Fires burned through the tobacco fields, in my imagination. The smell was like the hand-rolled cigarettes my uncle used to smoke. I could feel the tar building up on my lungs, coating them, blackening them, leaving them the consistency of putrid yogurt. A bee sting on my inner thigh snapped me from my reverie, but the smell of damp, growing tobacco, something I had never seen before, lingered in the air. With scarcely more than two laps completed, I continued pedaling.
The corn was taller this year, lurking at the edge of the softball fields surrounding the parking lot, where the hissing of bike pumps and the clicking of waddling cyclists announced the imminent start of a bike race. I was one of them, lubing my already dirty chain (I’ll clean it tomorrow), topping off my tire pressure to 120psi (wait, is that a slow leak?), and lugging my cooler full of bottles to the start line (“did hurt yourself carrying that thing?”, thanks Jay).
RAAM is on my mind often. I’m hoping to take my first attempt at conquering the country in 2016, a year after I finish my PhD, which means I’ll have time to actually put in enough riding miles to (hopefully) make it across on my first go.
I also know from talking with those that have done it and reading blogs, books, and articles, and having done some shorter ultra races, that the mental aspect of the race is in many ways the hardest part. I always find small measures of encouragement, from crew antics to words of support online, a joy, even when I discover them after the race, and especially when they make me smile or laugh, like my dad texting me to “Drop the hammer on the pack” during N24HC this year at about 1am — there was neither a pack nor any hammers in my legs — but reading it during the rain break was great.
Other bits of encouragement can be built into the very race plan itself, which brings me to the greatest idea I had this week:
Burritos Across America
During my race, I’ll combine two things that I love more than most: riding my bicycle heinous amounts and eating tasty burritos!
The current RAAM route passes through 12 states. The plan will be to eat a burrito from each state, creating a diverse sampling. Some states might yield only a frozen convenience store burrito, but so be it, they’ll get marked down on my ranked list of state’s burrito quality. Each burrito eaten will be posted online along with a review from the road. Those last few burritos out east, where burritos quality tends to be lower, combined with beleaguered taste buds and a squishy brain will hopefully yield some good humor.
It might be the theme of the whole RAAM experience, where I can make a custom jersey along the lines of this
Only three years to go. I should probably start planning…
“You must be Dave, I’m Collin,” I said to the red-kitted racer bearing #307 that flew by me as I exited the service road to the school for the first of 27 times over the next 24 hours. Who was Dave? David Haase, three-time RAAM first American finisher, someone far more experienced in ultras than myself, and who I was hoping to simply hang on to for the race.
The news broke today that the Metamora 4×50 will be the final UltraMidwest race. Dave Parker, the organizer, has had some health issues and the extra stress of running races is a bit too much. The decision is certainly the right one. There’s no need to jeopardize health for a bike race amongst friends (or among strangers even!).
I want to thank Dave, Lori, Joe, and all the volunteers that helped with the UltraMidwest races. I only managed to catch the last two years of the races series, 2012 and 2013, but they were really important for becoming ever more obsessed with ultracycling. The friendliness and encouraging competition made every race something I really looked forward to doing. Hopefully some new races will pop up in the Midwest to continue the ultra spirit.
We’ll all continue riding our bikes excessively and regaling tales of the ridiculous adventures that come with so much saddle time.
The only thing I won’t miss is that 15-mile stretch of road between Lost Nation and US-61 during Balltown. It seemed to stretch on forever!
Instead of the Weekend of Racing UltraMidwest 24-hour, I’ll be heading down to North Carolina for the Mid-Atlantic 24-hour. I’ll get to link up with a really good friend, so out of the bad news comes some good.
Thanks again UltraMidwest!
Waking my legs up for an early morning race is similar to waking my sister up when we were kids — violence and aggression are necessary. In much the same way that I would simply throw her on the floor to wake her up, I have to attack a hill to snap my legs out of their unfortunate slumber. At Balltown, like Calvin’s, my legs felt stiff and petulant for the first hour or two and only a real hard effort snapped them to life.
Silence often hides in tailwinds, providing a respite from WHOOSH of air streaming past your ears. This past Saturday at Calvin’s Challenge, the road provided no reprieve from the aural assault of a strong wind. Even when ticking happily along at 30+mph with the tailwind, some flapping, spinning, whistling, or otherwise flailing feature of world inevitably found a way to remind me of the physical assault I’d face the next time I turned left. And so it was for the full 12 hours of the race. Murmurs during the post-race gorging placed the winds somewhere between 16 and 20mph with gusts up to 30mph; they certainly felt it.