The True Grit race in Saint George, held this year on March 11, 2018, has become a staple season opener for many MTB racers. For those of us in winter climates, it gives an excuse to head south in the months prior to prep and a big carrot of motivation dangling through the winter. As the cherry on top, it has developed a reputation as a well-run and organized event on some of southern Utah’s best rocky, technical singletrack. It attracts riders of all levels of experience and ability from first time racers seeking a fun challenge to seasoned pro’s looking to open their legs for a season of racing.
Personally, I went looking for some answers at True Grit. After a solid 2017 MTB season, I had a disappointing fall CX season. I used the winter to reset and True Grit was a motivating goal in front of me. But as the race approached, I found the competitive spirit that usually drives me was not very sharp. For the first time that I have experienced, training felt like a chore.
Lining up on race day, I knew it would go one of two ways; either the race atmosphere would reignite the fire for me or I would get a definitive answer that a longer break from racing is necessary right now. As the race got underway, I got my answer as I watched the race around me, feeling completely detached, ambivalent to the other riders and no drive to chase and compete. I did not feel sad or disappointed. Instead, I enjoyed an amazing day and smiled my way through every bit of rocky singletrack.
Feeling less attached to my own racing and knowing how much people love this race, I was curious to hear about others’ experiences this year at True Grit. I chatted with riders across the spectrum of experience about their races.
Last year’s pro women’s winner Jennifer Smith came into True Grit with an open mind. The two and three years prior, she had suffered race ending mechanicals in both editions. Then last year, she put it together for the win. Jennifer spent the better part of the month prior to the race in her native country of New Zealand. A quick turnaround to True Grit, she traveled for four and a half days in the week prior to the race.
“Riding a section of the course the day before, I was concerned that my legs felt flat and I knew the travel was getting to me.” Happily, on race day Jennifer found her legs and stayed close to the two leaders, finishing in third and securing a spot on the podium. She summed it up with, “You never know how it will go until you line up!”
Ryan Honea is quickly moving through the amateur race ranks and opted to move up to the open class for True Grit this year. After a disappointing 2017 True Grit, he hired me to coach him and finished out the season exceeding his goals and hungry for more. “I spent the winter slogging more miles on my stationary trainer than I had before and the numbers were there to support a great ride at True Grit.”
As the race got underway, Ryan and I cruised along the first section on pavement together and I encouraged him to get up to the front of the race where he belonged. After a strong start, Ryan was riding in the top 20 on the notoriously technical Zen Trail nearly halfway through the race when disaster struck as he wrecked on a high speed section. When he got up and tried to ride, he found that the left side of his body was not functional and he couldn’t hold the bars or pedal. (He had sustained a neck sprain that was affecting his ability to control the left side of his body).
Fortunately he was close to an aid station and Ryan found out firsthand how amazing the True Grit volunteers were as he was helped by an EMT and transported to the ER by two other volunteers who then stayed with him the entire time and drove him back to his vehicle at the start/finish when he was released. In addition to the neck sprain, he had a concussion and a number of stitches. “I was seriously bummed that I wasn't able to finish the race, especially after a great start. But I am encouraged that I exceeded my expectations up to that point. I’ll be back in 2019 to get revenge – for the second year in a row!”
Kelly Konopa and Danita Ritter are both part of the WomenMTB group based in Salt Lake who signed up for the race together and pushed and motivated each other through the winter. Kelly juggled training with work and parenting but found it motivating to have the goal. An experienced racer in other disciplines, Kelly is new to mountain biking and she destroyed her goal to beat the cutoff times. “I’m so glad I did the race for so many reasons – staying in shape through the winter, sessioning sections of the course enough to master them and bonding with this awesome group of women!”
Danita also enjoyed the lead up and motivation that the race held through the winter. A high speed crash before the halfway point of the race that bloodied her knee and hand forced Danita to choose whether to embrace the GRIT or call it a day. She chose the former and carried on despite her injuries, finishing with the extra satisfaction of having conquered additional adversity along the way. “It was the most epic feeling when I crossed the finish line. I will be back again next year!”
Nic Beechan is an experienced XC and endurance racer amongst the pro ranks but 2018 was his first go at True Grit. Without the opportunity to preride, he was a little nervous about letting it go on the notoriously technical terrain. Nic’s skills and fitness shined and he finished fourth in his first attempt at the race. Nic was the ONLY rider I talked to who expressed regret at having not done the two-lap 100 mile event instead, “I had an awesome time, however I’m thinking that had I done the 100 miler, I could have pre-ridden for the second lap and gotten twice as much practice on the wicked square edged slickrock terrain.” That’s GRIT!
Congrats to all who tackled this beast! Good luck this year!
Sarah Kaufmann is the owner of K Cycling Coaching. She is an elite level XC and CX racer based in Salt Lake City, UT and can be reached at [email protected] or 413.522.3180.