Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Racing to finish

Amazing how fast the downward spiral can arrive. One minute I am taking a solid and earned 2nd place.....the next.... I am taking a DNF and feeling like I never want to ride again. To describe my last 4 races as an emotional roller coaster would be an understatement.

This past Sunday I was ready to throw in the towel. Done. No more races. Because while I love to ride, I don't like feeling miserable while I am riding. To make things worse....toss in the face that I was feeling miserable during a race...while getting crushed....and the mind starts spinning out of control. I have experienced this spiral in my last three races. Not so much at Glacial Hills, but surely at the Big M race (where I bailed after 1 lap) and then again Sunday at Maybury. Done. Mentally being done is harder than physically being done. If you are physically done you can convince yourself to keep pedaling. You can focus on the positives and just keep the drive to get across that finish line. If you mentally check out.....you suffer more. The more you suffer and the more you struggle the worse it gets until you find yourself talking about picking up yard darts and corn hole as your favorite sport.

At Big M, I physically felt awful. I was making the grind up a long climb and my legs just quit. I mentally could not tell them to "shut up" or to "just keep spinning" because mentally I wasn't really there. So when my legs left on vacation, my mind was on the next flight. I was so checked out that I was ready to bail about 3 miles in. Maybe sooner. Normally I have the ability to block that out...ride past the legs quitting....and end up finishing the race. At the TK Lawless race I felt good. No doubt. That race went well. At Big M I didn't feel great....and the race ended with a DNF. Mentally, I checked out...so physically I had to be done.

At Glacial Hills I was doing alright at the start. As a mental boost I was able to keep riders in sight on the initial climb. That boost kept me going for the most part, but I do remember getting that "checked out" feeling about 7 miles in. Then I reached the end of the first lap and mentally I was doing better. The hills still hurt, but I was able to power up more of them and I was able to keep going the entire race. Mental win.

At Maybury it was humid...and mentally....I was already fading. Then less than a few miles in and the train of guys passing....mentally I started to question everything again. The course at Maybury isn't hard. It is a solid course. But when you start to check out....the course is instantly harder. I know I had some lingering thoughts about KC's crash. But I did my best to squash those thoughts because they can actually cause a crash. I just finished. Crushed by a field of stronger riders...but blaming myself. Why....well....here is the truth.....it is my fault.

Mentally I may be checking out....but there is a reason I am checking out. Last year I was a stronger rider. I weighed less. I was mentally tough. I am still that person, but I am heavier and haven't put as many miles in so I am not as strong. Weaker+heaver= lower mental toughness. These things are all part of the same equation. The variable....is me. That old adage of "I am my own worst enemy" or "i see my enemy every time I look in the mirror" holds true. I am truly my own worst enemy. I started to think about what I ate before each of these last 4 races. Eating clean before TK I felt good. Eating not clean before Big M and Maybury. Huge difference in how I felt on the bike. Hands down, I don't take very good care of myself. I know I need to. I know how to. I know what I need to do to be healthy. I am not really content with being a DFL finisher and getting crushed by people I used to compete with.

I either invest in myself....or I just race to finish.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Maybury TT recap

Maybe I should make this short. I got crushed. The end. There really isn't much to report on this race, but I will attempt to shed some light on my mental workings.

Up early. Loaded up my two youngest daughters and headed towards Otsego. Swing in and picked up Mark and we headed down to Kalamazoo to pick up Lisa, Jay, and Mike. There were 8 of us piled into the suburban with all of our gear and a bike inside. 5 bikes total. Rolling heavy so to speak. We rolled from the lot a little after 7 to make the trek to Rochester Hills. Conversation was fairly typical...all about riding. After a couple of hours we arrived at Maybury and headed to registration.

Biggest item of note....it was freaking hot. Well, humid. The roads were still showing some water and the humidity was hovering in the 90's percentage wise. Heavy. The air was heavy. We registered and mulled around until it was time to warm up. I could feel my blood pressure was high for some reason. Pulse was about normal....but I could feel my heart beating. I just slowly pedaled around to keep my legs moving and let my heart know it was alright.....to just settle down some.

Then it was time to line up. 3, 2, 1 GO. I decided to wear the Gopro and actually record a race....but....uh...the setting was wrong and I got zero footage. Instead I had the weight of the camera and the straps around my chest squeezing me like a freaking anaconda for almost 9 miles. I am led to believe that it was just the heavy air, but it really felt like the chest mount was suffocating me. Sure, blame the innocent camera right?

I knew right away that I was riding to finish. Heart rate shot thru the roof....or at least I thought it did...because....I can't find my Garmin. So I was technically guessing. Strike 2. lol. Anyway, the course was full of slick rocks and roots from the previous day of rain. We were warned that "Maybury doesn't tend to drain well" so we were at least mentally prepared. Because I have not ridden here in a few years I was riding blind. The course is tight and twisty, then it opens up, then it is tight and twisty again. Overall, a fun course. I can only imagine how fast I would be out there if it was my home course.

I slogged away and eventually got a report that I was about a mile from the end. I was blown. Just riding to survive has become a theme for me...and not one that I like....but more on that tomorrow. I pedaled best I could to the finish line and headed right to the truck. I opened the cooler and dumped an entire bottle of water on the back of my head and down my neck just to try to alleviate some of the heat. It seemed to work, but the air was still heavy.

I took 12th....out of 12. DFL.....again. 20 minutes behind the leaders. But, I tried. I rode. I finished. You should check back in tomorrow....because that blog will probably be worth reading ;)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

It happens....

I headed down to Andrews University in Berrien Springs on Tuesday night. I wanted to get some trail riding in before my next race. Andrews is the closest trail...and it is challenging. I have ridden here a few times and I am always impressed by the nature of the course....DIFFICULT.

KC headed down to ride with me. He did a lap before I got there and warned me that it was fairly sketchy with washouts and some brutal drops. I don't know this trail very well, but I knew what he was talking about. There are some sections that make you "pucker". We planned to just ride and take it as it came. Slow and steady....

We started reaching the rough patches and I was realizing what he meant. There were a few deep ruts that could easily take someone out. They were generally right in the middle of the trail. No fault of anyone but mother nature. Her rains made this feel like a different trail than it was a month ago, the last time I rode it.

The pic above is the first downhill heading back south on the northernmost loop. The picture doesn't really do it justice....because this bastard is steep. The trail hugs the ridge and then dives down to a dry(ish) creek bed. There are a few things I need to point out on this pic.

1. Downhill (obvious)
2. Rut. Right in the middle
3. Harder to see is the hump on directly behind the rut. It takes a small dip before rising back up to the top of the bump where the rut is located
4. Skid marks. These are from riders coming thru after us.

Imagine bombing down that hill with some semblance of speed. Fast, but still dragging the brakes knowing that getting out of control is a bad idea. I went thru first and then heard a horrific sound behind me. When I looked back KC was down. I knew it wasn't good because he wasn't moving yet. I rushed back to him and he couldn't get a breath in. After a bit he asked me to roll him onto his back. He was able to get a breath in at that point and he asked me if help was coming. I was already dialing 911, knowing it wasn't a basic crash. It was clearly serious. To make things worse, we were 3 miles from the parking lot and not close to an access point. After a lot of conversation with the 911 operator KC was standing and ready to get out of the woods.

"The worst part was when they cut off my jersey" ~ KC

Campus security arrived and they headed towards a rendezvous point. The other guys that were assisting grabbed bikes and we headed out. I finally got to the hospital to check up on him. He was drugged up and eating ice chips. They had already done x-rays. They confirmed that he had a broken clavicle that would require surgery. He was ready to sleep so I headed home. In the morning he messaged me to let me know that they confirmed the clavicle break and that he also had 5 broken ribs. Honestly, glad it wasn't worst than that.

I didn't see it...but I can imagine that he got launched off of the hump and flew to the ground, landing on his shoulder. It happens quick. Unfortunately it is part of the sport of Mountain Biking. It was a scary moment for me on the outside...and I would imagine a HIGHLY scary moment for him on the inside. Thankfully he didn't get hurt more than he did.

When something like this happens it really gets your mind going. Scenarios start playing out in my head that have just become a friends reality. The whole thing is....this happens. I know numerous strong riders that have had these types of crashes happen. Another friend had a bad one a few years back. He rides more than anyone I know and just caught a lip wrong. Another friend got taken out by a slick root and bruised ribs earlier this year. Yet another got attacked by sand last week and it threw him down like a paper doll. I crashed and took out a friend a few years ago. But each and every one of these riders will get back on their bikes. They will move on. KC will be back and ready to ride. We dust ourselves off....but we still question this crazy sport we love. Because of our love of the ride we get back on our bikes and ride again. Our style might change. We will become more tentative on certain sections. We will completely skip others. We come back. I am looking forward to when KC is healed up so we can go ride again.

As a side note: It is a good idea to have an understanding of how to handle a major crash. I am not talking a bump or bruise....but a major crash where the person loses consciousness or has a major injury. Unfortunately this wasn't my first time....but because of my knowledge I knew what to do...and more importantly...what not to do. 

Do...remain calm.
Do NOT...move the injured person
Do...tell the person to breathe slow
Do NOT....Say "oh my god you are hurt"

These 2 things can be the difference between an injury and a paralyzed friend. I didn't know if he had twisted his neck or even broken his back. I didn't move him. I told him to relax and try to breathe deep. Only after he picked up his head did I ask if he wanted his helmet off. Only after he moved did I offer to help him....asking him what he wanted me to do for him. Calm. Panic doesn't help anyone. If I ran back to him and said "holy fuck dude....you punctured a lung" that really doesn't help the situation. He knew he was hurt. No reason to make him go into shock or worry about further injuries. If you are calm, it helps the injured person be calm. If you panic....mass hysteria happens. 

That is all for today. Ride safe. Keep the rubber side down.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Glacial Hills XC recap

Early Sunday morning I put the D.U.F.F. on the Suburban and headed towards Grand Rapids. I swung off the highway by Gun Lake Casino and picked up Mark and Jeff. Then we started the nearly 3 hour journey to Bellaire, MI. The further north we got the darker the clouds got. Checking the weather in the week leading up to this race I was curious how it would end. 60's and a 50% plus chance of rain....we took our chances. By Cadillac we were wondering if we made the right choice. As the skies opened for the first time I really started to question my decision to pre-register. Then the sun broke through the clouds. Then it rained again. Then...we arrived in Bellaire.

The sun broke through the clouds when we go to Bellaire.
When we got to the school for registration the skies were partly cloudy. It was actually kind of chilly. But perfect racing weather. From the reports we had about trail conditions we figured the trail would be solid and fast. After double checking tire pressures we headed up the first climb of the course to warm up. Knowing I had 2 laps I wanted to stash my second bottle. The first climb is about .8 miles long and not crazy steep. We just rode a casual pace up the hill and found the parking lot where the trail starts. I dropped my bottle and we watched a few Expert\Elite riders fly thru and then we headed back down to the start area.

I made my last minute preparations and headed to the start area. As we were lining up some people were bombing down the hill towards the finish. It looked fun and I was looking forward to that section. Then it was time to start. There was 9 Clydes galloping up the hill at the start. I jumped on a wheel and planned to hold on as long as I could. That worked out for a bit....as I kept the pack in sight for most of the climb....and then they disappeared into the woods. Once on the singletrack, I started to find out what the trail was going to be like. It seemed like the entire trail was bench cut out of the side of the hills. I was able to push myself harder than I have in recent rides. I was feeling pretty good, but wasn't going very fast. I kept catching glances of Ted up ahead of me, and then another guy in our class that was between us. I kept the pressure on my body and did my best to hold on....but eventually I had to ease up.

As I eased up I started to settle into my pace. I was realizing how awesome the terrain was that I was riding on. The hills were crazy steep but the trail wasn't. The trails cut across the hills so it wasn't bad riding. It was cool to be able to see people weaving up the hill and passing me going the opposite direction up above my head. The trail was awesome. I started getting a lot of traffic passing me but it wasn't a big deal. I was enjoying the ride.

I finally saw the parking lot and was happy to see the start of my second lap. I knew traffic would be gone and I could just ride my ride. I stopped and swapped bottles then headed back up the trail. I was really comfortable. Riding at what felt like a solid pace I kept spinning away. The miles ticked by and I was still enjoying the ride. Then I saw the parking lot again. After a short trip jaunt down the hill I made the right hander to head to the finish line. The last section was downhill for 1.5 miles....on pavement. I pushed as hard as I could and was absolutely trucking. I hit 37.4 mph on that descent. Brent was at the corner cheering me on as I flew past. GO GO GO. I quickly got to the last section of road and rolled thru the finish banner. I took 9th....but apparently a guy didn't do both laps....so he got a DNF and I moved up to 8th. I will take it....because it was just a fun ride overall.

Mark flatted but still finished with a 13th place. Jeff had a great ride and took 5th place in his class. The trip home was full of laughter. It was a great day with friends and teammates on a trail I had never ridden before. Next up is Maybury TT this coming Sunday. All I will do is ride and see what happens.....and gauge my ride on how I feel and not on where I finish. Should be interesting!

Monday, August 15, 2016

1st Kal-Haven of 2016

7am roll outs can be brutal. Thankfully the trailhead off of 10th St. in Kalamazoo is under 30 minutes from my house. I loaded up the Defy and headed out to meet Jay, Lisa, and Jeff. Temps were in the 60's and it was hazy.

Off we went. The first stretch is always the best...downhill. It is pretty fast do the first stop sign. Faster to the second. Knowing this was going to be a long day on the bike I was still finding it difficult to find a pace that wasn't "hard" or "fast". Eventually we settled in.
Courtesy of Jay B. 
We always start in Kalamazoo and head to the North Shore Pier in South Haven before heading back. The pace was comfortable. In typical fashion it would always feel like right when you hit your rhythm that there is a stop sign. Then you take off again and find your rhythm again, stop sign. It is one of the things that makes this such a difficult ride. In the pic above we were probably holding 19mph or so...and Jay was riding no handed. lol. The trail is an old rail trail so it is pretty wide and straight. The chances of hitting something are slim....but they do exist. There was a tree down across the trail on the way out, but someone cleared it by the time we were heading back.

The first leg always goes fast. Everyone has good legs and it is downhill the whole way to South Haven...at least it feels that way for a relatively flat trail. We rolled into the trail head with an average speed of roughly 15.6 mph. My goal for the entire ride was 15 so we were right on target. We headed to the beach and I was surprised by how many people were out enjoying the Southwest Michigan sunshine, especially considering it was only about 9:30am.

We piled up the bikes and took the obligatory "we are here" pic of the light house. After a quick break we were headed back to Kalamazoo. Mentally I was doing alright...not really dreading the 34 miles back. Legs...well....not the best....but doing alright considering the lack of miles I have this year. 

Jay was stamping out a solid pace and I was doing what I could to hold on, but then we hit just a little riser and I could feel my heart rate creeping up. The speed was solid and I was holding his wheel but my heart felt like it was gong to explode. This is where my brain started to get the best of me. I let up...and fell back. I had no choice...my brain wouldn't force my body to go hard anymore. I eased up and watched the group ride away for a bit. I just had to settle into my own pace. Knowing I still had 25 miles to go.....that was my only choice. 25 miles....TO GO. ugh. 

I had one bottle of Infinite with me and started to sip off it. Eventually my legs came back some. But then my feet started to hurt. Stupid shoes. I switched brands last year and have never been comfortable in the new shoes. I have wide feet and the constant pedaling was making my toes hurt. I plugged along and eventually rejoined the group. Reaching Bloomingdale they stopped for a minute. I slowly pedaled on. Wondering how much more my feet could take. I was listening for tires behind me because Jay was on his fatty but I never heard them...until he was right on my wheel. Strange how those tires can be so quiet when all you are hearing is your heartbeat in your ears. 

Courtesy of Jay B.

I had recovered pretty good but my feet were still killing me. We cruised past Gobles and I knew we were 12ish miles from the end. Just keep going. By this this point I was visiting every emotion a person can deal with. 
doubt....can I finish
anger....dumb shoes
happiness.....man it is gorgeous out here
tiredness....legs don't fail me now
confidence....I can do this
fear....what if I screw up my fee
excitement....only 11 to go...10...
frustration.....why can't i keep up
elation....I see them
pain.....ouch.....my feet...

I couldn't do it anymore. I had to stop. I stopped and basically shook my foot like people shake their hands when they go numb. Instantly it felt better. So I stopped for all of 15 seconds....but when the group is going 17-18 mph it doesn't take long for them to be out of sight. We were close enough to the end that I didn't expect anyone to wait. I know my way back and they know I will be there eventually. I got back on and found some resemblance of rhythm. I could see Jeff up ahead and I slowly closed the gap on him. He asked if were towards the end. We were, the worst part of the entire ride in my opinion. The trail tilts upwards away from the Kalamazoo River and after 70 miles of flat the small inclines hurt. 

I just kept plugging away and eventually saw Lisa and Jay heading back down the trail. Go Go Go! They offered encouragement as I smashed the pedals up the last climb. Finally the parking lot and 73 miles of riding. Longest ride of the year by double. Happy to be done we all went about the rest of our days. Might not have been the fastest ride we have done out there, but we did it. Thanks to my friends and teammates for hanging out!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Day by day

Upper Mac was like riding on pavement

The best thing for me to do is just focus on each day as it comes. Not saying that I will completely disregard the future....but I cannot stress about the future. I need to focus on what is going on each day and crush each thing as I arrive at it. If that means crushing a run....crushing a ride....crushing a project at work....or crushing dinner then so be it. One day at a time is my best bet.

I have been taking my oldest to work every day because his car is broken. This week he started at 5:30 am. I am up and on the road before 5 am to drop him off....then another 30 minutes to South Haven. So starting work at 6am I can be out super early. The problem is....I have to pick him up too. No point in driving home 30 minutes and finding something to do for an hour and then driving back up to Zeeland to get him at 5pm. I did however find a solution.....leave work at 3....drive to Zeeland and ride Upper Mac until he get out of work.

Wednesday I loaded up the bike and made the stops. Worked my day. My day always ALWAYS goes better when I know I am riding afterwards. I swung to the gas station to procure some fluids and landed at Upper Mac around 3:40. Plenty of time to ride. Parking lot was empty other than a girl doing her workout. So I geared up and headed to the trail. 

To say "hot" would be accurate. It was low 90's and sunny. I was dripping sweat before I ever got on the bike. I headed up the connector and the open areas were crazy hot. Where the sun beats on the open sandy areas is like riding thru an oven. The shade was comfortable. I don't mind riding in the heat as long as I have water with me. 

The trail was in pretty good shape. Kudos to the volunteers that keep it clean. This trail is so different though. Lots of off camber. Hard clay base. A little bit of everything. Not my favorite trail, but a trail to ride when I have some free time. Not easy either. I wouldn't take my littles here until they get more experience. The rolls can sneak up on you sometimes and attempt to buck you off the bike. Thankfully no crashes.

My ride wasn't fast. But that doesn't matter. I was riding. I was content. I was letting things go and actually focusing on riding. I was noticing more things about the trail that I have never really noticed. The woods are desolate at times. Meaing, just trees. No brush to speak of. But then it changes and there is more brush and only smaller trees. You can generally always see a long way thru the woods. You can see the trail snake down the sides of the valleys. This is a bi-directional trail. And it is way different each direction you ride it. 

As 5pm rolled past my phone got a text notification. Riding thoughts started to fade and life thoughts started to creep back in. I reached the parking lot to find it bustling with people gearing up for their rides. It was a good day....and I will take it. Mentally I was reset.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

I don't know...

I don't know what it is....but I do know that I don't like it.

Maybe its depression...

...maybe its gluten...

....maybe its maybelline...

Whatever it is....I don't like how I have been feeling since Thursday. I have found myself sliding into the downward spiral since Thursday. This was the day I went to a visitation for the wife of my friend. She passed away last Monday at the young age of 41. One of the hardest visitations I have ever been to....simply because I started to imagine myself in this position. Either as the person who left this earth....or as the hollow shell of a man I saw standing there holding back tears as he greeted all of the people that were there.I don't want to be in either position. Unimaginable. I told my friend that I didn't know what to say because there are really no words when someone passes. It brought back memories of Tim. Memories of Chuck. Memories of all of these people that we loved so much that were taken too early.

But since that day I have been sliding. I rode Luton Park after the wake to clear my head. There were a lot of familiar faces sitting around chatting and I just put the suburban in reverse and slowly left the parking lot. This was the first sign I was sliding. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I just wanted to go home.....give Michelle and the kids a hug and go to bed. Saturday I had an empty house. So I got up and sat on my ass watching the olympics instead of riding. "free time" isn't a major luxury for us when we have 4 kids. Generally there is something going on. I had time to go ride 50 miles but I chose to sit and eat. Ironically enough I was watching Road Cycling. Just didn't feel like riding and instead of talking myself into it....I talked myself out of it.

Sunday Michelle was taking pictures for a wedding and I went to assist. Feeling miserable I headed to bed earlier than normal. Monday was better, but worry about the future started to creep in. There is some major stress at work and a lot of things are up in the air. The downward spiral continues.

But.....I know I don't like this feeling. I don't want to feel miserable. I want to celebrate life and have fun. I will ride this dip like a skateboarder blasting across the bottom of an empty pool...and I will launch out the other side....stronger....more focused...happier.

I am planning on Glacial hills on the 21st. Less than 2 weeks and I head to another course that has "hill" in the title. But, I will go ride my race....have fun.....smile.....do what I can....and be content...because being miserable isn't good for anyone.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Big M XC

Brian and myself before the start
Things always start out with good intention. I was up on time to make the trek up to Big M in Manistee. 2.5 hours with a 12:30 start time. Not bad. I left the house just after 8am. 

When I arrived there was a DNR officer waiting with envelopes for the parking fee. I filled it out and chatted with Jimmy before heading to registration. Last time I was at Big M was last year. I was there for LJ100. A successful ride of 100 miles. Today, I was planning on about 18 miles and a fun day on the bike. I wandered to registration where I ran into Brian. We chatted for a few minutes and I headed back to the Suburban to get ready. 

Brian and I did a short warm up and headed to the start area. With temps in the low 70's it was a gorgeous day to ride. Little did I know what was coming.

Brian and his wave went....big group....16 people. Awesome to see more people racing. There was another class and then time for the Clydes. One thing I noticed was that there were 8 of us. Another thing I noticed was a guy that didn't appear to be anywhere near 200 pounds. Yet another is that I was by far the heaviest person in this class. Anyway.....8 people....not bad.

3, 2, 1 GO. Three people shot off the front. I dropped in behind 2 other guys in 6th. The pace wasn't bad and I was doing alright. Then the trail ticked upwards. Not a big hill. Just a little one. 7th and 8th passed me like I was sitting still and that newly formed group disappeared. My legs were like "ha ha...you're funny" when I tried to power up the hill. As I crested the hill  saw the group wasn't too far so I tried to close the gap. Never happened. Trail kicked upwards again on a super long, not steep, climb. Blown. My legs were blown up 2 miles into the race. I just didn't have anything. No power to put on the pedals. All the groups that started behind me were streaming past me like I had a flat tire. 

How would this be?
2 miles in...and I am done?

3 miles in and mentally I was already checked out. To say I went into survival mode is an understatement. A group of beginners caught me and I rode with them for a while. Then an awful crash. The guy at the front stalled and created a chain reaction behind him. #4 put a foot down....but there was nothing for his foot....as he stepped on the downhill side of the bike. He went down and took a woman down with him. Poor lady went tumbling down the hill like a sack of potatoes. I stopped and made sure they were okay, which they were, and then pressed on.

Before too long I was alone and struggling on even the tiny hills. Ugh....I could puke. Maybe I should. I wondered out loud if it would make me feel better. As the miles slowly rolled past I talked myself into being done. Cramps on the front line...ready to attack. Crazy headache. Stomach ready to erupt. I figured it was smarter to mail it in than it would be to continue and risk injury or some other illness.

I was reminded of Boyne a few years ago. I was miserable on my last lap when a guy caught me on a hill. He looked at me and said "sometimes you're the nail". It has stuck with me....and this ride reminded me that everyone can have a bad day on the bike. Setback? Not at all. Illness? Possibly. I was pretty miserable the rest of the night. I am feeling about 75% as I type this. During the race yesterday I was roughly a low 21%. 

So reality check. I am surely not a climber. I know this is not a secret. But I was hoping for a better result than a DNF at a trail where I had my biggest cycling success ( finishing LJ100). All I know for sure is that I will continue and hope for the best. The bad thing.....my next race has "hills" in the title.