I was recently talked into racing in the Firecracker 50 mountain bike race in Breckenridge, Colorado on Independence Day. I was told I would get a fabulous pair of Woolie Boolie socks AND get to ride my bike in the town parade. Then, if I didn’t get to the cutoff point in time, I’d be sent down the mountain with a beer! Having never ridden my mountain bike for more than 27 or so miles, I was a little concerned about my ability to actually ride the entire 50 miles (that’s what the 50 in Firecracker 50 represents). But, I was really excited about the socks, parade, and potential for a beer hand up. Besides, I can’t think of a better way to start Independence Day then spending a few hours on the mountain bike.
Terry and I arrived early in Breckenridge on race day. We went to the race headquarters and picked up socks, t-shirts (bonus!), and race numbers. Then we returned to the car to suit up and warm up our legs for the race. The race would be two 25 mile laps with ~4,000 feet of climbing per lap. My goal was to make it to the aid station before the cutoff time so I would at least have the option to ride the entire second lap, if I thought I was able to do so.
We lined up on Main Street by category; as a sport woman racer, I found myself in the back as usual. When the whistle blew, I took off up Main Street with about 15 other women in my category. I rode as far as possible to the left so that I could hold out my hand and touch as many of the little hands reaching out to me from behind the barricade as I could. So many people were clapping and cheering as we rode by… maybe because they knew seeing us meant the real parade was about to start? Regardless, what a fantastic way to start a race!
For several miles, we pedaled up Boreas Pass Road to the first aid station. This served to thin out the racers before we reached any single track. I did not stop at the first aid station and continued onto the single track where I was able to pass more frequently than I got passed. At one point I passed Terry without recognizing her. As I pedaled past her, I heard her yell “go Amber!”. Before I knew it, I was at the second aid station where I took in some of the plentiful nutrition being offered by race volunteers. I knew that proper nutrition would be critical to successfully finishing this long race.
Between Aid Stations 2 and 3 is a little section of the trail called Little French Gulch. This section is full of loose, chipped slate and at one point, the grade is 25%. I found myself, and all of my new mountain biking friends, pushing our bikes up this section beside the snow banks and through ice cold streams. At one point, I had sweat dripping from my eyelashes. This is something I’ve only experienced in a winter spin class at Defined Fitness Training. When the trail finally turned and leveled out, it was extremely narrow. It was so narrow that passing required the rider in front of you to actually stop and pull off the trail. I went as fast as I could here as I didn’t want to have to stop and let anyone by. Before I knew it I was going down a fun terrain park-like section where I crossed what would be the finish line had this been my second lap.
As I continued on to begin my second lap, I grabbed food and some electrolyte drink as the hike-a-bike section, heat, and distance were beginning to take their toll on me. I just kept telling myself to get to that aid station before the cutoff time. This time going up Boreas Pass Road, the spectators were few and far between; only the occasional honk from a passing car, or words of encouragement from another racer. As I reached Aid Station 1, I parked my bike and stood in the shade to have some food and catch my breath. I asked if I had made the cutoff and was told yes by one of the volunteers. However a few minutes later, another racer pulled into the aid station and asked the same question. This time the answer was different from a different volunteer. We had to make it to the second aid station in 20 minutes if we wanted to try to finish the race! I debated about turning around now, but a little voice inside my head piped up “I didn’t come this far just to turn back now.” So I hopped on the bike and pedaled.
I missed the cutoff at Aid Station 2 by about 8 minutes, but I was very proud to have made it there in the first place. I was 37 miles into the Firecracker 50 when I was offered my choice of cold beers for the ride down the service road. Heineken never tasted so good, and I didn’t spill a single drop on that bumpy road, steering my bike one-handed.
Lessons learned: read the race rules and COMMIT them to memory. I wasted valuable time at Aid Station 1 on my second lap and could have made that cut off time at Aid Station 2 if I’d kept moving. Gatorade is not a good drink choice for me; test the products being offered at a race BEFORE race day. Oh, and let’s not forget to actually RIDE the distance of your race before race day.
I can’t speak highly enough about how well the race was organized, marked, the nutrition and hydration offered at aid stations, and the volunteers. Oh, and let’s not forget that parade and all those little hands wishing us good luck… See you all next year!