Wednesday, November 15, 2017

2017: The Year That Tried to Kill Me

2017 took a hard left turn in the wrong direction after my last post all the way back in February. Let me break it down for you. 

February: I went to the doctor for a regular old check up and had a full pelvic exam done with some scraping samples sent off. A couple weeks later I got called saying they found a tumor on my ovary that they wanted to get out right away. I decided in my mind that it would be fine and nothing would change. Sitting on a bike saddle sucked. Like, a lot. 

March: My doctor was happy that they were able to get the tumor, but could still see some tiny floating tumors that she wasn't happy about. She wanted to start me on radiation and chemo right away. My tires on my car were all bald and died on a trip to Chattanooga. That same weekend, I crashed my car into a fence and watched a board go right in front of my face. I was fine. 

April: I started chemo. I had 3 appointments throughout the week. Radiation, chemo, radiation. I had a lot of people tell me what to expect with chemo and I was fucking scared out of my mind. I had to participate in a group therapy with other chemo patients once a week. I was always so sore. My chemo appointments lasted about 30 minutes. I got to see a lot of the same people every time I went. My biggest side effects were killer mood swings, not eating food, and throwing up a lot. April was my least favorite month ever. 

May-October: I moved from chemo once a week, to once a month. It was kind of a mind fuck. I would have a pretty normal week, get chemo and be sick and tired for about two weeks and then start to feel okay and then hey look, chemo again. Yay. I was kind of dumb by putting all this pressure on myself to stay fit and healthy. Doing that made me lose my mind while losing my endurance, which really wasn't the most important part of what was happening. But when you are in it, you can't see that shit. You just want to do your normal thing. Oh, I'm not going to die? Okay I'm going to do everything to pretend everything is normal then. 

So, fuck you 2017, you piece of garbage of a year. After going through all of this and taking a moment in therapy to talk about what makes me happy, I realized that I'm ready for a next chapter. Evansville has been fucking great and I have made some lifelong friends, but I want to follow my passion. And I just think that training and riding and living in Bentonville, AR is the next chapter for that. I have 1000% set my mind to this. So I didn't renew my lease on my apartment, I quit my job and I'm living at home saving some money until I go in March. I'm excited, nervous, uncomfortable, freaking out, happy, crying. I am all the emotions, but I am feeling better and healthier and happier. 

If I managed to stay alive and afloat this year, I can basically survive anything. SO watch out world, Kayla Motherfuckin' Hammel has no fears and is coming at you hard!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

I Wheelie Like You

February is the month of love and I spent it showing my one true love just how much he means to me! 3 weekends, 3 different races. Lots of riding, lots of friends, and a whole lotta driving, but I wouldn't have done anything different. Don't ever feel bad for doing what makes you happy. I know I could have a whole savings account if I limited myself to one race a month or less, but come on. Who needs a saving account (I now hope my mother isn't reading this because she would be like "you do, Kayla. You need a savings account.")? As long as I am paying my bills and making sure my cat is eating, I can totally justify being out of town every weekend basically (now I hope my cat Louis hasn't been taught to use a computer and to read because he would probably disagree with that statement. Not the being fed part. He eats like a trucker. Side note: what does that even mean? I've always heard that saying, but I can also put food away and I don't think I have ever been a trucker. Back to main side Louis part: he would be like 'hey maybe stay home and pet me for once?' I can't really be sure, neither of us speak a common language and I don't want to put words into his mouth).

The first weekend of February was kicked off with the second race in the MBell TT series. This race doesn't really require a long drive, it's a pretty easy there and back day trip. And we had perfect weather! Started to warm up in my arm sleeves and ditched those right away. I felt pretty strong at the start and just enjoyed the day. There were 16 women who showed up! How awesome is that?! I love actually knowing that I am not guaranteed a top spot. You push harder, hopefully ride smart, and just know that what you laid out there was your best against other people's best. I'm learning that I have to stay focused because I tend to get distracted and forget I am racing sometimes and then I lose pacing and bam! someone is behind you. I do not enjoy feeling panicked during a race. It gets messy!

The second weekend was a long weekend away. We made a mini girls trip out of it, leaving on a Friday morning. I was in charge of a fun day activity, which was originally between the Nashville Zoo and the Chattanooga Zoo. Who knew that cows could be a featured animal at a zoo? Nashville always has surprises! Unfortunately, that zoo lost out even though rumor has it they have a cool playground. Actually the zoo in general lost that day because I forgot about time zones. So last minute idea was to do an escape room! That was a ton of fun and now I know what to expect if I ever do another and hopefully won't lose. There was a big group of Indiana folk who were racing the Snake Creek Cap in Dalton, so there wasn't ever really a dull moment. Between dinners, hanging out, and racing, it was a full weekend. Again, we had great weather to do the Snake 50. That first 20 miles was a blast. And damn, it was so green. My mental game really suffered that day and by the time that I got to the last 17 miles, I kinda was ready to just not be on my bike again. After some persuasion and a lotta fireball, I started back on my bike. I recommend not doing the snake fueled by whiskey. I totally fell off the side of the trail and was only stopped by a tree. Which I felt was fitting and was just going to live there until another racer was like "you should get up" Why are people so nice? I had a lot of feelings. I ended the race with a lot of blood on my leg from that fall that I literally didn't notice until someone pointed it out to me. I have decided that in the future before a super long and hard race, no one is allowed to talk to me at all unless it is to show me cat photos or tell me a joke. That's a new rule. Don't break it! Cat photos and jokes only people!

Weekend three was maybe my favorite weekend. I picked up my co-pilot up Saturday evening and we drove to our airbnb in Alabama with no traffic. None! Not in Nashville, not close to Chattanooga, not even close to Birmingham. Everyone left us alone on the road. So thank you, traffic! Our airbnb could have been the whole trip, and it would have been worth it. I get overly excited about goats and free range chickens apparently. I brain stormed on how to become a roommate (Abby's logic on how to do that was to pay rent. That seemed too easy....) Coldwater was a ton of fun and again, we had perfect weather! We probably did a 10 mile warm up if we count the hill repeats we did while waiting for the race.Look, everyone was doing these road hill repeats. We were basically just following the leader and this is an excellent example of how peer pressure can make you do anything. I also forgot that there were hills at Coldwater because we mainly only found downhills on our warm up. So when I got to that first 4 mile climb, I was thinking of how smart I was earlier that morning to have done hill repeats in preparation! 24 miles of XC riding at Coldwater is no joke! We ended on a one mile climb and came out to a baby gravel climb to the finish line. I was waiting for Abby to literally pop up behind me at the end and have to do a sprint for 2nd, and by sprint I mean slowly turning my pedals and laughing hysterically. The race volunteers and the RD were great people. I really wanted to show Abby Bomb Dog, so we had planned to ride more at the end of the day. I thought that Bomb Dog was on the shorter 8 mile loop, so we went with someone to help clear the course and pedal our tired legs out. We didn't get to Bomb Dog, but we got another 9 miles of an amazing trail in. Now I just have an excuse to go back to Coldwater sometime soon.....

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Winter Racing at it's Best

Give me all the warmth right now!
This past weekend I was signed up to do the first race in the Snake Creek Gap Time Trail series. I was planning on killing myself during the 50 mile race from exhaustion, but the weather had different plans for me. Because of snow, the road leading to the start of the 34/50 mile start was impassable making the race directors make the call that everyone would be racing the 17 mile option for the day.

It was cold, but I was comfortable for the whole race on Saturday. My feet nor fingers every got cold, not even at the start of the race. My race started off pretty good. Starting the first climb was pretty easy on fresh legs. I think my biggest road block during this race was thinking I needed to save my legs for the last 8 miles, when in reality I could have pushed harder on some of the earlier climbs and still had enough energy for the wall and for the rock garden. Other than that, I felt strong and I rode well and handled my bike in the snow better than I was expecting.

I learned early in the race that stepping down was going to cause a lot of trouble trying to reclip into the pedals (damn flat pedals and making it look easy). I started practicing riding unclipped and banging my feet against the pedals without getting frustrated and stopping to clean them. I saw a few people sitting on the side of the trail cleaning their shoes out with sticks. I did not want to do that.

I know that this is going to sound like a joke, but I had so much fun during the snake that I couldn't stop smiling. Even when I fell crossing a log on the trail because I was enjoying myself and waving at my friend who was stopped ahead didn't even put a damper on my mood. I just got back on my bike and kept pedaling and smiling. I shaved 50 minutes off that last section from my previous year and ended up coming in 4th out of 19 of all the women who started that day and 102 out of 232 overall riders.

Because we weren't exhausted after the race, my group decided to drive back home. I was scrolling through facebook and seeing people talk about the first race in the winter time trail series made me start thinking that I too should be there on Sunday. I didn't put in as many hours on the bike as I thought I would, so why not? I debated it for the whole way home. I had to wash my warmest layers and make sure my bike was ready, but I also wanted to be lazy. And sleeping in sounded great. And maybe my legs were a little bit tired. However, I insured myself into going to the race by talking someone else into going with me. I am way to smart for myself. *crazy laugh*

Montgomery Bell has a lot of climbs, and it's rooty, and twisty. Of course, I forgot about all of that and could only think of the fun section that has a ton of g-outs that remind me of Scales Lake. And of course Johnson hill (I think that is the name of it). I was living off that rare Snake confidence and was ready to have a great day of racing that I think the Snake gods punished me by making me wait an hour in the cold before my call up time to start. I wasn't cold in the parking lot, but I was freezing when I tried to warm up on the road and on the trail that I debated just staying in the car.

 I started 3rd to last and worked my way past the 9 women early in the course. 5 miles in and I knew that I must have went too hard to last that strong for the next 12 miles. I could see the girl who started in front of me the whole race. That's the thing about Mbell, it's so twisty that you see everyone almost the whole time, but there is no real way to tell where they are compared to you. It can be a mind game if you let it, but in the end you just have to focus on your own race and hope they don't catch you. Which that girl did at mile 8 on a climb. I let her in front and paced myself on her wheel for about three miles. It was fun getting back around her, but I knew I wouldn't last. We passed some volunteers who said we had 5 miles left and I knew right then and there that the pace I had was the pace I was keeping to the end. She got around and my next goal was to not be caught by any one else.

I came in 2nd/11 female riders and was happy with my time and the gap I had on the next finisher. I think going in knowing that I could handle myself in snow made me able to push a little more on the roots and rocks. I'm looking forward to doing this race next month on fresh legs. I'm hoping that the weather is nicer to me and all the other racers for both Mbell and the Snake in February! Thanks to all the volunteers who braved the cold so all us crazy bikers can do what we love. It was a great weekend!

*Most of my photos are from @sheshredsco snapchat story! I plan on doing these for most of my races, so make sure to add them to see what I am up to and what other rad women are doing! And check out for the newest stuff.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Be Hungry

October was a kind month to me. I did Oak Mountain 50 and Race to the Canal. Both of those races I improved my time and noticed a definite improvement on my climbing. I think that setting such a high time goal for Black Bear and failing made me get serious about playing around with my nutrition and how I fuel during the race. I tried different things out after Black Bear during training rides, and settled on infint. I have been so happy with it! I definitely think that I didn't bonk at the last two races because of it.

After taking the month off in November, my first week back on a strict training schedule has made me so hyped for the 2017 season! I learned so much in 2016 and have been able to look at what I did last year and what my goals were and adapt to better myself and push myself to reach my overall goal. It can be lonely training for something specific. Because not everyone is going to be wanting to do the same workout as you. And that means maybe skipping group rides to do hill repeats or intervals. And if you are serious about what you want, then you will say fuck it, I don't care. I am doing what I need to do and either people will support and love me or I will just hang out with my cat for the rest of my life.* 

*I am 100% the latter of that statement*

There are days that I would rather skip a workout and be lazy. Because it's winter and, you know, sleep sounds always better than waking up...but I push myself because I want to better myself. I know that if I don't put in the work right now, then I won't see the results that I want and I won't be any closer to my big goal. I wake up starving for 2017 race season to get here. I fill myself up with training because I want to smash my races. I'm looking at you, Snake 50, because guess what, you don't scare me! Except for you, Snake last 5 miles. You don't scare me, but I know you will rip me up and I am actively preparing myself for when you do, because I am a damn survivor! 

I love this sport. I am excited to wake up and train. I am going to stay hungry every day. #roadto2017

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Black Bear Rampage 2016

This past weekend I accomplished my 5th endurance race on the beautiful Tanasi trail system in Ducktown, TN. Couldn't have asked for a more beautiful place to torture myself for 40 miles.

The two weeks leading up to the race, I was feeling great. Every ride was strong and smooth. My body was feeling good. I was recovering fast from rides. If I had been smarter, I would have actually done more than one long endurance training ride before this race. But, my training mind is set up for XC racing and I didn't adapt my training schedule to work with the last minute addition of this race. We all learn from our mistakes.

Race day was here and I was feeling pretty good. I was comparing what I knew about this race to the Snake, and to be honest I thought I was going to have way less climbing to do with a lot more fun single track. Mainly because EVERY PERSON CLAIMS THIS IS THEIR FAVORITE RACE EVER. No one goes to the snake and says that (okay, they might. But they also give you the disclaimer that it is their most favorite, painful and mentally challenging race they do).  Nope. No disclaimers for this one. Just a lot of love. So much love that my mind was temporarily clouded into thinking I was not going to enter any kind of pain cave. But, alas, I found the bottom of my cave during this race and I had to dig deep to try and climb out. P.s. there was definitely crying at 24 miles wanting a golf cart to come get me so I didn't have to climb another mountain or hill or whatever. My legs were burning.

 This is the only smile of mine documented from that race, it was still early folks.

The start of the race is a 2 mile road climb. Everyone recommends to take your time and set your own pace. So what do I do? I hammer up that hill with the lead pack, jumping on the trail behind the women who would finish in 3:30 or less. I mean, if you killed that climb and only had a couple other climbs with a lot of fast downhills and fast single track. Joke was on me. "We are almost to the top. Do you see the white rocks?" became my absolutely most despised sentences I would hear at least 7 times that day. I never want to see a white rock for at least a couple months. 

 We did go down Thunder Rock Express only to have to climb a grueling gravel road to get onto the trail with more climbing. Also, I thought we were halfway done right here. I think we were actually only 14-15 miles into the race at this point. I wouldn't find that out until mile 24 when I thought I had 10 miles left to go.

This was my first endurance race that I've done with the thought of racing, not just finishing. I don't fuel right for long races no matter how hard I try. And I was *very* prepared for this race, it's just that my stomach felt heavy the whole time and I couldn't sallow solids. Mountain biking, or just biking in general, is more about pushing yourself past your limits. When your mind says "No, I can't go any further" is when you decide if you are going to quit or keep pushing. Yeah, I cried on the trail and I wanted to quit. But I was able to pull myself together and keep going. The ending of that race was a lot of fun. That trail was fast, I loathed that tiny climb to the finish though. Rude. 

Now that I have raced an endurance race, I can clearly see my weaknesses and how to better prepare myself. I have one month before Oak Mountain and my training is going to be dialed in and focused, I'm going to explore better fueling options for me (liquid racing diet ideas, anyone?) We don't really talk about our failures because we are embarrassed by them. But they are part of what makes us stronger, makes us learn and grow. 

Look, that face says "seriously? The finish line is on a climb?!? Somebody come murder me right now"

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Why Do I Keep Crashing?

My first time ever on a mountain bike was wreck city. If there was a downhill I was tumbling. If there was an uphill, I was falling backwards. If the trail was flat, I was over the handlebars. Why was I crashing so much??  I didn't know body position for climbing or descending. I didn't know how to handle a bike. So a newbie with no skills in riding is going to have trouble staying on the bike.

Flash forward two years from my first ride, and I am currently setting new records for how many times I can slide out from my bike or am on the ground. It's actually kind of frustrating because it's more fun to have a clean run then to have to lose minutes on your strava segment because you fell off your bike again. So, why am I crashing so much right now? I understand body position and my bike handling skills are pretty awesome (I feel confident saying this now that I can operate my bike on the trails with a splint covering two of my fingers). so what's up? I'm going faster. I'm working on skills that I couldn't even imagine doing a year ago. Of course I am going to be crashing some (I also make dumb mistakes so there's that).

War wounds from a wet and slick race at Hamilton Creek

I'm not endorsing wrecking. I'm bad at knowing my limits all the time. If I can see it in mind, I'm going to try it and do it. And part of that thinking has gotten me to where I am as a rider in just two years. But it also makes me ride with a cocky confidence. A cockiness that lands me with a broken pinky midway through my race season. We don't always stand up and just have a couple scratches or bruises. It's a bummer to not be able to ride to your fullest ability or at all. But when you decided to call yourself a mountain biker, you were signing an agreement that your body was going to get beaten and kicked on. Don't forget to give it some TLC.

Instead of being embarrassed or hard on ourselves, we need to keep encouraging each other and breaking out of our comfort zones and working on bettering ourselves and each other. Don't let can't be in your vocabulary.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Back to Back Races

When I decide I am going to do a series, I am doing that series. I can't stand missing one of the races unless I absolutely have to. So when I saw that the two series I am dedicating myself to, DINO (Do Indiana Outside) and the Tennessee Series, had a weekend conflict, I told myself that I could do both. My original strategy was to take the DINO race on Saturday easy, and go full 100% on Sunday. It's not how it exactly played out, but overall I am happy with my performances.

DINO #1 Winona Lake

The first race of the weekend was held at Warsaw, IN at Winona Lake. Warsaw is about 5 hours north of Evansville. So I took Friday off and went up early to pre-ride the course. It was dry and it was fast, which made me excited. However, this race series is not my 'A' race series, it is my 'B' series. I basically am using this series as a training tool for me. DINO doesn't have the same distance for men and women. The women always does a lap shorter than their male counterparts. Which is really annoying to me because we can last just as long if not longer. I find really dumb. But in this case it kind of works for me. Since DINO is not a USAC sactioned series anymore, I am able to move up a cat than what my license is for. Now I am not anywhere close to being a cat 1 racer yet, but to get there I need to be chasing these fast women. And that is what I plan to do. I go the same distance that I would in a cat 2 race, but I am needing to push harder to even want to be a competitor.

Race day nerves kick in as soon as I get to the course Saturday. I warm up and start getting excited. 11 cat 1 racers! Wow that is the biggest field I have ever been in before. I breath and tell myself  to get into the woods in the back. I don't want to blow my legs up. The whistle blows and we are off. I get into the woods 8th. The start in the woods is a little slow and it made me realize that I probably don't want to start for far back if I want to be a real competitor in the future. I lost the top tier pretty fast with a few in front either crashing or slowing the pace and just with the cat 2 men who GOT TO START IN FRONT OF THE CAT 1 WOMEN RACERS. No, it's fine. That doesn't seem dumb at all. Whatever. I got around the girl who started in front of me when she went down about a mile in. But I got passed by the girl who started out behind me. So I kept my placing, but came in 7th only because one of the top women crashed and DNFed.

I went slightly faster than I had intended and was lucky that this course wasn't hilly and technical. Because if it had, my legs would have been even heavier the next day. After the race I jumped in the car and made the long drive back home only to pack my bag and clean my bike for the next day.

Race day #2 at Land Between the Lakes

I knew going into this race that I was going to hit a wall and that my only choice was to push past it as hard as I could. Driving the 2 hours to Grand Rivers, KY, I told myself that my goals were to try and hang on to Christie for as long as I could and to place on the podium. I wasn't sure if I could do either, but I was going to give all that I had to try at least.

Now I'm not sure if she knew what she was doing, but when Christie said she was expecting a sprint at the beginning, it got in my head that I needed to go full out if I wanted to get in a good spot. My original strategy was to go in behind Christie and Abby and just hang on. Instead I got to the woods first and no one was close enough for me to let in. So first in I went. And I got excited and forgot it was wet. So first corner and on the ground I was. I let Abby and Christie in front and jumped back up in front of the next woman because if I wasn't in the top 3 to begin with, no way would I get back to the top 3. I was lucky enough to keep the 2 others in eye shot for about 20 minutes before they started to pull away faster and faster. But I kept pedaling as fast as my legs would let me.

My first lap I had averaged 10 mph. But I knew that I wasn't going to keep that speed the whole time during my second lap. When I was entering the woods for it, someone had told me that the girl in front of me was really close and I could catch them. That fueled me to push and go hard. I found them early on in lap 2 and was excited only to be disappointed to see that it was a cat 1 woman. Not someone I was going to be wanting to hold onto or pass or be next to on the podium. And it made me question where Abby was.

After passing Marsha, I was sure that the person behind me was the 4th place cat 2 woman. I don't know why, but I wasn't seeing pink in the kit, just navy. Which was the color of the stanky creek riders. It made me panic. No way did I just work really hard on the first lap to have not gotten any gap on her. And every time I saw her during a corner, I would pick the pace up and push for as hard as I could until I didn't see her any longer.

I've never gotten cramps during a race or a ride before until this lap. My legs were hurting. And they wanted so badly to stop and rest. LBL isn't a flat course. No the canal loop is climbing, and I knew that if I had to get off my bike and push it up any of those hills, I was done. So when I got to a hill, I cried through the pain. I'm not being playful either. I literally cried. It was terrible. But not once did I ever stop pedaling. Because that girl would just pop back up and make me ride even harder to make up for the slow climb I just did.

The last 3 miles are the toughest. Because you have almost the majority of your hills back to back with no place to keep your momentum going. You are relying on your strength. And when I realized this and that the next racer was close, I cried again. I did not want to lose my spot on the last 3 fucking miles. I would get off my bike and throw it at her if it had happened (okay not really but I would have been slightly sad). I started out the first climb and boom, there she is. And I started to panic and tried to push until I felt vomit in my mouth from overexerting. I took a breath and just called out, "please tell me this is Marsha who is behind me." "Yes, it's me." The sweetest answer I heard. I took another deep breath and kept on climbing.

LBL wasn't all about skills or speed. That was probably my first lap. It became about strength and mentality on the second. As long as I said I could, I did. If my mind was I can't, then I wouldn't have finished. I would have stopped on the 3 sisters climb, laid down and died on the side of the trail. I was so happy to have finished with my goal of placing 3rd. My body is strong and I love it for not stopping.