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Learning how to stage race: Vomit Hill

  • By Karen Jarchow
  • Published Aug. 16, 2012
  • Updated Oct. 11, 2012 at 4:40 PM EDT

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 a disappointing Stage 3, I couldn’t help but ignore my dehydrated, weak delirium and hesitantly lace up my lycra suit to head out to just ride Stage 4 with Jeff and local friend Kyle Stamp.  

Convincing myself and others that I was feeling fine, we set out for a VERY long day.

Learning how to stage race: Lessons learned the hard way >>

I started at the front as if I were racing thinking Jeff and Kyle were with me, but when I looked back at the first climb turn off they weren’t anywhere to be seen.  Realizing I was no longer in contention I stopped at the turn to wait for the boys.  It was as if my body and mind were playing games with each other.  My mind saying, “I want to push this…” and my body saying, “whoaa, whoaa, you have zero fuel in your body right now.” After waiting awhile at the turn, my “race face” quickly faded and was overcome by a Sunday stroll through the woods.

As we got to climbing, and climbing I started to realize what I had got myself into for a “sunday stroll.”  

Although I wasn’t pushing a good pace, it still hurt… a lot.  I felt like I was sleeping on my handlebars, easily annoyed when the boys would pull away from me on the climbs, and reminding myself, “I’m just climbing to descend.”

As the thoughts of racing quickly dissipated, I focused more on encouraging the people around me.  These people are the heart of the race; not the top men and women but the hundreds of people who save this week as their cubicle escape or singletrack vacation.  

I was blown away on the number of strangers we came across who were genuinely concerned with how I was feeling.  Not one person made me feel like I was wimping out or less of a mountain biker because I couldn’t pedal through dry heaves and dizzy spells.  There’s nothing that makes you feel worse than someone telling you about that one time they rode 200 miles and climbed a million vertical feet on a tic tac, running a fever, and borderline hypothermic.  I’m sorry, but my body just can’t do that.

Their support helped me put perspective on my Breck Epic experience. Could I have continued to have a competitive week?  I’d like to think so, but all I can do is walk away with the confidence that I started strong and had to walk away with some hard lessons learned.

We finished up the stage, and all of us a little cooked.  There was nothing easy about this day (or any day for that matter).  You quickly forgot about the long railing descents as you were slapped by climbing 20+% grades over and over.  Having some great company that validated my feelings of, “This is really hard” but kept me smiling and going were the best parts of the day!


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.

FILED UNDER: MTB / Rider Journal TAGS:

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