After the Race
You can still walk!?!?
All I wanted to do was drink a beer, eat some Reese’s Pieces, rinse off in the shower, and crawl into bed. Sarah drove us back to our hotel (where she was already checked in and settled before meeting me at the finish), and that’s what I did. The beer and Reese’s were delicious. The shower was delightful, but after drying off and putting on my pajamas I was freezing cold. I climbed under the covers, and we were both fast asleep around 3:30am. My only regret was that I would probably oversleep the hotel’s free breakfast, but we had arranged for a late checkout. Breakfast was a problem I would be willing to solve.
I woke up a little after 6:00am to the sound of my heartbeat pounding in my ears, and by 6:30am I became convinced I wasn’t going to be able to get back to sleep. I got out of bed and lounged on the couch in our hotel room, browsing my phone. The longest, hardest workout of my life and all I could manage afterwards was three hours sleep (I later found out that this not unusual for ultra-endurance athletes).
Using my Garmin Vivofit watch, I checked my heart rate and synced it with my phone to check out the quality of my sleep. My heart rate? A little under 100 beats per minute. My resting heart rate during those few hours of sleep? 88 beats per minute. My normal resting heart rate is around 52 bpm and my normal for lounging about is in the 60’s. I didn’t expect the elevated heart rate, but only because I didn’t think about it. It made perfect sense, though—I spent 20 hours the previous day with an average heart rate of 143 bpm, significantly higher than my normal. That’s below my lactic threshold, but only a little bit so it’s not surprising that my muscles and organs craved nutrients and oxygen at a much higher rate than usual. My heart rate rarely dipped below 85 for the rest of the day, but by the next day it had returned to normal.
At least I got to eat breakfast at the hotel. It was free, and the dining area was crammed full of other cyclists who had all suffered the same toils I did the day before. Because Sarah and I both woke up much earlier than expected, we could leave and get home in time to have short visits with both Sarah’s parents and mine, visiting in town for the weekend (it was Mother’s Day, after all). And we had time to visit the Ludington Lighthouse, jutting out from the beach where I finished in the pitch black the night before. We also stopped in South Haven, one of our favorite Michigan coastal stops, for lunch and a little shopping.
I’ve been a very active person for many years, and it’s rare that I come back from a workout hobbled stiff and sore. This was no normal workout, and I spent the next two days shuffling around and pushing myself out of chairs like a much older man. I had no trouble walking, and it was only when I sat for a few minutes that I would stiffen up.
I never experienced any cramping, either during the race or after. Since I’ve started adding the Hammer Endurolyte tablets to my water bottle, I haven’t had any issues with them on rides. I’m a huge fan.
The worst pain from the race came to my right knee. As I mentioned, it started hurting during stage 2. The pain went away during the early parts of stage 3, but it slowly came back. Thankfully, it never got any worse than during that dark period on stage 2. I would feel a stabbing pain any time I flexed or extended it. It steadily improved and finally after about two weeks I am nearly pain free. I am still able to ride, so I’m not worried. I think I need to raise the height on my saddle by a few smidges.
I’ve been out on my bike several times since the race. Without the pressure of cramming miles in for training, I’m delighted to be able to go out and ride when I want to rather than needing to. I look forward to cycling for the pure enjoyment these days. I have another long ride, a local one hundred mile “century” ride I’ve done the past few years. It will be on pavement and fully supported with rest stops stocked with food and drink every twenty or so miles. That should be fun. Dan will probably ride with me, and we’ll see how fast we can get it done.
I won’t be doing this ride again next year. Some scheduling situations make it impossible, but additionally I don’t want to deal with that sand again. Even with better preparation and expectations, it’s not something I care to wrestle with. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that in the future I would return to do the 212 or even just the 100-mile course, but right now I don’t think so.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m done with this gravel scene, or even these ultra distance rides. I learned much about how to do it and I know more now what I’m capable of doing; I would like to be able to use these lessons again. I don’t know what that means as far as events or rides, but we’ll see. Maybe the Dirty Kanza is still in my future someday.
Looking back, there are things I would have done differently, but I can also say with confidence that given the information I had at the time, I wouldn’t have changed anything in my training or preparation. I did make some poor choices in the race I think I should have known better, but it’s all a learning experience.
The biggest change I would make if I were doing this specific race again is in my bike choice. For this course, I think my mountain bike would have been a better choice. It’s slower over the easy parts, but with the right aerobar set up and clear advantages in the rough and sandy terrain, I think it would have been a better choice. The other major change was in my cargo bags. Rather than using my Blackburn frame pack (which I love for bikepacking) to store my hydration bladder and other gear, I would keep two (or three, depending on which bike I chose) bottle cages on the frame and carried a small backpack.
I think perhaps my biggest failure and my biggest lesson is that I allowed my expectations to dictate my experience when my expectations were derived from unknown variables. I expected Stage 3 to be the hardest and Stage 2 would be easier, so when Stage 2 became difficult (and I encountered a forest road I didn’t expect until Stage 3), I was mentally unprepared to deal with it. I expected a few brief stretches of sand to walk my bike through, and there turned out to be miles of it.
The other important thing, and this is true in any endurance event from a 5k run to a 212-mile bike race is that you have to keep control of the narrative in your head. The longer the race, the more difficult this is. As it is true in life, how you feel is not necessarily how you are. When your expectations don’t match reality, adjust your expectations instead of ruing your reality. Instead of finding reasons to quit, figure out what you need to change if you are going to succeed. You’re not going to talk yourself out of quitting with a brilliant insight, it’s going to take determination to tell yourself the new narrative over and over again until you finally believe it. And then you must cling to it ferociously, tightly, with everything you have.
I raced my bike 212 miles across the state of Michigan from the coast of one Great Lake to the coast of another in one day. There are literally less than two hundred people on this planet who can say the same thing today, and another forty who tried and for one reason or another couldn’t finish. There were some good moments and it sucked a lot of the time, but there is not one moment I regret trying it. I’m glad I succeeded, but I almost failed. It’s a good thing almost doesn’t count.