Rockwell Relay Race Report — Segments 5-8

I believe the first four segments of the Rockwell Relay are possibly the hardest on the course. The terrain is manageable, but the heat and racers being totally amped up and coming off a taper really hurt me at least. I really have to remember two things when I do this in 2013: drink lots more water/Infinit during my first segment, and a 500+ mile race is a long ways where anything can happen.

One of the better shots of me during the Relay.

While Dan was pounding the pavement during the fourth segment, Brent and I talked about our goals and where we were. Brent and Brandon had put us up on the projected times we needed to finish under 30 hours. I had blown a portion of that lead during my leg because of my performance in the last miles. We knew from the check-ins at the exchanges that we were still somewhere in the top 20, but it would take an extra special effort to finish in the top 10 at this point. We were still in first place in the Infinite Racing team competition that nobody else but us knew was going on. It is funny how you can win a contest when you are the only one who knows the rules. We knew the legs through the night would be key in helping us move up in the standings. We also knew the other teams knew the same thing.

Leg 5 went from Hanksville to Torrey. According to Strava, it was 44.8 miles long and had 3,686 feet of climbing. If you want to take a closer look, Brent’s Strava file is here. This leg just climbs. There is not a ton of relief as you just go up and up and up. I think it is on this leg that the riders on the course begin to fan out and get spaced apart. It was rare from this point on that we would see other riders on the course outside of the exchange points. We used the same leap frog strategy to hand him up food and water and it was about half way through this leg that it started to get dark — Brent began this leg at 6:51 p.m. and it took him 2:38 so we did make him pull over at 8:30 so we could put a headlight and taillight on his bike and a reflective vest on his back. There were few cars on the road, so our primary concern was deer. Seriously. Someone in the past broadsided a deer going down a canyon and lived to tell the tale. I am just impressed that person got back on their bike and finished their leg.

The good news is the temps were coming down. If you live in the mountains, you know when the sun sets, the temps fall and they drop quickly. Brent worked his way up to over 6,500 ft. in elevation, which meant the heat of the day would quickly give way to the cold of night. Brandon started leg 6 at 9:30 p.m. His leg was only 39.2 miles but had 3,442 in climbing. The funny thing about this leg was there was only one turn that you had to nail 1.7 miles into your ride. Now Brandon is an amazing rider who has singular focus when he is turning his pedals. It was that focus that got him into trouble when he missed the sign that indicated he should be turning south. Luckily, the Evolo Team that was slightly ahead of us had a team RV parked at the junction and they saw Brandon cruise past the turn. They caught up with him 4.0 miles later and gave him a ride back to the turn off. Thanks Heath. You did a good thing and someday you will be rewarded.

The great thing about Brandon is he is super fast. Check out the Strava file on this leg for him. You will notice he is still in 5th place overall for the 17.9 mi. climb. His overall ride was 44.4 mi. and he climbed 4,112 feet on this segment. I think he lost about 20 minutes when everything was said and done on the 2:24 that it took him to complete the segment because of the missed turn. Regardless, he still killed it. Remember he rode through an oppressive darkness for this leg, which doesn’t really matter when you are climbing, but it sure does when you are on the 13.0 mi. descent. He averaged 30.6 mph on that descent on switchbacks. I was impressed.

A strange thing happens on a relay — when you are sitting in your vehicle you never feel as if you recover 100% from your previous ride. I call it relay fatigue — you can eat and drink as much as you want but it isn’t like sitting at home recovering. You also have to jump out of your vehicle to hand up food and water to the rider who is on the road. I would like to say with the RV we had no problem recovering, but that just wasn’t the case. Add to the fact that your next leg starts after dark and you can get into a bad place mentally.

There isn’t a trick that I can share here that will make a difference in your performance. Finding your motivation is something you have to do before you start the race because it is in the second and third legs you have to dig deep. You really have to wrap your head around the fact that you have to ride, your teammates are counting on you, and you have to ride fast because this is a race. We knew we had a couple of teams nipping on our heels that we did not want to give the chance to pass us, so there was additional pressure. I knew I had to ride and ride hard. The leg was 56.7 mi. long and has about 3,800 ft. of climbing. It follows Highway 12 from Boulder to Henrieville through some amazing country. I started my leg at 11:55 p.m., so the challenge with this leg is the descents have to be done in the dark. Like close your eyes dark. There was no moon, so looking at a glass half full you could see a ton of stars. The good news is the average temp for my ride was 57°, which was downright pleasant after my afternoon ride.

Epic Descents in the West

This is the descent in the daylight. Close your eyes to see it at night.

There is a short two mile climb followed by a 10 mi. descent over Hogsback Ridge. My RV did not catch up with me to light the road and scare away deer, so I did this on the dark. No joke, there were signs that indicated a 14% grade on the descent. On this section I averaged 28.8 mph and 204 watts. I really wish I could have seen what I was riding through because looking at pictures the view is spectacular. If you want to know how dark it was, close your eyes on your next descent and open them up about every 10 seconds. If you really try that you are an idiot. I thought that to myself a couple of times during the descent.

In the west, everytime you head downhill you are required to ride uphill at least three times the amount of descent that you had. I think it is an unwritten rule. Once you bottom out near the river you have to climb out of the valley. The climb is about 1.1 miles long and averages 7.6%. It was on this climb that the first person I saw all night passed me. I would like to say he struggled by me as I made him bleed out of his eyes. I averaged 7.1 mph and 285 watts for the 9:37 it took me to climb out of the canyon. Looking back I am really happy with my performance on this section, but this guy passed me like I was sitting on the side of the road. I did not get a look at this race number because there were no lights to really illuminate it. But I can only speculate that his first initial was Alberto and his second initial was Contador. I can’t confirm that, but with the speed that I was passed at, it had to be him.

Epic Climbs in the Wesy

This is the climb out of the canyon in the daylight.

After another short climb and descent, at mile 22 you start a 2,000 ft. climb over the next 22 miles. It starts before you hit the town of Escalante and goes up the summit of a pass outside of town. It was surreal riding through the town of Escalante with nobody else on the roads. I know people live there, but I didn’t see any. I was actually feeling really good at mile 22 and knew that if I didn’t ride hard a couple of teams would pass me. I didn’t want to let my people down, so I decided to hammer as much as I could and just put it out there. There is a 11 mile descent at the end of this leg, so I decided to pace myself so that I had nothing left at the top of the ascent at mile 44. I continued to push my pace and my legs were feeling great. Because it was dark, I couldn’t see the hills coming up or when the road would turn up. My Garmin 510 was turned on night mode so I could see it constantly and I paced myself on watts only. I ignored speed and heart rate and my attitude turned north. I was feeling it.

This section took me 1:39 and I averaged 210 watts, which after that climb I thought was pretty stellar. Looking back, I think I could have pushed even harder. It was somewhere in this section that I could see headlights on the ground in front of me, which meant either my RV was coming up or someone was catching me. I was furious with myself. As the lights got closer, I could tell it wasn’t my RV. In the back of my mind I knew it was Lisa from Team Fatty, you know, The Hammer from the FatCyclist. I had headphones in so when she passed me I didn’t hear her encouraging words. I did pull them out because I hoped we could ride together a little but she had other plans at 2:30 a.m., like kicking my butt up the hill. Seriously. She rode away from me like I was the chupacabra looking for a midnight snack. I just remembered back to my dating life in college and her riding away seemed about right.

An artists rendering of what I may have looked like to Lisa in the middle of the night.

That was the last time we would be passed by Team Fatty. They stayed out in front of us for the rest of the race. We would see them at the exchanges and would always gauge how fast we had to ride to catch them but we couldn’t do it. I think there is something in the Honey Stingers and Subway sandwiches they eat in a race like this one. So if you are reading this Lisa — you rock. You were my nemesis this race and man I hope we can race again next year, just let me know which leg you choose. Great work.

I crested the climb and I thought since I outweigh Lisa by like 100 lbs., I might catch her if I pushed it on the downhill. I love to descend. I love to push big gears and go really fast around corners. In the dark I have to say it is a whole new experience. I got really lucky on all of my descents on this leg — I never found any potholes, I never saw any wildlife, and the chupacabra left me alone. I averaged 27.1 mph and 204 watts on the descent, which was only good enough for 12th place on Strava for this year. While not bad, I did want more. There were sections where I could have pushed harder looking back.

Coming into the exchange I was gassed. I felt good about my effort and was really surprised how well my legs responded to this segment. Looking at the Strava file, my ride was good enough for 11th overall. My buddy Heath Thurston is the reigning King of the Mountain for this segment and my pal David Callahan ended up with 8th. Lisa Nelson pounded out a 7th overall on this section, making her victory over me complete. Here are the stats from this segment:

Distance: 56.33 miles
Time: 3:21:13
Average Watts: 216 watts
Normative Power: 228 watts
Average Heart Rate: 148 bpm
Total Work: 2,611 kJ
Average Speed: 16.8 mph

My second leg was by far better than my first. I was really careful about what I ate and drank throughout it and the temps did not hurt either. I was really proud of my effort on this leg even though I lost two places to Alberto Contador (allegedly) and Lisa Nelson, otherwise know with good reason as The Hammer. The average watts is the highest amount I have pushed for 3:20 ever. I just wished I wouldn’t have gotten passed.

I handed off to Dan who was ready to pound out some miles. Leg 8 was 35.8 mi. and had 2,758 ft. in climbing, all of which seemed to be in the first 15.0 mi. His leg skirted the north side of Bryce Canyon National Park and ended in Panguitch. He really came through on this leg — his time of 2:11 helped him average 16.3 mph, which also meant we did not get passed on his leg. The race seemed to be sorting itself out late at night on the back roads of southern Utah. As far as we could tell, we were still in the top 20 but getting in under 30 hours might be a stretch. The third set of legs would be the key for everyone, and there were four teams, including ours, that could pull ahead and possibly cross the line in 13th place.

When I hit the RV I was beat. My legs were exhausted, I was a little dehydrated, and I needed to eat something fast. If I wanted to hammer my third leg, eating right after my ride was key. Someone had set up a grill at the exchange station and was making breakfast burritos for the riders. I knew I had quinoa in the fridge and the angel on my shoulder told me I should stick my my nutritional plan. I jumped in the RV to clean up and eat my quinoa when our driver asked if I wanted a burrito. He literally talked me into eating one — he even went out and made one for me. When I said he made one for me, I think the better verb is “constructed”. He put at least a dozen eggs and half a pound of hashbrowns on it with a little cheese sprinkled on top for good measure. The funny thing is I polished the whole thing off. Sometimes you have to listen to your body and just eat. I still drank about 128 oz. of water and my Infinit Recovery with milk, but man that burrito was amazing. I even got to sleep for about an hour for the first time since we had started the race.

Once Dan finished up, Brent started on leg 9, which meant we were in our final stretch. If anyone in their last legs failed to push their pace, we would lose more spots to one of the other three teams that we knew were within striking distance. If anyone had a mechanical, failed to make one of the turns on the course again, or bonked, we could easily slip out of the top 20 finishers. If there was a headwind like they experienced in 2012 we knew we would fail to finish under 30 hours. There were so many factors that would come into play for the last four legs…

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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...