Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tapering just means more time to panic

Beat and I did a couple simple taper efforts this weekend. They were simple, but in a strange way not easy. I was sucking wind for most of the hour-long climb during our 30-mile road ride, and again today during our eight-mile trail run in Berkley (we had brunch with my dad's friend in San Francisco and decided to visits Beat's former haunts from the two years he lived there.) Beyond the fact that I ate three chocolate chunk pancakes, an empanada, a fritata and a slice of berry torte and then ran eight miles ... I'm still a bit baffled as to why I didn't feet more stellar. I've been taking it easy all week and the weather has been mild. I should be in full taper manic mode by now. Beat and I have been conducting an altitude-acclimating, hypoxic training experiment with a specialized face mask for 60 minutes each evening for the past few weeks, which might explain while my lungs felt so tired while my legs felt strong. But still, there's less than a week now until the Tahoe Rim Trail 100.

It's probably just time for me to contract all sorts of phantom pains and illnesses, not to mention a creeping suspicion that I'll never actually be able to run and I might just currently be in my worst shape yet. The usual, you know. But truthfully, I'm not really one to worry excessively about things I can't control. Meanwhile, Beat's uber-preparedness habits are making me feel guilty about having not even glanced at the TRT elevation profiles yet. I just want to sing "Que Sera Sera" and procrastinate more by blogging instead of making a drop-bag list.

Meanwhile, the 2011 Tour Divide is now drawing to a close, for the most part, as the last original-start riders roll into Antelope Wells. It was a sad day for me as a sports fan when one of my favorite riders, "Red Lantern" Justin Simoni, crashed his bike and dislocated his collar bone just outside Silver City with less than 130 miles to ride to the finish. Justin was the only competitor who braved all of the snowy passes from the start, when they were still so snow-choked that he had to employ snow shoes, an ice ax, and a mountaineering skills to get through them. He was so close to becoming the only non-ITT rider to complete the entire GDMBR this year when the crash forced him to scratch with only the "milk run" left. In his final report, he confirmed his disappointment but mused about the "romantic" way it all ended. I couldn't help but smile, since I'm sure I would draw the same admittedly unique conclusion ... "Sure, I had to DNF with one day left in the ride, but wow, what a fittingly poetic ending. A hard but ultimately enlightening reminder that our only rewards come from within, in the end."

Cricket Butler, the woman who set out from Banff on June 30 with the seemingly almost single-minded focus to ride for "the women's record" on the main course (which happens to currently be my 2009 finishing time) held a solid pace for the first 700 miles of the course but decided to stop outside Wise River, Montana, because of debilitating knee pain. Since she dropped, I've received a couple of congratulatory e-mails for "keeping" the record for another year, but I really was rooting for Cricket. I love that more women are getting involved in the Tour Divide and really want to see them all succeed. I enjoyed watching the women battle it out in this year's race. I've even heard from a couple of them since the race, women with whom I hadn't had any contact before they finished the TD.

The women's race winner, Caroline Soong, wrote me a thoughtful e-mail that I hope she doesn't mind my sharing: "I wanted to let you know that while racing the Tour Divide this year I somehow got the name of your new book "Be Brave, Be Strong" stuck in my head. It was during the Gila section that I would chant it in my head like some kind of mantra. It was just what I needed to get my mind off the heat, wind, brutal terrain and fear of running out of water. After having crashed a few times already in the race I became frightened of descending so I also chanted it my head on descents. I haven't read your book yet but look forward to reading it soon."

I also heard from Tori Fahey, whose real-time race reporting kept me glued to her progress from the start. I commented a few times on her blog posts and she recently wrote me an e-mail offering to buy me lunch or a beer if I ever travel through Calgary, as well as her sincerest respect for a Tour Divide finisher (which I also share. I think that in many ways this race is more difficult than anyone who has never participated in it can really understand.) In her latest blog post, Tori wrote that "The simplicity of riding and eating and sleeping is wonderful. It is only in the depth of such simplicity that the true intensity of emotions can come out. When it gets down to a matter of basic survival, that's what it is to be alive. ... I want to continue to experience life with such intensity. And I *know* that I will be stronger next time."

At the end of her message, Caroline commented that "The Divide was a great adventure, different than anything I had done before and in the end looking back after only a few days, I loved it. Not sure if it is in my future to race it again but the race was a great experience. I'll be rooting for you next year when you give it another go."

I actually laughed when I read Caroline's last sentence. When I give it another go? When? Since I finished that race two years ago, I've notoriously become one of those people who will decry "Hardest three weeks ever! Never again!" in one breath and then, in the next, spout off all the ways I could "easily" ride "at least three days faster" in the next go-around by racing smarter and sleeping in the dirt. The Tour Divide, like the Iditarod Trail, has this strange pattern of working its way into your blood, haunting you with images and memories and fantastic, unrealistic ambitions. A larger part of me realizes that, for the same time investment, I could ride a bike across Mongolia, or fast-pack the Pacific Crest Trail, or embark on a Brooks Range trekking trip. In other words, I could go out and experience new adventures. And yet, a desire to go back to the Divide calls to me like a siren in the mountains. Whether or not I ever heed it, well, that still depends on whether or not I survive the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 next weekend.


  1. Feeling like crap during a taper isn't necessarily a bad sign. For me poor sleep in the final few days is the sign things are working like they should.

    Just don't hurt yourself too much out there.

  2. I'm skeptical of your 1 hour a day mask thing. The old adage is, "live high, train low". It's the day in, day out living at altitude that boosts your hematacrit. An hour a day is negligible. But my guess, at hour ten of your race you('ll be feeling really good. Have fun.

  3. So glad to know I'm not the only one who suffers from exactly the same sort of taper insanity! I wake up convinced there is no way I can cover the miles, that I am certain I'm still a couch potato, and that I've developed every injury under the sun during the taper. So if this is 'normal' you must be doing fine!! Good luck, can't wait to read about it!


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