There are very few places that you can ride your bike up a 14,000 ft peak, and we’re lucky to experience it in Colorado. But would you say you’re lucky to do two 14ers in one weekend? Read more from Melissa, our resident mountain goat!
Never in my wildest dreams, would I have imagined that one day I would race my bicycle up a fourteen thousand foot mountain. Well, that day just happened, and not only did I race up one 14er, but I was crazy enough to race up another one as well, the very next day. Here is my recap of a very “high altitude” weekend racing up Mt. Evans and Pikes Peak.
It was never in my original plan to sign up for two hill climb races back to back, in one weekend. I thought my plan to race up Mt. Evans was crazy enough. But due to unexpected family circumstances, I had to reschedule a prearranged vacation and it affected my racing schedule….in a positive way. For some strange reason I actually like riding my bike up big hills. I find comfort in settling into a smooth, rhythmical cadence as I tackle the mountain in front of me. Sometimes I wonder if I am part mountain goat because the thought of a racing on flat terrain sounds like torture to me! How do those girls do that? I envy the amazing power and ability it takes to gain so much speed in such a short distance. Give me a mountain any day and I will be much happier.
My first race of the weekend was up Mt. Evans on Saturday morning at 8am sharp. Such an early start time in Idaho Springs, meant I had to do some planning the night before to get everything ready. The plan was to be in the car and driving by 5:30, and hopefully arrive in Idaho Springs by 6:30, to meet my friend Erik to warm up before the race. We got there 15 minutes early and that’s pretty awesome, considering I had so much mascara to put on that morning. LOL. Inside joke, but I do get teased a lot for wearing makeup when I ride. (Ha! that will never change).
Anyway, I was off to a good start getting my timing chip, meeting up with my teammates and getting to the start line with some time to spare. That’s when it always hits me. Adrenaline, nerves, excitement and fear. I remember standing next to all of those amazing, strong women, wondering who the lucky state champion was going to be. I knew what we were about to tackle and I knew it was not going to be easy. The first part of the Mt. Evans race, is Road Race style. The pack sticks together and everyone is quiet, waiting for the next surge or break away. This was actually the part of the race that I feared most. I knew from preriding the course, that this was the section where a lot of things could happen. In a hill climb, it is important to go with the break aways. However, in a race like Mt. Evans, where a 14,000 ft summit looms in the distance and it takes close to three hours to get there, conserving energy is key. I was worried about knowing who to follow and who to let go. Thankfully, our group took it easy in the beginning and the pack stayed together for the first hour. That is, until we hit Echo Lake. That is where the pace picked up and I noticed the pack started to break apart. At this point in the race, I was still feeling pretty good. I was able to stay with the front group and the pace was very consistent. It wasn’t until we were close to Summit Lake that I noticed we were picking up speed and the race was on. I never really looked behind me in this race. I kept my focus up front and my sights locked on the wheels in front of me. No matter how bad I was suffering, I was not backing off. Once we hit the switchbacks, I got excited. I knew the summit was 15 switchbacks away, and you can bet your boots, that I immediately started counting them. At about the ninth switchback, I realized the race for the podium was going to be between 4 of us. I lost count of where we were by that point and my focus went from surviving the sufferfest, to positioning myself for one of those top three podium spots. Not one of us was going to back down and it was a race to the finish up until the very end. At the last moment, somehow, I gathered enough energy to swing around the girl in front of me and sprint with the last girl to the finish line. I don’t think our times could have been any closer. 1st place went to Cory Popovich with a time of 2:39:36:51 and second place went to me with a time of 2:39:36:87. Now that is a finish!!! If I only would had stuck my bike out a little further or perhaps stuck my tongue out, I could have beat her. Lol. It was that close. (That’s going to haunt me for awhile.) It was a GREAT race though and I left nothing in the tank at the end. I was so excited to find my husband and children at the bottom and tell them the news. They were soo happy for me and excited. It made every painful pedal stroke worthwhile and it gave me the encouragement I needed to do it again on Sunday.
Before my husband and I set off for Colorado Springs, several of my friends and teammates advised me that an ice bath would be very beneficial to my recovery for the Pikes Peak race. Up until this weekend, I have avoided ice bathes because I have watched my friend Sharon take a few, and I never understood how she could withstand the pain. I have done Ride The Rockies three times now and survived just fine without that kind of self inflicted torture. Unfortunately, however, I left nothing in the tank after sprinting to the finish on Mt. Evans, so I knew I should listen to my friends, and take a darn ice bath. My husband thought this part of the weekend was the funniest thing ever. I put on a pair of old bike shorts and a fleece jacket and watched in horror as my husband dumped a 20lb bag of ice into the already cold bath water. I’m pretty sure my neighbors contemplated calling the police when they heard the screams coming from my bathroom window. 15 minutes of the arctic water felt like 12 hours to me! I said bad words, I cried and I had to have a moment alone when I got out just to gain my composure again. It didn’t help that my husband and children were laughing histerically at my misery. Once I thawed out, packed my bags, dropped the kids off with Grammy and Grampy, and ate a huge dinner, we were on our way to Manitou Springs for the night. I had never been to Pikes Peak before and the only thing I knew about it, was that it is one of the hardest climbs in the US. According to the article I read, the hardest climb in the U.S. is Mauna Kea in Hawaii, but Pikes Peak was a close second. Needless to say, I was VERY nervous about my next race.
As we pulled into Manitou Springs, I noticed a beast of a mountain in the distance. I knew it was Pikes Peak and reality immediately sunk in. It was beginning to storm when we arrived and the mountains looked very dark and steep. Pikes Peak had a layer of clouds surrounding it’s summit and lightening flashed all around. That night, as I crawled into bed, I noticed that the thunder sounded like drums in the distance, as if the mountain was taunting me and daring me to climb the next day. I have a vivid imagination, so sleeping that night did not come easily. The next morning I had to be up by 4 am. I had to put my mascara on and pump my tires before meeting my teammate Katie to warm up. According to the map we were close to the park, but once we started driving, it was clear that we were going to be short on time. After a few wrong turns and a delay at the rangers station due to a broken credit card reader, we finally made it to the start line. Katie and I warmed up together and discussed our opponents. It was a very difficult start because every single category (other than the fun ride) was let go within 5 minutes. One group right after the other. In fact, for the women, all categories started at once. I had no idea who we were racing against and who we were allowed to work with. It was a bit chaotic in the beginning. The official had the 1/2 girls up front, then the 3’s, then the 4’s. I knew there were 10 riders signed up, so I assumed (big mistake) that we were all the same number series and I was going to watch for anyone with a number 70-80. The climbing started almost immediately in this race. The pack stayed together for awhile but the 1/2 women had a much faster pace and I knew if I tried to keep up with them, I would suffer later. I kept telling myself, I have to pace myself in this race and be smart. Melissa Westergard was right next to me the entire race. She is incredibly strong, and like me, she raced Mt. Evans the day before. We got to know each other a little while we were racing, and it was immediately clear to me, that she was the one to beat and it was NOT going to be easy. Melissa is a sweetheart. She was so kind and helpful and she pushed me to my max. She had a much better idea of the upcoming grades and she was kind enough to warn me and let me know what to expect. We definitely worked together in this race and pushed each other to the top. I was only prepared for 10% grades throughout the race, but Melissa informed me that there were several sections of 14%. She was not kidding! At some points in the race, I felt like I was riding my bike into the clouds. As, we progressed through the switchbacks, the wind would change and I’ll never forget how hard I had to push though head winds while climbing such a steep incline. It was a VERY tough climb. Melissa was not going to let me get away. She said she had been watching my race results and I knew I had met my match. I couldn’t help but think about the girl I targeted at the Guanella Pass hill climb, and I was worried. There were so many times during this race that I just wanted to give up. My body was exhausted and the sheer difficulty of the climb was beginning to play tricks on my mind. A friend of mine told me, that Navy Seals have a bell that they ring when the training gets too hard and they can’t take it anymore. Before I set off for this intense weekend of racing, my friend looked me in the eyes and said “don’t you ring that bell”. That’s all I could think about while I was climbing those last grueling switchbacks with Melissa right next to me. I didn’t think I had anything left in me to beat her to the finish. But when I heard her shift into a lower gear, I knew she was about to make a move and I could not “ring that bell.” Somehow, somewhere deep inside of me, I pulled out enough strength to sprint to that finish line. Melissa was right behind me and it was another very close race. When I crossed the finish line I was close to tears. I was so exhausted and at that point I thought I had won the race. Melissa came up next to me and gave me a big hug and the smile on her face was priceless. She knew she was on the podium too and it was her first time. I loved that moment because I knew exactly what she was feeling and she worked so hard to get there. But then we got the news. A young girl that started with us came over and said hello. Melissa asked her how she did and she said she got first. We both smiled at her and said congratulations and Melissa asked her if she was a 3. She wasn’t a 3. She was a 4. While we were racing, both Melissa and I saw her pass us and we both thought she was a 3 because the number on her jersey was in the 60’s and we assumed she was not one we needed to chase. We just let her go. She beat our times by 5 minutes!!! That’s huge. I think we were both a little heart broken at that point. But we honestly didn’t know she was a 4 and with the time she got, I’m not sure we could have hung with her anyway. It was a hard race but I’m soo glad that I did it.
I learned a lot this weekend about perseverance and inner strength. Your body is capable of soo much more than you think. You have to ignore the pain and trust that you can do anything that you set your mind to. I love that I will be able to use this tough weekend of racing to teach my children the value of determination, strength and self confidence.