Sunday, December 9, 2018

A word for today: Surrender the outcome

Every morning I sit with God. If you're thinking, "Oh great, one of those religious weirdos..." and have already scrolled down to the next post, no worries. I already know I'm a weirdo, but I'm not religious. I'm just solid on the fact that God is God, He loves me, and I can chill out and talk to Him about whatever.

Sometimes He gives me a word. I usually keep these to myself or share them with a few, but today it is impressed upon me to share with you. So here it is, and I hope it means something to you today:

Surrender the outcome.

You want to know how hard this is to do in my current profession as a high school special education teacher and the coach of 12 teenage girls trying to play the team sport of basketball? Lord, have mercy. Now you know why I sit with God every morning.

Every Tuesday and Friday night, I am on a sideline in a gym somewhere. Last Friday, it was at Thomas Coliseum in Haltom City, coaching the final pre-season game before we begin our two month district run. 

Our junior varsity team led the whole game, but I couldn't shake the feeling that we were behind because we were not playing up to our potential. We ended up losing the game by 1 point, and I was ridiculously frustrated. Not because we lost, but because we didn't play together. If you asked what my goal is for any team I coach, it's that they play together. The motto this year with this group is "play hard, play together." Those that know sports understand when you do those two things, the whole winning part usually takes care of itself. And we have had some great team victories this season.

At the end of the game, I looked around the small, square locker room at the twelve pairs of eyes staring at me, some of them briefly dropping to the cold, concrete floor in shared frustration. Sometimes I wish I could know what these inconsistent and precious and crazy and hormonal and hard-working and stumbling and cranky and funny and lovable and exasperating (ok, you get the picture) girls are thinking. Other times, I embrace the ignorance with a certain patience that comes from knowing I'm no different. Coaching is one of the greatest callings on the planet, and if you do it right, it comes at a great emotional cost.

It's worth it though. The journey is worth every bit of sacrifice, and ultimately the victories I am after are not the ones that show up on the scoreboard, but in the lives of these girls.

I cannot count how many times I wake up in the night sorting through what I should say or do, what I shouldn't have said or done. I have lost track of how many times I have pleaded with these girls to do this or that, or don't do this or that. For a competitive control freak like me, I want results, and I want them yesterday. I want to have my hands fully locked around the future and be able to speak the outcome into existence with enough cajoling and prodding and even manipulating when I get desperate. But that is an exercise in futility, so for the sake of my sanity, I'm trying to learn how to surrender.

Please tell me I'm not the only human who struggles with this around here. Odds are you are not a basketball coach, but I'm guessing you have goals and plans and things you are tempted to control. I'm assuming you are currently pouring your heart and energy into someones for something. Maybe it's into your own flesh and blood kids. Perhaps it's your job. Maybe your health is running wild and you are trying like mad to control what will happen tomorrow. Perhaps it's the unknown that is keeping you up at night.

We have all heard the saying "control the controllables," or the famous saying that goes something like, "help me change what I can, accept what I can't, and have the wisdom to know the difference."

My prayer every morning is for wisdom, but it's also for deeper trust to simply let go of my desire to control my surroundings. Heck, I can't even control my own self half the time.

So God being good as He is, often settles my soul with gentle reminders. He reminded me this week of a truth I will lean on for the next two months: surrender the outcome. Keep showing up, keep loving and leading, keep working hard toward goals, but in the end, let it be whatever it will be.

And odds are, whatever that is, will be good. Whether it is victories on the scoreboard or victories  that are being sown in the future lives of some very special young ladies, I am simply thankful I get to be a part of it.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Is there ever a time to quit?

And if so, how do we know?

Life is full of tough decisions. I recently wrestled my way through one and decided to share my story with the hopes it might help someone else facing a similar decision.

In the spring of 2017, right before I was shaking a fist at mortality you might recall, I was also posting videos and boastful comments about potentially racing around the nation and raising money for the non-profit organization World Bicycle Relief.
Posing with my Julianna Roubion, the perfect enduro rig.

I'll admit, I was mentally struggling after my fourth knee surgery knocked me on my butt. My health is a resource I value highly and I kind of freak out when this resource is threatened.

I was desperate for something to snap me out of my funk. Goals have done this for me before, so I decided to try it again.

I had dabbled in an up-and-coming race discipline called enduro. It requires more technical ability, mental focus, and nerve than steady speed, so I figured I might be good at it. Comments about the dangers of it, however, made me wonder how much of a gamble it would be. I figured I would have to see for myself.

By April of 2017, my husband and I had donated a few bikes to World Bicyle Relief and were learning more about the organization. When I learned anyone could join Team WBR as an ambassador, I found the greater cause I was looking for and resolutely set my goal:

To race the Kodiak Tough enduro series the following spring (2018), then race the National Enduro Series over the summer, all as an ambassador for World Bicycle Relief. I understood the goal would be expensive in time, energy, money, and maybe health. Nevertheless, I did my best to think through the cost before I made my commitment.

Looking through a turn during one of the Stages of the Lovit enduro race.
I contacted Julianna bicycles about their ambassadorship program, got my bike and gear in order with the help of Bicycles Inc., joined Team WBR, checked the regional and national enduro series calendars, set my training schedule, and locked in. As we do with all goals, I began to work hard to make it happen. By the time spring 2018 rolled around, the plan was unfolding.

Far left: 4th place finish in the pro women's field with $100 prize money.
In my first race of the series, I traveled to the Arkansas back country and experienced my first true enduro weekend. In the pro women's field, I landed on the podium, less than 10 seconds away from 2nd place.

At this point, from the outside looking in, it would seem all the pieces were falling into place. Over 30 bikes had been donated to World Bicycle Relief and I felt I had the racing potential to achieve my goal. I was feeling so good about it all I decided to increase the stakes.

My redefined goal was to finish in the top 3 overall for the region and get 100 bikes donated through the #WBRenduro campaign. The new hashtag became #100in2018.

Re-Assessing my resources

On the long drive home from Arkansas, a certain heaviness came over me out of nowhere. Part of it was the fatigue that had built up from my job as a teacher and coach (we finished basketball season the Monday before the race), training, promoting WBR, and not sleeping for two days because the air mattress I brought had a leak. But part of it was the reality of what enduro racing was actually going to cost me. Up until this trip, I could only guess. Now I knew. And it was time to revisit my balance sheet.


I had departed Texas on a Thursday morning and arrived back home on a Sunday night. The trip cost me four days away from home and two days of personal vacation at work. And there were four races left of the series. One of the weekends was Easter, and family would be in town visiting. I was missing my husband, missing my students and athletes at school, and missing family. The tipping point was getting close, but I could still justify it all in my head by thinking of all the lives and families that were being changed in Africa and South America because they were receiving their new bikes.


My expenses included the race entry fee, gas, hotel, cabin, bike gear, and food. I was okay with these expenditures because I consider a race weekend a mini-vacation and budget for it accordingly. But when I began thinking about racing for months around the nation, I realized it would cost a small fortune. Nonetheless, I didn't worry with this. I had learned from my Leadville 100 race experience that if it is supposed to happen, God will provide. (The only thing I had to pay for on my week long trip to Colorado for that race was the entry fee. A friend was going whose company paid for her gas, hotel, and most of her food. She had told me if I qualified for the race, I was welcome to tag along for the ride.)

Navigating a rock garden at Camp Eagle.
The next race of the series was in the hill country of Texas at Camp Eagle. I have always wanted to visit this remote gem, so again, I looked at the trip as a vacation.

Little did I know I was about to pay for the gamble on my health.

On the final stage of day 1, aptly named "Screaming Eagle," I misjudged my downhill speed going over a rock drop. I actually slowed down too much, anticipating the small ledge I had easily soared over the day before during my intense three hour pre-ride of all 10 stages.

My right shoulder struck the ground and then my head. My full-face helmet saved my skull, but the impact to my shoulder did some damage. I was able to scramble down the rest of the stage, but I knew immediately my race was over. During the return ride back to camp, with my shoulder in shock, I took a harder look at the potential cost of this dream I was chasing.

In all my years of mountain bike racing, I had never had a serious wreck during a race, in fact, I can only remember coming off my bike a few times. Now, I was two for two. I also crashed in Arkansas, but it did not result in injury even though I similarly went over my bars and broke the visor on my helmet. Enduro races are decided by a matter of seconds, so the line between competing and staying safe is incredibly blurry. It was for me, anyway.

Mike Cartier captured this shot minutes after my wreck. I am favoring my right shoulder and am upset because I had to quit a race for the first time ever. But the real angst on my face is from my inner wrestling with my decision to quit for good.
After being assessed by the Camp Eagle staff, I drove an hour to the emergency room in Junction ($412), scheduled a follow-up visit to my orthopedic surgeon ($80), and was lucky the diagnosis was only a bad sprain that would heal up in a month or two.

That was it for me.

The sacrifices of money and energy were hard, the sacrifice away from home even harder. But once I realized I could be one wreck away from not walking away, I decided the cost was more than I was willing to pay.

Even though I knew deep inside that my mind was made up, I still struggled to quit. My biggest question was, "What about racing for World Bicycle Relief?"

For reasons I cannot explain, except that I love the enduro community and was fighting against stepping away from them, I posted some lingering dreamy thoughts like "hopefully I will be healed up for the next race" and "can't wait to get back to #WBRenduro." But these statements were false. I knew the time had come to let go.

What happens after we quit?

It is normal to have feelings of loss after we let go of a goal. There are friendships we might miss and certain feelings of accomplishment we might lose (I was regularly being called a bad*ss during the months I was training and racing. Who doesn't want to be called that?) But when we make the right decision to step away, a certain peace settles on us.

We are always free in life to re-define current goals and chase new ones. Maybe I'm going through a mid-life crisis of sorts, but it seems my focus is turning more and more to my role as an educator and less of a bike racer, but don't worry! You can still find me on my bike...

...enjoying the camaraderie of the cycling community (even though I can't take a selfie to save my life...)

  ...riding my Julianna Roubion over rocks and drops...

                          ...exploring new trails in life...

...and promoting the work of World Bicycle Relief. By the way, the goal of reaching 100 bikes donated and 100 lives changed is still alive and well!

If you want to learn more about #TeamWBR or how you can bless someone with a bike, click on the icon below.
What about you? 
 How do you know when to press on and when to pull the plug on a dream or goal?

Even though you just read a story about quitting, more often than not the right answer is to keep going. Maybe you are thinking about quitting on a commitment you made or are second guessing a goal you have set, but are paralyzed by uncertainty or fear of regret. Obviously, no one can make the decision for you, but I hope by reading the 7 ideas below, you will find clarity for your next step.

By the way, everything you are about to read, you have probably already heard. In fact, there is a good chance if we are friends, I learned some of it directly from you. Even so, we can keep reminding each other as we journey through this adventurous life together. To credit the proper sources for where I found the following information: maybe you, definitely life, of course the bike, and a bunch of the Bible (the best guideline for living I've found!).

1.  Failure is rarely a sign you should quit.

On the path to your dreams, you will fail. Believe me, I failed numerous times on my enduro journey, but that had nothing to do with why I quit. When failure does happen, you might as well accept the fact, drop your pride, get over it, and get moving again. Easier said than done, I realize, especially with repeated failures. But if we use failures as lessons and make it a point to learn from our mistakes, then we can actually use failure as fuel to propel us even further than we could go before.

2. Do not misinterpret hardship as a sign to quit.

Nothing can sap your energy and make you want to quit like extreme difficulties, but this is not a reason to stop pushing. In fact, it is probably a sign you are on the right track.

But be careful here. In a second you are going to read that a lack of resources is a strong sign you should quit. What's the difference? The impact the goal has on your (or others) life. We can agree there are some goals we will never quit on, no matter what the cost. But some goals, ones of lesser priority in the grand scheme, may only be taking energy away from the more important ones.

So if you are chasing a goal that you know is worth the cost and the path suddenly fills with obstacles, don't quit! Many times hardships give us the strength we need to do what we need to do when we get to where we want to get. (You might have to read that one again.) Life will not be over once you accomplish your goal. Maybe the hardship you are enduring now is preparing you for the mission that lies ahead.

3. Every goal comes with a price tag, and the payments we make to advance toward our goals are made with limited  personal resources. 

If you were wondering when I was going to get to the quitting part, here it is. We are all given currency to spend in life. Four forms of this currency are time, energy, money, and health. Our goals and priorities determine how much of each we are willing to spend.

One of the best ways to know when it is time to quit on your dream or goal is to take a detailed look at your "personal finances." Before you can make a wise decision, you have to know the answer to these two questions:  How much am I willing to spend? and, What am I willing to sacrifice?

When the cost exceeds what you are willing to pay, it is time to quit. If your other top priorities are suffering because you are regularly running out of resources to afford them, then it is time to quit.

 4. Everyone's currency has a different exchange rate.

So don't bother comparing yourself. What is a waste of time, energy, and money for one individual might be another's greatest investment. Don't judge others. And don't worry if others don't understand how you spend your resources.

5. There are always hidden fees. 

When you are considering the cost before making a commitment, understand you will never know the full price up front. The balance sheet is rarely presented in full and the payments continue the whole time you are working toward your goals. Sometimes, price tags change without notice. Along the path to our goals, we must continually re-evaluate the cost.

6. It's okay to redefine your goals along the way.

There are numerous ways to make adjustments to our goals and refinance our dreams so that our resources match our budget. Keeping our priorities straight takes constant work. If our goals pull these out of balance, then we must examine them closely. See if you can separate the goal to keep the important part and let the rest go before you totally quit on your dream.

And finally,

   7. Make sure you are chasing the right dream.
How do we know if we are chasing the right dream?

This answer may be too simple, but here is what I have found: If your goal involves satisfying only you, then you will ultimately be disappointed.

But if your goal involves loving and helping others, you will end up being satisfied.

Does this mean personal goals are bad? I don't think so. If they help you be a better version of you so you can love and serve others, then go get it. Just keep a close eye on your resources. If the cost begins to exceed what you are willing to pay, then don't be afraid to quit.

There will always be a new goal waiting ahead.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Shaking a Fist at Mortality

I broke the law once. I picked a wildflower. It was too tempting not to, plus I was a child and didn't know any better until my grandmother, with her wildflower book clutched in hand, scolded me.

It was purple and magnificent. Why it was illegal to pluck such beauty, to smell and touch and inspect and give it away to maternal figures for a flicker of enjoyment...I didn't understand.

I swirled the flower in my hand, the green straw bending beneath the weight of my gentle and dirty fingers. With the violet pedals tickling my nose, I looked at the patch of ground from whence the flower came, and marveled at the army of flowers remaining unscathed in the earth. As the grime from my hands wilted the flower, my grandmother's wisdom became clear. I knew then and there why you don't pick wildflowers. Once they are born from the ground and clutched by life's hands, their vibrance and sweetness begin to perish.

Today I feel like a freshly plucked flower.

My attempts at sounding poetic and analogous are over.
Here is the real story.

I went to a doctor yesterday to get one final check-up on my left knee. About four months ago, a different doctor operated on it and took out a chunk of the precious cushion that helps me get along well in my livelihood as a teacher and coach and as a die-hard mountain biker. In some regards, the surgery was a "success." I have recovered well enough to hammer up and down and over the mountains of Colorado. But my knee aches. Standing all day or walking for long periods of time wears me down mentally as I feel unstable on my inflamed joint and wonder if I should seek sponsorship with Aleve.

I was hoping yesterday, as the physician performed the final test for worker's comp, that he would give me good news and say, "your knee is going to ache some, but it should still get better, just give it time" and "keep doing whatever it is you are doing" (meaning hammering it out on the mountain bike). I was hoping to get some fresh news that would perk me back up like rain on a dusty and parched wildflower. I was hoping for the news that the best days of riding hard and living crazy adventures on two wheels are ahead of me, so I could once again throw my shoulders back with pride and stand tall in the sun.

But that didn't happen. Instead I was told "rules change with every decade of life" and "if you keep riding the way you are riding, you are headed for a knee replacement." Apparently, even though cycling is one of the best things you can do for bad knees, cycling still wears out the knees. Especially my kind of "cycling." When I decide I am training for something, in my present case enduro racing, I place a high demand on my body.

I have always been wired this way. Would I eliminate basketball from the annals of my life if it meant my present-day knees were surgery free and strong? Nope. The part of me that aims to live my life to the fullest and live each day like it could be my last says it was worth it.

Will I jump in a scrimmage again if the opportunity presents itself? Nope. The part of me that desires to live a good life for as long as possible now says it isn't worth it anymore. It only took four knee surgeries to get me to that point. It is with this level of stubbornness that I tried to digest the evil epiphany that cycling might be damaging my knees, not preserving them.

The 56-year-old in scrubs attempted to lead my thoughts by personal stories of graceful change. He used to run marathons, but in his twenties he quit running. After his thirties, he gave up cycling. Not tracking with him in the least, I finally asked him, "So what do you do for exercise?" His reply: "Walk."

That's when my emotions began to short-circuit. I looked him square in the eye and said, "I would rather have a double knee replacement than not be able to ride my bike." His response included something about hobbling around for the rest of my life.

Before you hate on him like I did, I genuinely believe he was trying to guide me to a path of growing old gracefully. I did not respond with "well, I have friends who have had knee replacements and still ride" or an alternative rude and defensive response like my emotions were dictating. Rather, I awkwardly stared at him and mentally shut him off from speaking any further advice into my life.

That was that. He was done testing everything on my knee (which is 100% according to the strength, motion, and bending it all around tests) and let me know he had another patient to see. The tears that had welled up began to leak as he exited the room and I fumbled my way out the front door.

By the time I turned out of the parking lot onto the access road, I was wailing loudly. The words "stop riding your bike" echoed in my soul. I'm 38 freaking years old and I was just advised to take up walking. I haven't bawled that much since my dog died two years ago.

When the dry heaves stopped and my puffy eyes dried, I tried to process everything. I fought to mitigate the statement "you are wearing out your joints" with reason and common sense and perhaps some rationalizing. My other doctor told me riding was good, but I'm sure he was imaging a stationary bike or a mild cruise down a smooth path. This doctor seemed familiar with my very different definition of "riding" with the addition of the words "competing" and "mountain."

I tried to lay emotion aside and hear the message. "Slow down. Make some changes. Accept the fact that your body is aging." Getting angry at the truth is not productive. But I am a creature full of strong emotion, which is why I ride in the first place. The root of my anger is ultimately fear. What is my greatest fear in life? It is to lose my physical ability. Why? Because I have believed for so long my mental well-being is directly tied to my ability to push myself physically. (That's a whole other story. If you're a glutton for punishment, you can read about that too in "my own story of life and bike" at the top of this blog.)

It took me the entire day to process the simple doctor's visit. After falling on my face before the Lord, crying more tears, and holding conversations with those I trust, this morning when I awoke, an overwhelming peace about my mortality began to rise up within me. Yet again in life, God's gentle grace is carrying me. In the times of greatest anguish, my savior and friend stands by my side and holds me. As I have said many times, I cannot explain faith as clear as I wish I could, but I will say with all of me that God's love for us is real. His wisdom trumps all others. Because he knows suffering better than any, He draws near every time my heart is broken and offers healing.

He reminds me, most importantly, as I age incredibly ungracefully, that this world is not my home. This body is indeed perishing. This flower has been plucked and, even if I stick my aching legs in a cold vase and preserve myself a little longer, I will still fade away.

But don't worry, my hope is eternal and my joy is getting stronger even as my body is getting weaker. To my friends who say Christian ideals are merely tranquilizers meant to make us feel better, let me say a word. You're exactly right. The truth of God does make me feel better. What is truly depressing is to think the best days are forever behind me. With God, my best days, even if it means hobbling around on some fake knees because I didn't listen to the doctor's advice and rode my bike anyway, are still ahead. Not to mention that as I have moved through the different seasons of life, God has always provided some wildly fun adventures. God wants to give us life to the fullest even in this temporary one that is decaying, and I will trust He still has good things in store for as many days as I'm here.

This whole thing really isn't even about bikes, it's about the reality of mortality. I'm going to assume you, at some point, have stared a doctor in the face (or stared at an aging face in the mirror) and felt the same punch in the gut I did yesterday. I'm also going to assume you fought back, or are fighting back like I am, with whatever resources remain and are shaking a fist at mortality.

We are all clutching onto life and remaining brave survivors for as long as we can. We are all trying to bloom bright and beautiful for as long as possible. But avoiding the truth is not productive. So before we wither for good, as we undeniably will, my prayer is we find the eternal hope that is found in Christ alone.

Wanna know what my soul ate for breakfast this morning? I happened to turn to I Corinthians 15.

"So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown in a natural body, it is raised in a spiritual body." 

"Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: Death has been swallowed up in victory. 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?'"

I think I'll go ride my bike now.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Welcome to Enduro!

Looking around at all the beefy bikes with plush travel, I felt like I had brought a knife to a gun fight. I adjusted my cloth knee sleeves, nervously tugged at the bottom of my tight-fitting pocketed cycling jersey so it would reach the top of my baggies, and tried to ignore the butterflies as I glanced again at the rocky drop leading into Stage #3... Lord, let me make it through this alive...

So THIS is enduro.

If you are a fat-tire enthusiast, a part-time racing weekend warrior like me who is forever addicted to hanging with the cycling community, let me invite you in to explore this exploding sector of mountain biking with me. I've done some cool stuff on the bike, but never before have I experienced the thrills of enduro. Until now.

And if you're thinking, "That looks like fun" followed by some hesitation that starts with "but" (I don't have the right bike, I don't have technical skills, I'm not fast, I don't even know what this is!) then keep reading. I hope by the end of this to convince you to grab your bike and sign up with me!

So what exactly is enduro? Check it out:
Enduro 101
Training Tips

And if you're on Facebook, try stalking these groups:
Texas Gravity Enduro
Enduro Life

Since experience is the best teacher, and the rad dudes of Kodiak Tough were hosting the Sansom Shred in my own backyard of Fort Worth, Texas, I decided to take the plunge. This article is a compilation of the basics of enduro, as well as some beginner racer notes. If you're already convinced (and get annoyed by long-winded race reports) then skip to the end and get signed up already!

1) The bike: The ideal amount of travel seems to be 150mm-160mm. You may find some bikes with more, some with less, depending on the rider and the terrain. If you are in the market like I am, my suggestion would be to start with the brands your local bike shops carry or can get, and do a few test rides. (If you need a good shop, check out Bicycles Inc.) Read reviews, talk to folks, and remember "the best bike for enduro racing is the one you already own" (Enduro 101). 

2) Gear: Apparently protection is paramount when you are flying through the forest. Full-face helmets (which I hear are required at some venues), knee and elbow pads, and baggy shorts made of thick material are the norm. Is all this really necessary? I figure if the guys and gals who do this stuff regularly have it on, a bumbling beginner should, too. For the Sansom race, I had to piecemeal my outfit together; top half XC (regular helmet and cycling jersey, no elbow pads), bottom half enduro-fakie (legit baggies with some soft-shell knee pads). Will I have all the correct gear next time I line up? Yes.

3) What is the race format? Again, I reference the "Enduro 101" article for explanation of the timed stages. Or check out Wikipedia. The timing aspect, by far, is where I needed first-hand experience to understand how to train and prepare in order to compete. Keep in mind the stage recap coming up is only one day and one race worth of information. Some races are multi-day races with 3-5 stages per day. It all depends on the race venue.

Resting up between rounds
Sansom had 5 different stages. I didn't read the online race details carefully or I would have known we were racing each of them TWICE, completing 10 stages for the day.

Although I rode from stage to stage solo in order to gather my thoughts and make mental notes, I know the camaraderie among riders transferring together from one stage to the next is a big part of the attractive vibe surrounding enduro.

4) Pre-Ride: I had every intention of pre-riding the course the day before the race like you do in cross-country, but didn't. I pre-rode the morning of, giving myself about an hour to rest before the pre-race meeting. By the time I had finished pre-riding, my bike computer registered over an hour of ride time. This didn't even count the steep hike-a-bike section I ascended three times just in the pre-ride! (By the end of the day, I had hiked the pitch 9 times.) At the end of the whole race, I had over 3 hours and 25 miles of ride time. Mental note: pre-ride as much as possible the day before, and hit one or two of the trickiest sections the morning of in order to keep the legs as fresh as possible.

5) Sansom Shred Stage Recap:

*For a sweet visual tour, complete with useful commentary of the stages, check out pro rider and podium winner Richard Drew's YouTube video.

Stage #1 had a steep and loose entry into the trees, followed by a tricky switch-back section of the Sansom trail. The addition of a wooden ramp at the start sort of threw me for a loop. I opted to go around, not wanting to christen the day with a wreck. It was interesting to note the differences between an enduro start and a cross-country start. At these races, riders begin each stage one at at time, in approximately 30 second waves. There is no race official to say “3-2-1, go!” You simply line up your wheel at the starting tape, and pedal when your mind is right.
Racers line up at Stage #1 during the first round. This was the only time I had to wait in line for any length of time.
Not all sections are rocks and jumps.
Stage #2 was the longest and included some uphill. On the second go-round of the same stage, my legs were sluggish and my lack of training was woefully exposed. (I was +:12 on the second split. Compare this to the other splits of  -:03, +:01, +:02:, +:01.) Mental note: Do NOT underestimate the fitness aspect of enduro.

Do you have to be a decent technical rider to score well? Sure. But you can't be lacking in speed or endurance if you want to compete at the highest level. In cross country and endurance, time gaps are oftentimes born on the climbs. For enduro, being able to handle the short inclines and hammer the flats is critical.

Stage #3... The one that made race director Bryan Fawley remind everyone to "gear up." It started with the parking lot drop-off that was creating mixed emotions inside of me. Thank goodness for the B-line. For those of you contemplating signing up for a race, pay close attention to this: You don't have to ride every crazy feature. For the gnarliest of gnars, there is usually an alternate line. (And if there is not, it's perfectly okay to jump off your bike). The A-line was the drop, the B-line an easy go around. I took the B-line. It cost me seconds for sure, but it was worth it to keep the bike and body together.

The A drop was off the back of this bricked pavilion.
After the A/B entry, the stage didn't get much easier. In my pre-ride, I came to a fast halt at the brink of a steep and wide section of cascading rocks covered by loose sketch. Two guys were off their bikes scouting the line. I didn't feel comfortable clipping back in from a dead stop at the top, only to avalanche thirty feet down the trail, cursing my fake knee pads in between bounces off the caliche rubble. So I walked two tiered sections down, remounted, and slowly dipped my 29-inch wheel off the last short ledge. I squinted back up at the lines. Left side, left side, right side, middle (drop!). I wasn't sure if I could ride the whole descent come game time or not.

The sage advice I heard from the legendary endurance phenom, Rebecca Rusch, came flooding back to me as I contemplated my decision. "You won't win the race on the downhills, but you sure can lose it." She was referring to the power-line descent of the Leadville 100. There was more truth to her statement on this day than I anticipated. If I got out of control at any point and crashed, then, well, I would be slower.

It was a conversation with another racer, Skye Wedgeworth (who won the amateur division on a hardtail I should add), that gave me the confidence to go for it. Mental note: Confer with other riders in between stages if they are willing. And I think they usually are. 

The last drop on Stage #3. A dropper seat post sure would come in handy here. Photo credit: Kazey Bunch Photography
 A smattering of rowdy on-lookers were perched along the edges of stage 3.

"Slopes are steeper than they appear." Photo credit: Duane Ronan
Mental note: Don't listen to every heckler's advice.

Bolstered by Skye's words of "You can ride this," I rolled down the incline with confidence, going through my mental conversation with intense focus. In the seconds it took to get down, I kept hearing an emphatically loud voice interrupting my zen.

I was trying to decipher if it was good or bad, friendly or foe. Weight back, heels down, far left. Can I make this? Yes, I think I caAAN....Whew! Ok, go right... GET OFF YOUR FRONT BRAKES! Easy on the brakes! What? No, I'm fine. Ok, made - GET OFF YOUR FRONT BRAKE!! - it down that. Ignore him. Almost down. One last drop, you've already done this once. Weight baaAAKK, Nice! Aahhh, thank God, I'm down. Who was that guy?

I generally tune people out when I'm in the zone and thus decided not to GET OFF MY FRONT BRAKE just because someone who may or may not be a decent rider said so. But the crowds at races are generally amicable (even if the spirited encouragement is fueled by free beer). So during the transfer to Stage #4, I contemplated the advice namely because I had heard it before: if you grab the front brake too hard at the wrong time, you'll be kissing the dirt. Or rock.

Since the day was all about learning, I decided I would test it out the second go around. Right in the middle of the steepness, I slightly released the tension on my right brake lever. Immediately, my back wheel started to fishtail. Mental note: Ask someone about this.

FWMBA trail builders packing the jump on Stage #5 weeks prior to the race.
Stage #4 and #5 were just plain fun. They were flowy and fast with jumps and included one of my favorite sections of trail in the metroplex, the dam drop. Stage #5 began with a wooden ramp jump (which I tested out in pre-ride), then a little picnic table area drop. My 100mm cross country rig handled both fine, but each of the trail features left me wanting for more.

6) Timing: If everyone is racing single file, beginning stages at their own discretion, then how the heck do you know who is ahead? In XC and endurance, it’s fairly simple. You all start together. If someone is ahead of you, they are ahead of you. If someone is behind you, they are behind you. Not so in enduro. You are all racing the clock, so you have no idea where you stand until the halfway point when you “dip your chip” and let the clock keeper download your first round times. Or until the end when everyone is done. If you are a Strava junkie (I know, some of you just rolled your eyes), then think of the race as a bunch of Strava segments spread out, and you're after the crown!
Kate Castro, Nic Cronkhite, Brenda Andress
Nic Cronkhite had a great day on the bike and took the top podium spot. She, as well as Kate Castro, were incredibly helpful all day answering my constant questions. ("Is it okay to stop at my car during the race? How long should I rest between rounds?" etc.)

Every single time I do a race report (or have a conversation in general), I get wrapped up in the details. I could go on and on about the day: what the transitions were like, how the weather was hot and I drank a ton and still peed yellow. Mental note: Wrap this thing up...

Hopefully, you are as stoked as I am to jump into the enduro scene. Get online and read about it, join a discussion group, talk to the folks at your bike shop. Best yet, get to a race and start making your own mental notes. I promise there will be friendly racers to help you. If you are still a little nervous, then I encourage you to attend a race as a spectator and feel the enduro vibes in person.

Ready to race next weekend?
(April 29-30)
Dino Enduro in Glen Rose, Texas

Want to race next month?
 Southern Enduro Series.

Check this sight for updates next fall.
Texas Enduro Cup

Want to travel around the nation and race?
IMBA National Enduro Series

Want to (get sponsored, go pro, then) race around the world?
Enduro World Series

Thanks for reading! See ya on the trail.

Pre-ride selfie at the top of Sansom trail, near the Stage #1 entry point. I definitely need a full-face helmet to cover this mug.
Thanks for the photo Ritu Dube!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Dirt Side Sisters #getmorewomenriding!

Who are the Dirt Side Sisters? I'm glad you asked!  
"Teaching the essential and fundamental skills of mountain biking in a fun and safe, learning environment" to 
is what we are all about!

Every Wednesday evening, from April through October, you can find a group of female mountain bikers at different locations around the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex riding their bikes together.

Lining up the bikes at Grapevine Craft Brewery

Cruising around Grapevine lake.
The vision cast over three years ago to "get more women riding," specifically riding mountain bikes, has become a reality. To learn more about the roots of the organization and what we are all about, check us out on our website and facebook.

The first ride of 2016 took place in Grapevine. After greetings and bike checks, we cruised down Main Street, then hit the paved trail around the Grapevine Lake. Even though the dirt trails were closed, we still rolled on.

Micah mastering clipless pedals.