Friday, September 1, 2017

Total Eclipse (of my brain)

Just shy of a couple of weeks ago, I set out to do a short, 5-10 mile ride. I was preparing for a race and in the days prior, I wanted to keep my legs loose, but not get into any distance or speed. I had a mental plan of the week before the event, so even though this particular day was a rest day, I didn't want to sit around doing nothing.

At any rate, I decided I wanted to go out and check on a portion of our greenway that has been closed since the flooding almost four years ago. The city website stated that a connection to the east side won't be open until the end of next year, but I assumed that the other side of the path would be open and rideable. A nice, relaxing, short ride on the paved path sounded perfect.

When I arrived to the area, it became quickly evident that the path on the east side was also still not available for use. The choices in front of me had barricades and orange accoutrements placed all around, so it was obvious that work is still in progress. I was disappointed, but figured I could cut through a shopping center on the opposite side and ride the path to the southwest side of town and then head home.
At the end of the paved greenway headed in a south-western direction is the start of the LoBo trail, which connects the cities of Longmont and Boulder via a (mostly) packed gravel path. The LoBo is a fairly quiet, removed path that allows for travel through the small communities of Niwot and Gunbarrel in route to either of the aforementioned cities. It's been quite awhile since I've ridden the trail. In fact, I'm fairly certain it's been about 10 months since I've set foot or wheel on the path.

The LoBo is not the most efficient way to get to Boulder or Longmont, but it does remove riders, walkers and runners from the speed of motorized highway traffic, making it far more pleasant. The lack of efficiency though often causes me to avoid it because, as is the case for most humans in today's world, I seem to often have some sort of time crunch and need to get where I'm going. Instead, I travel along the shoulder of the highway next to the very loud cars and trucks, which is a much more direct route of about 15 mi/24 km (one way, give or take, depending on start and end point).

When I arrived at the start of the trail on this day, my intention was to make a turn north and head back home, but instead I decided to pedal a little farther out onto the gravel. There are plenty of ways out of the trail along the way if needed, so I figured it would give me an opportunity to check things out.

The weather and atmosphere were feeling a little strange; nearly a similar sensation to what I have experienced during tornado weather. Not that there was excessive wind, but there's something about the sky that changes when tornadoes are possible. 

As I pedaled along, I realized just how much I was enjoying this ride. I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was that was so enjoyable, but I was actually having fun -- something I later realized I haven't felt in quite awhile.
I continued on and soon found myself approaching two individuals sitting in folding beach chairs in the middle of the path. One of them noticed I was approaching and got up to move her chair over. As I went by, I wondered why they were sitting in the middle of the trail and what they were watching up in the sky. While passing, I looked over my shoulder and saw their eyes covered with different-looking glasses and realized they were out waiting for the solar eclipse.

D'oh!  ::Face palm::

The trees provided a nice filter for sun-gazing.
I had completely forgotten about the eclipse, which seems impossible given the amount of attention it had been receiving during the weeks prior. I wasn't particularly interested in the event, but was fascinated that so many people were taking time off of work and traveling to locations to see it.

As I kept pedaling, I came upon more and more people who were out staring at the sun with large, rectangular-shaped glasses covering their eyes. For some reason, it amused me. We did not have 100% eclipse locally, but it was pretty close (somewhere in the mid-90% range), so it made sense that people were out trying to see what they could.
Coming up around a bend, I approached a small group of men who shuffled to get out of the path as I got closer. Slowing slightly, I asked if they had seen anything good yet, and they (very enthusiastically) responded in the affirmative and offered to let me borrow a pair of their glasses. I declined because I didn't really want to stop this ride I was so thoroughly enjoying, but appreciated the sentiment and thanked them for their generosity as I continued on.

As I rode, I could not stop smiling. I was not pushing myself in the least, but was just enjoying what and where I was riding. There was this joy that felt ready to burst from within. I could not remember the last time I'd been so happy on a bicycle. I wish I could explain it fully, but there was simply something about this ride that was providing immense happiness.

I am on a bicycle at some point nearly every day, and I never hate being on a bike, but it had been such a long time since I felt so utterly and purely joyous about pedaling. Up and down I went over short, slightly steeper stretches and back to the flat areas. I spotted a field of sunflowers and couldn't help but grin ear to ear. I was enjoying every single second.
Before I realized it, I had pedaled my way to north Boulder. How did that happen? I knew that I had to head home, but I was shocked to see how far I'd traveled without even a thought of discomfort or awareness of the distance I'd need to travel to get home again.

The highway seemed like the reasonable choice to get back home, but even it was strangely quiet. During the miles traveled the traffic was nearly non-existent. It was as though aliens had taken most everyone, or a biblical rapture had taken place and left only a few of us behind. If I was one of those left behind, I could not have been happier. I really didn't want the ride to end.

Arriving home, I uploaded the trip (I'd decided to record it, even though I believed it would be short and slow) and discovered that I'd obtained several personal records on trail and road segments, which just made me laugh. I felt as though I'd been taking my time and yet somehow bested myself.

As I went about the day, I kept thinking about that feeling -- that happiness that lingered throughout the ride. Trying to determine what it was that had made me so ridiculously delighted was puzzling. Was it the fact that I had taken a path not traveled in many months? Was it the lack of pressure to perform in any particular way or at a certain pace? Still, that didn't entirely explain the complete euphoria throughout the ride.

I have tried without success since that day to figure out what made that ride such a pleasant experience, but I have little explanation for it. I cannot for the life of me stop thinking about it though. I can't help but want to repeat it over and over again. Perhaps it was just part of the solar eclipse experience. I may not have had much concern for the crossing of the moon between the earth and sun, but maybe it affected me more than I believed.

A bicycle ride almost always turns my mood around and makes me happy, but there was something inexplicably wonderful about this one. Have you experienced a ride like this -- one that was unusually exciting, happy, and effortless? What do you think made it so perfect? Have you been able to duplicate that feeling at will?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Longmont Flood Remnants: Four Years Later MUPs Still Under Repair

Recently, I set out on a short ride to do some investigating around our local greenway/multi-use path. Amazingly, almost four years after local flooding, there are still repairs being made. I don't know why this shocks me as I realize most things government-related don't proceed with lightning quick speed, but I made an assumption that by now all paths would long have been repaired. That is not the case.

 To be fair, the city has accomplished a great deal, particularly when considering how much damage was done to certain areas. I think the hold up with some of the projects has been due to an attempt to re-imagine some of the areas and thus created an extended timeline, and as the video from the city (shown above) indicates, the timeline is projected to be up to 10 years for completion of all the projects. The unfortunate piece of this is that a major component of the connection of the multi-use paths remains under construction which prevents cyclists and pedestrians from crossing to and through to the east side of Main Street.

There are detours in place that take individuals across city roads, but I think for many of the paths users, the point is to have separation from motorized traffic.
That red line just below "Longmont" is where I was headed. The paths are truly not as disjointed as they appear here on the map as sidewalks often make up where trail portions leave off.
As is indicated on the city website, repairs are still being made to several areas, but for some reason, it hadn't occurred to me before starting out to take a look at the interactive map that would've told me exactly what I found when I arrived: This portion of the trail/path is still closed.
The entrance to the paved trail has been barricaded here, but there is a massive amount of construction taking place to make a new area just north as well as east of this photo.
Originally, I thought if I headed out a little farther east that I'd be able to connect with the trail and ride it out toward Sandstone, but I had no such luck as I was met by a barricaded entrance. Bummer.
Main Street can be seen in the distance just below the line of trees to the left of the photo. Rocks/boulders have been added and paths are being formed with tractors to create a huge area for the future.
I used to travel this road frequently, but don't have as many reasons since our move a couple of years ago, so I was surprised at the extent of work that is being and has already been done.
I'm supposing the time of year is the reason for the reduced water.  This Dickens Farm Nature Preserve will hopefully be a wonderful addition when it is finished.
A park-ish area used to exist in this area and the path traveled through and around it. I don't know if this area was completely destroyed in the flooding and had to be rebuilt, or if it was simply a decision made to expand the area, and thus what is now in progress.

I also am not currently aware of what took place with the prairie dogs that were living here. I'm hoping they were re-homed somewhere safe, or that workers are not disturbing them. I know that other locations in the city have had talks about re-homing prairie dogs (though I'm not in love with the idea of moving them to a former nuclear weapons production site known to have leaked massive amounts of contaminants).
On the other side of the Martin Street bridge there is more construction taking place.  I didn't get any great photos as I didn't want to attempt darting in front of motorized traffic, but there is definitely repacking of dirt and path making taking place.

I get excited to see all of this happening though, and hope that it will only improve local transportation and recreation options. I know there are some knowledgeable locals that occasionally read here, so if you have any additional information on this project, I would love to know more.

If you aren't local, what sort of multi-use projects have happened where you live? Was the completion quick, or do you expect the timeline for completion to be faster? Any advice for those living under construction of trails for the time being? Feel free to share your thoughts.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Leadville Trail 100 MTB: The Tale of 2017

Leadville has become a bit of a tradition for us over the last few years. You may recall that Sam was unable to participate in the 2016 Leadville Traill 100 MTB because of a misunderstanding during a qualifier last year. When the time for the race rolled around last year, I think he was disappointed that he wouldn't be racing, but we both kind of figured it would be a nice break and give Sam time to train for 2017. 
We never stop to get this photo... but this time, we managed to get the iconic Leadville photo.
Sam knew that he'd be racing in 2017 very early as he obtained his spot in September 2016 during the Barn Burner in Flagstaff, Arizona. I can say with certainty that he rode more this year than in any year in the past, so I knew he was ready to do his best when August rolled around. I think he actually pushed himself more this year because of missing out on 2016's race. Perhaps that extra push was the right sort of motivation?

Originally, I wasn't going to attend the race with Sam. As has been pointed out in past race tales, taking our dogs along for these adventures has proven difficult at best and nightmare-ish at worst, and because we didn't have anyone to watch them, Sam was planning to go alone. Fortunately, we had a friend who was able to put her plans on hold and stay with our four-legged kids at home so that we could travel together.

So, without further ado, here is Sam's tale of the LT 100MTB for 2017...
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I'm back for my third installment of single-speed pain in the "Race Across the Sky."

You might recall that I qualified nearly a year ago in Flagstaff. I have been hammering since then in preparation for this race.

About a week out from the LT100, I received an email with the athletes guide. Monkey wrench. For some odd reason, everything related to the timeline for packet pick-up and the pre-meeting had shifted. Packets/race bibs could be picked up on Thursday, all day, and then Friday from 7a-10a only, which would be followed by the "mandatory" racers meeting at 11a. In the past, packet pick-up has been available until the afternoon with the racer's meeting taking place late in the day, which allows us to take our time driving up.

No such luck this year. Instead, we would have to leave prior to 6a on Friday in order to make it up in time. I assume that this is a maneuver to get and keep racers around the city of Leadville for an extra day. For out-of-state individuals, it's not a big deal, but when living within a reasonable driving distance, it's unfortunate to not have more time to doddle in the morning at home. But, I digress.

Ultimately, we arrived on Friday pretty early, making incredibly good travel time (likely because of the early hour). I picked up my packet, medical bracelet, and discovered that they had aged me an extra four years. Apparently, this happened to a number of people. I made a comment to the volunteer that it didn't matter for me anyway. He looked confused and asked why it wouldn't matter, to which I responded that I was riding single speed, which removes me from the age division categories.
A full auditorium for the racer meeting
Fast forward a bit to the (mandatory) racer meeting after we'd spent a few hours walking around Leadville. The meeting, I have found, is largely pointless and mostly consists of boosting the egos of the special people, meaning the professionals, the people who are heads of the sponsor organizations and so on. Then, we are all reminded by Ken Chlouber that we won't quit during the race. Ken and Merilee Maupin seem like very sweet, caring people, but beyond them, there is little I find beneficial, essential, or motivational in this meeting that couldn't be expressed in the athlete guide.

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate this duo and the team that created this event and the idea of helping out this small, former mining town. I just get worn down with the meetings and the hoo-rah for others. [G.E.'s Note: Sam spends a good chunk of his work days in meetings (which he doesn't love, especially when nothing is accomplished), so it shouldn't be surprising that he's not thrilled to have to sit through a meeting in his off time. I will also add that I get a bit restless toward the end of the meeting too. It just feels like something that could be shortened a bit. Of course, I don't actually have to be there, so perhaps in the future I'll find something else to do during this time.] Even as I type this though, my mind is wandering, thinking about Flagstaff and racing in the Barn Burner again, potentially getting to ride Leadville again in 2018, despite my loathing the long, drawn out, high school gym meeting time.

Eventually, what feels like five hours later, we finish the meeting. [G.E.'s Note: The meeting is not five hours, for the record. It usually lasts about an hour and a half or so.] We had a bit of time to kill before we would be able to check in to the Airbnb house, so we made a decision to drive back down to I-70 to find lunch. While there, we were met by the worst Taco Bell ever. I hadn't been to one in about ten years, and this one definitely motivated me not to go back. Ever. [G.E.'s Note: We were looking for something better as we don't generally eat fast food, but we exited in the wrong spot and ended up with a couple of very poor options. Sadly, Taco Bell seemed like the best choice... but we were wrong. Very, very wrong.]

After surviving the horrors of The Bell, we headed back to Leadville, checked into the Airbnb, walked around the city some more, and then settled in. The house was actually a very cool old place. Once a bed and breakfast, the current family lives in the back house and uses the front as a rental through Airbnb. It was a great, (relatively) inexpensive, laid back option in a fantastic location that was very close to the start line of the race, but tucked away well enough to not be too loud from street noise.

The evening was quiet. I believe everyone staying in the house was racing, but we (myself and G.E.) weren't particularly social that evening because I wanted to try to get to sleep early to be rested for the following day.
Our bunk for our stay. The room was small, but cozy. We'd definitely stay again.
The room we were staying in was intended to be just for me. We had reserved it months prior, knowing that G.E. would likely not be coming along, so when we arrived, we discovered that our room had single sized bunk beds. G.E. immediately proclaimed, "You're in the top bunk!" and laughed. [G.E.'s Note: To be honest, I have a mild amount of fear when it comes to heights, so it was just instinctual.] Ultimately, we ended up both sleeping in the bottom bunk, as it was wide enough to accommodate us. At about 8p, I forced myself to sleep, and so did G.E.

Somewhere around midnight, I began to wake up every hour. Finally, I got up at about 3:30a, deciding that I just wasn't going to sleep anymore. [G.E.'s Note: I am not the best sleep mate, I must admit. I like to sleep diagonally across the bed, so the fact that we were sharing a single likely didn't make Sam's sleep time very enjoyable. When I'd wake up occasionally, I'd realize I was infringing on his space and move back to keep Sam from falling off the bed, but it's not easy to fight natural tendencies.]
Line up starts at 5a and continues until 6:15a, so it gave me plenty of time to prepare. I shuffled around, ate something, stretched, and finally got dressed at about 4:45a. I said my goodbyes to G.E., knowing that she would see me over at the super awesome, middle of the road, green corral shortly. I did some sprints up and down one of the streets nearby, then drifted my way over to the start area. I was nice and warmed up... ready to stand around for an hour.

I was the first person there in our corral, but was quickly followed by a few others. We chit-chatted for a bit, which helped pass the time. A tandem team, that I believe got on the podium at the end, was there, and there was a woman from northern California who was doing this Leadville ride for the "first and last time," as she stated. She had injured herself just before arriving, but she seemed in good spirits and ready to tackle the challenge. She asked a few questions about what to expect and we passed the time. G.E. had arrived at this point as well, which gave us plenty of time to shiver a little bit (it was cold, as always, in the early morning hours of August).

At 6:15a, the organizers moved us all forward to cross the main boulevard (Harrison), so now we were all crammed together. [G.E.'s Note: The organizers had kept the main road open to allow those staying out of the city to get to the start line. Fifteen minutes prior to the start, they removed the barrier separating the green corral from the red, which then blocked Harrison until after the start.] I think it's the most fun part because those who believe themselves superstars try to move up through the pack, believing that the five feet they just gained is going to somehow make a difference or give them an advantage.

The national anthem was played by the guitarist from Sugarland, who was also racing this year, and then it was time to go.

104 miles to plow.

The race gun was fired and we took off. I was spinning my single speed gear as usual, and those with super high hopes and $6k+ bikes were already crashing less than a mile down the boulevard. One sad racer was walking back toward the field very early on, with twisted/broken carbon handlebars and a bent front wheel.

In these early moments, I spotted another single-speed rider who I nicknamed the Power Single-Speeder. He was killing it on the boulevard, heading out to St Kevins. I could not touch him; he was so, so fast!
In almost every photo of Sam racing this year, it looks like he has a bulging stomach. For the record, he does not. We've tried to figure out if it's the jersey, the colors, the fact that he has stuff crammed in pockets, or some other reason, but have come up empty.
*Photo courtesy of CenturyLink
The Leadville course is largely climbing and it starts pretty early on. I was doing well, passing the slower spinners, feeling good and fast (at least for someone with only one gear).

At about mile 18, during an attempt to pass a slower rider, I was cut off and went down on a very large rock. My left kneecap and head broke the fall nicely. Nothing was broken, but I had to do the rocking back and forth OWWWWEEE warble for about three minutes before I was able to get going again. I knew stopping would only allow my knee to freeze up, so I had to keep moving forward.

I was well stocked with Gu and water, so I didn't stop at the first aid station at mile 26 at Pipeline. I rolled through, knowing G.E. would be at Twin Lakes at just about mile 40 with a bottle reload and Gu if I needed it. Plus, a familiar face (which is always nice to see).
This was the group of leaders when starting up the climb to Columbine.
There is an open road section between Pipeline and Twin Lakes Dam, and I was able to lock on to a few different pelotons to break the headwind. This seriously helps, even though I had to push hard to hang on. The single speed decision definitely reared its head. I rolled to Twin Lakes pretty well and had that familiar feeling of thinking that was where G.E. was supposed to be, but after going straight through and not seeing her, I thought I had missed her somehow. I'm pretty sure I do this every time. I think she'll be at Twin Lakes, but then end up seeing her at Columbine.[G.E.'s Note: The night prior we had a discussion about where I would be. We had decided that waiting at the base of the Columbine climb made the most sense because I could refill anything before Sam went up and when he came back down, if needed. Sam insisted that I was referring to Twin Lakes and not the base of Columbine, so it's not surprising that he thought he'd simply passed and not seen me while riding. I had actually attempted to get to Twin Lakes, but the traffic was so ridiculous that I opted to continue to the originally discussed location.]

G.E. waved me down at the base (duh, where she was supposed to be), swapped a bottle and threw in 3-4 Gu packs. The stop was short and sweet; no more than 45 seconds, and I headed up the eight mile climb to over 12,000 feet. [G.E.'s Note: This is where I was informed that Sam had fallen off his bike and messed up his knee (at the time, he failed to mention that he also hit his head). He didn't have time to explain what had taken place, but he looked to be in pain, which was concerning since he was getting ready to head up the highest elevation climb.]

Besides the sick feeling I get every time I go somewhere over 11,000 feet in elevation on a bike, it was going great! I was passing others and chugging along at about 5mph (Don't laugh.. It's actually pretty fast). The sad part is that reality quickly sets in and at about 48 miles into the race, everybody starts doing the hike-a-bike portion. It's not that the terrain is that steep, but it is somewhat narrow and washed out in the middle, so many riders stop and get off their bikes to walk. In addition, by this time in the race there are now super fast, leader group riders coming down the mountain, so it simply isn't plausible to continue to ride. So, we're all stuck walking for about a mile.

This year, the walkers seemed extra slow, walking at about a 1.5mph pace. This was terrible and it was taking an eternity, which was, of course, killing everyone's time. Eventually, we got through it and mounted bikes for the last 1/2 mile to the top. Normally, I don't stop at the top, but I needed to take care of some relief business, so I did that and ate a quarter of the worst PBJ I have ever eaten. [G.E.'s Note: As someone waiting at the bottom of Columbine, I will confirm that other racers coming in were saying the same thing -- that people were really slow walking this year.]

Heading down off of 12,600 feet always amazes me. Once we get about four miles down the hill, that sick feeling goes away and I just feel beat up from riding about 50 miles and about 5 hours in the mountains.

At the base, I met up with G.E. again for a deja vu stop. She swapped one bottle again and gave me a bunch of Gu to get me through to our next meeting. She asked how I was doing and told me she would see me again at Pipeline inbound. I took off, knowing the worst hike-a-bike's were to come, along with another trip through the windy flats. Unfortunately, on the return trip, I'd have trouble finding help from a group.
*Photo courtesy of CenturyLink
Through the flats, I saw a familiar person... a person with one gear too. Boy, was he struggling! I offered to let him draft, but he didn't want to come along (I'm still not sure if he was angry or if he just didn't want to slow me down). So, I proceeded, mind filled with thoughts about the next of the four hike-a-bike sections I would encounter.

I won't bore you with all the walking, but will tell you that the Power Single-Speeder from the start line and I jockeyed for position so many times you wouldn't believe it. His obvious strength was downhill, but mine is climbing. Over and over we would repeat the same equation: he would nail the downhill, and I would lose him on the next climb. At the time, I had no idea what our positions were, but in my mind I was convinced we were first and second place in this little universe I'd made up.

We came up on the last hike and then the last serious downhill on St Kevins inbound. He nailed it again, and I didn't even see him, and then he was literally out of my sight. All I had been thinking was that I needed to hold him off because it was all I had in the moment, besides the searing pain in my knee.

Between mile 95 and 100, it gets very lonely and spread out. It was looking like rain and massive thunderstorms, which didn't help my mental state. I had tried to hang on to a small group, but they were too fast and I was too tired and in pain from my crash.

Mile 100 might be the most demotivating portion of this ride because the organizers put riders through four more miles and one last climb before getting back to the small climb up to Harrison and the finish line.

With about two miles to go, I hit the last dirt road climb, slogging my way to the end. I knew I would not make sub-10 hours at this point, but I had hopes to at least beat any of my prior times. [G.E.'s Note: Waiting at the finish line is the worst part of this race to me as a crew/spectator. Of course, I want my rider, in this case, Sam, to finish in his best possible time, so I always head there early, hoping that he'll be able to push through. Standing there, waiting, is just excruciating for some reason.]

To my surprise, who do I roll up on? The Power Single-Speeder. During the last dirt mile climb, we had chatted and he shared that he was from North Carolina, how many times he'd finished this race, and we both complained a bit.
Last push to the finish line.
Once we hit the pavement and the final mile up the boulevard, I knew it was made for me. I slowly moved away from him, knowing he wouldn't make up the distance with the mild uphill at the finish. It was my sole victory in this race, which landed me an exhausting 13th place in the single speed division, with a finish time of about 10:12. [G.E.'s Note: There is nothing as exciting as seeing Sam finish this race. I find myself constantly looking and thinking that he's coming, so when it is finally him, it is a moment of pure elation and pride to watch him roll through to the finish.]
I'll skim over the rain, the pain that night, a pretty decent burger for dinner, and a tough night's sleep, and skip ahead to the 7:30a meeting on Sunday. God, I do love meetings. [G.E.'s Note: In case it wasn't obvious from earlier comments, this is sarcasm.]

Again, we all attend the after meeting so that we can hear more about the awesome people... the pros, those who've done this 10 years, 20 years, the last ass (the last person to finish in the time constraints of the race). Basically, we are all held hostage until the end when we are finally released to collect our finisher belt buckles and custom finisher sweaters. This year was absolute chaos. The buckles and sweaters were on site at the gym/meeting location unlike past years and nobody listened to the instructions and instead nearly everyone got up the moment they heard the buckles and sweaters were ready, and stood in the doorways and hallways.

Choosing to try to follow instructions, G.E. and I sat (along with a small handful of others) and waited for the crowd to disperse, all the while becoming more hungry and agitated. I cannot state this strongly enough: I do feel it's important to recognize people, their achievements, all of us; however, it gets tiresome when people don't listen and the meeting drags on.

Eventually, the lines died down and we got up to stand in line. G.E. had a raging headache at this point, and mine was coming along too. It had also become quite hot (as is typical with so many people in an enclosed space). We drifted through the confusion and after being in the gymnasium for about three hours, I finally get to the front of the line and give the representative my name.

Someone is shuffling around behind the rep who then hands me my sweater (unfortunately, it was the same color as 2015 - I was really looking forward to a different color), and then the representative states this: "Here's the thing, we ran out of small buckles." He smiles as he says this, which just stings all the more. My only response is to lower my head. He then proceeded to snark at me, "What? It's not like you were going to wear it today."

I responded, "So, I guess I waited here for nothing?" I started to say something else, but then decided to just walk away.

Eventually, the buckle will supposedly be mailed out to those of us, however many didn't get theirs, who finished in time but hung around for no real reason. We'll see if it actually happens. [G.E.'s Note: I find this to be a terrible thing - both the interaction with the worker/volunteer (I'm not entirely sure which he was) and the fact that they ran out of buckles. The buckles don't change from year to year, so why not have some extras available and keep them for the year following? I realize that Sam has other buckles and it seems like a silly thing to be upset about in some ways, but when that is the "prize" for completion, everyone should either get them at the end of the race, or send them out to every finisher afterward. Following instructions definitely didn't pay off in this instance.]

I try not to get agitated by the little things, but this was difficult when, for all of us, we put so much into this event for an entire year. The planning, the training, the money, the sacrifices... only to be slighted in the end.

As I said though, in the time I've been typing this I've also had a browser tab open for the Barn Burner registration. What is wrong with me? It's as though I keep getting pulled back in.
One of the art galleries in Leadville always has fun bicycle art.
Through my training this year, I found that I did not become particularly faster. I need to figure that one out. Perhaps it's because I should be on my geared mountain bike instead of doing this on my completely rigid single speed. I did certainly become much, much stronger.

There were many, many great people out there - participants, event staff, and volunteers.

Later on Saturday, we ran into the woman from Northern California who was racing her "first and last" time, and found out that she crashed at mile 80 and called it quits. I felt bad for her, but hope that she'll come back and try again. She seemed in relatively good spirits when we chatted at the end though.

When we returned to the Airbnb rental, another racer was in the hot tub. It was his first time out and it thrilled me to know he was able to make it to the finish on his first try.

As always, a special thanks to G.E., your awesome author of this blog, and of course, my lovely wife! [G.E.'s Note: I am pretty awesome. <laughing> Seriously though, it's always an adventure in Leadville and I'm glad I was able to come along.]

And, I can't leave out our fabulous friend who was willing to put her life on hold to watch our two crazy dogs either. It was great to be able to have G.E. with me in Leadville once again.
****************
I don't know that I have anything of much significance to add to the end of this 2017 tale. A couple of items come to mind though. 

First, Sam had a second fall later in the race that he failed to mention, but I think by that point he just wanted to get to the end so it seemed less significant. I know he was disappointed to not finish quicker than he did, but all things considered, he still improved and even finished being injured, which is nothing to take lightly.

I'm also always amazed at the amount of walking I do during this race. This year I wore a pedometer because I was rather curious to see how far I actually walk with all the picking up and moving to a new spot. Even though I know pedometers are notoriously imprecise calculators, it marked me at just over 12.5 miles for the day (I joked near the end of the day that I should go walk down the boulevard just to make it a half marathon). I had no idea it was anything close to that, but then again, I'm a horrible calculator of distance, usually far underestimating the distance I've traveled both on bike or foot.

I am curious to see if Sam will race in Leadville again. He seems to improve each time, so I think it's possible he could get under the 10 hour mark if he were to give it another go. The Barn Burner in Flagstaff will perhaps give him that opportunity, if he decides to go and race there. We shall see!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Abiding By the Law

School just started for many students locally. It still takes some getting used to for me because I grew up in a place where no one even dreamed of being back in school until September, but I understand that weather likely plays a big part in the return-to-class reasoning here.

Like many morning travelers, I frequently find myself at intersections with children darting across roads and crossing guards attempting to keep some sort of order. There's a particular intersection that I travel through nearly daily at child-drop-off time in the morning. The intersection is set up so that the north-south bound traffic has no stop sign and only yields to the crossing guard (or someone walking through the crosswalk). The east-west bound traffic has a stop sign and waits for the traffic to clear before proceeding. There are also bike lanes that travel in all four directions, which is great.

I am no expert on traffic patterns or engineering, but I have assumed there are people far smarter than me who have determined that at this particular intersection it makes sense for traffic flow that two of the lanes of travel stop, and the other two do not. Yet, at least once a week as I approach the stop sign at this intersection on my bicycle, someone driving a motorized vehicle through the perpendicular road wants to stop where there is no stop sign and attempt to coerce me into proceeding through the intersection in front of them.
A non-perfect representation of the intersection in question.
As it happened, one day this week, this moment presented itself again. I was traveling west to the intersection where I would meet up with the stop sign. I had signaled that I was coming out of the bike lane to make a left hand turn as I was approaching the intersection. At that moment, there were no vehicles behind me as the parents were busy dropping off their children. I stopped at the stop sign as I am supposed to do, looked both ways (which is not easy at this intersection as there are always lots of large vehicle parked along the street, blocking the view) and could see that there were vehicles coming in both directions on the road to which I was planning to turn.

On the north-west side of the intersection was a crossing guard who was holding back individuals to allow some of the road traffic to get by. I was waiting for the traffic to get through (or for the crossing guard to stop the traffic to allow my left turn to the south) when suddenly a truck behind me started honking, presumably at me as I was not yet moving due to the vehicles traveling through the intersection. As I looked to the north, a woman sitting in her SUV was waving at me to travel through in front of her. I vehemently shook my head and waved for her to make her turn, to which she finally acquiesced, as I muttered about people who don't follow the laws.

I understand what this woman in the SUV was likely thinking. I "get" that she believes she is extending a nice gesture by allowing me to pedal out in front of her before she makes her turn, but the truth is that she 1) does not need to do this as traffic flow will allow me to pass within a few seconds if she just proceeded through, 2) is technically breaking the law by doing so (and forcing me to break the law if I went through as she'd wanted), and perhaps most importantly 3) is potentially causing me to have a run-in with injury or death.

When traveling on roadways, I find that there can be two extremes with people driving motorized vehicles. One side wants to continuously yield to cycling traffic, regardless of who actually has the right-of-way, instead of treating those on bikes like any other vehicular traffic; and the other side will do anything in their power to try to keep cyclists off what they view as roads meant only for motorized traffic. Both of these types of people are potentially dangerous.

On one hand, I understand why many motorists want to yield to cyclists regardless of the circumstances because I've witnessed instances when some on bicycles blow through stop signs/lights, ride on the wrong side of the street, and perform other acts as though there is no one else traveling on the road. I suppose for those who do this, it's easy to understand why a motorist could be unsure of what someone on a bicycle is going to do. However, this thought process falls apart when it is apparent and obvious that the cyclist in question is doing what should be done -- in this case, halting at a stop sign.

As the woman turned in front of me to head away from where I stood waiting to proceed, she shook her head at me, rolled down her window and told me that I "should've just gone." But, before I could respond to her, she was well on her way in the opposite direction. However, the air around me got an ear-full, despite it being an entirely useless rant.

As someone who rides a bike regularly, I understand that there are times when a person on a bicycle who breaks the law can be a safer option than following the letter of the law. Until streets are built everywhere that allow for different modes of transportation to travel with ease and safety, I think this is just a reality. I am absolutely not advocating for cyclists to break the law, but I am stating that I have found myself in situations where it made more sense for safety's sake to bend the rules a bit.

However, when a motorist is attempting to get someone on a bicycle to put him/herself in harms way, I absolutely must protest. While the intention of the motorist may be one of good will, many simply don't understand what they are doing to a vulnerable road user. While the sentiment is appreciated, the actual action has potential to cause far more harm than good.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Acceptable Prejudice

Dear Mr. Marketing-Dude [Not actual name, in case that isn't obvious],

I'm responding to an e-mail you sent a few weeks ago in which you inquired as to why my last purchase at [establishment name] took place over a year ago. I'd thought I wouldn't send anything in response, but after some time to consider further, I believe I will. Even knowing going in that nothing will likely come from this note, I do think it's important to voice opinions in order to see change, so here I go...

And so this letter, sent several weeks ago, began -- even though I started and stopped many times before actually hitting "send." I wanted to express my opinion about lack of size options for a variety of individuals, but I seemed to find myself hesitating because I know that little changes in the cycling industry when it comes to what is being supplied to those in need of non-standard sizing (smaller or larger). Additionally, I grow weary of sending similar sounding notes to various manufacturers. It's exhausting to waste my breath (key-strokes?) trying to explain something to a group of people that seem to not understand at all.

Neither of the individuals in our home have an easy time finding cycling clothing. One often can't find clothing small enough, and the other struggles to find items on the larger end of the spectrum (being a male and smaller than average is nearly as bad as being a female who extends beyond a U.S. size large), and I wanted to express this to the marketing individual who had reached out (granted, in the form of a mass e-mail that I'm sure was sent to everyone who hadn't purchased from the company in some time).

What amused me most was that there was a swift response directing me to something that doesn't exist in their inventory, and that also didn't address 75% of what I had written about in the letter. Besides that, is ONE item supposed to suffice as inventory? For once in my life, I'd been concise so as to not eat up the day of the person reading my letter, but I still felt as though I received a canned/brush-off response. I'm used to this though. No one seems to have follow through. Customer service is lacking almost anywhere. From the grocery store to big box home improvement, or brick-and-mortar retail to Amazon, I find few who are willing to actually do even the very basic necessities of their jobs.

More frustrating than anything is the internal battle/argument I have before attempting to address a situation. In the weeks prior to sending the above letter, I debated myself, trying to decide whether it was futile or not to respond to such an e-mail, but I know that if nothing is said then changes never materialize.

Over the years, I've written and called many companies expressing a desire (not only for myself, but for others as well) to expand their current size line for cycling, hiking, and other outdoor wear. While I often get some sort of response, it is almost never a response that takes any of my comments into consideration, nor will these organizations acknowledge that there is a need that isn't being met.

Another example of this was an e-mail sent to a different cycling wear company back in May of this year. I had purchased a pair of mountain biking shorts online. For those who fit into standard sizing, finding a pair of women's mountain biking shorts is not a big deal. These folks can walk into nearly any local bike shop and find something that will fit their needs. If, however, you are a female who needs shorts larger than about a U.S. size 12, you can pretty much forget about ever finding something in a shop, or even in all the vast and far reaches of the world wide web.

So, when I saw these seemingly fabulous mountain bike shorts on the company's website that stated they would fit me (per the size chart), I was ecstatic! Hurrah! Hurray! Finally!!! After searching for nearly a decade for mountain bike shorts, a company was finally creating something that would fit my body!

According to the size chart, I should have plenty of room in my usual size, but I decided to go up one size to ensure that I'd have lots of extra room, if needed.

Alas, when the shorts arrived, it was a comedic sketch-in-the-making. First, when I pulled the shorts out of their packaging, they were as flimsy a material as I've ever felt. Lighter than even the thinnest swim suit I've ever seen, thinner than the skimpiest of running shorts, I was shocked at the lack of substance to this product.

But, I still wanted to give them a chance. Even if they were lighter than I'd anticipated, finding a mountain bike short that fits has been a near-impossibility. As I unfolded the shorts and prepared to put them on they seemed small visually, but this is often typical of cycling clothing. I proceeded to pull and tug in an attempt to affix these shorts to my body with great effort. Eventually, they were on my body, but they were certainly not usable in any fashion as a mountain bike short, as I could barely button them and they were excruciatingly tight.

I cannot begin to express my disappointment. With a sigh, I packed the shorts back up and put them in a return envelope.

A level of frustration and annoyance had taken over at this point and I decided that I was not going to let this go without some kind of response. I sat down and typed out a letter, expressing my dissatisfaction with a company that I had once found to be one of the few organizations that supplied cycling clothing to women with more meat on their bodies, and in particular, I wanted to express my concerns with this particular garment.

I relayed that I have other pieces purchased a few years prior from their brand that are smaller in size and still fit fine. I expressed my disappointment with the quality of the fabric as well, and also advised that perhaps using a larger sized model might help with future iterations of clothing in larger sizes (since I'd even purchased up a size from their chart measurements and still could barely squeeze the shorts on). None of my remarks were said in anger, but were expressed in a manner that I hoped would be helpful to future lines of clothing and to assist the organization in potentially adjusting their size chart (which was definitely not accurate).

Before I sent the letter though, I decided to try ordering another pair, simply to see if I'd received a short that was a blemish or somehow cut incorrectly. Unfortunately, I had the exact same results, so off the letter went in both my return envelope and via e-mail. I wanted to make sure that the information was received, as I know that not everyone is willing to take the time to express problems directly to companies.

The response I received was shockingly argumentative and frankly, almost hostile. Instead of taking in my concerns and presenting a thoughtful response, this representative decided that she would rather have an electronic battle of wills, telling me that I was wrong and that their organization already uses a plus-size model for their larger sizes.

Her lengthy response hit on almost none of what I had addressed and she read into my words far too much, making assumptions about aspects that I hadn't even remotely thought. I could only assume that she was either having a very bad day or simply was accustomed to hearing only positive comments about their garments and therefore wasn't prepared to respond to someone who simply had a few constructive critiques to provide for the future (and, I even stated that I simply wanted to express my personal experience).

Having two such interactions with cycling companies in a relatively short amount of time is off-putting (to say the least), but it's just a surface scratch of the issue. It isn't just these two companies, nor is it limited only to cycling clothing manufacturers and businesses. Although I'd guess unintentional, over time, these types of responses from organizations direct a person to believe that s/he is alone in a battle that isn't going to produce a win or even small amounts of change, and often lead to thoughts of being unworthy of appropriate clothing for regularly engaged-in activities.

A few weeks ago, I was looking for some information on training to do a half Ironman race. It's something I've thought of doing for several years, but I've always hesitated because running is not something that agrees with my body (A messed up back/pelvis/hips, and genetically fragile knees don't make for the best runner in the world, especially carrying extra weight). Whether or not I'll actually try this is still up for debate, but I like to have information at the ready, just in case I do decide to give it a go.

As I was looking for training information, I happened upon a few-year-old thread that almost immediately sent me into fired-up mode. It started innocently enough with a person asking a question about how someone could be fat and complete an Ironman. For those unfamiliar with this type of race it consists of a 2.4 mile (3.8 km) swim, 112 mile (180.25 km) bike ride and ends with a 26.2 mile (42.16 km) run, all completed within a specified time frame (from what I've seen, usually racers have 17 hours to finish, with time cut-offs throughout the event that could end the race earlier for an individual).

The responses that the original poster received were many and varied, though most were extremely derogatory toward fat individuals. I was surprised that whomever was moderating the thread was willing to let many of the comments through, until I remembered that prejudices and these types of comments toward fat individuals are the last acceptable form of hatred (sizeism, fat phobia, etc) in the U.S. Everything from people stating that the time frame for completion needed to be lowered to "keep fatties out" of the race, to suggesting that the only foods an individual could be eating while training that hard and stay fat would have to be ice cream, pizza and cake.

You can imagine the other sort of talk that was taking place in this forum, so I won't go into it further (mostly because it just gets me worked up again). All that I could think while reading these comments was How dare you say such things about someone training to and completing a massive goal! and What business is it of yours what someone eats? I seriously doubt anyone is living on pizza and cake when training for any kind of event - Ironman or otherwise - or they'd be very sick and incapable! and So, because someone doesn't complete a goal in the same amount of time as you do, it invalidates their effort, training and accomplishment? There were other thoughts as well, but you can easily see where my mind was going as I perused the very long list of individuals who were judging those that they believed shouldn't be allowed to compete in these types of events.

While this likely sounds like a lot of ranting (and it is, at least in part), occasionally I feel the need to put something here to remind myself and others that this is not an acceptable way to treat each other. Whether an organization that doesn't want to produce product for a certain population, or an individual who is spouting off anonymously (or otherwise) online, this kind of thinking and speaking doesn't provide anything positive or constructive.

Why do we as humans feel the need to make others feel lesser in order to make ourselves feel better, stronger, faster? Why does trying to invalidate someone else's accomplishment make our completion of a goal better or cause us to feel more worthy? How does tearing someone else down improve our own idea of self?

If you haven't seen it, check out this story about a plus-size model who confronted a man on a plane who was sending comments via text to a friend about her body size before a flight to Los Angeles. It's a short video, so it's a quick watch, but it assists in illustrating my point: society at large finds it completely acceptable to body shame those who are fat; and for some reason, it seems to be more acceptable to do this to females than males. Of course, that could be an entirely extended discussion about gender bias in this country as well.

I am by no means perfect, and I understand that we are all surrounded by imperfect humans. I also accept that we are each going to do or say things that we will later regret or feel differently about than at the time a statement was said or an action was made. But, how do we change the dialogue that takes place, particularly in a web-focused, easy-to-be-anonymous world, so that attitudes begin to change and hatred for others dissipates? How is a world created where we appreciate each other's differences and embrace the reality that we excel in different areas of life?

Here in this space, we come together over a love of bicycles and riding. I have no doubt that we are all of different stature, ethnicity, and weight. We come from different upbringing and backgrounds. We have different religious and political beliefs. We have different careers. Some are single, married, have children or don't. Some are gay, straight, bisexual, or transgender. Some train for cycling events, some are happy to ride for transportation only, and others can't stay off a bicycle no matter the purpose.  Regardless, we can come together over a shared love or appreciation. I suppose I find it challenging to understand why this cannot spread to other areas of life. Maybe it can.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Blast from the Past: A Former Rivendell Returns

I've been stating for some time now that I was going to share more about the newest addition to the bike fold. It's taken a bit longer than I thought to actually get to it, but here we are and I am able to finally deliver as promised.

My first Rivendell was the Sam Hillborne (that has remained in the fold since day one), but it was not the only Riv to come into our house. It was followed a couple of years later by Rivendell's A Homer Hilsen. I felt a little silly having both of these bikes, but they really did serve different purposes. When they were both in our home originally, the Hillborne was loaded up with racks and bags and was providing more of a city bike/grocery-fetching functionality, while the Hilsen was my road bike, stripped down to barest essentials. I went through a few rounds with set up switching between drop handlebars and more upright bars, but the Hilsen's functionality remained the same while it was with me.

Unfortunately, we ran into some unexpected expenses when Sam ended up in the emergency room, and we had some bills to cover associated with that visit. In order to help with paying some of those costs, I made the decision to sell the A Homer Hilsen. At the time, I thought I was okay with the choice, but soon after the loss started to set in. It wasn't that I minded selling a bike to cover the bills, but it kind of set me off on a strange course of trying to find the perfect (at least for me) long distance road-ish bike again.

Ultimately, I was able to find a great replacement for the Hilsen in the Box Dog Bikes Pelican. As you may recall, one of the reasons I didn't get an A Homer Hilsen when obtaining the Pelican was price. I just couldn't bring myself to pay today's prices and even though I'd been looking for years trying to find a second-hand Hilsen in the proper size, it just never materialized. I had accepted that it just wasn't meant to be in my life and went about using the Pelican as a much-enjoyed replacement.

Then, one day early this year, I received one of Rivendell's mass emails. While reading the email I ended up back at Riv's website on their special's page and discovered there an unpainted NOS Rivendell A Homer Hilsen/Saluki. My insides started to jump. Could it be? Sitting here in front of my eyes was the right-sized past bicycle I'd let go -- and for almost exactly the price I'd paid several years prior. It was as though someone was playing an April Fool's joke on me in January. A New Year's joke, perhaps?

A brief discussion was had, but I knew Sam was aware of how much I would love to have this particular bike back in my life, so there really wasn't much to talk about. I wasn't entirely sure at the time how it would fit into the current bikes, but I knew that I had to get the frame and I could worry about set up and function/purpose later.

The frame was listed as a Saluki frame, but it was my understanding that the Salukis and A Homer Hilsens were virtually the same, and for the size I need, I don't think there were any differences as far as geometry is concerned.

The best part was that I would be able to pick the paint color and I was told I could choose between A Homer Hilsen and Saluki decals for the frame (which just reaffirmed my belief that these were very, very similar). While I was excited about choosing a paint color, I also know that I have a horrible time picking paint for projects, but I also didn't want to waste the opportunity to be able to pick a color different from the standard either. Decisions, decisions.

I opted to go with the Saluki stickers, though I didn't really have a reason for the choice. Perhaps, at least in some small part, it's because I have a great love of dogs, but truly I would have been okay with either set of decals.

It took longer than expected for the frame to get painted. It was supposed to be a couple of weeks as was originally quoted, but ended up taking about four times longer than my overly-excited mind was ready to wait. Then, one day I received an email that stated, "Here is your frame..."
One of the photos received from Rivendell to let me know the frame was ready to ship.
Leaving the color technicalities to the folks at Rivendell had me wondering what would ultimately end up coming to me, but I was happy to see that it was pretty and bright - though not obnoxious - just as I'd hoped. I couldn't wait for the frame to get into my hands!

As I waited for the frame's arrival, I started debating what to do with the build. We had nearly every part needed to build up the bike, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to make it more road-focused or built ready to handle daily needs around town.

Since my hands have been struggling over the last few years, I decided to stick with the Albatross handlebars (as these work well for me), but thought that I'd turn them right-side-up to make it a little different set up than the current build of the Hillborne.
The Saluki was ridden this way for several weeks as I attempted to ascertain whether the set up would work for me or not. I was enjoying the set up, but it felt a little too upright. Even as someone who likes to sit up a bit, it was feeling a little too cruiser-bike-like for my preferences. I continued to ride though, hoping that I'd adjust to this set up. We even dropped the stem low, hoping that this would be enough to help me find the comfort I was seeking on the bike.
Eventually, I knew that I needed to change the handlebar set up, so we made a small switch, turning the bars upside down to match the set up of the Hillborne and added bar tape instead of the cork grips.

Even with the change to the handlebars, there still seemed to be need to keep tweaking things mildly, and I'm sure that will continue for a time until the right combination comes together. I do have other handlebar options as well, such as the butterfly/trekking bars like those on the VO Campeur, a set of Nitto drop bars, as well as a couple of other possibilities.
What has been interesting is to compare my memories of the A Homer Hilsen with the latest arrival. It can be easy to build something up from the past and give it qualities that it didn't necessarily possess, but I have found this bike to be all that I remember.

Since the set up is slightly different than the former version, I am finding a necessary adjustment period, but the bike itself rides as smoothly as I'd recalled. It is also a bit amusing that, just as with my first round with this bicycle, I am almost unsure of what to make of the appropriately sized top tube. Having grown used to being more stretched on the Hillborne, it is as though I expect a bike to have more reach. The remedy in the past was to use drop bars, which seemed to help cure the mild feelings of smallness, but I don't know if I'll go that route this time or not.

After riding the Saluki for a handful of months, I can say that I'm happy to have it back in my life, though I still don't quite know what its exact purpose is in the fold. Oh, I use it for errands and transportation, and I've taken it on a couple of rides just for the fun of it, but having filled the road bike slot with the Pelican, and having an appropriate option for getting groceries and other needs with the Campeur, and the somewhere-in-the-middle bike slot being filled by the Hillborne, it's almost as though I'm not quite sure where the Saluki fits in - and it's an odd sensation, as I expected it would immediately find a purpose.
In some sense, I suppose the bike can hold the position of fill-in for whichever option may be in need of repairs or maintenance at a given time. It's never a bad option to have a back-up, I think.

With all of my uncertainty surrounding a specific purpose for this bike though, it may seem strange that I was anxious to get the Saluki back. Certainly, I would have lived without having it, but there's a part of me that was hoping to recapture a bit of the past; a past that had me pedaling at my best. Although I realize it's not exactly possible to go back, there is a quality I've always appreciated about this bike that I can't quite put my finger on when pressed for specifics. It's an intangible, but it's there. While none of the photos seem to do it justice, I must say that the Saluki is a beautiful thing to behold, which doesn't hurt my feelings either.

Ultimately, it has been fun to re-welcome this blast from the past, and I hope to have many enjoyable rides as we move forward together. I don't know where the road will take us, but I look forward to figuring it out as we go.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Why I Participate in Races, Even Though I Stand No Chance of Being Competitive or Winning

Mother's sometimes have a way of saying things that no one else can get away with expressing to another individual. Mine happens to have no filter when it comes to people she knows and strangers alike, so the questions she asks at times shouldn't really surprise me (though they sometimes leave me apologizing to strangers). Now in her 70s, that filter seems to be nearly non-existent, so if I thought her verbal spouts were difficult to deal with at a younger age, I am learning that the verbalization of whatever enters her mind is becoming more frequent as she gets older.

Recently though, mother dear posed a question that I thought was rather interesting (even if I was slightly offended at the asking). We were chatting about recent happenings and I mentioned that Sam and I had participated in a running race. Her response was, "You? You were in a race? Running?"

It was a mostly legitimate question as my body has taken some blows over the last couple of years that have resulted in both my hesitancy to want to participate in group activities and that often keep me from being able to run. Not to mention that I am, of course, overweight. The combination hardly makes for a good recipe for success in a race of any sort.

My response was that, yes, I participated in a race but for the most part, I didn't run because I wasn't capable when I arrived to race on the day in question. It's not as though it was the first race she thought I'd completed, so her question seemed a little out of place to me, but it still had me thinking.

The thing is, I had entered the race knowing that there was a strong possibility I wouldn't be capable of running on race day, and also well aware that I stood no chance of being competitive regardless of whether I was running or walking.
I have joked with others that I participate in races to make everyone else feel better about themselves. I say it really in half-jest because I am conscious of the reality that I stand no chance of winning any foot or wheel race, or even placing in my age division or any other category. It's just my reality. I have never been fast at anything and regardless of my training regimen, I will never be faster than the slowest individuals.

So, why participate in races at all?

I have pondered this over the years, but never really put it down on paper (or computer in this instance), so I thought I would share thoughts for anyone else who may believe him/herself to be slow or who may be hesitant for whatever reason to participate in races. My reasons may be different than others, but perhaps sharing them will be of benefit to someone who is thinking about entering a race of his/her own.

Personally, I tend to be a go-big-or-go home sort of person. My very first race ever (other than being forced into events in physical ed in school) was a marathon. Yep. My first race as an adult was running 26.1 miles. I did not run the whole event, but I did ultimately complete it. Most people start with a 5k or 10k, but not me. Nope, I headed straight for the big show. Honestly though, I did this because I was afraid that if I entered a shorter race and didn't do well or it didn't go well for me physically, it might keep me from doing the marathon, and I was determined to complete a marathon.

It was both one of the best and worst experiences of my life. I was not properly trained for the event, I didn't understand the need for fueling during an endurance race, and I had a number of obstacles to endure throughout the race including heading off in the wrong direction half way through, only to find myself about a mile off course before someone informed me that I was going the wrong way.

But there were amazing things that I will never forget about this race like having my very own unknown-to-me cheering section that followed me from mile 8 to about mile 11, and actually completing the race, which was something I wasn't sure would happen by the time I hit about mile 16.

Surprisingly, I was not the last person to finish, which I was certain was my fate. I had been very slow and added about two miles to the course, so as I watched others pass over the finish, I admired the fact that not one of them had given up... and believe me, we had plenty of opportunities.

When I reached mile 14, the race barriers, cones and water stations were all being removed. Vans for the event started to circle and ask individuals if they wanted a ride to the finish line. It was very demotivating, I must say, particularly as they seemed to come around every 5 minutes. By mile 17, I realized most participants were likely done and I felt very alone on the course. I was also in a lot of pain. My back had started to seize up, and I had no water or food with me.

I had a bright spot though. There were a group of ladies, who had finished the half marathon operating in tandem with the marathon, driving around offering water to those who were still on the course trying to finish. About every mile or so, they'd come around again asking if I needed anything. These few ladies were seriously one of the big factors allowing me to get to the finish line because by mile 20, I was seriously considering conceding and taking a ride to the finish line.

I imagine for any competitive runner there are always pains too, and that running 26+ miles isn't easy for 99% of the population, but when a person is slow it is that much more time that s/he is on their feet which creates additional aches and pains. Imagine walking or running for 4 hours versus 8 hours - it's a huge difference to any body.

The miles between 20 and 23 were some of the most painful in my life. I had to stop several times to issue out some positive self-talk and remind myself why I was doing this race.

Why was I doing the race? Completing a marathon was a bucket list item for me. It seemed so ludicrous to be able to finish that I wanted a big challenge to see if I could get it done. When I had moments of doubt, I told myself, "You never have to do this again. Just get to the finish line." Remarkably, it seemed to help. Nearing the end of the race, my legs were barely moving, and I had absolutely no idea where I was in the race because all of the markers had been removed.

At this point, there was a police officer in the road still assisting those who needed to cross a busy spot during the race. As I crossed I asked of him, "Do you happen to know what mile this is?" He responded telling me I was at mile 23, and suddenly I had a renewed pep in my step. "Really?" I couldn't help but gleefully respond. That meant I only had about 3 miles left to go. I could do three miles, I thought, even if I had to crawl over the finish line. It was also a very obvious reminder to me that our minds have so much control over our bodies.

Happily, I did not crawl at any point during the race, and Sam, who had finished hours before me, came out to meet me with about two tenths of a mile to go. It was perfect timing as I needed that push to get through that last little bit.
*Image here
After the marathon, I pretty much swore off races. If I wasn't going to do another marathon, what could ever compete with that type of distance? But, as it turned out, it would not be my last race.

Which brings me to the real point of this post. The reasons or the motivation that keep me entering races both on foot and bicycle.

Really, there can be one to several reasons I choose to enter a race. I've participated in races simply to help out a friend who was starting a new race and needed participants to sign up, or because I wanted to support a charitable organization. I've participated because the course just sounded fun, challenging, or both. I've done some races simply because I needed a kick in the rear and to have a goal to work towards. But most often, it's just the need to challenge myself and improve on the past.

The reality is most people who enter races know they aren't going to win. If the goal was simply winning, there would be only a handful of individuals who would participate in any race. For the vast majority of participants, I would say the purpose or goal is something found within themselves. Maybe they want to beat a prior time on the same course or they want to better a time from a similar distance on another course. Perhaps they just enjoy running or cycling and being in a group headed toward the same goal is helpful. It may stand to reason that a person simply wants to visit a city and participating in a race is an easy "excuse" to have a mini-vacation. It's not for me to say what, where or who motivates another person to race, but I do think that everyone finds their individual reason(s).

My point is, just because I'm not fast doesn't mean I should shy away from a race. In fact, during a race recently, I was at the very back of the pack to start. I had told Sam before we began that my only goal was not to finish last, so when I realized where I was I knew I wasn't off to the best start. However, it turned out to be the perfect spot for me. It takes me awhile to warm up and I could see where everyone was in front of me. A few had started out too fast and it became a mental game to try and overtake as many individuals as I could. As soon as I'd passed one person, I'd set my sights on the next and tell myself internally that I would not allow the person I'd just passed to get in front of me. Not only did it make the distance seem much shorter, but it was great motivation as well.

If I were to offer thoughts or tips to anyone who is considering a race and who hasn't raced previously, I don't know that I'd advise him or her to start with a marathon run or a century ride, but I suppose it would depend on the individual. For me, I thrive on the possibility that I may not finish at all (it's a bit of a twisted thought process, I do understand), but I also participate in short distances which can be just as much if not more challenging and/or fun.

Ultimately, there are some things I wish someone had told me before the first time I raced. Here are a few, in no particular order:
1. Understand that endurance races require fueling. You will "bonk" without taking in some sort of nutrition. I used to think because I'm bigger I didn't need fuel. Unfortunately, the body doesn't work that way. For me, if the race is longer than 2.5 hours, I know I need to start fueling every 30-45 minutes from the start. If it's less than 2.5 hours, usually water is sufficient. Your mileage may vary though, of course.
2. Test your food/gu/energy product prior to race day to know if your body will tolerate it or not. I've had some quite unpleasant reactions trying to test energy products on race day.
3. Invest in proper, comfortable equipment/clothing.
4. Don't test new shoes, clothing, saddle, handlebars, bike, etc for the first time on race day.
5. Take care of injuries and rest when needed; trying to push through training when injured only delays healing or intensifies the injury.
6. Recognize the difference between true injury and excuse-making to miss a training day.
7. People have always been kind to me during races, encouraging me when I needed it or offering support, and I try to return that favor whenever possible.
8. Many races have cutoff times, but if you're concerned you won't make it in the allotted time frame, look for another race that allows everyone to finish (walker-friendly events are great resources for runners who are slow), or contact the organizers to see if they'll allow finishers after the listed cutoff.
9. Don't shy away from something that seems scary simply because you don't know if you can finish. If you don't train and try, you will never know.
10. Slowing down or going slow doesn't mean you're a failure or that you should give up. We all start and end somewhere and finishing always feels better than quitting, regardless of the finish time.
11. Race/action photos are some of the worst photos I have ever seen of myself. If it's going to make you crazy to see a bad picture, just don't look at the photos at all (or have someone you trust preview them and tell you if it's safe to look).
*Image here
The saying goes, slow and steady wins the race, but that definitely hasn't been my experience. I suppose it depends on ones definition of "slow" though, and the definition of "win" as well. There are lots of moments that take place during a race, whether a person has the best overall finishing time or not, that can feel like victories. I sometimes wonder where I'd be today if I'd never tried a race at all, but I don't truly want to know what that world is like. Every race teaches me something about myself - whether I want to learn a lesson or not - and, the great thing about being slow is that there is always room for improvement.

Racing isn't everything to me, and my world doesn't come to an end if I don't participate in an event, but it's a nice, occasional practice to remind myself that there is competitiveness within me, even if it doesn't show by finish times or to anyone else who's racing. Plus, it's always fun to see if I can improve, even a small amount, from one race to the next.

Any other slow racers out there? On foot, on a bike, or any other sport? If you have words of wisdom or your own race stories to share, please do!