The best way I can describe the feeling of San Marcos on Saturday morning is by giving some insight into the start. After everyone had settled down and Dave Towle finished the call ups we paused for the national anthem. It started, but quickly stopped because of a speaker error…without skipping a beat the entire start line started singing until the end and kicked off the race without a bang, but with a feeling of companionship and the start of an epic adventure together.
The last two editions, I left a bit dismayed. I always thought this race was great for me, coming from a road background and having worked on my mountain bike skills over the past 2 years, since it takes both of those together to make this race go well. In 2019, I flatted 11 miles in, in 2021, I flatted with 20 miles to go. So, I wanted to take this race into my own hands as early as I could, and force people to be better than me if they were, and if something went wrong, I wanted to have enough time to fix it and keep moving.
I knew if I just focused on what I can do; and over 200 kilometers, that means eating and drinking appropriately, it means being relaxed and not stressed and knowing when to close gaps and when to let things go. It’s a game of saving energy and saving calories, and I think I was best at that on Saturday.
The course was 136 miles long with 11,500 feet of climbing and plenty of sharp rocks to make your day less fun. After making it into the first dirt section in the top 10 I focused on eating and drinking more than I needed knowing I would be asking my body for more than I should very soon after. About two hours or so in, we hit Black Canyon, which is the big climb at the far end of the course. I went to the front in a group of 20 or so and rode a hard tempo, by the top the group had been whittled down quite a bit going into the big descent that everyone calls the truck trail. This road would have been much more fun on a hardtail or full suspension mountain bike – but road bikes would do! For the next 20 minutes or so we maneuvered our way down the” jeep” forest road while puckering and holding our breath when we hit rough sections. At the bottom, Alex Howes, Griffin Easter and I found ourselves with a bunch of cross and mountain bike racers in a group of 7 with about 3.5 hours to race home.
The group containing, me, Alex, Griffin, Matt Beers, Sandy Floren, Eric Brunner and Lance Haidet had some motivation seeing the gap and started rotating as the miles ticked down. With 50ish miles to go we hit the Sandy Bandy dirt section on the way back. It is a bit deceiving because it is slightly uphill and one of the easier sections, but it is quite long and ends with a bang as you are forced to dismount, limbo under a metal gate and then ride up a 20% climb for 3ish minutes. This is where I had attacked in 2021, Pete came with me then…now I wanted to try again and see who was still feeling spry with under 2 hours to race.
I slid under the gate with Eric close behind and immediately got on the pedals after clipping in. I punched it hard and then settled into a pace I thought I could hold to the top. I looked back after about 10 seconds and saw a big gap and everyone sitting down, I looked back once more 10 seconds after that to see Alex clawing his way back to my wheel. We reached the top and ripped back down towards dirt as we wound our way towards the lake hodges section which ended my chances of winning in 2021. Alex was hurting a little bit, but was kind enough to pull through and emotionally support me on our journey back into San Marcos.
With about 15 miles to go Alex came off the wheel going back up Del Dios HWY. I was sad, but also knew exactly what I had to do now. I had a stiff headwind for the next 7 miles and I focused on holding speed where I could and relaxing, eating, drinking when I got small descents.
As I entered Elfin Forest (the 2nd to last dirt section with 10 miles to go), I focused on each little rock that could mess up a perfect day. Once through I had 4ish miles of climbing all the way up to the top of Double Peak! It was nice to be around people again and hear the cheers as I neared the top and made it through the 19% grades without tipping over!
As you come over the top, it is an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. It is a speedy fast asphalt descent for ½ a mile before hitting the last dirt section and descending into the finish. I kept telling myself be safe, be light, be careful, but about halfway down the dirt I collided with a runner. I had a bit of a yard sale, picked up my Wahoo, Glasses and checked to make sure everyone was okay before jumping back on the bike. I had held off cramps until this point, but this was the breaking point. I pushed through to get to the road and then just stood up for the entire decent into the start finish. I switched my computer to distance remaining and just watched the numbers satisfyingly tick down as I started to hear Dave’s voice again over the speakers. I came across the line alone, elated, ending with a hard dusty high five from Michael Marckx the creator of this event.
After sitting down and chatting about how the race went, I took in the next hour of friends crossing the line, each with their own battle story. The adventure we had all started together 7 hours earlier would leave lasting memories for years to come. I cannot wait to come back.