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RR: Conquered the Mountain

Posted May 14 2012 5:18pm
So that thing I didn't think would be possible for me to do? Well, I did it. One helluva day on the bike, unlike any I've ever experienced (literally- my longest nonstop bike, and hardest, to date). The best part: Even with all the "good suffering" I felt amazing and had the endurance and energy necessary. I think a large part of that is because I"m finally figuring out what nutrition works best for me.

So I'm talking about the Conquer the Mountain Mountain Bike Race , formerly known as The Traverse. It's  a 45+ mile ride (I clocked 46.33 miles) with 8,500 ft elevation gain up and around Saddleback Mountain in the Santa Ana's -- not to mention 8,300ft of decent -- with a good amount of gnarly terrain. Truly something beyond anything I've ever (seriously) trained for or competed in, with an elevation profile out of my league... so why the hell do it? Well, why the hell not? Perfect for Mother's Day weekend... yup, Mom did it too.

I've gained a lot of confidence on the MTB in rides so far this year, but I have a looong way to go. So that said, I was pretty damn happy with my performance Saturday. Heck, just showing up was a big deal for me. There were only 6 girls who even did this race (including my mom and I)! Overall, it took me 7:04 to get from start to finish, but that's with ~30 minutes of time I spent totally stopped -- stops included a long aid station stop because I dropped a bottle somewhere and needed to refill with their resources, a pretty significant crash onto some rocks during the downhill, numerous times where I almost fell but clipped out instead and had to pause to clip back in and get going, and a couple other brief aid station stops to pound water. My ride time according to the Garmin was 6:35.

Putting that in perspective, the pros completed the entire thing in 4:35ish. And the fastest girl (a pro I believe) did it in that time too. Dang! I heard they even had a sprint to the finish. Rad!

Race morning started with the typical 4:30 AM alarm... oh joy. Surprisingly, I wasn't gunning for brekkie right away -- I was still full from all the food I ate Friday knowing that I needed to load up to avoid bonk town. I still had my typical sweet potato/almond milk mash with a full egg and lotsa coffee. Right before we started, a banana. Race start was 7 AM and it was kinda warm but still chilly and foggy. Instead of a formal "race gun" we had the director saying something casual like, "Ok, annnd, ready, set, go!" Love it.
All 41 of us racers getting ready! See me waving on the left?

Note: There were more than enough port-o-potties for once! And, btw, the girl in white/green in the front won with a 4:30 and change. She rocks!

Guy in white shirt was race director, who casually set us off into the mountains. Love the laid-back races.

The first couple miles are nearly flat leading out to the first hill, so it serves well as a warm up on trail. Pretty much everyone passed me... but I was playing my game not theirs in this race. Then the climbing starts. My bike was in tip-top shape and checked over 1 million times, but it's an old POS (sorry mom) and right off the bat it was skipping gears so I had to adjust the derailuer... thank God I know how to do this now! For the next 4+ hours it was pretty much all CLIMBING -- more than 6k of it, with brief breaks of flats or downhills, which were like heaven to the legs. For the first 4 hours my average HR was 160. And I felt awesome! Endurance is there. I made it to the first check point in 3hr20min, 20+ minutes faster than when I did this in training, and without any real stops like I'd done in training.

SIDE NOTE: My biggest uncertainty in this race was making it to the check points before the cutoff times -- which were 4hrs for the first one (11 AM); 5hr30min for the second (12:30 PM). So to be at #1 at 10:20 AM was AWESOME. Gave me room to take longer to "die" up the next section.

After the first check point we continued to the top of Saddleback, which is some of the more insane riding in the whole race. Imagine traversing up "boulder gravel," as I call it. It's just silly. Several times I had no choice but to walk, and I'm certain I went faster doing that than had I tried riding. During that section, I was really pleased when I passed a couple younger guys, who didn't pass me back until the downhill. Got to the top of Saddleback and was tempted to rest and enjoy the view, but screw that, I was determined to get to the second check point before 12:30.
View from top of saddleback from another training ride before the race.
Just because the bulk of climbing is done after cresting Saddleback, that doesn't mean it gets easy. I'm not the best climber, but I can hang, but with downhill? I'm a weenie unless it's tame terrain, then I'll go fast. In this case, it's insanely tough downhill of lots of loose chunky gravel, sand, crazy turns and it's hard to hold a line. Although, this would all be "cakewalk" compared with the final decent down Trabuco Trail, aka single track of death!

The aftermath of the fall... ouch!
I was caustiously navitgating down, hands throbbing from being on the brakes nonstop, but I was managing it well enough... until... BAM. Bottom of a little hill with a sharp right turn all on loose dirt/sand and tons of rocks... I crashed. And I hit hard. Broke skin and jammed some stuff. It was enough to make me cry even because I was partly scared and partly in pain. But I knew I couldn't go there and I had to toughen up. I was alone except for a couple hikers who asked I was OK. I gained composure as best I could and started riding convincing the tears to stop. And they did. Got my mojo back and hit the #2 check point at 11:40AM, more than enough time even with setbacks! Whew! No more cutoffs to make after that -- relief.

There were about 5-7 more miles until the final turn into the death single track, and I forgot how much climbing that still included... it just feels relentless when you're doing it and the hills don't get any nicer. Later found out that one of the big ones in that section is called "The Wall" because... well... needless to say I walked up 80% of it, maybe it was a half mile, maybe a mile... who knows. I wasn't losing faith, in fact I was still in awe of how strong I felt, but I still couldn't help laughing at myself for choosing to do these crazy things. Good times.
Typical hillage.

While it was a relief to see Trabuco Trail because I knew that meant the climbing was DONE, I was weary of the unknown... this was the only trail I hadn't practiced, and it would highlight my main weakness in MTB. I had to be tough and face the fact that I might have to walk a lot.

Annnnd, I was right. Holy shit. A skinny little trail with a cliff to your left on terrain that's mostly big loose rocks, gravel, boulders, loose dirt, and at times you're fully engulfed in trees and shrub like you're going through a cave. Ridic! I was pissed that I couldn't finish the ride with smooth sailing and hammering downhill, plus I had to say so focused and on top of it that I couldn't even enjoy the fact that it was extremely gorgeous out there and just pure serene beauty (minus the poison oak). It was just me, all alone, run-hiking down for probably 70%. The parts I did ride were just as slow as my climbing pace, ha, and a lot of the time I had one foot clipped out to help balance and be able to put a foot down in a second. I still slammed into some shrub and had lots of mini crashed, probably looking like a drunk descending. A few guys who I'd passed, passed me back during that part. Wah. Finally, about 5 miles later and 55 minutes of that trail, I was almost to the home stretch when a girl passed me! Crap! If only I was... but I stopped myself, and said, "Wait don't be like that, you weren't in this race to be competitive. Your goal was to survive. This is not your specialty." Later found out the girl who passed me at the end is an expert and would have smashed me overall had she not had mechanicals that slowed her up.

I'm that little spec heading in... the race dog, aka good ol' Sydney, was out there too waiting at the finish line! Love that dog!
When I hit the end of Trabuco Trail I was stoked. All that was left was 5 miles on bumpy fire road, easy enough for me to hammer 20+ mph to the finish line. (I was shocked I even had the energy to hammer those last 5 miles at that pace!)

Bringing it in.
Finish line.... ahhh.... that point where you know all the suffering has paid off and you accomplished your goal. Nothing sweeter, especially when this race held a lot of question marks for me. I did what I thought was out of my league. A very satisfying feeling. And I wasn't last either! Got 29th out of 41, I believe haha.

My dad and grandma were at the finish line waiting in the 90 degree heat, and beyond them there were a few race organizers taking times. Looks like I missed the party. But let's be honest, that's because I was a good 2.5 hours later than the fast peeps! 

Happy and showing off the battle wounds. I even contemplated a t-run, I swear! Saved the run till Sunday though.

With grandma. Super special because usually our races are too far away for her to make it out, so this meant a lot to my mom and I!

Speaking of Mom, she unfortunately had a rough day (bonk town and depleted), but fortunately for her she's one tough lady and persevered, getting to the finish line about 45 minutes after me. It's the longest race/ride she's ever done too. I know on a good day she probably would have been maybe 10 minutes, if that, behind me!
Mom bringing it in, with Syd having to run alongside of course. You won't get any officials saying "no family/pets at the finish line" at a race like this haha!
And last but not least, a special picture of three generations together in the name of sport, health, fun and family! :)



Never will look at that mountain the same way.
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