Saturday, November 19, 2011

29th Annual El Tour de Tucson -111 mile "tour ride"

This was my first time to do this event. Holy cow! This is a very difficult event. Make no mistake, this is a race when you have people trying to get in under the specified time.

2:30am came early - especially with NO sleep. I tried. I went to bed at 8pm. It did not work.

I have so much to say about this race ... but I want to formulate it when I am not beat down tired.

I went for a sub five hour performance. The unofficial time is 5:00:48. Get this - they handed me a Platinum medal anyway. I suspect they are correcting for the rolling start and for the fact that it was 111 miles rather than the 109 mile standard distance.

Either way ... I have the platinum medal and I know I was sub 5! More later!


Still buzzing with excitement after the 4 hours and 58 minutes of the El Tour de Tucson. Doing this ride in under 5 hours is a challenge. I barely made it, but I can honestly say I can look back and say "Yes, I gave that all I had." I have retraced the whole event and there was not a moment where I wasn't 100% engaged in what I was doing. Aside from losing a bit of steam on some of the sustained hill sections and cramping up at miles 91 and 103 I have no regrets or complaints.

Here is a less than brief race report.

At 2:30 am my silly "rooster" alarm on my dumb phone woke me. Time to go make the donuts. I managed to sleep from 8pm to 9pm and then again from 1am to 2:30am. Yes, that is 2 and a half hours of sleep after a long day at work and then wrangling my self down to Tucson.

Why 2:30am Bryonman? Well, the folks that are hoping for Platinum that are not already of Platinum status traditionally begin lining up in their position at the start line at 3:30am on race day. So I took my time, fooded up and drove 10 miles from my hotel over to the Tucson Convention Center. After paying $10.00 to park in a lot that I paid just $5.00 for less than 10 hours earlier, I too headed to the start line. It was 4:00am. There were already 150 people (at least) lined up waiting to begin the quest ... 3 hours from now. The outside temperature - a balmy 51 degrees. I do not get cold easily, but 51 degrees in bike shorts and a bike jersey is darn chilly. Laugh if you want, but I found myself going to the port-a-john to warm up. How pleasant is that?

BANG! Did that? Was that? It was the starting pistol. Thank goodness. Time to warm up. Except there was no warm up. Myself and 3200 of my closest friends where ripping down the streets of Tucson at nearly 30mph. Chaos!

If you have never cycled at high speed with a GIANT pack of people it is impressive, scary, intense, maddening and amazing. By giant pack, I do not mean 20 people ... I mean 200+. In fact, I spent MOST of this 111 miles with a cycle within inches of me on all four sides. I'd say my bike wheel got hit about 10 times throughout the day. I did not return the favor to the cyclist in front of me all day. Almost, but not quite.

El Tour has what they call "river crossings". Arizonans know that a river does not have to include water. These are dry river beds with packed gravel. Crossing #1 happened quickly. It caught me off guard a little. I managed to ride through it and dodge the people that fell over due to being hit by another cyclist or just choosing a bad line. Being a mountain biker helps with my bike handling abilities. Some of these road riders have never been on a mountain bike and it shows.

I rode next to major league baseball player Barry Bonds for about 15 minutes during the ride. Even traded a few words back and forth with him. He seemed happy to be there. It is hard to bag on a guy who is out trying new things. He bought his bike a year ago and he's already doing 111 mile races? Props to Barry. He finished in 5hours 47minutes.

The first 35 miles is uphill and the group I was in killed that 35 miles in about 1 hour and 30 minutes. I knew this was too fast for me but thought, "hey, that is the magic of being able to draft." From mile 38 to 60 just flew by. It was the easiest portion of the course. There was a ton of downhill. I knew I had many many more miles, so I pulled back the intensity and went for consistency and body position.

Then we rolled up on the second river crossing. Again, no water ... just lots and lots of loose sand, tipped over bikes and bottoms of shoes going over handlebars. I rode most of this crossing too whilst dodging my less fortunate comrades. I did dismount for the final hill climb out of the ravine because I did not have the correct tires to climb a 30 degree sandy slope.

Then the uphill started.

That is when I found out that the 80 or so cyclists I had been riding with for the past 60 miles were the chase group and most of them were pro cyclists. Uh oh! I picked the wrong group to snuggle up to for the ride. These guys were machines on the uphill. I mean like 20 mph on a decent incline. I was fading fast. I backed off the pace at mile 62 because I had to eat and did not want do eat a solid meal in the peleton.

Then it got lonely ... except for the wind howling in my face. Great! Uphill into the wind after going out too hard for the first 62 miles. I looked down at my friend Garmin ... average 23.9 mph - for 62 miles? Are you serious? I tapped the bezel to make sure it was right. I don't know why I tapped the bezel. I just did. I did not need to average this to make it under 5 hours. What am I doing?

I am literally riding alone. I can see no one behind me. "That group in front of you is only 9 minutes back from the lead group. Go catch them.", a spectator yells to me. Thanks my friend, but that group in front of me just dropped me like Demi dropped Ashton ... quickly and without words. I am over half way through this ride and I am only 9 minutes back from the lead group. It started to psych me out. I have a history of this behavior. I get freaked out when someone mentions something that makes me realize I am actually performing really well. I start getting worried about maintaining the pace.

Mile 70 is a barrier mile for me that I have to break through every time I get there. I was in a rolling set of hills somewhere in Tucson riding alone into the wind when I looked down and saw 75.6 miles on my odometer. Holy cow, I am still in this. I can still do it.

Whoosh - a bright green tandem passes me on a slight downhill. They had about 10 riders with them too! This is my chance to really get back in this ... so I jumped in the draft line. Life was good again. Timing is everything. I had just realized that I could still finish in under five hours when a group of cyclists show up. If I had just had the realization that I COULD NOT finish in under five hours, I probably would have let them fly on by without grabbing their tail. There is a life lesson.

75 to 90 went by quickly. After a train crossing and a hard sprint to catch up to the chase group I started cramping up in my left hamstring and right calf ... at the same time. I ate a Nuun tablet - chewing it up and letting it fizz in my mouth for a moment and chasing it with water. In less than a minute the cramp went away. I managed to stay with the pack! Cramps suck. I have to figure this out before St. George, I thought to myself.

The last 20 miles of this ride are defeating. The road is rough, the scenery is blah and it is on a slight uphill and add in the wind and you have a fantastic opportunity for hostility. The pack started getting frustrated with one another. Not me. I have no business talking smack to these guys and gals that are pro cyclists. I slowly make my way toward the back of the pack and let them work out their hostility on pulling me to the finish line.

I stayed with them until the sprint to the finish. Who finishes a ride with an uphill? You stay classy Tucson! The home stretch was flat and I did get to pass a few of the pros that had emptied the tank on the last uphill. It was nice to know I could still get 30mph on a flat that far into a ride.

"Did we get it?", I asked a fellow rider. "Nope. We missed it by 20 seconds or so." Crap! All that work. About that time a soldier volunteering at the race came by and she was marking people's bib numbers. "Is this gold or platinum", another cyclist asks. "Oh, this is platinum, you all made it!" I literally wanted to eat my bike because A) I was hungry for real food and B) I was so excited that they were giving us the platinum!

I just walked around like a zombie for 15 minutes looking for water. They were out at the final aid station. I came to my senses and took my happy self over to claim my medal. High fives from volunteers. I tried to cry but my eyes were so dry from staring into the wind for 5 hours, there wasn't anything there!

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