Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Cowbell Challenge

This past weekend I battled heatstroke and dehydration for two days of racing at the Cowbell Challenge in Davidson NC. It was 99 degrees on Saturday and about as humid as you can get-- people said the heat index was 115. The racing was about managing the heat as much as it was about anything else.

I had not planned on going to Cowbell until Wednesday, but back-to-back hard days were on the schedule anyway. So even though two days of riding laps on the same course sounded a bit boring I thought I'd go for it and see what happened. My goal was just to be mid-pack in the pro/open class for the 54 mile Marathon on Saturday, then pack filler again in Cat 1 on Sunday's XC race.

For Saturday everyone shuttled to downtown Davidson, a few miles from the race venue. Even at 10 am, it was stinking hot out. The start was several miles on rolling paved roads and paths on the return to the race site and the beginning of 6 laps of singletrack. I hadn't done any pre-riding and assumed it would be a standard fast XC course, so I was surprised by all the wet roots and even more by the skinny boards and other man-made obstacles on the course. Without them, the trails would have got pretty boring over all the laps I would do the two days. By the time we got off the pavement some racers were already popping off the back with fatigue. It was clear the heat was going to be a major factor in the race. Even under the trees it was pretty damn hot, and in the open fields it was unreal.

Uncharacteristically, I was somewhat prepared for the heat and had actually even checked the weather report the day before. Didn't have anyone waiting at the feed zone but I had a cooler full of ice and bottles. At the end of every lap, I put chunks of ice in my jersey pockets and down my sportsbra. On a couple laps announcer extraordinaire Bruce Dickman also hit me with icewater over the head as I came through. At the end of the day I totaled it up and I had put away almost ten liters of water just during the actual race. I was also taking in a really astounding amount of sodium, but since I didn't cramp or get nauseous (or feel bad at all) I think it was actually about the right amount.

As the race went on the trails emptied out. The heat was taking its toll on people and it was becoming a race of attrition (more than half of all racers dropped out). I passed a couple women in my category late in the race who had started strong but were fading out. I was keeping my pace pretty steady and while the heat was unpleasant it wasn't affecting my riding. I rolled in to finish seventh in my category.

At the finish line Mike Stanley handed me a Terrapin and I started to celebrate finishing this nasty-hot race. It wasn't til I had finished that beer and started thinking about finding a good large burrito for dinner that I remembered... I had to wake up do this all again the next day. I dialed back my big plans and just grabbed a muffin and a lemonade with Shanna and Marshall before heading back home for the night.

It was hard to eat and drink enough between the end of the race on Saturday and the beginning of the race on Sunday. The heat made my appetite disappear and the driving didn't help. I actually took a bagel to bed with me Saturday night to try to force myself to get a bit more calories down before I fell asleep... only to wake up Sunday morning with stale bagel bits all over the place.

Getting out the door Sunday morning for a second day of racing might have been the hardest thing I did all weekend. I didn't have any real aches or pains from the day before, but I would be racing against people with fresh legs and in a race format I really didn't like. The goal for the weekend was to race both days as a training block, committing and following through-- and just seeing what happened mentally and physically when the stakes were low but the effort was high.

By the time I got back up to the race venue and started spinning up and down the gravel road, I was feeling pretty psyched to line up again for three more laps on that course. The temps were down a bit from the day before, around 90, and there were thin clouds filtering out some of the sun. The start went off pretty fast, but when someone sketched out in front of me I lost contact with the leaders in my category. I started to play catchup as the trail went into the twisty turns. Within a couple miles, though, I slid off crossing one of the skinny boards and stacked it in a ditch. My knee was hurting when I got back on the bike, and I slowed down for a bit til it stopped hurting. Then I noticed my shifting was off... way off. When I slid out I had shredded the rear derailleur cable housing where it routed under the bottom bracket. I could still shift in the front but the rear was deteriorating. After riding a little while more, I admitted to myself that between the knee and the shifting I should just pack it in. I was bummed to drop out with only one lap left, since except for the knee I was feeling fine and really wanted to finish out both days. But gutting it out for another lap in an XC race just seemed silly-- and with only 6 people in my age group and category I was pretty securely in last place at that point.

yep, there's the problem

Photo evidence:

really enjoying myself on Saturday

still enjoying myself, just not quite as much, on Sunday

This was a fun two days of racing under harsh conditions. I was up against reallyreally fast girls in my category in the Marathon. Carey Lowery beat out Rebecca Rusch and Rebecca Tomaszewski to win it, Carey is just killing it this year. Sunday was my first sanctioned XC racing since I had upgraded to Cat 1. I still don't like the format, but at least it was a little bit longer race and there was faster competition in it. I was happy to see (and race against) fast South Carolinian Debbie Gillespie again for the first time since Harbison, she got 3rd in our category in the XC. Major congrats to Rebecca T for getting 3rd in the pro-open on Saturday, then first in our category in the XC, damn nice work! And my good friend (and cog-pusher) Shanna really brought it this weekend on the SS with a strong race Saturday and then third SS overall male OR female in the XC.

This was a pretty good weekend, and it was great to race with friends both days. It was also great to chill out in the shade and watch the pro XC race on Sunday after all my racing was done. I am pretty happy with everything though I would have liked to finish out the race on Sunday. Saturday may have been the hottest I have ever been in a race of any kind. This is my first summer of racing since I moved to the southeast and I can definitely say this was a taste of just how hot hot can get down here. Big thanks to Cowbell Challenge for a couple days of testing the outer limits of my sweat rate.


  1. Great to see you out there suffering alongside me ... but next time you must make sure the trail does not double back on itself when you take a pee break.

  2. Carey, next time I am also gonna double check for poison ivy before my pee break...