We arrived on Friday night and camped in the back of our pickup, which was actually a great way to go. The vibe from the event staff was incredible, right from the get go- I was handed a Rainier tall boy and given permission to set up camp and let our dogs out to run around. The NW Epic series people really know how to put on a good race! With the aid of the tall boy, I headed to bed on the early side and slept well, waking up to a bright, crisp morning. I had a leisurely breakfast and warm-up before my 10:10 am line up.
About that line up- it was intimidating. Local CX pros Kari Studley and Jenni Gartner were there, as well as a crew of super fast CX Cat 2/3's. There were also some road powerhouses in the mix. As far as I could tell, I was one of just a few cat 4 racers in the crowd.
The race started with a 2.5 mile fire road climb, where I did my best to just sit in and not explode, while those powerhouses took off. I joined a slowing conga line of ladies as we hit the single track. Riders who can crank it out on pavement and fire roads don't always have the best technical skills, and I'm always amazed about how race dynamics change once we hit the skinny. I slowly picked my way through the line, sticking with a mantra of smooth and steady. About halfway through the first fifteen mile lap, things finally started to thin out, as riders began to let me by. I was surprised when I came around a corner to find road phenom Gina Kavesh's wheel, and flat-out shocked when she pulled over to let me by.
A few minutes later I found myself on the wheel of a friendly woman from Motofish, Kristen, who was a great climber and also had great downhill technique. I stayed on her wheel through most of the rest of the first lap, but she lost me on a longer climb. Alone in the woods, I focused on keeping my pace up, something I often forget to do while I'm alone. I also concentrated on breathing, and on eating/ drinking before I was hungry/ thirsty. Staying hydrated and well-fed is a huge factor in whether a race will be successful for me, probably an even bigger factor than my fitness. The trick, for me, is to stay ahead of the mind fog that comes just before the dreaded bonk.
I came out of the woods onto a clearcut, the high point of the race course. The rooty twisties under the trees gave way to perfectly smooth, flowy trails that floated riders down barely-negative grades. Alone, I flew through the scrub and young trees, catching views of the snowy Olympics every so often. The temperature was perfect- low 60's- sunny, just enough breeze to make my skin tingle. It was pure mountain bike bliss.
The smooth flowy trails faded back into the woods and I picked my way up long, gradual, technical uphill section that marked the end of the first loop. It was here I felt the mind fog start to creep in, just as a line of fast men passed me. I slowed up to eat and drink, and then turned around to see a rider from Peterson/ Spokeswomen coming up behind me, Lisa Toner. She was super friendly, and I was happy to have some company, as well as the motivation of trying to keep up with a stronger rider. For me, there is nothing like company to make the mind fog go away. We wound up riding together for most of the second lap, chatting about our mutual love of mountain biking, our slacking on road races this year, and the perfect race conditions we were enjoying.
I lost contact with Lisa in about the same place I had lost contact with Kristen from Motofish, on the climb up to the clearcut. I enjoyed a second elated run through those flowy, Methow-style trails, then approached the technical uphill section with more confidence than on the first loop. I slowed down, ate again, and paced myself. About 6 miles from the finish, I saw a woman I recognized as a power house from road races, Liz, paused at the side of the trail, clearly trying to recover from a bonk. She was not a happy camper, and I could totally relate, having felt that way on the previous lap. I thought about stopping to help her, but instead whispered some encouragement, then kept pedaling. Just around the corner was an aid station- a perfect time to top off my water pack and grab a quick bite before the last few miles. I didn't see any other riders for the rest of the race, but I felt fantastic as I came into the finish- well fed, hydrated, some fatigue just starting to set into the legs- really, a perfect way to end my first endurance race.
The finish line had a great festival vibe- live music, a huge free feast, free beer, happy, tired mtb people and dogs (including ours, who got to go on a 15 mile ride with Chad while I was racing).
My goal was to finish in under 4 hours, and I came in at 3:48, so I was psyched. My place, 22 out of 26 racers in Women's Open, doesn't sound that impressive, but considering the caliber of the field, I was very happy with it. I am looking forward to more of this endurance racing!
PS- no pics of the weekend, really, apologies. Here is a good one of the race from a pro photog, as well as one of me hanging out with one of the super fast 60 mile ladies before race time. Actually, the entire gallery is worth checking out.