Sunday, February 5, 2017

Race Day Adventures: Cuyuna 45NRTH Whiteout

Pre-Race Selfie
I signed up for the Cuyuna 45NRTH Whiteout on a whim, being one that likes to "go big or go home" I had dubbed the 30k option the best choice for me. I figured since I would be doing (hopefully) a 20 mile race the following weekend, I felt it would be a great way to test myself. Test myself I did. Let the journey begin! The drive to the Cuyuna area was not bad, with traffic on our side we managed to get up there in record time.

(Because 5 hours+ on the road is super duper enjoyable!) My nerves were running rampant and had been for a few days prior, and that was highly typical. We arrived at the hotel and unpacked our luggage and housed our bikes in our room, then we headed to registration.

Registration gives an elevated air to the whole thing, because then it feels truly real. Everyone is excited, beer is flowing, people are laughing, and you start to feel giddy. You even see the Yeti, which is neat as can be, yet you are too nervous to go up for a photo. However, while sipping on Abrasive, a delicious Surly brew, you get to meet and chat with Jules, who you interviewed back in her Surly Bikes days. It was awesome.

Then I saw with my wee little eye, a pair of knee high 45NRTH socks, which your friend, Curtis, said "why not?" Chances are, that would be my big prize of the weekend- and they were size smalls, so I had to get them.
Being that I am a complete sock hound and I always love new socks, I deemed it destiny.

I went up to the counter at Red Raven Bike Cafe with my humble purchase, paid for with cash by the way. I didn't realize until later on the bottoms of the socks, one says Warm and the other says Biscuits. How could I NOT purchase socks that have the word Biscuts on them? Gimmie a break.

After beverages and sock-hoarding, we went to a little bar restaurant that was attached to an actual liquor store. So game plan was eat, then go next door to see if there was any local MN brew worth taking home. I actually didn't order chicken strips, but had a spicy chicken sandwich. I ordered cheese curds for us to split, because I honestly hadn't eaten anything all day minus my goldfish crackers. I suck at eating prior to races.
We stopped next door and I procured two beers to try- Fulton Sweet Child of Vine IPA and Indeed Brewing Company Let It Roll IPA. I'm pretty tame when it comes to being adventurous with beer- IPA and stouts are my go-to styles of beer. Back to the hotel to attempt to sleep, which is always something that seems to elude me prior to race day.

Sleep was difficult, but I did manage to get some crappy amount as I had weirdo dreams that didn't make sense. Otherwise I laid in bed and stared at my bike, in the darkness. A giant, blurry object leaning against the wall telling myself all of the words that Travis wrote on my mantra taped to my handlebars "I am good enough. I am strong. I am fast enough. I am loved."

Saturday came and I was wide awake, this was me for the day and that simply was what it would be. I managed to drink some hotel coffee and down two muffins. I think I have a record for the least amount of Pepto swigs to date...2.

It was nice to be so close to the event so we didn't have to dress and drive many miles to. We did have to park a wee ways away, but that wasn't a huge deal. I figured it would make for an easy out when we were done. I got to say hi to April Morgan, as she and her crew parked in front of us, which was exciting for me!

We rode to the start area and after a couple bathroom breaks for my nervous bladder, we went to test the track. I knew right away I'd let a little more air out of my rear tire. The snow was packed but soft and corners were especially tricky. I was feeling glad for the Vanhelga tires that Travis put on, yet I was anxious over how much air I should have. I didn't want to dump down super low and make the adventure more cumbersome, yet it felt a little mashed potato-y to me. Not having had much for a snow season in Decorah, I was excited and nervous as heck for this race.

I entered the gate a little late, I had envisioned myself being closer up front at the 2nd wave, but that wasn't going to happen. Damn me and my final bathroom break, however, I look back at it now and say it was for the best. Wave one went and my stomach was fluttering, then it was time for wave 2- in my mind I tried to tell myself to roll with it.

The first lap for me was brutal and completely not what I had expected. I should have had lower air pressure in my tires (tho later on, it was fine.) I was nervous and having a hard time riding the way I had hoped to ride. Even tho the trail was groomed, there was a legit section where everyone rode and that was the best and easiest line to ride. Had I bigger tires, I probably could've maneuvered the softer areas better for passing.

Passing was a challenge because if you went off the good line, you were in softer snow that wanted to drag and pull you willy nilly. There was difficulty in making a good pass, folks would end up hitting bars or falling into each other in their attempts. Corners were to be taken with caution, but it was still plenty easy to get sucked into a tire rut and go down. A few times I had the challenge of a poor line or hitting soft snow and that took me down. I embarrassingly caused a pile up with folks behind me, and I kept being pushed away and couldn't figure out what the frick to do. I wasn't sure if the fellow was trying to use me to balance himself or what. I was able to get myself back on my bike and riding again, hoping to ride away the thoughts that were creeping into my head "What the hell, Josie?!"

I was starting to feel down.
As I was further up on top and riding pretty well, my front tire got into soft snow when I was going around a corner and I went over the bars. My helmet visor struck a small tree and my brake lever smacked my knee. I heard "Rider Down!" and folks asked if I was okay as they rode past. I was humbled. I let them know I was alright and looked on as I kept seeing a literal river of riders roll past. There was enough of a break in the flow and I got myself back into the race. My head wasn't in a great place at that point, my heart felt sad. I had lost time, I felt a complete lack of confidence- but I had a 30k to finish.
I came down a hill and had to make a sharp right turn down a little steep slope. I have no idea what exactly happened other than I went down again. "Crap!" I said in my head and I quickly grabbed my bike and moved off to the side, lest someone was directly behind me. I then knew something was off, because when I went to get back on my front wheel wasn't budging. "NonononoNO!" I reached a point of high mental panic, wondering what I was going to do. First lap not even done and I feared the worst - a DNF. I smacked my tire, squeezed my brakes, I noted my front brake felt really firm. I thought maybe I had did something to the caliper as I went down, making it self-adjust. I moved the dial, and because I was looking down- I noticed that my cable housing wasn't fully down in the caliper. Once I pushed it back into place, I was good to go! Relief set in and I got back on my bike and pedaled away.

I finished the first lap, struggling mentally, but there was no way I would give up or give in to the negative self-talk. I ended up passing folks on the second lap and found myself riding with more confidence. I can't say that I fell one time on the second lap, which boosted my confidence. I knew without a doubt that this race would not be something that I would "place" in. I had not nearly the fitness level of the top riders and that was okay.

I had fun meeting Curtis in passing so we could exchange some "Woohoos!" This was an interesting race as you shared some of the uphills/downhills with riders going the opposite direction. I will admit I always worried when I came down, that I hoped to stay in the track of snow that was packed and not cause a huge pileup. There were times you got pretty close to riders coming the opposite direction, every time I did a section like that successfully I felt relief.
Ron Plinske and Touch the Sky Blue
As I kept going I felt more at home with the trail, I would say my biggest challenge was when I rode the climbs I knew I could power up them faster than what I was allowed to do. You couldn't pass on most of them due to being 2-way traffic, so you had to make due with where you were at during the moment. I used it as a positive- this would help me conserve a little energy so I could ride better up top.

I felt good after the second lap, and was proud of being able to eat my Honey Stinger chews and drink water from a non-frozen Camelbak. This was a complete change from my first winter race where I had no nutrition or hydration for 20 miles due to my inexperience. I could literally feel changes in myself as I ate and drank. I would feel low and then feel energized- my body and emotional self were tired, but I knew I had the sustenance and determination to keep going.

The final lap came to be, this was my last opportunity to push myself, but I also knew I wanted to be smart about it. Again, I had good riding without mishaps. I was able to pass some folks, tho I was always nervous I'd mess up. I came back behind a tall rider whom I shadowed for a large portion of lap 2, this time he asked if I wanted to get by. I said I'd try, did, and thanked him.

I ended up behind another woman, we had leapfrogged a bit, and she asked me if I wanted to pass stating I was "a faster rider than herself." I wasn't entirely sure I believed that, but said okay and thanked her. I tried to do my best to thank folks for their offers of passing as well as the volunteers.

I came to a section where I was riding behind a couple folks on a downhill. One of the riders was a woman who had a fall because her tire probably caught some potato snow. I heard her say "Damnit" or something similar. I felt bad, I had been there more times than I wanted to that day. I had been there several times during my winter riding season- I felt like I could feel her disappointment and frustration to my very core. I wanted to stop and give her a hug...something. Anything. I continued on, tho, because I knew that sometimes added attention to a situation was not what would make a person feel better. "I feel you. I know. I understand." I said in my head, hoping that she'd get the message somehow.

On my way up a climb Amanda Dekan and Erika Pond passed me on their downhill- giving me some whoops of encouragement "Go Josie Go!" I wish I wasn't climbing, so I could've given a better whoop back! I was also surprised because I had originally thought after my first lap, that I would never see them again. I looked at it that I did make up some form of time, even tho I wasted a good 2 minutes with my falls.

Eventually another climb later I heard someone say "Hey Martha!" and I knew then that I was behind another rider I respected- Martha Flynn. This lady is absolutely amazing and what she is accomplishing after healing her broken ankle/leg in July of last year is awesome. I wasn't sure, and I hated to ask, but I felt like I wanted to keep pushing my pace. Breathless from the climb I said from behind "Hi Martha! It's Josie!"
We said our hellos and she asked if I wanted to get by. I said I'd try, and made a wobbly yet successful pass. I thanked her and we continued on. I pushed the last bit of my ride hard, especially after I saw on my computer I indeed had a chance of pulling this off in under 2 hours. Oh my gosh, if I could, I would be so happy!

I hammered as hard as I could, crossing the line, and feeling so many emotions- I was relieved, I was happy, and I was a little disappointed. I had come into the event with high expectations and had my ass handed to me on a platter. Several times I wondered "why the hell am I even out here?" but I knew I was there because I wanted to be. I was there because I wanted to show other women that doing an event is completely possible- even if they don't place. It's not about winning, but simply proving to yourself you can do something. I proved to myself that even tho I had a challenging first lap, I could pull a 10th overall woman for the 30k race and 8th for my age category with persistence and determination and I finished in under 2 hours. (See official results here.) For those not wanting to see official results, I had a solid mid-pack status.
WOO! 
At the finish, I got to say hi and received more kind words from folks- Erika, Amanda, and Martha. Even Sonia Pond, one of the most genuinely kind women I can say I've had the pleasure of interviewing for my blog. Not really knowing any of them, yet being connected via the biking community, I have comfort in knowing that I know some truly badass women who inspire me and many others.
Nothing better than Darkness after a 30k!
I came away from the 45NRTH Whiteout with an appreciation for myself and what my body was able to do, even tho it was given challenges galore. I learned how to better my multi-tasking skills of taking in nutrition/hydration while riding. I learned to accept that sometimes you need to alter your goals and accept that there will be races that will not go as planned- and that's okay.
I also came away with more respect than ever for the amazing women who participate at events, and I'm not just talking about those who podium. I'm talking about those who ride for the pure joy if simply being there and doing what they can for helping to encourage their fellow women. It's absolutely beautiful, and I hope that I can better be that women who is able to do so for others during events that I participate at in the future. I keep being inspired by these fabulous folks and I hope that those of you reading this- who are either the ones making the podium or the ones that don't- that you keep on being awesome as you are.
Keep it silly :)

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