Tuesday, March 18, 2014

True Grit Epic

This past weekend a good handful of 92Fifty' racers, including myself, headed back to the desert of southwest Utah to get our 2014 race season kicked off at the True Grit Epic.  This is a race that I had been looking forward to for a long time, for many reasons.  First off, it encompasses some of the best desert riding you'll ever do, and is a great escape from the cold Colorado winter.  It is also the kickoff for the National Ultra Endurance Series.  I was going to use this race as a measuring stick for where my fitness is at, what I need to work on, and if I'm able to compete at a high level in 100-milers. 

A few weeks before TG, I had decided to forego the true "epic" and step down to the 50-mile race.  I did this for a few very important reasons.  The winter and spring is when I plan on training hard and making big strides.  I was worried that doing the full epic would leave me worn down for weeks to come, and needing a lot of rest before any legitimate training and progress could be made.  I also realized as I put together my 2014 racing schedule that I wouldn't be able to compete in the NUE series, as it requires a ton of travel, expense, and full-on commitment to 100-milers.  Instead, I wanted to focus this season on "marathon" distance events (40-60 milers), where I could make use of both speed and endurance and not be constantly worn down.  Last but definitely not least was the stacked competition in the 50-mile Open category, where I'd be racing against some of the fastest guys in Utah and Colorado!

Heading into True Grit I was extremely excited with no expectations.  I was extremely confident in my endurance and ability to push hard for all 50 miles.  I was a little nervous about being able to handle the technical nature of the trails at race speed, but that's why I was there!  Lining up for the race I had a good idea of who my competition was.  I wanted to stay as close as possible to about 5 guys without blowing myself up early on.  As the gun went off we headed down an undulating fire road.  In about 1 mile a lead group of 15-20 riders began to form, and I was right up near the front feeling fine with the fast pace.  Flying down the fire road at high speeds was sketchy and difficult in this group, because it was hard to see the road in front of you.  About 2 miles in, my entire race changed abruptly!  Descending at ~25mph without clear view ahead of me, I smashed into a square-edged rock about the size of my head without warning or time to react.  In a split second I was flying through the air, almost in slow motion.  I hit the ground hard and rolled, and the rest of the field left me in their dust.  Getting up from this heinous crash, I quickly realized that nothing was broken.  I quickly checked my bike and got back on to keep riding.  In these moments after wrecking certain things went through my head; am I okay to race 50 miles? Did my bike get damaged? Will I actually be competitive after taking such a hit?  It took me about 5 minutes of riding to get back in the game mentally, and finally decide to start racing again!  By this point I was probably back in 50th place.  As I completed the first 10 or so miles I was working my way back up through the field, passing riders at a constant pace.  Upon hitting Zen trail, I could see the lead group and was closing down the gap.  Okay, maybe I can salvage something from this bad start.  And then, just as I was gaining my confidence, SNAP!  My chain popped climbing a steep rock face in Zen.  Damn!  All that I had just worked for, gone again.  It took me a rediculous amount of time to fix my chain, after a faulty quick-link and subsequently shortening the chain by about 3 links.  At this point I was mentally over it.  As I crawled through Zen at a snails pace, dictated by the slower riders I now found myself a part of, I debated finishing.  I knew my chances to be competitive were gone.  The time I lost, and then the time it takes to pick your way through slower riders, was devastating.  In times past, I would've called it a day.  I hate showing up in results pages near the back!  My inspiration to continue came from a few sources, one being 92Fifty' shop owner/team manager Jonathan Davis, who proudly sports a "DNF" tattoo on his left forearm.  This message rang clear to me that afternoon.  Screw the results and questioning and excuses and struggles, just go out there and finish!  It was also a beautiful day in the desert, and I still had about 35 miles of awesome desert singletrack to rip through!  Continuing on, I wrecked again and had to stop to straighten my handlebars.  The rest of the race I continued to push harder and harder.  My fitness felt great, and I was having fun.  I was passing riders at a constant pace for the next 3 or so hours.  Near the end, about 5 miles from the finish, climbing a super steep ATV road, SNAP!  Another broken chain!  At this point I just laughed to myself, casually flipped the bike over, and fixed it again.  Now my chain was ~5 links shorter than when I started! 

This was probably the worst luck I've ever had during a race.  I've fared quite well in the past with minimal mechanicals and wrecking, but today it all seemed to go wrong.  It was frustrating for many reasons.  I've been working hard all winter long, and want that to show.  I didn't get the chance to compete with the fastest guys, and have no idea how I would've fared.  With all that went wrong, I took positives away from this race.  First and foremost, my fitness and endurance feels amazing this early on in the year.  I never once got tired, and felt like I could push hard, near XC pace, for all 50 miles.  Taking the hardest wreck I've ever taken, I feel confident about my durability and mental attitude to keep on going.  The most important positive aspect was how much fun I had doing what I love to do.  It never felt like suffering.

I have to give props to some of the awesome equipment I used.  My Felt Nine 1 hardtail was amazing for this race.  Where many were sure it was a "full-suspension-only" course, the Nine 1 shined all day and never seemed to slow me down.  The way it handles fast flowing singletrack, and even rocky trails, is awesome!  The Ergon grips, gloves, and saddle I used were all money!  I am constantly impressed with the comfort of the SM3 Pro saddle.  I have done countless long days and huge races through the roughest of terrain on this saddle, and never ONCE had the slightest rear-end discomfort.  That's almost unfathomable.  What's also inspiring is the satisfaction and comfort I've had with the combination of the new GE1 "enduro" grip and HA2 gloves.  I used to get calluses/raw hands with other glove/grip combos, but not now.  Having the support of 92Fifty', the camaraderie of our crew, and the awesome people that make it happen, is a dream come true for me as well. 

Next up for me is a month-long road trip along the West coast in April.  I'll start the adventure with a Mudslinger events XC race the first week of April, and end it at Whiskey 50.  In between there is sure to be a ton of amazing riding and adventure!  Cheers.

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