Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Riding in Minnesota

Five months have passed since I moved to Minneapolis. Riding in Minnesota is a new experience with a lot more to come but here are the first discoveries I made:

Minnesotans embrace cycling. Everywhere you look there are bike trails, shared bike paths or some other way to make riding on roads safe. No one honks. Drivers give ample space when passing. No matter what weather condition, you always see commuters with creative protective gear on their way to work. It seems like every corner has a bike store. And these are not bike shop chains but local stores with a coffee shop inside and their own mentality towards cycling.  

Minneapolis offers a huge variety of riding. Sometimes, I have a hard time choosing between a gravel group night ride on remote roads, mountain bike ride on sweet single track or a lazy bike trail ride along the lakes. There are so many great options!

Through a weekly group ride, I was introduced to gravel rides and races. Riding on gravel has become one of my favorite ways of riding. There is an entire gravel race series in Minnesota, two of which I raced this year: the 100 mi Heck of the North and the 100 mi Dirtbag race. You get a cue sheet at the beginning of the race and then it’s all about using energy wisely and not getting lost. Afterwards, there is a get-together with a lot of beer. Minnesotans love beer!

I was also introduced to the night group rides. Here there are so many remote roads that is safe to ride during the night time. Without street lamps on those remote gravel roads, only the head lamps of the group and the moon light the way. It makes for an adventurous ride. 

With so many mountain bike trails in riding distance, I decided to start mountain biking. The trails are well-maintained and easily accessible so sometimes I have a hard time choosing if I want to go for a road ride or mountain bike ride. Single-track riding in the dark at the river bottoms is an experience on a different level. You are riding quietly along the river through the forest with an occasional unfamiliar sound of an animal or the reflection of a pair of deer eyes behind the trees. Reminds me of adventure racing! 

The snow storm last week did not deter the group ride from happening. It’s just not on bikes anymore but skis instead.  From that one week I experienced a snowy Minneapolis, I already can tell that Minnesota does not fall asleep during the winter. With the plenitude of cross country ski trails in town, I will be busy discovering all trails during the winter. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chequamegon 40 - a race against 2,000

Chequamegon (pronounced Shwar'me-gan) is a 40 mi point-to-point mountain bike race that goes over grass fields, gravel roads, the Birkebeiner trail, forest and snowmobile trails. It starts at Hayward, WI and finishes at Cable, WI.
That alone sounds like a great race! But what makes it even more exciting is the number of racers. We are talking about over 2,000 racers that are lining up for this race. Let the pictures tell the story:

At the starting line
Gary, the race promoter, and his dedicated crew and volunteers made this race happen. Everything was perfectly organized, from the race package pick-up to the bag drop-off to a great atmosphere!

Race start 

Following the Four Wheelers. Thousands of knobby tires rolling through Hayward.
Just looking at this picture makes me excited for next year's Chequamegon!

Within the first few miles, the field spread out.
Watch out for Pirates at Mile 21! They fuel you with Rum!

James hooked me up with a sweet 29er Pivot. Absolutely loved the bike!

The Festival after the race.

 What a great weekend! Thanks to everyone who made this happen!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

First race in Minnesota - the State Road Championship

First, let me say that the cycling community here in Minnesota is super friendly and welcoming. It's so much fun riding here. There are a lot of open roads with little traffic, plenty of group rides and a variety of racing from time trialing on Tuesdays to track on Thursdays and road races on the weekend.

Last Sunday, I raced the Minnesota State Road Championships - 54mi race – three laps à 18mi. The terrain was partly rolling, partly flat with a nice 0.6 mi climb at the finish. It was super windy.

For me, it was a race with a lot of unknowns. I did not know the course or the competition (I knew though there were very strong women out here). The battery of my bike computer died so I also did not know speed or distance.

The first two laps were rather uneventful. We all stayed together. There were a few solid attacks but nothing stuck. With one lap to go, we again climbed up the hill to the finish and I rode a little harder to see what the others would do.

I looked back and there was a substantial gap and then it was all about keeping it that way. Without a bike computer to look at speed or mileage, I just put my head down and went all out not knowing what was going on behind me.

It was another 18mi to go with a lot of wind from all directions. I looked back quite a few times trying to figure out if the peloton came closer. The motor ref told me 30 seconds after a while, then 42 seconds and then "I dont know I dont see anyone". That got me worried because I had no time check anymore whether I go fast enough to stay away. Only on the last climb to the finish line I eased up just a little when I did not see anyone behind me. I could not believe that I held it. I couldnt ask for a better start for racing in Minnesota!

Next race will be in a month in Texas - collegiate Track Nationals. That will be interesting!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Thank you and Good Bye MABRA

After almost three years being part of the MABRA cycling scene, I am heading out to Minnesota to study my passion – sports.
I really enjoyed the time in the cycling scene. I made some great friends and awesome experiences. A few random memories…

Crashing is nothing spectacular – Two months after the purchase of my road bike, I found myself getting stitched up in the ER after a crash at Hains Point. The club president visited me in the hospital. Soon enough, the doctor, a triathlete, and the club president were avidly discussing the difference between triathlon and road cycling while I got 12 stitches in my forehead. It must have been an interesting scene to watch.

Racing with the guys - At the Turkey Day 2010 race, I decided to race with the Cat 4 Men. I started with the goal to stick for one lap. I ended up 8th, first of my team. That was random!

A 10 day car and race ride with a teammate I had known for about 10 minutes sounded interesting right from the start. It ended up being a phenomenal experience racing Speed Week with Lindsay. Oh boy, what an intense week that was!

2011 Speed Week
A road race can change into an adventure race very fast. Example: 2011 Tour de Toona. Lost twice as the refs didn’t know the way. Adding a detour of 5 miles. Unfortunately, I did not bring my compass.

2011 Tour de Toona 

The road race which came closest to a cyclocross race was Liberty Classics when a crash forced me to run up Manayunk and a spectator furiously reminded me it wasn’t a running race!

A head-to-head duel with the second placed person for the Best-All Around Racer competition brought me to the velodrome the first time in my life. Whoever wins the track event would win the BAR. It was a close competition!

I guess I will miss Hains Point. I think I have never ridden so many laps around a golf course in my life. No matter what time, it’s crazy that you always will see someone you know.

It might rain, snow or storm so hard that even my parents in Germany hear about it, but that does not hold any serious MABRA rider off to join a group ride. The 7am ride a few hours after the huge storm on June 29, 2011 subsided was in full motion as nothing had happened. 80% of the riders were without electricity at home. A little CX action over fallen tree logs or electricity cables is normal business for the MABRA cyclist.

There are so many group rides in MABRA that the decision about the group ride was sometimes harder than the group ride itself …. the Italian Store ride, Wakefield ride, 7/10am, VDay ride, Muffin ride, Conte’s ride, Bicycle Place ride, Hour of Power, Tomahawk ride, Goon ride, NCVC ride, Coppi’s ride…and I probably forgot half of them….

What is next? Collegiate racing! Track! MCF racing! Some cross-country skiing, ice fishing, dog sledding and what else is going on up there! 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A 24 hour Adventure Race that stirred up the hornets' nest

Everyone who is familiar with Adventure Racing can jump to the race.

What is adventure racing (AR)?

Adventure racing is a combination of several disciplines, in this region mostly trekking, mountain biking, kayaking and orienteering (by compass and topographical map, no GPS allowed!).
You can race solo or in a 2-,3- or 4- person team, female, male or coed. The Elite category is the four person coed team.
The race has a time limit which must not be exceeded otherwise one faces time penalty. In the case of my race, the 24 hours Odyssey One Day, everyone has 24 hours to complete the course.

Before every race, the team or the soloist receives a topographical map and coordinates. Usually the team designates a navigator who plots the coordinates and decides about the race strategy – meaning how to get from one checkpoint to the next.
Most times, it is pre-determined by the race promoter which mode of transportation is used; however, there were times we could choose.

Once, the team has a race strategy and estimates food and water demands, the race can begin. (Each race is different; sometimes the map plotting is part of the race, sometimes not) The navigator leads the team to the checkpoints. In a 24 hours race, the checkpoints could be as far as 4 hours or greater apart. (The exciting part of adventure racing is that every race is different)

The team must stay together at all times. There is mandatory gear that must be carried such as a medical kit, knife, whistle, etc and most likely it will be checked at some point throughout the race. An example of the list is here.
With 3 liters of water and food for 24 hours, the back pack can be very heavy.

My race food: 3 burritos, nuts and berries, energy shots, power bars, tuna sandwich...guessing about 3,500 calories

In a 24 hours race, the night adds another challenge to the race. Having enough battery time, and solid navigation skills (especially when bushwalking in the dark) become imperative to successfully finish a race.

The race

Before I even start with anything, I need to point out that I never could have survived this race without such incredible teammates. Mark (Pro Adventure Racer and Navigator), Charlie (outstanding in all AR disciplines) and Shane (Team Captain and comedic in such a way that it was impossible to concentrate on my pain) were part of the Odyssey Adventure Racing team – one of the best teams in the US.

Shane called me two weeks before the race and asked if I want to race. Since I knew the guys, I thought this would be a fun team to race with! I told him that I haven’t run more than 3 miles or been in a kayak or canoe for the past 3 years. Shane said, no problem, we will make this work.

In those two weeks, I ran as far as three miles but never made it into a kayak for training. Well, this definitely would be a challenging race. On top of it, I haven’t stayed up for an entire night for a long time so my body would complain at some point during the night.

Besides my lack of training in two of the three disciplines, I had no adventure racing gear anymore. My teammates provided me with literally everything – a sweet 29er mountain bike from Charlie while he would ride on his 30 pound beater bike, all mandatory gear, clothes and things that I did not even think about like protective skin crème for wet feet.

Shane and I drove to the race venue near Roanoke, VA on Friday afternoon. The race would start Saturday morning at 8am. We got there around 5pm and I thought we would have time to relax.

I forgot how much time the preparation would take. We were busy until mid-night.

Most of the evening we spent on plotting points and estimating the amount of time between transition areas so we could calculate how much food and water we have to take with us. We discussed race strategy, set up the canoes and labeled our packs, attended pre-race meeting (we learned that bears and snakes were on the course), made sure we put all our mandatory gear in our backpacks and got our food packs ready. So we were busy. Sleep the day before a 24 hours race was not priority.

On race day, we got up at 6am, ate breakfast and took care of the last details. At 8am the race started.

The first leg was a 10mi orienteering section on foot. Since we had two excellent navigators I knew we would take the shortest distance (opposed to the safest navigational-wise which would be on trails) which meant a lot of bushwhacking through the woods – brushes, thorns, whatever is in the way when you follow a certain compass direction.

My team loves running, so we ran – uphill, downhill, it didn’t matter. When I got dropped in the first mile, they took my backpack and we kept running. However, my cycling fitness didn’t exactly transfer to running very well so my legs didn’t like the downhill part at all. I started cramping ONE mile into a 24 hours race.  

I thought, sweet, because 24 hours weren’t difficult by itself! No, my legs had to revolt right from the start to make it a little harder.

Well, after a mile of trying to ignore the cramping, I couldn’t walk anymore. I apologized a thousand times to my teammates for my cramping but it seemed normal to them. They knew what to do – gave me electrolytes and did some magical stretching and I was better again. We blasted through the foot section in four hours with spot-on navigation. I don’t have to mention how my legs felt. My knees and joints, not used to running that much, were in awful pain. I don’t know if my feet hurt or not. Everything else was hurting so much more.

Well, then it came time to do a 20 mi bike section. It was 12 pm and we changed into cycling gear. Coming off a very painful foot section, being on a bike was like heaven. It didn’t realize until then how much I love riding. The speed you are going compared to running, the cooling wind and the legs just moving finally in the right direction – in circles! I felt like me again.

This time I could return the favor helping out a teammate when he didn’t feel well and I carried part of his stuff. I really enjoyed the dynamic of our team. Everyone helped out where they could. We rode to the paddle section and what timing, it started raining right for our transition. By then, it was 2 pm.

We dissembled our bikes to place them into the two canoes, put on lifejackets and off we were. The paddle section was a total of 18 miles with an orienteering section mid-paddle. Our two navigators were leading us perfectly to the checkpoints, which were located in the middle of nowhere (aka somewhere in the forest on no trail or any man-made feature).

Sometimes the brushes were so thick that it was hard to see my teammates.

One of the checkpoints was located on a super steep ridge but we were rewarded with wild blueberries (I waited to eat them until one of the guys put them in his mouth to see if they cause some serious consequences ;) ) and an amazing view over other mountains we probably would climb up at some point during the race. 

Going downhill steep hills made my legs cramp. Here coming down from one of the orienteering check points. 

After an hour or so in the woods, we made our way back down a ridge when my teammate ahead of me accidentally stepped into a hornet hive. The hornets started attacking him and me. I froze and screamed like a girl. My teammate yelled “Run” and I think I set a new PR how fast I could run up a mountain. A few hornets chased me though and I ran and screamed some more. Finally, I got rid of them and I trekked back to my teammates. We counted at least 12 stings. After some antihistamine and alcohol pads we kept going as usual.

Back in the canoes we paddled for another few hours through few small rapids until we finally arrived at the take-out spot at 9pm to get out of the water.

Paddling down James River. You can see part of the bikes disassembled behind Mark

Shane and I in the boat for hours at that point.

We changed back into our wet bike gear, assembled our bikes and rode to the last orienteering section. We were 4 hours ahead of estimated schedule and made awesome time. If we kept going at that pace, we predicted to finish at 3:30am. When we arrived at the transition area, it was well into the night already. Maybe 11pm. We changed into our wet trekking gear, put our head lights on and took food with us for four hours – our conservative estimate for that section.

All the checkpoints were in the woods on some random ridge. We had to get 11 checkpoints which were all optional (meaning they were not required to finish officially). Since the distance of each of them was short, four hours seemed completely reasonable.
How off we were!!!

We started trekking through thicket. Our legs got more and more torn from the thorns and sharp brushes.

I started to get tired. It was way past my usual bedtime.

The time we calculated for finding the first checkpoint had passed.

We were lost.

We had to trek back to a path to get some sort of orientation again and spent an hour or so trying to find ourselves on the map. (Later we learned that the map didn’t exactly match the reality.) We climbed up seemingly endless ridges through thickets.

I got increasingly tired. My legs didn’t want to move anymore. My motivation was not exactly 100% and I lagged behind my team big time.

All I wanted was to sit down and let them find the spot. It was more than obvious that I needed a break so we stopped for 15 minutes.

We shut the lights off and holy cow, it was dark. I did not even the see the moon. We were surrounded only by noises that were foreign to me. Crickets? Other insects? Bears? I didn’t know. I took my previous thought process back and I did not want my team to search for the checkpoint without me. I won’t stay here by myself!

Finally, after 1.5 hours we found the first checkpoint and from then on, we found the next checkpoints very quickly. However, we lost a lot of time and it was 2am by then. I dragged my feet slowly behind them and the pace we were going was not helping to catch up with the lost time.

In fact, our navigators had to re-assess if we could get all points. Although I started feeling a little better, my teammates started to fade too. 

The view from the ridge earlier in the race.
 Climbing up ridges for 10+minutes and wading through thick brushes was very exhausting. Plus, we ran out of water because we were past our 4 hours we estimated for this orienteering section. Every time we stopped for navigational purposes, I dozed off.

At 4am, we found five of of the eleven optional checkpoints. Disappointing but we had to get back so we would not be late for the finish (which would result in penalty). We trekked back to our bikes and climbed up a mile-long ridge.

We finished at 6:30am and realized that we won! (We didn’t know until the end, because we don’t know how many checkpoints other team got).

Exhausted but very happy we all ate breakfast! That night I slept for 15 hours.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The shotgun and the Yihaa - Hilly Billy Roubaix

Before I move to Minnesota in six weeks, I plan on racing all the fun races I haven’t done in this area yet. I thought Hilly Billy Roubaix might be perfectly suited for that: A 72mi Ultracross race in Morgantown, WV with some 4,200 feet of climbing and a little dirt….shouldnt be too bad, right?

I borrowed a cross bike, adjusted the seat height and pumped the tires to 100 psi and felt ready to go. I conveniently neglected all email exchanges of tire width, pressure and food. I mean it’s only a bike race, right?

Well, my opinion changed quickly when I received the pre-race email with the warning that the race times could exceed 8 hours. Again, the email talked about tire width, pressure, etc. 

It dawned on me I am missing something here!

I went through all neglected emails and holy cow; this wouldn’t be a walk in the park! It sounds more like an adventure race than a road race.

When we arrived at the race site, I saw either mountain bikes or well decked-out cross bikes. When another racer recommended putting 50 psi in my tires down from my original 100 (I am such a road racer!), I realized that I really didn’t know what I was in for. I was thinking of the 8 hours the promoter was talking about and prayed that I wouldn’t exceed that!

I couldn’t worry too long anymore because the race with all 227 racers started soon and the adventures began.

If I wasn’t busy finding the line with the biggest chance of traction going uphill, I counted all passed people who would fly passed me on the descent. The downhill sections were even more challenging through partly deep loose gravel, especially when your technical skill set goes as far as hopping on a curb, like mine.

Even in the mechanical department, I didn’t do too lousy. I managed to get my chain caught in the spokes only twice and I only got one flat on one of the descents. When I retrieved my pump, some essentials parts were missing. Lucky me, someone stopped for me who had already two flats so he was not in any hurry to keep going. (Note to the promoter, maybe the race categories should be divided into quantity of flats?)

The scenery of West Virginia was spectacular. With 4,200 feet of climbing, one can imagine how often we had the chance to enjoy the landscape from the top of a mountain (once the whole cross-eyed thing and the gasping for air stopped). In the valleys we were reminded that we were in West Virginia. I don’t usually see a 12 year old running around with a shotgun over his shoulder in his garden or signs “children at play 7am-10pm”. One other fellow racer from West Virginia made his state proud by exclaiming Yihaaaa before every climb. When no shotgun or Yihaa in sight, then a creek bed or mud puddles.  Yeah, this course was far away from monotony.

The guy with the suuuuper fat tires and the single speed dude who passed me with such an impressive speed on the climbs added another level of entertainment. And nowhere else but in Morgantown, WV did I think I would meet someone from Austria, where I just raced two weeks ago.

Have I mentioned the aid stations yet? At mile 19, 38 and 58, volunteers provided you with everything a thirsty and hungry racer wanted. It was basically a drive-thru because the volunteers ran towards you and provided you what you needed. Kudos to all volunteers!!!

Kudos to the promoter and the volunteers of putting on such a well –organized race (and that from a German! ;))!

It was steep....

...and muddy....

...and rocky...

At the finish

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Etappenrennen in Langenlois

Als mir der Team Manager, Olaf Janson, die Chance gegeben hatte, mit einem Bundesligateam für vier Wochen in Europa Rennen zufahren, hatte ich absolute keine Vorstellungen, wie es denn so werden würde. Zuvor bin ich noch nie in Deutschland Rennen gefahren. Die Erfahrung würde auf jeden Fall einzigartig werden. Das kann ich auf jeden Fall bestätigen. Diesmal mit dem Etappenrennen in Langenlois in Österreich.

Elena, Heike, Gunda, Lena, Chiara, Franzi und ich sind mit Olaf, Anna, Günther und Andi am Donnerstag angereist, um die vier Etappen in drei Tagen zu bestreiten. Untergebracht waren wir in einem Schloss. Das hat das Erlebnis natürlich noch viel besser gemacht. Die Landschaft war malerisch, umgeben von Weinbergen.

Die erste Etappe war eine 102 km flache Strecke mit abenteuerlicher Streckenführung, die permanente Konzentration forderte. Da sich keine Gruppe absetzen konnte, sind wir alle (abzüglich einiger Gestürzter) nahezu gemeinsam im Ziel eingelaufen.

Am zweiten Tag standen gleich 2 Rennen auf dem Plan. Ein 12 km Bergsprint im Massenstart und ein 14 km Einzelzeitfahren. Um die Sache ein bisschen spannender zu machen, hat’s auch gleich mal geregnet. Trotz des Wetters war die Stimmung im Team super.

Der dritte Tag umfasste ein 69 km langes, bergiges Rundstreckenrennen. Ja, bergig war’s auf jeden Fall. Ein bisschen Kopfsteinpflaster, ein bisschen Regen, ein bisschen steile Abfahrt und ein bisschen sehr steile Auffahrt hat das Feld gesprengt. Somit hat jeder von uns topographische Herausforderungen und Wetterlage in einer kleinen Gruppe genießen können. Bei weniger Leuten um sich herum hat man ja dann auch bessere Aussicht über die Landschaft.

Das Wochenende hatte mir die Möglichkeit gegeben, die Mädels besser kennen zulernen. Alle richtige Hingucker mit lebensfroher Art und super Einstellung zum Team. Vielen Dank an alle für solch eine super Erfahrung!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Last race in Europe - Austria

Seven Team Stuttgart girls - four stages - two days of rain - one castle - a ton of crashes in a picturesque setting in the Austrian Langenlois - that would be the snapshot of the three day stage race the past weekend.

When we arrived on Thursday a surprise awaited me - we would stay in a castle. Ok, havent had that one yet for race accommodation. Langenlois, the town all races started and ended in, is surrounded by hills covered with vineyards. It was gorgeous!

The first race - the flat 120km road race - told  the story of European racing. The peloton was aggressive, unpredictable and for first-time users, nerv-wrecking. The course and scenery were spectacular.

Aggressive: Elbow rubbing and cutting lines is standard. One girl didnt want to just push me out of the way so she gave me a hug before she did. I was stunned. It seemed that there is a different attitude towards crashes. No one cares. With or without doesnt matter. During the fourth race, I saw a girl climbing out of a creek bed because she crashed in a corner over the rail. Nothing special it seems. I talked to a girl that raced three days after a car collision where she suffered a concussion. I havent heard that one before.

Unpredictable: The average age of the women's field is way younger than in the US. I would guess early 20s. Thus, racers have less experience and take more risks. Total abrupt stops out of nowhere are not unusual. In addition, there is way more stuff on the roads - traffic islands, signs, cars, whatever is there stays there. Thus, every passage through narrowings becomes an adventure and a game of luck.

Courses and scenery: I raced in Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria and all of the courses were phenomenal. All super challenging. The elevation profile in the racing booklet doesnt mean anything. From the race in Switzerland a week ago, I learned that their elevation chart must be fitted to the scale of Alpe d'Huez. Because the profile seemed so flat! Someone should show me where they built in that massive climb in that elevation chart!
Oh and one minor detail. Only head wind exists here! Dont ask. I havent figured it out yet.

I definitely had to get used to a different kind of racing here. So even more I appreciated the help and the friendship of my Team Stuttgart! I was so happy to be part of such a great team. Thank you very much Gunda, Lena, Heike, Elena, Chiara, Franzi, Andrea for a great time in Europe. And a huge thanks to the team director Olaf and team support Anna and Frank!

Upper row: f.l.: Chiara, Franzi, middle row: Monika, Elena, Gunda, lower row: Lena, Heike