by Amy Dombroski
When I received the race email from Rocky Mountain Endurance about the Snake River Mountain Challenge boasting a closed Keystone Mountain just for the mountain bike race, I decided I had to be there. That, in addition to the fact that I was sick of riding skinny tires in sweltering Boulder heat… Somehow the 9,300′ start line with 3,400′ of climbing didn’t fully register.
I had raced a couple Rocky Mountain Endurance races in the past and they were always a class act, run smoothly and more of a festival than just a ‘show up, race and leave’ sort of race. Registration is money well spent because these race promoters have made their events a well-oiled machine. A unique aspect of RME’s approach to their race series is offering various distance races. Instead of your class (Pro, Cat 1, 2 etc.) determining the length of race, the racer gets to choose how much punishment they take: Marathon, Half-Marathon, Cross-Country, Half-Cross Country. In my case I am happy I chose the Half Marathon because two laps of Snake River was plenty punishing!
The race started at the base of the gondola and had a neutral start through Keystone village. Quickly we hit the looming alpine slopes and the course relentlessly climbed for 1,500′. There was a brief respite in a fun descent at this half way point before the mountain urged us up up up another 1,500′. But instead of cruising back down the mountain here, another undulating loop was added on just to make us hurt a little bit more. But then it went down, all the way down on a descent that had me grinning with glee it was so fast and fun and flowy.
But I certainly wasn’t grinning all race long. Oh no, because that first climb on that first lap was brutal. I was out-climbed, riders just kept on pedaling by me and I had no response. I had one speed and couldn’t get out of the funk. That first lap was a real slog and my chimp was getting angry because I was getting my butt kicked and I was suffering and I wasn’t having any fun. I felt like I was in survival mode and I really wasn’t sure I could make it around a second lap! I grudgingly watched the feet tick away on my SRM and let out a gasp of relief when I saw 3,399′ tick to 3,400′ and the trail began cresting downhill. A couple more pedal strokes and I was cruising with little effort down the mountain; a flip switched and my frown and discouragement dissipated.
As I neared the base of Keystone it would have been easy to bail but the descent was so bloody fun that I needed to do it again, but this time faster. Lo and behold, one of the girls who rubbed salt into my climbing legs on that first lap was just ahead. Some new energy surfaced, the climbing still hurt a thousand lashes but I got through it maintaining a new-found rhythm. I watched the altitude click by again on the SRM and as I neared the summit, I passed a guy who said that the first place woman had passed him one or two minutes prior. Where that fresh energy came from, I don’t know, I really didn’t think it was there in my lead legs. But I sailed through the undulating loop at the top of the mountain and on the very final climb there was a couple watching and they said, “She’s right ahead!”
With my head buried somewhere else I gasped, “How much time?”
Err… “20 seconds?”
My eyes sprung forward and I saw a ponytail bobbing just up the trail. She crested the climb not too far ahead of me and I took a deep exhale and told myself to charge the downhill. That is where I won the race. My legs were crummy but I kept my head on; every pedal stroke was an effort and I never found that effortless fluidity that I ride for. But I kept pedaling and I loved that descent. I guess that’s what ski lifts are for.
The race had a plethora of helpful volunteers cutting up fruit and post-race yummies. Then a delicious pulled pork lunch, followed by a band playing then awards. Absolutely a brilliant event: Thank you, Rocky Mountain Endurance!
Next up is another mountain bike race I cherish: Firecracker 50 in Breckenridge. Since I began bike racing, I have missed this race only once and I look forward to returning this year.