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I think I’ve mentioned this before, but here it is again. Ultracycling and ultrarunning is difficult in two ways. The more obvious way to the casual observer is the general length of the event. The average “go to the gym and exercise fanatic” may spend an hour a day, five days a week doing an aerobic activity. In an average month, they do about 20 hours of aerobic exercise. When you consider an ultracycling or ultrarunning event on the short end generally takes 24 hours, and sometimes goes as long as 60 hours, with little or no sleep over a weekend, you can understand the amount of training needed to stand at the starting line. In the second way, at the height of your training, you could be looking at on average 22-25 hours of training per week. This comes to over 100 hours of aerobics per month. I’ve done these events off and on since the mid-90s. I have the same thing in common with most other ultra athletes. We’re champions at scheduling and allotting our time to squeeze out every moment of training, every day. After training for the first four and a half months of this year for the Furnace Creek 508, which sets off on the first week of October every year, I figured out that I couldn’t put the proper time in to complete the race. I sent the director of the event, Chris Kostman, an e-mail stating that I would be dropping out this year. I then started informing some of my riding buddies that I would be free for the casual 50-100 mile ride on the weekends, and not the 200-250 mile rides they were used to me going on. I told you that to tell you this. About a week after dropping out of the race, my two riding buddies, Steve and Johnny, had a ridiculous idea. They thought that since I couldn’t do it solo, maybe we could do it as a four-man team. My knee-jerk reaction was no for several reasons. First and foremost, I hate doing relay ultraraces. I have done a couple mountain bike versions of this. I hated it because you warm up, go really hard, cool down just long enough to where you have to warm up, and go again. In a 24-hour mountain bike race, this means you go at it in time-trial form for an hour, every fourth hour, for a 24-hour period. The second reason: I had been riding with Johnny for the better part of 20 years. Here are a few things I learned for certain in that amount of time: he loves to go 40 or 50 miles. Sometimes he can be talked into a 60 or 70 mile ride. In all the years of riding together, I had only known him to go over 100 once or maybe twice. He is neither fast nor slow. He’s got one speed in between the two. Steve is a completely different story. I’ve written about him on this blog before. I refer to him as the Jewish Rambo. He never misses a day of doing upper body exercise. He’s got biceps like Popeye. At 52, this guy has little to no body fat. But when it comes to aerobic activity, Steve is just not a big fan of it. He literally rides a bike two days per month. It’s always a Saturday on weekends when he doesn’t have his son. He will actually ride the most impressive 35-40 miles you’ve ever seen. Then because of his lack of aerobic conditioning, his legs will cease up and cramp, rendering him useless. These cramps have been so bad in the past, that he would be literally two miles from finishing and we’d have to go back and get him in a car. Johnny and I would make bets as to which mile Steve would cramp up on. Steve was also a fan of not taking enough water. We would use this information and the temperature of the day to figure out how to win that bet. Then there was a third problem. Our four man team only had three men. To find our fourth man, we went to the fairer sex, and got one of my best friends and dearest clients, Christina DeRonde, to sign on. This was no easy feat, as she had a busy schedule. Beside raising two beautiful girls, she does a full season of short course, medium course and Ironman distance triathlons. To put it simply, her tri-bike gets shipped from event to event, hardly ever making it home. She just finished the Nationals in Tuscaloosa, Alabama last week. She has another event coming up shortly. I guess you could say when she came to do our event she tapered off a bit. Needless to say, I wasn’t worried about Christina being ready. Between May and October 1, I watched Johnny and Steve become “real athletes.” Johnny started dropping a couple of pounds that he started to put on with the stress of the economy the past couple of years. He also started talking about different gearing for his bike. This was a guy who never cleaned a chain or pumped up his tires before this. On the weekends, it was common to see him go from 100 to 120 miles, and follow it with a 50-mile Sunday ride. Steve also stepped up to the plate. At first I would notice two full water bottles on his bike. He saw the advantage of drinking water with electrolytes in it. He started carrying two extra water bottles on his seat post. He rode his bike so much he needed new tires and a tune up. He did two more things this summer that was very impressive. He went over 100 miles for the first time ever. He also took precious weekend time from his lovely girlfriend Evonne to spend a weekend with me in Death Valley, going over his first stage of the race. Death Valley was cool that weekend. It only got up to 118 degrees. I was proud of the boys. I was also happy that Christina decided to sign on. What I didn’t expect was what happened when the race started Saturday morning. My original prediction was that we’d finish somewhere between 7 and 10 in a division with 14 teams. Let’s face it, I didn’t really train hard for this event. Johnny and Steve had never been in a cycling event of any sort in their lives. And the star of our team, Christina, was still working off sore legs from Nationals last week, where she had an impressive time. Johnny started the race. I thought it would be great if he went first. There’s a lot of climbing, perhaps 6,000 feet of it, and the stage is about 85 miles. I always think of Johnny as being very resilient. He’s not the fastest climber in the world. But he always gets it done, and I knew he wouldn’t cramp. Not only did he avoid cramping, but he did that stage in five hours, at least 45 minutes faster than we expected. Johnny told me later he had to stop once to pee, and he considered doing it off the bike, but didn’t understand the logistics of how that worked. Steve went next and picked up where Johnny left off. In a stage where I expected four hours and 20 minutes, he ended up doing it in four. By the time I got on the bike, we were in sixth place. I chose the third stage for one reason and one reason only. Not only was it the longest stage at 99 miles, but it also includes the fabled Towne Pass climb. It’s an 11-mile climb. It’s unrelenting, with grades anywhere from 8 to 13 percent. My original intent was to put out a hard effort to the climb, followed by a moderate effort on the climb, then a strong finish on the descent into Furnace Creek, which is the halfway point. That didn’t happen. After seeing the effort my two buddies put in, I knew I had to suffer and do my best throughout the whole stage. By the time my stage was over, we were no longer in sixth place, we were in fourth. I give Christina a lot of credit for her first long stage. Not only was there plenty of climbing, she was doing something she had never done before. She was riding in the middle of the night with the only light coming from the headlights on our chase vehicle behind her. This is an amazing feat. When I first started riding with Christina several years back, she was so scared to go downhill, she would literally take her feet out of the clips. She was barreling downhill heading to Shoshone in the pitch black of night. This type of intense effort continued all day Sunday as we finished the race in fourth place, in 32 hours and 48 minutes. This surpassed my prediction of a best-case-scenario of finishing in 36 hours. I’ve known all three of these people for at least 10 years, Johnny for 20. They proved something to me this weekend. I saw a side of each one of them that I had never seen before. I c
ame away with a greater respect for each of them.