Tuesday, May 13, 2008

12 Hours of Mesa Verde 2008

Last year this race was one of my favorite events and I was looking forward to it for months this year. After Gallup, I had decided that I would actually race this one for placing, not just to have fun or find a good pace and maintain it. More on that later.

The weather was predicted to be windy and mid-60s. Sounded much more race-able than last year's heat. At dawn there wasn't much wind, but I felt a little spatter of rain when I first emerged from the tPOD to begin preparations. 20 minutes later it was actually raining pretty hard. Rain? Clay course? Was this going to be a day of cold wet and not dry wind?

One of my first tasks was to get a precise amount of air in my tires. The rubber of choice was Bontrager Dry-X tubeless ready, running tubeless. I had carefully mounted them the prior week and aired them up to be sure they were holding. They were holding air great, so I fine tuned the pressure with a digital gauge then went about my other preparations.

The rain stopped at about 6:20, and I decided to wear a long-sleeve wool jersey (new Absolute Bikes custom woolies!) and leg warmers under my lycra. No hydration pack, at least for early laps, just a bottle of HEED. I went to the pre-ride meeting, then came back to the tPOD with only minutes left before the start. I picked up my bike to go to the staging area, and saw that the front tire was nearly flat! I said some bad words, then realized that I had not packed my backup wheelset which I had mounted with WTB Weirwolf 2.55s, a very safe tube and tire setup that I totally trust and know. I said more bad words. I would have just slapped my backup front on and put the tubeless aside if I had had it with me. I realized that I hadn't even brought a single backup tire. Dumbass! I quickly puffed more air into the front and didn't bother to check pressure with a guage because there was not time. I would just have to hope that it would hold, and I had a tube with me in case I had to put it in.

I made it to the staging area just in time, had to lay my bike down on the ground because there weren't any more spots left to lean it. Then the air horn went off and it was time to go.

I ran more than trotted in the Lemans start. I was looking for a good starting position. Didn't want to be stuck with lots of passing on that first lap. I intended to put in a good fast first lap, just like last year.

The field was much bigger than last year, and there were some tough-looking riders sporting the solo blue ribbon from their saddles. We lapped the fairgrounds race course then hit singletrack, where there was initially tight single-file line with lots of accordion slowing and accelerating. Once we got out onto the course in Phil's World things sorted out a little more. Riders who weren't great at navigating singletrack and the ones who had a good initial sprint but not the kind of fitness that would allow them to keep that early pace started to peel away. By the time we got to the section called Lemonhead traffic was not much of a problem.

There is a plateau area in this early part of the course that has lots of linked hairpin turns. I really enjoy carrying speed into those turns and carving the turns. Last year on my first lap I found the limit and washed out taking a minor spill. Same thing happened this year. I jumped back on and continued with the mantra "limits of adhesion" repeating in my brain. Limits of adhesion.

I pushed that lap at race pace, and felt that I finished it pretty strongly. But when I went back to pit I felt surprisingly spent for being just 16 miles into a race where I expected to ride nearly 100. I peeled off my wool jersey and leg warmers, even though it wasn't really warm yet. I didn't want to overheat. I chugged some water and took a bottle that had both HEED and rice protein. Normally I would stay with plain HEED for the first 3-4 hours, but I was already feeling kind of hungry. I wondered why I already felt tired.

I hit the course for lap two, but was not able to maintain a very good pace. I figured it was just a lull and I would get my second wind later. As I navigated the course, several riders with blue solo ribbons passed me. I wasn't maintaining whatever lead I might have gained on them in the first lap. I assumed my strong fitness base would allow me to catch those greyhounds later. I've ridden a ton already this year.

About three quarters of the way through that second lap as I bumped my way through the Tuffy Rim section, the end of my left handlebar clipped a juniper. I tried to recover, but watched my front wheel wobble around as I vaulted over the bars. I landed on my helmet and left shoulder then rolled onto my left knee and arm. Damn, what a klutz!

I got up pretty quickly and dumped sand and sticks out of my helmet vents and got back under way. There was a cluster of cactus thorns in my left knee and thigh, and I saw one sticking into my cheek just under the lens of my glasses.

"Damn that was clumsy," I thought to myself. What's going on? My balance and timing seemed to be off. Several riders passed me as I tried to breath off the slight nausea that comes from an adrenalin rush. Now I really felt crappy. I rode on toward the start/finish. When I reached the Ribcage section, I tried to really focus and regain my grace. At the top of one of the compression dips I went slightly off trail and had to stop and put a foot down. Damn!

Back at pit I took some time. I oiled my chain, I drank a bunch of water. I ate a small pile of sea salt crystals and a Hammer bar. I told people that I was going to turn down my pace a notch because I felt like I was just off; bad timing, judgement and execution. I watered down my food bottle, but I did not put on a hydration bag. I guess I still felt like I wanted to stay light, for speed I guess.

When I got back onto the course I felt the climbs pretty acutely, but I found myself still trying to ride the flat and downhill stuff quickly. I guess I wasn't willing to follow my own advice--still wanting to keep on pace for a decent placing. My mouth was dry and I felt generally lousy.

Just before Tuffy Rim, there's a short technical section named Green Lizard. I topped out a climb called the Moki Climb and saw a rider gaining on me. I expected to be faster than most anyone descending Green Lizard and didn't want to allow a pass just then, so I stomped on the pedals and entered Green Lizard quickly. I hit a series of stairstep slabs of sandstone going fast. And then I was going over the bars.

What happened is still a mystery to me. I came down hard, banging the right side of my helmet and my right shoulder blade/upper back onto the rocks, then came down on my right hip. The rider who had been gaining on me was right behind me when it happened. Ron, the brother of one of my good friends from Leadville was right around there too. The guy who was behind me must have been some kind of medical guy or EMT. He stopped and started checking on my condition. He looked into my eyes, asked me a series of questions that were obvious checks for head injuries, and he felt my spine for injuries. He and Ron spent some time asking me if I was sure I was OK or if I wanted EMT to get me out of there. My head was a little sore, but I was sure it wasn't critical, so I encouraged them to go on.

I laid down on a slab of rock and tried to let my body and mind settle. I drank from my bottle, but it wasn't plain water. I wanted plain water. Why wasn't I wearing my hydration pack? Why had I insisted on trying to keep my placing and stay ahead of an obviously gaining rider? Why did I crash anyway--what happened?

After a few minutes I got back on my feet and then climbed onto the bike. My head was already feeling better, but when I hit the first rock obstacle I felt the pain in my shoulder blade, and breathing hurt my upper ribcage. Bruised or broken rib? How did I get myself into this situation?

Immediately I decided that I was done. It was obvious that stopping was the only option. My body wasn't working, my judgment was bad, and I didn't seem to be able to take any of that seriously. When I started the lap I knew I was off, so why didn't I slow down? Three laps, three crashes. Each one worse than the previous. I was racing. I refused to not race, even though it was obviously totally futile to do so. What was going on in my head?

"Green Lizard is where I crashed," I thought to myself as I entered the Tuffy Rim section. Immediately I saw some movement to the left of the trail, and there was a bright green collared lizard running for cover. Seemed like an omen--those lizards are not all that common.

I struggled my way back to the start/finish carefully, with a dialog going on in my head.

Anyone can have a bad day. Of course I know that, anyone who's spent any time riding bikes at a high level knows that. But what was it that made me so unwilling to be practical? I have so much to lose. Early season; getting a bad injury would be awful. And what if it had been worse than awful? What if I'd really hurt my head or spine? What could possibly be worth that?

Racing was taking me into a stupid place. Then I thought about all the fairly serious crashes I had last season when I wasn't even racing--wasn't even competing unofficially with another rider. Just riding along. I like to ride fast and I'm pretty good at it. But why push it? Why keep taking it to the edge? So much to lose...

I'm still thinking about these things. My body is sore as hell, so it's not hard to remember that I have something to think about. Every time I breath I feel a little discomfort, and riding is uncomfortable though possible.

When I got really serious about endurance riding and racing, I didn't kid myself about being a contender for the podium. Somewhere along the line that seems to have changed. I have a rich history of risking too much for the sake of going fast on a mountain bike. I'm thinking about all of it. Definitely thinking about taking "racing" back to the realm of personal experience and not putting anything into official results.

I'm even having thoughts about what kind of cycling I should do in general. Fifteen years ago I quit drinking because I realized that I couldn't control the level. I couldn't seem to figure out how to consistently keep it to just a few beers. Sometimes I would get plastered and wake up hungover the next morning, asking myself what had happened. So I cut it out of my life.

Is this happening to me with mountain biking? Should I just ride roads? I think I'll always be a cyclist--hell, I know I will. But should I stop riding singletrack? I don't want to damage my body or my brain. Can I figure out how to ride singletrack and technical terrain and stay safe?

I'm entered in the Cascade Cream Puff next month. It cost me a fair pile of coins to get into that race, and I've always wanted to do it. Can I go to the Cream Puff and ride it safe? What about all my other plans for events this year? It's all rattling around up there right now. I'm just going to let it rattle. We'll see what happens.


Gary B. said...

What a really, REALLY good post, Tom. Sorry you had a bad day. Just remember we all do. If it's any consolation I have these dialogs with myself all the time. Every time I've tried to be a 'serious' rider it seems to mess with the 'fun' factor. Follow your passion, as long as it really is your passion.

Anonymous said...

Ride your race brother! Don't let others speed, skills, stories, etc. dictate what you do. Unlike other competitive sports,you can't change what someone else is doing. Stay within yourself. That's the best part of endurance racing. It's a long day, so you can catch alot of riders just by being steady. Ride the CreamPuff!

Anonymous said...

I could do with a little bike of that picture right now

Unknown said...

don't give up now! mountain biking is too much fun - keep it that way. so did you break a rib? separate a shoulder or what?

Ed said...

Hey Tom - sorry you had a bad day but that ain't gonna keep you down. You'll be itching to hit the trails soon enough. Creampuff? - meh, only if you feel like it. You've done a ton of rides already this season and you have accomplished a LOT!

I love that top picture, beautiful.

See you soon -


Dave Harris said...

Tom...we have hit so many of the same walls. Are we twins separated at birth unbeknownst to us? ;)

I've been in your shoes and have big empathy for your situation.

First of all - although riding bikes does have the potential to be unhealthy, it takes an overly manic disposition to get there. Alcohol is the opposite, it's generally not that great for you. Bikes are a good addiction! There are worse addictions to be sure. Comparing with booze really doesn't work.

So what to do? Don't force anything, that's for sure. What works for me is to just relax and let the passion arrow land where it will. You sound a bit burned out to me. Keep the rides under 2 hours for 2 weeks, no racing, and that will set the stage for some resting and healing, allowing you to know what is next.

But for sure it's to be on 2 wheels ;)

JenyJo said...

tom you are a true inspiration -- always have been, and always will be.

i love this post. i loved the post you wrote about choosing to 'stop' one of your races last season. you have great insight, and a wonderful dialog -- and we're all lucky to get to hear your expressions of them.

can we, please .... chat more!?!? i STILL want to talk with you about koko and the dark.

and i agree w/ dh:LET THE PASSION ARROW LAND WHERE IT WILL. Do what you LOVE and the rest will follow.



Matt said...

Glad to hear you are all right amigo, but sorry to hear of the crashes. I dunno, but for me it comes in phases - like I have a loss of agility for a time period and stuff happens. Last year I barely hit the dirt - but this year I'm body surfing on it almost daily. Eventually I work my way out of it.

Hope to see you out on the trails soon.

Tom Purvis said...

Thanks everyone for the encouragement. I think it's like Matt said, we go through phases. I'm going to try to force myself out of this gravity victim phase. I put a new chain on the road bike and I'm starting to focus on being in shape for the Creampuff.

grannygear said...

Very insightful post. Perhaps a long, non-race ride when you recover. Just get out and wander the hills for a couple of days, ride, listen to the wind, etc.

When the joy returns, make a good decision about racing to win or not.