Calvin’s Challenge 2013

OCD Warning:  I waited too long to do this ride (race) report, so I probably forget some of the finer details, but I am not sure those details would actually make for better reading for most people ….. so, no bother.

I went to the race in the company of the world famous  internationally recognized Dan Blumenfeld, who was looking to add a 200 mile 12-hour race to his list of accomplishments.  Dan and I had no formal plans to race ‘together’, however it is true that Calvin’s can be a bit less tedious if you are riding with others, especially if you actually know those other riders.   (From past experience, I learned that racing Calvin’s Challenge can be amongst the most boring 12 hours of your life…).

The whistle blew at 7:30 AM as scheduled for the 12-hour racers, and we were off.  I lost sight of Dan in the first 30 seconds and thought, ‘damn, that’s not great…” and went off in lukewarm pursuit.  But, really, already the pace was pretty hot and the one central peletonial mass was breaking up spectacularly, with fair amounts of daylight forming between groups.  Bridging up to Dan took a couple minutes of excessive effort, and for the first time I realized I was already riding too hard….like the overeager idiot that I am.  Then, no sooner than I was on Dan’s wheel, without warning, he decided to bridge up to the next group and accelerated way from the group we were in.  Crap.  So, I took a minute or two to recover and decided to track him down again.  This time, it took a solid 20 minutes for me to bridge the gap.  I was  looking at my power meter and was seeing numbers I knew were too high.

(Oh, about that… thing that was a new experience for me during this year’s race was the use a power meter.  I was using it in the hopes of achieving the most effective pacing, and for the meter to provide additional discipline along those lines.  I’ll jump ahead to that short story:  it helped, and it didn’t help, depending on how one looks at things….)

So, when I finally got to yell at Dan for dropping me again, I was really feeling pretty bad.  And at this point, we were only 30-35 minutes into the race.  It was going to be a long day.

In any case the 20-strong group we were in was moving along pretty well.  Despite the fact that we were riding into very strong headwinds  (14 mph sustained with 26 mph gusts; coming out of the south…) we were grooving along in the 18-20 mph range.  Two tandems were doing the bulk of the work, and Dan and I were chilling at the back (we were not sure we wanted to introduce a bunch of folks heretofore not exposed to recumbents in a race pack setting).

After about 27 miles, the course headed northbound again, and we were feeling that wonderful tailwind reward.  The strength of the group combined with that killer tailwind meant we were crusing along in the 26-28 mph range, at modest effort.  Fun fun fun.  Even though our efforts weren’t too bad, riding at the back of a fairly disorganized group was starting to take it’s toll in order to remain on the wheels.  There was a little too much yo-yoing – I realized this was not a bunch of seasoned mass-start racers used to pack dyamics.  And in the crosswind sections, and we found ourselves squeezed out of the echelon on more than one occasion.

At one point, I got so frustrated I decided to just let the group go and dropped off the back. Apparently Dan was feeling the same way and he bagged this group around the same time.

Around this time, about 2 hours into the race, I recall looking at my average wattage and it was 179 watts.  Too much!  Agh, well I knew the truth even before then.  How bad I was starting to feel told me enough.  Free of any kind of pack riding strategy, I wised up and and keep my effort in a pretty steady, sensible groove for most of the rest of the race.

Things went nicely and Dan and I knocked out three 50.5 mile laps without any serious drama.  Although I have to say I was not having any fun on the 27 mile headwind section that started each big loop.  I was finding myself increasingly NOT mentally in the game and just wishing it was over.

We started our 7-mile loops, and while taking on the headwind in short sections was a whole lot better, it was soooo tempting to just stop every time we went through the start/finish area.  After four 7-mile loops, and 179.5 miles covered, I stopped resisting and decided to bag the race.  I had 90 minutes left and only needed to average a paltry 13.6 mph till thend to get to a benchmark 200 miles, but I said heck with it.

Dan kept plugging away in pursuit of his first 200 mile 12-hour.  I am happy to say he did it with a half hour to spare, at which point he said “Let’s eat”.  And so we did.

You know, most of us never find our own personal limits of what we are capable of.   The most important personal characteristics for participating in ultracycling are all about what’s between your ears.  I don’t hold myself up as any kind of example – I am mentally kinda weak.  I could do more but there have been some times where I said to heck with it instead of suffering through. I achieved a remarkable thing on this day.  I quit without feeling any regret.  This is a hobby – I finally have fully absorbed what it means to not be a slave to it.  To be at peace with these pursuits.  If that doesn’t entirely make sense, I understand.  I struggle to articulate how I feel about it.  Maybe I think too much.

In any event, I was glad I started the race and got as far as I did despite the soul crushing wind.

You know, back to the power metering thing, looking at the plot in Golden Cheetah, my wattage went slowly down and down nearly all the way till the end, but things flattened out for the last couple 7 mile loops.  I was glad to see that.  I finished pretty strong, actually, even if my finish was a bit premature.

My overall average for the 10.5 hours of riding ended up being 140 watts, or 60% of my 235W FTP (functional threshold power; aka one hour maximal power).  And based on how I felt at the end, I am not sure I could have ridden all that much harder.  This 60% level was right about where several different, more experienced voices told me I would end up.  It’s funny (and really cool) how lessons learned about human performance can be translated from one person to another if you’re using the proper metrics!

Of course, in the final analysis, it seems I rode too hard at the beginning partly because of excessive enthusiasm, but mostly because of pack dynamics.  In retrospect, I probably would have done better to ride on my own or find a slower group, because that hot first couple hours sorta messed me up for the rest of the day, or so it seemed.  If I had ridden the first couple hours more conservatively, I may have done a bit better than the 60% overall average.  

As a wise man recently told me:  “each watt above your target costs you more than the same number of watts below your target even if the overall average is about right.”

On the plus side, my fueling went very very well – staying energetic wasn’t an issue at all whatsoever.  I am finding that using a combination of frankenfood (maltodextrin and protein powder) and real food works best for me.  I can forgo the frankenfood on randonees because the pace is lower, but for ultraracing, it sure digests a whole lot better.  Oh, on the real food side of things, I can confirm Oskri coconut bars rock!

I don’t have any pictures of my own to share (hey, I was busy racing…), but the event was being covered by others:

A pic of me about halfway through the 3nd lap ( I think):

And you can view the rest of the pics taken by John Foote at  (and also of HERE!:

Official Results

My Strava entry


About rothrockcyrcle

I am an endurance cyclist always looking for new ways to maximize fun and minimize BS.
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4 Responses to Calvin’s Challenge 2013

  1. reddan says:

    “World famous?”

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