Monday, July 24, 2017

The Most Beautiful Race in America

Living on the road is a beautiful thing, and I feel so so fortunate to have the opportunity to travel through Colorado this month riding and racing and taking in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Lauren and I have seen stunning vistas of scraggly, rocky mountain peaks, massive waterfalls and glowing green meadows shrouded with dark evergreens. We drove the million dollar highway from Durango to Ouray (a first for both of us) and almost cried at the staggering beauty of the San Juan Mountains. We have met some incredibly kind local people in the places we have visited, and ridden some crazy fun, challenging, awesome trails. 

Obviously there are a few drawbacks to living out of a van for an extended period of time as well, among them always being surprised by the lack of free time to do work online, access to laundry facilities and the constant 'where did the day go?!' feeling. 

Despite my limited access to social media however, I caught a glimpse of a tweet from Sonya Looney on Friday afternoon. It was a picture of a mug that said something to the effect of 'You can do hard things' (I just scoured the twitterverse to find the picture and now feel like maybe I imagined it because I CANNOT find said picture) and that message just kinda settled into my mind. 
That switchback-y fire road is the first half of the first climb of the T100. 
The next day, 6ish hours into the Telluride 100, when I started thinking about how I didn't want to keep riding, how I couldn't do it, and how my body hurt, the message from the mug resurfaced. I told myself that I felt good, ate a nut butter filled Cliffbar and then magically I really did feel ok. I continued the pep-talks all the way up to Alta Lakes, the third of 4 massive climbs in the race and was genuinely surprised how different I felt when I focused on positive thoughts and a general mind over matter outlook. 

Scared, but committed. 
The Telluride 100 (also know as To Hell You Ride haha) is a 100 mile mountain bike race that starts and finishes in Telluride Colorado, and which coins itself 'the most beautiful race in America'. When Lauren and I sat down and planned our trip we had no idea we would be in Telluride on the same weekend as the race. Lauren raced the T100 last year though and only had amazing things to say about the course (besides missing a turn and getting lost....), so when we found out we were coincidentally going to be in town for the race, after a little hemming and hawing about the suffering, I placed my coin in the board at registration, sealing my fate for 9 hours of Saturday. 

Before sunrise Saturday morning I joined a small (only 125 people are allowed to compete in the race) group of other possibly deranged cyclists, and as we rolled through the main drag in Telluride, looking up at Ingram Falls I prepared myself for 14,000 ft of climbing, all of which was above 8,000ft. 

Photo: Rob Greebon Photography
The first climb began right from the line, in the first 10 miles we ascended to 13,000ft, past two incredibly beautiful waterfalls and up to Black Bear Pass. I concentrated on pacing myself, and counted down the elevation left. At a few points I looked up and my breath was taken away both by the lack of oxygen and the absolutely incredible views. The fire road passed through the densest meadows full of wildflowers of all colors, making me wish I could pull out my phone and take pictures. But competitive as I am, I pushed on, keeping an eye on second place and on my power data.

After Blackbear pass we were rewarded with an awesome descend which I absolutely railed. My Felt Nine is pretty fun on bumpy fire road descents, and I aired out some rocks and drops, making the most of the fact that I wasn't pedaling. Soon we turned onto pavement, descended some more, and before I knew it I was climbing to Ophir Pass. The second climb was much shorter than the first, but still took us to 12,000ft. Again I focused on finding a rhythm and not going too hard. I reminded myself about 100 times throughout the day that you can't recover at altitude. The descent off Ophir was also super fun and bumpy, but seeing one of the dudes I was riding with get a sidewall tear made me slow down a little to avoid a similar fate.  

The first lap of the race was about 45 miles long, and after some fun single track following the Ophir descent we rolled into town and it hit me that we still had more than 50 miles to go. Fortunately the second loop was a little easier than the first, but it began with a crazy steep climb up a ski slope called Boomerang. The course continued to climb to 11,000ft at Alta Lakes followed by my favorite part of the race, Sunshine trail, a screaming fast twisty single track that took us through an unbelievably pretty hillside spotted with Aspen and out of control fluffy grass. 
Example of the view from the course, this is from Prospect trail, taken when Lauren and I rode it on Friday. 
Eventually I found myself on the plateau halfway up Last Dollar road, and a nice lady in a Subaru told me there were no women behind me, which was impotence to slow down a little and just survive to the end. Coach told me the day before that I would have to resume intervals on Tuesday so I shifted my focus to saving some legs to be able to do good work in a few days. Every time I felt unhappy I looked up at the beautiful mountains around me, and the Aspen trees densely packed along the sides of the fire road. I ate and drank and ate some more. A few dudes passed me on the last climb, three to be exact, but I didn't realize until later that I had been in 7th place overall until the last 10 miles of the race. I wasn't too stressed though, until the bottom of the last descent, when we had about 5 flat-ish miles left to the finish and I saw someone behind me. I kinda panicked (couldn't tell if it was a dude or not), and I pushed myself really hard back to town to stay ahead of them. Sadly for me, I got lost in a parking lot half a mile from the finish because of really poor course markings there, and that person, a dude thankfully, rolled into the lot, yelled to me that the course is 'over here' and proceeded to take 10th place from me by a matter of seconds. (bonus sad face when I found out later that some friends had made a bet that I would come in top 10).

And so what I anticipated as the most painful day of my life ended up just being a HUGE lesson in the power of my own thoughts. While I had prepared myself for feeling like hell, wanting to quit, being in unreasonable pain, the act of thinking 'you feel good' really did help me reset my perceptive, actually not feel too bad. Repeating the mantra 'mind over matter' in my mind played a huge role helping me persevere through probably the most physically challenging race of my career. 

And then there were amazing tacos, and hot chocolate with 2 servings of whipped cream, and a podium ceremony where I received yet another weapon trophy (this seems to be a trend hahaha). 

These ladies are all badasses in my book. We all pushed though and rode so hard, it was a pleasure to stand on this podium with some of the best endurance racers in the US. 

And to come full circle I have to leave this recap a little incomplete. SO much more went into this race than I just wrote about, and I want to give credit to all the people who made Saturday so incredible, but Lauren and I need to get dinner, shower, find a campsite and go to bed at a reasonable time... So I'm going to have to recap all that good stuff tomorrow... if we can find internet! 

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I had not seen the miner's pick in the other picture. Looks like the woman in yellow won a block of wood and a baby! --Carolyn