GoPro Games XC MTB Race Report
Last year Maija and I headed up to Vail so she could race the doggie 5K at the GoPro Games. We had a great time so we decided to make a small vacation out of this years games so we could both race. The GoPro games are a HUGE event in Vail. Dock-Dog, Kayaking, Climbing, Enduro, Trail Run Racing, XC MTB Racing, and more! I would have to agree with some out there who feel this event has in some ways out grown Vail. I heard there were over 30,000 people at this weekends events. I wonder how this event compares to their most popular ski weekends. With all the events, parties, ETC we decided to stay ten minutes down the road in Avon / Beaver Creek. It was a little quieter and a bit less expensive. This allowed us to stay at the wonderful Westin hotel / resort. This place was amazing and best of all pet friendly! I had never seen so many dogs in a hotel before.
We arrived Thursday afternoon in Vail and it was brutally hot. Close to 85 degrees for Maija and Mickey’s doggie 5K. I’m really not sure why the event would put a 5K at the peak temperature of the day. Especially since the 5K was straight up the ski slope and back down. I was a little worried for Mickey since he tends to overheat fast but we had plenty of water and kept his chest damp beforehand. Maija and Mickey did great taking second overall and first female!
Friday I headed out to pre-ride the XC course. Although I had not done this race, I’m familiar with the trails because I raced the Outlier XC MTB last year. I had a feeling it would go over some of the same loop which it did. Lucky for me by the time I made it out to the course it was already marked. Although its a tough climbing course the views are amazing and once you begin climbing you can barely hear all of the noise from the village.
I arrived at the race about two hours early. Parking was almost full and it was only 9AM. Luckily I was able to get a good spot. I got everything ready and headed into the village to pick up my number. It was in the 70’s outside so I hung out inside the registration building for a while, did some stretching, and just relaxed. Unfortunately my stomach felt terrible and I had to go to the bathroom several times before even warming up. I think I may have eaten a bunch of food that contained gluten the night before. I do not have Celiac disease but more of a gluten intolerance. Over the last year I have gone completely gluten free and it has helped both my GI system as well as help my dry skin issues. In general I feel much better eating this way. One issue is making sure everything you eat does not contain gluten. This is easy when you shop at the store but when you order from restaurants items may not always be gluten free. Even if the person taking your order says so. Especially when you order from places that do not have gluten free specific menus or international restaurants who may not be up to speed on this type of meal preparation. It doesn’t happen often but when I’ve been exposed to gluten filled proteins I become quite nauseous and my body wants nothing more than to get rid of the food as quickly as possible. It usually leaves me feeling weak, grumpy, and nutrient depleted. This is probably why my stomach turned upside down. I tried to make the most of the situation by sipping electrolytes but I felt fatigued from the whole ordeal.
For my warm up I rode up the ski-slope fire road until it dropped me down into this incredible neighborhood filled with mansions and shaded streets which ran parallel and above the Vail village. I then stopped by the Vail Village to check out the start and headed back out for a few more miles. My start time was 11:45AM and it was close to 80 degrees. This is pretty hot for Vail which sits at approx 8,000ft above sea level. The sun is intense at this temperature and it was sapping my energy.
I entered the Expert category thinking this would be the best group to race with based on my experience. The race started off on this short steep paved road, through a small single-track section and then began climbing on the ski-slope fire roads. When the whistle blew I don’t know what came over me but I quickly jumped into the lead and the group fell in behind me as I pushed hard up the hill. At the top I first looked down at my computer (184BPM) and then I looked behind me to see 3–4 riders quickly catching me. I was actually relieved I had some riders with me. Climbs like this, I would normally want nothing more than to ride alone at my own pace but I wasn’t feeling good and overheating fast so I desperately wanted someone else to take the lead and set the pace. The first rider set a tempo that was above any type of comfort level I could sustain and everyone else was content to let him go. He rode with confidence as he proceeded to gain more time on us. I settled in behind a rider in a School of Mines jersey but about half way up the climb he started to pull away. It seemed as if he was hell bent on catching the leader. I wasn’t feeling good so I let him go. Another rider from the Avout MTB Team came flying by me on the short fire-road descent. My lungs were burning, my legs felt heavy, and my energy was quickly disappearing from my body. I simply wasn’t having a good day.
Now, of course I could have gone out a bit easier and that would have helped my situation but sometimes my excitement gets the best of me. Normally on long alpine climbs I’m in my element and feel comfortable but today wasn’t meant to be. I figured I better slow down allow my body to ride at a more realistic pace.
At the top of the climb I was actually excited for the downhill. It was a good change of pace and allowed my other cycling senses to kick in while giving my legs a short break. This downhill section was SUPER fun! Fast flowing alpine single-track through rows of Aspens was an amazing sight. Right before the single-track descent I caught a single-speed rider. He was slowing grinding his way to the top and made it to the downhill single-track section before I could. I followed his wheel for a while and he was taking a good clean line but I actually felt myself having to slow down more than I normally would while behind him. We caught up to another rider and I knew this was my chance to make a pass. He let me go in front of him with words of encouragement and I never saw him again.
After a nice fun downhill section the single-track spits you out onto a fire-road for a very steep and short climb before heading back into single-track. The next downhill section was by one of my most exciting experiences on a mountain bike. Not because of the trail but because of the crowds. There were dozens of people standing on the sides of this narrow single-track cheering for everyone. It was a good feeling and nothing that I had ever witnessed during a bike race. Spectators lining the trail, People with GoPro’s or video cameras, photographers taking shots from different angles. It was a cool experience for sure. This actually brought me back to life a bit as my legs had a nice recovery, and my body cooled off a bit from going downhill.
Entering the second lap I started to catch the School of Mines rider. At first it was tough to catch him as he seemed to pick it up once I was close. After 5 minutes or so I was on his wheel but I wanted to pass quickly and be on my own again. I was feeling good and much better than the first lap. I figured if I passed him and it looked as if I was feeling great he may become demoralized to stay with me. It wasn’t that I was out to beat this rider specifically but I wanted to capitalize on every advantage I could whether physically or psychologically. I wasn’t sure what place I was in but knew it was the top 2–5 in my category. I kept a steady tempo and got ready for the downhill portion. Things were going good but I could sense body tightening up and “feeling” the rocks, roots, and bumps in the trail more than the second lap. “What was going on?” I thought to myself. My upper body started to fatigue and I couldn’t take some of the downhill sections as fast as the pervious lap. The descent was smooth compared to say that of the Growler race a few weeks ago but my body was fighting against the tide of the trail.
Coming through the start finish I dropped down another short single-track section and began to climb for my third and final time. This is where everything went from okay to completely horrible. As soon as I started climbing my legs felt very heavy, my energy seemed to be at an all time low, and I could feel my body temperature creeping up towards where the Red Flag starts to wave. I tried to stay positive and ride a steady pace but it was not working. I took my last gel, poured some water over my head, still nothing. After about 10–15 minutes of climbing the School of Mines rider plus two other riders in my category passed me. I was riding at a snails pace compared to their speed. This didn’t make me feel good either. The next section had some shaded uphill single-track but my body was shutting down. I was in my easiest gear (46x32) and was having trouble keeping the bike upright and in a steady line. I looked down and my heart rate was in the mid 170’s. It didn’t make sense. How could I be riding so slow yet my HR was so high! I knew I had to drastically slow my pace or I wouldn’t make it to the top of the climb.
There were these small little spots with water run-off and I thought about stopping and putting my head under. Thinking back on it, I should have stopped because the rest of the climb was miserable.
To put things in perspective here are my three times up the climb each lap:
GoPro Games Climb / 4 miles
Lap 1: 27:19
Lap 2: 28:55
Lap 3: 33:58
GoPro Games Full Lap Times:
Lap 1: 39:52
Lap 2: 41:20
Lap 3: 47:43 (OUCH!)
At the top of the climb on the third loop I had no water left. Luckily the majority of the course from here was downhill. I was really dizzy and it was hard to hold any type of steady line going downhill. I just let gravity do most of the work and tried not to crash or fall off the mountain. The trail had an eerie silence to it. Mostly all the spectators headed to the start / finish area so the trail was quiet once again. I crossed the finish line with a time of 2 hours 11 minutes for 8th place. I’m happy I was able to stay in the top ten but obviously disappointed for not making the top 5 which was my initial goal.
With the suffering over I headed back to the hotel and spent the remainder of the night laying around on the couch while Maija yelled at me to drink more electrolytes. What a great wife I have!
On Sunday I watched Maija race the GoPro Games Trail 10K race which was a brutal mountain course. She crushed it with a 9th place finish against some of the best trail women in the country.