Breck Epic, hell on wheels. An emotional and physical journey
THE EPIC is a 6-day mountain bike race held in and around the backcountry surrounding Breckenridge, CO. Each stage begins and ends in town, allowing racers to stay in one place for the entire six day event. As a general rule of thumb you want to arrive a few days prior to the start of the race. Breckenridge is at an elevation of 10,000 feet, to say it takes your breath away is an understatement.
The race is 220-240 miles long and ‘features’ roughly 40,000 feet of vertical gain (and loss!). What goes up must come down. The course is tweaked from year to year as new trails are built, decommissioned or authorized/unauthorized.
The 2021 course can be found on FATMAP, Breck Epic’s Official Mapping Partner.
Arriving, acclimating, resting, and preparing the mind and body
We arrived in Breckenridge a week early and spent the week working, resting, and spinning the legs on short 1-1.5 hour rides, no more than 12 miles and 2,000 feet in elevation gain. These rides were taken at a snail’s pace, keeping our legs fresh and contemplating my downhill riding and uphill climbing, envisioning various scenarios in my mind.
Margaux and I had a strategy in place and we were determined to stick to it. We wanted to make sure we were each aligned, ready and energized. This ride wasn’t just about the beautiful views, it was about hard work, commitment, communication, relationship building, camaraderie, and quick problem solving. We tuned into reading each other’s emotional and physical state, asking the right questions at the right time, knowing when to stop and when to eat and hydrate. We stayed in the moment.
You could only plan as far as the next hour, what would the course bring us, were we climbing seven miles, at what pitch, when do we need to eat, and how do our legs feel? The cycle continued throughout the week. It was all about making it through the next hour. We had to be present. There was no thinking about when we get home, what we need to do, what’s for dinner, or even what tomorrow will bring… We stayed in the moment. We embraced it and took inthe views. We marveled at what our bodies and minds were accomplishing and enjoyed the shit out of those snickers.
Aug 15: Stage 1 – Pennsylvania Creek – 36 miles, 4900 ft in elevation gain, 5 hours riding time
My stomach is in knots. I did not sleep well. My heart rate is elevated. What the hell did I sign up for? Marty, Margaux and I arrive at the start and the energy is incredible. Looking around I think, who are these nutty people, why did they sign up for this race, literally why? I am one of these nutty people and I signed up for the race because it was the challenge of my life, plus I LOVE to ride my bike. The more I get to ride the happier I am. This was the race we’ve been talking about, training for and preparing for since early 2020. Spending the last year and half focusing all my workouts in preparation for the race. This was what was going to make me stronger and more confident, letting go of my inner chicken.
Day one, the starting line… 3, 2, 1, GO TIME!!!
This stage had three big climbs, all of which required you to dig deep, get in a grind and go, peddle, push, pull, push, pull. I have more energy thanI initially thought and am amazed by how my legs continue to peddle with little effort. As we closed in on the last six miles the clouds started to form and rain and bits of hail covered our jersey’s. I didn’t want to stop, we were so close to the finish. As the temps dropped we started our descent to the finish line. I had to slow down, the roots and rocks were slick and my hands were frozen, but within minutes we had crossed the finish line. Our partners and favorite furry friends greeted us. The day had ended but all I wanted to do was ride my bike.
Aug 16: Stage 2 – Colorado Trail– 42 miles, 5,489 ft in elevation gain, 6 hours and 10 minutes riding time
Day two, I am here, I am present, it is GO TIME!
This stage was all about the downhills. Every climb brought more incredible singletrack and the reward was so sweet. We experienced big banks, drops, and with no idea what was around the next turn. I was on Margaux’s tail, following her wheels and watching her body move as she chose the best line through roots, rocks and dirt. It was a total rush. Mountain biking is all about quick, subconscious decision-making. You go for it and trust your body will follow. Halfway through I realized I have twenty MORE MILES of riding. There is more and I couldn’t be happier. It was so buttery, so smooth, so hard and so incredible every spin of the way.
Aug 17: Stage 3 – Guyot – 39 miles, 5800 feet in elevation gain, 6 hours and 10 minutes riding time
Day three, we are chipping away and each day feels more and more like summer camp. We are back together with our best friends each morning, being active and spending time outside. Today was a killer, including five times hiking a bike, one lasting a good 45 minutes which took us to the top of French Pass and the reward of skittles. It is a win, right?
Taking a deep breath in….the views are amazing! Then the descent went on for miles. It was filled with rock gardens, roots, drops, smooth turns, and views on views on views. This day was filled with some of the longest and hardest descents I have ever experienced. I tested my limits, quick reactions and overall biking ability. So much thinking goes into each turn. Seeking the best line, checking my body positioning, readjusting, remembering to breathe, watching the biker in front of me! ,Whoa a tree branch, eeekkk my leg is bleeding, those bushes came out of nowhere… enjoy the ride we have three more days.
Aug 18: Stage 4 – Aqueduct – 41 miles, 5700 feet in elevation gain, 5 hours and 58 minutes of riding time
Day four, today was hard, really, really hard. I had many moments, minutes, hours during the day where I experienced an out-of-body feeling and at times surfed the downhills. I continue to appreciate the importance of power – emotionally and physically. Coming together with four-hundred of your, soon to be closest friends is an experience like no other. It is what communities are made of. The fourth stage marked the day Margaux and I took first place for the duo womens team. It was a tough competition and we showed up day after day. It’s a routine, you get in a groove and you are present, moment by moment you take the lead.
Aug 19: Stage 5 – Wheeler –12.64 miles, 2,762 feet in elevation gain, 2 hours and 23 mins moving time, shortened by the storm that took the day
A cold front hit Colorado last night and made for an eventful, chilly day. As the day began we felt the wind pick up. Half a mile into the start of the ride it started drizzling and continued for the next thirty minutes. Arriving at aid station one, four miles in, it started to clear. The mountain tops rose showing us the spectacular views. This was the start of a long climb, lasting over an hour and included a strenuous hike a bike. As we arrived towards the top of Wheeler Pass the wind picked up again, the clouds rolled in and the temperatures dropped. It rained and hailed. It was uncomfortable and dangerously cold. We were on top of Wheeler Pass, totally exposed, above the timber line approaching the bacon stand, a reward for climbing Wheeler. This was our turning point, where we jointly had to agree that the situation was worsening, it was cold, we had ten more miles of exposed riding on the mountain top, we were soaking wet, we couldn’t feel our hands and we had to turn back and head down the mountain to find shelter and a hot shower. I was bummed, Margaux was bummed… but we had to give up. It was the right decision. We would have been the emergency rescue case on the mountain that day. Hard decisions have to be made and be made in an instant. You decide jointly how to proceed and don’t look back. Wheeler will always be there to capture one day. We will be back!
Aug 20: Stage 6 – Gold Dust – 30 miles, 3,500 feet in elevation gain, and 3 hours and 42 minutes of riding time.
Day six, WTF we are here!!!
WE MADE IT!! WE MADE IT!! WE MADE IT!!
It was another tough day, cold temperatures but sunny with some headwind on the last seven mile climb. We got to experience more incredible singletrack, dirt road climbs, a crash, and a pinched sidewall. Margaux took a fall after aid station one on a single track downhill, where it was slick with many exposed tree roots. She was okay but immediately after I got a pinch flat so we had to stop for a bit, allowing her to recover from the fall and for me to figure out how to fix my tire.
The world works in funny ways and Jim, one of our good riding friends who we met three days earlier appeared on the trail a few minutes later and helped us out. Once we are all set and ready to ride again the three of us stuck it out until the finish line!
What an experience. It was so hard. and so fun. It was like nothing I have ever experienced. It was amazing to see what we accomplished. We were in the moment, one hour at a time.
Total days: 6
Total distance: ~ 200 miles
Total elevation gain: ~ 30,000 feet
Total riding time: ~ 30 hours
And a BIG first place medal as a women’s duo team!!!
Thank you Breck Epic for a week of hell on wheels with four-hundred other crazy, cool and unique people.
Danielle has been working in high-tech for over 15 years and is an accomplished innovator and leader with an established track record in customer success, partner marketing and strategy, and go to market operations. She is currently the Senior Director of Marketing at Vineti, the essential enterprise software driving and scaling global personalized therapies, such as cell therapies, gene therapies, and cancer vaccines. PTM® connects the right patient to the right product, on time and on track. Additionally, she has been a dedicated volunteer for Women in Revenue as their Revenue Allies Program Lead, focusing on empowering women in B2B sales and marketing through education and action. Danielle holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies and a minor in Geography, and an MBA from Hult International Business School.