This is a tale of what happens when you take a roadie and throw him (me) into a three-day mountain bike race. When Isaac mentioned the race to me a few months ago, I brushed it off almost immediately. Then, after some browsing, checking the dates and my sanity, I decided it would be a good mid-road-season break. If, of course, by “break” you mean destroying your body in every way imaginable in just three short days.
So I ogled the race website and not seeing the “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing on an MTB” category, decided to register in sport. Because why the hell not? And I’m always a fan of biting off a bit more than I think I can chew.
Here’s kind of how it all went down. I say “kind of” because the results don’t really count, and categories don’t really matter, so I’m putting the entertainment factor ahead of accuracy.
Day 1 – Hill Climb
We lined up around 5:30 in the evening ready to climb a 1.7-mile stretch of dusty fire road. Having the benefit of every other group going ahead of us, not only was our view of what’s to come partially obstructed by the dusty cloud ahead, but most of the air was also replaced by dust. Because who the hell needs to see or breathe during a hill climb, right? Just go until you fall over!
I lined up in the front row. On the signal, Zach took off and got a short gap. I immediately bridged (a roadie term) and stayed glued to his wheel for a little bit. Isaac was right behind me. “Holy crap! Why did I just go out so hard? This feels just like a cross race! Oh, I remember why I don’t race cross.”
Luckily, while very strong, Zach wasn’t super human either and the pace settled. Then I did one of those famous reverse attacks I’m known for while going up the hill and attacked myself all the way into seventh place. Which for me, up a hill, is frankly not too shabby.
I apparently also lost my mind near the top of the hill because I swear I recall someone yelling, “sprint!” And I did! I then spent 10 minutes hacking up everything I had just inhaled in the last 14 minutes: dust, some pine needles and maybe a baby squirrel, but don’t hold me to that. The best part of the hill climb was that it was over and I could finally have a beer! You can’t even imagine how hard it was to have been in the woods since noon without a single beer!
Day 2 – 8-Hour Solo
The format is simple: ride until you drop! The course was a loop of about 8.5 miles made up of fire roads and mostly smooth single track. Objectively speaking, it wasn’t technical at all, but because I’m as graceful on a mountain bike as a polar bear riding a tricycle in a Russian circus, some of it was probably more challenging for me than for mostly everyone else.
There is one thing I do well, however, and that is pacing. I knew that pacing and calorie intake would be the difference between having a very hard day on the bike and a “fucking kill me now” day on the bike.
For me, pacing is an afterthought, I have that down to a science: leave the ego at home, let everyone go as fast as they want, and find them bonked a few hours later because they went out too hard, or never see them again because they are way stronger. Calories were a different story mainly for two reasons: I pace to ride non-stop, and it’s very challenging to unwrap food on downhill sections of singletrack and chewing solids up steep fire road climbs isn’t ideal either. Intake would have to be in liquid or semi-solid state.
Here was my plan (and I caution all of you to not try this unless you are 100 percent certain your stomach can handle it – I wasn’t, but mine did): I mixed four very heavy bottles of Cytomax, each having about 5 scoops, or 400 calories, and added endurolite powder to each of the bottles (it was going to be warm). I prepared three full Camelbaks of water, two 100-oz and one 70-oz and stuffed some GU gel packs in my back pockets for extra calories and a caffeine boost. The plan was to drink the syrup from the bottles, drink it down with water, and once in a while pop a GU.
I lined up alongside 700 others, with the 70-oz Camelbak on my back, a bottle in the bike cage, and gels in my jersey pockets. We’re off!
The first lap was fairly uneventful other than the part where I wiped out in a switchback and sliced right though my forearm with a sharp rock, but I had eight hours left to ride, so who has the time to take care of that, right? I figured the blood would just dry up and all the dirt flying through the air would make a nice seal for the wound. If this happens to you, don’t be stupid, go get stitches! Unless you too have so many gnarly scars on your body that one more won’t really make or break it for you on the social scene.
On lap two something very unpleasant happened, I started to cramp. I had no idea why. It wasn’t yet warm enough to be suffering from dehydration, my calorie intake was going great, and I didn’t go out too hard. The only possible explanation I could come up with is that my body is just not used to the efforts required to ride a mountain bike and my muscles didn’t take kindly to being thrown off the deep end.
And so it went on. For the next 7 hours it was a balancing act of steady pedaling to avoid leg seizures, drinking syrupy mix to avoid bonking, and trying to navigate singletrack so as to not go head first into a tree or a rock. I originally hoped to get nine laps under my belt, but as my legs cramped harder and harder, my pace up the hills had to be more and more moderate. On the other hand, by lap four I knew I had eight laps in the bag as long as my “nutritional” plan didn’t go haywire.
The eighth lap. As I passed the start finish at the end of lap seven, I saw the clock at 3:18PM. This meant I had an hour and 27 minutes to do one more lap. (We had to be done with our last lap by 4:45 for it to count.) Up to that point, my slowest lap was an hour and 10 minutes, so with no pressure at all, I made my last pit stop to pick up the last Camelbak and kept on going. Half way through that lap, I realized exactly how perfectly I had paced – I was just getting to the point where I barely trusted my body to control the bike into turns when the final climb was before me. I looked at my Garmin, saw that I had plenty of time and dragged myself to the top one final time. From there, it was just a few turns on mostly smooth singe track and I was at the finish. Eight laps in eight hours and 34 minutes was good enough for 26 out of 68 who started in the Sport category. I, of course could go on and on about how I felt, but a picture is worth a thousand words.
Day 3 – Super D
So this is the thing where I was supposed to roll down the hill for about five miles as fast as possible. Maybe on a good day, that would have seemed like a good idea, but after almost 70 miles and eight hours and 34 minutes on the mountain bike, there was not a single thing appealing about it except being done. I promised myself at the beginning of this season that barring a mechanical or a ref’s call, I’d finish every single race I start, and being too tired to come up with excuses, I made my way to staging.
My request to start last was vetoed and having apologized in advance to everyone starting behind me, I rolled off. For some, the goal was to get to the finish as fast as possible. For me, it was to show up to work on Monday. My body felt like I was taking the last run on skis at the end of a very long day in the mountains – muscles refused to do anything I asked them to, but I managed to cross the finish line safe and sound. And all the bitching and moaning notwithstanding, it actually was a lot of fun.
Thanks to Carlos, the guys at Bike Monkey, all the volunteers and sponsors for putting on this great event. Also a huge thank you to Muscle Milk, Cytomax, Ritchey Logic, Felt Bicycles and Enzo’s Buttonhole for supporting me in this and other cycling endeavors!
As I was leaving on Sunday, I wasn't sure if I'd do this event again, but this morning as I woke up, I discovered that every single muscle in my body is sore. I will definitely be coming back next year because as far as I’m concerned, once you’ve found a way to put yourself in the pain box on a bike, you have to keep coming back until it stops hurting.