Sunday, July 15, 2007

Eighteen THOUSAND feet straight up

This is the story about racing for 100 miles on trail & dirt road. The format is 3 Laps x 33.3 miles. There are three aid stations packed with water, food, and medical help strategically placed at the top of the major climbs. Most people equate dirt miles taking 2x to 3x the effort of similar mileage on pavement. My training mileage was light but there was some training. The only big gun in my quiver is experience. Also, I'll be fueled by very fancy magic liquids (www.hammernutrition.com) and pills. Oh, and to make this endeavor especially stupid, I'm riding not on a bike with a bunch of gears but one with only one. We who are part of the Single Speed Cult understand why such a choice might be made. It can only be described as religion. This race is called, "The Cascade Creampuff."

Here is the story...

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3:15 am - dark, quiet, stars peeking between trees, the blue flame of the Coleman for coffee & food. Feeling good, really wondering what the #&$# would cause a person to sign up for such madness. I know it will hurt yet with the coolness of night, the task at hand doesn't appear impossible.

5:15 am - The start siren and we're spinning the neutral start on smooth and luxurious flat pavement. I find myself behind a row of three single speeders. These riders have the meaty calves and requisite ink of badass riders who I'm guessing will own this race. As they spin an ultra high cadence, I am comfortable in my spin. My only thought is that I am totally screwed. If these seasoned riders are all geared way lower, what the bloo'y 'ell am I going to do on lap 3? I am in trouble.

5:37 am - Friend and team rider Chris & I ride together for a few moments until the low cadence, fresh legs, and desire to not be among the yo-yo-ing riff raff. I accelerate away up the hill, passing dozens of riders. My race plan was to stay below a particular heart rate but I managed to *not* pack my heart rate monitor strap rendering it useless. I found it next to the pile of "stuff to bring" ... brilliant. So with no HR data, my strategy changed to stay below a subjective pain threshold.

6:31 am - (1:16 elapsed) - Aid station 1 - I barely stop and am feeling strong. The tread has been exclusively gravel road and will remain gravel until aid station 3 where it becomes essentially all singletrack all the way down.

2:26 into the race I am at the highest point at 4777' after blowing past aid station 3. Up here it's crazy mop-headed scrub grass with invisible singletrack. The race organizers marked the course with signs to mark nearly every nuance and danger on the course. If there was a rock in the middle of the trail, there would be a sign. Often after a 25mph+ section, signs would indicate to slow down. More arrow signs pointing down = more danger. One means caution, two means be really careful, three means make a mistake and you could die. The 3's were infrequent and what they represented was cliff exposure. Sections were so well marked that it was often easier to read the signs versus read the trail. While grateful for the info, especially the 3x warnings, it was almost like a padded forest. Even with the "padding" I managed to eat it on the downhill tagging my knee with a rock in a most unpleasant way on a dead-easy switchback. The singletrack is really buff and full of perfect curves. It's a luge run with intermittent climbs just to mix it up. These climbs don't hurt now but they will. On the steepest uphill sections, I intentionally walk to avoid digging deep with my 32x18 ratio. The downhill sections are so fast and so long and require such focus that they exhaust me. It's nearly impossible to want a sinuous downhill singletrack section to end but here's the exception. With aching arms and fried mental focus, please let me point the bike uphill. And this is my thinking on lap one... I'm in deep.

3:45 into the race I have completed lap one... an impressive time. If I can maintain this pace, I will have a finishing time of 11:15. This is my thinking now. If only...

2nd lap ... all I am thinking is that I want to deliver myself to the beginning of the 3rd lap before it gets too hot. The strong and confident climb on lap one is replaced by a sluggish 2nd. It's already warm on this second climb instilling fear for the third. My gear choice is really making me sad now. Without knowing what gear would be fastest, I thought I had chosen well. It's only now that I'm crossing 6 - 7 - 8,000 feet with the knowledge that it'll be 15,000+ by the end. The gear worked well for a previous race, the 50 mile/7500' Test of Endurance race but it's not working now.

I just try to ride the downhill cleanly and quickly. The velocity feels high but I my GPS tells me (now as I write this) that it's down in comparison. I deliver myself to the start of lap 3 at 1:45 pm. Lap 1 time was 3:45, lap 2 is 4:45, a solid hour slower... crap. As I round the final turns, I'm blasted with the heat of the afternoon. The climb is going to be ugly.

3rd lap ... I'm feeling better emotionally but but know that my uphill speed is dire. The cranks are barely turning over in the heat of the gray gravel. It's funny to watch riders pick their line based upon where the shade is versus where the smooth bits are. The time to get to aid 2 seems an eternity. I'm burning through water and fancy drinks. After expecting to see the aid tent after every switchback, I finally see the blue cloth of aid 3... essentially the top. I rest, rejoice, fuel up and stretch. Doing the math, I realize that my time is neither remotely near the podium nor near the cutoff time of 15 hours, I totally change my attitude to just kick back and enjoy the downhill. I'll stop at every opportunity to eat, stretch, pee, look at the sights... whatever. I realize that truly no one cares about what time I pull except myself. I could suffer to gain 20-30 minutes or take that time to feel fresh for each buttery section of singletrack. So that's my plan which I execute to perfection. I count over a dozen points where I stopped on the downhill to stretch and recharge according to the GPS.

Final time: ~13 Hours 30 minutes
On essentially the final section of singletrack, I'm stretching and hanging out and Chris shows up cursing his shock. We chat for a sec, I tell him I've cracked and he powers off. I walk a section that he climbs easily. Once at the top, I decide that it'd be cool to have a Cyclisme team sprint finish. I lay down everything I have on these velocity sections going well beyond what is sane but my rediscovered adrenaline and motivation kick in. I'm expecting to see his checkered jersey after every turn given I'm riding like the short track. I see nothing but trail. I roll into the finish and to the cheers of everyone, including the grinning Chris & family.

Thoughts: Happy I did it. Happy it's over. I picked a shitty gear. I can't believe it but I bested my previous time by an HOUR. In 2001 I rolled it with gears, without kids, and with endless hours and days of training. The question isn't why I was fast yesterday but how the 'ell was I so slow before? Mysterious.

I don't anticipate doing the 'Puff again. If I'm going to suffer though 100 miles with over six figures of vertical it needs to be some sort of point-to-point where it's all new and it's all an adventure. The lap format doesn't offer that kind of experience. It's a great event and there's a lot that I like but I've done it and can put it to rest.

1 comment:

R.U.P. said...

Clearly, fatherhood is the best training for insane bike riding. It's all about endurance, right? Nothing requires more endurance than keeping up with toddlers and answering a never-ending series of "but why-y-y-y-y-y-y?" Well done, dude.