Posts Tagged ‘Commitment’

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!

Advertisements

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.

Now I’m In Trouble

Over the weekend, my blog got outed by AdventureCorps! lol I went from just a few friends and family members reading it, to now having 200+ on any given day.

So, thanks to Chris for the endorsement. It really was a nice surprise to see the mention on the508.com’s page. I confess to feeling a little bit the weight of expectation now, (“Who is this knucklehead, and what is he doing giving advice?”) and I’ll do my best to not psych myself out here.

Let me just say this for those other racers stumbling across my blog and wondering that very question. The “advice” I’m giving is really advice I’m giving myself. I hope it helps everyone who reads it. I truly do. But really? I’m just thinking out loud here and doing my best to bolster my own confidence.

There are a lot of ways to build the right attitude. Sometimes it’s through the training rides. Sometimes it’s by blogging here and building myself up. Sometimes it’s riding along with other 508ers or through sharing tall tales. And sometimes, it’s a matter of some in-person visualization.

This weekend, I did a stealth getaway to Southern California. During the trip, I dropped into the start line at the Hilton Garden Inn in Santa Clarita. It’s a funny sort of observation, I confess. I know what goes on there in October. But the rest of the year? It’s just a hotel. We 508ers just bring to it a certain kind of …something. Reverence? Awe? Ego? Whatever it is, it means something to stand there at the start and visualize myself in my kit, on the bike, waiting to start pedaling October 8th.

I really enjoyed getting out of town. I needed it. But now the real countdown is on. I’ve worked on finalizing my list of “must haves” for the van, the bike, the racer, the crew, and everything I can think of. I’ve started tonight knocking out those last loose ends. And in doing so, I’ve realized that there are a lot more eyes now watching what I’m doing than there were last week.

Stop by and say hello. Drop a note or a comment. Ask a question. Whatever floats your boat. Or, just wait 4 more weeks, and I’ll see you at the start line when it counts. 🙂

 

Climbing and Hammer Products

The stress dreams continue, with The 508 as their centerpiece. Typically, they all involve iterations of those all-too-familiar high-school nightmares: the showing up naked for class or forgetting about the exam that will determine the course of everything to follow. My 508 dreams center around oversleeping for the start. My parents are always my crew in these dreams, which is ironic, given their propensity for punctuality; specifically showing up 15 minutes early for every date. They are always nonchalant about missing the start, and they tell me things like “Oh, well. It’s probably for the best anyway. That’s such a silly race.”

Clearly, the best way to combat this kind of subconscious stress is to get out and ride. Hard. To help fuel that training, I placed an order for Hammer Nutrition products, and I was excited to try out a couple new additions to my cycling fuel. In particular, I order Anti-Fatigue Caps and Endurance Aminos. I know what some of you are thinking. “Seriously? It’s a cult to Hammer Nutrition.” And I won’t deny it. But, I figured since I had such a good discount on their products as a 508 participant, that it would be worth some experimentation.

Yesterday, I did a 50-mile hill-repeat ride consisting of 2 loops over both sides of Shannon/Kennedy roads, culminating in a climb up Hicks Road, which is my nemesis. There’s nothing as steep as Hicks on The 508, so it’s a good measuring stick for me to climb it (and improve climbing it) as I get closer to the race.

There was some confusion about my training schedule, and I thought I was supposed to be out for 6 hours, but my coach sent me a 2-hour ride, so I ended up splitting the difference to ride 4. Of course, that’s what I ended up doing, not what I planned on, which would come back to bite me in the ass by the end of the day.

To start, I prepared a couple 1-hour bottles (2 scoops of HEED in each) as my primary fuel source. I grabbed three Hammer Gel packs and a tin full of Endurolytes. Prior to heading out, I took 2 each of the Endurance Aminos and the Anti-Fatigue Caps, then hit the road. It was lousy weather, with the temps never getting out of the 50’s. It was raining for a good portion of the ride, and there was enough wind to make it unpleasant. But, I figured I could handle it for 2 hours.

I got to the base of Shannon Road, and, as is always the case, I had to decide between going straight (Shannon road, which is shorter but steeper) or hanging a left (onto Kennedy, which has a couple short steep pitches, but is a longer climb) for the short climbs there. I opted to go straight, since I hadn’t done Shannon in awhile. It felt good to zip up to the top (“zip” being a relative term), and descend off the back side. Since I was only out for a couple hours, I originally intended to head on home, but I decided I could stand to climb a little more, so I turned around and went back up Shannon, which is a longer climb but not as steep. Up and over the top, and down the other side, when I decided to turn onto Kennedy and climb it, too. I felt good after descending the other side of Kennedy, so I turned around there, too, which is a couple miles to the top with a few steeper pitches, but a nice leveling out towards the top.

I don’t remember the last time I did a whole Shannon/Shannon/Kennedy/Kennedy circuit, but it felt good. And rather than heading home, I decided that it was a good idea to push it. It was cold. It was raining. And I, of all people, was pushing myself to climb. I shifted into progressively bigger gears, and completed the whole circuit a second time. I didn’t know what had gotten into me, but it felt great to be riding aggressively on climbs.

The last time up Kennedy, I had a rabbit in front of me. He had made a snide remark at the bottom while I was off to the side of the road swapping out my water bottles. He said something about his not needing to stop when I asked him how he was doing. I just laughed it off and let him go up the road. I try to not get caught up in testosterone poisoning, but after giving him a really healthy head start (100 meters?), I quickly realized I was going to close on him. He kept looking over his shoulder and then digging in to go faster, but I was on his wheel in just a couple minutes. He said something about racing me to the top, so I simply stood up and cranked past him. The last thing I heard him say was “Jesus! I can’t do THAT!” It’s rare that I drop anyone, so I gave myself a few minutes to be proud of it before heading home.

Funny thing was, though, that rather than turning for home, I decided I’d give Hicks a shot. I hate this road. I’ve never been able to climb it. But, I was having a good day, so why not? Onto Hicks I went, and when the road tilted up, I immediately questioned my sanity. My legs were getting tired, and I was out of gels. Despite keeping up with my Endurolytes, I was nearly out of HEED, and I had been nursing it the entire time. Still, I decided I would get further up Hicks than is usual for me before allowing myself to even consider stopping. I had to serpentine my way up (sorry to the descending cyclist in the Rabobank kit who I genuinely scared to death), but I gained a lot more elevation before having to unclip. I’m not climber. I don’t pretend to be. Still, for me, it was a good day, and the hill repeats will help me in the long run.

On the way back down, I cramped pretty severely in both legs. I got a cramp right behind my right knee, which was a knew spot for me. On the left leg, I cramped on my inner thigh, which is a more common place for me to cramp. It was my own fault for not preparing and staying hydrated enough. Still, after a few minutes off the bike working out the cramps, I was able to get back in the saddle and pedal home. I was slower than I would have liked, but I was definitely thankful for that headwind!

All in all, a solid day on the bike. It wasn’t until afterward when I figured out that maybe the new Hammer products had a hand in my climbing better. I’ll have to keep experimenting there to see, but it was definitely an up-tick in my performance level yesterday. And I enjoyed being one of the few cyclists out on a cold, windy, rainy day in the hills. A hundred more rides like that one and I’ll start to feel confident about The 508. 🙂

Up next, the Davis Double Century this weekend.

Training. Training. Training.

“How is your training?”

Yesterday at the bike shop, a friend of mine (and 508 entrant) asked that simple question. My pat answer really doesn’t change: “Not nearly enough.”

No matter how much I ride, I feel like that answer always is accurate. I’m at the point now where I’m breaking down the intervening months and calculating the time remaining between now and the race. In this case, six months just isn’t nearly as long as it sounds. Last week was a rest week, which is tough for me. It just feels like I’m stagnating. This week, given the fact that I am juggling 4 jobs to make ends meet, I’m cramming my cycling in catch as catch can.

It feels rushed. It feels, in a word, inadequate.

But I trust my coach, and I trust his plan. I had a good ride Sunday, and Monday was… well, it’s weird. I don’t really remember it at all. How is that? Tuesday was a threshold training ride, which means up on the trainer inside giving my cardio a workout, and yesterday was a recovery ride. Today, I’m back on the bike for another threshold training session, and a simple recovery ride tomorrow. Then I’m into the weekend. I’ll have an endurance ride Saturday morning, and that will be good. I need to get out and stretch the legs.

Sunday is a longer ride, and I’m hopeful a couple friends of mine will be joining. I’m also taking a friend/bike mechanic out on the road with me to see if crewing is something he wants to do. I need a bike mechanic in the van. After that, it’s just a matter of finding a third person who can be a jack-of-all-trades to help drive/navigate/motivate/etc.

Monday is another long ride, so I’ll have to be up early to get on the road.

When the semester ends, I basically have 2 months to hit the training as hard as I can. Then I’m off for 6 weeks and my summer visit with my son. That period makes training tougher. And on the other side of that, I really only have 6 weeks to make sure I’m ready to go before the race. That’s nothing. It feels too soon. It feels too fast. It feels stressful. I’m starting to obsess again. I go to sleep thinking about rolling out of the start; meeting the crew vans; descending into Panamint; climbing Townes Pass; Death Valley at night; trying to maintain a pace Sunday; crossing the finish line. Sometimes I’m that confident. Sometimes, doubt derails one of those imaginings, and I start thinking about how things go wrong. I think about breaking down in Badwater and crying during an insane windstorm. What if I can’t make it? What if I DNF? What if the training isn’t enough?

I feel too big. I feel too slow. I feel too weak. I need to ride into much better shape. I need to get faster. I need to climb stronger. I need to have a different answer to that question: “How’s the training?”

Enough.

That’s the answer I want to give. I want to say enough. I want to say that my training is enough to know I’m going to be there and give it my all. I want to say it’s enough to silence the doubts and negative thinking. I want to say I’m on it; I’m doing it.

I’m not there yet.

Thoughts on Sierra Road

Let’s start off with a little bit of honesty. I’m not in the best shape of my life. Far from it. But I am in better shape than at any point last year, and that feels pretty good.

This past weekend, some friends of mine invited me on a medium-length ride of 75 miles or so, and the ride included Sierra Road. I was actually thankful that the ride didn’t fit into my training schedule, because I’m not in good enough shape to get up and over Sierra without having to stop a time or two. And when you ride with people like my friends, that’s just a layer of judgment I’d prefer to avoid at present.

Yesterday, though, I hit Sierra Road on my own, and I was quickly reminded just how far I have to go to be in shape for The 508. I have until the first weekend in October to be ready to go. And I’m going to need every day of it!

Sierra has some steep pitches. I’m not entirely sure of the grade, but I heard tell it hits 20% for some very short stretches. It averages 12%-15% over 3+ miles. And it is, in a word, my nemesis. The nice thing about Sierra is knowing that none of the climbs on The 508 are as steep. However, they’re a lot longer, and equally tough. I don’t want to jinx myself here, or make people think I’m somehow not worried about the 35,000 feet of elevation gain in October.

While I was slogging my way to the top yesterday, I had to stop twice. The first stop was about 1/3 of the way up. I pulled off into a driveway and just took a couple of minutes to catch my breath and let my heart rate settle back down into the 130s (I was pegging at 192) before clipping back in and heading back to the top.

The second stop was a tougher one. At about 2/3 of the way up, my shoulders were actually as fatigued as my legs. Not only did I have to stop, but also had to walk my bike for 20-30 meters before I could clip back in and continue to the top. While I was walking, I got passed by a flea-sized man on a mountain bike with two of the smallest front chain rings I had ever seen. I wanted to shove my pump through his spokes. But I didn’t. I was good. I just told him he was doing good, clipped back into my pedals, and passed him up to the top. I have a double chain ring. I refuse to use a triple. So, I wasn’t trying to be a jerk, my slowest was just fastest than his.

The point is that I did make it to the top of Sierra yesterday. And I had a less-than-stellar descent to get back down. I’m not really a great climber or descender, but I was so fatigued after the climb, I fought the descent the entire way down.

So, I have work to do. I’ll get stronger, better, more confident. It’s a process, and I recognize that process. By October, I’ll be doing repeats on Sierra. For now, it’s enough to get to the top, no matter what it takes. That road isn’t going anywhere, and neither am I.

~Zombee