I wish the Tour de France — and all of the big cycling tours, really — would follow the same route each year. Now, I freely confess that’s probably a stupid wish, but I’ve got my reasons. To me, part of what makes a traditional cycling event a great tradition is that as much as possible of that event remains consistent. The approximate date, the rules, the incentives, and the course are pretty much the things that you can normalize, and so you should.
By having a different course each year, it becomes difficult for us to really compare the winner of one Tour to another.
But in pro cycling, that’s pretty much normal. Which makes me think: are there any other sports where the most-well-known annual event is actually a completely different event each year? I can’t think of any.
So, you see, that’s why I don’t ride in any of the Grand Tours.
On the other hand, each year I do the Leadville 100, which has seen two minor course changes — one having to do with bandwidth, the other having to do with safety — in the thirteen years I’ve ridden it. It makes an excellent yardstick of my fitness for the year.
And I like doing the same rides — whether road or mountain — several times each year, for kind of the same reason. Whenever I ride the Alpine Loop, I’m not just getting a good ride, I’m taking a ride down (but first, up) memory lane.
Same thing goes with Mt. Nebo. And Frank. And Squaw Peak. And Jacob’s Ladder.
OK, I cried.
My point — and I’m as surprised to be making a point as you are — is that when I know and am planning on a particular ride, I think about that ride. I get to the point where I’m no longer looking forward to a ride; I’m now looking forward to that ride.
And any variation from it takes some getting used to.
Sometimes, of course, it can’t be helped. A road or trail is closed. Partway through the ride someone in the group has a massive mechanical. Weather or road conditions force the group in a different direction.
It’s OK, I don’t whine about it. At least not very much, and I try to conceal my whining behind semi-oblique sarcasm.
But still, it’s a bummer.
The Death Valley Trail Marathon: Rerouted
So if I get a little hangdog and have to adjust to the change when a group ride changes course, consider how I felt when I got the following email yesterday from the Death Valley Trail Marathon organizer:
Due to rain, snow and ice, the Titus Canyon Road has been closed by the Park Rangers. The event will be held on the alternate course along Westside Road. You can view the new course map online here.
The new course is a thirteen-mile out-and-back (as opposed to a point-to-point) on a dirt-and-gravel road (as opposed to in the beautiful wilderness of Titus Canyon), is almost perfectly flat (as opposed to twelve miles of climbing, followed by fourteen miles of descending), and the entire thing actually happens below sea level.
You know you are feeling disappointed when the most obviously exciting thing about a course is its peculiar altitude.
Now, I want to be clear: I am not angry about this course change. This is not the first time this has happened on this course, and the organizer went out of its way to make it clear in the sign-up: about a third of the time, weather forces a route change.
So again: I am not angry.
But I am bummed. Which means I have a decision to make.
Last Saturday, The Runner and I ran 18 miles. I was tired at the end, but I was not demolished. I’m pretty sure that I can run a marathon this Saturday, and I want to try.
After all, I’ve been training for it for a whole six weeks. I don’t want to throw away all that preparation.
But do we drive eight-plus hours (each way) to do a flat dirt road marathon? Here are the things I’m considering:
- The Bet: A couple weeks ago, more than a hundred of you gave me an excellent incentive to do this race: around $4000 worth of bets. The problem is, the premise of the bet is messed up now. I can still do the Trail Valley Marathon, but that marathon no longer has 2000 feet of climbing, nor does it have 5000 feet of descending. If, on the other hand, I do the modified version of this race, I think it will actually be harder for me; I was counting on that fourteen miles of downhill (and net elevation change of -3000 feet) to help my time.
- The Alternatives: A marathon is 26.2 miles, and can be anywhere. A trail marathon is 26.2 miles on dirt, and can be anywhere. If we choose, I’ll bet The Runner and I could cobble together a trail marathon that is closer to where we live and closer in elevation gain / loss to what the original Death Valley Marathon was. Or we could pre-run the St. George Ironman course in its entirety. That would be helpful to The Runner, and with way more than 2000 feet of climbing, should easily satisfy the spirit of the bet.
- The Scenery: Death Valley really is a place everyone should see. I was excited to show The Runner the Devil’s Golf Course, as well as the Artist’s Palette. Plus, the marathon actually goes through the Devil’s Golf Course, which I think could be a surreal experience worth having. On its own merits — if we had planned for this kind of marathon in the first place, in other words — this course might be cool to do.
- The Drive: It takes at least eight hours to get to Death Valley. That’s a long drive. The thing is, though, I actually see this as a plus. A good audiobook can make a long drive a really great thing. (Audiobook fans: feel free to use the comments section to recommend an audiobook you’ve liked.)
- The Cognitive Dissonance: There’s a good chance it will rain during the Death Valley Trail marathon itself. The strangeness of being cold and rained on in the hottest, driest desert in the U.S. sounds pretty interesting to me.
Honestly, I don’t know what to do. And The Runner is as stymied as I am.
By all means, Internet, share your wisdom with us. For we are baffled.