I finished in 3:40 and in 100th place. Having absolutely no competitive goals, I was fine with that. I rode straight back to my hotel room and went to work scrubbing the several wounds, since infection is not something I feel like dealing with any time again. Once clean and bandaged up, I made my way back downtown for the mandatory check-in, confirming that I was indeed still alive. The Growlers are awesome race events. As soon as I checked in, a guy hands me a $10 bill "for lunch" (they had various vendors from wood fired pizza to giant burritos), then a choice of a coffee mug filled with New Belgium beer or a growler filled, then finally a girl holds out a couple cans of NB beer, Fat Tire and Shift from which to choose. I was out of it and said "both". I guzzled one and nursed the other (for about 90 seconds), while Pippit casually chewed on a piece of pizza crust scored from the ground near by. By that point it was dinner time and I was still woozy in the brain from the impact of the day, so I grabbed dinner and headed back to the hotel to watch TV with Pippit and fret about the next day.
So, the Half Growler started at 9AM. I assumed the Full Growler would start at 9AM the next morning. I got up at 6:30 and was still 50/50 on whether I would ride that day, so figured I'd ease into the morning and make the call on the race by 8:30. For some reason I double checked the start time for the Sage Burner 50k on Monday - 7AM. Then somehow checked the start of the Full Growler and saw it started at 7AM. It's now 6:41 and I had 19 minutes to get out of my boxers, into full race gear, clean and lube my chain from the previous day, and ride the 1-2 miles into town to the start.
I'm actually grateful for this because had I been given the opportunity to sit and think about the race for two hours, I may have bagged it. I mean, I was beat to shit and wasn't relishing the thought of trying to ride that technical course for 65 miles. Of course I didn't make it in time and was five minutes behind everyone by the time I started, so I spent the five miles of road riding to the trails in time trial mode trying to catch up to the other 350 riders.
Starting beyond dead last was a blessing. Not having a couple hundred anxious riders on my ass while trying to negotiate near vertical rock gardens allowed me to focus, pick my lines, and relearn how to do this crap. after about 30 minutes I realized I was having a blast and courage was filling in the void of this recent cautious fear that I'd never been accustomed to before. Oh, trust me, I still hopped off, cyclocross style and ran over the most gnarly sections but they were infrequent and absolutely necessary.
Here's a short video of last year's race.
The rest of the day was uneventful and I spent my time fueling, hydrating, passing riders, and basically enjoying every minute of the ride. This course makes everything at Leadville look like a four lane hwy but I was riding it smoothly now, climbing strongly and descending free and fast. I crossed the finish in 8:19 in 170th place. I mentioned to a couple riders I had done both races and they were like "ballsy!" Then I added I was running the 50k the next morning and one of them said, "DAMN! You must have one of your balls on top of your head!" I had no idea what that meant but took it as a compliment.
Same routine with the mandatory check in, $10, Beer, etc. I had now clocked 110 miles, 17,000 ft of climb, and 12 hours of highly focused, very hard mountain biking in a little over 24 hours. The thought of running a hard 50k trail race on the same course the next day was numbing.
Oddly, even without being able to sleep from my painful injuries and general fever-like condition from being out in the sun all day riding hard for two straight days, I felt ok on Monday morning. I got my running stuff on, gathered my VFuel and two 12 ounce hand held bottles and headed to the start, which I cut a bit short arriving about three minutes to 7AM. The start, like all races at Hartman Rocks, goes straight uphill over slickrock and sandy trails for about 500 ft. I fast hiked/jogged most of it and mostly just took it very gradually, never really breathing very deeply. The majority of the run was uneventful and I was just really enjoying it. The weather was beautiful with temperatures in the high 60s to low 70s. I simply was managing my average pace and having a blast running the technical terrain that I had spent so much time riding the previous two days. The only mishap was on a very gradual descent where (by my Garmin) I was cruising at just under 6 min pace and I caught a toe which launched me face first to the ground. Both hand held bottles (just refilled at the previous aid stop) exploded their tops off and water seeped into the dusty trail. They saved my hands, though, and I was no worse for wear, albeit a little stunned.
|Sage Burner 50k. Photo: Matt Smith of the Gunnison Country Times|
I had completed all three races I set out to do in Gunnison. It was one of the hardest weekends of racing I've experienced, both mentally and physically. 17+ hours of racing (plus 10 miles for the rides back to town), 22,500 ft climb at an average elevation of 8,000 ft all in a 51 hour period. I'm the only person to complete all three race days in one weekend.
Overall, an incredibly positive experience. My awesome bike held up flawlessly (love that bike!). I overcame a lot of mental obstacles in my technical riding and realized what I needed to do to get back to my old level of bike handling, not to mention all the practice I got out there. Pushing myself each day to not only start but finish in the face of fatigue and pain topped off my confidence for the Leadville races, so I can focus on other things rather than nerves. The races are well managed, especially the Growler events, and I can see myself repeating them next year.
Thanks to VFuel for their incredible gels and support. I didn't bonk once over the whole weekend. Thanks to La Sportiva for their great C-Lites and gear. And thanks to Gunnison Trails for such great organized events (and Dave Weins for the awesome email and giving me the title of "Iron Sage Growler"). See you next year!