Monday, October 29, 2012

The Lowell 50: lost and found! (part 2)

For part 1 of this report, go here! Also, check my buddy Joe's account of the race here!

So I was saying, Joe had taken off on his 50 mile journey. Charles was up near the front waiting for the 28 mile race to start. Kendal, Dan and I were at the back.

"Go!"

It was time to race! Being near the back, it took a few moments after the start signal before we were actually going. But eventually I was in the saddle and rolling forward. We took a immediate left out of the parking lot where the race started. I had decided to just stick with Dan early on and rode to his right. I took a peek back and saw Kendal rolling along at a pretty leisurely pace. Truth be told, she could have probably done pretty well in the race. But being on all new equipment and clothes, plus a week of working a crazy schedule, she just wanted to treat the race as a moderate level workout.

As soon as I turned my head forward, Dan had taken off a bit. Dan, Dan, Dan. The thing about Dan is...he's very competitive and prideful even when his abilities aren't able to quite back up his competitiveness and pride! I started spinning up and caught his wheel. We started passing a fair number of people. The first mile of the course is pretty flat with a couple upward and downward undulations. On one of the downward sections, I was inches off Dan's wheel and freewheeling while he was trying to pass as many people as he could. I couldn't help but egg him on a bit,

"Man! Drafting off you is awesome! I don't even have to pedal!"

"Get away from me!!!!!", screamed Dan as he attempted to speed away.

I just stayed on his wheel a few feet back to avoid any potential mishaps.

After a little over mile, we took a right and onto the first dirt road of the day! It was a bit damp from the previous days rain, but you could only tell by the color contrast and not by the way it felt. I stayed right behind Dan as we continued to pass a lot of the back of the pack riders. Then the road turned up hill. This is where Dan struggles. And this is where I do OK for someone that doesn't really train. Ever. This hill averaged about 8% grade over close to a third of a mile. Yeah, yeah...a mere speed bump for those that train in hilly states. But for us michiganders, this is like climbing Everest! I was feeling very good so I decided to climb out of the saddle. I left Dan behind and started passing groups of people. It was very narrow and very crowded. I had to squeeze past riders on either side and sometimes in between riders very close together. I got to the top still feeling pretty fresh. Took a peek back and couldn't see Dan anymore. I was riding with strangers the rest of the way.

For the remainder of the race, I decided to do my own thing. But what I found out was that it's really difficult to figure out how hard you should go. I started going at what I thought was a good pace.  But a mile later, I knew it was a pace I couldn't sustain. So I backed off. But then, that seemed too easy. I pretty much kept increasing effort and decreasing effort for most of the race, trying in vain to find a good, steady effort level.

After a bit, I caught up to Joe on yet another hill.

"Joe! How's it going?"

To which he replied, "Good. This course is hilly!"

That it was! It felt like there were very few flat sections! I had read reports about the Lowell 50 that indicated it was pretty hilly. But a day or two before the race, Dan texted me say that he looked at the elevation profile and it looked pretty flat. Never listen to Dan!

I wanted to keep my momentum up the hill so I continued on to let Joe ride his race.

As with triathlons and half-marathons I've done, my mind begins to sorta wander. A few of thoughts were:
  • I'm am not cold at all! My cold weather riding choices were brilliant! Testing is overrated.
  • Wow. I'm actually a bit warm when climbing up a hill in full sun.
  • I hope Kendal is OK. I wonder if those arm warmers as base layer were overkill?
  • This is a pretty small race. Not a lot of riders in front or behind me. I hope no one gets lost.
  • I'm brilliant for insisting that everyone have their phone with them to GPS their way back if they get lost!
  • I should eat one of my Honey Stinger gels soon even though I don't feel like it.
  • If, somehow, Dan catches back up with me...I will die of shame! 
  • I should start thinking of excuses for poor performance now...just in case.
  • Why am I so slow? Half the people in front and behind me are on mountain bikes!
About 45 minutes into the race, I figured I should eat a gel. I took one out, ripped the top off with my teeth and started to consume the gel. By the time I was done,  several people had passed! I have not yet learned how to eat on the bike without slowing down to like 10mph. I was so annoyed, I didn't end up eating either of my two other gels for the rest of the race. Mistake? No clue!

For hydration, I had plenty of Hammer Endurolyte Fizz. I was very conscious about staying hydrated because I have a tendency to forget to drink enough, then 30-40 miles into a ride I'm barely moving forward, nearly falling off my bike of exhaustion and dehydration. Funny thing is, despite trying to stay hydrated, I did have some minor cramping issues in both calves. But nothing major. Every time they started cramping, I'd stop pedaling, stand up, stretch each calf out and slow down for a little bit.

The rest of the race went well. I just rode within myself. I had no strategy, I'm just not that fancy. Didn't draft or paceline. Passed people when I could. Stayed back when I couldn't (not so much to avoid drafting but to avoid crashing).

But at some point, a group did start pacelining behind me! For miles! Which, really isn't a HUGE deal. But it was sort of annoying because when they started to go around me with 3-5 miles left in the race, I found that I just didn't have the legs to keep up. Could I have kept up if I had been one of the ones drafting? Or maybe if I was on file tread tires instead of knobby tires? Or was it my nutrition/hydration? Who knows. Maybe I'll race "smarter" next time.

I finished with no one very close behind or in front of me, so no sprint necessary. But I felt pretty ok...not super strong, but not completely wiped! My finishing stats:

Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes, and 14.84 seconds
Average Speed: 15.81mph
Position: 16th out of 26 finishers in my division
               83rd out of 138 finishers overall for the 28 mile race

Not very good. BUT...honestly, it was still better than I thought I'd do! I was afraid I wouldn't average much over 14mph. I consider my performance a success!

After crossing the finish line, I figured it wouldn't be very long before Dan and Kendal crossed as well. So I planted myself on the grass to the side thinking I could get a couple good pictures of them. 5 minutes passed. 10 minutes passed. 15 minutes passed. Hmm. That's odd. A little more time passed. The clock read 2 hours and 15 minutes. I expected both of them to finish not too much after the 2 hour mark. It was at 2:15...which would put their pace at less than 13mph. Something must have gone wrong. Crash? Flat? Lost? I decided to text both of them.

To Dan: "Hurry up!!!!"

To Kendal: "Hope you did not get lost or crash! See you soon!"

Then Charles found me near the finish line. We chatted for a bit. He did quite well! 1:31:53 (18.3mph)!!!! Then, my phone rings. It's Kendal.

"Uh, I'm completely lost. I'm in the middle of nowhere."

I think this is one those things that happen to illustrate that one still has some growing to do. You see, there are many ways to react to this situation. And there's a spectrum that spans the distance from "good response" to "you're a moron." Lets go over a few of the possible responses:
  1. "Are you okay? Are you in a safe location? I'll come get you!"
  2. "WTF?! How did that happen?!!
  3. burst out laughing
I found my way to the first response. Eventually. But I opened with the third response. Wrong end of the spectrum. My outburst was met with a very terse, and very frightening, "It's not funny." That set me straight to where I got myself to the first response. She wanted me to pick her up. I asked her what two streets she was by. She wasn't sure but would call me back in a few minutes as soon as she knew. Told Charles the scoop and I was off to the car. Chucked everything in the car as fast as I could. Kendal called to let me know she was by the corner of Ingalls and Benton. iPhone says it's 20 minutes away. While driving, I get a text from Kendal saying that there's another guy who got lost and can't find his way back or follow the 50 mile signs back. She said to see if Dan can come and help the other rider. Literally seconds after I read that text, I get a call from Dan. He's lost too!!!! Dan said he's on his way back via some other route. I told him about Kendal and said I'd call him after I get Kendal, to make sure he got back safe. I decided I'd just have to make room for three bikes and three riders in my Ford Focus! In the meantime, Kendal had some fun on Facebook:


Once I arrived, I loaded Kendal and fellow wayward racer John and their bikes into the car and headed back to the race finish. By the time we got back, Dan had returned and already left Lowell, MI.

I did not get lost. But only because of luck. The markings were pretty inconsistent and often very very small. I was lucky to see all or most of them. And I was lucky to be following people who saw them correctly or just knew where they were going.

But others were not so fortunate. Kendal was with a group that got lost. Dan was also with a group that got lost. Later, I found out that Joe also got lost on the 50 mile route.

Once back at the finish, Kendal decided she wanted some tomato soup for her misfortune. While getting some soup, the volunteer asked her how the race went.

"Not well. I got lost."

Instead of sympathizing and apologizing, the volunteer had the audacity to ask,

   "Well, didn't you follow the course markings?"

   "Yes, but the markings weren't very good."

   "Yes they were. I marked them myself. No one else got lost."
  
   "Yes, they did. There were several lost riders."

   "Well, maybe someone came along and pulled the markings off."

The sad part is, by the time we were driving back, Kendal was no longer upset and was totally fine that she got lost. And didn't feel overly negative about the event. But after the attitude of that volunteer, she never wants to do this race again and will tell anyone that asks for her opinion to never do this race. Customer service people, customer service.

Kendal finished her tomato soup and bread. And left with a very sour taste in her mouth thanks to that ungracious volunteer. Luckily, we were on our way to meet our good friends Lindey and Marvin in Grandville for lunch. And that cheered her up instantly! :)

Conclusion? Mixed bag. The course was very nice, very pretty. It was challenging. The other riders were all pleasant. But the course markings and general organization was not great. Plus, they had at least one less than fantastic volunteer. I'd be on the fence about doing this race again. I wouldn't be surprised if Kendal, Dan, and Joe would never want to do this race again until they get more organized and improve their course markings.

My friend Josh says I need more pictures for a blog. So I stole some of Joe's pictures and one of Kendal's!






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