LOTOJA 2015 was an epic event. I knew I was in trouble when 4 days prior to the race my throat started to get sore and my nose started getting stuffy. A 204 mile race across 3 states is potentially hard enough, but with the head cold coming on I admit I began to feel a bit of fear. The best part is that on race day morning I could have auditioned for a bass solo in any choir or singing group in the world and would have been an easy shoe in! That is how bad my head/chest cold had become, hitting its peak on the day of the race.
Luckily my coach, teammates, and friends offered endless suggestions of good home style remedies to stave off the cold. While I am convinced out of personal experience that these suggestions did NOT stave off the cold they may very well have kept it somewhat at bay. At the very least I knew that if I did everything in my power to fend off the head cold I would at least have a mental advantage that given the circumstances I was still putting my best foot forward on race day… even if that foot was sort of dragging along! So I found myself pumped full of all sorts of over the counter medications to help with the cold. I was taking dissolving zinc tablets, Emergen-C, Kombucha pro-biotic drinks, Sudafed non drowsy, Mucinex pm, vitamin c tablets, NyQuil, and even two nights before the race a friendly waiter offered me his special vitamin drink he takes daily called Vibe. He mixed some up for me and sent me to the hotel with two days worth; what a nice guy. The point is that I literally did everything I could d to no avail I was sicker than ever the day of the race. BUT I had the mental confidence that I at least had done everything I could have and that made all the difference.
A 204 mile race was going to be a sufferfest anyways, so what difference would it really make if I felt crappy? Either way I figured that at the end of the day I would be happy to be off the bike just the same. So off to the start line I went. A few of us teammates got together and snapped a quick pic in the parking lot and then pedaled around for a quick warm up around the block.
At the start line our team lined up in the front of our corral and anxiously awaited the count down. We had a full regiment of 8 cyclists racing in the Category 5 event, 2 cyclists in the Female Cat 4 event, and 1 cyclist in the Men’s Cat 5 55+ event. I nearly forgot that my garmin was off so I quickly turned it on as we were pulling away and I noticed that the screen was set to a screen that I never use on race day. I kept trying to get it to switch over to the correct screen for the 1st 1/2 mile or so of the race and then realized that my full fingered gloves were getting in the way. Not wanting to waste anymore time I just settled with the screen it was on and pressed start. I thought: “all I really need is my cadence, heart rate, elapsed time, and average speed.” Since those fields were already on display I just rolled with what I had and figured that I would check later for all the other data such as 3s power, avg power, NP, and more.
For the first few miles of the race behind the pace car and beyond our team sat the front and controlled the pace. I sat there thinking to myself, that my coach would be absolutely angry with me if she knew I was sitting on the front. All she ever said was to stay off the front and just sit in. But there I was, sitting at the front for the first several miles. After the pace car pulled away we were still at the front but I was strict about keeping my heart rate in my aerobic zone. I figured if I were to sit at the front then I will at least stay aerobic. “If someone else wanted to go faster then they could just go around me and I’ll draft off of them” I said to myself. I was surprised at how long we sat there keeping a steady 20mph pace with no one wanting to pull. I figured, what the heck – we can do this all day. At one point I recall riding two abreast alongside my teammate Richard Farabee at the very front of the peleton. I leaned over to him and said, “Hey Richard – in this very moment of the race we are winning!” We both laughed. We settled in and ignored the grumblings from behind where other cyclists were heckling us for the slow pace. All I kept saying to myself was: “If you want to go faster then you can pull.” Eventually a pair of cyclists jumped up there and started pulling and the pace picked up to about 22mph for a few miles and I happily drafted alongside my teammates still in my aerobic zone.
After about 8-10 miles I realized that in all of my excitement I had forgotten to take a leak before the race. I was very well hydrated and really needed to relieve myself. My bladder started to hurt and I became very uncomfortable. At bout mile 15-18 I decided that I couldn’t hold it anymore and that I was just going to have to resign myself to peeing in my bibs while riding. I thought this would be absolutely terrible to the saddle sore scenario I had already been nursing, but didn’t have any other option. Right then another cyclist came riding alongside the peleton and asked if anyone else needed to pee and asked if we wanted to negotiate a “pee stop” where we all agree to stop and pee. I JUMPED ON THIS opportunity and exclaimed “I’m in! Great idea! Lets do it now!” In seconds lots of others all jumped on board with the idea and we found ourselves alongside a farm road all straddling our bikes and peeing. A few of the front of the peleton kept cycling. And others just passed us on by. Yet there was at least 25-35 cyclists who stopped and peed. I was so happy and relieved. Then we jumped back on and began the work to catch the leaders. In about 1.5-2 miles we got them all reeled in and became a unified peleton again.
After winding through some beautiful farm lands and rural towns we started climbing. The heart rates of many of us slowly started rising and the “cold” morning start soon became warm. I chose only to wear my full fingered gloves. I didn’t wear any other cold weather gear and was VERY happy with that decision. While others were trying to peel off cold weather layers I was comfortable and thought this is perfect weather. A wiser cyclist than me once said that you should never start a ride just right, but rather start a cold weather ride just a bit chilly because your body temperature will warm you up as you get going. True to form, after pedaling a few miles on the chilly side I was warm enough to be comfortable while others were wasting precious energy sweating out valuable salt that could have been spared for later in such a long day. Besides, I didn’t have to waste any time or energy stripping arm warmers or leg warmers off. I was quite happy with my gear decision.
The first major climb was known as the Strawberry climb. It began roughly at mile 30 and lasted approximately through mile 57. The main group began to break up on this climb. The temperature heated up and everyone started shedding layers. I was happy that I had not added any extra layers and was able to ride at a comfortable temperature. Of course, the day was really just beginning and the hot temperatures would just continue to rise.
Towards the top of this climb we reached our first neutral feed zone. The neutral feed zones were very chaotic. You just roll up and find a spot to squeeze into to get your bottles refilled. There wasn’t a lot of organization at that first feed zone due to the sheer volume of cyclists that were bombarding it while I was there. You almost fought your way to a spot to get water and then quickly rolled on! The nutrition support at the neutral feed zones was very limited and really only designed for water refills or port-a-john stops.
The next part of the race was by far my favorite. The descent down Strawberry was very fast and even a bit curvy. I had been practicing some down hill techniques and was all too eager to employ them on this long descent. If I remember correctly the descent was roughly 8-9 miles and at some points pretty steep. I pedaled hard for a few yards and then sat down on my down tube in an aero position and just went for it. I reached speeds of approximately 55mph having to break to make turns. I was going so fast that the other cyclists I rode by seemed to just fly by. No one was even able to draft off of me on this descent. While I am quite sure that there are plenty of really good cyclists that could have easily drafted off of me, I am convinced that they were all ahead of me at this point of the race. So I just blasted downhill and caught a quick group of cyclists to attach to. I was very happy to discover that my teammate Richard Farabee was in this group I caught up to. I joined in and we pressed forward to Mont Pilier.
The Mont Pilier feed zone was roughly at about mile 75. This was our first feed zone where we could have our support crew present to provide some nutrition, etc. My fuel strategy really consisted of almost entirely Carbo Rocket, a bit of Coke, and a bite of a PB&J. This enabled me to swap bottles quickly and roll out of every feed zone in 1-2 minutes. It was awesome to see the enthusiasm of the feed zones. Cyclists were cruising in and out as quickly as possible while the support crews were thronging the sidelines jammed pack like sardines waiting for their team to roll in. Our crew was amazing and consisted of many family members and friends. They did a fantastic job and this race was truly impossible without good support. I know several people that participated without support crews but it becomes inefficient and slower. Not to mention that seeing a friendly face cheering your name does wonders for your heart and soul on such a long day!
The 2nd of the 3 major climbs would quickly come after the Mont Pilier feed zone, and was known as the Salt River Climb and was the KOM/QOM climb. It was roughly 30 miles to the top of the Salt River climb from our last feed zone. At the top of this climb we would hit our 2nd neutral feed zone. But the climb up to there would be brutal. From Mont Pilier we would do a short climb for a few miles that was a decent grade for several miles (8-10). Then we would descend quickly again for few miles before we would start a slow grade climb eventually up to a 3-5 mile steep climb for the KOM/QOM challenge up to the top of the Salt River pass. By this time of the race the temperatures were getting hotter every hour. It was on this climb that I fell off the pack and watched my teammate pull away from me. My chest and head cold was getting the better of me and I felt it. A few miles before the KOM climb I crashed into the back of another cyclist on an uphill section of the race. I was coughing so hard for so long I blacked out for a split second and ran into a slower cyclist just ahead of me. Fortunately he was OK and stayed upright. I too was OK and sustained no damage to my bike. However, I did go down and picked up a little raspberry on my knee and overall felt a bit dejected and just out of all energy. I picked up my bike as my teammate circled back to check on me. With whatever integrity I had left I got back on and kept pedaling. I later caught the cyclist I ran into and apologized profusely for hitting him. He was understanding and we rode on.
After a short potty break at the top of the Salt River Pass (KOM/QOM Hill) I sped down hill again. The Salt River pass neutral feed zone came at about mile 106 and basically marked the half way point. From here on out until the finish line it seemed there was a strong head or cross wind that always accompanied us. My descent was again a solo effort. It would be roughly 20-25 miles until our next feed zone in Afton where our support crew could provide us much needed nutrition and replacement bottles. I finally caught another small group of 2-3 cyclists about 8-10 miles from Afton. We worked together and picked up a few other stragglers along the way until we built a descent sized pack. We all took turns in the wind.
In Afton (approximately 122-125 miles in) I could hardly breathe and speak. My head cold had definitely become a chest cold. I grabbed some much needed water bottles and fuel and rolled on. I rolled out solo and got picked up a by a fast paced group. I happily hung on for a few miles until I could recover enough to take my turn up front in the wind. It was this stretch to Alpine where the wind felt the worst to me. After a while our pack of about 15 cyclist dropped to about 4 of us as we left everyone else scattered behind us. We added to our numbers here and there ended up rolling into Alpine (approximately mile 155 of the race) with a group of 8-10 pretty solid riders. Before getting into Alpine I struggled breathing, coughing, and just overall feeling like total garbage.
The feed zone in Alpine would be the last feed zone where we would have access to our support crew making 3 total supported feed zones and 3 total neutral feed zones. The pack of cyclists that formed leading into Alpine all agreed and negotiated a 30 second feed zone stop before meeting at the end of the feed zone to finish out the race together helping each other all the way to the finish. I was very excited about that prospect because they were in fact strong riders and getting in a pace line with them would be very helpful for me, especially due to my overall decline in wellness and health. As I rolled into the Alpine feed zone I was at a low point of the race and rushed for time. My parents and a good friend were volunteering at this aid station. They must not have expected us to arrive so quickly as they were a bit unprepared for our arrival. I was handed a bottle of powder not yet mixed. I admit I may not have been my most pleasant self in that moment and I yelled a bit asking for it to be mixed. Oops. I still feel bad about that because all in all our crew was amazing! The short story is that I lost my fast pack of cyclists as my stop in this feed zone was simply too long. They had rolled out without me. But honestly, I admit that I would have lost them anyways as my wellness significantly declined within minutes of the Alpine feed zone.
After rolling out of Alpine I began dry heaving a ton. Even pulling over to vomit several times only to learn that nothing would come up. Worse, I lost my ability to shift into my big chain ring! This really upset me as it was a problem I thought was adequately addressed before the race. But alas, it was not fixed as I had hoped and the last 50-60 miles of the race I had to do in my small chain ring. My cable was too loose and nothing on the fly out on the course would fix that. I just spun a higher cadence and elevated my HR a bit to do so. A frustrating experience to be sure, especially since the climbing in this course was finished and the last 50-60 miles would be rollers or flat all the way to the finish line.
I did parts of this next section solo as I constantly stopped to check on my chain ring, manually shift it into the big ring only for it to shift back after a few pedal strokes, dry heaving etc. A kind older gentleman in a black and yellow kit with a big GSC logo on the front offered to help me out. Sadly nothing worked and I was stuck with only my small chain ring. I rode with him for a while (pictured above) and then eventually I just settled in to a good rhythm and pedaled my way to the 3rd and final neutral feed zone in Hoback (mile 180-ish). I stopped for a moment in this feed zone and filled my water bottles and tagged along in the back of a corporate group of cyclists who were all riding together. After riding with them for a bit and recovering just a bit I broke away with 3 other cyclists on some of the smaller climbs leading out of Hoback. The group we were all sitting in on was going just a bit too slow. Picking up the pace and forming a small break away group was a good idea. The 4 of us would eventually ride the remainder of the race together taking turns in the wind. I of course still only had my small chain ring, but I was happy to be with them and not solo. The final 10 miles or so were the longest of the race. They were not difficult miles, just long as everyone is ready to be done with the day and get off the bike! Finally we saw the finish line and our spirits picked up.
I finished 11th in our category of about 60 cyclists with a first year finish time of 10:21. My Teammate Richard Farabee and I rode most of the first half of the race together, and he finished 8th in our category at 10:04. It was an incredibly cool day. I loved the race and LOTOJA will be for ever a favorite course and event of mine. I hope to go year after year.
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Bike Accident Attorneys, PLC
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