Sunday, August 23, 2009

1,000 Warriors Race Report

I must not get up early enough. I woke up at 3:55 AM, picked up my father-in-law Bob (my SAG team) at 5:00 AM in Orem and headed up to Park City. I arrived at the starting line at 6:00 AM. My start time for the CAT 5B group of 54 riders was 6:35 AM. After waiting in line for 10 minutes to use the "Honey Bucket," I felt rushed to make it to the starting line, leaving no time for warming up. Guess I should have set my alarm for 3:30.

I should mention we had our CFO, Mike Herring cheering our Omniture team of 9 riders at the starting line. He had a cowbell and Omniture flag. Pretty dang cool.

I'm used to riding in century rides (only done 2 so far) where you roll out of the start and take the first 10 minutes to get the legs warmed up. Not so in this race. Right away my Omniture coworkers Nick, Dave and Ryan put the hammer down. My plan was to ride with the lead pack for as long as I could, but since I wasn't paying close attention, I missed accelerating with the front 10-15 riders and a gap opened between them and me in the main pack. I decided to bridge the gap on my own and burned a bunch of energy catching them. Once latched on, I was able to settle into the pace line at a manageable pace. I'm still amazed at how huge of a difference it makes in terms of saving energy when you ride in a pace line. The climb up the NE side of Jordanelle Resevoir is not too tough, but since I didn't warm up and since the pace was pretty fast and I probably wasn't paying close attention, I dropped off the lead pack again. Three of us that were dropped organized and tried to bridge the gap, but we weren't strong enough to make it happen and the gap widened to a couple of minutes by the time we made it to Kamas.

The 3 of us took turns pulling for the next 10 miles, although one guy who kept fiddling with his jacket instead of pulling when it was his turn made our efforts less effective. By the way, not sure why this guy brought a jacket as the temperature couldn't have been colder than 60 degrees and by 8 AM it was probably 75 degrees.....nothing arm warmers couldn't handle.

On the downhill side of the road that runs along the south end of Jordanelle, I got the first taste of how much faster my Rev-22 wheel set is compared to my old Bontrager Selects wheels. I let go of the brakes and got up to 53 mph (sorry Tiff).

Further down the course on the south side of Deer Creek Reservoir, a rider in front of me about 75 yards crashed. I don't know what happened, but I just looked up in time to see his bike go tumbling on the road. He was on his feet immediately and was shaken up, but didn't appear to be injured.

The real race began as we started the climb up the Alpine Loop towards Sundance. At this point we were 44 miles into the race. On Tuesday I did intervals on the bottom portion of the Alpine Loop from Provo Canyon to Sundance, which is the steepest and most difficult portion of the climb to the 8,000 ft. summit, so I was dialed into what tempo I wanted to ride. From Provo canyon to Suncrest, I didn't get passed by anyone and I passed probably 20-30 riders. I was maintaining a steady heart rate and feeling good.

That all changed pretty suddenly when about 1/2 mile past Sundance my legs locked up like I've never experienced in my whole life. Both quads and both hamstrings almost simultaneously contracted so hard that I had to immediately stop on the side of the road. I was devastated thinking that there was no way I was going to finish this race with these cramps. I've had cramps before but nothing like these. The first time was in February after 80 miles and 5 hours into the St. George to Zion Century and then recently at the end of two separate 5 hour training rides that included 8,000 ft. of climbing, but never only 2 hours into a ride.

I downed almost an entire water bottle and stretched on the side of the road for 15 minutes while probably 50-60 riders passed by. Many were kind and asked if I were okay, which was nice. I hopped back on my bike and started pedaling thinking that within any minute I'd start cramping again, but to my surprise I was fine. I pedaled softly for another 10 minutes and then started to increase the intensity slowly. I made it to the summit with only a hint of more cramping. The only problem was my bottles were now empty and the next feed station wasn't until Highland.

As it turned out, UDOT and the race organizers failed to shut down the Alpine Loop to vehicles, so there were 600+ racers "bombing it" down the narrow canyon road (AF Canyon side) which by 9:30 AM was already busy with the weekend traffic.

I frequently climb AF canyon during the week in the early morning hours when the traffic is light as this is one of the best road bike climbs around and it's a 20 minute ride to the base from my house. On most days, I only see one or two dozen cars during a 1 hour ride to the top. The traffic on the weekend is a different story. You have guys pulling horse trailers and ATV trailers, mountain bikers driving up to the mountain bike trails, hikers, campers, tourists going up to visit timp cave, etc. It's ALWAYS busy on the weekend, even in the earlier hours of the day and the 2 lane road is curvy, steep and no shoulder.

So, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when a race volunteer with a flag warned me of an accident as I passed through the timp cave parking lot. As I came upon the scene of the accident, I was deeply disturbed by the blood stain covering half of the road, the mangled bike and the bashed in back window of a black SUV. For a second it made me want to just ride home instead of finishing.

At the bottom of the canyon they had shut down the race as the life flight helicopter was in the middle of highway 92. About 100 riders were stopped, waiting to get further instruction. I spotted a couple of Omniture guys in the crowd and learned that the SUV braked to avoid an oncoming vehicle and several riders following rear ended the SUV.

Note: As it turns out, one of the riders who went through the SUV's windshield was in critical condition as he was cut severely from the glass and lost a large amount of blood, which explains the blood all over the road that I witnessed at the scene. As of Sunday night per the news he broke nearly every bone in his face and has had multiple reconstructive surgeries but fortunately they said he's recovering.

All I'm going to say is I feel very badly for those involved in this accident and I hope they recover as quickly as possible. And to the race organizers and UDOT, it's absolutely IRRESPONSIBLE that there wasn't more safety measures involved with this part of the race. Given the conditions, I'm surprised that this was the only accident in the canyon between bikers and cars. At a minimum they should have had flashing caution signs at several points warning people of the racers. Most of the racers would have passed through within a 2 hour window, so they could have easily done a rolling closure with police escorts like they did for the Tour of Utah pro riders that passed through on the same route later that day. It's these types of accidents that ruin it for cyclists when it could have been avoided in my opinion with some added precautions.

Anyhow, back to my race report.

I filled up at the neutral aid station at the base of Suncrest. I'm glad I made it there before most others as there honestly wasn't that much to go around.

Same story on the climb up Suncrest as on the Alpine Loop. I was climbing strong, passing people left and right without a heavy effort. In fact, I kept looking down at my Garmin to see if I was really redlining it and just not perceiving my level of effort. As I was about 2/3 of the way to the top, I stood out of the saddle to accelerate into the flats. Mistake...instantly, my right quad locked up stiff as a board. I was able to work out the cramp without stopping, but had to limp my way to the top.

I downed 2 more water bottles (making it 6 for the day, plus the water I drank at the Suncrest aid station) as I soft pedaled all the way to the last neutral aid station at the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon. The guys at this aid station were really nice and helpful, but honestly their supplies were extremely inadequate. They had two coolers full of water and they ran out shortly after I was done filling up. I felt terrible for the guy behind me who was begging for water and they said they were out. In my mind this is simply poorly executed planning. If you have 600+ riders and you know the weather is going to be scorching, you better have lots and lots of water and lots and lots of ice, especially at the base of the biggest climb of the event at the point when everyone is spent and parched.

The climb up Little Cottonwood was a tough way to end this race. For the first few miles I felt pretty good, although I was pedaling cautiously in order to avoid cramping again. It didn't matter at this point. My legs cramped hard again and I was forced to stop on the side of the road for about 10 minutes while I worked out the cramps.

About a 1/4 mile from the top this nice old guy on the side of the road asked me if I wanted water on my back. "Absolutely", I told him! Man did that feel good! There were lots of nice people like this on the side of the road cheering us on. The words of encouragement made a big difference except for the people who kept saying "you're almost there." That's annoying, not sure why, but it is really annoying. "Great job" and "keep going strong" or "looking good" are much more effective.

I ended up finishing in 6:49, quite a bit slower than my goal of 6 hours. The cramps were frustrating, especially since they came so early in the race and hampered me throughout the rest of the course. But on the bright side, I finished one of the toughest races around,** which is something I never could have done a year ago when I was fat (45 lbs heavier) and out of shape.

**Nick told me at the finish line that this race was as difficult as Lotoja. He ended up taking 3rd place in our CAT 5B group (actually 3rd place out of all of the CAT 5 racers and had a podium finish last year at Lotoja, so I'll take his word on that comment.

No comments: