NMBS Finale: Brian Head, UT

The last weekend of August took me (Maureen) to Brian Head, Utah for some extreme high-altitude racing. It was the final NMBS race of the season, and I was hoping for a nice end (i.e. a good finish or 2) to my first season of racing in the pro class. Thursday I drove down to East LA to meet up with fellow competitor and all-around awesome person, Joy Duerkson. She put me up for the night and even made me a nice healthful breakfast the in the morning! Two other women (Shelli and Heidi) met us that morning for a fun feminine carpool from LA to Brian Head. We had a super-awesome drive to Brian Head, chatting the whole way and enjoying the views. We only turned on the radio for a brief 5 minutes of the whole trip!
We arrived at Brian Head on Friday evening with just enough time to unpack and do a short 30-minute spin around the venue. I hadn’t ridden in 2 days (and I was ‘tapering’) so it was nice to get on the bike. We were staying in a nice condo with Vanessa Humic (Emma’s competitor!) and some friends: Roger, Bev Chaney (Roaring Mouse), Lisa…there were a LOT of people staying there! It worked out great, and only one person was on the floor.
On Saturday morning we awoke to a beautiful day in the mountains with aspens and pines all around, and striking red formations in the distance. Joy and I had the Short Track at noon, which gave us just enough time to pre-ride the sport course. Why ride the sport course? There was a nasty rumor running throughout the venue that the weather was going to turn nasty on Sunday. If this were true, our XC course would change to the sport course, if not end up canceled. Also, the Pro XC course is one ginormous loop of nearly 30-miles…not conducive to a pre-ride, especially at 9600 feet.
So we rode the sport XC course, getting back to the venue with about 15 minutes before our race. I noticed during the pre-ride that my legs felt quite heavy, so I was a little concerned about the upcoming races. I was psyched for the ST, since I’ve done well at these events this year.
At the ST race start, Joy and I notice that most of the competitors were the seasoned pros–women like Georgia, Katerina, Kelli, Lea–and not very many of the pack-fill types. Plus, the organizers decided to have a 1st-lap prime, which meant the pace would start out faster than usual. These factors coupled with the high altitude and my fatigued legs all conspired to destroy me. I’ve noticed with these pro women that I’m one of the slowest starters, but I can come from behind and pick girls off as the race progresses. I suppose I’m like a diesel engine in that regard.
After the first hot lap, it wasn’t too long till I was shelled OTB of the main field. Without those pack-fill types present, I was in no-man’s land and a short time later I was directed off the course. Pulled!? What a bummer. I had a hard time out there. But I didn’t have that much time to sulk, since the Super-D was coming up in the mid-afternoon.
I went back to the condo to chill for a minute. The weather was rapidly deteriorating, which was a great surprise considering the sunny blue skies we had during the ST (although the winds were pretty rough). I grabbed a rain jacket and thermal wear and headed to the venue. On my way over, I got pelted with hail!! Yes, the weather was turning sour quickly. I wanted to get a few practice runs in on the course, but there was lightning, which shut down the chair lift and consequently our practice time. Finally the organizers had to call the race, with the hope that they could run it on Sunday morning. So I headed back to the condo and enjoyed the company of my roommates. We saw the wind blasting through the trees and wondered whether we’d be able to ride bikes tomorrow. It was possible we’d want a pair of skis!
Sunday morning looked nice enough from the window of the condo. It turned out to be quite cooler and much windier than Saturday. I went over to check on the Super D. The race was on, but there was no time for practice. Less than ideal, but I was lucky enough to get the lowdown on the course from Bev on the chairlift. Each Super D race features some hair-brained starting scheme designed to make the organizers laugh at us racers (and the racers at each other). This time we had to run backwards to our bikes. This was harder than it sounded. The course was pretty fun after the pesky uphill start, and I flowed down the mountain, slowly gaining spots. Present in the field was Linden, a former WCCC collegiate racer. It was fun to see her again. I ended up getting 4th place in the Super D, which is my first Pro podium!! I was on the podium with Kelli Emmet and Sue Butler…it was cool! I was pleasantly surprised to learn later that I ended up 4th overall in the NMBS Super D Series!
After the Super D I prepared for the EPIC XC race, and during my warm-up I was definitely concerned about the state of my legs. They felt like bricks, and I couldn’t tell if it was the altitude, or if I was over-trained, or even under-trained! I thought I had tapered for this race, and that I would be ready to go. Not exactly.
The XC course featured a gnarly 4-mile climb from the start at 9600′ up to 11,000′! It started on a desolate state highway with several steep pitches, then turned onto a fireroad. One cool thing about the XC was the organizers decided to start the Pro Men and Women together since the start was up the road for a while. The pace started out very friendly and chill, but it slowly ramped up along with the pitch. After 10 minutes, I was starting to feel gassed, and a gap opened between me and the group. There were a few women also hanging OTB, but they were ahead of me. It was quite demoralizing to be alone so soon into this epic race. I thought about turning around and going home, since I was going as hard as I could, but my HR was super low. But I persevered, riding along in the remote, high-country Utah wilderness. It was beautiful out there, but I was in a slightly sour mood. I thought about stopping more than a few times, but I couldn’t quite stomach the thought of a “DNF” next to my name. However, I do understand now what makes racers quit their races. I couldn’t help but think that this endless ride was not helping me in the least. I can understand that there are times when you should pull the plug to expedite recovery.
During my ride I came across Joy and Chloe stopped on the trail. I last saw Joy effortlessly pulling away from me on the road climb, leaving me in her road dust and jealous of her fitness. I stopped to assess the situation–Chloe had a gash on her knee after hitting a skewer-like branch on the side of the trail, and Joy was keeping her company till help arrived. I figured the best way for me to help was to forge ahead and find someone to help get her out of the woods. She crashed in a particularly desolate part of this remote area. I relayed the news to a couple hiking on the trail and then to an EMT and the Luna team managers at the feed zone. My job was done, and nothing left for me to do except ride on. My ride went on forever, up and up and up endless hills until finally the infamous descent. This descent was very technical, not that fun on a hardtail, but at least it was a descent. But of course there was more climbing to tackle afterwards. Finally I finished the race after nearly 3 hours of riding! I was demoralized but happy to be done. Joy, the true rock star that she is, finished her race despite the long pit-stop she made to help a fellow racer. Way to go!
Later that evening there was a little party thrown by the race promoters with the theme “Female Cross-Country Racers Appreciation Party.” Our whole condo showed up for foamy beer from Nevada and some good conversation. No one had the energy to stand up, so we all sat at tables and chilled. It was a nice ending to the rough weekend. On Monday morning we packed up and headed back south. I went on to Santa Barbara to visit my aunt and cousins. Overall, I had a fun weekend hanging out with Joy and her peeps, and I learned what it feels like to be under-rested. And my first pro podium–hooray!
Whew! There are a lot of words here…thanks for reading!
-Maureen
p.s. The photos on this post are not mine; thanks are in order to Mark Vanek and Joy Duerkson for the images.