Racing & such….

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind.  I went down to Breckenridge to race in the Firecracker 50 (USAC Marathon National Championships).  The race starts out on Main St. in Breckenridge just before their 4th of July parade.  It’s crazy.  There are thousands of people lining the streets waving flags, eating cotton candy, and generally doing their best to display their version of patriotism.  Me, I line up in spandex on the street with 750 other racers and proceed to enter the “pain cave” for a few hours while hurtling myself through the woods in a semi-controlled manner on a bicycle.

The weather this year was sunny and beautiful and the trail was in great shape.  The race consists of 2 laps on a 25 mile course that doesn’t suit a SS rider all that well.  The first climb is great, but the rest of the climbs are a little too steep and the trail in between tends to be a little too flat to really maximize the “fun factor” for a SS rider.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’d probably never go and ride that loop if it weren’t part of a race.

Still, the race organization does an incredible job in pulling off such a huge event on one of the busiest weekends of the year in a tourist “mountain town.”  We rolled out and I felt pretty good for the first lap.  I decided to hold back a bit and ride somewhat conservatively.  At altitudes above 10K, it’s tough to recover once you go into the ‘red zone’ so I decided it was best to avoid it altogether.  Somewhere into the second lap, I really began to feel lethargic.  I found myself walking up some climbs that I had cleared on the first lap.  Mentally, I decided to just ride the rest of the course and enjoy it rather than flogging myself in an attempt to finish a few minutes faster.  I ended up finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack, but had a great time.  My favorite part of the course was the descent into the finishing area.  It’s tight twisty rocky trail that requires a quick handling bike.  I was further impressed with just how quick and predictable El Gato handles those types of conditions and, again, had zero mechanical issues (I’m so screwed for saying that).

I was back in town for 3 quick days of work, laundry, unpack, repack, and then on the road again over to Oregon for the Cascade Cream Puff.  This is, without a doubt, my favorite race of the year.  To top it off, there were 8 of us from the Wood River Valley going over and the entire Club Ride team was there (minus Driver, who was racing at Downieville).  The race is 100 miles and usually has around 18,000 ft. of climbing.  This year the course basically consisted of two 50 mile laps and had a bit less climbing (16,000 ft).

The race starts with a neutral rollout at 5 a.m. and the racing begins once you turn off the road onto the first gravel ascent.  Again, I knew that my fitness isn’t where I wish that it was, so I decided to focus on the things that I could control.  The day was supposed to be a hot one with temperatures reaching the mid to upper 80’s and sunny skies.  I began to focus on my hydration and fueling early and tried to ride a conservative pace, especially for the first 40 miles or so.

My legs felt alright and I slowly kept increasing my effort level until I was riding a reasonably fast pace and having a blast.  The course layout consisted of an 18 mile descent of nearly 5,000 ft. to finish each lap on an epic trail known as the Alpine Trail.  If you’ve ever ridden it, you know what I’m talking about.  There’s a section of the trail through a stand of old growth trees that is affectionately known as the “Ewok Forest”.  To come into that section with speed and launch 20-30 feet onto a drop-away descent that leads to one bermed turn after another is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done on a bike.  The Alpine Trail will burn through a set of brake pads, cause your braking finger to cramp, and give you “perma-grin”, all in about 45 minutes.

Somewhere around 80 miles into the race I caught up with a good friend of mine who has won the SS category at the Cream Puff multiple times before.  This is a friend who has stoked my love of bikes over the years and the desire to explore and attempt rides and challenges that may not seem possible.  It just so happens that my friend was also flying to Vermont after the Cream Puff to start a new life with his family.

The stars had aligned to give the two of us one last opportunity to ride fast, take chances, and hoot & holler through the woods like kids.  We got the last bit of climbing out of the way, refueled at the last aid station, and proceeded to descend the Alpine Trail as if we owned it.  We were both in the same mindset and willing to take a few chances while blocking out all thought of consequence as we flew down a trail that, in some places, traversed 40 degree hillsides just above cliffs that were hundreds of feet tall.

When we got to the bottom, which was also the finish line, I was in 4th place and he was in 5th in the SS category.  Ultimately, neither one of us cared where we finished.  The riding on that last descent is what makes me feel alive.  That endorphin “high” is something that I am addicted to and that I hope I never have to live without.   Thanks SeanyBoy!

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~ by ketchumgreg on July 19, 2010.

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