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

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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.

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

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

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.