Category Archives: Race Reports

Steering Clear of the Poop

Kit ‘n Kish 600k

Now kids, gather round while your jolly Uncle Mark dispenses some sage wisdom about how to lead a virtuous life. . .and how to be a successful randonneur.  The key thing you gotta remember is this: stay clear of poop.

  1. Avoid other people’s poop.
  2. Don’t poop on other people.
  3. Don’t poop on yourself.

If you can manage those three things, your odds of finishing a long ride, and the long ride of life, go up dramatically.

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Cycling with Abandon

Mountains of Misery
Blacksburg, VA
May 25, 2014

The madness that was May finally came to an end with the Mountains of Misery Double Metric Century.  Mountains of Misery is an event with which I’ve always had an “interesting” relationship (interesting in the sense that you might describe the relationship with an abusive ex-spouse as “interesting”).  Both the century and 200k versions have a healthy dose of climbing (10K and 13K feet respectively).  There are certainly bike rides that are tougher on paper (the Garrett County Diabolical Double, for example) but there isn’t much out there that is as tough as the final 3 miles of MoM, a daunting climb of approximately 2000 feet that keeps getting steeper until it maxes out at nearly 15% for long stretches.  Thrown into any ride it would be a leg breaker.  At the end of a century or a 200k?  It is a heart breaker.

It is also, however, one of the loveliest rides I’ve ever done.  Tragically, the more beautiful of the two is the longer one; it features all the best descending and a stunning stretch of more than ten miles of wonderful slightly downhill tempo riding.  Our triathlon team also had a very large contingent going this year, approximately 30 riders.  Many of them were first-timers to the century, and most of the group I was riding with had done the century before but not the 200k.  So I was looking forward to it.

There was, however, one slight problem.

The previous 6 weeks.

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The Big Leap

Many Rivers and Fords 600K
May 17-18, 2014
39 hours and 20 minutes

I am writing this blog post in order to save humanity.  Or at least those of my friends that I’ll be riding with this weekend as we tackle the Mountains of Misery ride down in Blacksburg.  Because there is a real danger that I’ll be boring the arse off everyone with tales of my heroic (ha ha) randonneuring adventures.  Therefore, it is best to get it all out of my system now.

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In Death Valley it is Always A Good Day When No One Actually Dies

You have to be there.  Really.
Here’s the thing about Death Valley.  Photographs don’t do it justice.  Video doesn’t do it justice.  There is no photograph that I’ve taken or seen that conveys the feel of the place, which is what made the valley so special when I first encountered it and which made me so eager to return.  Sure, the images look spectacular, but you don’t have to be in the valley very long to realize that your eyes constantly betray you, and it is really through feel that the valley conveys its substance and scale.  It feels huge.  It feels old.  It feels weathered and trampled by human commerce and still somehow untouched.

You look around and you think “I’m in a valley” and your mental frame of reference slots in a convenient image of some other ordinary valley you’ve encountered.  What you can’t quite grasp is that the valley is the size of the entire state of Delaware, and that the hills framing the valley are some really big ass mountains.  People get lost in this landscape, and lost quickly. If we’re thinking historically, they sometimes get lost permanently.

I lost count of the number of times when we were biking through the valley, on a portion of long, straight road where you could see forever, and I would glance up ahead at a scene framed by mountains that seemed only an outstretched arm away.  With a shock I would then see in the foreground, a tiny black wire strung with slowly shuttling beads, that I realized was the road yet to be traveled, and those tiny beads, moving like the world’s most exhausted ants, were my fellow cyclists, miles ahead.

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Into the Valley of Death

Near Furnace Creek, Death Valley

Plenty of road, but plenty of time?

We had all been through a lot to get here.  Now, as I turned out the light and settled in for what I hoped would be a better than usual restless-night-before-the-big-event sleep the only question was: would we be able to get back here again tomorrow?

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The Running of the Bulls

Bulls in Durham

Durham is filled with Bull

The Year of the Century: Ride 1
Place: Durham, North Carolina
Ride: Habitat Halloween Ride
Date: October 27, 2012

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Watching the Sun Go Down

Revolution 3 Full Rev
Cedar Point, Ohio
September 9, 2012

In the beginning was the Word. . .
It all began at the team dinner the night before.  Oh no, I hear you groan.  This is going to be one of those race reports.  You know the type:

“And then I carefully ripped the top off my first gel, leaving it just barely attached so the tab wouldn’t contribute to the consumer-driven degradation of our environment.  I took a slurp.  Then another slurp.  I was focused, in the moment, so I took a third slurp.   By this point I was having trouble getting the last part of the gel out of the sachet so I had to dig deep and remember my training and concentrate on correct thumb and forefinger pressure.  But in the end it was all worthwhile and the last of the sticky sweetness slipped slickly down my throat.  Then I was ready to take my first salt tab.  Carefully, I opened the packet. . . “

No, this isn’t going to be one of those race reports.

Or maybe it is; I don’t really know yet.

The pre-race team dinner is a tradition with Team Z before each and every Ironman.  This was the third one I’ve attended (I was at Mary’s in 2009 prior to her first Ironman at Placid) and I can say that this was hands down the one I enjoyed most of all.  And the reason, oddly, was that there was barely a mention of the Iron and Half-Iron distance races the next day.  Oh sure, we were all talking about them among ourselves.  But when the coaches came to give their pep talks, it was all about the sprint-turned-5K from that morning.  If you read my last entry you know what a shitty amazing time that was.   Those of us who had supported the race received a gift from the Rev 3 people (a rain poncho, of course!  For some reason I am particularly amused by the fact that the little packet says “Adult Rain Poncho” on it; it seems to promise something vaguely kinky and extra-marital).  The coaches had spent the day assembling a hilarious package of gag gifts for the sprint/5kers so that they would be prepared the next time a race director tried to cancel the race on them.

And all of that felt really good.  I’ve always worried that for people who join the team late in the year, when the Ironman training is in full swing, it must seem as if that is the team’s most important focus, all that we do.  And it isn’t.  The number of people who do an Ironman is still pretty small, and seems to be staying roughly consistent year after year, even as the team grows.  But Iron distance races are enormously demanding on resources, both those of individuals and the team, so they loom disproportionately larger; this year, supporting two Iron distance races in different places on the same day really stretched us.  But the team is about helping people achieve their goals, whatever they might be.  It felt good to be honoring my team-mates who were enduring their disappointment with good grace and class, even though to some of them that sprint has been as important a goal as the Full Rev was for me.  The side effect of all this was that while I had felt more anticipation for the last few days than with my first Iron distance race (not nerves, and not anxiety, but definitely a kind of constant, low-level churning of the system) I felt relaxed and had one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had before any race.

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