Ever since last year, I have been thinking about this race. As a recap, last year’s Tejas 500 (www.tt24tt.com) was quite a trial, personally. I was ready, with a new bike, a strong will and a good base of training (so I thought). I ended up being no faster because of the bike, and the lack of training was showing through by mile 100. Making matters worse, I had not trained for sleep – and had not trained at enough distance to get my body ready for the challenge. Finally putting the nail in my coffin was a twisted ankle that turned into an over-use injury by mile 150 – and I made matters worse by thinking I could ride past it and keep on going. My average speed dropped, pain increased, and by mile 220 I couldn’t walk more than 10 feet without horrible pain. I was off the bike until December. Needless to say, I was a DNF. I have been replaying that 36 hour period in my head for over a year. I wanted revenge.
After last fall's challenges, emotionally, and the subsequent time off the bike, I was discouraged about 2007 from the get-go. Depressed, trying to find my groove again, I found myself sleeping a lot, missing commutes, missing weekend rides – and the winter came and went without much in the way of rebuilding or improvement. The cold weather only made the ankle hurt worse, so I essentially waited until March to get started again. With the help of Ort, I utilized a spreadsheet to track mileage to ensure I wasn’t adding too much too quickly, but to also ensure that I was riding enough to achieve my goals. The goals for Spring 2007 were the same as every year – the brevets – my favorite type of riding, and the perfect base. For 2006, I rode the 200K and finished it, but I missed the 300K, and the 400K turned into barely a century. I didn’t even try the 600K in 2006. For 2007, the brevets were greeted with a different kind of approach, and it proved successful – I completed the 200K, the 300K in the worst conditions I’ve ever ridden it in, and the 400K on an unknown route with unexpected wind and heat. And, finally, the elusive 600K – nay, Bob Burn’s 600K, the BEAST of all 600K’s in the nation, arguably – I finally finished it. My mind was in exactly the right place for the rest of the year, and if nothing else I can consider 2007 a success simply because I finished my first 600K and my first complete SR series – something I’ve been trying to accomplish since 2002!
The summer was to be perfect – a slow, steady ramp up in speed and distance with sights set on Tejas, and personal revenge. With the right mix of speed and training, including some night time loops, I was going to be in much better shape for Tejas that I had been in 2006. Then, unfortunately, things outside of cycling changed for the worse. Schedules were suddenly compromised, stress increased, and I found myself struggling to stay on top of everything. It’s proven to me that not only one’s cycling performance has to be top-notch for success, but the rest of life has to be in the right place, too. In an event such as Tejas, where so much of it is mental, even non-cycling issues become gigantic thorns in the mindset of someone trying to complete the seemingly impossible on a bicycle. I picked up another job, as did the wife, and life suddenly became more hectic than relaxing – only with all the chips in the right place can one truly be effective and able to accomplish goals. I’m certainly not diving for excuses here, but it certainly has an effect.
Then came July; While I had come to accept and adjust to the new stresses in my life, I was starting to worry that I had not been spending enough time on the bike, and had not been building speed enough for the big event coming up. Time was at a premium, and it was starting to show. I was not about to let cycling cut into family time, and I don’t regret that at all – but it was clear that my goals either needed to change, or I needed to really get busy training. Meanwhile, I was enjoying a warm day with the promise of rain on the single speed Surly. Joining me was Crowbar on his commuter steed, and the destination was the T-Bones baseball game up north. Getting in close to a metric century, it was a great distance and a great chance to just spin out some quality mileage. On the way back south after the game, nature added a little interesting mix of heavy rain. By the time we reached the railroad tracks that cross K-32 near K-7, the road was a mess. I hit the railroad tracks at what I thought was the correct angle, but I was wrong, and I went down hard – and Crowbar then landed on top of me after meeting the same fate with the tracks. I was jacked up, but managed to clean up and ride home, which probably made things worse. Bad, deep cuts on my right leg and a deep hip contusion were the result, and my bike time was cut again. The next week, I felt good enough to ride again, so I held a night ride which was painful at best. Probably too much, too soon, thinking back. I was not giving myself time to heal. The next morning, I elected to drive and let things heal a little more. On the way to work I was rear-ended by someone, which pushed me into the car I was following, and that impact happened while I was practically straight-legging the brake pedal, and subsequently jammed my hip AGAIN. The pain was ridiculous, to the point where the wife forced me into the ER for x-rays. I feared the worst, but was given the good news that nothing was cracked or fractured. Still, I was off the bike again for a while.
There are stories of riders overcoming incredible odds and adversity to perform amazing feats, I’ve read some of them – but I was expecting my season to be over. July was over, and August didn’t see much improvement. The speed work I had planned was not to happen, much less anything else. I started to weigh my chances. The entry fee was already paid, non-refundable. I could always change to a lesser event, maybe the 24-hour race instead of the 500 mile monster. Heck, maybe the 200-mile UMCA event was a better choice? I emailed the ride organizer and it was okay it I wanted to, since I’d given enough notice. I slept on it, and decided that I would just give the 500 an honest try. After all, I had entered the event the previous year with far LESS training, and managed to complete half of it, with half of that on a badly inflamed ankle. Surely if I could avoid injury and keep turning over the pedals, I could finish 500 miles in 48 hours. September came, and the MS-150 saw my first real saddle time since the first week of June. It didn’t go like I’d planned – there were brief moments of glory followed by hours of painful damage-control riding. Lack of hydration, specifically lack of training, was really the culprit – you have to train to learn when to drink, a constant challenge for me. This year’s weird weather threw me for a loop, too, with the high temp at the MS-150 only reaching 76 degrees. So much for heat training!
September flew by, and shortly after the MS-150 I found the weekends coming and going with many family activities, and very little riding. Tejas was practically here – I began to pack, wondering what I was getting myself into again, but resorted and relaxed that I had done all I could have with all the challenges and trials of the previous couple of months. It was test time.
It’s amazing how my perspective had changed over the year. I went from being on top of the world at the end of the 600K, to feeling like I was trapped under a heavy weight of lack of training, personal stress, work issues, scheduling issues, and pain – all in the course of three months. Honestly, the summer has been SO trying that the 600K finish seems like it happened LAST year, for real. In the meantime, I missed a lot of my favorite rides – the Lone Star Century, The Spring Classic, Tour of Shawnee, the Summer Breeze Century – all EXCELLENT training and terrific fun with other cyclists and great support. The summer was just a mess for me, cycling-wise.
That brings you up to speed on events leading up to Tejas, sort of a recap of the year to date -- This write up is about Tejas, tho… so let’s get to it:
The morning dawned fresh and bright. Humidity low, temps moderate. A perfect day to start a really long ride. Ort and I headed out to the race site and got our tents set up. That alone was an exercise in hydration, but I refused to let that get the best of me. I started in on my sports drink to stay on top of what I was sweating out, and I was on the hydration game like a pro all morning and afternoon. We had SO much spare time, we actually found ourselves helping Dan and crew set up tables, move coolers full of drinks for the volunteers, and sweep out the pavilion. It’s not like we had a huge bike ride to rest up for or anything. Yeesh. Over-achievers. We finally wised up and excused ourselves from duty to prepare for the ride and get our riders packets. It was a sweaty, ridiculous afternoon. I continued to drink, supplement electrolytes, drink, pee, drink, repeat for hours. Felt great, even in the heat for once! Eventually, the clock ticked down – three hours to race time! Time for a pre-ride meal! This would be the first mistake I would make; instead of a nice, easy Sustained Energy cocktail, I decided it was a great time to crack open that leftover pasta that I had in my cooler from dinner the night before. Cheese tortellini with mac and cheese mixed in – just the way I like it. Wooooo, baby that’s GOOD food. Let’s not forget that the entire summer was overshadowed by weight issues, as I never got back down to the race weight that I really wanted – let’s add some heavy pasta with BARELY enough time to digest it. Good idea, dude! It was yummy. More water, water, water, sports drink, hydrate! Felt great. After sitting for a bit longer and sweating in the shade, it was time to suit up. One hour to race time. I was starting to regret the pasta. And, let me tell you --- it’s hard enough being a little too big for my cycling shorts these days, but trying to get into them while already being sweaty – man, what a sight I was. Glorious, like trying to get a water balloon into a saran wrap bag. Ort mentioned something about stuffing a giant bratwurst as he tried to accomplish the same thing inside his tent – which I instantly took the wrong way and that was good for some laughs. What a great way to start the ride! Bike, ready – me, ready… time for the pre-race meeting, and the start horn. I made my way to the start finish line with Ort. Heeeeere we go!
Ort and me, right before heading to the start. We'd never look this fresh again.
After the usual “be careful” talk, and reminders about not drafting, and how to call out your laps, the countdown was beginning…. 5…..4……3……2…….1….. GO!
Drafting was allowed to the first stop sign, so quickly riders began to group up as we left the start area to claps and cheers, and made our way out onto the course.
The bike felt great, fenders gone, rack gone, and skinny tires mounted up, the Kogswell felt just like the Cannondale had the year before, only the nasty chip-seal pavement was muted nicely with the smooth steel tubing. Heavier, yeah, but only by a touch, the ride quality and feedback of a good steel frame more than makes up for the small weight addition. This was gonna be a nice ride!
The only indication that problems were afoot was when I suddenly started finding it difficult to stay with some of the riders. Sure, part of my plan was NOT to explode on the first lap, which is a mistake I’ve made in the past, but I also didn’t think anyone was going terribly fast. The hot shots were already WAY off the front after the support truck, so there was no catching them, but some of the other riders were getting harder to catch, including Ort. Now, this is not to be taken the wrong way – Ort has by contrast had a SOLID year, low stress, injury-free, and not only did he ALSO complete his first 600K and first full SR series this spring, he was also in the hunt for the R-12 award, and had at least a 200K every month this summer with some strong riders -- but LAST year, I was already ahead of him. The LSR group down here treats brevets a little differently, and Ort was showing signs of being a MUCH stronger rider than the guy that moved away from Kansas only two years before. As we started the long climb up to the Lime Plant, Ort was almost un-reachable, as I reached for more gears and started to spin. I wasn't tired or having problems, but my push was not there like it was the year before. That’s okay… I knew this was going to be like this, don’t panic, just pedal. Long days ahead. Treat it like a brevet, and you’ll finish.
We reached the Lime Plant, enjoyed a brief downhill, and then the pack began to thin out again. No problem. Pedal. There would be no worries about having to spread out after the first stop-sign THIS year for me. I was firmly near the back of the pack. Other than that, I felt GREAT. Hydration was going to plan, the heat of the day was fading (6:00pm start), and I was mentally prepared for a century after dark again, just like last year.
The course was coming back to me, but not the way it felt last year. The hills were there, but they were NOT as steep as I remembered on the back side of the course. The front side was still a challenge with nearly 4 miles of it being a continuous climb, almost like Colorado, but not quite with the lack of scenery to accompany the slogging pace up the grade... but it still wasn't as daunting as it'd felt the year before. It was frustrating that I was obviously feeling stronger, but the speeds were not reflecting it. The back side was more fun, undulating with fast downhill sections, including Goatneck Hill with it’s 40 MPH charge into the valley below before arriving back at the start/finish.
“5 – 0 – 7…” I called out and waited for it to be echoed back to me as I crossed the line for the first of MANY times. Lap one, down, 24 to go.
Lap two, the same – but darker. Headlights and taillights came on. At least I knew THIS part I was trained for.
Lap three, the same
Lap four, things turned to the worse for a little while, while I revisited the old 70-mile wall that used to haunt me all the time. My pedal stroke turned to mud, my stomach cramped, and my legs didn’t have any push for at least 10 miles or so on this loop. Along with that, the mental collapse of “you can’t do this”, “you aren’t ready”, “I just wanna go home” began, as it always does. One has to remember that these episodes are temporary – as I remembered. Hydrate, drink some calories, get back on track. The 70-mile wall came, and went.
Unfortunately, the stomach pains were real, the leftovers of the heavy pasta meal that hadn’t full digested. Ugh. The mistake began to manifest.
Lap five, back to normal – and the 100 mile marker.
This time last year, I was laying down for an hour nap that turned into a 7-hour full nights sleep. Dumb. Not this year!
I filled my bottles, still staying firmly on top of hydration and fuel, feeling great, slow and steady. I headed out for lap six, at about 12:45AM, I think…
As the laps continued, it was becoming clear that there would be no placings for me. Finish only, that was the goal – but it was sometimes frustrating, and at the same time inspiring and amazing to see the faster riders hammering out the course and flying past me, often on the uphills where I used to excel. The only riders on the loop were the 500 mile racers, the 24-hour group had not started yet, but these guys were making me look stupid on the first long climbs, spinning FAST up the hill maintaining a monster momentum, and basically passing my like I was standing still. Amazing, but I reminded myself I had to ride my OWN race, and not compare. It’s hard to do, tho. Someone passes you, you want to jump on their wheel and chase – but even if I was allowed to draft, I did not have the push. My speed was beginning to drop to my MS-150 pace a couple weeks before. Lap one my average was a modest 17.3 MPH – contrasted to nearly 22 MPH LAST year. Lap two, my overall average dropped to 16.5. Lap three, overall average was 16.1. Despite consistent intake of fluids, feeling good, good fuel intake, I was just not doing well in the speed department – but I was still doing well enough for the minimum average speed, if I stayed on the bike. No problems! Tons of time to finish.
The next four laps were carbon copies of each other, blending together. The only thing that broke up the monotony was the fact that each set of headlights that passed me from behind was a little different. HID beams, Schmidt E6 headlights, other odd LED lights, and I would marvel at the taillight and reflective gear patterns that would advance up the road away from me in the night. Occasionally there was a phantom dog that would jump out into the road, but under the full moon he was only able to startle me once. Each lap after that, I had him marked. It kept me alert for a short time, until the longer part of the climb began and demanded my attention anew. All the while, the Lime Plant at the top of the hill hummed and clattered away. It was the only constant. The sky was brilliant, a bright FULL moon, big stars, and the skyline of Cleburne in the distance as we rounded over the top of the big climb. Peeking back over my shoulder I could see headlights strewn across the expanse of the route, all slowly coming up to meet me. In front of me, on the back half of the loop, taillights strung along the roadway leading to the horizon were a magical diversion to the fog in my head, the fog that accompanies randonnuers and ultra-racers at some point or another, where all you are doing is turning the pedals in some sort of surreal dream-state. Just follow the line, pedal. The brain is unplugging.
Unfortunately, all the while I felt my push was consistent and my fueling and hydration program was working perfectly, was actually declining. The lack of speed training, and consistency training at distance was beginning to show through. My average speed at the end of lap nine was all the way down to 14.7. Yeesh. That was rolling time, too, and as much as I needed the break, I knew that if I laid down I would have to make it up, because the clock never stops.
I was hydrating well enough that I was having to stop occasionally on the loop for relief – things were going pretty well, but the SE was not sitting well on top of the pasta (yup, STILL there like a brick on my intenstines) so I switched to Carboplex instead – essentially the same maltodextrin form of carbohydrates, but no protein. Hammer Gel packets were working, tho, as the sleepies started to invade I put them to rest with caffeinated gel. Worked well. I was clicking off two-lap sets between stops for fresh bottles and the miles were mounting quickly. It’s amazing how this kind of event contrasts to something like a club century or the MS-150, where that century seems to take forever – in an event like this, it seems like the first century is over in a heartbeat. Before I knew it, I was knocking on the 300K door, and the sun hadn’t even come up yet. With 9 laps in the bank, and 180 miles on the clock, I elected to lay down for a short amount of time – I think it was about 5:20AM, roughly, and the sun would be up in about and hour and a half – perfect – and much needed, as the caffeine began to lose its effectiveness and the yawns got longer and more frequent, as did the realization that I was gazing off into my headlight beam, and not REALLY concentrating. I can rise with a little sleep in the bank, and the sun will greet me, resetting the brain and tricking it into starting a new day.
I crawled into the tent, took off my shoes and helmet, set my alarm clocks (that’s plural!) and laid down.
Zonk, snore!… in a flash I was awake again – a little drool, which is a good indication that I REALLY got some REM brain-resetting sleep – it was about 7:05AM, and the sun was lighting up the eastern sky. I got up, out of the tent, and found the morning air moist and almost foggy, and the temps were in the high 60’s – a perfect morning. MUCH better than last year’s 38 degree wake-up call. I had brought warmers and a wind vest, but thankfully I wouldn’t need any clothing changes this year! I trotted over to the pavilion, plugged in my headlight battery to charge during the daylight hours, hit the porta-john, refilled my bottles, and headed out for lap 10. Feeling good, but careful not to push too hard without stretching out a little, I started the climbing again. Whooof… after this lap, 200 miles! I was only 20 miles away from everything I had achieved last year, and roughly 8 hours ahead of myself from the previous year. Not bad! Unfortunately, that wasn’t saying THAT much, considering the numbers. My time off the bike, while being far better than last year, was not enough to make up for the fact that my speed while ON the bike was not where it should have been, and while I slept my average speed TOTAL time had dropped below the minimum required to finish the race.
Comparing the preliminary time splits and results now, my lap times were fairly consistent, to my surprise, but not fast enough. My off the bike time was better than last year, but it was not perfect. The 4 hours and 25 minutes of off the bike time between laps 9 and 10 includes the actual lap 10 ride, so my lap time again was fairly consistent – however it was starting to get real. My lap times were not going to be enough to support the time I was taking off the bike. Compared to those riders that I would put in my class this time out, those that had an overall average speed of 12 MPH or less for the course, my lap times were consistent with theirs for the first 6 laps, and after that I started to slow down. It doesn’t appear to be much, but ten minutes extra on the bike per lap is an eternity.
Time for lap 11; this would be the hardest lap I would ride. I mounted up, with full bottles and a lot of hydration already in my system from simply getting ready to ride again. The one thing that was different besides the fact that the sun was up again was the heat. The heat came up QUICK, and it was hotter than Thursday had been. In very little time at all, it was instantly 90+ degrees outside, and the humidity was back. Quite seriously, by 8:00AM on the top of the big hill on the front part of the loop, it might as well have been 3 in the afternoon. It was amazing, and the blacktop was alive with heat waves. It’s evident, competition-wide, that everyone started to slow down here. Ort would later recall not even remembering this entire day. It was bad. Unfortunately for me, I would remember this lap. I never cramped, I never felt thirsty or hungry as I continued my usual food and drink plan, but something was changing. Soon, my water bottles, that were supposed to last two laps, were starting to get low. I was drinking enough to compensate for the heat, but I also noticed that I'd stopped sweating. My arms were dry, almost clammy. By the time I had three miles to go on the lap, my head was throbing at the temples. Had I taken electrolytes? Yeah… same as usual. I popped an extra Endurolyte, just for good measure, and drank the rest of my sports drink and the rest of my fuel. Yeesh… what happened to my push? I started to really like the downhills simply because I didn’t have to pedal. Dang. Just like that – CLICK! I was dehydrating rapidly.
I made it back to the start line, called out my number, and someone asked if I was alright. In an event like this where EVERYONE looks whipped, for someone to ask if you are alright means that you look absolutely terrible in relation to everyone else. That’s not good. That’s the LAST thing you want to hear from someone.
I dismounted, refilled my bottles, and sat in the shade behind my tent. This is not good. Over the next two hours, I consumed six water bottles before I felt like I had to produce anything at the porta-john, and when I finally did it didn’t look good. In a little over 20 miles I went from peeing crystal-clear, right before I had departed, to being completely dried out. I felt dizzy, the headache was there, I wasn’t sweating, my stomach felt like a knot, and my heart-rate would not drop until I’d been off the bike for three total hours since completing lap 11.
As I sat, watching the clock tick, wondering when it would be time for me to get another lap again, everyone around me reassured me that I had made the right choice. Each rider that came past looks progressively worse for the wear, drenched in sweat (I was jealous) and looking salty. About this time, STRONG riders began to leave the race. RAAM-Qualified riders went home. An Ironman finisher that had come from Hawaii quit. I suppose I was in good company, but I was determined to get back in the saddle. I drank, sat, drank, soaked my headband in cold water and reapplied it to my head, drank, checked my pee, checked my heart-rate. All the while, I checked my time, and it ticked down again. My last average speed check was 9.55 MPH. The minimum to finish officially was 10.814 MPH. This was not looking good. Yeah, it’s something that COULD be made up for – after all, I was awake, and ready to ride – but the writing was beginning to show on the wall. My steady decline in average speed was not going to help, and my speed at this distance was NOT going to improve – I simply hadn’t trained for speed at ALL this year. I had plenty of base mileage, but a foundation like that does little good when making up for a constantly ticking clock is the goal. I was barely on pace to finish a 600K in enough time for it to officially count as a brevet finish. Frankly, this was starting to suck. If I managed to get back on the bike, and STAY on the bike, I might just barely squeak by, but the math just wasn’t working out.
With 220 miles, my heart still racing from the dehydration, I checked in with the race desk and announced that I was giving it up. It just wasn’t going to be my year. Two hours LATER, I was finally peeing clear again, and by that time it was REALLY too late to make up the time.
Even with the hydration figured out on the bike to the point where I never cramped, never felt thirsty, there is a LOT to be said for acclimation. This summer in Kansas has been milder than in years-past, and the truth of it is I had not trained in the heat at all, not even moderate heat. The MS-150, again, the high was only 76 degrees on day one, and not much warmer on day two. I didn’t ride in any of the title club rides or centuries, which usually provide excellent daytime training for such things. Even on my commutes I was only out in the heat for short periods of time, and usually in the shade of the bike trail. I have noticed consistently ALL year that hydration has been a problem, and much of it was coming from lack of acclimation to the heat itself, lack of exposure. Even OFF the bike doing yard work, I had often times this year succumbed to headaches and feeling zonked from the heat of the afternoon. I don’t know if I simply can’t hack the heat anymore, or if it really is just lack of exposure. All I know is, I REALLY need to TRAIN next year, and when I train I need to train in the conditions I hope to perform in. There was a time when I had an EDGE in the heat, specifically at Tinbutt ’05 when the temps were just ridiculous and top riders were going to the hospital, I was on the bike and riding with temps in the 115 degree range and high humidity. But that was a hot year all around, and I trained in it. That has to be the difference.
All the while, I knew in front of my mind that I had done better than last year in many respects. I slept less, I drank more, I ate right (except for the pasta, which wouldn't pass until 6:15pm SATURDAY). The speed just wasn’t there, and when the sun came up neither was the heat tolerance. It was not a mystery: I hadn’t ridden enough over the summer. The brevets themselves, alone, are not enough. They have to be built upon. Speed training is essential, even if you don’t plan to average 20 MPH per loop, it raises your ability to maintain a better pace. It eliminates lap times as being a main concern, so you CAN have off-bike time if you need it. And, I need a crew. These races can’t be done without a crew, period. Mixing my own drinks is for the birds, takes time, focus that may not be there after 24 hours, and getting off the bike kills rhythm even if it is only every-other lap. There is no mystery at all why MV24 was a success, and this event has not been. I need a crew member. Ort’s wife offered to help, as always, but she was there for him, not me, and it’s too much to ask of one person to run two rider’s races. This was my plan, and it wasn’t working. The small amount of training I DID manage over the summer had all been at night, and while that is essential so you know what to expect at night, it doesn’t prepare me for the DAY. The heat. Heck, even staring at the sun-lit road was tedious simply because I wasn’t used to doing it! How crazy is that? Despite all of this, while I talked to Dan Driscoll about my decision, I was smiling, clear-headed, and not disappointed at all. I was perfectly comfortable with my decision – it was becoming futile, and I was done.
When he asked me what I was going to do, I replied “I’m gonna make sure Ort finishes HIS ride.”
“What a friend!” he replied.
But it was more than just that. It was more than just me no longer having a ride to race, and doing something because I was bored. NO, it was more; It was vindication for last year, and if I couldn’t get it for myself, then I was gonna get it for at least one of us.
I put my bike on the roof of the car, and got into street clothes again. Time to get to work.
Ort's tale is an epic one, ((I’ll link to here later on once it’s posted)) and I’ll leave most of the details to his ride areport and try not to take too much away from it here. But to recount my involvement, some details are neccessary:
Ort's ride was more solid than mine, but it was not going perfectly to plan, either. Problems sleeping were catching up, and despite solid lap times of 1:30 nearly each go-round, he was putting in a solid ride and pulling from a huge base of fast brevet training all year long. It wasn’t smoking fast like some of the higher-placed riders, but it was a good ride. The problems were mounting with off the bike mini-naps and trips to the bathroom with food issues coming and going. As Friday carried on, and again he would later say he didn’t remember Friday much at all, things were beginning to look as bleak as my ride had become. Plus, the heat of the day was proving to be a real problem. He was staying hydrated and he kept moving, but it was taking its toll. Finally, 6PM came, and the heat of the day began to break. Despite all the hardships, he was going into the evening of Friday with over 300 miles on the books!
Over the next couple of hours as the day became night, things would get dicey. The sleep monster would visit, the stomach issues would come and go, and the mental games played out as the same tired loop was repeated for lap after lap, up to lap 17, where Ort would finally lay down for a while. At this point, he knew my decision, and I started to help with the between lap prep work, getting bottles mixed, doing the hand-ups, and helping him find a place to sleep. His pace was his own, and he was getting frustrated. More than anything he was sleepy-tired, and needed to reset his brain. Finally the chance came between after lap 18. With 360 miles in the tank he simply collapsed into a lawn-chair and slept under the stars. I finally got some sleep of my own, too.
The sun was showing again, headlights came off for the last time, and bottles were mixed fresh once more. Over the night, some of the faster team riders had completed their races, clicking off the 500 miles between 4 fast riders in 29 hours and change, some even faster. For the solo riders remaining, there was still work to be done. Shaking off the last of the sleep, Ort mounted up, clearly discouraged.
“I’ve been doing the math all night, and I don’t see how I’m gonna make it, man. The math just ain’t workin’”
Trying to keep him focused, I blurted out something or other, and got him moving. He was right. Over the night between several laps and fighting sleep, his ride was tanking the way mine had earlier. His total average speed had dropped below 9 MPH. This was going to be TOUGH, but mentally there was no-one else I knew that was up to the challenge. The only thing now was to keep him ON the bike, period. Char and I talked and planned the next few laps, what to do, how to do it, how we could shave time. She is a fantastic supporter, but admits that even while she had learned a lot the previous year, she didn’t feel confident as a solid and impartial crew member. After all the support and the times we’d ridden together, and for all the times I was supported by someone else and never got the chance to repay the debt, this was my time to help. I had changed roles, was no longer thinking even remotely about my ride, but was now referring to Ort as “my rider”. Here comes “my rider”, I need to check lap time on “my rider”, etc. It was time to get a finish out of one of us.
Laps 19, 20, 21 were nearly carbon copies of each other. Every hour-and-thirty Ort would roll up, I’d eject his bottles and insert fresh ones: Carboplex in one, plain water with Elite electrolyte hydration mix-in in the other, loaded with ice to stave off the heat. We tied a bandana around his neck filled with ice, a Tinbutt trick he’d taught me. With wife and daughter on either side of him, fresh sunscreen was applied, his face was toweled off, and we’d push him on down the road. It was working, and the total average speed was slowly coming up. In three laps his “off bike” time was under a minute. The new approach, rider and solid support team -- We were doing it! Even other crew members were pitching in, which is a testament to the brotherhood of ultra-racers in general. It’s the same for everyone out there, no matter what the speed – this stuff NEVER gets easy. You simply get faster. As Ort rode off again, a crew member from a UK team came by and offered up some energy drink, and after Ort had asked for more Hammer Gel packs and we came up dry, I had his daughter go on a scavenger hunt across the start-finish area asking for Hammer packets from anyone that had some to spare, maybe from a crew who’s ride had already finished, and we struck gold by producing two packets and a full flask of gel. When Ort came back around, he looked saved as he took up the gel and fueled himself. Everyone truly pitches in to see riders through at these events. But, ultimately, the clock was still ticking, and time was running thin again.
By Lap 21 things were looking dangerously close. One thing I have learned is that off-bike time is EVERYTHING. After the trials and episodes of the first 36 hours were in the books for good, there was NO getting that time back. When he got back on the bike that Saturday morning he had 140 miles to cover in 11 hours time. That’s a 12.7 MPH average, very do-able – but not after the fatigue of 360 miles immediately prior, and essentially only 30 minutes of GOOD sleep. THEN it becomes tough, especially considering we were basically suggesting that he HURRY a little more on each lap, something that is nearly impossible this deep into this kind of distance. His lap times were between 1:30 and 1:45 ET, and that isn’t quite enough. Things were getting nervous. Even though I wasn’t riding, I couldn’t rest, sit down, or eat. I was anxious for Ort to come around again, anxious for the race officials to post the last lap splits so I could report back his overall average. It was slowly coming up: 9.74 MPH….. then it was 10.17 MPH….. then it was 10.282 MPH….. then 10.377 MPH…… AAAHHHHH!!!!!!!!
With two laps left, it was going to be dangerously close, and Char and I were losing our minds. 10.418 is all we needed…
Lap 22 was one of the hardest. An hour and thirty came, and went………
“He needs to get here NOW” we’d say…. Looking down the road…. Is THAT him? Rushing to the cooler for bottles and getting the vitamins and sunscreen ready, and fresh ice…… "no, false alarm"..... ugh….
We’d see riders that were behind him on the previous lap come thru…
WHERE ARE YOU, MAN???
The strict rules about NO personal support on the route, NO rovers, NO reports, NO radios…. we were blind, had NO idea what was happening on the course. Had he flatted? Had he stopped? There was nothing we could do…. It was all on him.
“THERE HE IS!!!!!” We rushed and got bottles and rinsed him off – he could barely form words as he put his head on the handlebars while we worked.
“just plain water this time...”
He had not consumed much out of his previous bottles, not a good sign…
“This is the worst thing I’ve ever done to myself…” he mumbled… we could only encourage, and push him onward. Focus on the goal, man…. You want this…. You are so much stronger than anyone else out here….. go go go!!!!!!
He was off again…. Lap 23…. TWO more to go…. 40 piddly miles seemed like NOTHING after all of the riding, all the pedaling. Char and I basically collapsed into our chairs…. Alright, we need to get ready for the next lap, he’s gotta hurry on this one or we’re not gonna make it. It sat heavy on all our minds. The numbers don’t lie.
We waited, and waited, and waited… 1:30 came…. And went…..
“oh no….” Char said… this was getting hard to handle, the emotional investment… you start playing scenarios in your mind and wondering what he’s going thru out there on the course... we could never know, but I could imagine.
One hour, 45 minutes came….. and went…….
False alarms, squinting down the long lead-up road, looking for that helmet, that jersey….
THERE!!!!!!! Off schedule, but still focused, he was back again …
“Guys, I gotta go…. “ he muttered, shaking his head; determined, but visibly whipped.
We put bottles in, and pushed him off for the last time…
There he went…. The LAST LAP.
It was all on him now, there was nothing more we could do but wait. There were no words, we knew. We all knew... he had to do something special this last lap, or that was it. After all that mileage, all that suffering, to walk away with nothing?
It was getting real.
The clock, it was TORTURE. The time seemed to take forever as the clock creeped past 5:00PM….. 5:15……. 5:20...
6:00PM was like a wall, a deadline, like the timer on a bomb in an action movie, but more real than you can imagine. The tension was almost making us sick.
We made our way to the start/finish line, fully expecting to have to cheer and push him all the way to the last second.
Based on his last lap time, I knew there simply wasn’t enough time left. There was no way. If he was THAT whipped after that last lap, how in the world was he going to be able to do THIS one, this most important lap, faster???
Everyone else had come thru…. There was no-one on the road….
And then, bursting out from under the pavement climbing that final rise before the finish line, was a bobbing helmet.
“THERE HE IS!!!!” someone shouted, and all fanfare broke loose…. It WAS him!
A miracle lap, back down to an hour and thirty, and JUST enough time – twelve minutes to spare.
Twelve TINY minutes, NOTHING; a flat, extra wind, ANYTHING would have eaten that time away, but there he was, and a weak smile spread across his face. The crowd noise lulled just a little bit as he had to call out his rider number one last time for it to be official…. In the most exhausted voice I’d ever heard pass Ort’s lips,
“ FIVE…. ONE ….. TWO……” and the crowd erupted…
It was magic.
So, yeah, the headline for this post might be a little misleading – but even though we didn’t start as a team, we ended up a team – and that’s how it went down. In retrospect, about two weeks before the ride I emailed the organizer about changing events, but I really should have just bowed out all together, and crewed for Ort from the get-go. I knew I wasn’t ready, but I was prepared to at least try. My only regret was not being there to run those hot laps on Friday for Ort, keeping him on the bike and moving, so perhaps the finish would not have played out so close to the wire – but hey, a finish is a finish. I consider this a complete success. But you might then ask how can I possibly consider this weekend, this race, a success when my own ride was yet another shortcoming? It’s hard to explain, but the feelings of accomplishment I feel from seeing a good friend finish something so tough, knowing that I had a small part to play in that feat, was enough. I had no trophy, no glory, but I feel full, whole, and satisfied deep down in my soul. Being on a crew is THAT rewarding, and I am SO glad that I’d decided to come to Tejas again, and that the events played out the way that they did. It has taught me that crew can help win a race when all else seems impossible. But, the crew does nothing without a solid rider, and this year’s ride has shown me the tenacity of a rider that sees his goal and never wavers no matter what the odds, and gives me someone to point to and declare “THAT is how it’s done.” Hopefully, next year, I can pull from that, if I do come back to this event.
There’s quite a bit of weight on these shoulders as I step away from this ride – there is the personal desire to earn that trophy for myself next year, or some year in the future. With that, I have broken down and finally have learned to let go of some of the things that have been occupying me so much these past few years. I need to regain the focus, the desire to do better at these events, the training to excel at them if I truly want to continue being someone that looks at a century ride and asks “what’s next?” I’m not ready to quit. I’m not dead. But, the rider that I speak of so highly from 2003 *IS* dead. I can’t bring him back. I can only build anew. I can take this tired body, and teach it to shed weight. I can take these legs that have learned to accept a slower pace, and teach them to spin strong and hard. I can take these latest lessons that I’ve seen of courage and fortitude, and use them as a map of how to build my own mental toolbox. It’s time to move on to version three of me. Version 1 was the fat guy that was on his way to a heart attack. Version 2 was the fledgling aspiring ultra-racer that lost his way. It’s time to take all these lessons, forget the past, and start fresh.
A few commutes will lead back to consistency. Finally visiting the club rides that provide the rabbits that I need to chase in order to get faster. It’s time to look at the brevets, not as something to simply finish but something to better myself at. It’s time to look at the forecast, find 100 degree temperatures, and suit up for a fast metric.
I know the path. I know I still want to follow it. It’s time to have a better 2008, and put this year aside – yeah, it wasn’t perfect - in certain ways it was pure hell - but it was SURE good in many ways. I learned a lot, and sometimes that’s all we can hope for in life.
I’ve said it all before, sure...
...but something in me changed this last weekend.
It’s time to wake up.