Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Little Race with that Lettuce?

Most neighbors lean over the fence and try to irritate you in some way. Not mine. My neighbor (John) leans over the fence and tempts me with something I can't resist. No, I'm not talking about the succulent lettuce (that would be Ellen), but a tantalizing race. The MTS Relay to be more specific. He seems to think that the 'miscellaneous' odd balls that live next door to each other at the end of a dirt road on the outskirts of Duvall can pull off a team relay event - 100 miles in one day - From Hyak in the Cascade mountains, through the Snoqualmie Valley, up the Sammamish River, around Lake Washington, and finally through Seattle to Golden Gardens, next to the Puget Sound.

I didn't think there would be much stress to this race, because I originally thought it was going to be 'just for fun'. Oh how wrong could I be........ Things began to morph into something more serious when we tallied up the times we thought we'd be able to do and began to realise that we actually had a shot at podiuming. Now the pressure was beginning - we all worked really hard to get to know our legs and knew what times we needed to be contenders rather than just participants.
I was beginning to regret the decision to race in Winthrop (a 5 hour drive away) the day before this relay because I really needed to be fresh to give my team the best. I couldn't drop the Winthrop race because it was part of the Indie Series, yet I also didn't want to let my team down. My portion would be the 50 mile road section. Seemed like a good idea at the time (when it was 'just for fun'), but not when I'm literally walking around in a daze completely and utterly exhausted after a demoralizing race (see weak legs in Winthrop below) and long drive home. I managed to stagger across to John and Ellen's to pick up my number plate for the next day and somehow I end up being fed tasty pasta - must have looked like I needed it. I collapsed into bed and hoped things would feel better the next day.
I awake the next day to pouring rain - things aren't looking any better and I'm still exhausted. I'm beginning to panic because I haven't raced a road bike in a very long time. I'm going to be the weak link in the team. Will the supply of lettuce dry up? As much as I want to go back to bed and bail on the race, I somehow find my way out of the door and up to Rattlesnake Lake. I'm committed to the team and I won't let them down.
On the drive up to Rattlesnake Lake the rain actually eases off a little. I park up and get my biking gear together. I set the trainer up to warm up on. I like sitting on the trainer spinning my legs out - kind of feels good. I start focusing on the race. I have one plan and one plan only; find a big guy a stick on his wheel as long as I can. I'm even eyeing guys up in the parking lot to assess how good a wind block they would be!
I take my position in the transition area and wait for Anna to come in from the mountain bike leg. The leaders come through and a flurry of excitement goes through the transition area with muddy mountain bikers looking for their roadie team mates to hand off to. Most are pretty smooth, but a few are running around trying to find their team mate - they weren't expected through so soon. I'm beginning to forget how tired I am and can't wait for Anna to come in so I can get going. It's not long before she comes flying in - just over an hour (yes, 23 mph on gravel IS possible Anna!) No time for pleasantries or 'I told you so' - we touch and I'm off.
The road section starts on the fairly step descent of Cedar Road - it's slick from the rain, so I'm cautious descending - it's a long way to go with road rash. Racers go off at different times depending on when their team mate gets in, so we are pretty strung out in the race. A few packs for drafting begin to form, but they are typically a rag-tag bunch that fall apart on any of the climbs. I fall in and out of some of these groups and begin to settle into my own rhythm. I soon sense a racer coming up behind me about to pass me. Now in a mountain bike race I'd be stepping up the gas to stay ahead. In this road race I stepped up the gas, but allowed the pass to in order to slip in behind. I didn't know it until I looked up, but I had found my 'big guy'. This was the guy that was going to be my saviour and was going to pull me to the end. I thought that all I'd be capable of was hanging on for dear life. It turns out that we are pretty well matched and I save a little of my pride by taking some pulls up front. We work well together and start looking out for each other - pointing out things like pot holes, rough road surfaces, turns, red brick roads, cars. We stick together, knowing that together we'll go faster than on our own - it's a silent agreement that can fall apart at any time, if one of us begins to flag and can't keep up the pace. The partnership is self serving, not out of sympathy.
Time passes really quickly and we make it to the end together. After completing 50 miles in 2 hours 2mins I'm funneled into a mass of eagerly awaiting kayakers. I have no idea how I'm going to find John, but it turns out that I don't need to. He's there, almost plucking me off my bike to make the run to his kayak for launching. Now therein lies the problem - running. Legs that have been doing a repetitive motion for the last 2 hours don't like change very much. Running is a tall order. I hold onto John for dear life as he literally drags me to his kayak. It's more of a stumble than a run! I somehow manage to launch John in his kayak without spilling him into the river. He's off. I'm done. It's over. I'm happy. Anna is there to pick me up. She's already beaming because her leg is over too and we've set the team up for a good time.
Anna and I then hustle to make the rest of the transitions to cheer our team on. They are so fast we can hardly catch up following in the car. John paddles his heart out to come in 2hrs 20mins - a hair under his personal best. Aiden (our high school ringer) races his first ever half marathon in 1hr 21mins. Ellen runs her first race ever in 42mins - smashing her personal best. We not only survived our individual legs, but worked smoothly as a team and got a fantastic result. Team 'Misc' placed 2nd in the open mixed division, finishing in a time of 7hrs 31mins. We are all still grinning :)
A few pics were shot of our journey, so check out John and Ellen's picture show


Anonymous said...

Race [MTS] well done. Story well written. Thanks.

For somebody like myself, who has never ridden anything other than a fat tired Schwinn bike a couple of miles in my youth, I found your description of the "strategy" of shared drafting in bike road racing - really interesting. A truly "fleeting symbiotic relationship".

Evaluate each of your neighbor John's propositions with due caution and care. If you don't, you might end up riding your mountain bike to a place called The Maze Overlook some time in the future. Trust me.

Michmas said...

Nice work Mel! Love the pics - especially the one of you almost falling in the water :) We did this race last year and had a total blast. Congrats on 2nd place! That's a fantastic accomplishment. Wanna do it solo next year? ;)