Saturday, May 11, 2013

Taking the Debate Public

D__ and I are heading to Alaska in July for the Alaska Randonneurs' Big Wild Ride 1200K. D__'s first crack at the distance. My third(!), with neither of the first two being successful. Sam should obviously be joining us, but no luck so far. (See the "Ride Announcement" post on April 8.)

The Big Wild Ride is a hard event to segment. There is no natural overnight in the first 600K. Nor is there in the latter 600K! Ordinarily a 6 pm start makes much sense -- the necessary night riding (and some is always necessary) is done on the first night of the ride. But on this one, that means one either commits to several night rides or rides 30 hours straight before sleeping.

I want to ride this loop in 72 hours or less if possible. If it is not possible, of course, I am ready to fall back on the planned overnights and just stay ahead of the sweeper car. My strong sense is that we will know how things are going by the time we have to make our first decision -- whether to sleep several hours in Delta Junction and proceed into the next night, or whether to leave Delta Junction in early afternoon and proceed 95 miles to Fairbanks.

D__, quite understandably, wants to finish.

My preference is to ride to Fairbanks in 30 hours or less. Possible? I say it is. In each of my two 600Ks on similar terrain (even sharing the same road for much of them) I've pedaled about 24 hours total. There are many problems with a 6 pm start, but one advantage is that we will encounter the night early; by 12 hours in, when things get really tiring, it will be full daylight again -- and it will stay basically that way until the following midnight.

The hard part comes in asking what to do next. From Fairbanks we ride to Nenana (50 miles or so), then Healy (another 50), where there is a planned overnight; then Cantwell (another 50 or so). If we stay in Cantwell, we will be 230-240 miles from Anchorage -- certainly possible in the remaining day and 1/2, and maybe even possible on the third day.

If we continue on, we encounter a staffed control at Hurricane Gulch, 35 miles away, and the next available lodging is 75 miles down the road at Mary's McKinley View Lodge. That puts us in easy striking distance from Anchorage on Day 3, perhaps even the 72-hour finish I had envisioned.

Either approach gives the same probability of finishing, because falling back to the back of the pack remains possible no matter what one attempts. In truth, I think this all becomes a game time decision about 10 minutes after the starting gun sounds. I may be napping in a volunteer's vehicle at 8 pm at the Mile 35 control, and that holds whether my plan is ambitious or pedestrian.

The issue seems to boil to this: physically, an "off" day on Day 2 seems easier. The rest-in-Cantwell option means riding 360 miles, 150 miles, 240 miles (the last leg possibly broken into two). The rest-at-Mary's option means riding 360, 225, 165.

On the other hand, psychologically, I like front-loading as much as possible. Waking on Day 3 with 400K in front of me sounds horrific. Waking on Day 3 with 250-275K in front of me is something I can stomach.

By my count, this blog has a readership of 3. What says our devoted following?


sam said...

It's an interesting question. Unfortunately I'm ill-qualified to comment, but I will anyway.

There are two major factors to finishing a 1200. Lots of minor factors. The major factors are physical fatigue and mental fatigue. I have no doubt that both of you are physically prepared. Of course it will be exhausting but eminently do-able. The mental factor is therefore the primary challenge.

As you mention, the BWR is an interesting route. If you sleep at the 400K point, you're likely burning a lot of daylight, and will be forced to ride through a second (and possibly third) night. Far better then to push through to Fairbanks, sleep at night, and then get going in the daylight again.

Now: the mental factor. On day 2, you're mostly mentally aware, and perhaps still an eager beaver. A moderately big day 2 is achievable. A challenge, but do-able. On day 3 you probably aren't going to be eager for a really long ride. It will be tough no matter what length day 2. If you ride a short day 2, you'll wake up day 3 with a long day ahead of you. If you ride a long day 2, you'll wake up day 3 with a short day ahead of you.

So, my take is Fairbanks by midnight, then on the road early and overnight in Talkeetna. Then cruise in to Anchorage.

Max said...

Sage comment on the fundamental principle. I assume your point with regard to minor things is that "sh*t happens." I.e., 3 flats in the first 400K will dramatically alter one's plan no matter what. See, e,g., Last Chance 1200K 2013 or Cascade 1200K 2007(?),

Your conclusion frightens me. Fairbanks-Talkeetna? Unfortunately, Talkeetna is not an overnight in that story. It's an early-morning nap. Not saying it wouldn't be awesome, mind you.

sam said...

A 5AM start from Fairbanks gets you into Talkeetna at 1AM, barring any unusual circumstances. Yes, a long day, but then you wake up with only 200K to go. On this route, I think that's the only way to go < 72 hours without bivvying somewhere or riding through the night.

In my experience, the idea of a full night's sleep is optimistic anyway. Perhaps it's a result of sleeping in shared quarters, or perhaps it's a result of the caffeine, sugar, and other crap that you've been ingesting all day, but 5-6 hours of restless sleep seems like the best one can hope for.

Max said...

The Talkeetna approach has something going for it in that one can recharge at the staffed control at Hurricane Gulch before pushing on the next 85-or-so miles.

One reality: this is not going to work without some experience doing back-to-back long rides. A couple or three back-to-back centuries or 200Ks in early July will be essential.

Unknown said...

Sam, I say this with all due affection: you may be crazier than Max. From my perspective, we'll start this ride at 6 pm, having already been awake for 10-12 hours. Let's say 10. Assuming a 30-hour first 600k, we'd reach Fairbanks having been awake for 40 hours straight and having ridden 375 miles. Your suggestion of riding to Talkeetna would have us be on the road by 5, and we'd be riding another 20 hours. (This assumes all goes well, and no one is laying in a ditch.) Of course, if we get in at midnight and are on the road by 5, that's really only 4 hours of sleep at best.

This plan would have us riding ~600 miles in a stretch where we are awake for 60 hours and asleep for 4. If I understand you, I think that's a marvelous ambition, but I also think it is a needless recipe for disaster and misery. It's not a way I'm comfortable riding in my first attempt at this distance. If I want to race 500 miles+ on no sleep, I'll head to Furnace Creek.

Unknown said...

Honestly, I would be more than content with an 85-hour finish on this ride. My goals are simply to get the first one in the bag, enjoy the experience, not come out of it sick or injured, and ride well while I'm in the saddle. If sleep isn't really possible, of course it makes sense to keep moving, but I've always collapsed like a brick at the end of brevets. I certainly think I can ride it faster than 85 hours, but I see very little allure in settling on a 72-hour plan for no clear reason other than picking a number.

By way of further background, last summer I killed it on a few long, hard rides in close proximity (400k and two 12-hour TTs within a 5-week stretch). And then, on an easy 5-mile run a week later, I took a step, my IT band went, and six months later I was having surgery. I'd really like to avoid a repeat of anything like that. If it means not pressing as hard as I could and getting more rest than I need, that's fine with me. I've never seen Alaska before, so a few more hours on the road just makes for a more colorful blog post afterward. I don't want to be more exhausted afterward than I need to; finishing a few hours faster isn't worth an extra week on the couch to me. It might not mean that, but I couldn't do any quality work for a week after the recent 400k. I suspect that, for me, the sheer distance may be more than enough challenge at this stage. If the result is that Max cruises on ahead and keeps the lights on for me at the finish, I'll cheer him on.

Max said...

Now you've asked for it. Sam, the story about driving Portland to Denver, sleeping 2 hours, and riding a 64-hr. 1200 in 2008, if you please. Don't forget the broken pedal.

sam said...

You mean this one?

You'll note that's my last successful 1200. Not clear what to conclude from that. Oddly the less sleep I've gotten before each 1200, the faster I've gone.

Note that 1200 #1 was a far more relaxed schedule:

In my case that was because I'd never gone longer than 400, but you two don't have that problem. The Cascade 1200 is also designed to be ridden in 4 days, which BWR as far as I can tell really isn't.

That said, I'm certain you'll both have an enjoyable time regardless. I'd just suggest banking as much time as you can, and not have a short day 2 if it means a very long day 3.

And, as Damon has pointed out, a 90 hour finish is a far better result than a 72 hour DNF.

Max said...

I like my DNFs at 20 hours or less. If I make Delta Junction, I'm golden!