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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.

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…)

One Arm

All That Sacrifice To Practice Sign Language

We ride so that a 3,000-foot climb can take on enough of a personality to deserve genuine ire.

It really does feel sometimes as though my life is sucking down the drain as I prep for this race. I think the biggest surprise for me when I first got involved with The 508 is just how much dedication goes into it.

The Furnace Creek 508 is not just a weekend in October. It’s a year-round obsession.

Part of it is riding, and riding smart. That still translates to riding 6-8 hours a day most days, with longer endurance rides thrown in.

Part of it is logistics and preparation. I don’t make much money, so I don’t have the luxury of just running out and buying the things I want or need. I have to save money throughout the year, then not be afraid to pull the trigger on the items I need. That new Jamis Xenith SL? Yeah. I work in a bike shop for a reason.

Part of it is outright neglect. We neglect friends, declining to go to parties or dinners. We neglect our families, testing their patience and support. We neglect ourselves, stealing hours of sleep to go out on the bike. We neglect work, but don’t tell our employers that our “working from home” day last week was really a day of hill repeats and a cell-phone check in at the top.

Part of it is salesmanship. How else do you explain convincing three people to take time off work to drive down to SoCal, to then drive through Death Valley and Mojave…and 15 mph, for two days and nights? I started off crewing, and I know how tough it is. In many ways, I think crewing is the tougher job. The cyclist just has to pedal. The crew? They have to be part pit crew, part mechanic, part massage therapist, part psychologist, part drill sergeant, and all saint.

Despite all the planning and all the preparation over the past 12 months, however, I still have a massive list of tasks that need my attention. I’m stressing that list. And I’m at the point of paranoia. I’m no longer shaking hands with anyone, and I’m a hair’s breadth away from wearing a flu mask for fear of getting sick before the race. I’m begging off important events (Baby shower for my best friends? On a weekend? Sorry. I can’t make it. And yes, I realize you are the same friends whose wedding I missed because it conflicted with The 508; a wedding in which I was asked to be one of only three groomsmen.)

When I was growing up, my Dad would always say he was “busier than a one-armed paper hanger.” Until The 508, I didn’t really understand what that phrase meant. And this 2011 version? I feel like one arm would be a damned luxury at this point.

The Crew Van

I just made my reservation for the crew van. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. I did a 1-week rental from Enterprise, which offers either a Chrysler Town and Country van or a Dodge Grand Caravan. Both are within the race rules, as far as I can remember. But the width requirement really is a tough one to account for. We’re a little hamstrung by rental availability and offerings. Fingers crossed!

Labor Day Getaway

I’m packing up my Cervelo (it’s nice to have 2 bikes so that one of them can become the “travel” bike.) and heading to Southern California.

I’ve been so incredibly stressed the past few weeks, that getting out of Dodge is about the most appealing thing I can do right now. It’s a little stressful since Monday is a holiday. It means a drive back of 6-7 hours followed by an 8-hour bike ride. But the ability to just getaway and not focus on the amazing amount of work I’m doing is well worth that particular sacrifice.

I’m looking forward to being able to ride my bike in a different location. I’m looking forward to spending time focusing on people rather than on deadlines. I’m looking forward to the road trip. Well, I’m really looking forward to a lot of different things.

I’m hoping to get some real rest and sleep, even though I’m away from home. As Oct. 8 gets closer and closer, I find it harder to stay focused on anything but the start line of The 508. I need a break!

Field Test

I got my schedule from Michael Emde this morning. Because of some prior commitments, I’ve not been able to train much the past few days. Next week, though, I have my field test to look forward to. I’m always nervous before these explosive efforts. Basically, I have to ride as hard as I can for 20 minutes, then take a 20 minute rolling rest, then hit it again as hard as possible for the next 20 minutes. When I finish, I take the data from those two 20-minute efforts and get max heart rate, average heart rate, max cadence, average cadence, distance covered, max speed, average speed, power output, etc. Emde then takes all that data and crunches numbers to devise the best way to get me from here (which is slightly out of shape and with a huge goal ahead) to there (in shape, skinny, powerful, and ready to tackle The Furnace Creek 508) in 8 months or so.

Time, she is a ticking!