Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Shift 6: The last shift ever?

Introducing METAL's, Hammer's, and Slayer's blogs. METAL tells a story like you have never read before, and usually has me laughing in tears with his big word and run on paragraph antics. He goes into excrutiating detail, as seen by a rate of one post per pull so far. Maybe it's because we won this year, but there are a tad less fluff than in years previous. While unfortunate, it always makes for good reads. Hammer's writing style is very descriptive and helps paint a picture that I simply can't. This is Slayers first foray into the blogosphere whose perspective is also descriptive, enlightening and equally complimentary to all the other blogs.


I woke up around 11pm for a 2am start. I'm not sure if the alarm woke me up, or if it was the Hammer, but it was obvious that as soon as I opened my eyes, the Hammer was wide awake, and a bundle of energy. Normally this part of the race for me is reserved for some sluggishness. Despite the lack of sleep catching up, I'd wake up a little earlier so I could have more time to wake up. Not for him. I'm pretty sure his fists were clinched and he was throwing out some words making it painfully obvious that he was AMPED UP for our upcoming last shift. Fortunately, his energy was contagious.

I quickly wiped the cobwebs from my eyes, went to work on my quad/ITB and we starting chatting up the next few hours. Of course, we were checking on our teams progress who continued to put time into the competition, and that alone is enough to get us pretty pumped up about closing the book on this years race.

The next few hours before our shift were pretty mellow. We packed up the truck, made our way to the projected hand off, which was further east than originally predicted (as usual), and we made it to the spot with about 10 minutes to setup (also the usual).


For those who are not familiar with our unofficial team rule of "DON'T BE LATE", being early is on time, and being on time is late. Being late is like giving 2 of your teammates a death warrant for your truck. You see, 5 hours is a long time to be doing gut wrenching intervals, and each racer 'budgets' the amount of energy to expend over their shift. Until they hear from the oncoming team when and where the exchange will happen, they keep expending their energy to be done by the time 5 hours are up. A smart racer might even keep a little in reserve in case shit happens.

I was proud to say that our truck was setup and rider no earlier than 10-15 minutes for every exchange. This meant that 20-60 minutes out from an exchange, we communicate to Truck1 that we are ready, which means they can empty their tanks for the 5 hour mark. It's also a huge sense of relief for any rider that they don't have to go longer than the 5 hours. Going longer than 5 hours usually summons dark energies and negotiates the sale their soul to the devil just to make it through another few pulls. Truck1 has the honor of being our A-racers, and our truck did everything to keep up with them in all senses of the race, which also meant being on time.

Into the Night

Temps in the West Virigina night were comfortable as ever. The Hammer and I both started out on our TT bikes, but about 2 hours in, I switched over to my road bike.

Recently, Slayer and I had a conversation the other day about the benefits of switching bikes mid-shift. While the mechanics of pedaling the bike are very similar between TT and Road bikes, there's something that's just a little different. Whenever I (or Slayer) would switch bikes mid-shift, it almost was a sense of relief because different muscles were being used, and thus, we were able to side step certain muscular fatigue and keep producing watts at high levels.

The bike to use due to the terrain was not clear cut like it was for earlier parts of the race. The rolling foothills of the appalachians weren't very tall, but were couple hundred foot steep suckers that were just a little too tall to hammer it at the bottom, and let momentum and speed carry over to the top. This is evident in the below photos:

With the roadie, I could climb better, but with the TT bike and aero wheels, I could descend faster. Knowing that Graf gave us the talk back in April that the race can be won up the hills, I opted for the roadie. That, and because my hip bothered me on my TT bike, it was offered relief on my roadie. This gave me 2 aspects of producing more power for this menacing section. Win-win.

Most of the shift was pretty uneventful, or at least the first 3 hours. Go up a hill on Route 50, descend a hill on Route 50. The highlight of the course was going up a hill and seeing dear on the side of the road, and having to back off because I didn't want to startle them, and then crash the Follow Vehicle. That would have supremely sucked.

External Motivation and The Tipping Point

I am not one who is motivated by external factors all that much. It's not to say that I'm not motivated at all by my external environment, but the internal fire burns stronger. This can be seen as a spot of weakness to some who are much more externally motivated, but I could really care less.

Things were going pretty well for me, all things considered. Yeah, I was pretty fatigued in the middle of the night, but I was humming along at a nice clip. Somewhere around hour 3, we passed a time station. I didn't really think anything about it, but I happened to check our teams projection sheet, and the results hit me like a ton of bricks.

Barrie, our amazing crew chief, made a fairly robust projected exchange spreadsheet that we used throughout the race. The projected times were based off of old times + x factors, and then we posted actual times/speeds as we passed through time stations. It's pretty nerdy, useful and intuitive.

For the first time, our truck didn't meet the projected time for the prior time station. I took this to heart, and I was pissed. I took a minute to think through this. Maybe the projected time was during the day when we didn't have to do static exchanges. Maybe the missed turn we had made for significant time loss. Maybe something else.

Maybe it was time to find another gear. A fire was lit under my arse, and it was game time more than ever. I checked the clock, and I had about 2 hours left in my RAAM career. Game on.

Each pull after this point was an all out time trial, rather than just sustainable, hard-ass tempo. When I would approach the Hammer for an exchange, I was out of the saddle for full on 20s sprints. He picked up on this too, and we basically started attacking each other at every exchange. With the Hammer being a former State Crit champion, this meant all out WAR on each other (in a friendly way of course). THIS was a very awesome part of the shift, and one that really set the tone for the last few hours.

About 2 pulls later, I knew the Hammer was going to have a long pull, and for whatever reason, I knew it was time to switch out my climbing wheels for my Zipp 404's. The section in front of us was definitely rolling, and while some would go for their TT bikes, I stayed with the roadie, but chose the aero wheels to bridge the gap. A toss up really, but using the above mentioned logic, I knew this would be a good choice. My first pull on the 404's was like THUNDER. Let's face it, race wheels sound bad ass, and when a racer is fired up, it only stirs the pot. On said pull, I dropped the follow vehicle. Twice. I also arrived at the next exchange point faster than expected, and then dropped our truck. It was full-on Animal mode, and I had a shit-eatin' grin from making good problems for our team to have. I was amped up, and even though I was pushing really, really hard, I felt like I could have kept going for a few more hours.

2% almost feels like 10%
Despite the fog, we could tell that the sun was going to start coming up, and the last section of our shift had considerable climbing. Climbing at this stage in the race is almost comedic. I admit, at a 2 % grade, I'm practically out of the saddle. I don't really care - anything to get up the hill faster is what I'll go with. There actually is a video of me climbing like that, and the grade is so little, I looks like I'm on a flat. Even I thought "What am I doing?", but then I remembered. Whatever.

The Hammer and I exchanged out for the last pull of the shift, which I got. I was pretty happy about this, and thought it would be a great finish to my RAAM career. Even better was that I was going to finish a climb, and then get a fun descent down to where Truck3 was waiting for us.

As I crested, a feeling of happiness came over me. That feeling of "it's over" that any endurance athlete has felt in a long ass race. As I crested the hill, I could see the downhill, and naturally, I kicked up for a very fun descent.

Then I was greeted with a little surprise.

Parked on the side of the road was 4Mil's bus. I couldn't believe it. This was my last pull, and here I got to see our competition, parked on the side of the road, maybe even sleeping. If they were awake, even better. If they got to see Team ViaSat blowing by them, well then, damn. I instantly got a shot of adrenaline, and attacked a downhill like I've never attacked before. It was so completely freaking awesome, I can't describe it. It might sound absurd, but in the thick of everything we have been through, I couldn't have scripted a better way to round out my last RAAM.

At this stage, anything is bent over hilarious

The funny part was that there was a red light waiting for me at the bottom of the hill, and Truck3 was on the other side of the intersection. I was having a party in my head, the Follow Vehicle was cheering me on, and there was a flat out party where our truck and Truck3 were setup. It was like we took over the intersection as 3 disparate parties.

These never stopped

I soft pedaled through the intersection got off my bike, and it was like pandomonium!!!!! I was all jazzed up, describing my descent in full detail, everyone was high fiving, and it was a bigger celebration of finishing in a random parking lot than any RAAM finish might be in. It was the longest we've ever taken to get all packed up after a shift but it didn't matter, we were done!!! Barrie and our crew confirmed that we wouldn't have to ride again, and so it was off the Annapolis for some serious celebrating!!!

Truck3 started their RAAM finish with these views. Also scripted!

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