By Jun Japanese Macaque Watanabe
For reasons of not wanting my crew to worry about my training and/or fitness, I fibbed about my longest ride being 150 miles. According to my crew captain, Gary Baierl (Furnace Creek 508 Hall of Famer), I should have done at least two 200 mile rides in addition to numerous +100 milers. However, my longest rides were a 100 mile ride (just over 6 hrs) two weeks before the race and a 80 mile ride up in Tahoe two months earlier along with 35 mile rides four to five days a week...and in hindsight, I'd agree with him that my training wasn't nearly enough to be competitive. It also didn't help that I crashed, a month prior to the race, while on a training ride that tweaked my wrist and my back leaving me off the bike for several days. Nonetheless, I was able to get my head together just before the start, as that's what I've been able to consistently rely on to get me through in all the racing I've done prior to this one.
It was the hardest 41hrs and 35mins of racing and by all accounts was a complete success; my first goal was to finish and secondary goal was to finish sub 44hrs, as I had no idea what I had gotten myself into despite the fact that I had crewed for Team Bear the past two years. The race started at 7am Saturday morning with 82 other solo riders (made up of mostly veterans) and ended the race just after midnight on Monday morning. Thoughts of quitting bounced around my head early on and through the race, but it hasn't gotten the best of me thus far. This race was a test and a way to understand what I'm made of; a test of my mind, against the pain in my body, and against the elements with very little distraction to take away from the reality of the situation. I loved it!!!
I encountered so many different elements making this such a difficult race; cold drizzly fog of race morning, blinding and pin-pricking sandstorms, strong crosswinds, constant headwinds for last half of the race, lighting powerful enough to light up the entire night's sky, rains heavy enough to elicit thoughts of dangerous flash floods conditions, the cold temps of the desert night and the exposed heat during the day, miles and miles of the worst road conditions EVER (partially paved roads with exposed sizeable rocks), and what seemed like a never ending climb for the entire 508 miles with over 35,000 ft of climbing. To put some perspective on things it's like riding a bike from San Francisco to the Mexican border as the crow flies while you climb from sea level to just over 6,000 ft higher than Mt Everest's summit.
After having ridden over 490 miles, it was a gradual 2 to 3% grade climb against a strong direct headwind to the finish; like a mirage of the desert, the town lights of Twenty-Nine Palms weren't getting any closer as I rode on. Similar to the watching the clock tick with only 10 minutes before you were excused from class, my progression to the finish seemed to slow down each and every time I asked my crew how much further I had until the turn heading into town, as I was without a bike computer for most of the race. Even more agonizing was passing the fire station on the right with a fair number of miles to go from town you catch a glimpse of the American flag blowing in the direction opposite of where you're headed. Needless to say, I was spent when I crossed the finish line.
My diet consisted mostly of liquids (Gatorade, water, Ensure, Perpetuem and YooHoos), but I also benefitted from eating a couple PB&J sandwiches, PowerBars and Cliffbars, and bananas. About 18 hrs into the race, I had trouble with my stomach causing me to purge the two yogurts, YooHoo, water, Tylenols, partial PB&J sandwich and an Ensure that I took at a rest stop 30 minutes prior. That was it for stomach issues, but I felt nauseous for the next 6 hours even after having taken a break for an hour. All in all I took in about 4,000 calories and probably burned a lot more. In most of my other races, I've never really needed to take in that many calories, as I can only handle about 240 calories an hour. If conventional caloric tables were used, I would have burned up over 35,000 calories for the 41 hrs of riding time. However, after the 14th hour of riding, my natural racing heart rate of 140 to 163 bpm (beats per min) settled down to a low 95 to 110 bpm. I was out of the seat climbing and my heart rate never exceeded 120bpm. Because of this I'm not exactly sure what my actual caloric expenditure was.
I took a total of about 4 hrs of breaks; the longest break being an hour of sleep just after the purging to settle my stomach followed by multiple 15 to 30 min breaks to rest my legs and shoulders/hands, change in and out of my cold weather gear, use the restroom, outfit my bike for riding in the night (setup of lights), etc. Could I have done without the breaks? Absolutely, but I probably wouldn't feel as good as I do now after the race with so little training, but I would have had a much faster finish time.
The winds were so strong that it knocked my 160 lb frame over causing me to fly over my bike onto the "soft shoulder" of the road. I hyper-extended my right knee leaving the tendon on the back of my knee tender during this process. The awful road conditions and the fact that my hands were supporting the weight of my upper body against my carbon drop handlebars for most of the 41 hrs had left my hand in excruciation pain for more than half the race. I am only starting to regain feeling in my right hand with an intense pricking feeling hinting that the numbness isn't permanent. My neck and shoulders are hurting but fine. There's an intense pain in my left toe which tells me from prior experience that I'll probably lose that toenail again. The last 200 miles, I found my right Achilles tendon hurting which apparently isn't an uncommon problem. The swelling is going down now, but not enough to allow me to start my ultramarathon training immediately. Somewhere around the 200 mile marker, I started experiencing pain where my body meets my seat. It was indeed painful, but there wasn't anything I could do about it but to grit it out. I can usually focus my mind enough to ignore the pain, but this wasn't the case so I just dealt with it the best I could. I thought I was going to have some serious saddle sores after the race, but that wasn't the case at all. Without going into much further detail about this and to my relief, I'm okay down there. Please note that I take solice in knowing that all these injuries mentioned are quite common and are not permanent, according to other race veterans.
The competitive athlete in me thinks if I were to do this race again, I could have easily taken +4 hrs off my finish time with a little more training and by not taking as many breaks as I had. I was riding strong, as I had made it to the top of Townes Pass with plenty of daylight, but within a few hours after the summit, I started thinking about my caloric intake and needing to "catch up" in refueling my body. That mistake caused me to purge all the stuff I put into my. The problem that I have is that I start thinking rather than listening to what my body is telling me. Lastly, I would install aerobars onto my bike as my carbon handlebar drops limited my positioning on the bike and left my hands in excruciating pain throughout much of the race.
I had a great crew looking after my wellbeing and couldn't have done it without them. They didn't sleep a lot and were a constant source of encouragement and support along the way. A big thank you goes out to Gary Baierl, and to my two sisters, Machiko and Naoko Watanabe for their support for the Japanese Macaque.
Race Results: http://dbase.adventurecorps.com/individualTd.php?e=1332
With my 50 mile ultramarathon trail race looming in less than two month's time, I'll have to start my training as soon as possible. However, much of that will depend on when the tenderness of my Achilles will allow me to get a run in. My plan is to start slowly for short distances knowing full well that I'll have to ramp it up quickly. The race is set for December 6th. Check it out at http://www2.thenorthface.com/endurancechallenge/races/2008/sca_overview.html
Many of you are still trying to figure out why I do the things I do. The answer is simple: I do it to make a difference and to make the statement that anything is possible if you stay strong and positive. Please help the ITP Foundation and myself find a cure for children with ITP, a rare bleeding disorder. Thank you.
ITP Foundation: http://www.active.com/donate/itpteam07/jun