Now I know – no matter how hard you train and prepare for a race, it means zip if you can’t ride at altitude. Altitude? Yes, I was in shock too! How did I manage in my race preparations to neglect to look at elevation of Prescott, AZ, the starting town of the Whiskey 50! Of course, right now I want to bury my entire body in the sand and hide from my almost DFL placement, you know, one of those races when you wish Cycling News didn’t exist. But friends/teammates have suggested I share my troubles, so that other people don’t make the same mistake I did, and be ill prepared for the rough ride at Lady Elevation.
My racing and training had been going well the week’s prior to the race.
I arrived in Prescott on Thursday, met my wonderful team, roomed with Mrs Carey, enjoyed some podium leg time, and pre-riding with Mical and Nina. Prescott is a well cool town, hosting the biggest mountain bike festival I have ever seen.
Friday evening was the fat tire crit. Amanda had warned me that I shouldn’t go too hard at the beginning of either the crit or the 50 milers since we were at altitude. Altitude?! I have to admit, inside I was thinking, I am going to be totally fine with altitude, I’m pretty tough, how bad can it be? Plus, I thought the crit course suited me, as it basically consisted of 2 really tough climbs and a hair-raising, ripping descent (no power flats).
Nina charged up the first climb, we all followed and I was feeling pretty good the first 2 laps. Then BOOM. I felt like someone was holding elastic bands round my arms and legs, restricting blood flow. I think I saw a few planets and stars, I crawled up the climbs for a few more laps and went from top to bottom of the field in a few seconds.
The rest of the girls did awesome, so recovering from hypoxia I cheered their feats. It was a good wake-up call, I had to moderate my efforts on Sunday. Friday evening, whatever pollen was in the air in AZ started to really aggravate my allergies, I had crackly lung, a horrid cough and a slightly bleeding nose. I still didn’t panic as I had at least 24 hours to take anti-histamines and rest before the 50.
Sunday morning greeted us with pleasant temps that were set to rise and rise all day. Fortunately, the pro women’s field was led by the motto almost the entire way up the first 4 – mile climb. It was perfect, there were no surges and I could control my heart rate. At the very top of the pavement there were 2 steep pitches before we hit the dirt. I literally tried a little harder than on the gradual climb when BOOM my heart rate shot up to 192! The feelings of restriction across my whole body came back. I felt like no blood and oxygen were feeding my muscles. We were 5 miles in! I drifted further and further back. Sonya Looney tried to encourage me “hup hup Vicki”. No use. Other ladies passed me and commented on how thin the air was getting. Psychologically that probably put me in an even worse place! I crawled onto the singletack, barely turning the pedals, still at HR 192. Shannon caught me; I was pedaling in squares. If I had taken my glasses off I am sure I would have been cross-eyed.
Of course I wanted to quit. Not because I was last, but because I didn’t think I was actually going to be able to make it to the end!
The descent into Skull Valley revived me a bit, because I got to see how awesome the rest of the field were doing coming back up the 12 mile climb. Bike racing is such a wonderful experience, you are competitive to the core, but the support the women have for one another is phenomenal.
By the bottom of Skull Valley I had practiced my bail out speech (including my resignation speech to the team). But when I got there, and was greeted by the most amazing support from Kenny, Chris, and the NoTubes Master’s Team, there was no way I was giving up. They had a their system of water- bottle- handing-ice down-our- backs, dialed. Aaagh, relief. After that, it was just me and the Arizona dessert. How do people live here, (?) I thought as I wheezed my way up the 12 – mile climb. Then the cramps greeted me. Oh the cramps! After 1.5 hours of climbing on exposed desert roads, I finally made it to the turn into the singletrack. I tried to put in an effort, but the whole right side of my body cramped. A lovely wee mountain rescue man tried to help but of course there was nothing he could do (except comment on the state of my calf!). My body was not enjoying this experience at all.
I crawled to the finish line (and had a little sprint (hahaha a sprint!) with Bryna Blanchford, who had worried that she was going the wrong way and turned back up the hill.
The rest of the team did amazing with both Mical and Nina in the top 10! I was so proud to be a part of their awesomeness, and trying not to wallow in self-pity. I still had some major allergies going on, relentless sneezing. Boy was I happy to see the low altitude, wet, greenness of PA when I got back.
I am glad that I did the Whiskey 50, if nothing it made me realize that I could not do Leadville 100 without some serious time at altitude acclimatizing (which is kind of difficult with a full-time job). I would highly recommend that anyone else who is considering making a big trip to do a big race take the same precaution. Yes, I know you all know that, but I thought I knew that too! Unfortunately, there’s no escaping your natural physiology, no matter how fit you are, or what you believe in your head.
As always, thanks to the support from all our wonderful sponsors and support crew!