Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Saving Face in Moab....Season Opener

Gunshot! Did I tell you Michael Jackson's glove's make me feel fast?

Countdown to 2011 Moab Gravity Play Race:

  1. Replace carbon bike frame after cracking the headset and finding peace nothing worse could happen?: Check
  2. New chain: Check
  3. Renew Cipro script for lingering Costa Rica GI bug: Check
  4. Replace old non-Schwalbe tires with new bombproof Schwalbe tires. Negative 

Over 400 adventure racers and teams descended upon Moab, Utah for the US adventure racing season opener in the Rocky Mountains, the Gravity Play 12 hour race. Young and not as young, family teams, elite teams, just for fun teams all come together for this season kickoff in the mountain biking and 4 x 4 mecca town of Moab. As usual, I do a few early spring adventure races before the kayaking season ramps up just to get my overall cardio fitness base up to where it needs to be before spend the next 4 months exclusively in a downriver racing kayak focusing on supra anaerobic 5 minute intervals. With 7 podium finishes in this race, I've had my share of successes making this is one of my favorite courses. That being said,  this years race quickly became a test of one’s resolve.

Great on course shot by Heather. La Sal Mountains in distance.

The race begins with a 35 mile mountain bike ride with a 6 mile massive peloton road ride to the mouth of Longhorn Canyon where the jeep roads become paradoxically vertical. Not 3 minutes after the gun went off (pictured), I hear the most dreaded sound known to cycling….ssssssssssss followed by yells from all around me FLAAAATT and zigzagging to get out of my way. With my tires being setup tubeless, there is a milky liquid inside of them to address such a misfortune. That milky goo fills small punctures like a thorn or glass shard but not so much with a nail. If it will plug it, the tire won’t take on much pressure and has to be ridden low.   I speed up and zig zag hoping to fill the puncture under way. No luck, my rear tire is hemorrhaging air rapidly and I can see the serpent’s head, a small roofing nail, with every revolution of my tire. Any adventure racer, while perhaps in disbelief this could happen in the first 3 minutes of a race, looks forward to the solution options in a sick way when such a debacle presents itself.

My options:
1) Stop/lose the peloton and pull the nail out and hope it self seals (30 seconds)
2) Stop/lose the peloton and use my only C02 to fill a real tube and place it inside my tire (3.5 minutes)
3) Walk 100 yards back to the starting line and grab my fishing pole followed by Frisbee with our new puppy Mazzy (end of day)

Rear tire at 20 psi at end of bike leg #2...no good:)

I chose option 1 (remove nail and hope it seals) with the intent I could bring my tire pressure back up with my only C02 at the top of the climb when it turns to pavement. As any mountain biker would agree, having my tire pressure drop to 30 psi on sandy jeep roads is quite a desirable occurrence but with 40% of the bike course on paved roads, I want my tire pressure closer to 50 psi the entire race. I made a break from the peloton hoping to get far enough ahead to pull the nail and rejoin them just like the Tour De France. Wrong answer. When I made my break, race favorites Mike Dawson, Spencer Lacy, and company jumped onto my wheel thinking I was making a break and all nearly rear ended me as I came to a screeching stop on the opposite side of the road which made for some good post race laughs. Nail removed and tire still hissing as it tries to seal, I watch the peloton move off into the horizon as find myself in dead last place.

There was a time in my life that I was purely focused on adventure racing results but today, with adventure racing being my secondary sport, I found myself focusing on just living what the race throws out knowing that certain realities are a given, specifically that 1st -5th place will be decided by less than 10 minutes and I just gave that time away.  Self talk is a crippling, yet with a shift in focus, empowering thing and I certainly found myself initially focusing on what was wrong with my tire losing air. As I climbed 2000 feet to the top of the mesa without my usual draft with the lead pack, I went back to some of my old race mantras of “forward focus” and “stuff happens to every team today”, then put my head down, pedals forward, and did my best with the situation. I remember chatting pre-race with “Team Environmental Hazard”, a 2 person women’s team whose goal was to loose 50 more lbs above the 50 lbs they had already each lost. I remember a conversation I had this week at the clinic with a patient who just wanted “to walk 5% better” after an ankle fracture. How about all the parents on the course that juggle every second to find that hour to get in a ride or run? My self talk turned back to “OK, now my bike is 10% slower until I can seal the slow leak but my kayak is 10% faster, so now I’m simply  even with every other racer”.

Finish line shot. Feeling surprisingly good for just blowing a gasket on paddle leg.
After spending the next 3 hours chasing my way through the pack on the run/orienteering course, rappel off of Gemini Arches, and 2nd bike leg, I clawed and crawled my way back through the entire field to 6th place at the final paddle put in. After a hour descent on 2nd bike leg and lots of praying my rim doesn't cave from a rock hit, I jumped off my bike and did a 20 second transition into my kayak. It is here something special happened and I just felt outstanding (thanks nuun active hydration tablets!) getting into the kayak followed by some vengeful paddling bringing me to within 15 minutes of the 1st and 2nd place leaders. I beat my best all time paddle split on that section of the Colorado River for any year ever and finished in just over 5 hours in 3rd place overall and 15-20 minutes behind fellow national team paddler/CU Nordic skier Spencer Lacy and minutes behind last years winner Mike Dawson from Park City, Utah.

This is what happens without Nuun in the Moab Canyonlands! How many Kid Rock songs would it take to get you through a day like this?
In reflection of the day, 20 year-old Spencer Lacy has become a force to dealt with. He ran a clean race and took 10 minutes off of his 2009 time where he finished 3rd behind Travis Macy and myself. He’s had a rough CU Nordic season and it brought a smile to my face to see him notch a win. 

3rd Jeremy Rodgers (Boulder), 1st Spencer Lacy (Boulder), 2nd Mike Dawson (Park City, Utah)

More important than the podium today, I was reminded that in an adventure race of any length, 1000 things have to go right to have a clean race which is simply impossible. We just forget what happened last race and something new happens every year that you can't prepare for. You stack your hand pre-race with planning, training, the right gear, and experience and hope it's enough to offset Murphy's Law. Today, I got what I deserved all things considered and felt good about gaining back the 30 some minutes I lost dealing with an endlessly leaking tire. We’d all like to get in front and stay in front in life but it felt just as good to start in dead last and try to catch these guys and visit with other racers on the course at the same time. Additionally, every team out there had it challenges that no one ever hears about. It’s how we deal with those challenges that defines a team and individual’s resolve and spirit.

Special congrats to Danelle Ballengee who won the woman’s solo 5 years after her fateful fall and subsequent challenges after fracturing her pelvis and also to Team Environmental Hazard who won the race before they even started after having lost 50 lbs each training for their first adventure race. 

And...have you met our new Cattle Dog/Hybridliving partner Mazzy? This was her first road trip in the Ultimate Multisport Van!  Next up, San Luis Obispo Adventure Racing Camp with Team Dart nuun and Ian Adamson followed by the start of kayak racing season.

Forward focus!
Team DART nuun SportMulti