(High Cascades 100 is a one hundred mile mountain bike race in Bend, Oregon.)
It was during a mountain bike trip to Moab that a friend urged me to sign-up for High Cascades 100 (HC100) . It was April, 2014. I’d only ridden 100 miles a couple of times on my road bike and it wasn’t a pretty experience. And the longest I had ridden my mountain bike was 5 hours. What was I thinking? I think it was the awesome riding in Moab and the opportunity to ride for 5 days straight that boosted my confidence to think that a 100 mile mountain bike race was within my reach. So it was in the middle of this Moab trip that I got online and signed up for HC100.
I had almost 4 months to prepare. I mapped out a training plan based on 3 weeks of build and a fourth week of recovery. My longest training ride was 7 hours on the road. And 6 hours on my mountain bike. I had a fueling plan and a back-up fueling plan. My bike was kept in tip top condition. You can prepare all you can physically, mentally and logistically, but your first 100 mile race is still a bit of test. Could I do it? Would my body and mind hold up? Did I like racing that long? Did I have the discipline to pace myself and keep on top of fueling and hydrating?
Turns out I could do it and did like it! As soon as I had finished, I knew that I wanted to sign-up again, but this time to be competitive and ‘race’. I was confident that I could build on this experience and had more to give.
It’s a big commitment to train to be competitive in a race like HC100. For this endeavor to be successful I needed the support from my husband (John) and daughter (Indie). I’m so fortunate to have their backing. Indie loves providing race day support. She gets to hang out with Dad in the feed zones and watch the spectacle of racers going by. But it’s not just about race day support. It’s all the support I would need during the months of training. It’s the expense, it’s the time and energy to train for a race that long. There would be times I’d come home from a ride too tired to make dinner, or too late to pick Indie up from school. It impacts the family. And in terms of finances, it’s an expense too (entry fee, transportation, accommodation, equipment, ride food, new tires…..the list goes on).
When talking to John and Indie about supporting me on this journey again, Indie told me she was proud of me racing 100 miles on my mountain bike. How could I not sign up for 2015? I love showing her that you can be a Mom and still pursue your own athletic passions. There are so many lessons that hopefully I'm passing on to her: hard work pays off, challenge yourself, make a commitment, you need support, it's OK to ask for it, but don't take it for granted, and that you can take up a new sport at the age of 40!
The preparations went well leading up to the 2015 event. I had a winter of running, nordic skiing, strength training and body work. Once the inclement weather was over with, I slowly began to build up my time on the bike every week to the point where I had gotten in several 7 hour road rides with various teammates and some solid 6 hour mountain bike rides under my belt. With all the training miles I’d racked up, my fitness was good and my body was holding up.
Putting time in on the bike is important. Equally as important is recovery and nutrition. Every fourth week was a recovery week for me with 40% reduced volume. This format worked well for me. I typically tend to eat a very clean diet (no processed foods, lots of greens, very little dairy, soy, and wheat). Three months before the race I decided to follow a modified vegetarian Ketogenic diet. This is a low carbohydrate diet, moderate protein and high fat type of diet. It helped me shed 5 pounds which got me down to a good race weight.
Three weeks prior to the HC100, I competed in the six-hour of Mount Hood race. I probably raced a little too hard trying to get in 10 laps.... ahhh the competitor in me. It’s a hard race anyway, and proved to be a good training race to get in a last hard effort before a 3 week taper period. And it was a good opportunity to check out all the clothing, food, equipment, etc. that I planned on using for the big day. Everything was falling into place.
6 Hours of Mount Hood Race, 2015
For 2015 I made a few changes to my bike and equipment:
- I decided to use a Garmin. I split the race up into sections based on the feed zones. I knew at what mile the important climbs and descents were compared to the feed zones. This helped so much with pacing.
- I added a dropper post to my cross country bike. I normally ride with one on my all mountain bike and know that I descend better with it. This gave me a lot more confidence to descend the loose sandy areas. The extra weight was so worth it. The descent down to the Lava Lakes area was so much fun and a lot faster given I could drop my seat.
- I used feed bag / bento box. Rather than have the one on my handlebars, this one sat on the top tube and I filled it with bite sized pieces of Z Bars, Honey Stinger Bars, and honey stinger energy chews. I made up 3 zip lock baggies with this mix. Started with one baggie, and had the other two in feed zones 3 and 5.
- Also new for 2015 were my tires: racing Ralph's with snakeskin sidewalls 2.35 upfront and 2.25 in the rear. And my magic air pressure was 22 psi up front and 23 in the rear.
High Cascades 2015 RACE DAY:
I was pretty calm the day before the race, and remained so for the morning of the race. Although it was hard to get up at 4:30am to eat! (I need to practise this for next time.) I ate one of my sushi rice bars and drank a bottle of water. That was all I could manage. It was so cold at the start waiting for the sun to come up and the start time of 5:30am to roll around. I had my sun sleeves on. A light jacket. And my bandanna over my mouth/nose to help with the dust. Turns out I didn't really need the dust mask or sun sleeves. It never got higher than 75°. And the rain earlier in the week really kept the dust down. Conditions were perfect.
The start is all about staying relatively near the front and staying out of trouble. And being prepared for the start of the single track that usually becomes a big bottleneck. I was there to be competitive so I stayed near the front and I kept a couple of women, who finished in front of me last year, in my sight. Aid station one came around fast, in less than two hours. I was worried John and Indie wouldn't be there. They didn’t let me down. They were there waiting with a fresh Camelbak. After a quick switch I was on my way again. In that time I lost sight of the women I was trying to follow. I focused on staying positive, making the most of the down hills (free speed), pushing the flats, and riding the uphills steady. I also tried to remember to relax my grip when I could. Holding on to handlebars for 10 or so hours is a long time.
At one point Rebecca Rusch was behind me following me down a flowy section. She commented on how smooth I was riding. Yay! I felt like I was descending well. Tire choice and pressure were perfect for the trail conditions. Rebecca went by me on one of the climbs. I decided to let her go. There were still many miles to go and lots of climbing.
All my feed zones stops were quick. John and Indie were there with a fresh camelbak when needed. In the feed zones were no spectators allowed, I had a cooler waiting for me. The support staff are so great. You have your name on your race plate. As I’d roll into a neutral feed zone, I’d hear the help shout “Hey Julie, what do you need? Can we lube your chain? Fill your camelbak?” And they would have my cooler identified and helped me as I fumbled to re-stock my feed bag. Their help was so appreciated. In the coolers I had 2 bottles of water, 2 bottles of Ultima, a zip lock baggie of cut up bars, sushi rice bar, sun block, chapstick, spare tube, chamois cream, co2 and dry socks. I didn’t need all this stuff, but you never know.
At one point on the course there are quite a few bugs. Volunteers stood by the side of the trail spraying you with bug spray if you wanted. It’s all these little details that make for a great race.
Around 55 miles, I’d just finished climbing to swampy/dutchman and knew that a long 10 mile descent was coming up. I was feeling confident in my descending, so I decided to make my move to get in front of a couple of women. From then on, it was ‘race on’ to the finish line. The descent was so much fun. Even though it took an hour it seemed to take about 5 minutes. I love that “in the zone” feeling when time stands still.
Then at mile 70 there was the lava lake climb...ouch. Steep, with rocks. Just when your legs start to cramp. Time was not standing still for this section! It wasn’t worth completely blowing up my legs, so I decided to totally OK with some walking. I wondered if that climb was even rideable. (I revisited it in 2016...it is rideable, but maybe not at mile 70 of a 100 mile race for me!)
After the tough climb there were many sections of sharp lava rock. I rode careful, with finesse, picking my line through the rocks. I didn’t want to shred my tires (or skin). I made it to the final feed zone without mishap. I saw John and Indie one last time before I rode the final 20 miles back to the finish. It can get lonely out there. For about 90 minutes I didn’t see another rider. It makes you question if you’re still on the race course. I stayed focused. I kept reminding myself of “free speed” and “how bad do you want it?”
I always look forward to the tiddlywinks trail. It is such a playful section with berms and jumps. I reminded myself that I was tired, and I was on my cross country bike and not my all mountain bike. I took it steady and careful. It wasn’t worth crashing at this point. Last year, I remember seeing a guy crashing here and being taken out on a stretcher.
The last 5 miles of the race is on pavement. I was on my own and had no one to draft behind. And I had no idea how close the other women were behind me or who was in front of me. So I put my head down, shifted to my big ring up front, locked the shocks out, and stared at the garmin willing it to stay at 20mph (it’s slightly downhill). And before I knew it, there was the trail to lead me to the finish. A last turn on a little patch of gravel to navigate and I was done. What a feeling to hear the announcer say I had come in 3rd overall in the women in a time of 9:31:45 (and 47th overall). There was John and Indie ready to take care of me. Indie got one of the wet towels and started to clean up my legs while I sat down still trying to get my breath. Then along came a reporter from dirtwire TV. I have no idea what I said. I was still pretty blown away. Great race. Great conditions. It all came together for me. So many thanks to my teammates who trained with me, gave me advice, to my family's support, and a great shop in Cyclepath who keep my bike running smoothly.