Friday, December 26, 2014

My HAMR Plan

One of the first questions people ask after learning that I’m going to ride more than 75,000 miles in one year is how?  Do you have a plan or are you just going to go out and ride 206 miles every day?  

Actually, I do have a plan and it’s based on going incrementally farther and faster as the year progresses and I have more daylight to ride.  My plan calls for riding long six days a week and doing a century ride on the 7th day as a rest and recovery day.  

Everything in the plan is just an estimate since much will depend on the weather and where I can start and stop each day.   My goal is to start out riding 10 hours a day the first week on my long rides and then add 10 minutes to the time ridden each week as I get more daylight and better weather.   I plan to increase my time on the bike to 14-15 hours during the summer and then taper it back down to about 10 hours a day by the end of 2015.    My speed goal for riding is to start out riding my long days at about 17 mph which, for me, is actually a little slow.   As my fitness improves, my average speed will get better and by mid year I should be riding at around 20 mph or better and should be able to hold that fitness level for the rest of the year.

I put together a projections spreadsheet that uses these assumptions to show how to accumulate more than 78K miles.  The spreadsheet also shows the mileage that was accumulated by the current record holder and how far ahead of schedule I should be as I progress through the year.    The fact that my projections are on the low side for the speed I ride and the number of hours that I need to commit combined with the fact that these projects give me two weeks of burn days, (days I don’t have to ride because of weather or other emergencies), leaves me very confident that this can be done with the help and support of my family, friends and cycling community.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Physically Preparing for HAM'R

In June 2014 I completed 2 Person RAAM with Joel Sothern, the preparation for this event and the actual racing of the event left me with what is known to RAAM athtletes as the RAAM bump. Once you body recovers from RAAM you are usually in the best cycling condition in your life.

My next big competition for was the Powerman World Long Course Duathalon Championships in Switzerland on September 7th. To prepare for that event I spent 3 weeks in Roan Mountain, TN training on the Blue Ridge Parkway. My weakness as a racer is my climbing ability so I spent my time working on that weakness. I left Roan Mountain in the best climbing shape I have been in.

In Switzerland I finished 6th in 50-54 age group in Du Worlds. Du Worlds was a 10K run followed by a 150K and finishing with a 30K run. My finish is a testament to my bike fitness – I was in last place in my age group coming off the first 10K – but I was able to move up to 2nd after the bike and was strong enough to hold on to 6th place.

After Switzerland my training was very unfocused because I really didn't have a direction. I did a couple of long rides and some 50 mile time trials rides and little mountain biking and running in Taos, NM to give my self some altitude training but no direction.

When I decided on November 26th that I was going to own the HAM'R – I had to look at my calendar to figure out how I could get my body ready in one month to be riding 12 hours a day every day. The keys were to build my endurance while allowing my body to adapt. I had to turn myself into a properly fuel machine with legs of titanium and a backside of leather.

To do this I incorporated two principals I use in all of my training. First use a progressive build in the number of hours ridden to get to my target and using harder days followed by recovery days. I started my long hard rides out at 6 hours and my recover rides at 3 hours. The goal was by the end of December for my long rides and my recovery rides to be the duration in the neighborhood of 11 hours a day. During this time I'm dialing in my nutrition and losing about 10lbs. I'm also dialing in my clothing and everything else that needs to be right for me to succeed.

Check out the calendar page on to see when and where I'll be training or riding.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Back in the Saddle.

Its been a while since I've taken the time to write about my ultra cycling.  I've been off doing other things in the athletic world like triathlons and duathlons and taking a month long vacation to study alternate building methods for constructing harmonious living spaces at Earthship Academy.

But since the end of 2011 a little voice has been whispering in my head. Back in 2011 I had set a goal of riding more than 200 century rides and covering more that 25,000 miles (once around the earth) as a goal for the year and at the end of the year I finished up with 212 centuries and over 27,000 miles of ride. I was pretty damn proud of myself until someone posted about Tommy Godwin and his world record of 75,000 miles in one year. Was this even a real thing that could be done?

The record was certified by Guinness Book of World records and it was said they would not certify another attempt at the world record because it was not physically safe to try it. This turned out to be an incorrect statement as I contacted Guinness about the record. They would certify another attempt, but the rules that they were proposing and the documentation that was required was so onerous that it would require a person to have a full time crew of people just to film and document everything. So breaking the record with Guinness certifying the attempt would not happen.

This is when the UMCA or Ultra Marathon Cycling Association stepped in and at the behest of a couple of individuals  Steven Abraham of England and William Pruett of the US wrote some draft rules to govern the attempt in September. I talk with my friend Alicia Snyder about the record and she was certain that breaking the record was why we had been brought together thru RAAM.  

I was involved with the discussions on the rules, we didn't see eye to eye and I was a getting frustrated in the process. This was about riding the most miles in a year and not your standard record attempt. It got to the point where I stopped giving input. After a couple of weeks the rules didn't look much better than those of Guinness so I decided that this wasn't going to be a go either.

Life changed on Wednesday November 26, 2014. I was in California helping Alicia manage with her broken ankle and getting in some late season fair weather rides when I got a message from William that the rules for the Attempt were posted. William has been pushing me to go for this record since the end of 2011. I read the rules and said YES! With these rules I CAN DO THIS. I can set this record with the right team in place. I showed the rules to Alicia and WE decided that we were going to dedicate 2015 to the HAM'R  - Highest Annual Mileage Record.  

Stay tuned.....

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sebring Adventure

Its been a long time since I have taken the time to write about one of my races.   Sometimes it would take me more time to tell the story than it did to complete the race.  That will probably be the case again this time but, here goes nothing.  Hope you enjoy the read.

Sebring started out as a week long adventure for me.   The weather in Arkansas, as in most of the US this winter, has been horrible for outdoor cycling so I was hoping to get in few rides in Florida to help with my base training.,  My January and February miles were about 50% of my normal so I wasn't sure what the Sebring race would hold. 

I was finally able to leave work on Friday at about 3 pm after a 60 hour work week and zero training since my 200 miler the weekend before. 

The first night I drove into Mississippi, slept in my RV at a roadside park,  woke up early and continued on to Tallahassee.  I met David Hiatt around noon and we put in a good fast and hilly 60 miles on the road bikes and then I was back in the RV and driving to Floral City.  Floral City is the half way point of the Withlacoochee trail where I intended to spend most of Sunday riding.

I arrived in Floral City at around 9 pm and  I parked the RV in an EMS parking lot adjacent to the trail.  There were no vehicles and the building looked unoccupied.   I was to find out differently.   At midnight I was awoken by a siren.  A less than polite EMS tech decided I should move since I was on private property.  Not that anyone else was parked in the other 7 spaces, nor was I blocking access to anything, just that it was private property.  The County Po-Po arrived about a minute later and needed to verify that I was not a wanted felon.  Everyone knows that most wanted felons drive sprinter vans and have two $5K+ bikes hanging off the back.   After the deputy called in my driver's license and verified that I wasn't wanted for anything that he could find, he told me I could park 2 blocks south and 1 block east behind the Library, (a public place), and nobody would bother me there.  So I jumped back in the RV, moved and tried to get back to sleep.

Sunday morning didn't quite go as planned.   I got my TT bike off the bike rack and found that the aero bars/wing had shifted during transport and the brakes were rubbing.  I did a little manual adjusting and got them back into place, I thought, and took off down the trail.   About a mile into the ride I hit a bump and the breaks started rubbing again.  Back to the RV and a quick switch to the road bike.    I started off the morning riding to the southeast so I could watch the sunrise.   They day turned into a  nice, easy 90+  miles riding the whole trail both ways, plus my bonus miles.    After the ride, I drove into Bradenton to meet with Craig Prather to plan Monday's morning ride. 

Monday started out nice and early at 5:00 am.  Craig and I headed out to the barrier islands and, with some good strong effort,  put in a pretty fast 70+ miles with great views of the bays and ocean.   After the ride, I headed down to Bonita Springs to take care of some unfinished yoga business and finished the day off  at Iguana Mia with Tom Stevenson from my RAAM crew.   Iguana Mia is a favorite hangout of Nick and the Florida Hell Week Crew.  

Tuesday was a beautiful day in south Florida.  I rode from my hotel in Ft Myers to Joyful Yoga in Bonita Springs for an excellent power-hour class followed by a massage and a ride back to the hotel.  I finished up the evening with dinner at a French and Vietnamese restaurant with Tom and his wife.  We had spring rolls and Pho which was very good.

Wednesday is my run training day so I got in a 5.5 run followed by a 5.5 mile ride before needing to check out of the hotel and head toward Sebring.   I had no particular destination in mind so I messaged some people to see who was where and what type of mischief I could find.   Marko said I should stop by and see him for  dinner in Lake Placid since he was trapped in a hotel with no transport.  On the way there my GPS got lost - it literally wanted me to keep going in a circle.   On the way to this circle I had passed a wildlife management area.  It was still early afternoon and I had no place to be, so I decided to stop in and go for a hike.

This was probably one of the best decisions of the whole trip.  It was a great hike.  On the hike out to the lake, I came across an abandoned tower that just begged to be climbed.  The bottom 6 feet of steps had been burned away in a grass fire so I had to jump up and pull myself up the ladder and work my way to the viewing deck about 20 feet in the air.   It was such a pretty day that I decided to sit and meditate for awhile and just enjoy being.   Climbing down was just as big of an adventure.  As I continued my hike, I came across a few armadillos and was blessed to see a Florida Bobcat in the wild.  We both just stopped and stared for awhile - kind of awesome!

After my hike, I headed back to Lake Placid to pick up Marko and head to dinner.  At dinner we talked about Texas Hell Week where we first got to be friends, about the people we were coaching and how their RAAM preparations were going, and how our training or lack of training was going.  It is always nice to just hang with Marko. 

I spent most of Thursday at Indian Lakes Estates with Ralph - just riding around checking on properties.   Indian Lake Estates is in the middle of nowhere Florida and has some of the cheapest real estate available in the state.  I'm looking at snagging a place for under 70K that has an in-ground lap pool.   Thursday night I drove to Sanford Airport to pickup my Valentine T-Bear.   P.S.  anyone living in AR, you can fly non-stop to Orlando for under $100, but only on Thursday and Sunday.

Friday, T-Bear and I cruised down to Sebring and began the race rituals.   The first race ritual is to get your support site set up.  John and Jackie Schlitter already had the big Vite mobile set up on the corner so we pulled in next to them and began setting up and getting ready for my 2nd Sebring race ritual:  Hot Laps.   Every year I go to Sebring I bring 2 bikes and every year it seems I use both of the bikes.    The day before the race I take both bikes out for a hot lap going as fast I can go.  First, I took out my Giant TCR Advanced, (the bike I used to set the 12 hour record), and I was able to push 24.4.  Next, I took out my Cervelo, (the bike I used to crush the FL RAAM Challenge Course), and I was able to push 25.2.  If the Cervelo hadn't thrown the chain, which really messed up the speed test, it would have been even  faster.   John made a quick adjustment to the front derailleur and the chain problem was solved - Thanks again John!  The Cervelo and my position on it give me an aero advantage of about 1 mph over my Giant.

Derek Kozlowski, who I am proud to be coaching for RAAM, came down to Sebring to do his first ultra. He got in a little late because of Sebring traffic so Derek, Ralph, T-Bear and I headed to dinner at 5:15.  We arrived at Outback and were told that it would be 1:45 minutes for a table.  I said, "no, thanks", and we adjourned to 5 Guys Burgers.   Why is this important?  I always eat the same prerace meal at Sebring and my wife had told me that there was no way on Valentines Day and a Friday night that we would get into Outback.  T-bear was correct in this case, but we still enjoyed the meal at 5 Guys before heading to registration.

Friday at Sebring is like a family reunion, where you get together with people you haven't seen in awhile but share a common bond.    The pre-ride, hanging in the parking lot, and registration are all chances to reconnect with friends that you haven't seen in a long time and with acquaintances, the ones where you remember the face but can't quite recall the name.  Sometimes someone says, "Hi, Kurt", and I feel bad because I don't remember their name, but I'm still glad to reconnect with them while we are doing what we love to do.

Okay, if you have persevered over the last dozen or so paragraphs, we are now to race day.   Usually going into race day I have a goal and at Sebring the goal is to set the course record at whatever distance I'm racing.   Today I didn't have a goal because I was very unsure of my training.  I had also taken a look at the weather and didn't think many records were going to be set in the winds of 2014.

RACE TIME - I took off from the line with a nice even pace.  I think Mark Metcalf got a quick start but I passed him as we got onto the track.  About 1/2 mile in, Hoppo came by me and I let him go because I knew we couldn't draft off him.  I kept a nice even pace for the first lap with nobody wanting to come take a pull.  As we started the 2nd lap I noticed the familiar face of Marko coming up to take a turn.   Marko and I continued to pull the group around the course for the 3 laps on the track and we headed out to complete the 100 mile loop.  Once we headed off the track I was dismayed to see that there were only 5 of us in the group:  Marko, Claudio, Wes, and Dallas and myself.  Usually the lead group consists of 10-20 riders at least to the turn around.    

Wes dropped off somewhere before the turn around but ended with a good day winning the 55-59 age group.  The group got a little disjointed at the turn around.   Dallas needed to stop for water so I decided to head to the bushes, but by the time I got back they had left me.  So I chased them back down and we headed back to Sebring.  We had been going back and forth with Hoppo for most of the race and finally put him behind us around mile 70.  Claudio and Dallas, battling for the 24 hour drafting race, dropped around mile 90 and continued their battle throughout the day with Dallas winning by one short lap.    This left Marko and I to finish up the 100 together. 

After finishing the first 100 in 4:18,  I decided that I would need to make a change to my bike.  The Reynolds 81 on the front of my Cervelo was catching to much cross wind and almost caused me to crash a couple of times.  Coming in on the 100, I told Marko I was going to switch wheels, but then decided I would switch bikes to my Giant instead.  That proved to be the mistake that cost me the race.  While riding the Giant I have a much greater area exposed to the wind and when we went out on the 1st mid loop I could not keep on Marko's wheel. 

I came in after the first mid-lap and told my crew that I need to changed bikes back and switch front wheels.  This is where it gets cool,  I pull into my area and 4 people are ready to grab the bike I'm on, take the front wheel off, put it back on the Cervelo and get me out again - all while I take a pee break.  The problem was that I lost Marko and there was no one else I could draft with.  I rode the last 157 miles of the race with no draft partner.

That wasn't the end of the fun or the suffering.  Somewhere around lap 5 or 6 I told my crew I needed a cheeseburger.   Instead of  going to the concession stand, I see them drive by me as I'm going down 98 and thinking to myself - I hope they don't go back to 5 Guys because I just wanted a small cheeseburger.  I beat my cheeseburger chasing crew back in on lap 6 but by lap 7 they have a cheeseburger for me which I proceed to place in my mouth and take a big bite.  As I'm cruising back onto the course I hit some bumps and lost my cheeseburger after only taking 2 bites.  Sadness overcame me.  :(.    I finish the lap and to my delight and joy they have a 2nd cheeseburger for me which I consume completely, never letting it slip away.   Thanks T-bear and Ralph for always having everything I needed just when I needed it, you are the Bestest crew ever!

Chris Hopkinson and I have had a little facebook trash talk going.  Some people thought I was questioning his ability which is untrue.  I have been trying to get him to understand that the rider is only half of the equation for RAAM and that the right crew and plan are just as important as how strong you are.  Marko and I had put Chris behind us on the 100 mile loop and my goal was to keep him from passing me back.   But for laps 9, 10, and 11 on the mid-loop we would keep swapping positions with Chris passing me on the hilly section and me flying back by on the tail wind section back to the finish.   Chris was finally able to pass me and stay ahead after the 12th mid loop.  He ended up finishing 257 miles about 40 seconds in front of me for his personal win over me.   Had I known he was that close I would have pushed much harder on the short loops instead of just cruising around to the finish.  My bad.

I finished up with 257 miles.   Finishing second to Marko who holds multiple world records really is not bad and yet, I believe if I would have gone for the wheel switch on the first mid lap instead of the bike switch, Marko and I would have both probably challenged my 12 hour record while suffering together instead of alone.

Congrats to everyone that raced Sebring:  Especially to Larry, who spent much more time in my pit area than I did; to Marko on his 12 hour win; to Chis on his 24 hour non-draft Win; to Dallas on his 24 hour draft win; and to Derek, who in his first on-road ultra was able to finish 3rd in the 12 hour race.  

Love you all and hope you enjoyed reading about this adventure


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sharpening the Tools.

I recently read a post on facebook from my coach.  He was not sure who to give proper attribution to so now neither am I. The post went something like this.  "Give me 3 hours to cut down a tree and I will spend 2 hours sharpening the axe."

For 9 years I spent the majority of my training time building a strong and hardened tool out of my body and my mind, by riding tons of miles hard and fast.  This was not exactly sharpening the axe, but more like laying on the layers of steel to prepare for the sharpening.  That is what endurance cycling requires if you wish to be a  top performer.   This method will take you to a plateau,  It's a beautiful place high up in the mountains with a great view,  but it's also a place from which you can see even higher goals.

Completing RAAM in 2012 brought me to this plateau.  Some might think it to be a pinnacle but for me it is high mountain plateau that has afforded me a view of all of the great things surrounding me.  

Since completing RAAM I have been spending more time honing my tools both literally and figuratively.   Literally, I have honed my body through my yoga practice,  a change in my attitude toward food, and more varied training techniques to maximize my return on investment.  Figuratively, I have been honing my body and mind through meditation and life style changes which provide a more balanced and fulfilling life.

After completing RAAM,  I took a month to travel to Costa Rica to become a certified yoga instructor.   One of my goals as a yoga instructor is to develop practices which help cyclists and runners strengthen their core and upper body, improve balance and mobility,  as well as stretching their legs, hips, and backs which get abused during workouts.   I do these Cyclasana workouts daily and they are the primary way that I have honed my body.

Yoga, in addition to its physical side, has many other facets.  Yoga asserts that we are all part of this planet and are responsible for what happens to it and its creatures.    It also postulates that you should be grateful for what you have and not long after something you don't have, which is the definition of suffering.    When you combine these, you can create a diet which is both healthy and rewarding because you will eat sensible portions of real food grown or raised without chemicals which you are grateful to have.  Bonus points if you grow them yourself!   My dietary strategy of:

is simple and conforms to the first principle above and its so completely open that it allows me to be grateful for what I can eat.  I also try to be gluten less (not quite gluten free) which, when you cut down on processed foods, isn't to hard to achieve except for the beer.    This has allowed me to maintain my weight this year at about a 3% decrease in body fat over 2012 and I have room left to knock off another 3%.

I've honed myself thru more varied training, focused training, meditation, and life style changes.  Since I did not have a bike for the month I was in Costa Rica, the training I did there was gravel road running and hill repeats.  During these hill repeats and running another part of my yoga training was brought into play.  Pranayama,  or breath work, allowed me to focus on my breath and not on my running.   When the breath came into alignment, running became faster and easier. 

Once I returned home from Costa Rica I kept a much more diverse training and racing schedule.  My training included swimming twice a week, doing both short and long runs, mountain biking,  time trialing and interval work on my road bike as well trying to get in 1 century ride a week so I don't completely lose my endurance base.

From my yoga training I also implemented a more balanced, ayurvedic based, life style which includes maintaining a normal sleep cycle and regular meditation. They have helped me hone my mind and work toward a more centered place.   This life style has inspired me to take on two new challenges in 2013.   The first, in August, is a 10 Day Vipassana Meditation Course to further hone my mind and the second, in September, is a 500 hour  Advanced Ayurveda and Yoga Certification.

The last step in sharpening the tool was working with Ben Stone of Sigma Human Performance.,  We worked together to focus my training and develop a plan that allowed me to reach the first of  my two athletic goals for the summer of 2013.   On July 7th, I competed in the Arkansas State Time Trial Championships.  I finished the 24.8 mile time trial course in 54:49 or 27.2 mph average for the fastest time of the day.  There was a time when I thought this goal was unachievable.  But if you believe and train you will manifest your destiny.   

My second goal seems even more pie in the sky.  On August 10th, 2013 I compete in the ITU Duathlon World Championships.  At this race I want to turn in a top 10 finish in my age group.  While I am confident that my bike time will be great, I'm racing against the worlds best runners in an event that is very much skewed toward the run, (10K run, 40K bike, 5K run),  and I'm still built more like a wrestler than a runner.

Over the next couple of months I will continue sharpening my tools and, when needed, I will bring them out and chop down the next obstacle that gets in the way.

For my RAAM friends:  I have been talking with my 2012 crew and 50% of them say they would be in for a run at the 50+ Record.  I have an invite to join a two person team to go after the 50+ record with a  top RAAM team rider who knows how to set records.   I have also been approached about doing a 4 person team in 2014.   I don't know what the future has in store for me, or just exactly why I am sharpening my tools, but I won't be committing to much of anything until I return from my great adventures in August and September.

If you are interested in talking about yoga or training you can email

Monday, May 7, 2012

Calvins Challenge – What is more important than winning?

My family – Trish, Allen and I headed up to Calvins to do some Ultra Racing. I had cut a deal with my 14 year-old son to do the 6 hour TT in exchange for a video game, and I was there to break the course record of 268 miles which was held by David Young and get that nice new trophy that Larry Graham had made.

I had been riding high off of a string of 6 straight wins and course records in ultra events going back to the Texas 12 hour in September and was hoping to do it again. I knew I faced a strong contingent of recumbent riders like John Schlitter, Kent Polk and Larry Ide from Team Bacchetta and some strong diamond frame riders like Wes Wilmer and Stephen Glowacki ,who held age group records, and from Scott Luikart and Peter Oyler whom I’ve raced with before and have great respect for. There were other faces that I recognized at the front of the pack but I couldn’t put a name to all of them.

One of the popular sayings at Calvins is “the weather is always great at Calvins Challenge”. This year they weren’t lying. The race started at 7:30 with overcast skies, low winds, and temps around 60 degrees which is about perfect for an ultra race. They blew the horn and I headed off the front and started a nice rotation going at about 25 mph. This wasn’t fast enough for the men in black.

The men in black – not their real team name - was from all accounts an 8 bike (7 solo and 1 tandem) relay team that went off with two people riding at a time. They were to shape the race for first 100 miles and play a key role in the eventual outcome of the race. Anyway, let’s get back to the story.

The men in black came flying around us, and I could tell they weren’t racing with us because they carried no water bottles. The first 27 miles went on pretty much with them doing about 80%-90% of the work and me and a couple of others jumping in to take a few pulls to keep them fresh and flying. There were maybe a pack of 15 or so that were trying to hang on. At about mile 16 I heard a crash behind me. I didn’t know who was in it or if anyone was hurt, but we continued to race on.

Things mellowed out at the transition point for the team riders and we moved on up the road at a 22-25 pace until we hit the back stretch into the wind and then dropped to 20ish until the team riders, one DF and one Tandem, came flying by and the chase was on. I was out front pulling at the time and didn’t have enough to get on their wheel so I faded back to see what would happen. Only John Schlitter bridged up to them to try to make a break. That lasted for 3 miles or so before the group rode them down.
I think we were down to about a dozen riders at this point: Me, JS, Kent, Wes, Stephen, 3 Guys In White, Peter and a couple other racers. It stayed this way until we finished the 50 miles with the group in around 2:05. From here it broke down rather quickly. Coming out of the 1st transition we were down to 5 riders that were able to jump on the wheels of the team riders when they came around again. Somewhere around mile 35 Wes and Stephen dropped off leaving me, the 2 bents and 2 team riders to spend the rest of my day with.

John, Kent and I rode together for about 10 miles before the last set of team riders caught up with us and we started going again. At about mile 90 I decided that I was going to start riding my own pace and let Kent and John go with the Team Riders pulling them. I think they finished up their 100 at around 4:13 and I finished at around 4:15 so I was about 2 minutes down. The best part of the race was that I never caught up to my son who had started an hour behind us in the 6 hour race. I knew that he made his first 50 in under 3:15 and was well on his way to his goal of 90 miles.

Heading out onto the 3rd big lap alone, I knew I was down a couple of minutes to the bents so I just kept riding my pace and by mile 110 I caught a glimpse of them. By 116 I had closed to about 30 seconds and finally caught them around mile 120. I kept using my Garmin to judge how many seconds in front they were at every turn and, as long as I was gaining, I just kept my speed steady. After catching John and Kent we rode together for the rest of the 3rd lap until about mile 160 on the 4th lap when I had to take a nature break and then we started our little game of chase again. I was able to ride them down by mile 170 or so.
I knew that I was strong enough to ride them both down even working together, but did not have a clue as to how I would ever be able to ride away from them for a win, because both John and Kent can out sprint me on their bents. So we just rode along working together. I kept telling J.S. that we could break the record and kept pushing the pace as much as I could. We finished up the 202 miles in just under 8:55, even faster than John, Bryce and I had done Metamora last year. We had a great pace and we were about to get to the short course which is flatter and faster than the long course.

We were on our third or fourth lap of the short course when the team racers blew by us again. I had been pulling into the wind and wasn’t able to get on, but John was and he made the jump up to them and was able to pull away. I wasn’t going to be able to ride him down with two rested team riders pulling him around the course so Kent and I kept going and we were joined by Wes who had used the team riders to bridge up to us.

We finished that lap together and Kent disappeared. I later found out he got trapped in the mess that was the scoring line. I think that may have been partly my fault because I partially crashed into the divider fence when I couldn’t get unclipped from one pedal. I used a few choice words to describe what I thought of the scoring situation (which Larry Graham came up to me and apologized for), got back on my bike and kept riding.

It was about 10:30 into the 12 hour race and John had gotten away from me, but I wasn’t about to give up. I knew I could catch him again if he didn’t find a consistent riding partner and I still thought that I was going to be able to break the course record based upon my lap times. I left out on the lap with Wes in tow and we work out a deal where I would pull him around the course if he could give me between a ½ and 1 mile pull on the backside into the wind so I could catch a little rest. Wes said he would, but he was helping me break his old record for the 45-49 age group. We did this for the next 5 laps, keeping a good 22 average.

When we came thru the start finish line the last time and I hadn’t seen any sign of John I knew that he had won the race, but I also knew that I was going to be able to at least tie or break the current course record. So I headed out for my prorated lap to make that happen. My friend, and John’s Bacchetta teammate, Larry Ide came out of the pits with me on the last lap. He said that he could ride with me, but not work with me since John was about 2 miles up and if he helped it would be bad for team morale (not exactly what he said but close). Anyway, we rode along and talked and he told me that the Bacchetta team had Larry wait to help work with John for the last two laps around the course.

Some people might have gotten mad about it, but not me. It actually made me happy to know that John respected my ability to ride him down enough to use his team to make sure I didn’t. I may not have earned the Calvin’s record or the cool clock – but I did earn the respect of the John and the rest of the B-Team.

I still set the DF record for the course and to make things sweeter my son, Allen made his goal of 90 miles – he thinks he did 97.5 miles but scoring only had him at 90.5 – either way I think it was great and he set the 6 hour record for 14 and under!

And as always the T-Bear was – in the words of Dessa Parks – “the super support woman” taking care of me, Allen, Stuart, and cheering on all of my ultra race friends and probably lots of people she didn’t even know.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Stepping Up.

Stepping Up.

For the past two years I’ve done the Heart of the South 200 out of Birmingham. I like the race and Tom Robertshaw puts on a good, no frills event that tests your metal with some of the best in hills in Alabama. In both 2010 and 2011 I had epic battles with triathlete Ed Walker from Ohio. He won in 2010 and I won in 2011 while setting the course record. After winning my first two events of 2012, Sebring 12 hour and Texas 200 mile, I decided it was time to step up and take on a bigger challenge - Enter HOS 500.

For those that don’t know, the HOS 500, (Heart of the South 500), is the hardest RAAM Qualifier in the world. It covers 517 miles from Birmingham, AL to Fort Mountain State Park in GA and back via a climb over Mount Cheaha, AL, which is the highest point in the state of AL. The route has approximately 35000’ of climb with more than 50% of that climb in the last 140 miles. Since I had done the 200 miler twice and knew the hard climbs were at the end, I thought I knew what I was facing. I was wrong.

I guess the place to start this Tall Tale is in Little Rock as we pick up Brent Findlay for his first crewing job. I met Brent last year at an Adventure Race and he is on my RAAM crew for 2012. HOS was his first experience with crewing for an ultra race. Trish and I had the Sprinter RV packed and my son Allen was also joining us as our 3rd crew person. His job was to keep the driver awake at night and pass me bottles.

We cruised out of Little Rock at about 3:00 on Thursday afternoon headed for Tupelo, MS. Tupelo is just over half-way to Birmingham for me which makes it a great stopping point. They also have a great restaurant selection. We lit at the Comfort Inn at around 7:00 and walked next door to Vanneli’s which is a great Greek/Italian restaurant which had some live music. We settled into a nice table on the patio for some good food and discussed how to best get the crew some sleep for this race since the event starts at 8pm at night which insures two nights on the road.

The plan we formulated has us taking Trisha to Piedmont, AL which is about 90 miles into the race so she could sleep and relieve Brent just after midnight. This plan meant that we needed to leave Tupelo around 9am and I would have to drive an extra 180 miles before the race, but after analyzing all of our options with a 3 person (2 driver) crew we went with It.

I woke up Friday morning about 7 to a nice little rain storm in Tupelo and the rain and weather were to play an interesting part in the coming adventure. After starting the day out with some yoga, I headed to the hotel breakfast room where I ran into a group of cyclists from St Louis that were down to ride on the Natchez Trace. They had a group of 8 riders and it made for some good breakfast conversation. The rain was definitely putting a damper on the start to their weekend.

We left for Alabama at just after 9 in a pretty good downpour and Brent kept a close eye on the weather forecast for Birmingham. It was looking like the rain would move thru Birmingham before the start of the race and we could only hope it would be over by the finish. We drove out of the rain at the Alabama border and after 4 hours of driving we were in Piedmont. We got Trisha dropped off and headed back to the race start in Birmingham.

At this point the GPS for the RV decides to die so I start driving the route backward to get back to the host hotel. While the route is great for cycling it isn’t designed for optimal vehicle speeds and when we hit highway 431 we decided to head south and pickup I-20 to get to the start. This turned out to be a mistake because 431 was nothing but traffic lights all the way to I-20, then I-20 west was road construction. Finally the rain storm, which we had been out in front of all day, hits. An easy 90 minute nice drive in the country turned into 2+ hours of traffic jams.

We arrived at the Marriot at about 3:15 in the middle of the rain storm. This gave us just enough time to get registered for the race and get to the solo racer meeting at 3:30. Tom Robertshaw, the race director, did a great job of making the meeting short and sweet. The only point of discussion was how we would start the race. The HOS 500 uses a 2 minute delay between riders to start the solo racers so we had to decide who would go out first. It was decided that we would be started according to our race number. Since I registered on site, I had the highest race number. This was good news for me on two fronts: First, it allowed me to delay leaving as long as possible and hope the storms would clear out, and second, it meant it would be easier for me to follow Dan Driscoll’s advice and pace myself if I didn’t have to worry about staying in front.

We left the meeting just before 4:00 and Johnny Boswell was doing Vehicle Inspections, so we pulled the Sprinter up under the front portico of the hotel, put on the race numbers and signage, added the lights and we were good to go. I talked for a while with Steve and Peggy Petty and some of the other 200 and 500 racers in the lobby. The Marriot wasn’t going to open their restaurant until 5:00 so we drove down to the race start and headed into the Fox and Hounds to grab some food.

I usually have a prerace ritual that I go thru regarding what to eat, drink, etc from about 12 hours before race start until they say go but, with an 8pm start, I had no clue what I wanted to eat. Brent ordered some fish and chips and that sounded great to me so I decided to order the same with a Cuban sandwich and Allen went with the burger and onion rings and then another order of onion rings. I wolfed down my food and then headed out to the van to see if I could catch some sleep before race start while Brent and Allen finished up at the restaurant.

I laid down in the RV but could only toss and turn thinking about the race, trying to figure out what to wear, mixing up some bottles and general faffing around. Around 7pm Allen and Brent showed up back at the van after visiting the local bakery. All of the other racers started trickling into the parking lot and huddling under buildings hoping the rain would stop before the race began. I made a trip up to The Cracker Barrel with some other crew to get some coffee for me and Brent and then we waited.

The rain stopped at 7:45 which gave me about 25 minutes to get the bike from under the bike cover and ready to roll. At 8 on the dot, Steve Bugbee lead us onto the race course, followed by Ed Garrison at 8:02, Kelly Parham at 8:04, Jay Yost at 8:06, Valerio Zamboni at 8:08 and finally 8:10 rolled around and I was able to take off and get the party started.

We headed out on the race course and I started just riding at a nice pace. It seemed like a slow pace compared to the start of last year’s 200, but I was trying to keep it easy. I didn’t see any tail lights for about the first 20 minutes, but I started catching glimpses of flashing lights ahead of me. I started closing the gap at around Zeigler Road and finally caught up to what looked like two sets of riders on Elliot Lane just before Rte 25.

Ed Garrison was the first racer I caught up with. I was tempted to stop and say hi, but since I was more worried about safety and Brent’s first pass with a follow vehicle, I sprinted past Ed so that Brent would have plenty of room to pull in behind me. I also think that Ed let up so that the pass could be made efficiently and safely. Kudos to Ed and the other safe riders.

Following the pass of Ed, we made the turn onto highway 78 and I cruised up to the back of Valerio’s vehicle and rode past him on a slight climb and tried to sprint away so Brent could make a safe pass. Valerio had other plans. He decided that he was going to try to race me, which left my support vehicle stuck behind his. I’m not really sure what was in his mind at the time since I had erased the 2 minute lead he had in under an hour while riding easy. He kept up the back and forth for what seemed like 20 minutes. Once we got to the cross over for I-20 he dropped back but my crew couldn’t tell that I was free enough to pass. We came to the road intersection after the interstate and Johnny Boswell was there and asked where my crew vehicle was. I used a few expletives to describe the situation, but pulled off the road and waited for my vehicle.

I then passed Valerio again. This time I told the driver of his support vehicle to pull over and let my vehicle by and told Valerio to please stop and went by him. Well that didn’t sit well so he and his crew passed me back again. I just waited for the next hill climb and blew by him and rode away. I’m not sure if I should thank him for getting me mad and riding hard or just be pissed that he was being such a pain and his crew was so unprofessional.

The ride was very uneventful for the next hour or so, just cruising through the countryside and enjoying the night. I caught up to Steve Bugbee somewhere on 144 before Ragland, which is about 44 miles into the race, and had a couple of polite words as we made another safe pass. As we were coming into Ragland I could see another set of flashers off in the distance and I kept rolling on. I finally decided to look down at my Garmin to see how the night was going and realized that I was rolling at a 20.5 mph pace down the road.

I caught up to Jay Yost at the red light on 431 which was about 65 miles into the race. I had been slowly closing the gap, but didn’t want to get trapped by the light so I sprinted hard up to the back of his vehicle as we were coming to the light. It didn’t matter as we both sat there for a couple of minutes and chatted. Jay let me take off from the light without pressing the issue - Thanks. We continued on into the night – I was just riding and listening to my I-pod.

We hit Jacksonville and Brent called in the Time Station 1, mile 74, at 11:44 and then called to wake Trisha up in Piedmont. Trish walked from the hotel to the course and we stopped and did a quick driver change and continued on down the road. I asked Trish about Kelly Parham, the last rider for me to catch. She said she hadn’t seen anyone pass by but that I didn’t need to chase a phantom. As I would soon find out, the phantom was chasing me. As we pulled into Centre at about mile 100 a rider rode up to me and we talked for a few minutes. Kelly had made a stop back in Jacksonville and then rode back up to me. After a couple of minutes he dropped back 100 feet and followed. This went on until we made the turn onto 176 on Lookout Mountain. I stopped to take a nature break and he stopped too. 176 is not a route that two riders ride at the same pace, it has large rollers with long climbs, so the gap between us lengthened and shorted, but we stayed together for the most part and at Dogtown we were back within 100 feet. The next section of 176 is flatter and faster and Kelly was still there. Even with all of the climbing we were still rolling better than a 19 mph average.

At mile 129 of the ride you enter Little River Canyon. I had heard John Schlitter’s interview with George Thomas on Over the Top Radio saying it was one of his favorite places to ride and now I know why. It was more like riding a roller coaster than riding a bike. One minute you’re flying down a hill at 30, the next you’ve turned 90 degrees and hit a 6% climb that you fly up and over, then it’s a quick turn the other way and a long, hard climb up. The coolest part is coming around the corner and up a hill to where the road is split around a giant 30’ high and wide boulder. About half-way thru the canyon Kelly was still close to my vehicle so I decided to pull off and let him go by so that Trish, who was driving, wouldn’t have headlights behind her the whole time. Kelly rode by while I relieved myself. Two miles down the road Kelly had stopped and wasn’t sure about the route. I told him to keep going on this road as I went by. He dropped in behind, but the last time I remember seeing Kelly was around mile 140 at the turn onto route 35.

The next fun section we tackled was the Desoto Parkway. We were climbing up to Desoto Falls and it got really foggy so we were cruising as fast as the lights passing thru the fog would let us go. We passed TS2, mile 159.2, at 4:37 in morning. In 8 hours I had consumed 8 bottles of Spiz and I was feeling pretty good.

Somewhere between 5 and 6am I started doing battle with the sleep monster. I supplement my Spiz with a double shot espresso and sport beans and banished the sleep monster for the moment. Around 7am the crew started doing leap frog support so I was free to ride without someone around me. After a couple of jumps I sent the crew ahead to TS3 to setup for a big stop. I needed to change out of my wet clothes. They also needed to gas up the Sprinter and get food and prep for some bike work.
I pulled into the Pilot Station, mile 219.4, at 8am and up to the RV, but 2/3 of the crew was gone. Trish said I was too fast getting there so I just did the clothes change and headed down the road. After about 30 minutes of riding I was starting to worry about the crew, but they appeared and were setup for quick bike maintenance, a bacon-egg-cheese biscuit and sunscreen and I was back on the bike. They said that nobody had made it to the pilot before they had left so that I had at least a 30 minute lead going into the first big climb.

We setup for a stop at the turn to Fort Mount State Park where I got my 2nd biscuit. I now added Cytomax to the fueling regimen so I could keep my electrolyte levels balanced. Then I started the 7.3 mile climb to the top. I started the climb at mile 241 and I only had 12000’ of climb in so I knew that I just needed to spin this 2000’ climb and save my legs for later in the day. The climb up to the top wasn’t bad and I even chatted with some motorists as I was riding up the mountain. The biggest disappointment for me was that the back side of the mountain wasn’t like the front side. The front side was just continuous climb. The back side was a bunch of quick descents followed by short hard climbs and then another quick descent. This ended in Eljay and I had a nice 4 mile respite riding in the valley until the turn on 382 and the big rollers hit. The next 10 miles was probably as hard as the climb up Fort Mount.

Once I turned onto 136 at mile 280 things started to flatten out and I got a little more energetic and was able to start making some better time on the way back to time station 4. I got caught by a train around mile 286 and sat down for a couple of minutes. It was a good break. I was almost tempted to take a nap but I got back on the bike and kept pressing on. I hit TS 4, mile 302, at 1:25pm. The crew made me a pastrami and cheese sandwich and sent me on my way.

Time station 4 to 5 was probably one of the best riding sections in the race, for me anyway. The contours of the land were very similar to riding at home and it was a just a great day to ride. I started to do battle with the sleep monster again around 2:30 in the afternoon. I tried the espresso and sport beans again, but by 3 in the afternoon I had been up for 32 hours without sleep. I met my crew just before the intersection with Hwy 27 and jumped in the van with instructions to wake me in 10 minutes. I climbed into the back of the Sprinter and was afraid I wouldn’t be able to sleep. Bang – I was out and Bang - Trish had me back on the bike in 10 minutes.

The next section of the ride was Big Texas Valley Road. This was a cool, lightly traveled back road that climbs up and out of a valley. It was a great time and place to be riding. I was refreshed after my nap and was cruising well. As I was getting ready to make the turn onto Friday Road at mile 340, the crew vehicles for the 4 person team were waiting at the corner. Everyone was very encouraging and my crew told me they were both complimentary and helpful with the information that the nearest solo rider was at least an hour behind me. However, with their appearance I knew that even though I had a 4 hour head start I was about to be caught.

I was finally caught by the team racer flying by me on his Cervelo at around mile 355. I was cruising at around 23 and he blew by me. His comment as he went by was “You are a beast”. It boosted my spirits to hear that from somebody flying by. I kept pushing on toward TS5. I finally hit TS5, mile 378, at 5:57pm. I was still holding onto a 17+ average. When the crew called in they told me I had a 1 hour and 10 minute lead over the next solo as of TS4.

The next section of the race is very desolate and extremely hilly. I was riding on 49/9 and we started to hear thunder and see lighting. What? Where the heck did this come from? I was riding southwest so I was trying to go as fast as I could to out distance it. Just as night fall was hitting I made the turn onto highway 55. North – wait – I don’t want to go north. The storm is north. My crew was at the corner with my night lighting and another sandwich. It was getting dark and I had just turned north heading directly into a thunderstorm.

This may have been a lucky piece of timing on my part. I turned north on that corner and rode directly into and pretty much right thru the storm front. The worst of it was over in 5 minutes and I was out of the rain in 30 as I circled back around to head southwest. I hit Red Road 55, mile 400, at around the 24 hour point. This is where the Oreos started to become a big part of the race. I stopped to get some gloves and oreos and headed on to PacASak, or the beginning of hell. I stopped at PacASak to have Trish stop and get some beer. I wanted a beer when I finished and I knew this might be the last time we could get it on the course. She said they stopped before TS5 and got a 12’er of Hiny. It’s good when the crew can anticipate your needs.

From PacASak you have a 1.6 climb to route 281 and then it starts to get hard. Here is the description from the cue sheet. “21.5 miles of rolling hills and three, 1 mile, 15% climbs, finished off with a 3 mile climb to Cheaha State Park, highest point in AL”. The first of the three 15% climbs is actually the longest and hardest. I stopped at the top and said, “I deserve a cookie”, and was rewarded with a couple more oreos before being forced down the road by my crew. I just kept riding and thinking this is crappy chip seal, but at least it’s not Texas chip seal and then would grind up the next climb. I kept thinking, wait, I don’t remember there being so many climbs last year. The only cool thing I can remember is watching the lightning on the horizon when I got to the top of the big climbs.

Finally I was at the base of Cheaha and stopped and got a 5 hour energy from the crew. I needed a little extra kick for the last 3 mile climb. I rode up to the top and thought – dang – it wasn’t that bad. At the top we switch drivers and begin the descent down. Since the storm had been through, there was a bunch of debris on the ground and the road isn’t much fun even in the day time under the best of conditions. This part of the ride seemed to go on forever too, but eventually we were in the valley on decent roads.

The sleep monster attacked again around midnight as I was pedaling on Twin Churches road. I pulled off into one of the church parking lots and said I need another 10 minute break. I just climbed into the front passenger seat and fell asleep. This time I woke myself up in 5 minutes and got back on the bike and started cruising back on toward TS6. It was like riding in a horror movie. The recent cold rain on the hot pavement was fogging up all around. It was like riding thru a giant rock concert where they use dry ice to make smoke. It was definitely easy to tell which way the wind was blowing. We hit TS6, mile 463, at 12:23am and kept pressing on toward the finish. It was time for this to be done.

The ride for the next 30 miles was mostly uneventful. I knew I had two more big climbs left but felt that I had enough to spin up and over and finish the race. I stopped at a post office about 2 or 3 miles before the climb and asked if they had checked to see how far ahead I was when they call in TS6 and if I could catch another quick nap. Trish said they didn’t check so I decided I had best just keep riding. The climb would keep me awake.

It’s now 3 in the morning and I’m 20 miles from the finish, spinning up a 1.7 mile climb. My crew pulls up beside me and says – there is a rider coming up behind you. I’m like, no F’in way. I turn and look and Bleep. Adrenaline rush kicks in. I go from climbing this hill at 6 miles per hour to running the hill at 18 – I didn’t even know I could climb like that. We crest the hill and are flying down the back side at 40mph in the dark around corners with my follower RV trying to keep us in the lights. We turn a corner and start a sprint up the next hill and the guy – Mark Pattison – pulls up beside me and says –“ Damn, you’re riding strong for having been going for 30 hours – I’m on a team”. Thanks Mark, you have just given me and my crew a heart attack, but you have propelled me over the last obstacle to finishing the final 20 miles of the race twice as fast as I would have done if you hadn’t shown up.

From that point I kinda just finished cruising in at 4:14am for a total time of 32:04. Tom was in the parking lot along with a couple members of the team that had just finished. We chatted for awhile. Results haven't been posted for the event as of writing this, but as of 4am Steve Bugbee had gotten caught in a hail storm and withdrawn and no other rider had made it to TS6 yet. Lori Dailey, the only female to attempt the course had pulled out at TS4 and Jay Yost had gone missing. I think, but am not sure, that I saw Jay leaving TS3 as I was coming into TS4.

That’s the end of the race, but not the end of the odyssey. We drive across the road to the Hampton Inn to look for a hotel room to crash in, but alas, there is a car race in Birmingham this weekend and all of the hotels are booked, so we called Tom and he met me at the Marriot so I could get a shower and Trisha starts to drive us back toward home at 5am. Trish has put down the rear bed and Brent and Allen are crashed out on it and we drive up to a gas station so we can fill up on gas and coffee.
Then the road trip begins. It only lasts about 10 minutes before we are stopped in downtown Birmingham where we get caught at a construction site for 10 minutes. Once we get thru this I try to stay awake with Trish for a while, but doze off. She only makes it about 20 miles west of Birmingham before she decides It’s safer to stop. We pull off the road around 6 and I laid down on the floor to sleep and Trisha stretches her legs across the passenger seat to get comfortable. I’m not sure how long we crashed out, but Brent woke up first and was completely disoriented because we were next to a 6 lane interstate with nothing around and no traffic. I think Brent took over driving at this point but I’m not sure. I just know that I moved back to the bed.

Our next stop on our odyssey was a Huddle House just before crossing back into Mississippi. We ordered so much food that the table was covered with plates. My breakfast was served on 5 different plates: one for the waffles, one for the eggs, bacon, sausage and hash browns, one for the chicken-fried steak, one for the biscuits and gravy, and one of toast and grits. I was a bit hungry. Everyone ate well and Brent, Trish and I filled up on coffee. Then it was back to the van where I slept through most of the state of Mississippi.

The final bobble in our adventure was courtesy of the Arkansas Highway Department. On the way out to the Race I had taken the detour around a major area of construction on I-40 and the trip went smooth. Brent said he had been on this stretch of I-40 headed west two Sundays before and the construction wasn’t bad so he was going to stay on the interstate. Of course, since he made that decision we were treated to a good 30 minute rest stop – complete stop – on the interstate. We joked about rolling the awning down and getting out the lawn chairs and grill and having a party. But it was all good. All we had to do was get home and sleep. Which we eventually did.

Last, I need to say thank you to Brent, Trish and Allen. This was a fun and successful adventure because of the 3 of you. I needed this race under my belt to help prove to myself and others that I am a legitimate ultra distance racer. I think this performance pretty much speaks for itself - I CAN race long as well as race short and fast! This comment is for a few select people ;-)