For as many years as I’ve been racing bikes, I’ve learned that I just have to face the fact that I struggle in the first few races of the season. It just hurts out there. And even though I work very hard in the off season and feel strong as I start racing, the intensity of a race is just a huge wake-up call. Another factor is getting into the mindset that everyone else is hurting, too. (which, admittedly, is hard to do when you’re in survival mode!) This year was no exception and I actually struggled to even finish the 50mi Ridgeline race. It was brutal.
Truth be told, I’m horrible about eating and hydrating in races. I have NO PROBLEM eating when I’m not racing. Believe me. However, when you’re in the fog of battle and ‘race drunk’, (as my friend Michael Friedberg calls it) it’s easy to let time go by without staying on top of the important stuff. I’ve learned to be better about it by putting a specific amount of food in my back pockets and making sure it’s gone before I’m done with the race. I also try and drink a bottle an hour – depending on the temp. For those who are like me and want to know what others do for their food intake, I eat a bag of Honey Stinger chews every hour. Even if I have to slow down due to trying to eat on tricky terrain, you MUST eat! I actually won the Laramie Endure a few years ago just eating chews because they were the only thing that sounded good to me in the race. Ever since, they’re my go-to. Lucky for me I’m sponsored by Honey Stinger…
There was some redemption a couple weeks after the Ridgeline race as I lined up at the Desert RATS Classic out in Fruita, CO. The weather has been so crazy here in CO and pretty much every race has been postponed due to rain, but after neurotically checking about 5 different weather sites for 2 days straight, this was the only event with a possibility to even happen. And after being postponed for one day, it was on. (Even though we rode for 4 hours the day before, we were still excited to clean the bikes and race for 100k the next day!)
Although there wasn’t a big field of pros out there it was a great event on some great technical terrain. I really prefer the more rugged trails out in Fruita so this was an ideal race for me as the organizers added in the Zion Curtain trail, which has some tough climbing and descending – as well as some great views! I ended up taking the win out there, but the best part of the weekend was just being able to spend some time with a good friend, get some additional training in, and completely steal the ‘boots’ from Rob so my legs were nice and recovered.
I know I write a lot about how hard it is to balance work and racing, but it’s something that will always be a challenge as long as I want to race at my best level. Sometimes that struggle needs to be remedied by a good ol’ trip to the mountains. No racing. No work. I mean getting down to the basics of why one lives in the mountains. Well, Rachel had an outdoor conference in Snowmass for a couple days and I jumped on the opportunity to go and ‘shut the outside world out’ for a bit. I have no problem with doing this these days. I used to freak out about who was trying to get a hold of me and all that, but these days? Nope. I had my wife with me and that’s all that mattered. I needed to have some soul nurturing and that came in the form of riding my bike all day for a few days. It went something like this: Wake up, drink coffee, eat a big breakfast and look at maps. Then go ride all day. Ride everywhere. Climb as much as possible. Meet cool people around Aspen and Snowmass. Crawl back to the hotel because you’re exhausted and it’s a 5 mile climb home. Clean up, eat dinner, drink a beer, stretch and relax. Then just repeat the next day. A truly soul nurturing ‘training camp’. Oh, and I went through a huge chunk of my Honey Stinger inventory during that trip. It’s pretty amazing how much you’ll eat on an all-day adventure like those were.
Earlier I mentioned great, challenging trails to race on. Enter another race with plenty of those. I finally made it to the Firebird 40 in Eagle, CO this year. That whole rain delay thing we’ve been experiencing here actually played in my favor this time. Due to my hectic and unpredictable travel schedule for work I’ve had to skip a lot of races in the last couple years. This was one of those that I would be jealous about when hearing my friends talking about how great it was. Well, it turned out that this year was the year to do it since Mike McCormack produced an amazing race with a true backcountry feel. Imagine high desert, twisty singletrack, steep climbs, cattle, several ‘stream’ crossings, (well, maybe one river in there, too) aspen groves and breathtaking views. Yep. That was the Firebird 40. And it was a hell of a race.
Leading into the FB 40, I had been in Austin all week on a shoot. Granted, I did have the training camp miles in the bank from the weekend before, but I wasn’t able to do any prep in the lead-up to the race. I literally landed in Denver at 11PM on Friday night, drove to King Soopers to get supplies for the race, got home and ate, wound down a bit, and then went to sleep at 1AM. Then the alarm went off at 4:30AM. All glamour. I did a moderate warm-up and then the race started. I was not feeling like superman during that first hour. I even made a mistake that led to me dropping my chain. (I’m on a 1×11 so there’s no trick to getting your chain back on while riding) I pulled over to get it squared away and then dropped back to like 20th or 30th. This is where experience led me to remain calm and try and work back up. I made it back to the top 10, but I pretty much blew up in doing so. Then the training camp miles kicked in and I started feeling a lot better. In the end I worked my way back to 4th and I’m pretty happy with that. The field was fast and it was a true mountain biker’s course. All good prep for the months ahead.
As the heart of the season comes into view, I couldn’t be more motivated. I have a new focus added to this season in the form of the NUE Series, which will only help in my quest to have a good day at the solo 24 hour worlds in CA in Oct. I’m also happy to say that – for the first time in several years – I can actually plan out the summer since I won’t be traveling for 3 months outside of racing. I love what I do as a filmmaker as much as I love being an athlete, but the work travel has really effected me and I’m just looking forward to having a relatively normal life for a few months! I’m pretty disciplined when I travel, but the stress of trying to figure out a workout that will actually help in my training gets extremely challenging. There’s just a lot that comes into play there and I’m happy to be able to be in the mountains for an extended time.
Lastly, it should go without saying, but I’m sayin’ anyway – and often: Support from anyone and any organization is a huge luxury. I’m not quite sure how I ended up being so fortunate with having a team like the Honey Stinger / Bontrager Off-Road team take me in, but I couldn’t be happier. It’s a family and I feel at home with this group of people. From the athletes to the owners. Good people.
And speaking of family, my parents and wife continue to be my biggest fans and supporters. Any time I feel like my motivation suffers a bit, I just think about them and I get back to pedalin’.
Well, it’s time to go clean the muddy clothes and bike. However, before we know it Colorado will be hot and dry and we’ll all be reminiscing about the time when we had three weeks of rain and the vegetation was a rich green…