Dirt Rag Magazine

Sonya Looney: All systems go

By Sonya Looney

Transylvania. When we hear it, we think of Bram Stoker’s classic gothic horror, Dracula. In one month’s time, The Trans-Sylvania Epic will commence. While I don’t think there will be any vampires trying to suck my blood, the course over the week will be trying to suck the life out of me, but I will overcome.

I can feel TSE’s hot breath panting on my neck and I feel the obligatory chills. When I added my name to the already stacked Pro Women’s roster a few months back, I knew I’d have some fun, serious riding and serious competition in store. Fortunately I have eagerly suffered through some tough stage races in 2010 and I know exactly what to expect of a stage race. Ironically, “serious” is not a word many would use to describe me. If Dracula pops out on the trail and tries to have his way with me, I will fight back… and I’m sure I’ll see him many times while I’m hallucinating in some deep red cranny of pain.

TSE is one day longer than any other mountain bike stage race, boasting seven glorious days on fat tires. I have very little experience riding on the east coast, except for racing at Seven Springs, PA for Collegiate Nationals on two separate occaions. Both were disastrous. Humidity? Big rocks? Wet roots and mud? These types of conditions are not completely foreign to me, but definitely not typical. I live in Colorado—home of some of the best high alpine singletrack, if I do say so myself. I’m accustomed to climbs that are measured in hours, loose trails, huge open views, rocky trails, and lung-busting altitude. While I love tight corners and trees, they can leave me a little claustrophobic.

How do I go about preparation for a ball bust…errr….“box-buster” like the Epic? I may have held the “pro” card for the last five years, but one thing I don’t do is sweat the small things. You could condemn me for it and say I might be more successful if I obsessed over the smallest details, but I’m more of a big picture thinker. So what are the facts? Seven days, 10-45 miles per day, and east coast conditions. Things to consider were tire selection (2.4 fatties please), bike selection (full suspension, duh), and training.

Oh yeah…training. The tricky part about training is that May is early in the year for me and I never have rockstar fitness. That normally comes around in July or August. In previous years, I started my race season slowly in February, but this year, my first race was mid-April. My very long season last year extended February thru December, so I’m hoping to be carrying some of the goodness through to this year despite the fact that I started training a little later. I rarely train specifically for one race because the reality is that I do an endurance race just about every other weekend.

This year, I AM training specifically for one race—the Colorado Trail Race. All experiences and races will dutifully take me to my CTR climax in August. Fortunately, CTR training plays right into the hand of TSE training.

How have I been preparing? After several years away from the testosterone-filled space with meatheads, cardio machines that plug into a wall, shadow boxers, many pounds of iron, and where Muscle Milk is king, I made my way back into the gym. You might be surprised to know that I was a gym rat before I was a cyclist my senior year of high school and freshman year of college. I decided that if I’m going to be riding East Coast rocky technical trails, that I needed more upper body and core strength. Usually the upper body strength is something I acquire with racing in April and May. I’ve slowly increased the strength in my shoulders, back, and chest, being careful not to build extra muscle. Like last year, yoga has also been a regular part of my training regimen to maintain flexibility to prevent injury, build strength in supporting muscles, and also to build and maintain core strength. It also helps keep things in perspective.

Upper body and core? Check.

How about technical ability?

I consider myself to be a decent technical rider, and a few of our trails that are rideable before June/July when the snow melts have been accessible in April. What better way than to find the rockiest trails in the area and ride them at speed on a hardtail and rattle your teeth out of your skull? Check.

Let’s not forget the most important thing , aerobic fitness. This one has been tricky for me. I had a really good training block leading up to mid-March, but illness and multiple bouts of antibiotics took over for a good month and I lost a lot of the fitness I had worked so hard to acquire. I essentially had to start over, and ironically it was with an 86-mile mountain bike race, the Julian Death March, in Southern California. I was pleasantly surprised that I still had some mojo and have been trying to build from there.

Time is running short. The remaining time I have will be spent doing the Whiskey 50, Syllamo’s Revenge which will provide 125km of technical singletrack, and three-day training blocks at a harder effort so my body adapts to pushing for more than just one day. The great and also stressful thing about stage racing is that anything can happen.

Stage racing is hard. Each stage teaches you something new about yourself, and is as mentally demanding as it is physically demanding. ’m looking forward to the solo seven day challenge that TSE will hurl at me and the great people with whom will also endure the epic adventure. In the end, it’s all pedaling on sweet trails! See you there!

More from TSE: Read all our racers’ exclusive dispatches from the race.

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