Sunday, July 28, 2013

Molly's Big Swim at End Wet

END WET 27-mile swim on the Red River

The END WET swim seemed so far away when I registered for it in January. Then, I suddenly found myself in the car driving up I-29 for hours with Paul for a 27-mile swim in the river. It may sound daunting, but I am inspired my many others who have overcome much bigger obstacles to achieve their goals - sometimes that's climbing a mountain or biking 200 miles of gravel, sometimes it's relearning to walk or using a handcycle to cruise across a state. I am blessed to know some incredible people.


The next morning we had a Red River practice swim, so Paul and I took Tim and another guy, Bob, from Iowa City to the swim start. At the river, I saw Karen Zemlin and Patty Hermann, my LA channel swimming class buddies. Patty somehow snagged Martin Strel as her kayaker. Martin is the Yugoslavian Elvis of the long distance river swimming community (a tiny hamlet) -- he's swum the Danube, Yangtze, Mississippi and Amazon rivers.

Read the full story on Molly's blog...

Friday, July 26, 2013

Waterworld Hustle: Wet'n'Wild fun on two wheels

The Lincoln Hustle is a monthly alleycat race series that's been going on since summer of 2009. Hustles happen the last Thursday of the month, and you can find info on the races at or on Twitter @LNKHustle. Here's Elisabeth's recap from last night's race.

Up until a couple weeks ago, no one had claimed hosting for the July Hustle. Josh and Eric wasted no time putting together a crazy fun race. Here's how it went for me...

Signing up, you got either a pink or a black pirate bracelet. This would be your team affiliation. Your team would score points collectively in addition to the awarding of first place male and female finishers. We were told we'd be getting water balloon "babies" at the first stop, and these were worth 50 points at the end. Popping of other racers' balloons -- legit. Also on order for bonus points: first three people to show up at the finish with a 5+ pound bag of ice got big bonus points for the team.

The meet up was at the beach at Holmes Lake. This guy was cruising through the park, passed by a couple times, and then got talked into joining. He proceeded to crush it through town on his vintage Schwinn. Welcome to the Hustle, Steven!
Jake brought his two sons in the trailer, towing them along on a singlespeed. That's some training for ya. The boys were adorable in their swimtrunks.
There were several new faces last night, including four new women racers! Super stoked on that.
Around this time, Josh nonchalantly walked out into Holmes Lake with the spoke cards. Oh great.
Ryan the birthday boy showed up in his infamous teal suit, and it was go time. You can see Josh in the water in the background.

With Josh in the water, I figured I'd get ready. No use soaking my jorts right away. Josh explained that there were two different sets of cards, and that we'd need to grab a card and go. We split our 8-member team half and half, but admittedly were operating on a pretty each-to-their-own mentality. Since overall finish time didn't matter for the whole team, it wasn't that important.

Josh was chest-deep in the water and it was go time to fetch the cards.

First stop was close by, at 65th and Franklin, which is relatively easy to navigate from Holmes. I made one wrong turn that added a couple extra blocks, but got to the yard to find the water balloon filling station. Also on tap was finding the next address, on the not-so-recognizable Evergreen Drive. Phone wasn't loading, and neither was my teammate Michael's, and on top of that it had started to rain. Knowing the next address on the list, we headed west. After about 15 blocks, though, I started thinking this was a really bad idea. It was pouring, and we stopped at the gas station at 56th and Randolph to check a map. Sure enough, Evergreen was just a few blocks from the first checkpoint, so we headed back that way, and proceeded to get way lost again in that neighborhood. I lost Michael at this point, too.

Evergreen was my friend Katie's new house (wish I'd have figured out where she lived beforehand...), and she had frozen t-shirts for us to put on. There was a pool to help in the process, but it was still not easy. It had stopped raining at this point, and was humid enough that messing with a frozen shirt felt kind of nice. When I pulled up, a couple guys from the black team were there and not holding their bags, so I decided to try to go for their balloons. Yeah, I picked a fight. They were almost ready to go, and so after I called truce to work on my t-shirt, they made their way...but not without totally tightening down my brake before they left. I deserved it...

Katie sent some photos from her checkpoint. Check out the adorable set-up this graphic designer had waiting for us!

 These are the guys I messed with who tightened my brake...
Using the pool to my advantage.

 Michael with his high-powered water gun, which he used successfully while riding on numerous occasions.
 Jake's kiddo -- so cute!!

 After I got my brake loose enough for the front wheel to move, I jetted out of the neighborhood and bombed down A Street to the Sunken Gardens. By 33rd and A, I'd caught the dudes, and blazed by them and onto Capitol Parkway. Because of some off-road traversing, Steven beat me to the Sunken Gardens fountain, where we had to run up and down the stairs to the statue of Rebekah pouring out water, fill cups, and bring them down to Eric, who had pitchers waiting to be filled. Steven totally grabbed both cups, and so I resorted to using my water bottle to fill the pitcher with nasty park fountain water. Gross. But effective.

From the Sunken Gardens it was off to Eric and Shauna's house, where a water hopscotch and slip'n'slide demanded our attention. She was taking pictures, so I'll update with those when I see them. At this checkpoint, I ran into Aaron, and spied a bag of ice in his pannier.

Shauna gave us two possible addresses for the finish, both near each other and on the west side of town. Several c-stores were right in her neighborhood and on the way, so I decided to bank on the fact that I might be in the top few finishers and stopped at CVS for a bag of ice. It started pouring again on my way there, so I walked into the store dripping wet and looking quite the sight, I'm sure. Grabbed my ice and hit the road for West A Street, trying not to slide out the turns on my slick new tires.

The first of the two addresses was right on the way, and so I should've known it was the wrong one. I pulled up to see Clint and Aaron being given "nasty juice" and was given some, too...some sort of punch with a bunch of salt in it. Oh well, electrolyte replenishment...

A few blocks further and I arrived the fourth finisher (first female) at the finish, where I had 20 seconds to gather as many coins as I could from the bottom of the big pool. I got 9. My water balloon baby was intact. Stopping for ice was worth it, too, since that ended up putting my team over the top for the points win.

Drenched. So fun. Racers trickled in, and eventually the pool and then the hot tub were both full of people and glowsticks.

Super fun shenanigans with friends, and so fun to see several new faces, particularly women. Emma and Tori, welcome to Lincoln. You ladies are rad, and I'm glad you found our scene. Thanks so much to all the checkpoint hosts, and especially to Kristina and Andrew for hosting a bunch of dirty cyclists for a pool party.

Friday, July 19, 2013

London Summer Cyclocross Series: Week 2

 It is week two of the London summer cyclocross series and I am going into this race with more confidence.  I am still a little sore from the half marathon I ran the day before, but thankfully it is mostly muscles that I do not use for biking. It is so nice to see some familiar faces. Several racers there recognize me from last week. The race is taking place at the same location, only we are going the other way and more obstacles have been added. Before the race starts, I have set a few goals for myself based on my performance last time.  For this race I am going to focus on pushing harder, riding the flat grassy sections going all out, riding the corners faster, and recovering on the trail sections where I am still developing confidence. I am also not ready to go down steep hills and will be choosing to dismount and run since it will be faster. I have also decided to ride with my clip-less pedals.

We only have time to do one practice lap and I use this time to map out what places I am going to ride at what pace. After the practice lap all the racers line up at the starting line.  I am positioned towards the back with my fellow female competitors. This week there are three women racing, so we will all place.  (There are about 60 racers in total.) The other women are both category one mountain bike racers. I am here to race, but tonight is less about competition and more about improving my mindset, learning the course, and beating last weeks lap times.
Starting Off
The starting bell is sounded and we take off for an hour around the course. Already this race is different for me. Instead of falling behind at the beginning, I am actually keeping up with a pack. This is a big improvement. We go through the woods and then into a bunch of twisty turns flanked by bramble bushes. On the first lap I take one turn too wide and end up with arm full of bramble thorns. Ouch! On the upside, I now look really badass with blood running down my left arm. After the twisty turns, we move to the open field and I take off at a full out sprint. This is where I am able to pass a few who are at the back.  My bad knee starts to ache from yesterday’s race pains, but I tell it to be quiet. Then it is back into the woods followed by a stretch down an unpaved road and finally back to the start as I finish my first lap.
On the Trails
The race day is hot and I am riding really hard. I have to plan my water consumption since hand ups are only allowed from other teammates. (Anyone from Sheclismo want to join me in the London racing scene?) On each lap, I meet my goal of riding the flats at a full out sprint. I still need to ride the single-track sections with more confidence and speed, but I can tell that I am using more of my energy. The organizers of the race recognize me from last week and cheer me on commenting that I look much more comfortable on the bike. At about 45 minutes in, I start to get a second wind and realize that I should have pushed harder at the beginning. Then it hits me, in two weeks I have made several improvements. I might actually have a chance at being a pretty solid racer on day.

Crossing the Finish

I go into the final lap with a determination to give all I can and I cross the finish line in a sprint for a third place finish. This feels like a success.  I flop on the ground next to the course and pant, then get up to congratulate my fellow competitors.
Top 3

Next week’s race is a grass crit. I am going to use that as opportunity to practice my sprinting. I am also looking forward to the official season in the fall when I can race against racers in my own category.

Making New Friends and Showing Off Battle Wounds

If you want to see what the London cross scene looks like, here is a video from the race. Also, for some reason the person filming was confused on my name and calls me "Isabel from America".

Video and pictures from UKCycleSport.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

London Calling, It’s Time to Race: Summer Cyclocross Series, East Croydon, London

When I first heard about cyclocross racing in the fall of 2011, I knew this was a type of racing I wanted to try. It promised to be both challenging and fun. At the time I was still living in Indiana and riding a child size mountain bike as my primary mode of transportation. I did some investigating into different types of bikes and begin dreaming and saving for a cross bike. I moved to Lincoln that winter and few months and several sacrifices later, I walked through the door of my tiny apartment wheeling a brand new orange and black Kona Jake. I was elated.

Sadly, my time in Lincoln was far too short. After spending hundreds of miles on delightful gravel roads, racing with an amazing team and meeting wonderful people I moved away in August to prepare to move London, England to begin my PhD studies at Royal Holloway, University of London. While I was thrilled to be moving forward in my professional goals, I was disappointed that I would not have the chance to do a US cross season. I spent autumn studying furiously for my comprehensive exams, while Jake lay tucked away. I watched as my teammates raced and realized that at that moment in my life, my only role was to be a student. I could get back in shape after my exams.

I passed my exams in February and set my sites on whipping myself back into racing shape. I spent my mornings running and my evenings cycling. While I was in Canada doing on site research at SnoLab, I stumbled across the London Summer Cyclocross series online and decided I would find a way to get there and race. (Living in a country with a mild climate has certain advantages.) Integrating into the London cycling community has been difficult, so I hoped this would also be an opportunity to meet other athletes who love to ride bikes. The summer series is a go cross event. This means that racers do not need a racing license and the categories are larger.

The first event put on by the series was training. I desperately needed some instructions and my pre training has been fraught with sports injuries so I went to make up some ground. A large size group with quite a few women showed up for training and I was hopeful I would have a strong start. That night was a disaster for me. I was nervous. I couldn’t get around the corners. I panicked before obstacles and was unable to do a proper dismount or remount.  And forget going down hills. (For those of you who do not know, I raced Odin’s Revenge last year and took a nasty fall going about 35 miles an hour that resulted in a concussion and getting lost without water in 100 degree heat. I have been very downhill shy ever since, but getting braver every week.) To make matters worse, I spent all of the down time trying to talk to people with little success. I left feeling devastated. The train ride home was miserable. I contemplated giving up on the whole series.

When I got home, I reached out to Elisabeth. I needed coaching and encouragement if I was going to stand a chance at having a good first race the following week. (I love having a team that I can reach out to even though I across the ocean.) She told me to race like an American and have some fun. Nothing will make you prouder of the country you come from than leaving it and realizing how awesome it was to live there. The race should be about fun. There is no shame in walking any obstacle if it means I will be faster. So my mind was set. I was ready to represent Sheclismo in the UK.

Monday came and I left work early to get my race. (I have an awesome advisor who understands the importance of bikes.) I arrived on the race grounds with plenty of time before the start. I collect my number, swallow my nerves and decide to start talking to the other racers as they arrive. The youth races occur before adult categories, so we are all waiting to do practice loops. The crowd is completely different than at the training events. There are so many people who will be racing for the first time and we are talking about our love of bikes and encouraging one another. There is even a writer there who as actually heard of the gravel races in the American Midwest. I have desperately missed that type of community and it feels so good to be back.

When we get on the track for a practice there is only time for one loop. I decide to use this time to map out the course and make choices about the obstacles. Before I arrived, I had decided to ride with platforms to have one fewer obstacle to calm my dismounting nerves. While doing the practice loop I notice there is one steep decline that leads in to a steep incline. I make the choice that I am going to run both every time. I will much faster if I am not struggling through crash anxiety. This race is about me and it is not about winning. I want enjoy quality time with Jake doing the type of riding I purchased him for. I can focus on speed later.

After the loop we line up to start. In this race the women race with men, though we are in separate categories. There are around 50 racers, and only four women. It feels like a physics conference. The racer next to me at the start has been racing mountain bikes for over 30 years and this is also her first cross race. They give signal and we are off for an hour on the course. I spend the first lap being towards the back with another first timer. The course has stretches through the woods, a long trek through the grass, a few obstacles, and high grass with tight corners. I over take the rider in front as I go around for lap two with a wave of encouragement. I am trying to focus on my strengths. The words of Sydney Brown are in the back of my head. “You have a good pace on the flats, use this to your advantage.” I am trying to ride the grassy sections with a strong pace to make up for how awkward I am at the obstacles. Most importantly, I am having a blast on the bike. I cannot stop myself from smiling. This is the type of fun I remember having back in Lincoln. I am sailing around corners, being brushed by stinging nettles, feeling ever-changing terrain under my tires, and chasing pheasants off the track.

I also making mental notes on areas I need to improve. I need to learn how to corner better. I have to learn how to push myself harder and ride faster. I have become too used to endurance riding and running. Expending myself in an hour feels like a foreign concept. I can work on these challenges. I can be a better racer.

Alas, the race seems to go by all too quickly and I am now on my final lap. I ride this at the pace I should have ridden the entire race. I know that I am not as tired as I should be, but I can still have a strong finish. I cross the line and I have finished my first cross race. The course was so big, I have no idea how I have done compared to the other women, but I am delightfully sweaty, panting, and still smiling. I feel I have represented the Lincoln cycling community well and I could not be prouder to be wearing my Sheclismo team colors.

At the end of the race, the winners in each category are announced. I am not expecting to go up, since I did not ride as hard as I should. Then I hear my number. I am second for the women. Two of the women were unable to finish and dropped out midway. Sometimes, endurance pays off. It feels wonderful to place and bonus, I received £20 of vouchers that more than cover my entry and travel costs. I am so excited to race again next Monday. I know can do an even better race, assuming I am not too drained from the half marathon I will be running this coming Sunday. From here on out, it is all about speed.

Last time I blogged for Sheclismo, I encouraged new riders to race and I would like to take another opportunity to do the same. Racing is an excellent way of learning how to train to become better. It is okay to take it easy your first race if that is what you need to build confidence. You may even finish stronger than you expect.

Happy riding and I’ll let you know how the rest of the series shapes up.

During the race.

1st and 2nd place for the women (We were both confused about what to do)

Still smiling at the end of the race.

This is a late edition, but here is the video that was taken from this week's race.