September 11, 2007

The Better Part of Valor

The 2007 MS-150 is history, and another heafty sum of money is raised and backed up by the riders for this noble cause, the drive towards a cure for this horrible disease. Estimates put the rider count at over 2000, which is fantastic!
Once again, I rode for those that I know that have MS, friends or friends and family members of friends afflicted. I sincerely hope that our efforts pay off and make life a little easier for those fighting this affliction.

But, as you know if you've been keeping up, I also rode to test myself again. With the tumultuous summer events, the hip injury, the stress, the addition of a 2nd job, lack of sleep, diet problems, etc., it's been hard to stay focused and positive about the remainder of a year that started out so strong. The goals chart still remains posted, but it's taking on a different flavor now - a flavor of deflation.
Not only does the bell toll fo me, but the bell itself by me was cast.

Even though my personal goals may be dashed against the rocks, my mind full of doubt about the rest of this month, the MS-150 itself was a good time. I resorted myself to the fact that the fitness just wasn't there after mile 50, and tried my best to enjoy the ride and stay positive. The first part of the ride, however, showed some promise - but it was perhaps too little, too late. After finally meeting up with some fantastic new members of the team, Vinnie and MickJuicy, and Crowbar (his first MS ride this year), K-Man, Atul, P-Mo and newcomer Jasig, and other riders from different rides I've done in the past, Fine Jewelry, Caspers & son, and several other familiar faces whose names escape me, I knew it was gonna be a quality day. I ate pancakes and had coffee and juice, the first time I'd paid for the pre-ride breakfast and set aside the usual pre-ride cocktail. Heck, it always worked well on day two, so why not try it for day one? It tasted gooooood. Conversation was awesome - we lounged and talked, and waited for the sunrise.

Luggage was dropped off, and bikes assembled. Then, the first nail came when I locked my water bottles in the car. There they were on the front seat, staring at me, and my car keys were already tucked into my luggage, deep in the back of the luggage truck, with a new bag stacked on top and in front of it every couple of seconds. Argh!!! Oh well... Crowbar was nice enough to lend me his 2nd bottle, and so instantly the ride plans of riding straight through to rest stop 6 were abandoned. There was no way to do it on one bottle, unless I really wanted some problems. The driver's windows cracked, I tried a couple different ways to get the door unlocked, and finally folded to futility. So be it!

We all finished our morning routines, and rolled up to the start line to await the start. The morning was cooler than it'd been in months, very refreshing - finally! It was almost warmers-weather, and I met the notion halfway with arm-warmers on - feeling cozy. Brian Busby gave us the weather and the count-down, and after the hundreds of big team riders hit the road, we were off!

The new route was great, the new start line was fantastic - a great set-up! We rolled out onto 203rd Street, the only street that I really knew the name of around here. After that, just follow the arrows -- I mean, yeah, I knew the highways and cross roads, but it's not really important. It's a great ride, and I already can't wait until next year -- reminds me, I have to get online and register for next year while the rates are low! Sept. 16th is the deadline!!

As I slowly warmed up, I passed my teammates by - as they knew I might - and began my run towards Sedalia, looking for possibly a sub-5 hour finish (rolling time) -- if I could do that, I might well be ready for Tejas. The speed slowly came up, hydration began, and I was actually feeling pretty spry and ready. I knew the dice were stacked against me -- I know the weight is still here. The photos proved it. Yeesh. I know the bike is less-than optimal for ultra-racing, like I have ANY qualms about that, but it can be a factor; but only if I let it -- honestly, after mile 40, I really have tossed this notion out for good: the bike does NOT matter. Period. But the training, and fitness, I know is not where it should be. My only saving grace and hope was that there was something hiding under the dust that was ready to pounce, some notion that after all the trials of late June, July and August with regards to schedules and lack of training, that there would be a well-rested and ready cyclist waiting to have to cobwebs blown off of him.

After mile five or so, the first of the pack began to advance up - the small beginnings of pacelines, the soloists, the time trialists and fit folk using this ride to get ready for Ironman this or that. Strong riders. Two of which, a carbon Raliegh and a nice newer Quintano Roo (I think?) rider, with a yellow X-Lab cage holder and inflator mount -- I decided it was time, and the pace was right. I latched on -- granted I am supposed to be getting ready for a non-drafting solo event, but the speed has to come in some form or another, and it was time to work. They would advance a little, I would bridge, drop back, repeat. Especially on the hills, the only part of my game that I've seemed to hold on to, despite the weight gains. Not shifting a lot, proving that there is still a fixed gear rider hiding under my bones, I would grind the climbs out and them hammer the downhills and flats as best I could. I'd pass, then they'd pass me back - all the while passing up slower riders. The pack grew, and occasionally shrank up again -- it wasn't exactly friendly all the time, as I would get squeezed behind slower riders on some hills while they'd pass up realy close, but all the better to have to push hard to latch back on afterwards. Good training, and it's appreciated. Eventually, a red Specialized Allez joined the fun, and there were four or five of us all changing positions until we approached the first rest stop of the day -- the Raliegh and Roo pulled off, and then it was just me and the Specialized guy -- but I was spent already. Yeesh... I had to let him go, and before long he was gone amid the riders up the road from me, not to be caught again.

This was the first indication that I was not going to reach my goals for the day. It was apparent long before mile 10 that a 20 MPH average SOLO was simply not possible. I just didn't have it in me to hold that pace alone, and a paceline would have to be the answer. Granted, again, the solo non-drafting nature of Tejas was out there, and I realy didn't want to train for something I would not be able to use down there. In the big ring, pushing the biggest gear I could, I was no stronger than 18 MPH. With a group, that speed naturally increases, drafting or not, so I knew that in there somewhere there was the basis for some sort of speed work and improvement. I would have to take what I could get today. For the moment, passing mile 15, I was simply alone, spinning and recovering from the 5 measley miles of speed games. This was pathetic.

Cycling is supposed to be fun, right? If it's not fun anymore, then why am I doing it? The lack of fun was simply coming from the fact that I wasn't meeting my goals, and I knew Tejas was going to be rough. I started to formulate my excuse package. Would I be able to get my registration fee back? No refunds, dude. Dan, the accomplished and decorated ultra-cyclist that runs Tejas doesn't want to hear how rotten of a summer I've had, how I gained weight and didn't train; because at the end of the day it's not his problem -- I paid in good faith that I was physically ready for this event, and whatever happened to me between then and now doesn't matter a bit. *I* let it happen, make no mistake. I am where I am because of me, and nothing else. It all boils down to choices, and many of the ones I've made over the past three months were not good ones. My season essentially peaked in early June, and ended shortly thereafter. It's that simple.

The road stretched on, and I limped in to rest-stop #2. Peanut butter and jelly, some sports drink, and a little rest -- brevet style, maybe three or four minutes, just long enough to get my stuff and get back on the bike, finishing the sandwich as I rolled out. This was familiar territory as I thought back to the 400K brevet that brought us out this way. Highway 58 between Strasburg and Kingville, a road I knew well; Bob's 400K east route brevet, and nearly every MS-150 I've ridden has used this highway at one point or another. It's gotten busier by the year, unfortunately, but there aren't many east-west options, and it's well paved and has a railroad track paralleling it for about 7 miles. I love that part! As I left the rest-stop, I began to try and lift my pace to get clear of this section of two-lane, get out of the traffic and back to country-road riding and wide lanes without worry of passing cars and trucks. I felt a little refreshed with the new input of food and drink, and about a mile out from the rest-stop I was lifting my pace and passing people when I could -- about when I came up on the back of a LONG paceline, probably about 40 riders strong I'm guessing. The accordian effect is a little frustrating at times like this, when you know the traffic is there, and the road isn't quite wide enough to play around. I sat at the back for a little bit, and finally decided this is not where I wanted to be - the line seemed to be going slow enough that if I held 22 MPH, I might be able to pass them up. It was worth a try, at least. I began my advance up the left side of the line, and found myself passing the front of the pack. Another thing I've noticed over the years; the BACK of the pack is no indication of the FRONT of the pack -- SOMEone has to pull that train, and their pace is usualy solid, the accordian effect being caused by slight variations in speed caused by terrain and effort, magnified as they are passed backwards from cyclist to cyclist, and maximum effect determined by how long the train is. Up front, the effect is minimal. I reach the front of the line and a strong group of riders are working hard, a Cervelo or two, a Scott, various upper-end Specialized models, one with a rare Dean carbon fork, and a couple Felt models in the heat. I exchange 'morning's and hows-it-going's, and begin to raise the speed just a touch, hoping to advance away on the left, unanswered. Of course, ANY competitive cyclist worth his salt isn't going to let that just happen, especially when the passer is a fender-shod lugged steel bicycle with tan-sidewalled touring tires. It was never gonna happen, dude... and I found myself the leader of the train, the notion being that if this clown wants to pull, let's see what he's got. Again, it was worth a shot, so I kept the pace up with a personal goal of seeing how long I could muster it up. The miles began to tick by. Fully expecting someone to eventually get tired of my slowish slog and advance up on the left to replace me and spit me off the back, another mile ticked by. I looked down and saw 24 MPH on a flat. I was riding like a man possessed, not really sure where it was coming from but smart enough not to question it. I shoved on, over the slight grades, keeping the pace high, burning the quads, lifting the hams, breathing steady. A fast Amtrack train flies by with a high-pitched wail as I yank the 40+ long paceline thru Kingville, after a brief sprint for the city limits. I expected surely by now that I'd be caught or replaced, but the pack stayed behind me, glued to my rear wheel -- errr, fender. I felt like a rider again, I felt like the very cobwebs I was lugging around were finally getting ripped free and flying off my shoulders like ice off of a Titan IV rocket on liftoff. I accellerated down a descent, and the pack held strong -- 26 MPH on the clock, Kingville was history, and another couple miles were added to my tally of small successes. In the drops, I dropped one more gear and pushed it up another notch, steady.... steady..... another mile. I began to feel a little of the burn come up, but I knew the curve in the road before Holden was coming, from the 400K route... I wanted that curve. I pushed it still, another mile ticked by, and I began to hear chatter over the wind-noise, wondering if I was ever gonna give up the pull! I began to wonder myself... the curve was coming, and we reached it... I signaled off the left, dropped free and began to drift back ot receive the strongest accolades I've ever gotten from the strong bunch. Overweight, tired, frustrated - but somewhere underneath it all was a promise that I was "still in there", part of me "still had it". I really needed that pull -- and I really hope that it build something up, and stripped some of the cobwebs away. I latched onto the midway part of the group, and took my rest, still hammering along at 22+ MPH as the charged up group was roughly half it's original size from my efforts, but still flying along. A little miffed at myself, the route photographers were coming up on the right side of the road! ARGH!!! I should have held on for one more mile!!! What an AWESOME shot that would have been, a record of what was shaping up to be one of my proudest moments on a bike, as the compliments still came from people as far back as 12 deep in the pack, wondering who that "green guy" was, and if he'd EVER give up the pull. I was beaming, and still managed to get a shot with a few riders behind me. I'll remember it always. For all the complaining I do about not having a good summer, I stayed in the pack, flying past the third stop at speed with the group, and finally coming to rest at #4 with them, showing a 19.0 MPH average speed on my computer. I haven't seen numbers like that for ANY distance in a LONG time. It re-enforces the notion that I really need to get back out to Longview and train with that group, maybe put the distance aside and really get some high-RPM, high-speed WORK done -- maybe THAT is what this body needs, not just low-cardio super-distance, but some WORK. I felt alive; tired - a good tired. It felt worth it again. I ate lunch with members of the pack, and we talked it up. I left with a big smile, and new promise in my heart.

Unfortunately, it didn't last long -- after that moment, the tank was empty. I refueled, drank until I didn't need to anymore, and tried to replicate that pace, but it was a one-time shot. There was no miracle waiting under my skin anymore; the rest gained in the past couple months was spent in less than 20 miles, but I was still happy with the result. I knew, however, that I couldn't expect miracles. I'm human, and it's simple: I have not trained, I don't have the ability to hold that pace all day. There was no reserve or natural ability waiting for me. All I had left was the bank of endurance left from the successful brevet series, but there would be no more speed today. I left the fast pack behind me, and knew that the rest of the day would be a lot slower. Instead of 20-mile intervals, I was now stopping at every rest stop, feeling weird, lethargic, bonked perhaps? Dehydrated? Who knows -- I still fueled up, and drank the sports drink - knowing that it isn't Hammer Nutrition stuff, but also knowing that even if I HAD good fuel I wouldn't have the foundation to use it to full potential. Training - it all comes back to training. I simply got derailled, and never got back on the train.

Mile 60, mile 70, mile 80, mile 90 -- more of the same; vague headaches, more people passing me than I was passing, strong pacelines that I just couldn't jump onto, and feelings of self-doubt. It certainly wasn't the weather: with a high temperature of 76 degrees on tap, this was the nicest weather anyone could have asked for, and I think it was the only thing that was keeping my pace even remotely steady. Any hotter, and I would have probably sagged, as hard as it is to admit that. I don't know if I would have had much of anything in me if it had been 90 degrees. This, my first distance of any kind since early June, and it was showing that I was out of practice. Oh sure, I was moving forward, but the push was gone. The food wasn't really working, and despite the cooler temps the humidity and slight dry breeze were taking their toll on hydration. I was even regretting taking the century route, the veritable STARTING place for most rides I'd ridden only 5 months ago. A tale of two seasons, after the wreck in July, I just stopped trying. I recovered, physically, wounds healed, but I never got back to where I was. Before that happened, I was riding a 65 miler on a single-speed, leading a good pace, feeling like I had a LOT in the tank, and slowly getting back on top of weight control - and then it all just stopped. It was showing here, on the road, on highway 52 rolling slowly towards Sedalia, hoping it would come sooner, but knowing it was still miles away.

I finally arrived, with my 102 miles and change, a little before 2:00PM. I checked in, got my bag, set-up the tent, and proceeded to wind down.
After that, I behaved badly - much like I have for the past couple of months.
I like beer - I'll be straight about it - but beer doesn't like me. I'm dangerously close to using it as a coping mechanism, like I've been doing with food -- no wonder I have weight issues again. No matter how I might be controlling my potions with regards to food, the beer sets me back, slows metabolism (let's also be clear: in MY body - everyone is different.) I'm not passing judgement, I'm not making dietary recommendations -- but for ME, it's clear: when I was shunning beer and behaving with my diet, I was lighter and performed better. When I started over-eating, eating the wrong kinds of foods, and drinking again, I have gained weight and my performance has suffered. It's black and white, and with my obsessive personality type, I can't have it both ways. I'm done with beer. NOW, in retrospect, I'm done with it. The night of the MS-150, my thinking was not so clear; I had a feeling of defeatism and apathy. The die is already cast, I'm not going to do well at TEjas ANYways, so I might as well drink something. So I did -- I had four at the Bouldvard tent and two more Heinekens after that with MickJuicy and the crew at our little tent farm. Did I drink ANY water? No. SERIOUSLY???!!! Yup... even after the masssage, the physical therapist who worked for 30 minutes to get three months of tension out of my back told me "drink lots of water, and lay off the beer tonite". I'm simply a stupid man sometimes. I completely ignored her advice and just did what I wanted to do. Some would say that life is too short to deny oneself small vices. I can see that. MY father's passing taught me that in one way or another, life is indeed too short -- but, another thing my father's passing SHOULD have taught me about life being too short is that I have to value the one I have; and I simply have NOT been. I have returned to my old coping mechanisms, and it scares me. I finally think I woke up to this notion in the last 24 hours, after the ride weekend, after realizing what I've allowed myself to slip back into. For me, I simply can't risk it anymore. If indeed the same genetic fate awaits ME in 25 years or so, WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING behaving this way? Time to grow up, again.
So it's not "rock-n-roll", so it's not cycling "lifestyle", so it's not "cool" - so what? Eventually, I have to do right by ME and my family - and I owe them and myself better. You want the 2003 perspective? You knew it was coming: I didn't have a drop in 2003. I had success on the bike. Coincidence? Some people can do it - I am not made for it. These moments of clarity happen for a reason, and I'm not ignoring the obvious anymore - I can't sit here at the keyboard and complain about how things aren't going the way I want them too, and turn around and eat 6 pounds of pasta and cheese and slog down a thick lager. I'm fooling myself. NO MORE.

Day two dawned fresh, mild, and breezeless. Pancakes and coffee again, I was fresh - surprisingly - from the night before, and ready to ride. Day one was for me, day two was for recovery with the team. Crowbar and I rode together on the road, and 2004-style the rest of the team met up at the rest stops, every one of them, and we enjoyed the day together. Thankful for the slower pace, I simply had zero push for most of the ride, save for a little speed burst for three miles between Holden and rest stop 8, formerly rest stop 2 -- the same place the speed injection came yesterday for the miracle pull. A paceline had adhered to me, unannounced, so I decided to shake them free - and surprisingly I was successful, but I felt seriously whipped afterwards, and the rest stop came at the right time. I rested and waited for the rest of the team, and again wondered how I was ever gonna complete 500 miles in a little over two weeks time.

Many cyclists know that recumbents are not physically optimized for climbing, right? It takes a strong rider to push the hills on a recumbent bicycle. So, this might give you an idea: as I'm approaching rest stop #9, 5 miles to go to the finish of day two, and the 2007 MS-150, Bonnie's Chain Gang team comes along side me, riding strong and steady, and we all exchange hello's and climb up a mild grade in the road. As they begin to pull up and away from me, a member of the team, riding a recumbent, reaches out and puts his hand on my back. He increased his pedal stroke and assists me the rest of the way up the hill. I was appreaciative, but embarrassed at myself. I know how to climb, and yet I couldn't keep pace. I can do distance, yet only 5 miles from the finish I was spent enough to look like I needed help up the hill. I felt like quite a loser - no fault of the guy pushing me, don't get me wrong. It was nice, and I appreciated the help, but I was upset with myself for actually needing it. What have I let myself become here? his gesture and his offer to finish the rest of teh ride with their group will never be forgotten, but it was also a wake up call that echoed in my brain, "hey, slacker: you just got pushed up a hill by a recumbent. You SUCK." I hit the deck at the last rest stop, almost dreading the last 5 miles the way I did in 2000 when I rode my FIRST MS-150. My body is a little bit different, but I actually feel like I've regressed that far. Two years ago, I would have been pulling that whole group up the hill, not sucking air at the back getting help.

Frustration sets in. While my team finally finished ALL together, looking resplendant in our matching jerseys and smiling, I was secretly upset with myself. This was supposed to be the trend-setting ride, the ride that would get me back to form, and that still may happen after I recover -- but rides this length allow the brain some time to sort things out, and it's come to my attention that I'm just not ready for Tejas, coming up in 16 days. I will still go. I will still mount up on the bike, but I'm thinking of changing my ride classification - maybe to the 200 miler, or the 12 hour, maybe - MAYBE the 24 hour. But 500 miles is a big jump if 186 miles over TWO days is the longest I've ridden since June 2nd, and it sucked this badly. EVEN if I have the endurance bank in me still from the 600K, that's too big of a jump in mileage at the VERY least. Worst case, Ort will have extra crew. Best case, by some miracle, I will finish. But, it's likely that the aftermath of 500 miles in two days will put me off the bike for the rest of the year, *IF* I survive without an onveruse injury from the huge jump in mileage. I was kinda planning on time off the bike anyways for marathon training, which, yes, I'm still signed up for, but it does me no good if I'm off the bike due to injury again. I won't have time to recover, and that will equate to TWO goals getting flushed. Time has run out. Discretion is the better part of valor, Shakespeare wrote - discretion in this sense being the ability to make a sound decision, the right choices based on the situation at hand. I'm now torn between the tenacity of "just do it", and the reality of "you are not trained". Last year, as I limped around the start/finish area, feeling sorry for myself with my fresh achilles injury, I overheard one cyclist, whom had already finished the 500 miles and was showered and rested, mention that he'd ridden "only a double century" the previous weekend. THAT is training. I'm an idiot, I thought. I THOUGHT that I was ready LAST year, and I failed. Today, I *KNOW* I'm not ready THIS year... what the hell do I think I'm gonna do down there???

I'm sorry - this was supposed to be a light-hearted look at what was indeed a GREAT weekend on the bike, but the reality of my goals fading away is setting in, and a nice happy story just isn't in me right now. There were a lot of good memories this year, a lot of firsts for a lot of people, but I have to leave it to those people to tell their tales. I have a lot of self-analysis ahead, some pending emails to ride organizers, and some serious jump-start work to do if I'm going to do ANYTHING positive in 16 days. No, I'm not going to give up - I'm not simply going to say " yeah, that's what happened, so the year is over." I can do SOMETHING in 16 days, and hopefully it's the RIGHT sort of things -- this may not be quite over yet.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.


Anonymous said...


Be easy on yourself!! I've read your blog all summer, and you've had quite an ordeal injury- and accident-wise. Goals are exactly that -- things to allow us to stretch. Sometimes we don't make our goals for various reasons, controllable or uncontrollable, but we must perservere. Use your head and do what you know you need to do. You have it in you to achieve your goals, just stay after it and never, ever give up!!

Bo Thompson

Anonymous said...

don't kill yourself with over-training. the gains you will see by a rigorous two week training schedule will be minimal, and potentially harmful. you need at least a month and a half of training to start seeing real results.

consider a change in diet both on and off the bike. it's possible that (in addition to your injury) part of your problem has been a result of switching to solid food for your fuel on the bike. supporting distances like that with solid food means that you need to increase caloric intake (less bang for buck).

not using solid food on the bike also makes a mental distinction between eating for training, and eating for pleasure. because if you eat solid food on the bike, it's easy to say, "i'm working it off." once you've allowed yourself that guilty pleasure, it's really easy to carry it over into other meals.

use this as opportunity, not failure. learn something from it and move on.


Anonymous said...


Dwell on the good, not the bad. Remember, riding the bike is fun.