Monday, September 20, 2010

The "Chequamegon 40" 2010

Fun weekend. An 8 hour drive up to the northern woods of Wisconsin for the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival. The race takes place on the famous birkbiener cross country ski trails as well as the phenomenal trail system in that area. 2500 racer limit, fills up by lottery, and for the 1st time in "aboot" LOL 15 years I returned there for the fesivities. This was my last race, and my emotions were all over the place going up there because I am nowhere close to where I wanted to be physically and unfortunately mentally. I was reminded by the single greatest person to ever enter my life (the LPM) that I should go up there and have "fun". No need to have it turn in to an end all event. So that's what I did. GOD she has no idea how her little comments can make such a difference sometimes...Cool weather, the leaves have already turned colors, and a total vibe of a small woods town was totally great. That and the fact that NOTHING beats Wisconsin fish frys, and I made the best of it binging on all the fish I could find the entire time we were out there. The hotel had the indoor pool right outside our room, and a hot tub right there as well, so everybody had the opprotunity to have fun, and the one thing that's been most important to me is making sure everybody had fun when we would venture off on my race excursions. Race morning I found this small diner in town (the only one open at 6AM) - race started at 10..., and I enjoyed a hearty lumberjack  breakfast in a real small place that everyone knew each other, it was actually pretty cool.Reminded me of something out of that show Northern Exposure from a number of years ago. I TOTALLY dig finding those types of authentic and "unique to the area" places.  
I headed back to the room gathered my bike and gear and off we went to the start area 20 or so miles away. The weather was in the 40s  in the morning, with a forecast for sun and mid 50s. PERFECT for a long distance bike race on some challenging trails with aboot 2500 other riders. Like I said this is or at least was the biggest off road festival in the US.So I decided to wear part of the team kit (minus the jersey) that I belonged to this year, as well as some sweet Rock Racing arm warmers that totally had me lookin good LOL. I chose the kit since this was my last race, so out of respect there I went. Anyway, on to the race. The course simply kicks ass. Anyone you know who has done the Birkebeiner cross country ski race should be RESPECTED because that trail system is simply punishing. I like Xcountry skiing but couldn't even fathom doing that on skis.The race highlights included rolling thru Hayward with a couple thousand mountain bikers and listening to the rumbling sound generated by all those knobby tires on asphalt for a couple miles - imagine a mountain bike on a windtrainer x1500! Then there was the spectators, the coolest being Pirate Hill. Didn't know what to expect when I saw the sign warning of the hill and low and behold it was full of people dressed as pirates, firing off a homemade PVC cannon, as well as offering rum shots to anyone interested (after all they ARE pirates lol. Then there was the Seeley Fire tower climb. There is nothing I know of that I can compare it to, it comes in at "aboot" 30 miles into the race. I dreaded it and looked forward to it the entire race. I had no problem riding any of the races endless hills thrown my way, something I've always had a natural ability to do, and I was wondering what that climb had in store for me. A quick right turn and there it was, and it's so damn long and tall you simply can't see the top, and it really looks like it goes on forever - your best served not looking up. So there I went up, up, up, up, riders walking EVERYWHERE. I had one guy in front of me who also managed to continue riding the climb and he had been calling out his presence, and the others would part the trail and offer shouts of encouragement. I was riding the "redline" and so deep in the pain cave that I had nothing in me that wanted to give up any energy or concentration by yelling out or distracting myself from the task at hand, so I silently pedalled behind him. He ultimately dropped aboot half way up, and then it was me, and I am so grateful for all the encouragement directed my way. If your one of the thousands reading this ;) and you were cheering for me "THANK YOU"!  I would have responded, but it was me against the climb, and there was nothing extra. I made it to the last stretch before the jump in grade 20 or 30 yards yards from the top, and 2 guys bumped into each other while pushing their bikes and stopped me dead in my tracks. and the foot went down to the ground. There was no way I could get back on and continue riding so I pushed it up and over, jumped back on, and away I rode away DELIRIOUSLY lol I ALMOST conquered that climb... I made a comment to someone a bit later that there was nothing they could throw at us now that we were over that climb, but YES there was, they seemed to save the most hills from the Birkbeiner trails for the end. It was killin people left and right. Nobody was making jokes anymore, everyone was riding silent with the occasional groan and slew of  dismounts on the pushes op the climbs. I made every climb ;)   I rode a good race. I told those close to me I was hoping to do it in 4 hours, and landed up finishing in 3:23 which put me in the very middle of finishers among men. 856 0f 1602 to be exact. I wasn't sure how I was going to feel after the race was over, I did hold back some tears (for the most part), good and bad ones, but ultimately felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment considering how much(read little) training time I've had, and the current shape I'm in. I finished better than everyone I know that also came out to race and one victory over an acquaintance was a bit sweeter than the others, but that's the essence of competitiveness, and I don't doubt for a minute his goal was to beat me... He landed up coming in a minute behind me. That one small victory was indeed sweet...
So yes I had fun.. Not sure what comes next, but I figure I'll let the good feelings of riding a successful race to the best of my current ability sink in, after all, it's been a long bumpy road this year, and a "feel good" has been long overdue. Driving home my LPM told me to tell her she's right, and I did, but asked about what? She said "You can take the man out of the race but you can't take the race out of the man" She IS right.... and for that I love her.

So who knows what happens next, but this chapter is closed, and after a bit of reflection we'll figure out what to do. I'm moving on to running for a while to clear out the head and gain a new perspective, as well as get myself in shape for a Halloween 1/2 marathon,

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

the flow...

Yesterday I got out for my last off road ride before my last race. Went out to Palos and off I went. I simply wanted to spin my legs out because by the 3rd ride of the week my body feels good. I rode Sunday, yesterday was day two, and the race will be day 3 do I should be feeling good. The ride was a good one. I for  whatever reason became one with the bike and everything was effortless. I experienced "the flow".If you've ever experienced it you know what I mean, and when it happens it's magical...I rode a LOT of singletrack and ultimately landed up on the longest single track trail I know of in Palos. It winds itself completely around a lake and takes about 20 to 30 minutes to ride. A cool thing I came across was a pair of wolves halfway thru the trail. They basically turned and bolted into the thicket, but not before I got a good look at them and their full greyish while tails standing upright as they took off. Never seen that before. Trails were in great shape, andg ranted I wasn't hammering , but the pace was good, and like I said, it was effortless.Did a few intensity jumps, tuned into how I was feeling while I was riding, and it all felt good. I still question the need for full suspension, but the machine simply rides well, and aside from a weight penalty and more than needed complexity it doesn't give me much to complain about. I'm still considering giving it to my LPM for all her dedication and support, but not sure what I'l do. Boy #1 has been out with me on my hardtail(lighter ;) ), but like any teenager, regardless of how thrilled I am to have him along, I may be taken for a ride and this may be a phase, so I have options. No need to figure that out now....

The reoccuring theme here.
  Theres something about the escape of the woods, be it running or riding, that really takes you away from EVERYTHING. It's like Calgon(take me away) times 10 lol. So yeah, things aren't peachy right now, but there's no doubt I appreciate the times such as these when one of the benefits of silent sport shines brightly. That and "the flow"
Here's hoping I feel this way this weekend...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Long Live Fignon

Everyone has a favorite. Favorite color (purple), favorite food (Mexican), favorite band (hmm, Van Halen? Judas Priest? REM? Prince? - that's a tough one). Favorite cyclist - Laurent Fignon.... I was saddened over the weekend to read that he had passed away from cancer recently. I'm even more disappointed (don't know why) that I didn't learn about it when it happened on August 31st. I think I've been so wrapped up in my "cycling/ racing situation" that I had turned away from the sites I usually keep on top of like PEZ cycling news , Velonews etc, and simply missed the sad news. So yesterday I rode the road in honor of "Le Professeur" He has been my idol since I discovered the beautiful world of bike racing back in the mid 80s. So thank you Laurent (or more appropriately "Merci") for the years of inspiration you have provided, both in eyeglass wear, the often tried but never successful plan of having my own ponytail, and the years and miles of road riding I did  pretending to be you gracefully riding down many a road as Eurotrash cool as I could be. I had the opportunity to see Laurent when the Gatorade team came to Chicago for a International Criterium race a number of years ago. I had visions and aspirations of getting his autograph,or better yet a picture with my idol, but all I could muster was a number of  pics of him racing and photos of him all but ignoring me when I cornered him (so to speak) in the Gatorade press tent prior to the race. Not one opportunity for a pic making any sort of eye contact even as I was pleading with my eurotrash wannabe broken french phrases... The memorable moment came when a french security guard finally looked at me and uttered in broken English "Do not bother him". My L.P.M. and I use that phrase to this day LOL
Parisan - yes, beloved still? absolutely.
The most interesting trivia is I actually tried to name our first son Laurent, but "she" ;) didn't go for it. Something about kids making fun of him when he was growing up because of his name or some other nonsense.
At any rate he will be missed.

"Remembering Laurent" in PEZ cycling news
To the man who gave definition to the the phrase "8 seconds" and has and always will inspire me to ride.
Allez Laurent, I rode for you yesterday....

Friday, September 10, 2010

One more race (for the year?)

Next weekend will be the end of what I see as a failed return to racing for me. I made the mistake of comparing modern day Ray to Ray of old.  Disappointed? without a doubt. confused?clearly, lessons learned? yes... My biggest mistake was thinking I could return so quickly to where I left off. It left me frustrated, and demoralized. I didn't really have a game plan other than to join a team and get right back into it. I wasn't up for road racing or crits- intimidated. The team I joined was/is WAY successful, and I ultimately felt so overwhelmed/intimidated that I began to resent being on it. I clearly could not live up to the expectations I set and my training simply fell apart. I wanted to race off road and realized there are NO off road races close by, and the couple races I managed to enter I found myself amongst seasoned racers, and I simply couldn't hang. You want to race fast? Go race a bunch. Something I wan't able to do. My mindset took a downward spiral, a spiral I'm at the bottom of currently. I've got one last race next week. I'm feeling out of shape, I'm 10 pounds over weight (compared to where I was when I was consistently training in the early part of summer), and I feel like walking away after it's over. I have not been able to balance life as I now know it with being a bike racer. I really wanted to taste success again, but at the same time had other things, important things like family (and other odd distractions) mixing it up. It has left me "frustrated". But it's almost the end of the season, one more race and then who knows what.
My focus turns (back)to running now.I signed up for a half marathon occuring on Halloween, and hopefully that will motivate me to train again. Over the last month or so, my running has been reduced down to 1 (maybe 2 days) a week, and this  half marathon may be just "what the doctor ordered".
So right now, I'm not in a good place, but where else can you go but up right? I'm not sure what I'm going to do, except reflect a bit more on this past year, and hopefully learn from life's lessons, and mistakes, and move on. THAT and try to get rid of this headache that's got me feeling out of sorts all this week....

Thursday, September 9, 2010

20 years later and this quote remains true

"I'm miserable when I'm not running" I actually told a local reporter that when I was being interviewed for the Chicago Marathon back around 1990. I forgot about that infamous misunderstood(by loved ones)quote until we were going thru some old stuff recently and we found the article. I think the first reaction from someone is usually along the lines of "nice...", but even to this day, the phrase remains pretty accurate. I reminded myself of that article when I was out running on the trails yesterday morning. Toward the end of the run I said to myself, "self, maybe you would be better off selling the car and running everywhere. Imagine how good of a mood you would be in if you ran to and from work each day". Unrealistic?, yes, true?, yes. I know they have these emotions in pill form nowadays, but the nice thing about the run is the side effects are much less bothersome. You know what else I realized about the trail run? That is one place an IPOD has no business. You lose out on the beauty of a trail run with the distractions of music. It's like the polar opposite of your typical curbside run. I was glad to have gotten out there yesterday, it was REALLY needed....

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Meltdown

HA! So you thought you were going to read all kinds of juicy details regarding a personal crisis, and how I finally spun into a self imposed implosion!?! Nope. What I do want to finally get around to is my recent race experience at this years Palos Meltdown. I'm lucky. I live 15 minutes away from the very best mountain biking anywhere near Chicago. I'd be willing to bet the only trails to rival them are up north in Wisconsin's Kettle Morraine area. With a mountain bike race put on by so close to home, there's no reason not to do it. I realized this year that if I wanted to race mountain bikes throughout the season, there was hardly nothing close by, and driving 100 plus miles to each event just didn't work out. I only did one race off road this year back in April, and that didn't go well. Back to the the Meltdown.... I originally signed up for the Sport class

The categories are pretty self explanatory, and considering I had not been racing it made sense. The catch was I had purchased a license in the beginning of the year (and joined a team etc). Licensed racers fit into the Comp, and Expert categories, but I could have chosen to race in any category I wanted.... So a 2 lap race for seasoned riders who don't race much (if any) made sense. BUT I haven't been getting any large volume or intensity rides in lately, and I'm going WAY up north to the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival in Mid September, and that is a 40 mile race on the famous Birkbeiner trail system. So the day before the race at 3 pm when I picked up my race packet (pickup closed at 3pm) I decided to move up into the Comp class for the extra miles. I decided to ride to the race (from the house) to get in an extra 10 miles and a nice warm up. Not to mention the race started at 1pm and I get nerve wracked prior to racing so I figured it would be best for everyone if I went on my "merry" way and have them meet me there.
Prerace line up. They start the expert men, 2 minutes later expert women, then comp 39 and under, followed LASTLY by comp 40 and over (my group). I was not liking the fact that I was among seasoned racers going off last. So off we go, and as always the pace is high right from the gun until we find our groove in the singletrack. I rode well. I came upon guys that went out too fast and seen a number of them pulled over to regroup. I was consistent. I never stopped. The course was GREAT. Including a very challenging climb 3/4's of the way thru each lap. I never had to stop, I rode up every climb including that ass kicker that had some great music, cowbells, and race fans. I cramped up on the last lap, I was hurting half way thru the last part, and paid attention to my effort to try and keep things going. It worked. I came across a few riders who weren't so fortunate, which was reassuring that I wasn't the only one dealing with the rigors of the days course. Then came what I call my "Darth Vader Moment". On the last lap I rode up on a guy on the team I joined. He was walking. I asked and found out he flatted, and had no gear to get going again. I stopped, told him my name was Ray, I joined his team in the beginning of the season, and considering how the season turned out, he will more than likely never see me again. I gave him my tube, tire iron, co2 cartridges and an inflator, and wished him well. I proceeded to ride off, with the thought that the whole fcuked up team "situation" was made right in my minds eye with that act of selflessness. No one chooses to be Darth Vader(not me at least)...You may not get that. lol
I rode the best I could that day. I rode well, never needing to stop, or dismount. I cleared every obstacle, every hill. I was smooth. I didn't place well in my age group in the Comp class though. I finished 21st out of 22 in the 40 and over group, and 55th out of 70 in the entire Comp class. If I would have raced the Sport class as planned I would have been in the top 1/3rd overall. To be honest I'm really down as to my performance, and the way this whole year went. For a multitude of reasons it's been nothing close to what I hoped for. How I trained, and a number of other things became inconsistent.With one race left in a couple weeks time, I want to just walk away. I feel like a failure. It's funny I've got boxes of trophies, and ribbons etc from my days before I retired from racing 10 or so years ago. This time around I haven't been able to get it together- AT ALL. Some good reasons and some bad. My mistake was thinking I could come back to it, and pick up where I left off. My life is different now, that and I'm older, and have more distractions. Some good some bad. I can no longer train and race all the time. Family still comes first, and that is a big reason why I walked away a decade ago. The guys that stuck with it  are doing great, but I don't think it's to be for me. A racer deflated, a (pseudo)season in turmoil, an unrealistic outlook. The passion was/is there, the love of the sport was/is there, I wasn't.... Not sure what to do next. Regardless of how jacked up this year was, I'm grateful that I was able to cross train boy #1 while he was rehabbing a high school running injury. When he was smaller I was hoping he would be all over the sport, and he wanted nothing to do with it, now I think he picked up a liking to 2 wheels, that, and I had some quality time with him, and regardless of what I decide to do, I'm looking forward to more of that.
Sometimes life doesn't work out the way you want it to, sometimes you can get caught up in your past glories, sometimes you place your self worth in the wrong place, sometimes you can be your own worst enemy, sometimes it's time to move on, sometimes you have to accept where your at. Sometimes you just have to get it off your chest regardless of how damn silly it may sound to the rest of the world.
So there, I said it...Jeez, I can kind of understand how  Marco Pantani felt when he couldn't get it together again.Anyway, I found a couple pictures from the race, and they actually turned out nice. Regardless of the bitchin, moanin, and complainin, I'm glad I did it.