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Friday, March 18, 2016

Land Run 2016: There will be mud

Of course I'd heard of Land Run. Basically from inception it became a must-do event on many gravel calendars, but with an 8-hour drive to Oklahoma and "only" 107 miles, it didn't fit my ideal drive time: race time ratio. This year, enough friends were going that I pulled the trigger and registered, ensuring that I'd spend two weeks before the race obsessing over Stillwater's weather forecast.

Both Team Virtus and Momentum teammates were racing, and I'd originally planned to just ride my pace and see who ended up nearby. When Mickey got a last-minute entry thanks to my DK buddy Matt, he offered to pace me. This increased the likelihood of suffering [Mickey: I think you mean "fun"], but I'm concerned about making the time cutoffs at my goal race this June and knew riding with Mickey would be good training.  After all, we've tried this before with pretty good results.

The pre-race festivities at Iron Monk brewery featured smooth check-in, cool vendors, live music, drool-worthy Salsa rigs, all the free beer you could drink, and cycling legend Jay Petervary [Mickey: ...and some really tall guy in a Salsa kit who looked nothing like him].
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Team Virtus loves Land Run!
Because the weather leading up to the event had been better than forecasts had suggested, course conditions on Friday were pretty good, but race director Bobby Wintle, possibly the most excited, enthusiastic person I've ever met, warned that there would still be muddy sections: "Don't ride your bike in our mud; it destroys bikes."

Having survived last year's DK mudfest and read numerous Land Run race reports, I was prepared to take him at his word.  I'm better at carrying my bike than riding in mud, and I saw too many sad faces and broken derailleurs in Kansas.

We awoke to news that more rain had fallen overnight, but the roads didn't seen overly wet on the short drive to the start.  We arrived nearly an hour early -- almost unheard of for Team Virtus -- quickly got bikes and selves ready, and delivered our drop bags to race staff. That left us plenty of time for socializing and team(s) pictures.
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Team Virtus!! Poor Chuck...that white jersey may never be the same.
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With my Momentum teammates (and Bob).
A few minutes before the start Mickey and I wormed our way into the middle of the pack, much further up than I'd prefer, and then a cannon blast signaled the start. [Mickey: I suggested to Kate that she start ahead of me so I wouldn't lose her in the chaos of the start. This ended up working in my favor when it came to finish times. Muwahaha.] The race began with a few miles of neutral start following a police car out of town, keeping us in a big pack until the officers pulled off the road and began blaring music from "Rocky".

Land Run gravel isn't the same kind of loose rock I'm accustomed to from riding in Missouri and Kansas. Instead, many roads were paved with a layer of dirt. Wet dirt. I had to squelch my early nerves in order to stay anywhere near Mickey's wheel, but eventually I realized the damp surface wasn't affecting my handling and relaxed for real.  A bigger issue was the way I'd dramatically underestimated the course.


I'd looked at the elevation profile and shrugged it off as a bunch of rollers. Nothing looks gigantic, and indeed there are no big climbs. There are also few flat sections; you spend the majority of the day either climbing or descending, making this a sub-ideal course for Mickey and I to work together. I descend as well or better than he does, and I like a clear line of sight, which makes riding behind him on a downhill problematic; on the other hand, he's vastly better on uphills even when attempting to ride slowly enough for me to keep up.

I've been working hard on my climbing and thought I'd improved, so I think we were both moderately appalled by how badly I handled the hills.  [Mickey: I was in no way "appalled". I was a little "surprised". I thought you were being a little too conservative in the opening miles and could have pushed a little harder on the hills. You're stronger than you realize.] Whatever, then. I was certainly appalled. I felt like I was moving in slow motion and was so out of breath at the tops. In retrospect, I think the softer surface may have made the hills more challenging, but the bigger issue was my place in the race: it wasn't so much me riding poorly as being surrounded by fast people.

Rather than dwell on it, I accepted that maybe I was having an off day and tried not to let it get in my head. I did suffer minor heartbreak when, one by one, the rest of the Momentum crew zipped past us around mile 20. I love riding with those guys, but their plan for the day had been a good training ride but not killing it, so when they flew by while I was trying to be "fast" it was a bit of a blow. [Mickey: This was a definite low point, attitude-wise. But after being reminded that we were only 20 miles into a 100+ mile race and that we hadn't even gotten to the hard part(s) yet, you did an admirable job of getting your focus back.]

Only a mile or two later, though, we caught up to them in the first muddy hike-a-bike section. I hoisted my bike onto my back and began trudging through the sloppy red clay coating the road.  Seeing people around me struggling with bikes over one shoulder I sent another silent thank you to Jim Phillips for his excellent bike carry tutorial.

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Not me, but Melanie has that on the back carry down!
Photo credit: Jeff Maassen
Once again, lugging my bike through mud was weirdly fun. I'm pretty good at it, and since almost no one could ride I didn't have to feel bad about my lack of bike handling skills. In fact, many of those who attempted to ride served as a good warning to the rest of us, lining the sides of the road with slack chains hanging from broken derailleurs. "Billy, don't be a hero," I reminded Mickey. [To be fair, riding a SS mountain bike with gravel tires did allow me to take a few liberties when it came to mud. But there were still a couple times that I rode a little further than I should have, which resulted in a good bit of extra weight in mud when I did resort to carrying my bike.]

Unlike the DK mudfest, this hike a bike had some rideable sections, so we didn't have to carry our bikes for 3 miles straight. I actually have no idea how far we carried them. I've heard estimates between 3-7 miles total, but I'd guess it's somewhere in the middle. Each new HAB section made me a little happier, knowing I was putting time on most of the other women in the race.

Some of the rideable sections were super sketchy. I ended up on questionable lines on a couple of muddy descents, but luckily my bike stayed upright and I only once resorted to  the reassurance that was once a downhill staple, whispering aloud to myself "your bike wants to stay up...your bike wants to say up" while careening down a sloppy hill into a mud pit. I was super happy with my tires (continental travel contacts) as they handled well in all kinds of conditions, didn't pack up too much with mud, and shed the mud quickly once we were pedaling.

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Coming out of the creek bottom
Eventually we came to the planned dismount zone, a slick, narrow passage leading down to a creek crossing and the staircase built specifically for the race.  One more extended section of bike carrying (yea!) followed that before we emerged onto rideable roads near the mile 25 aid station.  There a volunteer reassured us that the rest of the course was in much better shape.  This was true, though we did have at least one more hike-a-bike (yea!) before reaching the midpoint.

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I think this was just before the last muddy hike-a-bike. You can see all the mud splattered over me. You can also see the baggie I stuck in my shirt because that was the easiest way to reach food while carrying my bike.
Photo credit: James Gann

My legs finally seemed to wake up a few miles outside of town. "Hey," I said, "maybe it just takes me 40 miles to warm up!" In reality the difference was probably more the increasingly solid roads, but regardless it gave my spirits a boost as we approached Perry.  The timing clock showed just over 5 hours when we rode in, the first time I'd had any clue what time it was since the start.

The Perry checkpoint was awesome. Food trucks and live music lined the square and the bag drop was so well organized that it was easy to find my stuff.  Hoses were set up on one side for people to wash their bikes, but I didn't bother. Much of the mud had flung off my bike while riding, and my conservative bike carrying strategy had left my drivetrain relatively clean.

Mickey had told me to make a plan for what I needed to take care of at the bag drop. He wasn't on board with my plan to change out of my wet, muddy socks, so I regretfully left the dry ones behind, enlisted someone else's waiting crew member to help me refill my bottle, and grabbed a little more food. I wasn't particularly organized, leaving behind the mango strips that were the only thing I really enjoyed eating all day, but I was fast and ready by the time he was.  We were in and out of Perry within minutes. [Have I told you that you rocked that transition???]

Soon after taking off, Allie, who'd leapfrogged us several times by shooting up hills where I struggled, caught with us again.  We chatted for a few minutes and then she dropped back on my wheel until the Mohns went flying past on their tandem, finally free of the mud and making up for lost time.

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I brought home a lot of this red mud on my clothes and bike. Also, those people behind me quickly passed.
The next 52 miles featured many similar scenes: much fitter, faster people passing me like I was standing still.  The roads got progressively better, and eventually the sun even came out.  We had a few stretches that were flat enough that I could take advantage of drafting, but overall we didn't really maximize that benefit. Most often, Mickey would slow down, I'd work to catch up, and once I was on his wheel he'd speed up a little only for me to immediately fall off.  I probably needed some recovery time after the chase, but that didn't sink in while I was riding, and for someone who talks a lot I'm not always a good communicator. [I knew we should have used a bell...]

My Garmin was totally unreliable when it came to navigation, but it did count down the remaining miles, so when my eyes weren't glued to the ground or to Mickey's wheel I was staring at the readout and doing math.  "When we get to the end of this [13 mile long] road we'll only have 35 or 36 miles left. That's like a medium Trailnet ride."

I usually take breaks or at least slow way down when I'm feeling bad during a race; I'm quick to baby myself. That wasn't an option during Land Run with Mickey playing taskmaster. Obviously he couldn't prevent me from stopping, but he did provide strong influence to keep moving. When I pulled over around mile 70 to take my first bathroom break, he mentioned a vote; I was about to shut that idea down when I realized he was talking about something else and I wasn't going to lose a referendum on whether I could pee.

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No idea when this picture was taken, but it was pretty exciting to finally have some sunshine. Also, if you look at the tree behind the silo thing on the left, it looks breezy enough to make me proud of not complaining about wind.
"Yes! We're in the 20's [miles left]! That's an important mental milestone."

He did get his way when we passed the final surprise aid station, located around mile 88.  Seeing people standing under a tent I started fantasizing about stopping for a cold Coke but was told, "Tell me what you want and I'll get it for you. You aren't stopping." Are all domestiques such a pain in the ass? [I was a little bit ahead of you when we reached the aid station, so I saw it first. I immediately slowed way down while thinking of a way to get you to keep riding. That aid station had "Major Time Suck" written all over it. To your credit, you didn't resist (too much) when I suggested that you keep moving.] "Suggested".  That's funny.

My solo stretch of road was actually pretty fun, and it felt fast.  I wasn't too worried about losing the man with the map since the course was well-marked and there was a rider ahead of me in the distance. I was just approaching the next turn when Mickey caught back up with a bottle full of Coke for me. It was good, but not as delicious as getting off my bike would have been.

"We only have 18 miles left. The last 6 or so will probably be in town and on pavement, and half of the rest will be downhill. That means we only have 6 miles of climbing left...wait, that still seems like a lot." (Self-motivational fail)

The miles ticked down and I watched each one pass. Once we hit single digits I began looking eagerly for the anticipated pavement as Mickey tried to predict when it would come. Finally we rolled off of the gravel and I celebrated -- "Yes! Let's relearn pavement!!" -- a bit too soon as we quickly turned onto gravel again.  I was not happy.

We hit pavement (for good) with around 3 or 4 miles to go and passed the remaining miles by chasing the fat bike ahead of us.  It took a little work and an assist by a stoplight, but we passed him before making our last turn. With the finish line in sight, Mickey goaded, "Let's race!" [Meh...I like my (totally fabricated) version of how this finishing sprint started WAY better.] We sprinted down the street to the waiting arms of Bobby Wintle, whose celebration of our finish was every bit as sincere and enthusiastic as if he'd known us all his life.

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Very happy to see the finish line and have "won" the sprint.
Photo credit: James Gann

***

Despite edging Mickey in the finish-line sprint, he still finished ahead of me in the standings. At first we were confused, but then we remembered the race was chip-timed and he'd actually started after me...thanks to his own "concerns" about losing me in the starting chaos. What an interesting coincidence, huh? Oh well, I still beat him handily at last year's DK.

I've never actually finished Dirty Kanza in time to be a part of the finish line festivities, so I thoroughly enjoyed being there at Land Run. The street was closed and filled with bike racks and food trucks and picnic tables. Not sure how soon the rest of our crew would be done we didn't want to go change clothes, so we bought dinner and watched for them to cross the line.

When all of our group but Bob (who will hopefully write up his completely epic, totally Bob story) were in, we all decided to go back to the truck for clean clothes.  The overall female winners were being announced as we passed the awards stand, and I recognized one of the women because she'd passed us during the race.  "Maybe we'd better wait," Mickey suggested.


I thought it was probably silly, but we stayed, and when my name was called for second place in my age group, I'm not sure which of us was more surprised and delighted.

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Photo credit: Mickey Boianoff
 [I think it was me. That was SO AWESOME!] 

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I was pretty happy (and clearly still a little muddy, too).
[You really did a great job, Kate. I can't wait to see how you do at Gold Rush. (Actually, I can! No Facebooking during the race!)]

My typical podium experience is by default, so it was exciting to place second in a division with more than two people.  I think if the roads had been good I wouldn't have been anywhere near an award, so looking forward I really need to work on my climbing [and cornering] skills. Or seek out more muddy races.  Or, best of all worlds, both.

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All of Virtus (all who were at Land Run) safely back at the finish line.

Huge thanks to Bobby and Crystal Wintle, District Bicycles, Iron Monk Brewery, the city of Stillwater, and all of the volunteers and photographers. Land Run is a first-class event. I'm already excited to go back.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

2016 Rocheport Roubaix

I waited until almost the last minute to register for this year's Rocheport Roubaix, not putting down my money until I was confident there would be no repeat of last year's freezing temperatures. Just because I'm tough/stubborn enough to race gravel in a windy 14 degrees doesn't mean I'm dumb enough to do it again. In contrast to last year's bitter cold, we lined up this year in shorts.

Photo credit: Christina Luebbert

Quite a few friends were doing the 68-mile race, but I was happy to stick with the 50-mile course, telling them "it's too early in the year to suffer".  I even volunteered to do an Instagram takeover for Sport Chalet, where I'm a cycling ambassador, because all I wanted from the race was a fun training ride with friends.

Just like last year, our group fractured on the first climb out of time. Unlike last year, I was in the middle instead of immediately off the back. I've spent a lot more time on the bike this winter, and that made a big difference in how I felt.  Chuck and I ended up riding the whole race together, with Jim and Robby ahead of us by a good margin.


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Snapping a picture over my shoulder and getting photobombed by my friend Jim right before he passed me.
Race promoter UltraMax provided several stocked aid stations, but we had everything we needed with us. Our stops were more photo and bathroom related -- not at the same time, though!

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Chuck on a pretty section of gravel
The gravel sections were dry and fast-rolling, and the weather was worlds better than last year.  We cruised through the first part of the course with Chuck pointing out spots he recognized and me marveling over the fact that I remembered very little of it; I guess everything looks different when not seen through an ice-glazed haze.

It was a great day to be on bikes.  We turned onto the paved road that passes the big tree and really started flying, passing some people as they stopped at the aid station and others just because we were moving faster. I felt really strong. I've been training a lot more consistently and was excited about how well that seemed to be paying off.

The course is basically an out and back with a small lollipop at the far end and two larger loops in the middle and near the finish. We flew down the last big hill on the outbound leg and then climbed the subsequent uphill much more easily than last year (when I had to walk part of it). As soon as we made the left turn to start our homeward journey I realized the secret of my newfound speed.


The tailwind that had quietly provided a turbo boost was now a blistering crosswind. I almost needed to lean into the wind to stay upright. Chuck and I closed in on another rider in the hopes that we could find some shelter from the wind, but he was moving too slowly to help.

The turn into the headwind made forward progress even more difficult, but for some reason I still felt good and -- very rare for me -- never let the wind get into my head.  Chuck started to fade a little during this time, so I had to be careful not to pull too far ahead. This was a weird turn of events; I don't think I've ever been stronger on a bike than Chuck, and I'm much more comfortable being the one who's bringing up the rear.

Closing the end of the lollipop we ran into Bob and Luke, who were about to start it. We had a nice little impromptu team meeting at the intersection, sharing the delicious butterscotch whiskey Bob had brought along. Well, I guess I wasn't actually very good at sharing since I drank basically all of it. It was a tiny little bottle...and did I mention delicious?
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Randomly meeting up with teammates!
Photo credit: Luke Lamb

Luke tried to convince us that, since we were just out for a training ride, we should repeat the loop with Bob and him. I was moderately torn, but in the end I just offered that if I felt good after finishing maybe I'd ride back out to meet them.

"Oh," he laughed, "So you think you're going to beat us?"

"I'm pretty confident," I replied, and then spent the next 25 miles half expecting them, fueled by righteous indignation and manly pride, to come shooting past me.

They started on the lollipop while Chuck and I headed back towards the finish line. While he demolished me on the downhills -- my downhill mojo a casualty of the primarily flat training rides of this past winter -- I continued to be weirdly strong on the flats and strangely impervious to the wind. I mean, I definitely had to work hard even to maintain a 13 mph pace at times, but it didn't bother me. I think looking out for Chuck, much like tormenting Peter at Frozen Feet, was a good distraction for me.

Chuck told me I should just go ahead and drop him, that I might be able to podium if I wasn't waiting, but a) there was no way I'd leave him behind after he spent 40 miles babysitting me at BT Epic and b) after not racing for the first half I didn't see much point in starting now.

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There were several paved sections, this one with one of the UltraMax trucks out providing roving support.
We made a quick stop at an intersection so I could take the above picture, and while I was busy choosing between Instagram filters he started towards the hill. "You're just going to pass me on it anyway," he said, echoing a phrase and a move I've done countless times riding with him. In fact I did not catch him on the hill; he was nearly at the top when I put away my phone, social media duties completed, and gave chase. I had to work really hard to catch him, but eventually I reeled him in.

Volunteers waved us back onto the gravel at a blind intersection, and we reached the timed hill climb shortly after that.  "Don't wait for me," Chuck said, "Go for it!" I got a good start up the hill and could hear Chuck cheering behind me. A little more than halfway up I started to fade and then had to veer into the thicker gravel at the edge as a minivan sped towards me in the middle of the road. I topped the hill, crossed the timing mat, and leaned over my bike panting until Chuck rode past.

The last few miles confirmed my decision to ride the 50-mile course. I still felt good, but I'm not sure I would have with another 18 miles of riding. We crossed the finish line in 4:16, got changed, and headed to the little cafe for the soup and drinks that were included in our registration fee. Hanging out afterwards with free food and drinks was the perfect end to the race.

We'd wandered outside to visit and watch for Bob and Luke, and they arrived just as awards were being announced. I knew there was no medal for my 4th place spot, so after clapping for my friend Yvonne's second place award I tuned out the rest and was talking to the guys when Bob said, "Did you hear that? They just said your name!"

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Queen of the Hill...or, as Luke would say, Queen Over the Hill
While I hadn't finished fast enough for the podium, it turns out my hill time was the fastest woman's time in the 50-mile race. I was, as evidenced by the super flattering photo, delighted and astonished. Hill climbing has never been my forte, and I assumed somehow a mistake had been made. As it turns out, though, not only was my time the fastest by 10 seconds for women, it was 11th fastest overall in the 50-mile race. That's pretty exciting. Apparently there's something to be said for Sufferfest videos and regular training.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

2015 Frozen Feet "trail" half marathon

***Working on the backlog I've somehow accumulated since the beginning of the year.***

January 23 was the Frozen Feet half marathon. It's billed as a trail half, but it only includes about a mile of singletrack and the rest is crushed limestone or paved trail.  I did this same race two years ago and it was ok, but I didn't love it. Don't get me wrong, there are lots of things to love: well-organized, great race sweatshirt, low price, indoor area to wait before and to eat the free pizza afterwards. I think my somewhat negative view was largely influenced by my disappointment with my time (2:01, making it my only road half over 2 hours). 

This year Mickey and some other friends signed up, but I held firm. I wasn't crazy about the route, I wasn't in half marathon shape, and I wasn't doing it. It sold out, but another 20 spots opened up and before I knew what I was doing I was registered.


Two days later I checked the orienteering club's website and remembered the reason I hadn't signed up for Frozen Feet last year: it's held the same day as the Babler O meet, which I really wanted to do.  Not one to waste an entry fee -- or go to the trouble of finding someone to buy my entry -- I decided that I'd get my race sweatshirt, run about half of the half as an out-and-back, and go do the orienteering meet that I really wanted to do and was paid for with my SLOC membership.

In the end, pleasantly surprised by how not terrible I felt during and after the 12 miles I ran at this years' Little Woods trail race, I opted to run the whole half marathon and volunteered to help clear the course after the orienteering meet, proof that you can have your cake and eat it too. This didn't mean I was at all happy to be up stupid early for the drive to Wildwood on a chilly January morning.

I'd signed up with a conservative predicted pace that put me in the second-last wave. Michelle was in this wave as well, and we agreed to stick together as long as our paces meshed, which ended up being most of the race. The first mile or so is on a paved trail, and then the course turns onto the crushed limestone surface of the Al Foster trail. On a normal day, it's not much more taxing than running on a sidewalk.

On race day, the trail was covered with a couple inches of churned up snow, making it more like running on a really cold beach.  I'd worn my trail shoes, so my footing wasn't too bad. I felt for the people who'd worn their regular road shoes after assurances that the trails were well cleared; that was only true of the paved sections.


I really, really didn't want to get up early this morning or run 13 miles, but it was a gorgeous day. Glad I made it out even if it was my slowest road half. #running
Outward bound on the Al Foster trail.
Maybe it was the snow or the rare company during a race, but I really enjoyed the course this time around.  There was bleak beauty of the snowy trail, stark trees, and icy river and then the lift of the familiar faces we kept seeing on out and back portions. After a more aggressive start we settled into a pace in the mid 10's and had just eased into the 11 min/mile range as we hit the only true singletrack portion of the race.  Despite the freezing temperatures, the sandy trail was surprisingly soft.

Midway through Saturday's Frozen Feet half marathon and loving the snowy scenery. My first half since last January and one of my slowest, but the running fitness (and enjoyment) is coming back. #running #halfmarathon #frozenfeet
Coming off the singletrack having been reminded how fun running can be.
We retraced our steps back up the snowy Al Foster trail to a turn onto the paved Rock Hollow trail. Rock Hollow is about 2 miles of gradual uphill. Last time I raced Frozen Feet there were icy patches that made downhill footing a little treacherous. This year the trail was well cleared, so our reward for the long climb was a much less scary downhill.

Michelle's friend Peter, who'd started in the wave after us, caught her right at the top of the hill. I was slightly ahead at that point and continued back downhill on my own. He caught up with me about halfway down and made the next couple of miles go quickly as we talked about running and PRs and adventure racing and his alleged tendency to be whiny when he's tired.

I hadn't looked at my Garmin since the race start, but I peeked at mile 11 and realized that Peter was within reach of his PR. "You may not want to know this," I told him, "but if you don't take any walk breaks I think you could have a new PR."

"I hate you," he replied.

Michelle has mentioned more than once how much she enjoys it once Peter starts to get crabby, and it turns out she's not the only one. It turns out there's sadistic fun to be had in pushing someone harder than they want to go; it gave me a little insight into why Mickey trains with me. It was good for me, too, because I probably ran faster in encouraging Peter than if I was just finishing up on my own. I finished mile 13 with my only mile in the 9's since the very first mile of the race.



And Peter? He cut three minutes off his half marathon PR.  He may still hate me, but it turns out I can live with that just fine.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Living the dream

I subscribed to Outside magazine for years, living vicariously through its pages and imagining the kind of outdoorsy life depicted in American Eagle ads.  The subscription has long since lapsed, and my trips to the mall are few with a 12 year old who refuses to wear anything but sweats, but every once in a while life inches closer to my adventurous ideal.

In almost every instance the motivation can be traced back to friends and FOMO, the only possible incentives strong enough to get me tent camping in sub-freezing temperatures.  I'm not particularly hardy or experienced in cold-weather camping, but I can't stand the thought of missing out on a good time with my teammates.

Last year's Team Virtus MLK weekend Berryman ride was the first time we'd camped for the weekend, and despite the moderate (for Missouri in January) temperatures I spent my first night shivering in a bag rated for 32 (not 31.5) degrees.  This year's forecast was decidedly not moderate (lows in the 20's for Friday night and the teens for Saturday night), which necessitated a trip to REI to beef up my winter gear.

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The new jacket, which has already seen a ton of use.
I had intended to exchange the awesome but unflattering trekking pants Jeff  gave   me for Christmas and pick up a sleeping bag liner; I left with new pants, a puffy down jacket, and a summer-weight sleeping bag.  The sales associate who helped me had suggested the lighter bag instead of the liner, and since it's rare enough for someone in retail to steer me towards something considerably cheaper than what I'm looking at, I went with his advice. The lighter bag will also hopefully come in handy for warm-weather camping trips.

Leaving straight from work on Friday, I met the guys at the campground around 5:30. Chuck, Luke, and Steve had already been there for a while, so once I traded my dress boots for winter boots and set up my tent we had plenty of time to hang out around the fire they had going, enjoying the warmth and Chuck's homemade whiskey.  Bob and Phil got there before long, the latter bringing Luke a birthday bottle of Fireball that he was kind enough to share.

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Not the Fireball, but Luke looked this happy when he got it.
The night was cold, but the company was so good (except the part where Bob knocked over the bottle of water I had heating by the fire three times) that before we knew it, perhaps through a whiskey-fueled time warp, it was suddenly 1 a.m.  Climbing into my tent, I realized I hadn't opened the valve on my self-inflating sleeping mat or laid out my sleeping bags, so I spent the next while crawling around my low backpacking tent arranging all of my assorted gear.

I'd brought a bunch of clothes to sleep in, but since I'm new to winter camping I wanted to experiment to find out what worked best.  I started out in two pair of socks, a hat, and a base layer top and pants.  It was quickly evident that this wasn't enough, so I added a pair of fleece-lined tights and a fleece sweatshirt. Now only my feet were chilly, a situation  resolved when I thought to shove my hot water bottle down into the bottom of my bag.  Ahhhh.

All of this arranging and tossing and turning and shivering meant that I didn't fall asleep until some time after 3 a.m, but the first tent zippers had me wide awake and changing into my bike clothes in the comfort of my now-cozy sleeping bag. The jug of water I'd left on the picnic table was solid ice, but another perk of using a hot water bottle to warm your bed is that you wake up with something unfrozen to drink.

I warmed up with hot chocolate and some Mountain House biscuits and gravy courtesy of the JetBoil that I'm almost able to use without adult supervision (this is a mark of my own outdoor ineptitude rather than the stove being complicated).  Our campsite filled up with punctual friends while we ate breakfast and got our things together.

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My cousin Bob making his second appearance at the MLK ride.
Luke and Steve opted not to ride, and the rest of us rolled out in a large group of Virtus, BOR, and assorted friends. I fell in near the back, which was a good place for me. I bailed on the usual spots that I assume someday I'll have the confidence to ride. Otherwise, I rode fine but felt generally crappy. Perhaps it was a combination of limited sleep and mild hangover, but even easy parts of the trail felt like a lot more work than necessary.

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Regrouping at the spring. With such a large group we had plenty such stops to make sure no one was left too far behind. It's not much fun to do a group ride alone.
On the plus side, while I started out feeling sluggish and tired, I never felt any worse. When we reached the midpoint of the ride -- when I'm always sluggish and tired -- and I had the same amount of energy I'd started with, I got a big mental lift.

Mitch caught us near the descent to Brazil Creek, so between riding a bit with him and then running into Peat at the road crossing, I had some nice visits with people I don't see often enough. We took a short break at Brazil Creek for snacks and then started back uphill. In vast contrast to my BT Epic implosion, I felt good climbing, and the reroutes on the back half of the loop have made the trail so much more fun. I still had to do more walking than I'd like on some of the rougher sections, but I guess that comes with only riding once a week at best.

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I love the Berryman trail. Such a beautiful place to ride!
The end of the loop came sooner than I expected it, which is always a good feeling, and the rest of the afternoon and evening was spent hanging around a campfire or grill, eating chili and brats, and hanging out with friends.  With the forecast calling for overnight temps in the teens, I had decided to go home rather than camp again, but somehow I sat down around the fire at our campsite and kept talking until it was dark. So much for going home!

I filled my sleeping bag with three hot water bottles (maybe a little overkill), wore two hats, and started out in my warm layers from the previous night. Other than being woken up at one point when someone decided to chop wood in the middle of the night, I slept much better. I think I might have overdone it a little since I woke up with ice covering my outer hat, but I had a cozy night's sleep.

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Drinking coffee as the snow falls.
We had planned to do the Joe Dirt gravel ride on Sunday, but the snow that started falling as we packed up, though magical, quickly coated the roads. Sitting at breakfast and watching cars slide through the intersection outside the restaurant, we opted to skip the gravel and head home. Within 30 minutes the roads were clear, and I spent the rest of my drive regretting the decision to leave early. Can't win 'em all.


Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 in review

2015 was a good year full of lots of racing. Though the adventure racing outlook was initially bleak thanks to the departure/hiatus of BonkHard, plenty of other organizers stepped up to fill my calendar. While the bike has always been my first love, my running shoes took a definite back seat this year with only two foot races.  Some themes from previous years continued, most notably my failure to train enough to support my racing and my habit of racing so much that I start to get a little burned out, but those are issues I'm working to address.  I had one first place finish and one DNF, and these were neither my highest nor lowest points of the year; I'm still way more about the experience than the result.

By the numbers

Miles: running- 443, biking - 2,544
Most miles in a month: bike - 590 (May), running - 70 (November)
Least miles in a month: running - 23.5 (May, no coincidence there), bike - 83.1 (February)

Coldest race weather: A 55 mile gravel race in 14*
Hottest race weather: A 16 hour adventure race in 95*

Races:
Running: 2 (both trail)
Bike: 9 (6 gravel, 3 mountain bike)
Adventure: 7 (3 24 hours or more)
Orienteering meets: 5

States I raced in: 7 (Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas)

New to me races: Rocheport Roubaix, Physically Strong 8-HR, Creve Couer Heartbreaker (MTB), 24 Hours of Cumming, Hellbender 16hr AR, Tomahawk Challenge 24hr AR, BT Epic (MTB)

Repeat races: SHITR, Tour of Hermann, Cedar Cross, Hairy Hundred, Dirty Kanza, Stubborn Mule 30 HR AR, Indian Camp Creek 9 hour (MTB), the Fig 12hr AR, Castlewood 8hr AR, Pere Marquette trail race, adventure camp, Thunder Rolls

Best race experience: Dirty Kanza hike-a-bike
Worst race experience: BT Epic trainwreck

Recap: 

January:

After going back and forth about it for around 6 months (turns out I'm almost as slow to commit as my husband was), I joined Momentum Racing at the beginning of the year, but only after making sure things like "I'll always adventure race as a Virtus girl" and "I'm not really focused on winning bike races" were cool. Being a prime subscriber of Virtus's "Fun is better than fast" motto, I wasn't sure how I'd fit in on a team that thinks fast is fun, but it turns out there was plenty of room for me.

I ran my first trail race of the year (also my last running race until December) at the "Turd Annual" ShITR (Shivering Icy Trail Run), a nighttime trail half marathon organized by my friends at ROCK Racing. Starting out the year on trend, I was totally untrained for the distance but had a great time catching up with my friend Aaron as we covered the trails at a pretty chill pace.  Later in the month was my very favorite January tradition, the Team Virtus MLK weekend at Berryman, where I had my first sub-freezing camping experience and learned that I have some things to learn about cold weather camping.
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Mandatory photo op by the ice before things started to thaw.
 Unfortunately the cold temperatures didn't hold out for the whole day, so we had to bail on the increasingly soft trails about halfway through and ride gravel back to the party. Still an awesome ride with friends, followed up by more Virtus time at the Joe Dirt gravel ride the following day.

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With Bob and Luke on the Joe Dirt loop
Also of note was that I registered for my fourth Dirty Kanza. Despite celebrating "I never have to do this again!" after finally finishing in 2013, it turns out I wasn't quite ready to be done with that race.

February:

The month started with an awesome gravel ride with Bob in the Massas Creek area near Warrenton. While neither of us thought to download the course to our Garmins (we're definitely not the team grownups), Bob got it figured out and we enjoyed a straight up fun ride in a beautiful area. The temperature was a balmy 31*, but there were plenty of hills to keep us warm.

Massas creek

In contrast, Rocheport Roubaix's starting temperature of 14* made for a long, cold 55 mile gravel race. I'd been pretty confident about riding in that weather after adventure racing in similar temps, but I totally underestimated how much colder I'd feel on the more exposed gravel roads.

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Frozen water bottles, frozen camelbak hose, frozen water coolers...
Really #$*&^ cold. I've never been so cold for so long. It was definitely a character-building day of the type 2 variety of fun.

March:

My first adventure race of the year was the Physically Strong 8 hour, which was particularly exciting because it was my sister-in-law's first AR. We got Chuck to join us and then coaxed Patrick out of retirement to complete our team.  It was a blast getting to share my favorite sport with another family member and some of my favorite people.

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I'd say she took to it pretty well!
I got to volunteer again at adventure camp, which is basically a family reunion where you get to spread the AR gospel to people who actually want to hear it.  If MLK weekend is my favorite part of January, camp is my most anticipated event in March (except this year, when it's April 1-3).

I ended March with the Death by Gravel in Steelville, MO. There's no day it would have been an easy ride for me, but following up my February bike mileage low of 83 miles with 94 miles of gravel and around 9,000 feet of climbing made for a humbling (though scenic) day in the saddle.

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It's a beautiful area.
My Momentum teammates, all vastly stronger on the bike than me, were awesome company and never made me feel bad about being the weak link.  The day was hard on my ego but a much-needed kick in the butt to get serious about training.

April:

March may have ended on a rough note, but it was almost immediately followed by spring break and much happier bike miles. With Momentum I logged a fun metric century on the Katy complete with a mid-ride stop for pancakes and followed it up two days later on the Berryman trail with Luke, Amanda, and Dave.

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Photo credit: Dan Singer
Another April highlight was the Tour of Hermann, a 2-day trip over (if you finish all 5 stages) 200 miles of hilly gravel goodness. I rode all 100 miles the first day and did the first 50-mile stage on the second with Virtus before deciding I wasn't really interested in riding another 50 alone. Finishing feeling confident that I had another 50 in me was very encouraging, though.



May:

With a bike race almost every single weekend, May saw a lot of time in the saddle.  Mickey had convinced me to "race" Cedar Cross (instead of treating it like a social ride like usual), leading to a much unhappier race experience but a considerably faster finish time.  Because I have a short memory, two weeks later I did the same thing at Hairy Hundred, except that since Mickey was in pre-Dirty Kanza taper mode he stuck with me and "coached" (aka didn't let me stop) me to my first-ever first place finish (also aided by the real first-place girl's missed turn).

Mickey's pics
Coolest prize ever.
The weekend before Dirty Kanza, my neglected mountain bike convinced me to take it to the Creve Coeur Heartbreaker, where I rode a very conservative race and, most notably, inadvertently posed for  a series of photos that are simultaneously the most and least flattering pictures of me on a bike ever.

Looking both pretty and ridiculous. The fact that the picture is so flattering makes the idiotic helmet a little heartbreaking.
Photo credit: Mike Dawson
And then there was Dirty Kanza. Any PR hopes I may have entertained were washed away by the steady rains that hit Kansas in the lead-up to the race and talk of a three-mile hike-a-bike through peanut butter mud.  By the time I lined up at the start line I seriously doubted I'd make it to the first cut-off. The dire mud warnings were no exaggeration, but it turns out that while I'm not that fast riding a bike I'm pretty darn good at carrying one.

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Not me, but you get the idea. Photo credit: Jason Kulma
It was hard enough that I was pretty comfortable in the knowledge that I'd miss the cut-off and "have" to quit, but instead I made it in plenty of time and had to go on.  After riding the majority of the first half alone I met back up with my friend Matt who'd saved my race the previous year after I lost a water bottle and ran dry and whose company this year made the second half of the race much more enjoyable.  That second DK finish was hard-earned as, according to Jim, it should be.


June:

June featured my typical post-DK training slump, interrupted only by the Stubborn Mule 30 hour AR. Out of four bike rides logged that month (four!! I did that many races in May!), two were during the race. The 10-hour drive to Cable, WI, was a drag, but it was totally worth it to ride some of the fun-nest singletrack I've ever ridden. I also got to experience being totally lost in the woods with no idea how to get back to the road, but thankfully Chuck was able to sort things out pretty quickly.  We had a strong race and finished first in our division.

Finished with the paddle after more than 24 hours of racing and only one trekking leg between us and the finish.
Photo credit: Lori Vohsen
July:

My racing life blended nicely with my family life this month, as both Mickey and Chuck and Lori's son Jacob joined our team for the annual mud volleyball tournament in Hannibal, MO. They played awesome and our team had a good year, which definitely helped justify their places in my life in Jeff's eyes.

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As if I hadn't just spend enough time with Chuck and Jacob, then we all went mountain biking riding at Council Bluff with Bob.  Despite not being on a mountain bike in something like 3 years, Jacob proceeded to ride circles around me. Or would have, if I'd been anywhere near him. Kids!

Council Bluff was just a warmup for the Hellbender 16 hour AR, which the four of us were racing together.  And by "warmup" I mean that if the heat was bad at Council Bluff (it was! I think we spent as much time in the lake as on the bikes that day. Except for Bob, who did both at the same time), it was significantly worse racing all day in 95*. On the other hand, the temperature definitely sweetened my first experience tipping a canoe in a race.

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Before we tipped it, though, we got to carry it. For half a mile. Good times.
Photo credit: Rolla Multi-Sport Club
The lowlight of July had to be the day I learned what GORC means when they tell you "officially, there is only one section of Ozark Trail called Trace Creek. GORC divides this into North and South sections, mainly for maintenance purposes." If you, as I did, read that and don't think anything of it, let me translate: Because North and South Trace is an unofficial division, there are no signs indicating which is which, and if you [as I did] leave your trail maps at home ["Oh, well, it's an out and back trail...how lost can we get?"] you may unknowingly end up on South Trace instead of the vastly better North Trace. And while that in itself isn't a huge big deal, you're going to feel really bad if your riding partner breaks his collarbone crashing on the wrong trail and spends the next couple months having to sit out races and miss training.


In case you thought all that ^^ was hypothetical.
August:

I'd been eyeing the 24 Hours of Cumming gravel race since its inception last year, and when I realized Cumming, IA, is about 20 minutes from my brother's new house I knew it was a sign. I registered for the race, hoping that its 400K over 24 hours would be a big enough challenge to scare me out of my annual post-DK slump. Sadly, this was not the case, and I drove to Iowa having ridden less than 200K over the entire previous month.  Not Shockingly, I failed miserably. In retrospect, I think I started the race dehydrated and compounded this by miscalculating on how much water I took for the first 100K loop, but I started with a pretty non-tough outlook ("We'll see how it goes...") and generally unprepared (I brought two extra tubes, total). I limped through 97 miles before dropping after my second flat of the day.

I was pretty disgusted with myself afterwards; however, I fought flats in that same tire for the next 3 months before finally finding a piece of a staple embedded in the tread, so had I stayed in I was probably looking at many more flat tires.  And it gave Jim, who served as my crew, the opportunity to get a glimpse of the race on his way to pick me up on the side of the road; when he got there, he told me, "I didn't realize just how alone you are out there." Also, while I totally let myself down, I did get to visit my brother and his family as well as finally meet Steve Fuller and Sarah Cooper, who I've blog-stalked for a long time, as well as the very cool and inspiring Steve Cannon. And Iowa is beautiful. I'll be back.
#24HOC abridged edition. 4 dogs (3 friendly, 1 scary), 4 deer, 2 big birds, 1 tiny snake, 1 bobcat, countless screaming downhills and climbs, 1 minor panic attack when a car passed me and then pulled over on the road and waited for me to go by, lots a rea

Of course, the very best part of August is always heading back north to Camp Benson and the Thunder Rolls 24 hr AR, Chuck, Luke, Brian of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot AR, and I were all racing together, and there was basically no way that race could be anything less than awesome. Granted, Mother Nature did her best to blow us off the Mississippi River on a very scary paddling leg, but even with her interference the race was a blast.
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Helping Luke change his flat tire.
September:

Over Labor Day weekend I raced in the Indian Camp Creek 9 hr mountain bike race. This event and I have a complicated history, including an initial outing where a miscommunication ended up in me having to ride an extra, very very unhappy, nighttime lap, and a second go when major saddle issues forced me out way early. This time around, I rode 56 miles and stopped feeling like I could definitely ride more; I had around an hour and a half left and ended up regretting stopping early, but I was being conservative with the next weekend's Tomahawk Challenge looming. And I still won second place because there were only two of us in the division.

2nd place in the Indian Camp Creek 9-hour. There were only two of us, but you can only race who shows up. Temps in the 90's made for challenging conditions, but a 20lb bag of ice helped. My longest ride of any kind in the past month and all on singletrack

Tomahawk Challenge was Chuck's and my final 24hr race of the year, and it was a fantastic first-year event. Well, other than the fact that we tipped our canoe crossing an old dam in the Wabash River and spent the next 13 hours wet and shivering. That experience made me even more appreciative of the safety people on hand who kept an eye on us and retrieved my food as it floated away from our swamped canoe as well as the volunteers who had hot chocolate and a fire at the boat take-out.

October:

October was not a peak month. I finally got to take a mountain bike clinic I've been eyeing all year, only to slice my leg open in a dumb pedal accident almost as soon as we started the level 2 instruction.
See Kate. See Kate ride flat pedals. See Kate's foot slip. See Kate get stitches. See Kate go back to clipless pedals. #mtbfail #mtb #scars
It looked every bit as bad as it looks here; thankfully it didn't hurt nearly as bad as it looks.

The gash itself was far less trouble than the resulting 3 weeks battling infection, but if you're going to get hurt this is my suggestion. It was a hassle to deal with, but other than being really nervous about re-injuring myself I didn't have to miss out on much.

BT Epic was in keeping with the non-peak theme for October. I've never had more confidence and less physical ability than in this race, where I totally blew my nutrition and spent 40 miles falling apart on anything remotely uphill. Chuck is a saint, because while my implosion screwed his goals for the race, he stuck by me and was as patient and encouraging as could be.

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Taken at the end of the 10 miles of fun preceding the 40 miles of misery.
Photo credit: Josh Brown

November:

Chuck and I headed back to Kentucky for the Fig 12hr AR, one of our favorite races from 2014. It was in new hands this year, but 361 Adventures provided the same kind of fantastic race experience as Flying Squirrel Adventures had. The Red River Gorge area is amazing, and what it lacks in singletrack and navigable waterways it makes up for with challenging terrain and incredible beauty.

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Chuck during our initial trek.

December:

My last AR of the year was another race that had changed hands, as Alpine Shop took over the Castlewood 8hr, This was my first time actually racing with Mickey, and what we lacked in canoeing ability we made up for with teamwork. I'd totally race with him again, but not before we both gain some paddling expertise.

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*Not actually going in opposite directions.*
And my racing year ended the same way it began, with a trail race. I came into this year's Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run with possibly my lowest expectations ever and had a far better race than expected. I was about 6 minutes off my PR, but on a day I'd expected to hike if not DNF, that was a win. Even better, the day may have rekindled my love for running.

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Running and smiling...it's been a while since both happened at the same time.
Photo credit: Robin Rongey

All in all, it was a very good year. My thanks to everyone who was a part of it, most especially my teammates, my awesome crew(s) Emma (DK) and Jim (24HOC), and all of the race directors and volunteers who've poured their time into these wonderful sports we love.