LOTOJA race reports are hard to find for some reason. I am not sure why you can’t find more. It may be because some of the fastest riders don’t want to give away their secrets of how to win their categories, or it could be because cyclists are just not as outgoing as triathletes and runners. I know some people publish a race report on every 5K they do, which is fine with me. I often picture someone spending more time writing their race report than they actually spent racing. For some reason this always makes me laugh.
LOTOJA is still the longest USA Cycling sanctioned one day race in the US at 200 miles. The course was shortened this year to diverge the paths of the racers and the fun riders for the first 30 miles or so. With over 1,700 participants, it is important to try and manage the traffic patterns of the cyclists, not only for the riders but for the cars that we share the roads with. Anyone who rode the course in 2012 can tell you that the unnatural number of goatheads on the road to Preston was not an accident and it seemed that a farmer might have accidentally run their hay cutting over the road a day before the race. I for one was happy to avoid that section of the race.
This is the third year I have done this race. In 2011 I rode in the Fun Ride division. I had 4,565 training miles that year and set out to finish the 206 miles the race featured that year. I had a chip time of 12:17 and a moving time of 10:54. Obviously I spent way too much time with my feet on the ground. If you are interested, you can read the race report here. I had a buddy who got sick who I waited for until the top of Salt River Pass at mile 105. In 2012 I also rode in the Fun Ride division, but I was able to cut my chip time down to a 10:26 and my ride time to a 10:05. I did increase my training mileage to about 5,900 miles, mainly because I rode through the winter in the cold. I did win the King of the Mountain on Salt River Pass for the Fun Ride division, something that I had targeted, trained for, and tried to win.
Over the winter this year, I joined a race team sponsored by a local bike shop called Infinite Cycles Racing. My purpose in joining the team was to improve my speed and actually get fast. The funny thing is when I joined the team as a Cat 5 rider I thought I was fast. I could hold my own with most of my buddies on any ride. Of course everyone has their talents and some would beat me on the climbs, other were faster on the flats. But I really thought I was fast. Then I started racing.
It all started with the Bike4Kids stage race in June. I got a severe lesson in humility. I found out there were Cat 5 riders who could leave me in the dust. My A race for the last three years has been LOTOJA, and I knew if I was going to be competitive I would have to train smarter. I ended up racing as a Cat 5 rider in LOTOJA this year. LOTOJA is so big that it divides the Cat 5 riders into five different heats of about 50 riders each. You are assigned to a flight by the race organizers, and they do a fantastic job. The competition is pretty even in each of the flights.
So I started stalking my competition on Strava (add me here) once the start lists were published about a month before the race. In 2012, the podium for the Cat 5 racers was between 9:27 and 9:30. Two racers who won their flight in 2012 were assigned to my flight in 2013 — Derek Edwards and Derrick Warlaumont (see their 2012 results here). They took 1st and 2nd in 2012 and I knew from stalking them both on Strava that they were super fast. We had ridden many of the same courses this year and I was doubtful that I could beat them, so my goal was to stay with them until the last serious climb that ended at mile 105 and then see what happened. I started to focus my training on holding their wheels on the climbs. It would be difficult, but I knew if I wanted to podium, that is what it would take. In my group I had four teammates from Infinite Racing, two I knew pretty well and one I did not.
Then disaster struck. Two weeks before LOTOJA I went up to Afton Wyoming with my friends Curt and Brent to pre-ride a couple of the climbs on the course. I will spare you the details, but after returning from the trip, I got pounded by giardia. Before I got sick, I was weighing in between 165-167 lbs. From Tuesday until Friday morning I ate about 500 calories and obviously was unable to ride. Fourteen to seven days before a race is where I try and elevate my top level of power just a little. Just like life, in endurance sports you have to take what you are dealt. Friday morning, eight days before the race, I finally felt good enough to eat. I stepped on the scale and weighed a whole 160.0 lbs. A lot of that was dehydration, but I did lose some fat and muscle both. Overall, I thought this would hurt me a ton. I was scared that it would ruin my race. My strategy to recharge and recover was to eat as much healthy food as I could.
But then Saturday, one week before LOTOJA, I went out for a 50 mile ride. I was really nervous about this ride. If it went poorly I was scared that it would zap the confidence that I had built up over the season. Before giardia, by climbing was much better than it had ever been. I was averaging well over 200 watts on many of the 50+ mile solo rides, and put me in a paceline and I was flying. As I started this ride, it took my legs a couple of more miles than normal to come around, but they felt solid. The route I took was a simple out and back, and there was a headwind heading out as a storm was trying to blow in. I pushed the pace a little, and I actually felt good. The only thing I noticed that concerned me was my heart rate was about 10 bpm higher than it should have been. I chalked it up to my body not having recovered completely from the giardia, so mentally I was good. I didn’t push the pace too hard, so I didn’t know where my top gear was, but I still decided that the ride was a success. I might not podium and I needed to readjust my LOTOJA goals, but I knew I would be alright.
So now my focus was on refueling my muscles and trying to taper the way I had previously planned. My fitness levels didn’t suffer a ton from being sick, which was good news. Over a 200 mile race you really need your caloric stores to come through for you. I had to make sure the tank was full and ready to go. I decided my weight wasn’t an issue, so I allowed myself to eat as much as I wanted. The only caveat to this plan was that the food had to be healthy. I wasn’t pounding Butterfingers and Coke. By the end of the week I was up to 165 lbs., which is where I wanted to be for the race. I probably had a little more fat and a little less muscle than I would have if I didn’t get sick, but again you play the hand that is dealt to you.
I think I have nailed my LOTOJA tapering strategy. On Monday I rode 40.6 miles and climbed 3,061 ft. with some friends of mine and included a really hard 25:00 effort in this ride. For you locals, I went up and set a three year PR on the south side of Suncrest. It is a 4.9 mile climb with 1,260 ft. of climbing (click here for the Strava file). Tuesday I was supposed to race the crit held at the Rocky Mountain Raceway. The crit is 30:00 of hard effort, which is what I wanted. Unfortunately the crit organizer canceled the race so I ended up riding with my pals Billy and Dave. We rode 30.0 miles and climbed 1,312 feet and put in some hard efforts. Most of the hard efforts were only about 2 – 3:00, so they were just enough to remind you what it was like to hurt a little (click here for the Strava file). Wednesday I rode 20.0 miles very easy and Thursday I added another 10.4 miles at a very, very easy pace (click here and here for the Strava file). I found out this year that my body only liked one day off the bike. Any more than that and I felt crappy getting back on the bike for some reason. I ended up taking Friday off to let the legs rest. I ended up with a total of just over 100 miles for the week, which was perfect for a taper. I averaged about 250 miles per week on the bike starting in April.
Like I mentioned, I adjusted my goals for the race. Pre-giardia, my goal was a 9:15-9:30 chip time with a trip on the podium. 2013 is the last year I would be racing Cat 5, so if there was a year to get on the podium, this was it. I knew beating Edwards and Warlamont would be about impossible, so the podium seemed like a good goal. At LOTOJA, the podium goes down to 5th place. I adjusted my goal to a 9:30 – 10:00 finish. I also wanted to cut my stop time down to less than 2:00. The racers in the lead group all have a stop time of less that 3:00. It would take some discipline to not put my foot down at the aid stations, but that was the only way to accomplish my goal.
Just like 2011 and 2012 I stayed with my buddy Bruce’s parents who live about a mile from the start line. The night before all our friends were able to meet at Noodles for dinner. I went back to the house where I was staying and fixed up my nutrition, packed my bags for Bruce who was running SAG for the third year in a row, and to set out my clothes. My start time wasn’t until 7:21, which meant in relative terms, I would get to sleep in. I set my alarm for 6:00 a.m. so I could get up, shower, and eat a big breakfast before the race. About 11:00 p.m. I hit the sack and went right to sleep. For whatever reason, I rarely have a problem sleeping. I had a problem sleeping the night before a race when I ran, but I started a system where I would use a list to get everything prepared and I mentally trained myself to “trust the list”. It took time, but I eventually learned to have confidence in my preparation.
Once my alarm went off at 6:00 a.m., I jumped out of bed, showered, brushed my teeth (one of my OCD things — I always have to brush my teeth before a ride), and got dressed. Breakfast before a race like LOTOJA is really important. You can’t throw down a gel 20 minutes before the start and hope your on the bike nutrition will sustain you throughout the day. You need some carbs and protein. I know most experts in the field of nutrition will tell you to eat no later than three hours before the gun, but I have had luck with up to one hour before the start. In the past I have pounded oatmeal and scrambled eggs with success. To cut down on prep time, this year I ate overnight oats with chia seeds and frozen berries and a bag of pre-sliced lunchmeat. Yes I know it is packed with sodium, but eating protein before a race like this is essential to me. I took three Enduralytes, three SportLegs, and some BCAA’s. My buddy Dan had a trainer who told him BCAA’s help pre-ride and anecdotally, I think he is right. I drank one bottle of Infinit and two bottles of water. My only fear with this strategy was that I would have to pee.
My LOTOJA nutrition strategy was simple — I would drink one bottle of Infinit per hour for 280-300 calories. I had boiled some potatoes in chicken broth and cut them up and but them into a small ziplock bag with some course sea salt to be handed up at each of the three SAG supported aid stations. I also put two Honey Stinger waffles in a ziplock to be handed up at each supported aid station. My SAG would also replace my Infinit bottles at each supported aid station and give me a bottle of plain water too. At the last aid station where SAG was allowed, I would take on two bottles of Red Bull mixed with water. That whole thing about Red Bull giving you wings, it is true when you are at the end of a race. At the three neutral aid stations I would take a bottle of water without stopping.
I rode my bike down to the start line and waited with the other 50+ riders in the Cat 5 C Flight. It is amazing how palatable the excitement is at the start of a race that is going to take a huge effort. I have run marathons, an Ironman, a handful of half Ironmans, and LOTOJA three times now, and there is nothing like the adrenaline rush that you get right before the gun goes off. I love looking over your competitors and wondering how many miles they have done in preparation for this day, how much time they have sacrificed away from their families, and the price they have paid to get into the shape they are in. You hope everyone performs to their potential and has the type of day they want, but I can’t but help wonder who is going to have issues on the bike.
I knew even with the giardia problems the week before that I was ready to go. My legs felt great the whole week before the race, my nutrition was where it needed to be, and mentally I was ready to suffer and pay the price to stay with the leaders up Strawberry Pass, the first big climb of the day. While I had tried to race LOTOJA in 2011 and 2012, I knew signing up as a Cat 5 rider was a bigger commitment to the concept of actually “racing” and trying to hit my time goals. I said a little prayer to Eddy Merckx, Greg Lemond, and Bernard Hinault that my tires would stay inflated, down on the road, and not touch any other wheels, and I was ready to go. The race marshal counted down, you heard the beep of 50 Garmin’s being started and 50 bikers all clipping in. Then there was that magical moment where everyone took their first pedal stroke…
If you made it this far, congratulations! Here is the next installment of LOTOJA Race Report 2013 — Part I.