Summary: Three weeks after finishing first overall at the Salida Big Friggin Loop (10 June), I finished first overall at another Colorado Endurance Series event, the 2017 edition of the Durango Dirty Century (15 July). Both of these first place finishes represented significant additions to my growing list of accomplishments as an amateur, endurance- and ultra-endurance, mountain bike athlete. However, before I had much time to process these victories, luck and my 2015 Niner Bikes Jet 9 RDO with a pimped rear shock from Push Industries delivered one more surprise, a top-10 overall and 1st-place amateur (all ages) finish at the Breck 100 (29 July). Below I recall highlights of my preparation and experiences racing the Durango Dirty Century (DDC) and Breck 100 ultra-endurance events. Heavy rains the night before and during both events resulted in wet, muddy, trail conditions. In previous blog entries (scroll down) you'll find many details about the Salida Big Friggin Loop and other races I participated in during the second half of May and all of June. Looking ahead, by mid-October I'll return to Hamburg, Germany, my winter home, and ride-on until I reach my 10,000 mile year goal, then I'll transition to three months of winter training primarily off the bike. Thank you for following my cycling adventures here and on my Facebook page.
Durango Dirty Century: 15 July 2017
Part of the Colorado Endurance Series, the Durango Dirty Century (DDC) returned to it's classic (full) route in 2017 (15 July) after being snowed-in and rerouted for two consecutive years. The classic DDC route is as difficult as it is majestic. Along the way, the course delivers what may be an optimal dose of everything an ultra-endurance mountain bike junkie might wish for such as a whopping sixty-five miles of single-track including a hike-a-bike ascent of Indian Trail Ridge up to 12,260 feet. Indian Trail Ridge is close to the conclusion of about seven miles of continuous exposure at or above tree-line on the Colorado Trail.
This summer "monsoon rains" have been common place, in reality and discussion, in the mountain towns of Colorado including Aspen, Breckenridge, and Durango. Nonetheless, I was still surprised, as I made my way from Fort Collins, on the Front Range, to Salida, in the Arkansas Valley, two days before the Durango Dirty Century to drive into a wall of water, the so-called "monsoons", at close to 10,000 feet (3048 meters) in Fairplay. Fairplay is the largest township in the famous inter-mountain landscape known as South Park, a high-elevation, palatial, prairie complex between impressive Rocky Mountain vistas including a handful of 14ers, summits above 14,000 feet (4267 meters). Rain is not unusual in Fairplay or elsewhere in the Rockies in high summer but rain that persists including traffic-slowing deluges, from Fairplay all the way to Salida is very unusual. This extensive, atypical, atmospheric disturbance was the first "clue" that the 14th edition of the DDC was going to be exceptionally wet and muddy with all of the consequences you might anticipate including greasy tree roots and gushing streams.
Despite the unusual monsoon rains along US Route 285, once I reached Salida I quickly refocused and settled-in, rains not nearly forgotten but certainly in the background. I took a short ride in the Arkansas Hills adjacent to town, followed by nutrition, a carb dominated dinner, and Tour de France replays brought to me and my friend Andrew by NBC Sports Gold. The next morning I rolled-over to Subculture Cyclery early enough to help reassemble, out-of-doors, the for-sale and for-rental bike fleet, a process made much more efficient by many cooperative hands. At the same time, I was able to convince another friend, also labeled "Andrew" by his parents, to have a look at my whip. Andrew went to work, as he always does, not only fixing the issues I'd detected but also weeding-out a few others that easily could have been my undoing in a long, ultra-endurance, bike race, such as front brake pads worn nearly to the metal. You'd think I'd notice pads that were that worn or at least anticipate, because of accumulated use, their demise, but I'll confess this has happened before so apparently a racer, at least me, is capable of these sorts of egregious oversights.
After the bike fleet was reassembled for all to behold, Andrew unselfishly initiated disassembly and inspection of on my 2015 Jet 9 RDO as he had the day before the Salida Big Friggin' Loop three weeks prior. A few hours later, I rolled-back into the shop after a short, fast, hot lap advised by Andrew to break-in my new bottom bracket. I want to thank Andrew for another exceptional service, and also Jason and Will, co-owners of Subculture Cyclery, and Raphael, mechanic and cycle adventurer extraordinaire, for their patient assistance over the years. It really does take some considerable patience to manage a bike racer, especially one that came into the sport so late in life. My ignorance aside, trips to the valley wouldn't be nearly as fun, social, and efficient without their expert service and friendship. If you're in the valley don't miss the chance to introduce yourself to whomever might be wrenching or just hanging out at Subculture Cyclery. They'll have what you need including advice on where to ride, how fast to ride it, and where to quench your thirst when you're ready to talk about bikes and bike trails rather than ride them.
By about three or four postmeridian (PM), I was, "finally" you might say, on my way to Durango to make final preparations for an early, six antemeridian (AM), race start. Seemingly on cue, as if waiting for my departure, as I was descending into the San Luis Valley only a handful of miles from the Arkansas Valley monsoons returned. They were heavy at times, including electrical storms as I was exiting the valley westward, back into the Rocky Mountains, towards Pagosa Springs, Chimney Rock, and ultimately, Durango, on US Route 160. With two days of heavy rains to add to the mix, my thoughts settled into the implications of a monsoon summer for a course I'd never ridden, the DDC, including 65 miles of remote, rugged, high-elevation, single-track. The rain persisted, with few breaks, all the way to Durango, and the rains continued into the night and the next morning.
As I rolled into a wet Durango, the universe took liberty to advise, as it often does, on my lodging and without much warning I was departing an AirBnB that I'd already paid for in search of an inevitably more expensive, alternative, option. AirBnB has been an excellent way to save money yet still satisfy the conveniences of a warm bed, bathroom, and kitchen the night before a bike race. My luck ran-out in Durango when I walked into more filth than a human being is advised to tolerate, for their good health, especially when it's someone else's filth and that filth has reached the peak of it's crescendo. Perhaps if you lived through the opening stanzas of a filth symphony then a gradual, deceptive, tolerance would be enough to sufficiently soften the grand finale. But in my case, as noted, I arrived when filth had reached filthy and my senses were overwhelmed. I'll leave the details out of this blog other than to say that the state of the toilet bowl was the last (dirty) note that caused me to seek shelter elsewhere. When we're done changing, we're done, and along the way chance rules as much as anything else in our lives, which sums-up how I arrived from a trailer park a few miles outside of Durango to the family owned and operated Siesta Motel on US Route 550 in Durango. I'll say more about the Siesta Motel at the end of this, fairly long it seems, blog entry.
The next day, from the comforts of my ground-level suite, I exited into a wet, partially lit, morning and pedaled a handful of miles to the starting line at Carver Brewing. a brewery and restaurant in downtown Durango. About thirty-five participants made the same journey (maximum allowed for this unsanctioned event is 70 participants). Another 15-20, maybe more, were likely planning to attend but didn't, no doubt dissuaded by so much wet weather. Those that did make their way to Carver's seemed anxious to get moving, perhaps because of the cool morning temperature or anticipation that the next presentation of the 2017 monsoons was soon to make an audible debut. Those assembled signed-in to the system used to log the race start and results, a clip board, pen, and paper. A few minutes after our 6 am start time, still assembled, organizer of the DDC Danny Powers advised the group. Foremost, we'd be finishing at the end of the Colorado Trail (CT) rather than at Carver's Brew House. That would shorten the race by about 6 miles (from 100 to 94), and more importantly, avoid racing through traffic lights. The group rolled-out in neutral fashion at about 6:17 and we were chatty all the way to, about 10 miles away, the ascent of Hermosa Creek, initially paved, then dirt road, then single track.
I felt good on the roll-out, kept my head in the wind, and contributed to the chat. I wasn't sure where the neutral roll-out ended but was feeling restless when we arrived at the turn-off to Hermosa Creek. Two riders followed as I increased my pace, and Danny was just behind them. I maintained my pace to the Hermosa Creek Trailhead where I descended into what seemed like a rain forest including water-laden plants overhanging the trail. By this point, I wasn't able to see anyone behind me and hadn't been for many minutes. The group had no doubt settled into their own discomfort zones. From this point, I wouldn't see another competitor until the short and long loops recombined. Between that intersection and the finish, I overtook a few riders that had chosen the shorter route, which really isn't short by any measure.
I made my first technical mistake on Hermosa Creek as I looked down to confirm a left fork, versus a right, on my GPS without scrubbing much speed. It was a controlled crash, no (new) damage to the bike or body, but enough to slam my right ring finger into the Earth. I'd dislocated that finger a few weeks before at the Fat Tire 40 in Crested Butte so the impact was unfortunate and unpleasant. To my now aching finger, the Hermosa Creek Trail (ascended in the DDC) offered plenty of rocks, all wet, roots, wet too, and many stream crossings. But discomforts aside and my naivete, I'd never ridden this trail, I nonetheless enjoyed the eighteen miles of single track. It was fast, flowy, and scenic despite the climbing as I ascended the Hermosa Creek drainage.
At the top of the trail, the upper trailhead, I was greeted by a group of three friendly lads on mountain bikes. They offered me water and anything else they had. I obliged the water and they kindly accepted my empty gel wrappers. From the upper trailhead the route continued on a fine, graded, dirt road for a few miles before transitioning to rough jeep road and a steep ascent, including switchbacks, to the Colorado Trail. Though for the most part insignificant, the jeep road was nonetheless significant for me because I had, wrongly, assumed that the road up to the CT would represent a break, an easing up, after the Hermosa Creek Trail. The jeep trail section would take it's share of my endurance for the day before I arrived to the CT. Fortunately, for my ambitions for the day, as I climbed this section I had excellent views behind me and did not see another bike and rider. Part way up, I stopped a vehicle to ask for a cable tie, I'd broken the mount for my Garmin Edge 520 when I crashed on the Hermosa Creek Trail. A few minutes later I had what I needed and rode on.
The initial section of the Colorado Trail and the few miles that follow give little indication of the challenges that await on this section of the course. In total, the Colorado Trail section of the DDC is a whopping 50 miles of single track. However, even if you were familiar with what was ahead, no doubt as a mountain biker you'd be celebrating being off the steep jeep trail where the sounds of ATVs and other motorized vehicles are not uncommon. With no experience with what lay ahead, I rode on under the trees, occasionally climbing, often descending. I felt good and so far the weather had been brilliant. The ride from downtown Durango to the CT had taken me about four hours. What remained, in hindsight, was over seven hours of mountain biking to the finish.
Eventually the CT ascends to tree-line and then maintains this elevation, or higher, for many miles. There really isn't any shelter and there are few exit points, such as a jeep trail to quickly descend. As I made my way along the ridges between forest patches the skies transformed and soon rain fell in showers, but never deluged, I was lucky in contrast to others that raced with me in the 2017 edition of the DDC. I was also lucky because I avoided close proximity to lightening strikes, something else some of my competitors experienced. The worst scenario for me unfolded as I ascended Indian Trail Ridge. The thunder shook the bedrock under my cleats. I made as much haste as possible as I hiked my bike, often pushing it seemingly above my head because of the steepness of the trail. This was the last of about four high points along the most exposed sections of the Colorado Trail.
On any other day other than a race day, the CT portion of the race would be an inspiration to absorb as much of the landscape as possible. The views, even amidst a developing afternoon monsoon and a racing priority, were among the very best that I've had the privilege to stock pile from 46 years of living. The trail is at times technical, especially the descent down to Kennebec Pass, but for the most part rideable and at a good pace other than short, steep, final ascents of the high points that I mentioned. For those summit approaches everyone will have to use their shoes. And regarding the descent off of Indian Trail Ridge to Kennebec Pass, I'd advise caution here, for most of us there is a section that will always be unrideable even on our most confident days.
After that sketchy descent, made even more so by fresh rains, I remounted my bike and sped down to the lake level. Given what I'd already ridden that day, this section of the course should have presented no serious threats. But perhaps that's when we, as bike riders, are at our most vulnerable, when we allow ourselves a moment to relax, to take a breath. That's what I was doing when I allowed my front wheel to roll onto what seemed like just another muddy patch in the trail. However, this muddy patch had depth and soon I was crashing into the back-side of a trench and flying at race speed over my handlebars towards the ground. The impact shattered the otherwise calm space that my right ring finger had descended into, and sent a shock through my body that took many miles to subside. But worst of all, two rocks pealed open my left knee with the efficiency, and effect, of a cheese grader on a block of soft cheese. I was left with two significant chunks of meat hanging off my knee. I tried to remove them in my pain haze, but they proved to be rubbery, not something you could easily tear off. I quickly gave up, remounted, and swore my way to a happier place. However, I was soon at the second aid station, aid stations are unusual for self-supported events like the DDC but welcomed. My head was still spinning from the crash as I made contact with the generous soul offering water and food, I chose to ride-on without stopping, made a wrong turn, quickly recovered, before swearing to the open spaces (not anyone or anything in particular) my way past the same person. My guess is they weren't impressed, I'm not either in hindsight. For me, it was an unfortunate coincidence to have contact so soon after a hard fall. A few miles down the trail, after I'd eaten an Organic Honey Stinger Waffle, I was feeling better, well enough to resume my focus on the trail and the race.
What remained of the CT was extensive, I had to go very deep to maintain even a moderate pace, not really a race pace by this point, all the way to what seemed like a descent that would never come. Between were countless more wet stones and roots, dozens of stream crossings, steep off camber scree fields high-up on massive summits, tight trees to navigate, and climbs that led to more climbs and those to still more climbs. It was a tour-de-force of a challenge, the body was deep in the pain cave for miles that stretched to nearly twelve hours. In previous editions of the DDC the course has been ridden (annihilated) in just under 10 hours, the record pace set a few years ago. However, in the conditions leading-up to and that prevailed during the race, ten hours seems an unlikely, perhaps unreachable, conclusion even for the fastest, freakish, ultra-endurance racers.
My hope was to finish in under 11 hours, instead I had to settle for 11 hrs and 43 minutes. And keep in mind this does not include the ride into town, another ca. 10-15 minutes. Add those additional minutes and I'm a 12-hour finisher, well behind the top-times from previous DDCs. However, if I re-consider the weather before and during and compare the finish times of my nearest competitors, including a few with many years of experience riding in Durango, my time was perhaps very good given course conditions and other variables. Among the 'other variables', the 2017 DDC was my first experience ridding any of the course. But analyses aside, I'm thrilled with my time and my place. Even more so, I'm thrilled that I took the advice of Ben Parman, teammate and friend, to sign-up for the Durango Dirty Century. It delivered so much in such a short window of time. My reflection will continue and will never completely subside, I'm guessing, until I return to the Planet Earth that made me.
With a knee that looked like a botched surgery, I eventually found my way back to the Siesta Motel where Larry and Marlene, second generation owners and operators, were smiling as they greeted their far-flung visitor. The night before, Larry had generously given me the last room for a discount, after tax, just 88 dollars - a fantastic price for busy, overbooked, Durango. And that price included three beds, a full kitchen, and palatial living- and bath-rooms. Upon rolling back into their company, I discovered that their units were completely booked and I'd failed to realize how much I'd need a room on this night. It's a long story, briefly I had friends visiting Colorado from Florida and they were staying in nearby, up the million dollar highway, Ouray. The thought of camping on a floor in their tight cabin was enough for me to inquire about staying another night with Larry and Marlene. As my leg continued to bleed, I was greeted by one of Larry's guests, briefly again because this story has already trickled on and on, she offered to let me stay with her and her traveling companion in room #6, the same room I had the night before. And so, after some assessment, and meeting her roommate, I accepted. An hour later, following recovery food, a shower, and bandaging, I was on my way to the post-race social at Carver's Brew House.
I want to thank all of the strangers, including my competitors but especially my hosts on this second night, for their kindness. They contributed to a story that was as unexpected and eventful as a day spent in Alice's wonderland.
Breck 100: 29 July 2017
Despite how much time has passed it's still my intention to capture my experience from the race in a short blog entry. In the meantime, here's what Josh Tostado, the legend, had to say about his twelfth experience racing the Breck 100, "Usually I am crushed by this race but this year the race teamed-up with mother nature for the ultimate double-team. Every person that crossed the finish line on that day was a hard ass in my book, and this edition of the race will go down as the hardest so far". For more details about the 2017 Breck 100 check-out Josh's blog page at www.joshtostado.com.
Summary: In this three-part blog-entry I recall my pre- and post-racing experiences at the 2017 editions of the Original Growler (Gunnison, Colorado), Salida Big Friggin Loop (Salida and Buena Vista, Colorado), and the Fat Tire 40 (Crested Butte, Colorado). I also share my motivations for entering the Fat Tire 40, a chance to race amidst an exceptional outdoor community with an exceptional mountain biking history and also very close to a community with the same priorities just down the hill in Gunnison, Colorado. Highlights include a first place finish overall in the ultra-endurance Salida Big Friggin Loop!
ORIGINAL GROWLER: 28 May 2017, Gunnison, Colorado
For the 2017 edition of the Original Growler, half (32 mile) and full (64 mile) routes, Gunnison Trails introduced a new course with even more single track than years before at the expense of (mostly dirt) road sections. Single-track has never been in short supply in this race. The addition of even more, including the technical, rocky, Graceland Trails, ensured that the experience would leave a long-lasting, positive, impression even among the most experienced participants.
I had a productive week leading-up to the event, as far as race prep on and off my Niner Bikes Jet 9 RDO. As in the past, this year I was registered for the Full Growler, about 64 miles of racing at Hartman Rock's Recreation Area, scheduled for 28 May. Prep encompassed three days in Gunnison including a visit with a friend, KAO Dave, at the clean, green, and friendly, Gunnison KOA. On the first full day, I rode the entire course (two laps) at (mostly) endurance pace starting from the main parking area at Hartman Rocks. The following day I used my 2002 Toyota Tacoma to access convenient entry-points to session the three most difficult sections of the course along Skull Pass, Josie's, and Rattlesnake Trails. No doubt, training and living at elevation for three days in Gunnison (7700 feet, 2350 meters) was beneficial. And rather than return to Fort Collins after my pre-ride / session work, I instead accommodated additional high-elevation acclimatization by staying in Salida (7100 feet, 2165 meters) for five days prior to the race.
Saturday, about mid-day, I returned via Monarch Pass to Gunnison from Salida. I want to thank two friends for their support, Andrew Mackie (Executive Director, Central Colorado Conservancy) for allowing me to camp-out in his living room from Monday-Friday and runner extraordinaire Ellen Silva for crewing for me on short notice including a quick visit on Saturday to transfer bottles, food, and strategy. Ellen was in town to crew for her freakishly fast (aka, "pro") boyfriend that was also competing in the Full Growler. She was very generous to wait close to 30 minutes for me to finish after her primary responsibility crossed the line, he finished 5th overall by the way, legit.
A neutral start from town got underway, following a Leadville 100-style shotgun blast, at 7 AM, Sunday morning. Just before the gun went off the pros, among others, were shedding arm warmers and vests. It's noteworthy, based on my experience, that some of these very experienced racers were visibly shaking because of the morning temperature, reportedly 30 F (-1 C) or possibly even cooler, at least one report suggested 28 F. A few degrees aside, it was certainly a cold start even for late May in Gunnison, Colorado. Unlike my neighbors on the starting line, I retained my arm warmers and vest, ultimately I was able to hand-up my vest to a volunteer as I exited Skull Pass on lap one. I held onto the arm warmers to the finish, so often I forget to ditch them when I have the chance, such as when I stopped briefly to resupply water from Ellen before starting lap two.
I felt good on the roll-out and stayed close to the police escort, just one bike between me and the bumper, close enough to the elite racers that I was able to listen-in on their conversation, a privilege that I wasn't able to retain for long. When the group reached the right turn onto the dirt at Hartman Rocks I was quickly dropped by the top fifteen or so riders as they raced towards the base of Kill Hill. With an average and max grade of 8% and 22%, respectively, Kill Hill is an effective obstruction for spreading-out the pack. At the top of Kill Hill, the race continued for about 1.5 miles on deeply rutted jeep road before descending onto the first section of single-track, Josho's Trail.
My ascent up Kill Hill was slower than my race performances in both 2015 and 2016, 4:34 min:sec versus 4:16 and 4:12, respectively. I didn't feel bad, it's possible I wasn't as warmed-up as years past, perhaps because I've become more efficient at staying out of the wind in a peloton. Despite my slower time up Kill Hill, on the fire road I passed far more than passed me. This set me up, at the intersection with Josho's, to descend onto the single-track with a comfortable space ahead and behind. However, I quickly rolled-up on a group of about five riders as we started the first single-track ascent. No doubt I lost some time getting around these initial riders, perhaps enough to decide my race fate, the 1 minute 24 seconds that I would eventually concede when I rolled over the finish line in 2nd place among 40-49 amateur males (geared).
Traffic aside, as I descended and then ascended Josho's, I settled-into an uncomfortable, endurance-tempo pace that I knew I could sustain for many hours with sufficient food and water. Whether or not that pace was faster or slower than previous years is difficult to say, perhaps impossible. My gut suggests I was slightly behind my pace from 2016 and possibly 2015, consistent with my times and overall placement (14th, 17th, 21st overall in 2015, 2016, 2017). Considering I lived for six months over the winter at sea-level, my performance even at the end of May was probably still being affected by an incomplete acclimatization to high elevation (ca. above 7000 feet). But living preferences and acclimatization aside, for the most part I felt strong throughout the race and for that I'm grateful. I'm also grateful that I pedaled away from a high-speed crash that I experienced on the descent of Skull Pass (lap two).
On lap two, following a fast descent (only 9 seconds off my PR) of the Graceland Trails, I rolled-up on the wheel of a racer, Andrew Feeney, that would ultimately finish three places ahead of me overall (inside of the top 20). More significantly, before reaching the finish line he'd pass two racers from my age class, one pro, and one amateur, the amateur would finish #1 in the male 40-49 class, which was my goal for the day consistent with my first place, age 40-49 (amateur, geared), finishes in 2015 and 2016. It's always easy, in hindsight, to question what you "should have" and "could have" done, in a race or any other situation that comes to mind. But as all of us eventually learn, as we age, perhaps supplemented by the fabulous book Stumbling on Happiness (2006) by Daniel Gilbert, "should have" and "could have" thinking is replete with pitfalls and misconceptions.
Respecting these caveats, I nonetheless cannot help concluding that I wish I'd dug deeper. Over the roughly four miles that remained in the 64 mile endurance challenge, I wonder, looking back, if I had the resources to take back what remained of the four minutes that Wesley Sandoval, #1 finisher in my age class, had taken from me on lap one, and then a bit more. Instead, I watched as Andrew rode away from my wheel shortly after we connected to a short piece of jeep road. As I topped the next hill, by this point on my own, I watched Andrew approach two racers as all three approached the single-track known as Top of the World. Based on finish times, Andrew likely passed them on that section or as he climbed The Ridge. In 2015, unknowingly, I passed my last age 40-49 competitor during lap two on The Ridge, and subsequently crossed the finish line 36 seconds ahead of that individual. My fate was different in 2017, 1 min 24 seconds off the back of Wesley, but that's racing, and #2, despite being the "first loser" as my former coach Alex Hagman once joked, is certainly something to celebrate!
SALIDA BIG FRIGGIN LOOP: 10 June 2017, Salida, Colorado
There's a lot that's tough about the self-supported (no aid stations, no course markings, etc) Salida Big Friggin Loop (SBFL). An event, like many others (perhaps all) from the Colorado Endurance Series, that's been described as ultra-endurance. As this implies, the SBFL is considered a step above, i.e., harder than, events that fall under the endurance category including the popular Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race. But rumors and opinions aside, whether or not the SBFL is "ultra-" versus within the "normal" range of endurance-style brutal is probably best decided by a participant that's competed in both events. That's what I signed-up for in 2016 (both events), in 2017 I returned to the SBFL (but not the Leadville 100) for a second time with a goal to win the event overall. This would be my first, premeditated attempt, at actually winning a bike race, part of an amazing, personal and athletic journey from 2013-14, "just finish without being run-over"; to 2015-2016, "see if you can win your age class"; to 2017, "lets see if you can win the whole thing!"
In my first rendezvous with the Salida Big Friggin Loop. despite gong off-course for about 21 minutes, I finished 2nd overall just a few seconds ahead of the third place finisher. Ahead of me, by a convincing ca. 45 minute margin, was my good friend and mentor, Ben Parman (aka, "the Parmanator"). In 2017, I wanted to return to the event with the knowledge of the course that I had stock-piled in 2016. I also wanted to deploy a more aggressive, and hopefully effective, water and food strategy. Going into the 2017 race, I felt that if I could keep the air in my tires, stay on course, maintain an uncomfortable endurance-tempo pace throughout, and eat and drink sufficiently, then I had a chance to cross the line first overall.
As far as nutrition, plan and implementation, I consumed an original GU gel (not Roctane, too expensive) or Organic Honey Stinger Waffle every ca. 45 minutes. If my stomach was feeling a little too sweet then I went with the waffle, if it was feeling content, neutral, then I went with the gel. Importantly, I started eating right-away including a gel a few minutes before the neutral roll-out from town. At the 2017 SBFL, I raced for 10 hours and 2 minutes, so that's roughly thirteen feeds, combined gels and waffles. As far as calories consumed, my guess is I ate about nine gels and four waffles (total 13 feeds). GU gels are about 100 calories each, waffles about 140 calories, 9x100 + 4x140 = ca. 1460 calories consumed during the race. As of 2016, I've been using only water, no dissolvable mix of any kind, in my Subculture Cyclery (Salida, CO) bottles.
For hydration, I started with two 26-oz water bottles which were, in hindsight, not enough for the first 50 miles of the race, Salida to Buena Vista, via the Colorado Trail below Mounts Shavano, Antero, and Princeton. The summits of all three of these peaks exceed 14,000 feet, part of a stunning alpine backdrop that rises majestically from the floor of the Arkansas Valley (Collegiate Peaks Wilderness). If, in the future, I line-up at this event for a third time, I'll certainly stash a water bottle somewhere between Mount Shavano and the base of the Mount Princeton climb. I feel that the only mistake I made, as far as hydration, was not stashing a bottle in this section. The two bottles that I carried from Salida were essentially finished by the time I was part-way up the difficult Mount Princeton climb, a paved and dirt road climb that reconnects racers to the Colorado Trail.
Not dehydrated but definitely parched, I was finally able to resupply water at the local tennis courts east of downtown Buena Vista (BV). In roughly two minutes, I drank 20 ounces or more and then refilled my two 26-oz bottles. From here, I ascended to Trout Creek Pass, about mile 68 on the course, before descending to my first, 24-oz, water stash roughly two miles away. The day before the race, as I'd done in 2016, I spent some time stashing water on the back-40 miles of the race course. After a longer descent and some climbing, roughly twelve miles from Trout Creek Pass, I arrived to my main stash, two bottles + six original GU gels stuffed into a water bottle. Much later, at about mile 98 out of 108, I picked up my last 26-oz bottle before the final, significant, dirt road climb. Because of that last 26-oz stash, I had access to water during the hottest part of the day as I navigated (up and down) about 10 miles of single-track through the Arkansas Hills, eventually to the same location in downtown Salida where the race started at 6:30 in the morning, Cafe Dawn.
The neutral roll-out (not enforced but generally followed) ends when the pavement turns to dirt whilst ascending from Salida to about 10,000 feet on the slopes of Mount Shavano. Unlike 2016, I decided to keep this section of the race reasonable, not going too deep, but at the same time trying to keep the fastest riders within sight all the way to Blank's Cabin, the start of the Colorado Trail section. I met my goal and felt good on the climb. When I reached Blank's I entered the woods among the top four or five. Subsequently, I was quickly caught and passed before a significant hike-a-bike on a rocky, loose, and steep ascent. But at the top, I quickly regained that difference and rode on to the next wheel. I was probably a little too hot on the throttle after that ascent, but in hindsight I must not have gone too deep either because of how well I was able to maintain my pace late in the race. I caught the lead rider well before the descent into the Mount Princeton Valley, Part-way up the asphalt section of the Mt. Princeton climb the same rider came into view below, but I'd see him for the last time as I approached the Colorado Trail on the upper slopes of Mount Princeton.
Throughout the day, even as I was approaching the finish line at Cafe Dawn, I was looking over my shoulder. Many miles before the finish, a look over my shoulder at Chubb Park, not far from the famous South Park, gave me a lot of encouragement towards the conclusion that I might be far ahead, perhaps enough to hold onto the win. Nonetheless, I remained vigilant and on the pedals throughout the day.
Because of careful planning, food and hydration, and perhaps backing-off on the opening climb, I suffered much less along Aspen Ridge, ca. miles 94-98, than in 2016 when I was barely able to rotate my pedals on what seemed like endless climbs and far-too-short descents between. For sure, I was hurting in 2017 through Aspen Ridge but it was a hurt that I could withstand without descending into mental anguish and a desperately slow, grinding, cadence. Knowing where I was, how much climbing was ahead, etc, was also a huge advantage relative to my previous experience.
At the top of Aspen Ridge, it seemed, based on what I hadn't seen behind me at Chubb Park or elsewhere, that the race was mine to win or lose, all I had to do to achieve the former was maintain a reasonable pace to the finish, enough to stay out front without seriously risking a crash. I wouldn't say I dropped Cottonwood Trail with extreme caution, but I certainly backed-off my fastest pace, especially when approaching rocks that could have easily been my tires undoing. Following that descent, a section that I enjoyed despite how many miles I'd raced that day, I rolled-out of the Arkansas Hills to the palatial view of the Arkansas Valley, Arkansas River, and Salida, below. Soon thereafter, I crossed the train tracks adjacent to town, navigated a fence opening, crossed the F-Street bridge, made a right, and finally, dodged traffic at the last street crossing before rolling to the finish.
When I began bike racing back in April 2013, three years after I'd purchased an entry-level mountain bike, my first bicycle since I was about 16 years old, I did not anticipate that I'd eventually find my way to bike racing, doing well as a bike racer, and certainly not winning an ultra-endurance mountain bike event. I'm grateful that chance navigated my journey to cycling and all that the sport has taught me along the way. No doubt, no matter what comes or goes in my life, a small part of that journey, winning the SBFL overall, will remain a fond and often replayed memory.
Note, I also won (overall) the FoCo 102 earlier this year, so technically the SBFL was my second overall victory as an amateur, endurance, mountain bike racer. Unlike the SBFL, the focus of the FoCo 102 for the majority of competitors is mainly social, hence my decision to focus, as my first win, more on the SBFL than the near-equal in difficulty FoCo 102. All that said, perhaps I should focus more on the 102 as my first victory? Preferences aside, there is no doubt that my overall win at the 2017 edition of the FoCo 102 will remain, like the SBFL, a highlight of my racing accomplishments and as such, a fond memory. I want to thank Road 34 for developing, organizing, and hosting the FoCo 102,
Lastly, I want to encourage any of my readers that might be living in or close to Fort Collins, Colorado, to add the FoCo 102 to their bucket list AND to sign-up for events, such as 40 in the Fort, that will be part of the upcoming, July 21-23, Tooth or Consequences Mountain Bike Festival. Local races are easy to attend, easy on our budget, and most important, they are easy on Planet Earth: far less fuel and other non-renewables are consumed to support our cycling passion when we race locally. Also, if we don't support our local events then those will eventually go away, a sad conclusion. Go online and sign-up today, and tell your friends to do the same. I'll see you out there.
FAT TIRE 40: 24 June, Crested Butte, Colorado
Crested Butte, Colorado, widely known for epic, high-alpine scenery, is equally well known for it's mountain biking community, including a very accomplished cohort of pro and elite-amateur racers. And not too far away, a few miles down hill on the only paved road that joins the two celebrated mountain towns, Gunnison is home to an equally respected community of mountain bikers that fill the spectrum from social to high-octane rockets.
Early in my mountain biking adventures, well before I initiated training and racing, a friend, Phil Street, generously invited me to visit him in Crested Butte. That was my first visit to the extraordinary backdrops surrounding the town, often referred to as simply "CB". Pretty quick, I was hooked on the views and what I sensed were the priorities of the town, which seemed to favor proximity to nature and outdoor recreation as a good life's highest priorities. Of course, if you favor both then you will likely be very good, given hours of practice, at whatever sport(s) you favor. When mountain biking came into being, in ca. the 1970's, Crested Butte and nearby Gunnison, where people share the same priorities, quickly developed and expanded the sport (Crested Butte may even be the origin of the sport itself, more details). Eventually, both towns would become famous for their feats on mountain bikes, both professional and amateur.
Before I departed CB on that initial trip, Phil led me on two rides from town. Despite my pace, well off his wheel most of the time, Phil encouraged me throughout. From CB we traveled down to Gunnison, spent a day riding at Hartman Rocks, where I would years later win my age class for the first time as an amateur, and then drove out to Fruita and Loma for more mountain biking adventures. The whole trip was a breathtaking eye-opener to the scenic splendor of Colorado and areas regarded as some of the very best in the United States for mountain biking. I took it all in, cherished it, and dreamed about the future including returning to Crested Butte.
Years later, as I improved as a racer and interacted more with the mountain biking community, I found myself thinking about what it would mean to me to race amidst the communities of cyclists that I'd come to respect, starting from those initial trips with Phillip, in the highest regard. Early-on, I satisfied that curiosity, in part, by competing in the Original Growler in Gunnison, Colorado, for the first time in 2014; and then returning to the Growler in 2015 and 2016, both years I finished first among age 40-49, amateur, competitors (geared). As these details reveal, I accomplished my wish to compete in Gunnison early in my racing career. Along the way, each time I returned to Gunnison, I remembered my similar bucket-list dream to race among the elite up the hill, in nearby Crested Butte.
One week before the event was scheduled to start, a teammate mentioned that she was planning to attend the Fat Tire 40 in Crested Butte, part of Crested Butte Bike Week, and she thought that I should come along and throw-down amidst the local and visiting, elite-amateur, mountain bikers. I don't usually race events as short as 40 miles, more typically I favor (and my finish placements do as well) much longer events (65-100 miles). But this was CB and I was eager, as I outlined above, to take part in an event in that valley. My schedule also was open on this weekend (June 24th), that too contributed to what happened next, a hasty decision, all in a day, to sign-up!
A comfortable 8 am start and neutral roll-out opened the 2017 edition of the Fat Tire 40. So comfortable that I was even able to weigh-in on a conversation with the fastest guys in the race, including number two finisher of the day Bryan Dillon, USA Pro Team Topeak-Ergon. As I'd done earlier in the year at the Growler, I stayed within the top few racers directly behind the neutral pace vehicle, that is until the car pulled-away and the pro and nearly-a-pro group increased their pace. Following that surge, I dropped, very quickly, to about mid-pack. Along the way, I tried not to think too much about it. Instead, I tried to focus on smooth, efficient, pedaling. Before the race transitioned from pavement to single-track, by now within Mount Crested Butte above CB, I'd made up some ground including a last minute 3-person pass just before my tires made contact with the dirt.
By the way, for this event I used the same tires (by now the rear showed significant wear) as the SBFL, Vittoria Saguaro 2.20 front and rear. Overall, I was impressed by their performance in both events, the non-aggressive tread pattern provided noticeably more grip than the tire I traditionally use for training and racing on dirt, Specialized Fast Trak Control 2.1-2.2. However, I'm not convinced that either tire is what I'll commit to moving forward. For the 15 July 2017 edition of the Durango Dirty Century, I'll be rolling with a Maxxis 2.2 Ikon EXO (rear) and 2.2 Ardent Race EXO (front).
When racing in a valley with the reputation of CB, no one should be surprised when the trail gets technical. Right away, the opening single-track (Upper Loop to Upper Upper) became festooned with rocks and roots, occasionally broken by short, anaerobic climbs, and longer sections of flow where the aspen trees closed-in and threatened to catch your handlebars. At times like these, when the trail gets technical, I'm fortunate to be from Fort Collins where the trails are often the same. The opening trail allowed me to pass many more competitors. By the time I reached the first section of dirt, I was warmed-up and feeling confident.
From Upper Upper the course transitioned to dirt road for a few miles before connecting to the Strand Hill (dirt) road climb. I settled-in as I monitored riders that were coming from behind, when I needed to I picked-up my pace to maintain the gap. The back-side of Strand Hill is a fast descent on mostly, non-technical, single-track. However, just before the exit above the same road, and nearly the same point, where the Strand Hill climb began, is a narrow, steep, washed-out gully in place of where a trail once descended. When I came face-to-face with this unanticipated gulch I was carrying a lot of speed. I tried to shave some of that whilst redirecting the bikes trajectory towards a deeply entrenched trail between two walls of stone. I'm not sure where I failed, but the next moment I was on my feet, the bike was laying between the walls, and I was focused on my right ring-finger. Somehow I'd dislocated the primary knuckle. Later, a teammate with medical expertise, advised that I might have also broken the finger and damaged a tendon. Back to the trail, I felt that I could ride on. I straightened my handlebars, not quite enough in hindsight, and remounted. For about 10 minutes my finger caused me a lot of pain. But as I approached the ascent that would lead to Deer Creek most of the pain subsided and I was able to refocus on the usual endurance-tempo discomforts.
Most of 20 minutes went by as I climbed the dirt road up to the Deer Creek Trailhead. From that point, another hour passed as I climbed and then descended Deer Creek through what must be one of Colorado's most spectacular, scenic, landscapes. On either side of the trail, wildflowers, dominated by mule's ear and lupine, inspired vast meadows with their colors as they held fast to steep slopes above and below the trail. Above this wildflower extravaganza, in the alpine zone, I could see deep pockets of late season snow interlaced with extensive talus slope and exposed bedrock cliffs. Below a green forest filled the valleys down to pastures and homesteads. In the same view, Crested Butte's namesake rose from the valley floor in majestic fashion. Despite all of this scenery, I managed to stay inside my endurance-tempo pain cave. And the descent down the back-side of Deer Creek was fast and fun (other than when I reached out to catch a slip and smacked my sore finger).
At the bottom of Deer Creek the course returned to gravel, busy Gothic Road. From here, I descended, whenever possible, in the super tuck on my top tube. Along the way I passed at least one more competitor, maybe two. And also, crossed paths briefly with my NCGR teammate, Bill Bottom. He was kindly hauling water bottles up for friends and teammates. Unfortunately, I passed him (opposite directions) with such haste that I missed the chance to get a bottle.
At the base of Mount Crested Butte the course returned to single track, and soon the final ascent before the final drop back to Crested Butte and a short road section into town. More than anywhere else on the course, I suffered on the Lower and Upper Meander climbs. I had gone into this race carrying a margin of fatigue more than I would have wanted, ideally, and I think that margin began to take affect on this climb. Nonetheless, I eventually climbed over the top, under idle ski lifts, and began the descent. Right away, my next competitor was directly ahead of me, but as I opened my suspension my rear tire suddenly deflated.
As we often do in a race, I tried to ignore my fate, and rolled on for about a minute before stopping to assess the damage. I wasn't carrying CO2 cartridges, only an exceptional hand pump from Lezyne Engineered Design. After searching for a side-wall tear, I didn't find one, I went to work partially re-inflating the tire. Unfortunately, that initial re-inflate didn't last long and I was off the bike a second time, swearing a bit, and trying once more to re-inflate without installing a tube. This one held, not completely but enough to get me to the finish line. At this point in the race, the final miles, it's a pity that I had to stop twice and, in between, shave so much speed to avoid damaging my rear hoop, I think I could have passed, certainly one, and maybe even a couple more competitors on that descent and ride to town. I was feeling good and my descending instincts were firing efficiently after the opening 35 miles of racing in technical terrain.
Of course, it could have been much worse, not only the tire incident but also my high-speed crash. So for these reasons, I'm grateful that I even finished, let alone in first place overall among amateurs aged 40-49. Even better perhaps, I finished second among all amateurs and just six minutes off the wheel of the first place amateur finisher. Adding to my accomplishments, I was 19th overall out of 122 including the freakishly fast pros. Getting back to my early experiences and bucket lists, racing in the Fat Tire 40 delivered what I'd anticipated all along, a very special day of racing, a fond memory, and plenty of inspiration for the future; a mangled finger, deflated tire, and other mishaps withstanding, it's all part of the process and part of racing.
In this entry I talk about how I pimped-up my primary race bike, the 2015 edition of Niner Bikes Jet 9 RDO (race design optimized). The pimping was accomplished with assistance from Brave New Wheel and Push Industries. And the design changes were inspired by features of Niner Bikes latest cross-country racer, the Rocket 9 RDO. After discussing those improvements, I delve into nutritional mistakes that I was making at the onset of racing in the first half of May. I conclude the article with details about the FoCo 102, my successes and near derailment, and a few words about 12-hrs of Mesa Verde. I'll pick-up with the details including the conclusion in my next blog entry.
My Northern Colorado Grassroots teammates have been stocking-up, it seems, on what by now might be accurately described as a platoon of Niner Rocket 9 RDOs since the RKT made its debut in 2016. Along the way, without the ambition to work more hours but instead to spend most of my time riding the bikes that I already owned, I've nonetheless developed a Rocket (RKT) envy. It's not that I don't love my 2015, 5-star build, Jet 9 RDO. I love that bike and all that it does for me whilst climbing and descending. Nonetheless, I feel an inexplicable attraction to the latest cross-country bike from Niner, If you're old enough to recall the original Star Wars films, picture the Millennium Falcon being drawn into the Death Star by a tractor beam (invisible force), that's what's happening each time I get close to the Rocket ... it draws me in ... a little closer. Maybe over the winter I'll find the discipline to work the necessary hours to add the Rocket to my quiver in time for the 2018 racing season.
In the meantime, as this season's racing was approaching, I studied the Rocket and then set-out to implement two of it's design features onto my aged but still crushing Jet 9 RDO. The first was inspired by the envy I felt when I gazed upon and daydreamed about the Sram Eagle 1x12 drivetrain with it's 10-50t cassette, But that envy was, unfortunately, quickly moderated by the (seemingly) unbelievable cost of the Eagle, equivalent to about 1/3rd the price (1350$) of a complete, low high-end, mountain bike. This in effect caused me to hesitate on making the purchase, and I'm glad I did, because thanks to a close friend, Ben Parman (aka, "the Parmanator"), I eventually learned about an alternative that cost just one-third of the price of an Eagle: the e*thirteen 9-46t cassette.
Retailing for about 340$, this cassette integrates seamlessly onto a Sram 1x drivetrain, the model on my Jet pre-dated the Eagle of course. And I suspect the same cassette would bolt seamlessly onto comparable models from Shimano. As I often do these days, I dropped my Jet off at Brave New Wheel in Fort Collins, Colorado; a few hours later Mike Woodard, an expert mechanic with a lengthy and diverse resume, sent me a message that the whip and the new cassette were ready for testing. At this point, I could go on-and-on about my experience before and after, but I'll just keep it simple with these few words: this cassette is a deal changer ... flexible ratios ... top and bottom end ... it'll change any 1x drivetrain into a tour-de-force of racing efficiency. If you have the money to purchase an Eagle then the 10-50t is attractive, but don't underestimate the wee 9-tooth cog at the base of the e-thirteen ... and if you don't, you'll have enough money left-over to cover 1000 dollars worth of race fees, new tires, and 3-2 PBRs from your favorite grocery store. As this implies, quite literally, the e*thirteen puts money in your pocket for the same performance as the much more expensive Eagle.
Second on my short-list of enviable features found on the Rocket was the full-lockout climbing mode integrated into the rear shock. Conveniently, by the time I was contemplating what that would be like, a fully locked-out rear shock, my Fox shock was in need of another rebuild to the extent that all of its modes were getting sloppy. With that in mind, and armed with a few details about what Push Industries might be able to do for me (thanks to insights provided by Mike Woodard at Brave New Wheel), I called up Push in Loveland, Colorado, a town just south of Fort Collins.
Those few details withstanding, I did not anticipate the education hand-up from Push, for pro bono, but that's what I received, starting from that first call, as well as a rebuilt shock comparable to the performance of the full-lockout Rocket feature. Push shaved about 10-20% of the squish off my trail and descending modes, and along the way accomplished my primary request, to make my rear Fox shock essentially lock-out in climbing mode. Like the e*thirteen cassette, this modification to my Jet 9 RDO was also a game changer. In the Salida Big Friggin Loop (SBFL, 10 June) for example, I frequently stood in the pedals on dirt road climbs and powered over the top without any (that I felt) bobbing. Instead, I felt an efficient transfer of power from my body into the bike. This together with being able to click into a 32-9t (front-rear) gear combination on flats / rolling sections could have been the reason why I was able to out-pace the competition and win the SBFL overall.
Armed with a pimped-up Niner Bikes Jet 9 RDO (race design optimized), I entered the 2017 racing season a few weeks before the SBFL, on 6 May 2017, when I socially departed the event hosts location, Road 34 on Elizabeth Street in Fort Collins, Colorado, and sauntered towards the trail-head at Maxwell Natural Area with RJ Morris and Teresa Maria. As this implies, the FoCo 102, also known as "Taint for the Feint" and the "Kick in the Dick", is not a typical "race" as we often think when we enter an event. Instead, it's an event that requires everyone to ride responsibly, at any pace they prefer and can accommodate (responsibly), over the 102 mile course, on trails that are open to general use. This explains why it was a "social" roll-out. At the base of Maxwell, my teammate RJ and I put pressure to the pedals and soon we were pulling away from the groups behind as the sun rose over our left shoulder from the vantage of riding south through Pineridge Natural Area.
The FoCo 102 is broken down into five sections. The first four sections conclude at the same, centrally located, aid station, the fifth and final section concludes back at Road 34 on Elizabeth Street. Here's my race file for all of the details of the course including over 12,000 feet (3660 meters) of vertical elevation gain. Like the Colorado Endurance Series, entries for this event are capped to meet guidelines for unsanctioned events posted by the organizations that manage the trail system in Fort Collins, such as Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Lory State Park). If you want to participate next year then send a request to join the FoCo 102: Taint for the Faint closed group on Facebook where you'll find all of the important announcements.
Other than pimping-up my Jet, foremost on my mind in the opening months of racing in 2017, May and June, has been nutrition, nutrition, and nutrition. You'd think that by now, going into my fifth season of training and racing, I would have nutrition worked-out on and off the bike. If that's your thinking then I hear you, but in fairness I'd argue that nutrition is a moving target at least in the first few years and also, decisions we make in the off season could impact our decisions when we return to 'on', which is certainly true in my case.
In each of the last two years, I've resided 4-6 months in northern Germany, scroll down my blog page for more details of my life in Germany including cycling adventures on my Niner Bikes RLT 9 Steel. On those adventures, I developed a habit of eating whole food, stuff you buy in supermarkets, small shops, bakeries, etc. After literally thousands of off-season miles, this whole or "real" food habit began to creep into my mind and stomachs 'normal' with the effect that when I tried to switch back to high-octane race gels and bars in 2017 (didn't seem to be an issue, the switch back, in 2016), I immediately started to have problems. Initially, I thought okay, I'll just go all whole food. That didn't work either. So then I tried a mixture, that's where I was in the evolution when I rolled-out for the FoCo 102.
However, I also, at that time, May, in anticipation of an unhappy stomach was typically delaying my initial food intake for as much as three hours. I'd ride hard for three hours on the fuel I had on board and then start to eat, as I did at the FoCo 102, and then I'd bear with my unhappy stomach to the finish, occasionally adding food to what seemed was a blocked digestive system. And "blocked" may not be far from the truth. I've since had discussions with a pro-female racer, a friend, from Crested Butte, I gave her the details and she immediately responded with a closed fist ... her metaphor for my stomach after three hours of not eating during a race or a hard workout. Apparently, it shuts-down and even shrinks if you don't occasionally add food as you race. That explains why I felt as if I was stuffing food and water down a blocked pipe with serious consequences, especially at 12-hrs of Mesa Verde, more on that in my next blog entry.
Concluding on the FoCo 102, I felt excellent for the first 5-6 hrs, and not bad up to about 8 hours. That's when a lack of sufficient nutrition began to catch-up with me. By hour 9 (total race time was 10 hrs 24 minutes), I was really starting to lose power and slip into the unhappy mental space that signals the onset of dangerously low metabolic and other nutritional resources your body needs to keep going. About 9.5 hours into the event I was nearly bonking as I rode the technical Foothills Trail. Subsequently, I climbed Shoreline on my last gasp before I fortunately topped-out over Maxwell and rode (essentially) downhill all the way to the finish line at Road 34. I had survived my poor decisions, though just barely, but unfortunately I did not wake-up to the fact that I would inevitably experience at the considerably longer 12-hrs of Mesa Verde as a solo, male, geared competitor.
In my next blog entry, I'll pick-up with what turned-out to be my most significant athletic "mind" failure to date, measured by the depth that I fell. In the meantime, on a positive note, the FoCo 102 was an exciting and historical finish to add to my modest palmarès, wining overall in a bike race for the first time. And my finish at the Growler on 28 May, following Mesa Verde, was also a significant success. In between, as I've come to understand and respect, I faced part of the unavoidable process that occasionally derails athletic (mind and body) progress and temporarily replaces sensible analysis and conclusions with nonsensical emotions championed by our inner chimp. My inner chimp reigned for a week after Mesa, but especially, with regrettable consequences, the first 72 hours following my decision to end my race after lap six. Check-back in the next few days for my next blog entry ... I seem to be on a Jet-Niner roll ... and since it's nearly July, one might say ... it's about time!