The week of my last blog post--the week of Christmas--I rode 370 miles. I was extremely happy with this given that the week started with a complete meltdown on what was to be a twelve-hour ride. It was a new personal record for weekly mileage, and it was just what I needed at that time. The following week, I went on vacation in Austin, TX, but was still able to get in three solid rides (and three solid visits to Lance Armstrong's bike shop). The first Monday of the new year, I put in a ten-hour ride. Throughout January, I put in another seven-hour ride (in pouring rain), a nine-hour ride, and a twelve-hour ride. On February 6, I did a strong 200 km brevet that was organized and hosted by Kevin Kaiser--fifth-place finisher in RAAM 20009. And on February 13, I competed in the Sebring 12-hour race.
Yes, the Sebring 12-hour race, not the Sebring 24-hour race. About halfway through January, when it seemed clear that my training had not gone as I had envisioned, my coach and I decided to scale back my goal of competing in the 24-hour and instead focus on the 12. In November, I would have thought that such a decision was a horrible one. In January, after having spent so many hours in the cold, after having missed rides, after having spent so much time on the road alone, it sounded like a great idea.
And it was a great idea, in fact. My training made me think that a good 12-hour race was possible, and I immediately began to get excited about how the race might unfold. I was eager for there to be tactics and hard riding. I began to envision myself surging away from a group and blasting around the finishing track.
Ultimately, the race did not quite turn out like this, although it did turn out very well. I rode in a group for the first 100 miles, sharing the workload in the last fifty. After that, for the next seven hours, I was alone to fight the wind--a situation for which I was certainly trained! I put in almost 140 solo miles. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn early on and lost about six miles. As a result, my official mileage on the day was 231.5 miles, which was good enough to win my age group and finish third overall. And, yes, at various points throughout the race, I did get to ride fast and hard.
Throughout the race, I was supported mentally and logistically by my wife, and I certainly would not have completed the ride nearly as well as I did without her. Thanks to her help, I spent only about five minutes off the bike the entire time. The middle 1/3 of the race was by far the hardest, given my physical fatigue from the century, my mental fatigue from the wrong turn, and my sense that there was so much farther yet to ride. (I had often heard that this was the hardest part, so it came as little surprise. I thought to myself at one point that I felt like I was "fighting for every mile.") In the last three to four hours, I rallied and started feeling stronger. As a result, some of my later laps were some of the fastest laps completed by anyone in the entire race.
So, what now? Approaching the Sebring race, it seemed clear to me that my original goal of competing in the HOS 500 was not realistic. While I feel that I have the physical and psychological skill to be a good ultra-racer--my experience in my first ultra-race at Sebring actually served to further convince me of this--I do not have what it takes to do the training. I think that I am a better rider for having spent so much time on my bike this winter: my comfort on the bike, my bike skills, and my overall base fitness have all improved. But I did not relish having to get up early on Saturdays, get on my bike, and basically ride all day in the cold. My limit in training seems to be somewhere around 100 to 12o miles, or about six to seven hours. I very much enjoy myself up to about that point, but beyond that, I begin to get sick of turning the pedals. Doing a single ride of eight hours or more from time to time is fine, but having to turn in rides of eight, ten, and twelve hours week after week was simply not enjoyable. In addition, I missed the hard, fast riding that accompanies training for short, fast races. Rather, my ultra-distance training involved a great deal of "putting in the miles"--simply riding along, hour after hour, at an easy to moderate pace. Perhaps I'll go back to ultra-racing one day, but for now, I have set other goals. I'm not yet ready to be an ultra-racer because I'm not yet ready to be an ultra-trainer.
So, while I have found some pleasant exhaustion, I have also found some pleasant humility. I was stymied in pursuit of my goals because it turned out that my goals were just too ambitious. I do not feel as if I am washed up, though. I do not feel as if I have failed. Rather, I have learned a bit more about myself as a bike rider and bike racer, and that will help in the pursuit of new goals.