Monday, May 9, 2011

Having a little confidence goes a long way

Sunday I raced in the Berkeley Hills Road Race, my first cycling road race. The crits I did in January were fantastic and alot of fun but I'm not the most graceful individual so 4 tight turns on a course with 50 other riders isn't the most comfortable position for me to be in. I was really excited to test my legs in a road race and was enthusiastic about it all week. The big difference between the road race and my tri two weekends ago, I wasn't nervous, I wasn't anxious; I was just psyched to have the opportunity to have some fun.

The contrast could not have been more apparent between the two events than in their respective days before. For the Half Iron I made sure to have pancakes by 10am, and dinner by 6:30 pm. Dinner was quinoa and buffalo for the half iron; for the road race; a big a** Taqueria Cancun Burrito. Yes that had my blood sugars sky rocket to 345 the night before the race (never said it was a smart decision) but it showed that I knew life didn't have to be "perfect," to have fun in a cycling race. I left Katie and her visiting friends around 9:45 pm after our huge burritos and a day of drinking some wine (yes I also had some wine the day before a race!) to get into bed for my 6am wake up.

Unlike a triathlon I didn't have to pack for 3 sports; fill up 100 water bottles with my nutrition or get to the transition area at the crack of dawn to have time to prepare. I simply got to the race site about 20 minutes before the Cat 5s were to start, signed in and hung out - pretty sweet!

Cycling feels like a huge grass roots movement; there wasn't a huge speaker blasting music, race numbers are pinned on with safety pins and while everyone has a sweet bike they aren't displayed as art pieces they are a piece of athletic equipment. Although unlike triathlon where I'm pretty close to the same height as most of the athletes I was a midget once again compared to the other cyclists - these dudes are tall! After taking 10 minutes to figure out which way my race # was supposed to be pinned on I was off to find a bathroom and get to the race start.

Race instructions were given, then the race started; just like that. No diving into frigid water, no getting punched in the face, just a clip and a pedal. I was a bit nervous right at the start and it took me a bit longer to clip in, I"m pretty sure it looked like this was the first time I had ever been on a bike.

The start of the race was pretty cool we followed a car out of the state park so I felt very much like a legit cyclist. Once we made it to the main road the car turned left, we turned right and were off!

For the first 5 miles or so I hopped to the front and tried to push the pace. I'm not yet well versed in the strategy of road cycling and some people had given me advice to just jump to the front and see what happened. I figured I could find another rider willing to push the pace with me and thin out the herd. In all about 50 riders started as Cat 5s, I think we had that down to about 30 riders by the time the "real" race started.

After the first fast 5 miles we were into Berkeley's 3 bears, bringing back memories from Lake Placid. I didn't really know the course so got caught totally out of position heading up the first Bear. As people were shifting into easier gears I had a water bottle in my mouth and was taking a breather. Within the first few hundred feet of the climb I had been gaped by the lead group; any chance for a top 3 finish was out the window.

Never one to give up I punched it trying to catch as many riders as I could. This course, NOT EASY! I think there was something like 1700 feet of climbing, most of it bunched together. After 1/2 of a lap where I pretty much rode solo to catch other riders I finally caught a few guys cranking away. This is where I learned the true beauty of cycling.

As I passed this group of riders, one of them hopped on my wheel. The idea in cycling is to do as little work as possible while still going fast. Drafting requires 1/3 the effort of actually riding as the rider in front cuts the air for you. The rider from Team Moustache and I took turns pulling for 30 seconds each, we were quickly catching other riders and having a blast doing it. Awesome learning experience and one that will have me much better poised for my next race.

In all I didn't finish first and I didn't finish last; I finished my first road race and couldn't be happier. Was an incredibly fun experience; can't wait to test my legs again on June 18th down in Santa Cruz.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Race Report: Napa Valley Half Iron - The Decision

I was dreading the Napa Vally Half Iron for the three weeks preceding the race. I knew that my fitness level was not as high as I'd like it to be heading into a race. I knew that my life had become busier than ever; that trying to build a business, develop a relationship and explore a new city had all taken priority over hours SBRing, and rightfully so. I knew that my passion for the sport was starting to wane and that my heart was not fully into triathlon anymore.

I proceeded like I would for any other race, I began waking up 15 minutes earlier each day starting on Tuesday. In the three days leading up to the race my sleep wouldn't cooperate and while I was waking up at 4:30 - 4:45 am I wasn't falling asleep until 11pm or later. The night before the race I had maybe 2 hours of sleep.

With blurry eyes, a splitting head ache and a pit in my stomach I drove to the race site early Saturday morning. I was silent for the entire drive, not because my intensity to do the race was peaking but because I was dreading toeing the starting line. It was becoming increasingly apparent that my heart and soul just weren't into the sport anymore.

Ever since my diagnosis of type 1 in 2007 I have fought tirelessly to prove to myself that I could accomplish whatever I wanted with a life changing disease. The way I mentally dealt with my diagnosis was signing up for an Ironman, and ultimately proving I could actually compete in an Ironman like I did at CDA. In my anniversary post I wrote that I was at peace with having diabetes, with having to test my blood sugars constantly and avoiding certain foods. I had mentally over come my diagnosis and had become 100% comfortable with everything it meant. While I still love sport and still love athletics I was realizing that triathlon was not what I loved anymore.

Once at the race venue the adrenaline kicked in a bit and for a few minutes I was excited to race. I went for my warm up run, got in my wet suit and did my warm up swim. But something weird was going on, I had one desire - to ride my bike. I did not want to swim and did not want to run I simply wanted to ride my bike, see beautiful sites, descend fast and climb hard. I stood at the starting line thinking how different it felt than starting CDA or even the start of a small race in South Carolina. Instead of feeling excitement and energy I felt dread and downtrodden.

We started in a time trial fashion, the fastest swimmer did the alleged 1.2 miles in 33 minutes (the water was brutal). My time was 42 minutes. I left the water my legs were killing me, I had cramps in my shin muscles, my feet arches and my calves. I tested and was at 118, I thought of stopping, I thought of not doing the one thing in the sport I still undoubtedly loved. My blood sugar spiked 6 minutes later to 154, I put on my cycling shoes and out I went.

From my first pedal stroke I knew this would be my last triathlon for a while. As I passed cyclist after cyclist I wondered why I didn't just focus on the one discipline that brings me almost as much joy as football did.

As I continued to ride the lack of sleep was catching up to me, my stomach was upset, I threw up a little in my mouth. I continued to ride, averaging close to 20 mph for the first 20 miles of the course, my back acted up a little bit but I pushed on. At one out and back I thought of heading back to the finish and skip miles of the race, just pull out without finishing the bike. I turned it into a training ride and kept fighting knowing I had my first road race the following weekend.

My speeds topped out at 28 on the flats, they slowed to 7 to 11 on the climbs. The course was brutal, my time 3:04, slow for me but respectful for a tough course. Not bad for a guy whose longest ride in the past 2 months was 50 miles. I can still ride, I can't still tri.

I got into transition, dismounted my bike and instead of jogging with my bike to my rack took a slow, long deliberate walk. The entire time I knew what was to come, the entire time I knew I was going to remove my timing chip the second I got to my rack.

I got to my rack, looked at Katie, smiled and asked "are you ready to drink some wine?" Her, knowing me so well smiled back and said "absolutely." She, unbeknownst to me knew for weeks that this would be my last triathlon for a while. She later told me she could see the joy in my face when I talked about cycling or went out for a ride but heard the dread in my voice when I would go for a swim or out for a run. She knew what I didn't yet realize, that I was ready to walk away.

I racked my bike, removed my helmet and tri top. I reached down, pulled apart the velcro and held my timing chip in my hand. It was as if a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders, I smiled as I knew it was time to take a break. I walked to the aid tent, and said "athlete 160 is turning in his chip." The two EMTs looked at me curiously, I responded "after doing something like 10 of these sometimes you just know it's time to walk away."

I smiled walking back to my bike. Triathlon has brought me so far, has helped me with so much has let me meet so many incredible people, has turned me into an endurance athlete. But for now, for this year I'm taking a break. I can't sacrifice what I need to, to train for tris and compete as I want anymore. Training doesn't bring the same smile to my face it once did, in a word I'm exhausted. For the next year I'll focus on what I enjoy so much. Its time to take a bit of a break; 3 days after the race I'm as happy as I was the second I turned in my chip, walking away was unquestionably the right decision.