Austin Rattler, Leadville Qualifier, 100k Mountain Bike Race

3.29.14

Daniel flew in at midnight on Spirit airlines (home of the cheap, but not comfortable flight).

Next morning, we all (my son Daniel, his wife Rhiannon, their dog Jake, and I) boarded the RV, and set off for Smithville. It was my maiden voyage in the RV without my husband, Scott, and we promised to return it in the same shape as we departed, with nothing broken.

I laughed so hard I cried on this trip. Not because I broke anything in the RV, but because Daniel was in the house, and his lovely wife Rhiannon and my Grandpuppy, Jake. There were memories to be made!

The RV was a requirement, I decided a week before the trip, so I cancelled our hotel accommodations. What we needed was to assure Daniel could claim his spot to Leadville. In my mind, this required a front row parking space in our RV at the race site, and the ability to cook all our own healthy food and wake up on race morning without stressing over getting into the ranch in the long line of waiting cars.

Fact: It was a wise decision.

We arrived Thursday afternoon, late, and got in a 1 lap, 15 mile pre-ride before dark. It was the best case scenario to test the legs on the course and be able to recover before race day on Saturday. Meantime, my teammate, Jen McRae, was testing her legs at the Dirt Derby in Austin at the Thursday night races. She is made of true grit. Who would race on Thursday night before the Leadville 100k qualifier at Rockyhill?…ugh, Jen!

Friday morning I woke up and proclaimed an 18-wheeler had run over me. I felt like crap after our 15 mile pre-ride the day before.

“This is ludicrous…why do I feel like this?”

Daniel assured me it was not really my age, but the fact that the course was indeed rough. Not technical at all, but rough and bumpy through the sandy sections.

Just to be sure though, I spent some time texting my friend, Lorinda Putter, to see if my suspension should possibly be tweeked. She told me how to check it myself, and I opted to leave it alone because she had dialed it in the week before. I spoke with the technical course director, Paul Uhl, who told me he was putting his money on me to be the only one who stood a chance to beat the Pro, Rebecca Rusch. After I told him all the possible reasons why he was out of his mind, he told me he had also listened to Rebecca’s disclaimers, and that he was dispelling all of them.

I was glad he had so much confidence in me, but deep down, knew that I was here to just survive this race, and hoped to be within an hour of Rebecca’s time. After all, back in 2009 in Leadville, she had handily beat me with her whip as I finished about 3 hours behind her.

Friday was spent just doing a short spin on some technical single track sections of the course that Daniel wanted to familiarize himself with, and then we cooked plenty of healthy food at the RV, and spent the rest of the day prepping our water bottles and food portions for each of the 4 laps of our 100k race. I labeled my water bottles by lap # for Rhiannon and put my nutrition per lap in Ziplocks and numbered them with a Sharpie. I had made Skratch Labs rice cakes for my feed zone hand ups, and was confident in my nutrition. More so than at any race I have ever been to.

rhiannon hailWe met Rebecca Rusch and took pictures with her and Dave Weins. Rhiannon went out on a late afternoon ride to the bluebonnet field to get some footage on my GoPro video camera. bluebonnet meadow  A hailstorm blew in and pelted her before she could get back. She survived, but my GoPro…not so much.

Saturday morning I awoke to my alarm at 5:20am, and started our steel cut oatmeal in the rice cooker. I peered out the RV front windshield to brake lights in the distance. It was the landowner already at the gate accepting folks into the parking lot ~ a reassuring fact that we made the right decision to bring the RV. As the Oatmeal cooked, I laid back in bed. Rhiannon was now up and at ‘em like a pro support crew. She whipped up a breakfast of bacon and eggs for us like no other. It was the easiest pre-race prep I have ever had, as all I had to do was press “start” on the rice cooker and then lay in bed with the pre-race butterflies in my stomach I always get. We watched the never ending line of car lights approaching the ranch and attempting to get in the gate, one by one, signing the ranch waiver, paying their fee, and then proceeding to park.

Not long before go time at 8am, I left the RV for a warm-up on my bike. Jen had finally arrived (last minute) and abandoned her car out on the Farm to Market road thinking she would never make it through the gate in time. Rhiannon moved it for her later (dispite the fact that Jen had left her interior light on rendering the batteries dead).

I no longer know where Daniel is, as we each are doing our own thing now. He has done all the coaching to get me to where I am, and I have done all the child rearing to get him to where he is. He knows I will be fine, and vice versa. It is an unspoken thing we both have on race morning when we are both doing the same race. We line up in separate places on the starting line, neither able to see the other. I find Rhiannon and give her my warmup jacket, and I am sure that Daniel is doing the same, and somewhere, I suspect Jen is also. Rebecca Rusch and Tristan Uhl get the call up to the front row as previous winners. I can see Rebecca from where I have backed myself into a good starting spot on the line.

The race is a neutral rolling start, following a 4-wheeler to the first bridge. Once over the bridge, the 4-wheeler pulls off and releases us to ride our own speed. The pace picks up and my heart rate begins to sore. Going up the first climb, I find myself riding up the left side of Rebecca. I remember her pre-race speech and how she says everyone goes out “too fast”. I quickly reign myself in and pull back onto her wheel. She has no idea I am there. It is short-lived, and by the time we hit the 2nd climb, she is pulling away from me at her “comfortable first lap pace”. I don’t worry about it and keep repeating her words, “The race begins at Lap 3”.

The men are riding like animals. Daniel goes by on Lap 1 and says to me, “This really is just like Leadville”. I acknowledge and continue up the climb. We both raced Leadville back in 2009, and both remember the first climb. Funny how when I am in a race with him I know he is “OK” and worry about him less because I am there to. When I am watching on the sidelines, I worry like crazy for his safety.

The guys fly through lap 1 and I am passed by many of them. I go from what seems like 20th overall to 100th overall in the men. I don’t worry about their pace when I see that I am actually 4 minutes ahead of my pre-ride pace after the first lap. I know I can maintain my speed, and just keep at the same pace. Near the end of Lap 1, we have 1 mile of single track, and a lot of those fast men get bottlenecked. I wonder how they can be so fast on the jeep roads and not able to ride the single track. And then we hit a bridge and carpeted uphill, with a root growing diagonally in the trail. Guy #1 hits the slippery root (there was condensation in the air) and goes down. Guy #2 is right on his wheel and does the same thing, crashing off the trail to the left into Guy #1.

So, I say to myself, “Well I won’t do that”.

Then I hit the root, my rear wheel slides out and I launch off the trail into the pile up. We are the 3 Stooges. I get up quickly and continue on, blood trickling from my knee.

I maintain my speed on Lap 2, only 1 minute off my pace of the first lap. Feeling great. I think I am in 4th overall at this point according to Rhiannon.

Lap 3 starts and I still feel my endurance base kicking in. I am actually able to talk to the guys around me on this lap as they are no longer zooming by me like I am standing still. I have been eating my Feedzone rice cakes (1 or 2 per lap) and drinking my scratch labs drink mix, and feel energized. I am ready to “let the race begin” as Rebecca had said.

I see a girl in front of me that had passed me early on. She is suffering, and in fact, looks like her back is hurting. I seize the opportunity and go by her hard so that she can’t respond. She is toast.

Then, ¾ through the 3rd lap, I start cramping. “UNBELIEVALBE,” I say to myself. I have done everything right, why the cramps? I see my teammate Jen, reeling me in, little by little. I hold her off until transition to the 4th lap. I am able to get a few salt tablets handed up to me, as well as some salty power blocks that Daniel had in a ziplock in the cooler. But the inevitable happens, Jen catches me and we exchange a few words. I am at a low point. I tell her I am cramping, she offers up a Hammer Gel.

I decline by responding, “Do those have any salt in them?”, and we ride on, because she doesn’t know either.

Then, a long section along a fence line with some Bluebonnets and she offers to go ahead of me and pull. I say, “Go for it”, meaning “you got it girl”, and she takes the lead.

At that split second, I think, “either stay on her wheel until you explode and hope you recover with the salt tablets, or lose her forever (Top Gun)”. I didn’t want to lose her forever, so I did everything I could to hang on her wheel through the fenceline bluebonnet section. We dropped a few guys there. She continued to ride strong, and I continued to hang on and suffer. But Jen got away little by little, until eventually, I lost site of her. We hit some single track, thank goodness, and she bobbled on a hill coming out of her pedal momentarily, and I caught up.

“Ah, you gave me a chance to catch back up” I said as I passed on her right. She agreed about the bobble, and we laughed in unison. I love racing with this girl. She is an awesome teammate.

Somewhere in there, ¾ of the way through, the salt kicked in and I felt better. I picked up the pace on the ‘Tunnel of Pines’ section and took the lead. I started clearing the trail for both of us as we passed guys going both up and down the hills.kat

“On your left” I would yell, then “on your right” then “coming by with 1 behind”, then coming by with 2 behind”. I was yelling anything and everything and we were progressing through the field. It was fun. Then it was time for the out and back pipeline section that I’m quite sure everyone hated by the 4th lap. At this point I was nursing my cramps (they were coming and going), and thinking…you gotta go now, in the single track section if you are going to get ahead. “You gotta go”.

Left: Jen McRae Middle: Rebecca Rusch Right: Kathy Hudson

Left: Jen McRae
Middle: Rebecca Rusch
Right: Kathy Hudson

And so I went. I passed 2 more guys just before the single track section and got the hole shot going into the trail. I came out of the woods with only one short jeep road before the last single track to the finish. I put the hammer down there and aggressively passed another guy. It was all downhill from here, through the wall and all the fun new trail that Paul Uhl built. I loved every bit of it and felt a huge relief coming into the finish line. Rebecca Rusch had finished 23 minutes ahead of me and cheered me on from the bike wash line. I was just glad she hadn’t already been to the hotel and back for a shower, as I had planned on at least an hour between us so I was happy with this finish.

I crossed the line and they announced me as 3rd overall in a time of 4:40. I went straight to the food table and there was the 2nd place girl who had just finished about a minute or so in front of me. She asked me what category I was in and I said 50-59.

She said, “Wow” and couldn’t believe it.

I said, “Yeah, I know, I’m old, right?”. I think she acknowledged.

Jen finished and asked me, “Where did you go?”.

She couldn’t figure out how I got away after the pipeline section I guess. I told her the single track was my favorite, and I had to go there if I was going to get away. Jen finished a minute or so behind me to claim 4th overall and 1st in her age group of 40-49.

Daniel’s race went great, but his crank arm came loose and cost him easily 1 place, as he had to stop twice to try and find tools to fix it. He still finished 5th in his age group and got his qualifying spot to Leadville. I finished 1st in my age group and passed my spot down to someone else. I made that trip once, got the belt buckle, and checked it off my bucket list.

We stayed at the ranch until all the racers had left. We couldn’t get our RV out until they moved the start/finish line fencing. No worries, we had some cleaning up to do. My steal cut oatmeal was now slightly toasted and brown after leaving it for 7 hours in the rice cooker (oops). Daniel offered to drive first, so I took advantage and relaxed on the couch. I soon decided I wanted my computer (I am apologizing now to all my police friends), so I got up to get it from the bedroom in my backpack on the bed. However, we were traveling with a bike in the RV, wedged between the bed and a chair.

I placed one foot on the chair, stepped over the bike, and one foot on the bed, unzipped the backpack and then felt a huge slamming of the brakes. Some car had decided to pull in front of Daniel and put on his brakes, causing a chain reaction. Several things in the RV shifted forward, including the water tray that popped off the cappuccino machine and spilled, and then there was ME. As I launched off the bed backwards toward the front of the RV, I landed straddled over the bike (which was facing backwards). My weight dislodged it and the bike began to roll toward the front of the RV, with me on it. The bike wheel hit the wall, stopping it while at the same time launching me from the bike, through the air, into the bathroom, and through the shower door. The door broke away, and I landed in the floor of the shower, with the door behind my back and my hamstrings firmly planted over the threshold and the shower door track.

Daniel and Rhiannon are yelling from the front of the RV, “Are you ok, Mom?”

Cute question, I think to myself. I am ok considering I am laying in the floor of the shower and there is no shattered plexiglass. We learned these doors are meant to break away for this particular reason, I suppose.

“Yes, I am great”, I yell back.

We brought the RV back in one piece, with nothing broken as promised. Daniel was able to pop the shower door back onto the tracks and it is ready for yet another adventure.

A few new bruises later, we are home, and back at ‘em again. My swim coach probably thinks I am an abused spouse, as well as my OBGyn who both spotted the bruises the following week. It is an easier story to just tell them, “I raced last weekend”.

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Eco Lonestar Adventure Race & XTERRA Trail Run – Behind the Scenes

Sleep deprivation rings under my eyes, beat down and bruised (the biggest one from hitting the 2-ton TV tray we have in the RV), I feel like a warrior, but am merely a race director. A quick look at what goes on behind the scenes ~ while I am able to type with the aid of the buzz from my 11:30am latte that feels like a direct pick line of caffeine shot into my body after no breakfast and a swim workout, coming off 4 days of not much sleep and a lot of work that we call FUN!

This past weekend we put on 4 races.  On Saturday, a 2-3 hour adventure race and a 10-12-hour adventure race, followed by two trail runs on Sunday, a 5k and 16k (anyone can do 15k so we make it different). We arrived 2 days early (Thursday with a 4:30am wakeup call) to set up the courses. Scott and I were not alone, we had co-directors Kevin Bowen and Patricia Bourassa design the course, set the checkpoints, and mark trails, while we laid out transition area, start/finish area, fed everyone, marked trails, ran registration and the admin side of the business. Plus, we had our standard crew of volunteers to lean on and help us through the weekend.

The RV and trailer were loaded up w/t-shirts, pint glasses, awards, cases of water, Gatorade, Power Bar, tools, bikes, sponsor banners, course marking equipment, food for an army and aid stations, generator and a 100-gallon water tank.  Sometime before day 1 was over, we discovered 50 gallons of water was missing, and a leak in a drain valve (which explained the missing water). By the end of the second day, but before shower time, we had successfully lost 100% of our water.

Too bad we hadn’t showered yet, because now we couldn’t. I got a ride to a nearby campground for the only shower of the 4-day span, while Scott was out setting up an aid station with Eric & Reba around 10:30pm, carrying 2 coolers and a table 1 mile down a dirt trail from the forest service gate with a sign reading – No motorized vehicles allowed. When he returned, I received the quote of the weekend from him after drinking a Karbach beer on the way back to the RV: “If we get arrested for drinking a beer, this will be an improvement as we will have a place to sleep out of the rain, a shower, a meal, and we won’t have to get up before sunrise tomorrow to put on a race.”

That pretty much sums up the weekend. No shower for 4 days, meals few and far between, several inches of rain making tent camping a bit soggy for our workers, and not much sleep. Fun was high on the scale though; we were in the company of great volunteers and friends. We received rave reviews from the racers both days, and realize at the end of the day it is more about the “good feelings” you get from making someone’s day that has never done a race like this before, than about the money. Sure we all want to get paid for what we do at the end of the day, but sometimes, just listening to the racers talk about what they just experienced is enough to keep you going until the next race.”

 

Kathy Duryea Hudson
3/10/14

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Chocolate Date Bars (Gluten Free & Dairy Free)

datesEnergy bars are a convenient way to fuel-up, but all to often they are packed with added sugar and ingredients that only a food scientist knows how to pronounce. Plus, they aren’t exactly cheap. This recipe is three of my favorite things– healthy, fast, and cheap. Dates have the added benefit of being quite the superfood. Dates are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. They are also considered a great energy booster, reduce the risk of stroke, strengthen bones, and lower night blindness. All the more reason to whip up this easy recipe. Freeze your homemade creations for a later date, or pack them into a Ziploc bag for an easy on the go treat.

Ingredientsdark-chocolate-gallery-x

  • 16-17 Pitted Dates
  • 1/2 cup Slivered Almonds
  • 1/3 cup Almond Butter
  • 2tbsp Chia Seeds
  • 30 grams Dark Chocolate– about 1/3 of a typical sized bar
  • About a pinch of Sea Salt
  • 3tbsp of Unsweetened Shredded Coconuts
  • 2tbsp Vanilla Extract

Instructions

  • Place Chocolate, Sea Salt, and Chia Seeds in food processor
  • Pulse a few times until the texture is coarse
  • Place all ingredients in a medium bowl
  • Use your hands to kneed ingredients and form a large ball
  • Lay out a 2 foot long piece of wax paper. Place dough on one side, cover with wax paper, and flatten with a rolling pin until 3/4 in thick.
  • Chill for an hour before cutting into 10 pieces
  • To store in your fridge or freezer, wrap individual bar in plastic.

grain-free-date-bars-3-1024x680

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4 of the Best Fitness Apps to Improve Your Workout

Mobil Apps

Smartphones can be great tools for monitoring fitness and diet goals. But with so many choices, it can be difficult to know which ones to choose. We’ve narrowed it down to four different apps that we think are best. What apps do you like to use? Did we miss one of your favorites? Leave us a comment below.

Strava
With Strava Cycling and Strava Run, no matter your discipline, this app can push you to go further and faster. The built-in GPS can track your training session, monitor your progress, and allow you to compete with other users. After you’ve finished a workout Strava creates an easy to read report with calories burnt, average speed and more.

MyFittnessPal
If weight loss is your goal, then MyFitnessPal is the app for you. Studies show that keeping track of everything you eat helps you lose weight faster and keep it off. Enter your age, gender, activity level, and how much weight you want to lose and MyFitnessPal will determine a calorie goal to help you reach your target. With the app’s easy interface you’ll be able to search the expansive database for everything you eat or scan the barcode to start recording.  This app helps keep you honest and on track to hit your weight loss goals

Argus (iOS only)
Want to track your activity throughout the day, but don’t want to shell out the extra dough for Nike+ FuelBand, Fitbit One, Jawbone UP, or the like? The Argus app tracks your activity through your iPhone without needing to purchase an extra device. While your phone is on you, Argus will track your movements. You will also be able to log other workouts, track what you eat and drink. The one downside of this app is that it will put a drain on your battery.

TrainingPeaks
A go-to platform for endurance athletes everywhere; TrainingPeaks allows you to clearly map out your goals, purchase a training plan, or find and work with a coach. The mobile app allows you to have the convenience of the desktop product at your fingertips. TrainingPeaks has a lot of great extra features like stats for power, speed, and more. The app is simpler than the desktop version, but it’s all you really need to check and track your daily workouts.

 

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5 Ways to Keep Your Running Resolution

We’re almost 3 months into the new year. It is east to fall back into old patterns and forget or abandon those resolutions. Revamp your commitment to your resolution with these five easy tips and you’ll be sure to stick to your goal this year.

COMMIT TO A GROUP OR PARTNER
Having someone to run with keeps you accountable. It is much easier to stay in and watch Netflix when you’re tired or when it’s cold out when you are only letting yourself down. It is much harder to skip a run when someone is counting on you to show up. Having a running partner makes it about more than just hitting the pavement– it is social– and becomes more than something you just have to do.

SIGN UP FOR A RACE
Even if your resolution wasn’t to complete a specific race, having a set distance to train for will only fuel your motivation. Because most races cost money, you’ll also have a financial investment to fulfill. No matter the distance, you have a goal to target that will help keep you going.

MAP IT OUT
Not it the traditional sense that implies we should all head over to mapmyrun.com; rather, map out more frequent goals that will keep you on track. Whether it is quarterly, monthly, or daily goals, small steps will help you stay focused on that resolution.

FIND A COACH
Coaches can be great for  accountability and can help take the guesswork our of training. A coach helps give you direction and cheer you on. Find what fits you and your pocket book. Coaches can range from in-person, online training plans and group training.

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My First Cyclo-Cross Race: The WNX Series

I did my first cyclo-cross race the other night. Working a race vs. racing in the race are two different things. I don’t get to do that very often. All categories of women raced together, starting 20 seconds behind the Cat 1,2,3 men. There would be women of all levels in the same race, but scored separately. I purchased a one-day license, and with minutes to spare (after working registration for the race), I changed clothes and did 2 or 3 warm-up laps around the parking lot before being called up to the line.

Cyclo-cross is a fairly short race on a bike with handle bar drops (like a road bike) and skinny mountain bike type tires for riding in the grass, gravel and dirt. There are also obstacles placed conveniently in your path requiring quick dismounts and remounts of your bike, and some running up steep hills, stairs, or through sandpits. I hadn’t seen tonight’s course so I didn’t know where or what the obstacles were.

I had decided at the last minute not to wear glasses. It was dark now, and though there were some spotlights on the course, there were also shadows. I noticed most of the other riders weren’t wearing glasses either. The first lap went off in a blaze of dust, and I am still sneezing and cleaning dirt from my eyes. We rounded the first corner of the parking lot and up the wooden ramp on the curb into the grass, through some gravel and down the trail we went to the first corner around a tree. Easy enough, and I could see Lauren Stephens had already taken the lead as we weaved back on ourselves.

This corner around this tree would become my nemesis.

We headed down the straightaway, and I found myself in 3rd. We had already caught the back of the men’s field, and I quickly forgot my place in the field. None of my friends or husband knew I was racing, so it was nice to take off in the dark with no preconceived expectations of how to finish.

As the dust was flying, I thought to myself how this would be a great time for a face mask. But I didn’t have one. By now, I was beginning to regret my decision to not wear my glasses as well.

2 or 3 laps in, I had reeled in 2nd place. I made the pass, and shortly after, crashed on the corner where the tree was in the powdery loose dirt. She passed me back. The wind was knocked out of my sails for at least a lap, and the gal in 4th was now trying to pass to my left coming into a corner. I didn’t budge and was able to stay out front and distance myself from her again as I got my wind back.

1 lap later, Ginny King is yelling at me from the sidelines that I am 15 seconds back. I focus on going as fast as I can on the obstacle sections. I particularly liked the hillside, where we weaved up and down the hill about 4 times, and the final climb included a 2 x 12 barrier at the bottom requiring a dismount and run-up to the top. This is where most of the hecklers stood on the course, cheering and heckling their favorite riders. Twinkies and beer were being offered. I remembered last week as I watched the race I wondered why most riders didn’t take the offers. I was determined I would take something ~ especially if it was money.

On my next lap, I took the Twinkie at the top of the run-up after the barrier. I put the Twinkie in my mouth, half in, and half out. I gasped for air so I bit the Twinkie in half, spitting the rest to the ground. I got heckled for this action. Within seconds, the half of the Twinkie still in my mouth had become a sponge in the back of my throat, absorbing the dust from the inside of my mouth, as well as any last bit of moisture I had in there. It seemingly expanded in my throat and blocked my breathing. I spit out what little I could of it, and coughed and gagged for the next half lap. Now I know NOT to eat a Twinkie unless you follow it with liquid.

No one carries a water bottle since the races are short and it gets in the way of shouldering your bike, so the next time I rode by the hecklers, I looked for a beer handup. Yes, beer ~ this is a fun race, after all! There were none left.

Another lap later, I am on the path to recovery from the Twinkie and the crash, and Ginny reports I am 10 seconds back now. I dig in again, and back at the same tree, I go down on my right side again in the loose dirt.

“Dang!” I say to the guy I had just passed that passes me back. I already crashed here once.

He tells me, “Yeah, that is a slippery turn”.

The wind is out of my sails again, and I see my girl getting away. No one is closing on me so I just settle in again. I see my husband, Scott, who doesn’t even know I am racing. He is on the side of the course heckling a guy and yells, “My wife is faster than you”, just before I ride by and he sees me.

Then he yells, “And there’s my wife”.  That was perfect timing.

The officials ring a bell and show 2 laps to go. I am focused on counting down 2 to go when the leader of the men’s race passes me. The leader gets caught up in the sand trap obstacle in a crash with another rider, and has to drop out.  I don’t realize I am finished when I cross the line (since the leader had passed me), so I head out for another lap. The heckler’s chant, “Enjoy the course, you are the last one out there!”

Well that is just wrong. Now I am wondering why I am the only one on the course, but continue riding anyway. The officials had told me 2 laps to go, and I will do them! Through the sandpit one more time, over the double barrier, and on to the line, I cross the finish to a vacated crowd. Everyone is finished. I ask the officials if I did too many laps and they say they will let me know after they score the race. I guess no harm in going too far?

There were 29 women in the field tonight. Wow, this sport has grown! There will be a separate race for the women from now on.  However, I really enjoyed being hidden in the men’s field, lost in the pack and just being able to get in a great workout.

3rd place, 2 crashes, and dust filled lungs, I am ready for bed. I drive to visit my mom and we stay up until midnight chatting. I tell her what cyclo-cross is all about and explain why I am late for my visit because of working registration at the race.

Mom says, “That sounds like a sport you would have loved when you were younger. Too bad they didn’t have it back then.”

I nod my head, and think quietly to myself, “I suppose I would have, but I’m really glad I can enjoy it now at my age (49).”

Interested in racing? Texas Cross Syndicate puts on a great Wednesday night series that runs until Thanksgiving. Hope I see you out there: https://www.facebook.com/texascross

 

 

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Gold!

ITU Cross Triathlon World Championships, Den Haag, Netherlands, July 13, 2013

(Many thanks coach Daniel Duryea with Venture Fit and swim coach Tom Radam for whipping me into shape).

Part of Team USA

With a noon start time, I had a more relaxed morning than typical on race day. So relaxed, in fact, I cut it a little too close for the start. We were staying in the host hotel right on the beach, so I stayed in the hotel room until 20 minutes to start. In my estimation this would allow me plenty of time to put on my full-length wetsuit at the last minute while keeping my body temperature down and out of the hot sun. However, I forgot about the 1,000-meter walk to the starting line down the beach (which was based on the race day conditions and current). Time had grown short. I went in the racer’s lounge (a huge white tent) and tried to put on my wetsuit in a hurry. Fortunately, I did not tear a hole in it like my teammate did in his haste, and I was off, jogging down the beach for the start. The run was my warm-up, because by the time I arrived, all the women and the older men age groupers were already lined up for the start. I took a last swig of water, and immediately got offers of up to $20 euros per drink from my bottle.  It went for free to the first two men that asked for some. Scott handed me my wristwatch that I had removed to put on my wetsuit.

The running beach start

The horn blew and we were off, running for the surf. The man running next to me on the right tripped and fell, taking out another gentleman behind. I heard the two hit the sand and could only see them from my peripheral vision, and was glad that they didn’t take me down as well. I entered the surf and immediately began to dolphin through the waves, diving under each one until I could get far enough out to start swimming. I hoped it would be rough (to make it harder on everyone), but it was actually one of the calmest days of the entire week, so it seemed like we all got to the first turn buoy together. If you entered the ocean on the far left of the start line, it looked shorter from the beach, but the current took those swimmers down current and left of the buoy that we swam around the right side of.  Those that had missed, began to claw and grope at the rest of us, and I was pulled under water several times. I just relaxed, did a few breaststrokes, and waited for traffic to clear, and began swimming again. The North Sea was a dark color, and I couldn’t see a thing underwater, other than a random pair of feet that kicked in front of me.

As I rounded the last buoy of the swim, there were two girls to my left (I could see their pink swim caps). The safety kayakers were trying to force them toward me, so I just swam straight to shore, instead of trying to follow their line. The kayakers continued to push all of us squarely on a path to shore that exited the water through a pile of dangerous rocks. I know this was not their intention, and just assumed the current had taken over again. I never got caught up in the rocks, but some did. Running to transition, I began to strip off my wetsuit and think about the sand on my feet. I noticed they were yelling at us to drop our swim caps in a bucket, so I did. I guess they would recycle them?

So many things ran through my head in transition. I had everything laid out in a pattern I thought was quickest to get my gear on. We had been told (because of the sandy conditions) that a small container of water would be a great way to remove the sand from our feet before putting on the bike shoes. I forgot to bring one, so Scott made me one out of a cardboard box lid and plastic bag liner. I put both feet in the water at once. I placed my helmet on my head, my gloves on my hands, then my thoughts turned to my feet. They were still in the makeshift bucket of water. I decided to sit on my towel being careful not to spill the water or to let any of my gear stray from my 20” wide zone around my bike (I didn’t want a penalty). As I was sitting, I noticed I still had both feet in the box lid.  What was I waiting on? A pedicure? I pulled out one foot, I put on my sock, then my shoe, and then finally, my other sock and shoe. 2 minutes and 26 seconds later, I was out of transition. Wow, really? I should have baked a cake as well.

Leaving for the Bike Leg

I ran across the sand in my stiff bike shoes until I felt the familiar surface of hard pavement beneath them. I mounted my bike, rode up the ramp to the boardwalk where the folks were cheering and faced a set of stairs leading back down to the sandy beach. Easy enough, as this set of stairs was about 3 flights and had a built in ramp (similar to a handicap ramp). Still, as is often the case in cross triathlon, there were faster swimmers in front of me that were slower, less skilled riders. I told myself to be patient on the stairs, and rather than blasting around them, I waited until we were safely on the beach to pass them.

 

I spent the first 3 laps of this bike leg passing quite a few women, and men. Many people cheered and chanted, “Go Hudson, go USA”. It took me a couple of laps to figure out how they knew my name… it was written on my team uniform. Even the people from the Netherlands cheered for Team USA. My rear tire was feeling spongy by lap 3, and as I looked down, I realized I had a slow leak and would not make the finish without adding more air. I stopped and used my air cartridge that Scott had duct taped to my seat tube losing only a few seconds. I had no pockets on my team uniform, so I stuffed the cartridge and adapter under the elastic of my leg band. I wondered if the cold of the CO2 would freeze my leg. I didn’t care at the moment.

Sandy Section in the dunes

During the bike, we had 4 laps of approximately 6-kilometers per lap to ride, crossing the deep sandy beach 5 times per lap (about 100 meters each time). With each crossing, we had to dismount, run while pushing the bike, and then remount and continue on. At one point, I had so much sand in my shoes I had to stop and dump them out. I had mastered the deep sand beach crossing by the third lap, and made it all the way across the sand to within 5 meters of the other side of the beach before coming off my bike and having to run. I was most excited about this (it was the small things that were beginning to make me happy). However, by the end of this lap, pushing the big gear through the deep sand had taken its toll on my muscles. My inner quads (I’m sure there is a better name for these muscles I don’t normally use) began to cramp.

I made the incorrect assumption that there would be water zones along the course. Race directors decided to only have water for the run, so I rationed the one water bottle I did have for the 4-lap, 1.5 hour bike ride. Also, by the 4th lap, another wave of racers (the rest of the men) had started their race.  After their swim, they merged into our bike course. This new crowd made for plenty of crashes in the deep sand, especially from some of the less skilled men who hadn’t ridden a lap yet in those conditions. As they crashed in front of me, it became exciting just avoiding them, and with each time I had to brake and swing my leg off the bike to avoid one, my quads would cramp further. To make matters worse,

Riding along the ocean

I forgot drafting was legal in this race. Packs of riders would sail by me on the beach, tucked in behind each other conserving energy, while I was off in my own world, slugging it out with the sand and the sand castles, dodging kids and other random beach goers, one kilometer at a time.

As a nice break during each lap, the course took us up into the sand dunes, where we actually did some climbing and descending on a harder packed trail. The only technical part was a nasty set of eroded landscape timbered stairs that I had decided during the pre-race inspection to ride down the first half and then dismount and run the second half which was much steeper.

My line on the top half was easy

Some of the others attempting to ride the 2nd half

Some chose to ride the entire thing and made it; others crashed hard. Most ran as I did, carrying their bikes. There was seemingly no in between. Early in the first lap, not far after these stairs I saw my French competitor heading the opposite direction with a flat tire, walking her bike. I guess she had nothing to fix it, which took her out of contention for the race.

The bike portion of the race was now over.

The start of my pathetic run

I ran through the transition area and grabbed a fresh water bottle I had stored near my running shoes. Each step in the sand left me wanting to cry, because my quads and now calves were screaming with cramps. Internally, I was questioning if I could complete the race, and if I would actually have to crawl to the finish, like the girl did many years ago in the Ironman triathlon. I didn’t want to be dramatic, but I wanted to get on the podium. I yelled at Scott to ask how I was doing on the run, and he told me “good” because no women in front of me had “50+” marked on their calves, but you couldn’t be sure. Some of them were not properly marked & some had tall socks on so you had no idea how old they were, other than guessing. This aggravated me that I couldn’t get exact updates, but Scott reminded me to “Just Run”! I was, after all, in the World Championships.

I carried a full water bottle the entire run, drinking all I could and refilling on every lap with a drink called “AA” (it had some electrolytes in it). It was the 2nd run lap (we did 3 laps of 3k each) when I became lucid enough to realize I had a weird feeling in my right quad. I looked down and noticed I had been running an entire lap already with that air cartridge and adapter still in the legging of my uniform. It was starting to fall out.

Some of the women and men I had passed on the bike were now passing me back on the run. I could only maintain with what I had left in the tank. I knew I was going to finish, but just didn’t know how well. Would it be enough to podium? The sand dunes took their toll on me. Some women now passed me like gazelles. I felt more like clumsy hippo trying to run through the sand to get to a watering hole.

As I rounded the last corner and ran onto the blue carpets leading up to the finish, I heard them say “Hudson, and it’s a Gold Medal”. I was so happy to hear those words as they held up the World Champion tape for me to run through.

The homestretch

Happy Indeed!

My friend, Melanie Etherton, was sitting in the finish area recovering when I arrived. She had finished well in front of me, but even though placing 5th overall woman, her age group was so competitive that she just missed the podium by one spot. I suddenly felt undeserving of my own medal, because she had placed in front of me and here I sat with a Gold. The race organizers gave me a card to invite me to the medal ceremony. I told Mel and a fellow Team USA member sitting there that I just got lucky. The guy from Team USA looked at me, and said something like this ~ “Good luck happens to those that are the most prepared.”

From 14 years of age, I have competed at all levels of racing in various sports, from beginner to pro/elite at both national & world cup races. Along the way, I had a family, kids, college, a career, and now a grandbaby. I am racing in the 50-54 age group. To an outsider, it may seem like my age group is easy, when in reality, there is a reason there are fewer of us in each progressively older age group.

Male & Female 50-54 Age Group Podium

I sat at the awards ceremony and noted that after the age group of 55-59, there were no more women on the podium. There were men through the 70s in this sport, but no women on this particular weekend. Aside from the fact that most of us have lives, jobs, kids, and grandkids, it also becomes harder to remain healthy, injury free and consistent to be able to continue to perform at this level as we get older.

To get on the podium, it takes a lot of drive, a lot of determination, and a lot of support, not just from the racer, but also from our family and friends who put up with us and take care of us.

My husband, Scott, and #1 supporter

It took my husband always making sure my bike was in the best shape for training & racing, packing it and unpacking it countless times at races, and always having the right tool or the right attitude or words to fix anything that might happen. It took our local bike shops (Plano Cycling, Richardson Bike Mart, & Bicycles Plus) always being there to provide the parts we needed at the last minute. It often took sponsors helping out with equipment, logistics and financial support, but sometimes simply an understanding boss giving me the time off to race, and a lot of personal savings.

Welcome home gift from neighbors

 

It took friends to understand when I needed to ride hard on a given day, or when I needed an easy day and fun time training. It took kids who understood my need to train even on holidays, or explaining to their friends about their crazy mom who raced. It took mastering international airports, international food, international culture and jetlag. An on a lessor note, it took sharing a variety of wines with family and friends, teetering on a fine line of just the right amount to still enjoy life, but not so much as to affect racing, training and nutrition.

3 World Championship Medals

As I head home on my flight to the states, I am very proud of my finish. I have spent three years focused on cross-triathlon races, since its inception by the International Triathlon Union (ITU) into the World Championships in 2011 in Spain. I won the gold medal there (in Spain), a silver medal in 2012 in Alabama, and another Gold here in the Netherlands. I thought of another friend poking fun of me when I stated that I wanted 3 medals from this sport in 3 years for a nice framed collection box for our living room.

The Gold!

He said, “Yeah, I think I’ll put that on my bucket list too.”

I realized it was a lofty goal after hearing his response, and am proud to have accomplished it.

And when it was over, we enjoyed the Netherlands, the bicycle capital of the world (40% of all traffic movement is by bike) . The race promoters put on an awesome firework show on the beach for us, I traded my Team USA jacket with a fellow friend and competitor from Japan, and we visited the city of Amsterdam where we rented bikes and tried to be mobile citizens rather than tourists for the rest of our trip. We were successful!

The beach fireworks in the Hague

My Japanese friend and I traded our Team jackets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Story parking garage of nothing but bikes

I think I found our 2 bikes we locked up over night in this garage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We quickly learned how to be "Mobile Citizens" in Amsterdam

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Decision

In the middle of all the recent hoopla over Lance Armstrong trying to race in a Master’s swim meet in Austin a few weekends ago, a friend and fellow racer asked me publicly (on Facebook) whether or not our race promotion company (Terra Firma Racing) would allow him to compete in one of our races held throughout the state of Texas. I had thought a lot about it on my own, but sure wasn’t ready to make any political statements about it. I was scared, but I’m not sure why. Scared of what others might think of my opinion maybe, or scared I’d get a call from Lance himself.

 

I am still angry that I spent seven years believing in my hero; or so I thought. I was inspired by all he did and what he represented in cycling. To me, Lance was a local guy that grew up less than an hour from where I lived, shopped at the same bike shops, and did the same races ‘way back when’ as me. Richardson Bike Mart was one of his early sponsors, and mine as well. Here was someone that gave me hope, that even though I started cycling later in life and had kids, that I could conquer the altitude, the mountains, and anyone else younger than me if I trained hard and kept at it. I never thought he doped. Somehow, he had managed to win the Tour De France 7 times, and I was impressed and read all his books. His mountain bike skills showed through on the stages where he was knocked off his bike and got back up, or when he narrowly avoided crashing when he careened off one of the descents and managed to cut across a switchback and reenter the race without crashing. I could relate to him. He was a fighter, and so was I.

 

And then the wall came tumbling down. He was caught and made his public confession. As I watched his interview with Oprah, I thought to myself, “Wow, he is just so matter of fact.” I was hoping for more remorse I guess. He just didn’t seem emotionally sorry, and boldly stated that if he wouldn’t have made his comeback, he probably would have never been caught. And it’s not even a question now in my mind, that had that of been the case, that he would have continued to live that lie.

 

We put on a race this weekend at Reveille Peak Ranch, near Austin in the Texas Hill Country. I thought it was a possibility Lance would show up, as the sports involved were all things he excels at (swim, mountain bike, trail run). We (Terra Firma Racing) put on a 2- hour adventure race on Saturday along with a 5K and 15K trail run. On Sunday, Race Revolutions put on an off-road Triathlon, right up his alley, and mine. I half wanted to race, but left town without my wetsuit. A cold front had blown in, and the water temperature dropped to 69 degrees and was now wetsuit legal. I was one of the few that swam without one. I decided this would be good training for a cold race.

 

After getting pummeled in the swim and swallowing a few gulps of algae water too many, I exited the water with one of the worst swims of my life, in 4th place female. There was a pack of 3 girls that had exited not too far in front of me that I should have hung with. I don’t know if it was the lack of the wetsuit and being less buoyant that allowed the guys to swim over me and push me under the water, or the slugfest I was having with a few of them that left me nauseated and trying not to throw up.

 

Once on the bike I regained my composure and quickly caught one girl within the first mile of the single-track. I reeled in the other girl about 2 miles later. Then I began to get the news that I was 4 minutes off the leader, then 5 minutes, and then by lap 2, it was 8-10 minutes. You’re never really sure you are getting accurate information, but when it moves in a negative manner like that, you stop really caring.

 

I was having fun because I felt my biking was going good. I road smoothly, and the guys I passed on the technical climbs called me “Billy Goat”. I just laughed; I am the only 148 lb. billy-goat that I know of. Toward the end of the bike, with about 1 mile to go, I saw the first place guy heading out on the run. He was a mile into his run, and ran amazingly fast. My thoughts drifted to Lance. Does everyone at the front of the pack do drugs to be that fast? I think not. I think in age group racing, there are so many more racers that rely on their natural abilities, proper hydration and nutrition to get them to the finish line. In my book, why would anyone be satisfied to do performance enhancing drugs and then be content that they had beaten someone that hadn’t? 

 

I haven’t read Tyler Hamilton’s book yet, The Secret Race, but I plan to. I didn’t want to bias what I felt or wrote in this article. I think it is a shame we have drugs in so many professional sports, and I wish it could all be cleaned up. It probably never will since so much money is at stake. Athletes will have to decide for themselves what they are willing to accept morally when they are faced with making choices to race in the big leagues. If they partake, can they live with themselves when they beat someone that isn’t doing drugs?

 

For me, I will continue to be an age grouper, and had a blast out there trading positions with the guys that I have gotten to know. We had fun, and did the best we could naturally. A lady about my age with her young son told me it was an inspiration for them to watch me compete. Her son had a twinkle in his eye. Knowing that I can be an inspiration to a youngster that was just like me so many years ago, and knowing that I will never have any regrets about how I became that inspiration and athlete, makes me travel home from the race today with warm feelings inside that will last my lifetime.

 

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Growing Old is not for Sissies

Growing old is not for sissies. That’s what Mimi always told me. She passed away two months ago at 81 from a glioblastoma brain tumor giving us only 6 weeks to say goodbye. She left behind a legacy of knowledge, patriotism, and love. All who were fortunate enough to know her will dearly miss her. More than ever, I will miss the simplicity with which she taught by example.

 

During these past 2 months, I struggled with keeping up my routine as I mourned for her. I became a self-labeled ‘non-fit athlete’, and I lost valuable seconds off my bike, run and swim times; seconds that are hard to regain as you age. I am now the one-lap wonder at the Northshore Trail at Lake Grapevine on my mountain bike. I put on 10 lbs. of weight ~ the quickest way to gain a cup size in your bra. It also solidly places me in the chub rub category when I run, unless I wear my body glide. And finally, I am tired of being last in the pool each day.

 

Today, I held the side of the pool in the deep end, proud that I had almost thrown up, and awaited the next command from Coach Tom to yell from his traffic cone megaphone. The ladies in the water aerobics class heard him shout and turned their heads toward the master’s swim lanes to see what was going on. I pushed off from the side and held my breath half way down the pool in hopes of the fastest 25-yard sprint time. My hand slaps the wall as a wake of water spills over the sides. My teammates and I arrive simultaneously, and I rip my goggles off to look. Still, I did not touch first. However, I did decrease my base 100 time by 5 seconds today, and had a breakthrough workout.

 

My arm muscles are tight as I sit here and peck at my keyboard. Today’s workout did its job ~ that is, it kept me a day or so younger. My left quad hurts just above the knee from yesterday’s run, and my bunion is starting to throb at random times during the day, a possible sign that I might need surgery in the near future. The athletic tape I wore in yesterday’s run to keep my heart rate monitor from rubbing my skin raw again actually worked. However, the tape irritated the remaining skin that wasn’t already raw and is making me itch like crazy. There must be a remedy for all this. Ah yes, perhaps it is youth.

 

So here I go, telling myself what Mimi told me over and over. You better like yourself as you age, what you are, and who you stand for. Be thankful for what you have, and live by example of how you want others to view you. I’ve often been told I am a role model for a lot of people, both young and old, and it’s times like these when I need to remember that and pick myself up and just “go”. It is hard to let go of being the fastest or the strongest, and step aside so that others can shine. I am working on finding comfort in just being able to “go”, rather than just being able to “go fast”. I turn 50 this year, and even though I’d never want to be called 50, I am thrilled to be racing in the 50-55 age group (you are allowed to race in the age group of your age as of the last day of the year). You probably would never hear a normal person say, “I’m in the 50 age-group (and be excited about it)!” It seems odd that an athlete wants to be classified in the oldest age group they can before they are actually that age. Isn’t that calling yourself old? It is a strange phenomenon.

 

So to keep it lighthearted and young, I got a new cross bike yesterday, a belated Christmas present. A cross bike can go on the pavement or dirt/gravel roads. You can also race it on a cross course which is often built anywhere there is some vacant land. The courses typically have obstacles where you have to dismount, jump over, and then jump back on quickly and keep pedaling. There are sand pits and hecklers that ring cow bells and either cheer for you (if you’re lucky), or make fun of you and offer you beer. It is a great winter time off-season sport here in Texas. I’ll be using mine mostly for rolling around the backcountry gravel grinders (races that use a mix of back country farm-to-market and gravel roads). I hope I see you out there. I’ll be the one with white dust pasted to my face from trying to hang on to all the young, fast wheels out there. I won’t be in the lead, but I’ll have fun holding on for dear life, and giving the fast ones something to work for. I’m back in the saddle again, and maybe, just maybe, by spring I will have rolled those extra pounds off my body and put myself back in contention for some national or world championship medals in my newly adopted age group. That…and a smile on my face that is unmistakably Mimi saying, “Come on, let’s get with it. No whining; no one said it’s going to be easy!”

 

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USARA Nationals – 2012

USARA Nationals, Kerhonkson, NY, 10/13/12

Team MOAT – Nathan Winkelman, Jason Winkelmann, Kathy Hudson

7th Place Coed

 

Little fat sausage links ~ brings to mind the start of a great breakfast for some. For me though, it is my feet. I just got home from 24-hour Adventure Race Nationals. I don’t know why they bother to call it a 24-hour race, when in reality, it has a 30-hour cutoff; this year’s course kept my team hostage for 28.5 hours. Just as my sausage swollen toes have subsided, only 48 hours after crossing the finish line, so too will the memories fade as I recover. The old saying, “Pain is temporary”, is true, and I guess that is what keeps us all coming back for more. If we remembered the pain, it might make it harder to sign up the next time. The nerves in my toes are still dead, but the numb and tingling sensation should go away in a few days as they regenerate.

 

My schedule is pretty full from putting on about 25 events this year, giving me very little time to race myself. It forces me to be very selective with my race choices, and lately, it has only included about 3 races a year. This race required many days of endurance training. It also required constant support from loved ones. All my training spent for the last six months for this race has been in the Texas heat. Needless to say, it was great for my endurance and how to handle the heat over an extended time, but not so good in terms of clothing choices to wear/carry for an extended cold weather race. You must pack everything for the entire race in your backpack, including water and food for up to 30 hours. It has been 9 years since I did an expedition length adventure race, and it is hard to remember the amount of food I eat per hour when staying up all night racing.

 

My teammates and I arrived in the Catskill mountains near Kerhonkson, New York 4 days early to acclimate and explore. The weather was beautiful, but the pre-race meeting the night before the race gave us the bad news; a cold front was blowing in, with rain and dropping temps.

 

Race morning brought a 4:30am wake up call and a 5:30am meeting to receive our race maps. This year, the checkpoints were pre-plotted, so our only job was to strategize our route choices before having to load a bus at 6am to take us to the starting line on Lake Pepacton in the Catskills up north. Each bus had 11 rows of seats for 14 teams of 3, plus all our gear. You can do the math to figure out how great this can of sardines looked. Driving to the start was not the most condusive situation for planning our race strategy, as other teams where now mixed on our row with us, and our team captain, Nathan, was on the row behind me. No matters, we got it done before arriving at the lake for the start, to the unwelcome site of a light rain and a drop in temperature. Some racers scrambled off the bus and scattered into the trees to relieve bladders, while other teams made their way down to the canoes to get the first choice of a boat….they were all the same.

 

We were sure to not grab the boat with the hole halfway through the outer layer, OK, maybe not all exactly the same. Then, at the last minute we received an envelope which contained information that our team would not have to stay together on this leg of the race. Normal rules for adventure racing are that your team of 3 must always stay within 10 meters of each other while on foot, so this gave us the opportunity to place Jason on shore to run to one check point inland, while Nathan and I paddled to another checkpoint across the lake to retrieve a point up a draw and then back across to rendezvous at a pre-determined spot. This worked well for the entire paddle leg, and we thought we would have one of the fastest paddle times as we had been with the top 4 canoes of the 55 teams from the time the canon fired at the start.

The start of the paddle

There were quite a few strategies between all the teams, and though we were good paddlers, our strength could not overcome the 2 teams that joined forces and got in each other’s boats, working together to find the checkpoints on the lake 25 minutes faster than any other team. Nathan had actually thought of the idea, but I thought they had told us in the pre-race meeting that helping other teams was forbidden. I was mistaken, as race management did not penalize these teams and later said, “There was no rule against it.”

 

So we finished the paddle to another round of rain and a 25-minute deficit to the leaders, and though our backpacks were in trash bags in the bottom of the canoe, they still managed to get soaked. As a result of the wet clothes, I spent the next 5-10 minutes in transition area switching the tights I wore during the paddle with what I thought was a dry pair in my pack, then after realizing it was also wet, went back to the first pair, before deciding one more time to switch to the other pair. Not only were my feet numb from being in 2 inches of water in the bottom of our canoe for 3 hours, but so was my brain. This was not one of my faster transitions.

 

King of the Mountain leg

Our next leg of the race was a mountain bike section – a very long mountain bike section. The first 6-miles was timed, to see who was the fastest to the top of the mountain (there was a special award for this). We were going to go for the “King of the Mountain” award, if it didn’t cost us too much energy expenditure. It was a blazing start, and we passed several teams who had started just in front of us with faster transition times. Then Nathan put me on a tow rope (a small dog leash attached to his seat post and then carabineered to my bike handlebar stem), but the tow rope was too short and held my bike only 2-3 inches from his rear wheel. I felt uneasy, and within a few minutes, had taken it off. Then, I heard this familiar noise of tires humming and another bike coming from behind. When I looked over, it was Team Tecnu, using a double tow system. Kyle, their team captain, was connected to the guy behind him, who was connected to their girl in the back. This was very impressive as they rode by, and there was nothing we could do about it but admire them. Our King of the Mountain hopes diminished. Nate dropped his chain and our hopes ended. No worries though, we knew we were in the running and in the top teams, so we continued on, navigating to all the checkpoints and optional checkpoints along the bike route. The race is all about who finds the most checkpoints. You are ranked first by number of checkpoints, and secondly by your time. Of course, you must finish within 30 hours, or be penalized by the loss of one checkpoint for every minute you are late. No GPS units are allowed, only the topo maps given by race management, and your compass.

 

The dirt trails and old jeep roads were covered primarily in a layer of slick rocks and secondarily by a layer of multicolored leaves on top, making the rocks hard to see. Negotiating this section was harder than I thought it would be, as all the trails were also mushy from the rain. I began to warm up so I took off my rain jacket. As luck would have it, the skies began to dump a light snow/sleet mixture right after I had put my jacket away, and though it was cold, Jason reminded me of how truly epic this was; I agreed.

 

Navigating in the forest

The checkpoints on the bike leg were not along the trail, but rather, you needed to ditch your bike and run into the woods for 100 to 300 meters to get them. I honestly don’t remember a single checkpoint being easy – especially the ones requiring you to descend steep hills or gullies in mountain bike shoes, go in creeks and then climb back up. However, Jason was spot on with his navigation, and we quickly cleared this section. The bike leg was long however, as we were rode for most of the daylight hours. We broke several items (Jason’s bike bag, Nathan’s waterbottle cage and a rear derailleur). We rode into the next transition area with about 2 hours of daylight left.

 

Now to a trekking/navigation leg, with an award to the team with the fastest time to complete this section.  We started with dry feet, so at first, were careful not to run through the creeks and marshes. We came to a marshy crossing that was just wide enough that I was concerned about clearing the jump. I watched as Captain Nate cleared the jump landing safely on the other side, then Major Jason next with a few inches to spare, then me, in all my glory, running fully speed only to hesitate at the last moment and fall short, landing squarely in the swamp mud with the suction of it pulling my right shoe off. Nathan yelled at Jason to grab it before it disappeared forever to the swamp gods. Thus became the theme for the day, that Jason just couldn’t have anything nice, as his dry gloves were now covered in swamp mud. We cleared all the checkpoints in this section in less than 1.5 hours.

Beautiful Surroundings

However, Team Sog stole our thunder by a couple of minutes. No worries though, as we were still upbeat that Jason was spot on for every point. I remember him asking me to take a 1300 meter pace count (We’ve measured how far we travel per step in varying conditions) as we followed his azimuth and thinking we would never pop out of the woods at the right spot. This is where we surged through thousands of laurel bushes, so thick we often had to yell at each other to know where we each were. We struggled against this native plant to stay on our azimuth (bearing or direction). It was a good feeling to pop out in the open forest at our checkpoint at the end of that maze. At one point, we were all standing with in 5 meters of each other, and Nathan didn’t even see a checkpoint that was 3 feet from his head. Fortunately Jason did.

 

We returned to transition and our bikes and headed out again. Eventually we made our way to a small restaurant on a backcountry road in the dark. There we found familiar faces (our support crew and the race directors), warm food, a bathroom with toilet paper, an instant cappuccino machine, and a warm fire. I indulged in all but the fire, as Nathan pushes the team out the door never wanting us to get too comfortable.

 

It was hard to leave the warmth of the restaurant, as we had a fast downhill to follow where my shaking body and numb hands had trouble turning on my helmet lights. What should have been a screaming downhill was more like an earthquake shaking descent where I didn’t know whether my body was shaking more than the bike. It was very cold.

 

Here we left our bikes again for a 9-mile land navigation section on foot. For us, it felt like 20 miles, as we often were on our knees, and yes, even my belly, crawling under more sections of laurel bushes. Nathan got stabbed in the eye with a branch, and we all hoped his cornea wasn’t scratched. We helped a few other teams during this section who were lost, and after the last checkpoint, got slightly off bearing ourselves and popped out in a neighborhood forcing us to run some roads back to the transition area. The volunteers wondered why we were coming from such a weird direction. Oh well. This transition area included warm soup that smelled a bit strange, but I didn’t care as it was at least warm.

 

The toe warmers on my bike shoes are now frozen and torn, covered in a layer of ice. I break the seal of ice and the toe warmer shreds on the bottom, decreasing its insulating abilities exponentially. This is a bike-O memory section. Very challenging at night when you are tired and cold. You study a map of trails that look like spaghetti, and then without the map, you must ride to where you remember the checkpoint being. We start off and immediately lose the trail at a road crossing where there are huge mounds of dirt blocking our view. We stumble around in the woods until we see other bike lights, then jump on their trail, not knowing where exactly in the loop we are. Somehow, we find the checkpoint and now have to memorize to get to the next one. This one was much easier, but the 3rd one took the wind out of our sails. Here, in our haste with 3 other teams near us, we charge off without a good understanding of where we were going, and quickly find ourselves lost on the wrong trail. We don’t even know which direction takes us back to transition. After messing around for about 30 minutes, we decide to ride backwards to the start of this section and give up the remaining 2 points on this section of the race. We knew it would cost us the win because we would not clear the course, but in our minds, we felt we were hours behind the leaders already. In reality, it was hard to know where anyone was on this course. We should have stayed focused, waited 15 more minutes for daylight, and started over.

 

Moving on with the course, we then had a short bike uphill section. There were more checkpoints by bike, including one in particular where we lost the trail and it became a hike w/bike on shoulder through the laurel bushes again. Somehow it seemed ok to be lost this time because several teams were following us. We were in the same predicament together. Everyone agreed if we stayed on our azimuth, we would pop out on the road, and fortunately, that led us to the next transition area.

 

At this point in the race, you aren’t running. In fact, I’m not sure if what I was doing was even walking. We had 7 more hours to find 10 more checkpoints. We started this section off not with a bang, but more of a fizzle, not paying attention and forgetting to pace count and leave the trail from a known point. We eventually found the point, but this became the theme for a while.

Great views

We looked for one checkpoint up the wrong draw and after ascending 200-300 meters in altitude up the boulder filled gully, we realized our mistake and descended back down. We were so convinced that we were in the right draw that we told another team they were lost. Turns out they weren’t, and we were. This wasn’t so bad though, as they lead us right to a checkpoint we had missed earlier and then into the correct draw that we now needed to climb 200 meters of altitude back up to get the checkpoint.  The first 3 checkpoints on this leg used a lot of our energy and 3 hours of our time.  Now apparent that we are running out of time to clear all these checkpoints on this leg, we decided to go for only one of the 3 points at the farthest point on the course. However, we couldn’t find one of the many trails on the map that was now overgrown, so we unknowingly walked right across the trail. A small plane flew over twice, and the thought crossed my mind of a search and rescue mission. It is times like this when you are down and feeling lost that your mind plays tricks on you. Eventually, another team walked by us on the trail we were looking for and we were able to recover. We now had to give up 4 optional checkpoints on this end of the course to make the time cutoff.

 

Then came my favorite leg of the race. Traveling down a creek for several kilometers grabbing 3 checkpoints along the way. I no longer cared about getting my feet wet as I ran right through the middle of it. Even when I slipped on the moss covered rock, hitting hard on my hip and bouncing squarely in the water, I didn’t care. We could smell/hear the waterfall ahead, and knew we were home free after that.

 

The waterfall rappel

Our final 2 checkpoints were at the falls ~ one at the top, one at the bottom. What lied between was a 75-foot rappel. What a fitting end to this epic adventure! This was, no doubt, my favorite part of the race. Our bikes were waiting for us on a road near the bottom of the falls, and all that was left was a 4-mile screaming descent to the finish, where we passed 3 or 4 teams using up every ounce of energy we had left. I wish I could have moved that fast for the entire race! We ended up 7th.

Finish Line

 

 

I empty my pack back at the room and find a lot of leaves and pine needles, a pair of knee warmers and socks I never wore, a bag of pizza, a PB&J sandwhich, 4 or 5 bars, 7 scoops of accelerade powder, 5 Powergels, and a bag of gorp. I even have over a liter of water left. A warm shower followed and the defrosting of the feet. This is when I realized the pain I hadn’t been feeling, and could barely put my shoes on for the awards ceremony, as they now looked like swollen sausages. Races like these are nothing I would ever do solo, but somehow, when you have 2 teammates, running/walking/crawling/riding through the things we did seems possible. I always realize we can do more as humans than we think we can when I race. In all, we covered about 12 miles paddling, 60 miles of mtn biking & 28 miles trekking in 28.5 hours. We climbed over 12,000 feet in elevation gain, give or take a few extra gullies. I would consider it some of the toughest miles I have ever covered. Many of them were spent fighting our way through bushes, sticks, knee high vine grabbers, water, and rock. Would I do it again? Of course!

Swollen Feet

 

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