Monday, September 2, 2013

Triple Threat not met

Sunrise from inside our tent. If you are even remotely outdoorsy, I highly recommend camping alongside the river during the Hotter 'N Hell weekend. The small village atmosphere is right by the trail races and very near the expo area and start line for the rally.

Last year, I rode the Hotter 'N Hell 100 for the first time. The annual all-things-bike event held in Wichita Falls (near the border of Texas and Oklahoma) draws tens of thousands of cyclists for criterium races, mountain bike races, trail running and the ultimate — the Hotter 'N Hell 100, a 100-mile rally that can sap anyone's enjoyment of cycling.

That's one crowded bike rack. Poor TPG's superlight tribike, sandwiched between my roadie and MTB bikes. Saris Bones 3-Bike is a capable rack.

I applaud the Times Record News for delivering the newspaper right to the tent-steps of those camping on Friday morning. As a former employee of a Scripps sister paper (San Angelo Standard-Times), this touch made me proud.
Held in August, the temperatures can easily scale past the 100 degree mark. Last year, the race wasn't nearly that hot; but, what it lacked in heat, it more than made up for with wind. This year, the weather seemed to be on our side again. When TPG and I rolled into Wichita Falls on Thursday night, the weather forecast for the weekend was favorable — highs in the 90s and scant chance of rain.

This year, I signed up for the Triple Threat — racing the 22-mile cat 2 mountain bike race on Friday, riding Saturday's 100-mile road rally and finishing with a half-marathon trail run on Sunday. Because why not?!

As soon as I awoke Friday morning, I knew the weekend wasn't going to be easy. I felt the first symptoms of getting sick in my throat — scratchy — and felt a little "out of it." I remarked that I might be getting sick. I hoped it was just an effect of dust blowing into the tent.

The cat 2 MTB race was set to begin at 10 a.m. — a perfect time. Not too early as to need to rise at a ridiculous hour, nor was it too late when the heat would be searing (the poor cat 3 racers had to contend with that when they rolled out for their single loop race at 4 p.m.).

Breakfast consumed, paper read and geared up, I approached the ag barn for the beginning of the first race of the Triple Threat.

I'm a fan of No Meat Athlete — the site and the jersey. I started "running on plants" about 7 years ago. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made. If you're considering making the switch to a plant-based diet, this site is a treasure trove of information for becoming and being a vegetarian or vegan.
More than 200 people signed up to race the Triple Threat this year. My best guesstimate, 80 of those were cat 2 racers. To put it simply, I raced poorly. I felt gross — hot from the oncoming sickness compounded by the actual heat of the day. My skills were not with me. I pedaled slower than normal, I took fewer risks than normal and I decided I was just going to try to have a good time, which wasn't a hard thing to do. Any day on a bike beats any day not on a bike!

Note the tents in the background. I wasn't joking. You've got a great view of the trail races if you put down stakes here. One warning: The band playing the night before the big rally might keep you up later than you'd like.
Most of the course is not out in the open; this is just the best spot for taking pictures. The twisty singletrack that dominates the trail is some of the best-designed and fun to ride in the state. 
This was my first time on the Wee-Chi-Tah Trail (maps), and all things considered, I had a lot of fun. The folks who work on that singletrack have put in a lot of time clearing brush and creating all manner of obstacles. You snake through tight sections where trees reach out to grab ya. There are decent climbs — nothing too long, but the trail conditions (sand) can make some of them challenging. Some descents are tougher than you'd expect — a couple of dropoffs and rocky downhills proved challenging. The highlights of the trail are the obstacles — the biggest teeter-totter I've ever ridden and the Highway to Heaven, an elevated wooden section that was recently rebuilt and maxes out at 9 feet above the ground (see the old Highway here).

My first lap was 1:06:01. All Triple Threat contenders' first lap is what is used to rank the racers regardless of category. My slow time ranked me 117th, at least 50 spots lower than I thought I could race. Alas, it wasn't my day. But I still had a great time. Now that I am more familiar with the trail, I hope to ride it again, whether for a race or just for fun.

That's all dirt, sand and sweaty mud, folks. This is easily the dirtiest I've been after just two hours of racing.
Immediately after the race, I needed to rest. I was burning up and having a hard time breathing. (As it turns out, I was suffering the beginning stages of an upper respiratory infection). A cold water, Coke and shower in the cattle stalls made me feel somewhat better. Being clean and sugary drinks can work wonders. Our friends Brian and Heidi arrived shortly after to set up their campground next to ours. This fun pair was in town to ride the 100-mile rally, which at this point, I was about 50 percent sure I wouldn't be well enough to do. No matter, I was content to spend Saturday chilling out in the expo, getting more rest, maybe catching a movie as TPG, the Luebs and tens of thousands of cyclists rode across North Texas.  

No matter how bad I felt, I still needed to eat. The last time TPG and I drove through Wichita Falls, we hoped to try Gidget's Sandwich Shack, a local cafe that specializes in sandwiches, including a good veggie option; but it was closed. This time, we made it happen. In addition to the food, the decor is straight-up garage sale treasures. It's a unique spot that we were happy to frequent; anytime we can shop "local," we do.

This might look like a sad setup, but don't get it twisted. Above these super-comfy chairs is a Big Ass Fan that provided much-needed cooling. Oh, and in addition to a break from the heat, we charged up our phones and noshed on our homemade sandwiches. Even one of the barn's maintenance workers commended us for finding the best spot to relax in the area. It was a blissful escape from crowds and the sun. 
We spent the remainder of Friday picking up supplies and hanging out at the expo. It's a crowded mess, that expo. But the air-conditioned environment can't be beat. We perused the vendors and chatted with the good gals at ReGeared, a Grapevine-based studio that turns old bike parts into frames, clocks, wallets, keychains, artwork, trophies ... you name it. It's great to see a company like ReGeared growing and doing good things with materials that otherwise would be thrown out with the trash.

Now, I wish that I could blog further about how kick-ass I felt on Saturday morning and how I cut some serious time off my century PR en route to a fast trail half marathon. Well, that's going to have to wait until next year. I woke up Saturday morning feeling even worse, and TPG felt pretty lousy, too. So we decided to pack up the campsite and head home once the rally started and the streets were open. I must admit, it was disappointing. I hadn't necessarily trained hard for Triple Threat. I maintained my fitness with regular running and riding. IT was something I signed up to do in February, and I felt like I could meet the challenge. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. These things happen. We made the right decision to return early. Riding 100 miles in near-100-degree heat when you feel puny would have been a recipe for disaster.

So, this recap ends with a whimper. But as I type this, I'm feeling strong again, and more adventures are on the horizon. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The hardest, most humid race yet

Photo courtesy of Anne
Here's a great shot of some awesome Frunners at El Scorcho. Many ran ES, too, and others were there for the fun. The scene at Trinity Park is beyond compare. It's a party. Consider adding El Scorcho to your race schedule. You won't regret it.
Approximately two years ago, when I started this whole endurance athlete journey, I had no idea what an ultramarathon was. A marathon was the farthest thing I knew about, and I was training for the 2011 MetroPCS White Rock Marathon (now named the Dallas Marathon). To me, 26.2 miles was the ultimate. Just as ancient man thought the world was flat, I accepted that no one ran farther than 26.2 miles. It was a fact.

The running community on Twitter quickly introduced me to people with "ultra" in their names (whaddup, UltraDrum and UltraNinjaRunnr!!!). I had no clue what the "ultra" meant. I didn't know that it signified some major mileage — anything over 26.2 miles, often 50K (31 miles), 60K (37 miles) 50 miles and 100 miles. These impressive athletes dispelled my notions that no one ran longer than 26.2. Even though I knew it was possible, it didn't interest me at all. A marathon was tough enough for me. Why add another 5 miles?

Photo courtesy of That Pink Girl
That's my sister, Anne, rockin' the Frunner-brand jingle skirt. She signed up to volunteer and to be a spectathlete. Prerace, everyone is all smiles!
Well, as it turns out, the more you do anything, the more you yearn for a new challenge. And after running three marathons, I figured why not run a 50K. But not just any 50K. No, my first would be the wildly unorthodox El Scorcho. Now in its seventh year, ES started as Ryan Valdez's birthday celebration — run 30 miles on his 30th birthday. The only problem, as this Fort Worth Star-Telegram story notes, was that his birthday is in the middle of July, when temperatures burst well above 100 degrees. So, to up the ante, the race would be held at midnight on the he 5K course of crushed limestone, asphalt and concrete at Trinity Park in Fort Worth.

The annual race is now a legend in the running community. The wild race atmosphere, unorthodox start time and 25K and 50K distances attract 500 racers. This year's race sold out in two days, so I felt fortunate that I would get to compete in this race, which raises funds for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  

TPG and I headed to Funkytown on Saturday afternoon to pick up the packets from Fort Worth Running Company, hit up the Pearl Izumi Factory Store, spend quality time at the park during daylight and check into our hotel room and SLEEP! This, we thought, was the best way to approach ES — have a place to bank some sleep before the race and have a place to clean up and rest after the race. It proved to be a genius move.

We woke up around 9 p.m. and performed normal, morning routines — getting dressed, having breakfast. One of us (guess who?) sprayed pink stripes into his/her hair.

See the pink stripes? They lasted all night, too!
We headed to the race site about a mile from our hotel room. The car was loaded with stuff — rolling cooler with refreshments, shopping bag of food and supplies, extra gear in bags and the most comfortable camp chairs. I know what you're thinking: that's a lot of stuff for a race. Yeah, but remember, it's 50K (10 loops) and 25K (5 loops), so you never know what you might need during after completing a lap. And friends huddle at the campsites prerace, during the race and postrace, so creature comforts are key. It also doesn't hurt if you have a "powah monkey" hanging around, too.

Photo courtesy TPG
The dapper dude with Mama C? His name's Joaquin, and he's the badass Frunner mascot. 
It was so much fun hanging out with friends prerace — laid-back, chill, no pressure or nervousness, that I pretty much forgot about the race. Then the race director called over the speaker for 50K racers. I rushed to the start line, received some last-minute encouragement and advice, and at 12:01 a.m., we were off.

The course was mostly flat, but the mix of terrain, especially the crushed limestone, presented me with a tough shoe choice: the wear lighter, springy, less-supportive Adidas Energy Boost, or go with the tried-and-true, supportive, cushioned Asics GT-2160. While the Adidas have treated me well (massive half-marathon PR at Irving Marathon) and I've used them as my primary shoe for the past few months, I opted for the support of the Asics, which I realized was the right choice just one mile into the race.

The loop was really nice — flat (only one significant hill) and not too treacherous (some holes and cracks here and there, which the ES team marked with red glow sticks). For the first couple of laps, I ran alongside and behind a few fellow 50Kers. Then the speedy 25Kers zoomed by and the trail became more congested for the next two laps. It was fun seeing these fellow runners having a great time late at night — some wearing costumes, many with glow-stick necklaces and bracelets. I didn't wear anything fun. I used a Petzl headlamp (very helpful for the darkest sections of the course) and wore my cycling sunglasses with the clear lenses (another good choice with the dust being kicked up and bugs flying around).

The first five laps were solid. I ran those 5Ks at an 8:40 to 9:15 pace. I did 25K in 2:24, which I thought I could maintain for the next three laps and possibly run a negative split for the last two laps. I stopped to reload on Endurolytes and water (my friends did an awesome job helping me with all night). But then my stomach became a problem. Considering most races and my training occur in the morning, I wasn’t used to running with a full day of food in my stomach. My stomach wasn't used to having my typical breakfast — oatmeal and coffee — at 9 p.m. I had a feeling nature would call at some point during the race. But it was worse than that. Let's just say I didn't expect her to call often or be so mean.

The back half of the race wasn’t pretty. I had to relieve myself in the woods and sacrifice my shirt for toilet paper on the seventh or eighth lap. Before the final lap, I stopped to chat with friends and refill my water bottle and put some bland food in my stomach. I collapsed with the worst cramp in my inner thigh. Fortunately, my friend Erin, a skilled massage therapist who owns her own company (Massage by Erin) and is training for the Texas Time Trials in Glen Rose, was on hand and offered to help me. I was a pathetic mess — cramping hard, increasingly dehydrated from my bout with stomach distress and having TPG feed me pretzels. Fortunately, the cramping was quelled and I started to feel capable of running just as Smashmouth's "All Star" came on over the loud speaker. Just so you know, this might be one of my least favorite songs in the history of ever (there's a story, but it's too long for this post).

Anyway, I hopped up, cracked wise about not wanting to listen to another second of the tune, and started my final lap with the best company — TPG. She had finished her 25K and insisted on seeing me through what proved to be a tough final lap. I had to make two pit stops in the woods, using my race bib and leaves en lieu of Charmin. It effin’ sucked, and I wasn't in the best mood. Fortunately TPG's company helped. I turned off my iPod and just focused on running as she motivated me to push forward with her encouraging words and frame of mind. We passed landmarks on the loop and she would say, "Last time you have to see that ______ tonight).

That half-naked blur is me, relieved to be finished: 5:37:20, 19th out of 50 male 50Kers.
Back at the hotel: Feeling accomplished and stoked about taking a shower and going to sleep!
It took me more than 40 minutes to run/walk/crap that last 5K. It was a good experience, and I’m stronger for finishing. There were several times when my mind told me I wanted to quit. And even though I felt like crap, I knew I didn't need to quit. So I didn't. I pushed through. And I'm pleased with that.

We are all stronger than we think we are. El Scorcho reminded me just how true that is. I look forward to racing it again. Maybe next time I'll do the 25K so I can wear a jingle skirt and have fun being a rowdy Frunner and supporting others as they find out just how strong they are.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Team Refuel destiny, Pancake machine, 'Things That Used to Be,' strange place for a tree, shiny new trophy

I don't know anyone who loves milk quite as much as That Pink Girl. It's impressive, really. In particular, she's all about chocolate milk as a recovery drink. Annnnnd, she's now in the running for a spot on Got Chocolate Milk's Team Refuel — a legit sponsorship! The top two vote recipients will earn a spot on the team. Sooooooo, VOTE daily for TPG and let's make this happen! Bonus: For every vote, $1 will go to the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

The morning after 24 Hours in the Canyon, I wasn't incredibly hungry at breakfast. The night before's dinner — pizza at Eddie's Napolis (yes, it's the same Napolis that has two restaurants in Garland) — filled me up. But I had room for breakfast and was fascinated with this gadget. It's practically a laminating machine that produces pancakes. Has anyone else tried an instant pancake from a hotel breakfast buffet? Not the best pancake, not the worst pancake. Syrup can solve any breakfast food's shortcomings.

Things That Used to Be: I can't explain my fascination with stores/restaurants/churches/whatnot that move into buildings that have the hallmarks of a Burger King, Blockbuster or other failed franchise. What we have here is PDQ Cleaners inside the shell of 7-Eleven. This is pretty generic, and not that interesting. I'll keep my eyes peeled for TTUB examples to share that are more unique.

Some people shouldn't be allowed to decorate.

The races in the Texas Ultra Cup Series are outstanding — great challenges and well-organized. The icing on the cake are the trophies. Kudos to 24:00 organizer Ryan Parnell for mailing the trophies to everyone. The next race is a first-timer — the Tonkawa Ultra Cup. It's a 12-hour and 6-hour race July 13 in McGregor, just outside of Waco. I won't be there, nor will I race the 2013 Texas Time Trials on Sept. 19-21 in Glen Rose. But I can't over-endorse Ultra Cup races. They're outstanding. Getya some!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pedaling for hours on end in Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon State Park: Home to the second-largest canyon in the United States and 24 Hours in the Canyon — the most kickass race I've ever participated in ... so far.
Darn near every photo courtesy of That Pink Girl, who,
after a PDC weekend, also answers to the name "The Deer
I apologize in advance y'all; this is a really long blog post. I can completely appreciate not having the time or endurance to make it through the entirety of a lengthy, recap-ish blog post. I assure those who will take on the challenge will find most of it worthwhile. I appreciate every single reader's time, support and interest in my recent challenge — racing my mountain bike from noon Saturday, June 1 to noon Sunday, June 2 at 24 Hours in the Canyon — that I will start by answering the questions that most people will have.

1. Did you race the full 24 hours? No, I didn't. But I did manage to race 16 hours.

2. How far did you ride? 
136 miles — 16 loops of an 8.5-mile course — finishing fifth in my age group.

3. Did you crash? How many flats did you have?
I had three big crashes (others were minor) and sustained scrapes, bruises and cuts, but nothing that irreparably damaged me or my bike. Despite running a high tire pressure (55-60 psi) I had two pinch flats in the first 10 hours. Fortunately both occurred in spots where shade made the 10 minute process of replacing and pumping a tube less disheartening.

4. Would you do it again? Would you recommend 24 Hours in the Canyon?
Yes, but I probably will not race it next year. I enjoyed the challenge; but, I want to pursue other challenges first. Someday, it would be nice to say "I raced 24 hours straight." If you're seeking an ultra-endurance bike race, definitely circle 24 Hours in the Canyon. It's well-run, benefits the Harrington Cancer Center and has plenty of race options (road or MTB; non-competitive or competitive; 6- 12- 24-hours; etc.).

Any questions I didn't answer above will most likely be addressed in the following narrative. If not, leave a question in the comment section below. Now, strap on your helmets and gloves, and apply your preferred brand of chamois cream — it's time to go for a long ride!

Picking up my race packet couldn't have been easier or quicker on Friday afternoon. The 24:00 volunteers were top-notch. Take note how clean my legs are in this shot.

Have you ever traveled to Palo Duro Canyon State Park? For those who haven't, it's quite the hike — 390 miles northwest of Dallas. It'll take you approximately six-and-a-half hours to arrive in Canyon, about 20 miles south of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. But don't let those figures dissuade you; it's totally worth it, especially if you have a seasoned crew member/race Sherpa like That Pink Girl handling the driving.

For starters, one thing you'll want to do prior to making this trek (or any long drive) is double check that you have packed all of your stuff. I didn't. I realized about 90 minutes into the trip that I left all my dry food (including my on-bike fuel) in the trunk of my car. Fortunately, we were able to load up with all the same stuff at The Bike Stop and Target in Wichita Falls.

Also, if you are traveling from DFW, you must stop in Chillicothe to pick up some Dang Good Candy at Valley Pecans. What West's Czech Stop is to kolaches, Chillicothe's Valley Pecans is to pecans. (Editor's note: Better yet, stop there on the return trip, because all the chocolate-covered pecans will melt in the blazing-hot canyon.) Other than that, there's practically nothing to look at the entire trip. The shift from grass plains to red dirt plains breaks up the monotonous view, but the real reward is arriving at the canyon — a majestic place that has to be seen in person to appreciate.

Upon arrival to the canyon, I promptly picked up my race packet, paid TPG's park entry fee ($5 per day is an outrageous bargain) and got to the business of putting together our campground for the weekend — a QuickShade canopy, cooler and food-prep station, and 6-person tent with inflatable mattress (fancy car camping, y'all). The plan for the evening — prepare a nice dinner, hike a bit of the trail, watch the pre-race race (Hill Climb Challenge up the steep 10 percent grade road leading out of the canyon) and watch a screening of the documentary "24 Solo" at another campsite.

I love her. A lot. Here we are during our hike of 2 miles of the race course.

The first three things went pretty well. Sort of. When you enter the wild, you must be prepared for all things that call the wild "home." TPG and I are fond of animals; but animals that imperil our lives are not our favorites. Well, guess what surprised us a few feet to our left in the brush beside the trail ...

Forgive the blurriness, my hand was shaking for
obvious reasons.
If you guessed "a 5-foot-long, fat, hissing and rattling western diamondback rattlesnake," you guessed correctly. We respected the heck out of this P.O.'d, venomous pit viper as he puffed up in his about-to-pounce posture. He startled us both. With hearts pounding and the sound of his rattle reverberating in our ears, we pressed on, hoping he would be long gone when we returned 20 minutes later.

Sure enough, the rattler was gone, and we were relieved and ready to see some racers take on the annual Hill Climb Challenge. All registered racers (road, MTB, single-speeders) are invited to take on the hill. While I love climbing hills, taking this beast on the night before my biggest cycling endeavor didn't sound appealing. My finally healed knee and mostly healed shoulder also provided another excuse to sit on the sidelines and cheer for those who were brave enough to ascend and descend the steep, curvy hill. It was an awesome sight. What made it even cooler was chatting with some fellow racers and watching fireworks that were set off by the crew rehearsing "TEXAS," an outdoor musical drama at PDC.

After watching the Hill Climb Challenge racers speed down the hill, we headed to the Mesquite campground to watch the film at 11 p.m.. To our surprise, we were the only people there to watch the 2008 Trek-sponsored documentary on Chris Eatough, one of the greatest endurance athletes ever, about his march toward a seventh 24-hour world title. Long story short: The film was disrupted when some serious wind gusts slammed the canyon. The movie screening tent started to fall apart, and volunteers stopped the video as TPG and I simultaneously decided we needed to get back to the campsite.

Back at Hackberry around midnight, we found part of our campsite destroyed. In particular, our canopy was no match for the 30-plus mph winds — three of its four aluminum legs snapped. Lesson learned: Always lower the canopy when it's not being used.

Assessing the pitiful state of the canopy the morning after some badass wind whipped it hard. It served us well at the rainy Texas Time Trial in September.  

We removed the canvas top so it wouldn't float away, cut our losses, zipped up our tent and slept quite well. That's one of the beautiful things about 24:00. The race begins at noon, so there's ample time to sleep and get prepared.

The is the 8.5-mile race route. I rode it 16 times last Saturday/Sunday. Fortunately, more times than not, the laps were uneventful; so I won't recap each lap. Instead, I'll sprinkle details about the events/places on the course that those red dots represent.

The race started at Juniper campground (dot no. 1). Twenty-eight riders lined up for the competitive mountain bike race. Shortly after noon, we were off an racing down the asphalt road toward the beginning of Capitol Peak MTB trail.

Tense, locked arms: Gotta work on adopting a more relaxed form. Being amped for the race probably has plenty to do with my posture. Also, I couldn't be happier with Pearl Izumi Sun Sleeves — kept my arms cool, protected me from a sunburn and minimized cuts/scrapes. Note the pristine white color. They didn't stay pristine for long.

First and foremost, the race course offered a mix of challenges — climbs, descents, rocky spots, sandy sections, switchbacks and sections with significant falls for those who don't respect the trail's difficulty. All that being said, most of it was not terrible difficult. What it lacked in technical sections, it more than made up with fast spots and unrivaled scenery.

One of the more challenging climbs was early (dot no. 2) on Capitol Peak. During my training ride in April at PDC, I tackled this one and the other toughies. But on race day, I knew I couldn't blast up these sections and waste valuable energy. So I walked them or at least a portion of them every lap, conserving for the long haul.

Speaking of energy, a quick note on fuel: Besides slurping water from a 100-ounce Camelbak, I drank Lemon Lime Gatorade (TPG taped encouraging words from friends and family on the bottles), popped 4-8 Edurolytes every hour (depending on heat), chewed Apple Pie Larabars, Clif Mojo Bars and PowerBars; Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gels and PowerGels

The first lap included my first crash (dot no. 4) at consecutive step-downs on a narrow, high section on Givens Spicer Lowery trail. I have no idea how it happened, but I kissed the side of a large boulder and slammed to the ground without falling off the edge. I picked myself up quickly and got back on track. This section of the trail wasn't a problem on any of the other laps.

I humbly walked the toughest climb (near dot no. 5) every lap, as did most every racer for the first portion of the hill. This section was a popular lookout where hikers and recreational cyclists hung out.

Speaking of non-racers, June 1 also happened to be the American Hiking Society's National Trails Day. There were dozens of hikers, runners and recreational cyclists on the bi-directional trail. That could have made for a nightmare race scenario. Fortunately, I didn't experience any problems. Everyone was courteous, and I announced myself and intentions to pass early and clearly.

Returning to the campground for a break. After 8 laps, I had crashed at least twice, fixed a flat and was a dirt-red mess. I needed real food — TPG's awesome veggie sandwiches — and a clean kit.
I don't recall ever being this dirty in my life.
The first seven or so hours went pretty well. The afternoon sun wasn't too bad. The day before, the high temperature reached into the 90s. On race day, we were treated to mid-80s (in 2011, the high exceeded 100 in the canyon). I felt pretty good on the bike — just a little numbness in my right hand. I found a rhythm of drinking water (awesome refill stations around dot no. 3 and at the timing chip exchange zone), eating my bars and had the trail pretty much wired. Caked in red dirt, with sand in my shoes, sweat coating my kit and satisfied with my effort, I was ready for a quick break.

I ate real food, slipped into a clean kit and hooked up my Gemini Duo light kit,. I was ready to ride the trails at night. There was about an hour of daylight left when I rolled out for my eighth hour. My body was fine, but my bike was cranky — a second pinch flat, this time the rear tire. A relay rider who had passed me during my first flat passed me as I made the repair and said, "Aw, man, again???" I acknowledged that, yep, I had another flat and that it might be a sign that I need to reconsider going tubeless.

As the sun disappeared and racers flipped on their lights, the trail looked entirely different. One difference: The high-powered lights spotlight the sand in the air. At first I thought there were bugs in the air. Nope, that's sand, which I had been inhaling all day. TPG had recommended a bandana to minimize the effect of breathing that stuff, but I passed. (Considering how much fun it was blowing red-dirt snot, I would reconsider that choice next time.)

There was a particularly sandy spot that worsened as the race grew long (dot no. 7). This is where my most embarrassing crash occurred. This section of the trail was simple, nothing challenging at all ... if you're not wading through ankle-deep sand. Well, my high-pressure tires were having no luck in this spot, and I finally slipped. Every subsequent loop, I planted a foot at this spot and pushed my way through the turn. I'd be surprised if anyone could effectively pedal through this portion near the end of the race.

It was dark by the time I started the 10th loop. Racers were treated to another display of "Texas" rehearsal fireworks. It was awesome seeing the colorful display while riding! But not even pyrotechnics could keep me going strong. I was getting pretty tired. My riding was suffering — I couldn't hold simple lines and my confidence in my ability to ride solidly was waning. I debated taking a break. A few more slips and close calls, and I decided I needed to rest. I finished my 11th loop and notified the time keeper that I was going to take an extended break. I wasn't going to ride a full 24 hours.

That was a tough choice to make, but it was the right call. The fresh, ready-to-ride 12-hour racers were going to start at midnight, and I was concerned that my poor riding could be a danger to them as well as myself.

As I tried to get comfortable in the tent, my right quad cramped something fierce. That pain reinforced that I made the right choice. TPG hooked me up with a banana (potassium) to help relieve the cramp, which did the trick. As we fell asleep, I enjoyed the last sights of the first night — beautiful, bright stars above our tent.

The alarm chirped before 5 a.m., and as soon as you could blink, TPG had coffee and oatmeal ready for me. I was well-rested. filled with a good breakfast and ready to tackle the rest of the challenge. I was happy that I would ride my bike for another six hours. I knew I could do it. It was all downhill from here.

The 6-hour racers hit the trails shortly before I returned to tackle my 12th loop. I rode slow, and, for the first time, slipped down to my smallest chainring, aka, the granny gear. It was starting to be about preservation at that point. I needed to take advantage of every gear available to me. As I had during the fir

Dawn turned to full-blown morning quickly during that first loop. The highlight: Seeing TPG at the GSL trailhead, where she shot some more awesome pictures.

I handed off my headlight and battery and headed toward one of my least-favorite sections of the trail — a descent that was sandy and had been a popular spot for cheering spectators and photographers.

Dot no. 6 was the scene of my most dramatic falls. My front tire plunged into a sandy spot at the top of this drop. My body flipped forward and my head crashed into the dirt. My bike followed above me, barely missing me as it slammed below me on the trail. No one was there to witness the wreck, but I'm pretty sure it looked awesome. Fortunately the crash only shook me up. It also stole my sunglasses. The fall must have knocked them off. I couldn't find them when I walked my bike the next time I reached this descent. TPG noted that there were tarantula dens in this area, so we figured these eight-leggers walked off with my Uvex specs. (I'm sure they look good on them). The wreck also damaged my bike's saddle (bent the left wing down), which I didn't notice until after the race.

As much fun as it looks. Thank you, TPG, for documenting everything!

At first, I thought I might take a break every two loops. But I felt about as good as one could hope, so I pressed on and prayed that I wouldn't have another flat (I didn't) and focused on those who were cheering me on — friends and loved ones across the country — thought about those affected by cancer, pictured everyone who helped me exceed my fundraising goal, and pressed on. I thought I could ride six hours straight, possible ride another six laps. My right knee had another idea. It started to hurt on the fourth lap; but I paid it little mind and focused on shifting my effort to the left side of my body. After completing the fourth lap, I rolled down a small hill and, as I pedaled up the uphill, my knee screamed. I knew I was in trouble. I thought about pressing on, but I knew it would struggle to block out the pain. I wanted to finish strong. I wanted to roll across the finish line near the 24:00 mark. I had two hours left but only one loop left in my legs. So I took another break.

I returned to the campsite. TPG was at the top of the canyon to update friends and my sister with my status (no shock, there's not much cell reception at the bottom of the canyon), something she did throughout the race (yes, she's the best). I took out my pocket allen wrench kit and disassembled the canopy frame so it would fit in the dumpster. TPG returned and was surprised to see me. I filled her in on my knee situation, and she set me up with a cold pack and a comfortable seat. We chatted and enjoyed or time together before 10:45 rolled around. I got up, jumped on the bike and rolled off for the final loop.

I soaked up the scenery. I had grown tired of the trail, but it felt bittersweet knowing I wouldn't see the rocks that scraped my flesh or the hills that humbled me. I said sayonara to them and even started to tear up as it hit me that the journey was almost over. The course was mostly bare. There weren't many racers still on the trail. I traded congratulations and words of encouragement to those who passed me and those I passed. We were a fellowship of folks who loved riding and found something magical in the canyon. I can't put words to it; you just need to go there to understand. PDC is something special.

And then it was done! I stretched out my hand so my timing chip would beep for the final time as TPG and volunteers cheered for me. It felt awesome!

I was ready to be off the bike. My butt was literally tired (serious saddle sores, y'all), and I wanted to hold my greatest supporter and love of my life. TPG held stinky-old me tight and exclaimed, "You did it! I'm so proud." And waves of emotions flooded over me. I kept my composure, but it seemed like it couldn't be true. Was I really done? Had I really just ridden for 16 hours out of 24 hours?

As we walked back toward the campsite, the realization that I had ridden hard and long sank in. I couldn't help smiling. I finished something substantial; sure, I raced, but more importantly I did it for a greater reason than a personal challenge. I raced and fundraised for a worthy cause.

It has been five days since the race. My sore back, banged up legs/knee and scraped arms feel fine. I am still on a high from the race. It's taken me three nights of typing to put together this blog post. I could probably write twice as much, but it's time to move on. There are new challenges in front of me (El Scorcho — my first 50K) and non-endurance things I'd like to do. Until then, I will wrap this up by thanking y'all for believing in me and for the overwhelming interest and support in this goal. I cannot thank you enough really. But I will try. Whatever your goals are, reach for them. Don't stop dreaming about the seemingly impossible. You can make those dreams come true. You believed in me, and I believe in you.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"Proud Mary," Tina Turner

What else should I be listening to when I have a 24 hour race in front of me?! I saw Tina Turner on Oct. 27, 2000, at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin. Truthfully, back then I was most interested in seeing her opening act — the equally legendary Joe Cocker ("Feelin' Alright" clip = coolest piano chord progression and Mr. Cocker wearing the ugliest jacket ... but he OWNS it, man!!!)

But Tina, top bill artist of the evening that she was, well ... she absolutely killed it. She's the epitome of a timeless performer. She put on one helluva show.

Well over a decade later, I betya the artist formerly known as Anna Mae Bullock can rock your socks off. No, actually, I don't betya nothin'. I guaran-damn-tee it. Tina is that good. (Editor's note: Cheesier bloggers would insert a requisite she's "Simply the Best" reference here. But not Tr13ce. He respects you too much to resort to such base humor).

So. Yeah. In a matter of a few days, I will be rollin' (Rollin'). Rollin' (Rollin'). Rollin' on a river.

Actually, I'll be on a dirt trail. For 24 hours. But, again, this isn't about me. This is my first real-deal fundraiser. The race — 24 Hours in the Canyon — raises funds to fight cancer. Your support is greatly appreciated. If you feel so compelled, you can donate here. Thank you.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Proud of my Pops, IMTX shots, puns aplenty, funny graffiti

We interrupt the regularly scheduled begging for donations to 24 Hours in the Canyon (just 8 days left to help fight cancer — read about it here) to dust off the Five Photo Friday pheature. Oh, and for people who are good at "the maths," you may notice that there are six photos in this installment. Consider it a gift to you, the faithful reader. You're welcome!

That's my father. He recently earned his masters from the University of Texas at Tyler. He will be a first year broadcast journalism professor at the University of North Texas next fall. I'm very proud of him for achieving his goals. Way to go, Pops!

I've attempted to document this hilarious graffiti multiple times en route to work on the TRE. On a few ornamental sections of the Triple Underpass a graffito has tagged what appears to be the word "Power" with black spray paint. Apparently this vandal has a sense of humor.

Speaking of humor, I am not ashamed to admit that I am a fan of puns. I blame years of writing newspaper headlines. My first boss, Roy, was the king of puns — a puntificator, as he would say. He would agree that this right here is a punny magazine. I would relish the opportunity to write the cover blurbs for this periodical.

I spent a few days in The Woodlands for Ironman Texas last week. I didn't compete. Instead, I was a spectathlete, there to cheer on the wonderful That Pink Girl. I spotted this chillaxin' pooch and couldn't help snapping a shot. This dog has got it MADE!

Quality signs along the 112 mile bike route. This one was near mile 111. I'm guessing the answer for many racers was "Yes."

Frunners. Wonderful, awesome, stupendous Frunners showing big-time love for our Favorite Pink Girl.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

First bike nostalgia, who I’m racing for, final push for donations

I can't recall exactly how old I was when I received my first bicycle. Such a major moment in life, one would expect I could say it was my 5th or 6th birthday. I reckon I was in kindergarten or first grade.

What I do remember is the important detail: the bike itself. How could I forget that? It was a Schwinn Sting-Ray style bike — banana seat, high handlebars, coaster brake. At some point, I got the great idea to cover its frame with Garbage Pail Kid stickers. The bike represented freedom to roam. And I roamed a lot. And I still do.

All told, I've owned 10 bikes. My best guess is that I have ridden hundreds of hours on those 10 bikes. I rode to school, work and trails. I rode to friends' houses, convenience stores and state parks. I rode for fun, exercise, stress relief and training. More times than not, I rode by myself and for myself.

In 10 days, I am going to do something less selfish while riding my 10th bike. I am going to race for 24 hours. But I am not going to do it for myself. I am going to do it for those who can't ride. I am going to race 24 hours in Palo Duro Canyon to raise money to fight cancer.

While riding, I will think of those who have been affected by cancer — friends, family, acquaintances and strangers I've only read about who have battled this scourge. Some beat it; others didn't. The thoughts of their rounds of radiation or chemotherapy, their pain, their sleepless nights, their diminished strength will motivate me to keep pedaling. I must keep going. As 24 Hours in the Canyon's motto goes, "Cancer Doesn't Sleep ... Why Should We?"

I registered for this race with a modest fundraising goal of $150. I've already raised $250. I am thankful for the support of my friends, family and coworkers. I will think of them while I pedal, too. From noon on June 1 to noon on June 2, I will remember memories we've shared, what makes these people special to me, how we met, etc.

I want to think about even more people during the race. Please consider donating at and, in the comment section, share why fighting cancer matters to you. I will add you and your reason to my list of Why I Must Keep Pedaling. Because I will keep on pedaling as long as I am capable. Not just for 24 hours next week, but for the rest of my life.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Getting hurt, humbled and feeling hopeful

It was a lousy race, and I also took lousy photos. To get a true feel of how kickass this course is, venture over to IngotImaging to see race shots.
Let's just get straight to the point: Saturday's 2013 Texas XC Mountain Bike State Championship Series race — the Prayer Mountain Pedal at Big Cedar in South Dallas — did not go as planned. In fact, it really sucked for yours truly.

I signed up for the race well over a month ago thinking that it would be another great opportunity to race a trail I was training on regularly. It's a tough trail — lots of climbing, plenty of roots, and tree trunks line the twisty singletrack and seemingly are magnetized to attract your handlebars and throw you to the dirt.

All that being the case, I really enjoy riding this trail. It requires focus. Now, that's not to say I'm really skilled on the trail. I've fallen most every time I have ridden Big Cedar, once hard enough to warrant a trip to the doctor. A spill in a rough rock garden had me concerned that I broke my shoulder. Luckily, I was wrong, and I healed.

My riding, in fact, had improved greatly. Last week, I had a particularly good training session at Big Cedar — rode fast, climbed like a mountain goat and stayed on my bike the whole friggin' time. That was an excellent day. It convinced me that despite training for a 24 hour endurance race, I could be competitive in a quicker competition — the two-lap, 16-mile cat 2 Prayer Mountain Pedal race.

DORBA, which helped coordinate the race, does things differently. All of a sudden, 29-inch tires seem inadequate. 

On the day of the race, the Big Cedar was packed. I read that 500 cyclists were signed up to compete, and it appeared each took his or her own car — soooo many vehicles. And, sooooo many badass bikes. I arrived early to watch the pro and cat 1 racers speed through the course (and stare at their bikes). As it turned out, I had plenty of time to watch racers (and, say it with me ... stare at their bikes). The start times had been pushed back at least thrice since I signed up for the race. TMBRA could have done a better job communicating the time shift; but I can't complain about getting to sleep a little later and hang out. During this extra waiting time, I heard a cat 1 racer say that a section of the course — the right turn immediately after a creek crossing around mile 5 — was slick as ice because of all the riders' wet tires rolling through the corner. I thought, "I know that section. Duly noted."

While lining up for the race, I managed to get marked with the the incorrect age group (group 2 instead of group 3). So that wasn't a good start, but not the end of the world. Despite the incorrect mark, I started with my correct wave (30-34) and promptly ate the dust of the racers who are in the top 10 for the TMBRA series. I knew I probably wouldn't catch all of them, but I knew my familiarity with the crazy-ass climbs would benefit me down the road, er, trail.

All was going well. I started to make up time, passing a guy from San Antonio I chatted with before the race and some group 2 racers. Then, I reached the "slick-as-ice spot." I splashed through the creek crossing, reaching the other side and approaching the right turn. I was going too fast. And, in a split second, I went down. Hard and fast. Still clipped in, the right side of my body slammed onto the singletrack. That sorta hurt. But, what really hurt, was my left knee, which slammed directly onto the top tube of my bike's aluminum frame. The pain was immediate. I writhed on the ground. I said choice, four-letter words. I was pissed. Even worse, I was really hurt. The bruise and swelling were instant. I couldn't bed my knee without feeling a sharp, stabbing pain.

Minutes passed and riders passed, and I eventually tried to walk off the pain. Then I foolishly tried to ride my bike. No chance. Each attempt to press down with my left leg was met with an intense pain in my knee cap that shot up and down my leg. I could taste the pain. So I walked. More riders passed me. Even though I did my best to stay as far off the singletrack as possible, some were audibly pissed that I was in their way. Others were varying degrees of concerned. Several asked if I was OK. I replied to some, saying that I wasn't OK, but there was little they could do. Some said they would alert race officials who were about 3 miles away. It was really no use. I had to get out of the woods on my own power.

I walked up and down the tight trail, moving into weeds as best I could when riders approached. I leaned against the bike's saddle, using it like a rolling crutch. The climbs sucked, but the descents were even worse. It was difficult trying to maintain balance with a leg that could neither bend nor support much weight. I gritted my teeth and sucked it up. I was especially upset when I walked the hilly switchbacks that I had recently conquered and felt comfortable on during training rides. On the few flat stretches, I clipped in with my right foot and pedaled with one leg, shifting like a maniac for small changes in elevation in order to maintain momentum.

After the 3 miles of this race hell, I eventually finished my only loop for the day and went straight to the EMTs. They iced me up and offered to take me either to the ER or my car. I thanked them for being out there and for their offers but declined and opted to pedal another half-mile to my car, making a slashing gesture across my throat as I passed the race officials' table. I was done for the day. Dammit.

I packed my crap and went to Primacare pronto. Long story short: X-rays were negative, I was ordered to rest, elevate, ice and take some anti-inflammatory pills. If the pain didn't get any better by Wednesday, I would need to get an MRI. Based on my 1-out-of-10 pain level (a solid 8), I was certain I would need to get an MRI. Dammit.

Well, it's Monday evening, and, miraculously, I feel pretty good. I can bend my knee, and the pain is minor. I'm sore, but the knee is hardly swollen now, and I am walking quite well. I'm hopeful that I will continue to improve and won't obsess about not training. That's easier said than done. This injury is going to set me back considerably when it comes to training for 24:00. Alas, the only thing I can do is get well. I may line up at Palo Duro less prepared than I would like; but, I can't afford to start that race injured. So, more rest is in order this week. If I'm lucky and feeling up to it, I may get in a short road ride. We shall see.

You never know what will happen each time you set out on a journey, race or daily, mundane errand. It could be a matter of what we eat (beware the blueberry doughnuts), our state of mind, dumb luck, the nature of our activities or a combination of factors that lead to bad ish happening. Regardless, we have to dust ourselves off and get back to business. And that's what I intend to do. Unlike past road bike crashes, I will not allow a spill on the dirt to ruin my passion. I love to ride bikes, and it's going to take a lot more than a sore knee to keep me from pedaling my ass off.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Running my best half and pacing my sister to her first 13.1 finish at the Irving Marathon

Race day at the Campión Trails in Irving.
Anyone who has read recent blog posts is probably sick of all the bike posts. Cycling and related races have dominated this space as of late. Tunesday has taken a backseat, so too has Five Photo Friday. Even running posts are in short supply. Well, I can fix that last one today!

Saturday marked the inaugural GE Irving Marathon on the city's Campión Trails, a scenic greenbelt that traces sections of the West and Elm forks of the Trinity River. My sister and I have raced before (Lovejoy Country Run 5K), but this was a very special day — Anne's first half marathon.

We took two different approaches to get to this day. She trained hard — followed a plan, incrementally ratcheted up her distance and hydrated like it was her job. I, on the other hand, didn't have a training plan. With all the training on the bike, I managed to run once or twice each week in the past month. Not ideal, but I figured the cycling counted for something — physical and mental strength conditioning (more on that in a moment). But I also figured this would not be a PR race for me, which would be OK. The highlight of the day was going to be seeing my sister accomplish her goal of finishing her first 13.1!

Ominous, fat, gray clouds rolled above our heads about an hour before the race. It looked like my knack at running rainy races would continue. Fortunately, they rolled east and the weather turned for the better. It was even a bit chilly at the start of the race.

The race layout was something new for me — the start/finish was in the middle of the course and there was an out-and-back loop on each side (map). Half marathoners ran both loops. Marathoners ran both loops twice, and 1-mile fun runners, 5Kers and 10Kers had different turnaround spots on the first loop. (To say that there was an opportunity for a lot of confusion on the course is an understatement. Fortunately, the course was well-marked and it was clear where everyone needed to go.)

I started the race in the 7:30 mile pace corral, hoping that I could keep that pace for at least a few of the miles. I busted that plan straight out of the gate, running 7:00. Clouds overhead and not terribly hot, I felt good, but I knew I needed to ease off the accelerator a bit. My second and third miles were around 7:15. That was more like it, but I still thought I might be a bit too fast. As I approached the first turnaround, I paid attention to the number of half marathoners who had already reached the turnaround and were passing me heading toward the second loop. There were only 10. That made me feel really good about my effort and gave me a boost. At that point, I knew this day could be special.

On the return route of the first loop, the sun came out, and the heat started to pick up. So I employed my dump one, drink one strategy for water stations (was *this close* to dumping red Gatorade on my head). I apparently wasn't the only one because some aid stations ran out of water and/or cups. These things happen, especially at first-time races. Fortunately, I also had my handheld water bottle, Endurolytes (3 every 30 minutes) and a gel (taken around mile 10) to keep me from seizing up.

I saw Anne for the first time as I approached the second loop, around mile 5. She looked great and like she was having a great time — smiling and strong. That's just what I wanted to see! Once on the second loop, the trail was less congested — fewer people bunched together, and no runners running in the opposite direction. This helped a lot because I was able to run the tangents. Over the couple of years I've raced, I have learned that every step counts, so why take more than you have to?! (Thanks, TPG). I looked well ahead on the trail to position myself for each step-saving, direct route. There was a runner 5 feet behind me who seemed content to keep my pace and follow my strategy for about 3 miles. At first, I was sorta annoyed. But he pushed me, and that's what I needed. I wasn't going to let him pass. And around mile 9, he slowed his pace and that was the last time someone was directly behind me.

What followed was the most challenging part of the race. Miles 10 and 11 were on a dam's gravel road. I, and probably everyone running the race, didn't expect this change of surface. I struggled on the rocks and contemplated running on the grass. My pace dropped and the turnaround in the distance seemed miles away. But I was feeling strong and I was passing runners. I didn't let these two miles discourage me. I knew that I could suck it up and get finish them. The sooner, the better.

The final stretch of the race was back on pavement. I fought my mind (the one that wanted to slow down and walk and take a stretch break at the next aid station) and focused on catching runners ahead of me. I also focused on friends and even people I don't know who are facing tough situations — extremely sick children, a broken back, unemployment and addiction. Their ability to stand strong when dealt tough cards made my temporary pain feel so insignificant and completely tolerable. Thinking about friends training for next month's Ironman also pushed me. Thinking about my recent successful races races reminded me that I can overcome the desire to slow down and not push myself.

Third in my AG (first time I placed at a run) and 19th
overall. A damn fine day at the races!
When I reached the mile 12 marker, I was exhausted, but my watch showed that I was on pace to run a sub-1:40. I dug deep and kicked as hard as I could. I didn't slow down. I kept fighting and I crossed the finish line — 1:36:37. I credit staying mentally tough and focused on the task at hand for slashing 11 minutes off my PR.

I was stoked! I hardly could believe it. I stretched, took some shots, made the accomplishment FB and Twitter official and then turned my attention to the the important task of the day — meeting Anne for her final miles en route to completing her first half marathon.

I removed my timing chip from my shoe and removed my bib (didn't want to jack up my results or confuse racers as I ran the wrong way). I had a good idea that I would probably meet her at the worst place on the course — that gravel road. I was right. I was glad I could reassure her that this section would be over soon and that she could do anything for two miles. She was relieved to plant her feet back on the stable concrete. Although she said she felt bad, she looked good for a first-time half marathon runner. She was keeping a good pace, was hydrated and able to talk while moving. She didn't stop once. Even when the desire creeped in, she kept going. All. The. Damn. Way. In the last half mile, spectators and 10K finishers lined the way. I announced that my sister was about to finish her first half. The dozen-or-so people erupted in cheers. It was AWESOME! With the finish line in sight, I sprinted ahead so I could capture the moment. Anne, finishing her first half marathon.

13.1 in 2:37:29! Congrats, Anne!
It was an amazing moment! I was thrilled I got to see it and be a part of it. It was an outstanding day for us. She accomplished a big damn goal! So proud! And I managed to podium in my age group! It was outstanding and so too was the post-race Tex-Mex meal!

We are capable of big things, y'all. Don't let anyone — including yourself — tell you otherwise.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Riding hard and smart at Austin Rattler 100K

Pre-race posing. Lots of black for a 70-degree day.
Whether you run or ride dirt trails, there's a good chance you've heard of the trail races in Leadville, Colo. The most vaunted of the races are the 100-mile trail run and mountain bike ride. Not just anyone can compete in these ultimate endurance challenges.

The Austin Rattler 100K, set at Rocky Hill Ranch in Smithville (42 miles southwest of ATX), was the first of this season's qualifying races for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB. Outside of watching trail clips riders posted on YouTube, I had very little knowledge of the course. I heard it was hilly and that sections were technical; but I entered the race only knowing that I had to ride the 15.5 mile loop four times in fewer than 7 hours if I wanted to qualify for the Leadville lottery.

The Friday night before race day, TPG drove us to our weekend home base — Bastrop State Park, just about 13 miles from the race course. For those who don't know, a wildfire ravaged 96 percent of the park in 2011, burning thousands of loblolly pines. We saw acres upon acres of charred pine trees at the park. But there also were pockets of green sprouting from the ground that made us hopeful that in a couple of generations' time, the park would be returned to its stunning glory. The weather was ideal for camping — just cold enough for a sleeping bag, but not too chilly (or windy) to be uncomfortable. Best of all, no rain!
Straight outta the gate. Hook 'em!

On race day, we headed to Smithville with bikes in tow — my fat mountain bike invading the personal space of TPG's svelte tri-bike on the bike rack. With Ironman Texas just about a month away, the race location afforded her plenty of hilly, pave options for a good 3-or-so-hour training ride.

I estimated it might take me 6 hours to finish the race. I didn't like not knowing the course, but what can you do? So when the race began, it was all fresh trail to me. And it was awesome!

I hadn't entered a mountain bike race (excluding gravel grinders) since 2005, but my recent training has been predominantly on trails. So I was confident from the beginning. The first half of the trail was mostly jeep and fire roads — plenty of room for all the riders to avoid each other and avoid logjams. These were the sections where I excelled, especially up the hills. And there were plenty of hills. Many were separated only by 50 yards or so of flat or downhill relief. So it seemed like we were constantly climbing.

But we weren't. There were some fun and fast downhills. I confidently flew down these sections, many littered with fist-sized rocks and featured puddles from recent rains at their bottom.

The start/finish line was awesome. An announcer
calling your name and spectathletes yelling and
ringing cowbells can boost the spirits. The
organizers of the Leadville Race Series clearly
know what they are doing. 
Overall, the singletrack sections weren't incredibly technical. Compared to Big Cedar or even Rowlett Creek Preserve, the course didn't have quite as many switchbacks as I imagined it would. The first lap of these sections, however, were painfully slow. There were a few bottlenecks where racers struggled to climb and descend, which slowed the rest of the field. This didn't concern me too much. The slower pace the first go-round afforded me more time to get comfortable with the terrain. So comfortable, in fact, that during one of those bottlenecks I plunged into the dirt when gravity won its battle with balance. No harm, no foul. I collected myself and pedaled onward. 

The trickiest section of the course was about 5 minutes from the start/finish line. I haven't a clue the name of this section, but the three whoop de doos, two with bridge crossings, made for an exciting race. (The first and second loops, I conquered them; the third and fourth loops, they returned the favor).

The first lap, I clocked in at about 1:15, significantly faster than I anticipated. I expected at least an 1:30 for the first lap.

The second lap was mostly uneventful. My confidence was elevated since I knew the course. The humorous race volunteers at one section of the course blasted late '90s and early '00s rock and rap (I recognized Cypress Hill and Limp Bizkit) and good-spiritedly mocked/motivated riders to pick up the pace. And that's exactly what I did on the second lap. I pedaled fast through the flat sections, passed anyone in front of me on the hills and conserved energy as I sped downhill. The sun poking through the pines and beating down on racers in the open sections of the course became a factor on the second loop. I had to stop for a two-minute Camelbak refill. Even with that delay, I crossed the line in 1:15.

Such a fun time splashing in the puddles. I think in this photo I am actually saying "Yeah, yeah, yeah!!!"

The third loop was the toughest one. My quads started cramping, and I couldn't attack the climbs quite like I did the first two times. I focused on engaging my hamstrings and glutes as much as possible — leaning my core forward and grabbing the bar ends of my Ergon GP2 grips. That made a big difference. I only hopped out of the saddle and relied on my calves two or three times the entire race, practicing my strategy for enduring 24 Hours in the Canyon in June. My pace was slower — not quite sure exactly, but at least 1:20.

This angle does the whoop de doo no justice. It was steep and fast. Oh, and the most fun you can have on two wheels
in Smithville.

Entering the fourth loop, I figured finishing in under 5 hours was going to be impossible, but, barring a complete meltdown or a mechanical problem I would finish well under 7 hours. I pushed and pedaled fairly hard, but not full effort until the end of the race. I enjoyed the final loop — soaked up the scenery and the spirit of a fun race. Approaching the final segment of the race, the crowd started cheering hard. as I approached the finish line. I thought that was pretty damn cool. And then I heard cheers of "Go girl!" and the like. As soon as I realized those cheers weren't for me, a speedy female racer blazed past me. I tried to catch her in the final 400 meters, but she had more in the tank than I did. I crossed the finish in 5:11, felt the sense of accomplishment when I heard the announcer call "Robert Tracy, Dallas, Texas, and rolled to the aid station where I congratulated the woman who passed me on an impressive finish.

Livin' Dangerously Fast. Proud of my race and the kick-ass badge/bottle opener. Muchas Gracias to TPG also for making a killer post-race sandwich and being the best Sherpa a racer could ask for. 

Overall, it was a great race. I performed well, didn't injure myself, felt great on the bike and could have ridden even longer. All of that's a great thing, because I have entered the buildup in my training for 24 Hours in the Canyon. This weekend, I will return to Palo Duro Canyon State Park for the first time in over two years to get in some solid miles and hours on the race course. It's supposed to be a perfect weekend for it, too. Great weather for riding and camping.

Final note 

My finishing time qualified me for the Leadville lotto. Fifty spots were up for grabs, but I didn't hear my name called. That 100-mile race won't happen this year, but I wouldn't be surprised if 2014 is my year to compete in Colorado. At the very least, I would gladly race Austin Rattler 100K again, and I recommend it for anyone who is looking for a well-run race that offers a good challenge and fun atmosphere.