Back to the Race

I finally feel as if there’s some sense to my training and racing this cyclocross season. After hitting several potholes at the beginning of the season, in addition to having to adjust my expectations and race schedule due to the time and energy that my final year (!!) of grad school is requiring, I was left feeling a little lost. But there’s something about racing that motivates me, even in the midst of everything else.

As soon as soccer ended I headed 4 hours east to race #3 of the North Carolina Cyclocross series in Southern Pines, NC. My usual race range is 2 hours, but I was excited to start racing and lined up a carpool. Southern Pines is famed for its sandy course, and I was ready to experience something new. The weather was hot and yes, there was a lot of sand! With only a couple weeks of consistent training in I had no great expectations but just wanted to race. The paved start was fast and I had a smooth transition from stop to start, powering into the first couple of turns. THe pace at the front was too much for me and I maxed out my HR pretty quickly. The course was a weird combo of fast and slow with fast paved and grass sections punctuated by deep slick sand. I started suffering pretty quickly, and it wasn’t a good suffer either. But as I kept reminding myself I was there to ride in the sand. So that’s what I did! I worked on my technique into the sandy pits, tried different gearing to try and make it up the sandy run-ups, and hammered/recovered on the grass. In the end I was 13 out of 14, and had accomplished my goal of racing somewhere new!!

The next weekend was spent investing some quality time into my data management class.

On November 9th I was able to travel to Salisbury for one of my favorite NCCX courses. The weather was beautiful, warm and sunny. The course was fast. There was a great turnout, making it the largest NCCX race of the year so far! I was feeling better on the bike after a great Saturday mountain bike ride with Kyle in Bent Creek. I was a little worried that I’d gone too hard in Bent Creek but didn’t care as long as I was racing. The course in Salisbury is wide and fast with lots of turns and kickers to run up or power up. A couple slick off camber sections and fat wooded section add excitement. This time my start was terrible. I was too slow and ended up on the 3rd row, but worked to get mid pack by the first turn. Then I got too impatient and tried to take the second turn tight but was pushed to the back. From there I hustled, enjoying the course, focusing on putting the hammer down when I could and keeping my performance consistent.

Photo by Don McEwan

Photo by Don McEwan

This race was good for me in that I was able to not only RACE but work on technique–higher cadence, less smash and chasing the 50+ masters who were on course with the elite women. In the end I was 13th again, but this time out of 18. Given that I essentially started in the back I’m happy with the result. It was awesome being on a course I enjoy, actually racing and not just suffering in my head.

School requirements again got in the way, making last weekend the first weekend I could head out to race again, this time in Statesville. In the past it’s been a very flat and twisty course, two elements that I am not a fan of. But knowing that it had been so long since my last race I decided to go anyway. I was happily surprised to find out it was at a new venue, and even more excited when I realized it was a mountain bike park! While there were some mountain bike features that weren’t used in the course the course was interesting with some kickers, good straightaways and fun descents. The weather was great, a little chilly to stand around in but perfect to race. I was excited, this is the last race of 2014 that I’ll race without working the event (NCGP is this weekend, and working an event takes away from the racing part a bit). I had a good warm-up, had my strategy mapped out and was ready to rock. The start was crowded and there ended up being a wreck just behind me. I was in control, avoiding the carnage and getting into the first turn with the lead pack. Things felt great, a little sluggish but I could handle that. Then something just broke. I couldn’t focus, couldn’t keep or build intensity. It sucked. And I couldn’t pull out of it. There was no reason, just a lack of focus. Given that my brain has been all over lately between school, work, the Grand Prix and bikes it’s not surprising that something had to give. I just wish it hadn’t given out in the middle of a race where I was doing well and set to finish in the low middle of the pack. But, live and learn, and turn over another pedal stroke!

Now we’re at the time for my favorite cycling event of the year! The North Carolina Cyclo-Cross Grand Prix! Not only does it take place on my home turf it’s a fun event to prepare for, work, and see all the accomplishments that take place this weekend. Follow along with the fun on the Facebook and Twitter as we get ready and put on the bike race of the year!

Changing Seasons

Looking at the last time I posted and wow. I kind of let that get away from me, didn’t I?

Well, here’s a short and sweet recap.

  • Started the second year of graduate school at North Carolina State University, as well as an elective class at the Biltmore Park Western Carolina University campus. It’s been challenging in a good way. The end is in sight for the PRTM program however, and I’m counting down to graduation in May!
  • I started a cycling team, Pure Velo Racing with the support of Crosstown Velo and Sycamore Cycles. We have some rad chicks on the team and are slowly building and getting out there.
  • It was year two for the Summer Short Track Series! A lot of fun and it’s great being able to provide a racing opportunity in the area. A highlight was having the Mars Hill Cycling team come down to the last race and throw down.
  • There was an epic end-of-summer beach trip that was completely restorative and relaxing.
  • I just returned from the NRPA Congress in Charlotte. It was my first national congress and it did not disappoint. I learned so much, and tried to absorb all the things. Despite a eye infection that resulted in an urgent care stop, I’m grateful for the opportunity. There was a lot of inspiration and thought-sparking, as well as relationship building and new experiences.

That’s the short and sweet version. I’ve been feeling challenged and spending a lot of time on my work and education, so there hasn’t been as much time to ride and train as I would like, but I know while I can do anything, I can’t do everything. So here’s to getting it done!

Gear Grinder 2014

Saturday I embarked on a new endeavor: endurance mountain bike racing! The Henderson County Young Leaders Program was hosting a 6 hour race on the campus of Falling Creek Camp. I was hoping to do the race since I found out about it in January, but wasn’t sure if my schedule would allow it. But with some delegation I was able to take off work and get to race my bike and support something awesome in my county!

The Gear Grinder had several categories between solo and duo. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for solo with the amount of riding I’d been doing lately, so Annie and I decided to team up for what was a first time race for both of us!

 

 

Transitioning from one lap to another

Transitioning from one lap to another

The race started at 10am, and Annie took the first lap. Our goal was to complete 6 laps before the 4pm cut-off, alternating laps with my final lap finishing. I knew it would be tight! Annie pulled in 3 awesome laps, each in under 60 minutes that allowed me with my slightly longer lap times to finish by 3:54pm! The course itself was amazing! It started with a mile long gravel climb with an average 10% grade before entering the singletrack circling the top of the camp. Then the last 3+ miles was an amazing descent, making all the climbing worth it! My first lap ended up 57 minutes, followed by two 1:03 minute laps. It was close to the finish, but I finished with 6 minutes before the cut-off. An endurance race has several competitive components–you’re racing against other people (regardless of category, it’s always a race!), racing against the teams or racers in your category, and racing against the clock. The clock adds such an intense element, it doesn’t make mistakes and keeps going!

Amazing scenery at Falling Creek Camp!

Amazing scenery at Falling Creek Camp!

Being my first experience with a duo endurance race I wasn’t quite sure what to expect! It was weird not starting with everyone at 10am, and the wait/recovery between laps was interesting. It reminded me a little of BMX where you have your moto, then wait for the next. You get hyped up from the lap, but then need to immediately eat, stretch and rest before warming back up and waiting to start your next lap. I did fairly well with my recovery time, but there are improvements I can make the next time, specifically more stretching, hydration and food!

GG Podium

Duo Female Podium

We were excited to see what there were two other female duo teams signed up. We would rather have a race than by default end up in first place! Overall, it was a great event! One of the best things about it was that I knew so many of the people racing, including one of the other Pure Velo’s, Jaime who tacked solo!

 

 

 

Thank you to HCYLP for a great race, and to the race sponsors like Sycamore Cycles, Foxworth Advisers, and Falling Creek Camp! I also have to thank my boss for loaning me a wheel after I broke one of mine a couple weeks ago while pre-riding the course! Whoops! Can’t slow my roll!  I’m looking forward to next year and can’t wait to do more endurance races!

 

Off the Face of the Earth

Well, I completely fell off the face of the blogging earth there! But I have my reasons and have been making things happen in real life that are pretty exciting!

When we left off I was in the midst of racing the Winter Short Track in Charlotte as my post-season cx cool down. The short track was a great experience coming off of cross season. While the races were similar in length, the differences in disciplines and field sizes were a great challenge. I always had to race, I was never by myself even if I felt like it. Ever effort mattered and I was actually competitive in the sport field!

I felt like I should be able to podium and I managed to get my first post-collegiate career podium with a second place that some very fast women made me work for!

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It felt awesome! At this point I had grand plans for making the overall podium and finishing strong! But cross and mountain biking and school and work all caught up with me in the form of a nasty respiratory ick that I got from the public schools. Once it hit, it wouldn’t leave, and even when I felt better I knew it was time to rest.

So that’s what I’ve been doing! Riding bikes for fun (and fitness, of course), focusing on my graduate studies, and working on a project that I’ll share soon enough. Late winter/early spring is always busy at work for me too since it’s the start of soccer season, so I was glad to not have the pressure of racing or training to race over my head.

We’ll see how my fun approach to riding has worked out on Saturday, when I race my first ever 6 hr race as one part of a female duo! The Gear Grinder is being held at Camp Falling Creek, and features an awesome 1 mile gravel climb right off the start of the 8 mile course. However, the climb is made up for with an awesome 15-20 minute singletrack downhill at the end of the course. It’s great seeing new races start in WNC and be a part of the movement that is focusing on growing cycling here.  I’m excited to try a new type of racing and feel that competitive drive again!

 

 

Charlotte Short Track #2

I don’t know why I waited so long to race the Winter Short Track Series. Perhaps it was the overload of collegiate cycling that requires quick transitions between seasons making the limited rest weeks invaluable. Maybe it was just the fast that it was something new and I wasn’t ready to jump into another new situation. Regardless, I’m so impressed by the series so far and the racing is so intense and fun.

Photo by Street Ghost

Photo by Street Ghost

Sunday’s race was cooler than the kickoff race. It was around 40 degrees when the sport and expert women started, so the perfect temp for no arm warmers! This time I was steady on the start, no squrreliness! I had a fairly good position going into the woods on the first lap, still a little back from where I wanted to be but I knew I could make it up. The course was very dry, and a lot faster then the first race. Since it’s on dedicated mountain bike trails, the flow is good and fast, almost too fast into some corners for me! Since it was the same course, I felt pretty comfortable, knowing where I was at all times. That is a benefit of doing series races!

I felt really steady throughout the race, working my way up, back and forth with a couple other racers. My times were a lot faster and more consistent than before. I kept trying to get a lap in under 4 minutes but didn’t quite make it this time.

Short Track #2 Times

 

The last few laps ramped up the intensity. Ann from BikeLaw was either right in front of me or behind me. Just after going through the finish to start the 9th lap I heard the announcer state that the expert women were coming through and starting their 10th and final lap. That made me hustle even more, I was about to dip into the woods and didn’t want to deal with them passing on singletrack. My goal was to make it through the woods before they caught me. Amazingly, I was able to make it the entire lap, getting to do the entire 10 laps of the race! On lap 10 Ann was right behind me the entire time. She’s stronger on the straightaways than I am, and I was sure that once we got out of the woods and onto the gravel she’d pass me. She started to pull along side, and I gave it everything I had. There was that period of time that stretches out in uncertainty, could I hold her off long enough? Would I have enough once we hit the pavement? I just kept turning over the pedals, going as hard as I could, not looking behind me and taking as straight as line as possible into the finish. It ended up that we had about a second difference in finish times! I ended up in 4th place, my best non-collegiate race finish to date! It’s a great finish, but being so close, yet so far to podium is a disappointment.

Short track is changing how I race. It’s a different format, and while I raced it for Mars Hill, I’ve grown as a racer since then. It’s exciting having competitors, not being alone while racing, evaluating my strengths and weaknesses on the bike vs those of whoever is in front or behind me. There are just two weeks left of short track! I’ve got some goals for those two races, but I’ll keep those to myself for now.

Biltmore CX

So, my 2013-14 cyclocross season is officially over! I was able to finish strong by racing the North Carolina Cyclocross series final races held on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate. Biltmore will be hosting the USA Cycling Cyclocross Nationals in 2016, so this weekend was the inaugural race to test out possible course design and features. Admittedly, I did get a sneak peak a week before since I do some work with NCCX. It was pretty exciting seeing the before and during, as well as hearing all the feedback and evaluating how things went and ways to take the BIltmore race experience to the next level.

As Saturday got closer I started to feel less and less motivated to race. I wanted to be at Biltmore, surrounded by bike racers and absorbing everything possible from the weekend, but I just wasn’t feeling racing. I knew that this was the final goal of my training plan, so obviously I had to race, but mentally I was not feeling it! Fortunately I was preregistered so at that was working towards getting me on the bike. Getting to the site early on Saturday morning was good. It had “snowed” a bit the night before, leaving a light dusting over the fields. The sky was pastel and the moon was still up. Biltmore is a beautiful place regardless of the time of year, but getting more of a winter feel while driving in was nice.

Saturday Morning

Saturday Morning

I started hustling to do what I could to help get everything ready to roll. While the Biltmore race was a big race, the day-0f prep logistics were fairly low (partially due to it being the first ever with little elements outside of NCCX). The course at Biltmore is located near Antler Hill Village. Since this is the first year a course has been marked out, it is shorter than it will be for Nationals, and there will be features added over the next few races to take it to the next level. The start was paved, up to a grassy section with several turns before hitting a set of barriers. Then it was back on to pavement before going into a chicane through more field, followed by another paved section, before moving towards the pits. The area around the pits was the roughest since it was a field area that had only been mowed the week of the race. After the pits the course moved onto a gravel road before dipping down to approach the run up. I loved the run up both days. It was super steep but not too long to absolutely kill every time. Plus I’ve been feeling better about the short running sections lately due in part to circuit training. Then there was more grassy up and down before climbing up a gradual climb to the most popular race feature: the drop-off! It was a steep dirt drop-off behind the bike rental barn, that took you out around the corner of the building. The drop-off was a little slick on Saturday, but that made it more fun! Sunday work was done to dry it out, which made it too simple, in my mountain bikers opinion! The drop-off was followed by a grassy off-camber section that dipped down into a wooded area. The off-camber was fast and I was able to take a low line and make up time on this part of the course. After the wooded area, the course worked around some gravel turns (never my favorite) and then into more grass with another barrier that most riders had to dismount to get over and then run up. The remainder of the course was made up of the return to the puts through the field and then back onto the pavement to the finish (here’s a video of the course from BikeRumor!).

Saturday was cold! Add in a nice chilling wind and it was bitter out! Thankfully it was dry and sunny all day. As the morning progressed and the first races went off, I started to get ready to race. My warm-up was poor, I didn’t even get a pre-ride in (granted, I knew the course), and I wasn’t excited. It was cold, I knew it would hurt, and traditionally, flat, power courses like the Biltmore course have not been my friends.

The start line is a unique place. There you can find pure focus, motivation, nerves, excitement, terror. It is all about the race in that moment as you get ready to start. It was only there that I started to get out of my head that was telling me that I shouldn’t be there riding my bike. I had a descent start, nothing great, nothing terrible. The start was fast! It’s always fast but this course was a fast course all around and it started right off the bat.

Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

Coming out of the off-camber — Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

My legs were tired and racing below freezing is not something my body responds well to. All the doubt about being on the bike came back for the first lap. I was lagging and was not feeling good. I knew it was all mental. That was the frustrating thing, it was all up to me and I was letting myself down! Coming through the finish on the first lap something clicked and I started to pull it together. The rest of the race was hard, I had to keep changing my mindset, grinning even though I didn’t feel like it, and pedaling as hard as I could whenever I could. I finished, I raced, and by the end my mental block was gone and I was excited to redeem myself the next day!

Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

Run up — Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

Sunday was a little warmer. It was right around 40 degrees for my start.  I like racing at 40 degrees. It’s just cold enough to keep me from over heating, warm enough I can get away w/o a base layer or arm warmers (gotta have the knee warmers to keep that funky knee of mine happy). I had a good warm-up, I knew the course, and I was ready. The field was larger by one for Sunday, with a different mix of racers. Another fast start, before jumping into the grass and working across the barriers. Typically with the combined field of races in the women’s race the first lap is fast and furious with a lot of bunching before spreading out in the second lap. Usually these races end up with me being there by myself, maintaining my position and cruising along. But not this time! I guess it was the combination of this particular group of racers, the last race and great conditions that turned it into a hammer fest. For pretty much the first time in a combined field cross race I was being chased and chasing the entire time! It was amazing! It was hard, especially on the flat bumpy field sections with a headwind! My derailleur wanted to be difficult during the last 2/3rds of the race as well, causing some frustration as I tried to get in the gear I needed for the inclined sections. I actually kept telling myself “my bike does not define me” each time the chain would slip. For most of the race there was one racer in front of me who I kept almost catching and then she would pull ahead. I knew I had advantage in the technical areas but wasn’t so sure about the straightaways.  After going through the finish line and seeing 2 laps to go, I was pretty much set on being where I was in the field for the finish. But the lap leaders passed me with about a half a lap to go. At that point I decided that I had to put the hammer down and see if I could catch the rider in front of me. It was the last race, I had nothing to do but leave it all out there! So I went! I rode hard and fast, and then I was running out of course! As soon as I hit the final paved section I put it all out there and once I could see the finish I stood up and sprinted as hard as I could. I just overtook the racer in front of me with just  a few yards to go! It was so intense, I don’t even really have the words to describe it other than “yes!” and then “I’m going to die.” My place was 12 out of 15. It’s one of the best finishes I’ve had in the Pro1/2/3 field, and I had to do work to get it. That race was one of the hardest due to how the field was spread out, but it also made it that much more memorable and fun.

Corner into the fenced passage -- Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

Corner into the fenced passage — Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

I’m satisfied with the way I ended my cross season. It had been a little touch and go all weekend, but Sunday’s race really did end things well. I want to thank my coach Hugh Moran, my shop Beer City Bicycles, North Carolina Cyclocross, and all you awesome racers out there that I’ve raced against this season!!

Race Report: Charlotte Short Track

This weekend I took a little break from cyclocross and hit the Charlotte Winter Short Track Series for their opener. The series has been going on for about 15 years. It’s a great way to start the mountain bike season, and from what I saw yesterday is really well run. I’ve been meaning to race these races for the last couple of years, but it just hadn’t worked out. Races take place at Renaissance Park in Charlotte. Rain on Thursday and Friday left the course wet and muddy, but ride-able due to the awesome construction and maintenance of the trails. 

I figured the race wouldn’t be too much of a departure from my training, since the Sport category runs for 45 minutes. There were 15 starters in the Sport category, that’s similar to the combined field in cyclocross, only just with one category racing! The Expert women started right in front, so there were around 20 women on the course at once. I had a terrible start, and unfortunately tangled up with Annie on my left. It’s one thing for me to have a bad start, but I feel really bad if I negatively effect someone else! She recovered a lot quicker and set off. I put the hammer down and caught up with the field, putting myself into second-to-last going into the woods. I was so annoyed! I was stuck behind riders that I knew I was faster than, but couldn’t do much about it until the course spit back out onto a gravel section.

Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

The gravel section has two parts: a slightly steeper grade that took a lot of effort after coming out of the woods, then smoothing out into packed dirt that brought you out on the paved section. I used these sections, as well as the pavement to pass as many riders as I could before going back into the woods. I went back and forth with a couple racers a few times, but kept catching more and more riders in front of me.

Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

It was a great feeling being able to come back from that terrible start! It hurt, a lot, but knowing that I was in a field that I could compete with, with each second mattering brought a focus and determination that I don’t often have to tap into. In cross I usually find myself off the back of the field, alone, keeping my position as steady as I can. Here, even a second’s hesitation could make the different between places! I loved the competition that such a field brings, and I can’t wait to experience more races like this!

Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

Photo by Torrenti Cycles, Inc

I got caught by the Expert women’s leaders just before hitting the pavement at the end of my next-to-last lap, meaning I finished a lap early. I’m still in that interim of sometimes making it without getting caught, and others getting caught right before the finish. I know that had I started right, I wouldn’t have gotten caught. My final placing was 6th out of 15, meaning I made up seven places throughout the 45 minutes of race time. I’ll take it!

Charlotte also uses chip-timing, so it is neat looking at that data when thinking about my performance:

Short Track 1 Times

The Scott Scale 29r from Beer City Bicycles was perfect in the mud with the Schwalbe tires, race stance, and larger contact area. It handled all the switchbacks smoothly, but also transitions well into paved sprints. I noticed that it gave me an advantage over rocks, since it smoothed everything out.

While there is a lot of room for improvement, I’m also excited to see what I can do with the rest of the series. This coming weekend is the North Carolina CX series final at the Biltmore Estate. It’s also a test run of the course for nationals in 2016! Then there will be 4 straight weeks of short track races. I guess after that’s over I can take a break?