So, in that spirit, this blog post is going to be long on words (and long on pictures).
Every year for the past few, Dan & I have picked an athletic event to challenge ourselves...1/2 marathon, marathon, Vision Quest. What would '09 hold? The answer eluded me until last November. I bid on a silent auction item at a benefit for the SoCal League: solo entry + perks to all 3 races of the SoCal 12 Hr Race Series, put on by Jason Ranoa. I put the races on the calendar and started training, logging base miles on the trainer over the winter. January showed up and, lo and behold, the 12 Hrs at Vail was the same day of our home inspection. I didn't race and was kind of bummed.
Training resumed in ernest by March and the 12 Hrs at Rim Nordic started to loom, though not ominously. I'd ridden 9 consecutive hours before, so what's 3 more (sarcasm)?
We started riding a lot more, training during the week, and resuming our outings with the Manns. Their advice, support, and cameraderie have been invaluable. I put in the hours and the miles and would have to trust that my training would get me through. We even rode the course 3 weekends prior. On the last of 3 laps, I almost cracked. I knew this was going to be hard.
The course: 8.6 miles of singletrack/doubletrack. Some really insane steep parts (over 20% grade...though not long, they sucked). Over 1250' of gain per lap. Fun, super fast descending (my inner downhiller was rejoicing)! Oh, and the venue stages at ~6600' and tops out over 7200'. Gulp.
Since day 1 of this venture, Dan was determined to be the best pit manager EVER! His loyalty, support, and selflessness are a testament to his character. He would be helping me, all day, and doing what needed to be done to get me out and back on each lap with success. From filling bottles to fixing my bike, to wiping down my legs and giving me hugs, he was on it!
So...fast forward to June 19 (T minus 1 day)...
We arrived on Friday, mid-day, after spending a stress-free morning finalizing our packing and going to the store for ice, etc. The drive up the hill was busy with motorhomes/Jeeps. Turns out Snow Valley was hosting an off-road Jeep festival.
Jordan and Chris. We all decided to share a pit space (since we had no easy-up or table), and while cozy, it was fine.
Off to bed by 9! Dan brought earplugs and gave me the better of the two sleeping pads. I slept great! (and smooshed him against the side of the tent...oops). Woke up by 6 to make oatmeal and yerba mate...yum! Racers were already arriving and the whole place started to bustle. Jason said there were well over 450 individual racers signed up...100+ of those were soloists.
Michael's anti-cramping elixir
With about 20 min. left I got into my riding clothes...it was already warming up, so no arm warmers or base layer. I saw Shalyn, local endurance pro, walking by and knew my chance to win was gone. I'll admit, I was a little bummed, but at the same time, my mantra was "8". My goal was to do 8 laps. Not only that, but I put myself in the expert class, which for the women, is combined with pro. So, I really tried to keep the focus on me, not anybody else.
In any case...first mile went by fast! Fun descent back to the hairpin turn. Shalyn was already by me, so I watched her disappear! She is super strong and a gracious competitor. Pushed hard on the climb...some of those pitches would just not relent. Steep, loose, some with rocks...one after another after another. Couldn't catch a break. I was already getting close to granny gear.
Not many riders went by as another rider and I pulled a gap on those behind us. I knew the pace was high (sub-1 hr not counting the parade lap), and that I couldn't sustain for the day, but I didn't want to get mired in the group behind.
After what seemed like forever of climbing, we reached the top fireroad...relief! This was my designated take-a-swig-from-the-bottle spot. The road did climb but much less steeply (only up to ~8% and 5% or less in most spots). Some riders passed. Hit the rollers, and then before I knew it, the switchback descents. They were already a mess...loose and rutted. Seriously, though...just brake before the switchback and coast through...not that hard to figure out.
Anyway, got hung up there, too and waited it out. The descent was incredibly fun/fast. At times I was going 24+ mph on the singletrack. Suh-weet!
Then, the worst part...another 300+ feet of climbing (and mini-descent) back to the start. Here's where folks were ripping my legs off as I struggled with my easiest gears. But, I know my strengths and weaknesses...I'm not the best climber, but I can spin with the best of 'em.
Jordan comes in from his first lap
Anyway, got back into the start/finish, handed off bottles, and got some fuel. I was using 1 bottle of water/Elete, 1 bottle of weakly mixed Strawberry HEED, 1 endurolyte, and some combo of solids (fruit leather, mini Builder Bars, animal crackers, dried mango, etc) on each lap. I tested out the protocol prior to the race, and it seemed to not upset my tummy. The other HUGE help was that I took Hammer's Race Day Supreme capsules. They buffer lactic acid and help with ATP production. I honestly had NO burning in my legs the entire day. It didn't hit me until after, but it was true. No lactic acid burn for 12 hrs. Amazing.
End of Lap 1
So, the rest of the day was a rinse/repeat with a few variations. Lap 2 was nearly identical in time to Lap 1.
Photo at the end of Lap 2, taken by Chris
By Lap 4, I had mentally broken. I felt awful. I was alone on course nearly the entire hour. I rolled into pit and spewed some obscenities. I was hating life. Then, I remembered I still had my iPod! I wanted to save it until lap 6, but something told me the situation was urgent. I was already starting to get things confused, too...endurance brain setting in. A new playlist awaited! I was renewed.
The pits were alive with friends and spectators...lots of awesome folks who cheered me on with every lap. You are all simply amazing!
The many emotions of this endurance racer
So, lap 5...I was rocking out to all sorts of songs, and then it hit me. Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours". On the bottom of Hate Climb. It clicked on, and I started to tear up. I couldn't explain it but just let the emotion come and go. I don't think I actually cried but it was the biggest upwelling of emotion I felt all day besides exasperation.
Lap 5 was indeed faster as I let the music carry me. "Crimson and Clover" by Jimmy Eat World rocked MY world. Love that song. I also finally caved and walked the steep section up by the fireroad. Oh well...4 outta 9 ain't bad.
Jordan gets support from his friends...Chris, Jen and Julie
Lap 6 is a blur. I remember finally feeling tired. I changed gloves at some point, and Dan wiped down my legs and arms. Honestly, I seriously had mush-brain. I almost double-dosed on acetominophen (only took 4 all day) at one point.
Allison & Justin were there waiting for me.
And there they were!
Me, displaying which place I'd like to be in
Knowing they would be out to do a lap with me was truly motivating. Our friends...riding with me if for no reason than to cheer me up, encourage me, and take my mind off the pain if for a brief time. They were there! I sat and got freshened up. Snacked on the "crack bites" from Costco that they brought and relaxed for a minute.
We went out on a lap and all went my pace. It was so awesome and really special. Maybe nobody but me will get it, but that's ok. (Of course, in my mush-brained state I totally forgot to thank them before I went out for the big lap...#8).
By the time I was up there, I had made up my mind to do a 9th lap. I had come pretty far, yes, but knew I could do it. Hate Climb was only a small (though painful) part of the lap. I rolled into the pit and said, "Put my light on!"
11,261' of ascent
11,261' of ascent
The boys had already started packing up. Turns out Jordan manned up and went out for one more lap with Neil. Seriously, I give him credit...for his first 12 hr solo race, he got podium (3rd) with 6 laps! His first-ever race podium! Rad, huh? Despite an aching back, despite his mind telling him to give up, he gave it another go. Proud of him.
Jen & Julie offered for us to stay at their house in Big Bear (think: hot shower and a bed!) for the night insteading of tenting. It got seriously cold really fast...below 38 degrees, I think. I knew I got 3rd place, and with us standing around shivering, we decided to pack it up and head to BB.
Celebratory beverages (just to clarify, we had about 1/4 of the Lost Abbey and still have the Chimay)
I must thank some very important people, because it took a village to raise this racer:
Dan-My support, my love, my partner and the other half of my brain-you were the best pit chief that money couldn't buy!
Jason-You put on a great event, as usual. Thanks for doing SoCal racing proud!
Justin-What can I say? You made a Mannimal out of me.
Allison-Always there when I need you. Thanks so much :)
Jordan-Great job out there. Thanks for pit set-up, the friends, and the support.
Chris-You were an awesome pit bitch in training! Thanks for the photos (i.e. memories).
Jen and Julie-Your house kicks ass! Thanks for taking in our poor, tired, sorry asses ;)
Michael, Weyland, StevieB, Traci, Neil, Craig, the whole STR crew...you were the best out there. Thanks for all the kind words, cheers, and support. Your energy helped me go the distance.
Eric-You got me through a winter/spring full of base training. It helped so much!
Till next time...onward, uphill, and downhill!