May 25, 2015/ Maria Parker
What follows is my description of my Calvin’s challenge ride, originally written for the UMCA. Larry Oslund, friend and customer won the men’s race. His description of his ride follows.
As my husband Jim and I drove through the mountains of West Virginia on our way to Calvin’s Challenge, the Friday before the race, we talked about how fortunate we were to have the time, energy and physical ability to race our recumbent bicycles. Calvin’s Challenge has been on our list of events do for several years. It’s a well-established ultra-race that is comparatively close to us in North Carolina. The race is well organized, well attended and this year was designated as the 12 hour UMCA championship. We looked forward to seeing our ultra-cycling friends, many of whom we’d seen at Sebring in February.
Calvin’s Challenge is known for its unpredictable and often poor weather, so when the forecasters predicted warm temperatures, sunny skies with low winds we hoped for good results. We were both entered in the 12 hour event. Jim, who often works 70 hour weeks, had limited training, so his plan was to do as much as he could and support me and other Cruzbike riders both on and off the course.
The race morning was clear as promised, in the upper 40s at the start and warming to the low 70s. The wind picked up in the afternoon, but it wasn’t the howling 30 mph winds I’d read about in previous years.
The first 2 fifty mile loops went quickly with the recumbent riders and traditional riders staying together in the lead pack and averaging about 23 miles per hour. I rode some ahead, but mostly behind the lead pack, playing catch up on the many turns. By the third 50 mile lap, the pace had slowed and the lead group had gotten a lot smaller, but I was still hanging on to it.
During the fourth 50 mile loop at about 180 miles, I began to have nausea and fell off the lead pack which now consisted of 3 or 4 traditional bike riders and 3 recumbents. I finally rolled into the support area and told the crew, Gary Christopher, Gretchen Gambill and Jim that I was falling apart. They gave me some liquid calories and I started again very slowly. Jim, who had been on and off the bike all day hopped back on and helped get me through the remaining time.
During that first very slow 7 mile lap Jim reported that he thought I was first among the women, and close to setting a new course record for women, but would not be able to do it if I didn’t pick up the pace. By the second 7 mile lap, I was feeling a little better and was able to move a little faster. It was a constant struggle to keep from vomiting but I concentrated on pedaling and reminded myself that the discomfort was mild compared to what those with brain cancer experience.
On the 8th 7 mile lap, the time was up and the course official stopped us at mile marker 6.
The amazing Sandy Earl held the course record at 249 miles. I finished with an (unofficial) 256 miles just barely setting a new mark. This would have been impossible without my fellow recumbent riders, Larry Oslund, Ben Tomblin, Kevin Gambill and Jim Parker. I’m also grateful to the traditional cyclists, that I don’t know, but who were very courteous.
I especially love and appreciate my fellow female cyclists who cycle in support of others, Pascale Larcengee, Patty George, and Cassie Schumacher. It was also an honor to meet the amazing Valerie Litnerski and tough-as-nails Nancy Guth. What an incredible group of women.
Anyone reading this knows that without a crew, you spend precious time getting nutrition and taking care of your bike. Thanks to Gary Christopher and Gretchen Gambill for supporting me with everything I asked for so I could eke out a few extra miles.
Finally, putting on these races is no easy task. I’m grateful to Larry Graham for being so welcoming and to his team and the UMCA for a well-organized, safely run event. I especially love my recumbent trophy.
“I won the event – but I was really lucky too,” I said to Gary (my brilliant one man support crew) after the finish! He replied to me: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. (attributed to Roman Philosopher: Seneca’
My Journey: How close I came to not even going to Calvin’s.
I guess it must really start by explaining my “situation”: I fell very hard on my right should at the 23:25 hour mark at Sebring 24 on Feb 15 and badly injured my right shoulder. 6 weeks ago I had surgery to repair the front and back rotator cuffs and remove some bone spurs. It was extremely painful, especially the first 10 days. I had virtually no sleep during that period. By the time this race started, I had been going to physical therapy for 5 weeks and was slowly but surely getting my flexibility back, but unable to really do any strengthening yet. Since Sebring, I had only ridden on my trainer indoors until 2 weeks ago and then only a couple hours on a track on the weekend to see if I was strong enough to steer the bike. It was not easy nor pain free, but I could do it. I was not sure I could handle 12 hours of riding yet and did not have enough time to really test it.
Then last Sunday, I was doing a planned long hard Century on the track and then taper for Calvin’s, when the worst happened: At mile 45, I flatted in a turn at about 27 mph. My rim hit the asphalt and I followed in hot pursuit. No warning to recover turned into sliding for about 50 feet, and leaving a lot of skin from my left rear end and forearm on the track.
Not passing go, I proceeded directly to the ER and got patched up. (Photo documentation exists, but were I to include them in this article it would be “R” rated!) They treated me like a burn patient providing a daily Silvaderm ointment & new dressings regimen. (Many thanks to my lovely wife and resident RN – as I had to invoke the “for better or for worse” clause.) Needing to heal my bum as fast as possible, riding was out of the question all that last week. Impatience would aggravate it and slow the healing. Thursday night arrived painfully slow, whereon I road about 2 miles around my neighborhood to see if I could pedal without much pain and without totally ripping the dressings off. It was mildly unpleasant but not un-doable and I still had a day and a half to heal up a little more. It was at that time that I made the final decision to go ahead with the trip.
I woke up at 4:45am Friday morning to make the 450 mile drive from Hendersonville, NC to Springfield, Ohio. I packed the car up the day before, so it was 95% ready. Drove to my good friend (and one man support Crew) Gary’s house, picked him up – and we were off. We made good time and arrived around 1:30pm. We hung around the parking lot for 3 hours since they would not let us check in early. Lots of time to see old friends and make new ones!
As I had little to no experience riding in a pace-line – none at all on a recumbent bicycle, the plan was to get there early and meet up with Jim, Maria, and Ben and practice the technique. Eventually we got checked in and then maneuvered our bikes out to the course at around 5:15pm. Joining us was Kevin Gambill also riding a recumbent. We forgave him for not matching our theme (his Cruzbike – is imminent). Actually I have heard he already has one now as I write this– wow that was fast!
Jim kept telling me “Larry, you’ve gotta get closer; you’re a whole bike length behind.” It was hard, very hard for me to get comfortable with that idea. It is difficult to see ahead past the the paceline and at 25+ mph the available reaction time to avert disaster was greatly reduced. Combine that with my lack of trust in my shoulder’s strength, it left me less than relaxed. We kept at it for about 30 minutes, then rode back to the hotel before going our separate ways for the evening. Practice left me doubting if I could ride in a pace-line with any success the next day. I knew though that I could ride a 12 hour solo, so that became plan B. Gary and I went out for a light dinner then back to the room to make final preparations and setup. We finally turned in around 11pm; alarm set for 5:15am.
3:15am and wide awake! Could not find sleep again. Seems to be a recurring theme for me: waking 2 hours before the alarm. Better than over-sleeping by a long shot though.
Much to my dismay, the “special” Duoderm dressing “patch” had totally come off. They should last 5-7 days. Poor Gary! He had to patch me up right before the ride. Thanks a million buddy – that was way above and beyond the normal support duties –into the combat pay grade realm! We made it to the starting place by 6:15. After stretching and a 15 minute warm up on the bike, I lined up at the start with Jim, Maria, Ben, and Kevin.
Larry Graham gave the race instructions and we were off! Jim Maria, and Ben took off like a bullet while I lagged behind to get a feel for everything. Bad idea because everyone in the 50 person lead group started passing me on my left and I was boxed in; and forced to wait for everyone to go by me before I could make a move.
Soon we were flying down the road at 25-30mph, allowing me to rejoin my team in a couple of miles to again ride together. Suddenly everyone started passing me again, and I found myself at the back – again.
The road was full of pot-holes both filled and unfilled, loose asphalt balls all over from recent patch jobs. This poor positioning was the most stressful time for me. Riding near the back of the pack or fighting through it, but still close to other bikers and trying to dodge the pot-holes and dangerous places. I worked my way back up to the front again and around the 15 mile mark we formed a 5-6 man “recumbent” rotating pace-line like we practiced the day before. While it was less mental effort being out front, it made for a more taxing effort.
Jim flatted at mile 35 and Gary back tracked and helped get him going again, but he would not catch us. Sitting out lap two he came back and helped for lap 3. What a team player! We continued to lead the entire peloton around the first 50.5 mile loop finishing the first lap in about 2:10. Not bad, but not a record pace. By not sharing the load with others outside our group we probably hurt our overall time.
As we started the 2nd lap only 25 riders remained with the lead group. It was more of a shared effort this time, and recumbents and DF’s all took time upfront. In reality, up front is where you want to be, far less decelerating and accelerating through all the corners so much. There are a lot of corners on this course I counted 56 sharp turns over the course of the 50.5 mile route, and 10 in the 7 mile loop. In all, 313 for the day, but who’s counting – guess I am! The challenging course left everyone burning lots of matches. Nevertheless, we all finished the second lap together in another 2:10.
As the 3rd lap got going, we found ourselves further reduced to about 15 riders: 10 DF’s and 5 recumbents. The wind had also picked up a little bit upping the difficulty level, so everyone worked together for the most part. Gary had been driving down to the mid-way point and handing me bottles of fuel, but we missed each other on lap 3. Of course, I had drank my planned one bottle for the first 25 miles and much to my dismay my “spare” must have bounced out of my holder during one of my many pot-hole experiences. Left with nothing, not even water for the next 25 miles, or 70 minutes I started to struggle near the end. So Jim, embracing the role of super domestic, graciously offered me some water and that helped me survive the lap. I had to stop after the 3rd loop to get 2 fresh fuel bottles to replenish.
About 2 miles into the 4th loop, the leaders regrouped. It was myself, Maria, Ben, Kevin and 3 DF riders. The wind increased yet again, now in the low double digits. We all worked together for about 20 miles, then around mile 21, I rotated to the front to pull again. Without meaning to, I gapped the field. Once I realized the situation, I did not push it any harder and in about 3-4 minutes, Maria and Ben bridged and joined me off the front. We cranked it up a little and worked together as the 3 DF riders dropped out of site. With about a third remaining on the 4th lap Maria started feeling sick and slowing down. We slowed a little, but eventually we made the decision to push ahead without her. It was very hard to leave her like that, but she’s tougher than all of us put together. She suffered through the lap and where uber Jim then paced her back into the race where she won the high mileage for women on any bike. Congrats Maria!
Shortly after that, the 3 DF riders caught us and we all rode into the check-point together. Kevin developed a cramp turning into the check-point, and did not make it out with the rest of us, unfortunately he never caught us. I had calculated in my head at this time that we would need to average 23.7mph to break the record of 270, which meant it was pretty much out of reach. While that was our initial goal, it did not look like it was going to occur unless a miracle happened.
Coming out of the 4th loop, we had a decision to make; we were going to try another 50.5 or start riding the 7 mile loops. We opted for the 7 mile loops until the end, as they were flatter and offered short durations of head winds. At the beginning of the 1st 7 mile loop the 4 of us remained in the lead pack: Myself, Ben, and 2 DF guys. A couple other DF guys also jumped in to bolster the DF paceline, but we thought they were probably at least a lap behind us. We continued riding together this way and sharing the load for the next 7 -7 mile loops.
About the 10 hour mark that I started feeling sick to my stomach. I had only been taking in Infinit mix up to this point. The longest I had ever cycled on a pure liquid diet of Infinit was 5 ½ hours so this was an experiment in its own right. I suffered through it and probably failed to drink as much as I should have, but still enough to keep going. (Something to remember for the next 12 hour – a little variety might be nice.) During this stretch, the DF’s would get a little lead and we would reel them back, sometimes the other way around. After the check-point before the first right turn we would courteously bunch up.
Right after the beginning of the 8th lap I thought I would test my opportunity to break away from the group. There is a nice downhill run right before the first really sharp right turn (about 115 degree turn), so I gave it a little extra juice and flew by everybody and made the turn as quick as possible, which was followed almost immediately by a sharp left turn. I flew through both turns and down the roughest part of the road and kept going hard. After about 2+ miles and another sharp right turn I could see way back that another recumbent had gapped the group and was closing on me. I was now riding straight into the headwind and the uphill segment. I thought it was Ben so I slowed up my pace just a little bit. It was not Ben, but the other recumbent rider that had joined our group. He sat on my tail until the steep climb between mile 3 & 4. I tore up the climb with about everything I could give it, and he passed me like he was shot out of a rocket. I quickly caught him and we continued the climb through the sharp left and then immediate sharp right uphill turns. This led to short downhill portion that emptied onto the more slightly busy Old Clifton Rd. The #4 mile marker was there and we road together until just after the #6 mile marker and the right turn onto E. Possum Rd. Now with the wind at our backs, I picked up the pace and shook him.
I started the 9th lap with only 16 minutes left, turned it up another notch and flew down Selma Road at over 30, took the 115 degree right at 18+ and kept going as hard as I could. At every turn I tried to look back and see if I could see anybody gaining on me, but the road was so full of other riders all on different laps and speeds that it was hard to tell if anyone was close to me or not. I just kept pushing it as hard as I could. As I turned right onto Old Clifton Road for the final time I accelerated quickly to over 26, flying by mile marker #4, when suddenly my right quad started to cramp bad. It was all I could do not to fall off the bike. I could not even unclip my foot as that motion made it worse. Losing speed quickly with 5 minutes and 2 miles to go I was COASTING!
I finally unclipped, started pedaling with my right leg only, trying to massage my left one. People I had just flown by where passing me now and soon my closest completion would too. I one pedaled in the 160-180watt range and was managing to go about 18. I made it to mile marker #5 and had just less than 3 minutes to make it to marker #6. 18mph would not do it. The marshal at the #6 mile marker urged me on yelling “Go Go, you can make it to mile marker #6 –Go,” so I tested my thigh, clipped in, no cramping (thank you Lord!)– I kept going a little harder and a little harder, not even remembering where mile maker #6 was. I increased my speed up and past 27 before I passed #6 with about 40 seconds to spare. I can breathe freely now.
They yelled at me to stop, but I was going too fast and had to take the corner onto E. Possum Road. I stopped, but when I put my feet down and tried to stand up my right thigh cramped badly now. Some friendly soul came over and held the bike for me preventing an inglorious Artie Johnson. The marshal ran all the way over to me and took my computer sticker off my helmet, recording that I made it to mile marker #6. Released by him to my own devices, I road about 3 more miles easy spinning to trying and get my leg cramps calmed down. Gary had to call me on the phone and say – “Hey – why did you just pass the school check point, the race is over?” He watches out for me in every regard never missing a thing!
At that point in time I did not know exactly how many miles I would be credited for, but my brain was working overtime to tell me it should be 264. When I made it back to the school both legs where fine once again, yeah, but my shoulder really hurt. I could not lift my hand above my shoulder after the ride. I immediately put my arm in my sling and let my faithful one-man support crew load my bike and other paraphernalia for me. Gary is the man! One guy supported 4 Cruzbike riders for 12 hours. He should get an award for that!
We were directed to go to the gym for the results and awards. At about 8:15 they posted the results. I found my name one row from the bottom of the list with 114 miles. My heart sank – surely I did more than that! I knew I did, but would they believe it? I looked at the top of the board. It had 3 names at 263 miles. OK, what gives! My name had a star by it, so I tracked down the guy with the clipboard and told him that I know I did more than 114miles. He said he knew something was wrong and I had to tell him how many laps of each loop I did. Luckily I also had my Garmin to back me up. There were about a dozen other people that had a similar “timing chip error”. Then he left and was gone a very long time since he had to recreate and validate each of the timing errors. Right up to the end I did not know what they had determined my mileage to be until they called my name for my 55-50 age group medal at 264 miles. I got my medal for my age group and then about an hour later was awarded the beautiful custom made trophy for 2015 Calvin’s Men’s High Mileage. I was also awarded the UMCA jersey as the 12 hour National Champion by President Alvin Maxwell. What a surprise and an honor! That’s me rubbing shoulders with “world famous” Maria Parker!
As I said in the beginning: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. I was prepared; I took my opportunity at the right time. I was lucky, but I was also not “unlucky”. I didn’t crash or flat a dozen times when I might have. I think it takes both: Being prepared and also not being unlucky. And least I forget I was surrounded by great team of Cruzbikes and other recumbent riders. Add to that the best support group I could have asked for – my good friend and fellow Cruzbike comrade -Gary!
Every ride is a story and that is mine – Thanks for reading it.
Many kudos to Larry and Christine Graham and all the volunteers that made 2015 Calvin’s a huge success. Thanks also to: my Company, Normac Inc. who gave me time off to come to this race. To Jim and Maria of Cruzbike for their support both on and off their bikes, Jim Verheul who started coaching me in April, all my friends in the Cruzbike community for all their encouragement and support, my very good friend Gary for supporting me again, Gretchen Gambill (Kevin’s wife) also for pitching in and helping everyone too, the IRTG (you know who you are), my family and church friends who were praying for my injury recovery and safety, and of course my lovely wife Gayle for continuing to support my passion (although she calls it my obsession). Finally all glory and honor to my Lord and Savior Jesus for creating such a wonderful world for us to cycle in and be a part of and the free will to handle the potholes in our own way.
I dedicate this, my first win, to my Grandmother: Mary Ann Oslund. She turns 101 this May 14th. Happy Birthday Grandma Oz! I hope when I am that age Calvin’s will have a 100-105 age group for me to ride in!
The Icing on the Cake – i.e “Could it get any better”! – Oh Yes!
My good friend, human rocket, and one of the fastest men in America, Mike Mowett also brought and rode his M1 around. Probably everyone on the 7 mile loop had the privilege of being blown by him on this incredible machine at about 30mph. I was lucky enough to ride it around the parking lot the next morning before my trek home to NC!
All I can say is WOW! Hey mom – can I get one of those, everyone but me has one – yeah right!