October 24, 2006

Tejas Wrap-Up, Part Three

More ramblings, perhaps? Of course! That's what this blog is all about, really...

Here's some more details about the ride itself, for your reading pleasure...

It was a strange feeling, first of all, driving down to Texas in the middle of the night. My preferred method of interstate travel starts with a long, overnight drive to avoid traffic and the usual construction issues that usually happen along the highways. Unfortunately, this didn't do wonders for my sleep clock and personal awareness. Leaving at midnight Wednesday, and driving until I arrived in the afternoon the same day made it seem like it was Thursday already. All afternoon, even though it was only 4:00pm, I kept thinking it was 7:30pm or something - very odd.

I slept like a rock that night, on a comfortable bed.

The next day - race day - we rose and began to ready ourselves for the task ahead. Another weird thing about the Tejas ride was the fact it started in the evening. This was a first, at least for a ride of this size. I'd done evening rides before, but we're talking after-work rides of 20 miles or so - you ride at 6pm, and you're done by 8pm. In this case, we were starting a 48-hour event at 5:30 PM. One lap of daylight, and then it's lights-on for the next 8-10 hours. WEIRD! But, smart, on the part of the race organizers. In an event where sleep deprivation is as much a part of training as endurance rides are, having the riders make it through the first night right off the bat probably prevented a lot of sleep-deprivation-related issues, because the sun will come up before the sleepies have a real chance to take hold. 5:30 came, the whistle blew, and we were off and riding!

I started WAY in the back of the pack. Even though drafting was allowed for part of the first lap, I chose not to participate much. I eventually worked my way up to DT about halfway up to the lime plant at mile five, and stuck in with him for a bit, along with some other random riders. I figured, this was probably the only chance I'd get to talk to ANYONE for the rest of the ride, since a strict no-drafting policy was to ensue after the first stop-sign came. After reaching the first turn on the magnificent course, we enjoyed a nice tailwind to the first stop sign, and then turned southwest onto the back-side of the loop. Considerably less climbing here, it seemed, save for the steady rollers, I was really enjoying myself. Eating up hill after hill, and savoring the LONG downhills, this ride was gonna be a blast!

We passed by a new development called "The Retreat", an up-scale looking community that was still under construction - and the roadside construction barrels and such made it easy to call off the miles, as they provided the needed mental landmarks that helped pass the time. The bike was performing nicely, as I climbed and descended along the nicely rolling road - any doubts I'd had about the Cannondale being "neccessary" in my stable were quickly put to rest. This is a GREAT bike, and it would continue to prove itself comfortable and responsive mile after mile for the next couple days - which is something that one could never say about a Cannondale in the past.

In the last five miles of the course came my favorite section. All of the cumulative altitude we'd gained over the course of the loop was about to be paid back in full in the course of three miles. A curve, a split in the road, and then a long steady climb to the back ridge of the loop, and then finally a LONG, probably two-mile long downhill followed at a steep pitch. Any complaints riders might have had about the first section of climbing on the course were probably put to rest on this section, as one realizes things would be far worse if we'd been riding in the opposite direction. This was SOME hill. Only a short, 1/2 mile flat section separated this long hill from another long downhill that curved and plunged down to a bridge. Usually, speeds without pedaling would top out in the upper 30 MPH range, and then BAM - the momentum would be sapped up quickly as the road pitched back up after the bridge, and led riders up to the start/finish line. Numbers were shouted out, lap times checked, and then you'd start over again. It was deceiving at first glance, but this was a technical course. The nearly nine miles of climbing on the first section had some riders calling it "Colorado-like", and the constant rollers on the backside of the loop, though not as steep, were reminiscent of brevet season in Kansas City. It's truly a course with something for everyone.

After the first lap, which was clicked off in an hour and five minutes, it was clear that from here in we'd be in the dark for a while. The sun was dipping, along with the temperatures and jackets, warmers, earbands and reflective vests came out of bags and into service. Head-lights flickered to life, and tail-lights came aglow. It was a magical moment, and on this first moonless night we'd all learn the course details, inch by inch feeling our way along. I was once again extremely pleased with my generator set-up, not at all concerned with its weight and supposed "rolling resistance", as a clean, white beam of light shone brightly in front of me, lighting up the road, the signs, and any obstacles that happened to be there. Fumbling with battery lights just isn't worth the trouble anymore - even on long, fast downhills the beam was spectacular, allowing full-speed descents without fear of something sneaking out of the dark to dismount me. Again, my thanks to Peter White for bringing these fine systems to the states. Simply awesome!

Riding up past the Lime plant on Park Road 21 and then onto the longest part of the climbing brought me up onto a plateau, which was pretty neat during the day, but downright mystical at night. The lights in the horizon were so far away that they flickered and twinkled just like distant stars, and airplanes on final approach could be seen miles away, beacons flashing silently across the night sky. Only the rush of the occasional passing truck broke up the scene.

The trucks were truly driven by professionals, and it was hard to believe I was in Texas. Tales of beer bottles and close-calls flowed through my head, but really there was nothing of the sort - save for one solitary yeahoo on Friday afternoon. The heavy trucks gave a wide berth, and passed with true care. It was nice.

There was the occasional night-time weirdness on that first night: first, the continuously dropping temperatures also made it hard to believe I was in Texas, as lap after lap I added layer after layer to keep warm. There wasn't much to see, but there was a lot to hear. On the upper two-mile portion of the loop, a bull hollered at two of us as we passed by, with a frustrated and confused "mooooouuuuhh!!!", seemingly coming right from the fence line as we rolled past. That was loud, and a little freaky. Then there was the late-model red Ford Escort that did a slow fly-by while I climbed the steepest and longest part of the climb on the next lap. With hazard flashers going, I assumed it was one of the officials checking on riders, but it was not. The Escort, complete with two teenage boys, had a flat rear tire and was slowly attempting to make it back to town. The smell of hot rubber was thick in the air as they slowly rolled past me, barely going faster than I was. Eventually, they gave up and ended up parking it on the shoulder a little later up the road, walking home from there. It was entertaining the next day to ride past this car over and over, and eventually see them back out, with a parent, trying to fix the flat tire. There was a spark of recognition from the driver as I rode past, nearly 12 hours later -- "yep. I'm STILL riding my bicycle." He looked confused, amazed....priceless.

Lap after lap I ticked off the miles, promising myself a rest after the first hundred miles were tucked away. During lap five, a real visual treat; as Orion began to rise on the eastern horizon I rolled up the last part of a climb on the back-half of the loop, atop the highest portion of the course. As I rounded off the top, I could see the next four miles of the course - marked only by the lonely taillights of the riders that were already up there. All evenly lined up, with little blotches of headlight beam visible in front of them, it was a beautiful sight: no cars, just bikes scattered along a perfectly winding road that merged almost seamlessly with the brilliant and cold night sky. As I began to descend to catch them, the super-cooled air near a lake snuck into my open jersey, and I pulled my zipper up quick to compensate for the 40 degree air. It was a fantastic moment.

Unfortunately, the demon of sleep crept up to smack my dreams down a little, as I took the promised sleep break at the end of my first century. My loose plan was to ride 100, sleep for 2 hours, and repeat. Plenty of time to do this -- unfortunately, I was tired enough to either sleep through my alarm, or at least smack the snooze button faster than I could reach consciousness. I slept for a full SEVEN hours instead!!! A full nights' rest!! Well, no sense getting upset about it -- it was what it was, and so I rose up in the REALLY cold 35º air of the early morning, and prepared to get back on the bike.

That's when difficulty started to hit me. Either on the way from the bike to the tent, or vice versa, I had twisted my ankle on a rock or branch or something, and upon getting back on the road that next morning, my right ankle had a slight twinge to it, out back by the heel and tendon. Uh-oh... but, similar to the ankle problem that hit my left leg during MV24 I decided that I could ride through it and it would work itself out. I started the first of my next set of laps, and rode as best I could.
Each lap, unfortunately, became more tense than the next as the back of my right leg began to seize up with sharper and sharper pain, and walking around while off the bike became harder and harder. This was not good! How much longer would I be able to "ride this off?" I began to think about my options as I popped two Aleve, and continued on.

This was frustrating: my knees, legs, arms, shoulders, neck, and will to continue were all fine; no cramps, no food issues, no stomach issues, no headaches -- just this one, nagging, one-inch by one-inch section of achilles/ankle pain was making things really nasty, and it was becoming difficult to do what I've become good at: climbing. Sitting or standing, the pain worsened, despite Icy/Hot rubs and Naproxen Sodium intake after each lap. After 120 more miles, and the beginning of another sundown, it was decision-time.

Knowing that I'd slept too long already, and that my average per lap was starting to drop because of the injury that would not yield, I began to realize that I was not going to have enough time to get 500 miles inside the alotted 48-hour cutoff. Frustrated, and saddened by losing the chance to ride into another mystical night, I wrestled with my options and eventually decided to NOT risk a permanent injury. I was already limping after walking only a few feet off the bike, and the pain was sharp and defining. Like a knife to the back of the heel, just above the ankle, my decision was being made for me, and I wasn't happy about it. I wanted to continue -- but at what cost, considering I might not even be an official finisher after it would be all said and done?

Gut check time - time to be the bigger, smarter person. I reluctantly unpinned my rider number from the back of my reflective vest, and hobbled over to the official's tent near the start/finish. It was a long walk/limp of personal shame - but perhaps the walk of a smarter man, a man that wanted to walk tomorrow, rather than finish just short of 500 miles today and perhaps not being able to ride for months afterward.

I handed my rider bib to the lap tracking team, and hobbled silently away.
The official reason for withdrawl read "injury" - a first for me. Hopefully the last.

For the next 12 hours I would sit by the roadside in the cold night air, watching rider after stronger-than-I rider pass by in the night. Occasionally, after a long while in the chair, I would get up and examine the notion of at least, after 220 miles, getting a new PERSONAL best -- what more could it hurt to just break 300 miles with four more laps??? Then I would walk ten feet, and nearly be brought to my knees with the reminder of pain. This stinks.

Like a shackle around my soul, the pain kept me lashed to the chair. I WANTED to ride, but something wasn't letting me - and I was sad. I felt horrible, guilty, mad, somber - all at once. But, sometimes it's like that.

Severe saddle sores for the Warbird once upon a 300K, a bum knee for DT once upon a 400K, and now my turn with this ankle/tendon issue. Every man has his turn - and true, I'm not getting any younger. Sit down, suck it up, and rest that leg. You'll live to ride again. Despite all my training, and my clear mental approach to this event, this is proof that sometimes it's just not up to me. Injuries can't be planned for, forseen, or sometimes even prevented. I just have to exercise caution next time, make sure that I'm taking every precaution that I can -- no more distant campsites, or long dark walks to and from the tent -- next year's site will be closer to the road, and clear of walking obstacles. That's probably the best I can do! Perhaps next year I'll rent a van, and that way I won't even NEED a tent to sleep and change clothes. Lot's of time to plan, but I've learned more valuable lessons, and more importantly how to deal with things that I don't have complete control over. It could have been a rash of flat tires, a frame failure, or heaven-forbid a mal-attentive motorist that might have caused a more serious injury -- there is SO much that hangs in the balance out on these long rides, and I can't control it all.

A simple ankle twist, and I'm out of the running --- but it could have been a lot worse, and I know that.

Time to get past it, and ride on.

Several days later, here I am feeling better, walking better, and already planning next year. It'll be a nice, long, steady winter - and spring will be here in less than 80 days.

I'll be back. Solo Tejas 500 in 2007, with no regrets!
The ankle will heal - and so will my constitution.

First things first --- as noted below:
- Lose 20 lbs., slow and correctly. Keep it off.
- Cross train - strengthen the upper core to help counter-act the lower body.
- More fast centuries during the summer.
- No riding until the ankle is healed. Then, start slow again.
- No rush - it's gonna be winter, after all. Look to spring, and the 200K!

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