I arrived in St. George Utah on Friday afternoon with plenty of time to go for a ride and check out some of the course. I had never been to St. George before and heard that some of the True Grit Course was really technical and I wanted to see some of it before the race. I don’t have much experience riding heavy technical trail as most of my riding is around the midwest with roots vs rocks and big drops, at least where I normally ride anyways. I rode in Moab once a couple years ago when I was getting back into riding and had ridden Porcupine Rim and Slickrock Trail. Porcupine Rim was by far the craziest thing I had ridden in the past.
I found the starting area and the first gravel climb in my truck and then headed over to the Zen Trail area, since I heard that was the most technical section. I had only been on my bike once, since the Fat Bike Birkie race the previous weekend and needed to get my legs moving. We were making a big spring break trip out of the True Grit race, so my bike had kind of been an afterthought the whole week up till now.
I ran into a few other people at the trailhead parking doing the same thing. I didn’t know much about the trail and talked to a couple people that pointed me in the right direction. I forget the one person’s name that helped me reseat my tire, but I appreciated the help. I was adding some sealant through the valve stem and the bead popped. He pumped the floor pump fast, while I pulled the tire bead toward the edge and we were able to get it sealed up again.
Pre Riding True Grit
I headed out on the Zen Trail, figuring I would just ride the entire loop as it was less than 10 miles. Boy was I glad that I checked it out. First, it was good to get my legs spinning up the hill. Second, it was an eye opener for some of the climbs we would make the next day as it just kept going up. Third, I would definitely be doing some hiking over the technical sections. I rode down a few drops and steep technical sections and surprised myself a little. I hadn’t ridden on stuff like this before. I was in for a real treat the next day.
I took my time getting around Zen Trail and took a few pictures of the scenery and just looked around. I knew tomorrow, I would be focused on racing and probably wouldn’t get a chance to appreciate it as much. I gotta say, it was going to be pretty awesome to be able to race in this type of terrain and environment. I crashed once, leaving me with a few bruises and cuts with some blood running down my arm from my right elbow. You have one little crash on rocks and it looks like somebody beat the hell out of you.
I finished my ride, lubed my chain and checked everything over on my bike. I was feeling a little tired after the ride, but I needed to check out the course. I headed over to Red Rock Bicycle to pick up my registration packet. This was a pretty big shop with a lot going on. If you are in the area, stop and check out the shop. Looks like a real nice place.
Meeting Tinker Juarez At True Grit Packet Pick Up
At any rate, I picked up my registration packet and also had the opportunity to meet and talk with Tinker Juarez. The guy is a legend in mountain biking and it was pretty cool to be in line with him at registration. I got back into riding again a few years ago after about a 10 year hiatus, but Tinker was a legend already when I was back in college. Super nice guy and pretty cool to be in the packet pick up line with him at a race.
I had my registration packet and was all set for the next day. I was restless that evening and kept feeling like I was forgetting something. I typically don’t really get nerved up about races, because they’re just another ride. Quite honestly, I just wanted to finish within the cutoff time and was going to be fairly happy if I could finish under 10 hours. That being said, I was actually a little nervous about the race the next day. I think it was the new terrain, new area and unfamiliarity of the course and the last minute travel plans to get to the race (we had to leave our travel trailer for repair along the way)… Whatever it was, I was a bit nerved up and didn’t sleep well.
I got out of bed early, my wife woke up the kids and we headed down to the starting line of the race. A little early for the kids, but my wife needed the truck for the day. It was a cold and rainy morning, but the rain was supposed to let up. It was still dark when we found parking near the start line and the rain had turned to sprinkles and was starting to let up. I checked and adjusted my tire pressure one last time and headed for the start line.
The True Grit Epic Race
There I was at the start line of True Grit Epic, my first NUE (National Ultra Endurance) series race. I was probably set up somewhere near mid pack at the start line of 90 starters. There were a few callups, a National Anthem and then True Grit on with a squad car rollout through town. The rollout wasn’t as aggressive as I thought it would be, but slowly kicked up as we hit the first climb up the gravel road to hit the course. I was feeling ok. My legs felt a little heavy, but I didn’t want to take it too easy. In hindsight, I definitely went out a little too hard for what I was ready for.
We were up the short gravel climb and onto the main course now. The pace was moving fast now, but I could see the long line of riders in front and behind me while still being able make out the front of the line in the distance before we hit the winding creek beds. Even though I pushed myself on the first climb and this first section of trail, I was still cold and my nose was dripping like an old sink faucet in Grandma’s cabin.
I was still holding my own and I think sitting about a third of the way back in the pack. There was a good climb that started around mile 8 that leads up to a crazy hike a bike down hill section where I lost some spots. There was a few guys that rode past me on the top portion of it while I was hiking down, but it appeared that everybody had to get off and hike at some point. Regardless, I lost a little momentum here.
At this point, the line or pack of riders had really started to spread out and I think the lead guys were well off the front by now. I had probably slipped back to mid pack by now. I had gone out too strong for sure and was trying to find my own comfortable pace, now that I wasn’t caught up in the excitement of the race start.
It was pretty much downhill from this point to the first aid station at the Zen Trail Loop. There was one corner that was completely clay and I apparently chose the wrong line through it. It packed up so dang quick and hard that it literally locked up my wheels as if I had grabbed a handful of brake. I stepped off the bike to carry my bike out of the clay and I was now about 4 inches taller with clay hardened to concrete on the bottom of the shoes. I dug the clay out of my frame and shoes the best I could and tried to get rolling again. I had to stop another couple times as the clay that was left on my tires kept picking up more rocks and dirt and locking my wheels up in my frame again. Finally, I got it cleaned out enough to keep moving.
I could not clip in as I had also packed up my pedals pretty bad with the clay. I should have cleaned my shoes off better. I eventually got my pedals clipped in and I passed through the aid station. I should have stopped to dig out the clay some more, but started making my way up the Zen Trail climb. At the top of the double track, I had to stop and dig out my pedals more and clear more clay from my frame as my front derailer hanger was froze up and I thought I might need my small ring up front for the rest of this climb. Even more so, making me think of a 1 X drivetrain… I still can’t justify it yet though, at least until I need a new cassette and some chain rings I guess.
I got back on the bike and moving again while picking my way up the rocky climb with 1 or 2 short hike a bikes. Zen trail is pretty crazy and pictures don’t really do it justice. There are hike a bikes, but the trail invites you to try and ride all of it. It’s just on that edge and I personally have not ridden stuff like this. I rode some trail at True Grit that I normally would have walked on any other day.
I was caught up in racing and after cleaning some of the sections, was pretty pumped that I was able to ride some of the trail that I rode. Totally wishing I had a dropper post, as I swear I was off the back of my bike so far at times that my seat was dang near hitting my chin. Yes, I am a bit disproportional… Barely 5’10” with the arms and legs of somebody that is 6’4″ and the feet and torso of somebody that is 5’2″. You try getting a bike fit with that mess…
Back to racing… By the time I made it around Zen Trail, my upper body and hands were rattled and shaken. That was some rough trail and I probably should have opened up my rebound damping a bit on my shocks. I stopped at the Zen Trail feed zone and filled up my hydration pack. I like my new Ogio pack, but definitely missed the Camelbak easy fill bladder. If I put a Camelbak bladder in my Ogio pack, I’d have the perfect set up. One of the aid station volunteers completely cleaned out my pedals for me, without me even having to mention it to him. Aid stations at True Grit were pretty awesome. I grabbed a couple cookies for the road and started making my way up the next climb.
At the top of the climb was a really quick descent to the bottom of the valley through a choose your own adventure free ride zone. This was pretty crazy and some of the drop-offs were too steep to see what was on the other side or the bottom until you were committed. This was crazy fun and yet again, a new type of riding for me. At the bottom of the free ride zone, we dropped into a creek bed and followed that till we dumped out onto some of the most fast and flowy trail I have ever ridden. You were going to catch some hang time, whether you wanted to or not. I rode it fast, but could definitely get way faster on it with some practice. Apparently, I am talking myself into racing True Grit Epic again… Or at least spending some time in St. George, Utah!
I’d like to think I got some recovery in the flowy stuff, but I was out of the saddle and pretty focused on the trail ahead with the speed I was carrying and I was feeling like I needed a break. I was headed back up hill now on a climb for the next 6 miles. It was about 700 feet of elevation gain, so not real steep over 6 miles, but definitely wore you down by the end. I was feeling the effects of going out a little strong and was struggling to eat. My stomach was turning a little bit and I was definitely hurting on the nutrition side of things. Whether it was the cookies or just too much reliance on gels, I don’t know… Something wasn’t right though and I was feeling sick.
There would be another fast flowy downhill section after the climb that would provide some more hang time. I was a little nervous as the speeds were getting pretty high and I couldn’t always see what was over the other side or the bottom of the berm that I was about to launch off of. There were times that I was catching air, whether I wanted to or not. Lots of fun and I need to find more stuff like that to ride. I am used to the IMBA style regional park switchback single track for the most part, where a few roots and minor rock piles are the major obstacles.
I was back into some single track now and nearing the Barrel Roll feed zone. I filled up my hydration pack again and replaced my water bottle with a bottle of Carbo Rocket. I had never tried the stuff before, but I needed to try something different. The stuff went down easy and after a few miles of riding, my stomach was feeling more satisfied and less sour. I was actually feeling pretty decent again for awhile. The Barrel Roll section was all single track, but much of it was pretty rough and rocky with a couple spots that I had to step off.
I was out of Barrel Roll and starting my second lap. It was so weird, because I had plenty of power in my legs, but everything just felt fatigue and lacking energy. I have yet to nail down a good nutrition plan and practice it. I am still testing and playing around with things, but I am learning that gels alone will not do it for me. The gels do help and seem to be a good later in race bonk prevention, but I don’t think I can go solo on them.
At any rate, I was continuing to slow a little bit each mile. I was for the most part on my own through most of the first section of the second lap with a few riders passing me. I was a little worried about my upper body fatigue knowing that I would be hitting Zen Trail again and I definitely needed some upper body strength for Zen. True Grit Epic was definitely becoming an epic ride.
I stopped at one point, because my front shock just felt way too hard. I don’t know if it was the temp changes through the day or just the clay that had built up early in the race. I stopped and tried to let a little air out knowing I was coming to an aid station soon. I might have let out a little too much, but it did feel better and I got on my way.
At one point, I popped out of some single track onto some double track and then caught the glimpse of some single track running alongside the double track on the other side. I was with a group in the morning and couldn’t remember what we rode and I couldn’t see any course markings around. I stopped and pulled up the map function on my Garmin to see if I could make out what we rode in the morning. The single track was right alongside the double, so I couldn’t really tell and headed back up and hit the single track. I eventually came across a couple course ribbons down the single track before it dumped back out on the double track at the bottom of the hill.
After the race, I looked back on Strava Flyby and saw that a bunch of us rode the double track in the morning and others actually rode it in the afternoon as well. I did send an e-mail to the race director to let her know about it. She said she was aware of the confusion and thanked me for letting her know so they could mark that spot better next year. The course difference was pretty insignificant and I lost more time stopping on the second lap to figure out which way to go than was gained on the first lap. I think it was just over a tenth of a mile difference.
Back to racing… I rolled through the Zen Feed Zone without stopping as I was concerned about getting around it before the cut off time. The total race had an 11 hour cut off, but the cut off at the check point coming out of Zen was closer to a 10 hour race time. I had plenty of time, but didn’t want to waste any of it, because I knew I would be slower around Zen this time.
I did a little bit more hiking on Zen loop the second time around. My upper body was a little more fatigued and I played it safe on some sections rather than risking a crash. It hurts to fall on rocks and I did crash once. I straightened my derailer hanger back out and got back on my way. The descent out of Upper Zen seemed to take a major toll on my hands. I had to shake them out when I got to the bottom.
I am running my stock Felt grips still, which I do like. They are fairly small diameter and I get a good grip on the bar, but they don’t offer a ton of vibration damping. They are getting pretty worn out as well. I do have a set of Ergon grips, but I just haven’t ridden with them enough to get comfortable on technical trails and opted to stick with my familiar Felt grips for True Grit. This spring, I am going to spend some time on the Ergon grips to see if I can get used to them on more technical trails, before spending money on something else again.
I made my way through the check point with plenty of time and was happy to see my wife and kids waiting for me again. I did a little jump for the kids, so they still think I am “cool” and then stopped and gave each of them a hug before moving into the aid station to refuel. I also had to get some air in my front shock. After getting around the Zen loop, I knew for sure I had let too much air out earlier. In hindsight, I think I just needed to open up my rebound damping. I think the hits were just coming at it too fast and it just wasn’t keeping up.
I had the climb up out of the aid station to hit the fun free ride and Bear Claw Poppy Trail again. Man that stuff was fun. I came down the free ride section on a slightly different path and caught myself in a massive steep drop, but it all worked out and I was in the creek bed again. I would like to think I was faster through Bear Claw Poppy the second time. However, I think I might have been a little slower as I just costed most of it, knowing that I had the 6 miles of uphill grade coming out of it. My upper body was pretty fatigued also and I was a little nervous about my bike handling ability at high speed.
I was definitely slower on the climb out of Bear Claw Poppy, this time. I actually stopped a couple times as well to take in some of the views. I had never ridden out here and sometimes, you just have to sit back and appreciate the opportunity to ride / race in this type of terrain and atmosphere. True Grit is definitely set up in some pretty spectacular terrain and scenery.
I had another section of really fast rolling descent before making the final climb up to the Barrel Roll feed zone area. This section was crazy… There is a view of the little hills you come over, that you don’t know what is on the other side. I came over one of them a little too far off the back of my seat and got caught back there a little sideways in the air. It was sketchy for a moment but I was able to ride it out. I was by myself, but still let out a big ole “wahooo!” after coming out of it safely.
I knew I had to be to the Barrel Feed Zone by 4:30 to make the cutoff. Like I said earlier, the race cutoff was 11 hours, but the intermediate cutoffs were slightly more aggressive. I made it through the cutoff with a half hour to spare. I was a little tired and stopped for a couple minutes. I got a refill of Carbo Rocket, ate a pickle and had a short conversation with the aid station volunteer about how great of riding it was out here. He filled me in on some other trails in the area that I should check out some time and then I got back on my way again. True Grit had started turning into a great epic ride for me, rather than a race.
That being said, I didn’t want to linger too much and I knew I could still finish under 10 hours and I headed back out on the trail to finish the race. I had originally told myself that I would be happy if I finished under 10 hours, so maybe I should have set a little more aggressive of a goal. Regardless, I made ok time around Barrel Roll loop and was on my way back to the finish line in town.
I was cutting the time close, but knew I was going to make the 10 hour mark. I was getting close to the finish line and saw my wife and kids sitting on the corner cheering me across the finish. I crossed the finish line in 9 hours and 56 minutes and ended up finishing in 60th place overall with 90 racers starting the True Grit Epic 100 race.
True Grit Epic Afterthoughts
The actual miles of True Grit Epic 100 is really only 88 miles, but it was 88 miles of just about every type of trail you could imagine in a mountain bike race. It had stuff that was not rideable, or at least not rideable by my standards, lots of climbing, crazy fast descents, big rocky drops and super fast and flowy singletrack. It was an epic race and one to put on your bucket list. It is really early in the year and at this point, feels like more of a season finisher for me rather than an early season race.
As far as my race goes; I went out too hard and then paid for it big time the next 70 miles. I still haven’t learned my lesson and if I look back on my biggest racing mistakes… The biggest thing that stands out is me going out too hard and then suffering for some big mileage. I’d like to go back and race a little smarter race from the start. It is really tough to get a warm up in before these races, since you need to be at the start line early enough that you end up cooling back down. 100 miles is a long way and in the future, I will start holding myself back more at the start so that I can slowly pick up steam throughout the race.
Now I am in a bit of this “no mans land” feeling and just got back on my bike again after not touching it for over a week. Not because I didn’t want to ride, but I’m back in Minnesota now and we’re in the crappy spring in between weather and it almost feels like I should be getting ready for Thanksgiving. I liked the Fat Bike racing for sure and am starting to think that spring is the new fall wind down time. That being said, I am fairly positive that I will be back out to True Grit again in the future. Now that I know the course, I know I can race a smarter race and definitely go faster.
I know this is a long race report, but I hope you enjoy reading it. Let me know if you have any questions about the race. I really enjoy connecting with people and talking about bikes, training, riding, racing and really anything in life. If you were there, I’d like to hear about your experience and maybe you have some tips for me or other readers that you might want to share.
I don’t have anything planned now until the Mohican 100 in June, but I will probably hit up a couple local road races, a gravel ride or XC event in the mean time. I enjoy being around the sport and getting out on my bike any way I can. Until next time, enjoy the ride!
True Grit Epic – www.truegritepic.com
2016 True Grit Epic Results – www.app.lap.io/event/2016-true-grit-epic/results
2016 True Git Epic Photos – www.crawlingspider.com/events-2/true-grit-epic-2016/