Wednesday, July 18, 2012

USA Cycling XC Nationals

Nationals… a race I’d been looking forward to, really, since I left Nationals in July of 2011. Last year, despite the best efforts to plan and organize, my trip came unbuttoned then back together after some unexpected events thanks to the kindness of others. This year was going to be different. This year, I’d fly WITH my bike so as not to lose it somewhere in the western part of the country. This year, I’d have the support of my husband and our friends. Honestly, I was giddy with excitement and anticipation once the school year ended and I could focus on getting ready.

I’d raced two NUE’s in the Spring, so after my last hundred miler at Mohican on June 2nd, I’d planned to focus on speed and tempo work during the month of June. By the end of June, I was feeling exhausted, so I took about 4 days off from regular training. It pained me not to get out on those gorgeous, June days, but I knew my body was crying out for a bit of rest.

On July 3rd, we flew out to Utah and drove up to Ketchum, Idaho all in one day. 19 hours and 1 speeding ticket later, we arrived at our condo where we’d stay for the week. The air was crisp, clean and was filled with scent of the fresh pine that was all around us. I couldn’t have been happier to be there.

For the next few days we took advantage of the numerous trail systems that Ketchum had to offer and tried to suck every last drop out of the amazing riding that beautiful place boasted of. The air was thin, and our legs burned, but it didn’t seem to matter. Carving our way up those mountains through wildflowers, butterflies and backdrops of snow covered peaks, then ripping down the dusty trails gave us all the motivation we needed to forget the pain of the altitude. By Friday I said to Ron, “I’m not sure if I’m just used to feeling poorly, or if I’m actually acclimating a bit…”

By race day we’d pre-ridden our courses and were ready to go. The Cat 1/Singlespeed course was 1 lap with a 6.5 mile climb in the beginning. It hurt to pre-ride but the views were stunning and the downhills were ripping fast. Fun! Ron pulled off an incredible finish despite not feeling his best.

That afternoon, after a solid warm up, I lined up with the nation’s top female riders. This year I’d moved up a bit with the 2nd to last call up. Yes, progress!! There was something unspeakably inspiring about lining up (albeit several rows back) with the women who are representing the U.S. at the Olympics this year. What an honor.

The race started with a sprint to get in a good position before hitting the single track that led to that first, killer climb. Ten seconds into the start, there was a crash in front of me that I was able to navigate my way around. 2nd to last call ups have their benefits! I made a couple of passes through the rocky single track and started my first of those five climbs. Words, pictures, even video clips do not do this climb justice. It is easily the hardest climb I’ve raced. In fact, while we were pre-riding Ron looked over at me and said, “I cannot believe you voluntarily flew back here to race this course.” It’s a gravel road, straight up the ski slope that takes the majority of each lap time. For me, it was about 12-15 minutes per climb and I actually tipped over in my granny gear on the pre-ride because I didn’t keep my cadence high enough. 

Photo by Spoken Chain

Photo by Spoken Chain

Photo by Spoken Chain

Back to the race… once I made it into the switchback downhill section, I tried to focus on my breathing, drink, and take the descents as quickly as possible. This seemed to work well and I made another pass or two. I pushed hard, tried to stay focused and appreciated the encouragement greatly from Ron in the pit and Mike, Ali and Mark on the climb throughout each lap. 

By the last climb, I was cooked. I didn’t know if I had it within me to get up it without walking for a bit. I’d seen some others dismount which made it all the more tempting. A sweet, older gentleman looked me directly in the eyes, smiled and said with great confidence, “You KNOW you can do this.” Right then, I made my mind up and pushed through the burning to get to the top one last time without dismounting. It was a small, yet positive victory.

Photo by Spoken Chain

I finished 19th that day and was elated with a top 20 finish at Nationals. As I flashed back to last year and compared the two races, I knew I’d ridden stronger and with much more confidence this year. More importantly, I had so. much. Fun!

Just as I’ve been drafting this particular post, the same message has come to me twice from different friends. It seems so appropriate to close with. It states, “Your best is always good enough, because it comes from you, and you are always good enough.” –Madisyn Taylor

I know without question, I gave XC Nationals my best this year, and I will never forget the memories made in Idaho and Utah, all of which I’m so thankful for.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Guy's Neshaminy XC

Neshaminy is one of those races I'm just never sure about. I blame that on my last couple years there. Simply put, it's not gone well for me at this particular venue. But, I see every year as a new opportunity, and I'm ready to head back and give my all. Such was the case yesterday, though the past couple years' experiences were definitely doing their best to haunt me. We got to the venue, kitted up and headed out for a pre-ride to check out the course. I felt good and thought only positive thoughts about the day ahead throughout that pre-ride. Shortly after warming up, we lined up and were off. It was hot, but didn't feel worse than the heat at Mohican and certainly not 12 hrs. of Granogue. Once off the line we shot into the woods. Kristin, myself and Selene lined up following a Moda-Bikemagic racer who took the lead into the woods. We stayed behind her for a bit, but were able to pass her up the first main climb. We didn't see her again. From that point on, we stayed in tow together for awhile. Selene and I switched places, then switched again, and Kristin pulled away. During the 2nd lap it hit me. The burning that crept into my legs toward the end of the first lap was now in full effect and I could no longer ignore it nor kick it. I tried slowing up a bit, drinking as much as possible, but I couldn't seem to work it out and get the legs moving. Before I knew it, my stomach and back followed suit, cramping up and I was fighting the dnf demons. Don't do it, keep pushing, finish the race. Repeat. For the remainder of the race, I did my best to get out of my head and enjoy the tight, twisty trails, and the fun technical aspects of the course. I definitely looked over my shoulder once or twice knowing my heavy legs weren't doing me any favors getting me to the finish line as fast as I'd hoped. 

Ron, handing me a bottle after his hard crash/DNF. (Photo by Jennifer Sears)

In the end, I was happy I'd finished. Though I'd wanted to personally best the past years' times and experiences there, I had to accept I just didn't have it yesterday. It's tempting to give up on those harder days, but I really believe it's more important to push through and give it my all just as I would on a good day. I'm not sure what happened yesterday and how pinpoint why I'd felt great during the warm up and not so during the race, but these days happen and it'll fuel the fire for my next race. 

As a side note, I couldn't be more proud of my incredible teammates who each had a great race! I've viewed it as such a privilege to line up and race with such strong, accomplished women this season and look forward to many races ahead.

Women's Pro/Cat 1 Podium (Photo by Jennifer Sears)

Next up, nationals in Sun Valley, Idaho!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Syllamos Revenge 125K

On May 17th after months of training, Ron and I packed the car and headed south for our first ever NUE race, the Syllamos Revenge 125K. The race was said to be mostly single track and very technical. Perfect, coming from PA, we love the rocks. After 19 hours on the road, we pulled into Mountain View, Arkansas, checked into a cozy B&B, registered and headed off to check out a section of the race trails. We pre-rode one of the most technical sections that afternoon, and we found the trails to be flowy and enjoyable but definitely technical as described. I knew we were in for a great day ahead.

Before I knew it, the next morning had come, and I was standing on the start line bright and early in a valley of the Ozarks. The hours and months of training all seemed to lead up to this moment, and I was ready to put it all to the test. In an instant, we shot off the line and up the mile climb into the single track. My goals for the day continued to be in the forefront of my thoughts as I started the race and as the hours ticked on that day. I had hoped to ride a steady, consistent pace, maintain the right caloric intake and simply have fun as I was learning what the NUE was all about. The day was sunny and very hot, but with the right amount of fluids, the heat did not seem to be an issue as it sometimes is.

The time passed quickly that morning, and I found a rhythm that worked well through the technical sections, the climbs and the descents. I had conversations with other racers and if my attention started to wander, I quickly reminded myself of my goals for the day. I enjoyed the beauty of the Ozarks and worked toward each aid station, toward the next set of cold bottles. That little detail meant so much during this first, hot race of the season.

Finally, after 8 hours, my time at Syllamos was coming to an end. The course finished out on a rocky, flowy section of single track through a burnt pine forest. The sun beat down through those trees, and I was ready to cross that finish line. When I hit the last downhill, I couldn't have been happier, and I crossed the line to the tune of Ron's whistles and cheers. I heard the announcer from Cycling News state my name and place, 4th in the women's open! Elated, I got off my bike, and hugged Ron who had also had an amazing first endurance race that day with a 2nd place finish in his SS class and 5th overall. It was certainly a hard effort, a memorable race, and a trip that will not soon be forgotten.

Thanks to teammate Mark Drogalis for the photo!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On The Rocks

Many years ago, I threw a leg over my first hand-me-down mountain bike (26" steel KHS) and hit the trails in French Creek State Park with my then boyfriend, now husband, Ron. French Creek is a lush forest with solid climbs and descents, well known for its relentless, yet fun rocky trails. While it certainly wasn't the easiest of places to learn to ride cross country, it did quickly teach me to let go of my fear and build on my technical ability. We frequented French Creek through the snowy winters and hot summers, and I learned to love the challenge those trails brought with each ride. My memories are fond of the early days when I learned to weave my way through those tricky rocks.

Each year when the French Creek race comes up in the Mid-Atlantic Super Series, I look forward to it and know it will be a challenge. This year, the race was put on by Trestle Bridge Racing and the course, in my opinion, has never been so fun since I've raced. I lined up on Saturday afternoon amongst many other women including 3 of my new CF teammates, and the four of us charged into the woods leading the race. Feeling much better than I felt the week before at the Iron Hill Challenge, I tried to maintain a solid, steady pace while riding on the caboose of what many called our CF train that day. By the second lap I was sitting in 3rd and feeling great while exchanging encouraging words with my fellow teammate. Finally, by the third lap I took 2nd, though it was short lived as I jammed my crank into an unseen rock and shot off my bike like Superman. This seems to my preferred method of falling off the bike these days. I quickly gathered myself, picked up my bike and noticed my handlebar was crooked and right brake lever was twisted, though I figured with just about 7 miles left, I'd focus on my wheel rather than the bar & brakes and ride it out. Back in 3rd I finished out the race and was greeted with cheers and hugs from fellow teammates and racers. The day couldn't have been more beautiful, and I went home that evening with another great memory of French Creek and riding "On the Rocks".

Finishing up -
Great day for the ladies of CF. -

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Looking Ahead

2012 has brought about some exciting changes...

1. Racing for Team CF Elite

2. Becoming a 2012 Athleta Sponsored Athlete

3. Completing my Master's in Educational Leadership (this Spring... finally!!)

Needless to say, I'm filled to the brim with giddiness and excitement right now. Over the last few years of studying hard and training harder, I've been thankful to accomplish many personal goals. As I look to the year ahead and strive to achieve new goals, I'm filled with expectancy and hope for all that 2012 holds. Racing in the NUE, racing 2012 XC Nationals, hosting an event at Philly's Athleta, blogging for Athleta, and meeting career goals in teaching only name a few. Many of you have reached out to show love. You guys are the best, and I'm so thankful for your support! Feeling incredibly blessed these days...

Cheers to great New Year!

Nationals, Sun Valley, ID - Can't wait to go back! 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Something New

Cross. I've avoided it for at least 2 years now. Two years ago this month, Ron entered his first cross race, Beacon, in New Jersey. Sure, it was fun to spectate, but I had no interest in racing. The single track on my mountain bike was all I craved, I loved it and I had no desire to try anything new at the time. Last year, Ron raced again, this time at Nittany and Granogue. Again, spectating proved fun, the races looked enjoyable for those that were into cross, but I was focused on mountain biking.

This year? Well, this year I'm giving some new things a go. As mentioned in my previous blog, it's the off season. It's time to kick back and enjoy some of the old mixed with some of the new. Running and climbing are my old standby's, and I truly enjoy each one. The new? A little cross, and hopefully a local trip or two with Kim for some ice climbing this winter.

Day 1 of Granogue came early this past Saturday morning. My alarm went off at 6:30 and I hit the snooze. I laid in bed wondering what the day held, what I was getting myself into. Ron and I had races several hours apart, so we decided I'd head down the first day alone. It was a little nerve racking, but thanks to some great teammates and friends that were there that morning, my nerves were quickly settled. I warmed up, took a couple of laps on the course between races, pitted my mountain bike and lined up for the B race. Dennis from Wooden Wheels was so kind to let me borrow his pit bike to race, but I hadn't had the chance to ride it last week, and Friday night when Ron went to fit me on it, it turned out to be slightly too big. So I raced Ron's Motobecane and put my Niner in the pit. Thanks again Dennis!

Dennis Smith Photography
Not so sure yet about cross yet...

The race had a quick road start and I had no idea what to expect. I had never ridden a cross bike, let alone raced one, so my nerves definitely kicked back in, but I was determined to see what it was all about and just have some fun. A couple of laps in, I slid down a hill, dropped my chain, quickly pulled myself together and jumped back on. Shortly after I felt my ankle hitting my crank and noticed my crank arm was about to fall off. I made it to the pit, well, past the pit and was told I could run backward to the entrance and pick up my mtb. Phew. I jumped on that thinking it would be a good familiar feel, but I found it felt heavy and squishy... not quite was I hoping for to finish this race well.

Did I have fun that day? It was undeniably a fun course, but my head wasn't in it. I was too uncertain of what to expect. I headed home to PA, picked up Ron and we headed back down to watch some friends kill it in the women's elite race before his race at 4. Back at Granogue some friends congratulated me on 6th. Huh, did they say 6th? I was surprised and really happy. Not a bad way to start.

I decided I'd ask for permission to bump up to the elite race the next day. With my UCI license I was able to no problem, and I found myself with those familiar pre-race jitters the night before. Kristin (my new teammate on CF!!) was so sweet to hand off her sick carbon race bike to me for Sunday's race. Much lighter indeed. Dennis from Wooden Wheels offered to pit for me and I felt ready to go! Prior to the race, Nikki (my other new teammate and great friend!!) led me around the course and watched me clumsily dismount and remount my bike.

Dennis showed me how the pit worked, Vicki and I chatted about what the day might hold, and Carolyn (another friend and new CF teammate!) made sure I was running the right tire pressure. Vicki and I were both starting in the back of the pack as we're so new to this. It was nice to have a familiar friend there with me at the start. 1:55 came quickly and before we knew it the race started, my first UCI cross race!

Wow, I couldn't believe how quick the start was. I cautiously proceeded, hit the grass and started to pick my way through racers as I was able to. Mentally, 40 minutes seems short compared to the 2+ hour mountain bike races, right? Sure, until you realize it feels like you're starting, full speed the entire 40 minutes. Yikes. Slowly I made my way up and I heard friends cheering out, "16th, Kathleen! 15th! Keep it up, keep picking those girls off! She's right in front of you, go get her!!!" It was awesome, cross is so much more spectator friendly and those cheers are a tremendous help and support during that intense effort! Kristin's carbon ride felt great and though the tubular wheels were new to me, I was able to use what I've learned in mountain biking to take the corners and downhills as fast as I could. The remounts? That's another story. I lost so much time just getting back on my bike, getting my feet jammed in my pedals. I couldn't believe how difficult that simple task proved to be. It cost me several seconds each time. In fact in the cyclingdirt video, I run by the camera ready to remount, and down below you can see several girls who got back on no problem, with no sign of me before the video cuts out. Must work on the remount.

I worked hard the whole race, pushed up the hills, shouldered my bike (ugly as it was) where I could to save some time.

I was in the red for most of the race, but I wanted to hold my spot and keep pushing forward. At the end, I lost two places right at the end, one in a sprint finish and ended up 13th out of 32!!

A day later, Ron and I find ourselves watching the coverage on and looking at friends' photos of the race, craving more cross. Oddly, I find myself daydreaming about the race and more cross. Being so different from mountain biking, I never knew it would be so fun. Kim always says, "Cross is Boss," and Vicki says it's addictive. Now I know exactly what they're talking about. Nikki has asked me to travel a bit, and I find myself tempted to take her up on it. I don't know what cross holds for me in the future, but I do know, I couldn't have picked a better race. Granogue was put on by an incredible group of people and the courses didn't disappoint. I'm really enjoying the something old this off season, definitely mixed with the something new.

Ron, picking people off, flying up the climb on Day 2.
Photos by Mike Campbell
Thanks Campbell!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Off Season

After 6 months of racing, the end of September is welcomed with its shorter days, colorful changes and a huge exhale after a hard and exciting season of competition on my mountain bike. It's a time to look back and reflect on what I learned as a racer, how I grew, and what I look forward to for next year. It's time to enjoy fall rides mixed with climbing and running. It's time to rest.

Looking back over the 2011 season, I feel fulfilled and excited after experiencing so many incredible races in different places on such varied terrain. We traveled from West Virginia to New York, and even to Idaho for my first ever PRO XCT race in the Sun Valley National Championships. To have finished that race alone was a huge personal victory! It was a great season filled with many memories that I will honestly never forget.

Photo from KPDS

The end of September also brings our annual trip to East Burke, Vermont with some of our closest friends where we sleep under the stars, sit by campfires, and enjoy long days of riding on some of Vermont's finest trails in the Northeast Kingdom. There's no better way to end the season, and it's something I'll look forward to each year for years and years to come. We couldn't ask for a better group to share that time with...

So what's next? This past summer I received my USAC Pro license and could not be happier to have been offered a spot with the elite riders on Team CF for the 2012 season! They are an incredibly talented group of riders with years of experience, and I respect each of them greatly. I plan to race several more races in the PRO XCT tour and hope to make it to Mellow Johnny's in Texas, Ute Valley in Colorado, Mt. Morris in Wisconsin, and I wouldn't want to miss the 2012 National Championship back in Sun Valley, ID. I'm also hoping to try a couple of the longer races, hopefully in the NUE. After October, training starts and I'm excited to work with a coach for the first time ever! I look forward to snowy rides, long weekends on the road and fun nights of climbing in the gym. The winter can often be long and intense in PA, but with the anticipation of next season and so many fun events mixed into the interim, it'll be a great few months.

For now, I'll enjoy the rest and all the joy that comes with the off season.