Tuesday, July 4, 2017

This song by Randy Travis was continually playing through my head during RAAM and it was often the backdrop for my experiences.

“My love is deeper than the holler, stronger than the rivers
Higher than the pine trees growin’ tall upon the hill
My love is purer than the snowflakes that fall in late December
And honest as a robin on a springtime windowsill
And longer than the song of a whippoorwill.”  

My love is for my family and how grateful to have them to love.

My love is for this great country that opened itself up to me

My love is for the lessons that I learned along the way that fundamentally changed me, that taught me to live life in that moment and that fear is only fear and cannot, in itself, change the realities of danger.

My love had to override the terror I had that any moment could be my last.

My love is for the members of team Shake and how they made our part of this journey not only possible but a thing of beauty.

The night I arrived home, and as I finally slept, the purity of the rider exchanges that Jeff Richardson and Tuner Richardson facilitated between Neil and me came to me over and over again in dreams.  Whenever I woke up I felt what it had been like to be part of this wonderful process.  During RAAM, the energy that flowed from each exchange we made propelled me down the road mile by mile.

My cue that the end my riding segment was approaching  – be it 5 or 15 minutes – was seeing our Tahoe (Racer Vehicle) and its flashing lights pulled over up ahead.  Jeff and Turner would be out in their positions, with Jeff holding Neil for her start and Turner at the ready to take my bike and put it onto the rack. I’d cruise past Neil and cheer her on as I quickly slowed down and pulled to the right and off the road. Turner was always the rock that I could rely on as I then bent over my handlebars, gasping for breath.  Seriously, every time.  He’d patiently wait as I turned off my Joule GPS+ and accepted anything I had to say about that pull as I got off the bike.  My only duty after that handoff was to get myself safely into the Tahoe and cool myself down, eat, drink, and take whatever Hammer Nutrition products I thought I needed at the time.

Jeff would make sure that we had everything secure and then it was off to leapfrog Neil.  I would be relieved when I saw that she was riding safe and sound up ahead, and as we drove past her I was always inspired by her strength and purpose as she moved our group forward with every pedal stroke.  She never ever ceased to amaze me.

While Jeff looked for the next perfect exchange site he also pointed out the beautiful and unique things along the way.  There were always impromptu photo sessions.  As I readied myself for the next exchange I was able to make note of the things he highlighted that I would never have noticed on my own.  We also had endless conversations about what we were seeing, prior life experiences, and shared our beliefs in what was most important in life.

RAAM rules state that the Racer Vehicle had to be parked at least 5 feet to the right of the white line (fog line) but Jeff could regularly find an almost perfect spot.  The stopwatch was restarted when we each started our pull so we were never in danger of being out there too long, tiring too much and slowing down. On long descents whoever was riding got to take the entire thing. Fun!

When Jeff thought it was time I would get out of the Tahoe, get my bike in the correct gear, and be at the ready for when Neil passed me and I could start.  This was the time to look at the sky and see the Milky Way and shooting stars and the beautiful sunsets that had been to our back. When Neil arrived I’d cheer my appreciation for her effort and she would cheer me on for my pull.  Jeff would push me off, his own effort so powerful that when he stopped pushing me the difference was astounding.  The pedaling was now all up to me. 

While I was out there I worked on being as efficient as possible with aerodynamics and power and on being as focused as possible in order to avoid driving my bike into any problems, be it disappearing shoulders, sudden road debris, potholes, road kill, or rumble strips.  Every second  counted and I’d work at getting as much out of each pedal stroke as possible without overdoing it and burying myself.  I’d focus on the present tense, staying in the moment in order to be as careful as possible so I could ride as fast as possible.

I learned to love riding in the night.  Tom Gray and Buzz Gamble were charged with the unenviable task of keeping us safe from behind.   From 7PM to 7AM it was mandatory to have a vehicle follow us at all times, and racers were required to stay within the headlights.  I always looked forward to this time, called mandatory direct follow.  I was amazed at how much the headlights allowed me to see while riding, but it was also a precarious position to be in, with a vehicle following so closely.   The headlights also did a good job of illuminating our exchanges, a silent helper, if you will.

It was not until it was completely dark that our conversation would change to how many miles we had left until our shift was complete and Bake would take over.  Wind conditions would have to be factored into our ETA and there were also the unknown things like traffic lights that would take away from our average speed.  Sometimes it seemed that I’d get to every light just as it turned red.  But the exchanges between Neil and me continued to flow as they had done all day, with me clearing my brain in brief meditation while Jeff counted down the pedal strokes left until Neil passed me and I could start my next pull.

Eventually we would get down to the last pull of the night with that person charged to ride to the predetermined site.  That person had to keep focused on riding while the rider in the Tahoe could now think about a shower, dinner, and massage, and the camaraderie of all the other support team members who were waiting to help us transition from active racer to recovering racer. Ana with her massages, Beth and Karen with food and encouragement, Peter, Mick and Dreux carrying bags, offering support, and driving us to our next hotel.  And, of course, Dave Eldridge directing the entire process so it would go as efficiently as possible.

Another day of RAAM riding completed safely.  More lessons learned.  Even more places and people  to be thankful for and to love.

Meanwhile, Trish Karter and Susan Lynch were now out there riding their segment -- Bake was on the road,  Mary and Barb were their follow vehicle and Phil and Carolyn were in their racer vehicle, facilitating their racer exchanges just as Jeff and Turner had facilitated ours.  We only got to see Team Bake in passing, but it was always with well wishes for what they were about to do or cheers for what they had just completed as we set out to start another day.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Importance of Recovery in Reaching Athletic Goals

It is not hard to see the advantages of working out.  Health and wellness rely on a body that is often in motion, and the emotional and physical well-being that results is a phenomenon that spurs folks on to continuing this life style.  Those who become bitten by the workout bug find ways to inject more workout time into their life, since their exercise makes them feel so darned good.  Folks blessed with a bit of talent often choose to become competitive in their sport.  What fun!  When they begin to compete they seem to be faster every time they go out and workout.  Stopwatch turned on, they are out the door and looking for another personal best. 

What Happens When We Train?

In coaching we have a saying “the more you do, the more you can do.”  The body is a marvelous creation that gets more and more efficient at pounding things out. Just one of many processes in endurance sports is that more mitochondria are packed into muscles as the body adapts, increasing the ability to carry oxygen. The body can seemingly do more with less, and it also becomes more efficient at recovering from athletic poundings.  It can be said that part of the process of training the body to do more than before is tied up into the reality that the body learns how to recover from that “more.”  What a gift!

In the early phases of one’s athletic pursuit adequate recovery comes with the territory, since workouts are generally short and likely not crammed into every single day.  Once the competitive bug hits, though, many athletes jump onto the “more IS more” bandwagon and train harder and longer, since a minor version of this is what made them good in the first place.  What could be bad about that?

When one works out, whether it is endurance sports, skill sports, weight lifting, or combinations of all, the body endures damage to the muscles and deficits to all its systems.  Reaction to this is a miraculous rebuilding by the body which, ideally, brings the systems up to an even stronger status quo.  Getting faster/stronger is a by-product of this rebuilding.  This essentially, is healing, and it takes time, happening most effectively when the body is resting.

Many athletes take this gift for granted, though, and continue with their “more is more” philosophy of training in hopes of improving, as people enjoy their chosen sport.  Some people brag about never even taking a day off, which, in their mind, gives their workouts even more importance.  What has happened, though, is that the athlete has now flipped over to the other side, ignoring this critical equation:  Workouts + recovery = training.  Yes, without recovery workouts are simply workouts. 

What Makes Us Stronger?

There are articles galore about the importance of recovery for the athlete.  Again, the repairs to the body are best done while resting, since more of the energy systems are available for that purpose.  The offshoot of this is that, once recovered, the body feels GOOD, and a body that feels good is going to be able to push the envelope in training to induce the processes that propel the body to the next level.  That is it, in a nutshell.  Train while too tired and those numbers are not going to be reached.  Race while too tired and the results are discouraging, at best.  The motivation that the athlete has to improve must fuel the desire to rest as much as the desire to work out.

What Helps the Body Recover?
Tactics include:
·         A strategically placed day off works wonders.  At times a complete week devoted to recovery is in order.
·         A workout schedule that peppers easier days between the hard days is also smart, since the body has a couple of days to recover from the last hard workout – provided the easier days are actually easy! 
·         Immediate nutrition and rehydration after a hard workout, as a follow-up to adequate nutrition and hydration during the workout. Eating and drinking are under our own control, and avoiding a fall into a big preventable deficit gives the athlete less to actually recover from.
·         Stretching and meditation can help bring the body back to a calmer place.
·         Chilling out – doing nothing – can have a huge impact.  A person I know painted his house whenever he had a day off from cycling.  He was not feeling very rested. Improvements were negligible. 
·         And, paramount to all of these:  SLEEP!  Human Growth Hormone is specifically released by the brain while sleeping.  There are hosts of metabolic processes that, not surprisingly, happen while asleep, yet athletes often cheat themselves out of this valuable tool. Conversely, when athletes sleep even more than usual their athletic abilities improve.  “Magic,” for sure, but it is difficult to for most folks to simply slow down and go to bed.  Temptations abound. This article from ESPN calls sleep “the new magic pill.” http://www.espn.com/espn/commentary/story/_/id/7765998/for-athletes-sleep-new-magic-pill

Some last words from a variety of coaches that I have spoken with and read:  You can work out hard and long, but you will never be as good as you could have been if you do not take the time to recover. 

I am so excited to announce that I am a part of a four women team that will race across the United States in June – with a goal of less than 7 days.  I am doing team RAAM!  www.raceacrossamerica.org.  Our New England based team is sponsored by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the four of us and our entire crew is, collectively, Team Brigham Health.  Back in 2012 I wrote a blog post about taking on a challenge which, because of its motivation, spurred me to work harder than I ever thought I could, and greatly exceeding my expectations.   This race will take the most work of all.  You can likely find me either on the bike (outside or indoors) or in the recliner J  Please check out our team and amazing crew on http://teambrighamhealth.com 

That post I just mentioned has been reworked to be submitted for publication with Brigham Health.  This is the new and improved version:
   “Truth is stranger than fiction” is a phrase that I often quote.  Mostly, the truths that I refer to are my own.  Pushing myself in some kind of methodical manner has led me to loftyish places where I never imagined being, enabling me to take advantages of opportunities when they emerge. I’d never have imagined that I’d be on a team for the Race Across America, which is going to be the biggest challenge yet, but here I am. Going back to the spring of 2012 I am refreshing my memory about another challenge that I took on, with a surprising – and pleasing – outcome.

In December of 2011 I broke my hip while competing in a Cyclocross race, tipping over in a narrow part of the course while passing another woman who I had lapped.  I cracked the femur at the head and won myself a complete hip replacement.  I also had a crack in my femur below the hip prosthesis, so after the surgery I was restricted to using a walker for 6 weeks and could only put 50% of my weight on that leg.  When I was pronounced “healed,” and my walker taken away, I had to learn how to walk again.  Fun! 

I’d been doing physical therapy since the day after the surgery and was able to gingerly get back on my bike 2.5 weeks after the accident. Thanks to my desire and my coach, Mark Fasczewski, I rode indoors on my computerized trainer, and when I could walk well enough to get myself somewhere without a cane I started riding out on the road. 

Less than three months after the replacement, and only 5 weeks after I ditched the walker, I signed up for a climbing challenge on Strava, a cycling and running web site that was relatively new at the time.   A Classic Challenge from Specialized  goaded cyclists to climb 105,312 vertical feet between March 15 and April 30.  The significance of this number?  It is three times the total feet of climbing in the Spring Classic races in Europe.  I love climbing!  Besides, there was a cool water bottle as a reward for reaching that total.

It soon became evident that my normal bike routes were not going to amass climbing feet very quickly.  Compared to some of the women signed up, I was fairly minor league.  So by early April I decided to up my game and change my routes.  I tried not to ride anything for more than a mile that registered zero percent grade – what a waste! – and opened my eyes to the local hills. Glaciers had cut valleys, and roads ascended the ridges.  Beautiful climbing, absolutely fun, and it gave each ride an immediate purpose.  I would upload my ride onto Strava post- ride and then I’d check my progress against my virtual, but real, competitors.  Coach Mark enabled this pursuit, and soon I was in the top 20 of over 500 women.

When I significantly increased the amount of climbing feet per week I started leapfrogging over people.  While in the teens I was hoping to get closer to women’s tenth place, and with two weeks remaining in the challenge I had clawed my way into ninth place.  What?  Now my riding took on an obsessive edge (OK, it usually does anyway, but humor me here) and I dropped to 7th, then 6th.  With just a few days to go I found myself in 5th place.  Wow!

 On the last day of the challenge I set out to climb the steepest hills discovered during the last 6 weeks, bagging another 7800 feet in 78 miles, this on a Monday after a road race. Take that, hip replacement! My total for the challenge was 137,772 feet, and in the end I held on to 5th place for women and 107th of the 10,923 people who entered the contest. 

This is, of course, something that I had not dreamed about when I entered the challenge.  Once I’d entered, though, I pushed myself to do things that I would not have done otherwise.  Motivation enabled me to ride in abysmal weather, I did nothing but climb, I descended some steep and scary stuff, and I enjoyed almost every demented minute of it.  The offshoot of this was that my hip became super-strong and my walking became better than when I was spending a log of time, well, walking.

I learned, again, that there are always more possibilities for myself than I can imagine and that one thing leads to another.  The first step into a new venture can open up doors formerly thought “closed for the season.”  The focus on climbing helped me strengthen more quickly, and the fitness I accumulated definitely widened the array of events I was capable of that first season back.   “Never say never” is another one of my favorite slogans, but I can also be guilty of holding myself back with restrictive thinking.  It is easy for me to see this in the athletes I coach, but difficult to recognize this in my own thinking.

This challenge taught me to go with the process, work hard, and see what happens -- to try not to predict the end of the story.  The challenge itself motivated me to do much more than I than I had imagined possible for me.  I’ll work at applying that same lesson regarding Race Across America. The training for this race is tough and the race is unimaginable.  But by involving myself in this challenge I am motivated to go well beyond anything I’ve done in until now and to get past my self-imposed limitations to see what is really possible. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

My 2014 Race Season

Now that my racing season is over for 2014 I am finding a bit of time to reflect on it all.  This reflection gives me an opportunity to complete my resume for the year, and to plan ahead for 2015.  Looking at this “big picture” I again realize how lucky I am to be able to do this and to remember what a gift my good health really is.  Whether it is nature or nurture, we bike racers are an unusually fortunate bunch.

My goals this year were two-fold:  To win my age group in the BUMPS series of hill climbs and to win my age group at the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain bike race.  I was successful on both counts, and these victories did not come without an obstacle or two. My husband and I were sick with some kind of sinus issue for the entire month of February.  We got to watch a LOT of Olympics, but the fitness that I had worked so hard to build seemed to melt away.  Yikes!

The challenge, then, was to build up and get myself back to where I could enjoy the racing that I had planned for the season.  With the enlightened help of my long-time coach Mark Fasczewski I got back on track when my symptoms finally subsided, and I worked at regaining both power and endurance.  After a couple of weeks back on the bike Mark encouraged me to register for my favorite race – Austin Rattler – assuring me that I’d be ready for the 100 km.  Making the trip from snowy Central New York to sunny and warm Texas was a huge treat, and mind and body transformed with his change in locale.  I had a super time at that race, winning my age group and an entry to the Leadville Trail 100  MTB.  

Once I had qualified for Leadville it was time to put my focus on the particular training needed for that kind of racing.  My needs for Leadville are many, though, and getting to the start line with a high (for me) FTP, good endurance, and enhanced bike handling skills is mandatory.  And so the spring progressed and summer commenced.  I raced gravel grinders in Western New York and West Virginia.  I participated in a Strava climbing challenge and placed 11th overall for the women. I raced the Wilmington/Whiteface 100 KM on the Summer Solstice.  And while racing the hill climbs was also perfect Leadville training races conflicted and I was only able to do one before it was time to head to Colorado.

This Leadville was my third, and I chose to spend even more time at altitude in order to acclimate.  One of our daughters lives in Durango and I was super lucky to be able to spend over a week riding up and down the many dirt roads in the area.  Fun!  Durango is a great place to visit even if one does not want to ride a bike, but was a perfect venue for me to acclimate and to keep polishing my dirt road descending skills.  Not to mention the fun I had on the long climbs.  Thank you MK and Drew!

In years past MK and I have camped in Leadville, but this year we banded together with some good friends and rented a home near the aid station at Twin Lakes.  To all of our collective delights this house overlooked the lakes and gazed out at an array of mountains.  We spent so much time just looking at them that, in short order, we rearranged the furniture so that we could comfortably gaze out of the windows from any seat in the living room.  What a great relaxing way to get ready for a big race.

Leadville day dawned chilly and clear and the weather report looked to be in our favor.  Hooray!  The gun went off and I fought hard to maintain my position in the giant glob of racers.  Another hooray!  However, as I was descending the famous Power Line descent I was clipped from the side by a guy who’s ability to thread the needle was not very good, and down we both went.  My stuff scattered all over the place and I hurt, but aside from a swollen and scraped up hip (I found this out later) I was OK.  I lost time and, eventually, lost energy.  Still, I finished the race and collected another awesome Leadville finisher’s medal.  And I was first in my age group.  Another hooray!

After spending so much time in Colorado it was really hard to say goodbye, but I needed to get home.  I missed Phil terribly, and I needed to be at the base of Mt. Washington in 6 days to be part of the pre-race “meet and greet.”  My hip was sore, I was tired, and I had a not-so-welcomed five hour layover in the middle of the night at O’Hare.  Flights were smooth, though, and when I did arrive home on Wednesday I simply went to bed.  Ahhh, sleep!

Thursday dawned and it was time to pack for New Hampshire.  I installed a 12x36 cassette on my Power Tap hub, adjusted the shifting, and my trusty Specialized Roubaix was ready to race the Mt. Washington Auto Road Hill climb on Saturday.  Now this is not a race schedule that I would recommend to anyone, but one cannot dictate the dates of races.  My hip was a little sore and my power was lacking, but my climb up Mt. Washington was rewarding just the same.  I won my age group and set a new age group record in the process.  It was 40 degrees and hellishly windy at the top – you know, like Mt. Washington! – but at times the clouds parted and the glorious view was there for the eyes to feast on. I missed Colorado just a little less.

After that weekend some real rest was in order and then it was time to put my mountain bike back together and get ready for the ADK80K, in Lake Placid.  I retired from cross country ski racing after the 2003 season, but I’ve not lost my love for the trails on Mt. Van Hoevenberg.  This time it was camping with good friends and teammates and racing four laps of the amazingly fun double and singletrack.  I love this race, and to prove it I was 35 minutes faster than my time from last year.  I’ll take that!

The fall featured a couple more hill climbs and I was able to wrap up my season.  The focus of my training continues toward the ever-important task of keeping/building threshold power and maintaining and improving my handling skills.  Building power works for me on the trainer, but I am outside in the wind and cold as much as I can just to keep myself on an even keel.  Fun rides with long climbs are in order.

Phil and I have done some traveling as well, visiting MK in Durango last week.  We worked with her on a construction project, and I got some good riding and hiking in as well.  Later this week I will fly to California to visit with Melissa.  I might get to jump on a bike and climb a few of the hills in Oakland while I’m there!

All of this racing takes training and all of the training takes fuel and equipment.  I’d like to thank my sponsors Hammer Nutrition, Dick Sonne’s Cycling, and SpecializedBicycles
.  Yes, I am truly blessed to be able to do all this and incredibly fortunate J

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Winter of our Discontent

It seems that this winter has been going on forever, and it certainly has been a tougher year to be a cycling coach.  Our weather has been consistently snowy and cold, making indoor training the only option for me.  To me, this is a normal winter, but the warmer-than-usual winters of the past few years has spoiled a lot of folks.  There is no doubt that taking that occasional ride outside can change one's perspective for the better.  We've had little opportunity to do so around here, though.

As for me, I'm just happy to be able to train at all.  February came and went, and I was sick for the entire month.  I trained very little to give my immune system a boost, and I shudder to think of what would have happened if I had not backed off in time.  Things have improved dramatically now that the calendar says March.

Now that March is here I can think of racing again.  My coach is systematically ramping up my training, and I've felt good enough to register for the Austin Rattler  What better way to get out of the snow than to travel to sunny (hopefully!) San Antonio, Texas?  I had so much fun during this 100 km race last year and my motivation for making this trip has been compounded by the fact that I did not get drawn for the Leadville Lottery.  Please keep all your fingers crossed that my bike and my fitness holds together for me in this Leadville Qualifier, on March 29.  However, the big goal, as always, is to simply do my best and have fun.

Cycling in general, and bicycle racing in particular, teaches us all about the unpredictability of life and looking for new opportunities when plans go awry.  My knee injury last fall ended my cyclocross racing season, but it healed well enough for me to take fifth place in a Strava Climbing Challenge.  All the rest I got while fighting February's respiratory monster will keep me from feeling burned out, and all the balance work that I did while doing nothing aerobic is bound to help my handling skills :)

Bottom line?  Roll with the punches and be prepared to reinvent yourself at a moment's notice.  My goals this year are similar to year's past, with the BUMPS series of hill climbs and Leadville looming large.  All of this, though, is simply for the joy of cycling and meeting those other passionate women and men at the start and finish line.  Preparation is key and training indoors, well, should bring a smile to the face.  I'm off to my basement right now.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb

What a week it has been!  One week after completing the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race I found myself at the start of the Mt. Washington Auto Road Hill climb.  Following through with the logistics of the journey between the two locations was as demanding as the recovery my body had attempted to make. My coach, Mark Fasczewski and my acupuncturist Mackay Rippey did their best work to get my body "back to normal."  Climbing this 4698 feet in just 7.5 miles would be even more of a challenge than usual.

This was my fifth race up Mt. Washington, so I knew what to expect.  I hoped that my time at altitude would extend its reported benefits in my direction and would override any of the obvious recovery and logistical issues.  The timing was not perfect, but I had been asked to represent Hammer Nutrition at the Meet and Greet, held the evening before the race.  I happily accepted, grateful for the opportunity.  Summer is short and there are never enough weekends!

The race started and I felt pretty good.  Hooray!  I did not overdo the start, but paced myself via my power meter, watching folks in my wave get ahead of me and then reeling them in again.  Eventually I was reeling in the racers who started in the waves prior to mine.   This makes for some tricky maneuvering at times, but a courteous "on your left" generally does the trick.  The most worrisome riders are those that are zig zagging up the climb, so good communication is essential. 
The temperature at the bottom was a nice 65 degrees and I soon worked up a sweat in the initial miles.  Eventually, though, the road  ascends above tree line and the reliable Mt. Washington wind becomes an issue.  This race was no exception.  The sustained winds of 30-40 mph were mild by this mountain's standards.  Combine them with the certain drop in temperature provided by such an elevation gain and, well, a sweaty body can cool off in a hurry.  Yes, my body was cooling off much too quickly.  My hands even went numb.  Yet, had I worn protective clothing in anticipation of this I would surely have ripped them all off due to the warm conditions at the bottom.

Nearing the top of this climb one can hear the distant cheers of the crowds and the whistle of the cog railway.  Clouds rush past at 30-40 mph.  Headwind, tailwind, crosswind and steep grades all conspire to tip bicyclists over.  The ground underneath moves very slowly in the carefully selected climbing gears.  The clock moves very quickly.  Still, I managed to finish second in my age group and a very pleasing 10th place overall for women.

I arrived at the finish line and the first thing I did was ask for my finisher's blanket.  My husband Phil was right there and he helped me to where our van was parked so I could put on all of the warm outer garments that I had packed.  Then I jumped onto my stationary trainer and did a ten minute cool down -- or was it a warm down?  Then it was back up to the observatory area for a warm drink and to check out the weather observation equipment.  Yep, it was chilly and windy, but I could have told you that!

This day had enough clear sky to showcase the stunning views from the top of this mountain.  Being above treeline helped sooth the feelings of missing the mountains in Colorado.  Our drive home later that day took us through the White, Green,

and Adirondack mountains.  Add that to the Rocky mountains just a few days before, and I can only say that I am truly blessed to be able to do this.

Thank you to my sponsors Hammer Nutrition, Specialized and Stan's NoTubes for all the great support.  Thank you family and friends for always being there for me.

Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race

Another Leadville Trail 100 MTB race is in the books for me. After over a week of rain showers and some constant pouring the day dawned clear and chilly. The first 4+ miles are downhill and on pavement so it is really a test of trying not to shiver too much while you are flying along with 2000 of your closest friends.

The speed reduces to a crawl when the dirt riding begins. All was good for me until the start of the St Kevin's climb where I was forced off my bike by a guy in front of me. With hundreds of riders streaming past I had nowhere to get back on and was reduced to walking.  I was so grateful to eventually get riding but certainly lost time.

That debacle set me back and I found I was sliding backward on my projected splits. Despite arriving at elevation 10 days prior the altitude was getting to me. I could still ride but I could not ride hard. Belt buckle dreams slipped away and total focus went toward making it past the time cuts. It was a race to each one.

The funny thing is that my climbing, while on the bike, was quite good. It was the hike a bike portions that clobbered me. On the long road climb up Columbine was passing folks all the time.  As soon as I got to the goat path portion and joined in the hike a bike my altitude difficulties started in earnest.  Emotionally I just willed myself to move forward and not quit. I just kept telling myself I would feel better when I got back to a lower elevation.  Endurolytes were a huge help with the cramping I experienced.  My walking was like a death march, but I was gambling that I would feel better when I got back to a lower elevation and pushed toward the top.

I reached the top and then the short descent to the aid station and timing mat. More Endurolytes and Espresso Hammer Gel propelled me forward. Climbing out of the aid area was torture, but as soon as the terrain tipped down I felt better. Wow!  As I descended I cheered on those still pushing their bikes up telling them they would feel better too.

It is a long descent back to the Twin Lakes aid station. One rides from the highest point on the course to the lowest, which is 3000 feet, without taking into account the undulations. I went as fast as I could back down, hoping to make the time cut. I did that, and then continued on to where my daughter MK was waiting for me with all my Hammer essentials. I am so grateful for her amazing help!

Climbing out of Twin Lakes I really thought I was out of the water. However, a big headwind kept my speed in check. I passed a lot of people when I was climbing, but this section took 10 minutes longer than anticipated. I thought I would never get to that last check point!  MK was also worried. As I finally got into the Pipeline aid station people were screaming at me to get over the mat. I got through just in time, with one person later telling me they closed it down as soon as I passed through.

More Hammer refreshments from MK and I was on my way again. I was hoping to get in before 13 hours and get an official finish, but was now on at least a 13:15 pace. Plus, the dreaded Powerline hike a bike and climb was ahead. Well, nothing left to do but attack it, right? 

Attack, I did. I started picking off people from the start of that long slog all the way to the finish. A couple of guys passed me back, but I got them well before the finish line. Finally, I was feeling good and racing like me!  I flew down the rocky descent from Hagerman Pass, grateful for the rear suspension on my Specialized Epic. This is why I bought this bike!  When I got to the smooth gravel a check of my watch told me I was on pace to finish at 13 hours. Good, but now I wanted better!

I raced down the gravel to the nice pavement descent and them settled in for the three mile climb to Carter Summit. I got there far ahead of my anticipated time and MK was there to share in this excitement. Now was the fun part, the fast descending of St. Kevin's. Now I could make up, at least mentally, for what I missed out on during the ride out when I had been forced to walk.

Fly I did. Wow, this was so much easier than it was for me 2 years ago. I was feeling fantastic and loving my bike. It was time to hammer!  In no time at all, it seemed, I was at the foot of "The Boulevard" which is the long gravel grind toward the finish. I had completely fallen apart there two years ago, but this year it was my friend. I had ridden it the day before and learned the line on the initial climb and memorized its landmarks   As I rounded the corner I could see at least 10 racers walking. No way was I walking that!  A glance at my watch said I could break 12:30 if I rode this like I knew I could. I went into full blown fury with100 miles under my belt. Better late than never, I guess.  I rode hard for me and for MK, who had so tirelessly taken care of me.

Up the Boulevard, over the pavement to Sixth St and up that climb. Then I could see the throngs at the finish. I was at12:26. Could I do it?  Push hard down the hill and then up, crossing the mat at 12:29 on the clock. Yippee!  MK waiting for me, jumping up and down, and then the finishers medal around my neck.

What a day, full of ups, downs and then ups.  Standing at the start with MK there to take my warm coat at the last second. Listening to Ken pronounce his mantra which soon became mine:  "You are better than you think you are.  You can do more than you think you can."  Over and over, for 12.5 hours, I repeated that to myself. It worked!

A huge thank you to Hammer Nutrition for its continued sponsorship and support.  And a huge thank you to MK Thompson for always being there for me with my Hammer Products and for motivating me to move forward -- as fast as I could.  Thank you also to Specialized and to Stan's NoTubes for all the help.  What a challenging and amazing day!