This was my second trip to Death Valley. I had done the Death Valley Ultra Century in the fall of 2011, and had an absolutely wonderful experience. Despite being under fueled and in quite a bit of pain from an ulcer, I had a pretty good ride and was 9th overall, first woman finisher. I really wanted to do more and longer ultra cycling events, with a long term goal of finishing the Furnace Creek 508. That race seemed forever beyond my reach until this year. I had all but given up on it until I saw the article early this year in UltraRace News about George Vargas and Rev Endurance Cycling. We talked, he looked at my WKO files, and the next thing I knew I had several brevets and a fall double century on my schedule, with a plan for 2014 to begin building experience for the 508. Just like that! There are a lot of reasons why this event is maybe not something I should be dreaming about, and there is no guarantee I’ll ever get in or finish, but it’s nice to have the dream live while it can. George said that he is not a crusher of dreams, but he is also not one to encourage stupidity. I know that he’ll tell me when I’m in over my head.
In addition to the spring and summer brevets, I raced Hawaii 70.3 in June, Ironman Canada in August, and afterwards took a solid 4 weeks of recovery. That left me with 4 weeks of training, and one week of recovery prior to the double century. George gave me a framework for training, and less mileage than I expected. He is really a top notch mentor. I am highly motivated and don’t require supervision to get things done if I have a plan, but when I did have questions he always had the answer.
The training went mostly well, except for one hilarious meltdown my friend Liz will likely never let me live down. I’m most often alone on my long rides, but thankfully that day I had a friend. Thanks for getting me through that Liz! I strive for mental toughness, but that day I was a marshmallow. The road to Redfield is now paved with shame! I otherwise hit my target wattage most of my rides, I had dropped to 145 lbs, my nutrition plan was solid…
Kyle had fixed my fit issues with my aerobars, http://www.kylesbikes.com/ and I felt very confident that I would have a good ride. Just for reference, 145lbs is 11 lbs lighter than when I last rode in Death Valley, and 10-11 lbs lighter than I raced at my first 2 iron distance triathlons a few years ago…I’m definitely more fit than I was 2 years ago, but being less fat has helped almost as much.
I flew into Vegas Friday on a plane filled with sick people. It sounded like they all had tuberculosis. The second flight, I swear no one had brushed their teeth. It was not pleasant, but the bike and I made it. I put my bike together in the parking lot of The Bike Shop LV which is near the airport. My seat post bolt and a pedal washer had gone missing, so thankfully Terry replaced them and looked over my bike and made sure it was good to go. Thanks Terry!
George told me to be at the start by 6:45am Saturday, so I rolled up at 6:40. Surprisingly there was already a large group assembled, so I just rolled into line behind them. George and Lori showed up a few minutes later, and proceeded to move the entire Rev group to the very front of the start line. I can understand George and Lori getting a spot up there, but as a double century rookie I didn’t really feel like I belonged there. I wondered what kind of impression I was making standing up front with my pink and purple streaked hair and Zipp wheels…. The wheels were George’s idea, and a good one, but I really just wanted to get going or crawl under a rock.
The first few miles were single file following the tandems. I jumped on whoever was moving faster, trying to keep an eye out for a break off the front. I never did tell George this before the ride, but my goal was to get in the lead group of men and stay with them until Scotty’s Castle. I assumed I would need to back off on my power and probably get dropped after that, but hopefully still finish in the top 5. That’s an ambitious plan for a woman doing her first double century. I knew nothing about the men I was going to be riding with, other than they likely had way more experience at this distance than I did. I had confidence in my training, but beyond that it was a big mental leap of faith in myself. My husband and I have been having frequent conversations with our children about going above and beyond what you know you can do, or have to do, that putting in that extra effort will result in something special. My children are surrounded by a culture that encourages them to just get by in life with a minimum of effort, and we want more for them. So I decided it was my day to practice what I preach, and not play it safe and ride the nice sensibly paced double century I was confident I could finish. I would have gone home let down, and been disappointed in myself. And how better to thank George for all of the time that he invested in me? I was there to ride my best ride and take a chance that I was strong enough to be up front. And if not, then I would take my sorry self back to Iowa and hope George could forgive me 🙂
At the first long roller some guys broke away from the tandems and off I went. George had been barking instructions at me for several miles, so I rode off with his last minute advice in mind, hoping he wasn’t too worried that I would blow up or bonk. I rolled into the first checkpoint with the first small pack of men. I didn’t need anything at the stops except fluid. I had packed all of my own nutrition, so I topped off my bottle and went after Tom, the first guy leaving the checkpoint. I wasn’t certain anyone would wait on me, so I made sure I was ready quickly at every stop.
Tom and I didn’t get too far down the road before we were caught by the Adobo Velo men, and one other guy named Daren. I was thankful to have a nice group of men to work with. There was no talking, no time wasting, just shut up, keep up, and pull your share. I really enjoyed it. After several miles, two guys made a fast break from our group. It was a very fast and impressive break, but I wondered what they were thinking doing that so early in the day. It broke our group apart, as the third Adobo Velo rider and Daren tried to chase. I hesitated, but then decided to go too. I caught Daren and we bridged up to the third Adobo Velo rider, but Tom dropped off behind.
The three of us rode together until I dropped off on the initial climb to Scotty’s Castle. I thought that was the beginning of a 170 mile solo ride, but caught the guys at the next water stop, including the two that had broken away from the group. We left there together only as a group of 4, and stayed that way for the next few hours to Scotty’s Castle at mile 68. The men were riding very strong. I was getting behind on calories, and rolled into checkpoint 2 absolutely starving. It was a hard ride, I knew it would be hard, but yet when it gets hard I am always somewhat in awe of just how hard it is. This is not riding along all day and having snacks. It is tough.
Scotty’s Castle at mile 68 was a welcome but brief break. Daren and I were ready to roll quickly, and one of the Adobo Velo riders was clipping in and ready, so Daren and I rolled out. We noticed the other guys weren’t right behind us, so we soft pedaled up the climb, finally taking the opportunity to talk and introduce ourselves, thinking they were coming. They never did show up, so I felt bad for leaving them. That was not our intent to leave them at the aid station. When the road flattened out and they still weren’t in sight, we just picked up steam and rode on.
Back at the checkpoint, I had put my drink powder in my bottle and asked the volunteer to fill it for me with water while I did other things. I’m not sure what she put in there, it tasted like thick Pepto Bismol. Horrible, sweet pink swill. Maybe I had mixed my powder wrong? Maybe it was Heed, aka Heave? Regardless, the road to Nevada is bumpy, there is really no scenery, and I was dragging along into the headwind with a bottle of swill. Fabulous. At least it was cold swill. That was probably the mental low point of my ride. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, ‘it was the suckiest suck that ever sucked!’ I dreaded when it was my turn to pull and I was really quite miserable. Yet at the same time I was trying not to laugh at my situation. I’m just a 41 year old mom, how did I get to this odd moment in my life? I drank the swill because it was the desert, and swill is better than dehydration and death, but it was horrible. Funny and horrible.
Daren and I rolled into checkpoint 3 in Nevada, and after dumping out the remaining swill and refilling with my own drink, I was ready to roll pretty quickly. Daren looked like he just wanted a chair, and honestly I did too. Nevada was not fun. We rolled out of the checkpoint and it was instantly a better ride because the mountains were in the forefront, we had a light tailwind, and the other riders were coming at us from the opposite direction. It lifted my spirits, and suddenly the ride was fun again. George and Lori came along towards us fairly quickly, and as expected they were having a solid ride. There was just under 100 miles to go at that point.
Daren got out ahead of me on the descent near Scotty’s Castle, and thankfully he did not pull in to stop. I had told him I wasn’t stopping, but wasn’t sure he was going to go along with that plan. The air was so dry that my eyes were watering profusely and it was hard to see. I couldn’t see my line through the turns. I think you could’ve run down that mountain faster than I rode it. It got hot quickly as we descended. It’s been cold in Iowa the last few weeks, and all of my heat tolerance was gone. I was melting on the outback to Ubehebe Crater. I started to develop hotfoot, first in my left big toe, and then both forefeet entirely. I dumped water in my shoes at the crater, and started taking Tums. That helped enough to keep me going. Daren and I saw George and Lori on our way out of the crater. Both times I saw them I happened to be pulling, so I was relieved that George would at least know I was doing my share and not riding a guy’s wheel for 11 hours.
The Hell’s Gate climb almost finished me in 2011 when I did the Ultra Century. I had to stop three times on that climb to get my act together, so I was anticipating a struggle. As we headed back across Death Valley, I told Daren that if he dropped me on the climb not to wait on me. But as we continued to ride, my pulls got longer and his got shorter and slower, and then he dropped off entirely. I pulled into the aid station at Mud Canyon alone. I dumped water on my feet and refilled my bottles. The volunteer there was Amy Snyder: author, 508 finisher, fellow Rev athlete, and all around bad ass ultra cyclist. I think I pledged my undying affection to at least three volunteers that day, Amy was one of them. She put ice in my sports bra and in my cycling gloves, and it was awesome. The volunteers were great at every stop, and very helpful. Even the lady that gave me swill! I love her too! Daren had rolled into the aid stop not long after me, but waved me on ahead so I took off to tackle the climb to Hell’s Gate.
I started the climb feeling not too shabby, pulling ice out of my shirt and chewing it. I was pretty happy for the first few miles, but then my ice was gone, my legs were tired, and I just crawled to the top. I didn’t stop at all this time, which was a success but it was a small victory. I was in good spirits the entire climb, but my wattage frankly stunk. I crawled into the checkpoint at Hell’s Gate and the volunteer gave me coke.. I love her! The two volunteers were very encouraging, and I set off in pursuit of a group of Ultra Century riders that had left the station before me. One volunteer told me they had gone through shortly before me and maybe I could catch them, but then the other said they were too far ahead. Well, now I had to at least try to catch them. It gave me something mentally to focus on the last miles anyway, since I had pretty much run out of things to think about. Eventually I could see them in the distance, and I picked it up as much as possible. I nearly caught them at the fueling station, but I knew that I did not have enough distance to pass them. I eased off to let them finish, and then rolled in after them.
There were only a few people hanging out in the finish area. I don’t think anybody even clapped for me when I finished. I’ve never seen finish line volunteers so shocked to see me. The sun hadn’t even set yet, I was a little surprised to be there myself. Someone took a picture of me at the finish, and I would really love to have it! If anyone has it, please forward it to me! My finish time was 10:59, ride time 10:36. The weather was good, and the winds were light so my time ended up being a little faster than I expected. I had strong men to ride with for all but the last 30 miles, so that certainly made for a fast day. And every time I didn’t feel well or had a problem, I had a solution that worked. Finishing first was fun, but overall I’m most happy that I rode the ride that I knew I could.
My normalized power was 181 watts, TSS 562.6, IF 0.724, VI 1.1. My normalized power for the 3:40 it took to reach Scotty’s Castle was 204 watts or 81% of my FTP. I spent approximately 50 minutes above threshold over the entire ride. My wattage on the Ubehebe Crater and Hell’s Gate Climbs just stunk, so I need to work on cranking out some better wattage on tired legs. I believe that was a true fitness issue, not lack of motivation or anything else. I had decent endurance for the day. Although it was great to have a fast time on a good day, with strong men and light winds, I’ll need to continue to build endurance to make sure that I have enough in the tank for a really long, hard, solo, bad weather day. I’ll likely continue to pledge my love to random volunteers at future events. I can’t seem to help it. And I would love it if some of my musically inclined friends would write a song about light winds and strong men… that just begs to be put to music.
I met so many wonderful people at this event! Special thanks to Chris Kostman and AdventureCorps for keeping this event going in a year filled with so many challenges. Death Valley is truly an amazing place, and if not for you and your events I’m not certain that I would have ever had the opportunity to go there.
I plan to be at the Spring Death Valley Double century in 2014. Unless we have a very mild winter in Iowa, I will be training almost entirely indoors on the trainer. I can’t imagine I’m going to be able to show up with the same level of fitness that I have achieved this October, or if it’s even going to be possible for me to be ready to ride 200 miles so early in the season with so much pure trainer time. But I’m excited about another ultra cycling adventure, and whether I succeed or not the experience is priceless. Winning is fun, but it’s the ride that I love.