2009 Ring of Fire TT Report

One of my goals for 2009 is to ride 300 miles in 24 hours. I was hoping to accomplish that during this event, but I didn’t choose the Ring of Fire Time Trial to meet that goal. It is fairly hilly course, with about 70 feet of climbing per mile, not the best option for trying to log 300 miles in my first 24 hour road TT. I only rode 283 miles. I was the second woman and fourth overall.

I’ve never been so sore after a 24 hour race. I feel like I was in the weight room all weekend. My neck and shoulders always hurt after 24 hours, but this time my quads and glutes are really sore.

Friday morning I’d read John Henry’s, September 10, 2009, blog post. He’s an experienced Ring of Fire rider. Other than scaring the s**! out of me about doing the race, his post reminded me of the benefits of going slow. I’ve always done better for 24 hours when I’ve focused on keeping it easy for as long as possible, rather than trying to maintain some minimum pace. The early morning start seemed to help, as well as two-minute intervals, instead of a mass start. That’s a pretty low-energy time of day for me and I wasn’t so excited that I stomped up the first 4 mile climb. I was passed by my 2 minute woman within the first 6 miles, and continued to be passed regularly by riders for the first 110 miles.

It was a warm, sunny day and several riders had problems with the heat. I had some GI issues, mostly nausea and loose bowels. The race is set up so that a crew is not required, but during the sunny afternoon, 20-30 hilly miles were really too far without support. I got some much needed water from Lew Meyer’s crew while climbing Tygh Ridge, around mile 88. I’m not sure I could have made it between Sag Station #3 and the Imperial Lodge without that help. Before I got back to the Lodge, both of my bottles were empty. At that point, I found Jen and asked her to drive out and crew me on Bakeoven road. My plan had been to self-support with the help of the sag stations for the first 157 miles and just have her help during the night, but I didn’t feel I could get up the Bakeoven climb to Sag Station #4 without more frequent water and ice.

As much as training at home in the mountains at 9000 ft gives me an advantage, the training I did this summer away from home was just as important for this ride. My first heat training ride was 100+ miles from Stillwater to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, in late June, with my mom crewing me. Fortunately, she’s much smarter than I about the heat. I’d asked her to meet me 30 miles down the road at midday. She was waiting for me in less than 15 miles. By then I was already in great need of more water and ice. I did several shorter rides in 90-100+ deg heat in France, experiencing another water emergency during an 50 mile ride on the hottest day. Riding the Kona bike course was also good heat, wind, and monotony training. It also convinced me that sunscreen can be an aid in heat management, as well as sunburn prevention. I am not a natural climber, but in retrospect, it was heat training, rather than mountain riding, that best prepared me physically and mentally for this ride.

My night refuel and battery change stops were fairly slow. After the first loop I wanted to change my light setup. There were so many bugs that I wanted all my lights on my handlebars and none on my helmet. I took too long on that project without improving anything other than removing a few grams from my helmet. When my next lap was a few minutes slower than I hoped, I lost my belief that I could possibly get in 300 miles, and started being even less efficient at pit stops. I was having a hard time staying awake and had to stop and sleep between laps 3 and 4. I didn’t plan that very well either. Rather than just settling in for a real 45 min nap. I tried for just 15 min, then 15 min more, then 15 min more. For most of my “nap” I was shivering, even in the warm hotel room with a down sleeping bag over me. More bad planning; I should have peeled off my damp clothes before trying to sleep since I had to change into warmer clothes before I got back on the bike anyway. Then, after spending more time resting than I thought I should have, and feeling 300 miles slip farther away, I unhurriedly dressed and ate. I felt MUCH stronger on lap 4, after the rest, but probably could have maximized that with better planning.

I never really knew what was going on in the race. My crew told me I was the second woman, but also said that several people DNF’d because of the heat. I was just riding without knowing how other riders were doing. I could have easily stopped at the timing table and checked, but I didn’t. Knowing that several riders were very close to catching me might have given me motivation to ride a little harder, or at least be a little more speedy at stops. Then again riding my pace, rather than racing, was my strategy from the start so maybe it was best to stick with it.

This event exemplified to me how important a crew is to a successful race. Having crewed and ridden, I can say that riding is physically more difficult, but an event like this is always a team effort. The crew can make a huge contribution to a good result and sometimes is the key to finishing at all. In this case, I think the day crews were surely in the finishing-at-all category. Without crew support. I would probably have had to stop at mile 112. Crew support is critical in the heat, and can help tremendously with cold and nutrition and mechanical issues. My guess is that crew members that don’t have experience as a participant in an ultra have a hard time realizing how much effort they save their athlete by doing mundane tasks like replacing batteries, oiling chains, checking tire pressure; checking that the rider is staying on their nutrition plan – eating, drinking, taking electrolytes. Having palatable food options is another way that a crew can really help. Thanks to my crew I got in some good calories throughout the night.

A lot of riders had problems eating. I was nauseous most of the afternoon and night and ate very little for nearly 4 hours. I did keep drinking; Perpetuem, Coke and Go Fast (at night). The things that tasted best to me early in the day were PBJ and Tofurky-Nayonaise tortilla wraps. Later in the day and at night my favorites were overcooked pasta with tomato sauce and kidney beans, no-chicken ramen with kidney beans and salty boiled potatoes. When nothing tasted good, I tried to choke down a packet of Gu or eat a few Shot Bloks. I was taking Endurolytes most of the day; 1 every half hour in the morning and 2 every half hour in the afternoon. Learning from ultra running to eat on a schedule is very helpful. Even if I can’t stick exactly to the plan, making an effort to at least eat a bite of something at regular intervals is good. I’m guessing that training my body to rest on a schedule would also be helpful, but I have no idea what sort of schedule might work best.

Though it’s common to hear that ultra races are mostly mental, I think that’s a fallacy. There is a mental component, and to some extent mental strength can make up for lack of physical conditioning. But ultimately, the better prepared the rider is physically, the less they suffer, and the less they need to bridge the gap with willpower. Also with better physical condition, mental abilities deteriorate less rapidly.

Some equipment notes: 1) I hadn’t oiled my chain the night before the race and after 200 miles or so it was pretty squeaky. I never took the time to oil it, but given the good weather it probably would have been unnecessary if I’d done prior to the start. 2) It was ridiculous to use a tattered pair of gloves for any part of the ride. It wasn’t worth getting blisters on my hands. 3) I’d installed tubeless tires a couple weeks before this ride. For the most part they worked well. As far as comfort, they were a definite success. I’m not sure about speed. I think my tire pressure got a little low toward the second half of the ride and may have slowed me down a little. Because I’d had a problem before the start with the valve core unscrewing from one tire when I’d aired it I was hesitant to ask my crew to air my tires during the race and just left them low. 4) My Dinotte lights worked well as they have in other races, but I was not able to mount the 600 with my aero bars installed, so I rode with the 400 only. I also had a problem with the mounting screw rattling loose on the rough pavement and stopped at about mile 14 of Lap 4 to fix that. Fortunately, I was carrying a Dinotte 200AA in my jersey pocket and used that as a task light so I could see to re-tighten the screw. A little Loctite would have prevented the problem altogether.

The Ring of Fire Time Trials is an awesome event. The course is beautiful! The race directors make it a fun event. They are energetic and supportive. I don’t think they slept. They were out at the start/finish line recording times and cheering on the riders every time I passed through. The volunteers at the sag stations were friendly and very efficient. I had my fastest refuel stops of the day at stations #1 and #2. I highly recommend this event to anyone looking for the challenge of a 6, 12 or 24 hour time trial.

A Disappointing Race

To sum it up, I didn’t have a good race this weekend. Whatever the reason; getting over strep 10 days ago, too many trips up and down the stairs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, or just a bad time of the month; as the week progressed, my energy level dropped, and the excitement I’d felt earlier in the week waned. In spite of months of training, I didn’t have my best day. I never felt awful like last year, but I’ve had a lot of days of feeling great on the bike recently and Saturday wasn’t one of them. Even at the start I didn’t feel fresh.

Besides my lackluster performance, the race was a disappointment in other ways. My goal was to do better than 2007, specifically to complete more laps this year. It seemed like a good test. The course map posted on the race website when I registered looked identical to the 2007 course, but as I was packing my car for the race on Wednesday, the map was replaced with a new one which had us riding the course backwards and adding a (as it turned out, for me, very slow) section of trail to the route. I didn’t do as many laps this year, but even without the additional distance, the course was more difficult ridden in the opposite direction and there was basically no comparison between this year and 2007 or 2008. I’m sure many riders welcomed the changes which made the course more technical, but riding up instead of down the rock gardens, and the “new” trail section, which appeared to be under construction, and was referred to as the “skills section” on this report of the Pierre’s Hole 50/100, were punishing on my old hardtail. I don’t think my lap times dropped off at the end of the race like they did in 2007 and 2008, but I haven’t seen the official results yet to know for sure. I did take a long, 2 hour rest stop this year, which I hadn’t needed before.

In contrast to 24 Hours of ERock, where friendly riders made the event so fun, a few of the male riders here were extremely rude to riders they were overtaking. There’d been a few issues in 2007 and 2008, but nothing like this year. My crew overheard complaints from other riders as well. Later in the race the aggressive riders seemed to gain some patience, although if I’m typical, riders who had been passed earlier were so frightened they practically jumped off the trail when they knew someone was behind. In any race, I’m always looking to make it easy for riders to pass me, barring actually getting off my bike and waiting. It’s helpful to have some communication to know if a rider is ready to pass and if they have a preferred side, but in my view there is never an excuse for a rider to come up behind others yelling at them to get off the trail. It especially bothers me to think that this was happening to first time racers. I don’t like the idea that they may be intimidated into not racing again or that they may emulate this behavior if they stick with racing and in the future are passing people themselves.

Although my fork still needs new bushings which I wasn’t able to get prior to the race, a Wednesday night spring change solved the problems of it bottoming out. A Raven tire eliminated slipping in the back and a 2.1 Rocket Ron up front greatly improved steering. I could have used a wider, softer, front tire over the rocks and horse-damaged sections, but no tire change would’ve smoothed out the foot-deep pits in the “skills section” or the stair steps elsewhere.

The timer setup for 2009 was much better than 2007 and 2008. The timers had a clear, less chaotic view of riders, and recorded all my laps. There seemed to be fewer local riders. Possibly the addition of a 50/100 MTB race at Targhee two weeks prior to the 24 Hour and a downhill MTB race two weeks after gave them options more to their liking. The 2009 post-race lunch and awards, held in a stuffy, low-ceilinged room instead of the outside patio as previous years, were decidedly less festive and somewhat anti-climatic. Fewer prizes and lack of raffle indicated that the downturn in the economy, and possibly the burden of two additional races, has been hard on sponsors.

My crew was awesome!! The biggest disappointment for me was not posting a better result to show for their hard work. A friend loaned us their conversion van, the ultimate race vehicle! In 24 hours Jen and Erica never failed to be ready with a fresh bottle, fresh batteries, great food, and encouragement the moment I rolled up. They even cleaned and oiled my chain and checked my tire pressure. I’ve never had such efficient pit stops!

In my opinion, the women’s solo field was the strongest division in the race. We’ve all won 24 Hour races in the past and have all been on the podium every year we’ve raced Targhee. Rebecca Rusch, three-time 24 Hour MTB World Champion was first and it was awesome to see her out riding. Tracey Petervary gave her a good fight. In addition to her other accomplishments, Tracey set a record at The Tour Divide earlier this summer with her husband Jay. I know she must be a wonderful person just based on the fact that she spent 18 days, 13 hours and 50 minutes on the back of a tandem. Besides three World Championships, Rebecca, has a race resume as a mountain biker and adventure racer that would fill the circumference of both wheels of her 29’er. Congratulations to both of them!!

I’d also like to give a shout to Team Great Divide of Helena, Montana. They brought many riders and distinguished themselves by being such a friendly, supportive group. The local Habitat/Targhee Team and the GAS/Intrinsik Architecture Cycling Team also made themselves noticed out on the course with their friendly enthusiasm.

Next on my schedule is a 24 Hour Road TT in Oregon. I can’t wait to put the mountain bike into storage and get back to road riding!

Bonnie wondering what the heck is going on.
Bonnie wondering what the heck is going on.