Having ridden in Breckenridge, Colorado the past 2 years on a recreational basis, I wasn't sure I'd ever want to race there. Coming from an elevation of 1,000 feet going to over 9,500 feet inside of the town and pretty much heading up anywhere else you ride is sure way to make you feel weak in the knees. Add in the challenge of the terrain being more technical than most of what we find in the midwest and you've got the recipe for some really fun riding, but a possible recipe for disaster when you start thinking about a race effort.
Adam and Jason ready to roll out:
An invite from Jason at the last quarter rage to possibly go race the Silver Rush 50 in Leadville and some subsequent follow up found me headed to Colorado. Another friend, Adam, was planning to go and race the Breck-68 that same weekend so we decided to all ride out together. I opted for the 68 over the Silver Rush based on some feedback about the 68 having better trails and more singletrack. Plus, I had ridden a number of the trails at least partially in the past 2 years and felt like I knew the area and terrain well enough that I at least had some idea of what to expect even though this by all counts looked to be the tougher of the two races.
I spent the next month trying to figure out how I was going to survive 68 miles of high elevation singletrack with 9,000' of climbing. I figured my best bet was to go at it with the same mindset that worked for me at Almanzo. Pace out my effort and try to ensure a finish within the alotted time. I knew there wasn't any way for me to truly put down a race type effort at those elevations, so I was much better off making sure I finished as my goal for the race. I've seen what altitude can do to friends when trying to put out a hard effort and it isn't pretty. I poured back over my rides from the past 2 years trying to piece together what gear and supplies I'd need to take with me. One alarming bit of info I figured out was that the longest distance I'd ever ridden out there was about 40 miles in a single day. Granted, we ride at a pretty casual pace, regroup often, and drop back to town for lunch, but still, I was about to double my biggest day.
My usual gear for day tripping around Breck is a fully stocked 70oz camelback with all sorts of food and gear like first aid kit, emergency blanket, extra clothes, and repair parts. Add in a stocked bike with 2 more bottles and a loaded seat bag and you've got a lot of extra weight to lug around. I knew I had to pare that down to the minimum, but where would I draw the line between minimal gear that would get me through the race and not find me stranded along the trail somewhere. Having the opportunity to use drop bags gave me a little relief on how much I felt I needed to drag along on my back. I still went heavier than I needed to, but I felt safe about my choices. I stuck with a camelback with water, a wide selection of food choices in it, and a few minor odds and ends. I had 2 bottles of Accelerade on the bike, a spare tube, multi-tool, and a trio of the new 20 gram CO2 cartridges from Genuine Innovations. I also had their x-mount with a microflate nano and another cartridge on it. Considering I was rolling tubeless on a brand new set of Specialized Captains, I felt pretty safe when it came to flatting. Beyond that, its hard to really plan on all the things that Colorado trails can throw at a bike. I tried to prep minimally with a few small spare parts and a good multi-tool.
Bastardized Selma (gears and suspension) is ready to roll out:
After driving throught the night, Adam, Jason, and I hit ground zero around 6 in the morning arriving in Silverthorne. After we grabbed a quick bite for breakfast, we dropped some goods at our friend Andy's place and caught the rest of the tour stage for the morning. We finally geared up and hit the trails for a solid pre-ride of our first loop late in the morning. Reading the course notes I'd printed out, we hit a series of steep switchbacks out of Carter Park to start our ride. Nary a minute into our pre-ride and we're already maxing our efforts out hitting the switchbacks and puffing along. Adam was pretty sure we wouldn't have to do this route as they had started with a road climb before hitting the singletrack last year. Luckily he was right as only the guys doing the 100 mile course would have to climb the switchbacks.
Preride stop at Sally Barber Mine:
We rolled the first section of the course up to aid station 1 and rolled back to Breck mid afternoon. Finding ourselves ready for some sustenance, I suggested we hit up Fatty's pizza for a large pie and a pitcher. Feeling revived after our meal, we plotted out another short loop for Friday to recon a little more of the route before we hit packet pick up. We ended up doing a really short pre-ride of 45 or so minutes on Friday, but got a feel for the first small singletrack climb on loop 2 and were pretty comfortable with it.
Over a spectacular homemade lasagna dinner made by Adam's brother's fiancee on Friday evening, he and I plotted out some strategy. He was riding singlespeed and I opted to gear up my Selma for the race. His wave started a few minutes back of mine, but we decided to roll out together and stay together for the race to help pace and push each other. Soon enough, it was time to hit the sack and see if we could get some sleep. With our race not starting until later in the morning, we had the opportunity to sleep in a little and stop to grab some breakfast muffins on the way to the start. True to form, I could only choke down about half a sandwich, some juice, and not much else. I always fight to get a decent breakfast before a morning race start.
Race morning in Carter Park:
Adam and I got our gear together and rolled up to find his brother who was working as neutral race mechanic at Carter Park. We dropped some gear at his tent before doing some minor warm-up and finding our way over to the ice rink where we'd be starting. The initial rollout had us ascending Boreas Pass Road to a short cut off to hit the Barney Ford trail head. Finally we hit the road after watching the first 4 or so waves take off. We rolled about 20 strong with singlespeeders and some age groupers in our wave. Adam and I slotted ourselves near the front as we hit the slow climb. My legs didn't feel too bad right out of the gate, but mostly I was worried about warming them up thoroughly without hammering it too quickly and paying dearly for it hours down the road. As we neared the last push uphill before the turn to the trailhead, Adam was turning over his gear a bit faster than I was ready to spin and pulled out in front by a few riders. Just as we got near the turn, I had one rider in front and a bus pulling up next to me. Not sure what to do, I pushed the pace and passed the rider while shooting the gap between he and the bus so I could make the turn without getting hung up in all the riders we'd rolled past.
Adam hit the track about 4 or so riders in front of me trying to get some room to roll and keep his momentum. As soon as we hit the singletrack, the accordian effect started. We slowed way down and started the game of asking to pass or finding a way to take a line. I was pretty patient to begin with, but after being stopped a time or two on relatively easy terrain, I was ready to get after it a bit myself. Finally, we hit the open area of trail with a wider straight section and I jumped on the wheel of 2 other guys. We rolled past probably 10+ people in a short 1/2 mile or less section before we got back into the tight and twisty sections. As we rolled the next section of short and punchy climbs, traffic was still a bit backed up, but not quite as frustrating as before. I got around a few more riders and let a few others by, but I was riding everything pretty well as we rolled up to Sally Barber mine and our first nice downhill. Adam and gone ahead on this section and we'd planned a rendezvous at Aid 1.
I hit the descent and let it hang out as far as I dared. I love the fire road descents as they feel like they can go on forever. I knew we'd be paying soon enough though as the next section of trail contained a tough climb called Little French. At least having pre-ridden it on Thursday, I knew what was coming. I'd ridden probably 90% on that day and vowed I'd ride less of it for the race as to hopefully avoid cooking myself a scant 10 miles into the race. I rode where it felt good and walked where it felt better. I still passed some people and of course I got passed by some people, but I was sticking to the plan. As we got near the top of Little French, we jumped off on a flume trail that had our first real contour riding of the day as we'd just been going up or down until now. It was a bit of a relief to actually just pedal and ride at this point. It also didn't hurt knowing we had another killer downhill fire road at the end of this trail that would lead us into aid 1.
I watched Adam fly down this hill on our pre-ride and tried to lay off the brakes as much as possible. I found myself descending with a gal who was running pretty close to the same speeds as I. We were both whooping and hollering from the sheer thrill and fun. We were about halfway down when we came up on a dirt bike headed down as well. We were choking on his dust as he'd goose it and jump the water bars and then slow down to go in search of the next obstacle in the road. We were headed down faster than he was and had to wait for a few sections before we could finally sneak past him. I think we caught him a bit off guard as we headed by. Finally we rolled down to the aid station and I spotted Adam.
He was still smiling, but said he thought his day might be done. He'd rounded a corner on the last downhill and smacked into another dirt bike headed up the hill. His bike was essentially ok with a bent seat rail, but his ankle had taken a huge impact and was swelling rapidly. I filled my bottles back up and topped off my camelback. I also learned an important lesson at the same time. Pay close attention to what you use to fill your bottles and bladders if there is more than water available. While I got the water I needed to mix more Accelerade in my bottles, I accidentally filled my camelback with a watered down HEED mixture. I've found HEED to be a near sure fire way to cause me to bloat up and stop being able to race. So, I was down to my 2 bottles to get me to the next aid station where I could dump the mix and refill it with water.
Adam and I rode up to the start of the Colorado Trail section when he pulled to the side. I stopped to see if there was anything I could do. He said he was just going to try to work it out and go slow, but that I should head on. Seeing he was still moving, I decided it was my best bet to go ahead and move at my own pace. I'd ridden this section of the trail the previous year and knew I was in for a long, but not overly technical or hard climb before being rewarded with one of the best descents I've ever ridden. I swear those miles seemed to drag forever having a number of miles already in my legs and trying to grind my way up this long drag. I was passing some of the 100 mile riders in amongst the other 68 riders and also starting seeing the 32 mile guys go flying past on a regular basis. The 100 milers were pretty distinctive in their mud covered kits and hollowed out looks in their eyes. I was a bit envious of the 32 mile riders buzzing by and knowing they'd be done in a short 15 miles.
As we crested the hill and started into the meat of the descent, I found myself in a bit of an unfamiliar spot as I was actually outrunning people going down the hill. I think I descend pretty well, but these aren't my home trails and I'm trying to stay on the cautious side of speed. A few riders gave me the go ahead as we ran through the switchbacked descent and I let go of the brakes and felt the rush of speed take over. All too soon, I found myself at the bottom of the hill and rode into Aid 2 at the Dredgeboat trailhead. I took a pretty long break at this point and sat down long enough to get a quick recharge before I was able to get some fresh water into my camelback, stuff some food into my face, and reload my bottles. I was hoping if I rested long enough, Adam might pop back into view and we could hit the trail together. After 10 or 15 minutes, I knew I needed to roll and I hadn't seen him yet.
I rolled the last section of loop 1 headed back to the start/finish area at Carter Park. I really didn't know what to expect from this section as I didn't think I'd ridden any of it in previous trips. Luckily, this section didn't throw any hard climbs or overly technical sections at us. It still had plenty of climbing with a few short steep sections, but for the most part, it was relatively tame with some gravel and road climbing in a few areas along with some nice sections of singletrack. The clouds rolled in and we started to have some rain spit on me here and there as turned the pedals. It was clearing back up again as I headed into Carter Park for the end of my first loop.
Brutal lap 1:
I rolled into the park and looked for Adam's brother to tell him about the accident. I drug out my supply bag and somewhat methodically re-filled my camelback with supplies in prep for the upcoming loop. I took a couple minutes to use the restroom and snap a quick picture of the loop 1 stats for a quick post to facebook letting my family know I was still kicking and getting ready to move out. After another 15 minutes or so, I was just getting ready to roll out when I saw Adam rolling in. He looked to be in pretty good spirits overall, but conceded his day was done for sure. Knowing I was on my own at this point, I quickly rolled back out and into the fray again.
I worked to get some food and water down before the climbing of loop 2 hit. I knew the first singletrack climb wasn't bad, but Indiana jeep road turned out to be a killer hike-a-bike for me as it really got steep, loose, and wet the higher we went. Finally, we topped out of that section and onto Boreas Pass Road a couple miles from the top. For the first time, I could see some riders heading back towards home from the lead pack of guys. I shouted encouragement to Kerkove who was having what looked to be a pretty solid day on the bike. Aid 5/7 was the next place I'd sent a drop bag figuring that since I had to hit it twice, I'd have a good supply to draw from. I think I ended up only grabbing a gel and maybe some shot blocks at this point. I did stop for a few minutes to grab a coke from the volunteers and ease my aching back once more.
The next section would be all new to me with a descent into Como on Goldust trail and then an old railroad grade gravel climb right back up to the top of Boreas Pass once again. I'd heard great things about descending Goldust from Andy and he was spot on. The first few sections were pure ear to ear grins and then we rolled into what appeared to be some type of dry creek bed. We snaked through the trees in a 3-4' deep depression that was about 8' wide for a couple of miles until we hit the most massive rock garden I've seen on a bike. Some of it was ridable, but a lot of it had you off and hefting your bike and self over some pretty large boulders and rocks. This went on for a good half mile or better on and off before slowly becoming less rocky and more ridable. Finally back on the bike, we had some more climbing before the final descent through some tight twisty woods into Como.
A short minute or two stop at this aid station had my bottles filled and a little beta received about the upcoming climb which was pretty much non-stop from Como all the way to the top of the pass. On the plus side, it was shallow at 6% +/- grade the whole way, but that also falls in a somewhat bad area for me as I struggle with longer climbs that are much over 5%. I hit the gas and took off out of town looking across the valley and seeing some rain and thunderclouds on the far side. I hoped they'd stay over there and not pour on me during the climb. I think I lost a fair bit of time on this section of course as I kept grinding away, but always felt like I wasn't pushing my potential ability. My stomach was backing up just a little and of course both my legs and back were aching away this far into the race. I passed a few guys, but I probably had 10+ riders pass me in the final couple of miles going up Boreas Pass road.
Finally, I spied the top of the climb after having a bit of a heavy sprinkle wet me down for the last mile or so. I knew it was basically a downhill back to the start and I was familiar with the terrain as it was all on trails I'd ridden. I cranked up the big ring all the way to the Bankers Tank uphill and turned in. There was just a short bit of climbing before we could rail our way down to the lower trail head which I tackled with abandon. The last bit of technical singletrack was in the form of Aspen Tunnel which had me a little nervous as it has a very loose rock descent followed up by a giant slag pile drop. As luck would have it, enough riders had burned in a trail that the loose rocks were basically a non-issue by this time and they routed us to the side of the slag pile which was rocky, but a bit less dramatic of a drop as going over the nose of the hill.
I knew I was headed home at this point unless I did something stupid to crash myself out in the last mile or two. I kept my speed up, but safe and just enjoyed the flow of the singletrack and woods as I lined my way out to the finish. By the time I finally hit the switchbacks to Carter Park, 9 hours had rolled by and a good chunk of the finishers had cleared out. There was still a pretty good pack of people waiting and cheering though which is always nice to roll in and hear.
Just rolled across the finish line:
Back to smiling:
All told I had clocked off 70 miles and just short of 9,000' of climbing for the day. I finished a little disappointed with 27th out of 30 finishers in my class. I'm not sure how many DNF'ed. I do know that while I was tired, I left a lot of time on the table in the form of rest stop speed (54 minutes off the bike) and overall effort in some of the longer climbing sections. I think I've got an 8 or even sub 8 hour finish in me with just a couple tweaks. The biggest thing will be to race without a camelback. It absolutely killed my low back. Nothing I had in there couldn't be carried some other way and the aid stations are close enough for me that I could go with bottles only. I'm hoping to hit it again next year and see if I can't get a better finish. I'm still not sure I'd ever race the SS out there, but I'm not ruling it out either.