In this blog entry, I open with a recap of the social journey from Fort Collins to Cortez, Colorado, on a plush bus, operated by Lea Angell, with about fourteen teammates that were also competing in 12-hrs of Mesa Verde. The paragraphs that follow delve into, what I believe now, was an inevitable part of becoming a stronger, smarter, athlete. I've done my best to describe, in words, what I believe happened before and after my psychological melt-down during lap six, about nine hours into the 12-hr race. In my next blog entry, I'll return to the positive side of racing and training as I share my post-12-hr experiences including many podium finishes added to my amateur palmarès.
Northern Colorado Grassroots Riders (NCGR) has developed a tradition, in recent years, of opening our social and racing season with attendance at 12-hrs of Mesa Verde, a popular and well organized event held annually at Phil's World just outside of Cortez, Colorado, in early May. And for the last two years running, we've upped-the-ante by renting a plush, retro, touring bus from driver, owner, and adventurer extraordinaire Lea Angell. If you're part of a group that is traveling en mass from a location somewhere in the vicinity of Fort Collins to point(s) somewhere on the periphery of our Front Range Universe then consider getting in touch with Lea about the cost of riding in style, in one of his buses. For mountain bike groups, you can literally pack dozens of bikes on and in this bus and still sit comfortably, with space to spare, in the passenger areas. And in general, rolling with Lea will add measurably to the fun factor ... all you'll need to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the view such as the stunning, three-hundred-and-sixty degree, Rocky Mountain vistas awaiting lucky travelers that ascend and descend Wolf Creek Pass on the continental divide.
By the time NCGR reached Wolf Creek Pass on day two of our journey from Fort Collins (first night in Alamosa, Colorado), the group, about 15 in total, had already boisterously battled their way through many card games whilst enjoying a few full strength PBRs among other adult beverages. Unlike the previous two years, the weather then and ahead looked fabulous for a 12-hr mountain bike race in the desert adjacent to Mesa Verde National Park. Anticipation and no doubt a few nerves were managed as we made our way to Durango from Wolf Creek Pass and eventually to registration at Kokopelli Bike & Board, in downtown Cortez. If you're in this area and need a part, or a fix, for your whip don't hesitate to drop into Kokopelli, it's an excellent, well stocked and professional, bike shop. After a grocery resupply we backtracked a few miles to the local fairgrounds, ejected every imaginable item from a bus with deep pockets, assembled a small city, went for a short pre-ride, and, as if trained by veteran carnies, were settling-into a freshly cooked taco feast well before dark.
This would be my first year, out of four, entering 12-hrs as a solo rider. In the previous three years, 2014-2016, I was part of a 3-person, male, geared, team. My logic in 2017 was that racing the full 12 hours, as much as possible given cut-offs for the last lap, would be an excellent training opportunity for priority, long-distance, endurance races later in the season including the Gunnison Growler on May 28th. Also, an added cardio bonus, with no teammates to draw straws, riding solo ensured that I would be part of the le mans start at seven am. As in previous years, when I drew the shortest straw, the quarter-mile run from the starting line to my bike, awaiting in a nearby rodeo corral a short distance from a significant pinch point (corral exit), was a very uncomfortable way to start the day but perhaps an excellent way to jump start my engine. This year I was slower than previous efforts, based on numbers of riders that squeezed through the pinch point alongside of me, some on their bikes, some still pushing. But my pace during the run was sufficient to get me through the first important pinch point and out onto the course with the leaders.
Before going through the underpass from the fairgrounds to Phil's World, I passed my friend and teammate, Ben Parman. (aka, "the Parmanator") Nonetheless, Ben and RJ Morris (aka, "R-Jangutan"), another teammate, easily passed me back before or just after, respectively, we reached the single track. As history has often demonstrated, even amidst my best performances, I'm slow to warm-up and as a result slow to start and the 2017 edition of 12-hrs was no exception. Looking ahead, I think this weakness can be explained by an analysis of the structure and intensity of the training I've done over the years, good news given that I can and plan to try a different training recipe in the winter and spring of 2017-18. Perhaps I won't be able to overcome my historically slow start, but based on my own analysis I don't think that I've ever tested that hypothesis with an appropriate, high intensity, training block, or series of graded, low- to mid- to high- intensity blocks. I'm looking forward to seeing what's possible in the next twelve months and perhaps I'll put whatever I've done, by then as far as revised training, to the test as a solo rider at 12-hrs in May 2018. Stay tuned.
Back out on the course, shortly after I lost sight of RJ (the Parmanator was already far ahead of both of us), I settled-into a comfortable race pace for my mind and skills at Phil's World and rode-on through the first lap (ca. 17 miles) on my Niner Bikes Air 9 RDO (race design optimized). I had decided to race my 2014 edition of the Air 9 RDO following the discovery, at the venue, of a crack in the rear carbon hoop laced to my Niner Bikes Jet 9 RDO. As this implies, I'd traveled from FoCo, on the bus, with two bikes rather than one, so clearly I was already thinking "I might", depending on the course, favor racing my nimble hard-tail over my full-squish, somewhat heavier, Jet. I could have risked serious rim and tire failure and rode the Jet, the bike that I would have preferred after my short pre-ride on Friday night, but instead I chose the path of least, mindful, concern and prepared my Air 9 for it's first adventure since the 2016 Leadville Trail 100.
Laps 1-3, about 1 hr 20 min per lap, came and went, for the most part, without any issues. I made mistakes along the way, e.g., slammed by crank arm two or three times which was closer to the Earth than my Jet, the bike I'd ridden most this year on the dirt; but otherwise the Air, my body, the landscape and atmosphere were getting along just fine over these initial ca. 60 miles. Similarly, lap four left few impressions other than by this time I was eating but my stomach seemed to have other priorities. I can't recall for certain what I ate on laps 1-4, but my guess is two gels.
Elsewhere, in my previous blog entry, I described how and why I had been neglecting to eat for the first, roughly, three hours during high intensity training workouts and the only other race I'd competed in prior to 12-hrs in 2017, the FoCo 102. I made the same poor decision, neglected to eat for about three hours, at 12-hrs of Mesa Verde. In particular, see details elsewhere, I was trying to take advantage of a happy stomach over those first few hours because I knew when I started to feed I was going to feel a little ill. However, what I didn't realize, was that by neglecting to eat I was causing my stomach to shrink, imagine a fist, metaphor for my stomach, closing a little more each lap. As this implies, when I finally initiated eating, my stomach was not only off-line but also a pinch-point with serious, inevitable (that's been my experience), implications.
By lap four I was experiencing an unhappy stomach as I tried to force nutrition into my working, endurance and tempo (mostly), efforts. And the same was true on lap five, when I increased intensity in an attempt to catch two of my teammates, the "Parmanator" and Mick McDill, aka "Vanilla Gorilla" on Strava. My first clue that I was closing the gap was provided by the event announcer. As I concluded each lap, he announced my position and roughly how far ahead the next male 40-49 rider was relative to me. From the end of lap four to the end of lap five, his announcements made it clear that I was catching both Mick and Ben, an accomplishment that motivated me then and still impresses me now despite what was yet to come in my experience at 12-hrs.
As I was entering the last handful of miles of lap five, consistent with what I'd learned from the announcer, I started to get glimpses of my teammates. And as I rolled the last 100 meters of the lap, to the barn, I finally caught them. No surprise, if you know either of them, Ben and Mick shouted encouragement even as I closed-in on their enviable ca. top five, male-solo-geared (all ages), places at that point in the race. Both of these gentleman, as the word implies, are worthy of admiration for the talent and sportsmanship that they bring to the sport of mountain biking.
Unfortunately for my athletic ambitions, the high that I felt by catching two of my mountain bike mentors, Ben and Mick, was very short lived. The three of us rolled-out of the staging area more or less as a group, I was the lead bike with Ben behind and soon Mick following. As Mick approached, I shouted-out that I would move over if they wanted to pass, Mick quickly obliged and just as quickly disappeared down the trail ahead. Ben sat-in a few minutes longer, but then he too rolled past and away as if my Specialized Fast-trak Control Series tires had suddenly deflated. This began my descent into a psychological obliteration that three days later I crawled out of and, ca., seven days later recovered from enough to begin sifting through the ashes.
Since initiating my training and racing adventures, in April 2013, this would be, in hindsight, my farthest fall into the depths of internally motivated, psychological, sport-associated, annihilation. Unfortunately, for the first 72 hours, despite for the most part keeping a strong disapproval of myself and my performance just barely under the surface, I stated on my webpage and on Strava that I had, in my words, "quit" on lap six, even "DNFed" which was not true. Further, I clarified that my decision to quit came-about because of a mind that descended into a state of "failure" after I was dropped by my two, highly respected, teammates. I deeply regret making those pronouncements on social media, because my analysis at that time was as flawed as my response; and because Mick and Ben, as friends and teammates, deserved much better. They deserved the respect, e.g., that they unselfishly offered to me as I caught-up to them at the end of lap five.
Mindful, as I am, about the significance of "annihilation" and "obliteration", among other adjectives and phrases that I used, above, to describe my state-of-mind, I want to clarify, as best I can, how this could be so to the extent that I'm proposing. I've been thinking a lot over the last few weeks about what happened and based on that analysis I believe that the conclusion for "what" happened is actually (obviously, by now) quite simple: I had failed to supply, leading up-to and during the race, proper nutrition to my mind and body with deleterious consequences, especially the consequences of a made-up reality stubbornly and persistently held onto by a despondent mind. That's what happened, nutritionally, only slightly more complex is "what happened" in regard to my much longer, and much more significant, psychological melt-down.
With the aide of concepts from a book from Steve Peters, The Chimp Paradox, it's now clear to me that my nutritional errors and, importantly, lack of psychological training focused on athletic performance and especially non-performance, allowed my inner chimp to rule, authoritarian-style, for three days. Not surprisingly, my chimp-self abandoned logic (realm of my human-self) and replaced that mode-of-operating with emotional, reality TV sort of drama, mostly internal for which I'm grateful. Without getting into the weeds, this is the truth of what really happened, nutritionally and psychologically, including a brief look at the Science of the mind to help explain how I got to "there" and where I was when I arrived, psychologically.
Beyond these valuable facts is something even more insightful, from my perspective as an athlete with a modest, sport-related, education, that I want to share before I conclude this entry. That something is an insight that I gained through the process of falling, at 12-hrs, into the deep, dark, recesses of my mind and then navigating back to the surface many days later, to my normal state. For the most part, I don't think people endeavoring, at the outset, to compete at a high level, or people such as husbands and spouses looking outside in, consider the extent of the implications of drawing down your bodies nutritional resources, to the extent that training athletes do routinely, that are otherwise critical for normal human function, psychological and physiological.
By "resources" I'm referring to those substances, such as iron for oxygen transport to the suite of electrolytes including magnesium for maintaining water balance (etc), that contribute to metabolic function whether a person is idle or experiencing extreme physical exercise as in a long (time span), endurance, mountain bike race. As humans that normally exist in just this way, in a "normal" physiological space, our experience with extreme lows of critical metabolic resources is zero until, if we ever do, either find ourselves in a starvation situation or else delve into a habit of extreme sport activity. Importantly, how we will respond to these lows, especially lows that affect normal brain function, is anyone's guess given normal variation in humans including relationships, recognized or not, with their inner-chimp. This insight, among other implications, demonstrates that my experience was inevitable, a part of the normal process that is embedded in the extreme sport, athletic, sphere (a multi-dimensional space) from which athletes draw their day-to-day state-of-mind and -performance. What I experienced at 12-hrs was an unpleasant, yet, inevitable part of the process of becoming a mature athlete. Eventually, if you go to extremes, you'll arrive there too, no doubt with regrets, but also with a valuable education for banking and perspective.
Twelve-hours of Mesa Verde, 2017, will always be with me, something that significant never completely dissolves from our vast and complicated network of neurons. However, after a lot of personal reflection and analysis, I'm ready to put the hard lessons, the regrets, behind me in favor of making wiser decisions moving forward. No doubt, like everything else that's been a part of my cycling journey since I impulsed purchase a GT Avalanche in 2010, they'll be surprises including more regrets, but hopefully my evolution as a cyclist will continue to move towards something worthy of friends and mentors like Ben and Mick and many others from the cycling and non-cycling community that have unselfishly helped me in so many ways. The many successes that I've experienced as part of that journey are a reflection of their kindness, patience, and generosity.
Despite a serious crash, resulting in a dislocated and possibly a broken ring finger, and two tire deflation's in the last five miles of the Fat Tire 40 (24 June 2017) in Crested Butte, Colorado, I managed to hold-onto a 1st place age 40-49 and 2nd place overall finish among amateurs. More about this race and others in my next blog entry.
Adventure Guide, Mentor, Lifestyle Coach, Consultant, Endurance Athlete