Those of you who are over 60 know both the gift of years and the ever-present awareness of time compressing: that quests and adventures, whatever flavor they may be, need to be planned for as soon possible; that do-overs are less likely to be options for us than for those 20-40 years our junior.
So it was for me in May 2011, age 65, at Calvin's 12-hr Time Challenge in Springfield, OH. I was riding unsupported that day; my goal: 300k (186 miles) in less than 12 hrs. I hit 186 miles in 11:30 and stopped. Goal accomplished. On the drive home, back to Chicago, I realized that with just a bit more effort, a crew, and some good luck I could hit my coveted 200 mile mark in 12 hrs.
Moving to Tucson 6 months after Calvin’s meant that returning to central OH six months later for Calvin’s 2012 was not realistic; but hey, why not the newly created 6-12-24 hr World Championship Time Trial (TT), part of the RAAM Challenge Series, around the Salton Sea near Coachella, CA??
We marked our calendars for November 9, 2013. I would be 68. The chrono-age factor would be increasingly agin' me with each passing year. One of my mottos is: “Do it now!” This TT was definitely a “Do it now!” kind of thing.
My remarkable (for me) Mt. Lemmon summit (3hrs-4min) two weeks before the November 9th TT and my 80 mile ride with Team Soul and my son, Daniel, in Tucson one week before the TT at a 17.7 pace gave me confidence that the the TT would be a strong ride.
I planned carefully: my nutrition, fluids, electrolytes; I stripped my bike of any unnecessary weight since Kirk would be crewing for me; I put on my new-to-me Zipp 404's (Thanks, Dan Fallon); and checked the weather forecast which was all good. At a current riding age of 68, a “do-over” is unlikely; this is likely my one shot at a 12 hr, 200 mi PR.
Kirk and I arrived in the Coachella Valley Thursday night so Friday we could drive the course familiarizing ourselves with directions, road conditions, availability of services along the route (which was none); availability of pull-outs for the support vehicle, (support vehicles must pull off 5’ to the right of the fog line. Time penalties can be assessed against the rider’s finish time for rules broken by either crew or rider).
We bumped into Lisa Renee Tuminello, one of the 4 member Women's RAAM, Team Love Sweat and Gears, and her crew (her Dad), at the Start/Finish on Friday afternoon also. They were there early to scout the course as well. It was great to chat with them both. She and I would be the only female 12-hr riders; she’s 24 years my junior. We chatted about riding together, sort of, since our distance goal was the same: 200 miles in 12 hours. Another RAAM rule is no drafting. A distance of 100’ must be kept between riders unless passing. But, it still would have been fun to have her on the road with me within eyesight up front or in my rear view mirror.
I’m getting a bit ahead of myself in my story, but hey, I think it’s called poetic license. One of the consequences of chrono-aging is that it takes longer to, literally, get up to speed; it takes longer to get your heart rate from resting to performance. So, when the 12 hr riders were released at the start at 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning, Lisa was out of the gate like a winning triple crown race horse. I would never see her again, not even at the finish.
By the time Kirk and I returned from circumnavigating the Salton Sea, the Start/Finish was teeming with 12 and 24 hr riders, their crew and support vehicles, and race officials. Everyone was busily applying Race Names/Numbers on the support vehicles, yellow “Caution Bicycles Ahead”, amber roof top flashers, and having both bikes and cars inspected. We passed; that’s a good thing.
While we were decorating our car who should walk by but Sandy Earl who I had not seen in several years. I’ve been a Sandy fan following her on line since she raced Calvin’s Challenge to set the Women’s (recumbent) Record of 249 miles in 12 hrs. Then I found her working at Bike Friday in Eugene when I was visiting the company buying a Bike Friday Tikit. That was 2010 the year she raced Solo RAAM; I was glued to my computer as she raced her way across the country. Haven’t been in touch since then, but here we both were at the TT. She and Bill drove from Arcadia, CA but their vehicle broke down en route and had to be towed to the Start/Finish. Bill was to have crewed for her, but instead she would ride the 24 hr unsupported while Bill stayed back negotiating vehicle repairs for their return home after the TT.
Got enough sleep the night before the race and race morning went as planned. There would just be nine 12-hr racers, Lisa and me, and seven men.
|Kirk and Sandy Earl|
The way this works is there is a long loop and a short loop. The 24 hr racers complete two 121.1 mi loops around the Salton Sea before moving the the 15.8 mi short loop. The 12 hr racers complete one 121.4 mi loop and then move to the short loop. The 6 hr racers only race on the short loop. And so, round and round we go until the clock stops at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday when the race is over for all racers of all distances. I would need to ride 1 long and 5 short loops to hit my goal.
With only 50 racers total, 30 of whom were 24 hr racers, the likelihood of seeing another racer on the long loop is slim, indeed. I would not see another rider until mile 130.
My first 11 miles were right on plan: 17-19 mph, feeling good, feeling strong. I would need to average 17 mph for 12 hours to make my goal of 200 miles by 6:00 p.m.
At mile 11 I turned south on Hwy 111 which would be my road for the next 58 miles and virtually ground to a halt averaging only 14 mph. Don’t know why. Just was.
Yes, there was a little head wind, but gee, nothing to get excited about. But, if that was it, then I reasoned when I turned West on Rutherford and then North on Rt 86 I should be into a cross or tail wind. Maybe I could make up the gap then. Change of directions didn’t help much.
I ate, I drank, I peed, I took my electrolytes. My spirits were okay, despite knowing that my goal was in serious jeopardy. While my body was certainly not performing in race mode, my head was still into it and I pushed on. My body wanted to call it a day when I completed the big loop, but my head and heart said ride on. I shed some clothes, felt like a new person for half of the first short loop. Back through the Start/Finish I pounded another Red Bull and a piece of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate and felt like a new person again before beginning my second short loop.
The sun was beginning to set so I pulled off the road about 2/3 of the way through the second short loop to turn on my lights and change to my clear lenses. Whoa! I felt horrible: nauseated and dizzy. These have been precursors to my seizure episodes, my all of two, but they can certainly also be the result of fluid and electrolyte disequilibrium and just the result of blood being shunted to heart and legs. All I knew was I didn’t feel good. Finishing two short loops would give me 152 and change. There was time for a third loop, but why??
I was done for the day: one long and two shorts.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that bad physically after a long ride. The day after, Sunday, I didn’t feel a whole lot better. Monday, two days after the race, I felt like I was pretty much back.
Don’t know what happened out there physiologically, probably never will.
Some factors that I have considered are:
- The course was tortilla flat so there was never a break or change in muscle groups as you climb or descend. Not even any stop lights. Upright riders will typically have three sitting positions and a standing position they can switch between to break up the monotony and give muscles a break. Recumbent riders are locked into a single position for the duration.
- The long loop around the Salton Sea is barren, desolate, hard-packed desert. No evidence of life anywhere except Kirk in my support vehicle who would come up behind me every 30-45 minutes, meet my needs, and hold back for another 30-45 minutes. I had imagined that the road around the Salton Sea would be closer to the water than it was. So if there was avian or human life along the water’s edge, that was literally several miles from my road, and I never saw any.
- Had I overtrained the couple of weeks before the TT? Didn’t feel like it, but....
- Have my seizures impacted my ability to go the long distance? October 6th I was on a 90 mile ride and had a seizure episode between mile 40 and 50.
Yes, I’m disappointed I finished with 152 and not 200. Lisa finished with 216. WAY TO GO LISA!! The disappointment is really about the strong likelihood of there never being another opportunity for a “do-over”, given my chrono-age.
Then again, in the big picture, how important is that goal anyway?