Sunday, June 5, 2011

2011 Transylvania Epic - Stage Race

Well, the 2011 Transylvania Epic Stage Race (TSE) turned out to be a roller coaster ride for me. I went into the race with the mindset of getting on the podium for any one of the stages would be a really good day given how stacked with talented riders the women's field was this year. Many of my friends were trying to convince me that, I too am a 'talented' rider, but I know my competitive side would have eaten me up if I went in with the attitude of having to be in the top three all week. It would have taken away from the fun factor putting that kind of pressure on myself. I knew it was better to race as hard as I could each day and whatever happened as far as results was what would happen.

I arrived at the Boyscout Camp (race headquarters for the week) on Saturday afternoon. I registered and headed up to the lodge I would be staying at all week. At least this year, I knew what I was getting myself into as far as living in a bunk bed all week, sharing a bathroom that would get filthy, and a kitchen that was also less than cleanly, so it didn't phase me as much this year. I unpacked my car and settled in as best one can settle into this style of living for a week. I then got ready to go pre-ride Sunday's Time Trial, Stage 1.

It was a pretty hot on Saturday, with the forecast only getting hotter through Tuesday. I was ok with that as I tend to do really well in high heat and humidity. It sometimes starts to throw off my stomach some, but generally, I'm ok. I started out on the TT course which was marked already. It wound through the Boyscout camp, which had some very wet stream crossing and other muddy sections, and then out onto the road but opposite the direction we went last year. I thought I had messed up following the arrows. I saw a rider coming up behind me and it happened to be Ray Adams, one of the race directors, and he told me the course had changed from last year and this was the right way. We rode together for a while chatting away. It was a few miles of road before heading into some very twisty singletrack, unusual for PA riding. Ray had to stop to help out with some course markings so I finished the pre-ride on my own. It was shortly thereafter that the long singletrack, loose dirt/rock climb started. I was like, ouch...this kind of hurts and granny geared it to the top where it joined the course we rode last year for the TT. The rest of the course was the same from the previous year which was pretty fun, although it follows along a stream heading back into the boyscout camp and that was super wet, muddy and slippery. Oh, and it felt like a long distance for a time trial.

I got cleaned up, ate some dinner, hung with fellow racers for a bit and then went to bed pretty early. It was surprisingly quiet in the lodge but the smell was pretty nasty. I believe this was the first time the lodge had been opened up all winter and it was damp, musty and stank of vinyl-finish on the walls or something. Icky. I slept pretty well but had started to get some pre-race nerves going. It helped knowing I had all morning to chill as the TT didn't start until 3:00, with my start time being 4:13.

I went into State College for breakfast and hung out reading for a while before heading back to camp to get ready to race. I was the first women to start. It didn't matter all that much as we had a minute between us and the course was long enough that no one knew what the times were before starting. I just didn't want to get passed. I warmed up as my coach had instructed with some semi-aggressive intervals to really get the legs opened up for the short hard effort of a time trial. I arrived right on time at the start line for a 30 second count down and I was off. I felt pretty good but I just tried to keep reminding myself to ride hard and not worry about how I placed. I got immediately muddy through the first couple of stream crossings and wet/muddy patches. Then it was out on the road section which was hot in the sun. I rode steady but fairly hard. I made it through the twisty singletrack and began the long climb up and started to get a cramp in my right shoulder/neck area. I tried to relax it out and take it back a notch since I was going pretty hard, especially with six more days to come. I settled into a rhythm and finally reached the top of the climb. I rode pretty aggressively still and kept thinking in the back of my head that this was a really hard effort that I hope it at least gets me in the top 5. I finished out the wet nasty stream bed section having to pass a couple riders fumbling through the slick roots and rocks. I continued riding hard around the pond at the base camp and across the finish line. I was not sure of my time as I didn't start my bike computer on time.

I pedaled around lightly to help flush the legs out and then got cleaned up and started 'recovery' for tomorrow's hard stage. I eventually went back down to the timing tent to try to get some results for my race sponsor, and when I saw Zac, the timer, he was like 'nice job'. I was like thanks...'so do you have results?" and he told me I won. I was like, "no way! you're pulling my string." But he was serious. I was truly shocked but obviously extremely happy. I couldn't believe I won a stage which also gave me the leaders jersey, as least for a day :) It certainly made me feel better about how hard I went. I had a 40 second lead over 2nd, who was the winner of the whole race last year and just over a minute on this year's to be winner. I was stoked, but also knew what a long week it was ahead. It definitely helped the confidence.

Monday's stage 2 started at 9:30 from the base camp. Last year it was a remote start but they were trying to simplify the schedule a bit more this year which was nice. This meant a bit more dirt road however, which I wasn't thrilled about. I for some reason didn't quite pay attention that well to where exactly the stage was heading out to until we were out on it. It was a neutral roll out of camp but after the first turn it was balls to the walls on wet downhill rough dirt road. I thankfully felt pretty good and was able to reel in the women up ahead and we mostly rode in a pack of 5-6 of for a while. I was happy to have the legs to hang there and not feel like I was pushing it too hard yet. It was still early in the day though. There was a lot of technical rocky trails in today's stage which was good for my skillset.

It eventually ended up a group of three of us, myself, Vikki and Amanda. We rode through the majority of the stage together switching up leads etc. I finally broke free from them through some switchback technical trails when Amanda messed up on some rocks. I needed the gap as we were going to be coming into an aid station within 4 miles and I had to stop to re-fill my camelback whereas they were both going to be handed bottles and not really have to stop. I also was happy to get out front on the technical trails finally as I can ride them much smoother at my own pace and finding my own lines versus following someone who doesn't always pick the best lines or just throws you off your rhythm. I made it in and out of the Aid Station without being caught. But shortly thereafter one my ties holding my number plate broke so my number was bouncing down into my front tire. I was like crap. I tried to get the bottom tie loose and wrapped up around my cables while still riding and it worked for a bit but dropped down again. So I finally had to stop and take the bottom tie off and use it to replace the top one that had broke. A little bit of wasted time :(

On the final ~8+ miles of road to the finish, Amanda caught back up to me and said that Selene had caught up at the Aid Station. I was a bit bummed out about losing the lead but I was at my limit at that point. Both Amanda and Selene are super strong riders and I was pretty pleased with myself with how strong I had been riding all day. My legs were starting to feel a bit twingy/crampy so I took a bunch of electrolyte tabs and just tried to keep it steady. Amanda was getting a gap and I could see Selene up ahead but just couldn't get back up to her. I could also see Vicki back too and focused on keeping up my pace up the final climb to not lose 3rd place, which I managed to do.

Two days in a row on the podium. I was stoked. Twice more than I had anticipated. It was definitely a boost to the confidence for sure. I felt ok after the stage. I felt like my carborocket had kept me fueled pretty well and hadn't upset my stomach. My new Zaboo bike was handling awesome. I definitely had gone pretty hard again but I was able to eat well after the stage and ate a good dinner that digested well despite it being another really hot day out there. Last year, my stomach was bit a undone by the heat and race nerves by this point. So I was hoping for some good rest and recovery that night and see how stage 3 would go. I lost quite a bit of time on Stage 3 last year. I don't think Stage 3 gets the credit or respect that it deserves as far as how hard it is despite being mostly dirt road. The climbs on it are pretty long and steep. It makes it feel like we hardly climbed the day before.

Anyway, I slept ok that night only to wake up maybe around 5am with my stomach feeling a bit nauseous but I was hoping it would go away. It didn't. I knew it was bad news, but was trying to avoid accepting that. I kept thinking was it something I ate, or did I eat too much? I had felt fine last night and no indications of digestion issues. But the couple across the from me had gotten sick over night throwing up and then the women bunking beside me woke up feeling really nauseous and none of us ate the same thing the night before. Ugh! I tried to eat a piece of toast but my body wanted nothing of it. I got a piece down but it was not good. The guy who had gotten sick that night said he got an anti-nausea pill from the on-site doctor and said it helped him out some. I was so bummed out. I hopped on my bike and just pedaled down the driveway and broke into tears as I had that gut feeling that it wasn't going away. I found the doctor and took anti-nausea pill and some tums and figured I would hope for the best and start the stage.

I toed the line not feeling good about it at all. We started out from the camp again in a neutral start for maybe a mile. I had nothing from the get go. I was so depressed. I had no energy and the nausea wasn't going away. I was starting to feel achy too. We had a rough downhill that I would have normally eaten up with smiles but it just hurt my body. I figured I'd try to get to the first Aid Station at mile 17 and pray that this feeling would miraculously turnaround. But I was starting to think through that I was going to be so far back today that it didn't matter if I finished or not as far as staying in the top of the GC. I knew it would be stupid to push it not feeling good, especially in the heat and miss the rest of the week.

Some women had gone off course early and came up behind me and tried to convince me to hop on their train. I got semi-inspired to keep going but I just felt horrible and eventually let them go. I broke down at this point as I knew it was over. I just rode chill down the road into Coburn (where the Wilderness 101 starts) and tried to enjoy the views. I had thought the aid station was right there in town but it was farther out which was nice as I got to enjoy the mostly flat road along the river and just took it easy to the aid station. The doctor was riding around course with Mike Kuhn (the other race director) and they came by me to see how I was doing and I told them I felt worse and was pulling out at the Aid Station.

I made to the aid station and tried to keep it together. I knew I was making the right decision but it sucked, especially after starting the race so amazingly well. I had to wait a while to get a ride back to camp. I had moments where I felt ok and then a wave of ickiness would hit me again. I was starting to get chills and it was probably approaching 90 by that point.

The drive back to camp felt long and I was freezing in the AC. I felt like absolute crap. I had at least avoided throwing up though. I got back to camp and showered. I had some bike clothes soaking in soapy water that I knew I needed to rinse out and hang up or else they would rot so I managed to do that before resting. Racers had already finished up by this point and I was hoping someone was going back down to the main lodge to get a note to have the doctor call or text me when he was back on site but no one was heading down there. I walked down there and thankfully the doctor was already back so I went with him to get an IV bag of saline hoping that would help me get back on track quicker and maybe riding again tomorrow. I'm not crazy about needles and almost got woozy at first but chatted with the doctor to take my mind off it.

I walked back up to my lodge and tried to sleep. The fever part of this bug was really starting to kick in. I felt horrible - achy, cold, hot.... It's no fun being sick period, but really no fun being sick with no one there for you in a stinky lodge in a bunkbed. I had a fan that I had to keep turning on me and then away. I tried to eat that night knowing if I wanted to race again I had to get some calories in me but I only got a couple pieces of toast down and half a can of soup. My stomach was still really off though so it was debatable whether it was worth the discomfort. By then, I knew my hopes of riding Wednesday were out, which was a total bummer as it was the Raystown stage. Raystown is a sweet sweet trail system that rides like a giant pump track. It's really fast roller coaster like terrain. Last year, I was totally cooked on this day so I didn't really get to enjoy and well this year, wasn't happening either. I think I will just try to go spend a weekend there riding the trails and swimming in the lake and not involve a race.

Some of the other racers in the lodge knew I raced the 100 miler series and there was the Mohican 100 race in Ohio this Saturday. They threw out there the idea of bagging the stage race and heading over there. I was like, hmmm? I figured out much farther it was, 5 1/2 hrs and the weather forecast was dry and 90. I could handle that. I wasn't too keen on the drive over and then it meant 11-12 hour drive home on Sunday. I had some buddies doing the race who I could stay with, so?? I emailed my coach and ran it by him. I was up in air about myself as I wasn't too psyched to drive that far. Anyway, coach said I 'could' do it, but only if I felt significantly better on Thursday.

So Wednesday I probably should have just rested in bed all day again, but I was not too keen on staying in the lodge all day. I drove over to Raystown lake and hung out at the dam and the overlook. It was a pretty hot, humid day, but I was enjoying sitting in the nice breeze. I could have taken a nap but just day dreamed. Later on, I caught up on some emails at a coffee shop in a town near there. I had thought I would eat lunch there but I was feeling a bit nausea again when I got there. By the time I headed out I ordered a sandwich to go which I managed to get down but it was slow going. I went back to camp and debated on my plan for Thursday. I was at that point not feeling overly optimistic about a big turnaround for Thursday, or more importantly to ride hard Friday and Saturday. Both stages were pretty technical and suited my skills for a good day but only if I had enough energy to ride the rocks which at that point, I was most definitely not feeling up to the challenge.

Thursday I woke up feeling a little bit better but digestion was still slow and not quite right. I was feeling kind of tired, so I knew going to Mohican 100 was out. I figured I would go ride today's stage mellow and see how the legs were doing. I was on the fence about doing that or just doing my own ride near camp and then heading into town to read at a coffee shop. In retrospect, I should have done the 2nd option. Fellow racers were happy to see me back out there riding again. I however felt overly tired still and felt pretty labored in my breathing way too quickly. It was really depressing as it made me wonder about even being able to even race the final two stages. Friday's stage had lots of great singletrack and an awesome ridge line trail. After riding a couple of the mini-stages and hanging out at the aid station, I thought about heading back to the car at that point but started to ride out to the 3rd mini-stage. I calculated out how much longer we would likely be out there riding and decided to turn back with another racer. We rode back on the dirt road together and did the last mini-stage. It ended up being a long day which was probably not in my best interests as far as recovery. It totally bummed me out and I was thinking of just packing up and heading home Friday instead of sticking around. It didn't seem worth it to try race a tough stage through rough rock gardens and risk getting hurt because I didn't have the energy to ride it well, or risk recovering properly from being sick.

I was chatting with some of my fellow racer about what to do. I was pretty sad and bummed out Thursday night. I talked to my sister for a bit who was trying to encourage me to just take it easy and maybe go see a comedy movie and finish up Saturday. It had started out as such a great week and went down hill so fast. I had kind of held myself up with the hope of coming back to race hard Friday and Saturday, and well, that just didn't look like it was going to happen. Amanda has suggested starting the stage, which had a 3-mile group ride out to the start and then if I felt like crap still I could bag it at the Aid Station at mile 20 and get a ride back with her husband. So, I figured what the heck. I convinced myself that this would be it. I would ride out there and see how I felt and if I felt good enough, that I'd I would give it what I had and then call it quits and head home on Saturday, skipping the last stage.

So I started out the stage and felt better than the day before. It was hard to tell what I had in the tank on the ride over to the start but that at least felt like a lot less work then the chill riding between the mini-stages yesterday. And then we were off racing and I had something to work with. I held onto the front women through the first dirt road section. I could go relatively hard but definitely wasn't 100% but nobody else was 100% by then either. I managed to sit in third for the day. The first technical singletrack section we got on, I felt kind of spacey on but I finally came around. Every now and then, I had that feeling I might just totally bonk at any moment, but I stayed really good about fueling, taking in my carborocket and trying to eat a little since I knew my glycogen stores were probably still pretty low. It seemed to work and I had a pretty good time riding the trails.

I made it to the aid station which we hit at mile 20 and 26. Coming back through the 2nd time I refilled my camelback and reminded myself I could do this. It was only 12 more miles, long miles, from here. The ridge line trial is amazing. You totally want to look around and take in the views but you do so very cautiously scanning up ahead for any rocks that were going to take you out if you stopped paying attention for too long. I definitely love singletrack. It inspires me.

I was pretty stoked to pull of a 3rd place after being so sick. It felt great to back in there in the mix. I briefly debated racing the final day, but once I got back to camp and was starting to come down from the race, I could tell it took a lot out of me and that I was still trying to recover from being sick. It wasn't worth pushing it at this point with the next 100 miler race two weeks out. That, and well, I was totally sick of staying in the lodge at this point too. I also was looking at a couple of really busy weeks before heading out to the next 100 miler and well, a full day at home and sleeping in really late sounded nice. I almost changed my mind when I found out that the women had decided to ride for fun again like we had done last year for the final stage. I was tempted since it wouldn't be too bad of a workout, but I kept with my plan. So I enjoyed the last night hanging with folks. I got up and watched them start the final stage and took a bunch of pictures. Then, I packed up and headed home.

I picked up my pooch from my mom and unpacked some, watched the Bruins but called it a night when they went into overtime. I slept in very very late :)

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