I decided to interview myself. To keep confusion to a minimum I’ll refer to the interviewer as Me, and I’ll be Bill.
Me: Bill, you just completed a 500 mile mountain bike race, but I haven’t heard anything about it other than your write up of the start. Why is that?
Bill: Well, I’ve had a really hard time putting into words what happened. Usually these accounts tend to be travelogues or an epic tale of suffering and failure. This time though, nothing exciting happened.
Me: Ok, well that’s not really any help. How about telling us what is CFITT? We know that CFITT stands for the Cross Florida Individual Time Trial, but tell us in your own words what is CFITT all about. I also understand you brought a video.
Bill: Sure, CFITT is a 250 mile mountain bike race across Florida, Starting in New Smyrna Beach, ending in Inglis Florida on the gulf coast. The trail encompasses every sort of terrain in Florida, from brushy ATV trails, old rail beds, nicely paved rail trails, lime rock and sandy roads, sections of the Florida hiking Trail. It goes through multiple wildlife management and conservation areas, parks, a state forest and the Ocala National Forest. There’s sections mountain bike trails including a very long section on the western side. Did I mention there is sand? There’s several miles of sometimes ankle deep sand near the west coast. It’s a solo self-supported race, which means you have to carry your own gear, and be self-sufficient between towns. There is no pre-arranged support or supplies, and no support vehicles. Racers generally buy food at the few convenience stores along the way, but can use any commercial business they want, bike shops, motels, restaurants. You have to be able to navigate the route accurately and take several photo at checkpoints. Racers also must carry a GPS SPOT tracker to show their location, and for safety.
Me: You did something different this year. A Yo-Yo of the route, what exactly is that??
Bill: A yo-yo is the term that’s used to say that the rider has started at one end of a route, ridden it to the other end, then turned around and rode back the other direction. Double the mileage, which for this route it makes it 500 miles. My friend, and one of my mentors, Jeff Tommasetti had tried it two years ago, but ran into nasty weather and bad conditions and decided to call it quits. At that time, I couldn’t even imagine riding 500 miles. That was the first year I tried CFITT and I crashed and injured my knee while on the ferry bypass route through Palatka, and I couldn’t finish. The first time getting your heart broken is always the worst, and I still feel that one.
Me: On the subject of finishing. Your record for finishes is not very good. Of the 6 races you’ve done prior to this one you’ve only finished two. Would you care to comment on that?
Bill: I’d really rather not. I’ve had a lot of frustration in these bike-packing races. I have kind of made an uneasy peace with it, because when you look objectively at the statistics, the finish rate in many of these self-supported ultra-endurance events is actually pretty low. It’s hard not to take being part of those statistics really personally, when you’re the one having to make that decision to quit a race. It hurts. These races are brutally honest, the race don’t care who you are, what other races you’ve done, how much you trained, how hard you’ve tried. If you can’t physically finish, or you decide that whatever problem you’ve got is insurmountable, then you don’t finish. On the surface it seems very pass or fail, but I’ve had to convince myself that even doing part of one of these courses is an accomplishment.
Me: That sounds like BS to me. How can a DNF (did not finish) ever be an accomplishment?
Bill: Well, maybe it’s simply an attempt to ease the pain it causes, but I’ve discovered I shouldn’t devalue the hard lessons I’ve learned. Failure is not the end, it’s a step, and it’s a turn or a twist that leads to somewhere else. Without failure, there would be no satisfaction, or joy, or sense of accomplishment in success. It’s easy to be successful. I’m not saying it’s doesn’t take hard work hard work be successful, or that success doesn’t deserve recognition, or reward, but successfulness doesn’t necessarily develop character. It doesn’t teach compassion. And it doesn’t require someone to look at themselves honestly, especially when what they see isn’t very pretty. It’s not a matter of lowering the bar, but defining goals to be more than just winning or even just finishing. For myself, if I don’t have some other goals the disappointment will outweigh the rewards and I’ll lose my motivation to do these things in the first place.
Me: That’s a lot for someone who didn’t want to talk about it. So for you there’s a definite psychological and perhaps even spiritual element involved?
Bill: Absolutely, I beat myself again and again on the anvil of these events, hammering away at the metal of my soul and psyche and body, hoping to forge myself into a more fully human shaped object. Hopefully into something of value and usefulness. The experiences I have strip away at the falseness and pretense of my everyday life, leaving the raw core of who I am exposed.
Me: Um… Alrighty then. What about these other goals you mentioned?
Bill: It depends on the race. For this one I had decided my biggest goal was to stay in the present moment, to find my flow in the ride, and to stay happy. I wanted to ride well. I’m not sure how to define that except I know it when it happens. I wanted to really enjoy the race. I feel like I did that while still maintaining a good pace over the distance.
Me: Given your record of not finishing, what made you think you should attempt a 500 mile race? Honestly, it seems pretty stupid. It seems like the regular 250 mile race would be a better option.
Bill: Last year I finished CFITT. I had done my homework, I created a very detailed plan, I executed it with precision. I had trained very hard for it, doing a couple of all day rides each month. 100, 120. 130 140 miles. Building over the months. I set my goal at a 36hr finish. I made it in 35 hours and 41 minutes and that was after having a major mechanical problem 30 miles from the finish. When I got home I poured over my GPS data, already planning for a faster run the next year. I found a few places where I could shave some time off, but it still wouldn’t get me under 30 hours, even if I didn’t sleep. I’m just not very strong or fast, so I decided to add miles as the challenge, not speed. I mostly kept my mouth shut, because I wasn’t sure I’d really be able to do it.
Me: So how did you train for this one?
Bill: I didn’t. This had to be the least prepared I’ve ever been for a race. I had created a training plan back in September with some big distances, but I never got started on it. Life, work, weather, and laziness all conspired against me. Instead, I was doing a whole lot of 2-3 hour trail rides on my singlespeed cyclocross bike. I worked up to pushing a 42×17 gear on our fairly flat trails. Most of the other rides I did were the usual Saturday Roadie rides, either a 35 or 50 mile ride at an 20-21 mph pace, except I would do them on my mountain bike with all my gear loaded on it. About 45lbs
Me: So you ride a loaded mountain bike with fat tires like a road bike? Is that supposed to be impressive?
Bill: No, I’m probably considered the village idiot of our local road rides. I get dropped from the group a whole lot, usually in the last ten miles when the pace just gets too much for me, no one waits for me anymore. I do end up pulling home a few dropped roadies on those rides.
Me: I still don’t believe that in 500 miles you don’t have any stories to tell? So you had no problems?
Bill: Oh no, there were problems. My GPS started turning itself every few minutes. I was afraid it would quit entirely and I wouldn’t be able to finish. I almost ran out of lights while in the Ocala National Forest at about 3am on the way back to the west coast. The saddle I was using was giving me saddle sores, from the bad pressure points. I managed not to let it get to me too much and I seemed to just get lucky. The GPS had me most concerned for probably about 4 hours, till I was certain it was working. It was great that I had run into Seth Jacoby, and we were riding together some. At his suggestion we went off route for dinner, and I was able to figure out how to do a factory default on my GPS without losing the route or my track.
Me: What was the best thing that happened aside from finishing?
Bill: I really just had a good ride, I never seemed too tired, too hungry, or too thirsty, and everything just seemed to be working out right. Honestly it seemed, not easy, but somehow almost effortless. I felt like I was doing the most absolutely most logical natural thing in the world. I stayed really focused on riding and enjoying the scenery, and enjoying the friends and new friends I saw along the way. I didn’t let things get to me too much. Even the things that didn’t seem like good things turned out really well.
Me: Like What?
Bill: Well for one, the loud drunk girl who woke up everyone camped behind the 88 store and bar at 1 am. I was peeved, but it put me back on the trail at 1am, (instead of sleeping till dawn.) Not having trained at all for this race meant I almost always kept my exertion level well within my abilities. I never got exhausted and I seemed to have almost unending energy. I was happy and excited to be doing what I was doing. I really just stayed in the zone. Things just seemed to flow. I enjoyed the trails at Santos, both in the dark and then the second time in the daytime. I didn’t feel any pressure except in making the ferry crossings before they closed for the day and I had planned well enough that that wasn’t a problem. Had I missed them I probably would have just ridden the bypass. My body worked great, no cramping, no injuries, no muscle aches, no real fatigue. Despite my diet of mostly Nestles Chocolate Quick and peanut M&Ms, supplemented with a few convenience store hot dogs and sandwiches, I had no GI issues, and felt well fueled the whole time.
Me: That’s great. But was there anything you would do differently, or wish you could change?
Bill: Change? No nothing, that’s foolish. Everything that happened worked out just like it needed to. There are some things I managed to learn that I will apply in the future.
Well, for me, places like the 88 Store, while an oasis in the wilderness, are comfort traps. I need to get in and out. There’s nothing wrong with some rest and relaxation, and while one of my goals was to have fun and socialize a bit, but at one point I was waiting for a pizza to be delivered. At that point I knew I should be leaving. I tried to leave, but I had gotten so used to comfort that I decided I needed to get in my sleeping bag and be warm and cozy. (But even that worked out ok in the end)
I need to have back some sort of back up navigation, maps, cue sheets, most probably an offline navigation app on my phone, unless I can find another GPS unit cheap enough.
As long as I can get some sort of solid food like a meal every day, (a couple of chili dogs or a sandwich) I can run pretty well on snacks from the convenience store. I was figuring this out during the 440 mile tour I made in July, where it was so hot to I had trouble eating very much.
Clothes make the man, or at least make him comfortable. I wore the strangest combos of clothes trying to stay comfortable. The long sleeve tech tee I brought to sleep in was my favorite item, thrown on over my jersey, instead of arm warmers. For the first time ever I had a spare pair of bike shorts. I used my cheap raincoat more than my jacket, and except for not being quite breathable enough it worked well. I loved having my bivvy and my sleeping bag combo this time, it kept me warm and dry when I needed it, and I have to have a comfortable pad to sleep on. Well worth the weight.
I had so little I didn’t use. A few gels, my mp3 player, a little skull cap. Gloves. I never once wore any gloves and I had zero issues with my hands getting numb or sore.
Me: We’ve really got to wrap this up. Tell me about finish. How was that?
Bill: I didn’t have any sort of plan for the return trip. My only plan was to finish. I was going to get a motel room and spend the night in Inglis recovering after the finish, so I didn’t care what time I got there. I did start picking up some speed in the last 30 miles. I still felt strong. The sand section slowed me down a bit. It was much easier the first time through when my legs were fresh. When I hit the paved canal trail I really laid on the speed, going into full time trail mode, which for me at that point was only about 17-18 mph. I took my final wheel dip picture, then headed back to my truck in the parking lot. The finishes are always sort of anti-climactic and usually no one is around this one was no different. I gave my bike, my boon companion for 500 miles a big hug.
Me: How did you feel afterwards? What did you do to recover?
Bill: I got a motel room, showered, and went to get something to eat. I ended up eating two meals, and then stopped by the store for some snacks and drinks in case I got hungry during the night. I felt pretty good, except for the saddle sores. I realized I had ridden the last 250 miles east to west section in just an hour more than I did last year, but it still didn’t seem like a big deal.
Me: One last question, and keep it short, what are your plans now? What events are you doing this year?
Bill: Well, for starters I decided to race the Huracan route again at the end of January, something I had said I wasn’t doing this year. At the end of February I’ll be hosting my Battle of Brier Creek dirt road ride for the third year running. I’ll be signing up for TNGA (Trans North Georgia race) for a third try in August. I’ll going to try to get some folks to join me this year on the 450 mile Georgia Revolutionary War Trail tour in July. Beyond that I don’t know. I’m also considering doing the Allegheny Mountains Loop 400 in April.