Having a race like this weekend’s Firecracker 50 (52 this year) has been running through my mind for years. That feeling of putting in the work, believing in yourself, and keeping it all together until the finish – with a few wavering dips in and out of the suffer tank, I did it! Every race has a story… here’s mine.
First of all, the back story of why this race is so special to me goes back to one of my very first mountain bike races and probably 10th time on a mountain bike, ever. Six years ago I drove over to Keystone to pre ride another, smaller Maverick Sports Promotions XC race, Tour de Trash. I finished riding/crashing/riding the course around dusk and was left with nothing but fear, feeling out of place, inadequate and flat out not ready. The race director, Jeff Westcott was putting the final touches on the course and persuaded me to just give it a shot. The next day, my naive self shook off the jitters, locked on my camel bak, and lined up. Through a few crashes I walked away with my first win and the confidence to keep trying this whole mountain bike racing journey. I owe a lot to my friends and Jeff who helped me get over that first step. Flash forward to this weekend’s Maverick Sports Promotions race, The Firecracker 50 – a completely different person than the young, inexperienced girl 6 years ago, ready and excited to take on this challenging course.
This race was most definitely an “A” race for me – 50 miles, 7,000ft of climbing on rugged roads and trails between 9,500-11,200ft. With the help of my coach Lynda Wallenfels, my fitness and head was right where it needed to be. However, leading up to this weekend was a scramble figuring out some recent, worsening breathing issues. I prioritized getting it under control, having a plan, and stuck to it – happily, I have had zero attacks since incorporating a handful of tricks keeping it under control until I can get in with a specialist. It’s truly amazing seeing how many people want to help you reach your potential – feeling that support has been extra motivating.
My body was ready, now it was all about choosing the gear for the day. The questions that run through most racers heads are, full suspension? hard tail? gearing? tire choice? – having a Flat-tire 50 last year, I went the extra mile with the help of High Gear Cycling to be sure my gear was running in top condition. I chose my BH Bikes Ultimate Hardtail, XX1 28T, Continental 2.2 XKing tire in front and 2.2 Race King in the rear – both with sidewall protection. Contact points – I went with the Ergon Bike GE1 Slims, SMR3 saddle, and HX2 gloves. It’s been a dream getting to ride on top notch gear that I have 100% confidence in.
With the recent course changes, I was predicting a 4:30-4:45 race. The tag line of this race is, “go light, go long”. I did just that – I started with enough food to get me through a lap and picked up a bottle at every aid station, alternating between OSMO/OSMO’like hydration and water. Friends from Japan were in town and offered help through the lap transitions. Getting a bottle of Osmo and encouragement from Saya & Yuki give me an extra kick in the pants.
With all the prep behind me, there was only one thing left to do, the fun part – RACE BIKES! I try really hard not to focus on who else is racing – I find it wasted energy, really. The only person you can control is yourself – especially a race of this length and difficulty. ANYTHING can happen at any time.
It was within the first climb that the women’s field was sorted. Larissa Connors, an amazing talent, on the steps of most national Pro XCT battles was off on her own within the first surge of the lead men’s group. Feeling myself maybe pushing the pace a little too much for what was on tap for the day, I fell back, Jenny Smith passed me and I quickly positioned within a couple men who were keeping a steady pace. At this point, Jenny’s pink jersey was my target. She was alone. Knowing I had an advantage saving energy within the group I bypassed the first aid station and put in an effort to get into the single track first. Excited to be feeling good, I kept a steady push over the next few false flat kicks. Staying calm, steady, and ready to rail some trail!
Trying not to look over my shoulder, I kept focussed ahead – making up some time on the descents and keeping a good pace to Little French. There is nothing about the Little French climb that is appealing. It’s loose, steep, high altitude, and even so much as a breeze can throw you off pushing your bike up. With encouragement of a few male racers, I cleared Little French for the first time in a race! (I paid for that later) – and kept trucking along.
This is where the “I wonder where Jenny is” feeling settled in. This feeling stayed with me all the way to the finish line. I was so bummed to hear that she wasn’t feeling well with lingering head injury symptoms, and had to pull out of the race. Getting to race with talent like hers only makes you better.
Rounding my way to the second lap, I had to scale it back… maybe too far back. I was afraid of pushing too much and fading – instead, I seemingly just faded into a slightly slower, yet steady pace. Reaching Little French for the second time did me in… I was off far sooner than I have ever been, feeling like I was crawling my way up. One foot in front of the other I kept singletrack thoughts in my mind and got on and off my bike until I was able to cross the little creek and get back to the flume.
I knew I was almost done, but needed a kick in the pants to push harder. Luckily, a lot of the categories were mixed up by now and I had a few friends give me moments of spark. As they’d come along, I would try to keep up – then fall back… and surprisingly moments of trying to keep up, and then staying ahead!
At this point, everything hurt… every rise, every pebble, everything. Thoughts of friends voices came through my head saying, “Keep pushing through the finish”… and I did just that.
I had done it! After 52 miles, 7,000 ft of climbing… I came across the line in 4:38 2nd Pro Female! Ecstatic, exhausted, elated, delirious… you name it, I had every emotion throwing a party through every single cell of my body.
A short 7 minutes later, friend, endurance hammer and local Summit County athlete Marlee Dixon came across the line – 3rd Place Pro Female.
Although, it may look like I’m about to pull Marlee in for a wet, slobbery kiss… I was really just so stoked for her great race as well! That’s the beautiful thing about our community of female endurance athletes – sharing moments like this.
I may not have been even close to Larissa’s pace for the day – but I sure scored with the podium love from race director Jeff Westcott.
Kudos to everyone who works so hard on putting this race together! I have gotten to know this group fairly well over the years, and it makes standing on the second step feel that much more special.
Now – a couple days later… I’m still thrashed – an endorphin crash, really. My body is feeling ok, but general mood is just a little ho-hum. I’ve noticed over the past couple years that after moments of intense highs, comes a day or two of feeling a little less than awesome. It’ll pass – and I’ll be onto working towards my next adventure!
Thanks for sticking along for the long haul of this post – it’s been awhile coming, and it feels oh so good!