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