Sunday, February 28, 2016

Racin' in the Sunshine State ...

On the Prologue Lap

I'm running late with this recap, but I actually have a pretty good reason - I finally got around to getting a new laptop this weekend. I'd needed one for a long time (my previous machine was from 2010, or about 600 in computer years.) I originally started this post with that laptop and just accessing photos was taking so long, I finally decided it was time to just pull the trigger. And so here I am ...

Not hard to leave temps like these behind ...

I didn't use all of my vacation in 2015 so I had five days to use in the first quarter of '16 or risk losing them. A few weeks ago, I decided to use those days to get out of the cold in Philadelphia and at least get in some god training miles someplace warm. As it turned out, I found an event that was right up my alley to give e a chance to not only get some training but also to get some racing miles in before March (something I'd never done before): the 12 Hours of Santos in Ocala, Florida. So last weekend, I hit the road for a few days of sun and bikes in Central Florida.

I wanted to treat the trip down as kind of a dry-run for another trip I'll be taking out west in May. So I got a flight and packed my bike up in my Trico case.

Foam pads, bubble wrap and zip ties ... the tools of the trade
Without going into too much detail, I think I would give this test run a big fat "F". Despite all my efforts to very carefully pack my case (finding how to fit 10 bottles in a case with tools and food is no easy task), the TSA opened it for inspection in Philadelphia. That alone wasn't a big deal, but they didn't put any effort into repacking it and when I grabbed it off the carousel in Orlando, my wheel was hanging out the side. Luckily, the only damage was to the tire bead itself and I was able to fix that on Friday evening. The trip back was a little better - I was able to request to be there when the pack was opened up and was allowed to repack it myself. However, I got hit with lots of extra baggage charges at MCO, to the point where I almost paid for an extra ticket. I'll have to do more research on alternatives before May.

Baggage drama aside, the flight wasn't bad, and the drive up to Ocala was easy enough, so by 1:00 on Friday afternoon, I was checked in to my hotel and working on my bike. Ocala is horse country, so it felt like everything required a long drive (past very scenic horse ranches!) and getting tot he venue from my hotel was no exception - I stayed near Route 75, but had to travel a good 20 miles to get to the course area. And the thing is, I don't think I could have found a much closer hotel. But as long as I knew that ahead of time, I wasn't too worried about race day. 

I got over to the course on late Friday afternoon and had a chance to pre-ride. And, well ... wow ... 

Having only an outsider's vague notion of Florida, I expected what one would expect from Florida - flat and fast and (possibly) sandy trails. And to be fair, there was some of that. But really, there was so much more. Quick history lesson (courtesy of Florida native Chris, who I had the chance to meet while I was down there): apparently, Florida built a canal system straight through the state to connect the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and all across the state where they built the canal are quarries, and the Santos Trail system sits on the edge of one of those quarries. And that means rocks - lots of rocks. I was really surprised by just how tech some sections of the course were. It was all rideable, but after about 8 hours, those rocks started to hurt! (And not expecting that many rocks may have made it feel even worse!)

So ... the race itself. I was up bright and early on Saturday morning, and with the race starting at 10 am, I was able to take my time, eat some breakfast, and still get to the venue in plenty of time to spin a little bit before it was time to line up for the Le Mans start. 

Off the start, we ran up a hill and hung a left to go around the start finish area to pick our bikes up in a long straightaway before looping back around to the climb again and then heading down the road to enter the course about 2/3 of the way through a lap for a shortened prologue. The pace off the start was pretty frantic and unpredictable. I slotted in behind one of the elite women and just settled in for what I knew would be a conga line pace for a bit. The woman in front of me was getting pretty annoyed at the slower riders in front of her, which seemed pretty pointless to me - I've done enough of these now to know that the first lap is almost always a mix of riders who will ride fast all day and folks who are just good at getting off the starting line quickly, even if they won't be able to hold that pace for long. In a longer race, that's going work itself out sooner rather than later, so getting angry about it is just wasting energy. And sure enough, before we even hit the end of the prologue, things were starting to open up already.

Once I was able to open the throttle a little bit, I started to really have fun on the course. Besides the rocks, another cool feature of the park was a lot of man-made walls and bridges. Those were a blast all day long!

A wall-ride easy in the lap

This section had a series of half a dozen features in a row that you could basically pump-track all the way through
The story of the race itself was really just one of consistency. The weather was perfect - high 70's start to finish - and the course was pretty much unchanging all day. Some course get beaten in over the course of a long day like that, but this one felt immune to the thousands of tires rolling over it over the course of 12 hours. So as long as I could find a nice groove, I knew that I'd be able to just lock in and go all day. And I found that pretty easy for my legs. I had good legs Saturday. So that made the ride pretty steady. What posted a significant challenge, though, was the abuse the two rocky sections heaped on my upper body. My back and (especially) my hands were pretty trashed by the end of the day. But even with that, I was always able to convince myself to do another lap. 

One thing I've always noticed about these races is the way time seems to move at a different speed. I recall on one lap I was riding with another racer and right around 5 pm he laughed and said, "Only five hours to go!" The time between hearing him say that and the end of the race felt like just a few seconds. So I wasn't too surprised when I had to start thinking about the countdown clock so soon. This race, unlike many others, was a "finish before 12 hours" race, which means your last lap was the last one you finished before the 12 hour mark hit, instead of having your last lap start before the 12 hour mark. And before I knew it, I was doing the math to figure out if I had one more lap or if I'd get two. I decided that, with a little bit of effort, I could get another two. And in fact, I didn't even need to rush as much as I thought -- I'd forgotten that the are actually started at 10:04 instead of 10, so I had a four minute cushion where I could make my last lap almost a full 20 minutes slower than my previous lap to get in under the time limit.  

A few shots on course

Ultimately, I finished my last lap with about 20 minutes to spare. At that point, I honestly had no idea how I'd done. It may sound weird, but I actually never knew all day. I figured in a race that long, trying to figure out my place in an open field was pretty pointless anyway. So I just kept my head down and moved forward all day. And in the end, that was good enough for second place in the Expert/Pro Open. I have to admit that was a bit of a surprise. I felt good all day (except for my back and hands toward the end of the day), but I really figured I was going in at a disadvantage being a SSer in an open class. But I think my "strategy" (for want of a better term) made a difference. In these kind of races, my only goal is always to minimize my down time. I try to spend as little time as possible not moving, which usually means a very quick bottle exchange and back on course. And I was able to pull that off here. I really believe that it gets harder and harder to go back out on course the longer you make your pit stops. So never letting them go beyond the minimum is key. I mean, sure, eventually you may need a slightly longer stop - to put on lights, or to grab some Alleve for your aching back, but if you can keep that time to a minimum, by the end of a 12 hour race you're going to pick up 10 or 15 minutes on the folks who stop just a little longer. And those 10-15 minutes can make a huge difference at the end of the day. I have no illusions that I am actually faster than these guys running gears on a course like that, but if I can be moving when they aren't, I have a good shot at bridging the gap. And last Saturday, I guess I did that.

The 2016 12 Hours of Santos Expert/Pro Solo Podium

After the race and awards, I bailed pretty quickly to get some food. I was starving, having only eaten a bunch of Clif Bars all day. On the drive back to my hotel, I saw a Subway open and it was game on. A foot long sandwich and a shower later, and I was ready for bed.

I hung out in Ocala for a couple days after the race to ride a little but more. I actually did film the course, which I'll post once i can edit a cut of the footage. It shows a rider's eye view of some pretty cool sections. 

As a final post script, the trip back home was frustrating. I already mentioned that I had to pretty much pay through the nose to get my bags home (including that big trophy, but to complain about that would kind of feel like saying that my diamond shoes are too tight.)  But what really got me was the last insult ... my car battery was dead when I got back to Philadelphia. I have AAA, but I had to stand outside in the cold to wait for them and that sucked. It took a little over an hour because the guy had to find me in the airport garage. So my "triumphant" return home after my "awesome" performance was a nice hard slap back to reality. I guess I still can't complain, but I would definitely have preferred that not happen. Oh well. I did get five days in the sun, so I think net of net, I'm still way ahead of the curve. 

Here's a fun fact: there's only a driver door key hole on a  Subaru, so if the battery dies, you can't open the hatchback
so your luggage will sit int he cold garage as long as you do waiting for the AAA guy to get there.

Until next time, see you on the trails!

1 comment:

  1. thanks for sharing...
    congratulations on a great race and a fun trip...
    I saw the pictures of the trophy, wondered if they'd ship that to you!
    guess not.

    great stuff!