Racing Bikes is Fun

Racing bikes is fun.  It has been about a year and a half since I last took on the challenge of racing mountain bikes.  I forgot how incredible it really is to compete.

racing1

I went into the Battle of Payne Creek 6 Hour Race semi-prepared and yet it was different this time around.  The biggest difference was that I was relaxed and put no expectations on myself.  In the past, I have stressed over results and fitness and a myriad of other details.  This time I went into it with the attitude of having fun and seeing what I could do.  I have been training more consistently this year with about two to three rides a week, but I was worried that I had not put in many long rides.  Before the race I rode 20 miles numerous times, 30 miles one time, and I put in a 40 miler only one week before the race.  I had wanted to get in a 50 mile ride, but you know, life happens.  Even though I had not put in so many miles, I knew I could do the distances that would be required to finish, because the course only had about 700 feet of climbing per 8.5 mile lap.  Just the week before I put in 40 Pisgah miles with 4500 feet of climbing, so mentally and physically I knew I would be fine.  But the biggest factor really was my head.  I was relaxed, cool, calm and collected.  I really only had one goal, finish 6 laps and keep the pedals turning at a reasonable pace.  I got in 6 laps and stayed consistent the entire day with times of 50 minutes, 53, 53, 56, 58, and 54 respectively.  I managed an 8th place finish out of 12 in masters men, and pulled out 31st overall out of 53 finishers.  In past 6 hour races, I have had inconsistent times, but this race I just got into a rhythm and kept at it all day.  It was a very surreal experience just keeping the pedals turning at a steady pace.  My mind stayed super clear the entire day and I got into the moment with intense clarity.  I felt like I was floating and never really felt too tired all day.

racing3

I kept the nutrition rolling all day in small bits and pieces, and had a rule to do something every 15 minutes or so, whether it was drinking water or Infinite, eating a Shot Block, gel shot or Ally’s Bar.  I ate a bagel with peanut butter later in the race and downed a few Endurolyte supplements to help with cramping.  Next time I plan to try a breakfast burrito with potatoes, avocado and eggs, because the bagel was a bit dry.

racing2

Another huge factor was having the support of my wife Shannon at each lap.  She was there all day, serving up bottles of Infinite and giving me a positive boost each lap.  In past races I did not have a crew and I have to say it really makes a difference to have someone for moral and emotional support during a race.  We discussed what laps I would stop for resupply and Shannon had it dialed in.  I stopped to pee twice during the race and she switched out my bottles and lubed up my chain during those times.  That alone helped me to shave at least 5 minutes and over the course of an entire race, it really adds up.  Thanks Shannon for everything!!

Another factor as well was I knew a few people at the race this time around.  Seeing a familiar face out on course really helps keep the motivation high and it is really nice to talk with someone during a long race.  On lap 4, I rode with a super stand up guy by the name of James Hoffmeister.  racing5This guy first of all is 72 years old and rides like a man half his age.  He has the spirit of a 20 year old and he can hammer by the way.   Age is truly in your mind and James embodies that philosophy.  He came up to me during the lap at a time when I was starting to feel fatigued and I had started to slow up a bit.  He said pick it up Chris in a firm and supportive way.  He knew I could do it, so he said it and I obliged.  I kicked in to reserve mode and started to crank out the miles.  I paced him for the entire lap and felt really good.  We chatted a bit, but mostly we just hammered it out at a good pace, content to be in the zone.  He later dropped me, but thanked me for pacing him.  I thought I would never see him again and eased up a bit at the end of the lap.  I have to admit, it was really cool to catch him in the last half mile.  He was all encouragement and true class in that moment and congratulated me on the strong finish.  It was an honor coming from such a legend.  Thanks Jim!!  I also saw James’ wife Beth out on course and she was all smiles.  racing4She kept her fast pace up all day and won her division by a long margin.  It was fun to talk about our cats after the race, as she is a very passionate cat lover.  Both she and James are some of the most friendly, humble and truly bad ass riders out there.  They both have been local heros for me for a long time and it was really inspiring to race with them.  Another local Asheville rider Nick Bragg was racing too.  I saw Nick for a brief time on lap 5 as he was lapping me.  Nick is a really cool, young local from Asheville that is super talented and very humble as well.  He is a true hammer-head and it was really cool to ride with him for a minute or two.  He chatted  for awhile and gave me strong words of encouragement and went on to finish 3rd place in Expert Men.  Nice job Nick!!  It is really humbling to talk with and race with these kinds of people.  All of them embody what real sport is about and it is really fun to be a part of their positive energy.

So basically, the camaraderie seemed to help me tremendously during this race.  Racing is an individual sport against your own goals and expectations, but it is also a social sport.  As I have gotten older, I am realizing the social aspect of riding is a really important factor in the enjoyment part of the sport.  When you can go out with a group of friends that push you and support you, the entire moment is enhanced and we remember that biking truly is a social sport meant to be shared with others.  When I lived in Colorado, I always trained and rode by myself and I lost the drive after a while.  In North Carolina, I have ridden more with others and I think that is what has kept me more motivated and psyched to share the experience with others.  This kind of experience is also a big factor in why I started Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventures. After all a shared experience is something that can bond people around a common thread and it is strengthened and made more complete and meaningful as a result.  So my take out of this race was to keep it fun, share the experience with others and to relax and let it happen.  Letting go and going with the moment and enjoying the entire process from start to finish.  After all, riding bikes is fun and I don’t think I ever felt worse after a bike ride than I did before.  I might be more tired, but I am always more fulfilled and happier than when I started. Biking and racing is an easy way to experience bliss and find out what you are really capable of doing with the proper attitude and motivation.  I can’t wait for the next race.

 

Thoughts While Riding the Snake, January 2014

What a day at the Snake Gap Time Trial mountain bike race last weekend in Dalton, GA. Many lessons were learned and mental barriers came crashing down.  Racing with a cold was probably not the best idea, and I literally never slept Friday night, so I was pretty delirious that last hour of the race.  But needless to say I was happy with my goal of pushing through when I knew it would be really difficult.  The mind is a very powerful force in life and capable of many great things.  I was reminded of that many times on the Pinhoti Trail.snake gap5

First off, this race was so unique and different from any race I have ever done.  A time trial format is really cool for mountain bike races.  Because we were all spread out, I never felt pressure or frustration at the beginning, which is so typical at other races.  I never once felt crowded on the first climbs and singletrack and I never felt rushed in any way. Spreading everyone out by 15 second intervals really works.  After awhile you found a group of riders to pace with and that was the case the entire 34 mile day.

So the next fun thing is getting to the race start.  I registered at the finish, a.k.a.”the snake pit”, picked up my number and decided to forego the group-shuttle on the buses.  I was with a friend who has completed the race many times and he suggested we do a self-shuttle instead of the mass bus-shuttle.  The added benefit of doing a self-shuttle is that you get to be in the warm car right until start time.  It was around 24 degrees, so I am glad we chose this option.  Although I will have to do the bus shuttle one day just for the camaraderie.  I hear it is legendary.  People started to arrive and a couple trailer loads of bikes showed up and the line for the start quickly began to grow.  We hopped on the bikes, put on our toasty shoes and got in line.  We waited only 10 minutes to get to the start and the vibe in the air was overwhelmingly positive.  Everyone’s faces were smiling like kids playing Hotwheels in the mud on a hot summer’s day. snake It is a very surreal experience waiting in line to start a race knowing that a huge test of limits was about to commence.  I got through the line and started nonchalantly to the cheers of a few people and I was off.  Everyone was going at a comfortable pace because as you know, The Snake has a bite to it.  The first fang is within the first two miles.  The dreaded river crossing that is the stuff of legends and endless chatter on every racer that has or ever will ever do The Snake.  There are a million methods to cross a knee-deep river in January and today I chose the take off my shoes, run through the river with wool socks and stop and put on dry socks and dry shoes.  I once again was happy I decided to take the few extra minutes to do this task.  Only a few people rode through and many were there at the crossing doing the same as me.  We all cheered on the brave souls who forgo-ed stopping.  There was even a tandem bike couple that rode through to major applause from the gallery.  Once again, a shared fun camaraderie that only this race knows how to create.Snake Creek Gap Time Trail

We then started the climbing.  The Snake TT profile is pretty impressive and there is a lot of climbing, with around 10,281 feet of total elevation gain.  But that number includes a lot of really fun downhill as well and ends up being around half of the total elevation.  ttI had been on the course once before and I didn’t remember as much downhill, but there really are some superb stretches scattered along the entire route.  I was reminded of my home trails of Pisgah so often and loved the mix of flow and technical all day long.  There were lots of technical, rocky descents in the latter half of the day and many fun flowey sections scattered in between the entire day.  The first big climb reminded me a lot of Spencer Gap Trail in Pisgah with a gradual accent on smooth trail heading up to short, mini-summits along the side of the mountain.  There was a lot of cresting a ridge, riding down awhile and then slowly making your way up to various gaps on the mountain.  I made a beginner cold weather mistake and forgot to get my Camelback flowing at the start, so it was frozen.  I had a bottle of Infinite, but prefer to chase it with water.  It thankfully opened up about an hour later, so I was able to get water at the second big climb.  I don’t remember a lot about that climb, because I really was getting into the zone on the first half of the route.  The trail was in really great shape, and everything was flowing so nicely that the miles were going by very easily and without much thought.  I was in the flow, but I was also a bit sleep-deprived, which is a fun combo.  I literally never slept the night before the race and that was a very interesting experience.  I usually get a few hours of semi-restfull sleep before races, but Friday night I was having a terrible time in the hotel room I shared with my friends from Asheville.  So even after a couple of hours in I was kind of numb to thinking, which was probably a good thing.  More time to just be in the moment and keep going.snake 4

My main goals for these races were to have fun, finish with decent times, have breakthrough moments, and to use them as training for the Southeastern Endurance Cup that starts in February.  My goal for this first race was to push through when I knew it would be challenging because I was sick, sleep deprived and not in the best endurance shape.  My winter season has been slow and I have not ridden nearly as many long rides as last year, but that is all right.  I feel breaks in fitness are good for a body.  So in this race, I wanted to get to a point where I wanted to stop, but to keep going and to break through the pain and just experience the moment of forward progress.  This experience would definitely come later in the day and it would be one of my best breakthroughs ever.

I made it up the second big climb and did the fast downhill section to the midway road crossing.  That section is really beautiful with ripping fast, smooth singletrack all the way to the road.  There are lots of jumps and twisty, flow turns and the bike just lets it go on that downhill.  I made it to the halfway spot and decided to lube up the chain, take off my winter gloves in exchange for summer ones, eat a little and refill my Infinite bottle.  I grabbed a couple of Fig Newtons as well.  Solid food would be needed later.  I took a few minute break and headed out on the next climb, which seemed long.  There were a few hard transitions of up and down on this section where you were going along in big ring and had to shift down fast in order to make the transitions.  After the big climb, I remember a really cool Pisgah-esque downhill that had lots of roots, rocks, leaves and drops.  I was back in my element and ripped the technical downhill smooth as butter and even passed a few people.  Pisgah really is the great training ground for riding everywhere in the country. Once you ride Pisgah, you can ride anywhere.  I was really enjoying myself, even though I was starting to get tired.  I made it up a road section climb up to the last aid station and knew the next ten miles would be the most challenging.snake gap

The last ten miles are really fun, but they also are the hardest, technically, on the race course.  You are on top of a beautiful ridge and go up and down off the ridge in an endless roller-coaster like ride that plays tricks with your head at times.  The views are outstanding in both directions, but one has to pay attention to the trail close here, because it gets more rocky and varied.  The famous rock garden sections are in this stretch and they were amazing.snake gap2  I played it fairly conservative in these sections and walked places I probably would have ridden earlier in the race.  I was able to clear a lot more than I thought I could by just peddling in a low gear and hanging on.  It is a superb section of tech, views, downhill, climbs, flow, ridge riding bliss and everything all in one.  I started to bonk somewhere towards the end before “the wall”.  My pace had slowed tremendously and I was just moving along in a dreamlike state.  It was pretty cool, I just kept thinking keep it going, be here now.  I was having just the experience I wanted.  The ridge kept playing tricks on my head and it seemed interminable.  But I never lost hope or faith, I never lost my cool, I never got mad, I just kept peddling.  Where was this determination and power coming from?  It was really cool, I was truly in the zen.  I was joking and talking to people, but not many were talking at this point accept this really cool single-speeder.  They are always cool, so we stayed together awhile for moral support.  He was talking away and it was great.  I remember him talking about doing trail work in the area, and doing the race a few times.  He was just out for a fun day and it was inspiring to ride with him.  Before you know it we hike-a-biked the wall and rode a couple of more short downhills and climbs and the tower was in view.  I had just passed through the old Civil War walls and caught up with a local from Asheville.  I rode with him out of the woods and he took off. snake3 I cruised down the fast fire-road and last section of singletrack onto the road to the snake pit and the finish.  I still had a kick at the end and sprinted to the finish line.  I finished with a slow time of 5:19, but under the circumstances I was more than happy with my accomplishments.  Mental breakthroughs like this one don’t occur very often and this grit and raw determination will carry with me into many other races and other areas of my life.  Biking is capable of bringing the mind to places of acceptance and perseverance that not many other sports are capable of achieving.  Keeping it all turning, round and round we go in this crazy world with a smile on our face.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday in the woods with a bunch of other like-minded and hearty souls.

http://pisgahmountainbikeadventures.com

55.5K and Smiles in Pisgah Forest

Pisgah Forest has a very unique characteristic common to its visitors.  Almost every person you come across in Pisgah is smiling.  It is easy to smile in Pisgah, and smiles were abundant at the Pisgah 55.5K mountain bike race.  chris pic3The weekend brought buckets of rain, and yet racers braved the elements and came out for their own personal journeys and personal experiences of smiling while trudging through the mud, rain and elements.  The thing about Pisgah Production races is that they are more of a cultural event and an experience instead of a race.  A rider commonly experiences things like inspiration, mental breakthroughs, moments of deep reflection, personal achievement, mental fortitude, and moments of pure joy.  Eric Wever, the race director, and I chatted about the race and he said that helping people create these reflective, breakthrough moments is why he organizes races.  Afterall, a person must be after something if they would go into the woods willingly climbing 8100 feet in 35 miles of mostly single-track, and riding all day in less than ideal conditions.  My own journey was definitely one filled with all the above mentioned emotions and experiences.

chris pic2Right away we started up Black Mountain trail and the pack quickly spread out.  I was feeling really good and rode with my friend Patrick at a good pace up Black and settled into the hike-a-bike to Turkey Pen.  My legs were feeling fresh and I seemed to be walking easily up the hill.  We pushed through the hike-a-bike to Turkey Pen and started the super sketchy descent.  I was flashing back to my days in Colorado and imagined I was skiing on a run at Crested Butte or Vail.  The two-inch layer of soup was really slick and descending felt more like carving big giant slalom turns in the snow instead of riding a mountain bike.  What a rollercoaster ride that section was.  At the end of Turkey Pen, I came up to an out of towner and told him to have fun on the last mile which was smooth and fast, but be careful of the waterbars at the end.  Famous last words.  I was feeling very confident because of the new rebuilt Fox fork I just got and was ripping the last mile.  I hit the waterbars way too hot, and endoed really hard on the last turn.  My full body weight came down on my bar end and dug deep into my left thigh with incredible force.  I figured I was fine and rolled into aid station one.  My leg hurt, but I figured in five minutes it would be fine.  I stopped quickly for a new Infinite bottle, lubed up the chain and I was off.  The pain in my thigh started getting worse with each peddle rotation and I knew I was in for a long day of sore and painful muscles.  Bradley Creek was next and it was quite the mud fest.  Wow, it was really thick in places!  I crashed again on the big washed out gully on Bradley, but I made it onto 5015 and started the long climb to 1206.  I usually can crank this section at a good pace, but it was evident my leg was getting worse by the minute.  I slowed my pace and knew I would have to settle into a grind it out pace instead of race pace.  I lost a few spots on this climb.  Luckily, at aid station two, someone had Advil and I took some to get my mind off of the pain.  Next up was Laurel and I made it up to the top right when the afternoon thunderstorm hit.  It was pretty wild with the thunder and torrential downpour on Laurel.  It was like the heavens unleashed a raging torrent of water and it all was being unleashed on top of the mountain.  I started down Pilot and witnessed something I have never seen before.  The trail was a complete river and you literally could not see the trail at times.  The mass of water was flowing straight down the trail and all you could see were a few rocks sticking out like lost islands in a sea of chaos.  chris picI was laughing it up the whole time, and thinking this is crazy!!  I knew my brakes were getting trashed, and sure enough about half way down Pilot, my back brake was gone.  The front brake was working very minimally, and that was interesting to say the least.  I rode it out as far as I could and had a few holy s*** moments where I was not slowing down and heading straight for drop offs, boulders, roots and general carnage.  I started to walk it out just before the rock garden.  I made it to 1206 safely and headed straight to the aid station.  I brought some brake pads and Chad, who just the day before had rebuilt my fork, graciously replaced my back brake pad so I could safely make it down Black.  Sure enough the pad was worn to the metal spring and we were laughing about that as well.  The front pad had just enough life to get me to the finish.  I settled into a steady pace and rode out South Mills and made it to the hike-a-bike on Black.  I actually passed a few riders and it was nice to talk with someone a little while.  Mostly, the day was a solo adventure and company is nice during these jaunts.  I made it to the hike-a-bike, knowing I was almost finished and looking forward to the fun descent off Black with a new brake pad.  My leg was throbbing bad with each step up Black, but a weird thing happened.  I just accepted the pain knowing in my mind that it was just part of the process.  It hurt like hell, but I knew I was alive and I knew I could make it.  Your mind pushes you forward in these moments and it was doing just that, willing me forward to a place of acceptance and learning.  Pain is not really that bad, and it helps you to realize that you are living and experiencing what you are really capable of doing.  It would have been easy to give up way back at 1206 when I got to the top of 5015, but I was determined to push through and find the courage and strength inside of me to keep the grind going.  Being alone in Pisgah with the quiet, the mud, the wind, the rain, the sun, and all the life, helps you to reflect and to dig deep.  I was experiencing breakthrough moments in my abilities to move forward and I was experiencing joy in action.  chris pic 5Cresting the top of Black was like going through a door at a carnival.  Warning, single-track bliss to follow.  The next four miles was pure, unadulterated fun on human-powered wings.  The trail descends in technical, rock infused, rooty mountain bike heaven, and my game was on.  I felt like I was flying.  The last two miles the trail smooths out and you can rip it like a luge course competitor in the winter Olympics.  Fun flow and smooth descending all the way to the finish.  I never get tired of that stretch of trail.  The woods opened up and I saw the finish line and crossed to a band of applause like I had won a stage at the Tour de France.  I pumped my fist and smiled ear to ear, and immediately grabbed a burrito and a beer, PBR of course.  chris pic 4I finished the race midpack, and yet this day was really not a race, but a shared experience of joy, pain, belief in one’s abilities, and the power of human determination.  Afterall, in Pisgah, smiles are a guarantee, not an option.

http://pisgahmountainbikeadventures.com/

The Steadfast Mind of Endurance Racing

Endurance mountain bike racing is a blast.  Yesterday, I raced my first 6 hour mountain bike race called The Big Ring Challenge in Hayesville, NC.  It had rained the day before and there was a major downpour about 30 minutes before the start, but the rain did not deter the die-hard racers.  There were probably 250-300 starters.  It was definitely going to be a long and sloppy day in the saddle.  We were all together at the start and they moved us up about 50 feet to the loud screeching sound of wet disc brakes rubbing together and a collective laugh from the crowd.  

English: BC Bike Race 2010 - Day One - Nanaimo, BC

English: BC Bike Race 2010 – Day One – Nanaimo, BC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The gun went off and we were off.  I let the speedsters go ahead and settled in to a rhythm early on.  There was no sense in going out fast and burning the legs.  Slow and steady and leave the kick for later in the day.  The first few miles a lot of riders were together, but the pack spread out quickly and by mile 6 there was plenty of room between everyone.  I found a couple of guys from the 9 hour race and settled in with them.  We kept up a good pace for two laps together, but never went in to overdrive and my breathing and heart rate stayed even and consistent.  The first 2 laps were really slick, but the trails began to dry very quickly each hour.  By hour 3, most of the trails were really smooth and tacky.  Only one climb at the end of the loop stayed soopey the entire day.  It was about a half mile section that you could slowly grind out.  The rest of the trail was fast and smooth and it was amazing how effortless the ride began to feel the longer the day went on.  I stopped every two laps and cleaned and lubed the chain, grabbed a new bottle of Infinite, peed and drank a bottle of Ensure.  Ensure is the new secret fuel for endurance racing.  It keeps people in nursing homes alive, so I am convinced.  I used it during the Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race (PMBAR), and it kept me going then for 80 miles and 12 hours.  Today’s race was no exception and I know it helped tremendously.  It has 350 calories in 8 ounces and is loaded with vitamins and minerals, and you don’t have to keep it cold.  My stops were about 4 minutes at the most and I refueled, peed and took off.  The chain cleaning took the most time after the first two laps as mud was everywhere on the drivetrain.  I am glad I took the time for this necessity.  I knew that it would help later in the day.  I heard a lot of people’s dry chains really squeeking later in the day, so for me it was worth the extra time.  After the first two laps, I really settled in for the long haul.  You get in to a natural rhythm after a while and your body and mind really start to get in sync.  I just kept it up and as the trails were drying I really started to enjoy the flow and fast descents.  I got really in tune to the twist and turns of the trail and the bike and body were merging with the smooth natural rhythm and motion.  Everything gets shut out during these times and you merge with the trail, your surroundings and the moment.  As the day went on there seemed to be fewer people on course and I was digging the solitude.  When you would come across someone, most people would chat for a while.  There was a common bond out there that you don’t get during shorter races.  Everyone was happy and laid back.  We would talk about where we were from, our mental and physical state at the time, bike stuff, etc.  No one ever seemed to complain and everyone seemed happy.  Endurance racing breeds a different crowd, one that is more laid back and generally easy-going and supportive.  If anyone was pulled over, everyone asked if they needed help or if they were ok.  I like that about this sport, the camaraderie.  My 3rd, 4th and fifth lap went really well.  I had kept about an hour pace per 11 mile lap throughout the entire race.  I went over the line on my 5th lap in 5 hours 10 minutes, and decided to call it a day.  I did not think I could pull off a 50 minute lap on lap 6.  You had to have all laps completed to count.  My fastest lap was 56 minutes on lap 2, so I reluctantly stopped for the day.  I was happy with the result and learned I got 8th place in the sport men.  Only 5 people got in 6 laps it turns out and maybe 4 of us got 5 laps, so I was happy with that result.  I was bitten by the endurance bug this day, and I think I will do this again.  There is such a great community of bikers and people in the endurance scene.  I have never seen so many smiling faces purposely paying money to suffer and ride all day in the saddle.  When everyone is in it together the pain melts away and it is just a common experience of joy and mental fortitude.  It is amazing what the human psyche is really capable of doing when we explore the limits of human endurance.  We dig deep and push through and adversity is just dealt with and we move on.  There are no hang ups, just adjustments and perseverance. What noble traits these races bring out in the human experience.  What a beautiful thing to experience the wonders of a human-powered machine combined with a steadfast mind.  More please.

Killer 3 Mountain Bike Race Report

Seeing that it rained for two solid days leading up to the Killer 3 Mountain Bike Race, I knew it was bound to be a typical mud fest in the South.  I couldn’t have been farther from the truth in that prediction.  It did not stop raining untill 5:30 AM the morning of the race.  I knew this fact because I unwittingly drank way too much water the night before, and was waking up every two hours to relieve myself and heard the incessant downpour pounding the rooftop.  It was like a maIstrom outside and I was dreading even getting up out of bed.  I imagined long sections of pushing the bike in the mud and a slow, slippery course.  Luckily, the soil around Poinsett State Park and Manchester State Forest is very sandy, almost beach-like in its texture, and absorbs water faster than a wet vac on steroids.  The course actually turned out to be ideal.  Locals said the rain is nice because it packs the soil down smooth.  The sometimes loose, sandy turns become consolidated and ride like the hard-pack, groomed trails one could find in areas like Bent Creek in Asheville.  Arriving at the park an hour and forty-five minutes before my start time, I saw the CAT 3 (Beginner) class start right at nine.  I thought they might delay the start, but there was no need.  I geared up, signed in, and began my warm-up ride around nine forty-five. I wanted to check out the start of the course and rode the first single-track section, which was a short and gentle climb 100 yards after the start.  The trail really was drying fast.  How was it possible?  In another hour the course would be completely dry, ideal for racing.  The start of the race was pretty typical.  I was in the largest class, the 40+ CAT 2 (Intermediate) men with 29 starters.  I was flashing back to races from my early days in Colorado, where 100 starters was very typical.  Well, it was going to be a long day in the saddle, so I started conservatively and let everyone gun for the first single-track.  I knew the field would spread out in due time.  After around ten minutes, the group was still together and we were all there.  One guy from a later starting class caught up to the pack and was yelling for everyone to get out-of-the-way.  He was downright rude and was cussing at twenty guys to move over.  There was a very heated exchange of words going on in the pack of riders.  I was just laughing the entire time saying things like,”this is supposed to be fun guys”, “what a beautiful day to ride” and “loose the drama”.  No one budged and the man grew increasingly agitated.  He finally managed to pass a few of us at a wider section of trail and crashed hard about fifty feet later.  Karma is a funny thing isn’t it?  I really don’t understand the fuss.  Back in Colorado, if a faster rider came along at a quick pace and the trail was too narrow to pass, they just bashed through off trail and passed.  It was not a big deal.  I am all for letting people pass and I always try to yield to faster riders, but sometimes there is just not room to move out of the way.  Someone should not have to stop their race just to let another rider pass.  Narrow single-track is one of the realities of mountain bike racing and people need to learn patience or learn to pass on the side of the trail.  The drama has got to go.  Well, after around ten minutes, the field was sufficiently spread out and we were all free to ride without the drama queen rants from the bunched up start.  The sun started to shine and the single-track was getting nicer with each mile.  Poinsett State Park is a really beautiful, unique area in the South.  It is full of very large oak and pine trees and they are all draped in Spanish Moss that hangs down like the beards of wise men from old.  It sways in the wind and creates a sort of eerie calm in the deep woods.  It is inviting and reminds one of the old South.  On numerous occasions the stringy moss latched on for a ride on my handlebars and I literally became part of the woods.  There were a lot of tight, curvy sections of trail and you had to manuver very quickly to avoid the trees which were everywhere.  After the race I heard many people say they hit trees with their bars and crashed.  I was glad I pre-rode the course and knew to slow down during the tight sections.  I was really enjoying the day, and the riding and views in the woods were spectacular.  I ended up riding with one guy the entire race named Rob.  He had just gotten back into racing like myself and we were very evenly matched up.  We played cat and mouse the entire day and chatted the entire time, which is quite unusual.  I would try to shake him and he always caught up.  I tried to lose him on the second lap, but ended up pacing him and another rider from the 30-39 class for the last nine miles.  I was pulling hard trying to shake them, but never could open a gap.  The last three miles was a flat forest road, and I thought I could break away at that time.  On the first lap, I managed to get some time on Rob and went into the single-track with a small gap.  Then I nailed a tree with my bar and crashed fairly hard, and my chain sucked between the frame and chainring.  I managed to get it free, but Rob passed me.  For two miles, I had to push hard to catch up.  I caught him and began the long nine mile pulling of the two riders and unfortunately did not leave enough gas for the final sprint.  On the fire road, Rob passed me and I could not keep up.  Pacing for nine miles and sprinting for two miles earlier fried my legs and they could not kick for the sprint.  I conceded a place to Rob and managed to get 13th out of 29 starters for the first race of the Southern Classic Mountain Bike Point Series.  I finished the 30 mile course in 2:29 with an average speed of 11.8mph.  I was happy with the finish and as always gained a lot of valuable experience.  Rob and I talked for a while after the race and we laughed about our day.  It was a real treat to actually race against someone and to be pushed to try hard.  So many times in a race you are alone and don’t know what is going on in front and behind.  It was really nice to be racing with someone who was out to have fun like myself.  We chatted and laughed the entire day and had a blast. The beauty about the veteran class is that everyone is so chill and is just out to have fun in the woods.  It is not about ego and all about the win.  It is about experience, pushing through personal limits and barriers, being in the woods and having fun on two wheels that are powered by your own legs.  I look forward to the rest of the series and can’t wait untill next weekend at The Shootout at Angler’s Ridge in Danville, Virginia.  Don’t you just love the names of races in the South?

Motivation in the Face of Fear

Have you ever been afraid to try something new, or been afraid to take action because of the fear of failure?  We all have fears and yet some people learn to live with them and overcome them, while others are paralyzed in their presence.  Personally, I am afraid almost everyday, yet I still get up and face these fears and even overcome them once in a while.  Fear can lead one to action.  Once on a rock climb I was getting tired beyond belief and was moments away from falling.  There was a jagged ledge below and hitting it in a fall could have been deadly.  But somehow, the fear lead me to a do or die action, and I carefully placed my foot on solid holds, breathed in a deep breath, cleared my head and made the move to safety.  In that moment, fear led me forward and I used it to take appropriate action.  I remember being afraid to leave Boulder, Colorado for my first teaching job in California.  I was scared of moving across the country and failing at the job.  But I knew the kids there needed me, and I knew I could help students there find their way.  I was sad to leave the mountains, yet happy for newness.  In life you must always try to grow and seek new pastures or else you will surely fade away with the setting sun.  I remember being afraid to take up mountain bike racing again at age forty.  I wanted to see if I could rise to the challenge, because it had been fifteen years since I raced in Colorado.  I started training relentlessly and went to my first race in Danville, Virginia last October.  I was scared beyond reason and my nerves leading up to the race were overwhelming me.  I could not sleep for two days before the race and I kept catastrophizing bad situations that would happen during the race like getting a flat or crashing and getting hurt.  It turns out that after five minutes of racing it started to rain like a monsoon in Thailand.  It rained hard for an hour and the course was a slop fest.  But halfway through the first lap, I said to myself, “race your own race, it is just for fun.”  I finally calmed down and just started having fun.  I remember there was a woman who had tunes blaring from her I-Phone and she was just singing along with the music and having a blast in the rain.  I rode with her for a while and realized that really this endeavor was just for fun, and to try not to be so serious.  I pushed through the fear and started to have the time of my life.  Funny thing though on the second lap my front brake cable broke so I had only a back brake for nine miles in the mud soaked, slippery course.  But I kept going and finished the race.  I even took ninth place and still beat two people in my age class.  Wow, how was that possible?  Fear in that instance turned to action, and in the end I had fun and learned many lessons about living.  When you can turn fear into a motivator, life begins to reward you.  You realize that all things are possible and failure can happen, but it is all right.  If you fail at something, that is just an opportunity to try it again in a new way.  As Randy Pausch said in The Last Lecture, “Brick walls are there for a reason…’they’ are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”  Do you climb over the wall, do you dig a hole and go under it, or do you take a brick out and go through it?  Challenges are stepping-stones to action and trying new things in new ways.  If we never tried new things and stepped out of our comfort zone, we would never grow.  So think about whether fear is holding you back from realizing your true potential.  It is all right to have fear, but try not to let it overwhelm you to the point of non-action.  When you face life directly and go out there and live and not hide from life, life will truly reward you for your efforts.  I have learned so many life lessons simply by action and failure.  Get out there and try something new.  Climb a mountain, write a story, ride your bike, communicate to a distant family member, ask a girl or guy out to the movies, dream big, travel, live life.  Take your next step.  In the end, only good things will come to you.