Thursday, December 10, 2015

2015 El Tour de Tucson (aka My Personal 100 Miles of Nowhere)

Okay, it has been way too long since I have written anything, and I see that I have several drafts started from various events since Rockwell, but I need to get this write-up done for multiple reasons. Mainly, I just enjoy having something to look back on to help spur me to sign up for more things, and thus keep me seated on my bike. And I have a place to look back at all the pictures taken along the way.


As I started getting into cycling about three years ago I came across a blog by Eldon Nelson aka "Fatty", of such fame of Besides time to pen (or I guess type) his race write-ups, he has always pushed various charities of which he was very passionate about. One of these that he started is the 100 Miles of Nowhere. This is more of an event that he turned into a way to help get people motivated to ride and at the same time benefit Camp Kesem, which are "camps across the U.S. that are dedicated to giving kids affected by a parent's cancer a week of carefree fun, at no cost to them."

I had not, up to this point, contributed to any of Eldon's fundraisers but thought this would be a good excuse to get started, as 1) I supported the cause, and 2) hoped that riding 100 miles of "nowhere" would help be my final prep for El Tour de Tucson. That said, I signed up.

(Sweet gear for my glorious ride!)


Sadly, I am busy, and between a job, 4 little kids at home (youngest just a few months old), a kitchen disaster that left us with absolutely no kitchen for 4 months and pretty much wrecked the rest of the house in so doing, and innate ability to come up with lots of excuses...I realized that I was not only not prepared to ride the 100 miles on some small loop on the official date of the event, but I also didn't have the time. In fact, the only 100 mile ride I would be doing between November and the end of the year would be El Tour de Tucson itself.

Now, the "nowhere" is usually supposed to be just that, nowhere. Oft times people would be doing this ride at home, on rollers or some other sort of trainer, or even a small loop that found that they could do over and over. (Serious mental toughness required, esp. for someone as inexperienced as I am.Needless to say, I was happy to use an alternative venue.) However, with Tucson in site, I began to think of how this was my "nowhere." Tucson was where I was born, so I was going back to where it all started for me. Had someone seen me when I was born, and then again here at the race, they might have thought that I had in fact gone nowhere in my life. I was still doing a loop, finishing where I would begin from, so still at the end of my race I still would have gone nowhere. And, though I can appreciate the environment wherein Tucson resides, many people usually not from the area look around upon arrival and think they are in the middle of nowhere! So, by my racing here, I would have appeared to have gone nowhere from the beginning of my life, finished my ride in the same place I started thus ending up having not progressed anywhere, and done it all in the middle of nowhere. Perfect! Tucson would be my nowhere!


I must also admit, this looked to be a fun ride. I had only ridden 100 miles in a single ride once before: at the Tour de Tucson last year. I wasn't prepared for the distance last year, suffering through the last 35+ miles of the ride. I had gone out to do the ride with a friend who (though 24 years my senior) can run 100 mile races (yes, run!), and had beaten me last year by 7 minutes in part thanks to a flat that took my over 20 minutes to fix (with less than 7 miles to go in the race!). Bob, from my famed Rockwell Relay write-up would be so sure to push me again this year.

This time, there were two goals:

 - 1) Improve upon my time, and finish under 6 hours. - This was last year's goal, and due to my flat I missed it by the same 7 minutes that Bob beat me by. Somewhat of a crushing blow back then, as though I had hit my wall with a couple hours of riding to go, I was sure I would beat the 6 hour mark on this 104 mile course until mile 98 when my tire finally gave out (story for another day). This year, I still wasn't prepared, but hoped to improve upon my time from 2014, adjusted for the flat tire debacle. So, 5:30 to 5:45 would be great. But I really hoped for 5:30.

 - 2) Beat Bob! - Okay, this was kind of a joke as I am not overly competitive. However, Bob is trained for endurance events, and though I can usually get him in a quick stint up a hill, this distance would be a great equalizer. Besides, to help spur on the joke of our made up rivalry, Bob did inform me that he purchased extra bottle cages for under his seat so he could carry 4 bottles, hoping to avoid the need to stop the entire he could beat me. He baited me, and I was hooked!

(En route from Santa Clarita, CA to Tucson, AZ)
Saturday morning, and we are up and at 'em. I have pulled Bob from his bed, we drive to downtown Tucson, gear up and get over to the start line. With well over 2500 people signed up just for the century ride, we found ourselves towards the back of the pack.

(Sweaters on, ready for the cold desert morning...then Bob ditched his sweater just before go time.)
(Sweet socks to match the bike!)

To mix things up, I will put you, the reader, into the drivers seat while I am on the bike. Well, maybe just into my head, plenty of room there. My hope is for you to better understand what was going through my head as the ride went on. Welcome to my head, thanks for visiting. Please don't touch anything. Actual statements are in quotation marks, the rest is the mess that is my mind.

Mile -0.005 - We are a bit back of the starting line. How long will it take us to cross the starting line (much less weed through everyone to get into some open space)?! When does the timer start, the website says it is the same for everyone, but the cheesy announcer says it starts when we cross the start. Which is it, this can affect my official ride time!? Oh well, he we go. One foot clipped in, and we are pushing our way up to the start. And stop, and go a little, then stop. Five minutes later according to my garmin, we actually mosey accross the start line and are riding.

Bob and weave, bob and weave. Find Bob, then get back to bobbing and weaving. Nothing too fast, I'm in no position to try and platinum (do the race in under 5 hours). Take your time, enjoy the ride, just try and get ahead of some of these peeps before we get to the first sandy wash crossing 7 miles in. It always backs up, if we can pass a few hundred people now, that's a few hundred people we don't have to walk behind as we cross the wash.

Mile 7.6 - We're going okay, feels slower than last year, but this is early, gotta pace myself. I lost Bob by this point last year on accident, but he's right here. We're to the wash, let's get around some of these people that have gotten off their bikes way too early. Go head, Bob, here we go...passing people, passing people, need to stop, get off the out...BOB!!!!

And Bob is down! We're going 0 miles an hour, and Bob takes a spill. As he's getting ready to dismount his bike, we are on dirt, and have to cross a patch of cement. Bob doesn't take it quite head on enough and his tire catches the edge of the curb. Down he goes. Can happen to anyone. Two thoughts: 1) Bob are you okay? Yes he is. A little blood, small chance he thinks he busted his elbow, but he is good. 2) Did you just wreck your new kit!? No, looks good. Whew.

Bob gets up, we gather his plethora of bottles now yard saled off of the bike and onto the ground. Bottles back on the bike, Bob is in order, and we are quickly walking along the side of the concourses of people trying to cross this rather large wash.

We are through the wash, smile at the mariachi band playing as we get back on the bikes, and we are back to riding 100 miles. Bob and weave, bob and weave, find Bob and then bob and weave. We start getting into groups of riders. Things get a little more organized, and a bit more serious. I've lost Bob by this point last year, and now he's still with me.

Between Miles 8 and 10 - I've lost him. I quit looking back, Bob may be close, or he may have dropped, I don't know. Time to get focused. I have started slower than last year, and I want to beat my time. And Bob is made for this stuff. Dial it up a notch! Let's go!

Mile 14 - We've turned a corner, I've been pushing pretty well, moved up a couple groups and need to settle in. I've still got the sweater on though it's warmed up, but better to have it a little long I guess than take it off and wish I hadn't.


Bob passes me. He's behind some guy wanting to pass the group, and he's passing me. I don't even think he sees me! I laugh and pick it up. Time to keep up with Bob! I'm pushing harder, I'm warming up. Alright, I really better get this sweater off before we get too serious. (Besides, it hasn't really blocked much of the wind in effort to keep me warm anyways.)

Mile 15 - I slow down, and cross to the outside of the shoulder. I am going to have to slow down to get this sweater off. All I can think is, don't let a sleeve fall down and get into my tire. Move over, slow down...careful, don't fall sweater until I am ready. One arm off, then the other.Whew done. But crap, Bob is a ways ahead of me now, riding strong at the front of a group of guys. Time to play catch up!

No, that's not Bob. Neither is that. I'm passing people, but no Bob. Wait, that guy was with him. Ugh, umph, push on, ride faster, catch Bob!

Mile 17.5 - Bob! I was afraid I wouldn't catch you! "Nice work Bob, you're killing it!" He pushed past the guys he was riding with, well done. But now I've got some steam going in my legs and I need to keep up my pace. I lost him over 12 miles ago last year, and now I'm having a hard time losing him! Move on Evan, get going. He'll only get stronger. Besides, I need to average 18 to 19 mph on this thing to get me between 5:30 and 5:45. I've averaged only 16.0 so far!

Miles 25 - 26 - Hey, this is the place I dropped my sweater last year. Definitely warmer this year. (SIDE NOTE: One of the great things about El Tour de Tucson, is that you can drop your gear as you go. Volunteers drive the course, pick up any dropped items, and donate them to charity. So a quick $10 sweater purchase the day before, is now at a local charity, being used to keep someone warm. Sadly, this sweater was only good at keeping you warm if you weren't moving at over 5 miles an hour.)

Alright, a quarter of the way through. Still only averaging 17.4 mph, but it's going up!

Mile 28 - Alright, going hard, found a good group to ride with for a bit now. But I'm not sure if I should try and hold them, or let them go. This may be too fast, I've got 76 miles to go, I'm slowing down...What's that someone's hand on my back? Bob!? I turn around not sure if I should be happy he is doing so well, or upset that maybe I'm doing worse, and this will be a big boost for his confidence (or at least put a dent in mine). It's not Bob, just one of the guys in the line. "You got this," He tells me. "Keep going."

And with that figurative (and literal) push, I recommit myself to staying with these guys.

Mile 30 - The group starts passing the 75 milers. This is fun, as it is always fun to be passing people. We (well at least I) are sort of playing bob and weave again to keep with the guys at the front of our group. There are two, and they are strong. I'm lucky/happy just to be staying up with them.

Then something weird happens. Between miles 36 and 46 we get a little downhill and I welcome it. I'm with them for a bit, but then I lose them. Maybe they spent too much too soon, or I am now using too much of my own energy, but I push on.

Mile 48 - I've come to the second wash. (Last year I had someone behind me that didn't see everyone in front of us slowing down, and next thing I know I realize my back wheel is locked up. I look down and see his bars stuck in my wheel and I am pulling his bike along. I stop and he come running up apologizing. "No worries, just get it out." I said very nicely all things considered he could have ruined my first attempt to ride a century!) This time I am sure to look behind me as well as I come to the wash. It seems there are more people than last year. Though I sort of crashed, I was actually able to ride through this wash. This year I had to walk over half of it do to the number of people not trying to ride this part of mostly rideable course. By the time I reached the wash my average speed was up to 19.0 mph, right where I figured it needed to be. But I still had most of the hills in front of me and there was this whole thing called fatigue that I knew would set in as I figured I wasn't ready for this.

Either way, I made it through the wash, which included a small running stream that I rode through while most others appeared to walk their bikes on a little bridge. Cue the 2nd round of a mariachi band, thanks guys, and it was on to some hills.

Miles 48.7 through 65 - I'm through the wash, and now have a few small hills to tackle. My speed is okay, but I've got to keep it up through these hills. I spot some riders, I join in the fun. There is probably about 6 or 7 of us, 3 or 4 guys and 3 girls. On the flats the guys take the charge and get slightly in front of the women. The road turns up and these ladies show us what getting 'chicked' is all about. They are fit, they can't weigh but 100 lbs (maybe even with their bikes), and it's like they enjoyed us foolishly using our energy to pass them when the roads flatens out, only to reel us back in and pass us back on these small climbs.

Either way, we are making good time, and my average time has only dropped by a tenth of a mile per hour. However, I'm running low on water, and it's time to find a support station to fill up. 40 miles to go as the day had warmed up, this would be about the halfway point to what I would need from a water standpoint. Who knows how far Bob is behind me, and knowing him, he's not stopping.

Mile 76 - I've been trying to ride with people but have done the last bit mostly solo. However, I just found a group of guys that I don't remember if I caught up to them, or they to me, but we turn onto Tangerine Rd., and I find the best part of the ride. There is about twenty of us, and I'm towards the back. Alright this is a fun, straight, slightly downhill piece of the ride. I'm on the back, feels like I'm barely working, and we're moving between 25-30 mph. The wind isn't bad, and the novice rider that I am, have never experienced this before. We're doing this for almost 6 miles! Killing it!

Wait, I have my own race to run, and I know the last 20 miles is this false flat of a straight highway frontage road. This was where I was in my pain cave last year. Time to do a little planning.

First, ain't nobody riding for free. I need/want my turn up front! This is too fun not to! Second, I need to be towards the front of the pack in the event that when we turn on the frontage road and I start to slow down, I have guys to take me over one at a time, rather than simply getting spit out the back of the train at the first sign of trouble.

I make my move. I start hammering, not too hard to come off as cocky to those I am passing, but just right where I am saying to them, look I'm no better than you, but let me take a turn up front and help pull this thing down the road. I've come out of the line, but am close enough to the line that I've still got some help from the draft. After the front couple of guys appear to not want to be passed I settle in about 3rd in the line. Six miles in at an average speed of 27+ mph on this, I am excited to be there.

Mile 83 - We now enter the frontage road, my nemesis to last year's ride. (There I found myself alone, and deep in the pain cave. I did have someone to help me for a bit, but a flat would almost, but not quite, ruin my day. See, the guy that wrecked into me 50 miles before had cause my tire to lock up on the chip sealed road. I didn't notice it then (I was afraid to look down), but upon getting my flat 98 miles into the race, I noticed I have worn through my tire at that spot, and would have to limp to the end, hoping to not wear through the tube that was all but exposed directly to the road.) 

(Picture of the tire after last year's ride.)
I start out at a good pace. I am keeping up with the other guys, this is good. According to my plan of eating every 40 minutes or so, I should have something. But I have to stay with these guys. The energy I save from staying in the group will more than make up for my eating. I'm tired enough that I cannot keep this speed up if I try and get something. Besides, a Gu doesn't sound good right now.

What...oh..there goes a guy around me. No worries, stay strong, push ahead. Keep with the group. (A minute or two passes.) What...oh.."Go ahead." He's going strong, let him past. Get on his wheel. Can't keep his wheel. (A few more minutes pass.) There goes another around me.

About mile 93 or 94 - Another guy passes...okay no big deal...oh, there is no one else. I am alone, I have been spewed out of the back of the group and must finish on my own. I PUSH myself to get to mile 98. This was where you flatted last year. No flats, you're doing great. Just...keep...pedaling.

You should have eaten something half an hour ago, stayed on the plan. Eat something now? I can't. Besides, it won't do me any good. (Hindsight - It probably would have.)

Mile 100 - I'm off the frontage road. Last 4 miles, just keep going. The road is older, not maintained as well. There is a small hill, nothing big, but it feels like I am granny gearing it. Why do they have this as part of the course. I've already gone 100 miles, this is just to antagonize me!

Mile 102 - Not sure how much further to the final turn, but now, NOW, I get the wind in my face. Come on!

Mile 103.3 - Finally, the final turn. You got this...Hey I'm getting passed. It's the guys I rode with during the 2nd quarter of the race. They caught me. Dang, they caught me. they've passed me. That's fine. Just finish.

And finish I did. I was dead.
(So done)
And here is my ONE complaint about the race, NO COLD COKES at the end. Nothing besides water!?

"Do you know where I can score a Coke right now?" I asked one of the workers. 

"No, but you can check the Michelob stand/area."

So I walked over to the area where they served a free beer to the participants.

"You guys don't happen to have any Coke my chance?"

"No," he replied, "But if you have an I.D. I can give you a Michelob."

"I don't drink, but you telling me I would need to show my I.D. to get my free beer just about made my day." And I walked off. Still mad I couldn't even find a Gatorade.


So, I did finally make my way back over to the grass to lay down for a minute, and eventually found Bob, standing by the finish line looking to see if I was still coming in behind him.

"You won't see him there," I told him.

Bob turned around smiling, "How long ago did you come in?"

"A while ago. (pause) Before you," I responded with an even bigger smile.

(Happy to be done!)
I finished with a time of 5:15, with an average speed of 20 mph. A time I am very happy with. 52 minutes faster than last year, closer to half an hour adjusted for the flat tire. 

Bob came in at 5:44. Based on his Strava, he did have some extra time waiting at the lights, but still managed to shave 16 minutes off his total time, and probably closer to 20 to 25 minutes off of last year's moving time. (This is not to mention the time he had to stop to get water this year after all. He lost 3 of his bottles from out of the cages fairly early, and thus could not go the race with a solo bottle.)

Needless to say, my 100 Mile of 'Nowhere' was a blast! 

(Showing off my 100 Miles of Nowhere socks!)
(Bob, cruising back to the car. Not sure how my camera did that to his legs.)

(Sporting the 100 MON shirt as we gassed up in Casa Grande!)

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