Get comfortable, this is a long one.
So, way back in February when I started this blog I was looking for inspiration. That inspiration came in April when the Crusher In The Tushar began to consume my thoughts. Over the months I was able to focus and lose a little over 20 pounds, depending on the day. I rode a lot this spring, but this year the spring extended well into June. Having spent most of the winter getting ready for summer, it was disappointing when it didn't come until freaking July.
So what happened? I caved in. Though I am riding my "regular" summer routine, I wouldn't call any of it serious training. I did a few big climbing days, but mostly the short hour or two rides that allow my jiggly mid-section. Then it happened with just a few weeks remaining until the Crusher I came down with a terrible chest cold. Coughing up things that I swore could have crawled away. I pressed on with my so-called training. Getting worse each time I would go out. The dumbest thing I did was a race in Corner Canyon on June 14th. With my failing lung capacity my heart rate pinged up to 189 on the first climb. I finished the race, but regretted it for weeks after. I spent nearly two of the last four weeks leading up to the Crusher not riding at all.
My man boobs are coming back in nicely. I did manage to get on the bike a little more the last two weeks before the race, but by then the damage was done.
With the once in a century snowfall that Utah received last winter, the Crusher course was forced onto an alternate course. This knocked about ten miles and 2K feet of climbing off. But the reports were that the new climbs were looser and steeper than the originals.
With low expectations I climbed into Cobourn's Lezbaru and submitted to the inevitable. We had both decided that cyclocross bikes were the way to go and in my unofficial poll, that seemed to be the consensus among racers.
It's always cool to travel to some race and run into lots of people you know. The northern Utah contingent was well represented and there were at least a dozen bonafide friends and a few dozen "facebook friends" to chat up when we lined up for the start.
One thing the Crusher didn't have, was lots of categories. Most of the time you have several skill/fitness categories for each age group. A's,B's, and C's. Cat's 5,4,3,2,and 1. Pro,Expert, Sport, and Beginner. This one had Pro/Open, and everybody else was simply divided by age. No sandbagging here. If you didn't think you could hang with nationally recognized professional cyclists, you lined up with the rabble. This put me firmly in the middle of my category (30-39) and Cobourn into the 29 and under category. His category had six total entrants. It seems you have to be on the cusp of a mid-life crisis to think this race sounds fun. The 30-39 category and the 40-49 were nearly equal with 39 and 38 finishers respectively.
Cobourn's category started one minute before mine so they were nearly out of sight before we even started rolling. I lined up with a lot of guys I knew from 'cross and several buddies, Wesley Rasmussen, Ryan Thompson, Ryan Hamilton all looked as freaked out as I felt. Behind me, Alex Kim and Ron Dailey were both waiting to make me look slow by comparison.
At the start we rolled out of Beaver on pavement heading for Fish Lake National Forest. I have a history of not being smart about pacing myself, so I spun up to speed pretty fast. I was riding alongside a lot of dudes that I know to be much faster than me. That's not humility, that's scientifically proven. Tim Matthews, Brian Tolbert, Adam Lisonbee, anybody that didn't look like they were carrying a change of clothing stuffed under their jersey. We were buzzing along at 20 mph and suddenly I was pulling the whole pack. This concerned me, but I didn't feel like I was pinned and thought I would just ride comfortable until things got serious. I led us to the outskirts of town, and the pack funneled into a long line. I stayed up in the front twenty or so looking for the smaller pack of 29 and under racers in front of us. My plan was to catch Cobourn and then ride with him for the majority of the race. Thing is I never saw him. As we turned onto the dirt forest service road I realized that he must have had a hell of a good start and I would have to try and catch him for the rest of the day.
The moment we hit dirt, the paceline disintegrated. The bad-asses took off and the civilians settled into suffer mode. To clarify, I was in suffer mode. The steepish climb had me in my lowest gear pretty quick, and I was perfectly happy to ride my own pace. It stung a little when Steve Wasmund and a couple of the other Singlespeed riders overtook me. But I will never be that kind of crazy. The bike was running good, I was surviving. But I still couldn't see Cobourn. This was the best supported/organized race I have ever been in. Four full blown aid stations with cold water and mix already in bottles, grab one and drop your old one. Gel flasks were available as handups and there was actual food if you cared to stop and eat it. I had made a slight tactical error by loading my jersey up with my own food. This was unnecessary and only contributed to my discomfort later in the race. I crested the first climb and began the steep rough descent into Junction and Circleville. While not the most confident descender, the cross bike held it's own. I managed to pass three guys on mountain bikes which validated my bike decision and proved I was smarter than them. My fatigue did lead to at least two bad line choices and sphincter-clinching recoveries, but all in all nothing major. Soon I rolled onto the pavement heading into Junction. The grade was downhill and as I was starting to hurt, I tucked up into the tightest ball I could and was able to coast at 30-35mph. This was enough to overtake two more mountain bikers who were still spinning for all they were worth. I sat up as we rolled through the third aid station to grab some water. I fumbled the bottle and had to loop back to get another. The last two mountain bikers caught me again, and we traded pulls all the way to Circleville and the return to dirt. These guys were in obviously better shape than me and once rolling resistance was no longer an advantage they faded into the distance.
The next few miles of the race were miserable. Like a tour of Eagle Mountain, Utah. None of the high mountain shade and cool breezes I had been riding in all morning. Hot, dry, dusty. I started to fade pretty quick. I finally stopped in a shady spot just big enough for me to stand under for a minute or two and try to cool off. That's when the ladies started passing me.
Now I'm all for Title 9, but there's something about a woman passing you that motivates you to try and hang onto their wheel. This particular woman casually chatted about the beautiful scenery and I tried to smile through chapped lips and pretend that she wasn't about to drop me. Then her friend caught up to her, and they both dropped me. This dirt road led you back to the pavement that I had enjoyed so much previously. But now the grade would not be in my favor. The course doubled back on itself and the 5K or so of descending became a hellish, arduous climb. This is where the only glitch in the race organization came into play. There was a water station where you rejoined the pavement. A water station that had just ran out of water. They had electrolyte mix, which was mixed so thick it burned the back of my throat, but I only got about a half bottle of water. The girl at the station said there was a truck bringing more water, but I was very concerned that I still hadn't caught up with, or even seen Cobourn. I laid my bike down, and walked over to the stream running alongside the road. I wet my arms and legs, jersey, shorts etc. trying to cool off. I didn't dare fill a bottle though, fearing giardia or some other nasty bug.
I rolled out and into the hardest leg of the race. Six miles from there to the King of the Mountain line. I'm guessing about 1-2 of it was paved. Then you hit the dirt. My legs were now beginning to ache. I slowly churned up the first mile or so of dirt. Passing the occasional dismounted rider pushing their bike along. I was hurting so bad I just looked straight down at the pedals. In fact, I was so oblivious I actually ran into a walking racer. Since I was only going about 2 mph there was no harm done, so I apologized and kept plugging away. Ahead I saw Johnathan Lozon. He was walking. In my head I figured I didn't want to walk by somebody I knew. So I pedaled past him...about fifty feet. Then I got off and walked. Then he caught up with me. Then he passed me. The climb was divided into switchbacks. God-forsaken, windy, hot, switchbacks. Heading south the wind was right in your face, like an open oven door. Heading north, it gave just enough push that I could remount and slowly turn the pedals. Switchback, dismount, switchback, remount , etc. Until I came up on the final pitch. Ahead I saw at least a dozen broken men, pushing their bikes. I got in line. After the final switchback the grade let up just enough, that if there had been anybody still at the KOM line I wanted to ride over it, not walk. There was nobody left to cheer at the KOM line. And what's worse, the aid station I was expecting at the KOM line was actually the same one that I had come through hours before. Three miles further up the mountain. Emphasis on up.
I struggled through and came up on the only aid station that I actually stopped and rested at. They had lots of fruit, fluids, gel. Anything you needed to get you through the final leg. The support crew was also very helpful and supportive. Friendly faces help a lot when you are suffering. I also started to slip mentally. After slamming a can of Coke, a bunch of watermelon, an orange wedge, and some pretzels, I started to pedal away. As a joke, I told the ladies that if I didn't make it they should tell my wife I loved her. They yelled out "Okay, what's her name?" I yelled over my shoulder, "KELLIE MCCARREL!" And then, as though I would never see her again, I almost started bawling. I had to put a foot down and gain my composure. I wasn't crying, I have...err...allergies. Realizing that this little breakdown was more closely related to fatigue than clairvoyance, I pushed on.
There were approximately 10 miles left. The next three were very much uphill. Soon I was walking again. Walk til it hurt, ride til it hurt, walk til it hurt, ride til it hurt. Soon the road surface changed to a fine gravel. The trees opened into broad meadows and a cool wind occasionally came up behind me. Although the grade was a little gentler, I was falling apart. Dizzy, weak, winded. Then peppy young fellow on a singlespeed chugged past and said,"That spinning your feeling, is the 10K ft line." I checked my computer and he was right. Somehow this buoyed my spirit. It explained some of my suffering. I always hurt when I get above 10K ft. The road seemed nearly flat now. I got on and actually found myself grabbing gears. Then a BIG wind came up behind me. Once again I got a little choked up. It was like God didn't hate me. Before long, I saw a glorious thing. A downhill grade sign. 6-8% for the next twenty miles. Only two of those were on my course, but it was something. I coasted down the loose gravel and didn't see another soul. I wasn't going very fast, but it was so nice to move forward without pedaling. I soon spit out on the paved road that led to Eagle Point Ski Resort. A mini-van full of somebody's family was there cheering me on. They asked if I needed water or anything. I said all I needed was positive vibes. At which point, the mother called out "I love your moustache!"
Oh, yeah, my moustache. Cobourn had the bright idea of growing "Epic Moustache's" for the race. Mine was ridiculous.
The paved miles slowly ticked by and just when I thought we had a short downhill to the ski-resort I noticed a huge detour sending us UP. The final mile was a 10% grade to the upper parking lot of the ski resort. That was cruel. The grade forced me off my bike once again. Ron simply grabbed his 22/34 granny gear and spun away from me. The only time of the day that I reconsidered my gear choice. Ride til it hurt, walk til it hurt etc. Then I saw the sign 500 meters to the finish. I would be damned if I was going to walk around the final corner in front of God and everybody. I got back on and slowly churned up the road. The finish line came into sight and guess what I did? Tried not to bawl again. Luckily I was in enough pain that I felt more like swearing than crying.
The longest hundred yards of my life. Rolling in at 6:54:28. The Big Dogs were long gone. But there were still volunteers, drinks, cheers, friendly faces. An overwhelming moment in an overwhelming day. It just felt so good to stop. Cold water, gatorade, cold water. It was like my birthday and Christmas all rolled into one.
I had originally set out to be "competitive". Maybe make the top half of my category. My dedication waned and I ended up right where I do in every race. Smack dab in the middle of the pack. But I learned one very important lesson.
I am faster than Cobourn.