Things are coming full circle, and I started to realize my race reports will need the year in them to make sense… but indeed, I toed the line for this year’s rendition of Battle the Bear, once again using it as my proving grounds for endurance. RME switched up the categories this year, and the cross country categories now equal what the “half marathon” categories did last year distance wise. I had been toying with the idea of doing the 30 mile race since the venue is non-technical and speedy. Last year I put on my big girl panties and did the 20 mile race (first time racing over 11 miles), so I guess it’d only be natural if this year I did the 30 mile “XC” race.
One of the reasons I bought my S-Works Fate was for this race… it just screams for a hard tail since there is literally nothing technical about the course and is pretty much as smooth as single track can get. With a new spoke and brand new rear derailleur on it from the Fruita destruction, I also decided to go tubeless. I’ve always been a fan of tubes, and have actually never had a flat while mountain biking (only two flats occurred AFTER racing at Bear Creek Lake Park). I’ve known my fair share of people who flat with tubeless, which added to my love of tubes. But alas, Bear Creek Lake Park is filled to the brim with goat heads and I didn’t feel like risking another crappy race with a mechanical over those stupid thorny weeds. Out came the tubes, in went the Stans.
The weather was pretty hot, over 80 degrees at the 1pm start. RME races are different in that there are no ability level categories aside from pro, and it’s just all about age groups. So it can lead to some stiff competition and a wide range of abilities at the starting line. HOLY CRAP that start was fast! All I could think was “is this a World Cup?” and “Umm, this is a 30 mile race, not 5 miles…” Usually I am an extremely fast starter, to my fault, and I couldn’t even keep up with some of those gals as we roared up the pavement and onto the starting loop. I felt redlined from the start and I kept telling myself that there’s no way I could sustain this pace for long, given the length of the race (I’ve never raced over 22 miles before…). Yet I stayed on the throttle, trying to keep up with those in front of me, and trying to get around the tail end of the men’s XC groups the best I could.
The trail through the creek bed that was under about 20 feet of water during the September floods was dry and powdery, which made for zero visibility and loveliness for the lungs. I hit the creek crossing at about 20mph or so and have never heard a front shock bottom out so badly, which scared the crap out of me (I’ve had it with broken bikes for the year!). Yet I stayed on it, within sight of gals in front of me. We had a speedy downhill pavement stretch that bypassed some flood damaged trails before popping up onto a long gravel road hill grind. My heart rate still wasn’t coming out of the high 180s and 190s during all of this, which made me uncomfortable. But I felt good, and the descents off the few kicker of climbs made me pleased as I could tell I was descending faster than last year, and more confidently.
The Mt Carbon climb is the longest sustained climb of the course, but it undulates in a manner that allows it to not be a grind. I ended up climbing it a minute faster than last year on my first lap, woohoo! Once on the top of that, it’s a long descent down (and super fast), and back around to the finish chute/pits. I had decided to go with one bottle of the bike and one in my jersey with no Camelbak. I stuffed my jersey full of Honey Stinger Waffles and had Honey Stinger chews stuck down my top tube. So I grabbed a drink when I could and pulled off a chew or two.
A little ways into the 2nd lap I was pretty much riding by myself, only getting caught by two girls in my age group about a third of the way in (which meant I had been sitting in 3rd, whoa!). Occasionally I would pass a XC man, or they would pass me. It was just hot and lonely. About the time I got passed I had the most painful and awkward pain set into my left big toe. It was deep in the joint, not toenail related. It made standing painful, and some pedaling. Strangest thing ever, but I tried blocking it out the best I could and utter swear words when it got really bad. I could feel my pace slowing, but kept on the throttle the best I could. Of course I had those occasion thoughts of “oh just quit, you already have XX miles in” but they weren’t too strong.
Came around for my third and final lap. Someone offered me a bottle hand up but I declined. I knew I wasn’t drinking enough, but a new bottle wouldn’t solve that. By then my pace had slowed down a lot and it was more about survival more than anything. I made sure to finish off the rest of my chews on this lap, and finally started in on my second bottle. The climbs felt like torture, and the big toe pain came and went in intensity, but always remained a dull ache. This time around the Mt Carbon climb felt like it lasted forever, and I grinded up it in my granny gears. Getting to the summit was one of the biggest reliefs I had ever felt in my life, as I knew it was all downhill to the finish, except for a tiny little climb. On this tiny little climb a guy caught me and as my bike misshifted I apologized and he goes “No worries, we’re on the home stretch!” We rolled into the finishing chute and I wasn’t planning on sprinting against him, and by golly there he takes me by surprised so I tried to sprint and catch up to him… he got me, but made for a fun finish!
2 hours 33 minutes 51 seconds was my official time, 31.1 miles total. This placed me 5th in my 30-39 age category (in a field of 10). Whoa! So pleased, and I had no idea that I was that far up in the group, as it felt like I was one of the last off the course! Pleasantly surprised, and once again happy that I pushed myself to do the longer 30 mile race. And I had my first mountain bike race finish of 2014, and the bike stayed in one piece! Even better, no goat heads (not sure how I pulled that one off) and no flat tires! Maybe tubeless isn’t so bad!
Upon getting off the bike to chat with some friends I realized I couldn’t put pressure on my toe. I was hobbling around, my face contorting in pain (I don’t think I’m a pain weenie, but holy crap… this hurt). Hot, extremely dirty, rocking an awesome dust unibrow, and tired, I climbed on my bike and rode the 1.5 miles back to my car. I took off my bike shoes, and it felt like my whole toe was stiff and cramped up. It continued to hurt the rest of the night, but I was so tired I couldn’t really care. I was asleep by 9pm with hopes I’d be fresher in the morning for the Koppenberg Road Race. (Toe was fine the next day…)
And that is that… another Battle the Bear in the books! Can’t say I’m jumping at the bit to do the “marathon” 50 mile race next year, so don’t worry about that! But I am happy I gave the 30 miles a try, and I think it went okay considering how pegged I was on the first lap trying to keep up with the front of the pack. As a result, I do think I blew myself up, especially for the final lap. I don’t think my body is prepared to go that hard over that sort of distance, so it’ll be something to work on in the future if I decide to do some longer races.