Crusher in the Tushar Race Recap
I really didn’t know what to expect prior to this race. I am not really classified as a climber and my season, as many of you reading this know, has not exactly gone as planned. Thankfully I had been able to dodge getting COVID in the last couple years despite working directly with COVID patients but sadly the Rona finally got me and with my history of asthma, left me with some lingering fatigue and shortness of breath the last 2 weeks. Thankfully, I took it really easy and I think that helped get me to the point that I was able to race and be healthy. But having less than ideal training in the 2 weeks prior doesn’t usually help on race day.
For me, I know I wasn’t in the best shape and I also know I had to be careful not to implode. Some races you risk it, some you have to be mindful of where your fitness is at. I also knew that this race went up to 11,000ft elevation and I have had very little experience with high altitude training let alone racing. In talking with others prior to Crusher, there was a recurring theme of making sure you saved your legs and lungs for the back half of the race so I wanted to make sure that I did exactly that.
The women start ahead of the men at this race. We had our own women’s start and I really enjoyed this. When the men cruised by us on the first climb, it didn’t really impact the ladies race much since you can’t exactly draft going up a mountain. But the start was so much more relaxed and less hectic. Things were mild until that first right turn onto the dirt where the real climbing began. I felt that the pace overall was mild and found myself in the first split of 10 women as the climb began. I did start to feel I was stretching my effort a bit, so I backed off that group and soon Emily Newsom and Hannah Otto also slid back their efforts. I was sitting 8th and felt overall pretty comfortable and confident with the pace.
Sadly, near the top of the first climb, I hit a large pot hole and I felt my seat post fall down and then it slammed down into the frame. I knew this was tightened well after I assembled my bike, so I am not completely sure what happened. A good lesson for me to double check that in the future. I found myself scrambling to find the screw and get that back into the bike. I just kept seeing more females pass me and a slight panic set in. The fumbling continued. I had to intentionally tell myself, “slow down Paige, breathe deep and just fix this dang thing.” Slowing down and staying calm helped me to get the screw back in and then quickly hop back on the bike. At this point, we started the long descent and then shortly entered an exposed paved section into a headwind.
On the descent I honestly was questioning life decisions. Thoughts in my mind in those moments were: Why do I ride bikes? This is terrifying! What am I doing!? Descending - This is not a skill that I have developed since I live nowhere near mountains. My forearms would cramp with my death grip and I would have to alternate on the hoods vs drops just for comfort. My form was nothing short of relaxed. I later had a fellow friend and racer who passed me on the descent describe my position as “rigid.” And that about sums it up. I had rubbed my finger raw on the one side from how tightly I was holding onto the handlebars. The ground was loose and the washboard was intense for me. At moments I just kept telling myself, you are going to get through this. It wasn’t a race in that descent, I mostly just wanted to keep the rubber side down. Numerous people passed me on this descent and it was hard to not get mentally derailed by this. I know I am strong, but the skills and experience that I lack really shined in this section of the course. I had this dichotomy of frustration and eagerness. The frustration was rooted in knowing I am strong but yet being so far back due to my poor technical skills. But at the same time, I sat on my bike so eager and hungry to be better. I kept thinking how exciting it would be in a couple years to fly down the mountain and look back on this day. I reflected on how far I have come in racing bikes in the last year and if I stay with it this too would clique at some point too. So although I share my raw thoughts of fear and doubt, those were definitely overshadowed by my eagerness to improve those skills and the curiosity that I have in my future if I continue to dedicate myself to learning and improving.
Once the descent ended, I think I said a hallelujah and just looked forward to that last climb. It was deceiving knowing you only had 20 miles, but still had to climb about 5K. But prior to the climb starting there was a longer paced section and everyone kept saying prior to the race that you really don’t want to be stuck alone in this section. This was really the only part of the course that a draft would be beneficial. Of course, I was completely solo for the bulk of this, but eventually was caught by a group of about 7-8 men and I hopped on their train and we traded pulls. This boosted my morale a bit and helped my pace so I wasn’t alone in the entire paved section.
One we hit dirt and started to climb, mentally I had prepared for this and kept telling myself this is where I would shine. I just wanted to ride that last mega climb with confidence but also enjoy passing people on the way up. I passed a large chunk of people in the last 2 hours of the day. Now don’t get me wrong, there were parts that I was miserable and questioning my life decisions. I think I was a bit over-geared on this so I was often mashing the pedals harder than I would have liked and that added some additional fatigue for the day. The heat was brutal and as your skin baked in the sun it was hard to get any reprieve with how slow you were climbing on those steep sections. I remember thinking, “man, I have never worked so hard to go 5mph!”
I was sitting 16th place heading into the last 9 miles, but I had made it a priority to stop at the last aid station since I was near empty on fluids. Unfortunately, 2 women passed me as I was filling water (Hannah Shell and Angela Neath) and I could see them in the distance as I started up again but they finished strong as well since I was not able to re-pass them. In hindsight I think I would have skipped the aid station, but in the back of my mind I still had doubts of my fitness. I didn’t want to end up 3 miles from the finish without water and getting passed as I bonked that close. I think now that I know where my fitness is, I would have taken that risk but I’m still working my way back to knowing how strong I am and I wasn’t comfortable with that risk at that moment.
Overall, I was pleased with 18th place. The field was stacked this year and if you compare times this year to last year you’ll see that clearly. The depth of the women’s field is continuing to grow, meaning you can’t have setbacks and not be at your best and expect to be on the podium or anywhere near the podium. And with this race, you have additional elements of heat, altitude and climbing that impact performance as well. What I find with these races, you cannot make excuses. Excuses on race day will always provide “an out.” When the breathing gets tough, I refuse to let myself think “well I’m a flatlander I haven’t acclimated yet” but instead just told myself to slow my breathing down and keep fighting. I kept repeating in my head “this is easy, this is easy” mostly to distract myself from negative thoughts and the pain of the brutal course. It was anything but easy, but you have to trick your mind some days. This is what we often refer to as mentally tough.
After the race, I celebrated with some teammates and familiar faces. We ate some delicious tacos and then coasted 18 miles down the mountain back to the hotel. I have to add that this race had some of the best post race food and by far the best volunteers and pit crews I have seen to date. Thank you to the man who put an ice sock down my jersey in the final hours - you da real MVP. But for real, this race was well organized and I was nothing short of impressed by the aid station support and crews.
Thankfully I did not have to fly back home the day after the race, so I stayed with a couple teammates in Salt Lake City. Since LeadBoat is my next race on the calendar, I needed a big day after the race. The Spratt brothers took me on a tour of some of the best climbs in their area with some great company. We rode just shy of 100 miles with 11,000ft of climbing the day after the race and although I bonked hard around hour 5 I still feel like my fitness is coming around. When I was riding this weekend I just kept thinking of how happy I was to be training and having things move in the right direction. I never thought I would be proud of an 18th place finish, but if anyone knew the amount of setbacks I’ve had the last few months (both on the bike and off the bike) you’d be proud too.
At the end of the weekend, I leave the mountains with gratitude for the amazing teammates and friends I am making on this journey. I leave with an eagerness to improve. I leave with a deep respect for the technical side of this sport, particularly descending. I leave with motivation to keep learning and growing. I leave seeing progress in my fitness and health and now I’m hopeful for the back half of the season. Bring it on LeadBoat :)
Crusher in the Tushar Race Stats:
Distance: 69 miles with 10,000ft climbing
Place: 18th Pro Female
Location: Hastings, MI
Starting Temp: 75-95 degrees
Bike: Ventum GS1
Tire: Pathfinder Pro 40’s
Pressure: 29/27 psi
Nutrition: Awesome Sauce Spring Gels and endless gummies and peach rings