Monday, June 9, 2008

Spring 600K: Three little letters...


I read a wise man's discussion list posting when I was new to randonneuring that the memory of failing due to lack of time was pale in comparison to the haunting memory of quitting a brevet. I am here to report that the gentleman knew what he was talking about. I quit the SIR 600k at Naches, having called Jeff Tilden about 5 miles prior, with knee pain and cramps in my legs. And I now highly regret that choice. It pains me greatly that all these volunteers spent all this time, money and effort into ensuring that we had a good ride, and I wasted their effort. This one stings!

My whinefest follows...


I was still sore from a fairly strenuous hike the Sunday prior, and was in two minds about starting the ride, as my legs didn't feel fresh at all. I made a day-of-ride decision to show up at the start. 50+ randos were gathered around, and I registered. Brad Tilden's dog greeted the riders, albeit with a stick in his mouth. A sign of things to come!

The skies threatened, but didn't open up at the start. I rode in a big pack, but lost them all to the hill on Black Nugget Road, and further lost them when my wife called barely 5 miles into the ride. I had forgotten something very important: a bye bye kiss. I caught up to and passed Bill Alsup just before Novelty Hill Road, but had to stop and don my helmet cover and rain pants when the rains came down in earnest. Ron Himschoot and Don Jameson stopped along with me, and we all changed. The next few miles can only be described in one word: miserable. The rains were coming down hard, and I was mostly dry save for my hands, which were wet from my gloves letting water in. Eamon Stanley passed me just before the two lumpy bits on Ben Howard Road, and I slogged along at a pedestrian pace, until Skykomish, facing headwinds every now and then, but mostly just regretting not riding much in the past 8 or 9 weeks. I was slower than normal, but I had a bank of an hour and 45 minutes at Skykomish. This was to be my biggest comfort margin throughout the ride.

Skykomish to Leavenworth

I didn't stop here for very long, but did buy a Pay Day bar, and ate my on bike food stores. I left Bill Alsup at the control, because I could not afford to waste one moment. The climb up the pass was slow and I thought back to the last time I climbed Stevens: We had a roaring 30mph tailwind that pushed me all the way to the left hook. This time progress was slow, and just before the hook, I pulled up with a severe cramp in my left leg. Bill had passed me a few miles earlier and I saw him pull away, and disappear. Resting for about 5 minutes alleviated my cramp and I continued on, slowing down further. I had to stop a few times to wring out the water from my gloves. Ugh! This is when the first thoughts of quitting the ride entered my head. On a 600, I aim for 3 hours of sleep at night, and based on the amount of time I was giving back on these climbs, I didn't have a chance of sleeping that much. My goal was to make up 15 or 20 minutes per leg and somehow get to 3 hours of a bank. I made it to the top [I forget the time now], but I was the last one over. The first few miles of descent were cold, but I was dressed to the core anyways, and just bombed down the other side, pedalling every now and then when I felt the speed come down.

The skies really cleared about 2000 feet down the summit. Living on the west side of the Cascades does stink! The weather was spectacular here. I warmed up, and got to Leavenworth with about an hour and 35 minutes in the bank. I had passed Bill somewhere, but told him I would be at the Subway. We met there, had food and set off again, after about 15 mins.

Leavenworth to Ellensburg

The first few miles were a nice downhill to the turn onto US 97, but soon after we were buffeted by headwinds, but not for long. I felt really strong on the initial bit of Blewett Pass, which means that I able to maintain my momentum. I left Bill behind, but my wife called a couple of times to report some trouble, and Bill caught and passed me on my second or third stop. Brad drove down to check up on us. That was very nice of him. This however led me to believe that the summit was closer than it actually was. The last 5 miles to Blewett were total torture for me. I thought it was 3 miles but it turned out to be 5 miles, and we finally got to the top at around 7.47p [To compare, Urs Koenig to the overnight control at 8p]. Brad Tilden nursed us back to health, and I took off again, bombing down the descent to the left turn to stay on US97. In hindsight, I should not have stopped at the top, and just continued on, as I didn't feel the need to eat. That may have saved me 15 minutes.

The descent was windy but I enjoyed it, making myself small and going down to the drops. I dispatched the long uphill with relative ease, thanks to the wind. I did notice that there was a flat alternative that we didn't take! This stretch featured a lot of tumbleweeds. The descent down that road to the plains was something I will remember for a long time. A road with a surface like butter, a rip-roaring tailwind and a overweight rider all contributed to a smashing 40+ mile per hour descent. I knew I had to turn right at some point however, and the flags were pointed full east, which was not a good sign, but I lived in the present, milking the downhill for all it was worth.

The directions regarding Faust Road confused me and I took a couple of minutes to make sure I was headed the right way. When I pulled off my glove, the liner inside and the outside of the glove separated, so I spent 10 minutes trying to finagle that thing back in. Didn't work. I just rode on with my fingers shoved into whatever slots I could find. Ugh! I remembered Brad telling me up at the pass that he would meet me in Ellensburg and I rode slowly through town, and finally stopping for food at the Shell gas Station near the end of town. The time was 9.55. I had an hour and 48 minutes in the bank. My record of having 3 hour sleep breaks on overnight rides was going to be history now.

Ellensburg to Naches

I think I was the first person to stop at this gas station because the counter person didn't recognize the card. I sat down for 10 minutes and ate HALF of my Candy Bar [NOT GOOD] and took off. The first few miles of Canyon Road had rumble Strips, and I rode to the left at first, unsure of the riding conditions. Traffic was practically non-existent, but I rode comfortably. Eventually the rumble strips went away, and I was able to ride in great peace. The river flowed idly by lit by the moonlight, and the soft silhouette of the mountains in the background dotted by the occasional house or farm was a great sight. And the stars! OH the STARS! Being a city boy means too much light pollution. Two shooting stars! Not the massive ones like the ones Paul and I saw near Pateros a few years back, but good ones. About 5 miles from the end of Canyon Road I saw two lights flickering in the distance, and thought somebody had flatted. It turned out to be Matt Mikul and Jennifer Chang taking a break. Jennifer gave me some very nice treats from Trader Joe's, and we set off.

The hills on Canyon Road separated us, but we regrouped at Selah. Now, I thought there was going to be a good stop somewhere here and was riding to make it there. That point however was not anywhere near where I was riding. I had no power for Pleasant Hill Road, which true to its name had a hill, and this is where my left knee started hurting, and the cramp in my right leg was back with a vengeance! I lost Matt and Jennifer. I wasnt going to get any sleep, my legs were cramping, and my knee started throbbing again this time with a vengeance. The flat portion of Mapleway offered no succour. I stopped to call the organizers, but my cell phone battery was dead! Did I heed this sign? Of course not.

Matt and Jennifer, bless their hearts were waiting for me at the turn, and I mentioned my cramps and my knee pain to Jennifer and Matt, and told them I wanted to quit. Jennifer gave me Electrolytes to calm down the cramping, and offered to ride with us, but faced with the ghastly wind and the knowledge that a 25 mile climb where I would lose all my time lay ahead, my resolve was gone. I now knew that I would not get any sleep. I was a bit daunted by this prospect. I told them that I had mentally checked out. Jennifer gave me her phone, but my ride buddies would not let me quit. They offered to slow down and draft to save me from the wind. So, we continued on along these truly nasty rumble strips, but despite their reduced pace, they pulled away. Oh, if only I had thought to eat!

I think I was lost mentally. The wind was horrid, and I could not see the point in continuing. My knee was now yelling at me full force, and I just stopped riding. I forgot the cardinal rule of brevet ending: EAT before you decide. I had a Half a candy bar, a bag of Sustained Energy and I still didn't think of stopping to eat. How completely stupid! All those years of reading ride reports was to avoid precisely this situation. But, I didn't recall any of those words of wisdom that I had so ravenously coveted. I left word with the organizers that I was planning to bag it.

Shortly after, Mark and Jeff Tilden pulled up, and I told them I was done. I am quite surprised now that Mark didn't try to knock some sense into me. Over the years, he has given me a good look in the eye or a real positive word, and that gave me confidence that I could do it, even as I doubted my own abilities. I must have looked really really bad. They loaded me up in Mark's car and we drove back towards Ellensburg to check on Bill Alsup, who had just gotten into Ellensburg after taking a while to figure out a nasty flat. He decided to bag it too, and we headed back to the "secret" control on US12, and checked up on several riders. The fact that I quit didn't grate on me as much as it does now. At the lodge, I met Allison again after a long time, and saw several riders sitting there, probably getting ready to head out. I would get my three hours of sleep after all, but not the way I wanted to earn it.


Jeff Tilden us woke up with a cheery "Breakfast is served", and we all headed out to the main cabin, where I met Paul Whitney, who had also DNFd. Mark Thomas remarked that I had the classic signs of regret on my face. That was true! We left after some tricks to get Bill's bike up on Shan's roof rack.

We checked up on the riders climbing White pass: Peg Winczewski, Lesli Larson, Matt Mikul and Jennifer Chang. We waited for them at the turn off to Cayuse, where I met another old friend, Paul Johnson, who comforted me about my DNF. We saw the last few riders off and headed for home, passing several as they were climbing spectacular Cayuse Pass. It was cold and foggy at the top, and several riders were also descending the pass. Ron Himschoot stopped to talk to us even as he was putting on a second skullcap! Shan Perera drove me home, and the regret began in earnest.

The Oregon Fall 600k is my only chance of continuing my Super Randonneur streak (now at 2 years). Paul Whitney the organizer, promises to make it reasonable! I have no plans to ride the Jan Heine 600k. No way, Jose! My poor heart cannot withstand another DNF. However, one thing is certain: the next time they run this ride, I am going to hammer this course into submission.

I am planning to ride next week's OR Covered Bridges 400 as penance. As of Thursday, my left knee still hurts, even when I walk.


Mark said...

DNFs rarely sit well later, so don't be surprised at the way you feel now. I have DNFs on a 400, a 600, two 1000s, and a 1200 (and maybe more that I have blotted out of my mind). Only one of them seems like good decision in retrospect, but they all seemed necessary at the time.

You're right that I didn't try to talk you into continuing. I'll usually try to talk a tired or demoralized rider into continuing, but not one who has an injury. Better to avoid a bad problem and to come back and nail the next one, as I know you will.

Robert Higdon said...

Be careful with that knee buddy. Good luck on the Oregon 600, I know you've got it in you.

Shan said...

Even though I'm sure it stings like hell, your "whinefest" was insightful. You gave it your all man!!! I SERIOUSLY doubt eating and drinking would have made much difference. I'm only saying this because I came down with medial knee pain after the 3-pass 400K, and I KNOW I'd never have made it as far as you did.

Bad knee pain is a sign of something wrong somewhere or over-use. It takes time to heal. Don't muck up the rest of your riding season by trying to get back on the horse too soon. We all want to. Its understandable. But, I for one, am taking 3 complete weeks off the bike. Yes - it sucks. But then again, I want to ride normally again.

Hopefully I'll be able to join you for the ORR 600k. Our newborn son will be a couple of weeks old then, so it likely won't be feasible. But one can certainly dream. I too hate unfinished business, and another SR medal would be nice to add to the collection.

Wishing you the best on your next 600K brevet. I think you'll do just fine!!!

Jennifer said...

I agree with what Mark and Shan said about the injuries, Narayan. While I want to finish a ride, no ride is important enough that I'd risk a major injury to my body. I'd rather honor and accept my body for what it is, with its inopportune weaknesses at times, than to push it to do something that will result in its own demise. After all, this body is all I've got, whether I like it or not, to do the rest of my life's journey with.

Our pride is hurt, sure, in a DNF, but we're strong enough (mentally) to handle that, right? (= There will always be another 600K's.

And I've already shared with you one of my own "DNF stories" in another realm? For me, when I know I've given my best, and yet DNF'ed or DNQ'ed, or came in LAST, for that matter, (=, I try not to have regrets. Whether it be at a brevet or in life. Not that it's ever easy. Besides, good dose of humility, once in a while, is good for my ego, which always seems to get too quickly overgrown.

I'll be cheering for you at your next 600K.


matt m said...

As a fellow member of "Club Randonnée Abandonnée," I feel your pain! The sting of regret is indeed hard to handle, but at least you gave it your all.

And the way I see it, Canyon Road made the whole ride worth it - the stars and lack of traffic were like a dream! It was great to ride with you, and I hope to see you on another brevet soon!