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.
We 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. 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.
“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
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”.