About a week out now. Wrapping up a cold. You know, one of those sore throat, groggy head, wondering how big this is gonna be and how much will this set me back pre-race necessities. Better now than in 7 days though. Maybe its a good, forced mental check. A moment for your sane subconscious voice to finally speak through the roar of the last months' chaos.
So where am I at? Still a rookie. Still feeling like its a new adventure and not a repeat, which I like. Trying hard to not let the faded memories of last year misguide my prep, while still digging back to those difficult moments for guiding wisdom. Making sure to prepare not for what I want conditions to be, but rather for whatever the end of January may throw under our tires throughout the 135 miles. I appreciate the confidence gained from having one race under my belt, but the mystery of whats to come keeps my mind fully engaged as I continuously analyze, experiment, and hone my systems.
How is this year different? No Tuscobia this year, which has made the Fall and Winter much more chill than last year's madness of preparing for both races. Given my knee pain after last years AH135, I spent some time working with a trainer in the Spring and finally ponied up for a bike fitting. Turns out I should have sought that assistance a lot earlier- its been quite a game changer. Comparing my training efforts to last year, I've probably put in less miles total but my training has been much more purposeful. Rather that just going for quantity of miles I've done a lot more with cadence work, intervals, and strength training in the weight room. I try to be in the weight room when no one else is, as I have no idea what I'm doing and I'm sure there is some sort of unspoken weight room rules or etiquette that I am violating with my wheezing, profuse sweating, and lack of understanding of what all that stuff does. But, I think it has worked. I haven't had any issues with knee pain and I most definitely feel stronger than I did pre-race last year.
The biggest difference coming this year is that I am racing in the unsupported category. Meaning I am on my own from start to finish, with no access to the three heated checkpoints that provide food and water along the course. I will need to carry and prepare all my own food, melting snow for water as needed with a liquid fuel stove. Why do that? Because its the next logical step. No, I can't explain that reasoning to you. Its a necessity to moving forward.
Some new things I am trying this year:
- Vapor barriers: old school plastic bags on the feet AND vinyl medical gloves for my hands. Both go over a thing liner, with insulating layers on top of the vapor barrier. My testing of this so far has matched all the commentary I've read and it has worked great down to -17 for 9 hours. And the price is right.
- Frame Bag: I sewed a frame bag out of Cordura, polyester webbing, and X-pac. It isn't pretty and zippers are dumb, but it functionally performs just fine.
- Liquid Fuel Stove: Given that my cooking system won't be for emergencies but will be used without a doubt to make warm food and melt snow for drinking water, I switched from the Pocket-Rocket and pressurized gas canister stove to the liquid-fuel Whisperlite. While the Whisperlite system is bigger, it is bomber, fast and powerful, and won't crap put at low temps. Below 0 the pressurized gas canisters like to liquefy and there is way for that type of stove to use the fuel in liquid form.
- Vapor Barrier Jacket: This one is odd, but it seems to work well so far in my testing. I'm using a ultralight jacket by CAMP called the Magic Jacket. While it isn't a true vapor barrier, the fabric allows water vapor to transfer very slowly. When I've tested this I've worn it over two thin merino wool shirts (one short sleeve), then put my insulating layers over the Magic Jacket. What I've noticed is that this keeps my insulating layers dryer and has prevented massive ice/frost buildup from forming in my outermost layers. The two base merino layers are wet, but I don't get cold at all. I think, given my research into this, that this system works by limiting the effects of evaporative cooling. My first time testing this system was for 9 hours at -17 degrees and included an hour stop in the middle to melt snow and make soup- it seemed to work great- I had no problem staying warm once I through on my puffy "resting" layers.
- More puffy "resting" layers: Anticipating difficulty staying warm when I have to stop and manage my food and water, I am carrying the same down insulating jacket I did last year, and an additional large polyester-fill jacket to go over everything. I had trouble staying warm at the last checkpoint last year and it wasn't even that cold, so I know I need something warmer this time.
- Easy-access sit pad: Again anticipating the time it will take to manage food and water, and knowing that these stops also must serve as rest periods, have a non-freezing surface to kneel or sit on will make these stops so much more valuable. I took an old Z-rest style foam sleeping pad and cut 4 sections off it- just enough to sit or kneel on and be insulated from the ground. This is strapped right to the front of my bike.
- GPS: Last year I had a cheap bike computer that died at some point and left me riding blindly forward into eternity. Luckily, another rider had a GPS and every time we leapfrogged past each other she would update me on how much further we had and I was eternally grateful. I swore then that next time I would not allow myself to be swallowed up by that blindness. I've been slowly gaining confidence in operating my Garmin eTrex 30x and I think it is going to be a game-changer for my mental state throughout the race.
My bike is loaded. It has been since November 1st. Every training ride has been on a fully loaded bike. I'm pretty excited to ride it in 3 weeks when there isn't anything on it and it weighs half as much! Tomorrow morning I think this cold will have waned far enough to get out for one more good sized effort. Then a week of easy spinning, sleeping, eating like a Sasquatch, and packing.
Looking forward to it.