Desert Sun Science Center, Idyllwild, California
All this has become pretty normal for me; just like for TriLife, this is also my last race of the season. Having competed in five ultra distance races this year, I've gotten pretty good at running up hills and keeping out of the way of high energy people. Mostly, I look forward to getting back on my security blanket of a bike and making some time in the solo field.
There is this sixth sense, we all have it, when you think you have forgotten something, but do not know what it is. I usually regret not pursuing my sixth sense moments. So, Friday morning, before the last race of the season, after drinking way too much coffee and after I beat my brainless skull against the kitchen wall, I finally settle down and accept my senior moment, the moment I forgot to pack my rear wheels.
What 24 hour race would dare start without the traditional Le Man's run? Hundreds running the gauntlet of cheering, cowbell-swinging teammates, rooting for their chosen starter. We all take off running like lab rats through a maze. Out in front is the five person team Universal Cycles, with Bike USA hot on their tail. The Back Alley Cats and 2 B Announced are also showing their dominance in the four person team division. Most of these top players are crossing the line with sub-56 minute laps! It's unanimous, everyone loves the course. It's awesome! Sure the climbs are hard, but who can remember them once you crest the hill and reach for your brakes? And how about those trails? Technical, fast, quaint and narrow. And what a view, if you ever have time to look up.
In the Female Solo division, it's the battle of the the ages: Wendy Skean 54, Patty Struve, 43, and Zuzanna Schramm ,18. It's Slow verses Steady verses Youth with speed, who would bet on the first two? The young whippersnapper has, to no one's surprise, jumped out in the lead showing the experience of her second place finish four weeks ago. Patty has set a go-the-distance pace, and Wendy, well, at 54 just her being here is a inspiration to us all.
I am plugging along on a borrowed bike with these weird reverse rise shifters, I keep forgetting what lever to push (or is it pull?); the seat feels like a piece of wood and the grips have the texture of worn tires, but hey! beggars can't be choosers. Two newcomers to the sport, Randy Wolfe and Bernard Hug are with me. We jumped out in front, setting a fast pace and distancing the rest of the solo field.
Lap 5, the inevitable happens, I've been pushing the envelope, keeping up a fast pace, too fast is what the rear rim would say in its bent state of mind. Bernard and Randy blow by as I work hard to overcome the building friction of a rim dragging against the rear brakes.
This sucks, a loaner bike, no extra rims, and nineteen hours to go.
Lap 8, These guys rock! CBF Racing came through! They got another rim to Elaine waiting in the pits. After three slow, rim dragging laps, it's time to reel in the competition. For me, strategy has become a big part in the endurance game. My handler Elaine, plays an integral part in this: her job is to keep an eye on the big picture and make pit stops fast and efficient. But the feat she does the best, is organizing my nutritional needs. At any point in the race, Elaine will know exactly how many calories I have ingested and what my hydration level is. Plus, if I happen to have a cramp, her sports massage will work it out.
The teams have their own strategy, go hard for one lap, then turn over the baton to another guy. These guys are racing by me with the intensity of a sixteen year old taking his drivers test. Sounds like a fun way to spend a weekend: hand off the baton, head back to the pits and eat some warm food, maybe a beer or two, wander over to the shower, then catch some sleep for the next anaerobic sprint. At 1am this sounds pretty good to me, I'm out here trying to figure out these shifters and wishing for better gearing to help get my skinny butt up all these hills a bit easier.
Lap 13, God I hate crashing! The wind has picked up, blowing a mix of drizzle and fog across my lights. I can't seem to stay on my bike. I caught Bernard and have lapped the female soloist for the third or fourth time. A quick stop for dinner, everything was going so well, Elaine is telling me "breath deep" but all my stomach wants to do is unload. What is she telling me now? "Get away from the car!" Oh, too late... With such a relentless course my food intake has been limited to quick bites at a very high aerobic state, not a good scenario. It was only a matter of time for the inevitable to happen.
Neither Bernard nor I have stopped for any length of time this long night. The thoughts keep rolling through my mind: "Bernard can't keep this up, he is going to start slowing down." This is growing into the closest race of the season; our average lap times are within seconds of each other. throughout the race. Our pace has been fast and steady , when I cruise past Elaine I get the first good news of the race, "Bernard is slowing down, he does not look that good." Music to my ears, time to stoke up the fire.
My next three laps are faster by over 10 minutes. I am not crashing anymore and there is a growing feeling that maybe I can pull this one out of the bag. If I can just get lap 19 done before high noon. Bernard has slowed way down but is not stopping. Many teams are feeling the pressure of these final hours; four of the top five person teams are within seconds of each other. CBF racing and Idyllwild Psycolers are 11 seconds apart with one lap left. In the battle of ages, Patty Struve has a three-lap lead on Wendy Skean and Zuzanna Schramm; Wendy is out pacing Zuzanna for second place, who would of thunk.
Lap 19, Elaine says, "you have to ride a one hour ten minute lap to get in before the high noon cut off..." I feel like shit, I have not been able to hold any food down for the past three hours, the relentless punishment of this course has finally caught up with me. But out of some sick instinct I keep riding, the white sandstone is reflecting the sun's heat, my pedals are turning and the clock is ticking. The rising tide of self doubt has overtaken me. I am out of energy...11:50am, Bernard is untouchable.
It's second place for me.
Pat Norwil, Mountain Zone Correspondent