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: http://app.strava.com/rides/13638069

Dirty Kanza 200

I remember reading up on the DK a few years ago and earmarked it as something to try. At the time, I was interested in ultracycling events and long days on the bike, but I hadn’t really even approached some of the lead-up style races. After putting together some 6 hour mountain bike races and finally a successful 12 hour mountain bike race, I felt like it was time.

The Path to DK

But the lead-up was a bit more scattered than I thought it would be. When I laid out goals for 2012, I had two big races planned and one of them was a trail run. This created a bit of a challenge for me: I needed bike time for DK200, but I needed running time for the trail run. I remember a few winter long rides in St. Louis on my road bike and trying to get in runs where I could. It was interesting coming from a mountain bike/cycling background and trying to re-embrace running.

And then things changed up drastically. In March I finalized plans to move from Missouri for the first time since I was eight and make a home in Denver. March and April involved packing, trips to Denver and moving. April was my 1st month out here. March wasn’t an easy month to get much training in and since I was moving I decided to skip my trail run. So April was the first chance I had to really start my road to DK.

With that in mind, I bit the bullet a bit. I was in a new town, but I had work to do. I knew I needed to try to get a 100 mile ride or two and maybe a longer ride to see what kind of food or other changes needed to happen. So with this mindset, I logged over 500 miles including over 100 miles on 3 different bikes in April. This was the most I had ridden in a month ever! This involved finding new routes, exploring Denver by bike, and hunting down some gravel/dirt to ride as well. The training was fun and I was feeling better on the bike.

Even as June pulled close and I started to taper, the event didn’t feel real. Right up until the Tuesday before the event, I just didn’t feel like there was anything different. Suddenly I was packing, planning with my sister who was going to provide support. All the plans we had laid since winter were now showing up as real piles of gear. Then there was the thought: can I really ride 200 miles of gravel? My only ride really above 100 miles didn’t really provide too much confidence. Many of the people I had talked had discussed things that are beyond a racer’s control: tires, mechanicals, etc. So how was this going to go…?

The Long Gravel Day

Arriving in Emporia, Kansas did provide a slight bit of respite from the stress. I don’t know why… but the excitement relaxed me a bit. Seeing friends from St. Louis relieved some of the clouds. My sister and I got in an easy hour on the bikes on Friday and Saturday was go time.

The start line was cold and dark. We had left before many of the other racers in our hotel and I was pretty relaxed putting together some of my gear on the bike. I rode about the start for a while, saying hi to people, and before very long, it was time to line up. I lined up with a group from St. Louis and we rolled down the street as a pack. For awhile we run in and out of various groups. The pace was easy, but that was good. I had that race energy that wanted to take off like a MTB race. But this is 200 miles…

There are many, many details I remember about this race: riding early on in the race with the STL crew; the beautiful morning weather rolling through the farms surrounding Emporia; eventually being on my own rolling through a few groups of riders. One point early in the race we were surprised to see the leaders come back through our group after they had made a wrong turn.

One of my favorite things about this race is you almost always see where you are going to go before you get there. I had heard about Texaco Hill and the approach to it was one of those moments where you know that you’re climbing that road and that hill. At this point, one guy in a paceline I was in slammed on his brakes and the guy in front of me went down and rolled. It was strange even so early how different this seemed to put on the brakes and steer not to hit the guy.

As I got to the top of Texaco Hill, a herd of cattle came running across the road ahead of some cyclists. What a crazy site to be in an open pasture and the see these cattle interacting with the race in this way. And so the race continued on. Miles came by, hills came by. I tried to always stay aware of roads we crossed and where I was. In the final few miles before the first checkpoint, a group of riders started to roll by and I made the decision to latch on. And I sucked their wheels until we hit the pavement into Cassoday and then made a pull into the checkpoint.

In the chaos of pulling into the checkpoint, I missed the fact that my sister was waiting in the overflow parking. In fact, I missed that there even was overflow parking. I rolled around the parking lot and was about to get my phone out of my pack when I found her. The support was pretty efficient and she pointed out that we were in the prarie chicken capitol. “I’m in the capitol for something I didn’t know existed!” I told her. And

I rolled out for leg two. This leg started a bit roughly in that, 1) I was heading west (into the wind) and 2) there were almost no groups to ride with. A few riders went by going faster and I caught a few riders here or there. But overall, it was lone wolf time.

Some of my memories of the race are a bit blurred. I’ve lost track of what section something happened in. 200 miles is a long way. Even after the race, it would take time to go back over something like this. I remember there was a great creek/road section which was a fun deviation from straight-as-an-arrow roads. I remember a few times in the second section catching up to a rider and informally trying to get a group going, but often just pulling away from them.

The second checkpoint was also a bit unique in my mind. Finally, after 106 miles we reached a town and pulled into main street. Town! Civilization! Non-barn-like buildings! Except … it was kind of like rolling into town in an old western where all of the citizens are hiding in the houses. We didn’t see a soul. But we pressed on, following the arrows. Finally I found support and my sister had setup a popup to get me some shade.

While this year’s race had mild weather in DK’s of the past, shade felt great. In fact, the next section was so exposed I finally realized something. In my prep for the race, I had come up with lists of stuff to pack, lists of stuff to eat, lists of things to do while getting ready for the race. I did my best to stick to the lists and so far everything was going great. Right? Well, there was one step I kind of messed up. And it wasn’t until I was heading east towards Council Grove that I really began to notice: I forgot sunscreen on my legs and now, 120-ish miles into the race, any time the sun hit them, my legs would catch on fire. What’s a little extra pain while riding 200 miles in Kansas, right?

And there was a point in third leg where I thought I was delusional. I had been on my own for a while. My legs were sunburned. But I still had my spirits and was doing pretty good with food. My water bottles were warm and not so pleasant to drink from. And eventually I noticed one rider appear from under a tree. They were moving up the road, but slowly. They weren’t going particularly straight either. I rolled up next to them and asked how it was going. They were responsive, but you could see the suffering. I asked if they needed anything, but they said they just ate and were doing fine.

A little bit up the road, I saw another rider pop out of the shade. But this one looked familiar. It couldn’t be Peat from STL, could it? I thought. Earlier in the race, Peat had been in the group of the leaders when they had made a wrong turn. They were going orders of magnitude faster than our group. So we only glimpsed Peat as he steamed by. Now I found him checking his map. We rolled down the road and while I knew he was having a rough day, the company was amazing. We stopped for a few other riders along the way, chatted, joked. On the final stretch of road into Council Grove, Peat stopped to rest for a bit and I went into town on my own.

At the third checkpoint I had accomplished more miles in a single ride than I ever had before. I was feeling pretty good although my knees were aching, my legs were on fire, and other pains. My sister had scored a shade spot on a side street. I got some food. Changed into some compression socks to cover my sunburn. When I pulled myself from my seat I found Todd and Karen and Peat. We rolled out together. We all talked about how we ached, how we were enjoying the rail grade trail at the beginning of this section. At one point I looked straight down the road we were on and saw a set of hills above a line of trees and knew immediately: we’re going over that! This set of hills kind of shattered the group a bit. I was just trying to keep going, get the hills done so I could get the “free speed” on the downhills. But the last hills stretched us out.

And eventually we rode past a large, blue lake and people boating by waved at us. That really made me think about how we must look… dust covered bikers in the last 30 miles of a 200 mile day.

As we approached town, Peat and I joined up again. Some ways out, we joked about sprinting for the finish. The moon was full so I just rode with a “blinky” power light. Finally we reached pavement on the edge of Emporia. We started chugging into town. I realized I knew where we were and started to mentally plot our way to the finish. While doing this, Peat calls out that we need to make a left. Mentally tired, I start my turn and realize there is a car NEXT to me. My heart stops for a moment and we make the turn. What’s a near-car collision in the last mile of a 200 mile day?

The Finish

In the few years I’ve been racing… I’ve finished lots of races. Even some of the biggest races are always best because you finish and you celebrate with others that you just raced for 3 hours. Or 6. Or 12. But as we rolled down Commercial St., the emotion of finishing this race that I had worked on for months finally hit me. We passed the barricades and saw the finish line. People on the sidewalk cheered for us. We had been on pavement for maybe 10 minutes. We’d seen only about 6 people in this time. Suddenly there was a tunnel of over a hundred people, music, people were cheering and ringing cow bells. It was overwhelming! Peat and I crossed the line. They handed us a sweet finishers’ glass with a 200 mile sticker in it. Someone filled our glasses with beer. People — strangers — came up to congratulate us. My sister and friends made it over. It was a sweet feeling.

I had started out on the path to the DK as a personal challenge. Can I finish a race like this? Ride 200 miles in a day? How will I deal with all the things that can happen with weather, the bike, or nutrition? And that’s what I got out of it. I learned that I could plan and work towards something like this and pull it off. There are now, weeks later, things in my mind. I can do it again, I could do it faster. I won’t say that I would never take on this race again, but it’s still not solidly in my mind to do it again. This was a good growth and I know now that some other things on my cycling list are approachable. Always find a challenge and always strive to meet it. So what’s next? A 100 mile MTB? A 24-hour team or even solo? One of Colorado’s long road rides?

Setup

  • Kona Jake the Snake
  • Stans Alpha wheelset
  • Schwalbe Marathon Cross Tires (ran it with tubes)
  • Two Revelate Designs Mountain Feed Bags
  • A Backcountry Research Race Strap, BR Back Forty Strap, BR Tulbag
  • Osprey Raptor pack