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: http://racesmith.com/results/2010results/BikeSebring24Hours021410.html