Monday, June 27, 2016

Race Report: Salida Big Friggin Loop (SBFL)

A Nervous Start

After racing for several years, I don't tend to get too nervous for races anymore, but the Salida Big Friggin Loop (SBFL) was different.  The SBFL is part of the Colorado Endurance Series, a series of bike races that have an underground feel to them.  The field sizes are extremely limited (most are no more than 74 riders), they are completely self supported (no aid stations), and there are no course markings so you are dependent upon a GPS to find your way.  No registration fee, no prizes, just a bunch of hardcore riders looking for bragging rights.

Nervously Waiting for the Race to Start (Mr. Kerkove on the left)
The thought of doing a self supported race made me nervous enough, but the fact that the loop was from Salida to Buena Vista (47.5 miles) and back to Salida (45 miles) with zero civilization between the two towns was terrifying to me.  From the time I signed up for the race in December, I couldn't stop obsessing over this race.  I lost many hours of sleep, but none more than the night before the race.  After months of obsessing though, as soon as I pushed my first pedal stroke to start the race, all of the anxiety faded away as my mind and body entered race mode.

The Race

The SBFL comes in two flavors; long loop and short loop.  I decided to do the short loop since this was said to be much easier to navigate and closer to the distance I train for.  The "short" loop was 89.3 miles originally, but days before the race we all found out that an optional segment of singletrack could be added.  The optional segment would take riders on Cotton Wood Trail and drop them into downtown Salida.  With this segment the short loop would become 92.5 miles, and anyone that took it would receive a 100 minute time bonus.  I decided this was the route for me.

Salida to Buena Vista

It was a 6:30am sharp start in Salida, and it was already getting warm out.  The start was the most enjoyable start I've ever done.  We all rode together neutrally for a good hour giving me time to chat with my racing buddies Ben Parman and Jeff Kerkove.  Both of these guys are fast as hell, and both were doing the long loop so I need not worry about them.  After the long neutral roll out, Jeff picked up the pace.  Ben and a couple other riders joined Jeff, and they soon pulled away from my still very sore/stiff legs from the Gunnison Growler I had raced two weeks prior.  Not to mention I was tired from not sleeping much the night before; luckily downing two Huma Chia Energy Gels in a row woke me right up.  I didn't try to chase.  This race wasn't about competing with anyone else but myself.  I put my head down and held a steady pace that I kept all day.

Neutral Rollout
The first climb out of Salida was a huge one starting with pavement (which was part of the neutral start) that turned into dirt road (were Jeff picked up the pace) and into the singletrack of the Colorado Trail which is ridden until you head east into Buena Vista.  Although I rode alone where the pavement ended and the dirt road started all the way to the Colorado Trail, once we hit singletrack I soon started picking riders off that may have pushed a little too hard early on chasing Jeff and Ben in the lead group.

The soreness/stiffness in my legs never went away the whole race, but it also never got worse.  I wasn't able to push hard, but at the distance I was riding pushing hard would have been a bad idea anyway.  I held a strong, steady pace on the Colorado Trail and just enjoyed the ride.  There was so much good singletrack to me ridden during this segment, and views were absolutely breathtaking.  It was easy to forget that I was racing at times.  It just felt like I was out for a big ride.  It's easy to get that feeling when you ride a bike as enjoyable as my SCOTT Spark 900.  Damn, I love that bike!

Once I made it to Buena Vista I made a stop at their local bike shop, Boneshaker Cycles, who had kindly setup a small aid station in the shop with water, sports drinks, and snacks.  The shop owner (I presume) let me know that I was the fourth rider to stop by, and I knew at least two riders in front of me (Jeff and Ben) were doing the long loop.  Therefore there was only one racer that could potentially be racing the short loop like I was ahead of me.   I filled up on water and was off right at 4 hours 30 minutes.

Back to Salida

The ride out of Salida started with the last bit of singletrack until hitting the optional Cottonwood segment near the end.  Honestly, I was happy to see dirt road after taking so much abuse on the Colorado Trail.  There was a lot of variation of "dirt" road to be ridden.  Most could be done with any vehicle, some only by a good all wheel drive vehicle (SUV/Truck), and some only could be ridden by an off road vehicle such as an ATV.

It was during a long, gradual, dirt road climb (the kind that could be done with any vehicle) that I felt myself losing focus.  I was 65 miles into the race I needed something more than an energy gel/sports drink.  I decided to take a KIND bar break.  It was one of their newest bars, a dark chocolate almond mint.  This bar is good any day of the week, but when you are deep into an endurance race it tastes AMAZING!!!  It was just what I needed to rejuvenate myself for the last part of the race.

It wasn't too long after my short break that I saw another rider far off in the distance.  Little by little on the gradual dirt climb I was pulling him in.  I wasn't sure if he was a racer or not since he wasn't wearing a hydration pack, and had on a wool athletic t-shirt with baggy shorts. I don't mean to discriminant as not all of use shave our legs and wear a team kit, but it just threw me off a little bit.  It wasn't until we reached a downhill section were I was able to still spin on my 2x11 drivetrain and he ran out of gears on his 1x11 that I caught up to him.

Once I caught up to this lone rider, we rode for a couple of minutes together both clearly happy to see anyone else out there.  I can't recall his name, but he was really nice guy from Durango and riding super strong.  He had hung with Jeff and Ben most of race; very impressive knowing how strong those two ride.  I could tell he was a little burnt hanging with those two beasts. He split ways with them when they turned off for the long loop and he turned for the short loop; thus he was the lone racer ahead of me when I left Buena Vista.  As we entered the last big climb, I was feeling strong.

To Cottonwood and Beyond

The last big climb was on a rutted ATV dirt road through aspen trees.  I upped my pace as much as I could without completely blowing up.  I didn't look back until the top, and by that time the lone rider was no where to be seen.  I didn't relax though as there was still the optional Cottonwood trail segment that he could still catch up to me on.  I knew I was about 15 minutes away from the trailhead so I downed a raspberry Huma Gel that contains 25mg of caffeine so it would hit my system right when I entered the singletrack.

After what seemed to be the longest 15 minutes in my life, I finally hit the Cottonwood trailhead.  At this point, the caffeine hit my system just as planned and I was ready to give it my all.  As stated early, the optional Cottonwood segment would give a 100 minute time bonus.  Jeff mentioned at the beginning of the race that the segment probably would take 60 minutes, so if it went as planned I would drop 40 minutes from my time.  Without taking the optional segment, you could finish the race in 20 minutes.  In other words, to make the optional section worthwhile I needed to do it in at least 80 minutes.

In the end, I didn't do the optional Cottonwood segment in 80, nor 60 minutes.  Between the caffeine and the adrenaline knowing I may be in 1st place, I sprinted the last segment in 55 minutes taking the win!

A Good Day on the Bike

I can't tell you how amazing it felt to take the win.  I went out there to race my race, and my race alone.  What I ended up with was a sub 9 hour finish over 92.5 miles, and 11,444 feet of climbing to take the win!  I found out that most riders, both long loop and short loop, skipped the last Cottonwood segment because they ran out of water.  Did I mention it got up to the upper 90's!?  Running out of water wasn't an issue for me as the over planner that I am had a 100oz hydration pack, and three extra bottles of water in anticipation for the hot weather.  Hell, I even dumped a water bottle during the second half since I knew I wouldn't need it and it was weighing me down.  There was one other person who did the optional Cottonwood, my buddy Ben Parman to take the long loop win!!!  Congrats to Ben on his big finish as well!

Ben & me on our Makeshift Podium!
Now that's a damn good day on the bike!  Happy Trails!

Celebratory Beer & Burrito