Eva Bandman Halloween Cross

The race at Eva Bandman Park and Cyclocross venue was tempting.  It would be my third cross race which was exciting enough to draw me in, as I’ve been pretty amped on cross racing since I did Bloomingcross.  But the Eva Bandman event was also a costume contest, an excuse to spend a day in Louisville, and a chance to race on a fairly historic course, as the UCI 2013 CX World Championships were held there.  It didn’t take much arm twisting to get me there.  Ted and Leigh joined in on the racing action, and Giesla, Hugo, Constance, Vic, Dustin, and Adria all made an appearance to yell from the sidelines.  The weather turned out to be beautiful and sunny, so the stage was set for a pretty awesome race day.

I only had time to get in a lap and a half of pre-riding, but it was enough to get me excited and extremely nervous.  The course was impressive – it was technical yet fast.  There were plenty of punchy climbs that made the choice between running and powering difficult.  And there were some long grass and singletrack sections where you could really fly.  One of my favorite course features was a steep run-up section, stair-stepped by large slabs of limestone – definitely not rideable.  Also not rideable, at least for me, was the long sand pit.  Guys on mountain bikes could float right over the sand.  Really strong riders could power through if they could keep their front wheel straight.  And then the rest of us, sadly, would have to dismount and run.  I knew the sand would be a major factor.

As this race was part Halloween-featured, Ted, Leigh, and myself wore our best flannel, denim, and mullet wigs.  I prefer to keep with tradition, and when a race or an event encourages dressing up, I think you should dress up.  There were definitely more non-participating racers wearing the normal skin suit or racing kit.  I really just wanted to beat everyone that didn’t dress up..

The start came quickly, and I had a really great call-up in the front row.  The opening section was wide and flat and then swooped down into a long grassy section with a jump large enough to get some air.  I stayed in the lead group of about ten and held my line.  The starts and any kind of high power sprinting are not my strong suit, so I try to get a decent position and hold it.  I think I am a little stronger later in the race when endurance comes into play.  My first lap was rough and I traded places with a couple of guys several times.  I gained a lot of time on the run-up and dismount sections but lost a ton of time in the sand.  On the first lap, still in a fairly large group, I entered the sand with as much speed as I could and not long after went sideways and into the fence.  That didn’t work – I’ll run this from here on out.  I got up and ran the rest of it.  I was pushing hard to keep up with the guys in front.

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A guy dressed as a caveman with huge, long dreadlocks (it was a wig) passed me and was hammering.  I figured he either had a bad start and would be up front the rest of the race or he was outside of his limit and I would catch him again.  As I passed Vic on the sidelines, he yelled out, “Eighth place, go go go!”  The first lap was quick enough, around 8 minutes, that I figured we would be doing four laps today.  The second lap was a bit more open as the field was starting to spread out.  I could see the lead guys moving really fast, and again I lost some time in the sand.  The dreadlocked caveman rode on through, and I carried my bike and ran.  Surprisingly, I didn’t lose much time to him, and I could immediately tell the sand sucked a lot of energy out of his legs.  Passing Vic again, he yelled I was in seventh place.  About that time, I saw a gap on the right side and jumped on it – I passed the caveman and could feel him close on my wheel for about a half lap before he dropped off.  Okay, sixth place.

Lap three, starting to feel the effort in my gut, like I might puke.  Which probably means I’m doing it right.  I caught up to another  guy and we were trading places back and forth.  I stayed behind him for a while and watched his run-up and how much pop he had out of corners.  He seemed pretty strong.  Lap three we stayed together and just pushed each other.  On lap four, I really wanted around him.  I blasted the limestone run-up and passed him on foot.  I had a fairly smooth remount and descent down the hill into the trees and planned to hold him off.  I could tell he wanted around me badly, but we stayed in our positions.  On one of the last punchy climbs, which I had powered up every lap so far, there were a couple of racers we were about to lap.  It was barely double-track width, so I dismounted and started to run-up while he blasted from behind and tried to push through the other racers and me.  I didn’t appreciate that move and felt it was dangerous to the other races, so now I had a fire in me.  I didn’t want to get beat by a shifty move like that.

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I got around him again with a few turns to go and pushed hard to open a gap for the final straightaway.  I was preparing for a sprint finish, but he fell off the pace and I cruised in to a fifth place finish in 32:49.  That was a challenging course, and I was happy my mullet survived.  After crossing the finish, I coughed for about fifteen minutes straight with some residual cold/allergies, mullet flapping with each cough.  I imagine it looked beautiful.

 

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Brookside Cyclocross

The start of the Brookside race was a long, straight road section with a short hill before dumping racers into the grass course.  With lots of rain in the days before, the course was slippery but not muddy.  There were plenty of off-camber turns and a long, sloping downhill section to keep racers from zoning out.  There was one set of barriers and a long stair section in front of the brick Brookside community center building.  The course was a bit more technical in my opinion than Bloomingcross.

I had a slightly better call-up (starting position) this time based on my previous race.  I started in 20th and, knowing an all-out sprint off the start is not my strong suit, I held my position on the road section.  I pushed a bit harder up the hill before entering the grass and held my pace as best I could.  I passed on the straight stretches and ran the first off-camber S-turns since I knew that it would be a traffic jam.  I gained a couple of positions there and pushed hard on the straights.  In the first lap, I questioned whether I was pushing the effort too hard.  I felt like I was on the verge of puking too early, but I was also passing racers in front of me consistently enough to just swallow that feeling and trust that my body would hold on.  On the stair run-up section, I passed several others.  It helps that I’m ultra light and also that I have a running background.  I was really pleased with my remounts (especially considering my Bloomingcross mishap).  I definitely just decided to commit each time, nuts be damned.  And I was smooth and never hurt myself on the remounts.

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I was floating better through lap two as I was more alone.  I have no idea what position I was in, but I could only see a few other guys in front of me on the course.  The S-turns were smoother this time around and I rode right through; it is so much quicker with no one else in my space.  As I approached the stair run-up, some guy yelled at me and the mountain biker behind me “Four guys and only one spot at the top!”  I knew I was in the top 4 at that point and did my best to just continue on with my pace – redlining but not puking.  It’s a bit of a razor’s edge at this effort, and I don’t necessarily know what I’m doing here.  So I just remained calm and tried to shake the guy behind me.  He was part of a Cincinnati team.  On the long sweeping downhill turn, he tried to pass me on the outside, lost control, and his front wheel slid out.  He went down hard and slid under the tape but quickly got back up, so he was okay.  I knew he wouldn’t catch back up to me as long as I stayed upright.

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Starting lap 3, I was really wishing I understood the rules better.  Are we doing three laps or four?!  I had no idea.  I knew if we were doing three laps, I would finish super strong and have some kick left.  If we were doing four, I was screwed.  There was no way I had a fourth lap in my legs.  I was heaving.  There was another mountain biker with me now and we kept switching positions.  One of us would end up in third and the other fourth.  We were fighting each other and every time I jumped out of a corner, he would match me.  I felt strong, but I could tell he did too.  I passed him on a straight stretch, and he got me around the next corner.  Knowing my bike handling skills are sub par, I let him lead the last half of the lap.  Damn, I wish I knew if this was the last lap.  Looking at my watch, I was fairly certain this was it.  I held onto his wheel and knew that I had to make a move at the last set of barriers, have a flawless remount, and then once we got off the grass onto the road, it was going to be a sprint to the finish.  I am going to puke.  Approaching the barriers, he was in front of me, and we were flying.  I dismounted, and trying to save time from lifting my frame with both hands, I tried to loft my bike up with both hands on the bars.  Unfortunately, like the beginner that I am, it didn’t work.  My front tire was fine, but my back tire slammed into the rear barrier.  BANG.  I was hoping nothing broke, I jumped the second barrier, and we both remounted quickly and pedaled out.  Two tight corners, and then we were out on the pavement.  Our front tires were parallel to each other.  I heard the announcers screaming “IT’S A RACE OF FAT TIRE VERSUS SKINNY!  WHO IS GOING TO TAKE THE LAST PODIUM SPOT?!”  I was pedaling as hard as I’ve ever pedaled and I could see my tire was about an inch in front of his.  50 feet to go.  I shifted. Inch and a half.  25 feet to go.  I was spinning out and had a gear left.  15 feet to go.  I was too afraid of mis-shifting and just pushed for everything I had, spinning like mad.  I was looking at his tire and as we crossed the finish, it was so close I had no idea who was in front.  We were both heaving.  “I.  Have.  No.  Idea.  Who.  Got.  It.  Do.  You?”  He said he thought I got him.  I sat my bike down and tried to calm my breathing.  My quads were on fire.

Finally, the announcer said that skinny tires got it!  It was so close!!!  But I edged the other guy out and made the podium.  It was an intense finish, but we both finished in 26:29.

brookside podium

Bloomingcross

After a few years of following professional cyclocross on and off through the seasons, I finally signed up for my first cross race.  I had wanted to try racing cyclocross for a while, but I always talked myself out of it with thoughts like “I’m not fit enough right now” and “next year I’ll be riding more” and “I need to get better at bike handling first.”  Well, all of those things still apply, but it just seemed like I needed jump in or I would never try.  I could always come up with excuses, but the best way to experience most things is to just do the thing.  What is cyclocross? you’re probably wondering.  (this video is a good start)  It is basically a short (less than an hour), intense bike race that takes place on a 2-3km course for multiple laps.  There are sand pits, stairs, barriers, and all sorts of obstacles that the course designers come up with.  Racers typically are forced to dismount and run with their bikes due to unrideable sections.  It is fascinating to watch and very spectator friendly due to the loop course nature of the racing.  It is also incredibly intense.

I felt pretty ill-prepared for my first cross race as I have been training for longer races (50+ miles) coming up in the fall.  Cyclocross also tips its hat to every single one of my weaknesses – it requires leg strength, superior bike handling skills, and short, intense bursts of sprint speed followed by tight corners and strange obstacles.  I was apprehensive enough about the difficulty of the course, but then thinking about racing at redline speed with 60 other guys through these tight corners had me beyond nervous.  I got to the race early and did a quick pre-ride of the course.  That made me even more nervous.  The off camber turns and ‘spiral of death’ feature of the Bloomingcross course was tough to maneuver through; I couldn’t imagine having a bunch of other races around me all pushing their limits.

The start came quickly, and I had a callup in the very back since it was my first race.  I was racing Category 5, where everyone is required to start, and the race would be 30 minutes (or 3-4 laps depending on the average time of the first couple of laps).  I was as nervous at the start line as I have been at any race.  I felt out of place but focused on keeping my breathing steady.  The gun went off, and the large group of Cat 5 racers tore off into the grass, everyone jockeying for good position as the race thinned down from the wide open start to the taped off course.  I didn’t try to pass, I just held my line through the chaos in front of me.  Once onto the course, it was fast-paced and my heart rate was through the roof, something I’m not used to.  As the group, mostly single file at this point, carved through a corner, it was full gas until the next corner.  It took me several minutes to begin to get a feel for the effort of this type of race.  In a nutshell, you go as hard as you can until you get to a corner or an obstacle, then you brake hard, get lean through the corner or get off your bike and jump an obstacle, then it’s full gas again.  It was a blast!  I had practiced proper dismount/remount the day before and felt like I was okay at it.  Then at the first obstacle, with way too much speed, I hopped off my bike, jumped the two barriers, and swung my leg over the back tire and slammed my butt down onto the tire instead of the seat.  I quickly lost control as the tire isn’t a good seat and went sailing into a spectator outside the tape.  I was laughing so hard at myself, I struggled to get back on.

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After one lap, I thought there’s no way I can do three laps at this pace.  I was trashed from the effort and my legs and heart and lungs were all screaming like I’ve never felt before.  I can ride for 5 hours at a moderate pace, no problem.  But this effort was totally new and so uncomfortable!  I was getting the hang of diving into corners and trusting my tires.  I passed a lot of people on lap 2.  Thanks to the loop course, there was never a point where I felt alone like in a lot of endurance races.  There was always someone ahead to try to catch up to and hang on to their wheel or try to pass.  I pushed hard to get around one racer on a straight stretch, and then at the next corner he shot straight in front of me and cut off my line completely – “so sorry!  I thought we went straight” he yelled at me as both of us slid against the tape and slowly corrected to get around the corner.  Another hilarious beginner moment.  As lap 3 started, I thought please end this.  I was surprised that I was still able to push as hard as I was.  Hammering my legs for this long at an all-out effort is new territory, but I liked how I felt.  I passed a lot more people on lap 3, slid out on one corner, and almost lost a position.  I finished in 32:39, good enough for 20th place.  I was stoked with my placing as I had passed about 20 people.  My lap times were 10:27, 10:07: and 10:08.  For my first cross race, I was very pleased.

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As I heaved in the grass after crossing the finish, all I wanted was some water.  I was exhausted and the dry, dusty course left my throat feeling crackly.  The effort of this race felt like cramming the pain of a long endurance race into 30 minutes.  Did I enjoy this?  Yeah, I think I enjoyed it.  I’ll be doing more.  I learned a ton, and I see a million places where I can improve.  A good place to start would be dismounting and remounting.  See you at the next race…

Eagle Creek 15K

After almost two years of trying to heal my plantar fasciitis on and off again, I am finally starting to feel like I can run with little to no pain. Working with an amazing chiropractor Kyle True and massage therapist Leisa Parks, I have a solid daily routine of mobility drills and stretches that seem to be helping. It’s a slow process for sure, but I am up to running about 20 miles per week and feeling pretty strong. That being said, I felt it was time to jump in a race and see where my current fitness was at. I didn’t expect much after only a few months of 10-20 miles of running per week, but with all of the other drills and strengthening exercises and cycling I had been doing, it was time for a test. So with our 12-day old son Hugo, Giesla and I headed to Indianapolis to Eagle Creek for the DINO trail 15K.

Indianapolis had apparently received a lot more rain than we did as the course was extremely muddy.  When I registered for the race, the gentlemen that helped me said the start would be back in ‘the middle of the swamp.’  He pointed to a giant water hole in a field.  I knew my La Sportiva Helios weren’t the best choice of shoe for the day but oh well.  It was a test run nonetheless.

I warmed up a bit and stood at the start line.  There were some fast-looking people around, but I tried to focus on my race plan which was basically just run tempo-ish pace, don’t get caught up in running too fast, and see what happens.  I wanted to stick in the front or second group and challenge myself.  When the gun went off, I watched two guys take off through the mud and water at a pace much faster than I was ready for.  I stuck in the chase pack of about six guys and let my body settle into the difficult pace.  I had not done a single tempo run in a couple of years; so aside from a few fartlek runs, I didn’t really know how long my body would allow me to hang.  But with the past couple of years being strong cycling years, last year including a few hundred milers, I was hoping I had a decent aerobic base.

Less than two miles in, I was already getting uncomfortable with the chase group’s pace.  It felt just a tad too easy.  Not really knowing the 15K distance, I figured I would need to run pretty close to all out since it would take about an hour to finish – ‘all out’ for me is different than most athletes.  I don’t really train my high end much, if ever.  This is a bad thing.  So my aerobic pace and my ‘fast’ paces are pretty close together.  I want to change that this year, starting with this race.  So I increased my pace a bit, passed a few guys, and ran out front of the chase pack for a while.  After about a mile, I was alone in third.  I kept catching glances of the second place guy, a dude in a bandana and crop top, every once in a while.  I went through the finish area with a lap time of 19:27.  Oh sh*t, I thought.  My 5k PR is 19:30, so I either just cooked myself by running way too fast on that lap considering I have two more of them or the lap is short.  Again, I’m new to these shorter distances – my 5k PR is from a 10 mile run during a marathon buildup.  I really have no idea what I’m doing here.

Early on in the second lap, I slowly gained on the crop-top guy in second place.  I couldn’t see first place, so I focused on second.  He looked strong, but since he fell off pace with the first place guy and I caught him by running fairly even splits, I figured he went out a little hard.  I caught up to him and we spent the second lap weaving in and out of all of the 5k runners who started after us.  It was a slippery, muddy mess on the trails and getting worse with the hundreds of runners making laps now.  I noticed that, even as we weaved through the crowd, I would gain some distance on crop-top on the climbs (short and punchy) and he would gain on me on the downhills.  He was also skipping all of the downhill stair sections – so while I tip-toed down and through people on the stairs, he would blast down the side in the dirt and leaves which would put me a solid 50 feet behind him once I popped out of the stairs.  I didn’t know if that was legal or not, but I decided not to do it.  He did it at every one of those sections which was pretty annoying.  I would have to push fairly hard to catch up after each one.  Still, we went through lap 2 together in 19:46.  I was feeling strong and was confident I would be able to push hard through the final lap.

The final lap was the sloppiest.  After all of us 15K runners made a couple of laps and the 5k runners finished, the trail was in rough condition.  The lap area was all pockmarked and looked like a stampede of horses ran through.  I was slipping around all over the place, confirming my poor shoe choice, but crop-top and I kept a decent pace through miles 7 and 8.  On one of the last little climbs, he said “here’s where you got me last lap, go get it!”  But I didn’t want to cook myself on a hill with a mile to go.  I gained a few seconds on him and pushed my pace up just bit.  As we were coming in on the last half mile, my plan was to blast the last hill with everything I had left and then push it through the lap area to the finish.  I knew I would be slower going through all that mud and water, so I needed to gain a bit on him.  As we got to the last hill, I pushed it.  I gained on him just enough and held on through the finish chute in 59:28.  Crop-top came in at 59:32.

My body far exceeded my expectations.  I didn’t expect too much with such minimal running (and lingering ankle/foot issues).  But I was able to really push myself and come through the finish with a solid time.  I am continuing my daily strengthening exercises and being diligent about treating my foot and ankle with care.  I know a lot of my issues are due to poor mechanics and years of running with less-than-optimal form.  Kyle has helped me identify those issues and work on them.  I hope to be able to run more of these short distance races throughout the year.  After many years of long endurance events, these shorter, faster races feel new and challenging.

2nd place runner, 1st place sleeper

I Meditated Every Day for 365 Days. Here’s What Happened.

That’s right.  I meditate.  Cue the gong and the stereotypical vision of a monk sitting cross-legged in a cave with hands pressed together humming, “Ommm.”  But that’s not what I mean.  There are tons of different types of meditation, including the guy-in-cave-cross-legs version.  I did not think I would EVER be the kind of person that meditates, but I really didn’t know what it actually was or how it worked.  In 2014 when I was stuck in an over-stressed and under-recovered loop for too long, I stopped sleeping.  Literally overnight I went from everything in my life being relatively normal and fine to being a sleep-deprived insomniac.  Over a month went by where I was dealing with insomnia, and as it wasn’t getting any better (worse, in fact), I knew something had to change.  My research on what the hell was going on in my brain and why my body wasn’t able to calm down and fall asleep led me to several different avenues to heal myself.  Basically I had chronically high cortisol (the so-called “stress hormone”) and instead of melatonin (the “sleep hormone”) increasing at night and cortisol decreasing, my levels did the opposite.  When you are laying in bed for hours and hours and your heart is racing and you feel like you’re running a 5K, it’s scary and weird.  A common theme I kept coming across was how meditation helps reduce or eliminate insomnia and lowers high stress levels (and increases happiness and lowers blood pressure and improves immunity and the list goes on).  I figured I would give it a try.

I downloaded the Headspace meditation app and on a wild Friday night at 8pm, I sat down in front of the fire place to meditate.  I felt weird and a little embarrassed.  The Headspace app is a guided meditation where Andy Puddicombe walks you through each meditation.  (His British accent and calming voice is enough to lower anyone’s stress levels)  I meditated for 10 minutes.  And I went to bed.  I slept a full 8 hours without waking up once.  After a full month of struggling with insomnia and laying awake for about 5 hours each night (and ending up sleeping for maybe an hour or two), I slept all night long.  I was a convert.  I knew the next morning that there was definitely something good about meditation.  So I stuck with it, and over the next few months, my insomnia came and went but generally continued to decrease in severity the more I meditated.

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Once I had zero sleep issues, I kept on meditating (using the Headspace app).  I started to notice other benefits as well; not only was I sleeping better (and deeper), but I was also generally happier throughout the day.  I was much less reactive to work problems and home projects that weren’t going well.  I was able to listen to others during conversation and not get sidetracked in my mind.  I focused better at work and was able to concentrate on what I was doing for longer periods of time.  It’s hard to put a number or a value on improvements in thought and positivity and happiness.  ABC’s Dan Harris (host and anchor of Nightline, Good Morning America, etc.), who famously had a panic attack on live tv and struggled for most of his life with anxiety, decided to, in his own words, “F*** it, I’ll try meditation.”  He, too, was totally converted.  He now has a book (and an app) titled “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story.”  He openly admits that he has no idea how to quantify how much better his life is thanks to meditation – but he ball parks that he is “10% happier” because of it.  And I agree.

I know the skeptics will say that meditation is ‘just weird’ or ‘ain’t nobody got time for that.’  And I thought all the same things.  But think about how much of our daily grind is moving at an extremely fast pace: keeping up with emails, going to meetings, driving to and from work, hurriedly throwing groceries in a cart and then getting mad that it takes 6 minutes to check out, answering texts, getting in a run, cooking dinner, doing dishes.  There are a thousand things pulling us in a thousand different directions, and it’s easier than ever to fly through an entire day without stopping for one minute and being thankful that you’re breathing.  Or just letting your brain relax.  Most of what we do every day is automatic, reacting without really thinking.  When I was in the third grade, I remember walking home from school one day and asking my best friend Neil if he ever felt like school is the same every day and goes by really fast without even realizing it?  Yes, that’s the autopilot I’m talking about.  Even kids understand it.  Meditation helps to literally rewire the synapses in your brain, so that everyday moments are not on autopilot.  Instead of waiting in line at the grocery store for 2 seconds and automatically pulling your phone out to check facebook or instagram, you can just be still.  Feel your breath.  Be thankful that you are standing in a line.  There are people who are suffering in hospitals or who don’t have a place to call home or even money to buy groceries.  Life is pretty good, and we all deserve to feel that every once in a while, because it won’t last forever.

If you have come across meditation or ‘mindfulness’ before and wonder what it’s about, I urge you to check it out.  Download Headspace – there is a free 10 day trial.  Try some of the free online meditation exercises.  Listen to a podcast about it (my personal favorite right now is Finding Mastery with Michael Gervais).  As I meditated most days of the week through 2015 and every single day in 2016, I was also learning about all of the professional athletes, company CEOs, health advocates, and ultra runners that meditate every day and swear it changed the way they live.  It is absolutely incredible the power we have in our brain; and the key to unlocking a hell of a lot more of it is mindfulness.  I still struggle with stress and frustration and being rushed just like everyone else.  Meditation won’t make you perfect and it won’t solve your problems for you, but it definitely helps.  It has helped me think more clearly under stress; I am more productive at work and at home; I worry less; the hard times in training and racing are easier because I can shut my mind up; I sleep better; it helped slow the constant chatter and thinking in my mind; I relax more easily; I am more compassionate, focused, and happier; I experience deeper and am more mindful and appreciative of the little moments in life.  My days don’t go by on autopilot quite like they used to.

Meditating is challenging yet extremely gratifying.  I have made my daily ten minute meditation the most important part of my morning routine and have watched as it changed me, the way I think, and the way my brain operates.  It has been absolutely life changing for me and millions of others.  Give it a month of effort.  I promise it will be worth your time, even if it’s just five minutes a day.  Stop the autopilot, and start living better.

2016 Review

After 2015 was a frustrating year of running injuries for me, I focused a bit more on cycling the last several months.  On January 3rd of 2016, the minute that the Lumberjack 100 mountain bike race registration opened, Ted and I signed up.  I knew I would need a lot of time on the bike to get ready for such a race.  We also sent in our postcards (that’s a fun way to register) for the Almanzo 100, a gravel race with a lot of history located in the back country of Minnesota.  I got to work on the bike quickly and started racking up time in the saddle like never before.  I usually end up riding somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 miles ever year; but in 2016, when I crossed the finish line of the Lumberjack 100 in June, I had already ticked over the 2,500 mile mark.  That was all good, and I was riding pretty strong.  But I was also burned out.  I got tired of the early Saturday and Sunday morning long rides.  I rode a hundred miler on my road bike, cross bike, and mountain bike.  And after putting in all of those long training miles, my body needed a break.

The first six months of 2016 went by pretty quickly and I learned a lot about myself, training, and bike maintenance.  I wanted to focus on running for the last 6 months, but, like my typical over-eager self, I did not take enough of a break to recover from those 2,500+ miles.  I started running too soon after the Lumberjack and ramped up in mileage too quickly.  My left foot flared up again with plantar fasciitis and general pissiness.  I struggled with running because of my foot; I struggled with riding because of burnout; and I struggled with resting, because I don’t like to rest (even when my body is telling me that’s what it wants).  The last 6 months of 2016 I spent lifting weights and riding a little.  I really started to enjoy weight training, and I also fell in love with stand up paddleboarding.  It is a great workout but is also relaxing.  Giesla and I love going out on our paddleboards with a few beers and snacks and just soaking in the sun all day.

In July, Giesla stopped bringing beer along for herself, because she is pregnant!!!  We are expecting our first (a boy) in late March 2017.  We could not be happier or more excited.  Just as her bump was starting to get noticeably larger, we embarked on a dream trip to Hawaii with Adam and Joni.  Hawaii was our 50th state, and we celebrated with a lot of food and relaxation and an equal amount of hiking and exploring.

With our baby on the way and visiting our 50th state and me being able to check the box of finishing a 100 mile mountain bike race and finally doing the Almanzo with Ted… this has been a huge year!  I am so glad I was able to get a ton of training and some longer races in just before I become a dad.  Training and racing will definitely take a backseat to my new favorite job of being a father, but we want our kid(s) to understand the importance of pushing yourself, learning your body through sport, and relating the experiences of struggle, perseverance, and success in racing to the parallels they have in every day living.

In 2016, I moved 4,159 miles and spent 405 hours training and racing – 725 miles running and hiking and 3,434 miles cycling.  I definitely got stronger and definitely was burned out.  I hope to be smarter and do more with less in 2017.  I think the last 12 months have taught me (again) that I have more than enough stuff going on in my life and that squeezing in more training is not necessarily better.  Some of my best racing seasons have been during (and likely thanks to) some of my most minimal training times.  2017 will bring on all kinds of new adventures.  I’m more than ready.

2016 races below:

Snack time with Ted in tow

Snack time with Ted in tow

My view of the Almanzo 100

My view of the Almanzo 100

Sunrise paddleboarding with Giesla

Sunrise paddleboarding with Giesla

Post-run creek bath, McCormick's Creek

Post-run creek bath, McCormick’s Creek

Sleeping GIant hike, Kauai, Hawaii

Sleeping Giant hike, Kauai, Hawaii

Awa'Awapuhi Hike, Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

Awa’Awapuhi Hike, Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

Hawaiian Sunset

Hawaiian Sunset

2016 Gravel Grovel

Damnit. Another year at the Gravel Grovel where I crossed the line running on empty. With sub-par training and a trip to Hawaii two weeks before the race (and no riding in those two weeks), I didn’t expect this year to be a great performance. But with decent weather and a cross bike, I had slightly higher hopes than I should have.

The first year I did this race, I got the flu the day before the start. I did it anyway and shivered the whole day. It was 19 degrees at the start. The second year I didn’t fare too well either. I wasn’t sick this time, but I dressed for a 45 degree dry day. It rained the whole day, and I froze. I was shaking badly by the end and layed in my vehicle unable to use my hands to get out of my wet clothes. Thanks to a thermal camera at work, I now understand that I did permanent damage to my fingers. Oops. This year, my third year, well it was a little different and not that different at all.

After putting in more miles in the first 6 months of 2016 than I have before in a full year, I was burned out. Training for the Almanzo 100 and Lumberjack 100 left me strong in body and weak in mind. After a short break and quickly ramping up running miles for several weeks, my left foot starting screaming (again); same story as last year – plantar fasciitis. I came back too soon. I didn’t take enough time off. I didn’t respect my body after a solid 6 months of long rides.

I started lifting weights, running less, and cycling less. After a few months of this, and two weeks before Gravel Grovel, I shipped off to Hawaii with my wife, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law. We hiked and ate and drank merrily. It was a glorious trip. I knew coming home from warm Hawaii jetlagged, less trained, and tired wouldn’t bode well for a cold, usually sloppy wet bike race on trails and gravel roads. Especially not a 60 mile race.  I had been on a ride over 30 miles only twice since the Lumberjack in June!  Ouch.

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I didn’t think about any of this in the first 30 miles.  I felt pretty good on the bike.  I didn’t feel strong on the sloppy trail sections of Combs Road and Nebo, but I thought I was riding smart.  I was trying not to jack my heart rate up on the climbs.  I would hike up hills that I would otherwise power through.  But by about 35 miles, I knew that any kind of ‘fast’ or ‘healthy’ spin in my legs was fleeting.  Mount Baldy and Buffalo Pike Hill destroyed my legs.  I wasn’t in great cycling shape to begin with, and because my cross bike is a 1X with a 42-tooth chainring. I should have thought about my gearing choice before now. I was hurting.  Wiz Khalifa can’t push big gears with those skinny legs and neither can I.

I struggled and sweated and pushed myself through the next 15 miles.  At 48 miles, there was a small crowd of hunters that had set up chairs by the gravel road near their camp.  They were cheering and screaming and drinking and having a good time.  It was an awesome sight as hunters and cyclists (especially mountain bikers) aren’t always the best of friends.  I smiled at that.  Two miles later, I bonked hard… the kind of bonk that you feel coming on slowly and are pretty sure you can avoid but then suddenly feel like you could barf at any moment. My legs were tight and weak, and my feet were bricks. I felt like I was fighting my bike. I stopped at Hickory Ridge church to pray. Just kidding. I stopped there to get off of my bike for a minute and eat a half of a Pro Bar. I think my head was slouching and my body probably looked slumped over my bike, because a rider passed me and sincerely asked, “you doing okay?” I mumbled yeahhhh and got back on my bike. Only a few miles to go. I’ll make it.  I should have trained harder.

I crossed the finish line in 4 hours 56 minutes. This race beat me down again. I have finished three times, every single one of them felt like defeat. Gravel Grovel 3; me 0. I keep coming back for retribution but get knocked down. It makes me want a great race that much more. I love this course, I love this race. I’ll be back again for another shot. I am aiming for a sub-4:30.  It might take a few years to get there.  But there’s a good chance I’ll keep coming back.

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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