Ride Video available at: http://vimeo.com/37428209
“Don’t get off the bike”. I heard it many times leading up to this day when I would attempt to solo qualify for RAAM (Race Across AMerica). It was coming from people who had credibility, experience, who had done just what I was setting out to do. I took note, I’d be foolish not to. They were cautioning me that if I allowed myself to get off the bike, to take even the slightest rest, that my race would become much harder, if not even futile. I don’t think it was so much from the physical, granted one’s legs, back, neck, and nearly every other part of your body would be screaming for relief well into this 24 hour race. Taking that break might risk those parts tighten up, refusing to go any further like a stubborn mule. I really think it was in reference to the mental game one has to play. The fact that if you rationalize that a little break was okay, you’d quickly slip down a very slippery slope and find yourself spending increasing amounts of time away from the job at hand. I guess sort of like an addict having a relapse. That worried me a little. Heck… the whole race worried me, a lot, especially as the start drew near.
I came down to Sebring a day early to get things in order. Things around the house had been pretty busy lately, a lot of it from my own training regimen as I fought to get into shape in the 6 weeks prior to the race. I had been fighting a freak eye issue for several months through the holidays, thus killing any training consistency I had hoped to establish. I wasn’t 100% where I wanted to be physically, but I thought I was close enough to have a reasonable chance at making the qualifier. I really just needed this day before the race to get my game plan solidified in my head. Sort of visualize how the day would go, where I wanted to be at each point in the day, what I needed to do when things hit the fan… which they almost invariably will. Besides organizing my head, I also needed to organize my crap. I had taken care of the bikes themselves earlier in the week, both the primary bike and a backup, disassembling each, checking for wear and function, making final adjustments. Of course I managed to slightly bend the rear derailleur on the primary bike during the trip down, necessitating a quick tuneup upon arrival. What I needed to do now is to take care of all the peripheral stuff, the things that can really wreak havoc on your race should you need them. Things like spares of nearly every imaginable item that could break, different clothing options (my wife would call them “outfits”, I prefer “get-ups” or “kits”) for whatever the weather may bring, and fueling (AKA food) choices. I methodically categorized all the paraphenalia and placed them into containers, tagging each one to quickly find upon a moment’s notice during the heat of battle. The food took the most thought for sure.
I spent a lot of time planning my fueling. For me, this is what would likely make or break my race. Physically, I thought I could handle this feat. I was very comfortable out to 150 or so miles, so 400 was just doing more of the same (plus trying to keep from going crazy in the process, granted). Get too far behind or ahead on the calories though, and your either gonna hit the ground nearly comatose or struggle to continue amidst horrific GI issues, neither of which really appeal to me (I’ve eperienced them both for sure). I had been training with the newest of endurance fuels with great results. I would be using this best kept secret for the first time in a race situation here, abandoning the mainstream ideology of Perpetuem or Gu or any of the other myriad of popular “endurance cuisine”. Not that there’s anything wrong with them for sure, they just don’t seem to work well for me. Turns out, the senior crowd has been holding out on us enduro folks. “Ensure”, yes, the sponsoring drink of the AARP, is some sort of enduro rocket fuel gem, hidden deep in the bottom of a drawer of knick-knacks, Guideposts, Avon products and Tupperwear. Don M (I’ll simply call him “The Don”, the godfather of ultra cycling advice) pointed me in this direction a few weeks ago, mentioning that some in the ultra world were using it. I tested it out for a couple weeks prior, checking that it went down (and more importantly stayed down) okay, especially under redline efforts. It was good, I liked the taste (of the chocolate at least, thats usually safest), either hot or cold. It also lined up well with my calorie needs. At 250 calories per serving, that was just about what I needed per hour, plus giving me a little headroom to make up with other “treats” like pretzels and the occasional Clif or Zone bar. I’d need to bump in electrolytes from somewhere else. My current favorite product is EFS, a drink powder to be mixed with water. I can adjust its concentration based on how I feel, the weather, or however many butterflies are fluttering in China. I had been a longtime Endurolytes proponent, but after experienced multiple spontaneous verps, semi-pukes, and gags over the course of the more taxing events, I knew they wouldn’t work for me this day. Turns out the little boogers (Endurolytes that is) float on water, which makes throwing them back a little tough, especially when the gag-factor is heightened by all the exertion and stuff. So I shifted over to the EFS, bringing nearly every flavor along to keep a constant stream of chemicals flowing through the system, keeping the muscles firing and avoiding cramps. After drinking gallons of the stuff during this race, I don’t think I like any of the flavors anymore… crap, ruined it for myself. I’ll get over it in time (I assume) but man, I drank a lot of it over the course of nearly 24 hours.
As evening approached on Friday, I caught up with Diesel in the parking lot of the Chateu Elan at the Sebring racetrack. He too was nervous, not having slept well now for a couple days. I debriefed him on what I had learned throughout the day… things about how the race would go down, the procedures, etc.. Earlier, as I was getting my stuff together, labeling bins, packing and re-packing, I was fortunate enough to recognize some faces in the parking lot, faces from the 10 Gap race I had exploded on last year. In fact, Chris K, one of the familiar faces, was the person who had come to my rescue and scooped me off the side of the roadway at the base of Woody’s in North Georgia as I shook involuntarily from cold and plain ‘ole lack of body control. I wished him well in his race. He was training and fundraising here for his 4-man RAAM race this year on a recumbent. I picked the brains of a companion of his, Doyce. I was familiar with the name. It’s unique. I threw out The Don and Gary C. He knew them well. The circles are small in this part of the sport, so you likely aren’t too far from someone you know, almost no matter where you are. Everyone is generally so willing to help. Although we are ultimately competitors of sorts, the battle is more within ourselves than directly with each other, and thus I think the spirit of camaraderie is more alive here than in many other forms of cycling. That and maybe the sheer horror of these type of events forces us to seek the community of other like-minded folks so that what may seem “crazy” to others, might appear more rational to ourselves. I’m still establshing a name for myself here amonsgt the regulars, so I choose to do much more listening and only hope to earn my place amonsgt them through my actions. Doyce gave me the low-down, having done this race many times. Where we should set up support, when and where we needed to be, all the little details so I could focus more on the actual biking than all the peripheral noise in my head. I shared all I knew with Diesel and we parted ways early in the evening, him to get back to Orlando where he was staying with his Dad, and me to grab an early dinner and take care of final prep. And yes, by final prep I mean the “ritualistic dehairing” which the non-biking folk are so infatuated with.
3:00 am rolled around early. I rolled over and stared at the clock. I was hoping to make it to 4:30 at least, to be as rested as possible. I laid there for an hour, just trying to relax, thinking about the day ahead and the fact that my head wouldn’t hit this pillow again for over 24 more very grueling hours. I finally decided to just give up, and get up, and start getting the calories in. I’d have two bagels and a banana and a couple cups of coffee before the start to hold me through the first couple hours. The turnaround on the initial long loop wasn’t until around mile 60 or so. I’d be on my own until then when I would rendezvous wth Barb for a bottle change and more fuel (kinda sounds like taking care of a baby, minus the diaper). I took a shower to really wake up. I at least wanted to start the day fresh and clean. Lord knows how funky I would be when this thing was over. It was now about 5:00 am. I went out to the van to start setting up the tent canopy where Barb would spend the day supporting me and Diesel. I had blocked a space off with the van to be sure we’d have a spot. As I walked to the van, Diesel and his friend and son pulled up. Their timing was great. Once we got the canopy up, one of the race officials approached. He was there early to start directing traffic, which was slowly creeping in by now. He asked if we really wanted to set up where we were, noting that we’d be last in line in the caravan to get onto the track that evening, when the support crews had to move. We of course had no idea what we were doing, so asked his advice. He directed us to set up at the far end of the straightaway, where the turnaround was. We agreed this would be best. Of course, I couldn’t figure out how to get the dang canopy folded back up, so we walked that mother, still fully expanded, down the road about 300 yards or so. Thanks goodness we didn’t have to contend with much traffic, it was awkward enough without additional spectators or the potential traffic accident. We got our spot staked out and then I went back to the room to change into my race attire.
Barb was up and almost ready when I got to the room. I think she was more nervous than I, worried that somehow she wasn’t gonna do things right and it would mess up my race. I assured her that everything was well planned out, all she had to do was set things out and hand them to me. I had even written what I expected to need at all points during the race. Granted, I told her to be prepared to make adjustments, but that generally calm and methodical was the name of the game. I got dressed, opting to not wear the knee and arm warmers I initially thought I might need. The air was really heavy, with a thick fog. I’d be working up a sweat pretty early on, and so needed only a minimal amount of clothing. I got the bike and walked it down the stairs from our room on the 4th floor, clomping like a Clydesdale in my biking shoes. The elevator was ridiculously slow, and besides, it’d be crammed with all of the other riders and gear by now, all migrating to the starting line. We got out into the parking lot and I mixed up some EFS in one bottle, leaving just plain water in the other. I have always thought it best to have one bottle of just pure water, just in case something gets in your eye and you need to flush it, or to dump on your head if you overheat. Later in the day, I’d make a critical error along those lines once my mind turned to mush. I grabbed one of my lights and started mounting it on the bar extender (that’s a little gadget to give you some extra real estate to mount crap on, my “normal” handlebars being taken up with computers and the aerobars). I had hoped to ride without the extra weight of the light until evening, but the fog was so thick, I decided it best to just go ahead and mount it (that was a good decision as visibility was almost non-existent once we started).
I headed up to the start and found Diesel. He was already lined up to go. I still needed to check my timing chip, rolling across the mat to make sure the sensors picked it up, giving me the telltale “beep”. I was good to go. Now that there would be a real “pisser” if the timing chip failed. I would definitely have a come-apart. At about 5 minutes until race time (6:25 am), the director called our attention, described the course and pointed out that the RAAM qualifiers were lepers. Well, not in those words at least. There were multiple races going on, all at the same time. Some were just riding a century (100 miles), so they were only doing the initial 3 laps on the track and the long loop, and then their day was done. Others were doing the 12 hour race, so they’d do the same as the century riders, but once back at the start, they would also do as many loops of the short (11 miles) course they could until 6:30 pm. Then there were the masochists, the 24 hour folks. Many less of us for sure. But even within the 24 hour’ers (???), there were different categories. You could race either drafting, in which you are allowed to follow closely behind another rider, giving you a significant decrease in wind resistance (and thus usually higher overall speeds), or race it RAAM style (non-drafting). We were racing the latter, for our RAAM qualification. The director noted that us RAAM folks had unique numbers (2 digits instead of 3) and that we couldn’t draft nor be drafted upon. This basically just meant that no one could get near us, thus we were the leper colony. I knew I was gonna miss the company of others, especially during such a tough and long event. I’d get a word in here or there, while passing other riders, but for the most part, this would be an entirely solo event. The director left us on a high note, of sorts I guess. He mentioned that he was in some sort of horrific cycling accident, that he didn’t ride much anymore because of it, but hoped that there wouldn’t be any accidents with us today. Huh? That wasn’t really that reassuring, especially given the near-zero visibility due to the fog.
With a low key pop, the cap gun sounded and we were off. I don’t even think there was a cap gun, maybe it was actually a muffled referee’s whistle, I honestly don’t remember. Funny how “un-ceremonial” some of the toughest events can be. Ten Gap was the same, started with a simple “go”. We motored onto the track. I knew I needed to be near the front, as close to the pace car as possible, just for visibility’s sake. I lost it, pace car and all, the lights disappearing into the thick haze within maybe 100 feet. I wasn’t gonna sprint to catch it, hell, I couldn’t even see to do it if I wanted. I had to sit back in the pack, some unknown, and possibly growing, distance back from the front. It was simply too dangerous to try to work further up front, just yet. I tried to be conscious of the draft zone, but at this point, we were simply too packed in to do much about it. By the beginning of the third lap, I had pulled off the front of the pack I was in, but I couldn’t see the tail of the next one. I was flying blind now, having vurtually no idea where I was, just following my mental image of the track layout I had eyed just prior to the race. The track is simply not marked like a public roadway. It may or may not have stripes marking the boundaries at any point, so there’s nothing to follow. It was very disconcerting. I passed a much slower rider. I assumed he was now a lap down, he would not be any help in figuring out where to exit the track at the end of this, my third and final lap, before heading out onto the roadways. I finally caught a glimpse of a blinky taillight through the thick haze, then another. I had caught the back of another pack, and just in time. We were almost immediately directed off the track and down the main straightaway, towards the track entrance, by a couple of volunteers. Our initial century had begun.
We rode Northwest into Sebring and then onwards to a town called Frostproof, I’m guessing so named as a sort of “wishful thinking” in order to ward off such adverse weather which could destroy the many, many miles of orange groves surrounding it. The moisture was freely flowing off of me, down my face and arms, down my legs and of course directly into my shoes. Some of it, maybe a lot, was sweat. I was working hard to keep up front. But a lot of it was simply the fact that the humidity was like 105%. Yes, that’s right, the air was super-saturated, not quite misting or raining, but something more than an extremely heavy fog. Every pedal stroke was wet, with water squirting out of the vents in my shoes. This wouldn’t be good for my feet, especially just starting out on this long day. I’d be sure to get a nice case of trench foot before this was over. I made a mental Post-It, I’d need to tell Barb to get the backup shoes and a dry pair of socks ready to change into back in Sebring. The lead pack was out of sight, but I wasn’t far behind. I wasn’t “racing” them, but I wanted to keep them close, sort of pace off them, knowing that unless there were some super-humans in there, I’d be safe doing so and using them to push myself fairly hard.
After about 20 or so miles, things settled in a bit. I was going fairly hard, keeping a heart rate around 160, occasionally bumping 170 on some of the rollers, but still racing comfortably within my abilities. I was with Jim, an experienced RAAM qualifier from Vermont (or New Hampshire? they’re nearly the same I think), Batman (a fellow on the most awesome HPV, human powered vehicle, solid black with a total height, including rider of maybe 24 inches max), and “Guten Tag”, an older German fellow with all the latest compression clothing and gadgetry around (I’m guessing a good rolling $15K). I rode up next to Jim briefly to let him know I was tailing him from afar, using him as my rabbit. That might seem odd, letting a competitor know you’re using them to pace. I simply thought it best to be honest and promised to return the favor later (I did make true on that promise I’ll have you know, much later in the day on the short course). Jim said “no problem” and I fell about 50 yards back, being careful to stay out of the draft zone. We rolled on at a good clip, typically holding between 23-25 mph. That’s fast, especially for an endurance event, but we were all okay. Well, all but Guten Tag. I think we was pushing too hard to hang on. I don’t think he was racing our 24 hour event, I’m not sure I even saw him later on the 12 hour either. Anyway, he blew up in a couple miles, going into a turn. He let up and sat up. I asked if he was okay. “Ya ya, I’m guud. You go!”. He had been a little erratic for the past little bit with his pace, so I think it just caught up to him. It was now just Jim and Batman and me. I caught up with Batman on one of the climbs. While the Batmobile is awesomely fast in the flats, its kryptonite is definitely the hills (I know I’m mixing comic book genres here, its called “creative liberty” folks). The body position lying down simply doesn’t afford great torque, so the Batmobile definitely slows on even the mildest of climbs. I looked down upon Batman (literally, not figuratively, I sat up a good 4 or 5 feet above him upon my Trek throne) and asked him how it as going. “Good, beautiful day. You doing the 24?”. I affirmed that I too was one of the sick ones, that we’d likely see each other through the night. That was about it, maybe 60 seconds of convo, then we hit the flats and Batman was gone. I didn’t see him again until maybe midnight or so. We simply chased each other around the circuits, staying perfectly out of synch. Now it was just Jim and I. He continued to lead, I continued to chase. We were nearly perfectly matched in ability, speeds on the flats, speeds on the climbs. His wife was crewing for him too, leapfrogging him along the course in a huge black diesel truck.
His wasn’t the only on-course support. Team Bachetta’s van cruised the roads as we journeyed along, as well as the Euro’s support. The Euro, I think his name was Valerio. He had a white Suburban, fully decked in RAAM style signage and full of young euro-hipsters in tight, thin acrylic shirts cheering him on. Now I hope that doesn’t sound judgemental, I don’t mean it that way at all, just trying to paint the picture here. Their rider, Valerio, was in a white kit with rainbow or something similar to it I thought. The rainbow jersey is sign of a current “world champion”. It would be a major faux pas in the cycling world to don one to be “fashinable”. This guy must be a heavy hitter, I thought. Jim and I passed him as he pulled to the side for support from his vehicle. His vehicle would pass us a couple times up the road as they leapfrogged their rider, maintaining a close enough distance to offer support if needed. They’d cheer us on as they passed us also. It was kinda fun. I wouldn’t see the Euro until later in the eve as he started turning the screws and cranking out the miles to eventually take the lead and win our RAAM category for the race.
Jim and I finally made it to the turnaround in Frostproof. I had been watching my mileage and the clock to make sure I took in fluids, electro-fluids (i.e. the EFS drink) and consumed an Ensure which I had stashed in one of my jersey pockets, all on cue. I timed it perfectly and arrived with an empty tank. Barb’s minivan was right there at the turnaround. I didn’t see it at first, a little confused as I searched for the token bucket. In addition to our timing chip, which was attached to the front fork of the bike, each rider was given a poker chip with their race number on it. At the turnaround, we were to drop the chip in a bucket, thus ensuring that we rode the full course (since the timing mat, which reads our timing chips, was stationary back at the race track). I wanted to make darn sure my chip got in that bucket. I had put it in a ziploc in my back pocket, along with my cell phone. Barb yelled at me, sensing that I didn’t see her even though I was looking straight at her. I wheeled in, instictively taking the bottles off my bike and searching for 2 new full ones and two Ensure, one to drink, and one to put in my pocket. I had commited my strategy hard enough into my mind that it was all autopilot. She asked where my chip was and I handed her the ziploc, letting her get it out for me and put it in the bucket while I pounded down one of the Ensure (yes, that’s what happens at the geriatric bar I guess, pounding down a six pack of Ensure). With the chip desposited, I quickly shouted out to get my spare shoes and dry socks ready before I headed back, retracing much of the route we had just ridden Northward on. Jim’s turnaround time was exactly the same as mine, so we headed back together again.
The turnaround was at roughly mile 60, more than halfway through the first century. It’s logical that the road back would be quicker. It definitely didn’t seem that way though, I think mainly because I ended up riding much of it alone. Jim and I were really kicking it back in. I’d occasionally pull ahead of him, asking how it was going as I passed, him doing the same for me. Finally, I think he must have run low on calories and he pulled up. Either that, or he actually wanted to get away from me, I’m not sure. It was okay, either way. I made the final pass as we approached a turn. I could see that traffic was clear and rolled on through the rural stop while Jim slowed significantly. I didn’t look back but assume his support vehicle must have come to him. I wouldn’t see him again until the afternoon, out on the short course. I raced onwards, pushing hard, keeping a slight burn going in my quads and hamstrings, but not too much that I was accumulating lactate. I was feeling strong, felt that my nutrition was good. I knew I was making good time, but I tried not to focus on any specific metrics, just tried to keep in this beautiful semi-painful space just shy of breakdown. The true pain would come later, no need to dip into it just yet.
I didn’t know the route, not at all, didn’t even look at it with any intent on the map. I had a cue sheet in a ziploc in my jersey, but the race director assured us the route was well marked with symbols (orange for the long route I was currently on, green for the shorter route I was soon to be riding) at least every two miles. This is probably the first ride (aside from Amy’s Beer Ride, the Trek shop rides, oh and the Tue/Thur evening MTB hammerfests, okay so there are quite a few) which I’ve done and didn’t have the route committed to memory. I was okay until the “road to nowhere”. I don’t have agoraphobia (fear of open spaces, or really any phobias, except for maybe clowns, they creep me out a little, I’m really sorry Kathy “AKA clown lady”, I’m ashamed to admit it) but this strip of roadway cut through the most wide open space of nothingness I believe I may have ever been in and it worried me a little. Not because I was scared of being in the open, I was more scared of not knowing where in the heck I was. Hardly a tree or anything in sight, the road simply disappeared into the horizon. I pedaled along… for miles… and loooong miles. Eventually I saw the end on the horizon. I had finally reached it, the end… and then the freakin road simply turned and shot off into oblivion yet again. Was I even still in Florida? I began to question if I had missed a turn or something. Perhaps I was headed into the Everglades. I tried not to worry about it, just focused on making the pedals go round. This went on for quite some time. Finally, finally, I saw the Team Bachetta van headed at me. They were racing to meet their riders I assume. Surely they would warn me if I were wandering off course… wouldn’t they? They passed and I continued on, again in isolation, trying to stay as small as possible on the bike, minizing the energy needed to keep me moving forward. Eventually I saw a road marking, just an orange blip on the road. Within seconds it was gone. Oh thank you, thank you, I indeed was still on course. Those woulda’ been some long sucky miles, retracing my steps if it had come to that. Even though I confirmed I was still on-route (and enroute too), the road back still seemed to take forever. I think it was just the uneasiness of riding totally alone and unaware of my location upon the planet that made this so much worse. The track finally appeared again and I raced across the timing mat. 4:35. Four hours and thirty five minutes. That’s a fast century for being solo. In fact, that’s the fastest one I’ve ever done, period. The words rang out inside my head. Those of Doyce from our conversation the day before. “You’re gonna see some folks take off too quick on the first century. You don’t want to do that. They’ll blow up, probably won’t finish.” Uh-oh, had I just been one of those people?
I wheeled around the barrel which marked the end of the course on the entrance road to the race track and made my way to our support tent. I needed another Ensure. I was now gonna drop the two bottles I had been carrying on the bike and go down to just one. The next segment was simply an 11 mile loop, returning to the track each time. No need to carry the extra weight, there would be plenty of time to get another bottle before I ran out. Amazing how many folks I saw riding with a hydrotail and full four bottles. That’s probably around 10 lbs or so of extra, unnecessary weight they were hauling. I’d alternate between straight water and an EFS bottle, trying to keep my blood volume about right. I had brought a scale in case of severe heat, but wound up never using it. On a double century that Deisel and I did last year, we weighed as part of our own little “experiment”. It was a hot day and at the worst of it, I had lost nearly ten pounds. I could feel that level of dehydration pretty readily. Almost as dangerous as not drinking enough and getting dehydrated, maybe even more so, is getting overhydrated. Simply diluting your blood too much by taking in excess water. That’s not a happy place either as you must wait for your body to filter out all the excess to recover. I was feeling fine, not bloated nor dehydrated, so continued working my plan. The shoes, socks and a towel were there waiting for me. I grabbed a seat real quick and ripped off my shoes and socks. They were soaked and my feet were all pruned up. I dried them as best I could and rolled my socks on, a valuable little trick I learned from triathlon. On with the new shoes and I took out from the tent and made my way onto my first lap of the short course.
The short course was essentially a triangle, leaving the track, heading South briefly and then turning NE along a well traveled highway. It was a pretty fast stretch of road with plenty of room on the shoulder to stay out of the traffic. Amazingly, throughout the day, I never encountered any issues with impatient drivers. I had feared the worst going in, especially once I began to get tired. Luckily, I wasn’t tired at all and in fact made a game of riding the thin white line, seeing how long I could keep my bike within that little 3 or 4 inch strip. After maybe 3 or 4 miles, we veered right onto a road which took us into the orange groves. There was virtually no traffic here so we all could relax, drinking and eating if needed. This road also had most of the elevation gain along this segment of the race. It wasn’t much in comparison to what we ride in Georgia, but enough to be noticable, especially late in the day. That road dead-ended into another road which took us East and back to the track. It had a long gradual ascent and then a really long descent. Given the right winds, that descent would have been smokin’. We weren’t quite so lucky and never got that tailwind, but at least we didn’t have any significant winds at all, in any direction. That’d change a little by night. I ground down the laps on the short course. Stopping very briefly after each one to nibble on half a banana, an orange, a zone bar, a pretzel stick or two. I ran across Jim again out there on the short course, multiple times. I’d ask how he was doing occasionally as I’d pass. Some laps I wouldn’t see him at all. I finally rode up besides him and asked what his strategy was, how was he fueling, etc.. Turns out we were doing the exact same thing, choosing to stop very briefly at every lap, deciding it was most efficient to separate the riding form the eating. That helped me feel a little more confident in my own game plan that someone with more experience than I was doing the same thing.
I kept fueling off the Ensure. I initially figured I’d drink one every two laps. That’d be 22 miles and roughly an hour’s worth of effort. I did that through the first 4 laps. Somewhere in there, I started getting the worst stomach cramps. Didn’t feel great, but not absolutely terrible either, just painful. I felt like I was getting behind a bit on my calories too. I wasn’t bonking but could tell I was fading a bit. On the next two laps, I hit an Ensure each time, thinking that maybe I needed to catch up a bit. I also had Barb putting them on ice, I had been drinking them at air temp. They weren’t bad or anything, but my throat was getting a little sore from all the panting and the coolness of the chilled ones felt so much better going down. By early afternoon, The Don had contacted Barb. He had seen her posts on my progress and I assume also been following the race. The Don was initially planning to come down and support myself and Diesel, but unfortunately couldn’t make it this year. He and Barb connected and she described where I was as best she knew. I hadn’t been giving her all my stats or anything. I was running my PowerTap and HR monitor and was carefully watching power levels and effort, but they’d be meaningless to her. After describing my tummy issues and looking at my splits (i.e. my lap times), The Don quickly ascertained that I needed to back off on the Ensure, switch to some solids, and most importantly, cut my pace, that likely I was going too hard and my stomach wasn’t able to digest the food and that was why I was getting pain. Barb let me know on the next lap as I came through. Well son-of-a-*, I now had about 500 calories of “geriatric bliss” sitting in me. I took a pickle and a pretzel stick to munch on and headed out, at a little more relaxed pace, maybe 1.5-2 mph slower than my previous averages. I wondered if I had made a fatal error. Could I reel it back in? Would I be better puking it all up and starting over? I started feeling better within maybe 30 minutes or so of dropping pace. I decided to gut it out, literally. I was “pukey” for a while. I had tried to down a potassium and once it hit the back of my throat, I spit it out, fearing I’d set off an eruption if I tried to force it down. I managed to get in ¼ of a PB sandwich and some odds and ends, but nothing substantial. I knew I’d never get in enough calories this way so I kept bumping in the Ensure, just based on my instinct.
I hadn’t seen Diesel out on the long course, other than coming right out of the track. We weren’t attempting to ride with each other, that’d be a mistake. Our styles are very different. I tend to go out a little harder while he tends to develop speed later in the event. We finally caught up with each other on the short course. It was possible that you could never see a particular rider all day if you were just chasing each other around the course, it’d be unlikely, but possible. Diesel was doing okay. I asked how he was feeling, about his food intake, knowing that was where he would need to focus the most. He was working his own plan, one he thought was right for him. There are no absolutes nor rules in this type event. What works for one may or may not work for another. Our strategies were different, but ultimately we were there for each other if need be, sharing support crews, sharing advice if needed. We’d part ways, each riding our own pace, and then occasionally collide again throughout the afternoon, always watching for each other and wishing the best. No matter what would happen to either of us, we had each others respect for putting ourselves on that course and giving it our best.
As 5:00 pm drew near, I knew we’d be getting on the track soon to finish out our event, that’d be around 13 hours on the small closed loop. The thought of rounding that track umpteen times was absolutely mind numbing and I think one of the harder mental aspects of the race. I kept pushing, wanting to get into the low 200s before I was couped up. The afternoon had gotten rather warm, not blistering hot, but fairly warm. Much of it was from the sun which bore through the morning haze and set about beating down upon us for the afternoon. It didn’t take long for it to cook me. As soon as the splotches appeared, I called for sunscreen on the next lap. It was already a touch too late. I wasn’t a pork rind, but I was burned a little. I’m such an idiot. I’ve been burned so many times, you’d think I’d preemptively apply the sunscreen, but I don’t… it just makes me too hot to clog up all the little pores with the stuff. Speaking of hot, I had resorted to dumping water on my head as the afternoon wore on, trying to keep the ‘ole noggin cool. I knew the risk was there, I tried to be so careful not to make the fatal error. But it finally happened. I had pulled into the rest stop, bottle on E. I exchanged it for a full one. Before heading out, I wanted a quick, refreshing shower down through my helmet so I grabbed another bottle off the table and proceeded to shoot it into the vent holes. Hands were up, mouths ajar, but no words could come out before half the bottle was raining down upon me. When the words did finally make it to my ears, they rang out, “Nooooo, that’s EFS”. Well son-of-a, I’m now a virtual candy coated mess. They scramble to get me a bottle of just water. I take off the helmet and cap, take a quick bath, redress the head, and I’m rolling again. Thank goodness it happened at the support tent and not out on the road where it would have dried up all over me.
I got 10 laps in of the short course, bringing my total mileage to around 220, before I was flagged to enter the track. I quickly did the math in my head. I’d need nearly 50 laps to get the 400 miles needed to qualify for solo RAAM. That’s a lot of going round and round. I cleared the thought from my head quickly. I wasn’t gonna start counting, either up nor down, just ride. It’d be too demoralizing for me, too mentally consuming. I did a couple laps at a fairly quick pace, feeling the track out now that I could see it, versus the blindness of the early morning laps. I picked off each apex, finding the perfect entry and exit points of the turns, generally making a beeline around to make the shortest distance possble. I’m not sure why, but many, if not most folks, simply rode the middle of the track. That is by no means the quickest way around. Each lap counted the same (in terms of distance) for each of us, being measured solely by the timing chip crossing the mat and then multiplied by a reference distance. Barb quickly got the oasis reestablished in the pits. I pulled in for another Ensure and dumped all the extra weight. It wasn’t much, just a cell phone, camera and zone bar, but I didn’t need any of it anymore. I briefly thought about dumping the saddle bag but then decided that even a simple flat on the backside of the track would put me out of the event since I’d have to walk potentially nearly 2 miles either direction to get back. I kept it. I mounted the camera on my helmet for one quick lap before we lost enough light to do any more filming. I chose a humdinger of a lap, not realizing that we were quickly approaching 6:30 pm, the time cutoff for the 12 hour racers.
I pulled out of the pits and stood as I got up to speed, getting ready to enter turn 1 and started hugging the inner barrier. I no longer was using my mirror (mounted to my glasses and used to see someone / thing approaching from behind) since there would be no cars to contend with for the rest of the race. I simply rode a smooth and predictable line, allowing anyone approaching from behind to easily read where I was going and make any adjustments if they chose to pass. I quickly realized that this was the last lap for the 12 hour racers when a recumbent zoomed within inches of me, squeezing into the narrow gap I left between me and the wall. I didn’t want to collide with one of them, it would be catastrophic for me. Another upright, no problem if we banged bars, as long as nobody freaks out. I drifted out a little. Another one, then a third came through, all tightly packed. The string of them, eight in total I think finally cleared. They were on a breakneck pace. I realized what was going on and got the heck out of the way. They were racing to get this last lap in before the 12 hour cutoff. If they didn’t make the timing mat by even one second, the whole lap would have been in vain and would not have counted towards their totals. I played it safe, this was only the halfway point for me. I caught it all on video at least so that should be interesting to see. Once the 12 hour mark had passed, the track quited down noticeably. There were now only a handful of riders left as we watched the sun creep over the horizon and darkness fell upon us.
The track at night is a sursprisingly very difficult place to navigate. There are absolutely no lights. The race staff put out blinking tail lights along the course before dark in an attempt to provide some sort of navigational aid in the dark. Unfortunately, they made two critical errors. First, they put them out while still light. They are small and difficult to see when it’s not dark. That, added to the fact that they put them out while the 12 hour racers are still on course, riders who really don’t need these, unlike those of us riding through the night, meant that most of them got smashed to hell when someone would run over them. Needless to say, there weren’t many blinky lights left by the time we really needed them. Besides not being lighted, the track is meant for racing. There aren’t necessarily any lines painted out there. In the dark, and through weary eyes, it’s often hard to discern the difference between the paved surface and just bare ground. It’s not that hard to simply just ride off the track and out into the grass, it saw it happen a lot. After maybe a dozen laps or so, the track was committed to memory for me. I had picked out the best lines around and knew exactly how much effort I was gonna need at each point. I could no longer see my bike computers without any light. I had created a little keychain light contraption to be able to shine it on them and check on things but I think I used it maybe once or twice the whole night. It wasn’t that I didn’t care anymore, it’s just that it didn’t matter. I’d go as hard as I could manage, and what would, be would be.
Three hundred miles seemed to take forever to get to. It happened sometime before midnight, but even just a couple days out now, it is a bit of a blur. I just know that from 275 to about 325 miles, things began to hurt really bad for me. My butt, my neck, my forearms, my hands, my feet. They were all begging for mercy. I tried to ignore them. The butt needed attention now though. I was afraid to know what was going on down there. There was no comfortable position on the saddle anymore. I scooted to the front, to just sit on the nose. I went to the back, nearly off the back. It wasn’t a stinging, like the skin was shredding. It just hurt, like maybe somebody hit me with a red hot sledgehammer, somwhere between blunt force trauma and a deep throbbing burn. Nothing but standing would help, so I stood. I got occasional cheers from the other teams’ support crews as I’d come through the front straight, out of the saddle. I guess they thought I was trying to set a record, or contend for the podium. I had, in fact, been in the lead for the first 10 hours of the race (according to Barb, I haven’t verified, but it doesn’t really matter) before slipping to second through hour 16 or so. I wasn’t really racing, just getting my RAAM qualifier. If I happened to win, so be it. So amidst all the cheering, little did they know that I was simply trying to get off my ass. I eventually yelled to Barb to get a pair of shorts ready as I came down the front straight. On the next lap, I’d put them on over the ones I had, doubling down on the padding. That helped a lot, a least for a while. The padding eventually gets compressed and looses its cushioning ability. The ass attack would be back later. I just had to block it from my mind, distancing myself from it. My arms were another story. They had begun hurting late in the day. I was spending virtually all of my time down on the aerobars, which are essentially a second set of handlebars designed to make the rider as aerodynamic as possible. On a flat course such as this, that’s the primary enemy of the rider, the wind. One should do everything possible to eliminate this, including contorting into whatever awkward position needed to become “small”. The bars support me by my forearms, not my hands like a typical handlebar. My forearms were hurting, and bad. I didn’t take the time to really look at them, thanks goodness, I just kept down on them, gutting it out. Sometime in the early morning hours I donned some arm warmers as the temps dropped just a touch and I caught a chill. That helped the forearms a little but they still hurt awful bad. After the race I realized what was happening. I was getting pressure sores, both arms and butt. I had worn through the skin on my forearms and “other” places and had deep bruising from the concentrated weight on such little points of contact. I’ll hopefully get that sorted out by the next time I attack such an event, but it wasn’t stopping me.
The laps and miles rattled on. I was well into the 300s and knew I had my qualification as long as I didn’t do anything really stupid, like crashing. Everyone was getting tired. Sometime around maybe 1:00 or 1:30 a.m. or so, I passed the pits, glancing over to see what was going on. Both Barb and Doug’s son’s heads hung down, they were out. I didn’t blame them, crewing is an endurance event itself. I really do admire those that can crew, I don’t think I’d be that good at it myself. It’s not as exciting as being out there on the pedals, and so they endure hours of monotony and boredom in support of us. I let them sleep, stretching out the time between stops a bit. When I finally came in, I yelled over at Barb that I needed some Ensure. I think it scared the bejeebs out of her, but she responded quickly. I chuckled a little, giving her some grief, but I honestly didn’t blame her. I was getting tired myself. It was maybe 2 or 3 in the morning now. We had been gutting it for nearly 20 hours. I was yawning a lot, trying to stay focused. Starting in the late afternoon, I’d occasionally take a flat coke or mountain dew. Something to get a little sugar rush and a little caffeine. I wasn’t using No-Doz or any serious levels of caffeine, just what was in the sodas, just didn’t think I needed it. I caught myself lightly dozing a time or two, on the straightaways. I’d come back to, realizing how crazy this was to be falling asleep on the bike. It really doesn’t sound possible… to sleep… while exercising. I think your mind just gives up and goes somewhere else. I was coming off the front straight and into a little chicane, watching the tail light of a rider maybe 100 yards ahead. I see it go down. It startled me into alertness. As I approach, I can see him tangled up in the bike, just off the edge of the course. He had simply not turned and run off the track, and the bike had jumped out from under him. I wheeled close to the edge and asked if he was okay. “I’m fine, I’m okay”. I kept going, wondering if he too might have briefly dozed off, at such an inopportune time to miss the turn. I tried to make myself mad, to find something to focus on, something to get excited about and make me go harder. I started increasing the pace, figuring that if I could get my heart rate up it would make me more alert. That’s hard to do, to get your heart rate elevated when so deep down into exhaustion. I had started the day in the low 160s, occasionally bumping into 170s. That’s just not enduro pace for sure. Through the mid day I hovered in the 150s, which was more like it should be. I was now between 125 and 130 as I was tapering off. I fought to get it elevated back up. My legs were okay, my nutrition was good, I just struggled to make the engine put out the power. I turned it off, my mind that is. I’d go into robot mode, simply focusing on the pistons attached to the pedals, listening to the whoosh of the wheels as I torqued them around, over and over.
As the morning rolled around, I had decided that once I got my qual, I was done. I wasn’t going the full 24 hours, just wanted to get over the 400 mile mark. I was hurting too bad on my butt and arms. Yes, I could have really gutted it out and done it, but I just wasn’t racing today. This was my first 24 hour and I just wanted to do what I set out to and learn as much as possible. Plus I had another major event, a 500 miler, in 6 weeks. I simply didn’t need to do more damage than I could recover from and get peaked again. I told Barb to start watching the timing board, the official record of the race, and to let me know when I topped 400. I’d stop then. My computer was close, but wasn’t the official race record, so I took my cues solely from her. Those last laps were excruciating. They seemed to take forever. A wind had slowly picked up at the track through the night and early morning hours. What a bad time for that to happen. It forced me even lower down onto the bars and the saddle, preventing me from standing. It was like digging out a deep splinter, you know it’s gonna hurt but it must be done. I pushed on, deciding to string out my stops (the number of laps I’d go before pitting) in an effort to get the miles in quicker. Finally, at 4:30 a.m. or so, I got confirmation from timing that I had topped the 400 mile mark. When all was said and done, my official results were 405.9 miles in 22 hours 8 minutes.
I was extremely blessed and fortunate this day. There is such a symphony of things that must all go right to get this done, at least for me. Perhaps after even more years of experience, I’ll look back and wonder why this seemed so hard, like I look back today at some of my early riding milestones. It’s simply not always good preparation, a good strategy, and good support that get these things done. Weather was extremely favorable for us too. Sure, I dealt with some issues, but they were honestly so minor. I have no regrets. Well, maybe one, no biggie, but if I had to do it over again, I’d stay for the awards ceremony. Right after getting done, just after 4:30am, both Diesel and I each respectively packed it up and headed out. I wanted to get a shower, get some breakfast, and get in the dang bed. I was spent. I never caught back up with Jim, or Batman, or any of the others who fought the battle with me this day (really these dayS). I wished I had congratulated them. Our paths will eventually cross again, I’m sure of it.
Oh, and it’s true what they say about getting off the freakin’ bike. I’m haven’t yet picked my race apart, using the PowerTap data, backup computer, official timing splits and nutrition logs, but based on a quick-n-dirty, of the roughly 22 hours I spent racing, nearly 105 minutes of it was off the bike. Now you simply cannot eliminate downtime, at least some of it, but wow, it sure didn’t seem like over an hour and a half. Next time, DON’T GET OFF THE BIKE!