Tag Archives: Tour of the Gila
Kimberley, though one of our youngest, shares her vast knowledge of cycling experiences. She’s wise beyond her years! Read if you want to learn how to become a better racer!
After a somewhat strange spring, I am finally allowing myself to hope that the days of spending hours on the trainer might just be a thing of the past! (at least until next year…). During the month of April, nearly every week we had snowstorms that made it impossible to ride outside, first because of the actual storm in progress, and then, for the remainder of the week, the accumulation that refused to melt. Right when it did melt and showed promise of an outdoor training ride, the pattern would repeat itself. And this happened for 4 weeks straight!
Let me say that, living in Colorado, trainer time is both expected and accepted… during the months of November through March, I will likely put in more hours on my trainer than the road, but April?! It was a month where I had to dig up a little extra mental strength and focus to stay motivated, partly because at this point, I was going on five months of trainer time, and also because with my bigger, target races coming up, this was no time for shortened training sessions (my coach usually has my cut my time down by about 1/3 when I have to do them on the trainer… thus a 4 hour ride becomes 3… which still seems likely an impossibly long time to ride in one place).
Now that I’ve done a little retrospective ranting, I’m pleased to say that I’ve been riding outdoors since returning from my race at Gila. After a few days completely off the bike to give my body a boost in the healing process, I got right back on track with my new training plan. This month is all about maintaining my form through Nationals, doing some longer rides to keep the endurance and some shorter, harder workouts to keep the speed and the strength — but not so much that it puts me into a state of over-training.
A well-respected racer once told me that she did much better “off the couch” (under-trained) than she did over-trained. This is not to say that it’s best not to train, but rather illustrates the importance of finding balance as an athlete. The majority of athletes (myself included), especially endurance athletes, have a greater proclivity to doing more not less. For me, the value in having a coach is just as much to tell me when to rest as when and how to train. The planning my coach and I did to put me in my peak condition for Gila ended up being timed near perfectly, and so now the difficulty is in maintaining that. Typically, a true peak can last only about two weeks, which is why it’s important for racers to identify key target races. Very few people can win elite-level races all year long, but it is possible to do reasonably well all season, and very well at select, carefully placed races (unless, of course, you are a superhuman species, of which there are a few in the peleton).
Now that I’ve gotten slightly off topic discussing my current training, I will return to what I originally intended to write about: lessons learned from winter training. I know you may be thinking, “umm… this is a little late. It’s beautiful out, and I’ve relegated my trainer to only pre-race warm-up purposes.” I wholeheartedly share your excitement for trainer-less training, but if any of these five nuggets ring true for you, tuck them away for next winter
1. Mental state is huge. If you approach the trainer like an enemy to be reckoned with, every minute will be excruciating, and a three hour base ride nearly impossible. Instead, find a way to make peace with it and accept the hours you will spend on the trainer or rollers, and the experience will be much more pleasant (note: I say “much more pleasant”… not completely euphoric and joy-filled… I have to be realistic here!)
2. Trainer time is a perfect excuse to watch the kind of shows you can’t justify watching otherwise. I, with only minimal shame, will admit to you that this winter, I went through all 8 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy (I somehow missed the craze as a teenage girl, but don’t worry, Meredith and McDreamy still managed to find their way into my adult life), 4 seasons of Gossip Girl (similar story here), and several other random shows I started but didn’t find catchy enough. This is a time to indulge in shows with minimal to no redeeming value… because, hey, the redeeming value is coming from the work you’re doing on the bike, yes? The more brain power I have to use absorbing a show, the less energy is available for my workout. I realize this logic may be fundamentally flawed, so, feel free to watch Ted Talks if you prefer.
3. This one parallels #1. The toughest months, in my opinion, are December through mid-March. For me, this is because I usually take the month of September or October (whenever my racing finishes) off the bike, and do other fun, active things as a kind of physical and mental “reset.” So, when I do start riding again, it’s because I’m really missing my bike and am excited to ride again. This unadulterated excitement typically lasts through December before some rides start to become tedious, and some mornings I feel tired and would rather read a book on the couch than slop through the snow to my “training shed” (Marcus insists it’s a training studio, to try to make me feel more hard-core… it’s a shed). It’s far enough from both the post-season rest month and the first race that it can be hard to stay motivated. But this is the time that it’s most important to refocus, recenter, and push through the fatigue or boredom. I once read a cheesy ad in a bicycling magazine that said “races are won in the off season,” and although I can’t remember what they were trying to get me to buy, the phrase stuck in my head.
By the middle of March, the excitement of upcoming races starts to build, and I see each training session as a chance to prepare for the season. I picture myself attacking, chasing, bridging… there is purpose that will be seen in a relatively short amount of time. My point here is this: if it is past March (which is now is) the hardest part is done. And, in the future, when you find yourself in that few-month period where focus and motivation can wane, you at least have the knowledge that it is not forever. Knowing that hard times are inevitable can actually help them to be more bearable (and this is true not just in cycling, but life…but that’s its own post). If December rolls around and I wake up not wanting to ride, and I had expected and accepted that kind of inevitable dip, I can move past it and do what I need to do despite not loving that one ride. In contrast, if this lack of passion for the sport I love hits me as a complete surprise, I am at risk of internalizing it as some fundamental character flaw: “I must not be a very good athlete”… “What if I NEVER want to ride? How can I do this 6 days a week for months and months?!”… “I’m going to have a horrible race season… I don’t want to train today, and it’s only December!” My point is, that this negativity is avoided when I accept occasional lack of motivation as a normal part of any athlete’s life, and can use it as an opportunity for developing mental strength.
4. For those rare winter rides that can be done outside (minimal to no snow on the ground, but most likely still bitter cold), don’t underestimate the power of winter gloves (or the misery that the lack of them can bring). I can say that during winter riding, I have never said, “man, I really wish I would have had thinner gloves!” but I have, on multiple occasions, ended up struggling to ride with painfully numb fingers that refuse to shift. In the same way, clothing choice can make or break a winter ride. I know it’s a hassle to have to carry more clothes than you might need for the entire ride, and especially in Colorado, the weather can be hard to predict. But, unless you have someone at your disposal to pick you up in a warm car at any point during your training ride, I’d suggest bringing more than less.
Being cold has a strange way of turning an independent, logical and intelligent person into an irrational, miserable, whimpering primal creature who’s actually wondering if she will die here on this mountain (I say “she” because that primal creature has been yours truly several times in my riding “career”). Even if you’re an experienced rider, it can be hard to predict what level of clothing will keep you comfortable during your ride. One thing that I started doing was keeping a “clothing log” as part of my training journal, where I’d write what I wore, what the temperature was throughout the ride (including any inclement weather I faced) and how comfortable I was. This way, on those days where I still go back and forth on whether to bring the heavy or light booties, I can look back and remind myself what has worked well (or not so well) in the past under similar conditions.
5. Although winter, for me, is not an “off season,” I still see it as a time where I strive to add balance to my life, both on and off the bike. This is another aspect that helps stave of the physical and mental “burnout” (both acute and chronic) that can inevitably come up during your life as a bike racer. Since graduating from college, I’ve realized how much I miss using my brain on a regular basis. I don’t have anything specific to study for, I’m not doing research and writing papers, and as silly as this may sound (especially if you are one who currently finds yourself in the trenches of college or grad school), I miss that. I am constantly exercising my physical body, pushing it to its limit, but my mind is so often fighting off boredom. So, during the winter, I consciously add “balance,” both physical and mental. This past winter, this came in the form of: yoga, knitting, nordic skiing, cooking and baking (I got really excited about homemade raw bars, juicing, etc), practicing my violin which I previously hadn’t picked up in months, reading books in Spanish, studying for my GRE, and tutoring a few hours a week for both extra money and to keep myself sharp. My point here is that if ALL your life consists of is bike racing, sooner or later you’ll hit a breaking point. I’ve learned that for me, whether I’m at a place in my life where I can train 20 hours a week or 8 hours a week, balance is crucial, and without it, everything falls apart.
So, with that semi-coherent rambling, I give you five tips for winter training success. But for now, it’s beautiful outside, so enjoy the sun!
Kimberley finished one of the toughest and hilliest races around, Tour of the Gila, with the Pros (guest riding for our friends I AM THE ENGINE). Despite getting tangled up in a crash on the second day, leaving bone exposed, she finished all the stages and in a better time than the year prior. Read about all 5 days of racing on her blog:
The Tour of Gila is a 5-day stage race for the pros and upper categories, and a 4-day road race for the lower ones, including the SW 3/4. It is a UCI stage race, meaning that UCI pro teams can race it, and is infamous for steep climbs and winds. I was intrigued by its reputation as being one of the toughest stage races in the US, but originally decided it was not worth a 10-hour drive for all that suffering. Then I met Maria Santiago of Durango at our Moab training camp. Her passion and commitment were contagious, and within 5 minutes of talking to her I was back on board as her domestique. Getting a ride for the 10-hour drive from Denver with Drew Galloway of RacerX sealed the deal.
In our race, the NM Spokettes brought 4 strong racers and were clearly a force to be reckoned with. Laurel Rathburn, the 16-year-old phenom from Exergy21 was riding alone, but we knew to watch out for her after Dan Wouri’s Twitter post. She skipped her prom for Gila, and was clearly hungry for the win! There were many other wild cards in the field, but Maria remained confident. She is a talented climber, had dialed in her training and was mentally prepared.
Day 1 – Inner Loop Road Race
The first day was 61.3 miles with a climb at the beginning and one towards the end before a downhill led to a finish on a slight uphill. As we climbed out of Palos Altos, Maria went to the front to warm up, unknowingly putting many in the pack in some difficulty to keep up. That definitely included me! Halfway up the climb, I was trying desperately to send her telepathic messages from the back to slow it down. I managed to hang on, make it down the technical descent and reconnect with the group. Maria was still in front, so as soon as possible I moved up so she could take my wheel. The middle part of the course was a gradual incline to a middle sprint on the Continental Divide with bonus time to be gained for 1st/2nd/3rd. As we approached the sprint, I made sure I was at the front with Maria on my wheel so I could give her the leadout. With 500m to go, I picked up the pace gradually with a NM Spokette alongside, picking up the pace steadily until we were at top speed. I then left enough space for Maria get around me for the final kick and it came off perfectly! The Spokette got 1st with Maria inches behind. Any bonus points meant time – mission accomplished!
Immediately after the sprint, Maria and several others attacked and kept the pressure on. The field shattered. Maria was in the lead break with 3 others. My mission for the day complete, I found two other riders and worked with them to the finish, sprinting for 11th. Maria finished 2nd on Day 1 and with over 2 minutes ahead of the next group, putting her in great position for the time trial.
Day 2 – Dan Potts Memorial Time Trial
The Gila TT is 16.1 miles with over 1000 feet of climbing, which suits Maria perfectly. Her mental toughness was essential. She knew where she needed to suffer and was ready to do so. Thanks to her sponsor LAAF of Albuquerque, she had a great TT setup. She smoked it, finishing 2nd. Sarah Lough, a NM Spokette who won had about a minute on her, and she was very close to in time to Laurel Rathbun.
Day 3 – Downtown Silver City Crit
The crit course at Gila is a 4-corner course in downtown Silver City, NM with a hill on the backside and a fun fast descent around a couple of corners and a long flat finish. It’s not quite as technical as I like, but it certainly had potential for speed! As in any crit, positioning and energy conservation are essential. We stayed towards the front, and went for one of the primes as a tune-up. We were not able to get Maria the time bonuses for 1st/2nd/3rd, but finished with the pack and did not lose time.
Day 4 – Gila Monster Road Race
The final day of Gila is the hardest stage, 68.9 miles with two very tough climbs in the last 19 miles. There were two middle sprints with bonus time to be gained. The pace was very slow through the second sprint, when Maria and Laurel launched an attack. The NM Spokettes quickly chased to protect their leader and Maria and I found ourselves at the front. For the 15-mile downhill, I led the pack with Maria behind at a very moderate pace with everyone conserving energy for the climbing to come. At mile 50, the road went straight up. I turned to Maria, said “OK, go get ‘em”, and left her to do her thing. Five were in the lead climbing group: Sarah, Laurel, Maria and two others who were not in contention for the GC. A wild card racer from Phoenix attacked up the climb, and since she was not in the running, they let her go. She ended up winning the stage, but was not on the podium for the GC. The 3 leaders finished together: Laurel, Maria next, then Sarah who was caught up in a minor crash with a guy at the end.
What an incredible feeling to see Maria on the podium for 3rd! We had both worked hard, but Maria hardest of all. For a year, she trained, studied strategy and planned for success. She arrived ready to win, and she raced smart and tough. She is also a natural leader, and a very effective coach. I arrived with very little experience employing team tactics, sprint leadouts and following attacks. Thanks to Maria’s 4-day racing boot camp, I returned to Colorado a smarter and more confident racer. Gila was an invaluable experience, and I can’t wait for next year! Who’s with me???
One bit of knowledge the Naked ladies have loved passing down and enforcing….ICE BATHS! Some can handle better than others. You know who you are:) Lanier and Maria on the other hand, look to have it down!
Maria finished 3rd in the 3/4 race with a lead group of 4, 2:30 ahead of the next group. She is going to tomorrow’s TT in a great position! I stayed with the group long enough to lead out Maria to 2nd in the middle sprint and am happy I was able to play domestique!
Hats off to Kimberley in the P/1/2 race for picking herself up after a nasty crash, soloing for 45 miles injured and finishing within the time cut. Impressive and inspiring!
In stage racing, the most important factor of success is proper recovery. In the past, I have learned many lessons the hard way: a) do not climb 5000 feet the day before a race, b) dieting should be saved for the off-season to avoid bonking during races and c) margaritas are never a good idea the night before a race, even if that race is in the afternoon.
Doing recovery right is a big focus for Maria and me for Gila, and we actively sought as much information as we could find. We ate bananas and bars and rehydrated with recovery drinks and water immediately after the race. Then we warmed down with a 60-minute spin. We ate lunch, bought 2 bags of ice and headed back to Charlie and Charlotte’s house, our wonderful hosts.
And what was the ice for, you ask? Ice baths, to reduce inflammation and speed recovery after hard efforts. Armed with Joan Oreldinger’s famous ice bath recipe and Sharon Madison’s “encouragement” (strict MMM orders), we began preparations for the ice bath. Charlotte offered up the “big tub” in the master bath, so we could suffer through the ice bath together, and Charlie quickly followed with an offer to take photos. What a great idea! Misery loves company, and after all we are teammates! We instantly agreed. We made hot tea, put on 3 layers of jackets and sank gingerly into the cold water. We added the first bag of ice, then the second. Legs can’t touch or it defeats the purpose: I only had to tell Maria “no snuggling” once. With all the laughing followed by a good race debrief, 10 minutes flew by, and we hopped out. Our legs felt completely refreshed, but Maria (ace climber that she is with the requisite complete lack of body fat) was visibly chilled. I told her to take her hot shower first. True teammate that she is, her first response was that we should share the warm shower so that I wouldn’t be cold! While we are clearly completely bonded as teammates, there are still limits. Naked Women Racers take baths together…but not showers!
After a nap, dinner, massage and a second dinner, we are ready for anything the Gila TT can dish out tomorrow. Stay tuned for the results!
Yesterday’s road race was one of the hardest races I’ve done in quite a while. It was a 77.9 mile loop with 5854 feet of climbing, which my legs are definitely feeling today! It started out with about 6 miles of flat/rolling (with a bonus sprint line at mile 6.2) before going right into the first QOM climb. The pace was tough, and until the last 1k of the climb I felt good and was hanging with the group. Unfortunately, as I soon realized, the lack of proper recovery from the previous road race, as Rachel had already mentioned, definitely affected me, and I felt much less strong than I know I can be. After chasing hard on my own for several miles after the QOM, I was caught by a group of about 6 others, and we worked together, rotating through a paceline for what ended up being the rest of the race. We caught a few single riders dropped off the main field, but unfortunately didn’t quite make it to the main peleton. One of the most frustrating parts of the race was the fact that for much of our time chasing, the peleton ahead was in view, but we just couldn’t quite get there – every time we were within a few hundred meters of the caravan cars, someone in the field would launch an attack, and the gap would slowly increase again.
It is sadly ironic to know that I did much more work in the race than many in the main field, who had the luxury of sitting in a large group, surfing wheels, but that I ended up placing much farther back. I kept mentally chastising myself, going through all the “if only’s” – “if only” I pushed just a bit harder to stay on, I could have ridden comfortably, sheltered from the wind, in the field for the rest of the race—for example. But I raced to my best ability given all circumstances, and clearly didn’t purposefully get dropped when I did, and so there are no if only’s, only what was. Near the last feed zone coming into the final big climb, I was cooked. I had done quite a bit of work in the group I was in, trying to chase back onto the main field, and at this point, was dropped from the chase group. I literally lost about 10 minutes in the last 15 miles, and for those last 15 miles was in pure survival mode. I was gauging my effort to avoid cramping, savoring the last half bottle of water I had, and drew motivation from the signs counting down the kilometers to go. In the end, I finished about 20 minutes behind the main peleton, and within the time cut. After Rachel came in, we headed back to our host housing, and I spent the rest of the night doing everything with my power to optimize recovery, and make up for the poor recovery the day before.
I try to remember when I start to get discouraged that I am still young, with much time to continue getting stronger. I mean, look at what a bad-ass Kristin is, and she’s 38! That still gives me 15 years to achieve total domination. Another thing I am constantly reminded of at big races like this is how hard it is to be truly competitive in a field like this, without any race support. As we arrived at the start area yesterday, I watched in awe and yes, envy, to be completely honest, as racers sat in chair with their feet up with their support staff cleaning and preparing their bikes, performing mechanical tune-ups, and giving impromptu massages. However, despite all that, I am so thankful to have the opportunity to be here racing with such strong women who make this sport what it is. As Rachel mentioned, the winning times this year have been significantly shorter than the times on the same courses last year, which just goes to show that women’s cycling is growing, and with it, the caliber of riders. I will now step down from my soap box, with a TT race report soon to follow.
Kim and I have had quite the adventure so far getting to Silver City, New Mexico for the 26th Annual Tour of the Gila big girl race, aka pro race with the likes of Kristin Armstrong and Alison Powers to name a few. Though I don’t quite deserve to be here since cycling is my hobby, and I most certainly don’t get paid (nor could I) to do this as my day job, it’s fun to challenge yourself. Like my friend Alli told me, “even if you don’t have a great race, it’s the cheapest and most effective climbing camp you’ll ever do!”
I’ll do my best to summarize the start of our saga; however, I’m quite exhausted after racing and thumbing for a ride following the point-to-point race.
Sunday-Spun on my rollers for 45 min before swinging by Kim’s to load up the car. The day before, we spent the entire afternoon taking off our generously provided Thule rack on our generously provided team car by Prestige Imports, and outfitting it with longer bars, 5 roof racks, and two wheel mounts (stolen from Kimberley’s car). Before we knew it, our journey began. We drove nearly straight through to Albuquerque. A howling bloodhound on the loose in Trinidad held us up at the gas station. We did what we could to find the owner, but gave him to a panhandling man for safe keeping. Then dinner stop in ABQ at Farina Pizza and Wine bar for dinner, before driving to Socorro, NM for the night.
Monday-Kim and I are great at GSD (Getting Stuff Done)! We both woke up, and got an easy spin in from our hotel room. We both showered, packed back up, loaded all the bikes on the car and were out the door within 25 min. of our ride. Now that’s fast! We arrived early in Silver City, after both of us got car sick from the weaving drive into town through the Gila National Forest. Since we are both about GSD, we drove the sketchy descent everyone has warned us about on stage 2, and confirmed our fears. It’s a doosey. Then went to the grocery, stocked up on plenty o’calories and p’haps a lil’ wine. Unloaded everything at our A-MAZING hosts’ house. Denise and Steve are great folks and we couldn’t have picked better hosts, and a better pad to relax between races. If I get the nerve to do this race again, I’d love to come back here. We have yet to see Javelinas, but make up for it in hummingbirds on their amazing porch with a picturesque view.
Tuesday-Eat and pre-rode the TT course. This will be ridiculously tough. 1500 feet of climbing, yet mostly doable on a TT bike. No one said it would be easy though. And if anything, this is my cheap climbing camp I’ve always wanted to go to:)
Wednesday-Eat and Race. Stage #1, 73.1 miles and too much climbing (4500 ft though my Garmin says more). Our field consisted of 60+ super strong women, mostly comprised of pro’s. After the 2 mile neutral start rolling through town, the gas was on full blast. Several small attacks occurred one after the other, with one sticking through the end of the race. And these aren’t those attacks that I attempt to throw out at a race-this was the real deal. Aaaand if you got dropped on these rollers, you’d kiss your chances of finishing anywhere near the time cut goodbye. On one of the rollers, a girl attacked so hard, I think she wiped herself out. That’s what appeared to happen as I narrowly missed it, running right up on her tire while trying not to dart out of the way causing another crash. Unfortunately, she wiped out some teeth too in her crash. I hope she has a speedy recovery!
Most of the race for me was trying to find a good place to hide and stay out of the wind. Kim did a great job at this. At about our half way point, the entire field agreed to a pee break, since our mechanics don’t allow for us to go from the bike itself. Because the lead group was led to take a wrong turn, this was the prime opp to get her done. So after relieving ourselves, we were neutralized until the lead group could get their time back from the break, and then allowed to go. All very new and very interesting to me.
All was great for me with the exception of my normal leg cramps I can never seem to shake. I’ve learned I can push through them and sometimes if I’m lucky they will go away. They came and went in this race starting at mile 40. Other than the cramps, I felt great…until we got to the last feed zone before the climb. I tried to grab a water but the rider in front of me got it and the volunteer only had 1 bottle. Then I rode very slowly to grab another one from a volunteer reloading….and then it happened. Kaboom-I couldn’t go anymore as the group was pulling away. I chased and chased but alas, I couldn’t do more without walking on the last climb. I kept the group in my sights for the next mile until the climb. Lost a lot of time and should have never stopped at the feed zone.
In starting the climb, I worked with a couple other dropped riders, but was too worked from chasing by myself. They finished a couple minutes in front of me on the 6.7 mile climb (that averaged 11%!). I honestly contemplated walking my bike because it would have been faster than I was riding. I did see a couple other male riders doing this. As I crossed the finish, my only hope was that I made the time cut off (and didn’t get last, but at that point I was just glad to be done!).
Besides the last climb, the hardest part was attempting to hitch a ride back after riding 80 miles and climbing nearly 4,600 ft! It was a point-to-point race with the end being about an hour’s drive from town. And us not being that pro and all, had to beg for a ride because the shuttles that they promised were no where in sight. Awesome. Luckily, Kim hitched a ride with Tibco since they had one spot, and I gave my spot in another vehicle to John Klish. I then hunted with Cat Johnson (who took 9th!) and Amy Charity for a spot and asked the UnitedHealthcare pro team to take us back. We had to wait till they finished, but fortunately and unfortunately they won the stage which means they had to stay for interviews and podium! So we had to wait another hour after the hour we spent searching for a ride before Rory Sutherland got back and then his teammate who took 6th. We finished at noon and didn’t get back home until 4 pm. But thank you to Alex, the United’s amazing soigneur who gave us chocolate, water and chairs to sit in while we waited.
Poor Kim had to wait 2 hours for us to get back in a random guys hot RV because I had the car keys! So much for recovery! We’ll see how this will affect the rest of our race:)
Time to shove more food in my face!