High Cascades 100 is a 100 mile mountain bike race in Bend, Oregon that is typically held the third weekend in July. The course changes each year. This year's classic route took you on single track trails around Mount Bachelor, passing by Lava Lake and climbing 1500 feet in 3 miles on the Edison Lava Trail. It's steep (I think I heard that sections are 20%) and its littered with lava rock. The kind that can shred your tires and skin. Sounds fun, right? I had raced on this course in 2015 so I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. It’s a tough one, made tougher this year by the warmer conditions, drier trails and over 9000 feet of climbing.
Why did I sign up and commit to this craziness again?
This year the race fell on my 50th birthday. I'm not a ceremonial person by nature, but I liked the idea of doing something epic to celebrate this landmark. What could be better than riding my mountain bike all day?
When I raced in 2015 the conditions were perfect. It was cool (in the 70s) and it had rained the week before. The trails were riding fast and I finished in around 9:30 hours placing me 3rd overall.
In 2019 there were a few things different:
- It was about 10-15 degrees warmer,
- The trails were dustier with more loose sand,
- I had hurt my back Feb 2017 and despite lots of physical therapy, body work, images, acupuncture, etc. I couldn't quite get to a place where I was pain free and,
- I was 4 years older.
Given these differences, I knew I needed to adjusted my expectations, perspective and my approach to training. I needed more recovery time after long training rides. I needed to keep my body as strong and balanced which meant more time at the gym (thanks ADAPT). As it turns out hurting my back has been a blessing in disguise. It helped to change my perspective and attitude. Now, I don't ever take it for granted when I get to do epic training rides or races. I'm full of gratitude for these opportunities. I really made an effort to focus on enjoying the process of training (the journey), rather than fixating on the end result (the race). I truly appreciated every training ride I did, and the time with friends who shared trail time with me. It wasn't until about 10 days before the race that I knew my back was going to cooperate and allow me to race. And I was OK with this. I was grateful that I'd been able to put in the work and I had fun in the process.
I'm a planner by nature. I love getting lost in all the little details when preparing for a race like High Cascades. My training strategy worked so well for me in 2015, that I copied that with a few modifications to accommodate my cranky back. I used my same fueling plan which had also worked well. I used Allen Lim's Sushi Rice bars with blueberries and chocolate recipe (from his Feed Zone Portables Recipe book), along with bags of GoMacro bars, nut butter filled Cliff Bars, Cliff Bloks energy chews and Honey Stinger energy chews. For hydration I decided to change things up a bit to see if I could prevent the leg cramps I typically experience during long races. This time around I alternated between Ultima Replenisher, Osmo, and EFS.
Equipment / clothing:
- Bike: Liv Pique with Racing Ralph and Racing Ray Tires and a dropper post.
- Top tube feed bag filled with bars pre-cut into bite sized pieces
- Spare inner tube duct taped under saddle
- Tools and CO2 in an Elite Byasi Tool Holder for the bottle cage (less weight on my back)
- Sugoi Sun sleeves
- Bandana to prevent breathing in all the dust at the start of the race.
- Specialized body geometry gel long finger gloves (super lightweight, but great gel padding to help your hands get through a long day).
- 3 Camelbak hydration packs (one each in feed zone 1, feed zone 3 and 5)
- Sidi Dominator shoes
- Castelli Team kit
The race start is always a little surreal at 5:30am in the morning. It's cold, the sun is barely up and its much earlier than I'm used to being up and about. The race start has you riding in a pack of around 300 riders on paved roads for a few miles. Which means you're riding along at a pretty fast clip. There's always some near misses as the pace changes and wheels overlap. Did I mention it was cold (close to freezing)! I couldn't feel my fingers. At one point I needed to shift to an easier gear and I couldn't get my cold thumb to move to shift gears. I was just willing my hands to cooperate!
I broke the race into sections based on the aid stations. I knew the mile markers for each aid zone and what the elevation gain / loss was in between each aid zone. My support crew consisted of my husband, John, and 13 year old daughter, Indie. They could be in 3 of the aid zones and I had coolers in the other two.
You often find yourself riding with a small group but then you enter a feed zone, with everyone moving through at their own pace so when you come out the other side and get on with the race you are inevitably with a different group of riders. I tend to have very short stops. Just enough to get my chain lubed, pick up a fresh hydration pack, and restock my food.
My race was pretty uneventful. For the first 50 miles I kept a steady pace. I didn't try to chase anyone down, or make a move. I kept it pretty low key until about mile 55 when there was about a 15 mile descent that is just too good to not push and have some fun with. It's prime for getting into flow state! I had two riders following me down the descent. I think they thought I was a local and knew the trail. While I probably did know it better than they did, having ridden it twice before. I overshot a turn or two, and the riders behind me slowed down and waited for me to get back on the trail again, choosing to keep following me. I'll take that as a compliment!
I have been playing with my breathing while on the bike. I've been following what Brian Mackenzie is doing with his "The Art of Breath" work. If I understand it correctly, when you nasal breathe you activate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest / digest) rather than the sympathetic nervous system (flight / fight). Nasal breathing also induces greater dilation to allow more oxygen to pass from the lungs into the blood. For me this is very calming and helps me relax and stay loose on the bike, which is needed for a descent like the one into Lava Lakes.
After this fun descent is a playful section by Lava lake that keeps you on your toes. It's hard to take in the beautiful lake when you're trying to avoid smashing into lava rock. Then comes the Edison Lava Trail. It's 3 miles of technical steep uphill with lots of rocks. For me, walking was inevitable to prevent completely blowing my legs apart. And for the first time ever on this section - no cramping!
I saw my family at mile 80 at the final aid station. They gave me a rice bar and a fresh hydration pack and sent me on my way. I knew at this point that my back was going to hold up and I would be able to finish. But now I had a race on my hands. Another master's woman was on my tail. And she could climb! We played cat and mouse for a bit until the fun Tiddlywinks descent. I tried to put as much distance between us as I could, while remaining safe on that descent. It's easy to catch air on the jumps. Given how tired I was, I didn't want to make a mistake. (I was so tired, it was getting hard to muster up the energy to push down on my dropper seat to lower it!)
The final 5 miles is on the road back to Bend Athletic Club. It can be a lonely 5 miles if you're by yourself, which is what happened last time I raced. This time around I was lucky enough to end the single track section with one other racer. We hit the pavement and got a pace line going. We quickly caught up to another rider and then there were 3 of us. A few miles later we got caught by a fellow Portlander and we were 4. Given that those guys were competing against each other it started to get tactical with just less than a mile to go. I didn't have it in me to follow their attacks so rode the final section by myself to finish in 10:35 hrs. A time that placed me 6th over all and 2nd Masters (40+). (The third place masters rider was just a minute behind me.)
Yes, that's ten hours and thirty-five minutes. It seems like a long time. And it is a long time to be riding a bike! But when I'm racing I have lots of moments of flow where I lose track of time. I'm so caught up in the moment that an hour descent can seem like 5 minutes. For me to get into flow and be fully immersed in what I'm doing several things need to be in place:
- the task requires a strong focus / concentration
- the task is testing my skill / ability
- there’s a risk if you lose focus but I'm confident in my ability. I have a positive mindset that I'm going to be successful.
When racing High Cascade’s I tend to go in flow not only when I’m descending, but also climbing. It's a beautiful thing!
Overall my race went really well. I raced my own race and raced smart. I took into account the conditions and my back. I would look for free speed on the downhills, kept it steady on the flats and dialed it back on the climbs to keep my back happy by spinning more and getting out of the saddle. This strategy along with my hydration plan meant that I didn't cramp at all - not even close. That's a first for me in an ultra-distance endurance event.
For the first time upon completing the race I felt pretty lightheaded. I didn’t think it was a hydration issue, probably more of a nutrition issue. Nothing that two 1lb veggie burritos couldn’t fix from Cowgirl Cook'n.
A few tips and tricks for HC100:
- Learn how to ride Bend trails efficiently. Get a coaching lesson on how to ride lava rocks with finesse and how to pedal through the loose sandy turns
- Get your bike tuned up a couple weeks prior to race day
- Practice using all your race day equipment and clothing during training rides
- Practice your fueling and hydration during training rides
- Don't make any last minute changes to your bike or equipment
- Have a healthy respect for the environmental conditions. Adjust your hydration and pacing strategy accordingly
- Relax your hands anytime you can (non-technical climbs, flats, roads sections, etc.) Hand fatigue can contribute to not being able to handle your bike effectively. It can result in a crash or shredding your tire on the lava rock
- The last 5 miles is on Century Drive. Cars pass by close and fast. Stay in the bike lane. It’s easy to drift when you’re tired, especially if you are riding in a pace line with fellow tired riders. Stay vigilant.
- Get a coach to help guide you and take the guess work out of your training. I happen to know one :-)
Getting my recovery on:
Dave at Bend's Cryo and Recovery treated all podium winners to a treatment that included Cyrotherapy, NormaTec's Compression boots, and an infrared sauna. Thank you!