A tiny Team Fun contingent – the duo of Heather Bruemmer (that’s me) and Jill Theodossi – headed east to Palm Desert Friday night to be led by the intrepid endurance master, David Bruemmer, on the ride of a lifetime the following morning. Jill and I did a little pre-event texting the night before, with me feeling odd jitters:
“My fastest century moving time was around 5:20-5:30. I am not sure I want to set a goal faster than that as those seemed somewhat painful 🙂 ” – Heather
“I will be happy if we can do like 5:15-5:30, I think it’s doable.” – Jill
Maybe my jitters were well-founded. After all, with doing a little research, I noted that David’s moving time from last year’s Palm Desert Century was 5:05:58, a smoking average of just under 20 mph (19.6 mph, to be exact). Jill had also done this century last year, with a moving time of 5:49:27 (17.2 mph average). There was a wind from hell last year blowing west across the desert, and if you look at the map of the course, you can see how formidable a west wind would be to finishing hard. From everything we had seen forecasted for this year, we were expecting low winds, blue skies, and moderate temperatures – pretty much a miracle for the Coachella Valley. Even in perfect conditions on flat roads, maintaining 20 mph (or truly, far better – when considering the start/stops of lights and stop signs) is no small feat.
Our plan was to get started early so as to minimize any wind effects we might experience. David and I are not famous for our punctuality, so it was fairly amazing that we showed up even as early as we did. The morning was bright with quite a bit of chill, so pulling on some arm sleeves, warming up as much as I could handle, the team of three headed out from the start around 7:00 am.
If you want to be pushed harder than you could ever imagine yourself being pushed, then David is the man for you. More than once when I stared down at my Garmin (when I could take my eyes off his wheel in front of me) in the first twenty odd miles, and I saw numbers like 24+ mph, I mumbled audibly, “I feel like I’m borrowing from my future!” We had many a hanger-on. They would last for a while, but the blistering pace was too much for more than a few people who mistook the “Team Fun” on our jerseys for actual fun, versus the punishment we all know it can entail. I recall one stop in particular where some gentlemen behind us were chuckling about, “I don’t know about you, but I’m going to follow wherever Team Fun goes!” I looked back at Jill, and she just smirked with the look of, “Good luck with that, pal.” Even with stops included, our pace on my Garmin at our first stopping point (35 miles, just prior to the time trial) was near 21 mph. Ouch!
Did I just say “time trial”? Indeed I did. To pile suffering upon pain, the ride designers add a 15-mile low-grade hill time trial smack in the middle of the century. Miles 35-50 lead you up Box Canyon, where you attempt to spin your way at your top pace for anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour. David left Jill and I here, as he had some solo work to do. Jill and I both seemed a little hesitant about the whole time trial bit, and in fact, we begrudgingly turned around on David’s suggestion to ramp up some speed to cross the starting point. I, of course, completely missed the fact that you had to ride through a chute to trip the start – so I had to turn around and start over – while Jill started up the hill. This was to be the beginning of my fatal mistake.
Fast forward to the end of the time trial, as I’m sitting with my head in my hands about ready to hurl, David says, “As I say to our kids, you always have to learn something from every race. What did you learn?”
What did I learn?
– Don’t start too fast (obviously!) – 15 miles is a super long way – I rode quite fast to catch up with Jill, and instead of smartly pacing myself with her when I caught her, I plunged on ahead, thinking erroneously that I could maintain such speeds.
– Pace yourself, but don’t stress too much about the overall distance of the time trial
– Don’t always choose the big chain ring, even on low grades (I should know this one, and I realized this – about 2-3 miles from the end)
– You can do a lot more after you’ve reached your “giving up” point than you realize
– Somehow manage to get more fluids and electrolytes in there (I just don’t seem to get this right – ever)
Back to the ride! How did it go? Well, as you might imagine from the above, I didn’t do as well as I might have liked, but I still did better than I felt I was going to after I hit a super low point (perhaps “bonking”) about 3 miles into the TT. Just after I started to wane, Jill passed me by. Because she’s a super-awesome person, she asked if we should stay together – and I said, no go for it… and she did, and I’m so glad she did. What a ride! I could see her for most of the way, passing rider after rider on her way to the top – never losing steam. David whooshed by somewhere along the way at an impossible speed that made me feel like I was standing still. But somehow, in spite of feeling rather wretched, I also managed to not get passed by anyone except David – and plod my way on to the end. I’m pretty sure someone asked me at that rest stop if I was having “fun” yet (we get asked that all the time, not surprisingly), and I looked at him rather plainly and said, “No, no I am not.”
I am not a super-experienced endurance rider, but in my experience so far, it seems that every long ride has its low point. David gave me some space, then handed me about 4 or 5 Endurolyte pills, and after a bit of rest, we headed off back down the grade for what was to be the final half of the ride of a lifetime. After the first part of the downhill where we ramped up speed slowly after the rest, I don’t think we went below 26 or 27 mph for the remainder of the gradual descent. We picked up all the decrease in speed we lost on the incline, and at 65 miles were headed for our own personal record-breaking times. While this seemed to energize my partners, I seemed a little fixated on the massive knots that seemed to be forming in my backside. I looked to the rest area at 75 miles for salvation. I thought that perhaps I had committed some crime punishable by bike.
I heaved a huge sigh of relief – we arrived at the 75-mile rest stop: Chips Ahoy cookies, some stretching, then, some pep talking by David. One of my favorite moments of the ride was when this older gentleman, upon hearing our conversation, remarked to me, “He’s one of those guys, isn’t he?” And I responded, “Yes, yes he is.”
I tried to persuade David and Jill to carry on without me – I didn’t want to ruin Jill’s chances of smashing her goal with my lameness. David said, “We’d have to do something tragically wrong at this point NOT to make it in under five hours!” Those two are so supremely optimistic, they somehow managed to counterbalance my personal load of pessimism – and against all odds, I hit a sort of “second wind” (or maybe it was just succumbing to what seemed inevitable – we could actually go sub-5 hours on moving time…) and we fought our way back, keeping the threatening calf cramps at bay at each stop light start up, to a moving time of 4:51:17. We did have three stops, so our overall time was quite a bit more – however for our time on the bike, our average speed was 20.5 miles/hour. Never in a million years did I dream I would be able to accomplish such a time. I still don’t think it has quite sunk in. I joked that David should get a complimentary Team Fun jersey with the tag line “Support Vehicle”, as Jill and I both know we couldn’t have done it without him.
I can’t say enough about the supreme organization of this ride. ShadowTour deserves many kudos for the excellently-run ride – I couldn’t imagine better rest stops, better planning, or a better all around ride. Although the weather can be brutal, this is an excellent event I would recommend to anyone looking for a fabulous century experience.
Jill had to head out shortly after the ride, but much to our children’s chagrin, David and I waited around for the results. I had a feeling Jill might earn a trophy, and of course, we were hoping that David might be able to take home the champion’s trophy this year (last year he lost out to a pro team, including Neil Shirley, one of the top American pro cyclists). One never knows who is going to show up at these events – Jill and I could’ve been anywhere from top placers to middle of the pack (I knew by how we both passed people, we would at least not be at the bottom).
After a couple of well-deserved Cokes and lots of chatting with fellow riders (“How you feeling, young lady?” “I’m feeling finished.”), the results were posted. David came out on top this year, by about 4 minutes ahead of the rest of the field. Team Fun is claiming him as our own on this ride (everyone called all three of us “Team Fun” anyway), and we are proud of his accomplishment!
There’s been quite a bit of “scrubbing” on the women’s results (removing a tandem rider from the list, and since Sunday, we found out a husband/wife pair switched timing chips), and in the end – it appears that Jill is going to end up with the 2nd place trophy, and I will end up 4th. I feel bad that I only have a picture of myself, but that’s all I have… for now. Once we get the trophies/results straightened out, hopefully Jill and I can get another photo together with the trophies.