03 August 2012

Nine Mile

There was a moment last week, on the Wednesday night Midweek Classic, when I thought Wausau just might go well. We were coming back into Evanston, jamming along Sheridan Road, and just past Plaza Del Lago, I went to the front to take a pull. Bit by bit, I ramped it up, until we hit the base of the hill at Baha'i and I pulled off, letting the sprinters go for the town line sign. It had been more than 2 years since I did that. And it felt awesome.

I needed that moment, more than I knew.

The lead-up to Wausau this year hasn't been bad, but it wasn't good either. Truth be told, after BURN I was sort of lost; the Fletcher Flyer felt great, but following that I was just kind of floating. Hard rides didn't go that hard, and easy rides became a chore -- really, the only time I felt good was getting out in the woods to mess around, which I did frequently. I wasn't completely burned out -- I still really wanted to ride (thanks mostly to the awewsome Salsa Spearfish!) -- but I was on the edge, and, really, slightly over it. I wasn't watching my diet, wasn't stretching, wasn't sleeping well, and wasn't really taking care of myself except to try to hit the workouts I had planned.

In a word, the month of June and most of July was pretty much, "meh." I was thankfully already registered for Iron Mountain and Wausau, otherwise I would have pulled the plug -- possibly for good. There was a gaping hole in my calendar after July 29, and for a long time I considered extending the post-24 recovery for a long, long, long time.

I'll touch on that more another day.

But then my best childhood friend got married in Springfield, Illinois. It was a fun chance to see a lot of folks I haven't seen in years -- sometimes decades -- and what followed was a relaxing week at my Dad's house, tooling around on my road bike, visiting my old haunts at SRAM, and checking out the old Turin Midweek race ride. I was even able to grab dinner that evening with Liz and Jon, and Liz pointed out that I'm still too competitive to retire just yet ... I thought she was crazy, but maybe she's right, too.

Then Friday came, and I found myself once again turning a lap at Nine Mile. I started doing the math while I was out there -- I have literally done somewhere in the neighborhood of 125 or 130 or more laps out there, in various configurations. And as I tooled around and dialed it in, I realized: I love it there.

At the end of my lap I ran into fellow Salsa-ite Daneille Musto, who would go on to win the 12-hour solo again this year. "You know," I told her,"I thought I was done with 24-hour racing. But then I ride here, and I realize I'm not. This place is awesome!"

And then I rolled out to finish my pre-ride.

And then I bonked.

For all the love, this was not going well.

Riding on instinct and fumes, I found the quickest way back to the chalet, and my dad and I packed up and headed to the hotel. Family dinner with Kim and the kids, and then off to relax -- watching the opening ceremonies was inspiring, and I'll admit, Proctor & Gamble managed to make the tears flow. Nine Mile is the only mountain bike race my Mom ever attended, and it has always broken my heart that it was the year I collapsed.

Last year's 2nd and 1st places - me and Ronsta. Thanks Scott Cole for the photo!
Twelve hours later, I was standing on the start line again. Looking around, I finally came up with a plan: Ride my race, and pace myself (for once!). I was far from ready, especially for the run, but once they said "GO!" there was nothing to do but ride. I had the fitness, hidden somewhere deep down, and a fantastic pit crew (supplemented by our friend Kristin from Minneapolis and her two kids), so it was game on, and just have fun out there.

Thanks Scott for the photo!
The race itself was pretty tame. Chris Schotz stormed out hard, as I paced myself (for once!). I saw Justin out there and asked if Chris could hold it -- "This year, he can," was the reply. Alrighty then. Ron ran into stomach trouble, Chris kept rolling, and I kept pace -- by nightfall, I was catching and passing Ron and Chris was a couple miles ahead of me. The demons set in, as they always do, and I suffered through a few rough laps toward dawn, having drawn within 7 or 8 minutes but then giving it all up rather quickly. Mark Cole helped us out with some mechanical expertise; the dust was choking; traffic was bad in the singletrack (and somewhat discourteous, to tell the truth); and I kept on, keeping on. I never gave up, but I didn't have any left in me, and I set out on my 23rd and final lap thinking it would be a parade, that I wouldn't be returning to Nine Mile for a long, long time. I was mostly OK with a second-consecutive 2nd place, knowing I did what I could.

The finish was sweet, getting off the bike was sweeter, and Muddy Paws Racing managed to round up some amazing prizes -- I walked away with a Contour camera complete with mounting assortment. Kate got to join me on the podium, which was fun, and she proudly showed off my medal with dust all over her face. What more could you ask for?

And then we returned home, a long journey in which Kate and I competed for the crown of who needed the most bathroom breaks. The 24-hour-racing fluid retention was in full swing, as my legs blew up like sausages, and by Knoxville it was already well past bedtime with a couple of hours to go. Only a pair of Wendy's Frostys sneaked by mom and dad while the kids slept could make this any better ...

I read a quote on Wednesday from an Olympic cyclist. I think it was Kristin Armstrong, refering to her run-up to London. Basically, what she said was, this past cycle wasn't as clear as it was 4 years ago, given that she's a new mom. That she would have to live with her race, no matter what, because "as all of us know, you're only as good as your last result." And then yesterday, Thursday, I watched live as Michael Phelps capped off his career with a dominating performance in the 200m IM, almost his last Olympic race ever. He went into that race knowing that Saturday night he could cut loose, and on Sunday he was officially done.
And something inside me clicked. I realized: I'm not finished yet.

I'm not satisfied with going out second. My last result needs to be more. I have yet to win a 24-hour lap race, let alone win at Wausau. That large, gaping hole has been filled, and I'm determined to make it happen. A lot can go wrong in the next year, but a lot can go right, and Kim says she's on board.

I need that moment, more than I know.


Danielle Musto said...

Yay! Glad you are going back for more.

PS. The P&G commercials get me every time too :-)

Stephen said...

Good job on not throwing in the towel just yet. Maturity plays a huge role in success at the races and you have learned a lot in the past several years...keep it up!