Translate

Featured Post

Training for Ultra-Cycling Events

I wrote the following article  5 years ago, for UltraRaceNews.com, and it was the most widely read article on that site for years. Now its...

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Training for Ultra-Cycling Events

I wrote the following article 5 years ago, for UltraRaceNews.com, and it was the most widely read article on that site for years. Now its here, and improved! As you read this you will see the acronyms FTP and CTL. You can think of FTP as aerobic power and CTL as fitness, or you can click the links and learn a lot more.  

Friends and clients often ask me if ultra-cycling events are good training for ultra-cycling events. The answer is yes, and no. It depends on your experience level, confidence, and your speed. In discussing training here I will address 2 aspects. The first is physiological adaptation. See this article for an explanation of the physiological adaptations that occur in humans from various intensities of work (training). These adaptations will increase a riders FTP and CTL. One thing should stand out immediately from Table 2. There is a lot more benefit from riding in zones 3-5 than riding in zones 1-2. The second aspect of training is not about your body, its about your mind. Its about gaining the knowledge, skills, and abilities it takes to ride an ultra. Much of this is experiential learning, meaning you have to ride long at some point to learn some things. 

Next let’s draw a line, and say that anything that takes you over 6 hours to complete alone is an Ultra Event. For some riders and/or tough courses this makes a metric century an ultra event, for some a double metric, or 200K on a fast course, can take about 6 hours. Notice that I am defining the effort from the rider’s point of view, mentally and physically. To do this you have to accept the premise that your body does not have a GPS or an odometer, it doesn’t know distance. It knows how hard you worked (intensity) for what duration (time). It could be 20 miles up a 10% grade or 100 miles dead flat. If you put out the same power at the same cadence for the same duration, your body did the same work. Even more importantly, it will also be tasked with the same recovery time before you can do it again. If you are rested and pace yourself evenly for 6 hours, by definition, the intensity of your effort will put you squarely in zone 2. As events get longer, your intensity drops into zone 1. 


There is a concept in training known as the Principle of Specificity. That principle says that if you want to excel at riding 200m sprints, ride lots of 200m sprints! If you want to do well at 40k time trials, ride lots of those. Of course the program will include rest and other intensities but the focus will be on the event duration you are targeting. The point I’m making in this article is that, physically, that principle falls apart at around 6 hours worth of work! That means that physiologically speaking, if you want to be a fast 24hr racer you should not do lots of 24h races! The intensity zone you can ride those in results in very little physiological adaptation, and the recovery time needed between them means that even though each one will result in a big increase in CTL, it will drop just as much afterwards, so it retards the rate at which you could be building fitness, if you can build at all. 

Next let’s talk more about the physical side of training. By training we mean periodic and increasing stress, and recovery, that results in increased FTP and CTL. The more the FTP the faster you can ride aerobically. The more your CTL the quicker you can recover for the next intense workout.  From a physiological point of view, I'd put a cap of six hours on your longest training effort. Most rides will be less. The reason for this is that in order to achieve most of these adaptations, you need to ride with some intensity, and fairly regularly. That means 3-4 hard days per week, for multiple weeks at time. The hardest days require a rest, or better yet a short easy ride the following day. Longer events take more recovery time and disrupt that regularity. Longer rides thus prevent you from doing the regular work needed to achieve and maintain the physiological adaptations crucial to success. If the weather is very hot, or you can't/don't fuel yourself on a ride, this increases recovery time, in which case 2-3h maximum ride length makes a lot more sense. 

Looking at longer events, if you are doing something that will require you to sacrifice your sleep schedule, subject your body to a lot of thermal variation, in addition to the caloric debt and dehydration that are normal in these events, then the toll on your body is so high as to not be worth what you might gain from it. Beyond the toll on your body, there is a bigger issue. After such an event, you might not want to even look at your bike for some time. This is a not good in terms of training and fitness. The longer, and less well-supported the event is, the greater the risk of more recovery time and of post-event motivation loss. 

Recovering from your last hard training effort so you can perform the next one is the key to becoming well trained, reaching a high chronic training load. Having a high chronic training load means you are ready to go your hardest and longest and recover the quickest from the effort. Lots of riders can go on a hard ride, but what you need to be able to do them regularly, and that requires rest and recovery. Put simply, the more you do, the more you can do. Rides over 6 hours cost more in recovery time than they gain you in physiological adaptation. Once rides get over approximately 14 hours (assuming you wake up and start riding), they start to interfere with your sleep time. Sleep is a crucial component of recovery.  The balance we have to assess is just how much are you detracting from your ability to train by doing ultra length events due to the extended recovery they entail. Training sessions over 6 hours are detrimental to maintaining a steady training load. Sessions over 15 hours are really detrimental. On average, I have seen riders take 2-3 weeks to fully recover from a 24hr event, and as long as 4-5 weeks from a 40-90 hour event. That’s time you cannot spend training for the next event. Its time you spend losing fitness, and FTP.

The question arises, however, is physiological adaptation the only thing we should try to accomplish in training for ultra cycling events? The answer to that for less experienced riders is no.


Training includes experiential learning. To succeed in events lasting more than 6 hours, you need to really have a good sense of your fueling needs such that you can formulate a plan, and then actually follow that plan. It is amazing what you can get away with in a 4 to 5 hour event that simply will not work as you get into 12h, 24h, or even longer events. You need to be able to recognize the signs from your body and respond correctly, and that implies you need to experience and experiment a bit in ultra events at some point to in order do well in ultra events.

You need to experience the sensations of being low on calories, or low on electrolytes, or getting dehydrated, or of overheating, or getting drowsy. You need to experience and then recognize these feelings in order to devise and then follow a plan to cope with them. Your perception of these sensations will be different after 12 hours on the bike. Your ability to keep focusing and take care of yourself will also be diminished. You need to learn steady pacing. If you are riding self-supported events, you need to learn how to handle your own logistics, and how to coordinate that with your navigation. If you are riding supported events, you need to learn how to take advantage of the benefits a crew can provide, in addition to recruiting a good support crew.

Perhaps the most important experiential attribute you will gain from practicing ultra events is the confidence you will gain once you develop the skill and knowledge to get the most out your body. That confidence will be in both your physical and mental capabilities. Do not underestimate this. Once you have this confidence, you can go into an event not only well trained physically, but knowing that you have done this before, and knowing how you did it. You can go into an event focused on how hard and how steady you can go, not worrying whether or not you can complete it.

This leads to a lot of conclusions. If you are new to ultra events, a coach can help a lot. In addition, you can read a lot, and learn from some of the more experienced riders. But, eventually, you have to just do some and experience it on your own. You may fail to finish a few, but the goal is to learn from all of them!

Now the conundrum: Once you have the knowledge and skill to perform well in ultra events, and the faster you want to go, the fewer of them you should do. Pick a few and space them so you can get some good training cycles (5 weeks or more) in between events, allowing as many weeks as you need for recovery from the last event, and also allowing 10-14 days to taper before the next one. If you do really long events, it could be 3 months between events if you are trying to stick to a schedule that has you more trained for each successive event. 

If you are chasing Ultra Cup points, the prior scenario is not really feasible. You will have much less time between events, and full recovery and retraining will not be possible. The best you can do in that case do is come into the season at the highest CTL you can get too, and then do your best to recover between events, training when possible. This means 3-4 months of hard training before the first event of the season if you are starting from scratch. This means hard training in the winter, which is harder even in the best climate. If you go all out in each event, trying to set records, training load will drop, you will lose fitness, and recovery will take longer with each event. If you are only interested in a points total, you can ease this by carefully studying the points structure of the series, and maximize the points you get for your effort as a result. Only go as hard as you need to. Either way its a very tough season to pull off mentally. Much respect to those who can do it well. Its is not often you see someone try to do this type of series two years in a row. 

If you are doing a full brevet series in one year there are other issues. You will likely not have 2-3 months between events. One way to deal with this is to pick which distances you really want to do well in, and target those as your “peak” performances. If you are strong and just focused on a 600k or 1200k, or both, get the shorter ones out of the way as soon as you can, and use all the time allowed riding at an easy pace and sleeping. This will leave you time to train for the important one(s). If you are challenged with completing these under the time limit, space them out as evenly as you can in the year. 

Once you have the skill to complete ultra events you can train for them very successfully on as little as 10-12 hours a week with high intensity work (zones 3-5). This also leaves more time for other parts of life. It also makes it easier to stay active in ultra racing for years without burning out as a result of all that time spent on the bike.

As some proof of this, note how well professional and high level amateur road racers do in ultra events once they have the skill and knowledge. Their training only changes slightly. Less focus on shorter supra-threshold efforts and sprints, and more on the bread and butter of aerobic training: 20-60 minute aerobic threshold work, 2-4 hour tempo rides, and some VOMax intervals to put the frosting on the cake.  

Lastly, no matter how well trained you are physically, and well prepared and schooled you are mentally, to perform at your best involves a desire to push the limits just a little bit. This means coming into an event rested and hungry for the bike. In the last few days before the event, you should really be looking forward to going out and doing it. If your preparation does not leave you feeling like this, one or more ingredients are missing.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

My advice on nutrition for Ultra Marathon races, and how to dial in your own liquid mix from Infinit Nutrition.

Lets start with the reason this article is about liquid nutrition. If you eat solid food on an ultra you are signing up for a stop for #2, which costs time. If you have a solid snack as some point, your ability to absorb calories has not changed, meaning you have to lay off your liquid mix for a while, and get your water and electrolytes some other way. If you have a snack with fat, or a lot of protein, you have actually reduced your ability to take in calories for the next few hours. So, if you can come up with a liquid diet that works for you its an advantage. I am very comfortable with liquid only up to at least 30 hours. I know some who have gone to 50. Christoph Strasser does mostly liquid on RAAM as well, and that is about a week.

The great thing about Infinit Nutrition's custom formulas is the ability to customize a mix through experience and experimentation, and they make it easy for you to keep track of the all the mixes you try too. Infinit can help get you started with their free consultation service as well. My advice is specific to ultra racers and differs a bit from what they told me in January of 2012. So, go here, and follow along.....
  • Flavor: I use lemon lime almost exclusively, so my mix tastes a lot like a salty margarita. You are going to want some salt, so why not. Having bad experiences with other fueling solutions can make you not like their taste, as you associate it with stomach issues, or other maladies. For this reason I started with only about 35% on the flavor slider. Over several years I have upped that to about 70% as I really do like the taste, and have not had any stomach issues at all with it. More flavor goes well with more electrolytes. More of both of those also hide any soapy flavor from the protein or amino acids.
  • Carbs: For ultra endurance events I like this slider full scale, for longer chain, slower burning fuel. That being said the mix still works great for 2-4 hour tempo rides and fast centuries. If you are on a ketogenic diet, this is also your best choice. This also minimizes the osmolality to minimize stomach issues, and makes you less vulnerable if you forget to fuel for too long.
  • Calories: I started at about 280cal per bottle (24oz) and have varied up to as high as 320cal. For over 4 hours I think 280 calories an hour is my limit. The more calories you can take in on an ultra the better, so this is one to experiment with over time and try to maximize. 1.5 calories per pound of lean body mass is a safe place to start. You will always ride better with a mix that is a little too lean than one that is too rich and causes bloating, but over tie you wnat to increase calories as much as you can for best performance. 
  • Electrolytes: A lot of other drinks/systems would have you take a lot of pills to get 500mg+ of Na per hour, this is easy and I finally get enough sodium. The rough range for this in my experience is 300-600mg/hr. I started at 425mg, and am now at 560mg per hour. The less salt in your daily diet the less you need on the bike. Magnesium is a key to preventing cramps, and at this sodium level I must be getting enough, along with calcium and potassium. If you are on a Ketogenic diet, you may need more electrolytes than if you are not. 
  • Protein: I would caution ultra racers to start around 2g of protein an hour. Many cannot handle any more with out stopping up their stomachs on long events. The first symptom of too much whey protein for many is gas, so if you start farting a lot on 2-4 hour rides, you might want to back off the protein for longer events. If you are lactose intolerant, ~2g may be your limit. If you feel the need to eat solid food or just feel hunger, you may want to add more protein. If you are allergic to whey, you could order it without any and add your own (soy, egg, hemp....), as long as it will stay dissolved in the mix, or you shake your bottle every swig. To see how many grams of protein you have, you have to click on the Nutritional Info link. See example at the end of this article.
  • Amino acids: The key ingredient in the amino acid mix is L-glutamine. In larger amounts (2500mg) its common in recovery drinks. If you try to use a recovery mix like that on a ride, your legs will feel very very tight. With just a little, your legs will feel a little tight, but not tight enough to slow you down on a L3 (Tempo) ride. If your legs feel too tight, back of this slider. If you notice no tightness when you use this on L3 rides, try more. I am right were I need to be for L3 rides with this slider at 25% but wonder if I could tolerate more on ultras (L1-2).
  • Caffeine: Personally, it makes me anxious so I do not use it very much. Protein and amino acids, particularity L-glutamine, keep me awake fine. For those less sensitive to stimulants add some caffeine, but beware its a diuretic, so only use as much as you need. Its also a good idea to save it until you need it. Most riders go out too hard or way too hard during ultra distance races, so try not to use any until several hours in, or you can really blow yourself early. Like electrolytes, the less you use in your daily diet, the less you will need on the bike. The more you use the harder it will be to sleep post event as well, if that concerns you. 
Other tips:
  • Drinking all these electrolytes, be sure brush your teeth after all rides with it.
  • If you do hard weeknight rides or races in training, a major challenge is getting to sleep afterwards. Take all the protein/aminos/caffeine out of your ultra mix, or just go with Infinit Speed, and cool down with a bottle of Infinit Nocturne.
  • For those who don't want to deal with a custom mix for ultras, but want to try something safe, just mix Infinit Speed and Infinit Go Far 50/50. Its a good start for a custom ultra mix.
  • For ultra races, set a watch with a repeating count down timer to go off every 10-15 minutes to remind you to drink, as no one can stay on top of that without a reminder once the endorphins and fatigue gang up on you. Also use the alarm as a reminder to ask yourself if you are feeling as good as you can and going as fast as you can, and if not what can you do about it. 
  • Do not eat solid food within 3 hours of the start. If its an early morning start, just get up as late as you can and ride. If you are up 3 hours before the start eat one of your normal meals, but not too much fat. You want to evacuate your bowels by the start. Stay away from caffeine as well.
  • If you eat solid food on an ultra you are signing up for a stop for #2. Stay on the liquids if you can. If you must have a solid snack as some point, keep in mind that your ability to absorb calories has not changed, meaning you have to lay off your liquid mix for a while, and get your water and electrolytes some other way. If you stop for a snack with fat, or a lot of protein, you have actually reduced your ability to take in calories for the next few hours. If the liquid is working for you, don't sabotage yourself with a solid snack.
  • What works for 4 hours may not work for 12 or 24. Although doing an ultra in training may not be beneficial physically, it is a great opportunity to vet a new fuel.
Here is a link to the formula I have arrived at after some tweaking: My Infinit Formula  ...and here is the nutritional info that you cannot see from the community formula link click on it for a more readable size:



Proper on bike nutrition is one of the bigger hurdles for ultra riders, and I hope this helps you find your optimal solution. Feel free to contact me for further discussion of your specific issues.

Cheers,
JV

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Solo RAAM recumbent riders average MPH as a function of miles ridden

Solo RAAM recumbent riders average MPH as a function of miles ridden. 6/21/14 10:17:39 RAAM Time (EST)
  • Keep in mind that as you move right on the chart it takes a lot more speed to change your average just a little bit. There are 2 interesting ones to look at in the plot: MPs historic rampage through the women's field after having her follow vehicle and spare bikes destroyed by a texting driver, and BBs decline after the Mississippi.
  • Both DJ and Jac showing the typical overnight dip from sleeping. 
  • DJ still on pace for overall 60+ and bent records, and first US rider, and first rookie. Fighting to regain 6th overall from Stefan. He had a scrum with a resurgent Hoppo, but just put 12 miles on him.  
  • Jac still flirting with time cut offs. The next one is Mount Airy, MD, at 7:43 AM on 6/23. She must be above 9.714803 MPH there. She has to be above 9.7735 at the finish. 
  • Maria's uptick at the end is from the application of a 3 hour time credit from the time lost from having her follow vehicle hit and totaled outside Tuba City (the big downward spike after mile 500). 
  • I wonder what JS and TW were thinking looking at BB's time coming into Kansas. She really slowed towards the end. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

My first 24 hour race: 2012 Bike Sebring

Wow!  Where to start?  
Lets get the equipment information out of the way:
Bacchetta Carbon Aero 2.0 Large 700c, Euromesh seat with custom pad. No headrest.
Zipp Firecrest 808 front wheel, HED Jet9 C2 rear with a Wheelbuilder.com cover.
Vittoria Open Corsa Evo CX 320tpi tires, with Michelin latex tubes, broken in with 300 miles.  See Al Morrisons data for why I chose this combination.
SRAM 10s drivetrain
OK, no more plugs for a while.
I have never done very well at Sebring, at least in my own eyes.  I dropped out of the 12hr early on two occasions, once nutrition issues, then physical issues.  The one time I finished I was not in my right mind, and it was below freezing at the start.  Thats a shame, as its a really nice course, and by that I mean a fast one!  Plus the fact that Bacchettas headquarters is close by means tons of riders a supporters.  I was almost sad to be doing the 24 this years as I would miss the big party in the pits at night!  Alright, forget the almost part.  I made a bunch of important changes in my life a few months ago, and one side affect was the loss of about 15 pounds.  I was not in great shape at the time, but I had been riding.  My CTL was about 40. In 07 I set an UltraCycling 12 Hour Challenge total mileage record that still has not been topped.  Back then it was called the John Marino Challenge.  Kurt Searvogel, you have a good start to top 768 miles this year!  So, I thought that maybe this would be a good year to give the 24 a shot, and where better to start than Sebring?  My only previous rides through the night had been 2 26.5 hour 600Km brevets, so I had the confidence that I could keep going for 24 hours if I had too.  So I started a training cycle on 12/15 and made plans to travel.  Here we go!
Training went pretty well.  If you read my article on training for Ultras, you know I am a quality over quantity kind of guy.  I covered 775 miles in January.  Thats right, I average under 200 miles a week.  Some riders do that in one day prepping for an Ultra race!  At first it seemed my threshold workouts were a bit sub par, but then I realized it had been eons since I had done any hard work over my threshold.  Usually thats the kind of work I usually get from training races and hilly group rides.  I had not done much of that for a year and change.  I tried not to let it worry me.  My ability to ride hours of tempo seemed undiminished though!  That was good!  I stayed on a completely aerobic program until I got my CTL up to about 70, when I finally let myself do a few training races.  This was with 2 weeks left in my plan.  The first one hurt a lot and I did not do well.  The second one was a home run though.  Waiting until I had a solid aerobic base and a good CTL number before doing anaerobic work meant I responded very quickly to it, and recovered quickly enough to maintain the amount of tempo work I was doing on the weekends.  The last weekend of my training involved 2 very hard tempo rides back to back.  I took a chance and tried a new nutrition solution, you know, the stuff you put in your bottles.  Sara Kay Carrell had been raving about Infinit Nutrition and it sure seemed to work for her for 45 hrs straight on her record setting Furnace Creek 508 ride.  Id be happy with 24 hours!  Well, it worked really well!  So I tweaked the formula a bit and took a big chance on Sebring.
A big thank you to Dana at Bent Up Cycles, my ex boss, for helping with the plane ticket!  Rich Pinto picked me up at the Tampa Airport Wednesday night.  Rich pretty much invented the highracer style of recumbent that has been so successful in ultra events.  We started talking non stop as we had not seen each other in a few years.  Thursday I got to pick up the CA2.0 that John Schlitter had built for me, and put a few of my pieces on it.  He even made me a custom seat pad insert for my back, and did a few subtle things he knew only I would notice and appreciate.  Thanks John!  I threw on wheels, lights, RotorCranks, computer, camera, and bag.  Then Rich I were off to Costco to get food for his famous annual Sebring BBQ.  Its now a 2 night affair, Friday and Saturday.  Well on the way I notice some funniness in the trucks behavior and we start diagnosing it based on the symptoms, mostly thumping and smell.  We are both engineers, so this is inevitable.  Long story short, we did not leave for Sebring until 3pm the next day because the truck was getting new brakes!  That left me time for one loop around the 12 mile day loop to get my position fine tuned and check that everything was ready to go.  Of course, it rained on me most of the way.  This was good though, as I realized that the rain was not that cold, making it easier to dress for the next day.  I thought I remembered a hill at the far end of the day loop, but I seemed to have completely missed it.  This was a really good omen!  I got back to Chateau Elan, added a touch of recline to give me some more leg extension, lowered the bars a bit more for visibility, and set about making final plans.
Rich and I were staying in the Fangio suite, named for Juan Manuel Fangio, the greatest Formula 1 driver in history up until 10 years ago.  Another good omen.  I took  final look at the forecast and took a stab at clothing.  My plan was not to stop at all if I did not need to. So, as a hedge against the rain I wore an undershirt and a cap.  With the cap I can squint between the top of my glasses and the brim and see, no matter what is coming down.  I picked my tightest team jersey, as aerodynamics matter for clothing too.  Some white arm coolers, and new Garneau gloves I bought at registration.  I packed a light rain jacket in my bag too just in case.  Along with that went a spare tire, tubes, pump, tire irons.  The TSA took my CO2 cartridges!  We had a lot of Team Bacchetta visitors in the room, so I could distribute the prototype Surefire bike lights I had built up in the preceding week.  I got in bed at 10 and was asleep by 10:15.  That was really good!
I woke 5 minutes before my alarm at 5:55am.  Took my time getting dressed and getting all my bottles and mix to Rich.  I got to the startline just in time to check my timing transponder, and plop myself in the middle of the front row.  Boy it was foggy!  Not too cold though, good!  I turned on my video camera for the pre ride lecture, but I had to use the waterproof housing as rain was forecast, so there is no sound.  My teammate Kent pointed out Kurt Searvogel to me as we waited for the start signal.  I did not know Kurt at all, but he had voiced some pretty strong opinions about my training/coaching principles, so I winked and blew him a kiss.  It was hard to tell how he reacted in the dark.  When the start signal was given, I yelled YeeHaaa at the top of my lungs.  I did this so loudly in fact that I have no idea if anyone else did!  Well, once we were rolling the big problem became apparent.  We could not see diddly in the fog, and neither could the pace car driver who was to lead us for 3 laps and off the track.  I tried to stay in the front 5 riders to reduce the chance of hitting someone in the confusion.  I was doing that pretty well, leading in fact, right at the point that the pace car driver led me off the track and into the grass on the inside exit of turn one!  Would not have noticed except that I seemed to be slowing down and the ride got bumpier.  I got lucky that the ridge back onto the track was not sharp, and that I only lost a few spots in line.  This may have happened again, and to more people. The driver of the pace vehicle could not see any better than us!  At the point that we exited the track the driver did something else tricky.  He/she, did not drive the route we were to follow, instead parking in the grass just beyond it.  I clicked out of my pedals not knowing what was coming next, but made the right choice and led the whole way out the the main road.
Upon getting to the main road, there was a flag person, and traffic to be flagged, but with the visibility we were on our own. You can see on the video how close we all were, the flagman, the racers, and a big silver BMW.  No one got hit as far as I could tell.  We headed out of the track and up a grade.  I remember how hard this usually felt in previous years.  I was totally relaxed this time.
Doyce Johnson came to the front on his long wheelbase recumbent, with fairing and body sock.  It was hard for most of us to keep up with him.  Before the race my teammates had been concerned about the affects of the new 100 mile race, and how fast/aggressive those racers would want to go.  Was Doyce doing the 100?  Nope, the 12 hr.  Still, this was a new variable.  Could any of us hang with a faired bike for the duration?  Well eventually Doyce and I open up a gap on the rest of the group.  We rode through several traffic lights.  Police were stopping traffic and letting us go straight, even the last one.  About a mile after that last one, both Doyce and I got a bad feeling.  We hit the brakes, got off our bikes, jumped the median, and rode back from whence we came. As we got to the light, we could see the other racers being directed to our left, their right.  Oh well, maybe we did not look like the kind of bikers she was expecting, plus the fog.  So, here I am at the 18 mile point of the race and what have I done?  On one hand I felt like I had blown it right then and there.  On the other, well, whats the plan JV?  Thats right, keep riding!  Thus began Doyces and my chase of the front group.  We figure we lost 5 minutes or so.  But there are only 2 of us, against a pack of probably 20 at the front.  Only one goal at this point, catch them!  I remember passing Mark from Catrike and his buddy, and explaining why we were there.  There were a lot of riders to leap frog, which helped with the navigation.  Just follow em.
We caught a bigger group eventually, with teammate Allan Duhm.  He had a GPS.  The mans a genius I tell you!  We still had a few miscues, but only from not listening to Allan.  He gave me a list of the next few turns to memorize, and eventually Doyce and I got away from that group.  Doyce is a master bike handler by the way.  I swear he carried so much speed into a tight 90 degree right hander that his tires were sliding.  Scary, but he kept it up.  After this it was just lonesome me.  I started to remember the coarse more.  I finally thought to try and wipe the fog form my glasses too.  Holy cow!  Californians dont have very good fog skills I guess.  Now I could see the road markers!!  Duh!  I kept picking off riders.  I new after the right hander before the turnaround point that it was fast road, and that I should eventually see my prey and get a fix on them.  Well, I was only a minute out of the turn when I passed them going the other way.  Good, progress!!  I managed to remember the poker chip, turn without hitting the dirt, and get a fresh water bottle from Rich.  He later admitted wondering what I was doing so far back at that point.  OOoops.
So I keep passing folks..    and finally, out of the clearing fog, they appeared, a group too big to be anything but the front group.  A few minutes later I was in it, vowing to myself to be very lazy and focus on eating and resting for the rest of the century.  I thought I had just emptied most of my match book.  I was happy to see that none of my teammates were driving the pace at this point, maybe they had been thinking of me and wishing for my return.  Then one of my teammates says they had been trying to get away from the bunch.  I did not know what to think, but its hard to understand anyone at 25mph.  Based on what I was seeing, maybe he was talking about Kurt. Ah, Kurt!  Time to play.  He seems very powerful, but he has to move a huge amount of air out of the way.   and those silly looking support hose..    😉  He does a few attacks and gets a few gaps, so do I.  The second he gets on my wheel, I stop pedalling.  When he goes to the back of the bunch for something, I pull harder.  Playing, not serious playing though.  I wind up spending much more near the front than I planned.  I am also starting to notice teammate Jacquie Hafner.  She is taking the occasional pull just like the rest of us.  When she is in the group she is very quick to get on a wheel and close a gap.  Fantastic instincts.  As we neared the end of the century she was one of 2 women left in the front group.  Kent was looking good, but said his hamstring was annoying him.  It looked like the 12 hour would come down to Kurt, or 2 Austrians.  Given how much work Kurt was doing, and how cagey the Austrians were, I was betting on 2 to beat the one.  I still did not get just how strong Kurt was.
https://web.archive.org/web/20151018152827im_/http:/www.ultraracenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/20120218_038-1024x603.jpg
Here I am making Kurt chase me.  Look at him pushing all that air! and those funny socks.
https://web.archive.org/web/20151018152827im_/http:/www.ultraracenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/20120218_039-1024x768.jpg
Some has to teach me not to make silly faces at the camera!
So, we roll through the 100 mile mark at about 4:20.  Just about right for me, except for my empty matchbook, or so I thought.  The great thing that happened here is that most of the riders in the front group did not stop!  This usually breaks the front group into much smaller pieces.  Not this time.  It gets warmer.  I start proactively watering my arms and neck a few times a lap.  By the time you feel hot, its too late.  Somewhere in here I made it a point of telling the 12hr riders, all on DFs, that they were all in the 12hr race, and that we were all in the 24.  That meant that they could not expect us to be closing the gaps when one of them attacked.  Just after that, Uwe Brockman, one of my roomates, got dropped.  He had hung with us for most of the first 12 hours, despite being completely new to all of this, and on a not so aerodynamic Bacchetta.  We start lapping riders and they joined the group.  I found myself playing at the front a bit.  One time I wound up off the front with Jacquie, until John chased us down.  Told you she was attentive.  The 2 Austrians try the feeding zone attack a few times.  Smart.  Kurt and my teammates are still there though.  Later Kurt gets away and Kent goes with him.  I was OK with this as the gap was not very big.  Then I see that Kent is taking pulls!  This surprises me.  I did not have my powermeter set up right to follow the mileage, but I did not want to see one of us helping Kurt beat John Schlitters 12 hour course record.  So through the feed zone I launch after them, catch, and have a word with Kent.  There went my last match, right?  It does not take Kurt long to see that we are not being any help at all, and I cannot say he was happy about it.  He did understand the tactics of the situation, and he accepted his grim fate.  Gotta respect that.  Still, with us doing less than 5% of the work, he is pulling us away from the main group!  Wow!  At one point we passed Sara and I asked her to relay the message to the rest of the team that Kurt was doing all the work.  After enough of his pleading, and a bit of sympathy from us, Kent and I start doing a bit more work for him so he can rest.
Then something happened I did not expect.  We got to the turnoff to head north as I was about to take a pull.  It slopes down and rolls a bit there, and I just rode away from Kent and Kurt.  I was not pushing hard, its just a fast section of road.  I rode up to Tim Woudenberg and said hi.  Then continued on.  I expected they would catch me as I was not pushing hard.  As we got on the main road back to the track, I realized I was riding away from them.  I made sure I was going easy enough and just kept pedaling.  Through the feed zone I got a fix on where they were, and where the main group was.  I picked up another bottle from Rich and headed out for a solo lap.  Next time I came through the feed zone and exited, Kurt and Kent had been caught by the main group, and John was on the front pulling, and it did not look like things behind him were very tight.  Also, my gap to the main group was unchanged.  This is a drafting race, so I just assumed we would be drafting most of the night.  The only point in me continuing to ride alone was to get close to 10 minutes up on the pack before we hit the track.  At the peak of the gap it was only 2:20.  So a lap up did not look likely.  Plus, I really needed to go, if you know what I mean.  I also wanted to figure out why my left cleat was stuck to the pedal.  This was going to make my stop a bit tricky. Well, I took a few minutes off the bike for the first time.  Felt a lot better and managed to get my shoe free of the bike so I could put it back on.  Then I got back on the road and caught up with Sara who seemed to be going a lot faster than I thought.  We rode west until I saw the main bunch coming, at which point I wished her no more flats and rejoined.
Going onto the track at 5:30 is new to me, and caught me by surprise.  Luckily Rich was in just the right place with a bottle for me before we climbed the bridge over to the track.  Once on the track I make it a point of riding on or near the front as I wanted to learn all the turns and figure out the best lines up the straights as soon as possible, and before dark.  I also wanted to help get teammate Kristy Halvorsen another lap to add to her already clinched 12 hour record.  She has been riding for a total of 4 months.  In the words of Rich Pinto, unbelievable!  I was also hoping that my teammates would get a feel for the fast lines around the course.  Jacquie was definitely picking it up.  Quick learner.  Well, it turned out that Kristy pulled off realizing that we would not make it.  We would have needed an 8:20 lap I think.  I had just done an 8:36, and could have done 8:20, but I think only Jacquie would have been left on my wheel.  As we backed off, Sara uncorked a major sprint to finish out her 12 hour.  Congrats to Kurt for getting 271 in the 12hr, a new record!
We all calmed down a bit.  About 10 seconds before the pit on the next lap, John announces he is pitting and Jacquie says she will stay with him.  Its race lap 20 at this point.  I am not sure what Kent is doing, or how long this stop is going to be.  Johns stated goal before the race was to help get Jacquie get a new womens 24h drafting record, hopefully over 500 miles.  Mine was to get over 502.9 to top Chris Ragsdales drafting record.  I also did not plan on stopping more than absolutely necessary.  If folks like Sara Kay and Chris Ragsdale can ride for 45 hours straight, I could manage a measly 24, right?  Not knowing how long they where stopping, I kept riding steady as I could, cautious not to go to hard.  Kent must have stopped too, so I thought if it was a short stop, surely 3 of them will catch one of me.  Well I got into a rhythm, and Doug Morgan kept giving me bottles of Infinit.  Big thanks to Doug who I did not get a chance to thank post race!  A few laps later I dropped my sunglasses off for cleaning and rode bare eyed for a lap.  They surprised me with my clear lens glasses, but no mirror.  Riding at night with traffic I usually flip it out of the way anyway so I did not make a fuss.  This might not have been the best idea.  My feet also really started acting up, so I loosened my shoes about all I could. As I write this a week later, I am still waiting for feeling to return to the front of my left foot.
From lap 32 to 37 I rode with Kent, this was from 14:17 to 15:10 race time.  I got this from the lap times.  I had a chance to draft for a bit.  Kent is pretty smooth too so it was good.  Unfortunately his rear H3 bearing was seizing, so he went from taking even pulls with me to hanging on after a while.  Without the mirror I dont know when I dropped him.  He caught back on later, now much happier with a disc wheel on the back.  Cool!  Together we rode.
So, at lap 45, at about 16:23 race time, Kent and I caught John and Jacquie.  Now I had discovered with Kent that if he had his brights on (Surefire lights have a remote switch and 2 levels of light) and peaked inside me on corners in an attempt to light of the road better, all it did was give me peripheral glare and keep me from seeing the apex.  Well John did it too, and I asked him not to as well.  I thought it was just me with this issue, but it should have dawned on me that even though they did not say it, it was bad for John and Jacquie too.  Sadly I gave them the good cables, mine was a damaged one.  I had no dim.  I figured I would be OK with my the extra 2 cells in my battery pack.  Well I was, but in retrospect I think the 2 of them swerved the most in the corners when I was behind them.  When I was pulling I kept on pulling away and without a mirror it was hard to know when.  With all the chaos in the corners, there was a lot of acceleration out of them, which was really starting to kill me feet.  John was also picking up the power when the wind hit on the back straight.  The key to my speed had been keeping power very steady and shifting down for the wind.  To top it off, Jacquie would ride away from us every time she got to the front.  One of here hardest surges dropped Kent, again.  She is really very strong.  I wonder if the 2 of them might go faster if she took longer pulls than at Sebring.  She is an amazing talent.  So I was with them until 18:44 race time, lap 57. For the last half of our time together I was just drafting and trying to save my feet.  I figured if I did not I would get dropped like Kent.  On lap 57 I wound up at the front pulling anyway, and all I could muster at the time, 120 measly watts.  I did that for 3 straight laps, expecting John and Jacquie to ride by at anytime.  It did not happen.
After that I was able to start picking it up.  Good, but carefully.  The whole night I was passing people and saying hi to those I knew, and a few I did not.  I was really happy to have such an amazing head light.  I saw a lot of riders slowing and struggling to find the apex of corners.  I saw riders exit corners and not know the straight line to the next turn in point.  I had my light aimed straight ahead so that these were non issues for me.  I think riders I was passing also knew I was coming.  My apologies to anyone who got blinded by peripheral glare.  Next time I will have a working remote cable.  I started looking at my watch too.  I was looking to see just how long I had to keep this up.  I kept looking more often too.  Sometime past midnight, Rich abandons his grill and starts giving me times to John and Jacquie.  At one point I think he said 3 minutes.  It was then that I stopped to dehydrate a bit.  I was thinking it was better with me riding alone anyway, so why catch them sooner than I need to.  That was my second stop of the ride.  I had to leave my shoe on the bike again as it was stuck.  Next time through, Rich says 525, which I assumes meant I had taken a 2:25 stop.  Later I learned thats not what he meant, at all.  Sometime later I remember the words overall course record.  I figure its late at night and he is confused.  He might mean Jim Kerns 516 mile RAAM Q number, but maybe he doesnt remember Dennis Grelks 522 in the Barracuda.  Who knows which he means.  Ill be happy with 503.  Still his words and tone are motivating.  So I try to pick it up some more.  Looking back, that must have been around 470 miles.
As I came up on John and Jacquie again, I resolved to ride right by if I could, as we had not been a very good combination for each other last time.  Unfortunately I killed myself doing this.  That was about mile 500 with a bit over an hour left.  My lap speed dropped from 22 down to 20.  If I had only stayed in more control of myself..       Now it was just a matter of doing what I could, grabbing my last bottle, and keeping an eye on the clock to see if it was going to be close on my last lap.  When I figured there was no way for me to pull of an extra one, I came through the pits and gave everyone in reach a high five.  That was really fun.  The pits looked so pretty with the lights.  I went straight to the hotel, very sadly missing awards.  I am told Rich stood in for me with pride!
Not once did I feel like I was falling asleep.  Probably the glutamine in the Infinit.  I had Hammer Espresso with me and took 2 small tastes, but no more.  There was no caffeine in my Infinit mix either.
From the data I looks like Jacquie and John may have made a few more short stops.  When riding we were almost the same speed, just different pacing strategies and my light issue made us incompatible.
Sara calls her steady pacing self Steady Betty.  Am I Steady Freddy?  This is the first time I am proud to be a Fred!
Shoulda coulda woulda racing says we all could have had another lap or 3.  I know where I messed up a bit.  Adding it up, I spent more than half the race by myself.  Given that, there is value to more even pacing than you get with the drafting bunch.  Next time if I go it will be for the RAAM Q.  But its a long race, and a year away.  Lots can change.
Really happy for Maria Parker setting a new RAAM Q record in her first 24.  She went a bit farther than we thought!  As her coach I am glad for her and for me, as this is a small vindication (2 data points) of the quality over quantity approach to ultra training that I wrote about.  Her training was a very close mirror to mine in all respects, except for 2 things: I did not have time for the recovery rides, so she got a few more miles in.  I also did training races instead of structured intervals at then end of the build.  Congrats Maria, you did it!!
It was not until over an hour after the finish, trying to get some food down in the hotel restaurant, that I got the number.  I honestly did not believe it until I had 2 friends confirm it.  Then I got goose bumps and a bit teary for a while.  Holy crap!  Yeah, it was pretty fast weather, and a pretty fast 12hr group, and I had the best nutrition ever on the bike, and a really fast bike, and very close to my best fitness ever.  Thanks again to teammates Jacquie HafnerJohn SchlitterKent Polk, Doug Morgan, and Allan Duhm.  A big thanks to Ann and Rich Pinto for treating me like their long lost son for a long weekend.  Thanks to Sara Kay Carrell for helping me get my mind right.  Without that I would not even have been at Sebring, or have accomplished a lot of other amazing things in the last 4 months.  The world is looking so much brighter for me.  This race was just one sign of it, and what a race it was!



https://vimeo.com/37434121

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Yellow Labrador on the 2011 Furnace Creek 508, Sara Kay Carrell sets the mark!

It was sometime in May that Sara Kay asked me if I or anyone I knew on the left coast was up for crewing for her on the Furnace Creek 508. I think it was via Twitter. For those that don't know about the 508 its a 509.5 mile supported ultra race with a lot of climbing in it. If she pulled it off she would be the first woman to compete it solo on a recumbent. I knew if SK was going to try, it was because she was ready to pull it off. She is the master of showing up prepared. How could I say no?
Now, I had crewed once before on the 508, and that did not end well. Something about a rider in cleats running across the desert in chase of a flying $3600 wheel that the 40mph wind decided belonged much farther north.......
Somewhere in here she asked if I would be crew chief. You know, with these races, the racer foots the bill, and puts in much more work that the rest of us just training. So in the end, you know who is really the cheif. But still you need someone in the van to carry out her wishes and make sure she gets what she needs. I was quick to say yes. My ego told me, and SK, that I'd be great. ;-) The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that I was new to this. Luckily I found a crew member with a lot more experience than I at that position. When I put a call out on the local Randonneuring mail list for crew, Ron Smith Jr. replied with,"Pick me! Pick Me!" Ron has been chief for I think 7 different teams over the years, including RAAM. Thank you Ron! Thank you Ron! Greg Raven was our newbie crew member.
Our totem was to be Yellow Labrador, in honor of Moonlight (SKs Lab). Moonlight chose his human very well. SK put one of my mottos on the van graphic with Moonlights image: Plan, Prepare, Execute, Conquer!
There is definitely some work involved in prepping a van for ultra race support. My preparation work for the 508 has been mixed. In 07 with Mike Wolfe (totem Mussel), I got the van, build the cot, installed the hitch and rack, got bins, and when the rest of the guys showed up, we go it all together. SK helped with the cot design and buildin'. In 09 with David Bradley (totem Raven Lunatics), David had done all the work to his van before he left home. No work at all for Anthony, Sabrina and I! I felt a bit uneasy, and like a slacker, at first. But once I saw it was really all set, I slept like a baby. In 2010 with Puca Fairies, I don't remember doing a lot either.
Well Sara shows the Wednesday before the race with the van almost ready to go. Everything is labeled, and I mean everything. Spares too, and the spares for the spares, and I get a detailed tour so I know where all of it is. I try my best to remember it all. Most well prepared vans for this race have either radios for 2 way communication with the rider, or a PA system with music and a mic for one way. So what does Sara have? Of course, both! The mic for her radio she keeps pinned on her chest so she can grab it and talk anytime. We got a charger for all the batteries too, and spares for the radios, and instructions that when her battery died we needed to take the unit from her, swap the one short antenna, and just put it on a radio with a fully charged battery. Now the speaker setup is something I am not sure had ever been tried before. Some of the cheap PA speakers are useless due to sound quality. The one I tried to listen too on RAAM was! Cheap wood speakers usually come apart if it rains. SK brings high quality waterproof outdoor speakers, from a ski boat I think. Next is where to mount them. Most put them on the roof, and that makes it hard for the crew to sleep. Some put them on the hood, better but ugly and not pointed easily. SK had removed the emblem from the grill and welded and mounted the equivalent of a receiver hitch to the front bumper reinforcement. It sticks straight out the front of the grill by a few inches. To this she attached the big T that holds the speakers. Right at ear level for her, we can't hear them unless we go slow and roll down the windows, and easy to remove. Wow! I think this is the template for the future, assuming your vehicle will accept it. SK engineering! Innovative, elegant, reversible, and functional. http://a5.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/318621_160937497330191_100002418243571_317117_1312840969_n.jpg
OK, she had to get the roof rack on for the spare wheels. I busied myself with giving both bikes (CA2.0s) a good looking over. She had a few complaints, and I think I hit most of them. We tweaked her arm position on both bikes to relax her arms a bit. No messing with leg position at all so close to the event. She’s got a set of knees that seem gravitationally attracted to the right side of the road.
We all got together got to tech inspection at noon on Friday. Hooked up with Ron, and Greg. Passed with flying colors after SK got some reflecto tape on her spare helmet. Got groceries done before the Big Feast with 5 or 6 other teams at the Olive Garden. Always a good time. Lots of excited faces. We all got our crew T-shirts! We had to show Chris Kostman, the race director, what it looked like to get his reaction. He took Pics!
We got back to my place after the shortest ever 508 pre race meeting. 8 or so I think. Thanks Chris!! Final prep work. SK starts giving the rest of the crew the full van tour and it occurs to me that if I was racing the next day I'd want to have a peaceful evening and take care of my own stuff. SK agreed I tried to remember where everything was. We all got to bed at a reasonable time.
In the morning we had to get up early for the drive to the start. SK cooked up a big pot of oatmeal with fruit. Crew did the final loading. ........and SK had an extra big smile on her face. She had slept well and was really excited to race! Great way to start the race! Forecast was for 50-80 degrees and not too much wind. The temperature projections we had some faith in, but not the wind. Not in Death Valley!
Got to the start and dealt with the crowd of riders and vehicles and wished the other teams well. It was cool but not bad, 50s. We have to leave before the riders and get to the first feed zone. So SK had a tire and tube and a pump, and the 4 pound steel tire levers it takes to get a GP4000 off a Zipp 404! We drove up to the feed zone. Watched the racers go by. JS and Tim looked to be racing each other pretty hard so early on. Weird. After a time we started looking for SK. Well after 15 minuntes had passed since the last rider, we started to get a bit concerned. Could she have flatted, or crashed, or worse? Well, SK has the most self-control and pacing sense out there. Steady Betty she calls it. The vast majority of riders go out way too hard on these events. Not Sara. I don't know if she was watching the power meter or just going on feel. She radioed us once she was close and we had everything she needed ready for a no stop feed. Here she is just after the feed zone. http://yfrog.com/kkqavuyj
Somewhere thereafter I messed up on navigation. I did not read the laptop right and I thought we had the route book up front. Oooops, it was still in back. The cost us a few minutes. SK was completely un-phased. I decided right then that I needed to try to sleep. If I can mess up on a course as simple as the 508.....     Ron moved to navigation and Greg kept driving. Sara was riding steady as ever up the windmill climb and to Time Station 1 (TS1), California City:
I think we crossed the tracks just before that train. Crew was doing a great job keeping SK fueled. Somewhere in here we started passing other teams. Steady Betty in action! Somewhere in here I had a look at the log sheet and realized she had been very low on caloric intake for the first 3 or 4 hours. She started eating a bit more.
On the first day of the 508 the van cannot follow the rider and hand them stuff from the vehicle. We do leapfrog support and hand stuff to her, on climbs when speed is lowest, from the roadside. With the radios, this went very well. At the top of the Randsburg climb we fueled as we needed to be in following Sara at 6pm sharp, night rules. If we refueled at night Sara would have to stop too, and that costs time. Good thing we did as we had to go into night mode a mile or 2 outside TS2, Trona. Now we could just hand her stuff from the car. It was now that SK efficient planning really kicked in. We kept the feeds for the vehicle to a minimum, as they can be tricky when we all get fatigued. SK stays hydrated well, and when I say well, I mean more than her bladder can store for too long. With the radio she would let us know what she needed, stop, pee, and be on the way again. Very little time off the bike, and maximizing what got done when she had to stop anyway.
Here she is leaving Trona:
Townes Pass was difficult. It’s a 4000' climb at 7-8% I think. To make it worse, even on a calm day, there is a swirling wind that bounces off all the rock formations and changes directions every few second.  You struggle to keep the bike straight. Sara still had her trusty Zipp 404 on the front, as I did the one time I climbed it. Any aero front wheel makes it a bit more work staying on the road. SK got to the top and grabbed a lot of clothes. It’s easy to freeze after climbing and getting sweaty, and then descending for 20 minutes at 40-50mph. Yes, even though it was the middle of the first night, she descended most of it at that speed. I think she topped 50 a few times! Ron, being the most experienced follow driver, followed her down. As we got near the bottom and she had to stop and take all those clothes off. At 200' below sea level, it was still about 70F. At Furnace creek we all had to pee!
I think the sun came up somewhere past Badwater. Through one night and not a moment of rest for SK. No sleep. She just kept pedaling! Like the energizer bunny! ....and she was still smiling. I remember we found some toilets down a dirt road near Ashford Mills. Then started Jubilee and Salsburg Passes. They are really one climb, the second biggest in the race. I can't remember why, and maybe it was just me, but we all seemed really happy going up these two. The sun was up on a beautiful day, we were keeping fed, and SK was motivating herself and the rest of us. We even started to think about finishing times. SK was not, she was just riding her pace. Very smart. Ron and I were thinking 43 to 45 hours I think.
....and so it was through Shoshone, over Ibex Summit and on to Baker.
Coming into Baker we left SK to execute an excellent pit stop. We got to Baker, dropped Ron off at the Greek for to get us all some food, then he would verify they got SKs time as she passed the time station, then he would walk over to the gas station where I was refueling and Greg was grabbing more ice and water. It went like clockwork! We caught up with SK about 2 miles outside Baker. We were enjoying warm fresh meals, and SK was still at it, smiling and pedaling.
How many hours on the bike at this point? 33? ....and we were headed to the dreaded boulderseal section of the 508. The upper section of the Baker Grade. This is the nastiest section of pavement you have ever seen, and there is no smooth line through it. Luckily SKs digestive tract is bulletproof, so she survived it. It was really pretty on top as the sun was setting on the second night. She took 10 minutes to just sit in the back of the van this pee stop, put on a few more clothes, and we were off to Kelso.
The climb up the Kelso grade is tougher and undulating. At one pee stop we ran into a Scottish couple out cheering for the racers in the night. By this time I was pretty much assuming she'd need to stop for sleep. It was the second night after all. Not yet! Still going. I started to spend more time on the radio, talking with her. To gauge how she was functioning mentally, to keep her occupied and awake. ....and she just kept pedaling!
On the descent into Amboy, I remember seeing her arms start shaking, and the front wheel with them. Cold. She was not taking any chances with holes and dips in the road either, keeping speeds under 30 most of the time. We all enjoyed the fresh pavement in Amboy. As she crested the climb up to Sheephole, we had a few cleat issues and did a few shoe swaps to get it all sorted. Just after that was done with, SK spots a target ahead, another team to pass. No time for sleep now!! After the pass she asked a few times how close they were. I told her not to worry about them as they were disappearing fast.   ......and gave her a new target, finishing in under 45 hours! Well I did not think she was going too, but she did it with 4 minutes to spare!! There is now a female solo bent record!
I have crewed at night at Sebring a few times for the 24 hr racers, and ridden a few 600K brevets with others, and never have I seen a rider so consistently focused, positive, and just plain steady for close to 2 straight days, without sleep. Always smiling and thinking about what she needed at the next stop. Most rider eventually let the cadence drop a bit as they get fatigued. Not SK. Nothing could phase her.  .....she just kept pedaling!