After doing the Devil Mountain Double this past weekend, it reminded me of ride director Scott Halversen's other big event, the Knoxville Double Century. While DMD is in the relatively shorter spring days, Knoxville is in relatively short days of late summer, so both present a bit of a challenge to finish in daylight compared to events near the solstice. Knoxville is a much less challenging course than DMD, closer to Davis Double with which it shares many of the same roads. But it's dangerous to think of doubles as anything related to "easy": they're always extremely challenging and need to be treated with profound respect because if you take them at all for granted they'll bit you and you'll have an extremely painful end of the day.
I dug my report for the 2005 Knoxville, the only one I've ridden, out of the Alto Velo archives. I was strong that year, as circumstances provided me with a lot of time to ride on weekends. But it's interesting reading how much difficulty I experienced towards the end. Doubles I've done in the last few years I've finished strongly. I think it's because I've increasingly relied on Hammer products for nutrition, and they are a reliable way to avoid getting depleted. At least as importantly I've been doing them with a power meter, and they help me keep a steady effort on the hills throughout the events, never digging myself into a hole.
Here's the report:
If Chuck Bramwell was guilty of verbosity, it was a pardonable offense. His introductions of the inductees into the California Triple Crown Hall of Fame were certainly wordy, but the recipients had earned it, having completed a remarkable 50 double centuries for the honor. Yet for Dave "Big Ring" Evans, it had to be deja-vu, as this was his second time having reached the 50 double threshold. As he had with the preceding five introductions, Chuck quoted some of the inductee's advice on riding, training, living, whatever. Dave's: "Don't EVER EVEN THINK about quitting." And Dave lives up to his own advice. Of the 102 California Triple Crown Double Centuries Dave had entered, he completed 102. All of them. Indeed, Dave claims to have completed every organized ride he's ever started.
I was stunned. Don't even count races. I thought back to organized rides I've failed to complete. That 1999 400km brevet in Austin, where after 320km, in the darkness, lightning, driving rain, and heavy car traffic, accepting an offered ride back to the start/finish. The Devil Mountain Double in 2002, which I began undertrained and overenthusiastic, At the base of Hamilton, depleted and contemplating the near-freezing temperatures reported for the summit, I turned back to complete the double-metric route instead, 150 miles for a day that demanded 200. Or the Terrible Two this year, where, starting with a cold, I was a drained shell by lunch at mile 107, an exhaustion which no doubt contributed to my two subsequent weeks of illness. In each of these cases, options had been considered, a decision had been made. But what if, WHAT IF the options had not considered, what if the ONLY option had been to continue. That would have changed things considerably. Then the question isn't whether to continue, but HOW to continue. Sitting in the gazebo which served as the home base of the Triple Crown breakfast (and to the previous day's double), listening to Chuck, I was humbled, even slightly humiliated.
The day before, during the Knoxville Double, I had yet again been guilty. Guilty not of quitting, but of contemplating it. In those little moments of despair, wanting to feel that the end is near, yet still facing more miles than a typical "long" week-end training ride, the negative toxin penetrates, the terrible attraction of the sag car, the hovering temptation of physical comfort. Why am I here? What is the purpose? But it's really too late, far too late, to ponder such matters. I AM here. The only Comfort is in finishing. There is no other.
Two hundred miles. While a silly triviality compared to true ultra-distance events, short even by brevet standards, it is, nevertheless to me, a challenging distance, the longest I do. Cycling is full of symmetries of two, so two is a natural division. Half of a double is a 100 miles. By my current standards, an exceptionally long training ride. An accomplishment. A half-century: 50 miles. A good long ride. Half of that: 25. A Tue or Thu noon ride, perhaps. Half again: 12. The Loop, no frills. Again: 10 km. Again, and again. Again, and again. After maybe 16 divisions of two (2^2^2^2), you're down to a pedal revolution: a pair of strokes. A pair of a pair of a pair of a pair of a pair of a pair of a pair of a pair of a pair of a pair of a pair of a pair of a pair of a pair of a pair of a pair of a pair of pedal strokes. A double century.
The key is to remain in the domain of the revolution. Left and right, Eat right, Drink right, and perfect the next revolution: perfect each stroke. A manageable task. Following lunch, around 120 miles in, I found myself slipping from it, from the domain. My legs' level of protest was accelerating, my speed responding in the opposite trajectory. Momentarily succumbing, I pulled over to the side of the road, and pressed my thumbs into my calves, each in turn. Ouch. I rubbed them briefly, hoping for a bit of recovery, and set off again, hoping to stay on a schedule which would get me back to the start by the onset of dangerous darkness at 7:30 (I'd sent my lights back to the start from the first check point). I needed to average 15 mph. Not fast, obviously, but counting unavoidable time spent at rest stops, there may have been some margin for mechanical problems, but little margin for serious physical ones.
I found myself with some decent riding companions, at just the right speed, and made it to the next check point, the immediate crisis passed. A volunteer asked me if I wanted some Enduralytes, the E-Caps electrolyte capsule. Why should I need these, I reasoned, as I'd been consuming the usual collection of powders and gels (Accelerade, Perpetuum, Sustained Energy, Hammer Gel, my Camelbak's dilute Pedialite), "supplemented" with some fresh fruit at the stops. Nevertheless, I took two; what was there to lose? Soon enough, I was off again, and found my leg pain was gone. The advantage of the short break? Maybe. But maybe, just maybe the Enduralite had worked. The calcium? Or something.
Halfway to the next stop, my legs started to hurt a bit again. Just hint of what I felt before, but a warning of impending pain? I resolved to take three more Enduralytes at the next stop, with three more for my jersey pocket.
The interval to the next stop was thankfully short. After those 3 capsules, no more leg pain. The three Enduralytes I took for reserve were never needed. I was fatigued, of course. But I had no more of that stinging soreness.
40 miles to go, and a woman I was riding with commented "the home stretch!" No, not yet. Boulder Creek to Palo Alto. Okay, less climbing, perhaps, but more fatigue.
The final 20 miles, and I finally allowed myself the luxury of contemplating the end. A diversion: calculate the number of kilometers remaining from my computer mileage, and count them down. Kilometers are so much more rewarding then miles, a cycling-friendly serving size.
The final rest stop -- 10 miles to go, I thought. I stopped only to check in and fill my bottle.
"14 miles, that way!" the volunteer cheerfully offered, pointing down the road. 14??? I'd thought it was 10. I expressed my disappointment, even disbelief. "Well, it'll feel like only 10!" she responded, losing only a touch of the cheer. I was in purgatory, surely.
But the miles passed, all almost-fourteen of them. And I was back at the gazebo. Done. 7:04pm -- 12 hours, 59 minutes on my clock. But it was only my clock, as Knoxville is untimed. And isn't that the best way, really? Sure, to me it was nice to have gotten under 13, even with a few extra miles from a pair of mis-steps. But I suspect few, if any, care about what "Big Ring" Evans' times were in any of those 102 doubles. What counts is he finished. All of them.
I strongly recommend the Knoxville Double. It's a great route, challenging without being brutal, has great support, great food, great proximity (Vacaville). You can even (as I did) set up a tent near the start/finish, avoiding the Motel 6 blues. BTW, don't worry about the start/finish being in Vacaville -- Napa and Barryessa are in surprising proximity.