Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Race across the West (from the end to the start...)

After almost 104 hours I turned the corner into Moab and the finish line of the Race Across the West… a closed Conoco station. Stopped feeling slightly bewildered as my crew got out of the car and we just started to laugh. This is it. A closed gas station, with no lights on except one dim light over the tanks. No signs, no people, no tables… just a closed gas station. A police car pulls up and asks if everything is okay, and I had to sit down I was laughing so hard. Bill, my crew chief, called us in to race HQ and that was it. Time to go find a shower and a bed for a few hours sleep.

At 104 hours I was unofficial, but I was also the first women to finish the race and only the 3rd person ever to complete it. One guy finished in 2008. Dallas Morris finished officially this year with 21 minutes before the 92 hour cutoff. After the giggles wore off I had to grin… I did it, my first 1044 mile race, and though I was (way) over the cutoff I learned a lot and I am positive I could make the cutoff if I did it again. And, I was only an hour over the RAAM women's cutoff in Taos, I could definitely make that if I want…

The race is billed as 1000 miles, but is really 1044. The last 44 went by as a dream. Slight grades, white concrete road, and nothing to see on the sides (it was the middle of the night after all). My crew vehicle was following me and I rode in the headlights of the car, my bike lights hardly needed. The only thing keeping me awake was the occasional bump which would shoot pain through the sores on my tookus. That and one stop I made, I stopped at the side of the road and Bill and Kate came out and asked if I needed anything. I said I was looking forward to showering and putting on real clothes… Bill said "about that…" and Kate added in "um, we don't have your spare clothes, they went home in the other vehicle"… That was my first hard giggle fest. No clothes? Really?

The time station before Taos was Antonito, CO. I had stayed here and trained on the course a few weeks before the race. The TS was actually at the same hotel I stayed at. And the 20 miles before this… still lovely. Slight downhill with a tail wind. 20+mph, easy spinning, trying to stay light on my seat. Before that… Bite Me pass (well, actually La Manga Pass). The highest climb on the race at over 10000ft. A long rideable but tough climb up from Chama, NM. On this leg I got smart and thought to switch my seats on my bikes so that I could drop my seat height and duct tape two towels onto the seat to try to relieve my tookal pain. (My seatpost on Artemous is the perfect height for me sunk as low as it will fit into the bike… should have chopped off a bit to allow for adjustments!). It helped a bit, I could sit on the climb with a low steady pain.

Chama, NM. I love this town. Coming into it I had some intestinal distress, so I took a long break here. Changed shorts (necessary), drank a lot of Gatorade, ate a lunchable. I knew I was over the cutoff (this is where the race site lists me as a DNF), but I was going to finish this so I took as long as I had to in order to prepare for Bite Me pass. This was also where two of my crew, and our 2nd vehicle, had to leave so they would make their flights… and where the fudge store owner remembered me from my training ride, walked over to where I was sitting in the shade and gave us a pound of fudge to eat at the finish and a warm (sorry I'm disgustingly sweaty) hug.

About my crew. They were the best!!! I rode my bike, yes, but they made it all possible. There was Bill, my crew chief, who was a calm and steady presence. Larry, the leader of the second crew who again was steady, calm, and positive. My sister Christie, who was upbeat and bubbly, and made me feel like I was doing her proud the whole way. Lauren, the voice of experience, who had done this before on a RAAM attempt a few years ago. Vibol, a friend of my sisters who I had never met before but was just awesome, running my handoffs, smiling, and quietly doing what needed done. And Kate + 0.2… who I have not seen in too many years, but picked up again with as if it was yesterday. And her 0.2, the twins to be, who (she says) wiggled when I came by. I cannot really say how important each of these folks were, and how awesome and positive they stayed no matter how much I was sagging. They made the finish happen. I'm racing to help promote the Save the Tata's foundation, and my crew wore their Tshirts and handed out stickers across the path of the route to curious people wondering what we were doing… the shirts received several interesting comments and sparked some really nice conversations with peple affected by Bresat Cancer.

Before Chama there was Pagosa Springs… and before that a 20 mile climb I did after my 3rd nap. This nap was unscheduled, but we decided to take it to ensure the finish, knowing the cutoff was unrealistic by this time. 3 hours on the ground next to the vehicle. Unlike the first two naps, this one wasn't too good as my knees were aching and I just couldn’t turn off. Before the nap, I shocked my crew with 30 miles of speed. I had caught a second (third? tenth?) wind coming out of Durango, I was on terrain I knew, and I was feeling good in the early evening hours. (Yeah, we're already back to the night before). There was a fabulous downhill coming into Durango that I just grinned through, some 20+ miles of down with the sun setting. A perfect pick-me up from the hours before…

The downhill came at the cost of a LONG uphill grind. My bum hurt, I was exhausted, and near the top of this grind was the one place I came close to calling it a day. I was just done, and could not summon the energy to continue. I had broken down into tears a few times in the days before, just out of exhaustion, but never seriously thought to quit. This time I did. Somehow Bill, Christie, and Vibol got me be back on my bike. Fortunately, it was just a short while to the top of the climb and then the euphoria of the downhill to change my attitude. In Cortez (the CP before) I had looked in the mirror and saw the damage to my bum. I called in Kate and showed her and she got on the phone with her Dad the Dr and my coach Michelle (who was in pretty constant contact with my crew throughout the race) and thus began the strategy of creams and bandages. It made riding bearable, but just barely. And, unfortunately, required frequent dressing changes and they would come off whenever I needed to stop for a nature break.

The ride into Cortez was the breaking point for my tookus. The road was old chip and seal and just torture. We pulled my timetrial bike down for a time and I rode that in a weirdly hiked over hip position that offered some relief. The problem started in day 2 somewhere but really got intolerable here. This was also a weird out of it section for me, coming into Cortez I could barely remember the last few hours. Just this nightmare of riding and being pursued by a big grey vehicle with nice people in it.

Before Cortez was Montezuma Creek, and another awesome section was for Mexican Hat to Montezeuma Creek. The scenery was just phenomenal (lots of red rock), we had a bit of overcast in the sky, and there was a little coffee shop. Bill says my head swiveled so fast when I saw the coffee shop they knew they would have to go back to it and this iced latte they got there was just liquid love. So delicious! It was somewhere in the early morning… not but a few hours after I had woken up from my second 3 hour nap atop a mountain just as the sun came up. I had gone to sleep exhausted and sick of heat, climbing, and Artemous and woke up to overcast skies and a view that was indescribably lovely.

Kayenta was the previous checkpoint, and I learned that my crew had saved my life. On the trip into Kayenta from Tuba City the road was pretty busy and Larry, Lauren, and Kate debated whether to follow me or leapfrog me (leapfrogging is allowed during the day). They decided to follow. A pick-up truck was apparently in a rush, came around them tight, and took off their drivers side mirror. Lauren was driving and managed to remain calm and all I knew was that there was a big loud noise, I saw some glittery stuff dash across the pavement behind me, and that was it. The truck sped away, and now that I know what happened… OY! The crew in Kayenta hit the hardware store and from then on they McGuyvered a handheld mirror duct taped to what was left of the car mirror with a fish eye stuck on so they could meet the rules to be my follow car.

Before Tuba City was Flagstaff, and before that we went through Sedona (gorgeous but narrow winding roads) and some hellaceous 4ish mile steep climb. Before Sedona was Cottonwood, and about 20 miles before that my first 3 hours sleep. This one was deep and restful coming 410+ miles into the race. Before Cottoonwood was Prescott and a gorgeous climb there. Red rocky but green, a long one but pretty enough to smile all the way through. The towns blend together before this… the next thing back I really remember was a hot hot 8 mile climb out of the oasis.

The Oasis was a time station that had a pool, and delicious food, and was a major relief as it came after the longest hottest stretch of the race. The temps were in the high 90's and on the asphalt pavement it was just scorching. I spent the better part of a day miserably hot with only the glove of love (a glove stuffed with ice) stuffed in my sports bra, and cooling ties around my neck, and frequent changes of waterbottles to help keep my core temps down. The oasis is also where we passed the other gal left in the race… and from that point on we'd get reports of the gap between us widening. While I was admittedly racing myself and my abilities, it was a small pick-me-up to get these reports.

We had dropped into the desert a few hours before dusk the night before down what they call the glass staircase. This was one of those times that was just special. A smooth road, a steep but not scary descent, incredible views... just made me glad to be a cyclist. Even a rear flat (discovered by an odd noise as my tire went soft but quickly changed out by the ubercrew) could not mar the awesomeness of this descent. The temps rose quickly and I was glad to see the sun go, but I'll leave out the details of that night (mainly because I cannot really remember them… I remember a sweet tailwind, a bad sleepy section, and the sun coming up and the furnace beginning but that's it).

Going back a bit further was California, maybe 50 miles into the race when I had my own police escort. It was on a climb, and I stopped to breath. And a cop came up behind me. And stayed. Whether I was climbing 6mph, or going down at 20+ he stayed back there for some 40 miles. My crew was leapfrogging me, so I would see them every 5 miles or so, but my escort remained. We even stopped briefly at a CP, and he stopped back there too. At some point I was riding alone, and heard a voice over a loudspeaker… "I'm turning off now Ma'am… be safe and have a great day" and he was gone.

And back further, the first 21 miles of the race we were unsupported. I was happy, smooth, giddy and got no flats! Was great to meet up with my crew and settle in for the ride.

And, a half mile from the start. There were people flagging us through the course… but somehow I missed one and was off course less than 5 minutes into the race. Drats! I had to laugh and hope this wasn't an omen for the days to come.

And… the start. A time trial start (with people holding my bike up and a ramp to negotiate down.. .yikes!). They announced my name and I couldn’t stop the grin, the nerves, and all that. It was awesome.

I was terrified pulling into the parking lot, got a hug from Linda (another racer) and we wished each other well. My crew was excited but focused and there was a huge buzz in the air. I did not know if I could do this… I certainly trained for it, but had never done 1044 miles in one stretch. My crew, my hubby (who was off doing an Ironman himself) and my coach were behind me and I knew that. But, that's why I do this. If I know the finish is a definite, then the challenge is not big enough.

So, what comes next? This was the biggest event for this season. I'm healing and playing on my mountain bike now and going to do the Leadville 100 MTB race. Simple goal, don't embarrass myself too much. Then I want to go back to the Hoodoo 500 in September and kick that course's butt. In the long term I think one more year of ultracycling focus, gearing towards the 1300 mile Race Around Ireland in September 2010 and then it's back to the UltraTri scene.

Thanks for reading (if you made it this far) and a big thank you again to my crew, my hubby, my coach, Steven at Kestrel, Dennis, Alec… and everyone else who believes in me… it was a blast and I am still grinning!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Outstanding job on finishing! Great to see another neighbor kick some butt in these hard long distance events.

Let me know if you and Drew are doing bike sebring in 2010, I have it on my schedule.

Chris at high altitude training dot com.