Ebin's first Enduro Race
My first Enduro:
For the past 6 years I have been watching hundreds of people finish an Enduro Mountain Bike Race with ear to ear grins raving about how much fun they had. I’ve listened to their stories, been there to bandage up the injuries and cheered them on each step of the way. Every year I tell myself “next year I’m going to compete in one of these races” and each year life has other plans. Finally, in 2017 I decided to put an end to the excuses, man-up and take on a race! I had no expectations of winning a race like this, I really just wanted to experience it. I wanted to have fun and not break my bike or my body. Mission accomplished, I had a blast and can’t wait to do another race next year - plus, nothing broke!
Choosing a race can be tough, there are so many options and all of them are well managed with amazing trail selection. I’ve been riding for several years and have been fortunate to learn from many greats. That being said, I knew my biggest limitation was going to be a tremendous lack of fitness. Although I committed myself to racing I failed to really invest the proper time increasing my strength, balance, cardio and overall fitness. I knew this was going to be my biggest hurdle. Knowing that my fitness was going to be a major limitation, a multi-day race or one with thousands of backcountry climbs was not an option. This meant I had to choose a lift serviced race. That means I had choices of Angel Fire, Keystone, Winter Park or Powderhorn here in Colorado. I’ve never ridden at any of these locations but have always heard how amazing they all are. Considering all of the variables, including my schedule, the Winter Park Big Mountain Enduro (BME) was a perfect fit. Not only does BME run a tight ship but they always choose fun trails!
Now, if by some chance you ride bikes and don’t know what “Enduro” means I’ll sum it up for you. An Enduro Race essentially means you are timed on downhill trails that range from 2-5 miles long with a descent of >1000 feet. Racers descend in 30-60 second intervals, that means there is someone relatively close behind you! Each timed downhill descent is referred to as a “Stage” with each day consisting of 2-5 Stages. You are off the clock on your “transfers” - the pedal portions that move you from Stage to Stage. These Transfers can be big with loads of elevation gain and miles to travel. This is why I choose a lift serviced event, thinking my lack of physical conditioning would benefit with less pedal transfers. Oddly enough, before this race I would have told you that a lift serviced Enduro race was not a true Enduro. BME has shown me that is not the case at Winter Park!
Having never put rubber on the dirt at Winter Park I made sure I had time to arrive on site 1 day early for some practice runs. I really like how BME does not release the race stages until a few day’s before the race. It is my personal opinion that racing a trail blind or with very little practice, is a true test of one’s riding skills. The Winter Park Big Mountain Enduro was slated to have 4 Stages. Sadly, due to rain the day before race day, I was only able to pre-ride 2 of them. Lucky for me I was camped at a central spot with lots of other athletes who had knowledge of Stage 3 and 4. After hearing their feedback, comments and suggestions I felt oddly confident and at ease going into race day. Some car camping neighbors helped my dial in my suspension and I felt as prepared as I could be. That night I had time to reflect on one of the biggest draws to Enduro Racing - the people! I’ve worked for and witnessed so many different types of races; Ultra trail running, Endurance MTB, Triathlons, Marathons, etc… Through all of my personal experiences, Enduro events are always the most social, encouraging and friendly. (Not to say that other disciplines aren't the same, I’ve met some really great people at all races).
After a hearty dinner and robust breakfast I felt ready for the day. My start time wasn't until 9 am, which was very nice since I’m not a morning person! Stage 1 and 2 would require no pedaling to move between them since they both started within earshot of the Chair Lift. Stage 1 was my favorite for the day, Search and Seizure. Plenty of line choices with some fun park features that weren't too huge for my comfort level, it was fast and flowy. Still, I was amazed at how physically demanding it was. I pre-rode this trail the day before, not at race pace and was not prepared for how tired that would make me. I had two falls and was passed by several people, I should have pushed a little harder to be the very last one to race in my age group. I felt a little bad for any delays I may have caused to those guys passing me but I was happy that my falls weren't anything serious. By the time I finished Stage 1 I knew it was going to be a long day and my lack of commitment to training was going to really make me pay. Luckily I got to hop on the Chair Lift and recover a bit. I also got to talk strategy with another racer which was very helpful. This was a perfect time to chomp on my favorite Honey Stinger gels, the caffeinated chocolate. Stage 2, Trestle Downhill, was a beast that ate me for breakfast! The first half was fun with good flow and safe line selection but it quickly became more physically and technically demanding than I was ready for at race speeds. After pre-riding this trail I knew it would be tougher than Stage 1 but actually racing and not just practicing seem to be very different for me.
Another ride on the chair lift took me to the start of a pedal transfer to Stage 3, Mountain Goat. The transfer was not too long but the fatigue was definitely becoming an issue. The pedal was only a few miles with not much of a climb but it felt like more than it was. Luckily it was fun singletrack with great views. Friends told me this was going to be a challenging stage, they were so right! On a fresh pair of legs and with a few practice runs this would have been a lot more fun for me. Fortunately I didn't have any falls, at this point I adopted the strategy of trying to ride “clean”, meaning a tad slower with less risk of falling and losing more time. Finishing the stage with an all out sprinting two track was a blast! My Gform knee pads really gave me the confidence I needed to let loose on this open stretch. Then the gut punch, a long pedal with steady climbing up to Stage 4, Eye to Eye. By the time I reached the start I was wrecked. This stage was not grossly technical but it was just enough to make me work. For most of this stage I could hardly stand over my bike. Despite the suffering the excitement of finishing was amazing! Finishing stage 4 meant a few miles back to the event HQ, a perfect chance to relax and bask in the happiness of completing such a fun race!
Despite the panting and frequent frustrations along the way I could not have been happier! I went into the day with the goals of; 1) Have Fun 2) Don’t Break the Bike or Body and 3)Finish - never give up. I accomplished all of my goals! Along the way I reminded myself of these goals and thought of all my teamEMS teammates who had persevered through so much more - they were a huge motivation to me. Of course, things were also made possible thanks to our great gear from GForm, Honey Stinger and Point6! Props to the crew at BME for putting on a great race and tons of thanks to racers both at the race and who sent encouraging messages that morning! Next year I’ll be looking to take at least one other race and will work much harder to train better with an added goal of finishing better than 11th of 15.