Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Historically, Gunnison CO holds one of the largest mountain bike races in the state over Memorial Day weekend. For the past two years, they have added a Gran Fondo road race due, in large part, to their location as a host city to CO’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge. This year, the event promoters and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge teamed up create the KOM Challenge.

So, since my husband had the day off and the kids were itching for something to do, I figured we'd head up to the mountains for a little racing and relaxation....

Traveling with kids is always an event, and more so when the travel involves a four hour drive over a bunch of mountain passes. Midori somehow managed to wrap baby doll in about eight feet of gauze and tape before turning her sights on Henry, all the while chattering non-stop. About every six miles, she inquired if we had arrived in Gunnison.

I remarked that Henry had been traveling quite well, as we'd not heard a peep from him in some time...until we realized that his silence was an indication of motion sickness. Somewhere over Monarch Pass, he began vomiting profusely. Midori took the opportunity to sock him in the gut as he reached gingerly for a vomit receptacle, grasping for her play medical bag. We pulled over at a gas station, hosed off the kids and car, and moved on down the road.

It was about 6:00 on Saturday night when we checked in to a tiny cabin on the outskirts of Gunnison. We made our way to the only veg-friendly establishment in town for a little tofu pho and edamame.

It was seated there, at the Twisted Fork, that I first thought to re-check the forecast. I'd seen it earlier in the week, and they were anticipating a cool morning in the 40s with some light winds. Now, however, it was bitter cold in Gunnison...and I couldn't imagine it would warm up significantly before morning. I was right. The high on Sunday was predicted to be a  mere 52 degrees, and the temperature at the start line was 26 degrees. They were anticipating 30mph cross-winds. I'd brought a base layer for my upper body, but nothing else in terms of cold weather gear. Everything in town was closed, and I had no idea how I was going to ride in freezing temps with what I had on-hand.

I was beginning to get psyched out.

The course itself is rather difficult, and follows the second stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge - a steady uphill grade for the first 30 miles, and then the final five miles as the KOM, in what is described as a “grueling finish at the top of Mt. Crested Butte.”  Part of the challenge, however, is simply due to elevation. The ride begins just under about 8000ft., and ends at around 10,000ft.

Added to my concern was the fact that I’d been pretty sick all week long, and my blood sugar was running really high. I was giving myself a lot more insulin, obviously, and I was really nervous about how that would translate to the bike in this kind of tough race. I wasn't sure I was physically well enough to be riding, and certainly not sold on a hard course with tons of wind in freezing temps. I almost bailed…but you know, my $80 check was cashed and I felt like I should get something for it. We'd made it this far...

I didn't sleep at all well that night. Sometime around 3:00 in the morning, I googled the Gunnison Wal-Mart to see what time they opened, figuring I could grab some cold weather essentials before the ride. At 6:00 in the morning, I was the first person in the store, searching for anything to keep me warm enough to ride the 64 mile course. It was slim pickin's. This was the end result:

Super sexy long underpants and tube socks. Note the growl...

I checked my blood sugar at the start, and was 190, which was maybe a bit high but a number with which I was comfortable. We were lead down HWY 135 by police escort after a shotgun start. (Yes, here in the Western half of the state, everything begins with a gunshot.)

All I could think about was the cold for the first few miles. My fingers literally felt like they were going to break. It was awful. Everyone was freezing. Then, after about eight miles, we settled in, and the views were amazing. I felt pretty good, to my surprise, and kept pushing myself harder. That might have been a bit of a miscalculation on my end, since the KOM was just after mile 29. I know a lot of people were really saving their efforts for that stretch…but I didn’t want to have to play catch-up on the ascent, either.

I checked my BGs at the base of the KOM, and was at about 226. I knew the next five and a half miles were going to be an all-out effort, and that my sugars were likely to climb so, in what was a really scary decision, I actually gave myself a small correction. I wasn’t at all convinced it was a smart choice, but I was really afraid of bonking on that ascent. It turned out well. The KOM was insane. I was only 1.8 miles in when I seriously wondered if I would be able to make it to the summit. It was the hardest climb I’ve done in a long, long time. The altitude made it worse, and there were sections where I was literally gasping for air. When I made it to the summit, I was the second woman and the fifth cyclist across the line…but since it’s just that section that matters, I couldn’t decide if that was a good thing. I knew it put me in good position for the finish of the race, but I thought I had my best chance at the KOM, and I knew those behind me had really held back to get a fast time on the ascent. Good news was that my BGs were 119 at the top...and I still had a pocket full of carbs.

The ride back to Gunnison was a super fast downhill sprint with some rollers. It was there that the cold was most miserable. The wind was pretty rough, too. I was tired and ready to be done. I got back with four other male racers nearly an hour ahead of what the promoters had expected for the “first finishers.”  I was really pleased with my performance, and glad I had not changed my mind about doing the race. I was fifth overall and forth for the KOM. In hindsight, if I would have been a bit more strategic and a little less psyched out, I think I could have made the top three. Still, I was glad with the results, especially since there are no categories, and I was racing some people who were a lot more experienced and racing in higher CATs.

I waited around for another two hours for awards. I was sweaty and cold, and now really starting to feel lousy. I made my way to a cafe for a cup of coffee and grabbed the kids some cider. Dennis also took to peeling the gum out of Henry's hair, stuck there by Midori who commanded that he "keep it safe for her until ready to chew again."

I got back to the podium area just in time to hear my name being called, and to claim a sweet Mavic cold weather jacket that would have been useful about four hours earlier.

From there, we walked around Gunnison for a bit longer before deciding that it was pretty much the sixth layer of Dante's Inferno, and electing to bail back to the warmer Front Range, armed with coffee and Dramamine.

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