This morning, I’m hopping on a jet plane (probably a prop plane, actually), bound for Los Angeles to meet up with my team for this weekend’s Furnace Creek 508. My journey leading up to this day followed a crazy, twisted road with a few bumps and potholes, but somehow I’ve arrived intact.
If you recall, five short weeks ago, I agreed to join the record-holding two-tandem 50-plus team, the Northern Spring Peepers, for this 508-mile race. I knew it would be a challenge to ramp up my volume to train for the event, but I was ready to take it on. I had 4 weeks of available training time and then a week to recover and stay fresh for the event (what some folks might call a taper).
The first phase of my training was to increase both my duration and climbing. I planned a series of three-day blocks with 10,000-15,000 combined feet of climbing with recovery between blocks. My first two weeks were going as planned. Well, maybe not quite as planned, as my teammate Pamela and I got a little carried away and rode 136 miles with 8,000′ of climbing to start my second week of training. But we survived, and I knew that I’d be able to complete my stages of FC508. I totaled 24+ hours that week, with 321 miles and almost 15,000′ of climbing.
The following week I planned another 20+ hours with 20,000′ and was on track when tragedy struck — I was hit by another cyclist while riding. I was very fortunate that my injuries weren’t too severe — no broken bones, but lots of soft tissue damage and my right leg was deeply contused (and is still sore almost 3 weeks after the collision). This basically destroyed my training plan. I was conflicted: I needed to train, but I needed to heal my injury. I completed a few rides, feeling very slow and suffering with pain. I cancelled my planned tandem training weekend with my partner, Jim Ryan, in Oregon. I decided to be conservative, and let myself heal.
So, weeks 2 and 3 I only rode about 12 hours total (150 miles with 7,000′ of climbing). My 4th week, I climbed everything I could, knowing that would be the biggest bang for my training buck. My leg still hurt, and I still felt slow, but I needed to do some damage control so I didn’t completely lose fitness. I was able to ride 17 hours, for a total of 200 miles and 17,000′ of climbing. My last long ride was a solid 75-miles with 7,000′ of climbing.
This week my goal was to recover and then keep my legs fresh. I’m feeling pretty good, so I guess I met my goal. We’ll see how I feel later today when I go for a spin with my tandem partner.
This year’s Furnace Creek 508 has been a challenge for the race promoter, before we even hit the start line. Apparently, two separate parts of the traditional course were washed out with flash floods, forcing a re-route of one section and a van shuttle of the other section. Then, the federal government shut down. Since the route goes through two different national parks (Mojave and Death Valley), the promoter hustled to find alternate routes (and obtain permits for those routes). At this time, we don’t know if we’ll be permitted to ride the 508-mile course, or if the race will be shortened to 356 miles (an out + back route to Trona that skips all the really cool desert land). While I’m certainly disappointed, I think we’ll still have a great experience.
The modified route for my tandem team would be 177 miles total (instead of 240 miles). We would ride stage 1 (107 miles with 6,000′ of climbing) and stage 3 (70 miles with 4,000′ of climbing). The other tandem team (Paul Kingsbury and Wanda Tocci) would ride stage 2 (70 miles with 3,000′ of climbing) and stage 4 (107 miles with 5,000′ of climbing). Wait a minute! How did my team get more climbing? So while the overall race distance has been reduced, the impact for each of our teams is not that significant. We’ve still got our work cut out for us.
Of course, the logistics of changing from a 508-mile point-to-point race that begins in Santa Clarita and ends in 29 Palms about 33 hours later to a 356-mile out-and-back race that begins and ends in Santa Clarita less than 24 hours later means changing lodging and such, but our awesome team has handled all this without blinking.
So now, we just wait and find out which course we ride. We all packed for the long course. We have flights and lodging based on the long course. But I’m guessing we’ll end up riding the short course.
Later today we build up the tandems (they were shipped out from New York), go grocery shopping, have a test ride, and prepare the support van. Today’s also the day we all get to know each other. Actually, the other three riders and two crew members all know each other already, so I guess it’s the day that I get to know everybody else. On Friday, the bikes and the vehicle both have to pass safety checks and we have rider meetings and dinner and spend the night in Santa Clarita. And then on Saturday, we roll out @ 9:30am.
I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t a bit nervous. Of course I’m nervous. I’m jumping back in, still injured, riding 177 miles and 10,000′ of climbing in less than 24 hours. On the back of a tandem. With a man I’ve never met. I’m nervous and excited and feeling surprisingly calm. I guess the reality of what I’m about to undertake hasn’t sunk in yet.
If you’d like to follow along, you’ll find the official FC508 webcast here:
You’ll find time splits for our team (Northern Spring Peepers) here:
And you can get live (well, every 20 minutes) updates here:
Wish me luck!
I want to take a minute to thank a bunch of folks who’ve helped me arrive here:
Pamela Levine for being the best training partner ever.
Winnie + Dan Brehmer for loaning me a wheelset when mine was destroyed in the crash.
Annie Gianakos for scraping my broken body off the pavement, taking me to the hospital, and nursing me on the day of my crash.
Jason Pierce who dragged my tired butt around on the bike and shared all his accumulated wisdom about FC508.
And all my friends and teammates who’ve shared rides with me, listened to my stories, calmed my fears about being injured, and supported me on this crazy, bumpy journey!