Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The March Part 1

I did exactly what I was supposed to do. I went to bed early so that I could get a good night’s sleep. I was going to need it. After all, I was willingly marching to my doom the next morning and I would be needing my strength if this suicide mission was going to go as well as I hoped it would.

It had been only a few days since taking on the Davis 24 hr challenge and my legs were a bit uncertain of this plan to compete in the Julian Death March. I had no choice. I had a bone to pick with the Death March and I fully intended to make up for last year’s Death March Debacle by completing the course in a respectable time and not letting it tear me down nearly to the point of tears as it had done the year before.

Last year’s Death March was a learning experience to say the least. I made some poor tire, tube, and wheel choices which left me stranded in the desert, wondering if I would be the first literal casualty of the race. I wondered if they would be forced to change the name of the event, the same way that The Death Ride had to change it’s name to The Tour of the California Alps after an unfortunate rider really died during the event. What would they call the Julian Death March? They could definitely call it something to the effect of ‘One of the Most Challenging Days You Will Ever Spend on Your Mountain Bike Ride’, though this is not quite as romantic as The Death March I suppose.

In any case, I made it through the event last year alive but most definitely beat down and humbled by the way the day had unfolded. If you look back far enough through the blogs, you can find last year’s race report. It was a hell of a day on the bike. I swore after last year’s race that I would be back to take my revenge on the course which had beaten me so badly and I wasn’t going to let some unsure legs stop me from taking on the Death March once again.

Taking what I had learned from last year’s race, I felt confident in my choice to race my Scalpel with standard-ass 26 inch mtb tires and 100mm of desert rock-eating travel. Oh hell yeah.

I was still nervous the night before the race. I don’t know why. I more or less knew the course, I would be riding the proper equipment, and I was going to bed early enough to get a good night’s sleep. What did I have to worry about? Hell if I know. Maybe I was nervous about my legs and how they would feel the next morning. Maybe I was nervous because I really wanted to do well at The Death March because I felt as though I had something to prove and deep down I knew that realistically I would probably not be riding at my true best due to the previous weekend’s efforts. So what? Why can’t I just relax and consider the fact that not sleeping is certainly not going to help my chances at having a good day on the bike? Beats me.

It’s okay though, if I would have been able to drift away into dreamland that Friday night, I would have missed out on all of the high quality programming that was available at 1am. I awoke after a few hours of tossing and turning to the sounds of Rachel Ray whipping up a quick and healthy family meal in front of a live audience and I was in the car twenty minutes later. The thought of simply falling into my bed and sleeping until 11am crossed my mind, spun on it’s heel, sprinted back and tackled me from behind, then held me on the ground while it screamed in my ear to stay home and sleep. No. I had to show this race that I was not afraid. And I wasn’t afraid of the race, or of the course, or of the other competitors. I had made my peace with the fact that my expectations for the Death March needed to be realistic which had allowed me to finally relax into a restless slumber the night before. I was a little afraid of the weather.

I had missed the memo that most of San Diego County would be engulfed by a thick and gloomy fog that morning but I was determined to conquer this race, crappy weather or not. To my relief, just as I drove passed the 3,000 ft elevation mark, I escaped from the cold grip of the dense fog which was holding the rest of the county captive. It was like flying a plane up to an elevation above the clouds, up here it was a perfectly sunny and beautiful day, without a cloud in the sky and the sun was just peaking out from behind the rocky mountain peaks as I wound my way out to Julian through the hills. It was like I had left the world where I lived in order to race my bike in a completely different one.

Plenty of familiar faces at the start, including one of my favorites, John Solumito who had not gotten to compete at The Death March last year due to issues with his VW Van before the start. John was forced to sit out the race and wait for a tow truck to show up last year while the rest of us went out and punished ourselves. I expect that John was looking for a little redemption in this year’s Death March as well.

The Death March took place on the same weekend as the legendary Sea Otter Classic last year and this year it took place one weekend before. The date change certainly had an effect on the number of participants. I swear there must have been twice as many people at the start this year. Or at least it certainly seemed that way. Good, doing stupid things become slightly less stupid as more people do them with you. With an event name like The Death March, you need quite a few others out there with you not to look like a total nut case in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Packing my pockets and choosing clothing for the day proved slightly challenging. The sun was out, which meant it might get quite warm. It was freakin hot last year. The weather called for high temps in the 60s. The weather also called for overcast conditions all day, so it was safe to say that we could throw the weather forecast straight out the window. As I do not yet have a super computer smart phone doing all of my thinking for me and providing me with up to the second weather updates, I was on my own when it came to picking out what to wear. Figured I’d rather have too many clothes than not have enough. I rarely feel overdressed, but if I had a nickel for every time I have wished I had another layer... Well, I’d have quite a few nickels.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Let's go for a long ride on Easter... Really long, oh and early

There are certain advantages to starting a 24 hour race at six-thirty in the morning, namely the fact that after pushing yourself through all sorts of hell during the coldest, darkest hours of the night in search of the first hints of daylight your task is complete. Normally, sunrise brings a sense of joy and relief to a pair of tired legs which is hard to put into words. Then, as quickly as the feeling of joy comes over you with the first glimpse of the sun on the horizon, it is stripped away as the realization that you are still six hours from the completion of your race brings your world crashing down….

There are certain disadvantages to starting a 24 hour race at the god-forsaken hour of six-thirty a.m. as well. Unlike most 24 hour mountain bike races, which start at the completely sensible and down right friendly hour of twelve noon, The Davis 24 Challenge is a road race which starts at; you guessed it, the highly offensive and completely uncalled for hour of six-thirty in the freakin morning.

Sleep is hard to come by the nights before these first few races of the season and with a 3:30 am wake up call on the morning of the event, I knew that I was more or less completely screwed in the sleep department. I finally relaxed enough to hit the sack at about 11pm but I don’t think I slept a wink that evening and I was nothing short of grumpy as we drove to the race start on Saturday morning.

We (myself and Mike Wilson, endurance race super-stud) were some of the first racers to arrive and I was beginning to wonder if the horrendous weather the day before in combination with it being Easter weekend was going to keep people away from the event after all. I decided to pass out in the front seat of the car while we waited for the other participants and the race organizers to show up. It wasn’t long before it was 6am, the parking lot was full of racers, the race start only half an hour away and my sorry butt was still snoozing away in the car.

Mike woke me and I reluctantly crawled out of the front seat to get my stuff together in a hurry. It’s a bit odd that I do so well in events which require sleep deprivation as it’s quite obvious that I can barely function without sleep under normal circumstances. I managed to get all of my clothing on and get my bike off the roof of the car about a minute and a half before my start time. Before I knew it, and certainly before I felt ready, I was turning the cranks into the first few hundred feet of the next 24 hours of my life.

Another drastic difference between this race and a dirt 24 was the fact that a 50 yard gap had to be maintained between all racers at all times throughout the entire race. This meant that there was no mass start, each racer was sent off in fifteen second increments starting at 6:30. Thank God I didn’t start until 6:37, because I was still five minutes from being ready to start at 6:30. Mike and I had no crew vehicle to take care of us out on the road and it was a bit daunting to know that it would just be me and my bike for the next day of my life.

The race was set up like this: First, we set out on a 160ish mile loop on open roads out through the foothills and eventually up Cobb mountain and straight past(literally) the Boggs 8 hr mountain bike race which was my other race option for this weekend, then out to Hwy 20 and eventually back down to Winters. When the first loop was completed, we set out on an 18.4 mile pancake-flat loop and continued to ride this loop for the remainder of the 24 hours. The first part of the race was uncharted race territory for me. Not only was I unfamiliar with the route, but not having a lap style race to judge my efforts with and to keep the nutrition coming in at regular intervals was definitely a little trickier than what I’m accustomed to.

Things went well on the day loop for the most part. I like climbing, so I was enjoying the ride through the hills. I knew that the night loop was going to be brutally flat so I was taking every opportunity to stand up and shake out the legs and the rest of my body because I had 15 hours of the exact same position to look forward to after finishing this portion of the race. In my hurry to get myself put together that morning, I had forgotten to put the seat bag on my bike, so I was riding without a spare tube or the tools necessary to fix a flat. I hadn’t been too concerned for most of the ride because the crew vehicles of some of the other racers had been leap frogging around me out on the road and I figured that they might be able to help me out if I really needed the assistance. Didn’t pan out exactly how I’d hoped.

I hadn’t seen another rider or a crew vehicle in a couple of hours and when my rear tire flatted I knew I that I had seriously blown it in more ways than one. Never stop, always move forward, even if it means riding super slowly on your rim. I thought I was much closer to Winters than I actually was but I was making slow and steady progress. Then the shoulder of the road got all off-camber on me and riding in a straight line became nearly impossible.

I had a one man pit crew coming out to Winters to take care of Mike and myself through the night laps and I busted out the cell phone to see if he might have made it to the start finish yet. I figured he could back track the course and bring me a tube because I wasn’t getting anywhere now. Just then, a familiar white minivan came cruising up the road and I flailed my arms about wildly hoping that he might realize that I was up shit creek without a paddle. I hung up on my pit guy Matt (sorry dude) and the gentleman in the minivan pulled off the road and jumped out to save my day.

I made it back to Winters, touched base with Matt and set out on the first of many flat, windy, and lonely laps through the farm lands surrounding Winters. The laps were good and bad. I was looking forward to the laps because the format was more familiar to me but holy crap, these were some of the most mentally challenging laps I’ve done in any race. No change in position on the bike, no rest for the legs, just 18 miles of spinning the cranks over endlessly flat roads.

The other major advantage to doing laps was that water and nutrition intake was much easier to keep under control. I know that I was a bit behind on nutrition and fluids when I made it to Winters that afternoon, but by sun down I was back on track, drinking and eating the same things each and every lap throughout the rest of the race. Well, until about 3a.m. anyway, when I could simply not swallow another Nature Valley Granola bar if my life depended on it. Luckily, Matt was able to find some Oreos and some Hammer Gel and I was able to keep the carbs coming in over the last few early morning miles of the race. With my new mix bumping on my ipod, I was rocking through the early morning all hopped up on sugar and Bon Jovi; certainly the most interesting Easter that I have ever had.

I had been running second for much of the race behind someone who we have come to know as “TT Boy” and strangely, although the gap was only a few minutes between us at points during the night, I had little interest in catching “TT Boy” or in winning the race… I have said before that I am about the least competitive competitor that you’ll ever encounter and I’m not kidding when I say it. No, I was having a good race and all I really wanted to do was to qualify for RAAM, and on Easter Sunday, that was enough for me. Instead of killing myself to catch the leader and making the whole weekend about winning or losing, I just rode my own race and great time seeing just how far I could go. It may not have been quite as far as what I was hoping to have done, but 420 miles is a pretty decent little distant to cover in a day I suppose. And, more importantly, it was enough to qualify me for RAAM which was the original goal. All’s well that ends well.