Friday, February 10, 2017

12Hr race: The Dirty Dozen 2017

I got to the race at 8:50am on Saturday morning after the drive from Austin.  I couldn't find my number at home (went there Friday, checked-in, pre-rode, went home to sleep) so searching for it made me very late.  I don't like to get to races with a lot of time to spare because it makes me so nervous waiting for the start.  I'd rather be rushed to make it there, but this was ridiculous.  I don't know how it works out psychologically but I just feel so much better not hanging around for too long before the race.   I'm the opposite when it comes to airports...but I digress.
So, I get there and I went to ask for a blank plate, and Diana (I really hope I remember the name correctly, forgive me if I didn't) at registration told me they have my number (I had left it in the bathroom when I changed).  While I changed into my bib and jersey, Diana got the number from the officials at the start and put the number on my bike.  Everyone was almost done with the run by the time I got on the bike...then I went the wrong way and got stuck in a corral.  I found my way around, basically rode the full run section and started--slowing at the start line to make sure they'd got me crossing--and off I went.  My “run time” was something like 6.5 minutes.  That’s how late I was to the party.
I was relaxed and just happy to be racing and happy to have an empty trail in front of me...down around the pond I started getting tears in my eyes while I had thoughts of the long road back from my broken ankle, surgery, rehab, the hard weeks for my wife Holly where she had to do everything for me and the kids, etc.  Then I just smiled and went. 

It was cold and humid but all the rushing while wearing my wool hoodie had me at perfect temp with just arm warmers and my normal head beanie (I wear it because helmets are gross and I break out, and to keep the sun from my scalp with the SPF50 cloth).
I started passing people about halfway through the first section in the woods (Aker woods or something like that) but I was not expending energy to pass in a hurry like I did the last time in 2014.
I made it to Gas Pass and felt good, almost caught someone there in the swoopy section after the descent but they got going again thankfully and I passed them in the flat.  I did the big steep climb in super slow cadence in the easiest gear just to save the legs.  There was more passing in the flat sections, not much to remember there until the muddy slick climb.  A mix of cow poop, pine needles, deep sticky mud had me making it almost to the top, dabbing, then remounting (I would go to make this climb without dabbing only 4 times in the race).  The whole time I'm conserving legs, letting people go away from me to save my legs...catching in the flats and descents.  I was actually riding the flowing sections pretty well considering how little off-roading I've been doing lately.  Through the race, as I did more laps I got even better with lower effort per lap without a reduction in lap time.  As I neared the end of the lap I saw Tony L. going the opposite way...this is when I thought I'd gone too fast so I consciously started to slow down.  Tony mentioned he was afraid I would go too fast and I think he was a bit concerned for how my race would go after a rushed late start.  I still managed about a 48-minute lap which means it was a 41.5-minute lap without the “run time,” and that’s too fast for me at this point in my fitness.
The second and third laps there was a lot more passing.  I really didn't know where I was in the order, but then doing the math in my head I realized that I was on pace for 4 laps in 3 hours...which means 16 lap pace.  I was completely certain that I couldn't sustain that pace based on previous years’ results for winners and where I am in my training this year (at the bottom), so I kept on consciously trying to slowing down.
By this point, my hands are not numb as usual, but my feet are a little numb, and my shoulders are killing me.  All the on-bike stretching and movements aren't helping much.  I think it was after lap 2 that I stop to stretch—while thinking back to my last unfinished RHR 24...tight hips and hamstrings = sore back = end of the race at hour 8.  So, I did hip flexor stretching, hamstring stretching, back stretching...and lo-and-behold my shoulders felt good, my feet were no longer numb, and my legs felt refreshed.  I decided it was better to keep doing sub-50 minute laps and spend 2-3 minutes per lap stretching than to do 50 minute laps and not stretch.  I think it was the perfect plan, and my trend for learning at least one new thing at every race is still going strong.
At some point after the 3 hour mark it was obvious to me that I could do 7 laps in 6 hours, which meant a 14-lap pace.  I thought that would put in in the podium for sure, but I kept reminding myself that my goal was to finish, and to think of the ankle, and to not take any risks and injure myself in some way again.  After the halfway-point I figured I couldn't do 7 laps in the 2nd half, but I had more than 6 hours to get 6 laps in.  Up to this point, my nutrition was right on schedule.  6 hours, and about 6 bottles of Infinit.  I figured it would be easy an easy last 6 laps...but then lap 8 happened...
So…up to this point and since January 2016, I am still taking it easy on caffeine.  I thought about risking some caffeine in the race, but I forgot a buffer for my I went without the caffeine, and lap 8 is where I really needed it.  I don't think I was necessarily much slower, but it took a toll mentally.  I don't really remember much of the lap...there was nothing of consequence that I can think of. 
At this point, I was wondering where Tony was.  I wasn't catching him so I guessed he was feeling well and doing some flying laps and was chasing to lap me.  After lap 8, I stopped for a longer time.  For the first time, it was a true break and not a stretch.  I got going for lap 9.  I was a bit faster and feeling better after the break.  I thought I would have time to spare to take a longer break next time around to make sure I'd finish. 
I took a long break and put the lights on.  I wasn't walking between my gear bag and my bike as much as crawling.  It was hard to stand up.  At this point Tony came in.  I thought this was him lapping me, but amazingly he was on the same lap as me.  Apparently in the first lap he'd taken a bio-break and I passed him.  We had been riding just a few minutes apart the whole race!  I was starting to get swollen hands…too much sodium for the cold climate, so I took off my wedding ring at this point.  I waited a bit longer after Tony left before I went out.  The clouds looked ominous but I didn't think too much of it...I should have...  By the time I got to the pond, it was a full drizzle with wind and it felt cold.  I figured I'd warm-up once I got to the forest...I didn't.  It took a while to warm-up eventually but still felt cold in those open sections--which Bluff Creek Ranch has lots of.  Cold=nipplage+jiggle=chafing and that is a terrible thing.  Not much else makes me want to stop riding than that pain.  It’s awful.  I walked up the steep climb and it actually felt good on my legs.  My HR stayed low and I don't think I went slower than I'd been riding it, but I think this lap I could have used caffeine too.  Mentally, it also took a toll.  This weak mentality may have cost me a position or the end of the lap, I wanted to put my jacket on and warm-up.  I wanted to stop...and I didn't want to give myself the option for 3 more laps.  I figured 2 easy laps was it.  I was going to take a long break, then ride easy to take away any option to do a 13th last lap.  Pretty messed up huh?  I could have used a bit of my friends John and Thad in my pit going a bit crazy, popping some caffeine in my mouth telling me I was going to see baby Jesus and pumping me up.  (ca. RHR 24 2012, I will never forget that as long as I live).
Amazingly, it is actually hard to ride Bluff Creek Ranch slowly, probably because it would be pretty boring (not a bad thing, just that speed makes it flow and fun).  I was still doing a good lap (the official lap times include my breaks too so it's hard to tell from those) and I actually gave myself a really good chance for a 13th lap.  I finished lap 11 not having drunk much of my bottle.  It was cold, I didn't feel thirsty, I did feel hungry, but I couldn't stomach drinking the normal amount.  I think my lower sodium blend would have been better than the full-on blend. 
I started lap 12 mentally thinking I couldn't do 13 but I gave myself the option of going again if I felt the need.  I was feeling OK until the climb after the Gas Pass descent.  I got off and walked...I had nothing left in my legs.  At this point, 3 guys passed me, one of which was Tony.  I guess he took another bio-break (I took mine I think in lap 8 or 9) and I'd passed him.  Now I was wanting to catch him up...partly to race him since we were competing against each other, but partly because I wanted to ride with a friend just to keep myself going, maybe have him pulling me along to make sure I didn't stop and lay down on the trail (RHR24 ca. 2012).  I had no idea what position we were in.  [taking a look back:  At the halfway point, I actually felt I could have been in 1st or 2nd based on previous years, but in my lap 7 another soloist passed me on his 8th lap.  Later in my 10th lap a guy passed me and he told me he was on his 12th and he was riding SS.  I figured previous years were not a good indication for this year's pace.  Maybe the trail was better--with slight moisture making for a fast trail, who knows.] So, mentally--at that point--I wasn't going to race Tony, but then I saw he hammered up the steep climb, and so did I, faster than on any other lap.  He still took a big gap on me.  It took a lot out of me but I didn't coast after the climb, and I attacked the steep and slick Mule Trace descent chasing after Tony, then boring flat stuff until some curvy stuff before the bridge at which point I caught up with him and he let me by.  He hadn't realized it was me (or maybe he didn't want to pull me which would have been an awesome strategic move on his part).  I had told him it was OK but he'd slowed down and pointed me by at this point and so I was in front.  I was slow on any ascent, but OK on most other stuff.  We got through a bunch of nice trail until the longish climb into the BMX section. It's a very shallow climb but against the wind and for some reason it feels a lot harder than you'd think by looking at it, at least for me.  At this point, Tony went balls to the wall and passed me.  I tried to chase but had nothing left.  After the climb, I got fast again and was fast in the rest of the trail but didn't see him ahead.  I went through start finish with 58 minutes to go.  They told me "You have time for one more lap!" and I said, "no, I'm done" but it nagged at me...and also thinking Tony had passed me but also thinking how I'd dug deep to try to chase him and didn’t have much left.  I was already not riding well in the last lap, making small mistakes, but we'd both discussed calling it quits. 
I got to the pit, and Tony had stopped and had his finisher medal.  I had thoughts of going again if he'd go back out with me, but I didn't even pose the question to him.  I have no doubt that if I'd gotten to the pits and he wasn't there, it would have been another lap for me.  As it turned out, the guy in 2nd had a several minute lead on us, but I had no idea about placing until maybe 10 minutes later.  I was packing up and Tony said, "you're going to hate me, I bumped you out of the podium."  It was a bunch of emotions at once.  First, I was very happy to actually have done so well with what I consider my worst fitness going into an endurance event, but I was also a bit upset to think I just missed out on the podium when I had a chance to do another lap, and at the same time very happy for Tony since he was staging a comeback as well.  For about half the race I allowed myself to dream of a podium finish.  It would have been the perfect ending to my comeback from the injury.   Looking back a bit...just missing out on it may be a good thing since it awakened the hunger in me:  I don't just want to finish; I want to compete.  The words from coach Shaun after I told him of my injury were very prophetic, I am paraphrasing a bit "...before you know it, you'll be toeing the line, fighting for a podium spot."  I'd be lying if I wasn't trying to wipe those words from my head during the race so as to stay within my pace.

Incidentally, my decent result has me thinking some of the training metrics may be better at judging fatigue than fitness.   It’s also clear how invaluable 5 years (2010 to 2015) of professional coaching from Shaun Taylor at are, not just the training and workouts part--which honestly you can get from multiple sources--but also how an “unfair advantage” (with credit to Mark Donohue for the phrase) are the mental and strategy game.  That was the difference between doing well, and competing for a podium for me.  I have not forgotten any of the lessons and I would be lying if I wasn't thinking of all those post-race lessons during the race, thanks Coach!

Thanks to Terra Firma Racing for another great event--as usual!
I have to thank all my endurance racing friends for their encouragement on my comeback, sharing their training rides on social media, hanging out with them, etc.  Dave, John, Julie, Tony thanks!
Thanks to Dr. Elenz at Austin Sports Medicine (rock stars all of them) and Ross Vines, Audrey, David, and Sarah at Seton Spine & Rehabilitation.  I highly recommend all of the above...and I hope you don't need them ever.

Mostly, thanks to my wife Holly for her unwavering support and encouragement, for weeks of holding the household together while I was in crutches, and continuing to encourage my passion for mountain biking and riding in general.   I couldn't have done it without you.

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