10 days into August and if you're not prepping for your biggest race now, it's surely around the corner. We are IN IT folks! So why do I feel so unfit?
There I am. Ripping down Magic Meadows Trail in Telluride, CO on July 31st. Comfortably in 1st place of the Singlespeed Division and inside the Top 7 riders overall. My body felt amazing. The bike flawless. The hero dirt snatching the side lugs as I drive the front wheel into each corner, lightly lifting my body into the air as the rear tire pushes dirt off the trail. Each rise in the trail failing to steal my speed, instead, I'm soaking up every bit of momentum. Into the trees, out onto the open traverse, over the wet roots and slippery rocks, my machine and I working in unison. Us against time. We are winning.
And it continued to the finish. Victorious in Singlespeed. 7th overall. Good vibes right?! YEAH! Of course!
Dropping to the 100K distance within the National Ultra Endurance Series offers a few perks: 1) you tend to get only the best parts of the racecourse. 2) 4-5 hours hammering is a more straightforward demand than 8-12 hours navigating endurance woes (nutrition, gut, fatigue, etc). 3) You are done in the morning! Time to enjoy the day!
With victory in hand, Saturday drifted into a blur of coffeehouses, bookstores, gear shops, and hanging in the park. Hour by hour my body recharged and by the time I sat down for Team Dinner with the crew, my voracious appetite calmed to "salmon-salad-please"-size. I was ready for the next big thing: Pierre's Hole, 1 week later.
"What's the point of this post?!" Great question. Here it is. When stacking events, and in the heart of your Time to Shine, building fitness and feeling great are NOT foremost concerns. Trust your training, trust yourself, and relax.
To date I have 398 hours and 14 minutes spent pedaling bikes this year. That's an average of 1.8 hours a day (107 minutes 38 seconds). A LOT! Knowing that my workload was high, my season was going to plan, and that I had come off of two strong months, I took the 4 days ahead of Telluride 50 completely off the bike. WHOA. NOT riding a bike proves significantly more challenging for me than any tough workout. But the science, the intuition, and history shows it's a necessary piece of getting to your best. And it worked! But...
I broke the rest-seal on Saturday's race which led to a "recovery ride?" at Navajo Rocks in Moab midday Sunday, then a "hey-I'm-here" fun ride Sunday night in Salt Lake City. A TRX workout Monday. An easy road spin with the wife back in Denver on Tuesday. A "tune-up ride" Wednesday in Pocatello, ID. Finally, a "gear-check" / "openers" ride Thursday morning at Grand Targhee Resort, WY, site of Pierre's Hole 100K.
So much for science, intuition, and history.
Left unchecked my emotions got the best of me. I want to ride. I want to explore. I want to... feel super fit. The taper > race > recover > taper sequence doesn't speak to my fitness feelings. When my days include eating, recovering, and ....ugh....sitting, I easily fall into my feelings. My lazy, untested, soft feelings. So I rode. Controlled of course. Purposefully, yes. I have a National series to win after all.
Lined up at Pierre's Hole. Ready. Fit? I think. Fueled? Absolutely. Ready? Oh you damn well better believe it. I know this course and I'm here with a singular focus. Unfortunately the course had a different agenda.
5.7 miles. 1 hour 11 minutes. DNF.
Did Not Finish does not rhyme with 1st Place Singlespeed. It doesn't rhyme with 2nd, 3rd, or 4th, any of which are still good enough to lock up the NUE title. Frankly it doesn't rhyme with anything noteworthy. Sure as hell doesn't rhyme with "Fit". In 8 short days I've gone from victoriously drinking an oat milk cortado to being an unfit, race-loser, with too much glycogen in his legs. A slippery slope and one I'm sliding down at an uncontrollable rate. So I strip off my mud soaked spandex, I rinse my shoes, I wash my bike and get it back to functioning properly. I throw the numberplate in the nearest garbage and mentally note the donation bin for the dated coffee much swag. I try to move on the best way I know how. More coffee, a book, appreciation for the sound of consistent rain dancing atop my van, and send warm thoughts to my teammates, Chad and Amir, still on course.
Just as I crack the cover on a new read a light knock on the van door breaks my focus. Before the sliding door can reveal the zen-thief, I already know who's asking to enter. Amir.
Having just watched him pass through his first lap minutes earlier, thereby amplifying those dark, DNF thoughts and demanding the lit crackling candle piece of my zen-van-escape, it only made sense. The conditions were miserable. The rain steadily picked up as morning grew to midday. The muddy conditions that rendered my chain useless would only become more challenging. So I opened the door and met Amir, the soaking wet gato from Los Altos.
Between teeth chatters he told me what happened. I ushered him to a dry changing room (not in the van, not at all, you kidding me?!). While he cat bathed and regained feeling in his appendages, I sat comfortably, appreciating my shorter DNF. Maybe I did win one race today? The race to DNF?
Gathering ourselves post-DNF's we gobble down the Racer, err.. Quitter Meal, and settle down in anticipation of Chad's finish. Imagining how he managed to rip such a fast, first lap twists that DNF fork a bit deeper but I push my thoughts aside. I stand ready to be his teammate. His cheerleader. This metamorphosis nears completion at a strikingly similar rate to the emptying of my cup of coffee and now in full cheerleader mode I gaze toward the finish chute. Any. Minute. Now... WHAT?!?! There he is! But. Not on his bike. Not in spandex. Not racing. Chad stands crestfallen in his down puffy jacket. His mud-covered face more Lord of the Flies than the speedy racer who flies. He's pulled from the race. The only words that manage to escape my lips, "Oh buddy." I pull him to my chest and the standard "bro hug" turns full embrace. This damn day tears down another trail warrior. 3 racers. 3 DNF's.
Amir, Chad, and I win races. More clearly, we win almost every race we enter, but on this day we can't even finish. Bike malfunction, deteriorating trail conditions, and hypothermia trump event-specific fitness and absurdly high FTPs. Our science-backed nutrition and lightweight, over-engineered bikes lose to that Goliath force called Mother Nature. Sure, some racers finished. Less than 20 of a field nearly 300 strong. Bikes came across the finish line many hours later than planned. More bikes came hobbling in with broken chains and seized brakes. Selfishly I needed to get going. I needed to change my situation before I fall deeper into a mental hole. I must seek that dusty trail.
Oh was it found.
A bit over 6 hours later, the sun lost its battle with the horizon, and I shared the night with owls, bucks, and dozens of unidentified, glowing eyes. Looping the northwestern portion of Curt Gowdy State Park eased the struggle inside my racer heart. Each punchy climb and every high speed corner reminded me that I am fit. I am strong. I can finish. 398 hours and 14 minutes defines me better than DNF.
Creatures of the moment we constantly risk losing perspective. Being reminded we evolved for higher level thinking, for cognition beyond feeling, can frustrate us in the moment. Can irritate the irritated. As an athlete I must think past the annoyance so I can continue my growth while minimizing setbacks. Finishing yet another cup of coffee, listening to jazz, in my zen-van on 2nd Street in Leadville, CO I'm that evolved thinker. Let's hope on Saturday, just after Ken fires his shotgun to the heavens, that I can couple this thinking with that feeling and align my fitness, desire, and effort. Fortunately I'll have some extra help. With Rob behind me, literally behind me on a 2005 Ellsworth Tandem MTB, we'll have two brains, hearts, and motors working in unison. Oh the places we'll go...