Like all things associated with the holiday season, better late than never:
Just the Facts
35:28:51 total time (14.1mph average)
30:47 time on bike (16.2mph average)
6th out of 25 solo men
Rather than the usual narrative, here’s a ride report from the perspective of “lessons learned.” Hopefully some of these thoughts and tips will be useful to others riding Texas or other ultra events in the future:
Do your homework
: Ultra races are too few, too far between, and require too much time, effort, and money to learn everything from first principles. The more you can glean from others -- about the course, diet, race strategy, training, whatever -- the better off you are. After a great ride at the Metamora 200 this August, I was talking with another racer about The Texas Time Trials. I was considering going, and wanted to pick this veteran’s brain about his experience at last year’s race. I got some sage advice (see next topic below!), great encouragement, and invaluable beta on the course, the weather, and -- most importantly -- the benefit of the 36-hour start. The ride must be done in 48 hours or less to finish officially, but that means a 5:30pm start, which I really didn’t like. It meant starting the ride sleep-deprived and it meant that the sun would set on your second lap, making for lots of initial night riding. I’m not a huge fan of night riding. Also, picking the 36-hour start would force me to commit to my goal of a competitive, RAAM-qualifying ride. Lesson? Have goals, do what’s necessary to achieve them, and then commit fully to achieving them on race day. There’s no doubt that if I had 48 hours to play with -- and the resulting lack of pressure created by choosing the 36-hour start -- I would have taken longer to do the ride.
I also benefited tremendously from researching prior years’ race results. All of the lap splits from all of the prior years’ riders are on the internet. It's invaluable information for seeing how others approached the ride and for discerning what worked and what didn’t work. Put that data together with historical weather data (wunderground.com) and an elevation profile of the course (also on TTTT’s website), and you’ve got a powerful set of data points for planning your own ride strategy.
Intelligently and purposefully combine speed with sustainable pace
: Like chocolate and peanut butter, they both taste great, and they taste great together. The piece of advice I got from the guy I met at Metamora was to go out at a sustainable pace, keep that pace, and keep the stops short. Sounds easy, right? Well, there’s a lot of debate in the ultra community about how to ride long events when it comes to pacing. I’d always gone with the smoke ’em if you got ’em approach: a blistering pace at the start puts time and miles and in the bank that you then draw on deep in the race after you’ve shot your legs all to hell. The guys (and gals) who win RAAM ride this way, at least since the Danny Chew era (although MacDonald's Chew-like approach to RAAM got him 2nd in 2005). The strategy has worked great for me in “short” 12-hour and double centuries, but I’ve had mixed results in 24-hour races. It worked for me big-time at the Last Chance where I used a 25-hour first 600K to compensate for a 38.5-hour second 600K (yes, those last few hundred kilometers hurt like hell!). The randonneuring I’d done this year, where I took it easy and was just as strong at the end of the ride as I was at the start, really made me re-think my approach to long races. I’d also had some disappointing (but educational!) results at Sebring and Michigan, where I’d gone out with both guns absolutely blazing (4:32 first century at Sebring; with lead group for 200K at Michigan) but had difficulties later on caused by being too aggressive with the pace and not aggressive enough with the training (Sebring) or nutrition (Michigan), leading to the so-so results (296 miles at Sebring; 352 at Michigan).
My own experience in other events combined with looking at the splits of some of the smart, conservative riders made me think about going out with 17mph lap averages and seeing how long I could keep that pace up. I knew I couldn’t do it for 500 miles. But I knew I could do it for a lot longer than I could time-trial at 20+mph, which was my usual habit. Turns out I had no lap with an average – including off-bike time – of less than 16mph until lap 12 (which was 15.30mph, and that’s also when I stopped to put on my stuff for night riding). That’s 240 miles at better than 16mph. Fastest lap? Number 5, at 17.9mph. Despite the relatively “slow” start, this nice, steady, sustainable pace was enough to have me in 3d place (although I didn’t know this at the time). I’d been in 18th place – out of 20! – after the first lap. Steady sure seems like the way to go! Steady, though, doesn't mean slow. Intervals, intervals, intervals. Us long distance riders as a group really would benefit from a lot more hard, fast, short rides in our training schedules.
The real value of crew
: I slowed down after nightfall but tried to keep up the steady pace with little time off the bike. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long. I couldn’t get in a rhythm after nightfall. My stomach got really acidic and I generally began to feel lousy. The beginning of the end came when I actually dozed off on lap 15 on the bike. Running off the road (somehow I stayed upright and hopped back onto the pavement) woke me up instantly, but at the end of 300 miles I declared a 90-minute sleep break to try to snap back into a rhythm. My legs felt good, but two inexplicably slow laps combined with feeling sick and drowsy just wasn’t fun or safe. I set the alarm and went to sleep in 5th place.
Ninety minutes later I felt great. I also concluded I’d feel like a god with 90 more minutes of sleep. I reset my alarm. I’d have to haul ass in the morning to make 36 hours, but I was confident I could do it.
And here’s where crew is critical. That was a really, really stupid decision. I didn't have any crew. Crew would have forced me back on the bike after that first 90 minutes. If I continued to have 12-13mph lap splits, or if I was unsafe for some reason, then they’d have let me go down for another snooze. Probably even the length of the first break was totally unreasonable and would not have been permitted as an initial break. I mean, this was a friggin race
, and I wasn't really that bad off. Sure, I felt great with 180 minutes of sleep, but that was also 180 minutes with the clock ticking and me not moving. Crew would have made all the difference in what I did and how I handled a brewing nutrition problem and an alertness problem. Crew could have also kept track of where the competition was (I never had any idea). I think this is the real plus of crew in an ultra event; on a loop ride, it’s not that tough to self-crew when it comes to hydration, calories, and clothing. But when it comes to motivation, cheerleading, and logistics -- wow, crew would have helped tremendously. Would I have won? I doubt it -- the winner is a god of a rider -- but I'd have placed significantly better for sure.
So, when I awoke from all that sleep, I was in 10th place. There were only 11 riders still on the course; everyone else had already DNF’d. I had 14 hours to ride 200 miles, with 300 miles already in my legs. Time to go to work.
: I’d been eating peanut butter crackers, pretzels, and orange slices. My fluid of choice was Gatorade, mixed full-strength. I always carried a Coke in my jersey pocket from which I sipped pretty constantly at a rate of 12oz per 40 miles. I was taking Endurolytes religiously at 3 per hour -- one every 20 minutes. I have an iron stomach, but all this abuse eventually added up to a lot of acidity and a real sour feeling. Popping Tums like a junkie helped, but would provide only temporary relief. By the time I was on lap 23, I didn’t want to put anything else on my stomach but plain water. I’d bonk without food, but the race would end before I did. I think my hydration was great -- I was urinating constantly -- and I got the right amount of calories in me at what seemed like a good rate, but I’ve got to find a different mix of foods or other ways to fuel myself without ripping my guts up.
Keep stops short
: Other than my luxurious snooze, my stops were fantastic. The only stops longer than 60 seconds were the two times I made clothing changes (and even those were under 5 minutes). This was the key to catching everyone else on the second day. I wasn’t riding all that fast -- laps were about 14-15mph, including stops -- owning to the sour stomach, but I kept at it and clawed my way back to 6th place, finishing with more than 30 minutes left on the clock.
A consequence of feeling ill and slowing down was that I felt great at the end. My legs were fine, I was pretty well rested, and was in good spirits. The race officials remarked that I could have gone out for another 500 and, actually, I felt like I could have -- at the same pace -- if I’d gotten the stomach problems solved.
Which leads to the final lesson: Have fun! At the end of the day, riding a bike is fun. Even in a race. If it’s not fun, you’ve got to find some way and make whatever changes are necessary to make it fun. And Texas was a lot of fun. It’d be a shame to go all that way, at all that cost in time, effort, and money, not to have fun. Great course. Fantastic people. Wonderful camaraderie. I can’t wait for next year. Especially since the team course record is like 26 hours. That's pathetic and is in need of being crushed! So here's the want-ad: looking for three teammates who want to race 500 miles in less than 24 hours....