Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Reflecting on near disaster

High Cascades 100 was the hardest thing I've ever done. Harder than Ironman, in my opinion. Mostly because this race took me longer (by 4 hours than my slowest IM finish) and you don't have the benefit of changing activities to break things up. I registered for this race knowing that it would be a true test of my limits. I wasn't sure I could finish 100 miles on a mountain bike. Of course, the biggest challenges present the greatest learning opportunities.

The race started from Wanoga Snow Park outside of Bend OR at 5:45 am. The race was presented as a 100 miler but in the previous 2 years it had been closer to 98 miles. This year we were told that it would it would be 103 miles with 14 000 feet of climbing. It turned out to be 108. It doesn't seem like much, 5 miles, but those 5 miles turned out to be very significant.

I won't bore you with excessive details of the race. Suffice to say that there were a lot of ups and downs. Moments when I was miserable enough to cry, and moments when I giggled with delight as I floated down beautiful single track, swooping on banked corners and easily gliding over drops and log overs. Then I came to mile 75.

The Swampy aid station was the first time cut off. I had just struggled through several miles of climbing with nothing in the tank, a back that was so sore I couldn't climb more that 50% of the time, even on the low grade hills. I made it to Swampy with 30 min to spare, but based on my last few miles, there was no way I was going to make it to the finish line in the light. Tom was there and with his encouragement I continued on to the next aid station, in spite of the fact that I had already been in the saddle for 11:30.

I made the next aid station cut off by less than 10 min. I was in decent shape, still feeling like I had no power but I knew that I had the endurance to make it home. After all, I expected it to only take 2 hours, I was already at mile 87. Unfortunately, I didn't know that I had another 21 miles (the course was longer than advertised) including a huge climb.

2 hours passed, dusk came and I hit 100 miles. I still had to find my way back to the finish in the dark. It turns out, I wasn't alone, there were 14 other riders still out there. I was very happy that I had the foresight to put a headlamp in my pack. It was still a nerve racking hour trying make my way back without overshooting my headlamp, trying to stay alert for course arrows.

When I crossed the finish line. Tom was anxiously awaiting me. He didn't know I had a light and was very worried. I got a big hug from Tom and congratulations from several people. The best was from Justin who manned the last aid station. I can't quote him exactly but it was something to the effect of good job, you probably hate me a little right now. All I could do was stare at him in disbelief. Yes, I did hate him at that moment, 16 hours and 13 min after I had started this crazy adventure. But, in reality, I love Justin. He's worked at several events that I've attended and he does a fantastic job. But sometimes, you have to hate someone when they push you to your edge and he certainly did that.

So here we are 3 days later. I'm still fatigued but not really in pain. This is a vast improvement over my inability to bend over the day after the race. I can stand up for longer than 10 min at a time. I can stay awake for more than 2 hours and I'm not waking suddenly from dreams of falling off my bike. The numb spot on the base of my neck is almost gone, my hands have stopped cramping and I am ready to get back on my bike.

After I've done something like this I always get asked if I had fun. No, I can't really say that it was fun, but there is nothing like pushing yourself to your limit to help discover who you are. That is priceless.

Happy riding.

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