It’s not cyclocross season just yet. It’s still summer and for many of us that means things like MTB races. Everything from short track tests to epic long adventures. Cyclocross Magazine contributor Lee Waldman returned to Bailey, Colorado, for the Bailey Hundito 50-mile MTB race. Check out Waldman’s diary-like race report here.
words by Lee Waldman, images by Linda Guerrette
June 5, 13 days till the Bailey Hundo
I raced the Bailey Hundo 100 mile mountain bike race for the first time in 2013. I loved it then and knew I would be back although iInjuries prevented me from taking part the last two years. Looking back on that first attempt, while I thought I was prepared, in reality I wasn’t. It’s simply not easy to prepare mentally for the demands of a race that long. My saving grace was the long road section that allowed me to recover before some endless finishing climbs. I learned a lot that year about equipment choices, tire pressure and all of the “little things” that, in the end, make a race like Bailey more enjoyable.
This year I’m healthy and hoping to improve on my time. It’s a new course. The extended road section is gone and the race is now over 75% single track. I’ve had a chance to work on my technical skills since that first attempt so this time I’m going in to the race feeling a bit more in tune with the bike.
Bailey was my first, and still my only, 100 mile mountain bike race. I’ve done numerous 50, 60, and 70 mile races, but no other 100s. However, knowing what the demands of a 100 miles are, I planned my build up so that I was prepared, at least in theory. The more riders I talk to in the weeks leading to the event, the more reality hits that this race is a different animal than it was in 2013. I’ve heard estimates that the times will possibly be one to two hours slower this year. I guess it’s time for me to get in the car, drive up to Buff Creek and check it out for myself.
One week and counting till race day
Went out to ride some parts of the new Bailey course yesterday. First, I wanted to see if my technical skills had improved. They have, but the course is really narrow with lots of erosion channels and exposed roots. Given my checkered history with those conditions, it puts just a bit of doubt in my mind. There are really no climbs that I found impossible though. They aren’t easy, but they are doable. The road climb to Wellington Lake is a grind to say the least. I didn’t ride the new Little Scraggly section so I’m not sure what that part of the course will look like.
I’m not sure if I’ll complete the entire course or just pull the plug after the first lap. Quitting anything is always hard. The competitive spirit kicks in even when it’s not the healthiest choice. I’m trying to gather as much information as possible from other riders who have more experience in Buff Creek than I have. Hopefully their wisdom will help me make the right decision. I’ve set some time limits for myself and if I’m outside of them at the turn for the second lap, I’ll likely call it quits then. Will it be easy? No. Will it be the right thing? I’m positive that it will be.
Monday, June 13
Six days until the Hundo. It’s interesting. I’ve talked with a number of riders and received vastly different opinions of how much longer the finish times will be this year. Some people believe the race will be minimally slower, around 45 minutes, than in the past. Others have told me that they expect times two hours slower. None of the riders I’ve spoken with are by any means slow. And all are fit and have the technical skills to ride fast. But the one common theme through everyone’s thoughts is that the course will be slower. I love long days on the bike but thinking about the potential of an 11 or even 12 hour day goes beyond even my definition of “fun.” I’ve started the process of switching my entry to the Hundito, the 50-mile option.
Thursday, June 16
The race is in two days. My body feels surprisingly good considering the fact that I’m really not following my peaking schedule as it’s laid out. Sorry, Ben. I’ve just been having too much fun riding my mountain bike this last week. I’ve rationalized the longer rides by telling myself to keep the intensity down and I think I’ve been successful at that. Am I a bit tired in the mornings? Yep. Are my back and hip a bit sore and stiff? Absolutely. But those seem to be “fixed assets” these days, the result of racing and training for over 35 years. The bottom line is that I feel pretty good on the bike. I’ve been given the ok to switch to the Hundito. Thank you race administrators. Now I’m hoping for a fast ride. I’ll try to keep the intensity down today and tomorrow, I promise.
Friday, June 17/race day tomorrow
The Bailey Lodge, Bailey Colorado. Just got back from the mandatory rider meeting. As I looked around the room, and listened to the rider conversations, I was even more convinced that 50 miles will be just fine tomorrow. Naturally, I’m sitting here trying to ignore my usual pre-race inner voice where I tell myself that everyone is fitter, thinner and more well prepared than I am. The next thought, as usual, is that I’m just going to show up and ride, not race. I know inside that’s not true, but I have to give myself that option. After that I begin to question equipment choice. Should I put on a 28 tooth chainring since I’m running a 1×11 or am I really strong enough for the 30? Camelbak or water bottles in my jersey pockets? Skinsuit or shorts and jersey?
And then I flash back to work I’ve done since my hit and run and near miss with death or paralysis and I remind myself that I’m blessed to be here tonight suffering through all of these doubts. I recall the conversations I’ve had with myself, my wife, and my therapist Kate about what it means to be an athlete. It’s not about winning, it’s about being present and committed. And I gradually let go of the doubts. Tomorrow will be fun.
Saturday, June 18/race day
4 a.m. This race starts at 6 a.m. and that means that my alarm goes off a bit before 4. I need that time to wake my body up, to stretch and loosen up a 66 year-old lower back and hip. It’s also nice to have a few minutes to digest a pre-race breakfast so it’s not sitting at the top of my stomach when the gun goes off. All that taken care of, I pulled in to the finish area parking lot in the dark. The path back to the start wasn’t even visible yet. Twenty-five minutes later I’m on the bike easily pedaling towards the start line, knowing that I needed to find a place to relieve myself. Pre-race nerves!
5:55 a.m. Ready to go. Ready to find out how I measure up to the rest of the field, not only the 60 plus riders.
6 a.m. There’s the shotgun and we’re off. Well almost. Since I’m in the back, it takes me at least a minute to get to the start line. Thank goodness for chip timing. The field stays together for the first few miles which is a combination of asphalt, dirt road, double track and grassy single track. It’s easy to see who the climbers are, even this early in the race because there are no flat sections. We are either climbing or descending.
I’m feeling great on the climbs! Passing people easily and not really breathing hard. I’m surprised, and encouraged. Maybe I have come back from almost three years of struggle and injury. We head on to the first section of single track. I’m still climbing well but, as usual, riding slower than the riders I already passed on the descents. I remind myself that I’m riding with only one eye, having been diagnosed not only with double vision years ago, but currently dealing with a hole in one retina. In essence, I’m a one-eyed rider. Not a problem when I’m going uphill, but disconcerting to say the least when I’m descending. I think if it weren’t for that physical limitation I might actually be good at this!
And that’s the way the race goes. Passing riders on the climbs, getting passed on the curvy single track descents, the ones with the nasty drop offs on either side. It seems as if those trigger my lack of depth perception. I reconcile myself to the fact that this is going to be the pattern. It’s really out of my control. It’s not a lack of desire or preparation, that’s for sure. And I remind myself as I’m pulling over to let a line of riders pass me, that it’s great to be fit enough to climb as well as I am today. Once I’m off the final section of single track and on to the road to Wellington Lake, I know I’m home free.
The way I’m climbing even at this point in the race, I’m still pulling back riders who passed me early on. I get passed twice, but it’s by pro riders who are much younger and stronger than I am. I hit Wellington Lake and my friend Scott Bristol pulls up next to me. “OK, Lee, let’s finish this off,” he says. He’s one of the good descenders who dropped me hours ago. I caught him near the top of the climb to the lake. We ride together for a few minutes and he tells me he’ll see me at the finish. As I’m pulling away I hear him say something to the rider with him to the effect of, “don’t let his age fool you. He’s fast.” Scott, thanks for the compliment. Now, if I could only descent like you do.
The climb from Windy Peak is longer than I remember but the descents make up for it. I just let off the brakes, and enjoy the ride. I pass two more riders, look behind a couple of times and see no one coming up on me and I begin to smile. I’m dancing on the pedals on the short climb up to the finish turn off, smiling the whole way. I cross the line, see my time as just beyond five hours. I’m a bit disappointed there, but hey all in all a good day.
Final result, fourth place in the 60 plus category. I find out that second and third place were less than 3 minutes ahead of me. If I had just ridden through those slower riders on the Shinglemill trail instead of soft pedaling. Or, if I had lined up at the front of the group rather than the back. Or…. Excuses are like noses.
The bottom line is, I made it back to the race in Bailey, I rode well and I’m happy.