Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Life Lessons Learned...From Racing 172 Miles for 10+ hours

1. You can always do more and endure more, than you think you can.
2. Press through times of pain
3. Stop and get aid when you need to
4. The posture you chose in life can help you slice through adversity or, it can blow you away.
5. Look to God's signs in nature for encouragement
6. Look to people who love you for encouragement - God's love often flows through them
7. Prepare before testing comes, because the testing...IS coming
8. Have a plan, test the plan, practice the plan. If it works, stick with it no matter what
9. Monitor all systems, all the time
10. Take in nutrition on a regular basis or you'll not make it.

Below, I share the story of the race. The above lessons emerge from the story.

I had trained almost 1,000 miles on my bike this Spring, in some of the coldest, windiest weather I've ever ridden in. Frozen fingers and toes...fighting headwinds for 50-60 miles...learning the bike race course by spending hours training on it...all prepared me for race day.

I'd been watching the weather carefully the week of the race and each day that went by the forecast got worse. Friday, the day before, it was cloudy, cold and rainy with 25-30mph winds from the north. Not good. Race day was supposed to be 15-25mph winds from the north with "feel like" temps in the 30s and 40s. And that, is just what it was like.

I got very little rest the night before and was up at about 3:45am, ate breakfast and started drinking lots of water. Got to the race start/finish area just north of the Gallop building in downtown Omaha at 5:25am and got ready for the 6am start. We all rolled out of town at a pretty quick pace...too fast but I just couldn't let the leaders go that soon. I had a pacing plan that I wanted to stick with and this wasn't it, so, went a bit faster than planned the first hour but felt I was OK doing so.

We rode over the 370 bridge and into Iowa, heading for Glenwood. There are a series of hills taking us up to Glenwood then, down out of that community. The lead pack took off on the hills and it was tough to just let them go...but I had a plan. I knew it was a LONG day and I had to just spin easily up every hill all day, so, I let them go. I noticed a dead bird on the side of the road and thought about how God sees every bird that falls - how much more does He care for me? I saw hawks flying overhead and remembered that "those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will rise up with wings as eagles. They will run and not be weary. They will walk (or, ride a bike?) and not faint." Isaiah 40:31. I was blessed to be out there and I smiled and thanked God. A few miles later at the aid station in Glenwood, I caught up with the leaders as the pack stopped there. Jen was running a little late coming from Omaha and wasn't there so I just quickly refilled my bottles and took off.

At about the 30 mile mark, just before going under Interstate 29, a group of 4-5 passed me. We then headed south on a frontage road on the west side of I-29 with the group about 300 yds. ahead. They didn't stop at the 40 mile aid station. I thought that was a mistake because after that one we had 25 miles to the next one and we'd already gone 13 miles since the last one back in Glenwood. So, I stopped just long enough to have Jen hand me fresh supplies of water and Hammer Nutrition products and I took off.

Five miles down the road, at about 45 miles I passed the group and took the lead. Felt...strange, and kind of scary to be leading the solo division. There were two riders way ahead who were doing the relay so I didn't worry about them. I pressed on to Hamburg, IA at the 66 mile mark where Jen was again waiting for me. She was amazing all day, helping me and encouraging me. More fresh supplies from Jen and off I went, heading for the turn around in Rock Port, MO, 20 miles further south. I was monitoring my heart rate from time to time, keeping it in control and low where I wanted it.

Due to riding the course during training I knew that there were some bad hills the last 12 miles into Rock Port and just as I got to them, one of the riders from the pack caught me. We chatted just a bit but then he dropped me going up the first hill. I caught up some on the downhill. This repeated itself about 10 more times. He was stronger on the uphills and I caught him on the downhills. About a mile from the turn around, another solo division rider caught up. So, the three of us came into the turn around at Rock Port within 45 seconds of each other. This was getting interesting!

The difference between winning and losing often comes down to the little things. Several little things often add up to one big thing. The other riders got off their bikes and went to the food table to get some nutrition and see what was available. I, on the other hand, dropped my empty bottles, grabbed fresh, full ones from Jen, grabbed my food / nutrition, turned around and quietly took off. I knew that we were all in for a brutal 86 miles riding into that nasty, we got to do it for 12 miles while going up and down those same bad hills we'd just covered. I put my head down and told myself, "Linc, you've done this all Spring during training. You went 53 miles into a headwind on a training ride and 60 miles into a headwind on another ride. You can DO THIS!" I felt strong and confident though I had no idea how far behind the two challengers were. I tucked down into the "aero position" on my aero bars and started slicing through the wind.

20 miles back to Hamburg, still feeling good. On the way there, Gary Conway, a good friend pulled up in his car and greeted me. Emotional energy! He buzzed up to Hamburg and was waiting to greet me there and watch another super quick transition. Empty water bottles out, full ones in and outta there! Now, a 25 miles stretch from mile 106 to 131 landing me in Bartlett, IA and the next Aid Station. The winds were relentless. They just pounded me. I felt myself starting to get weak mentally and emotionally. My knees were starting to hurt and my neck and traps were getting tired and hurting too. A little doubt started to set in. I had no idea what was going on behind me. Didn't know if I'd opened up a nice gap or if the cyclists chasing me were just a minute or two behind.

Finally, and man it seemed like a stretch that would never end, I got to the Bartlett Aid Station. Quick transition again and an eight mile stretch right next to I-29. Wide open spaces and the wind howled in my face and through my helmet into my ears. I had a hard time hearing what Jen was saying when she'd pull over to the side to cheer when I went by. I'd asked her to do this because I was getting weaker and weaker emotionally. Sounds weird I know, but I don't know how else to say it. I needed encouragement. I was 140 miles into the race - further than I'd ever gone and, the remaining miles, the hills to come and the wind played haunting games with my mind. Jen stopped on the side of the road many more times to cheer and to encourage me.

One time, I just yelled to her from my bike, "I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!" I was taking in each word of encouragement from her like a starving man taking in fresh bread. I felt lonely and needed her close to me. I rolled into Glenwood at the 145 mark and the second to last Aid Station. Again, Jen and I repeated the drill with the bottles and nutrition. I told her that there were two huge hills in the next five miles and I needed to get through the next really tough section. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Got up the first one easier than I thought. I realized how Hammer Nutrition was playing a HUGE role in keeping my muscles fueled. Up to the "top" of the bluff, then some gentle rollers through Glenwood, then a big downhill that led to the huge uphill just north of Glenwood.

"OK Linc. Gear down and stay with this. Concentrate. You've done this hill before. You can do it! Agree with King David of the Old Testament, 'The Lord is the strength of my life.'" Self talk can be very useful. As I approached the top, Jen was on the side of the road and told me...that she saw someone coming up on me from behind. My heart sank. I had led for the last 60+ miles and now...I was going to be caught... I could only hope that maybe, it was a relay team rider and not one of the guys who had been chasing me. Jen said she'd find out and let me know.

Turned out it was a relay rider. Whew! But, I still didn't know how far back my competition was. With about 16 miles to go it started raining. Great. I was already getting cold and the rain made me colder. Over I-29 for the last time and over the 370 bridge - Ah, back in Nebraska, but still had 13 miles with a lot of tough hills. I'd covered 160 miles. My knees were killing me. It felt like knives were getting jabbed in them from the sides. My neck and traps were screaming and just overall weariness was wearing on me. The wind had just about wiped me out...but...there I was, still pedaling for the finish line by the strength the Lord was giving me.

Up and down the hills on 13th Street, over to 6th street, further north, under the bridges, through the Congra complex, and, I didn't know what road to take to get back to the finish line. GREAT! Are you kidding me? I went down one road only to end up at a dead end. Turned around, came back, kept looking. I realized when we rolled through there 10 hours earlier, it was kind of dark and I didn't pay attention. I knew which turns to take 80 miles away, but not 1 mile from the finish line. SO frustrated. Started to panic a little...

I had visions of the 2nd place rider flying by me, knowing where to go. I tried another turn and yes, it was correct and I could see the QWest Center. Looked back. Didn't see anyone. I was really cold! Came to the finish line with a smile on my face but it covered over one tired body inside. First place - wow, I was so happy. 172 miles covered. I handed the bike to Jen, sat down on the curb and started shaking uncontrollably. Two blankets didn't help. Got my wet clothes off and sat in car to warm up. Thought I was warm so I got out to get a massage and some pizza only to start shaking badly again.

A hot shower at home was what I needed, so we packed everything up and headed for home. That shower felt great, but then, back downtown again for the awards dinner. VERY difficult race, but SO satisfying. I had no idea how I would do at the beginning of the day. God blessed my day for sure. Scroll back up to the top and check out the 10 lessons once again. Think about your own life and how they might apply to you. They are all true and apply to all areas of life. By God's grace, I went 43 miles further than ever before and 86 of them into a headwind. I'd won a race I didn't know if I could even finish. I applied the principles outlined at the beginning of this blog and found success. I'm so grateful to God and to Jen and so many others for the encouragement and prayers that came my way that day. I'll never do that solo race again! :) Honest. But, I'm thankful for the lesson learned and the ones reinforced.