Colorado Trail Race Winner Eszter Horanyi

Aug 20, 2010
Outside Magazine

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The Colorado Trail Race is not for the faint of heart. Mountain bikers pedal unsupported for 470 miles and gain about 65,000' of elevation. The route is in Colorado's Rocky Mountains and takes racers from Denver to Durango. If you sign on for this be prepared to HTFU. It's no joke.

Trackleaders, Scott Morris's genius software program, tracked the riders. I'll confess I became a blue-dot junkie, watching the dots march along in the most horrendous weather, all the while staring at my screen from a warm, dry place. Congrats to all the riders. I was lucky enough to chat with Eszter Horanyi, 2009's 24 hrs of Moab Solo Champion, about her record breaking ride this year. Wow.

Did you have dry kits everyday? Or was it wet chamios?
I had two pairs of chamois and a single jersey with me, so I had a dry chamois for approximately the first 12 hours.  From there, I'd say I had wet shorts on more often than dry. I was washing the dirty pair every day and leaving them on my pack to dry, but we rarely got a stretch of sun long enough to actually dry them.

How much heavier does your equipment get with all the rain?
 My sleeping bag was constantly damp and my tarp never got dry.  I'm not sure how much weight it added on but it definitely made it psychologically hard knowing that all I had was a wet sleeping bag to crawl into at the end of the day.

Was it a season goal to set a CTR course record?
No.  I'm pretty sure that if I'd been planning it all season, I would have freaked myself out about it.  I'd made some noise about wanting to do it early on, but I didn't actually start ordering and overnighting gear until a week out.  I had know idea how close I could get to the record, but it seemed like a good goal to shoot for when lining up.

I know you almost decided not to go, what was your turning point?
There was a showing of Ride the Divide the Wednesday before the race. I was feeling pretty unmotivated about doing the race but then I saw the scene where the film crew had caught up to Matthew Lee in the middle of Wyoming and told him that the leader was waiting in a hotel for him, lonely.  He had this wild look in his eye, looked over to a building storm, and said 'Looks like I'm going to get wet tonight' and pedaled off.  I'm not sure why that affected me like it did, it was that half-crazed look, but after that, it was game on.

Were you riding alone for most of the time after people settled in. You and Dave Harris seemed fairly close for quite awhile. Were you?
The last racer I saw was in a gas station in Leadville.  I knew Ethan was about 6 hours ahead of me and afraid I was going to catch him via the bike shop in Leadville we both stopped at and that Jeff was right behind him.  Other than that, I had no clue where anyone was for the first half of the race.

How did you keep your mental focus? Counting? Humming? Did you bring any electronics ( music ) or ditch due to the weather?
Thirty years of Bon Jovi.  All in a mental library.  I don't have the mental focus to listen to music and ride trails, I tend to crash a lot, so I sing to myself.

Any scary wildlife moments?
Cows.  There's a giant herd of cows up on Sargent's Mesa and they just stare at you.  They all have babies and they're huge.  It's creepy. Other than that, saw a bear, a bunch of elk, but no close encounters.

How much night riding did you do?
I'd try to be moving by 4 everyday with mild success, I slept through my alarm every single day, so that was two hours pre-dawn.  I never rode later than 10:30, which was an hour and a half in the dark.  I actually spent a lot of time in my sleeping bag, so if I wanted to cut time off, I could definitely do it on less sleep.

On average how much did you sleep each day?
I'd always get 2 hours of solid sleep.  Then I'd spend an additional 3-5 hours in my sleeping bag shivering, drifting in and out of sleep. In hindsight, there would have been more efficient ways of breaking up sleep cycles.

Longest ride was? Day 2.  I knew I had to get over the 10 Mile Range into Copper, and Searle and Kokomo pass into Leadville before the storms so I started hiking at 4.  I really wanted to sleep in Buena Vista that night so I rode til 10 before I decided that I didn't want to have to ride Hwy 24 in the dark so it was better to bed down and get moving again in the morning

Did you have support along the way? If so what kind?
The rules of the game are that the ride has to be self-supported, meaning that you can buy stuff from any commercial source.  Other than that, I was on my own.

Did the universe show up for you, meaning random acts of kindness?
Trail Angel Apple was set up at the end of Sargents Mesa.  When I rolled out, he asked me if I wanted a cold drink but I refused because I didn't want to accept outside support but then I realized he was a Trail Angel so I stayed awhile, ate his food, talked about the BP oil spill, and how to keep chipmunks away from his truck.

The big electrical storms also hit when I was below tree line and I had the one clear day to get across the high section of trail that was above treeline for 9 hours. That was pure luck.

How heavy was you equip including bike?
I never actually weighed it.  I'm sure it wasn't the lightest setup, it surely wasn't the heaviest.

What bike did you ride? and how much did it weigh?
I rode my Waltworks ( custom 29er hardtail.

Again, I've never placed it on a scale, but I get the impression it's pretty light. I have it built up to be more durable than ultra-light because with the amount I ride it, I'd be broke pretty quick trying to keep it built up as an ultra-light race bike.

Was it hard to ride away from your husband?
Riding away from my husband wasn't hard, simply because I was sure he'd catch me once we got back on the trail.  He was riding the Buffalo Creek sections a lot faster than I was and waiting for me often, so I figured that if I just kept chugging along, he'd come blowing by me, hooting and hollering once we got to Georgia Pass. When it started storming and it started to dawn on me that he probably wasn't going to catch me, at least that night, I got pretty sad.

How did you cut weight? broken tooth brushes? single servings?
I did a couple of weight saving things, but I definitely didn't go overboard.  I had to buy a toothbrush and toothpaste en route, so I ended up squeezing 3/4th of the toothpaste into a trashcan to save weight.  Conversely, I carried around an entire salt shaker of salt from Buena Vista on after I realized that it was a lack of salt that was causing some stomach distress. I carried mostly all dry, instant food and was filling up on water frequently rather than carry a large amount on my back.

Hard Girl points are off the charts for this ride. How did you keep your mental edge with all the rain?
I took the sage advice from Chris Plesko that he gave me at the start. He was lamenting on the weather of the Divide ride last year (maybe year before) and said that he kept telling himself that 'Tomorrow's weather will be better.'  It never was, but I ended up not getting really angry with the weather until the last full day when I just wanted to get home.  I also have a terrible short-term memory, so if it was beautiful and sunny in the morning, I'd completely forget about the suffering and misery of the rain the night before.

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What were your darkest thoughts? When and Why?

It started raining really hard right after I crossed Hwy 50 and started climbing Fooses Creek.  Hwy 50 shoots straight back into Gunnison and I figured that if I hung a thumb, I could be home in under 2 hours.  I sat under a tree, huddled from thunder and lightning watching the hail pelt my bike and I had a serious 'Why am I doing this?' moment.  Then the rain let up, I got back on my bike, and started pedaling.  That was the closest I got to really quitting.

What were your most glorious moments?
Watching the sunset on the San Juans before descending into Silverton on Day 5 and then watching the sunrise on the last day from Indian Creek at 12,000 feet.  The entire valley was under a huge cloud and it was like a view from an airplane.   I also knew that all I had left was 27 miles of mostly downhill before I could change out of my chamois, dry my feet off, and eat a burger with french fries.

Did you cry?
I actually got a little choked up the last morning on Indian Creek at sunrise.  It was probably a combination of knowing I was close to done, low-blood sugar, and simply intense beauty.  I had to sit down and soak it all in for a few minutes.  I felt like a bit of a dork, but it was a really intense moment.

How did you dry out your shoes if at all?
I didn't.  There was one day when it only rained on me a little bit and I think my feet may have been dry for a few hours, but that was it.  I think the wet was the downfall for a lot of racers.

Which day and which night was the hardest for you?
Sargents Mesa, which was Day 3 for me was really hard.  My feet were verging on trench foot and after several hours of hiking on Sargents, they were so beat up I couldn't stand on my pedals anymore.  I had to stop halfway down a descent, sit down, pull my shoes and socks off and just let them dry for 20 minutes.  I've never had such intense foot pain before.

But then I hit Trail Angel Apple's camp, sat and ate for a bit, and felt immediately better.  I also had a good section of road ahead of me that didn't require hiking, which in the end, I think was the saving grace of the whole trip.  It gave me feet a little chance to regroup and recover.

Did quitting ever cross your mind?
Not super seriously.  Whenever the thought crossed my mind, I reverted back to my old swim coach's mantra of 'If you quit now, it'll be that much easier to quit next time.'  It seems to have gotten me through some rough times.

I also knew I had a lot of people watching my little blue SPOT dot at home and cheering for me.  Maybe it sounds hokey, but I could feel their energy and encouragement the whole time.

What was in your equipment list?
They central part of course was the Waltworks bike.  I had on my American Classic ( lightweight race wheels which definitely raised a few eyebrows.  Light wheels are just so important on a 29er, and for being as light as they are, the American Classics are bomber.  I threw on some Ergon GX2's

( so that I could have bar ends for the long road sections which may have been the best decision I made setup-wise for the whole thing.

Everything else was pieced together.  I had a 32 degree sleeping bag, an Adventure Medical Kits Emergency Bivy, GoLite's Poncho tarp, a 6 liter dry bag, and then two of the Mountain Man feedbags

FB was all a flurry when Jeff's Kerkove's blue dot was heading towards Gunnison, did
you know he was dropping due to those awful blisters? He was leading and having a fabulous race. I know he'll back back in 2011.

I was following tire tracks the whole time.  First there were six or seven in front of me, and then one by one, a specific set of tire tracks would disappear.  I never knew who was associated with each set of tracks or whether I had passed them in the dark, the rain had washed their tracks out, or if they had dropped out.  Apparently I was in Silverton at the same time as Dave Harris, but I never knew.

What was a typical day of fueling?
Not enough.  If there's one lesson I learned, it was that I need more food than I think.  I've always used Hammer products (Perpetuem, HEED, nd gels) for all my racing needs with a huge amount of sucess, so Ithought maybe I could run the whole CT on mostly liquid calories. Turns out, 6 days of racing is a lot different than say, 24 Hours of Moab, in terms of fueling and I would have needed bars or other solids to keep my stomach happy.  I was so concerned about weight that I didn't take enough solid food with me and that resulted in a major slow down the last two days of racing.

I ate a lot of Snickers Bars, some trail mix, a breakfast burrito from Bongo Billies in Buena Vista.  I think I was pretty much the example of what not to do, but you live and learn.

Any mechanicals?
I got a flat tire descending from the 10 Mile Range on Day 2, but other than that, the bike ran beautifully.

What did this journey teach you about yourself?
I think it reiterated the point that you regret the things you don't do more than the things you do.  I was so close to not doing this race, even up until the night before but in the end I had such an amazing experience, I woudn't trade it for anything. I learned that I really can take care of myself out there and that when the going to gets rough, I've just got to put my head down, get a good song going on repeat in the head and keep moving forward.  And that tomorrow, the weather has got to get better.

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How were the sunsets and sunrises?
Absolutely epic.  I feel like have the reason I go on these adventures is to see the world during the golden hours around sunrise and sunset.  Everything becomes so vibrant and alive.

How did this 6 day ride wear on your body? Any damage?
My big toes are still a little tingly and my legs were anything but spry riding to work on Thursday, but I think that it held up pretty well considering what I put it through.

Any gory details you'd like to share. I'd imagine some rear-end issues?

The rear was bad on Day 3, which was unfortunately the same day that the feet were bad, it was pretty much impossible to get comfortable in any position.  The big hike on Day 5 helped the rear-end issues and it was pretty good after that.

My feet looked like they came off a corpse after being wet for 3 days.  They were all white and wrinkled and then after I finished, they ballooned up to the point that I couldn't put on sandals let alone regular shoes.  I slept with them elevated for two days to try to help the swelling.  I was a little worried about them then, but they seem to have gone back down to my normal shoe size.

What would you differently next time?
My sleeping situation on a variety of levels. I wanted to sleep enough so that I could enjoy riding trails all day, but in the end, I'd sleep for a few hours and shiver for many more, so I think they way to do it would be how the top guys did it, 2-3 hour cat naps a couple times a day.  The emergency bivy/sleeping bag combo also wasn't idea because the bivy, while warm, didn't breathe which led to a damp sleeping bag. I think I'll have to experiment with the set up some more before I tried something like the CTR again.

What were your biggest mistakes or closest calls?
Food.  I think I was eating well under 2K of calories a day at which point my stomach shut down and I just wasn't hungry anymore.  I definitely finished the race in a major calorie deficit and I could feel it the last two days.  I think I would have slept better and stayed warmer if I had more calories in me.

The first couple of nights I was good about putting all my food in my dry bag and shoving it in a tree, but by the second half, I was eating what I could from my sleeping bag and passing out with food scattered everywhere.  This could have ended badly but I think the weather was so bad, even the critters didn't want to come out to eat.

What were your brightest ideas?
I always think I'll go on these adventures and come up with solutions to save the world.  Then I finish and I have no clue that I thought about for six and a half days.  I definitely thought about what food I was going to eat in Durango, and whether I'd be able to scrape together the money to go to 24-hour Solo World Championships in Australia in October, and whether or not Dave Wiens was going to cook pancakes at the second aid station at the Vapor trail 125 this year. Deep thoughts, let me tell you.

Filed To: Adventure, Biking

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