06 October 2014

Cross No Barriers? Vallejo Cougar NCCX ...

Apparently seasons don't follow the "norm" out here in Northern California as this past weekend temperatures were hovering in the low 80s near the coast and even higher inland. This does not feel like October...this feels like mid-July in the desert. Hot and dry. And I have to race CX? Giddy up ...

One thing I do enjoy about CX races and being a 'Cat 2 on paper' is that the ladies' races usually don't go off until midday, which enables me to sleep in more than for your average race and thankfully the NorCalCX series was no exception. So after a decent night sleep, I packed up the TDI and headed north to Vallejo to take another crack at CX in California. This was the first race in a 5-race series I signed up for -- the NCCX Series put on by SuperPro racing. They named all the races after wildcats so I figured they had to be fun :-)

New races bring an additional bit of anxiety to your normal pre-race nerves. Here I was, on my own, 2500 miles from MABRA CX, and trying to navigate my way around a new CX landscape. Luckily, most folks are friendly and I got my nerve up to randomly ride up to some other ladies, say hi and see what the skinny was on pre-riding, racing and whatnot.

Rolling down the mulch pile "obstacle"
We were able to get on the course and do a little recon -- it was definitely a different type of course with some stairs, run-ups, a whoop-de-do over a mulch pile, a ride-under (yes!) but NO BARRIERS!! Isn't cyclocross supposed to have barriers? Little disappointed for sure :-/ but new state, new series, let's see how this goes!

There were about 13 women in the A field -- not quite as big as the other weekend, but a decent sized field I figured. We had a wide open start up the road and onto a grassy hill. With fewer women, I was able to power to a fairly decent start as we began to wind through the course. But that was probably as good as it was going to get, as in one of what you'd probably call a "power" section of the course, another girl made a pass. I tried to stick on her wheel, but the 90+ degree heat started to get to me.

Thanks to the guys from Ornotbike for taking shots
of the Women's A race :-)
With 2 steep run-ups, and a mulch-covered hill that after a few laps became a run-up for me at least, I was starting to overheat and get a little dizzy. I had to slow my pace to slow my heart rated down so the race wasn't a complete loss. I would have given anything for a bottle, but sadly, as I saw support and bottles of water waiting for the other girls in my field, I was here solo, so there were no hand-ups, no spray-downs for me. Ugh. Note to self ... whine more to get support next time...ha.

Admittedly I lost cont of laps, but finally when I heard that bell going, I knew I could drag myself through one more. I could see a few girls coming behind me, but tried to at least keep it steady and hold whatever position I had finally slipped to...which when all the dust settled, turned out to be 8th. I'll take it...:-)

After the race I soft-pedaled back to the TDI and dumped an entire water-bottle over my head hoping to get my HR down to something near-human. Later when I uploaded my data for Coach B my average HR turned out to be 184 for the race. Ouch.

So live and learn, and maybe one day I'll figure out how to ride in hot, dry, dusty CX races ...

Up next?
NCCX #2 up in Fairfax and here's to hoping for a few more barriers and cooler temperatures!

30 September 2014

Singletrack and Saguaro

Cholla look fuzzy - but they are evil!
A little bit on a whim this past weekend, we hopped a short flight down to Phoenix to see Mike's parents. I'd forgotten how long it'd been since I was last there (over a year!) so it was good to visit, and also a nice break from the seemingly constant hustle and bustle of life in the Bay Area. Not that anything's wrong with the Bay Area -- it's perhaps, as my friend noted the other day, I've got adventure A-D-D - no matter how much I love an area, after a certain amount of time, I get the itch in my feet to see the sun rise over a new horizon.

So this weekend's horizon would be Scottsdale, and as soon as I stepped out of the airport, felt the warm breeze, saw the jagged mountains and a landscape dotted with cactus, I felt a calm start to encroach on my anxious soul.

Sleeping "in" Saturday until about 8am, we had a leisurely breakfast by the pool (yay!)and then rounded up the mountain bikes to go check out the trails near McDowell Mountain Regional Park. With the temperatures soaring to past 90-degrees - this was going to be one hot mountain bike ride!! Lucky for me I had my "summer" Bicycle Outfitters jersey in hand :-)  So once we figured out where to park and how to swap pedals on Mike's Mom's sweet 29er, it was time to explore the desert on 2 wheels. I smiled from ear to ear as we headed off down the sandy trail.

Arizona is strangely one of the places that my mountain biking roots come from! Many, many moons ago - you know before the internets and when we had to walk uphill both ways to school in the snow - when I was first learning to ride a mountain bike, we took a mini-family vacation to Phoenix over Christmas, rented bikes and I followed Matt up and down the trails of South Mountain Park. I fell over into a cactus and was about to cry when Matt looked at me and promptly said "Emily! There's NO CRYING in mountain biking!!" I sniffled a bit, wiped some pre-tear snot off my nose and got back up and clipped back in. After that - there was no looking back and no crying in mountain biking, just getting up, brushing off the dust and moving forward.

Back to reality - it was hot and not being used to riding in weather much above 75-degrees after a bit the heat started to take its toll. But that didn't stop me of course from riding back and forth by a giant Saguaro just because I have always been minorly obsessed with them. Cacti are cool.
Riding by a Saguaro!

Don't mind me - I'm just chillin' out of the sun...
We came to a trail intersection with a little shelter -- well a roughly covered picinic table and a tree(!!) at least, had a snack and decided to head back to more shade and air conditioning since the temperatures were soaring well into the high 90s. (Late September -- whaaat?!) So you know how I like cacti? Apparently they don't like me too much. I didn't even realize it until we wrapped up our ride - but I guess it's not officially an Arizona mountain bike ride unless you get at least one or two cactus spines in you!

Regardless of the short ride - getting out to explore new trails was fantastic and a perfect breath of fresh (albeit hot..) air that I needed to get ready to forge ahead into the craziness about to come with the rest of fall!

Up next?

More CX in California!!!!!

23 September 2014

Welcome to CA CX ... BASP #1 Grand Prix Natwick

Women's A Field at Natwick GP
Despite the lack of fall weather, rain and changing leaves, it is still September and thus - CX season is swinging into full gear. Not one to want to miss out on the shenanigans, beer, frites, hand-ups, run-ups, barriers and general badassery / ridiculousness that is CX, I broke out the skinsuit and ventured across the Bay to take on my first CX race in California.

One thing I'm learning about the Bay Area - is that there are parks everywhere! Today was no exception as the race took place on the shores of the Bay, across from none other than Candlestick Park. (as a kid growing up watching Joe Montana and Jerry Rice -- Candlestick Park has a bit of a mythical stigma to it). As we pulled up to the race venue, my eyes started to turn into saucers, as this looked like no CX race I had ever been to before! Between the village of pop-up tents, massive blow-up arches along the course and the huge run-up-stairs, roll-down flyover - I felt incredibly out of my league. What had I walked into? 

Running up the fly-over
Okay - time to stop being a weenie and put my big-girl skinsuit on. It is after all,  just a bike race ... or so I tell myself. As one of the Men's Masters fields finished up, I popped on the course to do a quick pre-ride and see what I was up against. The twisty-turny course didn't have much elevation gain (save a few what I like to call "whoop-de-do's" but the terrain was a mix of gravel, hard-pack, pavement and super-fine dirt that was about as easy as sand to ride through ... this was going to be interesting, but super fun at the same time! I always love a good new challenge. There was a set of barriers on a small "uphill" and then a neat 3-barrier turn at about the half-way point of the course, but "la Pièce de résistance" of course was the massive fly-over bridge into the finishing chute. After coming through a 180-degree turn, you had to dismount, run up a flight of stairs, jump on your bike and scream down a ramp on the other side. Here's to hoping I don't fall up the stairs in typical Emily fashion.

The Women's A race set off at 1:30, with the Women's B race, so all in all, I lined up with over 75 of my new closest friends. I was terrified. I missed having familiar faces in the crowd to laugh and smile with, knowing who's wheel to follow and who'd ride me off their wheel in no time flat. Oh ladies of MABRA CX - I miss you!!!

I ended up with a 3rd row start - not terribly awful, especially considering there were at least two world-cup caliber racers in the front row (gulp!). As Matt would say -- I was a guppy in the ocean today! But you're never going to get faster racing against people slower than you, so when the whistle blew, I tried to put my self-doubt on the shelf and move forward with the mass of ladies. Admittedly I'm not used to mass-starting a CX race with 70+ racers. I know this is the "norm" for the guys - but it was a little scary when I'm used to starting with a field of typically 20-40 girls. I initially fell back in the pack but as things started to string out, I started to make my way back up through the field. I had no clue where I was - definitely not at the front, but not at the back either - so that was pretty good. 

It's a little brown in CA right now -- dry, dirty and dusty CX
Things started to string out a bit after the first lap, and I was stoked to make up a few spots by being able to ride a punchy little up-hill and ride through the sand/dirt pits that caused a few other racers to run. While my speed may have been a little timid, at least my bike handling was starting to come back...or so I thought ... on the 3rd lap (of 6!) I took a 180-degree gravel turn a bit too fast and sharp and went down hard on my left side. Of course. It'd be ridiculous if I ever fell on my right side. The initial casualty check was minor - a dropped chain and a bloody and bruised knee, but as I raced to right my chain, a train of 6-7 girls flew by. Here we go again ...

Back on the bike and chasing, my knee was not really happy with me, but hey, it's CX, it's supposed to hurt in almost every way imaginable. I slowly caught back up to a few of the girls who had flow past and tried to hang with them for the last few laps. The Canadian and Munchkin had come out to cheer - and trust me - when you know virtually no one in the "scene" having your two best friends there to cheer for you - makes all the difference in the world :-) 


...the "slo-mo" on the iPhone6 came just in time for CX!

By the final lap, I was somehow feeling decent and made a pass in a straight-away coming in toward the fly-over. Then I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I ended up on my butt right in front of the fly-over, with several girls breathing down my neck. Angry Emily really kicked in, as I hauled myself and my bike up amid laughs and cheers, flew up the stairs and on the other end, somehow managed to out-sprint another girl ... for what I later learned to be 19th place. Hello cx racin' in California :-)
About to fly down the fly-over!

Now I ponder what's next (Levi's Gran Fondo or some NorCal CX in Concord??) as I play couch-potato convinced that I can't move because of a bruised knee and quad....more wine please?

09 September 2014

Short Track in The City

A mountain bike race in San Francisco proper? Sign me up! With CX season right around the corner, I figured a fun short-track mountain bike race would be a good way to jump start the legs and lungs for the impending season of short-lived redlining and going 'til you want to throw-up. While slightly longer - the McLaren Short Track Challenge, as part of the SF Mountain Bike Festival, definitely did not disappoint.

I was happily surprised that the Women's Pro/Expert field didn't start 'til 2:30, which gave me a rare treat of a leisurely morning prior to heading off to the races. 

Mike's friend Owen was racing the Men's Sport race at noon, so we got through the city and down to John McLaren park around 12:45 and just in time to see Owen finish. This was Owen's first mountain bike race, and he did it in style and didn't even bother racing beginner - jumped right in the Men's Sport race to score a solid finish!
Owen finishing the Men's Sport Race

Bike racing is fun!

Soon enough it was time to yank on the spandex (whoohoo) and very class-i-ly I must add, as we were parked on the side of a road. Thank goodness for beach towels... and start warming up for my race. I pedaled around a bit and finally jumped on the trails as the Men's Masters race finished up to see what I'd be tackling. Definitely glad I did, as there was a mix of hard-pack singletrack, super-loose double track, some pavement and even some steps and a wooden bridge -- complete with foot-diameter wooden posts in the middle. Need to remember to NOT hit those things during the race. Ouch!

Swapped out bottles with Mike and was super-stoked to see my new friend Jen had showed up for the fun too! Jen just moved out here from NC, but already knew some local trails so had played "tour-guide" for me on Monday at the siiiiick trails up in China Camp!

There was a bit of pre-race negotiation among the ladies and the promoter as to how many laps we'd actually do -- the race flyer said 6-7 but the way the time was running - we were more in the 4-5 range and since the Sport Men did 4 the race promoter dropped us down to 4 laps -- which ultimately ended up being just fine as after 3 laps my legs were giving me the finger.

Sketchy loose corner - but at least my new
Bicycle Outfitters Kit is awesome
So we started off in a blast -- definitely reminded me the Wednesdays at Wakefield races -- fast start, straight up a hill with everyone gunning for the hole shot. I managed to hit the singletrack second wheel, pleasantly surprised with my initial effort. However I soon realized that there wouldn't be much catching the girl ahead. I stayed on her wheel for a bit, but she had more anatomy than I did on the descents and turns, and more up and go on the hills so she soon started to get a little gap on me. One other girl passed me right before a tricky section through some trees and I worked hard the rest of the race to keep her in my sights. I'd reel her back a little on the climbs, but once we hit a downhill, she was gone. Note to self: work on descending skills. 

Cheesing per usual when it's finally all over

Racing through the park was awesome - there were great crowds, including your usual San Francisco suspects, the random old guy who you can't tell if he's a bum or that's just his style, the 20-somethings sharing a joint  on the backside of the course, and lots of folks with bikes cheering at every turn! Simply awesome :-)

After our 4 laps o' fun, I wasn't able to catch 2nd place and rolled across the line about 40 seconds back in 3rd, but pretty pleased overall, and especially at the fact that I avoided slamming into the giant wooden posts. Chatted a bit with the other girls -- they were super cool and made me more excited for racing CX in SF this fall and road in the spring and summer! Gigidy - we are back to bike racing!

Women's Pro/Expert Podium

There was a little confusion around prizes and whatnot - but ultimately the promoters let us pick our prizes, which was pretty sweet, especially as I scored this awesome new bluetooth portable speaker by Boombotix.

All in all - a great day -- that would later be celebrated with pizza and "El Rojos" at Owen's place on Nob Hill.

Up next?? Girl meets Las Vegas for the first time and CX IS COMING!

20 August 2014

Annadel XC

The 5:15am alarm didn't startle me Saturday morning as I jumped out of bed with a huge grin on my face. It was RACE DAY! I had neurotically packed my bag and made up breakfast the night before, so with the hour-ish drive ahead of us, all I had to do was throw on some pants, fix up my race-day braids and we were out the door on time! Score!

Who wants to go play bicycle?
The morning was a little grey and foggy - apparently typical for August in NorCal, but I'll take it over 90 degrees with 90% humidity any day. It was kind of refreshing to need a light jacket to warm-up in :-) Aaron, Kyle and Justin were all racing too, so it made it even more fun to have friends to warm-up with and wait in the massive crowd of 500+ people as we waited to start our 31-mile dirt adventure. Based on some pre-reg stalking - there was a solid turn-out in the women's fields - gotta love California mountain biking! I was hopeful to race well, and meet some cool ladies to ride with along the way.

We were let loose right at 9am and in a bit of a frenzy everyone rolled out through the streets of Santa Rosa on our way to Annadel State Park. I tried to jump on Kyle's wheel for a bit, but he was hauling and I opted for self-preservation and dialed it back after a few minutes.

After a few miles on pavement, we hit the trails in a massive cloud of dust. This was quite the rowdy free-for-all. I noticed two girls up ahead of me and tried to keep them in my sights for bit. Mass-start races are fun but also slightly crazy. It can be challenging to tell exactly who you're racing, and who's doing what distance (31 miles for Pro/Expert/Some Sport Men vs. 25 miles for Sport/Beginner). I'm not saying I mind racing with mixed groups at all - but sometimes it can be frustrating when trails get clogged or people (boys...men...you know.. cough cough) blow past you on the downhill but then you pass them on the climb...or they yell at you to let them pass, and then when you move over they say "no I want to pass on the other side" .... Yay bike racing! Smile and keep going.

The race course was a big loop with two big climbs and two big downhills. With the mass start, and not sure what girls I had seen earlier, I had no clue where I was sitting in the race. Since I hadn't seen too many other girls, my deep down competitive nature was thinking I was doing OK but again - so hard to say. Near the start of the first big climb, one other girl - another Emily! - caught up with me. She was super nice and we chatted a bit before the climb got the better of our abilities to talk and pedal at near race-pace....and then I got my tail dropped like a bad habit on the downhill.

While the first climb had been smooth flow-y, as well as a good portion of the subsequent downhill, the second climb felt like an eternal rock-garden. We climbed on rocks, we traversed over rocks, we descended a little on rocks, and then climbed on rocks again. My lower back was screaming for a full-suspension, but that only motivated me to keep spinning so I could finish faster. Whew. Whoever told me that trails out west weren't rocky or technical was playing a mean joke on me.

Soon the trail opened up into a big fire-road signaling the home stretch! Whoohoo! First mountain bike race in almost a year was almost done and almost a success!  Talk about a home stretch - the finishing downhill was about 5-miles long, with the final few on fire road. Time to get over my fear of downhill fast!! Butt off the back, light on the brakes when necessary, hold on for dear life and yeee hah!


I crossed the finish line, smile on my dirt-covered face in 2:55 - excited to have broken 3 hours for 30 miles on the mtb (fast for me!). I wasn't sure how I had finished - but hey, I finished in one piece and that was exciting in and of itself. Mike and Megan were cheering and taking pictures at the finish, and Justin, Kyle and Aaron were all waiting, smiling and dirt-covered too. Even with a few spills for Kyle and Aaron, I think we all were relieved to be done, but also happy to have finished in solid times. Now it was time to cash in on some fantastic post-race food.

Aaron, me, Justin & Kyle post-race
While we were patiently waiting on our chicken sandwiches, I popped over to see if results were up, and was pleasantly surprised to see I had managed to snag a 5th place finish and the last podium spot! Room for improvement for next time for sure -- but again, with about a month of intermittent training under my belt and racing against some fast ladies in California - I was super stoked to have finished my first California mountain bike race and to have finished on the podium! My sweet reward - an awesome poster, some Lagunitas and a medal that doubles as a whisky rock (Mike was excited about that). Plus - what better way to break in a new kit and a new season than a little taste of podium and motivation for more racing to come soon!

Annadel XC Women's Expert Podium
Thanks to Bike Monkey for putting on a fantastic event and thanks as always to Bicycle Outfitters for the support even from 3000 miles away - I miss you guys!

Up next....?

Cross is coming ....