Raw: Synonyms: strong, intense, passionate, fervent, powerful, and unrestrained. This is one of the best ways I can think to describe the Epic Rides race series. Despite the fact that these races are so highly organized and run like a well-oiled machine, the racing experience itself is raw and that is why I love it.
That feeling you get after a long effort, when you are at the end of your string, when you start to ask out loud “Please let this hill end,” when you would fall apart if someone told you a mile was added to the race: that’s the feeling. I love that feeling. When you cross the finish line you feel a rush of emotion as you reenter reality and as your body releases after holding you upright for so long. The feeling when you are a shell of a human, whose energy was spent somewhere around 9,000 feet, I love that feeling.
Sometimes it’s difficult to recount the experience of the Epic Rides events, because that feeling out on the trail is nearly intimate. For four and half hours I enter my own world. The world is flooded with other people who, in my world, are pieces on the board game. We battle, but I rarely speak. Most of the events don’t need an explanation. There is the occasional comment, the holler, the question, but it is fleeting. During these hours that pass like minutes my mind is flooded with so many thoughts and my thoughts are so loud that sometimes I wonder if I accidently said the words out loud. Yet, they are fluid. They are not palpable. The thoughts are feelings put into words that only my mind can decipher. My thoughts are mantras repeated over and over until I realize the hour long climb is behind me. This state, the wavering in and out of flow, is what many psychologists have studied and what many athletes have chased.
According to Steven Kotler in his book on the flow state, flow is achieved when dopamine and norepinephrine flood the body. These chemicals transform the body and (to simplify a lot of science) they enhance focus, drive, and ease the body into the flow state. Once in flow, scientists have seen the ‘prefrontal cortex of the brain shut down.’ What does this mean? Our “inner critic” shuts off and the voice inside of our head is quiet. We are braver, Many people have sought flow through a variety of outlets; through death defining stunts, through pure physical accomplishments, and through meditation. No matter how you get there, flow is addictive and it is an all or nothing quest. Flow, a state where you find the most bliss and feel the joy of autopilot, takes you to the most uncomfortable place because you are brave and brave people take risks. This is why, race weekends, and why the Epic Rides Series cultivate the energy of flow…starting with the Fat Tire Crit on Friday night.
On Friday, the pros lined up to race a mile long, 8 corner lap for 20 minutes plus 3 laps. We are on mountain bikes, with wider tires and flat bars, all the better to accidently catch on each other as we jostle for position. There is no hesitation in this race, however. From the gun, attacks are made. We are pushing our bodies, we are cornering, at high speeds, we are avoiding crashes, we are anticipating a sprint finish and we are flooding our brains with the neurotransmitters needed to enter the flow state.
From the start of the race, I found myself comfortably in the group. I maintained a position near the front, in the top 4-5 people. The safest place in the group is at the front. I took my turn pulling and I chased down attacks. As we entered 3 to go, another surge was made. I wasn’t prepared and I dropped just 10 yards behind the group. As we entered the next lap, my body knew this wasn’t an option. I turned over my gear and I caught the group and went straight to the front. With 2 laps to go I was sitting 2nd wheel…with 1 lap to go, the same thing. With 5 corners to go the move was made, and I was standing, we were all sprinting…in flow state. No brakes, no holds barred, no questions. As we came up on the finish line I crossed in 7th, in a sprint finish that separated the winner by only a few seconds.
On Sunday, we lined up for another addictive dose of flow. The stage was set as the announcers boomed over the loud speaker that hail was coming down on the top of the mountain. Everyone fidgeted on the start line debating wearing the jacket, or arm warmers, or nothing.
The gun went off and we entered our long journey up in the mountains. The race took off to a fast start and I held back. After awhile I questioned my strategy and became frustrated with my position. As I pushed forward up the mountain, I tried to increase my pace and make up time. In the first descent on the trail, I was flying. I was passing the racers ahead of me, and suddenly, I was on the ground. I hit my head on the trail, I broke a part on my dropper post, my knee and hip was bleeding, and my finger was swelling inside my glove. As I stood up with a grimace I wondered what continuing would look like, but I got back on my bike.
As I pushed up the next climb, the pain of the crash faded, and I found the flow. The next 3.5 hours of the race were spent in the flow state. I passed numerous people up the climb and by mile 19 found myself sitting in a group. We charged ahead in this group until mile 33 when we split apart and attacked the final miles of the race as individuals. After 35 miles of climbing, 17 miles of descending, and nearly 7500 feet of climbing, I crossed the finish line in 10th.
Up next: BC Bike Race. Stay tuned for all the excitement.