Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Race Report: 2016 Gunnison Growler

I said it to myself: break six.  I said to my friends: break six.  I repeated it over and over again in my head on race morning: break six.  In case you're not catching my lingo, break six means getting a time of under six hours in a race.  That was my only goal for the Gunnison Growler, and it turned out to be quite a lofty goal.

Race Morning & Start

It was a cold morning in Gunnison for the Growler.  Nothing unusual there as it's always a cold morning in Gunnison on Memorial day weekend.  Without even a countdown, the shotgun to start the race shot off startling everyone.  After a neutral start, the race began on a steep hill lovingly called "Kill Hill".  I paced myself perfectly to keep my heart rate down on that first big climb, but it still wasn't enough to keep me from overheating.  I was wearing a skull cap, and by the time I was nearly to the top I desperately needed to take it off.  I used a trick I've done many times.  I took off my helmet while riding uphill, held my helmet in my teeth, and went to take off my skull cap.  Everything would have went smoothly if I had remembered to take off my sunglasses first.  Unfortunately, I did not and my sunglasses went flying off.  After dismounting, grabbing my sunglasses, and hopping back on my bike I was left with quite a bit a ground to cover to catch up to the front.  I knew right then that it was going to be a long race.

Climbing "Kill Hill" Post Skull Cap Mishap
In the Thick of It

Even with my skull cap mishap, I was feeling pretty good.  In years past, the race would quickly transition from dirt road into singletrack making it hard to pass, but this year they started it with a much longer dirt road climb section so I was able to make quick work passing a large amount of racers.  I soon found myself within eye shot of Jeff Kerkove, a well known crusher in the endurance field.  I tried my best to catch up to Jeff to congratulate him on his recent engagement to another local crusher, Karen Jarchow (KJ), but the closest I got was still a bike length away.

Photo by Matt Burt
Even at that distance, I knew if I was keeping up with Jeff I was on a good pace.  I was able to hold on for about an hour before he finally rode out of sight.  That was enough to put in a good position before heading into Skull Pass, a mean two mile lollipop loop attached to the big thirty two mile loop.  Even for the best riders, there are some short sections where hike-a-bike is required on Skull Pass.  In years past, any time I stepped off my bike to hike my heart rate would sky rocket and I'd be winded for a couple of minutes.  This year though I have been hiking quite a bit with my wife Megan and my son Nolan, a twenty pound one year old, strapped to my back.  I was surprised that not only was I not winded, but I was running the hike-a-bike sections!

Photo by Dave Kozlowski

End of Lap One & Beginning of Two

After Skull Pass, I was at 1:40 and thought that if I could finish the first thirty two mile lap at 2:40, I would be sitting pretty good.  To my disappointment, at 2:40 I was still on lap one, and at 2:45, 2:50, 2:55.... Finally at 2:58 I rolled through the line to finish lap one.  After a two minute pit stop to shed some layers I started my second lap right at three hours.

Photo by Matt Burt
Endurance racing can be very emotional in the middle of a race when you still have hours to go, and I was feeling down on myself for not making lap one in 2:40.  I was still pushing, but I wasn't feeling overly motivated to push.  I thought that maybe I just needed a good shot of calories, so I downed a strawberry Huma Gel.  That did the trick, because by the time I got to Skull Pass for round two I was in a much better state of mind.  I completed Skull Pass just a couple minutes under 4:40.  Doing the math in my head (which is harder than you think four hours into an endurance race), I calculated that if I completed the last couple of miles about the same time I did on lap one I could still break six.  Right at 4:45 I downed a raspberry Huma Gel that has 25mg of caffeine so it would hit my system right at the last hour mark.  It was game time!

Photo by Matt Burt
The Last Hour

The last couple of miles of the Growler is a lot of mean technical sections and climbing.  You have to work hard for every inch.  I knew the pain that was coming, and I was ready to take the damage.  I over concentrated on the technical sections to clear everything I could while still pushing myself into blurred vision on the climbs.
Tech Section in Last Few Miles
Photo by Dave Kozlowski
I gritted my teeth, and counted every second.  Right at 5:57 I started the final descent.  Any concern for personal safety was out the window.  I knew I needed to complete that last section like it was an Enduro run.  After a brief, but scary couple of minutes of descending the finish line was in site.  I sprinted the last mile like a mad man.  With my head down, going full throttle I crossed the line at 5:59:40.  I broke six!

Full Throttle to the Line!
Mission Complete!

This was my third attempt at racing the Growler counter clockwise, the first two times ending in disappointing DNFs.  That made this victory even sweeter.  I was greeted by cheering team mates that I'm fortunate enough to call my good friends with hugs, and high fives.  I was also greeted by a sip of Colorado made Fireside Bourbon, and a growler for the Growler of Barrels & Bottles brew.  Hanging out while celebrating with friends made all the pain worthwhile.  I love my team, Pedal Pushers KIND Racing!
Seconds After Crossing the Line - Mission Complete!