Tuesday, July 22, 2014

East Coast Party: Nationals

As confident as I was with my handling skills, the national championship course and my long term experience, I somehow was feeling very apprehensive because of my lack of motivation to actually race this year. I suffered some mental burn out a few years back and was lucky enough to get some good advice from a friend and coach. I took that advice to heart this year and it really paid off.

This year, a few strong ladies aged up into my class, some of which had beaten me every time we raced together. I knew there would be a high level of competition for me. Actually, I doubted that I could pull off a win, but I was going to give it my best and race my strengths.

The gun went off and I fell into 3rd place behind Lynch and Sandefer. Both these ladies are strong climbers and very motivated. I saw each of the ladies in front of me push close to anaerobic resulting in a foot down or bobble at some point, yet they still held their leads. I stuck to my own riding style and stayed loose, off the brakes and did not allow myself to flail or loose efficiency.

Sandefer and I went back and fourth four times on the first lap climb. She really pushed me hard, and I eventually worked into 2nd place near the top, with Lynch putting a minute and a half between us according to Strava. God bless Lynch … She is one hell of a climber! From that point on, my mission was to ride it like I stole it!

I did not think it was possible, but I caught sight of Lynch ahead of me climbing back up to the heckle zone. As I entered the heckle zone, my eyes met with the eyes of a friend who was spectating, resulting in some big smiles for us both. I can’t remember exactly, but she may have said something like: “ I can’t believe Ellen is smiling”. The cheering was awesome and really motivated me in that section. I do not know how I did it, but I passed Lynch and several men in that section without missing a beat. I had a great run all the way down to bottom, but I never thought I could hold that lead up the climb on lap 2.

This was the perfect motivation to push me up the climb. I made a huge effort and pushed even harder at the top knowing that the climb was almost done. At the top, I glanced back and was relieved to see no one close.

By the time I reached the heckle zone, I started to ease up a tad in fear of flatting or doing something crazy stupid. However, I could not contain my excitement too long and I eventually revved it up again by the bottom. This has to be my best National Championship performance to date. Coming in and finding out that my teammate Marianne also won her Championship Race was icing on the cake. What a day for Team Campmor!

The whole vibe at Nationals this year was awesome! Bear Creek supplies one of the most fun courses that I ever have raced. It was great to see so many locals have their day. The heckling area was a total party including a nun, a devil, a chainsaw and plenty of beer and crazy people. Pennsylvania rocks for sure!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Steel City Enduro

I made a last minute decision to race Steel City Enduro last week. I had done this race two years prior and was sick day of the race and did not quite get the lines on the famous "Boulder Trail". I have been wanting to go back and master that trail for 2 years. I love technical riding and anything that gets my mind off of training or suffering is a good thing to me. Some may dread and fear rocks, but I see them as an opportunity to challenge myself while not noticing the suffering. There are times to suffer and that is good too, but I'm just not feeling the suffering part of racing these days. Perhaps I just need a break or a change of pace. This is where enduro's are a good fit for me.

For those that do not know much about them, enduro is not short for endurance. Enduro's are more like a stage race of short Super-D's. They are mostly, but not solely downhill and can often have super technical features or downhill features. Some include lift access and some are ride transfer. Being a XC racer, I prefer the technical and ride transfer type over the downhill and lift access type.

I headed over to Bethlehem on Friday afternoon to ride the park and face the Boulder Trail. I spent about 30-40 minutes going over various lines until I got them just right. Wow, there are a lot of rocks on that trail! It was pretty cool just to session that section. One thing I like about being a racer is that I will make the extra effort to master something like this. I don't know if I would do that just riding by myself. I get much more satisfaction from mastering a rock garden than I do from doing hill repeats.

As for my race the next day; my rear DR cable snapped 5 minutes into my race, where I managed to single-speed a 26x11 to my time out in stage one. I tried my best to salvage the cable by pulling it towards the bolt, but it did not reach so my race was done. I figured a way to SS out catching the last of stage 5 so that I did not have to walk my bike up hill. Somehow I did not feel like my weekend was wasted. I mastered the Boulder Trail, donated my entry fee to the local trail builders/promoter and had some good beer at the local brewery.

I was taken back when the promoter prized me for third place when I did not finish all the stages. I was reluctant to go up on the podium, but the other girls were waving and calling me up. It is easy to get hung up on yourself, and I am glad I had the sense to realize that a full podium is better for them. I let my self involvement go and jumped up to get my medal and prize money. I hope that more women will come out to explore the challenges of technical riding in the future, as you can see there are open spaces waiting to be explored. I am looking forward to the rocks at Bear Creek next week!

Quinoa 'boulders" for dinner

Steelworkers Stout

Friday, July 4, 2014

To Be a Mountain Biker

What I love about mountain biking is that mountain bikes go just about anywhere anytime. When the pavement ends, the ride goes on, and usually gets better. It is about unstopped adventure and true enduring with little to no boundaries. It is freedom.

Mountain bike national championships are only a few weeks away and while many would expect me to blog about racing or training, what interests me the most these days is fun rides and building cool trails. I look forward to my Thursday trail build day each week.

This week, we were working on a repair a few miles in from Lot C. With severe thunderstorms pressing, we opted to ride bikes in and haul tools with a trailer. This way we could high tail out if rain came before dark. We got only an hour or so of work done when it started to sprinkle. Working under the canopy of trees, it was hard to tell how hard it was really raining, but it seemed light enough to keep working. Then our phones gave off the verizon severe weather alert, and Art said “two more buckets!”.

Art dug and I started packing up. He dumped dirt and I tamped while he packed tools. We were on our bikes and heading out in no time but it was already dark in the woods from the storm clouds. I could see fire flies light up as I rode down the trail. The clouds opened up and drenched us with what seemed like warm water. I had this comforting dejavu feeling taking me back to nationals last year.

I could taste sweet rain mixing with sweat as it ran down my face and found it’s way onto my lips. My wet pants clung to my thighs. All these subtle sensations reminding me how good it feels to be alive and moving. As I passed duck pond, I noticed it was transformed from glass to texture from heavy rain. Then, everything went white in a flash of lightning. I hurried a bit up the final hill and hoped for the best as I passed down the corridor of trees going to lot C. Under the last tree there was another flash. Luckily it did not strike the area. We got into the truck and noticed it was hailing. What a great night of trail work, and how nice to just be a mountain biker!