Sunday, February 28, 2010

Easy To Be Hard

Wow. Just dipped below 100 days on the countdown timer. Like the longer days and the crazy crop of drowning worms on the pavement Friday, it's a sure sign that RAAM is getting closer. This definitely feels like a milestone to me, so I'm taking a moment to reflect. How ready am I, really? What needs to happen?

I'm feeling strong and ready - but I know I can't lose sight of how much more I want to accomplish between now and June. I feel the same, but changed. I've been marked for life, and I'm also sure that I'll be marked again and again.

More than anything, I've made a conscious decision to drop the defenses and the tough-girl act, and let RAAM in all the way. Time was, anyone who offered to help me got the 500-mile stare and a good ration of  "I've got it, thank you very much" attitude. That's out the window. I figure that anyone who's not figured out that I'm tough by now is a hopeless case - I don't have much to prove on that score.

Not having to be so danged tough has left the door open for me to be a little kinder, less sarcastic, more receptive - not a bad thing at all. Not that I'm jumping on any new bandwagons, switching my diet, ditching my training program, but - I'm listening, learning, refining. Much more than tough, I'm resilient. Bend, don't break, and return to a stronger core every time.

I've been listening to a lot of music, filling my ipod with the music that I think will help me get across America faster. While I'm poking around looking for what I think I'm searching for, I seem to stumble upon (can I still say that without violating some trademark?)  exactly what I need. I went to Three Dog Night looking for some of their more upbeat classics - Joy to the World, Shambala...and here's what got stuck in my head:

What a timely reminder ! It's easy to be closed, and so danged hard to be open, even (especially?) around the people who matter the most. A successful RAAM will require the latter of me. I'm a work in progress, for sure - but I'm getting better, and I know it.

Seems strange to not have much to report. I'm riding outside when I can, and training indoors when I must. A strong weekend - a depletion workout indoors on Saturday and a very pleasant sunny spin outdoors today. Legs feel strong after Sebring and for the first time in quite some time I'd have to say that they LOOK strong, too. I guess pushing a giant gear into the wind for a very long time had some sort of positive effect.

My next race is the Davis 24 - and although it's earlier than it has been in years past, there's still a reasonable chance that it will be hot. I've been adding a heat training component to the indoor workouts, and I'll post more about that sometime soon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An opportunity to support my RAAM effort.

 RAAM costs $5/mile!
Lots of friends - old and new - have asked how they can help. Buy a cycling cap to support me and my team as we rocket across the US on the wings of a Carbent Raven!You need a new cycling cap this year, anyway. And this one is especially cool:

Wicking technical fabric, bike-specific fit, and great graphics.
The "Raven" graphic is in honor of my race bike - a Carbent Raven - as well as one of my mentors, David Bradley of Team Raven Lunatics (you'll see David's RL logo on my jersey, as well!).
I love the color scheme. It looks crisp and cool.
And my favorite quote from my breakthrough 2009 racing season is on the underside of the brim: "We're the luckiest people in the world". The hats are on order, so I'm taking pre-reservations. Order yours now, and I'll ship it out in early May - in plenty of time for RAAM.
At $20, they cost about what a similar hat would cost at a shop. I make a few bucks on each one, and hopefully offset some of my expenses.
Shipping is free, and I've set up a Paypal storefront (on my blog, upper right hand corner) where you can place your order easily.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sebring 12/24 : "Typhos is the Wind"

Or..."A long-winded tale of a long-winded ride"...for those who didn't know me "back when", the reference to Typhos is apocryphal. My Furnace Creek Totem is Echidna. If you're good with Greek mythology, it's clearer. If not, loose translation: "The wind is my friend". 

All things considered, a really good outing. I arrived in Sebring just after noon Friday – about what I expected. A bugger of a trip – Eugene – San Fran – Charlotte-Orlando by air, then rented a car for the drive to Sebring. Fifteen hours total. The Carbent was waiting for me at the hotel, and when I showed up to claim it, the hostess thought that it would be more convenient if I built it up in my room rather than her lobby. In order to check me in early, she was forced to upgrade me to a suite. Nice, because it gave me a lot of room to work – and a refrigerator and microwave. I could've slept four people in there, no problem – something to consider for next time.

After building the bike and taking it for a quick test run in what turned out to be a torrential downpour, I took care of some small business: grocery shopping. I made more sandwiches than I thought I could possibly consume (I was right, but they were tasty...), a pizza, a small ice chest, and a dozen Red Bull. I didn't drink 'em all (probably a good thing) – but I was prepared.

Sebring isn't a “recumbent race” per se, but it is a veritable “who's who” of recumbent racing. At packet pickup I got to meet a whole bunch of recumbent racers, ogle a Musashi even though they don't technically exist yet, and pick John Schlitter's brain for RAAM suggestions. He freely admitted that his first piece of advice would've been “Get Brian Nakagawa”, had I not I beaten him to the punch.
Plus I got to meet Quinn, Dennis' daughter, who is unspeakably cute.

Larry Graham gave me a blow-by-blow of the track course. It helped immensely, for at least two reasons: first, when we did the three starter laps it it was fresh in my head (“OK, THIS is the turn that we apex early on, here are the three quick ones that I can line straight through, YEP! I CAN pedal through the corners even if I'm taking the aggressive line...”) Second, having someone be invested enough in me doing well to take that much thought and trouble reminded me, one more time, that I came there to take the race seriously, do my best, and put another notch in the “RAAM Readiness” belt. No slouching! A huge mental boost.

Did I mention the rain? It rained like gangbusters all day Friday, and everyone was putting on the brave face: The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow, right? Well, sort of. After the rain stopped, the wind came to take its place. It HOWLED in my window all night.

As it turned out the weather was a barrier to a top performance, and ended up being an insurmountable barrier for many. According to Dennis “Weather Man” Johnson, the high temperature ended up being 55 degrees, and the low was a crisp 35. The average temperature was likely closer to the lower figure. I did see the sun a couple of times, but I've got to assume that the redness on my face is windburn – average 21 mph from the NNW, with gusts up to the lo 30's.

Optimist that I am – as well as knowing that I'd have limited day loop support, and wanting to err on the side of keeping moving, I probably started the race slightly underdressed: shorts, a lightweight baselayer, my Race Across Oregon FINISHER jersey (why do I keep capitalizing “FINISHER”? Hmmm...), armwarmers, and a windbreaker for good measure. This would've been great gear for the predicted 58 degrees, sunny, and 11-13 mph winds. After all the “what jersey for Sebring” hoopla on my blog, it ended up being a moot point: it never saw the light of day until after the awards were done.

The start line was eerie. Everyone seemed a little glum. I heard, more than once, “I guess no record-setting days today”. Funny – I knew it was going to be a tough day, and I knew they were wrong. And they're off....I started in the middle of the pack, no need to hang with the big dogs as they were all in the drafting race. Making good time, three laps 'round, then off to the main course and into the wind in earnest.

The trip out was rough going. I saw David at the poker chip turnaround, where I had a minor “chipping out” incident. I never promised anyone I'd look graceful! By then I was well behind the pack of drafting racers as well as several solo riders, but not in a bad position overall. From David's quizzical look when he saw me, I could tell he thought I might be overextending myself, but he wasn't going to say so. I was aware that I was pushing pretty hard, but actually I was staying within myself. There were at least THREE very fast female recumbent racers hot on my tail at that point: Shellene, Peggy, and Cathy. Woo-hoo! Game on!

Dan, our support person, met us a few miles past the turnaround – found a great spot right at the top of a small rise. He's never done support before. Didn't matter – he's a natural (Dan, sorry for the huge flood of calls and emails that will surely be coming...). I rolled up: “Dan, I need a sandwich, a bar, two bottles, some ibuprofen, and I'm going to pee over here behind the car. We'll get this done in thirty seconds, and it's faster if you don't hurry...” Dan delivered. Amazing!

The trip back was pretty fast - some tailwind sections. Still, I got off the long course in 5:24. Crap!In my fantasy scenario, I'd have been well into my second 11-mile loop by then. That's okay, we'll take reality.

I kind of liked the middle loop – some headwinds, a couple of hills, and a blazing fast tailwind section – though I couldn't take full advantage of the last owing to having a puny 115” high gear, I did what I could. I did the first three loops without music, then the rest with. I set the iPod to shuffle EVERYTHING, which I figured was a good balance. Seemed a little early for a steady diet of the hard stuff. First tune up: “Mama Told Me Not To Come”(Three Dog Night), which summed up some folks' sentiments rather neatly. I got nine middle loops done before we moved to the track. It will be interesting to look at the splits, see if there was an objective “iPod effect”. My fondest memory of the middle loop is passing Mark Metcalf. For those of you who aren't from Texas, saying “I passed Mark Metcalf, on the flats, going into the wind” is akin to saying, “the last time I walked on water, I passed Jesus Christ...”. Clearly, I was having a good day.

OH. Did I mention the disc wheel? Yep, I rode with one. First time ever. It ROCKED. A little heavy, but not unmanageable. It took a little getting used to, but I was able to tack a little into the crosswinds when I thought about it (sadly not often enough), and I never felt like I was being pushed off the road. In the tailwind sections, I simply didn't have enough gearing to keep up with the bike – so it's hard to say whether it was helpful overall, but I certainly felt badass riding with it.

Everyone told me that the crossover onto the track would be confusing. Nope! This year they deployed at least 20 volunteers to guide people along that stretch. Looked like a lot of young people. Good to see them involved!

Racing the track was GREAT. Since I'd tossed my original goal of 450 miles to the winds (literally), I decided that the bare minimum I was willing to walk away with was the women's overall course record. I calculated that I'd need 56 laps to get that taken care of (I calculated wrong – the number was 54 - but that's another story, and it's probably just as well.) I also knew that it was attainable. I kicked out the first four before 6:30PM, leaving 52 laps for the last 12 hours, so I set my target pace at 4.5 laps per hour, or 9 laps every two hours.

After a few laps it was clear that I wasn't going to gain very much on that pace: after two hours, I had the princely sum of seven minutes in the bank, and after four, fifteen. With a full lap in the bank, I pitted long enough to put on tights. About time! On the plus side, adding tights felt instantly warm – if I'd have started there, I might've decided that they weren't enough – and I didn't have a Plan B that was warmer.

Nutrition was my predictable night chow: a can of Red Bull every time I stopped, along with a sandwich or a Honey Stinger bar or a slice of pizza, with the occasional packet of Honey Stinger energy chews (pomegranate was a favorite; I'm not a 'trendy fruit' person normally but – dang, they're good!). Eating pizza on the track was a little dicey – I only got one slice in while actually rolling, just too much going on all around me, and I was concentrating on fine-tuning my “rabbit-hunting” skills.

I tried to stop every 4 or 5 laps, but sometimes I forgot, or I was catching – or being caught by – one of the faster riders and I didn't want to lose momentum, or there was a really good tune on (you try stopping to pit in the middle of Foggy Mountain Breakdown – bet you can't, either!).

Sometime around 11, my eyes started giving me problems. They were dry and irritated from the cold wind. I was starting to see halos around every light source, and my left eye, which had taken the most wind, was starting to be generally cloudy. I kept on, not wanting to alarm Dan – particularly not to the point where he'd tell me I had to quit; I was well over 300 miles and on track for the course record, and I wasn't going to give that up without a fight.

I figured that the worst that could happen was that I'd off-road, fall over, and look stupid. I'd heard rumors that it had happened before, and that folks were generally able to dust themselves off and walk or ride away, so I wasn't worried – just irked that I was losing time to something stupid and preventable. As we moved from midnight to 2AM, my vision worsened, and I did go off course several times. Never badly, never went down, but a fair bit of lost time. Rats.

Having to spend extra mental effort to see kept me from eating much while riding, so pit stops became more critical. I was down to every 3 – 4 laps, and I started counting down the laps every time I went through. Fifteen. Fourteen. Thirteen...Just under three hours for the last eleven, and I was pretty sure that I didn't have twelve. The legs could have gone faster, but the eyes were maxed out. I was still convinced that I needed all eleven for the course record. I rode a few conservative laps, just a couple of minutes up on pace, then started whining to Dan about needing more light. More light. More light. I still didn't dare tell him why – that he was supporting a blind racer. He found more light. What a star!

I came through the 55th lap with almost 21 minutes left, which felt pretty good. Someone came through just behind me, came around, and hollered out that we'd both best finish one more good lap. I followed him, just outside drafting distance – good pace, and I stayed on course without incident. Guessing it one of the Carpenter “brothers” - both Paul and Rick Carpenter (no apparent relation) are racing RAAM this year and both were out there riding strongly until the last. Either way, thanks for the escort!

I was pretty spent at the end. I'd gone light on food the last three hours, just taking in enough to keep the pace up, stay warm, and not puke. When I rolled into the pit after that last lap, it sprang to life. Someone grabbed the bike, and I was wrapped up in people and blankets, helped over the barriers and into a warm car to wait for the awards. It took a while to want to eat, but the donuts and hot chocolate at the awards ceremony looked inviting. I made David pick up my medal – standing would've required giving up my blankie, and I was pretty certain that I had powdered sugar on my face.

Final tally: 415.9 miles - besting the womens' recumbent record by quite a bit, and the womens' overall record by enough to matter (.5mph). Considering the conditions, I'm pleased.

The purpose of racing hard – besides the obvious, setting a new benchmark and testing my fitness – was to see what breaks under pressure. In that regard, the race was a resounding success. I managed to break my eyes quite nicely. I've talked to several people, and motorcycle/tactical sunglasses with foam eyecups seems to be the way to go here. My foot issues – burning nerve pain on my left foot – were entirely absent with the new SIDI's. Nutrition was on task for the most part. My goal had been 300 kcal/hour. From my (somewhat hazy) self-documentation, I am estimating 250 – in other words, barely enough. I was smart enough to go heavy on fuel in the early going, and in fact one of my fastest and most comfortable laps on the 11.4-mile loop was shortly after downing a (380-kcal) Honey Stinger protein bar AND a slice of pizza the lap before – in other words, quite close to 1000 kcal in 20 minutes, considering that I washed it all down with Powerbar Recovery drink. The garbage gut is still in fine form.

Getting home after the race was another story all of its own, best left to another chapter. Suffice it to say that I was extremely fortunate that David was there to look out for me as I was not in any condition to do the things that were necessary to get myself home. It took the better part of a day for my eyes to be safe for driving, for one thing. Another lesson learned: don't expect to be up for much after a 24 hour race, and take the extra day in Florida to unwind.

Complete results here, for the morbidly curious:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Mojo Rising

One week out to Sebring. I'll have a trip to the gym today after work, a nice ride on Sunday(on Adrienne's Ti Aero - I've already shipped my race bike off to Sebring), and then it's just a matter of packing, tracking down details, and keeping my legs loose and my spirits high.

Now it's time to work the mojo. One of the things that I've learned is that racing - as opposed to "going for really long rides" has a certain badass component to it. The part where you want to, you know, WIN. Not "Stick-a-voodoo-pin-in-you-and-hope-you-bonk-sucka" win, but "I'm strong, I'm prepared, and I'm going to race you off my wheel" win. Confident. And when you've got your mojo on, you feel just a little more badass.

A lot of little things figure into the mojo quotient for any given race, but here are a few of mine:

First, I'm bringing Our Lady of the Perpetually Flexed Biceps out of retirement. She's actually a Hawk Goddess, but I really like the way "Our Lady of the Perpetually Flexed" rolls off the tongue. Dave Van Gundy scared her into semi-retirement a couple years back, but Sebring is a big deal, and she's ready to take the, um, plunge. Any resemblance, superficial or otherwise, is purely coincidental - except that she's at least as badass as her owner:

Next - cheap sunglasses. I LOVE sunglasses, probably because all the time I was growing up I was "that kid" - the one with the dorky glasses who couldn't wear sunglasses. My preteen girl "gang" would go to Walgreens to try 'em on. I couldn't even see myself in the mirror to know which ones I wouldn't be getting. So as soon as I got contacts - splurge city. I found a great pair for Sebring. They've got it all - HUGE lenses, leopard motif, and - get this - STARS. I couldn't help but smile when I saw these, so they're coming along:

Last - but definitely not least - ink. Yep. You read that one right. After RAO last year, I was struck by two compelling thoughts/feelings: first, I was very cognizant of how extremely lucky I am to be able to race - an opportunity that's not afforded to 99+%  of the folks on this planet - and how much MORE lucky I am to be able to do so in the company of so many other like-minded and supportive people. Additionally, finishing RAO was a ground-breaking, life-changing experience for me - I felt like it had in some way made an indelible mark on my psyche.
I don't know how you would acknowledge an event like this, but after some thought, I decided to be quite literally "marked for life" as the luckiest person in the world.
I'm sure that they see all kinds at Evolved Ink, but as a 46-year-old newbie I was also aware that I wasn't their typical client. I'd love to tell you it was a painless procedure, but I really can't. I was sweating bullets. Nonetheless, in about an hour I walked out, a little oozy, a little woozy, and quite definitely marked for life with a very lucky four-leafed clover on my...never mind. I'm told that they last longer if they don't get a lot of UV exposure. Since you're unlikely to see it in person...

How about you? What's marked YOU for life? A pretty cool concept to ponder. Every time I see this tattoo, I remember: I'm the luckiest person in the world.

If you're coming to Sebring, see ya' soon. Got Mojo? Hope so! I've set a ridiculous, out-there goal for myself. I'll be racing in the solo, non-drafting division, and I expect to race at least 450 miles. No woman has done more than 404, upright OR recumbent. Putting it down on paper - or in this case pixels - almost sounds arrogant: I intend racing 2 miles per hour faster than any woman has done before on that course, whether drafting or not. Thing is, I honestly believe I can do it. Weather conditions always factor in, of course, but right now things look pretty neutral. Maybe a little shower-y, but I've certainly dealt with that before.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Movie Review - Bicycle Dreams

I finally watched Bicycle Dreams last weekend. About time, right? On the one hand, I'm so fully engulfed in all things RAAM that it seemed really incongruous that I'd not have watched this, oh, I don't know, a dozen times or so. On the other hand – I know how it ends. And I wasn't looking forward to part of it.

So – when I had the opportunity to get my hands on a copy of Bicycle Dreams, I jumped at it. And then, I stopped short. Now what? I've got to watch it. And Dr. Bob dies. There. I said it. A guy DIES while racing RAAM, and this movie has to deal with it, and now so do I.

I decided that watching it by myself was right out. Not much point. I'd already decided to drink a toast to Kevin Walsh every time he made a cameo appearance, and I make it a point to not drink alone. So I used it as an excuse to have a crew and supporter get together at fellow Carbent rider Chris Young's house. We had about a dozen folks seated, theatre-style, in his basement. Hope made a lot of popcorn, and put out Twizzlers and Junior Mints. I didn't think that Junior Mints and the very nice Pinot that they were serving were a natural pairing, myself - but it worked in a zen RAAM way - like chilled Ensure and slightly warmish watermelon cubes served out of the back of a mini van, some things just “work”, and you don't question the mystery.

The film itself follows several of the racers from the 2005 RAAM fairly closely. Organizationally, it jumps back and forth between interviews with the various racers and footage of them in action, which is actually very cool.

This juxtaposition of a racer's words and deeds serves to clearly depict the integrity of these racers – no one took the easy way out in the interviews by acting tough or overstating their case. Pretty much what you saw of the racers' motives and personality in the interviews is what happened on the ground. Everyone has a slightly different take on the “why” of RAAM, and their reasons have a lot to do with how they approach the race.

It's hard to pick out highlights, but I'll try:

The enduring image in my mind is Bob Breedlove's 1000-watt smile, every time you see him on the bike. Damn. Bob had a collision with a vehicle in Colorado; he died at the scene. Although I'd been dreading watching this part, it was very tastefully handled. The rest of the racers had to decide what to do – abandon the race, or keep going? What honors the living? The dead? What does “safety first” mean now?

Every racer dealt with these demons, I'm sure. What we do see is Patrick Autissier struggling to find his personal balance point after he finds out about the accident. His crew made the hard call to not tell him about Breedlove's accident and death, and when he does find out from an outside source, he loses faith in his crew's willingness to put safety first. Ultimately, he abandons the race.

Watching Marko Baloh race his heart out and then DNF with pneumonia was humbling. He'd left the race in 2002 due to a blood clot. Despite this, he decided to come back – not out of an “I'll show this race” defiance, but with an attitude of real respect for the challenge. It's good to remind oneself that RAAM doesn't come with a guarantee, no matter what your pedigree is.

The obligatory puke scene was as good as it gets for RAAM-style puking. The unlucky racer spews what appears to be a full quart without anything approaching fair warning, crew members' shoes are fully involved, and the racer wordlessly gets back on his bike and pedals away. I don't know how many pukes they had to film before they got that one, or if they got lucky the first time. But speaking strictly as someone who's been there, both as a racer and as a crew member, it was pure cinematographic genius. Other than that, they more or less left the physiological yuckiness of RAAM safely behind the privacy sheet, which was fine by me.

Chris MacDonald is inspiring – it's hard to imagine a guy who's such a stud on the bike also being so soft-spoken and so brutally honest with himself at the same time. Of all the racers, he seemed to have his head the most wrapped around the paradoxes that define what RAAM is all about for me – the freedom that comes from utter dependence on your crew, sublimating one's ego in the physical act of cycling, and then ultimately finding one's humanity in the challenge of losing it. Like any RAAM racer, he has some really good times, and some really bad times, and we see both extremes.

One thing that puzzles me a bit is the late entry of a couple of racers – Cat Berge and Fabio Biasolo – into the film. We really don't see much of them until a couple of the early racers quit and make room, as it were, in the story line. It would've been nice to see more of them earlier – particularly Cat. By the time we get a glimpse of her, she's several days into the race and not always lucid (note: this is par for a RAAM racer several days into the race). We do get to see some excellent rider-crew interaction as her crew member eases her through a moment of anger and frustration.

The last few days seem to be working toward a foregone conclusion – and let's face it, that's pretty much what it was – Jure Robic had run away with the race. There was a bit of a fight for second for a while; it would have been nice to see a little more of that dynamic.

Overall, Bicycle Dreams is a “must see” for any endurance sport junkie. The photography is wonderful, particularly in the western half of the race where there's so much more scenery anyway. Sit down and watch it with your friends and loved ones. It's a glimpse into a world that's totally foreign to most people. No guarantees that they'll magically “get” why you have to go out and ride a double century again this weekend, of course, but you never know. And you might find out something important about yourself, your riding, or your life. Are you getting better, or are you getting worse? Because you sure as heck aren't staying the same....