Sunday, July 14, 2019

2019 Suntop Mountain Bike Race — Race Report

The NW Epic Series SunTop MTB Race was a success!  Walked away with a 🥈... er, more like wobbled away — OUCH!  This was an unexpected victory as I spent all the week leading up to the race with super sore legs.  Somehow though, I woke up with fresh meat sticks, and a 😀 on my face!

We started the race with only nine of us and I had a great time chatting with everyone at the start.  I would have loved to have chatted more with everyone on the first climb up, but a lone rider 🚀ed right from the start.  I turned to one of the guys I had been chatting with and said "well, I guess I better give chase".  He gave me an encouraging "go for it!", and that was the last I saw of the group all day.  For a good fifteen minutes I had the racer in my cross hairs, but eventually I had to find my own pace to not blow up later in the race.

This entire race consists of a short 14km loop with about 500 meters of climbing, followed by TWO 35km loops with a whooping 1220 meters of climbing — that's 4000 feet people!  Most of that climbing was on a long dirt road that gradually becomes steeper and steeper.  After making quick work of the short loop, I was on to the big climb.  But not before a super twisty, rocky, rooty, and moist section of singletrack.  I was flowing pretty well on this section, but did have one hiccup were I slipped on a rock.  I went sideways and heard a loud CREEEEKKKK!  It was the sound of my stem unwillingly twisting a couple degrees to the right off center.  I rode the rest of that singletrack section with my handlebars a little bit to the right before coming to the start of the big road climb.  While still riding, I grabbed my multi tool from my saddlebag, and unscrewed the upper bolt of the stem.  I stopped briefly to unscrew the bottom bolt, adjusted the stem, and tightened the bottom bolt back up.  I hopped back on the bike to tighten the upper bolt followed by evenly tightening each bolt.  Fixin' on the fly!

With my stem/handlebar back to center, the big task of climbing the monster dirt road was ahead of me!  Before going into the climb itself, a weird anomaly about myself I discovered last year racing in Maine.  When I race at sea level, my ❤ pumps WAY faster!  I had totally forgotten about this until I was climbing with my HR zone above 5!  For reference, HR zones go from 1 to 5, with 5 being "you're heart may explode, so you ain't holding this for long".  Well, I hold that zone for the duration of the climb!  Okay, back to the climb itself.  There were mile markers to the top of the climb, so I played a mental game with myself to break up the perceived effort.  I would concentrate on doing my best on each mile rather than focusing on the overwhelming climb as a whole.  It worked, and I blasted up the climb!  I was feeling pretty good up to the last mile, but hold it together to the top.  Once at the top, I was met by two wonderful volunteers at the aid station with encouraging words and a refill of water.  Thanks for that!  Next, it was time hit the singletrack!

The next section was a downhill with two more short singletrack climbs, each about 100 meters.  The short breaks from climbing after each descent was enough for me to recover and I once again blasted the uphills.  Then it was time for a LONG descent!  I started the long descent with two things in mind 1) don't kill yourself going too fast 2) don't do something stupid and get a flat.  I hold that promise, and conservatively descended to complete lap one.

Starting lap two, I once again entered the tricky singletrack hoping to not go sideways again! 😂 I did not, and also was given some race feedback  A ranger told me that I was about 10 minutes from the lead.  This put a 🔥 under me to give the upcoming dirt road climb everything I had in me!  Things definitely got blurrly out there climbing that monster again.  I would come in and out of focus at the task at hand, my mind wondering from the pain.  Each mile harder than the last, and feeling like eternity.    At the end, everything I had in me was about 10 minutes slower than my first attempt.  It wasn't enough to catch the first racer, but it did keep the third place racer at bay!  Not by much though.  I knew this because there is a section on the first singletrack descent near the top were you cross the dirt road.  I caught a glimpse of him climbing up, and estimated that he was probably only 5 minutes behind!

Knowing third place was hot on my heels, and first could potentially be close ahead, I was on a mission!  I dug DEEEEPPPP on the two short 100 meter singlerack climbs!  Pretty sure I scared a family hiking down the mountain with a horrifying pain face!  😂  I pedaled hard on any flat section I could which lead me to the last big descent.

Remember how I descended the long descent "conservatively" the first lap?  Well, that was out the window with me being closely sandwiched in 2nd place.  I needed to go to a place I don't like going.  I needed to release my inner "enduro racer".  I know this exists in me since I raced several enduro races in 2014.  It's a place were you stay low, get those knees & elbows out, and scare the living 💩 out of yourself.  It's incredibly dangerous, so I reserve it ONLY in extreme cases.  Welp, this was one of those cases!  My eyes watered, my adrenaline was high, but reached the bottom a full minute faster than my first attempt!  That's a lot on a long descent!

When I reached the bottom, first place was no where in sight, nor was third behind.  There was one last 2km flat section, and I wasn't taking chances!  I pushed hard to the last 1km, a flat forest road mostly smooth with occasional potholes.  This section was windy when I entered it, so I got low by putting my forearms on my handlebars/grips.  This position is aero, but super dangerous as your hands aren't on the bar.  I nearly hit the deck when I hit a hidden pothole in the road.  My bike took a hard right, and my right arm was somehow under the handlebar.  It was a miracle I kept it upright, and with an already pounding heart I sprinted to the finish!

I retained my 2nd place, and was greeted with beer, burgers, and a friendly group of people!  It was great day on the bike, and I'm grateful to Dana who hosted the NW Epic Series for putting on an incredible race!

Monday, September 10, 2018

2018 Cougar Slayer

It was a beautiful morning up in Nederland, CO to ride bikes; and I was happy to see friends at the start line.  Especially my buddy Ben Parman who I've seen come up as an elite racer since we met back in 2013.

The day started out at a relaxed pace which gave everyone a chance to chat and help each other navigate the confusing first part of the race.  At about a half hour into the race, Ben, Honey Stinger Bontrager teammate Scott, and myself started to pull away from the group.  After many wrong turns and some crashes, the three of us made it out of the labyrinth that was the first big loop.

Catching up, and up, and up

We all started up one of the biggest climbs of the day together, chatting and having a good time along the way.  The whole time, I knew Ben was holding back.  After a big descent, we started up another big climb on a dirt road.  This is where Ben started to show his abilities and pulled away.  Soon Ben was out of site up the mountain in front of me.  I followed chase, and Scott was soon out of site down the mountain behind me.  At the peak, I caught a glimpse of Ben leaving the aid station set up there.

After grabbing supplies, I continued the chase.  The next section was a rough, rolling 4wd road to a dirt road descent.  Somehow, I was able to pull Ben back in, and grabbed a Strava KOM for the section by doing so.  By the time we reached the next trail head I had caught up to him.  We started up yet another massive climb.  After a minute or two, Ben once again pulled away and that was the last I saw of him until the finish line.

Big climbing means big descending 

What seemed like a lifetime, I finally climbed to the top of the mountain which topped out at about 10,500ft.  There was no time to rest though since the next section was super technical.  It went from rolling terrain into the biggest descent of the day.  It was a crazy downhill navigating around a boulder filled trail.  Last year this section tormented me, but this year I was ready for it.  I was pretty proud of myself for clearing this treacherous terrain.

Into camel-mode

With the majority of the climbing out of the way, the descent ended to lend way to some more relaxing dirt road rolling.  It must of have been a little too relaxing because I blew by the last aid station.  By the time I noticed it, it was too late to turn around.  Luckily, I had packed an extra water bottle with me just in case.  Still, this was my only water bottle for next two hours (which I didn't know at the time).  Mother nature must of have been watching over me though because she provided me some cloud cover to cool things down.

Primal instincts to avoid carnage

Next on the plate after my aid station debacle was a primitive trail descent.  I haven't been so scared on a bike in a long time.  The trail was so steep that my saddle was on my chest — that's how so far behind I was on my bike.  I was certain my brakes were going to catch on fire at some point.  Amazingly, I avoided carnage, but missed a turn costing me a couple of minutes.

After a big descent, it was time for another big climb.  Although not nearly as long as others in the day, it was by far the steepest.  I still have no idea how I didn't put a foot down to hike up these beasts of climbs, but I was able to grind them out.  After a lot of cursing into the air, I embarked onto the last technical descent.  At this point, my hands/arms were about at their limits.  Perhaps the adrenaline gave me the extra grip I needed to complete the descent down to a canyon road.

Legs, don't fail me now

I was down to the last couple of miles, and one last short climb.  This is when the navigation file loaded onto my bike computer decided to act up.  After nearly five minutes of confusion, I finally found my way again.  Frustrated, I was determined to give the last climb every ounce I had left.  Let me tell you, it took every ounce too.  The last part was so steep I was seeing double.  Coming to the crest of that hill was extremely gratifying.

Still shaking from the cougar attack

After a long, fast, pavement descent I was almost done.  The last section was an easy dirt path ride away from the finish.  Nobody was in sight behind me, but that didn’t stop me from gassing it to the finish.  I like to say I was smiling at the end but being dehydrated while still shaking from the brutalizing trail I embarked on didn’t leave me in a happy place.  However, it only took a sip of Jagged Mountain Brewery’s special Cougar Slayer Blackberry Saison to put a smile back on my face!  Hands down, the Cougar Slayer was the toughest 69 miles and 9,505 ft of climbing (including all the missed turns) I’ve ridden!

The cougar is slayed!

I once again slayed the cougar, but not without a couple of scratches.  After a long battle on the bike, I came out alive with a 2nd place!  Seeing Ben come up through the years as such a strong racer, it’s an honor be second behind him.  I’m extremely proud to have earned the prestigious Cougar Slayer belt buckle!