Perseverence Wins for Sandy Earl
“A headwind, or, as I prefer to think of it, an ‘in-your-face tailwind'”
Rider: Sandy Earl, WUCA member #5089
Start date: August 13, 2011 at 0640 August 13, 2011 at 0640
End date: August 13, 2011 at 1840 August 14, 2011 at 0640
Elapsed time: 12 hours, 00 minutes 24 hours, 00 minutes
Mileage: 243.119 mi 442.460 mi
Location: La Conner Road Course near La Conner, Washington
Head Official: David Bradley
Officials: Elise Ross and Duncan Watson
Crew Chief: Bill Spaeth
Crew Members: John Vincent, Scott Youngren, John Youngren, Mark Biedrzycki
Photography by: Duncan Watson and David Bradley

By Sandy Earl

On Chris Ragsdales’s Course

We arrived in La Conner on Friday afternoon. We expected to have to do some digging to find the survey points, but everything was there and clearly marked, leaving nothing to do but sweep the course, and send me out on a test lap while the crew inspected the course for debris. One unanticipated bonus feature on the course was a portable toilet that was (a) open, (b) freshly serviced, and (c) right on the course. Although it may have been faster to pee roadside, I decided that the available facility was a great compromise: it seemed that what traffic was out there was going to be tourists, and I’m likely not the scenery they were looking for. We also checked in with the folks at the Queen of the Valley Inn – the bed and breakfast inn at the start/finish. Yep – this is a very civilized course! We had rooms there Saturday night, but for Friday we were fortunate to have a homestay with local ultracyclist Scott Youngren. After checking out the course, we ate dinner, did some shopping, and turned in early. I slept about as well as I normally do the night before a big event.

We got underway at 6:40 AM. We’d been shooting for 6:30, but – a day’s a day, and that last trip to the porta-pot was worth every minute. Early weather was cool (low 50’s), cloudy, and relatively calm. I knew I would have to make very good time in the early going, as we anticipated that the wind would increase during the afternoon. My focus early on was steady effort and rock-solid cornering. The 10.8+ mile course has six corners plus a traffic roundabout. Over the course of 24 hours I would be doing a LOT of cornering, which meant I had far too many opportunities to ride extra distance without credit. The traffic roundabout was a nice feature, actually, even though it slowed me down a few times. The survey map makes it look like you can pick a straight line through it, which you can’t, quite. Making a game out of seeing how fast I could exit that roundabout was a great motivational tool. On a course that was pretty static otherwise, it might have actually have been a benefit to have a challenging section like that.

As I usually do, I got a cramp in my left adductor about 4 hours into the race. We spent a minute sorting that out. It just seems to happen with hard efforts, and this was a hard effort. By that point, the wind was definitely picking up, and I knew that I’d been smart to get well ahead of pace. Although the wind wasn’t raging as much as it can be through the valley, there was enough to make it a factor. The most annoying thing was that it was never consistent from lap to lap. Winds swirl through there quite a bit, affected by the Puget Sound, the foothills, and thermal gradients. One lap I’d attack the northbound leg into a headwind, have a tailwind on the eastbound leg, a mild crosswind down the south leg, and a stiff headwind on the westbound…make the corner braced for more headwind, and find myself mysteriously riding along at 24 mph. The next lap, I’d do the same leg at 18 with a headwind (or, as I prefer to think of it, an “in-your-face tailwind”).

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Bill and John sweeping the course Friday afternoon “my” Honey Bucket! Queen of the Valley Inn

Shortly after the winds came out, the fans came out as well! I was amazed to see Mick and Martha Walsh, Tim Turner, and a bunch of other folks, including a lot of the Seattle International Randonneurs club. Guess what? Having people out there cheering really makes a difference. Coming in toward the start/finish I could see that someone had chalked the pavement. From a recumbent viewpoint, that’s really hard to see on flat ground, so I had to piece it together just a little bit at the time. “We’re…something”. Crap. Missed it. Next lap, I’ll try again! Seventeenth lap, I finally got it: We’re the luckiest people in the world. Thanks, Mick!!! I made it a point to go faster over that spot for the rest of the race.

Early in the second six hours, I got my only flat tire of the day. Despite all the work by the crew to get debris off the pavement, I’d picked up a wire fragment, probably from a car tire. We were on our way quickly, but I spent a couple of laps without the disk wheel while the problem got diagnosed and fixed. We changed back to it at my next pit stop. I’d been working a little harder to maintain the speed without the disk so it was nice to have it back. A couple of times I was called upon to prove that I am, indeed, faster than farm equipment. I would like to think that I rose to that challenge, though I am told that I scared the bejeebers out of my crew with one pass.

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Hang on to your Bejeebers, lads – She’s gonna pass this Behemoth!

The crew was excellent at keeping me on track for nutrition. We went 24 hours without a single missed (or even poor) handoff, which is a testament to how invested everyone was. Race fuel was my usual mish-mash: York Peppermint patties, Boost, Los Bagels fare, stroopwafels, pizza, mashed potatoes, soup, and one stray corn dog. Food logs show that I averaged 250 kcal and 12 oz of fluid per hour. The fluid value is low, but the weather was very moderate and nearly all overcast. Ibuprofen was doing its job keeping my hotfoot in the manageable range. I kept the left shoe loose, and I seldom felt that I was throttling back the effort to manage my foot. The shoe was so loose that I had trouble clipping out – the shoe would eject my foot before the cleat disengaged – but that was far better than letting a tight shoe force me into soft-pedaling.

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Fighting leg Cramps

I was closing in on the 12-hour record when I got a second leg cramp. This time, my right sartorius seized up. Big cramp – end-to-end of the muscle. I really didn’t have the time or inclination to stop, so I continued on. A few minutes of very stern concentration later, I had successfully banished the cramp. This was the first time I’d been successful at riding through a significant cramp on a recumbent; it’s extremely difficult to find positions that stretch a cramping thigh muscle. I guess that’s an accomplishment, though one I’d rather have saved for a training ride.

At the 12-hour mark, David, the head official, counted me down. Our arrangement was that I would squirt water from my water bottle straight down at his command; this would be the location that he would mark for the record distance. It might be conservative by a foot or two, but I was fine with that. Except that my water bottle was full of Coke: somewhere in La Conner, Washington, an ant is smiling right now. I sped up a little bit for the countdown, but I didn’t knock myself out – still 12 hours to go.

As we got closer to nightfall, the winds did die down a bit, which was much appreciated. Laps kept coming around. I’m told that the innkeeper shuttled cookies out to the officials and crew. I saw one deer cross my path. I had an iPod loaded with some pretty good riding music. I was riding steady at night – but overall a little slower than during the day. I was fine with this. I’ve never been a negative split rider under the best of circumstances, and having put the pressure on to hit both the 12 and 24-hour marks had meant that I probably did more work early than I normally would. My “A” goal of 462 miles was clearly out the window, but my “B” goal of 440 was solid. Just stay on the bike. More time. More laps. Caffeine gum to keep me alert. We’ve got two flavors of military-spec caffeinated gum; both taste awful, but that’s okay because they’re doing the job. I’ve affectionately named them “Bitter Red Hot” (cinnamon) and “Disappoint Mint” (mint). Although I couldn’t see my speedometer well at night, I could tell when I was slowing down: “Time for your caffeine treats!” as Mark’s disembodied hand reached out the window.

About twenty-two hours in, the unthinkable happened: I accidentally swallowed a good-sized bolus of air along with some killer-good mashed potatoes. I could actually feel the air bubble travel down the pipes and – I swear – bounce. I could tell right away that it wasn’t a happy event. Mind races:“OK, it feels gross. But it may go away. Keep pedaling. OK, it won’t go away. But you still may not have to puke. OK, pull over….” A couple of moments lost to the heaves, then back on my way, now packing a water bottle full of ginger ale. At this point, I’m a little bummed. I know from experience that it usually takes a couple of hours of hard work at slow pedaling to bring a stomach around – and that’s all the time I’ve got. So the best case is probably that I can keep it moving forward slowly, and hopefully I can speed up toward the end. I don’t need a permanent fix for the stomach – just a truce that we can both live with until 6:40 AM. Riding along. Sipping ginger ale, which I’m carefully swishing around in my mouth to destroy any and all traces of bubbliness. Every so often I tested the system, bring the speed up above 15 mph – nope, not yet, keep that up and you’ll heave again. Drat. We came in to the start-finish at just around 6AM, and as I rolled through I informed the officials that I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t quite complete the next lap, as much as I wanted to. They were prepared either way.

I... Am.. Toast
I… Am… Toast.

It feels like I’m CRAWLING the last lap. But we’re making distance, and distance is what we need. I figured that I need around 7 miles to go over the 440 mile mark, and I know that double-digit speed is pretty much all that’s required. Ride steady. Sip ginger ale. Don’t push. Don’t barf. With 10 minutes to go, I was pretty sure that I’d made it. The rest was gravy. I nudged the speed up a bit. When David started counting down the minutes at 5, I sped up more. On his count, I squirted the pavement again to mark my finishing spot and coasted ahead to the nearest safe pullout, just around the corner. I came closer than I figured I would to finishing the last lap – less than 2 miles out. I was sufficiently spent that it took some time and tactics to remove me from the bike. Once extracted, I spent the next few minutes decorating the hood of the follow vehicle with ginger ale. After the officials marked the finishing spot, we all piled into vehicles and drove back to the inn. After a very short catnap, I eased myself into, and eventually out of, a sunken Jacuzzi tub – no mean feat – and headed into the gathering room. The innkeepers put together an amazing farm breakfast for us; it was so nice to not have to go anywhere, or for that matter even think about what we’d do for breakfast.

Why did I do it? Challenge. I’m a very good 24-hour racer – it’s likely my most competitive race “distance” – and I wanted to see what I could put up. Since there wasn’t a 24-hour womens’ recumbent record on the books, I was assured of a record…but what’s the fun in that? So…I figured that if I could beat the existing 12-hour mark in the first half, I’d be well on my way to a good finish no matter what happened.

As ever, there’s a very long list of folks who contributed to this effort. I owe each and every one of them a debt of gratitude. There were a lot of well-wishers and cheerers in addition to my crew chief and biggest fan. There were the officials and the rest of the crew, who endured the long hours; some of which were very sleep deprived. The Queen of the Valley Inn provided hospitality above and beyond any usual standard. Los Bagels made amazing bagels, spreads, and cookies. I would hasten to add Bent Up Cycles, makers of my Carbent Raven recumbent.

Equipment Used:

  • Wheelbuilder wheel covers (rear)
  • Mavic Cosmic Carbone SL (front)
  • Michelin Pro 3 Race tires (pink!) Tire selection was a factor in my success. The cornering capabilities of this tire are superb. For a course that had nearly 300 corners, that mattered.
  • Nutrition – mixed sources, 6400 kcal
  • Hydration – mixed sources – 278 fl. oz.
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Hasta la proxima raza!!!!