When it comes to trail riding, Henry Boyd has a simple tactic for getting better and better: keep chasing the fastest guys on the singletrack until he's the one being chased.
"I look up to anyone who is faster than me," said Boyd, a soon-to-be senior at Peak School in Frisco. "It doesn't matter if they're a minute ahead of you or an hour ahead of you — you just want to be that much better."
Over the past year, Boyd has been busy putting his plan into action. The 16-year-old started training on indoor cycling machines last March to prepare for his first solo attempt at the Firecracker 50, a deviously difficult 50-mile race held every Fourth of July on Breckenridge's classic routes: Baker's Tank Trail, Boreas Pass Road, Nightmare on Baldy, Sallie Barber Road and the monstrous Little French Flume climb. He'd tried the race once before, when he and his dad split the full ride into 25-mile segments, but last season was his first time attempting the entire 50 miles on his own.
After four hours and 27 minutes of grinding, he passed the finish line sore, tired and ready for another.
"Last spring I made a promise that I would focus on biking, and when I saw how happy I was with my results, I got even more determined," said Boyd, who's finish was good for second overall in the expert men's 19-29 division. "This year I'm just ready to see where even more work will take me."
Boyd's biking regimen is intense — he also recently joined the newest mountain bike team in town, the Summit Endurance Academy junior team, for summer training in Frisco — but he's hardly new to the mountain biking scene. He's been riding in the local Summit Mountain Challenge town series since 9 years old and competing for the Summit Tigers team, led by Jazlyn Smith (younger sister of state champion Ezra Smith) and outgoing senior Slav Uglyar, since he was a freshman. Those two, especially Ugylar, were often in his crosshairs during practice, races and the season-ending state championships in Eagle, where Boyd finished 22nd out of 49 riders.
"I've been chasing him (Uglyar) for six years now and only beaten him a handful of times," Boyd said. "That's always good motivation for the season: to beat Slav."
Now that Uglyar has graduated and passed the torch to veterans like Boyd, the incoming senior must find new wheels to chase — and he's already started. He competed in a USA Cycling event in Soldier Hallow, Utah, in early May, and plans to travel around the region for at least one or two more national-level events.
"I was certainly intimidated to be there," Boyd said of the Soldier Hallow race. "In the local races and even the high school races you don't see the best athletes from across the nation, but to be there and see the nation's best, it's intimidating, but also inspiring."
Boyd placed fifth out of 20 riders in his division at the Soldier Hallow race — a great result for only his second USA Cycling event — but maybe his biggest challenge of the summer will be the one, the only: the Firecracker 50.
"To do well in any of these races you need to be a well-rounded rider," Boyd said. "You have to have the endurance and stamina, but you also need the technical skills — the balance and speed on the descents."
Boyd's goal for this year's Firecracker: improve on his time from last year. Given the work he's put into mountain biking over the past year, it shouldn't be too difficult. After summer, it's on to high school season and, past that, wherever his bike happens to take him — even if he can't walk when he gets off.
"That was the longest mountain bike ride I've ever done," Boyd said of last year's Firecracker 50. "It was quite the challenge, but also a ton of fun. I was extremely fulfilled when I crossed the finish line and knew I gave it everything I had. Even if you can't walk, that's still a great feeling."