Friday, July 23, 2010

Those Damn Yankees!

I have always prided myself on my sportsmanship. I have been taught to be humble during athletic achievements and be gracious to the people that helped make the accomplishment what it is. And for my entire sporting career, I've always been one of the good guys.

Until now.

I play in a coed softball league on Sunday nights. It started out as a family league with most of the team being related to one another in some regard. It has since morphed into a different team with certain members electing not to play anymore and other people coming in. And this year something has clicked big time and the team is very solid. Nay, the team is downright dominant. We've only had one challenging game this year, and the rest of the games we haven't just won. We've blown the other team clear out of the water. We are undefeated going into the playoffs this weekend.

But being a team like this instantly makes you a target. Even in a Sunday Coed league, there are plenty of competitive juices going. During our run this year, we have been booed, called every name possible, we've had our pitcher hit at a few times, and we've even been protested against. In short, we are easily the "Yankees" of our league.

And you know what? I kind of like being the bad guys for once. I like walking arrogantly onto the field and having a boat load of confidence and not being overly worried about our opponent. It's fun in a way, and I can see the appeal in walking the dark side from time to time. It kind of goes against what I've been all about with respect on the field, but a part of me likes having that bullseye on them and when it's all over and we walk to shake hands after another annihalating victory, seeing the pissed off look of the other team and looking them in the eye and just smiling slyly and saying "good game".

Monday, July 19, 2010

2010 Horribly Hilly Hundreds: Stage 5

I have been on the bike for damn near 8 hours. I've been on the course for damn near 10 hours. I've climbed a shade over 9,000 feet. I've lived on GU, water, bananas, HEED, and PB&J sandwiches for all that time. I'm tired, caked in sweat and road grime, and if I move my legs in any wrong position they cramp up tighter than a perfectly executed Boy Scout knot. I am not happy on my bike anymore, and I don't want to go another 20'some miles. But like I said in the last post, at this point I knew I had this ride in the bank, it was just a matter of getting to the finish.

And so I climbed back on the bike and rode away from the safety of the last rest stop. Not more than a mile or so into it, I am assaulted by Pinnacle Road.

And cleaned it fabulously. Seriously, I passed everyone on that hill. And that boosted the morale to uncharted territory. I locked into the big ring and churned away on the rare flats, got into the climbing gears for the hills, and put my head down and went. The stage takes about 2 hours to finish, 1.5 if your superhuman like my friend Ian. But I didn't notice the time. I was riding possessed, and the country rolled by. Unlike before, I wasn't worried about not finishing, I wasn't dreading the fact that I was gonna quit. I kicked the pedals over and over and rode my way towards Mounds Park Road part deaux. At the last water stop before that horrendous ride, I filled up on the bottles and then gazed melodramatically across the scenic countryside. For the first time in my 4 attempts, I appreciated the view. I was having fun on this ride the whole time. It was hard, it was a sufferfest the whole time, and I wished many many times that I was not on my bike but drinking a beer in the shade somewhere else. However this year I raced my race. I did my pace, and I was smart, and I was now sitting here with about 10 miles to go and starting to realize what I was about to accomplish. I was about to have ridden 123 miles in one day, climbed a mountains worth, and finish a ride that in year's past had a field finish rate of something around 1/3 for the long course. I had to smile a little bit before I put the bottles in the cages and went on my way.

But I still needed to climb Mounds Park Rd., and the last 10 miles or so you can see it looming as you snake your way towards it. The sun was setting so I knew the climb was gonna be in the shade, but that was a mute point. By that point my legs will have the most they ever had in them in one day at 120 miles. This climb, whether or not I was feeling good and having an awesome day, was gonna hurt. And it didn't disappoint in that regard.

I turned onto the road and saw the street sign printed with the infamous name, and I give it the finger. I then churn away. There is only one person ahead of me at this point, and I make a point that I'm gonna catch and beat him to the top. One because he's on a hybrid style bike, and two he's doing the candy ass approach of paperboying the climb. So I go. The legs cramp and I ignore them. Even though it's shaded, the core temp is skyrocketing from the fact that I'm going up again. Mercifully, about 1/4 of the way up you come to a picnic table that has a hose sitting on it with a spray valve. These people do this every year and if I ever saw them in person I would hug them. I proceed to hose my head down and top off one of the bottles so that I can spray my head down throughout the rest of the climb. I clip back in and away I go.

You climb. And climb. And climb some more. Mounds Park Road is relentless with an average gradient of 11% or so. I'm out of the saddle, I'm back in it, I'm up again. I'm doing everything I can to keep the legs working. Then mercifully it levels out and then you are coasting down. The downhill doesn't last long, but it is rejuvenating. This year they were doing road construction at about half way up the last small section of this climb, so I make the right turn, climb a few feet to the ticket booth, and have to clip out. I'm too tired to try and navigate my bike through gravel, and I don't want to risk a mechanical or something else at this point. So I walk my bike through it. Once back on solid ground, I take just a few breathes, a sip of water, and throw my leg back over the bike. Cars are coming down now and people are honking and shouting "You're almost there! Keep going!!". I smile back and give a salute and think to myself "I know." Only 300 feet or so separate me from one of my huge goals and I set off. And wouldn't you know who I see paperboying around? My carrot, that guy on the hybrid. And I churn away with a little more purpose, and then I see a volunteer telling me that it's just around the corner. But even more motivation is I hear Elli scream at me. I can tell by her voice that she is crying. This is a huge victory for me and something that has taken me 4 years to achieve, and she has been through it as well. For past 3 years she has suffered each failure with me. She even confided in me this year on the drive back to the hotel that if I didn't finish this year she may not have been able to go through a 5th time. Truth be told, I'm not sure I would've been able to either. But back to this ride, with her, Jen, and Ian shouting encouragement, I somehow summon some deep energy reserve and jump out of the saddle and sprint to the line. Officially, my on bike time was 9 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds. I made my goal of 10 hours of saddle time by one second. I find a tree, let the bike fall, and fall to the ground and use the tree as a back rest. I've finally finished the most torturous ride I've ever done. And I'm laughing. Elli is crying with joy. And Daven gives me a high five. It doesn't get much better.

So what now? People have asked if I'm going back since I've now finished it. And I answer with an enthusiastic yes. I'm looking forward to it even more now. And it has done wonders for my cycling now. I'm a little more confident in my abilities, and possibly a little more arrogant when it comes to hills. But it's nice to have finally conquered that ride and join a rather elite group of people who can say the same.

Bring on 2011!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

2010 Horribly Hilly Hundreds: Stage 4


I'm not a religous person, however I do understand the concept of Hell. In my mind, it would be custom tailored to each person sent there to make it as miserable as possible for them. If I were sent to my Hell, it would no doubt involve some or all aspects of stage 4 of the HHH.

I started out this post by typing "Endgame". This is what stage 4 has been for me the last 2 times I attempted the long course. The first year I made it through this stage only to succumb to heat exhaustion and took the sag wagon back to the finish. Last year I made it through this stage only to be broken by the end of it and took a shortcut to the end. So here I was getting ready to go back on the bike for the most torturous part of the ride. At the start of this stage, you are only at the halfway point, around mile 65 or so. When the stage is done with, you'll be at mile 89 or so. Stage 4 is almost 34 miles long, which as I've said numerous times is an incredibly long stage for a normal century ride. For this ride, it's insane and cruel. And if the distance wasn't bad enough, the wind was gonna be in full play this time around. I took a calming breath, one last swig of water, and then clipped into my pedals and took off.

Starting out, you're hoping that the ride stays flat. By the overall standards of the ride, the stage you just left was "flat" and you realized that was very nice. And for a few miles of stage 4 it is, until you bomb down into the valley. You have to come back out, and they waste little time having you climb your way out.

But now your legs are failing you. I notice for the first time this ride I'm starting to get leg cramps. It starts in my quads just about the knees, but quickly starts going to the inside of my leg. This is not comfortable in case you were wondering. The only thing you can do is try to stretch on the bike, which is possible but not all that effective in the long run because you'll end up in the same compact position again so it'll all happen again. But if you can tough it out and block out the pain, eventually the cramp does "flush" itself out. So you slug down some water and keep spinning and try to do just that: block out yet another thing that hurts.

This course is end loaded, and if you think the hills are bad in stages 1-3, they fail in comparison to the monsters that lurk in stages 4 and 5. We are assaulted time after time on this stage, and all you do is climb.

And you're completely alone. Most people drop out in stage 4. They either don't start it, or only get a few miles into it and succumb to one of the first climbs you get too. All I do this year is put my head down and churn away. It is painful, it isn't all that fun, and I'd rather be somewhere, anywhere, else just then. Climb after climb, cramp after cramp, the miles very slowly churn by. And after almost 3 hours, those 34 miles or so are gone, and I'm coasting down the road to the rest stop aptly name "The Graveyard". I pull in, put down my bike, and find a shady spot to lay down in. The hardest part of the ride is over and I somehow survived it. And I distinctly remember one thing while lying there:

I'm smiling, because I know that this year I got this.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

2010 Horribly Hilly Hundreds: Stage 3

Ahh, that wind is refreshing. Wait a minute, it just damn near knocked me off my bike.

Stage 3 is the recovery stage of this ride. It's 18 miles long or so, and more of a rolling climb than wall climbs. There still plenty of climbing to be had, and this stage hides the gem that is Spring Valley road, a quaint climb in the middle of nowhere that takes you up, up, and up. But there is plenty of opportunity to spin along and get the lactic acid out of your muscles and maybe get some food and drink down as well. It's still hard, but not as terrible as the first 2 stages. All the while you know the worst is yet to come, but you spin along and try to recover.

At this point of the ride, the main field is pretty much set. The 100K riders have split off and the 200K group is spread out into cells. So from here on out you're pretty much riding with the same group of people. I would pass a group, another group would pass me, and you would end up seeing the same people on the next climb or out rolling on the flats. People are starting to crack, and I see more bikes on the sag wagon trailer than there were earlier. But I'm feeling really really good. In fact this year I even managed to spin in my big ring for most of the flats. I think that was another key to my success this year: not only was the heat gone, but I rode my race instead of trying to pace someone else. When I train, I spin along at a cadence of somewhere in the high 80's. On the climbs, I try to stay in the mid 90's. So this year I tried to stay at my normal cadence of high 80's instead of trying to spin and it paid off. See, racing is all about smarts and little about muscling through.

Anyhow, the wind is picking up. Stage 3 has you rolling out in the open more, and that wind is either your friend or foe. Sometimes it's at your back and you revel in it's majesty as you easily cruise. Other times it's blowing straight at you, and you wish a pox against it's very existence. Other times it's a cross wind, and that sucks too because it doesn't completely hinder, or completely help, and as you lean into it while it's gusting it will suddenly let up and you violently swerve either into the road or onto the shoulder. I will give it credit at this point though, it was keeping the air moving and when it was a gently breeze it was heaven.

As I said earlier, the field is split and spread out heavily, and many points on this ride I'm all by my lonesome. It is beautiful country, and on this stage as I roll along I take it all in. I know it sounds cheesy, but at times like this I truly am thankful for things like my health and the ability to be out on an epic ride like this, and I try to remind myself not to take it all for granted. Especially while out on the open road, it can all be taken in a heartbeat.

While thinking of all that, I suddenly roll into a small town, and realize I'm coming into a little park in the middle of it that is the rest stop for this stage. Stage 3 is over. I love this rest stop because it always has a volunteer with a hose and you get a good dousing of cold water. It's heavenly. I then load up on some food, find a shady spot where Elli, Dav, Jen, and Kaitlin are playing around, and try to relax a bit. And while I'm doing that I can't help but realize I'm on the cusp of the absolute worst stage of this ride. Stage 4 is 33 miles long, has absolutely brutal climbs including the infamous Sweeney Road, and while I'm sitting here trying to eat and recover I'm only half way done. The demons start talking again in your mind and the doubts start creaping up in your mind saying that "you're not gonna make it. You've always faded at this next stage and it will happen again."

However this time another voice shouted out from the back: "F' that!! Get your ass back on your bike and continue owning it like you have been!!"

And for the first time in my HHH career, I didn't believe the doubting thoughts.

Monday, July 5, 2010

2010 Horribly Hilly Hundreds: Stage 2

One stage down, 4 more to go. Although it's never a good idea to think about how much you have left.

Stage 2 is normally when the heat starts getting to you. However this year we all noticed that there really wasn't a stifling heat going. It was actually fairly pleasant, and although there was some wind going, at that time it was just a breeze that kept the air moving. In short, it looked like the weather may look favorably upon us this year.

Stage 2 is slightly more challenging than stage 1. The climbs start showing up a little more frequently, and at this point you now have to start eating while on the bike. Breakfast (if done correctly) carries you all the way through until the first rest stop, but from here on out you now have to start popping GU. And you also have to pay attention to your hydration as that is starting to get behind as well. In short, you're body is starting to rely on reserves and in order to survive, you'll need to start eating and drinking more frequently than stage 1.

One of the first tests of stage 2 happens quite quickly. Just a few miles in you run into Barlow road. Upon clearing that you happen upon Garfoot, where you pose for your picture. I made it up these 2 without a whole lot of difficulty and for the first time that day I start to get the thought in my head that I may just in fact do this thing this year. All other years, even last year when I was in the best shape I've been in, I started faulturing just a smidget on these early climbs. No doubt now that that was due to the heat. The other years the heat has been nothing more than stifling. The sun beats down, and the humidity is so high that the air is thick with water. Taking a deep breath is about as refreshing as breathing in a sauna. However this year when you breathe in, it does what it's supposed to. It revitalizes you, and the cadence you hammer out on those hills just kind of beat themselves out. I cleared the first 2 major climbs (Mounds Park Road and Barlow/Garfoot) and thumbed my nose at the HHH. My confidence starting going up and with each hill on that second stage, it ratcheted higher and higher. More people were walking on the side of the road, and I plowed (well, however much you plow while doing 3-4mph on a bike) by them. I even managed to pass a few people. And I wasn't redlining or at max suffering. By no means was it easy, and it was far beyond challenging, however I was pulling it off far better than I ever had in the past.

The thought repeated itself in my head again, a little closer to the surface this time, "I may just pull it off this year."

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Whether or not you agree with the direction things go at times, you still have to appreciate the opportunity to be able to disagree with the direction.

Happy 4th of July all!!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

2010 Horribly Hill Hundreds: Stage 1

It's different the morning of the HHH than any other ride I do. All other rides I'm up and eating and not nervous at all. It's easier to figure out. Compared to the HHH, all other rides are cake walks. As of yet, I haven't done any other ride that comes even close to the difficulty of this beast. With that in mind, the morning was like all the other times. I got up and proceeded to start forcing food down and guzzling fluids. I ninja sneaked around the room gathering stuff up and went over to the corner by the window and tried to calm myself down. Nerves are at an all time high at this time. At around a quarter to 5 I got too antsy and went to walk around the lobby and tool around outside. Once down at the lobby I met up with a handful of other cyclists taking on this ride. We chatted about what we thought was in store, people marveled that this was my 4th time, we wished each other good luck, and we all went back to our prerace routines. I went outside and immediaetly noticed the lack of humidity. Even though it was way early, all other years the humidity was already noticeable by this point.

A little after 5 I went back to the room. I was now so nervous that I was worried about throwing up. Tacking the number to the back of the jersey is when the nerves reach their peak. It's game time. This is it. For the past 7 weeks everything I've done has brought me to this point right now.

Everyone loads up and we drive to the start line. I don't talk much. Elli and I are like that when it comes to events. We're thinking of what we are about to do and don't want to mingle even with each other. So the ride over is mostly silent. Daven points out the tractors on the ride over like he has on all points of the trip and I look back and give him a smile. Once at the start line I start to relax a little bit. We crack some jokes, load water bottle on the bike and gu in our jersey pockets, strap on helmets and walk to the start line. Seeing as though the HHH is not an official race, there is not mass start. You can hang around for the 7am start time if you want, or you can launch early. We decide this year to launch early, so a little after 6:30am, we bid goodbye to our loved ones, clip in to our pedals, and roll away on the road.

If you read my walk through I did about the ride a few months back, you'll remember that the first 6 miles of this ride are quite easy. It's a good warm up. You spin along doing a few small climbs until you get to Mounds Park Road. This is my litmus test for the ride. If I can make it up this climb without putting a foot down I'm gonna have at least a decent ride. So as the climb starts, everyone goes into suffer mode. Ian rides on ahead and I don't see him again for 12 hours. I put my head down and spin along with everyone else. And surprisingly I'm at the top before I realize it. This is how the first stage went for the most part: when the climbs came, I just churned up them. I was kind of worried about my fitness level for this years ride, so when I pulled into the first rest stop feeling relatively unscathed I relaxed a little more because it seemed that my legs showed up just fine. A little bit of food shoved down and some drink and about 15 minutes later I'm clipped in and back on the course for stage 2. I take note that it doesn't seem to be too hot out but that the wind is picking up.

Bring on stage 2!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

2010 Horribly Hilly Hundreds: Preracin'

From July before the ride until the actual ride itself in June the following year, there really isn't a day that goes by that I don't have at least a fleeting thought of the Horribly Hilly Hundreds. It's even worse during that time whenever I'm on a bike. My entire biking career now is centered around this ride. All the centuries and 50 milers and even the time trial workouts are tune ups for the ride. I experiment with different cadences, work on techniques out of the saddle, position in the saddle while climbing, food combinations, water/energy drink ratio, when to go hard, when to back off. You get the idea. Once you do the ride, and if it's something that connects with you, you can never let it go. It's all consuming.

This was my 4th attempt at this ride. The previous 3 years all resulted in failure. Year 1 I pulled myself from the course due to heat exhaustion. Year 2 I failed to train properly and opted for the short course. Year 3 I foolishly tried to keep pace with Ian and that plus the stifling heat caused me to bail on the last stage and shortcut to the final climb. With that in mind, I was unable to completely shut off the doubts in my mind. But that didn't dampen the enthusiasm for the ride in the least.

The week before the ride is my taper week. Basically I go out on low intensity 30 minute rides just to keep the legs spinning and loose. These are not stressful in the least bit and they serve as a way to let your mind start playing all kinds of tricks on you. "Was that a twinge I felt in my quad?", "What's that noise, was that my bike?", "Son of a bitch that chick on that bike is TOTALLY kicking my ass!", "I'm screwed for this ride". I also added up all the training miles that I had for this ride and came up with a number right around 650 miles. Ian then informed me he had double that mileage. Taper week sucks in that you have too much time to think about you and your bike and you psych yourself out.

I also keep a weather vigil up the entire month before. probably flags my domain name in it's registry since I'm there so often. Ian and I emailed/texted back and forth for about 3 weeks before the ride. And mother nature was less than cooperative. One day it would predict 85 and sunny, the next 79 with partly cloudy, then rain, then back to high heat, then humidity, then no humidity, than hail, meteor showers, snow, back up to 107, etc...It finally settled at around 80 degrees with a very tolerable 56% humidity level. I remember thinking that this year, finally, may yield desirable riding conditions. "Could it be this year we will actually be able to breathe on the course and not be beaten down by the sun?" I asked Ian. "Perhaps", he replied, "but look at the wind prediction."

16-18mph N-NW winds. Remember that, it will play a factor later in the story.

The fateful Friday finally came. This day rocks. I've taken it off every year so there is no rush to get going. I'm in an awesome mood because it's race weekend. Ian and Jen pull up to the driveway with Kaitlin loaded in the car, Ian and I crack jokes how the other one looks fat and how the other guy is saving his legs so he needs to be carried to his car and what not. The atmosphere is one of excitement and anticipation. Even Jen smiled this year when she noticed that Ian and I had our matching shirts from last year on. The ride looms on the horizon and all we have to do today is drive the 4.5 hours out to Verona WI where we are staying.

Upon making it to the hotel, we drop the wives and kids off and go pick up packets. This year Specialized had a demo going on so we got to see the bike that both of us want. It weighs about as much as both of my water bottles filled. I comment how this would make the ride that much easier. Anyhow, packet pickup also serves as a way to size up the competition. This ride is different than the other ones I do. This being a challenge ride means that most of the riders have a few miles under their belts, and looking around I always feel like a fraud among these people. They have uber nice bikes and deep bronze tan lines. But it also adds to the excitement because I feel that I'm also running with the big dogs and we're all members of some special club.

Once back at the hotel, we decide to go and load up on the calories for tomorrow's event. I make the wise and sensible choice to go with a bacon cheeseburger. I wolf it down, make the comment that I managed to beat Ian at one thing this weekend, and even ate a few slices of Dav's pizza. Apparently nerves aren't affecting my eating yet. Don't worry, that shows up later. Once dinner is done we walk back to the hotel and the two families go their separate ways for a night of good sleep and prepare for early rising. We get Dav put to sleep, I set the alarm for 4am, and try to will myself to sleep. Will this be the year I finally make it? Did I ride enough? Did I train smart enough? Am I gonna go out too fast?

As the cliche goes, time will tell, and although it felt like forever before I fell asleep, 4am Saturday morning came awfully fast.
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