Death Ride in Markleeville Cycling Experience - Tips From a 5 Pass Finisher

 I was planning my races for the 2012 season around December of 2011.  I wanted to do my first half ironman so instead of signing up for one I decided to sign up for two of them (California 70.3 and Hawaii 70.3)  I also had one other challenge on my radar that I missed out on in 2011 and that was the Markleeville Death Ride.  When registration opened, I signed up for that one too.  129 miles, 15,000 feet of climbing between 6200 and 8700 feet elevation sounded like a good challenge for a cyclist :-)

I got most of my Death Ride training in by training for the Ironman 70.3 races with lots of swimming, biking and running.  However living in San Diego, there aren't too many long hill climbs close by.  There's always Torrey Pines repeats but that gets old after a while and its on sea level.  You can always do Palomar Mountain which is about a 5000 foot climb but again, it starts around sea level.  The Death Ride starts at 6200 feet!  I just figured if I got in some 100 plus milers before han,  I would be able to get through it.

Before the ride I was Google searching everything I could about it from tips for riding at altitude, to Markleeville Death Ride hotels and more.  Lets first start off by talking about accomodations in Markleeville.

Accomodations in Markleeville During the Death Ride

I got to the North Lake Tahoe area about 5 days before the ride.  Unfortunatley, I didn't book accomodations near Turtle Rock Park in advance so had to figure it out while I got up there. I decided to drive to Turtle Rock Park on Thursday from the North Shore of Tahoe. Without any major traffic it took about 1 hr and 35 minutes to get there. 50 mins to South Shore and about another 45 minutes to Turtle Rock, definitely too far for me to drive in the morning. I go to Turtle Rock and immediately felt the buzz in the air, cyclists everywhere, cars parked all along the road, in the campground, it was like the woodstock of cycling.  I had a few hotels/resorts that I wanted to see, most of them were already fully booked but I wanted to see where there were and get on the wait list in case something opened up. The Creekside Lodge is in downtown Markleeville about 3 miles from the start, Woodfords Inn was about 4 miles from the start and the Sorensons Resort was about 9 miles.  I also considered sleeping in the car but unfortunately I was too tall for the rear of my SUV, so I decided to get a good nights sleep and booked a hotel in South Shore.

Pre-Nutrition for the Death Ride

Now that I had my accomodations settled my next concern was getting through the Death Ride without a major leg cramp.  At Ironman 70.3 California and Hawaii 70.3 I got major leg cramps on the run in both events.  I thought I did everything right nutrition wise with meta salts, carbo pro, gu, water, etc etc.  At Hawaii 70.3, my leg cramp happened 1 1/2 miles into the run and another race participant handed me a package of yellow mustard and said to take it and my cramp would go away.  Miraculously, it did, so of course I had lots of mustard packs ready for the Death Ride.  The night before I pounded back a big plate of fettucine with lots of truffle oil salt along with some fresh salmon.  I started drinking Ulitima 3-4 days in advance for electrolytes and hydrated very well.  Basically, I was carbed to the max and had more salt in my diet than ever before.  I had a 20 mile ride on the Wednesday and took Thursday and Friday off to rest the legs.

The Morning of the Death Ride  

I initially planned to start the ride at 5 a.m. but because I didn't bring my lights I decided to start at 5:30 am. I figured a wake up call for 3:30 would work and get me out by 3:40 and get me to the ride by 4:25 am. This would give me enough time to find a parking spot on the side of the road near Turtle Rock and grab some breakfast.  I woke up on my own at 3 am, figured it was time to get up and at em and headed out of the hotel at 3 am.  I stayed at the Montbleu Resort and while walking out of the hotel in my kit walking my bike I had all kinds of funny looks.  People were still partying and playing the tables wondering where the heck was this guy heading.  There were a few schnockered guys sitting on the steps of the hotel that asked "Dude, where are you going?"  I told them I was going to do the "Death Ride"  They were like "Man that sounds gnarly, what's that?"  I told them I was going to ride 129 miles, climb 15000 feet and between 6200 and 8740 feet elevation.  There like "That's badass dude, good luck!"   I loaded up the bike and headed off to Turtle Rock.  Spotted some other Death Riders with bikes loaded up on Hwy 89 and followed the caravan to the ride start.  

At Turtle Rock Park

The Sheriff's directed us to park along the side of the road and I was about a 1/4 mile from the entrance.  I loaded up the bike with 50 metasalts, 10 gu roctances, 8 packs of honey stinger eltrolyte chews, two bottles of carbo pro enhanced water, 8 honey stinger waffles, my iphone for pics and off to Turtle Rock. Had a nice breakfast inside the park, oatmeal, some eggs, pancakes and headed out at 5:30 on the nose.

The Death Ride Start

Started the ride at 5:30 am on the  nose and it was nice to start the 129 mile ride with a nice downhill towards Markleeville and off to Monitor Pass.  About 3-5 miles into the ride there was a bib number checkin.  Right after the checkin the climbing begins.  It was awesome, tonnes of cyclists riding all kinds of tripped out road bikes, mountain bikes, recumbent bikes and even some old classics.  The grade was not too difficult but it just kept going and going.   Finally, I got to the top of Monitor and got my first sticker and hit the first major aid station for some more water and off to my first descent.  The pavement was perfect, so smooth and I just ripped downhill.  I was so pumped, the views were amazing!! I got down to the bottom of Monitor and got my second sticker.  It was warming up so I rolled down my armsleeves and started my second climb.  I was so pumped from the downhill I had an even stronger climb up the backside of Monitor.  Got to the top of Monitor and had my second descent.  The downhills are simply amazing, hit 50 mph on this one (a new speed record for me)  and felt in total control and there wasn't too much traffic to contend with until the bottom.  While still descending and passing many riders on the left I caught up to some Yahoo in a 7/11 kit,  that decided he would would test out his handling skills and do a slalom course towards the bottom of Monitor taking up the whole downhill with no regard for any other riders that could be passing him or moving faster. I had a few choice words to say to him but took the higher road and just passed him when we reached the bottom.

Going up Ebbets Pass was a bear,  holy smokes!  It was on this climb, that I was thinking what have I got myself into. My lungs were getting a serious workout, the legs felt fine but I understood why the Death Ride logo is a rib cage with skulls in it! I didn't even want to think of two more climbs.  I also couldn't believe that I couldn't get to 70.3 miles cycling ONLY at the Death Ride compared to my swim, bike and run at Hawaii 70.3.  I am a cyclist for crying out loud, this was way more difficult.  I got to the top of Ebbets and there was another rest stop, I got my third sticker and again refueled, had some watermelon, gatorade and started the descent on the back side.  It wasn't as long as the first climb and I felt the bumps in the road far more on this descent.  I got to the bottom and got my 4th sticker and started back up the backside, the climb was getting tougher and tougher but I made it.  I took about a 3-5 minute break and started my descent down Ebbets towards Markleeville, thinking yippee one more to go and I am a 5 pass finisher.  There were lots of hairpin turns on this descent, had to brake early and be more cautious on these turns.  At the bottom part of the descent heading towards Markleeville, we hit some pretty good headwinds. I felt the heat turn up quite a few notches through Markleeville on the climb back up to Turtle Rock park.  I stopped at my car for a few minutes to ditch my base layer and arm sleeves and continued on towards Woodfords.  

I got to the corner and hit the first aid station before the climb up towards Carson began and got a pic with the Grim Reeper. It was smoking hot, had the jersey zipped all the way down and just kept grinding up the hill towards Hope Valley. At mile 95 my family yelled out the window of their car and it couldn't have come at a better time.  They were heading in the same direction uphill, I stopped and took a quick photo with them and thanked them for being there.  Family support makes a big difference.   They headed back to Turtle Rock and I had 34 miles to go, got to the last aid station before a 9 mile climb to the top of Carson.  I hopped on the back of a couple of wheels while into more headwinds and was hanging on by a thread.  At one point my lungs and heart were pumping so hard I had to stop to regain my composure.  My legs weren't the problem, it was the lungs!  After that pause I seemed to gain some steam knowing I was 3-4 miles from the top and I didn't stop once, just keep plugging away up the hill.  Got to the top and there was a small downhill to get the 5th sticker and my long awaited ice cream.  I signed the Death Ride poster, filled up my water bottles and headed back down Carson. I wanted to break 11 hours and was at around 10:15 with 24 miles to go, I figured with a long descent back I could easily average 30 mph. 

Close Call on Carson Descent

I had all 5 stickers but to me I wasn't out of the woods yet.  I still needed to finish at Turtle Rock Park with 24 miles to go.  About 4 miles into the descent I hit a long straightaway at hit 45 mph. I am 196 pounds and fly down hills. As I was descending I saw the lineup of cyclists making the final climb, with grimaces on their face spinning up to the top of Carson.  All of a sudden one of the riders heading up the mountain decides to pull a U-Turn right in front of me going 45 mph I honestly saw my life flash before me.  I started yelling as loudly as I could to get his attention, if I hammered the breaks I would be down in a heartbeat going 45 mph, I've fallen at 17 and 22 mph before and its not pretty I can only imagine double the speed.  I had a few choice words to say as I swerved to avoid collision with this guy. I'm thinking holy crap, my family just saw me at mile 95 waiting for my return to Turtle Rock and another cyclist NOT a motorist almost causes a catostrophic crash!  

Less than a minute after the near collision, still kind of shaking I hear this hissing noise. I though it was the race number on the front of my bike but it ended up being my rear tire.  I blew a tire, I am thinking it was a pinch flat from all the lines/bumps in the road down Carson.  I braked and pulled over and my tire was toast, I had a spare tube but no tire.  Shortly after the guy the pulled a u-turn in front of me came to apologize.  It turned out he was also from San Diego. Apology accepted, he said he looked and saw the coast was clear and next thing he knew I was there.  Whatever the case was, I knew no one one would make a move like this on purpose.  He offered support with my flat, I told I needed a tire, we shook hands and he headed back down while I waited for a SAG vehicle.  One of the SAG units arrived on a shiny new Bimmer Motorcycle and to my delight he happened to have a spare tire.  Yesssss I can finish the ride.  Changing a tire and tube is not my forte but I got it done and continued on down Carson.  I was cautious at first to make sure the new tire felt right.  It did so I turned up my speed knowing my family was waiting for me and wondered what my delay was I got a text while i was changing the flat.   Heading down the descent towards Woodfords, myself and another rider were being held up by a Sheriff's vehicle heading the same way. We both joked that we should give him a ticket for going too slow.  He was just being cautious passing some of the cyclists heading down in front of us.  He got by and the coast was clear to let it rip.  I hit a new speed record at hit 50.7 mph!  I know its crazy, but I wasn't even pedaling.  I hit the turn at Woodfords and had some short climbs back to Turtle Rock and about 3 - 4 miles.

I made it back to Turtle Rock and my patient family was awaiting my arrival.  I got in the park just past the parking lot and saw them clapping, I raised my arms like I just won the Tour de France and finished 5 passes on my first Death Ride.  What a relief!  The whole experience was amazing, it was a mental and physical battle out there that I conquered. 

I would consider myself a strong age grouper cyclist. I can take pulls regularly in my group rides back home and  ride at least 5 times per week averging just over 20 mph on rides from 40 - 80 miles around San Diego terrain.  This Death Ride was the toughest endurance event I have ever tackled!  I plan to do this ride again in 2013 as I am signed up for my first full ironman.  Ironman Lake Tahoe.  I figure doing this ride again will be a could confidence booster for the IMLT bike course and make it seem easier.  I also want to mention I have done the Haleakala climb on Maui and this is by far the toughest compared to Haleakala.

Thank you to all the amazing volunteers and organizers of this event.  I felt totally welcomed by everyone and was really impressed with their enthusiasm and supportive words during the ride.  I am grateful for my health to be able to tackle a ride like this and will always remember this day. Congrats to all the other cyclist out there that participated.  It was amazing to see so many amazing athletes young, old, men, women all out there challenging themselves.  It was a very motivating ride!


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