Or, Does Not Feel Awesome. Or, Did Not Finish. My first DNF. However, the True Grit Epic 100 was still pretty freaking awesome.
We arrived in St. George around 4:30 – just enough time to pre-ride the zen trail, supposedly one of the more technical sections. Only 6ish miles, it took us nearly an hour and a half. Partly because we stopped to enjoy the view, and partly because I was already crushed by the combination of altitude, nerves, and lack of riding my mountain bike since my birthday in January. Also, there was a lot of technical. Like, a TON of drops and tricky little narrow sections on slickrock. We wound our way through as best we could, and tried to take mental notes for race day!
After riding zen, we hopped over to registration at red rock bikes just in time to turn in our waivers and grab a few extra gels. We then headed just up the street to a taco shop and had massive pre-race burritos… They were awesome. Nervous eating was in full swing. We camped at the public ball fields, taking the opportunity to sleep in peat’s newly-acquired minivan – so spacious! So easy! No tents, no problem. I, as usual, was slightly unprepared and realized I still needed to add some stans to my wheels, so by the light of my headlamp I putzed around and tried to make sure everything was in tip-top shape for the morning.
A few short hours later, we woke up, I made some coffee and oatmeal and downed a yogurt with a bunch of chia seeds and honey, then we pedaled off to the start about a mile away! I brought drop bags with sunscreen, extra socks and gloves, and lots of extra food.
As we were lining up, I got the usual slew of introductions to people peat knows, since he’s been racing the series for a while. I met his teammate Dan and wife, a few other racers, then I spotted him… fatty himself (of fatcyclist fame)! I had already promised Caroline I’d do my best to find him, and was really proud of myself for actually recognizing an internet-famous beloved cycling blogger in real life. I think he was a little overwhelmed (let’s be real, I was so nervous for the race I could barely remember to breathe, much less hold a coherent conversation), but he was nice and humored me, even allowing a shameless start line selfie (with brad of carborocket fame photobombing – thanks for all the electrolytes dude!!).
8:07 rolled around, and we rolled out of town. Immediately my legs felt dead (as they have for the last few weeks), and I was happy to just go my own pace. Which was slow. Like, 14mph on flat paved roads slow. I ran a 34×20 this race, so I wasn’t terribly spun out, but also didn’t want to overdo it on my legs at the beginning of such a long race. We quickly turned up a gravel road, and the race was on! And, I was still way off the back. Happily just chugging along, trying to stay warm (it was around 40-45 degrees in the shade at the start), and working hard to see anything through the early morning glare.
The first thing I really noticed was that this ‘easy’ section of the course, which I had hoped to average about 11 mph on, was not really what I consider ‘easy’. Sure, it wasn’t terribly technical, but there were still tricky sections. And hills. And, unlike the hills in Missouri, the hills lasted for a LONG time. On the bright side, I started catching back up to some of the dudes who had taken off on the pavement! Still, I was mostly alone and overshot a few turns.
Riding in the desert isn’t like riding in St. Louis. At all. There are no trees to worry about hitting. There are large rocks to attempt to roll over. There are narrow canyons to ride up. But also, there is slickrock. Which is so awesome to ride, a crazy challenge, and also really hard to see where the trail goes. I often found myself searching for the next course flag, only to look a little closer and realize I had picked the complete wrong line. On the bright side, I didn’t want to get off my bike, so I rode a lot harder lines than I would normally pick!
The highlight of the first section from the start to the zen trail was the barrel ride section, characterized by big barrel-looking cacti and some serious downhill techy sections. I was so stoked to ride down some stuff that the dudes around me decided to walk – I’m from Missouri! I shouldn’t be able to do that! After some flowy downhill, I hit the first aid station just before heading up zen for the first time. I grabbed some snacks and a bottle of carborocket, trading one of mine to a volunteer who promised to fill it and leave it at the fence. So awesome!
Less awesome – the climb up zen. I was so glad to have ridden it before, and knew it would last a while. I also caught up to a few geared dudes who were taking their time, and I figured it would be fine to camp out behind them instead of blowing myself up. We hit the top, rode along the ridge a bit, then it happened – the hiss of a flat tire. I pulled off to the side and quickly threw a plug in the puncture, got the stans to hold (good things I put in more!), and aired it back up! I cleared what I could of the descent – weight back, minimal front brake, roll through. Repeat. Back at the zen aid station, I grabbed my full bottle, some more snacks, and headed up the road.
The bearclaw-poppy section was super fast and fun and flowy, with a few little jumps thrown in at the end that had me giggling as I ripped through the course. Mountain biking is SO FUN. Also, at the top of the bearclaw-poppy section, there were options for easy (green), intermediate (blue), and difficult (black) sections… but the signs weren’t always clear. And I was also trying to move as fast as I could in order to regain the time I’d lost going slow on the technical zen trail. Which lead to more than one instance of glancing at a sign, only to see that it was black and said ‘expert’. To which I replied, ‘oh shit’. But I made it through everything, no crashing, and picked up some awesome speed. It was glorious.
The rest of the course included more long climbs and descents, and another fairly technical loop in barrel rolls. I headed out on my second loop around 1:15, knowing the cutoff to arrive to zen at 3:30 would be close, but that I should get there by 3:15 at the latest.
Turns out, I was a little blown out of my mind already, and the cutoff was actually 3:30 to be LEAVING zen. I rolled into the aid station around 2:45 and started refilling bottles, when one volunteer looked at me and said “you know you have 10 minutes to ride zen, right?” Um, no, it says right here on my arm that I have until 3:30 to get here… the volunteer was a little confused on the time (it was actually a 3:30 cutoff, not 3, but there’s no way I was going to get through the entire zen loop in 40 minutes. Even on fresh legs it’d be a pretty tall order). Bummed, I told them I was going to ride zen anyway. If I’m going to be pulled from the course, I want to be pulled from the course. This would be my first DNF, and I wanted to earn it. I left the aid station and slowly chugged up the hill, crying a little bit and really bummed about not making the cutoff. All it took was a glance over to my right at the awesome canyon and dropoff to lift my spirits – I had learned SO much. I was riding more than I had earlier, even though I was exhausted after 65 miles of punishing singletrack on a hardtail singlespeed. I even rode the drop and through the narrow pedal-catcher that zen is famous for. I stopped to take a few selfies, get over myself, and enjoy the ride.
A ways down the trail, I was dismounting for a particularly intense set of step downs, when I saw another rider up ahead… and it was a chick! Chase was the only other non-pro woman in the 100 mile race, although it turns out she’s really, really fast. And good. As in, won the 24 hours in Frog Hollow race good (and a few others that I don’t remember specifically – still, total badass). We chatted for a bit, both pretty bummed at the cutoff times. I also learned that she just turned in her masters thesis – so we were both celebrating finishing big school things! Eventually I ended up riding away from her a little bit, just wanting to be done and out of the heat and sun.
I rolled back into the zen aid station and met Scott, who had endo’d in Zen and was waiting for a ride. I basically broke down again when I realized it was really over. He very graciously offered his spot in the car back to the finish when a race official drove in to pick up stakes. He looked at me and said, ‘you know you can go out again, right? The race director said that if you finish zen before 4:30 you can keep going’. Ugh. Seriously?! I was so bummed and sad, and also pretty much out of food and water. I thought about it – it was 4:00, and there would still be a 5:00 cutoff at stucki road, about 14 miles away. For some reason, 14 mph sounded reasonable through bearclaw poppy so I grabbed some extra water, added in a carborocket packet (so glad I grabbed it at the last minute from brad that morning!), and Scott gave me the pick of all the food he had left. SO AWESOME!!! SO nice of him. I’m amazed by how nice people are.
I ate and drank climbing up to the start of bearclaw-poppy, realizing 14 mph wasn’t going to happen. But I enjoyed the ride back through the swoops, although my arms were pretty destroyed. The good part of that was that I hit the brakes as little as possible. But it was still a struggle. I kept hoping the race director had realized how the cutoffs where weirdly structured, and extend the stucki cutoff to 6pm. And to extend the overall race cutoff to 12 hours instead of 11. But alas, as I was approaching one of the last stepovers signifying the end of the long trail from zen to stucki, there was a man waiting on a bike. I was officially being pulled from the course. We waited around for a bit and zoon enough Chase came riding up, also bummed. We all rode back out to the 50/100 mile cutoff, then Chase and I spun into town together.
Overall, it was pretty disappointing. A DNF doesn’t feel great. I was so worried that I’d disappointed everyone – my parents, who had been through so much lately anyway; my cousin, who couldn’t bear to deal with a body that was rejecting her… and I can’t even finish a race?? Peat, who always talks about just finishing the race; my sponsor OMGX, who I think still believes I had a shot at winning (seriously, I’m so flattered, but not even close); myself, because this was my reward for finishing my degree, and I just couldn’t keep up. Again, back in serious pity-party mode. But then I realized just how many hard technical sections I rode. How much more I rode the second lap. How I tried to just cement those new skills in my brain and muscle memory. The awesomely beautiful place I was lucky enough to enjoy, and the hot, hot sun. It doesn’t make it any less of a disappointment, but I’m so happy I was able to go and test myself on a real, serious course with incredible athletes and competitors – there’s a whole world and level of competition that I just haven’t experienced yet. And it’s awesome.
Still, I have an ego, so here is the list of excuses I came up with. At the end of the day, I didn’t finish. But, I did ride around 80 miles in the desert heat, so that’s something 🙂
- I had to choose between preparing a PhD thesis and preparing my body for a 90 mile race. I succeeded in finishing the PhD.
- I’ve been either running or riding (often just the rollers) every day, along with around 5 hours of sleep, for the last month and a half. That level of exercise keeps me sane, but is not endurance training. I know, I still can’t believe it either.
- I’ve been eating high-protein, less calories. Because I simply don’t have time for more than a protein shake sometimes. I think this is why my legs have been feeling dead. Maybe along with less sleep. They just don’t think it’s time to work. They’re pretty used to sitting at a computer all day.
- It was hot. Like, really hot. I heard mid 80s to even 90. RealFeel.
- It was at altitude. Not much altitude, but still enough. I’d like to think I felt it.
- I haven’t ridden my mountain bike since my birthday in January. This is not really awesome preparation for technical trails.
- I had nobody to ride with. Everyone racing the 100, at least in the women’s division, was basically pro. It’s small consolation, but it’s incredible to see the level these women are at. The entire race basically showed me just how far I am from being competition. It’ll be a while until I think I’m actually ready to attempt another one of those.
- I flatted. On one hand, I think it only took me like 5 min to fix it. But you know, flats suck. So I totally would… have been slightly closer to finishing if I hadn’t had to fix a tire.
- The 50 mile race started 1 hour after the 100 mile race… I know it makes sense to consolidate the time people are out on the trail, but I don’t like slowing down a bunch to let basically the whole field of 50 miler fast dudes by. Because of the trails, and the cacti, it often meant slowing way down to find a quick little place to pull off. Probably didn’t cost me too much time, but it does take energy to get going again after stuff like that.
- The time cutoffs. Ugh. This is actually a fairly serious complaint – based on a finishing time cutoff of 11 hours, you need to average 8.1 mph in order to complete the course. However, the time cutoff leaving zen (at 64ish miles) was 3:30… or 7.5 hours after the start. Which means you actually need to average 8.5 miles per hour in order to not get pulled from the course. Even with the go-ahead to continue, the cutoff at stucki road was at 77 miles, at 5:00 PM, or 9 hours after the start. Meaning your average speed to that point had to be closer to 8.6 miles per hour (over the entire course until that point). I know, these are all very slow speeds. But on that singletrack, with walkouts and actual hills, it was a challenge. Clearly. (There were, for me, no real sustained cruiser sections. I bombed the downhills as much as I could, but the less technical descents don’t last for very long, really). I honestly believe that if the cutoffs had been based on the 8.1 mph avg I could have made it. I rolled in after riding zen the second time at 4:00, 8 hours after the start (never mind the 7 minutes after the hour we started). Including my pity party/cry/selfie stops because I knew I wasn’t going to make the cutoff. I’m pretty sure I would have been able to ride just fast enough to clear the required times. It would have been close, but if it was close I could push. It’s stupid, but also frustrating. Also, only 3 women finished the course, out of 6. Because of time cutoffs.
I think that’s all for now – obviously, I have a significant list of totally reasonable excuses for why I didn’t finish. OH! And also. I was on a singlespeed! I suppose some people think that’s a decent excuse.
I realized after the race that a DNF actually simplifies my decisions in the next few months – I had been debating attempting the NUE series this year, which requires completing 4 100 mile races. With my new work schedule and travel and transition stuff, there were only 4 races that I could feasibly do, without spending more money than I can reasonably manage. With a DNF here, the NUE series is out for me. So, at least it’s a simple choice from here on out! More adventuring, adventure racing, and hanging out with awesome people 😀