I woke up about 3 minutes before my alarm went off (that would be 4:57 a.m.) and stumbled upstairs to drink as much coffee as possible. My eyes had that tired, gritty, won't stay open feeling and I knew that the last couple of days had caught up with me. I had hoped to sleep on the way up, but already adrenaline and pre-race butterflies were kicking in. I was excited and really nervous as I had no idea what to expect.
Soon the city streets turned to hills and then those hills turned to longer hills. Winona is built on bluffs and I was really glad that I had gone with a 32x20.
Kenda Karmas. There was nothing I could do about it at that moment though, except hope for the best. I knew I had more then enough Stan's sealant inside which made me feel better.
After the riders meeting we were told to walk our bikes down a singletrack trail and to put them in a neighboring field. Rumor had it that some of the promoters were going to move our bikes during our Lemans start so that we would have trouble finding them. I tried to be very strategic about where I placed my Salsa Selma...where could I put my bike where no one would notice it??? Finally I just placed it in the middle of a lot of other bikes, once again hoping for the best. But my bright red Ergon grips seemed to shout out, "hide me...hide me!"
We retraced our steps back to the lodge for the National anthem and I have to say this was the first time I've ever lined up at the start line with cowboys, cowgirls, unicorns and one guy who was already having a hard time standing because he was so drunk. This was also the first time at a race where everyone started humming along with the guy singing. By the end everyone was singing the National anthem along with him...it was really cool!
Then we were off! The Lemans run was more of a Lemans walk because there was some pretty bad bottlenecking in the singletrack. The moment I got to the field I started scanning all around for my bike. Lo and behold...it was exactly where I had left it. I jumped on and pedaled toward the woods.
I had no idea of what place I was in and really didn't have time to look around for other women. We were hitting rolling hill after rolling hill and I tried to pass people when I could. It had been a while since I have race my singlespeed and I instantly remembered how much I love it. I vowed to do a lot more races on it!
Eventually we hit a spot in the trail where we could pedal no more. I was introduced to one of the first of many hike-a-freaking-bikes that Winona had to offer. The downhill was fun, but you had to be on your game at all times. There were a few rocky sections that could send people down a really steep ravine if hit wrong. We had to stop at least twice to allow people to climb back up onto the trail.
I was having a blast. The weather was gorgeous, my legs felt good and the overall vibe of the race was so much fun. We hit a long road section that was as flat as a pancake and I forced myself to pedal as fast as humanly possible. There were people mowing their lawns and going about their day as if nothing was happening but there were also some people sitting on the curbs cheering us on. I kept waving at everyone like I was in a parade :-) It was easy to do so because with a 32x20 gear ratio I couldn't move that fast. However, I did pass two little boys who were riding their bikes down the street...and they had gears! Ha!
Right before I hit the next climb some volunteers shouted out that I was the third female, about 1.5 minutes behind the leader. Then one of the volunteers shouted that he thought that the first place women was me. Instantly I knew that he was referring to Sara Stanford, from Arizona. She was wearing a matching Metal kit and also racing a Ti singlespeed. I was basically chasing after my twin.
Shortly after that I caught up to the second placed women and passed her. I ended up racing with a few guys and we hit a lot of winding single track that seemed like it would never end. It kept turning and turning and I couldn't tell if the people in the woods were in front of me or behind me. Finally I saw another Metal kit hammering through the woods...Sara! I hopped on her wheel and rode with her until we hit a grassy section. It was funny. We were riding at the same pace and yet had totally different riding styles. It seemed like I would sit when she would stand and vice versa. She was gapping me in the corners though and the next time I come to Arizona I'm totally going to beg her to take me riding and teach me some secrets on how to corner faster! My legs still felt really good so I passed her in the next open section and went on my way. I was using a Hydrapak Avila and soft flask so I never had to stop at any of the aid stations.
The rest of the race was brutal. Eventually we retraced our route which meant we had to go up the long, screaming fast descents we went down earlier in the race and again I had to do another grueling hike-a-bike. I was pushing myself hard, sweat was streaming in my face, and I was willing my legs not to cramp.
After another road section and a few thousand more hills I saw what I was looking for....the lodge where we started! I was so, so, so happy and had the biggest smile on my face. A few people were already sitting on the grass, I saw people lined up at the beer tent, and a few buying burritos at the taco truck. I could already taste those burritos in my mouth. And then I saw a few arrows pointing me in the opposite direction. What the???? It took about 10 minutes of pedaling to realize that the race was far from over. For some reason I thought that wearing my Garmin would seem too serious for SSUSA, a decision I regretted the entire race. I had no clue what mile I was at or where I was going. All I knew was that I was being sent back out on singletrack, and had a lot more hills to climb and logs to get over. For a while it seemed like there was a log every 20 inches and I became convinced that someone had dragged them over to the trail to make things harder. For a few seconds I couldn't tell if I was sweating really hard or crying.
It took almost another hour but eventually I saw a few familiar sights and realized that I was heading back. I crossed a few bridges, climbed a few more hills and then saw that I had one more bridge to cross. There were a bunch of rocks before the bridge and by this point I had gotten a little too cocky about my descending skillzzzzz. I hit the rocks really fast and at a really bad angle, and then sailed off the bridge at full speed. Ugh! I landed on the rocks, the front half of my bike landed on me and I watched the rear wheel slam on the rocks. Nooooooo!!!!
LUCKILY my bike was ok and so was I :-) A few more hills and I was rounding the corner to the taco truck and beer tent. And this time the finish was FOR REAL! I was the 1st female, and 40th overall with a time of 3:54. The course was 35-ish miles and had 4,000 feet of climbing.
This race was by far one of the most fun and challenging races I've ever done. It had a little bit of everything. Amazing views, amazing singletrack, challenging climbs and descents, and great volunteers. I know that I pushed myself as hard as I could to get to the finish line! That's an awesome feeling and I'm still smiling a few days later.
That being said SSUSA completely kicked my butt...literally!
Here are some pictures from the rest of the day...
SSUSA in 2014! I can't wait!!!
I have to send a huge thanks to all of my sponsors and friends for hosting us over the weekend. As always, I had such a great time. And thanks to the 29nSNGL girls and guys for putting on such a great race. I can't wait to see everyone again next year. I would like to say that Copper Harbor is "MY TURF" but it's almost as far of a drive from where I live as Minneapolis is and I know the terrain is nothing like we have here. From what I hear it's going to be rocky. I think a spring training trip up there is in order!