LOTOJA 2014 Race Report — Salt River Pass Summit to Finish Line

This is the last installment of my 2014 LOTOJA Race Report — I know, I know. I finally decided I needed to get this report done before I actually started the 2015 race. Some details will be missing because of the amount of time that has passed, but I will do my best to provide an accurate report. My hope is that first time riders and riders looking for different perspectives on how to effectively manage the race will find some value in this report and the other three that I have posted on LOTOJA. This version will cover the last half of the race in distance, but certainly not in effort.

Salt River Pass Summit to Finish Line

Distance: 95.3 miles
Ride Time: 3:59:17
Average Watts: 152 watts
Average Heart Rate: 141 bpm
Average Speed: 24.1 mph

You have to be asking yourself how in the world I averaged 24.1 mph on only 152 watts. For the first 47.1 miles of this section you are headed mostly downhill. As a matter of fact, you have an almost 2,000 ft. drop in elevation from the top of the pass all the way through the turn at Alpine. My buddy Matt and I averaged 27.2 mph on this first section.

I arrived alone at the top of Salt River Pass — Matt and Brent, both friends of mine and guys I wanted to ride with for the last half of the race, were not on my wheel. My time up the KOM climb was downright pedestrian — 16:38 — and nothing to be that proud of. As was my strategy, I grabbed a hand-up of water from a volunteer at the neutral aid station at the top of the pass, drank immediately in its entirety, and discarded the empty bottle in the appropriate zone. I started on the fast descent, knowing that at least Matt would catch me before the bridge that marks the end of the downhill. That dude can flat out descend.

He ended up catching me much sooner than I thought and when he did, he passed me like I was standing still. I hit 47.6 mph on the downhill, but I really didn’t try so hard. I have hit 55 mph on that descent before, so I mark that up to having tired legs. I really had to crush it on a not so steep descent to catch Matt.

My legs were really crushed at this point. I took the ride into Afton as time to recover a little, hoping the legs would come back around. I would say that on the rollers from the bottom of Salt River Pass to the Afton Feed Zone that Matt saved my bacon. He may or may not admit it, but he pulled me along and tried to keep my attitude up. I was keeping up on my nutrition and calories, so I am not sure why my attitude was so poor. Pulling into the Afton Feed Zone, it was great to see my wife and son there ready to help me out.

My strategy is to spend as little time as possible with my foot down at supported feed zones. The people who run support for me know their job is to replace bottles, stuff my pockets with food, and then ask about the need for auxiliary materials (tubes, CO2, subscreen, kisses, etc.). My wife and son did an amazing job at this feed zone and handed me up two bottles of Infinite, boiled potatoes, a bag of lunchmeat, and Fig Newtons. The food they hand up provides variety because you never know what your stomach will want. Matt and I spent less than :30 with our feet down and rolled out, prepared to cross the flats to the next feed zone in Alpine.

There was an amazing tailwind the entire way into Alpine. Usually one of the things you can count on in this section is a killer headwind. It is one of those predictable things about this race. Talking with other racers that crossed this section later in the day, they found that headwind and had to fight it all the way. Matt and I covered the 33 miles that make up this section in only 1:16. We were crushing it, averaging 26.5 mph and it was thanks mostly to Matt. We had a third rider with us for part of the way, but he go dropped like a stone when Matt took a pull on an uphill section. Matt is strong like that.

We got to the Alpine Feed Zone at 7:30 — we made up some serious time between Afton and Alpine and were back on track to reach our goal of a sub 9:30 finish. The Alpine Feed Zone is the last one where you can get a hand-up from your support team. My crew was there again ready with a bottle of Infinite and a bottle of 12 ounces of Red Bull and 12 ounces of water. Why the Red Bull? When my glycogen stores are almost depleted and you are feeling exhausted, the simple sugars and caffeine are like a magic bullet. The downside of this strategy is you have to keep drinking it or you will have a sugar crash and bonk.

I was really excited that we were on track for a 9:30 at this point. In the past I have easily complete the final section in less than two hours so I knew my goal was realistic and feasible. My legs were really tired, but other than that, I felt like the rest of my body was good. My strategy on this section has always been to ride hard and when a faster group catches you, jump on and ride as hard as you can for as long as you can.

Matt and I started up the canyon and were keeping a good pace. This canyon follows the Snake River up to Jackson Hole, so it is a gradual uphill that is peppered with cruel, cruel rollers. Several miles up this 45.3 mile section, a group of really skinny, fast guys caught Matt and I. He and I both knew we needed to get on the back of this group and hold on because they were flying. I was super happy to see Brent on the back of the group. I was so excited to see he was feeling better and killing it at this point. Jumping on the group was the easy job. Staying with the group proved to be the most difficult.

I was starting to lose my focus. Mentally, I was starting to lose my ability to stay with the group. To add to my issues, this group started attacking each other on each uphill. It was becoming a struggle to stay on the back of this group. Thankfully Brent and Matt kept yelling at me to keep it together — I am really grateful they had my back on this one. But I had a breaking point.

I put my 9:30 goal in jeopardy because of a mental mistake on a short uphill. We were pushing 500 watts for about :30 and I looked up and saw there were about 250 more yards on the hill and I just gave up. I am not sure there is any other way to describe it. I would like to say I couldn’t keep up, but I probably could have. I think it would be more accurate to say I made the decision to not to endure the pain required to stay with the group. That was a horrible choice and I regret it to this day. Brent dropped back with me briefly and yelled at me to get it together and stay up, but I just didn’t. I lied to myself and decided I would sit up for a minute and wait for another fast group. I chose to ignore the huge possibility that I would be caught by another group or if I was, I wouldn’t keep up.

But I dropped off the group and watched them pull away. I knew immediately I had blown it. I also knew there was no possibility to catch the group who was attacking uphill. I was going to have to work the rest of the way to try and salvage my race. I was riding solo for a while when I was caught on an uphill section by a tandem. Yes, a tandem. For those of you who are not familiar with tandems, they are not fast on uphill sections. When you have the chance to follow them on a downhill section, you will have a new understanding of the word “fast”. On the uphill, the opposite is true.

This tandem is piloted by a local racer who was riding with his wife. It just so happened that they were in the lead in that category, so I could not help them by pulling. So my plan became to sit on and rest while I waited for someone else to catch us so I could latch on. I started eating and drinking everything I was carrying in the hope that my legs would come around and I could push a heavy gear.

Part of the Infinite Racing Team Crew at the LOTOJA finish

Part of the Infinite Racing Team Crew at the LOTOJA finish

And then a funny thing happened on the way to Jackson Hole — nobody caught us. We did catch a racer in my division — Curtis Doman — who was a hell of a guy. I think we caught him with about 15 miles to go and he and I rode away from the tandem together. We both took turns pulling, trying to get to the finish line to meet the goal of a sub 9:30. But on the section from the Alpine Feed Zone to the finish line we were only able to average 21.7 mph which gave us a time of 2:05. What does that mean? My chip time was a 9:35, meaning I missed my goal by five minutes. I did improve my time from 2013 by over 10 minutes, but that awesome fact was lost on me at that moment. I had missed my goal because of a ten second lapse in judgement. Both Brent and Matt told me the group backed off their level of effort after they crested the hill where I was dropped. I would have had no problem hanging on to the group from that point forward. Matt and Brent finished together with a time of 9:29. With that time I ended up in 27th place out of 41 racers who finished in the Master’s A Cats 1-4 Group. The top 10 places all finished under nine hours, which is incredibly fast.

Through this experience, I learned an incredibly valuable lesson — sometimes you have to endure one or two minutes worth of pain to achieve you goals, but it is all worth it. This is a lesson I have applied to the races I have done in 2015 and it has helped me a ton. Although I am still upset that I missed my goal, I have since taken the opportunity to celebrate my accomplishment, identify lessons learned, and make sure that I apply those principles to the training rides I am doing this year. Here are my final stats for the entire race:

Distance: 201.1 miles
Ride Time: 9:35:30
Average Watts: 170 watts
Average Heart Rate: 144 bpm
Average Speed: 21.1 mph

About the Author

I have been participating in running and triathlons for 10 years and love the feeling that training provides. You may not agree with me, but you know you just can't look away...