With all the gravel riding I’ve been doing as Dirty Kanza prep, it’s been easy to ignore my other bikes. The road bike has been languishing on the trainer ever since February, when my cross bike arrived, and the mountain bike has been resentfully lurking in the garage, waiting for its turn for fresh air. Despite really really wanting to do well (“well” defined as finishing) at DK, though, one of my major goals for the year was to improve on the mountain bike. This goal, like my bikes, has been sadly neglected. Goals aside, I really love mountain biking, though this love is complicated by layers of fear and self-loathing interspersed with dashes of joy, relief, and pride. I’ve never stuck with something so difficult for me in my life. Well, except my first marriage, and mountain biking is definitely more rewarding than that.
When the Broemmelsiek race showed up on the schedule two weeks before Dirty Kanza, I decided to do the 3 hr race and then ride gravel afterwards. That would give me three hours of mountain bike practice as well as some additional training miles. I wasn’t the only one thinking along these lines.
|Great minds think alike!|
So that was the plan, though my excitement tapered as the race neared. I rode Cliff Cave with a friend on Monday, and the fun swoopy trails had instilled some confidence in me. This was reversed Wednesday night when I felt much more slow and tentative on my home trails. Then Friday night I woke up remembering a tricky root followed by a short, sketchy downhill where I’d struggled last time I rode Broemmelsiek. Nerves commenced. Having been chastised by a friend for my relentless negativity about my (lack of) skills, though, I made a real effort NOT to say anything negative (out loud) during my pre-race preparations.
Marathon (the 3 hr division – as many laps as you can ride in the time given), Cat 3 (they ride 2 laps), and Juniors all started at 9:30: first marathon men, then marathon women, then cat 3 men, then cat 3 women, then juniors. Since I was racing marathon, that left basically all of the cat 3 men and likely all the women and juniors to pass me within the first section of the race. The thought of being passed used to really stress me out (I’m not competitive enough to care that someone’s passing me, but I don’t want to hold anyone up), but once I started racing I realized it’s not a big deal. The cool person to douchebag ratio is super high among the people I’ve encountered in the St. Louis mountain biking scene, and it’s not as hard to get out of the way as I’d feared. On the other hand, having to constantly get out of the way is a pain, so it was a relief once they were all past.
Each lap started with a slight downhill into a creek crossing, then a climb to the field. Broemmelsiek has wooded areas connected by prairie paths. Due to the wet weather, the field paths were badly eroded and hadn’t had much bike traffic to smooth them out. Never a particularly fun section of the race, the joy was compounded by the near 90 degree temperatures as the race went on. This being my first ride in real heat, I struggled, and the realization that everyone else was dealing with the same conditions wasn’t much comfort.
|Don’t I look like I’m having fun? (Photo credit: Mike Dawson)|
If the fields kind of sucked, though, the wooded sections were pretty awesome. While my pace was nothing to write home about by anyone else’s standards, it was good for me. Better yet, I felt much more comfortable and confident on the singletrack than is typical for me. I spent most of the first lap waiting for the tricky section I remembered from 2011, and when I reached it I went over the root with no problem and down the loose rock of the hill without stopping. Progress! If nothing else, this year’s race serves as a benchmark showing that yes, two years of mountain biking have led to improvement.
|Compared to other racers’ pictures from the day, I’m still very stiff. (Photo credit: Mike Dawson)|
The laps ended with a gravel downhill that was a blast, back through the beginning creek crossing, and across the grass to a hairpin turn in front of the feed zone, where you could stop for a new bottle/nutrition or head back out past the scoring table. Though each lap ended with this easy opportunity to eat something, I struggled more with nutrition in this setting than I do on a long point-to-point ride or race. I’m not steady enough to eat much of anything on the bike, let alone get it out of my jersey pockets, and my instinct at the end of the lap was always to go back out right away rather than stop. I did stop after a couple laps for a quick GU or some bites of an energy bar, but I definitely didn’t eat enough or at well-timed intervals. I’m sure that contributed to how crappy I felt as the race went on.
One thing I did right was wearing my Camelbak. I’d considered just using bottles, but again because of my bike handling opted for the hydration pack. I definitely needed the easy access to water in the heat, and several people mentioned wishing they had theirs. The decision was further reinforced the one time — in a field section — I tried drinking from one of my bottles. The drinking went fine, but the path was so rough I couldn’t put my bottle back into the cage.
|Finishing up one lap/heading out on another. Still stiff-armed. (Photo credit: Jim Davis)|
I really wore down as the race went on, and a perk of my super slow pace was that I got to briefly chat with lots of friends as they passed me. It’s really cool how many people say hi and encourage you during a race. I ended up riding 5 laps (around 20 miles) and coming in 7th out of 7 in my division. I finished my last lap a few minutes too late to go out for another (which would have put me in second-last place instead of last place), but I’m not sure I’d have gone out for another lap anyway.
It was definitely a tough race for me, and a little discouraging. I didn’t anticipate placing well or being fast, but with all the biking I’ve been doing (and not flat, easy rides, either!) I’d expected to feel ok riding three hours at endurance pace and didn’t. I’m sure the heat and poor nutrition didn’t help, and another likely factor is that we’ve been training with long, steady efforts rather than higher intensity pushes. It also might have helped if I’d been on my mountain bike more than the 35 miles I’ve logged this year prior to the race. But whatever; that’s why I was looking at the race as training.
We hung around a while to eat some free Qdoba (one of my favorite fast food restaurants), talk, and cheer for the winners and then headed to the Mound with a decision to make. The wind was blowing 20-25 mph, which would make at least half of any out and back ride suck, but our preferred wind option, Busch Wildlife, is short on shade. Opting for shade, we hopped onto the Katy Trail via the Hamburg Trail after a couple of other routes didn’t work out.
“Hopped” sounds a little peppier than my riding actually was. My knee had stiffened up between rides, so pedaling hurt, and my allergies were bringing on a major headache. I actually had both allergy medicine AND ibuprofen in my car, but for some reason (possibly heatstroke) opted not to take any OR bring it with me. This proved to be a very bad plan.
We were at 10 miles when we hit the Weldon Spring trailhead, so we planned to ride 10 more miles down the Katy into the wind and then turn around to enjoy a tailwind. That would give us around 30 miles. Not what we’d planned, but OK considering I’d wanted to get back into my car ever since the first mile. Despite trying to eat my way back out of the nutritional hole I’d dug earlier, nothing sounded good and my stomach was clear that another GU was unacceptable. When Chuck offered me one of his rice bars at mile 18 I just wanted a little piece but ended up eating the whole thing. Good lesson: rice bars work when my stomach hates me. Those are definitely going to Kansas with me.
My knee loosened up as we rode, but my allergy headache only got worse. By the time we made it back to the trailhead again I had dropped nearly a half mile behind Chuck while I daydreamed about sitting on the trail and refusing to go on. “Do I look as bad as you do?” he asked as I rode up. (He didn’t.) I sat down miserably on the bench and asked Chuck if he had ibuprofen. He didn’t, but a couple at the trailhead did.
These people were my saving grace. Talking to them after taking as many ibuprofen as my liver (kidneys?) could handle, I found out they’re doing the Katy Trail bike ride next month. I did that ride in 2009 and 2010 and have lots of great memories of the experiences. Another lady there was also registered for this summer’s ride, so they all started talking and I sat down again and joined Chuck’s conversation conversation with a couple who recently moved here from Atlanta and LOVE the area. By the time we finished talking, the ibuprofen had kicked in and my headache was gone. I felt like a new woman.
We made pretty quick work of the trip back, and I’ve rarely been so happy to get off my bike as I was after that 30 miles. I know it was a full day, but that was by far one of the toughest days on a bike I’ve had in a long time…and I’m saying that just two weeks after riding 114 miles at Cedar Cross. Because we’d done a little exploring before hitting the Hamburg Trail, we had passed our cars about 5 miles into our gravel ride, and I was already done. The only thing that kept me pedaling past the parking lot was the knowledge that I’m going to feel done more than once at Dirty Kanza, but I’m not going to be finished until I cross the finish line. I’ll just file Sunday under “mental training”.