All the homework paid off. Finally.
The Crusher in the Tushars has been a near-manic obsession of mine since the day I registered for the race, 3 months ago. But this time, the planning and studying and scheming worked. I had a fantastic day. In fact, I don’t think it could have gone any better. How often can I say that about an endurance race?
Somewhere between the tired legs and foggy mind is the Crusher story. But I do have a few thoughts I wanted to share:
1. The Crusher was the most well executed race I’ve ever seen: The course markings were fantastic. The course volunteers were absolute pros—they controlled oncoming traffic, warned us of upcoming switchbacks, obstacles, and other things that might have impeded our progress, while still managing to cheer us on as we pedaled. The volunteers at the aid stations were amazing. There was an utter cornucopia of choices available at every feed station: chips, fruit (that was cold!) soda, candy bars, and more. The pre-made bottles of EFS and gel flask hand-ups were brilliant. I got off my bike once, and that was to shove as many potato chips into my mouth as I could. At all the feed stations there were people handing up cold bottles and flasks. Grab and go. The finishing experience was… memorable. I’ll elaborate on that below, but a mile of 10% grade was a cruel and beautiful way to end this race.
2. The Tushars are breathtaking. Anytime I wanted to feel sorry for myself, or be miserable, I just had to look up and enjoy the view. Beneath the 12,000 foot peaks of the range are rolling plateaus of natural meadows, pines, aspen forests, and high-altitude lakes. The air was thin, and crisp, and cool. The views in the high-country were even more appreciated considering that we had to climb, not once, but twice, from the valley floor in order to enjoy them. I’ll be back to the Tushars. Hopefully sooner than later.
3. Bruce Bilodeau was the life of the party. Bruce is a local cyclist. He also announces the UTCX races, and was at the Crusher start and finish lines making everybody feel like a rock star. His kick-off at the start of the event—“Cruuuuusshhhherrrrs! Come out to plaaaayyyyy!”—will always be one of my favorite race-day countdowns. It put me in the Crusher frame of mind and eased the palpable tension that had spread throughout the field. After the race Bruce was calling out finishers by name, from the winner, all the way down the line. If you finished, you got a shout out. That might not sound like much, but crossing that finish line was an amazing moment for everybody. To hear your name over the speakers only added to that. Thanks Bruce!
4. The Crusher vibe was tangible. I think everybody out there, from the volunteers to the racers, knew that we were part of something historical. I’m still feeling the post-race euphoria. Although, it’s possible I’m mistaking fatigue for euphoria. But I don’t think so. The Crusher is an instant classic. I hope you have a fast internet connection, and quick mouse-hands, because next year this event will sell out in minutes.
5. The best bike for the event was the bike you brought. During the lead-in for the race the “which bike” question was huge. I was convinced that my mountain bike with 1.9 tires was the perfect choice. But the racers on ‘cross bikes and 34c tires were also certain in their choice. We were both right. That is, the best bike for the Crusher is the bike that each rider was most confident and comfortable riding. For me, that was the mountain bike. But for others, it was a cyclocross bike. The variety of bikes at the start line was another aspect of how unique the Crusher is.
6. I went from tears of joy to tears of pain inside 30 seconds of each other. As I descended down the final paved stretch of Highway 153, I was emotionally spent. Tears trickled down my face. I knew I had done it—I was going to finish this race, and finish it well. But then the course turned upward for one more mile. An excruciating, cruel, horrific mile. 400 feet of elevation gain, from 9,900 feet to 10,300. No switchbacks, no reprieve. Just straight up the mountain. I think that final mile took me about 10 minutes to ride. My tears of joy evaporated, only to replaced by more of the pain and uncertainty that had been so prevalent during the day. But the finish line was right there. I could hear the music. I could smell the food. I finished with a fist pump and a total sense of relief and happiness. It was one of the most satisfying finishes of my bike racing career*.
*I use the word “career” in the most ambiguous, loose sense. Can a hobby really be considered a career?
7. I got dropped by Olympic medalist (in both the winter and summer games!) Clara Hughes. Is it odd that I’m kind of proud of that? Afterward, I mentioned to her that I couldn’t hold her wheel for more than about 1 minute. She apologized. I laughed. In other words, Clara is really cool. It was an honor to meet her, and I wish her the best of luck in her London 2012 pursuit.
And finally, the best moment of day for me (other than crossing the finish line) came during the final switchback on the day’s most difficult climb—3,000 vertical in 4 miles. I rounded the switchback, and a girl, no more than 6 years old, scolded me. “Hey you,” she yelled, “turn that frown upside down!” I laughed out loud. It was the perfect antidote to the pain and self-pity I was feeling. A few minutes (and a cold Coke) later I was flying high.
The Crusher is history. But its future is bright. Be there in 2012. Crush the crusher.
One more thing: Thanks T-Bird! You nailed this one.
And if you’re keeping score at home, I finished 5th in the 30-39 group, and somewhere around 34th overall.