Updated: Apr 21, 2022
Not much is going on in 2020 (race wise) to write about. In a typical year, I would be telling a story about a cycling race I did and congratulating the winner of le Tour de France. So much for my usual July article.
That said, here is a story of a race gone wrong. I realized that every race recap I have told has been about either a first, a success, or something I learned that helped me grow as an athlete/coach. This race checked none of those boxes. This is just a story about a long few days.
Days? Yes, not a typo. This is my story of the 2018 Kokopelli 140.
The Koko 140 is a race that has been on my radar ever since I moved to Colorado in 2013. The race starts in Fruita, Colorado (where I live) to Moab, Utah, 140 miles away. It begins at midnight less than a mile from my front door, and you are given until 7:00 pm to make it to Moab. My riding buddy Mike has done the race a few times (and even finished 1st on one occasion).
I have done a few 12+ hours mountain bike races, an ultra, and a few full IRONMAN races before 2018, so I did not see the Koko 140 as anything too crazy. In fact, I had ridden just about the entire course over the prior 5 years.
While the race is in September in Colorado, the story begins in January in Houston. I am sitting in a hotel conference room, not knowing that I will be doing an impromptu VO2 max test in a few short hours, but that is a story for another day.
I'm at the 2018 Team MPI coaches conference, and it's about 7 am. I am the kind of person who has to be the first in transition, so I am down in the conference room before anyone else. Mark Sortino (the same one that the newsletter comes from) is next to enter the room.
As we make small talk and then he asks me what I am looking up on my computer. My instinct is to reply "Your Mom" because that is a hilarious comeback in most situations. Still, I bite my tongue and tell him I am looking up the Koko 140. Knowing that Mark is a fledgling mountain biker, I tell him he should also do the race. (After some more convincing over the next few months, he signs up, too.)
Cut to 2 days before the race. Mark gets to my house, and we have some time to kill before the athlete briefing. We decide to visit my wife's work so Mark can get a tour. My wife works in a lab, Mark only brought sandals, but you need to wear shoes in a lab. We find Mark a pair of shoes, and go on a tour.
After our lab tour and discussion of proper foot attire, we head over to the athlete briefing. This was the point when I realized that this race is going to be a little different. At the 5:00 pm athlete briefing, Mark and I are the only people there, so it becomes more informal as the race director takes us through the event.
The part that blows both our minds is when the race director tells us that he has decided to not mark the course this year, and we should download a GPX file of the route. Excellent! Not only are we starting the race in the dark, but we also do not even have course markers to guide us through the desert.
We get some food, go back to my house, eat, and go to bed.
The next morning, we sleep in as long as possible, knowing that we will start a 140-mile race at midnight. After we get and eat breakfast, we decide to pre-ride the first 5 or so miles of the course. Then back to my house for a nap; not a very exciting day.
At about 8:00 pm, my friend Jesse (a Team MPI athlete) comes over. Jesse is our support crew for the race. We eat Stromboli and go over our race plan so that Jesse knows when to expect us at each aid station and points along the route.
It is now 11:30, Mark and I double-check our gear and ride to the start. The Koko 140 begins on time, and we are now racing to Moab. That particular night was unusually dark. It was a 4% moon that rose at 4:00 am. All we could see was what our lights directly illuminated.
Mark and I agreed to stay together until sunrise. Over the next 2 hours, we found ourselves in a small group of riders, plugging away at the 140-mile trek over moderate single track under a moonless sky.
A little over 2 hours and 25ish miles in, I went over my handlebars. It was a trail I have ridden more than any other part of the course, I was frustrated. I told the group to go on, and I will catch up. I needed a little time to myself. I stayed there for a moment and turned off my lights. There are few things grander than looking at stars on a clear night in the desert. Then, I turned my light back on and get on my way.
Next was the most frightening part of the entire race. I was pedaling along by myself, working to catch my group. All of a sudden, something brushed my shoulder. Terror overtakes me. I am in Horsethief Canyon, which has a well-known ghost story.
So, I stop for a second to look around (like any victim in a horror movie) and realize that I brushed up along the only tree in the entire canyon.
I eventually catch the group, and we continue on. Over the next 4 hours, the group gets whittled down to Mark, myself, and one other rider. It is now dawn, and we are starting to see people who are racing the 100, which began about 30 minutes ago. At this point, the trail is not challenging, so we can hold a good pace. We made it through the worst part of the course in the dark, and we can take a moment to enjoy the sunrise.
That is when my rear end begins to feel soft. My rear tire is flat. I check for thorns and throw on a new tube. I am a little concerned because I could not find a cause of the flat. We are still about 10 miles from the next aid station, where Jesse will be with tires and tubes.
About a half-mile down the trail, my rear end feels soft again. Mark and I stop again, and I check the tire. Flat, and now I find the issue. I have torn a knob off the casing and have a gaping hole.
I know that putting another tube in will not help. The hole is too big. Like in every drama movie, I tell Mark to go on without me. We made it through the night together as we had agreed, and now it was time for him to go. Mark resisted, but I finally convinced him to finish the race. Which he did.
At this point, I was in a tight spot. I had a blown tire 10 miles from the next aid station. Walking was not an option. The trails leading into Moab are dusty with loose rocks--two things that cycling shoes do not do well on. With that in mind, I tried one of the most old school tricks I knew. I found some scrub brush and packed my tire with as many leaves and twigs as I could. I rode that plant-based wheel 10 miles to the aid station where Jesse waited.
At the aid station, I learned over the course to the 10 miles I cracked my rim. While I had tires, tubes, sealants, and derailleurs, I did not have a spare wheel. My race was over. DNF.
I stayed with Jesse as we hopped from aid station to aid station, making sure Mark had everything he needed. Later in the day, my wife stepped in for Jesse as the support crew. I stood at the finish with a Slurpee as Mark crossed just before the official time cut.
That was my Koko 140.
I cannot tell the Koko 140 story without adding one little bit that happened after the race.
After we got back to my house, my wife told us that she would pick up some pizza while we showered. I said I would go get the pizza since she had already brought us back from Moab, and I didn't even finish the race. About halfway to the pizza place, I started wondering, "Why are there lines on the road?" That's when I remembered I had been up for 36 hours, and driving was probably not the best idea.