"Don't Mess With Texas". Hm. I took that as a personal challenge. I'd raced the Tejas TT in 2008, with disastrous results. Actually, it was a springboard for a lot of good things:
- I met a lot of instant friends - this race is hospitality defined!
- I got introduced to recumbent racing (by puking on the Rans XStream prototype. This led amazingly directly to my being willing to be the Team RANS crew chief the following year.)
- I got to visit my daughter and my parents, and
- I finally made myself understand what kind of fitness commitment it was going to take to be a strong racer again.
So when Dex asked me in Annapolis this year if I was coming back to Tejas, I made the snap decision that I would. Other than the flaming disaster/heat exhaustion/cramping/puking parts, I LOVED this race and I was happy to think that I might do better this time around.
Sports fans, let me tell you something important here: When you find a good race, you need to support it. And one of the very best ways a racer can support a race is to BRING A FRIEND. Thus was born the "Let's Mess With Texas Tour". I roped (get it?) three friends into coming: Chris, Mark, and Mark. As it turned out, both Marks had to bow out with health issues, but Chris and I mounted up Eggplant and struck out southeasterly on Monday night, primed for action. The trip out was uneventful, unless you count finding stick-on chrome mudflap girls that would fit Chris' pink race bag perfectly. Or the Bird Incident. We hit a large and solid bird rocketing through west Kansas (or was it east Colorado?). It bent the van antenna and made me scream, much to Chris' amusement.
We picked up my daughter - a most excellent crew person - in Norman, OK. While there, we double-checked our supplies, got a few last-minute things at Buchanan Bikes, sat in on a rehearsal of the Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band, and had a most excellent dinner at Coach's.
We arrived around 3PM, in plenty of time to register, put up the tent and the canopy, and get Chris ready to go. It was...hot. And humid. And - did I mention HOT? OK, low 90's isn't that bad of a draw for that time of year - but WOWSERS!
The race is at a new venue - Glen Rose rather than Cleburne - and I LOVE it. The start/finish is in a municipal park, right next to.. SONIC. For a couple of Oregon kids on pink recumbents, this is heaven: when the going gets tough, the tough get...corn dogs! There's also a "slushee happy hour" from 2-4 PM. Duly noted!
About the time I started filling Chris' bottles with the first few hours' race nutrition, Shellene showed up. She was not racing - she's still coming back after a foot injury - so she's there to provide race support. COOL!
Chris is using the demo light that I'd gotten from TrailLED. Turns out that Grady is also a race sponsor, so he's going to be there to provide neutral light support. This turns out to be REALLY USEFUL as we've got two lights and two batteries to share between the two of us.
A quick hug-and-hi for Sharon as folks are gathering for the start. And...they're off! Woo-hoo!!!!
Chris tore up the course for three laps. And at the same time, the course was tearing him up - let's just say he went out "at least as" fast as he should have. So we had some down time in the following laps to take care of some maintenance issues - tailbone pain, GI distress, hotfoot, a touch of overheating, and the like. But Chris was a trooper - never complained, just told us (sometimes emphatically) what was going on. Since this was his first qualifier, he didn't have any particular expectations. I'd put him on a schedule to finish in 32:39 (no particular magic to that number, it's just how it came out) and he was running ahead of that.
After Nancy showed up (she'd stayed in Norman to put in one last practice session with her mellophone section Thursday afternoon) I was officially on sleep detail. By this time, Kent Polk was also in the house and in support. He'd brought his friend Paul to race the 24. It was Paul's first 24-hour race. Chris was in excellent hands.
I got up in time to hand off a breakfast burrito to Chris. I got breakfast for myself, and spent some time just socializing and hanging loose. I was worried that I didn't sleep all that well, but I reminded myself of the advice that I give to my athletes: just pretending to sleep is almost as good as the real thing.
Sometime late Friday morning or early Friday afternoon I heard the news: Jure was dead. It was so eerie being at a bike race at the time. I didn't want to talk about it with other racers: the folks who didn't know might be upset and have a bad race as a result. Everyone talks about RAAM being dangerous. Sure - but THE accident can come at any time. We all know that - and we all have to ride like we don't: ride and train and plan for the future, race with trust that we're going to avoid disaster. I didn't exactly "dedicate" the race to Jure, but I did think of him often. I was lucky to get to meet him at the RAAM start this year.
It seemed like 6PM wasn't EVER going to get there. And then - there I was, at the start line. We're...racing! Woo-hoo! The course is a BLAST - continuous rollers with a couple of more sustained climbs. I am working pretty hard, and staying toward the front of the pack. Out the 2-mile section to the yield sign, across the bridge, a steady climb up to Nemo, a quick downhill, some upward-trending rollers, and then...
I'd heard folks come in mentioning County Line Hill. Well, a hill it is: straight down, then straight up. I knew that the only way to survive that little monster was to hit it early with everything I had - so I spun up my biggest gear as I headed down. I had to downshift around the middle of the hill, and I ended up in my inner chainring - but it was still a LOT faster (and easier) to use physics to my advantage: every lap I managed to pass one or more folks who were treating the hill as good, honest work. I'll bet they all finish their vegetables before moving on to dessert, too.
After County Line, there was a great section through the trees - weird pavement, so I was glad to have good light - but really fun. A bunch of upward-trending rollers with a significant climb around mile 15. Then rolling uphill to mile 22 or so, when we reach the high point of the loop and head back down to Glen Rose. Woo-hoo!
The sheriff's department is staffing the main intersection in town, so we can get through the stop sign easily. We go past the courthouse. The clock there is going to be my only time check out on the course. It comes with about 5 minutes to go in the lap - just enough time for me to assess how I'm doing, figure out what I need to do on the next lap. Not bad.
First lap - 1:22. Not shabby. Possibly a little too fast, but - felt pretty good. I took on two bottles, a packet of Honey Stinger chews, and a protein bar. Off for the next lap. My pit crew was AMAZING. They always had what I needed, got it to me quickly, and made sure that I was in and out of the pits faster than anyone else. The only time I ever got off the bike was to pee. My pit stops were so efficient that when Pam wanted to interview me for a "tweet" on the event twitter page, she had to do that through the portapotty wall. Kudos to the crew! As it turned out, every minute counted in this one!
And so it went, all night. Some laps there were lots of rabbits (meaning: people to chase), which made it fun. One lap, I was someone else's rabbit - also quite motivating. Some laps, it seemed like I was the only person out there. My crew told me that Chris had finished in "32 hours and something" which made me really jazzed: I'd called that one pretty well!
In the middle of the night I saw a herd of headless white beasts running through a farm field. Although I knew it wasn't real, I also knew I wasn't hallucinating. I figured there must be a logical explanation, and hoped that I'd figure it out in the morning. As it turned out, it was a bunch of these goats:
I'd not been able to see the brown heads in the dark. When I saw the herd the next morning, it all made sense.
By the time daylight rolled around it was clear that the promised rain was coming. My crew asked me if I was ready for rain..."Does it matter?". Not much we were going to do about it. All of my Oregon raingear is oriented toward cold rain. If it rained, I was going to be...wet. And I was already wet - the humidity meant that I was riding in a self-created swamp of sweat.
When the rain did come, it was almost pleasant for a few minutes - then it was absolutely torrential. OK, ride through it. I was worried about how I'd handle County Line Hill in the rain - I would be going into the wind, so the rain would be straight in my face. I can see Brian, my RAAM crew chief, cringing right now - but I handled this one like a champ, thank you very much! I pulled my Team Sandy cap low over my eyes, leaving just a slit to see out of above the handlebars. And I went for it, like a banshee. Swooosh! No worries.
Still, aggressive cornering was out of the question, and I was slowing down a little. My goal of 14 completed laps was starting to slip out of reach. With three laps to go, I had about 5:25 left. Lap 12 came in at 1:55. AUGH! Off pace! Lap 13: 1:50...a little better, but.. I'd need more like 1:40 for the final lap.
I hedged my bets by informing the finish line folks that I was headed out for a "prorated" lap - if I didn't make it, the mileage that I did make before time expired would all count. I took very little nutrition with me, on the theory that I wasn't going to waste any time eating - I'd have to finish on what I already had in my system.
Time for some major sucking-up. As I rolled through the neutral zone into lap 14, I gave myself The Talk: "You've had 13 whacks at this course, Sandy. You've got your head wrapped around how it feels to ride each section as fast as possible, and you know how it feels when you lose focus and just ride along. You have to FOCUS, and ride each part of this lap the best way...." Not to over-simplify, but - that's exactly what I did. I rode the heck out of that loop. When I started to feel myself losing focus, I reminded myself of Jure, that I had a chance to set a course record HERE AND NOW, and that I could have it if I chose it. A couple of sips of watery Coca-Cola before the big climbs, but other than that I just went for it.
I passed easily half a dozen people that lap. And when a guy on a Cannondale caught me at around mile 22, I asked him what time it was. I HAD 20 MINUTES LEFT!!! Oh. My. Gosh. I was going to make it - the rest is all downhill. I sprinted for the finish - figuring that finishing sooner was better than finishing later, and that if, against all odds, I got a flat tire in the last mile of the race I *might* still have time to fix it and complete the lap.
I came in, fighting back tears, at 23:52. Technically, I could've gone out and done a final pro-rated lap and added a couple of miles to my total, but practically, I was DONE. I figured I could've ridden as far as the porta-pot - if I had to. But I didn't. Brian grabbed my bike, I got hugged and kissed and hugged and stuffed into a lawn chair with a ginger ale...and - here's Paul! Now it's payback time for real: I get to extract my full measure of revenge on this race. Paul hands over the package. I open it. It looks daunting, but I know I can handle it: a full helping of Dinty Moore Beef Stew.
|"You ain't Dainty. That's why there's Dinty." (yes, that's really their slogan!)|
In addition to setting a new course record for women (and recumbent women, for that matter) I was the first finisher OVERALL in the 24-hour race - quite an accomplishment as there were some very fast riders. The next-fastest racer finished his 14th lap after time expired: in 15:22 - half an hour slower. To put that in perspective, if I'd have spent one minute MORE per lap in the pits, and he'd have spent one minute LESS, he might have beaten me. Thanks again to my crew for keeping me going through a very tough race!