Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Race Report: Lotoja 2009

Event: Lotoja (206-mi race from Logan, Utah, to Jackson, Wyoming)
Date: 9/12/2009
Weather: cool, pleasant in the morning; a little warm/hot midday and cooling considerably by the finish; moderate winds during first 2/3 of the ride during open stretches
Teammates present: raced with 4 other friends on our team, the "Part-time Models": Jane Bergeson, Rita Ogden, Erika Feinauer, and Kristan Warnick. Jerseys were donated by Jane's sister from Contender Bicycles. SAG by Contender plus some team friends/family.
Other teams present: various, mostly local teams
Category raced: women cat 4 in a mixed race with women cat 1/2/3
Goal: stay with the pack until at least Preston and finish the race before the 8:15 PM cutoff.

(Note: making it through this whole post is an endurance event, perhaps to reflect the nature of Lotoja...I'm not sure my mom will even get through it this time.)

For 2009, I had the goal of doing mostly cycling--focusing on bike races and longer endurance events--until late summer, when I would transition to full Ironman training. With this in mind, I signed up for Lotoja with several other friends, as soon as I was relatively confident I would be able to get back on the bike. Lotoja is a 206-mile bike race (or ride) from Logan, Utah (~4500'), to Jackson, Wyoming (~6500'), with about 10,000' elevation gain. The event has USAC race as well as fun ride categories; although our intention was to ride together in the fun ride group, we ended up in the women's cat 4 race. I think I was the only one initially happy about that. My training included doing the Death Ride in July, the Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge Century (highly recommended!), and a string of triathlons and bike road races. My longest training ride for Lotoja was the Death Ride--129 miles, but done back in July. I felt strong on the bike leading up to Lotoja, but wondered if my body, especially my back, would hold up for such a long ride.

Compressing 206 miles into a 3-inch picture leaves out a few details.

We were treated with pleasantly cool, clear weather the morning of the race. Making one of the largest teams, the five of us lined up on the front with about 35 other women. Perhaps our matching Contender jerseys got us a little more respect? At precisely 6:58 AM, we were off, winding our way out of Logan and onto some country roads. The pace was manageable and I was comfortable staying toward the front during this mostly flat stretch. After 5-10 miles the pack narrowed and someone managed to organize a rotating paceline with the front 20 or so riders. I found myself moving up to the front in the left line and watched the women in front rotate clockwise in a continuous motion. It was a beautiful sight, moving smoothly and efficiently! I found it tricky to accurately gauge the speed of the line moving back but one of the women gave me a tip of just slowing by about 1/2 to 1 MPH once I moved over. The paceline was moving pretty quickly but I didn't have to work too much. But of course, I found myself in front when we hit one of the few short uphill sections. I didn't want to be the one to slow down the group, so worked hard to keep the pace going. Well, I looked back and there were just a few of us off the front. Duh! Anyway, I felt comfortable in the pack and reflected several times how relaxed I felt. Because we were riding the first 34 miles of a 206-mile race, there was no need to be too assertive, and there were no attacks. Soon enough, we were at the first feedzone in Preston, Idaho, where we met up with our SAG team.

I tested my blood sugar and was pretty horrified to see "435" staring back at me. Twenty minutes before the race, I had been 120 and had eaten 1 gel for a little boost. By the race start I was 177 and felt that, once things got going, I would drop a little. I did not consume any carbs those first 34 miles, but the effort was greatly reduced by being in the pack. This is the part of bike racing that seems so hard to manage--the effort is not necessarily predictable. Or perhaps it is, but I am not good at predicting it. Still, 430 from one gel? I bolused a couple units, drank lots of water, and rejoined the race. It took what seemed like forever to get my BG below 300, and I had to bolus another couple units. I don't like taking boluses >1 unit when I am exercising but needed to be more aggressive here.

There was a little climb out of Preston, with a fabulous descent, and then some flat/rolling sections. The pack either got out of the feedzone before us (likely) or splintered, but we found a few others to ride with. I think any notions of rejoining the pack were abandoned after our bathroom break, though. I was happy to continue with friends and just enjoy the day. Still, we would have to maintain an average pace of 16 MPH to finish in time. From the course description, this seemed doable. A few miles later, I dropped my chain off the small chain ring. I made a big mistake by telling everyone to keep going, because the chain was really jammed and it took me a few minutes to get rolling again. I was then riding alone and fighting the wind a bit; I didn't want to work too hard to get back, but I didn't want to ride alone either. I had another chain drop incident, this time off of my big chain ring. A guy nearby said, "You dropped your chain." "Yeah, I know," and I wondered if I could get it back on without moving it by hand. Inspired by a teammate's recent dropped chain victory at the Giro di San Francisco, I tried to move the chain by shifting to the small chain ring while pedaling very gingerly. It worked! The chain dropped to the small ring and I was able to shift it back up. I got a cheer from the guy nearby and was on my way again. (Thanks, Sarah!)

After a few more miles, I was happy to see Rita drifting back to pick me up. Soon enough, we started our first significant climb of the day: Mink Creek. The grade was not too steep and there were plenty of easier sections throughout this long climb. I still felt pretty fresh and enjoyed the scenery on the way up. I reached the neutral feedzone near the summit and waited for Rita to rejoin. There was a nice descent on the backside and then many flat miles on the approach to Montpelier. It was quite windy on this section and I was really hoping to find our front 3 riders, so pushed it here. At one point, I saw a group ahead and thought I saw our jerseys in there but alas, it was another group. I had been expecting a little more downhill from the elevation map but, really, it just felt flat. I was torn between trying to catch our group and slowing down to ride in with Rita.

Finally, I pulled into Montpelier and saw our crew. My parents had decided to drive up to cheer us on and I was very happy to see them there. After restocking and resting for a few minutes, we were off again; Jane was ahead but we had a group of 4 together again. There was another shorter climb and another great descent. We regrouped for the flattish stretch before the 3rd big climb of the day at Salt River Pass. We were at mile 110 or so and my high blood sugar woes were a thing of the past--I was hovering around 85-100, about 40-50 points lower than I like to be during a race. A BG below 100 can very quickly drop to a seriously low level for me, and I generally feel hypoglycemic at anything less than 110 during intense exercise. I felt pretty bad on this climb and had no motivation to push it for the Queen of the Mountain timed race. This was also the warmest section and very exposed to the sun. Mercifully, the climb was not too long. I have no memory of the ride into Afton, the next feedzone where we met up with our SAG crew.

Star Valley, Wyoming was a section well-suited to pacelining and I hoped we could keep our speed up here. (Here is a youtube clip.) Unfortunately, my ITB near my knee, which has bothered me since Barb's Race, acted up again and I also started feeling the effects of a long day on the saddle! I was feeling okay in the paceline but at one point, I just dropped off. I knew I should have said something but didn't even have the energy. I ate some more food and was grateful that Rita came back to see what was up. Pulling over, I checked my BG, which was around 80. After a short break, I felt a little rejuvenated but just didn't have a lot of energy, and didn't enjoy the pain. Around mile 150, I noticed that my left arm and shoulder were starting to feel tired and I was having a harder time keeping a normal posture. I felt good pulling on the downhill sections, where I could help with the pace, but was not feeling great otherwise.

Pulling into Alpine, I was relieved and dismayed to see that we had 47 miles to go. I knew we had to finish this in about 3 hours, which would have been no problem under other circumstances. This stretch goes up the canyon with spectacular views of the Snake River; with a mild grade and some rolling sections, maintaining 16 MPH average should have been easy. But facing another 3 hours on the bike was daunting. We picked up another rider here and there, and made our way. Thanks to Rita who took the flat/uphill sections, we eventually got through. I continued to do my best to pull on the downhills, which were never as long or steep as one would hope. I saw people rafting down the river, and told myself I needed to come back to visit again someday. It would be a fantastic ride if one started from Alpine!

We stopped at the last aid station around mile 175 and eventually made it to the turnoff from the highway. I was in pretty serious pain from my knee and saddle discomfort and never felt sure of how many miles we had left. After the longest 15 miles ever, we witnessed the gorgeous spectacle of the sunset over the Tetons, and saw a happy sign: "5 km." All races should be measured in kilometers! Those last 5 km fell away and we finished, a few minutes after 8 PM and before the finish line came down at 8:15. It was a relief to be off the bike and I was happy that all five of us had finished. I would not have been able to get through this without Rita especially, my other teammates and our wonderful SAG crew. Our official time was 13:04 for 206 miles.

Crossing the finish line at last!

Positives: I was happy that I felt good the first 110 miles, and that, for the most part, I felt good on the climbs. Feeling comfortable in the pack was a big step for me, and very enjoyable. It sort of turned the 200-miler into a 170-miler (sort of). I was glad I got my BG down, even though it seemed to take several hours. Having great support on the course made this a great experience, and I am proud of our whole team for finishing in time.

Needs improvement: I feel better when my BG's are in the right zone, which they weren't for most of this ride. Instead of overreacting to seeing 120 on my meter, and eating a gel, I should have trusted that my basal rates were in the right place. This was tricky because it seems that high altitude has an effect; but it's one I don't feel confident relying on yet. Also, when I was trying to increase my BG later in the race, I should have made a more drastic reduction of my basal rate, or forced myself to eat more. I am very happy that I finished, but I like to finish strong, which was not the case. I felt like I had the strength to ride better but was held back by recent and longer-term injuries. (Don't worry--I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to discover that 150 miles was the limit for my shoulder and back. But on the other hand, I look forward to the time when my left side catches back up to my right.)

Would I do it again? I think my statement at the end was, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for me." But I think it is likely that my sign-up-for-race-itis will get the better of me on this one again.

This sort of sums up my feelings at the end.


Shane and Becca said...

Love it, Anne! Way to go!

LindaF said...

Lotoja was one long race, but so much fun to watch! I was thrilled when I first saw you riding your bike at Montpelier, remembering what an effort even walking had been earlier in the year.

Congratulations to you and Rita and your teammates--and thanks to the members of your SAG team.

Kevin said...

You make ME tired.
Much continued respect...