St. Kevin's Climb
Once on dirt, the first real climb begins up Saint Kevin's (pronounced Kēv-ins). Here, less than hour into a long day, riders are jockeying for position and some of them allow adrenaline and aggression to rule decision making. There are crashes on this climb, but it is likely overdrawn energy-bank accounts that take the highest toll. For most overdrafts, the penalty, with interest, is collected later in the day.
The next challenging climb is around 13 miles into the day, up and over Sugarloaf Pass. Riders can be heard huffing and puffing, riding a sustained effort at lactate threshold intensity or above. They are racing this five-mile climb, early in the event at an effort reserved for events lasting far less than seven to 12 hours. More overdrafts are noted.
The descent after the Sugarloaf climb is known as "Powerline." It's steep, there are loose sections and it usually boasts deep ruts created by heavy mountain rains. Powerline not only takes riders out of the game on race day, but it slams riders into the dirt and rocks in the few weeks prior to race day. Some of these pre-ride injuries are not-so-gentle warnings, while other tumbles exact a race-ending toll well before the start gun is fired.
The first full aid station on race day comes shortly after the Powerline descent and is known as Pipeline. Pipeline is the first time crews can meet their riders and riders without crews can pick-up drop bags. There is a relatively short distance to the second full aid station at Twin Lakes, where riders can again have crew support or race-supported drop bags. Riders must be through the Twin Lakes aid station on their first pass at 40 miles, in less than four hours of racing time or by 10:30 am.
From Twin Lakes, at roughly 9,400 feet, riders climb to the Columbine Mine aid station boasting an altitude of 12,600 feet. Just outside of the Twin Lakes aid station is where the last riders starting the climb see the lead riders already on their way back. The lead riders, so enthused about this event, shout words of encouragement to slower riders.
Columbine Mine Climb
The ten-mile climb to Columbine Mine, and subsequent descent, is the fifth area to cause riders heartache. Obviously, climbing 3,200 feet in roughly eight miles on a rocky road, where the oxygen concentration is quite low, can cause problems. Additionally, weather can be a serious factor at this altitude. Add a low endurance base; early race pacing, fueling and hydration errors to the mix; and riders find themselves "in a bit of a bother," as Phil Liggett would say. Some early racing overdrafts are collected here.
After descending the Columbine Mine climb, the second cut-off time comes at the second pass through the Twin Lakes aid station. Riders must be through the 60-mile check point by 2:30 pm or an elapsed time of eight hours. From that last cut-off, riders have four hours to get themselves to the finish line. Within these four hours, on an out-and-back course, what went down early in the race is now up. The hike-a-bike grind back up the Powerline section of the course can break a tired rider's spirit. By now, even the smallest successes must be celebrated to push out the mental demons, eager to take over the mind with whispers of negative self-talk.
Although 37 percent of the athletes that send in entry fees in January didn't cross the finish line under 12 hours, 63 percent successfully finished. In 2005 the lead male rider, Dave Wiens, finished the event in 7:17. The lead female, Joan Miller was at 8:51. The top single-speed male, Todd Scott, was 8:59:54 and single-speed female, Kara Durland was at 11:12:43. This year marked the first time a female over the young age of 60, Wendy Skean, has finished the race within the cut-off time at 11:24:36. The top tandem racers, Mark and Serena Warner, scored a 9:36:23. Pulling up the rear, the last ass up the pass at 11:59:55 was me.
If you're aiming to finish this event under 12 hours, I would not recommend the five-second-buffer method since the last few miles can be a bit tense. Whether you are looking to complete or compete at this, or other similar ultra-distance events, there are ten key elements to consider in your training and racing. Those topics will be covered next month.