Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Moab Rocks Stage Race

Last year the Moab Rocks Stage Race was on my radar for what was supposed to conclude an epic 2013 of mountain bike racing.  With my axillary recurrence, and subsequent do-over of cancer treatment, it did not happen.  In fact, the day that I was supposed to be traveling down to Moab for the race I was three weeks out from finishing chemo and getting my 'dry-run' (which means practice session) for radiation.

So being the determined and stubborn person I am, I decided way back in 2013 that if I was able and healthy, I would race Moab Rocks in 2014.  I suppose it was a pretty lofty goal considering I hadn't done a stage race since 2009, recovery after races has been difficult since my original treatment in 2011-let along three consecutive days of racing- and it was yet to be seen if I could even race competitively after my second round of treatment.  But, I have found that daydreaming about being strong and fast and racing hard helps get me through the darkest days of treatment.   Never give up.  Never give in.  Never quit! (note:  my mantra was borrowed from a good friend:)

Fast forward to summer 2014 and I had every reason to be stoked.  First and foremost, I was healthy and had returned to a competititive level of racing. However my consistency wasn't quite where I wanted it to be for a stage race, which as trivial as it sounds in the big scheme of things, I admit was a bit frustrating.  Despite this, I  accepted my current fitness for what it was and had no big plans of changing up my Fall training plan until I ran into friend and coach, Sarah Kaufman.  I suddenly had the epiphany that I wanted Sarah to coach me in prep for Moab Rocks, so I started on her plan, and haven't looked back.  Sarah had just two-and-a-half months to prepare me for my 'A' race, and while I had a fairly solid base, it still wasn't much time.  She put together a solid program with plenty of hard workouts, a strong emphasis on recovery, and even fit in my mandatory weekly trail runs and weight workouts to support my bone health.

The program was clearly working as I could feel myself getting stronger and more consistent with every race I did.  The week before Moab Rocks my bike got a final tune at Go-Ride and I felt ready. That said, you never know if everything will come together as planned for a peak race let alone three consecutive days of racing.

My beautiful Pivot 429 Carbon ready to race.
Build:  Stans NoTubes Race Gold wheels, Continetnal Mountain King Protection tire (front), X-king protection (rear). Rock Shox World Cup 100mm travel.  Enve flat super wide bar.  SRAM XX1 28x11-42.  Xpedo M-Force8 pedals.  Bontrager -17degree stem.  Ergon SM3 Pro saddle and GS1 grips.  KS LEV dropper post.  Shimano XTR brakes.

I usually don't go through the play-by-plays of a race as they are often mundane and boring, and perhaps my play-by-plays will read as mundane and boring, however IMO Moab Rocks was some of the closest and most exciting racing of my career, so here goes!

Stage 1:  Porcupine Rim:  Stage 1 started in town and climbed 20 miles up Sand Flats Road before descending down Upper and Lower Porcupine Rim trails.  The 'neutral' start didn't exactly feel neutral as my heart rate shot up pretty quickly.  My plan was to maintain a steady pace up the climb, however light it up a bit if needed to hang with a group.  Sand Flats Road gets steep pretty quick and I was expecting to get shot off the back as soon as this happened; instead the opposite happened.  I started passing people despite maintaing a comfortable pace.  It was exhilarating.  As things flattened out I was able to match the accelerations to hang with the group, and soon enough we were cruising along at a comfortable pace.  As we neared the 10 mile mark, the group started to splinter, but drafting became less of an issue as the road pitched up.  I rode the remainder of the road with my new friend from Minnesota who was on a super awesome retro 26" hard tail spec'd out with v-brakes and ~60mm of travel.  At this point I wasn't sure what position I was in with the women standings, but thought perhaps I was in the lead.  It didn't last long though as we hit upper Porcupine single track I flailed around trying to follow the trail and was soon passed by Canadian Margie Smith.  I plugged along, not knowing exactly where the finish was, and was caught off guard when another Canadian Jen Schulz passed me.  I finally arrived to the remote finish in 3rd place overall, 2nd Open Women just 45 seconds out of the lead.

Stage 1 Open Women Podium: Me, Jen Schulz, Pepper Harlton

Stage 2:  Klondike Bluffs:  Stage 2 started ~15 miles outside of Moab.  We left beautiful weather in Moab and just 15 short miles away arrived to 25 mph wind gusts and threatening skies at the Klondike Trailhead.  Fortunately the rain held out, but the wind persisted throughout the stage.  We started on a dirt road a couple of miles from the Klondike trailhead.  While the pace was manageable, it was complete mayhem in the group with people getting blown off their lines by the strong wind and ruts galore along the road.

Each day of Moab Rocks was a bipolar combination of jeep roads and rocky trails. 
 Here on Stage 2, you can see the dark clouds behind us.  
You can't see the crazy strong winds blowing us around!

I focused on staying safe and holding the wheel in front of me, however soon found myself in a small, incredibly lazy group.  Pepper Harlton was glued to my rear wheel and none of the guys in the group seemed too enthusiastic about taking pulls as well.  For the most part I was stuck out front with a crazy side wind, not sure exactly what to do.  I went fast.  I went slow.  It didn't really matter.  Finally we arrived to the Klondike slick rock trails.  It started with a nice long traversy climb and I caught my breath before getting into a climbing rhythm.  By the top of the climb I had a nice little gap on Pepper and was riding with my friend Ken from Salt Lake.  He encouraged me to get on his wheel.  Suddenly we realized that there were no more course markings the way we were headed.  We could see some racers ahead, we just couldn't find the trail.  Note to self: keep your head up and don't follow blindly!  Our little diversion allowed Pepper to catch up and the two of us proceeded to ride the majority of the stage together, taking punches and swapping positions.

One of my favorite photos.  
Me being chased by Pepper Harlton on Stage 2 and I'm smiling!  
It was so fun out there! 

I caught her wheel on the final big climb of the stage and we started the Alaska downhill together.  She made a mistake, which didn't happen often, and I scooted around and followed a guy down the rest of the descent.  I quickly learned how much easier it was to follow someone on slick rock descents instead of having to focus so hard on trying to follow the faded dotted line.  Toward the bottom of the descent there was a blind turn into a short, quick, steep ledge.  The guy I was following and I were both in too big of a gear and got stopped.  Pepper cruised up the ledge and was gone before we even got on our bikes, the perfect attack, except soon after she missed a turn, lost a lot of time, and any hope for a stage win.  I rode strong and consistent to the finish where I was told I was the first female to cross the line.  There was so much mayhem on the initial road section that I didn't know where I was and was psyched to finish first overall, however I was also bummed that Pepper had made a wrong turn and we couldn't sprint it out to the finish.  I got over that pretty quickly; it's not every day that I win a stage!  I enjoyed the moment, and then directed my attention to preparing for the final stage of the race.

After Stage 2 my bike donned the Open women's leader plate!

Every single day the scenery was breathtaking!

Stage 3:  Magnificent 7:  My solid stage 2 performance put me into the Open women's lead, however less than 4 minutes separated me from 2nd place which really isn't too much time.  Although barring any mechanicals and/or wrong turns, I was confident that I could maintain that lead.  I was now on the defensive with very strong women ready to capitalize on any mistake I made.  I had a plan for the final stage that included going hard on the jeep road climb to try to create a gap and then smooth and steady on the rocky sections with my eyes glued to the dotted line as to not miss a turn.  My plan was off to a great start as I immediately got a gap going up the first climb, as we descended down the back side of road for the first time I ran out of gears on my 1x11 and couldn't go quite as fast as I wanted too; this probably wouldn't have been too big of a deal except I ended up coming to a complete stop at an intersection to make sure I didn't take a wrong turn.  At this point Margie passed me with Pepper on her wheel.  I hopped back on and followed them for the next mile or so finally catching them as we headed into single track.  Margie led, I followed, with Pepper on my wheel.  We rode together for the next 10 miles.  Margie rode fantastic lines and it was fun following her wheel, however at some point I decided that I could go a bit faster.  I am not sure why I decided this, because it absolutely wasn't necessary to maintain my overall position, but I passed Margie.  I had just started to build a small gap when my front wheel got caught in some sand and I crashed.  I jumped back on the bike, a bit shaken, and took up the caboose of the girl train.  We were soon spit out onto a jeep road with big rocks and drops.  Still a bit out of sorts, I crashed (more like fell over:) two more times and watched as Margie and Pepper rode away.  I took some deep breaths, knowing that I needed to get my head back on straight to maintain my overall position.  For the next 8 miles or so of rocky downhill trail, I rode steady and smooth with my eyes once again glued to the dotted line.

Carefully following the dotted line.  You can see the faint yellow marks on the slick rock.  
Difficult to see when racing hard and seeing stars instead of lines! 

Toward the bottom of the descent I came upon Pepper who was just getting back on her bike.  I shot her a, "you're kidding" as this was her third mishap in as many days.  We then came out onto the jeep road for a flat section before the final climb and descent to the finish.  I decided to sit on Pepper's wheel and attack on the climb.  At this point I really couldn't find any sense in pulling her around.  She was going really slow.  It was excruciating sitting on her wheel.  So I attacked a little before I planned and got a gap pretty quick.  It felt like I was attacking so hard up that final climb, but after three days of racing, it was more like a turtle race.  I pounded my pedals all the way to the finish, however it ended up being anti-climatic as Pepper flatted again and finished minutes later.  In the end, I won the stage and the overall in the Open Women category and finished 2nd place overall women.

Women's Open overall podium:  Jen, Me, Pepper

I really feel that this race was a turning point in once again having confidence in my body to race at an elite level.  Although I have had more than a lifetime's share of health set-backs, I am once again in awe of my body's ability to bounce back.  

Now, one week later, I feel like I am just starting to come out of my stage racing withdrawal.  I plan to give my body plenty of time to recover, race a bit of cyclocross this Fall, and prepare for an epic 2015.  Stay tuned!


  1. Anne L (UK cyclist starting chemo)October 22, 2014 at 4:14 AM

    Loved reading this - it's really inspirational to me to hear how your body and your competitiveness has recovered!

  2. Way to go! This is awesome. Congratulations!!! I'm so proud of how you stuck with it. Not just with the race, either. You're such an inspiration!

  3. You did it! I am impressed how you continue to keep pushing the success of racing. YOU did it!