Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Crewing Kelsey during a Bicycling Ultramarathon Cross State Record

For the first time I crewed someone on an ultramarathon adventure. That someone is Kelsey Regan. First you might want to check out her blog post from the event. She way overstates my role in the event, and I am flattered, thank you Kelsey!

First, some background, I sit 15 feet away from a recent NCAA division one 400 meter hurdler. She happened to forward me Kelsey's blog one day because I am known, in part, around the office as the guy that ran all day and all night, more than once. One thing led to another and it's last Friday night and somehow I managed to sign up for a sleep deprived weekend of driving 17 miles an hour, navigating, posting to someone else's Instagram, and enrolling in AirBNB at 9 PM Saturday when we couldn't find a hotel within an hour of the finish point. Quite the adventure...

I'm going to go behind the Instagram posts, each one, and describe in better detail what I was thinking and what was actually happening.
Friday 8:36 PM
When we sorted out how I was going to post to Instagram, I decided I needed to do a test post to make sure it worked. I'm not on Instagram, and would need significant convincing to try. This blog, Twitter, and Facebook is enough for me. I wanted to get a picture of her face up on social media because I knew over the next two days there might not be a good opportunity. Having a picture of a person's face makes that person more relatable.
I need a haircut.
What am I doing?! And I need a haircut. And Jessop is so fast! That's about what I was thinking. 
Saturday 4:15 AM
I'm so tired, and really excited! BTW, here is the GPS of the first 115 miles she rode, she borrowed my Garmin Fenix 2. The first about two and a half hours I was driving, and since Jessop was the official he could not help with just about anything, so for water bottle stops we had to stop and I had to get out to hand her bottles. Plus, I had to drive and navigate, that's why it took two hours to get this one little post up.
7:03 AM
Dear Trek, do you sponsor women ultra cyclists? Maybe you would like to start because one just set a cross state record riding through Waterloo, Wisconsin... riding a Specialized. She just averaged 17.2 miles an hour riding an entry level aluminum road bicycle with bolt on aero bars across the state of Wisconsin, I think that's impressive. Plus, it's the second state record she now holds. If you want to get a hold of her, she is riding the Ride Across Wisconsin, which you are sponsoring this weekend.
7:17 AM
That is what 20 mph looks like. We met up with her mom so I didn't have to drive anymore and could focus on keeping Kelsey hydrated, fed, and on the bike cranking out the miles. At this point she was at crazy fast pace. My honest opinion at the time was that it was going to get rough in the afternoon. I've never done 80 miles in four hours, and I'm a decent endurance athlete. I was afraid she would crash and burn, but I hoped that maybe she was going to have one of those days where everything just clicks. Ultimately, we athletes are chasing a feeling, the feeling of success, of being the best.
9:29 AM
And now she's done 100 miles faster than me and smiling like she just started! It was a little surreal. I was thinking, 'I'm not going to focus on the fact she probably went out too hard, because we have a long long way to go.'
10:29 AM
She just kept moving along. The first very early sign of trouble was the first time she went to the bathroom, it was after five hours. She made a comment with a smile on her face, "That's the longest I've ever gone on a ride without going to the bathroom!" At which point I am thinking, 'it's going to get really rough out there if she is dehydrated at 10 AM on a 93 degree day.' Of course I didn't say anything, except to encourage her to drink more.
11:26 AM
Ok, we hit a snag. The stop at Adams and Friendship turns out she had tunnel vision, trouble seeing, and of course didn't tell us at all. I felt her arm and it was dry, she wasn't sweating! All I said to her was to keep drinking. After we got back in the truck I told her mom and Jessop she was dehydrated, and we began to give her ice bags and spray water on her. I figured, I'm not going to make her stop unless she crashes, so just keep her hydrated, fed and cool. I take my ultra medical philosophy from Dr. Lovy in a speech before the world championships in Italy in April, "Our goal is not your immediate health, it's to keep you out there running." I'm misquoting there, but the point is, you can recover after the 24 hour world championships, but you're going to keep going until the clock stops.
1:16 PM
Fortunately she started to drink more and start to recover a little. However, she definitely slowed down, maybe 14 or 15 miles an hour or so for some time. It was a pretty noticeable change from the early morning hours. She later said she was in survival mode during most of the late morning and afternoon. At the stop in the picture she was sweating again, so I felt much better about how she was doing.
2:27 PM
Ok,  she was recovering, starting to use the bathroom more. She wasn't riding too fast, but she was on the bike nearly all the time and between the ice packs, drinking water and Heed, and spraying water on her, she seemed to be doing well. Well enough I would ask her some questions and she gave respectable answers. Her favorite vegetable is brussels sprouts.
3:23 PM
Half way?! I've been sitting in this truck for 11 hours! Kind of funny, I spent hours talking to her parents and Jessop, and probably not as many hours talking to her over the course of the weekend. It's to be expected I suppose, I just didn't realize it when I volunteered.
3:30 PM
It was funny to open the windows of the truck to hand her something or spray her with water and have the heat roll in. So we start to worry a little that the conditions are too hot, and then she starts smiling again and it's like, okay, I guess she's doing well. She said she couldn't hear so well much of the time, and we did have to repeat things several times. In other words, I would be asking her if she needed anything when we pulled along side, like in this picture, and she wouldn't say anything, but had this smile on her face
5:05 PM
We traded off drivers and her dad took over driving.  She was definitely struggling on the uphills some. Her pedaling cadence slowed down from her normal 110 rpm and she was standing up on hills that at least once had to just be a 1% grade. Leading up to this I wasn't really sure what my role would be, that was part of the curiosity to take part in this. Ultimately, I basically navigated, a not insignificant task, took care of drinks and food for her, sprayed her with water, tried to talk to her some, tried to keep the communication equipment working, and post to Instagram. Add it all together and I spent a lot of time staring at my phone, easily 20% of the trip.
6:29 PM
Finally it cooled down, she started eating more, and her speed picked up a little. Most of her calories were from Perpetuem and Heed. Which actually made me a little nervous how little she was eating, but then again, she's not a big person, and I too prefer to drink most of my calories in an ultra.
8:44 PM (Worcester, Wisconsin!)
She stopped at 8:30 for the bathroom then at 9 again and this time says she's tired... What!? At 9 pm!? Oh boy... I was nervous that she was going to stop and want to sleep in the truck for some time, at which point this becomes a whole different event. Once you stop in something like this, it's hard to get started. So she tried out these caffeine patches.
11:03 PM
It took maybe 30 minutes for the caffeine to kick in and we realized she would be fine, the caffeine worked. I was starting to get tired at this point. Waking up at 2:50 AM and only getting about 5.5 hours of sleep makes for a long day. She was just cranking along at this point, faster than she had been in the afternoon.
Sunday 12:36 AM
A derailer cable?! It's the kind of part failure that would make continuing on that bike difficult. It reduces the bicycle to a two speed using the front chainrings. And then seeing my pedals don't match hers! Rookie mistake Isaiah. Of course all gear is supposed to be tested out before the big event! I have Look pedals, and here appear very similar, but they are about 2 mm longer, and did not fit her shoe cleats. At this point we were so close to the finish we knew we were going to finish, and well under 24 hours.
2:29 AM
A few miles out from the finish I offered to keep going if she wanted to do 400 miles. Fortunately when she reached the finish she did stop, the three of us in the truck were exhausted. We walked down the boat dock behind the casino hotel and helped her up on a ledge to take this picture. Then we had to help her down off of the railing and two people put arms around her to help her back to the car.  We took all of the flashing lights and banners off of the truck and drove over to Ironwood, Michigan to a very nice stay at an AirBNB, arriving at 4:24 AM, Rich's house in Ironwood, I highly recommend it.

We spent all of waking Sunday from about noon until 9 PM driving back across the state. Kind of funny, I don't think we ever took a group picture.

What are some of the lessons I learned doing this? I mean, learning something that might help in my future races was the initial reason I was interested in helping with this.
  • One must stay hydrated! It's a fine line between encouraging yourself to drink more, and forcing yourself to drink more, but dehydration and heat stroke are not great ways to make a good pace.
  • I know a lot more about ultras than I knew I knew. I knew what to look for, like checking her skin for sweat, asking her questions to make sure she was mentally present, and keeping her a little more motivated, hydrated, and cool.
  • Eating and drinking is a very personal thing. Different things work for different people. When I threw up, at the 24 hour world championship in Italy in April it was because I wasn't listening to my body, but what other people were telling me. Similarly, Kelsey, a gluten free, vegan who doesn't drink coffee has a different diet than I do. I focused on encouraging her to eat and drink, and offering her things, like salt pills, but I never "forced" her to consume anything, because doing that can have very negative consequences, as I experienced. It worked, she averaged 17.2 miles an hour for 380 miles.
  • People are generally very supportive of stuff like this, I get asked several times a week about returning to Everest or my next adventure, but when you get to the nitty gritty details of driving 17 mph behind someone for 22 hours, people aren't as interested in stuff like this. It's hard to support an ultra! Thank you Mom and Berea for flying to Italy in April and supporting what I will admit is my most painful race ever! 
  • I like the story. Ultras are a microcosm for an athletic career, and life, there are high points and low points, doubt, tears, smiles and laughter. They take a long time to develop and so give a better perspective on life than a 5k. In other words, you can watch the highlights of the Tour de France or the baseball playoffs, but watching the whole race or every game of the season provides a much richer context to those highlights. Similarly, you just see these Instagram posts, and read some of my thoughts, but you don't have the whole picture because you weren't there to live through some of the painful communication moments, or the nervous anticipation of wondering if Kelsey is drinking enough. I like that there is something simple and tangible, if a 380 mile bicycle ride or 24 hour run can be called either of those, that is so detailed and complex. I already knew I liked the story, having lived through my own adventures, but seeing it from the other side reinforced that I do like the story.

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