A client shared in our 1:1 workout this week a revelation on his continued pursuit for greater MTB performance. “It’s like there is always something to learn. Always something to work on. It’s endless.” This spirited 58-year-old couldn’t be more exact. My only addition would be that it’s not just endless, but it's endless opportunity. That’s the magic behind progressing in this sport. As skill, fitness, and cognition improve the challenges met early in our adoption of this sport turn from woes to opportunities. We move from everything being hard, to finding hard stuff, to finally, making things hard. Turning obstacles to opportunities and seeing the growth beyond increased speed or distance on the bike is how we racers experience growth beyond the handlebars.
Holding the EPIC Distance title for the NUE 2 consecutive years left me looking for another challenge. Dropping to the Marathon distance provided me new competitors, new courses, and a new opportunity. Non-racers ask about race distance to understand it’s difficulty. Racers know distance is a relative concept at the highest, most competitive levels. We quickly correct non-racers with a simple question: “Which is harder? Walking 2 blocks or sprinting 100 yards?” Granted it’s more nuanced than that but at this level 100 mile races vs 100 kilometer races are a matter of intensity. More intensity, shorter duration can equal the same total volume as lower intensity, longer duration. I set out to learn if I had the competence to conquer both divisions.
I trained differently. I raced the same.
To thine own self be true. Shakespeare’s Polonius couldn’t have imagined how often his words would be recited on keychains, yoga studio posters, and Prius bumpers. I however lean into it. My racing style is simple: blast off and stop when it’s over. This horrendous strategy is not recommended for casual racers or those with limited resources for training. BUT, if you’ve stripped down your life, built a mobile residence, have a wildly understanding significant other, and know how to make a killer pour over coffee, you can train for a successful balls to the walls race strategy. So I did. My training rides became shorter and more intense. I worked my top end a couple times a week and then backed it down the rest of the week to keep volume and skill development up. Moving to a shorter distance meant I’d need to be even more exact on my fitness, nutrition, and attention to my body’s signals. I’d have to tune in and turn up. So I did.
The following quickies cover the series. Like 2021 I went undefeated and learned a lot about myself as a racer, as a person. I met defeat in the form of a dreaded DNF and like most athletes I still find it hard to shake that ugliness off. I reached the goal. NO. It wasn’t easy. Many assume consistent winners have somehow discovered a secret. The secret isn’t hidden. Do more and commit more. Sometimes that commitment means knowing when to go all-in and when to get out of your own way. It’s not easy. There isn’t a secret. Kim Kardashian received backlash recently when she told “bitches, get up and go to work.” Well, how do you continue to perform at a high level? Bitches… listen to Kim.
Race 1: True Grit Quick thought: Who’s Dahn?
His name is Don but he pronounces it Dahn. He’s won everything at this distance and he’s a complete stranger to me. I built him into the boogeyman, fretting over competing against him, but I know this terrain. This being my 3rd go at the True Grit course, and having hosted a training camp on this course the week before, my best chance for a good season start was at hand. While drama surrounded me even making the start line, from the jump I took first wheel and never relented. Rocky, punchy, and technical. Also long, exposed, and relentless. The True Grit course is for mountain bikers and I MTB’ed hard the entire lap. I passed Dahn on a section of 2-way traffic and knew I had more than 10 minutes on him with less than an hour to go. If you’ve followed my race recaps you know I’ve learned, harshly, to relax only after the finish line. (see: 2018 BV’s 10 Hours Behind Bars) Crossing the line gave me a great start to the NUE Title pursuit. 1st place.
Race 2: Mohican 100K Quick thought: You can cramp anytime, at any distance. Control, control, control.
Du Hast by Rammstein. Check it out. It’s an angry song. The lyrics translate to “You have me,” and is a play on German wedding vows. When spoken it’s mistaken for du hasst which means “you hate”. I always thought it meant you hate me so when I heard it I got agro-dark. The first few racing years were this way. Agro. Battling. Fighting everyone. In my head of course, since to-date I have yet to get into a fight during a race, wouldn’t that be a race recap?! Comfortably part of the NUE series for a 3rd year I find myself lining up with race-friends. People I genuinely enjoy being around. So when we staged on the main drag in Loudonville, OH I shared the corral with several friendly faces, and Dahn. It feels good to belong to this spandex-clad lot but I’m anxiously awaiting the gun. Our No Ride Around team had a strong presence so when the gun fired I took off feeling good and ready to run away from my friends. That all changed when I fought cramps just 20 miles into the 60+ mile effort. Worse yet, Dahn chased me down and sat on my wheel for a good chunk of the wooded singletrack. Dropping him after the 3rd aid station gave me the slight distance I needed to dance cramps all the way to the finish line. I knew he was never far away and I was learning he’ll be a worthy competitor every time. The finish line couldn’t have come any sooner as my cramps begged to be released. Thankfully they held off long enough for me to cross and netting me that coveted Mohican Peace Pipe trophy that eluded me in my only top-box loss of 2020. 1st place. 2nd overall.
Race 3: Telluride 50 Quick thought: 3-for-3 and Telluride, CO is the prettiest place on Earth.
The 2-month break in the NUE Marathon schedule allowed for doubt to creep back in. I’ve been training, I’ve been focused, and I’ve been successful on non-NUE events but, could I overcome the 2020 disappointment that was the Telluride 100. That year we raced in an alpine monsoon. Most racers DNF’ed and I was part of that group. I didn’t quit but my non-drive side crank arm did. Halfway through the first lap it snapped off and I Strider-limped to a bailout. Returning in 2022 gave me the opportunity to erase that blemish and oh how I Etch-A-Sketch shook that memory clean! Ripping down Magic Meadows Trail I tamped the desire to pull brake and pushed my Norco to the edge. Sliding through corners and pumping every rise in the trail I laughed, audibly, at how much fun this course is with 2 functioning crank arms. The small Singlespeed field left me unchallenged for the win and that freedom allowed me to race loose. I loved every bit of trail and even without the competitive fire nipping at my rear wheel, I was able to log some significant PR’s. Racing fast and loose, hell yeah! 1st place. 7th overall.
Race 4: Pierre's Hole Quick thought: F*#&!
Psychoanalysts frequently reference a “meta-analysis over 20 years of data” to validate their opinions. I read their books. I fall into thinking psychoanalysts know a helluva lot. More than me. Digging into the minds of competitors they’ll mention how we remember the losses with far more visceral recall than the wins. I don’t need 20 years of data to agree. They are right. I’m so pissed at Pierre’s Hole. I’m pissed at the rain. The mud. The decision to move forward. I’m just mad. And…I totally understand it. Months removed, I accept my role in it. I only made it 5 miles. 5 stinking miles before my drivetrain loaded up so much mud that the chain wouldn’t roll over the pulley wheels on my tensioner. I couldn’t pedal more than a single pedal stroke without the chain jumping off. This wasn’t a question of grit or determination. It simply was…not…possible. So I turned back. And how do I feel today? Terrible. Maybe it was possible. Maybe I could’ve just figured it out. And that’s what we do to ourselves. We terrorize ourselves. We can be our own worst enemies. I need to learn from my Golden Retriever, Winston. I need to forget what happened 3 minutes ago. I need a ball. I need to chase a ball. Who has a ball!?! DNF.
Race 5: Ring of Fire Quick thought: Well things just got a bit interesting.
The Singlespeed field showed more than 25 competitors and coming off of Telluride, the DNF in Alta, the LT100 on a tandem, and the Breck Epic with my wife as a Coed Duo team I was chomping to do some chomping! I was ready for a huge effort and a challenging race. Unfortunately my hunger paled in comparison to the Oregon wildfire’s appetite and the race was called off just 4 days ahead of race day. The plot thickens as there are wildfires in Big Bear, CA, home to the season finale Grizzly and my much needed 4th NUE finish for the series title. Could that DNF be the nail in my 2022 coffin? N/A.
Race 6: Grizzly 75K Quick thought: I race for me. I race from the inside. Start lines, awards, and recognition are wonderful but my journey happens inside-out.
I wish this final anecdote featured a gripping account of a photo-finish. A competition that pulled from me every bit of effort, learning, and grit I’ve cultivated over 3 years of NUE racing resulting in an explosion of emotion as I crossed the line victorious. It didn’t. I did cross victorious. I did win the series with an undefeated record. However at Grizzly I didn’t need to wrestle the win from a worthy competitor. No. I simply had to finish as I was a field of one. Without another single speeder in the 75K division I spent the days prior searching for a reason to keep my fire lit for 50+ miles. I wanted to race. I wanted to see what I was capable of but there wasn’t an external variable to look at. There wasn't a villain in this saga. Just me. A pseudo-protagonist fumbling through a weird division in a niche segment of competition. Unable to properly identify a quality “why” I followed the script. I tapered, I rested, I fueled, and I prepared the same way I always do. When the race started I instantly found my why. The moment we took off the awards, the recognition, and the glory manifested themselves not as something given to me but as something earned by me and for me. This outlet provides me the identified, focused, and purposeful arena to explore my capabilities. Every race has been an investigation of my soul. I’m unable to recreate this energy in my training sessions. I need the specified arena and at Grizzly I learned I can shadow-box like a motherfucker. 1st place. 6th overall.
2022 NUE Marathon Singlespeed Champion
The season finished with less explosions than I had hoped for in the Spring. Sitting at dinner after the Grizzly, over a heaping bowl of poke, I took stock of those sharing the table with me.
Amir, the two-time NUE Master’s champion in both the 100-mile and 100-km distances sat alongside his wife, Debbie, who completed the 30K Grizzly Gran Fondo as her longest, and most challenging, MTB event of her life. One that only came to fruition as this same group sipped coffee not 2 days earlier and urged her to participate. Next to her was Brian who, with aspirations reach the highest this sport has to offer, contentedly ate his poke next to his dad after a catastrophic mechanical ended his race, and his series title goal, just a few hours earlier. He was already typing into his phone calendar all of the NUE race dates for 2023, coordinating his dad’s support at each race. Across the table sat Ryan who reached a 2022 goal: Pro Field Podium. His 5th place finish in the Open field on the Grizzly 100 course proved he’s on the right path. His goals match Brian’s and these two guys will be battling for NUE supremacy for years to come. And his support? Tor? She didn’t complain once about the low-end hardtail, misfitting helmet, poorly fitted cycling shorts, or randomness that led to her also completing the 30K Gran Fondo, with Debbie, on a whim, well, just because. I sure hope she understands that this won’t be her last MTB race! Further down the table sat Colin. Once full of piss and vinegar and now full of piss, vinegar, and success. His Master’s 100K podium finish, 5th, gave him evidence that he belongs. A Cat-1 MTB racer who hasn’t shied away from work, not a single day in his life. Chad came and went from the table reloading his glass of cold brew. 3rd place in the Men’s Open 50K and a proven monster on the racecourse. He dedicates equal amounts of passion, effort, and caffeine consumption to his family, his garden, and his MTB race career. I can’t catch him. I won’t try.
Finally I look to my right. My wife sits with her body bruised, elbow scraped, and lungs on fire. She brought home the bacon this day. Her 3rd place Women’s Open 50K finish is the second podium she’d earned in 6 days. Like Debbie and Tor, she fell into this event last year as a Gran Fondo rider and came back this year as an NUE podium winner. There’s a foolish idea that those close to racers must be good racers also. This isn’t the coronavirus. It doesn’t transmit that easily. She battled doubt, demons, and demands all season to elevate herself. She’s a racer who happens to be married to a racer.
This is the table. This is the group celebrating the NUE season. Every participant on the trip was a participant in the race. In a sport for a single athlete there sure are a lot of faces smiling and laughing around me. The spirit of the NUE, of pursuing a goal across the country, lives at this table. I’ll raise a glass of CarboRocket to that!