In 2012 I competed in the Colorado Trail Race. During my planning for that year’s race I got a bit obsessed about the current record holder’s time of 4:03:20. While I had completed a few CTR’s by then and had managed to go sub-five days, Owen Murphy’s time seemed impossible. I stared at his time splits over and over again, eventually taping a photo copy of them to my top tube for the ride. I was just off getting 2nd place in the Tour Divide the year before and I thought that level riding was outside of my grasp, I thought that too was impossible. The 2011 TD gave me the confidence to see what I could do out on the CT.
I trained harder than ever for the CTR, I rode a lot and smart, I hiked a lot, I ate very well and tried to get good rest. I prepped my gear and bike perfectly. I was so ready physically and mentally, and I was hungry for that suffering. I started the race in my usual fashion of just plugging away, trying to not make mistakes and keeping the throttle on as much as I thought I could sustain. Still I was walking when it got hard, trying to save my legs. One thing I noticed studying those previous time splits, was that in the second half of the ride I wasn’t that much slower than Owen. My goal was to keep it reasonable, then go all out at the end.
Somewhere around the dreaded Cochcetopa Hills I kept doing my math, I did it a million times in my head, it looked like I was almost even with the record splits. While only just over half way through the race, I gave it everything I had. I rode stuff I always walked in the past. I walked as fast as I could when I could no longer sustain riding. I didn’t take many breaks, I didn’t sleep. I got deeper into a zone I had experienced before, but not quite like this. I was all out crushing myself.
In fact I turned myself inside out in that last 200 miles. I went so hard I didn’t know who I was at times. I would think of someone I knew and then I would be thinking from what I thought their perspective was, thinking about their kids, wife, dogs. I would realize this and it was bewildering and unnerving to say the least. I had only me to check on my mental and physical state and I wasn’t really too trustworthy just then. I hadn’t seen another racer in a while, and I wasn’t making eye contact with too many hikers at this point as I knew I was twitchy AF. I just stared at that tiny line on the GPS that was the route and kept moving forward.
I rode the last section from Silverton to Durango almost completely in the dark. It was so hard to keep my eyes open, my bike on the trail, and my head from imploding. I don’t remember all that much, what I do wasn’t much fun at all, it was dark and scary. I rolled across Ethan Passant up on Indian Trail Ridge. He was laying in the trail, also delirious. He asked if I wanted to pass?! Will never forget that. I told him to get up and lets get off that 12,000′ storm magnet of a ridge. We eased down Sliderock trail and then Ethan started to ride hard again till we hit Flagler Creek, he stopped, laid back down and proclaimed he was taking a nap. I looked at my watch, took in the warm low elevation air, (I felt much better about leaving him here at 8,000′) and told him I was gonna wrap it up. Swear he was asleep in seconds.
I punched it up that endless last climb half convinced I could see Ethan and Jesse just behind me and I went hard. I stayed on the gas all the way down that also seemingly endless decent, repeating “no crashes, no mechanicals, no crashes, no mechanicals”. I rolled into the end, the dark and quiet Junction Creek Trailhead. I looked at my watch and it was 5:38:AM, I did It!!! I broke 4 days, just barely but I did it! I gently sat down on a parking curb, ate my last rice crispy bar and drank my last few sips of treated water. There was not a soul awake or around. It felt strange and almost empty. My washed out brain wondered if my spot tracker kept tracking, would anyone believe me, there wasn’t a single witness to this crazy ride that I thought was impossible.
Later a couple folks sleeping in their respective cars waiting for their family or friends to finish, awoke and chatted with me. After over an hour my friend Mitch pulled up out of no where, threw my bike in his truck and took me to his house for a shower and my first breakfast. I was a shell of a human and reality wasn’t connecting with my brain, but my body was starting to hurt something fierce, but I was saved!
My FKT only lasted a one year as the course changed the following year to include the Tarryall Detour, a longer and harder route. When I think about this effort I am still proud of how hard I worked and focused on something I wasn’t sure was possible. As it goes with any record or FKT, it was beaten and on a harder and longer course, in 2015 Jesse Jakomait broke 4 days, 3:20:44, going north, and 2016 Neil Beltchenko broke 4 days, 3:19:50, going south, amazing efforts and no one has touched those numbers since….