Zen On Dirt

Watching the AZT

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Sometime around 15 months ago, I declared my retirement from racing, at least temporarily. I’d spent the previous two years battling injuries, sicknesses, metabolism issues, food and body image issues, and a sputtering motivator and it was time to move on.

Last year, the Arizona Trail Race went off, but fresh off a tour of the whole route, I waved and took pictures. I watched Tour Divide from our own Continental Divide Trail tour. Colorado Trail Race, well, I pushed myself so hard on my second run at that that I still haven’t recovered an interest in racing it again. I figured I could fade off into bikepacking racing retirement and never have the urge to push sleep deprivation again.

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I’d even told Kurt so during Camp Tucson. We talked about a new study that claims that lack of sleep is essentially poisoning your brain. I told him that I’d been enjoying keeping my fitness level fairly high and not blowing all my fitness credits in one go.

But after Camp Tucson, I realized I was sitting on some pretty good fitness and motivation. What to do with it, I pondered. Maybe I should race the AZT. I have a love affair with the route. Minimal research (as in none) would be required. I knew that with all things being equal to 2013, I could go faster just by fine-tuning some logistics. Finish by sunset? Possible. It’d be fun.

Going into the Sedona Big Friggin’ Loop, I had my heart set on it. Recovery be damned.

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After the SBFL, I woke up sore and tired. AZT would make this a bazzillion times worse. And that’s if you don’t walk away with an injury, like, oh a torn quad muscle tendon and tendonitis in your hamstring like last time. Last AZT essentially took me out for the rest of the summer, and that sucked.

After 48 hours, I was back to my normal self. Wanting to run. Wanting to ride. Feeling good. Oh yeah, this is what it feels like to race and not blow all accumulated fun credits in one go. 

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So I abandoned the AZT idea in a fairly emotionally graceful manner.

But man, when people started to come by the house to pick up SPOTs from Scott on Thursday before the race, filling our house with nervous energy, I thought, I could still get my stuff together.

The AZT is such an amazing event. Such a beautiful route. So much has to go right for a fast run. There’s so much potential for things to go wrong. The mental game, the physical game, it’s one giant puzzle. I so wanted to partake. But the recovery. Woe, the recovery.

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Human beings forget pain. But I haven’t forgotten the after-effects of that one.

We took Alexis and Adam down to the start on Friday morning. I made the rounds, talking to nervous racers, talking to Chrissy who’s also taking a year off of racing for a full-body reset, watching the excitement. I wanted to be a part of it. I was glad I wasn’t.

I spent the weekend dot-watching whenever I could. Cheering for everyone I knew out there. Knowing all of the sections and the conditions people were most likely experiencing. Oh, they’re baking on the Molino hike-a-bike. Oh, Oracle Ridge. Party at the Freeman water cache!

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To pass the weekend, Scott and I headed up to race the Prescott Mini MonsterCross, another Arizona Endurance Series event. It was 60 miles of amazing singletrack encircling Prescott, this iteration of the route put together by Kurt. After seven hours of chasing, catching, and then gapping El Freako No Longer From Rico, the riding was over. We sat in the Costco parking lot in the shade of cars eating pizza, drinking soda, and shooting the shit as people finished.

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It doesn’t matter how fast I go, I just have to beat Hemperly. 2-0 for AES events this year. 

48 hours later, I’m feeling pretty good. I want to go ride. I want to go run. It’s easy to sit here and say I made a good life decision this year about not lining up for the AZT, and I feel like I did. But hell, the draw of these things still exists, for better or for worse.

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