Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Downieville Classic 2010 - My race report, photos & videos from mountain bike festival!

The cuts on my shin and elbow are starting to fade, but the memories of my mountain bike debut at Downieville Classic 2010 are still fresh! The epic mountain bike festival was held Friday, July 9, through Sunday,  July 11, in the historic, Gold Rush town of Downieville, California, about 3 hours northeast of Sacramento.

 Here I am ready to roll out at the very crowded start line
Photo Credit: Hank Coffin

The premiere events at the Downieville Classic are the cross country race, a grueling, 29-mile doozy of a course (on Saturday) that attracted 800 racers, and the downhill race (on Sunday). Plus, there are 200 people who are eligible to do BOTH events (on the same bike!) Those nuts are called "All Mountain" competitors.

One mountain climb on Saturday was enough for me! My race was a point-to-point event, starting in Sierra City and ending in Downieville, including a 4,413' ascent and  5,692' descent. Having never ridden in the hot, steep, rocky terrain of Downieville, I was quite nervous that my first time riding there would be for a RACE! In fact, writing my monthly bike column, Spin City, for the Santa Cruz Sentinel, made me even more anxious! Here's my story that appeared in the paper the day before the race: Spin City: The low-down on Downieville, cycling columnist aims to stay upright on technical mountain bike course - Santa Cruz Sentinel

For the quick visual tour, check out the links to my photos, two videos (taken by my friend Hank Coffin) and race results.
I tried to keep a Cool Head while racing 29 tough miles
Photo Credit: Kind Aid Station Volunteer

Karen's Downieville Classic 2010 photos on Flickr

1. A Taste of the Festival and Talk with Karen @ 2010 Downieville Classic
By Hank Coffin on Vimeo - 2 minutes

2. A Huge Splash: Downieville 2010 Bike Jump Contest 
By Hank Coffin on Vimeo - 2 minutes

Race results and event info here!

My goal for this race in women's sport category, was to treat it like an adventure expedition, rather than a race. I planned to explore new land and enjoy the journey, ideally, building my strength and confidence, and emerging uninjured. With that in mind, I abandoned some traditional race tactics such as riding as light as I could! Most racers pare down their bikes, bodies and clothes to eliminate unncessary weight that might slow them down. Instead, this is what I brought with me on my race:

1. My Dakine hydration backpack filled with two liters of water
2. Camera (not a digital SLR, small Panasonic Lumix)
3. Cell phone (in case I felt chatty)
4. 1 baseball cap (handy for naps in the shade)
5. 1 pair nylon pants (it's all about fashion)
6. Cloth to clean camera lens
7. 1 water bottle filled with Cytomax
8. 2 Gus (energy gel)
9. 1 Clif Bar
10. 1 peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Sadly, there was no room to bring a pump or extra tubes.
Ok, half kidding: I only noticed at the last minute I was missing these essentials.

I looked at the hard-body women, my competition, and tried to restrain myself from comparison of our fitness differences.  Why was their body fat so low? :) Many of the gals weren't even wearing hydration packs on their backs; instead they opted to refuel at the aid stations on the course. The start was a chaotic jumble of 800 cross country racers squeezed in tiny channel. When they called my group, we could barely ride because it was so crowded in the start area. 

The low point came soon after the 9:30 a.m. start. The start of the cross country race is a notorious 8-mile uphill grind. About 30 minutes into it, in the hot sun, I felt nauseous. Wanting to hold down my nutritious, whole grain cereal breakfast, I got off my bike and walked. For a long time. Slowly, uphill. It was not the last time I walked during the race, but it was the most challenging. I thought I was gonna be sick and took a while to regroup. It was a big mental struggle to stay positive while feeling so sick. By walking, drinking more water and forcing down a Gu, I stayed in the game.

I wasn't alone in suffering on the uphill grind at the start of the cross country race.
Photo Credit: Karen Kefauver, Playing Race Photographer
When I got to the top of the massive climb, what stretched before me was miles of downhill! The part that many racers love best. But when I saw the size of the rocks on the trail I felt terrified. I was kicking myself that I had not worn protective knee and elbow pads. Before cautiously going down,  I said my new mantra, aloud:  "STAY ON THE BIKE!"

The good news is, I never fell off my bike in a crash. The bad news is, I needed to adjust the mantra to say: "STAY ON THE BIKE AND KEEP IT UPRIGHT." The second scariest moment (following the introduction to the hella sized rocks on the trail) was when I panicked with a racer close behind me, looked back, lost my balance, and fell hard - essentially tipping over on my bike -onto my left side, scraping against the rocky side of the trail. That's where I earned my shin and elbow bloody badges. But my adrenalin surged and no real harm done. So I kept charging!

Without an odometer on my bike to measure miles, I imagine it was the final 10 miles of the 29-mile course where I experienced a wonderful second wind. By that time, I had seen the ugly impact of the race; clumps of people off their bikes, huddled in the shade, working out leg cramps, other riders off the trail fixing flats; folks walking their bikes... Even after the initial hard climb, there were more climbs, in the woods. I felt good and rode those sections when many others were walking. I felt proud I had paced myself well.

Closer to the end, when the last downhill sections were upon me, something clicked: I was on FIRE! I was flying by a gal who had passed me ages ago (felt good!) At last,  I was racing. Didn't want her to catch me. I was UNSTOPPABLE, Olympic caliber, HIGH, ecstatic. You racers know that glorious feeling. A combo of caffeinated Gu, and taking good care of my hydration needs - drinking lots of water and putting it on my head, too, all helped fuel this grand finale.

I felt strong and happy heading towards the finish.
Highlight was coming down the finishing shoot and seeing my friend Hank with his video camera pointed my direction (See his video!). Was great to have a good friend there to welcome me. With his camera rolling, I felt like a celebrity racer. I was happy and proud of my strong finish especially given it was my first time riding such rugged terrain. After the race, I sought out shade from the scorching heat, food and drink.

Woohoo! Race over! Let the eating, napping, celebrating - and showering - begin!
Photo Credit: Kris Suta Pederson

As I slowly recovered from the race effort, I got to hear bits about friend's races as I chatted with Kris Suta Pederson, Meredith Obendorfer, Anastasia Flores, Alex Anderson and others. Also was a nice treat to bump into Brian Vernor, filmmaker and cyclist.

I was happy that I finished the race a shade under 4 hours; in 3:57:25 in the women "veteran" sport category (ages 35-44).  Though I had vowed not to be attached to the final time, since that was not part of my goal, the competitive athlete in me was proud of breaking four hours. I had looked at the race results for the women's sport category in 2009 and noted that out of the 10 women in that group, half had finished in four hours or more! So that was a good measuring stick for me.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE: For me, the most rewarding aspect of my Downiville race debut was maintaining a positive attitude, stoking my joy of adventure and coping with challenges. I also am pleased that I was taking really good care of myself with food and water along the way. Those are lessons I can always apply to my daily life! See you on the trails soon!

The Yuba River runs right through Downieville, making it a great spot for hot bikers to cool off!
Photo Credit: Karen Kefauver

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