Monday, November 11, 2013

An Unimpressive Performance

Those of you who are over 60 know both the gift of years and the ever-present awareness of time compressing: that quests and adventures, whatever flavor they may be, need to be planned for as soon possible; that do-overs are less likely to be options for us than for those 20-40 years our junior.

So it was for me in May 2011, age 65, at Calvin's 12-hr Time Challenge in Springfield, OH. I was riding unsupported that day; my goal: 300k (186 miles) in less than 12 hrs. I hit 186 miles in 11:30 and stopped. Goal accomplished. On the drive home,  back to Chicago, I realized that with just a bit more effort, a crew, and some good luck I could hit my coveted 200 mile mark in 12 hrs.

Moving to Tucson 6 months after Calvin’s meant that returning to central OH six months later for Calvin’s 2012 was not realistic; but hey, why not the newly created 6-12-24 hr World Championship Time Trial (TT), part of the RAAM Challenge Series, around the Salton Sea near Coachella, CA?? 

We marked our calendars for November 9, 2013. I would be 68. The chrono-age factor would be increasingly agin' me with each passing year. One of my mottos is: “Do it now!” This TT was definitely a “Do it now!” kind of thing.

My remarkable (for me) Mt. Lemmon summit (3hrs-4min) two weeks before the November 9th TT and my 80 mile ride with Team Soul and my son, Daniel, in Tucson one week before the TT at a 17.7 pace gave me confidence that the the TT would be a strong ride. 

I planned carefully: my nutrition, fluids, electrolytes; I stripped my bike of any unnecessary weight since Kirk would be crewing for me; I put on my new-to-me Zipp 404's (Thanks, Dan Fallon); and checked the weather forecast which was all good.  At a current riding age of 68, a “do-over” is unlikely; this is likely my one shot at a 12 hr, 200 mi PR. 

Kirk and I arrived in the Coachella Valley Thursday night so Friday we could drive the course familiarizing ourselves with directions, road conditions, availability of services along the route (which was none); availability of pull-outs for the support vehicle, (support vehicles must pull off 5’ to the right of the fog line. Time penalties can be assessed against the rider’s finish time for rules broken by either crew or rider). 

We bumped into Lisa Renee Tuminello, one of the 4 member Women's RAAM, Team Love Sweat and Gears,  and her crew (her Dad), at the Start/Finish on Friday afternoon also. They were there early to scout the course as well. It was great to chat with them both. She and I would be the only female 12-hr riders; she’s 24 years my junior. We chatted about riding together, sort of, since our distance goal was the same: 200 miles in 12 hours. Another RAAM rule is no drafting. A distance of 100’ must be kept between riders unless passing. But, it still would have been fun to have her on the road with me within eyesight up front or in my rear view mirror.

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself in my story, but hey, I think it’s called poetic license. One of the consequences of chrono-aging is that it takes longer to, literally, get up to speed; it takes longer to get your heart rate from resting to performance. So, when the  12 hr riders were released at the start at 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning, Lisa was out of the gate like a winning triple crown race horse. I would never see her again, not even at the finish.

By the time Kirk and I returned from circumnavigating the Salton Sea, the Start/Finish was teeming with 12 and 24 hr riders, their crew and support vehicles, and race officials. Everyone was busily applying Race Names/Numbers on the support vehicles,  yellow “Caution Bicycles Ahead”, amber roof top flashers, and having both bikes and cars inspected. We passed; that’s a good thing.

While we were decorating our car who should walk by but Sandy Earl who I had not seen in several years. I’ve been a Sandy fan following her on line since she raced Calvin’s Challenge to set the Women’s (recumbent) Record of 249 miles in 12 hrs. Then I found her working at Bike Friday in Eugene when I was visiting the company buying a Bike Friday Tikit. That was 2010 the year she raced Solo RAAM; I was glued to my computer as she raced her way across the country. Haven’t been in touch since then, but here we both were at the TT. She and Bill drove from Arcadia, CA but their vehicle broke down en route and had to be towed to the Start/Finish. Bill was to have crewed for her, but instead she would ride the 24 hr unsupported while Bill stayed back negotiating vehicle repairs for their return home after the TT. 

Kirk and Sandy Earl
Got enough sleep the night before the race and race morning went as planned. There would just be nine 12-hr racers, Lisa and me, and seven men. 

The way this works is there is a long  loop and a short loop. The 24 hr racers complete two 121.1 mi loops around the Salton Sea before moving the the 15.8 mi short loop. The 12 hr racers complete one 121.4 mi loop and then move to the short loop. The 6 hr racers only race on the short loop. And so, round and round we go until the clock stops at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday when the race is over for all racers of all distances. I would need to ride 1 long and 5 short loops to hit my goal.

With only 50 racers total, 30 of whom were 24 hr racers, the likelihood of seeing another racer on the long loop is slim, indeed. I would not see another rider until mile 130.

My first 11 miles were right on plan: 17-19 mph, feeling good, feeling strong. I would need to average 17 mph for 12 hours to make my goal of 200 miles by 6:00 p.m. 

At mile 11 I turned south on Hwy 111 which would be my road for the next 58 miles and virtually ground to a halt averaging only 14 mph. Don’t know why. Just was.

Yes, there was a little head wind, but gee, nothing to get excited about. But, if that was it, then I reasoned when I turned West on Rutherford and then North on Rt 86 I should be into a cross or tail wind. Maybe I could make up the gap then. Change of directions didn’t help much. 

I ate, I drank, I peed, I took my electrolytes. My spirits were okay, despite knowing that my goal was in serious jeopardy. While my body was certainly not performing in race mode, my head was still into it and I pushed on. My body wanted to call it a day when I completed the big loop, but my head and heart said ride on. I shed some clothes, felt like a new person for half of the first short loop. Back through the Start/Finish I pounded another Red Bull and a piece of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate and felt like a new person again before beginning my second short loop.

The sun was beginning to set so I pulled off the road about 2/3 of the way through the second short loop to turn on my lights and change to my clear lenses. Whoa! I felt horrible: nauseated and dizzy. These have been precursors to my seizure episodes, my all of two, but they can certainly also be the result of fluid and electrolyte disequilibrium and just the result of blood being shunted to heart and legs. All I knew was I didn’t feel good. Finishing two short loops would give me 152 and change. There was time for a third loop, but why??

I was done for the day: one long and two shorts.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that bad physically after a long ride. The day after, Sunday, I didn’t feel a whole lot better. Monday, two days after the race, I felt like I was pretty much back.

Don’t know what happened out there physiologically, probably never will. 

Some factors that I have considered are: 
  • The course was tortilla flat so there was never a break or change in muscle groups as you climb or descend. Not even any stop lights. Upright riders will typically have three sitting positions and a standing position they can switch between to break up the monotony and give muscles a break. Recumbent riders are locked into a single position for the duration.
  • The long loop around the Salton Sea is barren, desolate, hard-packed desert. No evidence of life anywhere except Kirk in my support vehicle who would come up behind me every 30-45 minutes, meet my needs, and hold back for another 30-45 minutes. I had imagined that the road around the Salton Sea would be closer to the water than it was. So if there was avian or human life along the water’s edge, that was literally several miles from my road, and I never saw any. 
  • Had I overtrained the couple of weeks before the TT? Didn’t feel like it, but....
  • Have my seizures impacted my ability to go the long distance? October 6th I was on a 90 mile ride and had a seizure episode between mile 40 and 50.

Yes, I’m disappointed I finished with 152 and not 200. Lisa finished with 216. WAY TO GO LISA!! The disappointment is really about the strong likelihood of there never being another opportunity for a “do-over”, given my chrono-age. 

Then again, in the big picture, how important is that goal anyway? 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Stellar Mt. Lemmon, Stellar

Atop Mt. Lemmon is the Mt. Lemmon Observatory (which I have yet to visit, but hope to soon), so hence, one of the titular 'stellars'. 

Mt. Lemmon is also the venue for hundreds of local and visiting cyclists to challenge their climbing mettle. Some will just play on the mountain, parking at the legendary Le Buzz coffee shop 4.25 miles from mile 0 on the mountain, going up as far as their time or energy permit, and riding back down. Some will drive part way up the mountain, park, and then ride up some miles and back down to their car. Others will summit the mountain checking off another event on their bucket list. And still others will summit with some kind of regularity challenging themselves to higher levels of performance questing after a new PR (personal record).

Mt. Lemmon is awesome: Mile 0 is at about 2,300' elevation, Summerhaven is at about 8,700', the Ski Lifts are at about 8,900', and the Observatory is at about 9,100'. That makes the amount of climbing on our mountain comparable to that of the teeners in Colorado! Difference being, of course, is the base elevation and the summit elevation. But, one of the many cool things about Mt. Lemmon is that most riders don't need to acclimatize before summiting, like most of us would summiting a teener in CO.

From Mile 0 to Summerhaven is 25 miles, on up to the Ski Lifts is 27 miles. No services en route. That means bring your own crew, stash water on the hill, or carry your own. Expect temps to be somewhere between 20-30 degrees different between the top and bottom. Expect high winds up top; be prepared for storms up top that could include sleet and hail. Managing hyperthermia at the bottom and hypothermia at the top is part of the challenge. You can have a successful climb today, and a disastrous climb tomorrow, all the result of factors beyond your control.

I've lived in Arizona, 12 miles west of Le Buzz, for two years and have summited Mt. Lemmon 3 times. The first time was the end of June, 2012. It seemed as or late in the riding season as I could safely expect hyperthermia at the bottom to not 'get me'. I had never even driven up Mt. Lemmon so had no idea what to expect. A bent riding buddy, Mark Doumas, had summited Mt. Lemmon in the past, but never on his bent. He was up for the challenge. Wayne Cullop, President of GABA, also a bent rider, offered to crew for us, carrying water. We had a successful and joyful summit in 4'-40".
Mark Doumas at me at the Sawmill Cafe at Summerhaven
My second summit was in mid-November 2012 with my cycling buddies, Mark and Jeff from Wilmette. Mid November was likely the latest in the calendar year we could expect to summit before roads up-top might be closed because of snow. (Tucson get less than 12" of precipitation/year, Summerhaven 57", a mix of rain and snow). Kirk crewed for us. Good thing, too, because we had a major sleet and hail storm up top.

My second summit was in 4'-20"

1" of hail

Jeff, me, and Mark atop our condo back where it was 30+ degrees warmer than atop the mountain

My third summit was Monday, October 28th. I dubbed it "The Bent Assault On Mt. Lemmon. There were to have been 4 of us, all riding bents, all basically the same bike, 3 Bacchetta CA2's and one Bacchetta Ti Aero. Three of the riders would be traveling into Tucson, 2 from Phoenix, 1 from Prescott. As it turned out, pretty much at the last minute, the three travelers were unable to come, so I rode it alone, with Kirk being my trusty crew.

Having posted a 4-40 and a 4-20 before, I thought a 4-10 would be a reasonable projection.

I kid you not, I posted a 3:04 elapsed time, a 2:59 ride time. Where in the world did that come from??????

Best I can figure is:
  • weather was not an issue
  • new-to-me Zipp wheels (thank you Dan Fallon)
  • familiarity with the road
  • riding solo, meaning not feeling responsible to make certain others in my 'party' were enjoying the climb
  • no seizures or other body issues and no mechanicals
  • a seasoned crew member (thank you Kirk)
So, a stellar Mt. Lemmon climb, indeed!

Ooops! Another Seizure

After my first-ever seizure August 27th and after all the diagnostics and treatment planning was complete, I began my required driving restriction (gotta be seizure free for 90 days in AZ, but in AZ it's the honor system. No required reporting by the seizure owner or doc). 

October 6th, a Sunday, I decided to go out and ride one of my favorite stretches of desert: Park Link. Getting to Park Link is on a rather routine section of The Loop + a long stretch on the I-10 Frontage Road. But the 18 miles of 1-2% climb to the T-intersection with AZ Rt 79 is worth the 32 mile approach. My 40 mile return home would be via via Rt 79 and Rt 77 on heavily traveled, high speed roads until the last 11 miles which are bike-friendly and part of my regular Tucson routes.

At about mile 40 into the ride I began to feel strange, weird, and I got a little scared. There is a toddlers' book called, "Are You My Mother?" about a little bird who fell out of its nest and went hopping around the woods asking a variety of animals if any of them was her mother. Eventually baby and mama found one another. Well, I'm so new to this world of seizures, and everyone's seizures seem to have such unique and individualized manifestations, I find myself asking myself: "Are you my seizure?" And, as I'm sure you know, everyone doesn't lose consciousness with all types of seizure activity, and if you're alone, how do you know if you did lose consciousness unless you hurt yourself or someone else or something?

I pushed on to the intersection of Park Link and Rt 79 and stared at Rt 79, its 55 mph Sunday afternoon-return from the weekend of fun by pack of thunderous motorcycles and other big boy toys. I would be sharing this space with these big guys in my little  2.5' shoulder right of the fog line. 

While I've ridden this route several times, that day, October 6th, I knew I couldn't do it. Best I can describe is there was a breach between my cognition and my motor skills. I pulled over into a  safe swath of desert rock and called Kirk and asked him if he could pick me up. He was most willing, non-judgmental, and scampered those 40 miles from home to my desert corner in about 45 minutes. 

We agreed I would not go on unaccompanied rides longer than 50 miles so my apex would be no more than 25 miles, making a pick up fairly reasonable, until I have been seizure free for 90 days.

The docs tweaked my seizure med, both the amount and the time of dosage; it's now one month and 4 days post second episode and, as far as I know, I've been seizure free, although I continue to experience "things" and find myself asking, "Are you my seizure?"

Since Kirk and I will be riding our bikes across Vietnam in January, my new driving eligibility date looks like it will be February 1st, upon our return.