A Reflection on Longest Offseason Ever and a 2019 Plan

Finally… I can’t go on without some structure and goals.

My year-long Longest Offseason Ever break has evolved (devolved?) in to feeling uncomfortably unstructured in my everyday life (other than work). As of late, I’ve literally felt envious when I’ve seen other athletes talk anything training related. I can’t stand it much longer. I’d wanted to do a better job at making the break something fun and exciting to follow along with, but it turns out, I needed a break from that as well. I’m all breaked out now, though.

The hard truth is, I take shit care of myself when I don’t feel the need to recover and maximize my training efforts. It’s like, “well, my body is useless now, so why bother?” I eat too much junk food, I stay up looking at dumb memes on the internet instead of reading a book so that I sleep better, I drink too much alcohol, I don’t exercise very often, and I haven’t done yoga more than a handful of times for a long time. My body feels like a tent rather than a temple.
It’s a hard thing to accept because bike racing doesn’t always make me happy (I wouldn’t have taken a year off if it did). However, it feels like having that external motivation is the only way I can be motivated to not treat myself like a garbage dump. When “normal” people look at an athlete and wonder, “what internal demons is he/she running from?” well… there you go. Future me will have to face this demon again at some point, but for now, I’m going to keep running.

So, its time to come up with a plan for next year. When I lived in Denver, it was easy to hop over to Winter Park on a Saturday and bang out a 2 hour race, then come home in time to have a beer and relax for the afternoon. I love that about cross country, but since I don’t have that within a reasonable distance of my house any more, I’ve got to look elsewhere.

This is where y’all come in. I don’t have many good ideas for races that are new and exciting (to me) other than The Lake City Alpine 50 (a new event for 2019 that looks absolutely gorgeous), and whatever Vapor Trail 125 evolves into. Both of those are late-ish in the season, so I’m looking to add to the front end. There’s always the early June Vail GoPro games as well… as much as I hate Vail, it’s got a wicked singlespeed payout.

Once I’ve got a season plan, I’ve been toying with the idea of a coach. For me, having someone to be accountable to is a huge motivation. I don’t know if it’s in my budget, though. If I can’t figure that part out, I have TrainerRoad, which is a great training program that I’ve experienced good results with. It’s a great “plan B,” but it’s just not the same as having a live human put forth the effort to hand over a program and me dutifully destroy it (in a good way).

For Sale- Trek Boone 52cm Cyclocross Bike

The Boone is an awesome, light, bike, but I had the opportunity to get something that’s a little better suited for the riding that I do now (lots of jeep roads and no cyclocross racing). I wish I’d had a bike like this when I first started racing cyclocross, because I paid almost as much for the singlespeed Surly I did my first races on as what I’m selling this for…

It’s rim brake (with Tektro mini-v brakes), SRAM Red 10 speed (11-26 cassette) with a Force carbon crank (50/34), Industry Nine road tubeless wheels, Kenda Slant Six tubeless tires, FSA Carbon compact-bend bars (40cm wide at the hoods). It’s got a couple of little scratches and dings, but it’s in really nice shape overall. I hope I get to see it slay some races with someone else, because I never got back in to racing cyclocross after moving to CO.

Price: $1400 shipped anywhere in the lower 48 states

Email Andrea at brickhouseracing dot com if you’re interested

Weighs 15.9 as pictured

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Longest Offseason Ever Update

The best thing about Longest Offseason Ever is that it’s a malleable, flexible thing. My original thoughts and plans involved a lot of running and no real training plan. Then, I came down with raging plantar faciitis. It’s a lot better now, but I’ve scaled that part of my summer down to a lot of hiking later in the summer (more on that in a minute).

Pretty quickly after I decided that I wanted a year-long offseason, I also figured out that without a goal to work towards and train for, I am not a happy person. So, I’ve made a June FKT (fastest known time) ride on the Rainbow Trail my goal. The timing is just right so that I can train really hard for it and then coast with amazing fitness though the high-country-big-ride-season that starts sometime in July. The FKT ride isn’t a super high-pressure thing, either. There is currently no FKT for a mountain bike passage on the Rainbow Trail (at least non that I can find on the internet). I literally just have to finish and accurately record my time and a GPS track. I want to do well, of course, but I also don’t have a time goal with which to pressure myself. From what I’ve gathered, a good moto rider can do it in 10-12 hours, and I’ve found a report from a runner that did it in 31ish hours.

As for the hiking part, that will be in the form of scouting for elk (I hope). I’ve applied for the elk draw to hunt this fall for a cow elk in Game Unit 56. It’s the most rugged one in the area, which I’m banking on for my success. I plan on systematically wandering the mountains a couple of days at a time to elk-watch and then hopefully put food in my freezer come fall. I find out if I got a tag in June, so I should be able to start the scouting soon after my FKT ride. If you want an idea of just *how* rugged, go to yer Googler, search for “Colorado Game Unit Map” and look at 56. Then, take a look at CalTopo.com and check out the contours (that link should hopefully take you to a map of the area). Spoiler alert- there are two 14ers in there, and the westernmost boundary is the Continental Divide.
I’ve hunted since I was a kid… personally, I believe that if you’re going to eat meat, it’s the most ethical and healthy way to do so.

Other than a continually evolving plan, Salida life goes on… Episode 2 of Longest Offseason Ever is up on MBR YouTube if you want to see how that goes.

New Things and Wild Places

One of my favorite things about aging in the mountains is the constant opportunity to experience new things. This winter, I’ve been learning how to ski. I decided (as usual?) to go with whatever is most difficult first (downhill/resort skiing is not an option on my budget). So, I went to the Nordic Center near Leadville and took a skate skiing lesson.

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I absolutely loved it. The only hangup I have with it is the need for a groomed track. If I lived in Leadville or Crested Butte, I’d be all over it. I just can’t imagine driving 1-2 hours to recreate if I don’t have to. So, next I tried my second choice- classic skiing, not on a groomed track… attractive because it can be done anywhere up until you start getting into steeper terrain, which, for now, I avoid because I know just enough about avalanches to know that I don’t know nearly enough about avalanches to venture into their territory. I rented a set from Salida Mountain Sports a couple of times and then took the plunge with a set of my own.

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They’re a slightly wider (for an XC ski), metal edge, waxless ski. With the help of the experts at Salida Mountain Sports, we settled on these because I’ve got more than enough fitness to haul them around, they’re better for non-groomed places than narrower skis (we all know how I am about non-groomed places), and the width/edge will help with my current lack of handling skills. I had a couple of fun adventures up Hancock Road (of Vapor Trail 125 infamy) right off the bat-

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Of course, I had to start mixing things up almost immediately.

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You can watch a little video of that one over on the Mountain Bike Radio YouTube Channel: https://youtu.be/vA0lYCYL9q4

I plan on skiing somewhere else tomorrow morning, though I’m not sure exactly where yet. The weather is currently “socked in.” Salida has a magical property about its weather. When storms move through, the surrounding mountains will be invisible with snow clouds. More often than not, we get wind and sun… occasionally a few inches of snow, but the donut hole of fair weather corrals the city more often than not.

Such was the case this morning. I decided I’d ride my newest bike- the Ibis Hakka MX, on a road loop I’ve dubbed the Dirty Shavano Loop (mostly because of the fantastic views of Mt. Shavano you get on the way up).

https://www.strava.com/activities/1415756750

The wind was blustery on the way out (as I expected), but the sun was shining and made 38 degrees feel more like 50. I stopped and took a bunch of pictures on the way up.

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Once you’re at the FS252/250 split in the last pic (also Vapor trail 125 infamy), you cruise through several extremely peaceful meadows right under the watch of the Angel of Shavano. The meadow is about as close as you can get to the mountains and still get a sense of how large and vast they are before you’re close enough to just be “on” the mountain itself. Once you turn at the split, there are a few north-facing areas to navigate. They’re starting to hold a good bit of snow (finally).

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Eventually, you hit Droney Gulch (where CR250 turns right and becomes CR251-1 on the Strava map) and start descending quickly back towards Highway 285. It was there that the sun disappeared completely, and the wind went from “just there” to “holy s**t.” As I plummeted from ~9k feet to 7something, the temperature went down just as quickly. I had to stop several times and warm my hands up inside my gloves, and, as I reached the highway crossing, the wind and snow became suddenly blinding.

Within a couple of miles of crossing the highway, the sun was out, and the valley air was warm again. I looked behind me (towards the mountains I’d just been in) for the first time since I started my descent, and they were engulfed in a snow cloud.

Just missed it.

So, for the first time in my 36.5ish years of living, I was chased by a snow storm.

I’ll never forget, back when I was in Salida to race VT125 when I was chased down Chalk Creek by a thunderstorm for the first time. I had no idea that it was the first of many. Getting chased out of the mountains by bad weather seems like a basic rite of passage. I’m quickly learning that there’s something about an approaching storm that you don’t have to see to know that you need to GTFO RIGHT NOW.
I first noticed it when I ignored it (once, and only once) when I lived in Blackhawk and got pounded by hail on Rollins Pass. The next time I felt uneasy when headed upwards, I listened and turned around. The storm I avoided produced lightning that struck 15 hikers on a nearby 14er (and killed a dog). Today, I didn’t consciously register that the sun was gone and the wind speed had doubled… I just knew that I needed to be down lower, faster. It wasn’t a super gnarly storm or anything, but it hit that part of my subconsciousness that’s like, “yo… you need to be someplace besides where you are, and you should go there quickly.”

This place has an amazing wildness about it. I feel like I’ve only just begun to find all of its corners and edges.

 

Some Balance

While I feel lighter after getting all of my feelings out in my last post, I do feel the need to balance it by expressing thanks to the people/companies who helped me during the years that I bike raced out of Memphis.

Like I said- there are definitely a handful of people who weren’t bullies or jerks, and those people are still sticking around reading and watching my adventures to this day. Y’all know who you are. I do, too. I really appreciate your kindness. No, really… Those last few years in Memphis, I was having a hard time with depression, anxiety, and PTSD from getting hit by a car at Rouge Roubaix, and seeing a wave on the road/trail or having a friendly face in the bike shop sometimes felt like all that was keeping me going.

I had some really good local sponsors, too.
Outdoors Inc. stuck with me while I was trying to hustle sponsors from all over to support my endurance and cyclocross racing campaigns, and they support other local athletes as well. They’re a good employer and one of Memphis’ only outdoor-knowledgeable places to shop.
Nimblewear Clothing is another excellent company. I’ve worn my kits from them until they’ve become embarrassingly thin in the shorts. Not only are their clothes and designs awesome, but they were willing to flow me a couple of special one-ofs, like the short sleeve Interbike CX-Vegas skinsuit. I still wear that one on occasion.
Urban Fitness Kickboxing is also one, not necessarily cycling-related. I’ve explained my past curiosity of MMA here before, and Jon Trent at UFK was willing to take me under his wing and show me how to fight. Sure, it ended up with me having an extra broken nose, but, well, you don’t always win. I learned that long before I ever tried fighting off of two wheels. When he sold the gym to new owner Eric Ingram, Eric was happy to let me keep coming in to train Jiu Jitsu with him. When I got to The Training Camp in Denver, the comment I got from the first roll with an instructor was, “someone put a lot of time in to you.” Jon and Eric are good people. Coaching someone takes so much mental and physical energy that I don’t know if I can ever do enough to repay them for their help.

Moving on to the regional level, I want to shoutout to Industry Nine and Cysco Cycles. While they weren’t in Memphis, they were close enough to have a local-regional feel to them. I still love I9 hubs more than other hubs. Way more. I just can’t always afford to build wheels with them when a stock bike comes with something that’s “OK enough” to not bother me. Cysco built me two amazing custom titanium bikes, but, now that I’ve searched the interwebs, I realize that they are not around anymore. Kinda sucky. The unicorn of a road bike was extra-amazing.

Finally, even though they aren’t at all regional to the South, I have to send one last extra shoutout to Gu Energy Labs. They have literally sponsored me, in some way, shape, or form, since the beginning… like, used to have to fill out a paper order form and fax it in beginning. I’ve gone to races I wouldn’t have been able to go to with their help. This year is no different- I’m in the 2018 Salty’s Squad, which gives me some extra stoke to train for my upcoming adventures.

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Thanks to everyone who has helped me. I appreciate each and every one of you, whether it was through sponsorship or just the act of “being nice,” you’ve all helped me more than you probably realized.

Visiting Memphis, a Realization

In the midst of trying to figure out how to make something interesting out of the #longestoffseasonever, I’ve taken a trip to Memphis to visit my parents. Now I’m sitting around the cabin drinking a Delerium Tremens (thanks, Aunt Leslie), and trying to figure out how to put all of my last week feelings out through the keyboard. I don’t want this post to sound totally negative, but the last week has brought up a lot of emotions, and this is my way of hashing through it all.

This is the first time I’ve come back to Memphis since I moved to Salida, and the second since I moved to Colorado back in March of 2015. I don’t really feel like Memphis is “home” anymore… on several levels. Sure, my parents are there. Also, John, the dude who coached me into my MMA adventures is there, and even though I’ve got some more experience from ATOS Denver, he still whoops my ass pretty hard. Other than that, I don’t really have a draw to it. When I let social media know I was visiting, the only contact I got was a dude I sort of knew from working at Outdoors letting me know he’d like to meet for a drink (ew). Not that I’m basing all of the upcoming text on a single post on social media… that was just a little kindling to the fire I’ve felt about Memphis ever since the last bit of time before I moved.

Riding trails there was less fun than I remember. All of the old issues I used to fight when I lived there are still there- go-arounds to anything barely difficult, and all of the “usual” muddy spots and low spots are 10 feet wide and/or extremely rutted. The difference now is that I can just roll my eyes and be glad that it’s no longer my problem rather than be subjected to what could verge on bullying because I have the gall to tell someone that they’re doing it wrong when they ride a partially wet trail or build a (really, really terrible) new trail, in a protected natural area, when there are a shit-ton of trail drainage/erosion problems just a half mile away from where they’re spending the time to build a (really, really terrible) new trail that’s 100% bandit/illegal (but un-enforced, because “Memphis”)

I digress…

I have my parents in Memphis. I have a really friendly place where I can play Jiu Jitsu/MMA any time I visit. I have very few people I can call friends in Memphis (you all are probably reading this, and know who you are). I had people I’d hang out with by proxy to my previous relationship. I don’t think many of them would have anything to do with me now.

I wasn’t just friendships, either. I spent most of my cycling life looking for a sliver of recognition that I was doing pretty damn well at bikes. Even though I was arguably the most successful cyclist in The City (road, mountain, and cyclocross), no one really gave a fuck.
Maybe it was because my successes were under the veil of being female (once the Commercial Appeal printed a story congratulating the second male cyclist in town on getting a cat 1 upgrade as being the ‘2nd Cat 1 cyclist in the city’ after the first dude. Problem was, I’d already had a Cat 1 designation for at least a year, which technically made him the 3rd Cat 1 in town). People just shrugged when corrected on this.
Maybe it played on others’ insecurities that, once I felt like a big fish in a small pond, I went straight out to the damn ocean.
Maybe I just wasn’t “womanly” enough for anyone to even want to notice the shit I was doing. I’ll never forget when I heard about a local dude who referred to me as “Mandrea” and said that I didn’t count as part of the female population of cyclists in town. I guess my hair was too short, I was too outspoken, too confident, too intimidating, too… whatever.
Forget the fish… I was a large black sheep in a small pasture.

medals
(My parents have all of the state/national/world championship medals hung up at their Syllamo cabin)

I’m genuinely happy in Colorado and in Salida, especially.
During the Vapor Trail 125 race, Aid Station 1 was basically a collection of all of the amazing people I’ve met since I’ve moved here. I rolled in feeling somewhat burnt out, and left there feeling like I could destroy anything the race course could possibly present to me. They literally turned my race around with their support. I feel appreciated, included, and like I might actually have a friend or two.
It’s hard to have a relationship with a city for 30something years of your life and then figure out, “You know what? You’re dead to me.” I’m OK with that- It’s like removing a toxic person from your life, but on the scale of an entire city. I’ve found a really good place where I feel like I’ve integrated into the community, and where I’m genuinely enjoying life. Nowhere is all the way perfect, but here, I’m not utilizing any of my mental energy to convince myself that I’m happy. I sort of knew it before I visited, and the visit just solidified my feelings of “home” for my mountain town.

Edit to add: Here’s my theme song for watching Memphis disappear in my rearview mirror…

Prepping for #longestoffseasonever

As Winter is (very) slowly starting to take a hold on the mountains, my plans for the next year are starting to gel. First order of business- learning how to ski. I’m still holding fast on part of my original plan of “winging it” on some of the local railroad grade and trail for classic-style Nordic skiing. However, I’m slightly modifying that with taking some skate skiing lessons at Tennessee Pass first. I’ll likely be on rental skis until I really figure out what I like and how far I’m willing to travel for the sake of exercise. Leadville is about an hour and half away, but considering I used to commute 45 minutes each way (on low traffic days), 5 days per week in Denver/Boulder, I don’t think one day a week of driving to Leadville is a big deal. There’s hardly any traffic, and the scenery is, well… effing amazing. Skate skiing seems like a pretty amazing way to build some Winter fitness, but it takes some groomed trails. Classic skiing is closer, but I’m not sure if I’ll enjoy it quite as much. Time and experience will tell.

My main 2018 objectives are set on three specific feats of strength- the 200something mile bikepacking route I’ve plotted (and failed to complete because of cold/weather/Raynaud’s), Rainbow Trail in a Day (on bike), and a traverse of the north half of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range (on foot). Rainbow Trail on foot is still in the back of my mind for sure, but the other two are top priority at the moment.
I’d likely take on the Sangre traverse with my newly found friend Liz, who I met at the group runs out of 7000 Feet Running Company (the “LRS” of Salida). Liz and I have already tackled some pretty rad day hikes in the Sangres- Like the one where we tried to go to Electric Peak, but there were 40-50ish mph winds at the saddle we’d aimed for prior to traversing the ridgeline to the peak. So, we took this pic and went back from where we’d come from.

Liz

The process involved with prepping for those goals over the winter is equally as demanding as prepping for a race season (if not moreso). Rainbow Trail in a day is no easy task. It’s likely going to take longer than any other 100-mile race I’ve ever faced. At the same time, I need to maintain an ability to travel quickly on foot to keep the North Sangres Traverse in mind.

I’ve been basically JRA (R=riding/running) since Vapor Trail. I’m going to visit Memphis and Arkansas sometime after New Year’s. Following that, I plan on increasing my running distance while simultaneously beginning some trainer workouts and adding in Nordic Skiing to get me prepped for another strenuous bout of early season riding. It worked out well for racing last season, so I’m hoping to get the same killer legs for next summer.

While I’m back Southeast, I might do this:
http://www.runarkansas.com/ABF/index.htm

I did it once back in the day. Depending on how I’m feeling, I might give it another go. It’s billed as the most difficult trail marathon east of the Rockies. Honestly, after being out here for a few years now, I’d say it’s on par, short of the high elevation. I’ve had a touch of plantar faciitis, but I feel like I’ve got it well-controlled by switching from Altra shoes to La Sportivas and adding some custom insoles to the shoes I stand in at work every day.

I always try to keep an open mind for whatever comes up, but it’s nice to have at least a vague direction to travel in to.

Longest Offseason Ever

I can’t tell you the number of racing years that I’ve reached the middle of the race season and thought, “I’d really love to go do _________, but I have to stay ready for ________ bike race.” I have quelled that thought countless number of times- my heart lies in both adventure and in competition, so I’ve let the competition side win every time.

Next year will be something different.

In the world of training periodization, the post-season (what I talked about in my previous blog entry) would be considered taking a break. The Off-season is when you lay the foundation for pre-season and in-season training. Off-season training is often less specific (at least in the early phases). It often includes strength training and other sports that can build similar fitness to the demands of your sport (for example- if you’re a road cyclist, you probably wouldn’t make gymnastics or table tennis  your off-season sport for training, but you might mountain bike, run, hike, play soccer, or XC ski… things that require cardiovascular endurance that aren’t necessarily riding a road bike).

So, in the spirit of Phil Gaimon’s “Worst Retirement Ever,” I’m taking on the “Longest Off-Season Ever.” I have no plans other than to take on whatever the mountains call me into.

Ok, well, that’s sort of a lie. I have several things I want to do but that I’m leaving myself open to not doing if they just don’t work out:

-Bikepack my big regional loop that I failed on in September
-Summit all of the peaks >13k feet within that loop (human-powered only for the approach to them would be a bonus)
-Rainbow Trail in a day on bike (on or around the summer solstice, most likely)
-Rainbow Trail on foot in <30 hours

I’m not saying I won’t go to any bike races, running races, burro races, or the like. I’m just saying that my focus is going to be taking a year off from planning my outdoor activities around the goal of bike racing. I feel like I’ve always bike raced not just in the spirit of competition, but also in search of new trails and challenges. For me, that latter aspect of bike racing has died off. While there’s lots I haven’t done, I feel like my sample of racing successes are representative of some of the most challenging events in the sport. The first few that come to mind:
– Three seasons of NUE 100s, the middle season being totally singlespeed and still finishing 5th overall in the series for Pro Women (also finishing 5th overall in the 3rd season, but with a geared bike).
– Breck Epic 3x singlespeed, with 2x 2nd place finishes and 1 win.
– Dirty Kanza 200, 3rd overall woman
– Vapor Trail 125 win and “new” course record.

Races, no matter how difficult, technical, etc, are still required to stay within the confines of permits, emergency access, course marking/sweeping, aid station support, and general safety for their participants. I’m looking to take on feats of endurance that are outside of those confines.

mountains

Now, for the “audience participation” part of the show. How do you want to watch this? Should I keep doing like I have with spotty blog posts and most frequent pictures on social media? Or, should I move forward into the increasing popularity of the YouTube Channel? All of those? At some point, Time becomes a factor (the infrequency of blog posts being example #1). I kinda feel like uploading a video blog might be easier. I’ve definitely videoed my thoughts while out on previous adventures only to delete them later for one reason or another.

Hit me up.  I’m here to entertain. You let me know the vehicle.

The Post-Season: a search for normalcy

The weekend after Vapor Trail, I ended up racing the Banana Belt XC race as part of the Salida Bike Fest. I didn’t want to go at it singlespeed, so I rode the Viral Skeptic- a belt-driven, pinion-geared hardtail. It’s a fun bike, and I like where the belt/pinion combo is headed, but it’s definitely suited to more burly riding than cross-country racing. Nevertheless, I won the race… barely. There was a nice write-up in the local paper.

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Thus begins the post-season few weeks of emotional turmoil. It’s hard to describe, because it starts out as a feeling of relief, but then spirals into feelings of emotional turmoil and drinking too often. You’re trying to act “normal,” but athletes don’t usually do a good job of being normal people. I thought that I was the only one who felt like that until Josh Tostado came through town a couple of weeks ago, and we hung out over a beer. I found out that not only do we eat exactly the same way during races (a gel flask supplemented by whatever looks tasty at aid stations), his description of activities following Vapor Trail was similar to mine.

So, yeah… my level of normal is “Josh Tostado.” I’m cool with that, though.

The weekend after Banana Belt, I wanted to knock off and bikepack in the mountains a bit. I loaded up the Viral and set out with an ambitious route. I only made it one night, though. The forecast before I’d left on Thursday morning called for nice weather until Saturday afternoon. I figured I could manage a half day of bad weather. I packed for it. However, Friday morning, the wind was insane and the skies were dark. I stopped in the St. Elmo general store for a snack and extra coffee, and the store owner spoke of bad weather moving in early. Apparently, it had already snowed on the other side of the Continental Divide (where I was headed). I pressed on up Tincup Pass, but before I could reach the top, I encountered more wind and winter precipitation in the form of graupel. I didn’t know graupel was a thing until I moved to Colorado. It’s like spoonfuls of shaved ice being thrown from the clouds.

Bad circulation in my hands is something I’ve battled since I was a kid going duck hunting with my dad. It’s only gotten worse with age. Despite my preparedness in water/windproof clothing and chemical heat packs for my warmest gloves, the brief chill I experienced on Tincup went straight into my hands and turned them into useless flippers. I couldn’t bear the thought of dealing with early bouts of bad weather and bad circulation for the whole trip (as opposed to just half a day), so I turned and went home. As I got lower/away from the weather and felt the circulation return to my hands, I stopped and took these photos-

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Part of turning around goes back to my “trying to be normal” part of the post-season. I’ve pushed myself though the same discomfort of loss of hand circulation *conservatively* hundreds of times by now during the racing/training process. My bikepacking trip was supposed to be fun, and, battling cold and snow, even with all of the clothes I needed to be safe and warm, wasn’t going to be fun. However, it’s hard not to view quitting as just that- quitting. If you’ve ever wondered how I keep going when races or training rides seem physically impossible, it’s because the emotional pain that I experience when I quit is far worse than any pain of pressing on in difficult situations.

At least I got some nice photos while I was out…

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I’m slowly starting to get my shit back together and getting back into my safe space of being an athlete. I’ve gone for  couple of hikes, started running a little, and started a little light weight training with a local trainer. I’ve kept the riding somewhat short and fun, and I hope to get in to some snow-related activities once winter really sets in (if my hands can tolerate it). I’ve shopped a little for heated gloves- holy crap, they’re expensive. I’m hoping I’ll have some cash left over for a set once the 429sl sells and I’ve purchased its replacement.

 

Vapor Trail 125

This is a long one- settle in with a snack.

I approached Vapor Trail 125 with an attitude of strategic indifference. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from racing it once and listening to the stories of others, it’s that if you set lofty expectations other than “do everything you can to ensure finishing strong” then you will often fail miserably. I held any other goals as well as the expectations of others at arms’ length, making my only goal an easy one- apply my improved fitness, experience, and elevation acclimatization to this year’s race and better my previous time of 17 hours, 36 minutes. That’s it- go faster than Memphis Me from 2014.

One thing that’s a bane to all racers is what to do on Saturday before the race other than lay around desperately trying to take a nap. Lucky me- the local farm-to-table had a field-gleaning day. They opened up the leftovers of the corn, broccoli, and cabbage harvest to the public to come in and take whatever they could find for free.

field1

broccoli

Matt and I picked for a couple of hours and then went home and took to processing it all. We blanched corn and broccoli for hours and ended up with a freezer full of veggies for the winter:

freezer

I had several gallons of broth in there prior to harvesting the veggies, so that went in the fridge to thaw. Yesterday, Matt turned the thawed broth and various veggie/potato additions in to nearly 8 gallons of soup. We’re pretty set for the winter now.

I digress…

So, most of my day was spent thinking about the vegetable blanching and freezing process. Around 5pm, we were winding down and cleaned up, so I ate dinner and got all of my stuff prepped for the 10pm race start. My plan was to sustain myself off of mostly Gu Roctane gel and blueberry pomegranate drink mix. I’d grab some solid food from the aid stations as needed and carry a Snickers bar in case I got hungry between (which I did, given that the time and effort between aids one and two is long and the most difficult portion of the course).

All of the black and white pictures coming up were shot by Jeff Kerkove as part of Ergon’s coverage/support of the race.

I’m not sure who came up with the number plate strategy of distributing them in alphabetical order, but they did, so I ended up with plate number one. I felt weird about it. That number is “supposed” to go to the previous year’s winner, and they handed it to me with Josh Tostado (said winner) in line behind me. I briefly begged letting us exchange numbers, but it was already set in race-stone.

absolute

number

map

That last one is my coffee table. The map of this area stays open there 24/7 as a permanent fixture.

I sat around drinking beet juice until the last possible minute before changing and rolling to the start a block from the house.

lineup2

lineup

start

The race begins with the most neutral rollout of any race in endurance racing history. We get a couple of miles out of town, stop for a pee/clothing adjustment break, then roll slow for a couple more miles until we get across highway 285 (safely crossing the highway as a group is the main priority for the neutral rollout). Not long after the crossing, the course turns up CR 250 towards the Colorado Trail, and the race is on.

I stayed at the very front of the group during the rollout for safety reasons, and as soon as the race started up the first road/climb, I settled into the pace I’d hold for the rest of the night and part of the next day. A lot of people passed me- according to Earl (VT125 Moto official and Manager at Absolute Bikes), who was recording numbers/times of racers as they entered the Colorado Trail, there were only 9 people behind me (out of 46 starters). I knew that there were a handful of women ahead of me, including Tracy Thelan (VT125 veteran and seasoned endurance racer). She’d taken off really fast at the start, and I knew that chasing at that time was a bad idea.

The Colorado Trail was in great shape. Afternoon rain showers meant hero dirt, so the traction was beautiful. I was feeling strong and really starting to warm up, but resisted the urge to burn any matches. I took it easy down the last CT descent (holy sketchballs) and rolled in to the first aid station. At that point, I was a little sleepy and the course ahead was daunting. However, at Aid 1, I saw a bunch of 92Fifty friends. It was a highly motivating and uplifting place to pass through at that time of night- exactly what I needed before riding off into the meat of the course.

The next few hours was more of the same. I paced myself, ate, drank, played songs in my head, and generally tried to think positive thoughts. The time flew by quickly, and, soon enough I was on the final hike-a-bike up Granite Mountain before dropping down Canyon Creek to Aid 2. I’d been only using my handlebar light on low for the anything that was non-technical climbing, and near the top of the hike, that battery finally died. It surprised me a little, and I exclaimed, “Oh, perfect timing!” The person hiking just ahead startled at my exclamation and took off up the trail. I then realized that I’d caught Tracy (for the first time).

I wasn’t in a hurry to chase at that point. It was <50 miles into the race, and the upcoming descent was really rowdy in some spots. I plugged in my backup battery, zipped my jacket, ate a snack, and generally made myself cozy before turning on the high beams and rallying down the mountain. I have some great lights (Light & Motion Seca 2000 on both handlebar and helmet), and I comfortably set a PR time down to the final bump in the trail before Aid 2.

At Aid 2, I saw Tom Purvis, and he let me know that Tracy had just left before I got there. I hit up the bathroom, refilled bottles, and ate a piece of breakfast sausage. I knew that the climb up Monarch Pass was the only thing between me and warm, dry socks and shoes. It’s also one of the parts of the course that poses the largest mental test to racers- you’ve been awake, pedaling all night, and the climb is a monotonous 9.25 miles of gravel road. The combination of sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion can be overwhelming.

I didn’t feel good up the climb, but I expected that. The sun hadn’t risen over the top of the mountains, so my body was still wondering why TF it hadn’t slept all night, and, though my pacing/eating/hydration were good, my legs and stomach were whiny. My back hurt a lot from carrying a *pack and helmet light all night.

*The pack didn’t have water in it- just my light battery and my “Alpine Kit” that I always carry  when I’m going to be in the backcountry and up high for long enough to get hypothermic if I were to get caught in rain/thunder. It’s a waterproof jacket, rain pants, warm gloves, and a thin wool hat. I feel irresponsible carrying less for outings at Vapor Trail elevations. It’s saved me more than once.

I had to really work to keep it together up that climb. The back pain was terrible, though the immense amount of discomfort was doing a good job of keeping me from falling asleep while riding. My legs kept trying to slow down, but I willed them on with the thought of dropping the pack and switching to a lightweight helmet at the next aid station. I finally made it up the pass and across the short, but seemingly endless section of Continental Divide Trail that connects Old Monarch Pass to (new) Monarch Pass.

At Aid 3, I caught up to Tracy again. She was about to leave as I rolled in. I felt bad, so I dumped my bike on the ground and immediately started the process of doing what I needed to do to feel better. Right then, I was only thinking about survival and finishing, but, in the back of my mind, I knew that the short break, lightening of my clothes, and sunlight above treeline were probably going to bring me out of my hole.

Also, they had bacon and peanut butter sandwiches, which magically sounded like the most delicious thing in the world, even though my body had been rejecting all thoughts of solid food prior to that moment.

DSC00773

DSC00774

Matt was there to help out and take photos of my exhaustion.

It’s easy to dwell too long at Monarch. Everyone is nice, there’s food, and the asphalt is warm to sit on.

The knowledge that it’s possible to emerge from the sort of hole I was in is something that you only gain through many races of experience. Very slowly, the pain lessened in my back, and the full sunlight brought some awareness back to my senses. My body started to come back online, and I was able to dig up the strategy I’d thought of the night before- go back to the same pace I’d started with and then start going harder after negotiating the Starvation Creek/Poncha Creek loop.

Crest

I can only assume that all of the people being shuttled up there were told that there’d be Vapor Trail 125 racers on the Monarch Crest trail, because everyone I passed seemed to let me by quickly.

The Marshall Pass aid station sits at the top of the Starvation/Poncha Creek loop, so you pass it twice. When I arrived there, my coworkers Leah and Roland were there and let me know that Tracy had JUST left. I drank some warm Coke and saw some sort of monstrosity of a creme-filled maple-glazed doughnut that looked like the best thing in the world, so I crammed half of it in my mouth and left the other half for my return trip.

The Starvation Creek jeep road that leads to the trail takes you up a mind-melting series of rollers that seem to get progressively steeper and longer. Every time you think you’re finished with them, another bigger/steeper one is in front of you. It was there that I caught Tracy. She was walking. I got off to walk a particularly steep pitch, passed her, and then got back on my bike to ride the last one. I didn’t look back… I just started riding as if she were going full-gas to chase me down.

Somehow, at that point, it was as if I hadn’t been riding all night. I set a PR time down the Starvation Creek singletrack, then, when I made the turn to go back up Poncha Creek road, I was able to settle right back in to climb it at a decent pace. I encountered Earl on his moto about halfway up the climb, and his enthusiasm of seeing me leading the race snowballed into my energy up the climb. I ended up with the Strava QOM for the loop, knocking it out in an hour and a half.

At the top, there was some thunder in the distance. I inhaled the other half of my magical doughnut, filled just one bottle, and took off as quickly as possible. The course from there is mostly downhill (except for the parts where it’s not), so I switched from endurance pace to cross-country pace (well, as close to XC pace as you can get at mile 90something). At the top of the Silver Creek trail, I paused briefly to slam some Roctane gel and some water in order to ensure a strong finishing pace on the Rainbow Trail at the bottom.

I miraculously felt like the remainder of the course flew by. I had no idea how far back Tracy was, but I kept riding as if she were closing in fast any time I’d let up. I rolled in to the parking lot of Absolute Bikes at 2:16pm- finishing time of 16 hours and 16 minutes, and 11th overall…

finish

As soon as I sat down, my backbone was the only thing providing my body with any structural integrity

finish2

Link to Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1178438336

Winning Vapor Trail is something I didn’t think I’d ever do. I’ve felt burnt out on endurance races for a hot minute now, so the fact that I wanted to push myself that hard was somewhat surprising (Cross Country is whole ‘nother thing that I’ve been thoroughly enjoying). I feel like this performance was a perfect last chapter to the previous 6 years of endurance-distance competitions. It feels a little conflicted, because I’ve finally gotten good at it. But, knowing how to race a 100 miler means nothing if you don’t have the motivation to do it.

The long races have always served me as a vehicle for seeing new trail and new adventure. Now, living in Salida in such close proximity to so many new trails and new adventures, I am ready to explore outside the confines of the race course.