Gold Medal: CA State Time Trial Champ 2011
Welcome back, sports fans. I figured this would be a good time to record the story of my latest athletic endeavor and adventure that just culminated with a trip to the desert this weekend. It’s an experience that I (mostly) wish I could share with you, dear reader. So I will try my best with words.
The short version:
Four months training ended abruptly with six fractures, then three months of preparation for State ITT.
28 May 2011
1st place Cat3 SCNCA District ITT Championship
48:25 / 38K (29.2 mph)
Part I: Preparation and goals
Last year I set a few cycling goals for 2011, the biggest and most audacious being a gold medal at the Cat3 State ITT. I wanted to wear the bear jersey. Of all the places you do and races you do on a bike, few can leave you with anything more tangible than a memory or a photograph. If you win a state championship, you get a jersey. Seriously. How cool is that?
In late September 2010 I started training for a race that was eight months away. In addition to my 50+ hours a week I spend working on my PhD, I found time to get more serious about base training. I made sure to get one 4+hour ride in a week, and it consistently left me drained, but I improved slowly.
Months went by, I worked on my core strength, positioning, cross trained, and started some tempo work. It wan’t exactly a scene from Rocky, just maybe a little more drawn out. In late January I did my first TT test and surprised myself with the numbers and the speed. Things were coming along better than I could have hoped.
Part II: Setbacks
Then… I crashed. Coming home from lab on a Friday night. It wasn’t even all that glorious of a crash. Actually, it was pretty pathetic. I went down because my chain on my single speed commuter bike wasn’t tensioned properly, and when I accelerated through an intersection at 25mph the chain slipped, my feet came off the pedals, and I went down. Hard.
I managed to roll pretty well and slide on my back (not my face), but I wound up heading to the ER and spending the next 8 hours in agonizing pain before the docs gave me pain meeds. THAT was an experience. Despite my propensity for the time trial, I seldom use the verb “suffer” to describe any aspect of cycling. Suffering is a struggle to survive. You’re not suffering if you can just stop pedaling and the pain goes away within a minute. I was suffering then. I left that night with the diagnosis of six hairline fractures, contusions and soft tissue damage.
The bad news about my injuries is that I was in a world of pain for the first week. The good news is that, with no complete breaks, I would heal quickly. The whole time I still had my mind on the State ITT. It was my distraction and the focus of much of my metal energy through my healing process.
I took my recovery seriously, and four weeks later I was back on the road. From there, it was an all-out blitz to regain my form and hope that muscle memory would allow me to bounce back quickly.
For the next three months I signed up for every time trial I could. I even did three separate 40K time trials by myself in practice. The mental fortitude to force your body into that effort, alone with no one keeping track, pales in comparison to being wrecked up and broken.
Image above and below: Form didn’t come easily. I raced every TT I could in mad preparation after healing from my crash. Photos: David Su. Fiesta Island TT 4.10.11
With a week to go before State ITT, I did one more practice 40K. I was close to my old form, but I didn’t want to be close. I wanted to be better than before. Oh well. There was nothing more I could do to physiologically prepare at that point, and the best thing I could do was my homework on the course and conditions.
Part III: The Race
I knew it would be windy, but I really had to see it to believe it. Coming over Cajon Pass and into the valley Friday afternoon it was immediately apparent that EVERYTHING was moving. Flags, sand, joshua trees, small animals, you name it.
We went directly to the course, and David Jurist can attest to my “dancing” with the crosswinds. Even the veteran Mike Birditt was surprised at the intensity of the gusts. The National Weather Service was reporting 33mph sustained with gusts to 45. Needless to say, I was having second thoughts on my disc / tri-spoke combo for the TT.
After, the three of us found our way to Xantusia ranch where we met up with Ben Sarno, David Su, and George Gutierrez. Jon Martin joined us later that evening. While Lancaster isn’t much to look at, the semi-secret bed and breakfast for endurance athletes is a really nice place to stay for the TT. Marc Montgomery is a great host and I got at least somewhat decent sleep before the TT. As good as you can get the night before…
In the morning we were hoping that the cooler temperatures would hinder the winds. It didn’t. And although the winds were not quite as bad as the day before, they were still a force to be reckoned with.
Image: It was WINDY at State ITT
At the last minute Jon Martin generously offered up the use of his extra Zipp 303 front he wasn’t using. Though not as fast on paper as my trispoke, I knew I’d lose a LOT less time in the crosswinds by just keeping the bike in a better line. It made a HUGE difference in handling. Thanks, Jon!
Once on the course it was obvious early on that I did not have my best legs that day. But, though the legs weren’t on, but the mind was. I had practiced enough to know how to properly pace myself and stay within my limit for a 40K effort. I didn’t panic, and settled into a smooth rhythm and held really good aerodynamic posture. By mile 8 I had passed my 30 second man. By mile 14, my 1 minute man.
The headwind section was where I knew the race would be won or lost. I teetered on the edge through the gusting headwind and managed about 23mph into the spitting sand. Though I felt I could have gone a little harder, I was a little apprehensive about the onset of fatigue too early. Before turn 3 I caught my 1.5 minute man. My mind was really getting the best possible performance out of my legs that day. Still holding really good posture, I was in the zone.
I saw the silhouette of my 2 minute man through the waves of heat coming off the road. Because I knew the last leg was all downwind (and I could gain less time there anyway) I decided to drive it over and give it more gas through the crosswind. Steadily I began to pull him in.
I was really hurting when I cruised through the staging ground before turn 4 and into the final leg. I remember seeing both David Jurist and Mike Birditt warming up on trainers and yelling encouragement my way.
Fatigue was starting to set in, but I knew the most critical parts of the course were behind me. I glanced at my stopwatch and I remember it being right around 38.5 minutes. Once back in the tailwind I was cruising in my 55×12 and for the next six miles I averaged over 34mph.
With three miles to go I caught my 2-minute man.
In the last stretch there were riders going in the opposite direction who had finished their race. With about one mile to go I remember seeing a silhouette pull a u-turn, unclip on my side of the road, and start yelling at me to go faster. It was none other than Jon Martin! I gave it more gas and was thoroughly over paced and going into hypoxia.
There are a few rollers before the finish, and I remember there being this one really big joshua tree right by the side of the road atop the roller that was 200 meters to the finish. As soon as I saw it I gave it with everything I had left to muscle it over the rollers and crossed the finish breathless, barely able to pull the brakes, and with a nice coat of snot across my cheeks and chin. sexy.
Final time: 48:25. 29.2mph avg speed.
Image: Me with my winning rig. And eyes closed. oops.
Part IV: The Result
It was a long six miles back to the staging area, trudging through the headwind, I felt a sense of relief. Though I didn’t have my best legs that day, I was still pretty happy with how I had done. It was a little hard to find that winning form after fracturing my shoulder and ribs a few months back, but I definitely finessed the most I could have out of that ride. It just goes to show, that the time trial is not all about brawn. I did not have my winning legs by a long shot, but the practice and race simulations along the way meant I was able to perfectly pace myself.
When the results came, I saw my name at the top of the list. Four months of training, broken bones, then three more months of training culminated in a race that lasted less than an hour in windswept, dusty middle of nowhere. That was it. No fist pump, no triumphant yell, no sigh of relief. I just stared. It was done. I did it.
Thanks to everyone for encouragement along the way. Both in preparation for the ITT and when I was mending bones. Swamis and the extended cycling community has been a really good experience for me these last three years, and I look forward to wearing the bear jersey in TT’s in the fall and next year.
If you’ve made it this far, dear reader, I thank you for your time. I hope to see you on the road soon.
Image: I had written “Fly Tim Fly” on my TT glove prior to my winning ride, and it helped me keep the pedal to the metal in the final miles. Afterward, I dedicated the ride to Tim Ray. For those that don’t know, The Great Tim Ray unexpectedly passed away two weeks ago. He was one of my first cycling friends I made when I moved back to San Diego. Among his many talents, he was a stellar athlete. When we rode, we rode HARD.