Saturday, October 15, 2011

Furnace Creek 508 2011 Race Report

Its been almost a week since the 2011 508 finished and I have had enough time to sort out the emotional ups and downs, race successes and failures, and describe the experience.   For months I have been thinking about this race and  trying to figure out how to ride fast, not just survive like I did in 2006.    I know that the 508 is famous for throwing a ton of curveballs to each of the racers and throwing them off their plan.   I felt that my training was great, but still wondered what would happen after 200 miles as I had not done any training beyond that for this years ride.   What would happen to me out there?   I would find out soon enough that the 508 would have many demons hiding the bushes to sabotage me.

My first real ultra was the 508 in 2006, so I know the course.   The week up to the event went really easy this time as I took a couple of weeks to slowly prepare all the gear and equipment so it was way less stressful.  The crew and I took off to the race, easily got through vehicle and bike inspection and were ready for the race.   The weather was perfect as we snaked out of town.  I made my way towards the front of the pack and we hit San Francisquito Canyon.   I was riding comfortably at about 280 watts average up the canyon.  This was higher than the 250 I was supposed to ride based on the pre-work analysis I did.   It felt so easy, that I could not resist cranking it up a bit to stay up in the front.  When we pulled into Johnson Summit, I was in 4th place which was pretty unusual for me.  The feeling of passing all the cars and get the great support from so many crew members pumped me up.   Steve LaChaine, a strong ultra guy I did Hoodoo Voyager with exclaimed,  "Dude.. your in 4th place!"  Hmm.  I wonder if this was a good thing or not.   

I pushed onto the flats and the team met me and we swapped out to the TT Bike and Helmet.  I started cruising at the pre-planned 210 watts for the flats and rollers and felt great as I had trained for hours at this pace, doing several 3+ hour training sessions at this wattage,  and it was really easy.   This was to be my "treatment" for the next 8 hours or so I and settled into my rope-a-dope as I told my crew.   I calmly cranked out the miles and my crew gracefully supported me.     After Escape Goat passed for a few minutes, I passed back and stayed in that position for the next 150 miles.   I swapped back to road bike for the the WindMill Climb came and went easily at about 250 watts.  Piece of cake.   Then we swapped back to the TT bike and smoked it very hard into California City.  I was hitting about 29 MPH on the flats into town and ripped it past the time station. It was fast riding all the way to the Randsberg Climb which I did in the TT bike.  This started to hurt, but I was able to hold about 220 watts or so, which was in the sweet spot.    I had been drinking a bottle of home brew maltodextrin and fructose concoction which contained approx 360 cals of carbs an hour to this point.

We took the left towards Trona and I noticed I was slowing down slightly.   It was getting a bit warmer and the fatigue of riding without any rest started to hit a bit.  Overall I was still good.  A photographer caught a bunch of shots of me descending towards Trona and I was getting excited to get to Time Station 2 in 4th place.     I pulled in and we were told that the only gas station in town was out of gas and we would have to figure out a plan B.    I was getting used to being in the front of the race, although I knew there were a ton of people bearing down on me and we kept up the ride to the Trona Bump.

 The next section to the base of Trona started out mellow.  I had swapped out to the road bike, but I should have waited a bit as it was pretty flat for quite a few miles.     It was a great descent after the Trona bump and I settled into some nice rollers to the the base of Townes Pass.  The team managed to score some gas in Panamint Springs and get to me about 5 miles shy of the start of the climb.  We went into night follow mode and started the climb up Townes Pass before night fall.  The going was slow.  I locked into 200 watts and pushed up the climb steadily.  Wade Baker passed me here and was climbing like a maniac up the hill standing up on his pedals and looking really strong.  I tried to ignore him and stick to my boring plan.   I was in a tunnel climbing the hill and it was over in about 1:20 from the bottom.  Not fast, but ok.  I grabbed a jacket and started the long descent into Death Valley.

I did not really open up on this as I felt nervous about descending too fast at night.  It seemed to take forever, but we finally hit the flats and swapped out the TT Bike.   Escape Goat came by and took off like I was standing still on the flats.  I was feeling tired and could tell that my power was flagging.   Hmm.   I look down and notice my Heart Rate was about 120 and my power was about 140 watts avg on the flats compared to 210 all day on the way to Townes Pass.  I did not have any pains or aches, but I have no power.  Maybe I needed some Rock Star or Diet Coke I thought.  I continue to ride down toward Furnace Creek TS3 and am just fatigued and not able to put two and two together.    Hoopoe passes us before the Time Station.  Damn.  I am really slowing down now.  I cant stay with anybody.  My Heart Rate is now about 110.   No power.  No nothing.  The reader might wonder why we dont have a quick team meeting and discuss.  But, in the bubble of the ride and not wanting to get off the bike I just blindly plod on.   Silly mistake number 1 was being realized.  Sugar Free Rock Star and Diet Coke dont bring on power.  Without realizing it, I had stopped taking in my carb sources and starved my body of carbs.   My team thought at least the Rock Star had sugar in it, but we had not communicated too well on this part.  I was feeling ok, but putting out the power of a ride with my daughter to the park.  Yet, I did not want to regroup.   Martin my crew mate made me a sandwich which went down well.   But we pulled into time station 3 with me flagging badly.   Notice how my HR drops from the start to the end of this section in Badwater.   I would expect it to drop, but not like this.  At least I was still moving.

Now were in Badwater and I am pedaling still in my self created miasma of low power.    We took the left  up Jubilee pass and I climbed this slightly faster at 166 watts.  Great American Toad, the original RAAM team passed by looking real strong, and I kept going.  The descent to the base of the Salisbury climb came and went and we headed up the main climb.   Here we got passed by several solos.  Martin made me some strong coffee half way up as I was close to falling asleep and it seemed to kick in.  I think we had another sandwich and a lot of Diet Coke and Diet Rock Star, but no main carb drink as I was brain dead and not able to properly communicate with my team as we continued in the carb depletion mode.      I ended up doing both climbs at 150 watts and a total time of 2 hours and 20 minutes.   The good thing is the coffee was really strong I found out later as I actually enjoyed the descent into Shoshone which was first night descent I liked.  Descending when tired is not one of my favorite things as I cant get the thoughts of disaster out of my head and want it over.

Was in the death march from Shoshone to Baker.  The weather was great and it was a beautiful sunrise.  The true beauty of the desert reveals itself in the early morning.  The long shadows over the distant mountain ranges were slowly disappearing and this was really nice riding.  I was slow as hell though, but more resolved to keep pedaling and hope to not get passed too many more times.  We kept moving.    We did a quick clothes change before Baker which felt great and we headed into the Mad Greek and Baker with my stomach starting to feel awful.  Damn.   I ordered a giant Gyro and Strawberry milk shake from the crew and took off slowly while they fueled up and did what they needed to in Baker.  About 20 minutes later they came.   I was crawling having just been passed by Honey Badger and Turkey Vulture with his unusual short cranks that I am guessing were Power Cranks.    When the crew came up with the bag of food, I was worried about eating it.  Martin said that it would solve all my problems.  I liked his confidence and scarfed the whole Gyro and Milkshake in 3 minutes and amazingly my stomach felt great.  I took off a bit stronger to the top feeling better than I have since the beginning of Death Valley.     The never ending climb finally started to top out as the road decayed.  The descent was slow as I could not bomb it like I would have wanted to as I was afraid of falling as I had taken on a noticeable lean to the right due to some overcompensation I was not aware of, but my crew and observers were.  They thought I was suffering from an inner ear infection, mild stroke, or something, but I told them I was just a bit tired and this lean was no big deal.   When we pulled into Kelso, the guy running the station mentioned my lean, but I told him I was ok and it was a natural compensation due to 400 miles of hell.    Luckily, I found out my crew mate Martin has a secret career as a  chiropractor and masseuse and was able to quickly work me over and make me feel alot better.     He is a man of many hidden talents!     I was suffering from awful hot foot for the last 100 miles.  Martin took a look at my feet and exclaimed I had witches feet.  They were so tight and cramped I could barely move them.  I screamed while he worked on my painful witch feet until I felt almost as good as new.  We took off quick to Boulder Mountain.  Being able to see the rocks of the summit made this a much easier climb than the previous one.  I was on fire now and pedaling harder than I had since Townes Pass.

The team started to realize that we might be running a carb deficit and started jamming gus and powerbars   packing my mouth to the point of absurdity.  I was acting like angry child at the force feeding and  would secretly spit out the bars like a mental patient snubbing their meds.    It is uncanny how difficult it is to prepare to deal with your behaviour at mile 450.  You need your crew to force feed you to get the carbs in because you will resist no matter what.    Martin told me that I was unable to mentally comprehend what was necessary for me to succeed and I was in something akin to a diabetic coma, wandering around blindly in the desert.  He was onto something.  I was happy to start getting some power, and finally was realizing that I needed to start eating more   Bring on the maple syrup shots if you really want to make this interesting!   From famine to feast, but hey, something was happening.  I was moving up the climb from Kelso with a power surge.  I passed Pancake Tortoise and another solo easily, kind of like the way Honey Badger and Turkey Vulture did to me on the Baker climb.  This was my first power surge in 12 hours and it felt great.    We cranked up to the top of Granite Mountain and ripped down the backside.  I passed Mako at this point and was happy to be back in the game.     We got to Almost Amboy and were told we had to follow in the car due to a decree by the RD in the name of safety.  I waited as we got the follow going and took off with Spike the Wonder Dog and Mako in the vicinity.

The last time I did this stage in 06 I was having massive hallunications including a life altering discussion with a 50 foot Mastodon, so my memory of the route was a bit off.  This is a pretty easy section and I should have been in TT Bike, but I settled into a slowish pace behind Mako as it was getting hot and I did not want to pass and then stop for a cool down and get passed again, so I tried to be not too annoying and stay back 100 yards or so.  I imagine we were pretty annoying hanging back there.   The sun was mocking me on this section baking me on the right side.  I yelled at it, but it did not seem to care.     We kept moving up and every 20 minutes or so I would stop to get a cool down with the ice from the cooler.    I was paranoid I was going to get heat exhaustion at this point which was silly, but a good indication of the fatigue I was in after 34 hours solid of riding hard and suffering.   We finally crested the hill and I took the descent conservatively and we hit the long straight slightly up hill into 29 Palms.   Knowing we were close to the end I cranked up the power to over 200 watts for the first time in a long time.  I pulled past Mako for the last time and knew Wild Turkeywas  not far ahead as he had passed when I was delusional about the heat.  I started to really crank hard as if the governor holding me back completely broke.  I could not be stopped and figured that 36 hours might be crackable.  Full out assault until the left on Utah Trail.  My crew mate needed a pit stop and we waited a minute or so and kept the hard assault to the end.     I probably should have been enjoying this bit, but  I decided to go all in to try and break 36 and road maniacally through 29 Palms almost to the point of being ridiculous.  I just missed breaking 36 hours, but almost collapsed at the end.    I looked about 75 years old though at the end completely caked in salt and had several people ask me if I was ok.  I had trouble standing up for about 15 minutes.   Not the most graceful exit, but  I left it all out on the road.  In 2006 it took me 46:36 to finish.  Looking at the all time race stats, I have one of the biggest improvement in finishing times of 10 hours and 32 minutes.    Thats a reward in itself I guess.

The crew was awesome.   We had such a cruise on the first day, then a lot of pain and suffering on day two, but finished strong.  They really were the greatest team a guy could have.  I will never forget their support in this journey.   These rides give us a rare opportunity to peek into the magical world of dreams,  visions and leave our normal concepts of mind and body behind.  The competition, the watts, the fueling drop out as you realize that you just have to pedal and move forward.  What could be more simple than that?    I really want to thank Chris Kostman and all the volunteers that give us the opportunity to surf in this alternate reality.   Its a true gift to anybody who goes as the person that comes out the other side is always better off, usually in ways not known for many months or years.

2011 Furnace Creek WebCast with Results and Photos

Peformance Analysis

I did a bit of research to determine the best approach to using power for the 508.  There is not a lot of information available for Ultra road cycling events like this.  The closest information available is from the 24 hour endurance mountain biking world.  A few riders train with power and blog about and I found out some of the elite guys can hold 60-70 IF for the 24 hour rides.    I planned on starting off at about 250 watts for the climbs average power, and about 200-210 for the flats and rollers.   This was pretty doable for the first 12 hours, but clearly I was unable to keep this going and you can see power drop to 148 watts avg at hour 16 and never recover from there.   This could be fueling issues, major fatigue, or just what Ultracycling does to you.  I might have burned alot of matches with my fast start.  I need more experience on very long rides with power to see if I can keep things going stronger at night.    You can really see my exuberance in the first four hours.  You can really see how I fell into a hole at hours 24-27.  I would like to come back soon and work out my fueling and pacing issues and take a few more hours off of my time.  

Ride Stats Part 1
Ride Stats Part 2
Ride Stats Part 3


Balvindar Singh said...

Chris! Nice write-up and fantastic job this year. Great to share a few miles w/ you. Nice odds choices too :)

See you on the road up north.

Bal "Honey Badger"

Chris O'Keefe said...

Thanks Bal. You were an inspiration out there. I am impressed with your pacing. You crushed it from Baker in which is hard to do. You will be dangerous next year with so much course knowledge!

BTW, I am thinking of taking this Ultra Odds work more seriously ;) Am surprised I was able to pull you and EscapeGoat out of my hat for breakthrough performances ;) The other two were pretty obvious.

Balvindar Singh said...

Thanks Chris. You only missed Turkey Vulture (who Adam and I tipped to be a real competitor--just look at his Alta Alpina results and various hill climb times in San Diego).

I think this year went well because I didn't have pressure or eyes on me. Next year, that'll be interesting...also want to give Hoodoo a shot (but maybe not Voyager just yet).

See you for the various Doubles? It'll be fun to ride w/ people I know now!

Chris O'Keefe said...

I noticed Honey Badger and Turkey Vulture we seconds apart. Was it an all out race at the end in 29 Palms?

Steve Saeedi said...

Thanks for helping me relive my rookie year on the 508. It was an absolute blast and was a lot of fun with my teammate and crew. I hope to relive this again next year. I did not realize I had passed you on the final leg into Twenty Nine Palms. I had set my aim for Spike and relaxed a bit when we overtook them right before the final climb

Man, what fun!

- Steve "Spotted Ass"

Balvindar said...

It was an all-out race pretty much to the left-hand turn onto that stupid frontage road. I caught TV there, but he was ahead of me so I let me go ahead. I was thinking that a sprint would look pretty ugly/dangerous. All good. I got a pretty nice time, which matters more. But had I had another mile...

Chris O'Keefe said...

Classy way to finish and not do something stupid at the end that did not match the style of the previous 509 miles. I still don't understand the PowerCranks on a ride like this. Thats maniacal!

Balvindar Singh said...

PowerCranks plus how short the arms are?! Makes my brain hurt. I have no idea why...

Hoodoo next year? Adam wants me to do 2X with him but I want Voyager...

Chris O'Keefe said...

I need to take a year off from 500's have a lot of family stuff coming up, but plan on hitting the 508 again in 2013. I recommend the Voyager. But the two of you guys attacking as a two man is cool as well.

Balvindar Singh said...

I want Voyager, but I'm scared of it. 2X would be a nice entry, although it is far less cool.

I'm sure the family obligations will be a welcome departure from the bike. Luckily for me I don't think I have any children...yet...

Chris O'Keefe said...

Voyager is well within you. Just need to be prepared for cold over Boulder. I think you would do fine.

Bob4Aplz said...

Awesome post and awesome job, Chris! (Side note: Steve Saeedi, you were super strong out there. Very inpressive. Enjoy it while you can! Ha!)

Bob "Spike the Wonder Dog"