Tuesday, August 12, 2014

They're Called the Badlands for a Reason

‘If it’s going to happen, it has to be today.’

I was telling myself this as I was racing through the Badlands of North Dakota in the Maah Daah Hey 100 just over a week ago. This was in reference to finishing the race in under 9 hours - something that doesn't seem that difficult to most pro endurance racers when compared to other 100 mile races. This, however, is no ordinary 100 mile race. The roughness of the course, the cattle gates, the nearly 100% single track, and the brutal exposure make this race a very special one. For those who aren’t familiar with the Badlands, I’ll let the words of early Americans describe them: ‘Hell with the fires put out.’






To me, the Badlands are one of the most beautiful areas in the US. I loved visiting them when I was younger and I love visiting them now, usually with friends in tow to go ride bikes. ND is home to the Maah Daah Hey trail - a (roughly) 100 mile single track trail that runs North/South through the Badlands and includes a river crossing through the Little Missouri around the halfway point. The trail has received rave reviews from around the world - and rightfully so! There’s truly nothing else like it. And, this trail wouldn’t exist today if it wasn’t for a true steward of the land, a fellow by the name of Nick Ybarra.

For the past few years Nick and his wife, Lindsey, have taken it upon themselves to host, acquire permits, promote, and procure the trail so that a group of us racers/riders can come race/ride the entire Maah Daah Hey in a day. I rode with Nick a few days ago when he came to CO for a wedding and after asking him all about the process of getting the trail ready he told me that he pushed a brush mower a total of 132 miles to make the trail rideable on race day. 132 miles!




And this doesn’t include the other volunteers that were out there mowing and weed whacking either. We’re talking a month of back-breaking prep work to get this course race-able. (In fact, Nick threw his back out on the very last mile of mowing and was unable to ride the trail after all of that work…) There are no words to describe how grateful all of us are to Nick and the crew for preparing the trail and creating such a fun event.




A few years ago, Nick and Lindsey came through Denver and stopped by for a visit. I told them that I believed that the trail could be ridden in under nine hours with good weather, good luck, and a strong group to help one another with pace-setting. (Lindsey reminded me of this visit just after the race last week) As race day neared, the weather and trail conditions were looking to be perfect and there were some texts back and forth between Nick and I regarding someone riding a sub-nine hour day out there.

I’ll admit that showing up to this race in the best condition was very important for me. I trained specifically for this race and I wanted to have a good day out there knowing that my wife, family, and friends would be cheering me along. I also wanted to honor all of the work that went into this event. My lead up to this race included a lot of long, high-country rides in the CO mountains. I knew I needed that endurance base and doing 4-6 hour rides at high elevation was a good way to do that! I found myself very tired at times and unable to do much more than ride/work/eat/sleep. Social activities gave way to crawling in the door and plopping down on the couch after a long day of work and riding. When I would travel for film shoots, I would get up very early and sit on trainer bikes at the YMCA for a couple hours. Sorry friends… Even emailing and texting becomes laborious during these times. I know, that’s kind of ridiculous!


When I got to ND, I was lucky enough to be able to be a part of an upcoming (still secret) project  where we got to go do some filming. I also just got my brand spankin’ new custom bike built up that ultimately became the best bike for the job of racing the MDH 100. It was sweet to have the Trek Superfly 100 built up for the shoot. (with a SRAM 1x11 drivetrain and Bontrager XR2 2.35 tires added after this photo - the ultimate setup for the race)
 


Some details regarding the race…

The Night Before the Race

I eat an ungodly amount of food the night before big endurance events. Especially when they start very early since a big breakfast really isn’t an option. So, what did I eat? I ate a huge cheeseburger, big plate of fries, a bunch of bread that had been fried, half of the pasta that my wife, Rachel, ordered, and then some sort of desert back home. DISCLAIMER: I think the one talent I have as an athlete is a relatively cast iron stomach. I know for a few of my friends, that amount of food wouldn’t sit well.

Rachel and my mom made a bunch of rice bars from a recipe that our friends gave us. This would be the first time I tried anything like that in a race. My goal was to eat 250/300 calories per hour during the race. Rachel had just written a story about what cyclists in the Tour de France eat and what they can digest each hour - so I was shooting for that. This is something I have always tried to shoot for, but I’ve historically been terrible at eating enough during races. I promised myself I would force it to avoid the catastrophes I’ve endured in the past.

I’ve also realized that I try and sleep as much as possible the night before a race, but in reality - no one sleeps very much with such an early start! I actually feel the benefit of the sleep two nights before the race. I slept for about 5 hours the night before the MDH 100.


Race Day

This is the only race where I can stay at my parent’s house the night before! I woke up at 3:00AM and my cousin, Ryan, came and picked me up. I ate a bagel with peanut butter and drank a ton of water on the 1hr15min drive to the start. We went over the plan for the aid stations during the drive and I tried to calm some of those pre-race jitters. I would start with two bottles of straight water since you always (or should!) start very hydrated. Starting in cool weather also means you don’t quite need to overload on the water. I was planning on getting to the first aid station in around 2hrs15min. The plan looked something like this:

Start: 2 bottles of water / rice bar / energy bar / treats + gels just in case

Aid 1 + Aid 2 + Aid 3 all looked like this: I’d get one bottle of mountain dew on the bike / hydration pack with 2 liters of water / same food as above

I try and always carry: one spare tube / CO2 / hand pump / multi tool with chain breaker / little bottle of chain lube

I had actually done all of my prep the night before so I could literally just roll out of the jeep and jump on the bike to go loosen up the legs. It was great to see everyone and have brief chats before the start.


As we lined up, no one wanted to take the front line! One thing about people from the Mid-West/Canada is that there is a general ‘politeness’ among everyone. I think the fact that this race is so tough, most decided (intelligently) that they would stay within themselves and not go too hard off the front right away. It was myself, John Paul Peters and Jason Wiebe that went off the front initially. JP was setting a great pace and a little ways into the race I thought I’d go to the front and do some work for these guys. I ended up feeling really good and decided to lift the pace and see how I responded. I realized that JP and Jason were playing it smart and gauging their effort and backed off a bit. I was about to be in no man’s land for the next 8.5 hours…

I knew I was going to have to keep extremely focused. I would constantly tell myself to keep pressure on, but not too much. I forced myself to eat a rice bar one hour, an energy bar the next, and then I’d just rotate very hour. Rice bar/energy bar/rice bar/energy bar - and so on. I also made it a habit to drink constantly.

It was at the first aid station when I heard that my future sister-in-law was in labor, about to bring my second niece into the world. This was a huge energy booster. I thought, ‘I might be suffering, but I bet Mariana will have a much more difficult day!’ I would find out shortly after the race that my niece was born at 5:30PM. Mariana definitely had a much longer day than me!

No one brought up the fact that I was on pace to ride under 9 hours. I’ve learned my lesson over the last couple years. I wouldn’t speculate. And honestly, I wanted to enjoy being out in the Badlands and not stress too much about the time. In 2010, I attempted to ride the trail in a day with a good friend and we didn’t finish. I tried again last year and was in great shape, but completely cracked at mile 65 and barely finished. This trail commands respect. I learned to give it just that.




I think crossing the Little Missouri River in the middle of the race is spectacular. There’s just something about that which gives me great joy. Maybe it’s just a reminder of how rugged and wild it is out there. The river is about 2 miles shy of the 2nd aid station and I decided that I’d skip the shoe change after the river in order to save time. Most of the races I’ve done this year in Colorado have included rivers and I haven’t changed shoes for those!

I went in and out of the aid station quickly as Ryan switched out empty wrappers for fresh food and another Osprey hydration pack. (Osprey has been a sponsor of out team for a few years so I fortunately have a few of these lying around!)





Section 3 of this trail, (miles 52 to 79) is generally the toughest. It’s very exposed, it’s rough, it’s hot, and usually you’re very fatigued by now. This is where I fell apart last year so I made it a mission to control myself through here and not let the wheels come off. I had an uneventful and solid run into aid #3. I made another time-saving decision to not throw my music on. I would have had to run the headphones in my jersey and pick a playlist, etc. I felt that I was staying nice and focused and I should just keep rolling with it. At this point, I still felt very motivated and strong. I raced smart and aside from a few small crashes, was riding very smart.








The Finish

Leaving the 3rd aid station, I let the idea of a sub-9 hour day enter in my head. I started calculating the time it would take and it looked like it would be close. I told myself to limit bathroom breaks (if I could!) and to start taking some more risks. This is where I started to feel the fatigue. I started riding a little harder and I had a couple small crashes (one in front of the photographer) but nothing more than a bruised ego resulted from any of them. There was one point after I crossed I-94 that I thought I could go under 9 hours if there were less than 5 miles to go. I couldn’t remember exactly how far out I was. That was when I saw Nick and asked him how much further. He said 7 miles and I believed at that point it wasn’t going to happen. That’s when I had ‘the talk’ with myself. I wanted nothing more than to have a straight forward finish to the race. I’d been out for nearly 9 hours and didn’t want to suffer and stress all the way to the line.

Well, this is bike racing. And I felt I owed it to my family and to the people at that race. I dug deep for the last 7 miles. I knew that you can’t ask for better conditions than we had that day. I knew it was going to be close and I knew I had done the work to be ready for the final 7 mile battle. ‘If it’s going to happen, it has to be today.’

When I got to the barbed wire fence where you can see the highway, and essentially the finish, I thought there was a chance. I kept going hard and when I saw Nick near the end of the trail and the start of the bike path, I saw it was likely I would finish in under 9. Nick yelled some words of encouragement - as he’d been doing all day when I’d see him - and I went into the pain cave for the last half mile or so. I saw my mom come out to greet me at the finish, but I was a little worried there would be a discrepancy in my time vs the race time so I had to keep going until I hit the line. 8hrs56min. Luckily for me, I didn’t change shoes or put my headphones on. I think that would have put me over 9 hours!




Everyone has been so complimentary regarding the race and it’s humbling to be in such a group of truly great people. I’ve said this all along - everyone that was out there that day is a hero in my book. No one knows how hard the trail is until they ride it. I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s race recaps and my only regret is that I didn’t get to meet a lot of the other people out there. My wife and I did double-duty that day and celebrated our wedding that evening with family - so I wasn't able to hangout longer in Medora. To all of you who were out there that day - my hat is off to you! To the volunteers and everyone who made it possible - thank you so, so much.

Thanks to the photographer, Chad Ziemendorf, and the filmmakers out there and to the people I owe photo credits to. (Kathy Taylor, my family, MDH 100 FB page, someone on the internet for the Badlands photo...)



I was only able to race the way I wanted to because of the effort my family put into the day to help. The time and effort is so appreciated. I owed it to you guys to keep fightin’ at the end there!



The new record will be broken. Whether it’s next year or years from now, I think it will be broken. I’m sure I have some friends salivating at the chance to come up and give it a run. However, I’m very proud to say a native North Dakotan holds it for now!

I believe the spirit of that race isn’t held in times and records, though. I believe the people make it what it is - and that’s a great life experience.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Why it was good I wasn't athletic in high school

I'm ending my 2013 season on a bittersweet note. I structured my season around the solo 24 hour world champs in Australia, but due to Oz being a very difficult and expensive location to get to - I had to pull the plug last minute. The good news is that my preparation for the worlds produced a great byproduct of a few unexpected wins along the way, making this season possibly the best of my cycling career. However, for me the experience of the cliched journey is really what I take away every season and it makes it all worth it.



A good friend of mine said to me the other day, 'Your biggest win is coming back from your injury.' He's completely right. Just over a year ago I was laid up for 4 months unable to stand for more than 5 minutes. I worried about every day that I didn't exercise and how much weight I'd gain, which really put me in a bad place. Fast forward to this summer and I'm riding my mountain bike through the high country of Colorado, racing plenty and feeling I'm where I'm supposed to be. A place I thought I wouldn't get to again.






I'm lucky in the sense that I found my sport, albeit later in life. I sometimes wish I was an athlete in high school. (fun fact: I DID letter in girls volleyball as a manager/stat taker. You may laugh, but when you really think about it - it's genius. A high school guy hanging out and traveling with a team of girls.) The thoughts of missing an athletic background don't last long when I think about my motivation to train and race at age 33 when most pro cyclists are thinking about hanging it up and moving on. I love it. It all still feels relatively new to me. I love the work and suffering that comes with being a bike racer. I love preparing all winter and hand crafting my preparation for the upcoming season. Win or lose at the race, it's all part of that journey. And most of all, I love it when I look up and see my family, Rachel, and friends at races.

As I close out my 2013 season, I have to say thanks to everyone who supports me. Of course Honey Stinger, Trek, and Bontrager who truly make it possible for me to compete at a high level.

Thanks to my family and Rachel - who give 100% support. It's a selfish sport and requires a lot. My family have stepped up in a huge way any time I've needed help with travel and moral support. And Rachel, who has helped me step up my ice cream intake... and has been ultra patient with my long stories of training rides and races.


Now it's time to kick back, eat some cheeseburgers, and do some casual mountain biking to take in the fall colors...


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy New Year! (time to brush up on my non-existant French!)

I've got a great excuse for not showing this blog any love lately. (and it's not only the holidays...) There's been a lot going on, but since this is geared more towards cycling I'll keep it reigned in.


I'll start by saying I'm learning a new sport, (swimming) and I'm completely awful at it. It's not that I would drown if thrown into a pool before I started, but I didn't have any form. I've been working at this for a couple months now and I actually hit a milestone over Christmas when I was able to swim laps without stopping. This, however, doesn't mean I'm good on any level, but it's so fun. I've also been running a lot, too. Ever since I started feeling better after the back injury I'm really focusing on not taking my health for granted. (More on that in a second) All of this cross training coupled with my normal time on the bike has me feeling good about the approach to 2013. I'm almost dialed with the schedule for the season, which might include a couple surprises.

Before the season gets underway I'll be heading to Spain for a week followed by a drive along the coast to Nice, France for a month-long stay there. Rachel and I decided we would commit to getting acquainted in a foreign land so we rented an apartment for an entire month. It's going to be an interesting journey and I imagine a very fun and adventurous one! I'll be training in the mornings and diving into work at night when the US wakes up. I'll be updating this blog with photos and reports from the French Riviera.




As mentioned above, I have a quick something to say about back injuries. More specifically, disc injuries. Since everyone is totally different, I must say I have no business giving any advice. I would, however, like to share my story for those who google, 'back injury successful recovery' like I did when I was desperate to hear something good. In fact, my next blog will be dedicated to this so it will be easier for people to find. I cringe when I see people posting about their injures and whatnot, so I'm reluctantly adding a photo of my MRI as a reference for where I was in June of last year.


I feel very fortunate I've been able to come out of the pain I was in last year, but the reality is that I'll never be 100% safe from another episode. As of today, I've been able to train at full capacity with zero pain. I can tell when I push it close to overdoing it, but I feel great. I've worked my ass off to get here, but man it's worth it.

Here's to a happy and healthy new year to you all!

km

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

This is the start of it

There's something I love about November. I'm a big fan of the Fall, the thought of nordic skiing, and the fact I start my preparation for the next cycling season. Now some athletes get all hussy about hearing other athletes starting so early, but for me it's a great way to keep relatively fit and my weight down throughout the Winter months. I also have my methods for preventing burnout.

For starters, I DO NOT COMPETE in the off season. I like watching cyclocross, but you won't find me toeing the line at the beginning of a 1-hour sufferfest. I actually don't do much intensity in my training in the winter, but I usually learn a new sport - or focus on getting better at another sport outside of cycling - which is intensely hard in another way. Last year I started skate skiing, which turned into one of my favorite activities. This year I started swimming, which is turning into another favorite activity. I think the main reason I love doing these other sports is that it challenges you as an athlete in a way you don't often get challenged when all you do is the sport that you're professional in. Nordic skiing and swimming have completely humbled me, (as cycling often does) and they kick my ass every time I go. For that reason alone, I love the those sports.

I also love the fact that when I do switch into high gear, I'm not starting from such a hole. I can often get right into intervals and the harder riding without the amount of pain I used to feel coming off 3 months of rest. Add the fact that I had to sit out - and by that I mean, lay down on the ground - for 3 months of the season this year, I'd say I'm ready to hit the physical activity again.

With that said, everyone is different and prepares differently. I know people do what works for them and that's what they should stick to. For me, I'll be working on my freestyle swimming technique as well as learning how to go down hill on xc skis - not something a long-time snowboarded knows a lot about.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The best time to be in Colorado. (and Hawaii)

Words can't describe what it feels like to be back on the bike, training and racing. Add in the fact that it's Fall in Colorado and that's a recipe for a good couple months.

Fall has been busy with all the good stuff. Mountains, bikes, weddings, friends, working in Hawaii, etc. Putting a tumultuous Summer of 2012 behind me feels good as I look forward to a fun Fall and Winter. As far as my motivation for racing bikes in 2013, it's never been this high. I have a good feeling for next year and if I can stay injury-free, I'll be making up for a rough 2012 season.

To sum up the lengthy amount of time between the last time I logged into this thing, I'll post up some photos. 

Training partner, Julie D, and I ran into a car fire out near Lyons a while back. I was expecting a full-on Jason Bourne-style car explosion. It didn't happen. (everyone was okay)


In Crested Butte there is a festival called, Vinotok - which is a celebration of the Harvest Mother - which means all types of crazies come out of the woodwork - which means it's pretty much awesome. They 'burn the grump' after putting him on trial on main street. As you can see by our reactions, it's pretty amazing.


I'd say Red Mountain Pass may be the most beautiful Fall drive in Colorado. Standing between Durango and a little town called, Ridgeway, the landscape is littered with remnants of old mines.


And speaking of Ridgeway our friend, John Billings, is responsible for every single GRAMMY trophy made and delivered for the last 35-40 years. That right there is a 'stunt' GRAMMY - one of 8 that are handed out during the broadcast.


And finally, we helped shoot the NBC broadcast of the Ironman World Championships which is going to be aired on Saturday, October 27th. (4PM EST) The trip was chaotic, but great all in the same. A huge congrats goes out to Leanda Cave and Pete Jacobs for bringing home the titles.



Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Cutting Edge

I found out some great news a couple days ago. My cousin, Kayla, got off crutches. This is especialy huge because she and her sister, Hayley, are super athletes. Both of these girls have a schedule that would rival anyone's, and their talent on the ice is humbling. Involved in several sports, including figure skating, Kayla was sidelined for a couple months due to possible hairline fractures in her foot. This is tough on anyone, but I think it's a bit more difficult the younger you are.

When I went back home to ND for the annual Race to Sunset, I wasn't able to race due to the injury I have so it was nice to be able to sit with the family and enjoy some much needed time with them - and dish with Kayla about being injured. It was a bit tough not being able to be the guy they're used to seeing out on the course, racing my heart out, but at the end of the day we were able to crack jokes about limping around.


Hayley and Kayla are my biggest fans and I couldn't be prouder to have them as my cousins. From the first time I saw each of them sleeping in my jerseys, (which became a 'good luck' ritual for a couple years) to present-day where, as young women, they still cheer me on - there hasn't been a single race that I've won where part of it wasn't for them.

I'm big on family and I feel I have the best from the top down. We all feel it when someone else is at a tough spot. When I heard the news that the crutches were out of the picture and Kayla was back on the ice, I felt a sense of relief. Maybe the tables are turning a bit and I'm becoming the super fan of the girls now, watching videos of their performances and feeling nervous for them.

When I went out for my ride today I decided I would try and add some climbing into the picture and see how I felt. It's hard for me to imagine, but I haven't ridden up a mountain in over two months - which is one of my favorite things in the world. I headed up Golden Gate Canyon which is where I cut my teeth as a professional cyclist. I felt good at the bottom and by the top I was feeling great. This was a huge feat for me today and on the way down I thought to myself, 'This was a personal victory'. Being forced away from anything you love is painful, and when you get it back the feeling is unexplainable. Congrats, Kayla, on getting back on the ice.

As for my personal victory on the road today - that's for you Hayley and Kayla.




Monday, July 16, 2012

If Heaven Were a Place on Earth

It would have been on 44th Ave, just East of Golden, CO yesterday morning. More on that in a second.

It's remarkable to think about the sheer amount of love and support you have from friends and family. It's even more shocking when you realize you've (not purposely) taken that for granted. These things come to light when you hit a low point. And to save everyone from a long, drawn-out typical story about being an injured athlete, I'll keep it short and get to the real point.

As I've mentioned in posts below, I'm out for the season. I've never been injured, never had to miss a race because of injury, and have certainly never been laid up for an entire summer! This is new - and obviously devastating - to me. What I've come to realize is that it's devastating for everyone who cares for you, too. Mainly people are bummed because they don't like seeing you in pain, missing your favorite activity and seeing you not feel like yourself. However, after a while it becomes more of a pain for them when you mope around and constantly talk about how your world is ending in a slow and horrible death. (I'm, of course, talking bout me. Not you.)

I owe a lot of people, more than I can write in here, for keeping me going through the dark times. For starters, Rachel has gone above and beyond, and even beyond that to cheer me up and make me feel better. I cannot believe the patience this woman has. I'm not inherently a negative person by nature - nor do I believe I've been super negative, but there comes a time when you just can't conjure up the energy to be positive - and Rach has given me some slack.

My family and friends have lifted me up, carried me over some rough patches, and now it's time to start walking with them. The lesson here is that yes, we will no doubt fall, have a low point, hit rock bottom - whatever you want to call it - but no matter what, always show the people around you that you love them. I'm still trying to figure out how to do this for everyone who helped me, made me laugh, and told me their own stories about being injured.

With all that to say, let's get back to heaven on earth. I got the green light to start doing very small rides - and let me tell you, a 25min super easy ride with no left leg strength was one of the best things that I've done in the last two months! I've worked my way up to 1:20 with a ride out to Golden and back. On that stretch of road on 44th Ave just East of Golden, I remember thinking, I have a major headwind and it's about 95 degrees - and I can't imagine anything better at this moment.