It’s hard to believe that the 10th edition of the World Championships of Elliptical Cycling is just around the corner. In a few short weeks, nearly 50 audacious riders are planning to start 4,209 feet below and 11.7 miles away from the finish line atop Palomar Mountain to see how long it takes each of them to get there. I’m starting to get the pre-race jitters just thinking about it!
I’ve been lucky to race all nine of the events we’ve held so far. Even though the course has stayed the same, each race has been different for me. Some involved a lot of suffering. Others were surprisingly pleasant. A few times, I was in shape to actually race to the top. Most times though, I started too fast and found myself in survival-mode several miles from the top. I’m sure many of you who have attempted this climb understand that experience. However, regardless of my fitness and pacing, every race has ended with the elation of crossing the finish line completely spent, with the overwhelming satisfaction of knowing I had just achieved something very difficult. For me, that is a rare and precious feeling. I plan to be back at the starting line again this year in hopes of finding that feeling again.
There are a lot of great moments, memories and stories that have come from these races over the years. In honor of the upcoming 10th anniversary of our first race, here are 10 of my favorites:
#10 – The Pioneers. The group photo before the 2010 race. It was a super cold morning and we were all parked in a random dirt and grass field just down from the starting line. Everyone was in the middle of warming up and the sun was just barely rising when we got the photo. Lots of great faces and memories from the earliest ElliptiGO riders in this one. Also, it was the first time I had been warming up for a race in many years, so that made it particularly fun and special for me.
#9 – “PT” in the Snow. One of the most iconic ElliptiGO images is Paul Thomas holding his winning ElliptiGO 8S above his head at the finish line in 2011, with the snow-covered landscape surrounding him and a look of pure achievement on his face. That race will always be remembered for the final mile with slush in the road and snow everywhere. 2011 was hands down the coldest and most scenic race we have ever had and I’m guessing the last one we did in November.
#8 – Rusty Snow Pleading His Case to Race with the “Elites.” About a week before the 2012 race, Bryce asked me to switch some guy named Rusty from the middle group to the fastest group in the race. This was his first year racing and I didn’t know anything about Rusty Snow; so when we were slotting people into time slots, I had put him in the middle group thinking he was going to finish around 1:30 or 1:40. He called Bryce and suggested that he “might” be able to hang with the “fast guys” and asked if we could start him with the last group. We had a really strong field that year, so I was resistant to the change. Bryce really advocated for him and I eventually relented. Of course, Rusty went on to beat the previous champion and a couple of Olympians that year, capturing his first of seven world championship titles. As a result of his unbelievable success in this race, I sometimes refer to the World Championships as the “Rusty Snow Invitational.”
#7 – Team Canada vs. Team USA. In 2011 and 2012 Mike Dyon, the President of our Canadian partner, recruited a couple of other Canadians to come down and race as Team Canada. He was really pushing it so we put together a Team USA to accept the challenge. Each team designed their own uniforms. The teams being there in uniform added a really cool dimension to the race, especially since in 2012 each team had a former Olympian racing for their country again. The evening after the first team competition in 2011, which Team Canada won, Mike stood up on a chair in the middle of the office and made a big announcement. Speaking half in French and half in English, Mike gave a long talk about the strength of the competitors and the pride of Canada, and then presented several pint-sized cans of pure Canadian maple syrup to the company in grand fashion. Those white aluminum cans of syrup took up residence in the company’s kitchen cupboard for at least five years. I don’t know what happened to them, but every time I saw them I would think about Mike and that race, which brought me more joy than if I had enjoyed the syrup inside.
#6 – The Freight Train. One of my favorite parts of the race is when the first person passes me from a later group. It always sounds like a freight train flying up the mountain. It usually comes around mile 6 or 7 for me, right when I’m starting to really hurt and feel like I’m all alone. It’s a real pick-me-up because whoever it is always says something positive on their way by. One year it was a pack of 5 riders in a row, which was quite a sight. Other times, it has been Rusty all on his own. My favorite pass of all time was when Sarah Brown flew by me 20 weeks pregnant and ahead of everyone else. I think her record performance that year will stand for a very long time and will never, ever be broken by someone that far along in a pregnancy.
#5 – The Mile Markers. One of my favorite things about this race is that after the turn onto South Grade Road, there are mile markers every .2 miles. Those things have played wonderful mind games for me during the solid hour of agony I usually spend on that section of the course. These are the thoughts that run through my head constantly as I get to mile 8 and beyond: What number was on that last mile marker? Did I miss this one? How far is it to the finish from here? Is the finish line 47.8 or 48.6? Where is the next mile marker? 1:50 between mile markers – how fast am I going? I honestly can’t look at a mile marker with a decimal point now and not think of Palomar.
#4 – Dick Whiting’s Polo Shirts. If you haven’t met Dick Whiting, you are missing out. He lives in Massachusetts, but has been out for most, if not all, of the races we have held. Early on he secured the role of ensuring that everyone makes the turn from the 76 onto South Grade Road. Taking his role seriously while still having fun with it, as Dick Whiting does, he has worn the brightest neon pink and neon yellow polo shirts there are in existence to make sure that no rider misses him. No rider, of course, could miss him waving enthusiastically at the intersection and yelling instructions to “turn left.” He is a welcome sight every year and always has cheerful words of encouragement for each rider as they go by. Thinking about Dick’s enthusiasm at the turn makes me realize that he really embodies the spirit of all of the people who have supported the past nine races as timers, gear haulers, “aid station” supporters, videographers, photographers, support riders, and SAG vehicles. We couldn’t run the race without these folks getting up at 4AM and getting out to the mountain to help out. Thank you to everyone who has supported the past 9 iterations of this race, and thank you to Dick for being the most distinctive of them all.
#3 – The Pre-Race Dinners. For the first several years we hosted pre-race dinners on Friday night. These were old-school carb-loading gatherings for the people who were racing the next morning as well as their families and all ElliptiGO employees. It was a great way to get to meet so many customers who we had interacted with via email and social media for years but never met in person. It was also fun to meet their families (and size up the competition). We held them at several different locations over the years, but my favorite was in the Drown’s backyard. It was such a comfortable atmosphere. I think both years we did it there Mary Decker and her husband Richard Slaney were there. They would anchor one end of the backyard and basically be the last people to leave. There’s nothing like the energy generated by a group of racers the night before the race. Everyone is nervous, excited and eager to get to the starting line.
#2 – The Finish Line. It doesn’t matter what kind of shape I am in, the weather, or how the race has unfolded for me, there are few feelings as good as the one I get when I come around that last bend in the road and finally spot the finish line. That is the first time in the race when I feel certain that I am going to finish. Usually, this feeling comes after 30 – 60 minutes of pushing through a combination of exhaustion, pretty miserable self-talk and the contemplation of quitting; so the relief and joy I get from finally knowing that I’m going to achieve the task and get to the top is tough to describe. As everyone who has done Palomar knows, it is a really, really tough climb. That is what makes this event special. Someday I won’t be able to make it to the top. Until then, I plan to cross as many finish lines as I can. I’m hoping for #10 on Saturday.
#1 – Lyn Huston Coming Around the Final Bend. Lyn’s physical transformation is so inspiring that it is hard to articulate it well. The bottom line is that getting up Palomar is really, really hard. Watching Lyn dedicate herself every day to her goal of getting fit for hundreds of days in a row was unbelievable. Receiving her request to race last year was beyond my expectations. Seeing her come around that last bend in the road and cross the finish line demonstrates the spirit of why we started this company better than anything I could ever put into words. Thank you Lyn for putting in the work that made that memory for me.