Thank You!

Undertaking the 508 is a huge drain on time, money, and resources over the course of the year. I couldn’t ride this race without support from friends, family, and loved ones.

Additionally, thank you to Philz Coffee of San Jose for sponsoring my entry into this year’s race, and to Michael Emde for his continued coaching and encouragement.

Not The Ride I Expected

ZomBee and Siberian Husky

Just getting started with one of the riders I respect the most: Siberian Husky. The 508 this year was a bitter pill to swallow, but it still had some memorable moments. This picture caught one of them.

Welcome to The Furnace Creek 508. The one thing I know for sure about this race is that it is never what I expect it to be. This year, the unexpected came in the form of pneumonia. I didn’t know it at the start, though. I only know I had started feeling sick earlier in the week. By the time we were driving toward Santa Clarita, I was having difficulty breathing. After racer check-in, I went back to the hotel and slept until pre-race meeting. Then I went back after dinner, medicated myself into oblivion, then slept through until 5:00 a.m.

I rolled to the start. The downhill from the Holiday Inn elevated my heartrate to 140 bpm. That was just sitting and coasting. Then we rolled out for the neutral start, which pegged my heart rate in the high 160s. Each time the road tilted up, my heart rate rocketed into the 180s. I ran out of gears on every climb. I couldn’t recover when I needed to, and I didn’t have the strength to get up and over the climbs.

I pushed on as best I could, but my body was just shutting down. I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t fatigued. I was alert and cognizant of what was happening. I just didn’t have any strength. Then I couldn’t catch my breath. Then I was vomiting and heaving. I was sweating, then freezing, then overheating again. When we (the crew and I) decided it was time to pull the plug, I was unable even to walk unassisted around the van. There really wasn’t a question of taking a DNF. Maybe I could have pushed harder, but the crew was already looking for the path to the nearest hospital, and I think pushing up and over Towne Pass, let alone all the way to the finish, would have done permanent damage.

The time station crew at Furnace Creek were less than supportive, letting me know I didn’t look sick; that nothing looked broken. I told them I was sick, and that it was more than the “tummy ache” mentioned at the pre-race meeting. It was tough. I already was feeling run down and defeated, and I didn’t need the piling on of the race officials. I don’t understand that logic.

That was the race in a nutshell. I’ll write some more later, I’m sure. Here’s the rest of the story (nod to Paul Harvey):

When I got back to the Bay Area, I knew things were worse than I had originally thought. I called and set up a doctor’s appointment, and I went there as soon as possible. I spent the day getting x-rays and lab work, and explaining to my doctor why I still rode 200 miles feeling as crappy as I did. I don’t think she got it. The long and short of it is that I have pneumonia. I’m not going to die. But, in the words of my doctor, “most people wouldn’t walk up a flight of stairs in your condition, and you rode 200+ miles. You’re both fit and insane. Go rest.”

After the fact, I’ve had some riders send me some messages and wishes for a speedy recovery. I’m not hanging my head about the DNF. I hate that I had to bow out. It’s embarrassing, regardless the circumstances surrounding it. I hope I managed to do the race right. The 508 is important to me. It means something. I appreciate that some people respect me for still giving it my best effort, but I’m struggling right now to put it all into perspective.

In hindsight, I now know I rode 200 miles of “the toughest 48 hours in sport” with pneumonia. It’s going to take a few weeks to recover completely, not just physically, but also emotionally. Once I gain some perspective, I’ll address 2012 and my plans for riding.

Thanks for reading, and for all the support.

Special thanks and greetings to some of my friends out there on the road. I hope I get to hear from some of you (I have emails for the others I rode with) if you happen to stumble across this post:

Asiatic Wildcat
Brooklyn Beast
Silverback
Velvet Ant
Black Sheep
Adder
Eagle

and especially Gyrfalcon 2.

San Francisquito Canyon

I only knew I was feeling like crud. I did my best to put on a good face, but I was laboring even here at the start.

Taper! Anticipate! Stress!

I’ve been negligent on my blog, but there’s a pretty good reason for it. ;-)

Let’s start catching up by mentioning the “taper.” This past week/weekend started my tapering for the big race. The last weekend in September was my last for some long rides. I had a great ride with some 508-veteran friends of mine, followed by a long solo ride the next day. Then it was just slowing down and taking it easy. I did 5 hours yesterday, which was great, followed by a (very) deep-tissue massage. And today, an even shorter ride to help settle everything down.

So, it’s all down to the final logistics at this point. I got both my bikes (the Cervelo R3 and the Jamis Xenith SL) into the bike shop for a final clean and tune by my awesome mechanic/bike shop owner/friend/crew member Rob Mardell of La Dolce Velo bikes in San Jose. I’ll get new tubes and tires on both, as well as a new battery for the Polar Heartrate Monitor/Computer. And I’ll pick them up Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning when it’s time to start planning for the big getaway.

I wish I was calmer. I’m stressing over the finances and logistics. There are so many small details; so many little expenses that siphon off a few dollars here, a few more dollars there.

Next up are the final preps and plans. Tuesday/Wednesday night will be the grocery shopping. I have to buy a cooler for the crew van still, which I’ll be renting Wednesday morning. Wednesday afternoon/evening, I’ll be prepping the van with my signage, as well as packing up. Then Thursday it (finally) will be time to pack up the van and head South. Having been through this process a few times, I am well aware of the sense of “inertia” that takes place this week. I know each day is packed with a lot of planning and details. Saturday morning will get here way too fast.

I’m trying to keep the stress to a minimum. I’m trying to just stay cool and zen about the whole process. I escaped last night for a very long drive up the coast. There’s been an unmistakable pull to just go be isolated and shut off the thoughts, so it was good for me.

Santa Clarita is right there. The start line is waiting. I’m nervous. I’m as prepared as I can be. I won’t say I’m “ready.” But I will say I’m ready to start.

This Shit Just Got Real

hehe

OK, you can decide if the headline of this post is a) an homage to the Bad Boys II movie, or b) an homage to Hot Fuzz.

Tonight was our “crew meeting.” After a day of teaching and working at the bike shop, I dragged my entire crew (and very important wife of one of those crewmen) across the street for mediocre pasta (I didn’t eat pasta. I ate a charred piece of salmon over a salad) and a conversation about The 508.

Man. Talk about making things seem much more real. I don’t know how this race manages to “sneak up” on anyone. But it sure feels that way. Afterward, I made the statement: “On the one hand, I feel like ‘Are you kidding me? It’s only 2-and-a-half weeks until the race?’ Then I stop and think and say ‘Are you kidding me? It’s still 2-and-a-half weeks until the race?'”

But two hours later, we’ve gone over the “ZomBee Bible,” complete with route printout, rules, checklists for food and everything else, nutritional sheets for the racer, goals, stage break-downs, hopes, fears, and everything in between.

By the end, I was just sort of babbling and repeating myself and saying things like “I’m just so humbled that you all are willing to go through all this to support me. I don’t want to let you all down.”

Sigh… this race really is a big deal. I think my crew better understands that this isn’t just a couple of crazy guys in the desert. (Well, it IS that. But you know what I mean.) It’s a production. It’s a big event. And it matters to everyone, not just me.

Here’s the itinerary:

Wednesday, 5 October, I rent the van and get it all prepped with signage, bike racks, etc.
Thursday, 6 October, depart from the bike shop around 4:30 in the afternoon. We’ll stop for dinner along the I-5, then make it into Santa Clarita around 10:30 or so.
Friday, 7 October, deal with all the last-minute stuff, inspections, and everything else.
Saturday-Sunday… yeah. Just a little spin with a couple of crazy guys in the desert!

I still have a few odds and ends to pick up, and I need to take care of getting the bikes tuned and ready. But it’s close now. After tonight, it most definitely did “just get real.”

Three P’s

I’ve written about mistakes I want to avoid, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be able to avoid them.

I’ve given advice, but it’s advice given from the comfort of my living room, not the harshness of the road.

I’ve finished The 508 once, but that was part of a two-man team.

For all the positive thinking, I can come up with a “but” statement that makes me nervous. And seriously, if you aren’t nervous prior to undertaking The 508, something is seriously wrong. There are times when I can see myself achieving even my loftiest goals, but more often than not, I can conjure up imaginings of the wheels coming off.

All my cycling friends are tapering now. My own taper starts on the other side of this weekend. The one comment I get from them and others, though, is “are you ready?” As I said yesterday, “No, I’m not ready. Who’s ever ready to turn themselves inside out the way this course asks you to?”

And that’s really it, isn’t it? There isn’t a rider who will start in Santa Clarita who can’t finish 508 miles in 48 hours. Every single person there has that ability. But what happens out on the course convinces us otherwise. Weather goes squirrelly. We blow up on a climb. We fall “behind,” and get demoralized. We DNF (myself, included. I’ve DNF’d a lot!) not because we physically are incapable of finishing. We DNF because we beat ourselves.

During my ride yesterday, I had plenty of time to think about what it is I am trying to do. I was feeling amazing. I was riding well. I was riding fast. My heart rate was right where I wanted it. Then I hit a hill and things fell apart, quite literally, within a 2-mile stretch. That’s what cycling does. It humbles you. An observer can almost see the exact moment when things stop functioning smoothly. That observer can almost see the moment it becomes a struggle. It was hot yesterday, and this one little climb 50 miles from my house just about did me in. And what do I think? I think “What if that happens on Stage 1? What if this was San Francisquito, and I still have 458 miles to go?”

I rode through it, but it gave me time to consider what it is I need to get me through to the finish.

Patience
I’m not a patient rider. I want to be faster than I really am, and I end up being far too competitive during rides. It really is a struggle for me to ride for the long-haul, not the immediate circumstance. It’s hard to ride for Baker when I’m not even to California City. It’s hard to dial it down a notch when I think about not making Towne Pass before the middle of the night. It’s hard to maintain perspective, which I guess could be another “P.”

Persistence
If I just keep pedaling the end WILL come. (Which, by the way, it always does.) As long as I keep moving forward, I always reach my destination. I have never quit a ride because I thought I couldn’t go one more pedal stroke. I quit rides because I think I can’t go 100 more pedal strokes. Just keep going… the end eventually gets here; the climb eventually summits; the legs eventually feel better. I have keep riding, because I’m too afraid not too.

Perseverance
I had met a group of people from the Bay Area during last year’s race, and we kept in touch. About a week after the race, I got an invite to join them for a ride. It was really tough on me, and I’ve thought about it every day since. I couldn’t ride the race last year because of some health issues. This year, I want to go on that post-508 ride wearing my own jersey. To do so requires perseverance. It requires tenacity and stick-to-itiveness I often wonder if I possess.

This race isn’t just a bike race. This race, for those of us at the back of the pack, is about personal discovery. It’s about growth. It’s about learning what’s inside us. I’m afraid, sometimes, of what I might find. In just a couple weeks, I’m going to line up with a couple hundred other cyclists in Santa Clarita, and I’m going to attempt to ride farther than I’ve ever ridden. I’m going to try to do something I’m not entirely sure I can do.

I’m going to ride in The Furnace Creek 508.

My Ride

My Body (Tells Me No) (Young The Giant singing my theme song for the 2011 Furnace Creek 508)

Over the past year, I have changed as a man. Forget about riding a bike for a minute. I spent more time working on myself, my identity and what matters most to me, than at any other point in my life. And the end result? I like me. I’m so far from perfect, but I know some things about me I didn’t know at this time last year.

My body tells me no.
So, I’m going to go ride this 508+ miles in the desert in just a couple weeks. People ask me “why?” And I don’t have a logical answer.

But I won’t quit…
And maybe that’s the answer. I grew up quitting. I quit football. I quit track. I quit things that were hard, or tough, or challenging. Then I joined the military, and for once I stuck it out. I discovered that I can accomplish some amazing things when I put my mind to it. I like not quitting, even though there still are times when I can’t make my goals.

‘Cuz I want more.
And don’t we all really want more? That’s why there’s a hall of fame for The Furnace Creek 508. That’s why we keep showing up at start lines; why we batter our bodies and spirits in the desert; why we roll in to the finish hours later than we ever thought, and for a shirt.

It’s my road.
Because it’s my road. There are 230 other cyclists out there? Good for them. I’m going to beat some of them. Some of them are going to beat me, and handily. But it doesn’t matter. Fast. Slow. Somewhere in between. Win? Dead fucking last? Both get a medal. Both get a jersey. Both get bragging rights.

So here’s the deal, folks. It’s your road. It’s your ride. There’s no right way to ride 508 miles. There’s no wrong way. You want to stop and sleep 4 hours in Furnace Creek and eat a massive sandwich and bag of potato chips? You go right on ahead. Want to go on a full Hammer Nutrition regimen? Great! You want to ride a triple chain ring? If that’s what it takes, do it. You want to hire a coach? Then god bless.

I can give you advice, and so can others. I’ve only ridden the course once, and that was as part of a two-person team. I don’t have any great insight you don’t already have yourself. I just know what works for me. I have a coach. I ride a double chain ring (however, I did just put on an 11/28 cassette). I use Hammer Nutrition. Why? It works for me.

In 2009, my teammate spent the better part of the drive from 29 Palms back to Santa Clarita telling me that I wasn’t ever going to be the kind of cyclist who needs a coach. That I should get off the Hammer Nutrition. “Get yourself a triple and ride the way you’re supposed to.” Thanks, but no thanks. That’s HIS ride, not mine.

We all begin at the start line smiling and laughing and expecting to do great things. Many cross the finish line looking beleaguered and destroyed. Many others will have to stop along the way and take a DNF. The only time we’re all on the same program is there at the start. Once the wheels start turning, each rider is on his or her own. What works for me won’t work for you. Just as what works (relatively speaking) for my former teammate works for him, but doesn’t come close to working for me.

It’s your road. It’s your race. Go ride it.

We each have our own ride. All the advice in the world doesn't change it. I hope everyone, myself included, has an amazing ride.

Common Mistakes I Hope To Avoid: Stages 5-8

I’m sorry for not giving stage-specific tips or observations at this point. Honestly, though, everything here starts to blur, and when I think about the things I want to make sure I do right, and the things I don’t want to do wrong, they repeat (and there already are some repetitions up to this point), so it seemed more logical to just go with a final compilation.

Mistake 1: Get Him To The Greek!
2011 marks the 4th time I will have gone through Shoshone. Each time has been a different experience. When I was crewing in 2007, we got here late, and there was a long delay. It had been a long night/morning of just getting to that point, and the road to Baker was welcome.

When I got here in 2009, I crawled my wind-ravaged carcass into the back of the van and really have no recollection of what was going on until someone told me it was time to get back on the bike in Baker.

In 2010, I got to have breakfast at a diner in “town,” and I watched the early-morning racers pass through and get going.

It seems like every time, Shoshone to Baker is the psychological break. It’s a shorter stage, and it seems well within reach. “Just get there” becomes the mantra. Those who are feeling good will cruise up Ibex Pass and make the ride into Baker feeling good. For those who are fatigued and starting to flag, this stage is a killer. It’s hot. It’s usually windy. And it’s just enough to sap the last vestiges of strength from a racer. For the crew, Baker is awesome, because there are actual food options. But Baker scares me as a racer. In 2007, we spent so much time in Baker with a mechanical issue (the result of a lighting system that was far too complicated to be practical), that finishing was in doubt. In 2009, I just got on the bike and rode. I didn’t wait in Baker for anything. And in 2010, I sat and ate lunch and watched racer after racer throw in the towel.

When I get to Baker, I don’t want to stop. I want to yell out my totem, grab some bottles, let the crew rest up and get a bite to eat, but just roll on up the forever grade that waits.

Mistake 2: I’ll Just Rest Here For A Minute
The farther the race extends, the more creative riders get to justify being off the bike. In 2007, over the course of the final three or four stages, my racer kept getting off the bike every hour on the hour. It was like clockwork. Sometimes it was for a clothing change. Sometimes it was to mix his own bottle or find his own food. Sometimes it was to just give his feet a rest. Eventually, I broke the news to him that if he kept on like he was going, he wouldn’t finish within the time limit. He was mad at me, but it was the truth, and he kicked that habit at that point.

My goal is to stay on the bike. To finish, everyone has to stay on longer than he or she thinks is possible. The main thing here is for a crew to know when to get me off the bike and when to keep me on it. But all those things I need, be it clothing, nutrition/hydration, or something else in the van, the crew can get for me. They don’t need me back there, and I’ve let them know that.
Mistake 3: I Don’t Need To Eat Right Now

Mistake 4: Thank You!
This one really is a big one. In 2007, just off Sheephole Summit, my racer dropped back to the crew van and started thanking us for all the hard work and telling us he couldn’t have done it without us. But we still had 26 miles to go. It was 3:00 a.m., and he was riding 7 mph. I told him he wasn’t done yet. His wife asked if he wanted a sandwich. He cursed at us and gutted out the finish.

In 2009, I left the last time station feeling exhausted. But it was the last stage. Even out of it, it felt “downhill.” I was so out of it, in fact, that halfway up the climb to Sheephole, I pulled over and told the crew that I needed to rest before starting the climb. When they informed me I was already on it and nearing the top, I just looked at the road, said “Oh.” and kept on going. At the bottom of the descent, though, I just pulled over, got off the bike, and started throwing up. I was only a few miles from the turn into town, and I had to get back in the van, sip a Coke, and find the reserves to make it the final distance.

This race ends at the finish line. There’s not an easy stretch, not even the end. My crew was genuinely worried that I was going to DNF at the 500-mile marker. At that point, it’s not about the training or the physical fitness. It’s all about the mental toughness to turn the pedals one crank at a time. I swear, that was a record for the slowest bike ride ever. But that’s how this race is. If you cross the finish line with a full tank and lots of energy… well…

Mistake 5: Just A Little Bit Longer

It’s simply too easy to look ahead to the next time station, the next leg of the race, the finish line. It’s too easy to back off and feel like I’ve accomplished things before I actually have. Much like the premature congratulations in “Mistake 4,” this course really tests more than just a rider’s physical fitness. It tests fortitude, courage, doubts, fears. The highest highs and lowest lows all come out. In 48 hours on a tough course like this, a rider can experience every emotion imaginable.

I have planned ahead, but I have to ride in the moment. The first mile is as important as the last. There are no easy miles, and no shortcuts on the route. If things are going well, I’ll be out there long enough for that to change. And you know what? If things are going poorly, I’ll be out there long enough for that to change, too. The next time station is farther away that it feels. The rider up ahead is likely faster. The rider behind is likely faster. And sometimes, I’ll surprise myself and overtake those amber lights, or drop the ones behind me.

There’s only one certainty about the 508: Chris Kostman is standing in 29 Palms under a banner. He has a jersey there waiting. And a medal. And crossing that line is worth it. Whatever it takes, just get there. Ride the last 10 miles the way I ride the first 10 miles. Nothing is over until I’m standing there in front of the AdventureCORPS sign.

**********

You know, I’m not a “fast” cyclist. I’m not really a strong cyclist, either. But I have this crazy idea that sometimes I can pull off small miracles on the bike. That’s what the 508 is. It’s an opportunity to achieve something amazing. These mistakes I’ve been listing aren’t things for everyone. They are observations for me. They touch on my strengths and weaknesses. They address the pitfalls to which I know I’m susceptible. In the spirit of this race, I am sharing what little I know in the hopes it also helps someone else.

Out there on the course? We’re competitors, yes. And we also are our biggest supporters. Crews help out other teams. Racers give advice and encouragement. Before and after the race, the 508 is a family. I’m proud to be a part of it, and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at the start line. With luck, hard work, determination, and possibly divine intervention, we’ll also get a chance to say hello at the finish.

Good luck!

Thoughts On Jim Swarzman and Bicycles vs. Cars

A year ago, I stood in the parking lot of the Santa Clarita Hilton Garden Inn. I was a staff volunteer for AdventureCORP’s Furnace Creek 508, and I was one of two officials inspecting cars. Parked near the entrance of the parking lot was Gyrfalcon’s van. Trust me, you’d recognize it if you saw it. It was “vintage.” And they were having some difficulties with a fuze or a tail light, and I had a few minutes to talk with Jim Swarzman about his training, the upcoming race, and the whole process. It wasn’t a long conversation. He was distracted, obviously. I spoke with his crew and enjoyed the fact that they were one of the few vehicles parked in the shade.

It was all very brief.

I doubt they would have remembered the interaction.

In all honesty, I hadn’t really thought about until earlier this year, when I read the news that Jim Swarzman was killed by a hit-and-run driver. Today, that driver was “sentenced” for his crimes. It’s a travesty. Here is the story: http://www.cbs8.com/story/15441987/hit-and-run-driver-who-struck-bicyclist-in-encinitas-sentenced.

As a cyclist who has been hit by a vehicle driven by an inattentive driver, I’m outraged. Simply as a bicyclist, I’m outraged. As a taxpayer, I’m outraged. As a motorist, I’m outraged. As a human being, I’m outraged. How is a man allowed to murder another, flee the scene, and be eligible for parole in under a year?

I am amazed at Mr. Swarzman’s ability to forgive his son’s murderer. I’ll try to follow his example. But I don’t have much forgiveness for The Court, the judge, or a legal system that says a life is not as valuable simply because it rides a bicycle.

I didn’t know Jim Swarzman prior to that one brief interaction. I don’t know his family or his fiancée. I hope she is at the start of this years Furnace Creek 508. I hope we honor her as much as we honor Jim. I hope we remember not only Jim and his life, but all cyclists killed needlessly by automobiles. I didn’t need to know Jim to be impacted by his senseless death. All who ride are impacted by it, and by the terrible message sent today by the courts.

Common Mistakes I Hope To Avoid: Stage 4

On paper, this is my favorite stage. I simply love Death Valley. I’ve had my best and worst rides on this single stretch of road, and it’s the only stretch on which I truly never know what to expect. I love the changing colors and conditions on the valley floor. But during The 508, cruising along in the middle of the night, this is the stage where the reality of the race really starts to set in. In Spring of 2009, I rode in 5 hours to Shoshone from Furnace Creek during the Spring Death Valley Double Century. In the fall, it took me 11.5 hours to cover the same road. Nobody could have expected winds like that. In 2007, I watched the sun rise in the valley floor. In 2010, I saw just how many racers stop to rest and sleep, and how others shine when the sun goes down.

In '09, the climbs out of Death Valley were brutal after the headwinds on the valley floor. I was demoralized, but my crew was awesome. So was the crew of another racer in front of us. The Spirit Of The 508 is humbling, and attitude is everything.

Mistake 1: Dark Thoughts

It’s obvious on this course just how long and hard it is. After Furnace Creek, the physical challenges take a turn. When the sun sets and the dark of night settles in, racers have pushed beyond “double-century” distance and physical issues and into “ultra-marathon” distance and physical issues. In 2009, I was demoralized by the winds. I really did just sit down in Badwater and cry before my crew (who said later they wouldn’t have blamed me for quitting) got me back on the bike (actually, I walked into the wind, because I wasn’t able to clip in) and at least moving.

In 2010, the difference between those who were doing well and those who were struggling (this is a sweeping generalization, mind you), was positive attitude. One of my friends, Western Wood PeeWee, was climbing out and smiling on Jubilee. Butterfly was enjoying the course much more than in ’09. Jaguar was riding briefly with another cyclist and sharing some experience. Attitude is everything.

Mistake 2: Forgetting The Plan
At this point in The 508, it really stops being about the other racers (with notable exceptions for those in the front of the pack) and starts being an “individual effort.” Even though those blinking amber lights look close, they’re often well up the road. There’s no right or wrong way to handle the night. Some of my friends plan on sleeping a couple of hours. Others plan on pushing through to hit Shoshone by dawn. And others are going to wait and see how it goes. I would prefer to not get off the bike to sleep, but I have no way of knowing how I’ll feel once I’m out there. The only thing I know is that I’ll do what’s best for me. If I need to sleep, then I’ll sleep. And if I can get up and over the exit passes in the dark, then that’s fine, too. The fact of the matter is that I still have a double century to ride even though I’ve put 300 miles on my legs.

Mistake 3: The Silent Treatment

The crew is in full-on follow mode, but they still need to be coming up and checking in. It’s easy to get inside your head and question everything: training, planning, distance, speed. Doubts skitter across the mind like the scorpions on the road (Yes, there are scorpions. Lots of them.). In 2009, I was thankful every single moment my crew pulled up to just check on me and give me 15 seconds of conversation. I couldn’t have done it without their encouragement.

Mistake 4: The Silent Treatment, Part Deux

And while I’m talking about crew, here’s where your coherent decisions to choose the right people to sit in that van really pays off. I’m hard headed. I think I know it all out there. “Gels? Nah. I’m good.” It’s easy to be on good terms with the crew in the opening stages. Much different is that conversation in the middle of the night when I’m miserable. I don’t want to eat? Too bad. I think I’m going smooth and don’t need to take 5? Too bad. I think I’m taking in enough fluids and electrolytes and can skip this bottle? Guess again. I have to communicate to my crew. And when I’m not communicating with them, they need to be able to do what they know is right, even though I might be babbling an argument to the contrary.

Mistake 5: That Sinking Feeling

Go back through and read the blogs of 508 Finishers. Read the blogs of those who DNF’d. And read the blogs of those who, like me, barely made it through alive. One common element is stomach issues. It’s amazing how the body just shuts down and says “Yeah, I think we need to be done now.” That relatively civil statement, in my case, was expressed through vomiting and dizziness. Not so much fun. Pay attention to the body. I had been complaining of stomach discomfort for quite some time up Jubilee Pass, but when I descended that short mile off the back, my body just quit. I didn’t want to eat anything at all (sound familiar?). My crew, though, finally convinced me to try a single bite of a Hammer Bar.

Turns out a lot of my “distress” was just being hungry. I’d get sick again (and not just a rumbly tummy from hunger) before the end. But it’s safe to say that expecting the unexpected from your body is a safe bet. As my coach is fond of saying: it’s better to sleep it off and finish in 46 hours than it is to give up and take a DNF.

Mistake 6: Satisfaction

Hey, the “tough part” is over, right? But there are still 200 miles to go. Around Shoshone, I thought it was good to start realizing what I’d already accomplished. I drew determination from what I’d already conquered. After the winds of 2009 in Death Valley, nothing was going to keep me from finishing. Still, we hadn’t finished anything. Ibex Pass isn’t a leg breaker, and if you can make it through Furnace Creek without stopping, you can do the same in Shoshone. Seriously. Just get to Baker. From there, you really can start thinking ahead… a little bit. :-)

(To Be Continued…)

Common Mistakes I Hope To Avoid: Stage 3

I know you think this stage is all about Townes Pass, but it’s not. That climb certainly is a part of it, but there are a hundred miles on this stage, and only 30 of them are on the pass. It’s easy to overlook those other 70 miles.

Mistake 1: Getting Ahead of Myself

The first climb of Stage 3 actually is the Trona Bump. It’s not much more than that, but it does take a little time to get up and over. The descent into the Panamint Valley is well-paved, and smooth. And that descent can get just as zippy as the descent off Townes Pass. And all that speed is part of the problem. It’s easy to start thinking about Townes, and hammering to get there, leaving you in a deficit at the base of the climb. The pavement ahead of the right turn is choppy, so back off a little bit and leave something in the tank for a solid effort on the pass.

Mistake 2: The Bonk

When I was crew chief in 2007, my racer bonked. He had been struggling with a “4-hour” bottle of Hammer products. I love Hammer, but the sludge bottle is one I haven’t been able to really use. Between the bottle and gels, my rider was taking on more than he could digest. And by the floor of the Panamint, he was sick. We pulled over when he  got sick. The calorie dump made him feel instantly better, and for 15 minutes, he rode like a house on fire. The problem was that it was all adrenaline. At the right hand turn up Townes, he bonked hard. For more than 2 hours, it was impossible to get him on the bike and moving. I thought we were going to be done right then and there.

In 2009, a similar thing happened. Nervous about the stage and getting sick again, my now-teammate was looking for “retribution” on the climb. Rather than pulling on the 4-hour Hammer bottle, he just went with water. The very obvious problem was that he was undernourished from the start of the stage. Halfway up Townes Pass, we were off the road once more, with the rider bonking, and more than an hour ticking by.

In 2010, as a race official, I saw a lot of riders stopped and struggling up the climb. The calorie deficits and hard bonks can occur anytime, anywhere on the course. But they seemed to occur most often in Stage 3 and again in Baker.

Mistake 3: Forgetting How To Climb

OK. The climb. Everyone thinks about it. You can’t look at the race profile and NOT think long and hard about the climb. The first third isn’t too steep. Up to 2000 feet, it’s a decent up with just a couple turns. Between 2,500 and 3,500 feet, though, the grade ticks up. At the guard rail, the climb is real work. Here’s where the rider and crew get a view of the entire Panamint. By the 4,000-foot sign, the grade levels back out, and it’s a straight shot up and over the top. For me, the most important thing is to not overthink the climb. I don’t need to stop at the base and “size it up.” I don’t need to blow up the first 1,000 feet of the climb only to explode at 3,000. I need to keep myself settled into a good climbing rhythm.

Mistake 4: Testosterone Poisoning (Redux){Redux}

Notice the trend? The biggest mistake I can make is not riding my race, but someone else’s. It’s easy to do, so I have to keep reminding myself. Rather than riding with my pride, I need to ride with my legs. I hate walking. It used to happen often (I came to cycling in general, and ultracycling in particular, late in life, so I simply don’t have the physique or abilities a lot of cyclists have), and there’s a reason I have a goal of “not stopping” on the Townes Pass climb, or to not walk the bike. Those are goals. But there’s no reason why those goals should prevent me from doing whatever it takes to get up and over the top. In 2010, I saw a guy practically sprinting to the top. He was in his sneakers and running with his bike. He was going faster than many of the riders still on their bikes. Clearly, this was part of his plan. In the end? Hey, whatever it takes. Remember there is a lot of road left ahead. We’re not even to the halfway point, so there better be enough in the legs to tackle the rest of the course.

Mistake 5: Break a Land Speed Record.

The descent off the pass intimidates me more than the climb. It’s dark. It’s 60 mph. There’s a van 20 feet behind me. Some racers are confident enough to let go and bomb it to the floor of Death Valley. I don’t need to do that. Rather than trying to make up time on the descent, just ride within myself to the bottom. No one is going to lose a ton of time on a big descent.

Mistake 6: Forgetting The Destination

It’s not Furnace Creek. The Time Station in the middle of Death Valley is nothing more than a very famous halfway point. The reason I have as a goal “don’t stop at Furnace Creek” is that I don’t want to make this Time Station more significant than it actually is. It’s #3… of 8! Yeah, there are bathrooms there. There also will be half a dozen crew vehicles there with resting riders. There will be a steady flow of team vans pulling in for rider transfers. It’s too chaotic here to honestly rest. It’s noisy and bright. Head on down the road a couple miles if the crew needs a pit stop.

Furnace Creek has an undeniable pull. I’ve done the Spring Double Century a few times, and the hardest part of that ride isn’t the climbs or the distance: it’s escaping the gravity of Furnace Creek. The same holds true for The 508. Minutes become an hour or more in the Twilight Zone of Furnace Creek. My goal simply is to roll past, shout out my totem, and continue down the road.

(To Be Continued…)

Common Mistakes I Hope To Avoid: Stage 2

Finally on the road during the 2009 FC 508. Just three pedal strokes from the Time Station in California City, I was enjoying the tailwind.

Stage 2 is an odd little stage. There aren’t any terrible climbs. The adrenaline of Stage 1 has warn off, and the reality of Stage 3 is looming just over the horizon. But Stage 2 has its own challenges.

Mistake 1: Railroad Tracks

There are some tracks crossing the road just before the climb up to Randsburg. Prior to the 2009 ride, my coach and others had warned me to be prepared for them. In hindsight, I don’t really recall the crossing with any specificity. I remember vaguely thinking “that wasn’t so bad,” then crossing another set and thinking “Oh. That’s what they meant.” The crossing requires you to dismount. It’s just a few seconds. Better safe than sorry.

Mistake 2: Nutrition and Hydration

By the time a rider leaves California City, the weather for the afternoon will be in place. In 2009, the tailwind was incredible. Since I was on a 2x relay, my adrenaline kicked in and I averaged just under 20 mph for the entire stage. It was a great ride. In 2010, as an official, I saw how the lack of tailwinds and increased heat really took their toll. There’s no cover on this stage, but it’s still a pretty quick road. It’s easy to lose track of time and the need to hydrate and take in calories. It’s pretty easy on the climbs, but the crew will need to spot the right location for safe handoffs during leapfrog support.

Mistake 3: Stop Sign

Just down the road from California City, there’s a right hand turn toward the rollers and the climb to Randsburg. In 2010, I parked my vehicle, which clearly said “Race Official,” right in front of the stop sign at that right turn. Seriously. The intersection is a T, and it was impossible to make that turn without looking directly at the Official Vehicle parked across the street. But the first two riders blew the stop. Time Penalty. It’s one of only a handful of stops on the course, so pay attention. There’s some desert voodoo going on at that intersection that somehow renders that stop sign invisible to some racers. Circle the intersection on your route sheet, and make sure your crew is in place, outside the van, ready to remind you of the requirement to come to a full stop.

Mistake 4: Testosterone Poisoning (Redux)

In 2009, I was going like a bat out of hell (sorry for the cliche). The Randsburg climb is a good one. As you can read in a lot of route descriptions, it’s not that bad, but it gets steeper toward the top. I do remember enjoying the climb. I passed a couple riders just before it, and I passed a handful more on the grade, itself. It felt good. And I was in my big ring. Later, when I was going over the race with my coach, I bragged about that last fact. His quote: “Why did you do that? Just because you can ride the big ring, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.” I thought about that for a long time. I’m not saying that the big ring was absolutely wrong. But it’s true that I could have climbed to Randsburg in nearly the same time but with much less strain and effort on my cardiovascular system and my legs.

Chris Kostman and the AdventureCorps staff van caught up with me on the road just as I was on the first roller. I didn't make the final cut of the '09 recap video, but this pic proves I was there!

Mistake 5: Ignoring the Rollers

Here’s where it gets a little tricky out on the course. We all think about the big climbs and the big descents. In looking at the searches that lead people to my blog, I see one of the most common being a search for “grades” of the climbs, and “elevation gain.” I’m not saying to ignore the climbs. They really are big. But after working hard on the climb to Randsburg, I was on the road to Trona in just a few very fast, short miles. The rollers surprised me with their stiffness. These aren’t 50-foot bumps. These are rollers that last a half mile to a mile. There are three of them. And by the time I was up and over that last one, I was really ready to be done with them.

Mistake 6: What Crosswinds?

The descent off the rollers is long and fast. At just 15 miles or so from the Trona Time Station, I was in a hurry to get there. Now, I’m not the world’s most confident descender, but there really wasn’t a way for me to prepare for the speed of the 508 course. A few yards into that descent off those rollers, I was at 45 mph and climbing. I was kind of having fun until that first gust of crosswind hit. I was riding a shallow-rimmed Mavic Ksyrium wheel with bladed spokes, and that gust nearly lifted me off the road and across it into oncoming traffic. We had not idea that the winds were a taste of things to come. But rest assured, I’ll be ready for the crosswinds right there.

Mistake 7: Are We There Yet?

The last 15 miles of Stage 2 are some of the longest. The road is flat, and you can see a very long way. It’s tough looking for a “destination;” in this case, the time station in Trona. It didn’t help that in 2009, when riding this stage, that we hit our first headwinds just outside of town. When I got to Trona, I was genuinely thankful to be done with the stage and take a break. In 2010, as a race official, I saw a lot of racers, both solo and teams, on this particular stage. There was a concentration of cyclists coming into Trona between 4:00-6:00 p.m. In going back to make sure lights were on for night support, I saw a lot of riders on the side of the road, disappointed at how far “behind” they were. With all that effort awaiting on Stage 2, it can be tough to get into Trona late.

Mistake 8: Machismo

Stage 1 is all adrenaline and glee. Stage 2 starts off fun, but the reality of the length is setting in by Trona. Here, too, was the first place the crew became vital for a lot of racers. I saw a lot of crews bickering, arguing, and already discontent with the race. I saw others already kicking into “support” and “cheerleader” mode. At 150 miles, there’s some fatigue setting in. The Queen Stage is up next. There’s a mixture of fear, anxiety, happiness, anticipation, confidence, trepidation, and god-knows-what-else going on in the rider.

I was very happy with my Stage 2 time and effort. Here I am naively smiling like The 508 is something fun to do. I had no idea what was up next. I did, however, enjoy a burrito!

Mistake 9: Dinner

Trona is where the crew eats. Period. The burritos wouldn’t be much special in any other setting. In Trona? During The 508? It’s mana. Seriously. The best burrito I’ve ever had was that burrito in Trona. Considering what’s ahead for the crew, make sure they stop. Join the herd. Eat a burrito (or taco). Tank up on gas for the van and fuel for the folks. It’s great to support the local community there (If you’ve never been to Trona, trust me, I’m sure they appreciate every cent of business we can give them.), and it’s a big morale boost to have hot food.

Up next… well… you already know what’s up next.

(To be continued…)

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