Cycling Center Dallas Blog
Cycling Center Dallas Blog
Here we talk about all things cycling - training, wattage, group rides, bike rallies, triathlons, weather, coaching, coaches, nutrition, ponderings, musings, and equipment! If you have a topic or a question, send us a note and we'll try to answer for you!
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Coach Wharton
11:47

2014 "No Country for Old Men - Ed Tom Bell 208" Ultra-Marathon Cycling Association Bike Race. Alpine, TX to Lajitas, TX and back!!

No Country for Old Men, Alpine to Lajitas and Back, October 2014

I’m writing this from the road, as we return from this weekend’s 3rd Annual “No Country For Old Men” Ultra-Cycling event. Tracy and I took the weekend to head out to Alpine, Texas, and participate in the 192 miler, hosted by one of the nation’s most prolific Ultra-Cyclists – Dex Tooke. Dex and his wife Joni live in Presidio, which is even FARTHER from anywhere, and as this is hard, hard, hard country, they’ve thrived with their talents and determination.

I’ve mentioned before that I got in to Ultra-Cycling events through my friend and client, Michelle Beckley. This time, Michelle offered her services to her friend Jose, as a Crew Chief on a 1000 mile effort, which traveled all over the Big Bend Country. Tracy and I rode the 192 as a team, but as I write, Michelle’s client is still out there, riding in the cold, the heat, the terrain, and the wind of the desert surrounding the Rio Grande drainage.

9 hours west and south of Dallas, a whole lot of NOTHING in between.

We went in to this event more for the opportunity to just get away for the weekend before the winter rush, and to also get the unforgettable experience of riding in this absolutely gorgeous part of the country. I’m certainly not as fit as I could be, and Tracy’s season ended a while ago, and she’s enjoying the odd Cyclo-Cross event, as well as a good mountain bike ride here and there, while I remain focused on the studios. Basically, we weren’t expecting anything other than our current levels of fitness and competitive natures, to get us through the day.

An early start in Alpine, TX

The start in Alpine was right at 7:00am, and we rode a parade lap through the small town of 6000, in a pre-dawn cruise, pretty much before most of the people woke up. But once we were clear of the population, Dex pulled ahead, and waved a barely-visible green flag, signaling that the Race was on!!!!

Just before sunrise on the road to Terlingua

Tracy and I agreed that the majority of the ride would be my responsibility, and we had the fortune to borrow from my folks a late-model Ford Excursion, with plenty of room for bikes, coolers, food, and Satellite radio. In the pre-dawn effort, when temps were about 50 degrees or so, Tracy drove ahead with several other follow vehicles, and prepared to hand up water and food at different locations. This was a crucial part of the race, as we focused completely on getting as far down the road, from Alpine to Lajitas, as quickly as possible, given the lack of wind, the general downhill slope of the terrain, and the warming-but-modest temps. I was able to stay on a roughly 300Kcal/hr menu of Bonk Breakers, and I went through about a bottle an hour of OSMO. Honestly, in the desert, we should have probably consumed more, but I think the schedule was pretty good, especially in the cooler AM temps.

Efficiency is CRITICAL to these long-duration events!!

Since it was a mass start, there were people in the front with me who were racing different events, be they solo or team, and again, since the light was still poor for the first two hours or so, keeping track of everyone was not easy. That said, I was quickly passed by Cat 1 USAC racer Andrew Willis, who was racing the entire 192 as an individual. Just out of sight, but still ahead, I was able to identify the 2-person 192 team who would be our competition for the entire day. I was certainly slower on the climbs, thanks to a lack of Vo2 intervals, a bike that is specifically designed for high-speed flat straightaways, and the altitude, which of course was dropping the entire way out, but still left it’s bite on my lung capacity. Andrew went on to just KILL the individual effort, averaging over 21mph THE ENTIRE DURATION, while this team from Alpine traded the 2-person team lead with us the entire way.
 Watts and Aerodynamics, Then EAT and DRINK!

A deconditioned state and an ultra-cycling event are no excuse for not applying the concepts that we practice and preach every single day at Cycling Center Dallas. At the Texas Time Trials last month, I made a conscious effort to try and hold 205 Normalized Watts, and to try to keep a pace-per-lap that would help me set a record, and, secondly, to win the race. My big problem there was being able to stay on top of my calorie consumption. The road, literally, forced me to keep my hands on my bars, and the intensity required a heavy respiratory rate, and that interfered with my ability to chew and eat without choking. Here, however, we were on really straight roads, for hours. I found that my full-fingered gloves were superior in holding a naked Bonk Breaker, and I was able to eat while still in the full aero position. Given the altitude, I told myself to be conservative, and ride at a normalized 195w, a few percent below the 205 I had set a month earlier, but the length of the climbs, the cooler temps, and lack of wind in the AM, led me to basically hold 215 Normalized watts for almost 4 hours!!! Ironically, we were still behind Andrew, who again, was riding solo, and yet we were still ahead of the other 2-man team, who were exchanging behind me, and were able to keep maybe 2-4 minutes back. We think they must have performed maybe 5 exchanges, while I rode solo for the majority of the same period of time. Unfortunately, the P3 Aluminum was absolutely the wrong bike for the rolling, rolling, rolling terrain between Terlingua and Lajitas, and I asked Tracy to take over at 3:50, wherein she was promptly hit with a large, steep hill, which was, to say the least, a real shock to her unprepared legs.

Tracy Christenson climbing over a hill on the road from Terlingua to Lajitas.

I got in the car and leapfrogged with Tracy, while the 2-man team passed us and gained time out to Lajitas and back. But she rode REALLY well, and kept us in the race, all the way back to Terlingua, on what was arguably the hottest, hardest part of the course. I took the time to drink at least 9 cups of OSMO, and eat about 900 calories of protein, carbs, and fat, including more bars, but eventually, I got full, and held off. Tracy drank at least four bottles of OSMO in 90 minutes, and while she’d been dreading the ride, arguing that she had dead-legs syndrome, she actually perked up and got stronger as the ride progressed. In Terlingua, we decided to exchange and get me back on the bike.

Tracy Christenson making her way back to Terlingua on some of the toughest terrain of the entire ride.

Here, however, is where we made a time-sucking mistake.

Do I look Fat in This Picture?!

I made the choice of getting back on the P3. The climbs out of Terlingua are numerous and steep, while still sort of short, and my legs were squidlike to the point that I actually ended up pulling over after just half an hour. Feeling that the race for us was lost, Tracy got back on the bike and rode us back to the flat and straight part of the course, for almost another hour, while I continued to drink and try to eat. Once we got back to a part of the route that was as straight as a Roman Road, we looked ahead, looked behind, realized that we may as well have been the last two people on the planet, and I got back on the P3 to try and get as many miles in as possible.

LONG stretches of desert at 180-185 watts.
For the next two hours, I held about 180-185 Normalized watts, kept my head down and out of the way, drank about a bottle every 45 minutes, pulled over to refuel and rehydrate, and basically went in to a “Zen” state, staring at the solid white line on the right, and the dashed yellow line on the left, and watching my speed as I attempted to stay over 20mph.

"The Road Goes On Forever, and the Party Never Ends"!
What goes through your mind when you’re basically pedaling uphill with a slight tailwind and there’s no one else in sight, except for your wife, who is behind you, just out of range of discussion or sight or hearing…?
  • Well, one time I got passed by a 4-wheeler, out in the MIDDLE of NOWHERE. He pulled up alongside me on my right, and we looked at each other. He looked like the typical character from that part of the world. Map of the world on his face, smiling, sort of showing off, not aware that he was interfering, but still friendly. He kicked up some gravel and dust by accident as he waved and passed, and I lost track of him.
  • There was very little roadkill.
  • I realized that, regardless of the satellite tracking, that I probably had screwed up my wheel diameter when I put on a new tire, going from a tubular 700x22mm tire to a MONSTER 700x27mm tire. I made a WAG out there on the course, and modified the diameter on the fly from 2089mm to 2100mm. I still don’t know if that’s accurate, but it seemed to make holding over 20mph a lot easier.
  • The whole time I was on the bike, I was thanking Jack Mott and Tom Anhalt, friends in the world of wattage and cycling aerodynamics. I’m convinced that my choice of tire for the rear definitely helped me ride that much faster. Unfortunately, Jack was correct. My installation of a 700x27mm front tire on an Aeolus 9 was TOO DAMNED BIG for the fork on my TT bike to handle. I reverted back to my Stinger 6 with the Continental Competitions, and lived with it.
  • The chip seal honestly was NOT that bad. Especially with my tires at roughly 101-102 psi.
  • Aerodynamics really DID make a difference in this event. Sadly, power trumps aero, as Andrew Willis did the entire ride on a road bike with aerobars, and used a standard, ventilated helmet. He did have aero wheels, but he just rode stronger than everybody else, and I doubt his solo record will ever be broken!

Tracy rolled ahead and stayed behind, taking photos with our phones, and watching the terrain. Finally, about four miles outside of the Border Patrol Station at mile 177, I was climbing on the P3, I was exhausted, and I was falling behind on my hydration and calorie consumption, when I had to pull over, and hand the reins over to Tracy. But she was ready, her legs were fresh, and she’d popped a BeetElite earlier, so she got on the bike to take us to the finish.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting….

The final 10 miles of the route finish on a downhill run in to Alpine. Tracy and I made it through the Border Patrol station, and she rode the climb really well. Well enough, I will say, that on the FINAL SECTION OF THE CLIMB, I looked across the road, about a mile away…. And saw our competitors, crawling and clawing their way to the top of the pass. My mind went electric, and I immediately pulled up next to Tracy, rolled down the window, and yelled out at her “TRACY! THAT’S THEM!!! YOU CAN CATCH THEM!!!!” She lit up like a Roman Candle, picked up her pace, and within 5 minutes, we were roughly 400 meters behind them as they had pulled over to perform their final exchange.

I raced ahead and threw my bike out of the car, strapped on my helmet, and waited for Tracy to roll up. The team ahead had noticed us, and the younger rider, Bowie, took off like a bolt of lightning. I mounted the P3, quickly accelerated, and took off down the same piece of road. The winds had actually picked up, and there were several sections of the hairpin descents where my front wheel began to wobble, and my rear disc blew me around a bit, but I persisted and with just four miles to go, Bowie looked over his shoulder and slumped in perceived defeat as I rolled up next to him.

Over the Last Pass, and In to Alpine, "The Catch"!

The following may not be the exact discussion, but it’s the gist of it, and if you’ve read any of my previous posts dating back to 2011, you know how I feel about racing, participation, and sport, as well as the pursuit of excellence.
“Hey, How you feeling?”
“We are both destroyed, and my ride partner got a flat, and that took us a while.”
“You know, we’ve been trading the lead together all day. You want to just declare a truce and roll in together?”
“Dude, you earned it. You could take me by a few minutes right now. I got nothing.”
“Nah, both teams had a great day out there. Let’s finish this together.”
“I may try to pip you at the line!”
“Well, I won’t contest it. You’re on a road bike, and I’m on a TT bike. Besides, have you seen the potholes at the finish line?”(laughing),
“Yeah. Ok. I may throw you across for the win.”
“Why? We can’t figure out the last two miles of roads on the map. My one comment is that Dex should’ve had some arrows for us in town so we could navigate. You’re the local. Take us in.”
“Okay. Thanks.”
“No, dude, we had an absolutely spectacular day out here. Thanks for sharing this part of the world!”
After 190 miles, Riding In Together Seemed Like the Appropriate Thing to Do. 
And that was it. We rolled in together, and at the finish, Joni Lou Tooke, let out a laugh of exasperation as she proclaimed “You can’t do that to me! I have to paint more awards now!” So we congratulated each other as the follow cars rolled in to park.

I do have to give one more perspective from Tracy’s point of view, in the follow vehicle.
“….before Richard had pulled over, I could tell that he was exhausted. He wanted to ride to the Border Check, but I wanted to ride, and felt good. I felt really good, and was having fun, and my numbers were up again, when Richard rolled up beside me, pointed out the follow vehicle up around the bend, and said, “That’s Them!”“So I figured it was possible, but I picked up my pace, and closed the gap. Then he passed me and pulled over, and started getting his TT bike out, and I knew the game was ON!”“As soon as I got to you, I got the bike in to the car, and then didn’t catch up to you until we were almost done with the steep part of the descent, with maybe 6 miles to go. I watched you close the gap, and catch him. You had your energy back, he was flailing on the shoulder. I did get blocked by their vehicle, but I knew what you were going to do.”“It was so exciting watching you catch him! I was cheering and bouncing in the seat and telling you to DROP him! Put the hammer down and DROP HIM! I never figured that an Ultra-endurance event would be as fun and exciting as it was.”

 
Both Teams got CUSTOM Plaques, Hand Made by Joni Lou Tooke, the Promoter!

I know it’s been a long post, but sometimes stories take a while to tell. This was a TRUE team effort. Tracy conquered those hills and passes with aplomb. We rode through some of the most beautiful, remote, rugged country in the world. We made friends out on the course, passed people, got passed, got to push ourselves and each other, witnessed incredible feats of fortitude, saw a lot of opportunities out there to help people improve their performance through training and nutrition and hydration, and honestly, I got to ride and race my bike with the one woman on earth that I would ever ask to be with. Tracy and I have been through so much in such a short time, that this weekend, while officially a competition, was really more of a chance to be together, without the dogs, without clients, to try something new for each of us, and spend time away from the computers, the phones (ZERO reception, the drama, and the daily rigor of our struggle to create something so unique – a coaching and studio practice for cyclists and triathletes. Instead, we were a married couple riding our bikes near Big Bend, pushing ourselves, supporting each other, and growing stronger. The win was much less important than the adventure, and that’s what I hope for each of you who read this – that your cycling and improved fitness lead to more adventures on this planet. As my favorite RUSH song says… “The point of a Journey – is NOT to arrive.” May your cycling journey bring you endless happiness, but not without a little struggle or challenge, to keep you on your toes, and honest. 

A Post-Race Celebratory Dinner at "Reata"!

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Coach Wharton
16:42

Texas Time Trials in Glen Rose, September 2014: An Exercise in TEAM BUILDING and EXECUTION.

Anyone who tells me they got where they are on their own, with little or no help from anyone else, is someone I have a hard time believing. We are ALL products of our culture and our environment. Our parents, our friends, our extended families, all interact  with each other and in the general society to affect our outcomes and our probabilities. The theme I love to consider is the allegory "A Butterfly's Flap in Brazil Can Cause a Tornado in Texas." And while it's a metaphor, there's definitely some truth to it all. I'm certainly no exception. 

This weekend's Texas Time Trial event was held in Glen Rose, roughly 80 miles away from Dallas, which is just far enough to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and highways, but is also close enough that you can make a repeat trip, or do a full day's work and still get out of town and arrive before it gets too late. Glen Rose is home to two great events, the Paluxy Pedal, which is coming up in a few weekends, and last weekend, the TTT, which hosts a 1-lap, a 6 hour, a 12 hour, a 24 hour, and a 500-mile event. The course for this past weekend was a 26.5 mile loop, and given the topography of the area, for Texas, it was an incredibly hilly challenge! Each lap covered 1100 feet of climbing, with gradients surpassing 8%, and the condition of the roads, especially in the first half of each lap, was enough to leave shoulders aching and butts sore. Still, over 300 people attended the event, which only grows in popularity, as these "Ultra" events draw larger crowds of people, most of whom are LESS serious, and just look forward to good rides on a great course, with company. Sure, it's a competition, but it's about pushing yourself as much as anything, and letting the environment, your fitness, and your enthusiasm dictate the results. 
I got in to Ultra Cycling at the behest of a friend and client, Michelle Beckley. Michelle is a complete Force of Nature, with a fantastic personality, a bombastic nature, great wit and intelligence, and a level of intelligence and social critique not unlike George Carlin's. Once, earlier this year, she gave me the highest form of flattery, by telling me that I was like the brother that she never had. It made me feel so WARM inside. And honestly, I felt the same way. I've never had a sister, and outside of a cousin whom I was close to in my 20's, I've rarely had female friends that weren't girlfriends. Michelle opened up a new world of friendship, and she came along at the perfect time, since we were both going through rocky times in our marriages and relationships, around 2010, and we started going on these road trips in 2011 that just cemented the friendship, left us laughing and crying and solving the world's problems despite its' best efforts, that the miles just floated by, and the radio strangely never once turned on. 

I crewed for Michelle on two events, and in late 2012, she invited me along to attempt my first 12-hour TT in Glen Rose, which I won through sheer tenacity, since it rained, the ENTIRE time. The next year, as we had all dedicated 100% of our time to the success of the studios, I attempted it again, only to fail, as I was unfit, unprepared, and had no real strategy or plan. After 100 miles (I didn't even succeed in completing four laps), I threw in the towel, and instead gave my support to Coach Tracy as she and another client, Melissa Rodriguez, raced the 1-lap. Still - we fell in love with the event, the course, and the challenge, and I swore that I would attempt it in 2014, better prepared than ever. 

That's where Michelle comes back in to the picture. Michelle began dating a guy in 2012, and through the past three years, we've really come to appreciate Martin's desire not to compete, but to support. Martin brings and Englishman's sense of organization to the entire affair of an Ultra Cycling Event, and his ability to read his racers' mentalities at different times is spectacular! Together, Michelle and Martin have, in the past two years, lent their support, separately and together, to TWO RAAM efforts, a crazy race across the western half of Texas, and of course, the Texas Time Trials. They recently traveled together to England, Martin's native land, and it's been rumored that they held a Celtic Union Ceremony at a Secret Henge, famous for its' cryptic runes and Solstice Stones! :) 
This year's Texas Time Trials was the culmination of four years or more of Michelle and Martin's work. They planned the support for people from around Texas, around the country, and they even ended up providing support to an international Ultra Cyclist, who would have literally been on his own without them. Michelle has been suffering from some hormone and thyroid issues, so her race was placed on the backburner as she did an obligatory lap, and then settled in to her role as partner in Martin's Wonder Tent. Together, they helped almost a dozen athletes, some connected to Cycling Center Dallas, some complete strangers, with food, water, sports drinks, equipment, recovery, cooling, resting/sleep, massage, just about anything one could ask for as they attempted to conquer this course and these times. Here's a breakdown of my own experience with these two, before, during, and after the race. 

As a 12-hour event racer, I started off waking up around 4am, eating a full Breakfast Fajita from Sonic, two cups of coffee, and then making my way down to the tent. To my surprise, Martin, who had stayed up ALL NIGHT to cover the cyclists out on the course, doing their 24 hour or 36 hour events, was joined by ANOTHER client and friend, Meghan Birmingham. Meghan is a talented cyclist with untapped potential, and upon our suggestion, she took it upon herself to DRIVE DOWN TO GLEN ROSE, AFTER a Friday night commitment (She's a Violist with the Dallas Grand Opera), and she did her part to help Martin get through a long, muggy night. She actually ended up staying until late in the morning or early afternoon, and was a critical element in the first half of my race. 
So here you are, with volunteers, some of whom are family, some of whom are friends, and many of whom are actual strangers, getting together for a common purpose - to ensure that their athletes and family members involved in the event stay fed, hydrated, conscious, are put down on mats to rest if necessary, perform minor to moderate maintenance on bikes, lights, kits, helmets, etc. They have to be on their toes and stay sharp mentally, so that they're ready with every lap. 

Sadly, Michelle only lasted one lap, but she immediately swung in to "Mother" mode, as she and Martin, along with Meghan for the AM and Lee Ann, a friend from Wisconsin, combined resources under two tents, three cars, four folding tables, and EIGHT bike racks, to cover all of these racers. At one point, they had about 12 competing racers that they were assisting. Their payment? Several placings, including my own First Place, followed by multiple high fives, a few thank you's.... and then, like the wind, the majority of the racers simply disappeared, off to their rooms for showers and recovery in prep for the Awards Ceremony. Tracy and I quickly got them regrouped and we all worked to help these two priceless individuals get all the tents folded and descended, get the chairs put away, the tables folded up, and the bike racks taken care of. It really upsets me when people come with expectations that they're going to be coddled. I don't mind that at the studios, where it's my job to ensure that everything is taken care of, from setup to teardown, but out on an event, where help is actually akin to a natural resource, everyone has to chip in and do their part. Martin and Michelle did the majority of it, but NO ONE could have had much success without their willingness to give up a weekend of riding, and instead count minutes, Calories, Ounces of fluid, other racers, monitor radios, provide first aid, and the ever-present encouragement that comes from the sidelines. 

In a word - they COACHED. Martin and Michelle COACHED. They MADE the weekend. They got assistance from Meghan and Lee Ann, but they COACHED. They had clipboards with lap splits. They had a Race Plan for EACH RIDER. They had SEPARATE CONTAINERS OF FOOD AND DRINK. They had us keep our wrappers in our pockets, and when we came in for Pit Stops, they pulled the wrappers, replaced them with more food, and then counted the calories consumed. They recorded average power, average lap splits, Ounces of hydration, etc. They kept me cool with 1-Gallon bags of ice that had the corners nipped, so that when the stuff melted, it would melt down over my back. They replaced my helmet. They replaced a wheel that I felt was giving me too much trouble as the wind grew. They secretly counted the minutes between their athletes and their athletes competitors, and knew when to challenge us, and when to remain silent. They were positive. They took the longer-distance cyclists and put them down on a cot so they could sleep. They TIMED the sleep. They RECORDED the sleep. When a cyclist came in with a bleeding elbow, they pulled out a full med kit and helped calm the athlete while wrapping it up. They were the leaders, the managers, the coordinators, the cheerleaders. They sacrificed mental and physical energy and sleep so that WE could compete. They made it so that ALL we had to do was just... Ride. 
I've been a professional coach since 1993, and have spent many a time in their position, but this may have been the first time in recent history that I truly was on the receiving end of something so powerful. Michelle, Martin, Meghan, Lee Ann, and several others transferred that energy to myself and the other competitors, and in the end, it wasn't just my victory. It was a TEAM victory - I just pedaled. 

So here's to the CYCLING CENTER DALLAS TEAM. Thank you for being such great crew and coordinators, thank you for COACHING me through this, and thank you for ALL you've done over the years to make this weekend so successful. A famous quote from Dr. Charles Garfield, a well known Sports Psychologist is, "It's not the night before that matters, but ALL of the nights before that." Martin, Michelle, Meghan, Lee Ann, the Race Directors, and many, many others, made this weekend successful, and it was their consistency and preparation that made the difference. I remain grateful, and I am flattered to have been YOUR athlete and student this past weekend. Here's to MANY, MANY more success stories, with you as Cycling Center Dallas athletes, AND Coaches. 

Amen.

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