Here are a few things I learned this weekend:
1.) Stage races make you stupid.
2.) Sometimes boredom is worse than pain.
3.) Being mentally strong is more important than physical strength.
So, firstly, I say bike races make you stupid, because both Jake and I spaced out multiple times after racing, to the point where it was as though an alien had blacked out our memories and made us forget everything. Among various random things getting misplaced, Jake lost his keys (they got locked in the car), I lost my phone, and left my ID in La Grange's support van on the way home. Luckily all this things were found, but every time we'd blank we'd think "ok, this is the last idiot moment". But no... we were permenantly idiots for the weekend. I think stage races shouldn't be done by people with children, because they'd forget they even had families.
Second, I spent a lot of fearful moments ruminating on the pain and suffering I was going to have to endure this weekend, and likened it to thinking about what it's going to be like to give birth. I still stand by this metaphor insofar as, now that it's over, I can't adequately remember the pain, and while I was on the race was constantly saying "this is bullshit, fuck this, I'm not doing these things ever again" but now feel like "eh, I might do something insane like that again". The one thing I think Everest Challenge has that giving birth does not was a LOT of monotony. The problem with doing a race you haven't trained for is that you're gonna be slow. And when you're slow, that's a LOT of extra race. At least when you're competative, you get to stick with the pack, but I was-- understandably-- dropped within the first hour of riding. I resigned myself to this pretty early on, given that I hadn't even climbed a hill on the bike since Santa Barbara (wtf, why did I do this race?? Crazy.) But once dropped, it was just me on this big, long, sad ride... because even those who'd catch up to me would, in turn, speed ahead at a rate that I wasn't down with (I had goal heartrates for survival, had to keep it lower than 175, yo). If anything, I felt crappy about not training just because I knew if I were stronger, the damn thing would be OVER already. What made it even worse is that I am still a very poor descender, which, I don't know if you've figured this out, but it's an essential part of climbing a mountain... coming down it. Yeah. So while we'd all be slogging up these giant climbs for miles, I'd even pass a few people going up, but on the way back down I'd be lucky to get up to 30mph, riding the breaks like a total lameass, while even those riding as "tourists" were confident enough to cruise back down, crouched over, hands well clear of the brakes. (Meanwhile, I'd have hand cramps by the end of every descent and near anxiety attacks from crosswinds shaking the TT frame and the vast vast expanses and steep drops flipping me out.) Jake says I just need to gain the ability to NOT think about it, the way I don't think about the danger of tripping when I run down a trail, I just find the line and take it. I believe I need better health insurance. The plan I got the day before this race needs me to call before I go to the hospital or "coverage isn't guaranteed". Yeah, that will help. I crash my bike: "OMG, call an ambulance!" "No, no wait, please call this number on this card and ask them first. I'll just wait and bleed, it's cool."
Speaking of ambulances, the major bummer of this whole experience was that Jake didn't finish: he was way ahead and riding really strong, strong enough to pass me on the first descent, in his little pack of first place Cat 4s. I saw him again about three miles left up on the second climb as he was descending, and he looked super stoked and happy, so as I was dragging my ass through the rest of the ride, I thought at 6 hours "Jake's probably done now," and at 6:45, "he's probably relaxing by now, getting some food..." while I was still working my way through the hot hot shadeless climb to Tom's Place before the last 11 miles to the summit. Of course then I get pulled aside and am told that Jake's in the hospital because he got heatstroke and asked for an ambulance to be called. Of course that just completely wrecked me... the only reason I was even here was because I wanted to support him on his big race weekend, and thought it would be a cool way to show solidarity. This was his race to win... he'd been training all season, even last season, but missed last year because of a crash. I was told that he was okay, and of course I was relieved that he wasn't hurt or something, but I immediately felt totally overwhelmed with how sad and disappointed he was probably feeling, and just felt like crying and didn't even know why to bother with this stupid thing anymore. And of course I felt really worried because I had no idea what to do: Jake had the car keys, I'd left my cell in the car, and I didn't have his cell number memorized (cautionary tale, everyone.) I'd thought of taking my phone, but then left it last minute, when having an early morning freakout about going to the bathroom ahead of time. Now I had absolutely no contingency plan to him finishing ahead of me and meeting me at Tom's Place with the car. And I felt like an idiot. And of course just wanted to hug him and say how terrible I felt, since I knew how much this race meant to him. But I still had to climb 11 more miles. Yeah. It was hard to stay positive, but I tried to think how he'd want me to finish, and how I had to finish so I could get a ride with Steve, the race director, from the summit (he also had Jake's bike.) It got me through it, and of course once at the top I burst into tears, since I'd spent the whole time suppressing empathic depression. And I just finished over 88 miles and over 15,000 feet of climbing, and was at 10,000 feet of elevation, so, it was hard to keep it together. Very happily, it all got sorted out, though it took some time: I went with Steve back down along the race course to take down signs while he told me war stories from the 508, and somewhere along the way, Jake got Steve's cell number and reached us (it was late, so he was already well out of the hospital, and sounding super cheerful and well, which was an enormous relief.) We finally rendezvoused back at the car, where Jake'd been for a while, and drove home.
The second day is supposed to be shorter, and therefore, I suppose a little easier, but the mental strain of the day, the fact that we didn't get home until nearly 8, and the feeling that it was dumb to do this race anyway because this wasn't even my race to do all sort of added up to make Stage 2 WAY more of a challenge. When I think of Stage 1, it feels very long, but I can remember a solid few nice parts: the first climb was chilly but gorgeous: actual fall foliage up in the mountains to admire and all that. The second climb was a horrible sunny death march, but even the stressful last climb worrying about Jake had a pretty view of a lake. Stage 2 I honestly think I was in a pissed off angry mood the entire time. I was just a big old grumpy asshole. I tried to find something positive to focus on, but it was not happening. It started early, and mitigating circumstances just made the day feel worse and worse. I got dropped on the way up the first climb, feeling very weak... HR was barely 150 and I already felt like I had no strength-- I suspected an early bonk-- didn't have time to eat a real dinner the night before because of the late day and was too tired to wait for seating at the one local pasta joint in Big Pine, so I just ate random frozen foods from the convenience store, and woke up in the middle of the night to eat a banana and a half a PB&J I made blindly. I was probably still pretty calorically deficient and doubt I'd adequately restocked my glycogen stores. So I ate a Bonk Breaker and banana at the top of the climb, and then had my minor panic on the descent, which had a HUGE drop off to the right and cars still coming up on the left, no guardrail, and racers whizzing by asshole-breakriding-terrified-me at over 40mph like it's no big whoop. The grade was even too steep at points to be able to stop, not to mention that there was no shoulder. Of course, had I been a confident strong descender, I would have been moving too fast to notice this. Instead I hardly even broke 19mph. On a DESCENT. What the eff. It's like I've never ridden a bike before. That basically demoralized me, and my hands, neck, and arms were already super sore, and I felt like crying from feeling like I sucked-- literally EVERYONE was better than me on downhills, even people who didn't try, it made me feel like crap. The intense fear of death added into the constant reminder of being a failure and the fact that it was 2.5 hours into the ride and that climb wasn't even the long one made me feel totally demoralized and I was already pretty weepy-whiny to Jacob at the aid station before the Death Valley Road climb. Another volunteer said something encouraging about me doing better than most people by making it that far, and to not worry about other racers and just do tempo. I said I wasn't going to give up, but that I just felt very unhappy.
And that was basically how it went. I kept trying to get past being a d-bag, but shit kept going wrong. I put in a good effort up the second climb, and was actually making a good time, with little sprints and good cadence, but then the turnaround wasn't at mile 37, where it was supposed to be, and I'd timed out my water and fluid for that, so then I had ANOTHER anxiety attack moment where I got minorly hysterical as more and more road with cyclists on it kept extending ahead of me, and my bottles were emptying and I hadn't refilled at the vans because I thought "oh, it's just 1.25 miles away". But no, BY MISTAKE, they'd put the turnaround at mile 40, another BROILING unshaded 3 climbing miles away. Of course, having put in some good efforts, I was pretty spent, and it was really hot by that point, so I was sweating out a lot. It felt like a Sisyphean hill climb, where you keep thinking "this is it!" and then another bend or dip reveals ANOTHER stretch, and no turnaround. I did reach the turnaround, because what other option was there but to continue? Of course I was grumpy about that, and then had another shitass descent where everyone cruised down like it was a steel rollercoaster and I couldn't get any speed because of crosswind fear and general shittiness. But all that was left was more climbing, so that was oddly comforting (that is seriously how bad I am at descending, how pathetic.) Of course now that the aid station had been at mile 40, I had no idea what the end mileage was going to be, and I am very much a goals and numbers person. I saw Jake again at the bottom of the road, and he said, "don't think about the mileage, you know you have to get to the top, just keep going." Well, yes, but when you don't know where the top is, there is no way to mark progress and you feel like you're in hell. (I believe I said aloud "I am in hell" multiple times this weekend, btw.) Stage 1 was like purgatory, because it seemed endless but I knew I was progressing. Stage 2 was hell because I'd think I was progressing and then it would turn out I had to go way further.
Jake pointed out the number of cars that had left as people who'd abandoned the course, and encouraged me to feel good that I was still going, since my goal was just to finish anyway. There were only a ragtag few of us by then, and we were the last through each aid station before cutoff times. I found out at the next aid station, six miles away at 6,000 feet elevation that the aid station was a mistake, but no one could tell us what the final mileage was gonna be. I thought we had 11 miles left, but then we were told 14, which, again, kinda made me cry. I was soooo whiny. It's embarrassing. But it was my way of getting the bad feelings out I guess, because it certainly didn't make me actually quit. I think I just needed to bitch to feel better, since otherwise I was just suffering alone the whole time. Those 6 miles were really rough, SUPER hot and steep, and there wasn't any shade to look forward to in the future, either. We all took our time to douse ourselves with cold water (unfortunately I got my shorts wet-- soggy chamois is NOT GOOD for chaffing) and refuel before another heavy effort. The next (and last) aid station was at 8000 ft. elevation and was 7 miles away. I thought I remembered the map saying the last aid station was 5 miles from the finish, so I just kept chugging alone like a very very slow little Engine that could while being whiny about it, and Jake was able to drive alongside and give me some chammy cream and words of encouragement, which really helped me, and then I was on my own for the final climbs in the park. Of course, hell that the day was, the last aid station wasn't five but eight miles from the finish, which might not seem like a lot, but involved a LOT of climbing up to 10,000 feet. I filled up my bottles and took a last pee break and thought of Jake's advice to keep going, sang Disney songs in my head, thought about finishing soon and how that was the best news ever. Then I had ANOTHER anxiety moment where I was four miles into the last 8, and didn't see any chalk marking on the road indicating that the end was near. I was over 9000 feet and it was over 9 hours by that point, so I was barely holding it together. Of course I knew I was close to the finish, but by this point I didn't trust anyone, and when I didn't see any sign of progress like the previous day, I started to worry that it wasn't 8 miles, but 12 miles, or God knows what. A bit over 70 miles, I saw another steep climbing up a switchback turn and literally had to stop because I just randomly started to cry. Crying at this point very much resembled hard breathing, which was also happening, so I'm sure I just looked like any other suffering person. But yeah, I was just crying like a child, because I just really needed to know that it WAS four miles, and that that was the truth, because I knew I could make it that far, but couldn't handle another fake out. A woman in a car said some encouraging words, and I asked how far, and she said "my husband guesses about 4 miles," and that was all I needed: proof that there wasn't going to be a 10k mark in another mile, but that I had already made it this far and only had four more to go. Of course there was another guy who said "one more mile" when there were three left, and the woman saying "just one more hard section and then 2 more miles" (uhm, yeah, it wasn't easier, but sure.) I saw one of the guys I'd been sticking with taking a cellphone picture of the vista to the left, and all I could think was "ugly stupid crapass mountain". I was super over it. Grumpy with a horribly sore butt and emotionally ragged. After all the fake outs, I sort of assumed there'd be another climb when someone said "just around the corner," and as I rounded the corner and climbed up this last incline, two ladies at the top said "you're almost there" and then I saw at their feet, no I wasn't almost there, I was literally there, it was the finish line. With just two ladies. What the eff??? Super anticlimactic! I thought I'd see the food tent and would be able to really go for it for one last reserve. But the whole day was a mindfuck and the finish was no different. For a second I thought "oh man, I'm so slow they already packed up everything else and now I have to go back down alone!" But really the food and drop bags were just a little further down, out of sight down the hill. So that was nice, though I basically didn't even feel like it was over, I was so disoriented. Tee shirt and medal say otherwise, though, and I was super lucky to find a friend in the La Grange guys, who, seeing how desperate I'd looked, offered me a ride down to where Jacob was (the thought of me trying to do more tight-fisted descending after that made me want to cry... some more.) I felt immediately better once I stopped, because hey, it was over, and no one could add in anymore climbing for me to do. And my mood was the best mood ever, and I felt bad for being a crabby asshole. So, I apologize world, that I was a crabby asshole. I was working through some issues on my bike.
On the whole, I think the moral of the story is, a.) triathletes are EXTREMELY data reliant-- Jake was so casual about the miles discrepancy-- "eh, it happens, you just keep going", whereas for me it was like the end of the world and b.) when you feel like a crabby asshole, you will not ride fast, and when you feel hopeful and happy, everything will be easier. Stage 2 took about 9.5 hours, while Stage 1 took 9hours and 16 minutes. And Stage 1 was considerably longer, even if Stage 2 was longer than planned (73.5 miles instead of 65, for the record.) So there you go: it's all mental. I did know intellectually not to be negative, but it was just a toughass day and grumpypants was the situation. I'm usually the person on the course who smiles at everyone even when it sucks, but I was just so past my good mood threshold at that point. I'm just happy I finished. Let's not do that again, though. Grumpy racing is NO FUN, and so very slow!
In the meantime, I was also convinced during the first day that it's kind of dumb to spend this much time doing something that gives me fear of death and makes me feel lonely, and that I should probably invest more time in something that makes me unique, like my songs or, I dunno, my LIFE/career, since we basically know that I have the capacity to suffer, so it's not even that exciting for me to do this kind of thing anymore, right? So I will probably not do as many ultra endurance things... at least not until I can do them faster and can descend like a fucking adult. Heh. Just don't like the waste of time. And I miss people. And if I were trained, I wouldn't have felt as grumpy, too.
So in conclusion... do races you train for and be happy when you do them. I feel like that's how most of my tris go, and they've been pretty nice. So there: I did Everest Challenge without specific training, it was really awful, but I did it, and next year Jake's gonna come back and win. And now I know IMAZ will be even easier, because that 140.6 ain't going NOWHERE.