“I have always struggled to achieve excellence. One thing that cycling has taught me is that if you can achieve something without a struggle it’s not going to be satisfying.”
It has been a year now since my concussion that left me damaged for the season in 2009. When I started looking at my racing calendar for 2010 I was thrilled as it was time to begin over once again. I wanted not to forget what happened last year but to move on from it.
This year I plan to pickup where I left off in 2008. In 2008 I had finally mastered the run in Xterra racing and had made it to the top ten in most races overall.
My first race this season would be the inaugural first Xterra Muleshoe Race, a course that was seemingly fast and not too technical. I wanted to treat this race as a warm-up race. The first race of the season will usually indicate pretty clearly what needs to be worked on the most.
Muleshoe was a great course my swim time was respectable and my bike split was strong enough for me. My run fell apart a bit near the end, but I still managed to place second in my division and seventh overall. This year I am trying to dial in my nutrition strategies, weight control and last touches on the bike mechanically speaking.
My next race would be a double race in Ruston Louisiana two weeks later. This would be the first ever Xterra EPIC, a long course race that would certainly challenge even my strongest adversaries, followed by the normal short course version on Sunday known as the Gator Terra.
A weekend in Ruston can only mean one thing. My man Bill Driegert is coming in town from Chicago for our annual weekend of racing, a tradition that began in 2005. As each year passes I grow to appreciate the time Bill and I have together even more. We left Dallas around noon on Friday and made it to Ruston around 4:30pm, just in time for a pre ride.
The pre ride was uneventful the trail was in great shape, the air humid as always and the dirt silty and loose in the corners. A tradition for Bill and I is our Friday night dinner at Monjuni’s restaurant. We met up with the infamous Mike Carter for a carb loading dinner and a few beers.
After dinner Bill and I headed to the hotel and I prepared my bike for the EPIC race the next morning. Any race no matter how familiar the course, gets under my skin the day before the event. I found myself strangely calm. Most Xterra races are 1.5 to 2 hours long. Championship races and the World Championship are the longest races and those are at longest three and a half hours in length. The Xterra Epic was to be a five hour race. A one mile swim followed by a 35 mile mountain bike and lastly a 10.5 mile train. With a background in Ultra Marathon running and endurance mountain bike racing I felt confident in my strategy for the race.
Race morning I consumed some awesome Blueberry Banana nut bread that Christina had made for Bill and I along with some coffee. We headed to the race site and I set up my bike in transition. I was still stable and not nervous. This race was unlike the normal fast paced full throttle racing that Xterra offered. This was an endurance event, there would be plenty of time to sort out anything that would happen in the race over the next five hours. As I repeatedly heard at the six hour mountain bike races I did last season “do not kill yourselves on the first loop, you have all day to get this sorted out”.
I spoke with Mike Carter and Kyle Grieser before the race started and wished them luck. The race was starting in ten seconds now. I took in a long breath, it would be a running start into the water and then the race would be off.
Cock the hammer it begins now.
The swim was less crowded than the normal Xterra races as the field was smaller, not everyone wanted a piece of this race for obvious reasons. I found my groove quite easily in the water and was forced to deal with a pair of goggles that kept fogging. Overall the mile swim was uneventful with no alligator attacks or missing bodies, it is called the Gator Terra for a reason I am sure.
I ran up the steps to transition suffering from my usual mini heart attack from the swimming effort. My average mile in the water is usually around 30 minutes so I was right on time for the swim. Transition went smoothly and now I was on the bike climbing up a short incline before the single track had begun.
I had told myself the day before that I was going to take it easy on the first lap and then progress from there. It was raining while we were swimming and it was still drizzling as all the racers set out for the first loop on the bike course. I had made some immediate passes on the trail and had disregarded my plan of attack. I found myself at full throttle and already pushing the limits of what I can do on the bike. It felt good to be out of the water and in the trees.
I do have a great love for Ruston as the bike course favors my style of riding, nothing too technical just fast riding. The course is a winding single track with a couple of very fast down hills and a few creek crossings.
I feel at home on the course as this is my sixth year racing on it.
I had been riding on the dirt now for no longer than ten minutes I just passed two riders and was approaching at full speed into a sweeping turn that had some wet slippery roots to ride over before reaching the apex of the corner. With simply too much speed I found myself in the air now after hitting the roots, upon landing my front tire slipped out from underneath me.
I remember seeing the trees while floating through the air, I pushed Gloria away from me and fell hard to the wet ground of Ruston. It had never happened before but it was happening now, as my body was slung to the ground with great force, the wind was knocked out of me…..hard. My heart was skyrocketing before I crashed and now lying there on the ground I was left breathless, I moaned a sound I had not heard before.
It hurt; it hurt like nothing I had felt before.
A fellow racer had stopped to help me. I was still incapable of breathing or let alone speaking. He comforted me with his words and genuine compassion and concern. My eyes rolled into the back of my head and I could only think of one thing. “I hope I blackout before this gets any worse”. I repeated that in my head over and over again. Within a few moments the pain subsided and I was finally able to take a breath of air.
My immediate assumption was that I had broken a rib and that it had ruptured my lung. I ran my hands across my collar bones and was relieved to feel nothing out of the ordinary. I then slid my hands across my ribs and was assured nothing had broken. I told the racer who had stopped to get on his way, he told me to wait till help came.
I took a couple of minutes and then finally stood up.
I was no longer than ten minutes into the bike course and my empire had already collapsed. Any time made on the swim was gone, any passes on the bike gone, any chance of coming back hard, gone. I wanted to quit. I had not crashed this hard before in a race and I knew I had another five hours of racing ahead of me.
This was more than a small accident this was the crippling of my ability as a rider, my confidence as a competitive racer and worst of all my mind. It was time to make the decision to quit or to keep playing.
It is so much easier to give up sometimes, then it is to persevere.
I hopped back on my bike and noticed now the stem was twisted and stuck side ways from the accident. I clipped into the pedals and started riding. It hurt to spin the cranks my right side of the body took most of the damage from my wrists all the way down to my hip bones. I was aware then that it was going to be a hard long day.
I was relieved that I was still able to ride in moments of great pain it usually leaves one feeling extremely vulnerable. I now was feeling extremely grateful. It was everything I was to get back up and to keep riding, and now it was my honor to finish the job.
I road the rest of the lap with ease and patience I was now on damage control listening very closely to what my body was telling me. What was a dream of making it to the podium was now just a mission of finishing. Each rocky piece of trail and stubborn root send shockwaves through my body reminding me to take it easy.
I made it to lap two and started to pick up the tempo. It was at this point that I realized shit happens. Stop crying about it and come back to it. My racing mentality was coming back into my head. There is always a song that is playing in my head in all races, and it usually just repeats over and over again. The song for today was an old U2 track titled Rejoice.
After the third lap I had found my mojo once again, unfortunately I was hurting badly. I had blown up already and was not in a position to recover. I realized I had another hour on the bike and was looking forward to the run.
The fourth lap came and went and now it was time for the run.
I had thought a lot about racing in the World Championship then, I had not suffered this bad in an Xterra event since racing Worlds in October. Transition was slow, hurrying up was the last thing on my mind while preparing for the run.
My neck was sore from the riding I was now faced with a 10.5 mile run to the finish line. A two loop course that I assumed would be fast paced and fun. Race Director Fred Phillips had something very different planned. A brand new course had been developed just for the EPIC and climbing long slow sustained climbs was on the menu. The rain had subsided hours ago and now the Louisiana humidity started to cook the all of the racers alive.
My running turned into a death march pretty quickly, my race was falling apart now. My only goal was still to finish. Upon entering into lap two I had started lapping the other racers who were on their first lap.
The finish line would not come soon enough I crossed the line and was simply tapped out.
There is no greater feeling than overcoming.
The course itself was not that challenging however combining all the elements together created a brutal day of racing.
Bill was kind enough to gather my things out of transition after the race and we headed back to the hotel. I wanted to shower and sleep immediately. Bill headed back to the park to get some pre riding in before the race tomorrow.
My legs were beat to no end, I could see the muscle fibers twitching under the skin. I needed to rest, my body as well as my mind. I closed the curtains in the hotel and attempted to sleep. The course was still running through my mind and flashbacks came soon enough, as I laid there in bad I started to crash hard.
The day was over and I could not help but think about the battle on the same field that would consume me tomorrow. One has to question motives some times. There was very little enjoyment out there in the trees, it was just great suffering.
I never did sleep and Bill returned a few hours later, we were off to the awards dinner now. I could not help but limp as I walked, my feet suffered multiple cuts and blisters from the run and my right calf definitely had some torn muscle tissue.
The dinner was an endless supply of salad, bread and pasta. I ate with Bill, Kyle, Mike and Adrian. The food was good but I was craving some beer and I was not alone in this desire. The results were up and I was surprised to be given first in my division. The day beat the hell out of me and yet I landed on top of the podium, it was a perfect ending to a very hard day.
After awards Bill, Mike and Ted Ramos (third overall) and Kristi Darby (first female overall) all went out for beers. Damn beer never tastes as good as it does after a hard race. Two pitchers later and we were done. Time to sleep.
Sunday Morning came soon enough and now it was a day of reckoning, I limped over to get dressed and came to terms with what was going to happen today. Bill and I got some breakfast I had a cup of coffee with two slices of bread and two bagel slices.
I could not wait to get to the race site, I wanted to see all the men and woman who battled here before show their faces. We were all hurting but came ready to bring whatever we had left. I was pleased to see my main man Chuck Olinger show up to kick some butt.
Without much thought I was ready to get it on. I feared the bike as I knew the lactic acid would resurface and come back with a vengeance today. The swim had begun and today my goggles were cooperating. My shoulders were sore from all the hammering yesterday. I found my stride and tried to maintain the momentum without blowing up.
My swim was a minute slow for my preference, I ran into transition ready to burn on the bike. I made my immediate passes on the course before the single track began. I was feeling good. The air had a nice cooling calm feeling and in the trees the heat was subsiding. This was now my kind of game, short and fast. With my undeveloped swimming it leads me to deal with extra traffic on the bike. After the first mile I had weeded through most of it and was now flying on the course.
The bike course was in great shape, a lot less tacky than the day before, she was dry and fast. The climbs while short were taking their toll on me. Before it was all said and done I was approaching the last climb on the course before exiting to the transition area. My only thought coming out of the trees was “damn that was short”!
Coming into transition I saw 15 or so bikes, which was a few too many for my tastes,I normally like to just see 5-10 bikes. I was off to the run I was thrilled, the riding had gone better than expected which meant my run would be on.
Immediately coming out of transition my radar went on. The first runner was 150 feet ahead of me, it was time to let it all out on these guys now. My stomach felt good and I had no cramps as of yet, which meant for the first time in a long time my nutrition was dialed in for the short course. Within two minutes I pulled in the first runner.
The next runner was not visible which meant he could have been over 400 feet ahead me in the twisting trails. The pace felt demanding but was something I could sustain, the next group of runners came and went. After each pass I dug deeper and started breathing harder. I shouted “CONIO!” for Michael’s honor followed with laughter. I was having fun now. The same course that beat the hell out of me less than 24 hours ago, was now blessing me with a fast run.
I had one mile left now and had turned on the afterburners. The race felt so good at this point. One hour and thirty minutes of bliss. I looked back a few times to confirm no runners were on my heels and none were. I kicked in hard for the finish line and like that, the race was over.
I was on cloud nine upon finishing. I love a fast race and today helped me get over the sufferfest that was known as the EPIC. I managed to place third in my age group and was accepting of that but not wildly happy. I am looking to become a regional champion this year and a third place spot on the podium does not get you there.
It was now finally over with and overall I am happy with my performance. I was looking to use more of my endurance experience with the EPIC race, but sometimes the course sets the fate of your race not the individual.
This upcoming weekend will be the anniversary race of last year’s accident. It is now time to punish a course that knocked me out last year. We shall see what happens, next weekend after that is a championship race in Waco.Thanks for reading.