Still learning

This marks the first year I’ve transitioned to focusing on enduro rather than endurance events. Not that there isn’t an element of endurance in enduro, but there’s a whole different level of skill and type of fitness required. This is also my first year ever attempting to come back from injury. The transition from both has been more challenging than expected.

EnduroX

4th overall in Men 30-39

 

 

Three months, four races

Snowmass
June marked the first enduro race just a couple weeks after coming out of a cast. My hand was stiff, weak and holding me back more than I knew. I rode tentative as I didn’t want to have another injury after being laid up the last several months. This was my first time in Snowmass so I didn’t know what to expect from the trails. I certainly didn’t expect to see 2″ of moon dust on every berm. 

The course was incredibly dry and dusty, but also filled with gorgeous wildflowers. The stages were a mix of bike park runs and back country trails with the majority being narrow XC trails. The experience was great and I had a wonderful time with my teammates and friends even though my performance was dire.

Enduro-X #1
The Enduro-X series is held at Steamboat Mountain Resort’s bike park. It includes a mix of both fast, flowy, bermed bike park trails and narrow trailrides. It’s also one of the few that have a very good mix of both pedally stages and gnar – ergo, it tests both your fitness and skills. I thoroughly love the trails there.

Unfortunately, by mid July my fitness still was not up to par. I never found my legs for the pedaling stages. Sure, it was hot but I just felt like a slug and didn’t feel like I could turn over the cranks.

CFF
The Colorado Freeride Festival (CFF)l is one stop on the Enduro World Series. These are the best racers in the world traveling all over to compete in some gnarly stages. The race is held at the Trestle Bike Park in Winter Park, Colorado. I’ve ridden here quite a few times but never raced here. We didn’t have a huge amount of pedaling stages, but we did ride all of the gnarliest trails in the park.

Competition was stiff, the number of racers was high, and organization was a bit chaotic. The organizers included some lesser used trails which were a mix of rough and loose unconsolidated soil, and some XC-ish tight twisty tracks through the trees. The last stage of the three day race was exactly the same course as the downhill state championship course.We did the roughest part of this track twice. On the first day I crashed here hard enough that I actually came out of my shoe. Really, it was odd. My shoe was still on the bike and I was in a pile with a sock on. The scratch I got on my shin below my pads turned out to be two pretty deep holes that took a few weeks to heal.

Enduro-X #2
Three weeks after the CFF I participated in the second and final weekend of the Enduro-X series. I had a bit more company this time as my girlfriend and another teammate of mine decided to race. The stages were similar to the first race in July, but they were different enough that I could not do a direct comparison on Strava. I felt like I was riding much better and stronger than I had in the July race, but results simply weren’t there. Stage three was the longest stage and probably where I felt best overall. Unfortunately, I had a bee stuck in my helmet at one point. The little bugger would not stop stinging me which led to a little crash and a freaky fast tearing off of my helmet. In the end the best I managed for each stage was still the bottom 25%. I was pretty shocked to hear my name called for fourth place winner in the series. Clearly there were only four people in my age category who participated in all four days of racing. Showing up is half the battle.

 

Hindsight

For all the bad press it gets, I credit Strava with actually helping boost my motivation. While I couldn’t directly compare my results with past races (the actual courses were different) I could compare my time in some segments. There are several PRs over the weekend I did the second Enduro-X. In at least one segment I was 1.8 mph faster than I was a month prior. That’s a pretty big gain over a short distance. I’ve seen this in the other races – my personal times are better, but my race results are still poor. Right now I may not measure up well in competition, but I know I’m definitely improving.

So what happened?

Fitness
I was out and not riding for most of the winter and Spring from injury. My first ride on singletrack wasn’t till May 31st, which was only 2.5 months ago. In addition, I did not see a PT for my hand until mid-July (after the CFF). It was there I learned that both my hand strength and mobility were measured at only 45% of what my good hand could produce! Yikes. After just a few weeks of specific exercises I have made tremendous gains.

Another thing that’s just beginning to help is the XC bike. I’ve spent a bunch of time on the trail bike and some on the downhill bike, but did not have an XC bike. I finally got one built up just after the CFF and promptly started doing some longer rides again. I really think this has begun to help me spin my legs and maintain the ability to pedal on the longer stages found in some of the races.

Head games 
It’s extremely hard to quantify just how and where one’s head is at. I know I was very timid when I first got back on the bike. I was gun shy to say the least. There were obstacles that I had cleared easily which I initially walked. I really needed to get more mileage to clear out the cobwebs and get past thinking about avoiding crashing and instead think about riding well. Which brings me to the next point.

Baby steps
When I line up at the enduro races I’m in an age  category. I see the other racers who are in my category. Some look like me, some have different bikes, some are in better or worse shape. When I see the results I keep asking, “What are they doing different?”

I’ve heard it more and more lately, it just takes a certain amount of time and experience to get used to riding at speed, and that when you’re doing it well it won’t actually seem fast. I’m not there. Right now most of my runs feel damn fast and at times on the edge of control. When I talk to those other riders in my category, it seems that many of them have been riding for ten years or more. even if they haven’t been competitive that entire time, ten years of experience riding technical trails at speed adds up quickly.

Reviewing my own results is far better and healthier than comparing my results to that of others who have many more years of experience. If I keep getting PRs where I go 1+ MPH faster than I’ll be far happier quickly. Below is a local technical descent. Short of those rides I did casually with others you can see huge gains in the last two years.

progress

 

I’m no expert

My cycling career has been relatively brief; 2014 marks my fourth season riding riding.

  • 2011 – I began riding with the goal of completing the High Cascades 100.
  • 2012 – I actually learned something about fitness training and was very pleased at my results in the Dirty Kanza 200.
  • 2013 – I began to gain a few skills after taking a 3 day clinic and an advanced 1 day. I got a bigger bike and tried a couple of enduro races and a little bike park riding. Despite the injury I sustained it was a ton of fun.

This year I had decided to focus primarily on enduro. With a Mid March injury, surgery, and several weeks in a cast, I began riding late in the year and well behind the fitness curve. Results may not be what I wanted, but it doesn’t mean I’m out. I still keep learning and improving. There is an enormous variety in cycling and I’ve seen benefits from every aspect.

Next up in two short weeks is the Crested Butte Ultra Enduro. It’s the first 5 day enduro stage race in North America. We’re told to expect 28 miles a day, with ~5300′ of climbing and ~6300′ of descending. I’m not prepared, but it doesn’t matter. It’s going to be an amazing and fantastic experience that I’m looking forward to. If I waited till I was 100% ready for anything I would do nothing.

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