Send As SMS

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Mission Impossible

How does one go about assembling a "winning" team for an extreme adventure race like the Red Bull | Divide & Conquer? How do I attract the top athletes in the world to do, and win, an event that's advertised as "four parts mountain sports relay, one part impossible?"

I'm still finding out.

Last year I was on an all-women's team of made up of Red Bull athletes from the different sports: trail running, kayaking, paragliding and mountain biking. But for this upcoming June 18th race in Durango, CO we decided to inject some testosterone to our team formula. And I think I've got some brave takers.

marla streb
Marla getting a reprieve from climbing at the 2004 Red Bull Divide and Conquer. Photo by Christina Pondella / Red Bull

"Munny" from Canada was easy to enroll. He's from Canada afterall. Even rented a hyberbaric chamber to prepare for the altitude. He will be running the perilous seven miles of scree, a 4,000 ft climb from Silverton, CO up to Kendall Mountain. If she agrees to do this thing again, three-time world champion Kari Castle from will be returning to once again paraglide who knows how many thousands of feet down to Silverton. This is where world record holder Tao Berman will start kayaking 27 miles along the Animas River through some class V water. I'll be finishing up the last bit with a 27 mile, 7,000 ft, mountain bike climb to the Durango Mountain Resort.

Just reminiscing about last year's event makes me shudder. For me, it was simply a vulgar ride. The initial climb is about 3,000 feet over the first four miles. Tears streamed down my face. I remember one point in my race where I realized, there's absolutely no air up here! It was probably around 10,000 feet. Birds were viciously flapping their wings, not getting a bite of lift in this near-vacuum. And I tried breathing really hard, too. Hours into the ride/hike-a-bike, when I figured I must be near the finish, some guys at a feed station urged me on by yelling, “Great job! You’re almost halfway there!”

We finished up a respectable 11th out of 20 teams; we were the only all female team.

This year I hope Ned Overend won't be returning. He posted the fastest mountain bike leg last year, shamed us all, and really made it apparent that I was the weak link. But I'll be sure not to let my new teammates find out about that.

marla streb
Mike Kloser fighting his way up a 3,000 ft climb at the 2004 Red Bull Divide and Conquer. Photo by Christina Pondella / Red Bull

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Racing my boss at the NORBA

This past weekend at the Nova NORBA National I wondered in the desert for six hours why a born downhiller would be racing for 81 miles across cactus and arroyo country.

marla streb
Marla ripping it up. Photo by Paul McKenzie / Clif Bar

Three two-hour laps, two depleted i-Pod libraries, and a brand new Selle Italia saddle that wasn't quite broken in, it wasn't until the last hour after an aspirin and a Red Bull that I started to feel good. Hours earlier I had given up on a shocking win. Left in the dust was the fantasy that I'd make up some time on the eventual winner, Melissa Thomas, on the downhill sections. The whole elevation drop during the 81 mile Marathon event seemed like only 81 feet.

My only motivation to hunker down, to stay on top of my cadence and to maintain a feeble 160 beat per minute heartrate was the fear that my off-the-couch, team director, Paul Mckenzie, would pass me if I eased up even a tiny bit.

Mountain biking even among friends is essentially an exercise in dominance. Every fun ride has the potential to devolve into a race. There was no way I was going to allow Paul bragging rights. He's a nice guy, but he's already my boss. A whole season of listening to him preface every conversation with, "Like that time in Arizona when I kicked your butt," drove me on. For three laps, six hours, he was sometimes as close as ten seconds back. The desire to win; to beat even just a buddy is as elemental as you can get. Out in the desert where life can wilt and die and fossilize, the primacy and the primary of beating Paul merged.

The trail was swoopy. Rolly. Berms and sandy washes, couple of small sneaky rock crops, and on each lap one teeny weeny gravity run. Still the desert's colors were vibrant yellows and oranges. Patches of green from the recent winter rains which had socked the whole west coast. All the colors seemed to clash so I vomited something that looked like my blue recovery drink.

Pedaling steady but unable to generate a cooling breeze. The air under the shade of my helmet visor was salty from my own exertion. My head ached violently. But suffering during that marathon ride was as rewarding as dropping Paul by fifteen minutes on the last glorious lap.

Over the weekend my Luna teammates, Katerina and Shonnny won the short track and the cross country, each with a bike-throwing sprint finish. It's a little early in the season for Alison's taste so she was content to podium in a couple of the stages. Kathy Pruitt, a current downhiller, was for a few laps guns ablaze in the lead group during the short track and did respectable in the time trial, too.

During the mass-start Super Downhill, I caught a lucky break and was able to bridge to the lead group of pro men who pulled me along to a win. Hanging on to the end of that twisty train at thirty mph with Chris Eatough, Adam Craig, and Andreas Hestler was quite cool.

But not nearly as cool as now being able to, for the rest of the season, preface every conversation with Paul with, “Like that time in Arizona when I kicked your butt...”

marla streb
The Luna Mtbike Team. Photo by Paul McKenzie / Clif Bar

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Don't Be Late for Your Downhill...

This is my first blog entry. So by way of introduction I thought I'd keep it simple.

As a pro downhiller for more than ten years (downhillers have no more fingers to count any higher), one of the most primary lessons to learn is to be on time for the start.

Don’t worry about messing with chain slap or ghost shifting. Skip breakfast if you have to. If you are afraid that both of your alarm clocks won’t go off, then lie in bed awake all night if you must. Just don’t be late.

Downhillers are assigned specific start times. It might be 9:17 am or 1:37 pm. If you miss that starting time second-long window, you’ll have a lot of explaining to do. Some serious face time with your team manager. The owners. Major and minor sponsors. You’ll have to come up with an explanation for the journalists that doesn’t make you sound like a complete idiot.

The day before my race I sometimes write my starting time on the back of my hand with a thick black sharpie. Sometimes I have my cell phone call me for a reminder.

Proudly I boast that I have never missed a DH start. Not one.

But, I am chagrined to admit that this past weekend, my first Century Road Ride of the season, I missed the start. I was late for the Solvang Century start.

I hope this doesn’t mean that my career transition from downhiller to endurance rider will be a rocky one. The short list of reasons for my tardiness was sleeping with my wrist watch buried beneath a mound of pillows, ear plugs, an easy to reach snooze alarm, a fuse situation in my VW bus, a surge in Saturday morning traffic in in the region because of the popularity of the movie Sideways...

I registered in a blur, slapped on my number plate, and motored off. The first 15 minutes was spent passing a steady stream of riders, in the ultimate search for a fellow misplaced mountain bike racer or at least a familiar butt. Most people would quickly swerve to the right when I approached... off the back the majority of them wore a mirror on the side of their glasses. I finally found a couple of gamers, and we pace-lined at a quick tempo for the next hour, not speaking a word. One of them finally cracked, and introduced himself after I passed their unwritten initiation. We all made friends, and it was then okay to slow down so we could actually form complete sentences.

Another hour went by uneventfully except my water bottle cage broke off, helicoptering behind me full bottle streaming raspberry liquid, and almost took out a tandem carrying two late-term pregnant women. They dodged it skillfully without missing a beat.

The only major climb of the day was under 500 feet, but it still had people off their bikes and pushing. When a ClifBar was offered, most would gleefully grab one and take a seat right there on the shoulder to enjoy it.

Thankfully Centuries really aren’t like pro races. This season I’ll ride a lot of them to prepare for endurance racing like 24 Hours of Moab, NORBA Marathons, and extreme events like the La Ruta or the Trans Rockies. They are more like semi official training rides for some, fun rides for others, and a lost bet for a few more. Being late for a Century Ride really doesn’t DQ you. I was doing this one on my own, so there wasn’t any grief from my Luna team’s manager. No scorn from my teammates.

But I was late for the start of this Century by two hours. Not two minutes. Two hours. And for being that late there was a penalty. By the time I finished all the free beer was gone, and I was forced to scrap with the seagulls for the few remaining pieces of BBQ chicken.

This coming weekend I’m racing a Marathon at the NOVA NORBA NATIONAL!

I’ll be on time for my start.