Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lotoja 2007 Race Report

Lotoja 2008 is about six weeks away. Obviously it occupies significant mindshare in addition to being the focus of nearly every ride. I thought I would publish my 2007 race report as I get into the home stretch of my training for 2008.

My strategy was pretty simple: conserve as much energy as possible by drafting between the start and the climbs and then opportunistically find people to work with after that. This was fairly easy at first, as our group raced out at about 23 mph, with a couple of hammerheads out front who didn't seem to mind doing all the work.

About 20 miles into the race, we were caught by one of the relay groups who was going 1-2 mph faster. My brother Steve and I latched onto this group and made it all the way into the first feed zone without ever having to pull. 40 miles in, neither of us felt like we had done anything yet. The only problem that I had was that my knee was starting to feel a bit sore (I had a torn PCL and torn meniscus in my left knee, which required surgery six weeks after this event).

Our support crews stayed the night in Montpelier, so we used neutral support in Preston--topped off the bottles, one with water, one with gatorade, one with red bull, grabbed a banana and off again. We got into a paceline with some other riders that took us all the way into strawberry canyon where the road turns up. The climb was pretty uneventful except that my knee was starting to hurt a lot more. And then my back started to hurt. Usually when my back hurts, I just stand up out of the saddle and give it a chance to rest for a minute. But each time I stood, it felt like a nail was being shoved into my knee with each downstroke (upon completion of my surgery, the doctor told me the piece of torn meniscus had folded back onto itself and was being pinched with every pedal stroke--no wonder it hurt). So I suffered through the climb, not sure if I could continue on for the rest of the day.

Steve opened up a gap of about a minute or two on that first climb, but he needed a natural break at the top, so we started the descent together. Once we got through the real descent and had to pedal again, we pulled in behind a paceline being led by a huge dude in an Oscar the Grouch jersey. He pulled us 27-28 mph for a good five miles across the foothills above Montpelier. When he'd finally had enough, we thanked him for the pull, and he just asked us to stay with him and help him the rest of the way into town. There were about eight of us taking turns, and seven of us knew how to work together. Unfortunately, the guy right in front of me was one of those who thinks he needs to sprint ahead sporadically when it's his turn to pull, so I had to work extra hard to keep the train together. People not knowing how to pull turned out to be a repeated theme throughout the day.

When we got into Montpelier, my knee still really hurt, and I did not want to start climbing again. Frankly, I was not sure I could make it the rest of the way. In fact, all the way into Montpelier I was trying to figure out what to do because I knew I couldn't tolerate that kind of pain for the rest of the day. My wife, kids, sister-in-law, and parents were there with new bottles, food, and Advil. I took four Advil and was off again, not sure if I would make it over the next pass. As I got back on my bike, I gave my wife a hug and whispered in her ear "pray for me." I knew I would need it.

Moments later, my knee quit hurting, and I was able to make it most of the way up Geneva pass without too much pain. The Advil only lasted about an hour, though, so right before the top, I was suffering again. I realized that with my higher metabolic rate, I was probably burning through the Advil a lot faster than normal and wouldn't have access to more until we got to Afton about 30 miles later.

We coasted down the backside of Geneva and then started up Salt River pass. We were very fortunate to have a brisk tailwind and were making 23 mph up the lower part of the canyon without working too hard. Steve told me that when they had done that climb back in July, they had a headwind and were really working to make 13-14 mph in that section. Salt River was not too bad until the King Of the Mountain section started. The road tips up to 8% at this point, which slowed us down considerably. Once again, Steve pulled in front of me on the climb and probably had 30-40 seconds on me by the time we reached the summit. The backside was so steep that I was riding my brakes a bit just to keep things at a reasonable speed (I could have hit 50+ mph without pedaling but don't really feel comfortable faster than 45).

Once down in the valley, we had a pretty stiff crosswind. We were hoping to find some people to work with. We were passing a lot of people who didn't latch on or would latch on but weren't strong enough to pull. Nobody was catching us that we could latch on to, so Steve and I traded off doing the work. We were making good time and got into Afton (where I got more Advil and grabbed a few extras) a little ahead of our support crew. This slowed us down a bit, and then my need for a full service facility slowed us down even more. Instead of waiting in line at the porta johns, though, we rode a half mile into town to the taco time. The lengthiest part of the process was pulling the stupid single ply toilet paper basically one square at a time. We continued across the Star Valley without incident, wishing the wind would go away, but glad that it was not really in our faces and that it would be at our backs in Snake River canyon.

After a relatively quick stop in Alpine, we entered the canyon. The tailwind was nice, but the canyon was tougher than I expected--a lot of rolling hills one after another. We pushed hard, but the hills really took their toll. We were both pretty tired and didn't have a lot of gas in the tank at the last aid station. Once we got out of the aid station, we just kept grinding away hoping to tick off the last 26 miles without bonking. It occurred to me at this point that I had already been on my bike for about 10 hours and I still had a full marathon distance ahead of me. I was just glad that I wasn't running. For the first time in a long time, 26 miles sounded like a very long bike ride.

There is one pretty good sized hill right before you get into the town of Jackson. I pulled to the top of it with Steve on my wheel, and we had a train of about 10 guys behind us. When we got to the top, they were all relatively fresh and a few of them went off the front. I turned to Steve and said "Oh great, we pull these guys to the top, and then they just leave us behind." But somehow we were able to latch on and stay on their wheel. Good thing, too, as there were four guys on the front who had the legs to pull at 21-24 mph and didn't seem to be interested in sharing the effort. I was number five in the paceline, and each time one of them would rotate off the front, he would fall back and tuck in right in front of me. I felt like I must be Tom Boonen and team Quick Step was out front keeping my legs fresh for the bunch sprint at the end. (I wrote this before Tom Boonen's shenanigans with cocaine. Loser. Dopers suck. Even if it's recreational drug use, anyone who would do that probably lacks the integrity to avoid the performance-enhancing stuff.)

The last miles from Jackson to Teton Village seemed to tick away relatively easily since we didn't have to do any of the work--until there were about two miles left. My left leg suddenly started cramping and seized up with each turn of the cranks. I doused it with water to cool the muscle and drank a little more. The cramp diminished enough to pedal comfortably, and I was close enough to get back on the train before they left me behind. As we were approaching the finish line, we passed a couple of guys who took issue with us passing them and started to sprint for the end. I figured since the guys on front had treated my like Tom Boonen, I might as well respond like him, so I shifted up two gears and went for it. I passed the whole bunch and then felt kind of silly for having done so, since nobody else was really sprinting. But it was still fun. I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch at 11:20 for the day. My best case scenario estimate was 11:45, so I was quite happy with the result.

My wife, sister-in-law, and the kids were there at the end, and they were all cheering for us. It was really fun to see the kids and to share the day with our families. I was really proud of the girls for keeping it together all day--they had kids to entertain, cars to drive, potty breaks to take, and two exhausted cyclists to support for 200+ miles. They were unbelievable to do what they did, one with a baby and the other pregnant. And the race-day support was small potatoes compared to putting up with all the long training rides leading up to the event. In a lot of ways Steve and I had the easier job, since all we had to do was pedal.

Our actual ride time (not including stops) was 10:39, for an average speed on the bike of 19.4 mph. Of course this got me thinking that next year we should shoot for a sub 11. I think the definition of a good ride is to get to the end and already be thinking about doing it again.