Monday, October 1, 2012

A long post about how I survived 12 hours of cycling in the rain!

The big day finally arrived — The Texas Time Trials. Having never ridden 12 hours straight or competed in anything quite like this race, I wanted to be prepared for any situation that may come my way. That meant making a long list and packing a whole lotta ish that I might need.

This is the almost complete list of stuff. 

I headed down to Glen Rose on Friday with That Pink Girl — driver and crew extraordinaire. When I told her about my plan to race TTTT back in July, she offered to help me reach my goal without even blinking. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I'm blessed to have such outstanding people in my life. TPG has crewed and paced 100-mile trail runners — she's seen what these kinds of endurance events can do to a person's mind, temperament and body. She knows how to handle exhausted folks. I knew I was in good hands. It also didn't hurt that her vehicle has more room for gear than my Mini Cooper.

Except for the bike rack, that's everything that I hauled
to Glen Rose — used darn near all of it, too! We even had
to pick up some other provisions at the Family Dollar of all
places in Glen Rose. If you ever find yourself at this store,
do yourself a favor and chat with Becky, who works there
when she isn't working at the hotel we stayed at or when she
isn't teaching. Specifically, ask her about her dinosaurs and
Big Rocks Park. Just do it. You'll thank me later.

Once we arrived in Glen Rose, the priority was setting up the canopy for our home base, picking up my race packet and moving much of my gear into the hotel room. That left a little bit of time to explore the aforementioned park (which doesn't allow roller skating, FYI) during a pleasant picnic while we watched 24-hour and 48-hour TTTT racers speed by us on Barnard Street.
Courtesy of TripAdvisor 
Perfect place to roller skate, yes?!?!? No. The sign says no!

Earlier in the week, I couldn't help but look at the forecast. The experts predicted with great certainty that the 12-hour challenge on Saturday would be a soggy event. On race day, I rolled out of the bed at 4 a.m. for coffee, breakfast (oatmeal with peanut butter and local honey) and watched the rain pouring on the parking lot. The meteorologists spoke the truth. And it rained almost the entire race, save for about 10 minutes. There was absolutely nothing I could do about the weather, and worrying/wondering about the conditions wouldn't help either. The entire race I had no idea that the forecast was 90-100 percent chance of rain. TPG expertly withheld such knowledge from me. As far as I was concerned, I thought it would eventually stop raining. Ha! 

Courtesy of TPG
Want to ride early in the morning in the
country? Better get some reflective gear.
Just weeks earlier I told a friend she needed
to remove the reflectors from her bike, and
here I am at 5:30 a.m. — a human reflector.

So, how did the race go? It was great. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot about myself. Following is a lap-by-lap recap.

Lap 1 

Courtesy of TPG
Easily the darkest starting line I've ever seen. 

Everything is different when it’s dark. The TTTT course was no different. The 6 a.m. start time meant about 40 minutes of racing before sunrise. I was prepared for that. Front and tail lights were mandatory, and additional reflective gear (vests, ankle straps, etc.) came highly recommended. I had all of that and then some — most notably some embarrassing reflective stickers on the back of my helmet and my bike’s fork and seat stays. Hey, what can I say? I wanted to be seen! 

In dry conditions, I figured the first lap would be my slowest. Add rain to the mix, and I thought it might take me three hours. I started slowly, testing my brakes in the rain and gauging traction on the slick, mostly chipseal roads. It took about 15 minutes for me to get used to the diminished visibility and comfortable with the road conditions (slick but not dangerously so) — just enough time for every 12-hour cyclist to pass me. Seriously. I was dead last. It also didn't help that I was applying the death-grip braking style on descents. If it were dry and daylight, I would have been more confident on the steep sections of this course. But wet and slick doesn't suit me one bit.

I spent the first hour trading last place with a solo recumbent rider, Michelle from Mississippi. She would speed past me on the downhills — saying "Whee" and encouraging words — and I would pass her on the climbs — saying "See you very soon" and encouraging words.  

With the thick blanket of clouds blocking the sun, sunrise took its sweet time. Once it was lighter out, I started making up ground, passing a few more cyclists. I finished the first 26.5 lap in 1:56:36

Lap highlight: I kept my eyes trained on the road in front of me when it was pitch black. Except when I noticed the white line 40 feet in front of me was moving. It was, in fact, a skunk, which chose to cross directly in front of me. I came within 5 feet of either hitting it or getting sprayed. Fortunately, neither happened. I even yelled "skunk" to alert Michelle behind me. There also were several toads on the roads, too. It was all too reminiscent of "Frogger." Gotta love animal obstacles.

Lap 2 

All racers were told to wear their timing chips — get this — on their right legs. Y'know, the same leg where the crankset, gears, derailleurs, etc. are. Fortunately I didn't have any mishaps with the chip. Each time riders crossed the timing mat we extended our right feet and coasted as we yelled our numbers to some of the coolest volunteers ever — they wore wigs, and dressed in fairy godmother and cheerleader costumes as they marked down the completion of each lap.

My post-lap plan included stopping at the Team TR13CE home base to load up on food (tortillas filled my top-tube bag), visit the restroom (hydrating like it was my job, yo), make any changes to my gear and receive a pep talk whenever necessary. I anticipated each pit stop would take 5-10 minutes. That was true for the first few.

Entering my second lap, it was finally light out and I felt good. I was happy, smiling and enjoying the race. It was still wet, and I wasn't comfortable hauling ass on the downhills. In fact, I started to notice the significant amount of wear I was incurring on my brake pads. I started to wonder if the pads on my spare bike would fit if I ran out of rubber. 

For the most part, lap two was uneventful. I just rode — faster and more confidently than the first lap. At this point in the race, I knew the conditions meant 7 laps was out of my reach, but 6 would be doable as long as the weather didn't worsen. Subtracting the pit stop time, I finished the second lap around 1:43:00. 

Lap lowlight: I realized this lap that I was going to spend a lot of time alone. The rules stipulated that riders must remain three bike-lengths apart from each other. That wasn't a problem. This lap and most of the others I saw a couple of fellow racers. Most of the time I was alone with my thoughts and, fortunately, the countless kickass tunes in my head, songs like "Bicycle Race," "Trunk Fulla Amps" and "Handlebars." I fixated on each tune, playing it on infinite loop in my head as I pedaled past the mileage signs.

Lap 3 

Courtesy of TPG
I can't remember for sure, but I think
Lap 3 was when I decided to ride sans
jacket. That was a good idea. Until it wasn't.
The third lap was my best. I felt strong and confident out there. The rain also took a brief break on that lap. It gave me hope that I could maybe ride a prorated 7th lap. That didn't last too long. The rain returned and so too did my heavy braking.

The course has mostly rolling hills. There aren't many long, flat sections. You're either climbing or descending. Fortunately for me, there were only two major downhills. They ate my lunch each time as I gingerly descended and my hands calculatedly tapped the brakes. Still, it was a good lap. Excluding the pit stop, I probably clocked a 1:40:00 lap.

Lap 4 

Courtesy of Brian and Heidi
This photo captures what I looked like after
I recovered from my lowest point. I'm told my
face was the color of this jacket. 
Not wearing a jacket for my fourth lap was a bad idea. The rain was heavier, the wind was faster and it didn't get any warmer. By mile 20, I knew I was in trouble. My fingers were numb. I wasn't sure if it was because of the exposure to the elements or because of the pressure I was putting on my hands. Either way, it was bad and I struggled to brake and shift, especially since my front derailleur decided to act up. I had to shift harder and hold the lever longer to get it to work without the chain slipping off. Good times, indeed.

But wait, it got worse. I started shivering — a very bad thing when you're trying to control a bike. My core temperature was plummeting and my body was fighting to stay warm. 

The lap sucked. I thought my race very well was over. I didn't want to risk damaging my hands or my overall health. I felt awful. That changed when I returned to camp to see the smiling faces of TPG and two friends — Brian and Heidi. They're awesome people and triathletes who I've had the pleasure of watching compete. I was pleasantly surprised to see two more friends. I just wish I hadn't looked like death. 

Seriously, I was in bad shape. I removed my soggy clothes, put on dry socks, a jersey and my no-longer soaked jacket. That helped, but I was still shivering uncontrollably. Fortunately there were two other things that made a huge difference — a veggie sandwich TPG made and the heater in Brian and Heidi's SUV. I spent at least 30 minutes this pit stop. And it was worth it. The shivering stopped, color returned to my face, my spirit elevated and I could feel my hands again. Excluding the pit stop, my lap was about 1:56:00.

Lap 5

Courtesy of Brian and Heidi
Best. Crew. Ever. I knew I could finish
what I started. TPG did, too. And that made
all the difference.
Warm, well-fed and determined, I hopped back on the bike and returned to the wet mess that was Glen Rose. It was after 2 o'clock. I still had time to meet my goal of 6 loops. I just needed to finish number five around 4 p.m. I don't remember much from the loop, except I finally saw more riders and passed several. I was doing it. I was riding stronger and accomplishing what I had set out to do.

I finished the fifth loop at just about 4 p.m. and headed back to our home base. They handed me the coffee I had requested the lap before (toldya I had a kickass crew) and some french fries from Sonic. I was a happy dude.

Courtesy of TPG
See, that's the face of a happy dude. Surrounded by friends, 
warm fries and coffee in my hand, and one wet, final lap left to tackle.

Lap 6

Courtesy of TPG
One last time, with feeling!
Even with the near-disastrous fourth lap, my body was feeling pretty good after 10 hours of riding. Lap 6 quickly reminded me that I was asking a lot of my body. I experienced a couple of cramps, but nothing that caused me to hop off the bike to stretch. As I passed each mileage marker, I soaked in the moment. I was thinking it was possible I might never ride this course again. So I wanted to enjoy it as much as possible. 

Earlier I mentioned the badass volunteers. Remember? Well, they were out on the course, too. There were four RVs stationed every 6 miles. I never stopped, but the volunteers were encouraging all the same. I thanked them for their efforts each time, too. It takes a special person to want to be out in the cold, miserable weather to help complete strangers. I am grateful they were there. 

As much as I wanted to enjoy a "victory lap," there was still the matter of finishing the race in 12 hours. I knew it would be close. The wind was getting worse and the rain was still dropping. I tried to hammer uphill harder and not brake as much on the descents. I was determined I could finish by 6 p.m.

Courtesy of TPG
And I almost did. My foot passed over the finish line at 6:01:12 p.m. I'll take it! It was an overwhelming sensation realizing I had just finished something that I wouldn't have thought possible just 5 months earlier. But there I was, surrounded by friends and filled with a sense of accomplishment. What a day! With the task at hand done and the home base packed up, Brian and Heidi headed back to the Metroplex and I was in desperate need of a warm shower and a well-earned beer.

After a quick shower, TPG and I headed to the awards ceremony, where we sat across from Dex Tooke, the man who planted the seed of racing at TTTT in my head, and his wife, Joni. He lit up when I told him he was the reason I was here. He's a cool and impressive guy. 

Courtesy of TPG
I didn't do the race for the trophy; however, I must admit, it
is pretty sweet.
Earned over 12 hours and 159 miles in the worst weather
I've ever ridden in.
So, here I am two days after the race, and I feel damn good. I'm pleased with what I accomplished on the bike. I met my goal to ride at least 6 laps/150 miles and my body isn't too sore — lower back, shoulders and my right deltoid and triceps received the most work during my massage tonight. 

I've enjoyed replacing the calories I exhausted (pancakes, pizza, chocolate chip cookies!) and I can't wait for the next challenge — running my best marathon this December at the Dallas Marathon. Miserable weather or not, I will be ready. 


That Pink Girl said...

You demonstrated a calmness and confidence most do not posses. What a HUGE accomplishment! It was a privilege to witness you conquer such an amazing feat. Congratulations again on showing us all exactly what extraordinary looks like!

UltraMamaC said...

wow. that's just extraordinary. That rain was relentless and you rode through it all day. Having a great crew & cheering squad helps, but having determination and skillz like you obviously do is at the root of your success here on this day. Congrats on a quite impressive feat!!

Michelle K said...

Thanks for sharing your story...and what a story it is!! I intend to channel some of this confidence and determination for my own race on Sunday. trophy!