Sunday, June 23, 2013

Putting the "Doh" in "Gran Fondo"

The Diabolical Double at Garrett County Gran Fondo accurately describes itself as an "extreme epic ride that highlights the incredible beauty and severe terrain of the Allegheny Mountains of western Maryland and West Virginia."  That about sums it up.  There are four distance options, the longest of which is the 125-mile "Diabolical Double[-Metric Century]," an utter beast that clocks in at more than 16,000 feet of climbing.  It's certainly one of the marquis rides in the mid-Atlantic region each summer, and this was my third trip through the wringer.

I wish I could say it was a great time, but the truth is that I wasn't ready for this ride and got found out in pretty epic fashion.  No mechanicals, no wrecks (although I did nearly dislocate my shoulder in a pothole in a gravel road), and no excuses.  I just had nothing in my legs from Mile 1 to Mile 125, and the heat, which climbed up into the 90s at points, compounded the problems.

A month ago, I'd have said I was very optimistic about this event, having taken a massive chunk out of my personal best time at Mountains of Misery, a comparable -- if less, er, diabolical -- ride of the same distance.  That ride hurt a lot, but I felt pretty unbreakable throughout it, and I probably could have kept going past the finish if someone paid me enough.

How things can change in the course of a month.  After Mountains of Misery, my hip irritation had gotten bad enough that it hurt to walk, and I couldn't run to the sidewalk without hopping in agony.  I didn't see any option but to Shut It Down.  No cycling, no swimming (kicking and pushing off the wall would have been painful), and certainly no running.  It's amazing how much one's fitness level can plummet after spending a month on the couch, and how any heat acclimation can disappear by living in air conditioning.  I also find that my dietary discipline goes out the window when I'm feeling sorry for myself, so I've been following something close to the Paula Deen meal plan.

By the time I toed the starting line yesterday, I don't think I realized how unprepared I was.  Things then went downhill due to a stupid decision and an unexpected logistical setback.  The stupid decision was a rookie mistake: eating two huge bagels with almond butter and honey an hour before the start.  I spent the first three hours trying not to throw up while grinding up 20% grades.  I wanted nothing to do with water, food, or anything else.  Things then got worse when, on a shaded gravel road, I hit a virtually invisible pothole *hard*.  I nearly dislocated my shoulder, and both of my hands were knocked completely off the bars.  Bottles went flying.  I managed to stay upright, but the cap on one of my two water bottles was shattered, so I was forced to complete the remaining 5 hours of riding with only one bottle, as temps were climbing up toward 90.

I was riding with two teammates as part of the "Gentleman's Race," which is like a team-based scavenger hunt.  If not for the requirement that all teammates ride and finish together, I'm absolutely sure I would have switched over to the century distance at some point.  It was great riding with those guys, but toward the end, I couldn't even draft competently, and my world was a distinctly fuzzy place. Looking back on it, I was almost certainly very dehydrated, an awful state in which you want no food, no water, and nothing more than to sit down on the side of the road until the world stops being so mean.

When it's all said and done, it could have been a lot worse, especially considering the extremely technical descents throughout the ride.  People end up running off the road each year, to varying degrees of disaster.  I never had any doubt that I'd finish.  Instead, I just got owned, which in the long run may be a good thing.  I've gotten so used to 200k, 300k, and 400k epic rides that I've ceased to be intimidated by them.  That confidence is helpful on some level when things get tough -- you can always recall when things have been tougher -- but it also means that I've started neglecting fundamentals.  Yesterday my ego and dignity got kicked in the nuts for 10 hours straight, and there's some value in that.  These things wouldn't be any fun at all if they were easy.

On the plus side, my hip was just about the only thing that wasn't in agony at any point yesterday, so I'm hopeful that I've turned the corner on a deeply annoying injury.  One bad ride isn't the measure of a season, and I have a lot to look forward to, starting with a 600k (375-mile) solo voyage in a permanent next weekend.  In the grand scheme, yesterday will go down as a particularly painful training day.

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