Saturday kicked off the Rocky Mountain Ultra Marathon Endurance Series with the VooDoo Fire MTB race put on by the Warriors Cycling Crew. Two options were made available to racers, the 35 mile half-marathon, or the 70 mile full marathon, which I chose to sign up for. I also signed up to volunteer, and help with the venue and registration set up on Friday, having a desire to “see how the sausage is made” for these larger cycling events. Lake Pueblo State Park outside of Pueblo, CO served as the venue, which is probably not the first type of venue that pops into your head when you think of mountain bike racing in Colorado. No ski resort start/finish here, no parade neutral start through the start of town, instead there were trails which everyone would be racing on, motivated by either winning, finishing, time goals, etc.
Back to Friday morning, my coffee fueled trip down I-25 through Denver traffic, Bibleburg, and finally Pueblo puts me at the venue by 9 am. Greeted by Thane and Hutch from Warriors Cycling, a group of volunteers begin to unload a trailer full of tee-shirts, water bottles, sponsor supplied product, rebar, metal fences, and all the other shit that is used to set up a race venue. We get cracking on setting up the end of each lap/finish area, pounding rebar into the ground, marking portions of the course, putting up fencing, building the large metal finish line structure (the proper name escapes me right now, but hopefully you know what I am talking about), and putting up banners provided by sponsors. Four hours later, my hands are coated by a combination of dirt and rust; and we pack up the remaining gear we need and head over to the registration/start area. Once there more fences are set up with sponosor banners hung for the masses to see, and we start to fill the 200 water bottles, one at a time. Other tasks completed before the day is done include a trip to the store to buy 4 shopping carts worth of food and supplies. By 6 pm I call it a day knowing I still have some prep work to do for the race before the sun goes down. The main thing I took away from the day, is that efforts of promoters and volunteers make races happen, no ifs ands or buts about it. So if you have not been thanking these kind folks when you roll through an aid station, get your goodie bag at registration, or after finishing a race which was perfectly marked so you never had a doubt about which direction to go, please do so.
Now that I have gotten off my “volunteer soapbox”, lets get to the race. My preperation had not been what I would prefer, if you were not aware, I spent the better parts of 2009 and 2010 racing as much as possible. During that time I had plenty of free time to get out for rides when I wanted to, and I had minimal responsibilities leaving me ample time to focus on bike racing. That was then, and this is now, grad school is my main priority, and believe me the work associated with class and research is enough to fill another posting. Riding, while something I still try to keep as regular as possible, gets pushed back, or brushed aside in the name of school. Oh well, this is what I signed up for, choosing to say goodbye to a Peter Pan lifestyle, making the decision to head back to school. Similar to Judi I also had a job interview/recruiting trip at the start of last week. Three days in a state I will not mention, with a company I will not mention, simply because I do not want to jinx anything positive that may come of it. Regardless, spending time in airports, flying (something I hate), giving research presentations, making small talk with recruiters is not the way I would choose to prepare for a 70 mile bike race.
Despite my poor preperation, I joined all the other marathon fools at 8:45 for the start. Cloudy skies, cold temperatures, and strong winds greeted all of us, and resulted in many racers thinking “what did I sign up for?” A neutral roll out for less than a mile leads to a climb, and the lifting of the speed to the point where I wonder if there were some half-marathon racers in our bunch. Such was not the case, and it was simply “Front Range Racing”, where there are always guys and gals who are attempting to push that throttle far beyond full. The drop into the singletrack is best described as a cluster fuck. 60 folks dropping into single file formation is as frustrating as you can imagine. I say “fuck it” in regards to getting a flat and ride past them just off the trail. The first few miles is a long line of racers, gaps being to open up here and there, passing is limited due to the “turn-heavy” nature of the course, but eventually a pecking order works itself out. Personally I realize that any sort of combination of strong legs, handling ability, and that special factor called “it”, I may have possessed over the past few years has left my body. On the first section of doubletrack leading to the aid station, a group passes me, and I do not have the legs to go with them, rather than attempt a chase into the wind, I hand my head and begin to wallow in my own self-pity. That is how the first lap 23 mile lap goes for me, feeling bad about myself for not racing at what I think my ability should be.
The only saving grace, and reason that thoughts of dropping out never got any further beyond thoughts was the course. Mostly singletrack, with enough turns to make you dizzy, this course is one of the better ones I have been on for an endurance race. The climbs were short, steep, and punchy, no long gradual slogs up a logging road for us. Several of the turns were begging for berms to be built there, allow riders to channel some sort of long lost BMX love. One trail had some rock art built on the side, making its name of “Stonehenge” be quite appropriate. I would have never thought that a place like Pueblo would have a such a variety of mountain bike trails in one location, but as usual my preconcieved notions were wrong. Trust me, Lake Pueblo State Park will be added to my list of mountain bike stops during long drives. The aid stations were fully stocked with happy volunteers. Once I had realized that I was simply racing to finish, I took my time at the aid stations. In the past I would have simply grabbed a new bottle, and stuffed a couple gels in my jersey pocket. This time I was able to enjoy some orange slices, eat fig newtons, refill my own bottles, and talk to some of the volunteers.
By the second lap I am no longer feeling sorry for myself, the sun begins to come out, and things are improving for the most part. I find something that resembles a rhythm, and my thoughts sift. I ponder my recent job interview, and what it would mean for myself if I get a job offer. It would mean stability, responsibility, and a big jump into the deep end of the pool referred to as the real world. It would also mean sacrafices, another move, and a new adventure in life. I wonder if I am anywhere close to possessing the combination of intelligence, responsibility, maturity, and planning for the future to be able to make any life decisions and changes. The part of the interview that kept playing over and over in my head is when myself, and the other grad students being recruited were looked in the eyes and told, “you guys are here because you are the cream of the crop out there.” It took all of my strength to not laugh at that, do these people have any idea who I am? In my opinion I am great at doing two things, 1.) complaining a lot about trivial shit, and 2.) calling my grandmother every week to see how she is doing. I was waiting for a camera crew to burst into the room, telling me this was all part of some elaborate joke. I also thought about the potential bike trip my dad and I had been talking about. Still unsure if our schedules, and other obligations will allow the trip to occur. I spend time trying to think of alternatives for my dad and I. With all these distractions the second lap passes with ease, and its time for the third and final.
For the first few miles of the final lap, I ride with some dude on a Speacialized in some CTS bibs. We never exchange names, but we do plenty of bullshitting while riding. On one occasion we manage to make multiple references to the Fast and the Furious in the span of 25 seconds. We part ways, and I once again am alone with my thoughts, the self pity I had felt on the first lap, and the life contemplation that took place on the second lap are things of the past. I simply enjoy my remaining time on the trail, knowing that Monday will bring more non bike related work. Minor goals become reasons to pat myself on the back, cleaning that climb I didnt think I’d have the legs for, riding that new line on the descent, and managing to hold off the cramps that had been building my legs over the neary six hours of riding. I finish up with a look on my face that is the combination of fatigue and joy, making it just under the 6 hour goal I set for myself after the first lap.
Post race I am unable to take part in the fine chow provided, and the post race banter/story telling amongst racers. Responsibilities have once again called me away, resulting in my car being packed in a hurry, and quick goodbyes being said. The drive provides me with plenty of time to reflect on the race. First things first, Thane, Hutch, and the rest of the gang at Warriors Cycling have their shit together and know how to put on a race. With plenty more races left in the RME, you need to take part in at least one of them. Second, having now seen more of what goes into making a mountain bike race happen I have a better appreciation of promoters and the volunteers that help to make a race happen. Third, I am not the mountain bike racers I once was, which sucks, but better to be aware of it than to be delusional about it. My views of what makes a great race weekend have changed, finishing position will matter less, good times will matter more.by