Friday, August 22, 2014

TD PTSD, Hampshire 100

Back to real life. I'm sitting inside, on a rainy Friday, I'm pretty damn bored, feeling kinda fat, lazy, and lethargic. I haven't ridden my bike since Sunday, when I raced the Hampshire 100. I could come up  with a million excuses to try and justify my laziness, but I've kinda come to conclusion that maybe I've earned a bit of lazy. A few weeks ago I was thinking that all Tour Divide aches, pains, and exhaustion had worn off, but the truth is, between the tour, and going back to climbing trees for a living, I only rested for a couple of days, and then shortly after continued training for more races. I began lining up races for the rest of the season, and jumped at the Hampshire 100 first to lock in a reduced price entry.

The closer it got, the less psyched I was to be going to the race. My chain rings were destroyed from TD, and I had my race bike built single speed when I signed up, and I normally race SS, so I didn't hesitate entering SS Open. Lately, I have really been enjoying riding my squishy full suspension all mountain bike, but I knew I needed time on the race bike. It felt like a chore every time I went out to ride it, because I mentally had myself in this place where I "need to train," so I would do hill repeats, intervals, and just generally try to beat myself up. At the end of the ride I wasn't coming back thinking "yeah, this is awesome," I was thinking, "man, I'm exhausted, and just want to nap." I also made the idiotic decision to put a rigid fork back on the bike. "It'll mostly be fire roads," I thought, how wrong I was.

I hesitated as long as possible to leave on Saturday. Waking up later the normal, I made a good breakfast and went for an awesome ride on my squshy bike with my best friend, and his sweet new bike. We didn't set any speed records, but that wasn't the point of the ride. It was a blast! When I got back to the house I started packing things up to load the truck and head to NH. I got pulled over and ticketed for speeding in one of the B.S. Rt 100 speed traps where they sit at the 35mph sign, and take your speed in the 50mph zone. The fat cop was probably just mad that he was over the weight limit for most carbon race components (or just an asshole). Now angry, I continue the bumpy drive as my GPS takes me on a NH back roads tour. I finally arrive at the race venue, but I cant park where I'm supposed to camp, because the 100 mile camping is behind the race course they have set up for short course XC and cyclocross, which is currently racing. I park in 100K parking, and for some reason felt compelled to carry my camping equipment across the field to camp, rather than just setting up in the 100K camping. While registering, I'm given a map, and cues or turns, feed stations, etc. I didn't bring a GPS or cyclocomputer because I don't ride with that stuff. All I can think is "Am I responsible for navigation?!? I never got a .gpx file! I lost my computer on Fleecer Ridge, and never got another one!" I ask about navigation, and course markings and the only response I seem to get is, "It won't be bad, you'll find your way, just keep the map in case you get lost." Thankfully all of this was just wasted energy as the course was marked extremely well.

Sunday, I rode like poo. I should be used to this by now, but when they say "Line up by the banner," when racing open/pro/elite/anyclasspeopleshowuptowithintentofwinning it means that, if you want to be in the back of the pack, line up by the banner, if you want to be near the front, ignore what the race officials say, and barge another 200 feet forward. In similar fashion to SingleSpeed-A-Palooza, I pushed my way forward, until the pushing back got to strong to fight. I was still about 60 riders back, and quickly lost sight of the leaders, and mentally settled for setting pace with others around me. I was completely spun out on the flats, and waiting for climbs to start taking back positions. The fast start quickly became single track, and my rigid fork decision came to haunt my wrists and elbows quickly. Clearly laziness had overcome training in the past few weeks, as I began cramping WAY to early. It wasn't just my legs, My shoulders and back spazzed regularly. I tried to chug as much water and HEED as I could, with the frequent feed stations. The length of the race I never stopped more than 30 seconds, the longest stop being a pee break in the woods, because everywhere it was smooth enough to pee off the bike, I felt like I would be put on a sex offender list for trying to pee off a bike through a semi-residential neighborhood. I crossed the line in 9h50m30SOMEs. 6th in SingleSpeed, 18th Overall for 100 mile. I wasn't happy. Between the expensive entry, the drive, and now the speeding ticket, financially, I was really hoping to podium, to try and help reduce the cost at least a little. I don't race expecting to make money, but this was certainly the most expensive single day race events I have ever done. The worst part was after the race, I couldn't stop cramping. I hung out for about 2 hours or so, trying to relax, stretch, and replenish some electrolytes, but the 3 hour drive home was still brutal. Overall, the race was very well organized, and a great event, I just wasn't in the right place mentally to enjoy it, or the right place physically to do well.

My plan was to race every weekend until October. This race changed that plan. I'm burned out on racing. I hate the word training, I ride my bikes for fun, yet somehow, most rides have become "training." I was looking forward to racing enduro this season, but I think for now I'll stick to just riding. Making the drive each weekend is a gamble of meeting a bunch of great friends at the race, or driving, camping, and riding alone for the whole weekend. The remainder of this summer, and this fall, my goal with riding is to get it back to fun, just for fun. I want to be excited to go for my after work ride, and be stoked on my weekend riding plans again. Yes, I still have a competitive drive, and I am still extremely driven to race Cloudride 1000 in Australia in April. I have all winter to prep for that, and there will be plenty of cold, bitter days to put my roadie on a trainer and "train."

Going "pro" has been a thought in my mind for a while now. Sure, I can race "pro" at local races and finish mid pack or so. The truth of the matter is that I will never be a paid athlete. I will continue to strive to race the big boy class, and race for a few hundred bucks rather than another trophy to fill with dust, or medal to fill that desk drawer, but only when it feel like the right thing to do. Riding means too much to me to become a chore, like resort skiing has through Patrolling. I plan to spend more time with my camera and less time pounding hills. Hopefully this TD PTSD will wear off in the coming months, and I will be able to focus on regaining strength, and speed.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Post Tour Divide 2014.

The Tour Divide. I guess it really is just a silly bike race, but, for me, and I would assume for anyone else who has either completed or attempted the race or even just the route, it is so much more. If you have never ridden the Tour Divide, and you are planning on doing it, know this: your expectations are probably wrong.
If you're like me, you think you're gunna ride all day without getting out of the saddle, and it'll be awesome. You trained to put on your sunscreen while you're riding, urinate while coasting, so you don't need to stop. Your snacks are in reach from the saddle, so is your water, your navigation, and your music. You'll be on that schedule for the first few days. You will be bored and lonely, you will be exhausted, hungry, and thirsty. The hills are bigger and longer than you think they are, the washboard roads will kick your ass (literally) like its never been kicked before. There will be a point when you do not want to ride your bicycle anymore. Your butt will hurt, no, your body will hurt.  You'll think of any excuse possible to get off your bike for 30 seconds, and then another. You'll want to go to sleep and never wake up again. You'll want to go home, quit endurance cycling, because it is stupid, and it hurts. You may start to cry when it begins to rain again, or you see another climb, or the road turns back into sand. You will be completely miserable and hit rock bottom. There will come a time when you simply cannot ride your bicycle anymore.
You'll have a good night sleep (I didn't say long) in a bivy, tent, or maybe even hotel, and you will do it all over again, day after day.
I honestly did not set out on Tour Divide with the intention of winning, making the podium, or anything of the like. I did enter with a competitive drive, but mostly with myself. I wanted to finish faster than "average," and since the first time I checked how mileage would add up, I was aiming for about 18 days to finish. Upon parading out of Banff, I found myself way towards the front, which scared me, a lot. I didn't want to be "that guy" who blew up after the first half day. I knew my knees where bad, and didn't want to push too hard. As with gear recommendations, training routines, etc, I decided to ignore what was happening around me, and just stick to what worked for me, ride my own race and block out the external pressure. I dropped back a bit in the first few days, and even further when I took a down day for weather. I regrouped and came back with only the intent to finish strong, not win the race, but BEAT the TOUR DIVIDE. Finishing second did not come as a "surprise," because once I found my zone, I picked up momentum and started working my way up the leader board. My daily goal became, "Catch the next person." Eventually, I was in second, and it became, "Set the safety zone," so if anything went wrong, I could keep my position. As my fitness increased, so did my competitiveness, and I'm sure the drive to just be finished had something to do with it as well. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't extremely proud of how I finished on the leaderboard, but I didn't win. "If you're not first, you're last." Well, I am the first loser. My personal goal was always 18 days, I posted 21 publicly, for a disappointment buffer zone, and I finished within 5.5 hours of my personal goal, maybe a loss in the big books, but it was a win in mine.
I gained a pretty big following throughout the race. I would be sitting eating breakfast, and have race followers come in and inform me that they were "tracking me" and cheer me on. Northbound riders, both racing and touring were expecting to cross paths with me on certain days...I had no idea that I would see them, not to mention when, where, and what their names were. Back home, people I have never met before still come up to me, on the trails, in the bike shop, or even the gas station or grocery store, and congratulate me on my finish in the race, its a weird feeling, but kinda cool. How do these people even know me?!
So often,  the first question is "Was it fun?" or, "Would you do it again?" It was fun, but not the kind of fun where I am riding all day with a smile on my face thinking "weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!" Usually, the idea of finishing, the thought of my next meal, and anticipation of the chance to NOT ride for longer than a pee break or to dig out food, were the only things that could motivate me in the moment. I would promise myself snack at the the top of a hill, and watch mileages, and pick a number to get to before I could eat or pee again.  I can remember a hill in New Mexico where I just chanted "I get a fruit cup at the top, I get a fruit cup at the top!" for 15+ miles of climbing, and that fruit cup was a huge personal win. Most of each day was spent pushing myself as hard as I could bear, and still be able to do it again the next day. My hands were going numb, my feet had hot spots, and were incredibly painful on the descents, while walking, and while doing anything other than spinning easy. The tongues of my shoes had made gouges in my ankles, which felt fine only after the scab broke and the wound moistened each morning. Even the best saddle and shorts in the world weren't enough to combat the pain of saddle soars amplified by the combination of carrying a backpack (HUGE mistake) and endless washboard and rough roads. I still cant explain it, but for some reason, I am addicted to the push, and I find the drive to keep going, and thrive on the struggle. The harder it gets, sure, the more miserable I may feel in the moment, but I will dig even deeper, and push even harder. At this point, I do not plan on racing TD again. I plan on racing other ultras, and I would love to do more "just for fun" bike packing IF I do go back to TD, it will be in a few years. I will train longer, and harder, I will pack lighter, and I will go to the race with the intent of setting a course record. I know that sounds ambitious, but short of shooting for records, I cannot imagine subjecting myself to the same roads, places and pains, just to do it again.
Returning to normal life after the race has been tougher than I expected. Although I experienced some similar feelings after my tour across the US the year before, they were not as severe, and the physical recovery was a world easier. When I woke up in Silver City, NM the first day after I finished, it was light outside. I freaked out, jumped out of bed and started putting on my lycras, and only then did I remember, I was done, I could go back to sleep for another few hours. To the airport I went, only to be limited to fast food and uncomfortable chairs for hours on end. By the time I landed back home, my feet had swollen so that they looked more like a 4 year olds drawing of feet than actual human feet. For the next several days the swelling remained, and the only foot ware I could even get on was flip flops. I spent nearly a week staring blankly at a computer screen wondering what was so exciting about the internet. Most conversations felt like interviews, and while my mind was stuck on what I had just accomplished, I didn't feel like it was worth celebrating as so many people implied it was. The events experienced on TD are so remote that people just really don't get it. After spending so much time alone in the race, readjusting to socializing can be overwhelming.
If you're like me, during the Tour Divide, you will have the most amazing time of your life to date. You will see things very few people see, in some incredible remote areas. You will become stronger, tougher, and more self aware and secure. You will probably learn things about yourself you didn't previously know. You'll think about thinking about things, that you never thought you'd think about. You will meet new people, many of who will always feel like close friends, even if you never meet them again.  Each filling meal will taste like the best food ever created, even though it's probably just another gas-station microwave beef, bean, chili, and cheese burrito, and a Coke. You will no longer think twice about walking into any sort of establishment in dirty, smelly lycra tights. The sense of accomplishment after each climb, section, day, and ultimately completion, will be a feeling hard to surpass, and no one can take that away from you. Short of the small population of fellow tour dividers, no one will actually understand this incredible feeling. When you get home, you will start looking for the next race, the next ride. You'll forget about the pain, or at least think it was worth it, and make new plans to submit yourself to the same type of thing all over again, except this time you plan to train harder, ride faster, and longer, and spend even less time off the bike.  A silly bike race to everyone else, you will "get it," and Tour Divide will forever be more than just a silly bike race to you. There is no prize, no trophy, but there is an amazing life experience that you will never forget, and one more chapter to make your life a story worth telling.