23 January 2013

Meet the SegSlayer

It's not very often that I buy anything brand new, let alone a bike. Of the seven bike purchases I've made in my post-college lifetime, exactly one of them has been a brand new model (my first one, the LeMond road bike). The rest have been used to varying degrees before I had the pleasure of owning them.
Stable at my previous apartment. (L to R: SS road, CX, geared road, geared MTB.
During the 2012 season, when I actually started training on my mountain bike, I realized that I wanted a nicer one. The Cobia I was riding was a great bike for a beginner, and I was starting to feel like I was no longer a beginner. I wanted MOAR SPEED. So I mulled over the several choices out there, both in complete bikes and custom builds. I bent the ear of every single mountain biker I rode with. For a while you couldn't even have a conversation with me without getting asked "SRAM or Shimano? Reba or Sid? Carbon or aluminum? X9? XT? PF or BB? Trigger or twist? 2x10 or 3x9? WTAH or PBR?"

It helped that Pfoodman Racing got accepted into both Niner's and SRAM's Grassroots Programs through our sponsor shop Ballwin Cycles, allowing us discounted pricing on frames and components from these two top-notch companies. I have been obsessed with Niners ever since my first outing at Burnin in 2010. It seemed like these gorgeous bikes were everywhere and I wanted one. BADLY. But with my skillset at the time I couldn't justify shelling out big $$ for a bike when I wasn't even able to make it around CBL without a flat. So I waited, and rode, and rode, and rode some more, and when I got the Grassroots news I knew it was time.

Mark, Cody, and all the guys at Ballwin helped me pick out components that fit my racing goals and budget. We settled on the following build:
Niner EMD aluminum frame with Sid XX fork
Niner RDO carbon bars, carbon seatpost, aluminum stem
SRAM X9 2x10 trigger shifters with X9 front and rear derailleurs (type 2 on the rear)
SRAM 1080 rear cassette (11-36)
SRAM XO cranks
Shimano SLX brakes
And we'd stick my current wheelset on there, a set of Stan's Crest rims and Chris King hubs that I'd been riding for about a year (also built by Ballwin). As Mark was placing the order, he somehow found an Air9 frame (maybe a demo?) that Niner was willing to part with for a price close to the EMD. I had wanted at Air9 frame in the first place but scrapped it in favor of fitting the carbon components into my budget. When he told me the news, I was SOOOO STOKED! I don't know what strings Mark pulled to make that happen, but it just shows his commitment to happy customers. I am happy. So without further yammering, here is my new bike - the SegSlayer, name inspired by an Attackpoint comment by my friend Tom.
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16 January 2013

Race Report + Gear Review: The 2013 SHITR + Salomon Speedcross 3 shoe

Pre-pre-post note: One year ago today, I on a plane to Africa. Whoa. Read all about it here.

Pre-post note: I don't really do gear reviews (because I disagree with over-commercialization of outdoor activity...there is not one piece of "magic gear" that will make you "faster"). However, shoe selection was a big part of my success in this non-race, so I'd like to point out some of the helpful features of the Salomon Speedcrosses I wore. You can use these principles when shopping for shoes of any brand.

OK, so onto the non-race report.

What's a non-race? It's something I hadn't heard of before getting involved in the STL outdoorsy scene, but I'm sure we aren't the only crowd that enjoys them. A non-race is basically an unofficial gathering of people who start at the same time and cover the same course. Time is either self-reported or entirely disregarded. Aid stations are either non-existent or full of donuts and whiskey. Finishing order is for bragging rights only. Prizes are whatever the non-organizers feel like handing out...sometimes nothing, sometimes awesome things. Sound interesting? Join me for the 29(mile)r!

The devilish minds of ROCK Racing put together this non-race, the Lost Valley SHivering Icy Trail Run...aka the SHITR...a 13.1 mile night-time trail race. I invited Megan on a last-minute whim and she excitedly decided to join me, even convincing her husband (newly relocated to STL) to come along and check out the trails. Fit friends are awesome. The day started so pleasantly, with temperatures in the 50s at my apartment. Megan and Adam picked me up and we drove out to Chuck's Boots (sort of on the way) and I chugged my coffee while inhaling the aroma of fine leather...mmmmmmm. Then it was off to The Mound where we were one of the first cars to arrive. Adam took off on his SSMTB while Megan and I non-registered, saying hi to Sasha and SuperKate in the process. More and more vehicles arrived and pretty soon we had a crowd 40+ strong! The whole time, temps were dropping significantly. What had started out as a 50F day was now a 30F evening. I changed out of my new Pfoodman running shorts and into a more appropriate pair of 3/4 tights. On top was a lightweight wool tee, a long-sleeve 1/4-zip shirt, my pack with water/calories, and a lightweight windshell. Layering is the name of the game for unpredictable conditions like these!
That's a lot of SHITRs. Photo by Robin Rongey.
Robin and Chuck give us some last-minute words of advice and we are off! The first task is to run to the top of The Mound. Megan and I start out in the first 1/3 of the pack and are content to let the speedsters go. I gain a few places bombing down the stairs (hey, I like downhills) but then quickly let those people pass again once we reach the Hamburg. It's about 2.5 miles of doubletrack that includes a fast downhill connector into Lost Valley itself. Megan and I just cruise along, chatting, adjusting layers and lights, and getting ready for a fun run once the sun completely sets. The rain starts up about this time too, a gentle drizzle that will stay with us the rest of the evening.
Me in red. Megan in black. Both of us blasted through the crowd coming down the steps.
When we hit the first section of singletrack (the lower section at LV), Megan starts scooting ahead of me. I'm expecting this since whenever we MAF together, she's a good 1 min/mile faster. So I'm content to run my pace and stay upright. Lori is taking pictures at the first creek crossing which is totally awesome! Lori you are so dedicated! It's pretty Zen out there...dark, chilly, rain softly filtering through the bare trees, my breath puffing out in clouds. Half-marathon pace is exactly right for this situation - hard but maintainable, focused but still calm. I'm loving that I've biked these trails so many times before, it feels like I'm chatting with an old friend. OK, I'm weird, but it's true.
Me running away from the creek crossing. Photo by Lori Vohsen.
I pop out of the lower singletrack (a little more than 1 mile) alone and set to the task of tracking down speedy Megan. I've got about 1.5 miles of doubletrack to accomplish this. Fortunately, she has decided to run this section easy so I catch up with her and my friends Joe and Bill after about a mile. I feel really strong at this point - my prep for the 29(mile)r has been going well and even though my biggest miles are behind me, my form is feeling confident and powerful.
We veer right onto the new singletrack built by GORC. New, as in only a few months old. The benchcut hasn't quite set up yet so the trail is off-camber and slicked with rain. This is where shoe selection is critical and the gnarly lugs on the Speedcrosses are absolutely perfect. I see lots of wipe-out tracks by the faster runners, but my shoes stick like glue to the sloppy trail. So, kids, when you're shopping for trail shoes, the first thing you look at are the soles. What do the lugs look like? For muddy, slick conditions, you want lugs that are big and widely-spaced. Not unlike mud tires for mountain or 'cross bikes. Mostly thanks to the spectacular traction provided by my shoes, I start pulling away from our little group of 4 and catching up to the chase pack runners. I think I passed 3 or 4 people here, each one having some trouble with the slippery conditions. Most notably, I pass Eric for the first and probably last time in my life. Granted, he's already put in a lap or two at nearby Lewis & Clark trails, but I'm still amazed.

I'm running with a loose group of 3 or 4 as we hit the end of the new singletrack and the beginning of the upper section. This is about mile 6, and we have about 4 miles of singletrack and 3.5 miles of doubletrack til the finish. I'm behind a couple runners without a good place to pass, but I just tell myself to chill and cruise along. We work together to find and complete the mystery challenge, which involves visiting an abandoned graveyard. Spooky! Once we get back to the singletrack I know I have to boogie. Even though it's a non-race, I can't resist the urge to run fast through the woods. That, and my headlamp starts issuing warning blinks that mean the batteries are running low. I can just hear Erl sighing in my head because I didn't put fresh batteries in before the start. I have a spare set in my pack, but I don't want to stop and mess with them at the moment. So, I just continue on and hope I don't repeat CPT Nats!
I like Paint.
The upper singletrack makes me feel like a rock star. My shoes are loving the conditions, my body is warm and well-fueled, and my familiarity with the trail just invites me to push the pace. So I do and find myself alone towards the end. Just as I'm popping out onto the final doubletrack section, I spot the very faint glow of a headlamp in front of me. I'm excited to have caught someone because the last section could be very tough otherwise. It's about 5k of non-technical running that gets more exposed (windier, rainier, and COLDER) as you get closer to the finish line (The Mound). So I start chatting and learn that my new friend's name is Colby. We work together for almost this whole section, mostly Colby pushing the pace and me trying to keep up. He gives me the ultimate compliment "So, did you run in college?" and I have to admit that no, I didn't (I played DIII soccer for 2 years but then quit the team). But I'm still flattered and try to live up to the standard of a college runner.

Pretty soon, the eerie glow of The Mound's parking lot lights come into view and I'm really thankful to be close to the finish. I'm soaking wet and starting to freeze. Colby has pulled away but I can still see him a few hundred meters ahead of me. ROCK Racing starts clanging cowbells to welcome us in and I'm amazed that anyone is around in this miserable...ahem...shitty...weather. Robin announces me first female and I get to pick a prize from the back of someone's car! I use the car's clock to declare myself a sub-2hr finisher and call that good (my Garmin is in the middle of a warranty replacement). Robin hands me a custom SHITR car decal that Lori made for all of the runners. This is better swag than most PAID races. Wow! I hustle over to the car where Adam is waiting. Megan isn't far behind me and we both shiver as we change into dry clothes. From there, it's off to get an early start on the Mexican food! Ole!
The decal handed out to finishers. I put mine on a Nalgene.
One final note about the Speedcrosses...they took a while to break in. I actually hated them for the first 10 or so hours of running and tried to give them away to Carrie during my terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad orienteering meet. But eventually they conformed to my feet a little better and are now pretty enjoyable to run in. I'm still not sure if I'll use them for longer ARs, but for shorter trail races where traction is critical, these are my go-to shoes. Pin It

03 January 2013

How-To: Love Mountain Biking

It's January. Cue the onslaught of "2012 In Review" blog posts. Phew...now that that's off my list, I've had another post turning around in my bran that I want to share: how-to love mountain biking. I have not always loved this great sport. In fact, for a good 12 months (maybe more), I was downright fearful of knobby tires. I only bought a mountain bike in the first place because a cute boy asked me to go adventure racing way back in 2009. Truthfully, I was scared out of my mind of riding on anything besides pavement, but I said yes anyway because I felt daring for 30 seconds. And then got scared again.
Blast from the past! Me riding my 26" hardtail, with V-brakes in the 2009 Castlewood 8hr AR. Oh yeah.
I found a bike on craigslist that sounded like it could complete an 8hr AR, and promptly bought it. A very kind co-worker took pity on me and the 2009 Specialized Women's Myka HT Comp. I brought it over one day and we (uh...he worked and I watched) gave it a thorough tune-up. Then we took it out for a quick spin on the very-beginner-friendly singletrack at Creve Coeur Park. And, I kid you not, I crashed in the first 10 feet of the trail, trying to ride over a 1 inch twig. Not exactly a good omen for trail confidence! We finished out the ride with no more catastrophes, but it was clear that I would have to work hard at gaining any sort of handling skills on the dirt.
Dirt Crits, "C" race, 2010.
Summarizing 2010 and 2011, I rode my mountain bike occasionally. Most of my rides involved some level of fear/apprehension/anxiety when we were on singletrack. I remember doing lots of night rides at Lost Valley with a great group of women, and being sincerely relieved anytime we popped out onto the doubletrack for a few miles. I was never scared enough to say "no" to a mountain bike ride, I was just always grateful when it ended.
Finish line at 2010 LBL 24hr AR.
In 2012, that all changed. Now I relish riding my mountain bike, I look forward to singeltrack, and I am sad (usually) when it's time to finish the ride. I can attribute my change of heart to a few reasons and I'd like to share those, in the hopes of encouraging any aspiring mountain bikers to enjoy this wonderful sport.
Mid-race at 2012 CPT Nats.
#1: Walking is okay. 
If you've found your way to my blog, chances are you are already an adventurous sort, reluctant to admit that anything is "too hard" or "too dangerous" or "too scary". I certainly felt that way about technical singletrack when I started riding mountain bikes. I forced myself to ride anything and everything with the skills I had at the time. That led to a lot of crashes, or near crashes, or putting feet down, and generally reinforced my subconscious fear of rocks and roots. This year, I adopted a completely different approach: I walked. When things looked too scary for me to ride them on-sight, I hit the brakes and got off the bike. No guilt. I would take a few minutes to look at different lines, visualizing myself riding the correct one, and then either get back on the bike for a try, or just walk through the tricky section. This strategy isn't going to win you any races, but it helped my confidence a lot to have those few extra looks at the hard stuff. It also helped that I ride a lot of the same trails, so on the next visit to that area, I would be more likely to attempt something on-sight. That built my confidence in a way that barreling through obstacles never could. Again, this strategy doesn't help to build speed, instead it builds skills/confidence, which will translate to smoother riding that is ultimately faster.
2012 Crankworx 3hr in Cape Girardeau. MO.
#2: Lean into your turns.
There is a certain person on my mountain bike team who is notorious in the St. Louis community for being.....direct. As in, if he thinks you're wrong, you'll hear about it, loudly. Which can be intimidating for an inexperienced mountain biker like me, but when I ride with this dude, I have found that he is nothing but helpful and encouraging. This piece of advice came from a session at Greensfelder where I was struggling with downhill switchbacks (and I continue to struggle with them, but with this advice in mind). It sounds counter-intuitive, but when riding downhill turns/switchbacks, you need to lean forward and over your handlebars to put weight on the front wheel, which improves traction and reduces the chance of washing out, allowing you to carry more speed (read: brake less) through the switchback.
2012 Alpine Shop Dirt Crits, "B" race. Photo by Dan Singer.
#3: When you get scared, let go of the brakes.
This one is a gem taught to me by my riding buddy and mountain bike teammate Sally. We were riding (also at Greensfelder) through a gravelly, washed-out downhill section full of shelf-y rocks, where the best line is an S-curve. It's tricky, and I had a death-grip on my brakes trying to creep the bike along. She would not have any of that. "Emily, when you get nervous, you need to let go of the brakes, just for one second, let the bike right itself underneath you and then you can slow down again". The thing about most mountain bikes is, they want to stay upright. The want to keep moving forward. So when a nervous-nellie rider snatches at the brakes, the bike's natural momentum gets disrupted and you're more likely to lose balance and crash. So force your fingers to let go of the brakes, allow the bike to track a few seconds, and then check to see if you actually need more brakes. Chances are, you won't.
2012 Burnin at the Bluff.
#4: Pedalpedalpedal.
This one is a mantra taught to me by one of my most frequent riding partners. Once you get your confidence up, speed is your friend. Really. 90% of the time I screw up riding tricky stuff, it's because I didn't have enough speed. Sometimes it's because I was intimidated, or maybe I didn't realize that an obstacle was coming up, but slowness can really hurt your chances of clearing a tricky section. Of course, it can also increase your chances of a harder crash, but that's why your confidence needs to be in place before adding momentum. But one of the biggest lessons I've learned this year is that you can clear SO MANY tricky sections just by staying balanced and pedaling. Pedalpedalpedal.
Me, The Claw, Struckman, Young Ben, Sally on a training ride. The trails were too wet that day. Photo by the Pfoodman himself.
#5: Find a great crew of riding buddies. AND RIDE.
You don't all have to be the same speed. I ride with people faster than me A LOT. And either they're content to ride behind me (saints), or they wait at various spots on the trail for a re-grouping. Both strategies are fine with me, I'm just glad to have company in the woods. Solo road riding is cool, but I prefer to have another person with me on singletrack just for safety. But the only way you are going to get better at something is to DO THAT THING. It wasn't until 2012 that I started to put significant and consistent miles in on my mountain bike. Surprise...it wasn't until 2012 that I started enjoying myself on the trails. So thanks to HH, the Alpine Shop crew, and the Pfoodpeople for riding with me so much!
We have an amazing group of mtb women in STL. Photo from 2011 Castlewood XC race.
OK. So that's EK's Top 5 Tips for Loving Mountain Biking. Hopefully they will help if you are a newish rider. But hey, I still consider myself a newish rider. I'm just trying to put some suggestions out there and see what sticks. If you have other tips please leave a comment!!
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02 January 2013

Well That Was Fun (2012 In Review)

Me, Chris, and our amazing crew just before leaving Barranco Camp.
I climb Kilimanjaro and reach the summit in the dark on 23-Jan-12. I turn 28.

Sunny and me after the Bonk Hard Chill AR.
Triathlon training picks back up, preparing for first Ironman in June. I race my first adventure race as 100% navigator and we take 4th place overall.

Me and Andrei during the Extreme Break Up 10hr AR.
The beginning of a beautiful AR friendship - I race with Andrei for the first time!

Triathlon blinders go on big time and I focus on training for IMCdA. 450 miles on the bike. 100 miles on foot. 26 miles in the pool. Zero days off. Bring it. I also switch jobs to my current one - at the new Mississippi River Bridge.


Race to 6th overall amateur at Rev3 Knoxville HIM. Recover and reel off 550 miles on the bike and 118 on foot.

I am a YouTube superstar.
I am an Ironman. Muchas gracias to my friends, my family, and my coach for all of the support! Oh yeah, I won the bet too.

Alpine Shop Dirt Crits. Photo by Dan Singer.
Full-on dirt binge commences. 400 miles...on knobby tires. Trip up to Minnesota for the upset AR victory of the year...first place in the MNOC Adventure-O with gearjunkie.com!

Me, Erl, Andrei after Thunder Rolls. I never thought I would race in this jersey. So stoked.
AR fall season kicks off with a victory at Thunder Rolls 24hr with Erl and Andrei. Such a fun race with great teammates and competition.

Me and Andrei during a very rainy CPT Nationals in West Virginia.
Andrei/Emily AR camp 2012! A win at Bonk Hard Berryman 24hr with Biz and Erl, and then a DNF at CPT Nationals the following weekend.

Starting another lap at Burnin.
Consists mainly of three things:
1. Sleeping.
2. Racing mountain bikes.
3. Drinking Wild Turkey American Honey. From the bottle.

MAF with MK!
I kick off 2013 prep with 30runs30days and see nice gains in my running.

Young Ben, Keith, Courtney, and me at Castlewood.
Captain a newbie AR team and have buckets of fun at Castlewood 8hr. Bust out a PR at PMETR. Have lots of fun snow riding.

I've done a lot of reminiscing about 2012 in the last few days. It's weird, when I was climbing Kili or riding the IMCdA bike course, I wasn't really thinking about how big these events are. The more time passes, the more I realize that they are huge life accomplishments. And I am becoming more grateful and appreciative that I have the (physical, mental, financial, social, etc...) resources to go forth and kick ass. So that is my plan for 2013: MOAR DREAM CRUSHING. Step 1: celebrate my birthday with the 29(mile)r. Pin It