The Rockwell Relay is really divided up into three portions — segments 1-4, 5-8, and 9-12. In segments 1-4, each of the four riders will complete their first legs and so on until you cross the finish line. As weird as it sounds, I had the hardest time with my first leg. By the numbers, I actually pushed harder for the second and third legs, but I think the heat and a couple of other variables just killed me on my first leg.
Last time when we left off, the race was about to start. Brent was riding our first leg and man he was focused on riding hard and finishing in the first group. There are some seriously fast people at the Rockwell Relay — I know there are a handful of Cat 1 and 2 riders and then a plethora of Cat 3 and 4 riders. Brent is a Cat 4 and honestly one of the fastest people I ride with, on the hills, flats, and downhills. The guy is in the top 10 in some of the tougher Strava segments in the region. If you don’t know what Strava is, click on the link and educate yourself. If you ride or run with a GPS, you need to get on it. It will help you improve your training.
Brent’s first leg was 54.3 miles according to Strava. If you want to see the details of his ride on Strava, click here. To give you a good idea of what was required on this segment for the speed he maintained, according to Strava he pushed just over 3 watts per kilogram for the 2:38 it took him to finish the leg. This leg featured just over 5,000 feet of climbing and he hammered each and every one of those feet. His average speed was 20.6 mph, which is much faster than what I can maintain over the same amount of distance and climbing.
The race was held in southern Utah at the beginning of summer, so you guessed it, it was hot. Like surface of the sun hot. Our strategy was to drive about 15 miles ahead of the rider, find a safe place to pull the RV over, and hand up food and water. I think Brent was using CarboRocket, so we would hand that up to him from time to time. I thought waiting so frequently for our rider would be silly, but after the fact I gotta admit it was really nice. I got some really cool shots of Brent while he was passing us up. Brent finished his leg solo, and the Fat Cyclist did beat him by a couple of minutes on this leg. It is interesting who you end up racing with and how people begin to fall into groups during a race like this one.
About an hour before he finished, I began to eat. Like a lot. In the early morning I ate “overnight oats”. I put a half of a cup of Irish Oats, a 1/4 cup of chia seeds, and a scoop of Repair from Infinit Nutrition and put it into a small plastic container. In this case, I used a quart sour cream container that we had emptied. I fill it with milk and put it in the fridge overnight. When you get up, it is a perfect blend of nutrition for a long day. I make sure I eat this at least three hours before the start of a race. But since my leg was scheduled to begin around 1:30, I used it as breakfast.
I had made what I call dirty quinoa before we had left on Thursday. You can find the recipe I use here. That stuff is amazing. Three hours before my start I ate quinoa until I was full. It doesn’t feel heavy and does not hang around in your stomach at all. I drank a bottle of water on the half hour and a bottle of Infinit on the hour until I started my leg. My leg was only projected to be 2:45, but remember we had all weekend to ride. Not only was I planning on being well fueled for my ride, but I wanted to make sure my body had what it needed moving forward. Infinit is a custom blended liquid nutrition solution and almost exclusively what I use during a race of less than five hours. Click here to find out more.
Brent finished his leg in the town of Monticello, so if you are following along at home, this was exchange number one. Brandon Storrs took the baton and was off. His first leg was in no way easy, but it was his easiest of the three he would have to complete. His Strava data is here. His leg was 45.1 miles long and had almost 3,000 feet of climbing. It took him 2:17 to finish his leg, which means he averaged about 19.7 mph in 90° temps. Brandon is a great climber and a super strong rider — he ended up beating me at a stage race we did the weekend before by about three minutes. When I ride hills with him, I have to be prepared to suffer because he makes me ride really hard. We used a similar leap frog strategy with him to make sure he was fueled and hydrated. Then it came time for me to start my leg.
As I was getting my bike ready, I immediately noticed the heat. I decided not to look at my temperature gauge on the Garmin 510 so I didn’t get worked up about the temps. After the fact I did — it averaged 93° and got as high as 102°. It was really hot. I felt that heat on every pedal stroke of my ride. The sun was relentless and it played a factor later in the leg. You can find my Strava data here.
The first 4.5 miles of this leg are uphill, an average of 3.8%. I averaged 257 watts over the 23:17 it took me to hit the top of the climb, which was an average speed of 11.5 mph. I was alone until mile 8.5 when a group of three riders overtook me and invited me onto their wheel. I gotta admit riding with this small group saved my leg. Until I connected with the group at mile 8.5 I averaged 244 watts and only 14.8 mph. The route wound us through some canyon country, and if you live near the mountains you know that means the road winds all around. I couldn’t tell you which direction the wind was coming out of, but I know it was strong and swirling. I felt as if we never really had a headwind, tailwind, or crosswind, just a wind from everywhere. It would have been tough to complete this leg alone and I am grateful that I did not have to. From mile 8.5 until mile 50.0, I only averaged 181 watts but we cruised along at 21.3 mph. The rider from TOSH and I put in some really strong pulls. I know it was long, but we both would pull for 3:00 because it felt right. Looking at the numbers, I took 11 pulls for a total of just over 37:00 and averaged 250 watts during those pulls. I didn’t mind being on the front because the group let me hook onto them.
We ended up only passing one person during our ride — it was none other than The Hammer, the wife of the Fat Cyclist. Fatty is a local celebrity and does a lot for the cycling community. I have run into Fatty before, but never have had the chance to ride with The Hammer, otherwise known as Lisa. She is a fast rider and can climb really well. When we caught her of course we asked her to jump on and she did just that. I was super pumped to have a strong rider to take turns so I could rest even that much more. Riding with her will become a theme in my other legs. When I said this was a race, Team Betsy was Right ended up racing Team Fatty and a couple of other teams.
My nutrition was about where it needed to be on an 80° day. The problem was the temperature was much higher than that. I didn’t drink as often or as much as I should. I felt hydrated and forgot that once you feel dehydrated, it is too late for you. I was drinking one bottle of Infinit per hour, but I needed to drink a bottle of Infinit and two bottles of water the rate that I was sweating. I was taking Enduralytes, but even those could not stop the cramps that would eventually come. My team tried to hand bottles up to me and I would refuse them. Luckily, the rider from TOSH had his vehicle following him as well and once I realized what was going on, they started handing up water to me. Man I really appreciated it. That actually spared me for a bigger bonk than the one I had. I said all weekend that I had a great 50 miler on my first leg. The problem was that someone put the finish out at mile 55.8.
The last 5.8 miles were brutal for me. My calves started to cramp. My quads and hamstrings wanted to cramp. I bonked really hard. My group dropped me as they should have. My numbers for that section were horrible. There were 500 feet of climbing but almost 1,000 feet of an elevation drop, so I should have averaged 20 mph at least through this section. Instead, it took me 22:42 to cover those 5.8 miles, which averages out to 15.4 mph. I averaged 163 watts. The temps had climbed up to 102º, and I felt every bit of that heat. That is the hardest I have ever bonked before and I hope that I learned my lesson and will drink and drink and drink on days with that type of heat. I got to the exchange on the north end of Lake Powell and gladly handed off the baton to Dan. Here is the ride summary:
Distance: 55.84 miles
Average Watts: 191 watts
Normative Power: 218 watts
Average Heart Rate: 156 bpm
Total Work: 1,997 kJ
Average Speed: 19.3 mph
At that point my calves seized up, and I just stood over my bike knowing if I got off my hamstrings would cramp up and then my quads would follow. Brandon stood over me and made sure I wasn’t going to pass out or anything and eventually we made our way back to the RV. The AC was blasting in the RV and as soon as I sat down I was covered in sweat, so at least I knew I did have heat stroke. There are 128 oz. of liquid in a gallon and over the next two hours I proceeded to down two gallons of liquids. I took Enduralytes along with the liquids to make sure I didn’t get hypoatremia.
To recover, I drank 128 oz. of water in the first 20 minutes to get my hydration levels back up. I then drank a 32 oz. cup of Infinit Repair and a bottle of Infinit shortly after that. The funny thing is once my legs settled down, they felt pretty strong. I ate a Pro Bar and downed some more Quinoa. I drank 64 oz. more of water and then I had to pee. Finally. I don’t think I have ever been so excited to pee. I even let out an audible cheer in the RV bathroom once it started. It took a lot to rehydrate me after that leg.
Dan rocked his leg. He had to ride in the same heat that I did. His ride was 44.9 mi. long but had almost 5,000 ft. of climbing, most of which was in the first 26 mi. of the leg. You can find his Strava data here. He averaged 203 watts over the 3:04 it took him to complete the leg. His time was good enough for a top 10 finish for the segment on Strava, which is fantastic. I have to admit it, I was out of it for a lot of his ride, so I don’t remember a ton about it. We did get some great photos of him, which wasn’t too hard in this part of the country. Dan really set the tone for the rest of the race because of his effort.
Now we are through the heat of the day and it is time to start Brent’s second effort, or segment 5. On this race you do ride through the night, facing all the challenges that come with riding through the southern Utah desert at night. At this point we knew we were in the top 20 teams by looking through the check-in’s at each of the exchange points. The race was beginning to sort itself out. We knew if we worked hard and nobody else had performance issues we would probably finish under 30 hours. We hoped that finish time would leave us in the top 10 finishers, but the way things were playing out we began to adjust our placing goal to the top 15. Everyone was feeling good enough after those first legs — we had all put out a race level of effort, so most legs were pretty gassed. Sitting in the RV didn’t help much. I felt like my next leg was a 200 lbs. barbell on my shoulders that I had to carry around at all times. My bonk had made me pretty nervous and I didn’t want to let my team down by not killing it on the next leg. That obligation to my friends would drive my performance and power me through my climbs.