I got back to Rossland early this morning, now that was a busy weekend.
With a bit of the racing weekend brain fog cleared let's jump in the time machine and go back to last week when I was a happy racer, looking forward to going down to Tucson to race in the Solo category at the 24hrs of Old Pueblo. My training had been pretty good, my mindset was good and I was on track for a pretty good race... right up until the point where I discovered a frame crack that wrapped around the top tube of my race bike - a Lynskey Ridgeline 29 SL.
But, but, but I'm leaving for the airport in a few hours, this can't be happening?!?! From that point on my trip began to change.
I spent the next couple of hours trying to figure out what my options were regarding the Lynskey mess. While doing that I built up a substitute bike that allowed me to race on a rigid front fork (one of my main goals for the Tucson 24). I did the conversion of singlespeed gearing from 29'er to 26'er gear lengths, grabbed my bike helmet and spent the next 45mins test riding the substitute bike on ice and snow trying to dial in the riding position. Still dripping sweat I tore the bike back down again and packed it in my bike travel case.
Since I was racing unsupported I loaded up 25 bottles worth of Infinit and tried to think good thoughts.
Doreen got home from work, I loaded all my gear into the Pilot, said bye to the family and started the drive to Spokane. The roads were terrible. At one point I was driving down a secondary road in Washington, through a blizzard, there were no tire tracks in front of me and I was cutting through 4-5 inches of snow. Not a good time to go in the ditch.
When I got near the airport it was almost midnight so I slid into long term parking, laid out my sleeping gear and tried to ignore the honking car alarm horns and slamming doors. It was convenient and free and it made sense at the time. My alarm went off at 0400hrs and I packed up my sleeping bag and thermarest and headed for check-in for my flight departure at 0600hrs.
I landed in Tucson at noon, grabbed the rental minivan without a problem and headed to a grocery store to get a bite to eat and enough water for the entire race. Then it was an hour drive to the race site and another 30mins trying to find a spot of free space to park the minivan so I could pit out of it reasonably close to the race track. I built the bike up and got organized enough so I could go out and ride a bit of the course to see how the bike handled on dirt.
How did the bike feel? It didn't feel real good. But I was there to race so it was gonna happen regardless of how messed up the bike felt.
After the ride I bumped into Stuart Dorland and had a few laughs and we arranged to go for dinner. Joining us would be JD McCay, one of my athletes, who just happened to be in the Phoenix area on business. I was looking forward to meeting JD for the first time and was glad he took the time to travel down to hookup. More laughs, good conversation and a very good evening with a couple of good guys.
Saturday morning, otherwise know as 'race day', unfolded in a predictable fashion. I had everything organized in the back of the minivan so I could grab whatever I needed throughout the race. While waiting for the race lineup I grabbed a quick image of the race day weather about an hour before the event, conditions were perfect.
The only thing left was racing, usually that's the easy part...
The gun went off and we all did the (very hectic) run to the bikes, very much feeling like there were a couple of thousand people at the race site. I set up a pretty quick pace on the bike to stay ahead of mid-pack riders as I didn't want to get bogged down in a slow moving line on tight singletrack. My legs felt great and I pushed hard enough to keep pace with the lead elements but not so hard that I was suffering at all. The course was nice and flowy, there were no real technical elements on the course (it was more of a roadie trail) easy enough for anyone to ride on any kind of bike. After completing the first 16mile lap the thing that was foremost in my mind was "Wow, that was easy".
I settled into a nice rhythm of racing and stopping at my minivan for less than 30secs to get a bottle resupply, then racing some more. This went on for about 5hrs or so, then my back started to tell me it wasn't real happy about the fit on my bike.
I'll interrupt the report here and add a little bit of background about ultra-endurance racing and bike fitting. When you sign up for a 24 Solo, you should get a professional bike fit done or at the very least have an experienced friend or teammate eyeball your fit. Alternatively, you can setup your bike using previous race bike measurements that have worked well for you in the past. Whatever method you use to setup your bike for a really long race, you should spend hours and hours and hours training on that same setup to ensure it works at a training pace and a racing pace.
And that brings me back to my body starting to complain. The bike wasn't handling well, it simply wasn't setup correctly. I did the best I could before I left Rossland but 45mins of test-riding simply wasn't enough. The only way to find out if a bike is dialed in is to ride it a lot, for multi-hour rides, and tweak it till it's perfect. Throughout the entire course I was fighting with the bike the whole time and it was causing my back to light up more and more as the hours progressed. By the 11th hour of non-stop racing my back was so bad I couldn't stand up out of the saddle properly and as a singlespeed racer you need to get up out of the saddle quite a bit. Now I had a problem.
My choices were to continue racing until the bike degraded my performance to a point where I couldn't continue riding for the rest of the race, or I could take a break and try to let my back relax enough that I could get back in the game with a solid pace. Neither choice made me happy but I had to choose one, I went with sit it out for a while to see if the back would relax. So there I was, sitting in the passenger seat of a minivan, coming up on midnight, wired on caffeine and not able to move very well. An hour went by and my back still felt bad, I got out of the van to see if I could stand up and it wasn't good. Back in to the van and another hour went by staring at the night sky, another attempt at standing up and no dice, and then another hour went by with more staring out the windshield and mentally cursing my bike. I gave up 3hrs of racing to my back on that lap, eventually I was so frustrated I hobbled over to another racers pit (Eddie and his wife) and asked for some pain meds which I don't do in races but desperate times call for desperate measures and with that I jumped on the bike and slogged out another lap. My back was totally uncooperative, screaming at me the whole time, I basically banged that lap off on pure adrenaline and hobbled into the minivan again to sit in the passenger seat and stare out the windshield for another 2hrs hoping to let my back relax some more. Lap 8 and lap 10 show the results of the back problem.
5hrs of racing lost, that sucked! I was trying to stay upbeat about losing all that time but it's hard when you train and prepare and know you are capable of the podium but it's denied due to factors out of your control.
Eventually my back settled down to a point where I could almost stand straight up. It was nearly 0600hrs and I was sick of sitting around and waiting so I took enough caffeine to fuel a Starbucks lineup and climbed on the bike to try and claw out some mileage. I was putting out some respectable lap times all things considered and as the caffeine kicked in the racing got easier. It came to a point in the race where I realized if I pushed really hard on my 13th lap I might be able to hit the timing tent just before noon which would allow me to go out for another lap. I raced as hard as my back would let me on that lap and managed to get to the timing tent with just a few minutes to spare, hammering my way to the timing tent I had to ride past my minivan where all my water bottles and nutrition were laid out, I knew if I made the cutoff time and went out on another lap, it would hurt.
The death march lap - the 14th lap had me out on the course with no fluids or fuel (because it was all in the minivan I had just raced past) and now I was racing like I was being chased by a pack of wolves. It was hard, the wind had increased to its strongest point that weekend, I was already dehydrated at the end of the 13th lap but the 14th lap was turning into dehydration+. Breathing through my mouth had my tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth and it felt like I was swallowing cotton balls. I was so thirsty at that point I would have paid $100 for a glass of water. Only 45mins into that final lap and I was mentally repeating to myself 'I've done harder than this', but it wasn't making the light-headedness go away or improving my compromised riding skills. At that point I started racing with one eye on the trail and one eye scanning for any possible dropped gels or bars or even a water bottle that might have fallen off someones bike. When I would see a potential gel wrapper candidate I would slam on my brakes only to be disappointed with an empty gel wrapper. After about 10 attempts, only to find them all empty, I spotted a candidate and skidded to a stop, picked it up and realized it had only been half consumed. There was still half a gel to be squeezed out of that wrapper... VICTORY! That half ounce of gel tasted magical. I banged off that last lap as fast as I could, I didn't have much left in the tank.
25hrs and 19mins later I crossed the finish line after 230miles of racing. No crashes, wipeouts and I never had to walk any sections, not so bad.
What were the highlights of racing in Old Pueblo? Getting on dirt for the first time since last November. Meeting some great people, in particular a guy called Al who offered to let me stay at his place in Tucson after the race and who also dialed me in to a couple of classic hole in the wall Mexican restaurants for dinner and breakfast the next day. Like I said Al, you've got a place to stay when you want to come up to Rossland and hit some world class dirt.
The flight back to Spokane was uneventful, I was lucky enough to get a free upgrade to business class with Alaska Airlines for the Tucson to Seattle portion so I got to stretch my legs out, niiiiiccceeee.
Now it's on to the post-race routine of unpack, laundry, clean bottles, degrease, etc, etc, etc. But before that happens I've got a pile of emails to wade through and loads of athlete files to do from the weekend. I'm looking forward to seeing how some of their races and trg rides went.
I'm sure I'll have more to say over the next few days, till then...
I got back to Rossland early this morning, now that was a busy weekend.