Another local charges into, and back out of, the pain cave
Team Griggs Orthopedics rider Neil Beltchenko pushed through rain, fog and a tear in the lateral meniscus of his right knee to win the 2014 Colorado Trail Race in a time of four days, nine hours and 55 minutes.
The Colorado Trail Race (CTR) is a 550-mile self-supported mountain bike race, complete with over 70,000 feet of elevation gain, between Denver and Durango following the Colorado Trail. The course alternates direction each year with the 2014 version starting just outside of Denver and finishing at the Junction Creek trailhead in Durango.
Beltchenko first tested the waters of the CTR in 2012 riding the course with a friend. He jumped into the fray officially last year riding to a fifth place finish. Beltchenko took his experience from last year to push himself even harder this year.
“Last year helped me know how much sleep I needed, how hard I could push myself and I learned how to listen to my body,” explains Beltchenko.
Essentially, Beltchenko learned that he could go on a lot less sleep. For example, last year he slept six hours the first night of the race while this year he slept 50 minutes the first night.
“I slept a total of seven hours and that was just about right,” says Beltchenko.
Beltchenko was thrown a curveball early in the race near the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs when he laid down for his second sleep break. A malfunction on his watch alarm resulted in an extra hour of sleep, which is good if you’re tired but bad if you’re racing.
“That was a little scary,” says Beltchenko.
Fortunately, in the opening two days of the race, Beltchenko had already built a big enough cushion on his closest competitor that the extra hour had little effect on his lead and he soon realized that he was racing for himself with his eyes on a course record.
He used a combination of nuts, candy, fruit and whatever sandwiches he could pick up at gas stations to fuel himself, relying somewhat on gummy bears for additional calories.
“I was eating pretty much whatever I had, whatever I thought tasted good at the time, and a lot of gummy bears,” says Beltchenko. “Those things are stacked with calories.”
Night riding was supplemented with caffeinated energy chews and drinks.
“Those kept me going, I felt like I was riding just as fast at night as I was during the day,” says Beltchenko.
But, in the midst of his push the next two days, he was battered with wind, rain and fog.
“It was a very, very wet CTR,” says Beltchenko. “Luckily there was no lightning.”
Then, 510 miles into the race with a sizable lead and a blistering pace in tact, Beltchenko’s race almost ended with the finish line well within reach.
“When I left Silverton heading up Molas Pass I was feeling great until halfway up I felt a sharp pain in my knee,” says Beltchenko. “I stopped to stretch some and the pain went from a five to an eight.”
A solid dose of Ibuprofen got Beltchenko back on his bike but then more rain, more wind and more fog came adding insult to injury.
“I was walking my bike and the trail was a river,” says Beltchenko. “I was thinking the Colorado Trail is doing everything it can to get me off the trail. Then the fog was so thick I couldn’t see anything so descending was super scary.”
Nevertheless, Beltchenko pushed through to the finish line to the win and just five minutes under his pre race goal of four days and 10 hours.
He will spend the next couple of weeks nursing his torn meniscus back into shape with plenty of physical therapy and then turn his sights to the next biking challenge, the Tour Divide race from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, New Mexico
“I’m doing the Divide race next year so I have to start preparing now,” says Beltchenko.