Transylvania Mountain Bike Epic 2016

Ever since the Transylvania Mountain Bike Epic, also known as Singletrack Summer Camp came into existence about seven years ago, I have had the itch to race this beast. Every June, I would tune into social media and track who was in the lead for each stage and follow along with videos and photos posted. This just seemed so out of reach for me, but it would happen, eventually.

TSElogo
Transylvania Epic Logo

Fast forward to this past November and I reminded my husband, Jack, about how badly I wanted to race the #TSEpic (it’s almost second nature to hashtag it now). Jack was supportive about it and decided to help make this happen. The entry fee is sort of a hefty one, but through the support of some family, friends and Jack, as a surprise Christmas present, I was able to register for TSE.

A little information about TSE; it is a five day mountain bike stage race that is similar to what the Tour de France is, but with mountain bikes and way cooler. Mike Kuhn is the brainchild behind this amazing event and other events as well. www.outdoorexperience.org       In each stage, there are also endure segments that are timed and racers can get enduro points and possibly podium for this separate classification.

Training began early January with Coach Jonny Gabor and I knew immediately, this would be tough work, but it would pay off. Months passed and after many hours on the trainer, road, mountain bikes and time in the gym, it was MAY!!! TSE was merely a week away and we packed and prepped and the nerves settled in.

My family and friends were so kind to say that I would win it or be in the top three. Granted, I have been on the podium many times in the past, but I knew this would be a different scenario. I was going to be racing against pro women and women who have done stage races before. The goal for myself was at least top ten or better and to complete all five days successfully.

Last Saturday, we hit the road with our borrowed pop up camper and we were packed to the brim. We arrive, unpack, set up, get our bearings and the “tent city”, see Mike Kuhn, who was setting up course marking for Monday. Mike seemed to be in good spirits and was ready to get things started. My nerves were getting the best of me, but I prepped for Monday and thankfully, had Sunday to spin my legs and relax.

STAGE 1: COBURN 36.9 miles 4,015’ climbing

All smiles before the week begins!
All smiles before the week begins!

Today’s choice was my Cannondale Fsi, as there were a lot of dirt roads in the first stage. Sporting my Rare Disease Cycling kit on the line, checking my Garmin, realizing I forgot my sunscreen, I was ready to roll and get things started. Neutral roll out from camp and then instantly shot into windy singletrack around the camp and back onto dirt. I remember thinking how great my bike choice was once on the dirt roads. I felt okay throughout most of the stage, but started experiencing bad leg cramps around mile 27. I was hydrating, getting nutrition, but they still appeared. I had to hop off the bike once to stretch them out and let out a little yell because of the pain. This allowed for two girls to scoot past me, but it’s the first day, don’t panic.

I managed to get out of the singletrack and finish up for the day in 12th place. I was not very satisfied with this finish, but again, it’s the first day and I needed to stretch and focus on the upcoming days.

STAGE 2: TUSSEY RIDGE 36.9 miles 3,921’ climbing

Tussey Ridge has to be, by far, some riders favorite stage. The ride/race up to Tussey is not an easy one, but it is well worth it. I decided to switch over to the Cannondale Scalpel as today would be more singletrack and technical.  I felt pretty good, cramps were lingering, but nothing to stop me. I downed a water with a ton of sodium in it at the aid station, which helped. I felt great in the singletrack and was right behind some girls who finished up in the top ten the day before. Not sure what my deal was on the dirt roads, but either my legs or mind was not pushing. I never stopped on the climbs, but my speed was not there.

After accomplishing a successful ride across the ridge (my best ever time on Tussey), it was a long fun, enduro segment that was flowly, filled with berms that just naturally took you around and shot you to the next turn. I could have ridden that all day. Onto some more roads, knowing I was maybe close to top ten, I pushed on and finished up feeling happy and satisfied with my day. I ended up in 11th place, still not happy, but inching closer to top ten.

STAGE 3: GALBRAITH ENDURO DAY!! 29.5 miles 4,377’ climbing (5 timed downhill segments)

Enduro day! The buzz for today was how “relaxed” the day is compared to the others. With five timed downhill segments that are used for the day’s results, I was confident that I could possibly do a little better than the previous days. I was again on my Cannondale Scalpel to best tackle the downhills. I saw everyone else on their big travel bikes with dropper posts, knee pads and baggy shorts and there I was in my lycra, no knee pads, but just as ready to get the day going.

The rollout was from State College and it was a long ride, hike and wait at the top of the first segment. The first three segments seemed pretty tame and I thought my times were decent. The climbs in between were long, but it was a day to spin up them and keep the heart rate lower. The vibe of the day was definitely different, as racers would gather at the bottom of segments to compare their runs and strategies. I moved along without too much stopping because I was afraid that if I stopped much, those silly leg cramps would come back.

Segment four was lined up and I was being warned by the guys in front of me how rocky and steep it gets. They were not trying to scare me, but reassuring me that if I just “let it roll” I would be fine. I made it down that famed “Wildcat” trail and survived, as I just “let it roll”. I did take a moment to just let my arms hang by my side, once at the bottom. I got my arms alive again and completed segment five.

Photo credit: N. Thomas "Letting it roll" at the bottom of Wildcat.
Photo credit: N. Thomas
“Letting it roll” at the bottom of Wildcat.

Results were posted that night and finally I was in 10th place. I was kind of satisfied with this, but wondering what I could have done differently, but there were two more days to go.

STAGE 4: R.B. Winter 35.2 miles 4,515’ climbing

This stage was also said to be pretty technical with a lot of climbing on dirt roads as well as singletrack climbing. I was nervous, knowing I only had this day and the last day to put up better results. Off we go!! Straight up a massive hill and I was slowly losing sight of the women in front of me. They were all climbing so great all week and for some reason, I could not find my normally strong climbing legs. I kept on rolling and made it into the singletrack, where It started to drizzle, then rain heavier, then it turned into the heaviest downpour. My glasses were completely fogged, so I took those off and chanced my contacts falling out, just to be able to see the trail.

I had a “dark” moment at one point early in the race when I almost wanted to cry. I felt like I have never raced before and feared not catching anyone ahead of me. This tough moment passed pretty fast as I was not going to feel sorry for myself mid race. I kept rolling and it was absolutely pouring. Some people were walking their bikes up the greasy singletrack trail, but I was able to keep pedaling as my tire choice was perfect for these conditions (Ignitor on the rear and Rampage in the front).

The aid station was approaching and I saw some girls standing there in the rain. I was not sure who they were or what class, but I knew if I wanted to make any time up, I had to just roll through and keep moving. I did just that, but pretty soon, Karen did catch me. I was able to hang with her on the singletrack, but once we hit that dirt road climb, she rode away from me and I had trouble making up that difference.

I was not sure what place I was in, but thought maybe I had managed to pass a few more at the rest stop. The rain continued to come down until a few miles from the finish. Covered in mud, soaking wet and a little chilly, I crossed the line and went right to the bike wash to get the mud off of the Scalpel.

Today’s results, 10th place. Again, happy to scratch the top ten, but slightly disappointed that I did not end up better than this. I would have ended up in either 11th or 12th place if I did not stop at the rest stop, so I was happy I made that decision.

STAGE 5: COOPER’S GAP 34.5 miles 5,466’ climbing

The rain rolling in.
The rain rolling in.

Last day and I reminded myself to make the most of the day. We started at a remote location, but finished up at base camp. This day was again a mix of long dirt road climbs, singletrack climbs and fun technical singletrack sections. We knew there was a chance of showers, well, it showered for sure. It poured again for a few hours of the race and at one point, the aid station was just about under water. Drop bags were sitting in a “river” and volunteers were covered with umbrellas still making sure racers got what they needed as they rolled through.

There were times that the rocks on the singletrack were under water and finding the right “line” was tricky, but I was able to manage good riding in the rain. I was back and forth most of the day with singlespeeder, Karen Brooks. I am not sure how people can do this on a singlespeed and I praised every one of them that I saw.

The rain stopped in time for the final climbs of the day and became muggy and humid too. The final climb came with a warning from a fellow racer. He said, “This climb sucks. I’m not trying to scare you, but just being honest.”

It didn’t scare me, but I knew I had to ride up it the whole way as I was sure I had at least another 10th place position. The climb was quite awful as it did not seem to end, ever. I get to the top and there was a guy there and he says, “all downhill from here.”

I knew this couldn’t be true, as there was still some more elevation to gain. After some more climbing on doubletrack and then a little greasy singletrack, camp was finally in sight. I could hear people and I shot out below our “tent city” and around to where the big, Stans NoTubes finish line was. Dave Pryor was there to give finishers a hug and high five and Jack was also there, taking photos and cheering me on. I was covered in dried mud, I was tired and a little in disbelief that after so many months of planning and training, TSE was over, just like that. 175 miles and 21,000 feet of climbing later and it was all finished.

DONE!!
DONE!!

My results for the final day, 9th place! I was satisfied with this finish and secured 10th overall in the solo women general classification.

We spent that evening, as we did previous evenings, recapping the day by watching Firespire Photography’s photos and Thom Parson’s video of the day. It was amazing to have completed five days of racing in such a fantastic area. Mike Kuhn and Dave Pryor kindly recognized all 150 racers as they gave finisher awards, jerseys and called the raffle numbers. It was a fun way to end such a fun week. Everyone was tired, but in good spirits. Jack had a great week too, helping out at aid stations and lending any helping hand he could when Mike or Dave needed him.

I will be racing this again next year and of course, will be hoping for continued improvement with my results. I am happy though. I successfully raced all five days, I rode hard, I pushed myself and made top ten. I learned a lot about myself as a rider and a racer. It’s not always about the podium, although it’s pretty nice to be up there sometimes. Every race, every ride is a learning experience. Learning from what we do helps us grow and hopefully, teach others in the future. The support I received from friends and family were amazing and greatly appreciated before, during and after the race. I truly could not have done this without my husband, Jack, who supported me every second of the way.

This write up might have been long, but it is merely a glimpse into what the week really was about. I was proud to represent Rare Disease Cycling/Keswick Cycle and will continue to do my best throughout this season.

2016 Cohutta 100 and Old Copper 20

This past weekend Renee and I decided to take a little road trip from Philadelphia down to Ducktown, TN for the second stop in the National Ultra Endurance Series, The Cohutta 100.Cuddy_Cohutta1_med

Renee, having no interest in spending the better part of a day on a bike decided to race the Old Copper 20. This was the first year the promotor, Trail Head Outdoors, added the 20 miler on top of the tried and true 100 and 65 miles distances.

Not holding anything back, Renee hammered the competition. She had a great day handily taking the win. The trails were flowy and the gravel climbs suited her strengths. Afterwards she took to relaxing and lounging about the Ocoee White Water center while I sold my soul in the Cohutta 100.

I managed 10th overall, surprising myself a little on such a climbing intensive course. It was a 100 mile race and we raced every bit of that 100, it was no joke! It was really exciting to be a part of.

I didn’t catch the break with the front group into the single track at the start. I didn’t think it was too big of a deal at the time but looking back now, it was. Around mile 20 the single track ended and the gravel forest roads started. It was endless climbing and white knuckle descents on very loose, dry gravel through fast sweeping turns.

As I started up the gravel, I bumped into local Pennsylvanian, Stewart Gross. We teamed up and quickly got to work trying to catch the front group and amassed a decent sized following of other riders. I stopped at an aid station around mile 27 to grab a bottle and was informed that the lead group was only a few minutes ahead. I caught back up to the chase group and stiffened the pace for the next 10 miles. It took some time but the work paid off, I could see the lead group up through the trees! I was excited but a little concerned that I may have burned a few too many matches pulling the chase group to the front of the race.

Towing up my new found friends made the lead group about 30-35 racers deep. We were rolling in a really solid peloton through the forest, 37 miles into an NUE race. There would be a good amount of drama involved in pairing this group down before the end of the day.

Cuddy_Cohutta2_medAround mile 46 we came to an aid station, a total gaggle with so many guys. A few racers bypassed it and attacked the climb coming out of the aid station. This shattered the group. I managed to grab two bottles and get to work chasing. It was vicious but I managed to get back on after a few minutes of hard work. At this point, 8 to 10 racers didn’t make it back, the group was now a little smaller.

This was the start of a 32 mile loop (roughly mile 46 to 78) which entailed a lot of punchy climbs. As the miles wore on, the group got smaller and smaller. Every climb there was a push and another rider would pop off, usually never seen again.

As we finished that loop we came back into an aid station around mile 78. I refilled my bottles and found myself the last rider out. Luckily we went into a descent and I caught back up. The group was down to around 10 riders at this point.

Around mile 80, we took a left hand turn onto a steep climb. Dylan Johnson attacked and the group shattered. I was in no condition to match the pace at that point. I found myself in no mans land pretty quick but didn’t worry much. I was still climbing well and stayed focused. The next 10 miles were some of the biggest climbs of the day. I passed droves of Big Frog 65 racers throughout the next hour. Those were some hard miles and they let me know.

The single track started around mile 90. I spent a few minutes getting into the flow of things but couldn’t hide from my legs as they started tightening up and cramping. I ate a snack, drank some water and took it easy for a few minutes. I got myself back together but not before I was passed by another racer named Anthony. I didn’t let it get to me, I have been a racer for years and thought to myself, “It’s not over until it’s over!”

As I came out of the mountains and dropped onto the highway heading towards the finish, I could see Anthony a few hundred yards ahead. I buried myself, full on time trial trying to reel him in. Unfortunately he looked back and saw me coming. He was frantically pedaling trying to hold me off. The yards were closing fast but I ran out of time and we finished only a few lengths apart with a time of 6 hours and 55 minutes.

It was an aggressive weekend but also a great adventure. Tennessee was beautiful, my Cannondale FSi worked flawlessly, the racing was epic and I am really glad that we all get to enjoy racing and riding our bikes for fun. Life is good!