At the beginning of this year I set three goals for myself: do an adventure race, an endurance mountain bike race, and take a sommelier class. Its May 5 and I have completed two of the three!
In February, the Boulder Mountainbike Alliance (BMA) had a lottery for a group called the BRUTE Squad. I think its kind of a funny name, but it stands for BMA Riders United in Training for Endurance. I put my name in just to see what happens and I got picked! There are 27 of us in the group with the goal of completing the Laramie Enduro, a 70 mile race in August. We have been training for about a month and this past weekend we used the 18 Hours of Fruita as a practice race. Until about six weeks ago, the longest mountain bike ride I had ever done was around 17 miles and that was a stretch. Now I regularly ride 25 miles. I am still pretty slow, but my endurance is certainly getting better.
The 18 Hours of Fruita isn’t (or maybe it is) as horrible as it sounds. It is a 7 miles loop around Highline Lake in Western Colorado. The race started at midnight on Friday night and ended at 6pm on Saturday. The goal is to get as many laps as you can before 6. If the last lap doesn’t cross the finish line before 6, it doesn’t count. There are some crazy people who do the whole 18 hours on their own; I, however, was on a team of 4. One person would do a lap then the next person would go—for 18 hours. The loop was just over 7 miles and not particularly difficult. My laps were around 48 minutes, while my teammates were around 35.
The start of the race (I am told) is always a bit of a shit show. The race director/creator is a guy named Troy, who owns the local bike shop called Over the Edge Sports. Apparently, every year he makes his way through a bottle of tequila and decides how he wants the race to start. This year, he brought everyone down to the beach of the lake and the first riders put their bikes a few hundred yards down the trail. He rambled for a while, then decided that each racer had to touch a beach ball (“You must touch my balls”) that he threw into the lake. I am not sure how many people actually ran into the water, but starting off 18 hours with wet shoes seems pretty miserable.
My first lap was full of nerves and anxiety. I had never ridden at night before and I had also never been in a bike race before. I left the start line at around 1:15am. I am not a night person, so that was a shock to my system as well. That early in the race, people were still pretty close together. People were catching me left and right and I continually felt the need to pull over and let them by. I was assured by my teammates that the other riders were friendly and that they had no expectation that you would pull over on a hill because you were going slower. My rational brain knows thats true, but I felt bad and ended up stopping in places that made it infinitely harder on me. My bike was pretty covered in dust and I was having trouble shifting, so my friend David (a fellow Brute) taught me some basic mechanic stuff to keep me going. He straightened my derailleur and made sure I kept it clean for each lap. Not a lot of work and it definitely made a difference.
My second lap felt like my best lap. There weren’t a ton of people around me on the course, I was a little more used to riding in the dark, and the initial nerves had gone away. By the time I was done though, I was exhausted from lack of sleep. It was 4:00 in the morning and I felt like I hadn’t slept in days. I was able to fall asleep for an hour or so between laps, but despite having changed out of my sweaty clothes I still had the kind of chills that make your body sore.
My third lap was pretty miserable. I was freezing at the start and just didn’t feel great overall. My confidence on the course was helpful because I knew what to anticipate, but I felt nauseous and wasn’t super stoked to be on my bike. When I got back to our campsite I made an effort to eat and drink as much as I could in hopes of feeling better. It did help and overall I felt better, but with energy depleting, it was hard to stay positive about doing three more laps.
I was able to do two more laps, but not without a lot of motivation from the group. Food had helped, but I was exhausted. The three other guys on my team were rockstars. They did give me a hard time for not doing six laps, but it didn’t last long after I fell asleep in a camp chair for a few hours. We had a total of 6 teams in the race and by the end people were definitely struggling. As it grew nearer to 6:00, the final racers headed out on the course. The guys on my team were able to get three more laps in in an hour and forty minutes. Chad (a beast of a human) was our last teammate to go and crossed the finish line with just four minutes to spare! At that point most of the other participants had gathered on the dam and were cheering on the last few finishers. Everyone was cheering for everyone and it was pretty cool to be a part of.
There was also a team from VMS (my high school) that was a group of my old teachers. It was pretty fun to see them and catch up. One of my teachers, Ms. Welch, was actually on one of the Brute Squad teams and my natural tendency was to call her that, not her first name, Betsy. It was pretty funny and at one point someone called me out on it and asked how we knew each other. That is when we realized that I am the youngest on the Brute Squad by at least 12 years. There are times when I feel young, but I think overall I fit into the group.
At this point, 18 Hours of Fruita is on my list to try again next year. I think I learned a lot could improve in a lot of ways. Until then though, I am training for a 44 mile race in about a month!