BT Epic First Time Finisher

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In 2020 I decided I was going to be a BT Epic First Time Finisher. I signed up on a whim after saying for a few years it looked cool. I followed the BT Epic Facebook page and saw registration opened and I registered without giving it much thought. After registering I quickly realized how many ‘firsts’ this day would hold for me.

  • Bike Race
  • Endurance Event
  • Individual Sport Event
  • Visit to the Berryman Trail (I planned on pre riding a portion but was never able to make it happen)
  • Ride over 30 miles (previous longest was Porcupine complex 90% downhill)

Preparing to be a BT Epic First Time Finisher

Phase 1: Getting Motivated

Suddenly the task at hand seemed daunting, I needed a plan! The first phase of planning was just seat time. I started making it a priority to get on the mountain bike 2 days a week for at least an hour. It didn’t take long for me to come to the realization that 2 hours a week at 7-8 mph wasn’t enough to prepare for a 50 mile race. At that pace I was looking at needing to be prepared for a 6.5 hour ride (not including rest). My favorite tool for tracking my progress was a combination of Strava along with my Garmin Fenix 6x watch. I highly recommend the Garmin watch as it is so much more useful than my old Apple Watch was.

Phase 2: Panic and do too much!

For Phase 2 of training I added in 2 days a week of running. I am not an efficient runner so my goal was pain and suffering. I figured if I can regularly suffer through 3-6 miles on foot in 95 degree temps I could handle a little discomfort on a bike in October. My wife jumped on board, we bought some fancy running shoes and dove into ‘Couch to 10k’ as a family. About 3 weeks in her toe hurt to the point she couldn’t run anymore, and my low back was flaring up after every run to the point I couldn’t sit at my desk for work.

A visit to the local sports oriented chiropractor and lots of homework for fixing hip mobility, angry psoas, and a weak core and I was back in training mode. This time running was a filler for when the trails were muddy or the bike was in the shop.

Phase 3: A better biking workout plan

For Phase 3 of training I added a third day of mountain biking somewhat following a Garmin Cycling Plan. I did 2 rides a week 1 hour of length each, riding hard, on the edge, in Garmin Heart Rate Zone 3 as much as possible. For Ride 3 each week I pushed the mileage to 10-14 miles cruising in Heart Rate Zone 2 putting a focus on lines and cadence. During this period I was also finally able to locate a gravel bike at a decent price. I subbed in a road or greenway ride when the trails were too muddy just to make sure I got seat time in. This was more for cardio purposes than anything else.

Something else I learned after getting the gravel bike… the simple CycleOps type trainers with no metrics are a waste of your time. They sound great and fun, but I couldn’t force myself to get on it regularly. Luckily it was borrowed from family, who also didn’t use it (now I know why). Fortunately it didn’t cost me anything.

Phase 4: Last Minute Outdoor trips and Taper

My wife and I planned a Colorado hiking trip as a Pandemic getaway a month before the race. I figured a week off the bike would be a good reset. This break would put me in a good place to be fresh for that last month. A wrench was thrown in that plan when I received a last minute invite to ride in Moab 2 days after our hiking trip. I had a little vacation to burn thanks to the Pandemic so I couldn’t turn it down. While in Moab I realized just how ill prepared I was in my conditioning. My riding buddies quickly began poking fun of my ‘worthless giant quads’. They began to question why I had such muscular legs if they were always too tired to pedal. Something I had been wondering all year!

After a bad crash on lower Porcupine I began contemplating if I should even be attempting a 50 mile race on unknown trails. I spent my final 3 days in the desert trying to regain confidence on the bike. It all came back on Mag 7 on our final ride.

When we returned from the desert I finished the weeks prior to the race in maintenance mode, I wanted to be fresh and remain injury and mechanical issue free.

Race Weekend

On the day we were to leave I just needed to pack camping gear and get some shammy butter from the LBS. All else was ready. My son woke up not feeling well that day and the family decided to stay behind. A wise choice as I later thought I was going to freeze to death in my sleep before lining up for the race.

After arriving at the massive campground, I checked into my campsite and told the people my group count had changed. I also observed pizza deliveries coming from the general store in camp. I had to take note in case I needed extra calories at some point! Next, I located my campsite at dusk and went to the race check in to get my number and goody bag. I saw the one person I knew at the event on her way to get dinner but didn’t know where they were camping. So after setting up my tent with the help of a generous neighbors lantern. I opted not to light a fire for 1. So I sat in the dark, ate a snack, and turned in for the night.

I felt like I woke up 20 times, freezing and still heard conversations from neighboring camp sites hours into the night. I felt even more ill prepared that these people around me were so confident in their ability to ride this distance that they didn’t need sleep.

Race Day!

A free pancake breakfast and coffee were served in the registration building. I got dressed in my bibs, shell, Tech Tee and long Sleeve for riding then tossed on sweats, a hoodie, gloves, and a beanie for the hike to breakfast. On the way I admired all of the awesome outdoor set ups for both the die hards and the outdoor families. I started to get disappointed that my family couldn’t come and wanted to check in on them but… no service.

I found a table to eat breakfast by myself. An out of state rider who also didn’t know anyone joined me for breakfast. He was a pretty hardcore gravel rider from Iowa. Nice guy (sorry, I’m awful with names). A little conversation with him and I knew this was a trail I was more than capable of riding on a technical front, in fact I began wishing I had brought my 10 year old hard tail.

After breakfast it was time for a pregame deuce, everyone had the same idea, so plan accordingly. Next, it was time for a mechanical once over on the bike and food prep for my drop bag. Apparently I thought I needed a buffet because I severely over packed my lunch. For my pack I carried pre-measured baggies of CarboRocket 333 powder (Electrolytes and caffeine with no gut bomb!) to mix in my bike bottle along with sour patch kids for fast sugar and citric acid and an assortment of gels and gummies. Cliff Blokks were my favorite of the gummies.

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The Big Ride

A sea of Cross Country Riders beginning to assemble.

The BT Epic start was done in waves in 2020 due to Covid Restrictions. The Elite riders racing for time went first. While waiting for them to clear out I saw a familiar face or two. And one unknown face popped up next to me saying how excited he was to see an average rider at the start. He exclaimed that “all of these riders look like they belong on a road bike”. I hadn’t noticed. But I glanced around and realized there were very few people with baggies, full suspension, or plus tires, much less the knee pads (review here) I had donned at the last minute. Suddenly I felt that my bike and attire was overkill but here we are lets make the best of it! I caught a slow rolling start at the tail of the second wave.

The Start

Start to Water Stop 1 – Seeming pretty easy so far!

The first segment took us up a gravel road before we dropped into the singletrack. I paced myself into an area that seemed less congested as I absolutely despise waiting in line. That includes the grocery store, sporting events, a bike race, and even family dinners. On the first descent I would have preferred to go 2x the speed I was forced into. I had caught a line of 10-15 riders going slow enough I had to unclip to keep from tipping over. Meanwhile the more aggressive riders were skidding down attempting to pass on singletrack. Already frustrated I stayed in line and passed with ease on the wide chunky climb while the more timid walked their bikes up.

The next bottleneck was a creek crossing where 30-40 riders were making attempts 1 at a time. From what I saw about 50% cleared the bank on the other side. At this point I felt like the day was in the bag if my legs could just pedal for ~8 hrs.

An hour or so later I rolled into the first water station and had caught up to the 2 faces I knew. I realized I hadn’t hydrated much so I slammed my bottle of CarboRocket. Then I opted for a bottle refill leaving my Camelbak bladder as is. I mixed in my baggie of pre-measured CarboRocket powder and tossed a handful of Sour Patch Kids into my mouth as we pedaled away. The next couple hours was a pleasant cruise through the woods with people moving at about the same pace. We were all riding at conversation level. I would lead my little pack on the downhills and they would push me on the uphills. We did this for a while until my watch chimed and I received a text message.

I pulled off on top of the hill to check in with home somewhere around the 20 mile mark. I talked to my wife and got an update that we had a healthy kid after a full nights rest! But I also learned that her grandfather had been admitted to the hospital with stroke like symptoms. She insisted that I continue the ride as even if I returned home to watch the kids she wouldn’t be able to see him due to Covid Restrictions. Sitting on top of that hill for 10 minutes I had 5-6 unknown riders check on me asking if I needed mechanical or medical assistance. Cycling really is a great community!

The climb up the gravel to the first singletrack

Lunch – Halwayish

Start to the Lunch Campground, thought it was halfway… thought wrong!

When I made it to the campground with the trucks and drop bags I was feeling good and not hungry. I retrieved my bag and forced down a banana with peanut butter. And drank a Gatorade followed by a can of Coke. Between eating, laying in the grass stretching the low back and making a pit stop at the facilities I was on my way again after 25-30 minutes. As I got up from stretching I felt a little twinge in my right hamstring. Way too early for this nonsense!

For the coming hours I took it easy on the legs. To me that meant higher cadence with less resistance and increased amounts of gels and CarboRocket. I’m typically a low cadence high resistance kind of rider. I like to use a little momentum and a single pedal stroke to pop over obstacles. I know its not efficient but its who I am!

The first hour after lunch was fun and flowy at some point along the way I came across the Whiskey Stop. Two guys were out in the woods with a little table and a cooler full of Fireball! Fireball has never tasted so good, highly recommend accepting! After a short chat I jumped back on the trail and felt great! I cruised for another few miles then hit the final water tank after long doubletrack climb. I filled my bottle and about half of my reservoir to keep a little weight off my shoulders.

The Final Stretch

Leaving the last water tank we hopped on a gravel road for a mile or so. I talked to a couple of riders during the flat section and it was nice to catch some constant speed and cover ground while separating riders out a bit again. We turned off the gravel and back on singletrack to take us toward the “Three Sisters”. I had been dreading this introduction all summer. Eventually I got to the bottom of the first sister and ran into a wad of riders in the first uphill corner. As I approached I learned an older rider had gotten stuck on the climb and stepped off downhill breaking his ankle. This was soon after Dak Prescott’s leg break and the guy riding with him made a gruesome comparison. They sent me ahead to retrieve help since I was the first rider on scene.

My momentum had been stopped and my cramping hamstring was reappearing. So I hoofed it up the first sister on foot. I finished the next 2 about 50% on foot and 50% on the bike trying not to bonk. Eventually I made it past the singletrack and descending into Bass River Resort. An ambulance passed going toward the sisters on my way through camp. I checked with the folks at the entrance and gave them better details about where the rider was. After the fact, I’m now curious what the process of retrieving someone looks like… Are there access roads? Do they carry them out on a stretcher? I have so many questions!

With the goal of being a BT Epic First Time Finisher I walked a good portion of the sisters.

The Final Final Stretch

Seriously doubted being a BT Epic First Time Finisher in the last few miles.
The brutal last loop!

So it turns out riding through Bass River Resort is just a tease. You turn up the pavement and ride most of the way back to the highway before turning on a gravel road. Which continues climbing. Thinking this was an even 50 mile race I assumed it was just a little loop with a singletrack drop back into camp to round out the mileage.

To my surprise at the end of the gravel road you turn downhill away from camp. Then double back for a mile or two before climbing back up and crossing the gravel road. This section was by far the most difficult of the entire day. I’m guessing it was exhaustion but it was also one of the more technical sections of the day. That combo made for a grind of epic proportions. In fact I’m convinced this last segment is where the BT Epic race earned its name. By this point I was getting hamstring cramps each time I put a foot down. And my fingers cramped every time I touched my brakes. NOT GOOD! After an hour or so of coasting and hike a bike I eventually coasted my way back to the campground and finished the quarter mile to the finish line.

Bucket List Check Mark Added – BT Epic First Time Finisher!

BT Epic First Time Finisher
BT Epic First TIme Finisher

With a giant sigh of relief I found an open grassy area to sit down and take all of my gear off before venturing through the vendors for drinks, snacks, and apparel. My prized free find was an extra Kuat Neck Gaiter for pandemic outings in town and work! I also picked up a Kuat Hat and some bike socks, and a beer.

By the time I made it out of the trails we were 8 hours in. The music was beginning and they were preparing to light the bonfire. I went back to the truck and jumped in to drive to town to call the wife and check in. I skipped the nights festivities to return home. But I heard the bonfire, music, and awards ceremony/giveaways were a blast. This gives me reason to make a return trip to fully experience the event! Unfortunately I am in a wedding on BT Epic weekend in 2021. It’s looking like I will have a 1 year hiatus before making another attempt.

Now that I know I’m capable of such things with proper preparation I will likely continue to find new adventures that challenge my ability to push through something to completion (I’m not going to be the fastest in the field and I’m ok with that). The agenda for 2021 includes the Buffalo Headwater Challenge in Arkansas. After that I think my first Adventure Race will be on the schedule. In addition, I hope to complete my first century ride (gravel or road).

If you ever find yourself wondering if you can do something my advice is just to sign up. Far in advance. And then make sure you stay dedicated in order to prepare yourself physically. Be smart but push yourself! It is so extremely gratifying to finish something you had previously thought was impossible for the average individual. I may have been one of the last to finish but I am still very proud to be a BT Epic First Time Finisher.

A look back at the party starting as I pulled out of the park.

My Kit for Race Day :

My Bike for Race Day: