Road, Gravel, and Trail: A Summary of Race Weekends on the Way to Arkansas

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One week until I graduate college! It has been a whirlwind these past couple of weeks and I have been focusing on finishing up classes, studying for exams, and defending my honors thesis. Because of this, I haven’t really been keeping the race blog updated. That certainly doesn’t mean I haven’t been racing though! I’m currently on the way to Mountain Bike Marathon Nationals in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, so I’ll use this thirteen hour drive in an attempt to summarize the last few race weekends and update on what’s to come.

Back in mid April, I competed in my last ever race as an Appalachian State cyclist. It was bittersweet putting on the familiar black and gold kit for the last time, especially as I thought about what the team had meant to me over the last four years. I was lucky enough to be vice president of the mountain bike team my sophomore year, and team president for the past two years. Without the support and push to be better from my teammates, I would not be as involved in the cycling community, nor would I have prioritized my racing and training as much.

It had always been a goal of ours to host our home road race in the actual town of Boone. In the past, we have hosted in nearby Wilkesboro, West Jefferson, or Morganton. While these have been great venues, we’ve always dreamed of racing in our immediate backyard. This year, thanks to the Boone Area Cyclists and my vice presidents/race director teammates, David and Matt, we got to finally make that a reality. Saturday’s road race took place in the beautiful Cove Creek area, just minutes from downtown Boone. The course was incredibly scenic, and very similar to the CowBelle Classic ride route that I helped with in August.

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Unfortunately, the weather on Saturday, April 7thwas chilly, wet, and less than ideal. We got lucky with the women’s race in the morning, going out early and beating the rain. The plan was to do 45 miles and 4 laps, and early into the first lap five of us broke away from the group. Shortly after the long climb however, myself and another rider were dropped and trying to work together to catch the three in front. One downside to scenic rural courses is that the roads are often not kept up as well so they aren’t always in the best shape. Coming onto the second lap, I felt my back tire increasing resistance with every pedal. I looked down and saw that I had a slow flat, and without any flat kit or spare wheels, I had to make the decision to pull over and wait for a SAG car to pick me up. I was bummed to not be able to finish for the first time in a road race, but the upside was that I could conserve some energy for the crit the next day.

 

Sunday’s criterium course started on Rivers Street, which runs right through the campus of Appalachian State. It went up to turn right on Depot Street, turned left on Howard Street, left again on Water Street, and then left back onto Rivers Street. The biggest technical feature of the course was the 180 degree turn on Rivers Street. We had all four lanes blocked off for bikes, so the turn was safe but challenging to carry speed into. The weather was a huge improvement from the day before, and since this race weekend was also a dual conference event between the ACCC and the SECCC there was a great turnout for the women’s race. Luckily, there were no flats during the 45 minute race, but I struggled to get back into the swing of crit strategy after not racing any road all year. I wasn’t able to finish with the lead group and ended up in the sprint finish with the main pack, but I couldn’t believe I had finally raced downtown after dreaming about it for years.

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Because of rain and snow cancelling the next race on my calendar, I didn’t race again until the Bootlegger 60 on April 21st in Lenoir, NC. This was the first “gravel grinder” race I had ever done, and also the first time I had participated in an event with Pisgah Productions. I thought 60 miles of gravel would be a great way to prepare for marathon nationals, and after volunteering at the race the year before I was excited to see the route and take part in an event that seemed both fun and challenging. The Bootlegger is most known for their grueling 100 mile event (more like 113 miles with 10,000+ feet of elevation) but I thought 60 miles would be plenty for now JI was able to use my Trek Boone cross bike and borrow some cross tires from one of my teammates. The mass start at 8am had all of us going out on the roads in a huge mob, but after the first gravel hill the pack thinned out a bit. I got into a group early on to help paceline on the pavement section, so we made good time to the gravel. However, an hour or two into the race I didn’t know where I was in relation to the other women racing. Being able to use a power meter for the first time in a race setting was exciting, because I could pace myself on the climbs and flat section based on my watts rather than guessing at perceived rate of exhaustion like usual. I knew I could hold a certain pace for a certain amount of time this way, so I never actually blew myself up on the climbs like usual. The route was one of the prettiest I have ever been on, and we rode along the Wilson Creek with spring flowers and budding trees all along the course. There were a few rest stops on the route as well, and they offered snacks like grilled cheese and peanut butter M&Ms! This was a welcome pick-me-up during a long race, and I came across the finish line in under 4 hours with a huge smile. It was the most fun I’d had in a race in a long time, but since I spent so much time riding alone I didn’t realize I was the first woman to finish! I was thrilled to take first place, which awarded me a gold headset top cap and a commemorative flask.

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This past weekend I was able to get back to mountain biking with the third race in the Southern Classic Series. This race was in Harbison State Park, South Carolina, and was dubbed the “Race to the River.” It was a dusty and fast course, with a little bit of every kind of terrain. There were punchy climbs, roots, a long rock garden climb, double track, tight single track, sand, mud, and slippery pine needles. With the Pro/Cat 1 category going out for nearly 30 miles, I was preparing myself for a long day. However, going into the woods I followed a rider for the Happy Tooth Women’s Racing team, and she set a great pace for our first lap. At the end of the first lap I went for an attack on the double track climb, and tried to increase the pace to stay away until the end. I wasn’t sure how close the other racers were, so I just had to keep reminding myself to not back off the pace until the end, and I was able to maintain an average speed of 12.4 mph on the trails. I was relieved and excited to reach the finish line, and with it being hotter than I was used to after a long winter, I was also far sweatier and saltier than normal. The race was good practice for fueling and drinking during competition, especially because I don’t often remember to drink enough water in races. With the high temperature this Sunday forecast at 89 degrees, I’m hoping this race was a little bit of conditioning to prepare me for racing in hot weather again! Hoping that the remainder of this long drive goes by quickly (although you better believe I packed a ton of snacks) and looking forward to pre-riding part of the marathon nationals course tomorrow.

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