There is often talk of what it takes to complete a multi-day ultra mountain bike race. Is it fitness? A simple mantra of eat, ride, sleep? Or, something more intangible like mental toughness and the ability to keep going when it gets really tough?
Naturally I have my own ideas. In my experience, the #1 prerequisite to finishing these events is stoke. Passion for a route and the experiences that await precede the start by half a year (or more) for the best rides I have had, and have seen others do. It is not so much about natural ability, it is all about positive projection, preparedness, and having the *finish* as the number one goal. Having stoke for an event well in advance of the start fuels a ton of research into the route, equipment required, conditions expected – consideration of thousands of little details that go into a great ride.
So, off we rolled last week for the AZT 300. Lynda carrying a huge bag of well-aged stoke, myself looking forward to a long ride in new terrain with the primary goal of testing my new BlueDot app. We both got what we went for and in the end it worked out to perfection.
The truth is I stopped racing in 2009. After the 24 hours of Moab I walked away with a “what now??” sort of sensation, and it never went away. So, “racing”, when I partake these days, is some combination of a social outlet, or means to see new terrain, or to enjoy the work that others have done to create some interesting route. The thing that has really lit the passion fire for me this spring is Bluedot – and writing code is not particularly a fitness builder or foot toughening activity, doh!
Getting to the start is always an adventure…and usually involves some help from others. We stayed with Chad at his new place, and then met Kurt & Caroline in Superior for the final shuttle detail. It was a lot of fun driving to the start with the 2-time race winner/record setter. Of course we started talking race strategy…more amusing for me as I had no real race objective, and LW wanted nothing to do with it. Her clear goal was the finish.
LW and I left the start fashionably late at 9:18. LW started as the lanterne rouge, an unfamiliar spot for her but it wouldn’t last long.
LW tells me to go first and says she’ll see me at the finish. She had no intention of going fast and fully expected to be well behind me. “We can come back and race it next year!” Hmmm wonder what that looks like… I never believed that for a second, knowing how my fitness (and stoke!) compared to hers on this day…but I amused her anyway by leading out. A few minutes later I hear a “girl scream”. Oh no, what is going on? Just a bobble on loose terrain…in the rush to get going we had forgot an important pre-race ritual: the HUG. I stop and grab her off her bike and give a good long squeeze. OK, time to get going….
The early riding has a good bit of hike a bike, especially for me on my singlespeed and in the heat. About 20 minutes in I come up to Marshal Bird in the shade of a tree and stop to chat and have a look at a developing hotspot on my left heel. To my huge surprise it was not a hotspot at all, but a blister that had developed, popped, and the skin was blown off. Inside of 20 minutes my ride was doomed….Marshal knew I was in trouble, moreso than I was willing to concede at the time.
Gorilla tape applied to heels, check. Onward. LW was in front of me know, and I eventually caught her – she pulled to the side to let me go by. A few minutes later I caught up with a big train of riders all hiking a section of marginally rideable trail. Walking was my speed here too and I settled in. LW rode it all and passed ~ 10 riders on that hike a bike, just like I’ve seen her do in Trans Rockies. I gave her a good shove as she went by and that’s the last I saw of her until I picked her up at the finish. She had found her flow, settled down, and I knew she was going to have a great ride. I was so stoked for her at that point!
Shortly thereafter, the trail become much more rideable and Canelo hills more fun. I did some bonus miles, but for the most part enjoyed the rest of the ride to Patagonia. Prior to the last bit of hike a bike I started applying super glue to the gorilla tape on the heels to better hold it in place, and that made hiking a bit more bearable. But I had serious doubts about my ability to go beyond Tucson. There was at least 10 hours of hike a bike in that section by most accounts…
In Sonoita I took my first look at BlueDot. I have put more work into BlueDot this spring than I ever have put into riding in the same time period – so to have the first look at it mid-race was oh so cool! I could see that Kurt was off the front as expected, see where LW was, and a few other riders not far up the road towards Kentucky camp. And, it actually motivated me to see if I could catch LW so we could ride together a bit. It took awhile, but nearly worked. The Kentucky camp area was my favorite part of what I rode, and good for my SS gearing. LW came into sight shortly after sunset, but then when we hit a section of rugged terrain with many short hikes my heels did me in. I just couldn’t make any headway with my heel situation.
I caved to the pain and rolled out the bivy for a few hours. Later when I got rolling again I was amused to learn I was right at the end of the hike a bike stuff anyway…and the trail turned instantly into a ripping, nicely carved, SS optimized super fun trail!!! Woohoo! And it stayed that way pretty much all the way to X9 road that led into Tucson.
The gal at the Rincon store said LW left about 30 minutes before I got there, and that briefly gave me some motivation to hustle on up the road. But my heels were screwed by then. Raw to the point I could not walk uphill. A bit of a problem when faced with 10k’ vert in the next 30 miles…what good is a single speeder that can’t walk? Exactly.
Brad Kee and Matt Fusco showed up at the store and Brad shared some moleskin. In return for the moleskin I put my droid in his hand with BlueDot running….and that was my favorite moment of the race. He was amazed at what he held in his hand and was deeply interested in the current state of the race. According to BlueDot only Kurt and LW were up the trail, but of course we knew Joe was also up ahead. Aaron Gulley we also expected was up ahead, thinking there was probably an issue with his SPOT (we later learned his GPS failed before Tucson). In any case, Brad’s excitement over BlueDot in the middle of a race was tall validation for my idea and vision to bring real-time race info into the hands of racers.
The moleskin gave me a touch of confidence I might be able to get’r done, but 30 minutes after being on the bike (and not even doing any hiking yet) and the feet had said no go. So off to Scott Morris’ house I rolled…I can see why it is so hard for a Tucson resident to finish this event.
Have I mentioned the heat yet? It was hot. Stupid hot. I hadn’t really been overly aware of the heat until I rolled off course and through Tucson. What a gawd-awful experience to go from awesome trails to the noisy, diesel belching stench of busy super-heated Tucson roads. From highs to lows in a moment. The coolness of Scott’s carport concrete was wonderful and I layed there for an hour until Paula came to the rescue…
From that time forward it was all about LW and BlueDot. BlueDot glued to my hand, staring at LWs dot. It moved oh so painfully slow all the way to Oracle. Meanwhile, the race was unraveling on all fronts. Kurt crashed and hurt his knee just before Oracle, ending his ride. News of Aaron’s demise surfaced. Then, in a surprising twist of events, news that Joe Meiser (thought to be the current leader but his poorly reporting SPOT left plenty to the imagination) had to backtrack to Oracle due to lack of calories came from Facebook. Holy crap, that put LW in the lead! Although Brad Kee was very close to her, and at one point in front of her – so there was a race for the win. He rode all through the night after leaving Rincon to arrive at Oracle before LW.
I don’t think either rider realized they were first and second…it had to be a confusing set of tracks out there. LW never passed anyone, the tracks just kept getting thinner, until finally disappearing altogether. She “passed” Brad Kee while riding the gasline section of the route while Brad rode a new section of dead end singletrack AZT. He said it was awesome trail but the dead-end was sub optimal ;)
Facebook to the rescue! LW’s car was at the trailhead in Superior while I was stuck in Tucson. This new droid partner of mine, it is well connected. Via FB I learned Slyfox was in town. One quick email and I had a ride lined up to the trailhead with superstar Slyfox Gillie. That night was a beautiful night for riding. Full moon at the trailhead over picketpost really made me wish I was riding instead of waiting.
By the next morning most everyone’s fate was sealed. The 2011 AZT 300 was a trail of tears with only 4 of the 22 starters making it to the finish. This BlueDot snapshot with last reported point for each rider tells the story:
While the 18 of us DNFs were still licking our wounds, the fab 4 soldiered on through yet another warm day in the desert with LW leading the charge. I could see that she had stopped for only ~ 2 hours that last night, and knew she only stopped because she cracked. That is the only thing that stops me on the last night of these things ;) But I also knew she was rolling with about 6 hours of sleep in 3 days. That is a helluva deficit for someone used to a steady 9-10 hours/night. I had all sorts of concerns about the reliability of the Freeman road water cache and nearly went out there to restock it…and then was convinced I should meet riders at the Gila with water. It is hard to be on the sidelines! In the end I didn’t want to mess with anyone’s experience out there and sat tight…
Finally…FINALLY…LW rolled down the trail to the finish. And, she was positively giddy! One of the first things out of her mouth was more a question than statement: “I don’t see any tracks on the ground?!?” “It’s all your’s babe, roll on down to the finish, I’ll meet you at the car”. Ironically, I took some great pictures of her riding the last bit of trail, and shot a video of her giddiness, but they were all lost due to my phone overheating in the midday desert heat…
Smiling, happy, giddy, amazingly untouched by the sun, and probably under 100 lbs – the 2011 AZT 300 winner and first ever female finisher.
Part of the giddiness: fueling on seafood (sharks) in the desert.
We headed to town for a shower then came back out to meet Brad at his finish.
Somewhere on Mt Lemmon Brad’s left shoe exploded.
Post event I could not be more stoked for how it turned out. BlueDot was generally a success, and I learned a few things I need to do to improve it. Racing is the best testbed. But the real story is LW. She has been planning, scheming, dreaming, breathing AZT for months. It has dominated her training since about September or October. When faced with what is undoubtedly the most difficult conditions ever for this event, she embraced the challenge, adapted to the conditions, and rode her own ride, paying little attention to others. A brilliant ride with few mistakes, in my opinion it is the most impressive ride she has put down (and there have been a few!). So good, in fact, that it resulted in the first (to my knowledge, anyway) time a woman has won the overall in a self-supported multi-day. I am so proud of her!