First off, huge thanks to Oregon Velo Photography for the pics. They're awesome!
Second, huge thanks to Dot Wong and The TEAM, Metal Mountain Bike Shop in Ventura, CA, and my coach Jason Hilimire for all the support this year.
Third, huge thanks to my parents for joining me this weekend in OR and keeping me housed and fed. And, to my husband, who has put up with my 2 month hiatus to train and race all over the west.
Now, on to the race report.
I'm a cross country racer so my races are generally around 20 miles, with the occasional 29 or 3o miler. But, I LOVE mountain biking and because you can't ever have too much of a good thing, I thought perhaps I should dabble a toe into the world of endurance racing and give a 50 miler a go. And because my dad is my partner in crime when it comes to just about anything outdoors, I talked him into it as well. We decided on the TEST of ENDURANCE 50 in Blodgett, OR largely because it draws big names and where big names go, crowds follow so I had a suspicion there would be a good field of women. And I was sooo right. In fact, Alice Pennington set a very impressive new course record!
The race is awesome. It's a TON of climbing, 7,900 feet according to my Polar watch, spread out over 5o miles of fire road and single track in the Coast Range. It begins with a neutral mass start for a couple of miles and I was surprised how good I felt. I'm sure my time at elevation in Boulder was part of the reason, but so was the fact that in a race that's going to last 5+ hours you're supposed to keep your effort in check, or at least that's what my coach says. For me, that meant keeping my heart rate between 170 and 190 bpm (I normally race around 200 bpm). So the neutral mass start was a nice reprieve from the all out starts I'm accustomed to. So I settled in to the appropriate heart rate and waited for the climbing to begin. And begin it did. 10 or so minutes into the lap we started climbing and we continued to do so for a good hour with only the occasional "reprieve" onto singletrack. I put reprieve in quotes because with the rain that had fallen the day before and the drizzle happening that morning, riding the singletrack felt like riding on ice. (Remember my earlier post where I said rain was the theme of my summer. Well, on the way to Oregon, I got stuck in Billings, MT when a severe storm blew in with a downpour, golf ball-sized hail, and 70 mile an hour winds. Then, the next day, I drove in a constant drizzle from Billings to Moscow, ID--thats 8 hours of rain across 600 miles.) But nontheless, I was having a ton of fun in the race, and was pleased with how good I felt. I soon fell in behind another female rider and found that though she was a stronger climber than me, I was a better descender and so we traded back and forth for most of the 25 mile lap. My best guess was that she and I were sitting in the top 5. Here's a pic from the muddy singletrack. Note the guy behind me is running with his bike. Sometimes that really was the better option since falling can be awfully time consuming.
Finally, I hit a fairly long fire-road descent. I didn't know how much was left in the first lap, and in all honesty, as the time my races normally end came and went, I was growing increasingly ready to see lap 2. But the descent seemed like a good time to fuel, so I backed off a bit and ate a Snickers and drank a bottle. In the end, I don't know if this was the right call or not because in the process of doing so, I lost sight of the other female rider. And, as they say, out of sight out of mind. But maybe it was the right call because a short while later, I was off on lap 2 and feeling really, really good. I stopped very briefly at the aid station to refill a bottle, maybe lost a minute there, and was off again. (Although, that's another thing I want to rethink for my next 50 miler--if there is one :) A lot of folks were wearing camelbacks which meant they never had to stop and lose precious time.) But, anyway, I was off on lap 2 and feeling super good. When I hit the backside climb, I even amped it up a bit and a male racer fell in behind me. "Nice job," he said. "You're the perfect pacer." And here's another place where I think I may have made a poor decision. When this guy fell in behind me, I felt motivated to keep pushing. For the whole climb, my heart rate was up at 190 which may not have been the right call with 20 or so miles still to go. When we finally finished the long climb, I could feel the toll the effort had taken. My legs were pretty zonked and then, about mile 40, I began to have a Scrooge-like experience. The ghosts of injuries past returned for a visit. First my left shin muscle started to burn which meant the compartment syndrome I had been diagnosed with a few months ago was back. And once this was flared up, my IT band started to tighten which resulted in a super painful pinching sensation on the outside of my left knee. None of the symptoms were constant; by keeping my heel down and pushing harder with my right leg, and sometimes unclipping my left leg and centering the pedal under the middle of my foot, I could manage the pain, but the punch to the gut the pain gave my moral was tough. I could feel my competitive edge waning and my desire to be done taking over. By this point, too, the single track was super muddy and what I would have been compelled to ride through before, I felt more compelled to run through with my leg acting up. I don't now how much time I lost doing so, if any. Soon, I also realized I didn't remember just how much climbing comes at the end of the race. There's at least half a dozen 3 to 6 minute climbs that get really, really frustrating :)
Finally, I turned onto the final singletrack so happy to know there was only this and a mile of rolling fire road between me and the finish line. Then, another female rider came up behind me. I was super bummed because I knew my legs were pretty much done and that a mile of sprinting was likely out of the question. But I did my best, charging the singletrack and standing to push when we hit the fire road. But eventually she pulled away. I crossed the finish line in 4th, 2 minutes off third and the podium. I let myself be bummed for awhile and then got over it. 4th is pretty darn good for my first 50 miler. Plus, my dad and I took 3rd in the co-ed competition. Go us!!!
Here's a pic of my dad charging: