Race Report: 18 Hours of Fruita
What do 18 hours on a mountain bike in Fruita add up to? 134.8 miles, 8517 feet of climbing, over 4100 calories consumed, too many water bottles to count (but at least 12), and…
May 5–6, 2023
Highline Lake State Park
You gotta have a plan.
I have set some pretty big goals this year, including the Colorado Trail Race this summer and an even bigger event next year, and the first “A race” of the season was 18 Hours of Fruita. To prepare for this year I decided to do something different and go back to working with a coach! In the years from 2018 through last year I had done the best I could alone, and now it was time to bring in an expert to help me balance career with my passion for racing my bike. Enter Coach Jason Aloisio of Team Wilpers, himself an expedition mountain bike racer and bikepacker, and someone who would offer new perspective and expertise. Coach Jason has helped me build a base through the winter, and I found that having not only his expertise in planning, but also being accountable for doing the workouts, and having him look at my numbers in training and from races, has made a huge difference in my training. With his help, I enjoyed a lot of training hours on the Peloton indoors, and many weekends up in Leadville and in Crested Butte enjoying rides and races on the snow on my beautiful Why Cycles (now Revel) Big Iron fat bike, which I have named “Big Hope.” March and April threw a few wrenches in the works with some workload issues and then a non-COVID upper respiratory illness lasting a solid 3 weeks, and these made training and racing a bit more challenging. But Coach Jason adjusted the plan and we worked toward the first big race on dirt of the season.
So with Big Hope kitted out in the summer kit (RockShox Bluto fork on front and 29 inch, 2.25 in wide “skinny” wheels rather than the fat wheels), and with a plan in place, I drove out to Fruita. In my journal I have 7.5 pages of a detailed race report, but this will be my attempt to share with you the shorter version of the plan we executed and breakthrough that came from Saturday’s epic race.
Our game plan going in was to break up the race into 3 sections of 6 hours each, with a focus for each section. And the other goals was to hydrate and take in calories, ideally 200 calories and hour. The last time I did this race I was nowhere near that, so I decided to try something new with Coach Jason and see how my body would respond.
The race started at midnight, and one of my weaker areas that I wanted to improve is night riding, so I planned to ride the entire night and get in a solid 6 laps before resting. With my Fenix headlight and NiteRider Lumina Pro helmet light, I was golden, and after getting used to the settings on the first and second laps I was able to clock 6 laps by 5:30 AM. As there was a dim light of dawn on the horizon I decided to go down for a 45 minute sleep in my tent and then go onto the next part of the plan.
I slept 30 minutes, got up, put on a few more layers as I had cooled down and it was in the low 40s, had a Clif Bar for breakfast, put in contacts and got my sunglasses, and was back on the bike at 6:30 AM. This was the second part of the race, and it was now daylight and I could really see, making it feel like a whole new course and experience. I clocked lap-after-lap at my slow, endurance pace, with a goal of getting to 12 laps by noon. Once I did this, I told myself, I would sit and eat real food and enjoy by Jimmy John’s Roast Beef Unwich #9. At 11:50 I texted my coach with an update: “12 laps done before noon. Legs sore, but I’m sure all the solos are the same. Real food time.” And a half hour later I texted this truth: “Rested 30 min. Back to the bike. It all comes down to the last 6 hours. One lap at a time.”
The real race begins.
You see, in an 18-hour mountain bike race, the real race begins in the last 6 hours. At that point, I was feeling really tired and sore. Sore seat, sore quads just above the knee (from a dropped seat that took me a little too long to realize and fix), and sore hands. But then you realize all the racers, especially solo racers, are also in this sufferfest. They’re all feeling it too. You tell yourself: Yeah, I’m slow, but I can still pedal my bike up the hills. I can still hold my handlebars.” And you just keep going. My goal was to beat my prior distance in 2021 (15 laps), and with 6 hours left this was well within reach. My reach goal was to tick off 18 laps (an average of a lap per hour), and with 6 hours left, I was definitely going for it. About an hour later, my teammate Hap texted me positive vibes that came across my Garmin, and told me to keep going, that I was in second place in the solo women. He found a way to track me online. That’s cool, I thought. Even more reason to keep going.
When you’re in that last 6 hours, it’s a physical effort, but it also is a mental effort. The course is pretty dialed in at this point. You know the climb to the span of single track undulating around the lake next to the water, then the turn off onto the gravel trail leading to some flowy downhill turns to a short climb that leads to an even bigger climb up some loose gravel, to the super sweet banked turny descent then the back part of the lake to the fast downhill section and then the final climb up toward the start/finish. So it becomes a space for a meditative ride, of sorts. And it was the perfect time for my old friend, “Reviewer #2,” to show up and lend her unsolicited opinions. This is the name I’ve given my internal critic, and naming her this makes me laugh. As per her nature, she started criticizing me personally a bit. How I could do this, that and the other better in my personal life and in my work life. But this time, instead of telling her to go, I let her stay with me for the ride a bit. Sometimes the criticisms can be helpful so I processed what I could, made some decisions and was ready to let her go. But then she started criticizing some other people who I’m fond of but have been struggling with their actions and decisions. This was buried at times in my subconscious but bubbled to the surface in this race. I would notice her chatter, then tune back to riding, then chatter, then ride. And finally I said, I cannot control other people’s actions or decisions. I can only control the energy and effort I bring into the space. But I can right now control my race. I can decide to keep racing and I can finish this 18 hour race to my best capacity. And so I kept going.
I hit 16 laps, my initial goal, with 2 hours to go. At this point it was just me and not my internal critic. I lubed my chain, took extra fuel and topped off my water, and decided to go for it with 2 laps and no more rest. When I came up the final climb just after 5:30 PM, the whole race was gathered on the hill cheering and drinking beer, and literally pushing me up with the couple of hands on the back as I pedaled by, I felt a huge smile emerge through the pain. The finish was near, and at 5:43 PM I crossed the finish line for the 18th and final time. I thanked the officials and soft pedaled to the hill to cheer on the rest of the racers coming in for their finish. The atmosphere was explosive. Cheering, cowbells, beer hand ups. Joy. This is Fruita.
Coach Jason called to congratulate me. I thanked him right back. This was definitely a team effort. Then I went over to look at the final standings and saw that 18 laps was enough to put me in first place! “Team PHenomenal Hope” was listed as 1st in the solo women. That was the extra special treat after the 18-hour effort. It was fun to celebrate with people at the Awards ceremony, enjoy a beer and a taste of Peach Street Bourbon, by Ska Brewing. And really celebrate everyone on the course. This event is truly a celebration of Spring mountain biking in an amazing place with really cool people. I am so grateful I got to participate.
Milestones to take back into real life, and gratitude.
This race was a really big milestone because I was ready and had a plan going in for both the physical struggles and the mental struggles that would come up especially in that last 3rd of the race. And rather than pushing thoughts out of my head, I rode with them, and now, honestly those issues no longer trouble me. I’m in a new place physically and mentally both on and off the bike because of that race. That is one of the big reasons I do this ultra racing stuff. To see what I’m made of and what it takes to overcome the struggles that I face in a very real and physical way. Because getting through those struggles is how we transform our reality. We create our reality through our thoughts that give rise to our actions. We control our reality when we control or at least acknowledge our thoughts. That’s racing. That’s life.
This race was also a big milestone because it was my first big event of the year in my 11th year with Team PHenomenal Hope. On Team PH we race for more than just ourselves. We race to make a difference in the lives of those living with pulmonary hypertension. And this year I am racing in honor of Kira Cronk, a young woman who lives with pulmonary arterial hypertension, and whose attitude and humor inspire me to strive to be the best physician — as well as athlete — that I can be. Thank you, Kira, for racing with me this year!
In addition to than king Coach Jason and Team Wilpers and Kira and Team PHenomenal Hope, I have to send a huge thank you to my mom and dad who always support me and took care of the creampuff with her 6AM headbutts while I was gone. I also want to thank Hap and Irina and all my friends who cheered me on in preparation and through this race. We’re all in this together. I also want to thank the guys at Elevation Wheel Company in Colorado Springs for getting my Big Hope dialed with the summer wheel set and fork, and Boulder-based Panache Cyclewear for making the best clothing out there that provides comfort in an 18-hour race. I love to #RideWithPanache.
And finally, I really want to thank the race organizers and volunteers of 18 Hours of Fruita as well as all the fellow racers, especially the really fast people who were so kind when they’d come up from behind and wait patiently to pass, as well as the high school kids that brought amazing skills and positive spirit to the race. You all make this race great.
Okay this week is rest and recovery. Then on to the next on Sunday with a return to Fruita for a gravel bike race! More on that later.
If you want to join me in this race to make a difference, you can donate and support the great work of Team PHenomenal Hope today at this link.