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
Velvet Ant
Black Sheep

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.



  1. milly Said:

    You are awesome, fit and SANE. Remember this!

    Your training, from what I’ve read here, was on target. Physically and emotionally you were ready to complete this event. However, shit happens. Pneumonia–not your lack of training– stopped you at mile 200. Sounds like you performed remarkably well in spite of the DNF.

    I first crewed in 2008 for Steve Barnes with two other individuals. One of them, David Remington, a Badwater veteran, had trained with Emde for THAT year’s FC 508. His physical fitness was perfect EXCEPT for the fact that, like you, he had pneumonia. His illness came upon him the week before the 508 and, following doctor’s orders, he dropped out of the line up. Though devastated, he participated in the 508 as a crew member for another cyclist. He turned a bittersweet moment into a great experience for himself, the rest of the crew and Steve.

    You completed YOUR own endurance race, YOUR own 508.

    There is next year. See you at the line!

  2. Lori Olsen Said:


    Remember your earlier post about making the race your own? You did just that! And you did it valiantly! The moment I knew you would recover, emotionally, was when I read one of your comments where you said, “See you next year.” So get to recovering, YOUR way and in YOUR own time. You have just under 365 days to plan! SO GET BUSY! 😀

  3. Bill Zimmerman Said:

    Pnemonia is serious business…..and I’m speaking from experience having sparred with it myself on 2 occasions. Take care of yourself. You know you were ready to go this year and you would have made 29 Palms. I look forward to seeing you back at the start line next year.
    My performance sucked pretty badly this year….I think I better start training now for next October.
    Keep pedaling!
    Bill Z (WWPewee)

  4. Hmm, having assisted in treating endurance athletes myself, I find it a little troubling that race officials didn’t take your condition seriously at the time station. Without medics readily available on the road in the 508, riders and their crews are required to decide for themselves when the tipping point is reached, and the officials need to support these decisions, not question them. A poorly thought-out response by officials could induce a rider to push himself next time into a truly dangerous situation. In Ironman, if an athlete presents himself to the medical tent with something more than a blister, the default setting is that he is in trouble and requires immediate care, until determined otherwise.

    You are wise to let the healing proceed while you think about what to do next. When you are ready to go again, we’ll be in your corner!

  5. chris Said:

    Sorry to hear about your DNF, but given the pneumonia it was totally the right thing to do. It’s one thing to ride through pain, but you need to stop when you have the wrong kind of pain. And pneumonia is the wrong kind of pain to ride through. If it’s any consolation, reading your blog about the different stages and things to watch out for was a *huge* help to me in doing it for my first time as a 2x team (Pair O’ Ducks).

  6. Scott Brown Said:

    Hello Zombee, sorry to hear about the pneumonia situation at the FC 508. I certainly enjoyed riding with you and your SAG team was awesome. My best to you and the crew. Hang in there and get better soon.

    Kind Regards,

  7. Tim & Jill Marks Said:

    Hello Zombee – Last year as a race official, you were very supportive & encouaging to us (Pileated Woodpecker & crew). We met up with you at Stovepipe Wells last year – and you & the female race official were the bright spot in an otherwise dark lonely night in Death Valley. You have to be in top physical & mental shape at the start of the 508 and your attempt to continue this year, despite your sickness shows your determination & true grit. You have nothing to hang your head about – Hang in there and see you next year! Best of luck with your recovery!

  8. Steve Said:

    Rob, stuff happens out there and in 2009 I had the same problem at the Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge. At about mile 110 after 10K of climbing I abandoned the event. When checking out at the lunch stop I was told you have plenty of time to finish but after coughing up blood etc. I knew it wasn’t worth it. I came back the next year and wrapped up the unfinished business and also completed the Terrible Two the following weekend (probably something I would not recommend or do again). Take care of yourself and keep the great base that you established this year going and you’ll nail it in 2012! I noticed we ride with the same group so I am hoping to get a chance to roll some miles and climb some hills with you over this next year as you train for a victory in Twentynine Palms in 2012!

  9. Hey ZomBee – Having had to DNF as well, I know exactly what you are going through. If I think about it too much I get choked up. I too was sick going into the race (still am in fact) and just could not push myself any further. Doing so would have been at best stupid and at worst dangerous. I could hardly hold onto my bike anymore.

    Having not finished though, has given me a much greater appreciation for my accomplishment of completing the 508 last year. I don’t think I respected it enough beforehand and made light of finishing it. I now now that completing this race is a huge endeavor and I vow to come back next year better and stronger than ever. I feel as though it is a part of my life and the camaraderie of all the participants gives me a very special feeling. I hope to see you again next year.


    Brooklyn Beast

  10. Well, you know what I think. You actually won the 508 in my book. No one did what you did.

    Rock on, my friend.


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