Tough Times at the Temecula Twelve Hour
This last weekend I was able to jump into the 12 hour mountain bike race in Temecula and join some friends for some hot laps in the dirt. Looking at my results I would think I had an expected outcome as far as the amount of laps I got in but just getting through this race was one of the most difficult experiences for me. It felt like I had to gut-it-out during every minute of the race and it is just starting to become clear in my head why I had such a tough time…although getting home and realizing that I peed for the first time in over 17 hours and then finding half of my calorie bottles were never touched offered some good insight too. I guess I assumed that I would have the basics of racing and nutrition dialed in by now but I made some mistakes that ended up costing me boat loads of suffering. Not exactly the type of mental mojo I wanted to spend in January and this race was a far cry from my normal “I was just lost in having fun” time on the trail. This one left a mark…IT HURT!
Although I made this race a lot harder than I needed to I could not have asked for a better environment. The weather was perfect, the trails were in perfect gnarly condition with the recent rains and the work that SoCal Endurance has put into the course and I had plenty of really cool friends at the race. In addition to the local dream crushers racing in everything from 6 & 12 hour solo categories to 2, 3, 4, 5 person teams, we had Amber and Gary join us from out of town and I was pretty excited getting started with so many good friends around.
Right before the start I rode around for about ten minutes to get my blood flowing and warm up my legs a bit. I knew it would be a quick start with the parade lap on the campground road to jockey for positions before we hit the single track and I wanted to get some blood in my legs before we stared. Before I knew it everyone was lining up at the start line and I just jumped in close to the front. I realized then I forgot to put on sunscreen, forgot to grab any food or a bottle with calories. I had nothing in my pockets and only half a bottle of water on my bike. I figured that I would just stop after the first lap and grab a calorie bottle because I didn’t want to miss the start. What I didn’t realize then was that was the last time I would feel good all day. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 . . . suffer.
In the hustle and craze of lap one I managed to stay out ahead of the crashes…something I learned from the last time I did this race. Putting in the extra effort on the first lap was worth it. At least I learned something from last time! However, when I came back to the transition area after I was still too caught up in “the race” and worried about getting behind someone slow before the next single track so I rode right past our tent without grabbing a bottle or any calories. Mistake #1 grew A LOT bigger. I had also just received my new Endurance Corner winter kit in the mail and I was excited to wear it at the race. Perfect for cooler temps because it has built in knee warmers and a felt lined long sleeve jersey that I wore over a normal short sleeve jersey. Not the best thing to wear when temps were quickly creeping onto the low 80’s with my heart rate in the 160’s and half a bottle of water for two laps. Quite the kickstart to dehydration.
I realized I needed to ditch my long sleeve jersey, get some water and calories but what I did not realize is just how behind I already was getting. I stopped before the third lap to take off one jersey and grab a bottle of Vitargo for some calories. Realizing I made a mistake I just focused on keeping my pace and I knew I would need to work the next two or three laps to try and get back to par with my nutrition. That is about when mistake #2 started to surface. Specific preparation for the race. I had one solid day of climbing two weeks out from the race (about the time I decided to sign up for it) and thought I would be good to go for 12 hours of mountain biking. The last few months I have been on my mountain bike very little and the day of climbing was all on smooth fire roads. My legs felt fine and my lungs were ready to rock all day but the bump and grind muscles of mountain biking had all but disappeared from my body with the lack of MOUNTAIN bike riding last year. I could fake it for a few hours but soon I started to feel like someone had beat me with a cane across my kidneys a few times…and several times to my crotch. My shoulders and triceps were giving out and I was already riding sections with my forearms on the handlebars to try and rest my arms. Damage control.
On my fourth lap, when I was on a non-technical part of the trail with nobody in front of me or behind me, I crashed. After a few close calls earlier in the lap my front tire slid out and I took a bad digger to my left hip. Looking back, I may have been feeling the effects of specific fatigue , dehydration or lack of calories but either way it further complicated my mistakes. Now I had focused pain and a reason to drop out. Drop out? I heard the words race through my mind and excuses started lining up behind it pushing into my vision. I had a real issue now with my hip swelling and got pretty shaken up after the crash. I pulled into our tent after the lap and was in a bad funk now off my bike and in the grass spinning and in some deep pain. What was going on? I had a probar in hand but I could not eat it. My mouth was dry and I have never had that feeling before. I was not sure if I was going to puke or pass out but my hip kept grabbing at my attention. It was already starting to swell pretty bad and I had some serious pain the more I put pressure on the pedals. It sounds so simple now but I was at a complete loss at the time and having a hard time just functioning. I did not even think I was dehydrated and I was only concerned with my hip and I was trying to recall if I hit my head when I crashed.
Last year, I had completed the 30 days of running and I decided to give it a go again this January. In the attempt to stay balanced and because of the easy of training out of our new pad, I also starting shooting for 30 swims and 30 rides for the month. 30/30/30 in 30. A path to consistency or road to destruction? That was planned before I jumped into this race and was carrying about 18 sessions of each sport into the race for the month. That was heavy on my mind! Was I overtrained? Did I take enough time off after last year?
Why am I bringing all of this up?
I had plenty of reasons…excuses to drop out of the race. I had a continual stream of ammo to talk myself into why the easy way would have been to explain that I made some mistakes, crashed and it was just not my day. Let me be clear. It was not my day! My back was still sore from moving furniture and now I felt like I got hit by a truck, this was not a priority race for me and I already had a solid day of training from it. Why dig a bigger hole? Was it my ego that wanted me to drop out instead of pulling slow laps slogging along for 12 hours? I was not learning anything new from this race and the ratio of training to physical/mental damage was not looking good. It is funny how you cannot see this from the outside and I thought I would be good at mental toughness like this but I was not sure if it was best to call it quits. I was too far behind on calories and dehydrated and I had a real issue with my hip…the negotiation in my head was endless.
I had to be honest with myself about what my fear was for either dropping out or continuing to race. The only real valid fear about continuing was the swelling in my hip and it felt like it was manageable and I was not going to make it worse by continuing. My reasons, if I was honest with myself, around dropping out had more to do with me not having a good day and struggling just to complete every lap. It sounds so trivial now but it was overwhelming at the time. This was my first race I signed up in the pro field and I was having a less than stellar performance. I had to be honest and check my ego. Was I willing to continue even if I had to walk every hill? I have had hard times in races before when the “fun” slips quietly away and there are moments of suffering. In most of my races I have been very lucky and I have not had to deal with suffering because it is usually “my day” and I am honestly just have a lot of fun. If there is suffering it comes and goes and it usually at the end of the race when the finish line is in sight. This time it started VERY early and I was in a battle the entire time to find reasons to keep on keeping on. Nobody cared if I stopped, if I pulled the plug or DNF’d. A few people were even encouraging me to do so but the guy behind the handle bars was the only one who could see the entire story. I did not have an excuse. Did I think it was going to be easy? No, but I didn’t want to start the suffering this early but sometimes you just need to put our head down and do work. If I dropped out just because I was not having fun it would be that much easier to do it next time too. That was enough me get back up.
I had to accept the mistakes that I had made and realize they were mistakes but they did not have to be excuses. There is always an excuse to stop…but there is also always one to keep going. Maybe there was something to learn from this race.
The next few laps I started stopping at the aid station and drinking 3-4 cups of water and making sure I could take in more food and Vitargo in my bottles. Everything became a blur for the rest of the race. I let go of trying to keep a pace and moved into what I needed to do in order to JUST KEEP MOVING. I started breaking each lap into the three major climbs, bushes along the climb, looking for the night to fall and then counting the last few hours. I lost count of counting laps and made sure I never got off my bike when I came into transition again so I would not stop. Put your head down and turn the crank around. The hills kept me going harder than I wanted to on the climbs that that is the thing with mountain biking. There is no easy way!
I remember getting in on my 2nd to last lap only to find I had another 90 minutes left and knew I could fit in another lap. As I rode out I saw everyone dressed in normal clothes with beanies on and WARM. Ah, shooott… I put my head down and headed into the dark of night for one last lap. I almost turned around three times during that lap but I did not and it was the most meaningful lap to me because I got to that lap and finished it. Just keep moving and you will always do more work than you thought that you could. It may not always be fun but you can get it done. I ended up doing 13 laps and because of the hills I kept on the power to average 211 watts for the 11+ hours of riding. Not bad considering that my average power for Kona was 215 watts for about 5 hours but it was clear there would be no running after this ride. I placed 4th in the pro category and I would have won the expert but I am glad that I stepped it up. I am most proud that I got to lap 13. Slater beat Slater. It was an absolute struggle but I took my fears into the light, kept to my commitment to finish and got it done. DONE!
After trying to talk with a few people after the race I realized what kind of shape I was in. Shelled! I spent a good amount of time in the car trying to eat and not pass out. If I have a problem eating I know something is wrong! My friends helped pack up our tents and Paul like always fixed me up with some recovery goods. Whatever he gave me started kicking in right about the time we got to the awards. I was so happy to finish and get into some warm clothes!