A long day at Lotoja

I had a clever plan for Lotoja this year: train mostly swimming, finish a half-Ironman, and then cram all my bicycle training into two weeks (during a critically busy time at work).

In retrospect, maybe that wasn’t so clever after all.

In previous years I’ve ridden solo, but I rode with a buddy this time. Anne was making her first attempt at the ride and I’d promised to help. Unlike me, she’d trained like a maniac all year.

I think you can see where this story is going.

The “fun ride” group was huge, over five hundred of us. We got to start at 6:00am, still in the dark. It was blessedly warm. The officials tried to group us in packs at first, but eventually they gave up and just told us to go as best we could. Which we did.

The first leg into Preston is always a nervous, twitchy business. Huge packs form up, tearing along at high speed with very little room for error. All it takes is one bozo and a whole bunch of people are going down. Doing it in the dark added to the, err, “thrill”. We flew along  in a white roar of wind and tires, a sea of blinky lights often all you could see, fiercely concentrating on the wheel ahead. One guy went down hard just ahead of us about twenty miles in, but he didn’t take anybody else with him. We kept rolling along, averaging 27 mph into Preston.

I was darn glad to see the feed zone, not because I was in need of a break, but because the race changes completely there. The huge packs break up, the climbing begins, the nerves are over and everybody settles down to a long day’s work.

The first big climb up to Strawberry Summit went easy. It’s a long grind, but it never gets very steep and it was behind us soon enough. A quick zip down the back side and we were in lovely Montpelier, Idaho, where Anne got her first taste of Gina’s extremely efficient support. Jersey pockets were stuffed, crotchal lube applied, water bottles replaced, kisses given and we were back on the road, climbing up to Geneva summit. I felt great.

It was on the flat portion between Geneva and the last big climb of the day, Salt Creek, that things started to go wrong. I kept trying to pull us onto packs as they went by, but we just couldn’t hang on. I spent too much energy in the effort and by the time we hit the bottom of the climb I was already blown.

Lordy, was that a long climb. It’s only about five miles but it’s steep. Oh, and there were headwinds. Not a lot, but enough to notice. About half way up some poor sod was sitting roadside, crosslegged, completely shattered. I wanted to shout some encouragement as I crawled past but all I could think was how grand it would be to join him in a nice little sit-down. In the end I settled for giving him a rueful look.

At the feed zone on the summit I must have looked quite a sight because the first thing that happened was a volunteer came up to me and asked if I was OK. I lied, naturally, as one does viagra vente en ligne. In fact I was feeling ruined. In 30 miles I’d gone from “great” to “ready for the grave”.

But there was a job of work still to be done, and the hard climbing was done. Ravenous, I spotted a huge bag of gummy bears at the support table. Sugar! Sugar cures all! I crammed those delicious little buggers in by the fistful, and magically, life got better.

And so off to Afton, Wyoming. It’s a quick downhill and then a flat section. Anne had been looking pretty grim at the summit too, but her superpower is that she recovers fast and as we hammered along it became clear that she was now the stronger of us. We took turns pulling, but she was taking  more and longer. Pretty soon I was going to be more burden than help.

After another efficient feed at Afton and a well-deserved lecture from Gina about eating we set off across the dread Star Valley. It’s long, flat and hot in the Star Valley and the wind is the difference between heaven and hell. Today the wind toyed with us: sometimes behind, sometimes across, mostly ahead. We made a pretty good pace regardless, but after I made one or two weak efforts at pulling Anne was doing all the work and I was clearly slowing her down. It turns out eating a pound or two of gummy bears has digestive consequences and I wasn’t feeling wonderful,
and the fact that I was hindering the buddy I was meant to be helping did not help my mental state at all. I encouraged Anne to take off and leave me, worried that we might not make the cutoff at my pace, but she nobly insisted on staying together.

Then about five miles from the next feed zone I flatted. My sense of humor completely gone, I cursed as I changed out the tube. It wasn’t even good cursing, just a lot of it. When the new tube proved defective my mood did not improve. Perhaps because the sight of me angry is so fearsome I finally managed to convince Anne to go on ahead while I changed the tube again.

This time the tire stayed inflated and I set off once more. Now that I wasn’t ruining Anne’s chances things got a lot easier. I computed that I needed to maintain a 12 mph average to finish before the 8:15 cutoff time. I was pretty sure I could manage that, and if not, oh well.

After a final refuel from the fabulous Gina I set off on the final 50 miles. I’ve had better 50 miles rides, and I did a lot of obsessive recomputing of time and distance as I went. But I managed to keep the average well north of 12 mph (over 15, in fact! Watch out, Cadel Evans!) and after a mere three hours of effort I crossed the line in Teton Village, thirteen and a half hours after our start in Logan. Anne, I was delighted to hear, had made it in half an hour earlier.

So, lessons learned: training *is* valuable, and no matter how tantalizing they look, gummy bears are not always your friend. But that’s three Lotojas completed successfully.

I hear you get a special 1000 mile award if you complete it five times.

Just saying.

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