Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ozark Greenways Adventure Race

Yesterday was my first running of the Ozark Greenways Adventure Race. I had always harbored the desire to try this but they always required a four person team and one of the team had to be a female. I am not the best at planning and coordinating with other people so I never put forth the effort to develop or find a team to join. Fortunately for me, I was asked to join a team two weeks before the race as they had a teammate who had to dropout at the last minute. My friend Collin had been following some of my training posts and figured I might be in good enough shape to jump in at the last minute.

The team suffered another loss at the last minute as another member was having some medical issues that forced her dropout with only a few days left before the race. Finding another teammate fit enough to run at the last minute is difficult. Finding a female teammate is even more difficult. Luckily for us, and something I didn't know, was this was the first year they were allowing teams of 2 or a solo race. The 3 of us that were left, Mark, Collin and myself, decided to change to a solo and a duo and just run it together.

A race of this type is a true multisport challenge. There is generally running, cycling, floating, and orienteering. Orienteering is finding your way through the course via map and compass. This year however, the floating portion of the race was taken out due a river raging at flood stage from all of the spring rain we have had. In its place, they simply added more running to the course. The course in the past has taken most people some 7 to 14 hours to complete. It usually covers 45 to 50 miles total. All of the distances are kept a secret until an hour before the race. At this time, you are given a map, clue sheet, and sequence of check points that you must navigate to in order to complete the race.

Except for the bike portions when I rode in clipless pedals, I of course ran the race in my Five Fingers. I think they raised a little concern out of my team leader. He has ran the same race several times before and in his experience he thought the course might be a little rough for them. I explained that after so many training miles in them I felt I would be worse off to switch to normal shoes at this point. In the end, the shoes performed perfectly on the course and it was a good choice for me to wear them. They did provide some morning entertainment seeing the looks on other racers faces when they looked at my feet. They would quickly whisper to their other teammates who would then turn to look with raised eyebrows. There were the usual questions about lack of support and cushioning and one woman even went to get her husband to come see them. She then asked to take a picture of my feet which was a first for me.

The largest challenge for most teams turned out to be the heat. We hit a near record high of 85. Being spring, nobody had trained anywhere near this temperature and you could see the heat wreaking havoc on many of the racers. The heat was the eventual downfall of my own team's leader about 5 hours into the race. We had ran some 15 miles already and were just beginning the first bike portion. The course was following gravel roads up and out of a river valley and after 3 miles of uphill riding he was reduced to walking anything with an incline. Head throbbing and unable to summon energy, he decided to drop and let Collin and I continue on our own. In my opinion, it was a wise choice. He was close to heat exhaustion and we weren't even to the hottest part of the day yet We were falling to the rear of the pack which would make cutoff times difficult to make and we still had more than half of the course to cover.

Fortunately, the heat was not an issue for me. Ultra running has given me a great education in the nutritional demands of pushing in an all day long event. I think this is something severely lacking in a lot of peoples' race plans. There has been a great amount of research done in this field by Hammer Nutrition. If you are considering exerting yourself for more than a 3 hour period, I would highly recommend you head to their website and do some reading. I followed the nutrition and hydration strategy I have been practicing for the 100 miler. I drank around 20 ounces an hour of Hammer Perpetuem, a carbohydrate and protein energy drink, and took an Endurolyte electrolyte replacement every 30 minutes. Despite taking in over 2 gallons of fluid, I discovered I was still down about 5 pounds for the day when I weighed myself after returning home.

For the rest of the race, Collin and I were able to maintain a fairly strong pace. Luckily, Collin is a strong trail rider and we were able to pass many teams by riding some very technical and hilly sections of trail that many other teams were opting to leave bikes behind and hike. This combined with some good map reading allowed us to cover some serious ground. When we began the bike section we were only a couple of teams from last place. At this time, I am not sure of the final results but I believe we finished around 20th place out of 79 teams. Of the 79 teams to begin, only 58 finished the race. Our time was a little over 11 hours. I couldn't begin to give an accurate count on distance covered but my best guess would be 20 miles on foot and another 25 or so on the bikes.

I absolutely loved the experience. Next year I am thinking I will run the race as a solo participant.

Week of 5-10 - 30 on foot, 80 bike
Week of 5-17 - 10 on foot, 64 bike, and the race.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I finally got to run to work for the first time. I did it the day after completing my commitment to ride for the year. I have to say, it was an outstanding way to start a day. The roads were all but empty at 6:00 am which is something I’m not familiar with. It is amazing what a difference an hour makes when it comes to traffic. I got to enjoy the sunrise as it was just hitting the horizon as I stepped off. I covered the 8 miles from home to work in 1:20.

My only major mistake in planning was forgetting to bring food to hold me over until lunch. With the bike, I can carry a buffet of good stuff to eat throughout the day.

Because of my mistake, the morning was spent in much discomfort waiting for a chance to get some nourishment. 11:00 was as long as I could wait before jogging down the street for some Korea House. Other than that, I didn’t find it to be all that big of a challenge. Having 9 hours to sit in a chair and rest before the trek home helped quite a bit. I will stick with one day per week for a few weeks and then in June, I plan to start running to work on 2 days.

Had my first flat tire in a long while on May 10. I carry all the supplies I need to fix them and it only takes about 10 minutes so it isn’t that big of a deal. The only thing that made this one fun was the fact that it was raining and only 45 degrees. It was a perfect way to start a Monday morning. I don’t generally subscribe to Murphy’s Law, but a true believer would swear he had a hand in that timing. The real reason was probably the fact that I am too cheap to buy new tires before its time and I had pushed the life of that particular set beyond safe so it was bound to occur sooner or later. Fresh new tires are now installed.

MSU is in its final week for the year. The exciting thing about this for me is the fact that the campus will soon be a ghost town. Some of my more harrowing experiences with traffic happen within its vicinity. The other place I often have issues is near Glendale High School with its many teenage drivers in a very surprising hurry to reach school. Unfortunately, they won’t be out for a few more weeks. Come June, the amount of vehicles on the road seems to drop in half if not more.

Week of May 3, 43 miles on foot, 65 on the bike.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Freezing Rain, Lightening and Honking Gasholes

It appears as if riding to work every day for one year is in the bag. Only three days left with mild weather in the forecast. 16 miles round trip, 240 days of riding. 3,900 miles (from Virginia Beach, Va. to San Jose, Ca. it is about 2,990), 240 hours of rush hour traffic and over 3,000,000 pedal revolutions. High temperature of 98 in June and a low near 0 in December. Freezing rain, lightening, honking gasholes, and quad burning 40 mph headwinds. I have never had more fun getting to work in my life.

Luckily, I didn’t suffer any major maintenance problems over the year. This is one of the benefits of a fixed gear bike. With only 1 gear, there are no derailleur’s to adjust or mess with. There were 5 flat tires that I remember. I did have to fix the wires on my headlight a few times but all in all the bike held up very well and will last many years to come.

The weather ranged dramatically as you would expect when riding through all four seasons. The most memorable was a spring storm last May. Riding when the tornado sirens are blaring is invigorating. The winds had been pushing me all over the road and the rain was sand blasting me and then suddenly, they both stopped. For a few minutes the air was still but multiple layers of low, fast moving and extremely dark clouds let me know there was still some storm left in the system.

At first, there were only a few pieces of ice randomly hitting me as the winds began to push again. I decided at this point to get under something. I was next to a McDonalds so I pulled into their lot. I was soaked to the bone already and didn’t have a lock for the bike so I decided to stay outside. With the storm coming in from the south I was perfectly sheltered from the hail and debris flying nearly horizontal by sitting on the north side of the Red Box movie kiosk. I watched for 10 minutes as it raged on. The storm was not over but the hail seemed to be finished and the winds had dropped to manageable gusts so I decided I could ride a little farther towards work before the next wave hit.

I pedaled as quickly as I could between gusts of wind that would cut my speed to nearly zero. Some of the roads had water 6 inches deep pooled in the low spots. I came upon a line of cars stopped by a 50 foot tree that had fallen directly across the road. It was a sign that I had taken shelter at the appropriate time. A quick detour through someone’s yard and I was on my way again. As I reached the building there was another wave of hail and winds coming through. I rode down the ramp into the basement parking garage to find they had evacuated the building and there were now a hundred or more people hiding from the storm in the garage. I received numerous offers for a ride home as well as several head shaking admonishments that day. I later found that a woman had died during the storm. She wasn’t riding a bike, she was in her house.

Summer was really pretty uneventful with the exception of the heat. Winter on the other hand, provided several challenging rides. The first ride on ice covered roads was tricky and included a couple of semi graceful wipe-outs in the middle of the road. Fortunately, none when cars were near. This was when I decided to make the studded tire. You can buy them of course but by winter they are sometimes hard to find and I had read some articles on making your own. I mounted it on my mountain bike and rode that bike for about 2 or 3 weeks. It actually worked very well. The only day I had any real trouble was when we had about 6 inches of fresh snow over previously rutted and then refrozen roads. It was a true test of handling skills.

I learned exactly how much clothing I need for a given weather situation. A long sleeve technical t-shirt and shorts works down to 45 if you can handle the first 5 minutes cold. You don’t need a cover over your face if its above 20 and the wind isn’t out of the north but I need something over my ears and fingers below 35 although I might take the hat off after a couple miles. My favorite condition, conducive to both speed and comfort, is 50.

Drivers. What can I say about drivers? Most people are courteous but there is a subset of what I like to call, idiots. People who think they have a greater right to our public roadways than anyone else and if you are in their path you better move out the way! For the most part I have stopped taking anything I hear on the road personally and the vast majority of the time my music is on loud and I don’t care what they are saying. The times I do choose to interact with a raging fool I doubt I really change their opinion so what is the point. For some reason when some people are behind the wheel they fly into a blind rage when anyone makes them hit their brake pedal. Never mind there is a red light you will have to slam your brakes on for immediately after racing past and cutting in front of me. Never mind the person in the oncoming lane that had to slam on their brakes to avoid you careening around me. Screw everyone else, I’m heading to the grocery store and I need to be there yesterday! Of course they are wrong and whether they know it or not, I DO have a right to be on the road, it is ILLEGAL to ride on the sidewalk and in the road is statistically a safer place to be than the sidewalk. If I ever added more than 30 seconds to their trip I would be surprised. Usually, I catch them waiting in line at the next red light anyway so all their stress was for nothing.

I still won’t be driving to work anytime soon. The streak of riding is over though as I want to run to work a day or two per week. I will keep riding most days. One day this summer, on the perfect kind of day, I might have to take the top and doors off the Jeep and drive in. I did miss that a little last year.

80 miles on bike and 32 on foot this week.