LOTOJA Race Report 2011

Distance: 206.05 miles
Saddle Time: 10:54:30
Average Watts: 148 watts
Normative Power: 176 watts
Average Heart Rate: 139 bpm
Total Work: 5,854 kJ
Average Speed: 18.9 mph

It has been a while since I posted on my blog and I apologize to you guys. I try hard to be a responsible blogger, but the last two weeks has been hit and miss for me. I was really trying to get ready for LOTOJA, my “A” race of the year. This race report will be about as long as the race, so sit back with a bottle of Recoverite or whatever it is you drink after your run or rides. I had the ride of my life…

Introduction

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way. For the uninitiated, LOTOJA is a one day race from Logan Utah to Jackson Hole Wyoming. It is a 206.0 mile course with some great climbing and descents; the official description says the course climbs almost 10,000 feet. The course is very challenging — the winner this year finished in 9:13 and averaged 22.3 mph. I rode 4,565.3 miles this year to prepare for this race. Starting in June, my average miles per month was 740.75 miles. I have spent a ton of time in the saddle and it really paid off. I don’t think this is the amount of time required to finish this race, but it worked well for me. I had some epic rides that challenged me and I felt the strength from those rides in my legs during the last 50 miles of the race.

I rode a Cervelo R5 for the race. That’s right, I got a new frame. The front derailer hanger on my R3SL broke sometime about a month ago. My bike was rideable, but it didn’t shift right. I worked with my shop and Cervelo and got credit for the R3SL frame and got the new R5 and used all my old components on it. Talk about support and customer service — Cervelo has it down. I rode my Zipp 101’s with a PowerTap SL+ and Michelin Pro3 tires mounted. My machine was fine tuned for the race and man it performed flawlessly.

Needless to say, I felt ready for this race. We had a team of five guys prepared for the race. Two had to drop out and DNS’ed for personal reasons, and man did we miss them. One in particular is a very strong rider and having him take his turn on the front would have been nice, but you play the hand you are dealt and adjust accordingly. They were missed. Our crew ended up being Curt LaBelle, Dan Hendricksen, and myself. We had all ridden a ton and were ready.

Pre-Race

My buddy Curt and I planned to stay at my business partner’s parents home that is about one mile from the start line. Talk about convenient! Not only that, but these are two of the nicest people you will ever meet. Staying there was like going home and that is really helpful before a race. Travelling to a race can really take you out of your comfort zone, but that is never the case when you stay at the Sorensen home. We hit registration Friday afternoon and got these photos…

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I have this superstition that you should never cross the start or finish line before a race. I don’t know where I picked it up. I have very few superstitions, but this is one I am very strict about. Here is Curt in the same fabulous pose…

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The registration process at LOTOJA needs work. It is inefficient and could be done much better. If you need some help on this Epic Events, please email me and I will be happy to help you redesign the process to make it that much more efficient. We did connect with a couple of our friends, including the Quinn brothers and my buddy Kasey who races for Revolution Racing. He was doing the race with his fiancee Catherine. Their good friend Serba got hit by a car in his last ride before the race and broke some bones in his foot. Serba is a climbing fool and will do well in 2012.

That night Curt and I met up with his brother, Rick LaBelle, who was shooting for a poduim spot on the 2 Man Relay Division. Rick is also my arch-nemesis when it comes to climbing. If you recall he and I raced for the King of the Mountain championship at CASVAR, and we planned to race for the same thing during a timed section of this race. We ate at Rumbi where I had about two cups of brown rice and about half of a grilled chicken breast. All of my nutrition planning had me eating my big meals on Thursday so I could leave it all behind if you know what I mean. Racing with a full gut is not comfortable for me. At all.

That night we double checked the bikes, our gear, and nutrition and hit the sack around 10:00. When you are racing, 4:20 a.m. comes early.

Race Morning

We wanted to start at 5:45 in the first wave that they let out of the start gate so we got up at 4:20 to get ready. We got dressed, tried not to wake anyone in the house up, and made breakfast. I like a hearty meal before a big event like this, so I made two scrambled eggs and two packages of instant oatmeal. Our start time was about 45 minutes away by the time I sat down to eat, so the timing of breakfast was almost perfect. It had approximately 375 calories. I drank about 32 ounces of water and we were off.

Riding in the pitch black is an interesting experience. Most mornings I ride about 15 minutes before sunrise, but it is still light at that point. Starting that early you have a headlight, and I used one of the biggest LED headlights I could find for the day. We got to the starting area and our other teammate Dan was there holding a spot for us in the starting queue. Some really nice people let us right in. About this time the first group was off and rolling. As they ushered us up to the start line, we noticed that Curt, Dan and I were right on the start line. The problem with that was this was the first time any of us had done the race, so we didn’t know the course very well. There were about 150 people behind us in our group, so this could have been bad. Luckily, there was a guide vehicle that pulled in front of us to point us in the right direction through the first 10 miles or so where there are a ton of turns.

At that point I thought about my buddy Scott Davis who passed away last Fall. He should have been there on the start line with us. I started thinking deep thoughts at this point. I asked God to give Scooter the day off so he could come ride with us and take his turn on the front like he would have wanted to. When Curt had stomach trouble later in the day, I am sure Scott was there laughing at him. I know how selfish this was because really, his family needs him more than we do, but I couldn’t help myself. Somewhere I know he was shaking his head and laughing that little laugh he does. LOTOJA is his type of test. It would have been great if he would have been there to ride with us.

It was about 5:48 a.m. and the announcer said “GO” and everyone clipped in without incident thank goodness. It was time to focus and “cowboy up or sit in the truck.”

Start to Preston Idaho

This section was 34.0 miles long. It was pitch black until about 6:30 and a little chilly at about 55°. I wore a wind-proof vest and was plenty warm. Since we were on the front, I took first wheel and just motored at a comfortable pace. We averaged 21.25 mph on this section. It is interesting rolling in the dark without being able to see your computer because you just go. In hindsight, we may have been able to pick up the pace a little — the section is flat and you could motor along pretty good.

The line we had of about 150 people held together for about 20 minutes and then groups decided we were going too slow on the front and went. I was really tempted to go with them, but I kept telling myself how important pacing was to this race. For all I knew we were only going about 17 mph, but it was comfortable. The plan was to stay comfortable until the first of the three climbs. If we all felt good after that, we would hammer the 100 miles until the finish. So I let the hammerheads all go. Dan and Curt would take turns on the front, so our little team was controlling the group for about 20 miles. As soon as it got light, the group started to break-up as I guess people felt safer rolling down the road.

After the race, I heard about some of the bad luck people had during the race. Of all things there was a black cat that was in the road while it was still dark and caused a big crash. There were the usual crashes at the start where people are trying to get into their pedals and begin jockeying for position. There were broken bones and lots of road rash.

Preston Idaho hosts the first Feed Zone. LOTOJA does a great job with their “Supported Feed Zones”. You have a support crew who goes to the zone. At the zone LOTOJA has sections 0-9 that are marked with numbers and are about 40 yards long each. Your crew then hands food and drink up to you and then drives to the next feed zone they are allowed at.

Our strategy was to have our crew — made up of my buddy Bruce and his friend Justin — hand us up two bottles of Infinit and hand us a musette bag full of food. We could then pick and choose the food we wanted, put it in our jersey pockets, and roll out. Since this was a race and not a ride, we felt we could soft pedal and eat. That would save more time than eating in the feed zone while stopped and then rolling out.

In our bags we each had a peanut butter sandwich on wheat bread, four boiled potatoes with a little bit of salt, a ProBar, and a package of sliced turkey lunchmeat. The thought was that our nutrition strategy would not be dependent on any one food, but we could get whatever sounded good to us. For a 206 mile race, you really have to watch your caloric intake and make sure that you are constantly fueled and hydrated. I was planning on about 275 calories per hour and I hit that goal.

Our strategy for handing food and beverages up worked well. In Preston we were in and out of there in probably under a minute. At this point everyone was still feeling strong and we were able to stay together.

Preston Idaho to Top of Strawberry Pass Idaho

This was the first climb of the day. My computer has it at 27.16 miles and 2,993 of elevation gain. It took our little group 2:02, which meant an average of 13.3 mph. I think in 2012 this is where we can improve our time considerably. Doing the math, I think we can finish it easily in 1:45, which would only be an increase to 15.5 mph. We really took it easy and averaged 177 watts. If we kicked that up to 195 watts, we can improve our time.

This section was really uneventful except for one small incident that made me laugh. On one steeper section Dan fell back and I told Curt to keep going to the top and I would go get Dan and bring him back up. When I turned my head to the right to look for him, I ran off the pavement into the soft shoulder, which slowed me down to a stop and yep, you guessed it, I was unable to unclip in time. I went down on my left at 0.0 mph. The embarrassing thing was that a neutral SAG wagon was driving by right at that moment, so they immediately pulled over and wanted to check my vitals. I told them about three times I was fine and kept going. Our Dan, Curt, and I got a good laugh out of the whole thing.

We hit the neutral feed zone at Strawberry Pass, filled bottles with water and I added Infinit to one of my two bottles. I had downed a bag of potatoes on the climb and was still full from that. I took two Enduralytes and we were off within about three minutes.

Strawberry Pass to Montpelier Idaho

This section was fun. Like lots of fun. It is only about 19.0 miles long, but there is about 1,400 feet of descent in the first 10.0 miles and the rest is a slight uphill into Montpelier. We cruised on this section. It took us right under 50 minutes to complete and I drank both bottles — one of Infinit and one of water — that I took on at the Strawberry Pass Feed Zone. Our thought was to use this section to recover from the climb up to the top of Strawberry Pass. Dan did go ahead of Curt and I on this section, but we eventually caught him and we pounded out the miles. My average heart rate was only 126 bpm, so we really could have increased the effort a little here. I did want to take it easy though — digesting your food and water through this section was important.

Montpelier Idaho to the Top of the Start of Salt River Pass in Wyoming

Montpelier was the second supported Feed Zone. Bruce was there with our full bags and bottles. This stop literally took about 2:00 and we were off. I took another bag of potatoes and two more bottles of Infinit. I was still feeling good. The climb up to the top of Strawberry was slow enough that I didn’t really get stressed on it. I was ready for the next two climbs that came in the next 26 miles. Here are a couple of pictures in Montpelier…

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Curt and I at the stop in Montpelier Idaho. You can tell I have already started to stuff my face. I think I had the whole potato in my mouth at the time.

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Curt and I leaving the Feed Zone at Montpelier Idaho

From Montpelier Idaho to the top of Geneva Pass was uneventful. We pedaled hard and then we pedaled some more. We did pick up the pace through this section though. The timing chip showed that I placed in 161/491 racers in my division in this section. Dan, Curt and I stuck together, but I let them know that I would be trying to kill it on the 3.4 mile King of the Mountain competition that starts where the Salt River Pass kicks up to a good ascent. My rivalry with my buddy Rick was starting to nip at my ankles like a dog chasing me during a ride. I knew I wanted to put together a significant effort on this section.

King of the Mountain Contest — Salt River Pass Ascent

My drive to fly up the Salt River Pass begins with my rivarly with Rick. He may not know it, but I really want to beat him at a climb someday. He is an unbelievable climber and a great guy, hence my reason to want to best him. He is the current King of the Mountain at CASVAR and holds the great belt buckle to prove it, but you better believe I will be coming for him in 2012.

I saw the start of the King of the Mountain contest and I started to grind it from the beginning. It was amazing how many people I passed. I averaged 242 watts for the 19:18.44 it took me to get to the top. My average heart rate during that time was 168 bpm and I sustained 10.6 mph up an average of 4.6% incline. My quads felt like they were going to explode at points in the ascent. My strategy was to keep a solid effort up to the top and I was able to accomplish that goal. Rick told me before the race he had never broken 19:00 for this ascent, so I made that my goal. According to the results of my timing chip, I got really close to the goal. Rick, however, posted a 19:03.34 and he beat me again. A total of :15 seconds separated the two of us.

The good news is I placed in the top 10 of my division. That’s right, I got 10/491 for the climb. Seeing those results this morning really made me happy. In previous years I haven’t ever been known as a climber. At the start of the 2010 season I got my first road bike and made it my goal to become a great climber. You know, that guy in the group who goes and you see later waiting at the side of the road at the end of the climb. That guy who you ask how long he has been waiting for you there and he says, “a couple of minutes” and you know he is lying. On 09.10.2011 I feel like I accomplished that goal. It was a good day. Here are the official results…

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That's right, a top 10 finish for me in my division. I will take it.

The bad news is the winner in my division finished this section in 16:28. To podium in this section I would need to go sub 17:00. That is a lot of time to cut off. I would have to increase my speed to at least 12.1 mph to meet this threshold. That means an increase of 1.5 mph over the entire climb. That is a lot of speed to gain, especially when you are staring down the barrel of another 100 miles in the race.

Salt River Pass Feed Zone

I pulled over and waited for Dan and Curt in the Feed Zone. I was gassed, but I knew the next section really well — there is a large downhill section followed by a long section of false flats that decline for a while. The Feed Zone also sits about halfway in the race. For as good as I was feeling, I knew we would pound out a great time.  The problem was that one of our group wasn’t feeling so great.

Curt had been sick with stomach problems for about 8 days before the race. We are talking about the kind of stomach problems where nothing stays put in your gut. He started to feel better a couple of days before the race, but we knew that his glycogen stores would be lower than they should be.

Curt pulled into the Feed Zone a couple of minutes after I did and went straight for the bathrooms. I started to time him to know how long he was in there. In the meantime Dan rolled in and started to refill bottles and get ready to leave. Poor Curt was in the port-a-potty for about 20 minutes when he finally emerged and I knew he was feeling horrible. The challenge here is that with 100 miles to go you need to be able to absorb nutrition to be able to finish. No matter how tough you are, without nutrition, there is little likelihood that you will finish. Curt made the decision at this point to keep going but that we could leave him if he wasn’t feeling it anymore. I was afraid that he would drop out at the next supported Feed Zone and who could blame him at this point?

According to my computer, I was stopped for 30:00 minutes here. Our other stops were taking less than 2:00 minutes, so we lost some time here. Our three man crew rolled out and pushed on. I had drank a full bottle of water, ate two oranges, filled one of my bottles with water and another with Infinit. The upcoming descent again was to be used to eat and recover.

Salt River Pass to Afton Wyoming

The three mile descent off of the Salt River Pass is amazing. We came to the small bridge that marks the end of the descent and I turned around to look for Curt and he was nowhere to be seen. We didn’t hold a hard pace down the mountain, but it was enough to drop him. I felt incredibly guilty at this point. Right after the descent Dan commented to me that I seemed a little pissed off. He was right. I was mad at myself for abandoning my friend. While he told me to go on, I still wanted to finish together. Curt is a good guy and deserved to finish with our team.

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That's me sitting on third wheel with Dan on the far right. I think this is when he just finished a pull at the front.

My fear was that Curt would abandon in Afton Wyoming and then I would be stuck to finish solo, so I kept pushing. Dan and I hammered this section. I think I used the anger to ride mad. We caught group after group. The guys who could stay on our wheel did and we would drop the rest. It was literally Dan and I on front probably 90% of the time in this section driving the group. When other teams would get on the front I swear they would go too slow. I was already mad, so we just pounded this section. It was the right decision.

Afton Wyoming to Alpine Wyoming

At the Feed Zone in Afton Bruce and Justin had our bags ready for us. They were the best support crew out on the course. I took my third bag of boiled potatoes and two more bottles of Infinit and water. Waiting at the same spot were Hal and Helen LaBelle, Curt’s parents. I told them if Curt was going to finish, he would need an Immodium AD so they needed to get to Maverick to buy him some. While there Helen also bought him some Pepto Bismol and Tums. Curt hit the Feed Zone 10 minutes after we left and was having severe stomach cramping by this point. He had to take another 20 minute break just to be able to be able to get back on the bike. What a trooper.

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Bruce, Hal, and Helen all telling Curt which way the finish line was. Man I loved this crew.

Coming out of the Feed Zone a really long train of 20+ riders hooked onto Dan and I. We spent some serious time on the front hammering and making sure only the people who were serious about speed and taking their turn ended up in our group. There were a couple of riders who would not come to the front for whatever reason. That was fine, but we ended up dropping them with authority on some of the ascents. My legs were feeling really good still and I knew I wanted to come in under 11:00 of riding time. I really wanted to finish under 12:00 on the clock.

Dan is an amazing rider on the flats and downhills. It was really good for my attitude to have him there with me. I was really impressed how long he was able to sustain a high level of effort. There were no groups who passed us here and we passed a ton of people. In this area there are rumble strips to the left of the shoulder where you ride — enough to really rattle your teeth. I swear we had to cross them 100 times to pass slower riders. It was fantastic putting the pedal to the metal here. It was even better doing it with a riding partner and a friend. Working together made shedding people even that much more sweet.

Alpine Wyoming to Hoback Junction

Alpine has the last supported Feed Zone in the race. Bruce had waited for Curt in Afton and had barely made it up to Alpine for me, but I was really glad he had waited for Curt. This is where I started on Coke. I grabbed one more bag of potatoes, but there was little chance i was getting them down. There were only 47 miles left in the race, and I was feeling good, but my brain was telling me potatoes were not on the menu. I drank several swallows of Coke and had Bruce fill one of my extra water bottles with Coke. I took on a bottle of water and a bottle of Infinit. I waited just a couple of seconds for Dan and we were off.

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When the chips are down, you can always rely on Coke for a quick pick-me-up during the final stretch of a race.

We had pulled into the Feed Zone with about five other riders who had worked with us during the last section. Unfortunately they did not want to go with us from there. Dan and I set out together and decided we would push it until we found a group, sit on for a minute, and then bridge up to the next group. If anyone wanted to sit on our wheels, that would be fine, but we wouldn’t wait for anyone.

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Me with the best support crew in the business. Bruce was telling me, "I'm not here to support 2nd place!"

There are some rollers in this section, so it was tough to get into any type of a rhythm. After 159+ miles your body really wants to rest, regardless of how good you are feeling. You would push the uphills and want to rest on the downhills. It really becomes a mental race at this point. The scenery is beautiful — you are travelling up Snake River Canyon to Jackson Hole Wyoming. if you haven’t been to the area before, think Yellowstone National Park. There are some intense views and not to be missed.

About halfway up this part of the pass, Dan decided he had enough and told me to go on. I started to push my pace. I was drinking Coke and water and my brain started doing funny things at this point. I could do math, so I knew I wasn’t dehydrated, but something odd happened in my skull. I started to think really deep thoughts, like, “Why are we on bikes? How do these things really work? What would happen if a skunk started chasing me right now? How are two square inches of rubber going to stop 200 lbs. soon enough so I don’t get hurt in a crash?” It started to get weird.

I am not sure what happened. My blood sugar and energy levels were about as good as you can expect at this point. Where that all came from I can only guess. I decided I would pound some fruit at the next and last aid station.

Hoback Junction to Finish

This is the last  Feed Zone in the race. It is right before Hoback Junction, but I will call it what I call it. I pulled into this Feed Zone and quickly ate another two oranges and filled one bottle with water and used my last package of Infinit in the other bottle. I did drink one bottle of water before I left to make sure I was hydrated well enough. Thank goodness my mind got right here. It is funny — I knew what was going on but I couldn’t do anything about it. Once I ate I was fine.

I started on this 24.1 mile section and decided I would try and kill it. I also started thinking about my pal Curt and hoped he would finish. I thought about my pal Scooter and how much I miss the big lug. My buddy Todd should have been racing with us too.  Our group of friends from college were supposed to use LOTOJA as our midlife crisis, but out of the five of us who should have been racing, only two were able to hit the start line.

I left the Feed Zone with a three person team from VCBO Achitecture. There were two girls and a guy — looking at the results it was probably Thomas and Elizabeth Dansie and Alicia Staples. The guy was out on the front for about two miles and took a huge turn. He was fast, but when he was done, he was finished. I mean like literally. I told the gal who was on third wheel that I would go back and get him and so I did. I dropped back, pulled him back to the group and then pushed on. That was a good group and I was sad they were not feeling any better. Looking at the results, they all finished in the top 200 of our division.

Then a funny thing happened — I started to pass a lot of people. On this section I placed 107/491 finishers in my division.  By my count I thought I passed like 50+ people. It was really gratifying and I wanted more and more. I would pass one person and then I would pick out the next person on the road and I would push hard to make sure I caught them. The process would then start all over. It was exhilarating. There were a couple of people I tried to work with because I knew we would be faster together, but most could only match my speed for a small distance. I had saved enough for this section. I never got passed here.

Once I hit the 5 km to go sign, I did the math — it sounds silly that I had to do the math, but it was true — and knew I only had 3.1 miles to go. I was pumped. Successfully completing LOTOJA has been a goal of mine for a long time. I passed two more people in the last couple of miles and looked back and there was nobody behind me for a very long time.

I turned the final corner and in the distance I was the finishing chute. Ironman North America has the finishing experience down to a science and Epic Cycling, the organizers of LOTOJA should take some lessons from them. Regardless, crossing the finish line was a very emotional experience. It was emotional as much for what I had accomplished as who was not there with me. My buddies should have all been there. Scooter should still be with us. Shawn and Todd should have been there. If Curt and Dan were having better days they would have finished with me. 2012 we will all finish together. I think it will feel better and more complete.

I finished in 181/491 in my division chip time. I think next year I can pull that down to the top 100 if I train a little smarter than I did this year. I would like to race with the Cat 5 riders instead of the Fun Riders in 2012. I thought I had registered for that division this year, but my mistake, I did not. Regardless, I think I can pull my time down to closer to 10:00 including stops. It would be tough, but I have identified where I can make the changes. My placing was right about where I thought I would end up.

Finish Area

Bruce immediately found me and took a couple of photos of me waiting to report my number to the official at the line. I really appreciated him and Justin running our support all day long. While they said they had a good time, it is still a tough job. They took my bike and went to get some food.

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The anti-climatic finishing chute. They really need to work on this.

Then the waiting began. Dan finished 32:00 after I did. I found Hal and Helen and they told me Curt had made it to Alpine and had left there. I was worried about him. I knew he was still having serious stomach issues and the cut-off time was rapidly approaching. After the race he told us at one point he had to stop every five miles to relieve himself off the bike. These stops really cut into your time and average speed. At one point I thought about going down the canyon to get him and pull him into the finish chute, but remember Bruce took my bike with him. But then, the amazing happened…

The announcer at the finish line said “And here comes Curt LaBelle!” and I was really excited. It was so gratifying to see him hit his goal of finishing before the cut-off through so much adversity. I told his parents that he may be the most stubborn person I have ever met and he proved that out on that day. I am not so sure I would have made the same call of continuing like he did, but that is why he is Curt and I am not. Talk about mental fortitude. He even had 50 minutes before the cut-off. It wasn’t even close.

Aprés Race

Rick and his relay partner Brent Williams finished in 5th place for the two-man relay division, which put them on the podium. That was their goal and they made it. Rick also gave me a beat-down in the King of the Mountain contest, which made him very happy. He claims he is now retired from LOTOJA, but I will believe it when I see it.

Curt’s stomach made a huge rebound after the race. I think he will lay off potatoes for a while though — I am sure his body feels they are the root of all evil.

Dan is already planning how he is going to drop more weight and finish LOTOJA 2012 in less than 10:00. He bought a new super secret Specialized frame that he thinks will cut at least three hours off his time. Dan’s wife is glad to have him back after a summer of hard training.

Our support crew — Bruce and Justin — swear they will not run SAG again on LOTOJA. I don’t believe them for a second. Bruce was talking about riding in a relay in 2012, and it would be great to see him out there on the course. I further this rumor, I present the following evidence: He just traded one of his Harley’s for a bike. A new bike with the Dura Ace electronic groupset no less. I think he should do it as a relay with his kids.

Hal and Helen LaBelle were so proud of Curt when he finished and it was great to see that pride in their eyes. They are very supportive parents and have always been so nice to me. It is good to have a second set looking over my shoulder from time to time. They were so proud of me they bought me a pair of LOTOJA branded socks and dinner after. Man I love those two.

And me…let’s see. I had what I would call “as close to a perfect race” as I could get. I negative split this race: The second half took me 4:37 while the first half took me 6:17. There was more climbing in the first half by far, but still it really excites me that I flew as much as I did from the top of Salt River Pass to the finish. I know how I need to modify my training in 2012 to achieve my goals for the race. I am really happy with how I finished, and my goal for next year will be to go under 10:00 saddle time and under 10:30 for my clock time.

If you made it this far, thanks. It was a great day and a great event overall. While I missed those who were not on the course with us, I am really glad Curt, Dan, and I were able to ride together as long as we did. It was fun to ride together and I look forward to the same in 2012.

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...