Brian Medower // Big Epic

After almost a year of lockdown this past February, I was looking for an endurance MTB ride to train for to get me motivated. I was playing around with various trail route planners trying to link 100 miles of dirt without touching pavement (not easy in the Bay Area…) when I stumbled across the Big Epic ride in a search. It was a bit more pavement than I had hoped for, but the fact that it was close to home and had a fair bit of single track, and even a little technical stretch through Santa Teresa, made it close enough to give it a shot. With 3 months to train before May I had some work to do…

My epic actually started the night before the race when I kicked the end of a door and fractured the pinky toe on my left foot. With only a week of race window left before the end of May, I figured as long as I could still get my foot into a cycling shoe in the morning I’d stick to the original plan and see how I felt when I woke up.

The shoe fit so I popped a few vitamin-i pills and headed for the trailhead. (Turns out cycling shoes make for a decent splint.) I arrived at the RCdO parking lot a bit after seven and was greeted by the wild turkeys that seem to be taking over the Bay Area open spaces this year and a few deer in the meadow across the road. I decided to forego a real warmup to minimize extra time on my foot and that was probably a mistake. The 1.2 mile out and back didn’t exactly get my legs prepped for the Mayfair Ranch climb. I pushed through, feeling like I was moving slowly but ending up with a Mayfair PR - Also maybe not the best way to start this long of a race…

Saw two fawns and a bunch of does near the top of Mayfair; awesome to be one of the first people through on a weekday before the wildlife gets scared off. I was feeling happy to be on my MTB with 2.2” tires through the “marbles on concrete” section of Long Wall DH. A rabbit hell-bent on running through my spokes nearly ruined both of our days on a fast section between switchbacks and left me pondering whether the originator of the term “bunny hop” coined the term because they thought that they were hopping like a bunny or were actually hopping over a bunny. We both survived, but I’m curious who had the higher heart rate at that moment. Long Wall Canyon climb was a grind, but the amazing morning views of the surrounding hills took the edge off.

Over the top and down Chisnatuk had me embracing the two wheel drift through the switchbacks - A bit too much drift on one left me with both tires off the trail on the steep adjacent hillside for a moment. I managed to bounce it back between the lines, but was again really happy to have some real knobs on my tires today. I slowed the pace a touch after that.

I was on goal pace on my first pass through Calero, but just barely. Holding to my goal pace up Country View was mistake #2 (or was that 3…) and I started cramping a bit at the top. Not a good sign for this early in the race. I downed some Endurolyte, snapped my container photo, and hoped for a recovery in the descent through Santa Teresa. Another PR through the Stiles Super-D left me grinning, but the climb back up confirmed that I had pushed things a little too hard early on.

Over the top again and into Ohlone, I was wishing I had pre-ridden this stretch a second time before the race. One wrong turn and a couple of slowdowns to check the route at the forks didn’t help my time, but at least the trail was fun. Until those ridiculous vertical walls to get back to the front, that is. Not sure if the 30-36% grade blips shown on Strava in this section are accurate, but they can’t be far off. This section did me in and I was hurting as I rolled down and out for the 2nd pass through Calero and a water stop, now way off my goal pace.

The wind picked up considerably with headwinds from Calero to Hacienda, and sporadically up the Mine Hill climb. Fortunately the headwinds were a bit milder for the Umunhum road climb but I was cooked by the time I reached the Bald Mountain parking lot. I took a quick break to shake out and then hit the single track. I must not have locked my phone screen when I put it in my pocket because the next time I looked at it Strava had shut down on me. I had a moment of panic when I thought I had lost my whole ride, but thankfully it had saved and had only been shut down for a few minutes. I restarted and pushed on for the summit. The lower grade and perfectly maintained singletrack helped me forget that my legs had been on the verge of serious cramping for the last 20 miles.

Made a quick stop at the top for food and a photo at the construction barrier before heading down. Gorgeous views of the Pacific before hitting the downhill proper and enjoying the recovery time on the long descent.

Back to Mine Hill for a few photos. I was disappointed that the showers and locker room were closed. A shower and a sauna would’ve been great since I was way off pace anyway…

A dab on a left switchback on the Mine Hill DH reminded me of my injured left foot the hard way. I took it easier on the corners again and slogged my way back up Randol to Hacienda. Chatted with Mr. Ironman (Apparently a regular here? See Dave’s race report.) while I took on a little unplanned extra water. Another rider asked me if they could borrow a pump just as I was getting ready to roll again; Mr. Ironman saved me a few minutes by offering to grab one for him from his truck.

I popped the rest of my Endurolytes and a little food and put my head down for the road stretch back to Calero. I started feeling a bit better and picked up my pace again through the back side of Calero and Oak Cove, hitting the pavement right at rush hour. McKean this time of day is terrifying. Multiple trucks and cars passed within inches of me at highway speeds on the no-shoulder portion of the climb. Definitely not recommended. Rolling back up Casa Loma gave some time to decompress again. After a solid day of type 2 pleasure, I haven’t been so happy to get off my bike in a long time.

A few key learnings for me out of this one:

  1. A cycling shoe makes for a decent splint, and apparently I don’t use my pinky toe for much when riding.

  2. A few more long training days to build endurance and as a reminder of the importance of managing my early pace would have been a good idea.

  3. I was WAY off on my estimate of electrolyte needs. Cramping for 50 miles isn’t something I care to repeat.

  4. If your ride depends on Strava for credit, put your device somewhere you can see it rather than your pocket.

  5. Do everything possible to avoid McKean in the afternoon - That stretch from the Calero main entrance to Casa Loma really is awful when it is busy. I’ll second Maurizio’s recommendation to consider starting the race at San Vicente for future years for both car traffic and warmup reasons.

Thanks to Dave for putting this course together and for forwarding the proceeds to POST and Second Harvest. The promise of good brutal fun and supporting some good causes were just the motivators I needed this spring.