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.