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Before you read my race report for the 2012 Furnace Creek 508 I’d like to walk you through my training season. It’s important to look back at my year and truly evaluate the effort, point out the many lapses, and see where things went wrong. I had more limitations this year than previous years. These limitations or constraints are… LIFE, of course. It gets in the way of all the fun stuff doesn’t it? The reality and challenge of an amateur athlete is how adept he is in the choreography of all the moving parts. And in the end, when you are no longer able to race or train, what were the most important things you did in your life? What will be your legacy? I choose to be remembered as a dedicated father, 100% committed employee and mentor to cyclists.
My journey to this year’s race was the most interesting of all my previous six years. It was beset by injuries, medical issues, job loss, two household moves, and lack of motivation to train. It was by pure stubbornness that I put my toe on the start line of my seventh consecutive Furnace Creek 508 Solo. But in retrospect was it prudent?
I completed the 2011 Furnace Creek 508 at 9:41pm Sunday October 9th with a time of 38:41. My time should have been at least two hours better but I struggled with sleep issues – a recurring theme as you will see. However, I was still happy with my finishing time since training volume was drastically less than previous years.
I then did something I had never done before — I remained off the bike until NOVEMBER 14th. Typically I perform a few short recovery rides approximately three days after finishing the 508. These recovery rides are fewer than 30 miles or two hours and are merely to enhance the healing process without adding a training load. These recovery rides usually take me through the end of October and then I begin training in earnest on November 1 for the following race season.
For me to take six weeks completely off the bike is unheard. My reasoning for the six weeks off the bike was I felt burnt out from training for Ultras since 2003. I hadn’t taken any substantial time off in all those years. In particular, was the relief of having trained for and successfully completed my sixth consecutive solo Furnace Creek 508. I felt content with my achievements over the last few years and even considered retiring from Ultras. But those of you who know me on a personal level know that me retiring from Ultras is a ridiculous notion! But with the constraints on training time I was going to have to learn a new word … MODERATION.
My race season in a nutshell was three century events, one double century and no early season brevets (unsupported century plus events). Training volume was down and my typical training races were off the calendar as I focused on LIFE. Work was all consuming and my son, now seven years old, was attending karate, skating, and playing soccer.
I began my 2012 Training season on November 14th. As you can see below I had a great four week build period.
On week five I had a recovery week. On the following week I had a change in my work schedule. I had a great long ride on week 6, hence the spike. As long as the intensity was low the volume would be good.
You will notice I then got back on my training plan for the next four week build beginning with week seven. By the way, it’s fairly easy to do the first part of my training build since it’s only about six hours for the first week and 16 hours for the last week. The juggling act for me doesn’t really begin until I reach a 20 hour training week.
In the early part of the season I do a four week build because the volume and intensity is fairly low. Hence, I can go four weeks without needing a recovery week. Later in the year, when I’m riding a lot more, I go to three weeks of build and the fourth week is a recovery week.
November 14, 2011 – January 29, 2012
You can tell from 12/26-1/29 I got back on track and did another four week build.
Blue line– CTL — Chronic Training Load – about 6 weeks cumulative stress on your body
Pink Line ATL- Acute Training Load about 2 weeks cumulative stress on your body
Yellow TSB- the balance between stress and rest so you are fit and fresh to perform your best
Above is the Performance Management Chart (PMC) from Training Peaks WKO for the period of 11/14/11 to 1/29/12. Notice the continuous up and to the right trend of the Blue line which means I was providing an increasing training load. The Pink line shows short term affects of my training. The Pink line show more variability because it takes in to account a shorter time frame and the data points are impacted more significantly by a big training day or lack of a training day. You should also notice the Pink dips down as the Yellow creeps up and fills in the valley. By watching the PMC someone could theoretically balance CTL, ATL and TSB to a perfect season…in an ideal world of course 😉 From 11/14/11 to 1/29/12 things look very positive and ideal as I was building my base.
The first of two household moves. I moved from one apartment to another at the end of January and first week of February. As many of you know, moving is a complete upheaval of all your routines including even the simplest of things like your daily hygiene. Moving is one of life’s major stresses. It took a couple of weeks to get settled into a training routine while unpacking, and working 50+ hours a week.
Glendora Mountain Road
On a routine training ride I crashed and most assuredly fractured my thumb. There was a wind advisory (see below) for the day but I ignored it – mistake #1. I wanted to show my friend, Jeff Collins, a great secluded climb in the Glendora mountain range. The wind didn’t bother us on the climb up Glendora Mountain Road. It only added to the difficulty and it was manageable.
On the descent towards Camp Williams, I was cautious because the wind was gusting quite heavily. But after about a mile and a half of the five mile descent I noticed the wind died down. I then relaxed my high state of alertness and let the brakes go and began the free fall down the mountain– mistake #2. I began having fun descending at my typical breakneck speed.
I was enjoying the challenge and the guilty pleasure of dancing with the mountain through it’s many twists when I was hit with a gust of wind as I came around one of the tight corners. I was going 35 mph, in a full lean and in a very precarious position. The wind blew me completely off my line and launched me airborne when I high-sided. My front wheel jack-knifed like a semi-trailer in a 1980’s Chips episode. Sarah, my custom steel Serotta, went flying through the air. Luckily, she landed on the retaining wall without going over and down the mountainside. I slid onto the oncoming traffic lane tumbled and slid until I came to rest against the same retaining wall next to my bike. it appears the retaining wall did it’s job of keeping Sarah and I from falling down the mountain. Mother Nature and I have our confrontations every year. Sometimes I win, or more fittingly, I overcome. Sometimes she wins. Mother Nature got on the scoreboard early in 2012…
Mother Nature 1 George 0
Later in the season we would cross swords again and I would even the score.
Sarah, my custom steel Serotta
I stood up quickly, knowing I was laying in the oncoming traffic lane. My gear was strewn across both lanes and rolling down the slope. I did a quick inspection of myself. Everything seemed okay, except my right thumb which hurt A LOT. I thought well it’s probably just a bad sprain. I then inspected my bike. Everything seemed fine except the shifters were twisted inward and my headset was severely loose. I was riding Shimano Di2. electronic shifting. and even though the bike landed on the retaining wall on it’s driveside, it shifted perfectly.
I straightened out the handlebars and shifters and collected my things. My right thumb was really hurting. I assessed the situation, I was 35 miles from my car, the bike was rideable, I was in a lot of pain, but I really didn’t have anyone one to call so I got back on the bike. I rode with my right hand off the handlebar because every little ripple in the road caused too much pain. I was thankful that I was riding electronic shifting because I just needed a light pressure from any finger of my right hand to shift up or down the cassette.
It wasn’t until I got in my car that I realized how lucky I was that nothing more serious had happened. All it takes is hitting that same retaining wall with my head and the outcome would have been much different.
Unfortunately, working in mom-and-pop businesses like bike shops, medical insurance is not often available. I never got my thumb checked out. For weeks and weeks my thumb, never felt better. I couldn’t even grip and squeeze a water bottle. Even today, I know that I have lost a lot of strength in my right hand.
Right thumb knuckle much larger than my left
In March I caught a cold. I was overworked and not well rested. I tried training but I didn’t feel well enough for a good workout. The cold lingered and lingered and lingered some more. I normally catch a cold after the Furnace Creek 508. But this year I made it through all of October through February without getting sick. All my coworkers had had multiple colds during that same frame. Now here I was in March, arguably the beginning of the racing season, and I had a cold that wouldn’t go away. My apathy to train went hand in hand with my cold for almost 6 weeks.
Here is a journal entry from 3/9
“Double Palomar — not a good day at all. I felt really slow on every climb. suffered through and wanted to turn around but I had to take advantage of the day off.”
Here is a journal entry from 3/15
“Felt like shit and only climbed lower half of Palomar. It was all I had in me. I turned around. I was up late last night. I don’t think I had a proper dinner either.
I did a 4 minute 300 watt interval on Lake Wohlford. It was tough, really tough, shouldn’t feel this hard in March, but I might be able to squeeze out 5 minutes next month.”
My journal is replete with these type of journal entries this year. The only bright spot in March came on the last day of the month. I came in first place at the very windy Hell’s Gate Hundred an event put on my AdventureCORPS. Along with the CORPScamp Death Valley my weekend in Death Valley was magical and epic at the same time. My tussle with Mother Nature was epic as I overcame the 60 mph gusts of winds (race report).
Mother Nature 1 George 1
Official Resuls Here
In spite of Hell’s Gate Hundred victory I was not 100%. My cold had migrated to my sinuses and it made showing up for work a major challenge. Finally a friend of mine suggested that I take a Z pack and eradicate this sickness from my body. I heeded her advice and began taking the Z pack three days before the Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic. I suffered significantly during the event and had my worse showing ever.
2010- 6:14- Full Results Here
2011- 6:54 Full Results Here
2012 – 7:25 Full Results Here
Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic Results 2010
Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic Results 2011
Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic Results 2012
During the 7+ hours of the event my sinuses and chest were cleared of all the gunk that had been residing deep within. My snot rockets were all duds. They failed in the most dramatic way of achieving lift-off and were landing on the sleeves of my jersey instead. When I finished the event I had a yellow caked mass of phlegm up and down both of my sleeves and also in the inner panel of my jersey. The good news was that by Tuesday I felt fantastic. Thanks to my friend’s advice and her persistence to take drugs to help my body combat the squatter who took residence in my body for almost six weeks. By the weekend I was ready to train.
When you are an Ultra cyclist and your longest mileage week in a 12 week period is only 236 miles you know something is wrong.
Finally in May I was healthy and eager to get on my bike. I had many miscues in the early part of the season but there was still time to redeem myself if I got down to business. The Furnace Creek 508 was still four months away. I had a great month and rode 1100 miles. I was satisfied with the volume and there was some intensity thrown in for good measure.
PMC from 11/14/11 to 5/31/12
Notice the HUGE dip in my ATL (Pink line) and the HUGE upturn on my TSB. Notice also my CTL (Blue line) trending back down instead of up and to the right. This means the fitness I had been gaining over the previous months was going away. This is something you DON’T want to see in the middle of your training season. I was sick and did not train. I also developed a significant sleeping disorder and was not able to sleep well. I did the Hell’s Gate Hundred on 3/31 (race report here) in a windstorm and placed first and then tanked at the Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic on 4/21. Those were the highs and lows I experienced in my season.
Unfortunately, I could not hold the momentum I gained in May. As the summer set in the bike shop got really busy and my work hours had a significant impact on my training. My sleeping disorder was getting worse. I rode only 13 days in June. On one of my scheduled century days I broke my seatpost during the first 15 miles of the ride. I subsequently I had to head back to the start standing all way. I was very disappointed to miss a training opportunity on my day off.
On June 23rd I did the Grand Tour Highland Double Century (race report here) on my tandem with Lori. We completed the event in 11:20 which was good enough for third. We actually rode in the last 35 miles with the 1st and 2nd place riders. We had a great day on the bike with good weather.
Had I continued training like I did in May I would have had a completely different season. But things got even worse…
After the June 23 tandem event with Lori I came down with an infection in my groin area. This infection kept me off the bike for another two weeks. I tried couple of different antibiotics. Nothing seemed to be working but eventually the abscess subsided. Work and the infection kept me off the bike from June 23-July 20th. Little did I know that I was dealing with MSRA back in June.
July 2012 was a dark month for me. The month ended on a high note but started off terribly. On July 9 I was let go from my employer. I had worked…no sacrificed so many things in order to make his bike shop succeed in spite of all his poor business decisions. I had done this for almost 3 years. I swam upstream with an owner who I never saw eye to eye with. And we all know what happens to those male salmon who swim upstream. I managed a store in Orange County while my son lived in San Diego County, 70 miles away. Again a sacrifice because I wanted to see the business succeed.
If any of you have ever lost your job through a lay off or being fired I don’t have to tell you what comes next. I fell into a depression. I closed up didn’t talk to anyone and much worse didn’t ride my bike. I rationalized not riding because I would feel guilty being on the bike when I should have been looking for work. I think any medical professional would have diagnosed me as mildly depressed. For three weeks I hid out in my apartment leaving only for one half-hearted job interview. I found I could subsist exclusively on my cache of food. I got very creative with my meals so that I didn’t even leave the apartment for groceries.
I didn’t return phone calls of “friends” who called me nor did I make any outgoing phone calls. In retrospect, I don’t know how something like that can ever happen to someone like me. I am very outgoing. And with no work to get in the way HOW THE HELL DID I STAY OFF THE BIKE FOR THREE WEEKS?
Now I had to make a decision- do I stay in Orange County? Look for work in Orange County? Or do I get the hell out of Dodge and move back to San Diego where my son lives?
The only plus side for Orange County was that during the last five years I had made many acquaintances and business contacts. It should be fairly easy to find temporary work and possibly a permanent position. You will note I didn’t say friends.
On the negative side- I had moved to Orange County soon after completing Race Across America as a 2 person in 2007. I could count on one hand the people I would call friends. “The OC” never felt like home. I really disliked living in Orange County, the people, the traffic and the God awful limited riding options. Of all the places I have lived in this great country of ours, Orange County was the worst of all for bike riding. It is FLAT, URBAN and the most popular hill for training, Newport Coast Drive, is a killing zone for cyclists. There were at least 5 cyclists killed on Newport Coast Drive and connecting streets in the 3 years. Heck there were two that were back to back on the same weekend. Even my good friend Dan Crain was struck by a car on Newport Coast Drive and later died in the hospital. The most important of all negatives was that if I stayed in Orange County I would continue to be 70 miles away from my 7 year-old son.
With all these things in mind I decided to move back to San Diego. Now came the hard part– find work, find a place to live and reestablish a training routine. The good news is that once I made the decision things fell into place rather quickly.
In late July I had the good fortune to meet Jo Allen from Cycling Camps San Diego (CCSD). I offered my services at the camp and Jo and Rob Panzera were gracious enough to invite me as their guests. I rode some of best mountain roads available anywhere on the planet — The Eastern Sierras to include Mammoth while being fully supported! I rode four straight days. I hadn’t done that since May. I wish to thank Jo and Rob from CCSD for their generosity and helping me get back on the bike!
Click here for my posts of my fantastic experience at their camp.
I made the move to San Diego. My second household move in a six month period. I found a new job and a place to live. But with my new living situation my training volume was doomed. Now that I was closer to my son I was able to see him every day and do the things I hadn’t done in years. I was able to take him to school every day prepare his meals, read with him and tuck him into bed every night. My training routine was non-existent and my 2012 Furnace Creek 508 preparation was slipping away. But then I got hit again with another major setback…
Mid August I contracted Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MSRA) its an infection caused by a strain of staph bacteria that’s become resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat ordinary staph infections.
Another type of MRSA infection has occurred in the wider community — among healthy people. This form, community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA), often begins as a painful skin boil. Little did I know back in June I had I had MSRA and now I was dealing with a stronger more resistant staph infection in August. I was in the hospital for 4 days with antibiotics through IV’s and a cocktail of oral antibiotics. The doctor said that I was lucky to come in when I did because we caught the infection before it reached my joints and bones.
PLEASE LOOK AWAY IF YOU ARE SQUEAMISH! THE FOLLOWING IMAGES MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN EITHER.
Notice the big lump on my left leg and my calf
That is a 2 cm deep in my left leg
The big spike of 184 miles on the last week of August was just from one ride. I was fortunate enough to hitch a ride up north with Susan who was driving to Ventura to SAG for her friend Brian who was also training for the 508. Brian had ridden north with a goal of doing an out and back to Santa Barbara. We caught up with Brian in Ventura and decided it was a good time to turn around and head south. After working a 10 hour day I got on the bike at 1:17 AM and rode back to San Diego from Ventura. At the time I had not done any serious training in over three weeks. I had a great night on the bike. I couldn’t believe the power numbers I was sustaining. However, I developed a pain in my left knee around mile 40, and it progressively got worse until the end of the ride another 147 miles later.
I was being an opportunist doing this ride but the knee pain persisted another two weeks which took me into September. I had never had any knee pains in all my years of riding. I hadn’t changed anything recently — same cycling shoes, same pedals, same cleats and same saddle height and same bike! It was somewhat of a mystery to me, but it could be that I just hadn’t been riding. An over-use injury from not not being used and going from 0-187 miles in one ride.
September was much the same as August my happiness became spending time with my son. My endurance training slid to third place in priority just behind my new job. I took over a store that was severely under-stocked with no policies or procedures in place. Where there were policies in place they were not being enforced by anyone, nor were they being voluntarily followed. I was surprised that the business was running as it was. It really did need a lot of hand-holding In my first 30 days I made radical changes to many things. Those first 30 days took me into the third week in September. I was consumed again by my work — different shop same story.
Along with work the major challenge with my schedule was that I was taking my son to school by 8am every day. I then needed to be at work by 915 am. I tried to set up my trainer but couldn’t get motivated to ride in my garage. I admire people that have the disciple to train indoors on their trainer. I consider myself to have a strong mind and strong will but I guess I’m not that focused compared to my Midwest cycling brethren.
In September, I rode two events. One was the Giro di San Diego. The other was the OC Gran Fondo (ride report) . I was honored as the VIP at the OC Gran Fondo and that felt very special. Lori and I did both of these events on the tandem. The Giro di San Diego was really hard, really hot, as it featured the climb up Palomar Mountain, ~12 miles 4200 feet (1280 meters) of gain . OC Gran Fondo was much easier because it was in the flatter Orange County terrain.
The thing is, that by the time September came around I thought to myself, you know, doing any amount of training now might actually be more of a detriment because I won’t have enough time to recover from it. If we use the Performance Management Chart as a guide it graphically represents the amount of stress your body still feels even 6 weeks after a workout. Furthermore, it is common wisdom for endurance athletes to begin a taper before a race. Being physically fit is important but being properly rest and fresh to compete in your event is equally as important or vital if it is your goal race of the year. The Furnace Creek 508 IS my goal race of the year–every year!
Along with proper training — becoming fit, with proper rest, there’s yet another important component essential for high performance — your body weight. This year I saw my weight soar to new heights 😦 It’s not that I was seeking solace in my food, even though I had plenty of reasons, no I was just making the poor choices. For example, when I still lived in Orange County I lived very near one of the best “healthy” Mexican restaurants, Taco Mesa. I enjoyed going to Taco Tuesday there, maybe a bit too much. I took full advantage of the specials and the half priced tacos. There were many other indulgences I gave in to such as Ice cream and French Fries, le pomme frites. These are two of my primary dietary weaknesses. French fries probably aren’t too bad by themselves but I take it to the next level by dipping them in Blue Cheese, or Mayo or whatever else I can find 😉 And ice cream …oh boy a midnight bowl of ice cream is heavenly.
From my prime fighting weight of 150 lbs I steadily amassed an additional 15 extra pounds to my small frame. I weighed 165 lbs by race day at the Furnace Creek 508. That’s the heaviest I’ve been in years. If you don’t think the extra pounds make a difference try this experiment. Next time you are at the gym pick up a 10 pound plate, tie a rope around with a noose and put it around your neck and have it hang down your back. 😉 Ok that might be a bit too dramatic but you see my point.
This picture pretty much sums it up. Look at my gut! I am 165 lbs and not a climbing machine any more.
Every high performance athlete needs to balance out their training with good workouts, good nutrition and REST. For many months now I’ve been battling with a sleeping disorder. I can’t get to sleep at night. If I get to bed early I sometimes fall asleep but then I wake up at three o’clock in the morning wide-awake and can’t go back to sleep. And if I do fall back to sleep it’s five or six am and I have to be up within the hour. I’ve tried Melatonin. I’ve tried some rose hips natural sleeping aid. I’ve tried Ambien. I’ve tried Lunesta. I’ve tried reading. I’ve tried complete darkness and complete silence. But nothing seems to work for more than a day.
This sleeping disorder reared it’s ugly head at the 2012 Furnace Creek 508. In the week preceding the race I was running on very few hours of sleep. On Thursday, arguably the most important night to get a good night’s sleep I barely got four hours. Friday, on the eve of the race, I didn’t sleep well either. I was looking forward to not being at home and being in a hotel without all the demands that my regular life has on me. I took two Ambien at 6 PM and laid down to rest and hopefully sleep. Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep well and so by Saturday night at 1 AM I was done for!
It’s funny how some people sandbag and say they haven’t been training when in fact they’ve been training hard. I wasn’t sandbagging at all when I told people that I hadn’t trained properly for the the Furnace Creek 508. It should now come as no surprise why I had such a poor showing at the 2012 Furnace Creek 508.
So now I ask you was it prudent?
Summary of 2012 training season- mileage and training time