Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why I'll Never Be a Success

Let’s get the messy stuff out of the way first. Almost 6 weeks since the 2010 24HitOP. 317 days until the 2011 edition. Since the race, I’ve dropped a total of 2 pounds (I got as low as 179, but I have not been trying either to lose or gain weight), and I’ve logged a total of 180 miles and about 13,000 feet of climbing. Definitely not training numbers—and stats I would expect to be higher giving that this is prime riding season in Arizona—but compared to last year, I’ll take them (note: last year, I did not get on my bike until June).

There is always a lull following the Old Pueblo. It’s the one event and weekend I really look forward to each year. The worst day of the year is the Monday after the race, when you get a chance to reflect on the weekend in general and the race specifically. This year, I told myself that I would treat that Monday as the first day of the 2011 preparation. While it’s practically impossible to “train” for an event 363 days out, I at least wanted to stay motivated. One way I planned to keep motivated was participating in the Mountain Bike Association of Arizona (MBAA) stage races. There are a total of seven races throughout the state, beginning in January, and ending in May. I’m racing the SS Novice category, which is pretty small (about 15 total racers on average), but fairly competitive. Race lengths are around 15 miles, and winning times are usually around and 1:20. Compared to an endurance race, these are much more fast paced and 1,000% more competitive. That said, I think this will be my only year racing (at least if I’m going to treat them as “preparation” events).

My biggest issue with the races is that I’ve discovered that I’m not a competitive person. That is, to be successful in these races, you need to be extremely aggressive on the trail, and look out only for yourself. Also, the idea is to leave nothing in the tank, and push yourself to the max. Quite the contrast to endurance races, where many who chose to do them as a solo or duo typically set personal goals of X number of laps, or finish within a certain time. To compare it to endurance races, these are sprints versus a marathon. (Obviously there are many—specifically those in the top tier of the solo and duo category or those on teams—whose goal is to finish in the top X of their category.)

Rarely, in my opinion, do you find somebody who can excel in both endurance races and single day races. I’ve notice that I treat these MBAA races as an endurance race. If I approach a slower rider in the MBAA, instead of attacking (resulting in not only overtaking a slower rider, but also mentally demoralizing that rider), I’ll casually wait for a place to pass. Also, it seems that the most difficult part of me is the very beginning, as I’ll typically be one of the last in the pack when the races starts, making it difficult to make up time. Finally, while the object is to leave it all on the course, I’ve found that I typically have plenty of energy after the race. A strong indication that I didn’t give it my all.

Once the MBAA series is over, I plan to dedicate myself to doing longer riders. Most of my rides are in the 10-20 mile range; I’d like to do 50+ mile rides. I also plan to do more endurance events, not only here in AZ, but through the southwest, including Utah, NM and Colorado. But until then, my goal now is to finish the series respectfully (I’m currently in 5th place points wise, mostly because I earned my trail maintenance points), so I don’t embarrass my sponsor.

The next event on the horizon for me is the Flagstaff Barn Burner 104 (http://redrockco.com/flagstaff-barn-burner) where I plan to earn myself a Big Un belt buckle for finishing in 9 hours. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

14 Pounds in 12 Months?

One thing I realized from this past weekend is that to get to my goal of 200 miles, I'll need to shed some weight, both on the bike as well on as the body. I'm currently 184:

I'd like to get down to 170 by race day, which is probably a bit thin for somebody my height (6'1"), and body type (thick). I realized that my weight will fluctuate depending on the time of the year, but I'm hoping by chronicling my weekly weight loss/gain, it will only motivate me more.

I think just by upping my workout frequency, and doing some crosstraining, which will include running, road cycling, Ultimate frisbee, and maybe even some lifting, the weight should stay off. But I think to shed the 14 pounds, I'll need to curb some of my bad habits, namely beer. I think in general, I eat pretty healthy. But my one vice is beer. I doubt I can completely eliminate it from my diet, but I'm going to try and at least cut back. 

The Inspiration for This Blog

This being my first blog post, I wanted to share my experience from the 2010 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. This year’s race was my inspiration for setting my goal of doing 12 or more laps at the 2011 event. Stay tuned for an account each week of what I’m doing to reach that goal. But before I start, here is my first person account of this year’s race:

First off, I finally realized the trick to guaranteeing good weather: pack for bad weather.

This is my 9th year doing the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. And personally, this was the most rewarding. In the past, I’ve always rode on a 5-person team, save for two years ago when I registered solo with two others, with the only goal of doing more laps than the other two (I failed). That year, I’m embarrassed to say I only rode four laps. I signed up last year with grander expectations, but the biking gods had other plans when I ruptured my Achilles in November (and the doc refused to give me the stamp of confidence l to do the race).

This year, I decided to set some personal goals for myself, the main one being doing double-digit laps. Unlike previous years, I did decide to be more stringent in my “training.” (I use quotes, as I’m not big on the regimen of keeping to a training schedule, but I did make a promise to ride more.) To do that, I had to actually start looking forward to riding my bike again, which was hard after the injury. But slowly, I began to look forward to going out for a ride after work, or on the weekends. By race weekend, I was riding 5 or 6 days a week, and physically I felt my goal was within reach. As 24 hour racers know, being physically ready is only part of it, you have to be mentally ready as well. But I felt by setting a goal, I could mentally psyche myself up for the race.

The one other thing I did differently this year was enter some of the MBAA races. I raced them 5 or 6 years ago, and I have to be honest, I hated it. Personally, I still hate it, but I figured it might give me at least some experience riding in under racing conditions. And it did, as I’ll explain later.

A week plus before the race, I was getting really excited. However, the rains we had here in January were making me a bit nervous that this year was going to be another wet one. And the 10-day forecast before the race--and all the jackasses on MTBR.com talking about the weather--didn’t do much to convince me otherwise. Unlike previous years, where I just assumed the weather was going to be nice or just told myself that if the weather was bad, I was just going to spend the weekend drinking, I decided to pack accordingly. I brought all my riding gear: every jersey I owned, all my riding shorts, rain jacket, arm and leg warmers, two pairs of gloves, skull cap. You name it, I brought it, as there was no way I was going to let the weather get to me. And then it happened. Mother Nature took the week off, and the forecast showed highs in the 60s, lows in the 40s, zero chance of rain. Ah ha, I’ve fallen for that one before, and there was no way I was unpacking all my gear. It was coming with me, even if it never left my duffel.

Geoff (DirDir on MTBR.com) and I arrived at around 11:45 Thursday morning, and headed straight to Kona Way, which was suppose to be reserved for soloist. I really wanted a spot on the race course, part for easy access to my camp spot, but also so I could watch the other racers when I was resting, hoping it would be inspiration to cut my breaks short and get back on the bike. In the past, we’ve had nice spots, but they were far from the course, and had to trudge through the sandy washes after each lap.

Unfortunately, as we turned left on Kona Way and headed towards the course, I quickly realized all the good spots were gone. Since I know a large part of having a good experience at the race depends on your camp spot (read: as far away as the RVs and generators as possible), I told Geoff to get the closet space to the track on Kona Way as possible. (Unbeknownst to us, there were plenty of spots on the course that were accessible from some of the other roads. Needless to say, Geoff was not happy with me.) We got something maybe 100 yards from the course, and at the time pretty much had the place to ourselves. But as we unloaded, chose our respective spots to pitch our tents, put up the EZ-Up, the area quickly began to fill up. By the end of the weekend, it was difficult to tell where our group area ended, and the others began. Thankfully, save for Friday a.m., it was generator free. Wish I could say the same for it being snore-free, but fortunately I’m a heavy sleeper. After unloading, and picking tent spots for the two other soloists who were camping with us, John and Craig, who were coming up Friday, Geoff and I decided to get a quick pre-ride in. Being my 9th year, I’m very familiar with the course, so no surprises, other than how friggin fast it was. Hard packed. Little to no sand. Just ideal conditions.

Following the pre-ride, I grabbed my first of what turned out to be many carbo-loading beverages, and sat back and watched all the later arrivals show up. We also walked down to the Expo area just to take a look, and ran into our buddy Jim, who had snagged a great spot not too far from The Option. This was Jim’s third year doing the race solo, and had grand plans to ride 15 laps, so he was taking the race very seriously.

Shortly before sunset, Geoff and I met up with Joe (The Fuzz on MTBR.com), who was camping at the other end of Kona Way. After the requisite “what do you ride?”, “how many laps you planning on doing?”, “remember how cold it was last year?” we got the first fire started, and were joined by our neighbor Dave, a student from Tucson, and waited for Joe’s duo teammate Dave, who was driving up from Phoenix. Around 9 p.m. Dave pulled in, so we moved the party to Joe’s site, as he cooked some brats. We also met Joe’s neighbors, Bob and Tim from Portland. Bob, who was racing, drove two straight days, while Tim, his crew, flew into Tucson that day. Both these guys were quite the characters. Bob, a photographer, LOOKED like he was from Portland: earrings in both ears, crusty and long blond surfer hair, and tattoos I’m sure all over his body. And of course, he was planning on riding fully rigid single speed. Tim, his camp bitch, was a pathologist, and had some pretty interesting stories. We were later joined by CoyoteKis, which didn’t stop the “guys being guys” talk (is the post tense of “shit” shitted or shat?). Next thing I knew, it was 2 a.m., and time for bed.

On Friday morning, our campmates John and Craig arrived, so we helped them upload and set up their tents and EZ-up. When all was said and done, we had quite the home for the weekend, which is key to any successful 24-hour race. Around 11, John and Craig asked if we wanted to do a pre-ride. Since I had done one the previous day, I declined, but told them I’d meet them just before the last climb. As I waited for them, I got a chance to watch the caravan of “late” arrivals. I have to admit, I was a bit jealous of all the RVs and campers that pulled in, thinking back at races past and knowing the absolute worst part of the race is trying to get into warm clothes at 2 a.m. in a cramped tent.

After the pre-ride, John, Craig, and I headed into Tucson to hear John’s SO Trish do a poetry reading at Antigone Bookstore. Before the reading, we met Trish and my SO—and support crew--Autumn for dinner at Bison Witch, an awesome sandwich shop on 4th Ave. Trish and Autumn were going to stay at our friends Jan and Don’s house, and head up on Saturday morning. So after the reading, John, Craig and I headed back to the race venue. Thankfully, I got to bed at a decent time, as I really wanted to get a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, Saturday morning came way too early, thanks to all the nervous racers who had to discuss race strategy at, apparently, the foot of my tent. I tried like heck to block it out, but it was useless, so I got up to join the nervous banter. After my prerequisite two cups of coffee, the pre-race jitters started to kick in. To quash them, we all started getting our race gear ready: Camelbaks filled, tires pumped up, chains lubed. I looked at the watch, and it was only 10 a.m., still had two hours to kill. The girls had not yet arrived, so we decided to walk down to the venue, and hope to run into them on the road. As we headed down, and got to watch all the other racers going through their rituals, it really started to hit me that in less than 2 hours, I’d be getting on my bike. I tried to remain as calm as possible…and surprisingly I was able to. Finally, an hour before the Le Mans start, Trish and Autumn arrived. Before the race, I had given Autumn a spreadsheet showing by my calculations when I should be arriving into camp, how long of a break I planned to take, and what kind of food to have ready. And to her credit, she did an incredible job of keeping it up to date, and trying to keep me honest, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

At around 11:15, I headed down to the venue to check in, grabbed my baton (a short wooden dowel that you had to show each time you check in at the transition tent), tried (unsuccessfully) to find a place in one of the stands for my bike (I had to lay it down just off the course probably 200 yards away from the Exchange Tent), and then headed up to the start line, which was about 400 yards up the hill. For those not familiar with 24 hour races, the race starts with a mad sprint to the bikes, a la 24 Hours of Le Mans. The dedicated, or competitive racers, sprint to their bikes, knowing that it’s imperative to get out in front, else you’ll get stuck behind one of the over 500 racers who would start lap 1. For the soloist, or at least this soloist, I was in no hurry to get on my bike, so my “mad sprint” could be better described as “stroll through the park.” In fact, Autumn let me know that it took me 9 minutes to “sprint” that 400 yards (look our Usain Bolt). So, at 12:09 on Saturday, February 13, 2010, my 9th 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo officially began.

A lap is a little less than 17 miles, with I think about 600 feet of elevation gain. According to the program, it’s half fire road and half single track. The course is shaped like a figure 8, about half way through a lap, you can see riders heading in the opposite direction. From a technical standpoint, it’s a very tame course, and all 100% ridable for the large majority of cyclists.

Lap 1 differs from the other laps in that you do the first mile or so on the main dirt road, thankfully bypassing two of the notorious “Bitches.” The Bitches are between 5 and 7 (I say “between” because it’s disputed where they start or end) short, steep ascents, followed by short, fast descents. Lap 1 also gives you an opportunity to get your legs race ready, since it’s dirt road.

Even though I was camping with three other soloists, we didn’t make any pact to try and ride together, so John and Craig (both riding almost matching Yeti 575s) took off, leaving Geoff (on a Niner SS) and myself (on a Haro Mary SS) behind. I was riding a smaller gear than Geoff, so I was able to put some distance between us by the time we hit the first Bitch. It was at that moment when I knew that it was going to be a long lap, as there were probably more folks walking their bikes up the Bitches than there were riding them. I quickly realized that I was so far in the back of pack that I was riding with the more casual racers (read: those who probably didn’t know what they were getting into). The first 4 or 5 miles of the course is on dirt road, so it’s easy to pass, and I was able to get by some, but not all, of the riff raff. Unfortunately, when we hit the first of the single track, I found myself about 10th in a train or racers trying to get around slower riders. It took some time, but I eventually was able to make up some ground. About half way through the 17-mile loop is some very fun, twisty single track called His and Hers. That is when I saw a profile of what appeared to be Bob, the racer from Portland I met on Thursday. As I pulled closer, I realized indeed it was Bob who, like me earlier, was at the tail end of a long line of riders stuck behind a slower ride. Realizing that I had 24 plus hours—and hopefully 160+ miles—on my bike, I didn’t necessarily view this as a bad thing, as I knew I needed to pace myself. Through the entire His and Hers trail, Bob and I shot the poop about how much fun we were having, how fun the course was, the weather, etc.. Following the His and Hers is the June Bug trail. Similar to His and Hers, this is usually when one begins to realize that you’re almost done. After June Bug is about a 3-4 mile gradual climb, followed by a steeper, short climb to High Point (the high point of the course). In the past, this is when my legs began to hurt. But because I was able to keep my heart rate down, and the general condition of the course, I felt like I flew up the hill with barely breaking a sweat. After High Point, there is a very fast, twisty descent bomb down to camp. It’s elation when you begin that descent, as you know you’re done.

Knowing that I had a long 24 hours ahead of myself, I decided to take a break after every lap. So, at around 1:35 (pretty respectable considering I didn’t get on my bike until 12:09, and spent half the lap trying to navigate around slower riders) I pulled into camp. Autumn was fantastic, following the directions on my spreadsheet, had my bottle of Cliff Recovery drink ready, handed me two Hammer Electrolyte pills, and 4 mini donuts. And at 1:42 (3 minutes ahead of schedule), I got back on the bike for lap two.

Since I officially didn’t finish lap 1 until I entered the Exchange Tent, I had to do the last part of Lap 1, which includes “The Option,” which is a fork where to the left is an intimidating rock face, or an easier option around the rock cropping. Knowing there would be lots of spectators out for the earlier laps, and being the attention whore I am, I chose to do the rock face. Thankfully, no mishaps, and I pulled into the Exchange Tent at 1:44.

Lap two was uneventful. The course was still crowded, but not as bad. But, again, knowing I still had over 22 hours to go, I tried to force myself to ride slower than I normally would. I was feeling really good until the last climb, when I could feel a little of the lactic acid build up in the legs. But I pushed through it, and pulled into camp at 3:10, 5 minutes ahead of schedule.

I gave myself another 15 minute break, so after refueling, I got on the bike at 3:25, 5 minutes ahead of plan. Again, an uneventful lap. Course was starting to thin out. Despite some pain the previous lap, my legs felt good, and I pulled into camp at 4:53, 1 hour and 28 minutes after I left.

4 hours and 53 minutes in, and I’ve already rode almost 50 miles. But I was still less than 1/3 of the way through my planned 10 laps. After lap 3, I planned on a 30 minute rest. Per the race rules, any lap started after 5:15 had to have lights on their bike. I started lap 4 at 5:33. Wanting to conserve my batteries, and figuring I’d only need the light for part of the lap, I only put on my handlebar mounted HID, which turned out to be a big mistake. About a mile into the lap, I realized the bonehead Jeff forgot to put on his Camelbak, which meant I had no water, no minitool, no tubes, no CO2. To a mountain biker, riding without this stuff is like biking naked. It gets worse: about 1.5 miles in, I realized that my handlebar mount kept slipping. Since it was still light out, I was not too concerned, but I kept tightening down the finger screw, and the darn thing kept jiggling itself loose. I finally realized it was because it was not flush with the stem, and since it was a riser bar, I didn’t have a solid interface between the handlebar and the mount. I moved it flush with the stem, and problem solved. Just before the His and Hers trail, I decided it was time to turn on the lights. As mentioned earlier, His and Her is very twisty, especially toward the end. Hindsight is 20/20, but since I only had a handlebar-mounted light, the light only shown where the tire was pointed, so the turns came up quicker than I expected. Needless to say, I crawled through both the His and Hers as well as June Bug, as I had a hard time keeping the trail lit. But I made it, and started the climb to High Point. Just after I started the climb, I heard a rider from behind approach. Using some of my skills learned during the MBAA races, I kept my pace until the racer asked to pass. About a minute of him riding my wheel, I asked if he wanted to pass. He said “no, I’m good here.” It didn’t really bother me, but the light was washing out mine, making it even more difficult to see. I considered pulling out the “team riders should not draft solo riders” race rule I read about in the race paper I got when we checked in Thursday, but bit my tongue and didn’t let the other rider incite me to ride faster, as I wanted to keep a reasonable pace. Next thing I know, there is a racer behind the guy on my wheel, and then another on his wheel. Nobody wanted to pass, and I ended up pulling the train of 3 racers up that gosh darn hill. When I got to the top, I was going to be damned if I let them pass me on the descent, so as we crested, I let it out. But since I only had one gear, it was mostly coasting, and they stayed on my wheel. But their lights were really washing out the trail. Reluctantly, I let them all pass and each gave me a “nice job” as they passed. I did all I could to bite my tongue, and really wanted to give them a piece of mind. Even with all the mishaps, I pulled into camp at 7:13, 1 hour and 40 minutes after I left. Unfortunately, this put me 13 minutes behind schedule, and my next planned break was only 15 minutes. Ugh, I was tired, hungry, very, very thirsty, and needed to get my helmet-mounted light on. I started having second thoughts about doing 10 laps, but realized I had given myself at least two hours to complete laps 5 through 10, which was conservative considering how fast the course was. So, I look my dinner break after lap 4.

Lap 5 began at 8:33 p.m., 1 hour and 20 minutes after pulling into camp. I was rested, hydrated, fed, had a fresh change of clothes, and feeling good. But the real test would be how will by body respond to doing the Bitches a 5th time. As I began climbing the first Bitch (the steepest and longest, without the aid of the fast descent preceding it), I was pleased to feel no noticeable pain. The headlamp made a noticeable difference in the twisty stuff, and had no real issues with visibility. But my stamina was definitely suffering, and as I began the last climb, my body was dragging. I pulled into camp at 10:20 p.m., a lap time of 1:47. Slower than I had hoped, but faster than the 2 hours I had planned. So, I had done 5 of the planned 10 laps 10 hours and 20 minutes into the 24 hours. But as anybody who has done a 24-hour race knows, the most difficult laps are those after midnight. According to my spreadsheet, I had to start lap 6 at 10, so I was already 20 minutes behind schedule. I sat down at the fire that Autumn or Trish made, had my Cliff Recovery drink, my Hammer Electrolyte pills, and a can of cold Sirloin Steak soup. While the weather was nothing like it has been in past years, it was still a bit chilly, so I really appreciated the fire. About 30 minutes after finishing my lap, Autumn asked if she can go to sleep. “Of course you can” I say, not realizing that that would leave me all alone with the fire, and I wouldn’t have anybody to motivate me. I think Trish, John, and Geoff all had laid down to get some rest, and Craig was getting ready to do his I think 4th lap. I told myself that I’d hang out at the fire until Craig returned—likely around 2:30 a.m.—and then go out. As I waited for Craig, I put my legs up and closed my eyes. Next thing I know, it’s almost 3. Craig was back, but I don’t recall hearing him. The fire starts to go out, and I don’t feel like opening a new bag of wood, so I tell myself that I’ll go lay down in the tent until 4.

Next thing I know it’s 6:15, and I can start to see the light of a soon-to-rise sun on the tent wall. It was at that moment I knew 10 laps was out of the question. The next question was, so how many laps are you going to do, Jeff? I knew I could easily do 2 more laps, for a total of 7 (3 more than I had ever ridden in the 9 years I’ve done the event), so I didn’t real feel that rushed, as I still had 5 hours and 15 minutes. I slowly got up, got another fresh change of clothes, ate something, and got on my bike at 7 a.m.

For me, the best lap is always the first lap after sunrise. The body knows a new day is set to begin, and despite probably only getting 3 or 4 hours of “good” sleep, my body felt rejuvenated. The biggest difference between Sunday morning and Saturday morning was the wind. It got kind of windy on Sunday, and unfortunately it was going east to west, which meant it was a headwind for the backside of the course, which is a gradual climb, but unnoticeable in calm conditions. Despite riding most of the lap into the stiff headwind, I did lap 6 in a respectable 1 hour and 41 minutes, pulling into camp at 8:41. My body was quickly waking up, and I started what I assumed would be my last lap at 8:50, giving myself only a 9 minute rest. Both Geoff and Craig had gone out for a lap about 5 minutes earlier, so I knew I had some rabbits to try and chase down.

Lap 7 started off like the rest of them. My body was tired, I pushed through the Bitches, and once I crested the last one, I knew I had the energy to finish. About 6 miles in, a racer pulled behind me and I asked if he wanted to pass. He hemmed and hawed for a bit and said “I’m not sure I want to go faster, but okay.” For some reason, that made me feel good, especially when he passed, and I saw he was this twenty-something kid probably no more than 140 lbs, with a sweet-looking bike. Was he really reluctant to pass me? At that point, I got my second (or was it third?) wind, and kept him in my sights all the way to the “Golf” checkpoint, which is probably half way, and the narrowest part of the course. (Speaking of Golf, the guys running that station are awesome. Each time I passed, they had a witty comment and accolade.) Right after the Golf checkpoint is what some call the “Hidden Bitch,” another short, steep climb before you enter His and Hers. It was there where I see Craig (I passed Geoff earlier) resting, and get my third (or is it fourth?) wind. I pass Craig, and come upon a slower rider. Knowing the passing lanes are few and far between on His and Hers, I look for the first opportunity to pass. I ask the rider to pass when he has a chance, and he gave me the okay. I go to pass, but don’t want to run over one of the bushes, so I stay to the very left edge of the trail, which is not enough room, and we touch handlebars. I went down, but thankfully the other rider stayed up. I felt like such a fool, and apologized profusely. The other rider was really cool about it, and even apologized to me, even though I told him it was 100% my fault. At that point, realizing I was losing some of my motor skills, I knew this was my last lap. And for the rest of His and Hers, as well as June Bug, it was. And then on the last climb out, I started passing quite a few riders. At one point, a woman got on my wheel, and asked to pass. I let her pass, and as she did she said “you’re doing great, dude.” Man, my head got big, and all of a sudden I started second guessing myself. I finished the lap at 1 hour and 34 minutes, my second fastest lap.

I sat down at 10:24, and said to myself, “do I really want to quite with an hour and a half to go.” It took me about 30 minutes to convince myself I had one more lap in me. I officially began Lap 8 at 11:02, and pulled into the Exchange Tent 1 hour and 32 minutes later. I could have improved by a minute or so, but was graciously offered a beer from one of the folks lining the course, and I could not turn him down. So, at 12:35:58,my 2010 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo had ended.

When all was said and done, I rode approximately 131 miles, burned close to 10,000 calories, rode almost 13 out of 24+ hours, and finished a respectable 21st out of 37 in the Single Speed Solo category. I’m very happy with those results, despite riding 9 less laps (and almost 150 miles shorter) than first place. But I’m also disappointed that I didn’t do the 10 I had planned to do, which is the inspiration for this blog.

My plan for this blog is to document as best I can what I do between today until February 12, 2011 to ride 200 miles, which would be 12 laps. Each week, I will list my starting weight, days and miles rode, feet climbed, and calories burned during those rides.