(If there is only one Quadrathlon out there, we might as well call it a Championship, right?)
What are the best races out there? That's a pretty subjective question. Depends on what you like to do. But some races are just different than others.
I've raced a lot - road bike, mountain bike, cyclocross, road run, trail run, road duathlon, mountain duathlon, road triathlon, off-road triathlon, winter triathlon, classic ski, skate ski, under 20 minutes, over 12 hours... I've gotten a pretty good sampling of races. A few really stand out to me. Ones that were put together so well that you can't help but have a good time, even if you have a bad race.
I really like the Wahsatch Steeplechase, Squaw Peak 50, the Sundance/Soldier Hollow MTB race series, Ogden XTERRA and Quelle Challenge Roth. It's the combination of the type of race it is, how much thought and effort the organizers have put into it, the type of people it attracts, and what kind of vibe it has when it's all put together. I definitely have a new one for the list that is hard to beat: the Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon.
It's something special when a town of 10,000 people produces 200 volunteers to be up on the mountain caring for every need of the racers. Then there are another couple hundred other volunteers that helped plan, prepare, donate, and otherwise make the race awesome both beforehand and on race day.
To be honest, Grants, NM is not the prettiest town. It's struggling economically, because it doesn't quite know what to do with itself now that the uranium mining dried up. And it's home to two state prisons. Lovely.
But here are a few experiences I had there last weekend that made it so that I'll make every effort to go back every February for the Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon:
- True hospitality. When some race volunteers found out that I was planning to sleep in the back of my subaru, they put me up in their house. They did not even hesitate to open to me their guest bedroom, shower, and kitchen.
- They have gotten the logistics of a super complicated course down to a science. They've been doing this since the 1980's, and they've learned some things. They were efficient with getting things to the right places.
- Incredible level of support from race volunteers. As you approach the transition zones (3 zones, each of which you hit twice), you hear volunteers shouting your number to those who are by the stuff you need. Then they guide you to your stuff. Then you have 2-4 volunteers taking the stuff you're dropping off, giving you a Gu, handing you the stuff you need, tying, untying, zipping, unzipping, finding whatever you need, and cheering you on like you're a hero. The volunteers are the best. No money can pay for that quality. You just have to like what you're doing. Mt Taylor Quad volunteers like what they're doing.
- The course. OF COURSE! This course is defined by the goal of
climbing a mountain, not an arbitrary distance. I'm tired of courses
that are defined by some "accepted" distance so you can sorta kinda
compare your time with everybody else in the world in their races. But
every course is unique, and comparisons only go so far. This race
abandons comparisons and takes advantage of the attributes of the local
terrain. The bike, run, ski, and snowshoe are in that order because
each is appropriate for the part of the race they are in. The distances
are all defined by what makes sense - the road bike leg is 13 miles,
because that's as far as you can go up the mountain before you hit dirt.
The run is 5 miles, because that's when you get to an awesome ski
trail. The ski is 2 miles, because then you come to a good flat spot for
a transition, and it would be sketchy to go all the way to the peak on
skis. The snowshoe is 1 mile, because that's what it takes to get up to
the summit. You go back the way you came, with the exception of the
ski course, because it would be unsafe to go back the way you came.
There are no spurs or loopy doopy extra detours to make sure it's long
enough. This mountain is a beast, and the race is to get to the top and
back in ways that rock. It's a pure and direct 43 miles. Love it.
- Awesome competitors. Great races attract great people. We had a
14-year old, an amputee, and a few 65-plus guys in the race. I got
schooled by a couple of 50-year olds, 4 hard core women, and plenty of
others. It's worth it to meet inspiring people like the group at this
race. Many of them have done this race 5 or 10 times, and one guy had
done it 25 times.
- Race day food. Endless gels and bananas at the aid stations, and endless subway sandwiches at the finish. 'Nuff said.
- Free dinner the night before. I know, lots of races do this. And they
all give you spaghetti and cheap salad. But it was way more fun than
the typical pre-race dinner because of the attitude of the high school
band kids that pretty much ran the whole thing. They were definitely
enjoying themselves, and with all the care they took to give us the
ultimate dining experience, they may as well have been servers at a posh
restaurant. Even if it was on disposable plates. And of course you get
to talk to other racers, which is great. They're hardcore people and
fun to get to know, and there's plenty to talk about with plans for the
- Coupon for a $7 discount on dinner for the next
night at your choice of a bunch of different restaurants. Who else does
that? Nothing else comes to mind.
- Prizes. $1000 prize to win it? That's cool*. I think that the winners should take home real prizes, not dust collectors. The prizes that the age groupers and teams win? Super nice engraved Nambe platters. I'd be excited to get a hat or a bag or something, but they do a really nice job. It's something I'd never trash**. Although I will always have a special place in my heart for prizes that enable you to do more of what you obviously love so much that you train enough to do well in a race.
* I don't say that because I think I can win $1000. There's no way I'll ever win the Quad without quitting grad school to train full time. And that's not going to happen.
** Sarah and I chuck most trophies (of course she gets more of them than I do). We just don't have much space and don't know where we'd put them. I've even stopped feeling bad about it, because most of the time they are cheap, lame, way too big, or some combination of those three.
Two things might have made the Quad less of an awesome experience.
I pulled up to the start on my bike and couldn't unclip from my pedals, and fell over*. My semi-frozen new pedals just wouldn't let go. Fortunately I didn't fall into anyone and only got a minor bruise on my elbow. I got up, tried to make a joke about it, and moved closer to the start line. I'm sure the people I moved up to must have been terrified. Ha!
* I remember the last time I did that newbie stunt quite well. I think it was in 2004 after a mountain bike race that I fell into a pile of gravel in front of a bunch of spectators. Since then I thought I was immune.
Ahem. I, uh, didn't bring skins for my skate skis for the uphill ski portion. Yes, I planned to climb 1,200 feet in 2 miles without any traction for my skis. And I did climb 1,200 feet in 2 miles in my skinless skate skis, thinking it would be ok, since I'd be super fast on the downhill. But I went slow enough on the uphill that I dropped from about 6th place to about 30th in the course of my 53-minute slog. Skate skis are a great choice for the race, but you've really got to have skins. That's something to work on for next time*.
* I'd better stop here, or my wife is going to think that I am actually going to quit grad school and train for real for the next Mt. Taylor Quad...
Come join the awesomeness next Presidents' Day weekend!
Mt Taylor Quad website and Facebook site