Some will remember this article I wrote a year ago regarding my failed attempt to finally break the six hour barrier in El Tour de Tucson and get my coveted gold medallion for so doing. I tried to make a spiritual application and bring something good out of what was otherwise a very disappointing outing. I made mention of taking another stab at it next year, and that is what I did this weekend.
Here is the map of the ride. From the start I had little confidence in being able to obtain my elusive goal of “riding gold.” First, the day before the ride I learned that the distance had returned to what it had been back in the 1990s, 111 miles (up two miles from last year). Two miles may not sound like much, but that’s six minutes at 20mph, and last year I had been on track to just barely get in under six hours. Add six minutes and now I need to go faster. Then, I got to the start line only an hour before the race. I was so far back it took five minutes just to get to the start line once the race started, and your time begins right at 7am, whether you get across the start line then or not.
Then, out on the ride, I got trapped by a train. A huge train, as this picture shows, at Tangerine Road. Stand, wait, clock ticking. [Just noticed this while editing the picture: the fellow who had just pulled up and is taking a drink, number 2259, was the one guy who worked with me in a group of about seven all the way down Silverbell in taking turns leading out and fighting the wind. Turns out he is James Wilson, 38, from Visalia, California. Thanks, James, for working with me!]
Now, I should mention that before the start it was announced that Barry Bonds of MLB fame was riding in the 111 mile event. I found that rather interesting. Well, it turns out, Barry Bonds was in the same group I was in at the train crossing. I passed him a few minutes later, and finished about three minutes ahead of him. He has taken a great interest in cycling since his baseball days, and has trimmed down a great deal as well.
Also, let me say as a long time veteran of El Tour, the folks who put this race on are simply fantastic. All the volunteers are so encouraging and helpful, the police along the way do a great job, and the folks at PBAA who put this on—kudos to you all, and especially to Linda Dugan, a wonderful lady I’ve met a few times now who works with PBAA. Congratulations to you all, and thanks for the great ride!
Anyway, I only took one stop, meeting one of the “channel rats,” tucsonmom, who has met me now two years running, providing me fresh bottles at a rest stop about 67 miles into the race. I know I could never get through this race without such encouragement and help, and I am very thankful to tucsonmom and all the channel rats who were pulling for me in channel, following me on Latitudes. That was a great encouragement.
All through the ride I resisted the temptation to look at the clock, that is, check the actual race time. I was focused solely upon breaking six hours “on bike,” and I decided to let the race clock take care of itself. We once again had a straight on, dead in your face headwind coming out of the south/southeast all the way down Silverbell, a horrific road that does not really qualify as being paved in many places. That is really where the race starts to hurt. All the friendly banter ends, and everyone just starts hurting along there. Relief came when we turned left on 22nd, and then one last left turn onto 6th Ave, northbound.
Of course, through all of the race I was worried about what happened last year, the dreaded experience of full cramping of the legs which had taken me out of the competition a year before. I had trained hard, done a good deal of altitude work (three days in Flagstaff, over 100 miles of riding at altitude, including two ascents up to the Snow Bowl ski area), and this time I made sure to take LOTS of calcium/magnesium pills (thanks to my chiropractor, Nicoleta Borcean, for putting me onto those!). But I was still concerned about it all the way.
I found it humorous, but not overly unusual, that as we turned north toward the finish line (you could see it a mile off) guys who three miles earlier had been dogging it along on my wheel were now capable of flying at speeds above 25 mph. Seeing the finish definitely fired up the adrenaline, and even I crossed the finish line at 27.2 miles per hour. As soon as I was into the shoot and had my number marked I began asking, “What time is it? What time is it?” One of the volunteers responded, “12:42.” 12:42??? The race started at 7am! My official time ended up being 5:44, a full sixteen minutes inside the “gold” category. I could not believe it. My on-bike time was 5:34 (here is the Garmin Connect read out and map of the ride). My best time in the past, if I recall correctly, was around 6:20 on bike, and that includes back in the days when I was 30 something years old and weighed as little as 168 pounds. No cramps, no crashes, just that elusive gold medallion, something I had been chasing, with some breaks, since 1993. I am not certain about this, but I think this was my sixth attempt at the full El Tour distance (111 back in the 90s, 109 last year, 111 again this year). I guess I could wax eloquent about “stick-to-itiveness,” but I will spare you that. I am thankful that just prior to my 49th birthday I was able to average 19.9 mph over the course of 111 miles…and live to tell about it! Now, Lord willing, my next big goal: The Triple By-Pass next July in Colorado. So with that…I better get back on my bike!