Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hard Work Pays Off

Wow!  That's pretty much sums up the phenomenal last month of racing.  After the BC Bike Race, I returned to elite competition in earnest.  First up was the National Championships, then the ProXCT Finals in my backyard at Catamount Outdoor Family Center, then the Mount Saint Anne World Cup, and then, today, the Windham World Cup.  Having sat out of racing for the first half of the season, I honestly didn't know how any of these races were going to go.  I was a wild card to myself and to everyone else.  Andy Bishop, my coach, told me he wasn't worried about my return to competition back in the early days of recovery.  He said, looking at the schedule, that I could still pull off a great season, but I honestly didn't believe him.  It's hard to believe even my coach when I was working on range of motion in the pool and swinging my leg back and forth in the basement.  Meanwhile, my competitors are racing their bikes and putting in training blocks.  Nevertheless, I put my head down, followed my aggressive strength conditioning plan to the T, and just worked as hard as I could.

This whole comeback process just proves that hard work pays off.  Because of this experience, I also believe that gratitude is fast, happiness may be even faster, and freshness is a great thing.  I've had all of these components in ample supply.  Nationals was a truly epic and close battle between Georgia Gould and myself.  We were together the entire race.  At one point, I just thought "I am completely thrilled to be riding with Georgia right now in contention for the win.  This is so amazing".  Gratitude.  It came down to the last climb in the last four minutes of the race.  I attacked and got a small gap on Georgia and ended up defending my national championship by a mere fifteen seconds.  There's nothing like being taken out of the game to make me so extremely motivated.  This comeback win honestly surprised me and was one of the most meaningful and emotional wins of my entire career.

Here's my reaction to my National Championships Win.

I won the Catamount Classic in my backyard in front of my home crowd which again far surpassed my expectations.  It was another tactical battle, and I put in a hard charging last lap to get the win again.  I really couldn't be happier.  It was a great confidence boost to take these wins ahead of some strong competition, but still the world cups are the next level.  So, I entered the Mount Saint Anne World Cup weekend again as a bit of a wildcard to myself again. Would I be able to keep up with the world cup women's field?  In the Mount Saint Anne World Cup, I had a solid start in the top fifteen.  I ate some caffeinated Clif Blocks on the second lap and things just got better from there.  I kept saying to myself each lap, "this is great.  I'm in the top 15.  Wow.  I'm in the top 10.  Holy moly, I'm on the podium.  Oh my goodness, I'm in third place. There is literally only two girls in front of me in this world cup.  Don't freak out".  This is pretty much how it went down.  I just kept feeling stronger and stronger and found myself charging in third place on the last lap.  Katerina Nash just got me on the last climb, but, again, I was absolutely, completely, and utterly thrilled with my return to world cup racing.  This fourth place matches my best ever world cup result.

Because of Mount Saint Anne, this weekend's world cup race in Windham, NY was the first time I wasn't a wild card to myself.  I rode with confidence and higher expectations.  I had a great start sitting in ninth place at the end of the first lap and feeling good.  Then, I thought I had a rear flat tire so I stopped in the tech zone at the beginning of lap 2.  I started the lap in sixteenth after the rear wheel change and just tried to get my head back in the game and move up as much as possible.  I was able to catch a group in front of me on the last two laps and work my way back up to seventh place which I am proud of.  It turns out I didn't have a rear flat so I didn't need to take a wheel change and subsequently take myself off the podium.  This is a bummer, but, when put in perspective, riding into the top 10 in a world cup after hip surgery far surpasses my wildest dreams.

Thank you for all of the support.  This comeback wouldn't have been possible without brilliant strength workouts by Bill Knowles with HP Sports, Andy Bishop for crafting my comeback on the bike and all of the hours of motor pacing, Vermonth Orthopaedic and Brie Pike Sprenger and Emma, my PTs, for once again putting me back together.  Specialized, Oakley, Clif Bar  L.L Bean, and In The Arena for having my back during this entire comeback. Jojo, Sabe, my family, and my friends for keeping the faith alive and my spirits high, and the rest of my support network for cheering me on.  THANK YOU.  Each and every one of you deserve a national champion jersey.  I wish I had one hundred to give away.

Now onto World Cup Finals in France and the World Championships in Norway.  It's ON!


 Team Luna Photo Bomb Photo: Dave McElwaine
 The Lone Wolf Heckle Pit at National Championships is some of the best cheering I've ever experienced
 Lining Up at the Catamount Classic

 More Lone Wolf Heck Pit

Sunday, July 13, 2014

How the BC Bike Race was won

…by the smallest margin of time.

Wow. A week ago, I finished the BC Bike Race, a seven day mountain bike stage race in British Columbia and truly one of my most favorite race experiences.  This race dished up some of the best single track of my entire life, and it's absolutely gorgeous.  Thin ribbons of trail slicing through a bright green forest floor covered in a carpet of moss became a normal sighting.  The forests are open, the trails flow, and people are psyched.

The BC Bike Race does a great job capturing the race experience through photo and video.  Check out the video of Stage 7.  You can catch me in the Specialized Red kit.

It was a very last minute decision to race the BC Bike Race.  I pretty much got the green light to fully train not that long beforehand so my coach, Andy, thought this stage race would do great things for my fitness.  It's pretty much my season's volume condensed.  I didn't know what to expect since I haven't been traditionally training since my hip surgery, but the plan was to ease into the race and then hit some of the last stages harder.  This plan went right out on the window on stage one.

Before stage one even began, there was a lot of preparation that went into just simply getting to the start line.  I call it the team appreciation block.  I already have a lot of appreciation.  I'm on one of the best teams in the world and the support is phenomenal.  There's nothing like booking your own hotels in seven different locations, booking plane tickets and a rental car, and making sure you have everything you need equipment wise that makes the appreciation grow ten fold.  My dad came with me as my mechanic and support crew for the week, and we had so much fun.  He may have even gotten himself hired for another one.

Stage one was set in the legendary North Vancouver on the original 'north shore' trails.  This means skinny bridges, technical drops, and slippery roots.  I did this race four years ago as a female team, and the first stage was also in the same location.  It was one of the hardest, most challenging, most terrifying courses I've ever ridden.  Thankfully, the organizers buffed it out a bit so it was just plain fun.  We had a little lady pod at the beginning of the stage with the duo female Luna team of Maghalie Rochette and Catharine Pendrel, solo competitor Sonya Looney, Wendy Simms, and I all riding together.  I felt so good and I was so excited to be racing my mountain bike in this amazing place that I just attacked out of pure joy.  I took the win by a mere two minutes and grabbed the leader's jersey.  This was the beginning of an extremely close seven days of racing where Wendy Simms and I threw around that leader's jersey like it was a hot potato.  The top step of the women's solo podium had a variety of faces as well.

The whole race is really a blur of fun, burning legs, caffeinated Clif blocks, and ferry rides, but I'll give you some of the highlights.  I lost the leader's jersey on stage 2 when Wendy, the single track baller, absolutely crushed the trails in her backyard.  I started out by leading, but Wendy passed me in a flash on the single track, and I never saw her again.  Then, in the last five kilometers of a fifty kilometer stage, somehow the great Luna duo found me.  I was thrilled to ride with some friends for the last part of the stage which, admittedly, was full of suffering.  Then, one of the funniest things that's ever happened to me in a race happened.  In the last 200 meters before the finish line, Catharine, myself, and Maghalie came nuking into an unforeseen gravel corner.  We all were two wheel sliding in attempt to make it.  I just simply stopped off the trail and Maghalie slid into me, and somehow placed the end of her handlebar perfectly in between the four centimeter space between my rear tire and frame.  It was really stuck in there too.  While I was laughing so hard, it took us about two minutes to pull it out of there.  We made it over all of these crazy obstacles, bridges, and drops, and a gravel corner did the trick.  Really, we couldn't have put that handlebar in that space if we were standing still and trying.

Stage three was set in Powell River on the sunshine coast of Vancouver Island.  Wendy had the leader's jersey from her phenomenal ride on Stage two, and luckily, I didn't let her go by in a flash this stage.  I was determined to hang on her wheel and learn something from the north shore single track queen.  I had so much fun on this stage on Wendy's wheel literally going as fast as I ever have on flat single track.  She gave me a clinic and helped me get in the flow which was desperately needed after all of the time off the bike.  I was stronger on the final climb so I attacked and took the stage victory by thirty seconds.  My victory wasn't enough going into the next day to get the leader's jersey back so I started stage four in Specialized red.

Normally in mountain bike stage races, it's eighty to ninety percent fire road racing (note: not a mountain bikers favorite) and twenty percent single track (note: mountain bikers favorite).  The best thing about the BC Bike Race is that ratio is completely flipped.  There's so much single track that I sometimes found myself begging for a fire road, absolute lunacy for a true mountain biker, so that I could take a drink and eat something.  Stage 4 is the exception with the course swinging a bit more in the direction of traditional and comprised of a lot of exposed, steep fire road climbs.  It's the longest stage as well.  About a third of the way into the stage, I was happy with my positioning.  I was about twenty seconds behind Sonya Looney and twenty seconds ahead of Wendy Simms.  Then, my head was down and I missed a turn off the fire road and got lost.  I probably lost four to five minutes doing my own out and back, and I lost the lady pod.  I was deflated after that move, and I spent the rest of the stage with the governor on.  It was a bit rough, and I finished bummed about my performance.  Then, I realized at three hours and forty minutes,  this was not only my longest ride for the season but definitely my longest race effort.  Perspective shift.  Wendy did hold a nine minute advantage on me in the overall, and it was going to take some aggressive racing to get that lead back.

Stage 5 I was determined to take a chunk out of that lead.  I felt great, started aggressive, and finished with the win.  I got just about four minutes on Wendy, and I had an absolute blast on an amazing stage.  Stage 6 was one of the longest days, and it was to determine the overall winner.  I had to take the same tactic.  I went for it, but, honestly, one third of the way into the stage, I didn't know if I was going to pull it off.  I was climbing up a switchback climb and saw the lady pod only about thirty seconds off.  The great Luna duo caught up to me, and I rode with them for as long as possible.  Then, I rode in solo for the win and got the leaders jersey back.  This ride gave me a four minute cushion going into the last 1.5 hr stage which I needed every minute of to secure the overall prize.  Wendy attacked me on the last day and I fell apart.  If she had ten more kilometers, she would have gotten me.  But, in the end, after racing over seven days for eighteen hours and twenty six minutes, I only ended up winning by one minute and thirty seconds.  This is amazing to me.

I'm thrilled to have won this race, and I'm even more excited to be back racing.  I have a great block of racing on the east coast coming up.  First up is the national championships in Pennslyvania next weekend.  Send me the fast vibes please!

A view from one of the many gorgeous ferry rides we took over the week

I found an amazing japanese style hut to stay in.  One of many in this B&B in Powell River.  I would highly recommend it to anyone.  My bike liked it. 

Base Camp in Powell River.  Gorgeous. 

Ogio Bag hiding in the Japanese Hut

This is what Maghalie Rochette carted around for five stages: space blanket, bike commuting flashlight, matches and a compass.  She ditched all of the extra weight and then the team beat me the next two stages

This is what I'm carrying comparatively.  Bear Spray. Clif Blocks. Priorities. 

My Dad and I saw some amazing waterfalls after the race

Best support crew out there. My Dad!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

I'm a lucky ducky

This is what color day looks like through Little Bella's eyes.  GoPro on board with a Little Bella. 

The last month has been full of absolute awesomeness.  The reigns have gradually been cut loose, and I've been able to really start training back in full on the bike.  It's been such a measured process that today during my road ride, it really dawned on me that I am back.  I completed a three and a half hour road ride up App Gap with five minute threshold efforts. This is back to normal training.  Plus, I was riding through gorgeous Vermont valley with lush green hills rolling on either side and the sun was shining.  The ride was just chock full of gratitude.  I am really lucky to be able to do what I do.   Don't get me wrong, comebacks are not for the faint of heart, but, when everything finally clicks, if even for a moment, it's just the sweetest feeling in the world.

There's been a lot of other stuff happening during this time as well.  The stories are really told best in images.  I really made the most of my last days in Santa Cruz by stand up paddle boarding as much as I could.  I even mastered carrying the board by myself down to the ocean.  This board is twelve feet and six inches long so it's really not an easy task.  I went on my first mountain bike ride and feel completely, utterly, and madly in love with single track all over again.  I rode with a great crew of ladies out of Mike's Bikes in Los Gatos, California for the Specialized women's ride day.  I traveled back home to the east coast and stopped in Boston on the way to speak on an Olympic panel for a W.I.S.E nonprofit event.  I got to met Dara Torres, and we share the same strength trainer, Bill Knowles.  We had a great time chatting, and it was a fun event.  Last, but not least, the Little Bellas Vermont Sunday sessions just had color day.  This is my favorite day of all, and Vermont was crazy.  These are the numbers from today; forty five Little Bellas, twenty mentors, and fourteen pounds of color powder.  I'll let the images do the most of the talking, but let's just say I got charged by the youngest group because they thought I looked too clean.  My white sports bra will never look the same (and think, that's under a layer of clothing), and I love it because I will think of Vermont color day every time I wear it.

 Specialized Women's Ride Day selfie
 The woman who singlehandedly orchestrates the In The Arena operation and, therefore, impacts many little lives.  Thanks Amory for showing the flag at the Boston W.I.S.E event
 Olympic rower, Gevvie Stone, and I at the event.  Hope to see you in Rio, Gevvie!
 Women's Ride Day chat about Little Bellas

 A post Little Bellas color day shot taken with a GoPro
 My attack included lots of color power, ballon tape, and charlie the shark. 
 When I say color day is one of my favorite days on earth, I'm being serious
 My sister, Sabe, and I spoke at local Specialized dealer, SkiRack, about the Little Bellas and the Olympics at Ladies night
 We also gave away free stuff to anyone who could guess how many eggs I eat a day
 The Olympic Panel and the W.I.S.E board
This view doesn't look spectacular but it's really the best view ever because it's my first this season.  It's my first climb where I could see surrounding ridges and peaks in Santa Cruz.  Psyched. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

L.L Bean revelation

 So excited to get my Paddleboard for L.L Bean and get on the water

 Not bad surroundings for my maiden voyage

I am so excited to be one of four L.L Bean's trailblazers named this year.  This relationship couldn't have blossomed at a better time.  After getting hip cartilage repair in January this winter, this season hasn't been what I expected.  The winter and spring has been chock full with recovery and rehab.  But, recovering from hip surgery means your life is temporarily filled with a lot of 'NOs' and 'Can'ts'.  You can't fully bear weight for two weeks.  You can't put much resistance on the pedals yet. You can't slip on the ice or anywhere for that matter.  You can't go cross country skiing.  You can't kick in the pool.  You can't mountain bike quite yet.  You can't go for a three hour ride.  You can't walk too far.  You can't flex or extend your leg that much yet.  You can't ride up hills.  You can't ride into a headwind.  You can't hike or walk too much up hill.  You can't go surfing in Santa Cruz.  
 Jojo giving it a try on the far left

Sup Intervals with two strangers
The one 'CAN' I was told was "Lea, you CAN go stand up paddle boarding.  That will be great for rehab and recovery."  I love cross training and a variety of activities off the bike so I absolutely jumped at this opportunity.  This is where L.L Bean came into the picture.  They helped me with my one 'CAN' and sent out an amazing stand up paddle board to Santa Cruz, CA.  With this support, L.L Bean has singlehandedly opened up my world beyond the resistance cords, gym time, and stationary trainer.  I've been able to get outside more and fully enjoy the water.  Growing up in Vermont and being a professional cyclist, I'm a land and mountain lover to the core, but this has really opened up an entire different world and love.  Every time I go out paddle boarding, I see little sea otters cracking their dinner open on their bellies or seals popping their head out of the water (to which I frantically paddle in the other direction because they are big).  I saw a group of dolphins, and I even witnessed one completely jump out of the water, something that I only thought was possible at Sea World.  I've enjoyed many sunsets and orange and pink painted water.  My maiden voyage on my SUP, I even jumped in with two girls doing paddle board intervals.  This beautiful crafted piece of fiberglass and wood makes me feel athletically empowered again and completely capable.  That is, once I get it in the water.  I'm still mastering the art of transferring it from the garage to the car, from the car to the ocean and back.  Jojo is taking care of that part for now.  

Thank you L.L Bean for taking me out of the gym and outside in the sun.  Thank you for plucking me off land and into the water for new adventures.  I'm blazing new trails.   

 Using my In The Arena L.L Bean tote to ferry around the many pieces of workout equipment I travel with
 This is my favorite L.L Bean hoodie that I refuse to take off. Enjoyed a birthday breakfast of croissant bread pudding.  Literally one of the best meals ever.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Little Bellas Salinas Sessions

Photo: Dave McElwaine

It's been a really exciting past month for the Little Bellas with the launch of our first official Little Bellas national chapter in Salinas, California.  We designed our new chapters to carry the momentum created by our national camps in these areas and give the girls more opportunity for consistency outside of just one fun packed weekend.  In order to drum up some attention and participation numbers for our Salinas sessions, I went into a middle school in Salinas to present about life as a professional athlete, my London Olympic experience, and the new local Little Bellas chapter.  I showed a slide show along with my presentation so the students could experience more of what I was talking about.  One of the most popular slides and stories that I told was about my 'wizard' in the photo below.  This was taken on the main jump at the Catamount Classic, my Vermont hometown race and the finals of the national series last year (no pressure, right?).  My mom made triangle hats out of newspaper to hand out to the crowd to cheer me on.  The kid in the right of the frame is holding up one of those hats and claims to be my wizard.  He gave me twelve percent more power for the race, and it worked.  I won the race.  Thank goodness my wizard was there, and I really hope he shows up for my comeback races this season. Out of all of the questions I got after this presentation, the multiple questions about my wizard topped them all.  'What kind of wizard is your wizard?' 'Have you met your wizard before' 'Will your wizard come back?'  All very good questions that I didn't really have answers to.  I realized that I need to find out more about my wizard.

Thank you wizard for working your powers.  Please come back soon (photo: Dave McElwaine)
 Salinas School Visit

 School visit selflies
One more of the many school visit selfless
All in all, it was a really fun school visit and I presented throughout the entire school day to ten separate classes. I gave out a lot of flyers, took a lot of selfless (I now know more than I ever thought I would about selfless), and signed some autographs.  I even got asked to sign a kid's forehead which is definitely a first and possibly a highlight.  Another first was signing the bottom of a girl's shoe.

Following the school visit was one of our biggest Little Bellas camps of the season, the Sea Otter Classic.  Unfortunately, I couldn't race Sea Otter or ride much with the Little Bellas this year because of my hip injury.  But, it was an amazing event nonetheless. Always, one of the highlights of the season is the lemonade social with the pros at this event.  As usual, the pro women came out in full force to support our program and inspire the girls.  The Little Bellas met a star-studded cast of pros, including four Olympic cyclists and ten professional cyclists. Four time Olympian, Katerina Nash, Chloe Woodruff, Joanna Petterson, Erin Huck, Katie Holden, Maghalie Rochette, Mary McConnelog, Kate Courtney, and Rebecca Rusch stopped by just to name a few.  The pros were peppered with questions like when did you start riding, how many bikes do you have, and what is your favorite food. Katie Holden talked about how she jumps over trucks in South America, seriously.  Katerina told us that her new favorite pre-race meal is mango with sticky rice.  Chloe started riding by competing with her twin sister on the commute to school.   Mary McConnelog revealed her former identity of an opera singer and even treated the girls to a couple of beautiful notes. Maghalie totally put me on the spot and challenged me to rap which, of course, I had to do, but only after Mary dropped a beat.  The things these girls get to learn at the Lemonade Social.  Thank you to all of the pro women who dragged themselves, dusty and tired, to inspire the Little Bellas.  It never ceases to amaze me how generous the pro women’s field is especially when it comes down the the Little Bellas.

 Sea Otter Lemonade Social

 Sea Otter Fist Pump? (photo: Nic Coury)
I found another Lea in our Salinas Sessions.  I am excited. 
Then, today, we officially launched our Salinas sessions.  We trained the mentors during the afternoon in the midst of one of the most festive Easter parties in Toro Park I've ever experienced.  Literally, five thousand people were grilling and enjoying this park while we were riding and practicing skills.  The Salinas Little Bellas, some new faces and some Sea Otter campers, donned their new primal jerseys and tackled the on bike easter egg hunt with vigor.  The new crew of mentors are fantastic and this program is off to a great start.  I can't wait for Little Bellas color day next weekend. 

Hoppy Easter!