Earlier this season, I entered the lottery for Leadville and didn't get in. That was a bummer but I was okay, I figured, because I still had the SM100. I did it for the first time a year ago and it was like an epiphany ... it literally has a little of everything, and for anyone who really loves this sport, there is at least one section in the 100 miles that will make you grin ear to ear. For me, the obvious choice is the descent off the Braley's Pond climb (a fact that now officially falls under the heading of "ironic" - more on that in a moment) -- it is swoopy, fast (ludicrously fast) and it only fully rewards those who can steel their nerves and keep their fingers off the brakes.
Anyway, without Leadville, I built my season around SM 100. I used Chris Eatough's plan last year and repeated that training this year, with minor modifications because I was doing additional races. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had a weird year health-wise. I've had cramping issues I never had before (to the point where I'm currently seeing a specialist.) And my weird poison ivy-based infection last week still has me on antibiotics and Prednisone. But going into this past week, I was actually feeling pretty good. I had a really great final long mile ride two weeks ago and, even with the swelled arm, put in some good road miles last week. In fact, the only concession I really thought I had to make was to leave my SS behind this year and bring some gears to help me get over those last few climbs if I needed them.
I headed down to Stokesville on Saturday morning feeling pretty good and ready to roll. I pre-rode the first climb around midday -- I knew that we'd be hitting that climb way earlier, but I also knew that later on in the day, it'd be just as hot on the later climbs so I wanted to see how I'd respond to the heat. All good. I had my nutrition plan set, and I had worked out my pace aiming for about 10 hours.
Sunday morning came and ... fail. And I mean fail!
The only positive I took from yesterday was that I finished, and for anyone who does this stuff, you know what that means.
I know exactly what triggered it and when. I never felt great all day - from the start I was tired and my legs were complaining even on the hike-a-bike section of Wolf Ridge, but I was managing my pace. I hit the 45 mile feed zone off the third climb of the day at 4:23 minutes, ahead of my 10 mph goal. I extended that on the road to Braley's Pond, knowing that I'd need it if I got hung up on the ridge climb there. For the most part, that climb went smoothly. I had to walk two sections, the second fairly extended. But I was feeling pretty good when I crested the top and hit my favorite descent. The only real issue I'd had to that point was that I was riding my hardtail 26er and the earlier descents were brutal since I'm used to handling rock gardens with 29 inch wheels now so I was probably a bit too aggressive in some sections and my lower back was feeling it. I wasn't worried about that on the Braley's descent, though, because even the rock gardens seem to flow there. I flew down the climb and it the muddy singletrack at the bottom with a huge grin on my face. And then ... fail. I reached into my pocket to grab a round of endurolytes and they were gone. They'd fallen out on the descent. I didn't panic, but I was concerned. I rolled into Rest Stop 4 hoping they had some or, failing that, someone could play good samaritan for me and give me some. No such luck. They were all out and no one there was carrying any. My nutrition plan had me taking four per hour given the heat, so that was a pretty big blow. Still, I figured I could work it out. On the fly, I decided to load up on additional gels, add an extra Zym tablet to my water and hope that I could offset the lost electrolytes from the tablets. Not the best time to be experimenting as I was entering a 20+ mile climb, but what else could I do? I had to work with what was at hand. I figured I would either stay in balance or fantastically explode.
Tuns out it was the latter. It was getting hotter, and the extra Zym tablets made my stomach go queasy. I tried to keep eating but as the real pitch up started I was feeling worse and worse couldn't keep anything down. It had been over two hours since I'd had any endurolytes and it was getting really hot and I was sweating so much I could feel myself circling the drain. I got to a point where I looked down at my Garmin and I was climbing at 3 mph. Oye. My legs were cramping really bad, my throat was swelling up (still not sure what that was about.) I limped into the mile 75 rest stop and sat down. And couldn't get up. For over a half hour. I tried to eat something but couldn't keep anythign down. My skin was on fire and I was a little dizzy. It was time to hang it up.
But one of the aid workers gave me an apple and I was somehow able to get that back down. By this time, I was knocking on 4:30, the deadline to pass through Aid Station 5. I took my apple and started walking up the trail. I was pretty sure I'd turn around once I hit the rest of the climb and bag it, but I didn't. The apple worked well enough to get me moving again. But I was slow. In fact, that was pretty much the rest of my day. I limped over the rest of the climb, felt like my body was turning inside out on the descent, and then ate another apple and sat for 20 more minutes at the last station and repeated the same slow pace on the last climb.
I came into the campground just before dark. A day that started out difficult but promising turned into the longest, worst day I've ever had on a bike. The first 60 miles took just about 6 hours. The next 40 took 7 more. A horrible day. I was destroyed out there.
I think what it showed me more than anything was that my biggest problem is a lack of resilience. I have no margin for error. If my plan goes off the rails, I can't adapt. That's a problem. If anything goes wrong, my body falls apart. That's the problem I've been dealing with all year and yesterday put an exclamation point on it. I'm done racing for a while. I need to work this out. I need some help. The worst part about yesterday was that I just couldn't enjoy the whole back half of the course at all. I was miserable and just wanted ot get off the bike. I could pretend it was "heroic" to hold out and finish, but that's not the way I feel. It was just the only thing I had left to justify the trip. You know -- at least I finished. It's depressing.