Lumberjack 100

I really wanted to push myself this year and sign up for something that scared me.  Ted had mentioned doing a 100 mile mountain bike race, so we decided on the Lumberjack 100 in Wellston, Michigan.  As the race sells out quickly, we registered within the first couple of minutes that registration was open – the 450 racer cap was met in just 6 days.  The anxious feelings and long training hours started soon after.

Six months later, we were nervously joking around at the start line.  I calculated that on a perfect day, with no flat tires or mechanicals, I would finish around 10 hours – best case scenario, I thought I might be able to squeeze in under 10 hours.  No matter what, when the race started, I knew it was going to be a long, grueling day in the saddle.  I planned to have to dig deeper than I ever have before, and I was right.

The Lumberjack 100 is a three lap course; each lap consists of 33.3 miles of mostly singletrack with some fire roads and plenty of climbing.  I knew the terrain would be different than what I am used to riding in Indiana.  The trails in the Manistee National Forest are fast, flowy, and smooth ribbons of dirt weaving through stunningly beautiful stands of hardwoods.  A thick canopy overhead and endless ferns covering the forest floor offered plenty of scenery but not enough to take my mind off the daunting length of the race.  The first lap was slowed quite a bit, like most cross country mountain bike races, by the sheer number of riders trying to go from road and doubletrack at the start to singletrack.  It thinned out enough in the first few miles, and I was able to get into somewhat of a rhythm.  Most of lap one, I was trying to learn the course and take in plenty of fluids.  For each lap, I planned to have a 24 ounce bottle of Tailwind in my cage and a 16 ounce bottle of water in my jersey with plenty of real food in my pockets as well.  My cooler at the lap area was stocked with all of my pre-mixed bottles and nutrition needed for the day – I had about 2400 calories in all; I knew I wouldn’t take it all in, but I wanted options for late in the race when my stomach and cravings do weird things.

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Smiling like an obnoxious idiot

Lap one went by in a little over 3 hours and I grabbed fresh bottles and a lap’s worth of bars and gels from my pit area.  Rolling through the pit area gave me extra energy as it was noisy with all the pit crews and supporters, ringing cowbells and screaming at riders.  Then within seconds, it was back into the forest and the eery quiet other than the sound of tires rolling on dirt and rocks.  I wondered how Ted was feeling and where he was in his lap.  I tried to keep my heart rate low up the climbs, but as the temperature was steadily rising, that was becoming a monumental challenge.  As I passed other riders or as others passed me, I tried to give some encouragement.  As the miles ticked by, I kept looking down at my gps waiting to see that 50 mile mark – half way!  I saw 38 miles then 41.6 miles then 43.3 miles.  Damnit it was hot, my legs and breathing were feeling heavier than they should, and I’m not even halfway!  I tried my best to stay in the moment and enjoy the trail, but I really wanted to hit halfway and feel like I was on the return trip.  Although I also knew every mile of trail would have to be repeated one more time on lap 3.

I was feeling confident though overheated.  The last five miles of each lap were rough.  A lot of the climbing was all smashed up in the last bit of the laps, and that is the point that you really just want it to be over.  I struggled at the end of lap 2.  I knew I was fatiguing physically and mentally as I railed a sandy corner onto some doubletrack and ended up sliding out.  It was a simple crash that bruised nothing more than my ego – just enough to make me a little upset with myself for the mistake.  I finished the second lap’s climbing and rolled through the pit area for the last time.  I was hurting for sure, but I reloaded fresh bottles, more nutrition, and then stretched my legs off the bike as I downed a 7.5oz. mini-can of Coke.  The quick hit of far-too-many simple sugars hit my blood like jet fuel and sent me flying out on my last lap.  I have used these mini-cans before in training, and it’s crazy how big of a difference it makes.  The high lasted for a while, but around mile 72 I started to feel some real mental fatigue that slightly worried me.  Having never ridden a mountain bike this long or far, I felt a little uneasy knowing my brain was reacting to stimulus slower.  When you’re bombing down a rocky hill at 23mph with a slow reaction time, things can happen.  I feathered my brakes a bit more on the last lap to be safe.  My eyes automatically checked the miles on my gps more frequently.  Sometime after mile 82, my brain and body went a little off track.  I bonked and started getting really frustrated with everything.  The guy’s hub behind me drove me nuts!  The intermittent squeak in my left pedal annoyed the hell out of me!  The aid station that I thought for sure was at mile 82 wasn’t there!  I needed the aid station badly as I was running low on fluids and was craving salt.  Every turn in the trail, where I didn’t see the aid station, my blood would go up a degree.  COME ON!!  Finally, I got to the aid station, and one of the awesome volunteers refilled my bottle.  I drank half of it, and he filled it up again.  Then I shuffled over to the food.  I ate a handful of combos, a half of a PayDay bar, and a small bag of Doritos – shit I would never eat on a normal day, but I needed salt and calories badly.  The bars I had in my pockets could make me gag.  I was tired of sweet stuff.

I felt a little out of body at the aid station – I was looking around at all the other racers who were hurting like me.  All of us just standing there; some eating, some drinking, but all were kind of staring blankly ahead.  My thoughts were very clear, but I knew I looked like a zombie just like everyone else.  I knew my face and neck and arms were crusted with salty sweat and Doritos crumbs and dirt.  I slowly threw a leg over my bike once more and headed toward the finish.  It was going to be a slog, but I felt six months of training behind me pushing me toward the finish like a weak tailwind.  I started to feel some life back in my legs after the buffet at the aid station and was moving pretty well on the flats.  The hills were still rough, but after 85 miles of riding, I was okay with that.  I just really wanted that finish line.

The signs for “8 miles left,” “7 miles left,” etc. were taunting me.  It felt like they were ten miles apart.  I knew once I hit that “5 miles left” section, the climbing would begin and I would suffer all the way to the end.  It was extremely challenging.  Every hill I got to, there would be someone walking their bike up, silently encouraging me to do the same.  But I knew riding would be much faster, if not more painful.  I would find my easiest gear, and just stare at my heart rate the whole way up.  My heart rate refused to climb above 150bpm; a sure sign I was dehydrated or exhausted or both.  Long, gradual hills and short, punchy ones all felt the same – painful, frustratingly slow, and never-ending.  “4 miles left.”  Hill, hill, hill.  “3 miles left.”  SHUT UP.  I surprisingly had enough leg strength to climb every hill.  Watching my mileage creep up into the high 90s and still being able to climb and pop up over roots and rocks was a confidence boost.  Too bad my heart didn’t care.  As I rode past one guy walking up a hill, he mumbled something with the word “good” in it.  I mumbled something with the letters “thks” back to him.

Ready for some Magic Eyes

Totally exhausted

Finally the “1 mile left” sign appeared in my crusty vision.  The last mile was pretty fast, and I could hear the crowd and music at the finish.  It pulled me in, and I crossed the line in 9 hours and 58 minutes.  No energy was left to think about anything.  I stopped my watch, laid my bike down in the grass, and just sat there.  I was in a daze.  I stared blankly down at the dirt on my leg.  Strangely, only the center part of my vision was clear – I could only focus a very tiny part of my vision.  The dirt on my leg was extra detailed while everything around it was blurry and moving outward like quicksand.  I felt like I was looking at a Magic Eyes book.  No matter where I looked, I was seeing through a tunnel.  Weird.  I figured I was dehydrated and needed calories.  I stood up and shuffled back to the pit area – Ted took my bike, put a t-shirt he had soaked in the cooler around my neck, and gave me a bunch of water.  Ted, like a lot of the other 450 racers, had bailed after two laps.  The unseasonably hot day had gotten the best of a lot of racers.  The Lumberjack 100 was the hardest endurance event I have competed in.  I learned more over the past 6 months of training, and especially the ten hours it took me to finish the race, than I could have imagined.  I am so happy to have this race behind me, but I’m also looking forward to whatever comes next.
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Almanzo 100: Wind and Gravel and Wind

Standing in line for a porta-potty, I was shivering uncontrollably.  It was 37°F and extremely windy.  The weather forecast for Spring Valley, MN slowly changed over the preceding days – wind increased up to 30mph gusts and temperature slowly dropped.  Ted and I didn’t pack well for a cold, windy day.  He forgot his knee warmers and ended up cutting arm warmers to fit over his legs.  I just had thin knee warmers.

Talking to native Minnesotans and looking around, everyone had full length tights and windproof jackets.  That seemed smart.  I felt relatively unprepared and slightly stupid.  There wasn’t much I could do at this point.  With about 20 minutes before the starting gun, Ted and I took off down the road for a warmup.  Ten minutes later, we were at the start line, somehow feeling a lot colder than when we started our ‘warmup.’  The wind was pushing us sideways.  We took a quick picture at the start and then heard the gun.  We rolled out slowly with the giant group of cyclists (somewhere around 1000 registered), trying to stay upright in the wind.  I was preparing myself mentally for a long, tough day.  The Almanzo 100 is called “the granddaddy of all gravel races” for a reason, and we had about 100 miles to figure out why.

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Pee and food stop. We did not wash our hands

At about five miles in, the pack seemed to be spreading out which was good and bad.  It was great to have a little more room and not feel so cramped and tight in a crowded group; but it was bad because the wind felt even stronger without anyone around helping to block it.  As we sped past a goat pasture, all the goats ran after us making a lot of noise.  Ted referred back to this ‘goat stampede’ several times throughout the day.  The first hour seemed to go by fairly quickly.  I pulled out my first of many Honey Stinger waffles, one of my favorite ride fuels.  They are great on the bike energy thanks to having 7 grams of slow burning fat per waffle.  (They are also excellent with a cup of coffee on any morning!)

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Smiling real big

It did not take long for Ted and I to wax lyrical over the scenery and the gravel roads.  Minnesota is a beautiful state with lots to offer anyone who loves nature and the outdoors.  But the gravel roads and farm country we were riding through were quintessential Midwest perfection.  On top of ridges, we could see miles and miles of deep green pastures, well manicured fields, and pristine wood barns.  My eyes continuously scanned the endless gravel roads spanning off in the distance like white ribbons.  Though sometimes deep, the hard-packed gravel and dirt was buttery smooth and fast under our tires.  It was almost enough to take our minds off of that relentless wind.  Almost.

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Showing off my super beefy legs

That damn wind would not stop and would not slow down.  It would hold steady enough to force you to lean into the wind, then it would let up just enough to throw you to the side a bit, and finally gust up to 30mph and push you the other way.  It was horrendous.  I hate riding in the wind, but I had never experienced anything like this.  Riding in a line of cyclists, I noticed how everyone was leaning a certain degree to the left, trying to counter its stronghold.  It was actually better to be riding into a headwind, because it didn’t require any auxiliary muscles to stabilize your position.  A headwind just meant putting your head down and grinding through it.  The crosswinds were worse – my quad on whichever side the wind was blowing from would fatigue and ache from holding me up against the lean into the wind.  It was crazy.

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Smoothest roads

Twenty miles went by.  Then thirty miles were behind us.  A quick stop at the first aid station to take in more food.  Then forty and fifty miles done.  Ted and I both felt pretty good until sometime after the fifty mile mark.  We were straight into a headwind for a while, and I momentarily looked back and could barely see Ted.  Uh oh.  I slowed up a bit and waited for him.  He said he was fine; he was just feeling a little slower because of the wind.  I told him we should latch on to a group that had just passed us; we pushed a bit to catch up and as soon as we got on their wheels, the wind seemed to disappear.  It was a much needed respite, if for no other reason, just to have a few minutes of quiet.  I turned around again, and Ted was off the back.  Uh oh again.  I slowed up and we lost the group ahead.  He said he just wanted to ride his own pace.

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Head down, either weeping or just staying low in the wind

For a long time, we rode this way – fifteen minutes of solo riding, then I would stop and wait for Ted to catch up.  I didn’t mind.  He didn’t mind.  We have talked about doing Almanzo for almost as many years as we have known each other, so we were definitely going to finish together.  It was too windy to hear the person next to you talk anyway.  So we would chat each time we stopped and there were always a bunch of “Did you see that…” and “This route is so beautiful…”  Somewhere around mile 60, there was an amazing aid station.  It was a huge party stocked with any kind of food you could want – potatoes, bacon, M&Ms, hot dogs, beer, water, peanut butter filled pretzels, rice cakes, Cheez-Its, and the list goes on.  It was amazing.  I was craving salt, so I ate some baked potato chunks (in salt) and roughly five pounds of Cheez-Its.  Ted nabbed a hot dog.  We topped off our bottles and off we went.

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That’s a big ass sky

Time went quickly and slowly for the rest of the race.  Five miles seemed to take an hour.  But then I would blink and my Garmin would jump ten or fifteen miles.  I was trying to stay in the moment and out of the wind at the same time; that’s a hard task to accomplish.  At mile 81, at a major road crossing, I met two women in an F-150 waiting to cheer for their husbands.  They were from Kansas and were super nice.  We talked for a bit, and when Ted rolled up, they offered him a hug.  We knew we would be done soon enough, so he skipped the hug and we took off, knowing there was a huge hill at mile 91.  The next ten miles were all headwind.  When I reached the hill, the guy next to me said, “Moment of truth.”  Then we rounded a corner and I saw it.  I didn’t think it looked that big or steep, but everyone on it was walking their bikes.  I pedaled my way up without much trouble.  At the top, I got out of the wind behind some trees, ate the rest of my ProBar (thanks, Duane!), and waited for Ted.  A few minutes later, he rolled up and said “Sorry I’m riding like a Grandpa.  Let’s just finish this thing.”

So we did.  The last several miles were awesome.  We were about to finish something we had talked about doing for years.  We rolled across the finish.  There was no finisher’s medal or buffet waiting for us at the end.. just a spot in the grass where we could sit for a few minutes.  It was all I wanted.  We stared off into the distance for a while and didn’t say anything, too tired to think of anything to say.  Then we got back on our bikes and pedaled to the car.  We ate cold pizza in silence.  No wind or anything else interrupted us.

101.30 miles.  7:48 ride time; 8:36 total.

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“Just two slender cowboys” – Ted

Death March 2016

The Death March is a seriously fun bike race.  Some people might even call it more of a scavenger hunt than a race.  My partner Eric and I were not going to take it particularly serious – we planned on riding a comfortable and sustainable pace throughout the day.  It would be more of a training ride than anything else.  Most teams map out which checkpoints/cemeteries they want to hit prior to the race start.  Eric and I figured we would wing it – about five minutes from the start, we pulled out his map and pointed at some spots.  That was about the extent of our planning.  Since we had a decent amount of rain, we figured a lot of teams wouldn’t be going for Elkinsville or Callahan since both require quite a bit of singletrack trail to get to them.  We would slightly regret this decision by the end of the day.

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The race started, and we went right with most of the pack.  We immediately flip-flopped on our decision to go for the Gil Gal cemetery checkpoint like we had discussed.  We decided to skip it and just hit Hawkins instead.  Less than a half mile down the road, Eric’s tire was rubbing his frame quite loudly.  I almost couldn’t hear it, because I was laughing so hard.  We were only a couple minutes into the day, and we had already changed our route and now were stopping to fix a mechanical issue.  We were hardly ‘racing,’ and that was just fine with us.  We rolled pretty well for the next hour, picking off three quick checkpoints before heading to the fire tower and climbing it for our fourth checkpoint.

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From the fire tower, we cruised Tower Ridge until it runs into West County Road 1000 North.  A quick 4 miles of paved road and we were in Houston collecting the Houston and Lutes cemeteries.  Back to some gravel climbing and we nabbed Hanner and Cornett.  Then we took Hickory Ridge Trail 21, so much fun in the mud on a cross bike!  Five miles of gravel road and we were at Hickory Grove Church, checkpoint 8.  Despite the rain, the gravel roads were quick – and our day seemed to be close to over.  Neither Eric or myself felt challenged.  Oops.  We probably should have gone for a few more checkpoints farther out.  Oh well, at this point, we had less than six miles to the finish.  We hit it pretty hard on this fast section of gravel, averaging almost 19mph for the last 5 miles.  We obviously hadn’t pushed ourselves very hard.  But the beer at the finish line was calling us home.

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We crossed the finish line with about 44 miles and 3 hours of ride time on the day – not terrible, but a lot less than we figured we would hit.  Talking to others at the finish later on, we learned that a lot of teams actually did go for the checkpoints with a lot more trail.  We should have done the same.  Maybe next year we will plan a bit more ahead of time – either way, the Death March is always a great day on the bike.  And you really cannot beat the gravel roads in and around the Deam Wilderness.  Eric and I will likely be back.  Next time, we will plan a little better I think.

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Review: MAAP Team Bidon

This isn’t just any water bottle, it’s the MAAP Team Bidon. Bidon is just a fancy, European word for bottle. It’s a vessel to carry fluids. That’s all. Why am I reviewing it? Because it’s just slightly better than all other bottles I have ever used. And it comes in pink.

The MAAP Team bottle (I refuse to call it a bidon from here on out) is pretty standard: food approved, recyclable, free of BPA and all phthalates, dishwasher safe. It is made in the Netherlands and only comes in one size – 500mL (or 16.9oz.). I like the small-ish size. I use it on shorter rides, cooler days, or as my secondary bottle in the rear cage. The lid is actually what sets it apart for me. The leak proof spout just seems to work so much smoother than any standard bidon, er, bottle. As soon as a sip is finished, the spout slides in about 50% locked. It’s perfect. It won’t spill that way, and when riding, you don’t have to worry about closing it. How nice is that?

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Now I know this auto-lock feature is pretty trivial and you are probably still wondering why anyone would even bother reviewing it. Well because it sets itself apart! When a water bottle works this smoothly and encourages me to write a review, that is saying something. Also, as previously mentioned, it comes in pink.  Come on, guys. Get the pink bottle.

 

** MAAP also makes some seriously high-quality cycling apparel.  It’s all a bit pricey – and then you have to pay shipping from Australia.  But MAAP socks are some of the best around.  They are a lot like my favorite brand Swiftwick with a bit more style.  So if you can swallow the shipping cost ($21), I think you will be happy with your MAAP stuff. G’day.

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Book Review: Living With A Seal

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Living With A Seal is an incredible book.  The book is about Jesse Itzler – a guy who has worked his entire life building companies (and selling them).  He married Sara Blakeley, founder of Spanx.  Jesse runs marathons and ultras for fun.  After his running hobby plateaus and he feels bored with it, he decides to hire a Navy Seal to live with him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for one month.  The only rule during this period is that Jesse must do whatever “SEAL” tells him to do.  There are plenty of midnight runs, jumping in frozen lakes, and the like, but the most entertaining part is Jesse and SEAL’s reactions toward each other.I was thoroughly entertained throughout the read.  Jesse Itzler expresses his feelings and experiences in a way that communicates with the average working athlete.  The book is not a literary masterpiece. It reads more like a diary than a polished biography or memoir.

I found myself laughing out loud at Jesse and SEAL’s interactions. Jesse is kind of a crazy dude that isn’t afraid to speak up; and SEAL is, well, a Navy Seal. The relationship between them is interesting and deeply entertaining. It’s an easy read and I would guess most people will be able to finish it in less than two weeks. I would have probably finished it in a week, though I was travelling for business, so most of my time in my hotel room was spent reading. I reluctantly finished the book in less than two days. I wasn’t ready for it to be over.

Without giving away any details, I will say that this book will not motivate you to start training to scale Everest. But it will very likely motivate you to look at your daily life in a slightly different light. Could you cut back on the time you watch sports? Could you possibly aim to do 50 pushups during each commercial break? Maybe you decide to run that first marathon or get back to doing pull-ups everyday. No matter what, the story and the relationships will entertain. I read Living With A Seal on the heels of my own 100 pull-ups everyday for 30 days challenge.  I have started to notice moments throughout my day where I can improve.  I have added pullups and pushups to my morning routine; I realized that 10 pushups every few minutes during dinner prep is easy and adds up quickly.  The book will open your eyes and make you laugh.  Just be sure to knock out a few reps of something when you’re done laughing.

2016 Ferdy Flyer 10K

The Ferdy Flyer Trail 10K is easily one of my favorite races of the past two years – and I don’t particularly enjoy shorter races.  I’m much more comfortable getting really uncomfortable on longer runs, but this 10K is so much fun and has so much character.  It also happens to take place in my favorite park on some of my favorite trails in the state.

This year would be a little different though.  First, last year I was training for several running events, so I had a lot of running miles in legs.  Lots of trail running miles.  This year, I have been training for a couple of 100 mile bike races.  So my training has been much different.  Second, I ended up catching Giesla last year with only about a half mile left in the race – she had a 9 minute head start on me thanks to the Ferdy Flyer’s unique, top secret, head start time algorithm.  This year, she had a 12 minute head start on me.  I knew it would be real tough to catch her.  She is in great running shape too – I could catch her on a bike but running might be different.

After Giesla started, I stood around and talked with Kade.  After eight or so minutes, I could see Giesla’s pink jacket across the lake on the trail.  She looked strong and effortless.  I looked down at my skinny cycling legs.  A few minutes later, my age group started and I concentrated on keeping a steady pace and low-ish heart rate.  The heart rate part is harder to control, especially since this 10K has a little over 900 feet of climbing.  The trails at the Ferdinand State Forest are so challenging, but the beauty of the park sometimes takes your mind away.  Luckily on this day, I was able to run while taking in the scenery and keeping my mind busy.  I passed a few people here and there and tried to offer encouraging words, though I probably sounded more like I was just choking.

I never did catch Giesla – she beat me by about 7 minutes, which means I gained about five minutes on her.  She was about to open a beer when I crossed the finish line.  Giesla ended up first with an official time of 36:44 (53:29 on course), and I was second with 43:58 (46:28 on course).  It was such a fun course – and when you get to sample St. Benedict’s Brew Works at the finish, that’s just fine too!  I hope to be back for this race every year.

2015 Rundown

2015 was similar to 2014 for me.  What I planned to do and what I did were very different things.  I planned a year of running races and had hopes of completing a few more 50ks and my first 50 miler.  But my body had a different idea.  Or at least, I did not execute that plan very well.  The first several months were smooth and I continued to build up my run volume.  I was feeling great on the trails and training was going as planned.  After a couple of shorter distance races, I finally got to the Dances with Dirt 50K.  The race went fairly well aside from me getting lost and losing a bit of time.  No big deal though.  I ended up second to my friend Ted.  It was a great race, and I was extremely happy with the result.  I gave my body a few days of rest and started back into training.. but my foot was tight.  So I took it pretty easy, but every time I ran, my foot seemed to get tighter.  And then it started to ache a little in the morning.  And then I blinked and it was full blown plantar fasciitis.  It hurt like hell!  I went from being able to run with just a slight ache and a little tightness to NO RUNNING.  A week turned into a month which turned into a couple of months.

And so it goes.  Injuries are never fun.  But I know I don’t do enough strength work.  I usually put all of my time into only running or only cycling.  So with plantar fasciitis lingering and being unable to run any distance, I got back on the bike.  I also started a pretty regular strength routine.  For some reason, this time around, I immediately started enjoying lifting weights and doing pull-ups.  I spent a few months healing my foot (no running), riding on the roads and trails, and lifting weights.  I basically wanted to be in shape to explore the Alps while Giesla and I and our parents traveled through Europe.  We visited Switzerland, France, and Italy – I did some biking, we ran as much as we could, and we hiked often.  It was amazing (click here for my Sunski blog feature).

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On the Hardergrat Trail above Interlaken, Switzerland

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Rest Stop

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Exploring the Swiss Gravel Roads

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Hiking Break in the Clouds

Once back in the States, I jumped into the 14K at the Honest Abe trail races at Lincoln State Park and finished 1st.  Giesla and I both walked away with cool hand-made trophies – and I also walked away with an inflamed IT band.  So with a freshly healed plantar, I abused myself a different way.  The IT band issues cleared up with a regimen of only cycling for about a month.  Running and I have not been getting along.  I rode a giant loop in the middle of nowhere, Indiana with my friends Jeff and Ted in honor of Ted’s bacheloretteness.  He was going to get married, so we celebrated with the Ted Continental.  Then Giesla and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with a quick weekend trip to Asheville, North Carolina.  We drank a lot of beer and rode bikes.

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The Ted Continental at Mile Who Knows

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After climbing Elk Mountain Scenic Highway, Asheville, NC

Next up, Ted and I signed up for the Gravel Grovel.  We spent a lot of time in the Deam Wilderness and even got in a few group rides.  I really enjoyed all the bike training – and I got a new cross bike!  I bought a Fuji Cross 1.3, and it fits me perfectly.  Due to the muddy and wet conditions prior to the Gravel Grovel, I ended up riding my mountain bike.  It was the right choice.  The race conditions were insane – super cold, windy, and constantly raining.  I did not dress appropriately, because I thought the rain was going to stop.  I was dangerously cold by the end of the Gravel Grovel, but I learned a lot of lessons.  I hope to come back to this race in the future for some vengeance.

As the year came to a close, I slightly increased my lifting and strength workouts.  I also started to ride my Fuji Cross exclusively – it’s much heavier than my road bike and only has one gear up front, a 42 tooth chainring.  That’s not terribly large for most people, but I am built like Wiz Khalifa, and hitting the Bloomington hills with a 42T is great strength training for me.  In December, I turned 30 years old, so I decided to start challenging myself a bit more.  I never have been great at sitting still, so the older I get, the more I feel like I need to move so I don’t rot.  Or something like that.  After my birthday, I started a pull-up challenge: 100 pull-ups per day for 30 days.  I learned a lot of lessons doing that.  And got a lot stronger in that short time.

2016 will be full of challenges.  I am going to make sure of that.  I finished my 100 pull-ups/30 day challenge (with a few rest days).  Ted and I signed up for two 100 mile races: the Almanzo and The Lumberjack 100, both in Spring/Summer 2016.  And I plan to keep moving a lot.  I want to ride more than I ever have in one year; I want to run and remain healthy; and I want to lift weights, do loads of pull-ups, and get stronger.  And of course, I will eat more vegetables.  Cheers to 2016!

2015 Gravel Grovel: Cold, Wet, Spectacular

The Gravel Grovel is a 60 mile bike race on the gravel roads and mountain bike trails of the Hoosier National Forest.  It is rugged and challenging.  My friend Ted and I completed the event in 2012 – it was much colder that year (19 degrees at the start) and I came down with the flu less than 24 hours before the race, but we finished in 5 hours and 16 minutes.  I remember that race well.  It was a tough day.  Being sick and cold, I really just wanted to survive and finish.  This year, I was in much better shape, I was not ill, and the temperature was a cool 39 degrees at the start.  So how was it that this day quickly became one of the hardest I have ever had on a bike?

After 24 hours of rain, the course was extremely saturated.  I checked the weather diligently leading up to the time I left home, and every source showed the rain stopping around 10am.  With a solid breakfast and just the right amount of hot coffee, I met Ted at the start/finish and we picked up our race packets.  We were cold at the start but knew we would be heating up quickly.  Out of 241 registered, the start was about 150 riders strong.  The paved leadout section quickly dispersed the pack, and Ted and I stuck around somewhere in the middle to warm up.  With a steady spitting rain, I was getting wetter and colder but my body was warming up.  I thought I would be fine most of the day with a light wind jacket.  Ted and I yo-yoed back and forth for the first 10 miles until we reached Combs Road – a somewhat double track mountain bike trail.  I was on my Scott Scale 930 mountain bike with 2in tires, and Ted was perched on his Surly Long Haul cross bike.  So I had the advantage on the muddy, slippery trail section, and we said our goodbyes.  I was feeling pretty decent and passing people on cross bikes.  I hit the major climb and descent with good speed and got back onto some gravel.  I chatted with a few guys and we joked about the sun coming out.  The sun was never going to come out and we knew it; there was only rain and gray skies.

The next five-ish miles hurt me.  It was nothing but mud, and I struggled to get into a rhythm.  Creek crossings, deep puddles, and leg zapping muck covered this trail section.  It seemed like the choice was to ride through muddy water of questionable depth or jump over to the mud that would suck energy and momentum out of my legs.  I was fighting myself through this section and felt the effort by the time I got off the trail and back onto the gravel road.  On gravel, a mountain bike is much slower than a cross bike and I watched waves of crossers pass me.  On the 3 mile section of Nebo Ridge trail, I passed a few back.  And then out of the trails, on Berry Ridge Road, they passed me again.  It was at this point in the race, barely 25 miles in, that I realized a few things.  First, it was raining pretty damn hard, and I was absolutely soaked; on every down stroke, I could feel water squeeze out of my sock and drain through my shoe.  Second, I couldn’t see very well, because my glasses and face were constantly being sprayed by mud and gravel road spray.  Third, I was really cold.  I’m not talking about the kind of cold where you run from your car into your office cold; I’m talking about the fell-in-a-lake-in-December kind of cold.  My gloves were perfect for 39 degrees but terrible for a soaking wet 39 degrees.  It quickly registered that my gear choice was inadequate – and I wasn’t even halfway.  Luckily, I was smiling too.  I was still having fun.

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In to Houston and up one of the major climbs of the day, I warmed a little.  But my hands were so cold it was becoming difficult to shift.  Coming down that long descent, my hands became near useless claws.  I’m sure I could have cracked my gloves in half.  It was almost at that point where I wished it was just a little colder so the rain would turn to snow or ice.  It felt like every drop of rain was soaking into my baselayer and sucking my body heat away from me.  There wasn’t much I could do but spin my legs, smile through my muddy teeth, and hope I could warm up again somehow.  Coming through mile 37 and back onto some singletrack, my hands were damn near useless.  They felt like stumps attached to my handlebars.  I shifted as little as possible and every bump  in the trail sent a painful throb through my forearms.  As I hit the Polk Patch climb, it felt better to get onto familiar roads.  I kept my mind busy thinking of previous rides through this section in warm weather.  I was trying to drink while on the gravel sections and realized at 40 miles in that I had not drank a full bottle yet.  I wouldn’t finish even a single 24 ounce bottle through the entire race – a sure sign that I’m an idiot, if I had any doubts.

The next several miles were exacerbated by more creek crossings and road spray making me even colder.  I creeped up the climb to Hickory Ridge Trail 20 and reluctantly dropped into the muddy singletrack, struggling with my frozen hands the whole way.  Halfway through that section, I saw a black and yellow Team Adventures jacket in front of me!  I knew it was my teammate Eric, and I paced myself to catch him.  When I came up behind him, I jokingly yelled “Coming at you, get the **** out of the way!”  Eric did not know it was me and he sketchily dove off the side of the trail, sliding to a stop.  I felt so bad that I did that.  I apologized a hundred times and we rode our way out of that last trail section together.  At the aid station on tower ridge, I tore into a bag of Doritos.  I didn’t plan on stopping at any aid stations and I had plenty of Honey Stinger waffles, but salty Doritos just sounded so good.  Still feeling bad for almost crashing him, I fed Eric some Doritos too.. and some mud from my gloves.  We rode for a bit together, but I just couldn’t overcome the uncontrollable shaking of my limbs.  I was damn cold and trembling so much, I could not put any power into the pedals.  I didn’t want to slow Eric down either; I knew he was trying to finish in under 5 hours.  Alone and trying to figure out my ‘shakes,’ I ambled along over the next 7 miles with simply finishing on my mind.

Finally reaching the defunct bridge less than a half mile from the finish, I slowly lifted my bike and then myself over the bridge barriers.  I mounted my bike one more time and crept to the finish, all in slow motion.  I hit the last creek crossing and jumped off my bike.  I walked through the creek and, slightly beaten, across the finish –  a reasonable resemblance for my race.  I finished in 5 hours and 1 minute.  Feeling a bit dejected and a lot frozen, I trudged to my car.  I started the engine, blasted the heat, and laid in the back trying to get my helmet and shoes off.  It took twenty minutes for my hands to be useful again.  I shoved an entire pack of Honey Stinger Energy Chews in my mouth.  It was heaven.

It was 24 hours later before I got all the feeling back in my fingers – at the same time, I wanted to get out on my bike again.

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Honest Abe Trail 14K

Training since the Gnaw Bone 50K has been frustrating!  I was being smart about getting back into training slowly after the 50K but somehow ended up with plantar fasciitis that spiraled out of control quickly.  It started with a stiff left foot and quickly became horrendous within a couple of days.  I iced it, rolled it, stood on a golf ball, did all of the strengthening exercises, and almost hired a witch doctor to rub it.  None of that seemed to help.  I could run only once or twice every week.  What I could do everyday though was get out of bed with some serious pain in my foot that lasted about thirty minutes.  That’s it.  Plantar fasciitis is an immensely frustrating injury – but it’s known mostly for being extremely hard to heal.  So with that, I was off of my feet and back on the bike.  This is somewhat like giving up Skittles and eating Starbursts.  Both running and cycling bring me so much joy.  So the trade off is never really a difficult one.

A common problem I have with cycling is that I can get really fit cardiovascularly but then when I can run again, I run too hard.  This was the case for the Honest Abe Trail 14K.  I had wanted to do the marathon, but because of my foot issue, I opted for the 14K which Giesla was doing as well.  I had only been running 4ish miles per week for a couple of months trying to heal my foot, so I figured I shouldn’t run too hard.  I wanted to go out at a reasonable pace and see how it went.

The race started on a paved hill and cut into the woods on a gravel two track trail.  I tucked in behind the first handful of runners and immediately felt like I was running too hard.  Oh well, it’s just the start.  Settle down in a little bit.  But I didn’t.  I just completely ignored all of that.  The fourth place guy dropped back a bit.  Then a half mile later, the third place guy started dropping back.  I thought he seemed to be breathing hard too.  So I figured he was running a bit too hard as well.  So it was just me and a girl that I learned later is Alyson Kern.  We ran together, pushing each other, for pretty much the entire race.  Mile 2, mile 3, mile 4, mile 5, mile 6.  I couldn’t shake her, and she seemed to surge out of every corner and at the top of every hill.  With the little running I had been doing, my legs were screaming at me to slow down, though my lungs were fine thanks to all the cycling.  I kept getting some sharp twinges in my left knee too.  It was confusing, so I ignored it.  I figured it would come back to bite me, but in the heat of a race, sometimes you just ignore the signs you should pay attention to and it’s always a terrible idea.  On a particularly steep and long climb, I pushed hard until about 50 feet from the top.  I felt like I could puke, so I slowed my pace to a walk.  Alyson did the same.  When we reached the top, we were side by side again and followed along the ridge for a while.  When the long, sweeping downhill came, I let loose and figured I should try to get a gap.  I’m not a great downhill runner, but I went for it anyway.  Somehow I gapped her and was able to hold my pace for a while.  When I reached the lake and crossed over the dam, I looked back and she seemed closer than I expected.  Her form looked good too, and I thought I was in trouble.  About a mile later, I crossed the finished line in 1st in 1:02:07.

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It felt great to be done, and almost immediately, my left knee was giving me hell.  I stood around the finish and stretched and talked to the others finishing.  Giesla came in at 1:10:30, 6th overall and 2nd female.  We both had great races and enjoyed talking to the race director Beau Wendholt.  He puts on the Ferdy Flyer 10K and Honest Abe 14K and marathon – wonderfully-directed, environmentally friendly, very laid back races.  I highly recommend them both.  The volunteers are amazing and the courses are challenging.  My knee and leg gave me what I deserved for running so hard on such little training.  I should have known better than to run hard on cycling legs, but I got a good month’s worth of IT band syndrome out of it.  I am now running zero days every week and cut back significantly on cycling too.  Along with IT band syndrome, I also landed a sweet, handmade glass chili pepper for 1st place – and so did Giesla for 2nd female!  (Handmade glass from Zimmerman Art Glass, Corydon, IN)

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The Ted Continental

Not a lot to say about The Ted Continental.  Entry fee:  none.  Requirements:  Bike, camera, helmet, cue sheet.  The ride wasn’t born out of necessity.  It was just another ride.  It was also a completely different one.  This was a celebration of Ted heading toward marriage.  A bachelor party of sorts.  A ride through Indiana’s terra incognita.  Pit bulls, gas station ice cream, buttery smooth pavement in the middle of nowhere, gravel roads in the middle of somewhere, and a lot of awkward conversation with yard drunks.  We rode toward the next town and toward the finish.  We rode toward the beers we knew would follow.  But mostly, we were just riding.

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The best part about the ride wasn’t the Devil’s Backbone or the dive bars or the surprisingly huge tunnel.  The best part was the one where we were just pedaling along.  I don’t remember the exact moment, but it was perfect.

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