Inside A Speed Run Of The White Rim
Last fall, Andy Dorais hit the famous White Rim Road—taking aim at the fastest known time. Finishing the loop in 5:59, he set the bar high. Certainly higher than most of us aspire to. But even we weekend warriors who just want to cram more fun into our short weekends can take tips from him. So we asked Andy to share his secrets for going faster, so you can go farther in the time you have. Here's his story of the White Rim, originally posted in his blog, followed by his tips.
Since I hung up the skis in April last year (earliest ever), I'd been dutifully training on the bike for a smattering of races, both road and mountain. The season was mixed with some good results, some dnf's, and a couple unfortunate flats. My best results seemed to come against people who didn't know they were racing, i.e. Strava!
One goal for the year was to return to the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park and try to set the fastest known time for the loop. I rode it last year with my friends Tom and Jason, and brother Jason, and felt like I could go a bit faster. When trying to break a "record," it's good to know what that time actually is. But the internet could only tell me that Jeremy Nobis was suspected of having the record with a time of 6:10-20ish.
In early November, I got an invite from the Simmons boys and Paul Hamilton to try and ride to loop fast as a group. We started at the top of the Shafer climb and rode counter clockwise, trading pulls until eventually I found myself off the front gunning for Nobis's time. Bonking hard, I completed the loop at the top of the Shafer climb in 6:09. I felt a little sheepish about calling that the "record" so I decided I'd have to go back and ride it solo.
A couple weeks later, a work window opened up and I made the solo drive down to Green River for a night at the Comfort Inn. All too early, the alarm pierced through my ear plugs. Packing up, I was anxious to get started.
This time, I parked at the visitor's center and rode down the Shafer switchbacks to start my loop at the bottom, climbing back up and continuing counter clockwise. I reasoned that it would be good to tackle the climb while fresh and then finish on the mostly "false flat downhill" toward the base of the climb.
It was a cool autumn morning in the desert and I was feeling fairly fresh in spite of the Grandeur laps I'd been doing in preparation for ski season. At the junction with Potash Road, I stashed a long-sleeve jersey, started my watch and set in for a long day. It felt good to start climbing and even though I didn't have a power meter, I sensed I had good legs.
Hitting the pavement in 27 minutes, I was ahead of schedule and told myself to not push too hard so early. I tried to stay steady until the Mineral Bottom Road and then use the downhill-trending section to maintain a high pace and get in some calories. At the river, I found the road to be dry and even a little sandy which was not a good indicator of the conditions ahead.
At one point, I dropped a gel flask, thought about leaving it, but flipped a U to go back and grab it. I figured the 30 seconds lost to do so would pay dividends later. I was also glad to not litter. I was not, however, glad about the increasingly sandy road ahead. The last trip with the Simmons boys held very little sand and was overly wet. This day was the opposite.
Spinning out and wasting watts, I was a little bummed to be working so hard to be going so slow. My optimistic goal was under 5:45 but I was still going to be happy with sub-six hours. I could feel it slipping away in the sand.
Fortunately, I still had good power on all the short, punchy climbs and didn't experience even the slightest cramping. Maybe I'm getting better at metering these long efforts, or maybe it's the flask of pickle juice that I started nursing around the three-hour mark?
Doing the math, I could tell that the last hour was going to be tough. I needed to average around 17 mph to slip in under six hours. I kept telling myself that I was supposed to feel crappy by this point compared to the last effort as I already had done the big climb. The finish line was the outhouse by the Potash Road.
On the final rise, I laid down all my remaining watts, which by this point weren't that many. With a short, fast downhill to my finish line, I still had a couple minutes to spare. I coasted with glee, glad to be done with the torture and stopped my watch at 5:59:30. To my knowledge, that's the fastest complete White Rim, but as always there are a ton of people that could or maybe have gone faster. It's a big claim, but I'm a big claimer so I'll take it for now.
Breathing a sigh of relief, I picked up my long-sleeve jersey where I left it and started to cruise easily back up the climb to my car. Within five minutes of soft pedaling, I was going cross-eyed and bonking hard. I got off the bike and laid in the dirt for a few minutes. Somehow, in my excitement earlier, I forgot to stash any food or water for after the time trial.
I alternated walking and laying in the dirt for the next hour and a half and finally, 1:54 after finishing my TT, crested the Shafer climb for the second time. This "cool down" took significantly longer than the 27 minutes earlier that morning. It also was much, much more difficult and a fitting end to a painfully beautiful day in the desert.
Want to go farther, faster?
For those wanting to set a goal to go faster on the White Rim or something similar, I've made many mistakes and hopefully my painful lessons can be of benefit. The guiding principle for me while traveling fast in the mountains or when trying to complete something like the White Rim in a day is to stop as little as possible. We have a saying, "No walking, no talking." Our friends don't get to stop to chat when we can pedal softly and chat and keep moving toward our goal.
Metering the effort is another key to a fast White Rim. I love the classic quote by Steve Prefontaine, "The best pace is a suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die." I have bombed countless races living by that motto. This time I tried to ride at a pace that I could just barely sustain till the end. Judging by how I felt on my "cool down" back up the Shaffer climb, I didn't save anything.
For hard sustained efforts, nutrition can be a huge limiting factor. I find it hard to eat, and get behind on calories early. One trick I've been using for a few years is to mix all my gels into my water bottles. It's less messy without all the wrappers on the fly, and it's also one of the few times it's OK to drink all your calories.
The last tip is to pay strict attention to your gear. Make sure it matches the needs of the course and effort. This applies to the bike, gearing, tires, clothing, etc. Don't let something simple like chafing or bad gearing ruin an otherwise perfect day.
Ok, the last last tip is this: Steel your resolve. Efforts like this are hard, but I enjoy the absurdity of it all. Especially since afterward I feel like I have a free pass to eat and eat and eat! So enjoy the self-imposed hardship and then enjoy the buffet!