Breck Epic 2012 EpilogueAugust 22nd, 2012
An Unexpected Gift!
This year’s Breck Epic, a six day mountain bike stage, proved to be a far different experience for me than last year’s: namely, that I placed 5th in the Single Speed Category instead of winning as I did last year. While I could read from the Bible of Excuses as to why placing 5th, I’ll try to own the fact that I came underprepared compared to several of the other guys riding just one gear.
I significantly underestimated the extent of how much breaking my arm in late May would affect my training. Had it not come after taking a month off of training to climb in Alaska, then the impact may not have been as severe. As it turned out, my performance in this year’s race was not much different than last year’s: if anything, I rode a bit faster. However, most of the other’s improved and the newcomers (including two talented pros) brought a whole new level of riding to this event that was not seen in the prior years’ races. Had I wanted to be in the running for even a podium finish of just a single stage, I needed to bring a whole new level of fitness and ability. I simply did not do that, though I came no worse prepared than before. That get’s you fifth.
In June and July I rode indoors on a trainer religiously. Let’s just say “It ain’t the same!” There simply is no replacement for hard single speeding than going hard on a single speed. Last year, I was able to do several races and good rides through the summer to get me ready for the rigors of the six day suffer fest in Breckenridge. This year, I watched my power meter while doing lactate threshold intervals in my family room. At least I was able to follow the Tour de France.
After my broken arm started to mend in July, I had a precious few weeks to do some serious mountain bike training to get ready. I got in a few good rides for about a week, then WHAM!! I got infected from a nasty lung infection thanks to my darling 8 month old son. He got pneumonia, so I guess he got it worse than I did. Still, this sucked as I thought I was back on track to getting super fit. At that point, just two weeks before race time, I decided to lick my wounds and simply rest up. I’d take it as best I could and hope for some sort of magical fitness found from being “well rested.”
Right away on day 1, I knew I was not there. As the others pulled away on the initial climbs, I felt powerless to accelerate and stay with. I was felt flat with no power. I did seem to have endurance (thanks, I guess, to genetics) and was able to plod along. Every day, however, I was unable to hit the gas hard out of the gates and it became a game of seeing how much ground I could make up during the day after being dropped early.
Day two was rainy and cold, with high temperatures in the 40′s. I was in denial about the weather and held out hope for sun. In that, I refused to stop and put on a jacket. I was only wearing my shorts and short sleeved jersey. I got cold and borderline hypothermic. My hands were numb and my glasses were covered in mud. I couldn’t feel my handlebars nor see the trail well. Though this was one of the best sections of single track riding of the entire race, I was not enjoying the fast, flowing descent. I crashed once on a tight switchback.
I was hurting and unhappy. I was totally annihilating myself and had little to show for it, or so it seemed. Unlike ever before, thoughts of quitting entered my mind. Fortunately, I had enough self-respect and pride to not do that. I kept on pushing as hard as my mind and body would allow. I lost a lot of time that day and any hopes of being among the top three short of some sort crash on their part. I sat in sixth place and almost an hour behind the first place position.
I accepted all this and relaxed some. I also seemed to recover well. I had been very good about my daily nutrition, taking enough GU Roctane gels and drink mix to not only fuel my daily effort, but keep my body ready for the next day. My recovery strategy was simple: refuel and hydrated immediately, liberal use of antioxidants, rest and massage. For the refueling, I like to power down a liter of GU Recovery Brew and eat as many Nutella covered saltine crackers as I can get down. I Use Proanox Genesis antioxidants and swear they keep my muscles from feeling as flat as they would without. I also put ice packs on my legs and rest for an hour and then get a light massage. I’m amazed at how well this simple strategy aids my recovery. My average heart rate (a good indicator at how hard my body is able to work) stayed the same from day 2-6 only dropping 10 bpm after day 1. So, after the initial hard-as-possible effort, I was able to maintain a steady state for the next five days. I think had the race been another five days, I might have actually had a shot at the podium, but that’s not the case. At any rate, I was able to recover well.
By day three, I just let everyone take off fast, and then played the game my way: steady and never too hard. After 30 minutes, I started catching and passing many. Eventually, I was even within sight of the 3rd and fourth place riders. I tried to catch them on the penultimate climb, but they were just out of reach. A wickedly technical descent let them put a little more distance on me, though I managed to maintain my 5th place position. Perhaps the highlight of this day for me was having Ross Schnell come ripping by me on the rocky descent at warp speed. The reason I was ahead of him was because earlier that day he had to stop to fix a seized up rear hub. He fixed it, but in the process, removed the rear brake. So, when he came ripping by me, he did so with just one brake! I thought I was going pretty fast until he came by. I was humbled by his ability to move so fast, yet controlled with a single brake!Hat’s off to him!
Hat’s off to Mike Melley, as well. He ended up in 4th, just off the podium, though never once let me beat him the whole race! Try as I might, whenever I would get him in my sights, he would just slowly, but surely pull away and that would be it: I’d only see him again at the finish line. Mike placed second to me last year and it was clear that he took good notes and improved enough to beat me handily this time around.
As the race passed the half way mark, I started to feel a little better. At least, I think at this point, everybody was fatigued and base endurance became a much bigger marker of race day performance. As such, I did better comparatively and was able to hold onto my 5th place position through the finish with a margin of 5 minutes over twenty hours of riding.
Whether or not I enter this race next year is yet to be determined. One thing for sure, though, I have returned a much stronger person and have an edge that I could not have ever gotten had I won again. If I do come back, I’ll be much better prepared and ready to battle, even if more pro’s decide to hop on the single speed short bus for a piece of glory.
Note to self: training is the easy part; get the easy part right. I’ll need to be more careful about avoiding injury and sickness, that’s the hard part.