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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Dispelling A Few Common Myths

Cyclists, runners, and swimmers. Endurance Athletes. Skinny people. Freaks of nature. Health nuts. These are all synonyms, right? Most people assume the same things about all of those runners and cyclists out on the road. Trust me, after years of being ‘that guy’ in the office that runs over lunch and eats weird things like salads and avocados, I have heard it all. I would like to rid the world of all of the common misconceptions (or at least my small world) about us freaks that wear spandex and run for hours in the woods and get up early on a Saturday morning just to sit on a bike saddle for half of a day. Here are five of the most common things I have heard over and over again – and the truth behind them:

1. “You must not like your knees. They aren’t going to last long if you keep on running like that.”

People, come on. Humans are not built like cars. We are not made of metal and plastic and rubber. There is no ‘shelf life’ on our joints. We are biological beings.  We are made up of trillions of cells and bacteria and mitochondria. The real reason people have joints replaced is because the joints were not used correctly or at all in the first place.  When a human being or a cheetah or a dog runs, there is blood and oxygen and cells and all kinds of crap being flushed through the veins, arteries, muscles, and joints – there are cells delivering oxygen, cells taking away lactic acid and waste, cells repairing damage.  Of course muscles are broken down and joints hurt, but the human body rebuilds.  Have you ever broken a bone?  Did you have the bone replaced?  I hope not.  The bone heals.  The body heals.  It gets stronger.

My knees do not hurt more and more every time I run.  They get stronger.  They learn to take the impact.  I used to think running 1 mile was the most amazing thing I could ever do – and it was hard!  But then I ran a little more than a mile.  And a little more.  It didn’t take long before I was running marathons.  26.2 miles.  I have run marathons and ultramarathons, and I still have knees.  They are stronger now than they were when I started running years ago.  They will be stronger tomorrow than they are today.  Don’t worry about my knees.  Worry about your’s.

2.  “You need to eat more!  Look how skinny you are!  Do you eat anything?!”

Yes, I literally eat anything.  Matt Fitzgerald says it best in his book Diet Cults, “There is a popular assumption that, as a group, obese individuals consume the most food.  In fact, competitive endurance athletes typically consume substantially more calories than even the morbidly obese, which is interesting, because endurance athletes are also the leanest segment of society.  That’s right: the leanest people on earth eat the most food.  How is this possible?  Lots of exercise.”  I am skinny and lean, sure – but I also consume over 3000 calories every day.  I burn a lot of calories.  Embarrassing as it is, I likely eat more calories in peanut butter alone before I leave for work every morning than most people eat for breakfast and lunch combined.  I’m telling you:  I eat plenty.  I am married to a dietitian (a damn good one at that), so my calorie consumption is spot on.  Every couple of months, I keep a food log and Giesla pours through it and evaluates it along with my training.  This way, I can stay on top of my calorie, carbohydrate, protein, and fat needs.  If I’m not getting enough calories, I can feel it during training rides.  I will feel sluggish; my legs will feel heavy; and I will more than likely feel run down.  I can only train well when I am eating right and eating enough.  My body can only rebuild and get stronger when I am taking in the good stuff (fruits, vegetables, and beer…okay, not too much beer).  The next time you see a lean dude running or riding, you can bet he eats like a monster.

3. “You ran a marathon?  I can’t even run a mile!”

Really?  When was the last time you tried?  If I payed you a million dollars, I guarantee you would run a mile.  Running is not easy.  This is why most people don’t run.  But everyone can do it.  Our bodies were built for it.  If you haven’t run in years or ever, of course it will be hard for the first two weeks or months.  Maybe it will suck for the first year.  When I started running, I hated it.  I hated it for almost two years – it was hard.  But it got easier, and it actually started to feel good.  I actually started to get energy from running.  And I don’t want to hear that all-too-common cop out of “I am too old.”  My dad, at the age of 54 and having never run in his life, decided to do a half marathon.  He went from zero running to a half marathon in a couple of months.  He battled shin splints and a torn meniscus (he didn’t know it at the time), but he ran 2:06.  Two hours and some change, at 54.  With a torn meniscus.  That’s badass.  So yes, you can run.  Please stop saying “I can’t even run a mile!”  It may get laughs at the office, but runners all over the world get a ringing in their ears every time you say it.  Stop it.  The ringing in my ears is so annoying.

4.  “You know, your heart only has a finite number of beats.  When you run, you are taking time off of your life.”

This is simply not true.  I shake down to my toes every time someone says this to me.  There are so many things wrong about this statement, I don’t even know where to start.  First and foremost, if this were true, I still would not care!  I love running, and I love riding.  I don’t want to spread out my days as much as I can and live the absolute longest possible life I can – rather, my goal is to live my life the way I want to and do what I want to and experience everything that I can while I am here.

That being said, here’s a quick explanation why this is not true.  The average resting heart rate is 60-80 beats per minute.  This means that the average heart muscle pumps somewhere between 60 and 80 times in a minute.  Over a 24 hour period, the average heart will beat between 86,400 and 115,200 times.  Because I use my heart and push it regularly, it is strong.  My resting heart rate, and that of most endurance athletes, is about 40 beats per minute, so my heart beats about 57,600 times in a 24 hour period.  So if our hearts really do have a set number of beats before they stop – I will live twice as long as the guy who has a resting heart rate of 80.  And I will still be running and loving every minute of it.  Saying that your heart only has a certain number of beats is like saying women can’t run – it’s old fashioned, it’s stupid, and I’ve been passed by enough women in races to know better.  Get smarter, get your heart healthier, and shut up.

5.  “You must have a lot of time to do all that running and bike riding.”

No, I don’t have a lot of time.  I have no time at all.  Between a full time job, a 2 hour-commute, house projects, a giant garden, family and social commitments, cooking dinners, and all of the automobile/house/plumbing/yard problems that pop up, I don’t have time.  I have to make time.  A very large portion of my training is completed between commitments.  If I had a dollar for every time I rode my bike between a baby shower and a wedding or squeezed in a long run in the middle of a family party and meeting up with friends for a beer, I could hire someone to take care of my stupid garden.  It is not always convenient, but it is necessary to squeeze a run in here or a ride in there and try to stay as consistent as possible through the week.  I always have a bag with me full of running and biking gear – and I won’t even talk about how often I ‘clean up’ in a bathroom sink or throw on a suit in my car moments before a meeting or a wedding.  Luckily, Giesla is not only understanding of all this, she is usually right there with me.  We joke that we have changed clothes in our car more times than we have in our home.

The truth is that in today’s world, especially in the hectic, busy, over-committed country we live in – no one has time for anything anymore.  But if you want something bad enough, you MAKE the time.  Sometimes, the yard work gets delayed in order to fit in a long run.  Sometimes, the shower plumbing is going to keep on leaking into a bucket, because I have to go for a three hour ride.  It sounds ridiculous, and I fully understand that – but I am a happier, more balanced person because of it.  And in the end, it’s my life.  It’s your life.  If you want something and don’t have the time to go for it, make the time.  You will be grateful that you did.  Just remember to empty that shower bucket every once in a while.

Before you leave a brash comment about how hard it is with kids, let me say one more thing. Some of the strongest endurance athletes I know have kids.  I could talk about the doctor I met at an ultramarathon who was a father of four – who also does Ironmans.  I could talk about Rich Roll, Michael Arnstein, or my friends and family members who have kids and still run marathons and half marathons and go hiking and biking, but this post would be gigantic.  They tell me it is very hard, and that with kids, life is busier and more hectic than you can imagine.  It makes training harder.  But… it is very, very doable.  I love the example they have set.  To the moms and dads who still make time for running 5Ks and biking centuries and being an awesome example for your kids, keep it up – you are amazing.

Now get out and do yourself a favor – stop worrying about my knees,

start eating well,

make time to do something you love.

You will be healthier and happier because of it.

Walter Matthau is Yelling at Me

I didn’t think I would get a ride in today. It was supposed to rain on and off all day. An hour ago, on my drive home from work, I looked up at the sky. Through the rain, I saw nothing but clouds, beige and gray all around. It was way too windy to ride anyway. 20-30 mile per hour winds plus rain? I figured I could probably use a rest day anyway – and I needed to work on our stair project at home.

Not long after that, I found myself spinning down Lost Man’s Road in a jacket. The rain had cooled the air just enough to need a jacket.  It wasn’t raining anymore and I planned to ride out to Mount Olive, my absolute favorite climb, and do a few repeats and then head home. I would be lucky to miss the next bit of rain so I planned to make it quick. I couldn’t believe how windy it was! The gusts threatened to throw me off the road. I normally hate riding in wind, but today for some reason I am okay with it.

I rode past the weird sheep with dreadlocks that I love to see.  I remember the first time I found this route when Giesla and I first moved to Bloomington.  I still remember the feeling I got when I saw those horned sheep; I get the same feeling today.  Not far down the road, my lower back starts tightening up on the first climb, still lingering pain from the marathon two weeks ago.  At the top of my second hill repeat, I stop to take off my jacket.  Some lady comes out of her house and yells, “Don’t blow over!”  By the time I reach the bottom, and turn for my third climb, it’s raining again.

For some unknown reason, on my third climb, I imagine Walter Matthau yelling at me to pedal harder like he would yell at Barbara Streisand to act better.  There is almost no sound as I climb.  All I hear is rain pelting my helmet, my tires spraying water from the road, and my breathing becoming more labored.  Then I hear a loose piece of tin smacking a barn in the wind.  And Walter Matthau is yelling at me again.  My brain comes up with some weird stuff.

I finish the third and fourth climb and start feeling stronger.  Before I turn around for my fifth and final climb, I notice that a bird shit on my leg.  What is a bird even doing out in all this wind and rain?  He might think the same of me.  Either way, he crapped right on me.  I don’t care.  I just finish my last climb up Mount Olive and head for home.

I didn’t think I was going to get a ride in today.  But I did, and now my back hurts.  I was thrashed by the wind.  I was pelted by the rain.  Walter Matthau yelled at me.  And at some point, a bird shit on me.  Just a few more miles to go.  There is nowhere I would rather be.

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Winter

Even the meteorologists on the Weather Channel have said “THIS WINTER SUCKS REALLY BAD.”  At least I think they have.  I can handle really cold temperatures and extreme wind.  I will run and ride in almost anything.  But when the roads and trails are covered in ice and snow and slush for weeks and months at a time, it just isn’t as easy as dealing with cold air alone.  I have spent far too much time on my indoor cycling trainer this winter.  Although it is a convenient way to get in rides and build a base for the rest of the year, I can say with certainty that 90 minutes on the indoor trainer is roughly equal to 2 weeks of flossing your teeth.  It is really hard to get yourself to do it.  Then when you finally do, it doesn’t seem too bad.  “Hey, I should do this more often,” you say to yourself.  And then you do it again and again and again.  And you get back on the trainer a few days in a row and a few weeks in a row.  The walls look the same.  The one stage of last year’s Tour de France that is DVRed is still the same.  And the snow and ice piling up outside and melting and then refreezing looks the same.  Winter 2014 sucks.  I feel like Mother Nature owes me something.

We have had a couple of days where the sun was shining a bit and temperatures eked above freezing long enough to melt some snow and slush.  With my new Scott Solace road bike staring at me every time I stepped into the garage, I was ready for clear roads.  The first ride was a beautifully snowy 20⁰F day – just enough snow to leave the roads and my knuckles white (on every turn) with my 25mm tires slipping along.  Then after weeks of 20⁰ days, January 20 brought a sweet 44⁰F!  I was enjoying the day, more than happy to be outside and to be riding, not pushing the tempo, just spinning my legs.  With all the melting snow and ice, the potholes and craters in the road that had formed over the winter were filled with water.  I know these roads and routes like the back of my hand and normally dodge the larger potholes and jump the deeper cracks.  But today, the route feels brand new.  Delightfully new.  Twenty minutes in, and I could hear a car behind me as I approached a fairly rough patch of road by a pig farm.  I held my line to let the car pass and at the same time I rolled through what looked like a few dark puddles.  One of the puddles was actually a deep pothole, and my tires slammed into it sending a shock through my bike and into my body.  BANG.  I immediately knew it was bad, and my first thought was, “Great, this bike doesn’t even have fifty miles on it and I just bent the rim.”  The car passed, I crested the hill, and then pulled off into the grass.  I stepped off my bike and spun the rear tire.  Not bent – Good.  Then I heard the SSSSSSSSSS sound of a tire going flat.  No problem.  As I was swapping out the tube, I realized sweat was dripping off of my forehead and my bare hands were not cold at all.  I was sweating!  Thank you, Mother Nature!

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Another cyclist passed by and yelled out to make sure I had everything I needed.  I changed the flat and rode on.  I was chased by two dogs.  I dealt with one angry driver.  I thought about that pothole for a while.  It was really deep, but there was no way to see it and act quickly enough.  The melted snow and slush made it look just like a puddle, a dip in the road maybe.  I thought about how life was like that sometimes.  I thought about that a little while longer and finished my ride.  I know these roads are going to be rough for a while, the cracks and holes and chunks of black top from the winter piling up.  The Weather Channel is forecasting that March is supposed to be colder than average.  I am okay with that.  I know warmer temperatures and longer days are closer and closer.  I will be outside as long as the roads are clear of snow.  And if not, I’ll be flossing.