This past weekend, I took a trip up to Big Bear, CA for the inaugural Big Bear 50. According to the race director, it was not Big Bear’s first attempt at an endurance race, but they had not hosted an endurance race for some time. Logistically, it made sense for them to host an endurance race. They are hundreds of miles of trails. Coincidently, the endurance race occurred on the same day of the final race in the Kenda Cup West series. Personally, I had no problems with traffic on the course, but apparently, some of the CAT1 racers were complaining (Note: Some CAT1 racers have heads bigger than the moon and they complain whenever they are not treated like the celebrity pros, which ends up being all the time).
This was my first time racing up in Big Bear, so I really had no idea what to expect. With the XC race going on, I didn’t expect many people to be doing the 50 mile race. Well, apparently, a lot of fast guys decided to do the race. I decided to enter into the age group field instead of the open field. I just don’t feel as if I have the experience, endurance, or speed to ride with the fast guys just yet.
So, I arrived fairly early, so that I would have enough time to check-in, warm-up and do some recon for some family who would be showing up later. I had tried to give them directions to where I though they could park, but they turned out to be completely wrong. So, I spent about 50 minutes warming-up trying to find the course so I could give my family the correct directions. I eventually figured it out, made a last few adjustments, and then headed over to the start area.
The start was fun. It was set-up in the main registration area, where a small expo with some vendors was going on. What made it interesting was that there were a lot of spectators there at the start cheering us racers on as we headed out. We then had a neutral roll out, for about 100 meters. I think it would have been nice if this was extended until we made the right turn onto Club View Rd. and started to really climb. In reality, I am just saying that because I got dropped from the main group instantly and would have liked to have held on a bit longer.
Once the group started to split, I decided to just race my own race. I was probably right in the middle of the field. Before hitting the dirt, I did manage to get by maybe 10 people on the last bit of the road climb. Once onto the dirt, I was able to see a few guys ahead of me. I eventually passed them along the first fire road climb and was passed by Al, also on the Don’s Bike Shop team. He is a very good descender and I tried to hang onto his wheel as long as I could, but he eventually rode away from me. I was then on my own for a bit. I would see another guy just behind me occasionally and got passed by another rider on the single track climb. When we got up the single track climb, we hoped back onto the first climb and were greeted by some of the XC course racers. I passed a bunch of the XC racers, had a couple more fun descents and finally finished lap #1. My time was around 2:13 for the first lap.
When I came through the finish, I got a bit confused by the large crowd. Luckily, the race director was there and he started running after me telling me where to go. I quickly got back on course and was out for lap #2.
I was starting to get really dehydrated by now. I figured the laps would take me around 2:15 to finish, so I had planned on 2 bottles being enough per lap. I was definitely wrong. When lap #2 came around, I almost thought I wouldn’t finish. I didn’t want to just give up, so I came up with a plan to stop and take my chain apart so that I could ride down, say my chain broke, and have a reason for DNFing. I eventually manned up, though, and continued on. I got smart though and realized I had not had enough to drink, so I went through a 20 oz. bottle of water in about 30 minutes. I stopped at every aid station and filled up both of my bottles. I would probably use half of the bottle to drink and half to pour over myself. By this time, it was after noon and the temperatures were in the upper 80s. After passing 2 guys and being passed by another 2 on the second lap, I started to feel better. I rode hard, but conservatively, made sure to get my food and plenty of liquids. When stopping to fill my bottles for the last time, I was passed by a rider that I had been going back and forth with for the entire second lap. We leap frogged at least 5 times and now he was ahead and pulling away with only 7 miles to go.
I tried to keep him in sight, but he seemed to get further away with every turn. Eventually, we turned onto one of the last single track sections. I knew I had to give it all I had. I also knew I had been descending a bit better than he had and most of the race that was left was downhill. So, I pushed as hard as I could on the last few flat to uphill sections. Once we started descending, I quickly caught up to him. He went a little wide around a turn as we got dumped onto the last bit of fire road. I cut in on the inside and got around him. From here on to the end, it was downhill. I continued charging as hard as I could, but being careful enough to not crash. I made it to the end and had put about 90 seconds on the guy.
Overall, I think I sat about 15th in my finishing position, which left me with a 1st place in my age group. I think I was the 3rd placed amateur and with a time of 4:44, it was a hard fight.
I am very pleased with the progress I have been making all year and still continue to make. I am now able to focus on my racing a bit more. Before, I would always be limited by cramping or bonking and I would end up just crawling around the course. Now, I have progressed to where I tend to not cramp any and I rarely bonk (when I can remember to eat). As I think about how far I have come and how much farther I have to go, I can’t help but be excited about the future.