Sunday, June 21, 2009

Soul-o: 12 Hrs of Rim Nordic

It's funny...I'm usually a verbose person, not one to be short on words, and the experience of solo 12 hour racing has left me able to explain it only by rambling. Maybe things are still processing, percolating...

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! 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.

Lots o' Jeeps

The venue was relatively quiet, but there were some pits already set up. Traci, Maddie, and some of the STR crew were around. We found Jason in no time and got our VIP pit spot. Great location! We also got a great campsite on the Rim Nordic side (instead of having to tent it in the parking lot) and VIP (=close) parking. In no time, we unloaded our gear and met up with 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.

Dan figuring out his domain

Not long after, we set up camp, and I went out on an easy 2 mile spin. Returned to make dinner (organic mac n' cheese with grilled chicken) on our kick-ass new camp stove!

Dan liking the new camp stove
Looks sketchy but so tasty

We listened to live music with Weyland and Doris and just chilled for the rest of the night.

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.

Solo pit row

Jordan & I strategizing

Jordan and Chris rolled in after spending the night not camping :) Met up with Heidi V. (love that girl!). We all started to get ready. I made bottles and finalized my nutrition plan with Dan. Last minute adjustments to the bike, and before we knew it, the rider's meeting was taking place. Jason emphasized the and courtesy while informing us of the charities and special sponsors.

Dan's reminder sheet

The spread

Michael's anti-cramping elixir

With about 20 min. left I got into my riding 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.

The ridiculously-fast and ever-sweet Heidi waiting for her turn

Here is Mario tagging off to Heidi

Jason teamed up with Shoebacca to have these awesome seat tags made for the solo riders. Awesome because people could: #1 Give you encouragement, and #2 Not give you a bunch of crap for going really slow. The guys/girls on relays generally go all out! The (mortal) solos are in the plod away mode.
Awesome seat tags
Still smiling...oh wait, we haven't started yet

We lined up for the parade laps, and I put myself about 4-5 rows back. Not wanting to get stuck behind too many riders once we hit singletrack but not wanting to slow down anybody faster was my rationale.

The start line
And, we're off!

It worked out well...the group thinned out a little on the parade, and then we were off! I could feel my heart rate already climbing too was 175+ in no time. By the time we hit the first bridge, there was already a traffic jam! (Sorry, but I have to say it...lots of not-technically proficient riders out there...if you can't ride it, step aside).

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 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
Dan keeping me fueled up

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.

Likely the end of Lap 6

One thought clearly came to my mind, though, as I rolled in from Lap 6. I really, really hoped 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).

Returning from my pep-rally lap

So, the time was at hand...the last lap. I was far ahead of schedule, meaning I had time to do a 9th. Chris had planted the seed early on, and it turns out, Dan was quietly scheming/hoping for me to pull numero nueve. Still, I put on my arm warmers and slipped out for the goal lap. I caught up to Weyland, but after we got separated again, I felt pretty much alone. The light had changed...shadows wandered from their morning angles. The air was cooler. The clouds rolling into the next valley over. It was pretty surreal. Up on the fireroad, when it was very quiet, a flash of movement to the left caught my eye. An animal! Upon second glance, it was a bobcat, probably figuring (s)he would trot along, not expecting a mountain biker to be coming along. Cool...I'd never seen one and was glad it wasn't a bigger cat!

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!"

The final rally

It was, predictably, my slowest lap. I walked the most, and went the slowest overall, but it was okay. I knew I had 2 hrs to complete it :) After a minor snafu (forgetting how to turn my light on...really, your brain gets mushy), I kept moving and crawled back up to the last descent. I let out a big "whoop" and savored the last downhill.

Crossing that line for the 9th (and last) time

It was over...12 hrs of racing in the bag. Here are the stats (per GTC):

78.5 miles
11,261' of ascent
5200 calories

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.

3rd place finish

I would've paid a million bucks for that felt so good! We ate a CPK cheese pizza and sat around shooting the breeze, already reminiscing about the day. I slept great...for 2 hours, and then I tossed and turned all night. Up every hour on the hour.

My favorite sign on the way home

So, all in all, I guess the "take home message" from the race is this: I came prepared and performed as (or a little better than) expected. There were no real surprises. Nothing that "threw" me. No enormous epiphanies. And, I kind of like that :) I'll admit, I'm still a bit in awe that I did do 9 laps. My longest ride ever on a mountain bike. I don't know how I dulled the monotony of the Hate Climb. I just rode. Turned the cranks. One revolution at a time. And I hope to do the same in November. I know I have a long way to go to hang with the big girls in pro (ok, to clarify, I do not want to race pro, but I have to at this series). But, can I continue to push myself and nudge the bar ever higher? You bet.

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 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!


Pedal Circles said...

Awesome! Great blog! Loved the words and photos. Thanks!

JOY said...

NAughty Naughty!!! sounds pretty awesome!! Great work!

Anonymous said...

Hey Steph! It's Shalyn! Got your blog from Allisons!! I just wanted to tell you that you did AMAZING up there! Your a strong and talented rider for sure!! I love your blog post on it! Thank you for your encouraging words! I appreciated them! I am so happy for you to have surpassed your intended goals! Thats the best feeling ever! Maybe we can get together and ride sometime!!
Happy riding!

Tim said...

Outstanding blog/post.