I have a love-hate relationship with these endurance gigs. Long races are a blast, but debilitating cramping for the last two hours sucks. It negates the fun-factor and then some. I have never done a 3+ hour race without cramping. Today was going to be an experiment. Others suggested after the Hampshire 100 race a few weeks ago that my supplemental sodium intake was minuscule. I bought Elite brand electrolytes which have about a 4x higher percentage of sodium than the Endurolytes I've used until now. I added some to my Gatorade mix (the tablets do dissolve with time) and filled a vial for in-race consumption.
I spent the night in White River Junction with Dave Penney, his wife Beth and son Zach at the Fairfield. Zach is 10 months old now and wakes once per night at 3:30am. We planned to get up at 4:30am. Beth warned me he will make a little fuss, as she knows I'm a light sleeper. I told her it couldn't be as bad as the car alarm in 2009 that kept going off all night right below our window. I was looking for a brick to hurl on that car that night. So I brought my electronic noise machine that can go quite loud. I guess Beth thought it was pretty loud. After lights went out, Dave and Beth joked out loud that they could have sex and I wouldn't even notice. Of course, I heard none of this discussion. Great device, that noise machine is.
I did manage to get some sleep. We never got our wakeup call and my alarm never went off. Good thing Dave has a built-in alarm clock. I had to eat, poop and kit up in 20 minutes. Not nearly enough time. I hate starting a race with unfinished business.
Race organizers suggested a small light may be a good idea, because it might be hard to see at 6am. Well, it was friggin black out at 6am! I rode down from may car a few hundred meters to the start line. I did not plan to warm up anyway even if I had time. It was the warmest ever lining up for this race, high 60's probably, and near 100% humidity. It was soupy. This did not bode well for me in staving off cramping.
Staging was a mess. Seems things went awry with bib number assignment this year. Best I can tell, many if not all folks that didn't do this race last year had their pre-reg wrong. They halted bib pickup for a while the evening before to sort the mess out. Then lining up for the race, they regrouped waves with different start times. I was supposed to be in first wave but got bumped back to second. Singlespeeders were supposed to be in second, but got moved up to first wave. Many singlespeeders missed their start by 5 minutes because of this last minute change.
Lining up in the first wave was Ted King (Liquigas). Many mountain bikers don't know who Ted is (yet). I think it is really cool that events like the VT50 draw this caliber of talent, but it is a double-edged sword. The VT50 could go the way of Leadville, where it becomes impossible to get in and the last vestiges of its grassroots beginnings all but vanish. The race filled in what, 10 minutes for 800 entries this year? I see either a lottery system or big fee increase for next year.
Ok, time to get on with the race. My wave rolls out at 6:05am. There were just enough guys with lights so I could avoid crossing wheels or entangling bars. The first mile is downhill pavement at 30mph. Kind of nuts when you can't see a thing. Due to Irene damage and recent rain, the course was altered a bit. We began climbing immediately on a dirt road that turned into doubletrack. I could not see the roots and rocks and was riding purely reactively. I took it pretty easy, riding way within my limits. At least 40 riders in my wave went on ahead of me. If I stayed with them, I'd cramp in 2.5hrs instead of 3hrs. I figured 0.5hrs less pain and suffering was worth it.
There wasn't much singletrack in the first couple hours of riding. It wasn't as muddy as I feared either. To be sure, there were some nasty, juicy jeep road descents that quickly cloaked my bike and body in goo. I started with a 100oz Camelbak and was sucking it down at a profound rate. I added 6 Elite Tablytes to it, or about 900mg of sodium plus other electrolytes. It didn't taste salty at all. I reached back for my vial of tablets. It wasn't there! The one thing I did not want to forget was my electrolytes. So much for my experiment. I still had more electrolytes in my Camelbak than typical, so not all was lost. My plan was to ditch the starter 100oz Camelbak at the 30 mile stop and pick up a 70oz pack I had sent there. The VT50 uses HEED on the course, and that stuff is a lower GI disaster for me.
On Garmin Hill, I caught up to Alec Petro (Corner Cycle). I knew something was wrong, as I was not going very hard at all and I expected him to win my age category. He was coming down with a nasty bug and was abandoning the race. I felt bad for him, but that opened a podium spot. I finished 4th in 2009.
I got my first cramping spasm about 30 miles into the race, just before exchanging Camelbaks. I didn't want to look at my elapsed time, as I knew it would be disappointing. I bet I had just over 3hrs at that point. Clockwork. Doesn't matter how hard or easy I go. I will cramp in 3hrs. Beth was at this stop. When I asked how far up Dave was, she said I didn't want to know. He was riding singlespeed and I was a little surprised I hadn't caught him yet. I passed many of the other singlespeeders. He was at least 15 minutes up. Dang. Not only was I not chipping away at his 5min head start, he was just motoring away from me. Good for him.
Less than an hour later I got a full-blown muscle spasm. They start in my inner thighs, then progress to hamstrings and quads, until I am no longer able to flex my knee. So I immediately shut things down to prevent this from progressing to the point it did in the Hampshire 100 a few weeks ago. I started walking up all the climbs. If the climbs are steep enough, you really don't lose much time anyway. This sucked. I was steadily passing riders from the first wave, now they were passing me back.
We enter a part of the course that is mostly singletrack. Despite a week of heavy rain, the singletrack was actually in good shape. It was moist, but not muddy. There was this long descent with non-stop switchbacks. The off-camber roots were treacherous. A foot came out many times just in case. This long session of delicately picking my way through a mine field of potential mishaps allowed my body to regain some electrolyte balance. I was able to pedal uphill again without throwing my legs into tizzies. I caught back up to three younger riders and had a few trailing me too. We stayed together for the next several miles.
At the race start, I heard that since some singletrack was taken out of the race, some extra road was put in and the distance would be 54 miles. Then I saw a sign that said 4mi to go when I had only 44mi on my computer. What? That meant a 2mi climb up the XC trails on Mt Ascutney and the 1mi plummet down to the finish were about all that was left for the race. I thought I hadn't had a spasm in 30 minutes, so I can totally drop these six guys on that climb. And I did.
I had no idea where the cramping demons went, but they didn't arrise for the next 15 minutes. I felt right on the cusp the whole time. Maybe there was something to this increased sodium intake. I'm always in cramping hell for the last 10mi of this race. I still had no idea of my elapsed time as I began the descent to the finish. There were no riders in sight behind me. I had passed one more during the climb.
I finished in 5:14:33, about 36 minutes faster than 2009. This might have netted a top 20 overall finish. I no more than finished when Alby King rolled in. Huh? He should have been way ahead of me. He decided the race wasn't hard enough and went on a 20 minute off-course excursion. Glad I kept the power on even after I dropped the others, as Alby would surely have caught me. So with Alec dropping out and Alby's snafu, that bumped me up to third place in the Expert 45+ field. Woo-hoo! Scored a jug of Vermont pure maple syrup for my effort.
Coming through finish. Photo by Beth Penney.
Dave Penney continued to put distance on me after the 30 mile mark. He won the singlespeed division, and best I can tell, placed 4th overall with a time of 4:37:50! This certainly was his day. I ride with Dave a lot and have long known he is capable of a result like this. Nice way to redeem yourself after Greylock, eh?
It turned out to be not such a bad day. It got very warm after I finished when the sun came out. Just standing around, I was sweating buckets. I had to stick around a few hours to claim my dropped Camelbak. It takes an army of volunteers to put on a race like this. They all do a fabulous job. The hickup with registration and staging this year was an anomally that probably won't happen again. I see this event doing nothing but gain popularity. This year the mountain bike and running races both max'd out with 800 and 550 competitors respectively.
Anyway, I have mixed feelings about continuing to compete in events like these. People assume that because I'm a pretty good climber, I would naturally excel in a long race that is all climbing. While I can't really say I suck in the VT50, I feel like I'm completely out of my league. It's a whole different beast. I can take Dave in a sub-hour hillclimb by several minutes, but he can put better part of an hour on me in a race like the VT50. He excels in endurance, I have a high VOmax. People are just built differently like that. I'll still probably do Ironcross in two weeks if the weather looks good. I will remember my salt tablets though!