Wow! What can I say? This race was an epic, hard, hot, amazing, supportive, redemptive, all-around learning experience. I think I loved it (especially now that it is over)! Thanks to Velopromo for putting on this beast of an event.
Thursday 5/15 - arrive in Bakersfield and pre-ride TT course
We arrived on Thursday afternoon to temps at 101 F and got settled in our hotel. Rick and I lowered the body temps by hitting the pool while waiting for team mates Velogirl and Dana to arrive. They came in about 2 hours later and we headed off to pre-ride the TT course. Team mate Lala wasn't rolling in until late that night, so it was just us 3 out on the course, until we ran into the Protechs and Minties out there! We did what I would call and easy endurance effort for most of the pre-ride and my heart rate was solidly in the high 170s to low 180s (max somewhere in the mid 190s), and it was 6:30 at night and we had light winds. Not a good omen for the 1:00 pm TT on Friday. But, the good news was that I loved the course. It was a good course for me and my style of riding. Yay! Oh, and it was really pretty out there in the late afternoon light.
We had a nice dinner at "Wool Growers" - a Basque restaurant. Highly recommended for those who might have an opportunity to wander into Bakersfield. Good pre-race feed.
Friday 5/16 - 1:00 pm - 10 mile Individual Time Trial near Arvin, CA
We had a leisurely morning, eating at IHOP and swimming to keep the core temps low. The teammies were prepping their bikes, and Velogirl had a mechanical right before we were supposed to leave and had to swing by a bike shop, but fortunately it was a quick fix. We arrived at the course at 11:30 and set up our tent for the much-coveted shade. Temps were hovering around 102 F. At about 12:30, we began a lethargic on-road warmup. In addition to the high, high temps, the wind was whipping from the east at a good clip. The wind felt hotter than the still air. Incredible. It was not a refreshing wind. This also meant we were going to be going into the wind on the outbound leg. I was pretty confident I could break 30 minutes before arriving at the course. Upon arriving, my goal switched to "just survive". I no longer cared how I did, just so long as I was alive at the end and able to recuperate for the next day.
The course heads up a false flat for about a mile, then descends fairly steeply for about 1km, then continues up a false flat through a canyon to the turnaround and then returns. As I descended into the canyon, it felt like the temperature went up another 5 or so degrees. This was where the battle with my mind began. I had a Camelback bladder full of ice and electrolyte under my skinsuit that I would draw from each time I thought I was going to puke or die. I finally got to the turnaround where Hernando was lovingly heckling. I was looking forward to having that east wind push me back to the start. At first it did. I was cruising 27 mph, my heart rate had 'dropped' to 189. Then, the wind shifted, and I was pushing again. When I hit the hill to climb back out, I almost caught my 1 minute man (Lala), but then I was crawling up the grade and looking for one more gear that wasn't there. She pedaled back away from me, but I finally came over the top and fought the wind to finish in 35 minutes and something. My heart rate was pegged at max for the last 5 minutes. Pretty awful. The good news is that everyone else was awful, too. So, in the end, VG got 15th place, me 18th, Lala 19th and Dana 22nd. I was not last. I had redeemed myself from my last place finish at Madera (although with an even slower time).
We had dinner at Mimi's Cafe, which was tasty. We even shared an apple crisp between us. Delicious!
Saturday 5/17 - 9:00 am - Walker Basin circuit race near Caliente, CA
We got up at 4:45 and grand slammed at Denny's. I had the almost all-carb option - pancakes, oatmeal, hash browns and eggs. I couldn't eat it all. We left at 6:00 to head up to Walker Basin via a 1 lane road into the southern tip of the Sierra Mountains. After many miles of climbing, we arrived at 4,000 feet in the Walker Basin, a fairly green valley, as compared with Caliente, at town just on the western side of the ridge of mountains. The temperature was cool! Like 80 F. Hoooray! We did one lap of the course as our warmup. It was a 7.5 mile loop with a series of stair-stepping rollers on one side, long, flat, chicanes and then a 1km climb to the KOM (or QOM as the case may be). The climb was definitely a power climb, but just a shade beyond what I can power climb right now. So, I had to dig through the first 500m and then get out of the saddle and power over the last 500m.
We thought we were doing 4 loops in our category. But, when we lined up, we found out we were doing 5. OK, it was time to relax and allow for a mental adjustment. Our team took control for the first 1/2 lap with Dana, Lorri and I in the lead and Lala tucked in. Then, we were ousted by some folks who thought we were setting up for a 1-2-3 on the QOM and attacked with a BIG surge. Dana popped and Lorri slipped back to work with her. I clawed my way across some gaps to rejoin Lala in the peloton. I wasn't fresh since I'd been on the front for quite a while. Then, the hill came pretty quick. I went as hard as I could up the hill but was still gapped. Lala looked good. Rick was in the follow car and went around me. I was NOT ready to give up. I chased until I got up to Rick. Took a deep breath and hammered around him back to the group. Hooray! 2 victories. Then, just as the lead girls cleared the feed zone, they were out of the saddle hammering. I was near the back getting a bottle and enjoying a shower. Crap! I got out of the saddle and hammered back into contact. But, then we hit the 2nd stair step and they hit it again. Yup, that was my last match for a while. I saw Mo from Roaring Mouse pop off about 200m in front of me and yelled for her. But, she just kept going. I chased hard for half the lap and she finally sat up so I could catch her. Apparently, she was trying to hold me off since we were close in GC and she wanted to put some time on me. But, I was gaining on her, and she realized she'd rather have company. So, we worked together for the next 2/3 lap. Just was we were coming out of the feed zone rollers the 3rd time, Lorri and Dana caught us, and we were now 4. We worked all together until the last lap. I dropped my chain while trying to shift and got it back on just out of the feed zone. I was also sucking on a GU when Mo rolled a little off the front. Lorri and Dana were just ahead of me and wanted to chase, but I needed to finish the calories, so I delayed us a bit. I guess Mo decided she had enough of a gap at that point to make a go of it, so we chased hard, but didn't catch her. We got close. I ended up sprinting up the hill after her, only to arrive about 5 seconds too late. There were lots of positives for me in this race, even though I'm not quite at that road race sticking point yet. I'm getting closer, though.
After the race was over, it was about 90 F temperature and rising. We sat under our tent shoving as much food and water in our faces as we could manage to recover for the 2nd stage of the day - a long, steep hill climb. And, we celebrated Lala's 6th place finish! Yay!
Saturday 5/17 - 3:00 pm - Halivah (Hell of A) Hill Climb - Halivah, CA
This race was scheduled to start at 3:00 pm. We rolled into town about 1:00. Halivah was just over the ridge from Walker Basin at about the same elevation. However, Halivah was in a hot pocket, so it was again over 100 F. We took refuge in a historic one-room schoolhouse. It was not air-conditioned, but it was well-insulated and cool. A local lady had laid out cookies inside for the racers. How cool is that? I laid on the wood floor with my feet up on a chair and dozed off for a bit. My body was not cooling down. My heart rate was not dropping below 80 - even lying down. Crap. Not a good way to start the hill climb. I soaked my kit for the climb and threw a 3rd water bottle in my pocket. We started uphill and within 1/2 mile, I was dropped on a steeper gradient in the 'flat' part of the course. I had some sciatic pain bugging my right leg and killing my power. I think the hard efforts in the morning race brought it on. I just dialed in my effort and started climbing at my pace. Right before the turn onto the 'main' climb of Breckenridge Rd., I was passed by the 35+ group which yelled encouragement as they went by. About 1.5 miles into the main part of the climb, I became the lantern rouge and the broom car came up behind me as I had just walked my bike about 100m over a steep section. He asked if I was doing OK and was wondering if I was OK to go on. I assured him I was and kept going. I got water from the Bella crew at the first feed and poured it over myself. Some sections I could 'spin' at about 60 rpm. But, some I was standing just to get over in my lowest gear. Chief Ref Mike drove by and yelled some encouragement. At about 5 miles into the climb, I stopped again and the broom wagon came up. He said I looked shaky and he was concerned and was I sure I wanted to go on with 8 miles still to climb? At the pace I was going, I thought it was going to take me another 2 hours. I was starting to doubt my judgment of my condition and whether I could make it healthily to the top and I felt bad about all the other athletes being held up there to wait for me that long. So, I let him sag me.
I was crying and disappointed in myself. About 1km further up the hill, we caught up with Lorri and Dana who looked good and were climbing pretty well. When we got to the top, it was only 8.2 miles, not 13 as we'd been told. So, I didn't have 8 miles to go, but only 3.2! I talked to the refs about it and let them know that I would like to at least 'roll out' with the peloton on Sunday, even if I was officially out of the race, just because I wanted the experience. They graciously agreed to let me keep racing despite my failure to finish the climb. When we got to the top, Jaime from Roaring Mouse was having a bad case of heat stroke. That was scary and I told myself maybe I had done the right thing. I don't know. I bolted down the hill with the front group of Bellas. It was a bit of a nerve-wracking descent, but still fun.
Rick and I bee-lined for town to have dinner at Joseph's Italian restaurant with his sister, her husband and their 2 kids. It was nice to catch up with them, despite the meal being only marginal. By the time we were back at the hotel, I was doubting whether I had another race in my body. I was super-tired and very stiff and sore and my whole body felt swollen.
Sunday 5/18 - 8:30 am - Woody Road Race, Woody, CA
When we arrived in Woody at the Beard ranch, it was HOT! Hotter than in Bakersfield. The course was 2 loops of 24 miles each.
But, they had a nice hose and I drenched myself before the race from head to toe. I even soaked my feet to delay the onset of hot foot. We did a half-hearted warm up on the trainers. The race started with a brisk descent. I was a little worried about the Category 4 handling skills and starting downhill, but we all survived. Then, in the first incline, one of the girls rolled off the front and all hell broke loose, and I felt that sciatica as I tried to cling to the back of the pack. I heard Lorri behind me yelling to keep digging. But, I could not maintain contact. So, she and I started on our 44 mile duo effort. Her goal was just to finish. Since I had not completed the hill climb, she would get the lantern rouge award if she finished. We blazed through the rolling section at lower elevations, exchanging pulls in a well-choreographed TTT. We played cat and mouse with the 45+ girls and chatted with them on each exchange of the lead. With 8 miles to go in the first lap, they finally left us for good. We crawled up the 5+ mile grade, descended into the Valley of Death and slugged up the last km to the finish. As we came through, I was a little worried about the increasing heat. It was well over 100 F at this point - probably 104-105ish. I had already been through 3 water bottles and had 1 poured over me.
My goal for the 2nd lap was to take every water bottle I could get. At the end of lap 1, I picked up 1 in the feed. Then, we came across Robert, the race promoter at the end of the big descent at the start of the rollers. He gave us each a bottle. Then, we came around to the Hernando and Russ feed zone and took 2 more and a spray on the neck each. At that point, I had 2 full bottles as we headed into the last big push. During the long climb, I would douse my head each time we were turning into the wind or into a slight decline to air-condition myself. I kept drinking as much as I could and taking GU regularly. We finally got to the last km and I knew I would make it. It turned out we had pretty even splits for the laps despite the 2nd feeling harder and slower. I drank 8 bottles and had at least 2 poured over my head during the race. That was my saving grace. I actually felt OK, though completely depleted. And, I actually needed to pee within 15 minutes of getting back to the ranch! That was a huge victory. I have now learned to race in the heat and not put myself in danger. Now, I just need to learn to "go hard" as opposed to just surviving an endurance-pace ride.
We had the award ceremony. It was great. Lorri got her lantern rouge. All the stage winners got their hand-made-by-Robert trophies and the overall leaders got their prize money. We loaded up the cars and headed home by about 2:30. I was proud of myself for persevering through the last stage. I learned a lot about myself in this race and managed the heat better than in any of the other heat-wave stage races. I even did OK for myself in the TT and circuit race. The week of rest last week gave me just enough oomph to get through the race, and I'm glad I did it. I actually think I will come out of this race stronger as a result. I was really proud of my team mates for their individual and team efforts. I will definitely be back to Kern if I get the chance!