First of all thanks to all the members on my support crews the past 6 weeks and those others along that have helped in numerous many ways - Jason Lakey, Peter Clark, Don Bowie, James Nichols ( Extra special thanks here - James has now been involved in about 50% of my ultra cycling endeavors as is officially my Ultra Crew Chief), Shannon Robertson, John Stackfleth, Chris Hopkinson (Coach), Brent Obinger, Rich Meredick, Mike Britton, Gina Steinhoff. It takes a village! It's always surprising how many people get involved in these kind of efforts and there's no way most things could happen without them. Thank you- All and each of you and others not mentioned that loaned gear or worked with my bikes - Very much! You're efforts are indeed appreciated! Thanks so much!
Thanks also to some of my favorite companies that have encouraged and got behind some of my bike adventures lately : Diamondback Bikes, KTM Bike Industries, Wheelscience Race Wheels, Marc Pro EMS Recovery, PODsox Athletic Compression Socks, and my favorite local bike shop - Aerohead Cycles in Bishop, CA.
I don't feel like I'm any good at any of this. Although I am my toughest critic. It's perhaps why I'm so apt to head out on another big adventure, only while winding down to the finish line of another one does it feel truly satisfying. Ego is a bear and insists if an effort is not the best then it is not anything, although it's impossible for us to always perform our best.
It was one of my worst racing days. It was one of my best racing days. It was one of my first racing days in a long time!
I started as usual and tried to hold back while holding steady easy high cadence. Starting a race at 6pm was an odd start time experience perhaps, but it had gone well for the first 5 laps or so nice and steady.
I had been trying out a new fancy nutrition sports drink recently called Infinit. It seemed to be working. Marketed as one of the "everything in a bottle" all in one super drinks, I'd seen other friends do well on it during major races and after recently throwing up nauseated again on both the Badwater to Whitney sprints this last month I wanted to try something else besides GU products and gels.
Infinit seemed to be working well - sure went down pretty easily. Although I had to stop to pee frequently almost every lap and my pee burned! WTF? (James drank one bottle later and said his pee burned too - sympathy burning?) What kind of fancy chemicals are in this stuff?? Acid buffers, coq10, caffeine, whey protein?? It tasted carbonated almost, but felt like it ran right through me. One thing I didn't like so far is that they limited me to 294 calories an hour in one bottle based on an hourly calorie formula for double my lean body mass.
Here's some sexy marketing from the package:
"An isotonic solution is the most efficient way to deliver all you need with zero stomach distress. If there is too much "stuff" your drink will be too dense and your will treat it like food causing gastric distress, dehydration, and cramping. INFINIT's patented Osmo'fit system ensures your nutrition solution will work better than any generic powder. You can have the best ingredients in the world but if they are too highly concentrated, or the mix is wrong, you might as well be trying to compete while eating a cheeseburger."
Then I had a cold chilly lap. I felt like cold suddenly had snuck up on me. I feel cold hmm. I called James to ready up my regular favorite warm layers, pounded an ensure drink for + 350 calories (maybe that'll help?), and headed back out around. Damn it was still cold! The next lap I stopped and put on even more layers and winter gloves. I headed back out once more.. shoot this is the coldest lap yet! What's wrong?! I keep putting on more layers? Everyone else is wearing just arm warmers or nothing extra. I was shivering and all I could do is drink cold carb drinks and hum to myself in the dark for the 18 miles. It was now my 3rd cold lap...
I wrote to a friend, "I can't figure out why I'm so cold and everyone else seems fine in shorts and jersey. This lap sucks. I'm shiver humming around dreaming of getting a down jacket next go around. I'm getting lots of calories. It doesn't make sense. I shouldn't be this cold."
I didn't know what to do. Was I just tired? I tried to rest it off and sit in the heated truck a few minutes this time. Eat more?? More ensure! Finally I reemerged in full winter down puffy jacket and insulated tights, heavy gloves. Okay one more lap try again... This time my body was clearly pissed off. I'd thought getting all warmed up would have saved me, but my heart rate refused to elevate. Heart rate 83 and 20 watts, what?? What is 20 watts?!? Have I ever done this before? I was slowing down more.. I tried to stand up and push a little more out of the saddle. Nope, my heart rate was locked in at 83. With nothing else, but my bike computer to watch out there in the dark, I felt like the the eterna monitor watching ICU nurse back in the hospitals (my day job) watching my pacemaker patients hearts beating at exactly 60 beats per minute. I'd found my speed governor. Alright only one thing to do, finish the whole lap out again... I felt like I was crawling. I downed both my bottles of sports energy drinks, including the special extra higher caffeine one I'd asked for this time.
Something was really wrong. Was I just that tired? I really hadn't slept the night before either much, I was too amped up for this?? I headed back to the truck finally. I told James I should probably just sleep. I didn't know what was wrong. He made me hot Top Ramen soup on the Jetboil as I passed out in the front passenger seat blasting the heater and seat warmers.
"We didn't come here to give up. Think of all the other things we've done?! You didn't give up falling asleep on Tioga Pass at 2am in 27 degrees?! You can do this man!" "I know James, I didn't come here to quit, but that last lap felt pointless, I'm crawling around the course on my bike!" I decided to wait the couple hours till day light. If I was just too tired, maybe that would fix it or if it was the cold, the warm sun would. Maybe I just wasn't ready for this yet? I'd never been so slow before though all these crazy times? I think I did the 27% grade exhausted on Sonora Pass 200 miles deep at 10 PM faster than that lap and this is flat!! I'd never let myself down like this felt. Super stubborn power didn't seem to be working here this time.
Disappointed. I knew I was receiving a humble beat down and it was frustrating not really understanding why, but I didn't really want to quit either. I passed out there in the seat. The sun would be up soon.. At 6am the sun rose and folks stirred about as the 12 hour category racers prepared to start their day. I changed kit, but kept wearing the down jacket and winter gloves almost as a security blanket. I wasn't going to take it off too early that's for sure!
It was a little better. Still disappointed, but at least I had a moderate pace. I continued onward drinking Infinit bottles and steadily crawling around the track. Was I really going to do this like this for the last 12 hours of this event?? Who knows.
Another lap. Things started to get worse again. At least I finally had the down jacket off! I was lucky to generate 70 watts though. My heart rate didn't want to go above 100 and I couldn't pedal much harder if it didn't respond. I even figured out a little trick.. If I breathed in and out quickly and shallowly staccato through my mouth it would raise my heart rate up about 20 beats up and I could go a little bit faster!! What was I doing???
I finally pulled in to the pit area at the end of the lap and told James something was really wrong again. He said he was going to give me an ensure and 2 carbo drinks every single lap from here on out. I also took one of my pill sized bottles of Reese's pieces out on the course and started eating those too. Okay we are doing every thing we can!
I remembered after my last ultra DNF how I had felt and talking to my friend Joan Deitchman, how after going through a similar experience, she had decided one day to finish out every ultra no matter what happened till the time was up as best she could. I was going to keep going this time! At least I wasn't cold now. I texted my coach- I was sorry to disappoint him, but I was literally getting my ass handed to me out here- still moving, but basically crawling around the course. I'd stopped twice and tried to recover, eat more, but it hadn't helped much. I feel out of fuel. Damn maybe I'm not ready.
He replied, "Just keep plugging away and stay positive! You are not disappointing, just showing me where we need to improve. Just give 100% all the way and we will dissect at the end." Thanks Coach, alright!
I kept on chugging. This time rounding the back bend coming up to the town before the start, I dropped down to 20 watts again. I felt like those guys in the TV commercials slow motion running while Chariots of Fire is playing in the background, except this was my full speed. Pretty much everyone in every category racing got a chance to pass me here on this lap. I was going 4 - 6 miles an hour up this little hill now. I didn't feel sleepy, I just couldn't move! Other cyclists started to yell at me, "Come on man!! Pedal!" I shook my head nope. I was??? "Wake up man come on now!" WTF so frustrating ugh...
Maybe it's a bad sign when people who think it's normal to ride 24 hours on a bike start to worry about you. Some of these cyclists really started to worry about me calling up ahead to the race director, "This guy is swerving and hardly moving out here on the back bend." A race van came to check up on me. Are you okay?? Yes I'm fine, I'm just slow (I knew I was swerving, but I was way over on the shoulder & I felt totally awake sleepiness wise, it's just really frigging hard to drive a bike straight at 4-6 miles an hour!). I had absolutely no power. This was a new low. I didn't know it existed, but apparently it definitely does. It was like all my reserves had been depleted too.
When I got to the Pit the officials gathered and asked how I was doing? I told them "So so". I'm moving. They said I had to stop for an extended break now or they were pulling me out of the race.. Wow. I'd never heard that before yet, but I didn't have much choice. "I know. I got to stop." I'd really planned on stopping anyhow based on how terrible that lap went. I knew something was seriously wrong. I told James something is really wrong. The first 100 miles had taken 5 hours and the second 14? It's a flat double century. Why is this kicking my butt really so brutally? The weather is pretty nice too! Do I really suck so bad?
I was resigned to stop caring about the race. I sat down in a tent and took my shoes off. I slowly nibbled a turkey sandwich (not quite a cheeseburger! Thanks Alin Lupas!) and sipped down a Redbull while snoozing followed up by a Coca Cola. Race? What race. This definitely is not a race! I really just didn't care now. Maybe we should just quit? We'd gotten me warm, but I still was having terrible morning out there? Maybe it was this INFINIT stuff. I'd only used it on training rides prior to this big event (how else do you really put something to the test anyway?). James didn't think it was working at all.
He removed all the remaining Infinit drinks from the ice chest, packed it up, and got out my spare GU Products I'm all too intimately familiar with. Yes I know how to race on Roctane. I changed in to my favorite jersey and shorts. Maybe there's still time for 100 miles?
I approached the officials again. They looked at me like this was a police sobriety test I had to pass. "How are you doing?" I'm alright now. I feel better. I just want to do a few more laps; let's see how it goes? "Okay you look a person again and you are really talking, good luck!"
Alright back out there! Roctane routine on board, fuel up baby! Hey my heart rate, it's 120? Huh cool.. See how it goes hey! Before I knew it, my heart rate was up to 142 and I was spinning at my favorite 90+ cadence. What gives?? Nothing to lose! I was excited and enjoying just being actually riding somewhat normal again. I eased around the first half of the course. I felt good! It was like I was on magic jelly beans, this was not the same day! I started passing people. Finally nearing the stop sign bend, the famous rider (24 hr UMCA champion in 2nd place today), Marko Baloh pulled up on my side. I remember thinking clearly here after umpteen who knows how many times, "You don't get to pass me anymore Marko" And it was on... I'd found a way to race somehow even though my race was long past over. I could do this! I motioned to James to do quick transitions in the pit. Moving again man feeling good! I did a couple full loops with Marko (36 miles) always just behind me. Finally I never saw him again hey not bad! It was at least some little high point on such a lousy crushing day.
Finally pulling away on my own I continued to hammer it as best I could. I'd promised my coach to give my best effort the last 4 hours and at the 5 hour mark I'd finally found a spark of energy somewhere. Maybe I can get 300 miles? There really was nothing to lose now!
Relaxing a just a little. It was almost immediately I saw the signature yellow jersey of Christoph Strasser (world champ) come flying over my shoulder to my left once again. Ahh what the hell it worked on Marko!?! Let's chase him too! Most of the first half of my ride had consisted of me riding around lonely in the dark cold humming to myself and suddenly getting passed by this maniac (awesome athlete) zipping by me at 30 MPH out of almost seemingly nowhere then gone! James had dared me to try to respond for 1 minute to one of these passes today. I had to chase hard this time to close up the gap. Neither of us wanted to draft (against ultra rules) and I was annoyed as I got up closer he kept switching lanes from side to side across the road like he didn't want to let me just continue straight away. This guy was pretty strong, I'd done this half out of curiosity just to see what his pace really felt like, it was doable, but didn't feel sustainable like chasing Marko had earlier. I definitely wasn't about to one up his pace up off ahead a whole nother notch. One of his quads also probably equals up close to about both of mine combined on the scale! Was this really the same riding day of a few hours ago? Damn! ;)
Finally I pulled up next to him and rode side by side for a few minutes. We had a conversation for a while (easier for him!). He gave me that where did you come from and what are you doing look (or perhaps oh great.. another young punk to trying to chase me)!? I got the feeling I was allowed to ride side by side, but no one in the 24 hr category was really allowed to pass easily. We talked about how many miles we had done and both feeling sick today and I told him I'd had a really terrible morning. You really are strong indeed Christoph! I think it's so awesome what you are doing out here today! Good luck getting 900 kilometers!! When the conversation died off I let him roll on ahead. Wow!
This may indeed have been a terrible day of riding, but actually chasing down the world champ 270 miles deep on one the worst riding days I've ever had while he's in process of setting yet another world record is so bucket list and a silver lining for the ride. It gave me a little spark of hope, if I actually madly trained my butt off, maybe I really can pull up on a guy like that one day for real and the racing made this shitty day fun again!! Who knows if I'll ever get to line up at another race with him again.
I kept going. The officials looked at my one man crewman, James, asking, "What did you do to him?! What did you give him. He looks fresh!". I thought.. well kinda, I haven't really rode for real today so far ha! Honestly I felt like I was on some super drugs or something seemingly impossible in comparison after getting back to normal. I was downing a more typical 1.5 - 1 & 3/4 bottles an hour of Roctane + a handful of other favorite snacks which = 375 - 500 calories an hour. Maybe I just needed a lot more of the Infinit stuff? 294 calories really seems light duty + being cold hmm? I don't know. I got my ass kicked straight up now no denying. I'm not really sure what exactly went wrong though. I'm just now doing my best at getting back in to good shape. The cold was sneaky because most of the other riders were wearing just arm warmers or nothing and appeared fine while I was in a down puffy jacket. I would definitely be more cold conservative in hindsight.
Anyhow, you'd think I'd learn not to experiment on big rides, but I feel like in a way this whole ultracycling thing is always some sort of ongoing experiment/problem solving affair. There's always a next ride. It's hard to get it just right mostly and I was sick of always throwing up GU products charging up towards Mt Whitney. James and I have a few ideas for things to test here locally under 200 mile + conditions. We'll get this!
I finished out the last 4 hours strong as I could and managed 114 miles in the last 6 since I was pulled off the course just missing a last lap by a minute under the time limit for 308 miles on the course. It didn't feel like the same day at all and I wonder why I finally recovered so well? On the final short course few mile laps I was standing up out of the saddle and pushing 450 watts on the straightaways charging towards town. Not the same rider, not the same day really (20 watt loops????????)!? Gosh I love Ultra though and I miss it!!! I'm still going to be looking to have a good ride ahead at one of these events soon. That's my goal. The competition is fun, but at this point not much is truly really harder than beating myself. I want to do my best. Mentally it will be nice to space out the time distances more too. Training by doing lowest to highest blitzes on Badwater to Mt Whitney is certainly some good honest tough preparation, but more stressful on the head game. Physically 2 weeks feels like a fair enough recovery though in comparison to some of my past stunts.
All and all by a guy with only 50 hours on a bike under his belt this year before these last 6 weeks it has been a pretty successful go of it so far (that's 3 x 24 hour enduro events under my belt!).
Thanks for reading! To more ahead always!
PS a few more fun photos below!! We took James on his first experience rock climbing with my old roommates at a climbing gym in San Diego, checked out the surf, and made an obligatory stop at In-N-Out Burger of course! James took a couple nice finishing shots of Christoph Strasser too who went on to finish today for 550.2 miles! I perhaps should have paid more cautious heed to the omen of my fate's chosen race number as well : # 151 - Like Bacardi, possibly a one way ticket to the toilet, the hospital, or your deathbed.