An inevitability

To be reposted at a much later date. Hopefully.

I died doing what I loved, which is supposed to be a consolation.
I died doing what I loved, which makes it all the more tragic.
Why couldn’t my last breath come during a calculus exam or while standing in an unmoving line at the grocery store?
Why couldn’t I die in the office, staring blankly at the computer screen on a Monday morning, reminiscing of a long summer weekend?
Instead, I was killed on a Saturday. Riding my bike in the sun. With a smile on my face.
I still had miles to go.

You killed me for three seconds. For 10. For 30.
Because you were going to be late, because you didn’t care to look, because I was, in fact, invisible.
To you, my life meant less than an unanswered text.
I wish I could be angry but I can’t. I no longer exist. My flesh and bones will soon burn into ash and come to rest in a vase at my memorial service.

Out of the malice, impatience, and to feel big, you ran me down to prove a point: that two tons is greater than a human being.

I am lighter than a glass of wine, more fragile than eyeliner, quieter than a vibrating cell phone.
You couldn’t afford to make a wrong turn and I wouldn’t want my life to steer you down the wrong path, so go ahead and look up the directions. You were born with two eyes for a reason. One on the phone and one on the road. The road was straight though. So two eyes on the phone, for just a moment.

I was in the way. Out of place, where four wheels are welcome, not two.
I’m now an ugly red smear on your bumper and an expensive, spider-webbed windshield. Drive away quickly before they see what you did. Let me grow cold on the shoulder of your road, to die alone with blood quickly pumping out and air ever more slowly gasping in. I will soon be a bloating, stinking carcass, awaiting flies. Nothing more. Just a cyclist.

Exercise Addiction

I prefer to call it Exercise Dependency. It’s a bizarre condition, if it can even be called a condition, and it’s something that not a lot of people are able to relate to. The avid elliptical user might feel a bit off if they miss a week in the gym, but I doubt that it would send them into a downward spiral of depression. For elite athletes Exercise Addiction is something that a lot of us most likely have to deal with at some point, though I’ve never heard anyone talk about it.

I stole the following from Wikipedia.

Five indicators of exercise addiction are:

  1. An increase in exercise that may be labeled as detrimental, or becomes harmful.
  2. A dependence on exercise in daily life to achieve a sense of euphoria; exercise may be increased as tolerance of the euphoric state increases.
  3. Not participating in physical activity will cause dysfunction in one’s daily life.
  4. Withdrawal symptoms following exercise deprivation including anxiety, restlessness, depression, guilt, tension, discomfort, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, and headaches.
  5. High dependence on exercise causing individuals to exercise through trauma and medical conditions.

Key differences between healthy and addictive levels of exercise include the presence of withdrawal symptoms when exercise is stopped as well as the addictive properties exercise may have leading to a dependence on exercise.

I meet criteria #2, #3, and #4 and have dealt with #1 and #5 in the past. The issue I’m going to talk about has nothing to do with confronting the addiction or seeking help to wean myself of the euphoric state that exercise gives me. I’m fine with being addicted. It’s a healthy(ish) addiction. The problem I’m going to talk about and the issue I’ve had this year is not getting enough exercise, which leads to serious withdrawal symptoms.

The more attention I pay to my moods, the more I’m aware that they correlate directly with my weekly training volume. If I miss a day or two of training due to the aftershocks from Adelaide’s crash, I’ll become even more upset, lose desire to train later in the week, feel even worse over the next couple days, and become completely unmotivated and depressed by the weekend. It’s like a junkie not getting heroin, except instead of eventually getting over the addiction, I just feel worse and worse as time passes.

I wouldn’t call the depression that I experience life threatening by any means (as in suicidal), but I definitely get so low that I can’t see a way out of the hole, and life does seem meaningless. A lot of the time it feels like no matter what I do, no matter what happens in life, I’ll never be happy again—even if someone stopped by my house to give me 100 million dollars and the ability to piss refreshing, ice cold Surge.

The only thing that relieves that feeling of hopelessness is training. If I’ve been in a real bad place, a few days of riding won’t even cut it. I’ll need a week to get back to feeling decent. Two weeks to feel happy. And with the passing of years, I’ve needed more and more exercise to feel whole. Sixteen hours a week of hard riding seems to be the absolute minimum. 20 is better. 120/month, I’ve found out, is too much and falls into the category of “excessive or detrimental to health.”

Looking back on my life, it’s apparent that I’ve had this dependency to exercise ever since I was a kid. On the rare occasion that I had a week off of whatever sport I was doing at the time, I remember my dad telling me that I was acting upset and that I should just go for a run. Sometimes I’d continue to mope about, but usually I’d take him up on it and feel better almost immediately. Before I reached the double digits in age, my dad and I would go on 10 mile runs up Parret Mountain behind our house. And it wasn’t like I was even training to be a runner or anything at that point either. Just a 10 mile run with 1,100 feet of elevation gain for the hell of it. I’m pretty sure I was an abnormal child.

Along with the normal sports kids do like soccer, track, and white water kayaking, I also did a lot of martial arts. In middle school I’d rollerblade to the bus stop, take the bus to the dojo, and do four hours of training starting with the kids’ karate class, then jiu-jitsu, then Muay Thai kick boxing, and finally the mixed martial arts training session at the end which ended at 9PM. The last couple classes were almost solely attended by adults and I got my ass kicked for years before I was big enough to start inflicting damage of my own. At home I’d hit myself with a metal pipe to condition my legs, arms, and torso. I eventually fucked my thumbs up so badly from punching that I couldn’t open a car door for half a year. They’re actually still tender to this day.

While that last passage shows the obvious downside to exercise addiction (over doing it), the other side of the coin (under-training) leads to a much darker place, for myself that is. So contrary to what every sports science book, training article, and coach will say, when it comes to working out I’m fine with erring slightly on the side of too much. Results can come second to my mental health.

Aside from not getting enough exercise, there’s another factor that has contributed to my depression this year. It’s underperforming in races and having poor fitness. I don’t feel like myself when I’m not strong on the bike. It’s as if I’m missing part of myself.

Despite that feeling of inadequacy, the lack of success in races is still a lesser issue than the lack of training itself. Feeling strong and winning races is a huge mental boost, but simply stroking my ego isn’t enough. I’ve had plenty of bad years on the bike before and never felt as down as I have lately. That’s because back during those years I was training a lot and had a sense of accomplishment just from that.

As further proof, to myself, that training is the key factor when it comes to feeling good, this year I’ve had a lot of immediate success and recognition in triathlon that hasn’t made me happy for more than a couple days after the race–essentially just enough time for the endorphin tank to run empty.

Exercise Addiction seems like a ridiculous ‘disorder’ to have. It’s well beyond a first world problem, and quite possibly dips down far enough to be a -1st or -2nd world problem. But chemically speaking, if my brain needs X amount of endorphins and it only gets half that, I’m not going to be happy. Simple as that.

I’m lucky that I’ve always had athletic outlets and grew up in a family that’s been so supportive of them. Without sports, I’m sure I would have been prescribed antidepressants a long time ago. Fully realizing the issue and being able to address it will hopefully lead to less time being depressed. It takes a lot of energy to start training hard again once you’ve been off the bike for a while, but training is the only thing that’s going to fix the problem. The last three weeks of hard riding, running, and swimming here in Boulder have completely turned my mood around, and seeing my fitness slowly return has added to the fire in my belly. This is the most normal I’ve felt in over a year.

4J6A8855An exercising Kennett is a happy Kennett. (SmartEtailing photo credit: Alex Lepert).

The second half

From where I left off, the trip got slightly worse before it got better. Bookending two races during a month-long trip was not the best of plans, especially since we didn’t know what our home base conditions and the terrain for training would be like along the way. Unfortunately we only ended up doing six or seven super short rides during the month, which zapped a lot of the fitness Adelaide had prior to our departure. Despite that, Adelaide finished the Vineman full in 12:14, coming in 4th in her age group and 7th female overall. How she did that with so little training leading up to the race I’ll never know. I had ridden a little under half the course the day before her race and was utterly destroyed by it. When you’ve been off the bike that long, it’s hard to do even zone two.

Most of our stress from the trip was from attempting to train and getting shut down. I had trouble sleeping at times as well, which didn’t help things. But the more we stressed about not being able to train properly, the less fun we had, the more frustrated we got, and the less energy we had to train with the terrain we did have.

Instead of doing a long write-up of the second two weeks of our trip, which would take hours of my precious time, here are some pictures with captions. Since the internet is essentially a picture book for adults, I assume you’ll all enjoy this more than a 3,000-word essay anyways.

IMG_0696We drove down to Walnut Grove the day after my race, which is about 45 minutes south of Sacramento, to stay with my cousin Chris for just under two weeks. It was about 100 degrees every day and ample black berries hung ripe from vines for easy picking. The three of us kayaked, played Monopoly and pingpong, made some great dinners, and ate out on the patio every night. The only thing missing was the riding, which was non existent in that area. And I can’t seem to stress how important being able to ride is to me for mental well-being. Even more so for Adelaide, who had the race quickly approaching and legs that needed to be moving. However, the river was a mere five minute walk away. So we swam as much as my shoulders could take, and got some good runs in too.

IMG_0697 IMG_0688This was one of the worst rides we’ve ever been on. After an hour-long drive to get to Antioch in our attempt to find good roads to ride on, I got three flats and ran into a parked car. And that was just the first 45 minutes. At least we got Dairy Queen afterwards. (And then spent an additional 45 minutes driving through town searching for a place to get cash after being turned back at a toll bridge).

IMG_1325 Though, Maybellene was content, with a large yard to run around in and watermelon rinds galore.

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IMG_1329 My aunt and her dog Buddy are top competitors in agility training, so we thought Maybellene should try one of the obstacles in the back yard.

IMG_1338We had zero success.

IMG_1342Sushi making with my cousin Chris.

IMG_0676Adelaide doing some studying for the CSCS exam on the dock.

IMG_1344We headed south the the bay area to spend a few nights with one of my old friends Mike. Snaps was the third cat Maybellene has met. The first scared her so badly she peed on the floor. The second she chased up a tree, and I had to climb up and rescue it because it got stuck at the top. This was a happy medium.

11752478_10153525720019292_7164225932515759016_nThe pre-race dinner with our friends Krista, David, and their friends, almost all of whom were racing. I ate more than anyone else by about four magnitudes and all I did the following day was watch them exercise while I sat in a lawn chair feeling like a fat tub of rancid lard.

A few days before, we’d picked up our friend Lindsey Knast (sitting behind Adelaide in the photo) from the airport and driven up to the Motel 6 in Santa Rosa. I finally had some roads to ride on and our spirits did a 180 after being around Lindsey, who was excited and upbeat since she hadn’t been living on the road for a month.

IMG_0704 Finally. Race morning with a bit of fog.

IMG_0706 Somehow this was the best picture I could get of the two of them. My photography skills are renown as my knitting abilities.

IMG_0709IMG_0713A few seconds from the start.

IMG_0735 Fast forward 7 hours later to T2. Adelaide was the third woman out of the water but lost some ground on the 112 mile bike leg. Now just a marathon to go. Easy as pie.

IMG_0742 - Version 2 I think this face was, “Holy fucking shit this hurts.”

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IMG_0746 Sprinting past some fool with 100 feet to go.

IMG_0747 - Version 2 IMG_0750 It might not have been the time she’d hoped for but I was super proud to see her finish it off. She was just 30 seconds behind 3rd place in her age group, which was sort of a blessing in disguise since that meant we didn’t have to go to the awards ceremony the following day.

IMG_0752That’s a wrap. She curled up in bed without puking and managed to eat some fries before falling asleep. We visited the beach and then my grandparents the next day, then spent two days driving home to Boulder. It’s good to be back.

Van Life

Frigid air conditioning blasted me in the face and zapped the outdoor heat from my skin. I felt a wave of depression wash over me as I pushed my bike up the stairs of our office building, back my desk. It was a beautiful day outside, yet I had only ridden for 30 minutes instead of the planned two-hour-long ride. I was at the breaking point. For months I’d been stagnant: unable to train at any real capacity, unable to enjoy life, and in a constant state of depression. Adelaide, who works (worked) approximately two feet from me at the facing desk, saw how upset I was when I came back from yet another failed ride attempt and already had a message waiting for me on g-chat by the time I sat down:

Want to quit today?

I immediately replied:

Yes.

We’d been talking about leaving for over a month but had been planning to hold out until next February. It was a great job but unsustainable with our current mindsets. June is pretty close to February. Close enough.

Neither of us have recovered from the crash last October. I think at this point Adelaide has recovered more than me actually. One of the issues is that there has been no break in our lives to restart, or whatever you want to call it. There hasn’t been enough time to mentally recover. We both jumped back into regular life with full time jobs and me trying to train and race full time as well. That, of course, left almost zero room for Adelaide’s surgeon and dentist appointments, therapy, phone calls with our lawyer, and more importantly it didn’t give us the time to rest and recuperate. (Not to mention a vacation sitting on a beach somewhere).

We’d been discussing what could be taken out of our schedule to remedy this lack of mental health days. The only things we have going on are:

1) sleep
2) work
3) training
4) racing/travel
5) down time
6) time with friends

Decreasing time with friends wouldn’t add up to anything, taking out down time would screw us up even more than we currently are since it’s down time that we need more of, I’ve already drastically decreased time spent bike racing and traveling, not training anymore isn’t even an option. Same goes for sleep. That leaves us with work. Bills be damned.

We gave our two weeks notice that day, with plans on a three-week-long road trip out to Oregon and California to kick start what would become known as van life. The following week we began moving out of our apartment since our lease was ending in mid July and by then we’d already be gone on the trip. The condo we bought this winter, which we’ve been renting out ever since, has a detached garage that ended up easily holding all of our belongings.

The trip so far has included seeing my old teammate Sam Johnson on our way through Boise, visiting my parents in Oregon for three days in Corvallis, and camping in Guerneville, California, where I “raced” Vineman 70.3. The race was a last-minute decision and one that I ended up regretting quite a bit.

IMG_0621IMG_0618My dad, Adelaide and I rode in Mac Forest on trails that my dad helped establish 30+ years ago.

11143505_1064130120264184_7415316933932449416_nMy mom, Adelaide, and I tried paddle boarding. I highly recommend it for a workout and/or mega chi points for relaxation.

11227639_1064130123597517_2075642251520130207_nWhile a Speedo is preferable, a drag suit will suffice. I didn’t lose any tan lines by the way. They seem to be burned into me permanently.

IMG_0628 A highly caffeinated and sugared Adelaide makes a happy and alert Adelaide while driving. Gas station cappuccino stops are a necessity on long road trips.

IMG_0643 Down camping in Guerneville, I was unable to sleep for roughly three days.

photo 1The Hound on Hound duty.

On to the race, which was last Sunday the 12th:

The long days of travel, the stress of moving out of our apartment and quitting our jobs right before the trip, and an ear infection coupled with antibiotics all paled in importance to not being able to sleep the nights leading up to the race. Despite feeling pretty shitty during my recent training, I was confident that I could get into the top eight. One of my only weaknesses, aside from my incredible degree of modesty, is being a super finicky sleeper. I hadn’t been sleeping well at the campsite in Guerneville so Adelaide and I crashed my former teammate Nick Bax’s hotel room the night before the race. Somehow that was even worse for me and I was only able to sleep for 45 minutes that night. The 4:30AM wake up call came way too soon. By the time I lined up to start the swim at Vineman I had already lost.

40 ounces of coffee and a 100mg caffeine gel were barely holding my eyes open when the gun went off. I was dropped instantly and even passed by the lead group of women just after the half way point. Swimming is by far my weakest sport but this was just plain pitiful. I struggled on at a sluggish pace, barely even moving, for the last few hundred meters. By then I had resigned to pull out of the race and skip town. All the other male pros’ bikes were long gone from transition before I trudged my tired bones out of the river in shame. Finishing wasn’t even worth it. I decided I might as well save my legs the 10 days it takes me to recover from a triathlon, sleep if off, and start training for the next one.

photo 1 (1)Contemplating whether or not it was even worth it to start. I was that tired. (It’s always worth at least starting).

At times, it irks me to read (and write) a race report that tells a tale of a race gone wrong but strays from the truth at the end to leave the reader with an uplifting note of positivity–something the author took away from the difficult experience. You know what, sometimes you don’t learn anything from failure. Sometimes you just fucking fail.

Adelaide helped console me as we packed my gear in the van by proclaiming that she’d taken a desperate dump behind someone’s car. For Adelaide, when shit happens, shit happens NOW. We left Guerneville with my tail tucked between my legs, eyes glazed in fatigue while Adelaide drove us to Nevada City to stay with my uncle for a night and let the Hound run free in the woods surrounding his cabin.

Okay I’ll buckle a tiny bit here. I don’t want it to sound like I’m utterly crushed from the DNF. The fact is that we aren’t out here for me to race. My 70.3 was thrown in as an afterthought at most. We came to see my family, get out of Boulder, mentally recharge, and for Adelaide to race the Full Vineman, which is in a week and a half. She’s been training for it since last winter and this whole trip has just been tacked onto it. So other than my race being a fiasco, we’ve been having a blast. Now we’re staying south of Sacramento with my cousin Chris, swimming against the river current every morning, and running or riding in the heat of the afternoon. I’ll post an update in a week or two.

Becoming one with the heat

I’m sick of reading all the stupid, lazy “How to beat the heat in your next race” articles written lately so I’ve decided to write my own. My problem with the mainstream ones is that they all to touch on the same, already-known bits of useless advice like “make sure to drink a sports drink with plenty of electrolytes” and “stay hydrated the day before.” They all say almost the same thing, and although what they tell you is true, they need to go into more depth to really do any good. Without an explanation of why something works, what’s the point? So here’s my shot at it. All of this is firsthand knowledge. Triathlete readers: some of this will only be useful to bike racers.

  • Don’t be fat. I’m not trying to be funny or mean; the fact is that being lean is the single-most important thing you can do to race well in the heat. Fat is insulation. It hinders conductance of your muscles and blood by hiding them deep beneath fat instead of transporting body heat outwards to your skin where it can be cooled via convection by blood and conduction by tissue. When it comes to racing in the heat, the leaner you are the better. Adversely, being super lean in the cold can be a detriment.photo 2My legs aren’t always vascular, but when they are they look as gross as the backs of a 98-year-old’s hands.
  • Train in the heat. Even two weeks out from race day you can make huge adaptations by submersing yourself in the heat. If you know your race is going to be really hot, don’t purposefully train when it’s cool at 7AM, unless you live in Tucson or somewhere stupidly hot. Training in the heat forces your body to store extra plasma. This increases your blood volume and lowers your hematocrit (without getting rid of those invaluable red blood cells of course) so your blood is less viscous and easier to pump. Training in the heat also increases capillary density so you can dissipate heat better through your skin. Capillaries are essentially tiny veins that carry blood, water, oxygen, and other stuff from to the tissue they surround. (If your race isn’t going to be super hot, purposely training at the hottest time of the day may not be necessary or even worth the risk, since you can’t produce the same power in the heat and training in hot temps can lead to overtraining).
  • Don’t just train in the heat. Become one with it. This can only be done in the sauna. Sauna training, which I’ve written about before, is one of the most crucial things I do to prepare for a hot race. Like training in the heat, sauna training drastically increases capillary density and plasma storage. It’s super painful and draining though. 20-30 minutes in 180 degree heat, post ride with no water, is more than tough. It’s brutal. But worth it if you can stick it out for a week. For the full protocol on sauna training, scroll to the bottom.
  • The days leading up to your race, begin drinking extra water. Liters of extra water, not cups. Along with that extra water, pound the sodium. Note how I didn’t say “electrolytes.” The only electrolyte you lose in significant amounts during workouts and races is sodium. You have plenty of potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, etc. stored in your body and they can easily be replenished with regular old food, assuming you eat fruit and vegetables somewhat regularly. When it comes to sports drinks, the only electrolyte you should care about is sodium. And you need a lot of it. Not 50 or 100 milligrams. Shoot for thousands of milligrams. Skratch Hyper and OSMO Pre Load each have over 1,500mg per serving. Leading up to a hot race, or when I’ve been training a lot in the heat, I take a serving or two a day of one of those. This helps your body hold onto extra plasma and saturates your tissues with water, which can be sweated out later when needed. If you’re too cheap for expensive magic bags of salt, Top Ramen works well. You can just drink the broth and chuck the noodles if you want. Be careful when just loading up on regular sodium though. Continue reading below.
  • Skratch, OSMO, and Clif use sodium citrate, which is easier on your stomach that sodium chloride (table salt). Typically, you’ll find sodium chloride in low-quality, sugary sports drinks like Gatorade. Too much sodium chloride (or any type of sodium for that matter) will give you the shits. So don’t overdo it the morning or day before the race, since diarrhea and vomiting tend to cause dehydration. And if you can, stick to the stuff that works (OSMO, Skratch, Clif, and other hydration formulas that don’t just use sodium chloride. You can even just buy sodium citrate by the pound online. It’s not very expensive.
  • During exercise, regular Skratch, OSMO, and Clif hydration mixes have 250-350mg of sodium per serving. One liter an hour for a hot race should be the bare minimum, and should be easy enough to do on the bike. That would be around 700mg per hour. For a four-hour race, that’s just shy of 3,000mg. Considering you can easily sweat out 1,000mg an hour during a cool race, you’re still going to be in a deficit for the next day so hit the sodium hard after the race if there are more stages to come.
  • Before your hot race, don’t do a big warmup unless you’re racing a TT. Staying cool before the race is important, because every minute your body isn’t overheating is one more minute you’re competitive in the race. Once your core temperature goes above 102 degrees, you start losing massive amounts of power.
  • Stay out of the sun before the race. Another duh. Line up somewhere close to the start in the shade. I see people chat in the parking lot directly in the sun all the time when it’s 90+ degrees out. It’s stupid. Don’t start the race already hot and in a deficit. Pound water and stay out of the sun, preferably somewhere with AC as long as you can.
  • Use ice socks during and before the race. Put them down your back or chest during the race (obviously), and your groin before the race (not obviously). Putting ice or ice socks (a pantyhose filled with ice) down your groin hurts like a mother, but that region of your body has more blood flow per square inch than anywhere else on your body that you could reasonably put an ice sock. I use the word reasonably very loosely. Also, building yourself an ice vest out of duct tape and sheets of plastic ice pockets (the kind that look like a sheet of ice cubes) works well and is way cheaper than buying one. They keep you cool for about 30 minutes standing around at the start before on a hot day.
  • Dunk your jersey in cold water before the race. Dunk your bibs and shoes/socks too for that matter.
  • Assuming the team car or feed zone is readily accessible (Elite nationals not included), dump bottles on yourself, especially your legs, as often as you can. The plus side of going back for bottles during a hot race is that you’re probably going to be the best hydrated guy on the team.
  • Shave your entire body and buzz your head. It works. Even small arm hairs trap heat. You’ll feel the difference and you’ll thank me. Plus you’ll look better. Shaving your armpits and groin makes a difference, though it’s not comfortable by any means. I just shaved our dog Maybellene so she could be more competitive at the dog park this summer. Is my dog more committed than you? Probably.
  • Unzip your damn jersey. Seriously, I don’t understand why people don’t do this and then later complain about cramping out of the lead group. That extra breeze could have been the ticket. Unzip your jersey all the way, and if you don’t have to carry bottles for anyone, tuck the ends of it behind your back bib straps before the start so your jersey isn’t flapping annoyingly against your sides for hours on end. It should look something like this:

1044336_10100778653589018_837631576_nTry not to make that face though.

Sauna training

13 days before your event, begin the dry sauna training, which is pretty miserable after riding for five hours or however long your workout was. Sit in the sauna for 20-30 minutes right after each ride for 7 days in a row. Go as soon as you can after your ride. I just park my bike at the rec center, grab a towel on the way in, shower off, and I’m in the sauna within five minutes of finishing my workout. Don’t rehydrate before going in though. Counterintuitive? Yes. Only consume enough liquid to get your recovery drink down.

Sit high up in the sauna (which should be between 170-180 degrees) for as long as you can, only coming down to the lower benches if and when you have to. It’s pure torture to make it a full half our at 180 degrees when your body is already depleted of liquid and energy after a hard workout. Go as long as you can. You might only last 15 minutes the first time.

When you get out of the sauna, don’t take a cold shower. Take a warm one. More importantly, don’t consume huge amounts of water at once when you get out. Don’t chug the water. Slowly sip to rehydrate for the next 3-4 hours so the heat stress you just put yourself through doesn’t go to waste. You want your body to suffer and adapt to the suffering, just like in training. This is crucial and miserable as well. Remember, you only have to make it through a week of this. Make sure to take in a LOT of sodium during this week, and you’ll have to drink extra liquid throughout the day too.

Stop five days before your event to let your hydration levels bounce back and your body super-compensate with extra plasma stores, more red blood cells (in theory), and increased capillary density. I recommend doing a practice run of this protocol during training a few months before your target race, just to make sure your body can handle it, similar to how you shouldn’t use new equipment for the first time on race day.

Boulder 70.3

This post will contain many disgusting moments. Prepare yourself.

It was a restless night of sleep filled with nightmares for Adelaide and rolling around in sweat-soaked sheets for myself. I haven’t been sleeping well or very many hours the past couple weeks for some reason. Even turning the AC on in the evening didn’t help put me to bed the night before the race. For one thing, I was nervous. Super nervous. The kind of nervous that only a cat 5 gets before a race. I haven’t been nervous for a bike race in nine years. So being this excited again to compete feels….good.

Pancakes and a mason jar of death-strong coffee brewed by Galen jolted me back to life at 5:00 AM on Saturday, the day of the race. Adelaide and I got on our bikes and coasted most of the 10-minute ride to the Boulder Reservoir, where the race was held. It was pretty awesome being able to roll out of bed and be at the race start 17 minutes later. None of this 12 hour drive nonsense.

While prepping in the transition zone, I looked around at the other pros to see how they positioned their gear. I also noticed that we had our own porta potties, which had seat heaters, triple-ply toilet paper, and cappuccino machines at waist level inside the door for our convenience. I shat thrice before getting in the lake to warm up. I’d been filling up on extra rice the day before, but most likely it was my nerves that were making me so void of shit. The last one was mostly liquid, and foretold of horrible things to come.

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Confused about the race belt.

The start horn went off and the madness began. There were less than 30 of us but the instant fight for positioning meant we were bumping, slapping hands on feet, and churning the water into a violent froth. I was getting passed left and right and unable to get onto anyone’s feet for a draft. Unknown to me just a week prior, you use 25% less energy by drafting during the swim. Depending on the conditions, of course, that’s akin to the draft you get while riding a bike. Huge. I knew I had to make it onto someone’s feet but before I knew it, almost all of the guys had vanished ahead with an insurmountable gap. I had gone out hard but not hard enough to make it with the leaders, so I was left with the shitty swimmers. I let two guys come around me and I sat on their feet for 10 or more minutes, swimming super easily in their bubbles. After a while it felt so easy that I decided to ditch the group and go on my own.

I spent the next 10 minutes swimming hard while they drafted off me like I’d been doing to them, then with a few hundred meters to go we got passed by two women, who’d started five minutes behind us. My heart sank to the bottom of the lake, past the water weeds, and settled into the thick mud at the bottom to be pecked at by tiny fish and lobsters.

The swim was over. I slogged out of the water panting like an obese child chasing an ice cream truck and got through the transition zone without too much confusion.

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Getting on the bike felt good and things were right with the world once again. I passed half a dozen guys (including the two women) within the first two miles. After that, I was in no man’s land. I was confident I’d catch plenty of people though, since my power was decent and my average speed kept going up, eventually maxing out at 27.8mph by mile 20. I knew that 27mph was a good time for this course so doing 28 would be fantastic.

And also unrealistic.

My glutes went to pieces by mile 30. My power took a nose dive too. An hour later I took a wrong turn, caught the mistake just in time, and narrowly avoided riding up on the sidewalk as I locked my brakes up and screamed a nasty curse word. Over the next half hour I became increasingly fatigued and disheartened as my legs failed to produce more than zone two wattage. I forced down more food and water.

I don’t know if this happens often or if this was an unusual occurrence, but the 70.3 distance race was put on at the same time as the Sprint distance triathlon, so that when I came onto Diagonal highway with about four miles to go, I suddenly had to share the shoulder with a long line of age groupers that had merged from a side road. No worries. I was fine riding out a bit to the left, but did they mind? Yes. At least one woman minded, I’m certain of that. I’d just chugged half a bottle of water too quickly and it came back up almost as fast. I vomited it mostly all on my own legs but a fair amount splashed over onto the lady that I was currently passing.

I ended the bike with a super pathetic 275 watt average. A power, in the past, that I’ve been able to sustain for nearly seven hours. Obviously it was on the TT bike so that instantly drops the power quite a bit. But still, I was not happy with such a weak performance in what should be my strongest discipline. So I peed my shorts just before entering the transition zone. “That’ll show em.”

The run instantly hurt like hell. I was out of breath and gasping for air by the top of the first tiny little climb at mile 0.2. Only 12.9 to go! Thoughts of not finishing or packing it in with a brisk jog went through my head. There was no way I’d make top 10. Not a chance. My pre-race dreams of making it into the top five were now laughable.

The course was mostly flat, but hot. 80 degrees and predominantly on dirt trails. It was only a little over three miles long, meaning  we had to complete two out and backs. At one mile in I took a glimpse at my watch and saw that I wasn’t doing quite as terrible as I thought. The initial shock to my system was gone and I was only breathing slightly like a catfish at that point. And up ahead there was prey.

I came upon him quietly, then surged hard to kill his moral. I didn’t want company in my misery. And after three hours of really hard exercising, I mean racing, moral is easy to extinguish.

My fellow competitor put up no resistance and I set my sights on the next guy up the road, who had about 45 seconds on my at that point. As I approached the turn around I counted the people ahead of me as they doubled back on the course. I was 12th. A top 10 was possible after all.

I caught the next guy a mile or two later, then felt all hell break loose down in my large intestine. My pace went from low 6:00s to 6:30 within a quarter mile. I prayed for a porta pottie. Three appeared around the next bend and I held it in for dear life. This was going to be messy.

Before the door even had time to swing shut I had my shorts at my knees, squated, and let the demon roar. The violent explosion was over within two seconds and I was out the door instantly. From entering the porta pottie to exiting, the whole ordeal only took 8 seconds. I did not wipe.

The cheering squad of friends and family that Adelaide had assembled near the finish area would get me through the next lap. I heard Adelaide say, “I’m so proud of you,” which guilted me into having to really kill myself for those last 6.5 miles. I chased down another guy and was in 10th by the final turn around.

Just three miles to go.
Now two and half.
Two.
One and a half.
One.

I kept the self-torture dialed at level 10, not thinking I could go any harder or catch anymore people. It was well over 80 degrees at this point. My lungs were gasping for air, legs screaming, stomach knotted. Despite the endorphins, I could feel the skin on my feet disintegrating within my shoes. I was content with 10th at that point. I was averaging 6:03 pace, which was pretty decent I thought. No, wait. Shit. I spotted one more guy ahead. I had to try or I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I increased my pace one last time.

With 300 meters to go I kicked and came by him hard and heard him whisper “ahh fuck” to himself and I knew I had him. I kept the pressure on and crossed the line a little under a minute later.

“This isn’t the finish line!” is exactly what I did not want to hear. But it’s what someone behind the barriers yelled as I came to a stop. In my defense there were multiple blow-up sponsor arches that spanned the road, and for some reason I assumed this one was the finish. I set off again and went another 150 meters around the bend and collapsed just after the real finish line.

I finished 9th, a minute and a half behind 8th place, which was the last to get paid. Just 90 seconds faster and I would have been $500 richer. That would have bought a lot of canned herring.

I was a little ticked off about the swim until I remembered it was my second race and I should shut up and enjoy the rest of the day…if you can enjoy anything about walking around on feet like these:

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Winston-Salem UCI 1.2

I heard a loud carbon crunch, followed immediately by the gut-wrenching, soul-depleting hiss of a rear flat tire. I’d just been consumed by a pothole’s deep, race-ending teeth—one of the millions that littered the course. There were just three and a half laps left out of 14, and I’d suffered every minute of the race to get to this point. For every single lap I’d been hanging by a thread, on the verge of popping an uncountable number of times. All that agony only to flat out with 20 miles to go. I let my sailor’s tongue fly loose and loud.

I threw a hand up and pulled off the road, almost getting squashed by the caravan since I’d been on the left side of the road as I flatted and had to make my way to the right in order for a wheel change. The SRAM neutral car appeared out of nowhere to give me a quick wheel change. I was calm and cool as a pickle. I’ve learned to adopt an aura of peace during mechanicals, in order to give the mechanic steady hands and a clear head. Once I was going again, I resumed my earlier conversation: FUCKING FUCK YOU FUCK! AGHHHHHH FUCK!

Nick paced me back up to the caravan after I got rolling again, with me crunching and miss-shifting through a cassette that my chain wasn’t accustomed to; my drear brake was even more useless, failing to grip against the older style thin rim. I swore again as loud as I could, which helped fuel some extra adrenaline, not that I needed it. I swerved through the caravan with typical reckless abandon, knowing that my race was over but refusing to give in without one last push. There was little chance of catching back on after a mechanical or crash on this course at the pace that we were doing, especially this late in the race and with the shit legs that I had.

A tiny blossom of hope bloomed a minute later when I got a glimpse of the peloton up ahead, which was 50 guys at that point, down from 170 starters. A moment later I was on the back end, slightly confused as to why they’d finally slowed down—and just at the right moment no less. 30 seconds after that I was off the front, solo.

I was in no-man’s land between the break and the peloton—but off the front nonetheless, and with rekindled fire in my legs. I realized that we had finally given up the chase, but a top 15 was still on the line so I gave it everything I had left, which wasn’t much.

I superman tucked on a winding descent approaching 50mph, came back up to rest my forearms on top of the bars in the TT position for a couple hard pedal strokes, and saw my life flash before my eyes for the 99th time that day as a squirrel ran between my wheels. From that flat until now, it had been an action-packed five minutes. Although, not unlike the previous three and a half hours. Just a typical, chaotic, masochistic, incredibly dangerous, disturbingly painful bike race.

The Winston-Salem Cycling Classic is held in North Carolina in one of the cigarette capitals of the world, which is actually fitting, seeing as how out of breath the course leaves you. It’s an 8-mile loop through city streets, littered with potholes, steep climbs, and dozens of corners. It’s my favorite style of course, and one that I would have counted myself to be a podium contender had I been on previous years’ form. Today? I was just chewing my stem for dear life, punching tickets at the back for the first couple laps as rider after rider dropped away in the sweltering heat and equally blistering pace being set at the front while attack after attack launched up the road.

My teammates Michael Burleigh, Chris Winn, and Josh Yeaton had been slaying themselves at the front, getting in moves and being aggressors early in the race. Unfortunately the larger move got away just after Josh had been brought back from being up the road. George Simpson and I didn’t have the legs or positioning prowess to be of much use for the first five or six laps, and it generally takes more than three guys being active for a team to make the move.

But the race was not sealed up at that point by any means. Attacks continued flying as guys vied to bridge. Optum set a brutal pace on lap five or six. Then the pace duties were taken up by UHC a lap later. I won’t say that my legs ‘came around’ by lap seven; I think it’s more accurate to say that, compared to how I felt earlier, I was just slightly less fucked over than those who were still left in the field. Even that might not be accurate now that I think about it. I was actually on the verge of getting dropped, which meant that I needed to attack.

I went half a dozen times, countering myself until I finally got away solo after the feed zone on lap 8. My intentions at that point were to just get most of the way over the KOM climb before being caught, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the front split (or chase back onto the front split) even once more.

Max Korus of Team QCW came across to me. He’s got a huge ass and is as tall as me so he makes for a great draft. Despite that, it was still hard to hold his wheel. I told him how fucked I was and that I’d only been attacking because I was about to get dropped. He admitted the same thing.

If you’re going out the back, you might as well first try and go off the front. We got to within 50 seconds of the lead breakaway and had a decent gap to the field. Screw getting dropped, the race was on!

We worked together and made it almost all the way up the climb before the pack caught us. My teammate Chris and about eight others blew by at twice my speed with a big gap 75 meters from the top of the climb. The final pitch is the steepest section, averaging about 15% if my memory serves correct. My legs were gone—as weak and dead as toothpicks at that point. I was gasping for air. But I made a snap decision. I was going all in to make it back onto that group. I let out a roar and sprinted as hard as I could to regain the wheel and make it onto the back end of the group just as they crested the climb. I was totally blown at the top, having just done a race-finishing effort, but I made it. This was the selection. It had all the strongest guys left in the peloton and the right teams. Then we sat up.

Max and three others kept riding when someone let their wheel go. They were never to be seen again. We were absorbed by the remnants of the peloton as Max and the others pushed on up to the break, catching them shortly after the finish with three laps to go.

Josh had been on the sidelines for over an hour helping out in the feed zone after getting an early flat. During his frantic chase back on with Nick in the team car, a police officer had nearly caused disaster when she stepped out into the road in front of Nick, who was driving 50mph. Luckily Josh swerved out from behind Nick in time but he never regained contact with the peloton.

Winston-Salem-Criterium-2015-3-1024x697Josh attacking in the crit the day before  (Photo: Bob Simpson)

Michael had nearly died of heat exhaustion and was in the feed zone too; both he and Josh were doing what they could to give us a hand, which is always awesome to see because I know how upsetting watching a race from the sidelines can be.

Winston-Salem-Criterium-2015-6-606x1024George in the crit the night before (Photo: Bob Simpson)

George had held on as long as he could, chasing back on lap after lap (with me in tow many times) after the climb. But he was out now as well, handing out bottles. It was just Chris and I left in the race and we’d just been soooo close to both making the winning move. In some other universe…

Well, there’s always next time.

Ha. I kept attacking. I flatted eventually, which brings us back to the starting point of this post. I was off the front solo with two and a half laps to go and had just avoided death by squirrel. My legs were losing power with every pedal stroke, but I could no longer see the peloton behind. They’d pretty much sat up since the winning move totaling 14 guys was long gone up the road with a three minute lead. I went as hard as I could for the next lap and a half before getting caught with one to go. There would be no more attacks from me. I followed wheels and suffered every minor acceleration, just like everyone else at that point. Our group shattered on the final climb. Chris, who suffered a slow leak on the final lap, came in 31st and I came in 39th. It was a shame he wasn’t in the position to put good legs to use because he was on a killer day. I on the other hand, was satisfied. I could finally feel my old self coming back to life and I was pleased with how hard I pushed it. It was by far the hardest race day I’ve done this year and seeing my form come back, even just a little of it, has given me some new motivation to race bikes this year.

photo-1-4-e1433354727998-768x1024I was awarded the team’s Hulk Hands for the race. An honor and a privilege.