Kimberley Johnson is an experienced racer who provides us with great insight into racing hard despite dealing with far from ideal pre-race conditions. Read about this competitors views on winning and racing with More »
Ava is one of our stellar Juniors (because she’s fast AND has a great head on her shoulders) from Durango, and she’s had an eventful summer! Here’s part 1 of a 2 part series exploring her racing endeavors.
My summer began early this year. I left school a week before the last day and began a very hard summer season. This being my first full season of racing I became very ambitious and used every bit of time available to me. So, beginning June 1st I participated in a week long USA Cycling Talent ID Camp for junior riders. I was the only girl who signed up, which was kind of a bummer, but keeping up with boys my age impressed the coaches a lot. Camp headquarters were at the CCU campus in Lakewood and we rode all over the area. I had never been to Red Rocks before and the view was well worth the fast climb.
During the camp they put us through power tests and then analyzed our numbers at the end of the week. My numbers were high enough and my riding skills were good enough that they invited me to race for USAC in August at the Colorado Junior Challenge. But that was months away.
After road camp I embarked on a mission to complete my track certification in three days, before I had to go back to Durango. Raced the Wheat Ridge Crit on pretty tired legs the day between the two and had a fun race with a decent result. Then, I worked one-on-one with the coaches at the Boulder Valley Velodrome to get my certification classes done. I had never ridden on the track before and was nervous about the fact that I didn’t have any brakes. It didn’t take long to get over it however, and soon I was flying around the track with these amazing riders they called in to teach me. By the end of the three days I had done all six courses and graduated from track school.
The next day I drove all the way back to Durango and had five days to prepare for amateur nationals in Truckee, California. I went on one group ride, just to fill everyone in on what I had been doing, and a couple easy road and mountain bike rides. With our Pathfinder packed full, and our trailer of camping supplies hitched, we drove the 13 hours to north Lake Tahoe. I had one day before the road race to spin and check out the course. I wasn’t feeling great, but I rode down the long descent and climbed up to where the finish line would be the next day. The finish was at the village of Northstar Resort and I found all the other Colorado juniors hanging out up there. After talking with them it was clear everyone was nervous about the climbing and especially the very last push up to the line. I didn’t feel any better.
Nevertheless, the next day I woke up early and my dad drove me out to the start line. Warm-up and race prep went fine and everyone seemed cheery and nice for the moment. We rode as a group across the flats and I led the pack towards the first steep climb. All was well until some of the climber girls attacked hard and I wasn’t prepared to go that hard. The main pack rode away and the other people who were dropped, including myself, worked together to try and not lose too much time. The leaders had a huge gap and we never caught them. I finished in a fine place and wasn’t too upset. I showered and changed and went back to watch the junior boys finish, the other Durangoan had a top 20 result and that made the day better.
Next was the time trial. The TT was completely flat 20k out in the desert, warm up went well again, and I was feeling good. My race started and I held the average speed I needed to make a top 10 time, but after the turn-around I consistently lost more and more speed and thus time. The event that is normally my natural specialty did not go well at all. I still had one more chance to redeem myself in the criterium, and I came very close to doing just that.
The crit was a 1 kilometer course in downtown Truckee, it was also very technical and dangerous. People had been crashing all day long on every part of the course. My whole field knew what was going to happen when the referee blew the whistle, and it happened very quickly. The two fastests girls took off and blew the whole field apart. I had kept a decent place and was working to catch the others in front of me. Girls were crashing left and right, due to sprinkling rain that began soon after we had started. The motos had been pulling riders behind my group very quickly and we were next. But before I could cross the finish line for the last time, I crashed in the most technical corner of the course. Very little damage was done but I had never gone down before and didn’t know what to do. My bike was fine and my injuries were not severe, just a lot of road rash. I made the mistake of getting off the course to find the medic tent before I officially crossed the finish line and therefore was counted as DNF. It was an upsetting blow since I would have placed top 15 had I not crashed on my last lap. So, we packed up our campsite and drove into Reno so I could take a shower and clean my wounds. The next day we drove back home. And then it was finally July….
Part deux of Ava’s summer adventures!
After an unexciting week at nationals I was back in Durango and in bad condition. My bruises made it very uncomfortable to ride hard so I just spun around town a couple times. During a trip to the lake a couple days later I tried my best to recuperate and re-energize myself for the Salida Stage Race. After a few weeks I wasn’t feeling much better, but I wasn’t about to miss the race that had began my cycling career 1 year earlier. So, we packed up and drove out to Salida. My arm had healed enough for me to debut my new and improved time trial position and I only missed my goal time, and the podium, by 2 seconds. I knew I had to get top 3 the next day in the criterium, as I am desperately trying to upgrade to SW’s. I did all my pre-race stuff and didn’t feel very “speedy”. During the race my cornering was way off and I couldn’t push the pace at all, I just didn’t have it in me. Last lap I made one final push to no avail, but by some miracle I was in the front for the sprint to the line. Now I am never in the right gear to sprint and Salida was no different. My gear was too big so I tucked and time trialled as hard as I could to the line, narrowly beating the girl next to me to the line. I ended the race in third place, my best result yet. I collected my medal and drove home skipping the road race.
I took the next four days off and went on a float trip in Utah. When I got back I still wasn’t feeling fast. I had one week until the Bannock Crit and I needed the win. I trained easy and tried to recover enough to race hard. The day before the crit we went to watch the Pro women race in Littleton, which was an awesome way to start the weekend! Warming up for Bannock I was pretty nervous about the race because all my tough competition had shown up and I was still tired. I pushed the pace hard from the whistle and go the race going from there. After that I just hung on the back and tried to conserve my energy. My positioning on the final hill and around the last corner cost me the race. The riders around me just had more left in their legs’ than I did. I finished 8th and didn’t get my points. I had to race again in my age category a couple hours later and didn’t have any better results. Finally I was finished and ate my volunteer lunch, which was delicious. I then did all my volunteer hours and had fun watching all the other races.
Six days later I packed my bike onto a plane and headed to North Carolina to visit colleges. The riding in N.C is incredible, and uphill, all the time. Hills aren’t really my thing but I had fun nonetheless and it was helpful in narrowing down my college choices. On the 13th we flew back to Denver and I had one day to prepare for the big junior only race. I was picked up by the USAC coaches and all the other athletes and I were driven out to Silt. After a good team ride/ time trial recon we cleaned the restaurant of chocolate milk and pasta. I told the coaches I wasn’t prepared to get good results at the race, but I would work hard for my teammates.
The TT was uphill and less than pleasant, it felt like I was crawling for 5 miles. We had a crit later in the day, so I had another chance, sounds familiar. At the crit the pace eventually quickened enough that I bonked and was dropped off the back. The course was fun but challenging and my teammate had an incredible race, very nearly lapping the field by herself. The coaches took us out to eat filet mignon that night, we drank all their chocolate milk once again.
The road race ended in me getting my first race flat ever. But the team worked together and kept the GC spot. Even though my last road races of the season did not go very well I had a lot of fun with the USAC team, and impressed the coaches with my cheeriness. And now I am not allowed to ride my bike until September as I have raced more than my body could handle. But then I will be back on my mountain bike competing in the Colorado High School League. As a first full summer of riding and racing I think it went pretty good, I definitely wore myself out racing so much in the spring, but the amount of progress made was enormous. Next years gonna be even better!
Certified USA cycling coach Katie Whidden provides us with stair workout ideas to prep our bodies for the upcoming cyclocross season.
Want to improve your cyclocross skills this fall? Take the stairs! Living in Denver we are lucky to be close to one of the most beautiful and challenging set of stairs around. Training stairs will allow you to complete a highly anaerobic workout that will train you back into Cyclocross shape. The past four Tuesdays the Naked ladies have been out there working hard to train their bodies for the demands that only the dirt, mud, and snow of a cyclocross race can dish out.
Melissa Westergard continues to be drawn to hill climbs. Read about how she took on the Pikes Peak hill climb even after spending most of her summer as a flat lander.
There is something special about hill climbs that keeps calling me back. For the past two years I have trained for and raced to the summit of two of Colorado’s 14ers, Mount Evans and Pikes Peak.
This year I made the decision to opt out of Mount Evans because I spent the month prior to the event at sea level. I was not acclimated to the elevation and I knew that it would be a complete sufferfest. My family and I decided to go camping in the mountains that weekend instead of racing up Mount Evans. As we were on our way to go camping, we stopped in Idaho Springs to fill up with gas and saw the after party going on for the Mount Evans race. My heart sank. Even though I knew that I had made the right choice in not racing that day, I felt guilty for not participating in the epic climb.
Having previously planned to not take part in racing Pikes Peak as well, I felt the hope for the rest of my season was over. I spent a few days to think it over and decided that I would make the effort to race up Pikes Peak. I had about 2 weeks to get ready for it. I had a decent base set up from previous races I had completed this summer, but it didn’t consist of much climbing. So I created the most realistic training plan for the short amount of time that I had. I felt successful in my training rides and was ready to embark on another year of racing Pikes Peak.
Race day came quite early with a start time of 6:15am. As I lined up with other racers at the start I had an overwhelming sense of peace come over me, which is completely opposite of what I typically experience. My goal for this race was to obviously ride as fast as I could up the mountain, but to also ENJOY it! The first half of the race I can honestly say that I enjoyed. The second half, not so much. That’s when the pain set in. Despite the pain that I was experiencing, it was the perfect day, the perfect climb. We had temps in the 60s during the race with the sun shining and very little wind. I made it to the summit faster this year than my race time last year, which made it an even bigger success! Even though my season varied significantly this year compared to last, I am thankful that I continued to race and I look forward to training hard this winter and seeing what next season brings.
Brittany Jones is one of the most respected Naked ladies when it comes to the dirt. In this great read she lets us in on some of her secrets to working on descending.
We all ride downhill occasionally; it comes with the territory of riding bikes. Some of us like it more than others and some of us are better at it than others. I’m in the camp of “like it, but not the best at it.” The problem is that I also like being good at things, so to like something and not be great at it has caused my poor little type-A heart a fair bit of frustration. With that in mind, one of my cycling goals for the year has been to (wait for it)…get better at descending, and in so doing, up the fun-factor of my riding.
Step 1: I got myself a trail bike.
Turns out, more than 100mm of travel, a head angle in the 68-67° range, and (for me) 27.5-inch wheels were the keys to descending bliss.
The benefit: The handling skills and the confidence I gained on my longer-travel trail bike translate back to how I ride on my hardtail. I have to occasionally remind myself that the hardtail isn’t quite as forgiving as my big-girl bike, but I’ve found that I don’t necessarily need “forgiveness” on either bike, just a good grasp of what I can trust a bike to do.
Step 2: dropper post. Scratch that—this should be step one.
I now have a dropper on my XC bike, too; and if you asked me to choose between my suspension and the dropper post, I’d hand over my fork. I will never own another mountain bike without a dropper post.
The benefit: I learned how to actually ride a mountain bike. Turns out, not a road bike. They don’t corner the same and my weight and body placement isn’t at all similar, but with a saddle in my chest on descents and in my ahem any other time, I’ve always been forced to ride my mountain bike the way I ride my road bike. That meant every kitty litter corner on the Front Range had a 50/50 chance of success or road rash. Now? I get more of a quad and glute workout, but the bike moves, I don’t, and everything is smoother and faster.
Step 3: Lift service.
Not all the time, not even most of the time, but I guarantee that anyone—from veteran XC racers to dirt newbs—will benefit from a day here and there of riding park. And the best part: This step includes rental shops for steps 1 & 2, so you don’t have to go buy the new Stumpjumper (yet). Riding at the resort isn’t drastically different from skiing at the resort; you have the option of green, blue, black, double black, etc. runs. Ride what you’re comfortable with, and then start gradually pushing your comfort zone.
The benefit: When was the last time you got to spend an entire day practicing your descending skills, where you weren’t completely gassed from the climb up? I’m not at all opposed to pedaling or climbing—I’m a half way decent climber (and remember—I like things I’m good at). This is skill-specific training; you do interval work to get faster, you do long rides to build fitness, you practice starts so you can get the holeshot, you climb to be a better climber. Why wouldn’t you practice descending to be a better descender?
Worried you’ll spend an entire day riding with no workout? Don’t be; you’ll walk away worked. Your shoulders and arms will be noodle-y and your quads and glutes (or glute if you’re like me and have only one dominant leg) will be rocked from you being out of the saddle and low all day. Plus, you’ll be a better descender and you’ll have a blast.
Read about how Heidi Gurov redeemed herself on a course that she had previously had a DNF at with a fantastic overall finish.
If there’s one day on the bike that pains me off the most, it was DNF-ing the Laramie Enduro in 2013. So this year was all about redeeming myself, and finishing my “hometown” (but nationally-renowed) mountain bike endurance race and proving to myself that it could be done. (Like the lovely Brittany explained last year in her race report, the Laramie Enduro has nothing to do with the modern day definition of “enduro,” instead it’s a 111km endurance race in southeastern Wyoming where the climbing indeed counts 100%.)
I won’t lie, it was hard this year. It hurt, sometimes very badly. I’m pretty sure around mile 12 or 14 I was thinking about just stopping. I had a good start, climbed well and faster than it seemed I had before. Racing open/pro category has it’s perks in that the course was really clear so the first section of single track I didn’t have to worry about traffic and racers that couldn’t make the one long steep climb (and the few that walked moved quickly out of the way). I sat in 5th place until shortly after Aid 1, much to my surprise (I didn’t know where I was placing wise until about mile 52). I was getting concerned because my heart rate was never dropping below 175-180bpm, and I knew that was just too much to sustain for this race length, even though it felt like I was pacing myself well and trying to spin easier gears. Then I started to get giddy inside that I was actually going to finish this race and finally be able to throw out this piece of baggage.
I pulled into Aid 2 and a volunteer ran off with my camelback to refill it while I stood there feeling useless (AMAZING volunteers at this event, to say the least!). She said I had drank 3/4 of the 100oz bladder, which I was happy to hear since I was using Tailwind so it was my main nutrition source. I was quickly back on my way to enjoy the speedy downhill and tailwind to Aid 3. I crossed the half way point of 35 miles at 3 hours 13 minutes (including stopped time), and I couldn’t believe how fast it was all going by!
I came into Aid 3 and the volunteers told me I was in 4th place. Now mind you, I really had no idea where I was at this point, and I wasn’t “racing” the race. I was actually annoyed they told me, as it changed the dynamic for me from “just finish” to “hmmm, maybe try to do well.” Dammit, do I actually have to race now?! After a quick watermelon slice and dumping some more Tailwind into my water I had refilled at Aid 2, I was on my way, determined to not let any other open women catch me.
Things continued to go well and soon enough the bits of single track were over and it was time for another never ending grind on double track and primitive roads up to Aid 4. Aid 4… my nemesis. The point where I called my parents to come pick me up in 2013. As long as I moved my bike past Aid 4 I knew my day was complete. I got an amazing surprise as I came up to the road crossing and saw my boyfriend on the side of the road! I’m not kidding when I say I almost peed my pants in happiness! He decided to come spend the afternoon chasing me around the last few aid stations as a cheerleader! Few sips of cold water and a hug, and he set me off on my way with a “you’re in 6th or 7th” place! I just lost it. Seeing Aid 4, seeing him, feeling the support, I bawled all the way to the aid station. Goodness endurance mountain biking turns me into a mush ball, just ask the gals who were at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo with me!
Quick refill of the Camelbak at Aid 4 and I set off. OK, here it goes… 18 miles left! The Laramie Enduro is (sarcastically) lovely in the sense that all the hard stuff is in the last 18 miles. Because there’s nothing like having to have technical skills at mile 65 of a 68 mile race… The first few miles went OK, but soon stuff turned into long conga line hike-a-bikes up steep hills, and then not so steep hills. It was hot, hovering around 90 degrees with no wind. I actually complained about there not being wind! Aid 4 to Aid 5 on the course is simply mental demoralizing (and for some, physically demoralizing, too). My granny gear became intolerable to turn over and I felt ruined. Nonetheless, I repeated “Keep moving” in my head, whether it was on foot or on bike. It seemed like Aid 5 would never come, and of course you had to climb a bunch to get there.
Once I happened upon Aid 5 I knew there were six miles was left… a horrid six miles. The most frustrating part of the rest of the course is that I’m super familiar with it all. I ride and race on it all the time. I know how fast I can ride each part. Headquarters Climb is a toughy, but I’ve always cleared it. I found myself walking and it was humbling because I know what I normally can do, but with 65 miles under my belt I knew what was suddenly impossible, but it bothered me terribly that it was impossible. I dragged myself and bike up the climb, step after step. I tried to power on as much as I could, and soon I was descending the single track to the trailhead and down the dirt road to the finish line. Funny enough, I had been pushing the granny gear slowly for the past two hours, and yet I was turning the big chain ring and almost my hardest gear sprinting down the finishing straight.
I did it! 6th place in Open Women in 7 hours 43 minutes (and 36 seconds for those really counting)! That’s it… the DNF Pain of 2013 was gone. I came back and kicked the course’s butt and proved that I could do it – it took me 7 hours to reach Aid 4 in 2013, and 7 hours and 43 minutes to do the whole darn thing this year! Now it was time for staring down food not sure I could eat (I wasn’t hungry), wondering when I’d finally pee, and to double fist a beer in one hand and a lemonade in another!
Melissa Westergard had the opportunity to spend 5 weeks out in GA this summer to complete her first clinical for school. Read about her adventures riding and racing in Savannah.
This summer I had the opportunity to go and experience Southern culture in Savannah, Georgia. I visited for a month to complete my first clinical as a student studying physical therapy. In preparation for this trip I quickly perused the USAC website to see which races were going to be held in the area while I was there. Four races within one month! I made arrangements to bring my bike with me so that I could get in quality training time and a few races. Before arriving in Savannah, I contacted a local bike shop that offered group rides throughout the week to get the scoop on where safe places were to ride and to meet a few of the locals. The people at the shop, Perry Rubber Bike Shop, were more than happy to help this newbie find her way around town.
The first race I registered for was scheduled for the day after I landed in the new city. It was part of a race series called “Nestor Cup” and put on by a local bike club, the Savannah Wheelman. I took the opportunity to take an easy ride through the neighborhood that morning of my first race to begin my conditioning in this new environment – hot and very humid! The women’s fields in Savannah are small so the women’s 3/4 is combined with the men’s 4/5. I arrived at the race a couple hours early so that I could pre-ride the course. It was a circuit race held on an old speedway (2.1 mile loop). The average temperature during the race was 97 degrees, quite an increase from the cool 70’s that we had been experiencing out here in CO. The first few laps of the race were great! I held on and stayed with the pack of very fast men, and then they took off, sprinting at 32 mph. Even after getting dropped, I somehow managed to make the podium that day. Soon after the podium shots were taken the effects of the heat finally set in and I got sick, really sick. The next two days were spent hydrating and spending only shorts bouts
of time outdoors.
From then on I knew that I would do most of my training in the early morning, right after sunrise. I found a great 10-mile loop that I could do laps on that had very little traffic and beautiful scenery. I also took advantage of the group rides on the weekends that consisted of 50 and 70-mile rides. This is where I made most of my friends during my visit to Savannah. I went on to race 3 more times in GA and thankfully became more acclimated to the heat and humidity.
If you ever have the opportunity to travel to a new city with your bike, I highly recommend it. It gives you a chance to make friends with the locals quickly and see the city from a different perspective.
Kimberley not only races professionally full-time, she’s working full-time too. So you have to get in training where you can. So she’s commuting as a part of her training. Read more!
About four months ago I entered into the previously foreign world of bike commuting. I had accepted a full-time research assistant position working on an SAMHSA-funded integrated care grant at Aurora Mental Health Center, and a primary consideration was how to maintain the level of training required to continue to race at a high level. I didn’t make this decision lightly — it was more agonizing than you can imagine, despite being what would still be classified as a first world problem. After lengthy discussions with my coach, and asking one of the more unique pre-hire questions my future supervisor had ever heard (“…but is there a shower?”), I accepted the position.
In doing so, I moved away from a fairly flexible, purposefully-pieced-together, part-time job which had accommodated a high-volume training schedule while still leaving me enough time to foam roll and watch an episode of Orange is the New Black before leaving for work. I look back on those days the way working athletes with children must look at me — with a bit of nostalgia, envy, and the wistful whisper of “she has no idea how good she really has it.” I remember when that life felt jam-packed!
The biggest challenge of this chosen transition lies in the fact that despite taking a full-time, “real adult” job, I fully intended to continue to train and race at an elite level. Which brings me back to bike commuting. I work close to 20 miles from my house, which, at the times I’d be traveling, would be either a horrendous 50 minute drive, or ~70 minute ride. For me, the choice was clear. I might as well have asked myself, “would you rather sit in a car and waste close to two hours a day and come home angry, or be on a bike for those same hours getting your base miles, and skip the car ride?” No question. I was lucky to find a fairly straightforward route, and even luckier that the answer to my odd pre-hire question was a confused “yes.”
In the weeks leading up to my transition, I contacted to friends who I knew rode their bikes to work, and began to research cycling backpacks, panniers, and other commuting essentials. Like most other domains of my life, I was approaching this whole bike commuting endeavor with the attitude of “If I’m going to do this, I need to do it RIGHT.” We’ll save the discussion on whether or not that’s a healthy life strategy for another blog post 😉
Three weeks later and a few hundred dollars poorer, I was ready. I had my cross bike repaired after cracking the frame in my first (and last) cross race of last season and turned it into a bonafide commuter, complete with fenders, a rack, and an annoying little bell for even more annoying hipsters I might encounter along the way. I bought a pretty great chrome backpack for nice days when I would ride my road bike in. I ordered ortlieb panniers so one or two days a week I could pack it full of food and clothes for the other days, so I didn’t have to carry as much. And a college friend who designed an awesome new line of high-visibility bike lights called Orfos (http://www.orfos.bike) sent me a demo pair for me to try out, in anticipation of the dusk ride home. (Full review on those coming soon).
I was all in, and strangely excited to step into this new world. In a way, it felt similar to those biologists who dedicate themselves to observing the habits of some elusive species, following them, learning about their dynamics and behavior, and then somehow, at some point, the researcher finds himself feeling at home in their world. But I didn’t feel at all at home stepping into my new found role of “bike commuter”. Despite the thousands of miles I’ve ridden, this was foreign. I was out of my element. You might point out that the bike is paramount to both bike racers and bike commuters. And yet in spite of this shared mode of locomotion, there are fundamental differences between these two species, an assertion I feel confident most racers and commuters would support.
Now almost four months later, I have been accepted into the commuter tribe. There’s something communal and warm about seeing the same people almost every day as we make our way to wherever we all go. People I feel like I’m starting to know but have never talked to. Some are going the same direction, and we pull up to the same stop light around ~7:45 each morning. Others I pass on the trail, with a curt head nod, or friendly wave. Like the woman whose bike is so heavily loaded with packs I first thought she must be riding across the country, but after seeing her every morning and evenings for months, have come to infer she must actually need that much stuff every single day. Or the man who pulls a cart behind his bike, carrying an aging rottweiler curled up in a bed. Then there’s the youthful mom, who rides with a small backpack and glances back every few pedal strokes at her son furiously spinning his legs behind on his pint-sized piccolo. These people, and more, are becoming endearing.
The balance has been tough, don’t get me wrong. After my commute home, I drop my bag or switch bikes and am back out for another hour or two of intervals or steady riding. I get home, shower off, eat dinner, and pull out my Trigger Point kit while we watch an episode of True Detective. Almost every night I am in bed by 9:30. Getting in bed this early is a more difficult task than I expected, but experience has taught me that insufficient sleep makes everything harder, and turns minor challenges into insurmountable obstacles. I now deeply regret those days of childhood when I refused to take my naps, and instead sneaked out the window to play outside instead, so proud of evading something I now see as an indulgence.
I would be the first to say this is not an ideal schedule for someone pursuing high-level racing goals. But it’s what I have, and every day I do the best I can. When all is said and done, the fact that I get to ride and race my bike makes me pretty darn lucky, and I never want to forget that. The sacrifice, meticulous planning, and balance required are tough, but racing my bike is glorious and strangely restorative. I do not make that statement naively. I know crashes and illness and injury, broken bones and broken dreams. But there’s a reason I keep coming back. When I am racing I feel free. My soul is happy. My heart is light. And that makes everything that it took to get there worthwhile.
I have found a certain sense of serenity in choosing not to allow one or even a few things to define who I am at my core. I race my bike, and want to keep doing it at a higher and higher level, but my identity should never be solely tied to being a bike racer. I love training hard and pushing my body to new levels, but a Sunday ride to ice cream is not without merit. Sometimes it’s ok to release a bit of self-imposed pressure and trust the journey. Something you take a chance on something that feels scary and uncertain. And sometimes you enter into a new world and find yourself feeling more and more charmed by the people who inhabit it.