Race Report from new 2012 teammate Roberta Smith. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll lube your spoke nipples.(LOTOJA is the longest one-day USCF sanctioned race in the country btw)
206 miles in 10:52
Many times when people sign up for endurance events there seems to be alcohol involved. Well my entering the lottery for LOTOJA was all on the suggestion from a friend at work and I was completely sober. My friend Phil and I would talk cycling in between looking at construction projects at work. We made a deal that we would both enter and I would help motivate him to train. Well LOTOJA is a lottery and I guess for women it’s not that hard to be a winner. I got in and unfortunately Phil did not. Most times when you win a lottery it means that a life of luxury and relaxation awaits. Well that was quite the opposite.
In May I was delivered my good news. It was then that I had to start getting serious about my last road bike race of the 2011 season. A lot of people have never heard of LOTOJA (short for Logan –to-Jackson this describes the bike course. Or if you like, you can go with the thought that my Mom had, that LOTOJA is an old Indian tribe that originally settled in Logan., UT).
I will spare you the hours of training rides and the thoughts that came in and out of my head. If anything, my last long training ride was the most discouraging. I was planning on going 150 miles and had a nice route in Steamboat all planned out. At mile 80 I had a break down. I was climbing a hill out of Oak Creek and was feeling woozy and seriously doubting if I could do 206 miles the next weekend. Fortunately, I have wonderful, inspirational friends and family in my life. On race day I donned a pink bracelet that my friend Trish gave to me for my first Ironman, “Yes I Can” it proclaims. My friend Lauren just became the 5th ever Leadwoman. My friend Bob completed the Vail TT and had much dedication in his summer training. Most of all, my husband Paul was there to cook me dinner after long training rides and knew I had to get miles in on the weekends. So with race day approaching, I had to push all doubt out of my head and go on the fact that I know I am a strong, dedicated athlete and I could push myself through this challenge.
So LOTOJA is 206 miles, 3 states, all in 1 day. You have to finish before dark which is about 8:15 in Jackson Hole. In my training rides, I kept reminding myself that Jackson Hole is North of Denver and stays lighter longer. I seemed to always finish my long weekday rides at about 9:00 pm and was nervous when I had to put my bike lights on at 7:30. My parents trekked all the way from Indiana to Logan to meet Paul and I at the start. They were my support team and the night before the race I was sorting GU, Mix1s, and wondering what exactly I would be craving at aid station 6. My gear hording totally paid out since I was able to pack identical bags for my two support vehicles (thermal jacket, arm warmers, leg warmers, etc). The weather forecast was not threatening but at the pre-race talk they showed the 2005 SNOTOJA when a freak storm broke out. With my support crews fully stocked I relaxed and just tried to focus on the spa day that awaited me in Jackson the day after the race.
The Cat 1,2, 3 start was at 7:01 am on Saturday. It seemed like sleeping in since I was always up at 5:00 am for my weekend training rides. The hotel opened up the breakfast bar early so this was great. I ate a record 4 packets of Oatmeal that morning. At packet pick up the day before, it was a very male dominated crowd. Unlike Iron distance triathlons and marathons, women were really in the minority at this race. I knew two of the girls that lined up at the race. They too were from Colorado. One of the gals that was from Utah asked me, “so how did you train for this race in Colorado?”. Humm. I seriously did not know how to answer that question. I guess like you would train in Utah but with more mountain passes???
The group rolled out and like every race you have to get to know who has the steady wheel and who you might want to stay away from or follow. Unfortunately, my pre-race jitters had me running to the porta potties several times before the race and I should have gone just one last time. The first aid station was at mile 37 and I wasn’t sure if I would make it. I threw out the idea to the girls for a pee stop but no one responded. So I was going to have to stop at the first aid station. I needed to keep drinking early in the race and had to make room. The aid station came and I saw some girls head to the toilet. I followed and luckily Paul had seen me stop and when I got out he was there with my bike and had refueled my water bottles and replenished my pockets! Just like in NASCAR! Although I knew I would have to time trial up to the pack if I was going to say in the race. It was tough. From the start there was a horrible head wind and according to the USA Cycling rules, you can’t work with cyclists that are not in your start category so wanting to stay in the race, I refused offers for pulls and dug in to catch up. On a downhill I saw the group and put my head down and bombed it down. The girls turned a corner and I was on their heels and then they decided to have a coordinated pee stop. Since I had already gone I didn’t need to stop but did anyway to settle down from my effort and refuel from the aid station feed I missed. It was great to be back in the pack and in the “race” again.
I was struggling with the mindset of “racing” for 206 miles. I knew it would probably blow up at sometime and at what point was I not going to “Race” any more. The first climb was not far after the first aid station. This is where the pack first broke up. I worked with two others on the hill. There were many firsts for me during this race. My first “first” was that I actually aspirated a Power Bar chew and it was expelled through my nose. This fascination kept me occupied for most of the first climb. If there is one thing that made me a better cyclist this year was my trip to Italy and descending on the tandem. I have always hated descents but having no choice on the back of a tandem gets one used to descending fast. So going into this race I was confident that I could make up time on the downhills and use them to my advantage. The first big downhill led to a very fast rolling hill section. I had met up with another girl and we worked together but then got on to a larger train of men that we hopped on to and went with. So I am admitting here that I went against the rules. Since the field had blown up I knew that I was out of the contention for any podium spot and grappled again with the “race” concept. My parents were waiting for me at aid station 3 so I was excited to see them. They were there with my 80 mile feed bag. I couldn’t believe that I had hit 80 miles. I was feeling great and couldn’t believe that just a week before had felt so miserable at this point. When I was in the feed zone I saw the majority of the girls that I had started with. I knew that they were probably the chase group so I caught up to them and we had a train of our own. We shared the job of pulling and had a great pace leaving Idaho going into Wyoming. We all stayed together until the next big climb to aid station 4. By the time we reached the top of the steepest climb, we all had run out of water and needed to take a pee break. It felt good to stop. Prior to this stop I had another first. I actually was able to reapply chamois butter while riding. I won’t go into the details but once you get it down there you can just work it into place.
The girls wanted to regroup at the bottom of the downhill and I thought that would be great if this actually happened because it was fun to work with them and made me feel better about the rules. Well that didn’t happen. This is when I had to end my struggle with the “race” concept. I saw some of the girls go by tucked in a pack of men. I decided then I was not in a race but rather I was on a Quest. I would do whatever I could to finish my quest and not grapple with working or not working with people. At mile 130 I hit my first mental wall. The wind was getting old and the rolling hills just seemed to get longer and longer. I had to just stop looking at my Garmin. Although I did set myself to eat on the 2’s, 4’s and 0’s (every 20 minutes) so I had to watch the minutes go by but the miles weren’t ticking away so fast. My thoughts went to my friends and stories they had told me to get me through. Paul was at aid station 5 with his cotton candy blue wig so that was a nice break from the monotony. I knew though things were not going to get any easier. I was now out on my own. Jumping on trains of riders when I could and hanging on as long as I could, helping out when could but then dropping off when I had had enough. In Afton I saw the signs for Rulon Gardner’s Burger Barn. He was the 2000 Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler from Wyoming and then I think he was on the Biggest Loser most recently. These thoughts kept me occupied for 10 miles or so thinking about how I didn’t want to ever be on that show and how it is just wrong for ex-Olympic Athletes to have a burger barn.
From miles 140-160 my thoughts were focused on all of the butts that passed me. Dr. Todd, my boss, had joined me on the Courage Classic this year. He is an Infectious Disease physician but after the Courage Classic he stated that he should change his profession to a proctologist since so many butts went passed him (and they were not all that pretty). I was thinking about how these butts were nicer. I think the folks that enter this race are a bit fitter than your typical weekend century rider. So Dr. Todd , I took in some better looking butts for you . All that were passing me. The last aid station that was not neutral support was aid station 6. 47 miles away from the finish. I knew that this aid station was coming up and I turned to the guy that I was passing and asked him where the next aid station was. He told me he thought it was “ just over the bridge in 47 miles”. Luckily I didn’t panic because I knew that could not be true.
I had been doing great with my nutrition up to this point and at aid station 6 I downed a coke had some snickers and grabbed yet more GU to get me through. After aid station 6 the road follows the Snake River. It is a beautiful canyon and you can see all of the rafters and kayakers in the river below. It looked refreshing and I was wondering if swimming might be faster. This is when I actually started to get sore and get some foot cramps. I popped some Alive and just had to get off my bike to let my feet get some rest. One guy saw me pulled over and when I passed him up when I was back on my bike he asked me if I was cramping. I told him “yes” and he offered me electrolyte tabs. I told him I had some of my own but thanked him for the reminder to take them. The stretch though the Snake River to aid station 7 was just to get through the discomfort. My spa day on Sunday was looking nicer! It was getting cooler and I had seen a friend of mine from Cheyenne and she cheered me on. That gave me a boost to make it through the next few miles.
It was about this time that I was thinking about what my overall finish time might be. Realistically I wasn’t sure what my time goal should be. Finishing was my goal but I did want to have some target to shoot for. At this point, I knew I could probably finish in 11 hours or less. I was hoping for 10:30 but wasn’t sure if that was possible. It was funny how mentally I got myself through the miles after 150. At 150 I thought, only 50 miles left, that is riding out to Cherry Creek, two times around and home. At 25 to go, I thought, oh that is a Morning Machine ride, at 5 miles to go, it was my commute home from work.
The final miles are a gradual uphill. The headwind had not gone away and once I hit Jackson Hole its like any false summit. When you make it to Jackson Hole, you still have 10 miles until the finish in Teton Village. This is just cruel. What is even more cruel is the road that leads to Teton Village. It is beautiful, you can see the ski area but the road feels so long it is like a bad dream. At this point, I had been with 2 other guys. We had a nice little pack going but when it was my turn to pull the group I had no power. I apologized for my short effort and dropped off. Then I had 5 k to go. I found a guy going my speed and I think we had the same thoughts, “in 5K I can get off my bike”. We took turns, I pulled one kilometer, he pulled the next. This seemed to work. When I saw the colored finish line I knew my quest was over. I got emotional and started to cry. I had done it. I had pushed myself 206 miles and the race was not with the others but with myself. This was the farthest I had ever ridden my bike. I saw Paul and my parents just past the finish. It was great! All I wanted to do was take my cycling shoes off. I did and then proceeded to sit in the river to contemplate the day that I had just gone through. I am trying to decide if this was harder than an Ironman and I think mentally, the answer is yes. At least in an Ironman, you can switch your equipment and how your muscles are moving. The other big question is, “will I do it again?” My answer is yes. I think that this course is an awesome course for a tandem. Next year, I hope to sign up in the tandem category. Although my pilot will have to agree with me but the scenery was great and the race was so well supported. My 2011 Quest is over but it has opened up yet another part of myself and how I can push myself mentally. Plus I learned how to put on chamois butter en route! Who wouldn’t ride 206 miles again!