Its been a rough year for my fitness. A mountain bike crash last November left me facing surgery in February and a lengthy recovery. No biking makes me quite cranky, so I decided I'd find myself a carrot to put at the end of a stick. That carrot turned out to be the 111k Laramie Enduro endurance mountain bike race. This race has been discovered now, as evident by it selling out within 7 minutes this year.
Luckily, my website refreshing skills were still good and I secured a spot. This is a race I've eyed for 3 or 4 years, but have had some sort of conflict every single year, like the birth of my first child. Finally this year I had a spot with my name on it, now I just had to find some fitness. Finally cleared to ride a bike on June 1st, I was looking at zero (possibly negative) fitness. I had no base miles in my legs. I had no tempo rides under my belt. 8 weeks to get myself some sort of fitness....
I had it all planned out. Using TrainingPeaks.com, I developed a perfect schedule to develop some fitness and finish the Enduro. And then life happened....
Instead of being in beautiful Colorado every day, I found myself traveling for work to Houston, TX sans bike and with an expense account and a weakness for Mexican food and margaritas. No problem, I'll do big rides on the weekend. Well that didn't really work either for lots of reasons (family, weather, a day with 3 flats, etc). Sure I was getting in some rides, but not the 4 and 5 hour rides I wanted. It just seemed the cards were stacked against me.
I sat down with my wife at dinner one night and told her that I had zero chance at finishing the Laramie Enduro, and thought I'd just save time and resources by not even starting. I was resigned to the fact it was again going to get away from me. Talking with a buddy of mine about my failed attempts to train routinely and how I was pretty sure I just wouldn't start, he gave me wisdom for the ages...
"Did not start < Did not finish < Dead freaking last"
That was just what I needed. Maybe I had no business doing a 70+ mile race, but I'd paid and made the arrangements so I might as well go ride and have some fun. If I was blown up after mile 30, then I'd pull the plug and go drink some beer (something I've gotten lots of training in lately).
I'm no racer. My team kit has obviously shrunk in the drier as its tighter than it used to be, and my bike will never be mistaken for some XC weight weenie's bike. Despite all these facts, I've drug myself up and over some big climbs around the area and had huge fun doing it.
Race day came and I found myself lined up on the start line at 7am. I knew I couldn't go out hard on a 70 mile race, so I lined up at the back and slowly made my way up the first climb. It didn't take long for the packs of riders to sort themselves out and I was riding out by myself before too long.
I was taking it 5 miles at a time. Before I knew it I was 30 miles in and feeling pretty good. Now I wasn't up with the leaders, I was pretty much running trail sweep but I was having a good time and riding some fantastic trails. Knowing I would be out for a LONG day, I kept eating and drinking as much as possible.
The weather gurus had called for low 80s and clouds, but what we were treated to was low 90s and a blazing sun. The course itself is pretty exposed, and I was starting to bake out there. Another problem with my training I found is that I had done all my big rides either starting at 6am or up above 9,000 feet. I quickly realized I had not trained my body for the heat. The heat and direct sun was really melting me, many times I had to stop under a shady tree to cool down. I was suffering and my legs were cramping but I was grinding my way through the course.
As the hours ticked by, I found myself on the hardest portion of the course and I felt like I was in reverse. On the bike the off to let the cramps subside, then back on the bike. Rinse and repeat. As I slowly rolled into Aid Station 5 (the last one at mile 60), I was done. I starting openly talking to the volunteers, which were fantastic, about my options for getting a ride back to the start / finish. As I sat in the shade discussing these options, my legs were completely depleted and cramped but I just couldn't bear the thought of living with quitting for an entire year. With some encouragement and course beta from the volunteers, I got back on the bike and off I went.
I don't know if it was the knowledge of only a few finite miles left or if the temps had cooled, but my legs that were completely cramped for the last 20 miles had started to come back. I crested the last big climb, and finally my big pig of a 6" travel bike was in its element, a downhill to the finish. I'd left the start hour nearly 10 hours earlier, but as I made the left turn off the final piece of singletrack onto the dirt road to the finish I felt like I had won the race. I was high fiving everyone on the road, and despite being filthy and covered from head to toe in salt I had finished the race.
I had missed my completely irrational goal of 9 hours, but I had finished which was something that looked like a very distant possibility even 3 hours earlier in the day. Had my buddy not given me that advice, I'm pretty sure I'd have taken the easy way. You never know what is possible unless you try...