Well, I didn’t know if I was going to able to survive 100K at high altitude, but I did. And I wasn’t completely wrecked either. Almost, but not quite. Since I am a true novice at racing, my goals for any mountain bike race are modest:
1. Finish (no DNF, unless it’s a GREAT story)
In this race I added another goal:finish within the time cutoffs so that I could theoretically qualify for the Leadville Trail 100 if I won the lottery.
I succeeded on all four counts. I did not stay around to try to win the qualifying lottery, since Leadville is out of the question this year.
The race had a 6:30AM start, and I was staying an hour and a half away, which meant getting up at 4AM, a truly ungodly hour. But I correctly reasoned that I wouldn’t sleep well anyway so it didn’t really matter. I was so nervous that when I did get up (before the alarm even)I think that my heart rate was already well into my aerobic training range. Since my heart rate monitor died on me, I never did know what my heart went through as I was reduced to RPE all day. Probably better that way. In any case, I made it to the venue with enough time to get ready, even though I had to stop for gas that I forgot the previous day. I saw lots of very fit, shaved legs at the start, and lots of $5000 bikes. I looked at my hairy legs and ancient bike still using V-brakes, and knew I was outgunned. Good thing I am only here for my own sense of accomplishment.
After a neutral roll out through the convoluted Northstar base area, the route hit gravel and dirt, and I dropped my chain. With my chain firmly wedged against my chainstay, I watched the field roll on by. Now I know I’m really slow, so I positioned myself in the back anyway, but I did not like the future that this omen indicated. I yanked the chain back into position and set off on the first of several climbs. I caught and passed a few people, especially during the Burton Creek section where I was already familiar with the trails, but mostly I rode on my own. Even the dust kicked up by the main field gradually faded away. I hit the first aid station at the halfway point feeling great and full of confidence. That was because I did not know what was coming next. All the hard stuff was in the second half of the lap. Lots of climbing, especially right at the end, some tricky sections, a fast downhill that had uphill car traffic, and lots of little leg sapping, chain throwing climbs. I finished the lap with a half hour to spare for the cutoff.
At this point I was pedaling into uncharted territory. I had never raced this long, nor had I ever ridden my mountain bike longer than what I did lap 1. I may have ridden my road bike a little longer, but very soon I was riding longer than I ever have. And it was a race! Lap 2 started out with a lot more climbing than I remembered from lap 1. Did they sneak in an extra climb? I’m sure they did. While I pushed the first lap hard because of the time cutoff, I eased up for the second lap. I knew what I was in for at the end, and I anxiously did not know if I had it in me. I felt pretty certain that I could do it if I just stayed hydrated and kept the calories coming in. The “easy” first half was not nearly as easy this time around. The friendly aid station volunteers cheerfully pointed that I had “only” 25K to go. Yeah, I replied, the HARDER 25K! I definitely slowed down the second lap. I never had to walk, like a few others I saw, but I did stop a few times to recharge. The last climb dragged on and on, while it sucked my soul right out of me. But when it finally went downhill to the finish and I heard the DJ spinning my favorite U2 song, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”, I knew that is was a good day. And I didn’t even have to use my AK.
What I Learned:
I can ride my bike for 7/12 hours, climb 7000 vertical feet, and live to tell about it. Ken Chlouber is right: You ARE tougher than you think you are, and you CAN do more than you think you can.
Things that worked well:
Build a big aerobic base, and these events are possible. I used the Maffetone Method.
Hammer fuels kept my carbohydrate stores high enough to keep burning fat. I never felt close to bonking, which I have always felt before in super long efforts. I used Hammer Gel, Perpetuem, and Sustained Energy. I carried single serving pouches in my pack and mixed new bottles at the aid stations.
Mental training pays off. Meditation and visualization kept me focused and positive even as I went much further than I ever have before.
Thanks Maffetone, Hammer, and meditation!
You don’t need a $5000 bike to do something truly amazing. You just need motivation and some base training. I still want one though. Hey Cannondale, want to sponsor me a new Scalpel as I quest for Leadville?
Race Report: Lake Tahoe Trail 100 Dave Wiens
Dave Wiens is the nicest pro mountain bike racer you are likely to come across anywhere. He came all the way out from Colorado to help direct the Tahoe qualifying race. He interrupted his own training to help us qualify for Leadville. And he lubed my chain for me. When is the last time a pro lubed your chain? That’s right, six time Leadville champion and Tour de France champion destroyer wrenched for me.
Actually, he was helping everyone out, and when you are as far at the back of the pack as I was, there was plenty of time to help slowpokes like me. But still, it was a nice gesture. Beyond his generous aid station help, Dave Wiens helped set the course, and he ran the pre-race meeting, giving us detailed knowledge of what to expect on the course. And everything he said was true and accurate. I was amazed at how as various sections of the course were revealed to me (I did not pre-ride the course) that it was exactly as he described. He even went on to say that were a lot of fun sections that made it even better than Leadville. What a guy.
Now, if only I could have borrowed his legs for that final climb. Or maybe borrowed some of his high altitude, high hematocrit blood. Hey Dave, what blood type are you?
Lake Tahoe Trail 100K
I’ve raced for four hours on a couple of occasions, so in my oxygen deprived brain that means I am ready for an marathon distance mountain bike race. Right? After racing for four hours solo in Tahoe and surviving enough to race a trail 10K the following day to conclude with a long course XTERRA triathlon the following weekend. So… Countdown to the Lake Tahoe Trail 100K. I think that it is comparable to a road century of 100 miles, which of course I have not yet accomplished. I plan to do that in October at Levi’s Gran Fondo. So what am I in for over 100K on a mountain bike? All I really hope to accomplish is to finish, and finish within the cutoff times. The race start is 6:30 AM, and you must start the second lap before 10:30 AM. That four hour lap time represents an average speed on eight miles an hour. My usual average on the mountain bike? Eight miles an hour. So, if I have a good day, I should finish within the cutoff times. But if something goes wrong, physically, mentally, or mechanically, it might be all she wrote. What’s at stake? Entry into the famous Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike race. There are fifty spots available for top finishers in the various age groups, and another fifty spots available by lottery to those who finish before 3:30 PM. So far, there do not appear to be many racers registered, so there are good chances to qualify. That is probably because this is the first year there is a chance to qualify at all, rather than take your chances in the lottery. The catch? If you qualify, by either method, you must pony up your $275 Leadville entry fee on the spot, and race this year. You can’t put it off until next year. So what do I do if I qualify by accident?
All right, this was a big one. A big, new challenge. I’ve done very little mountain bike racing, and never at this distance or length. But it will be a good challenge, and it is within reach. I have raced long course XTERRA to about the four hour mark, and I know and love these trails from a race last summer. It was a challenge, but I was confident That I could do it. I picked the race and was excited about it because most of the long marathon like races are 8, 12, or 24 hour races. This four hour length is a perfect stepping stone to those longer races. It would also be a great test of aerobic fitness and the Maffetone Method that I have been experimenting with this spring. And I want to use it check put the bike course in advance of next week’s XTERRA, which uses a lot of the same trails.
Well, the endless winter left endless snow, and part of the course had to be cut because it was truly buried. And there was still a lot of snow! There were many patches to either try to ride through, or hike a bike. And mud. Lots of mud. Mud and snow, but otherwise a perfect Tahoe summer day. The race website estimated fast lap times at forty minutes. Even with the shortened course, few people were able to bring in a lap time under an hour. I managed 1:15.
The real success is that I just kept pedaling. I never bonked, even though I got tired. I believe the Maffetone training protocol is paying off. It appears that my fat burning is more efficient than ever before, thereby increasing my endurance. I kept charging along at 165+ BPM without dropping in pace much, or getting hungry. All three laps were at a similar speed. I kept fueling with Hammer Sustained Energy and Hammer Gel in the range of 150-200 calories an hour like I do in training, and it worked great. When it was all over, I felt pretty good. Despite recently arriving at altitude and not getting quality sleep.
Since I survived four hours, is the next step an eight hour race? It is tempting, and I think with some more training, it is entirely possible. I’ve got my interested piqued by the Leadville Qualifier at Northstar at Tahoe later this summer. If I can find some course information, that might be a good next challenge.
I have read that there is a special place in hell for sandbaggers. Of course, I worry a little that in the novice category I might be considered a sandbagger! But I quickly assuage my guilt by reminding myself that outside of a couple of XTERRA triathlons, this series is only the second time I have ever raced a bike. That truly defines a novice, no? So why do I care about sandbagging? Because I won the first race for my novice category, and there was That Other Guy. You know Him. The Real sandbagger. The guy with shaved legs, full team kit from a local shop, and a carbon 29er hardtail. In the novice category? Seriously? Except for week one, he just rode away from the field. I rode away from most of the field as well, but I didn’t know what to expect. Next year I will go get my ass kicked in Sport Category where I belong.
Anyway, here is how the race series broke down.
Week 1: 7/16/2010
Filthy heat! Forecast 102 degrees!
I think I drank four liters of water that day trying to stay hydrated. While I love the course at Granite Beach, it’s funny that I have never yet just ridden the trails for fun, only under race conditions. There is just one problem. That Rock. It’s huge, it’s a boulder. It’s actually rideable, but it sure doesn’t look that way! The first time I raced the course, I didn’t know what to expect, so when I came around the bend and saw The Rock, I just powered over it with pure adrenalin. Then in XTERRA, I choked on it. Tonight I choked again. Total mental block, so I had to dismount. Otherwise I rode well, considering the heat. I placed fourth overall, but the three guys who passed me later on were actually in the 40-49 age group, so I won my category! BUT: I was passed by The Fat Guy. Since he was not actually in my category, but one that started a minute back, he was WAY faster. Not cool, I do not like being passed by The Fat Guy, who must have much better technical skills.
Much better weather for this one, only about 90 or so. Still hot, but I must have finally acclimated a little, since I wasn’t busy worrying about the heat, only the racing. Made the drive from the Bay Area to Folsom after summer school without difficulty, and lined up for the start after a brief warmup. I want that rock! I want to own it! I also want to beat That Fat Guy. This time that sandbagger pro-look guy rode away from me and I never caught him. Another guy rode away from me like I was on a trainer, but fortunately he was not in my category, but men 20-29. Damn youngun’s. My regrets were three: one, I didn’t push it hard enough on the paved road section, two, I got passed at the very end by a guy who couldn’t really drop me, and three That Rock owned me again! The paved section exists because of higher than normal water levels this year, and it was a lot longer than I remembered from week one. I wanted to use it for recovery, but I recovered too long, I could have made some time here and prevented that pass. I got a little complacent while riding out there on my own, and let off the gas which got me passed by a guy who wasn’t really, faster, but definitely hungrier. Next week, hammer the road. The route was slightly different as well, with a singletrack section not looking the same at all. The Fat Guy didn’t pass me, but he still rode the course 20 seconds or so faster than me. Damn.
Last one! After finishing fourth overall twice, but first one week and third the next week, I sit in second place for the series in my category. So this week I want to smash it! Unfortunately, it smashed me! This race was harder than the triple digit suffer fest. I arrived late because I drove from Tahoe, miscalculated the time, and encountered more traffic going down the hill than I had anticipated. I had plenty of time to get to the start, but not enough time for a warmup. The previous races I got maybe 10 minutes warmup, not a lot, but enough to get the blood flowing. For a short, intense race like this one, I think that’s crucial. So I lined up near the front and dropped the hammer, trying to keep up with Sandbagger Racer Boy, which I did for awhile. Good news, I cleaned The Rock! I own it now. But then, the lights went out. I hurt. I struggled. I was deep in the Pain Cave without a flashlight. I punched my ticket on the Pain Train and rode that sucker through the middle section. And lo and behold, they changed the course again, the paved section was dramatically shortened. Does this make the course shorter? Longer? Faster? Slower? How do I compare this week’s time to before? I was passed by a few riders including The Fat Guy, who owned me again. I passed a couple guys toward the finish, having no idea what category they were in, but by then I had recovered. Tough race, but a lot of fun all around.
- Arrive early. I had no problems with registration, but for short races, a warmup is critical. Now I know.
- Gauge effort carefully, I tend to fade in the middle of the race, after going out hard. But then I recover a bit before the finish.
- Let go of the brakes!
- Get new tires.
- Train hard, and smart.
Including the LT climbing intervals once a week definitely made a difference, as well as spending more time on the MTB in general. Now I face a problem, I am fast for a Novice, but really slow for Sport. I don’t want to be That Sandbagger, so, for next year I must train really hard so I can upgrade to sport and not be too far off the back. I need more strength, muscular endurance, and more practice on technical skills so I can find some “free” speed.
Onward and upward!