Since I’ve been too sick to ride for a week… I thought I’d post this from 12 years ago.
There are events designed for fun, events designed for competition, and then there are events designed for pain. I’m not quite sure why I go for the pain. Maybe it’s that I’m not that fast, or that I hate feeling like I have energy left at the end of a race. Whatever, I do like the pain, I do like to see others suffering and wheezing and whining and crying and quitting and their bodies revolting.
I’m sick. I know it. Pain.
This year has gone great for my racing. I haven’t raced much , but I’ve had great success in the races I have chosen to do. With the team not together for a third go at 24 Hours of Moab, I turned my focus to the 12 Hours At The Summit, in Big Bear. This race featured a solo event called the Titanium class. The format was simple: whoever completed the most laps (8miles, 1300 ‘) in 12 hours was the winner. No categories, just an Open Division.
Typically I don’t sleep to well the night before a race. This night would be among my worst. I was so concerned about hydration the day before, I spent most of the night like the Sparklett’s man (delivering water). By 3:30am, I was exhausted, frustrated and finally got a few hours of sleep in. The pre-crack-of-dawn breakfast at Denny’s was uneventful, I couldn’t eat – nerves – I could barely take my trusty vitamins. Susie, on the other hand, wolfed down a huge skillet special, all the while talking cheerfully and going over all my anal instructions about food and supplies for each lap. I sat paralyzed by the enormity of 12 hours on my mountain bike which played in concert to an uncertain rhythm of just how far would I have to ride to get on the podium.
Open class races always bring an eclectic group together. Our field of 48 was impressive. Lots of skinny dudes with matching jerseys and bikes and helmets, others less well equipped. I was very covetous of the bike with fur glued to the forks. The start was LeMans style, albeit a short run. Do you run to your bike and sprint the first four miles up hill when you have 12 hours of racing and no idea of the required mileage??? I guess so.
We shot out like rockets, like a typical NORBA race. We all wanted to among the first to hit the single-track and avoid the subsequent bottle-neck. I was in great position for a NORBA race. Should I be going this hard??? for 12 hours??? Onward, the adrenaline won’t last forever, might as well use it while I’ve got it.
My pre-race strategy was simple, and in the end, elegant. Don’t get off the bike, have fun where possible.
After 4 miles of climbing I was about 5 back from the lead rocket. How can they keep this up? We crested the top, wait, one more little grunt… there we go. Time to bomb downhill. This was my “have fun where possible” section. I sprinted up the grunt, passed all but the leader and kept my fingers off the brakes. It does pay to have some girth. Unfortunately, half way down I found myself in the middle of a rock strewn rut. Bam! A flat tire. Two minutes later I was flying down again, having lost about 10 places.
In these types of events you have to check-in each lap, have a ticket punched and place your sticker on the leader board. That completed, I rode a few feet to my wonderful wife. “What do you nee?” ” Tube and a cartridge!” As she runs off to get that, I’m thinking I needed other stuff too. She’s gone. I have nothing. Forget it. I jump back on course praying I don’t get another flat… the best laid plans.
The second time through she’s got it all. I’m in about 8th place still. Passing and being passed as the pitch changes up and down the course.
Everyone has a certain area they’re strong and another where they’re weak. My weakness has always been cramping. The projected high of 101 degrees put fear in my soul. With four laps completed in less than 3 hours (by only a minute), we were on track to complete 16 laps. Last years’ winner only needed 12 laps to win. Something was wrong. I’d gone out too fast. And 30 minutes later my Achilles heal punctured through my overconfident ego. Running up the final hike-a-bike section my quads started to cramp. I leaped aboard my faithful steed and look down at my less faithful legs. I could see the defined muscles cramping down even as my leg floated up the pedal stroke. This is not good.
On the way down, I found a new jump to hit. I also noticed how I could go brakeless through another section and bank hard off the side of the trail. Dangerous? Maybe. Time-eating? Possible. Fun? Definitely! I arrived with a smile at the check-in. Waited for my ticket to be punched. My hamstring cramped hard. I pounded it like my mom pounds meat loaf. “What do you need, babe?” You gotta love that kind of support. “Salt. Lots of salt and bananas.” Again, she didn’t have what I needed. She was about to run off. “Stop! Just gimme whatcha got. Get salt next time.” I spent the next mile choking down a bag of Pringle’s and a banana, with a carbo-drink chaser. Yum.
In all my races, I don’t think I ever suffered like this fifth lap. Cramping bad on the three hike-a-bike sections, the ominous distance ahead, and I wasn’t even close to the end of the race. I was nearly done. As fate would have it, one of the jokers I had passed before came by me. He looked great. Real smooth. Tanned skin. “Just go till you drop man, then try and survive.” “Gee, thanks.” I wanted to kill him, no I wanted to lasso him. I wanted to quit. Cresting the top, I came into the most technical section. Huge, sharp rocks studded the middle of the trail. A dust covered racer lay prone on the side, another wearily negotiated the section on foot. I yelled “rider!” and rolled through as swift as a greyhound a the track.
Smiling again, I reached the check-in. Susie is a genius. She confiscated salt packets from the hamburger stand. I poured three down my throat and lubed up my chain while she swapped out my Camelbak bladder. More banana and a protein bar. I cramped just as bad for the next few laps, but I felt like I was taking corrective measures. Besides, I had mysteriously maneuvered into 5th place. I wasn’t the only fast-starting fool after all. Lots of pain to go, but a glimmer of hope.
Somewhere in here the race leader, Matt Ohran, lapped me. It bummed me out quit a bit. Then I found out he had take 4th in the Vail 100 the previous week, he was a pro. Okay, I can deal with that. Still lots of racing to go, lots of pain to suffer.
I didn’t think the next challenge would ever happen. Really. With all the heat, all the sweat, how could I possibly need to pee? My bladder started to kill. I figured I would have to dismount at the hike-a-bike section anyway, so might as well try. Am I’m standing there, a few feet from the trail with stage fright no less, my quads and hammies in both legs lock. This is bad. One task done, I hobble over to my trusty steed, throw a stiff leg over and slowly begin to pedal. At the bottom of this lap, while I’m inhaling salt, Susie is yelling, “you’re not drinking enough, drink more.” Drink more?! Peeing almost left me like the tin man in a rain storm.
Figuring this was the point where weird things could happen in my head, I chose to trust the advice of my wife. I almost cried, realizing I still had 5 hours to go, my wife lovingly supporting me, and hating the fact that I was racing instead of at the beach with the kids. Then creeping into my ears came the final words she had yelled, “you’re in fourth place, third is 5 minutes up the trail.” This was my break through lap. The carbo-drink was chilled to almost a slushy. She’d filled the bladder with enough juice to ge me across the Sahara, and I let her have it the next lap through – “I’m a racer, not a camel! I’ll be back in 50 minutes! Think!” She was thinking, I wasn’t. Just pain.
The heat of the day was diminishing and the cool breeze blew through tall pines. A lone coyote crossed the trail, like me, out for the final hunt of the day. I was feeling better, much better. My cramping was lessening. The decent was getting faster and more furious. Each rock, each rut, each jump and each bank became hard wired from my brain to my twitching fingers.
During the last laps Susie would run next to me as we swapped out wrappers for bars, bananas, liquid and lube. Our transitions were smooth. Each lap I knew she would be there, so dependable, so cheerful. My secret weapon. Each lap I felt better. I began to look forward to the final lap, when i wouldn’t have to “save it” for another, I wanted to put the hammer down for good one last time.
“Babe, your back in 4th. Some guy slipped in, blue shirt, number 244”. I was riding with abondon this last lap. I ran the hike-a-bike. Okay, not really, I hiked it fast. But, the gears I chose were much taller than the previous laps, I was flying – that too is relative, because the four-man team riders were ripping past me. Nevertheless, I soon saw the blue jersey way ahead. It takes a long time to overcome somebody on a steep hill after over 11 hours, one hundred miles and 19,000 feet of climbing. Slowly, I reeled him in just after the last hike-a-bike. As I came up on number 244, the repeated the phrase of the day… “what lap ya on?” Should I tell him 14 just like him? Nah, “uh, 10, you?” 12 dude, I’m hurting.” “Really?! That’s great, good luck!” Did Susie invent the phantom racer to spur me on?
I pushed harder on the pedals in search of second place. In retrospect, I did take the final switchbacks way too fast, I risked crashing, I risked flatting, I risked too much. As I crested the final slope in my big chain ring, defiantly stomping it into history as a previous middle-ring-climb, I could hear my wife and friends yelling. No crying this time, just yelling. I was mobbed. I felt great. But how did I wind up? ‘Todd! The guy in second quit, hi didn’t think you could get another lap in under the time limit. You’re in 2nd man, 2nd!”… with 13 minutes to spare!
There’s a lot to be said for winning and there’s a lot to be said for finishing, but not enough cab be said about suffering and sticking with it no matter what place you finish. As far as I’m concerned, we were all winners that night, especially my wife, she deserved the top of the podium.
Sunday, I got a million calls from friends and family wanting to know how I’d done. I tried to explain. Even I couldn’t believe it. I tried to put it in some perspective for them – open category, pro’s, eco-challenge racers, young studs, furry forks. They all acted impressed, though I think they mainly thought I’m a little off. My dad said it best. “Let’s see, about 20,0000 feet of climbing, about 200 pounds with the bike, that’s… 4,000,000 pounds lifted one foot or one pound lifted 4,000,000 times, or… hey, that’s a lot of pain son.”
Lap Times: 44, 43, 45, 47, 49, 52, 53, 55, 52, 53, 53, 55, 51, 49