November 21, 2015/ Guest
In this guest post, Rob DeCou shares his Race Report from the 6-12-24-Hour World Championships in Borrego Springs, California. The 24-hour race began at 6 p.m. on Friday November 13, 2016. Rob placed 16th overall after only a few months riding his Cruzbike Vendetta V20. Rob is taking on Solo Race Across America 2016 on the V20, representing Cruzbike and racing to beat brain cancer for 3000 Miles to a Cure.
This past weekend at Borrego Springs went very well for me on my new Cruzbike Vendetta. I switched from my ultra-trail running schedule to cycling in July and for the past four months, have been slowly getting myself ready for Borrego Springs 6-12-24-Hour World Championships. This race was the launching pad for higher mileage training on my way to the Race Across America next June. I traveled down Friday morning with my good friends Waverly, Tara, and Sean. Maria and Lucia Parker also arrived Friday afternoon and were there to support and encourage. My wife Kristin and two close friends Marilynn and Nick arrived later Friday evening after work.
We arrived in Borrego Springs on Friday at 12:00 pm and took time to get situated in the AirBNB before heading back to the pit area for racer check-in and bike inspection. The afternoon was joyful. It was exciting to see so many racers from other countries, meet new friends and get to know some of the other incredible athletes that in just a few short hours were going to get onto the course.
The time quickly passed and, before we knew it, it was time to get ready to ride. I like to spend as long as possible in casual clothes before a race, as my old football coach and marathon training partner Dave Uranich knows all too well. After the race instruction meeting at around 5:30 I headed back to our vehicle and quickly changed into my cycling gear. I took some time to pray with my support team for discipline, safety, and humility during the course and to ride a good race. Then we headed to the start line to get ready for Wave 2 of 4 which was where we were slotted. I called up my wife Kristin who was on her way, my Mom Lila, and my niece Madisyn who is nine years old and wired so similarly to me. I cherish sharing these moments in my life with her (the silence before the storm) as I like to refer to it.
High fives celebrating finding a crack pipe for the a disc wheel Maria brought for Rob to run for the race.
Pre race meeting, the sun already below the horizon.
At 6:01pm exactly I was off. My racing plan for this particular event isn’t the best strategy that I’ve come up with, but it would be fun. For my first century, the plan was to ride a personal record for the mileage and completing the section in under 5 hours at the 100-mile mark. The first two laps started out magnificently. I was riding a comfortable consistent pace and came through the pits right on schedule to hit my goal. During the first lap, I didn’t have any distractions and just focused on getting to know the course, being grateful to be in the physical shape and ability to race, and excited to be counted among such incredible athletes and human beings that joined me in this adventure. As many ultra- athletes know, on a major adventure there is “plan A” which is your unbreakable game plan. Things couldn’t possibly go wrong and you’ve got everything figured out. Then there is reality and how things actually unfold…
Reality hit me on lap number 3 when shortly after leaving the pit I was riding down the path and suddenly was in almost complete darkness. My new front headlight, which I had anticipated would last at least 9 hours, apparently had a battery life of just under 2 hours. I quickly made my way safely to the side of the road and called my crew chief Sean Flanagan. He went and found Jim Harm who was right in the middle of setting something up. I was told he dropped everything, grabbed the spare light Sean gave him, and jumped in his truck. After being on the side of the road for less than 10 minutes I saw Jim’s flashing lights and before I knew it, I was back on the road. Mind you, this new head light was not exactly a beacon of enlightenment but rather a small funnel used for hiking or finding your way around a campsite. That lap was tough. I kept my speed pretty well thanks to being able to track with other cyclists on the course. I did manage to miss one of the turns and as I noticed in my rearview mirror a bike turning where I had not, I went to take a wide turn thinking there was a shoulder and there was not. Needless to say, I had a little spill in the soft sand on the side of the road before readjusting myself and returning back to the course to finish up the lap.
When I came in from that lap I had Sean tape on a diving light that Waverly had brought. This worked much better than the headlamp but still was not completely ideal. To keep the light story short, basically I swapped lights out most of the evening, having shoe flash with one mounted position, taping it to my helmet for a lap, and needless to say I will be purchasing a new light set up very soon and have a back-up system ready to go. Looking back on the lighting situation it caused some anxiety, a little stress, but overall didn’t cost me a significant amount of time and made for a bit of a story and learning lesson.
The night went fairly uneventful which is ideal for an ultra-event. If the course is uneventful, that’s a great thing. I managed to sleep the night before the Borrego Race, which was a first for me, and I didn’t experience my normal zombie like state during the event because of being up for multiple days at a time. I alternated solid foods and Ensure shakes each lap. Except for a little tiredness during my witching hour (3:30 – 5:00am), I felt pretty good.
As the sun began to rise in the desert, I was flush with gratefulness to be on this journey. My thoughts: my body is holding up, the bike is an incredible machine, and I have such an outstanding group of supporters, crew, and friends along with me for this weekend that I carry with me. I sang to myself an old song that used to be one of my favorites and for some reason came to mind, My God is an Awesome God. Over and over I sang it out loud (thankfully there was no one around because while I may be a decent biker I am not that decent of a singer). The words flowed through me and I shed a few tears of joy. Such a privilege to be alive and to witness the sunrise after a long night in the cool crisp desert.
At around 6:00am, I quickly shifted my fluids from about half a bottle per hour with fairly concentrated electrolytes to a bottle and a half per hour with the heat of the day rising. So far, this had been an ideal nutrition regiment for me. It’s always a bit of a guessing game switching from day to night. If you mess up the proportions you will find yourself stopping either way too frequently or not at all depending on your fluid intake. A few small physical things came up with my body over the day. My groin and psoas on the front of my legs is still my weak link in my power and sore for a few laps. I need to strengthen that in the future to be ready for longer rides. My Achilles on both legs got a little crepitus which I need to work on by loosening my calves with a foam roller/deep tissue massage and moving my cleats back on my shoes a bit. The rest of the morning went by smoothly.
At 7:00am, I did a quick change of clothes and was back out on the course within a few minutes. I ended up doing another change at 9:00am to take off my base layer and take a quick body shower with a bottle of water which is one of my personal tricks in ultra-racing. If you take 5-8 minutes twice a day to shower, completely change out your clothes and start it off again like a new race, it works wonders.
The sleepiness only caught up with me once and that was around 12:00pm, about 18 hours into the ride. All of a sudden it hit me and, like a cloud, started to engulf my mind. Not so much exhaustion, just the physical difficulty of keeping my eyes open. This of course includes a little bit of swerving occasionally and then shaking my head back to full attentiveness. During this time I reached out to one of my lifelong mentors Jan Stanton who is one of the most resilient women I have ever met. She is also a steadfast prayer warrior. I told her I was struggling and I’d be alright but would just like to snap out of it. Soon enough I made it back to the pit, talked to my crew, and I was back out on the course. I was slowly feeling more awake and by the end of the next lap was feeling alright again. My wonderful wife brought me a triple espresso and, with just over four hours to go, I quickly downed the amazing beverage and was good to go.
Rob’s wife Kristin encouraging Rob during a brief stop in the pit area.
The last four hours of the race was such a joy to go through. I slowly picked up my pace and managed to start passing people as I cheerfully put in the miles. My last lap on the large loop was pretty close to as fast as my first two loops. I felt amazing. I decided with about two hours left to start pushing the speed. My body and mind cooperated and after finishing my last loop on the large course (20 laps total at 18 miles per lap) I got onto the 4.8 mile finishing loop.
Rob chasing a rabbit and the Dragon of Borrego Springs.
Rob’s sunset laps at the end of the 24-hour race were incredible.
The finishing loop is much flatter than the large loop, and I quickly ramped up my speed and held it there. My first loop I think I covered the mileage in just over 14 minutes. I realized I had time to get in two more laps if I held close to that pace. The next two laps were even faster, coming in just over 13 minutes per lap. It was so much fun to see my crew and Maria and Lucia Parker at the pit area as I would fly right back out on the course. I finished up my last loop and made my way to the finishing area. A day of cycling was in the bag and I felt amazing. It felt so good to hug my crew, take a few photos for memories and share a few short stories with my friends and family.
Cruzbike racers Rob (16th overall) and Jason Perez (4th overall and first American) at the finish.
Ultras for me are not just about pushing one’s mind and body in a very systematic way, but about building community, friendships, and deepening my purpose and passion in this life. Borrego Springs taught me many great lessons, I made a few more friends, and the roots that I have with my Tribe grew a little deeper. This race is a launching pad for the year before me. I have less than 7 months to get prepared for a 3,000 mile journey across this country. As I think through the highs and lows of this course I am reminded of the pain and struggle so many around me go through. It’s not so much that it’s painful at the time but that it’s scary, and I don’t know if I’ll recover. When I am in these moments of “bad time” I pray, I call people, I reach out to my community and I find peace in the midst of struggle.
It is such an honor this year to be riding to honor Christina Ahmann Nevill‘s legacy of faith, courage and joy. She continues to inspire me by how she chose to live her life and love those around her regardless of what she was going through. Even brain cancer.
Last weekend was a good weekend. Amidst the sleep deprivation, the tiredness, the muscle aches, and the moments of doubt there is hope, and there is my Tribe. Impossible is unacceptable.
Rob and his all-star crew (Left to Right: )