Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Relearning Basics at the 2014 Land Run 100 (107 (112))

"Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes."

We arrived in Stillwater the night before the race just in time to get to District Bicycles for the pre-race meeting. Since last year they had moved to an outstanding new shop with a huge garage door they had open to the street. From the tailgate of an antique pickup parked inside the shop, the owner and race director, Bobby Wintle, told us details about the race. He gave thank yous to the community for its support and shared with us more about the origin of his love for gravel riding and the "unlearn pavement" motto he is bringing to the cycling world. Stripping life of excess nonsense has been the mantra of many enlightened teachers.  Judging by his positive attitude and the amount of people that seem to truly love Bobby, he could lead a movement. He is one of those people you can't help but smile when you see them.

Bobby in his new shop laying down some wisdom on the masses.  Photo by Troy Ochs.
Just like last year, and probably for any event held in the unpredictable beginning of spring, weather for the ride was the talk of many people on the street. With the memory of the rain wiping out half the field in the inaugural race only a year ago, people seemed concerned. The forecast leading up to the race had played a nasty joke on everyone. Two weeks before the race the long range outlook was for light winds, sunny skies, and mild temperatures. There was a flurry of facebook activity about how nice, easy, and fast it was going to be. Then the week before the race it changed to a chance of rain.  Each day it deteriorated to finally be a strong chance of thunderstorms for most of the day.  This course would go from difficult to nearly impossible if it rained the entire day so many people, myself included, hoped the weather fortune tellers were all wrong. When I rode to the starting line at 7:00 am it was 47 degrees and clear skies with most of the rain chances pushed to later in the afternoon.  It was shaping up to be a great day after all.

Photo by Yvette Wynne
Last year, I was the only person from my local group that came to the race.  This year Jamie and several other Kuat people came to ride. We got there early enough to drink coffee and hangout for a while.  We immediately fell into our regular routine of trash talking and socializing. This was probably the most enjoyable part of the day for me.  The time passed quickly and before I knew it everyone had moved into the street.  We only had a few minutes left before the start.

The effort at first was easy as the group stayed behind the escort out of town. People jockeyed for position as the herd of riders rolled down the road together. Once you hit the gravel is when the escort falls away and the game truly begins.  As happens in every race I have ever attended, the moment they are set free the group moves to warp speed and things get fast and frantic for a little while as everyone's legs feel fresh.

I had a slight moment of panic when we left the pavement and hit the first real chunky gravel of the day.  The bike started bucking wildly and it took about two seconds to realize what I had done wrong.  There was way too much air in the tires and they were bouncing off the gravel. I was using a tire that I hadn't ridden before and had not worked out the right air pressure yet.  Normally I run 35 Kenda SB8's but I was trying out some 35 Clemente USH's.  I had just put them on the bike and only ridden them once, on pavement to work no less.  I mean I rode it into the grass and gravel next to my driveway a couple times but that wasn't nearly enough to ascertain how they would manage large chunky gravel at 20 miles an hour.

Relearned Lesson Number 1.  Don't do new things on race day.  If you haven't used something on at least one long training session, you probably shouldn't do it in a race. If I had put a long ride on those tires first I would have known they needed less pressure and they would have made the first few miles of gravel a lot less white knuckle.

I wasn't sure if I should stop and let some air out or stay with Jamie and the group we were in that was making great time.  I was afraid I wouldn't be able to catch them again if I let go and you almost always move slower alone.  The decision was made for me as I made a sloppy shift while charging up a steep hill and dropped my chain.  I rolled to a stop and put the chain back on.  I took 10 seconds to let some air from the front tire and jumped back on the pedals.  The tire was absorbing much more of the shock and I was able to relax a little and focus more on pushing forward.  With a great amount of effort and working far too hard for the beginning of a day long race I was able to catch up and latch back onto the group Jamie was in.

The are lots of components to achieving your best performance.  Sure having the strength to put lots of power to the pedals is important, but to pull off a really great race you need to nail lots of other things as well.  Another component that matters as much as physical strength is navigation. After struggling with handling in the beginning, and then working so hard to catch back up to the group, I was completely ignoring where we were on the course and just trusting everyone in front of me.  I figured after things spread out I would start following the map and all would be fine. Apparently, I wasn't the only one in our group feeling this way because just minutes after catching back up the entire pack we were riding in took a wrong turn.  After riding a couple miles of increasingly more pavement and not hilly gravel, more and more guys began to sit up and ask if we were going the right way.  We all stopped to pow wow and decided we had definitely missed something.  We pushed hard back to the last turn we had taken and sure enough we saw groups of riders turning the opposite direction we had gone.

Relearned Lesson Number 2.  Always keep up with the map for yourself.  Somehow 15 guys managed to ride off the course in a tight pack.  You would think at least one of us would have realized immediately but it would take a couple miles before we all figured it out.   It turns out the flagging on the road marking the turn was in fact a little wonky, and there had been some changes to the gps route given out prior to the race, but I believe if I had been reading the map I would have noticed the conflict immediately and fixed it without riding the extra 5 miles. If I had been following every turn like I normally do, I could have saved us a ton of time and effort.

If your map has that little pigtail on the upper right you were part of the extra special crew.
Once we were back on course the group we had been in pretty much fell apart. Jamie and I stuck together. After our little detour, we were now at the back of the field and there was a constant supply of people to chase who had made the correct turn and gotten ahead of us. We moved up from one group to the next. Sometimes as we would pass groups one or two riders would latch on for a while. One of the guys who stayed with us for a lot of the day was Anatolie Juncu. I had just met Anatolie in person that morning. He recognized me from the blog and had introduced himself. It always feels good to know someone out there is reading this stuff. Anatolie would end up staying with Jamie and I for most of the race.

After spending the first few miles concentrating on keeping the bike on the gravel, and then chasing like a madman to catch up to my group, and then finally trying to figure out where the hell we were, I realized I hadn't been fueling. I should have been through two bottles, several gels and a handful of electrolyte pills by this point but I had barely drank half a bottle and eaten one gel. I was way behind, and unfortunately, once you put yourself in this hole it is very difficult to get out.  Because of this mistake early on the rest of my day would likely be spent in survival mode.

Relearned Lesson Number 3. Never go more than 30 minutes without fueling. It's ridiculous that I keep succumbing to problems with nutrition because I have dealt with this in more races than one person should. It is black and white. Keep up with nutrition from the beginning and you will feel good for most of the race. Fall behind on your nutrition schedule at any point in the day and you are spinning the wheel for prizes like nauseousness, muscle pain and cramping, puking, diarrhea, dizziness, headaches, and other things you just don't want to deal with in the middle of a long race. I have experienced all those things in races and I keep making the same stupid mistake.

I started fueling myself immediately and tried to get back on track.  It's difficult when you are behind, though, you are still limited in how much you can stomach so you can't just catch back up. I stayed on top of eating and drinking for the next couple hours to the only checkpoint 59 miles into the race. It was good to see Sara and Jake there. It was starting to warm up and I was finally able to shed some layers. I would have let myself stay a little longer but Jamie was a man on a mission and I didn't want to lose him.  We ride faster together and I still needed all the help I could get to pull myself out of the hole I had dug not eating and drinking.  Anatolie left a few minutes before us but we were able to reel him back in within a few miles.

As we left the checkpoint I knew the course would finally be taking a turn out of the headwind we had been pushing for a couple hours. While the wind wasn't nearly as bad as it was last year here, it was approaching 15 mph out of the south and on the long open roads heading directly into it you could certainly feel it dragging you down.

While I would never be able to get as strong as I would have been if I had kept on top of fueling from the beginning, after a couple of hours of working at it I was beginning to feel much better. Finally getting some tail wind help wasn't hurting my motivation either. Jamie, Anatolie, and I had been moving from group to group since the wrong turn but after the checkpoint we didn't see very many other people. We had noticed that Dennis Rathke, the only other Springfield rider ahead of us, left the checkpoint just minutes before we did.  Jamie was on a mission to catch him. Anatolie and I were on a mission not to lose Jamie.

Secret Aid Station.  Not sure who took this photo.
We had heard rumors of a secret aid station somewhere around the 80 mile mark. The rumors turned out to be true. One of the figures in the distance we had been chasing pulled into the station and we decided to jump past without stopping. We had brought enough supplies and were ready to be done with this adventure.  The rider in front of us who stopped was Josh Brown.  The reason I'm glad he stopped to refill will be clear in a moment.

Our trio had been rolling together for nearly 75 miles but as we approached the 94 mile mark I remember telling Anatolie either Jamie is getting faster or I'm slowing down.  Anatolie surged to cover the gap Jamie was putting on us and I couldn't match it. Jamie looked back and gave me a huge wave.  In my head I could hear him saying, "what are you doing back there, get the hell up here!"  Unfortunately, the gap continued to grow and I wouldn't see them again until we were done.  Because of the extra 5 in the beginning, we still had some 18 miles left to cover.  I tried to bring their fading silhouettes on the horizon closer several times but it just wasn't happening. I eventually lost them and was on my own.  I plugged in the music and tried to find a level of suffering I could maintain to the finish.

I realized at some point I had stopped eating and drinking again.  I had left the midway checkpoint with 3 bottles but had only finished one.  I reached down for a second bottle just as I was beginning a steep descent and somehow fumbled the bottle right out of my hands.  I watched it bounce off the ground and ricochet into the ditch.  I thought for half a second I should stop and get it but I knew I only had an hour left.  Not to mention I would have to climb back up the huge hill to get it and since I was already exhausted and I had one more full bottle I decided to let it go.  I hated that bottle anyway as it was a chronic leaker and I spill enough drinks on myself as it is. A few minutes later after working my way up the next few hills I reached back for the third bottle and it was gone as well. Crap. These last few miles were going to hurt.

I noticed a rider behind me gaining ground. It was Josh Brown who had stopped to refill at the Oasis. He asked how I was doing and I told him I was dry and falling apart. He offered me one of his bottles which at first I declined, I hate accepting help even when I desperately need it. Thankfully, he persisted in offering it until I finally gave in. I sucked down half the bottle and immediately felt rejuvenated. This is the good in the gravel community we talk about. He could have easily blown by me without a word and I wouldn't have thought ill of him for it. Fortunately for me, he was a much nicer guy than that and was able to talk me into taking a little help from him.  I told him thanks and he powered off ahead of me.  

Relearned Lesson Number 3, Again.  Keep eating and drinking from the beginning to the end.  What the hell is wrong with me? I love to eat too so I don’t know why I always forget when I’m riding but it is disastrous to power production. I will not make this mistake again this year!  You have my permission to laugh and make fun of me when I do.  

Almost to the end.  Photo by Ryan Souders
With that bit of water and a gel I had the energy I needed to finish this thing up.  I left the last dirt road 7 miles from the finish and remembered this is where the rain had started for me last year.  I was one of the lucky few who didn't have to fight the mud.  On this day it had only sprinkled for a few seconds earlier, so once again after stressing for a week before the race about how hard the mud was going to make it, I hadn't ridden through a single puddle.  

I hadn't seen another rider ahead or behind me since Josh but I kept feeling like someone was going to come barreling by. I worked my way through the town of Stillwater toward downtown where the finish is.  It's always a culture shock to come off the desolate farm roads and into the busy roads of a town. I wondered what the people peering from the windows of their cars thought about this guy in spandex covered in sweaty red dust.

I was able to forget about the mistakes and suffering for a moment as I turned the final corner and saw the finish line waiting for me.  I got my hug from Bobby and was happy to be finished with a long day of hard work. Work I had made much harder on myself than it needed to be by ignoring rules and lessons I had already learned from once, but apparently needed to learn again. 275 people registered to ride this year. I don't know how many toed the line but there were 140 finishers. I was number 34 in 7 hours and 9 minutes. Sara had my cold can of Coke ready and waiting for me. It might have been the sweetest drink I have ever had.    

The Coke I had been dreaming about for hours.

Land Run 100 Elevation.  The flat section at mile 20 is the time we spent off course.
The lack of hills should have been our first clue.   

Friday, March 7, 2014

2014 Goals

I had briefly considered doing three big bike rides this year as well as the inaugural Kansas Grand Slam, four 100 mile runs in Kansas in the same calendar year.  I even went so far as to post a picture of the list on Facebook.  Public proclamation of goals is my favorite method of accountability. Once I have told everyone I'm going to do it I feel compelled to pull it off.  However, after some serious consideration about the amount of time it would take to diligently prepare for that many long runs and rides, I decided not to take that route.

Last year was my first full year tracking everything with a GPS. I had written down annual mileage before but this year I could see exactly how much time, down to the second, I had spent training for stuff.  847 hours, 31 minutes, 17 seconds.  24 hours a day for 35 days.  I don't by any means think it was wasted time, more like personal time that I relish, and, probably 500 hours were commuting to work so I would have those anyhow.  But knowing how much more time it would take to be truly prepared for so many long races, I decided to choose a more moderate path, for this year at least.
Easily the most active year of my life
I dropped the 100 mile runs from the schedule and entered three big bike rides and they are about to begin. The four runs in Kansas still sound like a fun year and I would like to see what that is all about some time in the future.

Next week is the Land Run 100 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I had a great time there last year and I am looking forward to seeing all the new friends I made. One of the great parts about going back to races year after year is the reunion with all the cool people you meet.  This year there are like 10 people from my local area going as well and that will add another layer of fun and competition to it.  The main goal is not to crash again and rip my arm open like I did the first time there.

The most daunting challenge in my sights this year is the Trans Iowa V.10 on April 26.  330 something miles on dirt and gravel roads in Iowa. Straight through the day and night in one shot, 25 to 35 hours of riding hilly gravel no matter what the weather. That is if anyone finishes at all, in the past there have been times where nobody covered the distance. Lots of tough racers more skilled than I have had to stop short of the finish line when bad weather and exhaustion have ground their wheels to a halt. Oh yeah, no support crews, only what you can carry or buy at stores you see along the route.  Chances for resupply may be few and far between, you don't know the course until they give it to you in pieces at random checkpoints throughout the race. This is one I have read stories about for the last several years and really felt like taking on but I didn't think I was ready for it until recently. I envision it will be similar in difficulty to a 100 mile run.  

T.I.V7 shot used in Dirt Rag #157 taken by Steve Fuller
Jim Cummins coming in at CP#2 TIV9 (Image by GNAT)
It is not only a difficult race to ride but it is hard to get in, only 120 are allowed to enter and previous contenders are allowed to enter first which only leaves a few spaces for rookies. You have to send a postcard to arrive at a very specific time to be considered. I spent the day the list came out refreshing the screen and waiting impatiently to see the names of the select few race virgins who would be added.  Finally when my name showed up I was hit by a wave of happiness which was quickly followed by a wave of what the hell did I just get myself into. Fortunately, Jamie got in as well and we have been preparing together and plan to tackle it as a team. Though, I won't hesitate to leave him in the dust if his fancy new bike (that I might be highly jealous of) has an un-fixable malfunction.  Without a doubt, this race is going to be an amazing experience and I'm really looking forward to it.

My third time at the Dirty Kanza 200 on May 31 will be the next race.  I'm curious how this year will go coming only a month after Iowa.  4 weeks might not be enough recovery after a 30 hour event and the DK can take a huge toll on fresh legs.  I have a little more confidence about doing tough events closer together after last year but I also have enough experience now to know long races can create aches and pains that last for months afterward. I know you can push the body through a lot and I learn more about myself each time I do.

If you have read the other Dirty Kanza reports, you will know that even though I have finished it twice, I haven't been able to get home with one of the coveted pint glasses they give away at the finish line.  Being the outstanding gentleman he is, Bob Jenkins of Team Virtus, took pity on my inability to make it home with a glass and shipped one to me.  He puts on a 100 mile gravel race in Missouri called the Cedar Cross that I would love to take a crack at but it falls just one week after the race in Iowa and I'm not sure I can make that turnaround.  If I decide I can make it I'm hoping I can twist his arm to let me in at the last minute.  

I haven't decided how I will spend the last 6 months of the year yet but I fully intend to devote at least some portion of it getting ready for a long foot race.  I have a feeling it's going to be a great year and hopefully there will be some great stories that come out of the races. I will attempt to sit down and write them out, but as you can see by my posting of 2014 goals 3 months into the year, I'm already failing at my goal of writing more this year.  Unfortunately, my dedication to physical pursuits doesn't really carryover to all aspects of my life.