|Podium. All Photos by Fred Jordan unless specified|
But it doesn't. The sore back, triceps, every inch of my legs, stomach ache, head ache, blisters, burnt hands, sun burn, dehydration, blood shot eyes, bloody nose, scraped arms, bent rear wheel, broken chain, bent derailleur, broken saddle bag, broken bottle cage and creaking bottom bracket sum it up.
Now, here's the details.
I've been suffering from a sudden onset of achilles tendonitis, my first bout of it. It probably comes from my trip to Fire Island National Seashore with my good friend Robin, where we were forced to hike for miles on loose sand carrying 75 pound packs and dragging a 100 pound cart filled with water, fishing equipment, and camping equipment. I also ran an 8 miler last week after running several consecutive preceding days. Not much, but probably more than average for me this year.
Either way, whatever the cause, my racing this weekend was up in the air. I really wanted to do the race, for many reasons. It's a local legend already, it sounded like a blast, and it was something different- something I may not be able to do in other places and in the future (for another list of reasons). So this had to be the year.
After much consultation with team mate Derek, I've been doing lots of icing, high doses of IB profen, lots of massages from my wonderful wife, and- my new favorites (not)- lots of eccentric heel drops.
By Friday, after doing almost nothing all week, it seemed to be working. So, after urging from my wife (and more massages- best wife ever) and Derek (thanks Derek I owe you!) I decided to race.
The night before I was nervous. I've never had to pack drop bags before; I've never had to plan to carry enough food for 6 hours. Yeah, I've done 1/2 Ironman triathlons (poorly) but in those it's very different.
What food do I carry? I decided I'd carry 1000 calories (1/2 in Honey Stinger gels), and pack 1000 (again, 1/2 gels) in the late drop bags (mile 40ish and 60ish) and put 400 in the early bag (mile 20ish). I also (luckily, as you will soon find out) put an extra camelbak podium bottle filled with electrolyte drink (150 calories) in each bag. In the later two bags I also included 10 salt tabs, each a pack of caffeinated chewing gum, and in the last bag a ginger ale. I knew I was way overdoing it, but I wanted to be prepared, and be able to help if a team mate needed it.
How many tubes do I pack? 2? 6? 10? I had no idea. I decided on 2 in my saddle bag, and 1 at each aid station (I only had 3 CX tubes so 3 of them were 23cc tubs...oh well). I carried a big, heavy tool with a chain cutter on it. 6 tubes also meant packing 6 CO2 cartridges- carrying 2 at all times. And a small hand pump. And packing an extra tool (just in case), some chain pins, and an extra CO2 inflator (in case I lost the other one I was carrying) in the drop bags. I finally put 2 levers and a patch kit in my bag (thanks Pathfinder), and was all set.
Now, my ride has only recently been built. And when I mean recently, I mean, last Tuesday! I only had 1.5 hours on the groupset- it was brand new. I decided to go with Sram Rival with their new WiFli technology of running a big rear derailleur able to handle a 32t cassette and a compact (36t/46t front) crank. This gave me great climbing capacity; essential for a beginner (me) in 'cross. I knew this wasn't the best idea, but the new bike was nearly 5 pounds lighter than the old, and my trusty old CX bike is getting to the point of complete overhaul. I decided to risk it. I almost had no choice really. I think the old bike will be a single speed by the end of the year.
So again, the night before I'm still adjusting it, and tweaking the shifting and such. Everything seem solid and I took it out and banged it around to knock everything loose (thanks Chris F for the suggestion) again. After tightening it all up again, I was confident it was all set.
I didn't sleep super well the night before; I was mostly worried about my ankles. Had I known what I was in for, I would have slept a lot worse. I may not have slept at all.
Talked with my CX friend Jeff C, and team mates Mike, Jeff, Shawn and Jonathon for a while, and tried to stay calm. My bike looked fast; my ankles felt ok; and I had a great team to race with. I was starting to feel it.
About 10am we set off, unceremoniously.
The start is supposed to be neutral, as you roll down this big hill to a stop sign. But it was NOT neutral; I heard some one exclaim "wow, neutral roll out- I'm pushing 250 watts!" which made me feel better because I felt like I was working fairly hard- and we were only 1/3 of a mile into the 75 mile adventure!
The first 5 miles were hectic. Lots of cutting around riders who were already way over their heads; lots of flats (at least 7-8 in the first 5 miles- luckily none by myself); and lots of near misses and crashes (I was in the back 1/3 of the pack). It was pretty rough, and the gravel was flying!
As the miles continued on, I could tell I was working pretty hard. Probably too hard. I started gaining on my team mate Nicole, and I started to worry. I saw her time from last year, and I knew I was probably pushing a little hard. I said "Hi" to her, and she seemed to be working hard as well. But she also told me she always takes it easy in the beginning- and that made me nervous again. She's a monster, and when it comes to a 75 mile race, I had no doubt she'd beat me- and that I was probably going a bit too hard.
Around this time, I had a near miss with another rider who went barreling into the bushes on the side of an ATV trail. When I went around him, and glanced back to see if he had survived, I noticed that one of my bottles had ejected out of the cage! I was down to only 1 bottle by mile 5. I wasn't panicking; the aid station was in about 15 miles and I had only taken a few sips so far.
I worked my way through the field of guys in front of me as we entered into some dark, narrow ATV trails. I watched a guy ride off the side of the cliff like hill to the left, another endo through a giant puddle, and another slam into some bushes. It was awesome. I was yelling and laughing a lot- especially when we got the stream crossing and they were all walking! Come on! I rode across yelling "O-LE O-LE!". I was having a blast!
The miles continued on, and I rode with Nicole again for some time. Then we hit the first stretch of pavement and we (Nicole, myself, and like 6 other guys) really threw the hammer down- I was at road race effort. I felt fine though. I kept thinking: I just have to stay with this group- bunch of strong guys and Nicole that I can work with (instead of solo'ing).
Miles trickled by, and we did a pretty hard climb, followed by a very nasty downhill- and already my hands were so tired that I was having to alternate between front and rear brake. And I was getting nasty blisters.
At the bottom of the tough downhill I had actually gotten away from some of the guys I had been riding with. I then got on the pavement and was riding along chatting with another rider, and 'PPPPSSSSHHHHHHHH". Flat!
My rear tire flatted, and I pulled off to fix it. I tried to stay calm; I was having a good race, and by this point there was only a couple miles (I thought) to the aid station. And I knew, flatting was almost inevitable. Especially since I was running my really fast, but low volume 32cc Kenda Small Block 8 tires (not next year, but I'll get to that).
I flipped the bike up and over, got the wheel off, the tube out of my saddle bag, and the levers. I then worked on getting the tire off. The wheels I was running are so incredibly hard to get tires on and off of. The sweat was just RUNNING down my face, and the sunscreen was hurting my eyes incredibly. I saw Nicole roll by, and then all the guys I had been riding with. Damn.
I continued to work on it, frustrated; I saw a bunch of guys I had hoped I would never see just roll on by, and then finally team mate Jeff rolled up just as I had got the tube back into the wheel. He stopped (thanks again Jeff) to help, but I was pretty much done. I tried to get him to keep going, but he wouldn't. He helped me a bit, as I couldn't see a damn thing with the sunscreen burning my eyes (which it normally does NOT!), and I finally got back on the road. A full 6 minutes later. Ugh.
Jeff pulled me the very short distance to the aid station. I ditched my bike and ran to the drop bags. I grabbed out the extra CO2 cartridge I had packed, and put more pressure in my rear tire. I stuck what remained in my pocket, an extra tube, and two more gels. I drank a solo cup full of water (slammed it). I also grabbed the extra bottle I had there (yes! electrolytes!), filled up my other empty bottle with water, and ate 2 fig newtons. Got some help from awesome volunteers (Thanks Gina), and was back on the road probably in less than 2 minutes later.
As I pulled away, I yelled farewell to Jeff, and thought to myself "I need to make up some ground". So I charged off.
However, I wasn't ready for the giant climb that comes RIGHT after the aid station. I felt like I had just ate a turkey dinner. My stomach was sloshing around and I felt lethargic. It was an aweful feeling!
|Part of the course. Credit: Cyclingdirt.com|
The climb continued on for what felt like miles, and then there was a pretty brutal downhill with lots of rubble and rock. Again, my hands were tired already, and I couldn't go 100% on the downhill because I couldn't get on the brakes 100%- and here I was, only 25 miles into a 75 mile race!
I got to the bottom, and realized, with horror, I had lost my bottle again! And it was the one with electrolyte drink in it! Now I was in trouble, and I knew it. I just tried to push it out of my mind, and I deliberately slowed my pace, just slightly. I accepted that my day wasn't going perfectly, and I just kept spinning the pedals.
Not long after, my saddle bag opened on a flat section of dirt/gravel road and all my stuff fell out. I had to drop my bike on the side of the road and run back to get it all. Glad no one was around to see that.
I continued onto some more pavement, and I tried my best not to hammer too hard. I chatted a bit with a couple people. But I would always just slip away from them eventually. I was still feeling strong, in fact I was almost feeling good. If I could survive without the electrolytes, I was going to do pretty well...I was on track now for about a 5:15 finish (based on pure estimation of my current pace and distance left).
Once we turned left onto another dirt "road" (trail), after the bridge outside the Mason Dixon park, things began to change. I was getting thirsty. And I had a long long ways to go until the aid station at mile ~40.
And the way was rough. My hands were pretty blistered now, and my garmin on the wrist band (I couldn't use the bike mount because it would fall off due to vibration- so I electrical taped and super glued it to the band and put it on my wrist) was giving me a horrible burn. I have a big scab now where it just rubbed the skin completely away. And after another 1/2 hour or so, I also was getting fatigued. I had probably had about 3 gels by now, and a Honey Stinger waffle, along with the fig newtons and a small amount of calorie/electrolyte drink- so its not like I wasn't eating. But I probably could have used another gel at this point. Lesson learned (probably not).
I spun along, trying to keep focus, and finally reached the section before the really infamous hills. I don't know the name, but if you've done the race, you know. As I got closer I took a gel. And I rounded the bend, and could see the climb, and it was just a steady stream of guys walking up it. I was feeling like crap, but no way I was walking. So glad I had my 32t cassette on the back at this point. I just hunkered down, focused on the ground 6 feet in front of me, and periodically called "on your left" whenever I saw legs. I must have passed 10 guys there. One refused to get over (he was walking, I'm riding) and I hit him with my bars- sorry, but you're walking you can get out of the trail, I'm trying to stay upright on this gravel 20% grade section!
At the top I whizzed by the "unofficial" aid station with the keg, and chuckled- people were having a grand time there. It doesn't take much to get wasted when it's 84 degrees, you're 10% body fat, and you've already raced 30+ miles! What a crazy race!
I buzzed down the hill on the other side; it's long, and brutal, but I had rode it before, so I knew what to do. I actually got a little air off a rock lip, and I started laughing maniacally. What a ridiculous thing to be doing in drop bars!
And then we were back on the pavement again. And it felt hot. And I was seriously thirsty, and out of water. But I was around 35 miles I think (things are blending together) and figured I only had a few miles to go to the next aid station.
But within only another 2 miles I started to really really go downhill. I started to cramp, and my energy level plummeted. I was seriously hurting. I should have ate something again, but I didn't- I couldn't. I felt nauseous. I thought the aid station was at mile 38. Just keep going.
But then mile 39 came and went...and mile 40...41...42...I was in agony. Just get me there!
Around 43 miles (I didn't listen to the pre-race meeting closely enough LESSON LEARNED) I finally saw the orange cones at the end of a fairly long up hill. PRAISE [insert your higher power here]!
I pulled in and swung my leg over my top tube as a young guy came over to me and asked if I wanted him to fill my bottles. As I dismounted, I cramped, BAD- hamstrings and calves just locked! I nearly fell down. Using my bike for support (the volunteer was holding onto it as well) I stretched my hamstrings. I started to feel dizzy, so I just closed my eyes and stood there, hanging in front of my bike, balancing, stretching my hamstrings.
He asked me again- "sir do you want some water?" and I realized I had never responded!
So he helped me fill my bottle, and I asked if there was any electrolyte drink. He said HEED. Well, it's not the worst I guess. It has salt at least. I grabbed my drop bag, ditched the 2 tubes I was carrying (I figured 2 was enough at this stage, why was I carrying 4???), a couple CO2's, and replaced them with a couple more gels, some salt tabs, and another waffle. I also grabbed my bottle out of the bag and hammered half of the electrolyte drink that was in it. Sweet relief! I could feel my mood turning again already. I had the volunteer fill it the rest of the way with water, got a scoop of heed in eat bottle (I would have liked 3 in each, but felt greedy to ask) and headed on my way. Probably 3 minutes at the station.
Oh yeah, I had a couple vanilla wafer cookies too.
|Part of the course. Credit: Cyclingdirt.com|
Again, as I left the aid station, it was immediately clear I had taken in a bit too much. I was sloshing and felt awful! I started to cramp in the hamstrings again. I was climbing again, steadily, but for a long time, and I decided to just give in and put it in the 32t gear again and spin. Remember, I'm only at mile 43 of 75. I've got a long ways to go!
I was passed by a young lady here, just absolutely GRINDING her way up. I shook my head. If you are reading this, and you're not a cat 1 or 2 cyclist, know this: you can't do this race, and you can't do your best in any cross race, using a 25-26t cassette and a 36t front chainring. You need more gears than that. Period. I may not have the most experience ever, but That is my opinion, as I see it all the time- back of the pack Cat 4 CX racers just mashing the gears because they can't spin; it just ruins your legs and makes you so inefficient. Yeah, that girl was passing me, she was a monster, but imagine what she could do if she could SPIN rather than have to MASH for 75 miles...? ~end rant~
Get to the top of the climb, and it heads down again. I can't remember a lot of this middle part, but it was rough with a lot of fun down hill. I passed the girl at some point in there and didn't see her again until mile 68ish.
My hands and arms were DEAD now. I continued to eat, and I took in 5 salt tabs. And I got smart. My bottle was in my back pocket, not in the crappy bottle cage. So I didn't lose another bottle the rest of the ride.
I honestly can't remember now when it was I passed Carly (my wife) at a corner, standing with teammates Derek and Anne as they course marshaled. I think it was after the aid station. But either way I stopped and told them I had flatted, lost my bottles, the contents of my saddle bag, etc. I gave Carly a quick kiss and kept going. I was smiling still!
In the next 10 more miles after the aid station, I started to feel crappy again. I took some more salt, some more calories, and I started to have these strange swings in both physical and mental capacity. At first I thought it was because of calories...but now I'm not so sure exactly what it was. It didn't ebb and flow with my intake of gels, it was more random. Very strange.
At this point I started riding with a guy name Ron from Fat Head cycling. We kept yo-yoing back and forth. He'd drop me on rolling terrain, I'd catch him on the down or up. Eventually we started working together after a long pavement climb. And then he dropped me again as we went by the big fort martin power plant, but I caught him again before we went off road.
We rode together, side by side, for miles. Not really saying much; not because he wasn't friendly, but because we were both dying.
|Awaiting the Winners|
FINALLY we came up a knoll, then down a bit and around a corner and there was the final aid station. Mile 60. 15 to go. Just 15 miles!
I pulled up and an ANGEL of a lady filled both my bottle with ice water and HEED again. I grabbed the ginger ale I had packed in my drop bag, and shook it. Once flat, I slammed it. Nothing has ever tasted so good. Ever. I got rid of my other spare tube; I figured 1 was enough from here, as I knew the majority of the rest of the course. I swapped the remaining bar and waffle I had for another couple gels, some chews, and grabbed more salt tabs. I took 3 standing there. I drank 1/2 my bottle again, shoved it in my crappy bottle cage (I now had 3 bottles) and took off. I knew I had to keep moving. I spent the least amount of time at this station of any of them.
I yelled to Ron as I passed, chewing on a Honey Stinger bar. I knew he'd catch up to me, but I felt some camaraderie with him after riding for 20 or so miles side by side, or working together.
I took off, and I just kept thinking: 15 miles. That's it. And the worst is behind you!
Here I caught up to cyclocross/facebook friend Jason. I asked him about what remained.
What he told me made my heart sink. I guess I didn't know the course at all.
He said we had a couple of brutal climbs left, and that one was especially notoriously steep. I felt like I could cry!
There were a couple of nasty, narrow, pavement climbs leading up to some off road sections. Ron caught up to me here, as Jason pulled away.
I tried to keep up, but he got a bit ahead of me going into the famous smokey drain "road" (it's an ATV trail), and I just plowed along. On this trail was the only place I got tripped up and had to stop and remount my bike. I was sick feeling, and I never got any bump from the calories I had eaten at the aid station. I just wanted it to be over!
The downhill on the other side of smokey drain was horrible, my hands were so blistered from ill fitting gloves (road glove fit
I forget what happened next until the wicked, almost comical, paved climb about 6 (?) miles from the finish. There were lots of volunteers there to cheer us on, which was good, but really what got me to the top was I had caught Jason and Ron again. And I was laughing to myself because of how absurd the climb was, so far along on the course of such a ridiculous race.
As the last 3 miles approached, I was extremely sick to my stomach. I had drank nothing since mile 68, and I had had nothing to eat since mile 66. Stupid! I took a gel at this point again, but it just made my stomach worse. I hunched over and tried to just hammer away, the faster you can get this over the better. Get it done!
The last 2 miles are all up hill. You climb up gradually, then turn into the fairgrounds/park area and go down just a little, and then there is a solid 1/3-1/2 mile climb that is steep at the bottom and eventually levels to the finish.
I was right on Rons heels now, and we had just passed two more riders. He opened a gap going into the park but I was intent on chasing him down on the climb. I could hear Carly screaming from way up on the ridge.
Ron looked over his shoulder, and I saw him click down a couple gears. I stood up and went to respond...
...and I don't know what happened exactly. But my chain went UP instead of DOWN and jumped over the cassette, and between the wheel and freebody. It jammed so hard and violently I was thrown forward as my wheel locked up. I unclipped just in time to catch myself.
Now I was totally screwed. I tried to pull the chain out, but I was shaking so bad I could barely use my hands! I didn't realize until then just how depleted I had become.
I cranked on the chain, bike in an awkward position resting the hoods on the pavement with the rear wheel straight up. Nothing. It was wrapped about 70% of the way around between the wheel and cassette.
I just started swearing, and looking down the hill I could see all the riders that were now coming to pass me. 1...2...5...7...finally a really nice guy took pity on me and stopped to help. I told him repeatedly to not ruin his race, that he could keep going. He ignored me.
Together (mostly him) we got the rear cable out of the cantilever brake, the wheel off, and then attempted to get the chain out together. We pulled and pulled, but nothing.
Then, Jason came riding up, and said "You're a triathlete, just run it!" as he passed me. That was it, I couldn't stand here anymore.
So I did exactly that.
I told the guy helping thank you so much, I owed him. I ditched my water bottles (barely anything in them), hoisted my bike onto my shoulder, and took off RUNNING.
I was so, so angry. The sweat was running off me, and I could hear Carly yelling. She kept asking me what was wrong- but I couldn't answer. Eventually I had to yell to her "I....CAN'T....TALK...."
No one passed me as I was running. All those guys I had worked to catch and pass, they were all gone, and I seemed to be in a lull. I had to stop and walk once, I was so so tired. But I was so mad, I somehow just kept shuffling along.
Eventually I finished, people clapping for me and cheering.
I don't remember much of the finish. Someone said something to me about my bike, and team mate Brian (volunteering) asked me what was wrong, and I just threw my bike on the ground (literally), and walked off cursing like a sailor. Probably not the best way to act; but I was bonking, and hurting so bad. And my achilles tendonitis was back from running that little distance, despite not having any trouble the whole day. Ugh.
After much swearing, throwing of my glasses (which the lenses flew off, but Carly found), and marching around, I made my way to our team tent. I sat down, and was practically in tears from low blood sugar, pain, and frustration. I felt like such a loser!
I saw Jeff's cooler sitting there and helped myself to a Coke. Ah! Sweet, sweet relief. I felt like a new person sitting in the shade, by myself, drinking the Coke.
Finally Carly came over. I told her: NEVER AGAIN, and recounted what had happened in the last 1/2 mile.
After some time just sitting, and drinking, I got some post race pizza, picked up my bike, apologized to Brian for being an a$$, and went back to the tent to chill out. I checked over my bike, and the rear wheel was pretty bent, the handlebars crooked (interesting), the derailleur cage was bent, and there were a lot more scratches to be found on the bike now. It didn't look new anymore!
Carly told me that team mates Nicole (5:33) and James (5:32) hadn't finished too far in front of me- that was good and bad. Good because they're both strong riders, and neither had any mechanicals (I believe), so to be near them (really I wasn't my finish time was 5:45) made me feel good. Bad, because if I hadn't had mechanicals, I could have been riding with my teammates instead of being solo (or riding with Ron) for so so long!
In fact, afterwards I learned that Ron had finished in 5:38- my chain jam had cost me 7 minutes alone!
We hung out and waited for the rest of the team to finish, and I changed and ate some more food, despite a nauseous feeling the whole time.
After much waiting for drop bags, I got one of mine and asked team mate Shawn to grab my other when it came back. He agreed. Thank Shawn. And we left.
|Part of the course. Credit: Cyclingdirt.com|
Sunday, the day after, I got to reflect on what I had done and what I had learned. Here's the list.
1) I do well on the technical aspects of CX racing, and this is a strength of mine as I learned during the Hilly Billy.
2) I cannot let myself get so deep into dept on the electrolytes, so next year, either back up bottle in my back pocket, or I wear a Camelbak. No other options here.
3) I am starting to be an ok climber! I'm not good by any means, but ok! I out climbed a fair number of people that were with me on the flats and down hills! Amazing!
4) 32cc tires are not worth it. I see Kenda has the Happy Medium in 40cc...that may be the ticket. I will race with 35cc or bigger next year; probably bigger. The top 3 guys were all on Mountain bikes- what does that tell you?
5) Better gloves, tighter fitting.
6) Maybe more gummie/chew type nutrition, as bars don't work, and Gels eventually get unapplealing over that long. In longer triathlons, I have no choice on the run so Gels are it, but in this race gummies may be a good option.
7) My current volume of training is nearly sufficient to race 75 miles. I really didn't feel my legs or cardiovascular system were limiting me until the last 10-15 miles. My problem before this was electrolytes and nutrition.
8) This race also reinforced the notion for me that CX is probably the most fun form of racing I've ever done, and I love it so much. I'm glad it's season doesn't really overlap with triathlon...because I'm starting to wonder what I would choose. CX just makes me smile so much more than any other sport (and grimace as well)!
So, with that, I will end. 74.52 miles is what my Garmin said, 8500ft of climbing (which is higher than others I've seen I will admit, but it was more than 7200-7500 I'm sure).
It's been 4 days, and I'm not just barely over the soreness. The blisters are nearly gone, the cuts and scabs are healing, and my ankles are feeling much better after 1/2 a week of icing, massage, and stretching. My bike is fixed and clean again, and my kit is all washed up.
Yesterday, on a recovery spin with Carly, I heard myself utter words I thought I'd never hear. I heard them, having no real sense of where they had come from. They formed in some deep part of my reptlian brain, hidden and out of reach to me, but at the essence of who I really am. This place, where logic plays no role, but our true self is formed, sneaked past my logical scientific brain, and I heard myself say-
"I think I'll do that again next year"
Results for all classes
All photos by Fred Jordan
Media Coverage Cyclingdirt
|Yeah, they had a bunch of bacon to eat. Hilarious|