By Julie O’Brien
The first annual race of the National Ultra Endurance Series, True Grit is a unique combination of terrain. There are 15, 50, and 100-mile distances, but training for a hundy in Oregon winter is beyond me, and driving 16 hours to race 15 miles doesn’t compute, so the 50. True Grit sells itself as a big old beast. But really there’s just three techy trails, each quite workable if pre-ridden. The climbs are gentle, alleviating some winter-time training concerns.
This was my all-time favorite race. For me, it’s the proper ratio of fast trails, ridable rocks, beautiful views, and sunshine.
Given the drive and my pre-ride desires, I dedicated about a week to it. One glorious aspect of St. George is that some of the best trails are a ten minutes pedal to a cluster of affordable air BnB’s. So, I was able to hit 2 out of 3 pre-rides (Zen and Barrel) on arrival day. Zen is almost all rocks – the most important pre-ride. It was too consistently tech to remember the lines, but pre-riding the 6-mile loop gives a solid feel for its character and confidence that everything is roll-able and fun.
The barrel is about a 10 minute pedal from Zen. Rather than Zen’s consistently moderate tech, Barrel is mostly benign single track, with periodic drops and features. The real reason to pre-ride it is the Waterfall, which is noticeably the hardest part of the race. I walked the lines and sessioned the drops … all to then realize that I had conquered just the first tenth of it. This made the decision to hop off and run The Waterfall pretty easy for me.
On day 2 I pre-rode Barrel Roll, a trail that requires a short drive from the air BnB cluster. Again, about 6 miles with only a handful of technical sections; so, easy to recall these lines. This trail is also near the end of the race’s single track, so familiarizing with it was a nice psychological treat on race day.
I ended up skipping the fourth pre-ride that I’d heard could be useful: the Acid Drops. This is where a fast and flowy trail called Bear Claw Poppy splits off 3 ways- rider’s drop choice. Steepest is left, moderate middle, easiest to the right. I’d heard that, if unfamiliar, fear of the unknown might cause racers to veer right, resulting in un-necessary pedaling. Steep left is the straight shot. The rumor was that staying left was fine, so I decided to trust the rumors, which turned out to be wise.
Day 3 was a restful hike, then race morning. The race starts downtown at the town hall. Parking’s hectic, so catching a ride was very nice. After rolling out of town a mile or two, racers enter the first wash- a dried up (or not if its rained) river bed. Since we had recent rain, the wash was a bit sloppy. Wash riding felt unique because it required bumping my tires up and down little ledges through mud, water, stone, and loose. I was slow and uncertain, working to stay perpendicular and avoid muddy slip outs. The locals seemed to shine here.
After the wash and a bit of pedaling, we were at Zen. Unfortunately, right around this time was when my dropper cable snapped. I guess it was better for my saddle to be stuck up than down, but it was a game-changer for me. I’m not so good at descending tech with arse in the air, so at this point, the race became about making the most of the experience.
From Zen on, the course is basically ascending fast (it’s just not steep like Oregon) single track with sweet views to link together those techy pre-ride trails, the Acid Drops, and Bear Claw Poppy- a swoopy, fast, long downhill, but pedal hard trail. This made for an insanely fun day. The pre-rides provided sufficient knowledge for the DH to be fun and confident. The climb grades were gentle relative to Oregon steeps, a huge assist given the difficulty of winter training. Lovely scenery while climbing the ridges didn’t hurt. Sufficient misery did occur when the entire race ran out of water, causing those of us foolish enough to keep pedaling instead of awaiting more supplies to reach new levels of leg cramping. I guess the fact that this race is still a favorite for me despite some fairly stand out hardships is telling.
Barrel Roll was the last of the true tech, followed by a somewhat loose descent before the last wash and more pedaling back to downtown. My Garmin gauged at more like 43 than the 45-50 miles that the race proclaims. 43-45 is probably is accurate. It seemed a pretty perfect early spring endurance distance.
Although I was scheduled to depart a day or so after the race, I really loved those St. George trails under the sunny, blue skies. Plus, there’s another nearby riding area called Hurricane, Utah with some punchy mesas to check out. So, we ended up extending our stay by a few more days to keep adding in more riding. 2020 will include a longer stay, a thorough dropper cable pre-race check, and a full hydration pack.