I don’t recall the year I first read about The 508, but it was probably 2008 or 2009. I was more of a runner/triathlete at the time, and found the link to the Furnace Creek 508 on the AdventureCorps website as I was reading about the Badwater Ultramarathon. The idea of doing the 508 grabbed ahold of me. In 2011, I participated in the fall Death Valley Ultra Century and spent a few hours after the finish talking with Susan von Sosten as she waited for her husband to finish the double century. She made training for the 508 sound completely sane and entirely possible, and I knew that someday I would find a way to do this event. I competed in Ironman triathlons for a few more years until I reached a point where I either needed to spend a significant amount of time and effort to improve my swim and run times, or move on to something different because I wasn’t going to get any faster doing what I was doing. I thought again about the 508, but the logistics of training and finding crew were overwhelming. I mentally shelved the idea yet again, but then saw the UltraRace News story on George Vargas and Rev cycling. He helped me make the shift from triathlon to ultracycling in October of 2013. I thought the ban on events in Death Valley National park was going to derail my dream one more time, but with a change in venue to Reno, Nevada it was back on track.
Less than one year after finishing my first double century in Death Valley, I have a cycling coach and many friends in the ultracycling community. I have won several ultracycling events, a time trial series, broken course records, and won my very first 500 mile event, the Silver State 508. This has been a truly incredible year for me.
Training for this event was relentless. I loved almost every minute of it, but there was not a single aspect of training that I did not struggle with at some point. Our family schedule was very busy, and I couldn’t disappear for a lot of long rides. I started most days at 3am, and rode before my kids got up and often rode again later in the day. I didn’t get to bed most nights until pretty late, and if not for the time I spent sleeping in my truck with my feet out the window waiting on a kid, I would have averaged less than four hours several nights of the week.
Chaos reigned in my house in September. It was a super busy month for all of us, but despite that we decided to rescue a 7 month old Newfoundland mix puppy. In the two weeks before the 508, the neighbor’s lawn service drove their tractor into our fence leaving a big hole in the gate, the clothes dryer died, the air conditioning died, and the neighbor stopped by to complain about our derelict yard and overgrown landscaping. There were clothes hanging to dry all over the house, kids everywhere, a barking dog, out of control yard… Pure awesome.
I left my saint of a husband in charge of the chaos, and the crew and I flew into Reno late on Thursday. The house we were renting was surprisingly even better than the pictures. That’s not how it usually works. It was much more affordable than a hotel, and we had so much more space plus a full kitchen and a pool table. Friday was spent building bikes and organizing the support vehicle. Rob fastened our magnetic signs on with clear contact paper which kept us looking pro despite the cheap plastic minivan we were driving. I went through all of my gear with my crew, so they would know what I had and how it was labeled. I talked over my various kit options with the crew, and they all agreed that I should wear the most fitted jersey I had, regardless of team or shop logos. Once I hit the high mileage training weeks this summer, what was left of my upper body faded away and most of my jerseys were flapping in the wind on me. The only jersey I had that wasn’t loose was a plain black jersey, and even that was a little baggy in the front but it was the best I could do.
Vehicle inspection and rider check in went off without a hitch. I slept really well Saturday night and got a solid 6 hours of sleep. I had thought I would be really nervous before the start, but I felt entirely calm and ready to go. I lined up front and center between Mike Wilson and Dave Haase. The first several miles were behind Chris Kostman in the AdventureCorps van, and then the race really started when we turned onto Geiger Grade road. It had gotten super cold right after we started, dropping down into the low 30’s, and I didn’t feel decently warm until well after Geiger summit and just outside Virginia City. Mike caught and passed me there. There were wild horses on the road, and Mike herded them off to the side with his bike. One of them was a grey spotted horse and it turned to look at us before running away. That felt like a good omen.
Mike was out ahead of me on the descent through 6 mile canyon. I remember thinking climbing all of that steepness on the way back was going to be a real bitch in the last 30 miles of a 500 mile ride, and that sure turned out to be true. My crew was waiting for me at mile 29, and I transitioned to the Venge with the Zipp 808 front and rear. I would stay on that bike until 20 miles into stage 3 when the serious climbing began again. I had told the crew that for anything ‘pointy’ on the elevation profile, I preferred to be on the Tarmac with a Zipp 404 front and 808 rear.
This is where the story gets a little dull, as it was just riding along and cheering for the other riders most of the day. We had not practiced handoffs, but the guys had it down from the first try. A few times I had to laugh and tell Daren to slow down because he was running so fast I couldn’t get the bottle. That guy can run! Everybody took a turn on handoff duty, and during the afternoon when it was hot I had one guy with a bottle of water I could wet my arm sleeves with, and a second guy farther down with the nutrition. It all worked very well.
Kyle got nominated to wear the Cardo (bluetooth communication device), and did most of the talking to me all day and night, in addition to mixing bottles and dealing with anything mechanical on the bike. Rob drove the entire race, and Daren managed my nutrition and had the unpleasant task of trying to get me to eat. During leapfrog support when they were well behind me and out of cardo range, I would usually pass another crew or two, so I can’t think of a single time when I felt alone. Wild Turkey, Irish Hare, and Mute Swan were the teams in closest proximity to me for many miles, so even if I did not see the rider, I saw their crew and they all cheered as I went by. It was a very cool experience and much more fun than I expected it to be.
The guys got trapped behind a slow moving vehicle for the descent down the backside of Carroll summit, so I got way out in front of them. Partway down, I could see a car diagonally parked across the opposite lane. He was mostly on the road, blocking the lane heading up the mountain and just sitting there. I could see him for quite some time, and when I reached the bend in the road before his vehicle I sat up and started to slow. When I got even closer to him, he threw his vehicle in reverse and pulled directly in front of me. Thankfully I had started to slow, but still had to slam on the brakes. I came up nearly onto his bumper and pulled onto the rumble strips as he threw it in drive and drove down the mountain. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had partially rolled my tire off the rim, and I finished descending at high speed on a dysfunctional wheel. I know this guy saw me, I have no doubt this was a purposeful act. I can’t fathom why another human being would do such a thing other than he probably knew he could kill me right there and totally get away with it. In hindsight, I should have stopped right there to wait on my crew and not continued down the mountain where this guy could have been waiting for me again. I knew something was wrong with my wheel, and I am so fortunate that I didn’t wreck.
I filled the guys in on what happened after I saw them and we stopped briefly to switch out bikes and wheels. Then I put the entire incident away and didn’t think about it again for the rest of the race. I’m pretty proud of how quickly I discharged my anger and fear and moved on with my race. I’ve been hit by a car before; it hurt a lot, changed my life, and I lived with fear for a very long time. But it no longer controls me, and I can channel a calm state of mind when I need to, at least relative to my own safety.
We had been fairly efficient with our time all day, but as the sun set we needed to stop for layers, and then again for even more layers. I found the time we spent on those stops to be frustrating, but necessary. I think we struck the right balance of the right amount of layers at the right time, but I wasn’t happy stopping. I don’t like to stop.
The turnaround in Eureka should have been a welcome sight, but it was a complete cluster and I had my big idiot rookie moment there. My crew was parked in the near driveway, and a big van was parked on the road with a volunteer next to it. I wasn’t directed to go anywhere, so I thought it was like all of the other stops where you roll by, yell out your totem, then move on. My crew yelled at me to turn around in the road so I thought they had already talked to whoever was volunteering there. But after I turned around in the road, they told me there were volunteers in the gas station lot telling me I needed to ride through there. So I did, and that’s when I could see the group of volunteers on the far side of the van, completely obscured from view. So I rode past them, called out my totem, and rolled out the far driveway. That could have been a complete disaster if I missed check in at the turnaround. It was frustrating and embarrassing.
Going up and over the mountain passes after Eureka was very slow. Kyle continued to talk to me over the Cardo, and told jokes. Some of them were funny, but I didn’t respond at all given the effort of the climb and how cold it was. I had thought by then they would be trading off driving and trying to get some sleep, but they stuck through every minute of that ride with me.
I felt bad for the guys trying to drive that slow for that long behind a mute rider, but we made up for it on the descents. I had never descended a mountain at night, so that was a first for me. It was fun in a terrifying thrill ride kind of way. We had a very tense moment on one of the descents. A four person team had passed me on the climb, but were descending a lot slower than I was in the dark. I was riding carbon wheels and couldn’t ride my brakes all the way down a long descent. My crew and I had a minute of anxious conversation about what to do when I caught up, and then before I knew it I was right behind their support vehicle. It was a steeper section, so I worried about not being able to stop in time if they slowed even more for a turn. My bike was shaking with the heavy braking. It was scary. Rob gave me the go ahead to go around when he felt it was safe. I let the other cyclist know we were coming, and the next thing I knew we were going 45 again and bumping over a cattle guard. I did not enjoy that.
It had gotten brutally cold pretty quickly after dark, and it would get colder still past Carroll Summit with lows in the 20’s. I wore the one item of clothing that I wished I had had at 24 hours of Sebring, my fleece jacket. It’s not aero, it’s not high tech, but it’s warm and I knew it would keep me out of the van and on the road. Everything came off my bike at night; bottles, food, seat pack. I carried nothing I didn’t have to. Whenever I needed a drink or something to eat, the guys came up alongside and took care of it out the window. They warmed all of my liquids on the car heater, and even plain water was served warm. I had brought chicken bouillon granules, so they mixed that up with water and heated it up for me. Getting me to eat and drink was a challenge. Daren would tell me I was getting behind on calories, but I found that surprising. It seemed like I had just eaten, and it was already time to eat again. They ran down the entire list of everything I had in the car, every time, and nothing sounded good. They were so patient with me, and Daren knows me well enough that he knew exactly the right tone to take with me. I was never annoyed or irritated, but I can’t think of a single thing they could’ve tempted me with that I would have looked forward to having. I wasn’t nauseous, but I was frozen and miserable and the idea of eating or drinking was disgusting. I was so cold, it was all I could do to just stick out my hand and wait for Daren to stick something in it. My hands were totally numb for what felt like hours despite my gloves and chemical hand warmer packs. Amazingly, the only thing that got dropped in all of those miles was one caffeine tablet. They finally did get me to eat some Cheetos, and broke them up and served them to me in a cup since I had lobster mitts on and couldn’t pull them out of a bag.
Dawn finally arrived, and with it some warmth. Then began the frustration of stopping to shed clothes, then more clothes, then finally ending up sockless in vented triathlon shoes. High temp on the second day was 95. Things were pretty good for awhile, but my throat was getting sore and very swollen. Sports drink, gel, water, and food all made it feel worse. The only thing that went down ok was chocolate milk, which I would not have had if Mike had not suggested it. Daren told me I was getting behind on calories, so I decided to try to choke down part of a Larabar that I had in my pocket. I numbed my throat up with a cough drop hoping that would make it easier to swallow, but one big chunk of Larabar got stuck high in the back of my throat. When I tried to wash it down, it shot right up into my sinuses. That was extremely painful, and I spent the better part of an hour riding slowly sneezing that out all over the front of me. At least I hadn’t choked on it. I couldn’t take in any calories during that time which turned out to be far worse for me than the sinus pain. No race is problem free, something always goes wrong, but I couldn’t believe a Larabar coming out of my nose was what I was dealing with. If I’d have felt better, I’m sure it would have been funny.
I was an absolute mess, and covered in snot, blood, and Larabar. The Cardo batteries had died, so I couldn’t communicate what was happening to my crew. The look of shock on the faces of the people that passed me was priceless… I know I looked like hell. I started seeing the Wild Turkey crew, so I knew Mike was nearby. I stopped to clean myself up a little bit, but was still feeling pretty rough when I rolled into Silver Springs. Mike was there, and instead of rolling on with his race, he stopped.
Daren brought me some french fries, and Mike stayed with me while I slowly choked them down. I have a passion for anything potato, but it was like eating a cup of razor blades. It really hurt to swallow, and required a great deal of concentration. I don’t really know how to put that moment into words. I felt physically horrible, but I had Daren and Mike right next to me, Kyle, Rob, Deena, and Mike’s crew all nearby. It was a good place to be right then and I knew I would be fine soon.
I actually did feel better heading out of Silver Springs, although the headwind stunk. At the turn off to 6mile canyon, Mike was was out in front of me and I stopped to choke down my last bit of calories until the finish. I apologized to Kyle that we weren’t done yet, which made him laugh. All I knew was that I felt like I had lost a ton of time in Stage 6, I most likely could not fully rebound from my nutritional lapse, and I felt bad for dragging things out. As I headed up the climb, Rob said a couple of times “don’t tip over”. I wondered why he kept saying that, but it didn’t take me long to remember why. 6 mile canyon is full of steep little ramps, some over 20%grade. It was hot, and the canyon reminded me of Odin’s Revenge, minus the mud, and the gravel, and the crashing. It was pretty nice scenery, and the only bit of shade the entire race. I wasn’t moving terribly fast at that point, but I felt ok and didn’t tip over. I think I even smiled a few times.
The UltraRace Report people were waiting for me at the top of the climb. They probably had time for breakfast, lunch, and a nap between when the top men finished and I finally came along. We talked for a minute, and then I took off down the descent. That last climb had finally torched my back, and I was no longer able to tuck into an aero position for very long. I sat up, coasting down smiling and enjoying the view. I hadn’t realized they were still filming me at that point, but of course that was the footage they used. Having fun and not looking terribly pro, but that’s me.
I caught up with Mike for the last city miles of stop and go torture. My crew had given me a cue sheet so we wouldn’t get lost in what felt like a maze back through Reno, but they were able to negotiate the lights and stay within sight for most of the turns. Really it’s only a few turns, but at that point in a race I am easily confused. It was hot, there was a lot of traffic, and we hit every single stop light before we finally got to the finish. Chris Kostman was there to greet me, as well as Deena Munroe and Susan von Sosten. It was super cool to have Susan see me come full circle, and win the event that had been just a dream and a random conversation a few years ago. And to finish with Mike was one of the best race experiences I’ve ever had. I’m not sure how I can ever top that. I worked so hard all summer to be ready for this event, and I’m so glad I didn’t let him down.
We hung around the finish line long enough to take a few pictures and give an interview. I felt pretty good right after the race, but later would end up in respiratory distress. It was pretty scary. I’ve been through worse, but not any time recently. I’m very thankful it hit after and not during the event as I heard happened to several other athletes.
I didn’t sleep much Monday night due to my breathing issues. Tuesday I was pretty much worthless, and Kyle cleaned up and packed my nasty, snot covered bikes. My crew sorted and packed the rest of the gear and took it all to FedEx while I finally slept. We went out for dinner on our last night in Reno, and they surprised me with a winner cake. That was so very thoughtful, and to top it off the waiter thought it was my birthday so I got to wear the big sombrero while they sang happy birthday.
Even though this a 500 mile solo time trial, it is far from a solo experience. The majority of my training is done alone, but really not much else. I had so much support from so many people coming into this race. Donated time, donated and borrowed equipment, advice…Thank you for stepping forward to give me what I needed and offering support, encouragement, and prayers. It means more to me than I can say. I try to not to ask for help very often, but you all overwhelm me with your generosity when I do.
Kyle Robinson (Kyle’s Bikes), Daren Munroe, Deena Munroe, and Rob White. Thank you for taking a week of your precious time to come along on my crazy adventure, and for making it better than I ever dreamed. So many fun moments didn’t make the write up, but I’ll never forget the Burger King incident, the Thug Kitchen, and a few other things I’m too embarrassed to mention. Daren and Deena, I’m still so touched by your thoughtfulness. Thank you for finding me a gluten free cake and donuts, and for making race Tshirts. Thank you all for being the awesome crew I knew you would be.
Kyle, so much of what went right this year was due to your help. Thanks for your bike mechanic expertise, the excellent bike fit, and all of the time you have spent helping me find the right gear. Thank you for taking the time away from your family and business to support me at this event.
Mike, I don’t even know if I can begin to summarize and thank you for all that you’ve done for me this year. All year long you seemed to know exactly what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear it. You have a true gift for coaching, and I can’t wait to see what we can do next year.
George Vargas, Rev Endurance Cycling, thanks for opening the door to the ultracycling world and keeping my dream alive. Thank you for supporting this sport, and supporting women’s cycling.
Pauline Tan, thank you so, so much for helping me with strength training this year. I could barely stand up after 24 hours of Sebring, and it took 490 miles of pretty serious cycling to make my back hurt at the 508. That was such a remarkable improvement, and I know we can do better yet for next year.
Rich and Steve at Great Basin Bicycles, Reno, NV. Thank you for taking good care of my equipment. Rich, thank you for meeting me late in the evening well after your shop closed so that I could pick up my bikes. Thank you also for talking with me about the course, and for the warning about the cattle guards. I hit them in just the right spot.
Chris Kostman and AdventureCorps, thank you for keeping this event going despite so many challenges. This was my third AdventureCorps event, and it was top notch as always. I hope to be competing in your events for years to come.
Greg Grandgeorge, Rachelle Little, Scott Newbury, Daren Munroe, Rob White, thank you for the borrowed equipment. Greg, thank you for the additional time you spent helping me with my race plan. Your finish time projections are scary accurate.
And last but not least, many thanks to my husband and kids for always supporting my training and racing. I know this hobby of mine isn’t always easy for us to manage, and I could not do it without your love and support.