|Fatback coated in ice the morning after the White Mountains 100.|
My plan had been to just wait at the trailhead for Beat to finish. I was too tired and apathetic to do anything else. But when I realized that this meant languishing in my sleeping bag for upwards of twelve hours, compounded by the fact that I didn't have anything to eat or drink, I decided to make the hourlong drive back to Fairbanks. I managed to catch our host, Joel, between naps at his house. Joel got into the White Mountains 100 at the eleventh hour, or more accurately fifteen hours before the race started, after five months in limbo on the wait list. Joel finished strong, in just over sixteen hours, but he too was shattered by the effort.
It was reaffirming to chat with another cyclist about what I found difficult about the race, and find out he agreed. Not many people understand what piloting a snow bike across a hundred miles of wilderness trails really entails. They see an average pace of five miles per hour and quietly scoff ... "what's so hard about that? I can run that fast." Actually, I can, too, and in many ways I believe the effort of snow biking is comparable to a trail-running effort — at least in my own experiences. Yes, snow biking has coasting, it has the potential to be faster, and it's considerably less rough on my joints and feet than running. But the energy output is still high, and I do believe that most of my struggles in the White Mountains 100 were caused by going out too hard. I wouldn't try to run a six-hour 50K at the beginning of a 100-mile ultramarathon, but that's essentially the effort level I exerted on my bike in the first forty miles of the White Mountains 100. My fitness, and indeed my genetics, just weren't conditioned to hold up to the demand.
I did collect some interesting data (if only to me) from my GPS. I have the comparisons for my pace in the 2011 and 2012 race. The 2012 race is slightly truncated because my GPS died a couple hours before I finished, but most of it recorded. Unsurprisingly my speeds were slower over the entire course, and in a fairly consistent way. To me, that proves the course was just across-the-board more difficult this year. It was! That's my story and I'm sticking too it.
It really amazes me how strong Beat is at these consistently hard efforts, recovering from them in a matter of days. Beat was essentially fine within hours after he finished, while I continued to struggle. I tossed and turned for most of the night as my heart raced and I gasped for breaths that I couldn't seem to catch. I thought I still hadn't cooled down from my hard effort, but several Facebook friends (how I love social media) diagnosed me with something much more obvious — dehydration. David Shaw, who finished the 2011 White Mountains 100 just a few minutes before I came in, wrote, "It's called volume shock. When dehydration sucks the fluid out of the blood, the blood thickens and volume goes down which means your heart has to work much harder to keep blood pressure up. You respiration rate is probably high too, another compensator. Drink and eat, drink and eat."
I took his advice, drank a lot of water, took some electrolyte tablets, and felt significantly better by the afternoon. Strange how such small changes can cause huge swings in health and well-being. And once again I revealed myself as a master of poor recovery.
Motivations for racing are as wide-ranging as the individuals who participate in races, and yet most people assume we're all the same — "We want to be faster. We want to beat others." Moving fast and placing high in race standings is certainly satisfying, but it's not why I race. I race to challenge my perceived limitations and confront my fears. I race to be part of a community, to connect with others who share my passions. I race to learn more about myself and the world around me. I race to overcome difficulties and prove to myself, again and again, that I'm capable of doing so. I race to fuel the stoke for day-to-day outdoor adventures, which collectively have provided more personal rewards than all of my races combined. Some people train to race. I race to train. I race so I can pursue adventure. As a sometimes reluctant adult, I view training as as euphemism for "go play outside."
The afternoon was indeed painfully beautiful, with sunlight sparkling on the snow and golden light high in the spring sky. I was still low on energy but, thanks to the impact-absorbing wonder that is a bicycle, had little muscle soreness or joint pain after the race. Still, I took it easy and savored the cool air, knowing it would be my last taste of Alaska for a while. I took Beat's advice and followed the main trail as it continued to wend through the spruce forest. I pedaled and breathed, pedaled and breathed. Somehow an hour went by, and I didn't appear to be anywhere near where I started. I rode another fifteen minutes before I arrived at a mushing clubhouse that I knew was at least five miles from Joel's place by road. I had already been out much longer than I intended, wearing only a pair of running shoes, nylon hiking pants, and a soft shell over my cotton T-shirt. I cut to the road and raced home, mainly because I was chilled and needed to build some heat. Without trying I had turned an questionable recovery spin into a fifteen-mile, moderate-effort ride. And yet it didn't feel that bad. In fact, it felt kind of awesome.
Now my friends are asking me if I'm actually going to rest and recover now that I'm done with my winter season. I already have a 400-mile mountain bike race planned at the end of April, and regardless of conditioning, I'm really excited for that one. It's going to be a beautiful route across Southern California, and it's been too long since I've embarked on a bike tour. In fact, I really should start planning an overnighter to get ready for the Stagecoach 400. You know, for training. I also need to start a routine of nightly sabbaticals in the sauna. You know, for heat acclimation.
If I required an extended period of downtime after a race it would mean, to me, that I've failed in my fitness goals. If I fail in a race because I pushed my limits of recovery too far, well, that's okay. At least then I'll know what's too far.