We interrupt the Youth Sports Mania series (which will continue in a day or two) with this emergency query: have I totally lost it? The last two years I’ve spent the last Thursday in July cycling around Mount Rainier in what’s known as RAMROD. Both rides were a highlight of both summers because 1) I trained hard from mid-April or early May and 2) I had two excellent wingmen, T and D, stronger riders than me who I often tucked in behind to conserve energy or to manage the final 25 miles when running on fumes, 3) the scenery is unrivaled, and 4) we rode really well and passed people all day long.
Fast forward to this year. I returned from Europe in late May, and began cycling, but because I was something like 199th on the RAMROD wait list, I wasn’t terribly motivated to go long, especially since I’m training for the Portland Marathon. My longest ride of the season so far is 59 solo, fairly hill miles. Even that ride involved a big brunch with the fam and in-laws in the middle. I’m riding really hard twice a week (averaging just over 100 miles/week), but compared to 06 and 07, my mileage is way down. For an event like this, I’m seriously under-trained. On top of that, T is in Washington D.C. mountain biking with President Bush on the weekends (22 times so far) and D has gotten too damn strong for me to try to ride with this year.
Fast forward to yesterday when I learned I made it into the ride. Does the fact that I’m even considering doing the ride, mean I’ve lost touch with reality. Any of you who have lost your sanity see the same telltale signs in me?
Here’s my plan. Spend six hours in the saddle Friday with ample climbing. Then the question is can I ride extremely conservatively to the first climb, and then conservatively up to Paradise, and then conservatively through Backbone Ridge, and then conservatively up Cayuse. I think I can do it if I stay within myself and repeat this mantra, “No heroics.” I’ll suffer mightily, but that provides the opportunity to develop more mental toughness which will make me a better endurance athlete.
So, I’m leaning towards attempting it. Let me know if I’m totally crazy, I suspect those who are most crazy are the last to know.
Here’s last year’s race report:
143.3 miles. 10,406’ elevation gained. 10,027 calories burned. Total time, 8:50-8:55. Riding time, 8:03:49. Average speed, 17.8. Maximum speed, 42.7. Average heart rate, 132. Max, probably mid 150’s.
Last year I overinflated my tires and had to change tubes, ran out of tubes, and then tipped over all between 3:30a.m. and our start at 5:40a.m. This year prerace prep went perfectly and I even stayed upright as they checked our numbers at the start.
Like all endurance events, this one is all about preparation. This summer I’ve totaled about 90-95% of last summer’s miles. Despite the slight dip, I went 103 miles by myself a few weeks ago. Thanks to the wettest July in ages, a lot of this month’s miles were solo. When it’s warm and not windy, I really don’t mind riding in the rain. Of course that’s only when it starts mid-ride.
Rode with three friends, one who had three additional friends who we waited for at the start, but dropped almost immediately. That’s a nice segue to the line of the day, which ironically occurred at the 2 mile mark. My plan was to effortlessly spin for 10 miles, slowly increase it over the next 30, until hitting the base of the first extended climb when I knew it would be every man for himself to the top. Ease into it and reduce it to a damn hilly century.
Problem is D (former professional marathoner) has gotten crazy strong and he’s hardwired to go hard all the time. So I happened to lead us out and I’m crawling along at 15mph on what is actually a 40 mile 2% grade run up to the base of the first climb. We actually pass and pick up a few riders when T says to D, “How you doin?” To which D replies, “Hemmed in.” A club passes us hard in matching kits and he pulls out, passes me (I had decided to let them go) and quickly closes the gap. At my advanced age, I still bowed to peer pressure, and followed suit. We used those guys for 10-15 miles until they stopped for some sissy reason no doubt. We put time into them all day.
Last sentence requires an explanation. Normally, we ride up, down, and around the mountain, meaning you have no idea how many people are in front of you or behind you. This year it was an out and back due to major winter storms and road damage/closures, with three major climbs off the main out and back highway. Therefore, we saw a handful of riders descend before us and 98% climbing behind us as we descended the three big hills. Out of 800 riders, maybe 10-15 finished before us. And they may have started before us. Start was open from 4-6 and we rolled at 5:42.
Long story short, D and T dropped the hammer for 8 hours and I hung on for my dear life. T climbed Sunrise with me, the first, longest, and most scenic of the three climbs. It was nice to have someone to talk to, especially someone who knew the road and was able to tell me what was ahead. We blew off the 25 mile rest stop so I stopped for two minutes at the base of Sunrise (mile 40 I think) to drink, swallow a few salt tablets, and pop a few dried mangoes in my mouth. That gave Steve, friend three, just the separation he needed, but T and I caught him 3/4ths of the way up. We passed person after person. I told two guys we came up on, “The coach told us to bring some water bottles up to you” and they cracked up. Most other guys didn’t find being passed so amusing.
The views were incredible, but I was working too hard to really enjoy them. The descent was one of the best ever. Air temp most of the ride was in the 60’s, so perfect, and probably 50 with wind chill on the descents. Some guys were cold on the descent even with arm warmers, but I went without and was only borderline chilly, which again was perfect. Couldn’t have asked for better weather. Climbs 2 and 3 were mid-day and in the sun and the only times I sweated quite heavily. Hours 1 and 2 were so quick I struggled to drink enough. I was worried about the medium and long-term effects of that, but I compensated by drinking a ton mid-ride. That plus 8 salt tablets kept me from cramping.
We regrouped at the bottom of descent one and rode together to climb 2. We separated on climb 2 fairly early on and regrouped again at the top. Same pattern for climb 3. Climb 3 began at mile 100 and was 10 miles long. The first 4 were relatively gentle and I sat in our group of 5-6 (having picked up two riders). Then as they started to pull away I said, “Meet you at the top.” At mile 107 we came upon a 12% grade sign. Kid you not, I was as close to unclicking as I’ve ever been. I probably slowed from 7-8 to 5 mph and still pulled away from the two guys I was riding near. Had to stand most of the way and after somehow making it over borrowed from Kurt Warner after his SuperBowl victory, “Thank you Jesus.” Almost immediately though, there was a 12% descent which I couldn’t enjoy at all because all I could think about was climbing it very shortly. We took a nature break at the top and immediately started descending. Hit the 12% climb right at 112! I said to Steve, “I just love hitting 12% climbs at 112 miles in.” I also told him I’d have to swear him to secrecy if I had to unclick. We both made it, all of us reformed at the main highway at mile 120, and continued to the infamous deli stop at 123.
Amazing organization and volunteers. The deli stop is actually a sandwich bar. I had turkey on wheat with mustard, mayonnaise, and a tomato. Throw in a Diet Coke, oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, and 20 miles suddenly seemed doable. We told some guys we were leaving and we formed an 8-9 person paceline. Now it’s a 2% downgrade, but it’s into a pretty strong headwind, so the two neutralized each other. First guy starts pulling at 17 and I’m behind D just cracking up. I’m loving it because I’ve been riding way too hard for way too long. I had no pride at that point and would have sat in the whole way home! The guy pulls and pulls and pulls and I know D in front of me and T behind me are like restless thoroughbreds in the gate. Then the guy pulls off, drops back two riders and cuts in right on top of D. D somehow avoids the ditch and just shakes his head. Apparently, the guy had no idea we were back there. That’s all T needed to snap, saying, “Come on, let’s go” and took off into the wind.
Leaving the deli stop I had told D and T that they could easily blow me off the back, and I reminded them that I had the car key. It worked out because they pulled a lot farther/longer than I did. After one of my puny pulls, I barely got back on and then started to fall off, but I told them and they sat up for 45 seconds which was all I needed to recover. At that point we picked up two equally strong riders and flew over the last 15 miles.
Positive peer pressure. As we approached the finish, I eased off to cool down. D and T accelerated. They couldn’t be nicer guys, but I sure wish they’d learn the joy of spinning.
I was extremely proud of how well all of us rode, but I know there’s a whole other category of riders that would humble us. We ride with some cat 1-5 guys most weeks and we know we’re just a bunch of Cutters. Increasingly though, D pisses off those guys by hanging with them to the very end of our club rides.
Next year, T will be living in D.C. until September 08, and I return from Europe on May 23rd. So I won’t have anywhere near the necessary miles in, and therefore, won’t extend my streak*. D is already preparing to go solo.
* Or will I?