Sunday, November 18, 2012

Chiropractic Voodoo

For most of my life I haven’t really given chiropractors much credit.  Sure they go to school for a long time, but I assumed they were mainly for out of shape people who weren't flexible enough to work out their own aches and pains.  To me they were just expensive better trained masseuses.  I know, this is a massive oversimplification.  Until recently, my only real experience with a chiropractor was an 80-year-old guy who popped my back on a picnic table at an airport after I complained about a hard parachute opening.  It was alright but I likened the experience to popping my knuckles.  After that, I wrote off chiropractors as something I didn't need.  Over the last month, however, I have learned that I was completely wrong about what they do and how helpful they can be.

I developed some serious pain in my left ankle at some point in the middle of the summer.  I didn't remember a specific event to cause the pain but it felt like I had rolled or sprained it.  I probably should have taken a break immediately and let it heal up but I was feeling under prepared for the race I had signed up and paid for, and it was quickly approaching, so I didn't want to take any time off.  I pushed through it.  Runners hate to admit injury.  After a few weeks the ankle pain subsided but I started to develop some issues with the muscle which runs along the bottom of the foot.  In retrospect, I think I changed my foot strike to alleviate the ankle pain and as a result I put extra strain on a different part of my foot.

The pain wasn't debilitating by any means, though.  It was one of those nagging background noises that with enough concentration and diversion you can almost completely forget about, but it was always there nonetheless.  I would notice it most in the mornings when the system was still cold and stiff.  Once I was up and moving around it would fade out again.  During runs it would come and go but it was always manageable.
That was until I pushed myself through the rocks at Flatrock.  31 miles of ankle jarring, pointy rocks to the soles, all day stumbling up and down hills.  I made it through the race but after I stopped running and sat in the car for a couple hours, my ankle and foot were so stiff and tender I could hardly put weight on it.  After a day or so it got a little better and I could handle riding the bike, although it hurt with every pedal stroke, but I definitely couldn't run on it.  After a week, when the ankle and heel were still too tender to run on, I had to admit something needed fixed.  And when I say fixed, I mean I needed to get online and start looking up ways to rehab it myself.  I still wasn't ready to see a doctor.
So two weeks after the race, I was exchanging texts with a long time friend of mine, Christina.  I was telling her how my foot was still too messed up to run.  I can’t remember how long we have been friends now but I met her on the drop zone.  She came out to make a first skydive and I was her tandem instructor.  She was a thrill seeker like the rest of us that lived out on the airport so she fit right in. She ended up married to one of my good friends, Joe Thomas, who was also a tandem instructor at the airport.  I like to remind Joe that even though he married her, I was the one who took Christina on her first jump.  Christina has recently taken up running so we now talk about that quite a bit.  So as I’m telling her how my foot was still jacked up and I wasn't sure what I was going to do next, she tells me she might be able to fix it.

Dr. Christina Thomas is also a chiropractor.  She recently opened up a clinic here in Springfield called Active Life Chiropractic.  Despite her being a close friend, as I am with any person in the medical community, I was immediately skeptical.  For one, it wasn't my back or neck hurting, and two, I didn't think you could pop an ankle ligament or muscle back into place.  Again, more of my lack of understanding about what a chiropractor can actually do.  But I was sick of not being able to run pain free and ready to try anything so I said why not.  Turns out chiropractors do more than crack necks and backs, much more.

Christina told me she would treat the ankle with something called the Graston Technique (in laymen’s terms it means to uncomfortably massage the site of injury with shiny metal alien probe like looking tools).  
Before the appointment I had done some Googling about Graston and it made me a little nervous for the first visit.  A lot of people described it as really irritating and some said it was seriously painful, but it would be worth it if I could be full strength again.  The easiest way to describe Graston would be to say they look for scar tissue by rubbing those tools up and down your muscles and ligaments and when they find some, they then use those tools to dig into it and break up the scar tissue.  She found several spots in the ligaments all around the ankle as well as along the bottom of my foot.  Fortunately, I didn't find too excruciating.  While I wouldn't say it felt good, it was totally bearable. She also used a cold laser all around my foot.  I’m not sure what the cold laser does but like I said, I was willing to try anything to run like normal again.

After the first treatment my ankle felt noticeably better.  I was expecting to be told to stay off of it and rest but thankfully she said moderate activity would be good for the healing process.  After the appointment I got on the bike and rode to work.  My foot was noticeably loosened up and I had improved range of motion.  The most uncomfortable part came the next morning when I woke up and it was crazy tight and sore.  By the second day after the treatment it was feeling much better and it was time for another appointment.  After 3 weeks and I think 7 appointments,  my foot was feeling better than it had in many months.  I had full range of motion back in my ankle and the muscle on the bottom of my foot was to the point I rarely thought about it.

Christina has been trying to tell me for a long time that chiropractors could play a role in keeping athletes healthy and moving more, but her words never made it past my preconceived notion that chiropractors were just witch doctors for unhealthy whiplash victims.  I stand corrected!  I managed 145 miles on the bike and 18 miles on foot this week and my foot feels better than it has all summer.  So next time I might not wait so long to admit I’m injured.  It might be faster to just go back and see if Active Life Chiropractic has any more of that witch doctor voodoo for me.   Thanks, Dr. Christina!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

FlatRock 50K 2012

I’m not going to lie.  At first, I was a little disappointed with Flatrock this year.  Of course I don't mean the event itself, or the amazing people that show up, both to run and volunteer.  I was disappointed with myself.  I totally expected to suffer and struggle running a 31 mile trail race, but I have been here twice before, and last year was one of the best runs of my entire life on this same course, so I had high expectations for myself.  I've spent the last week since the race licking my wounds and pondering the event.  I learned that past experience is not indicative of future performance.  I learned running ultras is not like riding a bicycle.  Just because you have survived a hard race before does not automatically mean it will come easy for you the next time you try it.

When I approached the starting line, I was still feeling fairly confident.  I was well rested and well caffeinated.  The jittery energy of anticipation was coursing through the system and I was enjoying the buzz and watching everyone gathered.  I always love the diversity of people at runs.  Today there were 90 some runners ranging in ages from 19 to 63.  23 were women this year.  Sara and Jake had come with me again, my diligent and faithful support crew.  I think I relied on them more after the race this time than I did during.  I've never gone to a race by myself but I don’t think I would like it as much.

We all stood together in the cool 58 degree morning.  It was overcast and would remain that way for pretty much the entire race with a high only forecast to reach 75.  There was a cool breeze, and aside from the 94% humidity (subtle clue of trouble to come later), it was a perfect day for a race.

The race director gave a quick roll call (thanks for stopping to say hi, Eric!).  At 7:30 sharp we were turned loose on the course.  Everyone took off at a fast clip.  I had tossed over the idea of staying at the very back of the pack and slowly turning the engine on.  I'm a loner and run differently when I'm on my own, which is 99% of the time I go running.  I usually cruise from a slow jog and gently work my way through the gears until I’m moving at my regular clip.  Sometimes before I reach cruising speed I stop for a minute or two and stretch out any kinks.  Races never work like that, though.  Ever.  Bang, the gun goes off and everyone sprints for the finish line, despite it being 5, or 6, or more hours later.  Runners take off at speeds they will never be able to maintain for the day.  Now, I’m not judging or excluding myself from this phenomenon, it just seems to always be the case.

See the smiling guy in the blue shorts on the right?  That's TBG from last year's blog. I now know his name is Ron and he won this year!  Way to go, Ron!  

I was almost able to resist the urge to join the stampede this time.  I set myself toward the rear of the group and tried to governor my speed.  Unfortunately, my patience only lasted a couple minutes before I started to worry about being trapped behind the group heading through the super steep and narrow beginning miles.  I picked it up a bit and jumped past as many people as I could and only got hung up for a few minutes in the conga line heading up the hill into the woods.

Congestion on the trail at the beginning.
After a couple miles I had found my groove and was moving at a good strong pace.  I took my first glance at my watch to see where I was at and noticed I hadn't hit the start button.  Crap!  I was next to someone at the time so I hit the start button and asked him how long we had been running, “13 minutes,” he said.  I would get lots of practice adding 13 to different numbers for the rest of the day.  I made it through the first aid station at 4 miles without too much trouble at just over 40 minutes.  Not a terrible pace considering there is a ton of climbing and rock scrambling in those first few miles.  Shortly after this point, however, things started going poorly.

I started to develop a sharp cramp in my upper left quad.  I still don’t know why.  I have never cramped that early into a run before.  It totally took me off my game plan.  You have to use those muscles when you’re running rocky and hilly terrain so it was at the forefront of my mind and a real drag.  That's the sport though, deal with what you have and keep moving.  I needed some electrolytes.*  I had a water bottle and a 3 hour nutrition bottle.  The nutrition bottle had electrolytes in it, but apparently not enough, and I couldn't just slam it down to get more or I would get too many calories at once causing a whole different issue.  Normally, I would just reach into my pocket and pull out my baggie of Endurolytes (an electrolyte supplement), swallow a couple pills and be back to normal in a mile or two, but, I hadn't brought any this time.  I had gambled with the cooler temps and chance of rain that what I had in my nutrition bottle would be plenty.  I was wrong! That 94 % humidity had the sweat really flowing.  Strategy mistake: Always carry extra electrolyte pills!  I vowed to never make the mistake again and hoped they would have some at the next aid station.

About 6 miles into the race, I was the fortunate recipient of what can only be described as a miracle, or maybe you could actually just call it a coincidence, but most likely dumb luck.  Despite the cramping, I was still running a decent pace but the pain was becoming a real emotional downer.  I was starting to re-evaluate how long this day might actually be.  You watch the trail closely when you run at Flatrock.  Always!  Because of the steep and rocky terrain their motto is, "If You Look Up . . .You're Goin' Down!"  So as I’m scanning the trail directly in front of me, rarely looking ahead of where the next couple steps will be, I stumbled across a Ziploc bag full of electrolyte pills that someone in front of me had dropped.  Hallelujah!  I remember quickly weighing the ethics of the situation:  Do I carry them for a while in case the person who actually planned ahead might need them?  Wait, I have no idea who they belonged to and they would never come back.  I certainly can’t speed up to catch them, whoever it was.  I pulled out 3 pills and washed them down.

Free Drugs!
(dramatic re-creation shot in my backyard)
If you were the one who lost your pills, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you!  I hope you didn't suffer too much because of the loss.  Kids reading this, I would strongly suggest you don't pick up an unknown bag of pills in the woods and swallow a handful of them.  It occurred to me afterwards that I probably should have broken one open and tasted it first.  Regardless, whether they were Endurolytes or Quaaludes, they helped me immensely.  The cramps got significantly better but didn't go away for the rest of the day.  They would start to re-emerge every 30 minutes or so and I would take a couple more pills to numb them again.

The rest of the way to the halfway point turn around I was doing pretty good and not horribly uncomfortable.  I saw Sara and Jake there for the first time.  They handed me new bottles and I tried to keep the stop short.  I have learned to limit stopping when you’re having a hard time.  It becomes all to easy to give in to the urge to give up.  Better to keep your mind focused on forward movement.  This was the mindset for miles 6-28.  “When you feel like stopping and can’t go any further…just keep going.”

That humidity would cause me another issue I did not expect.  I was totally drenched, like just turned off the shower dripping wet within the first few miles.  Here is something you might not know, after an hour of being wet, when your skin is soft and waterlogged, and when the seam of your running shorts is right where your thighs brush together mid-stride, there can be a serious amount of chaffing.

Since the turn around I had fallen into a loose knit group with a several people.  There were 3 or 4 of us staying at generally the same pace.  We didn't talk much except during the moments when we would rotate the lead and move back and forth past each other.  After hitting the last aid station with only 4 miles to go, the desire to just be finished was becoming stronger than the pain of picking up the pace a little more.  I started shoveling coal onto the fire.  My body responded well.  With less than 2 miles to go it suddenly got much easier.  With just under a mile left I hit the edge of the woods and came out onto the asphalt road to the finish running fast.

There are interesting forces working on you at this point of the race.  You can hear people cheering and cowbells ringing.  Desire and pain wrestle for control of your body. Your motivation goes through the roof.  It is that close but it hurts!  You're so beat up from the miles and time on your feet that every step is solid work.  The road seems to go on and on and on forever.  There is a hand hanging from the top of the finish arch.  Eric reminded us in the morning safety briefing that until you hit that hand, your race is not over.  In the past I have given the hand the standard high five.  Some people really nail it hard and send it swinging.  This year I let the hand do to me what the course had done, I jumped up, turned my chin, and let it slap me across the face.

The photographer caught the frame just before impact (I was kind of hoping for one of those hat and glasses knocked off, face distorted and scrunched up, sweat slinging shots).
Flatrock thoroughly chewed me up and spit me out this year.  This is why at first I said I was disappointed with myself.  The event itself was as amazing as it always is.  Eric Steele and Epic Ultras put on a first class show without a doubt.  A week later, after most of the pain is gone and I’m getting back to normal, I can see the experience for what it was.  Useless disappointment has faded and been replaced by acceptance and appreciation of all the good moments that were sprinkled about the miserable ones.

I've always liked solving problems and to me, endurance sports are like a complex math problem.  They take several steps, that must be done in the proper order, with each step performed correctly, in order to reach the final accurate answer, or in this case, the best finish I‘m capable of.  I always replay and evaluate my mistakes in life hoping to understand them more deeply, not to find excuses so much as to design better plans of attack for the future.  The mistake I made that lead to an incorrect answer for me in this race was in the very first step of the problem.  Almost everything negative I experienced was from insufficient training.  An honest assessment of my summer shows I simply didn't put the same amount of time on my legs as I did last year.  Sure, it was enough to get by.  I reached the finish line, no easy task at Flatrock, and I am proud of that.  But if you want to do better at something in life than you have in the past, you have to give it more than you have always done.  Next year I’m just going to have to run a lot more.  See you in 2013, Flatrock!

Most excellent race schwag.  My first belt buckle from a race.

* The magazine they gave away in the goody bags had an article that said although it has long been thought hydration and electrolyte levels cause cramping, this is not actually the case.  It said experts now believe it’s caused by a sudden increase in pace and premature fatigue.  This is not my personal experience, however, I suppose it could just be a placebo effect for me and electrolytes have healed my cramps every time in the past simply because I believed they would.  I need to research this more.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dirty Kanza 2012

The position I spent too much time in
I've been home for several days now from my first ever bike race, the Dirty Kanza 200, but I am still spending a lot of my time living back on the hot and rugged gravel roads of Kansas. Epic adventures have a way of doing that to you. They sear themselves onto your memory banks and force you to dwell on them for long periods of time after they are over. I'm a fairly confident person, some might even call me cocky. The Marines taught me to believe I could overcome anything and it becomes a habit to think you can. That's why, when I visualized the race in the months of training leading up to it, I never once imagined myself lying on the side of a road puking what precious water I had in my system out into the weeds.

There was really no reason to be surprised. I had read countless blogs of people doing the exact same thing. In the short history of this race, lots of strong people with far more bike racing experience than me have been beaten to the point of quitting. But I had made my mistakes and I was now flat on my back on the hot gravel, under the best patch of shade I could find. While my lofty 14 hour pre-race goal had long been shattered, and the urge to quit was pounding on my door, I was determined to get up and complete the rest of this race. First I needed to stop dry heaving and find the energy to stand up. I only had about 50 miles left to go.

The entire day had not been so dismal. Jamie and I had left the hotel at 5:00 am and rode to the starting line. Collin was staying in a different area of town and was to meet us there. The sun was not yet up and the temperature was a cool 49 degrees. After reading how hot this race is year after year, cool weather gear had not even crossed my mind. Fortunately, I had thrown a long sleeve jersey into my bag at the last minute just in case. The short 3 mile ride to the start had warmed me up nicely. We met up with Collin and the three of us stood anxiously at the start waiting for the adventure we had all looked forward to for months. The three of us had logged tons of miles together over the spring and spent many hours discussing how we thought the day would play out.

There were 420 riders who had made it to the line ready to face the challenge of riding 202 miles of gravel roads through the Flint Hills of Kansas (there are hills in Kansas, the course had nearly 7,000 feet of elevation gain). I have only been on a couple of large group rides before and nothing anywhere near this size. There was an overwhelming amount of energy and positive attitude flowing in the group. We joked and checked out everyone's bike setups as we waited for the 6:00 am start to come around. I was feeling strong and ready. Perhaps more ready for this event than I have ever felt in the past. I had trained smart and hard and I was ready to get this show on the road. In hindsight, a little more caution might have been warranted but we will get there soon.

Finally, the race director gave some announcements and began the countdown to the start. Below is a short video of the roll-out that someone put up on youtube.  That is a ton of bikes!

It felt way too easy to start off fast with such a perfect working temperature. The nearly 500 people jammed into a tight pack rolling out of town was a bit too many people for my taste. Everyone was in great spirits, and the positive vibe was encouraging, but I was feeling the need to get some space. It took quite a while for things to spread out, but eventually numerous packs of 10 to 20 riders were beginning to form. I'm pretty sure it was how easy the cool weather made it feel, and the claustrophobia I was feeling being in a large group, that led me to the first mistake of my race, an attempt to break free and catch the lead pack ahead of us that was slowly pulling away.

I was so wrapped up in the riding and breaking free to the faster group that I hadn't thought to say bye or tell Jamie or Collin what I was doing. Not that they expected me to. During our rides we discussed the ethics of issues that might come up. Do I wait for you if you flat? Do we stick together no matter what? No. We were individuals that didn't want to hold each other back. So without looking back or saying a word, I threw everything I have learned about pacing and patience in the beginning of a long race to oblivion. I crumpled my well crafted mental plan of conservation and pace control, cranked the effort up to 11, and hammered forward. It's funny too because the three of us talked often during the training rides about what mistakes we shouldn't make. There were several conversations, about me specifically, going out too fast. As both Collin and Jamie predicted, I did exactly that.

 The pace was working pretty well for a little while. I was grooving to good music and flying as I was passing tons of strong looking riders (you guys can thank me later for the motivating experience of blowing by me like a freight trains later in the day). The morning stayed cool and I cruised through the first 60 mile section in close to 4 hours. I pulled into the checkpoint feeling like a rock star. I changed out bottles, took off the long sleeves, and was back on the road in less than 2 minutes, foolishly thinking I could maintain this effort all day.

It was shortly after I pulled out of this first checkpoint that it started to get a little hot and a lot harder. For some reason I was getting sick to my stomach already. The pedals were getting much harder to turn. It was too early to feel like this. Around mile 75, Jamie caught up with me. He is a tough customer and has plenty of experience at endurance racing. It wasn't a surprise that he caught me at all, but it was a surprise that it had come so early. I was hoping he could rally me and get me back on track. I jumped behind him for many miles and regained a little strength resting in his draft. Jamie and I stayed together for all but the last couple miles of this 40 mile leg to the second checkpoint. We had also linked up with a single speed guy named Pete that seemed to be having a much more relaxed time of it than I was. I normally think of myself as a much nicer person when things get hairy, but I was suffering early and nervous about it, so I just wasn't very talkative.

I think we were just over 90 miles in when me, Jamie, Pete, and several other guys all hammered straight past a turn. We rode on for another 3 miles or so before Jamie turned to come charging back towards us. "We missed a turn," was all I heard as he rode past and then someone else said, “I think it's only a few miles back.” It hit me hard emotionally and in hindsight this is the moment it all became a death march. We had thought we were only like a mile from the checkpoint. This mistake meant it was more like 7 or 8 miles. I was tired, hot, and I didn’t feel like backtracking. Not that a couple miles should have mattered to me since we weren’t even halfway yet.

I turned around with them but I only soft pedaled and prayed that they were wrong. I was hoping they would turn around and come back flying my way to say, "I guess we were going the right way after all," but they soon vanished over a hilltop and never returned. I resigned myself to the mistake and did my best to pick it up again but I was seriously dragging. I wouldn’t see Jamie again until the end of day where he would already be showered and in clean clothes. He maintained the pace we were at until the end of the race and finished in less than 15 hours. Respect.

When I pulled into checkpoint 2 at 100 miles, I was ready to rethink my fast pit stops and take a longer break. I sat in a chair for 15 minutes and drank some Coke and ice cold water. I don’t normally drink soda during a race but it tasted amazing and brought me back to life. I was ready to get back on the bike. I figured I was going slower than I wanted to, but I would certainly still make it.

Unfortunately, my new found vigor only lasted about 5 miles. This section, from checkpoint 2 to checkpoint 3, was definitely the crux of the ride for me. 65 miles in the baking heat of the afternoon. This section was taking a toll on everyone. There were many riders sitting on the side of the road under the shade of the very few trees there were. I was no longer able to drink the Gatorade and Endurolyte mix I had in my bottles. Every sip made my stomach queasier. This mix is my second large mistake of the race. Finding the perfect way to take in calories, hydration, and electrolytes while racing is proving to be extremely difficult.

I started looking for a place to get some water. We seemed to pass more farm houses on this stretch but not many were close to the road and I didn't want to venture too far onto someone’s property uninvited. Though, as time went on I was getting more desperate for something to drink and decided to head up the next driveway no matter what. Finally there was another house and I pulled in. A large scowling dog on the porch made me turn around and head back out, my mouth feeling as dry as it’s ever been.

A little further up the road, I finally saw my oasis, a tiny house sitting right up on the road. Amazingly it had a brightly colored hose sitting right in the front yard with the water already running. I filled a bottle and gulped the entire thing down and then filled it again. I’m not sure why I didn't, but I should have dumped more than one of the stupid hot Gatorade filled bottles that I couldn't drink and refilled them with water but I only filled the one. After filling myself with cold refreshing water I was feeling renewed again and got back on the road with a lot more faith in my ability than I had been feeling just minutes ago before finding the hose. Another rider pulled up just as I was leaving and he seemed equally happy to find a water source. I wonder how many racers took a drink from that hose.

 Many more miles passed and the afternoon continued to get hotter. My energy was getting low again and I was looking for another house to get more fresh liquid but I wasn't having any luck. This is when Collin passed me. Like, he blew blast me and at first I wasn't even sure it was him. I hadn't seen him since I had pulled ahead within the first hour of the race. While I’m sure he was feeling the effects of the 140 or so miles we had covered, he looked fresh and was moving fast. He was riding with a guy named Bob and I think they were laughing and joking. Here I was scraping the bottom of my emergency energy reserve bucket and they seemed to be out for an easy afternoon cruise. I was simultaneously impressed and jealous. The gracious friend he is, Collin slowed to my pathetic grind and tried to rally me to jump up to their pace. Unfortunately, as we rounded a turn together, Collin’s back tire went flat and he was forced to stop and take care of it. I knew I was running on fumes and told him I had to keep moving but he would catch me soon.

He would find me about 2 miles up the road. I was lying on the ground leaning against a bridge embankment. I had seen a patch of shade over a bridge at a low water crossing and thought it looked perfect. I thought maybe I could soak my legs in the water and bring my body temperature down somewhere below boiling. Unfortunately, to get down to the water I was going to have to climb over a barbed wire fence and then trek down a small embankment through poison ivy and weeds to reach the water. I said screw it and just sat on the edge of the road. That is when the puking started. In a strange way it made me feel a lot better. I knew, however, that throwing up when you are already severely dehydrated is not a good thing. I needed to take in some fluid desperately.

Collin stopped to check on me and make sure I had everything I needed. I must have looked pretty bad because several other guys stopped to help and offer me anything I needed as well. It was a great testament to the character of the people who do this race. Here we are, everyone in their own race and suffering towards personal goals, yet they were all putting those aside to make sure a stranger was alright. Collin found me half a bottle of clear water from someone who stopped (whoever you were, THANK YOU! I owe you big time). I assured Collin I would be alright and eventually he continued on. I must have laid there for another 20 minutes trying to cool down before I finally got up, but when I did I was feeling a lot better.

I was able to make it another 10 miles or so before I collapsed for another round of puking. It was a strange time, I was laying on the side of a gravel road completely spent and I remember thinking how wonderfully comfortable laying there felt. Other riders continued to pass me and I would give them a thumbs up and say, "I'm good."  I bet it wasn't very believable.  At this point I got a text from my long time friend Nate asking me to let him know when I would be done.  Since I wasn't busy at the moment, I responded.  He did what any good friend would do and immediately put it up on facebook.

This time I was saved by the Jeep Club that was driving the course. After assuring me I wouldn't be disqualified if I accepted water from them, they refilled one of my bottles with ice cold water. It might have been the sweetest tasting drink of water I have ever had in my life. Thank you, Jeep Club!  It was also just enough to get me to the third and last checkpoint at 165 miles.

I took about a 30 minute break at this last pit stop. I was able to get a lot of fluids down and began to feel much better. The sun was going down and the heat was dissipating. Sara and Jake refilled all my bottles with plain water and electrolytes so I would be able to keep drinking on the move. I also took one bottle of ice and Coke with me, maybe not the healthiest choice, but the refreshing comfort was well worth it this late in the day. I mounted the rest of my lighting, as I obviously wasn't going to beat the sun this time, and pushed off on the final 37 mile stretch to the finish at around 8:15. I felt leaving the final checkpoint that I had the event in the bag. All I had to do was maintain a conservative pace and continue on.

All of the final miles seemed tame compared to the first 3 sections. I was no longer feeling on the edge of death and my pace was respectable again.  There was no wind to speak of and the course terrain had mellowed out to mostly wide flat farm roads with the exception of two long hills near a lake. I rode for two hours in complete darkness with only my headlamp and headlight to guide the way. There were a couple of cool things about the night portion of the ride. The first was how you could see the lights of Emporia, where the finish was located, about 20 miles before you got there. There were also several houses along the way with bonfire parties going on. As you would ride by you would hear them cheering for you. Surreal outbursts of people and excitement sandwiched in between long gaps of dark lonely road.

The main thing I remember from this stretch, however, was a crazy crash that happened right in front of me. With only about 2 miles left before the finish line we had to ride across a metal grated bridge. There were solid strips of metal about a foot wide to get across but to each side there were also large gaps perfect for grabbing your front wheel if you weren't careful. A rider right in front of me made just that mistake and was slammed onto the bridge after going over his handlebars. It looked rough, and not that there is ever a good time to go over the bars, but I’m sure after the day we had all just had, it must have hurt badly. Myself and several others around stopped to make sure he was good. About that time another rider slowed to see what was happening, he didn't get unclipped in time and went down hard on his side. Everyone seemed to be alright though and the rider who went down first had several friends around so I pushed on.

Finally, I pulled off the last stretch of gravel onto the asphalt roads of town. The bike rolled so smooth and all the nagging pain I had been unsuccessfully trying to ignore faded into the background. I hammered into the town of Emporia and promptly took a wrong turn due to some old painted arrows on the road leading into the college campus (I have read several blogs since the race and it appears this was a common mistake). After a short detour I was back on the route and came around a corner to see the craziest finish line I have ever crossed. Riding through a small downtown street lined with what seemed like thousands of people cheering and ringing bells after spending an entire day mostly alone in the country, the last few hours in total darkness, was to say the least, an amazing rush.

My official time was 17 hours 16 minutes. I placed 155th of the 261 riders able to make it to the end. While I did make a few mistakes, there were several things that ran smoothly. My support crew, Jake and Sara, performed flawlessly, as they always do. I couldn't do this stuff without their help, both on the course and at home. From the NASCAR style first checkpoint, to the hospital like triage at the third, they motivated and nursed me back onto the road each time with smiles and encouragement. Another thing I think I did right was choice of bike and tires. Because of the rugged gravel of the Flint Hills, tire selection at the Dirty Kanza is debated like politics and religion. I went with the 1.9 Kenda SB8 with tubes at 60 psi and had a flat free race.

The winning time for the race was just under 12 hours. It’s humbling to race next to such strong and determined people. Also, something I didn't learn until the day after the race, apparently the rider I saw crash on the bridge damaged his front wheel and was unable to get it going again. He ended up carrying his bike over the last couple of miles on foot. Impressive!

So will I be back for more Dirty Kanza next year? Absolutely! The people, the town, the event staff and volunteers, all top notch. Not to mention, while I’m not necessarily disappointed with my finish, I certainly see plenty of room for improvement. For now, I’m going to bask in the refreshing perspective a hard event like this gives life; everyday things seem a little easier and all my relationships a little bit richer. Good stuff!

“Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own..." -William James

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Rubber that will Meet the Long Road

The package arrived yesterday! I know I’m supposed to shop local, and sometimes I do, but I'm also a tightwad and this was one of those purchases that would have easily been at least $20 more to find here. One thing I really enjoy about purchasing things online is being able to track the package as it makes its way across the country. I watched as it slowly made its way from Colorado to Missouri stopping at numerous cities inbetween.

I put more thought into this selection than I ever have. I compared the weights, tread patterns, customer reviews, pricing and threads per inch of too many to count. I devoured blogs and forum posts of other riders who have completed the race before. As with anything, I found people who loved one brand and hated another. The next day I would read someone who felt the exact opposite. After months of deliberation, I finally confirmed the order and will now let the chips fall where they may. As I pulled the brand new tires out of the box I stared at them and contemplated the rugged 200 mile test I would be putting them to in a little over 3 weeks. This is the rubber that will meet the long road ahead.

It is also that time again. The time where I look back over the year and total all the miles I have pushed myself down the road.

5973 miles on the bike
1095 miles on the run

I don't have as much to say this year about my annual mileage as I did last year. There was a not so surprising shift towards riding distance. My running mileage took a big hit due to the amount of time on the bike in the last 6 months getting ready for the race next month. I still don't clock the exact amount of time I spend out there, but if I use a conservative average speed and break it down, it comes down to about 500 hours of cardio. Not a bad year indeed.

April 22 - Bike 270, Run 0

April 29 - Bike 275, Run 2

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Short Rambling Post Where I Try to Ease Back Into Writing Again

I haven’t written in so long it feels unfamiliar. A lot has happened in the last several months that was probably worthy of writing down but I just couldn't bring myself to sit still long enough to do it. Things happen where I stop and think, “Hey that would make a great post,” but that is as close to blogging as I have been for the last 4 months. Below are some of the things I could have written about but didn't.

There was the building of the chicken coop. I'm an aspiring carpenter though I really have no idea what I'm doing:

There was the night I volunteered to stand in a gallery almost naked and be painted gold for the sake of art. I embrace all challenges, both physical and emotional, this was an emotional one:

There were several broken bones for Jake, I think 5 or 6 in the last year. If you have an accident prone child, supplemental accident insurance policies are worth every penny:

While the urge to write has not been there, the urge to stay active physically has not waned. I have been dutifully pushing myself on the bike getting ready for the race which is only 5 weeks away. Since signing up in January only 4 months ago, I have put in over 2,500 miles on the bike. This is just shy of my total riding mileage for the entire year last year. I feel strong and well prepared but it will be my first bike race ever so I’m curious how things will shake out.

My running has been a minuscule amount and it’s starting to bother me. I have tried to do at least a short run every week so I don’t completely lose my form but if I run too much it seems to interfere with my strength on the bike. Soon enough the pendulum will swing back as my commitment to this bike race is almost over and I will be pounding miles out on foot again. I have enjoyed the time on the bike this year but I still feel most like a runner at heart.

January 23 - Bike 155 Run 10
January 30 - Bike 152, Run 10, 1 hr trainer

February 6 - Bike 121, Run 3, 4 hrs trainer
February 13 - Bike 127, Run 18, 1 hrs trainer
February 20- Bike 165, Run 16
February 27- Bike 115, Run 16

March 5 - Bike 125, Run 5, 1 hr trainer
March 12 - Bike 140, Run 7, 1 hr trainer
March 19 - Bike 145, Run 2, 1.5 hrs trainer
March 26- Bike 232, Run 3, 1.5 hrs trainer

April 1 - Bike 208 Run 7, 1.5 hrs trainer
April 8 - Bike 230 Run 4, 1.0 hrs trainer
April 15 - Bike 180 Run 0, 0 hrs trainer

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Do Not Call Us, We Will Not Come Rescue You

I had actually chosen what I wanted this year's big challenge to be a long time ago, in my head, but there was still the chance of not getting in, due to it selling out quickly, and as always, I wasn't sure if I wanted to put it out there for everyone where I will now feel a need to live up to the commitment. But now the money is paid, the plan is in motion, and there is no hiding from it.

For the last couple years, big runs have been the focus of most of my workouts. Cycling was something that gave me a lot of my fitness, but I only really considered it my way to work. I was a runner at heart and being a cyclist was a distant second. Don’t get me wrong, I loved riding the bike but I was just a commuter, after spending five hours a week riding in rush hour traffic, it didn’t leave me wanting for more time on the bike, so I never went out for long “fun“ rides on the weekends. Over the past summer, however, I had built up a fast road bike which made me want to try some rides longer than my commute. I started to enjoy the feeling of heading out for rides on distant country roads, where there are rarely any cars, and you can just put your head down and hammer for a couple hours. With a couple other endurance friends I have written about in the blog before, Collin and Jamie, I started doing regular 30 to 40 mile rides on the weekends.

It was on one of these long weekend rides where this year’s plan began to evolve. As we rolled along one morning talking about different endurance events we would like to experience, Jamie described the challenges of a race he was thinking about, and the more I heard about it, the more I knew it was a challenge I would love to toe the line of. It was a 200 mile bike race, held in the hot and rainy month of June, on the gravel roads in eastern Kansas. There is no race support so you are responsible for your own food and water, and whatever else you might need when riding a bike for 15 to 20 hours through rugged countryside. As I understood it, they pretty much give you a starting line, a finish line, and a few maps showing you the route, the rest is up to you.

I went home and began the research. He had called it the Dirty Kansan. Well, through the wind of riding, I thought that is what he had said, and if you Google "Dirty Kansan" looking for race information like I did, you won’t get any links to bicycle races. I eventually discerned the event is actually named the Dirty Kanza. It begins and ends on the eastern edge of the Flint Hills in Emporia, Kansas. They describe the race on the website as an "extremely challenging ultra-endurance gravel road bicycling event.” In 2011, nearly 300 people started the race, only 68 crossed the finish line, that sounded like good odds to me. The website is also replete with warnings like:

…remote, rugged, and often unforgiving area…
…totally on their own, and responsible for themselves…
...If you do not feel you are prepared...please stay home...

Now I don’t know if you’re anything like I am, but my first thought after reading all the warnings was, “Sign me up!” As Jamie and I talked more about the event while out on rides, Collin decided it would be a good race for him as well, so all three of us decided we should give it a go.

One might think it would be pretty difficult to find 300 souls who would pay good money to subject themselves to an entire hot summer day on hilly gravel roads, but the truth is, more people want in than are allowed. This year they had raised the limit to 350 and they fully expected it to sell out within a day. After researching the event, we planned for this and all three of us were sitting at our computers at 5:00 am on a cold January morning waiting for the registration to open to a race that wouldn‘t take place for another five months. I hadn’t realized you needed to have an account set up on the registration site until I tried to register. By the time I had done so, which I would guess took a whole two minutes, there were already over a hundred confirmed participants. I saw Collin’s name on the list and began to refresh and scan for Jamie’s. When Jamie’s name finally appeared on the list fifteen minutes later, there were almost 200 confirmed. Collin and Jamie will be in the young whipper snapper Open Class, and I, being an old man of 41 now, will be in the Veteran Class. Secure in the knowledge we had all three gotten in, we went out for a long ride. When we got back we learned the entire field of 350 competitors had sold out in less than three hours. It's a good thing we had been ready.

Now is the time for my favorite part, and this is why I always like to have some large challenge looming in my future. For me it’s not the race itself, or the even the feeling of crossing the finish line, that I enjoy the most. Those parts are exquisite and I do relish them, but the best part for me are the months of preparation beforehand. I once heard it described as the race being just a celebration or a party at the end of a long road. The true meat of the experience, where personal development really happens, and where most of our life is truly spent, is in the hours and hours of training, studying, selecting gear, and mentally preparing myself for the challenge.

Week of January 9 - run 0, bike 145
Week of January 16 - run 2, bike 165

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Icy and Cold

It was icy and cold this morning. 20 degrees with an 8 degree north wind gusting over 20 miles per hour. A few snowflakes had stuck to the ground but the real challenge, as it usually is here from a late rain as the temperature falls during the night, was the ice. Thin sheets of ice were coating many of the intersections and edges of the road. I only went down once. Skinned knee. I think I have had a scab on one of my knees, from one wipeout or another, for most of my life.

Two weeks of 0 miles on the run. The first time I've gone a week without a run since November of 2010.

december 12, run 21 bike 114

december 19, run 26 bike 55
december 26, run 0 bike 189
January 2, run 0 bike 175