Monday, July 6, 2009

FC 50 - Laughter, ridicule and a trip to the house of pain!

I'm not one for overstatement. Well, actually I may be one for overstatement. But in all honesty the FireCracker 50 was probably the single most physically challenging, near barf inducing, over the top, blow myself out and cry for mercy, yet still totally fun thing I have ever done!

After overtraining, surgery, numerous ugly wrecks and a bout of severe gin fizzes at the solstice party, I thought there was no better thing to do than head out on one of the most challenging high-altitude races in Colorado. Okay, okay, we all know Leadville is bigger badder and uncut but hell, look at Lance Armstrong walking on the Leadville (click here) last year. If he was walking, I would have had been lying on the ground, trying to pull myself with my tongue as the rest of my muscles had long ago atrophied and fallen off and been eaten by passing wild animals or drunken fans.

I really thought I was going to pass on this race. Then, last week I got an email saying that I had already registered and paid. Damn, those mad organization skills. I guess I signed up the day that registration opened and forgotten about it.

Off to the race with my lovely wife Becca as support I went.

Breckenridge is a really pretty place, and they know how to throw a race! The beginning of the race had us riding at the head of the 4th of July parade. I may not have podiumed, but if they had prizes for number of "high fives" given to kids, I would have won! These little buggers all lined up with their hands out waiting to get slapped. It turns out that windy little rows of kids makes for a slightly panic-inducing singletrack where the edge of the trail will scream, cry and threaten lawsuit if you run even an inch off the trail! Also, there was one little kid out there, wearing a black hoodie whos got a debt to settle with! That malicious little bugger punched me in the shoulder! If you are reading this you know who you are, and I remember that steelie look in your eye and I'm coming for you as soon as you're old enough that I won't go to jail for getting you back!

As the riders are rolling down the mainstreet, I feel like I'm this guy:

And everyone else, I swear, looks just like this:

And I mean everyone! Even the girls looked like Arni! Before the race, I swear I saw a woman cracking walnuts with her sixpack abs! I spent the first mile after the high-five highway thinking "Can I do crunches right now on my bike? And, if so, will it do me any good whatsoever?"

Now, I'm sure up at the front of the pack, people were fighting tooth and nail and everything, but where I was, the people around me were riding up the first hill having discussions about who would win the US Open or something. I am pretty sure someone was talking about programming HTML. Meanwhile, I'm already feeling the 9400ft base elevation that we started at.

About 8 miles into the race, I was thinking, "Well, this is really just a ride for me, but I think I can do 50 no problemo!" Oh, foolish mortal. What was I thinking?

Let's review the profile map of the race shall we? (click below to enlarge).

8 miles in, is like putting your name at the top of a 10 page final exam and thinking that it's all in the bag! You see that little pointy bit at the top of the first hill. Yeah, that one at 11,400 feet. Let me tell you that up to that point things were all golden. After a strange combination of the most hurtin' cyclocross mounts and dismounts you have ever seen joined with some running in slightly too snug biking shoes, I topped that sucker.

The downhill that followed was first singletrack and then fire road for several miles. And here is where I have to say that all of that thrashing about with Lee McCormack really did pay off. My tired, out of shape booty just FLEW past people! I'm all for caution, but with just a bit of Boulder downhill skills from riding Heil Ranch and pumping my turns, I cruised down that section with no fear. I was actually surprised at the number of white-knuckled "oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!" riders I passed.

But then, at the next uphill... I gave it all back and then some. It really is true that MTB races are won on the uphill. I was just feeling like this and I was getting passed by fleets of people. There is a reason why they say French Gulch will kill you. The "up" part of the gulch was 2 miles with an average of 8% grade, on loose big rocks. The last 1/2 mile was an average grade of 14% with a max of 23%.

Then, sweet, blissful singletrack. Oh, how I love you, down. Oh down, that wonderful opposite of up. I shall someday compose a sonnet about thee, down!

The thing about a 25 mile lap is that there is always room for more uphill right. And all good downhilly-type things come to an end. Once more unto the pedals, dear friends. Or twice or thrice, or damn, I lost count. Lots of uphills.

The 2nd aid station on the first lap, I'm thinking like this. I had a Camelbak and some snacks, but foolishly, I opted for some Cliff Blocks they were handing out. Apparently, "Salt" is the new hit flavor for Blocks and I spent the next five minutes of riding alternating between trying to wash the sticky damn block bits from inside my molars and feeling like barfing after basically eating a salt sandwich. Word to the wise, don't eat damn free food during a race. Stick to what you know!

The final downhill ending lap 1 was spectacular. Dropping the seatpost (thanks CrankBros for the handlebar switch) three inches, I was into my attack position and hitting spectacular six ft berms. No kidding, there were these epic burmed turns coming into town. If you click on the pic below, and enlarge it, you can see my sorry attack position (hell, I don't think it's bad for 25 miles into this) taken by Becca as I am cruising into town!

One lap down, no problem! Yeah, that's actually what I was thinking. 25 miles was actually pretty fun. I had thought originally, that I'd maybe do 1/2 of the race, but I felt... well, great wasn't the word. Maybe stupid is the right word. It just seemed like I had more to give and I was off again!

Then came about mile 30. I thought I was going to die. All of a sudden, though, this happens:

I'm riding on the dirt road uphill, slogging along at my sorta mosey that I do and all of a sudden I start speeding up. "This is the best second wind I've ever had!" me thinks! If you click the pic below of a subsection of the race profile, you can see the green line at the bottom. That's my speed. There is a dip there (okay, that's where I did a jump on a ramp someone setup and then stopped for a shot of PBR). But then after than I'm just cruising along uphill. The hill (blue) doesn't get any easier, but I suddenly speed up to like double my pre PBR shot speed. Was that PBR laced with EPO? Nay, I say. It was a great and kind spirit in the form of our very own Rob, who dragged my sorry ass uphill for about 200 yards. Literally, he grabbed my camelback and pulled me up that damn road.
Funny thing though. See the red line. That's my HR. As soon as he lets go of me, you can see me trying to hold the pace, my HR gong through the roof and my speed dropping back down to my original speed.

After the second time up the big hill, I fell in with a lot of people who were sort of "surviving" the race. I was definitely feeling a bit like I was on a quest now more than trying to place well. I started to fantasize about a gaggle of sprites in the stream next to me cheering for me. When I looked more closely, however, they seemed to be telling me something else:

Then atop the next mount, I swear I saw this:
Now, there was one section of this course, I could have really done without. Most people thought the uphill hiking slog over loose pointy baby heads was worth missing, but I tell ya, the last uphill section of dirt road lasted forever for me. Nothing technical about it. Nothing exciting to see. Just me and pain from about mile 42 to 44. I was really thinking of sitting down for a campfire.

There was this moment though, when I looked down and saw that there was no more up ahead of me and I knew that I was going to make it. I heard "Charge!" in my head, and I headed down the hill for the last time!

My thoughts as I rounded the last switchbacks and roots were "Don't wipeout now, don't wipeout now!" Miraculously, I somehow kept the rubber side down the whole ride!

Here I am crossing the line (notice the crowded pack that I was jockeying with for position):

Now here is what this race did to me:

Here I am after 25 miles. One lap done:

Able to speak, mostly coherently.

Loose, limber. Svelte. Ready, with more game.

Now, look at me after:
That bike is holding me up. Not the other way around. No more leg stretching goofy dance moves in me. I'm done. Fork in me. Cooked!
But, hey, this is extreme racing. I pushed harder than I ever have before, harder even than I thought I could. It was a great experience to see what I could do out there! The singletrack was truly some of the best I've been on and the support was great!

Thanks again to Becca, Rob and everyone else for a great time and pushing me in the right direction.

Now, maybe I'll head off on a cruise vacation.


Charlie Suthard said...


Awesome write up and great job. This is hardly the run of the mill race. I recall with not much fondness the second trip up French Gulch when I did the Firecracker. My legs and lungs hurt just thinking about it.

Please do more racing so you can entertain us with your prose afterwards.

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