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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Mountain Bike Monday/Monday Night Gal Ride

For the Gal Ride this Monday we traded in our road bikes in favor of mountain bikes and hit the trails at Sugar Bottom.
Monday night rides are beginner friendly, no drop rides lead by members of the Iowa City Women’s Cycling Club and other members of the area biking community. I like to throw some mountain bike rides in the mix when I lead (we usually stick to road, or gravel in the fall). If you are a gal and are interested in riding with us or even just thinking about riding with us, follow the link below to sign up for our weekly Gal Ride Email list. It will also keep you in loop on any special events!
I promise you will have fun if you are thinking about joining us on Monday Nights! There have been quite a few ladies who were pretty nervous about trying out the ride, and once they came out they realized there is nothing scary about it. We are all pretty friendly and laid back :)
We had a great group of girls ready to practice some mountain biking skills. We all had separate areas of the trail that we wanted to work on or were scared of, so we would stop and take our time to work on them (no pressure if you didn’t want to try something!).  It was fantastic to be able to watch other girls tackle an obstacle that I was afraid of, and then work up the courage to try it out myself. 
I finally tried to ride the logs after watching Sandy, and
then Cara go over them without a problem!
Going back down the hill to try again...and again!
We practiced rocky climbs (Rockslide), super steep uphills (Cyclocross hill – left & right side), log skinnies, drop offs (Foundations), and a sharp uphill/downhill turn with roots. I think we all learned how to do something new! There were many shrieks, smiles, laughs, and yells of encouragement. I wish every Monday was a Mountain Bike Monday!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Inspirational Cyclist: Brittany McConnell

Meet Brittany McConnell (I'm sure most of you already know her though!). This will be my first post in what I hope to be a series of Q&A interviews of inspirational women cyclists in the community.

Photo: Justin Torner Photography. Thank you Justin for all the amazing
cycling photos you take!
Brittany is one of the nicest and most friendly people you will ever meet. She is always willing to help others out. I can remember Brittany inviting me along on cold winter rides when I was just beginning and having to wait for my slow a** while she probably wanted to go much faster to keep warm! I also remember her patiently showing me how to hop over a small log at a cross race last year (I made her demonstrate repeatedly before I worked up the courage to try). And she is always there to give support and advice. She is a good friend.

In additional to being so sweet, Britt is a phenomenal racer. She excels at cyclocross, is a great mountain biker, and also races road. Read below to learn more about her!

How did you get your start in cycling?
I started commuting by bike when I started College in Hawaii back in 2000 for the reason that I did not have a car. When I returned home to Iowa I continued to commute by bike when possible. I truly started becoming a 'cyclist' when I met my husband Kevin in 2003 or 4… He is a Bike Mechanic at a local shop, Geoff's Bike and Ski, and introduced the sport to me. At the beginning we would do casually rides and compete every now and then. Our passion for the sport progressed exponentially and now are competing almost every weekend, if possible, and training all week as well as continuing to commute by bike.

 What bikes do you have?
Specialized Epic (Mountain Bike)
Specialized Tarmac (Road Bike)
Specialized Crux (Cross Bike)
Specialized Tri-Cross (Single Speed Cross Bike)
Redline Conquest Pro (Cross Bike)
'Lucky Charm'-Schwinn Caliente (Townie Bike)
Standard (Custom Mountain Bike)
Schwinn (Cruiser Townie Bike)
 What is your favorite aspect of cycling?
The different varieties of competing, Road, Cyclocross, Mountain- There is something to do year round! I love them all and it keeps things interesting.
Do you have a favorite race and/or place to ride?
I don't really have a certain place or race, but my favorite time to ride is when my husband and I have a day off together to ride our own ride. No matter where it is, it is always my favorite.

What has racing done for you (how has it shaped your life)?
I have been a competitive athlete since Jr. High with long distance running. Along with cycling, racing has kept me confident, determined, and healthy-both physically and mentally. I love the feeling after a long ride of accomplishment, pain, exhaustion, and well, toughness. I have also met some of my most best friends and love sharing those feelings with them.
Any goals for the season or upcoming season?
I am determined to learn how to bunny-hop!!!!
Do you have any non-cycling hobbies?
Long distance running, baking, professional organizing and rearranging my house :P, Thursday night outings with friends, sewing (a little bit), and photography.
Brittany has won the Dam to Downtown
race in Iowa City, three years in row!

You have a pretty sweet new job, can you share some about it?
I just started my job in May and absolutely love it. I make t-shirts for a local business, Iowa Book LLC. Currently I have been making RAGBRAI shirts for some teams. I also make shirts on the spot for any customer that has an image that would like printed. It's fun to see what people come up with.

Do you have a favorite cyclist or racing team?
So this is what I lack, the knowledge of the professional cycling world. Although I will say this, I have been a fan of the movie Off Road to Athens. My favorite Rider would be Todd Wells, after meeting him personally and my husband working as a mechanic for him at our local race, Jingle Cross, we have learned how sweet the man. He is an extremely talented rider and still has a very down to Earth personality.
What do you think is the best way to promote women's cycling?
I talk to any woman I meet about it. Tell them how I started and how much fun it is. Women tend to be pretty shy and not confident enough and I try to explain to them that's how we all start out. I try to tell them it doesn't matter your skill or experience level it is still fun! and a great activity to do with your family and friends.
How do you balance cycling with the rest of your life?
I am fortunate that my husband and I both ride and compete, so we do get to see each other a lot. It is also nice because we then understand what it is like to train, compete, feel exhausted, and the sacrifices we give to be where we are at today, and we completely support each in doing the things that make us happy. I think with work it is just adapting to a schedule and being disciplined enough to train when you have an open window. With running, well that has always kind of been a struggle with me. Every year that goes by I become more of a cyclist and less of a runner. I still go out for a run now and then and sign up for races but pretty minimal these days.
Aren't they the cutest cycling couple?! Photo by Mark Considine

How do you push yourself through a really tough race? What goes through your mind and how do you motivate yourself to keep going and not give up?
Usually I try to keep my breathing smooth and steady and tell myself to relax. If I am feeling like I am about to give up I tell myself "Just (bleeping) tear it up Britt" sometimes you gotta tell yourself how it is ; ) and I have been taught the famous Rule # 5 from my friends Brian & Kim Eppen. Rule #5 mean, and pardon my language "Toughen the F*** up". I also, which sounds dumb, I smile a lot. Reminds me to have fun.
Bobber's Cross 2012. Photo by Mark Considine. (Thanks Mark!)

What kind of training did it take you to get to the level you are at now? Do you feel like you've had to sacrifice anything to get to this level?
I have sacrificed a lot, but am proud of myself to be at the level that I am and able to compete with some amazing women. I wouldn't give it up for anything. I have started training almost daily, riding with our local group rides, which is mostly men, so I know I am going to have to work hard every time I get on my bike in order to not get dropped. I have learned so many levels of exhaustion and pain that I keep trying to push through each level to get to the next, and l love that feeling.
Do you have anything else to add?
Remember to always have fun.
Photo By Angy Snoop. Thank you Angy for
 letting me use your wonderful photos!

Thank you Brittany for taking the time to answer all of these questions! I really enjoyed reading your responses and I'm sure everyone else will too! I'm really glad that I'm not the only one that "talks" to myself during races :) You have definitely been a role model to me and I'm sure countless others. Seeing you with a smile on your face always puts a smile on my face - thank you for always being so positive!. Good luck with the rest of your racing season - I'm sure you will be a pro at bunny hopping in no time!

If you have any comments for Brittany or have any suggestestions for questions for me to ask other ladies for upcoming blog posts please post a comment!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sunderbruch: Forc Side Thrill Race (IMBCS #4/IL Race Series)

This weekend we headed to Davenport for the Forc Side Thrill Race at Sunderbruch Park. The race was part of both the Iowa & Illinois races series so there was a great turnout. It was also the first time in 5 years that there has been a race held at this course. It was definitely worth the wait! These trails were so much fun. There was some hard climbing, but plenty of fast and flowy, and tight and twisty sections to enjoy. There was also a nice mix of log overs, small jumps, and berms to keep things interesting.  And the best part, they had a few water station set up on the course with ice cold water – I’ve been fantasizing about a nice cold drink of water at the last few races where it’s been really hot! A huge thanks to FORC and all of the volunteers for putting on such an awesome race!
Luckily the expert/cat 1 race started an hour later than usual, at 1pm. Several of us from Iowa City had a wedding for good friends the night before and the extra time to recuperate was much needed (I don’t usually drink, but boy were those Gin & Tonics good) ;).
Bride, Groom, & entire wedding party heading to the reception on bike!
Photo by Brittany McConnell
We clean up pretty nice ;)
On the first lap we climbed up the paved road to hop in at the 2nd trail. I made it into the single track 2nd, behind Brittany, which was exactly where I wanted to be. My goal for this race was to stick a little closer to her than the last time we raced together, she is fast!! On the first part of the course there was a water crossing followed by a sharp left turn up a fairly steep climb. Then, there was a little downhill section followed by a sharp right turn and a very steep climb. I didn’t take the correct line up of the hill and had to run part of it. There were plenty of spectators cheering us on, especially at the big wooden berm – thank you for the encouragement! The lap ended with a super fun and fast decent (Kickapoo Down trail).
 By the start of the second lap, I was still in 2nd place, but the girl in 3rd (Beverly) was gaining and right behind me. I would get slightly ahead on the tight and flowy sections, with her catching right up on the climbs. (I really, really, really, need to get betting at climbing!!). On the super steep climb I once again took the wrong line and had to run up, at this point I was passed and now in 3rd place. I also struggled on the following climb and Beverly got a larger gap. I continued to chase for the rest of the lap and the third lap. 
I think the photo kind of speaks for itself - not my best
race ever. I'm so not being rad in this photo - I must
go back and re-ride it!  Photo: Hanson Photo Design
On the first trail of the last lap (Kickapoo Up), I could see two of the chasing girls finishing up their second lap on Kickapoo down. I knew I needed to keep going strong so I wouldn’t get caught.  I finally took the correct line up the steep climb and made it all the way, yay! About half way through the leader of the Men’s Expert race caught up and it was my husband Aaron – way to go! The second and third place men weren’t far behind, so I was really hoping Aaron’s lead would stick.  I made it through the rest of the lap mostly without problem, but did get a little friendly with a tree. I managed to not only hit my bars but also a couple fingers –ouch! But I stayed up right and it really wasn’t a big deal. I blasted down Kickapoo Down to the finish in 3rd place.

All the ladies were riding super strong and had a good race – nice job!!!
Cara, Brittany, Robin, Emily, Aleeza, Scout Dog, & Ingrid.
Another great showing by Iowa City Cycling Club & Mercy/Specialized racers:
Aaron & Kevin
Brittany McConnell – 1st Expert Women
Emily Robnett - 3rd Expert Women
Brittany & Me
Cara Hamann – 1st Open Women
Aaron Robnett – 1st Expert Men
Kevin McConnell - 3rd Expert Men
Ryan Nenniger - 14th Expert Men
Ben Anderson - 2nd Comp
Robin Hayward – DNF Women’s Beginner (She selflessly DNF’d to take care of a youth rider in the beginners race who injured themself!).
If you are in the area and haven’t ridden the trails at Sunderbruch, I recommend them. This was one of the more fun race courses/trail system that I have ridden. There is something for everyone, and two very technical trails that they left out of the race. There are some nice obstacles to tackle, but in general, just super fun and fast trails. 

Doesn't this look fun?! Thank you Hanson
Photography for the race photos!
My sweet tan, uh I mean dirt line ;)

Monday, July 8, 2013

IMBCS #3 - Seven Oaks

This weekend we were finally able to race in Iowa again, for the first time since May! We headed to Boone for the IMBCS #3 race at Seven Oaks. This was my first time riding this course, so I was really happy that I was able to get in a decent pre-ride. These are some very technical trails! They were built on a ski hill, so there was plenty of elevation change, and the trails were pretty narrow with the majority of them being off camber. This made for some pretty scary downhill sections, with some super tight switchbacks. You really had to squeeze the brakes to make sure you didn’t fly off the trail and go tumbling downhill!

Photo by Angy Snoop
My goal for the race was to make it into the single track first. We started off on a long section of gravel and I was in the lead, and then right before the singletrack another girl jumped in front of me to go in first. I was holding her wheel and could tell that while she was slightly stronger climbing, that I was better in the technical and flowy sections. Before I could try to pass, we came to a part where there were two bridges, with the second being much skinnier than the first. Sure enough, she missed the second bridge and went into the small dip. I’m not sure if I was just distracted by this, or if I was trying to move slightly to the right to give room, but my font wheel slipped off the narrow bridge and I summersaulted over my bars. I jumped up and retrieved my bottle that had slipped out (with the temp in the 90’s, I couldn’t go without!). Of course, as soon as I crashed, the other girl took off as fast as she could. I got back on my bike and tried to chase her down, and noticed my handlebars had slipped and were a little crooked. It wasn’t too bad, so I decided to keep chasing.

 Thanks Angy for cheering me on and getting me to
smile! Photo Credit - Angy Snoop.
I was doing pretty well and then took a downhill turn too fast and shot off the trail – I’m blaming the crooked bars :) I was able to twist them back slightly and hopped back on only to notice they still weren’t straight. I stopped again, and finally got them straight. By this time all the comp men had caught up and were passing. I was super frustrated but continued on, not yet even half way through the first of three laps.

All the photos of me smiling are deceiving, I was
suffering out there! Photo Credit - Angy Snoop.
I wanted to give up so bad, but knew I couldn’t let myself down like that. So, I wished for a mechanical instead (yep I feel bad for even thinking that). I somehow made it through that first lap and my second lap went much, much better without any incidents. I had to make a quick stop going into the third lap for another bottle. It was ridiculously hot, I don’t think I’ve ever gone through this much water during a race. I was feeling pretty good though, and surprisingly, the third lap seemed like it went by the quickest. Toward the end, my husband who was racing the men’s cat 1 race caught up to me. I was so happy to see him in first place, and with a huge gap to 2nd place!
Against all odds, I finally finished, and came in 2nd place. While disappointed with how the race went, I’m at least happy that I was able to finish. I proved to myself that I could suffer out there and have several problems, but still stick with it and not give up. That’s what I’ll take from this race!

It was great to see all these lovely ladies at the race! Aaron was having fun
 hamming it up for the camera too.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Take a Kid Mountain Biking

Have you ever taken a kid mountain biking? I highly suggest it. My 11 year old nephew, Ethan was visiting so I thought he would enjoy a trip to our local mountain biking trails (Sugar Bottom). He had only been mountain biking once last summer, but was really looking forward to going. I had a day of vacation planned and it turned out to be the perfect day for our mountain biking adventure!

Getting ready to hit the trails!

I gave him my old Gary Fisher Marlin awhile back, and it’s been working really well for him (just don’t tell him it’s a “girls” bike). He made it up the long gravel climb to the south trails like a champ. I had him follow me into the singletrack and like any overbearing aunt had to stop and take pictures almost immediately.

I'm pretty sure he's thinking "come on Aunt Emily, we just started. Quit taking pictures and let me ride!"

Not even five minutes into the ride Ethan said “I can really see why you guys like mounting biking so much” – he was loving it and enjoying the scenery. It really it a beautiful place when you take a moment to look around.

Youth Mountain Biking

After stopping for more pics, I let him lead the way and he did great! He was a little hesitant at a rooty section, but went right over without any problems. He was really making his aunt proud! We made it on all the blue trails on the south side and took the gravel access road to the picnic area for a quick break. In the car on the way to the trails, he had been asking why the helmets have “holes” in them. Now he understood and was happy his helmet had many “holes” to help keep him cooler. 

Youth Mountain Biking
Taking a quick water break and enjoying the view.
There was still minor flooding, just over a small section of access road, so we decided to check it out before hitting one last trail. We were right next to the water and I was getting my camera out again when Ethan suggested we should go. I was asking why just when I saw a SNAKE popping its head out of the water. I think I may have taught Ethan a colorful new phrase, and quickly jumped back on my bike and sped way (don't worry, he was right behind me). Ugh, I HATE snakes – yuck! Ethan of course thought this was all really funny. I’m pretty sure he thinks snakes are cool, but knows how afraid of them I am. (I also confessed to his  mom what new phrase he may have learned "sh*t balls" - sorry!).

After our little excitement, we looped around to the last trail on the north side and Ethan let me lead the way. He really liked this trail; I think it was his favorite. There were a couple uphill rooty sections that he was not able to ride, but I assured him that it took me over a year to be able to ride one of them myself. I think it will give him some good motivation to come out and try again. It's always nice to have something to work at! He was very proud that he did not crash at all this time, and we headed back to our car happy, and with tired legs.

Mountain Biking
So, to help cool down, we went out for some ice cream!

Can you tell we're related?!

And after I brought him back over to my parent’s house where he was spending the week, he asked if we could do the same thing tomorrow. I knew he had a wonderful time and it made me incredibly happy to be able to share something that I love so much with him. I can’t wait to take him mountain biking again!

 I think it's so great to get kids involved in an activity like this. While challenging, it can also be so much fun and rewarding. He will eventually have more crashes and have to learn to get back up every time. He will eventually learn how to make it over rooty and other technical sections and gain confidence. And most importantly, he has found an activity that he really enjoys, that he can do for many, many years to come!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Baby Shower for a Cyclist!

What happens when a fellow cyclist has a baby on the way? Why, you throw an amazing Baby Shower, of course! 

This weekend, I was honored to help throw a baby shower for my good friend (and awesome cyclist) Robin Williams (interview & blog post coming soon!). Robin has been there for me on many occasions, on and off the bike. I could not have been happier to throw her a party celebrating her little baby, who we are all very excited to meet!
We decided to bypass all the typical baby shower games, which can be boring and embarrassing (who ever thought it was a good idea to use string to guess how big around the mom to be’s belly is?!).  Instead, we opted to decorate onesies, and write some funny notes on diapers for those not so fun late night diaper changes. Of course when you have a big group of cyclists, things are bound to take on a cycling theme.

And the diaper notes were hilarious. Even if mom and dad are too tired to appreciate the humor, at least they are getting some extra diapers!!

I’m going to go ahead and admit that I don’t usually like baby or wedding showers. They are just too stuffy and forced feeling for my taste. But this was FUN, and I’m not just saying that because I hosted ;). You can’t go wrong with a great group of girls, some yummy food, drinks, and reason to celebrate!