Monday, February 3, 2014

He's going the distance! He's going for... speed?


Six months since my last blog entry!  And a lot has changed.  About the time I wrote my last entries, which narrated my 67-hour, 750-mile epic ride in Alaska, I realized I needed to change some things up.  It's not that I was unhappy on a broad scale; instead, I felt I was in something of a personal rut, where the individual pieces were enjoyable but weren't adding up to a feeling of progress or evolution from one year to the next.  And so, showing precisely the sense of proportionality that has caused me to sign up for patently absurd events that I've later found myself struggling to cope with, I sold my house in Arlington and most of my furniture, bought a condo in downtown D.C., and switched jobs -- pausing briefly only to race an Ironman in the snow at Lake Tahoe, because I have moron issues.

In all, except for the Tahoe debacle, I did almost no training of any sort for nearly three months.  That's not false modesty -- I didn't run a step or swim a yard, and my cycling was pretty much limited to commuting.  I put on 10 pounds and put my energies into establishing my new footings, and frankly, that was just fine.  I've realized that, as the winter descends each year, I fall into a state where I pretty much want nothing to do with working out, and I refuse to train just for the sake of it.  After eight years of training at Ironman volumes, I've reached a point where I'm doing this stuff exactly to the extent that I'm passionate about it, and only when I'm excited for an upcoming adventure.  For the foreseeable future, I'm not signing up for any Ironmans a year in advance and obligating myself to train full-time on a distant day when my interests could be elsewhere.  I'll do what sounds fun, and I'll figure out what that is along the way!

The good news is, I've found my next adventure!  The bad news is that it's a 24-hour cycling time trial in Sebring, Florida, only two weeks from now.  Oh dear.  It'll be great to escape whatever arctic misery is being inflicted upon D.C. for a few days, but I'd be lying if I didn't confess to being slightly terrified of the whole thing.

In summer of 2012, I raced a 12-hour time trial in Saratoga, NY.  I was self-supported and really had no idea what to expect, so I set off faster than I should have and just did what I could at every step along the way.  12 hours later, I'd somehow managed to cover 256 miles at an average speed of 21.3 mph, which was far more than I'd expected, and which put me only a couple of miles behind the winner, who'd set a new course record.  The event was a heck of a lot of fun, but there are three differences that concern me about Sebring:
  1. It's in February, not July.  When I raced the Saratoga 12-hour, I'd ridden Mountains of Misery 200k six weeks before, a 400k brevet in the Fingerlakes region a month before, and a 12-hour mountain bike race only two weeks before.  In other words, I'd been crushing myself in preparation.  For this race, it's pretty much the opposite: I was historically out of shape only two months ago, and I've only ridden my bike outside for a couple of hours in total in the last five months. 
  2. When I finished the 12-hour race in Saratoga, I basically never wanted to see my bike again.  The last hour involved something close to delirium, when the aggressiveness of my bike position really started to catch up with me, and I was struggling to look up the road instead of downward at my front wheel.
  3. The race at Sebring is twice as long.  Oy vey.  My parents, who will be down to crew for me, are in for some memorable times.
The rational answer is probably to race the 12-hour option at Sebring, but I'm captivated by a unique aspect of this race, which is that the last 12 hours of it -- i.e., the nighttime portion -- take place on the famous Sebring International Raceway!

The race starts at 6:30 a.m. at the entrance to the 3.75-mile raceway.  All competitors -- including century racers, 12-hour racers, 24-hour draft-legal racers, and 24-hour "RAAM style" racers (my category) -- will get things rolling with 3 quick laps on the raceway.  We'll then shoot out on a 90-mile "long loop" through flat-to-rolling Florida countryside:

The 90-mile long loop. 
Upon returning to the raceway about 100 miles in, the century riders will stop, and the rest of us will launch on a series of 11-mile loops adjacent to the raceway, which we'll continue until darkness falls about 12 hours into the race:

The 11-mile short loop
At that point, the 12-hour racers will finish their day and start drinking heavily while they watch the 24-hour masochists funnel onto the illuminated raceway, where we'll ride 'til dawn.  

The promise of racing on a famous international raceway strikes me as a heck of a good time -- it's just too bad it comes at the end of 12 hours of hard work!  The track is as flat as it's possible to get, but it's by no means straight.  To the contrary, there are 17 turns in under 4 miles, which means that -- especially riding at night, when exhausted -- it will take a huge amount of focus to keep the things pointed the right direction.


Here's a video of a guy racing it considerably faster than I will be:


One extremely cool feature of this race is that racers' crews will actually line up in pit row during the overnight portion of the race, so it's as much like an actual F1 race as it's possible to get on two wheels.  Unlike many triathlons, spectators will actually be able to see racers pretty often -- every 12 minutes or so!  Radios and cell phones are allowed for racers to communicate with their crews, so it's truly a team effort.  And when dawn breaks on Sunday morning and the race ends, everyone can walk 50 yards to the hotel for an afternoon of well-earned slumber.  In all, it strikes me as sufficiently memorable and crazy to be a great time, and I'm heading there with the overriding intention to have fun and see what happens.

In terms of goals, it's really hard to know.  Given my dire physical shape a couple of months ago, I'm comforted by the fact that it's literally impossible to fail to finish a 24-hour race unless one marshals Einstein's principles of relativity in a manner that is pretty damn unlikely.  I did well at a 12-hour race (256 miles, on a slightly tougher course), but that was a lifetime ago and only half the distance.  

For reference, a 400-mile performance qualifies one to race solo Race Across America (RAAM), a which is a pretty cool honor.   Most people don't get close to that number, though.  Last year's winner, a RAAM finisher, covered 432 miles, and the course record for my age group is 449 miles.  I don't have any real sense of what I can do, particularly since 100% of my training will have been done on my Computrainer, and objectively speaking, I started way too late in the day to be ideally prepared.  But I've done what I can in the last couple of months -- lots of intervals during the week, and on the weekends, progressive long rides of 3.5 hours, 4.5 hours, 6 hours, and finally, 10 hours split across 2 days, all in Zone 2-Zone 3, and none with any coasting.  That's more mileage than I've ever done on a trainer, but it's still not in the same galaxy as some people who will be racing this event.  Chris Hopkinson, last year's winner, will be returning this year in preparation for RAAM 2014.  He trains like a pro cyclist -- about 30 hours a week of cycling, not to mention a 48-hour nonstop trainer ride he did for charity a couple of months ago.  (How he also has a family and holds down a job, I'll never understand, but he seems to do it in remarkably good cheer.)

In all, I don't have particular mileage targets -- I'm just going to try to follow Theodore Roosevelt's advice to "do what you can, with what you have, where you are."  Pacing these events is tough, because there's no such thing as negative splitting or even pacing.  Everyone falls apart eventually, sometimes repeatedly.  The only certainty is that, however good or bad you feel, it won't last.  At 2:00 a.m., on the track after having ridden for 20 hours, things will almost certainly get a little weird.  I'll just go as fast as I'm comfortable going at any given moment, pound the calories, and see what happens.  Anything's possible! I just want to have fun with this, and it's unlikely it'll be the last event of its kind that I do.  So I'll look at it as a lesson first and foremost, and I'll certainly make some mistakes along the way -- all of which will be gloriously recounted here in a couple of weeks.  What could be more fun?  Let the adventure begin!