For most of the cycling world, Southern Utah is a top mountain bike destination. Between Saint George, Moab, Hurricane, and a lot of spots in between, Southern Utah boasts world class desert riding, to say the least. For those of us lucky enough to live in Utah, those spots are just a quick car ride away. I live in Salt Lake City, where winters can be snowy, so it is great to have a desert escape plan in my back pocket. Over the past 10 years I have spent a lot of time riding in the St. George and Santa Clara area.
In 2011 when I first heard about a race called the True Grit Epic, a 50-miler that was to incorporate a ton of my favorite trails in the St. George area in one big loop, I was all in. I raced the inaugural True Grit Epic that year during a freak spring storm, and it was probably the coldest I have been on the bike in my entire life. That still holds to this day. I won that year, but was only one of about four finishers because conditions were so extreme they had to cancel the race.
The next time I raced it was in 2013, and by then it was part of the NUE Series, so I signed up for the 100-miler. Racing for 100 miles on that rough desert terrain was brutal. I was shattered afterward, but loved it nonetheless. Since then my schedule has not allowed me to come back, but this spring I didn’t have any conflicts, so there was no doubt I would be doing it!
To add to my excitement this was also my first mountain bike race in almost a year. Last April I suffered a season-ending injury while racing a World Cup in Australia, and it has been a long recovery. I shattered my calcaneus (heel bone) and required a pretty major surgery to put it back together. There are 15 screws and two metal plates on my heel. I went about 14 weeks without putting any weight at all on my right leg, including pedaling. My recovery has been slow and steady, and I am still making gains. I was a little nervous and unsure about how the race would shake out for me.
Mountain bike racing is one of the hardest sports there is, and requires a whole lot of suffering. Had I forgotten how to suffer in my year away? I was about to find out.
Just a few miles into this year’s 50-miler, that theory was confirmed. We had a stacked field and the pace heated up on some of the first main climbs of the race; Keegan Swenson, Justin Lindine, and local young gun Zach Calton got away from me. I got dropped and lost two minutes over the next hour of racing. I was feeling terrible to be honest, and wondering: was this “first race cobwebs,” just a bad day, or had I forgotten how to suffer?
There was no point in overanalyzing it. Mountain bike racing is hard, and you are going to have some low points and high points out there. Luckily for me, I turned that low point around and started feeling better by the midpoint of the race. I ate some Enduro Bites and got my head in the game and started to rally.
I was able to take back over a minute on Keegan and Justin in the last 40 minutes of the race. and had a great time ripping around Barrel Roll, one of my favorite trails. I passed Zach and claimed the 3rd spot, only 44 seconds back from the leaders. It was great to get back in the zone and to have things clicking at the end of the race.
Dealing with the injury has given me a new perspective on racing, and I am just stoked to be out there this year. Any racing I do is all just gravy because at the end of the day, I can unclip from my pedals and walk away on two feet, which is a win in itself and something I will never take for granted again.