I should have known what type of day it was going to be when I couldn’t find my wedding ring. I should have known what type of day it was going to be when my race day ritual was disrupted due to a lack of bread. I should have known what type of day it was going to be when I went over the handlebars 30 seconds into a first sighting lap on a course I had never seen.
Let’s back up.
I have been training incredibly hard for the last 2 1/2 months for this race season. While I am doing quite a few mountain bike races this year, my primary goals are to race in 2 half Ironman races this summer. About a year ago I entered my second ever short course XC mountain bike race. I raced in the beginner class. I got handled. I finished DFL in my age group. I sat at the start finish line at the end of lap 1 of 2 for what seemed like 5 minutes. During that time, all of my friends were yelling at me to continue. At that moment I made a decision. That decision was to finish the race. I also decided that I was going to work my tail off all summer so that I would be able to ride with the group I was riding with and not be sucking wind. It was a brutal realization of just how far out of fitness I had fallen since putting my triathlon racing hobby on hold while my wife and I tended to our 3 littles.
I spent the better part of last riding season flogging myself on the bike. From March to September, I rode 140 times, for a total distance of 1,750 miles, and 205 hours. I climbed over 102K feet, and burned 114K calories. When I started, I weight 192 pounds. By the end of the season in September, I was, oddly, about 182 pounds (I thought more would come off). The training paid off, however, and I was starting to get my riding engine back. I was making a name in my riding group as the guy who goes up hill fast.
Coming out of the season, I decided I wanted to get back to triathlon racing. For my birthday (Sept), my wife gave me what I consider one of the coolest gifts ever. A season of training with a professional tri coach. After several interviews, I settled on Ben Bigglestone at VO2MultiSport. In signing on for the season, I gave him my insane, audacious goal. I will be racing in the 40-44 age group starting in 2014. I told him I wanted to qualify for the Half Ironman World Championships in that age group. My own assessment was that I have a big engine on the bike, and my run is a liability. There will be plenty of future posts on my tri training, but the short story is Ben has been kicking my butt for the last 2 1/2 months and the training is certainly paying off. No question.
This is all a long preamble to get to the main point: you can train all you want. If you don’t stick with your routines and you don’t race smart, you might as well not have trained at all. After reflecting on the race yesterday over the course of the last 18 hours, I can safely say that I blew it. To use one of my favorite smack talking quotes of all time: “[My] ambition outweighed [my] talent.”
I read the book “The Power of Habit” last year and realized there was plenty in there I could apply to my life, specifically around my training. I started getting up earlier, having the same routine every morning. Drinking, eating, etc. Every morning. It makes getting my engine started, and getting to my hard workouts much, much easier. Sadly, I did not check on my food situation until late the night before the race. I realized I was out of bread, which would rob my of my pre-race food (1 hour before the race, eat a peanut butter sandwich on wheat bread). I figured it was no big deal, and I would improvise. Mistake.
I also had never raced or ridden particularly challenging terrain using only my down tube bottle. I have always raced with a camelback. It turns out that when you are riding at pace, and dodging rocks, roots, etc, it’s much hard to grab that bottle, and, WAY more importantly, put it back. So you end up not hydrating. Mistake.
Lastly, I let hubris get the better of me. I recently was asked (and accepted) to join the Project529 mountain bike team. I have been riding with these guys for years, and it was certainly an invitation for which I had been hoping for a while. During the pre-ride, Nate was making comments about how the course suited my “horsepower” and my “engine.” That went to my head, and I rode way harder than I should have on the warmup. Mistake.
Worse, I didn’t do my warm up with my heart rate monitor turned on. I had no idea how much I was exerting myself. Mistake.
The worst sin of all, however, that I committed on race day was at the start line. It’s with mixed emotion that I even talk about this, because I know how it will make me look. Worse, I know how the story ends. The BuDu Racing Sportsman class was pretty deep. I was stepping up from Beginner class, and some of the Project529 guys even joked that I should be riding Expert. With the majority of the Project529 riders lining up for Sportsman class, we were all jostling to get closer to the start line. Then, someone said “let Brandon get to the front.” None of these riders are slouches. They are all accomplished riders. They were parting to let me go to the front. I was floored. They were communicating that they expected me to ride at the front. I let that get in my head, and decided that I would drop the hammer to get with the lead group and stick. Mistake.
If you want to know what stupidity looks like, there it is. No chart will better exemplify what a complete ass I am for how I ran my race. 15 minutes at or near 180 BPM is a really, really bad plan. A terrible plan. A non-plan.
When the gun went off, I shot out like a rocket, immediately locking on to the leaders. I was probably 6th or 7th in a train of 8 or 9. I know that there was one guy behind me for sure. I was riding like the wind. I haven’t experienced that kind of awe and joy of being in a freight train line of racers since I was coming out of turn 5 at Willow Springs in 1999 in the USGPRU motorcycle race. It was incredible. Up, down, around corners, were were collectively flying like a single arrow slicing through the air. Sadly, I wasn’t keeping my head. I was riding over it.
Then came the issues. I have never ridden at that speed in that close of quarters. This was only my 4th ever sprint type XC mountain bike race. I have no race craft. I have no idea what things to avoid. I now know a few.
New Rule: when you know there is a tricky climb coming up, do not cross axles with the guy in front of you. Someone didn’t clear a root, clicked out, and we all packed up. You can see it on the chart around minute 13. I had to jump off my bike and run it up the hill. I was caught out and surprised at how much that spiked my HR. I tried to settle my HR, but I didn’t want to lose the freight train. So I hammered. And hammered. And hammered. This despite alarm bells going off in my head, and my inner voice yelling at me to settle down.
Looking at the data for the rest of the first half of the race, from immediately after running my bike that hill, my HR was red lining. I just wasn’t racing smart. At all. Around minute 31 or 32 is where the wheels came off. Figuratively, because literally my front wheel bent. I have a unique talent for bending front wheels, as this is my third one in a single calendar year. In this instance, I was following too close, and someone in the train went down, the guy behind him went down, and I went over the handlebars when my front wheel was collected by his bike.
Mentally, my race was over at that point. I got up and tried to soldier on, but my heart wasn’t in it. I also was losing power. I could feel it on every climb from that point forward. My legs were done. I started going backward in the field, and then the Project529 riders started going by me. I felt shame. Shame that I had blown up. Shame that I hadn’t met my own expectations, or my perception of theirs. Shame that I felt like I had been training like crazy only to find myself in the back of the field.
Time and distance will give me the recovery I need. I made a bunch of mistakes during this race weekend, and I will not be making those mistakes again. On an email thread, talking about the race, one of guys suggested we take a minute to remind ourselves that this is a HOBBY. We are all dedicated fathers, husbands, and gainfully employed in fields which do not necessarily mesh well with loads of training. He went on to let us know that for him, mountain bike riding is about freedom, laughter and gravity. That we should all ensure that we remind ourselves of our top 3 reasons for riding before and after a race to maintain a level head and keep appropriate context.
Here are mine:
To always be improving
To do what others consider beyond the realm of possible
For the inner satisfaction I get when I am surrounded by my friends and peers when we toe the starting line together in pursuit of a personal challenge
Not as simple as his, but this is why I train. It’s why I race. It’s why I willfully suffer. It’s why I will be doing this for years and years. I know it’s a passion because my kids ask me about my ride/swim/run when I walk in the door before they ask me about work. Comedy.
I was beaten yesterday. Beaten by my arrogance. Beaten by not racing a plan. Beaten by a course. It’s OK. The big races are yet to come. Brian, Christian and Nate had amazing races, and I was really happy for them. It’s a sign of my own personal growth that I was able to put my own crap in a box and immediately congratulate them at the finish line. There we no excuses from me. No “should’ves” or “could’ves".” I just needed to look at the data and see what happened.
Upon returning home, I took a long soak and sulked. There, I said it. Then I fired up “American Flyers” to remind myself why I became interested in bikes when I was a child. I loved that movie. It still holds up. One day I will get a chance to raise my arms as I stand on a podium. Just not this day.