Sunday, August 08, 2010

Laramie Enduro 2010 - My white whale

After 3 years of eyeing the Laramie Enduro and then not actually riding in it, this year I entered despite the fact that I was in a sling from a recent shoulder surgery. Back on April 1st when I entered, I was needing some sort of goal. The shoulder surgery and subsequent physical therapy and recovery was quite painful and a very long (and still on going) process. I thought the 111 km (72 mile) Enduro was just the motivation I needed. My orthopedic surgeon didn't necessarily agree, but he also didn't tell me no, he just noted that he thought my goal was "a bit ambitious".

When I finally got cleared to ride the bike on June 1st, I had 7 weeks to train. I really expected to fully utilize those 7 weeks, but life doesn't always go as planned. Lots of factors such as work, weather, travel, wanting to spend time with my family, etc all added up to diminishing training time. Even when I allocated the time do big days things just didn't seem to go right. One Saturday I went out, only to get caught in a collapsing storm that created 45 mph winds during a microburst. The very next day I set out to put in a big ride on the road bike, only to suffer 3 flats and a blown out sidewall on my rear tire after only 25 miles.

In my final tune up ride before the Enudro, I got up at 6:30 and headed on a meandering route to Boulder and back. 18 miles into my ride, I broke the seat rails. While I still got in 55 miles that day, it was more about nursing it home than setting a good pace and working myself one last time. Heck even three days before the Enduro when Tony and I were doing a little light climb up Picture Rock (a relatively non-technical trail), we both crashed on the downhills. Things just weren't going my way (on a cycling front that is).

But after some coercing from friends and talks with Jill, I decided I would line up at the start of the Enduro. Tony was coming out anyway, I was going up with him regardless so I might as well go out and see what happened. I was fully convinced that I couldn't finish it, but I was going to go have fun and enjoy a long ride on some new trails.

The night of the race preparations were going well. I was relaxed, the bike was ready and I was in bed by 10pm. But I just could not get my brain to shut off....I tossed and turned and flipped and rolled, and caught glances at the clock as late as 3am, which didn't leave much time until our 5am wake up call. The more I tried to shut my brain off, the worse it was. So on what was to be my longest mountain bike ride ever, I doubled down with a combination of no training and no sleep. That is just how I roll...

Up and out in good time, we headed back up I-80 to the top of the pass. I should have know when you start a race at the top of a long, grinding mountain pass it aint gonna be easy. At the start, didn't take us long to run into David Stokes, a buddy of mine I ride with who is a multiple time Laramie finisher (and getting faster and faster every year). We chatted with David and then watched the Open class roll out. Without really meaning to, we had put ourselves at the very back of the starting group of 300 people. That was fine by me, but I could tell Tony was chomping at the bit to flex his fitness a bit.


And that would be the last I saw of Tony for the day, which was by design. I wanted him to go out and crush it and not wait for it to crush me. It took a couple miles to get all the people of varies skill and fitness sorted out, but it wasn't long before I felt like I was on a solo ride. No one in front of me, no one behind me. Weird, but good in a way.

I've done lots of hard rides where I've failed to eat or drink enough, and I was determined to not make that mistake again. I started eating early and often. I was downing Cliff Gel Blocks routinely, sucking down GU packets when I could and taking Hammer Gel electrolyte tablets at a rate of 3 per hour. For the first 20 - 25 miles things were going well. My legs didn't feel great, I was off the back from all the competitive racers but I was enjoying my ride.

About the time I hit aid station #2, things were going starting to go south. Stomach was not liking the onslaught of liquid food too much, but thankfully just as I was in need there was a porta potty on the course. Probably the first and last time in my life that I'll be thankful to see a porta potty. My legs were still going along well, I was really watching and controlling my effort via my heart rate monitor and despite going slow I was feeling OK.

While the forecast called for mid 80s with 70% cloud cover and a chance of rain, the reality was low 90s and blue skies that featured very few clouds. The open exposed nature of the middle of the course really had me baking. I was suffering in the heat, and the sweat was really starting to pour off me. While I had done some long rides, they'd all either been at 6am to accommodate family schedules or they had been up high at 10,000 feet in the cover of the national forest. Slowly I was melting...

Over the 70 mile course, there were 5 aid stations. I had made station 3 and was doing OK. By station 4, I had done 45 miles and was getting pretty cooked. My legs were cramping like crazy despite my enormous intake of calories and electrolytes. At aid station 4, I sent Jill a text that said:

"45 miles in, suffering quite a bit. Eating like crazy but starting to cramp. Gonna try to nurse it in."

In all reality, at that point I was just wondering if I could make aid station 5 before pulling the plug.Despite riding alone for a large majority of the time, I kept running into the same people at each aid station. One of the people who was riding a similar pace to me was a guy from Laramie who's wife and kid were meeting him at each checkpoint to encourage him. I kept seeing his son, who was probably within a couple months of Cooper, and with his baseball cap and sunglasses on could have passed for Cooper's twin. Seeing him was both comforting and heart breaking all at the same time. I can't really explain why it made me sad to see something that reminded me of Cooper, but it did. It kept my mind churning as I went between stations thinking about Jill and Cooper.

What I didn't know at that point was that the section of trail between aid stations 4 and 5 would be the toughest section of the entire race. On paper, it didn't look that bad but it was a life sucker. Already depleted muscles were really tested during this stretch. I would have to alternate between riding and walking on the climbs to give certain muscles in my legs rest they needed to keep from cramping. Several times I stopped and sat under shade trees and consumed calories trying to get my legs back, but it was pretty futile.

I gutted it out and finally showed up at aid station 5. I was well ahead of the time cutoffs (about an hour at each stop), but I was hurting. At aid station 5 I asked how many miles I had left, to which the response was "about 10 miles". I talked at length with the aid station workers about my options. What would happen if I quit now? If I kept going but then couldn't go any further, would I get a ride back from the course sweep?

Despite my inquiries at the aid station, I really, really did not want to quit. I sent Jill another text at this aid station:

"Mile 60. Really hurting but don't want to quit."

And off I went. There were few people behind me on the course, but that didn't matter. This was my first endurance race and I had only had 7 weeks to train, but I just knew that if I quit that I would be angry about it for a year. So off I went on my way to what would be the hardest climb of the day, the climb up the Headquarters Trail.

I breezed down the dirt road connector between aid station 5 and the minor station at the base of Headquarters Trail. I breezed through the final checkpoint an hour before the cutoff and started up. The initial portion of the climb was brutal on my cramping legs, so I walked about the first 1/2 mile. After a bit, I was able to get on and ride some but ultimately succumbed and walked the upper portion too.

Despite being the hardest climb of the day, the Headquarters Climb was shaded which was such a welcome relief to me. The cooling nature of the shade put some new life into my legs and I started to feel better. The trail from the top of the big climb to the finish was generally down, and I was still descending really well. I started pulling people back on the descent, and I was powering towards the finish line. I was going to finish the race.

My time goals had been sub 9 hours and that had long passed. I was looking at my clock and realizing I would really have to power to break 10 hours, but as I railed the ribbon of singletrack benchcut into the side of the hill I really didn't care. I was 3 miles from the finish and had a huge smile on my face. As I hit the end of the singletrack and made the left turn onto the dirt road to the finish I felt elated. Despite being on the course for 10 hours, there were still people on the side of the road cheering on the finishers. I high fived everyone in site, gave the thumbs up to others and felt like I had just won the race.

I made the right turn to the finish line and rolled across 10 hours and 3 minutes after I had left it. Tony & Denise were there cheering me on, and so was David Stokes who had smoked his previous record and finished in 6:30. I was almost as anxious to find out how Tony had done as I was to finish myself, as I know how hard he had been working for many months to get ready. He had ridden strong all day and finish in 8:45, which was really impressive coming from Oklahoma to 8,000 feet of altitude.

Here is Tony rocking it across the line sub 9 hours.

1 comment:

Perry said...

again, excellent job on the Laramie man! My first time there was not much different than your story so reading your blog was like reliving my first Enduro again! The best part now is that I know you can suffer through anything, which means you have no excuse to not join David and I on other "big" adventures in the high country this season! Hope to ride again soon with you. Again, way to make it happen man, congratulations! John