2013 Bailey HUDNO
By Barry Croker
As many of you know, the amount of time I have to race my MTB is pretty limited, so I tend to be choosy about the events I enter. The last few years I’ve been fortunate to be invited to race the Bailey Hundo—a nearly-100 mile MTB race amazing for two reasons: first because of the 55+ miles of Colorado Trail single track that makes up more than half the course, but also because of the support it gives to grassroots cycling organizations like Trips for Kids and the CO High Hchool Cycling League.
I went into my first Hundo with pretty poor fitness, and paid for it dearly through many hours of suffering. Last year with more miles under my belt I surprised myself with a time nearly 90 minutes faster, and a time good enough to make my age-group podium. This year would mark my third Hundo, but likely my last (at least for a few years) due to a pending move to Northern Virginia. Hence my goal this time around was to focus my early-season training specifically for the event, and see what I could accomplish.
Greg Lemond is credited with saying “it doesn’t get easier, you only get faster.” That pretty much sums up this year’s race. My fitness was the best it’s ever been, and my time was nearly 20 minutes faster than last year. But it sill hurt. A lot. But I should add my misery could have been worse had I not done my homework.
Endurance MTB racing is a lot like riding an individual time trial. While you might occasionally interact with other riders on the course, your overall race is largely dictated by your own abilities—and a well-executed pacing strategy can mean the difference between feeling in control of your race and having your world coming apart at the seams. Sometimes it’s a lot of fun to work with a group of riders to push the pace at your limit, but at some point it inevitability breaks up and you have to ride your own race—at the pace that you can sustain for duration needed.
This year’s Hundo started at the usual time of 6:00 am in downtown Bailey. It was clear and cold—just over 40 degrees—with dry conditions due to the recent lack of rain. My plan again was to ride similar to last year: go out hard on the first 8 miles of dirt road climbs, have fun on the single track, recover on the road to Deckers, then do my best to survive the climbs up and over stoney pass the last 25 miles.
The start was pretty quick, and almost immediately broke into a few Pro’s off the front with a chase group of 20 or so behind. I tucked into the chase group and did my best to hang on, but about five miles in Jeff Kerkove went to the front and things picked up to a pace I wasn’t comfortable with. With my heart rate above 175 and more than 7 hours of riding ahead of me, now wasn’t the time to blow. So as I’ve done many times before, I made the call to sit up and watched the front group slowly ride away as I found my own pace.
The next four hours of the race are almost entirely single track, with the exception of a single dirt road climb through Buffalo Creek. Fortunately such type of riding is one of my strengths, and it was relatively easy to recover while still maintaining a good pace. I made a point of not going too deep on the climbs, but still took some moderate risks on the descents. The lack of rain made the trails loose—like riding in kitty-litter—but still fast and fun. I saw a few other riders during the descent down sandy wash, but for the most part rode alone enjoying some of the best trails around.
At the bottom of Sandy Wash, the climb to Buffalo Creek campground follows a double-track dirt road. In year’s past I’ve latched on to groups of riders along this section who are better suited to the non-technical terrain than I. Sure enough, after about 10 minutes of cruising solo I heard the train come up behind me, and I increased my pace to tag on to the end of the 8-rider group, two of which were in my category. We stayed together to the start of the Green Mountain climb, which has traditionally been one of the crux points for me. With the pace high entering the climb, once again I found myself letting up and spinning up the climb instead of hammering and going too far into the red. I had my time hacks from last year and noted I was about 10 minutes ahead of schedule already, and with nearly five hours of racing ahead of us, again decided to race my own race. After cruising up the climb at my own pace I caught one of the two from my category, and once again motored along the CO trail to pass him and a few of the others from the 8-rider group. An exercise in patience was starting to work.
The next hour and a half of the CO trail was pretty uneventful; I saw a few folks from other categories but no one in contention. Whereas last year I chased the Women’s Pro winner through the sandy trails leading down to the Platte River, this year I was almost exclusively riding alone. But my conservatism on the earlier climbs had my legs feeling better than I remembered last year—no cramping or significant pain, just the dull feeling of exertion.
About 20 minutes from dumping out at the Platte, I finally caught the other guy from my category on the steep downhill. I easily passed him and cruised into the mid-point aid station with a few seconds lead, and more than 10 minutes faster than last year. I swapped the contents of my pockets with fresh food and bottles, and took off on the 13-mile road to Deckers, which fortunately again this year had a tailwind. About five miles in the other guy in my category caught me, and we traded pulls with another guy we caught, all the way into Deckers.
At this point I had a decision to make: the 2300’, 12 mile climb up Stoney Pass was looming, and I had an empty bottle. The three of us were well matched, but all bets were off once we hit the hot exposed climb. Chasing those two sounded a lot better than cracking on Stoney Pass without any hydration. It had happened before, and could happen again. And so I made the choice to ride my own race, and I stopped for a bottle.
The climb was pretty much as expected—hot, sandy, no shade, and steep. But other than the 10%+ grade before first flat, I was able to keep it in the big ring and keep one foot in front of the other. I also passed at least two guys going backwards on the climb, clearly not having a good time. I was glad to not be in their shoes.
From the bottom of Stoney Pass to the finish there are more than 3000’ of climbing over 21 miles. Physically it’s tough to keep moving, but even harder is the mental challenge as the climbs never seem to end, and the sun beats relentlessly down on your tired body. More than once I thought, “it sure would feel good to stop and rest. Just for a minute”. But somehow I managed to keep moving, one pedal stroke at a time. Again, many weeks of cross-eyed riding after a hard FDR was just the training I needed.
At last the top of the big climb came, and again ahead of schedule I soldiered on towards the finish, grabbing a bottle of HEED and a can of Coke. Things were pretty uneventful the last 10 miles—not much wind, no hail (like last year) and no cramps. Legs pretty tired, but manageable. Eager to be done, I blew through the last feed zone with a high-five and put my head down on the final climb, down the screaming descent towards Bailey, and stopped the clock at 7:20, almost 20 minutes than last year, and good enough for 17th overall (also better than last year). Unfortunately there were a few new fast guys in my category this year, including the guy I left in Deckers, and I ended up 4th just off the podium in my age group. Full results here.
I was also able, through the generosity of so many friends, to raise nearly $700 for the charitable causes that the HUNDO supports. Every year I am amazed at the generosity of so many of you…thank you for your support and friendship, and your contribution towards Colorado youth!
In hindsight, was making the call to stop in Deckers the right choice, or should I have pressed on and tried to hang with the other guy in my category? I’ll probably go back and forth on that decision for some time, but as of today I think I made the right choice. Two years ago my climb up Stoney Pass was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. This year was pretty tough, both physically and mentally, but was able to ride almost 5 minutes faster up it than last year. Had I not had enough water this year, who knows what could have happened. I might have been fine, but then again it might have been terrible. In the end it was the best Hundo I’ve ridden to date, and everything that was in my control went as planned. And that’s about all I can ask for!