Breathless Agony is not really a race. It is a very competitive century that tests road riders up 12,000 vertical feet and over 112 miles of mostly pavement. The century is timed and riders must check-in at all of the aid stations littered on the course. The final course times are recorded at the summit (Onyx Summit) to give the event the feel of a tough mountain stage at the Tour De France.
This year marks my 4th attempt at the century where I hoped to break the elusive-to-me 5 hour mark. When preparing for the ride, I looked over my 2011 season, where I raced the Vision Quest, the Whiskey Off-Road and Breathless Agony, just like I have done so far this season. My VQ time was faster. My Whiskey time was faster. So, I had very high hopes of beating my previous best of 5:03.
I showed up with one of the athlete’s I was coaching early so that we had plenty of time to suit up. We checked in and watched a friend take off and cheered him on. Then, we sat around and waited for the groups to start forming. Typically, groups will form around 7:10-7:20, the time keepers will hold the entire groups, check everyone in, then let them leave together at a specified time. That didn’t happen this year. Maybe the volunteer was new or just didn’t feel like giving the last groups special attention. Either way, I saw Joel Sothern take off and knew that I should hop on his wheel.
The course is the same as always. We head through Redlands and Moreno Valley. Across the mostly dirt, pot-hole strewn Jack Rabbit Trail. Then we take a trip over Oak Glen before making a right onto Highway 38 where we climb for what seems like forever. It is very advantageous to sit in with a group until you hit the Oak Glen climb. So, I tried sitting in with a large group that formed along San Timeteo Rd. The pace was horrendous, though. It would speed up for 30 seconds, then slow down to a crawl. Nobody wanted to put in any work and I found myself on the front quite a bit. The pace really kicked up over Jack Rabbit and the group thinned to somewhere around 8 people. Someone (not sure who) kept the pace up across the 60 fwy, but after we checked in at the first rest stop, it seemed like most of the people we’d dropped early, were back on our wheels.
With the first time check out of the way, it was time to settle into a pace for the rest of the ride. It was basically all climbing from here on out. I sat in on what I thought was a comfortable pace and was riding right behind Joel Sothern (old guy who usually finishes in around 4:45). I was actually pacing off him and his odd climbing style (very slow cadence, I’m talking like 60 rpm). I was getting bored, so I tried doing a little baton twirl with my water bottle, but it slipped off the tips of my fingers, so I had to stop and pick it up. I fell off the pace and probably started to push a bit too hard to bring the small group I was riding with back into my sights. I never did bring them back, but I did crest the hill and safely make the descent down the other side. When I was pulling into the second time check, I saw Joel Sothern pulling out and figured that would be the last I would see of him.
Now, all that was left was the dreaded highway 38. I have put in a lot of training time with a power meter, so I figured I could supersede the news I was getting from my legs about how much they hurt and just focus on riding at certain wattages I would typically hold in training. So, I tried to sit in at around 230 watts, which is a nice pace that I will go out and hold on long endurance rides. The only problem was that I’d already been riding hard for over 2 hours and had trashed my legs pretty well. S, the pace quickly started to drop, until I was hanging on at somewhere around 200-210 watts. I was struggling here, but knew I had a long way to go, so I just went with it and tried to not bonk.
Before hitting the third time check, the bonking was coming. I had stopped eating and my stomach was in knots. I took my time at the last aid station and saw my friend that I had cheered on earlier in the day. I tried to give him some encouraging words, but he was not having any of it. His legs were cramping pretty bad. After probably about 5 minutes, I took off, back up the 38 to the summit. Still feeling horrible, not eating or drinking much, but trucking along. I’d leap frog with a few different guys. I’d look at my ride time and think there was a chance I’d at least have my ride time be under 5 hours. Ultimately, I’d bonk really badly and watch my pace drop considerably about 2 miles from the end.
I made it to the top in 5:10. Not a best time for me, but not a worst either. It wasn’t what I wanted to see, but I had a great ride and can’t complain about a thing. The good part is that I know what my goal is for next year. Sub 5 hours.
When reflecting back to try to come up with reasons on what I didn’t really meet my goals, I came up with a few answers. I had built up a good base for the 24 hours in the Old Pueblo race. I lost a lot of it in March when I crashed and sliced my knee open. However, I still had a decent race at the Vision Quest. I think I had a good race there because I paced myself at my pace the entire time. I didn’t go over my threshold and I rode well within my means and didn’t get that dreaded bonk that I did at Breathless Agony.
I also think that my fitness declined from the 24 hour race until Breathless Agony. After spending a month off the bike, I was nice and recovered, but less fit. With only 3 weeks between the VQ and the Whiskey, I didn’t have time to rebuild much fitness, so I just sort of maintained what I had and recovered for the Whiskey. Then, one week the Breathless Agony, and I just recovered. So, my fitness was declining even more.
The third and final though I have when reminiscing is that I made one of the biggest mistakes of them all. I tried something new on race day! Well, not entirely new. I had an ensure drink on the drive down. I was rushing and needed some calories. Well, I’ve had Ensure before and it’s fine. I’ve even drank it while riding. When drinking it while riding, it gives me all kinds of stomach problems! I guess I figured that drinking it before I rode wouldn’t give me the same stomach problems.
I was wrong.