Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Racing at Sebring

A few­ days before leaving for Sebring, Victor and I took the tandem out for a few loops to make sure everything was working well.  With all the snow this winter, it had been months since we rode outside- in fact, it had been so long we forgot our helmets!  True, we have been doing regular interval sessions, but the lack of real riding did not bode well for our chances of completing the 24-hour race with a new course record (over 344mi).  Nevertheless, aside from an incipient cold Victor had, we were both feeling pretty well.  I was off all the medications other than the Copaxone.  I had been going to the physical therapist to treat the chronic neck pain that my neurologist believes is a result of the MS lesion on my spine, and was getting much better results than from all the pain medications I had tried.  I was a bit worried the race would set me back, but I was also determined not to let the pain get in the way of accomplishing my goals.
At the start
The week before the race, Victor upped the ante with a bid to make over 400 mi for the RAAM qualifier.  We planned as well as we could, but without a crew, it was not going to be easy.  Honestly, I was just very excited to be able to ride in the warm sun after months of cold hard winter. The day did not disappoint, with near perfect temperatures and very little wind.  As we stood at the racetrack waiting for the signal to start, I looked around and saw all the rock stars of ultra cycling.  There was John Schlitter, racer and founder of Bacchetta Recumbent Bikes, Dana Lieberman owner of Bent Up Cycles, maker of posh carbon recumbents, both RAAM finishers.  RAAM contenders Ann Woolridge and Sandy Earl were there, along with RAAM winner Daniela Genovesi.  We took off with wings.  On the first few laps around the racetrack, a guy on a beautiful Cervelo admired our bike, “Beautiful bike- must have taken out a second mortgage!” 

“This thing?  This is a Burley Rumba we got off of Craigslist for a thousand bucks!”  Indeed, it was hard not to envy all the beautiful bikes.  There were many recumbents and some had really cool fairings, including a cow skin and one with flowers that looked like a bed sheet.  There was even a velomobile a.k.a. the bathtub bike. There was one other pair on a recumbent tandem, but we did stand out.  In the pictures you will see some of my body parts standing out because my zipper broke at the starting line.  Luckily it was a warm day and I just pretended I wanted ventilation.  The first 100mi loop out around Lake Reedy was great.  I was feeling strong and we were having fun.  We saw George Meltzer, a friend from the PA Randonneurs.  We saw Maria Parker, a women I raced with at Saratoga a couple of years ago.  The loop was pretty flat and we did it in just over 5 hours with one short stop. 

We took another break before setting out on the short loop of 11 miles.  Unfortunately, we didn’t read the directions and missed some of the briefing at the start messing with my zipper, so we took a wrong turn and ended up doing 6 bonus miles before getting back on track.  This ate up our time cushion, as did the afternoon winds and the small but tandem-slowing hill on the backside of the loop.  We did stand on it every time, relieving the pain of the by then, very sore butt.  By the 9th or 10th time around, I wasn’t sure if I loved or hated that hill.  By the time 5:30 rolled around, it was hot and I was not eager to go out on that loop again. They were going to start sending people on the track any minute and I wanted to take a break and change my clothes.  Plus, we needed to move the car and set up for the night.  So, we decided to stop and take care of business. 

It was almost an hour before we got started again.  I had accidently filled up my water bottle with Perpetuem, which I discovered does not agree with me.  I got some violent cramps.  I tried to ignore them and listen to some music, but my iPod was not working (interestingly, it worked the next day). As the evening wore on, smoke from a mud fire was wafting heavily in the air.  Victor’s lungs were feeling scorched.  We knew we were very close to setting the course record and too far for RAAM qualifying, so we began to slow down. 

The last few hours we shared several Red Bulls as I watched the shadows shifting in the moonlight.  The light and the smoke were so beautiful.  I started to imagine there was snow on the ground.  Victor told me he thought he heard people clapping.  He thought that the garbage cans and other things we passed were other riders, but then they would turn into garbage cans.  We finally stopped at about 4:30 am.  I wanted to go back out, but he reminded me he had heard people clapping that weren’t there.  “So, you know it’s not real.  Just ignore it and let’s go back out.”  Somehow I could not let go of this idea of riding into the sunrise.  But, we had already beaten the course record by about 20 miles, so we agreed to go back to the hotel, clean up and return for the awards ceremony. 

They had only made one medal for us.  Victor was going to put it around my neck, then joked about putting it around both our necks, but then they awkwardly handed me another medal.  I’m not going to lie and say I don’t care whether people appreciate my role in our success. But I know what I did and I know Victor appreciates me that’s what really matters. Riding together is so much more fun.  We’re just better together.

Now, if we just had a better tandem and a crew…


elvissipa said...

Sorry to hear that you didn't qualify for the RAAM. (not being a biker not sure what that is)...but what a ride!!! Congrats...that is a LONG ride, wants me to get out there and RUN! Stay strong!!

Deborah said...

Kate, you are truly awesome (and you, too, Victor!)! Congratulations!