Posts Tagged ‘Positive Thinking’

My Ride

My Body (Tells Me No) (Young The Giant singing my theme song for the 2011 Furnace Creek 508)

Over the past year, I have changed as a man. Forget about riding a bike for a minute. I spent more time working on myself, my identity and what matters most to me, than at any other point in my life. And the end result? I like me. I’m so far from perfect, but I know some things about me I didn’t know at this time last year.

My body tells me no.
So, I’m going to go ride this 508+ miles in the desert in just a couple weeks. People ask me “why?” And I don’t have a logical answer.

But I won’t quit…
And maybe that’s the answer. I grew up quitting. I quit football. I quit track. I quit things that were hard, or tough, or challenging. Then I joined the military, and for once I stuck it out. I discovered that I can accomplish some amazing things when I put my mind to it. I like not quitting, even though there still are times when I can’t make my goals.

‘Cuz I want more.
And don’t we all really want more? That’s why there’s a hall of fame for The Furnace Creek 508. That’s why we keep showing up at start lines; why we batter our bodies and spirits in the desert; why we roll in to the finish hours later than we ever thought, and for a shirt.

It’s my road.
Because it’s my road. There are 230 other cyclists out there? Good for them. I’m going to beat some of them. Some of them are going to beat me, and handily. But it doesn’t matter. Fast. Slow. Somewhere in between. Win? Dead fucking last? Both get a medal. Both get a jersey. Both get bragging rights.

So here’s the deal, folks. It’s your road. It’s your ride. There’s no right way to ride 508 miles. There’s no wrong way. You want to stop and sleep 4 hours in Furnace Creek and eat a massive sandwich and bag of potato chips? You go right on ahead. Want to go on a full Hammer Nutrition regimen? Great! You want to ride a triple chain ring? If that’s what it takes, do it. You want to hire a coach? Then god bless.

I can give you advice, and so can others. I’ve only ridden the course once, and that was as part of a two-person team. I don’t have any great insight you don’t already have yourself. I just know what works for me. I have a coach. I ride a double chain ring (however, I did just put on an 11/28 cassette). I use Hammer Nutrition. Why? It works for me.

In 2009, my teammate spent the better part of the drive from 29 Palms back to Santa Clarita telling me that I wasn’t ever going to be the kind of cyclist who needs a coach. That I should get off the Hammer Nutrition. “Get yourself a triple and ride the way you’re supposed to.” Thanks, but no thanks. That’s HIS ride, not mine.

We all begin at the start line smiling and laughing and expecting to do great things. Many cross the finish line looking beleaguered and destroyed. Many others will have to stop along the way and take a DNF. The only time we’re all on the same program is there at the start. Once the wheels start turning, each rider is on his or her own. What works for me won’t work for you. Just as what works (relatively speaking) for my former teammate works for him, but doesn’t come close to working for me.

It’s your road. It’s your race. Go ride it.

We each have our own ride. All the advice in the world doesn't change it. I hope everyone, myself included, has an amazing ride.

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!

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/

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.

Champing at the Bit

(First, a disclaimer: it really is “champing,” not “chomping.”) heh

I have my bike back, but it’s the last week of the semester, and I’m scratching and clawing for time to ride. This past week was, fortunately, a rest week for me, but I am getting super nervous about the lack of riding over the past couple of weeks. The Davis Double Century is coming up in 2 weeks, and I’m going to try to get out there and hammer through that one. I need to be on a bike for long, consecutive hours.

For now, though, I’m stuck in a grading spiral. I’m hoping that the next two days will be enough to get me over the hump. But I. Want. To. Ride.

OK. Enough procrastinating on my blog. Grading now so I can roll tomorrow (well… not literally tomorrow, but you know what I mean.)

Tour de Cure

I didn’t think I’d make it to this one. New jobs. Big stresses. Etc. Etc. There just wasn’t time.

Long story short, I decided I wanted to do it, so I got up insanely early and drove to Napa Sunday morning, arriving at 6:15 to prep for the 100-mile ride. Having been out on the route, I now see why people like this ride. It’s absolutely flat (to me) and fast. Of course, there are some issues, as I quickly discovered.

My timing was spot on. I had just enough time to ready my bike, fill my bottle, stuff my jersey with food and fuel, and check in at registration. After pinning on my bib number, I headed to the start line 2 minutes prior to the roll out, where I saw a friend from my team. We chatted briefly, then headed out in the middle of the pack. After a couple of laughs, I shifted into my big ring and stood up to hammer to the front of the group… only to drop my chain and have to dismount and stop.

It was a sign of things to come.

Thirty seconds later, I had the chain back on and was heading back out to the group. The first few miles are slow and easy over a very nicely paved bike path. I don’t really care for riding on bike paths for this reason: they’re crowded and challenging to navigate with more than a single rider or two. I picked my way up a few riders at a time, until we turned out onto some city back streets and I was able to leapfrog large groups. After a few minutes, I was back up toward the front and in a forming paceline with one other rider who seemed equally interested in going faster, and a big guy with lots of leg strength and plenty of wind break for me to draft behind.

By the time we got to the first major road and the right turn, a few people stopped. I kept rolling, and a couple others (we lost the big guy, but not Scott, a very strong rider) quickly caught up and we started working together. Within five miles or so, between the railroad crossing and the first rest stop (about 17 miles in), we saw three other riders up ahead, and we overtook them at speed.

“We just blew past Chris Carmichael,” I said. “That might be bad form.” (Carmichael markets himself as Lance Armstrong’s coach, and he’s authored a couple books on cycling, and is no slouch in the saddle. He was the lead out for the 100-mile ride, and I don’t think he was expecting a short paceline of three riders to hit a pace that fast, let alone reel him in while he was off the front.)

Scott looked over his shoulder and jokingly asked if we should go back, and I told him I didn’t think that would be necessary. “Besides,” I said, “I plan on blogging this!”

A few minutes later, and as we all suspected, Carmichael and his two riding companions were back up with our group, and the fun was in full gear. With a breakaway of six riders, including myself, we hammered. I have never worked that hard or fast over the first 30 miles of a ride. It was… well… FAST!

The first rest stop was on us before we  knew it. None of us had even touched our bottles, so the stop was entirely unnecessary. We blew past the turn off and headed north toward the outer loop. We all took even pulls at the front, and the highlights of my day were drafting off an Olympic cyclist, then taking my turn at the front when it was my turn. We all were solid bike handlers, so the gaps between wheels were super tight. It’s an adrenaline rush to ride a bicycle at 30 mph with just 3 inches of space between my front wheel and the rear wheel of the cyclist in front of me.

In terms of distance cycling, this course is flat. We went over a couple small rollers, and Scott joked that we had just completed the second-hardest climb of the day. We still were over 20 mph during the incline, so I started doing the math. We were going to finish the 100 miles in under 5 hours, which would be a first for me. As a distance cyclist, the pace was way too high for me, and I knew I couldn’t hang with them for the entire ride (my heart rate was steady in the 150s, which is not sustainable for the duration). But I was determined to hold on as long as I could. We were just a handful of miles from our first rest stop, which we’d also go past, opting to stop after the outer loop. The road had just tilted up a bit, on the only actual climb on the course, and were all still on our big rings, when the group split violently. We had just come on some rough pavement, and it happened too fast for the lead riders to point out the potholes. Instead, they just dodged, which left me, who was second to last in line at the time, to hit it hard.

I’ve hit potholes before. It happens. But this one was violent. Both my bottles flew out of their cages, and I had to peel off to pick them up from the middle of the road. I did it quickly, because I didn’t want to lose contact with my group. But when I went to pedal, my chain had dropped once more. This time, though, I wasn’t able to fix it quickly. A couple minutes went by, and I when I finally got the chain back on, it was clear I had a big problem with my drive train. I’d pedal, then the entire bike would “pop,” and I’d lose power. Pedal, then that hard, violent shake that rattled the frame. Pedal. Pop. Pedal. Pop.

I dismounted. I tinkered. Pedal. Pop. Pedal. Pop.

Ten minutes later, and the next paceline passed me on the climb.

I tinkered some more. Pedal. Pop. Pedal. Pop.

Fifteen minutes off the bike, and the second paceline was through. After 20 minutes, the riders started coming by in small, fragmented groups. And when, after 30 minutes, I started getting passed by a steady stream of individual riders, I knew the bulk of the 100-milers overtake me soon. I was able to limp slowly up the hill at the county line, then descend off the back, but I couldn’t pedal to keep up with them. It was incredible to see how far ahead of the main group we had gotten. And it was disappointing to know I wouldn’t be able to finish the ride.

I limped into the rest stop at the start of the outer loop an hour and 28 minutes after starting. I let them know I was a “mechanical DNF,” and I waited for the SAG to pick me up. My friend Matt made it safely to the rest stop, and we were able to joke a little bit. We talked bike stuff before he rolled out to finish his ride, and I was jealous. It had been cold at the start, but it was up to 80 degrees, and all I wanted was to push around the outer loop and finish.

I did see the group of guys I had been riding with when they rolled into the rest stop after the outer loop. I told them what had happened, and they were all wondering what had happened to me. We talked about who was fast, who was strong, who was climbing well. Then I got in the SAG wagon and headed back toward the start. A few miles from the finish, a mother and son on the 10-mile course had a mechanical breakdown, so I volunteered to get myself back under my own power. I coasted the rest of the way in, then spent a couple hours catching up with other Citadel Riders at the finish line.

After completing half the course, all I can say is I want to go back and do it again next year, hopefully without the mechanical difficulties. It’s ironic to successfully ride 500 miles through harsh terrain, but then break down for the first time on a “leisure ride” in wine country. That’s cycling. But I walked away with still a great experience on the bike, and the confidence that I can keep pace with some very strong cyclists. That part was an absolute blast, and I look forward to getting back out there again.

As soon as the drive train on my bike is fixed. 🙂

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