Happy Independence Day! Why don’t you just go ahead now (no relation to the Spin Doctors) and celebrate our country’s independence by blowing up a piece of it! So while most American’s spend the 4th of July kicking back having beers and BBQ, I decided to race my mountain bike for 50 miles. Most think this is a ludicrous idea, but since I raced my first Firecracker 50 two years ago I thought it was time to head back and give it another run.
The town of Breckenridge is the backdrop to what is dubbed the Firecracker 50, but also the US National Marathon Mountain Bike Championships. No there was no running involved in this race, but cycling has adopted the “marathon” title to associate the race with endurance racing versus the standard cross country style of racing. The Firecracker brings almost 1,000 racers together on our nations holiday to race through the rugged high alpine terrain above the highly developed ski town of Breckenridge. The course tops out at nearly 11,300 feet above the ocean with almost 5,000 feet of elevation change for each of the two 25 mile laps.
The race began just around 11am and what is special about this race is that all of us racer types in our logo’d out lycra kick off the 4th of July parade in downtown Breckenridge. It’s definitely kinda sweet having a couple mile neutral roll out before the racing really starts and to see thousands of kids looking for the occasional high five from all their day long bike racer heroes. So once we cleared the town of Breckenridge the racing was on. The first part of the course is pretty much a gradual, though quite long, climb that tops out at 11,300. Nothing quite like starting a race with a 2,000 foot climb right off the bat.
After about 25 minutes of racing my field (Cat 1. 19-29) began to break apart and the strong guys (not quite me yet) surged to the front. I entered this race with a plan of attack and my goal was to finish in under 5 hours. I believe when I did it 2 years ago I came in around 5:30 so taking a full half hour off my finishing time would be an accomplishment for the day. So heading into the second half of the first lap I was holding back quite a bit to conserve my energy for the second lap. I came through on lap 1 with a time of 2:18 and feeling like I had plenty of juice left in my legs I decided to push it going up the long climb up to 11,300. Was this a wise choice you ask? NO! I was strong going all the way to the crest of the climb, but after almost 15 minutes of descending my legs really did not want to fire. I swallowed down 2 clif shots and let me tell you these things are disgusting! I was hoping a quick jolt of sugar would open my legs up a bit, but not so much. The final climb on the course was a long fire road that brings you to a 2.5 mile downhill to the finish. What should have only been a 10 minute uphill effort quickly turned into 30 and I felt like I was going backwards.
Once I did finally make it over that last climb the final downhill was amazingly fast after a brief rain shower. I was able to pass quite a few riders on the descent and really hit the corners hard without throwing myself off the bike in the process. So coming across the finish line I reached my goal of breaking 5 hours with a finishing time of 4:50. It was a long day in the saddle and definitely a character building experience. I’ll be back in Breckenridge on the 18th for an even more grueling race of 68 miles that will cover some of the same terrain. Leadville is going to be here before I know it.