On 26 July, 2014, just a few days ago, I lined-up in the open class for a 7 am start to the 11th annual Laramie Enduro. Close by were well known and accomplished racers, including Josh Tostado (Breckenridge, CO) and Steve Stefco (Fort Collins, CO). When I made the last minute decision to sign up for this race, about two weeks ago, I was thinking that this would be more of a local event with fewer of the elite rockets. My illusions dissolved in the line-up that morning, this would be a race against some of the very best, no different from my recent race experiences including the Firecracker 50.
The Laramie Enduro is a celebrated event on the Front Range of Colorado and Wyoming that draws a large crowd of contenders from the respected mountain biking towns of Laramie, Fort Collins, and Boulder among others. The races reputation (legit) also draws racers from the mountain towns, including Breckenridge, Gunnison, Aspen, and Leadville. Some riders race the event for the first time, others will return again and again, many will have a goal in mind. I resolved my goal the night before when a bar tender in a Laramie brewery by chance asked me, "what time are you hoping to finish the race in?" I responded without thinking, "under 5 hrs 30 minutes." And it was done! Definitely should have thought about that a little longer!? Nonetheless, the bar tender was impressed, he offered to buy me a beer after the race if I returned to the bar after successfully finishing in under five and half hours.
With a minimum, average, and maximum elevation of 7559, 8217, and 8856 feet (2304, 2505, 2699 meters), the Laramie Enduro is no doubt a high elevation race. And with 68 miles of single- and double-track to contend with, it's also without question an endurance race. Add to this the diversity of the course - from fast two-track sometimes with sand up-to 2 inches deep, to free-range cattle grazing throughout, to marsh crossings through thick black muck, to temporary bridges over creeks, to exceptionally long climbs on rocky single-track - and an image of the event begins to form in the mind. However, despite its difficulty, there is a reason why riders return year-after-year to the Laramie Enduro: it's epic fun on a mountain bike! Yes, there is the usual suffering to contend with that all racers experience, but the course delivers plenty of motivation to keep going ... and to come back the following year.
This somewhat grassroots event starts with a simple shout, "okay go!" And I was off with 80 other riders in the open class at 7 am. A few minutes later waves of sport and other classes were rolling behind us, in total 513 racers were on the course by 7:30 am. The race immediately ascends a steep hill on a dirt road, then turns right at the top of the hill into the forest and onto the single-track. A few miles later we were back on the two-track and descending fast. At the start, I decided that the race was long and hard enough that I didn't have to push too hard for position going into the woods. In hindsight, I think that was sensible. Nonetheless, I placed myself in about the top twenty before the first transition to single-track.
After the start, what was most important for me was trying to stay within the lead 20 riders all day. As it turned out, that meant holding myself in fast pelotons over-and-over again in the first 20-30 miles in a strong headwind, which I managed to do. However, at times I had to dig deep to pull myself back to the line. At times, I dropped far enough back that it's surprising that I was able to recover ... I kept going and tried not to think too much.
At the 3rd of five aid stations I made my planned stop for water. Five or six riders zipped past as I refreshed my bottles with water and Perpetuem. But that was unavoidable, I didn't sweat it, I enjoyed my visit with the awesome volunteers and was off in less than 2 minutes. For the remainder of the race there would be no stopping.
Before aid station four I managed to catch and pass 2 or 3 riders that passed me at aid station 3. Two or three more were behind me by aid five, the last just before I began to climb the dreaded Headquarters Hill. Fortunately, my grassroots race buddy Tommy gave me a heads-up that last year he had finished the climb and descent to the finish on the other side in 36 minutes. I kept this in mind as the hurt came on. By this time it seemed like I was spinning my legs by memory and habit rather than by muscle and strength. And the whole way up I was anticipating, given my slow pace, that I would be overtaken by several riders at any moment. In maybe my third ring from the easiest, I just tried to keep moving. I verbally assaulted the air as I went up, that helped a bit.
I'm nearing the top ... then here come more hills ... now the trail starts to roll ... and finally to descend ... last challenge is to not miss a turn! That thought kept me mentally busy over the last couple miles to the finish. I studied the bushes and trees ahead looking for course markers, at times I thought I might have gone off course ... that caused some anxiety until I spotted the next orange flag. Feeling as if I was stumbling down-hill as I had stumbled up-hill on my fully rigid bike, the road leading to the finish line a short 1/4 mile away was a much welcomed sight (fork remote hydraulic shifter housing was torn lose close to mile 35 by unknown means and this locked-out the shock for the remainder of the race). I buried the Niner Air-9 RDO, pedaled hard down hill, and then reluctantly peaked over my shoulder ... no bikes. Nonetheless, I kept the pace up, full speed, I wasn't going to lose my position, whatever it was, so close to the finish line.
It's amazing the difference between how you're feeling as you approach the finish line and the calm on the other side. I let the calm settle-in and then slowly wandered over to the area where the other finishers were chillin. Water, then watermelon, then solid food, then a beer! Sometime during the solid food phase of my post-race recovery, the first set of results were posted. I didn't wander over right away, I think I was just feeling good. But wander eventually, I did, and came face-to-face with my best finish to date, 14th out of 513 overall. My goal of staying in the top 20 all day? I must have accomplished that, though perhaps I was 21st or 22nd for a while before I started passing riders between aid stations 3 and 5. And what about that free beer? Official Time: 5:27:22. Hell ya. I didn't return to the bar, probably a good thing! But meeting that goal still felt good ... and so far, three days later, the feel good hasn't let up a bit.
The conclusion of the Laramie Enduro leaves me with just one more challenge (that I'm registered for) before I contemplate coasting into the off-season, the Leadville Trail 100 on 9 August. Last year a flat cost me some time, yet I managed a strong rookie-year finish: 8 hrs 28 minutes. This year I'm shooting for under 7.5 hrs ... that'll take everything I've learned, all the strength I have, and some luck! Less than two weeks before the shotgun booms ...