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Learning how to stage race: Lessons learned the hard way

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

After yesterday’s rain dance, I made sure to do everything right for recovery.  Immediate shower, food, rest, stay warm, and hydrate.  

I got a solid night’s rest finally, and was ready for the next day.  Tired and sore; yes.  I’m sure everyone was in that boat though.  Trying to be proactive on keeping my calories up, I decided to go for a dense shake for breakfast instead of solid food thinking that would be easier to choke down and stay with me better throughout the long day ahead.

I’ve been gluten and dairy free for over a year now, and typically very careful about what ingredients are in the foods I eat.  However, instead of taking the extra moment to check for myself I trusted from what I was told, it wasn’t going to make me sick.

I downed the shake, drank a lot of water, and took my vitamins.  My stomach was starting to go south, but I haven’t been feeling very great any morning this week so, I figured it was just what was in store for me through the six days.  As I donned my lycra suit, I had to dart lightning speed into the bathroom to project every bit of substance I had in my stomach into the toilet.

Even though I was not feeling a bit nervous, I convinced myself it was just nerves, cleaned up and headed to the start.

I lined up with the top girls and rode with them wheel to wheel until a bit before the turn off the road, where I had to let off the pace a bit.  Well, my “letting off” of the pace never really stopped as I had to stop multiple times on the climb to expel the GU I had eaten and then proceed to just dry heave.  More and more riders passed me, many asking if I was ok and a few complimenting me on my socks; I had chosen knee-high striped Guinness socks for Day 3.

Thoughts of pure frustration swarmed my dizzy head until I came across a cowboy hat-wearing Mike McCormack along the climb.  I explained what was going on, nearly in tears, as I seem to regress to diapers when I’m not feeling well.  He preached the importance of safety and health and insisted on taking me back in his truck. I compromised and said I’d bail at Aid 1 to get a LITTLE descending in today, which I quickly learned isn’t very fun when you fall so far back in the pack.

Aid 1 is where my Stage 3 ended and was taken home by two reporters.  Once I got in the door I went right to the shake mix to check the ingredients.  It contained many things I couldn’t recognize as well as the words “CONTAINS MILK.” Frustrated with myself for not checking, but just tired I went right to bed and passed out.

Not finishing today feels like being the kid last picked for kick ball.  So, I sit here having learned a valid lesson in my first year of racing and first attempt at a stage race.  


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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