Du Draper Twice: Race Report

Race report, short version: Day one, explosive, day two, implosive.

E-mails bounced around in January. There's this really cool duathlon in Oklahoma City in July. Day one is on-road; day two is off-road. Wanna go?

The Major MudBunny had raced the off-road duathlon and was in for both days, as was Zoolander. We had it in our sights for months. Through the spring and summer we scavenged whatever time we could in 95+ temperatures to run, bike, or put together bricks. We discussed race recovery and nutrition and the Major's course knowledge.

Du Draper Twice got me on a mountain bike this year. Just do the on-road? Pfffft. Why race one day when you can race two? So I have Draper to thank for the gorgeous savage bruises on my legs since March. Also for lots of endorphins.

Du Draper Twice would be a huge, ramped-up effort and would require a leap in my fitness. Sprint-distance duathlon is physically much harder than sprint-distance triathlon. Two days of hard racing demands an ability to recover that I did not possess when I signed up for this gig. And this would be mountain bike ride number ten out of all the MTB rides of my life.

But by race weekend, after miles of trail runs, a couple dozen falls from the mountain bike, and more than a few long hilly road rides, I was ready.

Pre-Race: The Week in OKC

I stayed with friends who did everything they could to help me get ready. Opened their house and kitchen to me, whatever I needed. Gave me a private bath and a cool, dark, quiet room to get 9 hours of sleep on 600-thread-count sheets for three days. Got me a last-minute appointment with a fantastic massage therapist. No pressure, come and go as I please, store bikes in the garage.

Thursday's falls on the tacky sand of the Draper green trail didn't do much for my nerves. (They painted, at last, a masterful bruise on my right thigh to match the one on the left. I usually fall left.) But the ability to visualize the trail obliterated the memory of the falls. I lay in the dark, in the 600 thread count, and imagined my body moving through the trail, fast and smooth, the bike easy under me and power moving through the pedals.

By the time I met Zoolander and the Major in downtown Oklahoma City on Friday, things that perpetually buzz in my brain had gone dead silent. Relaxed. Waiting. I drank more beer at the Bricktown Brewery than I have ever drunk the night before a race. This was easy to do since the bar was set at one beer, and I really like both the Bison and the Red Brick.

Race Day One: On-Road

None of us slept well. The bars started spewing patrons into the street around midnight. Screaming, car engines revving, booming bass in the streets — it finally got quiet around 4 AM. I lay in bed practicing Savasana — corpse pose — breathing deeply, eyes gently closed, understanding that the noise might rob me of sleep, but getting pissed off would rob me of rest. My week's bankroll of dead-to-the-world in 600 thread count would tide me over.

We drove out in thick, hot July fog. It would hang over transition and the first run, an out and back. We lined up for the shotgun start. It's Oklahoma. They fired a shotgun over us.

I tried to hold a little something back on the first run; the course was mostly flat with some discernable grades and a final run down a gravel slope. I didn't look at position or who was around me except for one age grouper, a blonde woman in a white cotton t-shirt, who creeped steadily and slowly further away. I concentrated on cadence, form, and wondered why I was passing the Major. Was I headed out too fast? I'd looked at my watch but hadn't started it.

Made the turn, the heat and humidity making me feel at home, like summer days from when I was a kid in the Cookson Hills river country of northeastern Oklahoma. Easy stride, feet picking up behind me. Didn't even feel like work. I really just wanted to run to my bike. I crossed the Major. "Cramping," she said. Yikes.

For the first time, I pushed myself on the bike to the point where I wasn't sure I could maintain the pace, then pushed myself to maintain and surpass the pace, feeling the slow burn building in legs and heart pumping. Up and down the rolling hills, up and down the gears, passing men who looked strong, accelerating past riders on hills and then maintaining the new speed. I even passed a semi that had been allowed onto the course and was creeping along with two feet of pavement on the right. Pushing, pushing. Got shellacked by a grandly chunky 39-year-old woman in a plain pink tank top on a beaten-up aluminum frame and toe clips. We traded places twice before she finally stopped playing around and simply rode away. Like a tiger shark swimming away from a cheddar goldfish. As the cheddar goldfish, this was annoying, but tiger sharks are beautiful to watch regardless.

The second run felt faster than the first but was slower. My form was warping in the humidity. In the race pics, I look like I'm race walking. An age grouper passed me and ripped steadily away into the distance. Oh well. I had something left after the gravel, I guess, because when I picked up my kick, I heard Zoolander screaming at me from the sideline to run run run and without looking knew I was being caught — the race's lone 15-year-old and I threw ourselves into a wild side by side sprint like grade school kids. Danielle took me by a tenth of a second.

I put some ice down my shirt and drank a lot of water and waited for the Major.

Who had more than cramped. Who was bona fide sick. Who had leaned off her bike twice to puke during the race. And had kept going to finish. If you haven't picked up on it by now, the Major is an unqualified badass.

We waited for awards. Zoolander and the Major both took third... I was awarded third but later results show 4th out of 6th, 55 seconds out of 3rd place. (Not sure what happened there. I am KEEPING the collapsible frisbee award.) I posted a 50:23 bike split for the 15 miles, which is faster than I had ever averaged on a bike, regardless of terrain, and was just as depleted and exhausted as after any other sprint distance race, and would do it again in less than twenty-four hours.

Time to recover. Beer. Food. Unsuccessful attempt at napping. Ice -- a garbage bag filled from the ice machine under my calves and another over the quads. Hot tub. I fell asleep poolside with a towel draped on me and my head on a table like a little kid in kindergarten nap time. Please put your heads on your desks and rest quietly. When I woke up, I joined the Major for a gentle spin on the hotel's exercise bikes.

By dinnertime, because it was time to make it happen, the next day's race energy started gathering inside the same way I'd watched gigantic blue thunderheads gather all week across the OKC metro area.

Race Day Two: Off-Road

Ice is a miracle. My legs were loose and recovered; I'd gotten some sleep since the hotel had switched me to a room overlooking the empty Bricktown ballpark. And I was excited to ride the trail again, falls notwithstanding. I'd spent three days visualizing fast and smooth, and now that was my reality. Sometimes on the mountain bike I get scared going faster than I would if I were thinking, and I have to stop and douse my hot nerves. But on day 2 my nerves were pleasantly cold and I felt loose and balanced for the run and ride.

A local MTBer who wasn't racing told me a good route to take for a warm-up run, with an unmarked bailout that would short-cut between the green trail and the powerline section of the course. I saw Zoolander and the Major returning from their warm-up ride. It was 7:05, and the race was scheduled to start at 7:30. Good half-mile warmup, time to head back.

Um. Where's the bailout? Is this it? Wait, this isn't right. Do I go through here? I didn't see this before. It's 7:15 and crap, I can hear the pre-race meeting, with Bret Sholar's friendly voice announcing the rules. Oh dear God. Am I gonna miss the race? No! It's right down that ridge through the scrub oaks, but how do I get there? Just then I came to the three-mile sign on the four-mile green loop. My fastest mile on trail to date was 10:15. I ran from the three mile marker to the start line in 8:45, flying through transition just after the horn sounded.

It was the best mile I have ever run and one of the most satisfying. Form as perfect as it could be. Breathing easily. Flying. Volunteers laughing and yelling, "Start is there! Go! Start over there!"

The pack pulled away from me. A lone runner and I jogged it out and I tried to catch my breath. My Harlot bike shorts and jersey were sopping wet. Up ahead I saw the lead runners twisting on the trail and felt a little less lonesome. I heard Zoolander laughing and talking. Seriously? That's awesome. If I weren't so busted from "mile one," I would so shout out at him to shut up and run. And there's the Major... uh-oh... about a minute ahead of me. I was already a little addled but knew this wasn't good.

The course would be a fun one to PR. Mostly flat and twisting with a few rooty sections and some uphill climbing; a wooden bridge with wooden up and down ramps. I could bike this, I thought. After Orange back home, I could bike this. It made me even more comfortable with the idea of getting on the easier green trail in a mere thirty minutes. But there would be no PR today. I was in big trouble. I was dehydrating. Lost on the trail, I hadn't eaten my pre-race yummies or drunk the half bottle of water that was sitting, waiting for me.

And because I'd missed the pre-race meeting, I didn't know that the run course was actually 3.5 miles long instead of the standard 3.1. So before I got on the bike I had run five miles... one of those at a lunatic pace. I stopped to walk. A lot. The race slipped farther and farther away into the trees.

From transition, I heard the recording of a bugled hunting call. Hounds away! The first bike must have gone onto the trail. After forty-five minutes of running and downing a full bottle of water from the aid station, I finally made it into transition, where the Major told me she'd had to pull. She was sick. Shaking, dizzy, ready to puke again. And holding together like a pro, level-headed. We talked for a minute while I slurped down some shot bloks. "I'll cheerlead for you two," she says. She's more of a badass than ever saying this. Because: "It was my big race of the year," she says. The Major had been planning to go for the win. And she had more than a good shot.

I wanted to hug her but (a) was soaked to the skin with sweat, (b) was in transition and supposed to be racing actually, and (c) she's sick. We exchange half-miserable, half-accepting looks and I hop on the bike and ride out, making room for a race leader who blasted by finishing his first of three, four-mile loops.

The ride is going well. The first section of the course climbs; my legs are tired and starting to hurt, but they can do this three times. I am riding fast, faster than I have ridden since the God's Country race. I'm racing. I don't stop to look. I just point my eyes at the trail ahead and ride as fast as I think I can manage for twelve miles. I corner well; I power through the loose sand from previous fall #1, at the fall #2 horseshoe I come off the pedal to avoid smacking a tree. When I land on the saddle, WHA! ERG! it bumps nose up between my legs. I dismount. Looks fine. Feels fine. Get back on. But it's not fine.

The bolt is coming loose. The saddle shimmies up and down, front to back. Zoolander rides up, greets me, tells me I'm fine where I am so I don't freak out about him needing to get around me. How you doing? he asks on his way past. We share a quick confidence that we are both basically feeling like poached eggs at this point. My saddle's messed up, I say. Oh, that sucks, he says. And whips past and off into the trees. I watch his line as he goes. Cool.

I dismount twice more to try to tighten the bolt. Riders passing all ask if I'm ok and give me a fly-by commiseration over my mechanical. It's impossible. I ride the last two miles of the loop slightly off the saddle, coming down only when I absolutely have to, and holding it between my upper thighs so it doesn't fly out of its rattling brackets and off the seat post entirely. At the powerline, a fast runner coming toward me says simply, "Mechanics at the bottom of the hill." This gives me a second wind.

Mechanic? I ask coasting into transition. Over there. What's the trouble? they yell. Saddle's loose! I yell back, and the mechanics grab their tools. You're doing great, they say, there's plenty of people behind you. That was my first lap, I say. Your first? Oh. Uh. OK. Well, get out there and race! Go! They were very cute and had great smiles and deep Oklahoma voices. I rode even faster into the second lap.

I think I might love racing with mountain bikers. Every person passing calls out their pass, then confirms their pass, then thanks me for the pass. Even the ones who are going sick fast. We're all out there together.

I rode fast and got to the twisty bit in a hurry. I cooked corners, pulled out of a skid, popped over roots and didn't stop pedaling for anything. Go go go go go go go. A super-fast guy passed me, taking a low and eroded line. I took the high and smooth side of the trail. One line off that side formed a little ramp down. Another line went off a drop, by a tree. I was watching the rider, missed the ramp, and OH SHIT I'm headed off the drop. Had no idea what I was doing, hoped my instincts were survival instincts, and sped up. I put my weight up, slightly back, and pressed into the pedals, pushed into them pedaling hard, pulled on the bars, and made it off the drop... but at the last second got nervy about passing the tree and gave a little twitch. Dropping and twitching: not so good. Both wheels took a big leaning bounce, the back wheel bit into some sand, I tried to shift my weight to stay up, trying to find traction and pedal, hands light on grips, and the bike sailed sideways under me, skidding and bouncing, slamming into the dirt gutter wall with me attached, the fork spinning completely around, my left foot clipped and trapped under the bike, toes pointed backward. It was a loud crash.

The guy who had passed me was far enough up in the woods that he looked the size of a GI Joe doll but he heard the crash and stopped and called back to make sure I was OK. I'm fine! I yell. Go!

I gingerly disentangled myself, trying not to break my foot in the process of lifting the bike off it. I was plastered red orange; my left cleat was caked with wet orange slop. My Harlot shorts, which ride a little low in the back anyway, were so heavy with sweat that they were falling off. I was fine. There would be new bruises, but I was ready to ride. And when I righted the bike, the bars were pointed at a twenty degree angle to the wheel. Dammit! I ran the bike to the right side of the trail and started using hands, arms, feet, whatever leverage I could find to get my bars twisted forward. I managed to move them enough so that when I rode my hands were only slightly angled to the wheel. Fine. As long as the wheel is pointed straight down the trail, nothing else matters. Brakes? Working. Tires? Fine. Something squeaking, not sounding right, but I'm not stopping.

It's a grudge match at this point. I don't care if it takes me until noon, I'm going to finish this race. I stop to clear my cleat of mud. I stop to pull up my pants and finally give up and ride with them plumber-cracking, occasionally reaching back for whatever modesty tug I can manage. Dammit! I don't even have time for the "n" in "dammit!" My legs have another loop and a run in them! It will be hard and painful but it is there!

I work the bike and myself around the trail, my lower back stiffening, the bike squealing. I feel like a circus bear on a unicycle. I get to the bunny hops on the powerline. And suddenly, not having drunk enough water from the camelbak, I start to shake. I take the turn shaky and fall over. No one is around. As I hit the ground, tears jump into my eyes and I let out an involuntary sob. Then I picture myself, a crazy 43 year old novice, half-stripped bike shorts dripping, orange dirt smeared from collarbone to ankle, sprawled motionless with bike sidelong across the trail, bawling to the Oklahoma sky. This strikes my funny bone pretty hard. I jump up, take a big slug of water, and ride the bike in. I'm done. The volunteers don't want me to pull. But I'm messed up. The bike is messed up. I don't want to ride another lap like that. My race is done.

I see the Major with Zoolander, who has finished a grueling, hellish, hallucenogic-level of punishment, pushing through levels of pain I will only have to imagine until next year. I head for the medics, who "x-ray" my lower back with their fingers and give me ice packs. I walk slow and stiff. I thrash back and forth between thinking I've done the right thing pulling the race and thinking I'm a big quitter who should have stayed in no matter what. I imagine what it would have been like to finish. This kind of imagination is a waste of time. I think about me spreadeagled with bike across the trail, shaking with thirst, looking up at the clouds, pants falling off. Reality is pretty damn funny.

If I could have managed to have finished, the one thing I am sure of is that it would have been an epic comedy. Next time, that may keep me going quite a bit longer. Oh my god, given my natural disinclination to be embarrassed, this could have ventured into truly unprecedented, deeply legendary ridiculousness.

Whatever. Done is done. I learned something about my quitting threshold and I will get to test it next time I have to make that decision. The Major knows something about making that hard decision, and she says you have to look at the bigger picture.

My bike looks like my spine feels. The back wheel won't spin, and the bars are glancing slyly to the right of the front wheel. But my back felt better after just a couple of hours of moving around, stretching, ice, and hot shower. Today it feels fine (and will feel even better after another massage later this week). The bruises are just now showing up.

Both days of the race were incredible. The course was clean and interesting and tough, the race director was friendly and funny and down-home and on top of his game; the volunteers knew what they were doing and were out there working hard. Oklahoma hospitality at its laid-back, comfortable, get-er-done best. The awards were cool too. In addition to the age-groupers' collapsible frisbees, overall winners got thick brown beach towels, and everyone who finished the race got a barbecue apron, complete with tools, emblazoned with the slogan, "Du Draper Twice: I do it both ways."

Zoolander podiumed again. The three of us took off for shower and checkout and one last lunch and beer at Tapwerks in Bricktown.

Oh! Hey! Chris, the cool, friendly ultra runner I'd met in the parking lot on my Thursday ride? Despite a fully clipped-in race-pace endo, he'd taken the overall win. Yeah. He's a trail running rock star. Get up here to KC, Chris, and let's go hang out on a trail!

Y'know, the week before a race, people always ask: "Are you ready?" I'm never sure if they are asking whether I am ready to finish, ready to do well, or what they mean. I wasn't anywhere near ready for this race when I signed up. I still can't say I was ready to finish.

But by race day, I was ready to line up. Moving from impossibility to unlikelihood to readiness is like crossing a finish line to get to a start line.

Getting to this start line was something special all by itself. Going as far as I did felt great, and watching so many fantastic racers pull everything out to finish was simply amazing... huge effort, huge payoff, great race. I have a big smile on my face today.

And plan full well to let Draper wipe it right off for about 4.5 hours next year.