Cactus Nettles and Midnight Port-o-Potties

21 02 2008

A few days removed from racing the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, near Tucson, AZ, and I’m still coughing up bits of desert… that’s the dirt and sand variety, not the peanut butter/ chocolate cookie/ vanilla ice cream ‘dessert’ I’d so enjoyed the night before the race at Pizzeria Uno.

All in all, it was a huge success… epic 2,000 mile road (round) trip, fun times with mostly new friends, incredible new Spot Brand Bikes, a pro pit area w/ heated trailer, and 12+ hours each of single-track mt. biking in a semi-competitive spirit.

Having participated in past 24 hour events as a solo, as well as on 3, 4, and 5-person relay teams, I was excited to partner with Spot Bikes CEO Nick Howe on a two-man team when he mentioned the idea a few months back. Both he and I would be looking to use the event as a training “carrot” this winter, as well as a springboard toward greater fitness later on this season. Nick is preparing for Ironman Wisconsin in September as a part of Team F4 IM MOO, FastForward’s inaugural Ironman training program, and I’ll be enjoying a variety of running, cycling, and multi sport races before (and hopefully after) becoming a dad sometime this July!

Assisting us as 1-man support crew and road-trip buddy, was none other than 2007 World 24-Hour Solo silver medalist, Kelly Magelky. Thanks Kelly for your consistent positive energy, sense of humor, pro-level advice, and little-known surgical skills! I’m excited to cheer you on this season, and hope to get a chance to do some actual riding together!

Kelly assists as I get ready to take the baton from Nick:

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After a restful night in Las Cruces, NM last Thursday evening, we dressed in shorts and sandals, topped off at the nearby Starbuck’s and loaded back into the F4 truck for the 4-hour drive to sunny, warm Tucson. Unfortunately, as we arrived at the race venue later that afternoon we were met with an evil combination of driving rain and some sort of frozen, desert sleet/ snow. This combination pretty much annihilated the 10-mile dirt road from the highway to the race site, and it was all the F4 truck could handle to get us there safely.

We’d hoped to enjoy a few hours of setting up our pit area, taking a lap of the course with the rest of the Spot crew, and picking up our race packets before heading back to town to spend the night at a hotel. Instead, we did none of the above, said a few hellos and scurried off to get warm and dry. Eventually the others did the same and met up with us for an enjoyable pre-race dinner at Uno’s.

Seated below from bottom left are pro rider Megan Monroe, Nick, Me (in desert wear), Spot Pit Mgr. Brett, Kelly, and pro rider/ Spot customer service director Jen Gersbach. Note also the aforementioned chocolate, peanut butter decadence having been soundly devoured mid-table:

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The next morning we arrived at the venue around 9 am, and the sun was threatening to appear and dry out the course before the 12 noon start time. I would be first to ride, primarily due to the 600-meter “Le Mans” style run start… designed to spread the riders out a bit before converging on the single track. I warmed up with about a 15-minute spin, then positioned my bike against a tree for grabbing post-run, then headed out toward the start area while getting in a short jog and a few “strides” along the way.

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The bright white Dale’s Pale Ale/ Spot Team kits had arrived just in time for the event and we were all about to initiate them with a healthy coat of mud on this first lap. The gun sounded and about 30 racers sped off ahead of me at 100 meter race pace. Fortunately for me, most would drop back about mid-way to the bikes and I managed to move up to 5th place before grabbing my bike and heading out for the furious first 10 minutes of the nest 24 hours!

I found Pua Sawicki’s wheel and allowed her to pull me through the “Bitches”… the series of short, steep hills that greeted us right away. Once onto the single-track however, I settled in with a group of riders who would work together for much of the remainder of the lap. While taking a corner a bit too aggressively, I managed to pick up a grapefruit-sized chunk of cactus that latched itself to my left elbow, and laughed at my hapless attempts to remove it without also getting a handful of nettles in my opposite hand.

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I rode clean and strong the remainder of the lap and arrived back in the transition tent in 1:14, where Nick awaited anxious to get some dirt on his new kit and some miles on his brand new Spot bike with the Carbon Drive Systems belt-driven single-speed… which was quickly becoming the product buzz of the event. Thus, our pattern was established… one would ride for about an hour and a half, while the other would retire to the trailer to relax, fuel up, and get ready for the next lap… all much smoother an efficient thanks to Kelly’s comprehensive support, Brett’s timely wrench work, and the camaraderie provided by the other Spot riders who were awaiting their next lap.

Nick and I make the hand off following Lap #1:

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As day turned to night, the lighting systems appeared on bikes and helmets, but navigating the twisty terrain was still pretty tricky. As I rounded one corner, I accidentally missed the trail by about 18 inches, and crashed over the bars into a huge cactus… landing pretty much on my ass! I tried to carefully extricate myself without picking up any additional damage, but I’m pretty sure I had well over 100 prickly friends with me on the backs of both legs, hands and arms as I remounted the bike and finished the lap. My situation was good for a laugh for all who had a chance to witness Kelly’s gracious attempts to remove the tenacious nettles with a pair of needle-nose pliers.

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‘Round midnight at a 24 Hour race is when you start to get a true sense of which teams and individuals have the stuff to overcome the “demons” and “dark places” that haunt you each lonely lap. Those were just a couple of the familiar sounding terms that Nick would share with me after each late night lap, having somehow found the ability to keep turning the cranks while tuning out the negative thoughts. It was about this time, that we began to move up from 26th place (out of 58 in our 2-Man Open division), as those in front began to falter, lose focus, oversleep, or just plain slow down.

I had a little time to myself to contemplate the subject of mental toughness, while sitting in a dark port-o-potty at 3 am in cold, wet bike clothes, and a few dozen cactus nettles still buried in my skin. Not unlike my first Half Ironman experience many years ago, when I entered the water amidst snow flurries and 29 degree temps, I managed a wry smile at the situation I’d once again willingly placed myself in, and somehow found comfort in discomfort. Instead of feeling bad for myself, or allowing thoughts of quitting to easily enter my head, I focused on how few of my fellow competitors in races later this year were actually out training and suffering right then at that moment, and how much stronger and fitter I’d be if I could just manage to get through to noon that day.

It reminded me of an account I’d once read of a training run between Frank Shorter and Steve Prefontaine not long before Pre died in 1975. As Frank recalls… We are running at 9000 feet, down a road that was probably a 7, 8, or 9 per cent grade, in a 32-degree corn snow blizzard where the snow was blowing horizontally. And corn snow is the kind where it hits and freezes. And he was going along like crazy. He was in rare form. Pissin’ and moanin’ and complaining about everything in the universe. And I turned to him and said “Pre, do you realize no one in the world is training as hard as we are right now.” He shut up.

To me, it doesn’t matter that they are two of the greatest runners in history and I’m a 40-year-old recreational athlete, surrounded by younger and faster riders…the lesson is the same; When it comes to endurance sports like running, cycling, or triathlon, you get as physically fit as you can, given real-life constraints such as jobs, families, finances, time, and most importantly genetics, and then as Pre so famously and simply uttered… it just comes downs to who has the most guts.

I’m proud of the guts that Nick and I showed the rest of that night and all the way through to the finish later that day, as we churned out 15 laps and moved all the way up to 11th place. As we drove home the next day (OK, Kelly did most of the driving) we were able to reflect positively on the experience as a whole, all the little accomplishments along the way, how great it felt to do something so HUGE in February, and how much it will payoff the rest of this season with measurable physical gains and vast mental confidence in the bank.

Now, if I can just get rid of the last few nettles in my skin and grits of sand from my lungs before next weekend’s Steamboat Pentathlon, I’m planning to ski, snowshoe, XC ski, bike, and run using every bit of fitness and guts I’ve gained from my recent venture in the Arizona desert. Epic post certain to follow!

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6 responses

21 02 2008
Liz Fliegelman

Come July, it is only diaper races for you, hubby! Ha ha ha! Just kidding. We’ll have our little baby racing alongside of us in no time! 🙂

21 02 2008
Nancy

I thought the 24 hours of triathlon last september had done you in for good! it is great to see you are back out there doing this crazy stuff. I am sure the kid is going to be strapped to yours and liz’s backs in late July, out there competing with you 🙂

22 02 2008
Barry

Scott – you continue to be an inspiration as an athlete, business person, friend … and, soon, I’m sure you will be an inspiration as a Dad. Congrats on yet another notch in that endurance event belt you wear proudly.

22 02 2008
bolder

definitely.

no one is training as hard as you are.

and, having as much adventures!

great race, great report.

well.done.

4 03 2008
Zev Barnett

Hey Scott,

I loved your account of the race. I was there as well with a 5 person team in an RV (luckily) just up the road from you.
I stopped by your trailer after noticing the Cross bike with Zipps and CO Multisport and Fast Forward stickers ont he wheels. I repeatedly missed you as I was racing as well.
What a great time it was down there, even with the crazy weather! i hope all my biking aids me in the heat of the summer in Boulder!
Peace,
Zev

30 03 2008
Greg

Scott,

Blog Report: A. I think you’re gunning for 2008 Blog of Za Year.

WAY more importantly however:

Shaving Skills: A
I give you props for the full leg shave. Nice work, kid. Thank God you didn’t do the poor man’s shave and be forced to expose that to the world with your thorn extraction photos.

‘Cross on.

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