Connecting the Dots in Moab

The first enduro race of the season for me is now done and dusted, and I’m a bit conflicted about the result.

Though many poo-pooed the venue, I was excited for the opening round of the Enduro Cup series at Moab’s Klondike Bluffs trail system. The slabby sandstone courses, featuring scattered trail markings and only moderate elevation loss, make for a race that emphasizes fitness and bike handling skills above all-out descending ability. With my training this season focusing on fitness and surprisingly quick recent Strava times down some familiar local descents, I felt ready to kick off the season with a bang. My result at this race last year was among my best – a solid 14th with one top-ten stage finish on the first stage. With another year of experience, dedicated training, and a better bike, I thought this year I was poised to finish strong. But then I missed a dot.

Right after I stuck a key line in Stage 4, down Babysteps. Photo: Sean Ryan

Dots. On many of Moab’s rockiest trails, they’re your only indication of direction. They’re usually brightly colored and contrast well with the red and beige shades of Moab stone – usually easy to follow when you’re out for a typical ride. When you’re pushing the pace however, finding those critical beacons can be like a game of Where’s Waldo – a high-pressure, adrenaline-fueled, timed game of Where’s Waldo.

My first experience with the hectic-ness of this endeavor was a few years ago at the now-defunct Whole Enchilada Enduro, where we capped off the first day at the Mag 7 trails with a descent down the aptly named Blue Dot climb. That day (much like this race years later) my stage started off great. I pedaled out of the start like a boss, quite pleased with how I probably looked to the spectators and fellow racers in view, “Dude, he must be a pro!” About thirty seconds later, however, I found myself on an unfamiliar outcropping of rock one small, but impassable canyon away from where I should be. There’s nothing quite like having to come to a complete stop in the middle of a race run — in a race that would be separated by seconds in the end — and turn around and go uphill to get back on track. This is the same situation I found myself in a few minutes into stage one on Saturday: precariously separated from the track by about a 6’ ledge. I pizza’d when I should have french-fried and I had a bad time, mmmkay.

In looking at some GPS data of my run compared to others that day, my mistake had cost me about 8 seconds. Despite the mistake, I had bettered last year’s top-ten run by two seconds. I obviously didn’t know that at the time, but I’d felt the run had (aside from the oopsie-poopsie) been pretty solid, so I felt like I was still set for the result I was after.

Three more stages, and no more big mistakes, I was stoked with the way the day had gone. I ran Strava on my phone for each stage and it had indicated PRs on most segments and some solid top-ten overalls. What I noticed most about my performance that day was a really solid focus and never feeling really out of breath. I chalked the latter up to my training and the fact that, for many of the courses, the terrain limited pedaling opportunities. The laser-focus was attributable to insane amounts of caffeine.

With my race finished, I bolted back to the finish of the final stage hoping to catch Sparky crossing the line, but alas, I missed her by just minutes. She’d gone off the front the whole day with Katie Compton and Teal Stetson-Lee, the three amigas working their way through the expert men to be the first Pro female race finishers.

Race is underway! Check my Strava for live updates! - #Mach429Trail #efr #ergonbike #mrpstage

A photo posted by noahsears (@noahsears) on

Results took a long time to come in, and online live-timing was hampered by the fact that we were in the middle of nowhere. I scrambled up rocks to try and find a signal to no avail, eventually pedaling a few miles from the pit area to get a paltry 3G connection and see two of four stage times posted. Those results were disheartening, a couple of mid-pack placings. Surely, I thought, there must be a mistake. We’d wait another few hours to finally get the rest of the stage times – more of the same for me. In the end I finished 22nd of 39 in the Pro/Open category – not awful, not exactly noteworthy. Careful study of how tight the times were gives me some relief, but also serves as the annual reminder I get following every first race of the season: you really have to go nuts in the stages to end up on the preferable side of the standings.

So, that’s the new game plan: go nuts. For years I’ve struggled with pacing, fearful of going too hard and blowing up, unable to recover during stages and races. I’m gonna attempt to drop that fear and go H.A.M. from the get-go next race and know for sure I’ve left it all out there on course, not left in the tank. Of course the next enduro race on the docket is the Whistler Classic, which should present a whole new set of challenges for this desert dude. Until then, it’s XC time; the Grand Junction Off-road is fast approaching and I’m shooting for a top-20 finish in the Pro field. We’ll see how that goes….