your pace, make it to the finish. You did good." Hearing that kept me in it. I knew I could get to the end, just not too rapidly. The caravan was starting to take a liking to me because they got to see so much of me - falling out of the group, riding back to the group, and falling out again. Several team cars gave me a thumbs up, words of encouragement and a smile. Perfect. It was beautiful outside, amazing landscape, no Unicorns Pooping Rainbows today! I was experiencing raw racing at its best!

As cars snaked by I attempted to ride some bumpers but the only one slow enough was the ambulance. At least I am from SoCal so extreme smog is no big deal. But that was short lived! I found one other rider who had been in a crash earlier and rode together in silence into the finish. Shockingly only 10 minutes down on the winner. Cool.

I was beat. But a huge improvement from Redlands where my mind was foggy, was that my mind was clear, just my body was extremely taxed. I was covered with salt, my eyes completely blood-shot and water pouring out of them, cheeks and thighs covered with spit, with snot running down my lip. Where's Brian when you need him, right? haha.

I sat on the curb still in kit and helmet, with my head in my hands coughing, and coughing and coughing. I think I coughed up dirt from the Beaumont Stage it was that bad! Clara was busy doing interview and during a down moment she stuck her head out the door: "Are you ok?" haha yup, just give me a minute. :)

All I did the rest of the day was eat, shower, eat, sleep, eat, snack, and sleep. I was still on the list, I was not anywhere near defeated, and I found as much silver lining and sunshine I could. I was sharing an amazing experience with people who believed, even in my novice state of experience, that I could make it to the end. Super sweet. :)

Sunday, May 8

Gila Stage One: Mogollon

Back in 1996 otherwise known as the 10th grade for me, a collage-aged male told me I had no natural talent, in anything. He also told me I had really feminine hands that were not proportionate to my body...anyways. When I was told that, I did the only thing I knew how to do: WORK. HARD. Work ethic can get you through a lot of really rough days. I sure came in handy over the Gila.

The peloton at Gila was HALF the size of Redlands. The part that was lacking was the Pack-Fill, otherwise known as my peer-group. While they were off put-put golfing or babysitting, I was getting a blow-by-blow bike racer inservice, by some of the best tutors in the business!

The day was roughly 77 miles with a lot of flat on the way out. The ladies were chatting, eating and drinking in the crisp - albeit thin - morning mountain air.

Two hours in I had my first mini-lesson: Peeing on the bike.
Now I have the "privilege" of being around the boys when they do this and I am always quite jealous. This day was the first day I have ever coveted another riders shorts. I hate shorts, i wear bibs. But in this scenario - the short wins. There were many pee stops, pee stop induced crashes, and more pee breaks. I saw one girl peeing ON the bike. I thought that only happened 9 hours into an Ironman. In the dark. I saw Clara stop once with Kristen Armstrong and thought this is my chance, just DO IT! ....stage freight. Once you squat on the side of the road, with 7 others, you look up at the caravan crawling by. Of mostly mails staring out there windows looking for deer or something, but rookie move, it didn't happen. It was 4.5 hours before that relief could be had.

Lesson 2: Going to the car for feeds
This was exciting!!! I would grab empty bottles from the team, raise one up, the officials would call Michael and the team car to the front (from the back, our starting spot was well last...) and I would roll to the car and do the exchange of goods. I grabbed bottles and bars and headed back through the peloton to hand off the snacks. I felt like the ice cream cart! it was so fun! And it really helps the time pass!

Then the historic wind picked up and I soon learned that if I was alone, that wind was 10 times worse. The wind caused attacks which cause crashes which cause gaps. This chain of events sent me to a place I became very familiar with: OFF. THE. BACK. Now there were others there, but sometimes, not so much help. I think it "only" took us 20-30 minutes to ride back to the group. This time. :) You have to ride through the caravan of follow cars to get to the peloton, so when I passed Michael I grabbed more bottles and headed to my homies!

The goal was stay to the base of the Mogollon climb, which I almost made! I was pretty pumped, and just rode my pace as steady as I could to the top. I had passed of my last bottles and the girls were unleashed to tackle the climb! Flavia O (Froggy) ended up 2nd and Clara (Red-Hot) an impressive 3rd with my homie Mara Abbott winning the stage. This put Flavia in the climbers jersey for the next day!

I was so bummed at the 2 hour mark when teammate/homie/travel partner Beatrice Rodriguez (Bea) had been involved in a crash and her rear derailleur had been broken off! When I was finally getting back onto the group, she was in the car and I almost looped out. Not know why she was there, if she was injured etc was slightly stressful and unsettling. But at the end of the we were all glad that she would live to ride another day and no bodily harm - only emotional and to the bike - had been done!

Also Laura Hines who broke her femur at SDSR was on the mend and had come along to do swanny duties of helping in the feedzone and being a lifesaver! This was much appreciated!

Favorite part of the day: The car ride home 70 miles from the top of Mogollon was with Michael, Clara and Flavia. I fought the urge to nap hard and listened and absorbed some of the coolest lessons for the bike and life to date! What an awesome experience. Hands down, that 6 hour period provided me with more learning, feedback, and development than I have received in half a racing season. Being part of a team with the goal of development for a weekend was truly an honor. I almost took notes.

Wednesday, May 4

Before I forget, I raced the Tour of the Gila...

Redlands pretty much kicked me in the shin. Repeatedly. I got a nasty chest/head cold after and my shoulder/scapula are still quite inflamed. But I was excited about what was in store for the rest of the season and got back to training like a retard the week after. I took a brief hiatus from the local race scene to heal and train, only to reappear at Devil's Punch Bowl road race and get my front wheel taken out from under me at the 20 minute mark. WHAM. Smack on the asphalt, same shoulder, same knee. And same scenario which I now embrace whole heartily - Chasing...

Needless to say that weekend was tough. But as Brian says, we have bigger fish to fry. And more specifically, I was heading to The Tour of the Gila! A fabled 5 day stage race in the Land of Enchantment - New Mexico, 6,500-7,500ft above sea level, blustery 50 mph winds, and climbing that rivals Breathless Agony. I thought Redlands was tough with 4 stages, one being a 3.1 mile prologue, followed by a relatively flat 74 mile road race, a 60 minute crit, and rad Sunset loop of about 68 miles. But that was just the prelude.

Day 1 - 73.1 miles with a load of climbing
Day 2 - 77.90 mile road race with again, climbing
Day 3 - 16.5 time trial, on a hill
Day 4 - 25 lap/27 mile crit which lasted 1:10. That's nuts. With more than a bump in it.
Day 5 - The mystic Gila Monster road race, 71.2 miles of pure gnar gnar!

The Team:
Director Michael Engleman invited Beatrice Rodriguez (Sc Velo local mosher) and I to join the crew of Flavia Oliveira - teeny tiny Brazilian climber and all around rad chick as Clara Hughes raced her comeback event, after not racing since 2003. She has spent the last 8 years speed skating and holds 6 Olympic medals in cycling and speed skating. Only one of 2 people in the world to have received medals in both winter and summer events. But that's just the tangible stuff. The conversations with this team will be remembered forever, acting as a huge catalyst for my training to come.

Hopefully over the next few days i will be able to re-hash the hilarity, excruciatingly painful levels of suffering, the on-the-bike in services, physical and mental adaptation, the trust, and the amazing experience that being part of a general classification win was and is.

Yes, Clara came back with a bang winning the TT, Crit, and GC.

And for me, I did not crash, flat, mechanical, or cry. And I finished. Second to last, with an ear-to-ear grin.