Rocky Mountain Endurance Series Race #4: Marathon racers have a choice between the 100 or 68 mile race. The 100 mile race is on the National Endurance Series calendar and is billed as the hardest 100 miler in the country. I selected the 68 and can honestly say it’s the hardest race I’ve ever done in my life — even for the second year in a row.
Breck 68 is cruel and beautiful at the same time. In an 8 + hour period my emotions run the gamut from tense to anxious to panic attack — throat constricting, crying, stressed — to a tiny smile and then maybe a huge grin, and then on to endurance mode, head down trying to find a space inside my head where I could just grind it out to the finish.
First lap: I try to cover a local pro rider off the line. Why I do this is anyone’s guess. I think I wanted to try and to get time where I could, and we were on the road. So I use every road riding skill in my small arsenal to get to the singletrack — including trying to briefly match every pedal stroke of a pro rider. About a mile in to the race my body is close to red-lining. I ease off and settle into a more sustainable pace.
The thunder booms above me. Rain drops fall. I refuse to look up. Be optimistic.
The sun was gone but it was still warm, in a muggy way. Call it optimism or call it stubbornness — but I refuse to acknowledge the bad weather. I set my jaw and put weight on the pedals — my head down — but those clouds follow me through the first lap.
I’m careful not to thwart the mountain gods with an outright middle finger. But I give them my silent back.
I spot my favorite photographer, Mountain Moon Photography, towards the end of the first lap. She captures one of the happier moments of raw emotion out on those trails. It was a day like that. A day where you need to take the good moments when you can and work through the rest one bit at a time.
Be optimistic. Chicken Soup gave me a mantra and I chant it like “follow the yellow brick road.” But over the next few hours optimism is pushed to the brink.
Second loop: Cut-off point is 4:30 at Boreas Pass going east. I somehow make it despite the pouring rain. In the last climb to the check-point I push the bike uphill in the rain. My stomach hurts and I’m afraid. Afraid of not finishing, afraid of the weather, afraid of failing, afraid because I feel alone. The hell with optimism.
I’m almost to the check point. I can see it but my throat is tight — I’m not going to make it. And then the rain stops. The sun comes out. The mountains relent. I keep my head down and whisper “Be Optimistic.”
Down the other side I go, descending muddy singletrack with wet rocks and slippery roots and then into the flume. I follow two riders in front of me, and one 100 mile racer follows me. It’s like a Walt Disney ride. It’s so insanely fun — we flow through the turns and up the banks and down the course — we are all laughing out-loud — briefly forgetting how hard it is and how far we still have to go.
The rest is a blur of monotonous pedaling. Feet go round and round, slowly. Back up the pass and back through the same check point. The mountain gods are still there but they’ve worked their magic this day. I’m optimistic.
At the end I collapsed laughing and crying at the same time, no longer able to hold it all in. Relieved I was finished — with this race.
This is still the sock series. I’ve just settled on one perfect pair for the summer from Mountain Flyer Magazine.
This race is dedicated to Chicken Soup.
Breck 100 is considered by most to be the toughest 100 mile mountain bike race in the National Endurance Series. And the 68 is certainly no pushover.
Despite my high anxiety I actually arrived at the cut off with 40 minutes to spare.
One more race in this Series. I’m cautiously optimistic.
Thank you to Mountain Moon Photography.