ETP 2007: Race Day

Up at 4:45am. Weighed myself at 172.2 lb. Breakfast of cinnamon shredded wheat and milk. Popped 2 Tylenols plus 2 of the Vantage tablets. They recommend 5 beforehand, but I stayed conservative, not knowing if it would agree with me. Grabbed an apple on the way out. Glad I only had to drive 4 miles to the start. I had originally planned to ride there, but then eventually realized it would still be dark!

I brought 2 water bottles of medium strong Gatorade, my Camelbak filled with water, and 6 clif bars in my jersey pockets. At first, I considered leaving the Camelbak in the SUV, since I knew they’d have water at the aid stations (and no one else seemed to be wearing one), but in the end I decided to wear it. Very good decision.

They had music and announcements early on, then a short speech by Rex Griswold, a Mesa politician. The guest cyclist of honor was Steve Bauer, who is like the Greg LeMond of Canada, rode in 11 Tour de Frances, won an Olympic silver medal, and many other accomplishments. A solo trumpeter played O Canada!, followed by the Star Spangled Banner, which was pretty cool in the dawn’s early light.

I entered the silver staging area, then inched up with everyone else, ending up almost in the gold zone. Ate a complimentary mini-Clif bar there. Temp was around 55F, chilly just standing there but perfect for riding. Some riders had leggings and arm warmers, but I knew those would come off quickly. Very light winds which were not a factor early on.

ETP 2007 Starting Gun
ETP 2007 Starting Gun

The gun sounded at exactly 6:30am and I was surprised how quickly the staging area cleared out, taking less than 90 seconds. No accidents, thank goodness, but I later heard that there was a spill and pretty big pileup behind me. Glad I inched up to the gold zone.

The mob gained speed quickly, careening down Brown Road, turning onto Power Road, then heading again east on University. I immediately noticed that every intersection was manned by a policeman, and all the lights were flashing red for us with the cop waving us through. Sweet.

After only a mile or so, the pace picked up to levels I knew I couldn’t keep, over 20 and often up over 27, 28. Still, in the pack it felt pretty comfortable, so I stuck with it. I was trying something a little different this ride, trying to stay up on my largest chainring and in a gear maybe 1 higher than usual, with a target result of better speed and reduced cadence. Talked to lots of riders while we rolled, who generally seemed much more talkative once they got on their bikes and on the road. Passed the 1st rest station as planned, as I had plenty of fuel.

Especially early in the race, it seems like for every patch of scrabbly road we went over, there was a group of 4 or 5 riders off to the right fixing flats about 1/10th mile further. Such is life with paper-thin tires and tubes – I guess I’ll stick with my heavy but thorn-resistent ones.

My first time segment was from the race Start to the intersection of Hayden and McKellips. It is a very flat 17 miles, and I had estimated, with the initial adrenline of the race, I might be able to do 16.5 mph, which should have taken 62 minutes. Glancing at my watch, to my disbelief, we rounded the intersection at 43 minutes! Avg speed 23.7mph. Knew I couldn’t keep it up, but a 19 minute cushion was a dang good start. I suspect we must have had a slight tailwind to achieve that.

We continued up Hayden Road to Shea Boulevard, taking a few detours to avoid busy intersections. It is a very slight rise and I did start to notice a headwind component, and my pace slowed but was still around 18 mph. There continued to be cops at every light, waving us through. Gotta love it – our commutes should be this way. Drank a whole bottle of Gatorade by this time and ate a whole Clif bar.

I stopped taking note of my segment times, mostly because I couldn’t remember all the numbers, and in part because I knew I was considerably ahead of plan. Another factor was that my computer seemed to have lost its odometer reading, simply displaying 45.0 and not changing. That was annoying, and I attributed it to the ancient battery in there (still the original). At least the speedometer was still working.

I remembered that the uphill segment on Shea Boulevard kicked my butt when I did this ride in 2003, and so this time I was somewhat respectful of the big hill that separates Scottsdale from Fountain hills. I maintained a pace around 14mph up the first few rises, then geared down to 10-12mph on the final 2 slopes. Nearing the top, I tried to change chainrings in order to stand up on the pedals, but ended up throwing a chain. Had to stop and fix it, costing me half a minute, but it was a pretty quick recovery. Overall, a fast pace for me, but I knew there was a 3 mile downhill waiting for me on the other side. Started to feel the first waves of fatigue in my legs up those hills. Passed by the second aid station on Shea as well, starting up on my second Gatorade bottle.

Flew down through Fountain Hills over 30 mph and encountered my first stop at the Beeline Highway. A policeman was there, but he was allowing a slug of cars to get through. So those last 30 riders I had passed all caught up with me . The descent continued at a lower grade on the Beeline for another 3 miles or so as we passed Fort McDowell Casino still doing 27 mph. I had estimated we’d have a headwind on the Beeline, but I was pleased to feel almost none.

The Beeline finally turns into a rise, and it is a long and strenuous low-grade climb, probably 8 or 9 miles. About halfway into it, the shoulder disappears, but the event coordinators closed off the right hand lane with cones, so we had the whole lane to ourselves. Alright! I often slowed to 13-14mph here, trying to save something for the mountain slopes I knew were coming.

The turnoff to Bush Highway couldn’t come soon enough. The third rest station was located here, but I was still feeling pretty good, still with a bit of Gatorade left and a nearly full Camelbak, so I decided to pass it and probably stop at the last one. As I rounded the turn, a volunteer held out a cup of ice water. I wasn’t used to grabbing one on the fly, but thought I’d give it a try. Problem was I didn’t slow down very much. When my hand hit his, the water just exploded upward out of the cup! I got about half a cup and a big laugh, and the cold water tasted great.

On Bush we were rewarded with a nice 3 mile slight downhill, and then we were treated to the gorgeous mountain scenery around Saguaro Lake, always worth the effort of getting all the way out there. Bush Highway was being being shared by the El Tour and a 200-mile running race. For the whole stretch between the Beeline and Usery pass, there were cones set up down the center stripe, with runners going against traffic and bikes on the right. Two-way motor traffic actually continued on the road, but because of the cones they could never go faster than the bicycles. Fabulous. There were lots of vans and cars parked off the shoulder, too, with people cheering. Most were there for the runners, I think, but lots of them cheered the bikes, too.

We finally hit a couple short rises, then two monster descents down around the lake entrance, cranking at over 35mph. The road rises again but eventually flattens out into a series of little rolling hills. I felt the first few twinges of leg cramps during this stretch and backed off the pace, still doing around 18mph, gulping the remainder of my Gatorade, seeking electrolytes. I also chewed periodically on my second Clif bar, but I learned that you just can’t eat very many of them. It was my inexperience to bring 6 – there is no way I could eat them all.

We finally reached the base of Usery Mountain, where the final rest stop was set up. Sensing a pretty good personal pace, and still having half a Camelbak, I decided to take a risk and pass it up as well. My legs were threatening to cramp, and I was a little worried at being out of Gatorade and facing Usery Mountain, but I also didn’t spy any Gatorade jugs at the stops, just water. Grabbed another cup of ice water on the fly (braking this time) and tried to dissolve another few bites of Clif with it.

Turning onto Usery Pass Road, we joined the 26-mile race in progress, entering from Bush Highway from the opposite direction. Their rider numbers were all 4-digit, so you could tell who was who. Those 3.5 miles up Usery Mountain hurt, there is no denying it. Knowing that slope like I do helped a lot in knowing what to expect. As much as I wanted to chug up, I soon found myself in my lowest gear, trying not to think about the pain. Started up a conversation with a nice guy on the way as a distraction, which also helped. He kept passing people saying “Remember, pain is just weakness leaving your body!” Despite the super low gear, I kept up the cadence to around 8 mph, and he and I probably passed 50 riders to the top, maybe 25 of them from the 74-mile race. I tried standing up on the pedals a couple of times for relief, but immediately cramped, and so stayed seated the whole way.

Slightly before the summit, I kicked into a high gear early and got up to speed, knowing I could rest on the way down. Picked it up over 25mph, gliding when I could. I was really feeling great because I knew the worst part of the ride was now behind me. At McKellips, the course does a hard 110° left turn east. There was a lot of traffic and I eventually swung through it, hugging the center line. Just as I approached the intersection, a policeman held up his hands for me to stop.

I started moaning, “Ay-yay-yay-yay-yay”, and finally stopped and waited. During the parade of cars, the 50 riders I had passed all caught up with me – sigh. Had to laugh at one guy who whined (in jest), “Shit, there goes my platinum.”

We finally got the wave through, and as I stood up onto the pedals, my entire left leg, both thigh and calf, went rigid in a severe cramp. Stiff as a 2×4 and laced with pain – and I could not bend it to re-clip into my pedal. I cleared the intersection and rolled slowly to the shoulder, while probably 20 more riders passed me. I ended up standing there massaging the leg for about 60 seconds before gingerly re-engaging in a slow high gear.

As soon as I got my rhythm back up, I knew I would be OK, but took a huge swig off the Camelbak in any case, plus the last of my 2nd Clif. We headed south on Crismon, and then turned west onto University. I knew the rest of the course was flat, and maintained a pace about 20mph. With about 4 miles to go, a couple of riders decided to draft behind me. When I stood up once to let some blood into the legs, they passed, and so I then moved up to draft behind them for a while. They picked it up to about 22, and despite the nagging fatigue in the legs, I decided to stay with them, and we passed about 15 riders on the way home.

Rolling across
Rolling across

Nearing the finish line, I considered slinging around them both, and I think I even had the energy to do it. It is a good racing tactic, but I decided that after drafting them for the final 2 miles, that would be kinda oafish of me. Finished in lock step just behind them, same time.

I had been checking my watch on the course, but never quite knew the mileage. It turns out that in transporting my bike, I must have pressed the computer buttons a couple times and had a display unknown to me. Set it back to the default, and my odometer was fine, reading a total mileage (including walking around plus the span from and to the car) of 76.9 miles.

Race results are posted almost immediately on a big board at the Finish and updated every 10 minutes or so. My goal had been to finish below 5:00:00 and, well, I blew the doors off that, finishing in 4:18:49. In perspective, I came in 531 out of the 840 74-milers who finished, or in the 63rd percentile. Among the men, I came in 469/699, or the 67th percentile, and in my age group (45-49), I came in 84/121, or the 69th percentile. So still slow, but way better than 4 years ago (by more than an hour). I’m pleased at the average speed: 17.1 mph over the entire course.

I enjoyed the awards ceremony for the 74-mile race. A tandem of 2 guys beat everyone, coming in just over 3 hours at 24.4 mph. 1st and 2nd place individual riders were both in my age group (2nd place going to the celebrity Steve Bauer). I saw very few recumbents and mountain bikes this year (compared to 2003), and no hand cycles. In fact I can’t recall seeing any mountain bikes on the 74-miler, but they may have been behind me.

I walked off my cramp tendancies around the finish, and propped up for quite a while watching the other riders come in. It was especially fun to watch the small kids (from the family ride) get their medal draped over their neck at the finish line. They had an old-time brass band playing and also some vintage rock over the loudspeakers, but I didn’t see much to eat. They did have a set of massage tables set up, but I was afraid of more leg cramping and avoided them. Eventually, I started feeling pretty starved, so I left after about an hour and headed home.

So, I ended up with a silver again. The cutoff for gold was 3:45:00, so I wasn’t anywhere near that. I would love to blame the cop on Usery Pass for that but I just can’t.

Weighed myself again before lunch: 167.4 lb, a 4.8 lb loss. No big discomforts, fortunately. Legs are tight and there is only a small twinge in the muscles around the knees. Think I’ll rest Sunday.