Ouachita Challenge Race Report

You may have noticed that I didn’t post anything about training last week. Basically, last weekend, I had a wicked sore throat, and it developed into a full-on upper respiratory infection by Monday afternoon. I was on the couch/walking dead for most of the week before I finally started to turn the corner on Thursday. I was left with a lingering cough and just enough head congestion to produce epic snot rockets (both of which are still lingering… I woke up coughing and snotty this morning).

The original plan for the race was for Ryan, Matt, and me to board the dogs and all three pack up & camp at Todd “Antique Gun Show” Henne’s   property that sits just off the Womble trail about 20 minutes from the Race start (includes a sweet pump track as well). However, Thursday evening, Ryan stabbed himself in the thumb meat with a knife while trying to break into his Apple Time Capsule to replace the hard drive. After bleeding some and freaking out enough to pass out, Ryan figured out on Friday that he couldn’t use his right thumb to shift. So, he stayed in Memphis to road race, and Matt and I went to Arkansas.

The drive is always entertaining until Matt gets so crunk that he makes himself bonk.


We set up camp and rode a little bit of the Womble before going to packet pickup. We later discovered that there was a kennel full of barking dogs within a mile or two of Todd’s place, and we got to listen to at least one or two bark at most hours of the night. Matt was in his hammock with earplugs, so he was pretty cozy despite the noise. I can’t wear earplugs, because then I don’t sleep because I’m worried I’ll miss my alarm. So, between dogs and coughing, it was a long night.

Sunday morning, we woke up and immediately got in the car to go to Oden school for the start. Along the way, we stopped to drop a cooler full of bottles at Sims (the midpoint of the race course). After a little oatmeal and coffee, we lined up early so we’d have a good spot on the start line (the “neutral rollout” of the OC Race is pretty wild, and with Matt riding singlespeed, it was a move of both safety and strategy)


(Photo courtesy of the Ouachita Challenge/Ouachita Cycling Club FB page- for anyone wondering, Matt’s been MTB racing in a Brickhouse jersey this season since his usual team doesn’t support MTB racing. I told him it’s like a season of “tryouts” for getting in on the actual sponsor support next season)

As usual, the start was a hammerfest of bar-bumping and tire rubbing. Once the lead truck pulled out of the way, I was well-positioned around the other women who wanted to stick to the front of the race- Jessica Rawlings and another woman in a Dallas Bike Works kit. I realized (thanks to my new MTB Quarq powermeter) that as we approached the first climb, I was going a little too hard. The thing that kills a lot of people (myself included) at Ouachita is how badly you can blow yourself up at the start and on the first climb. I learned that the hard way, so this year, when Jessica and the Dallas woman pulled off with the lead men, I hung back and rode the climb at my own pace as the 3rd woman. I lost sight of Jessica, but the other woman came back to me about 3/4 of the way up. I knew I couldn’t chase Jessica at that point, so I settled in with the plan to slowly chip away at her lead as she got tired over the next 50 or so miles.

Once I was mostly up Brushy Mountain (first of 3 Ouachita Trail mountains), I was gettin’ it down the trail when I wonked my rear wheel on a rock. It started to feel a little mushy… then went flat. I made my way to the side of the trail and did what was probably the fastest trailside tube installation of my life. All the while, other ladies and riders were blowing past me (including Matt, who went by just before I got my wheel back on). It was early, so without panicking, I used the next two mountains (Blowout and Chalybeate) climbs to pick my way back through all but one of the women who had passed me earlier, landing me on the gravel/road section in 3rd position with Matt, who was somewhere in the top 10 in Singlespeed. Soon after, some geared guys came by us, and I left him to spin incessantly while I worked with them all the way to Sims.

At Sims, I did a quick bottle swap at the cooler and got back on the road. Only a couple of the guys I’d been with were close by, so I hopped in with them. We lost one guy on a hill, so me and a man on a Fisher swapped pulls until suddenly, the Dallas Bike Works woman was in sight. He pulled off and said he’d stay out of the way of our race. I caught her rear wheel just as we got back on the short section of Womble singletrack before the next aid station. When we came to a short, muddy hill, I took the soft line to the left and made the pass. With another 25 miles or so of racing ahead, I didn’t need a full-on attack, so I just stuck with the “slightly faster than you’re going” effort for the next few minutes and through the next aid to another gravel road section.

When I came out on the gravel, I could hear another rider on my wheel. Thinking it was her, I didn’t look back for a long time. When I felt like I’d pulled long enough, I checked over my shoulder and saw that the person behind me was actually the guy on the Fisher. He came around to take a pull and said something along the lines of , “you put the wood to her back there on the trail.” We’d only covered a mile or two at the most since I’d made the pass, and she was nowhere in sight.

At that point, I wasn’t feeling like a rockstar. I’ve been racing just long enough to realize that the “I’m gonna cramp later” twitch in my quads and the distance left to race was a combination that needed to be dealt with carefully. I didn’t have the gas to go for an all-out chase for the win, but I did have plenty in the tank to ride tempo in order to stay a steady 2nd and to catch 1st if she were to totally fall apart or have a major mechanical. So, I pounded some more Roctane and did just that. Jessica, however, was feeling like a rockstar, so I ended up holding on to 2nd place and finishing about 20 minutes after her (my flat change was only ~5 minutes, so it wasn’t really that pivotal in the results). My time of 5:40 is 15 better than my best effort on that course, so, given A)an upper respiratory infection, and B) this one me, exactly one month ago (to the hour) from the finish of Ouachita:



…I can’t let myself be too disappointed with not getting the win I was hoping to get as a season opener. After the race, I was still feeling the effects of my car accident. Essentially, with the physical stress of riding a mountain bike for that long, my right sacroiliac joint feels like an aluminum bike with a weak weld undergoing frame flex. It’s got me back on the ibuprophen and ice for a couple of days before I get back to my usual schedule to prep for the Whiskey 50.

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