Road biking, dirt road riding on Frankenbike, tandem riding, group riding, time trialing, randonneuring - I love to ride, and I love to write. As I've traveled along on two wheels, I've learned one thing: Expect Adventure. Join me on the journey!

Betty Jean Jordan

Monday, February 20, 2017

Middle Georgia Epic

It lived up to its name.  124 miles of mixed surfaces, a squirrelly sandpit, wheel-stopping peanut buttery mud, fatigue, pain...

I'd do it again!

Robert and I got up at o'dark thirty on Saturday morning to drive to the Blue Goose in Irwinton, where the Middle Georgia Epic started.  Friendly volunteers checked us in, and we each got a gallon-size Ziploc bag to put stuff in for the single SAG stop.  Robert and I both had two extra bottles for our bags, which were a little too big to allow us to zip the tops.  Monte to the rescue!  He had some duct tape in his truck.  It worked perfectly and also made our bags a little more distinctive, a plus given that we would have to find them among dozens of others at the SAG stop.

Our teammates Cal, Cody, Jeff, and Van joined us at the starting line.

I love training with these guys even though they put me through the wringer.  But that rigor - along with lots of endurance riding and gravel riding in general - is what prepared me for the race.  As ready as I was, I knew my teammates would get out front quickly.  I had no illusions of trying to stay with them.  I was reminded of of a Jack Handey quote:

"If you ever drop your keys into a river of molten lava, let 'em go, because, man, they're gone."

Within three miles, the front group of guys pulled ahead, and I was by myself.  That didn't last long, though, as the next group of 8-10 riders soon caught me.  Immediately, I noticed a woman in the group.  Hmm...likely competition.  It was going to be a long day, however, and so there was a lot to time to see how the dynamics would play out.

The racecourse was a lollipop.  The first and last approximately 14 miles formed the "stick," and the rest was a long skinny loop.  The stick contained one of the major dirt sections of the course.  It was about six miles long and had potentially treacherous mud.  During last month's pre-ride (see my 1/14/17 report), it was so bad that it stopped us in our tracks and forced us to scrape sticky mud off our wheels just so that they would turn.  Fortunately, the mud wasn't bad on Saturday morning on the outbound portion of the racecourse.  Things could change, however, by the time we came back that way in the afternoon...

At about mile 12, there was a steep hill.  I climbed ahead of my sort-of group, including the woman.  It was too early in the race for me to expect it to stick, but you never know.  I did know that I wouldn't be able to stay ahead if I were by myself.  Therefore, as I approached a solo rider, I suggested that we work together.  He was a very friendly fellow who soon figured out that we have common a cycling friend.

We spotted another solo rider ahead.  I came up with a short-term strategy: act like a Hoover, sucking up stray riders like a vacuum cleaner to form a paceline.  This second solo rider gladly hopped on our train.

Another rider ahead - we Hoovered him up, too.  The four of us seemed like a good group, but then the group behind caught up - including the woman!

I wasn't worried yet about my rival.  It was still way early.  Apparently, I was a better climber (maybe not much of an advantage because there weren't many other significant hills), and I thought I might have better endurance.

So, about 12 of us settled into a pace line.  It wasn't easy (I didn't get to see much of my surroundings all day), but it seemed sustainable for the long haul.  Each person pulled maybe five minutes.  I took shorter pulls.  I wanted to make a nominal contribution, but I wasn't competing against these guys, just the woman.  Besides, she seemed to have teammates among the group, and so I figured I'd let them do the lion's share of the work.  By the way, I learned her name is Anne :)

We turned onto Ellington Road.  I thought I remembered from the pre-ride that this was the road with the really squirrelly section of sand.  I remembered correctly.  We hit the dry, loose stuff, and everyone in the group had to hike-a-bike.  Fortunately, it was maybe only a few hundred yards long.

As we rode through Chester, we passed a water tower with buzzards perched all over it.  We decided that they were a little too early for us racers.

It was about an hour to the SAG stop, which was roughly at the half-way point.  I think all of us needed a nature break but were reluctant to add a stop.  We toughed it out to Eastman.

Approaching Eastman, I did a mental checklist of what I needed to do at the SAG, strategizing to minimize my time stopped.  Swap out my bottles, open a few Clif Bars to stick in my jersey pockets (annoyingly, I had forgotten to open the packages for the first half of the race), and figure out where to go to the bathroom.  There wasn't a good bathroom spot, and so I took care of my food and drinks and rode ahead to find a secluded pee spot.  I left the SAG before the rest of the group.  Would I get much of a jump on them?

Just as I was pulling up my pants, I saw some cyclists.  Yep, Anne and four guys.  I got on the back of their group.  They seemed to be going faster than before the SAG stop.  Jolly.

I had been feeling strong thus far, but as we got about 80 miles in, fatigue started to set in.  It wasn't typical fatigue, not even like what I feel on a 300K brevet.  I could tell this was related to intensity.  The race got mental for me after that.

Keep going.  Hang on.  Don't let Anne get away.  You've done plenty of long events.  This won't last but a few more hours.

I put things in terms of remaining distance.  Just a Tuesday Worlds to go.  Just a Fullerton-Phillips Loop to go…

I didn't care when it started raining.  I only thought about the race, or more specifically, the pain.  But I knew I had to break out of that fatigue/pain mental zone and focus on something more positive.  I thought to myself, "This time yesterday, I was having my picture taken next to a giant fire ant."

Coming back from a work site the previous day, I went through Ashburn, GA, home of the Fire Ant Festival.

Then I thought, "If I had to choose between racing right now and getting bitten by fire ants, I'd choose this race."  It kept me going.

Although the rain didn’t last too long and wasn’t very intense, I knew that it was enough to wreak havoc.  We got back to the lollipop stick.  We approached the dirt hill where I had climbed past Anne that morning.  Now it was a descent.  Descending isn’t my strong suit anyway, and sure enough, the rain had made it even more dicey.  I proceeded downhill cautiously.  Anne zoomed past.  I thought that she probably had me then, but I preferred to maintain life and limb.

Then I got back to the section that had been so peanut buttery during the pre-ride.  It was now at least as bad because of the race-day rain.  There were Anne and several other guys from our group, stopped to clean mud off their wheels.  I had to stop, too, but I got rolling before she did.  Those few moments off the bike while I was wiping off my wheels gave me an energy boost.  Maybe I still had a shot at this!

A few more miles of dirt remained in this section.  Then I hit some more peanut butter.  My wheels seized up again – arrrgh!  Not even bothering with a stick this time, I scooped out the muddy glop with my gloved hands.  There went Anne, straining up the hill, but the mud didn’t stop her a second time.  That was it…

I got rolling again as quickly as I could, but Anne was out of sight.  I knew I couldn’t catch her, so I resolved to finish the best I could.  I was by myself at this point, and every muscle in my body rebelled as I coaxed myself to keep going.

I turned left onto J.R. Sims Road, which is paved.  Only about five miles to go.  Breaking my rule of always pedaling downhill during races, I allowed myself some respite and coasted a little.  A couple of my earlier cycling companions passed me on the downhill.  We said hello.  They very kindly eased up to let me ride with them, but I told them not to wait for me.  I simply had to get back the best I could.

I knew I would make it, but boy was I ready for it to be over.  Then, of course there was the climb into downtown Irwinton in the last mile.  How rude!  But I powered up anyway, even passing a couple of racers.  Truly, I left everything out of the course, but I managed one last little burst of adrenaline to steer through the finish chute.  Yea, I made it!  And I didn’t regret at all coming in second.  Anne was a worthy competitor, and I’m glad she rode so well.

The Blue Goose graciously set up a bike wash station for us.

My teammate Van's bicycle - he won!

Although I hardly knew up from down at that point, I figured that washing the major chunks of mud off both me and my bike would begin to restore some semblance of my humanity.  I went back to the car and managed to change into clean, dry clothes.  Grabbing some of my uneaten bike food (I desperately needed calories), I stumbled off in search of Robert.

I found him inside and discovered that we got a post-ride meal!  Woo hoo!  Pasta with meat sauce (protein!), bread, salad, a magic Coca-Cola, and a couple of mini brownies were like manna from heaven.  And I got to save my leftover bike food for another ride :)

While we waited for the third-place woman to arrive so that we could do our podium, I enjoyed talking with a few fellow racers who are also randonneurs.  We compared notes on all things rando, including brevets, dirt brevets (hey, doesn’t that sound like fun!), and fleches.  I shared how my fleche team had enjoyed stopping at the Blue Goose last spring, where we sat at this very same table where we were having our Middle Georgia Epic post-race meal.

At the next table over, I saw the first guy I had Hoovered up as part of my pace-line strategy that morning during the race.  It turns out that he is training to be on a four-person team for this year’s RAAM.  Guess who one of his teammates is?  Anne!  How exciting!  A third team member was also at the Middle Georgia Epic, as well as their crew chief.  I told them a little about my RAAM training and experience a couple of years ago.  I hope they have a great race this year!

The third female 200K finisher arrived.  Podium time!

I love the medals.  The dirt is the perfect touch.

On the drive home, Robert and I went through our play-by-plays of the race.  I particularly wanted his input on my unusually high fatigue.  I’ve done lots of 200K and longer brevets.  Although I knew the race would be tough – tougher than a 200K brevet – I couldn’t have known beforehand how different it would be.

My biggest surprise is that I did the race a lot faster than I expected.  I knew that some factors – race conditions, adrenaline, almost no stops – would make the Middle Georgia Epic faster than a brevet.  However, I thought those would be more than offset by nearly 50% of the racecourse roads being dirt/gravel.  I usually do a 200K brevet in 8.5 to 9 hours.  Therefore, I anticipated that I might do the Middle Georgia Epic in about 10 hours.

During the race, I kept my Garmin on the map screen, checking the main data screen only once, around mile 22.  At that point, we were averaging about 18.5 mph, faster than I expected.  Still, I didn’t want to exert any mental energy on elapsed time or any other race metrics.  I was simply going to race as fast and hard as I could, whatever the numbers turned out to be.

I didn’t look at my time until after the race.  According to my Garmin, my elapsed time was 7:31:25, and my moving time was 7:23:01.  Between the SAG stop, a nature break, and a couple of times to scrape down my wheels, around 8 ½ minutes of non-ride time seems about right.  Incidentally, my official finish time is 6:23:28.7.  For some reason, they have the race starting at 8:25 AM, but we really started at 7:15 AM, which explains the approximately 1:10 difference between my Garmin elapsed time and my official finish time.  No worries there – everyone else in the 200K race had the same faux 8:25 AM start time.  Regardless, I did the race in much less than the 10 hours I initially estimated!

OK, so I raced a lot faster than I expected.  Is that enough to explain my unexpectedly extreme post-race fatigue?  That’s where the Data Ho (alias Robert) came in.

It’s a matter of Total Stress Score (TSS):

TSS = intensity2 x duration (hours) x 100

Intensity = normalized power / threshold power

(Normalized power is different from average power, accounting for varied levels of intensity during an effort.)

By definition, threshold power is the maximum power that you can sustain for one hour.  Therefore, a one-hour time trial should have an intensity factor of 1 and a TSS of 100.  (Note that if intensity is > 1 for an all-out, one-hour effort, your threshold power is too low.)

I know my threshold power, and I know what various intensity factors feel like physically, based on actual power meter data from my road bike.  My intensity on a typical 200K brevet is about 0.6.  If it takes me 8.5 hours, my TSS is

(0.6)2 x 8.5 x 100 = 306

That’s a good bit of stress!  Now, let’s estimate my TSS for the Middle Georgia Epic.  Although I don’t have a power meter on my cross bike, which I used for the Middle Georgia Epic, I can reasonably estimate that my intensity factor for the race was about 0.8, based on perceived effort and estimated power from Strava.  Therefore, my TSS for the Middle Georgia Epic is

(0.8)2 x 7.5 x 100 = 480

That’s significantly more stress!  Even though my race time was less than a typical brevet time, my race TSS is a lot higher because the intensity factor is squared.  How cool that we have a way to quantify these things.

That night I slept about 10 hours.  I got to sleep longer than I raced – what luxury!

Thank you Dustin, Southern Wheelworks, the Blue Goose, Monte, and everyone else that made the Middle Georgia Epic possible.  We couldn't have asked for a better inaugural race.  I look forward to getting muddy again next year!

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