Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Journey to the Gunnison Growler

The last couple of months have been a whirlwind of travel, biking, work, racing, etc. and I'm finally back to the drawing board in numerous ways; trying to get caught back up chronicling my racing and experiences, i.e. this blog, figuring out where I'm at right now, where I want to be in the near future, and how to get there. 

This weekend was my 2nd attempt at the Gunnison Growler, a grueling 64-mile race in the technical mountain biking playground that is Hartman Rocks outside of Gunnison, Colorado.  Before I get to my recap of the race, it would make sense to reminisce on the last couple of months.

On April 3rd Rachael and I left Boulder for the west coast, in what would be a month-long road trip.  The goal of the road trip for me was simple: ride as much as possible during a month that can brutalize Colorado with winter storms, hone in my technical skills, and maintain or increase fitness while at it.  This was neatly mixed in with Rachael’s plans to see friends and family all along the way.  Most importantly was spending time together in some amazingly beautiful places, with no stress or worries.  Our journey started in the wet Cascades of central Oregon, and culminated in Prescott, AZ for the Whiskey 50.  During this month I was able to ride some of the best trails I could ever imagine, my favorite being the lush green rainforest around Oakridge, Oregon.    

All in all I mountain biked 18 out of 26 days on the road, all of which being trail rides of some sort.  Heading into Whiskey 50 at the end of this road trip was a huge uncertainty.  For many reasons I didn’t feel prepared to take on the best in the country (and world).  Let me put it this way: I had ridden my bike for 18 of 26 days, and trained 0.  Unfortunately training involves a little extra effort; a little more gusto when compared to fun rides in the woods.  Also, being on the road, on vacation, lends itself very nicely to alcohol consumption, odd eating routines, and other bad habits.  For these reasons I didn’t feel top notch heading into Whiskey, but was sure to make the most of it.  Having spent a few days in Prescott pre-riding the Whiskey 50 trails, I was more stoked than ever on this sport that I love.  The trails were all a blast to ride, and whatever happened on race day didn’t matter as much anymore.  My race went as well as it could for me at that time.  I realized right off the bat that my body lacked the intensity that I used to know, and simply couldn’t hang with much of the front groups.   Once I finally started to settle in I felt good, and finished the race strong.  I went deeper into my pain cave and well of reserves than I normally do, knowing that it was a short 50-mile race, and was happy with my performance, albeit rather subdued compared to where I want to be physically.   

Click on pic for short vid courtesy of Ben Jones
Click on pic for short vid, courtesy of Ben Jones

A month on the road isn’t the ideal training environment, but its experiences like these that keep my fire burning and ever-growing, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.  The day after Whiskey we took the short cruise to Sedona so I could get a taste of the amazing riding there, stopped off in Durango for another day of riding, and then finally made our way back to Boulder.

Once back in Boulder after a month on the road it was difficult to get back up to speed with real life.  I continued to train right on through that week, putting in some pretty good efforts, and finally hit the wall in a big way.  After one of the most painful rides I can remember, in which my body wanted nothing of it, I spent the next 5 days in a worn-out tired stupor.  Apparently my body needed to rest and was telling me loudly.  The next weekend I had family and friends come into town to visit, which lent itself to zero riding, and more alcohol consumption.  After they left the weather in Boulder turned to crap and I wouldn’t ride until going to Eagle, Colorado for the Firebird XC race.  That’s two weeks of almost zero riding, coming off extreme fatigue, heading into an XC race with some of the best in Colorado.  Not ideal. With the Gunnison Growler a week after the Firebird I was only looking at this race as a training venture.  Low and behold, it seemed like my body finally caught back up, because I raced into a 10th Place finish in a field of 90+.  Behind me were some really fast CO locals who I was stoked to get the better of that day.  The Firebird race gave me a lot of confidence heading into the Gunnison Growler.  I finally felt competitive and semi-fast again, and was riding my bike really well.  Now I just needed to work all week, get as much rest as possible, and prepare for 64 miles of technical onslaught.

Before I knew it Rachael and I were in Gunnison and ready for a fun race on Sunday.  The weather was forecasted to be dicey at the very least, and down-right nasty at the worst.   When we rolled into town Friday it was raining and looking ominous.  The clouds to the north, around Crested Butte, were black and bubbling.  This would be the nature of the weekend.   

On Saturday we went out and pre-rode some of the trails at Hartman Rocks, trying to hit some of the more technical spots for a little familiarity and practice.  Having just put a dropper seatpost on my hardtail, an idea that would’ve been laughed at by XC racers only a year or two ago, I was stoked to be riding some of the technical descents and drops with speed and comfort.  Bring on race day! 

Dropper post on a hardtail, what!? Ready to rock and roll with new Ergon SM3 Pro Carbon saddle.
Handlebar Mustache, Mosaic Cycles, 92Fifty, Ergon

Click on pic for short vid, courtesy of Jeff Kerkove.
Waking up at 4:30am for the 7am start I could hear loud raindrops on the roof of our motel room.  As I sat there eating breakfast, drinking coffee, and watching the World Cup XC race on my phone (broadcast live from Nove Mesto, Czech Republic!) the rain halted and all that was left were dark clouds.  Who knew what was going to happen?  Everyone toed the starting line with mixed decisions on what to wear; some going the full rain suit route, some with rain vests, and some with full-on summertime XC garb.  I chose to take off my rain jacket and stuff it underneath the back of my jersey with about 1 minute to start.  Initially I thought I had made a bad decision, because as soon as the neutral roll-out of 350 riders began I was being sprayed with water from the tires in front of me.  Fortunately it was warm enough to not be a problem, and I’d soon be happy to not have that rain jacket on.  As we began climbing up the initial ascent, known as Kill Hill, the field quickly evaporated behind me.  I rode comfortably to the top and crested somewhere around 10th place.  As we hit the singletrack which we’d be on for the first couple of miles I was riding one rider back from Josh Tostado, and still feeling comfortable.  This is exactly where I wanted to be.  Before long I decided that trying to stay with him, especially on the descents, wasn’t my best option and so I found a fast Griggs Orthopedics (Gunny locals) rider to hang with for a bit.  We would end up passing a few other riders along the way.  Much of the first lap was spent going back and forth inside the top-10, and trying to deal with the extremely muddy conditions.  By the time I rolled into the Start/Finish after 32 miles, my shifting wasn’t working at all, but I was standing in 7th place.  A quick cleanup procedure from some awesome volunteers, and fresh gloves and bottles from Rachael, and I was on my way.  As I started climbing out into lap 2, I quickly realized that something wasn’t right.  For a while I kept pushing forward strong, thinking my body just needed some time to regulate itself.  About 45 minutes into the 2nd lap I realized that my wish wouldn’t be granted, as my stomach began to shut down and feel sick.  From that point on every small effort induced extreme nausea.  Eating or drinking wasn’t even an option.  I tried to ride it out, but it only got worse.  The next 3 hours were spent in slow baked misery.  By the time I finished I hadn’t sipped from my bottles or ingested anything for almost 3 hours, and dropped more places than I could count.  On top of that my drivetrain was so destroyed from all the mud that my chain would only stay on the largest cog, and nothing else.  My shifting was obsolete, and I was waiting for my derailleur to explode at any moment.  It was a frustrating day; such is the mystery of the Growler.  How can 64 miles feel like 100?  Many have come to this race and walked away in defeat on one level or another.  It is a race that can wear down even the strongest souls.  On Sunday it got the best of me.

Image courtesy of Mountain Flyer. Click on pic for Growler race photos.
Next up for me is the Fat Tire 40 in Crested Butte on June 28, followed by an onslaught of Colorado events in July.  The high country in Colorado is drying up fast and that makes me very happy.  Cheers.

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