The Quad Again

February 19, 2005

Sitting at a dead stop in Interstate 40 about ten miles west of Albuquerque, I thought about The Winter Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon. This is a very cool race and I enjoy it a lot, with the only real drawback being the drive to Grants, New Mexico, which, if things go smoothly, is still an exhausting eight hours. Spending two additional hours at a dead stop wasnít a great start.

With me was my friend Kreighton Beiger. KB rightly takes races pretty seriously, especially ones that have smacked him down before, which the Quad did a couple of years ago due to insufficient downhill skiing skills and unexplained muscle cramps. This time he was leaving nothing to chance. He had trained for all four of the events: cycling, running, XC skiing, and snowshoeing. He had been doing the Wednesday night snowshoe races at Eldora, placing second to the indomitable Dave Mackey. He had new skis and skins and had even done a ski race. He was running regularly and biking a couple times of week, despite the short winter days in Boulder, Colorado. He bought new light wheels for his bike and custom made a set of aero-bars. He put triathlon no-tie cinches on his shoe laces. He raced in his biking skin suit.

Kreighton and I have some history racing each other. On the rare occasion I can best him, but it is always due to some unfortunate experience for him. Either he cramps, twists his ankle, gets lost, or whatever. I canít really compete with him on a pure aerobic talent level. Iím out gunned. As a junior he raced on the U.S. cycling team in Europe, so he knows what heís doing on a bike. Since then he has excelled at trail races and has run the Pikes Peak Marathon in 4:48. A couple weeks before this race, we ran a time trial on the famed Brook Loop trail run and he beat me by a minute. Despite all this, I still harbored a desire to beat him at Mt. Taylor.

How could this be? You wonder. My hopes all rested on two things: the Magic Biketm 2 and the downhill ski leg. The Magic Biketm 2 is my replacement Fuji after the original Magic Biketm broke in a horrific crash last July. This aluminum-carbon bike is just over 18 pounds, a vast improvement over my 24-pound steel bike. With the help of this steed, I was hoping to take a few minutes out of Kreighton on the bike legs. The last time I did this race, in 2002, I did the downhill ski leg in less than 15 minutes. Kreighton had cramping problems, skiing problems, gear problems, etc. and took 40+ minutes for this leg. He was sure to be much improved this year, but I still hoped to gain at least five minutes on him on this leg, and hopefully ten minutes.

We eventually arrived in Grants, checked into the race, and then went through the complicated process of checking in all our gear to be transported up the mountain. With that done, we headed to the pre-race meal included in our entry fee. The meal this year was great and much improved over the last time I did this race. The whole town really supports this race and the hundreds of volunteers really make all the racers feel welcome. KB and I ate with Vicki and Brian Hunter and their two young girls. This race even provides daycare. Sheri and I used it when we both raced in 2001.

Brian is a monster on events like this. Both Vicki and he have done this race countless times. Brian said that he always finished between 10th and 20th places. Brian has done more than ten full Ironman triathlons and has qualified and raced in the Hawaii Ironman twice. Heís a fast runner, strong skier, and tireless competitor. I didnít stand much chance against Brian, but I should finish the first bike leg ahead of him and then it would only be a matter of time before he went by.

It rained most of Friday but the weather report said only a 20% chance of rain on race day. The morning dawned threatening, but improved by race time (9 a.m.) Kreighton and I ate breakfast and made our final preparations before arriving down at the start. We did ten minutes of riding to warm-up and then staged at the starting line.

We got right up to the front without any trouble. There are usually around 300 soloists in this race (300 more teams usually start one hour later), so the starting pack of riders is larger than the Tour de France and about four times the size of the biggest ACA cycling races.

The gun fired and we were off. The first few miles are pretty flat and the pack stayed together. Kreighton stayed up with the first ten riders, but I was squeezed back a bit. I didnít want to risk a crash and wasnít very aggressive. I was content to just sit in. Brian moved up next to me a few miles into the race and said, ďNothing will happen until we pass the prison just out of town. Then things will go ballistic.Ē

I moved up near the front in anticipation of this surge. I knew I shouldnít go with the big boys because Iím not in their league, but I also knew I wasnít in top form for this race and just wanted to ensure that I at least had a faster bike split. When the move went, I jumped. I passed Kreighton here and camouflaged myself behind a couple of cyclists and he didnít see me go.

I buried myself bridging the gap to the break. One rider was off the front and I made the tail end of the chase group of seven riders. I was 8th in the race, though not for long. As the heart rate graph below shows, I spiked my heart rate to 175 bpm with this effort. This was a major mistake and probably cost me at least five minutes throughout the rest of the race. Stupid hubris. I should know better than this. I didnít stay with the lead group for long as we were now on a continual climb and the speed wasnít that high. It was now a time trial and I had just blown up. I dropped off. A group of four more riders came by and I couldnít hold their wheels either. Another group of the same size caught me and this time I stuck. I continued to work pretty hard for the rest of the ride and this would be the last time my heart rate would get north of 160 until the run down.

Figure 1 : heart rate and elevation profile for the race.

†I failed to drink enough on the ride up, but it is difficult to drink while going this hard and hanging onto the bars at the same time. I almost forgot to get water at the start of the run and only got down a little bit. I thought I was in big trouble until I was surprised by the aid station just past the two-mile mark. I didnít know what kind of a lead I had over Kreighton and Brian, but I was running so slowly now that it hardly mattered. Danelle Ballengee, the eventual womanís winner for the 9th time, passed me ten minutes into the run. At that point she was the second woman. The first woman had passed me about two minutes earlier. KB went by like a rocket twelve minutes into my run. I wonder if this was the first time he knew I was ahead of him at all. I figured to lose 6-7 minutes on the remainder of the run. That was going to be it for me. I needed to stay away longer than that. I was feeling pretty nauseous at this point. I ate a GU, but didnít have water to wash it down and the fight went out of me. I dropped it into only a moderately painful pace with an embarrassingly low heart rate. I just couldnít muster the will to suffer.

Brian didnít pass me until the last mile of the 5-mile run. This run gains 1200 vertical feet and most of it is in the last two miles. Brian went by strong with some encouraging words, but then I held my distance behind him and entered the run-ski transition only about 30 seconds back. Kreighton was just leaving the transition area and urged both of us on. He did this repeatedly and it is a tribute to his great character that he has the energy and will to do this. I rarely had the breath to respond. We were still sheltered in the trees, but the wind was howling and I took my Gortex shell from my transition bag. I would be glad to have this with me. I also donned my small Camelback, but Iíd struggle to get any liquid through my screwed up valve. Finally, I slung my snowshoes over my shoulder and headed up.

Iím not sure where I passed Kreighton on the sk,i and in fact I didnít know it at the time, but heíd later tell me that he saw me go by. He didnít say anything this time and I didnít recognize him, nor did I expect to catch him. Unfortunately he was again having some quad cramping. I guess that's the appropriate muscle to cramp at this event, but that's little comfort to Kreighton. The ski was slow for me and the skin on one of my skis slipped nearly completely off my ski. As long as it didnít fall off, I didnít stop and I made the ski/snowshoe transition with it still partial attached. I switched into my snowshoes for the final 600-foot assault to the summit of 11,301í Mt. Taylor. Once again, we were still pretty sheltered but it wouldnít last.

Figure 2 : Race slits - part 1 (I started my watch a bit before the start of the race, so these times should all be a bit off the official times. This should only effect the first uphill bike split, which will be about 15 seconds longer than the official split and the finishing time, which should also be about 15 seconds longer.)

I ran slowly up the first half of the snowshoe, where it isnít very steep. I was following another guy who would run much faster than me and then switch to a power walk. Iíd almost catch him when he was walking and then heíd stretch things out on his run. Eventually he walked too long and I went by, barely. Just as I approached timberline and the aid station, with the wind howling, snowing, and visibility down to about a hundred feet, I look down to see only one snowshoe. Damn! I turn around and immediately get handed my other snowshoe by the run/walker. What a nice guy to do this in the middle of the race. I thanked him and bent to attach it again. Iíd see this guy many more times before the end of the race.

With my snowshoe back on, it was all power hiking to the summit at this point. The wind was incredible and I spent the rest of the ascent with one hand up to the side of my face, sheltering it from the pelting snow. I was surprised to see Brian heading down before Kreighton, as I didnít know I had passed him. I figured Kreighton must have already passed me on his way down and I just hadnít seen him in the low visibility with everyone holding their hands to their faces and having their hats and hoods on. I topped out in 2h45m Ė three minutes slower than my 2002 time, but I had a 3-minute lead on that time at the end of the bike, so I had lost 6 minutes on the run/ski/shoe up and I was likely to lose a lot more. I turned to head down and almost immediately saw Kreighton heading up, only 30 seconds or so behind me. I was baffled to be back in front, but excited as well. I knew then that I had a chance to beat him.

Kreighton passed me just as the snowshoeing got to the flatter section. Once again he went by strong and I feared Iíd lose a lot of time before starting the ski. This didnít happen though. I passed the run/walk helper on this flat section and closed the gap on Kreighton a bit, entering the transition probably only 30 seconds behind. Brian was long gone and would stretch out a nice lead, as expected. Brian usually skis down a minute faster than me and then he'd probably get 5 or more minutes on me on the downhill run. With me being already at least four minutes behind, he was gone, but Kreighton was within reach. I had some trouble getting on my right ski but some furious snow clearing of my boot and ski fixed the problem. I stuffed my skins into my pocket, slung my snowshoes and I was off.

I passed a skier earlier on, this might have been Adam Feerst, who was having trouble ascending a small rise. His skis were really fast and that made climbing more difficult, but when the trail turned downward, he went by me. I held about a hundred feet behind him. I wasnít too stable as my skate skis were thin and fast and my legs were tired and wobbly, but the skier in front of me looked even shakier. I prayed he wouldnít fall because the track only had room for one skier and if he fell, Iíd either hit him or have to go off into the powder, at speed, and probably fall myself. Sure enough at a nasty bump, he went down in big pile. I braced for the bump and darted into the powder on the left. I went by, barely keeping upright. The rest of the ski down was fast and I snowplowed and dragged my poles in an effort to control the speed. I didnít want to fall and lose my momentum and I didnít want to exert the effort in getting back up. I stood up the desperate hairpin turns to the left and the right. I stood up the bumps and made it down to the flat finish. Here the snow pulled my left pole out of my hand twice and I had to turn around and retrieve it.

I transitioned back to running gear with the great help of the volunteers. These people are absolutely incredible. This is one of the unique and great aspects of this race. Your number is called out as you approach each transition area and volunteers rush to retrieve your gear and bring it to you at benches. These guys get your shoes out for you, put away all your discarded gear, etc. Kreighton had one of them put his ski boots on for him. Without this help the transitions would be at least a minute longer. I canít say enough about these volunteers. They are so great and so positive.

A tall woman passed me in the transition area. Iíll call her Tri-lady because Iíll mention her again. I ran out of the transition with some good tunes in my ears (I raced with my iPod) and it pumped me up. The start of the run is downhill and I felt strong for the first time in the race. I felt I was flying, knowing I had to go hard here if I was to beat Kreighton. Speaking of Kreighton, at this point I assumed that I had passed him in the snowshoe/ski transition because I did the ski reasonably fast and didnít catch him. No way he skied that fast, so I figured I had to have at least 5 minutes on him at this point. That should be enough to get me to the bike before him. If I kept a reasonable pace and didnít cramp up.

My tunes died within the first mile and when the road flattened out, reality hit home. I wasnít strong at all, it was gravity. Even when I thought I was going hard, two runners passed me, but they didnít get that far in front of me. I could see them for the entire run. Tri-lady did run out of sight, though. The second guy to pass me had to stop and pee and I went by him. He wouldnít pass me again until there was just 1.5 miles left in the run. The first guy to pass me was the run/walk snowshoe helper guy. Iíd see him again as well.

I ran the first downhill mile in 7:18, the second in 7:47, the third in 7:53, the fourth in 8:09 and the final mile in 8:41, so just barely averaging less than 8 minutes/mile for this downhill run. This is a tough leg and I looked forward to the final cruise on the bike. The final leg is usually tough because of the two short hills on the way down, the fatigue in your legs, and the long flat section at the end. But today it was exceptionally cruel. We rode into a 35 mph headwind. See the video here of the wind. At this point I had no desire to pass anyone and only wanted to be spared the humiliation of being passed. I looked back with fear in my eyes. I had a chaser, but he was about a minute behind. I could easily be caught, but I knew my chaser wasnít Kreighton and I didnít think he could catch me at this point.

The wind was a cruel blow this late in the race and both my calves were now starting to cramp on me. They grabbed a number of times, but didnít shut me down. On the one real climb of the descent, I noticed I was gaining on the riders in front of me. My competitive urges stirred and I gave chase, hoping my calves wouldnít shut things down. I passed Snowshoe Helper first and gained on the pair in front of me. I think this was Adam Feerst and Tri-Lady. I went by both and Adam quickly wasnít a factor, but Tri-Lady and I traded the lead for awhile. I was so jealous of her tri-bars. Her low, aerodynamic position was ideal in these horrid winds. No drafting is allowed on this final bike leg and all the riders I saw strictly observed this rule. Then, quite suddenly it seemed, she was gone, fading way, way back. In the last five or six miles I put over four minutes on her. Maybe she started cramping as well. At this point in the race everyone is hurting the same and it is unlikely that anyone will be significantly stronger.

A big tall team cyclist blew by me a mile or so later. I tried to stay with him for a bit, but it was short lived. We flew by a guy on a mountain bike here and this guy must have been abandoning the race. There was no way a soloist on a mountain bike was ahead of me and I donít think any other team passed me. The big cyclist was the winning team, finishing a minute ahead of me, meaning to say their team time was an hour and a minute faster than me because they started an hour behind me. Joshiah Middaugh won the race in a remarkable time of 3:41. He won by nine minutes! Brian came in 16th with a time of 4:30. He also won his age group (35-39) Ė congratulations, Brian! I finished 20th overall for the men (4th in my age group) in 4:40, but three women beat me as well. Kreighton rolled down in 25th place with a time of 4:47.

Figure 3 : Race slits - part 2

My time was slow, but the conditions were really slow. My bike split was 43 minutes or so and in 2002, on a slower bike, it was 35 minutes. The wind probably made the course about ten minutes slower than normal. If thatís the case, my time would convert to a very respectable 4:30. Still off my 2002 time of 4:24, but about what I expected for my fitness level and my pathetic effort. Kreighton was disappointed in his race. He had cramped again, but his time was 9 minutes faster than last time, or about 19 minutes faster when converted. He took about 20 minutes out of his previous ski time, so that was a huge success. Still, I think he expected to easily go under 4:30 and maybe under 4:15. Certainly in good conditions and in top form he could do this. Heís definitely a good ten minutes faster than me on an effort this long. I wonder if I bring out the worst in him in big races. I was with him when he had horrible trouble at the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon as well. But he came back to completely conquer Pikes Peak and shatter my best time. I suspect the same will happen here at Mt. Taylor on his next try. Third time definitely does seem to be his charm.

My friends Brad Schildt and Brian Metzler also did this race. I saw Brian when I was heading down on the snowshoe, though my mind was so muddled I forgot who he was, though I knew I recognized him. He said my name, so he clearly was thinking better. I saw Brad after the race, sure that it was him I saw high on Mt. Taylor, but alas, it was Brian. Full results with all the splits should eventually be posted here: Mt. Taylor Quad.

Table 1: Results from Mt. Taylor 2005

Place in Race
Place in Category
Name Bike Up Run Up Ski Up Shoe Up Halfway Shoe Down Ski Down Run Down Bike Down Final
Brian 55:11 50:37 32:30 22:26 2:40:43 9:17 17:44 38:06 46:53 4:32:42
Bill 52:26 54:00 34:01 24:19 2:44:45 11:19 18:25 42:02 43:05 4:40:14
Kreighton 53:34 51:07 38:39 22:14 2:45:32 ? ? 40:32 43:49 4:47:30

I like this race a lot and should do it every year, but oh that drive. Having Kreighton along eased this pain considerably as he drove almost the entire way down and back. Thanks, KB!

SeacrestÖout! (Yes, we watch American IdolÖ)

Photo 1 : This is me sitting in the truck hiding from the wind after the race.