Colorado Sufferfests

Like to push yourself on epic rides with likeminded masochists? These Colorado endurance mountain bike races serve up some serious pain.

Suffering is a funny concept, especially when nutjobs like me delightfully seek out the pain. Racing as a pro mountain biker in Colorado for the past eight years, I’ve donated many liters of sweat, several ounces of blood and grams of skin to the mountain. My scars are my tattoos and they each have a story. The question is, “Why do I like to suffer?”  The answer is simple. It’s satisfying. The sense of achievement, to know I am capable of working toward and accomplishing a goal, the camaraderie, and of course, the post-ride celebration.

It’s not all pain. There are beautiful views with extraordinary mountains, high alpine wildflowers, twisting brown ribbons of singletrack, thrilling descents. It’s the stuff that adds substance to life.

Some sufferfests make you swear you’ll never ride a bike again. Funny how just one week later, the memory of that exquisite agony fades and you recall how much fun you had while dutifully planning the next adventure. The only problem is that each time, you crave something bigger. Sound like you?

With that attitude in mind, here are some of my favorite Colorado mountain-bike sufferfests. Try them. It doesn’t matter if you are a well-seasoned racer or simply a novice with a passion for long rides, you may just add a new notch to your belt this summer.

Gunnison Growler

May 24-25 • Gunnison • 64 miles

If you’ve ridden at Hartman Rocks, you know it’s technical—the granite beats you into submission. The 64-mile Gunni Growler is the brainchild of mountain bike legend, Dave Wiens, who has been a force when it comes to local trail building and advocacy. The race is a fundraiser for Gunnison Trails and it is for experienced mountain bikers only. The course is a 32-mile loop with ferocious, punchy climbs and a descent into Skull Valley that’ll make you happy your dental work is secure. A bacon feed is part of the scene (although I admit to not partaking). Finish the 64 and you’re handed a growler, which you can fill at Gunnison Brewery. Then, melt your pain away with hops and win some swag (I walked off with a 12 pack last year). If you like trail running, the Growler offers a tough trail race the day before on the same loop. There’s even a category that includes both events. Now those folks are true connoisseurs of pain.

Bailey Hundo

Beautiful pain: Sublime moments on the Bailey Hundo.
Beautiful pain: Sublime moments on the Bailey Hundo.

June 14 • Bailey/Buffalo Creek • 100 miles

Want to try a  Colorado 100 miler that benefits a good cause?  The Bailey Hundo is a non-profit race starting in Bailey, Colorado, and it supports several worthy causes, including Trips for Kids and the Colorado High School Cycling League. The race encourages entrants to raise and donate money to the community. The course offers about 40 miles of ripping fun singletrack in the Buffalo Creek area, a short piece of pavement and a scorching never-ending climb through a burn section. This event has been gaining a lot of momentum with 2014 being its fifth year. The finish features live folk music, food, drinks, prizes and a scenic riverfront area to relax. The night before the race, entrants camp out readying for the 6 a.m. start. The race is very well supported with aid stations every 10 miles and people cheering you along the way. Last year’s course took in over 10,000 feet of climbing (and, luckily, great weather). If you’re not quite ready for the Breck 100, try the Bailey Hundo.

Breckenridge 100 Challenge

July 12 • Breckenridge • 100 miles

Meet the hardest 100-mile mountain bike race in Colorado (and possibly the country). The Leadville 100 is a laugh compared to the Breck 100. Seriously. The Breck 100 features some of the finest riding Breck has to offer in one day. The first loop will take you up to Wheeler Pass. As the sun rises, you’ll be hiking your bike and riding down the backside to Copper Mountain on the hairy, technical Wheeler Trail. Cruise back around on the bike path to Breckenridge, hop on the Peaks Trail and ride that into town. The next loop is rowdy bunch of singletrack on the Colorado Trail. When you start falling apart, you start lap three and must climb up a steep, heinous jeep road to Boreas Pass, then the Flume trail to Como, and empty your tank back up to Boreas Pass. The top pro men’s record is 8.5 hours. My course record from last year was 9 hours 48 minutes—it’s a long day on the bike. If the 100 is too big of a chunk, you can also opt for 68- or 32-mile distances. When you’re beat down at the finish, the smell of barbeque wafts into your nostrils and the sound of clinking beer glasses brings you back to your senses. After you refuel, you may now pass out in the sun at Carter Park next to the expo area. Be proud. If you can finish the Breck 100, you can do just about any 100 miler.

Grand Junction Off-Road

Rock hard: an offshoot of the Whiskey 50, the Grand Junction Off-Road rambles down some of the best desert singletrack on earth.
Rock hard: an offshoot of the Whiskey 50, the Grand Junction Off-Road rambles down some of the best desert singletrack on earth.

August 29–31 • Grand Junction • 15, 30 or 40 miles

The Epic Rides/GJ Off-Road takes the cake when it comes to a fun atmosphere. It’s an off-shoot of one of the biggest endurance events in the US called the Whiskey 50. Plus, Epic Rides delivers a great weekend for the whole family. They roll in a stage featuring several live bands, wine tasting, a buzzing expo area, a kids fun race and some world-class riding. The pros compete on a different day than the amateurs to give the budding racers an opportunity to watch the big boys and girls. There are options to race 15, 30 or 40 miles, so no matter what your goal, you can come and participate and have a great weekend on the Western Slope. 

Vapor Trail 125

September • Salida • 125 miles

Vapor Trail is the most brutal event in Colorado besides the Colorado Trail Race. Organized by Absolute Bikes, it starts at 10 p.m. in Salida and encompasses a mega 125-mile singletrack loop in the backcountry. You start in the dark and ride all night and most of the next day to complete it. The course takes in Colorado Trail singletrack, tough hike-a-bike, brilliant stars at 3 a.m., a ripping descent at sunrise, the Monarch Crest Trail and more. It chalks up more than 20,000 feet of climbing. Not just anyone can sign up, you have to submit a resume to prove you are suffer-worthy. The organizers also want to make sure that you are capable of riding the route without any serious consequences because it takes place at high altitude in remote backcountry. Winning time for pro men is in the 13 hour ballpark with finishing times ranging all the way past the 20-hour mark. The race will leave you with some of the best memories, crush you with one of the greatest challenges, and serve up one of the most rewarding adventures of your life. The after-party is small since everyone has been up for at least 36 hours. Exhausted racers shovel food into their mouths on the patio of RiversEdge Café before slipping into a sleepy stupor.

 Sonya Looney is a contributing editor at Elevation Outdoors and a professional endurance mountain bike racer with wins at the Bailey Hundo, Breck 100 (where she holds a course record) and  Vapor Trail 125.

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