Monday, April 28, 2014

Race Report: Bonelli Kenda Cup #5

We She-Ninjas Are Happy About Our New Team Hats! 

It was a heavy week of training leading up to this one so I was definitely feeling a little thick in the legs ... and not in a good way. But it's great practice for BCBR to line up tired so I embraced the fatigue and headed up to San Dimas early Sunday morning to help cheer on some Ninjas and line up for my start at 1:30pm.

The Cat 3 race got going first and we were stoked to have Ninjas in almost every group in that wave. The other She-Ninjas got first crack at the course in lovely cool weather with perfect light. Somewhat evenly matched, the rest of us were eager to see how the race would play out between Heidi and Paula - both have been putting in a bunch of training miles and it was either lady's game out there.

Heidi and Paula (and Paula's knee, if you look close ...)
I decided to take the opportunity to walk the course for my "preride" while they were out in case of good photo ops. Just as I found a nice place to shoot, a female racer came by me asking if I had a walkie -- someone had gone down on the rocks and she wasn't sure if she got back up again. "Team  Ninja," she said. Uh oh. I looked back from whence she came and spotted Heidi up and riding, with Paula on her heels. "They're both up," I told her and she carried on her climb, happy to hear it.

Our She-Ninjas were riding smooth and strong so I lined up for my photo. Heidi smiled on her way by and then a few seconds later Paula was ready for her close up. "Take a picture of my knee," she joked. I almost did but when I saw it, I instead started flipping out, in no way calm or of help to Paula.

She said she wanted to keep racing, but there was blood and white foam pouring out of her leg. I strongly suggested she stop, she said she was fine. Because she's super hardcore and brave like that. Feeling pretty useless .... and nauseated ... I called Richard back at the team tent to let him know one of our prized ponies would need assistance when she crossed the line in a few minutes.

She Ninjas on Podiums! 
Later we found out that Heidi showed a tremendous amount of team spirit, keeping an eye on Paula and making sure she was okay. Turns out Paula's impact was shared equally between her knee and head, which I didn't know at the time, and Heidi didn't want to leave her. Once again, Team Ninja floors me with its support for one another. Working together, our girls claimed the number 2 and 3 spots on the podium. Paula got fixed up by the great First Aid helper, Alex, and then headed to the hospital (after collecting her trophy, of course). Final diagnosis: No concussion (hurray!) but she did burst the bursa sack under her knee cap (hence the foam ...) and needed some IV antibiotics, an emergency surgery to flush the area under her joint to prevent infection, and a few stitches to get put back together. Her Facebook update today: 

I'm good! Turns out violating your joint space with nonsterile instruments is a bad idea, and results in emergency surgery to flush it out. I shouldn't have fallen on my throwing stars, my bad!

The good news? She should only be off the bike for about a week. Thank the mtb gods it wasn't worse and healing vibes to Paula for a smooth recovery. And mtb blessings on Heidi who was a real team player and a class act. Not to mention speedy!! 

The next start group was thankfully injury free and we had another big crop of Ninjas to cheer on and pass up bottles to. Congrats to all our He-Ninjas for their stellar rides. Everyone was looking strong despite most of us being in the same state of fatique thanks to Head Ninja Coach Richard's demanding training plan. Special kudos to James who confirmed that a good night's sleep does actually help performance on race day!! Shout out to Eric who spent the week having a nasty cold instead of training and still pulled out a podium finish. And in another show of Ninja team support, thanks to Richard who made sure Michael had race-worthy rig - a very pretty Norco - after a last-minute mechanical emergency. Go team!! 

My race was the last of the day at 1:44pm. I didn't race the first Bonelli and I didn't get a chance to pre ride either so I was feeling a little bit in the dark about how I would fare. However, it turned out I was once again the only woman in my age group so the pressure was off. There were only three of us on the start line total, but Heidi B and Lisa were in a different age group than me. Thanks girls for coming out!! I decided to use this opportunity to test a few things in a race situation, which was perfect since it was a short course, and it was hot which is sometimes a limiter of mine. Verdict: Coconut water does not make a good on-course hydration option. I give up, I've tried a few electrolyte options, but for whatever reason, my system is H20 only.

Other than that discomfort, I had a really fun time out there. Even though there wasn't anyone in my age group, there were certainly still people to race, so I spent my 1 hours 15 minutes on course chasing down the men's categories ahead of ours, playing my favorite game of "Can you catch Richard?" and getting to know the pro men whipping around me politely and skillfully (thank you gentlemen!). The course was very fun, except for a boring section in the middle that was a combo rec path and paved road, and there were definitely some sections I looked forward to. I was able to climb in the big ring for most of it which was a great feather in my cap ... and eventual pain in my lower back. There were Ninjas hiding in a few different corners which was a highlight every lap. I high-fived some kids cheering on the side of some bermed switchbacks and my favorite moment of the day was ripping the technical rock garden descent for the first time. I carried in a little more speed than I should have, but skittered down my chosen line smoothly (albeit a bit surprised) and heard the spectators lining the crash zone cheering, "Yeah!!! RIDE LIKE A NINJA!"

Thanks to Sho-Air Cycling Group/Big Bear Events and USA Cycling for another fun day of racing. Thanks to Team Ninja for all the support and good times. Thanks Coach Richard for everything. And thanks to Gerhard for agreeing to be stranded at home while I took the car all day AND for making a delicious chicken dinner, as my result required. :D



Eric Fischer - 2nd Cat 2 19-24
Ryan Brown - 6th Cat 2 30-34
Kyle Wills - Cat 2 30-24 - DNF - Mechanical :(
Henry Heisler - 13th Cat 2 35-39
James Vo - 14th Cat 2 40-44
Derek Couse - 16th Cat 2 40-44
Advait Ogale - 9th Cat 3 30-34
Abe Gonzalez - 8th Cat 3 40-44
Michael Whitehurst - 12th Cat 3 40-44
Tom Jones - 13th Cat 3 45-49
Vinny Casiano - 8th Cat 3 55-59
Todd Young - 3rd Cat 3 Clydesdale 35+
Kris Gross - 1st Cat 1 30-39
Paula Evenson - 2nd Cat 3 30-39
Heidi Amundson - 3rd Cat 3 30-39
Richard La China - 8th Cat 1 Single Speed
and honoary Ninja, Stephane Roch - 7th Pro

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Race Report: Sea Otter Classic

Women's Cat 1 30-39 podium, left to right:
Amber Broch 2nd, Kris Gross 1st, Naomi Haverlick 3rd
(Darryl Sykes Photo)

At last, the day arrived and my first Sea Otter adventure began. Though I have always been hyper aware of this annual event in the cycling world, it was never within reach back in my old life, given work and all the rest. So now that I'm living just down the road, I made it a point to attend this meeting of cyclists from every discipline, and enjoy the opulence of the upcoming shiny bits on display for their first time.

Even better, I teamed up with fellow she-ninja Paula and we road tripped the whole thing together, sharing transportation, hotels and a lot of laughs.


Ocean Weasel spotting
Our first day of Sea Ottering was Friday afternoon and we did some laps of the grounds as things wound down saying hello to people and making mental notes of where we'd like to spend more time the next day. Then it was off for a mini team dinner with Michael Henry before hitting the hay.


Preriding turned out to be a huge headache. The venue was so big, we could barely figure out how to even get on the start line. Plus, since it's held at Laguna Raceway, the first mile or so of the course is on the race track so we didn't feel like we needed to practice that. We finally asked enough people so we could get on the course and get preriding ... but with only about 10 minutes until the pro races started. So we just beelined across the valley on some off-course singletrack to connect with the end of the course, crossing our fingers we didn't end up run over by the pro men's field. We almost outran them but not quite, leaving us a moment or two to cheer on the men including honorary Ninja Stephane Roch as they came through. So with our "lap" under our belts, we had an idea of what the first mile and last five miles of the 24 mile course looked like ...


Something went horribly wrong with the communication of start times at Sea Otter this year. I know I am partially to blame, but I can't take ALL the credit for this next blunder. I had internalized a start time of 9:31am for my category but I couldn't remember where in blazes I'd seen that time so I couldn't confirm it. All the website said was that ALL CAT 1 would be staging at 7:30am.

A blow for sure. The venue was about 30 minutes from our hotel, I need to eat about two hours before I race plus get dressed and double check I have all the things ... you do the math. It was a god awful early morning. Coach Richard picked me up so Paula could soak up a few more zzzs before her race.

Got to the venue and started eating as much as I could get down at 5:30am. I kitted up, shivering the whole time in the dark. Did my warm up, hit the loo once more, then headed to the start line. But there was no place for Cat 1 women to stage. Hmmm.

Finally tracked down an official to ask him about it and he showed me his start times sheet. The good news is, I hadn't *missed* my race, which was the case for a number of other people. The bad news was that my race wasn't for another two hours ... 9:31am just as I'd thought the first time.

Aaaaaand, repeat.

Fast forward to 9:28am and I find my category and start to feel my horses pawing the dirt -- sure sign of a good warm up. Coach Richard was close by to offer some final words of advice/encouragement, and then we were off!! The track start was a bit of a trip (including me, missing my pedal ... pshaw!), and watching all the other categories make their start I figured we'd do the same: stick together to minimize work until we hit the dirt.

We did our time on the track, and then we were on a paved service road before finally we turned onto the gravel double track of our first descent. It was fast and loose and it was also about this time I started to feel like I was on the set of some kind of action movie. There was an ambulance flashing at the bottom of the hill, sirens and even a helicopter hovering --- and no, Red Bull wasn't at the stick. People were going down on the high-speed descents and we were soberly reminded not to be one of them. Fingers on the brakes!

Girls started testing the field on the first rollers, breaking off the front, then getting caught back up. I tried one too for the fun of it and to see who would hang. Amber quickly made an impression. She was climbing strong, and closing every gap on the descents. So I hopped on her wheel for the next paved section.

At last, we seemed to have some distance on "civilization" and the trails started to develop some flow and elevation. I saw an opportunity and jumped on the gas for a punchy climb, gapping Amber. She closed on the descent again. But then we hit traffic and singletrack with a slightly steeper pitch. This time, I slowly increased my cadence/power and tightened the screws bit by bit, working my way through traffic and listening for Amber.

At the top, I had my gap, and I let myself get a little bit stoked. Now it was only a matter of racing clean and consistent and of course, a matter of luck. It all seemed to be on my side though. Despite a few near calamities -- mechanical and racing-a-course-blind-and-screwing-up-corners-handling-wise -- I held on to a smooth ride and crossed the line in first place to the sounds of cheering spectators and cow bells. Amazing feeling. Full results here.
She-Ninjas + beers at the Hutchinson booth: Paula, me and Regina

I want to thank Richard who helped me put together a winning strategy as well as the nitty gritty like driving my whiny butt to the venue before the crack of dawn (and to everyone's favorite registration guru, Sam from Big Bear Events, for coming with him WITH COFFEE!!). Thanks to Michael Henry, Regina Jeffries and Paula Evenson for the fun hangs. Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers for wrangling this crazy event - wow. And thanks to all the women who came from as far as Montreal(!!) to race the Sea Otter. Looking forward to next year already.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner:
Gourmet meal at Pebble Beach's famous 18th hole 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Race Report: Los Olivos / Santa Ynez Kenda Cup #4

This race is the furthest afield we'll go with the Kenda Cup Series and by golly it was worth the drive. Just north of Santa Barbara, we were treated to big views draped in velvety green, gnarled oaks and grazing cattle all punctuated by rows and rows of grapes under Tuscan light. It was so wow.

Teammate Paula and I joined forces for the trip north and if all we did was the drive and hang out with our Ninja buddies, I would have counted that a good weekend. But we also got to race bikes, so it was pretty much the best ever.

The course hosted by "Dirt Club" was stunning. Though not particularly technical, its healthy helping of elevation, super fast open sections and stunning surroundings all worked to take your breath away. Paula and I prerode a lap, got a little mixed up in the Super D happening Saturday and then it was off to a team dinner. Once full of Mama's Italian pork chops and spaghetti, we hit the sack, reminding ourselves that it wasn't all laughing, fun and games -- we're supposed to be getting focused!

I woke up Sunday with the sniffles, a headache and exhausted after lying awake for an hour around 2am. Perfect. I heard myself say "I just need a coffee" which actually ended up working somehow. And no, I wasn't hungover. Still, though my nose was happier and my head was clearer, I couldn't coax any appetite so that was a bummer. But off to the races anyway.

The drive from where we stayed in Lompoc to the course was enough to make anyone feel better though. We even saw some coyotes frolicking in the golden hour light. The Ninja tent was all abuzz when we got there. Everyone was scheduled to race at the same time, save for Aaron Hauck who was getting ready to head out an hour before us with the endurance racers. Thanks to Syd for helping to feed ALL of us at once.

Good vibes
Course was long -- 11 miles -- and racers were either completing 1 or 2 laps (2 for me). I got through my usual prep, Michael Henry thankfully was watching the clock while I was gabbing so I even made it to the start line with two minutes to spare. At the whistle I surged just enough to command the pace and then immediately settled knowing we had some steep ups ahead. I was listening carefully for the pedalling and breathing behind me, ready to counter attack if necessary. When the time was right, I moved, opened a gap and then worked to keep widening it.

The course was so fun it was easy to get carried away. Open, exposed, flowy with tight switchbacks everywhere it was a pleasure to ride. Everybody I passed or who overtook me was cheery and polite and I was happy with my ride, for sure. Plus, with everyone on course at once, it was fun catching teammates, and being caught in return -- especially enjoyed a little cat and mouse with Coach Richard on his single speed. It was starting to get hot and dusty by the end of lap 2 -- my drivetrain ended up completely dry so I was also happy to have it over, haha. I won my race but for sure the most memorable part of the weekend was hanging out and cheering on the MANY other Ninjas up on the podium for their events. Amazing showing. Also when Aaron put a cow pie in his mouth. I will remember that too. ;)

Thanks to Paula for all the driving!! Thanks to Coach Richard for helping me feel super strong and for the nuggets of wisdom you shared this weekend. Thanks to all my teammates for making me laugh, and making me proud.

King Shit

Friday, April 4, 2014

My Longest Ride Ever

This photo was taken by Steve Driscoll at the top of Double Peak, which is a tough climb by itself (in fact the climb *to* the climb is tough!) but on this day, Double Peak rose menacingly from our route at about mile 105. All told, I finished this day with 115 miles under my belt, over 11,000' of elevation and about 7 hours in the saddle: officially my biggest day ever. 

I started the ride unsure I would be able finish but as the miles went on ... And as Shelly Driscoll's amazing support service including gels, cold washcloths and bananas kicked in ... I began to feel not only confident I could survive but that I might THRIVE. 

Couple things that I think really helped. 

1) The support of our amazing group. Everyone worked together to keep the pacing appropriate and no one got dropped. 

2) Proper nutrition and hydration before, during and after. Again - big thanks to Shelly for adding to what we had in our pockets. As for my pockets, I made a conscious effort to carry a variety of flavors and textures so I could look forward to each snack rather than dread it, choke it down or worse, skip it. 

3) A nice day. It was perfect. Not too hot, not too cold, not too windy. 

4) Chamois cream. Like, duh. 

5) The chiropractor. Been having a real pain in my neck lately. And my last race report featured a pain in my back, too. I also have been dealing with a strange sensation during racing that I thought had something to do with hydration. I lose my hearing and get "stuffed up" in my ears. Turns out it's because my neck vertebrae were twisted into some nerves up there. Once freed I was free of that annoying symptom AND I even set a new functional power threshold. I think adjustments are de riguer from now on before big rides and races. 

The ride featured a super gorgeous loop through Fallbrook, Temecula, Rainbow, Valley Center, Escondido and San Elijo Hills. The Gentlemen threw in three dirt sections as well as they prepare for "the worst day of their lives," the Belgium Waffle Ride. 

Afterwards I uploaded to Strava (my Garmin short-changed me 75% ... That's another story) and shared some photos. This week, Strava reposted my Instagram and that introduced me to lots more followers and riders so thank you Strava!! If you're here thanks to their posts, thanks for stopping by :) 

Anyway, thanks again to The Gentlemen and the ladies who came out for this most awesome ride. Next week: 116 miles. ;)