Highs, Lows, and Direct Blows

It’s been an interesting few weeks since my last update, which has included final training and prep for the Grand Junction Off-road, the race itself, and then, days later, a terrible crash that’s thrown a major wrench into my summer plans. We’ll start with the highs…

Coming off of a solid, but un-amazing finish at the first Enduro Cup, I was looking forward to switching gears and getting back to some long distance rides in preparation for the GJOR. Having done well at last year’s 30-mile event (3rd), over the winter I decided I was gonna train like a pro and have a go at the pro 40-miler along with Sparky. Since January, we’ve been training with Ryan Geiger. Each week he prescribes daily workouts that include both on-bike and gym workouts. I’d been pretty religious about following these until the lead up to Sea Otter when I got my first cold of the season. That and the major workload leading up to the event had me only loosely following the program. 

By the time I was in California for the event, I was pretty much healthy again and enjoyed some great rides around Santa Cruz – I was pretty hyped on my fitness and taking full advantage of the low elevation and ample oxygen. On the final evening of the trip, however, I got that unmistakable throat irritation that signaled another cold was on the horizon.

That next day we were hoping to put in some big miles at Demo Forest with some fellow industry peeps and Coach “Tiger” Geiger as well. Starting off, I felt a little cruddy, but the first lap was pretty good – solid pace up and down. Halfway through the second lap however, I pinch flatted my tire on the exposed edge of an armored berm, and from there on out, my condition went downhill quickly. For whatever reason, pumping my high-volume tires with a micro pump sent me over the edge and took all of my remaining life force. By the bottom of the trail I was feeling like an ill-prepared microwave burrito – hot on the outside but frozen within. To get back to the van we had a 3-4 mile climb up a fire road, and it felt like it took an eternity to crawl up it – a miserable hot, humid eternity. Two days of cold medicine-fueled travel and a few days out of the office followed. All in all, I really didn’t feel 100 percent again for several weeks. I knew a few folks that picked up the same virus and all had similar horror stories: a few weeks of flu-like symptoms followed by a few more of serious congestion and respiratory distress.

I put in some solid miles in the following weeks, but it wasn’t exactly enjoyable. By the time the Moab race rolled around, I was finally on the up and up, and felt pretty much back to normal. There were two weeks between that race and the GJOR. In the first, I put in a solid, 150 miles or so of training and clocked some quality gym time. Exactly one week before the race Sparky and I had a wonderful ride on the Sarlacc trail – one of those rides where you feel like you’re benefitting from a tailwind in every direction, strong and effortless. That experience had me settle on my Mach 4  for the race. I had previously been waffling between it and the 429 Trail, both bikes being quite capable of the task.

 I dressed my 429 Trail in XC accouterments before I decided to opt for the Mach 4 for the GJOR instead. Looks good, don't she?

I dressed my 429 Trail in XC accouterments before I decided to opt for the Mach 4 for the GJOR instead. Looks good, don't she?

For the week of the race, I mostly took it easy, confident in my fitness and knowing there was nothing I could do to improve it this close to the event. Despite really gorgeous weather early in the week, Sparky and I forced ourselves to “chillax” and stay off the bikes except for the prescribed workouts. The GJOR kicks off on Friday night with the downtown crit races. The crowds were huge and encouraging, so the atmosphere was fantastic. Live bands were playing on multiple stages and friends old and new were out in full support of Sparky and I. Having never done a crit, but witnessed them in the past, I thought “Oh, I can do this for 26 minutes, easy.” Little did I know how hard it would actually turn out to be. 

 My Mach 4 all dialed in for the "fat tire crit" that kicks off the GJOR race weekend.

My Mach 4 all dialed in for the "fat tire crit" that kicks off the GJOR race weekend.

The pro women went first, and Sparky surprised everyone – leading the chase group and setting off on her own for a good portion of the race to try and bridge to the leaders (winning a $50 preem too). Her result definitely encouraged me, so I lined up in a pretty aggressive spot, just two rows back from the front in our pack of nearly 60 pro men. The first two laps went pretty well; I was in the mix though being that close to so many riders, at that speed (we averaged about 25mph), made me a bit nervous. That nervousness lead me to drop to the back of the pack…and then it got really hard. Apparently that’s exactly where you DON’T want to be in a crit. Lap three found me constantly yo-yoing off the back in every corner, having to brake as those in front of me did, and then sprinting to tag back on to the group. After a few minutes of this, I was spent and stopped trying. I think I was pulled on the fourth lap. I wasn’t disappointed or upset; I had no idea how it would go. Pretty soon, riders who were much more experienced at crits than I were getting pulled left and right. Next year I wanna stay with it a bit longer, and knowing what I know now, I’ll stay towards the front.

Saturday I was stuck working the MRP booth in the downtown expo, which in hindsight probably didn’t make for the best preparation for Sunday’s race. It was good for the company though; I talked to dozens of people about our kick-ass products. Countless locals stopped by as well to wish me luck in the race and I got the chance to watch all my riding buds finish the 30 and 40-mile amateur races – all completely wiped from their efforts.

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I finally got out for a little ride in the late afternoon, but by then it was rather warm and very windy. Those factors, combined with legs that were drained from so much standing, and some awkwardly torn shorts, made for a less-than-ideal ride. A bit discouraged, I returned to downtown, hastily packed up the booth and headed home early that evening intending to chill as much as possible and salvage what I could of a rest day.

I awoke Sunday well rested, packed, and prepared to race. I still had some obligation to help with booth setup before the race, and that ended up costing me most of my warm-up time. Before I knew it, I was on the starting line. From the get-go, the pace was quick, with the men averaging over 20mph on the way to the Lunch Loops Trailhead. I was in the back of the pack and the second we got on dirt there was a pile-up ahead in the group and I was stuck, stopped. Once that got sorted, we were off like rabbits again, climbing up the grueling Tabeguache doubletrack. I was really struggling to keep up, but I did manage to pass a couple guys and move out of DFL. The next stretch of road was a real kick in the ass, though. Between Gunny Loop and Butterknife, there was an awful headwind going up Little Park Road. The type where it seems like the more effort you put in, the more the wind blew.

Finished with that horrible bit, I got a boost of adrenaline as we entered Twist-n-Shout and I could finally put my bike handling and descending skills to use. I rallied it to a personal best time, despite having to slow up and pass a couple riders. My flow continued on Butterknife, where I also set a new personal record and passed probably a dozen or so fellow competitors. Seeing the metal gates marking the end of Butterknife was bittersweet – I was stoked it was done and that I’d ridden so well, without troubles or mechanicals, but it also meant the worst part of the course was about to begin.

Following a quick descent down to the Gunnison River, for about the next nine miles you’re in for a long, gradual (mostly), boring climb – Windmill Road. I’d pre-ridden it twice and on both occasions, it’d broken me, leaving me bonked and angry. I was pretty determined not to let that happen again. Long, gradual, and nontechnical climbs are my least favorite thing. Those climbs where skill and handling mean fuck-all, and where you’re nothing but a fleshy engine, aren’t my cup of tea. Power-to-weight ratios and the efficient form most acquire through hours and hours of road riding seem to be the key factors here and I’m sorely missing on both accounts.

I paced myself pretty well I thought, though most of those riders I’d passed on Butterknife re-passed me. I even caught and passed a local rival who confided in me as I rode by, “I’m falling apart” to which I replied, “Shut up and stop thinking!” That’s always been my strategy on these sections: just zone out and keep the power and pace up. About an hour later I was done and the euphoria of completion allowed me to follow it up with one of the fastest times of the weekend on the subsequent descent to the bottom of Bang’s Canyon. What follows from there was yet another brutal climb; this one of the steep, sandstone variety. About halfway through it my stomach started growling and I began losing power and motivation. I persevered, however, and made it to the top where my future father-in-law and a buddy were waiting with drinks and gels – saving my day.

Though somewhat reenergized and now done with the hardest parts of the race, I struggled with the last section of trail: Andy’s Loop. After a techy downhill, there is a pretty steep and ledgy climb. It’s also very exposed, which one racer found out the hard way, plummeting 30-40’ into the wash below. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t clean the climb. I could see that Rose Grant (the women’s winner) was catching up and I didn’t want to get in her way...that, and I was ready to take any excuse for a break.

Once done with the trail riding, I blazed back to town using every last drop of energy I had. In the end I finished in 3 hours and 52 minutes, just under a minute slower than my better-half who had the ride of her life to finish 7th and take home over $500!

Despite feeling like I could have done better, finishing the 40 under the 4-hour mark is no easy feat and one I’m proud of. I know what I need to work on to shave significant time off in next year’s race and I’ll be focused on improving there. Had I been able to continue the training leading up to race uninterrupted, and not gotten that gnarly bug, I’m sure I could have put out a stronger performance all-around. I also have to remind myself that this whole endurance racing thing is completely new to me. I’m proud of myself for taking on the challenge of a new discipline, and even though I’m not exactly turning any heads with my performances, I don’t see many other riders out there competing at this level in both the gravity and endurance sides of the sport. I’ll take that; I’d rather be pretty dang good at several types of riding than amazing at just one.

In my next post I’ll fill you in on how just days later I found myself laid up in the hospital. It’s a long story…

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