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 ;-)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sebring Record the Hard Way

For some, Sebring is like the Daytona 500 for the Ultra Race world. Its the first race of the season, its in Florida and, like Daytona, nobody is really sure how they will stack up against the competition. Some are riding new steeds, some are working on new training plans, and some are still under a few feet of snow and are just down here because its warm.

I was in the same boat as everyone else. I had changed a few things about my training over the winter, had missed a few of my ride days to do work, and had a newly built bike. I needed to see how I, and the bike, would stack-up against the competition.

Trish and I arrived down in Sebring around 1:00pm on Friday and I got both of my race bikes out of the Sprinter RV. I had just picked up that last piece, a set of T1 aerobars, from Trisha's brother's house in Lake Wales and put them on the bike. By 2:00pm it was bike test time. The first bike up was the old race bike. I headed out on the mid loop and let her rip. I did the first 11 mile loop with an average of 23.5 mph. I felt really good with that time, so I swapped bikes, and headed out on the new giant. I did the second 11 mile loop with an average of 24.3 mph.

To be fair, no bike test is ever completely accurate, You have to factor different equipment, warmup, or lack thereof, and fatigue or adrenalin. But a .8 mph increase put me in a quandary. Do I race an untried bike in a 12 hour event - my call was YES. I came to win the event and I would use anything that could help me achieve that goal.

After the bike tests it was old home week in the parking lot of Sebring. This is probably one of the best parts of the race. Friday afternoon in the parking lot is where you get to see friends that you haven't seen in 3 or more months since the end of last season. It is also where you can try out new bikes. The first new bike for me was actually a trike. Someone offered to let me take their trike out for a spin around the parking lot. It was a different experience, and one that led John Schlitter to bring out his backup Bachetta for me to ride. I can see why those guys are so fast in the flats. My final bike test of the day was on a Cruz-Bike which is another recumbent. I didn't do as well on it, but that was because it had a flat tire.

Dinner Friday night was with my RAAM teammate Stuart Levy, his wife Cathy, my B-I-L Ralph who is going to be driving an RV on the crew, his girl Linda, and wonderful T-Bear. We headed to Outback and had a great time. When we got back Trish and I put the finishing touches on the RV/Support setups. I told Trisha and posted on Facebook that I thought that the conditions were right for records to be broken.

Wake-up call - when the hotel called to wake us up at 4:30 for the 6:30 race, I looked out the window and the only thing I could see was fog. This meant that I would not be starting the race off on my new bike after all since it wasn't setup for lights and I wanted lights running in the fog.

Race start was pretty typical for me. I go out hard and fast, I like to be in the front or very near the from for the race. The first 2 1/2 laps were pretty uneventful with me pulling about half the time going around the track and trying to figure out who was in the lead pack and who I could work with. Then just as we came down the front stretch of the race the first my challenges present itself. FLAT ;-), well obviously this didn't make my day. I rode the flat for the next mile back to my support vehicle and grapped the new bike and was off to chase down the lead group. In my mind I had two thoughts first, it was going to be along day alone and second, that might not be such a bad thing since I'm better when I race at my own pace.

I suprised myself at mile 30 by running down the lead pack. This is when I was pretty sure I was going to have a good day on the bike. So we are cruising down the road and come to a stop sign and have to brake hard. This is when I find out that my bars aren't on tight and they are working themselves looser. So I cruised up and down the line looking for someone that has a 4 mm wrench handy and get helped by a husband and wife team that are always at the race. They have a wrench. So I pull off the side of the road and proceed to crank down on the bolts so begin the chase again. I almost catch the group at the turn around, but because of traffic I'm force to work my butt off to get back to the main group at mile 55.

I ride with the group again but pull away on some of the slight hills on this section of the race. I'm followed out by Dallas Morris, who despite his car crash on the way to the race thursday, is doing well, and Jim Verhuel (sp). I easy up after awhile, but Dallas continues out in front on his own for about 10 miles, he was riding strong, but I decided I need to save something up for later. The group caught Dallas up about mile 75 and we rode a pretty strong pace until mile 90 where we turned west and head back toward transition. Dallas took off though the corner and I followed him out then went around him and with a slight wind. I though I was just pulling the pack, but when I looked back nobody was there. I rode in to claim the prime for the 100 (there wasn't really one), switch helmets from my aero to my regular becaue it was getting hot and spun until the group caught me. I had finished the first 100 with a 23.5 average which was above the 22.5 I would have to hold break John Schlitter's record.

So we head out on the mid loops with a group of 5 uprights and 5 bents. I never really gelled with the group thought. On the fast flat section I would ride away from them, then when we got to the hilly section I would spin easy so that by the time we hit the back stretch that had a little headwind I had some help. This went on for 3 or 4 laps and we end up with just me, and two men from austria on DF's and 5 bents. The 12 hour race was between the DF's as 4 of the bents where in the 24 and the other was one lap down due to a mechanical.

On lap 4 1/2 laps my final misfortune occured. My water bottle cage fell off, well only half way off. One of the bolts had worked its way loose, the cage tipped and all I could do was rip the bottle cage off. I don't know if I broke the cage or the frame. But I was mobile again and chasing the group. I caught them by the backstretch and decide it was time to go of the front. Kent Polk and Jim Verhaul decided to come with me, leaving John, Jaq, and Christie with the Trek boys.

This is were team politics came in, Kent and JV said that they couldn't run off and leave there B-teammates behind. They could follow me but not help pull. So now I'm off the front with two other strong riders but doing 95% of the work. This went on for two laps and I was getting sort of tired, but we were gapping the other group of riders more and more each lap. So Kent and JV said since they weren't catching up they could help a little more, but they had to keep some in the tank for the 24, which I didn't begrudge them. At hour 9 we were just short of a 280 mile for the 12 hour pace, but I was starting to feel it. The lap we did just before the end of hour 10 was mostly Kent pulling me around and me getting my legs back.

As we were exiting the TA just after hour 10, I saw that John, Jac, and Chistie had dropped the trek riders. So on the lap were I had almost popped, the trek guys popped even more that the lead was still increasing. The killer B-ees caught up with Kent and I just with about 10:15 to go and we did anohter mid loop together an then It onto the track for the short loops.

After we finished our first short loop I lapped the trek riders and I knew that I had 3.6 mile lead and the win if I could keep from having another mechanical. I worked my but off in a line of about 15 rider flying around the track at 23. I need 5 short laps to set the record and had the record and the win at 6:22, but I wanted more so I headed out to see if I couldn't get that extra lap in and came in at 6:31, and sebring doesn't prorate so the record stands at 271.4.

Thanks to Dallas, Kent, JV, John, Jac, and everyone else that helped me yesterday and specail thanks to T-Bear, Cathy and Skip for the crew work.

I have decided trish does enough work so I don't have her proof my writing either - I hope is was sort of readable, informative and entertaining.

Now I'm off to ride another two hundred on my way home as part of my RAAM team training.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sebring Practice.

Its been awhile since my last race and I want to have a good Sebring 12 hour ride so this weekend I decided to simiulate the race, from friday evening throught the race finish. The practice mimmick the times I would do things the food and beverages I would drinking the night before, wake up time, what I have for breakfast, what meds I would take and what I would eat and drink on the ride. Most importantly the actually Computrainer ride was designed to try and simulate what I believed the race would be like.

Prerace prep consisted of making up bottles of spiz and cytomax in the concentrations that I would use during the ride, making sure I had the right foods to go along with the drinks - 4 packs of shot blocks and making sure the bike, computrainer and computer were ready for in the morning.

Next we have feeding and care of the Animal. The animal loves pizza and beer and they make up my prerace meal. I sometimes add a submarine sandwich if I'm really hungry. I'll will also drink a bottle of pedialyte the night before and event so not only do I carb load, fat load and protien load, I also electrolyte load.

When working on my timing for an event I usually work backward from the start time to get my schedule down.

T-12 - Dinner
T-11 - Ibuprofen PM
T-10 - Sleep
T- 2 - Wake and do Yoga.
T-1.5 - Breakfast
T-0.5 - Prerace Drink.

Getting a good 8 hour sleep in the night before an event is key. If you can do 8-10 per night for 2-3 nights before longer events you will bank up sleep which will allow you continue functioning long past 24 hours. I also always try to get my breakfast in at least 1 1/2 hours before the start of an event so that its mostly digested by the time I start.

Since today was below 30 degrees, race simulation took place on the computrainer. That is the best way to do it unless you have a group of crazy friends that wants to ride 9 to 12 hours. My plan for the race simulation was to do back to back Ironmen on the computrainer and work with the silverman as a riding partner to maximize the speed and total output of the event to simulate how I beleived the race would go.

The first race I did was IM Louisville - I ended up finishing IM Louisville in 4:46 and 264 watt average. The second race I did was IM Florida - I rode it in 4:43 and average 255 watts output. I was extremly please with the my day in the saddle (averaging 23.5 mph), my drink and food choices (8 Spiz, 4 Cyto, 4 shot blocks) and the overall experiment.

I had done a very similar ride to this last year before Sebring and the good news is this year I beat my times for both events by over 15 minutes and put out over 5% more power and could still stand after the 9:30 in saddle. Pretty sure I could have knock out around 280 if I had gone for 12 hours. I believe have a couple elements of successful sebring in hand, now I need good drafting partners, good weather, and no mechanicals and I could have a shot at the 12 hour record.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Getting Ready for Sebring and RAAM.

Well I'm finally starting to feel good about Sebring.

After taking most of December off and then getting slow but methodical start to January, I'm beginning to see the results in my training rides. Tuesday's 100 mile time trial with 4 layers of clothes and booties (yes it was cold) yielded me a 4:43:29 or 21.2 average. While not my P.R. for the course (4:41:40 April 2011) it was within 2 minutes and that ride which was in almost perfect conditions and temps in the 60's and came after 5 months of training.

My training plan this year will not involve as many miles and will be a much more balanced plan so as to prevent me from burrning out with team RAAM this year and the prospect of Solo RAAM next year.

Sunday - Mountain Bike run plus Legs/Core Session.
Monday - Morning swim and upper body/core lifting session.
Tuesday - 100 miler or longer Time Trial.
Wednsday - Morning Leg Session and MTB Duathlon after work.
Thursday - 100 miler or longer ride.
Friday - Swim.
Saturday - 200 miler/12 hours.

Rinse and Repeat.

TAPER - I'm already reading some people talking about tapering for the race more that 2 weeks prior to the event. Thats pretty standard coaching talk from coaches that haven't done this stuff a this level. Tapering for 12 or 24 hour event only requires that I deviate from my training plan for the 3 days before your event. On wedneday I'll replace the duathlon with a hour long easy ride - don't need the beating from the run. On Thursday I cut back to another hour long easy ride. Friday - which is normally my swim (rest) day I'll will put in around a hour of 90% effort at the race site and try to find a massage.

OVERLOAD - many people have asked me why I'm only racing 12 hour events in the begining of year. Well the reason is fairly simple and has to do with the fact that during team RAAM I'll only be racing about 14 hours a day. I have schedule 4 12 hour/200 events that are all approximately 1 month apart. I'll race each of these events, and then follow them up with 12-14 hours of riding for the two days following to simulate the fatique of RAAM Racing. These are my overload weeks and only require that I switch monday and tuesday on the training schedule. This overload training plan came out of discussions I had with LON Haldeman about his RAAM preps.

The first test of the training plan comes in 10 days, but really proof with be in 5 months.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

slober knocker ride.

Well I've been told to get my self off facebook with my long posts and back to write my blogs. I was always careful to have the blogs proof read by Trish to catch the mistakes. But since I'm going to do this more like a facebook post - you will be on your own to translate what is typed into what I really meant.

Today we had a group of about 20 people meet at lake sylvia to ride the slober knocker race course. The course is a 33 mile gravel grinder with 3330' of climb. Most of the climbing is under 10% but there several sections that kick up to 12%. The weather was perferct - in the mid 50's at start and around 60 at the finish.

The group was schedule to leave out at 12:30, but as is true with most large groups some weren't ready - oh well I left at 12:30 and was chased down by Patrick Emery on his single speed. We cruised around the first section of course which is about 5 miles of flat to downhill. Then we hit the first long climb of the ride which is about 5 miles at 6-8%. On the climb we past Brent who had decided he wasn't up for waiting around either and headed out on his own. Patrick and I pretty much climbed at about the same speed until it got steeper and he had to stand. He literally walked away from me up the mountain. Once we got to the and it levelled off I had to chase him down. Then it was another climb. That was the storyline for the day, watch Patrick climb away from me then chase him down on the flats and downhills.

We got to the last turn on the course about 2 miles before the finish and met Ryan Johnson. He had dropped his wife off for the ride and had been out explore the Wildcat Mt Trail. We stood around at B.S. for about 20 minutes and nobody from the group showed up and it started getting chilly since we were movings so we head down the hill to finish up the ride. When we got to the bottom we waited another 20 minute but nobody still had finished so I headed for home.

Training Summary:
30 Minute Leg Session
2 1/2 hour - 33 mile MTB ride.

People met:
Patrick Emery.

Things Accomplished:
Room booked for Sebring Race February 17th and 18th.
Getting Crew lined up for HOS 500 Race.
Scheduled with Brent to do White Rock Classic next weekend.