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!

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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!!

Mars Hill Mountain at Kolo Bike Park

This weekend I got the best of both worlds: chance to race an awesome mountain bike race hosted by Mars Hill Cycling at Kolo Bike Park combined with having to only travel 30 minutes from home. Add in that I had a 12:30 start and a chance to wake-up without an alarm and you have a recipe for success. Right? One would think so!

Hammer time!
Hammer time!

Let me preface with the fact that I worked 12 hours on the soccer fields on Saturday. I went home, ate dinner and prepped all my stuff for my race. Went to bed at a good time, slept well and got up when I was ready. Had a great breakfast of the always awesome Bob’s Red Mill Seven-Grain, prepared the rest of my drink and food for racing, checked my bike, loaded the car, and away I went. Got to Kolo Bike Park, checked in, found out I was the solo Cat 1 women (whoo-hoo?), and went to get ready. I had plenty of time, the course looked fast and fun, I was excited! I get kitted up, pull out my shoes, put one on and discover I have two left shoes! I don’t know what happened, all I can guess is that my post-work delirium blinded me from realizing I had two different mountain bike shoes in my bag. Needless to say, I was really annoyed with myself. A couple of frantic phone calls to Kyle later, my other right mountain bike shoe was in transit to Kolo, while I pedaled around in my hiking shoes. I know I got a couple weird looks for that one! Kyle saved the day with 10 minutes to go! I quickly finished my very small and short warm up, and lined up with 6 other Cat 1 guys. They would do six 2.7 mile laps, and I was to do 5. I knew that the field would be small, but I was hoping for at least one other women to race against. Not that I mind having a guaranteed sport on the podium, but there’s an intensity that comes from racing against someone.

The start was great, I hung on to the Cat 1 guys for a little bit before settling in to my pace. The first lap was a little rougher than it should have been due to my shoe panic and less than efficient warm up. But the course lent itself well to riding and learning it as you went. The trails at Kolo have all been built in the last year or so. The Mars Hill Cycling team has spent several days there helping build some of the trails and it was exciting to recognize the section that I helped with in the spring! The course had a little bit of everything: wooded singletrack, open singletrack, super D downhill, some rocky stuff and some wooden bridges. Everything is built really well, and for new trails, they all had great flow and lines. You can tell that the Kolo guys know their stuff!

I’m still getting used to the Scott 29’r from Beer City Bicycles. While it’s comfortable and has been an easy transition, now I’m really learning to ride it with finesse and gaining the familiarity and trust that only comes with time on the bike. This bike loves to climb! And loves to roll over anything you steer it towards! It was great on the short climbs and descents all over the course, and handled pretty well through the super D section. I had to reign it in over a few of the table tops to avoid flying into the top of some rollers, but even then the Scott was easy to ride. One of the best things about this bike is how dependable it is! I’m never worried about having a mechanical while racing (though I’m always prepared!).

Since I didn’t have any female competition on the course I knew I would have to focus and not get lazy. My goal was to get a great workout and not get lapped by the men until my final lap. I was able to keep all my lap times within around a minute of each other, and didn’t get passed by the men’s leader until after starting the final lap. Amazingly, I was only passed by the one! I later learned that there were only 3 finishers total in the Cat 1 race, including myself! That made me feel that much better about racing a “solo race” since I must have done something right to finish! The USAC official also offered an early finish, but I was there to do work and did all five laps.

I ended the race with my entry paid back, an amazing bag of Mountain Roasters coffee (cannot wait to try it!!) and some other cool goodies I’ll share about later. Another bonus: my former teammates (and new team members) cheering me on throughout the entire race! You all are awesome, thank you! It reminded me of how big a role collegiate cycling has played in my life. Without it and the connections and friendships I’ve made, I wouldn’t be here.

Super big thanks to Mars Hill Cycling, Hugh Moran (my former and current coach!), Beer City Bicycles (Frank, Jay and O’Neill), and Kolo Bike Park for a GREAT day of racing, and especially to Kyle for bringing me my shoe!

Cyclocross is Coming

Cyclocross is coming

While the mood in Games of Thrones is all dire and stuff about winter, I am the opposite. Cyclocross is coming (or kinda already here for some) and I for one and happy about it.

Last night was my official kinda-season opener with the Crosstown Velo Wednesday Night Cross race in Fletcher Park. Wednesday Night Cross is a series of three training races held every other week. It’s a great way to keep into the swing of things, build some fitness and start racing against some other cool crossers. I was pretty nervous going into it. I’ve been riding a lot, more than ever before, but I haven’t really been doing specific training lately. My last race was the Fontana Dam Jam, and a cross country race is quite a bit different than a cross race. So I decided to race the B’s. Technically I’m a B anyway, since my USAC category is a 3. I have a complex about that though since I’m coming out of collegiate racing where I race in the A group, and most cyclocross races combine Pro/1/2/3 for women anyway! But I know that if I race in the category that I’m the most competitive, I’ll have more fun, my skills will increase and I won’t get burned out as quickly being in the bottom all the time.

My legs were feeling a little weak after my Tuesday workout of circuit training with Erin and then intervals on the mountain bike with Kyle, so I made sure to do a proper warm up. Man, warming up properly is probably one of the best things you can do for yourself! The start was crowded since it was both men and women’s fields, and I was near the back anyway. I’m always a little conflicted, do I put myself in the front with all the guys gunning for the front row, or chill out in the back, only to get caught up in the mayhem of the field entering the first corner? The later happened but I was able to work my way through the field in the first lap, and became a mini-peloton with Meghan Archer and a couple of guys. I actually felt pretty smooth and strong throughout the entire race, playing a little cat and mouse with Wilson from AZ, before Meghan jumped on the last lap and put the hammer down. My slow-and-steady muscles just didn’t have that pop to catch back on, so I just hammered away by myself on the last lap. It was a good feeling having to really race, consider who was behind me and how I felt and play the racing game. It’s not usually something I have to do and I’m grateful for any chance I can get to experience racing like that.

End results: 3rd out of 5 women, mostly good barriers aside from a couple tire bangs and cleat scrapes, no shutter step remounting, steady power throughout.

Things to improve: Clipping in after remounts, power, twisty slippery cornering skills, derailleur tuning, gear selection.

P.S. Mad kudos to Jamie for racing her first cross ever on a mountain bike + deciding to come back for more and race the entire series!! Get it girl!

June Thoughts

It’s June and I’m already thinking cross season! While the weather is good for outside riding now, long term will see me back inside on the CompuTrainers at Spin-Tech Training to get the most effective training in for racing. I should be focusing on mountain biking and getting as much racing experience in cross country as I can. But when I think about riding, my mind just flows along to cyclocross. I can’t help it. I love it so much! And then of course, there’s the wanting the things that you can’t have right now. I guarantee you, in the cold winter days of cross I’m dreaming of sunny warm mountain bike rides!

It’s been just over a month since I graduated. It was astonishing how much excitement and support other people had for me! I’m truly grateful to everyone who has encouraged me, dealt with my weird schedule, believed in me and inspired me! So after all that excitement was over, I was left feeling a little lost. Graduation day was THE day I’ve been working towards for over 5 years. Suddenly, it came and then was gone! When something has been such a driving force for so long, it’s weird not to have it there anymore. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have plans and goals. It was more of a re-adjustment, a reveling in my achievement and then moving on! It’s still so weird that I don’t have assignments looming, or have to balance my work tasks with school tasks. All of that will return soon enough however. In mid-August I start my graduate studies in the North Carolina State University online master’s program for recreation. I’m really excited, nervous of course, but mostly just eager to start the next step in my professional education.

We kicked off the first short track race of the series two weeks ago with 60 racers, kids-cat 1. It was awesome seeing something that I’ve wanted and worked for come to life! The next race will be this Wednesday, and I’m excited for the all the ways that I can grow and improve the series. It really wouldn’t have been as easy without the help of Sycamore Cycles, Donnie in particular. If you’re in Hendersonville, make sure to stop by their shop.

Sunday I’m heading down to the Tiger Rag cross country race in Clemson. I’m excited to see what it’s like to get back into cross country racing. It’s been about 9 months since nationals at this point…that’s a long time! My expectations aren’t that high, my goal is to go race, have a good time and see where I end up! I wish there were more cross country races in the WNC. Here we’re inundated with mega races, endurance races, stage races. Most cross country races take place far far away from Asheville. Maybe that’ll have to be the next race series I start!

The rest of my summer looks pretty much the same…racing here and there. I think I’m going to try more road racing with the French Broad Classic…not sure if that’s a good idea or not! Way to jump into it! But hey, that’s what summer without school is for: riding as much as possible!

 

Will Ride for Beer

So, you may have noticed that eye catching logo on the right hand side… the one that combines beer and bikes into something awesome! Back story…Being on a team for my entire cycling career has spoiled me. Mars Hill Cycling is amazing; the support, coaching and resources available are invaluable and frankly, better than you will find at the majority of collegiate cycling teams. So, what was I to do after graduation?  Simple, find someone else to race for and represent !

Beer City Bicycles was the obvious choice. The have given so much support to me (and Mars Hill!) in the last two years through BCB and through their training component, Spin-Tech Cycling. Without Jay, Frank and O’Neill I wouldn’t have advanced in my fitness and skills nearly as quickly. When I say these guys are amazing, I mean just that. I am always blown away at the support and encouragement they give me! It doesn’t matter if you haven’t ridden a bike in years or are a cat 1 racer, they give you their time and energy to help find the perfect bike and set up a training plan using the CompuTrainer’s that will elevate your fitness to the next level.

I’m excited and honored that I can represent the shop and people that have done so much for me, while getting to race and ride my bike around the region! Not only do they carry some amazing products, like Scott bikes, Skratch Labs, Pepper Palace Hot Sauce, Smith Optics and DeFeet, they also host some great events, like the Oscar Blues tasting held this Thursday!

Check them out online, on Facebook or in person at 144 Biltmore Ave, Asheville NC!

Summer Short Track

I’m super excited to announce the Summer Short Track Mountain Bike Race Series at Jackson Park for this summer!

As soon as I realized that WNC was lacking short track races, as well as races that were accessible and less intimidating for new riders and races, I’ve wanted to start something like this!

The series will start on June 5, with two races per month through the end of August. There is a great course at Jackson Park that while challenging, is great for new riders and experienced racers alike. Since getting kids riding is so important as well, there will be a free kids race each night at 5:30.

Summer Short Track Series

In addition to having fun while racing, there will be doorprizes and giveaways! And at $10 a race, you don’t end up paying an arm and a leg to do some racing!

Visit USA Cycling to register online.