race report: Tsali Challenge

This report is much overdue, but after 6 weeks off racing I finally returned to competition at the Tsali Challenge off-road triathlon.  A year and a half ago the Tsali trails were my first taste of North Carolina riding, so it’s fitting that my first NC race was there as well.  This triathlon was comprised of paddling, trail running and mountain biking.  Team NOC chicks (representing the Nantahala Outdoor Center) needed a mountain biker at the last minute and I was happily volunteered for the job.  These girls are incredible athletes and last year they narrowly lost the race in the cycling portion, so I knew I couldn’t disappoint them.

The four trails at Tsali are listed as IMBA Epics and wind in and out of Lake Fontana.  Though they are not very technically challenging, there is little rest with the steep, constant power climbs and descents.  Riding at Tsali sort of feels like a roller coaster and is definitely worth checking out!   The views of the Smoky Mountains across the lake are breathtaking!

Tsali is only about an hour or so from our house, so Dave and I opted to meet my teammates at the trailhead super bright and early (as per usual with triathlons).  I was the anchor and had a few hours to get ready for my portion of the race, so I was happy to watch the paddlers at the start.  My teammate Maria is an expert on the water (and super tough, as she was second overall in the solo race the day before!) and it was cool to see and learn about the fancy whitewater kayaks…something I know nothing about.

I was a little nervous because though I had been riding a fair amount, I wasn’t sure where my fitness was.  I don’t know if I ate something bad or it was stress-related, but my stomach was in sharp, shooting knots all morning.  The pain subsided a bit when I warmed up on the trainer.  I got some weird looks and a few people joked that I was intimidating a bunch of the men!

Maria handed off the chip in first place for the ladies to our runner, Liza.  I knew Liza would be in good form on the five mile run and I just had to be patient in the transition zone.  When she came through we were still in first place so my goal was to maintain that while putting some time into the men’s and co-ed teams.  I got to practice some cross skills in the transition:

photo: Gone Riding

This ~12 mi. race was run clockwise on the Right Loop and began on a 2 mile fire road climb.  I am used to much longer, more sustained efforts so I tried to ride smart, but faster than I’d normally be comfortable with.  The climbs were tough, but I knew I’d be getting a bit of rest on the descents.  I saw two people near the beginning but once I was past them, I was alone.  My stomach wasn’t bothering me anymore and I started to feel pretty good on the bike.  I had never ridden the course in this direction and it was more exciting with better descents.  I really had a blast and just kept pushing myself as hard as I could up every hill and out of each turn.

I ended up with the fifth fastest overall time and we won the women’s race by just over a half hour; placed fifth overall as well!  I was really proud of everyone and it was awesome to feel competitive again.  Here we are on the podium with champagne and a huge trophy!

photo: Gone Riding

Unfortunately my stomach turned again when I finished riding and I spent the rest of the day in bed with a fever.  I felt fine the next day, so it must have been some sort of bug…weird.

Moving was a good choice, but it’s been very difficult to balance everything and be able to race at a high level.  I’ve had a hard time getting over the fact that I’ve had to miss so many races I love in the midwest, but I am looking forward to new opportunities as well.  The silver lining in unemployment is that I’ve been fortunate to get a lot of quality rides in lately and I am hopeful for the cyclocross season (assuming I can afford to race!).  Last night Dave and I competed in a local practice cross race and it was a good wake-up call!  The cyclists down here are FAST.  I forgot how hard cross is, but I woke up this morning wanting to do it all over again…

I have been loving the bike and expanding my yoga practice at West Asheville Yoga, which has been phenomenal.  I practice this more for my mind than my body and it has really helped me manage the stress of job searching.  Dave and I were able to enjoy an amazing bluegrass festival on Saturday and an art and fun festival on Sunday.  Though it’s been challenging, I feel that I am growing much more now than I have in years.  I know there are a lot of good things in my future in North Carolina!

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