A Note from Fatty: This is part of my race report for the the 2012 Breck Epic. My writeups for all parts of this story can be found here:
I had been thinking the whole day. Wondering. Searching the trail. Looking for answers.
Finally, I could hold back no longer. I had to speak.
“I have a question,” I said to The Hammer. “We haven’t seen a single snake in five days of racing. Not a single one. Why not?”
“I don’t know,” said The Hammer. “Let’s just be glad we haven’t seen any.”
“But I like snakes,” I said. “It always makes me happy when I’m mountain biking and I see a snake.”
“Snakes are horrible. And this ain’t no time for jibber-jabber,” replied The Hammer.
But she didn’t mean it. We both knew this was exactly the time for jibber-jabber. And so I talked, endlessly, about my theories for why there were no snakes (most revolving around altitude and short summers, none of them based on any actual knowledge of snakes).
Why was I happy? Why was I talking again? Well, lots of reasons. First, our fatigue had stabilized: we weren’t any more tired at the beginning of this, our fifth day of racing, than we were at the beginning of our fourth day of racing.
This meant that we — on our fifth day of racing — were really no more exhausted than the people who had not raced Leadville. We no longer felt like we were on uneven footing with other racers; we were all in the same boat, known as “The Good Ship Breck Epic.”
More importantly than any of that, though, was the fact that the sun was out, the trail was beautiful, and my knee was getting better.
It had taken a rough few days, but I had gotten through the far end of my tunnel of misery. I was happy to be on my bike again.
Little Things Become Big Things
After racing for so many days, we had begun feeling a strange sense of permanence. Like getting up and racing the whole day was what we had always done. What we would always do. We started to feel at home.
We noticed something great about our “neighborhood” (the course): it was brilliantly marked. Every day, for six days, we raced a different singletrack course — forty miles or so of it. And every day, we had absolutely no trouble whatsoever staying on course. We never got lost. We never even got to a point where we were unsure.
For six solid days of racing, in spite of increasing exhaustion and decreasing lucidity, we knew exactly where we were supposed to go.
Think about that for a second. That is a serious accomplishment, and one that I made absolutely sure to compliment the Breck Epic organizers on, often and profusely.
The next thing that The Hammer and I came to love were the aid stations. See, the same people were working the aid stations for the whole week, which meant that if you were actually stopping at the aid stations, you had a chance to hobnob with some of the same people a few times over the course of the week.
And you started to look forward to pulling into aid stations not just for the opportunity to get an orange wedge and to rest your legs, but to say “hi” to these people who were starting to become your race friends.
The Hammer and I might have gotten to know some of the aid station volunteers a little better than other racers did, because we didn’t just grab and dash. The Hammer, in fact, would pull out the bag, dole out our sandwich, chips, and Coke — yes, really — and then sit down on the ground to eat. (I would remain standing, because I didn’t trust my knee enough to sit down; I was worried if it stiffened up while I was sitting, I’d be unable to get back up.)
One of the volunteers — the father of another racer (whose name is Montana, but that’s all I know about him) — became a particular favorite of ours. He laughed at how, unlike a lot of the racers, we would settle in and have a picnic. He’d come over and talk with us for a while, happy to see us pull up.
One time, I had an extra Coke in our drop bag, which I offered to him. He seemed astonished and delighted, accepting it with pleasure. We stood around, drinking Coke and talking about what a beautiful place Breckenridge was and how much we were enjoying the week.
This remains one of my stand-out favorite moments of the entire race.
Another good thing about this fifth day of racing is that with my knee feeling better and my power returning, we were able to assert ourselves on the climbs. Because — and I say this with all the humility I can muster — The Hammer and I are pretty fantastic climbers.
We’d reach a steep pitch and see others rolling to it, dismounting, and start walking. I’d turn to look at The Hammer, my eyebrows raised. She knew what my question was without my even asking it.
“Are we walking this?”
And I’d know her answer by the fact that she’d shift into a small gear and keep pedaling. I’d ride behind her, mostly because I never ever get tired of the look on guys’ faces as they — off their bikes and pushing — would turn to see who was cleaning the current monster of a climb, just to realize they’d been chicked.
“That’s why she’s called The Hammer,” I’d explain.
With an extraordinary 7433 feet of climbing in 46 miles, The Hammer had plenty of opportunities to demonstrate this capability, once cleaning a brutal, never-ending 23% climb.
It was on day four of the Breck Epic that we finally learned to just ride.
Up until this point, we had worried every day about the length of the day’s course. Where aid stations were located. Where the big climbs were. Where the big descents were.
And without exception, things had worked out differently than we expected. See, when you’re depending and focused on an aid station being at mile 10, then things seem seriously wrong if you don’t have an aid station ’til mile 13. If you expect the length of the course to be 40 miles, miles 41 – 46 can be pretty lousy.
If, however, you are riding with the expectation that every so often — every ten miles or so, say — there will be an aid station, you just accept the aid station when you get to it.
Likewise, if you tell yourself that the race isn’t over until you cross the finish line — nor should you expect it to be over, ever — you don’t spend anywhere near as much time staring at your GPS, wondering when will this damned stage ever end?
Hey, it ends when it ends. Until then, enjoy riding while it lasts.
It’s a philosophy that might even have some non-race application.