Sunday, May 13, 2007

12 Hours of Mesa Verde

I had a chance to check out the course at Phil’s World just east of Cortez, CO on Friday evening. It was around 6 pm and really pretty warm, at least in the 80’s. Heat was OK with me. I don’t mind perspiring, and after the cold damned winter we had, hot felt really fine.

The course was wonderful. I felt fine with my choice of WTB Weir Wolf LT tires front and rear. They are large volume, but with low knobs and really fast-rolling. The trail that I saw was mostly a ribbon of hardpack, with a few anchored rocks and a skiff of sandy gravel here and there.

My snowbird parents, who are on their bi-annual migration between SoCal and Michigan, were stopping in Mancos for the night and wanted to have dinner with me. So I had to cut my pre-ride short when they arrived at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds; race HQ.

We had a good dinner in Mancos, but it went late. I wasn’t back at my truck until almost 10 pm. I crawled into the back and had a brief and restless night of sleep. It did not cool off much over night, which gave me a clue about what sort of day Saturday would be.

I knew that I was a long shot for any sort of placing, so I decided to make a half experiment, half training exercise out of the race. I knew it was going to be really fun to ride the course fast. So I decided to purposely ignore my boss Shawn’s perennial advice for me when doing long races, “Don’t win the warm-up.” I decided, pretty much 5 minutes before race start, to go out fast. Put the hammer down while it’s still relatively cool, then see how well I can recover into a pace and survive a whole day in the heat.

In the past several years, as I have focused on only long races, my training has featured almost no intensity. As a result, I’ve had trouble in situations where I need to make a super-hard effort. In short, it kills me. This year I’ve been force-feeding myself some intense workouts. I just don’t like going out and doing intervals. It feels like taking cod liver oil. So I’ve been doing some traditional X/C races to have some fun while I’m taking my cod liver oil. I decided to take some at the beginning of the 12 Hours. And once the race started, I got caught up in the excitement anyhow.

Right from the start it was shorts and short sleeves. I left the hydration pack in the truck and just took a water bottle with HEED. Traveling light.

I ran the Le Mans start faster than I normally run. I jumped on my bike and caught my breath in the first 4 minutes while we worked our way out of the fairgrounds. Then we crossed under the highway in the McElmo Creek drain overpass, and I started working. I passed two slow riders just as I entered the singletrack then hit it. I was passed by a fast dude on a Santa Cruz in the first 5 minutes, then that was it for the rest of the 15 mile lap. I was hauling ass and I was not passed. Solos had a yellow ribbon displayed on their saddle or seatpost--and mister santa cruz had no ribbon, so I wasn’t even racing him.

What a ball. The curvy, windey course bobs and weaves through piñon and juniper, up onto ledges, through rocky, technical descents, and along broken rimrock. I was pushing a big gear and railing through the sweeping corners. Wahoo! Fast, fun singletrack.

About 20 minutes into the lap I came into a smooth uphill left turn and my front tire washed out. I landed on my elbow and hip, cussing. I jumped up and back onto the bike without bothering to dust myself off. I jumped it right back up to speed, but decided I better be a little more conservative about the corners. The traction I was finding was deceptive--there was a limit.

I passed through the part of the course I had seen the evening before, and headed north into uncharted territory. There were some climbs. One of them was really pretty steep, but none were long. Never more than about 10-15 minutes of climbing at a time, and the longer ones were pretty mild. And there were lots of bits of flowy fast singletrack. I kept the hammer down all through the lap, always upshifting to the limit of my ability to push the gear and deal with the terrain.

In the second half of the course I made my first trip down Green Lizard and onto the Tuffy Rim. This 2 miles or so was suspension terrain. Slamma bamma suspension terrain. Going fast through it made the bike creak and groan. I hit the series of short climbs in middle ring, throwing my fresh legs at it with gusto. Then I climbed out of the technical stuff up and over Stone Axe Hill, and on into the Ribcage. I have been hearing about this section for a while. It’s a series of compression dips and peaked whoops. My friend Casey had told me that I should be careful, because when you take air sometimes you see that the trail on the other side of the whoop goes a direction you wouldn’t anticipate.

I resolved to take my first trip through the Ribcage conservatively, keeping the tires on the tread to the extent that I was able. That’s always the fastest way anyway. The shortest distance never includes airtime. So if you can go fast but stay down, you are fast.

As I crested each whoop I shoved the bars down. It was a super big thrill, even without air. And I came to one of them where I free-fell facing down even though I hadn’t actually caught air. The trail fell away from the top of the whoop so abruptly that any speed took you into a free fall. What a gas. I pedaled those whoops, and carried a ton of speed through the whole Ribcage. Then I rolled downhill at light speed and suddenly found myself at a place I had seen before, perhaps 10 minutes from the finish. I rocked into the finish, quickly checked in and then hit the truck, got a full bottle of HEED and back out onto the course.

I did not really intend to keep up the hotrod pace for the second lap. At first I cooled it off and was passed by another team rider. Then I started thinking about how cool Phil’s World is. This is another example of a trail network that got built on BLM land, then later the BLM came in and blessed it. In Salida we’ve been working on the “good guy” model, where we try to get BLM to approve the trail system plans in advance. And we’ve spent years, literally, waiting for them to get comfortable with the idea. I started thinking about this and my temper started to rise. Soon I was riding angry, rocking and rolling and mumbling through gritted teeth. It felt good, great really; cathartic.

And of course it was a recipe for speed. My legs were still fresh, and I had adrenaline pumping. Once again, I was not passed.

I jammed through the lap, back to the start/finish, checked in, got a fresh bottle, and off I went.

Right away in the beginning of lap 3 I felt mortal. Big surprise huh? 43-year-old dude rides for 3 hours like a 21-year-old, then starts feeling tired. Not only that, I suddenly noticed that it was getting hot. I felt the telltale dryness in my mouth that told me that I was becoming dehydrated. Once again, big surprise. Over 30 miles at race pace and having drank only two bottles of HEED, and almost no fresh water (only when back at the truck).

I took a big hit off the bottle I had with me.

By halfway through the lap, I pulled the bottle out and saw that it had about a swallow and a half left. And it was getting hotter by the minute. Uh-oh, mortality--a huge black buzzard circled overhead. I rode carefully through the remainder of lap 3, trying not to bonk. I felt like a raisin by the time I checked out of that lap.

Back at the truck, I drank water like I’d just come off the Sahara. I filled my hyration pack and put it on. I lubed my chain. I ate a little pile of sea salt crystals. I took some Endurolytes and some Sport Legs. Then I rolled carefully back out onto the course just as noon came to the desert.

Lap 4 wasn’t as bad as lap 3, but it was tough. I kept trying to hammer fluids and hammergel, but every time I took in anything I got a touch of nausea. The heat, the effort, and my tired dehydrated body combined to make me feel really crappy. I rode lightly, and kept after the moisture and feeding. Near the end of the lap, as I rolled fast through the ribcage, I finally started feeling a little more OK. That bit of singletrack was so fun, it breathed life into me on every lap.

By the end of the fourth lap I had started doing the time math. My first two racer-boy laps had been right around 90 minutes each. But 3 and 4 were closer to 2 hours. And my pits were getting longer, for good reason. I wanted to do 7 laps. I had to be done with #6 by 6:30 pm to start the 7th. I started the 5th at around 2:20 pm. So, all I had to do was two two-hour laps. Then one more.

The fifth was another tough lap. It was hot. Probably the hottest of the day. And I was starting to really feel the tiredness. Climbs I had been doing in the middle of the middle ring were starting to be granny gear climbs. And at the top of a couple of them I found myself dizzy and nauseous. I would stop, breath, drink water, and be back on my way in a minute or so. But it was getting painful.

I finished the fifth at about quarter after four, spent a while in the pit. I ate some dates, which were hard to chew and swallow. I didn’t seem to have much available saliva. I was wondering if I had the gumption to finish a seventh lap if I even got a chance to start it. By the time I was ready to leave the truck, I was pretty much convinced that 6 was enough. Ride it like you stole it for 30 miles, then live through 60 more in dry, breezy heat. Not too bad really. Did I come here for fun and training, or to flog myself past reason in order to achieve some arbitrary goal? Yeah. Right. I decided to mount the GPS to get a track of the course, and to take the camera. I’ll take some pictures and enjoy myself a little.

So that’s what I did. I stopped wherever I saw a volunteer, thanked them and chatted for a while if they were into it. I took some pictures of riders that I was allowing to pass me. And of course I grooved on the fast downhill stuff. It’s worth mentioning that all the climbs hurt pretty bad that lap too. But the heat was subsiding, which was nice.

So I finished up the 6th lap. Turns out that the top three guys all had 7 laps. I rode with my friend Casey from Leadville during part of his 7th and my 6th. So, I could have done 7, but I don’t think I could have placed. Maybe if I’d actually ridden the race smart, to win, I could have taken 3rd. Which would have been cool obviously, but I had a good time. And I achieved my goal. I lived through racing dumb. Next time I won’t win the warmup, I promise.


FixieDave said...

Festina Lente~

Hasten Slowly Kent P's creed....

6 laps in heat is good!

Matt said...

Congrats Tom - nice report and write-up! Jens N did 8 laps for the win though.

Ed said...

Tom - great writeup!! And good job in the race putting the hammer down to see what that is all about and just plain having fun.

See you soon -


Dave Harris said...

Way to hang in there well past the point of comfort. I always swear that there's a big liability in peaking top end for an endurance race, the temptation to use it is oh so strong.

Tom Purvis said...

Yeah, it was kind of dumb. Hard to be disciplined, especially when you are a good-time-Charley like myself. It is kind of a shame that I didn't stick to some kind of program. I was third pretty much all day. If I hadn't given up the ghost at around 4 PM I might have actually taken home a trophy. But it would have hurt. And I probably wouldn't have ridden the last couple days, I'd probably just be moaning and trying to re-hydrate.