Our friend Kaolin has talked up the Crusher in the Tushar race for the last few years so when the open spots were quickly dwindling and he was bragging about his entry Danielle turned to me and said let’s do it, to which I casually replied “sure.” After we guaranteed our spots I didn’t give it much thought because I was head deep in training for 24 hours in the Old Pueblo…fast forward to July, with months of training behind us, we had the bikes loaded up and headed north to Beaver, UT. We rolled into the small town of Beaver Friday afternoon and picked up our race packets and then settled into our condo for the weekend up the mountain at the Eagle Point ski resort. Kaolin, his family, and some other friends were staying right next door so we passed the evening hanging out with them and watching them do some last minute maintenance on bikes. Around 9 pm it was lights out while we rested up for the day ahead.
The alarm went off and we were up and out the door after a good breakfast of the usual rice and eggs. We drove down the mountain to downtown Beaver for the start. After the mandatory port-o-potty stop and nervous chatting with friends, both old and new, it was time to line up in the staging area. I gave Danielle a kiss goodbye and a “good luck” as we lined up. The Crusher has a wave start and I would start 4 minutes behind her which was exciting because I would get to see her later in the race. Finally my group was off and pedaling up the road. The first 11 miles are paved with a gradual up hill and it turns into a road race. My age group immediately formed a peloton and started working together. We had a good pace, but not too hard which was nice to get a good warm up in before the real climbing started. About half way up the paved climb another age group flew by us and that was that for the nice warm-up. At that point it was chaos with people jumping from one group to another, jockeying for position, and picking up the pace. The peloton exploded in size as well and now stretched across the entire road (so much for the yellow line rule). After another mile the chaos settled down a bit, but the pace remained high. About this time I caught Danielle and gave her a pat on the back, a quick I love you and another good luck and I pushed on.
I reached the turn off for forest road 137 quickly and the grade really picked up. All the pelotons that had formed broke up and everyone was on their own to face the climb ahead. This also marked the start of the first gravel section and the road condition was primo. The dirt was packed down and almost like pavement in sections. Eventually I caught up to a guy in a Fat Cyclist jersey and so I asked “Are you THE Fat Cyclist?” to which he replied “yes.” This was awesome. I have been following his blog and reading his race reports ever since 3 years ago when I found his Park City Point 2 Point report. It was really neat to finally meet him. Plus he is a strong rider and I was happy to be up amongst his ranks. A little later a guy named Brad Keyes caught up to the Fat Cyclist and me. Kaolin had introduced us before the race and I found out he is the owner of Carbo Rocket, some really great stuff both Danielle and I use so go check it out. He was racing on his single speed and was looking incredibly strong running a stiff gear (38×20 OUCH!). As we gained altitude my pace dropped as my breathing became very labored. The Fat Cyclist and Brad both pulled away and quickly dropped out of sight. Eventually the steep climb mellowed out and it was some rolling terrain until I reached the aid station at mile 27 safely and well ahead of the cut-off time. I grabbed an extra bottle from the amazing volunteers and prepared for the major descent ahead
In the weeks prior to the race all the race reports i read talked about the descent down the Col d’Crush. Words like bike missiles, white knuckle, loose, and wash boarded were common. The descent while steep, was in great shape and I just tried to stay off the brakes as best I could. I admittedly am not a strong descender so I erred on the side of caution and managed my way down safely. A few of the switchbacks were loose and eroded, but otherwise the descent was trouble-free and I was back on pavement headed into Junction, UT. This is where the road race resumes with 12’ish miles of flat and smooth pavement. At the start I caught back up to Brad who was spun out on his SS, I know the feeling too well, and wished him luck. After rolling through the aid station I teamed up with a pro female rider and another male rider as we took turns pulling into a stiff headwind. The pace was too high for me, but I knew I would be hurting more battling that headwind by myself so I hung on. Right before reaching Circleville, UT we caught a couple more riders and the times pulling lessened and provided more time to recover which was nice. We looped around Circleville and eventually that headwind turned into a tailwind and we were flying. The road also returned to gravel which was exciting to say the least. Flying down a gravel road in a group is a lesson in trust for those around you. As we were hauling down this dirt road we caught back up to the Fat Cyclist and I yelled for him to hop on, which he did.
Unfortunately this party didn’t last too long and we hung a left and we were in the Sarlacc Pit (a reference to Star Wars). It’s a miserable section of the course with very fine and loose dirt and it is pretty rocky. There’s also a climb in this section that’s tough, but deceiving because it never looks like you are going up. And to make matters worse the air was stagnant making it hot. Others were suffering from the heat more than me, at least I had the low desert climate to thank for that. While this section is pretty unfortunate it doesn’t last too long and we reached the final aid station before climbing back up the Col d’Crush. I resupplied on fluids and had a little bit of coke.
The route returns to pavement for a bit to start the climb. The grade wasn’t too bad and the pavement was nice so I was able to sit and spin easily. I even snapped my only photo of the race because looking ahead it was a constant string of racers slowly marching up the hill. Looking even higher you could spot the DNA aid station half way up. I knew the battle ahead would hurt, I had been pushing hard up till that point. I slowed the pace on the paved section hoping to recover a bit and then the dirt returned and again the grade kicked up. This marked the start of 8 of the toughest miles I’ve ever raced. The grade, my gearing, and the effort to get to this point was all just too much. It was everything I could do just to keep the pedals spinning. I couldn’t even manage to stand and mash up the hill. At times when the grade was too much my heart rate would sky rocket and I couldn’t breathe. This forced me to stop and walk which was really frustrating for me. I knew I could do it, but the lack of oxygen said otherwise. Once my breathing returned to normal’ish it was back on the bike. I would end up stopping to rest/walk a few more times up this monster of a hill. The Fat Cyclist passed me during one of my walking sections and we wished each other the best; I never saw him again. Finally I made it to the top where the rolling terrain resumed. The grades weren’t too bad so I was able to pedal through these sections, but the power in my legs was gone. At this point it was all about damage control. The altitude and climbing had obviously won so my mental game switched from racing to finishing. At the final aid station I grabbed another bottle and some more coke and pushed on.
Past the final aid station the course veers off towards the right to stay on FR 153. The next 10 miles would all be right around 10,000 ft and to make matters worse there was a fresh layer of gravel on this part. Some parts a line had formed and it was all I could do to keep my tires to stay on it, other times there was no discernible line. This made the climbing tough with the rear tire slipping. The descending was also an adventure in the fresh layer of gravel and I constantly reminded myself to stay loose and just let the bike float through it. I was also happy to have the wider 40c Panracer Gravel Kings under me for some added stability. I ended up walking one more time in this section on a short and steep climb. Beyond frustrated at this point it was tempting just to bow out, to be crushed. The mental battle in my head in these last 10 miles was an all-out war. I was constantly trying to focus on the goal, but the pain and lack of oxygen were screaming at me to give up. Thankfully the loose gravel ended and the last 3 miles were paved, although mainly uphill. The first two weren’t too bad, but the final mile to the finish is just a drop kick to the teeth. You’re above 10,000’ and the grade is steep and you end up finishing out around 10,300’. Huffing and puffing I suffered up this final mile of a hill. Right when I saw the finish line I looked back and saw a guy gaining on me and I was determined to not let him catch me…and he didn’t, but the pain on my face crossing that line shows the price I paid.
Happy to have finished and completely exhausted I stumbled out of the finishing chute and sat down for a long time waiting for Danielle and our other friends to finish. Brad Keyes finished just a little behind me, I still don’t know how he did it on that SS. A little over an hour after I finished, I finally saw Danielle round the corner. I ran/hobbled down and cheered her through the finish and snapped a few photos. I was extremely proud of her. She had been nervous about this race for months and wasn’t sure if she’d even be able to finish and there she was having CRUSHED the crusher. We both took our time recovering and got some food at the finish and then a bit later our friends came through the finish.
This race was one of the toughest I’ve done, so if you like to suffer this race is for you. Sadly I wasn’t prepared to suffer that much. Leading up to the race I kept thinking I would like to do well, but its just for fun. Well to do well at that race it takes a lot of suffering and that just isn’t fun at the time. My mental preparedness was weak leading into the race and I think I underestimated what the course would take and how the altitude would affect me. I attribute this fact to why I wasn’t able to achieve my sub 6 hr goal, I missed it by a mere 3 minutes. Not sure if I’ll go back, the pain is still very real, but one thing I learned is don’t underestimate the C*R*U*S*H*E*R!
Lastly thank you to the town of Beaver, UT and all the volunteers out there. They were amazing. I never had to stop at a single aid station (even though I probably should have, haha). Bottle hand ups at all of them. The cheering and motivation was incredible too, it definitely helped get me to the finish line. Thank you!
Bike: Giant TCX Advanced Pro 2
Tires: 40c Panracer Gravel Kings
Gearing: 36/46 front; 11-32 rear (11-36 would have been ideal, or even a 40)
Stuff I carried: two tubes, 2 CO2’s, small hand pump, tire levers, multitool, phone (Definitely could have gotten away with less)
Nutrition: EFS to start and EFS hand-ups along the way with some Huma gels. Also some water and coke at the aid stations.