Monday, August 20, 2007

24 Hours in the Sage

Oh man.

I did 24 in the Sage this past weekend. I'm still really really tired. I finished 5th place among solo men (not counting solo singlespeed, which was its own category). As of today, the results on the web only show laps run through about 6:15 AM. I was in 8th place then.

As usual, I started out too fast. I had a good night, no real depression or soul-searching downs. Just riding, staring at stars and the orange crescent moon that set around midnight.

At about 6:30 AM I rolled out onto the course. I looked at my watch. It was 6:30.

OK, I'm redundancy-ing myself.

The rules of the race were that any racer returning to the start/finish tent after 11 AM was done. I had been doing laps at around 1:45 through the early hours of the morning, including pit time. I did the math. At that rate I would do 3 more laps and be done. I didn't know how many laps I already had, but I knew I wanted more than 3 more.

My dawn-refreshed brain decided that I could do four more if I hopped to it, and that I should do four. So I hopped to it.

At that point at 6:30 I had actually been in the pit for nearly 20 minutes. So my 12th lap did not look remarkable, but I know it was. I was back at the start/finish at 7:45. By my watch I turned about a 1:15 lap--only a few minutes off my first lap, which was my fastest (1:13:37).

My brain was full of rare adrenaline. Where my adrenal gland found more of that stuff is a mystery, but there you have it. I was hauling. I rolled past my pit without stopping after that hot number 12 lap, right through the start/finish and back out onto the course, big-ringing it back to Hartman to go at it another time fast.

I finished my 14th lap right around 10:30. PLENTY of time. All I had to do was finish the final by 12:45 to get credit for it.


Off I went.

Just as I started, I ran into my friends the A-Team (Amber, Anton, Andrew) who were doing the 4-person 24-hour Townie Bike World Championship on a collection of hoopty old cruiser bikes. Here is Andrew coming in from a lap on a Rollfast:

They were all going on a final lap together, a parade lap. I passed them as they aired up a low tire. I figured I'd be waiting for them at the finish, since I'd be far ahead of them on their heavy single-speed townie bikes.

Well, it didn't really work that way. First, I was really slammed by the three hot laps I had turned in order to make the 11 AM cut-off. Second, it was getting really hot. Third, they just weren't that slow! Andrew passed me on the granny gear climb, standing and hammering that Rollfast up the steep singletrack climb.

So cool, I would do my final lap with company.

Then, just a few miles into the lap, I had a horrible and tragic chain suck event. While shifting a dry chain into the middle ring, it wound up and got hooked to my front derailleur.

I really didn't have the mental or emotional resources for dealing with this. I stared at the mess, probably with a total lack of emotion in my facial expression. I'm sure I would have eventually set about fixing it, but I didn't even know where to start. My mind was a blank (other than wordless panic).

Thank goodness, Andrew was right there. He squatted down in the dust and started evaluating the situation. And it was really a pretty grim situation. The chain was absolutely jammed into the front derailleur, and stretched tight so that the rear derailleur was just near failure.

Ultimately we had to loosen up the front derailleur clamp and turn it, then break the chain using the powerlink. It took over 10 minutes to fix, even with an actual pair of competent bike mechanics right there on site.

By the time the drivetrain had been resurrected and the chain slathered with lube, I was physically and emotionally damaged. Pedaling had become torture. Hot, acidic sweat was finding its way into the corners of my eyes. My mind swam with negative, panicky thoughts. How much time was left? Could I get through the 3 big climbs that remained? Would I run out of water? I couldn't seem to drink enough.

Eventually I stopped and swallowed about a teaspoon of sea salt crystals. My lucidity returned gradually. I kept pedaling, and Amber rode along with me, keeping me talking, encouraging me. Sure, it was a little discouraging that she could keep up with me on 40 pound townie cruiser and drive the conversation, but it sure helped that she was there.

Eventually we came to a several-mile-long fast and windy downhill, and I let gravity take me towards home. The A-Team never quite caught up to me after that, and I finished in time, at about 12:25 (roughly a 1:55 lap).

The final results have me at 5th place. I picked up 3 places during that frenetic morning. I'm really pleased. And god-forsaken tired. I don't think I'll be able to ride a bike for a week.

But I'll probably ride one sooner anyhow. Woo Hoo!

This is actually me after the 24 Hours at the Old Pueblo last winter. But it's a fitting image.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race

August 11, 2007. 6:30 AM. The legendary shotgun blast starts 1000, that's one thousand riders who all are taking a stab at possibly the most famous endurance offroad bike race that has ever been. Up front are luminaries such as Floyd Landis, Nat Ross, Jake Rubelt, and of course the greatest Leadville bike racer ever, Dave Wiens.

There was plenty of hype about Floyd, and there were rumors that His Lance-ness would show up. Floyd did show, and he showed up fit and ready to rumble. But Dave drew a line in the sand. He broke the course record by nearly 10 minutes, beating Floyd by about 3 minutes.

So sure, it was pretty cool to be on the same course with hotshots like those guys. But how did my day go? Damned well, thank you very much.

One of the important things about the Leadville Trail 100 is that everyone's experience is valid. Dave Wiens battles all day to retain his place as the King of the LT100, and the everyman (or everywoman) battles through an even longer day to finish in 12. Both of them have to dig deep, and their peers respect both for having the patience to prepare and the tenacity to reach their respective goals.

My basic goal at Leadville has always been to finish in 12 and do the best I can, and to do it in a way that respects my fellow racers. That means staying as cheerful as possible, looking out for the safety of everyone, and offering congratulations and encouragement to all my peers. Since I started doing this, I've also wanted to finish in under 11 hours.

My first year, 2005, I finished in 11:15--but I was rarely cheerful during those hours. I had a tough time, dogged by uncertainty and surprised by the difficulty of the final 25 miles.

Last year I was caught in a huge rainstorm, but was proud of the way that I kept a smile on my face even as I wondered whether I would finish in 12. I wound up finishing in 11:25 and was pleased for myself. But I still wanted to finish under 11 hours.

This year's LT100 was a great race for me. I went out hard, maintained a tough pace through the first three quarters of the race. During the tough final climbs the temperature was up there and the sun shone clear through the thin air of the high-elevation course. I had a hard time keeping enough water with me, and it was difficult to eat enough since my body needed more water to digest the food. But I marched through it, stayed positive, and finished strong.

I'm thrilled with my 10:25:35 finish. I'm thrilled that Dave Wiens maintained his dominance of the race. I'm proud of the many friends of mine who raced--all of them, even the ones who did not officially finish put in efforts that we can all be proud of.

It's just a bike race.

How many chances do we have in life to be excellent? To face a daunting physical challenge with a chance to prove to ourselves that we can--win or lose, finish or not, doing the best we can; this is a wonderful thing.

It's just a bike race, but it's a damned fine one. Hats off to the folks up in Leadville who give us this arena for self-assessment. They do it with style and they make it fun and rewarding. And they have created a culture of cooperation. Riders like me who will never break 10 hours get hearty congratulations from the fast folks. And we all encourage the ones who try, whether they succeed or fail. We celebrate each others' success.