Category: Death Ride

No WOD posted for today… it’s a sign

one thing about multi-hour aerobic stuff is that it would tire me out to my core. I’d often take weekend naps to let my body truly rest and recover.

I know…. 6+ hours of running or riding would tire a person out… shocker.

Last night I was dragging. Left work early. Got home. Ate everything. Headed upstairs to relax a bit….woke up 3 hours later. I guess I needed that. Ate even more and …. crashed for another 8 hours.

Alarm went off at 5am and decided to sleep more. Finally woke up and checked the WOD, and nothing was posted.

I’m taking that as a suggestion. Although I have no muscle soreness and feel pretty good after doing the Death Ride my body is clearly telling me to let this be a recovery week. Sleep, eat, workout at 70% max if I chose to workout at all.

Better to recover and get back at it than try to push it when the body needs to recover.

Don’t be sad… ‘cause 3 out of 5 ain’t bad. Death Ride 2015.

81.5 Miles on a bike, 10,500 of elevation, 3 mountain passes.

0.0 miles of bike training beforehand

 

Death Ride 2015 3 stickers

Is that the worst title I’ve ever used? I think so.

OK, on a whim I signed up for the Death Ride. It’s prettier title is “Tour of the California Alps.” I don’t know of anyone who uses the prettier title.

My buddies have been trying to complete the Death Ride for several years, but it’s a really tough task. “How tough is it?” you ask. Why thank you. That’s a GREAT question.

The Death Ride, in total, covers 5 mountain passes, with 15,000 feet of elevation gain, and 129 miles. It’s done on a bicycle, and, technically you have 15 hours to complete it. I say “technically” because the course closes at 8pm. That’s a hard stop. The course officially opens at 5am, but a lot of people leave much earlier than that.

When you are climbing 5 mountain passes and riding 129 miles most people need all the hours they can get.

Craig and Eric have attempted the Death Ride several times. For a myriad of reasons they had not hit all 5 mountain passes. That’s what happens in events like this. Things go wrong. Maybe you get a flat tire, or your stomach goes South, or you just have a bad day. It all happens, and it all has to be reckoned with.

Of course the best thing to do is train hard for the event. “If you fail to prepare you prepare to fail.” Or something like that.

I did not train. Nope. Not at all. Not even a little bit. I don’t have specific numbers, but it has been 6 years since I have been on a bike for any distance. Even then it was only 25 miles or so.

OK, that is not entirely correct. I did not train for cycling or for endurance. I do CrossFit up to 6 times a week. I just finished a squat cycle that added 40 pounds to my front squat, and I do have a 20+ year background in ultra distance events. I’m not a newbie to this stuff, but I had not done any sports specific training. I do know how to hydrate and eat during multi-hour events which is absolutely critical to success. That said it was pretty nuts to take my current background and sign up for the Death Ride.

Oh yeah, and I also had hip surgery 10 months ago where the doc had sucked over 50 pieces of floating cartilage out of my hip that I had ground off internally over the last 20+ years of doing long runs and rides.

Why did I sign up? Why the hell not? Really, the answer is that nonsensical. Normally you have to sign up months in advance, and the rush to sign up is a madhouse. This year they sold off some open slots from people who had cancelled which I happened to see a couple of weeks ago. Two weeks ago. I signed up for a 14+ hour, 15,000’ of elevation gain bike ride two weeks ago, and I don’t even have a road bike anymore.

After some hassle getting out of town on Friday we made it up the mountain to the town of Markleeville a lot later than planned. Gotta roll with it.

I was camping in the back of my wife’s SUV. Craig had his tent. Eric was sharing his tent with his girlfriend. Normally I wouldn’t allow cohabitation like that, but this time I let it pass.

Quite abnormally I passed out like a rock. I was really tired from a lot of stress and not much sleep. We had done the math, really, we made a spreadsheet to calculate ride times (average uphill speed, time at rest stops, average downhill speed per segment, etc.), and we came to the conclusion that we had to be on the road early. Like 3:00 am early.

That’s early.

I woke up at midnight and really couldn’t get back to sleep. I dozed a bit before my alarms went off at 2:30am. Sleeping in the back of an SUV with a small mattress is NICE!!

We drug out of our respective beds, made coffee (thank you JetBoil and Starbucks Via). It was cold. Not freezing temperatures but cold all the same. I overheat quickly when working out, so I chose to go fairly light. Bike shorts – no tights or leg warmers, sleeveless bike jersey, fleece vest, and a yellow bike windbreaker. I also had full finger bike gloves and was carrying fingerless bike gloves for when it warmed up. Vee was AWESOME! Her car has a 4-bike rack, so we stashed our 3 bikes on it, and she drove us to the start. That saved us from adding a nasty little uphill if we had left from the campground.

We hit the road at 3:20am. That is early and dark. I had to buy a headlight for my bike and was pleased with how well it threw light for only costing $18. The course is a touch deceiving at the start. It begins with a nice downhill followed by a gradual uphill. Remember, I haven’t ridden in 5 or 6 years, so I needed the warmup. I was layered pretty well. Then a few miles in reality hits.

You take a left turn and start heading up Monitor Pass. I would say that Monitor is beautiful terrain, and it is, but in the dark with only a tiny bike headlight you can’t see much. A couple of miles up Monitor, Eric cruised ahead. These are individual efforts. It’s great to stay together, but it’s not realistic especially when one person in the group is woefully unprepared. Craig hung with me for a while.

Not too far up the road I had to bail down to my smallest chainring. Did I mention that I’m riding a mountain bike?

It might be good to explain that. I have a 1998 Specialized Stumpjumper Pro that I love. It’s a hardtail (no rear suspension), and the front shock is basically shot. It kind of works, but not well enough for actual trail usage. A while back I put a pair of Continental GP tires on it which are road bike tires that fit a mountain bike wheel. I’m not talking MTB slicks. These tires are 25’s which are just as narrow as a regular road bike. That helps the rolling resistance tremendously. A couple of challenges, the MTB frame is not great geometry for a road bike, it doesn’t descend or handle very well, and it has a very low top speed. I still have the original MTB chainrings and rear cassette on it. Yep, that cassette is 17 years old. Yikes.

I have driven over Monitor Pass many times, but riding it on a bike is a very different experience. First off – it hurts a lot more to pedal than to push on a gas pedal. Trust me on that. Second – you don’t notice the “micro-terrain” as much in a car. The short steep sections are really tough on a bike. The hill just kept going and going and going.

To show that you ascended each pass, there are 5 aid stations that put a sticker on your race number. The first rest stop on Monitor Pass hands out stickers starting at 5:30am. We had turned onto Hwy 89, the road to Monitor, at 4:03am. We reached the aid station at 5:20am, and they were already open and handing out stickers. Cool.

Let me explain the course a bit. You ride over 5 mountain passes, but you actually ride over 2 of the passes twice. With Monitor Pass, and the next pass – Ebbets Pass, you ride to the top, down the other side and then back. For the fifth pass you just ride to the top of Carson Pass. Yeah, “just.”

So we had one sticker. We stopped for a bit, filled up water bottles, and grabbed some munchies. Craig got a hot chocolate. That was nice and warm.

Next you ride uphill just a bit more, The rest stop is in a clearing that is just below the actual summit, and then you go downhill.

FAST!!!!

Holy crap!!! The backside of Monitor is a downhill cyclists dream. I know this because a few guys passed me going well over 50 MPH. My mountain bike is not good for descending, plus the front breaks were squealing like mad (because I had just installed new pads on Thursday and had not tested them), and my hands were FREEZING! I could not feel my hands and was really worried that I would not be able to brake when I needed to. That downhill scared the crap out of me.

It also took all the heat out of my body. At the bottom I was shivering so violently that I could not hold a cup of hot chocolate because it was splashing all over the place.

As we pointed our bikes back uphill to ride the downhill we had just done I realized that I was in a world of hurt. My legs had absolutely no power. I couldn’t generate any force.

Let me explain for my CrossFit friends. If your max snatch is 185 pounds, and you load a bar with 245#’s you know you are not going to lift it successfully. It’s too big of a jump. A bike ride is a completely different thing. While I haven’t ridden in years, it is possible to get on a bike tomorrow and ride 100+ miles. It hurts like hell, but you just take it one pedal revolution at a time.

I had no power. I could barely get uphill, so I told Craig, “don’t even wait for me.” I was riding so slowly that I was getting passed by literally everyone. Even a person on an elliptical bike passed me. What the hell is an “elliptical bike?”

Let’s be honest. It makes total sense that my body was incapable of getting up that hill quickly. I had been on a bike for almost 3 hours, and the ability to put out power for hours and hours is totally different than doing heavy cleans in a 20 minute AMRAP.

And I’m 20 pounds heavier than the last time I rode. It’s a good 20 pounds, but it’s mass nonetheless.

Of course I took that moment to throw myself a full blown pity party. I whined to myself and complained to myself and decided that when I got to the bottom of the other side of Monitor I would go straight back to the campsite and call it a day! Screw this bike riding over mountains nonsense. I was done. Hell, I shouldn’t have even started. This was totally stupid.

The only challenge, of course, was that I had to get UP to Monitor Pass before I could descend the other side and quit this ride.

Then I looked at my watch.

It was maybe 7am. I was pissed off and frustrated and….had 13 available hours before the course closed. What was I so pissed off about?

Right about then it also dawned on me that I was hungry as hell. I had downed a couple of Gu’s, but I had not eaten anything solid. I know me, and I need solid food to keep going. Gels are awesome sources of energy but insufficient for my personal furnace.

That pity party went the hell away. Right about then I hit the water station coming up the backside of Monitor and decided to add Gatorade to my fluids. Great choice. I needed the calories and the sweetness. I wasn’t going any faster, but I felt better. I was finally at a decent altitude and was able to appreciate the beauty of the Eastern Sierras. Truly stunning.

Also at that water station I jettisoned some weight – full finger gloves? Gone! Long sleeve jacket that I have not worn until today since I bought it 20 years ago? Gone! Flashing rear light that I don’t know where it came from in the first place? Gone! I am not carrying you guys ever again. That was a mental boost too.

I rode. I rested. I rode. I rested.

At some point a guy passed me and yelled, “OH MY GOD!!! Is that a 1998 Stumpjumper Pro M2 frame?!?!?! I loved that bike! That’s my favorite frame of all time!!!” Yes, yes it is a 1998 Stumpjumper. Seeing that he loved my bike so much I offered to trade him for the sweet looking Cervelo he was riding, but he declined. I guess he didn’t love my bike all that much.

At a few points I walked. Oh well, just keep moving.

Left, right, up, left, right, up, up, up, and then it was there, the summit and the quick downhill to the Monitor aid station and my dream – potato chips…

I grabbed handful after handful of there salty, solid goodness. I had made it to the top of Monitor at 9:00am and had plenty of time to spare, so I focused on fueling. Potato chips, gummi bears, and bagels with apple cinnamon cream cheese. If it looked good I ate it. There was no rush, so I relaxed, ate, and drank until I was ready to go again. Getting back on my bike felt good. That surprised me. The short uphill out of the aid station stressed my legs a bit, but the downhill was worse.

It was warm which made the descent better, but it still took a big toll on my neck, shoulders, lower back and hands. I tried to just enjoy it and keep my speed in check. It was a huge turnaround from that descent down the backside of Monitor.

I also was able to view the recent fire damage. It’s awesome that we were still able to ride. Granted the fire is out, but it could have seriously impacted the ride.

At the bottom all of my earlier internal wailing about quitting this ride after 2 passes was long gone. I turned left with everybody else and followed the river to the next pass.

It’s a very slight uphill of about 2 or 3 miles to the next aid station which is also the lunch stop. I cruised at my pace and decided to take an extended break. I was still digesting the solid food from the top of Monitor, and I needed a bit of time before tackling the next mountain pass, Ebbetts. I sat and rested for 15 minutes or so just hydrating and relaxing then it was back on the bike.

Ebbetts starts out nicely, a gradual uphill through a tree shaded canyon. Then it gets freakin’ nasty. My legs were out of energy. I just didn’t have the power to push hard continuously for hours and hours. That’s something that requires multi-hour endurance training. I think it’s clear that something I did not have is…. multi-hour endurance training.

Oh well, just do what I can.

A couple of miles up a guy had made his own cheering station complete with signs of motivational quotes. He also had written “Only 5.9 miles to the top!”

Damn! 6 miles to go? I assumed I was averaging about 4 miles per hour, so that meant the best I could expect was about 1 and a 1/2 hours to go before I could hit the summit and get my next sticker. That put me at the top at noon (12:00pm).

Did I mention that I don’t have a bike computer on this bike? I have no idea of speed or distance. The only thing I had was my watch. Gotta love the Timex IronMan watches.

Like Monitor, riders crest Ebbets, then descend the backside of Ebbetts and reclimb Ebbets for their 4th pass. Race organizers will not allow you to descend the backside of Ebbetts after 1:30pm, so I was within the necessary window.

At one really steep switchback a young guy on a really expensive Specialized came alongside me and asked, “Wow, what year is your bike?”

“1998”

“That is awesome! I work for Specialized and we love to see old bikes out on the road.”

Again – an admirer who had NO intention of swapping bikes with me.

Up and up and up, left and right and up. I had to walk a really steep section where I was only a little bit slower than the people actually riding. I was down to my bright purple sleeveless vest and heard someone yell,

“PURPLE!!! DO YOU NEED ANY TOOLS?”

My reply, “Thanks! No, I don’t need any tools, but I could use some legs. Got any of those?”

10 people laughed. None offered to give me their legs. I’m sensing a theme here.

Another guy said, “Man, you’ve made it a long ways keep it up.”

And I had to tell him, “Well, I haven’t even been on a bike in 6 years.”
“What? And you chose Death Ride to get back into cycling? You’re a freakin’ beast.”

Look, everyone out there was hurting. Some were just hurting at a faster pace. I did not encounter any attitude, which is a great thing.

At some point my watch read 12:00pm, and I still wasn’t at the summit. For a while now I was seeing people riding down the hill which meant they had summited Ebbetts, ridden down the backside of Ebbetts, ridden back up Ebbetts and were on their way to the 5th and final pass. Wow. Impressive.

Then the sign, “Aid Station Ahead.” Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I just couldn’t walk into the aid station, so I mounted up, rode in, and got my sticker.

It was 12:30pm. The cutoff to descend for my 4th sticker was 1:30pm. I could wait an hour and still get that 4th sticker, but I had a better option to choose from.

I knew I could descend Ebbetts to Hermit Valley, get my sticker, and then get back up Ebbetts. People around me who had just done so were saying that the backside of Ebbetts was much easier than the front side, but I still had to get across the bottom of the valley which included a couple of hills, not mountains though, to get back to our campsite.

I knew I “could” do it. There was no doubt in my mind. That 4th sticker, and corresponding 4th summit, would have been much cooler than only 3, but it would come at a cost. That cost was recovery time.

Did I want to put my body into such a deficit that it took me weeks to recover?

After I did the Davis Double Century (200 miles) in 2001 it had taken me literally months to recover. The combination of high mileage and 100deg temperatures seriously tore me up.

Death Ride….. What was more important to me? 4 passes or getting a 300 pound back squat before my next birthday? Getting a 300 pound back squat is much more important to me.

The Death Ride is awesome. I was in a great mental place, and I knew that the Death Ride was just a whim. It’s not my end goal. Going for that 4th pass was more than I was willing to pay, so, after eating a HUGE amount of Oreo’s and potato chips, I pointed my bike downhill. You know what? I was happy and completely satisfied with my decision. I’d made it to the cutoff with plenty of time to spare, and I didn’t need to shred myself for this one.

By the way, do you know how delicious Oreos are? They are incredible. After 9 hours on a bike they are even better. Walking to get those Oreos a guy stepped in my path and practically yelled, “You made it!!!! I knew you would. Awesome work man!”

I had no idea who it was. Then it dawned on me. It was the guy I had chatted with on the uphill who had said, “wow, you’ve come a really long way for this being your first ride in 6 years.” I think my being at the top fired him up a little bit.

The downhill was beautiful. It hurt like the last few because my bike isn’t built for this stuff, but the views were ridiculous. I kept thinking, “Really? I get to live so close to this stuff? Damn, I am so lucky.”

There were also a lot of people still climbing Ebbetts. After a few minutes of downhill I knew that none of the remaining people would be able to make the cutoff in time.

Unfortunately I saw the remnants of a bike crash too. Some people were slowing riders down. Fine with me. I asked a guy if everything is OK, and he said, “yes, he seems to be stable.”

There was a guy laying in a ditch being attended to by several riders. He had that telltale position of one hand holding his other collarbone, but he looked overall pretty good. Descending further I saw an ambulance, a couple of motorcycles, and a fire truck coming up the mountain.

This is remote area. It’s a one lane road to the summit of Ebbets, and it takes a while to get medical attention to some areas. The organizers are AWESOME about getting as much coverage as possible given the area they have to cover.

The emergency vehicles also slowed down the traffic behind me, so I wasn’t getting passed by a billion downhill kamikazes, which was really nice. Still I had to take a break and get some feeling back into my hands about halfway down.

Just as I started rolling again my front tire blew. Thankfully it did so at 2 MPH instead of 40.

Whatever, got to fix it. I forgot how crappy my pump is though. New tube, check for debris in the tire. Then pump, pump, pump…. What a piece of junk! I normally run at 100 psi, but I think I maxed out at 50 PSI. The tire wasn’t seated well, and it was squeaking. But I had to move, so I descended slowly. After a bit some guy in an IMC-RST jersey said, “Hey! Its you!”

Granted, it’s not the most eloquent I have ever known Eric to be, but he was right. It was me!

I was so stoked to see him. It was my confirmation that he had achieved 4 passes, the most he had ever done. Honestly, that really fired me up.

He also has a much better bike pump than I do which I immediately borrowed. Thanks Eric!

We got back on the road descending to the lunch stop. Of course he descended much faster, but I was in a great mental place and really cruised it in. Surprisingly, I passed several people too.

We grabbed sandwiches and chilled at a table in the shade. He looked great and was ahead of schedule. He wanted to leave the lunch stop no later than 2:00pm.

We got on the road at 2:03pm which gave him 2 hours to get across the valley and to the next aid station at the start of the last climb where the cutoff is 4:00pm. I only had to ride across the valley and about 1/2 mile up the last climb to get to our campground. Much of that distance is downhill, but there is a tough uphill coming out of Markleeville and going to the starting line. That hurt.

I took a break for a bit on the uphill. A guy, in a large group, came rolling by slowly, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “C’mon man. Back on the bike. You got this.”

He didn’t know me, or that I was basically done, but his encouragement was a necessary spark. I got back on my bike and crested the hill to enjoy the downhill that followed.

Rolling into the Woodfords rest stop I knew that I only had a mile to go. Still, I had been out there for 12 1/2 hours. I was tired, and I wanted to be done. I guess Eric was still fueling up at Woodfords for his last climb. Later he told me he said “hi” and waved, but I was in my own zone. I walked through the aid station and rode up to our campground.

It felt so good go be off of that bike!

I chilled out. Sucked down the last of my Gatorade, made a cup of coffee, and started my writeup as I waited for Craig to appear. A couple of hours later he did. “5 Passes” finisher pin in hand he was DONE!!!

It was so awesome to see that he had made it. 5 full passes. No need to come back again. He also said that he felt pretty good and had stayed on top of his food and hydration all day except for the very last climb.

We chilled out. He was happy that I had cleaned up the camp in order to drive home that night. We had paid all of $18 to have the campsite for another night just in case, but we wanted to get home.

Eric rolled in an hour or two later, also a 5 pass finisher. Seeing friends accomplish their goals is so motivating. I was stoked to have spent the weekend with these guys, been their for their success, and to have pushed them to wake up EARLY and get on the damned course. No offense, but they have a history of sleeping late.

Eric’s girlfriend, Vee, was cool enough to have a beer waiting for him which I’m sure he really appreciated. Her friend, Shannon, asked if I would be back next year to finish off all 5 passes.

Me? Hell no.

I had not been on a bike in 6 years. I had hip surgery 10 months ago. I had just ridden over 81 miles of nasty terrain, climbing over 10,000 feet of elevation, and having been on course for 12 solid hours. I had only done CrossFit to get into shape for this ride, and I had 2 significant downtime periods after shoulder and hip surgery.

Unfinished business?

I have none. Sorry folks, but if you can show up to one of the toughest rides around with NO training and this much of it – you’re solidly a badass.

Yeah. I’m calling it.

I wanted to hang with my best friends, do a multi-hour event, and see just how effective CrossFit is as a tool for general fitness.

Oh yeah. I’m not even sore today. I hadn’t been on a bike in 6 years. I rode 81 miles. I struggled and pushed myself really hard for 12 solid hours, and I’m not even sore. There’s a little twinge on the top of my right calf, but my legs feel great. I almost hit the 10am workout this morning I’m feeling that good.

Guess what? CrossFit works.

 

Mission Accomplished.

Freaking out… just a little….

This Saturday’s ride is really getting close. Signing up for something only 2 weeks in advance is a great way of making it come quickly….

I’d be lying if I said I was totally calm. I still think I’m going to ride the whole thing (hubris? insanity? confidence?), but it’s daunting. My core group now knows and is equal parts, “oh hell yeah!” and “are you fucking nuts?” Got one, “why didn’t you tell me you asshole? I just moved to California and would totally have done this!”

Yes. I’m nuts. We’ve known that for a while.

I’ve chosen a fairly sedentary life. Big mortgage on a nice house. Pressure to make my nut every month. Succession of tech jobs that are always high pressure and high pay, to go with the pressure. I look at people who pack it all in and travel the world. It looks cool, but that’s not me. I like my bed at night. I crave a significant amount of stability.

But, of course there’s a but, I love those challenges that simply make no sense. I love putting it out there, though perhaps in a more structured way, to see if I truly have the balls to make it happen. Either you finish or you don’t. End of story.

It’s not about winning. It’s about doing. Do I have the mental fortitude to suck it up through the pain and suffering to get it done?

The only way to answer that is to show up and take the chance.

I ain’t right in the head

So this is going down this Saturday. It sounded funny when I noticed there were slots open last week and dropped $125 just for fun. So what if I haven’t been on a bike for more than 5 miles in over 5 years. It’s just uphill and downhill, right?

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 2.59.48 PM

 

A little Death Ride adventure coming up…

Ummm, are front squats good for multi-hour endurance training?