So the trip went like this. Me, ORF (the Original RF), Larry "Hot Pepper Harlan" and Military Martin headed West last Thursday, after work. We made it to N. Platte where ORF had cashed in some sweet Hilton points and scored us a quality pad. Martin sprung for a 2nd room so each could have a bed to themselves. Well, most of us did. :) By Friday at 2pm, we were on trail. No shit. We hauled ass to Breck, loaded down with one bike on back and three on top, a roof-top carrier, and three RC cars. God forbid we forget those. Once we got to the condo we unpacked the car, kitted up and were back on the road within a half hour after arriving on our way to the trail head.We drove to Frisco (Larry's favorite spot in the whole world) and then rode the paved bike path back towards Breck and picked up the Peak's Trail from a parking lot along the highway. That was the lung alarm ride. Hello altitude! We took our time climbing the rocky trail, sometimes stopping to get our breath back, sometimes to walk. But once we made it to the top, it was literally all downhill from there back to the car. A woo-hoo factor of a 10! About 1.5 hours on different types of trail. Good enough for us to test our equipment for race day. I was ready. The rest of the evening we spent grocery shopping, liquor shopping and unpacking. One fun note...Martin spotted this guy's van in the grocery parking lot so we chatted with him. Crazy cooter but nice as hell. Had lots of t&a shots all over the inside of his sprinter van. The life of a bachelor. The night was spent grilling salmon outside and serving it up with a side of couscous. Delish! Then we watched Alien vs Preditor on FX.
Saturday was chill. Woke up early and made some bitchin omelets, complete with grilled veggies and feta cheese. That pretty much fueled us for the day's effort. While Martin took off on his own adventure, the racers put in time on the paved path and then did some Zone 5 intervals on a side rode. Yeah, geeks for sure but we had to let our hearts and lungs know it was almost go time. The rest of the day we did a little walking around town and then by late afternoon it was feet up, watching the TDF. Dinner was grilled chicken and pesto over pasta, again that we made at the condo. By then, Evan arrived, and in no short order he was outside playing with RC cars along with ORF and Larry. Boys will be boys.
After dinner was race prep nervousness. Wandering around, getting gear ready. Questioning every decision we made up until that minute. What tire pressure should I run? What time do I get up? What time do I eat and on and on. Didnt' help the sleep factor. I don't think I slept the hole night. My mind wouldn't shut the hell up!
Race morning I was up by 6:30. Before actually getting out of bed, about a half hour earlier I heard Larry on the deck. He kept going in and out, the clammer of the blinds rubbing the glass door was worse than a snooze alarm. So I finally got up. On my way to the bathroom, I see Larry standing on the deck, looking out, enjoying the solitude of the morning. But then as I'm peeing, I hear a knock on the sliding glass door. Uh-oh, I thought. When I went out into the living room, Larry was standing at the door, with a goofy grin on his face. Yes, he had locked himself out! He shut the door, not thinking it would auto latch. He had been standing out there in low 40 degree temps with no socks for about 25-30 minutes. It was not the way he wanted to start a race day. After rescuing Larry, I made my way to the kitchen. I wasn't even hungry but knew I had to eat, so I made up a bowl of oatmeal with bananas, blue berries and nuts piled on. Then I forced down a tiny piece of left over chicken breast. By 7 I as done eating and started the final prep. At 8am Ryan and I took our aid station bags up to the start finish area. They had a drop off point where racers could drop their own nutrition instead of using what the volunteers hand up. By 8:30 I was kitted up and heading out to Main street. The race started at 10 am and my plan was to be warming up by 9.
I got to Main Street with Larry. We cruised the strip, which was void of cars and lined with thousands of people getting ready for the annual 4th of July parade. But soon we separated and I went away from the crowds to warm up and mentally prepare. I knew the field would be stacked but I felt pretty comfy. After doing the race so many years in a row and going over the tougher parts with the others and breaking them down into achievable sections, the course didn't seem so daunting. Instead it has become more of a series of small races: how fast can I get up the first aid station? Will I get up the shale climb without dabbing? How long will it take to ride Sally Barber road back up? Breaking it down like that helped ease my mind and concentrate on the task at hand and not think about being on bike for hours and hours.
As I've probably mentioned, oh a few hundred times, the start of the FC50 is unmatched. The thousands of people lining the streets, the kids waving, hoping for a high-five, red-white-and-blue decorations all over, noise and shrills...the energy is just what 750 racers need at that point.
I finished my warm up and made my way to the starting area. Hundreds of racers were already there so I had to dismount and walk my bike through the crowd of racers to my group of 40+ women. We also were grouped with two other age groups as well as single speed women. After a few groups went off, we were up next. At the whistle, the neutral start began. We rolled up main street with cheers in our ears. It's always my favorite part of the race (second to finishing!)
The start up the climb wasn't so bad this year. Usually I'm looking for a bailout so I can stop and rest. This time, I found my magic HR, put my head down and motored along. It's about a 35 minute climb to the single track on open highway, paved and gravel roads, in that order. Just before the single track is the first aid station. I always blow by that one and this time was no different. I'm too jazzed to get into the single track. I passed a couple people upon entry as there are many roots and people were all over the place trying to navigate them. Once on dirt, it leveled out a bit. Enough to catch your breath and fuel up. The first climb, the Iowa Mill, comes after a fun tail whipping section of new single track. You're all high on life and then it's time to go up. It's a nar-nar climb with ruts on one side and "the line" on the other. Traffic was heavy but I managed to keep it steady. Once at the Mill, racers are cheered on by a few fans who make their way up that high. In years past, this section is usually a mud pit from spring run off but there were only a couple spots this year. That was nice! Eventually the trail turned downward. Dodging greasy rocks and run off was the challenge as well as keeping my teeth intact. Once out the trees it was a hard right down Sally Barber road and two-way traffic for about 1.5 miles. So although it's a blast to haul ass down, there are turns and you have to watch out for riders coming up or else.
Once one commits to going down SB road, that's also a commitment to going back up and it ain't no picnic. The climb up Little French (I'd hate to see Big French) is a test of one's will and skill. It's only a mile but holy crap, it's the longest mile ever. Shale rock covers the steepest part. Throw in a couple of stream crossings (one of which is at the bottom of a short, steep descent with a kicker on the other side) and it's a formula for failure. I thought for sure I would finally climb the whole thing without dabbing. That got shot to hell early on when a rock sent me parallel to the trail. I jumped off and ran to the next flat spot and hopped on. A few pedal strokes later, same thing, only this time a train of folks was on my wheel, so I stood there and watched 4-5 riders go by. One guy said it was his dream to climb the whole thing. One woman had to unclip and she was like "Aaaaaawh, S##T". So, the climb claimed the dreams of many a rider, including yours truly.
But the hardest part was behind me on that lap and from then on out it was single track, double track and a crazy rocky downhill that has consequences if you get off trail. I poked my way down it and hit aid station 3 to load up. I was feeling pretty good, although not steller. I eventually got to the base of SB road and climbed up. I was able to keep it in the middle ring and even pulled a few dude along the way. On the way down, I made some visual mental notes so that i knew on the way up when I was close to the top. There are many turns in the road and it can be a downer when you think it's last turn and it's not. At that final check point, Martin was there with camera in hand and greeted me with lots of woo-hoos. Something about hearing your name in the midst of your own nightmare wakes you're ass up. Plus, the knowledge that all the climbing was done, save for one little power climb.
Now it was downhill, 30 mph on gravel then to twisty single track. That's where I open up the after burners. It's the part of the race that's most like home: twisty and tight. I passed some folks which boosts the moral a bit. But as I approached the finish line to begin my 2nd lap, I knew in the back of my mind, I'd face the decision to quit before I had to.
I had enough fuel to get me to the top. My stomach was queasy and I had a cramp under my right rib. I told myself I'd analyze my situation at the 1st aid station. Once there, I ate a banana and had some pure water. My heart rate spiked on the way up with minimal effort which was not a good sign. I decided I'd push on and access at the point of no return at the two-way traffic road. I made it up the Iowa Mill climb and was able to take in water (unlike 3 years ago when my digestive function completely stopped) so I thought maybe I;d be ok. Just before I exited the trees at the start of the SB decent, Martin was there taking pics and yelling happy thoughts. I thought to myself, I could just stop here and hang out with him but my bike had a mind of its own and somehow turned down the two-way. Well, I was committed. I slowly made my way to the shale climb (one fun point to note: some crazy local, dressed in a tux kit was playing a banjo just before the start of the nasty part of the shale climb. He did manage to get a smile out of my frown both laps). I knew I probably couldn't clear it, so I went as far as I could. I caught up with Even who was looking worse than I felt. We both tried hard to pedal up the climb but the steeper it got the higher my HR so I committed to walking. Such a downer. GRRRR! But the good thing was i could still take in water and I eventually hauled my broken ass up and over the shale climb for the last time.
The hardest part is behind me, I thought. I'm halfway home.
On the other side of the shale climb is the shale field where all the fucking shale comes from. There is an 18" sliver of trail that cuts parallel into the mountain. It's totally rideable but the consequences can be painful due to the steepness of the terrain. I learned first hand just how steep when my handlebar caught a cut log that was close to the trail. I did two full turns before I arrested and lucky for me a very nice racer behind me stopped and helped get me back on trail. He said I scared him to death, as we all know, those kinds of falls can look pretty violent. Nothing was hurt and bike was fine so I jumped back on the saddle and motored on.
At the third and last aid station, I was worse for the wear. I took a break in the porta potty and contemplated my immediate future. I could head back via a dirt road but I really wasn't that far from the end. The daunting Sally Barber climb was all that was stopping me from continuing on. That's it. 2 miles of gravel...well at 10,000 feet. But I couldn't quit. I didn't want to be the one, post race, listening to the others who finished and feel ashamed for quitting. I had to finish. I wasn't in immediate danger so I decided I'd go all the way. Luckily clouds were overhead so the open road up wasn't so terrible. I wasn't going as hard as I wanted but finally the top came into view and I was 2 miles from the finish. I turned on what power I had left and used it to get down. A few folks were on my wheel but I wasn't going to let anyone by unless they asked. Nobody did.
5:48 was my finish time. A half our slower than last year. Such a bummer but altitude can have that affect sometimes. This was one of those times. On a good note, Ryan didn't flat nor cramp and Larry had a personal best. We all finished and that in itself is an achievement.
To celebrate we went back to the start/finish and ate the free food. Most of the folks were gone, save for the clean up crew and the band. Then we went back to the condo to rest. Later, we strolled to the river walk to watch the fireworks and then we hit the brewery for our second meal of burgers, fries and beers. It was the best tasting meal ever! We all went to bed with exhausted smiles on our faces dreaming already of next year.
The next day we put in 30 miles on the Colorado Trail and Flume Trails around Breck. It was a great way to finish off the trip. It helped in the physical and mental recovery from the race. Just being in the mountains among friends was awesome and that's what I'll take away from this trip.