Word just came in from Red Bull that Payson McElveen just decimated the previous record on the 100 mile White Rim Trail. What’s even more staggering is not only the massive 14 minute margin gouge he put into the time, but the fact that the insane effort was completely unsupported. Read on for the full press release and an engaging Q&A with Payson.
MOAB, UT (March 28, 2019) – After a fantastic season opener win at the Landrun 100, Payson McElveen decided to tackle one of the most iconic records in American cycling: the White Rim Trail. On Wednesday, March 27th at 7:39AM McElveen charged through the start line on his Orange Seal Off-road Trek Top Fuel and sprinted deep into Canyonlands National Park for a near six hour sufferfest in an effort to break Andy Dorais fastest known time of 5:59:34. McElveen rolled across the finish line in an incredible 5:45:16.
What inspires a person to tackle such arduous feats of fitness?
PM: The only way to get better is to explore your boundaries, and I knew tackling this epic loop as fast I could would push me to my absolute limit. Also, as long as I can remember, the payoff of effort and struggle has brought incredible happiness to my life. If I’m in a beautiful place, I just naturally find myself wanting to see what’s around the next turn or over the next rise. Those places seems to call for us to give our full effort—it feels natural to celebrate these places by giving nothing but your very best.
Your father played a big role in your push today, how did it feel having him there?
PM: My dad (Mike McElveen) introduced me to the bike, and though he never pushed me to chase racing or goals, always supported my dreams. In the twenty years we’ve been riding together, there are just too many memories to keep track of. Directly and indirectly, the bike has shaped and guided my life. Both he and my mother Kathy have been adventurers most of their lives, and it’s permeated my family’s history. They are my greatest heroes, and remain the people I most want to be like. It was unfortunate that my mom couldn’t make it on this trip, but having my dad there was incredibly special, and gave all the inspiration I needed to give a true, full effort.
Walk through your preparation, how does one get ready for this?
PM: The training process for this FKT attempt in some ways has lasted my entire riding career, but my coach and I definitely dialed in specific training starting about four months ago. I did more 5+ hour rides this winter than the rest of my years riding a bike combined. I also was racing time a bit, as a nagging tricep tear added a challenging rehab element. That arm still isn’t at 100%, but thanks to diligent strength work at Red Bull’s High Performance Center and back home in Durango, it recovered just enough to get through all the miles of bumpy rocks on the course.
The mental side also posed a unique challenge. I’ve done plenty of long races, but when you’re going head-to-head with other athletes, the races ebb and flow and keep you constantly engaged. A solo time trial effort of this duration was something totally new for me, and required another level of focus. Letting up for even just a few minutes could’ve made the difference between success and failure.
Aside from the devilish post-ride calf cramps, what were your highs and lows from the endeavor? What’s vivid?
PM: A high was definitely getting to my first checkpoint 13 miles in and being over three minutes ahead. That set the tone, and was important for me mentally. Riding a few hundred yards with a heard of wild horses was memorable, too. I tried to harness some of their power and confidence in that heinous environment. I felt so good for the first four hours, unstoppable. I actually had to keep yelling at myself to slow down and adhere to our pacing strategy. The low was literally and figuratively hitting a wall in the last hour. The 2,200 foot climb out of the canyons broke me physically and almost mentally. I had to dig deeper than I ever have. I was using every mental strategy I’d learned, and the support of my team, dad, sponsors, film crew, and spectators that had shown up helped lift me to the finish. Rolling across the finish to the welcome party and sharing hugs after all that went in to this was an enormous highlight. Also drinking just about every type of cold beverage and laying the dirt for 20 minutes was up there, too.
On the scale of slowly peeling off a Band-Aid for 6 hours to absolute torture on two wheels, how did it feel?
PM: Because it’s so long, you have to pace it very carefully. The first 4 hours really weren’t too bad. I started falling apart in the last hour, and that was unequivocally the toughest hour I’ve had on a bike to date. A Band-Aid is child’s play. We get to peel those off pretty regularly as-is.
What’s your advice for someone looking to take a swing at your record? What’s up for grabs if they beat you?
PM: One of the goals of the project was to standardize an FKT loop. The way Andy routed his, by starting at the bottom of the last major climb, is undoubtedly a faster way to do it. However, I believe that way is logistically prohibitive for a lot of people. We wanted to start and end at the most commonly used parking lot. I hope this project might inspire more folks to get out and enjoy this beautiful place, whether it’s going for the FKT or enjoying it over the course of multiple days. If you’d like to go after my record, I’d recommend planning your ride when wind and surface conditions are the most favorable. Also definitely ride a full-suspension. Holy bumpiness. Also remember that if you’re pacing it correctly, the first 50 miles really shouldn’t feel very hard. Have a well-thought-out fueling strategy. I ate 300 calories per hour, which requires eating almost every 20-30 minutes. We’re having an official FKT trophy being made, so if you go beat my time using the same start and end point, I’ll ship it to you. Records are made to be broken, so I hope the trophy exchanges hands many times!
Where’s #VanLife taking you next?
PM: Luckily I have a bit of break now from racing! I think I may drive up in to the mountains of Durango and try to enjoy my backyard for a few days. That’s not something I get to do often enough. Following that, the van and I will be road tripping to Prescott, AZ for the Whiskey Off-road at the end of April.
About Payson McElveen
Payson McElveen grew up in Austin, Texas and he’s the son of a mountain bike racer. He first started riding a bike at age four and began racing by 14. A natural on his bike from the beginning, he’s been a member of USA Cycling’s National Team since he was 17. When it was time to choose a college, it made sense that he picked Fort Lewis College, located in the mountain bike hub of Durango, Colorado.
In Durango, McElveen became a five-time national champion on the collegiate mountain bike circuit and juggled his academic schedule with a packed lineup of mountain bike races. He graduated in 2016 with a degree in exercise science and a minor in English and quickly set out to follow his dreams of becoming a professional mountain biker. “I want to use my bike as a vehicle to see the world and take advantage of all these amazing races that are happening,” he says.
So he did just that. In 2016, he won the Mongolia Bike Challenge, a six-stage race that Outside Magazine called the hardest mountain race on Earth. He had a breakout season in 2017, racking up major victories, including a win at the USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships, where his dad was also racing.
In addition to his bike racing, McElveen has also raised funds for the World Bicycle Relief, worked with development programs that train young cyclists, and he has plans to launch his own non-profit organization that gives back to cycling. A passionate van builder who lives out a customized van when he’s on the road, McElveen says he loves bike racing nearly any distance, but it’s the long, endurance races where he feels most at home. “I’ve come up with the majority of my most successful ideas during really long or hard rides,” McElveen says. “It strips everything else away and tells you what you’re made of.”