Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Summer in September

It just doesn't get any better than September in the Tetons. Truly. Warm days, crisp nights, blue skies, colors popping, elk bugling...somebody pinch me.

Temperatures have literally felt like August recently. We've taken advantage, and done some epic mountain bike rides and other outings.  This is Joanne on pristine singletrack up by Elk Flats, en route to Garn's mountain. Incredible day.

My Jackson basketball team had its annual "Fall Classic" golf tournament at the Teton Reserve course in Victor, Idaho on Saturday.  Here are a few of the guys at the start, displaying the trophy I ended up winning for low score. Total amatuer luck.

It was a beautiful day to be golfing in Teton Valley, and catching up with these guys.  Some of them have been playing basketball together for over 30 years. I've been with them for 15 years now, and it's like a family.  This is Jere teeing off, with Paul & Tom standing by. Good times.

My swim stroke has been like a bad golf swing, so last weekend I attended a semi-private lesson with former U.S. Olympic Triathlete Barb Lindquist, who resides in Victor. It was held at the nice outdoor Teton Springs pool, and I learned a few things, for sure. Seeing myself on video was a bit horrifying, but helpful. Lots of practice time ahead.

Last week was also a big ride to Piney Pass with Dave & Michelle.  Good friends Steve & Kim showed up on their ATV with new black lab puppy "Carbon."  I like the fact that at least some mountain bikers and ATV enthusiasts can get along.

Sunday was our annual ride to the top of Garn's peak, high point in the Big Hole mountains west of Driggs. Jordan, Michelle and Joanne paused to take it all in, with Tetons glittering in the background.  How sweet it is.

Happy Fall!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

LOTOJA Bike Race Report: Podium, At Last!

For the fourth consecutive year, I was part of LOTOJA - a 206-mile, one-day bike race from Logan, Utah to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  It's the longest USCF (united stated cycling federation)-sanctioned bike race in the country, comprises over 10,000 feet of climbing, and attracts top racers from all over North America. 

This year I entered the 2-Person Relay category with my super-strong cousin, Brent. Coming from a team sports background, the teamwork aspect appealed to me, plus we felt we could do well. From day one, Brent & I had our sights set on a Podium finish (top 5), and scheduled our spring & summer training accordingly.  For early season fitness, we did the Moab Xterra (May) and Boise Half-Ironman (June) triathlons, finishing within minutes of each other each time. Below is the conclusion of the Boise bike leg, where we literally rolled into transition right next to each other. Genes are a crazy thing.

By late June, we were focusing almost exclusively on cycling. Several climbing-intensive 70-100 mile outings built our base, and also our understanding of individual strengths. The photo below was taken on a brutally demanding Kamas-to-Hanna, UT training ride back in July, which really hurt but definitely catapulted my fitness forward.  There was also a Little & Big Cottonwood Canyon day, a Teton Pass-Grand Targhee day, Ketchum-to-Stanley, Emigration Canyon, and more.

Plus, a couple dozen mountain bike rides for me.

Brent has done more road biking than I, and without question has a deeper strength base. I worked my butt off this year to get to his level, and by the time Labor Day rolled around I was leaner than I'd been since college.  Brent was down to fighting weight & power, too. We divided LOTOJA race sections up between us according to ability and strategy, and prayed for no mechanical issues.  For final inspiration, we cued up Al Pacino's speech from "Any Given Sunday."  And then, we went out and fought for that inch on race day, for each other.  Which is what it came down to for a Podium spot.  

My brother Curt and friend Russ were both tackling LOTOJA solo for the first time this year (top photo w/me), and I enjoyed pre-race registration and dinner with them on Friday.  Saturday race morning dawned unusually warm.  I was riding the first leg, and awoke at 4:30am without an alarm. My system was ready, jumping out of my skin like a cat after a one-week taper. The temperature was 60-degrees, unheard of for Logan, Utah in mid-September...but no complaints! It dipped a bit right before sunrise, but was still high 50's when I stepped up to start with the 2-person group at 7:04am.  Here I am with Brent right before I rolled to the start.

It was nice to run into several people I know around the starting line, definitely a benefit to becoming a veteran racer.  A little conversation helped soothe the nerves, but that "edge" was still in my belly, raring to go.  I've never felt so ready.  I needed that energy immediately, because at mile 15 three racers went down ten yards in front of me and skidded sideways into my line. Suddenly I was a mountain biker again, bunny hopping sideways at 20mph without going off the righthand shoulder.  I was stunned, grateful I hadn't gone down, and pretty shaken up the rest of that first 34-mile leg into Preston, ID.  It's always a sketchy leg to get through, because the groups are so big, there is so much nervous energy, and this is everyone's "A" race for the year...but this year was worse than usual in that regard.

I came into Preston at the front of the 2-person group, but knew there were at least a dozen other really strong riders in our category. Brent then headed off for 47-miles to Montpelier, ID, including 3,000 feet of climbing up Strawberry Pass.  He hammered it, and pulled a couple of the other top riders up the climb with him.  He had to wait for water at neutral aid near the top of the climb, which cost us a minute, and then got caught at the ridiculous stoplight in Montpelier, which also cost us a minute or two...but still had us near the top 5 when I took the timing chip and started my 80-mile leg all the way to Alpine, WY.

It's always tough to get going again after stopping for a couple of hours, but I felt good. This was my money leg, with climbs up Geneva Pass and then the high point of the race and my favorite, Salt River Pass.  I started reeling people in, and soon passed the leading Cat 1 women and then one of our 2-person competitors.  In hindsight, I probably pushed it a little too hard up Geneva, but I loved the fact that I was killing everyone on the climb and went with it.

It felt like an individual time trial for the run-up to Salt River Pass. I knew it wasn't the most efficient way to ride, but I just never found a strong group to go with...so I kept my head down and the gas pedal floored.  I passed my brother Curt climbing the steepest pitch of Salt River (he and Russ had started about an hour ahead of us), and learned he was having severe stomach issues. Not good.  I kept climbing, crested the summit, and began the descent to Afton with a strong group of Red Burro Racing guys from Las Vegas.  Our paceline grew to 20 as we swallowed up other riders, and it started feeling sketchy to me again so I moved near the front. As we entered the final corner into Afton, someone bumped my wheel from behind and suddenly everyone behind me went down hard.  Two minutes later an ambulance headed that direction, and my nerves were frayed again.

Official race photography wasn't up to normal snuff this year, and we only came away with a couple of our own photos.  This is Brent during his final Alpine-to-Jackson leg of the day, looking good and going super fast.

I rolled right through Afton without stopping at the aid.  I had picked up a fresh water bottle from neutral support at the top of Salt River Pass, and decided to make my two bottles last the 50 miles to Alpine from there.  It got really warm and breezy through Star Valley, so my water fell a little short. I ran out in Etna, about 10 miles from Alpine. Ten miles doesn't seem like much, but when it's 80-degrees and you've got over 100 miles under your belt at race pace...I got pretty thirsty.  I absolutely emptied my power tank during those final miles, reaching for that inch with every fiber of energy I had, hanging onto a really strong group of 5 other riders in a perfect paceline, and rolled into Alpine completely spent and starting to cramp in my hips. My time for the 80-miles from Montpelier to Alpine was 3hrs 46 minutes, 4,100 calories burned, total climbing during that stretch was 3,300 feet, and my average heart rate was 164. I handed the timing chip to Brent, told him to catch one more rider for our Podium spot, and felt like I was going to puke and cry at the same time. About a gallon of water & gatorade brought me back to coherency again.

Brent absolutely pinned it on the final 47-miles from Alpine to Jackson. The rollers of Snake River Canyon suit his strengths perfectly, and he passed that other 2-person competitor to put us in 5th place.  About ten miles from the finish he proceeded to catch the 3rd & 4th place guys, and we were getting psyched. It was going to be a sprint at the finish, and unless your name is Mark Cavendish, Brent will beat you in a finish sprint. But alas, the cycling gods decided it would be too much excitement, and he flatted with 3-miles to go. Wisely, he decided to continue riding on the flat tire rather than stopping to change it, and we held on for that 5th and final podium spot. We were 2-minutes behind 3rd & 4th place, and only 1-minute ahead of 6th place.  After ten hours and 206-miles, it was that close.

Here's Brent at the finish. Notice the flat rear tire, and the determination.

So, while we were a bit disappointed at not placing as high as 3rd when it was so close, we were totally thrilled at making the Podium.  It's by far the biggest event in which I have made a Podium; it required immense preparation all year and heroic efforts on race day, including perfect crew support from Brent's wife Beth and son Haeden.  I will say that without a doubt, Brent is the guy you want in that fox hole with you.

We hugged like cousins, and commenced smiling.

My brother Curt and friend Russ both finished as well. The smiles lasted all night over dinner and celebrating in Jackson, continued at the awards ceremony the next morning, and are still there today.  Thanks for a great race and lasting memories, cuz!!