You know you’ve been away from blogging when the virtual snow has appeared on Word Press. I will admit it’s kind of a nice feature. I took some much needed time away from thinking about blogging, but I’m back. Merry Christmas!
There are a lot of emotions and angst about my latest endeavor. First, I will start with a recap. Forgive me for repeating myself to those who follow this blog. This blog came about and is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Karen Ellen Dennis Mastromonico who died at a young age when I was only eight and my brother was three. I started it as a way to honor her, my health and the beauty of life that can be taken so quickly. It is still and foremost dedicated to that purpose, but on most occasions I dedicate an event, i.e run, race or ride to an individual(s) who may be struggling with health issues of their own. I have raised money for cancer and MS and many other of life’s struggles while participating in various events over the years. Participating in the El Tour de Tucson supported the Easter Seals and is considered the United States largest perimeter ride at 106 miles.
This past summer I had reconnected with some high school friends and we decided to take a girls road trip from Colorado to Arizona and had a great time. Shortly after the trip was over, I received an email from my friend Jen (one of the high school friends I travelled with) about her husband Tim. He was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. So, of course I dedicated this ride to Tim and his recovery. The power of physical prayer is what I like to call it when I participate in these events. I am sad to say that Tim lost his battle with cancer this month. He was a young man taken too quickly and too soon. In her last email what resonated with me the most is we still had stuff to do. Every time I sat down to write about something that was a triumph all I could think about was Jen’s loss of Tim. It was a hard thing to swallow. I feel so badly for Jen and her family. It happened so quick. It is mind numbing that just six months ago I was having a drink with Jen and Tim in their home. Life indeed is unpredictable and short.
This was the first ride I participated in, ever. I guess for most people who cycle, there is some building up to this massive event. You know, shorter rides (just like runs) before you go all out. But….no I decided to go big, first time. That’s pretty much how I roll…a lot. For better or worse, that’s how it is.
I took the Friday off before the race from work, so I could take my time getting ready and attend the Expo in Tucson, AZ. I found the Civic Center, where the Expo was held with no problem, but I will say it was a little stoic walking inside and looking at the different booths. Please fellow cyclists don’t get offended, but the cycling crowd and the running crowd are very different. The cycling crowd seems to be a lot calmer, whilst the running crowd ~ loud and proud and a little rowdy. Very interesting. I picked up the packet and walked around waiting for a “required safety” briefing that never happened. As I sat in the front row, waiting for the briefing, there was this older gentleman passing out maps of the event. He starts talking to me and asks what event I’m participating. I tell him the century, as a matter of fact, and he looks at me and says….are you physically capable? At first I was like, you have to be kidding me. That Scorpio mindset was about to blow. Then I composed myself and just said yes, the century. He looked at me and smiled and said good. Humph! I took my map and sat for a couple more minutes until an announcement was made the briefing was going to be delayed due to the interview with a cycling pro that showed up. I ended up walking around and stopped at a vendor selling pickle juice. I didn’t know that pickle juice helps with cramps. I tried a sample and it was great! So I bought a six pack. I love pickles anyway so this was good! There were vendors selling all sorts of stuff. I bought some arm warmers and decided to call it a day.
I made reservations for a hotel advertised on the ride site. I thought this would be easier since I’ve never been to Tucson. One thing is for sure, when I go somewhere new I don’t like to get too crazy. Or to put it lightly something fairly easy to access and easy to get to the event. This hotel was an Indian run casino, so cray it was and easy it wasn’t. It was about 13 miles out of town. So, I was overcompensating getting up and getting to the event on time. I was on edge and didn’t get any rest. I brought my bike into the hotel because, no way was I going to leave it in the car at a casino parking garage.
In order to make the 6 o’clock start time I left the hotel around 4:45. Kept the French fries and fruit from the night before as an early breakfast, along with some pickle juice. Hmmm…tasty.
Just like in a marathon, there are corrals for the ride. The fast people up front and slow people in the back. I was surprised when I arrived at downtown Tucson, I was able to find a parking spot fairly close to the start line and there were so many people around I just followed everyone else to find my way to the start.
When I arrived at the starting line there was a gate that housed all of the faster riders. Their bikes were upside down like they had slept there the night before. Then there was everyone else. I found my way to the back. I didn’t want to take any chances being “trampled” by the herd. It was cold. As with most of these events it’s always hard for me to gauge how much clothing to wear. It was cold, but not crazy cold. I bought a “throw away” shirt to wear that I ended up not having to bring, which I was glad because I thought it was too nice to ditch! So I found my spot and waited for the ride to begin. There were photographers walking about taking pictures and people moving around deciding whether or not to “move up” or go back. Last minute checking of gear and the bike to make sure everything was in check.
Then the gun went off and it was time to ride! Similar to a large run, the caterpillar effect was in full force. My left foot was clipped in as I guided with my right just moving myself along. We did this for about a quarter of a mile then the flow started to even out. I was a little put out because I forgot my cellphone in the car, so unfortunately I didn’t get to take any pictures during the ride.
As I have said in previous posts the first 50 miles isn’t a problem. It’s the last 50. The ride started out good, I was pumped and was moving along nicely. I trained for this moment. I road close to 80 miles and this was going to be fine. I was going to be fine. About 30 minutes into the race the wind started blowing… hard. When I say hard I don’t mean a strong wind, I mean almost knock you off your bike gusts. It was really unbelievable. This type of wind went on for 4 hours straight. It really slowed down my normal pace and of course caused more fatigue early in the ride. The route contained two washes that needed to be crossed on foot. Now washes in Arizona are there for the rain. When it rains in the desert, it happens forcefully and fast. Those rocky washes can look like raging rivers in 30 minuets flat. Normally they aren’t very large width wise. This wasn’t the case for the first wash I had to cross. Of course it wasn’t. It was a quarter mile of sandy rock. This is why I wish I had the phone. Just imagine 9,000 people, that’s right there were 9,000 riders, crossing a wash, carrying their bikes. You surely can’t ride it across. Not a road bike. So carry it you must. It was grueling. I began to have flashbacks of Army road marches. Yet strangely, there is a solace when you are doing it with people who think like you in the same situation. There was a Mariachi band that made the crossing…less of a task. As much as I liked that part, it was a bit of a time waster. More of that later. Stopped for a porta potty break took a gel and headed back out.
There were rest stops about every 10 to 12 miles. In the beginning I stopped when I felt I needed too. I didn’t want to stop too much because what should have been a 5 minute stop turned into a 15 minute stop because of the amount of people using the facilities and the chit chat. I felt comfortable knowing there would be a place to go to the bathroom and not some rattlesnake infested ditch. Around mile 30 I found myself riding with another woman named “Sally”. It’s interesting when you are doing an event like this how you just kind of come together as what I like to call “necessary friends”. We just started talking and decided to stick together and offer each other support. Sally was from Tucson and she had just completed another century two weeks before. I took this as a positive sign and listened to what she had to say. She mentioned the “wind” wasn’t normal…of course not and the big thing about the century is finishing on time. I kept hearing this over and over from different people, but I had done the work and the calculations and 10 hours should be more than enough time. Every time I looked at Sally I just wanted to sing…”ride, Sally ride”…I know, I can’t help it sometimes. After about an hour of riding with Sally, I began to notice that Sally was kind of dragging me down. One thing I learned around mile 40, and this is going to sound like an episode from the Walking Dead, sometimes you gotta smile, and leave them behind. That’s right…cut bait, move on, see ya! I had to leave Sally behind, at the rate she was going, I would never make time. I know it sounds brutal, but I had to do it. I wished her well and was on my way.
Around mile 48 is when my first real test happened. It’s always a slow motion realization, that something big is about to happen. You’re not really sure, but you know it’s not going to be good. I turn a corner and there was the biggest hill I have yet to climb. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it. Not that I didn’t want to attack the hill and try, I knew that physically, at this point in my training, I couldn’t do this without stopping. I unclipped my right foot because I knew I would have to stop and I didn’t want to fall on the pavement because I couldn’t unclip fast enough. I just put my head down and a part of me deep inside just said do what you can. I made it half the way up before I had to fully stop and walk the rest of the way up. I felt like I was going to throw up and I was breathing so heavy at the top. I was at mile 50 and I felt like crap and I was seriously beginning to wonder if I was going to finish this ride. Seriously. I was stopped on the side of the road checking out what I thought was a loose clip on my shoe when one of the maintenance team stopped and asked if I needed assistance. It was around 12:30 pm. I said no, just checking my equipment. He looked at me and said you are 45 minutes behind schedule, do you want to finish the ride? I was like who the hell is this guy. I looked at him square in the eye and said are you kidding I’m going to ride until they have to pick my ass up! He gave me a wink and said good to hear, and drove off. I get back on the bike and continue, then out of nowhere I hear this voice behind me in a strong Spanish accent say, “you can do this, what is your name”? I turn and there is this sweet young Mexican woman in all white on an all white bike! Her name was Brenda. Brenda hung with me for 20 miles. All the way saying my name in that accent! It was so cute! She would say. “Lawwwrel we are strong women, we can do this”! After a while Brenda had to leave me behind too around mile 70. Hey, I totally respected that I was now the one, slowing her down. At this point I was feeling good.
A very strong piece of advice ~ those that are in the lead don’t necessarily know where they are going. How can you be on a route with 9,000 other people and find yourself alone. That’s just what happened around mile 80. I do have some criticisms of the ride. One, the turns were NOT well marked. I found myself pretty much alone at one point. I mean really, how does that happen!? About a half mile ahead of me I did see two riders and so I just followed. I am a former Army officer. I have read maps. One was given to me. Did I read it? Heck no, didn’t even know where it was. So, I just followed the people it front. I’m pedaling away and I see this guy in a truck following me. He’s trying to say something out his window..and you know how you shake your head trying to be nice but you don’t even know what this guy is saying. So I smile and keep on riding. Then he comes up to me again and this time I hear him ~ “you’re going the wrong way”! OMG, you have to be kidding, 20 minutes of wasted time. I begin to panic, because I was trying so hard to make up the time I had fell behind. This unfortunately was a critical mistake. I turn around find the right path and continue. REMEMBER, trust your own instincts…lesson learned.
Around mile 95 my left toes started to go numb and hurt badly. To the point I almost was in tears. I started to laugh to myself because I thought surely if anything was going to hurt it would be my back or my thighs. The pain must have shown on my face because again out of nowhere there was this young man riding next to me. His left arm had tattoos that formed a sleeve, he looked at me and said, “the pain is worth it” and rode off. I can remember saying a silent prayer asking to just take the pain away, and like that it was gone for the rest of the ride. I saw the same man at three other stops and he would just look at me and say the same thing, the pain is worth it, nothing else. At about mile 101 I didn’t see him again.
The next five miles were filled with angst and anticipation. I was desperately trying to finish under or at the 10 hour mark and I was drinking water at a crazy pace. The sun was setting and I was pedaling as hard as I could. So hard, a couple people took notice and commented on my ending strong. In the end I finished in 10:02. Two minutes shy of the 10 hour time limit. I was pleased with myself that 1) I finished and 2) I cut my 45 minute deficit down to 2 minutes. I was a little put out I didn’t get a finisher medal. I was hard to walk through the crowd and see that I just wasn’t good enough that day. I was also proud that I had no mechanical difficulty with my bike. I chalk that up to good maintenance on my part. There were a lot of people who had blow outs or chains off early on, so for that I am grateful.
To put this in perspective, the man who won the race finished in 4 hours. Can you even wrap your brain around that? The first woman 4-1/2 hours, just amazing.
I can’t tell you enough how endurance races/rides are beneficial for the soul. It’s at events like these one has to use all of their mind/body/spirit to move on, over come and succeed, just like in daily life. 106 miles ~ I’m truly grateful.
Over all I enjoyed the race and I’m ready for another. It was challenging and fun. I would have liked to see more snacks at the stops, especially if you are advertising that is the case. I think a lot of people gauge how much food they will carry. And the route needed to be marked a little better. I later learned that the promoters were pulling up signs early.
So far I have completed 4,211.73 with 7,103.27 remaining. I look forward to completing each mile with gratitude, love and a smile on my face. Happy Miles to You!