Day zero: Monday, April 9, 2017
Well here I am, the day before the five day mountain bike stage race begins. I’ve worked through the nerves and the self-doubt about my training. Have I done enough and the right kind of training?? It’s just the nature of the beast that is racing, you always wonder if you have done enough.
Deep down I know I have ridden more than any preseason before and now I’m excited to see what I can do! I’m excited to get on my bike and ride. I’m excited for all the pomp and circumstance that comes with opening ceremonies of a big endeavor. I’m excited to meet like- minded people who are as crazy as I am and want to spend five days climbing up mountains! And of course I’m excited to see how I measure up. By no means do I think I’m a professional, nor do I actually aspire to be a professional full time rider. But I will be competing against those professionals.
I will have to learn to race my own race. Otherwise trouble awaits late in the day and in the case of the Pisgah Stage Race, big, big trouble grabs hold of your muscles by days four and five! This is truly one of those situations where the journey is the destination. The fruits of doing this race may be more valuable to the developing rider than winning this race is to the professional. So we shall see.
I made you some great videos of my race preparations but I’m not sure the rural wi-fi can handle them. In the meantime, visit the race page to learn what I will be putting my body through each day and send me all the killer vibes and invite your friends to join us this week!
Day one: finished 8/20 open women 2 hours, 51 min. 25 miles.
Enduro 5/30 all women
I couldn’t be much happier with my performance on the bike today. Twenty five miles and 4,000 elevation gain is sort of a warm up for the stages ahead but nonetheless I feel good. My original goal was to start slow. Ease my way up the ridiculous rock ledges and root clusters that is Daniel ridge before attacking the first of the timed enduro sections. But with 180 racers and talks of traffic back ups even with last year’s 80 entrants I decided that I would charge out from the start at an 85% effort. The road climb was gentler than I remember and to my relief, the backup on the technical climb was such that I could actually get some recovery breaths in while we obediently marched our bikes up, up, up. This proved to be a smart gamble as I came into the enduro section with just a few guys in front of me. They graciously let me pass and I kept the throttle open. I only ran into a little traffic in the last 100 meters which in retrospect I doubt would have allowed me to make up 35 seconds to catch 4th place. I am a very proud flat lander, finishing with a time of 10:12 in 5th.
It was really helpful to have the elevation chart on my bike as the climbs can go on for miles. Knowing where you are when riding up and down mountains is really helpful in deciding when to pick up the pace or hold steady. We zipped down my favorite trail of Pisgah, Butter which lends itself to an enduro run of its own. The kind of chunky downhill that makes your legs scream just as much as while you climb. Then came the infamous 475 B gravel climb that comes in at about 4 miles and I’d say 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Knowing this was the last climb of the day AND that I had seen two female racers on my tail I decided it was worth burning a match to hold on to my position. I knew if I crested the mountain without them in ear shot then I could descend the remaining 3 miles to the finish confidently. 475 B is relentless but not terribly steep. I passed a few men and played with my pacing a little to keep my mind occupied while churning the wheels through the gravel. I finished strong on the familiar cove creek descent and crossed the line at 2 hours and 51 minutes for a standing of 8 out of 20!
Day Two: Finished 9th/20 open women. 3 hours, 35 min.
Enduro: 5th/30 all women. 1 minute off the winner Sue Haywood!
Overall standing: 9th
Stage two is made up of 30 total miles with 2/3 of that being technical single track. For me today’s stage would have been aptly named, “the grass is always greener” as I found myself constantly wishing each section to be over. The elevation and terrain was not particularly hard but each part kept me uncomfortable. One particular section that was a mere 3% rolling grade of double track was a real challenge for me to keep the gas on and not drift into a coma of easy rolling. Luckily another racer was happy to pace along behind me which kept my head much more in the moment. You would think that I would be happy to not be climbing but strangely enough it was almost just as painful to pedal non stop for 5+ smooth miles. I was equally annoyed by the 3 mile descent due to the thick gravel that kept threatening to slide me out. I was relieved to be going down but it was still mentally demanding. Of course when it came time to make the final climb I was certainly cursing under my breath but mostly to push myself to get to the top of black mountain and drop into the 2 mile enduro section!!
I came into this section feeling very confident and amped up to float through the trees on my Liv Pique. The descent was rocky, rooty, wet at times, rough, and oh so much fun!! I was feeling the flow and flying fast enough to think I was setting speed records. But like they say, there’s always someone faster than you, and today 4 women beat me down the mountain. I still felt really good about my run and was able to pass 4 people without scrubbing much speed, so thank you to everyone that understands the value of “the pass”. Pro tip, if someone catches you, especially in a downhill they are faster than you! Make room for them to pass and hey, if you catch back up to them they should return the favor.
So overall today was not the most fun I’ve had on the bike but a solid performance nonetheless. The weather is picture perfect, event management is on point, and the body is still feeling good for another 30 miles tomorrow!!
Day three: finished 7th/20 women open. 3 hours, 58 min. 30 miles
Enduro: 4th/30 and SO close to reaching the podium!
Overall standing: 7th/20 (moved up 2 places from yesterday!)
What an epic day stage three was! Thirty miles, more than 5,000 ft of climbing, and three crazy descents! We rode another of my favorite trails, sycamore cove and now a new favorite, buckhorn gap. Lots of sustained climbs today the shortest of which took me a good twenty minutes. The final climb was probably 45 min and that was not even the longest! I’m not really known for my climbing and of course it’s pretty challenging to get a lot of elevation training in the Midwest, but somehow I buckled down and just kept spinning those pedals. It was hard. Miles of loose gravel up and around the mountain side. Today I had not only a rabbit to chase but THE rabbit I have been chasing the past two days. Mrs. 7th place was in my sights and I was determined to keep her there. For most of the day we played leap frog, her charging ahead on the climbs and me blowing by her on the downhills. Today’s enduro challenge down Avery creek seemed to be the break I needed. A very rough section with 3 and 4 foot drops, deep water crossings, and of course technical rock gardens. My Liv Pique Advance full suspension bike and my maneuvering skills shined through here. Though I missed the podium by 10 seconds I believe it was a little too much for my rabbit. The final climb was steep and relentless and I fully expected to see her blue jersey chasing me down. But I didn’t and I just kept churning. It hurt a lot but when I get within five miles of the finish I can pretty much talk myself through anything.
After dragging my body and my bike the last 100 yards through root nests to the top of Black mountain I felt an enormous sense of pride. I slowed to gain my composure and make sure my legs wouldn’t give on on this rough descent. If you remember it was the enduro section from yesterday. I wouldn’t say I took my time as every second matters at this point in the stage race, but I was certainly more conservative and scrubbed speed when things got squirrelly. I passed another female racer and two guys which always feels good. I finished this grueling day in 3 hours and 58 minutes. A good 12 minutes in front of my rabbit and 30 minutes in front of a lot of ladies that put me to shame yesterday! So I’d say I had a good day. I made sure to eat constantly and thanks to the two rest stops I drank 5 bottles which I really felt helped keep me thinking straight. Tomorrow is another 30 miles with lots of hike a bike, but we get to race the infamous Pilot Rock which I feel confident about and many of the other ladies have never set tires on! Fingers crossed for an enduro podium tomorrow. I could die happy after that. Thanks for all the messages and for sharing this adventure with me. Blue Ridge Adventures has really impressed me and I’m loving having dinner with all my new racer friends!! (Yep, dinner is included each night!!)
Day four: finished 6th/20 women open. 4 hrs, 4 min. 31 miles
Enduro: 4th/30 … again
Overall standing: 7th
Today was a good day. The climbing (while on bikes) was kept to a minimum even though we reached 5,000 ft above sea level atop Laurel Mountain. However, the climbing while not on bikes was significant today. The mandatory hike-a-bike sections sprinkled along the top of Laurel often overshadow any description of the otherwise enjoyable trail. The hike-a-bike sections suck. But they are short and I have learned that I actually move quicker than the average bear through them. Knowing this and knowing that my technical ability would shine on today’s squirrel gap and laurel mountain sections my game plan was simple. Come out strong from the start (not a half hour climb this time), pass as many people as possible on the rooty single track, and keep a strong tempo on the climb leading to laurel. If I could get ahead in these areas I knew I could out hike and out descend everyone in proximity.
Pilot rock, a 2 1/4 mile chunky descent is the reward to dragging yourself and your bike up the mountain. It truly is an epic, machine crafted chute that snakes you along the cliff line over and around boulders reserved for strongman competition. What I really like about it and perhaps its false reasoning on my part, is that it is man made. Made to be ridden. Not just a trail pointed down river that attracts daredevils because it has become rutted out and hard to navigate. Equipped with the confidence of clean runs all week and a previous trip down pilot, I was determined to let it rip.
After the initial exhilaration I could feel the fatigue from the previous 3 hours spread through my limbs. The objective morphed into one of survival. Just hold on to the bike. Just hold on to the bike. My hands stopped worked about 2/3rd of the way down and I found myself trying to invent ways to wedge my body against the bike for fear of being tossed aside. It was like riding a raging bull but I had two handles within reach that I could not hold on to. The Liv Pique Advanced knows how to shred!! Through much self talk I stayed on the bike and made it to the bottom. What remained was four miles of rolling gravel THAT WOULD NEVER END to bring me into the finish. It was truly tough to stay pinned at that point in the day and I really wanted to cross the line in under four hours. Alas I would come close, but all that really mattered is that no women passed me and I even moved up a place! It’s good to know that my body is holding strong after four intense days. We shall see what tomorrow brings. It is the first day that I am not familiar with the trail and although there looks to be more down than up, I’m not sure I believe it.
Day five: finished 8th/20 women open. 3 hrs, 25 min. 25 miles
Overall and final: 7th