Monday, October 16, 2017

My First Duathlon, Part 3: Surviving in a Desert

**If you're just joining this story or missed either of the first two pieces, you can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

Most of us have seen movies of people in the desert, lacking energy and wandering in search of life with nothing and no one else around. That's the best analogy I can think of in an attempt to describe these moments I was experiencing. There were people all around me, but the only thing I could see was a scene of hot, dusty, dirt and gravel all around. My only motivation for continuing to move forward was water. There was definitely water up ahead and I had to keep moving to get to it.

I'm pretty sure people passed me. I recall making nonsense comments as they ran by. If you asked me details about it though, I have no recollection of any meaningful banter or conversation.

Water. Water was my only goal.

Certain that I'd been walking for hours (though actually not), finally the aid station was visible in the distance. Like a mirage, the tent wavered in the heat of the day. I may have been talking out loud to myself at this point, but I was determined to get to the water.

A reasonable person may be asking him/herself why one would set water as the goal, knowing that there would be no motivation for the return trip of the this final leg of the race. Well, when one is in the state of mind I was those sorts of thoughts don't enter the picture -- at least until in the midst of it.

I had finally reached the water. Precious, hydrating, life giving water. That paper cup of cold water was the best thing that had happened in my life to date. It sounds ridiculous in retrospect, but it's how I felt in that moment. I requested another and another, and yet a fourth.

The volunteers were looking at me strangely, but dammit, I was thirsty and I was going to drink until I was content. I savored the moment. I walked to the opposite side of the path and took more water from volunteers there. I wanted to bathe in the water, but I suddenly realized that I now had to make the return trip to the finish line.

Shaking my fist at the sky I proclaimed, "Why do you mock me?!"

Truly, I think delusion was setting in now. I was picturing myself in an epic movie, except that it was real life (or what behaved as real life) and this is where I was going to lay down and end existence on this earth. It was so far back to the finish line. There was no way I was going to make it back. No way.    No.   Way.

I let out a huge sigh. I took two more cups of water. I started to cry.

My body hurt so badly. The pain I was experiencing was setting in now that I'd found the water I had needed.

"Suck it up," I sobbed to myself, "You can't just stand here forever." And with that, I headed back to the finish. Very, very slowly.

It was a bit ridiculous. Though I hadn't had months of training for the event, I was trained to some extent. True, I wasn't accustomed to completing the distance while experiencing the pain I was in presently, but I did not want to quit. I was not going to quit because I could still move.

Shortly after leaving the aid station, I was thirsty again. How could I have consumed so much water and still be thirsty?! I thought about going back for more, but backtracking would not have been wise. Despite my thirst, my stomach was sloshing with water, which was creating quite an uncomfortable feeling on top of everything else.

My steps were getting shorter and shorter. Soon I was shuffling along like a 90-year old who's had hip and knee issues her entire life. This is what I have to look forward to, I thought. The great thing about this thought was that it actually focused on life beyond this race which meant that I stood a chance of finishing the mission.

I wanted to run. Really. My brain was telling me to do so, but every time I would attempt it, my body declined the invitation. It was one of the most frustrating instances of my life. I kept trying to coax my body into cooperation. The faster you go, the quicker this will be over. I'd pick up my leg and attempt to run, but my attempts were met only with failure. It was no use. My body was doing all that it could.

After wandering this desert for weeks (or maybe what only felt like weeks), I spotted Sam off to my right side. He was walking very slowly, about 20 feet away, in the same direction I was headed. Why was he walking so slow? I wondered. Then, I suddenly understood that it was because I was walking that slow and he was attempting to stay with me to show support.

Suddenly, whatever little hope had been keeping me moving collapsed inside. "I can't do this," I cried. "I don't want to do this anymore." I don't know if it was the comfort of seeing Sam and knowing that he wouldn't make me finish, or the reality that my body truly felt as though it couldn't go on, but I had to let it out, to share with someone who would understand that my body couldn't take any more.

"You are almost to the finish," Sam responded. "Just a little bit more to go." He moved in closer to me, likely realizing I wouldn't bite his head off as I had during the riding portion. I just wanted the torture to end.

"I can't see the finish. Where is it?" I asked.

"It's there. I promise," he smiled as he pointed off to some random point ahead. "Do you see all those people up there?"

"Yeah," I sobbed like a dejected, pouting child, head hanging low and shuffling my feet even slower.

"That's where you're going. You're almost there."

The dirt and gravel path had become a paved road again, so at least there was that. I wouldn't be tripping on real or invisible rocks anymore.
My bitterness about other people actually being able to run was taking hold by the last part of this race.
"But, I don't want to do this anymore," I whined again. Somehow stating it a second time, I thought, was making a more emphatic proclamation despite the annoying whining that accompanied the statement. I was convinced Sam would pull me from the race course and save me from complete destruction.

"You can do it," Sam replied.

Not what I was looking for, I thought to myself. I actually can't do this - my body has made that quite clear. As I was thinking these very words, Sam began distracting me with tales of happenings he had witnessed during the event.

I have no idea what the specifics were for these stories, but it must've worked because before I knew it, there I was, a few hundred feet from the end.

"I'll see you on the other side," Sam said and disappeared off into a crowd of people and tents.

I had made it -- somehow -- to the end. It was right there in front of me.

I have to run through the finish line, I told myself. It's a short distance and it will all be over. My body was broken and I was still in need of water, but, inexplicably I want to know that I had run through the finish line if there was any possible way to get my body to make it happen.

Picking up my feet, I attempted to run. I'm not certain what I was doing was actually running, but my brain told me that I was and that was all that mattered in the moment.
My broken and battered self trying to run across the finish. On another note, with all the backside shots taken of me over the years, I am pretty convinced I could stand in as a body double for my father's mother. It's amazing how genetics are just inescapable - both the physical characteristics and athletic aptitude (or lack thereof, as in my case).
Smiles greeted me all around as I passed over the finish. Participant medals were given out and a nice, cold bottle of water was forced into my hands.

Ahhhh. Relief. It was over. The rescue plane had landed and saved me from my desert death. I drank that bottle of water faster than any water I'd consumed. It was the best water I had ever tasted.

It was a bit of an anti-climactic finish, despite the internal drama and physical pain throughout the race. Together, Sam and I walked back to the parking lot in an attempt to find our car. I thought about my initial plan to ride to the start line as we walked. I would've really loved to have done so, but it wasn't in the stars for this particular race. The 25-30 extra miles on the bike that day may have actually been my doom, so it was a wise decision to choose a less physically taxing form of transportation.

After the race, I was asked by a relative if I would do another duathlon. It was a little too soon after the event and the answer was a vehement "No!" With some time and distance in between though, I realize it did exactly what it was supposed to do: Provide extra motivation to keep me pushing through the season. Plus, the memory of the pain is starting to fade, so, on this side of things and with some perspective, I've modified that answer to "Maybe," which almost always turns somehow into an "I've-signed-myself-up-for-an-event," within a very short amount of time.

In truth, had I given myself more time to train, I likely would've done better, even with the particular physical limitations of the day. I think it would be nice if I could find a duathlon that was a bike-run-bike instead of run-bike-run (though I'm not sure these exist), but what I appreciated about the duathlon is that it pushed me outside of my comfort zone and forced me to do something I am not as comfortable completing. I'd still rather do an epic bike ride than this sort of event, but it was an interesting change-up that allowed me to rework the way my brain (and body) are used to working.

Ultimately, even though time was pretty much thrown out the window, I complained a LOT during the final leg of the race, and wanted to quit more times than I can count, I did cross the finish line under my own power and within the time constraints. That was truly the only goal... and the one that mattered most of all to me.

**Thanks to Sam for documenting the day's journey in photos as best he could. Without him, I'd have no photos to share with this retelling of the race. I have to also again thank him for dealing with me during the race. I am eternally grateful that he is always there, even when the crazy sets in.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

My First Duathlon, Part 2: Is Finishing Possible?

(Part 1 of this post can be found by clicking here.)

I agonized over what to do about the race. I don't like spending money on activities I can do without cost at any point and on any day, but once I sign myself up I always feel as though it's a commitment to show up and complete it unless something truly catastrophic happens.

This was bordering on disastrous with my inability to run, but as the night prior to the duathlon wore on, I could feel my brain talking my body into at least trying. I am not a quitter. I may occasionally throw child-like tantrums in the middle of difficult challenges and have to talk myself through it, but I don't like giving up.

By bed time I had decided I was going to the race and while I knew I would be fortunate if I was able to walk the running portion, I was also aware I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't at least try.

Surprisingly, I slept pretty great that night (an unusual occurrence for me pre-race). I woke up on my own before the alarm and everything went pretty smoothly. The pain from my pelvis being out of place was still there, and I seemed to have developed other pains in my calves and ankles over night, but I was ready to go and give it whatever I could on this particular day.

Sam was taking me to the start line and had his bike with him. His plan was to cut through portions of the ride on dirt trails to attempt to see me come by on the roads at various points. He was concerned about being fast enough to get to certain intersections, but I'd told him not to worry as this would definitely not be fast on my end.

When we arrived, I went to set up my bike in the corral for the second part of the race. One of the officials was at the entry and marked my arms and leg with my bib number and age. Looking around, there were a lot of people participating in this event. There was barely room to squeeze my bike into its spot, but we were able to get it set up and then had time to wait.
We watched the rounds of swimmers take off for the triathlon race before it was time to start the duathlon.
This particular event also has a triathlon taking place at the same time and had started a bit earlier than our arrival. We walked over to the swim area to see some of the happenings there and as time closed in for my start time, we meandered over to the line.

I could feel my stomach flopping inside. I was already regretting showing up, but I was talking myself through my plan. It was quite simple... You are just going to walk. Put one foot in front of the other until you get back here. Then, you get on your bike and pedal.

It seemed simple enough, but there are time cut-offs. If I didn't make it back in time, the officials wouldn't allow me to get on the bike. As I stood at the back of the pack, allowing everyone to get in front of me (I didn't want to slow anyone down because of my issues), I tried to put the thought of not getting back out of my mind.

The starting gun was fired and we were off.

There were some truly fast people. We started off on a bit of an incline and by the time I actually crossed the start, there were some at the front I could no longer see. I had to put that out of my mind though. You are doing your own race, not theirs. You are injured. Just put one foot in front of the other and walk until you can't anymore.
It's easier said than done though. I walked and I walked alone. Every single racer was in front of me. Normally, this would motivate me to work harder, but in the physical state I was in, I knew I had to just do what I could and not worry about where anyone else was in the race.

The funny thing with races is that we truly don't know what is going on for another person. We can't know what sort of injuries they're fighting through, what kinds of daily struggles they deal with, nor how much or little s/he has trained for the event. In my experience, I find that people pre-judge me (as humans sometimes do -- we just can't help ourselves) based purely on what I look like. Yes, I am larger than the other people racing, but sometimes the "atta-girl" responses I get from people tend to piss me off. It's as though they think I sit on the couch all day eating and it's the first athletic endeavor I've ever attempted.

On the flip side of this, not every comment comes off as condescending and it is nice to have people who are racing together sharing encouragement. The high-five's while passing (it was an out-and-back running course), the "good job" comments, all of the little things that many participants are willing to do to help keep others going is fantastic. When those up at the front of the pack are willing to offer words of encouragement, I find it extra special. They actually stand a chance of winning and to make the effort to say something or give a thumbs up is truly what sportsmanship is about, in my opinion.

A few weeks prior to this duathlon, I had picked up a new toy. Last Christmas, I had bought Sam a smart watch and I had thought it might be a good thing for me during my training. I had time to test it out before the event and never had any trouble with it, but about 10 minutes in to this first leg of the race, the watch had decided my heart rate was of utmost importance and wouldn't show me anything other than that screen. It was infuriating when I was trying to keep track of time, particularly as this hadn't happened at all during training.

At this point, I was worried that I would need to speed things up so I decided to try running a bit. I wasn't sure I could physically run, but I wanted to give it a try. Up ahead walking was a couple decently in front of me but close enough that it was possible to catch them. I decided I would try to run until I caught up to them and then go back to walking. The first few steps of running were very painful. Very. But, I think I've become pretty good at knowing the pains I can push through and those that require me to be more delicate. As I caught and passed the duo, I thought maybe I could do a bit of running periodically.

Because my watch was being uncooperative, I set visual points and would walk to those and then begin running until the next fixed point I selected. It was working fairly well and before I was even aware of it, I was back to pick up my bicycle and head out pedaling.

I had truly been looking forward to this portion because I believed it was where I'd be able to make up some lost time. Changing shoes, adding a helmet and downing some GU were the only things on my mind. I tried not to be overly concerned with going fast in the transition and, for the most part, this seemed to work well.

I have ridden the bicycle course many times over the years, but I had not ridden it at all this year or even last. My memory had told me that the first 4-5 miles would be climbing and then it would primarily be a downhill sprint back to the third leg of this race. I pictured passing people as gravity took over and arriving back to start the second run with ease. However, as I soon discovered, my memory seems to make up whatever it wants to believe as the course was almost nothing like I'd recalled.

The first few miles were in fact climbing, but the climbing seemed to continue much longer than I'd believed. Oh well, I thought to myself, it is what it is and I know there will be some downhill portions coming.

Less than half way through the biking portion, I could see lights flashing in the road ahead. Motorized traffic seemed to be coming to a complete stop, but I was still free to ride as I pleased in the shoulder area of the road. As I approached the lights, I could see that officers were blocking the road entirely and forcing vehicles to turn around. Off to the left I could see a road bike that looked completely mangled and a group of riders heading in the opposite direction gathered around each other. To this day, I still don't know exactly what transpired, but I could only hope that everyone was okay.

Just as I approached the officer who was directing motorized traffic back in the direction we'd just come, a behemoth of an SUV suddenly started to swerve into me. The officer had been trying to direct both the cars on the road and the cyclists coming through and he was informing me that I should continue on behind him on the shoulder; however, the motorist mistakenly took this as a message for him to swerve into the shoulder and dirt on the side of the road and attempt to go around.  It was at slow speed and I could feel it coming so I was actually yelling at the driver, "NOT YOU! NOT YOU!!!"

I had my arm pressed against the side of his vehicle as I was pushed on my bike into the dirt off the shoulder. I decided at this point my best course of action was to simply stop riding, so I hit the brakes and dismounted. At this point, the motorist finally realized what was going on (I'm sure the look of terror on the officers face was a big indicator) and the driver rolled down his window and profusely apologized. While I appreciated the sentiment, it wouldn't have done a whole lot of good if I'd been injured or worse. Still, I didn't have time to be angry about it because I was in the middle of a race for goodness sake.

Waving him off, I continued down the road. Finally! I was getting some downhill time. "Ahhhh... This is where I shine!" I actually said it aloud. I couldn't help myself. Sadly, the relief lasted only a brief time before climbing started yet again. Hmm, I thought, I don't recall this having so much climbing.

Still, I persevered, waiting for the downhill that I was convinced was coming.

My hands had been going numb (a story for a different time, but it had to do with the bike I was riding) for several miles now. I kept shaking them trying to get feeling back. It was a no-go on that front, but up in the distance Sam was approaching. At least that would be a nice distraction.
The course shared the road with motorized traffic. This was part of the mild downhill section that brought me great happiness for a brief time.
"I thought I missed you," Sam exclaimed as he about-faced and came back to ride with me.

"You can't ride with me," I responded quickly. I know it sounded harsh and I didn't mean for that to be the first thing out of my mouth, but the rules are very clear in that no one can have aid or assistance on the course, nor can another rider be within several feet of another. This was made abundantly clear on several occasions and I didn't want to get disqualified because Sam was trying to check on me.

Sam backed off, but I knew I had to stop for a minute because I could barely feel my hands.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yes, I'm fine. I'm just going to eat a GU pack and then I'll be on my way again." I needed the relief of a few seconds off the bike to pull myself together. Sam continued to ride on.

Shaking out my hands, I consumed the GU and got back on the bike. Up the road, Sam was waiting again. I knew he was trying to be helpful and supportive, but I could feel the agitation welling up inside. What didn't he understand about the fact that I couldn't have him on the course riding with me? My response, unfortunately, came out in a distressed, snapping manner.

"Please!" I said again, "You can't ride with me! They will disqualify me if anyone sees you riding with me." In retrospect, I don't know why I was so worried about it. It's not as though I was at the front of the pack, Sam was riding behind me not in front so there was no advantage, I certainly wasn't winning the race, and I hadn't seen a course official since the start line, but I was still overly concerned with the rules for some incomprehensible reason. Maybe it was just the reality of knowing I wasn't in any condition to be doing this race at all, but now I just wanted to finish and didn't want any reason to be unable to complete the goal. Honestly, I didn't have any intention of hurting Sam's feelings, but I was just in pain and wanted to be through the race.

Sam seemed unfazed and told me that he would see me at the transition. Turning around, he headed back to the transition spot. I felt bad as I rode on. I didn't understand why I'd snapped at him in that moment, but I couldn't focus too much energy on it. Later, the reality of my harshness would set in to a greater degree.

After what felt like an eternity of low-level climbing, I returned to the transition area. I can honestly say for the first time in my life I was actually wanting to be on foot instead of on a bicycle. The lack of feeling in my hands had become too much and I was highly uncomfortable on the bike. While the machine itself had been fine, the two of us together had been a very poor combination that day.

Gearing up for the run (or walk, in my case) once again, my head was filled with doubt. I was so thirsty! All of my water was empty and there was no one at the transition area to provide a refill. I knew there was water at the halfway point of the run, but that seemed so far away when I was presently in need. It was also incredibly hot. What had started out as a lovely day had become something unbearable (one of the consequences of being slow during a summer race, unfortunately).

The good news was that I was making or very close to making my personal time goals - somehow. I'd been a smidge slower on the first "run", and slower on the bike than I wanted (my watch had started miraculously working again), but maybe I could make it up during the final run. Or, at least I was telling myself that in the moment.

As I crossed back through the running shoot, a spectator at the start yelled out, "Run! You can walk later."

Oh, how I wanted to punch her. Genuinely, if I'd had any sort of extra energy to expend, I may have done so.  I say that now, but even with my extreme disdain for this woman in that moment, I don't think I really would ever strike another human in this type of situation. I think she thought she was being encouraging, but when a racer is injured, dehydrated, and generally just not in a good place, it's probably not the comment to make.

Didn't she think that I wanted to run? If I had any ability to do so, I would have. But my body was broken. My spirit was broken. Now, I just wanted to cry. I desperately wanted, nay, needed water. My back was killing me and the thought of having to complete another run, no matter the distance, seemed impossible. Frankly, I wasn't sure I could even walk for any length at this point. Why had I wanted to be on foot again so desperately?

Still I continued down the path. I was barely moving. Sam would later tell me that I had a nice waddle going on... thanks, Sam. Though, I knew precisely what he meant. I was hurting and I truly didn't know if I could make it to the end.

*The 3rd and final part of this post will be up soon! Thanks for reading along and for your patience as I finish up the post.

Part 3 is up now and can be found here.

Monday, October 9, 2017

My First Duathlon, Part 1: Training for a Duathlon While Recovering from Injury

Earlier this past summer, I wrote about why I participate in races occasionally, but in August, I participated in a summer race for which I had little time to train.

To provide a brief background, I had been searching for something that would motivate me to work a bit harder as we worked nearer to the end of summer than I might if I had nothing to aim toward and a duathlon presented itself. I have never in my life competed in a duathlon, but this event, while a challenge for me, seemed like a doable distance and course to complete, so a bit on a whim, I signed myself up just a few weeks prior to the race.
*Image found here
Almost immediately, I had buyer's remorse (participant remorse?). I wasn't entirely sure this was my smartest move. I've had a lot of issues that have kept me from running much at all this year, but I also knew when I signed up that walking portions was a possibility. I'm also far more comfortable with other types of physical movement. If someone told me there was a competition in a few weeks involving strength, I believe it would be less intimidating to me. Still, I didn't want to walk the running portions of the race and the internal nagging persisted as I continued to ask myself why on earth I'd have signed up for a run-bike-run race?

Obviously, the two tasks I need to undertake for this race are running and biking. Fortunately, I'm on a bicycle at some point just about every day, but I knew that my distances were going to have to advance and I'd need to have some focus on speeding up my usually casual-leaning pace. Riding a bicycle doesn't terrify me the way running (twice) does. Riding a bike is easy. It can be challenging on different terrain/inclines, but for the most part I get on a bike and go, down shift or up shift as needed, and pedal.

Running doesn't come as easily. True, it's still just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, but my body tends to fight me much more when it comes to this form of movement. As anyone who's read here can tell you, the injuries my body has dealt with over the last several years have brought a challenge to even riding as far as I'd like. My injuries span from feet all the way to shoulders and have varying levels of intensity and need of coddling. For instance, my pelvis comes out of place at least once per week. Running or even walking when it's out (as one might imagine) isn't the easiest thing to do. I also deal with genetic issues that truly will always keep me at a slow pace when it comes to running.

Still, I can train as long as I don't try to push too hard when I'm experiencing immense pain, and as long as I take care to listen to what my body is telling me.

My regular workout usually takes place at the gym. I vary exercises but usually find myself on a treadmill, lifting weights and mixing in my own random sets of cardio exercises that I've taken from various sources over the years. I also try to include stretching at some point, but it's one of those areas that I really should include more regularly.

When starting to train for the duathlon, I figured it would probably be a good idea to actually practice the way things would go for the event. So, I started running, biking and then running again.

My first try at it, I figured I'd take it easy, starting with 1/3 the running distance, most of the biking distance and then 1/3 the running distance again. I had decided to train only on the treadmill, even knowing that running outside is a different sort of beast, but also accepting that it would do less harm to the parts of my body that I needed to keep safe.

On the first run, I ended up completing 1/2 the running distance because I felt I didn't need to back as far down as I'd initially thought, but I will say that the most challenging part for my brain (and body) was returning for the second round of running.

As stated earlier, I'm used to riding to the gym to work out and then riding home, but there was something about that extra run before the return trip home that threw my mind in to chaos. I could feel my brain telling my body that we were done and to stop moving, so it was a bit of a mental struggle to refocus and tell my legs to keep moving. Of course, practicing helps with muscle memory so this fight wouldn't be such a struggle going forward.

The ride home after that first attempt, even though I live only a couple of miles from the gym, was not easy. Although the distances had not been great, the three hours I'd spent moving meant that my body was looking for some sort of nutrition. It's as though I'd forgotten that there is a difference between a workout and training for an event, but my body was definitely reminding me.

With the second try, I incorporated some GU into the riding portion of training, which helped tremendously. My brain felt clearer as I started the second run, I didn't feel as though I was going to collapse, and even the bike ride home was a little easier. I still hadn't quite got the nutrition part correct, but it had gone much better than the first round.

Unfortunately, injuries still plagued me into the third week and I was starting to wonder if I'd be able to compete in this event at all. Having difficulty walking, let alone trying to run was causing mental distress. I pondered deferring my participation until 2018, but I really wasn't ready to give up quite yet.

Still, as I did not have much time between sign up and the actual race day, I tried to determine the best ways to utilize what was available to me. Running a lot would be good for this type of event; however, my body doesn't tolerate it well, so instead I spent some time walking uphill and doing other cross training activities such as jumps and short, faster sprints in order to try to build up what would be needed for this duathlon.

Surprisingly, my body was doing pretty well and I was beginning to think that I might actually perform decently at the duathlon. My back was holding up, my knees weren't hurting, and even my pelvis had been staying where it needed to most of the time.

By the first part of the week of the duathlon, I was feeling great! In the back of my mind I had minor moments of doubt, but I was pretty sure that my body was as ready as it could be given the short amount of training time, and I was experiencing only minimal pain which was already a win for me. I even made a comment to Sam that I was feeling good and thought I could do well at the race.

The debate about what to wear for the event had been plaguing me too. I had tried a few combinations during my practice duathlons, but nothing seemed to be to my liking. If it worked well for running, I was uncomfortable on the bike and vice versa. The last thing I want to be doing during a race is tugging on clothing. Ultimately, I had decided on my triathlon knickers because they are easy to run in and still have a small amount of padding for the bike.

The top portion was where I was struggling though. After trying several bike jerseys I own, I wasn't happy with the way they behaved while running. When it came down to it, I didn't need the pockets on the jersey because I had a bag for the ride and could keep GU in the pocket of my pants while running, so I decided to wear a work out tank and hope that it would be sufficient.

My workout plan was in place for the week leading up to the race too. I continued to exercise but took things a bit slower than usual to ensure that my body would stay well.

Unfortunately, the day before the event, my pelvis decided that it was time to pop out of place. I had been having some neck issues and could not turn my head so I had made a trip to the chiropractor the day prior, insisting that he only adjust the upper part of my back/neck as all had been so great with the lower portion of my body.

After the adjustment, my neck started to feel better, but I was then dealing with lower body issues that were making it difficult to walk at all. I was kicking myself for going in for an adjustment, but knew that I really needed to be able to turn my neck during the race. Still, had I just left things alone I was fairly certain none of this would be happening.

The night before the race, I was convinced that I shouldn't show up to the duathlon at all. The majority of the race was running, not biking, so I didn't think I'd be able to fake it to the finish line. I was mad at myself for spending money on a race that I'd known would be a challenge even in a good state, and now I was experiencing so much pain just putting one foot in front of the other to walk through the house that I was pretty sure this just wasn't going to happen.

"What do I do?" I asked of Sam, as I held my hand up to my aching hip. "Do I go anyway and try, and if I can't finish, at least I gave it a shot? Do I just forget it and not bother. I really don't think I can run at all, and I'm honestly not sure I can even walk very well."

Unfortunately, Sam didn't have any wise words for me. I completely understood. It's not really possible to tell someone else what their body is capable of doing, but he definitely sympathized with my plight and was aware that I was not in a good state. I knew he wouldn't blame me for dropping out entirely before I even got to the start line, but I was still (as much as it perplexed even me) trying to figure out how I could complete what was in front of me the following morning.

*Part 2 is in the finishing stages and will be available soon.
**Part 2 can now be found by clicking here.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

When Cyclists Are In the Wrong

Several weeks ago, I was traveling down a road and came to an intersection with a 4-way stop. All of the vehicles present were taking turns as usual when a cyclist traveling eastbound blew through the stop sign. When I say this I mean it quite literally. Wearing headphones covering both ears, without a look in either direction of the opposing traffic, he literally picked up speed and rolled through the stop sign.

As he was proceeding through, a truck heading southbound was taking his turn to cross the intersection and nearly collided with the cyclist. When the truck honked at the cyclist, the man on the bicycle turned around and flipped the driver the bird.

I was in shock at the cyclist's absolute disregard for his own personal safety as well as his gumption to actually be angry at the motorist who had followed the rules of the road. I truly couldn't fault the man in the truck as I'm sure he was startled by the sudden appearance of the individual on a bicycle, who he most likely couldn't see was approaching the intersection at full speed.
For the record, this cyclist in question was not dressed like a hipster.
*Image found here
A couple of weeks after this incident, I was traveling behind another cyclist who made the decision not to stop at a 2-way stop sign, narrowly missing being hit by a person driving a car. A few blocks later at a busy intersection with a signal (that happens to be notorious for close-calls and accidents with cyclists and pedestrians) this woman once again ran the stop light.

Pedaling behind her, I reached the signal shortly after she rolled through and pressed the crosswalk button. The signal turned green about 30 seconds later, after which I proceeded through, catching up to her shortly thereafter.

At the signal, this rider had turned her head and noticed me approaching behind her, so I wanted to make a silent point by passing her. If she had simply followed the rules, she would not have delayed her travel much at all, and also not put her life in jeopardy.
*Image found here
These types of incidents seem to be happening with more regularity. Sometimes, they are minor infractions and other times they are potentially life-altering types of incidents. Regardless, I find myself (at least during these types of moments) siding with motorists who recount stories of ill-mannered and poor-behaving cyclists on the road. I am not making light of the situation with the memes posted here either, but simply pointing out that what is an easily found opinion of motorists can seem to be true in these instances.

I have an understanding that "scofflaw" cyclists are not the majority and that many people who ride regularly don't intentionally put their lives in danger, but within a three week span, I personally witnessed or encountered more than half a dozen people on bicycles blatantly and thoroughly breaking the law. Living in a community of under 100,000 people, that may not seem like a huge number, but it is an amount that seems to have grown tremendously from past experiences.

Why the sudden increase?

It would be easy to say that it was summertime and more individuals are out riding a bike. Perhaps that is part of the equation, but it doesn't account for the sudden increase in this behavior over past summers. I have even considered that maybe more people are riding in general and with that comes a certain level of comfort on the roads as cyclists begin to think it is safe to ignore basic travel/road etiquette and laws.

I am not the safety police nor the law, and I have shared more than once that I have been known to, at times, not follow the letter of the law when it puts me in more danger on a bicycle, but when people on bicycles are making leaps to running red lights at very busy intersections without looking, or picking up speed to roll through 4-way stop intersections, we are not helping our cause in the least.

It can easily be witnessed that many vehicles, motorized or other, break the law. Cars and trucks are seen with regularity rolling right turns at red lights, not stopping completely at stop signs, not signaling lane changes or turns, driving distracted, speeding, running intersections with red lights, and any number of other infractions. There's a comfort level that happens when we get used to driving or riding and if we get away with something once, it becomes easier to try it again, and before we're even aware, these momentary lapses in judgement become habits.
*Image found here
While I will always believe that vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists) need to be given space on roads and shown respect, I also believe it is our responsibility as a cyclist or pedestrian to raise the bar and behave better than those traveling in motorized vehicles. It's unfortunate, but it is the only way in our current societal norm to find a way to potentially peacefully co-exist because the above meme is precisely what many motorists already believe. If or when we run signals or stop signs, we are illustrating to those who believe cyclists shouldn't be on "their roads" that they are correct in their thought process. When we as people on bikes are seen breaking the law with regularity it sends a message to motorists that they are right about cyclists being individuals who constantly break the law.

Believe me when I say that I didn't have to look long or hard for any of the photos in this post. I can also open any news article online about a cyclist being wounded or killed and find too many comments that blame the cyclist's bad road behavior even when the readers don't know the situation or the person involved. They all have a story though about the cyclists they see doing something wrong and that's all they remember when these types of incidents occur.

If we ride our bicycles in a manner that is predictable and safe, it becomes more difficult for motorists to blame cyclists when road incidents occur. Even though I believe the majority of people on bicycles do behave well on the roads, the few times these incidents occur just add fuel to an already raging fire.

What do you think about cyclists who break the law? Is it possible to change the opinions of some motorists by modeling better behavior than they do? It seems a near impossibility to create a world in which no cyclist ever breaks the law (just as it's impossible to make every motorist obey all the laws), so how do we change many motorists views that all cyclists are rogue, scofflaw individuals? I welcome your thoughts on the matter.

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...
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!