So I have completed my first 12hr race. I actually struggle with saying I "completed it". I didn't meet my goal of 12 laps, and I quit when I still could have done at least one more lap.
The week before this race was horrible. I couldn't have had more stress from more angles. Work, wife, life... you name it. Allison had overtrained and was in beesh mode through Tuesday. Work was really hectic all week with a bunch of stress from a project and I was on my feet more than usual machining parts and running around. On top of that preparation was hard because I needed to get the bikes ready, but we rode them Thursday night leaving only Friday night for prep. I put a lot of pressure on myself to have the bikes in perfect shape for races.
Friday evening after work we checked in and set up our EZ Up and table. I went to work on the bikes and Allison did the majority of the packing. We got to bed around maybe 10:30pm.
Saturday morning we were up before the sun, eating and packing the truck. We arrived at Vail sometime around 7am. I was really stoked that more than one person helped us schlep our stuff from the parking lot to our canopy. It was a long walk and we had a hard day ahead of us. After carrying all the crap I was already tired! Once we got everything set up I did small prep tasks and waited to get my kit on till the last possible moment.
When we rode over to line up I decided I didn't want to be at the back of the pack. I slid forward in the crowd, then spotted Luke and slid farther forward. :) Luckily no one got pissy with me for crowding in. Then the race started, I hit the start button on my Garmin and tried to stay calm. Luke was going fast so I tried to hold onto him. All of lap one went something like this. I kept telling myself that I was going too hard, but then either someone was right in front of me and I would feel compelled to draft or pass, or someone would be right behind me and I would want to hold position. I got to ride with Mary for a little bit which was cool. Every time I looked ahead a ways I would see Luke and think that it was cool that I was holding steady relative to him.
I also noted that there was a guy in my class with giant Pearl Izumi letters on his back. He was climbing strong, but I would pull away on the descents. For the first three laps we would swap positions at least 4 times. I hope he did well in the race, I am sure if he held that pace he was on the podium.
The first three laps went by really fast. Every time I would pull into the pits Luke was just pulling out. Things were going well for me.
Lap 4 things took a bad turn.
I was going strong and really enjoying the descents and passing lots of other riders on the DH sections. Then on the Ridgeline descent I pinch flatted the rear tire. I thought, "shit... no I can take care of this and get going quick. not a major problem."
I replace the tube and start inflating with my one and only CO2 that I had with me. I had used probably half of the CO2 when I discovered that the tire had popped off the bead on the other side (the one I wasn't paying attention to) and the tube was in danger of going pop. I quickly deflated the tube (only carried one per lap) and re-seated the bead. I emptied the rest of my only CO2 into the tire to find that I had maybe 20psi in the tire.
There was no way I could finish this lap without flatting again with that little pressure. Now things were bad. I started asking people passing me for a CO2. Most didn't stop. When Jens came along he stopped and offered his CO2, but it didn't fit my inflator! Sorry for holding you up Jens, but thanks bro. The next rider along was a girl I had met in the shuttle line at Fontana. She stopped too and offered a CO2, again it didn't fit. I was getting desperate though and this stop was nearing 10 minutes so I asked to use her inflator. She gave it to me and I was unfamiliar with the way it worked. I was trying to get it to work and nothing, nothing... The CO2 that was in it had been spent! So she gave me her other cartridge and I loaded it and filled my tire. I didn't get her name but want to thank her and tell her that I owe her big time!!!!!
Back on track. I finished the descent and caught the girl near the bottom. I rode with her for a while and we chatted. She was the only girl on a 4 man team so I joked that I would look out for the 3 angry guys that wanted to beat me up for slowing down their team mate. :)
I was kind of pissed that I had lost so much time with a flat. I decided that if I worked hard I could maybe get back to where I should be. I kept thinking of getting to the "pointy end of the race". I thought of the race as a spear and I wanted to be closer to the front than the back.
I almost left the pits without a new tube and TWO CO2 cartridges, but grabbed them and was off. Lap 5 was going good. I was still turning a decent pace and felt pretty strong. I was passing some people and being passed by some, but it seemed that nobody around me was going my pace. It was strange this feeling of being in no-man's land. I had fallen back from the leaders, and guessed that I was ahead of the slower riders. I didn't get to ride with anyone around my speed.
On Ridgeline I was descending strong and thinking about making up time from the flat tire the lap before. At the bottom of Ridgeline the trail makes a right hand turn onto a fire road and I was blazing down the trail. I missed my line and went a bit wide and slightly into the grass. I don't know if there was something in the grass, or if I had damaged my tube farther up and it waited to let go with the stress of a hard corner, but as I leaned the bike through that corner I heard the all too familiar hiss of air rushing out of my back tire. I screamed, "FUCK NOT AGAIN!"
I was close enough to the aid station that I rolled over to it and started working on my tire. Jason Ranoa's dad was there and he said he heard me yelling. I was quite litterally deflated, in more ways than one. I asked if he had a floor pump but he didn't. This fix went much smoother than the last but I did burn both my CO2s and lost probably another 5 minutes or so.
Once I got rolling again I struggled. Mentally I was broken. Physically I was feeling crappy. I had expected to have Allison pass me but she never did. I would have been really happy for her company. I knew then and there that my race was over and that I wouldn't be able to get near the front after two flats. It was very depressing. I wanted to quit, but remembering Allison's blog post earlier in the week I resolved to not give up. Manns are not quitters.
Lap 6 I forgot to get a new tube and CO2. I realized this part way up the Marine Corps climb. I decided that I had to dial it back on the DH sections. I was afraid if I flatted without a way to fix it, I would totally break. I decided to make up for it by rallying on the easier portions. I was cranking hard and decided that I was out of the race, but was now just racing myself, my own demons in my head. I would put in hard efforts on slight inclines or declines to make up for slowing down on the high speed descents.
Then I started cramping. The first cramps came on the steep sections of Bridges and came back every time I put in a hard effort.
Lap 7 the cramps were moving all around on my quads, on the bright side I remembered to get a tube and CO2s. I was thinking that sooner or later more of the muscle was going to cramp than I would be able to work through. The cramps seemed to only hit localized spots though and I would will myself to work through it and keep pedaling.
Lap 7 marked another milestone. I got off and walked up a steep pitch for the first time. I hate walking my bike. For the first 6 laps I managed to not dab on course at all. Not once. I was proud of that and it was about all I had. When this happened it was like a spear had found a chink in my armor. My cramps seemed to get worse when I walked. My spirits were low, but I kept telling myself that Allison wouldn't quit.
When I came into the pits Allison was off her bike and getting changed. She had quit. I knew when I saw her standing in the pits that I wouldn't make my goal of 12 laps. I needed something to lean on mentally.
I stopped briefly in the pits and then headed out. I checked in at the finish line and then straddled my bike and started pedaling. I couldn't get my left foot in the pedal. As I rode past a few friends they were heckling me to start pedaling. I was laughing because I wanted to pedal but couldn't get my damn foot clipped in. Finally I rolled to a stop across from our pit area and got off the bike. What I saw was that my XTR pedal had grenaded. Awesome. Never had that problem with Crank Brothers. I walked my bike over to the pits and Luke donated his pedal to me from his bike. I was stoked to have it, thanks Luke!
On Lap 8 I decided that Allison quitting was a good thing for her. What I could lean on was the fact that she didn't quit in June or November. She had endured then, and I could endure now.
I was being passed more often. My pace had slowed down to a crawl. My HR was no longer responding to hard efforts. My legs were responding to hard efforts though, with streaks of cramps! I was walking up steep spots with regularity. I was no longer hydrating properly, or eating much on course.
Before I went out on Lap 9 Luke and Allison put my light on my bike for me. Night riding is sort of a novel thing for us. We ride at Vail at night one night a week. I am at ease with riding at night. Once it got dark on Lap 9 I decided that the novelty of night riding was over rated. I was sloppy on the bike and things were jumping out at me. I just wanted it all to end. Interestingly enough I stopped cramping for the most part.
When I got back to the pits after Lap 9 I told Allison I was only doing one more. I was broken. At this point there was still around 3 hours left to race. I was pussing out.
Lap 10 was the absolute worst. It was the first time I didn't make it up the steep hill across from the pit area. I was broken and riding by myself. I walked a lot more than before. I knew it was my last lap and that I was quitting early. I was giving up. Several times in the lap I thought that I could maybe just go out for one more. I had plenty of time. Even if I walked most of the course I had enough time. I was hurting though. The waves of cramps had given way to a horrible ache in my shoulders and neck. My legs hurt horribly and seemed to stop responding. My chest felt like I could no longer take a full breath. My arms were shaky and I was afraid they weren't going to hold up to another Ridgeline descent.
On the climb up Ambulance I caught up with Troy. He was broken as well and was finishing his 8th and final lap. For the first time I rode with someone else for more than a minute or two. It was nice to talk to someone on course. When we got to the top of Tunnel I let another rider pass before descending. I immediately found that it was a mistake because I was riding his rear wheel the whole way. It sucked to not rail my favorite portion of the course on the last lap. On the way up Vicks I caught up with a pair of women that were finishing up as well. They were on lap 7 or 8 and were totally done. I chatted with them some. It was nice to have people to talk to.
When I got to BMX I caught another solo rider. I decided that my race was over but that I could beat this one guy to the finish line. It would be a tiny victory for me. I dug deep. I pedaled hard. Tucked down behind my bars I was racing again. It was invigorating to have something to race for after so many laps of just beating myself up for the sake of beating myself up. It was close. I was right behind him through the jumps. Around the berm under the tree I was riding in his dust. When we hit the asphault I shifted to my big ring and tucked down. I could feel the gap closing. Turning left off the asphault I was right on him. I hit all my shift points and was on his wheel when we came off the sand and onto the grass. I shifted again and powered past him through the pits. I beat him to the line.
It was a small victory and he probably went out for another lap, but I had had enough and shut off my light and my Garmin. Allison met me at the finish line. It probably took me 45 minutes to change.
Much respect to those that compete in these events successfully. I wouldn't call what I did successful, but I learned some things and through experiencing it have a different perspective. From now on I will be happy to be the pit bitch and do my best to support the real endurance riders.
Some thoughts during the race:
-The people that invented packaging need to go back to the drawing board. The evil that is done to an endurance racer via packaging is horrible. Someone please make edible packaging. Thanks.
-Every now and then when suffering up a climb I would think to myself, "It has been a long time since I got lapped by Tinker." That guy is not human.
-A DH racer on a HT XC bike does not make a good Endurance racer. Especially if you throw in a few fast chunky descents for him to break parts and flat tires on.
-If you think a tire is too wimpy it probably is. I should have stuck with some decent meats on the bike.
-No matter how fast you descend you cannot win an endurance race without climbing fast, for a really effing long time, without slowing down.
-Quitting isn't the worst part. The day after riding my MTB for 92 miles is worse.