Friday, February 25, 2011

Sebring 24 Hour Race Report from Sandy Earl

Another race in the books! I'll spoil the ending right up front: I rode 442.6 miles, putting more than 1 mph on the womens' record of 415.9. My goal number had been 450, but I'm quite pleased with “danged close”.

I was part of a loose herd of riders racing under the Team Raven Lunatics banner. David, Bill and I were coming from Arcata. We met Jim in San Francisco, and flew in to Tampa, where we met Dennis (TX) and Phillip (uber-crew from DC, also David's son and an aspiring ultracyclist). Dana picked up his brother Rahn and met us in Sebring.

We arrived in Sebring Thursday night, checked in, and picked up our bikes from the hotel. David, Bill and I had shipped bikes ahead, and they were waiting for us when we arrived. Bill and I (mainly Bill, with me in a supporting role) built heavy-duty shipping crates for our bikes and gear. We were so giddy with our success at the endeavor that we even painted them: pink for me, and Bacchetta Blue for Bill. We were delighted to see that the boxes did their job, and the bikes arrived in perfect condition. But bike building would have to wait until Friday AM – time to turn in as we'd had a very long day in transit.

We booked the “large suite” - a great deal for four racers. We had a double-sized balcony overlooking the race course which served as our bike build area. Having a mini-kitchen (half fridge, sink, and microwave) was a real help as well. And I'm pretty sure we could've slept two more in the bathroom.

We got a decent night's sleep, hit the continental breakfast the next morning, and set to the task of unboxing and reassembling our bikes. As we started building, the race cars hit the track. The hotel is situated with an excellent view of the hairpin turn, so we were able to scrutinize the racers' lines in and out of corners – good information.

Everything went smoothly, except that...a screw stripped out in my stem riser! Augh! David – Mr. Connected – whipped out his cell phone and called John Schlitter, hoping to catch him before he left the Bacchetta shop in St Petersburg. He didn't – John was already on the road – but amazingly enough, John had a spare riser with him, and was more than happy to let me use it. We had a backup plan that involved drilling and other histrionics – but I was ecstatic to have a “real” solution. Thanks John for saving my day!!

Once the bikes were built, we went for a quick tour of the 11-mile “day” loop. The race consists of a 100-mile first loop, then a series of 11-mile loops until 5PM or so, and the rest on the raceway. The middle loop was a good shakedown, and we got done sometime after 2:30.

With a photo shoot on the schedule at 4PM, and registration/packet pickup shortly thereafter, Bill and I were getting antsy. We had one more job to do, hopefully without David finding us out. We'd brought the Recumbent Flag that Mary sewed, and were planning to have Phillip and Rahn fly it in the pits at night. This had been one of our late-night inspirations during our crate-building-what-to-expect-at-Sebring sessions. In 2010, I'd had a lot of trouble finding my pit crew, so we were thinking of ways to make “our” crew stand out: Lights? Balloons? RECUMBENT FLAG!!!! YEAH!

Bringing a flag – and flagpole – out to Sebring, right under David's nose, without arousing his suspicion was proving difficult, but so far we were winning. The last piece of the puzzle was to get one more piece of dowel (the piece that we'd forgotten to send ahead in the bike boxes), and a bucket and some heavy, granular fill to anchor the flagpole in.

David could sense that something was up, but we mainly passed it off as pre-race jitters. I think. We made a quick exit from the photo shoot and headed to the nearest hardware store, where we were able to buy the dowel, and a bucket. We still needed something to fill the bucket, but...

Onward to Roserios' – an amazing hole-in-the-wall pizzeria in Springlake. The proprietors greet everyone like they're family, or at least close friends. Even when they're not locals, which we clearly weren't: we ordered three large pies to go, and asked if they knew anywhere where one might buy some...sand.

Three sets of identically-arched eyebrows later, we surmised that one rarely BUYS sand in central Florida. They directed us to the nearest accessible pile - just a mile or so further east on Hwy 98. I'm pretty sure they would've given us a bucket, too, if we'd not had one already. While our pizzas cooked, we headed out, found Thunder Road, and loaded up our bucket with sand.

Pizzas were a hit with the Lunatic crowd – at least those who hadn't already tucked into Rich Pinto's fine barbeque – but my main reason for getting pizzas was to have some for race fuel. Yep – I race quite well on pizza.

Registration – check. Poker chip, timing chip – check. Number, t-shirt, swag – check. Sleep – we were in bed, lights-out, at 8:38. Not bad. Took a bit to get to sleep but I didn't stress over it too much. 5:00 wakeup call. Coffee (precious little), oatmeal, Boost. Pee seventeen times. Water bottles filled. Food and clothes boxed for Phillip and Rahn. Poker chip will go in armwarmer (since it has a nifty little poker-chip-sized pocket, might as well take advantage).

Weather is fine! It's going to be 50-something at the start, going up to a high of 80 or so. I'm going a little light on clothes at the start: jersey, armwarmers, shorts. I'm wearing a reflective vest that is doubling as my musette bag since it has a convenient pocket in the front. It's also got a velcro strap to hold my iPod.
Just like that, we're downstairs and in the start gates, listening to instructions. Racers, start your....legs?

Woo-hoo!! Three laps of the track, having fun, staying loose, but not giving up any speed, either. My take on a 24-hour race is that it's A 24 HOUR RACE. Every mile counts, and you just never know what's going to happen down the road, so you'd best get your miles in while the getting's good.

I got off the track right in the thick of the faster 12-hour pacelines – a couple ahead of me, a couple behind – and got to work. The course is well-marked, winds are light, temps are great. As I got close to the turnaround, I was starting to cramp a bit – my usual “gotta go through the cramps” thing, though usually it hits more like 4-6 hours in. I eased up, doubled up on the electrolytes and water, and got to the turnaround just behind Bill. David and Dana weren't far behind. Jim and Dennis – 12-hour riders – were considerably ahead, alternately drafting and pulling the Bacchetta juggernaut.

Quick foot down at the team van – a mile or so past the turnaround – to dump armwarmers and pick up some food and drink. I'd already made a pee break, so I got past Bill who was attending to some pressing business behind the van. And back we went. Bill re-passed me a few miles later. I was working my way back toward him when my body screamed, “PEE BREAK” I lost a minute again, but I never let him out of my sight.

As soon as we hit Hwy 98, my legs smelled the barn, and I picked it up a bit. 5:08 for the century – I'd wanted to crack 5:00, but I was pretty happy with it. Saw Phillip and Rahn – I put in my order (PIZZA!!!), did a near-perfect bathroom break at the turnaround, and collected my slice and bottle.

The short day loop seemed to have 360 degree crosswinds, which I guess is theoretically possible. Fortunately winds were light overall. The least windy stretch was the first one after leaving the start-finish; I used that short leg as my feed zone. The next leg is highway, a little headwindy, and featured a dead squirrel. Why Jim didn't eat it is anyone's guess. After that we turned north, and things got slightly more scenic. Past the manatee mailbox which served as my personal lap counter. I would “talk to the 'tee” ten times – one better than last year. After that, a right-hand turn to a slightly downhill/downwind section, and back home to start the whole process over again.

I didn't run the iPod during the long loop, figuring that adrenaline and “rabbit hunting” was going to be enough to keep me engaged. Now that there were rabbits everywhere, a little hunting music was in order. I led off with bagpipes.
The exchange between laps 9 and 10 was a little sloppy as the pit crews were moving to the raceway. I decided to take advantage of the ladies' room – it had been over 100 miles since the last pee stop. I had put a foot down, once, to make DANGED SURE that I got my waffle sandwich, but other than that – always moving forward. The bike is performing well; I'm comfortable and in my element.

One more lap of the day loop and we transition to the track. Woo-hoo! Just being on the track feels faster, even though the stats bear out that I was mainly doing the same speed. And with only 3.7 miles per lap, there are always rabbits to catch. Every so often I was the rabbit, being caught by a faster racer. That speeds you up, too.

Night loops – what can I say? You keep on...going. Through the pit. Up to the first left-hand turn, which I got in the habit of taking conservatively; a couple riders went down there and I just felt better safe than sorry. A couple of turns, a straight, under the banner, and up to the hotel, where the hairpin and the chicane were poised to trap unsuspecting racers. More than one failed to negotiate the hairpin and visited the grassy berm. I got the hang of it pretty quickly – a medium/slightly outside line going into the hairpin, just kiss the inside of both of the blinkie lights that served as road markers, and power straight through the chicane. A series of fairly easy turns, with some longer stretches, then the turn onto the long back straight that runs behind Pit Row. I could feel the light and energy of the pits speeding me up, heading for home. A couple of turns, through the timing gate, and back to the pits.

My night loop mantra was something that my friend Rebecca had said about my riding, years and years ago: she had been drafting me around Lake Tahoe, and reported being mesmerized.....”Fast and smooth. Fast and smooth. Fast and smooth.” I meditated on that to the Black Eyed Peas. Fast And Smooth/Tonight's gonna be a good night!
Stopping every lap isn't wise – too slow. I settled into a rhythm of stopping every fifth lap. I'd have preferred to stop less, but my hotfoot was flaring, and it seemed to happen every sixth lap – but if I put a foot down, even momentarily, every fifth, we could keep it under control without much ibuprofen.

At 9:30, as I was closing in on the 300 mile mark, I started the countdown – I felt that I could and should get forty more laps done. That meant that I needed to hold 12-minute laps for as long as I could – hopefully building a little cushion for the last four hours.

Then the smoke came up – some sort of controlled burn on the adjacent swampland. Bleah. I've never been so glad to have the “Rocket J Squirrel” goggles. Fortunately, my eyes and my lungs weren't too put off. Unfortunately, my stomach was. Either that, or the pace was finally threatening to shut it down. Either way, I had my last slice of pizza shortly after midnight, and made the last 5 hours on flat Coke, nibbles of waffle, and one or two Boosts. Not enough, but – enough.

We stayed on the program like clockwork. At 4:00 to go I had 18 laps left – meaning I could average 4.5 laps per hour. When we got to ten laps, I canceled my remaining scheduled pit stops and started shouting out the “countdown” number as I went through the pits, much to the amusement of the crews who were still out. At 23 hours down I had 4 laps left of the planned 40, and it seemed like it was going to be a quick but manageable cruise in. Two laps down with 35 minutes to go – great, up a little on time, but I don't REALLY have to contemplate three! Off we go again. Out there on what felt like the darkest, loneliest spot of on the track, I hit a blinkie light, and – pinch flat. AUGH. Front tire. Thought about it. Nope, gotta change it. Let's get at it. That was a 21:09 lap, which means that, all things considered, I did a pretty efficient repair.

With 14:12 to go as I came through the timing gate, John Foote was there to take what he presumed was my finish-line photo. Sorry to waste umpteen megapixels, John, but I'm going out again. There were rabbits ahead of me – one being Bill. I passed him in the chicane and kept going. I didn't have much frame of reference for time except “done with this lap” and “not done with this lap”, and getting to the latter as soon as possible was all my racer brain could handle. I turned the last lap in just under 11 minutes. I'm guessing that the few minutes of downtime were necessary to muster that much speed, so I don't think I left a lap behind with the flat tire– it just made the finish a little more exciting.

I have a whole team of folks to thank for helping me achieve this result: First and foremost, Phillip Bradley and Rahn Lieberman, for excellent crewing. Dana Lieberman, for my Carbent, which performed flawlessly, as usual. David Bradley - logistics wizard extraordinaire. Bill Spaeth – box builder, training partner, and the guy who puts up with me every day. John Schlitter, for coming up with the part I needed, and for being game to let me use it even though I wasn't riding one of his bikes. Jim Kern and Dennis Johnson, for being out there and providing day motivation and night support. Honey Stinger, for nutritional support. The fine folks at Roserios, for sand procurement and the best pizza in Central Florida . I could go on and on....

Monday, February 07, 2011

Santa Barbara 300K

Our 300k brevet started in Moorpark and rode many of the same roads that we traveled on the 200K four weeks earlier (this was okay by is beautiful cycling in there yonder hills!). I was surprised at the number of riders...46! Quite a turnout for a 300K. Bruce and I decided to ride together again, and we spent many hours talking about our preparations for the Big Wild Ride 1200K in August.

A quick spin up Grimes Canyon, over the top and up Balcom Canyon took us to our first not-so-secret control. Our RBA had ridden there and set up camp, waiting for all of us unsuspecting riders to come on by!

We then continued on through the orange groves on our way to Ventura. While we were at the back of the pack, we continued to make good time, keeping the pace mellow and enjoying a beautiful 45 degree morning! The stretch along Foothill Blvd. is one of my favorite. I just wish I had a camera that could capture the wonderful views of the Channel Islands off in the distance as we zoomed along at 30-40mph on beautiful pavement with minimal traffic. It was a bit overcast this morning, but the views were still sublime!

We then began the wonderful climb up to Lake Casitas. Santa Ana Rd. parallels the Highway 33 and provides you with breathtaking views of the Ojai Valley as you gradually make your way up to Lake Casitas.

The weather was so nice, I thought I would take a couple videos as I started the climb up to the top.

By the time we reached the lake, it was a balmy 65-70 degrees. I rode up to the summit with Terry and Amber, chatting all the way. We zoomed down the other side and laughed at the "free pigeon manure" sign, and then climbed up the second pass. The descent down into Carpenteria was fast and breezy - a fantastic opportunity to get comfortable with my new wheels. I waited for Bruce before crossing the foothills to Toro Canyon, and we continued along together for most of the rest of the ride.

Rather than just an information control at the top of Toro, a volunteer was waiting for us with munchies and water...wonderful! However, the best munchies of the ride were just a few miles down the road at the bakery in Montecito!

The ascent up Mountain Ave. is challenging by any standards. It just climbs and climbs. Fortunately, the views from the top are worth it, but was hard to believe that we were climbing so much and still had over 100 miles to ride! Oiy!

The descent down into Santa Barbara was fantastic, and the Garmin 800 didn't lead me down any off-course roads! Soon enough, we were enjoying sandwiches at Cantwell's Deli and hanging out with the back-end riders of our group.

The next 85 miles were generally flat as we cruised down the coast on our way to Malibu. We all played leap-frog with each other along the Ventura beaches, the stop lights south of Ventura and into the Wendy's at Port Hueneme. It's pretty much become a tradition that we stop for coffee and french fries at this Wendy's - it's a control and there really isn't anywhere else to stop! (you normally wouldn't catch me in a Wendy's for anything!) The sun had just set, so as we got back on our bikes, we donned our night wear, turned on our lights, and headed out into the darkness.

The ride down to the Malbu coast was uneventful. I was getting a bit annoyed at some of our riders blowing through the stop signs around the Navy base and staring at Bruce's Dinotte tail light flashing in my face, so I eventually pulled off the front and met everyone 15 miles down the road at Trancas. Riding through the night was wonderful, but this was the only time in the ride where I started getting a little tired. Nothing some coffee, good conversation and a protein bar at the gas station couldn't cure!

For the return trip up the road, Bruce turned down his light and we continued riding together. The rolling hills and miles just passed by...we were almost done. BAM! I hit a rock and pinch flatted. Oh well...easy enough to fix and we are back on the road again progressing toward the last climb, Santa Rosa Rd.

Bruce was feeling a little frisky and took off as we started up the climb. I continued along behind him, watching him slowly fade into the distance. Shortly thereafter, the front end of my bike started feeling funny, so I stopped to check it out. Slow leak...bummer. I decided that instead of digging for my spare tube and sitting on the cold concrete, I would just pump it up and see how long it lasted. As I unscrewed the valve, it actually came off in my hand! I guess I know where the leak was! The irony here being that just 19 hours earlier I was looking at my valve tool and telling myself that I wouldn't need it. Hah! No problem...screw it back on and pump up the tire. This continued four more times before I reach the finish at about 17:24.

Overall, it was a wonderful, albeit slow ride! I'm looking forward to the 400K in SLO in March!