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 ....

15 August 2014

Here we Go....

Ready to rock the new Bicycle Outfitters Kit!!
2014 has not been a year of bike racing. One might say it's been a year of life racing - new coast, new state, new apartment, new job, new husband, new routine, new roads, new trails, new adventures. And with the life racing slowing to a more managable pace -- it's time once again to pin (or perhaps zip tie...) on that number, feel the adrenaline pulse through my veins, the giddy knot in my stomach, feel the grin spread across my face, clip into the pedals and GO! It's time to race again.

While I did jump into a road race a few months back for kicks - it was more a "let's not be bored while everyone's out of town" distraction rather than a race. Tomorrow marks the start of my 2014 race season, better late than never, but for the past month I've been so stoked to have started working with Coach B again and have a purpose for my constant need to explore on two wheels.  I've still got a ways to go to get back to race prime, but I'm feeling excited and ready to see what the tank holds tomorrow.

In perhaps a chapeau to how I stumbled into racing almost 7 (!) years ago now - I'm heading out to a mass-start 31-mile mountain bike race through the hills of Santa Rosa tomorrow - Annadel XC is the challenge, and I'm thankful to my friend Kyle for giving me the heads up on it. I don't know what to expect, other than some sweet single track, some rocky dusty climbs and a crazy start through downtown Santa Rosa. The rest is going to be a fantastic surprise and I can't wait.

While there is more to life than bike racing, bike racing is also a big part of my life and I cannot wait to get it back tomorrow. I love the anticipation, the nerves, the challenge, the sweat, seeing how all my hours on the bike have paid off and seeing what more I need to learn about California mountain bike racing. Tomorrow is my tabula rassa for mountain bike racing in California and I cannot wait. I've got a great support crew and owe munchkin a huge debt of gratitude and a pile of cookies for getting the Heartbreaker Stumpy in shape to rock tomorrow. I'm also so excited to be representing the Bicycle Outfitters WEST COAST Racing team tomorrow as Dave was fantastic to send me my spiffy new kit. Top spot or DFL tomorrow - I will be smiling since I'm back to my love, my roots with the support of fantastic friends.

Giddy up :-)

12 August 2014

New York City!

Adventure time again :-) Last weekend Mike and I headed back east to the Big Apple to celebrate McKenzie and Travis's wedding and do some exploring of course!

After another redeye (redeye expert by now!) we landed at JFK and took the subway into Manhattan where we were staying at Jim and Kirk's "Unicorn" of an apartment. Kirk refers to their apartment as a unicorn since spacious 4-bedroom apartments apparently just don't exist in the East Village, but they happened to find one.

We wandered around the city a bit - and thankfully I was able to get over my prior impression of NYC. My one and only other trip had been in university, where despite visiting the Met and the MoMA, the rest of our time was more or less spent wandering around looking at pretty much every H&M in the city and going to some weird bars. But I was there with a bunch of girls - so what else would be expected? Ha. While I was still skeptical of the ever re-appearing smell of pee and the massive amount of gum wads on the sidewalk, East Village was all in all a pleasant experience, had fantastic smoothies, and things only got better when we ventured over to Brooklyn.
Classic NYC - Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan


Baby Karl in NYC!

Kirk played tour guide, and we strolled along the river and under the Brooklyn Bridge before grabbing brunch at a great little spot called Siggi's (aliens eat free...). Time flies when you're having fun, and soon it was time to prove that we know how to clean up and look like presentable adults and celebrate with McKenzie and Travis. Gorgeous wedding and great to catch up with friends from Virginia.

And of course - nothing tops off a NYC experience like grabbing pierogi at 1:30am to soak up a little too much wedding fun :-)

Sunday was a little more tame, as our favorite tour guide, Kirk, showed us Washington Park, bagels and lox and the High Line. The High Line was fantastic - an old railway track converted into a walk / garden. I would have stayed there all day and taken a nap had we not had to rush back to JFK to make it home to California before midnight.

All in a weekend's work :-) And New York - you did not fail me this time - I hope to see you again!