Posts Tagged ‘Endurance Cycling’

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.”

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!

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…)

Common Mistakes I Hope To Avoid: Stage 1

This Is The Only Goal That Matters

Medals are given in 29 Palms, not California City.

As I said in an earlier post, I’ve seen this race now from three perspectives: crew chief, racer, and race official. Each one of those positions gave me some valuable insights into the race. There are some glaring errors and missteps that I have seen and hope to avoid. Many are tied directly to my goals. But some are unique to my own psyche and are just things I know I need to avoid in order to get the most out of my body. Will I finish the 508? I can’t guarantee anything. There are too many variables at play. But that finisher’s medal and jersey are the only goals of mine that honestly matter. This is a race where finishing IS winning. With that in mind, here are some (not all) of my observations (some of my own riding experiences, some from watching my rider/teammate struggle, and some as an official roving the course) to help get me (and hopefully other riders reading this blog) to that finish line. God, what a feeling that is to see Chris at the end and hear him say “good job.”

Stage 1

Mistake 1: Going Out Too Hard

I set a goal of being in the back at the start line, and to also be near the back when we turn into San Francisquito. This is my own approach. I ride harder when I know I’m in front of someone else. I obsess about when he or she will overtake me, and I push much harder than I should. I’d rather sit back and move up through the field at my own pace.

Mistake 2: Testosterone Poisoning

It’s a race. I know. But it’s a really long race. The chances I’ll bury someone on that first climb, never to see them again, are slim to none. That really only happens at the front of the race, where the freaks of nature who can finish this race in 28 hours are riding. For us mortals? The race is farther back, and will be a competition solely between our legs and the pavement under the wheels.

Mistake 3: Missing The Route

In 2010, a couple of solos and teams missed the fork in the road, and riders took off in the wrong direction. Those riders lost hours, not to mention confidence. Some of them never recovered. The psychological impact at that point is difficult to overcome. Know the course. We’re only without support crews for 24 miles, and it’s not like there are a lot of turns to navigate. A little homework here is necessary to avoid an obvious blunder. Oh, and watch the descent off that first climb. The road ends in a t-intersection where you take a left to meet up with the crew. As officials, we were asked to slow riders down right there, because the stop sign comes up quickly.

Mistake 4: Worrying About Position

This one goes a little bit with the first couple Mistakes. It is easy to get caught up in the race to California City. The problem is that a lot of racers got demoralized by their arrival times/positions. The reality is that there are few issues a rider can’t recover from over the duration of the race and the entirety of the course. I honestly hope to be into California City at a certain time/placement. That said, I firmly expect to be the last solo racer straggling in right there.

Mistake 5: Lunch

There’s no reason to stop in California City. Yes, there’s a restroom and a Subway and a Kwik-E-Mart and lots of other shiny distractions. Let the crew take advantage of them. Seriously. Whatever the crew needs/wants at noon on Saturday, they should get. There are plenty of long stretches when they’ll have to be spartan. But stay on the bike (this goes pretty much for all time stations). I got in the habit of stopping at “rest stops” when I rode double centuries. The Furnace Creek 508 is not a double. Time Stations aren’t rest stops, they’re time sucks.

(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 van signage for the 2011 FC 508

I am so excited. I got my van signage in the mail over the weekend, when I was out of town. I just picked it up in the rental office, and I couldn’t be happier. For those who don’t know, The Furnace Creek 508 uses totems rather than bib numbers for racers. I really had a tough time figuring out what kind of totem I wanted to claim as my own.

In 2009, I competed as part of Team 2xThrasher. That was the totem of my teammate, and definitely did not embody my personality. In 2010, I had registered for The 508 and been accepted under the totem of “Plow Horse.” That name came from the 2009 race, when I was the lucky soul who had to ride the Furnace Creek-Shoshone stage. For more details on that stage, you can go back through my blog and read about what it’s like to ride into 50+mph headwinds. At the low point (literally) in Badwater, one of the crew told me I was like a plow horse out there. It seemed fitting.

However, I had some health issues last year, and I had to bow out of the race. I was a race official, instead. And it was around that time that I got myself tickled. I was mulling over various totem names, and I was thinking about my own (I wanted something alliterative), when I realized I wanted something a bit more on the lighter side. I had just seen Rob Zombie in concert, and it hit me that I could easily alter the spelling of the name, and have a totem that really did speak to my personality.

The ZomBee was born!

Fast forward to 2011, and you have my approach to The 508. See, here’s my philosophy. This race is something special. And when you get to the start line, you’ll see more than one approach to it. The rules are pretty specific about what has to appear in the way of signage. However, there are few specifications as to HOW that signage should appear. I’ve seen vans with totem names spelled out in duct tape. And I’ve seen vans with low-resolution paper printouts plastered to the sides with painter’s tape. Others have shelled out the bucks for car magnets and big time graphics. I’m somewhere in the middle.

I don’t want something cheap. It just seems… disrespectful. Of the race. Of the effort. I also couldn’t afford several hundred dollars worth of car magnets. So, I opted for vinyl lettering and a couple of vinyl graphic signs, like the one pictured in the blog. I ordered a few bumper stickers, too, to give to sponsors, family, and friends. Do I need to have spiffy van graphics and signage? No. But having a little more investment in everything, not just riding a bike, serves as healthy motivation. This morning, looking at the signage, I’m thrilled. I’m one step closer to October 8th. I might die out there on the course. I might DNF. I also might surprise myself. Whatever the result, at least I’ll look good doing it! 🙂

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. 🙂

 

It’s Not (Just) About Grades

I don’t mean letter grades in school. 🙂

What I mean to say is that preparing for The Furnace Creek 508 isn’t all about scouting out the course or trying to anticipate the average grade of any given climb.

Here’s what I can tell you about The 508 course. I’ve served three roles. I’ve been a crew chief in 2007. I was an official finisher of the race (Team 2x Thrasher) in 2009. And I was a race official last year. This year, I’m attempting a solo race. Here’s some of what I’ve learned.

1. Everyone focuses on Townes Pass. Everyone. Even people who claim they aren’t. When you look at the profile of the race, it’s the biggest spike. However, that stage doesn’t have the most elevation gain. Not to downplay the climb, it’ll take some hit points out of a rider, but The 508 has a lot more than that stretch of road. Given that it also comes at the 200-mile point, a lot of riders who have only ridden double centuries, understandably struggle after the summit.

2. The Devil lives at the top of Salsberry Pass. With all the climbing already in the legs, this climb kills a lot of people. I’ve seen riders up and over in the dead of night. I rode up and over it in the early morning (2009 was the year of the crazy headwinds). And some have made it up and over in mid-day. But this climbing is now in the second half of the race, and riders’ bodies (and minds) start to respond in often-unexpected ways.

3. Time. I can’t tell you how many people blow out of the start, up the first climbs, and absolutely hammer the first two stages trying to reach Townes Pass, only to flame out and die over the next two stages. I remember these words of wisdom from a very experienced racer: “You can’t win The 508 in the first 25 miles. But you can certainly lose it.”

4. Time (part 2). The majority of riders who DNF do so somewhere between Furnace Creek and Baker. Baker, with all that civilization just begging for a long stop, seems impossibly far from 29 Palms when you’re sleep-deprived, sore, and suffering. But look at the finishing times. Even if things are going terribly wrong, there’s likely time to recover. Many riders could spend 6-8 hours sleeping if they absolutely had to, and still have time to make it to 29 Palms before the cut off.

5. Goals. They’re great to have, but they also can derail a rider. Look at my goals that I posted a few months back. I have bare minimums (just finish) to pie-in-the-sky (Townes Pass in daylight). Having those lofty goals is all well and good, but not if they become the focus of the ride. Yes, this is a race. But if you spend all your energy blazing land-speed records in the first 150 miles, the final 350 miles are going to be a suffer fest. Ride within yourself and your abilities. Set healthy goals. If you end up missing the high-end goals, no harm no foul. If you miss the bare minimum goals, it’s a DNF.

6. Stay on the bike. Every break takes up valuable time. When I was crew chief, I could count close to 5 hours of off-the-bike time for various issues from a severe bonk to mechanical issues with the crew van. Ultimately, most riders will get tired of being on the bike and try to find reasons to quit pedaling. If there’s a goal that really stands out to me, it’s to not stop at time stations. A 10-15 minute “rest break” at time stations translates to 2+ hours added to the finishing time. That’s a ton. I think it’s probably a pretty safe bet that racers finishing in 40 hours would have much preferred 38.

I can obsess about stages and profiles as much as the next rider. I look at the elevation profile of Stage 1 (which I’ve not ridden), and do a comparable ride in my area during training. I’ve been doing this lately. And I look down and see that it took me 7 hours to ride 90 miles. Then I look at the times racers complete Stage 1 and wonder how the hell they did it. Four hours? Are you kidding me? Next thing I know, I’ve psyched myself out and convinced myself I have no business being on the course.

The truth, though, is that The 508 isn’t all about the grades of the climbs. Each climb comes with an equally long and fast descent. Some short climbs have epic descents. Some long climbs have easy grades but gnarly headwinds. Some flat stages actually go up. Some stages that supposedly go “down” actually go “up.” The course is a mindfuck, which is the ultimate lesson.

At some point, the rides have to be enough. At some point, the training you’ve ridden all year is just that: training. The actual race can play out one of a hundred different ways. In 2009, I was excited to ride Death Valley. Furnace Creek to Shoshone is a 4-hour stage. I knew I could nail it. It ended up taking me 11.5 hours and nearly killed me. I couldn’t have predicted that wind storm.

The one guarantee? Each race has its own personality. Maybe we’ll get lucky and have tailwinds the entire race. Maybe it will be scorchingly hot. Maybe it will be frigid and wet (it rained last year!). There might be devastating winds. There might be a short climb that kills you, or a long climb that builds you up. I was throwing up in 2009, which never happens to me. There’s simply no way to predict it.

I just know it’s not ALL about the grades.

(For more thoughts and observations on specific stages, please visit  https://zombee508.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/common-mistakes-i-hope-to-avoid-stage-1/

I’m Riding!

It’s been far too long since I was active here posting. And I’ve had some folks wondering how I’m doing.

A quick glance backward. I’m a dad to a great 12-year-old boy, and he spends 6 wonderful weeks with me every summer. As such, I don’t get to ride nearly as much as I probably should be, but I made due. I got some rides in. I maintained. We spent a couple weeks with my folks in Illinois, and thanks to The Bike Surgeon there, I got a loaner bike to let me get out and keep up with my training.

I’ve also been pulling some late nights trying to keep up with 4 jobs trying to make ends meet. I started working at La Dolce Velo bikes in San Jose to help me afford the things I need to undertake The 508. I’m able to get in some long rides on the weekends, and a long ride or two during the week. The rest of the time is filled with watching what I eat, recovery rides, and the odd threshold ride to work on the cardio.

One last kernel of news: I now have a new bike. I didn’t get rid of my Cervelo R3, which I rode during the 2009 Furnace Creek 508. But adding to it, and the main bike for 2011, is the Jamis Xenith SL. It’s a great bike. Far and away the most responsive bike I’ve ever ridden. And I’m putting it through its paces. Right now, it’s a little tough. The geometry is different enough that my legs are fatiguing a bit differently, and I’m definitely feeling the work as I break in the new saddle and get the bike in shape (and me along with it).

Yesterday wasn’t a great one on the bike. There wasn’t anything specifically “wrong,” per se. It was just one of those days on the bike when things feel off. I felt sluggish. I felt slow. I felt just not quite up for the ride. Today, though, I felt much better. I chalked up yesterday as nothing to “correct.” I slept in this morning, and I felt good when I rolled out this morning. And now, 8 hours later, I felt good with my time on the bike. I thought the effort was solid. I could have gone faster, but I definitely rode within myself. I didn’t push too hard. And I didn’t try to do too much. I just rode. And at the end of the day, that’s what I needed more than anything. I logged well over 100 miles, which I’ll duplicate several more times before October.

More than anything, I’m feeling the approach of the race. I’m ready to get on with it, even if I don’t feel 100% ready physically. I feel stronger. I feel in good shape. But there’s just no feeling “ready.” There are so many variables. So much can go wrong. My job is to make sure everything in power goes right. I have a great crew set. I have my lights and signage, and I’ve managed to save enough to make the trip and the race as stress-free as possible.

So, that’s where I’ve been. I’ve been busy. I’ve been riding.

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.

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