Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Finish is all that matters, Race Across Oregon, 2009

Huge Thanks to my Crew

I realize July and Race Across Oregon 2009 was several months ago. This is probably too long for you to read through every last detail,…so grab some coffee first;^). Here are my most important thoughts before you get the gory details. I am so thankful to my crew…crew means everything in a race like this. I couldn’t and wouldn’t have finished this race without all their support! Thank you Cris Matthews, Dave Sax, Lee Mitchell, Heidi Perry and Linda Huyck!! You all are so awesome!!

After finishing with my crew last year Cris Matthews was still enthusiastic about coming back to help crew again this year. Lee Mitchell and Dave Sax were also recruited to work with Cris the first day. Lee “Fuzzy” Mitchel, a veteran of all veterans in the sport of ultracycling was willing to come up to be my crew chief, even after finishing RAAM in the 75 year old team division! Dave Sax, a long time good friend and track buddy from Muskingum College days also came up from California. The second day, Heidi Perry and Linda Huyck joined the crew which turned out to be perfect timing for many MANY reasons. (As some of you know, Heidi and I became an item last year because of RAO.) This year it has been great to have Heidi behind me every step of the way, in training and race prep, and everything else! Heidi and Linda drove from Portland late Saturday to the far reaches of eastern Oregon in the middle of the night. Thank you Heidi, Linda and everyone in my crew for being there for me. You are all what got me to that finish!! And thanks to James Varner for working communicating to my crew where the hell I was based on the website. Also thanks to Jim Szumila for crewing me during a training ride out to Condon in June. And thanks to all my wonderful family and friends for cheering for me, it was so good to here from you all!

Another huge thanks goes to Dave Terry (a friend and ultrarunner) who just recently passed away. I rode with Dave last year from Hood River, to the Dalles and up the Dufur Valley Road hill to Cooper Spur and back down to Hood River. It was about a 100 mile ride, but it was the day after a long 140 mile ride I did elsewhere out on the course. It was great to have Dave show me this section of course, since this part of this loop ride had the final climb in the new RAO course (up Dufur Valley Road hill to Cooper Spur). I didn’t get the chance to ride this section of course this year, so thanks to Dave for showing me this and inspiring me to achieve the goal of finishing and not worry about a goal of a time! Dave will be missed dearly, and I will never forget how great it was to ride with a legendary ultrarunner!


This type of race comes in many forms, more I could ever experience during my adventures in ultrarunning. But I have found a niche in this sport and I’m happy to say that I still enjoy being out there, experiencing the elements on the pavement. I felt more than ready this year. I was feeling up to the challenge of the new course. There are many things that I experienced out there that a lot of other riders also went through. I also faced the close cutoff time, which was really difficult.

So I want to share my toughest times in this year’s race, to give you some idea how I got to that point and then what I did to get out of it…

When was the toughest time?

Have you ever been in a pinch in time? Last year at RAO when I was riding so slowly. I thought I wouldn’t make the cutoff. But at that time, I only had 40 miles to go and 7 hours on the clock. I managed to beat that time by a long shot with a couple hours to spare. However, time was NOT on my side this year. So let’s fast forward to the part in the race that was so desperate…

The time is 12 midnight Monday July 13, 2009 and I have ridden my bike for 460 miles since beginning Saturday at 5:00am. I had just crested the climb out of Maupin, AND faced the huge climb up to Mt Hood that stood in the darkness ahead of me. I am still 56 miles from the finish, but I have less than 5 hours to finish before the 48 hour cutoff. That means averaging almost 11 mph on a major climb to Mt Hood. I have endured many levels of pain by now, fighting 50 mph headwinds, blazing heated canyons, and aching Achilles tendinitis pain since about 130 miles into the ride. I am beyond exhausted and the will to keep trying. I am feeling there is no way in hell I am going to make the cutoff by 5:00am and I feel it's not worth fighting the pain anymore. I was leaning over my handlebars ready to quit. That is when other people kept me keep going, and what this story is really all about.

What drove me beyond this moment to finish this race! Many of you know that I finished Race Across Oregon in 48:06, just 6 minutes past the cutoff for an official finish. Why not just quit? What was the point of finishing when I knew the cutoff was practically gone? How did I get to beyond this point after all what I been through!

The Training

As you are aware, this year was a good year of training for me. Joining the Randonneurs was a huge benefit that got me mega mileage on the weekends. This year’s training was much much greater than last year ever was. In May, I completed two 250 mile Randonneur Brevets, that were 1 week apart, and the following weekend did the Lewis and Clark 24 hour race (getting in as many as 323 miles and placing 2nd). I decided after all those miles in May to get in shorter and heavy duty climbing miles in June, which would replicate the RAO course. Biking new parts of the course, I saw for myself the huge 2500 ft climbs that I would face in the race after 400 miles, that made last year’s course look like Kansas. I didn't have a chance to scope out the portion of the course which may have aggravated my problems. But regardless, no matter how much I studied the course, unpredictable things came down on race day that made the event so much harder, in spite of all my good training.

As you can see from the results only 10 solo riders (including upright, recupright and recumbent) finished officially, and 2 unofficially (one of them was me), and out of all of us, 10 dnf's. This makes a 54% finish rate, consistent with previous year’s results,. However, the course still proved to be extremely tough, in my opinion and in the estimation of others with much greater experience...

There was over 40,000 ft of elevation gain and major climbs after riding 400 miles. In particular, the climb that stood out for me was the Clarno climb (John Day Canyon), about 2200 feet in 8 miles. It was set to eat me alive on race day.

Anyways, feeling great and with all that training under my belt, I felt certain of a strong finish, perhaps sub 42 hours! But who knew what the new course would throw at its riders. I was so relieved to have finished the training and felt ready for the new course. The only thing that stood in my way now was just 40,000+ elevation gain in 516 miles and whatever else that would brew up on race day.

The Start to Moro (121 miles)

Us solo riders were fortunate to start at 5:00am, which allowed the first climb up Hwy 35 on the north flank of Mt Hood to be cooler ,.
We all started off in the usual parade for the first 9 miles. They even let us take a quick pee break before we broke off onto Hwy 35. As the leaders broke away up Hwy 35, I kept as calm as I could, keeping my heart rate reasonable, eating and drinking responsibly. I looked up and wondered to myself how many people in that lead pack would drop. My guess was that half of the field wouldn't finish, and just I thought; hopefully I'm not one of them!

Rooky, Mike Maughan and I were leapfrogging somewhat on this climb, but before I knew it, Mike sped ahead and I wouldn’t see him until later in the race. The descent down Forest Road 48 was not as fast as it could have been, with chipseal, potholes, a few 100+ feet rollers and a 10 mile stretch with frost heaves! Those frost heaves were couple inches wide/deep and spread out about every 200 feet for 10 miles. We were warned in the pre-race meeting not to hold your tongue between your teeth or you might accidentally bite it off. I finally got down to the bottom of the descent to Tygh Valley and Time Station 1. Lead woman Karen Armstrong caught up to me and I was glad she could show me the way, since my crew was somewhere behind me. I had arrived only 20 minutes behind my target time and was still feeling good. My crew finally caught up to me a few miles down the road and I stopped briefly to prepare for the very steep Sherar Falls climb out of the Deschutes River canyon. Crew could not support during this climb, so I had to get myself whatever I needed for the 4 mile climb. I felt pretty good even on the steeper 20% grade switchback, and got to the top without too much trouble. However, as I approached the summit, I faced severe headwinds, which felt like 40-50 mph! We would face headwind for the next 50+ miles with only a few breaks. And the Race Directors said this would be a tail wind stretch!

I fought hard, doing everything I could to stay on the bike, not waste too much energy and keep eating and drinking. This part of the course was off the beaten highway, which added maybe 10 miles or more. I was distracted by this since I'm used to riding with the Randonneurs who ride the shortest distance possible between each control station. And the ungodly headwinds were still with us. However at Lonerock Road the road turned slightly to the NW so a tailwind sailed us into Moro, time station 2. There I needed to fuel up and rest from battling the headwinds. Joan Grant was also there recovering , so I didn’t feel alone. I couldn’t find a restroom to take a dump and ended up going into the town tavern. It had “no public restroom” signs which I ignored; no one was in the bar and I left without being seen, but who knows, there might be “Wanted” signs now posted for my arrest!

Moro to Condon (121-164 miles)

Moving slowly out of Moro on Monkland Road, heading east, the course led towards the windfarms and the infamous John Day River canyon. As we approached the wind farms you could see that the winds were truly whipping from the east, compared to my mid-June training day when they had come from the west... Along Monkland Road, my left Achilles started to ache. I hoped it was a minor pain that would just go away. But on Hwy 206 approaching John Day canyon I opted for some ibuprofen, since the pain was getting worse. And it started to get really hot. The headwinds had masked the heat, but descending into John Day canyon, the heat really intensified... I heard from other people that their bike computers read 106 degrees.

I had only taken 400 mg of ibuprofen to see if that would diminish the pain, and it seemed to work. I felt strong on the climb out of John Day Canyon. I passed a couple solo riders and felt I was back in the game. I tried to take it easy on the steeper climbs to protect my Achilles. Then I noticed a huge salt ring on my shorts and jersey, so knew I must have had a shortfall in salt during the headwinds stretch. And, on the final steep climb up to Devils Butte, my hamstrings and quads completely cramped up badly. It was so bad I had to get off my bike and stretch out. Dave ran from the car down to me and stretched me out on the side of the road. Several teams passed at this point and checked if I needed help. But within minutes, I was back on the bike impressing several teams that I pulled it together as fast as I did.

Once you crest the summit Devils Butte, if you look west over your shoulder, you can see Mt Rainier and most of the Oregon Cascades, but I was too much in a daze by now to worry about the view It was still pretty windy leading down into Condon. I caught up with Mike and Joan and we played leapfrog into Condon together. Mike and Joan’s crew were so supportive of me out there! Mike’s crew chief, Glenn Johnson, was on the loud speaker with Mike, playing some rock ‘n roll. It gave me an extra lift, too.

It was so good to be back in the game again, but the pain in my Achilles kept reminding me that I should slow down. I maintained contact with Mike (that is eye contact of course, not drafting contact). Then, Mike let me pass him somewhere outside of Condon and I wouldn’t see him until later that evening. Now I entered a section of the course where I hadn’t trained. Since the descents and climbs were an unknown, I would have to consult with my crew.

Condon to Heppner (164-207 miles)

My memory is not good in this stretch, since I was more focused on eating, drinking or just pedaling. With some major climbs ahead, (“speed bumps” the race directors call them) and the day still quite warm, I slowed my pace slightly. Just a few miles before Heppner I put lights on. Descending into Heppner it concerned me that Lee was driving close on my tail, but I soon got used to it.…”Well,” I thought, “if he hits me, it will be over really quick!”

I arrived in Heppner feeling somewhat optimistic and in good spirits to continue. There were so many solo and team people hanging around, it felt like the race was finished, but we were only 207 miles into the race! Many people had dropped at this point, or at Moro, which and I didn’t know at the time….thank God for that because I might have decided to drop myself. A lot of carnage out there from the headwinds! I felt I should push on and then Heidi called in and gave me some positive motivation. I didn’t tell her about my Achilles pain, since I needed her to feel confident that I could get to Spray (mile 358)…but also my own motivation if times got rougher.…and let me tell you, times got more than rough out there!!

Heppner to Dale (207-285 miles)

Leaving Heppner, I could see several teams flying ahead of me and knew that there was no way to catch them. I was all on my own and riding into the dark. There were 3 climbs that gradually would steepen as we got towards Hwy 395. I could feel myself fading and a short nap was urgent. So only a mile or two on Hwy 395, I decided to get some rest. I knew there was a 12 mile climb ahead of me over Battle Mtn and then several more climbs before dawn. So we all stopped and got a good 20 minutes sleep. Then it was back on the bike, but I was having trouble getting enough calories in me. It was slow going to crest Battle Mtn, and for the first time I started to feel out of touch with the rest of the race. Despite stomach issues, the most appealing food throughout the night and previous day was yogurt smoothies, although Ensure Plus and mashed potatoes seemed to work later on. There were a bunch of other food items out there that worked but these were the most memorable.

The new course was supposed to travel the FS 53 road/Willow Creek Road, but due to major road damage, we were routed south on Hwy 395. I was very thankful that we avoided Willow Creek road, since it climbed over 5,000 feet in elevation would have been incredibly tough. Dawn arrived, and the descent into Camus Creek canyon. The race directors had said, “It’s too bad you won’t see Camus Creek canyon since it will be dark when you go down through it”…Well guess what, I did get to see how beautiful the canyon was. But despite the great view, my stomach really started took a nose dive and I couldn’t take down any food for a while. Sandy Earl passed me during this point as well looking really strong. I was feeling exhausted beyond belief, looked at the time and saw that we were 24 hours into the race and I had only gone 276 miles!. I had expected to cover at least 300 miles in 24 hours…where did all the time go? I became very disappointed, thinking how many miles I had to go (which is a big NO NO to do in any long distance event like this). Doing the math in my head, I knew I would need to keep about a 10 mph average pace for the remaining 24 hours, and how could I do that with my ongoing Achilles pain!

Arriving in Dale time station, I was ready for a break... I sat in my car, unwilling to go further. John Henry Maurice was there still working the time station, even though it was 6am and he was told he could stop working at 3 am. He’s a fellow Randonneur, and how great it was to see him out there. I was ready to drop, but I knew Heidi and Linda would be waiting for me in Spray. I tried to get my crew to call Heidi but the pay phones were out of service and there was no cell service down in the canyon. After maybe 30 minutes, I told Lee I wanted to drop, and he said “Dropping is not an option at this point.” So I immediately got on my bike to get to Spray and Heidi, and to try to get out of this “low” I was in.

Dale to Spray (285-358 miles)

I rode out of Dale very slowly. It started to rain and I stopped to get some rain gear on, which was kind of useless, since the storm quickly passed and the temperature warmed up just minutes later. I finally got in a groove on one of the climbs south of Dale. It was now warm but not hot yet.

As I crossed over the Middle Fork of the John Day River, I noticed a racer ahead. It was Mike and he didn’t look too good... I gave his crew some advice on what worked for my stomach issues. I felt bad I couldn’t hang out to encourage Mike but that might draw me under mentally, and I had already used up my 15 minute “social time”. Even though it might have been disappointing for Mike, it made me realize that I am still in this race, competing and willing to keep going the distance. I pushed on thinking that I might start catching other riders ahead.

As I crested the climb out of the Middle Fork, Dave yelled from the car that Heidi and Linda were on their way and only minutes from reaching us! I was thrilled to hear this! As I kept my strong pace going, the crew stopped for awhile to get familiar with each other and update Heidi and Linda on my status. I arrived in Long Creek and saw another RAO crew car, which provided more inspiration continue. As I climbed up out of Long Creek on Hwy 402, I passed Sandy and gave her encouragement... Just beyond Sandy, I saw Joan Grant on the road side not looking so good. There again, I really wished I could stop awhile and support her, but knew I had to keep pushing myself along.

I got to the top of the Hamilton climb feeling great. Ecstatic: that I was still in this race and that a finish was now within reach. Would I be able to make the 48 hour cutoff? I was beyond caring; I just wanted to keep pushing and not worry about time. I descended down into Monument and somewhere on the descent Mike’s crew car (Glenn) yelled at me on his loud speaker “way to get back into the game John!” Mike had dropped and they were heading home. Mike rode a great race and he should definitely come back and get his revenge.

As I arrived in Monument, the day began to heat up, so I briefly stopped and lathered up with sunscreen... While doing so, Sandy passed me. I tried to catch her, but never succeeded. I was gradually fading, even taking close to 400-500 calories per hour--mashed potatoes and Ensure Plus. When I arrived at the Hwy 19 turn and still hadn’t caught Sandy. I knew I was on my own again. I figured, no sense in trying to push too hard and get my Achilles aching again.

Linda and Cris were in the second car and they drove ahead to Spray to get some ice and other supplies. Just a mile before Spray I saw a pit toilet at a roadside stop. I figured I’d better stop and take a dump before getting to Spray. At this point it was approaching 100 degrees. Heidi and Dave both jumped into the river and Heidi gave me a nice wet hug to cool me down. I wished I could jump in the river myself. I arrived into Spray feeling very hot and there was my crew, waiting in the shade. I just ate one quick bite, feeling very sluggish, and slowly got going again.

Spray to Maupin (358-457 miles)

The headwinds were back as I left Spray and I was really fading. I approached the Butte Creek Pass climb and long this climb was. I had not climbed Butte Creek Pass, only descended it. Heidi fed me a cold milk shake and popsicle, which gave me a boost, but it seemed this climb just wouldn’t stop, nor would the wind! Butte Creek Pass climb was 2100 feet of gain in 10 miles. Finally, getting to the top, Heidi and Dave had some soup waiting for me. While stopped to eat briefly, Joan passed looking a lot better than when I saw her on the Hamilton climb.

Descending to Fossil, Dave played some music on the PA system. One song I will never forget was the “Cookie Monster” song. It put a smile on my face and a little humorous touch in the midst of all this madness. I arrived into Fossil feeling optimistic that a finish was still reachable, but I knew what was just ahead on the course. I had trained on it--it was a major climbing section.

Climbing from Fossil I could see a thunderhead looming above The closer I got to the pass, the worse it looked, and my crew still hadn’t caught up to me. But they caught me just before the summit and I stopped to put some rain gear on. It poured and hailed on the descent into John Day canyon. But at the bottom of the canyon the sun came out and warmed us up again. I shed my layers and kept them off as I prepared for the infamous Clarno climb, out of the canyon. I got to the John Day River feeling ready, and saw Joan just ahead. I had to make a quick pit stop, and then was able to catch her. Although there is no such thing as drafting in this race, it is good to work and leapfrog with. Passing Joan on the climb I said, “Let’s work together for the finish!” She was stronger on the descents than I was, so eventually, after this monster of a climb, passed me just before the town of Antelope. I stayed behind her on the climb out of Antelope and kept her in sight. It was still windy and warm on the climbs but the descents were brisk. So I had to change in and out of clothes.

As we crested the climb out of Antelope the winds really picked up. It was 30 miles to Maupin and I calculated how much time this descent into Maupin usually took. I thought it would be about one and a half hours, even with a headwind--but then I was practically fresh during a 140 mile training ride! When I arrived into the town of Shaniko, my crew told me to turn right onto Hwy 97. I said, NO WAY!…The course description must be WRONG!! I knew the course well enough to turn left, as I had in training. It paid to really know the course in this circumstance!

Leaving Shaniko, I raced to catch Joan, but now I could see a huge thunder storm just north of Bakeoven Road. This road is 25 mile, and a 3,000 feet descent, into Maupin (in the Deschutes River canyon). When I rode this section in training, it had been windy with major headwinds but I had not ridden at night with a major thunderstorm nearby. Bakeoven was deceptive, providing a nice tailwind at first, which felt like being launched into outer space. The lightning show was awesome too--something to keep my mind off the pain of my Achilles. But then the road turned ever so slightly west and right smack into an unbearable headwind! The first part of Bakeoven is steep, but all I could manage was 25 mph and a slower 12-15 mph on a gradual descent, all the time getting whipped around like a wind sock. I eventually caught Joan again and we passed quickly since there was very little shoulder. We would leapfrog back and forth on this stretch since I had to constantly stop to pee. Peeing off the bike was not an option, since it was just too windy! This was by far the toughest part of the course. I thought I would get to Maupin by 10pm, but instead the section took about 3 hours, which put Joan and I into Maupin at 11:25pm. This put both of us in a major time bind but I felt ready to continue on. It was going to be close to get to the finish in less than 6 hours. As I was about to leave I saw Joan laying down. She said she was dropping and I congratulated her for all her efforts and had been really glad to have her out there closeby. Her crew told her that it would have been really tough for her to finish by 5am. I find out later that she was saving herself for another 500 miler later on this summer. Joan just recently finished Hoodoo 500 and broke the womens course record! Way to go Joan!!

Maupin to the Finish! (457-516 miles)

I slowly moved forward across the Deschutes River bridge, slowly into the center of Maupin and extremely slow to the upper terrace of Maupin. I was convinced there was no way in hell I could go any faster, creeping only 3-4 mph out of the steep canyon. I kept thinking about Joan dropping; I kept thinking how my Achilles hurt; I kept thinking about the damn headwinds; I kept thinking that my time would put me in after the cutoff; I kept thinking about what my crew was willing to do to keep me going. I felt ridiculous in continuing on and kept focusing on all the reasons to drop.

I had reached the point I wrote about in the beginning. Leaning over my handlebars, I felt completely shattered, believing that dropping was my only option. But was I going to let the course get the best of me? Was I going to just drop because I didn’t want to be humiliated finishing “so close” to the cutoff? My crew huddled around me. They were all so supportive, feeding me positive thoughts. I remember saying to them that I’d never dropped before in a race. And they immediately responded, “Who said anything about dropping?” I told Heidi that I could ride until I got to the 48 hour time limit, judge my distance from the finish, and then just ride into the finish for the hell of it! Heidi told me that was a very noble goal and that I should go for it. The crew was all willing to stay with me all the way to the finish, even without much sleep. They would make sure they could see me finish no matter what the time was. I was inspired by this, but also kind of torn because the problems still had not gone away. Lee said, “Let’s just get down the road a little bit.”

It’s that simple. Just get going again and see how much further I can ride; like the game I was playing earlier in this race but lost along the way!! I was off again, and now way WAY faster than 4 mph, more like 18-20 mph on a flat. I found my second wind, and the headwinds died down. Ahead was the 1500 ft, 7 mile climb to Tygh Ridge summit and the final climb up Mt Hood. But with no winds, I could ride up Tygh Ridge at 10-12 mph and still feel very strong. Stronger than I had the entire ride! I stopped thinking about how far behind I was and focused on increasing the pace. I was so thrilled to have a crew willing to be there for me all the way to the finish. That really inspired me to dig in and move! Now having a second car really paid off (thanks to Cris and Linda)…as I could watch the tail lights and look ahead and move forward towards them.

I crested Tygh Ridge summit and it felt so good to know I had only one more climb, even if it was one of the biggest. There was a slight uphill off Hw

y 97 that I could coast up and over into the town of Dufur. I realized it was 34 miles to the finish and mostly all uphill (about 3500 feet of climbing) with 3 hours left on the clock. On the flats of Dufur Valley road I kept pushing at a respectable 17 mph pace. My crew gave me about 600 mg of ibuprofen that would hopefully endure the pain in my Achilles all the way to the finish.

The road towards Hood eventually steepens a great deal, slowing me to an 8-10 mph pace. I was going all out and still had about 30 miles to go. As I wondered how much longer I could keep this pace, my crew played music to keep me motivated. Lee’s PA s

ystem came in handy with Crystal Method and some Michael Jackson Heidi through in, for the fun of it. I was biking uphill like a machine. I finally reached the point where the road turns to Hwy 44. A few more climbs followed, just enough to keep me from coasting at a faster pace. And then I finally reached Hwy 35.

Now I had to drop down Hwy 35 for 3 miles and then climb 4 miles to the finish. I got to the Cooper Spur cutoff road turnoff around 4:30am and knew it was going to be tough to do 8 mph up to the finish. I just couldn’t go fast anymore. The birds were starting to chirp; not the most pleasant thing to hear as I tried to hold back dawn and the tick of the clock. I might be able to pull this off, but on this last climb I just could not push any faster. I finally got to the Cooper Spur resort with 1.8 miles left up the Cloudcap road to the finish and 10 minutes on the clock. I gave up; it was too tough to push anymore. I figured, what the hell, I’ve been out here to finish and that’s what I’m about to do!

I finished the race in 48:06, just 6 minutes past the cutoff. George, the RD, was there waiting and happy that I finished. I was so thrilled I told him that a finish was good enough for me today! George still gave me an official finishers medal even though I had missed the cutoff. My crew all came over and gave me a huge hug. We were all in tears and it felt so good to finally be done!

I realized that I wouldn’t have finished without my magnificent crew. They all worked together to keep me going and I am forever indebted to them.

And despite missing the cutoff by 6 minutes, had I kept the same slow pace when I left Maupin, it might have been 50 hours and 6 minutes. I actually feel pretty damn good that I was able to push the last 59 miles in the time that I did (in 5 hours, 41 minutes). I kno

w for certain that all the training I did out there really did pay off. I also know that it took a lot of courage to finish this race, no matter how much it hurt or no matter how close to the cutoff time I really was. I’ll take a finish any day! It was great to hear that Brian Martin finished as well, even after a tough night, way more courageous than me by finishing 5 hours and 45 minutes after the cutoff!!

I was later awarded, all for the fun of it, at he awards banquet 1.) a box of tissues, 2.) a calculator for my crew chief 3.) and a kids baseball playset that said "first base" on it, since I was caught kissing Heidi and they presented jokingly that even though I didn't make the cutoff, at least I made it to first base with Heidi. This is definitely the funnest awards banquet I've ever been to!!

Once again I learned many things along the way that will help me greatly in future ultracycling events. I'm already looking forward to next year Randonneurs Cascade 1200!

Thank you again, crew, and thanks to everyone else who has helped me realize that finishing is so much more!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Two weeks until the start!

I must say, after 5 weeks of intense hill climbing, I feel much better prepared for Race Across Oregon. Way more prepared then I ever was last year at this time! How?
Well, after getting my long LONG miles under my belt in April and May, I began my June rides to focus more on climbing...as much vertical I could in the shorter distances. Here's what I did on rides in June:

May 30: Climb up Baker Hwy - with 3500 feet 22 miles (total of 44 miles w/ descent)
May 31: Tacoma to Lacey (via Rainier) - 95 miles (w/ smaller hills)

June 6: Maupin to Fossil out and back - 12,000 ft climbing in 136 miles! "Out was 7,000 ft in first 63 miles at Fossil Pass. "Back" was 5,000 ft in first 43 miles to Shaniko.
This ride is got to be the tougest ride that's out in Eastern Oregon!! Where else can you get that much climbing in the dryer part of the state! It's going to be tough when I hit the Clarno climb out of the John Day Canyon after 400+ miles into RAO...but I am NOT worried!!

June 7: Hood River to Forest Road 44 and Cooper Spur - 7,000 ft climb in 72 miles. Most elevation gain was in first 30 miles!! This was a relaxed ride after such a tough ride the day before. Easy long descent up Hwy 35 and then steeper climb on FS 44 road. Was a cold descent coming down FS44. Climbed up to the potential finish of RAO at Cooper Spur, and event went to the end of pavement on Cloudcap Rd but not sure if this is the finish or just at the Cooper Spur lodge. Who knows. The website is still vague on a lot of the course, but oh well, we'll know soon enough and it will be that much more of a surprise!!

June 13: Centralia- Winlock Vader area loop - about 2,100 ft climbing in 68 miles
Had to bail on riding up in the high country, due to thunderstorms. So I chose riding as many steep hills in Centralia area to get what I could in. Rode this with English Steve so he could get familiar with the hills for Twin County double metric. I rode a few of the side hills off the direct route course and found myself climbing some hills that were 20% or greater--Johnson Rd, just north of Vader to be specific. After the ride, Jim picked me up in Centralia and we drove down to Maupin later that eve.

June 14: Maupin to Condon, Oregon - about 7,000 ft of climbing in 91 miles- with climb up Deschute River and John Day canyons! This ride had a nice easy tune up along the Deschutes River. After passing the Sherar's Falls, you climb up the Sherar's Bridge Hwy and there's like 2,000 ft in only 4 miles!! Then there are all these turns on the RAO course to learn from Grass Valley to Moro and Monkland, that was good to identify. Jim accidentally missed Lone Rock Rd (which is EASY to miss) and he ended up driving to where the road turned to gravel and then ended because of the John Day Canyon wall! But he got my attention on the cell phone (yes very sparse cell phone coverage here in bforegon) early and I took the turn where I needed to and he caught back up to me. Moro to Monkland and 207 was also really neat with all the wind farms that you rode right by. Then the climb up out of the John Day canyon to the top of Devils Butte was one long climb 2500 ft in 10 miles - but on race day will be great to finally see the views of the entire Cascade Range. No view on this day. Felt good overall and ate lots of caleries without a problem. This was good to get this stretch figured out. Condon to Long Creek will have to wait to see on race day but this will be early enough in the race and a lot at night. Hopefully the late afternnon heat won't completely destroy me in the exposed dry section east of Heppner!!

June 20: Hurrican Ridge +Black Diamond +Olympic Hotsprings x 2 - total 9,700 ft of climbing in 72 miles. Hurricane Ridge was 5200 ft in 1st 17 miles!!
What a blast of a ride- where else in the state can you climb a vertical mile in just 17 miles!! Was a cold descent and had to where my winter gear. The climb up the Olympic Hot Springs road is also plagued with +20% switchbacks, and the descent on this road is rough with gravel and potholes to deal with. But overall a great ride and highly recommend for getting a whole lot of vertical in relatively short distance!

So long story short, a lot of good climbing training in the past several weekends. Now just working on heat training, spinning on my trainer in my living room with all my winter gear on:)
Fun Fun stuff!

If you're interested in following me on Race Across Oregon, check out their blog and twitter at the following website: http://www.raceacrossoregon.com/blog

Thanks for everone's support!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sleepless in Hockinson at the Lewis and Clark 24 hour

As you all might have heard, I battled out 323 miles at the Lewis and Clark 24 hour. It's not usual though that I would show up so unprepared but without a doubt I must say that things just kinda work themselves out over the course of 24 hours. What a great ride this was with so many fast ultracycling crowd and great camaraderie! I knew it was going to be tough but this was a certain new kind of tough that this race had. Well, for one thing, only 10 miles into the race, climbing up the steep Livingston Mtn Road, my front derailleur broke! From then on I found myself getting off the bike several times on the bigger 140 mile loop, changing the chain with my bare hands from the high gear to low gear or visa verse. Well, after awhile I just kept it in the low gear with the exception of the long descent down from Old Mans Pass. The climb up to Old Mans Pass, along the Wind River valley was beautiful! Then the big long descent down into the Lewis River was also a nice treat with a great view St Helens. But once I got to Cougar I just left the gear in low in the front and just used my rear derailleur from then on. Getting back to the start/finish staging area was also no slouch with good steep climbs in and around Yacolt. But once I got to Hockinson (at the start/finish) the race was not even half over!

Sandy Earl came up to me to tell me that if I needed any crew assistance that Adrienne Johnson was there crewing her and could help me if needed. Adrienne has also crewed at RAAM several years and we all would be in good hands with her around. Well, I guess at this point in the race I was very in need of someone just going and buying me a few extra sandwiches or whatever else that I didn't have a crew to get for me. So Adrienne approached me immediately as I arrived at the Pit in Hockingson Middle School and I gave her some cash and she was willing to help me out and get me some food. She asked me how much solid food had I had eaten and I hadn't eaten as much, instead was fixed on this Spiz sports drink. But I had eaten some pb&J and some bars, but not really enough to keep going all night. So Adrienne saved me from stopping me from "Spizzing" out and said she'd have me some food for me after the first 9 mile loop.

It was relatively warm out by then and knew I needed to keep drinking a lot too by then. I wasn't worried at all who my competition was. I knew about Chris Ragsdale and Hugh Gapay being way out in front of me but just didn't worry about them or anyone else and focused on the goal of finishing at least 300 miles or better. Once finishing the 140 mile, 9.6 mile loop was what we would then do continuously for the remaining hours...for me just over 15 hours remaining! Actually in hind sight, looking at the results, I see that I was in 6th place when I finished the 140 mile loop...but didn't know that at all since there were so many teams and 12 hour racers out there as well and just blended right into the fun of continuing on into the night. I actually was 2 hours behind Chris and about an hour behind Hugh, but like I said before, didn't know and didn't care about these details at that moment.

The lovely 9.6 mile loop was filled with flats, steep hills and rolling sections. One hill had nearly 18% grade but it wasn't more than a couple hundred yards. But each 9.6 mile loop consisted of about 420 feet of climbing so after awhile you can see how this would start to wear on you.

As I got back to Hockinson, Adrienne was there ready for me and gave me a ham and cheese sandwich and some water. I was so happy and hungry! I ate the entire sandwich on the next loop. She gave me some chicken the next loop and I ate that too. I began to think strategy for this. Eat on the flat first 3 miles of the loop, before the steep climb and stay steady on the hills. My front derailleur was not an issue anymore since I was in high spinning mode on flats anyways and was more about just staying steady and not trying to go too hard. Trying not to think too far ahead I wanted to go, I thought about just getting 4 loops done at a time. I'd shoot for the first 4 loops before the 12 hour time period, and I did that with 19 minutes to spair, which gave me about a 300k in 12 hours. So by getting about 180 miles in the first half, I felt well, 360 is probably out of the question, but that gives me some wiggle room when I slow down later on...and yes I would slow down but not as bad as I thought I would.

On with the next 4 loops (9-12) still eating strong I still felt good, but this time it was getting dark and the hours grew on me and the loops and scenery became more and more grim. But I still looked forward to the dreadful steep hill, believe it or not. I figured if I could keep at the pace like I did in the 1st 4 loops, I could definitely get in well over my 300 mile goal. I average about 45 min per loop and about 3 hours per 4 loops. Somewhere along this part I asked Adrienne if 320 miles was a realistic finishing goal. She said yes you did 180 miles in the 1st half, and so yes 320 is very realistic. So I then continued on and reached my 217 mile mark at just shy of 15 hours.

At this point I was still eating and feeling good. But the monotonous looping made me very overwhelming when trying to do simple math in my head. I had only done 8 friggin loops and I got how many more to go to get 300 miles? Yep, still 9 more loops to go to reach over 300 miles and 11 more loops to reach the 320 mile goal...ughhh!! Stop thinking long term...back to the 4 loop strategy me! So where was I, oh yeah, onto the next 4 loops (13-16) to hit 256 miles at the 18 hours...no faster, no slower, just right on 18 hours. And that's what I did, hit 18 hours right on at about 45 min per loop.

Somewhere in here is where I started to see more and more people hanging out in the Pit. Stopping to sit and eat, trying to get warm. But I did my best to not get sucked into the Pit and keep riding. Adrienne was very good about getting me back onto the bike within a matter of minutes. I admit there were a couple times I needed go to my car for a few things (warmer jacket) or go take a dump in the gym etc...but for the most part, no rest for the weary for me!

So 6 more hours of this, I know I can do this. I've done it before at RAO, just need to see what I can do without blowing up completely. But this next 4 loops (13-16) was tough since it was starting to really get cold. I new I had to keep eating to stay warm. Warm soup, warmed up frappacinos, and buttered graham crackers would do me just right. However, even though I was eating and drinking, my pace slowed up substantially to 53 minutes per loop. I was on survival mode just trying to keep alive and not even think of how tired I really was. So this 4 loops I was definitely slower by about 20 minutes but I just kept going and didn't care. I'd done 16 loops already and needed just 3 loops to do in 2 hrs and 40 mins to go. So I kept at the pace I had been going. However, after leaving the 304 mile mark, just couldn't really eat any more and almost puked, but luckily held it in and said ok, this is my last loop...I don't care. I just want to get through this without blowing up. I don't care what they say, I'm not going on.

Well, I got back in just in time for the RD Glenn and Adrienne to say, you can do this, you've got 40 minutes to go. Adrienne knew I just needed to go 7 more miles to get 320 miles. I wolfed a banana down and off I went. Glenn said I'll have Adrienne come out and pick you up so I didn't have to come backwards on the loop. I was so frickin cold and didn't want to do that godawful flat cold 3 mile stretch again. But I pushed through it and got to the steep hill. I got to the top of the hill and realized, well, you know I think I might be able to get to 7 miles after all. I pushed up the second hill and was like wow, I think I can do this. But then feeling even more excited I reached the 7 mile mark with 7 and a half minutes to go on the clock. Shoot, I might get this loop done within the time after all. I pushed onto 8 and then screamed down to the 9 mile mark. I coasted into the Pit just right under the 24 hour mark...getting me 323.1 miles with NO time to spare! And I never did lay down or sit down once! Somehow, I managed to slip in 2nd place, and so glad I was encouraged to continue on that last lap after all...Thanks Glenn, I needed that kick in the ass!

That is my fastest effort on a bike in that distance by a long shot! Thank you Adrienne for crewing me completely last minute. And to Sandy and everyone else out there for all the support. Thanks Glenn for putting on a fabulous race. And thanks to all the volunteers who stuck it out throughout the night! What a great trainer this was for RAO!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Covered Bridge 400K
This past weekend was just awesome! 400k in 18 hours 50 minutes and was all in the beautiful sunny day. It was nice to have so many people to ride with and meet up new rando's from Oregon. It was nice to noodling all over areas that I had once explored during my grad school days, but it was a very twisty course that made you feel you were in a maze...but in a good way. We saw 5 or more covered bridges and the climbs just south of Sweet Home were a treat as well. We rode River Rd straight into Salem about 10-11pm . There's a bike lane, on this road, but unfortunately a guy riding his bike without a light towards us, came only centimetes from hitting me and my fellow rando riders behind me. Luckily I moved out of the way just in time. That expereience and riding all the way through Salem stopping at almost all the lights, made it less appealing but we got through it and finished off to Newberg without any problems.

Anyways, this weekend will be a another test, riding a 400k on Saturday and then a 200K on Sunday (w/ minimal sleep inbetween). I've updated my events on the right column for those interested. If you are interested in riding with me on the Race Across Oregon course, I plan to go pre-ride the RAO course the first 3 weekends in June!
Let me know if you want to go on any of these and I'll send you the course description...it's a pdf so I can't post it on this blog, or I don't think I can.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Fleche 24 hour - the start of a new training regime!

Well, 10 Wheels North did it! We finished the Fleche 24 hour journey from Corvallis to Olympia right on target. Fleche meaning in french "arrow" was actually for 10 Wheels North more defined as "straight as an arrow" where we rode the most direct route ending in Olympia than all other 10 teams that started at a different location, that also ended up in Olympia. We were the closest to 360k than all other teams (I got about 388K...aka 238 miles). And we met all the target times including the 360k requirment in 24 hours, actually way under. Our total time was about 23:30 or something like that...but really who cares about time, what a great ride it was!! And we picked the best time to do it, where all other teams that rode it in the rain the day before! See the Fleche website for more details, since I might not make complete sense since I'm not all rando literate quite yet. This ride traced back good old times, since it was retracing my journey from Corvallis to Olympia back in 2000 that I took when I migrated after finishing graduate school at OSU and started working for the State of WA. It's been 9 years since I came to Olympia and so much has happened in my life since that time. But doing all these miles kinda helped reflect on all those years, especially the physical part of it all:) And the 10 Wheels North team that included Ian Shopland, Corey Thompson, Josh Morse, Alan Woods and myself all helped me have a great time in the process. It was fun to ride with 4 other great people, riding all night and all day long!
It was great of Alan to let us use his house as our 2 hour layover in Portland as well as his house in Corvallis as our starting point. My team and me included are in debted to my Dad for driving me and all the bikes down to Corvallis while everyone else commuted by train to Corvallis. Thank you Dad for all the help!
It was truely an learning experience in riding throughout the night and feeling like I should be rushed but really we made all of our targeted points along the way...right on, or even several minutes to spare. Nothing like eating McDonalds drivethrough at 3am or a nice French bakery in downtown Portland to recharge the batteries to head north towards Oly! I could go on about the trip blow by blow, but that would just be silly! More importantly, this experience was REAL as it has helped me gain a lot of strength and training in the upcoming Race Across Oregon.

I got NO miles in the following week after the Fleche due to some serious prep work for Capitol Peak 50! However, I did get some long rides in this past weekend. I rode up to the Lena Lake trail head, meeting up with Heidi who was running up the trail. It was raining most the way there up along Hood Canal, and had a good time finding all these side roads that avoided Hwy 101 and then finally getting up to Hoodsport and the Hamma Hamma and confronting some good hill climbage (>12% grade). That was a good way to end a 7 hour ride, despite some faulty rear derailleurs starting off on the ride. But at least the derailleur worked for most the way.
Anyways, here's what's next coming 4 weekends look like:
May 9 - Oregon Covered Bridges 400K (Tour of Central Willamette Valley)
May 16 - Seattle 600K (Ephrata-Twisp-Okanogan and East central Washington)
May 23-24- Lewis and Clark 24 hour bike race
May 30-31 Oregon XTR 600K (eastern Oregon)

Yes, May is a serious training month, more than ever!

Stay tuned for updates about each ride!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

10 Wheels North - here we come!

This Friday at 9pm we will depart on the Flesche 24 hour Randonneuring ride. Find out more about a Flesche here. I am riding with Team 10 Wheels North which is a variation on the book "2 Wheels North", a story about 2 teenagers who bike from the Sacramento valley to Seattle in 1909. Ian appropriately named our team since we are going to be following a portion of their route 100 years later.

Our Team: Ian Shopland, John Pearch, Corey Thompson, Josh Morse and Alan Woods
Our Route: Corvallis to Portland to Olympia (via STP backwards).
Est mileage: 239 miles in hopefully 24 hours!
Anyone that want to cheer us into the finish, our finish line is at the Red Lion near the County courthouse in Olympia (at 2300 Evergreen Park Dr). Our ETA is approximatly 9:00 pm this Saturday night!

I will update this epic journey when I return.

Friday, March 27, 2009

April is serious business!

It's been awhile since I posted, but now have finally been inspired to write. So you all know that Capitol Peak 50 miler and 55K is coming up! April 25th is Capitol Peak and everyone is encouraged to come out for a good run on muddy trails or just coming out to volunteer! I've updated the website and with some major course changes:

The biking program for me is on a roll so far this year as well. Last weekend was a good brake in for what is yet to come. I rode about 130 miles with about 6,000 ft of climbing out to Hartstene Island, Arcadia Pt, Steamboat Is, and Hwy 8 climb. My good biking partner Brent Warner rode with me out to Hartstene and he did a good job, regardless of some bike troubles. We then diverted off in Shelton (second passing) and I rode out to Arcadia Pt and found out how many more hills climbing I've been missing all these years of riding! Then getting out to Steamboat, I had to stop and see my buddy Jim, who always offers me some good HOT soup! After leaving Jim's it was already 5pm and was hopeful to get up around Summit Lake. However, as I approached the Summit Lake turnoff on Hwy 8, I decided to just turnaround, since I figure I'd have about 12 hours for the day afterall. And I just witnessed an almost major T-bone accident that I might have been apart of. So it was good to head back to my house in the light. Here's the route for more details:

This weekend (March 28) is planned to ride with the Oregon Randonneurs on one of their early season 200K rides from Forest Grove into the Coast Range. More info at:

Next weekend (April 4) is planned for a 300K ride up near Whidbey Island with the Seattle Randenneurs. Here's moer details on that ride, it's gonna be a good one:

That will be a good ass kicker for the following week (April 17-18) which will be a 230 miler (376K) in about 24 hours, from Corvallis to Olympia (Randonneurs Flesche).

All these rides will be great training for my bigger quest for another Race Across Oregon this July 11-12!
Here's the website and map for that in case your interested: