A Personal Account: Moab Rocks Stage Race

Moab Rocks
Following is a day by day account from a FIRST TIME multi-day racer Shandra Lee.  She shares her experience at one of the most fun weekends we had all year in 2015,  Moab Rocks!  Luckily, it’s not too late to join in this year’s action March 25th-27th 2017.

Moab Rocks is a 3 day Stage Race set in the beautiful desert in and around Moab.  So I signed up for Moab Rocks the day the registration opened.  Friends had come back from it last year and talked about how great the race was.  Moab is legendary for it’s mountain biking and I like a challenge and I like to try new things. I tend to like technical riding and although I had never ridden Moab before, I heard that it was likely my type of riding. I was fortunate enough to head out to ride this type of terrain about 3 weeks prior to the race. I don’t often ride a race “blind” and wanted to see what I was in for.

Moab Rocks

My friend, Wendy and I headed up for a long weekend 3 weeks before the race. Although it was a long drive and a tiring weekend camping, I am so glad I did. Immediately following the weekend, I was a bit freaked out. We had ridden 3 days in a row, but the first day was around 10mi on non-race trails, the second day was the Whole Enchilada (which included the Porcupine Rim section of the race), and the third day was 16mi of a section of the second stage at Klondike Bluffs. I was gassed after the weekend! And then I started panicking, thinking “How on earth am I going to do three big days of racing???”  16mi of Moab riding is infinitely harder and more tiring than 16mi of Phoenix riding, where I am from.

Luckily, I had another race exactly a week before Moab, so I tried to focus on that.  I was pleased with my performance at that race, so it was a confidence booster. I tried to buckle down on the training until the race, but there really wasn’t much time. Then life gets in the way too, work, etc. The days leading up to race were all about the mind games that I play with myself.  So much wasted energy! I would get a pit in my stomach when I would think about 3 hard days of riding.  So much self-doubt! I would think and rethink what I would bring to eat on the trails.  I would also pepper in simple, silly, logistical thoughts-do I wear my tight kit or do I wear baggies? I missed my last workout before leaving and I stressed about that.

The biggest thing that I couldn’t decide on was what bike to ride. I am fortunate enough to be able to have a cross country bike (think lighter, less travel, better for climbing) and an all-mountain bike (heavier, more travel, more comfortable on bumpy terrain).  As the first day is 17.5mi up a pavement and dirt road, then basically down a rocky, big drops, bomber downhill BURLY trail, it was a tough decision.  I don’t feel I’m a strong climber, and I more confident in my descending skills.  So do I cater to my strength or try to mitigate my weaknesses.  I decided to mitigate my weaknesses and go with the cross country bike. Thankfully I have AMAZING friends who recommended otherwise.
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Photo credit: Raven Eye Photography

Day 1: ( from town up Sand Flat Rd to UPS, LPS and porcupine- then some bonus miles back to town)

The road up was tough.  But fairly smooth, so the key thing for me was just to keep turning the pedals over.  At the top, I was thankful I was done with the climbing, but there was still climbing to be done. Shortly after coming onto the single track, there was a group of people on the side of the trail helping and injured rider.  She had crashed and was in rough shape when I saw her. This gets in your head, and it affected my riding for a while. I was overly cautious. The first day was fairly technical-unlike anything I’ve ridden on my home turf and I realized how helpful it was to have ridden the Porcupine Trail a few weeks prior.  It helped with my confidence first and foremost, but also helped me polish my technical skills. I love techy trails, so I really enjoyed this day. Not so for everyone. I heard a lot of people talking about how it was too difficult.  I ran out of water, despite people telling me to bring more that I thought I needed for the single track back to the road.

After day 1: one of our teammates broke a crank arm off on the trail, we had a couple of people that took a long time to finish combined with no cell phone service at the finish made for a lot of waiting around, and I wasn’t able to fuel and rest properly. So my recovery was tough. I was dehydrated and a headache set in.  My body felt beat up, as porcupine is BURLY. But I had a big smile. Followed by panic: “How can I do this all over again?”

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start of Day 2
All smiles at the start of Day 2
Day 2:  (Klondike bluff trails, with timed descent down Alaskan trail)
I woke up and I hurt!!  My body was stiff and sore.  I didn’t sleep well-I woke up at 3am and couldn’t get back to sleep.  By the time I did, my alarm seemed to go off right away!  Thankfully, the race has an 8:30am start so getting up at an ungodly hour wasn’t necessary. I was nervous. I didn’t feel like I could ride 5mi, let alone another 26.5mi with 2800′ of climbing. Again, thankfully I have AMAZING friends, who kept things light with humor and others who assured my that my legs would show up. The gun went off and I was gassed. I didn’t have it today. My friends encouraged me to keep going and settle into my pace.  I could see women passing me, but I couldn’t do anything about it. Day 2 was just about short goals-I would come to a hill, and I would think “Just get to the top”.  Day 2 felt almost as hard as day 1 to me! The one thing about day 2 that was good, was that you couldn’t see much of the trails and climbing ahead, so it was all about just taking one short punchy climb at a time.  Lots of single track today. I get stressed on single track-it’s hard to pass and it’s hard to see who is behind. I don’t like holding people up, so I tend to be overly concerned about getting out of people’s way. I kept saying all day “Do you want to pass?” and “Let me know when you want by”.  Everyone on the trails had been SO nice that it wasn’t an issue though.

After day 2: I really hurt when I was done. My body hurt all over. I was nauseated and dehydrated. I ran out of water again! But I was able to get my recovery fluids in appropriately and after and hour or two, I didn’t feel too bad.  Still, my dominant thought is still “How on earth am I going to do another day of this??”
So far my thoughts are:
1) I’m never doing another stage race!
2) Your body is stronger than you think it is!

So I woke up on Day three and thought “Hmmm, I don’t feel too bad. Not great, mind you, but definitely not worse than Day two. (At the awards ceremony the night before, someone had told me that your body gets used to riding day after day. I didn’t believe it at the time.)  I think part of the reason I felt so bad on day 2 was due to a combination of things: it was a burly (as the organizers kept saying) day. It really beat me up. We don’t have that type of riding at home, so I wasn’t used to it. I went out really hard since it was a REALLY fun trail. I ran out of water towards the end of the stage, then waited for friends at the gate, then rode the 5mi to the base of the trail, then waited there for a long time (only had some chips and water and watermelon), then rode back to town where I finally had my recovery drink, went back to the base and waited some more, then back to the house. I didn’t refeul fast enough and got behind the eight ball. So I suffered on Day 2.  After Day two, I had 2 or 3 cokes (which was awesome! It’s the only time I drink soda but it totally hit the spot), recovery drink, food, etc so I was in good shape for day 3.
But I digress… So I woke up feeling surprisingly good.  But then I started (over)thinking and was wondering if I really felt good or just not “as bad” as the day before. I followed my morning routine, got out to the race, warmed up. My legs definitely were tired-no pep or pop during the warm up-but again, no too bad. People seemed very relaxed today, as I think everyone was glad it was the last day. That was the thought that kept me going on

Day 3: “It’s the LAST day!”  “It’s almost over!”(Gemini Bridges up and bull run down)
The race started with a short but steep climb, then a traverse on a dirt road then what I was told was another short but steep climb.  Well, my sources were a little misinformed. The second climb was a lot longer than I thought, which was probably good that I didn’t know.  But again, it didn’t feel any worse than any of the other days. The singletrack riding although on paper was uphill, didn’t really feel like it either. It just felt like normal singletrack racing.  And it was beautiful! I knew that the timed descent was at the halfway mark of the race so I just kept holding on until then.  Finally I saw it and woo hoo! Twisty, turny, ups and downs and super fun.  But it was a looooong timed descent. I actually was so tired towards the end that I couldn’t push the descent anymore because I was going to make a stupid mistake and crash. It was a bummer, since I really like descending! And I knew that I had the short but steep climb on the way out too.
Towards the end of this stage, I could feel the cumulative effects of the three days.  The road out and that last short climb was more of a survival ride rather than race.  Thankfully no one was close in front or behind, so I didn’t feel the need to push it because I really had nothing left.

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Moab Rocks podium pic
Photo Credit: Raven Eye Photography
Finally I crossed the finish line, and I had the biggest smile on my face. I did it!  The sense of accomplishment is like no other.  I got my recovery drink, got some food and water, and enjoyed the beautiful weather and good friends. And I still didn’t feel that bad!
But I still said over and over, “I’m never doing a stage race again!”
I got back home and my friends are asking me about the race, and I’m telling my stories, and I always end with “I’m never doing a stage race again!”
Today, my thoughts are “When do I sign up for next year?!”

Shandra Lee is a Canadian endodontist, living and working in Scottsdale, AZ while racing for the Bicycle Ranch .  She has been racing and riding mountain bikes since a knee injury forced her out of the triathlon scene in 2012.  Shandra placed 2nd overall in the Moab Rocks Stage Race in the Masters Category and got first overall on the combined timed descents.  It was her first, but not her last, stage race!  Shandra is planning on returning to Moab to race next October and has the BCBike Race on the calendar for 2017.
(Special thanks to Raven Eye Photography for allowing the use of their awesome images)

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