Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Vapor Trail 125 Race Recap: 17th Place

This story starts after the Park City Point 2 Point race when, days later, I was still on cloud 9 from the weekend's race. I followed it with a few days of rest by a couple of hard 3-4 hour efforts on Wednesday and Thursday, thinking that my next race was soloing the 24 Hours of Colorado Springs Nationals. Little did I know that at 9:45pm on my way home from work on Thursday night that I would think differently. I initially thought about the Vapor Trail 125 and how the race start was in 48 hours. I kept thinking how it would be a great race for next year's schedule until I questioned why I wasn't racing this weekend. Sure, my legs were taxed, a late entry was unlikely, I was not prepared mentally, my bike needed work, I had no idea what 100 of the 125 miles of the race were like, and I was time crunched with my work schedule before and after the race. I've always thought that if my mind's ready, my legs will usually follow, and therefore I did what I could to make it a possibility.

A gorgeous full moon all night.
The weekend was a blur. Leading up to the race was a mental fiasco. The Vapor Trail 125 is not a race you should enter for the first time on a whim. I kept on telling myself that if I make it successfully to the end, luck was on my side. And it was. Things somehow magically fell into place, I received a ton of support from my coworkers, family, and race organizers just to get me to the start line. Friday, I was in disbelief and ecstatic when I got the last race entry twenty four hours before the start. I couldn't thank Heidi enough! Since I got the go ahead, it was time to scurry and logistically plan for a race more adventurous than I've ever been involved in. The Vapor Trail 125 is called the "high altitude ultra marathon mountain bike enduro" for a reason. It begins at 10pm from Salida, Colorado and ventures into the darkness of neighboring national forests for a 125 mile megaloop with 20,000 feet of climbing. No sleep and it's like a eating contest while riding a bike. The course follows many trails including the Colorado Trail, Monarch Crest Trail, Rainbow, and even includes two hike-a-bike sections, one hike summiting Granite Peak (elevation: 12,958) at approximately seven hours into the race. I swear it must've taken around an hour to climb rock over loose soil in the late dark night. I've never bitched so ferociously during a race, not even close. By the time we reached the summit, my calves were numb from carbon soled shoes (yes, I did make the mistake) and I was humbled by the mountain that broke me. I got what I was there for, a mental beating. Countless times I thought of quitting and mentioned to a fellow rider that "if there were a chopper to air lift me the F outta here, I'd take it home."

Climbed this...and then some.
Luckily there wasn't a chopper, but there was frost from freezing temperatures, plenty of unnecessarily layered clothes, the sunrise and possibly the best damn downhill I've ever descended. While still at the peak of the summit, it was gorgeous despite how cold it was. The number in my head all night was 641 since that was the time the sun would come up. I knew if I persevered, then I could make it the entire race. I then began the meanest descents I've ever had in my life. Eight miles of of pump track descending was something I've never seen before, only heard of. Little did I know that from this nine hour mark until the finish, I would feel incredible on a bike. I assumed that I'd be good for nine hours, then fall apart slowly for the remainder of the race, when in fact it was the contrary.

After the descent, I stopped at aid station 2 and who's making pancakes and sausages for us in a raccoon hat? Dave Wiens! How in the hell can you not be inspired upon seeing him? I scarfed some tasty pancakes, sausage, red bull, name it. I took off with a fresh set of race legs and began the multi-mile dirt road ascent and dropped some more riders while riding into the thin air. I'm not sure if it was the sleep deprivation or the strong current of prerace anxiety, but there's a lot I don't remember. I think my focus was right on and therefore glued to the trail and nothing else for nearly the entire race. Next thing I remember is the Monarch Pass feed station where the best volunteers in the universe were waiting and cheering me on. It was the feed station of a lifetime, you don't get many like this. The volunteers were so fantastic that it was like my bike had it's own pit stop and so did I. While my bike was getting the ten point inspection, I was catered to by hosts of a dinner party with massive amounts of food and greetings. They told me I had 45 miles left, what I was heard was that this race is nearly over. Heidi and the other supporters gave me some kudos, my bike, and even more inspiration to go race my bike. I ripped out of the feed station and did my best to race the next 45 miles like it was a cross country race.

I then arrived at the next feed station to descend and ascend the dreaded starvation loop. It was a fantastic singletrack descent but every foot you descended, you know you need to climb back up which was a tough pill to swallow 100 something miles into the race. When you reached the bottom, you were to climb a five mile constantly pitched dirt road that never seemed to end. It was as if you were on a treadmill and I couldn't help but think that making us race this was so wrong in so many ways, but necessary. Hell, I'll do that loop three times if they'd take the hike-a-bike out of the equation. From then on it was the "it's all downhill from here" quote that you get nearing the end of races when instead you have dozens of punchy climbs left. I never take that phrase seriously! From then on, it was Rainbow Trail which rips like Lair O' the Bear but for miles and miles of tasty thin singletrack! After being dumped onto the road in Salida, I tucked on the descent and time trailed the way to the finish line.

When I finished, it was strange. I didn't feel like the race should be over. I had the same feeling at the PCP2P just last week. I'm not sure how much longer I could've gone at that pace but I wanted to know. Nothing truly hurt, I was simply fatigued. My nutrition was spot on and didn't have a single muscle cramp. I guess I'll find out at the 24 Hour Nationals in over two weeks from now just how long I can go. I'm not going to lie, I'm drooling at the freaking mouth for this one and plan on turning myself inside out for 24 hours. For now, supposedly I'm to take it easy until then and not ride much, which is when I suffer most.

After the race, I was fortunate enough to stay at Michael and Lacey Scott's place. I owe a huge thank you! I got to spend some time after the race in Salida with Michael, Lacey, Curt Wilhelm, and Jonathan Davis which was a great wind down in a gorgeous town. We all had great rides, including Jonathan who smashed the record and crossed the line in 13 hours, 42 minutes! I'm very fortunate to have had the go big or go home attitude lately or I would have never pulled this off. Next year, I plan on having the same month of September, PCP2P, then the Vapor Trail 125, but next time I'll be ready!

Garmin stats


Mountain Flyer Magazine write up

Vapor Trail 125 Video

Monday, September 26th Amendment: Still reflecting of the affect this race had on me. I look back at the destruction that Granite Peak inflicted upon me. I now believe that I was cursing this mountain so much not because I wanted to quit but because I knew I wouldn't let myself quit. It just wasn't an option and frankly, after being forced to quit the 12 Hours of Snowmass one year ago, it's not a place I ever want to return to. It's the worst feeling I've ever experienced related to cycling. That feeling slingshot me through the winter for anticipation of redemption. There's just nothing so disheartening to lie in your hotel while the race races on. As much pain you induce during a race, there's much more pain involved when you quit.

See you out there,