In this blog entry I recall my experience traveling to and from 12-hrs of Mesa Verde, a 12 hour endurance mountain bike race, with Northern Colorado Grassroots Riders on a rented plush bus! And in between, I reflect on my progress towards preparation for high priority races that still lay ahead at that time, in May, July, and August.
If you're going to ride-on as much as a cycling addict, then occasionally you should enjoy the view and allow someone else to do the driving. And that's exactly what Northern Colorado Grassroots Riders (NCGR) decided to do on their return to 12-hrs of Mesa Verde, an event held annually at Phil's World, a celebrated built-for-mountain-biking network of trails juxtaposed between Mesa Verde National Park and downtown Cortez, Colorado.
Lightly and comfortably sprinkled into a plush bus, NCGR and company departed on Thursday evening, 5 May, with plenty of open containers (everyone except the driver) and a stack of Fort Collin's best pizza from Nick's Italian. Our pilot, Lae Angell (contact leaangell AT yahoo DOT com for rental inquiries) easily navigated his bus through Denver on I-25 south, as we relaxed with our feet up, before heading west to the San Luis Valley and our planned overnight stop in Alamosa. The next morning, after not-so-bad coffee but a long-ish wait at the hotel restaurant, we continued west, into the mountains, through Pagosa Springs and Durango. Thirty-minutes farther down the road we were passing through Mancos, then past the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park. A few minutes later we were looking for a place to park our team bus in downtown Cortez. We spent just enough time to visit Kokopelli Bike & Board for packet pick-up and to satisfy any last minute needs, including a quick wheel repair for our team leader, Ralph Eberspacher.
A few miles back in the direction that we'd come and we were at the local fair grounds, race headquarters, free camping, and the starting line for 12-hrs of Mesa Verde. All the doors and hatches were thrown open on the bus, bikes unpacked and reassembled, tents thrown-out and pitched, food assembled, cooked, and eaten, all before dark. That evening, some chose to sleep in the bus, on comfortable, padded, benches converted to beds. Settled-in, a pre-ride in the bag, we drifted into sleep while looking forward to a half-day, 12 hrs, of racing the following morning.
This would be the third year running that I came to 12 hrs of Mesa Verde as part of a 3-person, all male, team. However, I was hoping that it wouldn't be the second year in a row that I was unable to start due to inclement weather. In 2014, the venue did experience some rain, there was mud too, but completion of the race was never under threat. That wasn't the case in 2015. The weather turned from bad to worse to apocalyptic, and by then the organizers of 12-hrs of Mesa Verde really had no choice but to pull the plug which they did after lap two. Since I was scheduled to ride the third lap, their decision meant the end of my race, before it started. Despite a 2-lap 12-hrs, there was still an awards ceremony that year, and my team finished fourth in the 3-4 male category, a podium position. That remains my best finish to date as a non-starter!
Fluctuating skies and less-than-ideal weather predictions aside, the 2016 12-hr event started and finished without a hitch. As in 2014, there was mud, rain, and snow before it was over, but fortunately conditions always improved, and quickly, to hero dirt. By taking-on the first lap and the opening Le Mans start, a start involving a ca. 1/4 mile run to a nearby corral containing all of the starter's bikes, it seems that the universe was satisfied with my contribution to the man-up part of the race. My hardy teammates on the other hand, especially RJ Morris, experienced muddy drive-trains and cold, wet, fingers on one or even two laps. By chance, I avoided that uncomfortable fate. For the Le Mans start, inspired by one of my teammates, Mitch Wood, I managed a fair run for my talents, reached the corral in the top 40-ish, and was out the pinch point (corral exit) before the planned back-up of riders.
As I mentioned above, 2015 was a non-start for me at 12-hrs of Mesa Verde, as a racer anyway. However, with Phil's World on my R-pod base camp doorstep, I couldn't, sensibly, leave the venue until I exercised my Niner Jet 9 RDO with haste on the race course. The morning after the event, as everyone else was pulling-out, headed for home, I prepared the Niner and rolled-onto the course for what would be three relatively unencumbered laps, especially the first two laps, and a muddy lap four. On a hero dirt course built for mountain bikes, peak fitness that was intended for the race the day before, and few reasons to slow down (other bikes, etc), it's not surprising that lap one proved to be my fastest lap to date at Phil's World; 1:04:45. A year later, in 2016, my best was 1:05:16, 31 seconds shy of my best from 2015. Without the background, particularly unencumbered in 2015, it would appear that I'd actually slipped backwards, my form had perhaps descended slightly from 10 May 2015 to 7 May 2016. However, background included, it's clear that all that stood in my way of crushing my 2015 record was all of the bikes, fellow racers, that I had to share the trail with in 2016. All that considered, 1:05:15 was certainly a personal best.
Looking a little deeper at my top ten times from the '12 Hours of Mesa Verde' Strava Segment, my 2nd and 3rd fastest laps on the 16 mile (26 km) course were from 2016, laps involving slowing down to pass, etc. By the way, lap one in all years is a different route, to spread-out the field, so not comparable to any other lap. My fourth fastest lap was lap two from 2015, a lap that, again, benefited by an empty course. My fifth fastest lap. lap 3 from 2015, may be the most useful for comparing 2015 and 2016 and determining improvement. By lap three in 2015 the race course was peppered with late arriving riders, no racers of course. And as a result, I was encumbered on that third lap, similar to how I was encumbered on all laps in 2016, and those encumbrances contributed to a slower lap time, 1:08:03. Fatigue aside, it was my third consecutive lap after all, I nonetheless think my best in 2015 would have been closer to this 1:08:03 lap time, perhaps 1:07:00, if I'd actually raced in the event.
In conclusion, looking at my top 10 above, it appears that I sped-up by about two minutes from 2014 to 2015 and then improved by the same margin from 2015 to 2016. Over such a short segment, just 13.7 miles (extends to about 16 miles when the start / end race sections are added to the course), a two minute gain is significant and on-track with what a racer might reasonably anticipate, as far as improvements, from one year to the next.
On 7 May 2016, following the seven-am Le Mans start, I returned to the race venue about 18th overall after a big effort on the Niner Jet 9 RDO. No where near top five or ten, but that was also my first lap, a lap when my physiological systems were still waking-up. Subsequent laps were full octane, and as a racer often experiences when they're feeling their best, I was passing and, for the most part, not getting passed. Riding high on my success from Smithville, Texas, the month before (Austin Rattler), I raced my third and final lap for 2016 as if it was my last opportunity to experience Phil's World. At the conclusion of that lap, I rejoined my friends and passed the clothes-hanger clip (baton) to my teammate just 10 seconds slower (1:05:26) than my previous lap (1:05:16; note lap times here and above do not include 12-hrs course south of Route 160 where timing and other facilities are set-up). This marginal loss, 10 seconds, is also evidence that the form that I brought to 12-hrs of Mesa Verde in 2016 was significantly improved relative to the form I had in 2015.
Those are the numbers, some of them anyway, and they tell a reassuring story for a guy that has recently (since April 2013) been dedicating much of his life, his time, to cycling including high intensity training in his uncomfortable zones. But reassurance is not worth much if you miss the opportunity to share events like 12-hrs of Mesa Verde with friends, teammates or otherwise. Back on the bus, a fresh round of open containers in hand, and filled-to-the-brim with excitement and moments to share from the previous days racing, the coming together of an unexpected group began their celebration of the very best life can offer, friendships and having fun.
About 10-12 hours after departing Cortez, we were back in the Fort and the black-and-green throw-down at the 2016, 12-hrs of Mesa Verde, was comfortably in the team 'bag' along with many empty PBRs. In my next blog entry I'll be writing about my experiences and thoughts following my second, consecutive, first place age 40-49 finish at the Full Growler, an event presented by Dave Wiens, his crew, and sponsors at Hartman Rocks Recreation Area not far from downtown Gunnison, Colorado.