Rekindling The Fire

Joe Grant writes about how participating in a bike race rekindled his fire for running.

By on August 25, 2015 | Comments

Three weeks ago, I took part in an underground bike race, riding 560 miles on the Colorado Trail from Durango to Denver. The Colorado Trail Race (CTR) has one overarching rule: “Do.It.Yourself.” The event is self-propelled, self-supported, and based on the honor system. Typically, riders carry a SPOT device, but more for online spectators’ entertainment than anything else. I went into the race with no real expectations, other than trying to make it to Denver in one piece. Having never really ridden a mountain bike before, I was eager to test myself in a new activity. Long-distance riding does share many things in common with ultrarunning, such as fueling and endurance, as well as fastpacking for ultralight-bivvy tactics.

An eclectic bunch of 58 riders set-off at 4 a.m. from Durango, riding together for the first few road miles to the Junction Creek Trailhead. As we funneled on to the singletrack, beginning the first 6,000-foot climb up to Kennebec Pass, I immediately felt right at home.

That first day, I rode for 22 hours, only stopping in Silverton to resupply my food at the convenience store. At 2 a.m., I lay down for a few hours’ nap at 12,500 feet above Cataract Lake–completely exhausted, my body pounded and numb, jackhammered by the technical descents on a fully rigid bicycle, but so content. I repeated the process for the next five days, hitting intense physical and mental lows, yet never allowing the stoke to wane.

At the end of the trip, I ached all over, my face and lips were sunburned, I had lost my voice and destroyed my shoes. Yet, slumped down on the ground at the Waterton Canyon Trailhead, none of these ailments seemed to matter. I had a sense of deep satisfaction, not just from completion, but from having rekindled that intense feeling of excitement and curiosity for adventure, where facing our uncertainties and doubts leads to profound self-examination and discovery.

This state of mind brings back memories of my first ventures into long-distance running, most notably my first hundred at UTMB in 2009. The longest run I had done at the time was 100k. I raced UTMB with the same vigor as a short-distance race, blowing up miserably in La Fouly and marching the last 50k in to the finish. I remember sitting on the plane on my way home, deeply uncomfortable, swollen like the Michelin Man, with the only thought on my mind being “I wanna do that again.”

Over the years though, I have found that maintaining that enthusiasm and curiosity does not always come easy. First, you can only be a rookie once. With experience, events become more of a known quantity. We set higher and higher expectations. Second, with running becoming more of a full-time affair, toeing the start line can feel more like a job than an adventure. This is not a complaint, simply an observation, that with time passing the initial spark that compelled me to want to explore more can fade. The CTR felt reminiscent of those early days and was tremendously refreshing mentally.

Sitting in Chamonix from where I write this, I’m invigorated, anxious to toe the line at the end of the week for another go at UTMB. The race has evolved tremendously even in these past six years since I first ran it. There is a strange juxtaposition of the dramatic landscape and the human footprint, of the inherent wild quality of the massif and its over-commercialization. I have felt at times that it is difficult to maintain perspective on what really matters. Little did I know that a simple bike race would revitalize me in such a way, allowing me to overlook some of the madness, quiet the noise, and see that there is still magic in these hills, something to learn and discover.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What rekindles your running fire when your motivation and passion wanes? Is it time off? Doing a different kind of running? Something different?
  • Have you attended or raced UTMB in the past? How has it changed for you over the years?

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Joe Grant
Joe Grant frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.