Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Breck Epic – Race Report and Reflections…

Quick Stats:

• 6 days of racing
• 211 miles and approximately 33,000’ climbing (According to my Garmin)
• Longest stage = 43 miles; Shortest stage = 29 miles
• Racers from 35 states and 25 countries
• High Points – 12,507’ (Wheeler Pass), 11,585’ (Georgia Pass), 11,481 (Boreas Pass), 11,398’ (French Pass)
• Favorite stages = 3, 4, 6
• Least favorite stages = 1 and 5
• Experience = Awesome!
• Difficulty = EPIC!!

This past week I was fortunate enough to race the Breck Epic 6-day Mountain Stage Race in Breckenridge, Colorado. I have been interested in mountain bike stage racing for several years now and always followed racing coverage of the various mountain bike stage races such as the BC Bike Race, TransRockies, La Ruta, Mongolian Bike Challenge and the Breck Epic. The cost of these events are usually pretty expensive, but the opportunity to enter the Breck Epic at a deeply discounted early registration rate last August ended up being too tempting. At this time last year, I was pretty much finished riding my bikes for the season and waiting to meet with surgeons to discuss having a microdiscetomy on my lower back as it became increasingly difficult to go about my daily activities. I was hesitant to pull the trigger on the Breck Epic, but luckily, Beth encouraged me and even loaned me the money to register for this year’s event. I ended up having back surgery in late September, with the carrot of the Breck Epic looming in the distant future.

Fast forward 11 months and it was go time! I arrived in Breckenridge, elevation 9,600’, the day before the race was to begin. My preparation for the Breck Epic was really just riding my bike a lot. After spending 4 months off the bike recovering from the surgery, I kind of lost my desire to train like I use to and a whole lot of fitness! In years past, I integrated intensity via intervals to build fitness and power on the bike. Going into this year, my intention was the same, but when the time came to really train, I just did not have the desire. Instead, my training involved more of endurance rides and fun hard rides, rather than the more mundane hill repeats or interval sessions I had grown accustomed to. Even with the change of training protocol, I still struggled with the desire to even want to race, let alone ride a lot every week. So, my training thoughts quickly turned to getting in shape for the High Cascade 100 in late July and that should be good enough to do the Breck Epic three weeks later. Short story, stage racing and 1-day endurance races are very different!

Back to stage 0, the day before the race. Brent Gorman and I arrived in town and went over to the base camp area for the race week to pick up our race packets. Almost immediately, we ran into fellow Boise racer Todd Meir and talked with him for awhile. Todd had spent the previous week acclimating in Salida, camping and riding his mountain and moto bikes. After packet pick up, Brent and I went for a short ride before the mandatory rider meeting at 5:00. Immediately into the ride, I was breathing very hard, even though we were just spinning on one of the local trails. The rest of the day was spent attending the racer meeting and getting ready for the week of racing. Joining Brent and I in the week’s adventure were Boise racers John Odle and Matt Hanrahan and two of Brent’s friends from Alaska Tim Berntson and Jeff Ellis. Other Boise racers that made the trip, in addition to Todd, were Sean Hassinger and Matt Woodruff.

Stage 1 – Pennsylvania Creek (35 miles / 5,500’). The house awoke at 6:00 with great anticipation for the first day of racing. According to the racer meeting, this stage was one of the two rockiest stages of the week and some seasoned Breck Epic riders even considered it the hardest. The race director also described this stage as ‘Classic Breckenridge’ riding. The race started with a 2-mile climb up Boreas Pass Rd before jumping onto single track. Immediately into the race, I found myself redlining and gasping for air. My thoughts quickly turned to doubt that I was even going to finish this stage let alone the race week. The gasping for air and difficulty breathing would last the remainder of the stage. I even remember wondering if this is, what it was like to have asthma.

On the first descent, mechanicals and mishaps were already occurring. A pro rider from Japan, who had taken 7th at Leadville the day before was on the side of the trail with some sort of mechanical. Shortly after, a few riders were tending to another rider who had crashed at the bottom of the 2nd descent and was bleeding from the back of his head. He ended up getting 11 stitches and was ok, but we were only maybe 5 miles into the week long race. After a few short descents, the trail pitched upwards for 4 miles. The trail was similar to the climb out of the Lava Lakes section of the High Cascade, but longer, rockier, steeper and much less frequent plateaus. Already, many racers were practicing their hike-a-bike, which we would all utilize during the week at different times. I finally reached aid 1 around 14 miles and a volunteer was waiting for me with my aid bag in hand. I stopped and tipped my head back to drink the rest of my water bottle before taking a new one and almost passed out with my vision temporarily going to blackness. This was going to be a long day, 14 miles down and 21 to go. The rest of the stage mellowed out slightly, but it was littered with steep climb after steep climb. We ended up climbing up to 11,000’ four times during the stage. With 1 mile to go, I began to cramp while going DOWNHILL and had to stop for a few minutes. My right hamstring and quad were both seized up and I couldn’t move. I finally got myself down to the finish and was wasted. This was the hardest 35 miles and 5.5k of climbing I think I ever experienced on the bike due to the technical trail and altitude. My finishing time was 3 hours and 55 minutes for a 14th/28 finish in my age group (30 – 39). Todd Wells (day after Leadville) and Alex Grant did the stage in 2:46……..AMAZING! The rest of the day was the beginning of the daily routine for the remainder of the week; race, drop bike off, eat, shower, put on compression socks, stretch, rest, pick up bike, racer meeting, eat, and sleep.

Stage 2 – Colorado Trail (37.4 miles / 5,300'). The next stage was described by the race director at Sunday’s night racer meeting as ‘Classic Colorado’ riding compared to ‘Classic Breckenridge’ riding the day before. The trail was to be much smoother and not as hard. I awoke to feeling a little fatigued and was worried about how the day would go with altitude, since the prior day was so difficult for me. After getting out of the starting gate, the days racing felt much better. All of the trail rode was really cool, but my favorite was riding these sections of rocky spines of old mining flumes and yes there was a ton of steep climbing during the day including Heinous Hill. While the riding much smoother than day 1, we all decided that the race director must be a ‘crunchy’ vs. ‘creamy’ type of peanut butter connoisseur since the ‘smooth’ Colorado Trail loop was still much rockier and technical than we are used to in Boise and Alaska. This assumption ended up holding true for the remainder of the week. Day 2 ended in a time of 4:00 hours and 13th in my age group.

Stage 3 – Mt. Guyot (36 miles / 6,564’). After the 2nd day going better than the first with the altitude, I was excited for stage 3. Stage 3 was originally considered the Queen Stage of the race, but racing the whole week, stages 4 and 5 are just as hard or harder. The stage was actually described as 38 miles and 7,774’ feet of climbing, but racers Garmin’s recorded otherwise once finished. To me, stage 3 introduces the real ‘flavor’ and uniqueness of the Breck Epic. During the day, we would climb and descend the continental divide twice via French Pass (11.398’) and Georgia Pass (11,585’).

The stage started like any other day, a short neutral roll-out on the road to a steep 2-track climb. The first 10 miles consisted of really fun singletrack and a descent down Little French, which we had climbed up on day 1. Little French is basically a very rocky and slippery old mining flume that you hope not to crash or have a mechanical in. At the 10-mile mark, the 1st of 3 aid stations arrived before starting the 4-mile long climb to French Pass. About a mile or so from the pass, the trail opened up above tree-line and you could see the solid line of racers pushing their bike straight up hill. The hike-a-bike lasted about 0.5 hour. While cresting the pass, a handful of local bikers were present to cheer racers on and even offering a ‘taste of the rainbow’ thru a pitcher full of skittles! After loading my mouth full of skittles, I began the steep and rocky descent off of the pass through the alpine tundra. At this moment, the word ‘ridiculous’ came muttering out of my mouth and I felt like I was part of a really cool group mountain bike ride rather than a race. From French Pass, we descended back down to 10,000’ only to climb via Middle Fork Rd back up to Georgia Pass.

The climb was maybe 3.5 miles long and towards the top, the storm clouds let loose with rain and hail. Luckily, I had planned for the long day above tree line and had my vest and arm warmers in my jersey pocket. I stopped briefly to put on the extra layers and continued along the ridge in the hail to the pass. After reaching the pass, some more Breck Epic ‘superfans’ were there offering up shots of espresso. I took a quick shot and then proceeded to bomb down the very long and steep descent from the continental divide down to 9,800’. After exiting the alpine, into the trees, the singletrack was covered in hail. My glasses became quickly covered in mud and spent the rest of the day without sunglasses. The last few miles of the descent consisted of really rocky trail, similar to the rockiest hiking trail you could imagine. The word I muttered for this section was ‘gnarly’ after realizing that it was becoming endless. I ended up riding most of it except for a small portion towards the end. The rest of the stage consisted of more cross-country type of riding back to Breckenridge. With about 10 miles left in the stage, I realized that half of my spring from my right pedal was missing. Luckily, the cleat mechanism still worked enough to somewhat keep my foot attached to the pedal for the rest of the stage. The stage ended with another strong thunderstorm about 4 miles to the finish. The day was done with a time of 4:40 and another 14th placing.

Stage 4 – Aqueduct (43 miles / 6,332’). Day 4 consisted of more of a cross-country style loop that brought us to the backside of Keystone ski resort. The stage was also the longest of the stage race, in terms of miles. The previous day was fun, but ended up being the stage where I lost the most amount of time. Day 3 I didn’t feel really fresh, but Day 4 I was feeling a little spunkier. On day 3, I began eating two lunches , which I carried on the habit for the rest of the week. The stage consisted of 6 significant climbs, which included another trip up Heinous Hill and a trip up Vomit Hill (1.2 miles / 800’). This was probably my overall best day of riding and I finally found the big ring on the climbs. Short story – 4:39 hours and 11th (missing a top 10 by 6 seconds).

Stage 5 – Wheeler Pass (29 miles / 5,013’). Day 5 brought us to the high point of the week at just over 12,500’. After having a good day on the bike the day before, I felt confident of my abilities of having an even better day. This quickly changed once the race started. My legs felt completely ‘flat’ and I did not have anything for the entire day.

The stage began with climbing right away on dirt service road at the base of Beaver Run at the Breckenridge ski area and up into the alpine. Within the first 5 miles, we were already above 11,000’. The hike-a-bike was even longer on this stage then on day 2, but I think you could ride a lot more of it on a non-race day, without so many people. With that said, even the top pros hiked a large majority of the upper trails of the pass.

After topping out over Wheeler Pass and passing by the bacon feed from more ‘superfans’, it is a 3,000’ descent in less than 3.3 miles. My forearms were getting so blown that I had to stop half way down to shake them out, so I could keep a grip on my handlebars. Once at the bottom, a 8-mile time trial or pace line (if you were lucky) on the local bike path to Frisco proceeded. Once at Frisco, we jumped back onto dirt road and trail back to Breckenridge with one final 1,500’ climb, which was new to the course this year. It turned out to be one of the least enjoyable climbs of the week and consisted of steep grades along a cobbled / boulder strewn road. Then, once we finally got to singletrack for the last 5 miles, the trail was littered with tree roots making this section nothing like what we had ridden the 4 days prior. Finished the stage and felt the most beat up than from any other stage. For me, this was by far the hardest day on the bike of the week, followed by stage 1. I got back to the house and proceeded to ‘bitch and moan’ to Brent on how ‘stupid’ this stage was. Looking back, it is a cool stage minus that last climb! 13th place and finishing time of 3:50.

Stage 6 – (31 miles / 3,416 feet). Last day. Holy moly, this has been a long and tiring week. Beth arrived the day before and got to see firsthand how beat up everyone was with their altitude cough and sore legs. The last day was a festive atmosphere and I think everyone was ready to celebrate such an amazing week of riding and racing. The day would take us up and over Boreas Pass twice, but with a much more reasonable amount and pitch of climbing. Starting the stage, I was worried how my body would respond. My legs were very tender to the touch from day 5 and I ended up not sleeping very well the night before.

The stage started with an uphill grind up Boreas Pass road before jumping onto singletrack. Surprisingly, my legs were responding well and I was big ring climbing once again! At about mile 9, deep in the woods, I began to hear music and thought we might be getting close to Boreas Pass. Instead, around the next switchback, my favorite ‘superfan’ of the week was on the side of the trail playing the banjo in a tuxedo t-shirt and lycra bottoms. This ‘superfan’ road up on his bike and provided some great music to all the racers on the last day. Shortly after, we popped out onto the dirt road and the pace line was on to the top of Boreas Pass. From there, we descended the super fun mining flume of the Gold Dust Trail before climbing back up to Boreas Pass a second time. At Boreas Pass, the Team Ergon van were doing PBR hand-ups. Going over the pass, I grabbed a PBR and slammed about half of it before choking on it. I was now prepped for the 7 mile descent to the finish. The descent was super fun and fast and ended in 2:39 and another 11th. Beth was at the finish line to greet me and all racers were congratulating each other on finishing up the week.

All in all, the Breck Epic was awesome and actually epic! My goal for the week was to have fun, not break my bike or any bones. I succeeded on all levels and escaped the week without any mechanicals. My racing performance was average, but it is hard to tell what your body will do at altitude. Also, the field was super strong and deep. 7 of 12 riders in front of me in my category were from another country and riding extremely fast. The local Boise riders all did awesome, finished all 6 stages and held their own in the thin air against the Colorado locals!

So, brings me to several questions:'Would I do it again?', YES; 'Will I do it again next year', MAYBE; 'Would I recommend it', DEFINITELY; but get yourself a full suspension! My Rocky Mountain Element rocked all week and worked flawlessly! Everyday I was amazed that people were racing their hardtails! The week was by far the hardest week of riding I have ever done and I am a better rider for it. Also, some of the stages were some of the hardest rides I had ever done. MILES AND VERTICAL DO NOT COME EASY IN BRECKENRIDGE!

For additional pics of the week, check out

If you do sign up for the Breck Epic, beware of the infamous Stage 7, it will sneak up on you!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Oh, the Places You'll Go ......

Summer is almost over and Team Eastside Cycles have been busy the first 8 months of the year racing locally and regionally. To date, the team has racked up 102 race starts in 32 events across 8 states and 2 countries. In addition, team members have found themselves on the podium 33% of the time! The team is equally active in cyclocross as they are in mountain biking and are looking to double the number race starts by end of year. A big thank you to all of our sponsors: Eastside Cycles, Trailhead Chiropractic, Cartridge World of Boise, Flatbread Community Oven, Verde Fulfillment, Habitat Veterinary Hospital, Riverbend Preschool, Matt Green Photo, Boise Fry Co., WestWater Research, Thornton Oliver Keller, GU Energy, Honey Stinger and Maxxis Tires.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

9 to 5 – From the Pit

As many of you know, preparation doesn’t start the day of the race, even for the “pit crew”.  The Schafer team meeting was held the night before the race (though general instruction had been taking place all week).  The “team” filled the food bags, made sure bottles were prepared, put together “optional” food for satisfying urges throughout the race.  Strict instruction was given to “make sure I eat”!

6:00 AM Race Day:  The alarm clock goes off.  This is earlier than I get out of bed for work and I am up getting ready to watch grown men race around in circles on a bike without a motor.  Probably not the best decision I have ever made.

7:00 AM: We leave the house.

7:35 AM: We arrive at Avimor and start walking stuff to the pit.  (Thankfully we run into Bryan Warnock and Andrew Gendler who help me carry the heavy table.)

8:30 AM:  Last minute instructions were given on nutrition.  I do believe he just told me the bottles were in the cooler.  I must have IDIOT stamped across my forehead but I will let it pass as I was in the room when the bottles were being placed in the cooler.  I ask others if they need help or have certain items which need to be handed up instead of stopping to grab on their own. 

Bryan Warnock has bottles labeled “Base” and “Water” in his cooler and will yell out what he wants with a quick stop.  To make a bottle of “Base” it is two scoops and one tab.  I better start writing some of this stuff down.  A paper plate and a red pen work perfect.

Andrew Gendler was well organized as well with bottles, food wrapped in foil and marked.  He had bottles set up on a table but might need me to grab food and replace as requested.

Jeremy Frei had his system set up as well.

Cory knew exactly what he was doing and didn’t think he needed any help.

Beth was ready to go and would ask for help as she came into the pit.  She was on the “two lap” plan.  She used a camelback so she would stop every two laps to rest and fuel with a goal of six laps.

Zuber was all set and would yell if he needed anything. 

Steve had what he needed.

9:00AM: Race time.  Ahhh…peace and quiet with enough time before the racers come in to do a little reading.

9:35AM:  Crap the lead racers are coming through already.  After lap one I am supposed to hand up a perpetum bottle, I better be ready just in case….here is he, 9:38.  He is going out too hot but there is no need to say anything.

Bryan hands me one of his bottles and tells me to refill it.  Uh…you handed it to me full.  Drink it next time then I will fill it.

Jeremy comes in and gets off his bike.  It is a race, what are you doing?  Get back on the bike and go.  He isn’t feeling well.  Sitting, standing, nothing is working right for him.  Getting back on the bike wasn’t going to do it.

Everyone else comes through and heads back out.

10:10AM:  Those finishing Lap 2 are now coming back in.  I am prepared with my bottle of water with a Nunn tab in it.  After last’s year debacle of being told that when he says he wants water it doesn’t really mean he wants water, I have figured out that a Nunn tab or similar MUST be included for this race.  I also have the pack of food that he said he MUST eat every lap.  As he comes in fast he yells…JUST WATER, NO FOOD.  “You told me to make you eat.”  “I don’t want it.”  (At this point it is clear I will no longer be wasting my time with team meetings the night before a race.)  Sigh…it will prove to be a challenging day.

Bryan Warnock stops briefly to switch out bottles. 

Andrew Gendler switches out bottles and grabs a quick bite to eat and off he goes.

Zuber and Steve grab new bottles.

Cory asks how Beth is doing as he makes a quick stop.  (She is doing great!! Only 65 minutes for her first lap!)

The laps are starting to get a little longer at this point.  I seem to have a rhythm down for getting everyone what they want. Who knows what time it is.

Beth came in after lap two looking GREAT!  She had a little food, something to drink, a little rest…then I kicked her out.  She told me 10 minute breaks and that is what she gets.  She had a goal, I am there to help her meet it.

As Mark comes in for his fourth lap he yells “No food.  Need lube next lap.” Just a “water” bottle is handed up and off he goes.  Mrs. Oppenheimer (Josh Oppenheimer’s mom) laughs.  “He sure is direct.  At least you won’t mix it up.” 

Throughout the day the riders come and go.  Wives and children come and go.  I get to chat with Jeremy’s wife and twin boys.  They drew wonderful pictures on paper plates. 

Angela arrives to take care of Eric.

Bryan’s wife, Sarah and the girls stopped by and they were ready to help.  As Bryan rolls in she asks what he needs and he says “Sarah and I have it worked out.”  Ouch!! I grabbed bottles for him and prepped the next round.  Luckily he took some fruit and the “good luck” kiss from her as he pulled out of the pit.  I think that put him in a little better place with the wife.  Bryan, just as a future note, let your wife help.  It means a lot for us to do just the little things.  It hurts when we are told someone else is there to take care of you.  (Though by now everyone knows, I did not do a good job of taking care of Bryan.  More about him at the end.)

After lap 6 Andy comes in.  He says his feet are cramping and he can’t get back on the bike.  He sits in Ron’s chair for a bit with his feet up and ice on his back then he is back to his chair…taking a nap!!  Yep, middle of a race and we have a man taking a nap. 

Kirsten and the girls show up with water guns and start spraying down the racers that are by this time wanting nothing more than to be off the bikes and cooled down.  What a wonderful idea!

Cory comes in around lap 8 and starts chatting.  Not much time left in the race but there is enough for him to get back on the bike and get another lap in.  I ask if there is anything he needs.  He says no, he is good.  So I tell him “You know, this is the point in time were I would tell Mark to HTFU.  Get back on the bike and get the next lap done.”  Evidently Cory isn’t wired the same way as Mark because instead of firing him up to get back on the bike, he wanted to cry.  He thought I was being mean.  I will note this for the next race.  Kind words work much better for Cory.

One of the best parts of the race for me happened between lap 9 and 10 when Mark came into the pit.  He knew he was going to make his 10 lap goal so he took a couple of minutes to grab a few bits of food, some soda and chat.  Before he pulled out of the pit I received a kiss and a thank you.  The day was worth it.  (Come to find out the next day, I should have told him to get back on the dang bike and pedal.  He missed 3rd overall by 2 minutes…the time he used to thank me.)

Beth did an excellent job and met her race goal of 6 laps!!! 
She even came in with time to spare.  Beth you should be very proud.

 Overall it was a wonderful race and everyone did really well.  Heck, I didn’t even attempt to get on a bike so I am proud of everyone who did.

It wasn’t until we were all getting ready to hear the race results that Mark points out to me something is wrong with Bryan Warnock.  I thought Bryan had left a long time ago so I start looking around to find he is hooked up to an IV.  Dang.   I walk over to find out what was wrong to hear that he is dehydrated.  (It was that full bottle he handed to me!)  After letting the EMT know what I had been putting in his bottle he says he is doing much better and not to worry.

All in all it was a pretty successful day.  Only one took a nap, only one cried and only one ended up hooked up to an IV. 

Excellent job Eastside.  Thank you Broken Spoke for the beer and food.