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Learning how to stage race at the Breck Epic: Regaining feeling in my fingers

Karen Jarchow will be chronicling her experiences of her first mountain bike stage race at the 2012 Breck Epic. Check back for her updates.

Now that I can feel my fingers, I feel it an opportune time to recap today’s mud run.

I had another tough morning, woke up at 1am in a cold sweat and feeling sick.  Thoughts of, “who am I kidding thinking I can ride big for six days?!?!” crossed my mind over and over, in and out of sleep until rolling out of bed at 6:30am.  Jeff has been a tremendous support so far, and made breakfast. A great breakfast that I had maybe two bites of.  Over coffee, he started telling me about the stage as I didn’t necessarily do my homework and look at what I was getting myself into before signing up.

Still feeling crappy, I was about to roll out to warm up and couldn’t find my helmet anywhere.  Perfect.  Luckily, it was at the lost and found bin at the central Epic station.  Phew.

Off to the start. Knowing I didn’t feel very sparky I settled into the back of the women I knew were in my category.  Knowing where my head was, I didn’t want to get caught up off the front like yesterday.  I settled into a steady pace that I luckily held onto all day.

After the first climb came a rip roaring double track descent that I was riding like a bull.  This is where I flipped it around and started having fun again.  

It was also the moment I made a plan for the day; climb easy, push flats, and rail descents.  Seemed like a foolproof plan, but enter rain that brought on cool temps and slip sliding trails and my “railing” turned into “don’t land on your face”.

Through the first aid station came Grossman’s voice, surprised to see me.  I came in second with yesterday’s leader right on my wheel.  Friends at the aid helped me get what I needed and pushed me back out.  I don’t feel like I saw yesterday’s leader stop actually.  

As I kept her in my sight and just sat behind her on the climb I wondered to myself how she transitioned so fast. Did she have a trail fairy feeding her along the way?  

Climbing with friend and singlespeeder Scott Upton made the Colorado Trail ascent that much more enjoyable, but I kindly let him pass as I wanted to keep it easy on the ups.  I quickly caught back up with the leader from yesterday, as she was on the side of the trail with a flat.  This would be the last I saw of her, as I try as hard as possible not to look behind me and just keep moving forward.

This is also when my shakes started.  The combination of rain, chilly temps and fast descending made me yearn for more climbing.  Now THAT’S crazy.  I was kicking myself for not taking a jacket at Aid 1, imagining I had my extra pair of warm gloves on rather than my soggy summer gloves, and taking inventory if I had all my toes.  

Finally Aid 2 came along, and I just wanted to be done.  A little more climbing, rollers that felt like climbing, and a singletrack descent to the finish.  I HELD SECOND!  I was mentally air kicking, but really just shivering the whole way back to the house.

Getting back, I had to ask a stranger to unclip my cycling shoes and took a shower with my helmet on because my dexterity was probably still back at the start line.  My eyes are still a little blurry from all the mud and rain, and I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I wasn’t tired.  Is this really only day two?

Growing up in a small, rural community of Southern Minnesota being a professional mountain biker was a foreign concept to Karen. Her reality was more accustomed to church, school, and mimicking the small town American sports her brothers played. Post college Karen packed up and moved out to Colorado, and was well on her way to a secure career as a Physician’s Assistant, white picket fence, 2.2 kids, and a cabin on a lake. The mountains gradually broke down this Minnesotan dream and she soon found herself living a whole new life; a life that was rerouted through her introduction to cycling in 2009 after supporting a four-woman RAAM team. Karen caught the bug and dabbled in grassroots racing in 2010 and 2011. She then became a little more structured in 2012, racing for Yeti Beti and earning her UCI Pro License in cross-country within her first two races of the season. Her love for the sport and community can be seen on and off the bike in her enthusiasm for encouraging new riders to get involved, and always congratulating other racers, no matter their results.

“I haven’t been racing long, but have noticed how people become consumed with comparison and results. Once you fall into that game, riding and racing starts to lose its luster. My focus everyday is to keep pushing my limits while keeping it fun. Yeah, winning is fun but I have felt more inspired and in general have learned more from a mid-pack 15th place finish than a podium spot. Racing to me is about much more than a time or a place but more about the experiences and relationships built along the way,” Karen believes.

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