St. George 70.3

I stood in my underwear and grew increasingly light-headed as electricity pulsed through me, causing painful contractions in my upper legs. I had two, four-inch needles in my inner thighs, sticking out just below my balls…almost a little close for comfort, but not quite. Four more needles pierced my quads, plus one in each calf, which entered just behind my fibula. The needles were hooked up to wires, which ran to a small box that I held in my hand, which was used to control the power of the muscle contractions. I’d hoped that once I started the electricity, it would shock me back to reality. But the faintness and blurring vision wouldn’t go away despite turning the power as high as I could stand. Now my hearing was fading too.

I grew more and more dizzy and loopy as time went on, which is the opposite of the normal black outs I get from standing up too fast. I reached out to put a hand on the wall, fearing an inevitable unconscious crumple to the ground, which would be embarrassing. Though, not as embarrassing as admitting weakness in front of Brent Apgar. So I turned up the voltage.

I’ve seen Brent half a dozen times for dry needling and I have to say, he’s fantastic. Not only does he have the most experience out of anyone I’ve been to, but he sticks you five times more than anyone else in the span of 60 minutes, and he also lets you control the pain via e-stim. I ended up having to sit down, but he reassured me that it happens to him too, and the faintness is a nervous system thing, not a weak stomach. After all, I felt perfectly fine earlier when he’d let me push one of the needles up against my femur. Tap, tap, tap. Yep, that sounds and feels like a bone to me too.

This was last Tuesday morning (the 28th) in an attempt to get put back together following the Joe Martin Stage Race in Arkansas. I wasn’t that sore before the appointment but I could hardly walk for a day following it. In hindsight, I should NOT be in control of my own electrical stimulation. I admit, I over did it. At least my legs were knot-free, and if nothing else the inability to walk correctly only prepared me for what was yet to come: the pain of my first triathlon.

This winter I signed up for a half-distance (70.3) triathlon with Adelaide in Palm Springs. The race wasn’t to be held until December, which was almost a year away at that point. Usually I wouldn’t get excited about something that far off. But after a few weeks of kid-like dreaming and interneting, I decided I wanted to become a professional triathlete. Or an astronaut. Or the President of the United States. Or a dump truck driver. Triathlon seemed the most attainable so I stuck with that.

Anyways, we both signed up for the St. George 70.3 North American Championships a few weeks into January, in part so I could hopefully earn a pro license and race professionally that fall after the bike racing season ended. The licensing process is much different than cycling. In short, it’s results-based and if you do well enough at a big event, you can get a pro license after just one race. Needless to say, it’s quite a bit easier than cycling since there are zero politics involved.

Adelaide and I packed the van on Tuesday night and took off the following day after work. We pulled into Monument National Park on the east side of the Rockies at around 9:00, which has become one of our go-to mid-trip camp spots. You drive up the side of awesome, sheer cliff walls and get spit out on top of an immense plateau. The view looking down on the city far below gives you a sense of superiority that any triathlete can appreciate.

The next morning we finished off the drive to St. George, Utah, which is hot and geologically spectacular. The town itself is bustling with huge, jacked up pickups and quite a few strip malls, but the surrounding area is magnificent. Since there’s no vegetation, the jagged landscape almost looks like something from another planet. Gigantic rock formations, jutting cliffs, sloping plateaus rising from the ground, all in shades of red, orange, and even white. We camped in Snow Valley, which gets its name from the white-striped cliffs, not the abundance of snow. It was 90-95 degrees every day.

IMG_0523Thursday night, settling into Quinn (our van) with a good book and a warm breeze outside.

I’ll cut straight to the race since this is already getting long.

Saturday: Our morning began at 4:15. It was dark. We dressed in Quinn, took off from our camp spot, drove downtown, found coffee at a gas station, and merged with the other zombies to drop off our run bags and catch a school bus shuttle to the swim start. Parking wasn’t allowed up at the lake since there were 2,500 racers and parking was limited.

After plenty of waiting around in our wetsuits, Adelaide’s wave took off at 7:35. 10 minutes later it was my turn. I lined up near the front, shivering while treading water before the start horn blared. I’d never done an open water swim before, but I knew it would be chaotic. And it was. I was quickly passed by half my group, and wondered if I’d even be able to swim the whole thing without having to rest on my back. I’d gone out too fast. It took 10 minutes for me to find a good rhythm and realize that I needed to crane my neck farther up to the surface to get a full breath of air, since the lake was choppy and a pool is not.

My group caught up to the slower swimmers from earlier waves and I began fighting for position and swimming over the top of people. By then my confidence was back up since I saw that there were slower swimmers than me. I took no prisoners and gave no courtesies, since none were given to me. If someone started drifting into me I swam over them. If I couldn’t go around someone because another person was blocking the way, I swam over them. It was chaos. Imagine a school of fish, except all the fish are blind, terrified of a shark behind and ramming into each other in panic, and all of them are out of breath and can’t swim straight. Looking back on it, the swim was my favorite leg.

I finished in just over 31 minutes (the swim is 1.2 miles), which I didn’t know at the time but would have been ecstatic about. I was hoping for 35 minutes and would have been pleased with that.

Transition one took me forever. Almost four minutes. I have plenty of room to improve in the transition zones, which is good news? I felt like I was in a daze, going in slow motion and not able to think of what to do next. Anyways, once I was on the bike I felt at home. My goal was to average just over 26mph or 310 watts, whichever came first. That didn’t happen, in part because my legs had felt like shit for the past three days, and also because there were over 1,000 people ahead of me. I was burning through them by the dozen per second but they just wouldn’t stop coming. After each rise or bend I hoped that I’d passed the majority, but it was three to six deep the entire first 40 miles of the bike. Braking in the corners, slowing on the descents, and riding on the outside of every curve to make my passes was killing my time and becoming increasingly frustrating. I tried not to get too close to anyone since I knew they weren’t used riding in a pack, but I definitely raised some goose bumps of other riders when I went on the inside or got just a little close.

When I got to the main climb of the day at mile 40-something, the crowd thinned out and I put the gas pedal down for good. The climb was about 15 minutes and fairly steep. And hot. It was already in the 80s, even at 11, and the temperature was rapidly rising.

I’d always thought that a triathlon, even the half distance, was primarily just tempo and you never go into threshold. The swim was threshold, the bike was in and out of threshold, and the run was dipping in and out of it too, depending on the gradient. There’s not quite as much for a full-distance, but by the top of the climb at mile 46 I was feeling the old breathing muscles growing somewhat ragged. I settled into a nice tuck and tried to conserve on the predominantly downhill 10 miles to the finish.

A few miles before I got back into town I came upon a group of five or six riders who were blatantly drafting off one another, going so far as to start a rotating pace line. I came up on them fast and screamed some nasty insults, contemplated putting my rear wheel into the first guy’s front, thought better of it, and took off in a rage. To me, that’s essentially cutting the course. Who knows how long they’d been at it. I didn’t see any officials during the entire bike leg, so I’m sure it’s super easy to cheat like that. I just hoped none of them were in my age group.

I came off the bike at two hours and thirteen minutes (25.2 mph), which I was not pleased with. My power wasn’t very high and I’d been confident that, despite it being a fairly hilly course, I’d go a full mile per hour faster than that.

The second transition didn’t go much better than the previous one. First I had a rock in my running shoe so I had to take it off right away. Then I forgot to tighten the laces on my shoes. Then I dropped a gel. I couldn’t get my pace watch on my wrist, then it wouldn’t turn on. Then the real agony began: running. Triathlons are pretty much 100% uncomfortable. You spend the whole swim in a state of near-drowning, the transition zones are stressful, the bike is actually okay, though still sort of tiring, but then the run is just the worst. Pure torture.

After the bike I felt like I should roll through the streets to find the team van, sit in a lawn chair, drink a coke, and talk about the race with my teammates with my legs spread out in front of me and my shoes off. Instead, I set out for 13.1 miles in 90+ degree heat over even hotter pavement, with no shade, and almost no run fitness, or at least almost no runs off the bike fitness (brick runs). I’d done two. And one was that previous Sunday after the crit at Joe Martin. To make things even more fun, the run started with three miles of uphill. My legs were immediately shot. I was glad that I hadn’t been able to get the watch going and didn’t know my pace, because whatever it was, it was sure to be depressing. I pissed my shorts within the first mile, filling my shoes and kicking up spray at people as I passed by. When you have no shame that early on in a race, you know you’re in for some serious suffering.

Thankfully there were aid stations every mile with cold water, ice water, red bull, Gatorade, gels, Otter Pops, you name it. The volunteers at this race were out in force. I heard that there was a ratio of 2:1 volunteers to racers, meaning there were over 5,000 volunteers. Each aid station had 50 people handing out the goods. I went through them dumping the water down my legs, back, head, groin, and arms. Each aid station was a moment of peace within a nuclear blast, if such a thing can exist.

Everyone was really spread out by the time I reached the run. I was passing people but not that often. More time for self-reflection and thoughts of walking.

At mile three the damn hill finally ended and I picked up speed on the descent. At mile four another hill came. I’m not sure how, but I’m confident there were three to eight times more uphill than down, despite it being an out and back.

Actually, it wasn’t quite an out and back. There were multiple little side loops and figure eights that spat you off the main road onto paths. So after the turn around at mile 6-something, I thought I was heading straight back the way I came. Instead, the route forced you back heading away from the finish line multiple times.

I was holding strong over the final climb and rocketed down the backside towards town when I saw Adelaide. She was three miles into the run and looking good. We waved and smiled at each other and I felt a huge sense of relief. I’d been worried that she’d have to walk or wouldn’t finish. Like me, her training hadn’t been very consistent due to the stresses of her crash last fall. It was her first triathlon back, and just six months out of a coma.

With two miles to go I finally got passed by someone. I hadn’t been passed by anyone (outside of the swim) and my initial sense of dread turned to anger when I saw that it was some young guy (everyone’s age is marked on their calf so you can see what age group they’re in). Plus he was someone who’d I’d passed a few miles before.

He pulled away from me over the next mile but I kept him within striking distance. It didn’t matter at all if he beat me to the finish line since he’d started 20 or 30 minutes before me that morning, but the killer instinct in me took over. With half a mile to go I came by him, striding long and picking up speed, hoping to see the finish line around the next bend. It was farther away than I thought but there was no slowing down now. I’d look like a fool. I continued on and crossed with a time of 4:12 and a run time of 1:23 (6:20 pace). I doubled over right away, not from being out of breath, but because my legs were so weak I thought I might need to sit down. I thought better of it, since there would likely be no getting up afterwards.

I crept my way to a children’s fountain, hobbling at a quarter mile an hour. My legs were truly fucked. Every muscle in them had died. Not just died, they’d been savaged by a hoard of lusting sumo wrestlers, then slain with a rusty, dull guillotine dripping with lemon juice that moved at one millimeter per hour.

I hunched over in the middle of the fountain as dozens of kids screamed and played around me and the announcer blared in the background, calling in the finishers names’ and home states. The water felt amazing. Not running any more felt amazing. I took a few steps and my legs barely budged. They’d never been even close to this bad before. I could hardly walk.

Upon returning to the van, which took me half an hour despite only being a few blocks away, I realized what that strange flapping thing hanging off my shorts had been. Earlier during the race on the bike I’d looked down at my shadow a few times to see what appeared to be a Clif Blok package stuck to my ass, or possibly the leg gripper of my shorts unraveling. I now saw what it actually was. It was a tag. A long white tag from the inside of my shorts. This means exactly what you think it means.  I’d put my shorts on inside out, with the chamois on the outside. I am now a true triathlete.

Post Script

I got to see Adelaide finish and beat her spoken goal (her real goal had apparently been about 20 minutes faster). But to see her finish made my eyes all misty-like. She’d almost died six months before and she was already competing again. Not only that, she finished 13th in her age group. To ask for anything more would have been quite simply unreasonable. As for her wanting to do better? Good. That’s what some races are for: stoking the fire.

We hung out in the expo area (more accurately the massive food tent) and I pounded down sandwich after sandwich, waiting for the results and later the podium. I’d won my age group by eight minutes, as well as all the other age groups, meaning I was the best amateur. I also finished 17th overall, beating 10 of the pros. I was quite pleased, though not hugely surprised. It was sort of like my first bike race way, way back. I had expected and hoped to win, despite not knowing anything about bike racing, and told myself that if I won I’d take on the challenge of making it to the pro ranks no matter how long it took. If I lost, then I’d continue being a rower. Today I’d adopted the same approach to triathlon, so to win the amateur division and earn the pro license on top of it all was a huge relief.

I’m keeping my head from growing too much though. After all, I’d had my pants on inside out all day.

IMG_0532She even had a smile after the race. (Note the guy behind with the neon shoes about to fall on his face).

IMG_0547

IMG_0535 Can’t walk. Can’t move. Can’t even get up to go pee in the porta pottie.

IMG_0557 I got a sweet red plaque for winning. I was hoping for a sandwich, then I remembered that there were UNLIMITED FREE sandwiches in the food tent.

IMG_0561

Joe Martin Stage Race 2015

(Written for the team’s website, hence the lack of curse words)

It was still dark but birds were chirping loudly just outside the open window, which let in a cool breeze scented with fresh rain. I heard The Sheriff (Michael Burleigh) stir in the bed next to mine. He’d been restless for the past two or three hours, yet his previous snoring was a sign of contented sleep that I’d jealously coveted the past seven hours while staring up at the ceiling. I hadn’t slept one single minute that night and it was now 5:08 AM. Almost time to get up and pack the van for the drive home to Colorado from Fayetteville, Arkansas.

I heard a groaning sigh as Michael got up and started stripping the sheets from his bed for the laundry. Screw it, another 20 minutes of lying there wasn’t going to make me feel any better, so I got up too.

“I didn’t sleep at all,” I said.

“I slept like shit too. The meat sweats. I had them baaad,” groaned Michael.

“Yeah, same here,” I replied. The hot room’s scent agreed.

We’d feasted on a half dozen different kinds of smoked, roasted, and grilled pork the night before during a large barbeque that our hosts had thrown for us. I’d say I ate a conservative six pounds of meat that night.

“You know what the really messed up thing is?” I asked. “I’m still hungry.”

“Yeah. Me too,” Michael agreed.

I ate pulled pork that morning and a long side of ribs that afternoon, wondering what was wrong with me. The mental agony of forcing down that meat and the havoc it was wreaking on my intestines was not lost on me. I guess eating mass amounts of pork products is a lot like bike racing. You enjoy the deliciousness of the moment, try to forget about the pain, and focus on the next few pedal strokes (or mouthfuls) to victory, all the while attempting to regret nothing and block out the knowledge that something bad could and probably will happen around the next bend. I take my pig-eating very seriously.

Last week we competed in the second NRC event of the season, the Joe Martin Stage Race. I’d say it’s one of my top four favorite NRC stage races, with its rolling hills, long stages, and difficult final day crit. I for one could do without the uphill time trial on day one though.

Our top guy for Thursday’s TT was guest rider Emerson Oronte, who placed a respectable 6th, just 8 seconds back from the winner, Jamis’ Gregory Brenes. Chris Winn put in a good time as well to finish 21st, while Josh Yeaton came in a respectable 34th out of the 165 starters. The three of us draft horses Jake Deuring, George Simpson, and myself), came in a few pages down on the old results sheet.

That brings us to the Sheriff, who we’d all secretly thought could take the win. His strategy was a bold one, vying for either first or last; no middle ground (for him, 50th might as well have been last). He set out guns a blazing but ran out of bullets half way up and went out in a flame of glory. Alas, he’d live on to fight another day. I could continue with these war-themed metaphors but I don’t have that much time to kill.

The second stage was a 108-mile jaunt through the Ozarks, which are considered “mountains” by east coasters and mid-westerners. With a GC rider to protect (Emerson), a sprinter to shelter (Josh), and three or four hard men to battle for the breakaway, I set out to fetch bottles and help position the guys as best as I could.

The first 30 or 40 kilometers were fast, with nothing able to last out in the wind for long. So far, my job had mainly been left unaccomplished. I’d done zero positioning for the team and I had only attacked twice. Instead of playing a part in the race, I was wallowing in self-pity near the back of the peloton. I’d received some difficult news from home a few hours before the start, and my futile attempt to put it behind me while we raced had come to an end. The roads turned slick with rain and my mood continued souring right along with the weather. When you’re suffering emotionally, it’s incredibly hard to muster up the mental focus needed to slog the old legs into action.

I drifted off the back on a short climb, not from exertion, but from pure uncaring. I was done. Done trying to deal with everything. For those readers who aren’t aware, my wife was struck by a car while riding her bike last fall and was in a comma for five days. The aftermath of that crash still follows her and I with every step we take, and dealing with it during training and racing is virtually impossible for me. That brings us back to that hill I was drifting backwards on in the rain. At that moment, I was done with caring and done with wanting to even try. I envisioned quitting the sport right then and there. My eyes welled with tears at that thought, because bike racing is my life and without it I’d just be another regular fool working a 9-5, pissing my years away behind a computer screen like I’m doing right now. Just ticking off the days of my pointless, boring existence.

We got to the top of the hill. I saw a couple other riders who were actually suffering, physically. Mouths agape, legs pushing agonizingly slow cadences, bodies rocking. Jesus, these guys suck, I thought. Can’t go off the back with them. That would be embarrassing. So I sprinted around them and caught back onto the pack, thinking that I’d drop out a few moments later.

Since I was already at the back, soon I found myself in the caravan taking a feed from Nick and Faith. Can’t drop out now, these bottles need to be delivered. I handed out the bottles, giving the last one to Emerson, who was near the front of the peloton. Since I’m already here, might as well attack. I followed one guy off the front, and we quickly caught two more up the road. I pulled through, weakly, and another rider came up from behind. Soon the five of us were rotating through and for a fleeting moment I thought this could be it. The move. Seven minutes ago I was about to drop out and ride back to the start by myself. Now I was off the front. Hope shimmered, temporarily. We were caught. It didn’t matter. I’d lifted myself out of the funk I was in and from there on out I was present in the race.

The real move got away a few kilometers later. Our boys lined up near the front behind Jamis and Orgullo Antioqueno to keep Emerson safe. Ha. There’s nowhere safe in a bike race. During a slight shuffling from another squad moving in on us from the left as we approached a downhill curve, Jake touched my rear wheel and went down hard, breaking his collarbone and taking out 30 guys with him. One moment was peace, the next was chaos. The worst part about at teammate crashing like that is that there’s nothing you can do to help. What other arena in life do you watch a friend smash to the pavement at 30mph, hear utter carnage and guttural curses, get word that bones have been broken, yet continue along without so much as a rearward glance? I’d gone to the back of the pack to wait for him in case he got back on, just in case. It didn’t account for much.

An hour later the final climb began. I wasn’t feeling great, but had enough oxygen in my brain to look up and take in the view and store away the moment in time as we crested the climb. We rose up into a thick cloud of fog. The bright colors of the peloton vanished 50 feet ahead of me in the suspended water droplets. As we began the descent, small rocks and grit flew into my eyes, which were uncovered by glasses since they were now too dirty and dark to see through. Brakes weren’t working at their finest, due to the slick roads and carbon rims. The bold blazed past and the meek continued grabbing brakes. I was among the later.

The 20-mile run-in to the finish was long, wide-open, packed with cars that were stopped on the left side of the road, never under 30 miles an hour, and terrifying. Trains moved up on the left, the right, and straight down the center. Riders began taking more and more risks to position for the final series of 90-degree corners in the last 1.5 kilometers. You have to be in the top 15 leading into that section if you plan on contesting the finish or getting the same time as the lead group. Everyone knows this.

I couldn’t seem to move up and regain contact with my teammates no matter where and when I tried. The pace only got faster as the finish line approached and my worthless meat pistons only grew more leaden. I entered that crucial left hander and was forced to jam on the brakes from a pile up in the middle of the road. I hoped up on the sidewalk to bypass it, but soon found myself stopped once again after seeing Michael go summersaulting over the pavement with his bike flipping over his head like a leashed surfboard flung high into the air after a big wipe out.

All at once, all the adrenaline, pain, hope, and excitement of the previous four hours vanished into the air. The race (our race) was over. I caught my breath. Still alive. George rolled up from behind and we helped Michael mount his battered steed for the final 500 meters. We rolled across the finish line and Michael went straight to the medical tent to get his wounds scrubbed. We regrouped with the rest of the team, bid farewell to Jake, who had been riding in the back of the race ambulance with a shattered clavicle for the past 2.5 hours without any pain meds or food, and began the short ride home.

Our somber mood lasted for an hour back at our host house…until Faith came home and started cooking. Food cures all, almost. Late that night we found out that Emerson had been docked 17 seconds for being held up in the crash, despite the 3K rule and despite his position in the top 20 when the crash happened. Our GC contention was essentially gone in the blink of a disgruntled official’s eye.

Saturday’s race was a complete turnaround, for me at least. The sun was shining, I’d resolved the personal issues from the following day, and my spirits were soaring. The course consisted of a lollypop out and back section with four 23-mile loops of a hilly circuit. We were in for another long one again, at 110 miles. Emerson was riding in a blind rage for the first half lap, trying to initiate a break since his GC prospects looked grim. The rest of the guys had good legs as well and Chris was following dangerous moves at the front. The break got away on the descent, of all places, so I was once again very content to do what I could in order to keep the rest of the team near the front and as fresh as possible.

That, of course, included a lot of time spent back in the caravan with Nick and Faith, loading up on bottles. My time with them wasn’t limited to bottles though. I got a mechanical on lap two and had to do a furious chase back onto the group before lap three’s climb, then I crashed and broke my bars a lap later.

I was uninjured but fuming mad. A couple stupid, ignorant, son-of a bitch, dumb bastards didn’t heed the warnings of the rest of the peloton when they signaled the parked cars on the left. So when the pinch came, they rode into each other and caused a mini pile up. I had to get a neutral bike from Shimano and by the time I was rolling, the peloton was five minutes up the road. I did the last 35 miles solo, going hard enough to make the time cut by a safe margin.

Later, I heard that the finish was once again sketchy as usual with guys riding off the road into ditches and being carted off in the ambulance. Another big crash within sight of the finish line caused carnage in the 80-rider pack, but Chris, Josh, Emerson, and Michael all stayed safe and finished in the same time as the leaders.

The final day of JMSR is always my favorite. The 85-minute crit is somewhat technical and includes a hard climb that shatters the pack in the final laps. Our goal was to get off the front once and for all, since there wasn’t much to lose at that point. Instead, we managed to ride in mass between 20th and 50th wheel, missing out on the break and not getting organized enough to position Josh for the uphill sprint. To be fair, it’s a hard course to accomplish an organized train. I for one was just holding on for dear life during the last two laps, and should have made a bigger effort to move up with five or six to go when it was still manageable.

Chris, Josh, Emerson, and I all finished within a few lengths of each other, coming in between 20th and 30th, which isn’t ideal. It shows an obvious strength in depth when you have that many riders finish just outside of the guys sprinting for the win. But to not catapult one of those guys into the top 10? That’s a bad performance.

My big take away from the stage was that despite how your teammates might say they feel or how they look like they’re riding, if your job is to help them in the finish, you might as well burn yourself with four laps to go in order to make sure they’re set up for a fighting chance.

Despite not landing the GC or stage result we’d hoped for, we ended up 5th on team GC and were once again the highest-placed amateur squad in the race. Emerson’s 15th GC at the end of the race is nothing to shy away from, even though we all know it was a top 10 in reality.

That night I had too many beers (four), too many pounds of meat (who knows), and just enough laughs to cancel out any negatives of the week. Jake’s collarbone will heal, Josh, Chris, and George will all get another chance to sprint for that elusive NRC stage win later in the season, Michael will bounce out of the slight funk he’s in to re-earn his title as The Sheriff, and I’ll keep taking baby steps towards my old self. The steps of an ungainly, freakishly large 9-foot tall baby that is. Above all, I re-found a bit of forgotten passion for this crazy, amazing lifestyle. It’s not wise to take it for granted. Appreciate the moment. Your next could be in the back of an ambulance, off the back of the race in emotional turmoil, or hunched in agony over the toilet three days after an over-indulgence in BBQ ribs, hoping and praying for the smallest trace of a bowel movement.

Face of said attempted bowel movement:

jmsr

Photo courtesy of Bill Stephens

Redlands: Stages 2 and 2.5

Sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail. And sometimes you’re an unsuspecting wood beetle that’s burrowed deep into a 2 x 4 and you get skewered by the nail and your guts, blood, juices, and brain get smashed and pushed through the grains of the wood as the nail drives down through your corpse. Nobody even notices the beetle. Except for the low quality of the wood.

Wednesday morning: the unnecessarily long drive up to Big Bear (organizers: please bring back the old TT course) was accompanied by three or four large cups of coffee. I had a 129th GC place to defend, and was hoping that a high blood-caffeine level would do the trick.

After a good warm up I was out of the start gate and heading up the hilliest section of the 13km course. Not looking at power, I relied on my keen instinctual “inner” power meter, which told me I was doing 987 watts for the first three minutes. Somehow, even at that pace, I did not make up more than about 10 seconds on my 30-second man. I started blowing up about five minutes in and the gap remained the same. At the turn around, I noticed that despite my supreme cornering prowess in the winding, technical section of the course, I was most likely going to be caught by my other 30-second man (the one behind me). Halloway went flying past me out of one of the hair pins and that’s when I realized my ambitious GC aspirations of a top 150 might have just gone out the window. I rallied hard during the false flat uphill section, and got as aero as possible for the final kilometer. I came in a victorious 131st. Only one minute slower than last year. The sterling performance bumped me up to 122nd overall! Everything’s coming up Millhouse.

My more fit teammates put in some actual results, with The Sheriff “Michael Burleigh” moving on up to 14th GC. We hung around for the podium presentation, hoping that he might get to pull on the best amateur jersey. But alas, 17-year old super freak Adrian Costa Rica donned it in The Sheriff’s stead.

Thursday: Oak Glen. Fuck me I’m slow. My legs were blown before we even started, as proved during our 40-minute ride out to Oak Glen from Redlands. Adelaide rode out with us to be in the feed zone, and at one point she was hurting on one of the climbs. I thought I might give her a push if she started to fall back. A few minutes later I realized I might need a push.

The race started out downhill, fast, and slightly scary. I hate starting out a race on a descent, in a huge pack, on a wide open road, with attacks flying, and nerves still unsettled. There’s almost no worse way to start. Scratch that, there’s a worse way.

A long false flat “climb” suddenly took the downhill’s place and I found myself drifting backwards through the peloton. I’d been up somewhat close to the front (top 70 is considered close for my standards right now) and rider after rider came around as I prayed for a few seconds of coasting to regain my breath and legs. The coasting never came, and about two kilometers before the KOM I finally came unhinged from the very back of the now 160-rider-field. About 30 other weaklings didn’t make the time cut that day.

I found myself desperately sprinting to get in the draft of the caravan, forcing others out from the best middle position into the wind and off the back. When you’re that desperate, no one else’s race matters. For a few miles I thought I had a chance to work my way back on to the group, but a few of the cars opened up gaps that I couldn’t close, and then rightfully sped off without me.

A group of seven came from behind. We caught another group of seven or eight, and the bakers dozen of us who’d obviously eaten too many baked goods that winter, struggled along in silence, each deep in thoughts of self-hatred.

By the end of lap two (of five) the officials pulled us. I rode on to the feed zone to distribute bottles with Adelaide and George’s dad Bob for the next three laps. After the final lap, Adelaide and I rode to the top of the Oak Glen climb, hoping to see the team. They’d already left, so we rode home.

I knew it would be a long shot to finish Redlands. I really didn’t think I’d make it through that first day. When I got back to our host house and began packing to take off, Faith (our team cook/soigneur/mom) said “Don’t be sad. I’m tired of sad bike racers.” I can attest to that. Cyclists are a sorry bunch a lot of the time, especially after a race they did poorly at. I replied with, “Cycling is my life and identity. And I currently suck at it. So it’s hard to not be sad.”

Then I stomped out of the room like a spoiled little child and said I hate you all and I’m running away from home!!!

Despite the self-pity, I had a good time that night out in downtown Redlands and a pleasant drive home with Adelaide the following day. We camped at Monument National park and the next week back at home was my first in a long time with some decent consistency.

Oh yeah, the team: Michael ended up 16th on GC and we were the best amateur team at Redlands, with Chris and Michael both making the front group on the last day despite Michael’s handlebars falling off on lap two.

We just arrived in Arkansas for the Joe Martin Stage Race, so my redemption is just around the bend. I’m here with a stacked team once again, and we’re shooting for nothing less than a GC podium or stage win. I’ll have my work cut out for me, shuffling the guys around to the front.  With a few more miles in my legs and a clear set of lungs, I’m hoping for a slightly different outcome than Redlands and a slightly more uplifting blog post to accompany it.

11121781_10152928088683668_3603745305995548590_nPhoto courtesy of Jared Wright

Redlands Stage 1: For me, just a training race…

Stage 1 of Redlands: The Highlands circuit race consists of 20 laps on a 2.8-mile course with one large bump and a winding descent through a neighborhood filled with screaming school children. The bump is fairly steep, and is considered a climb by some and even a mountain by those of us less fit and/or larger riders. I finished a respectable 129th.

Usually I come into the season overtrained or at least very fit from a long winter of hard training and as many early season races as I can cram in. 2015 was the opposite of that and this is quite possibly the first year I’ve not been even an ounce over-worked or fatigued coming into Redlands. As discussed in plenty of earlier blog posts, my offseason did not go well. On top of that, I’ve been sick for the past two and a half weeks. I’ve got excuses seeping out my pores! So about that 129th…eh, not too shabby. Before the race I wasn’t confident I’d even be able to make the time cut.

My job for the stage was to slip into a move or help position the better climbers on the team (Chris, Josh, and Michael). At one point I considered going off the front (on the descent) but quickly came to the realization that if I was in a breakaway, instead of getting to rest on the flatter and more downhill sections, I’d have to continue pedaling. Fat chance of that. I was sag climbing and just barely hanging on as it was. This was lap three I believe. Only 17 to go. I opted to (try) and help position our climbers. Even doing that wasn’t quite feasible for me; by the time I would make my way back up to them after the technical neighborhood section, the climb would start again and my anchor was thrown overboard.

At some point I gave Chris and Michael bottles (that I got from Adelaide in the feed zone) and that was probably my most valuable contribution to the team. I got shit out the back with two laps to go when Hincapie hit the front. I rode it in with a medium sized group that also contained my teammate George. Jake and Ian suffered DIY mechanicals. I mean Di2. Flawless shifting, that Di2.

Our three climbers made the front selection and placed 22nd, 32nd, and 33rd, all in the winner (Sebastian Haedo’s) time. While our goal of having a high stage placing for Josh and Chris didn’t pan out, we can’t be too upset with three solid GC prospects to choose from, not to mention 6th on team classification out of 25 teams. #GSWho???

Afterwards I hung out with Maybellene and Adelaide up on the Sunset loop course and soaked in some amazing California sun amongst the palms. She’s staying with a woman who wasn’t able to host a team this year and has the whole house to herself. Last Friday after work we started the drive out here to camp and spend a few days at the beach. It’s been great to get away. I’ll elaborate more on the vacation aspect of this trip in a non race report post in a few days.

For the next four stages, I’m hoping that I can be of some good use to the guys who are riding well, and that a hard stage race will whip up some fitness and good vibes to spur me back to my normal training routine for the remainder of the season. In most cases a training race is an unimportant local parking lot crit. But if you’re unfit enough, even the biggest stage race of the year can be considered just a training race, or so I’m telling myself. 129th out of 195 is humbling.

20683_534754223330702_2915124557935783254_nWhen whiskey isn’t feasible, the Sheriff drinks Skratch. (Photo: Jared Wright)

11115743_534513580021433_6442107224453186762_nGeorge and I on the attack. Not really. (Photo: Bob Simpson)

photo 3Maybellene attacking. Also not really. (Photo: Adelaide Perr)

 

GS CIAO Team Camp!

day one ride

Day 1. Just an easy couple hours out on the town showing off the pink. I missed out on most of Day 1’s activities since I was at work writing about bike riding.

skratch labsThe team checking out Skratch Labs’ lab. Note the key secret ingredient on the table.day 1Left to right: George, Robin, Chris, The Sheriff, Josh.day one meetingTeam meeting lead by Nick and Chris: topics included packing rain bags in the team car, appropriate behavior at a host family’s house, and how to politely hit on a host family’s college-aged daughter.podium lookout ttDay 2. Lookout Mountain Hill Climb TT. Burleigh and Chris putting pink on top for the first time of the year.faith foodPost-ride fried rice, a la team chef Faith.robin day 2 ride We set out for three more hours after the early morning TT. day 3 breakfastDay 3. Breakfast at Chris’.  day 3 leadout puzzleLeadout tactics demonstration with puzzle pieces. day 3 leadoutI’m not sure what Nick was talking about. An actual leadout feels nothing like building a puzzle. That demonstration was lost on me apparently.me restingResting back at Chris’ before the afternoon crit and feeling like shit. To myself: “You know that sick, congested feeling you’ve had for the past two days Kennett? Yeah that wasn’t just in your head you idiot. Maybe you shouldn’t have ridden six hours yesterday.” Obviously I had a feline for maximum healing powers but it wasn’t enough.George CritI started the Ordigger crit that warm, summer-like afternoon but pulled out after half an hour. As you can see from the following photos, the team didn’t suffer too badly from my absence.Robin crit

Josh crit

robin winning

podium critRobin: 1st and George 2nd. Not pictured: Chris in 4th, Michael in 7th, and Josh in 9th. day 4Day 4: the team went out for more riding and some motorpacing. I, on the other hand, slept for half a day and said a few prayers that I might get over the sickness as soon as god damn possible, which, you know what? I think I will.day 4 moto

Depression and Bad Weather

Despite all the good news in my last blog post, life has been difficult lately. Actually an even more accurate word would be “shitty.” Really god damn shitty.

Adelaide and I go though a few happy days without any hitches. The hours at the office fly by, workouts get completed, we go to bed early with happy thoughts and good dreams. Those days never stack up, for bad news and a quick spiral downwards is always around the next bend.

Whether it’s a nagging bill collector, Adelaide coming to terms with the fact that her FTP is half of what it used to be (I’m almost in the same boat), an email from her attorney, information about the approaching trial, the van breaking down, or just a minor inconvenience like three weeks of non-stop blizzards in what has been the 2nd heaviest February snow fall in Colorado history, there’s always something to trigger an emotional storm.

Our spirits are egg-shell fragile. We’re both just hanging on by a thread. We’ve transitioned between post-crash recovery mode to regular life without a clear break, when in reality there’s still recovering to do, or at least a deserved month “off.” But as two productive members of society, capitalism can’t wait. So neither can we.

Our lives are sadly different than they were six months ago before the crash. We rely on a car to get around, which is a huge adjustment and one that we’re slowly weaning ourselves from. I hate cars and I absolutely hate having to use one on a daily basis. It’s ironic that a car (driver) put us in this position. Anyways, workouts are an hour long instead of five, our short term goals are constantly changing, the energy required to get through a single day is what could have previously powered us through an entire week, tiny errands like going to the post office or grocery store aren’t just delayed, a lot of the time they don’t even happen.

I’m in a better mindset than I was four months ago, which isn’t saying a lot because four months ago I was ready to either break down and cry in bed or rip throats open at the slightest discourtesy. But now, even with the crash well behind us, each week’s gains are less. Like halving every step you take, you’ll never reach your destination. It’s math.

A huge portion of my happiness obviously comes from my athletic endeavors. And in that regard, I’m doing terrible. Absolutely the worst I’ve been since I began racing at the national level. After this last bout of snow, the form I had back in early February has receded to October fitness. Despite using what little emotional energy I had to sit on the trainer the past couple weeks, pumping out intervals at 70 watts less than what I’d like, I seem to have gotten slower. There are four weeks till Redlands, where my goals will be to fetch bottles and not DNF.

My main goals of the season now come in the month of June: Philly, North Star, and Nationals. The positive is that there’s still plenty of time to get fit for these at least. It’s just a matter of forcing a smile and finding motivation to last through the next couple months of shitty legs and existing as pack fodder. I’ve done my share of that so I think I’ll be able to manage just fine.

I’m aware that things can always get a lot worse, and in the grand scheme of things, my life is still a lot better and easier than most. Knowing that doesn’t help a damn thing so don’t remind me of it.

A few good news to look forward to:

The guy who hit Adelaide, Russell Rosh, had his court hearing yesterday and plead guilty. He will be sentenced in the coming weeks, so we can finally move past that all that. The piece of shit dragged his feet all along the way, making things difficult and prolonging the ordeal. I will be glad to be done with him.

The even happier news is the coming together of the team. GS CIAO bikes, kits, and other goodies are arriving by the box load. The kits are hot. And let me tell you what, they feel a whole lot better than five-year-old Hagens Berman bibs and look a LOT better than torn up Firefighters Cycling stuff. I’ll have a new blog post and pics of this coming weekend’s Boulder-based mini team camp we’re doing. We’ll be racing some local events, eating team dinners, and putting in big miles.

The best news of all? The sun’s out.

I got a job, got married, and bought a house in one week.

But first, let’s talk about my intervals.

Last week was solid. The hours weren’t huge since I’m working full time again but they were quality for sure. Last week also marked my first attempt of the season to complete a block of intervals. I’ve become an avid believer in stacking three or more days together. I haven’t had the mental fortitude to do this in a long time, so just getting out there and completing them was a good first step.

Monday was a rest day. So Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday I did 6 x 4 minutes on Old Stage, which is the closest hill to work. I’d planned on doing my VO2 on NCAR this year but I just don’t have the time to get down there on lunch break. Anyways, I averaged 401 watts the first two days, then 410 the last day. Normally I’d be pretty upset about these shitty numbers (don’t forget how big and fat and heavy I am), but considering the lack of consistent training to date, I was happily content–especially since I improved the numbers slightly that final day. I did the Gateway ride on Saturday then did a cold, snowy team ride on Sunday followed by our first team dinner/meeting. With eight weeks to Redlands, I figured that if I kept up a similar regime of too many intervals mid week and two long rides on the weekend (the 9-5 weekend warrior’s training plan) I’d have a fighting chance come April. But of course it has to snow every other god damn day.

Now that the important stuff is out of the way, let’s talk about Marriage, bay-bee, let’s talk about you, and me. Yeah you read the title of this post correctly. I got married last Friday. A simultaneous WTF and congratulations are expected. We had our union at this quaint, lovely little place called the Clerk’s office. Adelaide meant to bring in our Elk Van’s registration papers and kill two birds with one stone since the Clerk’s office is right above the DMV but she forgot.

10372235_10101002393272836_8761216644217585817_n

Photo courtesy: Quinn Keogh. Van courtesy: Quinn Keogh (we’re now the proud owners of Quinn’s excellent Elk Van, which we’ve named Quinn.

Back up to Thursday night (you’ll remember Thursday as the final day of my interval block): Our realtor slash friend Kim Hawksworth emailed us info about a few condos that had just gone on the market. They were out of Adelaide’s original mortgage price range, but since I’d just gotten re-hired at SmartEtailing, we could afford something a bit bigger–something with two bedrooms. We had to act fast. Condos in north Boulder sell within a matter of days. If we were to look at and make an offer on a place on Saturday, that meant we’d have to be married by Friday. Tomorrow.

At mid-day on Friday, Adelaide and I stepped out during lunch break, letting our co-workers know we’d be back in an hour or so. We had grins from ear to ear. It felt a bit ridiculous to be stepping out to get married on lunch break, and for no one to know about our plans either. At this point the only people who knew we were getting married were us and Adelaide’s parents. By pure luck chance, they happened to be in town, visiting from Pittsburgh to house sit and take care of their other daughter (Lydia’s) cat. My parents had been informed with a voicemail, which they didn’t get in time.

Adelaide and I met her parents at the Clerk’s office, still grinning uncontrollably, sat down and signed papers for about 15 minutes. It cost $30. An additional $2.50 for two copies of our marriage license. We went outside to sit at a picnic table in the sun and eat cheese and crackers and drink sparkling cider with Adelaide’s parents. I called my mom, who was definitely surprised, but not that surprised. At this point in my and my brother’s lives, it takes a lot to shock our parents.

After that we stopped by Whole Foods to pick up a mini Kim & Jake’s Cakes to bring back to the office and spill the beans. We gout out of work early and spent that afternoon riding around town on our mountain bikes in the sun, then went for a quick swim workout at the Rec center. The nonchalant-ness about the whole thing meant that it’s taken a little while for it to sink in. Nothing has changed between us other than some legal formalities, which is why I wasn’t nervous about getting married before. My heart rate remained a steady constant during the final paper-signing and there were no butterflies. I had already made up my mind when I asked Adelaide four months ago in the hospital when she was in a coma. Still though, I think the realization that I have a wife for life just hit me while writing this. By the way, only a couple dozen people know we got married so if you feel left out, don’t worry. Everyone was.

With the new job I’d started that Monday and the marriage taken care of on Friday, that left us with two days to find a home (to make the title of this post work). We sent an offer Sunday night and the contract was signed the next day. We decided on a less expensive one bedroom loft just across the street from us with an entire wall of windows. It’s small but awesome.

DSCN3884Yes, I got married in my puffy jacket. I also wasn’t wearing clean pants. Or underwear. You may be asking yourself why Adelaide decided to marry me. I’ve wondered that at times too but have wisely never prodded her on it. Regardless, she’s mine now! That’s what these documents say right? That I legally own her?DSCN3894Ummm, hi Mom. Yeah I’m doing fine. I just got married actually…DSCN3907A long week and a long Saturday ride. Adelaide did just over three hours that day. Her physical and mental recovery are going as well as anyone could hope for. She’s only just reached the half way mark but she’s on the mend.10980755_511256802347111_2111217318111776556_nTeam ride before the god damn snow. Fuck you snow, from the bottom of my ice-cold heart.EClark_150208_0478Oh yeah. I did a race the previous Sunday. Not a true race really, a rally actually. The Old Man Winter Rally had thrills and spills and was a great way to get the season unofficially started. There was $1,000 on the line for first place so it was actually a race. Here we are just entering the “Secret Trail” section of the course. This is when the cross guys put eight minutes into me. I was pissed right the hell off to say the least.EClark_150208_0347Earlier: Josh attacks about .5 miles after the neutral section.

We started out with a group of 300 from Lyons. All types of bikes and riders were present for the 60-mile event: road bikes, cross, mountain, fat bikes, racers and non racers alike. The first 10 minutes were the most exciting (aside from seeing Tom Danielson at the start! He’s my hero). Heading down highway 66 with a strong wind at our backs and coasting at 30 miles an hour (neutralized) behind a police escort car with about 90% of the field probably having zero pack skills, we approached the first of many rough dirt sections. We took a 90-degree right turn and the race was on and the police car took off. The pack dove into the corner and fanned out across the narrow dirt road, immediately freaking out a horse with a rider on its back that was in the oncoming lane on the far left side of the road. No one was on a trajectory to hit the horse until it whinnied, back pedaled, reared up on its hind legs, and toppled over backwards, crushing its rider. I think the words I uttered were something along the lines of “Holy what the fuckin shit?!” There was no time to look back since the cross winds immediately tore the field apart. Three minutes into the race and the lead group was like 13 guys. I sat in to catch my breath and wonder if the horse was alright (he was, and so was his rider). Josh attacked a few minutes after that into the head wind, everyone sat up, and the group grew to 40 or so. A few minutes after that Michael attacked to bridge up to him and immediately crashed hard over a pot hole. I was right behind and had a very good view of his skull bounce hard off the ground. Actually, more like the ground bounced off his skull am I right!? (Michael is a damn beast in case you weren’t aware).

His crash signaled the end of anyone’s motivation to ride hard until we got to Left Hand Canyon, the base of the first climb. By then Josh was minutes up the road and had burned about 1,000 more calories than the rest of us, battling the wind all on his lonesome. Chris followed an attack by Sepp Kuss (mountain biker) and got up the road out of sight pretty quickly. He ended up losing contact then smacked his bike hard into a rock on the trail section, putting the breaks on when his fork started acting mushy–a wise call.

Long story short: I chased down moves and sat on. I had two teammates up the road and I liked their chances better than mine for holding out over the snow and ice of that damn Secret Trail section. I ended up losing between 7 and 8 minutes on it to the leaders, having to run 90% of it since I suck at bike steering. I chased fairly hard for a while then decided to wait for some guys that I was currently passing, going up Old Stage, so I could have some help during the last 15 miles of flat wind. That was a mistake since all but one guy dropped off immediately. I broke a derailleur cable a while later. I caught up to one last group a few miles before the finish that contained Colby, Josh, and one other guy. I was disappointed to see Josh in that group since that meant that he wasn’t going to win and we wouldn’t make any money. There were four guys way up the road, all cross studs, and they took up the three money spots. It was a fun but frustrating day.

EClark_150208_0413

Adelaide and I got married!