MTB racing in 2014?

Ridgeline Rampage FinishI’ve been rather on the fence about racing mountain bikes this year. Last year I did most of the RME series, but with DK200 training and getting throttled year after year, my desire for a full series was pretty low. I had earmarked a few of the RME races (Ridgeline, Battle of the Bear) as they are fun races and are far enough out from DK so I didn’t need to worry about that, while a few others were too close to really take on.

Last week, with Ridgeline approaching, it was time to make a decision. While I feel pretty good with riding endurance right now, I knew this race starts fast and doesn’t really relent over the course of three hours. I’d had a couple good mountain bike rides, but not much in the way of hard efforts. The Friday before I decided to go pre-ride with some friends and see what the reverse direction of the course felt like on my singlespeed (SS). That wasn’t so bad, so why not race? And race SS for the first time?

I warmed up a bit and already I could feel my legs were a bit sluggish. I guess riding the day before wasn’t the smartest opener idea. The race started this year in front of the school and then up the bike path for almost a mile. The SS category is an open category, so I knew that there was going to be some guys dropping me right away (which happened) but I was probably in the final 3-4 onto the singletrack which wasn’t too surprising. One rider came by early, but I could kind of keep an eye on him. For a bit I thought I’d catch back up to a couple others. My heart rate was going crazy, but things were good going into the first big hill.

In the bottom third of the hill, things went wrong. My legs wanted to go faster (to get the hill out of the way) but my cardio wanted nothing to do with that effort. I couldn’t breath. There was no way I was making it up at speed and there was no way I was going to be able to grind out a slow cadence right then. I pulled off. Riders piled by. I couldn’t breath and it was only 2-3 miles into a 30 mile race!

I pushed on, thinking of excuses to quit. I can’t breath, that’s a good reason. I can’t keep going like this for a full race, that means I should quit. I passed through the lap halfway point and kept going. There wasn’t even any recognition in my mind beyond, “This is horrible – I should quit…”. The second half of the lap has only one long climb which I managed, barely. On a blind left hand turn, I grabbed my front brake and slide across the dirt, luckily the racer behind was aware enough to call it out so I didn’t have four people pile up on me. Crashing, that’s a good reason to quit. When I was finishing that first lap after what seemed like 10 hellish miles, a rider finishing their lap just in front of me first asked a junior (who was finishing his race) if they had to do another lap, then asked me how many I had to do and I think I just said “Three”, mad that someone didn’t know what was going on and that they would bother my sufferfest.

I kept going. I was probably 24 miles into the almost-30 miles before I realized I had maybe a dozen sips of water, finished one bottle of electrolytes and had no food during the entire race. It was an endless cyclocross race. When I approached the steep switchbacks on the back side of the course, I found two geared riders walking it and a few other geared riders riding around them (in some not so fun loose gravel). There was no way for me to pedal at a very slow cadence, over the “bad” line, behind the two riders. So I hopped off and walked the steep parts of the hill before hopping back on. Shortly after this is a fun downhill section followed by an uphill. I was pacing behind a rider when he sat up suddenly just as a rider behind both of us started to pass. My choice was to slam into this rider or just to the left, passing him without calling it out, and then letting the other rider by (who had followed my line). Slowly I was becoming that singlespeed rider who hates on all the geared riders.

With one final bit of walking on the last steep switchback, I realized that it was finally done. It was all downhill to the finish, a few geared riders hopped by with their final burst of energy (and gears since the downhill was just at the sweetspot where you can’t really pedal it with one gear). Around the final couple corners and across the line. A race I wanted to quit in the first 30 minutes was over, after almost 3 hours of pedaling. I hadn’t had a race like this. The first hour was such a searing experience, while the rest of the race was managed almost on autopilot.

Mountain bike races are still fun, but I think I need to reacquaint myself with the idea of challenging myself rather than focusing on my placing among other riders and finding the balance of fun and training. Riding bikes is fun and I don’t mind doing some work to make goals happen (e.g., training is fun) but I think I just need to find what’s right, which is probably always a moving target.

Indian Creek

In a typical race report, I’d start with an some explanation or another about the start of the race day. But this race which was new to me, but also to the Rocky Mountain Endurance series, started with a little misadventure a few days prior.

I had ridden near this trail on the Colorado Trail, but not there before. The trails at Indian Creek lay just to the south of the Colorado Trail’s segment 1/Waterton Canyon. From the riding (and hike-a-bike) near the race course there I knew this could be steep and rocky. This was confirmed in an off hand way when the race distances were shortened by adding a “short lap”. While this could mean that the main lap was a bit long for two laps, I figured it meant my nemesis: climbing.

976804_10151629900008578_1383994231_oAfter work a few days prior, I took off a bit early and found the drive took longer than I expected. By the time I hit the trail, only half sure of where I was headed, it was 6 pm. Typically laps for this series end up around 10 miles and so I wasn’t too concerned since I knew sunset was after 8 pm now. Surely this won’t take two hours! I climbed up the road into the campground and found the trail and continued to climb up. This is fitting, I though pedaling up and up, another long climb to start a race. Sure, it’s standard cross country racing, especially here in Colorado to climb and climb at the start. But suddenly I was surprised. The trail pointed down through the cedars, skirting down a ridge of almost loomy soil. Roots and small rocks here or there, fun turns to lean your way through. Views opened up on both sides, exposing mountains to one side and a view of a distant Denver on the other. A ripping descent that just kept point itself downward. By the time I hit the third or fourth mile (yes really) of the descent the realization hit me that I was going to have to climb back up.

Between navigation and stopping to gape at the views and beautiful trail, time had started to slip away. I reached the bottom of the descent near Roxborough State Park and started the long fire road climb. The beginning of the climb is an arduous, steep, eroded bit of red dirt road. After that it becomes a bit more manageable becoming a long stretch of double track before reaching a powerline section of trail. The course was marked during my preride which was very helpful, especially as I neared some whoop-de’s that were pretty extreme. I nearly endo’d on one of these before realizing how steep these were. The trail undulates a bit after this, descending over steep roots and water bars. Then after a couple creek crossings you suddenly hit it: a steep hike-a-bike … and the first of a couple. The last few miles of the course prove to be the hardest. There are several sections where the ground points upwards at extreme angles often meaning a hike-a-bike for most.

At the top of one of these hike-a-bike sections I stopped to take a picture of the sun going down. I rode on for a while and the light kept fading. It had been a while since I had seen a race marker and the trail was getting dark enough I wasn’t riding a few things since it was getting hard to see. I passed some people hiking into the trail so that gave me some hope. But I still didn’t know how long this was going to last. Finally I was hiking most of the trail as I couldn’t see. In worst case I figured I had my phone to provide light, but luckily I didn’t need it. I finally reached the parking lot after an epic night adventure.

Race day went pretty much as I expected. The race started about a mile down the road and doing both laps was doable but difficult. In total there was over 6k feet of gain over the day. Beer and some pasta tasted mighty nice after this one…

Racing 2013 and CT exploration

This weekend finally brought out some of the Colorado springtime sunshine and warmth. Two days of riding in shorts and short sleeves and no baselayer!

First up was the Ridgeline Rampage race. Tight cornering, loose kitty litter surface, and relentless rolling course. Last year, it was the first mountain bike race I did here in Colorado and since it was pretty much the same course this year I was hoping to see a decent improvement. On the Friday before the race I went out for a group ride with some friends and found out quickly that my fitness was really lacking. Obviously I have a lot of work for my racing goals this year but I thought my base rides would already help more than they were.

In the foothills along the Colorado TrailSo the night before the race, I was a bit down about my fitness but by the time I got to toe the line I was feeling better. Let the leaders go, try to find a good place towards the back and ride your ride. That’s what I wanted to do and so I watched the first 20 or so riders disappear ahead of me. Going into the singletrack we actually cleaned the first bottle neck and continued up the ridge. I knew I was going too hard but I couldn’t find a good way to dial it back. Racers were coming around me, many from the other age groups. At the second hill I exploded and pulled over to catch my breath before finishing out the climb. The only thing I could think about as I watched my heart race towards cyclocross-levels was quitting. When those thoughts surfaced I kept trying to keep positive and just realize that finishing was more important than doing well. Don’t quit, I pleaded with myself.

All in all, the race was great fun. It hurt and I suffered, fighting leg pain, back pain, dehydration, and hunger. But I tested myself and in my own way I won out on that front. Hopefully next year I can really improve on my climbing and higher end capacity before this race.

And while my legs were tired … I was excited to spend another day out in the sun so I headed down south a bit to segment 1 of the Colorado Trail. The trail there was great and the Waterton Canyon Rd gave me a good warmup before heading into the singletrack climbs. There was some hike-a-bike for a bit in a particularly steep and rocky section. I rode until I was about 8 miles into the trail and headed back down. There was a bit of snowpack up at the top but it looked like it may be good slightly above that. The canyon was significantly more busy on the way out but all in all it was a good day. Any day with a bike ride tends to be a good day…

A Long Road

“When you can’t run anymore, you crawl… and when you can’t do that … you find someone to carry you” — Firefly

This weekend offered up a new opportunity to test and to suffer. I took on the AntiEpic 150 (AE) gravel grinder down just south of Castle Rock, CO. Although, that’s just where it starts and certainly isn’t the only place it ends up.

I felt confident about finishing, but knew that it was just going to be an OK ride. Going into DK last year I had more miles and probably a bit more climbing under my belt. Last month I had some miles, but don’t know that it translated well to AE. And here’s the thing: if I tell you we’re going to go ride on the plains of Colorado you likely think “eh, it’s pretty flat out there.” The rub is that as the miles pile up, so do the challenges.

Ben from Mountain Bike Radio correctly called the weather for the day: freezing cold at the start as the sun came up, cool and nice most of the day with some warm in the afternoon, and then some threatening clouds. The cold was indeed cold enough that most people had frozen hands and there was a cheer for the sun coming out from behind the mesas. We did get to see some mule deers crossing the road at this point which was a good start to the ride.

For the first 20-odd miles I mixed it up with a couple groups but my climbing just wasn’t there to hang out. I often played the climb-slow-descend-fast game with a few groups. Having done a preview of the course the opening section was easy to navigate and fun. When the course started to head north I caught a couple people and had a few people to ride with here or there. CR30 was the worst of the roads here and there was a bit of a navigation error here but several of us corrected and pointed the back on course. As I approached the halfway point in Deer Trail, CO I toyed with not going into town but am glad I did. Grabbed a coke and some water to top off the tanks and ate a bit of food.

Leaving Deer Trail my legs were sluggish but started to feel better after warming back up. But soon I was just a lead weight. There were a couple mountain bikers that kept a decent gap on me through this section except a couple times I would get closer. From my pain cave I watched them working together and hated that they were out of reach. The area around me was beautiful when I allowed myself to look. Around 90 miles I started playing a game of wanting a break, but telling myself to just ride a bit further. 100 miles came a bit faster than I would have expected in just under 7 hours, even with all this suffering.

2013-04-06 20.39.52Eventually I found another group that was just out of reach and chased them along the appropriately named Ridge Road. At the end of the road a larger group waited and I tagged along with them. We finally crossed back over 86 and I was off the back. Soon I came around one bend and noticed a bunch of arrows and some bike tracks heading onto a B-Road. The road was fun, soft and mostly uphill. It was a fun diversion from bumpy dirt and gravel.

At this point I got a bit lost. My cue sheet was off and hadn’t taken the B-Road into contention. After the B-Road I followed the tracks down CR98, but kept going to Fondis, CO (which consisted of two run-down building and two homes and a church). From there, I knew I needed CR94, but headed north and met up with CR102. Luckily, my pre-ride saved me again because I knew how to get back onto the route up ahead.

CR94 offers one of the biggest challenges as it crests steep 1.3 mile climb (after a couple rollers of course). I had been taking a couple breaks on hills at this point but this hill did me in. The granny gear felt like pushing the big ring. I ended up walking this hill sadly. I had already predicted this hill would hurt after 130 miles.

From here, things went down hill riding wise. It seemed I would stop almost every mile; steep hills were horrible affairs. At one point after hiking up a hill, I stopped to change lenses in my sunglasses. A lady came out to ask how I was doing and offered me something to drink. I told her I didn’t have too much to go. On another steep hill, after I put on my light I watched some deer jumping the fences across the road. A nice family stopped to see how I was doing on my hike. At that point I believe I was less than 10 miles from the end. I rode on, walking hills, riding flats or descents. Eventually I came towards the end. In the end I was the last one done and the last one to leave.

This is a very challenging route, but insanely fun. There is some beautiful country out there and Ben has created a great loop. But bring your climbing legs! This offers everything you could want: being chased by dogs, beautiful views, gravel, bumps, dirt roads, sand, chances to go sideways. Personally, I hope to see some of this gravel again … but not for a month or two :)

Some early season races

So, without realizing it racing season is … well, now. And that means a couple “race into shape” events for me. The early season schedule is looking like:

After this opening salvo, things settle down a bit. But here’s to a fun summer of leg destroying rides!