I’m not going to lie-this race intimidated me. Everyone who had done it last year or pre rode the course this year had only one thing to say-climbing and lots of it. It’s no secret by now that my forte on the mountain bike is certainly not climbing. But, JWail and I were doing this as a team and we both decided to make our goal nothing extraordinary except to have fun and not take ourselves seriously. It worked.
Friday afternoon I came home from work to a large box in our living-my new bike had arrived. I quickly assembled it, loaded up the truck with 3 bikes (JWail’s and my two-I brought my old one just in case I decided to race with that) and headed to the local trails for a quick spin to loosen up the muscles, exercise the dogs, and let me try out my new wheels. After a few turns of the pedals I knew that I was making a rookie mistake, but I was going to race the new bike the next day. Hey, if we weren’t going to take ourselves seriously and we were out for a good time, what did I have to lose?
Saturday morning came early with an alarm of 4:45. We headed towards Lory State Park in Fort Collins. Unfortunately, my Mom’s internet had been out so I wasn’t able to look at any information like where parking was or racer check in. Fortunately for us, the race was incredibly organized. Immediately upon entering the park, people directed traffic and told us where to check in.After a few warm up laps and the last swigs of coffee, we were at the start line.
The race started with a quick half mile dirt road before hitting the single track for 1.5 miles of tight switchback turns where we climbed to the top of the ridge, just as the sun rose. We descended back into the valley and rode rolling single track all the way to about mile 7. I was feeling fabulous.
The bike fit like a glove and I climbed effortlessly up the switch backs. I couldn’t help but look around and be grateful for the opportunity of racing bikes on such a beautiful morning in the mountains.
At mile 7 we hit the locally famed “Towers Road.” If are ever in Fort Collins and look west to see “Horsetooth Rock” look to the right and you will see the cell phone towers. This dirt road, over the course of 3 miles -some parts with 20% grades- will take you to the top of those towers (hence the name). We began climbing up the road and once again, I was so pleased on this new bike. I’ve done this climb many times before on my old bike and it has always been a struggle. This time was easy peasy-of course I was still breathing heavy and started tasting the sweat beading down my face. After about a quarter of a mile, we turned right onto the stout trail and went through a mile of techy, flowy, fun single track that gradually kept going up hill.
Here is where I started having mechanical troubles. As we lined up for the race, I had JWail check my front wheel to make sure that it was tight. He noticed that it wasn’t, and when he tightened it, my wheel wouldn’t spin. We did the best we could to get it to work, which worked for the first part of the race. But, once I hit Stout trail, the brake started dragging and the wheel took a lot of effort to turn. Close to the top of the trail, which spilled us back out to Towers, the guy behind me offered to stop and help me fix it. Incredibly kind, I couldn’t thank him enough especially since we were suppose to be racing, which up until this point I felt like I was. He fooled around with it for about 5-10 minutes and although he couldn’t fix it completely, it was better.
We carried on. Climbing and climbing up Towers. I had to get off and walk on some steep pitches because the effort of dragging that brake wasn’t worth it. But, I only felt bad for a second as stronger men were getting off their bikes and walking to. About midway up Towers, we hit Bacon Hill and at the top was an aid station, complete with donuts, bacon, coke, and Jameson for your coke it you so choose. I skipped the donut, bacon, and Jameson, but took a cup of coke as a pass off as I kept on riding. I hate coke, but for some reason it tastes so good during a race- gives you sugar, and settles your stomach. The guy at the aid station gave me a boost on my bum to give me some momentum as I headed back uphill. I was laughing so hard.
But, not for long. They had mentioned a course re route at packet pick up the night before. Instead of dipping left at the top of the next aid station onto West Ridge, we climbed to the very tippy top of the towers and went down Spring Creek into Horsetooth Mountain Park. No way could I even attempt pedaling. My calves were absolutely on fire and where I once thought that I could finish this in 3 hours, I knew that time had slowed immensely and it probably wouldn’t happen.
Finally I hit the Spring Creek descent. So.Much.Fun. With my new 29inch tires I steamrolled over every rock and up every rooty, rocky section. I caught the girl that I had been chasing before I had to stop for my mechanical issue. She and I rode together for a while and chatted. (What, I was out to have fun and not take my seriously, remember?). Turns out she had a torn ACL and had just had a baby 3 weeks ago. WHAT?! Badass for sure and an inspiration to boot.
We came back out to Towers, and yes had to climb it again, pass the bacon again (although I took another swig of coke) and climb back up to the top. This time I stopped at the second aid station and took a chocolate Gu and a cup of coke. I had 5 miles left, but a really tough descent that I could not afford to bonk on or I could have seriously injured myself.
I made it safely to the finish, with a final time of 3hrs and 40 minutes and 21 miles with over 4,000 feet of climbing. JWail was there. He rocked the same distance in just under 3 hours. We were beat, but smiling, and happy. I talked to the race director for a bit, congratulating him on running not only a fun, true mountain bike race full of single track, but for being well organized. Not only were trails marked well, but there were volunteers everywhere. Patrollers cruised around on their bikes, people stood at crucial intersections directing us, and others walked up and down towers with boomboxes blasting music to make us forget about the pain of climbing.
Despite the mechanical issue, which is still not fixed, I had a lot of fun racing. Gauging my pain afterwards and today, I probably could have gone faster and pushed harder. I’m tired and stiff today, but not hurting like I potentially could and have hurt post race. But, I’m not sure that was possible on my bike because of the front brake drag. I also think if I had done that I would have taken myself too seriously and been too competitIve and perhaps turned around with a DNF once I realized that my bike was not functioning properly. Instead, I kept on trucking and made the best of it. I didn’t come in first, but I didn’t come in last. Most of the time, that’s all I shoot for.
(A quick shout out to Yann Ropers, the photographer. He did a fantastic job out on the course. You can see and purchase more race photos from his site. We are considering it, given how good the above ones are and the affordability.)