The Park City Point2Point. Not for the faint of heart. Not for roadies on fat tires. Not sensationalized into something it’s not. It challenges your mental prowess, yet has you grinning from ear to ear. The P2P is an adventure style event- it’s not a closed course, hold-your-hand kind of an event. Definitely one of the best races I have ever done…and also one of the hardest.
We’ve been to Park City the last four summers, it is indisputably a mountain biker’s paradise with over 400 miles of trail! These Utahans know how to engineer good trail and they do it often…each year there is newly constructed singletrack. Park City loves their mountain bikers as much as their skiers and they cater to the lifestyle. With bike paths all over town and between all the resort areas, markets, fairs, breweries (be sure to get it in a bottle tho!) and miles upon miles of singletrack from one side of the mountain to the other and up and over and down-you get the picture. Downhillers, climbers, XC…there is something for everyone. Did I say I love it here?! Oh, I do! Yes, I’d heard of the P2P and considered it a bucket list event; so when Kevin, less then two weeks before the race, says “Let’s do it and I already got us transfers in”; I said Heck Yea!
The race involves 13,000+ ft of gain in 75 miles, all at altitudes between 7200-9000ft, on over 90% rideable singletrack (I’m pretty sure it’s actually more) and you never travel same trail twice. You start from one resort, roll thru two others and end in a fourth. There is everything from flowy, dry sagebrush in Round Valley to the rooty, aspen gauntlet of Deer Valley, riding high among the alpines of PCMR and down, down, down the rocky goodness of The Canyons. And this happens in 10 days?! Whew…ready or not…here we go!
Nutrition for this particular race was a very important part of my training. Since there really wasn’t any time for any specifically focused physical training, other than throwing in some intervals and relying on the base mileage I already have; everything else was what I put in my body to help me get ready. So how do I get ready for such an epic event at high altitudes. The key is hydration. Hydration and a lot of beets.
Why beets? Beets have a high concentration of dietary nitrates. Our bodies convert nitrates into nitric oxide, which causes blood vessels to relax and widen (vasodilation). This allows more oxygen-rich blood to flow through the body and the more oxygen that reaches the muscles, the longer they are able to perform at high intensity; essentially, the body is able to do more work while using the same amount of energy. Athletes have tried to trigger vasodilation with various banned substances, including hypertension drugs and erectile-dysfunction medication, for years; albeit some of those may be more fun off the race course, simply consuming large amounts of vegetables that are high in nitrates, such as spinach, carrots, radishes, and beets- which packs the biggest punch- offers the same performance boost, safely and legally. I love beets!
As for hydration, obviously performing such a demanding task as endurance racing, we are already hot and sweating, losing precious water. Due to the decreased pressure at altitude, moisture evaporates from the skin more rapidly and we also breathe deeper and faster- more water vapour lost as a waste product of breathing. This now makes the body work even harder inevitably making you hotter. The body’s natural response to this is to activate the mechanisms to regain a normal temperature….by sweating. Now you are losing vital stores of water from sweat, breathing and more sweat. There you are, dehydrated, before you even knew it. Pre-hydrating before an endurance event at altitude, you can help stave off headaches, lightheadedness, nausea and the dreaded fatigue. Don’t forget you need to keep drinking that water once you’re there!
Adding in a extra carbs prior to and for the first few days of your arrival at altitude can also help in adaptation. Carbs can supply more energy for the same amount of oxygen in comparison to fats and protein- converting energy more efficiently. Of course, it would be preferable to use whole grain sources of carbohydrates because, let’s face it, the processed, white stuff offers nothing good for you. Some of you may say ‘Great, carbo-load!’. Not exactly the same thing and a whole other discussion in itself…for another time. Moving on from all that scientific stuff…I could go on and on about such things as vitamin C and antioxidants and iron…I’m such a nerd.
For such a hardcore epic race, there is no giant build up. There’s really no build up at all, we had trouble even finding where it started the evening before on our pre-race recon. There is no shuttle to take you from start line to finish line or vice versa, if you don’t have a driver, you ride. It’s not sensationalized to draw in everybody, nor should it, this mountain biking stuff is quite dangerous and riding bikes is hard…I mean I had to sign my life away four times before they would give me a number plate! ;)
The two guys who run this race really know how to put on an event, although, how can they not with this kind of opportunity to show off Park City’s fantastic trail network to people who truly appreciate them. The volunteers are fantastic, always smiling, the course was superbly marked-not once did I question if I was going the right direction in a place where trails fork off everywhere; something even with a good sense of direction, I have struggled with in past races. The feed zones were organized, it was easy to find our drop bags and people would jump in to help you get food, mix bottles whatever you needed to get back on course. They have an enduro section complete with prizes, they even have an “I’m Somebody award”…I like it. :) With keeping registration relatively small over the event’s six years running, it never feels like the trails are over-crowded. All reasons why this extraordinary race sells out in less than 5 minutes…this is the race mountain bikers dream of.
So we begin. Up at 4:45. Quickie yoga. Coffee! Small bite to eat. And off on our bikes, drop bags slung over shoulders, pedaling thru the darkness to the start in Round Valley. We pick up a few others on the way, all of us hoping we know we’re going the right way. Of course, none of us have lights, because who wants to carry them thru the race. Bags dropped easily. Real bathrooms! -a luxurious and important piece of real estate before racing. To the start line and bang! Well, more like a ‘pop’. It was a confetti gun. It’s a “mass” start, but chip-timed so everyone’s time is true to them.
Paved road for a quarter mile. Super sharp left turn, around a metal pole, onto a bike path. Crap, there’s one gal already off her bike here! And then we climb. Singletrack comes within the first 2 miles and then it’s every man, woman or child for themselves. I went into this race with no expectations. I started it with high aspirations. I came to the conclusion after the first 15 miles that I just wanted to finish it.
Round Valley is a little dry and dusty, flowy with some rocks and roots thrown in. It should also be renamed Windy Valley. It was playing follow the leader at this point. I remember it feeling a little like the corkscrew roller coasters: swerving back and forth, bank left, bank right over and over. The gal that pulled ahead of me during the first climb, I reeled in and passed in the curvy descent; of course, at the next hill I was again behind her. The bike was riding well and I was sticking to the trail. After about an hour, we made our way back past the start line and out onto a paved path leading to the next set of trails. Round Valley would be the only dry part of the course. With rains during the previous week, the rest of the course was in absolute perfect condition. We finally start making our way into the trees. Climbing thru the forest with not much more to listen to but your heavy breathing and tires crunching over the trail. There are other riders around, but everyone’s too busy focusing and finding lungs to talk much. You wind around coming thru Deer Crest and then into Deer Valley. The hills already are eating me alive! Keep thinking ‘oh my god, really?’ and then you’re rewarded with an exhilarating descent. All the previous suffering you experienced just minutes before, disappears into a blur of trees. A grin plastered upon my now slightly muddy face…until the next gut busting, switchback filled climb (altho perfectly made switchbacks, I might add). Mile after mile this pattern appears. I’m dying. I’m flying! I’m falling apart. I’m soaring!
Deer Valley belongs to those who love they’re handcuff handlebars, of which I am not. Man are those rooty trees close together! I hooked my handlebar on one, recovered just in time to hit the tree on the other side and go down. Luckily I was actually climbing at the time, so the slow motion really was slow and other than a slightly embarrassing moment and a hard foot down, no harm was done. I gotta watch out for that, and on one of the descents, there is was. Two aspens, the width of my handlebars apart, two giant sets of roots jetting out of the ground between them to which I shall go up and over. Nope, this will be the only spot I get off my bike and walk. There was no way I was fitting thru there and I honestly don’t think I would have.
The first aid station comes in at mile 28 at upper Deer Valley. Not eating as much as I should be, I choose to use the higher calorie drink mix. My portables are not working out quite as well as I had planned and I depended on those for some of my calorie intake. I had decided to use a nice little food trough attached to the top tube of my bike for easy access. The Bento-Box was a great idea; however, I didn’t realize what shoving as many of my muffins I could cram in there would develop into. They got a little smashed. Ok, the bottom ones were completely ground into the box. Do I scrape them out with my fingernail? Oh, I have gloves on. So no. Guess I’ll just eat the surviving scraps. I never thought to even consider the hair. I’m a girl. I shed. It happens and yes, my hair is everywhere. So somehow, hair has now embedded itself into my remaining smashed portable delicacies. I bite in, I discover something stringy that most certainly does not belong there. There’s no end to these hairs! Whatever, I need to eat and as I chew I have pieces of muffin dangling down my chin by said hairs until I can stuff the rest of the muffin in my mouth. I sure hope I don’t choke on this. Who here knows the Heimlich? I then begin to wonder- will tomorrow’s morning constitutional also be strung out on hair like today’s meal of muffins? …yes, I do actually think about these things. I’m sure you’ve all had some strange thoughts roaming around in your head while you’re suffering amongst yourself, don’t pretend like I’m the only one. I will, however, spare you further details regarding the hair.
I still rely on my GU- that trusty high octane Roctane. For less bulk and easy access, I squeezed multiple packets of the Orange/Vanilla and Lemonade Roctanes into gel bottles and marked them where I needed to suck it down to each time for quick reference without requiring too much thought. I don’t want to have to think during an endurance event like this, the thought process better be completed ahead of time when I know I’ll be able to still think. I can fit two bottles on my Epic (that’s right, 2. On my small full-squish. I still get excited about that.) which I continued to refill with Roctane brew at each aid station. This worked quite well, being able to drink calories and not have to take time to fuss with individual packs of the GU, I was able to maintain an appropriate caloric intake for myself. I did use my mini Camelbak, holding 2.5 bottles of water, up until the PCMR aid station at mile 53 when it was drained and I was happy to ditch it. The mini is actually a perfect fit for my size, it sits above my pockets making it much easier to get in and out of them.
Ok. Off from aid 1. I am somewhere like 5th or 6th female at this point. I work as hard as I can on the climbs, but man, my lungs are just on fire. From here on out, it feels like I’m being passed by every other person on the trail. The 60-something year old guy on a single speed (with some ridiculous gearing, I might add) chatters at me as he mashes by. A very noticeably beefy guy spins past me…on a climb. (what?) A girl in a skirt…with baby braided pigtails…calls out “You’re doing great” as she leaves me for Fogel climbing out of PCMR. Fine. I don’t even care because after hauling my breathless tail up the those heart pounding climbs, I get to go down…and fast. Nature’s own amnesic. And oh how I love that.
I skip it. The weather is actually rather cool, for being a Tucsonan, and I’ve been known to be something of a camel during races (yea, um, cause I hold my water well, k…) so I have enough water to make it to mile 53, the next aid station. Here comes a super fun, technical, rooty, twisty enduro section on John’s leading into a smooth flowing downhill- seriously, this is like the most fun I’ve ever had! Holy crap I never want it to end! It does end tho… right into a wall I’m expected to ride up. And then the Steps. Oh heavens, what do I even say about the Steps that the name doesn’t already imply? We go up them. It’s a little loose. It’s extremely steep. I’ve ridden these before, it wasn’t easy then but I don’t recall them being this absurd. I manage to ride all but one foot down in a switchback. I talked myself into it by saying I could take a break at the top; but, of course, at the top there comes another blue-ribbon descent in which I lose myself in and forget again all about what I just went thru to get to that downhill.
Up again around Shadow Lake. It’s dark and woodsy. Smells like pine. It’s very still out, maybe only the occasional bird or squirrel heard and not a breath of wind. I’m sure it could rain any minute. Two deer cross the trail at a dead sprint in front of me. Although the incline is painful, it sort of gets washed away as I watch the scenery pass by and enjoy the mystical feel of the surroundings. I am recognizing some of the trails now and we’re on the only other bit of double track since leaving Round Valley and the brief road crossing from Deer Crest earlier in the race. Once past the lake, it’s down on Pipeline and CMG for a long, long time before hitting PCMR-mile 53 and the place to refuel again. These descents are sick! I can’t get enough! I am just skyrocketing down them at what must be mach 9, my face flushed back from the massive g-force I’m pulling. I keep focus. I stay off the brakes. I let go. It feels good! It feels really good! According to my Garmin, my max speed was only 32mph-I’m sure it must have missed something cause I know I was screaming fast!
We enter Park City Mountain Resort at a fast pace and roll right into the aid station. I find my drop bag and ditch my Camelbak. A random nice guy hangs onto my bike while I stock up on fuel. No more muffins for this little lady, but the baby red potatoes…Oh those salty little potatoes are a delight. Popping one of those extra salty lil guys in my mouth made me forget all about the hairs of past portables. Everyone should have a tasty baby potato smothered in salt, it’s like a kick in the seat of your pants. Of course, the aforementioned Bento-Box promptly ejected these heavenly treats on the first set of bumpy downhill roots I bounced across. Damn. That damn Box. I retrieve my last mix bottle of Roctane, ask the guy to keep an eye out for a tall guy dressed like me (my hubby :) ) to ride thru looking for our drop bag and immediately ride UP out of the resort. I actually see people walking UP out of there, it was pretty stiff. Next stop, mile 62 and the last mini-aid station before the final push home.
Armstrong now, a good climb- gradual, not sprinty with lots of switchbacks and tree cover. This is where the rain starts. It comes down throughout the entire climb up and continuing down and over towards The Canyons on Mid-Mountain. I keep thinking, it’s raining, but I’m not sure I’m really getting wet. The canopy of trees helps to protect from the elements. Thankful for that. I climb with a fellow Arizonan, from Phoenix. He sits on my wheel all the way up the climb and part of the way over. We chat some 3-4 worded sentences and I ask if he’d like to go around, but he refuses. Says I’m plenty fast for his taste. Alrighty then. The trails start becoming rocky. They’re a little slick, but manageable and I’m just a little more cautious until the sun comes back again somewhere on a descent off mid-mountain and things start to dry out. Somewhere in here, the Phoenix guy finally does go around and I continue on at my own pace. I think I’m somewhere around 7th place by now. People aren’t really passing me or being passed by me anymore. I’m ok with where I am. I went into this race at the last minute with no actual training for it and coming off a couple weeks of fatigue. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my race up to this point, so I’m just gonna keep to that.
There’s more up and down and all this part of the course seems just a tad bit easier than the previous 62 miles, which could all be in my head; but I’m ok with that, too. The final little ‘Oasis’ comes into view before crossing the road and heading down the Rosebud and Rob’s descents. It most certainly is an oasis. I honor my hard work with a Coke and a chocolate chip cookie. They are divine. The only time I ever drink soda is at a time like this. Almost done, still some hard work to do, a quick sugar bump. As much as I am against the Coca-Colas of the world, a product I can actually use to scrape the rust off a car bumper; I would certainly pay any amount of money right at this moment for just a few sips of one. Yes! I am ready for the finish now!
More awesomely fun descent and I can see The Canyons resort. I can hear the music and announcers at the finish line. And then, for some reason, I am riding away from it…uphill. What? What is this? Oh, you little teases. For one brief, tantalizing moment, I am headed down another titillating descent toward the finish line and in the next I am most definitely climbing far, far away from it. This is the only time during the entire race I start to feel slightly dejected. My head runs from positive thought and takes a nose dive into the dark pain cave. A little whine comes out of me. The guy I totally chicked on that last downhill is creeping up on me and at some point says, “Yea, I’ll just get around you now”. Ok. The Ambush, so appropriately named, will end and the final descent into the finish will happen. Moment of dejection gone. I thought I could make it under 9 hours until I hit the Ambush awaiting me around that final bend. I tried to ride down that last trail as fast as I could, but in the end I came thru at 9:16. It was a great way to finish off such an epic race! We come together with the downhillers, who are using a lift to access everything I just worked my little ass off getting to, and down into the music and cross the finish…after diving thru one last lake of a mud puddle, which was basically unavoidable. Yes! Done. I made it. This was the most fun I’ve ever had getting my rear end handed to me! I am totally doing this again next year!!
So. According to my precious little GPS: I rode 87.4 miles, including the spin to the start and the crawl home from the finish-racing 75 of them. I climbed 13,254 feet at an average of just over 8.6mph. My total moving time for the day was 10 hours and 10 minutes with a race time of 9 hours 16 minutes, of which I was stopped for 10 minutes of. I finished 8th in the open women, an hour and a half behind Gretchen Reeves. And that’s ok…I loved every minute of this day.
There was a lot of meaningless chatter in the 10 days before this race comparing the P2P to Leadville. Oh, which is more difficult, which one is harder. After experiencing both first hand, there is no answer to this. They are not the same race. Leadville is what it is-a sensationalized dirt road race at high altitude that costs hundreds of dollars to enter in order to race amongst thousands of other riders. It is absolutely hard, can mentally obliterate you and is certainly a course to concur… but once is enough. The Point 2 Point is a race that will physically drive you into the ground-the climbs are gut wrenching and the descents can even beat you down. It requires focus the entire time you are in the saddle. Mentally, tho, it doesn’t seem as exhausting because I actually had fun during the P2P. I could go back there and race it year after year after year. It’s interesting and exhilarating. There is a down home, let’s-all-get-dirty kinda feel to it. It was literally and absolutely the most enjoyable ass-whooping I have ever encountered at a race. No podium, no hoop-la waiting just for me at the finish. Just phenomenal trails to ride on, the right amount of minimal guidance to get you through it and a hell of a great town to host it.
See you again next year, P2P! …I think I might actually train for it this time!
I raced my Epic at the P2P. Could you ride a hardtail? Of course, but that Epic’s ride is pretty hard to beat! During the short time between signing up and leaving town, my rear shock decided it had had enough- Brain dead! From the time I sent an email to Oro Valley Bicycle, Specialized getting a replacement out to me and the shop dialing in that plus some work on my rear brakes and service to the front fork, six days. Kevin finished up by putting on my carbon wheels and slightly more cut-down tires to lighten things up a bit. Done and race ready in less than a week! Super! I couldn’t have been happier with the way my bike rode during this event! Thanks OVB for getting it just right! Thanks to Specialized for replacing the equipment so quickly, to GU Energy for keeping my engine fueled right and, of course, thanks to my awesome husband for his personalized maintenance, hard work and putting up with yours truly!