May 2, 2013

The Whiskey 50: A small town race, with a world class field.

Photo: Cycling Dirt
Whiskey 50 talked a big game, and did not disappoint. Held in Prescott, Arizona, the Whiskey 50 is one tough race. Starting on Friday evening with the fat tire crit and concluding on Sunday with the 50 mile cross country race; 50 miles and 7,000 ft of climbing. Ouch.

I had high expectations for this race. I wanted to place in the top ten. Looking at the results from last year, I knew this was possible. Then the start list was released for the 2013 edition. The field was stacked. I would be racing against the best in the world. This race would include the deepest women’s field of any race in the US this year. What an awesome opportunity to test myself against the best. This was a challenge I was thrilled to take on and my goal remained the same, top 10.

Photo: Cycling Dirt
On Friday night, I lined up for the crit, not knowing what to expect, but having more fun in a criterium than ever before. The course went like this: up, up, down, repeat. Close to 2,000 ft of climbing in 28 minutes. Each time I started up the hill, I dug deep, the pain face came out, and I gasped for air. I held it together and finished 9th. I was pleased with the effort, released some of the nervous energy that I had been storing up, and was excited for the rest of the weekend.

Sunday morning came quickly. After a quick breakfast, coffee, and last minute race-prep, Brennan and I headed into Prescott to meet up with Papa and Connie. Having familiar faces in an unfamiliar town is amazing and to have my family there to support me on race day was very special.

After a quick warm-up pedal on the Anthem, we lined up and were off. I started toward the very back of the group and worked my way up toward the front as we rolled out of town and up the hill towards the forest. The pace was much slower than I expected and I was able to easily sit in without working too hard. As the road grade ramped up, so did the speed and I was in just the right place when we hit the dirt road. I stayed toward the front and was well inside the top 10 when we hit the single track. I probably burned a few too many matches on the first real climb, wanting to stay in sight of the leaders. My heart-rate was sky-high, but I didn't care. I was riding hard and excited that I had made the right moves to put myself into a good position.

Unfortunately, I wasn't quite quick enough on the descent to keep up with the leaders and gap opened; I was passed by a few girls. The second climb really hurt and I was digging pretty deep at this point – still very early in the race. From this point on, I was in the pain cave. I was working hard to catch Teal and Amanda on the climbs and trying not to lose too much time on the descents. At the Skull Valley turn around, I saw Papa and Connie (who dumped a whole bottle of ice water on my back, thank you very much) and Michael Carroll, who rides for Stan’s No Tubes and with whom I have the privilege of working in the capacity of my day-job. Michael had offered to be in the feed zone for me, and what an offer. Knowing he would be there with my bottles of Clif Shot was a huge comfort.

The turnaround at Skull Valley marked the start of an epic climb. Very long, very exposed, and in places, pretty steep. This climb tests the mind as much as the body. At one point, I started going backwards. I was hot and tired, and hurting. I stuck to my plan, eat, drink, dig. I felt better. I started pedaling faster, standing up, catching girls. I bridged up to Amanda, with Teal not far behind, and we crested the hill and were back on single track in that order. Teal then unleashed her super power: Going downhill really really fast. Amanda kept up for a bit and before I knew it, they were both out of sight. I could only ride as fast as I could ride; I stayed loose and focused, and smooth.

And then I came to, what I later learned to be, Cramp Hill. And I cramped. For the first time in my life, I cramped. Now I know what it feels like: completely debilitating. What could I do, I had 9 more miles left to race? Positive self-talk was my only weapon.

Keep spinning, keep spinning. Drink. Your whole bottle. This is not happening. No. This will not happen. 

For a minute or two, I just kept talking to myself, out loud. And the cramp subsided. I was a bit nervous to push to hard on my left leg, but I had to. I was in the middle of a race. A few more miles of single track and I was on the road. I was alone, so I just drilled it, the best I could. A few turns, an uphill block or two, and onto Whiskey Row.

Papa was there at the finish. My legs didn't want to work any longer. He took my bike and I leaned on it for support. A volunteer gave me some water. I looked around. I was surrounded by strong, tough, glowing women. We had all just raced our hearts out. I was proud to be a part of this group.

I finished 16th. I wasn't in the top 10, but I raced well and learned a number of lessons. I am looking forward to putting these lessons to work in my next 50 miler, in California in a few weeks and next year when I return to Prescott for my second Whiskey 50.

Click here to read Brennan's race report and learn more about All Access Racing.