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

Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Spectacular Ride to End the Tour

Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Sorano to Montefiescone  
36 miles, 2,750 feet of climbing 

In terms of bike touring, it just doesn't get any better than today - the weather was pristine, the views were amazing, and the wind was at our backs.  We had some challenging climbing as we headed east out of Sorano toward Grotte de Castro.  Thereafter, for several miles of our ride, we rode along Lago di Bolzena, a beautiful and expansive crater lake of central Italy.  As this was the final ride of our tour, and we didn't have many miles to cover, we took our time and really just enjoyed the surroundings and culture of the region.  Today's route concluded with a three mile steepish but scenic climb up to our destination town, Montefiescone.  We finished our ride relatively early, which gave us plenty of time to return our rental bikes to the bike shop in the center of town before it closed for the afternoon.  We then went and found a nice little restaurant for lunch - one last margarita pizza for the road and, boy, was it excellent.  Then we had to proceed with the business of getting our belongings organized and packed for the trip home tomorrow.  At 7:30, we gathered at the hotel restaurant for our final group dinner.  This was a absolutely fantastic tour - the rides, the sights, food, the people and, of course, sharing it with my favorite person.  😊 
Until next time, Italy . . . arrivederci!

Leaving Sorano
Heading toward the lake
Sheep, being guarded by a ferocious dog who barked and chased me away
Sights along the lake
Lake shore
Steep climb up ahead
Town on the lake
Lakeside cappuccino break
Montefiescone - a busy town with narrow streets and lots of traffic

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Penultimate Ride: Nice Day for a Loop Ride

Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Sorano to Pitigliano Loop Ride
27 miles, 2,800 feet of climbing

The weather we've been having on this tour is getting better by the day.  Today, we would enjoy sunshine and warm (mid 60s) temperatures as we rode a loop ride to the historical town of Pitigliano.  Pitigliano is an old town known as the little Jerusalem for the historical presence of a well-integrated Jewish community and a Synagogue, which was built in the 16th century.  It was a scenic and hilly route ("scenic" and "hilly" generally go hand-in-hand).  Spent a little time exploring Pitigliano before heading back to the Villiagio.  Spent the rest of the afternoon sitting outside in the sunshine, relaxing and trying to get and stay on the internet (the signal is not the stongest in these somewhat remote towns we've been staying  in).  Julie - our fearless and super-organized tour director - arranged for a van to transport us into the Sorano "centro," where we had our choice of two restaurants to go to for dinner.  We picked the restaurant with the more traditional menu.  We had a lovely dinner with some of our fellow riders.  Of course, there's nothing like gelato to cap off a fantastic Italian dinner.

View of Sorano from the road
Encountered short tunnel on the route
More views from the road

View of Pitigliano from the road
The road from whence I came - view from the climb up to Pitigliano
Art, his new Italian bike jersey, and his Whistle

A Rainy Start to a Beautiful Day

Monday, May 2, 2016 
Piegaro to Sorano 45 miles
3,888 feet of climbing 

Well, our luck dodging the rain ran out this morning.  It poured all night and was still raining pretty steadily when we were getting ready to leave.  Because we had no internet, we were unable to check the forecast, but rumor had it that the rain was going to pass some time after 9 a.m., and we would meet dry conditions as we headed to our destination town, Sorano.  And that is exactly how it happened.  We donned our rain gear and headed out around 9:00, and rode in light rain for the first 12 miles or so.  Our route consisted of three distinct climbs, with rolling terrain in between.  As usual, beautiful scenery throughout.  At mile 22, we took a cappuccino break in a little town called Aquapendente.  The owner of the cafe was also a cyclist, and came out to talk to us about our ride.  Even with the language barrier, we were able to have a short but meaningful conversation.  For the latter half of the ride, we rode with blue sky and sunshine, and the temperature rose to a pleasant comfortable 63 degrees.  Plus, the climbing and the rolling hills kept us plenty warm.  We arrived at our lodging fairly early - around 1:30.  We're staying at an agritourismo - Villaggio Le Querce.  I would describe it as a rural motel.  Instead of a hotel room, you get a little "apartment," complete with a kitchenette.  It's a very peaceful setting outside the town.  We had plenty of time in the afternoon to relax and enjoy the setting and the beautiful weather.  There was even a hose available, so we washed our bikes.  We walked about 1/4 of a mile to a local restaurant for a group dinner.  Art & I both had the risotto with asparagus, which was molto delizioso.  This was definitely the best weather day of the tour, so far.  According to the forecast, the threat of rain is over for the next few days, so, hopefully, we'll be able to pack away the rain gear for the rest of the trip.  
It finally stopped raining - now just overcast and cool
First climb of the day - about 5 miles
Sheep enjoying the day - in a spontaneous display of cuteness, the lambs started jumping around
Blue sky!
View of Old Sorano from the approach
Arriving in Sorano
Our lodging for the next two nights - Villaggio Le Querce
Happy biker
Clean as a whistle!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Lakeside Ride

Sunday, May 1, 2016
Assisi to Piegaro, with loop to Lago Trasimeno
52 miles, 2,710 feet of climbing

Well, we got lucky with the weather again.  By all reports, it was supposed to rain this morning, but it was clear and dry when we headed off for our ride to Piegaro.  We had two routes to choose from today; one was more of a direct route to Piegaro, and the other added a loop to a lake - Lago Trasimeno - which added about 10 miles to the short route (not including the two wrong turns we took).  It turned out to be a beautiful sunny and cool day, so we decided to do the longer route.  The route was made up of mainly rolling terrain with a couple of long, steep climbs that really challenged the legs.  The loop to the lake was definitely worth it.  Riding along the lake was spectacular, and the traffic was light.  We actually saw a horse-drawn buggy coming down the road.  We arrived in Piegro just after 2 p.m.  Our hotel in Piegaro was quite exquisite and unique.  It reminded me of an old castle - beautiful stone and brick archways and ceilings.  There may have been a dungeon somewhere.  The furnishings had a Renaissance theme.  And very much like the Renaissance times, the hotel had no internet access, which is why my blog posts are behind.  At 5:30, we gathered for a cooking demonstration by the hotel's chef, Salvatore. Chef Salvatore showed us how to make several different types of pasta - tagliatelle, ravioli, gnocchi and tortilini.  He was amazing.  We had dinner as a group at the hotel's restaurant, cooked by Salvatore, and it was delicious.  With there being no internet access, we made it an early night for sleep.  Tomorrow we head to Sorano.  We'll be checking the weather the old fashioned way - by looking outside.  😊
Some clouds to start, but it turned out to be a great day
My escort
The middle of the road is not a good place to hang out
First view of the lake from the top of the climb
Horse-drawn buggy on the road along the lake
Lago Trasimeno
Lakeside selfie
Our accommodations at the Ca' De' Principi
Cooking demonstration by Chef Salvatore 
Me & the Chef
My dinner - it was quite delicious!