Tuesday, October 7, 2014

LOTOJA Part 5--(By Rob Critchfield)

In the last installment, I had just passed the two riders I had been riding with on the KOM climb.  You can see them at the following links:  http://www.lucidimagesutshop.com/2014-Races/LOTOJA-Classic/Salt-River-Pass-12001230pm/i-QkMZHtr

I was just starting down the descent to chase down a rider in a red jersey who can be seen at the following link:  http://www.lucidimagesutshop.com/2014-Races/LOTOJA-Classic/Salt-River-Pass-12001230pm/i-pNZ4cTw

The 50 mile segment from the top of Salt River Pass to Alpine is mostly downhill.  After the initial descent from Salt River Pass, which is steep and fast, the grade levels out to a 1 to 2% downhill grade. It feels similar to riding from South Prairie to Orting on the Orting Trail. 

Because of my hesitation at the top of Salt River Pass and my initial decision to coast, I didn’t maximize my speed on this downhill.  Last year I reach over 51 MPH.  This year my top speed was only 48 MPH.  I easily caught the rider in the red jersey (he was coasting).  I waited until the main part of the downhill leveled out and then I sat up and drank some of my water and ate some food.

LOTOJA has an early registration on the Thursday before LOTOJA at a bike store in Kaysville, Utah.  You can also register on Friday in Logan, Utah.  Rex and I like to pick our packets up on Thursday at the bike store.  This gives us plenty of time on Friday to put our race number on our bikes and jersey.  We also like looking at the bike store.  The bike store always has deals and specials going on.  Undoubtedly, the day of LOTOJA packet pickup has to be one of their better sales day of the year.

While in the store, a vender introduced me to a relatively new product by GU.  It is an electrolyte capsule called Roctane.  What caught my attention is that the capsule contains some ginger.  I was just reading a few days before I was at the bike store that ginger can help settle an upset stomach.  I was intrigued because I did get an upset stomach the first year I road LOTOJA.  It was no fun so I thought having some ginger was a good idea.

I purchased a few of these capsules.  I usually get my electrolytes from my scratch drink mix.  However, I knew that I was going to take some water hand ups, which would not have any electrolytes.  As a result, I thought that having some capsule electrolytes were a good thing so that I could take them with my water and hopefully stave off going negative in that department.  I knew this was a risk.  One of the number one rules for endurance riding is not to eat or drink anything you have not practiced eating and drinking before race day.  I thought that this was basically a salt tablet with a few other ingredients.  So, I didn’t think it could hurt me very much. 

I have found that it is easier for me to take capsules on the bike if I use a pill bottle.  I create my own pill bottle by using a plastic tube that comes with gum or candy, like m&ms.  I was carrying two plastic tubes, one for the electrolytes and one for ibuprofen.

As I sat up to eat and drink, I took a couple of the Roctane electrolyte capsules.  As I did so, I glanced back behind me to see the rider in red working hard to catch me.  I sat up and waited for him.  We exchange brief pleasantries then got down to business.

The red jersey rider was from the Masters 45+ group.  He had lost contact with the leaders of his group before the king of the mountain climb.  He was a nice guy, and we started working well together.  We would trade pulls, and I felt myself getting stronger with each pull.  I was able to maintain 30 MPH through this section with the help of a slight downhill.  I was feeling really good.   I was working hard, but not too hard.  It was a comfortable hard pace. 

The two of us worked well together and were able to maintain our pace.  I noticed the rider in the red jersey was riding in his large chain ring and had his chain on the smallest cog in the back.  He was using a low cadence to keep the pace.  I on the other hand was spinning a higher cadence.  I think the rider in the red jersey was happy to draft behind me.  Most people enjoy it because I create a large draft.   

I am not sure what it was, but my legs were feeling really good.  It might have been that I was under fueled and fueling up right before the climb was kicking in.  Perhaps it was the Roctane caplets.  Or maybe, my body was just happy to not be peddling uphill anymore.  I kept feeling stronger and stronger.

It is 17 miles from the top of Salt River Pass to the next feed zone, which is Afton, Wyoming.  My brother lives in Afton and it was his family that was supporting Rex and I.  In addition, my mother and sister happened to be visiting my brother so they also agreed to help us.  They all took their Saturday to support Rex and I.   I was excited to get to Afton to have a mini family reunion (well a 30 second one anyway). 

I also was excited to get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Last year, my sister-in-law had these great peanut butter and jelly sandwiches waiting for Rex and I at the Afton stop.  In my food instructions taped to the top of our food container that my nephews picked up in Montpelier were instructions to have another peanut butter and jelly sandwich ready.  It tasted so good last year after 120 miles.  I was anxiously looking forward to that sandwich.

I kept expecting our pace to slow down a bit, but it didn’t.  We were flying and it was a lot of fun.  The miles just were melting by us as we rode along.  I am not very smart at times, so it took me a little while to figure what was happening.  I kept thinking that it was too easy.  Star Valley is known for usually having a cross wind or a head wind.  The success to riding in Star Valley is finding a group that will keep a strong pace.  It is usually too taxing to ride it on your own because of the wind.  As I thought about this, it finally dawned on me.  We had a tailwind!  I don’t think it was a huge tailwind, but any tailwind is better than a headwind in Star Valley.  Having a tailwind through Star Valley is a rare occurrence.

At that moment, I had a clarity about LOTOJA that I had never thought about before.  It is not about whether you are going to have a headwind or a tailwind.  It is about where is the headwind going to be and where is the tailwind going to be.  The course is so long that there are headwinds and tailwinds all over depending upon where you are and what time of day you are riding.  The slow Preston ride made more sense to me at that moment because we surely had a headwind.  Later that night my brother-in-law who also lives in the area confirmed that the wind was blowing from a direction it does not normally blow.

The knowledge of a tailwind may a huge difference to me.  As I mentioned in the last post, you have to average about 25 miles per hour through the valley to have a decent time.  I knew with a tailwind, I could likely maintain 25 miles per hour on my own.  I did not have to depend on anyone else.  This meant I could ride my race and not worry about getting caught alone without a group.
As the red jersey rider and I continued to motor along, I kept getting more and more excited about the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was getting closer with each passing mile.  This is a good time to talk about nutrition and LOTOJA.

I have mentioned before how important nutrition is.  If you don’t keep your body fueled property, you will likely run out of gas later in the race.  As you know, your body can only absorb so many calories and carbohydrates in an hour.  The harder you work the less absorbs ion your body can handle.
I try and calculate about how many calories my body can handle in an hour.  Because I lose my mind and am not very good at tracking this on the bike, I try to take the work out of it.  I calculate how many bottles of drink mix I will drink an hour.  Because of the mild temperatures, I calculated I would need about a bottle and a half an hour.  I then figure out how many calories that will be.  I then calculate how much of the remaining calories I need to eat in food.  I put food with those calories in a little sandwich bag.  This way all I have to remember is to drink a bottle and a half and eat the contents of the sandwich bag each hour.  

I had calculated about the time I thought it would take me to reach Afton, and had 5 sandwich bags of food, one for each hour.  I also added two more bags.  One was just an extra in case I dropped a bag, and the other was a second back-up in case I had miscalculated and my body was telling me I needed more food.  

As you reach Afton, the road gets really fast.  The past year or so they have been repaving the road.  The asphalt becomes smooth.  It is always a fun 10 mile section or so riding on this new pavement. 
We came into to Afton still keeping a blazing pace.  When we hit the newly paved asphalt, my expectations were not disappointed.  It was really fast.  I also was excited because I knew the feed zone was just up a head and so was my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  

As I explained before, when you pull into the feed zone, there are numbered sections on the side of the road just like pit stops.  Each rider tells his or her support team what number to wait at for him or her.  This helps them find each other easier.  Afton is the first time when the racers and cyclosportive groups share a feed zone.  Most riders have a few family members helping them, so there are a lot of people at these feed zones.  It is often difficult to find your support.

In riding LOTOJA fast, your support team is very important.  They need to be ready to give you your liquids and food so you can be on your way.  As I explained before, many of the racers don’t even stop.  They grab musette bags and keep riding.  If your support does not go well, it could ruin your whole day.

Just think for a minute.  Most people have family members who have committed to help them.  They give up the whole Saturday for this.  They sit around at the feed station waiting for their rider to come.  They don’t know exactly when he or she will get there.  Finally they arrive and are there for less than 30 seconds and then are gone.  

My brother was laughing about an experience that was really funny.  There was a lady waiting at the feed station.  As she waited, she was talking on her cell phone rather loudly.  He said a rider pulled up and was riding up and down the row yelling Alice, Alice, Alice.  The lady on the phone finally realized it was her rider.  And this is what is great about LOTOJA.  It was funny to my brother but that delay could have cost the rider several places or the race.  Just think about that for a second.  The rider trained so hard and a mistake by his support crew could have been very costly.  It is really not the support crew’s fault.  Many of them are just trying to help and really don’t understand the importance of all of this to the rider.

I pulled ahead of the rider in the red jersey as we hit Afton.  My support crew was waiting in number 9, which was the last numbered stop.  When I pulled up, I couldn’t see my crew at first.  Then I saw my sister, sister-in-law, mother, and nieces all ready to help.  My nieces gave me the scratch mix water bottles that I had given my brother a week before.  They gave me three of them, and they were cold.  I was looking at the others and looking for my peanut butter and Jelly sandwich.  They were talking to me but I really wasn’t listening to what they were telling me.  Instead of a sandwich my sister gave me a number of energy bars.  I still didn’t comprehend what my family was telling me because I was so focused on finding the sandwich.  It is funny how your mind works in athletic events sometimes.

Finally, I started to really listen to what they were telling me.  Because Rex and I got separated, I got a head start on my nephews who were our support in Montpelier.  You may remember that Rex and I had all of our food in a cooler in their vehicle with the instructions taped to the top of the cooler.  Because of my head start and traffic, my nephews did not make it to Afton before I did.  Accordingly, my support team had none of my prepared food to give me.  After the realization of this hit me, there was nothing I could do but to ride on.  I knew Alpine was only about 25 miles away, which was the next feed zone.  I was hoping my food would catch up to me there.   

As I mentioned earlier, I had packed a few extra packets of food just in case.  I also hadn’t eaten all that I had taken with me.  I was grateful that I was smart enough to have given the drink mix to my brother ahead of time.  My drink mix was by far the most important. 

What could have been a disaster for me, actually turned out fine.  The biggest disadvantage is that I get a little tired of eating my cinnamon rolls after 100 miles.  I had a few Panini sandwiches and some boiled potatoes that I was looking forward to eating for a change, but I was fairly confident I had enough of my food left to get me to Alpine.

To see what the ride from the Afton feed zone to Alpine looks like watch the following video from 6:01 to 8:19 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQW5GyJwxT4

Sometimes when things go wrong you learn new things.  My buddy Chris Allen that many of you know, introduced me to some type of shot blocks.  I had placed some of these in with my cinnamon rolls. As I would eat the cinnamon rolls I would also eat them with a block or two.  The blocks provided a different flavor so I did not tire of eating the cinnamon rolls.  This discovery will help me on future rides.

The confusion with my food caused me to stop a little longer than I had intended.  The rider with the red jersey had left before me.  I left at the same time as the leaders of the next race group, the Masters 35+ groups was leaving.  The lead group had about seven riders in it.  I started riding off the back of this group.  There were a number of riders who belonged to the Red Burrow Racing club out of Las Vegas.  From past experience, I know all of the guys from that club seem to be really strong riders.
I rode on the back of this group for a mile or so as we went through Afton.  Because it was the lead group of the race, there is a race Marshall who rides along with the lead group.  The race Marshall rides on a motorcycle.  The race Marshall pulled up to me and kicked me off the back of the group.  He told me I couldn’t ride with them.  

I had the let the group go.  I kept pace with them for a while but with them working together they slowly pulled away from me.  For the next five or six miles I could still see them up the road from me.

I wasn’t happy about not being able to ride with the group.  However, I understand the rules.  They are racing it and because I am not part of their race, it is not fair for me to interfere with it.
I road by myself for a a bit  when I came across the rider in the red jersey.  He had hooked up with another rider from his race group and they were working together.  They did not want me to ride with them because they were still trying to race it.  All of this means, coming out of Afton I had no one to work with and I had to ride alone.

Somewhat surprising to me, I kept a solid pace by myself.  I was able to maintain 25 MPH or so.  Both of the previous groups were able to go a little faster, but I was still surprised they didn’t outdistance me by much.  I likely could have kept their pace, but I was fearful of blowing up, so I just road a solid pace even though it was not as fast as the groups.  After several miles, both groups had put enough distance on me that they were just out of view.  My guess is that they were less than a mile ahead of me, but with the turns in the road, I could not always see them.

I rode by myself for about 7 to 10 miles.  Although I was not riding as fast as I could have if I was with a group, I was still keeping a strong pace.  I happened to glance back and saw a loan rider in the distance trying to catch me.  I thought it would be better for both of us if I let him catch me and we would work together.  I sat up and waited for him.  His name was Curtis.  He is a 55 year old that was riding in the Masters 35+ group, the group that I got kicked off of.  On the Salt River Pass, he was the third one up the climb but his legs started cramping and so he got dropped.  He had been trying to catch the group ever since.
I sat up and let him catch me, and we started working together.  I could tell he was suffering a bit because he was working by himself to catch his group.  I suppose it is the rebel in me.  Although I understand it, I was still a little miffed I got kicked off the back of the group.  So, I set a little goal.  I really wanted to help Curtis catch back up to his group.  

Having a person to trade off pulls really helps me.  I was able to pick my pace up and the little breathers drafting for a minute behind Curtis was all that I needed to maintain a higher speed.  We kept this up for several miles and we passed the guy in the red Jersey and his buddy.  I then knew that Curtis’ group wasn’t too far ahead.  I started taking longer pulls on the front, which kept our pace faster and gave Curtis more of a break.  I had the feeling we were gaining on the race group.  

As we passed through another small town before Alpine, Curtis caught a huge break.  We passed several riders from his group changing a flat on the side of the road.  I instantly told Curtis that he was going to catch his group.  He said what do you mean.  I said when those guys finish fixing the flat, you can latch on to them as they come by and you will catch back on to the group.  He recognized I was right and got really happy.

I got on the front and really started working hard.  I was taking really long pulls.  In reality, the situation was even better for Curtis than we had thought.  The rest of the group had sat up and were soft peddling waiting for the guys to fix the flat out of racing courtsey.  As we approached the group, I let Curtis take the lead and I acted like he was passing me so that he didn’t get in trouble with the race Marshall.  Curtis caught up with the group.  I passed the group and went on by.  

It wasn’t long when the group had reformed and in earnest went by me.  Again, I kept a good pace but could not match their pace without blowing up.  For a second time, I had to watch this group slowly pull away from me.  Once again, I was riding alone.

After several miles of riding by myself, I came up to a member of the group that had just pulled away from me.  The group had picked up their pace due to the flat tire.  This rider just couldn’t keep the pace.  His name was Jonathan and he was a member of the Red Burrow racing team.   The Red Burrow racing team is out of Las Vegas.  It has been my experience that all of the guys from that team are fast.  There were several members in the group that had pulled away from me.

He told me it was just not his day and he was struggling to keep their pace.  We started taking 40 second pulls and working together.  He taught me to wiggle my left elbow when I was on the front to signal I was allowing him to ride on the front.  We worked together for several miles as we came into Alpine.

Again, we were able to keep a strong pace even though it was just the two of us.  I started taking some longer pulls on the front because I was a little stronger at that point in the ride.  I need to make a little disclaimer at this point.  I was riding very strong through the valley.  I was stronger at this point in the race than many of these riders I was riding with.  However, I should remind everyone that these guys had ridden to this point in the race a lot faster than I had.  They had worked harder in the first part of the race.  

Jonathan is an incredibly fast rider.  And, it really wasn’t his day.  Last year in LOTOJA he was on the podium for his group and it looks like he had the fifth fastest time in all of LOTOJA.  I don’t want anyone to think that I think I am in the same class as these guys I was riding with.  I undoubtedly had fresher legs because I hadn’t worked as hard in the first half of the ride.

As we approached Alpine, Jonathan told me I was much stronger than him, and that I should go on ahead.  I told him I enjoyed riding with him and I was alright staying with him.  Frankly, I was tired of riding alone.  We both talked about getting together after the Alpine feed zone.  The following link is a picture of Jonathon and me coming into Alpine http://www.lucidimagesutshop.com/2014-Races/LOTOJA-Classic/Alpine-Area-131200pm/i-3ZxhcmD

You ride all the way through Alpine, which is not a big town.  You cross a bridge that goes over the Snake River and then make a right hand turn at the only stop light in town.  LOTOJA had the right lane blocked out for the riders so we didn’t have to wait at the light.  As soon as you make the right hand turn, the feed zone is along the road that takes us through the canyon to Jackson.  As I made the turn, I felt we would have a head wind in the canyon.

As it turns out, I had the fastest time of the cyclosportive group through Star Valley at just under 1 hour and 56 minutes.  As a comparison, the fastest racers finished this segment in 1 hour and 41 minutes.  The 35+ Masters group I chased most of the way through Star Valley did it in 1 hour and 50 minutes.  I felt good about my time given that I didn’t have a group to ride with and rode many miles of this on my own or with just one other rider.  If you compare my time with all of those who raced it, I would have been 168th out of 779.  

My strong ride through Star Valley had put me back on track to meet my goal of finishing in under 10 hours.  With 46 miles or so to go to the finish, I had given myself a chance at meeting my goal--to be continued.

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