When All Else Fails, Take Another Lap

2016 6-12-24 Hour World Time Trial Ride Report
I tried for a couple of days to put this write-up together. This is usually one of my favorite parts of the 6-12-24 Hour World Time Trial Championships, as it gives me a chance to relive the event with that wonderful “good parts only” memory that seems to be a part of the brain’s design. And there’s always so much to remember! But, frankly, my heart wasn’t really into it this year. This has nothing to do with the race, of course. It was a fantastic event, just as it’s been for the past 3 years. Jim Harms, Amanda Knutson, and the Boethling boys did an amazing job organizing, as always. And my brother Terry and I had a great race, covering 487 miles in just under 24 hours. But after the election, it just felt like such a small event in a very big world.

If I were John Steinbeck, I could wrap all of my thoughts and feelings into some grand allegory that told a fine tail of the struggles and the victories, and I could wax poetically about the difference between competition and performance…blah blah blah. But I’m no Steinbeck. So, rather than attempt to force creative juices from this dried up old turnip, I decided to lazily turn to the posts I made on Facebook at the end of each lap, and just add a few notes here and there to mention some of the highlights of the race. Interestingly, by the time I finished writing, I felt better about it…about everything in fact. The mind is a curious and wonderful thing! Maybe no one thing is so much more important than another. Time will tell. Anyway, on to the race report.

Rolling Taj Mahal, ready for action

Rolling Taj Mahal, ready for action

First, for those who don’t know, the format of this race is simple. Start at 6:00PM on Friday night and see how many times you can successfully navigate an 18 mile open-road loop in the Borrego Springs desert, before being switched over to the 4.8 mile “short loop” to finish up the effort. Simple right? And frankly, given that we ride as a two-man team, it’s considerably less challenging than what the solo racers go through. Terry and I trade off laps, with one or the other of us out on the road at a time, while the other retires to my brother’s incredibly plush motorhome to rest, eat, change into dry kits, and take care of all other manner of physical needs between laps. That said, it’s plenty enough of a challenge for the likes of us.

Friday 7:02PM
Team Faster Than My Brother is one lap in. Just like every year my first lap was faster than it probably should have been, Garmin says 23.6mph. We’ll be dialing that back a bit as the night wears on.

startSo yeah, anyone who’s suffered through my past ride reports is now saying, “You went out too hot. Wow, big surprise”. What can I say, the starting lap is always so exciting. I started in the last of five starting waves, and the racers are all bunched up at this point. Making my way through the dark desert night, it was impossible to resist the urge to pick out a tail light ahead and try to chase it down. As for that first-lap average speed…as my FB post said, this was nowhere near sustainable for me.

Oh, and by the way…unless otherwise stated, most of the photos you see here are compliments of Vic Armijo and the Race Across America Organization.  Thank you Vic!

Friday 8:39PM
Just finished my second lap, 3rd lap for the team. It’s 18miles per lap, btw. My Garmin reads 22.9mph for my first two laps

Between laps, I see Terry for about 10 seconds as we pass off the timing chip, which gives us a brief moment to try to think of something clever, or rude, or both, to say to one another. And then he is off into the dark as I make my way back to the motorhome to rest.

Hey buddy, can you spare a dime?

Hey buddy, can you spare a dime?

Friday 10:15PM
Just finished my third lap, which means we’ve done 5 laps together, or 90 miles. You can follow the race at the link in this post from the awesome race organizers.

Saturday 12:04AM
Another lap done, I think that’s 4 for me? Starting to lose count. Garmin read 22.7 mph. I’m going to fight to keep that over 22 in this cooling night air on the next lap. But first, a sammich and a nap.

Saturday 1:40AM
Average at the end of this lap, 22.3! Feeling good, though the little grinding uphill near the end of the lap is starting to grow

It’s funny, Terry and I drove the lap Friday morning just to get reacquainted. In my mind, I remembered that little grindy climb as a pretty formidable presence out on the race course. But when we saw it again in person, it looks like nothing. Barely a perceptible change in grade that you should be able to easily push through in the big ring without ever getting off the aerobars. But as the laps wear on, I swear this thing gets bigger and steeper each time.

Saturday 3:24AM
Ok my friends, another lap finished, with my average now 21.9. For a little perspective, solo racer Christoff Strasser is averaging 24.5mph, with no breaks!

So yeah, Cristoph Strasser. The man is a completely different animal than most of the rest of us out on the course (folks like Marko Baloh, Jason Perez, Jamshed Jehangir, Seana Hogan and a few select others are excluded from that “most of the rest of us”). Strasser has won solo Race Across America six times, and holds the course record. He also holds the current outdoor 24 hour TT record of 556.8 miles set in 2015. He would come close to beating that record on this very challenging course this year, with 550.8 miles (23.1mph!! and remember, this includes stop time…which I’m sure was very minimal for him). I had the thrill of seeing him come by me three separate times during this race…more about one of those times a little later.\

Saturday 5:15AM
I have no idea what lap I just finished, but I felt surprisingly good. Looking forward to sunrise and being joined by all the 12 hour racers on the next one

Saturday 7:11AM
Sunrise Lap! My favorite part of 24 hour events. Nothing like riding thru the night and into the sunrise. We’re past the halfway mark and on track to hit our 480 mile goal…but there’s a lot of work yet to be done

There really is nothing that compares to racing the sunrise lap in one of these 24 hour events. I started this lap with a faint glow in the sky, and as I was pushing my way up the hill on the back-stretch of the course, the sun was just peaking over the horizon to my right. I saw somebody parked off the left shoulder of the road taking photos, and I had hoped those pictures would show up somewhere by the time I posted this, but alas…no such luck. You’ll just have to use your imagination…I looked incredibly strong, fresh and smooth, in case you need help. The sunrise is always invigorating, and there’s only one way to get this feeling You have to race all night to know what a sunrise lap feels like. I highly recommend it!

During my rest break after the sunrise, I heard a knock on the motorhome door, and was visited by my very good friend and former RAAM teammate Wei Sun. Another very welcome boost to my spirits! Wei helped me get ready for the next lap, and then as we waited for Terry to find his way back to the pits, a few more good friends rolled in on their bikes. Wei captured the moment and made this post to FB on the spot…

What the heck are these things anyway?

What the heck are these things anyway? Oh I see, they’re my glasses! I need some sleep.

Saturday 10:07AM – Posted by Wei Sun
Morning visit to Borrego Springs at the 6-12-24 Hour Time Trial with Rich Walsh and Terry Walsh. Crewed for half an hour and blessed to see METAL (Andrew Danly) with Toro and Michael Conti, who rode out to support Nathan Simpson. Took a few snap shots and realize I am NO Pink Shorts Photography (Connie Hatfield). Fun times cheering friends on!

(photos courtesy of Wei Sun, reprinted here without his permission…so sue me!)

It's not a gang, it's a club

It’s not a gang, it’s a club

Saturday 10:42AM
Things are heating up out here, literally. Not too hot yet though, and more importantly, not much wind. My average speed has been holding steady at 21.5 for the last two laps. See if I can hold onto that to the end!

While waiting for my next exchange, I saw the support person (husband?) of one of the 12 hour racers I had met during the registration the day before, where she mentioned that this was her first foray into the ultra-racing world. I asked him how she was doing, and before he had much chance to answer she came ripping into the pits, exclaiming, “OK, this isn’t fun anymore.” She said it with a smile (somewhat forced perhaps) on her face.

“Yeah”, I replied, “that solo thing is tough!” As if I have any idea what “that solo thing” is like!
“Just keep pushing at the best speed you can” I encouraged…not realizing that she needed absolutely no advice from the likes of me. But she was gracious, and thanked me as her man got her set up with fresh bottles and some ice down the back of her jersey, and she was off! She left the pits just a couple minutes before me, and I hoped to catch her and cheer her on again as I passed by…but I never saw sign of her again.

Turns out that the woman who graciously thanked me for my words of “encouragement” is professional triathlete Dede Trimble Griesbauer, who has three ironman wins and three top-ten finishes in Kona to her credit. In this year’s 12 hour event, Dede dominated the solo field with an overall winning distance of 258 miles and an average pace of 21.7mph (again, with stop time included). Her distance was just 6 miles short of the 12-hour solo course record, set by Andrew Danly last year. Andrew is a friend of mine, and an absolute beast on a bike. I can assure you that this is no soft record.

As I sit here now piecing together the details of who this woman is, and remember what I was thinking (and saying), I can’t help but laugh at myself. Call it the mansplaining of the endurance racing world. Another lesson learned for me, thanks to this wonderful sport. And WOW, what an amazing performance from Dede Griesbauer, I hope we see you again next year!

Saturday 12:29PM
Still hanging in there at 21.5 (per my garmin, not the official race clock…ill look at that after we’re done). We should have two more long laps each, then we switch to the short lap, only 4 miles long and much flatter and easier. We’ve still got a good shot at 480, but it’s no gimme at this point!

There’s a one-lap gap in my Facebook posts at this point, and here’s why. On the uphill backstretch this time around, I was passed by one Christoph Strasser. Riding as a 2-man team allowed me to maintain a pace whereby I wasn’t passed often, and so whenever I heard somebody coming by me I yelled out in great joy, usually something brilliant like, “YEEEAAAHHH! GO GO GO!!!”. I know, poetic, right? Anyway, as I yelled I looked over to see Christoph smile broadly as he paced right past me. He appeared relaxed and under no strain whatsoever, just out for a little 550 mile bike ride.

The never-ending smile of Christoff Strasser

The never-ending smile of Christoph Strasser

As he cruised ahead, I somehow decided that I wasn’t a 50-something beer-drinking weekend warrior, and could try to keep him in sight to the end of the lap (still some 4 to 5 miles off). I bore down and pushed a bit harder into the climb. To my surprise, I was able to slow the widening of the gap somewhat. Now to be clear, I’m not saying I was reeling him in or even keeping pace…just slowing the opening of the gap. Nor did I have a thought for a minute that I could stay with him even though he had been riding straight through while I was doing every other lap. But how often does one get to pretend like he’s racing with the world’s best ultra-cyclist?

Strasser reach the crest of the uphill stinger a couple hundred yards ahead of me, and popped out of the saddle and crank up his speed for the waiting descent. I pushed hard to finish the uphill and followed suit, jumping out of the saddle to crank it up. Apparently, however, my “jump out of the saddle and crank it up” doesn’t look anything like his. By the time I settled back in to aero on the downhill, he had become a small speck of yellow in the distance. And so ends my brush with ultra-cycling greatness. I choose to believe he would have been impressed with my efforts…had he only slowed down enough to notice.
I pushed to the end of the lap as best I could, handed off to Terry, and limped back to the motorhome to collapse and try to recover for my final big lap.

Saturday 4:15PM
Finished my last big lap. Pushed it hard, now I have about an hour to recover and get ready for short laps. That’s probably the last you’ll hear from me until we’re done at 6:00

When I took over from Terry to start the short course, I calculated that we would need 4 short loops to reach 480. I told him I was taking 3 and he should be ready to do 1 or 2 more if there was time. My short laps went well. I even managed to PR the first one, bettering all short laps I had done in the prior two years and holding steady at a bit over 22mph. I pulled into the pits and found Terry amongst the crowd bustling about and preparing to cheer their racers on to the finish.

“One more,” I said to him. He feigned shock, as if he had no intention of riding another lap, then said that he needed a tail light. Thankfully another friend and ultra-racer extraordinaire, Michael Conti was at hand to help us swap the light from my bike to the back of his jersey, and he headed out to push us over 480.

As Terry rode off, Michael showed me his phone and said, “actually, you guys are already over 480.”

Terry putting down some miles

Terry putting down some miles

“That’s OK,” I said, “he needs to do another lap anyway.” Michael chuckled and replied, “I figured as much, that’s why I didn’t say anything.” We had a good laugh at pushing Terry out to hammer out one more lap, thinking our goal depended on him. And for the record, one should abstain from doing any sort of math after 24 hours of bike racing. Apparently I had the length of the short lap wrong!

Terry finished his last short loop in great time as well, at just over 20mph. And that was it. He pulled in from that final lap and I said, “we did it!”

“Yup” was his reply, and we headed back to the motorhome to get a quick shower and head out for dinner with Michael and Adam Bickett, who had done a little 240 mile training ride from his house out to see the finish of the race.

The very next time I checked into Facebook, I found this post from another of my brothers…

Saturday 6:02PM – Posted by Paul Walsh
Congratulations Rich and Terry. 487.2! Now have a beer.

Note the time on that post, probably just 3 minutes after our actual finish. Nice to know we have such a loyal on-line fan base…even if it is our brother. Thanks for following along Paul, and yes…we did indeed go have that beer!

It's still beer where I come from

It’s still beer where I come from

I’ll end this rambling as I did last year, with a recommendation to all of my cycling buddies to go out and find yourself a partner (or 3…there’s also a 4-person division) and find your way out to Borrego Springs next year. This is the very best event in the world to get your feet wet in ultra-cycling because the 18-mile loop format makes it so easy. No on-road support, no follow vehicles, and you get to race with the very best in the world, as well as regular guys like us. And besides, we could use the company!

Now let’s go see what the future brings.