Monday, September 13, 2010

LOTOJA Greatness?

I first want to give props to my teammates. Darren Goff took 10th in the Cat 1,2,3 group. Kevan Steed, Jerald Olsen and Farrell Spackman all finished in front of me in e Cat 4 group. They rode strong all day and that was Kevan's best LOTOJA time in 3 tries. Trent Olsen rode 2 legs for his winning relay team. Way to go guys!

Now as for me, did I accomplish my goal? I finished LOTOJA in 10 hrs 13 minutes for 36th of 67 in my category. Far from what I wanted but as I'll explain, for a few hours I wasn't sure if I would even finish.

The day started very, very cold. I hear it was in the 20's in some spots of Cache Valley. I was ready, though. I had eaten well all last week and felt like I had plenty of energy Saturday morning. I shivered for a few miles but warmed up quickly as we rode to Preston at 23-24 mph. About 15 miles from Preston I had to pee so bad I could barley stay on my bike. The group was going so fast though that I didn't want to stop and try to catch back up. But I couldn't take it anymore. I pulled off, purged my system and got back on it. I was actually got back to the group in no time and sat in for a bit.

Rolling into Preston I got towards the front to make sure I didn't get left behind in the chaos. I grabbed my mussette, replaced my bottles and pockets and was back at speed without any fuss. I was relaxed knowing that my first of many challenges for the day was coming up.

The initial climb up to Strawberry was toe numbingly cold. The group was pretty tight and the biggest challenge was weaving in and out of the "fun" riders who started ahead of us Not ripping on them, but maneuvering around them was just part of the race. The actual climbing though was pretty tame. I found myself with some strong guys near the front and I had some good feelings in the legs. Our group started dropping a few guys, some of whom I was surprised to see fall back. I kept my eyes pointed forward however, working hard to stay on.

Leaving the HR strap at home turned out to be a great decision. I focused on how I was feeling not on the numbers. With that focus I was able to keep the cadence high.

The rest of the climb was long. There's a false summit and some false flats that play tricks on you. As we neared the feed zone and top of the climb the leaders started to pull away. At first I started to think "hear we go again" but dug deep to keep them within sight at least. Remember, I had a all or nothing strategy on Strawberry. I figured I'd work my guts out to stay in touch and try to hold on the rest of the way. At the summit it looked like I was managing to accomplish just that.

As we descended, a group of us formed and started picking up riders. We had a strong pack coming into Montpelier but only 2 or 3 of us were really motivated to reel the lead pack back in.

I stopped in Montpelier to pee but got right back on my bike. It was great to see Jacob Balls from The Bike Shoppe there. He was putting food in my back pocket while my awesome crew of Alex Carson and my wife swapped bottles for me. When I remounted I was alone. This is where things started to go downhill for me. Not in the way I might have expected though.

In my preparation for the race, I thought I had really mentally prepared for the hurt that I knew would come after laying it all out on Strawberry. Ironically however, it was at Montpelier that my mind gave out. For some reason, being alone and not knowing where the others were really got me down. Even as other racers in my category came up beside me up the Geneva climb, I could have almost cared less. My all or nothing strategy, in my mind at least, had failed and even though I probably had plenty of gas in the tank I was creeping up that climb. I tried and tried to latch on only to sit up and soft pedal. Over the summit of Geneva and onto the climb up to Salt River Pass and the KOM I battled all kinds of thoughts of quiting. Not just the race but my team, my race promotion gig, cycling, the whole thing! I still had more than 100 miles to go and my mental breakdown was literally dragging me down.

My teammate and great friend, Kevan, pulled up beside me with a small group. I managed to tag on and rode strong for a few miles. He pulled off at the neutral feed zone and I followed to try and compose myself and swap bottles. He was taking a few minutes in the port-o so I waved at him as he stepped out and got back on my bike. I knew he would be passing me again shortly so I started back up the climb. He did come up and I wished him luck on getting a great time.

I crept up the KOM and at one point almost fell over I was going so slow. The summit seemed to never get closer but when it finally did I started my decent with some hope that maybe I'd finish.

I rolled into Afton and got some great words of encouragement from Alex. The ibuprofen and 2 cans of FRS really helped to. Holding my kid and kissing my wife was the best pick-me-up of all and reminded me why I do this stuff.

The next 70 miles really saw things turn around. The tailwind out of Afton was a huge boost but even beyond that me and another dude hooked up and railed it for 30 miles. We came up on another group and recruited them to step up as well and we raced into Alpine at warp speed. My attitude was still suffering though. The Alpine feed zone was quick and I got a nice push from Nate Messerly from The Bike Shoppe. I started to get passed though by more and more guys from my group. Another teammate, Jerald, came up on me and yelled for me to dig deep but I had nothing for him. Eventually a dude with one freakin' shoe on passed me! Talk about salt in the wound!

Finally, Jackson approached and I made a very uninspiring effort for the finish. I crossed the line in 10 hours and 13 minutes. I had actually made up about 20 minutes on Kevan and some others. Kevan and Jerald only finished 2 places and 7 minutes ahead of me. Had I latched on to Jerald out of Alpine, we could have finished and celebrated as a team. I let them down.

So what happened? My crew was confused. They said I rolled into the feed zones looking fresh, no stress in my voice or strain on my face. The only evidence of any hurt was in the words I was using, which did not fit my physical appearance. I'm thinking I suffered a "brain bonk". Never heard of it? Well, that's because I just made it up! Just as a great friend of mine on another team suffered from stomach issues and puked his guts out and had to abandon, I think my mind did the same thing. I had set myself up to think that if I didn't keep up on Strawberry, it must only be because my legs would blow up. When I got dropped, and only dropped a little considering its a 200 mile race, I had convinced myself all was lost at that point. Being alone on Geneva only made that feeling worse and it took the remainder of the race to recover.

So much emphasis in our society in placed in physical health and well being. Mental health really has yet to be legitimized. Just look at what our insurance plans cover. Maybe its because a stomach issue is easier to pinpoint than a race stopping mind !#$%. It seems sports is the only area where the mental part of life is really taken seriously. Just look at Tiger Woods. He's obviously still a great golfer but what has happened in his personal life really messed with his game. He doesn't admit it, but I think the same could maybe be said for Lance as well at this year's tour. The dude was in great shape and had never crashed his whole career. In 2010 I think he went down in every race. Could it really be that my body was simply responding to some serious outage in my head? I think so!

When I finished LOTOJA 3 years ago in a time of 11 hrs and 54 minutes, I collapsed on the ground crying out of exhaustion. I could barely walk to the car and was a complete mess. On Saturday, I strolled across the line and walked just fine to the car, even holding my 2 year old for most of the way. I obviously had gas in the tank but lost the mental game.

So what does this mean for my quest for LOTOJA greatness? A great deal actually. One of my favorite quotes is from Phil Knight who said "Sports is the great educator". When you think about it, only one person is going to win your category. Only one team of 33(?) in the NFL will win the Super Bowl. Does that make everyone else a looser and less great? In the media's eye maybe. Or for sponsors, yes. But I refuse to believe it.

For LOTOJA, I think just being there proves your greatness. Think about it, there were 2000 people turned away from the event because of the 1500 rider cap. Anyone who gets in is in elite company. You have dedicated at least a year of your life getting ready for this race. Whether you're in it to win it or just finish before dark, just showing up is half the battle. I believe greatness was achieved by Kevan who made his fastest time ever in LOTOJA. Darren took 10th place in the Cat 1/2/3's in his first year at LOTOJA and during his first real season of racing. All 7 feet 7 inches of ex-pro NBA player Shawn Bradley showed greatness completing 160 miles of the LOTOJA course. First, last. I'm convinced it doesn't matter. Think of all the folks out there who refuse to get up off the couch and turn off the TV. Think of all the guys who can't pry themselves away from their video games. We are out there, bettering our bodies and our minds by pushing ourselves to the limits. There is greatness in all of that.

I wanted to be on the podium. I knew it was a long shot but I still fell short of that. But I do look back on Saturday knowing that I did leave it all on Strawberry. Turns out my body recovered much better than I had anticipated and other obstacles presented themselves. But I finished.

I'll be back. I'm not sure yet if it will be next year but I won't let a bad year get in the way of further greatness. In 2011 I'm going to get back to my roots a bit and try some sprint triathlons, maybe some masters swim meets. I'll still race my bike too. I love this stuff too much. I love my team and I love the races I've been promoting. I have some unfinished business at the Bear Lake Classic and Simply Mac Crit Series. I'm looking forward to the season ending Harvest Moon Crit on Sept 25th and a nice fall to enjoy some rides with friend and teammates. I'll keep up on the blog as well to document winter base building and my foray into a triathlon a two next year.

I want to thank my wife and daughter for supporting me in this. They are my life and as long as I am great in their eyes nothing else matters. I want to thank my team and especially my friend Kevan Steed. I also want to thank Alex Carson for supporting my on this race and helping my wife corral the kid. You all are great!

Now, lets get back on our bikes, eh?


  1. Hi Ben,

    Mike from spin cycle. 10:13 is pretty darn good! I came up on you just after leaving Afton, but was jamming food down me so dropped off your pace. You appeared to be bookin' pretty hard.

    This was my first stab @ LOTOJA so my 10:19 & some very well learned lessons - I'm happy. Unfortunately I had to pee too before Preston, but it took so long I had no chance of getting back to the group.

    I was pretty darn pleased to get KOM time for the DIV 7 group, though surprised. I was telling myself the whole way up "don't race this, you have to finish the whole thing."

    Congrats man. Hope to see you back there next year.

  2. Atta boy Ben. What you did is truly inspiring. You completed something only a small percentage of people will even think about. I am sure you will learn a ton from this and the next time you race this race (you have unfinished business there) you will rely on that information. You are too strong of a cyclist not to. I am happy for the triathlon goal. Sprints are WAYYYYY to small for you. You have 100X the fitness for a sprint. Who knows may be we can race together?

  3. Mike,

    I thought I saw you after Afton. Only 3 minutes back at the end. Would have been fun to finish together. Great job!

  4. Thanks Ron. Lets do a tri in Vegas this winter!