Beyond the finish line

I would like to dedicate this blog post to my friend Jill’s upcoming new book Be Brave, Be Strong because I thought a lot about it while riding my bike last weekend. I have benefited greatly from my friendship with her and can attribute it to the next round of big life adventures. Last weekend was the 24 Hours of Round the Clock mountain bike race. I raced solo and was really targeting this race to do my best. Come to find out “my best” would be more then I expected to do. It was more then I thought I could do.

First a little background is in order. I tend to play it safe. Instead of confronting a bad land lord I just take environmental and verbal abuse so as to stay in a affordable apartment. And why am I in such economic hardship? Well because I have a low paying job. But do I confront my fears of confrontation and stand up to my employers for more cash. No, I play it safe. To raise above the norm could mean failure and I just didn’t want to risk it. So I just stay in my little box of comfort riding a bike for miles and miles. I feel safe on my bike.

During the pre race meeting with my pit person Norman I expressed my desire to “pace myself” so that I would have enough laps to win the race. The month leading up to the race my training went south and I was left with nothing but a strict diet to get me through. I could not survive a “balls out” start and I needed to be safe and careful that I didn’t falter later down the line.

Also on my mind also was a decision concerning a new direction in life. I have played it safe for too long and now I was contemplating a move from my job and town for a new adventure, a new opportunity. I tried to put it all out of my mind and got to the starting line committed to pacing myself.

5 minutes from the start and a mere 30 seconds on the bike and my rear tire went flat. I stepped off non-nonchalantly, pressed my air cartridge to the valve, and aired the tire back up. The entire process took like 45 seconds but that was enough to put me behind the remaining 20 riders of a pretty large field. There were something like 800 or 900 racers, and 60 or so were solo racers. Now I was standing in line as people stumbled one at a time through the first big rock garden. All the while the front runners were putting a big distance on me. Panic set in.

Once set free I was getting reports from the engine room that I was zone 5 on what I call the “heart rate richter scale”. My goal was a zone 2 pace. Heart rate zones are just what I use to gauge my effort. Zone 1 and 2 are just burning low amounts of fuel without any body breakdown. 3 and 4 would be breaking down body parts after 8 hours. Zone 5 is just not sustainable and can contribute to hallucinating with outbursts for “mommy”. But it was too late for pacing and I was stressed out that the front runners would get too far out. This paranoia pushed me to put in a 60 minute first lap. And that was including the run.

“Your in 4th place”, Norman shouted after me as I rode from a unscheduled stop in the pits to get another air cartridge and a bottle of Carbo Rocket.  I knew I blew it already by going too hard so I figured I might as well keep going at 60 minute laps. And that is what I did for the first 3 laps. I knew that since I hit zone 5 it was only a matter of time before I would cramp up then start to feel the horrid effects of going too hard. I wondered if I could make it through the night without falling to pieces and taking a “time out” in the pits to overcome exhaustion. So I continued to go hard even when I heard on lap 2 that I was in the lead. My “new” plan was to get out as far as I could before the inevitable slow down occurred.

I rattled off laps 4 and 5 in 61 minutes and finally I was hearing reports that I was a half hour out in front. It seemed to me I was going to be able to lap the field and that would be good because I could gain the mental advantage and then have a target when I reached my “just hold on” phase. I dialed back the throttle a bit and for the first time in the race my heart rate was settling down to zone 3 although the climbs were still requiring zone 5 efforts.

Darkness fell and we slipped into night mode. There was some confusion in the pits on light placement and I was frustrated because I figured “we had gone over this”. There was also some debate on shims and how to turn on my tail light but soon they had me under way, all within a 2 minute time span. I was busting through the night with 900 lumens on my helmet and 300 on my bars. No wait, make that 0 lumens on my bars. My handle bar light was not working. I pushed the buttons and yanked the wires around. Nope! Nothing! Now I was riding without a back up light and a spot for high speeds. My kick ass helmet mounted one (made by my friend Erik) was awesome except it had a diffuser lens to diffuse tons of light all around me for unreal peripheral vision. The only problem is that it diffused enough that I would out run it when speeds got up to 20 or so. Kind of unsettling on some of the technical rocky bomber descents. Did I say the loop was awesome?

“My light is broken”, I yelled out as I swerved into my pits and skidded to a stop. Erik stepped forward a little concerned. Everyone looked as though were were going into a meeting on the Cuban missile crises or something.

“No not my head lamp, this one”, gesturing towards my handle bar. Norman was already yanking at the wires.

“I tried that, let me have a headlamp for a back up and take that thing off”, I was highly agitated about my lighting situation.  I grabbed the light off Normans head after a tiny amount of power searching in the dark. Once in my pocket I notice this was all my pit crew had to see.  There was no time to worry about the pit crew now. After all I had to keep up the pressure and try and lap the field before I fell apart. I ripped down pit row and back out for another lap.

I was crossing the threshold into the second half of the race and that fact alone was depressing. It was only midnight, how on earth could I make it another 12 hours? And if I couldn’t, would I have enough of a lead to still win? I pushed on trying desperately to find the guy in second place in the dark night. I didn’t know what he looked like only that he had left the pits just 10 minutes before I did. As I climbed up one of the short punchy climbs my rear tire felt soft. I jumped off and sure enough it was going flat.

“No worries”, I whispered to an imaginary audience. I imagined I was in a movie and needed some dialog to explain the situation and show how calmly I was going to fix this flat tire.

“Usually in these races we carry a air cartridge so we can just jump off and quickly air the tire like this”, I was talking in a mater of fact tone that I remember from reality shows like American Chopper. I fumbled a little with the little cartridge and giggled. I had to look smooth for the cameras. I kept fumbling. I twisted it a little harder trying to figure out why this one wouldn’t puncture its seal and fill my tire with much needed air. Nothing! I stood up and investigated it more closely forgetting that I was pretending to be on the reality show “American 24 Hour Madness”.

“Ahhh shit … F&%$#. NORMAN!!!”, the reality of it all came crashing into my fuzzy brain. The damn air cartridge was used. Norman had handed me a spent cartridge and I had 10 miles to complete the lap. I closed the air cap on my rear wheel. I couldn’t stay in the woods and cry, I needed to keep forward progress. I went to work softly riding my bike with its rear tire holding about 10 psi. It seemed to be holding. Soon the extra fumbling and a ever increasing fear that I didn’t get a fresh battery pack was too much. Suddenly it was dark … and I was descending the rockiest downhill on the course.

As I approached my pit area I put together a “bitch list”. I wanted to express my frustration that I had to ride a flat tire with no lights for more then half the lap. But as soon as I swerved into the confines of my pit I was overcome with joy that I made it home to my friends who were looking at me with such admiration and a hint of anticipation. It looked as thought they were like dogs when you are about to throw a stick.

“Norman you gave me a empty cartridge”, I looked at him with a furled brow.

“OK”, … and that was it. He said it in a tone that said he understood and it wouldn’t happen again. He said it in a way that suggested that I just get over it now and it was all behind us. And that was it. I got a new battery pack and my handlebar light was repaired.  Normal subtly handed me a Action Wipe. With that the ruminants of my frustration were wiped away as I swabbed at my nose and face. I thought how strange … why a action wipe for a nose wipe and I had to giggle. I made such a big deal out of them people thought that I used them for everything.

“OK Bill, go go go”, and I was outta there.

I chased second place through the night but somehow lapping him eluded me. At one time I had passed him, then I didn’t, then we didn’t know where he was. Finally I took it all down another notch in hopes to keep going and hold onto my lead. Now I just wanted to finish this thing and I looked forward to the sun rise. I planned a lap dedication to my friend Jill, the person I watched a sun rise with in my last 24 hour race. I patted myself in the back for coming up with the idea just as I noticed the sky turning a dark cobalt blue. Was it dawn already?

“I need Marcy”, I shouted back at my pits. I almost left again with out remembering the “Marcy lap”, a lap I did every 24 hour race in the middle of the night. I had almost forgot due to all the “stuff to do” and trying to extend my lead. I ran back to the pits almost taking out another rider zipping down pit row.

The sun was about to come up and I posted the photo on top of a climb and finished out my last truly night lap.  I finished out the lap and pulled into my pits.

“How are we doing”

“Well your definitely in control, you have nothing to worr ……”, my mind drifted off as I looked directly up into the sky. The stars were barely visible now but I could see the big dipper still and it was right above pit row.

“Post a twitter for me … for Jill … this lap is for Jill”, and I rode off to go find a good sunrise watching place along the course.

I found it just as the sun was bursting through the trees on the far side of the basin. Suddenly it was warm and the warm yellow rays blinded me and I rubbed my eyes. When I opened them again I was looking across the Virgin River towards the tawny Zion cliffs. The colors were fantastic and I felt true peace. I was not tired. Maybe I drifted off to sleep and this was a dream. No matter. I was back in Utah watching the sun come up with my friend Jill. I turned to ask her what she was doing next Wednesday, maybe we c
ould go for a ride up Blue Mountain or something. As my eyes adjusted I saw only evergreens … no Jill.

Everything else was “about” the same. Instead of the Virgin River I was looking out over the Spokane River. Instead of the desert cliffs of Zion there were evergreen lined ridges. I turned to get back on my bike and continue the quest. I started to wonder how the winner of the previous year did 20 laps. I was 5 or 6 away from that and it didn’t seem likely I could pull that off. I turned and looked at the beautiful morning sun and paused.

“Go for 300”, a voice whispered in my ear.

I jumped so much my foot slipped off a rock I was balancing on. I toppled over into the grass. I jumped back up swinging my head back and fourth. The voice sound like Jill’s. Had she traveled up to watch the race and surprise me? No. No way, I was half way around the course all by myself. A hallucination probably. I remounted my bike and finished another lap.

“How many laps have I done”, I asked Norman.

“Um”, everyone converged on the pit table where a notebook with a list of scribbles sat almost frozen in terror as 4 people approached it with hungry eyes.

The list went to 21 with times written in up to 18. A dread washed over me that I was at 18 laps.

“19”, as he quickly penciled in 1:16, “you really put in a fast lap”.

“19”? … “Are you sure”?

Just then my friend Sten got all up in my face.

“Be safe Bill. No pressure on the pedals. Just finish this as slow as you can and don’t take any chances. BE SAFE here. You have the win, don’t be stupid”.

“But I want to go for 300”.

The group of friends gasped and Sten turned away in disgust.

“Of course … of course you WOULD want to go for 300. OF COURSE YOU WOULD”, as he exited the pit area.  I paused to think about what I just said. I wasn’t sure I could even finish another lap let alone two. One thing was for certain I had won the race and had the nearest competition beat by a lap with a hour and a half remaining in the race. The chances of me pulling off a fast lap to make the 11:59 am cut off was iffy at best. Still though 1 more lap would be the record if I could do it in 2 hours or so. The previous record was 20 laps in 24:45(something).

“Lets go for the record”, and at that I jumped on my bike and passed through the gathering crowd at the transition area. I swiped my timing chip … “BLEEP”. That was it, I was out on what could be my final lap. I would finish and win the 2011 24 Hours of Round the Clock.

I counted down from each obstacle and picked up my pace ever so slightly as the idea of getting in 300 miles started to seep into my soul. Even though each climb I was seeing black splotches while keeping on the edge of consciousness I still was hoping to make it in under the cut off time. I dropped into the Spokane River basin ripping through the single-track as fast as I could. When I slowed on a flat section I looked down at my computer.  35 minutes to noon. There was no way I could finish the second half of the course that quickly. Sten’s words came back.

“Be safe … don’t push it … be careful … don’t throw it away”

I pulled over and sat on the river bank and let my heart rate come back to normal. Maybe Sten was right. I mean, I have the win. I should just take it easy and just make it to the finish line. Norman would understand plus I would have the record. Then I thought about my current opportunity in Bozeman. Maybe I shouldn’t make the change. Maybe I should stay at a job I hate and be safe. Stay in Missoula. Why take chances? I slowly ate the “pot pie crust sandwich” I made a hour earlier. The river surged past me and I started to drift off to sleep. Suddenly I snapped out of the hazy sleep coma just moments before succumbing to its beckoning comfort.

“I have to finish this lap”, I thought to myself and hopped back on my bike.  I Slowly crept up the climbs and my mind drifted off to other thoughts just to pass time. I had just read Jill’s book and was playing it all back as she used the mantra “Be brave, be strong” and I thought to myself. If she can slog through the Susitna 100 in 40 something hours I can make it through this “tiny” little event. I caught up to another rider on the last rock garden section.

“Last rock garden”, I said and my trail companion just giggled.

“Yea, cool isn’t it”?

“I don’t think we will make the cut off any more”

“No, not me anyway, I am through”

I rode off and started up the last climb. I glanced down at my computer. It was 11:55. I looked again … 11:56 and I spun to the crest of the hill.

“Go for 300”, this time the voice did not shock me. I just bolted like a race horse when their gates open. I flew down the hill with 1.5 miles to go and got into a tuck. I glanced down again. It was my hope that I “at least” looked like I tried to go for 300. 11:58.

I turned on the last straight away to the finish line. I never glanced down at the compute
r, this was going to be close. Then the crowd carried me. I heard everyone erupt and was hearing cheers.

“Go Bill … go get em….”

“You got it go go go”

My heart was trying to rip its way out of my chest and I pounded the pedals. the crowd roared and the announcer piped in.

“Bill Martin making his way … no way … will he make it, give it up people, does he want to do another lap?”

I came in under the start finish but I was focused on the timing chip sensor. I dove for it and ….


In Jill’s latest book she writes, “I had won the fight. I only had to complete my victory lap” ~  Be Brave, Be Strong

6 thoughts on “Beyond the finish line

  1. Fantastic write-up, Bill. And amazing performance in the race. I’m honored by your dedication and glad I had the opportunity to be there with you, even if only in spirit. Good luck with your next adventure, wherever it takes you. Personally I can’t wait to check out some new trails in Montana this summer. (hopefully) 🙂 

    1. I am glad you liked it. I was a little nervous about it. I can not wait to discover new trails. I am hearing reports that they are openeing up over there. (hoping as well) I am excited about the extra elevation in the surrounding places too. 

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