Monday, June 04, 2007

The Humidity Hundred (aka Tulsa Tough 100)


Nothing brings you back down off your high horse like taking yourself out of your element and trying to go bigger than you've gone before. Long ago, I told my buddy Jason that I'd come ride the Tulsa Tough 100 with him, as riding a 100 mile route solo is much more difficult than riding with someone else.

So I headed from the cool, dry mountain filled landscape here on the Front Range for the swamp I used to call home. Immediately when I got out of the car, the humidity hit me. I almost found it comical how much I noticed the humidity when it was a unnoticeable fact of life for 25+ years. The air in CO is ultra thin, but its not dripping with water like the Oklahoma soup.

The Tulsa Tough was more a pit stop for me this year, not a goal and I had no real expectations except my "higher than thou" thin air cloudy vision that Oklahoma centuries would be easy for me. Oklahoma doesn't have climbing. Oklahoma doesn't have the pro roadie scene like Boulder county. Oklahoma doesn't have me in it anymore.

Brandt and I rolled out of his house for a leisurely 3 mile ride to the start. It was my idea to ride as to not have to worry about parking. I believe my quote was "Its only 3 miles". The start featured a 3+ mile roll out behind a pace car before the ride was underway. Brandt had conveyed his plan to me to "stay in Zone 2 for the 1st half of the race", no problem I thought. Well it took me about 5 miles in before I got really tired of all the recumbent riders and tandems who would blow by everyone on the downhills and then hold up traffic on the uphills. A short conversation later, and Zone 2 was a distant memory that we wouldn't be seeing for a lot of miles.

We hopped on a couple of pacelines and our speeds (and heart rates) were high. Miles clicked away and we were shattering the pace we needed to be carrying to finish in sub 6 hour finish time. At the 50 mile mark we were averaging 19.3 miles per hour, a pace that was way too high for us to sustain.

And then problems started...

I had been cautiously watching my heart rate monitor, and even when I felt like I was going easier my heart rate was alarmingly high. I couldn't really understand it, but I knew it wasn't good. My body was having such a hard time cooling itself, that it was working overtime. Here in CO, when my heart is beating 175bpm and above, I can't talk freely but in Oklahoma my heart was even higher than that but I could speak freely. It wasn't aerobic difficulty and my legs never felt like lactic acid built up, but I was working way too hard for my output.

Around mile 62 we stopped at a rest stop, which I thought was just in time. My calves, hamstrings, quads all felt like they were about to cramp up. I was right on the edge of what I expected to be "locked up" cramps. I was taking in water like crazy, eating GU and carbs while grabbing bananas at every rest stop but it wasn't working.

As we left the rest stop, we turned a corner and found a small climb. The combination of climbing and the stopped time shut my right hamstring down. I had to stop suddenly and yell ahead to Brandt who had dropped me on the climb. I expected my day was done, as I could barely walk. Brandt circled back and I limped up and down the road while trying to determine if I could continue. At this point, I honestly thought I had no chance to finish. I hopped back on the bike, carefully monitoring my output and taking it very easy and things were somewhat working.

From that point on, I couldn't push my output at all. Even on the smallest climbs, I was forced to drop to my small ring and nurse it up the hills. The new, skinny Brandt looked great on the climbs all day and his 140lbs dropped me on just about every climb we did, seemingly with ease. My added size paid dividends on the downhills, as I'd motor away using gravity to my advantage. Brandt & I proved to be pretty much polar opposites for much of the day. When I would be feeling up, he would be suffering and vice versa. On steep, short climbs he would be ahead. On longer, gradual stuff I felt more at home. Strangely, these opposing strengths and weaknesses would play out well helping both of us finish this century.

At mile 92, an angel at an oasis (OK maybe it was just a volunteer at an aid station) gave me some electrolyte tablets. These made me almost instantly feel better. I still couldn't dig deep and push my legs, but the constant on the verge of cramping feeling had at least subsided for now.

We knocked out 5 or 6 miles in workman like fashion, and the end was in sight, or so we thought. Somewhere along the way we missed a turn, a mistake that would have normally been noticed quickly. However, our missed turn had put us back on the course we had ridden earlier in the day making the markings on the road deceiving. As we passed 99 miles on the odometer we were motoring past the "Welcome to Osage County" sign. Not good as we needed to be in Tulsa county. Thankfully Brandt yelled up at me and we looked at the GPS and discussed our options. We backtracked for a bit and then just took the first available route to the somewhat distant skyline of Tulsa.

The unfortunate part of the route choice was the it was marked with more and more rolling hills. All day long we labored up and down in rapid succession, nothing like the sustained 6% grades I'm getting so used to here in Colorado. Completely demoralized and just ready to be done, we somehow found our way back to downtown Tulsa. We finally picked our way around the crit barriers and managed somehow to stumble into the finish line, where Jason's wife Jennifer was waiting and cheering us on. We rambled across in 6 hour 15 minutes, about 25 minutes slower than what we should have finished if we would have taken the almost all downhill route to the finish we should have been on.

So we finished, completely deflated but both first time century finishers. It was considerably harder than I ever expected, and I did pretty much everything I could have done wrong.

I severely underestimated the heat/humidity factor. (It was 92 deg. and about 75% humidity at finish time)
I let us get out way too fast in order to get away from the masses.
I quit riding the road bike and started doing mainly mountain bikes.
I stayed up till 1am the night before the race.

Yep, I totally underestimated the course and conditions. I'm quite pleased that given all my oversights and cockiness that I finished, as 1/2 way through I thought that would be impossible. I felt really bad that I had led us off course and cost Brandt his sub 6 hour finish he was aiming for, but I still don't know where we missed the turn. It was a good excuse to get back to Oklahoma and hang out with all my old friends that I miss dearly, but I couldn't wait to get back to Colorado and the low humidity and 70 deg high temps.

So kudos to Brandt for being well prepared, he was the stronger of the two of us. Of course next time we do one of these I'm going to make you come out here. I drank somewhere between 12-14 20oz bottles full of water/gatorade throughout the course, ate 3 or 4 bananas, lots of GU and still lost a lot of weight. Even after drinking three more bottles of water, a Dr. Pepper and eating an entire sleeve of crackers on the way back to Oklahoma City, I had dropped somewhere between 11-14lbs, a pretty alarming number. I was weighing 189 fully clothed with shoes, wallet, cell phone.

We ended up putting in about 110 miles total on the day, and managed to squeeze out about 4,000 feet of climbing (pretty impressive considering Oklahoma is flat!). The climbing is comparable to what I do in 50-60 miles here in CO, but the sawblade pattern of the elevation is definitely not what I'm used to.

1 comment:

Brandt said...

Good write-up and a great ride. I have already forgotten the pain and suffering and I am looking forward to next year. I couldn't have done it without you (not only on the course but also in motivating me to train). Keep up the great blog and let me know when you pick out our next Century.