Race Report: Big Bear Grizzly 75k (and season wrapup)

by Richard Kolkovich

As if on cue, here is my season wrapup, only a month and a half after the Big Bear Grizzly 75k. Let’s get to it…

Big Bear

Unfortunately, it was a dry year, and Big Bear Lake was quite visibly low. No swimming was possible all season, so a nice, cold fall dip was out. The drive into Big Bear, however, was quite excellent. The vistas were beautiful, and the valley was fantastic. The town of Big Bear Lake resembled the mountain towns of my beloved Colorado; the feel was definitely one of quiet calm, awaiting the snow and resurgence of the winter tourism.

I found a fantastic camping spot for Serenity near the town and hit the trails on Thursday afternoon and Friday. I was feeling pretty good going into the race with the exception of the Radford Climb looming in my mind.

On race day, I felt energized and strong. The opening climb was a boring, fire road slog but served to spread everyone out pretty well. The initial descent, however, bunched us right back up. The hundo crew had ripped up the freshly-rebuilt Seven Oaks on their descent leaving us with some seriously loose, sandy downhill action. I got bunched up behind a few riders, as the trail was too narrow to pass in most places. After that intro, however, I was jamming on.

The middle segment of the race felt amazing to me. There was another crummy road climb leading to some dope singletrack on the Southern loop on the course. I picked up and dropped a few riders on this section which made me feel even better about how my race was going. Come to find out, I was playing leapfrog with Jen Toops who would go on to win the women’s 75k and the NUE Women’s Marathon title. We chatted a bit on the paved section leading up to Radford, and she got an update on her closest competitor from her SAG crew. And proceeded to drop me; I didn’t see her again until after I crossed the finish line.

Radford. Ah, Radford. The billing for the Grizzly puts the Radford Climb into your nightmares:

The Radford Climb has made a name for itself as one of the most dreaded 5 mile climbs in Southern California.

The only climb I have experienced that is anything like it is at my nemesis, Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Discounting the fact that I have had two terrible rides at Golden Gate, Radford is basically all fire road and fully-exposed, making it qualitatively worse than the GG climb even if the grade is equivalent. In late September, the exposure wasn’t a terrible thing. I did not overheat, but I was just plain bored mentally. The views were great, but climbing at 3mph means they don’t change that often. And at some point, I began to get a bit of gastral discomfort. That’s what I get for not learning my lessons from the last race (even though I was better, I still was not 100% strict on my diet leading up to the race).

After a stop at the porta-john at the aid station at the top of the climb, it was time for some flowy riding on Skyline and a drop down the same fire road we climbed to start the day. I finished strong and came in 17th out of 22 - much worse, relatively, than I thought I was doing. (even though I claimed 10th overall on Strava)

Season Recap

OK, so I did it - I completed 4 of the 5 NUE races I signed up for. That puts me at 9th out of 10 who finished four or more races in the nation. For my first endurance MTB Racing season? I’d say that’s not too shabby.

What’s next?

Well, I’ve largely been doing nothing on the bike for the past month and a half, save a stop at Phil’s World on the way back to Colorado. Side note: if you own a mountain bike, you owe it to yourself to make it down to Cortez, CO to check it out. Seriously, it was the most fun I have ever had on a mountain bike.

I’m beginning to get myself back on a regular cross-training schedule (I’ve been quite erratic lately) to both balance my training (my arms have grown weak…) and keep my base leg strength up. I am, however, transitioning to a stationary lifestyle (more on that in a future post), so I don’t think I’ll be competing in the NUE series next season. I’ll come back when I get to a point that I am actually competitive, if that day indeed comes.

As I’ll be moving back to Colorado, I plan to adopt a more Colorado-friendly race schedule: local races which start later in the season. It’s hard to train when there’s snow on the trails. I am tentatively planning on competing in the Rocky Mountain Endurance Series and probably tossing in a few random events, as that is only a three-race series. On the tentative list are the Gunnison Growler, the Breck 68, and Kokopelli. I’m planning to plan next month, so we’ll see what I decide upon.

Additionally, I want to bring a bit more balance to my training, so I’m going to look into another Tough Mudder or Spartan Race to keep myself honest about training something other than my cycling muscles. For now, I’ll be hitting the home gym, getting ready for ski season, working on my ATP for next season, and researching indoor trainers…