Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Death March

OK,  Ok,  I'm not dead,  so not really a death march.  Though you could have fooled me in the last 20 miles yesterday.   My first REAL introduction to "ultra-endurance" mountain bike racing ( I do NOT count the Front Range 50 in that category...) came on Saturday.   The Laramie Enduro was my choice for learning all about real self-abuse,  given its rave reviews for organization,  course,  party and the like.  Turns out to be a good choice for all those reasons,  even if it turns out that all day punishment rides may not be the next path I take in my cycling evolution.

Back in the Early spring,  I had the bright idea to go do a LONG race,  and talked a few of the more "mentally flexible" buddies on the team into what a good idea it was.   Fate,  being what it is,  no one in that pile outside of me managed to get thru the online scrum to get a coveted spot in the lineup.  So,  from a good outing with the boys,  it turned into a solo trip for just me.   With the intention of just finishing,  I started to do a few long rides to get ready.  Quickly saw that LOTS of long rides would be what is needed to "race" rather than "finish".  Found it hard to really ramp up,  and ended up just getting in the "finish" training needed.  In the days of taper leading up to the race,  was having a lot of that "wow,  this seemed like a better Idea a few months ago..." trains of thought.  Oh well,  it's here,  I paid my entry and told the world,  time to suck it up and see what this "ultra" thing really does for me.

Headed up to Laramie Friday night.  Got registered,  then motored up the hill to make sure I could find the course at the ungodly early hour required to be signed in before a 7:00 AM start.  Kinda pretty up there off the interstate.

Even if it looks like the military has been about the area

and MAYBE the wind blows off & on up there

Back to town,  early to bed,  and early to rise.  Back up the hill by 6:00 AM,  ready to roll.  Just turn off the Interstate at the huge head....

So get ready,  get lined up in the back,  mostly not wanting to get tied up in any early frothing behavior at the start.  Interestingly,  the start area leaves little choice but to roll out,  and less than 1/2 mile later, turn into the first single track.  With several hundred going off at once,  you knew THAT was going to get interesting.  With 2 minutes to go,  I noticed that after all my careful nutrition planning,  I managed to leave my bottle of electrolyte drink in the truck,  three-fourths of a mile away from the start.  Oops.  Oh well.  Hope the Aid stations are well stocked.   Dire warnings of a collarbone eating hill 7 miles in are repeated over the PA system.  Oh goodie.   GO!  Off we go.

The several hundred of us "non-Pros" head out at a leisurely pace up the road,  and come to a halt at the single track entrance,  waiting a good minute to get funneled in & into the conga line. Short bit of single track up, then a quick drop,  and pop into double track and road to let the thing start shaking out.  First thing you notice about the race organization is the VERY well marked course.  Survey tape before a turn,  arrows and flags at the turns,  and more survey tape after the turn,  to confirm you are on course.

Wow,  did they do this for the Entire 70 miles?  Turns out,  Yes.  Even have the odd piece of survey tape along the roads,  trails & cow pastures,  seemingly just about the time you start thinking,  "Wow,  did I miss a turn" later in the race when you get out alone.  Nice.

Up some nice single track,  just steep enough & still crowded enough to get everyone pushing,  then roll over to the "collarbone eating" drop.  Not really that bad,  just STEEP and covered with 3 inches of ball-bearing decomposed granite gravel.  Only ONE person standing there holding his arm.  Medical & Radio folks already rolling up.  Nice.

The coverall course layout really just drops east off the high ground,  going from the pine trees down & out to the sagebrush,  the looping back up to the high ground & trees.  Only it does this like 4 times.  In the picture below,  from the start area looking east,  you can see some "peaks" WAY out on the horizon.  Course just goes out past them & back.  Like 4 times.

Drop our way down in the first trip out east to the sage at high speed on smooth double track.  Hang 2 quick rights,  and start a 6 mile long climb up past Aid Station #1, stopping only to shed the arm warmers and guzzle some electrolyte drink since I failed to bring my bottle,  and then finish climbing back up to the forest.  A bunch of twisting around in the Happy Jack Ski/Bike trail area,  with lots of quick rolling up & down lead me to violate my self-imposed "long race" heart rate limit.  Hmmm,  hope I won't pay for that too much later.  Loop around on some nice single track to Aid Station #2.   Stop,  guzzle the electrolyte drink,  snarf some cookies and PB&J bagels.   The Aid stations are incredibly well stocked & staffed.  People asking what they can bring you before you even get off the bike.  Water,  gack,  boxes of Hammer Gel,  fruit,  bagels,  boiled potatoes,  3-4 kinds of cookies,  3-4 kinds of bars.  Can't even decide what to eat.  Nice.

Fuel up,  jump on & head out.  Long fast double track descent back out to the East,  hop up thru a couple of cow pastures on "cow track" along the fences,  a bit of road,  and then a SWEET long drop down a big ring,  sagebrush single track slalom course for a bunch of miles.  Nice.

Into Aid 3,  same level of food & service.  Also a new experience for me in a race.  All the Gu and liquid calories I'd been putting in,  plus not getting my mandatory 4 poop sequence in before the race left me a bit "bloated".  Well,  guess that is what the Porto-john there is for.  A quick mid-race dump,  more food & electrolyte drink,  and I'm better than new,  and headed out again.  Nice

Quickly down to the eastern end of our range,  partway back up to the trees and over a ridge,  then BACK out to the eastern edge of the world.   Getting warm by then,  so the next long grind back up toward the trees is getting sweaty.  Most of the way up,  come to Aid #4.   Fuel up,  drink up and set off again.  50+ miles in and I'm feeling really good still!  Riding uphill OK at my reduced heart rate,  feeling strong yet,  making good time.  Ominous thing I remember hearing on the announcements at the start was something about "Do not underestimate the 10 miles from Aid #4 to Aid #5".  Said it was a tough section,  and anyone doing it in less than an hour was a rock star.   OK,  now to get into the meat I think.  Nice?

So,  like clockwork,  2 miles or so out of Aid #4,  the first twinge of a cramp starts up.  Uh-oh...    Stand up, stretch out,  and work thru it.  OK,  no biggie,  you have to expect some of that.  Drift into the first REAL technical single track for the day.  By now were getting over into the area just north of Vedauwoo.  Pretty rock formations,  nice aspen groves.   Then this trail starts to get STEEP.  Steep,  rocky climbs and quick technical downs.  Up & down.  Quickly EVERYBODY is walking the steeper hills,  and you start to see people just stopping,  and some sitting under trees.  OK,  getting into the hard part,  me thinks.  Top of one LONG push,  there is a nice lady spectator,  telling everyone that "NOBODY has ridden this hill" and that there is 4.5 miles to the next Aid.   There is almost a CROWD sitting in the shade of a cliff here.  Hmmm....  I keep rolling.
More steep up & down.  Lots of pushing.  Time passes.  More pushing.  Know that Aid station will be on a road,  not buried in the rock maze we're in.  More Pushing,  more time passes.  Ah,  a descent out of the trees after what seems like 2 hours and 5 miles.  Must be the Aid station.  Nope.  We do almost a U-Turn and head back up into the rocks.  More Pushing.  More time.  More people sitting under trees looking poorly. Hmmm....  Getting tired,  hating pushing,  getting grumpy.   Another nice lady spectator shows up in the middle of nowhere.  Cheerfully says "2 miles to the Aid station!"    Mental collapse.  Felt like I'd gone 6 miles from the last 4.5 mile lady.  HOURS seemed to have passed.  NOT a happy racer anymore.  2 miles later,  Aid #5.  (ended up being little over an hour,  but felt like 3 to me...)  NASTY section.  Broke my brain. NOT so Nice.

Fueling up at Aid 5,  Notice a LOT of people talking to the checkpoint folks.  LOTS of people dropping out there.  Guess it wasn't JUST me that section hurt.  8 miles and one big climb to go.  Keep moving.  Fast road section over to the "headquarters" trail climb.  800 vertical and profile shows it as the steepest grade for the day,  nicely placed at the end of the day.  Great.  By this point my legs are no longer putting out ANY watts.  My left knee is in flames,  and my brain is mostly broken.  Great way to hit the last climb.   Hang a left and start up.  200 yards later,  I'm pushing.   Look back,  and everyone else is pushing before I did.  Push & ride,  push & ride.  Up to the top.  Had been warned by a good friend that the top of headquarters isn't really the top and to expect it to keep going up.  Even with that in my head,  I soon began to talk to the trail ( yes,  out loud,  and likely to the point of yelling at it...) as my frustration with it's progress toward the finish area was not as direct as I wanted.

"Great,  lets go uphill some more..."
"So what the finish is south,  lets go north a while..."
"Of course we need to go over the hill,  not around it..."
"@#@$*!,  sure lets wander around more..."
"You've GOT to be kidding me,  MORE up???....."

And more of this type of nonsense.  I think I was ready to be done.  Finally break out & start dropping toward the finish.  Yea! Well,  or not...   NASTY,  rocky,  technical descent appears,  with big drops,  tight turns,  the works.  I'm not really able to ride anymore by this point,  so almost crash at speed after pin-balling randomly out of control for a while.  Realize that's NOT good,  haul the last of my energy and focus out of my broken mind & body.  Finish the descent,  even passing one more on the way down!  Whee,  I might be 153rd instead of 154th!   Roll into the finish,  overjoyed to be DONE.

Looks like the party has been going a while already.  Without me.   Ouch.  

 7 Hours,  45 minute moving time on the GPS and 58 Minutes stopped for feeding,  pooping,  etc.  About 8:44 total.   One of the hardest things I've done lately.  Maybe some of the Alpine Mountaineering stupidity I did years ago was harder,  but his was close enough.  Results posted only went to about 8:15 before I left after getting my food & beer,  so not sure yet where I placed,  even though finishing was my only real goal.  Think I even partly made the stretch goal,  unless you count verbally abusing a trail for not going where I wanted it to go as having no dignity.

I do have to say that the race organization & execution raised the bar on what a race CAN be.  Great Course,  fantastic volunteers,  great Aid & support on course.   Quick & efficient registration & AM sign in,  a SERIOUS effort to insure no one was left unaccounted for on course.  Up to and including a course evacuation plan for severe weather or fire.  Even the post race party was over the top.  Full selection of GOOD food on a serving line,  Oskar Blues AND New Belgium beer,  enough picnic tables to sit down & eat,  and a live band playing.  Even arranged to have good weather and no thunderstorms for race day.  Nice again!

I'm sure I'll have different feelings after I quit hurting so much.  Even at the end of the next day and a good nap,  everything on my body still hurts.  A lot.  What to think of the "ultra endurance" thing?  Right now just happy to have finished in one piece (sort of...).  No real desire to do more.  Would have to train SO much to have the endurance at high output to really RACE one of these things,  just can't see that much time on the bike.   Good experience,  and much like the mountaineering suffering in the past,  "a good thing to HAVE done,  not actually BE DOING"

Post Script:
Official results
22nd of 30 finishers in Sport 50+
163rd of ~205 Finishers overall in Sport
8:36:25   (@ 2:28:19 to the 50+ sport winner)
4:39/K pace
Overall the race looks to have had a ~25% DNF rate.

And STILL whupped 3 days later......


  1. Hey Dale, Cool writeup....thanks for sharing your experience. See you out there! Mike K

  2. Great recap and photos - thanks for posting them and hope to see you next year!

  3. You are still a ginger. But a sufferin' MF ginger. Good job.