Ok, so here we go with the lowdown on how my race week unfolded....this could take awhile... think about how much I write for one day of racing :)
Transylvania Stage Race
The shorter version is below this post, or check it out at www.MTBRacenews.com
So, my spring training has been less then stellar. It's been a tough few months for a whole slew of issues and, well, I've been sort of sour on riding. Coming into this stage race, one of my main goals was just to have fun again; the other, to finish. I knew I couldn't focus on how well or not well I was doing as that would just set me up for a terrible week as much of endurance racing is a mental game as well. There were several very strong women racers signed up as well, with two that would be formidable opponents all week, but what's a race without some good competition.
The week leading into the race was of course extremely busy and hectic. I had yet still to resolve the whole seatpost/saddle sliding back on the rails issue. I had somehow managed to "make peace" with this fact finally before heading to the race. It was what it was and I knew what it was going to likely take to fix it - a new post. Figuring out what I might want to eat all week was also proving quite difficult. I couldn't quite tell from the race schedule whether or not I would have time during the week to make it to "town" (State College) to get more supplies should I run out. I was going on that I notion that I would probably eat what I usually eat at home. My coach's advice was to make sure I was never hungry all week and to eat lots of carbs to keep the glycogen stores topped off. The quantity of food suggested was insane though - 2-3 potatoes or 5 pieces of french toast and eggs... yeah, I like to eat but I don't think I can eat that much at breakfast before racing. We'll see, I guess. I knew staying fueled was important but wow... and then thinking about all the other crap to bring with me - tons of clothes, spare bike parts, etc. I didn't think I would fit it all in, but I did.
I headed out Friday of Memorial Day weekend to drive down to Doug's in Frederick, MD and then I'd head over to the race Sunday morning. It was about 2.5-3hrs from and the Stage 1 TT didn't start till 3pm. Hmmm... heading out on a holiday weekend on Friday... yup.. Got on the Mass Pike and within 3 miles stopped traffic, WTF. Dumb dumb dumb. I was thinking it was already backed up Rt 146 all the way to 84 (~20 miles)... Maybe I should get off and go late late tonight? I forged on, or rather decided too late to get off the highway. A couple miles up there was an accident and after that the traffic was heavy but it flowed. It looked much much worse heading in the opposition direction. I was doing fine with the drive till just past Scranton/Wilkes Barre area where, only in PA, do they shut down one lane of a two-lane highway for 15+ miles at a whack.... It took like an hour to go the 15 miles. So Karen got very very cranky. I called Doug to warn him that it might take a few beers for me to chill...
Day 1 – 10 mile TT
Saturday was a chill day - cleaned up the bike and went for a mellow ride, caught a movie. I couldn't sleep at all that night though, so Sunday was a rough day getting going and certainly not how I wanted to start my first stage race. I was pretty darn tired and worried about going balls to the wall for a 10 mile TT on Day 1 of 7 days of racing. I arrived at the Seven Mountains Boy Scout camp in a foggy state of mind. I got my race packet which included some nice schwag, sweatshirt, bike jersey, etc., very nice. Then I headed over to the lodge that I would be staying in - there was a 1st and 2nd floor, hmm... I walked in and was like wow, this is going to be an interesting week. There were bunk beds attached two together packed in there and already pretty full and that was with each of us having our "own bunk". Thankfully I had brought extra sheets to make a 'cave' for myself for privacy. There was one refrigerator that was full of mostly beer already... oh vey! I unpacked and found some room in the refrigerator for my week's worth of food. Then I tried to chill for a bit before getting ready for the TT.
I was a bit worried to say the least about putting out a big effort on the TT being so tired and it smoking me for the rest of the week. I was the 3rd to last woman to go with my strongest competitors starting after me, which was a bit of pressure to go hard and hope they wouldn’t catch me. I was also trying to remind myself that it’s one stage in a very long week and that likely one of the stages with more climbing or more technical trails would spread out the time gaps more than this stage.
I warmed up for the most part per my coach’s instructions. I slacked a bit on the “hard” effort in warm-up but I was feeling a bit fatigued and didn’t want to overdo it. While waiting for my start I got to witness one of the racers bite it in the gravel 20 feet from the start - note to self of what not to do that… poor guy.
I took off pretty strong. The course passed through the boyscout camp and then out onto a dirt road climb which felt harder than it should have. It was near the top of the climb that woman starting after me, Selene Yeager , caught up to me. I was like crap, that was pretty quick. She’s already got a minute on me. I tried to stay focused on the fact is was only stage 1 and to go hard but not so hard it already hurts too much tomorrow. I kept her within sight and was right on her tail heading into a knarly singletrack descent. I pretty much stayed with her on that and then it was back out to a dirt road section for a stretch and back into trail where I passed her, although it seemed as if she had backed off some. The closing stretch of singletrack was really fun. I probably could have gone a bit harder on it but I didn’t want to implode on the first stage. I just tried to stay focused and smooth. I ultimately came in 2nd about 45 seconds back from Selene and about 30 seconds up Rebecca Rusch, a very experienced endurance/stage racer.
I was pretty pleased with my effort. I went pretty hard but didn’t feel like I completely laid it all out there. I knew I just needed to get some good sleep so I could somehow get through 6 more days. I went back to the lodge and cleaned up, ate some dinner, and got organized for tomorrow's stage which was touted as the hardest stage of the event. The awards ceremony was held at 7:45 each evening, followed by a preview of the next day's stage and then by a picture slide show of the day's stage. I was anxious for it to be over so I could start in on that rest I needed so badly. I went to bed pretty much as soon as that was over. The lodge was surprisingly quiet that night and pretty much stayed that way all week. I shared my 'attached' bunkbed with the second place finisher in the open men's race, Drew Edsell. I didn't think I had slept that well that night but he claimed I was snoring way so apparently I got some rest. :)
Day 2 - 40 miles of lots and lots of knarly PA singletrack...
I woke up feeling a bit more rested. I was anxious though and it was tough eating breakfast even though I was eating what I normally eat at home and maybe an extra piece of toast or packet of oatmeal. Tthankfully most of the days, we didn't start racing till 10:30-11ish. Today's stage was a remote start so we had to have our bikes down at the main office by 7:30 to load and then be at the shuttle bus by 9 to be dropped off and then we finished at back at the camp. This stage was 40 miles with lots of climbing, lots of tough singletrack and then a dirt road stretch to the finish back at the boyscout camp.
The bus ride seemed to take forever. I was trying to stay "fueled and hydrated" on the drive as was everyone else, so soon as we arrived, everyone scurried off to the woods. Then it was find your bike and warm up and then off we went. It was supposed to be a "neutral start" for a mile but it was fast and then even faster once the lead vehicle left. I was like wholey moley, we have to keep doing this for five more days after this... Selene was up ahead but Rebecca was relatively close to me. We were on a dirt road for a bit and then onto a double track climb that really only had one good line so it was singletrack pretty much. I was a couple riders back from Rebecca and feeling like I was settling a bit too slow of a pace and decided to pass and then not too much further up a bunch of riders got thier bikes tangled up in some sticks/branches, including Selene, and passed her too and was off up front for the rest of the race. I felt pretty good this stage. It was probably the hottest day and very humid but I like those conditions. My muscles tend to stay loose in that kind of weather. It was a lot of tough, jagged rocks that went on and on... every now and then, I was wishing for my dual suspension bike instead of my Felt 29er hardtail, but overall the Felt was great. My recent bike fit at Grace Bicycles in Holliston, MA helped tremendously with feeling comfortable on the bike. But these PA rocks just bounce you around no matter what you're riding.
I had to keep reminding myself on this stage that it was only Day 2 and that it wasn't a 100 miler where you could put it all out there in one day and be done. I have to do this for 5 more days so I pretty conserve some energy. I was feeling pretty good and staying well fueled and hydrated. I had no gauge of how far back my competition was. I just kept trying to ride steady and within a reasonably range. The dirt road section back to camp seemed to go on and on but finally I was nearing the finish, still in the lead. Very cool!
I won the stage by a few minutes and that gave me the leader's jersey as well! Yeah!! Holy crap.. I can't believe I did that well! Yeah! It was definitely a hard day to recover from since it was so hot and humid. It was hard to eat post-race. I had a nice headache by that evening. There were handful of people who ended up in the hospital or needing an IV due to getting severely dehydrated. Rebecca was struggling with her asthma in the thick PA air and thus had a tough day out there.
I tried to do all the right recovery - eat well, hydrate well, roll the legs out on a foam roller and with the 'stick'. I was pretty stoked that day. Although, I knew the next stage was certainly not going to favor my strengths. It was 47 miles on mostly dirt roads with lots of climbing... ugh!
Day 3 - 47 miles of lots of dirt road
I woke up not feeling quite so hot as the previous day. I finding it very perplexing that I just did not want to eat. It took forever to get through breakfast, just very odd. I was already swearing off eating on sunday when the race was over.
This stage started and ended at the camp so there was no shuttle or driving to do. It was an icky weather day - rainy and gray. I think we managed not to start in the rain but the short singletrack section that started the stage was already getting sloppy. Selene went off hard and I was ahead of Rebecca for a little bit but she passed me on the first long descent into Coburn, the town where the Wildnerness 101 starts - we were actually heading down the first road climb of the 101 and passed the quaint Bed and Breakfast I stayed at last year for the 101 and will back there in late July. I tried to stay on Rebecca's wheel on the descent, getting sandblasted from the wet road. A guy passed us and she jumped on is wheel and I couldn't keep the pace and off they went leaving me with a bad sinking feeling of how the day was going to unfold. I tried not to dwell on it and reminded myself that there were 4 more days to go, to blow it on a roady stage would be such a waste and that my main goals were to have fun and finish. It helped somewhat so I just tried to settle into a paced I knew I could sustain. It felt like a ton of climbing that day. It was interesting to download my computer data and see that there was actually slightly more climbing the previous day. The countryside was beautiful despite the gloominess of the day. It started pouring rain again when I was within 10 miles of finishing. We had to ride back UP the singletrack we had started out on and man did it suck now. It was a total slog...including having to walk a couple sections of it. I came in 3rd and lost the lead by ~14 minutes and had the 2nd place standing eaten into as well. ugh... I was a pretty tired post stage. I tried to keep up with all my recovery efforts and hit the hay post slide show ASAP...
Day 4 - 32 miles of sweet biking heaven, if only i weren't sooo tired!
Wednesday's stage was an absolute blast... well it could have been if I weren't so dang tired. I woke up feeling very sleepy, wondering if I slept at all that night?? It was a remote start and finish, which I chose to drive myself to. I was following other racers and lost them at a traffic light and then shortly after that managed to take wrong turn. Thankfully those following behind me were more awake to read the directions than I was. hmm.. I knew this was going to be a rough one. My bike computer was all funky today too (probably from the nasty conditions yesterday, although I just did Cohutta in the pouring rain for even longer and it seemed fine after that race) - none of the button would work so once it was on there was no shutting it off or switching screens and it would only detect heart rate - nothing else except running time.
I felt semi-ok leg wise warming up but I just felt utterly tired. There was a steep paved road climb to start and then onto some of the best flowing singletrack I've ever ridden. The climb killed. Selene was off the front again and I was ahead of Rebecca but only for a short period of time. I only had one gear that day and that was it. Rebecca looked great and was riding great. This course was like a giant pump track with obviously more climbing and descending, but super sweet. I would love to get back there with fresh legs. The checkpoint came quickly which was a relief as it meant I was 1/3 of the way done. And 2nd time hitting it meant 2/3rds and came up pretty quickly. I didn't refuel at the aid station. I just got more water which was sort of silly as I ran out of my camelback not too long after passing through. Not a good idea to get behind in fuel and water with three more days to go... :( Thankfully the stage was a tad shorter than originally slated and I finished up not having to go too long without food or water. I came in 3rd but lost 8 minutes or so again - bummer.
I was wiped out though. This was my very bad day where I was truly worried about my ability to finish this stage race. I was quite ready to relinquish the 2nd place standing. I drove back to camp in a stupor...having stopped at Subway for a large sub...It was good to get something different than what I had back at camp, but still tough to eat. I finished it up for dinner later on. I cleaned up once back at camp and tried to take a nap for a bit. Wicked headache again. I continued with recovery stuff and barely made it through awards ceremony. I went to bed really early. I had called my mom that day and it still cracks me up her asking me "why are you doing this?".... hmmm, I can't answer that today.... because it sounded like a good idea at some stupid point..
Day 5 - mini-xc's - very different stage
This stage was kind of odd, sort of recovery and sort of very painful all in one. It was another remote start and finish at R.B. Winter Park which was about an hour drive from camp. I was at least much more awake today although still anxious about racing and concerned about the effects of the previous four days on my body. I wasn't too keen on the short intense efforts this stage would entail. We all rode together for ~6-7 miles to a short race segment that would take ~ 12-15 minutes and then regroup post segment to ride neutral to the next one for a total of 4 segments. The slow ride out was great for the legs and it was fun socializing. Initially this stage was touted to be a Super-D but it was far from "mostly downhill".... They 'segments' all seemed to start on an incline and it was all out intense so much so that on the first one, when I hit the downhill section my legs were so fried I could not stand at all... I was bouncing around on my bike until I could recover just enough to stand up for just a few seconds, ouch! And then we hit the sketchy sections of deep narrow ruts and then Karen was flying over the handlebars.. holy crap... I thankfully wasn't hurt nor my bike damaged (well, my handlebars got shifted some but I didn't notice till after the segment was done). I quickly jumped back on and kept going to finish that segment 2nd. It sucked riding tough trails all out like that after four days of racing. It seemed a bit dangerous to be riding such knarly trails in a full tilt mode. Maybe I should have brought the dualie out for this day... hmm.. It was a few more stages similar to that, although one of them was a super sketchy downhill down a stream bed of big boulders for a good stretch -- you hit something just wrong in there and it's going to really really hurt... I ended up 3rd overall in the cumulative time for the stage. The stage wasn't intended to shake up the GC (general classification standings) and it didn't but I lost ~45 seconds on the day. Rebecca and Selene seemed to be riding really strong.
Post race, many of us waded in the cool lake water. I realized later on how good a recovery tool this is and need to keep that in mind for other races - cold on the legs/body post-race. It was fun hanging out with everyone for a stage and I think that was a main goal of the stage for everyone to ride together. It felt a bit harder than I would have liked. I was also getting rather anxious about my 2nd place lead dwindling going into the last hard stage of climbing and singletrack. I got back to camp which by now was getting a pretty funky smell in the lodge and everything felt damp and icky from the high humidity all week. I kept up with all my recovery tools and a couple other racers in the cabin wanted to use my foam roller and stick... It was cool - the camaraderie in the lodge - them wanting me to hold onto 2nd and hoping Drew would make it back onto the podium and possible top GC standings.. I was trying to downplay it knowing that Rebecca could have a great strong ride the next day and 6 minutes could go poof, She's a very experienced endurance/stage racer and this is my first and just finishing hanging in the top 3 is pretty darn sweet. Of course holding onto 2nd would also be very sweet.
Day 6 - the "queen stage" 24 miles of some of the best singletrack in the area - and some climbing... Friday was another remote start with the finish leaving a ~5 mile mellow ride back to camp. We loaded up on the bus at 9 again. It was ~45 minute drive. We had almost an hour to kill once we got to the start to warm-up and be, oh, just a tad bit anxious...Warming up I wasn't feeling too hot. I felt kind of sleepy again but not quite as bad as on Wednesday. It had rained overnight but the woods looked pretty dry, but there was mega humidity hanging in the air. The men's race was still super contentious. They actually paced the beginning of the stage in what felt like a "fast neutral" start until the steeper climb began. It was kind of nice warming up like that although a bit "road race" like in that many were jockeying for position so it was sometimes hard to keep a line in the pack. Rebecca's boyfriend came up beside me and clipped my handlebars and almost made me crash. I was like "hey', cut the shi...". I knew it was a ploy to take me out...kidding :) ! Anyway, we start the double track climb that starts getting steeper. Selene yet again riding strong off the front and I manage to get by Rebecca. I would do the over shoulder glance back from time to time to gauge where she was and how soon she might "warm up" and come kick my butt... but she didn't. The humidity and thick air was giving her lungs a hard time again. I wasn't ruling her out as coming back on strong though. I told myself even if she does catch up she's got to make up 6 minutes. It really was SUPER humid that day. By the top of long climb I was drenched in sweat. My gloves were soaked! It made the first descent, which was one of the toughest of the race, really difficult. I could barely hold on. I kept cat and mousing the single speeders and unfortunately this downhill was no where to pass someone. I stayed upright somehow and my hands and arms were killing by the end of it. But, positive note, I was feeling good. I had some legs again :) yippee!!! There was lots of great singletrack, some very rough sections followed by some flowing sections (thankfully). I was trying to stay well fueled again and well hydrated. I came into the aid station where they told me Selene was only about a minute up. The next section was an awesome ridgeline trail - a short ascent to the ridge and then a long crossing. It was so much fun. I caught up to Selene on this stretch and debated trying to duke it out but figured it wasn't really worth it since she was so far ahead time wise it would only mean a "possible' stage win and at what expense if I could even manage to pass her... She went off again after my making contact with her. I was just having a blast at the point.
We eventually dropped down to a dirt road for a bit. There was a huge snake on the side of the road. I saw it and thought it was stick at first and then realized it was a snake and then realized how big of a snake it was... yikes! Although, I couldn't quite tell if it was alive or not but I wasn't going to wait around to see for sure. There was another pretty tough climb before we descended to the finish. I came in 2nd and had managed to cement my 2nd place standing. Selene was about a 1 1/2 minutes ahead. I was stoked. It was great to see the body come around like that after racing all week. I totally didn't think I would be able to finish out like that. I was constantly counting the days till we finished and Selene and Rebecca were like, why do you keep doing that? and I'm like because I'm not sure how this all goes. It's tough. Prior to the start of this stage, we had mentioned just riding for fun on the final stage since the standings were pretty set so I knew for the most part this was it. It did really feel like the last day of racing to me.
I rode back to camp, although at first I was worrying I took the wrong turn but finally made it to a point that I recognized. I cleaned up quickly and jumped in my car to head to town and get some good food and ice cream and just vege away from camp for a bit... and spend my $20 gift card I had won to a sports store in town. I couldn't decide what to get at first, but ultimately bought a new bladder for my camelback that was getting all nasty this week from daily use and being subjected to warmth and humidity all the time. I did have a pretty bad headache again. I'm guessing I hadn't drank enough water for the day. Dinner was yummy, although it was still tough stomaching a decent sized meal. Ice cream was good too but I couldn't finish it! I actually threw out some ice cream... What's up with that!!! What has happened to karen?..
Back to camp for awards and hanging out. The lodge I was staying at seemed to have most of the singlespeeders. They're a breed of their own.. in a mostly good way. A bit intimidating initially but once you get to know them, they're pretty cool, they are mountain bikers after all. I can't imagine doing this race on a singlespeed and many of them do it on a rigid singlespeed- i.e. no suspension. No way!! I would be so wrecked doing that. Kudos to them!!! So they wanted to know I was "cool" too so I finally had a beer that night with them, how you pass up a Dogfish 60 minute IPA... mmm.. and I knew the final stage was going to be a chill ride. yee ha!!!
Stage 7 - 21 miles of mostly fun singletrack...
So we had made our pact to have a fun ride and keep the GC as it was for the last day - well, the women and the singlespeeders that is. The open men and master men were still duking it out.. in the open men's category 2nd and 3rd were tied after 6 days of racing and 4th was like 10 seconds back from that.. wow! so there was a big gap at the start line from those who were racing and those of us were riding. The singlespeeders drank beer the whole ride. So we rode together for this final stage for a bit. Rebecca's asthma was still acting up and she told us to go on without her. So Selene, myself and the duo women (Kristin Gavin and Nikki Thieman sp?) all rode the stage together. We had a good time socializing and riding chill. The climbs still hurt though and it was wet in the woods from overnight rain. The stage still flew by pretty quickly and we finished up in ~2'15" keeping the order of GC standing. Wow, I survived my first stage race. I think I want to go ride the ridgeline trail again :)
The post-race dinner was great - they put on a sit-down meal of steak and shrimp and potatoes.. yummy, and some wine from a local winery. There was lots more great schwag for all the racers finishing. We all received finish medals and wooden stand for it to sit in which they're sending out plaques in a week or two with our names and finish times to put on the stand; and a very nice backpack with TSE logo; and a great picture from the race photographer - my picture is great - happy racing face :) There was lots of partying going on. I was kind of a party pooper though and just hung out with a few fellow racers at my lodge. The party was going on at the other lodge which was fine with me as I was rather tired and glad to get to bed at a decent time - so lame in my old age...
I woke up early and could tell I wouldn't fall back asleep, so I got up and finished packing the car and headed home by 6:30AM. It was a chill ride home. Lots of reflecting on the week - that it went so well for my first stage race, and things to make note of to do better if I do this again, which I'm guessing I probably will (ok mom? :).
Kudos again to the race directors for putting on a wonderful race. I am looking forward to next year's edition. Great competition, wonderful fellow racers etc. Excellent way to spend a week. It was kind of weird having to be back to work as usual... Although, I was reunited with my pug, Bruschi, who was pooped out himself after hanging at my folks house all week playing in their big yard. Thanks mom and dad!
I highly recommend this stage race as it's lots of fun, tough, but doable! Great trails, great people, well run...and I think it will probably just get better.
Lumberjack 100 is up next - June 19th!