The Nature of the Beast. 5 Studies in Suffering.

Ultra cycling is not defined by the inherent suffering in the sport – but the overcoming of its hardships is key to what makes it so rewarding.

There of course is no way to truly quantify and compare the pain of a single event. But over the past 5 years, some memories persist, and I’ve put them together here.  I didn’t do particularly well in any of these events. But still these are some of my favorite memories to revisit.  It is in these rides where my struggle, if only to finish, was the most profound.  It is in the failures that I have learned the most, and where I’ve found the meaning and motivation to keep pushing on.

Here are my top 5 500 milers in terms of the amount of sheer willpower and pain it took to reach the finish.  But all that suffering is really just an abstract thought now, while the stories, the joy, and the experience they brought will always be with me.



5) Furnace Creek 508 2009

My first 500, and my baptism by fire into ultra cycling.

7 hours of puking. 6 hours of gale forced winds that reduced some racers to walking on the Death Valley flats, and half of the field to DNF. The most brutal winds and the highest DNF rate in the history of the race.

I persevered through all of these issues to a top 10 finish, and an undeniable confirmation of my love for the sport.


Uhhhhh. (Photo by Chris Kostman)

4) Furnace Creek 508 2012

Much had supposedly changed this year from 2009 and my first 508. I had finished the race on a fixed gear in 2010. Then I won the race in 2011. And I had recently set a record at Hoodoo, which on paper is a much tougher course. So all signs pointed to a great race. But it was not to be. A sinus infection and difficulty in the heat brought me again to my knees. Literally. Yet another race with hours of vomiting. After another Death Valley recovery, I limped to the finish, 18 pounds underweight and in severe difficulty. It would be 8 hours after finishing before my stomach would retain even a sip of water.


Red eyed, delirious, and done.

3) Old Town 1000K 2010

I had finished (albeit with serious issues) my first 500 mile event. What was next? A self supported 1000 kilometer event, of course!

My longest ride so far – a near 48 hour romp through San Diego county and beyond. 3 loops and 620 miles. Winds, heat, extended freezing cold, extreme fatigue, and just a touch of losing my mind. All without a crew to support me. I was pushing past every boundary I had so far established, but this time I loved most all of it.  The first 500+ mi event I had done without an unplanned stomach emptying. Yet still it was an extremely difficult ride – particularly battling the adversity alone, and riding deep through the second night while trying to keep mental composure and stay awake.


2) Hoodoo 500 – Voyager (self-supported)

And so I did it. The course was more grand, varied and epic than the 508 – 10,000 foot peaks, massive weather swings and stunning vistas. Not to mention brutally hard. Despite my best efforts and focused training, by mile 150 I found myself at the side of the road, puking. This time without a crew. It would be a long 45 hours until I dragged my weary body and failing mind over the finish line. The blue line on my GPS kept me on course when I was too far gone to even understand where exactly I was.  Hallucinations and creepy imaginings filled in the dark of that second night. I was still hooked. Further down the ultra rabbit hole.


1) Fixed Gear Furnace Creek 508

After a harrowing Hoodoo – I was confident that the 508, even on a fixed gear, would be comparative cake. Towne pass swiftly retaliated for my lack of respect.

Persistent vomiting. 100 degree heat. Winds that never favored. And a gear too damn big for uphills and too damn small for down. And being forced to pedal whenever in motion.  And truly losing my mind for the first time on a bike. It had never been more difficult to “get it done.” But thankfully,  the stubborn fibers of my being kept slowly turning the cranks, even when I was too far gone to know what was happening.