By Chris Magerl — With a gravel bike, a MTB tire on the front, road bike gearing, and a clearer understanding of what she was getting into. Breanne Nalder was going for the course record at The Wild Horse 2018.
But it is a hard 76 miles in the Cedar Mountain Wilderness, and Nalder came up just a bit short. Her time of 5:00:55 is 3:02 off the time set in 2016 by Meghan Sheridan. Sheridan, who finished in 5:03:24 this year, is still the only woman to go under five hours in the four years of The Wild Horse. She was gunning for her record time, and things were going pretty well, until her front derailleur slipped. That kept her chain locked in the big ring, with the derailleur striking the crankarm with every rotation, for more than 40 miles.
“As we got to the second QOM I realized it was worse than I thought and I just needed to try and finish the race,” Sheridan said. “I had to walk the steep parts of the rest of the climbs because I couldn’t get into the small chain ring. I was cramping from riding in such a hard gear the whole race and I couldn’t spin. The bike continued to sound like a trash compactor. Breanne and Amy (Dunleavy) passed me on Rydalch Pass at a very low point in my bike issues.”
Sheridan would pass Dunleavy and catch on to Nalder, but some punchy hills after Aid Station 3 were too much for the big ring, and Nalder created some space.
“The start was fast and bumpy, but super fun,” said Nalder. “From there it was a lot of leap frogging groups and finding my rhythm. I was, of course, saving my matches for the QOMs. Both climbs felt great and I was able to beat my own times by almost 2 minutes to secure those segments.”
Nalder’s race report? “Such a fun day out there with so many amazing riders and friends, a great after party, incredible raffle and prizes, enough watermelon to fill my entire belly, and maybe a brew with my buds.”
For the two riders topping the list of the men’s results, this was the first time riding The Wild Horse. Both crossed the line faster than the previous record.
“This was my first Wild Horse race, and first time riding in the Cedars,” said men’s winner Mark Currie. “I’d heard plenty of people talk about how relentless the course is, so I knew we were in for a good hard day!”
Thomas Cooke was also a ride novice. “Although this was my first Wild Horse, it had always been on my radar as a ride I wanted to do. I would say it delivered on my expectations of being bumpy, sandy, windy, and at times lonely, which means it was a perfect gravel experience! The views on the backside were pretty spectacular, and I had good company in my riding partner, Mark Currie, as we made our way around the Cedar Mountains.”
Currie provided a replay of the day. “As soon as we hit the first climb about 7 miles in, Thomas Cooke and myself found our way to the front and gradually began to push the pace. Thomas set a blistering pace up the first punchy climb, and I just tried to match it the best I could. This effort distanced us slightly from a large chase group behind us, and over the top of Hastings Pass, Thomas had about a 45 second lead on me. I was able to make this gap up on the descent, and immediately got on the power again as soon as we hit the flats on the west side of the course.”
“Thomas and I would ride together, off the front of the race until mile 63. This included Rydalch pass, where again, Thomas was able to pull away from me slightly. I kept it consistent, caught him on the descent and immediately put the power down again as soon as we were reconnected.”
There was one last monster lurking. A short, but cruelly steep, climb after a small muddy section.
“At mile 63, we hit the last climb of the course,” Currie said. “True to form, Thomas got a gap on me again as we began the slightly wet and muddy climb. I took a drink of water from my Camelbak, realized that I was totally out of fluids and thought ‘Well, it’s do or die now!’ At this moment, I ramped up my effort pretty significantly, caught Thomas and was able to attack over the top of the climb to create a gap between us. At this point, I was 100% committed to either winning the race or absolutely exploding myself trying to. As it turns out, the attack would stick and I was able to hammer it home solo for the win and unbeknownst to me, a course record. Stoke level very high!”
Currie crossed the line in 4:18:15, taking ten minutes off the record.
Cooke felt that climb. “As confident as I was on the climbs, the last climb at about mile 63 was where the lights went out for me,” Cooke said. “I went from having a small lead that I thought I could stretch out to the finish to getting passed by Mark’s steady pace all the way to the top, and then watching him recede into the horizon while it seemed I was going backwards. The last 3 miles for me seemed like a bad dream as I hemorrhaged time and motivation and the only thing that kept me going was the old mantra of ‘The slower you go, the longer it takes.’ ”
The Wild Horse benefits the NICA Utah League high school MTB Scholarship Fund, and the aid station volunteers are all Utah League teams. Over the past four years, The Wild Horse has contributed more than $8,000 to the Utah League Scholarship Fund and Utah League teams. Currie met the TrueNorth Wealth Challenge by setting a new course record, earning an additional $250 for the Scholarship Fund.
Little Wild Horse
The Little Wild Horse, at 31 miles, offers an alternative for those not excited about the 76 miles of The Wild Horse. Jennifer Cherland owns this event on the women’s side. She was the first woman to cross the finish line in 2016, 2017 and again in 2018. At 2:09:34, she was about seven minutes faster than her two previous finishes. She is also the fastest woman in the four years of the Little Wild Horse.
Aaron Phillips crossed the line first in the men’s side of the Little Wild Horse, arriving just as the taco truck pulled into the parking lot. Great timing! Phillips rode the big loop the first two years, and has cranked out the Little Wild Horse for the past two years.
Phillips’ MTB tires helped him churn through three short, steep, very sandy hills at about mile 8. “I rather suddenly found myself alone, rolling through the beautiful, stark landscape, trying to admire the zen-like calm of this special place while staying out in front,” said Phillips. “A few miles later, as my eyes panned across the landscape, I saw a herd of wild horses.”
Riding solo off the front, Phillips still had a carrot dangling in front of him.
“I knew Adam Brown had set a blistering KOM record in the inaugural run of this race, and since I found myself alone with a decent lead on a hard-chasing Aaron Lael, I resolved to pin it on this segment,” Phillips said. “I found out when I uploaded my ride that I missed his record by a mere ten seconds. D’oh! Isn’t it always like that? You sit at home after a ride, going through it in your head, and thinking ‘I could have gone harder. I could have hit that hill with just a bit more power.’ Oh, well.”
The Little Wild Horse saw more finishers for both men and women than in any previous year. There were more families giving it a go, including 12-year-old Thor Yount completing the loop with his father, Michael Yount, a veteran of the big loop. Thirteen-year-old Sophie Penner was the youngest girl to finish the Little Wild Horse. There were several couples riding at a more relaxed pace, and extended (and soon-to-be) families enjoying the outing together.
For Wild Horse results, see the results section in this issue.