2013 Hoodoo 500 Race Report


Where to begin. In the 15 months since I finished RAAM, a lot has happened, and in a way that likely only other RAAM riders can understand, I’ve struggled with “what’s next”. RAAM was an incredible journey – incredibly difficult, somewhat less “satisfying” than I’d expected in some regards, but so incredibly special and unforgettable in other ways that I hadn’t expected either. I just have to think back to some of the many incredible experiences such as meeting 11 year old Lauryn in Camdenton, Missouri to make me want to leap off my chair and go sign up again. But there are other times that I’m tempted to steer clear of RAAM like it was the plague when I remember the incredible physical pain and suffering that I endured, the nightmarish hell of losing my mental faculties and struggling to stay awake, and the act of slowly being mentally and emotionally torn down, layer by layer, until all that was left was an animal, fighting for survival, lashing out at those around me. I saw parts of myself that frankly scared me. I came face to face with my own weaknesses and inner demons in a way that I’d never experienced before. And therein lies the dilemma – I do feel that I learned so much from RAAM that I should be able to go back and do much better (in fact I feel that I owe it to myself and my crew to do so – to redeem myself), but I also feel that having already finished it once, I may not have that undying motivation to tough it out again – I might succumb to my own weakness, especially now that I’m more familiar with it and have come face to face with it. Also, I tend to have difficultly going back and doing the same events over and over again – for me part of the draw of an event is conquering something new.

Then there’s been the uncertainty about whether physically I could even do it again – I’ve struggled since RAAM to find my endurance again – I think that I crossed that line into overtraining after RAAM, and continued to dig myself into a deeper and deeper hole. I was no longer enjoying riding – I’d go out and almost immediately feel fatigued and weary – I’d lost my spark, my motivation – riding was becoming a chore rather than a passion. I decided to start focusing on some other activities – take a down year from cycling. I started hiking more, and playing volleyball again for the first time in 10 years. Mike and I were planning some big mountaineering trips – Mt Shasta, Mt Whitney, Mont Blanc. Then in February I tore my calf muscle while playing volleyball and all that came to a crashing halt. I was on crutches for a couple weeks, and could barely walk for over a month. The irony in it all was that the one activity that I could do without aggravating the injury too much was cycling… So my year of focusing on stuff other than the bike suddenly changed back to a year of focusing on cycling.

One of my RAAM crew members, Alan, loaned me a book (and a power meter) just before I got injured. The book was “Base Building for Cyclists” by Thomas Chapple. I read it cover to cover while I was laid up unable to walk due to my injury. Then I found out that Thomas was local, and he coached cyclists, and a cycling acquaintance put me in touch with him. He said he was interested in coaching a RAAM athlete, and I got a good sense about his coaching philosophy and strategy from reading his book, so I decided to give it a whirl and see if he could get me back on track and out of the funk that I was in. Looking at the calendar I earmarked Hoodoo 500 in September as a litmus test to evaluate whether I was out of the funk and whether I did in fact want to go back to RAAM.

In the months that followed, I drastically changed the way that I rode. I learned to ride with a power meter and try to ride at a consistent power output rather than varying widely based on terrain. I learned how to hold back on the hills and not overextend myself, and how to push a little harder on the flats and downhills rather than just coast along. I also dramatically changed my pedaling style by increasing my cadence quite significantly, because riding at a higher cadence allows you to generate more power with less force, which is key for endurance events where you want to recruit slow twitch muscles rather than fast twitch muscles (which yes, sounds a bit confusing when you realize that a faster cadence uses more slow twitch muscles and a slower cadence uses more fast twitch muscles if you’re generating the same power). Anyway, I basically started from scratch all over again, easing into the riding again, only doing shorter rides without too much intensity so as to rebuild that base and not plunge myself back into overtraining syndrome.

In February I only rode 174 miles total due to the injury. In March I only rode 247 miles, April we bumped it up to 517 miles, May was up to 709 miles, June was 875 miles – but still my longest ride was only about 80 miles. Knowing that Hoodoo was only 2.5 months out, of course there was a voice in the back of my head wondering if I was going to be ready, but I trusted my coach.

In July Mike and I took a whirlwind trip to the east coast and then to Europe. We did the Newton’s Revenge bike race up Mt Washington in New Hampshire – rated as the most difficult climb by bike in the USA (and it didn’t disappoint – climbing over 4600 feet in a little over 7 miles, with 60mph wind gusts and heavy fog/mist at the top!).

Then we rode in Acadia National Park in Maine, and in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in Canada.

Then it was over the pond to the famous European climbs, where we banged out climbs like the Hautacam and Luz Ardiden in the Pyrenees; Mont Ventoux (x2); Alpe d’Huez, Col du Lautaret and Col du Galibier in the French Alps; Passo di Stelvio and Passo Gavia in the Italian Alps; and Tre Chime and Passo di Giau in the Dolomites. We were in awe of the beautiful scenery, and thoroughly enjoyed getting away and getting to ride in some new, inspiring places with such a rich and vibrant cycling history.

We even got to pop into Slovenia for a day and ride with Marko Baloh and his wife Irma – Marko is one of the best ultra cyclists in the world, but is also one of the humblest and nicest people that you’ll meet – on or off the bike.

We got back from Europe at the end of July, and the focus for August became ramping up the mileage – and that we did! In the month of August I banged out 1757 miles – my highest volume training month ever outside of doing RAAM itself. My longest weekend was 400 miles – 220 miles on Saturday and 180 miles on Sunday. I once again did battle with my dreaded foe called sleepiness (and had to take a nap outside of Roberts Market in Woodside on one occasion). As I struggled to deal with some cysts I battled another familiar foe called butt pain. I did however get a lift in my motivation when Bicycle Brustop came on board as a sponsor and I got a new bike – a Giant Avail Advanced SL 1 – complete with Di2 electronic shifting (which lead to the name “Wall-E” because the noise that the electronic shifting makes reminded me of a robot).

I immediately noticed a difference in the responsiveness and handling of the bike, as well as the compliance on rougher road surfaces. I was in new bike heaven! As August came to a close we headed to the Eastern Sierras over the Labor Day long weekend so that I could do some riding at altitude. I did climbs up Horseshoe Meadows, Whitney Portal, South Lake, Lake Sabrina, Sherwin Summit, and Dead Man’s Pass. This was 2 weeks before Hoodoo, and I was definitely feeling the fatigue in my legs.

The big question now was whether or not I’d be recovered in time for the race. I knew that we’d gambled a bit in this regard since this was my coach’s first time preparing me for a race like this, and so we didn’t really know for certain how I’d respond. With endurance events it’s a delicate balance of recovering but also not loosing too much fitness in the process. In hind sight, we probably crossed that line slightly too aggressively and perhaps I needed a bit more recovery, but doing so provided some good data to go off of in the future.

The week leading up to the race was not without stress – in fact it had more than its fair share of it, and it was impacting my sleep and I was experiencing headaches, very unusual for me. Suffice it to say that all of this unnecessary stress was not beneficial, but at least I knew that I had a rock star crew ready to help me get through the race! Because I was using Hoodoo as a bit of a litmus test to decide about RAAM 2014, we were trying to use it as an opportunity to work with some potential crew members, as well as train some rookie crew members. So rather than just use 1 vehicle with 3 crew, we were going to use 2 vehicles with 6 crew. Unfortunately one crew member had to pull out at the last minute due to a family emergency, so that put us down to 5 crew, only one of whom was a rookie. Brooke was the rookie, and she was flying in from Richmond, Virginia. She’s a massage therapist, and had heard about RAAM from one of her massage instructors who’s crewed several RAAMs. She was really enthusiastic and excited about trying her hand at crewing, and was a great addition to the crew! I’d never had the luxury of having a massage therapist or PT along on any of my previous races except for RAAM, and there were definitely a couple of times when it was really nice to be able to have Brooke help me out by working on my neck, shoulders, and low back when they were giving me problems. The other 4 crew members were all seasoned veterans – Bill & Kathryn have crewed several RAAMs and countless Furnace Creek 508s, Jackson has crewed 2 RAAMs, and Mike has crewed all but one of my ultra races. With the depth of experience on my crew, I knew that I was in good hands!

The Race

Pre-race activities went off fairly smoothly, and before I knew it race morning arrived. The race started with a neutral start where all riders were supposed to stay together. Unfortunately the race starts climbing immediately, and trying to stay with the group as they charged up the hills in St George forced me outside of my game plan in terms of what power I was going to ride at. Only a couple of the riders were capable of sustaining that kind of power for the duration of the race (many riders, especially rookies, tend to make the mistake of going out too hard in ultras), so it was a bit frustrating having to get sucked into riding their pace rather than my own. I was very happy when we got to the end of the neutral start and I was able to let everyone else drop me so that I could settle into my own race. The goal was to keep my power between 100 and 150 watts for the first 8-12 hours. This is the low/mid range of my zone 2 (which is 100-175 watts). Of course this felt pretty easy at the start – especially when climbing since my legs were fresh so it was easy to creep up into upper zone 2 and low zone 3, but I tried to really stick to the game plan.

At about the 19 mile mark of the race I reconnected with my crew (there was no support allowed until this point). I was using a new crew/rider communication system – Cardo BK-1, which is a bluetooth communication and entertainment system for cyclists. The speakers and microphone attach to your helmet and do not go into your ears directly, so it’s much nicer than having something stuck in your ear that obscures other sounds that you should hear for situational awareness. The unit provides intercom communication between units, as well as bluetooth connectivity to mobile phones and music players, so it’s a very versatile system! Given that Hoodoo doesn’t allow for any external PAs or sound amplification, having the Cardo BK-1 units made communicating with my crew much easier. As I came within sight of them, either of us could open a channel and then I could let them know what I needed so that they could get it ready for me, and likewise they could pass information on to me as well.

After the climb out of Hurricane there’s a flatter more rolling section, and I got comfortable in the aerobars and just focused on trying to relax, breathe, and eat/drink. There was a bit of a headwind, but nothing too bad. I didn’t expect to see any other riders for a very long time, but by the time we got to the Arizona border around mile 50 I had riders in my sight. I still just kept to my game plan cruising along at about 130-140 watts. The first rider I caught up to was Karen Dee Williams, one of the 2 other women in the race. She seemed to be just taking it super easy when I passed her and we exchanged encouragement. She looked like a strong rider, so I knew I hadn’t seen the last of her (in fact I was surprised to see her again so early in the race).

A while later I caught up to the other woman in the race – Jessica Walker. I’d noticed right from the start that she was grinding a huge gear at a really low cadence, and was wondering how sustainable that would be. By this point she appeared to be struggling a bit – weaving a bit, head/body bobbing around. Apparently passing her gave her a bit of motivation and shortly after passing her she passed me back. I wasn’t about to get sucked into someone else’s race, and happily dropped back sticking to my game plan, keeping my power output steady. It was a couple more miles before I passed her again on a downhill, and I didn’t see her again after that (unfortunately she DNFd after the 2nd time station, which was a shame, as I was hoping we might have 3 women finishers – as it was, this was the first year that there were 2 women finishers I believe).

A little while later I passed Steve Teal, another solo rider, who was pulled over on the side of the road for something, and a while after that I passed Tom Jones who was also stopped for something. Just before Fredonia there was a traffic light for some construction, and unfortunately I had to wait a few minutes. Then after Fredonia on the way into Kanab there was a flagger stopping traffic due to road construction. I waited several minutes, and then when it was time for the traffic to go, he made me wait until all the other traffic had gone, which was a couple more minutes. This was frustrating since 3 riders caught back up to me while I was stopped waiting (although the final 2 may have had to stop and wait for the next passage – I’m not sure since they were just approaching as I was finally allowed to proceed – Steve and I got through at the same time though). In Kanab I got off the bike for the first time – a quick bathroom break at a gas station, and then I was on the road again. I passed the first time station at 12:38pm, 8min slower than what I did in 2009, but between the little bit of headwind, the 2 delays due to road construction, and the fact that I was purposefully holding back and keeping my power in a certain range, I wasn’t too concerned.

Leaving Kanab you pretty much climb for about 15 miles, with it getting a bit steeper towards the end of the climb. I was starting to feel fatigued near the top of the climb, which was a bit frustrating since I wasn’t even 100 miles into the race yet, and thought I’d been doing a good job of sticking to my game plan (eating, drinking, keeping my power steady).

There’s a quick/fast descent and then another 25 miles or so of climbing. Along this section Karen passed me, as did Tom (Steve passed me earlier on the climb out of Kanab). Along here the weather started turning too, and soon enough we were riding through the rain. The temperature also fell quickly, so eventually I stopped to put my rain jacket on. Finally we finished the climb and then it was a fast gradual downhill towards the turnoff to Red Canyon.

Along here the “BikeVan” passed me, and I felt the spirit of Lee “Fuzzy” Mitchell. Lee was a legend in the ultra-cycling community for volunteering to drive SAG at every ride under the sun, and for crewing at pretty much every RAAM, Furnace Creek 508, and other ultra-cycling race out there (he even crewed at the Badwater ultra-marathon running race a few years ago). He was known for his red minivan with license plate “BIKEVAN” blaring rock & roll music from the speakers as he drove SAG. Whenever you heard the BikeVan coming, it would lift your spirits. Lee’s the only person to receive an honorary Furnace Creek 508 totem (Maggot), and is in the RAAM Hall of Fame and California Triple Crown Hall of Fame. I had the honor of having Lee and his BikeVan crew for me at Race Across Oregon in 2010. Lee passed away after a battle with cancer 2 weeks before Hoodoo, which was a huge loss to the ultra-cycling community. He was such a giving and selfless spirit, and he will be deeply missed. Lee was also known for his appearance – he was the Santa Claus of ultra-cycling with his bushy white beard, his red socks, and his red shirt. Our crew wore red socks to the pre-race to honor him. Anyway, his BikeVan was being used as a crew vehicle by 2x team “Sierra Mountain Goats” Jeanine Spence and Steven Decker. I know Jeanine, so it was great to see her out there crushing the course!

On this stretch of road Dave Elsberry also passed me – I’d not realized that we’d passed him earlier when he was stopped on the side of the road. Dave was one of the riders during RAAM which I went back and forth with quite a bit between Wolf Creek Pass and Indiana. Dave rides to raise money for MS.

The rain had stopped on the downhill, so I was hoping that maybe we’d paid our dues, but boy oh boy was I wrong. At mile 145 we turned towards Red Canyon, and shortly thereafter the rain began again. This was also the beginning of another climb of about 5 miles where you climb up to close to 8,000 feet elevation, the highest point thus far in the race. As I entered the bike path at the entrance to Red Canyon (bikes are not allowed on the road and instead have to ride on a bike path that parallels the road), the rain began coming down even heavier. I literally felt like I was riding through sheets of rain and sleet – the drops were bouncing a good half foot or more up into the air off the pavement! Then there was the thunder and lightening – one was a bit too close for comfort – I saw the flash of lightening and a half second later there was a tremendously loud booming clap of thunder that echoed through the canyon!! I was busy wondering if I’d become the first ultra-cyclist struck by lightening, and was wondering if my skinny road bike tires would provide any kind of insulation! Fortunately that was the only close call – the rest of the lightening strikes were followed by thunder 3-9 seconds later. The bad weather though had left the bike path littered with debris – I was able to ride through the first couple of patches, but the sandy/muddy red dirt streaking across the path was becoming less and less navigable, and on one section I almost slid out. This began the “cyclocross” section of the race – there were several sections that I had to get off my bike and walk through. One section of the path literally had a rock/gravel slide across it! So I did my hike-a-bike in the ongoing thunderstorm.

When I reached the Chevron station, time station 2, at mile 156 at 5:50pm (8min faster than in 2009), I debated continuing on without stopping since it was still raining, but I kind of needed to go to the bathroom, and figured maybe it would be good to get into more rain gear at this point while we had some facilities. I was dripping wet like I’d just gotten out of a swimming pool or something. And of course as soon as I stopped riding, I started to get cold. It wasn’t long before I was shivering. I ate some hot lasagna (a backpacker meal), and then began the task of completely changing clothes and trying to get dry clothes on. While I was doing this, the rain got pretty heavy again, so I prepared for the worse and donned my rain pants, rain jacket, helmet cover, shoe covers, long fingered gloves, and headband. This stop was much longer than I’d have liked it to be, but it did recharge me a bit.

Of course Murphy’s Law – by the time I was ready to ride again the rain had stopped…. I felt like the Michelin man with all my layers of rain gear on! It was a quick descent down through Tropic, Cannonville, and Henrieville before another 1800ft climb. In the rain I’d been feeling fatigued and my power seemed to be dropping, so I was mentally struggling with where I was at. Already in my head I was toying with the idea of quitting – not because I didn’t think I could finish, but because I felt like I’d made my decision that I wouldn’t return to RAAM, and thus had got what I came to get, so I was struggling to find any motivation to continue. I’d never faced this kind of motivational struggle so early in a race before. Part of me wanted to DNF so that I wouldn’t forget how I’d felt and what was going through my head – because when you finish a race it’s so easy to forget all the negatives. Anyway, I decided to at least see how I felt, and when I started climbing again out of Henrieville I was pleasantly surprised that I was feeling much better and my power was back into the range that it was supposed to be. I’d stopped to take my rain gear off given that it looked like it was going to stay dry for a while, and at that point I took the opportunity to take a dose of Sprayable Energy – a new product that I’m trying that delivers caffeine by absorption through the skin. This delivery mechanism yields the increased alertness that caffeine is known for, but without the side effects of feeling jittery. I’d used the product a couple of times in training and it showed promise, so I was looking forward to testing it out more at Hoodoo. I felt re-motivated, and continued on as the sun set. The last part of this climb gets pretty steep – some 12% gradient sections, but I felt pretty strong and then began the long descent into Escalante, the next time station at mile 204.

I arrived in Escalante at 9:28pm, 30min slower than in 2009, but given how long we’d stopped at time station 2 (about 35min), I’d likely ridden this section as fast or faster than in 2009. In Escalante the 4 woman team “Deadly Viper Assassination Squad” caught up to me. I know most of the women on this team, and they’re great folks, so it was great to see them and hear their encouragement. I was stopped for about 15min here as I finished off my lasagna that I’d started at the previous time station, I got my more powerful MagicShine light mounted, and also got my iPod. I headed out a bit in front of my crew (you’re allowed to do so at Hoodoo at night as long as you have 2 front and 2 rear lights).

There’s a bit of a false flat gradual climb for a while out of Escalante, then a quick descent before you climb the Hogsback – a road that has been rated one of the top 10 most scenic highways in the world. Such a shame that we were there in the dark and didn’t get to see it in all it’s glory – even in the dark though you get a sense from the canyon walls and what not that you’re passing through something that’s pretty amazing! The climb up the Hogsback is deceptive because when you look at it on the map it doesn’t look all that bad, but it’s a series of relentless steep pitches followed by little flat sections or downhills. The steep pitches are routinely 10% gradients or steeper, so being over 200 miles into the race they start to wear on you. Through this section I could see another rider off in the distance not that much farther in front of me – it was one of the voyager racers – they do the race self supported, which I think is insane!! I eventually passed him when he stopped on the side of the road briefly. I think this was Raphael, who would abandon later on Boulder Mountain, and whom our crew gave a ride to Loa.

After the Hogsback you go through Boulder at mile 231, and then it’s about a 12 mile climb up Boulder Mountain which tops out at 9600ft elevation. The temperature was dropping, and I was really struggling to stay awake at this point. I stopped briefly on the outskirts of Boulder to rest my eyes for a couple minutes to see if it would wake me up. I didn’t sleep, but just lay down and closed my eyes for 10min or so. Altogether I was stopped about 15min. At this point I was really struggling with motivation, and was really thinking that I didn’t want to finish. But I knew that I didn’t want to DNF on Boulder Mountain – I wanted to at least get up and over the mountain, down to lower elevation, take a sleep break, and then re-evaluate at that point. So I headed back out onto the road, and began the painfully slow ascent up Boulder Mountain. I was still half asleep, my power was in the toilet, and my speed almost wasn’t even registering on the Garmin I was going so slow, and I was weaving all over the road. I was also starting to feel some nausea – possibly from the altitude. Additionally, the temperature dropped down into the mid 30s according to my Garmin. Near the top, Bill & Kathryn who were in the secondary crew vehicle started entertaining me from the side of the road – at one point Bill donned a pink tutu and was seen clinging to a signpost – perhaps pole dancing? I stopped near the top and downed some hot chocolate and put on more warm clothes in preparation for the descent. On the descent I was still sleepy, but I tried yelling out loud at myself in order to help stay awake. I did pull over at one point though for a couple minutes because I was nodding off.

I pulled into Torrey at about 4:45am where I stopped and took a sleep break. I was so cold that I was shivering uncontrollably, and my teeth were chattering. I remember thinking I’d never fall asleep in this state, and then the next thing I knew Bill was waking me up! I’d slept about 30min, and then I ate some macaroni and cheese and changed into dry clothes. At about 6:30am I finally hit the road again, so I was stopped for 1hr 45min. At this point I was back to being in last place, and my motivation was still pretty low, but I wanted to at least give it a shot and see how I felt. I knew that there was one moderate climb out of Loa, then flats/rollers until Panguitch, and that the climb up Cedar Breaks was the “big climb” remaining, so if I could get up and over Cedar Breaks then it shouldn’t be too difficult to finish. I downed a cup of coffee as well as another dose of Sprayable Energy before hitting the road. As I started up again I felt more awake and better than I had the night before – I was still tired, but my power was back up in the lower end of the range that I was aiming for, so I decided at that point that I was going to give it my best to finish. I got to Loa, the next time station at 7:55am, over 2.5hrs slower than in 2009. It was in Loa that I learned that Janet Christiansen had DNFd – she was racing in the voyager division self supported, and had succumbed to the cold on Boulder Mountain. I was really disappointed to hear that, as I know that Janet is a very strong and experienced rider with multiple RAAM finishes to her credit. It just goes to show how difficult the voyager division is – I can’t imagine riding 518 miles self supported like that! Even with a crew it’s no easy task!

The climb out of Loa was longer than I remembered it being, and it seemed to drag on and on, but finally I reached the summit and got a welcome descent. Just before the summit Mike appeared dressed up as the likeness of Lee “Fuzzy” Mitchell, which brought a smile to my face.

There wasn’t as much headwind on the long gradual downhill from Koosharem to the turn onto Highway 89 as there was in 2009, so I made much faster progress along here. At one point I had to stop to go to the bathroom and take some layers off since it was getting quite warm. I’d also started to get a bit sleepy again, so I took another dose of Sprayable Energy along with downing an iced coffee.

After turning onto Highway 89 it was 31 miles to Panguitch on a gradual uphill. Unfortunately the wind began to pick up more, so it slowed my progress and made this section a bit of a slog. I did however catch up to several riders on this stretch – Vito Rubino, Dave Elsberry, and Brian Martin. This was the first I’d seen of Brian since the start of the race where I’d chatted with him during the neutral start. He’d done Race Across Oregon the first year I attempted it (when I DNFd), and he’d unofficially finished that year. When I passed him he was stopped on the side of the road bent over looking like he might have been vomiting – not fun!

I was glad to finally reach Panguitch at 2:23pm, only about 35min slower than in 2009, so I’d made up almost 2hrs since Loa. I took a bit of a break here to recharge before the big climb up Cedar Breaks. I changed shorts and had a bit of massage work done by Brooke before heading out again, so I was stopped for about 25min total. The climb out of Panguitch starts out with a couple of steeper pitches before settling into more rolling terrain for a while. The bottom part went better than I expected, but sure enough the upper part turned into a bit of a struggle – the climb goes up to 10,200ft elevation, and finishes over 400 miles into the race.

Finally I got to the top though, and was rewarded with the screaming fast and fun descent into Cedar City. I hit my max speed on the descent – over 46mph – and even managed to drop my follow vehicle! Towards the bottom in the dusk light I thought the road was perhaps a bit wet, and was covered in a thin film of red silt, so I started holding back a bit on the speed since I was concerned about losing traction and didn’t want to crash at over 40mph!

I got into Cedar City at 8:02pm, 18min faster than in 2009. I stopped for about 20min for one last shorts change and downed a package of backpacking mashed potatoes and an iced coffee, as well as another dose of Sprayable Energy before hitting the road again for the final 80 miles. I was feeling pretty good, and cruised up the climb just outside of Cedar City. After that climb I was treated to some KFC drumsticks – and let me tell you they tasted as good then as they did countless times on RAAM! Things were uneventful until the last 20 miles or so before reaching Snow Canyon – I started to get really sleepy again, and nothing I did seemed to help. I’d passed Vito and Steve near the base of one of the last climbs when they were stopped, but in my sleepy section Vito passed me back when I stopped to put on a vest because I was getting cold. The final few miles before Snow Canyon I caught a glimpse of tail lights in front of me, and that helped to wake me up – there were 2 sets of tail lights, and I didn’t know who the one in the lead was. It turned out it was Jon Shellenbarger who had developed a knee injury and Bill & Kathryn had seen him go through Cedar City before I got there. I worked to bridge the gap up to Vito, knowing full well that he wouldn’t want me to pass him (earlier in the stage I’d passed him when he was going slower and he almost immediately sped up and passed me back). My strategy though was to not stop at the top of Snow Canyon and go right down (this final 14 miles you have to ride alone without your support crew, which means navigating yourself). I’d pre-ridden the final part of the course on Friday, so knew by heart all the turns.

We got to the top of Snow Canyon and I was surprised to see Jon stopped there. He and Vito both stopped, but I proceeded directly down without stopping. After I got down the steeper part of the descent and into the lights of St George I pushed quite hard, constantly looking over my shoulder expecting to see Jon and Vito bearing down on me. It turned out that I needn’t worry as they’d both stopped at the top for several minutes, and didn’t get to the finish until about half an hour after me.

I finally rolled across the finish line at 2:11am in a time of 43 hours, 11 minutes, good enough for 4th overall and 2nd place woman (Karen was the 1st place woman and 3rd overall finishing almost an hour and a half in front of me, most of which she made up after Panguitch since I saw her there when I was there, and she headed out only a few minutes in front of me). Full results can be viewed here. My time though was 1 hr 47min faster than my time in 2009, and was a course record in the Athena division (women over 160lbs). I didn’t meet my goal of finishing in under 40hrs, but given the challenging conditions on day 1, the fatigue I felt early on, all the stress I had going into the race, and my motivational struggles, I’m happy with my performance. No 500 mile race is “easy” or “a given”, so just finishing is always the first goal. Breaking my time from 2009 and setting an Athena course record were icing on the cake. My ride time was 38hrs 47min (moving average speed of 13.4mph compared to overall average speed of 12.0mph), which means my off the bike time was 4hrs 24min – not horrible, but not great either (I’d been hoping to keep off the bike time between 2 and 3 hours).

As for other stats, my average power for the entire duration was 102 watts with 14,906 kJ of work done (I’m not sure what the normalized power was). Weighted average power according to Strava was 118 watts, average heart rate was 126bpm. Minimum temperature was 34deg, maximum temperature was 99deg (although that was recorded when my bike was sitting in the sun in Panguitch while I wasn’t riding it). Much of the course is at altitude, reflected in the fact that the average elevation was 6476ft. The entire race can be viewed on Strava here. I consumed 11,815 calories, so about 273cal/hr. I consumed about 739oz of fluid (about 31 large water bottles total). I consumed over 14,000mg of sodium during the race (or about 333mg/hr). I had 5 ibuprofen during the race – 2 on Boulder Mountain to try and help combat nausea from the altitude, and 3 in Cedar City to help take the edge off a bit of butt pain before the final homestretch of the race.

I can’t thank my crew enough – they were wonderful out there, and worked exceedingly hard to look after me and keep me moving down the road safely. So thank you Bill, Kathryn, Mike, Jackson, and Brooke! Thanks to my coach, Thomas Chapple, for helping to change the way that I ride, and getting me back on track on the bike this year – and for putting up with all my verbose training notes! ;) Thanks to Bicycle Brustop in Novato for their support and for hooking me up with my awesome new bike, Wall-E! If you’re anywhere near Novato, definitely check them out! Thanks to David Ledesma for the continued support – I see David on a regular basis for deep tissue sports massage, and can’t recommend his services enough. Thanks to Revolutions in Fitness for the continued support with regard to bike fitting – such a crucial part of being able to ride long is having a good bike fit. Thanks to Al Painter of Integrate Performance Fitness for teaching me the correct way to do strength training and undo some of the damage that the repetitive stress of cycling puts on my body. Thanks to Cardo Systems for providing me with the BK-1 bluetooth communication and entertainment systems – these systems are a must for ultra-cyclists and are so much better than the walkie talkies I used during RAAM for crew/rider communication. Thanks to Sprayable Energy for providing me with samples of their product in advance of the more general release – this is an innovative product that I think has great potential for ultra-cycling given how easy it is to carry with you when riding. Thanks also to Vanderkitten for supporting and promoting women’s cycling.

So, back to the question I posed early in this story – if Hoodoo was the litmus test for deciding about RAAM, what’s the result? Let’s just say that I’m trying not to make a rash decision either way. Hoodoo was a valuable learning experience in that we got a lot of concrete data out of it. It was also a good gut check to see where I’m at mentally with ultra-cycling right now. Next up I have the Furnace Creek 508 in a couple of weeks where I’ll be racing on a 2 woman team with one of my RAAM crew members, Tracey (our totem is “Pygmy Jerboa”). After that I want to take a few weeks or maybe even a month to “decompress” from everything that’s happened this year, and will then try to make a decision about what’s next. In the meantime, thanks to everyone who supports and encourages me – I truly do appreciate it!

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Race Across Oregon 2009

Race Across Oregon, 2009

The elevation profile for Race Across Oregon.

Race Across Oregon course.

My crew and I at the starting line in Hood River.


To describe Race Across Oregon, first let me preface it with a brief history of what lead me to decide to tackle this beast! 2008 had been hugely successful for me on many levels athletically – four double centuries, one triple century, one 24hr race, my first Death Ride, successful shoulder surgery (which finally significantly improved the nagging injury obtained in 2007 after being hit by an SUV), and my first ever 500+ mile event – the Furnace Creek 508, which was more successful than my wildest expectations (I finished in 36hrs 22min). 2008 was the first year that the Furnace Creek 508 was not a Race Across America (RAAM) qualifier, which was unfortunate since to my knowledge I would have qualified had it been a qualifier. So in 2009 I set out with the new goal of trying to qualify for RAAM (not necessarily with the intent of doing RAAM, but just to try and qualify which is an honor in itself), which meant finding RAAM Qualifiers to attempt. I knew that the Hoodoo 500 was one possibility, and I’d previewed that course while crewing for Mike in 2008, but I’d also heard of Race Across Oregon, and was intrigued by it (in my mind I had this notion that all of Oregon was lush and beautiful – well RAO bypasses most of that part of Oregon, but more on that later!). Additionally, I recognized and respected the fact that nothing is guaranteed or assured of in events of this magnitude, so giving myself multiple opportunities to qualify seemed like a good idea. So I decided to sign up for RAO and for the Hoodoo 500.

When I signed up for RAO, I knew relatively little about it. I’d tried to find out about it online, but there seemed to be very little information. Plus throw in the fact that the 2009 course was to be a completely new course from previous years anyway, and it meant that the unknown was even more of an unknown – to all competitors. Well, sometimes not knowing what you’re getting yourself into is a good thing….!!! Had I known just how brutal RAO would end up being – on so many different levels – I may not have had the courage (stupidity?) to sign up! But I did, and hence I’m sitting here writing this report!

The lead up to RAO was rather hectic – things at work had been busy for several months, plus in the spring I’d perhaps been a bit over ambitious in my training and had done a lot of events in close proximity to each other, so when June rolled around I suddenly felt exhausted and overtrained. In many ways my training for RAO was polar opposite to my training for the 508 – the 508 was only 10 weeks after shoulder surgery, so I’d been forced to focus on quality over quantity and do intense trainer workouts indoors and mainly hill repeats outdoors – my longest ride outside post surgery was only 75miles. But leading up to RAO I rattled off an Ironman triathlon, 5 double centuries, and a 12hr event in 3 months. My strategy was “ride long, ride tired”. Four of these events had come in a 5 week period (Devil Mtn. Double, Davis 12Hr, Central Coast Double, and Davis Double), and almost every event had had challenging conditions and/or weather that made them even tougher (rain at Davis 12hr, 90+deg heat at Central Coast, 100+deg heat at Davis Double, and rain and frigid 30deg temps at Eastern Sierra Double). So as July crept closer and I didn’t seem to be recovering despite backing off dramatically on the training, I started to get concerned. But finally 1.5 weeks before RAO I did a short, hard effort group ride and finally felt like I had a bit of pep in my legs, so that was a huge relief! Although this feeling was short-lived when the route-book was published online and I caught my first glimpse of the elevation profile I think my heart started to mimick the course and I nearly had a heart attack! Apparently there are over 40,000ft of climbing in the 517 miles. How on God’s Green Earth (or Oregon’s Bare Brown earth as it would turn out!) would I get through this???? Images of spiky elevation profiles now permeated my thoughts!

Anyway, my crew (Mike, my sister Katie, and Donna) left the Bay Area on Thursday afternoon in a packed minivan, and drove up to Medford, Oregon arriving just before midnight, then drove the remainder of the way to Hood River on Friday. Check-in was uneventful, and it was great to see Erin and Jimmy again. As always, the pre race meeting was a bit intimidating – being in the same room as some of these incredibly talented athletes always leaves me feeling sorely inadequate and out of place! My crew member Donna, a much stronger and faster cyclist than I, seemed far less out of place – maybe I could pretend she was me and I was her crew – that would afterall appear more logical! Alas, it was I who was signed up, and some of these people knew me, so no such swap would be possible!

The start on Saturday morning was an early one at 5am, so when the alarm went off shortly after 4am it was difficult to roll out of bed, but this was what I’d signed up to do, right? And this was supposed to be FUN, right??? I showered, dressed, and forced down a breakfast consisting of a peanut butter and jam sandwich and some coffee (my first caffeine in a couple of weeks – I’d tried to ween myself off of it in hopes it would have a bigger impact during the race). In hindsight, I should have forgone the sandwich, as it ended up sitting in my stomach for what felt like all day, and never really digested. This is what I’ve always eaten before events, but usually I eat longer before the start, allowing more time for digestion, so I should have instead just had a GU or something and started in on my bike nutrition earlier. Anyway, at the start I saw Erin, who was WAAAAY too perky for pre-5am!! Mike took some pictures of us together (both with our own unique sense of bike fashion – her with her blue jersey and pink arm warmers, and me with my green and orange jersey and blue arm warmers), and then I quickly wished Sandy good luck – I knew she was going to kick butt out there so I likely wouldn’t see her for very long! Then at 5am George, race director, lead us out on a neutral 9mile start. Almost immediately there was a short but very steep climb – I take 40+ miles to warm up usually, so my body was not happy about the effort required to get over that sucker at 5 in the freaking morning!! I lost the main pack during this climb, so the rest of the “neutral” start was spent trying to claw my way back to the main group. I was happy to see that I wasn’t the only one back there though – there were a couple of us, including Erin and Karen Armstrong (another amazing athlete!). We finally caught up to the main group just as we reached the end of the neutral section.

Then we made a left turn and started the long, relatively gradual climb that would eventually take us up to an elevation of over 4000ft on the side of Mt. Hood. Almost immediately I found myself in last place. I didn’t panic though – I fully expected this to happen. I tend to start out slow on any ride, and I knew that every one of these competitors was strong and talented. So I happily brought up the caboose of the group for quite some time. I finally caught up to Jeffrey Bonk somewhere on the climb, and pulled in front of him, although he stayed pretty much with me the rest of the climb. As I slowly started to feel more warmed up and got into a rhythm, I started to reel in the riders in front of me. My crew would occasionally say things like “you’ve made up x seconds on Erin!”, or “you’re only x minutes behind Sandy!”. This was great to hear, but my goal wasn’t to push myself super hard to pass them this early – I knew it was going to be a looooong weekend! But as I did draw within sight of Erin and some others, it did make me feel good! Finally the top of the climb came, and then it was a fast descent. I actually passed a handful of riders on the descent, including Erin and Sandy. I was quite surprised to say the least – guess I have gravity to thank for that! ;) Of course gravity would not be my friend most of the rest of the ride though!!! Anyway, after a pretty nice, fast descent, there was a section with some rollers and such, but for the most part this section all the way to the first time station was pretty fast. I arrived at the first time station at 9:58am, almost 5hrs from the start – not exactly lightening fast for 73 miles, but still good enough to be only 10min behind Karen and 2min behind Sandy (she’d whizzed by on her recumbant on a gradual downhill – she was racing “recupright”, which meant she was switching between an upright bike and a recumbent).

It started to heat up on the next section, although not oppressively so. The terrain started to get drier and drier with less vegetation. As I passed the waterfall on the Deschutes River I saw some fisherman hauling in what looked to be a pretty good catch! Shortly thereafter began the climb up towards Grass Valley where no support was allowed since the road was narrow with no shoulder and a shear dropoff. This climb was totally exposed, but it wasn’t exceptionally hot yet, so it actually rode not too bad. I was however glad to see my crew at the top, and I popped some ibuprofen shortly thereafter since my knees had gotten a bit achy. The ibuprofen did the trick, and the achiness went away. The next section looked like it should have been relatively flat according to the profile, however due to scale, the profile couldn’t show that in reality it was a series of never-ending short rollers! The race director had said we’d have a tail-wind here – WRONG!!!! Instead it was a pretty constant head wind. Along here I passed John Pearch – one of his crew members was Lee “Fuzzy” Mitchell – a legend in the ultracycling community who supports many of the California Triple Crown rides in his “Bike Van”. As I went by once he called out and encouraged me with something like “there’s another man up there – go pass him!” – that made me chuckle! :) Finally this section ended and I rolled into time station 2 at 1:39pm – this was only 121 miles into the race, and I’d already eaten through over 8.5hrs total….

The next segment started off ok – there were some more gradual climbs, and it was getting warm, but I was feeling half decent. Then came a long decent into a canyon contatining the John Day River from which I knew I had to subsequently climb out of, and I started to feel blast-furnace like pockets of air on the way down, and it got hotter and hotter as I descended further and further. I kept hoping the descent would end, because I knew for every mile down I went, it was just another mile up I’d have to go very soon in the heat! Finally the descent ended, and almost immediately began the 9+ mile climb back up. It was hot. Let me rephrase that – it was HOT! The van thermometer apparently read 97deg, and I’ve read other racer’s reports that said their bike computers were reading 106deg. On this stretch tube socks filled with ice became my friend and savior! Along with cold watermelon and cold drinks handed to me by my dedicated and diligent crew. The climb went on, and on, and on, and on….! I thought I’d started to prematurely hallucinate when I saw someone actually running up the road on the opposite side – it was a crew member for another competitor who was apparently trying to get some run training in during the event – he was running up the hill in the heat almost as fast as I was riding up it – wtf!!!! Talk about feeling slightly demoralized!!! Anyway, at long last the top came, and the heat seemed to dissipate a little bit. I stopped and changed into some dry (and not salt encrusted!) clothes, and this was when I was passed by the first team (unless my memory has blocked out that I was passed even earlier, which is a possibility) – they’d started 4hrs after me and had caught me in less than 150 miles – apparently feeling demoralized is a big part of RAO!!! At this point the heat and winds had made me fairly miserable, and so the fact that the next section was more ups and downs through extremely BORING terrain did not help my constitution!! I was trying hard to make it to Heppner before 8pm so that my crew could get food at the apparently amazing diner there which closed at 8pm, but as the miles wore on it became apparent that this was not going to happen. It was one climb after another, accompanied by more head winds and more boring terrain, so by the time I arrived in Heppner I was pretty miserable – and pretty sick of Oregon! I pulled into Heppner at 8:44pm, only 207 miles into the ride, and almost 16hrs into the ride. Apparently I was in 9th place overall, but that did little to cheer me up. My lower back had started to become incredibly tight over the last 50 miles or so, and in general I felt worse than I had felt after the entire 508. Thinking about the 310 miles that lay in front of me was rather daunting, and doubts started devouring my brain. Additionally, the excessive heat during the day did what it always does to me – it made me extremely sleep very early in the evening, so here it was not even dark and I was already having trouble keeping my eyes open….. I took a relatively long break at Heppner – I needed it physically and mentally. Mike massaged my back, legs, and feet, and tried to give me a pep talk while I lay on the ground feeling pretty defeated. I wasn’t even half way and thoughts of quitting were already fleeting through my mind. But I finally got up, got changed yet again, and hit the road.

It was dark by the time we left Heppner, and so began my struggle to stay awake. My crew fed me chocolate covered espresso beans and caffeinated beverages out the window of the van, and I asked for some salt’n'vinegar chips to munch on to try and help keep me awake. The combination helped, although on the descents I found myself drifting off, so I asked my crew to honk the van horn every now and then to try and keep me awake. This segment had another series of several climbs tacked one after the other. At one point I passed a crew stopped on the side of the road and was shocked to see that it was Jason and Alfie – Bruce Carroll’s crew! Bruce is an uber-fast cyclist, so I certainly didn’t expect to see him, but I guess like so many others, he was struggling too. In a way seeing them helped me feel better about my own sorry state of affairs – if Bruce was suffering this bad, then I knew it was a tough course. Anyway, the night wore on, and I finally reached the top of Battle Mountain at an elevation of over 4200ft. Then there was a descent of about 25 miles to the next time station – there are chunks of time in here that I simply don’t recall – I was fighting hard to stay awake, but it was a losing battle, and I kept waking up to the sound of the van horn honking. Finally we pulled into Dale at 4:56am, just at dawn. I immediately got off my bike and lay down for a 20min nap. I think my crew wanted me to keep going without a break, but I desparately needed a respite. I was now 285 miles into the ride, and already 24hrs had passed. I was just over half way in terms of mileage, but I felt broken – I was unable to stay awake, my back was getting progressively worse, and my spirits were low. What the hell had I gotten myself into????

My crew woke me up and I got back on my bike and started on my way again – it was another climb, and it felt muggy and the wind was starting to pick up. Pretty soon the wind got even stronger, and there were even some sprinkles of rain. There was a longish climb followed by a descent, but the descent could not be enjoyed since the wind was blowing so hard. I was riding close to Jeffrey Bonk again on this section, and at one point we chatted about what we had to do to finish – he said something about having to average only 10mph over the next 200 miles to finish – sounds easy, right? I realized I still had a chance, and tried to focus on getting through this damn course so that I never had to come back and do it ever again!!! Then there was another climb, and now my back really started to get worse. At the top of the climb I asked my crew to rub some Alcis on my back. I started up again, and now it was a series of rollers, but into a strong headwind. My lower left back started to go numb, and then I started getting excruciating pain as I tried to pedal. I was in tears trying to fight the wind and the pain. I didn’t know what was happening – I’d never had lower back pain like this before. My crew was nowhere to be seen, and I was so tired that I couldn’t remember whether they were behind me or whether they’d already passed me and were up front somewhere. So I rode on, crying like a baby! Then my crew passed me and pulled off the road up ahead. I got to them and promptly got off my bike. I told them about my back, and they tried to help me massage it and stretch it. This helped a bit, and I got back on the bike and started out into the wind again. There was a brief downhill, and then a turn and another uphill. I started up the climb, and my back started to seize up almost immediately. I was in serious pain, and I started to think about what kind of damage (potentially permanent for all I knew) I was doing to my body. Was RAO worth it? Not at this moment. I caught back up to my crew and they tried to encourage me to keep going. Mike started to run along beside me, and I told him I didn’t think I could keep going. He kept running and trying to encourage me as I grunted and groaned and yelled out in pain between sobs. I had finally reached an utterly new and depressing low on my bike – I literally couldn’t go any further – the pain was too much. I stopped in the middle of the road. At this point I was pretty sure my weekend was over. I stumbled into the ditch and leaned/sat against the rocks. Mike came and sat with me, and then I realized that he was in tears too…..for whatever reason this calmed me. I told him it wasn’t his fault. His response was that it hurt him to see me suffering this much, and that I was the strongest person he knew. I obviously recognized that I’m NOT the strongest person [stubborn, maybe! ;) ], but hearing those words from him, and seeing how invested he was in me lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. We sat there for a while, and then a couple of other cyclists came by – John, followed by Sandy. I stood up, and my back had calmed down a bit again, so I got back on the bike and proceeded to trudge on down the road.

I caught back up to Sandy near the top of the hill, and I asked her if we still had a shot at finishing. Without hesitation or any inkling of doubt she said “yes!”. We talked a bit more, and she gave me a bit of a pep talk. Her crew then stopped to show me and my crew how to try and stretch out my back. My crew didn’t see the initial stages of this though, so when they came driving up and saw me sprawled out on my back on the ground with all of Sandy’s crew members hovering over me, they got all concerned and thought I’d crashed or something! Anyway, this was yet more evidence of how even though this is an individual sport, it’s a tight community, and assistance is freely given. That’s one of the coolest things about this sport – the people involved in it! :)

A short while later began a looong and fast descent. I had to play around with positioning on the bike to try and keep my back from tightening up too much. I finally found that if I kept my left leg at the bottom of the pedal stroke and slowly rocked it back and forth a bit just to keep it somewhat mobile, that kept the pain at bay while descending. After the descent there was a section which was essentially the first (and only) “flatish” part to the course. But by now it was getting late into the morning, and the temperatures were once again soaring. As we approached the next time station in Spray, I felt like I was in an oven! Combine this with my sleepiness, and it made it tough to stay awake – there are sections along here that I don’t remember. For example I know at one point I had a V8 can sitting on top of my aeronet, and a while later I noticed it was gone – I guess I dozed off and the can bounced off at some point (I apologize for littering – I honestly didn’t mean to!). We finally arrived in Spray, 358 miles into the ride, at 12:38pm, and I promptly ran – ok, “run” is not an accurate description – I “hobbled” into the store to get out of the heat. Here I changed clothes, stretched, and ate some cold noodle soup and part of a popsicle. I probably lingered too long here, but I dreaded going back out into the stifling heat….. But finally I did, armed with a fresh tube sock filled with ice around my neck and tucked into my jersey.

After Spray the flats continued a little bit longer as we followed a river. The temperature was up in the mid to upper 90s, and as I saw people swimming and playing in the river I so badly wanted to jump off my bike and run and jump in! But I didn’t, I kept trudging along trying to think cold thoughts! I was still really sleepy too – at one point I was jolted out of my sleepy stupor when Erin passed me. She looked strong, and seemed to be far more cheerful than I was. She was starting to talk about not being able to get through it though, so I tried to encourage her and tell her that we were both going to hang in there and finish. She rode on ahead, but then when we got to the base of the next climb (another long one – about 9 miles, and steeper near the top), she stopped with her crew, and so I passed her and continued up the climb. The heat was still oppressive, so the ice filled tube socks, as well as Mike hosing me down with the weed sprayer, and Donna and Katie giving me cold drinks were what kept me going. Thankfully as we gained some elevation the heat began to drop, although the wind was picking up. I was still battling sleepiness, so when Erin’s crew van passed me and I thought I heard her call out from the van saying she was done, I didn’t know whether I’d halucinated it or whether it’d actually happened. It turns out she had abandoned the race a couple miles into the climb, but I’m still super impressed with what she accomplished – she only did her first double century ride this year, yet here she was taking on the toughest 500 miler there is, in what had to be some of the toughest weather conditions. Huge kudos to her for her strength, courage, and tremendously infectious sense of humor! If for no other reason, attempting RAO this year was worth it since it allowed me to meet and get to know this fellow nutcase! ;)

Anyway, back to my story……I finished up the climb and was looking forward to the descent into Fossil, but there was a fierce headwind which made it difficult to get up to the kind of speed I knew this gradient should provide. Then began another 5 mile climb, and the skies were now starting to look stormy. The wind was whipping around, and in some of the switchbacks I was fighting to hold a straight line due to the gusts. Finally I got to the summit, and started a long, fast descent. The skies were still dark, and the wind was still blowing, and then I started to feel pellets hitting me – great, it was hailing!! I just about started laughing at how ridiculous this ride was starting to become – only a few hours ago it had been nearly one hundred degrees, and here it was now stormy and hailing! Luckily I think I caught the edge of the storm though, because I only got rained/hailed on a bit, but the roads were quite wet as we got further along. Despite the weather, this was probably one of the most scenic parts of the course (although after the boring scenery a lot of the day before, a blank piece of paper might have looked interesting!) – the area is known as the Painted Hills, and there were some very interesting hoodoos and rock formations in the surrounding hills. After a quick stop near the bottom to put on my fender and stretch out my back, it was back to the matter at hand – another 9 mile climb of course! This one too seemed to have some steeper sections – although this many miles into a ride a highway overpass would have probably felt steep! At one point Mike handed me a sunflower he picked on the side of the road – I put it in my aeronet, and looking at it helped to keep me motivated. The climb kept going and going and going…. Part way up John Pearch passed me – he was looking good and climbing well. Seeing him in front of me gave me something to chase, and so I tried to not lose sight of him. Near the top of the climb we hit 7pm and so my crew had to start following me again. There was a quick descent into Antelope, and then you guessed it, another climb! This one was comparitively short though – just under 4 miles. I passed John on the descent, so now I made it my goal to try and stay in front of him on this climb. It’s great to have another rider in your vicinity at this point in the ride, as it can do wonders in terms of keeping you motivated. Too, my crew had said that when I got to the top, then I would have a 22 mile descent into the next time station, so I was looking forward to that. I was doing the math in my head – it was almost 8:30pm, so that gave me 8.5hrs to get to the finish. I figured about 1.5hrs to get to the time station, which would leave 7hrs to do the last 60 miles. I knew the last stage had a lot of climbing in it, but I felt confident that with 7hrs I could make it. I was going to finish this thing!! I saw the crest of the hill, and I started to get excited – I could taste the descent coming up, and victory was to be mine!! But then I crested the hill, and thought I must be hallucinating again – where was the descent???? It just looked like an open plateau that stretched on as far as I could see! Was my crew playing cruel tricks on me??? Where was the fricking descent??? I tried to convince myself that it must just be a little ways up the road. So I continued, and noticed that there was a VERY strong cross wind coming from my left. And great, wouldn’t you know it, my next turn was a left turn into the wind. Who’s cruel idea of a joke was this!!! Then there was another right turn – ok, perhaps things would be ok after all. But no, the road then managed to turn into the wind yet again (or perhaps it was the wind turning into me as it got an updated bearing on my heading – afterall, it’s sole reason for being right now was apparently to blow in my face and suck any last remaining specks of self confidence from my beaten body! It was by now pretty dark, and not only was the wind blowing, but I could see lightening in the distance – wonderful – the weather gods had all converged and joined forces in this miserable little pocket of Oregon to wage war on me, and right now it was winning the war hands down! At some point there did come a little descent where the gradient was such that I could actually move forward at faster than 8mph without pedaling – this was where I began to shiver from the cold. We stopped and I put on a jacket, and then I continued on into the wind – my hopes of finishing diminishing more and more with every pedal stroke. Then to add insult to injury, I don’t know where it was, but probably about 20min before we got to Maupin and the last time station, the final straw broke – a large chunk of skin dislodged from my bottom, making it nearly impossible to sit on my saddle. Up until now my butt had been holding up relatively well. Now it was screaming at me!

Finally we pulled into Maupin at 11:25pm, almost 3 hours after cresting the top of that last climb. There was now only 5.5hrs left before the race was officially over, and although there were only 60 miles to go, almost half of that mileage was uphill, and given my pathetic ~8mph average speed on the last “descent”, the math just wasn’t adding up to being able to finish. My crew figured I needed at least 6hrs, more likely closer to 7hrs with back-stretching breaks and such added in, and since I’d left my gizmo that makes time stand still at home (it was locked away in a drawer along with my sanity!), there didn’t appear to be a way to finish. And the final kicker in it all was the fact that a large part of my left buttock no longer had skin on it, and it wasn’t shy about letting me know any time I tried to sit on my saddle! So there, in the middle of Maupin, I finally cracked. I had gone from feeling that I had this race in the bag just 3 hours earlier, to being utterly defeated and feeling like I had no chance. John came into the time station right behind me, and he continued on. The next morning I saw that he had finished a mere 6min after the cutoff – boy oh boy did that send shock waves of self-doubt through my mind – did I give up too easily? If I’d kept going would I have had a chance to finish? Afterall, I was going about the same pace as John. But hindsight is 20/20, and there’s no sense asking the “what ifs”. Afterall, considering that about 14hrs before finally abandoning I was sitting in a ditch thinking I was done, the fact that I was able to keep going and ride another 160 miles through heat, hail, and wind is still an accomplishment that I can be proud of. I may not have finished, but this was an extremely challenging course coated with pretty miserable conditions, but I didn’t go down without a fight! I rode 457 difficult miles in 42.5hrs, of which I was on the bike riding for 38hrs and 16min. I probably lost a good hour or two due to the back issues, which ended up putting me in enough of a hole that I couldn’t quite crawl back out. About half the field DNFd, which goes to show how tough a course it is. And experienced veterans struggled too. Karen Armstrong, the women’s winner, had done the 508 in about 34hrs last year, and it took her over 45hrs to complete RAO. And Sandy, a hard core ultra cyclist with a lot of these events under her belt just snuck in under the cutoff as the only other woman finisher. I’m still disappointed that I didn’t finish – this was afterall the first time that I’ve DNFd anything – but at the same time there’s a lot to be learned from defeat. I know in my heart that I’m capable of finishing RAO, so perhaps I’ll be back next year for revenge! In the meantime, a heart felt thanks to my awesome crew of Mike, Donna, and Katie! Without you guys I’d have never made it as far as I did – your encouragement and support were incredible! It was a tough weekend for competitors and crew alike, but you all rose to the challenge, so thank you, thank you, thank you!!

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Gumby escapes the jersey pocke…

Gumby escapes the jersey pocket for a photo op on the way to the windmill climb on stage 1 of the Furnace Creek 508 http://t.co/GBubrYsc

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Congratulations to ALL those w…

Congratulations to ALL those who raced at the Furnace Creek 508 this weekend – whether you raced solo or team,… http://t.co/WiSQwUyP

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The Trojan Rabbits crossing th…

The Trojan Rabbits crossing the finish line at the Furnace Creek 508 after 32hrs 41min http://t.co/rrRahWUN

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The Trojan Rabbits and crew (P…

The Trojan Rabbits and crew (Paul and Jeff) at the finish of the Furnace Creek 508 http://t.co/oMIS9mdP

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The Trojan Rabbits at the Furn…

The Trojan Rabbits at the Furnace Creek 508 finish line with Chris Kostman http://t.co/XOH4vZzy

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Stage 5 of the Furnace Creek 5…

Stage 5 of the Furnace Creek 508 http://t.co/8MJCozuC

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The view that my crew got for …

The view that my crew got for a lot of the Furnace Creek 508! http://t.co/PKWn53hD

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Approaching the top of the Ibe…

Approaching the top of the Ibex Pass on stage 5 of the Furnace Creek 508 http://t.co/qVyDfM7R

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