10 Ingredient Overnight Oats

Yeah, oatmeal is healthy.  Oats help control weight, they are ‘heart healthy’, contain tons of fiber (which most americans lack), yada  yada yada.  But most of the time, plain oatmeal is a bit boring.  Maybe you cut up a banana or put some nuts in there, but that’s not an inspiring breakfast to start your day.  Plus, who has time to stand over the stove or even just mix everything up and throw the batch in the microwave and let it do the work for you?  I know my mornings are usually a little hectic with squeezing in a workout, getting my lunch and work stuff out the door, and calmly getting a very tired Hugo ready for his day.

That’s why overnight oats have been a game changer.  They are super quick (the work is done overnight automatically), insanely nutritious (tons of protein, fiber, vitamins, and healthy fat), and I think I have figured out the right mix of hearty and sweet flavors to make it so enjoyable I actually look forward to popping the jar open.  Plus, they are basically a grab-and-go breakfast with a truly healthy punch to start the day.  These overnight oats are filling and the protein will likely keep you full until lunch.  I love to have this breakfast on a rest day or even after a bike or run workout.

Simply place all of the following ingredients in a ball jar or any portable container and store in the refrigerator overnight.  When you wake up, grab and go!  No need to heat them up or anything – just eat!!

  1.  1/4 cup frozen blueberries
  2. 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  3. 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  4. 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  5. 1/2 tablespoon chia seeds
  6. 1/4 cup steel cut oats
  7. 1/4 cup quick oats
  8. 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  9. 3/4 cup soy milk, almond milk, your-choice-of-milk
  10. Dash of cinnamon, dash of vanilla extract, dash of turmeric (I load up on the turmeric, it’s flavorless and insanely good for you – especially athletes and anyone with inflammation or weight issues)

NOTE:  It’s important to put the ingredients in the order above so that the milk soaks everything perfectly.  It took me a few experiments to nail it, but this is it.  Enjoy!

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Plant-Based Protein Smoothie

This is a heavy one.  This smoothie is a post-workout, fill-your-body-with-the-good-stuff, protein powerhouse.  I’ve been making it a couple of times every week during weight lifting periods or even after interval sessions on the bike.  Either way, don’t take this in if you’re not doing some serious work and taxing your muscles.  It’s too heavy for a normal just-on-my-way-to-work breakfast smoothie.

  • 1.5 Cups Unsweetened Soy Milk
  • 2 Scoops Orgain Plant-Based Protein Powder (I like Creamy Chocolate Fudge)
  • 1 tablespoon chia Seeds
  • 1 Banana
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon raw cocoa powder
  • Turmeric, as much or as little as you like

Optional:

  • 1 Tablespoon (or more) your choice of nut butter
  • More blueberries
  • Coffee (for a caffeine hit)
  • Some greens – kale, spinach, etc. for an extra veggie boost
  • Water to match your preferred consistency

Blend all ingredients until smooth.  Enjoy after a seriously tough workout!

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Amazing and Healthy Chocolate Chip Breakfast Cookies

Cookies for breakfast?  No, that’s not a thing, is it?  My mom didn’t buy me Cookie Crisp growing up.  You can’t eat cookies for breakfast.  That’s too good to be true.  I’m here to tell you, friends: it is a thing!  It’s even dietitian approved!  With beans for healthy amounts of fiber, good fats from the peanut butter and coconut, and just enough oats for your heart, this recipe is legitimately good for you.  Giesla gives it out to clients.  We eat a ton of these.  I call them breakfast cookies, but we eat them as a snack all day (and in the middle of the night if you’re breastfeeding every few hours).

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups Quick Oats
  • 1 Cup Peanut Butter (or roughly 1 jar)
  • 1 Can of White Beans, drained and rinsed (Garbanzo beans, Great Northern beans, Butter beans, your choice of bean – sometimes I use black beans.  It literally doesn’t matter – choose a bean, man)
  • 8 Tablespoons Unsweetened Apple Sauce
  • 4 Tablespoons Maple Syrup (the real maple syrup, don’t get anything with high fructose corn syrup; the ingredients list should read: Pure Maple Syrup.  That’s it.)
  • 1/2 Cup Unsweetened Coconut
  • 4 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • Your choice of Chocolate Chips

Optional:

  • Cocoa Powder
  • Protein Powder
  • Turmeric (I usually put a decent amount in there because it has no flavor and is a major anti-inflammatory)
  • Walnuts and/or Almonds
  • Cinnamon
  • You can substitute brown sugar, honey, or agave syrup instead of using maple syrup

Put 1 cup of oats in a large mixing bowl.  Then blend the other cup of oats with all of the other ingredients in a food processor until the consistency is like cookie dough (because it is).  I typically blend everything together except the peanut butter.  Then I add the peanut butter last and blend again, because it is the hardest job for the food processor.  Transfer the mix into a large mixing bowl.  Add chocolate chips and mix by hand or spatula.  Form cookies and place on non-stick pan.  Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes or until slightly brown on the sides.  I make this recipe at least once every week.  It makes about 25 cookies depending on how you size them.  I freeze them all, and then we get out what we need as we need them.  Since these are healthy (did I mention the beans?), they aren’t as sweet as a normal flour-sugar-egg based cookie.  But as mentioned above, you can substitute honey or agave syrup for the maple syrup, and that actually sweetens them up quite a bit.  My go-to breakfast is 3-4 of these cookies, a huge glass of soy milk, and a banana or an orange.  That’s about as well-rounded as it gets.

A few notes:

  • these cookies are vegan (unless you use honey or milk chocolate chips), plant-based, and delicious
  • for the pregnant women out there, if you miss eating cookie dough (you can’t eat regular cookie dough because of the raw egg) – this recipe is for you!  It contains no eggs.  Eat as much you would like
  • if you take these to a work or family gathering, don’t tell anyone they’re made with beans or everyone will freak out and starting flipping cars
  • if someone sees you eating these at work, also don’t tell them they’re made with beans, because you’ll get made fun, you health-freak-weirdo-quack-job
  • if you’re a cyclist, these are perfect to toss in your jersey pocket and enjoy mid-ride; thanks to the oats (carbs) and peanut butter (fat), it’s a perfect and easily-absorbed ride food
  • this recipe was adapted from the June 2016 Vegetarian Times magazine

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2017 Review

With my race wheels hung up, and my cross bike all set up for cold, winter rides, it’s time to look back on the blur that was 2017.  It was absolutely one of the best years of my life.  Hugo was born in March, and just because I don’t have to avoid cliches if I don’t want to, he stole our hearts and changed our lives forever.  He has taught Giesla and I more in his nine months of life than we could have ever imagined.  Our time together as a new family while Giesla was on maternity leave was extra special.  As travel is a hugely important part of our lives, Hugo learned all about it as we visited Virginia Beach for a work trip, Asheville, North Carolina for some gorgeous hiking and beer tasting, and California to check out the Redwoods, San Francisco, and Napa Valley.  He was a wonderful traveler, and we think he loves being in the woods as much as we do.  He stares into the trees for hours in amazement and then would fall asleep in our arms.  We completed a four hour hike near Lake Tahoe, and he loved it, astounded by every tree, flower, and log we passed.  We watched his eyes grow bigger and bigger as he smacked each Redwood in Redwoods National Park.  He screamed at me as I dipped him in the Atlantic at 7 weeks old and the Pacific at 10 weeks.  He has been pretty incredible and continues to amaze us every day.  He has been patient as we learn how to be parents.  He has cheered me on at all of my races.  My last race was in early December in Kings Mills, Ohio, and I have taken a very generous break since then, enjoying long evenings with Giesla and Hugo, lots of family get-togethers, sleeping in, and indulging in ample amounts of dark chocolate and red wine.  I thought two weeks off would be enough before getting into some training and weight lifting, but I am really enjoying staying warm inside and sipping coffee extra long on the weekends.

Giesla and I figured out a new routine for cooking and getting workouts in.  Which is to say, we had no idea what we were doing in this new family-of-three mode and just did what we could when we could, often so sleep-deprived we felt like zombies.  It was a challenging year, but we loved grinding our way through it.  Sleepless nights, extra long commutes to and from daycare, and cooking and cleaning while holding Hugo was all new to us.  I got a Cygolite to brighten up the 4am morning darkness, so that I could get training rides in before anyone else was awake.  It was a major shift in my lifestyle, and I have definitely never considered doing a workout at four in the morning.  But in order to spend time with Giesla and Hugo in the evenings after work and cook healthy meals together, it was really the only option I had if I wanted to ride at all.  It’s surprising how peaceful and quiet the early morning is.  The moon and stars are still out, and I felt like I owned the roads as I a rarely saw any cars at that hour.

Like a lot of years, I started upping my running mileage early on.  With a newborn in the house, it was just easier to throw on running shoes at a moment’s notice and get a few miles in.  If Hugo was napping and Giesla was good with it, I could sneak out for an hour and just run.  With cycling, there’s a lot more involved and the gear needs attention and it’s more challenging as it just requires more time.  I started to get some lingering pain in my left foot and ankle, like most of my recent running injuries.  It seems like I have ongoing issues in my left leg.  I fought that battle with rest and chiropractic visits and massage and foam rolling.  I haphazardly jumped into a DINO 15K at the beginning of April at Eagle Creek and did surprisingly well.  I felt strong through the whole race and had a decent kick at the finish to grab second place.  Unfortunately after that race, my foot rebelled on and off for months, and I ultimately jumped back on the bike in June.

I lifted a lot more weights this year in an effort to rehab my foot and ankle and also because weight lifting is something I typically avoid.  Well into my 30s now, where muscle mass begins to wane,  I felt like it was time to stop avoiding it.  To me, weight lifting is like flossing – I know I need to do it, I am always happy when I do it, and it is challenging to create the habit.  This year, I did a lot better with weights (not so great with the flossing, but hey 2018 might be my year).  It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with cycling again.  I had to face those challenges I mentioned earlier with time and attention to cleaning and maintaining my bikes – it is much harder with a baby to take care of too.  But luckily Hugo enjoys sitting in his bouncer in the garage and watching me tinker on bikes.

Though I planned to put in some long training miles with the Harvest 50 and Gravel Grovel as my main goals, I got a little sidetracked.  I finally jumped into a cyclocross race at Bloomingcross and absolutely loved it.  The speed, technicality, strategy, and strength needed, which are basically all of my weaknesses, was intoxicating.  I thought I would do Bloomingcross, get a feel for that type of racing, and then continue on with my long training for the Fall races.  But I definitely fell hard for cross and ended up focusing my training on it – I did five cross races for the season, learned a ton about racing, had a total blast, and rediscovered the joy in racing.  I am hooked.  I improved as the season went on, finishing in the top 10 four times and landing on the podium once.  I had a horrible day at the Harvest 50 in October and suffered alone in the cold and wind.  But I felt some redemption as I finally felt strong and had a great day at the Gravel Grovel in November, improving my best time by 51 minutes.  With this season behind me and all of the mistakes I made during cross races swimming in my head, I have a lot to work on and look forward to next year.

In 2017, I moved 3,419miles and spent 309 hours training and racing – 615 miles running and hiking and 2,804 miles cycling.  I put almost 100 hours less into my training in 2017 as compared to 2016, but I was definitely stronger, faster, and in better shape than ever.  That’s a strong testament to doing more with less.  I am slowly learning to be smarter with my training and recovery.  And with Hugo in our life, doing more with less is something I strive for every day.  Giesla and I truly enjoy pursuing fitness and health goals so fitting everything in has been and will continue to be a huge learning experience.  As with most years, 2017 has taught me, yet again, that I have a lot of things in my life fighting for my attention, and patience, mindfulness, and going with the flow is the key to getting better.  More training and more miles does not always equal a better athlete or a better person.  To be the best dad, husband, and friend, balance is not always the best option.  2018 is sure to bring more learning and adventures our way.  With Hugo beginning to army crawl as I type this, I am heading into 2018 with a healthy dose of excitement.  Giesla is getting back to running, and we are hoping to do some trail races together.  I am hoping to complete a cross country mountain bike race season, which I haven’t done since 2013.  2018 is loaded with plans, hopes, dreams, travels, and all the beautiful unknowns of every year.  Let’s get it going, 2018 – we are ready!

2017 races below:

 

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    Just a Few Days Old
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Carving Through the Daniel Boone National Forest with Giesla, Dustin, and Adria

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Morning Ride Before Work

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Picnic with Our Dude in Brown County State Park

In the Redwoods

In the Redwoods

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Hugo’s First Day Hike at Sly Park in California

Paddleboarding at Lake Monroe

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Racing at Brookside CX

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Just a Couple of Dudes Out for a Hike at McCormick’s Creek State Park

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Waiting Out a Storm at Major Taylor CX

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Training Day in the Deam Wilderness

Carter Park Cross

The last race of the OVCX series was at Carter Park in Kings Mills, Ohio.  Close enough to Cincinnati, we got an airBnB with our friends Andrew and Bitta and their kids.  It was my birthday weekend, the last race of my season, and we had some great company along with us!  I didn’t expect the race to be muddy, but apparently Cincinnati had some recent rain, because it was slippery and muddy.  It was in the 30s the morning of the race, so I dressed in a couple of layers for my pre-ride laps.  I was surprised as to how technical the course was – it was definitely more mountain bike-friendly in my opinion.  So with my skinny tires and the muddy conditions, I knew it would be a little nerve-wracking to push it.  I was concerned with the off camber S-turn section too, as the dew on the grass was a little frozen, not many people were keeping their bikes upright on this section during the warm-up.

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Photo Courtesy of Andrew Paulsen

I got a good call-up in the front row and the announcers spent some time going through each of the front-runners resumes for the season.  This was only my fifth race, and your best seven races give your rank – so there were definitely to be some final changes in the season’s standings based on this race.  I wasn’t as cold at the start as I figured I would be.  The announcer’s started us off, and it was a fairly tame sprint.  I was in fifth or sixth and wanted to hold my place until people started to tire.  Around one of the first turns, a guy next to me with super long hair brushed my handlebars and side and we both barely stayed up.  I made sure to stay in front of him after that.  The first lap S-turns were fairly smooth; I decided to run that section and it payed off.  I passed a couple of guys there.  And then entered the muddy wooded section.

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Photo Courtesy of Andrew Paulsen

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Photo Courtesy of Andrew Paulsen

I knew I was in the top five and ultimately wanted to finish in the top three.  I had a couple more laps to catch some guys and put the pressure on.  I kept seeing glimpses of Scott Phillips, who I had battled in pretty much every race I did.  I worked my way through the mountain bike section and out into the grass.  My legs didn’t feel great, and I hoped I would warm up and feel stronger on the next laps.  Through the extremely muddy downhill section, I popped off my bike and ran down it, slipping the whole way.  The guy in front of me lost control, went down hard, and slid through the mud under the race tape and off the course.  He was okay but tangled up in his bike.  That was a really sketchy section.  I started to get closer to Scott and wanted to hang on his wheel for a bit.

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Photo Courtesy of Andrew Paulsen

The second lap was less crowded, and I was now in fourth.  I closed the gap to Scott and rode his wheel trying to see where he was weakest.  He seemed to lose a little speed in the deep gravel sections.  We stayed together through the wooded section and the grassy areas.  Every time I would close the gap a bit more and get in position for a possible pass, he would pull away.  Down the muddy, sketchy section, he rode it farther than I did and I started my dismount toward the top.  We were flying, and I knew if it my dismount was bobbled at all, I was going to go down hard.  I stayed up, feathering the brakes while I hopped off the side, and we both ended up running out of that section fairly cleanly.  He mounted and I ran a few extra steps to get up to speed.  Once I mounted, I tried to get in front of him, but he was stronger.  Back to riding his wheel, we stayed close together.  In the gravel section, I upped my tempo and was redlining – he pulled away again.

DCIM100GOPROG0020088.JPGDCIM100GOPROG0040165.JPGLap two done, and I got the bell – lap three was going to be our final lap!  This was the last lap of the season.  I wanted to get that third place spot!  Scott and I stayed together through the whole lap, and I unsuccessfully passed him a couple of times.  I would put down a hard effort and he would match it.  In the last quarter mile, he was just stronger.  I crossed the line in 32:55 and he finished four seconds ahead of me.  I was still very happy to finish fourth in a tough field.  With the season over, it was time for pizza and beer with friends!  With only five races for the season, I ended up 11th overall.  Ecstatic, tired, and ready for a break.. I’ll enjoy some off-season time over the holidays.  I’m excited to see what 2018 brings.

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Refueling after a tough race (Hugo didn’t race, he was just hungrier than me)

 

2017 Gravel Grovel

All the years I have raced the Gravel Grovel have been rough.  I have never finished without feeling totally defeated.  The course has crushed my legs and my soul year after year.  I have told myself repeatedly, “Next year will be different.  I will train harder and be better prepared.”  But in September, after jumping into Bloomingcross, my first cyclocross race, my goals shifted.  I had wanted to try a cross race for years but never did.  I thought I would do one and get a feel for it, experience it, and be done.  But I fell kind of hard for it.  I haven’t done much short, fast racing and the feeling and effort was all new to me.  After finishing that first cross race, I told Giesla I wanted to do more.  I pretty much dropped any time goals I had for myself for the Harvest 50 and the Gravel Grovel and started to focus more on short, intense efforts.  Without the usual long training rides, I let go of all expectations for myself at the Gravel Grovel.  I even contemplated not doing the it at all.  But it has always been one of my favorite races despite the horrible conditions and performances I’ve had in the past.  So I signed up.

Race day came quickly, and I was nervous.  I had less anxiety about the day than in past years despite feeling really unfit for a long race.  But I was also fairly relaxed, in a weird way, because I didn’t feel any pressure to perform.  I knew I was just going out for a long day on the bike, which is always enjoyable.  I got up early the morning of the race, and instead of nervously quadruple-checking all of my race gear, bottles, nutrition, and tire pressure, I did things around the house.  We also host my wife’s family for Thanksgiving on the Saturday after the actual holiday – which also always lands on the Gravel Grovel day.  I was out in the dark of the morning taking recycling away and cleaning up the garage a bit.  I ate my normal breakfast of vegan cookies, soy milk, and a banana and then did a bunch of dishes from all the cooking the night before.  I emptied the dishwasher, played with Hugo, and then left the house.  I felt oddly relaxed.

The start of the race was cold, as it always is, down in that valley where the Midwest Trail Ride Horseman’s Camp is located.  But it was supposed to warm up and actually be sunny.  The conditions for this year’s race were excellent.  It’s usually cold, wet, sloppy, maybe raining, and windy.  This year was almost perfect.  I didn’t push the pace at all.  I rode very comfortably for the first 5 miles – I pulled Bob along for a while on the paved section before hitting the first gravel road.  I didn’t push myself on the first climb either.  I was riding my own pace and not getting caught up with anyone passing me.  It was truly a beautiful day to be out on a bike.  I was really enjoying it.  About 10 miles in, as Combs Road and the first trail section appear, I thought I felt better than usual.  It seemed like I remember entering Combs thinking ‘I need to slow down’ most years.  Either way, I wanted to pick smart lines and not let my heart rate get out of control on the trail section; I also wanted to ride the long, twisty climb and not have to walk.  There are always hecklers at that point, and last year I remember walking it and at the top, someone yelled, “You’re in first place.. in the hiking division!”  Haha, I could hear the hecklers already.  I was in a good position at the start of the climb and didn’t have to get around anyone, so I easily picked my way up it.  Being dry makes it a lot easier too.

The rest of Combs was fast and dry.  I got back out on the gravel and rode along with Brian for a while.  At the closed bridge, I used my recent cyclocross dismount and remounting practice and saved myself almost 1 second!  Still feeling strong, I pushed the next service road a little harder and settled into a comfortable climbing pace for the next uphill.  I met up with Eric L. at this point and passed him on the downhill.  I was flying downhill and dismounted to get over a down tree, not seeing that there was a giant branch sticking straight at me, and I almost impaled myself on it.  I got a nice cut but luckily didn’t tear my jersey.  I kept hitting rim on the rock and roots on this trail and had a sinking feeling that I had burped some air out of my front tire.  On every dismount to get over a downed tree, I grabbed both tires, and they felt fine.  But once I would hit another root, PANG, I would hit rim.  I was almost sure I was going to have a flat soon.  Once out on gravel again, I checked both tires.  Both were good.  What the hell?

Now just to get to Nebo and get past it.  That’s one of the longer, more challenging trail sections.  I wanted to ride efficiently, keep my heart rate in check, and get out of that section without any flat tires or crashes.  I passed a lot of guys on the climbs.  I was feeling good, and I could tell my bike handling skills are better than ever (probably because of cross).  The hecklers made their way from the Combs hill to the top of one of the climbs on Nebo.. I got through that section cleanly too, and at the top, I got a double Twizzlers handup!  Thanks, whoever you were!  That was kind of a reminder that I do need to be taking in some calories but also a reminder of the sh*t candy that Twizzlers are!  Gross!!  I ate them anyway.  More  hitting rim on rocks and roots, more worrying about my tires.  I was also running really low pressure (I think 26psi in the rear and 23psi in the front).  I was starting to think my pressure choice was poor.

Still, I made it out of Nebo without mishap and my tires were good to go.  I rolled along, pushing a bit more and feeling good.  I traded places with a few guys before settling into a nice pace with a mountain biker.  We chatted a bit.  It was hit first year doing the Gravel Grovel, so I gave him some tips for the upcoming sections.  Once we hit Mt. Baldy, I left him behind and starting passing a lot of people.  I was keeping my heart rate as low as possible and just grinding up the climb.  I was surprised again at how good I felt.  I was sweating but not so much that I was getting cold.  I wasn’t hungry but felt strong.  I felt better than any other year at this point.  It was odd.  I hit the downhill fast and got through the next gravel section relatively quickly.  On the next long climb, I settled into my easiest gear and churned slowly, controlling my heart rate as best I could.  I saw a Hashtag Bikes jersey ahead at the top of the climb and planned to ask that person if Kyle was at the race.  Once I bridged up to him, it was Kyle!!  We rode together for a while, talking about how the race was going so far.  We were both feeling pretty okay for being just over halfway through.  He was stronger than me on the flat sections and would pull ahead; I would reel him in a bit on the hills.  It went like this for a while until I caught him on the Polk Patch climb.  After that, we rode together and chatted for maybe 8 miles.  Once back onto Deam gravel, I was feeling a little weaker so I slowed down to eat and he took off on the descent.  I wasn’t sure I would see him again, but then I caught up just before the last trail section.  I was confident in my tires by this point but wanted to get through this last section, which I know is rooty, without hitting rim too many times.  Still feeling pretty strong, I passed several more racers on the trail.  It seemed to go by quickly, and before I knew it, I was back out on Tower Ridge Road.

With about 12 miles left, all of it on gravel roads that I know well, it was time to see what I had left.  I cruised the next couple of miles and let my legs stretch out a bit on the last of the long climbs.  Once that was behind me, I started pushing the pace.  I passed a few guys, took a right on Jackson Road, and noticed a small group had formed behind me.  After a few minutes, one of the guys paced up next to me and took over.  I was excited to get in a pack at this point and hopefully be able to work together to the end.  In past years, this last section of 10 miles has always been a struggle for me.  But this year, I felt strong and had some legs left.  Then I noticed Kyle in the group too!  We motored along for several miles, working together, until we had whittled down to just three of us.  We continued on and once we hit McPike Branch, we started pushing each other.  With 5 miles left, it was time to see who had legs left.  Short answer: we all did.  The three of us paced each other hard over the next few miles and were together when we hit the defunct bridge on Hunters Creek Road.  We all dismounted to get over the barriers, and unfortunately Kyle’s chain came off in the process.  He had to stop to get it back on, so me and the other guy ran across the bridge, hopped the other barrier, and pushed through the single track out to the paved road to the finish.  My legs were toast, and I knew I wouldn’t have much left to sprint it out.  Plus I didn’t want to race through the creek where the finish line was at.  But the other guy missed the turn down into the creek – I finished in 4 hours 4 minutes, good enough for 46th place.  I was ecstatic with this finish!  My previous best time was in 2016 and was 4:56 – so this was a major improvement for me.  I was shocked by how good I felt, especially considering I had not done many long rides at all.  I did do a lot of shorter, high intensity rides training for cyclocross.  I will keep this in mind for the years to come!

Major Taylor Cross

Major Taylor Velodrome is the home track of the Marian University Cycling Team.  OVCX held the Major Taylor Cross Cup this year which was a full weekend of racing.  The cross course doesn’t use the paved and banked track, but it wound around the track and through the fields, moguls, and the trees surrounding it.  I could only make the Saturday race, so Giesla, Hugo, and I drove to the velodrome ready for a morning of racing.  The weather was weird.  It had been raining most of the night, but it looked like we would get a break for the 10am race.  As I warmed up on the course, I realized it was going to be a day of survival more than racing.  The course was a mix of muddy, slick, sticky, under water, and generally just very technically challenging!  I struggled to walk through a few of the S-turns without busting my ass in the mud.  Other racers pre-riding the course were falling everywhere as well.  It was starting to rain again.  I rode back to the car, explained the crazy conditions to Giesla and dropped my jacket.

Lined up at the start, all the racers were ready to go.  Everyone was expecting a slippery race.  The announcer called out the ’30 seconds to start’, and a few moments later, a giant lightning bolt crossed the sky.  Damn.  Automatic 30 minute delay.  It started to rain much harder too, and I rode back to the car and jumped in with Giesla and Hugo to wait out the delay.  Hugo was mesmerized by the rain pelting the windshield, so we were good with waiting for a bit.  After a while, I heard the announcement that due to the delay, Cat 4 and Cat 5 races would be ran together.  It would be crazy enough with the course conditions as they were, but now there would be double the amount of people on the course!

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30 minutes later and I was back on the start line.  Before I knew it, we were off and racing.  The opening sprint was on pavement, and despite not wanting to be at the front, I was in second as we hit the grass.  About fifty feet into the field, we were deep in the water.  I churned through a long section of six inch deep water and mud, sliding around and laughing.  I couldn’t believe the conditions, but I was also impressed by the number of people cheering and screaming.  It was so much fun spinning in the slop, I kind of zoned out.  Then my friend Kyle passed me, pushing hard on the pedals, and I snapped back to it, oh yeah, this is a race!  A few positions were swapped throughout the twisty sections before dumping back out onto pavement.  I pushed hard on the pavement knowing a long muddy hill was coming up.  I hit the plastic ramp over the curb and entered the hill with a ton of speed.  There was a group of about five guys, and I thought I could get around them with my speed, but in the slippery mud, handlebars locked up, and I was suddenly on the ground.

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A large group of us all went down.  We slid for a bit, and after coming to a stop, I heard a tire pop and the dreaded hhhiisssss of air being released.  It wasn’t my tire.  Me and another guy worked on getting my handlebars out of his wheel.  It was jammed pretty good.  I looked up and saw at least five guys running around our pileup.  We got my bars loose, and I quickly glanced over my bike to make sure nothing was broken.  My handlebars had twisted 90 degrees.  So with my wheel pointed straight, my bars faced directly to the left.  THAT IS NOT GOOD.  I ran to the top of the hill and remounted my bike thinking I could maybe just ride with my bars mangled to the side.  Nope, no way.  I jumped off my bike and ran up the stone stairs and then shoved my front wheel between my legs and wrenched my bars back the other direction.. with a wretched sound, they twisted back.  My left hood was bent badly too, so I pried that back as much as I could.  I remounted again, and I was off.  I lost a lot of time, but I had no idea how many guys passed me.  I didn’t know who was a Cat 4 or 5 racer anyway.

 

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Through the moguls and the long, off-camber straight section, it was such a struggle to keep the bike upright.  There were guys sliding off course everywhere.  It was nuts.  I tried to focus on riding smoothly and keeping the bike up, but it didn’t work well.  I went down several times and slid around most corners, avoiding braking as much as possible.  With the first lap over, the field had spread out enough so I could breathe a bit.  Still slightly rattled by the pileup, I wasn’t riding as smoothly as I’d like.  I went down in the field again coming around a corner after I picked a solid line.  There was just no traction in this mud!  A spectator yelled at me, “Huh, must be slippery right there, you think?!”  Haha, yeah.  Lap two wasn’t smooth either.  More sliding, more crashing, more of the same.  I was quickly learning that riding in wet, sloppy conditions isn’t my strong suit.  That’s okay, I could learn a lot here.  I kept my focus on finishing as efficiently as possible.  I was just happy to still be racing after the pileup, thankful my bike held up.  I could see two guys in front of me that I knew were Cat 5s.  I tried to bridge up to them, but every time I got close, I would wipe out in a corner or an off-camber section.  I pushed and pushed and just didn’t have it in my legs to catch them.  I finished 7 seconds behind them, ultimately finishing in 32:36 – ninth place for Cat 5 men.  I was very happy to be done, but that race was a major learning experience.  I would say I got schooled by the course and the conditions, but as this is typical fall weather for cross racing, I was happy to be in the mix, learning with everyone else.

 

Harvest 50 Gravel Race

My body gave me a clear message during the Harvest 50:  NO THANK YOU.  Earlier in the year, I had planned to make the Harvest 50 and the Gravel Grovel my “A” races.  That would mean lots of long rides.  That would mean many Saturday mornings sitting on my bike for 3-5 hours.  That’s the kind of training you do for these races.  But then I jumped in Bloomingcross and the claws of cyclocross sank into me and pulled me in deep.  It was September, and I didn’t expect to fall for cyclocross; I wanted to do something I had never done before and see what cross was all about.  Soon after that first finish line, I abandoned all thoughts of long training days and started riding like a cyclocross racer.

I hoped that I had endurance from years past and would feel strong at Harvest 50 anyway.  I was really cold at the beginning for the two mile rollout to the start line.  Usually if I’m cold at the start, I’ve dressed well and will warm up enough to be comfortable.  But on this day, with the flat course and intense, continuous wind, it was a challenge.  The first ten miles I tried to find my groove but struggled to feel good.  I dropped any thoughts of hanging with the lead group in the first miles as I just didn’t feel right.  It seemed like it was going to be a rough day as my body didn’t want to play along.  Around 15 miles, I started to feel warmed up and like I could actually ride a bike.  I got in a small group, and we rolled along swapping leads at the front to block the wind.  It felt so good to be in a group working together.  On my own in the headwind, I was pushing hard to maintain 15mph.  In a small group, it was a relatively easy effort to hold 20mph.

After about twenty minutes in the group, I started to fall off the back.  Well this sucks.  My body was sending me signs again; it didn’t want to play bikes today.  I accepted that I was losing contact with the group and within minutes I could no longer even see them.  Not the day I wanted.  From mile 30 to 50, I just argued with myself in my head.  Why did I sign up for this?  I’m terrible on flat land and terrible in wind.  These thoughts continued, and I just tried to calm my brain down.  It was fine.  I wasn’t riding well or feeling strong, but I was still outside riding my bike.  That is still a pretty good day.  When negative thoughts would crop up, I forced myself to make a list of things I was thankful for.  I am thankful for:  no flats today, my gloves are keeping my hands warm, I have cookies in my pocket, I’ll hang out with Gies and Hugo when I get home, I get soup after the finish.  It worked.  I was in a better headspace every time I employed this strategy.  Once I got to mile 50, I knew I only had five or six or seven miles left (the race was actually 57 miles).  I rolled along the final gravel stretches knowing I would be fine.  A crappy day for my body for sure, but I was okay!

I crossed the finish in 3hrs 44min.  I got my soup and stood around the bonfire.  I was tired, a little frustrated, but mostly just happy to be done.  This gravel race gave me a long, tough day.  It was humbling but every race teaches you something, and I have a lot to learn from this one.

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.

 

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.

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brookside podium