Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Barn Burner Begins (Part 2)

If you missed the first part of this report, and would like to read it, you can click here to find it; otherwise, feel free to read on.

As is often the case when I attempt to combine two different viewpoints into a single post, it can become a bit awkward, so hopefully it will make sense to point out that anything not in italics is written by Sam while anything italicized is G.E.'s thought on the race. Because Sam didn't have the opportunity to share his side of Friday, I've included that below. And with that...

Summer is drawing to an end and the thought of qualifying for the 2015 LT100 was on my mind. These ideas rolled through my mind as I thought about the Barn Burner in Flagstaff. How great would it be to qualify right out of the gate? Plus, I could do a fun, 104-mile race while in relatively decent training shape from finishing up the LT100 in August.

It seemed like an easy enough plan:  Drive out Friday, camp in the designated grounds for $10 and a canned food donation, race Saturday morning, and head home on Sunday. And, there was the possibility of qualifying for the LT100 and getting another belt buckle for my 2014 collection.


I know G.E. already gave her version of the drive out, and mine follows along very closely since we were together. We roll - very early. Initially, I drove due to G.E.'s aversion to pre-7am functions. I got us to Raton, NM where she took over. The dogs were good, everyone was feeling fine. We were making good time and on top of it all, we actually gained an hour going into Arizona. We rolled into Flagstaff, a really cool city that seemed a bit out of place. Apparently, it had rained all day at higher elevations and mud was everywhere. This was the messiest, most disorganized situation I've seen since my time in the US Army. I picked up my racers packet and was given no information whatsoever.

Despite the mud, bad attitudes from those volunteering/working, etc, we were able to find a place to set up. We both ate a little something cooked on the camping burner and all five of us slept poorly in our wet tent. All told, I probably slept about 3 hours, and I'm sure G.E. slept even less. I think the dogs may have had more sleep than either of us. It was a bit ominous before a century/endurance/sufferfest kind of bike race!

SATURDAY - Race Day!

You know that nauseous feeling you get when you haven't slept enough? You stand up and feel dizzy or lightheaded and you have kind of a pit in your stomach. That was exactly the way I felt Saturday morning as Sam got up and dressed for the Barn Burner. I asked how he was feeling and if he was excited about the ride, but it was plain to see he was really in no shape to do anything except go back to sleep.

One of the amazing things about Sam is his ability to push through tough situations. I knew he was tired and not feeling great, but I had to give him props for putting his cycling gear on and acting like he was actually going to do this race.
Layered up in the cold of the morning.
"We can just pack up and go home, if you want," I said. "There's no law that says you have to do the race. If you aren't up to it, it's okay to let this one go." Even saying it I felt ridiculous. I knew there was no way he wan't going to ride. I felt like a bad partner for even thinking such a thing and swore to myself that it would be the last time I'd say anything like that to Sam on this trip.

The sky was starting to lighten, but the sun hadn't actually made its way over the horizon quite yet. We were both shivering and cold from sleeping in wet clothing and bedding overnight. The temperatures had dipped into the 30s F and apparently our tent had not been waterproofed (something we'd failed to realize until the evening mist began seeping in to our sleeping space). Personally, I was wrecked. I had no idea how I was going to function through another entire day without proper sleep, and worse yet, I couldn't imagine doing a 104 mile mountain bike race in this condition. I figured if Sam could get through that sort of punishment, I could manage to get up and deal with the dogs and make sure he had what he would need for the ride.

Normally, the Barn Burner begins with all of the bikes racked up. Participants race on foot to their bikes, jump on and begin the ride. However, with the massive amount of rain and the condition of the ground, the organizers felt it was better to just have everyone on their bikes at the starting line. I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed to not see the spectacle, but I also understood the mess and potential danger it could cause with mud getting stuck in cleats, shoes, and pedals.
As racers began to line up, instructions were repeated and some minor changes to the route were announced (again, due to rain). The skies actually didn't look too bad and everyone was hoping for a rain-free day.

My first problem after setting the bike at the start line was my Garmin. It was stuck on the start screen and wouldn't budge. It must've gotten damp sitting outside for the 20 minutes I left it to go and find G.E. I kept rebooting it (5 times, in fact), until finally it came up with the familiar "locating satellites" message.... thank GOD! It would've been really horrible doing a 26-mile lap with no information. It may have been tolerable, but still, I really am addicted to seeing the data as I ride.

There are several options for participating in the Barn Burner race. The course is a single loop of 26 miles, so an individual can ride solo for one lap, complete two laps, or the full 104-mile, four lap course. There is also an option for 2- or 4-person teams, in which the riders switch out every lap. In order to use this course as a qualifier for Leadville, however, the only option is to complete four laps as a solo rider.

The good news for me with a lap course is that I could stay in one spot and wait for Sam to loop back around. Having to deal with our pooches, keep them entertained and knowing Sam could deal with the 26 miles before he'd need anything would hopefully make things a bit smoother.
Sam waits to begin the Barn Burner
At 7am(ish), we roll. We begin the 104-mile scamper with the first 26-mile loop.


Mud and soreness were the only things on my mind. It's so muddy and my legs are ridiculously sore. I'm tired, but at about 10 miles in, I start feeling better. The course wasn't very technical, but it went something like climb-descend, climb-rock garden-descend, climg-descend/climb, finish at the barn.

The first climbs were long and slow, but not particularly steep. The descents were mild, but fun when there wasn't a ton of rocks... and here I thought I'd left the rocks of the Rocky Mountains behind.

I was pushing a bit on lap one and feeling pretty darn good about myself, even with the mud and my dizziness from lack of sleep and an 800 mile drive. I managed to come into the barn/dismount area in about 2 hours, which was right in line with what G.E. and I'd discussed prior to the race. I was having fantasies about finishing every lap in two hours - or better - and coming in at 8 hours or less.

As soon as Sam left the starting line, I was back to check on the dogs. I'd left them in the car with the windows rolled down a bit (it was still early and cold, so I didn't want them to freeze or roast). They were anxiously awaiting my return, and I was trying to figure out how I was going to wear them out when everything was a sloppy, muddy mess. I thought about just letting them run free (how bad could that be?), but I thought better of it. Instead, I pulled them out, one at a time and took them for another morning constitutional.

When I returned with each of them, I tried to figure out what I was going to do. I was not functioning at all, and I was feeling really bad for Sam who was out trying to race feeling the same way. Part of me thought there was absolutely no way he was going to be able to finish a 104-mile ride in this condition. Mentally, I prepared to deal with whatever would come. 

The bike rack on the back of the car became an anchor point for me to secure the dogs. We'd stopped in Albuquerque to pick up a couple of 30-foot nylon rope/leashes so that the dogs could run more than a couple of feet. I tied each to the bike rack and let the dogs loose. They seemed content with the idea that they could move, but they had limits to their freedom.
Bikes (and riders) coming in were absolutely filthy. This one wasn't as bad as many that rolled through.
At an hour and a half after the start, riders were already coming back around for their second lap (or to exchange with their relay members). Not knowing if Sam would find the energy to speed up, I decided to go and wait at the barn. Better safe than sorry, I thought. Dogs were loaded back in the car with windows down and off I went to wait.

One "rule" of this race requires that riders dismount their bike and walk it through the barn to the other side before continuing on after each lap. Despite the event staff and giant sign (and instructions they'd been given at the start of the race), riders really seemed to be struggling with this idea. Even as laps continued, I noted several who attempted to just stay on his/her bike as staff yelled after them to dismount.
Sam coming in to the barn, just finishing lap 1
Before I knew it, I spotted Sam coming in to the barn area. I was excited to see how quickly he'd been able to complete the lap. About two hours, for someone who was absolutely exhausted, was pretty impressive as far as I was concerned. He saw me and seemed to be okay, as he didn't really slow down, but headed right into the barn. I was glad to see him functioning so well thus far.


The good news was that the mud had actually dried up considerably. At this point, there were only a few puddles and the surrounding areas were dry. Unfortunately, this reality didn't remove the existing mud from my body or the bike, but at least it made things better.

The bad news was that five miles into lap 2, I was completely drained. The entire week had caught up with me - my lack of tapering, my insistence on continuing other workouts, combined with the lack of sleep - and I felt like I was climbing up Columbine in Leadville all over again. Except, this was 26 miles of it.

The lap itself was very uneventful, slow, and the same as most of the others, besides the pain cave I was sinking deeply into. The second lap ended up taking about 2:30 to complete. I realized I'd been 30 minutes slower. I was also making huge realizations about both my climbing and descending skills: they both suck. My energy was waning with every pedal stroke. I got through the lap, but I was not doing great.

When I'd left Sam at the end of his first lap, he seemed to be doing okay. I noted the time, and figured I'd come back to check for him in about an hour and forty-five minutes. I know when I ride, I tend to speed up after I've warmed up a bit, so I figured it was better to be waiting for him than to miss him entirely.

I went back to the dogs and decided that perhaps throwing a ball around for them would keep them amused for a bit. They were being surprisingly good for dogs that normally jump at the opportunity to misbehave. They had a few brief moments of barking at passing dogs, but beyond that, they were actually doing well. I was impressed. Still, it was a long time to try to keep them amused. Normally, they'd get their exercise in the morning and then they like to nap most of the day until evening, but their schedule had been completely thrown off. 

Balls were being tossed for them to fetch, and they happily did what retrievers do best. The terrier had little interest, but he seemed content to just rest in the shade. As I went to throw a ball for our Labrador, I expected her to run straight out to get the ball. You'll recall that they were tied to nylon ropes? Well, instead of running straight ahead, she decided to run behind me, stretching the rope to its limit and giving me the gnarliest of burns on my ankles.
One side of the burns from our fetching incident
Oh my god! I was in so much pain. The burning would not stop and I was convinced she'd taken out the tendon on the back of my left heel. I sat for a moment, hoping it would pass, but in reality, the burning would continue for two more days and I'd add ridiculously swollen ankles and feet to the list as well. I decided we needed a time out from fetching for a bit. They played with tennis balls on their own and then I realized we were getting close to the time I thought Sam might be coming back around from his second lap.

I put the pups back in the car with windows down and limped over to wait for Sam. I watched as riders who'd been just in front of him on the first lap came and went. I kept thinking he had to be on his way any moment. About two and a half hours after his first return, Sam lapped for the second time. It was plain to see he was exhausted. 
Sam rounding the corner to finish up lap2
"How are you doing?" I asked, as he came by. "Awful," he responded. One of the event staff chimed in stating, "Well, get through the barn and keep going!" It was easy for him to say, but I appreciated that he was attempting to keep Sam motivated. I wasn't sure what to say to him, honestly, and in my own sleep-deprived state, I couldn't form many intelligible sentences. I was starting to doubt that Sam would even be able to finish this race. I couldn't even handle what I was doing, so how would someone having to put forth actual effort be able to make it through?

That's going to wrap up things for this round, but the final post will be ready soon. I look forward to sharing the end of things at the Barn Burner.

The final of this series can be found by clicking here.

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