“It never gets easier, you just go faster.”
Every year I say I will race less and yet that never changes. Xterra Camp Eagle was race number two in a three week three race odyssey. The first race (Dorba OCNP Bike Race) had gone well and I was looking forward to the camp eagle race that I had a mechanical problem at last year. It had rained the day before and during the race, what conditions normally prevail in Texas were not happening that day. The temperature dropped into the seventies and the rain came down. On a normal perfect day it would be in the hundreds and very dry.
My rear derailleur and hanger was destroyed five miles into the bike course that year. I ran my bike back to the transition area and hung it up. I ran the remaining five miles of the bike course then came back to transition to run another four miles of the run course. I was not given any points for the race or even an appropriate finish time, but I raced the course and did it my way. It was a frustrating day but I still finished, my season was plagued with failures and mechanicals and quitting then was not how I wanted to finish this race.
I came into Camp Eagle this time with more confidence in my cycling ability than ever before. My commitment to the bike meant I was lacking on the run and the swim. My strength had been the run last year but that was changing this season. It felt like the season had just started for me though. Since my concussion I had been on prescribed medication that had me having mini heart attacks when racing. Having to hold back in training and racing was the furthest thing from what I ever wanted to do.
Every race this season had some side effect of being drugged up. My neurologists and cardiologist told me to take it easy and listen to my body. Every race this year had some point or multiple points where my body was tapped out, it felt as if I was giving too much throttle and I simply could not hang with my ego. My brain was telling me to go at race pace yet my tainted drug induced body had other plans.
I had gotten off the drugs a few weeks prior to the three race odyssey. My first day of reckoning and realization was at the Goat Neck Tour in Cleburne. It had been only four days off the sauce and I decided to bring my Single Speed out for a little spin. My man Paul Robinson and I were going to ride together; we checked in and headed to the start. I could not spot another single speed rider in the seventy mile group that was leading out first.
I had ridden this course a few years back and had what I would call a religious experience. I went out way too hard and blew up on the course. I felt near death at the end. I was not looking to duplicate that this time. The tour had begun and Paul I started off together. We covered a few miles and were getting things warmed up. My body felt the way it had felt for the last three months and my legs felt tired already. We started hustling on the hills and started passing other riders.
Paul told me to go ahead and ride how I normally ride. I did not want to do that but I figured what the hell lets mix it up a little. I picked up the cadence and started pulling a small group. I pulled too hard and lost the group from there I went to the next group and so on. After twenty short miles I realized what was going on, I had become the old me, my blood no longer was inundated with a chemical flux that had side effects, that only became apparent at crucial moments in racing. The miles ticked away at the tour I pulled a few more groups and then went on a solo pursuit. I had planned for the seventy mile bike ride to take about four hours on the single speed. The course is pretty hilly for Texas and the wind is usually a factor. I realized I had about fifteen miles left and felt great I started hammering at this point. I had made it this far but blowing up was still a possibility however the road to the finish would not be much further. I completed the seventy mile ride in Three hours and nine minutes. Way ahead of schedule I knew then that the drugs had been holding me back.
So here I was at Camp Eagle I had raced four Xterra races already this season but had yet to feel like the old me. I had arrived to Camp Eagle in about six hours; the drive was uneventful and anything but exciting. It was one o’clock when I arrived and the Texas heat had just started to sizzle. I parked the car and grabbed the bike I wanted to go for a two loop ride. It was a ten mile loop, I wanted to familiarize myself with the course once again. It was hot dry and dusty just the way I like it a far cry from last years conditions.
The trail this year was running very differently they had added some new stuff and excluded other areas and had us staring on the other side of the park that was used last year. I began riding in the direction that we did last year the trail initially had a horror of a climb that slowed down the best of riders. I made it up the climb and then was faced with a new section. The downhill’s were fine however the ascends were very technical and rocky, one bad move and you could fall off the side of the trail. Falling is fine and inevitable in off road bike riding. However if you have the choice to fall it’s best on dirt, at Camp Eagle it’s 90% rock 10% dirt. Dirt and trees will scratch and make you bleed, however rocks destroy bones and good spirit.
I had already fallen off the bike twice(within the first twenty minutes of riding) trying to figure the ascends out and decided to move on. It was hot outside and my water batter was already half empty, my mind was wandering which was not good. When riding off road it’s imperative that you leave the baggage at the trail head, a foggy mind will get you into trouble quick. I had made it down to the creek beds now it’s a beautiful area where creek waters use to flow, but was now a magnificent rock garden with hidden challenges and a barely visible line to read.
It was only another mile till the halfway point. I made it there and saw a nice picnic table needing some company. My thoughts were not focused on the ride; they were drifting in and out of processes and ideas like an algorithm with no purpose or mindset. I needed to sleep and relax the drive had me tapped out and not in the right mindset for riding.
I leaned my bike up against the picnic table and laid on top of the table to take an hour nap. I figured I was tired from the drive it was imperative to regain my focus and ride the rest of the route. When I woke up I ran into my friend Vicki who I would be rooming with that night. Vicki wanted to ride the creek beds again to figure out the best line and I wanted to ride that whole section again. So we were off.
I still had problems on the ascends, I knew on race day I would be running them instead of riding them. I needed to ride the rest of the trail so I went off alone to ride the other half. This half had a long climb with switchbacks, upon the climb I ran into two riders from Dallas, one that raced CAT 2 (same division as me) and another ride who raced CAT 1 (expert level rider) we chatted and rode the course together, this side was cake, nothing but climbs and fast sections of course it was rocky, that was inescapable on this trail.
That night I hung out with the Austin crew and then we all went to bed around 10:00 PM. The morning had come soon enough and it was time to unleash hell. I dropped my bike into transition and did all of my normal race morning duties. After the race meeting everyone headed down to the water. I stayed back and focused on the water that we were about to start in.
My head was somewhere else, normally filled with anticipation and wander, I felt alone. This had been the first race without my greatest supporter, Mike G. An ocean had divided us and as much I could feel his presence, my spirit was not there. Mike it’s just not the same without you.
The race was about to go off and I was nowhere near the start. I slowly made my way to the water as the rocks are sharp and walking barefoot has its consequences. I pulled my wetsuit on and started to get it situated on my arms and chest. The race director screamed “15 seconds!” I had a spectator zip me up in the back. I walked into the water and started to make my way to the front. As soon as I had made it to the line, the race was on.
The swim was a simple out and back and it felt pretty good. I made it out of the water and started to make my way up the stairs that led us to the transition area. I walked the stairs, I then ran to the transition area. What the hell was I doing walking the stairs? This is a race not a casual get together!
My transition was slow as my casualness towards the act was just that, casual. It was now time to ride the bike, what I had been waiting for, time to represent. The course right out of transition has a nice downhill which leads you to a very rocky section that rides along the stream we had just swam in. The long climb was approaching fast and this was where I planned to take a chunk out of the racers and move up several positions. It was upon my first pedal stroke that I felt an unfamiliar feeling in my legs…..fatigue.
I suffer in training regularly with fatigue and lactic acid however in racing it’s an unfamiliar factor. Adrenaline and the pure rush of racing can suppress many things; lactic acid and fatigue are some of them. The power I had less than twenty four hours ago was not there, there was no coming back now. As I kept riding I was perplexed with the predicament I was in, it was race day, it was Xterra and I was not in the zone.
I had made it past the first part of the bike course and was ready to face the tricky ascends that had challenged me the day before. I dismounted and quickly ran my bike up them, there was no point in attempting to ride them, not this day and not in this mood. I was now approaching the rocky creek beds when it first happened. I flipped over the handlebars on a rocky downhill. Minutes later I clipped a tree on my right shoulder I had my second accident. The tree grabbed my right shoulder as they always do and threw me to the rocky trail. Minutes later in the solid rock creek beds I lodged my front tire between two rocks and went over the handlebars again. Profanities vociferously came out at loud levels. I quickly got up and shouted what the FUCK! are you doing out here!? After three accidents in ten minutes my brain was melting and my heart simply was not in this race. I finished the lap and was then off for the run.
The run started with one hell of a climb and then ran through some tight rocky single track. My heart skyrocketed on the climb and never really settled down. I found my rhythm and made some passes but could not engage full throttle nor did I want to. I completed the race bruised scratched and fried, I placed second in my age group and could care less, I had a seven hour drive back to Dallas ahead of me now.
For the first time in four years in any race my heart was not in it. The whole race felt like a training ride, no adrenaline, no greatness, and no glory and I felt it more than ever. There was no Michael and that had a lot more impact on me than I had considered. After saying good bye to my Austin friends I hit the road back to Dallas.
So what was it, what disrupted the cycle? I needed to move on and think about next weekends Xterra Austin race. I had six days to find my mojo, get fast and prepare to ride the most challenging Xterra mountain bike course. A midweek training ride and run with my main man Chuck Olinger had given me back some of my confidence. Chuck and I were going to race together so we left for Austin on Saturday morning.
I woke up early Saturday morning before leaving to get a run in and clear my head, I needed to shake Camp Eagle out of my veins, the sun was rising and displayed a beautiful site that helped to cleanse my mind and spirit. Great music streamed through the speakers and I felt a rush of emotion overcome me. Things felt as they should and I knew I was ready now. Chuck and I left around nine and headed down to the great city of Austin. Of all the Xterra courses, this is one you definitely need to pre ride to get familiar with.
I had raced Xterra Austin last year and destroyed my pedal on a boulder making for a very exciting and scary ride. We started the ride up the highway to the trail head. I looked at Chuck and he was the first to say “I am breathing a little heavy” I was doing the exact same thing, wandering if it was just me hurting we both found comfort in the mutual suffering.
The trail was familiar and recognizable even though I had only ridden her twice, she still had all the curves and sensations that sends chills up every rider’s spine. To say the trail was technical would be an understatement, she’s got drops, climbs and rocks that roll and change the dynamics of the trail as each rider makes a pass.
Chuck and I made it through the initial “easy” section without any problems. We had a local rider from Dallas that was now riding with us, he held a good line and could ride. Chuck led the ride with the new rider in the middle and me in the back. I wanted to stay back from these two as I needed to study the lines differently. Riders on full suspension bikes can roll over and down things easier; I had to take different lines at times on my hardtail frame.
I had a lot of issues as soon as we reached the more technical sections my front tire kept sliding off in the loose dusty sections and I had already started to have accidents. My bike is setup for XC racing in Dallas which means fast fast fast. I ride with a drop up front just like I do on my TT bike. The drop was too much for this trail, I had to pull my body behind the seat to balance the bike on the downhills although effective I do not prefer this style of descending. My front fork was malfunctioning as well it would only travel three inches at maximum, which was about a third of what it should be. We wrapped up the ride and headed off to Mellow Johhny’s for packet pick up.
Mellow Johnny’s is quickly becoming iconic, it’s a quaint little bike store with some great bikes that were used in the tour and a friendly staff. After packet pickup we had dinner with my good friends Vicki and Laurie Allen. We headed back to Emma Park and camped over night tomorrow would be the big day.
Sleeping was intermittent and noisy, Emma park was a beautiful place when the sun shined however when the sun went down, the obnoxious drunken people came out. I woke up at 6:00AM, chuck was already up and went for a little run. I needed to work on my bike and change the cockpit up, if I could raise the front end it would help me on the downhills from being too far forward and top heavy. I flipped my stem up and stacked my spacers below the stem instead of above, this lifted me about 3 inches up front which was all I would need.
The race was staring soon after transition was set up, Chuck and I headed over for the race meeting and swim. Chuck said a prayer for me as we stood by the water, it was a very nice gesture, on this course you definitely need angels looking over you. The race had a wave start and luckily I was in the first wave, Chuck would start two minutes after me. I lined up behind pro racer Shonny V. and drafted her for the first hundred yards she dropped me like a toilet seat lid after that.
Swimming is my weakness in triathlon however I do not mind swimming when racing, I find my rhythm and hope that my cycling strength and quick run will make up the lost time. It was a two loop swim, which meant by the time I got out of the water Chuck and all the lead guys would already be on their bikes riding toward the trail up the road. My transition went pretty well and before I knew it I was on my bike riding up the steep road to the trail head.
I made some passes immediately and tried to make my way as far forward as possible, my heart was starting to race and my breath grew very heavy however my legs felt great. I may have been mortified by the trail yesterday, but today was a new day, I was curious to see how lifting the front end would feel and lowering the tire pressure up front for better traction. The initial trail is easy in comparison to the harder sections. The first section has one loose downhill section with a sweeping right turn, and one uphill that is rocky loose and just painful to ride.
My bike started barking at me on the easier side of the trails which initially frustrated me greatly. My chain slipped off the front chain ring twice and at one point slipped behind the rear cassette directly onto the wheel, when this happens it makes a very loud grinding noise.
I made it through the entire single track on the easy side and was now faced with the longest climb in the race, last year I ran the bike up the hill as my legs were blasted. This year I just kept my head down and started the grind. My bike only has two gears up front, I removed what I always refer to on all bikes as the “bitch” gear, if you can’t handle any trail on the two big gears up front its faster to run the bike. I have been running a 2 x 9 setup for two years now and have never regretted it. I reached the top of the hill rather quickly I looked back to see three riders making their way up. I wanted to increase the gap from these other riders before we reached the scary stuff.
I crossed the road and was ready for the challenges that lye ahead. The course gets more and more challenging as each mile ticks away, you receive initially a little tease and then it starts to hit the fan. The descends began to come one after the other and I was very pleased with how the bike felt. The changes I had made earlier in the day put me in a much better position on the bike for this course.
With the exception of one massive ledge drop off I made it down every scary downhill section the course had to offer, a completely different scenario from yesterdays training ride. The scary sections were marked with a skull and cross bone banner right before the trail got dodgy. After each pass I grew with more and more confidence about my ability to handle this course.
The bike section had emulated the effort last year completely, have a real scary pre ride then sleep on it. Race morning always has something different planned for each person out there.
The climbs started to come now, one after the other. I felt good about the race so far and had not thought about how I was in such a “blah” mindset the week before at Xterra Camp Eagle. No accidents had occurred yet and my legs felt great. Upon one of the longer climbs I shouted the word “¡coño!” It was from then that I knew I was back from the dead and that last weekend was just a memory.
I picked up the word “¡coño!” from a great Showtime show called “Dexter”, one of the characters named Miguel Prado would use this explicit word in times of great stress or anger. I use it when I have to dig deep when the efforts are starting to inflict a lot of pain upon my body. As vulgar as it may be, I love saying the word as it always reminds me of Michael, I sometimes think of Julien as well because he says it too, usually followed by me saying it then Michael repeating it and then Julien having the final “¡coño!”
Calling upon Michael’s strength in a race is not uncommon; his strength was now summoned by me shouting the word “¡coño!” I realized earlier in the week that the race at Camp Eagle was just not my race, the word was never uttered and that says volumes. There will always be a disconnect from all things real when racing and when this does not happen, it means something is definitely off.
What gets me excited about racing is the same feeling that drug addicts have looking for that initial “high” that got them hooked in the first place. In my four years of racing I have experienced so much joy and so much pain. I have competed in about eighty events in the last four years, everything from 5k’s to fifty milers, to aquathons in France to the Ironman(attempted) 6 hour mtn bike races to 100 mile training rides back to back.
I watched a lot of movies growing up and with that comes a vision to want to make things epic. Growing up I was anything but athletic. Mike and I were two chubby kids with lots of energy but no athletic abilities. It wasn’t until our late teens that either of us took up running. Running had started it all. More than just a simple action of one foot in front of the other, for me it was a separation from all things real and apparent.
Life is like a movie in so many ways a lot of us are just stuck on the boring part. Whether it’s the forty plus hour work weeks or the daily grind, day to day living can lack some luster at times.
When I race however all that changes, I have always favored the underdog in every great sport movie. We all want the little guy with nothing to lose and everything to gain to win. When I ran my first race I was overwhelmed with the rush of racing, it wasn’t the competition it was the exhilaration of living through a race. It made me grateful and humble, it’s always an honor just to be able to inch the line and start, when so many can not.
In every great sport movie or story there is a tale of struggling and every competition has its dramatic moments, its intense petrifying actions can cause your heart to skip beats and the hairs on your neck to stand straight up. For me every race has that potential and sometimes, just sometimes I get to experience that incredible rush.
Whether winning a race or breaking a course record each of my greatest moments have played out in my head over and over before and after the race. It’s incredible how surreal the pursuit feels when going for the number one position. The scenario of stalking the prey is no different than in nature. Racing is 70% mental and 30% physical for me. My heart and soul hurt more than my legs after any hard race. It’s more than numbers it’s my life on the big screen with a very small audience. I can make the movie an Oscar worthy performance or just send it straight to DVD. Only you have the power to paint a masterpiece when on the course, you reap your own hard work.
Now back to the race, as the bike course came to its end I faced one last horrific climb. I dismounted and ran the bike to the top then crossed the road. I had maybe another two miles ahead of me now before heading to transition. I was very happy about the ride, I didn’t have any accidents and I cleared everything on the downhills.
As I raced towards the final descend that would take me to transition, a song had popped into my head. My bike until this point had not been granted a name. For whatever reason Gloria came to mind, the bike was now official. We had spent over a year together and yet I always referred to her as “The Litespeed”. I could not help but laugh and feel such glee, the toughest part of the race was behind me, and now I had a soundtrack playing in my head that captured the moment for me perfectly.
Open this link in another tab it will play automatically to hear the song that captured the moment perfectly.
Transition looked pretty slim not a lot of bikes so I was very pleased. It was now time to see if I still had the run in me. I saw a fit looking guy about three hundred yards away in an all black 2XU race uniform. My radar immediately went on and that would be the first guy to go after. My heart was pounding and my breath was anything but controlled, it was a panting noise that only a French bull dog could duplicate. However the heavy breathing is very normal for me and is kind of my trademark.
Out of the fields and into the worst ascend the course offers a volunteer shouted “you are in the top ten”. That’s all I needed to here, I knew my pace on the bike was lacking and would put me back from the top guys; I was on the top ten list, which at Xterra Austin was an honor for me. I paced another runner in front of me and did what I could to pull him in, I made the pass but as soon as I did his cadence picked up. Half way into the course dehydrated and approaching complete exhaustion I did not want to duel with anyone. I let it hang on the flats and unleashed on the slight down hills.
The course was now approaching its end; I kept looking back as I knew I was slowing down. I had no attacks from behind but still was on edge. The trail lead me to the rocky ledge that was the same uphill and now it was a downhill. The drop is near straight vertically and about fifty feet tall. I looked back one more time and saw two jackals. The finish was less than two minutes away. Its going to be easy once I get past the downhill, unsure of what these two were capable of, I thought “okay show them you are a runner”. I bombed the downhill and grabbed onto trees as I carried way too much momentum, I could feel the pull of my shoulder sockets disconnecting as my arms were slung onto the thin trees.
Finally at the bottom I hit the gas hard and sprinted down the road to the finish. I managed the fifth fastest run split. Last year I was at the top of my game with the running, coming into the race ten pounds overweight was very apparent when I was trying to move faster out there.
The race was over now, after checking the results the two guys who almost caught me on the run where in my age group. I placed first in the group and was pleased with the results. I would have liked to have been faster on the bike; however my cautionary measures got me to the finish with minimal bloodshed. This race is something else and everytime I approach this course it still gets me spooked out. Looking forward to doing a lot better on the bike next year.
Next race Xterra Worlds in Maui.
Thanks for listening.
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