Julia Randall Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Wayne Gorry has won the United States Mountain Bike Marathon National Championship for the 50-plus age group.
The longtime Rim country cyclist captured the crown Sept. 23 at Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
In addition to winning his age group, Gorry finished eighth overall in a field that included some of the finest professional racers in the country. Among the amateur entrants, he was second.
The victory was a remarkable comeback for the cyclist who is a two-time Payson Mayor's Cup champion and a Mountain Bike Association of Arizona state champion in 1991 (Sport Class) and 1997 (Expert Class).
"After not racing at all in 2003 while recovering from injuries, it was especially satisfying to come back and win a national championship," Gorry said.
At Mammoth Lakes, the marathon course consisted of three 22.2 miles laps with 65,000 feet of total elevation gain.
"The race began at an elevation of 9,000 feet with a one-mile climb on pavement which turned into single track and 18 miles of dirt road per lap," Gorry said.
In addition to battling the extreme elevation, Gorry and the other riders had to contend with cold temperatures that hovered around 28 degrees at the 8 a.m. start time.
For Gorry, the sub-freezing temperature took its toll after the initial one-mile climb on pavement.
"By the time I entered the single track, my lungs were burning from the cold and the exertion," he said. "Then, I started having to breathe the dust of the riders ahead of me on the trail."
Gorry's original strategy was to pedal through the first lap rather easily and save his strength for a late charge. That scheme, however, was valid only if he knew who his age-group opponents were and could stay slightly ahead of them.
"I arrived at the start line expecting for each age group to have a separate start only to hear everyone would be starting in one minute," he said. "I looked around at the racers, most all ahead of me in the line, and had no idea who was in my class."
Gorry scrapped the idea of an easy start and opted to bolt to the lead of the pack.
"I went out hard and worked myself past most of the riders," he said.
With only the professional riders ahead of him, Gorry battled to stay within sight of them.
"Once I caught them, I still had to work really hard to keep up until we got to the single track," he said.
The single track marked the start of about 11 miles of downhill riding with just two short climbs.
"On the descent, I lost five places, two to the top two pro women, but none of the riders that passed me looked like they were in my age group," Gorry said. "On the climb back to the start/finish line, I passed them all and left them behind."
At the competition of each lap, Gorry received sag support from his wife, Gail, and son, Cypress.
"They handed me off a fresh Camelback (drink container) full of 70 ounces of Ultra Fuel," he said.
On the second 22.2 mile lap, the top pro woman caught Gorry on the downhill but during the first climb, he passed her.
"I thought if I could (ride) downhill as fast as she does, I might be able to win the race," he said.
After receiving a fresh Camelback at the start of the third and final lap, Gorry began to experience the effects of his hard charging start.
"I was really suffering," he said "My lungs were congested and it was harder to get a deep breath."
Confident he had the lead in his age group, Gorry played mental games to help carry him through the anguish and pain.
"I had to break down the final 10 miles of climbing into individual sections and focus on each one," he said. "Everything seemed steeper and harder."
With his first national championship tucked away, Gorry plans to take a short break from training, then return to action when the MBAA state championship series begins in January. The series consists of seven races over the course of five months.
Gorry is sponsored on the racing circuit by Cannondale Bicycles and Pearl Izumi apparel.