Sunday, 7 September
Yesterday was the final race of my 2008 season: the 12-hour Ring of Fire time trial. You have to set goals for yourself going into an event like this, so my primary one was to break my own course record of 183 miles from 2006 and hopefully to match the 200 miles that O.A.D. and I rode on the tandem (also a course record) in 2007. It's hard to be confident that everything is "dialed in" going into a race that long, with so many variables, but I thought I was feeling as ready for it as I could.
The first time I did this race, it was my first-ever "ultra" event and I was by myself and I had a little bit of that "deer in the headlights" feeling. Doing it on the tandem last year was different, and I was curious to see how my attitude and approach (and confidence, I suppose) had changed this year. I knew the course, I knew that I would make it back to the start/finish, so it was just a matter of turning over the pedals, not using the brakes on the descents, and minimizing the time off the bike.
The race is in 2 parts: a 112-mile big loop, and a 27-mile short loop that you do laps on until your 12 hours are up. The big loop climbs forest service roads around Mt. Hood, has several descents of more than 5 miles (one is 20 miles), and features spectacular scenery every inch of the way. There are 3 time/aid stations on the big loop where you can pick up food and water, drop off extra clothing, and get lots of encouragement and support. The stretch between time stations 1 and 2 would be worth doing the rest of the ride on highways: there are so many beautiful views of Mt. Hood and endless forest. And empty, empty roads. So I guess another difference between 2006 and 2008 for me at this race was that apprehension had been replaced by anticipation of great riding.
OK, race details. As I mentioned before, I gave up on the aero bars plan. Most people had them, and I ended up leap-frogging many of them: they'd pass me on descents, I'd pass them on climbs. Climbs last longer, and I ended up riding away from most of them. :) There were 3 other women in the 12-hour race, and one 2-person women's team, and I had passed all of them before mile 25. When I figured out that I'd won the women's race, barring catastrophe, then I had to focus on the aforementioned goals--and reeling in as many men as I could. My time at the end of the big loop was within 5 minutes of our split on the tandem last year, which made me very happy. But the short loop is tough: it starts with a 4-mile climb. And by that point (almost 7 hours into the 12) it was hot (90 degrees), my stomach wasn't very happy, and I was starting to think it would be nice to get off the bike. But each lap finishes with 9 miles of flat (and increasing tailwind as the afternoon went on) road along the Deschutes River, so you feel pretty good when you get to the start/finish for your time check. I was "focused," they tell me, every time I came through, and got back on the road immediately. At the end of lap 2, I felt awful and my lap times were 10 minutes too slow to match our tandem pace. I had 1:46 left, and a full lap is 27 miles. I needed 18 to break my record. Obviously, I could do that much. But then you tell yourself that you should break a record by more than one mile. When I got to the start of the final 9-mile flat stretch, my oxygen-deprived brain managed to figure out that I might be able to get all the way to the finish in the time I had left if I could just keep my speed over 20 mph. I made it with 2 minutes to spare: it was a huge mental battle to compel myself to keep the effort up for that long and to fight back when the wind would force my speed down. I didn't get to 200 miles, but 193 isn't bad. And just 7 miles (what? 25 minutes?) off the tandem record on my single bike ain't too shabby. The men's winner of the 12-hour race rode 202 miles, second place rode 194 miles, and I was third overall at 193. On my aero-bar-less, carbon-wheel-less, ordinary aluminum road bike. :)
Before the race, lots of folks were telling me I really need to step up and do a 24-hour race, and one experienced ultra rider invited me to be on a mixed team for Race Across Oregon in 2009. But I was wary--I like to eat dinner at dinnertime and go to bed at bedtime--so I haven't jumped at this challenge. And yesterday confirmed that I just need to keep working on improving my 12-hour racing. The first 6 hours were fantastic. They confirmed my commitment to change things next year, learn to say "no," and not take on burdens that cut into my ride time: I have just too much fun on the bike. But then there was a lull when the fun wasn't so fun anymore. Surely that was mostly related to the heat and hydration/heat exhaustion issues. In a strange twist, part of what kept me going was knowing that I could get off when I got to 12 hours. But something intangible that I can't quite put my finger on pushed me to ride that last lap, to ignore all those impulses to stop.
Ironically, I was so focused when I rolled in to the start/finish before my last lap that all I did was ask for my total miles so far and how much time I had left and take on one bottle of water. I completely missed the fact that my husband, who was competing in the 24-hour race, was sprawled on the pavement, unable to stand up, much less ride his bike. He had been way ahead of the course record on the time splits through about 10 hours of riding and then completely came apart. Heat, hydration, and who-knows-what were all factors. Unfortunately, he was unable to get back on his bike--barely able to get to bed--so his total distance in the 24-hour event was 184 miles, tied (!) for last place.
Many, many thanks go to our friend Brian for coming all the way to Maupin to support O.A.D. and then me in this adventure. After his Race Across Oregon experience, hopefully it was interesting for him to see the crew side of a race like this, even if it was curtailed and he didn't have to sit at the start/finish all night long.
And in spite of the tired knees, hot spots on my feet, and other aches and pains you'd expect from 12 hours in the saddle, this race also generates more warm fuzzy feelings than any I know. The people--the promoters, other racers, other support crews, even the people of the town of Maupin--support you 110%. A couple of people put on race faces, but everyone else is all about wishing you a great race. A little friendly rivalry and banter develops on the road as you pass and get passed by the same people several times over. The volunteers at the time/aid stations would clean your windshield and check your tire pressure if you asked them to. I think everyone walks away from this race (OK, maybe not O.A.D., maybe not this year) with a huge sense of accomplishment. Even if you don't meet all your goals, it's a super hard course and you earn a ton of respect from every other competitor out there. You learn something, you race hard, you beat some people and some people beat you, and you enjoy the luxurious privilege of riding through wondrous natural beauty. How could you ask for more?