Saturday, April 20, 2013

Leesburg Bakers Dozen: Chainless Days, Flat tires and so ... much ... cow poo ... (Part III)

Photo Credit: Jim Smith
Part I
Part II

So 3 laps into the day, I was feeling really good. I'd gotten a mechanical out of the way after repairing my rear flat and I was pushing the pace without feeling like I was burning myself out at all. Everything seemed to be moving pretty well and I was feeling like my legs were barely working.

To be clear, I was definitely burning a lot of effort and while I was feeling pretty strong, it was pretty apparent to me that I was going to have to stay on top of everything to keep it that way. My nutrition plan seemed to be working pretty well. I'd decided to alternate with a three scoop bottle of Perpetuem one lap and a bottle of water the next, and take in 5 Endurolytes every two hours. If I got hungry, I had a whole bunch of Chocolate Brownie Clif Bars for more solid food and a dozen or so gels. So I felt like I had enough food and fuel to keep me going for the whole day. But the day itself was pretty hot so I was sweating a lot. In fact, at one point around 3 or 4 pm I reached up to wipe my eyes under my sunglasses and my face felt gritty. When I looked at my glove, there were white streaks on it from the salt that I was sweating out and my jerseys had white streaks all over it. And once or twice I felt little twinges in my legs as the effort started to wear on me. I specifically recall lap eight and lap ten being more difficult. I was taking some Alleve for my hand every five hours or so, and I think that also helped stave off cramps. But aside from those few very minor aches, I really had no physical issues all day. And that's very rare for me.

What I did have was mechanicals.  Or I should say "flats". Five of them to be exact. All the rear tire. And I know - the first thing that comes to mind at the idea of five flats is that I must have missed something stuck in the tire. But I really didn't. I just had some bad luck with pinch flats all day. I thoroughly checked the tire each time. And there really was nothing I could find in there. It was kind of a pain in the ass, because, like I said, it was the rear tire every time, which meant I had to pull out my hex wrench and remove it each time rather than pop a quick release. I was able to change the tire pretty quickly each time, but re-setting the wheel and then pumping it up ended up taking some time after a few flats. This was because I had 3 CO2 cartridges and four tubes for the day (who plans on more than four flats? Who plans on even four flats?) When I got the second flat, I realized I'd forgotten to replace the CO2 in my saddle bag, which meant I had to use my hand pump. You don't realize how much time you save using CO2 until you don't have it. Using a hand pump felt like I'd gone back to the stone age. It easily took me an extra five minutes to pump up the tire on that lap.

I'd say that this was a very frustrating part of the day, but to be honest, I just kind of took it as it came. I was really just enjoying the day our there, and given that I was feeling really good when I was actually riding, I wasn't feeling a ton of pressure to fix each one super fast. Of course, I'd have been happier to have no flats at all, or if each one took only seconds to fix, but since that wasn't an option, I just took what came and tried to get going as soon as possible again without stressing it.

My second flat occurred after I bounced over some roots on lap 4. The third one was more subtle -- a slow leak I noticed when the tire started feeling soft after the technical root section one lap later. The fourth occurred in the short rocky climb after the first boulder crossing about 3 miles into lap 10, and then my last one was the only non-pinch flat of the day, when I caught a thorn coming out of the woods into the pasture section that led to the finish line on lap 14.  I was riding along at a good pace and just as I came out of the woods I heard that unmistakable "pfft ... pfft ... pfft ..." of a tire steadily losing air as it rolled. That one was annoying, because my first thought was that my day was done. I was out of tubes, and my saddle bag had opened a lap or two earlier and I'd lost my hex wrench, tire levers and a chain tool somewhere on the course. I rode the flat across the pasture (earning a few "Oh, that sucks!" from a the riders who came around me) and was all set to shut it down when I reached my pit area when my neighbor in the pit next to me offered me an extra tube they had. I started to say that it didn't matter because I couldn't remove the wheel without my hex wrench, but then I remembered that I'd brought my big set of 48 wrenches with me. I dug into my tool kit and found the right size and suddenly I was back in business. As much as the flat was the low point of my day, finding that wrench was probably a high point. I was so happy to be able to go back out and finish what I'd started. I peeled the tire off with my fingers, swapped out the tube as quickly as I could, pumped it up with the floor pump in my pit and headed out for another lap in the dark.

The laps between the flats were pretty awesome. Between the 5th and 10th lap, I felt like I was really cruising. My lap times were pretty consistent at below 50 minutes and my feeds were going well. I passed a bunch of riders during that time, but had no idea where I was in my field. In fact, until the very end of the race, I never knew where I was. I didn't really want to know until late. I know some riders can draw motivation from knowing where they are and who they are chasing, but I'd rather not know. I like to stay within myself and most of the time when I've ever had success, it was because I just stuck to my own pace and let the cards fall where they may. But I think I probably made up quite a bit of time during those middle laps because I was really moving without going into the red. And even in the later laps, when the flat tires were costing me substantial time as I struggled to fix them with the bare-bones tools I had left, I was still moving very well when I was on the bike.

In fact, the biggest challenge I faced late in the day other than mechanicals was probably the setting sun. It was pretty tough to see in the pine tree grove with my glasses on, but if I took them off, then I'd be blinded for the rest of the course. I figured out pretty quickly that I needed to keep my head down any time I was riding in a westerly direction.

The further I went into the day, the more it dawned on me that I was going to have a decision to make near the end. The rule was that you could start any lap before 10 pm, and the closer I got to that time, the more I realized that even with all the flat tires, I was going to make my 15 laps, and there was a really good chance I'd get 16. In fact, I'm pretty sure that if I hadn't had to deal with all those mechanicals, I'd have had the option to do a 17th. It would have been close, and most of that lap would have been completed after the 10 pm cutoff, but I'm pretty sure I'd have pulled it off. The one thing I was sure would have a huge impact on my day -- my broken hand -- hadn't really been a factor at all. Sure, there were sections on the course where I had to be careful, like the drop off.

The 1 1/2 foot drop-off was one of the spots I had to be careful given my hand injury
Photo credit: Jon Schneider
But to be honest, the hand never really bothered me all day. It was fatigued afterward, and I was certainly happy to get rid of the wrap I had on it, but during the race it was never an issue.

Anyway, having fixed my last flat after lap 14, I stopped at the scoring tent and asked for the first time all day where I was. I was surprised when the guy said I was in fifth place. I asked how far behind fourth I was and he told me that I was about 10 minutes back. That seemed a tall order to run down in one lap, so I kind of figured that I was going to finish fifth at best (as long as I didn't get passed on that lap.) I started the lap around 9:05 or so, and figured I was going to be pretty close to the 10 o'clock cutoff by the time I finished.

I love riding in the dark, and since I do it so often, my pace doesn't usually slow down too much when the sun goes down. And, without suffering an mechanicals on that last lap, I came in at 51 minutes, not too bad considering I'd been riding for over 120 miles at that point. In fact, as I came out of the woods, I saw two riders in the distance and decided to chase them down. I caught them both in the pasture and noticed that one was a single speeder! I started to think that I had really run down another place in my lat lap, which made me go faster once I passed him by. I raced to the finish line and crossed at 9:58. The promoter told me I could go back out for another lap if I wanted, but figuring I would probably be chasing a ghost trying to run down third, I decided instead to wait for the guy behind me to see what he did. So I sat just past the finish line and watched while he came across. He didn't even consider another lap, pulling off into the pits. At that point, knowing I still had another half hour of breaking down my pit area ahead of me, I decided to shut it down having hit my original goal of 15 laps on the day.

It turns out that the guy I passed was actually further back and I was lapping him when I came around him. The actual fourth place rider had come in a bit before, but he had opted not to do a 16th lap as well. Had I gone back out, I could have taken my time and would have locked up fourth. And if I hadn't had all the flats, I had an outside chance of being on the podium. But I didn't head out again, and I did have all the flats, and I wouldn't know I had a shot at even fourth until the official results were posted two days later. And to be honest, at the time I was really happy to get 15 laps in before the actual cutoff and after 13 hours, I was happy to just stop and break down my pit.

And for the first time all day, I felt like I was ready to sit down.


I sat down and talked with my neighbors in the pit area for a few minutes after I was done. Turns out they had a pretty great day, finishing fourth in a very competitive duo field. After a brief chat about the course and how the day went for each of us, one of them asked me how I could still sit there in my jersey and shorts in the cold. I hadn't noticed, but as soon as he mentioned it, I started to shiver.  I quickly changed into my sweats and broke down my pit areas as quickly as I could, and then I went to see if there was any of the pizzas they'd ordered for everyone were still around, and noticed a guy in a Domino's uniform carrying some pies toward the far end of the pit areas. Seeing a whole bunch of folks converging on his area, I decided to forget about pizza and wait to get something after I got back to my hotel. I wandered over to the finish line to look at the latest printouts but the latest one was form an hour before. I chatted with the winner of my class, Patrick Blair, for a few minutes. It turns out we both ran the same setup - right down to our tires (Maxxis Ikon EXOs) except he ran them tubeless and had no problems and I ... well, didn't. The funny thing about that is that just a few days earlier, I'd had a discussion about how I really never found a compelling enough reason to go tubeless. I guess now I can say I have.

My priorities after the race were (1) a shower and (2) as much food as I could fit down my throat and (3) a tall ice cold hoppy beverage. I took the shower at the hotel, learning that I was pretty badly sunburned on my arms after the full day in the sun. Then I headed out to the Friday's down the street from my hotel and assaulted a double cheeseburger and a 24 ounce Blue Moon. As I ate, I looked around the crowded bar and wondered if any of my fellow patrons had just spent an entire day riding on one gear. I wouldn't find out because there was meat on a bun and beer  in front of me that required my full and undivided attention. I think I ate it all in about two minutes. And after that, I was ready to sleep.

The next morning, I took my time waking up, and then got another terrible breakfast at the hotel before leaving Virginia and heading home. The drive home was pretty long (about 3 hours) and gave me time to process the day before.

Heading home ...
I had an awesome time in Virginia, but something struck me as I was driving -- I was kind of feeling the a bit of a letdown post-race. I wasn't disappointed in the LBD by any stretch, and at the time I wasn't really sure why I was feeling anything other than happy because I definitely was looking forward to getting home and seeing Joanna and The Krame.

"What, you were gone all weekend? I hadn't noticed ..."

But the more I think about it, the more I think it's probably about the sudden, unceremonious end to something I've anxiously anticipated for a long time. As cyclists, we spend a lot of time prepping and building up to these events, and then for most of us, they seem to go by so quickly and then suddenly we're on the other side looking back at them without a plan for what to do next. One solution, I suppose, would be to keep going to races every weekend so we never have that letdown. I guess that could work for a while, but eventually that has to end. And I'm past that point now. So instead, I do something else -- I relive it in places like this blog, and switch my focus from anticipation to appreciation for every opportunity I have to get out and ride, whether they're part of the prep for some coming event or they're a post-race spin at my favorite local trail when I feel no pressure to ride all the time and can stop and chat with a couple of friends I come across while I'm out there.

In the end, LBD was a great experience and I will go back as often as I can. I had an awesome day and rode my singlespeed further than I ever have at one time (almost 130 miles) and I came away happy, tired, and with a bunch of great new cycling memories. And that's about as good as a weekend gets!


  1. Two awesome pictures...(1) Heading Home and (2) The Essence of Krame. Well done!

  2. Awesome Ride Marty!

  3. Great post! Amazing mileage.

    Tubeless, eh? Sorry to be part of that conversation. Probably jinxed you. :(

    What psi do you usually run your tires?

  4. I jinxed me, Josh! And I think tire pressure ended up playing a role after the first since I was using CO2 -- you can't really control the tire pressure using CO2. I usually like to run pretty low considering I run tubes -- I'm happy at around 30 psi max. With the CO2, I was probably closer to 40 (because I was in a hurry and just popped it and got moving again.) That felt like I riding on metal tires to me.