With this being my first Lotoja, I struggled mentally in the days leading up to the event with devising a meaningful plan or strategy for the race, mostly due to the fact that I hadn't even driven, let alone ridden any of the roads on the course that went 206 miles from Logan to Jackson*. Fortunately, several weeks earlier before the mountain bike and Park City Point 2 Point consumed my entire focus, I consulted with previous Lotoja veterans like Nick and Miles and they both gave me some good advice. For example, Rico coached me on how to be fast in feed zones, to try and stay with the leaders and to avoid being stuck alone on the long, windy flat sections. Miles I remember told me to avoid getting stuck at the back of pacelines because of the yo-yo effect and to just pedal dammit (just kidding, I believe that comes from Grizzly).
*It's just now starting to dawn on me that this race covers some serious ground, including going through three states (Utah, Idaho and Wyoming)
These nuggets of advice I'd later find valuable, but I still felt uncertain and only had a rough idea as to how I'd approach the race as I lined up at the start early Saturday morning. That being said, pretty much my goals for Lotoja were to
- conserve energy by using the pack to my advantage,
- be alert and stay with the leaders in my group as much as possible without blowing up, particularly on the climbs and
- be very effecient at the feed zones (not hang out for a 1/2 hour buffet lunch like I did last week at PCP2P).
I positioned myself about 10 riders back. This was a perfect spot as the guys in front of me were anxious to set the pace (about 22-23 mph) and took take turns on the front. I graciously let each of them rotate in front of me as they pulled us along. After a while though, they took notice that they were doing all the heavy lifting while the rest of us glided along and so they began dropping back further into the pack. I ended up on the front a few times, but no longer than a minute each time.
Rollers and Climbing Strawberry Canyon
There were a few key decisions I made during this race that I believe made a difference in my finish time. The first happened after I stopped for my sunglasses and decided I would go all out in order to bridge the gap that had opened up. I buried myself to catch the pack ahead that consisted of the lead riders in my race and about 40 women who'd started before us. I ended up latching on just prior to the short descent after passing by Foster Reservoir. If I had not caught the group, I probably would have been left to ride alone on the rollers leading up to the climb up Strawberry Canyon, and I think losing the leaders early like that would have been tough mentally the rest of the race. Instead, I was with the leaders of my pack as we started climbing up Strawberry.
I felt pretty comfortable at this point and noticed those around me were starting to fade a bit, so I upped my pace a little and pulled away from the pack up the climb. There was one guy ahead of me that had snuck away earlier, but I kept him within sight and made sure he didn't widen the gap. As we neared the false summit, I must have faded a bit as a group of guys from my class, mostly Autoliv riders, caught me just prior to the feed zone.
One thing I'm learning is you have to be alert in these races. My issue was I got caught up in a conversation on the climb with an acquaintance that I was passing and I wasn't paying attention to the group behind, plus I wasn't focused on going hard near the top of the climb, partly due to the fact I didn't know where the top was other than I had a rough idea of my elevation position from my Garmin.
As it turned out, I was fairly quick* at the feed zone, taking just a quick pee break and then I was back on the bike within 3 minutes and descending to Montpelier. My split into Ovid (just before Montpelier) shows I was in second place at that point in the race, two minutes behind the leader.
*Question: Is being quick at the feed zones okay and not considered "attacking"? I would consider attacking at a feed zone to be riding hard through a feed zone and not stopping while everyone else stops.
Montpelier to Afton
Bob, my father-in-law, was my support crew for this race. I was glad to see him waiting for me and he quickly swapped out my bottles and gave me a new flask of vanilla PowerBar gel, a Coke and a small orange juice. In three minutes I was back on the bike and pedaling away.
This section of the race was tough for me. For a while after Monteplier I was alone and struggling to keep an urgent pace. I've found that when I don't have someone pushing me, particularly on the flats, that I tend to get lazy and sometimes without realizing it, I slow down. As we approached the Geneva climb, a rider that I know caught up to me and that was what I needed to get me going again. I made it up and over the summit and on the descent I was with about 15 riders in a loose pack going almost 50 mph. I rode with this group for another 5 miles until I got dropped. I just couldn't hold the pace they were pushing and I was spit out the back. At this point, I looked down at my Garmin and I still had 100 miles to go. It was the lowest point of the race, especially because there were several riders in my category in the group of 15 that had just dropped me. I stopped at the next feedzone for about 5 minutes prior to the KOM and that seemed to rejuvenate me, although near the top of Salt River Pass, I noticed my legs were not generating much power. It seemed like maybe I was not fully recovered from PCP2P. I was sure glad when I topped Salt River Pass and hit the downhill.
The rest of the way into Afton was fast. I didn't realize it, but apparently a guy was drafting behind me for several miles on this stretch. As we neared the outskirts of Afton, he came around and thanked me for pulling him. I was a little surprised, not knowing he was there, but it made me feel good that I could be of service to a stranger.
Pulling into the feedzone at Afton, I couldn't find Bob, so I made my way to the neutral support table. They didn't have much......and I'm not sure what the thought was on the green bananas, oh and those orange GU chomps are disgusting. I ate one piece and chucked the rest of the pack in the garbage. Luckily as I was going back to my bike, Bob arrived. He apparently got stuck in traffic. I loaded up and was off again.
On to Alpine and the finish in Jackson
Despite the annoying rumble strips on the road to Alpine, I enjoyed this part of the race, probably because I was with a fast group of riders. The group was fairly large at first and then as the pace quickened, it thinned out to 10 or so of us.
It was during this portion that I was impressed at how some people like/prefer to ride at the front of the pack and do more than their fair share of pulls. Me on the other hand, I'm perfectly happy sitting in and letting others battle the wind. I suppose a strong rider naturally ends up at the front setting the pace as otherwise the average speed would drop to a slower than acceptable pace for the said strong rider.
Anyhow, I rolled into Alpine and once again Bob was no where in sight. Crap! I made my way to the neutral support table and filled up my bottles, had a couple of orange slices and then off I went. I still had an engergy bar in my jersey pocket from the previous feed zone and I was able to take a GU from someone on the side of the road, but I was bummed that I didn't get my Coke and my last flask of apple PowerBar gel as that was supposed to give me a boost on the last miles into Jackson.
As I pedaled out, I wondered where I was in relation to the other riders in my category. I hadn't seen anyone for a while, not since Salt River it seemed. I figured I was at least 10 riders back, so really my focus became to finish strong, give it my best effort and hopefully I'd come in around 10:30.
The rollers in Snake River Canyon started to wear on me. I was with a group of 10 or so riders and we were going at a good pace. I noticed my left foot started to swell and go numb and it became painful to pedal. I was glad when we came to the last feedzone so that I could walk off the pain in my foot. The rest of the group pedaled on, but I stopped, got off the bike for a minute and fueled up.
Back on the bike. For the next 20 minutes, I put my head down and pedaled as hard as I could. I could see a group a 1/2 of a mile ahead and figured I needed to catch them. As I closed the gap, I was feeling pretty good about myself and this effort. Then as I latched on, I was disappointed when it wasn't the group I thought it was. They were running a slow pace and so I continued pushing forward.
The last 10 miles were torturous. I just wanted to be done. My foot hurt. I was out of energy. My stomach was starting to act up and I was numb from 10 hours in the saddle.
Luckily I hooked up with a guy from my category. I don't remember if he caught me or if I caught him, I think it was the former, but we rode together for the last 10 miles to the finish. He dragged me along most of the way. Near the finish, I thought about speeding up and trying to overtake him, but since he did all the work on those last miles, I figured that would be lame since we were not contending for the podium. In the end, I finished at 10:33 or 6th place in my category, a result I'm happy with.
I can't explain the feeling of crossing that finish line after racing all day on the bike. I thought of not just finishing the ride that day, but also all of the training rides, painful interval sessions, etc. that lead up to that moment. It sure was a great feeling. I'm sure looking forward to placing my sticker on my truck's rear window. I will wear it proudly. Yes I will.