Mile After Mile

Morning Pre-Ride

Morning Pre-Ride

I kept meaning to write race reports and then overdue updates and then…well. You know. So here it finally is. A not so short update of my racing and life.

Going all the way back to January…the end of the cross season left me worn out and fighting sickness. The season wrapped up at the NCCX Biltmore Estate races. The course was to continue testing out features for the 2015 USA Cycling Cyclocross Nationals races. The new features (mostly the impressive run-up) went over well and will really make the course a WNC special!

My “off-season” was going to include returning to the Charlotte Winter Short Track series but school obligations, exhaustion and sickness kept me home. While I was disappointed to miss out the cutback on travel was needed. As we moved through the winter I focused mainly on gym workouts, running and strength training, to keep myself fit and prepare for when time and motivation got me back on the bike. After a slow February March hit and it was on again!

The weather was nice, daylight savings was over (or on, whatever), and I was ready. I made it my goal in March to get 31 workouts in 31 days. Between a combination of riding, circuit training, and yoga I met my goal with a total of 32 workouts by the end of the month! I also started participating in the Etowah Tuesday Night Worlds ride, heading out from Hendersonville each week and working to hang on to the A group as much as possible. I’m still learning how to position my bike in the pack but each week make it a little farther before getting blown out the back.

Another exciting development happened in March. After years of borrowing road bikes, and eventually just smashing along on my cross bike I finally got a road bike! The Giant Defy 1 was my choice and getting that bad boy gave me even more motivation to ride at the end of the month. Austin at Sycamore Cycles in Hendersonville used the Specialized Fit method to get me and the bike dialed. I’m in love with the 11 speed cassette and compact crankset! I’m still getting used to having descent climbing gears and not grinding out super hard gears.

First ride

First ride

I also knew that 6 Hours of Warrior Creek was coming up the first weekend of April and it was time to at least make an effort! My Pure Velo Racing teammate Jaimee and I had signed up in the duo female category as soon as registration opened. Neither of us had raced it before, but we knew it is one of the don’t miss bike races in the region and we wanted in!

April sneaked up and before I knew it I was getting up at 4:30am to jump in the car and drive to Wilkesboro. It’s already been decided that next year will involve an overnight stay. The drive up was easy since no one else except other crazy bike racers would be up that early. I got to Warrior Creek and met Jaimee. We set up our spot with with Sycamore Cycles crew, guzzled tasty coffee from Bald Guy Brew, and kitted up to spin around before the rider meeting. I was going to lead us off, and had intended to do a proper warm-up in preparation of the fast, crowded first lap. But good intentions fell through and I found myself in the start with 20 minutes of riding easy on my legs. Still, I was excited and knew that the crowded paved start would give me time to open up slowly before dropping into the woods.

Right at 10am we rolled out. I ended up closer to the front of the mass start than I intended but when with it anyway as I passed slower riders and made sure to give room for the faster racers who had gotten caught up in the bag of the field.

The starts of races always get me, it’s the waiting on the start line for call-ups or pre-race instructions that get my nerves jumping. As soon as we actually prepare to start I find that focus and calm needed to start smart right off the line. It’s a release to start pedaling and positioning and finding race focus.

Since the trails were completely new to me I was glad to follow wheels as we zipped into the singletrack. Now that is some fun mountain biking! Around here you ride up, up, up….up….and then down, down, down. Warrior Creek is like one giant pump track with bermed switchbacks spilling out in front of you for miles. The weather had ended up perfect, sunny in the 60’s, a bit of wind. It had rained a little the night before, which helped keep the dust down for the first lap.

WC 6 hoursI made it to the start/finish area where Jaimee and I traded off and I headed back to eat, stretch and recover for the next lap. 6 hour races are weird. You get warmed up, pumped up, race your lap and then chill, only to do it all over again. It’s nice to have a break so you can treat each lap like a short race (closer to what I race in cross or short track), but it’s an interesting study in mental and physical performance, preparation, and recovery. In the end we each completed two laps and while the results were incorrect weren’t the last duo female team! I’m looking forward to heading back next year better prepared and take some time off!

April was a very busy month. Soccer started so much of the month was spent preparing for that. I also co-promoted the inaugural Blue Ridge Mountain Bike Festival on the grounds of Falling Creek Camp. The race was a part of the Southern Classic Mountain Bike Series. We saw over a 150 racers with great juniors and female fields. It was very rewarding and a bit exhausting but we’re already looking forward to next year’s race being even better!

Before the 3/4 Race

Before the 3/4 Race

Another event I was involved in this spring was on a bit of a larger scale. Asheville welcomed the USA Cycling Collegiate Road Nationals races the second weekend in May. I assisted with planning the banquet but also volunteered and raced in the open categories at the Downtown Asheville Crit hosted by VeloSport. Saturday morning I participated in a women’s crit racing clinic with my teammate Eliz. It was helpful learning more strategy and technique to take into the race since my last crit was two years ago. The course was either up or down with a long climb up to the start/finish area and then around the first corner. It hurt, a lot. But it was good to get in the mix a bit and use some of my newly gained skills from the clinic and riding TNW weekly.  After racing I enjoyed a post-ride beverage and then volunteered as a course marshal for the collegiate races. The determination and skill of the collegiate riders was impressive to see. It’s easy to forget the drive that you have when you’re racing for a national title for your team and school. Seeing the races and the victories made me miss collegiate racing! I guess the drive to race worked since I signed up for the later elite women’s race. As a cat 3 I can enjoy both the 3/4 or the elite races. Rolling tot he start I knew I would have a long 50 minutes on the course, sharing the difficult race with some very fast ladies. Like many another foray into elite races for the first time I was prepared to have a long training race. I think I ended up with the group for the first lap before sitting solo most of the time. But what made the race amazing was the support from the sidelines. People I didn’t even know cheered me on each lap as I put an effort into every climb and focused on cornering and descending as well as I could. It’s moments like those that make me so happy to be in the cycling community. Racing is hard, and not always in the best circumstances. I put myself into a crit (for the second time that day!) which is not my preferred racing discipline but was encouraged by people I don’t even know to put it all out there. Plus being the DFL finisher in 10th place with a 10 deep payout didn’t hurt either. Next year I’ll plan to race the Asheville Downtown Crit again, but also look to improve as a crit racer.

GradAt the same time that I was missing collegiate racing, I was also completing an educational milestone of my own. This spring was my final semester at NCSU in the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management program. I wasn’t able to attend graduation with all the bike and work related things that happened in early May but the accomplishment and excitement was just as real. A month later and I’ve received my diploma, which is waiting to be framed and hung in my office. The last month certainly has been busy, exhausting and exciting at the same time. Since my final project was completed I’ve been able to enjoy more time on the bike and spending time with my friends who have put up with my crazy schedule over the past few years. I love the academic world, learning and exploring but I’m glad for a break so I can put my full energy into work and riding. Since graduating from Mars Hill I haven’t been able to train and race at the level I would like, so I’m excited to be able to hit the upcoming cyclocross season with everything I have.

May also brought another milestone. Kyle and I celebrated 7 years of marriage! We were able to get away to Topsail Island for a couple blissful days of beach life. He’s been with me every step of my cycling and education journey, making meals, giving back rubs, pouring wine, encouraging me, challenging me to go faster and ride longer and genuinely supporting my goals and ambitions. I would have been much more stressed and much less fit if it wasn’t for him. I’m excited for the next 7 years of marriage and adventures we’re headed towards!

Rest Stop #6: Party Stop

Rest Stop #6: Party Stop

My most recent bike adventure was participating in the Fletcher Flyer. The Fletcher Flyer raises money and awareness for local cycling causes each year. There were 1000 riders this year riding anywhere from the 50mi route to the full century that started and ended at the Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard. I decided to do the metric with Eliz and met up with another new bike friend Erin at the start line. When you almost exclusively race you loose sight of the fact that not everyone races bikes. It was refreshing to see so many types of people out on bikes for so many different reasons. We made really good time with Andy working our bike train through the different groups on the route and finished the 63 miles route in under 4 hours of moving time. We also enjoyed some stops at a couple of the rest stops, with the Sycamore Cycles stop being the highlight with a patriotic theme complete with apple pie and ice cream! The ride was my longest to date. I’ve set my sights on the Tour D’Apple in September for my first century. It will be more of challenge with a lot more climbing all over Henderson County!

Now for the rest of the summer it’s on to more bike riding, summer bike clubs and the 3rd year of the Summer Short Track Series! Plus maybe relaxing a bit? Maybe.

Resolutions, What?

I used to make long lists of resolutions and self improvements (ENTJ, much?), not just at New Years but at my birthday in August or any other life-milestone occasion. The last few years have been so transitional and formative that these lists and time spent in contemplation was good for me. Did I accomplish the things I listed? Some. Am I still working on items that have been on my self-improvement lists for years? Sure! But this January was the first year that I don’t feel driven to create a long list of resolutions, items to focus on or goals to reach. That’s not to say that I don’t have any, but that the ones I have are continuations of ones set long ago. For example, this spring I’ll finish my master’s degree. I’ve been working on that since the thought that I might want to continue my education first crept into my mind while at Mars Hill. Out of that will come another set of educational and professional goals to focus on. Cycling is also continuously pushing and changing my goals. Every 6 months is a transition between disciplines bring around a new set of seasonal goals and check ups on long term ones. So why rush to make a list merely for the sake of a new year when the things I want and need to accomplish will work themselves out in perfect time. Maybe there will be a time when change isn’t constant and the new year will provide the opportunity to readjust and focus on new things. But I don’t feel like that will really ever be the case. Because honestly, if I’m not always climbing then there’s a reason for the stillness.

NCGP Report

Ah, it’s come and gone. The paramount weekend of racing in my cycling calendar, the North Carolina Cyclocross Grand Prix! This year has been a little more exciting than in years past since 2014 marks 10 years of UCI/Grand Prix race in the NCCX series. The series itself is 18 years old, so we’ll have another epic celebration soon! I’ve been involved in the NCGP for years now (although not even close to 10), but this year I’ve been able to be more involved with the series. Being able to help build the excitement through social media and help NCCX expand the fanbase has been really fun. The actual weekend of racing is always a bit conflicting from racer perspective. On one hand I want to throw down the best race of my season and have some truly great results (especially since I train on the course and feel a certain bit of home court pride). On the other hand, the days preceding that go into setting up the course and making sure all the details are covered, combined with early mornings and late nights during the actual race weekend make it difficult to race at the top of my game. This season has been challenging since my time and energy has been so limiting, but I’ve realized even more the importance of mindset and self-motivation. The race is more about what I do then who I beat or were I place (though those things certainly do effect the post-race mental state!).

The weather turned out to be absolutely beautiful! I know a lot of people were hoping for the sloppy mud fest like we had last year, but let me tell you, good weather really eases the preparation and execution of an event! When you’re outside for 12+ hours every day for days on end, you really appreciate it when it’s dry and not below freezing. This years course was very euro, with wide turns, choose your line options and a couple new features for day two. Fast courses are not my friends, but the advantage of setting up is learning every line, finding the trouble spots, and knowing the course by heart. It really is awesome seeing the course take shape in the days leading up to the race, and seeing and hearing how much it’s appreciated. There were more pre-riders out on the Friday before then ever, and the excitement was already filling the park. Race day number one came, and everything got started without a hitch! My races have been early afternoon this season, and the Grand Prix schedule was no different. Even with the time to get everything started and having breathing room before warming up I still struggled to get ready and have a proper warm up. But I worked with what time I had and felt pretty good at the start. I ended up on the front row (of two in the little 2/3 women’s field), which was a nice exception from the normal place I start in the elite races during the series. I always get nervous right before a race during call ups. It’s like the anxiety of being between warming up and racing is overwhelming, like I need to have a focus but it’s too soon to be that focused. Once I got into my start position though I can focus, relax and be ready to go. And this time, I was ready to go! The whistle blew and I took off! I clipped in, but lost one pedal a couple strokes in (old cleats are so slick!). Instead of working to get clipped back in I just kept pedaling, working to be the first into the grass off the paved start. Then the weirdest thing happened, I was alone. I couldn’t hear or feel anyone as I got closer to the grass. I remember grinning since I made the hole shot! I knew going into the race that I didn’t have much to give so I was going to give whatever I had at the start. It worked, I had a pretty large going into the barriers, and held on to the lead for half a lap. It was awesome. And then slowly I was reined back in and shuffled through the field to my normal low position. I struggled on the back climb in the mud, which was frustrating since usually I can handle the slickly icky. This time though my legs let me down, and I couldn’t do much more than walk up the hill. Despite adding running to my training this year, the week caught up with me and my legs just didn’t have it. But I sucked it up and did work to gain back the places I lost on the hill. In the end I finished strong, made it up the wall, and didn’t finish that far off of where I finished last year. That is the best part about my finish. It showed me that even with my reduced training time, increased stress, and lack of a formal training/coaching plan I was able to maintain and be pretty dang close to where I was last year.

Flat launch into the grass

Flat launch into the grass

After spending the evening moving the course around for day two, Janet and I enjoyed a quick beer and pizza. Then it was home to attempt some sort of recovery before doing it all again on Sunday! Sunday’s course had the most changes of any NCGP day two course that I can remember. The first grass section was reworked into a large sweeping turn before climbing back up and over, quickly descending into a fast launch across the road and into the grass towards the barriers. Then there was a quick little punch on the backside before moving into a long off-camber section that pushed you down to the run-up. The usual twists and turns were reworked coming out of the woods before the tennis courts and the wall. The most exciting change was a quick dog-leg turn at the top of the wall, with the option to ride off-camber along the hill or use the momentum from going to the bottom of the hill and propelling yourself up to the gates. It was great seeing the confusion and expressions of riders as they encountered the new feature for the first time! It was a great fun add to the course and allowed riders to choose whatever method of getting across that they were comfortable with. I had another great start, which was surprising as my legs were so sore and tight. I was also really tired, to the point that I felt like I could take a nap sitting at the start line for call ups. I hung in the top five for the first half a lap and just chugged away for the rest of the race. I ended up 9 out of 13 both days, which is a normal finish for me. Most of all, I enjoyed both races, was able to push and suffer and finish strong. You can’t ask for much more than that!

Suffering

Suffering

Overall, the weekend was great! We had competitive men and women’s elite races both days, with an intense sprint finish for the men on Sunday. The winner of the women’s race both days, BethAnn Orten had her first UCI win at the NCGP. I was able to wander around, tweeting and Facebooking the whole thing, watching great races, supporting my friends, and being surrounded by cyclists.

Even after the event ended it was exciting seeing all the pictures, the statuses and feedback from racers. There really is nothing like the racing community and I’m pretty stoked that I can be a part of it beyond just racing (which is awesome in of itself too!).

Now I’m looking towards the Biltmore CX race in January as we get one step closer to cyclocross nationals coming to Asheville in 2016! After that I’ll stretch out my season a little longer through racing the Charlotte Winter Short Track Series again. Then there are some other things I’ve got up my sleeve that should be pretty cool.

On the non-cycling front, the spring semester will be my final semester in my graduate program! I can’t wait to wrap up that chapter in May. And believe it or not Kyle and I will celebrate our 7 year wedding anniversary!

So I guess that’s my 2014 wrap up, 2015 look forward?

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!