September 13, 2003
by Scott Zimmerman
The LOTOJA Classic is a tough, scenic, mountainous, 203-mile bike race from Logan, Utah, to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It is one of the longest, single-day bike races in America. This year, the race course changed due to road construction near Jackson. Still tough, scenic, and mountainous, the course was "only" 184 miles and ended in Swan Valley, Idaho. It started at about 5000 feet above sea level, went up and down mountain passes until it reached a high of 7000 feet elevation, and then finished about 5500 feet elevation. My primary goals were (a) to finish and (b) to not get injured so that I could continue my preparation to run the St. George Marathon on October 4. I finished LOTOJA and I didn't get injured. Actually, my right knee, my right back ribs, and my hamstrings hurt much of the race, but I seemed to have survived without major injury. My secondary goal was to finish the race in ten hours of bike time and twelve hours of total clock time. I didn't quite achieve those goals: my bike time was 10:43, an average speed of about 17 miles/hour, and my official clock time was 12:15. I officially finished 583 of 746 entrances, 108 of whom did not finish.
I started training in November of 2002, just two months after started riding. A group of cyclists, primarily made up of BYU faculty members, decided to form a team and train for LOTOJA. I joined them. I did my first group training ride with them on November 16, 2002, a 46-mile ride. I had a horrible time keeping up with the group. We did a group ride most Saturdays throughout the winter. I did my first century (100-mile) ride at the Cactus Hugger Century in St. George, Utah, on April 5, 2003. I continued to do about 6 more century rides, including ULCER (Utah Lake Century Epic Ride) on August 16, 2003. My longest training ride was 120 miles.
My weekly biking miles was not particularly good, however, because I was also swimming and, mainly, running. While preparing for LOTOJA, I was increasing my running mileage and intensity in preparation for the St. George Marathon on October 4, 2003, where I hope to run a 3:45 marathon and qualify for the Boston Marathon.
Just 9 days before LOTOJA, I did a hard, fast 20-mile run, and a hard 18-miler just 4 days before LOTOJA. After all, I was peaking for St. George. Unfortunately, this hard training took a toll on my body, and I did get a proper taper for LOTOJA. I was to pay for my schizophrenic training.
The temperature in Logan was about 38 degrees when twelve or thirteen of our team members started at 7:50 a.m. in the dark. Actually, at the start, our team got separated into two groups, one leaving 10 minutes before the other. Unfortunately, I got caught in the middle and did the first 30 miles alone. I pushed the pace too hard (20-23 miles for about an hour). Not a wise start. I should have just waited for the second group and let the stronger rides pull me along.
Our team road as a Category V group, which basically meant that we didn't meet our support vehicles until mile 70! I had spent much of that time pushing the pace and riding alone. By mile 50, my right knee was aching, my hamstrings were cramping, and my body overall felt sick. The excessive run training, along with pushing the pace, had caught up with me. I decided at that point that I would ride on to the 100-mile point and then quit. After all, I wanted to at least be able to say that I did a century ride. I didn't want to continue to torture myself because it would jeopardize my St. George Marathon goal.
When I finally got to mile 70 and the first feedzone, in Grace, Idaho, I ate some extra food, took two ibuprofen, rested and stretched for a few minutes, and then told the team that I was going to go slower. I just didn't want to continue to kill myself. The team agreed to stay with me. So we rolled on.
After an hour or so, as other riders swept past us, our team got swept up with them, and before we knew it, we were again going 23 miles per hour on the flat and hammering the hills. At the top of a hill at about mile 85, a group of four of us said we had had it. We told the rest of the team to go on without us. We would continue on at our own pace. The rest of the team took off, and our little group rolled off at a reasonable pace of about 18-19 mph on the flat and much slower on the uphill grades.
By the time we got to the second feedzone at mile 95, I knew I could finish. In fact, I was starting to have fun. The slower pace helped nurse my injuries and allowed me to enjoy the absolutely gorgeous scenery of the mountainous course. Now, it was just a matter of taking the race one leg at a time, from feedzone to feedzone, usually distances of about 25 miles.
Even riding alone, as shown above, I enjoyed the scenery, some which you can see in the background. It was a beautiful day.
I can't neglect to comment on the wonderful and horrible weather. It was wonderful because the entire day was cool, and I was dressed to handle the cold spells. At no time did a feel excessively cold (unlike many of the riders), and when I got warm, I switched from full-fingered gloves to regular cycling gloves and took off my arm warmers. I kept on my leg warmers the entire race because the temperature never got up much above 60 degrees. The only time I got cold was at each feedzone, where I would take a chill while stretching, hydrating, eating, and preparing for the next leg of the race. As soon as I got going, I felt comfortable again.
The big problem, however, was the wind. The interminable, relentless, damnable head wind never stopped. The entire day, the wind blew north to south as we biked south to north. It was murder. During the approximate 60 miles that I spent riding alone, I fought the wind on my own. While riding with others, we shared the honors at the front of the paceline. Even in the middle of a paceline, the wind made riding a grind. In the picture above, I'm the guy near the back with the white sleeves. I felt no guilt in letting my teammates pull for me.
I can't say enough about the great support from the wives of several of our teammates. They were ready at every feedzone with the food and drink that we specified in our instructions to them. But most importantly, they were always cheerful and encouraging. They lifted my spirits at every reststop. They kept me going.
I also want to thank my daughter Andrea and her husband who took me to and from the race and took many of the pictures you see here, including the one above when I stopped to talk to them at mile 130. I was feeling great, but they though I looked pretty tired!
After 12 hours and 15 minutes from when the gun went off, and after 10 hours and 43 minutes of actual riding, I crossed the finish line in Swan Valley, Idaho. I spontaneously lifted my arms in triumph, as if I had just won a stage of the Tour de France. In fact, I finished 583rd of 746 entrants and 638 finishers. Do I feel bad for finishing so low in the standing and an hour or so behind most of my teammates? My competitive nature says yes. But my pragmatic nature says no. My goal was to finish in about 12 hours; I just about did that. My goal was to finish in about 10 hours of bike time; I did it in 10:43. And my main goal was to be able to get through the race without injury. I managed that goal, too, although I am a bit sore.
All in all, training for LOTOJA was a fabulous experience. I got to know a lot of men through our long training rides. I developed a level of cycling fitness that I hadn't even dreamed of a year ago. I loved learning the sport of cycling. The race itself was also a major victory of sorts. I finished. I more or less achieved all of my goals. I faced adversity and won.