It's sometimes just like sleeping
Curling up inside my private tortures
I nestle into pain
Caress every ache
-Bjork from "Play Dead"
- Jim Pavlichek cranking out the 8 hours in the mountain bike race.
Going in, it was not lost on me that it was to be about four (count-em, 4) *times* longer than my previously longest mountain race. I figured, nay, hoped the muscle memory of Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) 2007 would get me through. I prepared for the unknown as best I could, coming off a rest week and trying to stay mellow about the whole thing, especially regarding expectations of anything resembling a good result. I was hoping to get off work early on Friday afternoon to ease the drive up to my favorite staging area in South Lake Tahoe, but I even had to wind up letting that stressor go when I found out late that one of my coworkers called in sick.
Drat. Oh well. It turned out fine anyway, as usual.
On a side note, if anyone ever wants to have anything go fine, just have me stress about it and I guarantee it will turn out great!
The common sense of the common man holds no sway over the cyclist. 5am on a
Saturday is get up and get ready time.
After a shower to shake off the sleep, I was happy to find I had an appetite this early in the morning, and happy Ellen's coffee is always top notch. A few clicks past 6am and we were heading up 89 to Tahoe City and a date with pain. Get there, get reg'ed, get ready. Nothing like an 8hr race to put paid to the "no warm-up needed" argument I've been seeing posted about lately. Game face. Time to go, eh?
*Lap 1: The Warm Up Mat
stung the legs and lungs a bit. I hadn't seen any of the course, so I just had to hope things would string out enough before the single track started. I have pretty much loved descending since getting my Stumpjumper (thanks Ken's Bike and Ski) but the first one was a bit hairy as there were still enough people in the way that I couldn't see the line well enough to bomb it. That would be the situation for the first half lap really. It wasn't too technical of a course, but there was a tree to duck under (yeah Paula Maura Skills!), some logs to run over, really steep, twisty single track to negotiate, a flying loose descent, and a leg pumping, steep, loose climb to keep things interesting. Oh, and let me not forget the snow banks and the muddy water crossings which shared an inverse relationship as the day went on. More on that later. Soon enough, 1 hr passed and I was at the line. Time to hit the pit, shed some layers of clothing and take on some fuel.
*No real fighting for position at the line here. I figured the daunting distance would decide the day. (last alliteration, I promise) So I took my place near the back, which I figured would help with my race plan of going out easy and not blowing up. It turned out to be my fastest lap anyway. Laps were 11 miles long and featured, said the promoter, 1000' of elevation gain per lap, which started right away. Not my favorite way to start, being a flatlander and all. Even though it was pretty short and not steep it still
*Lap 2: The Ouch Room;
*I really hate being too warm on the bike, especially in a race situation. Makes me cranky and a lot slower. So it was with great relish that I started lap 2 unencumbered. There was still a bit of traffic, as there would be until all the 4hr folks were done, but the sailing was quite a bit smoother. I remembered parts of the course and started getting dialed in. I was happy to find on the first lap that it was an all middle chain ring course which really helps in keeping up momentum. Not that the climbing didn't hurt, but when you have a granny gear grunt of a climb, then have to go straight to bashing out a bigger gear, well, it's not a good way to make friends with your legs. Shut up legs.
The promoter had warned that there would be some hike-a-bike over snow. Of course I fretted about it before the race to make sure it wouldn't be so bad, and it wasn't. I actually consistently made up places on the snow. There were 2 longer ones which required dismounting and a few fun short ones you could blast up and over if you had a modicum of skills. I love water crossings, and I wasn't disappointed here. I love to hit 'em hard. I guess it's the kid in me that I hope never wanes. Anyway, that enthusiasm would prove useful later in the race. About half way through the lap and the traffic was thinning pretty well. Great, as there was a flying fast, tacky 1/4 mile fire road descent that I had designs on destroying. That was an awesome part of the lap!
*Lap 3: The House of Hurt;
*I pitted again after the 2nd lap, and it was at that point I realized that a PBP lesson about time spent at controls transfers very well to endurance racing. Namely; "The Clock is Always Ticking". So I was smart this time and took on enough to get me 2 laps.
Ellen had some friends doing the 4-person co-ed relay who generously shared their pit area with us. The help I got from Chris and Jeff was beyond value. I got to the pit and Jeff sprung up and asked if I needed anything. Polite conversation and it's normal standards of respect fly out the window when you're standing at the car in zone 4+ when all you can think about is how much more progress you'd make in zone 4 if you were actually on your bike.
I handed, well, tossed really my muddied glasses and their case to Jeff and barked, "change to the clear lenses!" The off came my CamelBack with one word, "Fill!", while I shoved some food in my face and some in my jersey. I may have even managed to get out a "Thanks!" as I took off back on course. The speed sensor on my computer had stopped working but that didn't really matter. All the info I needed was heart rate, to keep my pace in check, and time, to keep track of laps. And really, knowing the time would have just psyched me out, so I was kinda glad when the unit shifted a bit to obscure the time read out. I really didn't want that info till lap 5 anyway. The hardest thing about lap 3 was the mental game of thinking about how much farther I had to go.
Thankfully, I had another PBP lesson top draw off of.
PBP digression: Somewhere after the turnaround in Brest I had a randonneurs epiphany. All of the numbers, kilometers ridden/left, time ridden/left, all the numbers just left my head entirely and it became "just a ride". I tell you, that was an amazingly freeing experience. It was as if the left hemisphere of my brain packed up and went on vacation.
So while I was able to successfully turn off half my brain and ride, I wasn't able to turn off the pain. About half way through the 3rd lap my left arm started hurting. This, a leftover from the car/bike accident back in November. It was a little earlier than I expected, but then, I hadn't ever tested it to this degree. Damage control time. I did a lot of one armed riding after that, but I was damned if I was going to stop.
*Lap 4: The Pain Cave;
*It turns out that whoever paraphrased "No Pain, No Gain" with "No Brain, No Pain" was full of s***. Lap 4 was all business. Brain was shut off, but it still hurt. I was surprised that every time I looked at my monitor I was in zone 4 or 5a, with forays into 5b. I'm not sure I ever saw zone 3 except on descents. O U C H spells ouch. But just as I'd feel sorry for myself or feel like tapping out, a single speeder would pass me, allowing me to
confirm what a baby I am. I heard tell after the race that some guy did it fixed gear. Epic stones on that one. So far, even though I was hurting, I was on my race plan. I was giving a measured amount of "my all" and hadn't been put into difficulty yet. At this point the riders were fewer and farther between, but I'd still see the occasional person ahead to use a rabbit. I was also getting pretty dialed in with respect to gear choice on each part of the course. I'd be interested to see cadence #s as it felt like I kept a pretty consistent spin throughout. (Thanks Freunds’ rides!)
Remember the inverse relationship with the snow and mud from earlier? Well, as the snowbanks got smaller, the mud got deeper. Everyone was looking like they just completed a rainy Paris-Roubaix. And bikes were heavy with it. I hit the pit again after the 4th lap, knowing that 5 and 6 would be important. Chris was there to give me a hand, and I had him pour water over my drivetrain while I spun the pedals. Then I squirted what seemed like 1/3 a bottle of Boesheild on it for good measure. I had felt a little light
headed at times on the 4th lap and remembered that feeling from a hot DC when my salt levels got too low and I nearly bonked. I shoved down a mess of pretzels and slammed some guru energy drink. Make or break time, baby!
*Lap 5: The Suffer Crevasse;
*This was the first of the 2 most important laps. I figured I needed to maybe dial it back a bit on lap 5 to make sure I didn't blow. I'd done a 50 mile mtb ride before, but that was like 16 years ago and I was a different person with regard to fitness then. There was also no stopping to regroup and BS today. I was averaging about 1:03 so far and lap 5 turned out to be 1:10 including time in the pit. I made sure to get 2 laps worth again and even hit the port-a-potty since it was right there. Sure that took a minute, but at least it meant I was drinking enough. The course was really an up-down-up-down affair and the fact that you were never too far away from a down really helped my enthusiasm, not to mention being areas for a little recovery. I figured Ellen was going well as I had neither passed her nor seen her in the pit. But then, Ellen *is* Ellen after all. There was some back-and-forth leapfrogging going on with a couple of guys at this point and it made for a more interesting time. I was pretty dialed in at this point and just wanted to get done with the lap. On the subject of the mental side of time-trialing, a long time ago Paula Mara told me that the middle third is the hardest because you think about how far you've come already, yet how far you have to go still. I developed a mantra back then from that. "Sooner or Later", as in, I'll be done sooner or later. It was an effective way of putting the pain out of my mind. Since an mtb race is effectively a mass start TT on dirt, well, there you go. As I came towards the end of lap 5, I checked my time. I knew 8 laps was out of the question, but I really, really wanted to get 7. I was buoyed by the fact that I had enough time for 2 more, meaning I was in good shape for 7 as long as nothing went wrong and I didn't bonk. I had been consistently eating and drinking though, so I was as
unworried as I could be in uncharted territory. That would all help my 6th lap.
*Lap 6: The Agony Abyss;
*Lap 6 turned out to be one of my faster laps when you account for pit time. I wasn't surprised because I felt pretty good. Almost better than I had any right to. Endurance being my strength, I figured it was coming to the fore. At this point, the water crossings were big, which was good as hitting them hard, as is my preference, actually helped clean off the drivetrain some. The mud was bigger too, and running the snow banks was actually a really refreshing cool-off for my feet. In fact, I didn't even think about my feet
all race. All 5th lap I was encouraging myself on thinking, just 2 more after this, just 2 more. Well, it felt even better when there was to be just 1 more. It felt like I had more snap, more concentration, more speed. I guess I was in as much a groove as one could reasonably have after riding oneself senseless for 6 hours. It was really interesting to see how much the course changed throughout the day. One of the long
snow banks got a groove worn down the middle of it to the point you could see dirt. It was just rideable if you did it just right, which makes me think about one nice thing about endurance mtb racing (aside from misery loves company) which is that small mistakes that cost 10 or 20 seconds don't grate on you as much as in a normal race. That being said, after 7 1/2hrs I *was*only a minute behind the guy who finished ahead of me. There was also one downhill wide track section with a little water flowing down it early in the
race that was practically a river for the last two laps. There was also a bi*** of a section of wood chips that was really soft, and increasingly muddy, that felt like you just threw out and anchor. Lap done, time for one last pit stop.
*Lap 7: The Quantum Singularity of Misery;
*I had identified 4 challenging sections that broke down the course as a way of breaking the later laps into chewable bites. There was the steep single track with the on-the-fly bushwhacking early in the lap, the steep lose climb somewhere around 1/2 way, the other climb shortly after that (which ended in one of those anchor-tossing wood chip sections, and the flat, deep, muddy, smelly wood chip section just before the end of the lap. You can believe I was counting those off on my last lap. I even passed a few more people, though I had no idea if they were in my category at the time. Turns out one of the 2 who passed me on my last lap was the guy who finished a minute ahead of me. I had passed them both on the loose climb, and they passed me just after. I was still trying to recover from the climb, and there was no way I could bring it up a notch to follow. I passed one of them back on a slight downhill later and was a little bummed to find he was a single speeder, and made it kind of a worthless pass, except that it put me closet to the other guy. I just had a feeling he was in my category. Maybe I was just telling myself that to spur me on. I was trying to go as fast as I could on the last lap because, maybe even more so than in road racing, you never know what's going on out of sight up ahead. Or behind. Pin it to win it. Or something like that. I could see the blue and white jerseyed guy up
ahead and was giving it my all. I powered up the uphill wood chips and bashed my way through the smelly ones, but he was just a bit too far ahead. I took a look back and the trail was clear, so I just motored it home. I had wanted to cross the finish line with style and succeeded, as long as doofus is a style. The plan was to drop my bike, hold my arms out and fall across the line like a cliff diver. Well, I came in a little hot and it wound up an ungainly somersault. Apparently it looked like I crashed. One guy said, "nice dismount" Grrrrr. Oh well, dorky is as dorky does.
Needless to say, I was shot. My arm was hurting, and my back was in revolt. There was bbq for the racers though. I'll tell you, right then and there, that Costco burger and plastic cup of Fat Tire Amber tasted light years better than anything Burgers and Brew could put before me.
*There wound up being no gradations for category or age, so I was in simply 8 hr solo men. There were 29 in my category. I'd figured maybe top 15. I'd have been thrilled with 10th. To my great surprise I wound up 5th! I'll take it! Especially at elevation and for my first crack at it. I can't thank Jeff and Chris enough for their pit help, and Alan Walls for
setting us up at the ski club cabin that night. Too bad I was a little too out of it when he called cocktail hour. I didn't nurse my black Russian so much as let it sit there and die alone. Ellen says I was comatose all night. I believe it.
2000 calories intake
7200 calories burned
Next time I'll have a better pit strategy.