Posts Tagged ‘Furnace Creek 508 Elevation’

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…)

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/