Sunday, February 25, 2007

Never Again

Literally every year I am questioned about the time I rode the epic race, the Everest Challenge.  Even though this year it won't be until September, I am already started getting questions about it.  Whether or not you consider yourself naive enough to attempt this race involves a personal examination of your own mental and emotional state.  To help you in this endeavor, I will post my race report from 2002, and then you can make the decision yourself.

"The Everest Challenge is the toughest race I have ever encountered. For those of you who have not heard of it, it is advertised as 120 miles long, with 15,465 feet of climbing! Of course, that is only the first day. The second day is 86 miles with 13,563 feet of climbing. If the 105 degree temp doesn't kill you, then the altitude will. Results are based on your
accumulated time.

This race broke me. I was totally destroyed, both mentally and physically. I remember starting the day ready for action/ After 3 hours of intense climbing, my body told me that I had just finished the Mt. Hamilton RR. Unfortunately, my mind told me I still had some racing to do. As far as I could tell, at this point I was second in my category. Luckily for me, a really strong rider, Louie Amelburu (winner of the 2001 Spring Mountain Omnium, and a number of other 35+ races), totally fell apart at the top of the second climb. This was at about the 4-hour mark. I figured I was now first, and that as long as I continued to hammer, I could get the State Climbing Champ jersey..

Well, hammer I did. When I finally got to the base of the last climb, I was tired. My legs were totally blown. I was climbing this endless false flat into the wind at 6 mph! (It turns out that this false flat was actually an 8% grade, but after staring at all the other climbs I did, this actually looked flat to me.) Regardless, I pressed on. I kept telling myself that
everyone else is hurting, and that I could push through. After another hour or so (at 6 mph), I was totally dejected. I wanted to quit. I wondered why I was there. I was counting the miles left. As far as I could tell, I only had about three miles to go. I got off the bike. I was at 8000-9000 feet of altitude, and could not even turn over my 39X27!! I walked, I looked back, then I rode some more. I finally made it to the last feed station. Desperately, I asked them, "How far is the finish?" They responded. "Just 12 miles left! Good job."

12 MILES!!!! I summoned all the math skills I could at this point ad realized that I had ANOTHER 2 HOURS TO GO!!! I could not make it. I didn't know what to do. I was totally broken. I ate and drank all day, 'till I was nearly sick, but I had no strength. I decided to press on.

I ended up stopping three more times. I got off the bike, looked around, questioned reality, and rode some more. I wanted to quit so bad! Finally I came upon the 10K marker. I pressed on. The last kilometer was torturous. I know deep down that the race organizers set this up on purpose, and I was pissed at them for it. The last kilo was full of rollers. 15% grades! (At 9,000 feet with 15000 feet of climbing in your legs, 15% is A LOT.) I walked the bike. I could not even ride out of the saddle, for my legs were too wobbly. I finally made it over the finish in 6 hours and 24 minutes or so.

The people at the finish offered to take my bike. They offered me a drink. No joke, I could not even respond to them. All I could do was stare. After 30 seconds or so, I was able to speak. "Sugar water," was all that came out. (I actually wanted PowerAde, but could not think of the words.) About 10 minutes later I was finally coherent enough to think straight. I then realized that I was not in first place. Mark Weiderman (the Cat 3 winner of this year's Tour de Gila five-day stage race) had beaten me to the top.

I rested a while, ate and drank, and descended.

Only one more day.

I found out the next morning that I was second by a little over 4 minutes. The third place guy was some 54 minutes behind me. Realistically, I had second locked. My plan was to do what I could to finish. I needed to make up four minutes on Mark to take the lead, but he was a much stronger rider than I. The only thing I could do was ride my own race and see what happened.

Basically, we promenaded for about three miles, and then hammered. The race split into fragments, with a group of Cat 1 and 2s (and Mark) riding away from me. I did what I could, but stayed within myself. This day was more of the same; pain and suffering. I ate and drank like my life depended on it.  My stomach was full nearly all the race, but I continued to eat and drink anyway. It was so hot. Although they were a bit disorganized at times, each one of the feed stations was literally an oasis in the desert. The descents felt like there was a giant hair dryer blowing over my whole body. At about 3 hours into the day, I started the final climb. It was 20 miles, and went to 10,100 feet! I paced myself and thought of quitting, but continued on. On a happier note, my wife and kids drove by in anticipation of meeting me at the top. They rooted for me, and my son even handed me a bottle at the next feed station. Awwww. I grinded up the hill in my 27, looking for another
gear. I had to stop of few times, to make sure I did not destroy myself like I did the day before. I was glad when it was over. The second day took me some 5 hours and 25 minutes. I was done.

My body was so depleted. Despite eating and drinking before, during, and after the race, I still lost 5 pounds.

The officials still had not received my time at the bottom by the time we drove home, but given that I had an hour lead on third place (and beat him again this day), I am sure I got 2nd overall. I picked up my prize for finishing top-three (Rudy Project Sunglasses), and drove home (Actually, my wife drove. I just sat in the passenger seat and tried to remain conscious). "

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Why do little guys suck at time trials?

OK, so maybe they don’t suck, but they certainly aren’t particularly good. (We’re talking generalities here people...)

If you look at cross-section of cyclists, it seems that smaller riders can climb, larger riders can time trial, and sprinters are sort of a mixed-bag. Why does this seem to be the case? I had a monumental thought this morning - actually, a number of thoughts - and actually liked some of them.

Let’s address big rider flatland performance. We’ll start by pointing out that flat time trial performance is enhanced with more power and less drag. The force to overcome any particular amount of drag is directly related to the coefficient of drag multiplied by the frontal area. Of course there are other factors, but we’re dealing in generalities here, so let’s keep the problem bound to the major factors. (However, if you insist on precision, then go to a wind tunnel. You’ll come up with the same conclusion. Of course, if you’re that anal, then you’ll probably feel better about it only after dumping a whole lot of money anyway. Or you can use the equation here for calculating drag.)

Where was I? Oh yeh. Remember from Geometry class that Area is squared, while Volume is cubed. Consequently, given two equal riders, as one gets larger, his increase in mass (volume) will go up much faster than his increase in area. Even more so when you consider that frontal area in a TT position does not increase as fast as the body’s area. Assuming that the mass of the rider is directly related to the power (i.e. he is not just getting fat), then our answer is apparent. In short, as the rider’s mass and power increases, the drag he must overcome increases, but much more slowly. Hence, given two equivalent riders, the bigger one will have an easier time overcoming drag.

Before you start thinking, “Why is so-n-so a fast time trialer? He is not big.”  Remember, we’re dealing with equivalent riders, and NOT considering training, bike set up, or genetic freakdom.  There is a lot more to being a fast time-trialer than size. I am simply pointing out that in cycling size does matter.

Why do I suck at everything?

After posting “why little guys suck at time trials,” and “why big guys suck at climbing,” a guy comes up to me and says, “I really liked your blogs, but what I want to know is why I suck at everything.”  I looked him over, and as gently as I could stated, “Your Daddy was a pansy.  Your Momma was a pansy.  They had sex.  And now you’re a pansy.”

OK, so maybe I didn’t say those words exactly.

However, it does bring up an important point: Genetics play a role in our abilities to ride a bike fast.  It is certainly not all about training.  The fact is, we can train harder and smarter, but there will always be people who go faster than us.  AND, if they are dedicated (as you know almost all bike racers are), then they too will train harder and smarter.   Hence, insofar as fitness preparation, goes things tend to equalize in this tug-of-war.  But genetics remains on their side.

Of course, those of us lower on the evolutionary scale can make up some fitness differences with tactics and tools.    Tactics can play up to a 30% role in the right conditions, and almost nothing in the wrong conditions.  Key here is to out-smart, and out-play the competition.  (Contrary to popular belief, this is not as simple as sitting in and sucking wheel.)  Tools (bikes, parts ‘n stuff) can also play a role in helping us perform better.  If we lump race preparation and hydration in the tools category, it plays a much larger role.

I am not saying that the genes that control the body’s physiology will determine the ultimate winner of every bike race.  I am saying that in the real world, where the participants are equalizing the other factors, it is the few that we cannot control that gives select people the edge.

Do not lose heart.  So long as I am doing my best, I actually enjoy getting the crap beat out of me at races.  It tells me that those other guys are doing their best too.  The fact is that winning a race is nice, but does not yield any respect from me. (Actually, consistently winning yields quite the opposite.)  Respect comes when you do your best with what you were given.