Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tahoe-Sierra 50 mile Mountain Bike Race

Whoa, another blog post! I kind of take the summer off from running. It's a nice break after 7 months of training for Western States, and I get to do some other things that I love. I get to play soccer again, and ride my mountain bike.Well, I pretty much ride the bike year round for crosstraining, but I don't play any soccer from December to July. It's not worth getting whacked in the ankle or something. Western States is too hard to get into to risk a silly injury.
Anyways, this is about a bike ride in the mountains. The Tahoe-Sierra race is one tough ride. I had considered the 100 miler cause that's just what I do. The harder the better right? Well I'm not super experienced at endurance riding, but I'm pretty fit. I was worried more about the logistics of the full 100. What would I put in my drop bags? What aid stations would I place drop bags? Will I have to drive up the day before, and get a hotel room? Would I hit the last aid station before 6:15pm, or would I finish in the dark? Oh crap, I don't have lights for my bike! All those worries would be ended by my buddy Steve Gallo's training ride on the course. He rode 67 miles of the course and it took him about 10 hours. Yikes! He's a better rider than me, so that put things in perspective. The 100 would take me forever. I signed up for the 50 mile course.
I saved some cash as the 50 was cheaper, and I didn't have to get a hotel room. I just drove up early race day morning. I got there about an hour before the start, and scored a sweet parking spot right across the street from Ice Lakes Lodge. This is where the start and finish was. I walked over to the starting area and studied the course map for about 10 minutes. I was very interested to see if we would be riding on any of the Western States course. It looked like we would be on Red Star Ridge for a bit, and Robinson Flat was the turn around point. Most of the 50 was on fire roads that went around the WS trail though. As I was unloading the bike, the race director came by, and said we couldn't park on this side of the street. Ah, bummer. It was too good to be true. I loaded up the bike and found a spot down the road a few hundred yards. Now I was a little pressed for time to get everything unloaded and get my gear on. I got it all together, and made my way to the start.
I was carrying my camelbak loaded to the brim. It had about 100oz of water, my tire pump, 2 tubes, tools, and all kinds of Salt-caps and Shot bloks. I was hoping to skip most of the aid stations, and not refill my water until Robinson Flat at mile 30. I was also rockin my new Victory Velo jersey. Thanks guys for your support and keeping my bike rolling. Oh, and the jersey has cool pockets in the back. I had two gel flasks loaded up back there for easy access. I had a good 1000 calories in those, and that would be the bulk of my fuel. I don't bother with those while running. It's too easy to take out the gel pack and open it. On the bike though, that is very difficult, and the gel flasks work great.
The 100 milers took off first, and the 50 milers 5 minutes after. We cruised up the paved street for a bit before dropping down the 8 mile dirt road descent. This was interesting. Imagine 100+ riders bombing down a fire road covered in powdery moon dust. The thick dust cloud kicked up made it nearly impossible to see the many holes and boulders scattered across the road. I was very glad I had brought a bandana to cover my face with. It was still hard to breathe without chocking on all the dust though. All the dust sort of negated the advantage the other riders had on me. I'm riding a Single Speed bike, so they could easily pull away from me on the downhills and flats. There weren't too many guys gutsy enough to pedal all out downhill with poor visibility. There were some though.
We leveled out and began the grueling 2 mile climb up to the red star ridge aid station. This was the shortest of the big climbs, but the steepest. I generally pass most people on the climbs becauseof my single speed. With gears, they can sit down and enjoy an easy granny gear pace. For me, I have to stand up and mash the pedals, or I will stop and fall over. I rode all of this climb, but looking back, there was a section I should have walked. It was early enough in the race that I still had power, but it took a lot out of me.
I hit the top soon enough, and was one of the few who blew through the aid station. Now I was on a section of the WS course, and I enjoyed the views, and the reflection on that June day. The course split off from there into a super fun single\doubleish track downhill with technical water bars. The moon dust was really bad here, and made everything feel very loose. There was a guy a bit in front of me, and the thick dust he was kicking up was just hanging in the air. I almost went down several times through here. We spilled onto a fire road, and I recongnized it as the one just above French Meadows campground. I had worked an aid station out here for brutal 100K run last year. The geared bikes blew past me on this very rare flatish section.
The flat was soon past, and we hit the long 4-5 mile climb up towards the next aid station. This was an enjoyable steady grade similar to the Stage Coach trail in auburn, but twice as long. I passed lots of riders here, and easily recovered any lost places from that flat section. I got to see my buddy Steve who was looking stong on his way to an amazing 100 mile finish. The 100 milers split off at the top of this hill, and it would be just the 50 milers that I saw for the rest of the day. I hit the aid station at the top, and looked at my watch. This was about mile 22, and I had been riding for 2 hours. Not bad. I knew the last half of the race would have more uphills, and my pace would likely slow. I didn't need water, but I stopped to grab a cup off the aid station table. I was a good opportunity to reach in the camelback and grab some margarita shotbloks. I was drinking straight water, and I could use some sodium. The was weather perfect, and I don't know if it even hit 80. I wouldn't have to moitor my water\salt intake as closely as I would on a hot day. For some reason those little shot bloks love to be dirty. This time was no different, and one of them lept from my gloved hand into the thick dust. I've had this battle before, and this little guy wasn't going to get away. I snatched it before it could burrow further into the dirt, blew what dust I could off of it, and popped it into my mouth. Mmmmmmm, dirty margarita.
There was actually a bit more climbing as I left the aid station, but I was feeling strong, and passing people. It had thinned out quite a bit, and I was wondering how close I was to the leaders. I was also wondering how my pacing was going, and if I was pushing too hard. I always wear my Heart Rate monitor, but I don't have much experience with pacing bike races. If this was a 50 mile run, I'd be pushing way too hard.
I passed a few more guys, and began the up and down fire road section into Robinson Flat. Perhaps an unlucky name for me because what I had feared might happen. I looked down, and my front tire was quickly going flat. I had hoped I wouldn't have to go through this, but it was very likely going to happen on a rocky 50 mile ride. I had everything I needed except experience. I've changed flats on the trail before, but it has taken me up to 30 minutes to do it. I hoped this time would be faster. Luckily it was on the front which is a little less to deal with. I pulled out my extra tube, and started to switch out the flat one. I think at least 10 people passed me while I was working. They all asked if I had what I needed which was nice. Good on them. I finished the repair and checked my watch. It said 13:30! All right, a new record for me. I still think someone else could do it much faster, but I was pretty happy with that.
I headed out towards Robinson Flat eager to see when the leader would be coming the other way. I could gauge how far ahead of me he was. I finally saw him and made a note of the time. I doubled it when I got to the turn around point and figured he had about 30 minutes on me. I had no intention of trying tocatch him, but I was curious how far up the leaders were. Now I could go back to focusing on my race. I refilled my camelbak with water, and ate some more shot bloks and salt caps since the camelbak was off. While I was riding I had been fueling with the easy to grab gel flasks, and I had allready emptied one. I got out of there in about 3 1/2 minutes, which is not too bad for my biggest planned stop.
The race director had warned us about the trip back from Robinson Flat. He told us not to underestimate it just cause it was a fire road. He was right of course. It was pretty technical so you could never relax on the downs. The ups were generally not too steep, but they had lots of loose sand and dust that made it extra hard to keep momentum. The tires rolling through the thick moon dust made a weird "patter" sound that kept freaking me out. It sort of felt and sounded like my tires were going flat all day. Then I'd look down, and they would be fine. From about mile 35 to 45, there was a good deal of downhill. This was so bumpy and technical that I had to hold down the brakes on a lot of it. I don't know if you build a tolerance for this or not, but my hands were really hurting. All the vibration was taking it's toll, and every bump was painfull making it hard to grip the handlebars. I thought I should have been going much faster on that downhill section than I was able to do. It wasn't all downhill either, There was a nasty climb that I just had to get off and walk. I was actully much happier to get to the uphills because the downhills were hurting my hands so much.
The final aid station was about mile 46. This was right before the final 4-5 mile climb to the finish. I was pretty whooped at this point, and wasn't sure if I could ride all the way up to the finish. I grabbed a cup of cytomax, a PBJ square, thanked the volunteers, and began the final climb.
One of the things I like about Ultra runner and endurance rides is the unknown. You get to a point where you are not sure if you can do it anymore. Most of the time you can dig deep and surprise yourself. I just focussed on a steady pace, and if it got too steep I would walk. The walking point never came, and I was able to power up the whole thing to the finish. The grade even flattened out a bit at the top so I could really push to the end and finish strong. Right before the top I took my last sip of water just as my camelbak went dry. Perfect timing! I was so happy to be done, and am pretty proud of the overall race. I think I finished in about 5 hours 30 min, and was somewhere in the top 25. I'll know when the results are posted in a few days. I think the course was actually about 53 miles long.
I had so much fun out there, and want to do another 8hr race in the next month or so. It was hard, but that is part of the fun.


  1. wow derek, that was a very inspiring story!!!!! you are such an inspiration to someone like me who loves to be outdoors and get my heart rate up. i seem to stuggle at times with my heart rate getting too high, high 160's- low 170's. it's frustrating because most of the time im feeling pretty good but i feel like i need to slow down because of the elevated heart rate. i dont know if it has to do with my diabetes, wich is frustrating in itself. its almost impossible for me to go on a run without having to pop in one of my GU gels to make sure my blood sugar doesnt get to low. it makes it hard to go long distance because i would have to carry so much stuff.

    i am truly in awe of your athletic accomplishments!!!!! that is so awesome!! i am so jealous! i love that i can read your story and feel as though i was right there with you. the human body fascinates me incredibly and i love to see how far it can be pushed and what it is capable of. my goal one day is to do a triathalon, maybe this summer i will find a short, rookie one where i wont drown in. umm, ya, that would suck!! i am constantly reading my running magazines and womens health and books and emails and other peoples stories, like i cant get enough!! being active and seeing the results in your own body is just the best feeling in the world!!! your race story just motivated me completely to get out there and start pushing myself again. this damn muscle pull in my upper hamstring below my glute is killing me and my running!! ive been taking it easy just waiting for it to get better. probably not the best approach, i know. stretching and deep tissue massage would be better!!

    well, thank you for sharing your awesome experience. that was fun to read! take care and post more!!!! :~)


  2. That's very cool! Mountain biking is scary.

  3. Right on Derek! What a cool experience!