On Saturday, I lined up for my first ever marathon mountain bike race, the Park City Point to Point, a 75 mile, all technical singletrack, endurance race. No biggie, right? I've ridden the White Rim a number of times. I've completed my fair share of 100 mile road races. 10,000 foot ski days are manageable. I even raced a few local XC races this year. So I thought that an endurance mountain bike race would be a nice, fun way to wrap up the summer.
Somthing is Awry
After what I considered a fast start, I was happy to be in the company of a solid group -- Ashbridge, Mitchell, Eric Flynn, Chris Peters, Aaron Phillips, and Tanner Cottle. Unfortunately, that satisfaction was short-lived. At about 18 miles in, my rear tire went flat. I stopped and fixed it, and then tried to make up the lost time. After a hard effort for for 3-4 miles, I it began to seem like something was awry. I felt under powered and had a conversation with myself that went something like this:
Me: Um, Samurai, you're in trouble. You're about to cramp.
Samurai: Ssh. No I'm not.
Me: Yes you are. You're barely even turning a 22 x 32. Plus, you're sweating lots of salt.
Me: You should be able to -- and actually have before -- ridden this in a 29 x 30. And when you sweat lots of salt, you're in trouble. Remember LOTOJA 2007?
Samurai: Why don't you stop doubting me and give me a little support? We're only 18 miles into the race. And we have a long ways to go.
Me: Right, we have a long way to go. Rah rah rah . . .
Samurai: I think if I just eat something and back off a bit, I'll feel better.
Me: Yeah, a gel and some hydration might be good, but you shouldn't feel hungry only 18 miles into the race.
Samurai: Maybe I can get some food at the aid station.
Me: You're going to need more than that.
Luckily, about that time in the conversation Matt Ohran saved me from myself. I was instantly amused as I observed him de-clothing in the middle of the trail. Apparently, he was having an allergy attack and we were able to commiserate as we soft pedaled up to Silver Lake. Matt abandoned at Silver Lake. I ate some bananas and pedaled on in my granny gear, hoping that things would get better.
Just out of sight of Fox who was handing out cash at Silver Lake, and after I had plucked a $1 bill out of his hand, I cramped. 25 miles and less than 3 hrs into the race my legs locked up. I got off and walked. I soon figured out that if I kept my HR below a certain threshold, I wouldn't cramp. Anything above that threshold, my legs seized. Unfortunately that threshold was about 8 watts. "Retarded" is the most fitting adjective that descibes my ride up the wet, rooty, rocky, technical trail from Silver Lake to the top of Bald Mountain. Given my self-image at the time (I say that because it has been drastically altered since then), I couldn't accept that I was only capable of 25 miles. I was in double denial: denial that I was cashed, and denial that I really wanted/ought to quit.
When I descended off of Bald Mountain to Bowhunter, I saw the Samurai straying to the right, towards Flagstaff Loop, and not toward the left where there were big bright orange course markers.
Me: Um, Samurai, why are your eyes straying?
Samurai: No reason. Just enjoying the view.
Me: You're not thinking of cutting the course are you?
Samurai: No. But now that you mention it Bowhunter isn't all that great a trail anyway. Plus, I hear that there was a new golf rule being applied in endurance mountain bike racing.
Samurai: Yeah. In golf, you get something called a handicap.
Me: I know what a handicap is.
Samurai: Well, same in mtb racing. You get a handicap. My handicap could be that I get to cut Bowhunter out.
Me: Nice try. You're not cutting the course. Do you want to be known as a golfer?
Samurai: On a normal day, if presented with the choice Be Called a Golfer v. Riding the Course, I would choose the latter 100 % of the time. However, on this day . . . .
As anyone who rode Bowhunter found out, Bowhunter as a trail isn't that great. In fact, it was terrible. It was a path of semi-knocked down grass that traversed a steep sidehill. In some places, pedaling was impossible because of pedal strike on the sidehill. Grass and branches slapped against all parts of your body. Still, it was part of the course. And the Samurai rode it.
Going into the Flagstaff loop, I saw Chris Peters coming out. I hit the lap button at 3:14 to see how far I was behind him. I was pleasantly surprised when I exited at 3:20 -- 6 minutes back. Knowing that Chris would do well in the race, I began to harbor some hope. And I pushed a bit harder, over the cramp-effort-threshold, like 80 watts. And I cramped again. This time, it was only in my left leg. So, while my left leg dangled off to the side, I pedaled with my right leg. Retarded.
When I passed through Silver Lake for the second time, I had more or less accepted the fact that I was done racing. I ate a cookie, some bananas, and other stuff because I was still hungry. I laughed at Jeppsen who had just blown a 20+ minute lead on the downhill. Roadie. Then I went into survival mode: just finish the race.
My Retirement from All Things Endurance Related
When I am in race mode, it's easy to focus: get to the finish line fast. When I go into survival mode, however, things are different and I'm easily distracted. I become more chatty than usual and try to talk to the riders who are passing me. It became quit easy to identify riders who were still in race mode.
I also look for reasons (excuses) to stop. I was happy to stop and pick up a bottle of Squirt lube that had fallen in the trail. And then stop and lube my chain, twice. I was happy when I burped out my front wheel and had to stop to reinflate. I was happy when I heard a rider approaching from behind, because that meant I got to pull over to the side of the trail and stop. I was happy to see a half eaten package of Cliff Blocks in the middle of the trail because that meant I could stop to pick them up, and then stop again later to eat them. I was happy when my front brakes stopped working and I had to stop to squirt Ultragen on them in order to get them working again. I was happy to see a wadded up $1 bill on the ground while climbing out of Park City Mountain Resort. Of course, I stopped to pick that up too.
Between the stops, my mind wandered. I specifically recall two trains of thought: leaves and divorce. Regarding the first train of thought, the leaves in Park City are begining to change. There were parts of the trail that were nicely covered with red and orange scrub oak leaves. Other parts were covered with yellow aspen leaves. Riding over the fallen and colored leaves after a rainstorm was quite pleasant. In fact, it's one of the few cycling-related things that still appeals to me. Of course, something that is even better than that is floating down the Green River in the fall. And so I thought about that too. And from there, I started making a mental list of things that I would rather be doing rather than gritting it out on the P2P course -- eating, fishing, floating down the river, skiing, camping with my family, eating, sleeping, fishing. Leaves. I started get concerned when my thoughts went into loop mode.
The second train of thought had to do with divorce. Not divorcing my wife, but divorcing all my friends who were up the road, or the trail as it were. The very reason I lined up at the P2P was because they were doing it. The very reason I had raced so hard was so that I could compete with them. After I went into survival mode, the only reason I kept churning was so that I wouldn't lose face. After I completely lost face, and after I had watched most of them ride up the road, I was left to myself on the trail. I quickly determined that if my friends didn't exist, I wouldn't feel so bad physically and about myself. I resolved that the clear path to happiness and non-suffering was simple: divorce. I could no longer be friends with any of those guys up the trail. They were the source of too much pain, physical, and now mental.
I resolved that at the end of the true path to happiness were some nice fat flabby friends -- guys who enjoyed sitting on the couch on a Saturday, watching their flat screen. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Pulling the Plug
About 45 miles into the race, I pulled the plug. Both of my achilles tendons started to ache. I was paranoid because the antibiotic I was taking came with a notice that said: WARNING, MAY CAUSE TENDON DAMAGE. The dull ache in my achilles was exactly the justification I needed. And I readily took it without feeling much guilt.
The guilt-attack came as I returned to the finish line to wait for Jeppsen who had ridden up with me. At the finish line, I was greeted by the Gladiators. They were all of a spindly build and clad in spandex. Their faces were caked with black dust and, in some cases, haggard. Some were nibbling on burgers. Others were staring at the ground or into space. Yuki said, "I'm not feeling so good," and went and got an i.v. All of them had just finished an incredible effort, had pushed themselves to the max, and ultimately had conquered the P2P. I was jealous. I wanted to be that haggard. I secretly wished that I deserved an i.v. I was also beweildered -- how in creation were they able to go that far that fast?
I think that in the end, my bitter surprise and shortfall was a good thing. I think that the jealousy and the guilt that I am now beridden with is also a good thing. I haven't required a therapist just yet, and the surprise, the shortfall, the jealousy, and the guilt will keep me training -- and improving -- for next year, and maybe the year after that. I've even had the crazy idea of going back to the warzone and riding the whole P2P course by myself just to see if I can find the gladiator within. I know s/he's in there.
PS, for the record, I didn't follow through with the divorce. As a fellow racer put it: "I can't quit going to races. Otherwise, I wouldn't have any friends. That's the only reason I go to races." Here's to P2P 2010!