Sunday, July 8, 2012

Racing? Seriously??

Yesterday was the Porcupine Hill Climb, which starts at the base of  Big Cottonwood Canyon and climbs about 3500 feet over 14 miles. I planned to sign up for this event, as the climb would be good for my preparation for LOTOJA. Plus, having accomplished the Mt Nebo Century, which was nearly twice as much climbing, I was feeling confident that I could do well. Herein lies my flawed thinking.

The Nebo event was composed of a group of enthusiastic cyclists, but few actual "racers" were signed up. In fact, I only noticed two female "racers", and they passed me and almost everyone else on the ride like we were standing still.

Fast forward to the Porcupine Hill Climb... I could have registered as a citizen, but my friend (this is same friend who got me to do Nebo, but then bagged out on it at the 11th hour) convinced me to enter a race category. I had already experienced racing with the Master's 35+ women's group at the High Uinta 10,000 this year. We were a group of seven, three of us not really racers at all; the other four, it turned out, were Cat 3 veterans. It was because of my interaction with these women that JB has forbidden me to talk to cyclists, unless she has approved the content first. All I did was try to have a little conversation, momentarily forgetting that we were racing. I saw that one girl's jersey matched a big group that does the MS ride every year, so I asked if she did that ride, or did she "race". She looked at me quizzically (and with a tad of scorn) and replied, "Aren't we all racers?". After my and JB's next pull, the girls pulled away, leaving me gasping for breath for quite a while. Apparently, riders like us are not welcome, and as we watched their small group continue at basically the same pace as us, but out of reach, JB decided it would be best if I kept my mouth shut from now on.

Anyway, I was coerced into signing up for Porcupine in this same group, the gnarly Master's 35+ women. My friend told me it would be better, as the citizens would be starting an hour earlier, when the canyon winds were stronger.

On the morning of the race, we rode for about 10 miles to the base of the canyon and studied the crowd. I didn't really recognize anyone, but I did notice that there were not any of the big guys I had seen at the Nebo event... these guys were skinny. As the start grew near, everyone got into position for the mass start, and unfortunately, I was near the end. When the race began, it took a few seconds for the front of the pack to move and for me to even start to coast out of the parking lot. Of course, I couldn't get my foot into my clip, and as we crossed the road about 100 feet from the start, the mass was already flying ahead. My legs felt like cement as I tried to stay in the pack, and when I backed off a little, the entire mass slowly moved further and further away. I didn't dare look back, because I wasn't sure if I was dead last or not... and I didn't want to know.

I told myself that some of these riders would blow up, and by the time it got steep, I would be passing quite a few of them. It wasn't quite that way; in fact, I think I only passed a handful of riders the whole way. One of them was that kid in the Specialized commercial that they are showing in the Tour de France; the one where the 11 year old is wildly sprinting down the dirt road, imagining someone chasing him? At least the kid I passed was about the same size, which looked to be about 3 sizes smaller than his bike. After that surge of confidence, I came upon another guy and passed him too; he said he was riding a lot slower than he did last year. Yeah right. It was pretty quiet for quite a while, no one in front, and as far as I knew, no one behind, although I still would not look. I went as fast as I could, but still there was no one in sight. It was extremely disheartening. What was I thinking?! Signing up in a racing class when I'm just another week-end warrier basically.

As I neared the top, I think I passed about 3-4 more people. They were probably recovering from organ transplants or something. One of the guys looked really fit from behind, which gave me a boost, until I saw his front side as I passed. He had a gray beard about a foot long and was maybe 70, 75 years old. Still, I pushed to the finish, even trying to pick up the pace a little. Fortunately, when I arrived, the party was still going on; a band playing music and breakfast of bagels and fresh fruit.

Before heading back down the canyon, I checked out the result board, which didn't have any of the groups sorted out yet, but it did have times. I saw my name at the very bottom of the list. Perhaps they hadn't updated all the times yet? I still don't know, but I do know that I am going to rethink this racing thing. It's definitely out of my league, and given the amount of riding I have been doing, I'm not sure if it will ever be in my league. I'll just have to find a venue that fits a little better.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

550 Miles and 33,562 Feet Later...

I feel bad for not keeping up on this important task that ABSOLUTELY NOBODY is following, but today is the day for an update!

June has been a great training month for me, which culminated with the Mt Nebo Century yesterday. At a friend's suggestion, I signed up for this well-supported, scenic ride that included a 20+ mile climb to 9300 feet. I almost convinced my best riding partner to join me, but the smoke from the nearby wild fires currently consuming the state kept her away. Turns out the friend who suggested this ride also opted out, leaving me alone. What follows is the play by play action that I drove an hour in an un-air-conditioned car to accomplish:

It was a dark and stormy night.... actually, it was a bright and sunny morning albeit with a pretty thick smoky haze all about. I met a few people at the start and was grateful that we had a few miles of flat for a warm-up, as I didn't want to log any extra miles warming up before the century. The group seemed antsy, and being at the end of the train provided some excellent slinky effect. These little catch-up sprints were making me nervous, as I knew the climbing was going to be horrendous. I wasn't disappointed!

As the road wound up through beautiful forest, containing a surprising number of maples which don't normally thrive here, I settled into a pace that was "comfortable" for me and hoped that not too many people would pass. The switchbacks were pretty extreme at first, providing short and flatter areas for reprieve. After about 4 or 5 miles, the grade became more constant, reminding me of many of the hard climbs I had done before, although this climb just kept going. I tried not to look at my Garmin, knowing that I had more than 10 more miles to climb. I definitely made no calculations as to how long it would take. Near the top, there are several false summits that I was told about, so I avoided any feelings of elation until I knew I had reached the real summit. There were some great, short descents through the cooler air, followed by shifting lower and lower until no gears were left.

Near the top, I was all out of water and looking for the aid station. When I got there, food was aplenty, but they were short on water. Being the generous (aka stupid) person I am, I only took half a bottle, knowing there was more aid ahead. Seven miles and a few hundred more feet of elevation later, the next aid station had no water... just ice cubes. I filled my bottle and started the long-awaited descent. Soon, the cubes were rattling noisily in my bottle, as the road had just been prepared for resurfacing: picture chip seal on steroids, plus a little loose gravel just for fun. What could have been a thrilling flight down the mountain became a brake-twitching epic search for a path between gravel. Even so, it was better than the climb. The long flat at the bottom was into a hot head wind, and I desperately searched ahead and behind for anyone... no one was there. Fortunately, after a few miles there was another aid station, and this one actually had water and ice.. woo hoo! I drank and ate as much as possible, realizing I was already low on everything and still had 50 miles to go. By now it was hot, and the expected temperature for the day was 101 degrees. Two guys left the aid station, and I jumped on their wheels. We took turns pulling, first into the wind, then downwind after the course headed back north. I was feeling great, especially because we were making good time.

I have to say, I have never ridden with strangers that were so good to me. As time went on, I think the heat or dehydration or fatigue or something was getting to me, and I dropped back a little, fully expecting them to move on. They both slowed down to pick me up again! After mixing with a couple of other groups, the pace increased too much for me again, and this time one of the guys came back and tried to pull me back to the group. I tried to take advantage of this most unexpected heroism, but I had to send him on. It was almost 80 miles into the ride, and I was determined to.... quit. I just couldn't ignore the massive signal in my brain that was telling me to stop, even though my legs weren't in agony. This stretch was a blazing sunny flat through farms, with absolutely no shade... except one tree. I sat under this tree for a minute or two, texted my husband, hoping he might pick me up... thought about crying for help or just crying. No response, so I got back on my bike and spun along, determined to get to the next aid station and then get a ride back. It was about here that the road was newly paved, the darkest black possible, not smoothly, but with chip seal. As if 100 degrees weren't bad enough, we now had some extra heat waves beaming up from the ground; I tried to sit tall.

The last aid station was 6 miles from the end, and I demanded a ride back. A really nice lady had me sit down in the shade while she got me some ice water, which I poured down my gullet and over my head. After resting for a little while, I figured I might as well continue and ended up making it back in one piece, in time for a nice lunch in the shade with other survivors. 100 miles (actually 101) and 6578 feet of climbing in and above the smoke during a major heat wave. It was a great end for the month. I'm looking forward to the start of a new cycle, beginning with an easy week.

Next time... why JB won't let me talk to other cyclists