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.

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!!