It sure wasn't a dance party and bottle service, but damn I had a good time in Prescott, AZ over my birthday weekend racing Whiskey 50. There's not much like slugging it out over 50 miles of dry, loose, desert single-track with about 100 of your friends... Maybe not everyones picture of a celebration, but for me its about as good a way as I can think of to celebrate mountain biking, and becoming a 'year older'.
This is the kind of racing I'm excited about these days... its old school. Long days mean that there are so many different ways a race can play out. A single mistake doesn't end your day, and you not only have to be fit, but smart. Sometimes it feels like XCO racing (think World Cups) is so much about 'go 'til you blow' for anyone who isn't racing in the top 5; you've just gotta hang on... but if you race like that in a Marathon type event, it might mean walking up some lonely, dirt road 20 miles from home with leg cramps and a flat tire. That's nobody's idea of a good time, so you have to gauge your effort, and know the strengths of the people you're racing against.
It feels like there are just so many more people coming out these types of events, which means awesome spectators, and a chance to hang out with the amateur racers that are the core of this sport we love. We've come full circle within the sport; What we now call Marathon and Enduro, is really just the type of riding that kicked things off decades ago; pushing yourself out of your comfort zone on the way up, and racing against your friends on the way down. If you can get out into the backcountry a little deeper than you would on a normal Tuesday, even better. I get the impression that people are choosing to race a little less that they used to (fewer race-days, and there's data to back this up) but really embracing the experience when they do make that time and monetary investment. Thats why bike festivals like the Epic Rides Series, are blowing up. Live music, fun courses, cool places and beer gardens... If you're going to spend money on travel and take time off work, whatever you're doing better be worth it, and more and more it seems like people are deciding these kinds of events fit the bill. I dig it, because that means I get to do more races like this too :)
I bled out my eyeballs during the Fat Tire crit on my Birthday... I couldn't do anything more than yo-yo off the back of the chase group, but I turned things around in the XC race on Sunday. Maybe I just needed to blow out the system, but things really felt like they were turning over. I had a mechanical early, just before we hit the single track (someone slammed into my rear derailleur and bent the hanger), so I had some serious traffic to work through, but made it back up into the top ten by the time we descended 10 miles into an aptly named Skull Valley. On the way out, The German and I rode away from the group we were with, and bridged to the group racing for top 5, but I couldn't quite hold the pace over the top of the hour long climb, and ultimately had to chase down the final descent, climb Cramp Hill, and road-grind to the finish line alone. Considering that I can through most of the field, I had to be happy with 9th... in the money, my first Whiskey 50 in the books. I can't wait for more of this in the coming months!