A day at the races | VailDaily.com

A day at the races

Tom Winter
Special to the Daily/Tom WinterRunners race in Frisco

The training had been brutal.

Mountains of greasy potato chips washed down with gallons of lukewarm Pabst beer. Endless laps between the couch and refrigerator. Hours of late nights propped against the bar, staring at the flickering images on SportsCenter.

By the time we arrived in Moab, we were ready. The five-hour drive down Interstate 70 giving us ample time to loosen up by pounding bombers of Colorado Kind Ale, gobbling down cheap roadside eats and spectating at the fall foliage.

We had gone to Moab to watch the 24 Hours of Moab. A sufferfest unlike many other, in which mountain bikers race for 24-hours straight. Most are in teams of four, but a few really stupid people do it solo.

It would prove to be the highlight of the spectating season, a 24-hour orgy of bloody faces, hypothermia and broken bikes. Best of all, when the half-dead riders finally dragged themselves off the course, we were still fresh, strong and ready for the next event.

The training, thank God, had paid off.

During the past few summers, I’ve been able to relax by spending a day at the races. In a town like Vail, there are plenty of crazy adrenaline-driven exercise junkies. You’re bound to end up becoming friends with at least a couple of these people. Sometimes (not always, mind you), it’s worth missing happy-hour martinis to go check them out in their element. Besides, there’s almost always a free keg at the post-race party.

The 24 Hours of Moab was the kind of epic you do only once or twice in a lifetime as a spectator. The next summer, though, I got hooked on the local race series, both in Vail and over the pass in Summit County.

Frisco hosted one of the best of the year, an evil and dusty bastard that chewed up the athletes.

At the start of the Frisco event, the pack was crowded with the kind of people you see in the magazines. Magazines like Triathlete, Bike, and Tougher Than You.

Lean fit bastards, they stood atop their $5,000-mountain bikes and sneered at the competition, including a buddy who thought he was pretty fast.

They sent out the ladies first. They jostled and cursed at each other, spitting insults as they hammered down the straightaway into the singletrack. My buddy wasn’t far behind them, part of a 100 strong sport class that was damn fast, but not nearly so as a collection of local pros

who did an extra lap in less the time.

I drank a couple of beers my friend as they handed out the prizes on a sunny deck with the gray peaks of the 10-Mile Range glinting above us. Chris was worked, but stoked. He had eeked out a top-10 finish.

I was stoked because – not only had my friend done well – but I had just gotten the chance to see some of the top pro riders in the state. Meaning, of course, some of the best riders in the country.

That’s how it is when you go to the races in these parts. Cheer your friends on, but keep your eyes open for the many elite athletes who also show up at these events.

While you’re more likely to see the top dogs at local mountain bike races, there’s plenty of other athletes that will blow you away with their stamina and abilities.

This point was thrust home to me a couple of weeks ago as I watch the citizen’s class struggle through the final mile of a half marathon. My friends did well in the race, but the winners were long, lanky runners who glided across the finish line effortlessly.

I hadn’t even watched a footrace in person before, but the event transfixed this couch potato. Runners, when they’re good, are like gazelles, beautiful and graceful and full of power.

Next year, forget the 24 Hours of Moab. I’m going to the Boston Marathon. Not to race mind you, but to watch and support my friends who are dumb enough to think that running a marathon in Boston is a great way to spend their vacation.

Tom Winter is a freelance writer based in Vail.

Just The Facts

Vail Mountain Bike Races: http://www.vailrec.com/adult/mountain_bike

Summit County events: http://www.bradsport.com/summerraces.htm

24 Hours Of Moab: http://www.grannygear.com

Boston Marathon: http://www.bostonmarathon.org

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