International Day of Happiness

Recently, Facebook so eloquently nudged a reminder of where I was four years ago. A blog post I had written, “Equally prepared to succeed as I am to fail” surfaced, and I was instantly brought back to all the thoughts that were bouncing back and forth in my 27-year-old head.

It’s the moment or part of our lives we go through self-discovery to figure out what pulls us out of this downward spiral of self-doubt.

My 20′s were filled with ups, downs, and back and forth rollercoasters. Wanting everything to happen at that very moment, versus trusting the process and having a little patience. Common for a 20 something? Sure. Was I content with this constant pull of clutter in my head, no.

So many adolescent girls go through that awkward, unsure stage of their lives where these self-doubts clutter their everyday thoughts.  These thoughts then start to shape how they carry themselves, how they process interactions and relationships, and what they aspire to become.

In the post, I wrote about how cycling pulled me out of this clutter. What I learned since this post, was that it’s not just cycling that has made me who I am, allowed me to be happy, know myself more deeply, and truly feel happiness.

Cycling allowed me to shut everything else out. It was a pause button to the reality of every single influence that was knocking on my door. The time on my bike gave me an unapologetic space to be sad, happy, confused…but most importantly, it gave me time and space to breathe through it all. It gave me a glimpse of the first look to my OWN thoughts, the first sounds of my OWN voice.

In a way, it was a gateway drug to a healthier lifestyle. As I spent more time on my bike, I became more in tuned with myself. I started treating my body with more kindness through eating better, drinking less, and sleeping more. By learning to be alone in my own thoughts, through meditation, I gradually started stripping myself of all the layers trying to be something I’m not. I was finding my happy. What I found was that I didn’t need anyone’s approval to be happy – it was an inside job.

I feel like the simplicity of two wheels, a dirt trail, rocks, roots, bumps, bruises, laughs, and friendships along the way completely saved me.  Saved me from living someone else’s life and never truly knowing myself, my capabilities, or my breaking points.

The best part of all was when I learned I didn’t need anyone’s approval – my life started to become richer with all the things I was forcing in my 20′something-year-old self. Less force, and more ease. My outlook has become less of “success vs failure” and more about learning from my mistakes, and not letting hiccups completely turn my world upside down. Being an eternal student, and understanding it’s OK not to have it all figured out.

So, today, on International Day of Happiness – I hope you start the conversation of what that is for you so that instead of just one day of happiness, you start to cultivate a life of happiness.

 

True Grit 50: Cross-Eyed and Bushy-Tailed

The first race of the year brings on a full gamut of emotions, from the pre-race nerves, start line electricity, and the finish line elation. Who am I kidding, I go through this entire spectrum pretty much each and every race I line up for – Ha. I think I just forget about it after not racing for four months. The past weekend was no exception. I was all of the feels; excited, nervous, and ready to line up for the first National Ultra Endurance Marathon Series kick off.

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Committing myself to a full series has proposed a little challenging since I started riding and racing five years ago. I somehow always ran into roadblocks of health halts and financial woes. Continuously seeking and fighting balance, the scale evened out a bit in 2015. I was able to put together a solid season and felt ready to start looking at some bigger goals. With a new level of support, I decided to follow the NUE Marathon Series. I plan on hitting 5 races all over the US and Costa Rica! The first stop was in St. George, UT this past weekend at the True Grit 50.

I had done this race twice before, two years ago coming in third, and last year coming in second. The theme of 2015 was a full season of 2nd and 3rd place finishes. This culmination of results had me thirsty for a win. The challenge of pulling off a W at the True Grit Epic was a combination of the need for early season fitness and technical skill. Two things that can be difficult living in the mountains. I quickly found that it was just an adjustment of priority – I made an effort to do the work, schedule desert trips, and absorb every ounce of wisdom from LW Coaching.

With all the work behind me, it was time to line up. I was happy to see a bigger field this year and excited to get started. I could barely sit still during the National Anthem! Finally, the countdown hit the end of its rope and we were off. Starting with a neutral roll out, I made sure I stayed up front, but not too far up front. I didn’t want to get caught up in the top 15 pro men as I’d be sure to blow a fuse within the first 45 minutes.

As soon as we hit dirt, I was in my zone and quickly took the lead. I got into a good rhythm throughout the first series of knife edge climbs and technical descents. Through the first aid station, I took a bottle hand-up from friend Richie, aka Mountain Bike Jesus and was on my way to Zen, the most technical loop of the whole course. For the most part, I kept it smooth through Zen, being careful not to waste any energy on moves that wouldn’t pay off in the end. Here is where I still count my blessings I had put on a dropper post. I hit one of the rock roll sections a little less rolly and a little more nose wheelie that welcomed. With the ability to get low and throw my weight back, I was able to save a crash and ride it out. Yikes!

Exiting Zen, my friends gave assurance I had a good lead. Taking two more bottles of GU Energy Labs Roctane, I carried onto the second half of the course. This half was much less technical and much more “on the gas”. Knowing I had a good lead, I decided to scale it back a notch. I enjoyed the middle finger drops followed by the Poppy trail flow before flipping it to the Stucki climb. This is where my “scaled back” pace started feeling reallllly slow. Something wasn’t right. I ignored any hesitation and just kept plugging away to the ripping fun descent at the end of the never-ending monotony of Stucki.

Once on this ripping fast descent, I knew what was up. My front tire was low. I must’ve burped it during my Zen nose wheelie! Not wanting to waste a CO2, I precariously got my way to where I knew there was on course support. Any dip in the trail, I’d lean back and unweight the front end as much as possible to get me to where I could either use a floor pump, or say goodbye to one of my CO2 cartridges. With luck, the on course support had a floor pump. He got me back up to my lucky 19psi from what had been riding at 12psi! Yikes, no time to worry about that too much, it was time to carry onto the next set of trails.

This is my favorite part of the course, one short rim loop followed by the best loop of the whole day Barrel Roll. After the short rim loop, I got to the two-way traffic the moment the second place woman was starting the rim loop. Having it in my head how much of a lead I had, I kept it steady – however, once I hit Barrel Roll I was unsure if my steady was too slow and started frantically getting myself to the finish line. This resulted in a comical flailing moment that I was so lucky to share with my friend, Noah Sears followed by an equally comical uphill crash! Oh man, GET ME TO THE FINISH!

Once I hit the pavement, I had it in my head that any guy I saw was a girl and ran scared the whole way to the finish line. With one last glance over my shoulder, I was in the clear and for the first time ever threw my hands up and crossed the True Grit 50 with the win!

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YAHOOOOOOOOO! I did it! I was so happy, and so done. Hit my goal of under 4 hours with a finish of 3:53, and got the TOP STEP among some pretty stellar ladies.

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The rest of the day was flooded with all the feels. Proud of my day, the day my friends had, the Thai food we all devoured, and of course – Menchies. We were all pretty YOLO for FROYO by the end of the day.

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I can quite honestly say, I couldn’t have pushed myself to the limit that I did without the top notch coaching from LW, support from Team Topeak-Ergon, fast wheels to have chased the weeks leading up to the race, and the encouraging words from friends. This community is unlike any other – a real family. Thanks for helping me get here. I can’t wait to see where we go from here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coach’s Corner: The Benefits of Training with Power on the MTB

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For the past two seasons, I have been using power on my road bike for specific interval training. Being able to hand over raw data to my coach, Lynda Wallenfels has helped her strategically maneuver my schedule to keep increasing my fitness and motivation without risking burnout. Using power, I treat workouts like a game of Super Mario, as if hitting my numbers and beyond will earn me that 1UP.

This has worked great for indoor training and days on the road when the dirt is still covered in snow. However, once the thaw hits my motivation to grab the road bike goes down and all I want to do is ride dirt. That makes training a little more variable as I’m purely going off heart rate and perceived exertion. This has worked – OK, but who wants to settle for ok? After a successful 2015, it was a no-brainer to add a Stages Cycling Power Meter to help boost my training into the 2016 season. The crank set up was quick and easy, and the pricing is quite reasonable. Click the image below to check out their site.

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If more miles on dirt isn’t reasoning enough, I went to LW to ask her input on other important benefits of training with power on the mountain bike.

KJ: What do you find is the biggest benefit of adding power to your mountain bike vs. just using it on the road?

LW: With power meters on all bikes you get a complete picture of the athlete’s efforts. Fundamental to endurance training is to apply a training load followed by recovery. What is the optimal load? Optimal recovery period? Before power we could only guess. In 2003 Dr. Andrew Coggan developed a set of metrics that models workout stress, longer term training fatigue, fitness and recovery (form). We worked with him as beta testers to refine these for practical use. Since then we’ve learned a lot about the “when” and “how much” variables of training.

KJ: Where do you see the advantages of looking at an athlete’s power versus heart rate?

LW:  Heart rate is a response where power is what moves the bike. Heart rate his highly variable – down a coffee or Red Bull and your HR goes up for the same power (in most cases – but maybe not). Power data is objective ground truth – what really happened, what the athlete can do. Power data can be used to identify strengths and weaknesses. Once identified, creating the ideal program for an athlete based on event demands and goals becomes much more clear.

Spotting a limiter example: with power data, it might be discovered that an athlete has trouble at low cadence, high power efforts. These are often crux in MTB events. So, this athlete would benefit by doing some hard, low cadence steep climbs – and probably some SS work.

Power profile example: power data tells you how much power you can maintain normalized to body weight, and there are known ranges for various levels of cycling from recreational to world class, and they are broken into time bins (sprint, neuromuscular, VO2max, threshold). This is more info to help assess and figure out where the biggest gains can be made for the goal event.

KJ: Is it possible to rely too heavily on data? Could data ever hold an athlete back?

LW: Quite the opposite! Most athletes are prone to overtraining. Who wants to ride easy when stoke level goes to 11, right Karen? When used right, power data helps the athlete stay on track to reach goals. In most cases we advocate athletes to race with power meters but not looking at them, instead racing by feel. That “feel” is a calibration of your senses to what you can actually do, and gained by training with power. Training with power teaches you to execute.

In short, power data is knowledge, and with knowledge comes power.

KJ: Do you have any tools or resources for mountain bike athletes to learn more about training with power?

LW: Glad you asked. Resources first:

The fundamental power metrics are described at http://lwcoaching.com/power-training-glossary/. Normalized power is the base metric to which all others are related.

http://lwcoaching.com/performance-manager-chart-explained/ explains the concepts behind the Performance Manager Charts. This is a tool available with paid TrainingPeaks subscriptions and WKO+ software.

The concepts of power profiling on TrainingPeaks http://home.trainingpeaks.com/blog/article/power-profiling

Now, some tools.

https://connect.garmin.com/ is a great place to store your data as a starting point. Most worthwhile services can connect to your garmin account and automatically receive and process your files anytime you upload to garmin. As a bonus (and this is huge over time) it’s a backup of your precious power data.

http://home.trainingpeaks.com/products/products-for-athletes lists the TrainingPeaks offerings. The online athlete edition (premium) includes several tools to analyze your power data, including PMC, power profiling and a power file viewer. Their phone app is great too. WKO+ desktop software has advanced features and is only recommended for true geeks.

https://strava.com/ has great support for power in the premium version. At $6/month it’s a bargain. It generates a PMC style fitness/fatigue/form chart for you.

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It generates a power curve for every file, and compares the current ride’s data to your historical data.

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Strava probably doesn’t need further description here, but using the power data as well as segment times makes it easy to test different pacing strategies.

KJ: Thanks Lynda!

As you can see, there are many benefits to training with power. Even if you are someone who goes cross-eyed when you start looking at data. That’s where having a coach plays a huge role in continuing to make gains in your sport. He or she does that work for you, and you can just focus on following directions. If you’re not ready to jump into coaching, start by taking a look at the online tools Lynda mentioned to fully reap the benefits of using power.

Want to ask Lynda more about power? Check out her facebook page, LW Coaching. Each month she does an open coaching day where you can ask about any of your training and racing questions. Her next one is coming up Feb. 4th! Click the image below to check out LW’s facebook page.

Feb 4th 2016 Open coaching day

Lynda has been a plethora of knowledge to my training and racing over the past two seasons. I’ve never been one to hold something good to myself, so please check it out – and happy training. :)

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My Favorite Moments of 2015

Without a doubt, 2015 in its entirety was a most memorable chunk of fun in my bike life – a lot of things clicked this year and the things that didn’t, I was able to pull up my big girl pants and handle with a little more grace than in years past. Here’s a look at my favorite moments of 2015 – adventures, career, races, and more! Because, let’s be real… none of us are living our days purely based on training and racing.

We kicked off our 2016 work/play/race stint with a trip to Sedona for the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival. This was a first for me, and if I had to describe this location in one word – magical would take the cake. It’s a playground of red dirt, hairball trails, and lush green shrubbery.

Spending a few weeks on the road can come with its challenges. Jeff and I hit a few of those this year; traffic stresses, hangry lows, lodging discrepancies and balancing each others training/work/relationship needs. Through it all, we learned how to compromise and most importantly we were able to laugh at the moments of comedic relief.

Through it all, we came out stronger with a new found respect for each other’s differences.

2015 marked the second year of the Vail Valley Alternative Sports Academy, a kids MTB 101 program that I’ve been allowed to take the reigns on. In one year, with the help of my staff, community, and volunteers we were able to introduce 120 kids to the sport over June and July! It’s an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to see my ideas come to life, and the reward is in each and every smile on the kids’ faces.

This season’s race results were the best yet. Stats wise, I hit 8 podiums out of 11 races. 2 of the 3 missed podiums were mechanicals and 1 was a body mechanical. Beyond the results, the biggest gain in my race season was the ability to stay balanced in my work, relationship, and athlete life. I was able to bounce back from health/injury hiccups by taking the ample amount of time to recover and work on preventative measures from having it happen again. I’m predicting this will be an ongoing lesson, but it feels great to have finally put together a season that I’m proud of.

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Adventure! There were so many great trips above treeline this year, and each and every one was amazing. Quite possibly the most memorable was my first bike pack trip with Jeff from Aspen to CB and back. Time spent in the mountains fuels my soul.

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Last but not least, riding with friends. It’s quite amazing what the power of a group of supportive, encouraging, like-minded people can do for your confidence. Fun is fast, and I feel quite fortunate to have a solid supply of fun and fast friends who give me that boost to push my limits!

Travel + Love + Friendships + Continuing Career Goals + Adventure + Race Focus + Fun

The above were all big contributors to my 2015. I look forward to continuing the flow in 2016 aboard Team Topeak-Ergon! Cheers to taking new opportunities by the huevos and running.

Off Season Scramble

Once my headache cleared, I was more than ready to get back outside! The best part of the off season is getting out and playing in the mountains for however long you like – the only governor being daylight and energy levels. Here is a little of what we’ve been up to so far this fall.

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We’ve hung up the cross country bikes to be sold and stick to long (to us) travel rides. Dirt Surfer. Eagle, CO.

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With no races coming up, there is always a reason to prolong your rides to catch the last light on dry dirt in between fall storms. Riddle. Eagle, CO.

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With the pending snow soon to blanket the mountains, it’s always a gamble on each cruise through the alpine until it’s our last. Elkhorn Trail. Beaver Creek, CO.

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With trail conditions being put on temporary pauses with the changing of seasons, lunch rides start to switch to the road. Cottonwood Pass. Gypsum, CO.

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Mix and matching equipment and sport. Cottonwood Pass. Gypsum, CO.

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Sometimes, we don’t mind hanging up the bikes to fulfill our hypoxic needs by climbing mountains. Peak One, 10-Mile Range. Summit County, CO.

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I’m gradually learning that as important as it is to follow a structured plan – it’s equally as important to have bouts of flexibility. The off season is a time for a me to get out, immerse myself with all kinds of activity, and recharge for the season to come!

Keep playing, moving, and having fun!

2015 Bike/Life Season Wrap Up

The 2015 season marked my fourth year racing in the elite category, fifth year trying out this whole racing thing, and the most consistent year yet! My main goal every year is to maintain a good life, bike, and financially sustainable balance from start to finish – all while trying to build a career around this bike life. Year by year, it’s motivating to see how things are gradually coming together. 

The season started with a new partner – BH Bikes, racing and training on the Lynx4.8 and Ultimate hard tail gave me the best tools for the job throughout the whole season! Another new partner was Limar Helmets – knowing I have a tendency to test lines and lawn dart here or there, I was confident in this lid keeping me safe no matter what I put it through. Along with the continued support of Castelli Cycling Apparel, Ergon Bike, Continental Tire, Xpedo pedals, Pearl Izumi shoes, Osmo Hydration, Smith Optics, Handlebar Mustache socks/apparel, community support of Yoga off Broadway and Yetis Grind, as well as the guidance of LW Coaching – I was stoked and grateful for every bit of help. With this village, I could focus on the fun part – putting in the work, staying motivated, healthy, and most important have fun riding and racing my bike!

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Once the bikes rolled in, we were off to the desert every chance possible to familiarize ourselves with riding trail after a winter of road rides, skiing, and (minimal) indoor riding.

Continually working on the bike/life balance – stars alined more than a few times where fun and work overlapped as Jeff and I got to travel together and work multiple bike festivals in warmer climates. Our first trip to Sedona was a great February escape to get to play on technical trails in the warm sun. We’ll return for the 2016 Sedona Mountain Bike Festival – and I’ll be sure to bring a dropper post this time.

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St. George is beginning to be one of our favorite places to ride in the winter, and helps that my coach lives there and can show me all the lines!

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The True Grit 100/50 has continued to be a great test to early season fitness. My second year racing the 50, and one step higher than the previous year. We definitely look forward to this March event and will return in 2016!

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Come April, we continue our bike/life balance by traveling to California. This year, we worked the Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival followed by Sea Otter. A real treat getting to train at sea level, work, and spend time together.

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Morning work commutes are so fun with an abundance of oxygen.

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Evening dinner dates along the beach were just the ticket to take full advantage of traveling together.

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A few days after returning from California, we had a last minute decision to race the Rocky Mountain Endurance Series – Ridgeline Rampage, a 5 lap race on a 10 mile track.

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As dizzy as we were with so many short laps, it was a great training opportunity and happy to have held onto third in a field of strong Colorado competition.

We are lucky to live in a valley with so many training opportunities – the Vail Recreation District puts on a Short Track series as well as a smoking fast XC Series. No doubt, the handful I was able to make helped rev the engine for my longer races throughout the season. Each race finishing 2nd and 3rd.

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Linda Guerrette was out at all the races – catching great images of the painful fun we continually come back to.

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In May, the Gunnison Growler was a little bit of a bummer for me with a race ending mechanical – a frayed cable locked me in my easiest gear. It was an extremely wet spring causing for a gamble when it came to trail conditions. I look forward to racing this one again next year for another shot!

June provided the first open window to ride high. This month was event work heavy with a rescheduled Firebird 40 – providing for great training blocks and local races. It’s also when I started figuring out a nasty breathing issue. Not letting it break my stride – I stayed focus on the races ahead and came out strong in July.

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The Firecracker 50 was the first race where everything clicked, body, breathing, motivation – it was all there.

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A finish I’m sure to remember for awhile.

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Finishing second definitely felt like a win, especially with a podium kiss from the Race Director – Jeff Westcott.

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Keeping things rolling, Jeff and I joined our friend Yuki Ikeda in a three person team for the Breck 100. This format was really fun as each person took a 30′something mile TT pull. We raced our way to the first team to ever beat the open men’s finisher’s time! It would be fun to see more teams sign up next year, and it become a competitive field.

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In 2014, I helped start a kids mountain bike program, Vail Valley Alternative Sports Academy. Going into 2015, I took the reigns in programming, managing, and building the program – and with an overwhelming amount of community support we sold out each session!

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As much energy as this took, it was by far the highlight of the year – being a part of the growth and momentum of getting kids on bikes is a huge passion of mine, and seeing the affect it has had on our small community goes well beyond any podium finish of a race. The kids have a way of making it all come together – we talk very little to not at all when it comes to racing, but focus on the stewardship, fun, and empowering parts of the sport. Our goal is to cultivate riders, not racers – as we feel the ones who want to go onto racing will happen naturally.

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August was probably the biggest event push, which actually went right into September this year with the Breck Epic, Interbike and our new event The Vail Outlier Offroad Festival. Keeping it all in check – I made sure I was present when it came to work and scheduled a couple races around working to keep things rolling.

My role changes a lot, but mostly comes down to media monkey – curating content, managing social media accounts, professional photo caption writing, coordinating results/images with the real media, etc. It’s a fun – time consuming job… and really takes 100% of my focus. Racing and working events just doesn’t work for me – something is bound to fall, either you’re not going to race your best or work your best. Considering, work pays my bills… I sway towards the working end of the spectrum – grateful that it still keeps me involved and on my bike!

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Signing up for The Grand Traverse – Aspen to CB MTB race motivated a weekend bike packing adventure. Jeff and I rode from Aspen to CB – camped- then rode back CB to Aspen. A great way to tour the course and get a little bit of adventure spliced in.

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Photo Credit Chris Miller

Photo Credit Chris Miller

The race itself was quite an adventure! A stunning course, 40′ish miles, 9,000ft of climbing – all through the high alpine backcountry.

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Colorado always brings out stellar competition – happy to have finished on the podium with these two hammers and friends.

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In the Vail Outlier Offroad Festival‘s first year – I was allowed to take Sunday off work and jump into the RockShox Enduro race.

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This race was such a blast being able to jump into a laid back race during an event working weekend.

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Apparently, fun is fast as I was skirting off a podium spot until a mechanical stopped me in stage 3.

The final event for 2016 was Moab Rocks – a 3 day stage race put on by TransRockies Events.

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I felt the strongest all season, and was off to a great start. Unfortunately, a crash in stage 2 kept me from lining up in the final stage. Overall, a good lesson that sometimes slower is faster, and to maintain composure after trying to make up time after a mechanical.

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So – as I close the book on 2015, I look forward to 2016! The past four years of racing have given me compounding lessons, experiences, and building fitness to keep progressing in the sport. I am so grateful for every success, set back, and everything in between as each experience continues to shape me along this bike life journey.

Thanks for following along, and cheers to 2016!

Keep smiling! :)

 

Moab Rocks: Save the Brains!

In contrast to previous years, my fire to race was still burning bright into October – health, motivation, and fitness were firing on all cylinders. That’s why when we were given an opportunity to race a three day stage race in Moab a week prior to go time, there was no hesitation. I was instantly on the phone with Coach Lynda and fine tuning the days leading up to the race.

Prior to deciding to do this race, I had taken a few weeks off any structured training to give full attention to work as well as immersing myself with the fall foliage and high alpine trails – no HR monitor, no governors, just my riding company and the flow of the trail. With a week to go until three, short, technical days of racing LW scheduled me a mix of rest and short, intense intervals. Seeing consistent numbers in the 300 & 400′s I was giddy to line up and see what this fall fitness had in store.

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Moab Rocks is put on by the fine, Canadian group of TransRockies Events – who have a list of other events such as Singletrack6. This was the third running year of the Moab event and after experiencing their organization’s professionalism, kindness, and really felt their love for the sport – I’m confident it’ll just keep growing. From last year alone, they increased their entry by 40%! Read MTBR’s event production recap here.

Having worked the past three years of the Breck Epic, 6-day stage race in the high alpine of Breckenridge, Colorado – I was ecstatic to get my turn at stage racing. Reviewing the stages, they were all relatively short and somewhat familiar.

  • Stage 1: Porcupine Rim – 29 miles – 4,400 feet of elevation gain
  • Stage 2: Klondike Bluffs – 25 miles – 2,800 feet of elevation gain
  • Stage 3: Magnificent 7 – 29 miles – 2,800 feet of elevation gain

Lynda talked over a couple strategies for stage racing – and I went for the “just go hard everyday” route. I’m growing a better sense of what paces I can withstand, and my approach was to start fast and hold on for the amount of time I know I can hold it and then settle into a more steady state rhythm. I’m not one to worry about who else is racing, or waste time wondering what my competition will do – all I can control is myself, my effort, and my race. That being said, there were a handful of other strong and technically savvy women ready to rip for the weekend – Jaime Brede, KC Holley, Pepper Harlton, and others from all over the states were on the line.

Eddie Clark Media

Eddie Clark Media

The first stage, Porcupine Rim would propose a somewhat straight up, straight down profile leading up with a 4k climb and then a plummet down a rocky, demanding descent. It had been a few years sine I had ridden the full porcupine descent, so my strategy here was to gas it on the climb and ride steady on the descent – taking zero risks! The countdown was on, nerves were tingling with excitement, and we were on our neutral rollout to San Flats rd. Once we hit the steeper pitches of the road I followed the pace of the lead group of men until it got a little too snappy and then grabbed onto the chase group for the final steep pitches. Once we were to the SlickRock trailhead, I fell off that group and quickly realized it would be more efficient for me to latch onto the approaching group of three men who were on a good clip. Jumping on with them, we hung together for awhile – I helped bridge two gaps to a couple guys who were spit off the chase group. Once we hit a couple steeper pitches I was off again and now fairly solo as the road conditions were a mixture of soft, loose gravel and super steep – Costa Rica like paved sections. For the last 20 minutes of climbing, I caught onto a few guys and as much as we kept each other going – we kept it pretty conversational.

The turn off of the road to the timed descent was comical – it went straight up! A little past the start of the timed descent I tried to clean my glasses while riding a couple times until finally pulling over to give them a proper wipe down as they were covered with sweat stains. Now, was the fun part! It took awhile for me to get into a rhythm on the descent, but I clipped my way down – pushing the climbs and settling into the flow. More than a few times I got caught up on bad lines, and with no hesitation walked verses risking a nose wheelie. Finishing up the day, I felt great – first woman by 4 minutes and still feeling fresh.

Stage 2 was an unfamiliar stage for me. Having never ridden at Klondike Bluffs, Jeff and I did a quick ride on the first 10ish miles of the course before getting into town. This stage started with a 4 mile drag race on two track before diving into single track for the remainder of the stage. After warming up, my legs felt great – surprisingly, no perceived fatigue and they had that snap. During this start, I positioned myself again at the back of the lead group of men – except this time, I held it all the way to the single track! I even got to draft off Jeff’s power booty for a little bit on the rolling, sandy double track prior to the slick rock – life goals. ;) Once I hit the trail, I settled into my own pace and knew I would be fine if I just stayed steady. Well – the demanding terrain of Moab had it with me and I punctured 8 miles in. With a lodged valve plug, it took quite some time to get it fixed – Eric Davis, who had stopped to help another female pro, Jaime Brede the previous day with a serious crash, stopped again to help me fix my issue. It took Eric, myself, and three other guys to get the valve stem unstuck and me back rolling – THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for your help! The next series of events is where I did everything wrong. ( enter lessons learned here) After leaving Eric, I was determined to make up time – I went off, and “pinning it” wouldn’t even begin to describe my motivation to catch back up. After the stage, people talked of the “possessed woman” who was “hauling ass” – yikes! They assured me I was being safe while passing appropriately. This pace lasted for about 20 minutes until I had one inevitable bad placement of my front tire, sending me hitting the unforgiving slick rock. The remainder of the stage was me licking my wounds back to the finish line.

Eddie Clark Media

Eddie Clark Media

Once across the finish line – I was a wreck, dazed, sore, and instant tears. All I wanted to do was sit down and close my eyes. The medic was extremely helpful and got me cleaned up. After some chatting as well as checking out my helmet – we found out I knocked my noggin’ explaining the headache, sore neck, and slight confusion. This is when I started to get a little concerned as I’ve dented my helmet two times prior to this case, all within the past month.

Other issues were not so much of an issue – my head was the biggest factor that needed to be taken seriously. That didn’t stop me from planning to race in the morning. Jeff switched my wheels (I dented the rim of the set I raced on that day) and did the normal race day check, my nutrition was ready, and my motivation was high. Stage 3 was the stage I knew the best, Mag7 – a route we ride every time we visit Moab. I was confident I was going to make up all the time I had lost by pushing the two bigger climbs and staying smooth on the trails.

Sunday’s night’s sleep was anything but restful – tossing and turning to the headache that wouldn’t let up. It pained me as I knew what was going on. As I woke up, I knew what the right decision was and chose to sit out the last stage. It crushed me, and I was an emotional wreck. A combination of hard work, passion and love for the sport – all had to be set aside for the safety of my brains.

Once Jeff finished up his race – which he consistently chipped away to a 3rd place overall finish – we headed out to find some shade and moseyed around a great little watering hole. A perfect place to relax and soak in all of the weekend’s happenings. A great way to put it into perspective – focus on everything good that happened throughout the weekend and not get so held up on not being able to compete the last day. Through pushing on after a bad crash, staying motivated and strong, as well as spending time with friends in a beautiful place – the weekend was quite a success! Most importantly, there will be plenty more to come.

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In hindsight, it’s really astounding to see what competition does to us. At the time, I wanted nothing more than to be racing my bike – even if it risked a more serious head injury. It’s now four days after the crash and my first day waking up without a headache. Words are no longer blurry on my computer, I can get back to work, as well as riding my bike. There really is no knowing what would’ve happened if I had raced the final stage, but what I do know is that I have many more moons to line up, feel strong, and continue enjoying this crazy bike life.

Moral of the story: Save the brains and keep smiling!

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Summer Grand Traverse – Aspen to CB

Although, I’m not quit ready to post up an end of season recap – I CAN put into words what the past weekend’s adventure entailed.

First thing, there were no lack of events this past weekend. In fact, there were so many great events going on it was hard to decide which to do. Many of my race choices come down to finding a good balance of affordability and course quality. Having not ridden in Aspen or CB over the past few years, my attention was drawn to The Summer Grand Traverse Aspen to CB race. It seemed to fit the bill being close to home – no lodging cost, a reasonable entry fee – $100, and the route appeared to be a rustic, challenging, yet absolutely stunning experience! I was sold.

After a month of event heavy work and absolutely zero racing, I was more than ready to toe the line with my favorite MTB lady friends/competition. That’s the beauty of Colorado – it is jam packed with talented women who challenge each other on the course, but are the first to congratulation one another at the finish. I have yet to line up to a race where there hasn’t been stout competition, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s helped shape me into the athlete I am today and continues to test my boundaries of what I feel I’m capable of.

A little more on the race – it was first set up as a Winter Grand Traverse, a ski touring event that follows an almost identical route from CB to Aspen. Last year, the organizers started a Summer Run/MTB format where on a Saturday runners set out on the route in one direction and the next day the MTB event heads back in the opposite direction. This year, the route ran CB to Aspen for the runners and Aspen to CB for the mountain bikers. This meant, our elevation profile resembled the mullet of all elevation profiles. 3500ft of business up front and a huge party of a descent in the back.

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As we all lined up, I already knew the close front line would make it difficult for me to jump onto the steep start. Comically, my apprehension came to fruition as Brian Smith made a little fumble next to me as I also fumbled – it took me an additional fumble to finally get myself going up the first climb, setting me back 30 seconds right off the start. I stayed calm, remembered it was a long day and quickly positioned myself in second – where I stayed for the entirety of the 5 mile 3500ft elevation gain climb up Aspen Mountain.

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Photo Credit Chris Miller

Throughout the first climb I seemed to have gotten stuck in one speed, not breathing hard, not able to kick it into sparkles, but just one steady pace. Staying positive, I chugged along at what my body was able to do. At the crest of Aspen Mountain, Jenny Smith got ahead of me while I remained in my one speed pace of the day. Amy Biesel took control of the day from the start, and that’s how we finished all separated by 8-10 minutes 1. Amy B. 2. Jenny Smith 3. Myself.

That may be how the “race” ended, but the route got really interesting after the trip up Aspen Mountain. As we began the “traverse” towards Taylor and Star Pass our trail conditions went from packed road to peanut butter slip-n-slides, false summits, hike a bikes, Tasmanian Devil road descents, high alpine single track, and views that made you forget you were racing. Our day had perfect weather conditions! The recent moisture made otherwise loose, sandy roads either hard packed and perfect or peanut butter. It was a gamble riding through puddles as some you could skim through and others would grab your tire and stop you in your tracks.

The first aid station was at Taylor Pass, the 15 mile mark. There were a few burly sections both up and down prior to getting there – all of which seemed MUCH easier on a race bike verses the loaded down bike packing set up Jeff and I had ridden the couple weeks prior. Getting into a group of a couple men kept me motivated and pushing the climbs, staying steady with them on the flats, and back to pushing the line on the descents. I led a couple through a rolling section before a steep, loose road descent. One of the men on a trail bike got around me before one of the last steep, loose descents before the final gradual climb/descent to the aid. I foolishly followed his speed and line – before I knew it my shoulder and neck hit the ground and bike and body proceeded to tumble down the road a few rolls. Taking a moment to do damage control – I was OK! Hopped back on and chugged along to ride out the kinks.

Through most of the traverse I could always see Jenny’s pink jersey, and through the couple hike a bikes to Star Pass I started to see some gain being made. With my head down and not thinking too clearly distinguishing the red – wrong way ribbons and pink – route confirmation ribbons I followed the red ribbons right before the final push to Star Pass. I cruised along this amazing trail awhile until something felt wrong. As I looked up towards the pass I saw Jenny reaching the top and I yelled up “Am I going the wrong way!??!”. I looked behind me and saw my new friend, Dan who I had been riding most of the route with approaching the intersection. Awe, shoot – wrong turn! I turned around and back to the intersection where Dan and I shared a good laugh over my mistake.

Photo Credit Chris Miller

Photo Credit Chris Miller

From the top of Star Pass, we had a long descent ahead of us – trail 400, the last trail that local rider, and friend Will Olson lost his life on a few short weeks prior. As I started my descent I said out loud, “Come on Will, let’s ride!”. I kept it steady and made my way down smoothly. Thank you, Will.

Towards the bottom, my new friend Dan caught up with me where he proceeded to want to follow my line through the next couple sections of trail. He was loving life and kept me going steady. He got around me on one section where I lost my line and had to get off as he slide sideways down the rock face. Somehow, he pulled it off without a crash and kept rolling. I caught back up to him along the road and we chatted about the last section of trail. This part I had never ridden before – he stopped to fill his bottle and I carried on.

Right off of the road the trail just went up, and up, and up. It wasn’t terrible, and a lot more was rideable than I had thought my legs were able to handle at that point. Not knowing how long this section was, I was always anticipating more climbing. The trail mostly rolled after the initial grunt and as ready as I was to be done, it was actually quite beautiful. Rocks, roots, tourists, aspen groves – it kept you on your toes and entertained all the way to the final turn to the finish line. DCIM100GOPROG0093651.

I came across in 5:24 – 3rd place female, 10th place overall. Deep breath of relief and accomplishment, my ride was complete. Dan fell back a bit, but I waited to congratulate him at the finish and thank him for all his kind, encouraging words and enthusiasm he gave throughout the day. DCIM100GOPROGOPR3662.

Jeff was such a champ throughout the day – from driving me to the start line at 5am, driving another 3 hours to the finish, washed my bike, took photos/video, and then drove us another 3 hours home. THAT is way less fun than what I got to do – what a guy! Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 9.49.31 AM

Now, its time to put away my Castelli Cycling Apparel super suit and focus on a few end of the season work events. On tap are a few days of interbike followed by the Vail Outlier Offroad Festival Sept 25-27th – bringing back big time mountain bike racing to Vail Mountain. Something I hope you all take part in – XC, Enduro and large Demo right in Vail Village!

 

 

 

Pearl Pass: CB to Aspen

 

After making the gregarious trek to CB from Aspen, and then an added 10 miles towards our return route towards Pearl Pass, we happily soaked in a full nights rest. I’m not one to ever sleep well when camping, but after the day we had the day prior – I fell into a deep, dream filled slumber. DCIM100GOPROGOPR1881.

From our site, we were awoken by the first morning light and the sweet ballads of cows 50 yards from where we chose to stay for the night. Growing up on a small farm in Minnesota, I felt right at home.IMG_8122

In general, I enjoy slow mornings – which is amplified when immersed in The Great Outdoors. Slowly wake up when your body feels ready, enjoy a morning meditation and extra long gaze at the rising sun over the mountain side. A perfect way to recharge for our return trip to Aspen via Pearl Pass. IMG_8112

Breakfast in bed. Chivalry is not dead – or Jeff was just kindly hinting that I get moving. DCIM100GOPROGOPR1873. DSCN2155Enough dilly dallying around, it was time to squeeze back into a fresh chamois and not so fresh jersey to get rolling back to Aspen.DCIM100GOPROGOPR1888.Much like the start of yesterday’s ride, today we headed straight UP. I was not feeling very sparkly and struggled for the first hour until my body figured out what we were doing again. DCIM100GOPROGOPR1892.The road towards Pearl Pass went from steep, to rolling, to steep… like little punches with just enough time for you to catch your breath before another swing came rolling back at you. DSCN2159 DSCN2165As the trees became sparse, the views became grand – lessening any lingering fatigue. DCIM100GOPROGOPR1895.When the terrain would throw us off our lines, it always offered up great moments to stop and take it all in…. and enjoy a little reprieve of a loved one’s shoulder.  DSCN2173 IMG_8134We climbed and climbed and climbed some more. The road would go from completely buff to rock garden bobble town. DCIM100GOPROGOPR1910.So we pushed…DCIM100GOPROGOPR1922.…and rode…DCIM100GOPROGOPR1929. DCIM100GOPROGOPR1933.…and pushed some more. DCIM100GOPROGOPR1958.All the way to the TOP! We made it – 3500ft of pedaling, slogging, hiking, grunting, and commiserating our way to the top. DCIM100GOPROGOPR1961.Taking in the view and secretly hoping we DO NOT have to go over any more of those beautiful mountain ranges in the distance. For now, they are quite nice to just look at. Luckily, it was all downhill from there… a few rollers, but mostly downhill…DCIM100GOPROGOPR1979. DCIM100GOPROGOPR1983.The descent off of Pearl Pass towards Aspen was hair raising! We sat back, let off the brakes and allowed the bike sail over the random mess of rocks – with the thought in our heads, “Thank goodness we are going DOWN this and not UP it!”DCIM100GOPROGOPR1985.We came off of Pearl Pass and descended down to Ashcroft – the route went from gnarly and rocky to smooth pavement. Going from seeing no one, to see every Aspenite on their Sunday road ride up to the old nordic center. I’m fairly certain I saw Bradley Cooper pass us by with a big smile and a hello – yes, I’m sure of it. No, do not interject with a logical explanation to why it wasn’t him…just let me have this. IMG_8142Done. Cooked. Ready for a shower – my first bike packing experience was absolutely stunning. A hard earned kind of stunning that sticks with you longer than just stumbling upon it. To the people who do this on a regular basis, I tip my helmet to you out of sheer respect – you are a beautiful aspect of the sport that unfortunately many overlook. Maybe not people who are lucky enough to live around these parts, but in general – I’m not sure the majority of the biking population has felt this. It’s not found through intervals, a start line or that fancy new power meter. It’s not a part of a club, a team, or a gym membership – it’s completely inclusive and wants you to come find it. Go get it!

 

Grand Traverse Aspen to CB

Jeff has been wanting to go bike packing with me for years – and for years the timing just hasn’t quite worked out. Well, this past weekend everything seemed to fall into place and we were loading up our bikes for a little adventure. The route: Aspen -> CB -> Aspen – A two day, one night introduction to bike packing. The route choice fell in nicely with an upcoming race, The Grand Traverse – that starts in Aspen and finishes in CB. On paper, it looked fairly straight forward, a lot of road, not many miles, and a good amount of climbing. Piece of cake! So I thought…

DSCN2077We parked the van in the mythological place called free parking in Aspen – from there, we set off for the first climb of the day, Aspen Mountain via the service road. Holy BALLS! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a steep grunt… maybe it was the loaded down bike, the lack of a warm up, or the breeze… yeah, maybe it was the breeze. No, it wasn’t any of those – it was just a hard climb, 5 miles and 3500ft elevation gain up a steep, loose, sandy, did I mention loose service road. DSCN2078As many hard climbs go, the views along the way were well worth the effort. That’s if I remembered to look anywhere but the stem of my BH Bikes Ultimate hardtail. Which performed like a champ – the bike, not just the stem. I’m 5’4″ and 110 mighty lbs, so the efficiency and weight of a bike are big priorities. We turned my BH Bikes XC race whip into a bike packing machine by putting away the light weight wheels, adding something a little beefier equipped with 2.4 Continental Xking tires, 28T SRAM XX1 chainring, Ergon GS1 grips, & Revelate Designs bags. In my seat bag was my Big Agnes Fish Hawk 30 sleeping bag, and on my back was my Ergon BA3 Evo Enduro pack filled with many things I felt necessary (as well as helpful tips from much more experienced bike packers, like coach LW) for my first bike packing trip. It’s amazing to see what few items you truly need for a couple days removed from your daily routine.

We crested Aspen Mountain, breathed in a moment of relief as about half of our climbing was done for the day! Little did we know what challenging terrain we were about to hit with the remainder of the route. DSCN2083DSCN2091After Aspen Mountain, the route’s next check point was Taylor Pass. We were fooled many times with false summits thinking we were there… we were not. Great opportunities to remind yourself to STOP LOOKING AT YOUR STEM. DSCN2093 DSCN2099DSCN2100TAYLOR PASS! It DOES EXIST…we made it up and down demanding terrain that’ll forever wipe away my downplay of “it’s just road”. DSCN2105This guy. I can’t say thank you enough – from carrying most of the weight, flawlessly navigating, keeping us hydrated, being patient as I slid down a few hike a bikes, all while looking dapper in his spandex suit. I’m onto you, Jeff Kerkove – I know what you’re trying to do to me… DSCN2111As we say goodbye to Taylor Pass, we head on towards Star pass. DSCN2113 Oh look, another rock laden climb I cannot clear – but WOW, look what’s beyond my stem… Those mountains sure are magnetic! DSCN2115 DSCN2117 The one (or two or three) wrong turns we took over the weekend always provided great backdrops. DSCN2118 Our first section of single track served up breathtaking views and plenty more opportunities to push your bike! IMG_8084 Jeff nears the top of Star Pass.DSCN2129 From the Top of Star Pass to the ‘finish line’ was primarily all trail – which is awesome when you are cross eyed and start playing the “what will I eat first” game in your head. We took this descent REALLY easy, took breaks, enjoyed the view, kept it safe – as not too long ago a freak accident look the life of a fellow rider as he raced down this very same trail. Thoughts of his life gone too soon filled the space in between my ears as we flowed our way down. Rest in peace, Will. DSCN2131 As we continued on, we crossed a handful of streams – each one begging us to just have a seat and stay awhile. IMG_8085 We rolled into town, ran into a few friends, and ate…. a simple sandwhich that was just OH SO GOOD! Can I get some privacy please? DSCN2132 Fed, happy, and ready to roll out to find where we’ll sleep for the night. Actual ride time was 5:45 with 7800k of climbing – running time was about 6:30… accounting for at least 45 minutes of not looking at our stems. DSCN2144 We rode up our return route about 10 miles until I was done; time to set up camp! A quick splash in the river to rinse out a vapor locked chamois, and change into dry clothes. I packed a set of Patagonia capeline top and bottoms which kept me warm and cozy! DSCN2142 All the familiar parts of the day were done – now, Jeff took charge and set up camp. DSCN2145 Our shelter for the weekend was a Big Agnes light weight tent and sleeping bags & pads. DSCN2146 It was so nice that the sleeping pad had it’s own little sleeve within the sleeping bag so that it stayed still as you moved about throughout the night. Genius, comfy and cozy! IMG_8100 DSCN2149 Goodnight moon.DCIM100GOPROGOPR1861.There you have it – Day 1 in the books. 50 Total miles of pedaling, 8400ft of climbing made much more fun with a stead strong adventure partner.