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!

Breck 32

Coming into the Breck 32, I knew I was a bit behind the game. I had put off the race in my mind for a few months, mostly because I was wishing I could do the 68 mile version instead but knew it was still too early in my time in Colorado to tackle that. I also just knew that hadn’t really targeted anything specific for the race. Since DK200, I just haven’t been too motivated when on the bike.

We got into town earlier and spent a long day helping out at the race on Saturday. I spent time helping with the setup and registration. By late in the evening I could feel my body was tightening up and my legs were a bit tired from being on my feet from about 9:30. It wasn’t the smartest thing to do before the race, but I didn’t fret too much because I knew I was just here to ride, right?

Sunday morning I helped out again for a while before it was time to duck out, change, and get ready for racing. As I’m warming up on some pavement, I can tell today is going to be difficult. My legs were feeling like lead. I did a couple of short rides up the hill that we were going to start on and my speed was maybe 8-9 mph while staying “comfortable”. I knew the fast guys would obviously smoke me, but I was worried everyone would! And at the start line I found that the starting pavement section was longer than I thought…

The start went off and people started to drag race away from me. I may have already been delusional, but I thought I saw myself at the back of the race within the 1st turn on the road. The road climb was fun but I was still stressing about the way my legs felt. I paced up with a few riders and ended up working with a few. When the gradient would level out a bit, I would feel better. As soon as it got steep people came back around me.

After too much time we finally hit some gravel road, the gradient leveled to a false flat and I could feel a bit of snap to my legs. And then we had this killer gravel road descent after the first set climb. This helped me feel good because I passed a few people here. I knew this would give way to another climb, but I was feeling OK if I could catch people on descents…

Then I met Little French. All in all, this wasn’t a bad climb. It starts out with a little bit of easy-to-roll rocks and bit of fun picking your line through the rocks. But then you start to get a few kick ups and a growing number of rocks. The rider in front of me stopped to walk and I tried to push on, but picked a bad line in the haze of driving up the climb. So I started walking. In the Midwest it always seemed like if you walked a climb two things would happen:  the climb would end soon so you could get back on or you would get to another piece of the climb that would be easy to get back on. This climb just kept getting steep and getting technical. Don’t get me wrong, the climb is completely manageable and rideable. I was walking telling myself that I could ride this. Towards the top someone hopped on their bike and I thought that would be good to try. I made it about 20 feet and couldn’t really push the gears anymore. I hopped off and my legs quivered. This was going to be a long day. LF is the 1st major climb of the day! Only two more mountains to go…

The top of Little French had an amazingly fun narrow singletrack section, situated in some trees on the edge of the gulch, followed by a blistering fun gravel road. I was still a bit mentally shelled from the first climb and just paced down with another rider for awhile, avoiding catching much area on the many kicks. I did take a few of the large berms for fun though. Yay!

I grabbed some of my food as I passed the first aid station for this loop and eventually reached the next climb. This was a fun section with some tight, but manageable switch backs to power through. I remember gearing up for a slight down hill to find a steep grade that I had to hammer through in a tall gear. And my legs hated me more. On this climb I began to figure out that I didn’t really have a very happy spot to be pedal.

In my lowest gear (that I trusted), I could pedal at my cadence, but my heart rate would get too high. Or I could pedal at a much slower cadence and get stuck with tired legs. It was on this climb that I found the first of two guys doing the ultra (100 miles) and a couple doing the 68 mile race. But as this climb went on… I began to really fade. The climb wouldn’t end. I kept yo-yoing with riders. And kept telling myself: “MTFU… just pedal to that tree and then take a break … shut up legs, we’re pedaling”. It went on like this for a while. Then I started to get a few false descents … teasers really followed by small climbs.

As I started the second descent on the Colorado Trail… the rain hit. I had felt drops here or there, but now it was cold and definitely raining. But the descending stayed pretty sane. The roots didn’t get slick and there were very few rocks in this part of the trail. What a fun descent! And after a smaller climb the descent down to Tiger road was also a blast. By this time the rain had stopped and I prepared for the final climb. It started with some narrow singletrack through a resort/golf course development, followed by a never-ending gravel climb. I kept looking at my GPS and reading how far I had been. “This says 27 miles… so like only 5 more miles or something”. I caught back up to another racer doing the marathon, but eventually he would pass me as I walked some of the hill. As we approached the top of the hill I could spot the mountains near Breckenridge… and I thought I just might make it. I was suffering. I had been stuck in a pain cave … unsure of what was happening. At one point a racer who caught up to us said, “I’m going to cry if we have to go up hill again.” Just around the corner there was another hill.

Near the end of the race, I thought I could see the park below us. I figured we would be dropping down to it soon, but didn’t really know where the course was going to lead. I picked a spot, put it in the big ring and tried to blaze down some fun, slightly uphill singletrack. And eventually I was on this fun Klondike-like trail down the mountain fighting the bike through some rocks. And with a bit of pavement and a touch of singletrack I finally pulled into the finish area.

Unfortunately, in my haze I followed the wrong signs and didn’t ride through the finish correctly. I nearly lost it when the timing crew snarkly asked what I “wanted them to do about it”. I had finished the race. And while I hadn’t quit and I hadn’t finished last, I was quite disappointed in myself. There was nothing on the course that I felt was too technical or difficult. I just hadn’t prepared myself for it. At other races I had trouble with, like Syllamo, I could feel like I had done my preparations but there was just something that wouldn’t let me finish or would put me back. This wasn’t the same. I felt like the race was well within what I should be able to handle. A race is going to be difficult no matter what — the challenge is part of the appeal.

Now it’s the week before another race in a much flatter area at a lower elevation. I’ve been sick this week a bit, but here’s hoping this race brings back some good feelings on the bike.

Ride details: