Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Snowshoe Enduro: Party Laps

I want to get college girl drunk tonight
No morning fears, no mountains to climb

Maybe it's the crazy that I'd miss
It won't get better than this

I like the way your brain works, I like the way you try
To run with the wolf pack when your legs are tired

Even though I’ve recognized the folly in trying to write blog posts about races before they happen, when I heard this song last week, I couldn’t help but imagine it would be a good lead-in for today’s post. Besides, it wasn’t so much a premonition of the race itself, but how I expected that I would feel afterward.

Going to into this weekend’s WV Enduro Series finale in Snowshoe felt like an endcap to the downward spiral that began at nationals there in July. Not that I regret taking a five-day bike park trip in the interim, but my fitness is definitely waning, I’m really burned out from travelling so much in the last couple of months, and I’m feeling very chubby from continued vacation-mode eating. In short, I wasn’t feeling very motivated to race or feeling very confident in my ability to race well, especially with the bad memories of nationals still hanging over Snowshoe for me. Still, we made plans to race at Snowshoe and to stay through Monday for “party laps”, since there were still quite a few trails we didn’t get to ride when we visited in May.

All that being said, I went into the race with my best “give a shit” effort, and it kinda sorta worked.

The first stage of the race was Bailout, which was one of the more frustrating stages of nationals. It’s about a mile long, and doesn’t really feel downhill most of the time. It was a complete sludgefest at last year’s WV finale, but was merely slimy at nationals and this weekend. It’s just a very, very technical trail with lots of slick rocks and roots, as well as a lot of tight corners that don’t allow you to see what’s coming up next.

When I began my race run, I reminded myself to stay really, really focused but not necessarily to try to go hard. I stayed on my bike the longest that I ever have on a run of Bailout, which was about halfway into the big, perpetually muddy rock garden about a third of the way through. Although at times it felt slow, I just kept reminding myself that I was doing the best on Bailout that I ever had. When I did have to get off, I would run, but as soon as I was on again, I would get back into steady piecing together of the technical bits. Despite the fact that Bailout is never pretty, having made a big improvement on it helped motivate me for the rest of the race.

As the day wore on, I just kept focusing on staying on my bike and making as few mistakes as possible, which in itself is always a challenge at Snowshoe. When it was over, I found that I had PR’d every single Strava segment on the course, except for the transfer to the first stage, which I had ridden intentionally slow. Although I was still last place by 4.5 minutes, Sue Haywood won both last year and this year with times of 26:24 and 26:41 respectively, while I improved from 45:08 to 38:51. I knew at the end of last season that I had a huge gap to cover between the sport and the pro/expert class, and while I didn’t manage to make it all up in one year, I was able to put a dent in it. I did what I could, and now it’s time to start figuring out how to get the rest of the way next season.

It was admittedly a relief to cap off the series, and we celebrated with beer and pizza among friends in the Snowshoe Village that night. In the morning, we got in our party laps in, and I got to ride some silly trails that I’d never ridden before.

Now I’m looking forward to a long stretch of sleeping my own bed, although we may still venture back to Thunder Mountain before it closes for the season. As for racing, we’ll still do the Raven Enduro in October because it’s in State College, but my only real goal for that is to not be in terrible shape this time so that it doesn’t suck to just get through the race. We might also still hit the MASS finale at Glenn Park if we feel like it. Otherwise, I’m just going to start working on getting ready for next season.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Bike Doctor Sheduro

Big reputation, big reputation
Ooh you and me we got big reputations, ah
And you heard about me, ooh
I got some big enemies

Big reputation, big reputation
Ooh you and me would be a big conversation, ah
And I heard about you, ooh
You like the bad ones too

I think the Bike Doctor Sheduro was probably the race I looked forward to the most this season. I spent a lot time thinking about the EWS Continental finale in Burke before nationals highlighted my gross underpreparation, but those thoughts were mostly filled with dread. By the time Frank and I found each other after our race at nationals, one of our first conversations was about our mutual desire to quietly abandon our Burke plans and let go of that sense of dread. On the other hand, I had some initial confusion a few months ago as to why my friend Patrick was posting about a women’s-only enduro on Facebook when I saw “Sheduro” in the event name. However, I soon realized that it was not the word “She” that was the beginning of the portmanteau, but “Shed”, as in the Frederick Water Shed, and frankly, that made it more appealing.

I was apparently bad at being in pictures this weekend. I was actually inside the truck at this point, because the back was just a little bit full.

I had heard from one of the instructors at the TakeAim women’s clinic a couple of years ago who was from Frederick that the place was full of nice rocky downhill trails. As I continued on to race in the WV enduro series, I talked to a lot more people from area and heard similar stories. We met Patrick last year, and though he’s moved from Frederick to Reading, PA this season, he still has plenty of Shed love to go around. Based on its reputation, we’d been wanting to check out The Shed for a while, so when we heard that there would be a race there, we were really excited.

There was the small problem of the race’s proximity to our bike park trip, and while sometimes the solution to #FOMO is to just accept missing things, sometimes you just have to do both things and accept that it will be less than ideal. I admittedly began to doubt that strategy as we began our pre-ride on Saturday, which was my first time pedaling a bike for more than the distance from the car to the lift in 13 days. We rode the first two stages, which were very XC-oriented, and I started to feel sick from the heat and humidity, as well as my body just forgetting how to pedal a bike. I figured that if Stages 3 and 4 were like the first two, riding them blind wouldn’t hurt me too much, because I wasn’t going to do well on them, anyway. We headed over to Stage 5 where we would be picked up by a shuttle afterward.

Stage 5 was awesome, and it was what I had been imagining when I looked forward to the race. It was steep and rocky, and like 5-10% harder than Wildcat and Old Laurel. You know, fun zone. There was also a three-foot drop with no go around, but instead of my usual obsessing, I walked up to the lip, told myself that I had landed safely from much higher/further/faster while jumping at Thunder Mountain earlier in the week, and rode off it perfectly the first time. Unfortunately, the two-second video proof isn’t that great, but to actually land a real drop on a race course was sort of a huge breakthrough for me.

The race itself was kind of meh for me. Stage 1 started with that, “Oh crap, I guess I’m racing now,” feeling as bumbled through the first few muddy turns. Then a kid caught and passed me, and I found my rhythm and started to reel him back, which was pretty fun. Stage 2 was very tight and twisty with lots of muddy rocks, and I kept hitting bad lines and having to get off and run. That was not as fun.

I hadn’t ridden Stage 3, but I was kind of dreading it, because I heard there was either a big climb or two climbs, depending on who was recalling it. This actually worked out because it turned out to be not as bad as I was imagining. What was actually surprising was when the course took a hard left through a crack between two large rocks, and I had to pause to decide if that was really supposed to be the course or not. It was, and it led into a short, techy section to finish the stage, which was actually pretty fun. They ended up throwing out the times for that stage, and based on the amount of pedaling, I was not even a little sad about that.

“Stage 5” or, Creampie as it is officially known, was for the open classes only, so it was originally supposed to be last. The morning of the race, they told the open classes to just head straight to Creampie from the end of Stage 3 and then pick up Stage 4 last. This made the sport and open classes split off in different directions after Stage 3, but the volunteers were good at directing us. I think the change made our course easier, because the race was originally billed as 16 miles and about 2000 feet of climbing, but what I actually ended up with was 12 miles and about 1600 feet of climbing. I certainly wasn’t going to complain about that in my current state of fitness.

My race run of Creampie was okay, but not great. I hit the drop, although I don’t think I had enough speed after the rock roll that came right before it, and I buzzed myself with my rear tire so badly that I still have a red mark on the inside of my thigh two days later. Although I’m sure it looked terrible, it was still a victory in its own right, because not only did I actually do a drop during a race, I did it badly and still rode it out without crashing. All the nightmare scenarios that I imagine will happen when I ride off drops are getting less and less powerful because I'm starting to gather proof that I actually have the skills to correct imperfect landings.

The other part of the run that concerned me was near the middle, where the low line to the left looked easier but was a bad set up for the subsequent steep rocky chute. I took the wrong line in both of my practice runs, and while I got into the right line during my race run, I got nervous and didn’t ride it out. That was my one big disappointment, because I think I could have been like a minute faster if I’d had a chance to successfully hit that line in practice. The final stage was pedally in the middle, but the second half was fun, and I wish had pre-ridden it so that I could have gone faster.

Two Linds*y's enter a podium. Only one leaves with money. Second and fourth had already left.

In the end, I got third out of four in the open women, and had the second-best women's time on Creampie. Lindsey Carpenter still beat me by 1:43 on that stage, but she is basically fast on everything always, so I don’t feel that bad. My other stage times all kind of sucked, and more than half the sport women beat me on those, but they had probably ridden those trails more than I had. When it was all said and done, I just had to be happy that I managed not-last in my own category, and that I had finally landed a drop during a race.

For this first edition of the Sheduro, I think that there were logistical challenges in finding a place big enough for all of the racers to park and/or getting enough shuttles to take everyone back to the parking area, and that was part of the reason that there were more XC trails included instead of the gnarlier downhill runs. As I understand it, more Creampie-style trails would have resulted in either a lot more climbing or the need for a lot more shuttles, but hopefully they can figure out a way to include more of these next year. I’m sure that I’m not the only one willing to suffer more climbing for more gnar.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Bike Park Trip 2018

Every summer, Frank gets a 10-day break between the end of summer classes and the beginning of fall classes. Despite the fact that his break between spring and summer classes is a much longer nearly two-month period, the August break seems to be turning into our traditional vacation time. This tradition started with our wedding taking place immediately after the end of spring classes two years ago and our honeymoon being delayed until August due to a combination of wedding fatigue and W101 prep. It just seems to make sense because May and June are such prime riding time in Rothrock, and the race season is still so young and full of promise that I don't want to be distracted. By August, burnout is usually well on its way in, and it feels kind of refreshing to go ride bikes somewhere novel without the pressure of competition.

This year our travel has mostly revolved around our MTB Parks Pass. We'd pretty much already made our $200 back just from trips to Snowshoe, Blue Mountain, and Mountain Creek, as well as a random little trip up to Greek Peak in New York because, hey, it's free. However, we still thought it would be fun to use our August vacation time to try to check off as many of the Northeast region parks as we could.

Rhaegal the Green Dragon
My resolve that I never wanted to get a downhill bike had slowly been cracking over the season after my teammates Chael and Sam got downhill bikes, and filled my head with stories of laps on laps on laps without fatigue and soft, cushy landings from the biggest of sends. Our trip to Snowshoe over Memorial Day weekend had further convinced me of the merits of a bigger bike that could just plow through things a bit better. So right before the trip, I sold the cute little carbon fiber hardtail that had carried me through the W101 two years ago but had only been ridden a handful of times since, and Frank got me a used 2015 GT Fury off of a Pinkbike classified ad. Per my #GameofQOMs bike-naming theme, I decided to call him Rhaegal the Green Dragon, and I had hoped that I would be able to make him fly.

Windham Lift - Day 1

Even the "Cat 2/3 Only" lines on the Windham UCI downhill course were pretty tough.
Our first stop was Windham, and I spent pretty much the whole time trying to figure out how to get the bike set up semi-comfortably. I finally got the brakes where I wanted them, and after a lot of trial and error, learned that just because you can slam your DH saddle as low as it will go does not mean you should. The geometry made it such that at the lowest seat height, the saddle was actually in my way super badly and was banging on the inside of my knees the whole time. I ended up putting it somewhere similar to where it would be with my dropper post down on my Stumpjumper. The bike still didn't feel as awesome as I had imagined it would, but at least I stopped feeling like I was going to crash and die.

Windham only had five main trails with a few additional options near the bottom. They included a very long, super-dy duper smooth, easy green trail, a slightly harder blue trail, the "longest blue jump line on the East Coast", a "Citizen's Downhill", and the UCI World Cup downhill course from a couple of years ago. The first two were borderline awful on a big bike that I was still dialing in, but I enjoyed the 3.5 mile jump trail well enough, despite being pretty tired by the end. The Citizen's Downhill was a lot of fun, and I finally had a decent run on it the last lap once the bike and I had come to some sort of understanding. The UCI downhill was, um, an experience. An experience of mostly walking.

Killington K-1 Gondola - Day 2

Our second day of riding was in Killington, we took a couple of laps on the short, easy trails off of the Snowshed lift, and then moved on the longer runs from the Ramshead lift. We only did the blues off of Ramshed, and there wasn't anything up there that I was super in love with. We took one trip up the Gondola to the biggest runs, and took the one continuous single black down. It turns out that it was the only trail open from that lift, so we didn't go up again. We actually spent a lot of time going over and over Step It Up/Stinky, which was a fun little run from the Snowshed lift with a good selection of little table tops, a couple of different sizes of drops, and a tiny, adorable boner log. I'm not sure how many times we did it, but I got a little more comfortable and got a little more air each time. 

I was still avoiding the biggest drop and the boner log by the last run, because I still wasn't 100% comfortable with the bike. However, when we stopped so that I could take a video of Frank on the boner log, and some old guys on DH bikes came along after us, totally flopped it, and survived, so I decided to go back and give it a try. As you can see from the video above, it's not a great effort, as my go can also be described as "totally flopped it and survived", but it was a nice step in conquering my fear of all wooden things that pitch upward.

Okemo Small Lift - Day 3

Our third stop was Evolution Bike Park Okemo in Vermont. We hadn't really heard anything about it besides that it was on our MTB Park Pass list. It was a pretty small place, but it has decent room for expansion since they already had two lifts running. The lower one is pretty short and goes to a network of mostly green trails. There was one fun little blue trail with some decent baby jumps that we rode a lot. The place definitely seemed aimed at families and first-timers in its difficulty level.

The upper lift was very long and had one blue trail and one black. The blue trail was long, not technical at all, and required a decent amount of pedaling. I wouldn't have minded trying to go really fast on it on my Stumpy, but it was not fun on my DH bike. We rode the black run twice, the first time stopping a lot to check out the "double black" alternative lines, and then another time through at semi-race pace. The middle video shows me conquering one of the serious double black features, although they did admittedly get somewhat harder as we progressed down the mountain.

Rainy Highland Lift - Day 4

Cat-themed trail names at Highland

 We had planned on hitting Mount Snow for our fourth day, but the trail map didn't have us that excited. We were staying at an AirBnB just across the state line of New Hampshire, and Instagram commenters urged us to go to Highland instead. Highland was not on the MTB Park Pass, but a forecast of thunderstorms at Mount Snow convinced us it was worth actually paying for passes to see what the big fuss was about. 

While not as bad as thunderstorms, we still had slow, drizzy rain the entire day at Highland, which made me afraid of the many, many wooden features there. I'm sure the rain didn't help, but I wasn't feeling all the love that people seem to gush for Highland. We mostly ended up riding Cat's Paw, which admittedly was a fun little blue trail, but since I was avoiding the wood features, it wasn't that interesting. We hoped that the single-black technical trails would be up our alley, right on the edge of, "it's scary but I rode it". They might have been in nice weather, but in the rain they were a little too scary and frustrating.

On a fun side note, after we left Highland, Frank found a craft brewery only four miles away that he wanted to visit. What we didn't know was that Google Map's "four miles" were scary, rutted, semi-flooded back roads not meant to be traversed by a Mazda 5. It was pretty nerve-racking, and at one point Frank got out to measure the depth of the mud puddles before driving through to make sure we wouldn't get stuck. When we finally reached the end of the road, we found out that it was appropriately named "Misery Rd." Luckily, we made it, and the beer was really good, so it was worth it, I guess.

Thunder Mountain Lift - Day 5

2019 Hail Advanced 1

2019 Intrigue Advanced 1
Our final day was at Thunder Mountain where we were treated to another full day of rain. We had planned on going there that day, anyway, but Frank found out that there would be a Giant/Liv demo day there and signed us up. 

I got to ride a Hail Advanced 1, which has a 170mm fork this year, and the newly released Intrigue Advanced 1. You know, the bike that I desperately wanted two years ago when it didn't exist yet. The demo bikes were fine, but the only Hail they had by the time I got to the front of the line was a size too big for me with the stock 800mm bars, which made things pretty awkward. It did remind me of the things I liked about my old Hail and was obviously lighter because it was carbon fiber, but it was also clear why I moved on to something snappier for my full-time race bike. The Intrigue was a fun little bike, but by the time I rode it, I was getting a feel for the awesome East Coast gnar of Thunder Mountain, and I really just wanted to be back on my Stumpy ripping it up with confidence on a bike that was set up to my small-handed tastes. I had been sticking to the DH bike every day up until that point while trying to learn to like it, but since Thunder Mountain was full of the kind of trails that I like to ride, and I wanted to ride them on the bike with which I felt the most comfortabl. So after we returned the demo bikes, the real fun began. 

Thunder Mountain is officially my new favorite bike park. They have three blue trails that offer a decent amount of technical fun, a couple of top-to-bottom technical single-blacks, and an assortment of fun little single-black cut-throughs between the blue trails for variety. On a dry day, their black trails would have been perfectly in our fun zone, lots of oddly-shaped slabs of rocks with roots mixed in, just a little different and more technically difficult than anything in Rothrock. However, there was still a lot that we were intimidated by in the rain, and there are still two double-black trails that we didn't even check out due to the conditions. Now I really want to go back in better weather and be able to ride more.

The irony is that after visiting some much more jump-focused parks in the previous days, it was nestled between beautiful ribbons of East Coast gnar at Thunder Mountain where jumping finally clicked for me. They only have two jump trails, one blue and one double black, and those only run on the lower half of the mountain. We ended up riding The Gronk, which is the blue jump trail, three times. The first was unimpressive as I rode with the same level of caution that I always do on a new jump trail, but I noted that it was well-built and not overly long. There were also good rest periods between sets of jumps to recollect yourself. 

We did another run a couple of laps later, and I started hitting the jumps with more speed, which is something I'm usually afraid to do. I'd tried going into some tabletops with more speed at Highland the day before, and the bike kept whipping up in front of me as I clung on in the back seat, so I was working on preventing that from happening. The second time on The Gronk felt good and was at least close to being my best jump run of the trip so far. 

For our final run, we intended to take one of the black cut-throughs to Harold's Blend, the most technical blue trail, which we'd enjoyed a lot, but we ended up at the hub where the jump trails began instead of Harold's. Despite having said, "Maybe jumping just isn't my thing, and that's okay," like two laps before, I figured it was the universe telling me that we needed to go down The Gronk one more time. Then somewhere between the hub and bottom of the mountain, I learned to jump for real instead of the fake jumping that I'd been engaging in all summer. Something just clicked and I found the correct body position to allow the bike to whip up the lip at full speed and still end up tall and pulling up at the lip. I think I audibly giggled when that happened, and I continued down the mountain catching enough air that it scared me a little every time, but I continued to land safety. It was sort of magical.

On a side note, when we returned, Frank attempted to put softer springs in the DH bike for me, and found that the previously owner had somehow shoved the wrong size spring into the rear. I'm going to guess that's a big contributing factor to why it felt so terrible riding it over any rough stuff, and felt more chattery than my Stumpjumper, despite having significantly more travel. So hopefully next time I ride it, it will feel better, because by the end of Day 4 I was really beginning to wonder why anyone would want to ride a DH bike.

That will be at least a week before I ride it again, though, because we're already packing our bags again to head down to Frederick, MD for the first-ever Sheduro. Having heard so many good things about the Frederick Watershed, I'm very excited to race there, even if my body's still more in vacation mode than race mode.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

MTB Nationals: You're Gonna Make It After All

Who can turn an enduro into a time trial?
Who can take your favorite race, and suddenly make it all seem so vile?
Well it's USAC, and you should know it
With each stage and every stressful transfer you show it

Push the pedals down, no need to waste it
There’s a spot on that lift, why don't you take it?
You're gonna make it after all
You're gonna make it after all

Yeah, I did have to break out the rhyming dictionary on that one.

I don't have a single picture of myself at nationals, so here is what I look like after doing a 1.2 mile steep hike-a-bike the day after the hardest race of my life.

This week’s mountain bike nationals enduro was a rough one, thanks in no small part to the relatively small time slot into which we were expected get 150+ racers through seven stages across 27 miles and four lift rides. This is, of course, the major downside to a national championship event that must fit all of the mountain bike disciplines and their respective age groups into one venue over the course of a few days. There are also upsides to the experience of everyone gathered in one place once a year, but it can make for less-than-ideal individual races. Because enduro mixes in a little bit of all of the other disciplines and requires the largest footprint, fitting it into this format is especially tricky.

Based on our practice day, I knew that I would be pressed to make the 6:30 p.m. time cutoff from my 1:22 p.m. start time. The race was a long, stressful, and exhausting day where I would push myself on the transfers to get a little ahead on time, only to have to wait in line to begin the next stage. In the end, I made good time on the final long pedal transfer, rolled straight into Stage 6 without resting, and jumped  on the lift to get to Stage 7 around 6:15 with a group of other relieved and exhausted racers. Despite having had a rather shitty race, I was choking down happy tears on the short pedal from the top of the Ballhooter lift over to the Western territories because it was almost over, and I was going to make it on time. Of course, at the time the only part of the song I could remember was, “You’re gonna make it after all,” so I just sang it over and over in my head until I started the final stage.

Although, I was proud to have made the time cutoff, that was the only thing that I was proud of about this race. I had struggled enough throughout the day to know that I had not done well in the race, but was not prepared for what the results revealed. The total time for the majority of the female competitors was somewhere in the 40-50 minute range, with the top pros in the upper 30’s. My time: 1:03. What the hell happened?!!

Some things were obvious, like how I took a bad hop off a bridge on Stage 4 and fell head-first into a rocky creek below. I banged up my left elbow and right palm and sprained my left wrist, but luckily I wasn’t seriously hurt. I lost a decent amount of time figuring out how to get right-side up and out of the creek without making things worse. As much as I tried to keep trying after that, I was mostly riding in survival mode, where you end up making more mistakes by being hesitant that you would by riding aggressively.

I hadn’t really been riding well prior to the crash either. When I struggled in practice the day before, I tried to tell myself that having trouble with all of the wet roots, slick rocks, and mud puddles of indeterminate depth was to be expected, and that everyone else was probably having just as much or more trouble than I was. During the race, everyone around me was complaining about Stage 2 both before we started and after we were done. I had been off my bike quite a bit, so I knew I didn’t do well, but I'd hoped it wasn't that bad based on everyone else’s complaints. Apparently, it was pretty bad. I fell on Stage 3 and got my pedal stuck on a root, causing an additional time delay, and by the time the time I crashed on Stage 4, I was already to the point of getting frustrated and starting to give up on bumbling through long, slick, and pedally stage.

So basically, I dumpstered it up real good on Thursday. It sucks, but I’m finally starting to understand the futility of beating myself up after a bad day. I’ve already been up and down many time this season. Before this race I was enjoying a streak of relative success in my races and training, and was beginning to wonder why I lost my shit so bad at Timberline back at the beginning of the year. Now I remember: coz stress, coz slick, coz tired, coz scared. Then I bounced back and started improving again.

The confidence that I had a week ago was not completely unwarranted. I’m just a bit of a one-trick pony right now and this race didn’t provide much opportunity perform my one trick (fast, rocky, steep stuff), but if I can learn one trick, I can learn others. I also know that it’s about time to start caring about my fitness again after giving it a break for a couple of years, so that I get through races more quickly with less fatigue and attack the pedally stages harder, even if I never learn to love them.

Sometime I think I let my history as a stagnant XC racer influence how I feel about my enduro racing now. Like, if I wallowed in seven years of mediocrity then, why do I think I have the ability to be good now? The answer is that it’s a different sport and I’m a different person, and frankly, I enjoy enduro a whole lot more than I ever did with XC. Maybe those seven years were just a practice day to my real mountain bike career where I scoped some lines and got some mistakes out of the way. Maybe they don't count for anything beyond that. Maybe I'll surprise myself how much faster I go this time around.

So I’m not going to let a bad race make me start doubting my ability to do better in the future, and I’m going to keep working to improve the areas where I need work (fitness, berms, slick stuff). Even though journey has not been as quick or smooth as I’d hoped, after one and a half years as a full-time #femdurobro, I’m finally starting believe that I’m gonna to make it after all.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Cooper's Rock Benduro: Don't Confuse Drama With Happiness

“Live your life how you want, but don't confuse drama with happiness.” – Ron Swanson, Parks & Rec

Despite my best efforts to bring extreme meditation to my enduro competitions, halfway through Stage 2 of the Cooper’s Rock Benduro yesterday, the quote above popped into my head. Although I should have been fully focused on keeping up the pedal, pedal, pedal; pump, pump, pump pattern of the stage with maximum intensity, the lack of white knuckle descending allowed my mind to wander back to before the start of Stage 1.

I rolled up just in time to catch Frank about to boost the sketchy jump.

I had taken my sweet time getting to the first stage, knowing there would be a long wait, and I had paused to watch other riders enter the woods before riding on and joining the line at the start. Right before entering the singletrack on the first stage, there was a small ditch where a sketchy little clay lip had been built to allow racers to jump the ditch before entering the woods, or at least try to. A guy had crashed, prompting the entire back half of the line to come watch junior boys attempt to jump the ditch with varying levels of success. One of the women from my class, who was also the mom of one of the junior boys attempting to jump the ditch, walked up to me and said, “Are we jumping it?” I laughed and said, “I don’t think we (motioning between us) are jumping it. Or at least I’m not jumping it.” As I recalled the conversation during racing Stage 2, and I wished that I had come up with Ron Swanson’s quote as my witty reply.

Cooper’s Rock is the most low-drama stop in the West Virginia Enduro Series. The majority of its four stages is made up of straight shots through loose chunk, most of which is not very steep. It was my second race last season, and I remember saying, “There’s nothing scary in this race, except everything in it.” The sketchy ditch jump is the closest thing to a mandatory feature, and that was new this year. Otherwise, there are just many wet rocks and roots that can jump out and mess up your day, but no single thing to worry about.

What surprised me about returning to this race was that it was actually even more pedally than I remembered, but not in the painful, gasping for air way that the pedally parts of Valley Falls are pedally. Yes, there is one really, really painful uphill a couple of minutes into Stage 1 (you know, right after you’ve stood in line for an hour and your legs are dead?), but the rest is a weird sort of pedally that I don’t think I really understood last year. Basically, the course is not very fast or technical, so you have to be extra diligent about being super smooth and sneaking pedal strokes in where you can without banging your pedals on stuff. You have to fight for every bit of speed you get, and you have to fight to keep it. Every time you want to feather the brakes, you really have to consider if it’s worth it.

I guess what I mean is, despite my inability to stay focused for the length of Stage 2, I have a greater appreciation for this race than I did before. I’ve been making lot of improvement lately in the area where I was weakest last season, which is the speed at which I feel safe and confident and my ability to roll through more rough sections without braking, or at least braking less. In some ways I’ve been sacrificing fitness to achieve this, since almost all of my riding is climbing easy and going downhill fast, and both my threshold and anaerobic power are more or less in the toilet right now. I thought that a non-technical, pedally race such at Cooper’s Rock would not be in my favor right at this stage of my progression, but it worked out okay.

I rode pretty decently on all of the stages, and I think my newfound “stability at speed” still helped even though there weren't that many brake-burning sections. A couple of the faster series regulars weren’t there this weekend, and another woman got a double flat within the first minute of the first stage. She was unable to get everything fixed in time to finish the race, so I came out fourth, and got my first WV wide-angle podium/prize money. I was still 2.5 minutes behind third, but it was my best margin to do date.

So despite the undramatic race course this weekend, I’m still pretty happy with how it turned out. If you’re wondering, I pumped through the ditch and went along my merry, uncool way. With my next race being nationals at Snowshoe, I’m sure I’ll have all the drama that I can handle next time around.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Rothrock TrailMix


I’ll admit that I started writing my race report for the Rothrock TrailMix in my head several days ago. It was what I hoped to be a loving tribute to the trails that made me the #femdurobro that I am today with the knowledge that this race very well could be my first and last opportunity to compete on them. The problem with knowing trails so well is that I know exactly how fast I am on them in the best of conditions, and Strava and old race results make it very clear that that is not fast enough to keep up with the women that would likely be competing. So all I really hoped for was to ride the best I could on these trails that are so close to my heart, and maybe get a slightly entertaining post out of it by returning to my roots with parodied Taylor Swift lyrics for each stage. Because these trails are like my boyfriends that keep getting stolen…

'Cause here we are again, when I loved you so
Back before I lost the first downhill QOM I ever owned
It was rare, I was there, I remember it all too well

The problem with writing blog posts about future events is that my ability to predict the future isn’t actually that great. I never imagined that this morning would begin with Gloria rolling up to me in the pouring rain, riding her XC bike and saying, “Well, I guess it’s just the two of us.” At that point I realized that anything could happen.

For all of my mud-racing experience in West Virginia, the thought of rain on race day really scared me. Because trying to ride fast after it has rained in Rothrock is the worst. Except that “the worst” is when an unfortunately common surprise storm rolls in at 5:15 and lays a nice slick film on the normally grippy rocks. That’s when we usually slow roll it, because nobody’s setting any PRs in those conditions and it’s not worth getting hurt over.

However, today’s rain was not that rain. Today’s rain was hard and steady from during the night through most of the race. I normally don’t even think of Rothrock as having enough dirt to make mud, but with this much rain and about 100 more riders on the trail that normal, things went full West Virginia fast. And full West Virginia I can handle. Full West Virginia is what I know.

I preceded through Stage 1 and 2 pretty well for the conditions. I made a couple of mistakes on Stage 1, which was Bald Knob Death Drop, but nothing too horrible. When I popped out on the road after Stage 2, someone told me that Gloria wanted me to know that she’d dropped out and to ride safe. “Does that mean I win?!!” I blurted out. Then I felt like a jerk, but I figured if something very bad had happened to her, they would have lead with that. I confirmed with her after that she’d had a scary, but not that serious crash in Stage 1 and just didn’t want to push her luck after that. Her message was intended to let me know not to push mine too much either when all I had to do at that point was finish.

So I rode out the rest of the race with the intention of trying hard, but not hurting myself. I think I did alright at it. My times were really slow, but that’s not surprising in those conditions. I still felt like I was riding pretty well most of the time.

In the end, I got the thing that I wanted so badly but never expected I would get: to actually win a race on my home trails. Of course, I still hope that the DNCR changes their mind about not allowing Wildcat and New Laurel in races in the future, and that next year I can come back and compete in better conditions and on a more level playing field. I’ll hold off on writing that blog post for now, though, and concentrate what’s next, the WVES at Cooper’s Rock in a couple of weeks. I’ll let you know how that turns out after it happens.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

My Skills Aren't Instagram-Able

My teammate Sam has been breaking the Internet (okay, maybe just our team Instagram and Slack channel) the past few months with a steady stream of increasingly impressive footage of her mountain bike feats. She’s always been better at jumps and drops than me, and while she was derailed for most of last summer with a dislocated thumb, she’s back with a new downhill bike and better than ever.

I think that everyone is experiencing some HSE right now, and where each of us fall on the spectrum of “the heady mix of disbelief, admiration, and envy” depends on how close we are to being able to replicate her achievements. When I imagine myself watching her in my XC days, I would fallen into the disbelief category, thinking, “Okay, apparently that’s a thing people do when they have downhill bikes and body armor?” While last week when she hit the “Patio Drop” at Mountain Creek, which is something that’s roughly on my two-year plan, it was more 40/60 envy and admiration. While she definitely has a high ratio of talent over forks given, as evidenced by her landing the largest progressive drop at Blue Mountain on a rented downhill bike her first time there, she’s continued to give a steady stream of the right kind of forks over the last couple of years to be good at what she does. And what she does looks good on camera.

I, on the other hand, discussed in detail my fear of drops just a couple of weeks ago, and this spring was the first time I actually tried to jump instead of just rolling all the tabletops. In the fall I was doing a lot skills drills in the local park and posting videos to try and show my progression, but I quit after that invited more man-(and woman)splaining than I wanted to deal with. Despite all that, I am lot faster this season on a wide variety of trails. While some people love the “flying” feeling of jumps and drops, I’m just not there yet. My buzz comes from whizzing down trails like Old Laurel, where I used to get hung up carefully choosing my lines, and now, at least on a good day, I’m starting see many moves into the future, pushing over large rocks at speed when I would have braked to avoid them before, and working the contours of the trail to gain my momentum back when I do have to brake. I’ve still got a long minute and 35 seconds to shave off if I want to break Meg Bichard’s 3:06 QOM on Old Laurel, but her time doesn’t seem as insane as it used to. I now know that there’s path to get there besides to let the brakes go and pray. Each Wednesday night, the circuits get burned in a little better and fire a little faster, but sadly this doesn’t show up on video. My skills aren’t Instagram-able, and most days I’m okay with that.

I had a good day at Blue Mountain this weekend where I got to improve my skills of both the photogenic and non-photogenic kind. Gloria and a bunch of Emmaus-area people were down in Rothrock Saturday to pre-ride the TrailMix course, so I mentioned we would be going to Blue the next day. We ended up with a six-person enduro crew at the park, and then we picked up another guy who’d never been there before and thought we looked like his sort of folk. Sam and Michaela were there with their downhill bikes, as well as Sam’s husband Kyle and their friend Carl. So we had a lot of people to ride with, which was super fun.

I’d gone to Blue with the objective doing some remedial drop practice since I regressed so much in the off-season. Despite not being that fun or exciting by many standards, the Happy Yummy Fun trail is the best trail out of any park that we’ve visited so far if you want to gain confidence at doing drops. The middle one is the perfect little baby booter, which is only about a foot from lip to base, has a nice straight run in and out, and the ground slopes away just enough that you can get air with a little bit of speed, but a last-minute brake check won’t send you over the bars.  I probably could have spent my first hour there sessioning that trail, but I didn’t want bore everyone else with a million Happy Yummy laps.

I managed to sneak in a couple of passes on Happy Yummy Fun as we worked our way through most of the trails of the park. I was pretty happy to have ridden Night Train, the hella chunky enduro-specific trail at the outer edge of the park, cleanly for the first time. I also joined Sam and Michaela for a couple of laps of the downhill race course, which they will be competing on in a couple of weeks. I rode this run cleanly without stopping on the closing day of last year, but my hands were basically useless claws afterwards. This year we rode a slow, scouting run and then a full-ish speed run back-to-back. I wasn’t as fast as the rest of the group on my enduro bike, but I still felt very smooth and went a minute and a half faster than last year. However, the best part was at the end when they were all complaining about their legs cramping while my legs and back felt fine. I guess the combination practice and good form are starting to pay off, and it’s definitely easier to go faster when I’m not thinking about my burning quads.

People started leaving throughout the day, and we got separated from the rest of the Laser Cats, so the end of the day boiled down to a fun run with just me, Frank, Gloria, and Damien. It turned into the Happy Yummy Fun session that I’d been wanting, where Damien and I rode the easy middle drop a bunch, Frank and Gloria took a bunch of pictures, and we eventually got confident enough to link the second and third drops together. The one downside of the trail is that the biggest drop is at the beginning and it’s a lot harder to push back up to and start over, so we didn’t get that one. The third one was still a pretty good step for me, and some clever photography made it look cooler than it was. Or maybe it made the picture match the size of the personal accomplishment?

Admittedly, pictures are one of the more fun and easy-to-share ways to mark your improvement as a mountain biker, but there’s so much to it that a camera can’t capture. Sometimes it is something that even a GPS or race results can’t capture, like legs that don’t hurt after a downhill run, and those should be celebrated, too.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Enduro FOMO

This weekend was the third round of the West Virginia Enduro Series, but Frank and I decided to skip it. Although we’d heard it was a fun race that we had missed last year due to the TSE, in the end we decided it wasn’t worth the logistical challenges. The race was five hours away, and there was an XC race on Saturday, which meant we wouldn’t be able to begin our pre-ride until 3:00 p.m. It was unlikely there would be shuttles for practice, and starting a 17.5 mile pre-ride at 3:00 seemed like a good way to end up exhausted and stressed out for race day. I briefly considered the option of entering the XC race just so that we could pre-ride the course earlier, but I quickly came to the conclusion that this race might just be draining more forks than I was willing to give this early in the season. Instead, we went to Snowshoe for two days, and it was super fun.

What I learned from my early enduro experiments in 2015 was that if I was going to do a race, I had to be fully committed, pre-ride, hotel bed, and all. “It seems like a lot of effort,” a friend said to me when we were catching up at the Ray’s Women’s Weekend last winter, when I told her that’d I’d been way too tired to race ‘cross after my last enduro season. Of course, the other contributing factor was that ‘cross wasn’t really as fun anymore after I moved to PA, because all of the races were so far away that I couldn’t race as much as I wanted to without it becoming a burden. At least enduro feels worth giving up an entire weekend and sleeping in a strange bed to race, and I don’t need to race nearly as often to keep my edge the way I do in ‘cross. From a purely stimulus/recovery standpoint, I would ideally do one enduro race every 3-4 weeks, but with so many races available that I have yet to try, as well as the ones I want to try again, I sometimes have to make hard choices.

FOMO is a constant force in my life since I dropped in to this gravity-oriented journey. Knowing how mentally and physically tired I am after a race weekend, I made a rule that I was not allowed to race two weekends in a row this season. Once I put all of the WVES and my two “big goal” races on the calendar, that pretty much precluded most non-State College MASS races, or ESC races. On weekends I’m not racing, I have to choose which of the many dimensions of enduro training I should work on. Do I stay home, work on my endurance, and catch up on my sleep? Do I get up early for a day trip to a bike park to work on skills that I can’t work on in Rothrock? It seems that the weekends go by so quickly, and I often change my mind as to what’s most important to me on a given week. When Frank asked if I wanted to go to Blue Mountain or Mountain Creek this weekend, I replied, “Let’s decide after Snowshoe. It depends on whether I’m feeling jumpy or droppy.”

Not that I feel like this rapid adaptation is a bad thing. Sure, I missed out on what might have been my one opportunity to not get last place this season by skipping the Black Bear Enduro, but I gained valuable experience at Snowshoe, as well. Having only ridden at Snowshoe in the context of a cold, rainy race weekend, I’d been wanting to see what else the park had to offer. Even after two days, we still didn’t get to see everything due to weather delays and trail closures, so hopefully we can find time to make it back again this season. We’re scheduled to race there twice this season, thanks to my FOMO from missing nationals last year, so I’ll definitely be seeing more of it one way or another.

At the moment, I think I’m feeling droppy, so this weekend will likely end up being a big climbing ride on Saturday and a trip to Blue Mountain on Sunday. Then it’s on to the Rothrock TrailMix, now featuring 87% more enduro than last year’s initial attempt at adding an enduro category to the event. It’s currently slated to be Wildcat and Old Laurel’s last appearance in a competitive event, so while I’m not as ready for my one official shot at them as I would like, I want to do my best to given them the sendoff they deserve. So much for “destiny is all”, but that’s freeing in a way. If I keep following my heart from weekend to weekend, my real destiny will reveal itself eventually. This sport will always be full of missed opportunities, but it also has so many chances to be in the right place at the right time, and we never really know which it is until we choose a line and let go of the brakes.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Valley Falls Enduro: The Rhetoric of Heroic Expectations

Now here you go again, you say
You want to upgrade
Well who am I to keep you down?
It's only right that you should
Play the way you feel it
But listen carefully to the sound
Of your loneliness
Like a heartbeat drives you mad
In the stillness of remembering what you had
And what you lost, and what you had, and what you lost

Mud tires only roll fast when it's raining
Strava only loves you when you’re training
Say races they will come and they will go
When you see the results screen, you'll know, you'll know

This is my life now.
At the very least, you can say that I learned from my mistakes between the first and second races of the West Virginia Enduro Series this season. Due to my rushed and ineffective pre-ride at Timberline, I decided that it would be worthwhile to make an extra trip down to Valley Falls for a shuttled bonus pre-ride the week before the race. Despite the fact that it was pouring rain the entire ride, going out a week early was totally worthwhile. It allowed me to get the tentative inspection of the stages out of the way and gave me a good reminder of what sections to focus on doing faster in the day before the race practice.

I was a little disappointed when I learned that the drop-filled Valley Falls would be the second race of the series, taking place in May before most bike parks opened. The race was held in June last year, and I vowed to come back much better at drops the next time around. I did get better at drops late last year after the races were over and I got to put in more bike park time. So much so that I convinced myself that I needed to close out the year by landing the largest of the progressive drops at Blue Mountain on my last run of closing day. I mostly landed it on my left elbow, and I haven’t had the opportunity to start building back my confidence since then.

Although I can pretty confidently negotiate my bike in seemingly near-vertical positions as long as both tires are touching a solid surface, the thought of the millisecond free fall off of anything larger than two feet fills my stomach with butterflies. It’s the “whomp” that terrifies me. Despite knowing exactly how I need to push off the lip and how much 160mm of travel will soak up even if the landing angle is slightly imperfect, when approaching a ledge that is too high or steep to be rolled, my brain becomes filled with images of the suspension compressing unevenly and shooting me off into space or of landing too fast and smashing into the nearest tree. I know these are actually pretty irrational fears, but it took a lot of building up to bigger and bigger “whomps” last year and then improving my landing control to start overriding the “Friday Fails” reels playing in my brain. Unfortunately, there aren’t any ledges in Rothrock with the right combination of height, entry speed, and safe landing space for me to get past that first “whomp” of the year.

With these limitations in mind, I set out on my one-week-out pre-ride to figure out which of the features that I couldn’t do at last year’s race might be within my range this year. For better or worse, two of the things on my “to do” list had actually been made easier this year and thus weren’t a problem at all. Another was a rollable drop that seemed positively easy after conquering many ledges at Windrock and the awkward drop into a tight corner thing on Bald Knob Death Drop. There were several larger rock drops with ride arounds that automatically fell into the “meh, maybe next year” category, but there was one section of the course that would remain on my mind for the rest of the week. Stage 6 contained two back-to-back log drops with no ride arounds that were in the range of what I could successfully do at the end of last year. The question was could I force my Friday Fail brain to remember this without putting it through a baby drop remedial course?

The short answer is no. Having done all of the stages a week earlier allowed me to skip the less technical, more pedally ones the day before and spend my time and energy dialing in my speed on the more technical stuff. This also meant that I did two runs of Stage 6, hoping each time to hit the drops only to be scared off by onlookers each time I tried. I still had vague thoughts of hitting them in my race run if I could successfully negotiate the steep chute leading into them. The chute was not very hard in the perfect conditions the day before the race, but I suspected that I might be doing a controlled butt slide on race day if it rained all night as predicted. When I reached Stage 6 on race day, the chute was halfway dry and I made it halfway down before my uncontrolled hip slide to the bottom. At that point I just got up and ran the over the drops. Meh, maybe next year.

Yes, I just spent four paragraphs talking about what essentially amounted to 30 seconds of my race day, and I find this to be just as much of a problem as you probably do by now. Shortly after I gave up on hitting the drops during practice, the phrase “the rhetoric of heroic expectations” came into my mind (which is better than Friday Fails at least). It was the title of a book that Frank was reading around the time he finished his dissertation. Although it was a collection of essays about the beginning the Obama presidency, I felt like it could also be a collection of essays on the beginning of my enduro career (#thanksenduro).

Despite continued affirmation that drops are at best a 5% contribution to enduro success, I obsess over them because I feel like my inability to do them means that there is something wrong with me. This pressure is even stronger now that I am in the “Pro/Expert” class and it feels like I’m failing some sort of basic competency exam to be there. Even though moving up was theoretically the right thing to do after winning the series in Sport last year, I am still so far from the level of the other expert women that it’s embarrassing. It was fun winning races last year, but now I find myself wishing that I’d had a stronger talent pool to kick my butt rather than me easily winning and having to move up before I was really ready. What scares me even more it that now each race I worry that more talented Sport women will show up and further highlight how underprepared I am.

The thing is that I am the only one actually holding up these heroic expectations. As much as I imagine other people reading the Pro/Expert women’s results and saying, “Wow, that Lindsay Hall-Stec sure does suck. I don’t know why she is sullying the good name of West Virginia women’s Pro/Expert enduro racing by entering these races, but she needs to just go hide out in Central Pennsylvania and do some sort of Rocky-style training montage until she’s fit to race in public again,” I realize that is 100% not actually happening in real life. At worst, someone might say, “She needs to quit thinking so much and ride faster,” which is an actually something that someone said to me in reference to someone else that I took very much to heart.

As brutal as it is to be showing up on race results far, far into last place right now, I know that continuing to get race experience is an important part of my journey to someday not being in last place. I have to remember that, except for drops, I am still a much better rider than I was last season, and that things that I actually can improve on a daily basis (aggression, flow, and fitness) are the ones that will make a lot more impact on my results than gaining a few seconds by hitting a drop.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Timberline Enduro: Extreme Meditation

A couple of weeks ago, I visited my friend and former teammate. Two years ago she suffered a really bad concussion that took several months from which to recover and eventually led to her taking an indefinite break from bike racing. She used this as an opportunity to try new things, including jiu-jitsu, but as we were catching up the other day she told me how she had gotten another concussion from a jiu-jitsu accident a few weeks prior. She said that was taking a break from activities where she could get hurt and that, “Now I’m just into extreme yoga and extreme mediation.” It is true that, like myself, when she goes in on something she goes in hard, so “extreme meditation” became the running joke of the evening.

Incidentally, I began a fairly consistent meditation practice of my own right at the beginning of the year, but in my case, it has been far from extreme, and that is a good thing. I use the Headspace app  for 10-20 minutes a day, most days, although my best unbroken streak has only 20 days or so. I took this on as another attempt to self-treat my anxiety and depression, because I’ve had very little luck finding a good therapist in State College and I’m pretty resistant to taking prescription drugs. The thing is that I went into the meditation practice with no expectation of immediate results, because that’s not really how it’s supposed to work. Like training for a sport, training the brain requires consistent effort over a long period of time, so I finally committed to really giving that a shot. There isn’t much downside to it, except for paying $13 a month for the app and committing a small amount of uninterrupted time to it each day. The question is if I’ve seen enough improvement after four months for it seem worthwhile. For outside observers who read past this point, it will probably seem like I haven’t improved at all. I may not be able to prevent all anxiety attacks, nor quickly pull myself out of tailspin on command, but yes, I definitely feel that I have a little more “head space” than I did a few months ago.

First practice run of the season.
Photo: Sue Haywood
Going into the first race of the season, I thought I was in a pretty good place mentally. I was racking up PRs in training and was at least on track to regain the fitness that I had lost over the winter. I knew I wasn’t where I wanted to be, but I hoped that I might pleasantly surprise myself by finishing closer to the rest of the pro/expert field than I expected. I was okay with last place; it was just a question of by how much. Then on Thursday evening before the race, my old demons started creeping back. The first to appear was a picture of a feature on the course that I probably would be too scared to ride in competition, which reintroduced all my guilt and embarrassment about not being better at drops by now. Later that evening, Frank casually mentioned another of my demons just as we were turning the lights off to sleep, so you can probably imagine how much sleep I got that night. It all spun up from excitement about the race to dread very quickly.

My outlook had quickly gone from “I’m not as good as I want to be yet, but I’ll get there eventually” to “this race is going to prove to everyone how bad I suck, and how I will always suck no matter what I do and why do I always have to be so terrible at everything I want to be good at when it’s so easy for everyone but me”. These recurring thought patterns should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been reading for a while, and I guess that my winning the sport category last year only goes to prove that imposter syndrome is not limited to academia.
So this where my meditation practice comes in. As I said before, I was not able to fully pull myself out of the tailspin once I was in it, but at least I was able to formulate enough moments of objectivity where I could recognize all of the unhelpful crap that my brain was doing for what it was, even if I couldn’t really shut it down. I was simultaneously trying to shame myself into being better and trying to protect myself from disappointment in my performance, but I know from experience that neither of these strategies actually work. This is especially true in enduro, where “trying really hard”  can actually backfire pretty quickly.

This was when I realized how much enduro was like meditation due to the careful balance between discipline and effortlessness. I don’t try to be “good” at meditation because that’s not how it works. I simply show up, often when I don’t necessarily feel like it, and I do my best to stay aware and watch what happens. I have the vague long-term goal of reduced anxiety, but I don’t know what exactly that will look like or when I will have achieved it. I just know that it will be better than it is now, so I keep showing up. I could probably benefit from treating my enduro practice and racing the same way. Rather than thinking about where I want to be and when and how I can get there, I would be better served just showing up and doing my best to fully engage with the sensations in my brain and body. It’s almost as if enduro could be called extreme meditation or something.

And thus my mantra for the opening weekend of the West Virginia Enduro Series was born. Despite the fact that I came into the weekend stressed and exhausted and continued to be thrown off by every little thing that didn’t go according to plan, throughout the weekend I would repeat to myself the phrase “extreme meditation”. I had forgotten how exhausting practice days are and how defensive I get when riding unfamiliar trails in mud, and all the demons that were let loose on Thursday refused to get back in their box, so I ended up repeating the phrase a lot. I’d love to say that it held some sort of magical power that turned things around and that I ended up having a good race, but that didn’t happen. I did finish last as expected, but it was the margin between me and the next woman that was embarrassing.

I will, however, keep reminding myself that this is just extreme meditation until the message finally kicks in. This means going into every ride and race with the intention of riding as well as I can in the circumstances presented without thinking about any past or future results. I’m not pretending that this will be an easy thing to do, because neither is regular meditation, but the point is to set your intention and keep coming back.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

(The end of) Winter is Coming

Sure, it snowed on and off most of the day yesterday, but weather aside, the first race of the West Virginia Enduro Series is a mere 11 days away. That means, ready or not, winter is almost over. Although this April has been much more challenging than normal, the snowy days are at least becoming more spread out and less severe. The weather hasn’t really allowed me to settle into a regular weekly training schedule yet, but a careful eye on the forecast and a newfound tolerance for mountain biking in 40-something degree temperatures has allowed me to do some good chunks of riding and use the remaining exceptionally crappy days for recovery.

A few days after my last post, I *finally* got a nice dry and snow-free mountain bike ride in, where I went out absolutely smashed my PR on Bald Knob Death Drop. I’ve had several other PRs since that first one, so finally have proof that I not only didn’t forget how to go fast, but somehow even got a little faster during a few months of little to no real mountain biking. It makes me think that the RipRow might actually be working.

I've been riding bikes lately, but I don't have any pictures to prove it. I did acquire this pretty dirt jumper since my last post, though.

Setting some new PRs was a nice boost of confidence that also motivated me to start “being a good athlete” again, as Frank and I call it. Yes, I’m regretting not spending the winter more effectively preparing my body to withstand the beating of a long, intense enduro season, but now I’m doing what I can achieve a smart buildup of fitness as the season progresses. Despite being faster at downhill segments, my endurance sucks right now and my body hurts more than it should after hard descents. I’m trying balance between descending practice and spending time on my strength and endurance so that I can hopefully keep improving for the whole season.

Now, with the first race so close, my brain is buzzing wondering what this season will bring. I’m feeling confident that I’m “better” this year, but I’m also not sure that will mean in terms of race results. There was still a decent sized gap between me and the most of the regular women’s expert racers at the end of the season, so even if I’ve improved, that could still mean some last places in my immediate future. The first race is at Timberline Resort, which was not on the schedule last year, so I really have no basis for comparison, either in how well I ride the stages or the time gap to the other racers. It’s a little weird not knowing how I will be able to tell if I did well or not at the first race, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out. I’m just excited to race again!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Drive South

I didn't say we wouldn't hurt anymore
That's how you learn; you just get burned
We don't have to feel like dirt anymore
Though love's not learned, baby it's our turn
We were always looking for true love
With our heads in the clouds
Just a little off course
But I left that motor running
Now if you're feeling down and out

Come on baby drive south
With the one you love
Come on baby drive south

It is now April 3, and I still have not accomplished a snow-free, full-speed downhill run in Rothrock in 2018. Looking at the forecast, I’m not sure when I will. I got a couple of decent 80-90% efforts with just a little patchy snow on Bald Knob Death Drop and New Laurel last week, so I got cocky and ended up skiing down Wildcat. While my clean, if a little slow, attempt at Death Drop on the first try of the year is a huge improvement in some aspects, there is still a nagging fear that I don’t know how to go fast anymore until I’ve actually proven to myself that I can. So far this year I haven’t yet had much of an opportunity to do so.

Shake and Bake

A couple of weeks ago, my need for a downhill fix became so great that Frank and I began plotting a trip to Windrock, since it is the only downhill park that I know of that is open year-round. We drove down to Maryville, TN on Friday and stayed at my old teammates Josh and Sarah’s place. Sadly, Sarah was out of town while we were there, but it was nice seeing Josh for the first time in a few years.

We went to Windrock on Saturday, and it absolutely lived up to its reputation of being incredibly steep. Although they theoretically have a couple of green trails on the map, they start about halfway up the mountain and the shuttle doesn’t stop there. Usually when we visit a new bike park, we just ride through the trails from easiest to hardest until we hit “too hard”, and then go back and redo the ones we liked the best. Although I would have preferred an easy warm-up, we didn’t want to risk wasting our limited riding time pedaling up to the greens only to find out they were boring easy and not fun easy. So we chose a blue from the main drop off point, and while it did turn out to be the easiest trail in the main trail section, “a Windrock blue” will now be my new euphemism for a decently hard enduro stage. For example, I might say “Wildcat is a Windrock blue.” This is a *slight* exaggeration, but not much.

They had three blue options, two that had a lot of steep ledgy stuff and Talladega, the super-fast “race track” run. Despite its NASCAR inspired name, it required railing of corners both left and right, sometimes back to back to back in a serpentine pattern down the steep grade. It also had many tabletop jumps that were a lot larger than anything I’d really seen on a bike park blue trail before. Although I came to Tennessee with a need for speed, Talladega proved to be a little too much for me in that area, and I didn't enjoy it that much. The two others were more “fun hard” and had a lot of sections that still scared me a bit in my current cobwebby state, but also helped me start loosening up and acclimating to steep and rough riding again.

We also got a chance to shuttle to the “Windmill Drop” at the very top of the mountain, which only has one main trail down that splits in a couple of places. We were a little tentative coming down because the people we talked to on the shuttle made it sound harder than it actually was, so we kept riding carefully and expecting something scary to pop up. There were a lot of steep shoots, but nothing that we don’t encounter in Rothrock. It was more just a greater density of steep, rocky stuff for a longer period of time than we were used to. I would have loved to have had another crack at it, but they don’t send many shuttles all the way to the top per day. Finally, we tried the black trail where the Pro GRT downhill course starts, but it was well beyond what we could safely ride blind at our current ability level, so we ended up walking a lot of it. Hopefully, we’ll get another shot sometime when we are less rusty.

On Sunday I woke up feeling like I’d done a hundred pistol squats using my right leg only. In a way, I kind of had. One of the things I’ve really been working on with the RipRow is my balance through my descending range of motion and not putting too much pressure on my rear leg, as well as getting comfortable with either foot forward. I guess I haven’t quite mastered that yet, since I my right leg took the brunt of every steep chute that I did on Saturday.

Frank got tips on the hot lines from a local at Baker Creek Preserve. We failed to get any pictures of either of us actually on a bike the whole time.

Luckily, Sunday’s plans were a little more Type I fun than Saturday’s. It was a beautiful Easter Sunday, and we got to experience a relatively uncrowded Baker Creek Preserve. Part of Knoxville’s “Urban Wilderness”, this park features three downhill-only trails with relatively gentle singletrack climbs back to the top. The trails are all different scales of flow/jump trails. The biggest one is “Devil’s Racetrack”, which apparently had some sizeable gap jumps until recently. They have filled them in and now they are just really big tabletops, so I was able to roll the whole thing safely but I wouldn’t really call it fun since I’m not very good at jumping yet. After we’d done all three, we went back and did the easiest a few more times because that’s where our jumping “fun zone” is at this time. I wish I had access to something like this more often, because I’m sure that with more regular practice I could work up to actually enjoying the big jumps.

Now we’re back in drizzly 40-something degree State College with the remnants of yet another snow storm melting off, which I’m hoping will happen in time to resume regular Wednesday rides tomorrow. I can’t say that this weekend did a lot to prove that I can still go fast, but I can definitely say that I’ve now had way more steeps and jumps practice this year than I’d had until way later in the summer last year. I just have to keep riding what I can in the conditions that I can and hope that fast will come back eventually.