4 hours 12 minutes. Crossing the line last year in 4 hours and 12 minutes I knew I had to make a change. Sometime around March of last year I had decided I wanted to get my riding engine back, and that I was going to start racing again in earnest. My best training days were long since forgotten in a haze of child rearing. My plan last year was simple: ride more and I would get back to where I was.
Having made that decision last year, I signed up for a 30 mile race in the NW Epic series at Stottlemeyer. I figured, wrongly, that I would get back to my previous race shape in a couple of months. The calamity of youthful exuberance is funny because of inexperience. Those same errors made in your late 30s are far less so. I should have known better. I crossed the line in 4 hours and 12 minutes. The leader won in 2hr29min. Yeah, I was almost 2 hours off the lead.
During that race, there was a moment when I was struggling, and I mean really struggling, up a fire road climb when the 60 mile leader came through. He was on lap 4 to my lap 2. To repeat – finishing 60 miles before I finished 30. I remember that moment because Logan Wetzel, a name I would become all too familiar with in the coming year, went flying by me like I was standing still. I remember that moment very clearly because I let loose an expletive along the lines of “holy f@ck!” I must have surprised him, because he looked back over his shoulder, standing on the pedals, flying up the hill, and with a huge smile, and not a hint of irony, said simply “yeah!” Then he was gone.
It was that memory that stuck with me over the last 12 months. I really didn’t want to get passed that late into the 60 mile race. When I marked down Stottlemeyer on the calendar for this year, way back in December, I had a goal. Improve. It wasn’t very specific.
As I have been training with Ben at VO2Multisport these past 6 months, I have had moments where my bag o’ crap was getting in the way. He had already given me the gem “if you only look at your average pace, expect to have an average race” when I was whining about how my training pace looked so slow compared to what I had been doing in my late 20s and early 30s. He’s done his best to reassure me, but my neuroses continue to haunt me.
I pulled together a really good half marathon earlier in the season which built up some confidence. My XC trail riding has been improving to the point where I have been the top rider for my team for the last two races. That’s mostly due to Ben’s training and my engine. I think Nate had the best comment this weekend when he said “if you ever learn how to actually ride a bike, we’re all in trouble.” It was high praise from the king of awesome when it comes to going downhill fast. My technical riding skills need work – but it’s all fixable.
Stottlemeyer was the first of my big races for the season. I really wanted to do well, and as we got closer, I did set a goal. 3 hours and 30 minutes seemed like a reasonable target given my performance last year. I still haven’t had a monster great ride on a bike yet this season. Even when racing at Lord Hill, a course seemingly built for my particular talents, I performed just OK.
With the race just days away, I was very concerned about my training schedule for the half ironman, and what it would do to my legs. On Thurs night I had to execute what worked out to be a 90 minute hammerfest to get a gut check on my half-iron pacing. Riding around the pacNW for me has been humbling. I thought I had a big engine, but long climbs tend to cause me to go too hard too early, and the lactic acid just pools. I was, therefore, elated with the results from Thurs, as the ride was mostly on flat-ish roads (E. Lake Sammamish, for those interested). Here’s a segment cap from the Strava posting.
An average speed of 23.2 was way outside my expectations. And that was only part of the ride. I maintained around that pacing for the entire ride. The session was 4×12 at HIM pace, with rest, warmup and cool down thrown in. I felt great and all of the sudden started thinking maybe sub 3:30 at Stottlemeyer was possible. Not to let me rest, Ben had me run a half marathon on Friday morning before work. That too was done without killing my legs. The pace wasn’t a PR or anything, nor was it meant to, but to have run a solid pace over that distance and not have “dead legs” was great.
With all that as pre-amble, Saturday morning was upon us as most of the Project529 team members who were racing were gathered in the Edmonds Ferry line-up. It was going to be another gorgeous day of racing out on the Kitsap peninsula. We were all pretty excited. The fact that this distance was a first for Brian, Raman and Jun was also a bonus.
It goes without saying that most races will have a glitch or a problem. Mine surfaced early when, about 1 hour before the race, I made the horrifying realization that I had left my HR strap and riding computer at home. Given that all of my training had been to HR plans, this was a mini-disaster. The team tried to rally and find me a setup, but we couldn’t. Alex had a spare watch and strap, but the batteries in the watch were dead. I appreciated all of the effort, but I resigned myself to my own mistakes, and knew that I would have to ride on feel. Not the best plan.
I also made the change of mounting up my new SRAM Rise 60 front. Unfortunately, I made a small mistake when mounting my Maxxis Aspen on the front, and it didn’t bead correctly. Had it not been for Bryce at the FSA tent, I would have had a very, very short day. I thought my wheel was out of true from my quick warmup. He correctly diagnosed the problem, and fixed it for me. Great guy, and awesome to have such great volunteers on course.
This race was meant to be a rehearsal for my fueling and sodium strategy for the half-iron in 3 weeks time. I am still tweaking the formula to get little to no GI distress, and reduce the cramping. The Gu/water mix that worked reasonably well last weekend at Soaring Eagle was back in action, but this time I mounted the flask on the seat post. The location worked out MUCH better than last week, and I know I have solved that problem going forward.
When the gun went off, my strategy was simple. Ride with Raman, Brian and Alex through the first lap, and then press the issue. This strategy was in effect for about the first 45 minutes. The pace was slow, but that was more because of the riders that got in front of us when they red lined it to get forward, only to be sucking wind on the first few climbs of singletrack, and holding people up.
As the first lap was progressing, I had zero idea as to what my heart rate was. I am sure I was pestering Raman because I kept asking his, and the time, to ensure I was consuming my calories and not pressing too hard. I was feeling good, and we were cruising along. When we got to the first section of trail where the single track dumps out to the flat-out section, I pulled Raman along in my draft, but at some point he told me to take off. So I did. I loved that section of the trail because it’s not technical. It’s fast and flowy, and provides huge grins.
Deep into the first lap I caught up to Nate. I pulled up behind him as we got to the second long single track section and was ready to witness poetry. It’s hard enough to follow Nate when he’s on his Santa Cruz Nomad, but he just built up his Santa Cruz Tallboy LTc and was racing/riding for the first time this weekend. Nate on a 29er is bad. Nate on a lighter bike is even worse. My pacing blew through my comfort zone and into what I call “yikes” as I tried, very unsuccessfully, to follow him on the singletrack descents. My only saving grace was that as he would close down riders in front of him, they would wait until there were two riders behind them before letting us through. So went the inchworm of fear of my lap.
Somewhere in that part of the race, I lost the front and the rear. As I was sliding off the trail, I put power to the rear wheel and saved it, but my left knee smashed into the handlebars and the pain was intense. At one point I thought I was going to pull off and retire from the race, but I convinced myself the pain would subside (despite not even being able to stand on the pedals) once some more blood circulated. I was mostly right, in that I was able to box up the pain, but it’s still hurting two days later.
We eventually arrived at a fire road section and I asked Nate if he wanted a draft. He said “it’s a long race, and my pace is good. Go get ‘em.” So I clicked down a couple and took off.
The rest of the race was rather uneventful save one moment deep into the second lap when the 60 mile leaders came through. This time they were on lap 3, so I knew I was doing better than last year. Logan and the rest of that train were riding at a pace that made Nate look like a baby. Even today, as I write this, I am marveling at the pace. I tried to get on the back of the train as they passed me just as we dumped onto a fireroad. I figured I still felt strong, so why not? That lasted about 50 feet. Logan is my rabbit, and I continue to work to get faster. That group was inspiring.
I definitely started to feel some pain in the second lap, and the snap was out of my legs on some of the harder climbs. It might be that I was down on calories. I need to chat with Ben about that. The only thing that kept me really pushing the effort was a mantra as I attacked the singletrack. “Nate is behind you, and with every turn, he is closing you down. Move it.” I really did not want to get caught.
With the final little bit of goat track singletrack in front of me, and knowing that I was mere minutes from finishing, I was stocked at how good I really felt. The race had gone pretty well, despite not having a computer, HR monitor, or timing element. I felt mostly good, and not like I was pushing beyond the limits of my legs. As I popped out of the forest and into the finishing chute, I looked for a clock, but there was none. I crossed the finish line feeling great, and really happy. Truly happy.
It wasn’t until quite a bit later that I found out how I did. 3 hours 4 minutes. A full 1 hour and 8 minutes faster than last year. I know I could have gone faster earlier, and maybe arrived under 3 hours, but that just rolled off my back. In times past I might have dwelled on that, but in that moment, as I left the finishing area to quickly change and wait for the rest of the team, I was really, really happy with how the race went. There’s always next year for more improvement, but that was a monster chunk of time to take out.
Almost every 529 team member finished. Unfortunately Rob had to pull off after one lap with some back cramps. Both Raman and Brian came in under 3:30, which was their goal. Very happy for them. My genetic freak of a best friend showed up largely untrained, certainly not trained for this distance, and went faster than he did last year. It boggles the mind how strong Alex is. Jun also had a great day, finishing strong and just over 4 hours. Ty also took 30 minutes off his time from last year. Mike, also new to Stottlemeyer this year, put up a very impressive 3:28. As for Nate, he almost caught me, finishing just two minutes behind me, but 23 minutes faster than last year.
As I get ready for my next big test of the year, I am feeling better about my bike legs. I have no idea how I will react to the heat and humidity in Hawaii, and I am not sure how well the bike course will play to my riding skills/abilities, but I leave this first test with a pretty big grin on my face, and happy to know that I was way more prepared this year than I was for this race last year, which bodes well for the next test. The VO2Multisport plan continues to push my body to new records and beyond my goals.
My specific goal for the half? Sub 5:15. My super stretch A goal? Sub 5. There. I’ve finally said it out loud. My previous PR on a chip timed course is 5:44, at the Gulf Coast Tri, where I stomped at 2:39 bike, only to put up a 2:25 on the run. My last half iron was 6:38 at Buffalo Springs, a course that detonated my legs on the bike, and beat me into savage submission with the heat and climbs on the run.