With great anticipation, I returned to the base of the Dutch Henry Ski Hill with my sites set on a sub 6:00 race.
Drawing on my experience from last year, I was much more aggressive in finding a position towards the front. I wanted to be able to attack the hill and be in front of the bottleneck that occurs a few miles in.
With almost double the training (literally, double the miles), I felt much more confident in my ability to excel in the race.
As the gun went off, I attacked the bottom half of the hill and found myself panting and out of breath about halfway up. I backed off the pace but continued to be aggressive. I didn’t want to get caught in the back when the trail goes to single track. I lost too much time there last year.
The course meanders for the first few miles but after a steep drop, the climb begins in earnest. From miles 3-10 you climb from 9,950 to 12,000 feet along a gradual 4WD road. As you approach the top, it gets steeper and there are spots where I was forced to hike a bike. I reached the top in 1:23, my goal had been 75 minutes so I was a bit behind but not terribly. I quickly descended down to the first aid station and arrived only 2 minutes behind my goal of 90 minutes.
The climb was tougher than last year. It seemed to be more rutted out and more loose than I remembered. There was definitely more hiking for me and I started to fall off my goal splits. I hit the turnaround 20 minutes behind schedule at 3:04. It’s a faster course back, so I wasn’t tremendously concerned, but I knew the climb out from Stumptown was going to be tough.
Storms were building and I was nervous about getting wet, but I decided to forego the rain jacket. The climb back out from Stumptown is steep and can be quite a bit sketchy with riders coming down the steep single track from the summit. I practiced my mantra of RFM..Relentless Forward Motion. I had a bit of hole to dig out of, but I wasn’t done yet.
As I summited the the climb out of Stumptown, the wind was starting to pick up so I hustled my way off the 12,000 foot pass and into the trees. There is a quick climb again before the long descent to 32 mile mark. It’s only 300 feet, but if you’re not mentally ready for it (I wasn’t last year), it hurts.
I opened up the throttle on the descent and really noticed a difference in my full-suspension vs. the hard tail I rode last year. I was also a much better downhill rider than last year. Both of these helped my time significantly.
As I reached the beginning of the final climb, I doubled down and focused on pedaling. The aid station at Printer Boy breaks up the climb nicely and that was my primary goal. Try and gain as much time back before Printer Boy and then work my way up to the base of Mt. Sherman.
I got to Printer Boy at 4:36, only 19 minutes ahead of last year. I was concerned sub 6 hours wasn’t going to happen, but the opportunity was still on the table. As I climbed back up to 12,000 feet, my legs began to cramp up a bit and I had to stop occasionally to stretch them out, but I was able to continuously climb. It’s straightforward and smooth, just long. You can see much of it the entire time.
I reached the summit at 5:16, 24 minutes ahead of last year. I just needed a little bit more time to get under 6. It was going to be an aggressive descent!
I let loose and tore down the hill. The next 7 miles were covered in 26 minutes, putting me at 5:42 with 3 miles to go. The final 3 are rolling hills that require your attention in shifting as well as digging deep to get up the small climbs. I attacked with everything I had left and forced water down to keep fueling me. I was cutting it close and I knew it.
To get to the finish line, you go on top of Dutch Henry Hill and down a trail just north of it. I sprinted across the top and knew that I was under 6, but I pushed just to make sure.
The clock read 5:57:11, almost 3 minutes under my goal. Cut it close, but got it done!
With my goal accomplished, we enjoyed dinner and a beer in the race expo. The difference between how I felt this year vs. last year was night and day. Last year, I was tanked and exhausted. This year, I could feel that I had undergone a big effort, but I wasn’t dead.
Little did I know, I was going to need that feeling in a few weeks.