- 44.5 Miles
- 6667' of Elevation Gain
- 1st-Place Singlespeed, 9th Overall
- 3:51:45 to the finish.
I had to dig deep to pull off the win yesterday, possibly deeper than I've ever gone, and had a Brand-New Experience to boot.
The event was the Draper Fall Classic 50-miler, the final race in the Utah State Championship Series, and once again I just happened to be in Salt Lake City so why not give it a go? (The Alpine XCO from earlier in the season is part of the same series, and I happened to be in SLC for that one as well.) Erica's whole family congregated in Salt Lake this weekend for her grandmother's 95th birthday celebration (happy birthday Bubbi!) and they were kind enough to give me a hall-pass for the race.
It was good to see friendly faces in the parking lot before the race, including Corey Larrabee who would be racing on his backyard trails. After a couple of years of racing against eachother we've developed a great competitive camaraderie. He's wicked strong and has a good head for racing, so I knew this was going to be a fun 50 miles of chasing him around the course.
The race started in waves with the Pro Men first, followed by the Pro Women, and then two Expert Men's waves before the singlespeeders finally got onto the course. As expected, Corey led into the singletrack and kept the pace hot for the first couple of miles until we started catching racers from previous waves.
That broke up the flow until the course turned up a dirt road climb and there was ample room to pass. It was a little horrifying seeing the mass of racers who would end up ahead of us on the next stretch of singletrack if we didn't start cranking, so I made my day's first foray into the red zone and sent my heartrate through the roof in a passing frenzy. I expected Corey to come with me, but when I turned into the singletrack I was all alone with a mostly clear course ahead.
That gave me some confidence; if I was able to keep my lead on the climbs I might be able to hold Corey off on the descents to stay in the lead. (Corey came blazing by me on the long descent into Park City at the Point2Point; he's clearly faster on the downhills.) So I stayed hard on the throttle as the course climbed up and up, accepting that I was going to pay for it later on.
But then Corey blazed by me again on a long, exposed, kitty-litter descent. Dammit! He led the rest of the lap and was out of sight when I rolled out for lap two.
I began to have serious doubts about getting the win when we got further and further into the second lap's climbs and he was still out of sight. I knew that I would need to open a lead before we started descending again if I had any hope of staying out front, but I just wasn't catching him!
I started contemplating that I might have to accept not winning my final race of the season, until I looked down at my toptube...
...and remembered the words of my friend JayP, "No negative thoughts." Don't let yourself get dragged down and lose motivation with self-destructive thinking. Just know that you're strong enough, and getting stronger by challenging yourself, and get it done.
So with that wave of inspiration I cranked up another surge and found Corey just after starting some fun, twisty-turny singletrack in the forest. He let me pass and I just pinned it, heartrate soaring, legs throbbing, and willed myself up to the top of the course.
Starting out the rolling singletrack to the big descent I risked a glance back and saw empty trail behind me, and knew that I at least had a chance. So I kept a light touch on the brakes, accepted a modicum of beyond-control, and chanted my own mantra, "Focus forward." Don't worry about who is behind you; all you can do is race your best race and let everybody else race theirs. Stay focused on propelling yourself to the finish, as fast as you can.
The downhill flew by, miraculously I stayed all alone, and then I had the Brand-New Experience on the Clark Trail climb.
Cyclists dread the mythical (inevitable?) event of "cracking". We refer to it as "the wheels came off" and "the bottom dropped out" but before that Clark Trail climb it had never happened to me. I had caught one of the Pro-division geared riders and went to make a pass on a wide stretch of trail, and much to my surprise discovered that I just couldn't do it.
For the first time in my racing career I couldn't make the surge.
EVERYTHING was cramping, and gravity inexplicably doubled. Each turn of the cranks was a willed event. Just staying on my bike was a matter of will. Lying down and crying seemed like a reasonable option. I was doubled over, only able to focus on one pedal-stroke at a time while my vision alternated between being excessively bright and dimming out. We were 39 miles into a 45-ish mile race and I had just cracked.
It felt like eternity before I reached the top of the climb (in reality only about 10 minutes,) and when I finally turned down the pump-and-jump descent to finish the race I was fatigued beyond the point of relief.
I did my best to stay off the brakes and on the trail, and thankfully after a few minutes my brain and body kicked in again and I remembered how to have fun on a bike. Soaring down that few miles of trail was ridiculous fun, mixed with some niggling anxiety about being caught by Corey, and then there was the pitch-black tunnel to the finish loop and I was still in the lead and I felt elated and awful all at the same time.
Riding up the final pavement climb, trying to put in a strong finish, was agony. Quads in full-cramp, body empty of energy, stoked on a winning end to the season but really just wanting to collapse off my bike. And then Erica and Rue and Aunt Martha were there cheering me across the line, and I was done. Spent.
Corey finished strong a couple of minutes later, continuing our trend of pushing eachother to give it all and win by a slim margin. Over bottles of chocolate milk (brilliance on the part of race director Bob Saffell) we told stories of the race until Erica warned me that I had better get moving to re-join the weekend's family celebration.
Hall-pass rescinded, I said good-bye to Corey and the rest of the crew, thanked Bob for a rad event, and called it a solid finish to my 2013 racing season. I love this sport.