Hot hot hot. It was 100’ on the car gauge when we arrived around 3pm. They changed the course to a two 8.5 mi lap format. Actually prefer the new route since it’s a lot of rolling single-track. Waiting at the start I felt good and my heart rate was rather relaxed. Didn’t kill myself at the start and slowly wound up my speed. Slowly started to catch folks during the first lap. I could see Carlos Perez a little ahead and knew he always sets a good pace on the first lap. So I focused on chasing him down. Managed to catch up to him just before the climb up to the start/finish. Two other guys I had passed were a short distance behind. Start heading up the climb knowing I can catch Carlos here. But there’s a junction part way up the climb that has a horse water trough that’s fed by a spring. Carlos jumps off his bike and dunks his head to cool off. I think, why not??? So I proceed to do the same. Then the two guys behind me follow suit! Then it’s back on the bikes and up the hill. I’m just behind Carlos and into the start/finish he pulls off and declares he’s done. The two behind have fallen a bit off during the climb. At the top of this next fire road section it hairpins onto single-track. I look back and see there’s one guy trailing me by 40-50 yards. I pick up the pace on the single-track and ride as smooth as possible. I can see every so often that he’s hanging on but not catching up. At the Bummer Hill fire road descent I open it up to see if I can add to the gap. But he sticks with me. So now I’m wondering when or if he will attack me on this section. Around half way along I hear him and he puts in a strong attack which I half heartedly follow. And he gets away but only just so far that I can see his dust but not him. At the start of the last climb I can see he has enough of a gap that I can’t close it. So what do I do? Look back to see if anyone is coming, see none, then quickly cool off in the water trough again! But then I see two riders getting to the bottom of the climb and heading my direction. Argh. So I scurry on up the hill. I can see the first of the riders is closing so I push on harder. It’s hot and my heart rate is rising. A guy is walking the course a couple hundred yards from the finish and cheers me on. Then I hear him a moment later cheer on the guy behind so I know that I’m still at risk of being caught. I pick up the agonizing pace with thoughts of ‘is it worth it’? running through my head. But then I’m on the final short climb and glance back to see that I’ve built a safe gap. I’m able to throttle back and roll into the finish. Later, after an ice cold Coke, water, an ice tea, and a beer I was able to take a glance at the results and see that I had placed 2nd of 4 Experts. Oops, should have fought harder to hold my position. Oh well, it was fun :)
Hot Hot Hot
It was 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the start line. Just standing there, my heart rate was 146 beats per minute, about 77% of my maximum. I gasped for air. Hans asked what the matter was. It was hot, stiflingly and oppressively HOT.
When the race started en masse, Michael Hosey and another guy took off like a shot up the usual start hill. I couldn’t believe how fast they were going, but I managed to stay with them about halfway up the hill before I started to get passed by about three guys. I entered the single track in about 6th and tried hard to ride smoothly down the slippery trail, made more ice-skating-rink-like by the past couple of months of dry weather. 18 psi helped (Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.25 front, Racing Ralph 2.25 rear, tubeless).
Then the course started to become a bit more unfamiliar, as we entered a tough little fire road climb. This time around, we were routed on to a different, longer, 8.5 mile course. Instead of the usual Billy Cross course, we did part of the SoNoMas course, going up and around Bummer Hill, then down the Bummer Hill fire road, along the Lake for a bit, and then up a wickedly steep, long-ish climb to the start-finish area at Liberty Glenn Campground. Two laps, 17 miles, 2400 feet of climbing.
As I went up the initial climb, I was surprised to see Michelle Monroe close at about 45 seconds back. In the next section of flat and rolling terrain, I pedaled as hard as I could in order to increase the gap before the climb. It was tough going, as the single track was narrowed by tall grass, which limited visibility of the next section of trail. And the trail had all the hallmarks of Lake Sonoma: sketchy footing, surprisingly sharp turns, random rocks, up and down, up and down. I constantly searched for the ever elusive rhythm of the trail. (I never found it.)
Then I hit the fire road descent down Bummer Hill. What a doozy. Monster ruts with slippery ridges and sharp switchbacks here and there. I tried to stay loose, find a way through, and not use my brakes too much, but man, was it scary! I was glad to be done with it.
Next up, climbs. At first, they were just a minute or two in length, and I kept wondering where the big climb was. Then I hit the next set, and it was clear as day; here it was, steep, a little technical, and completely, utterly exposed to the sun. It felt as if the sun were drilling into my head. I took a sip of water from my previously frozen Camelbak. It was nowhere near cold anymore. Neither was the sip from my water bottle. I felt like I couldn’t escape. Everything was hot hot hot!
I finally made it up and through the start-finish area, where nice folks cheered me on and sprayed me with cold water. I picked up a bottle feed, but even with pre-freezing and filling with ice cubes, the bottle’s contents were almost undrinkably hot. Luckily, the second lap seemed just a tad cooler than the first. And by tad, I mean about three degrees.
I tried to keep everything together in the second lap. It’s really hard when it’s that hot. Something happens to your brain, and it’s super hard to think straight. Reaction times are longer, and coordination gets sloppier. Hmm; it’s not unlike what happens when you have one too many cocktails…But the challenge of Lake Sonoma is that the terrain never lets you put your guard down. One little slip and you’re down on the ground! So I kept talking to myself, trying to make sure I was drinking, eating GUs, paying attention, braking in the right places, staying loose, looking ahead, shifting, pedaling – yes, pedaling! It was weird; I noticed that if I didn’t keep telling myself to pedal, I would just coast. On top of all that, I thought about slurpees, and ice cream, and a giant plunge into the lake…
Speaking of, as I went on to the section of trail along the Lake, there must have been people on the Lake nearby, and I could swear that I could hear their conversations as if they were almost right next to me. At first I thought I might be hallucinating, but it continued (okay, yeah, hallucinations can easily continue as well), and the conversation wasn’t about cycling, so it didn’t seem to be riders nearby. But it certainly added to my growing paranoia that I was getting caught!
So on the final climb, I went as hard as I could and managed to finish in just under two hours, in 9th place overall and 1st among the women. As we drank cokes and beers, we discussed how cool this race was compared to the last one when it was 115F in the sun when I finished, and 108F in the shade…
So… No-Mas! ”No Mas” was certainly what was going through my head on the umpteenth unbelievably steep, uphill pitch in the last ten miles of this 35-mile race. 35 miles doesn’t sound like much until you combine it with 7,000 feet of climbing, most of which is broken up into countless grunt climbs, the kind so steep that you have to stay seated while leaning over your handlebars to prevent a wheelie. Then there’s the gravelly terrain of the narrow, bumpy singletrack, which makes you feel like you’re ice skating. Combine that with the heat; we were lucky last Saturday, since it was only in the 80’s. These ingredients added up to an epic day of racing.
SoNoMas is the longest mountain bike race I have ever done in terms of time and climbing. I had an idea of what to expect, having done a shorter version three years ago in a Grasshopper, but I wasn’t exactly sure what to ride and what to bring. I hemmed and hawed but was very happy in the end with my 21-lb. full suspension bike, Stan’s ZTR Race wheels, Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.1 rear, Nobby Nic 2.25 front, tubeless, 19 psi. I had with me a 70 oz. Camelbak, a big water bottle full of Roctane drink, and seven GUs.
At 8 a.m., we started en masse up the substantial road climb. Guys were accelerating past me left and right. I stayed seated and tried to find a decent climbing rhythm. About halfway up the road climb, Helene Drumm passed on the right, and that was pretty much the last time I saw her until after the race.
From the road, we turned right on to the singletrack and into chaos. Too many riders of too many abilities and of too many fitness levels, all vying for position on very narrow singletrack, lined with thriving poison oak. Cyclocross techniques came in very handy.
In that first 45 minutes, I traded places constantly with three other women: Zeitgeist, BMC, and BikeMonkey. Zeitgeist and BMC were charging hard, and I kept them in sight. But the three of us, along with about 10 other guys, took a wrong turn, lost about a minute, and that’s when BikeMonkey caught up to us. Then the four of us traded places. Pretty soon, it settled into BMC, climbing hard, followed by Zeitgeist, me, and then BikeMonkey. But very soon after the settling, I saw Zeitgeist on the side of the trail. It turned out to be Angel Gabardino with a done knee and a done race. Bummer.
In second, BMC was up the trail, and every once in a while, on a winding climb, I could see her up ahead. But after some time, she was out of sight. BikeMonkey and I continued to trade places; I passed on the climbs, and she passed on the descents. This went on for around an hour, but on a particularly long descent, I lost her.
That second hour turned out to be my darkest. There was a lot of sketchy descending in fully exposed terrain. It was hot; I felt like the sun was out to get me, that I was suffocating and nauseous. I had some GUs and Roctane drink and hoped it would kick in. Quite a few people passed me. I tried to keep it together.
At mile 21, there was a rest stop, and it was great to see Tony’s friendly face: “Kelly!” I had planned to get a bottle feed, but unfortunately, by the time I got there, they had run out. Tony filled my bottle, but it took a little time because the GU Brew was in one of those large Gatorade coolers with a relatively slow spiget. I immediately downed the first bottle. He refilled, and I was on my way.
At the rest stop, I was surprised to see BMC. She got going soon after I arrived, which increased my urgency, but it also seemed to me that she didn’t get going too fast…
Back on my bike, I felt Fantastic. Yeah, with a capital “F.” The GU mass had kicked in! I had a couple more GUs, managing to squeeze half of one all over my hands and brake levers; instead of lifting the GU packet to my lips and then squeezing, I had squeezed and then lifted. I kept drinking. And then, I felt better than Fantastic.
I soon came upon BMC, who was climbing very slowly up one of those steep pitches. I passed on her right and noticed that she was on a hardtail and had two medium water bottles, no Camelbak. She looked to be suffering greatly. I picked up the pace. I climbed fast! And passed more and more people. I think I pretty much passed all the people who passed me in the second hour.
But that last hour or so was a doozy. We had already encountered a million of those steep pitches, but in the last section of the singletrack, the pitches were EVEN Steeper, EVEN Longer. There were more rocks, more gravel. It was slippery as hell in places. It just went on and on and on – and on and on and on! — like that. I talked my way through and kept it together, but I saw a lot of people falling apart in this last section of the course.
One of the most technical parts of the singletrack was the very last part. Bigger rocks, more steep pitches, requiring power when there was no more to be had. Somehow, I made it up, knowing that I was near the end. Then the road. Fortunately, a couple of guys caught up to me at that point, and I had a sweet draft all the way to the finish. Thanks, guys!
I placed 3rd overall among the Pro Women with a time of 4:27. About 7-8 minutes slower than I had hoped, and 7-8 minutes behind second-placed Kym Fant, but I was glad to have finished and have made the podium. And BikeMonkey was, as always, generous with their equal pay for equal work policy: same cash prizes for Pro Men and Women. Thanks, BikeMonkey!
Last year was hard. I tore my calf, broke my arm and pulled something in my low back, all in a month’s time in April/May. I thought hard about retiring, but tried to race again in September in Utah, only to lodge a DNF. I am not fully healed, and have other issues, but I wanted to try to play again this year. Here’s a quick summary of my first three races.
San Dimas. Race number one, in Bonelli Park. Racing here always makes me think of Bill & Ted. The swim was ok, and took about 10 min. The bike is mostly fire road with a bit of single track here and there, but it was all hilly. I was pretty tired after 2 laps and a bit over an hour. The run was all up and down, and hard. Happy to finish. I seemed slow overall, but easily won my new age group (55-59).
Vegas was next, the West Championship at Lake Las Vegas. I went off with the 50+ men, and easily dropped the fiel with abut a 20 min swim. The race as always, was hilly on loose fire roads and a bit of single track. I worked it, but it was not great. Two of the 50 year olds caught me. I dropped on, and came into transition with the other in about 1.5 hrs. The run was a hilly 50 min or so on the same trails. I dropped the guy in transition, but in the end two other 50 yr olds caught me.
Alabama. The ITU Cross(?) Triathlon World Championship (as well as the Xterra Southeast championship). Birmingham lived up to my expectations, with fat people, fat food, cigarettes and pickup trucks. The course in Oak Park was awesome in contrast. The swim was in a warm lake – no wetsuits. I went hard, but had what seemed to be an exercise induced asthma attack, which dropped a hammer on me. Still, I beat all the 50+ guys out in about 20 min. The bike course was tricky. It was like racing in Tamarancho for 1.5 hours. Lots of turns, roots and trees, some big climbs, and tricky descents including the infamous “Blood Rock” section.
BikeMonkey has run the Lake Sonoma series for many years. It seems like everyone, at some point, has done the course, which is also commonly known as the Billy Cross course. I did it two years ago and thought it might be a good idea to try it out again this past weekend since I’m planning to do SoNoMas which goes around the whole of Lake Sonoma. Lake Sonoma Ricochet #1 was a good sampling of what’s to come in a couple of weeks.
This course is tough. It’s only a five-mile loop but has 700 feet of climbing. But it’s not the climbing, necessarily, that makes it tough. It’s the fact that there’s not much rhythm to the course. First, the route constantly goes up and down. Second, it requires constant attention. The terrain is gravely and sandy; it’s basically akin to ice skating. Rocks are in unexpected places. So you feel like you’re constantly working the bike, watching out for this and that. You can never really let it go. Add to that the fact that it’s always hot, and yes, as I mentioned, it’s a tough little course.
Bike set-up is pretty important on such a course, and I think I learned some valuable lessons for SoNoMas. That low pressure, tubeless Schwalbe set-up I’ve been running this season? Totally awesome. Stan’s NoTubes ZTR Race with Racing Ralphs, 2.25 in front at 18 psi, and 2.10 in rear at 18.5 psi. Well-tuned for the ice skating rink. Full suspension, yes. Many GUs, very often, and Camelbak. Drinking from the bottle was rather challenging.
Given that SoNoMas is probably going to be four or four and a half hours of torture, I went for consistency. I started in the pack of Pro/Expert men for the first of four laps. We started hard up the paved climb and directly on to the single track. I didn’t fight for positioning too much since we almost immediately descended for a little while on the single track before the climbs began. I wanted to be sure to get the course the first time around.
It was a good thing since the course has a few tricky spots. It’s populated in the middle by a series of whoop-de-doos across creek beds – not something I’m great at in the first place – and I did a good job of messing them up! But soon after, the climbing began, and I started to pass people and put some time on those behind me. I did, however, consciously try not to go too hard on the first lap.
Apparently, I went too slowly. Going into the final section of singletrack, I heard someone behind me, and it turned out to be another woman. She tailed me through the section, and then on the first of two steep fireroad pitches before the finish, she passed me. I thought, hmm, I better pick it up.
In the small lull between the two pitches, I assessed the situation. There were two guys in front and then the woman. I thought, well, if I gun it in this next steep section and pass them all, I can go through the next tiny singletrack section in front, gap them, and then gun it again up the paved section before the long singletrack descent; I bet, I thought, I could drop them all on the paved section and then only that first guy will catch me on the descent.
It worked like a charm. I never saw the woman again. The second guy almost caught me just before the climbing began but then I heard a very loud fizzling sound and, “Damn it!” and never saw him again. The first guy caught me, passed me, I re-passed him, and so it went a couple more times.
For the rest of the race, I worked on staying smooth and consistent. It worked out for the most part. I started to sort of lose my concentration on the last lap and crashed, but even so, my lap times were very close: 32:30, 33:00, 34:00, 34:00 for a total time of 2:13, a six-minute improvement over my time from two years ago. Yippee! And…I won!