Monday, February 20, 2017

12 Hours in Sebring

Saturday, February 11, 2017
210 miles 

Last weekend I decided to take a short break from the wintery northeast weather and head south to Sebring, Florida to compete in a 12-hour bike race.  "Bike Sebring" is a endurance cycling event that takes place every February, offering three races: a 24-hour, a 12-hour and a century.  As this would be my very first 12-hour race - not to mention my longest continuous ride on a bike - I had a few reservations about my ability to successfully complete the ride, let alone have a respectable result. On the other hand, a trip to Florida in the middle of winter?  I'd have to be crazy not to do it!  So, with the encouragement of my wonderful spouse and motivating coach, I threw caution into the wind and signed up. 

The race took place on Saturday, February 11.  Art & I arrived in Sebring late the Thursday night before, which gave us all day Friday to assemble my bike, take it for a test run, and get all the food, water and supplies we would need for the raceSebring is famous for its race track (for cars), and part of all the bike races would actually take place on the track (sans cars).  For all three races, the course was basically the same, the only variant is when each race endedThe course begins with 3 laps around the race track (3.7 miles each)Riders then transition onto the "long route" (89 miles), an out-and-back route to the city of Frostproof, which is on the Lake Wales RidgeAfter completing the long loop, riders then transition to an 11.7-mile "short loop" on roads near the race track, completing as many short loops as possible until about 5:30 p.m., at which point riders are returned to the race track to complete as many laps as possible before the time for their race runs out.  All races would begin at 6:30 a.m.  My race - the 12-hour - would end at 6:30 p.m.

The Friday afternoon before the race, the parking lot of the host hotel was abuzz with bikes and people getting ready for the race.  After I took my test ride, we hung around the parking lot as Art made some minor adjustments to my bike.  We got to see some folks we knew and met many new people.  We talked with several riders who had done this race before and received a plethora of helpful advice. Later that afternoon, we picked up my registration materials, which contained my timing chip, to be worn on my ankle, my race numbers for my bike, route directions and, of course, the rules.  After an great dinner, I hit the hay for an early night. 

Woke up bright and early on race dayIt was 50 degrees in the early morning, so I started the race wearing my arm warmers.  It was going to warm up to the mid 80s during the day, so I knew I wouldn't need them for long.  
All riders ready to start the race

What did I get myself into?

We started in a big group and headed out to the track.  It was still dark out, so we all had lights on our bikes to start.  It was sort of neat to ride on this famous race track, and it was a great warm-up for the legs.  

Bikes on the race track
Finished the first three laps, time to ditch the arm warmers

From there, we ventured out onto the “long route.”  Navigating the route was no problem; all the turns were well-marked, which is good for me because I have a notoriously bad sense of direction.  The long route was essentially flat, which allowed you to cruise along at a good pace.  It wasn't long before the sun came out and it was time to put my sunglasses on.  I reached into my jersey pocket to get them, and as I pulled them out, both lenses fell out.  I did not want to stop to fix them, nor do I have the bike-handling skills to fix them while I rode along at 20 miles per hour, so I shoved them back in my jersey pocket and accepted the fact that I would not have the luxury of sunglasses today.  In the grand scheme of things that could go wrong this day, this was not a big deal.  At one point I saw Art along the long route (as my support person, he drove along the long route and parked at various points to cheer me on and probably also to make sure I didn't go off route).  When I saw him, I yelled to him, "Sunglasses broke!"  I wasn't sure he even heard me, but he must've because a few miles later, I saw him along the route, and he was holding out his sunglasses for me to take.  Now that's what I call unwavering support!  His generosity left him without sunglasses for the day. 

Riding the long route

Once we returned from the long loop, we started our laps on the short loop – an 11.7-mile loop on the road that returned to the “pit" area of the race track each time.  That’s where Art and the other racers' support crews were stationed.  From there, Art provided me all the food and hydration that I needed.  In light of the broken sunglasses incident, I was amazed at how effectively Art & I could communicate with me just shouting things at him from the road - just key words, too, not even complete sentences:  "short waterbottle!"  "melon!"  "cookies!" "e-caps!"   Next thing I knew, I had what I shouted.  

The short loop was generally flat, with a few minor rises.  But there was this one section in the middle that had a stair-step type of rise.  It was only about twenty yards long in total, but the second stair step had a grade of about 4%.  Normally, a rise like that wouldn’t even phase me, but by the fourth time approaching that little b*****d, I found myself simultaneously swearing at it and praying for strength to get up and over it. 😆  I completed eight rounds of the short loop before the cut-off time.

Short loop
When I returned to the track pit area after completing my last short loop, I was directed to ride to the race track to start my final laps.  As soon as I started my first lap on the track my Garmin died.  No big deal, though.  Yeah, it would’ve been nice to have the Garmin readings right to the end, but, instead, I monitored myself the old-fashioned way - using my watch and the track clock.  I was able to complete four laps around the track before time ran out.  At that point, even without my Garmin, I was pretty sure I had rode at least 200 miles, which was the high end of my goal range (I had hoped to ride 180-200 miles).  I actually ended up with a total of 210.2 miles, with which I was very pleased.
My great crew chief, without whom I would not have been successful

Doing this 12-hour race was an amazing experience.  It caused me to push (i.e., pedal) myself farther than I ever have - farther than I ever thought I could.  I was really proud to ride in this field of exceptional cyclists, many of whom did the 24-hour race and continued riding laps around the race track for 12 more hours through the night after I stopped.  My fellow riders were kind, inspiring, helpful and oftentimes, humorous.  I owe a debt of gratitude to my husband and BFF Arthur, who provided incredible support and encouragement before, during and after the race. A world of thanks to my coach, Jose Bermudez, for his training plan, advice and guidance.  

Looking forward to the next challenge, pushing the limits and biting off more than I can chew. 😊 



Sunday, November 13, 2016

The 6-12-24 Hour World Time Trial Championships

This past November 5, I competed in my very first bicycle race: a 6-hour time trial in Borrego Springs, California.  Officially, the event is called the "6-12-24 Hour World Time Trial Championships."  It is an annual event put on by the folks who run the Race Across America.  Solo racers and teams can choose to complete in either the 6, 12 or 24-hour time trial.  This being my first race ever, I chose the 6-hour.

I decided to sign up for this race on a whim, and only a month before the race.  I figured I had a good summer of riding - logged good weekly mileage commuting back and forth to work, in addition to my weekend rides.  Plus, in July, I had purchased an amazing new bike that I absolutely love to ride.  So, I figured the Borrego Springs Time Trial was the perfect opportunity for me to extend my biking season.  

When I told Art about wanting to sign up for the time trial, as I expected, he was a totally willing co-conspirator, readily agreeing to come along and be my support crew and bike mechanic.  After I registered, plans were quickly put in place.  It would be a whirl-wind three-day trip to do this race - arrive on the day before the race, and leave the day after.  But, what the hec - Art & I are always up for another adventure.   

Borrego Springs is about 85 miles northeast of San Diego.  It's a small, friendly town that is located basically in the middle of a desert (think sand, sagebrush and cacti).  Borrego Springs has about 3,000 year-round permanent residents.  We learned from talking to the Mayor that it gets so hot there during the summer (up to 122 degrees) that the residents don't even go outside during those months.  It's the other side of the coin to being snowed in - forced to stay inside because of the heat.  Ugh. 

We arrived in Borrego Springs just after noon on Friday, November 4 - the day before the start of the 6-hour time trial. The 24-hour time trial started on Friday at 6 p.m.; the 12-hour time trial would start 12 hours later, on Saturday morning at 6 a.m.  My event - the 6-hour time trial - was to begin Saturday at noon.  All three time trials would conclude on Saturday at 6 p.m. 

We arrived at the "Pit" area with my bike, picked up my registration materials and had my bike inspected by race officials.  The Pit area is sort of the "hub" of the race.  It's adjacent to the start/finish line and the home base for the race officials.  It's also the place where riders and crew can set up their support stations for the race, and where each rider's crew will provide the rider with anything they need as they come into the Pit (food, filled water bottles, ice, etc.).  After we finished with all the pre-race details, we grabbed an early pizza dinner in "town" and then headed back to our hotel to hit the hay for an good night's rest. 

With the benefit of east coast time, we awoke bright and early on Saturday morning, which gave us plenty of time to get ready for the race and go have a nice breakfast at a local cafe.  We arrive at the Pit, ready to ride, about 10 a.m.  Two hours early, but, this being our first time at this event, Art & I wanted to observe how the other riders handled their Pit stops.  Both the 24-hour and 12-hour races were well underway, and it was amazing to see the other racers (many of whom had ridden through the night) and how efficient they were at getting what they needed from their support crew and heading back out on the course.  

The course is comprised of two relatively flat loops - an 18-mile "long" loop and a 4.7 mile "short" loop, each of which begin and end at the Pit.  Racers are to complete as many long loops as they can, until about 2 hours before the race is to finish, when the race officials switch everybody to the short loop.   

Finally, noon arrived, and it was time for me to start riding.  I was glad because the more I stood around waiting to start, the hotter I was getting and more nervous I became.  I was in the third wave to start (they started us in waves of four or five riders, one minute apart, so that we didn't all start in one big clump).  By noon, it was about 88 degrees, super sunny with a slight breeze.  It felt warm, but I didn't think it was too bad, so I decided to forego - at least for the first loop - the ice-filled tube sock I had planned to hang around my neck to help manage the heat.  I didn't think I'd need it right away, and I'd have another opportunity to get it in only 18 miles.  So, I started my ride. I had with me two insulated water bottles, one with plain ice water and the other with Nuun.  In my bento box, I had a Cliff Bar, some Shot Blocks, and a couple of Nutter Butter cookies.  I started out at a moderate pace with the plan to work up to my endurance pace. I felt great - rode steady and smooth, and was in a comfortable position down on my aerobars.  But wow - did it get hot fast!  About 12 miles into the first loop, I started to sense the beginnings of that familiar "desert riding" feeling I had experienced on previous rides in desert conditions; the feeling of fatigue as the heat just saps the energy right out of you.  I soon realized I underestimated my ability to manage this type of dry, unrelenting heat, even for one lap.  I was able to stave off a complete depletion, however, by drinking every drop of the chilled fluids in both my water bottles.  When I got to the Pit after that first lap, Art not only had the ice sock ready for me, but also two replenished water bottles.  After inhaling a few pieces of cold melon and pineapple, with the ice sock hanging around my neck, I was off on my second lap.  Almost immediately, I felt rejuvenated!  My energy was restored and I was able to push on at a decent pace.  I was starting to settle into the ride and began to really enjoy it.  It was fun being on the course with the other riders.  When I passed someone (which was a rare occurrence) it was usually a 24-hour racer, who had already been riding for 18 hours before I even started, or a 12-hour racer, who had already been riding for 6 hours.  All the riders I encountered on the route - whether they were passing me or being passed - were pleasant and encouraging.  They would either offer a encouraging word or a thumbs up as they passed.  I felt honored to be riding amongst this incredible group of endurance cyclists.

I continued my laps feeling pretty strong, even though the temperature crept up as the afternoon wore on. The laps seemed to go by quickly - after all, 18 miles isn't really that far when your plan is to ride 100 miles or more.  Before I knew it, I was back at the Pit with Art replenishing my water and food, spraying me with sunscreen and refilling my ice sock.  The ice sock was the bomb!  It kept me cool, and as long as I managed the heat, I felt great.  I was able to complete five long loops (90 miles) before I had to switch to the short (4.7 mile) loop.  Before I finished the last long loop, I realized, with less than an hour to go, that I needed to complete at least three short loops to reach my personal goal of 100 miles.  The reason I had to complete three of the short loops is because only loops completed within the allotted time are counted.  Therefore, having ridden 90 miles at that point, completing only two short loops would have left me just short of 100 miles.  Once I realized this, I decided I could make no more stops at the Pit and had to kick it up a notch for those last 14+ miles.  Thankfully, I was still feeling pretty strong and felt I could get by with what I had left in my water bottles.  So, as I sailed by the Pit after that last long loop, I gave Art a "thumbs up," signaling to him that I was OK and wasn't going to stop.  I pushed myself as hard as I could as I rode the short loops, and I definitely felt the fatigue in my legs.  If this was one of my typical rides - I would most certainly have eased up, slowed down or stopped to restJust because I had never done it before, I began to doubt my ability to keep pushing hard, given the level of fatigue in my legs.  I imagined my body would just quit on me.  This momentary bout of anxiety dissipated as I increased my effort.  Despite my own doubts, I completed the three short loops with 10 minutes to spare!  I was thrilled.  I arrived at the finish with 104.4 miles.  I pulled into the Pit, stopped and hugged Art.  A race official hung a finisher's medal around my neck.  It was a very celebratory atmosphere, as racers finished and reunited with their friends, family and support crews.  I was a salty, dusty mess, but I didn't care.  I accomplished (and exceeded) my personal goal and had a great time throughout.  

After the race was over, race officials held an awards ceremony at Christmas Circle - a park adjacent to the finish line.  They had food, beer, wine and soda for all riders, friends, family and crew.  They gave out awards for all age group winners for the three races, and the top three male and female overall finishers for each race.  I was the only female racer in my age group (50-59), so I won that award by default.  But I was pleasantly surprised to have earned a place on the podium, having come in third place for the women overall.  I later learned that I even set a new record for my gender age group.  Suffice it to say, I was pleased with the result and grateful that everything went so well for my first race

All in all, my first bicycle race was a wonderful, positive experience.  I met many wonderful people, and got to race in a field with amazing athletes of all ages.  And most importantly, I got to share it with my best buddy and greatest supporter, my husband Art, who, not only did a lot of the pre-race preparation and handled all of the travel arrangements, but stood out in the hot sun for six hours and made sure I had all the food, water, ice and sunscreen that I needed during the race.  My hat is off to Art, the other racers and crew, and the race organizers for making this race a great one. 

My Crew Chief and Main Squeeze
The Start/Finish Line; Pit area to the right

Me - waiting to start
Happy to be riding and managing the heat well

Heading into the Pit area for replenishment
Me, at right, on the podium with the first and second place finishers
The next day, we had some time to visit some of those amazing sculptures I rode by during the race.  These metal sculptures (there are 130 of them), created by artist Ricardo Breceda, are a main attraction for visitors to come to Borrego Springs.  The various works of art are inspired by prehistoric mammals, wild horses, historical figures, and a 350-foot long serpent (part of him, below).    
Face-to-face with the serpent