500 Miles Totally Unsupported: Q&A With Colorado Trail Race Participant Doug Johnson
Osprey bike athlete Doug Johnson is currently training hard for the upcoming Colorado Trail Race, a 500-mile self-supported mountain bike race, which this year kicks off on August 1st. But what exactly would inspire anyone to take on this kind of an adventure, and how do you train for it? We caught up with Johnson to learn just that, and more.
What is the attraction for you to Ultra Endurance racing and the CTR in particular?
I used to race regular 2 hour XC races back in the 90′s. I got really sick from being severely over-trained and quit racing for almost 11 years. I always wanted to ride (for fun) the entire CT from the moment I rode a section in Buffalo Creek and heard it went all the way to Durango. I had toured sections of the CT but never got around to the whole thing… then I heard about the Colorado Trail Race and figured I may as well just race it! I started training, racing some regular XC races, 100 mile races, bikepacking… I fell back in love with the whole process that goes into racing and the CTR presents a pretty big process.
Even when it really sucks, there is no place I’d rather be than out on my bike riding some really sweet singletrack or pushing my bike thru some above tree-line trail.
Are you actually having fun during the race or is it a test of will power to keep going?
Most of the time I’m having fun, although dodging lighting storms above tree-line leaves a little bit to be desired.
Do you carry spare bike parts with you?
Not really. A couple spare tubes, patch kit, tire-boot, a quick like for the chain, maybe some miscellaneous spare bolts if I remember, but nothing I wouldn’t carry on a regular ride.
What do you do for lighting while riding at night? Do you need to recharge batteries if using a light?
I carry a spare battery for my main light, but I use my head lamp as much as possible. You can get by with a good head lamp when you’re climbing and that really saves your batteries for the descents.
Are there concerns about the heavy snow pack for this year’s race?
Not yet. I do the Breck 100 in mid-July every year as well. The Breck 100 goes well over tree-line in couple spots. Every year they say the snow will never melt off in time but it always does. There is already so much pushing on the CTR a little extra really won’t bother me. I run a lot in the winter and this winter I ran even more than the past couple winters, so I should be ready.
Tell us about the logistics of the CTR: when do you eat, how do you deal with sleep deprivation, etc?
Seems like you are always eating. The first resupply for the front runners is in Leadville. I usually carry a little extra from Denver because I don’t like to rely on the store in Bailey for any quality calories. We hit Copper Mountain in the middle of the night, so you have to bring enough to get you from Bailey to Leadville. The biggest challenge is carrying enough food. In between Buena Vista and Silverton there is no place to resupply and there is almost 200 miles of insanely difficult trail.
Some nights you push through the night others you sleep a few hours, most of the time you’re to cold to sleep very long, I keep some chocolate covered espresso beans handy for when the eyes get droopy.
These races have no sanctioning body so they aren’t governed by anyone that would oversee any kind of doping control. Cycling is a dirty sport — week in and week out I race people that aren’t playing by the same set of rules, but I try not to let it effect my experience or how I race. Every pedal stroke I have ever taken has been clean as a string bean.
In general I think mountain biking is pretty clean on the local level. My philosophy on “supplements” and what not is that, I don’t take anything that I wouldn’t eat or drink to enhance my general quality of life even if I was just some guy going for a ride on sunday afternoon.
A lot people ask me, “what are you on?” And things like “how much speed do you do to stay awake during the CTR?” The answer is none! I eat a pretty simple diet, no tricks! Some Kate’s Real Food bars, Acli-mate sports drink, maybe some protein shakes, lots of junk food on the CTR, cuz that’s the only thing you can get with a ton of calories… Those espresso beans and the fact that I’d rather be riding than sleeping keep me awake. I love the whole process that goes into bike racing and would never cheat myself by cheating, I just want to see how fast I can go, the real me, the natural bike racer, what other people do I can’t control, they only make me faster anyway! Ride clean!
What’s the worst part about a an endurance race like CTR? What’s the best?
This is an adventure race, so you are taking the bare minimum and when the weather goes south you are pretty uncomfortable and at night you have just enough to not freeze. The best part is all the above tree-line riding, it’s so beautiful up there and most of it is more ridable than you’d think.
How did you get into ultra endurance racing? What tips would you give to someone who is looking to do the same?
The CTR motivated me to get started, I jumped in with both feet, not really knowing what I was getting into. I’d say do lots of bikepacking if your thinking about something like the CTR and maybe start with an “easy” 100 miler like Leadville, Ha!
It’s mile 200 of the race. What’s on your mind?
FOOD! Ha! Food is always a major concern in a self-supported race. At mile 200 of the CTR I’ll probably be thinking, that was pretty hard but the really hard riding is in the last 250, so hopefully I’ll be feeling ready to attack the serious riding.