This last weekend, May 26 & 27, I participated in my second Lewis and Clark (LaC) Ultra Endurance bike race. Last year I wussed out after a mere 12 hours, this time I was determined to do the entire 24 hour ride.
I arrived at the starting line around 6am, pre-race jitters in full progress. After the race briefing I touched base with my crew, Kevin VanDyke, and we discussed strategy and tactics as I got ready.
I was the third off the start line and within three miles the Gods of Ultra Endurance blew past me. I knew I had no hope of being competitive at their level, so I focused on the performance of one individual: myself. My mantra was "keep pedaling."
The day loop was uneventful. It took Kevin and I a while to synch our gears regarding support (understandable since this was the first time we worked together in this manner) but there were no problems other than I forgot to provide a water supply for the bottles (duh). My initial thinking was that Kevin would fill a bunch of bottles at each time station, but it makes more sense to just carry a water supply in the support vehicle. Kevin stopped at a market and picked up a jug of water so this wasn't a fatal mistake. For hydration I started out using 1 scoop Melon Heed with two Nuun tablets. For nutrition I was trying to eat a variety of food alternating with Hammer Gel and Stinger Waffles.
Before the first time station (TS1) I got a flat tire. Kevin rolled up just before I got the tire off so he put the spare on and pumped it up while I ran into the bushes real quick. I was back on the road in no time. So far I've had a flat every LaC I've been in, I guess there's something to be said for consistency.
After TS1, the route continues east for a while and then heads north to TS2. This is where the big climb is. According to my Garmin, it rises steadily for about 26 miles. I managed to pick off three riders during my ascent so that was a slight psychological boost. At TS2 I grabbed my jacket, wiped off my salt-encrusted face, and then headed out again.
The scenery between TS2 and TS3 is what makes this ride worthwhile. The best part of the day loop is when it turns West after TS2 and starts going through the Mt. St. Helens area. As I was flying downhill, I saw a scenic viewpoint and noticed that Kevin was there getting pictures as I blew past. I seriously considered swooping in and checking it out real quickly, but technically I was in the middle of a bike race so I kept on going.
Shortly after TS2, I started to experience some significant discomfort in the saddle region. I asked Kevin to have some handi-wipes and a change of bibs ready at the next stop. I ran into the restroom, cleaned up and changed. The time I spent getting changed was worth the resulting comfort.
Around this time Kevin noted that I was getting cold & tired which caused him concern. The temperature was in the mid-60's yet I was asking for my rain jacket in order to keep warm. On his advice I consumed an Ensure in order to try to get some calories into me.
After I finished the long loop it was time to start doing the short night-time loop. It started out with the same route as the long loop but diverged at mile five, looping back over rolling hills.
During my first or second short loop (my memory is kind of hazy for some strange reason…) we got caught in a significant thunderstorm. Significant as in "holy shit I've never experienced this amount of rain while outside on my bicycle." At one point I'm flying down a hill and I can't see the road surface due to standing water and rain. I'm coming up to a stop sign and apply the brakes: nothing. Normally, wet rims will clear after a revolution or two and allow the brake pads to grip but there was so much water on the road, and thus the rims, that the brakes were just about useless. I was barely able to get the bike slowed before the intersection and even then I wound up basically blowing through the stop sign (sorry Glen!) before getting safely back to TS1.
When I got back to the gym I just hung out with everyone while we waited for the storm to subside. We all looked like drowned rats watching the waters rise, it got up to the curb before slowing down. After the rain subsided I changed into dry clothes (note to self: I should have changed while it was still raining, that way I would have been ready to leave immediately at the first opportunity) and then started out again. I later read in the paper that the Portland Airport received 1.03" of rain that day, tying the record.
After the second short lap I was trying to plug the battery pack into my Garmin when I accidentally reset it. I was hoping to track the entire ride but that didn't work out. At this point I just shrugged it off and kept riding.
Sometime during the evening I switched to Hammer Perpetuem. I started out with a two-scoop bottle but that seemed slightly thin so I went to a 4-scoop bottle which was probably a tad too thick since I started getting some minor cramping. This porridge is too hot, that porridge is too cold, whine whine whine.
As usual, my neck and hands started acting up. I get numbness in my hands and worse, my neck gets very sore and stiff. This is a continuous problem that I experience and it's frustrating when I talk to other riders that can go all day without any discomfort (other than the expected fatigue). I suspect that it might be a fit issue, but the bike I have is the only bike that I'll have for quite some time, a new bike isn't in the cards for the foreseeable future.
(After considering this for a while, I'm thinking that maybe I just need to get a new fork which will allow me to change to a threadless stem. This will be much easier to adjust or swap compared to my current quill stem. Two days later and the only lingering discomfort is a muscle knot at the base of my neck. Something needs to be done when your legs feel better than your neck after a 24-hour bike ride!)
Another problem that started up at night was severe hot-foot. Since I know that this is only a nerve sensation I just kept telling myself that it was all in my head. I also started curling my toes and maybe that helped a little bit, but mostly I just ignored it. I believe it was Lon Haldeman who advised riders to "ignore anything that will heal in a couple of weeks" and that struck me as sage advise to follow.
I think it was around 1am or maybe 2am when the desire to sleep finally became overwhelming. I was sitting in the van trying to get my ass in gear and decided to take some no-doze. After about 15 minutes I felt fine and got on the bike. As I started pedaling I was surprised how good my legs felt. My headache and neck pain also dissipated. I got a little giddy (perhaps too much so) and just started hammering that lap. I came in and immediately started on another lap without delay, and could feel the fatigue coming on again. I tried another couple of no-doze but I guess the performance boost was a one-time shot. Still, it helped for those few laps.
This was my first time riding entirely through the night from dusk to dawn and, all things considered, it was an enjoyable adventure that I'm glad I finally experienced. It was peaceful watching the sun set, hearing the birds calling as they settled down for the night and the frogs starting up.
For lights, my bike was set up with two rear Planet Bike blinkies and one front Light & Motion Stella 300 mounted on the quick-release. For the last couple of hours of night I also had my Minewt 250 on my helmet. The only thing I would change in the future is to get a different helmet-mounted light, one with a separate battery so I could run it all night by swapping batteries. The Minewt isn't practical for all-night rides since the battery is integrated into the light and you can't swap it out for a charged one.
I really like having two front lights: the Stella is good for lighting up the road and showing debris and the texture of the road while the helmet-mount is really important for looking into corners as well as flashing into the eyes of car drivers that are about to turn into you. I didn't have any problems being visible to cars, I figure the few wahoos that passed too close were just dicks that wouldn't have scooted over no matter how visible I was.
On my penultimate lap, I started to feel queasy so I didn't really consume any nutrition. When I got back to the gym I discussed my problem with Kevin and he talked to some of the more experienced people there. They said that at this point it doesn't matter, just get a bottle for hydration and keep pedaling. I had Kevin prepare me a hydration bottle and took off for what would be my final lap.
I was running on fumes at this point, I actually walked the bike up the first hill. I felt queasy the entire lap and didn't consume any nutrition nor hydration; this sealed my fate.
I got back to the time station around 6:30am. I was utterly wasted and decided to bag it. I probably could have gotten at least half an additional lap in, but the psychological aspect of that huge hill near the very beginning psyched me out.
On top of my lack of training, I suspect that I wound up with a calorie deficit. After the ride I changed into warm dry clothes but even then I was unable to generate enough heat to keep myself warm, it was as if I was hypothermic. We didn't keep track exactly but I consumed approximately 6700 calories for the entire ride. This works out to 280 cal/hr, which is on the low side.
My menu for the ride (based on my recollection):
- 3 bananas(315 cal)
- 12 fig newtons (660 cal)
- 3 pkgs crackers w/cheese (540 cal)
- 8 Stinger Waffles (1280 cal)
- 10 oz Hammer Gel (900 cal)
- 12 servings Hammer Heed (1200 cal)
- 6 servings Hammer Perpetuem (810 cal)
- 3 Ensure (750 cal)
- 1 Cliff Bar (240 cal)
The above is generous, in reality I probably consumed less Heed and Hammer Gel and some of the other quantities are likely inflated.
I wound up with 246 miles, a personal record. While technically I saw minor improvements over my performance from last year, they were almost trivial. I decreased the time I took for the long loop, 10:53 vs. 10:20 total elapsed time. Definitely room for improvement there. I looked at the leader board and noted that I was the last 24-hour rider to come in off the long loop; most of the other solo riders came in between 3pm and 4pm, I didn't mosey in until 5:50pm.
One thing I try not to do is get too wrapped up in is worrying about my age class results, but here it goes anyway. I'm 47 so I'm in the Masters Men <50 category which means that I'm competing against a bunch of youngsters in their prime. However Del Scharffenberg, age 66, tied the mileage for the U50 winner, so I guess I can't use that excuse after all. Maybe I just need to HTFU and get my ass on the bike more often?
- Listen to your crew and elders. A couple of times I simply asked Kevin what to do and then listened to his advice. The one thing that really impressed me was when I asked him a question that he didn't know the answer to; instead of making something up, he went up to the other crew members and asked them what they'd do. I'm certain that his assistance made a significant difference in my performance.
- Unless the crew chief does the packing, a written (or electronic) inventory would be helpful. I just told Kevin "here's the bag with clothes, here's the bag with food, here's the tool bag…" but if I could have provided a written or electronic inventory, it might have been helpful to him. By an electronic inventory, I'm thinking of a simple database on a laptop or maybe even a Bento database on my iPod. Something where a crew member could do a search by item or category (e.g. 'list all solid food') and maybe even keep track of consumption. This is something to consider if I crew for Kevin at RAO and RAAM.
- Better packing. I just kind of threw all the clothes into a few bags, and all the consumables into a few other bags. In retrospect, I should have separated (and labeled) bags according to the following categories:
- clothing, base layer (e.g. bibs, jerseys, socks)
- clothing, outer/insulating (e.g. gloves, vest, sweater)
- clothing, rain gear
- hydration (e.g. Nuun tablets, Hammer Exceed and Perpetuem)
- nutrition, real (e.g. bananas, fig newtons)
- nutrition, biker kibble (e.g. Stinger Waffles and Chews, Hammer Gel)
- nutrition, caffeinated
- I consumed 800mg caffeine within two hours, that's the equivalent of 16 espressos! In retrospect, it's possible that the second serving of caffeine pills contributed to my upset stomach while not providing any performance boost. Related to that, I stopped consuming all caffeine back at the beginning of April so that any caffeine ingested during the race would have a better effect. If going without my morning espresso is going to put me through the hell of caffeine withdrawal, it had better be worth it and I don't think that the meager performance boost I experienced really qualifies.
- This was the first ride that I did with a support crew; afterwards Kevin mentioned that I rode the ride as if I was self-supported and he certainly has a point. I started out with two water bottles on the bike and pockets full of food. He said that the idea is to only carry what you're actively consuming: when you get a bottle from the crew it's only half-full, they only give you the food that you're going to immediately put in your mouth. This will reduce the riding weight and also allows better record keeping for tracking nutrition and hydration.
- Don't mindlessly adhere to dogma. The general rule of thumb during competition is to not do or consume anything that you haven't tried during training. I just happened to have a few bottles of Ensure with me, but I had never even tried it before. My thinking was that if it came down to a DNF or trying something new, what have I got to lose? I wound up drinking all the bottles I had with me, and would have consumed more if they'd been available.
- Training, training, and more training. Between the weather and personal issues I just didn't have the motivation to really hop on the bike until April. There's simply no substitute for saddle time, all of the other factors I've mentioned pale compared to getting out there and actually doing the miles.
- I should consider using aero bars. I don't necessarily need a time-trial bike, but just a set of aero bars that clip on my existing handlebars might provide an advantage. Case in point: just after the first big hill, there is a long and gradual decline followed by a short sharp rise. I always wound up having to pedal hard up this short hill. One time just as I reached the bottom and was getting ready to stand on the pedals, a rider on a time-trial bike whizzed past me. He was able to gain enough speed on the decline to carry him up and over, while I had to expend some calories to get up the hill.
- I suspect that I over-relied on real food instead of a liquid diet. During training I was mostly using water with Nuun tablets for hydration, and real food along with occasional biker kibble for nutrition. I kind of fell out of the habit of using Perpetuem during training, perhaps I don't need to use it for every training ride but it certainly should be incorporated into some training rides.
I think that this will be the pinnacle of my Ultra Endurance rides. At this point, due to the struggle and difficulty in completing this event, I don't see myself having the capability to do even longer rides. I don't expect a 24-hour competition to be a cakewalk, but I think that I experienced significantly more discomfort than the other riders while only managing to come in dead last.
In closing I would like to thank Kevin VanDyke for crewing for me, his assistance absolutely made the difference. He and I have had many on-bike adventures together (ask him about the tenacious tubular from hell) and they're always a blast. He's planning on competing in the 2013 RAAM so stop by his blog to follow his progress and cheer (or egg) him on.
I also want to thank the event sponsors: Hammer Nutrition, Leatherman, and Showers Pass. I've been using Hammer products since not too long after I got back into bicycling, especially the gel (Montana Huckleberry is the best!). I currently have two Leatherman products: one of the older original style, as well as a Surge. These are carried everywhere and used just about daily. Of course you know how I feel about Showers Pass, they simply make the best rain gear available.
Of course a big Thank You to Glenn Johnson for putting on a wonderful event. The Lewis and Clark Ultra is a unique event, I don't know of any other 24-hour events in the Pacific Northwest. The thing I like about it is that seems to fit into the sweet-spot of being challenging yet allowing us mere mortals to have a reasonable chance of doing well.
Another thing I really love about the LaC Ultra is the friendly atmosphere. Riders are competitive, but they're not cutthroat. I really like the friendly banter from the time-keepers and other crew members as I roll in at 2am all bleary-eyed. More than once someone else's crew member has encouraged me with a "good ride!" as I roll past. To all the crew members from other teams that offered a word of encouragement, thank you. I may not have done much more than a quick hand wave in return, but your kind words were noted and sincerely appreciated.
If you're interested in Ultra Endurance riding, but 24 hours seems like a little too much to tackle, LaC also has 12 and six-hour categories. I noticed that the 12-hour category seemed to be real popular, or maybe they're just smarter than those of us in the 24-hour category… There's also a Night-Owl category if you suffer from insomnia. Check out all the options here.
Hope to see you out on the course next year!