The brilliant time/people/life management guru Steven Covey once said, “Begin with the end in mind.” Aside from the vaguely sinister tone and possible sexual connotations of this maxim, it’s good advice. It was, however, completely useless to me when I raced the Twelve Hours at Brian Head on September 9.
The thing is, at the beginning of the race I had absolutely no idea how many miles I’d be riding or how hard those miles would be (I hadn’t pre-ridden the course). All I knew was that I’d be riding the 5.5 mile course for twelve hours.
My initial guess was that I should be able to keep a pace similar to when I did the Leadville 100 a month before: about 10mph. With that in mind, I estimated I’d ride the course 21 times or so. That’s a lot of laps.
As I pulled up to the Start/Finish area, I noticed that this race was a lot different than other endurance events for another reason: there were very few of us there. There were fewer than 20 male solo racers, six female soloists, and just a few two- and four-person teams. I don’t know why, but having so few people there made me a lot less nervous than I otherwise would have been.
That’s not to say that the field didn’t have talent. Matt Ohran, the winner of the 12 Hours of Big Bear and third-place finisher in the Vail Ultra 100 was there. The winner of last-year’s 24 Hours of Moab Solo division was there, too. And a bunch of other fast guys. As at all of these events, I was just there to complete, so I didn’t really see these guys as competition.
With a loud “Bang!” the start gun went off. Actually, this was a pretty low-key affair, so there was no start gun. The race official did say “Go!” enthusiastically and convincingly, however. We ran to our bikes (LeMans-style start, but we only had to run ten or so feet) and started off.
The course starts uphill on a bark-strewn road. It’s very soft and sapped my momentum. It’s not too steep, though, which allowed me to stay in my middle ring (at least, until about the third lap, from which point I’d switch between middle and small ring a number of times in this climb). This climb turns onto singletrack which almost immediately leads to a saddle-up-your-butt climb, punctuated with three waterbars.
The trail then turns downhill and I’m on smooth, curvy, loamy, beautiful singletrack–really nicely groomed. I keep checking my tires to see if I have a flat. Nope. Just the softness of the trail. It’s strange how much energy those pine needles and soft earth sap.
Next I cross a road (a volunteer holds up traffic) and start climbing up hard-packed doubletrack. This goes on for just a short distance before I’m out on paved road for a couple hundred feet. A quick right brings me back onto singletrack.
And then the real downhill begins. It’s steep in places and twisty everywhere, with waterbars all over the place. At first, every waterbar’s an adventure, a perfect reason to bunny hop. After a few laps, I stop hopping the waterbars and just lift my front wheel. After a few more laps I stop doing anything at all for the waterbars–I just roll hard over them and wish they’d go away.
Abruptly–so abruptly it catches me off guard the first two laps–the trail turns steeply uphill for about 20 yards (and includes, of course, a number of waterbars). A few more twists and turns and I’m at the only wide-open downhill section of the entire course–and it only lasts 100 yards or so.
I cross over the street, cross a bridge and am back on rolling, twisting, bumping singletrack–essentially level for the next mile, but filled with short steep uphills. Now I’m at what I fondly refer to as “Elden’s Piss Spot”–the bumpiness of the previous section almost always made me ready for a piss right here.
Back on the bike, I’m now riding up what I like to call “The Wasteland.” It’s the longest uphill of the course, and within the first couple of laps, it’s also the place where I can count on a headwind. It’s straight, rocky, ugly and dull. As the day wore on, I started using this section to try to recover by shifting to a very low gear (2nd or 3rd) and spinning slowly up the thing.
Once I crest this hill, I’m at the home stretch, which is entirely meaningless in a course that I’m doing over and over. I go up another pair of steep, short uphills (with waterbars, natch), then into wooded singletrack that curves and twists and winds uphill. In this section is a ten-foot stretch that I dreaded each lap. It was so soft and so churned up it would practically bring me to a stop. It felt like riding in mud up to my hubs, except it didn’t actually stick to my tires or anything.
Once out of this section, it’s a curvy descent back to the start line.
So, with the course description out of the way, here are my observations:
- My guess of 21 laps flew out the window very early in the race. While I finished the first couple of laps in close to Â½ hour, the remainder of the laps came in closer to 40-45 minutes. Eventually, I turned in 16 laps, putting me in 11th place. My friend Brad Keyes did 17 laps, putting him in 6th place.
- For me, goals are a big part of the psychology of long races and rides. With this race, I couldn’t really set goals, other than to stay on my bike and not give up.
- I have never been so close to quitting a race as at the four-hour mark in this race, when I realized that I was completely wiped out and had only made it a third of the way through the race. I resolved to do another lap, rest for a bit, and decide then whether to complete the thing. After the lap I ate a sandwich, took a dump, replaced the Cytomax in my Camelbak (I will never, ever, ever drink apple Cytomax again) with Mountain Dew (which I had let go flat the night before) and generally sat around for twenty minutes. From then on out, I felt fineâ€”sometimes even good. I’m not sure whether it’s because of the caffeine/high sugar content in the Mountain Dew, the rest, the sandwich, the dump, or some of each.
- I don’t think Mountain Dew keeps you hydrated as well as “real” sports drinks. After starting the Mountain Dew, I only pissed twice more during the remaining eight hours.
- One of my main motivating factors in the race was to keep Brad from lapping me. Finally, in my 13th lap, Brad did lap me and we did a lap together. That was by far the funnest lap of the day, and it might have been one of my fastest. I think that riding with friends is a good idea in big races.
- I have never been passed so often as I was in this race. The course was so short that fast guys pass you over and over and over. Meanwhile, I hardly passed anybody, since the people I passed I passed early on and never lapped them.
- For $50.00, this was a great value, and about as much of an endurance event as I want to deal with. By comparison, $300.00 for the 24 Hours of Moab seems stupid.
I’m going to do this race again next year. Now that I’ve done it once, I can have a decent target: 17 laps. My secondary target: get as many of my friends as possible to do this race with me, so I’ll have some people to ride with, at least for part of the race.