In life, we accumulate experiences ... and as we do, somewhere our mind logs them away. Subsequently, in the between moments, a moment waiting to cross an intersection for example, the mind does something spectacular ... it offers our experiences back to us in short films. Often, they're films that reflect an actual event: our mind takes the snippets that it logged away and smooths the rough edges based on previous experience; but more-or-less these are actual events played back to us on the big screen in our brains (for more on this topic consider picking-up a copy of Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling On Happiness, it's fascinating). Alternatively, the same experiences are played back in a way that we never experienced them. In this format, our experiences are the inspiration for a dream.
That's how my goal of reaching 16,000 cycling kilometers (10,000 mi) first arrived, fueled by life, especially months of cycling, directed and produced by my brain; and then, without warning, experienced (debuted) in the form of a day dream on the big screen. Up until the last two weeks, I've honestly tried to suppress this particular day dream. In part, because winter will soon arrive to Hamburg, Germany, where I recently moved (more below). But those efforts, to suppress, were eventually overwhelmed by many repeat screenings. It seems that what the brain wants, it gets, and often it accomplishes this by repeating it's favorite performances. To ride 16,000 kilometers/10,000 miles in 2015 will be my last goal for the year.
Let's have a look at where the dream began, well before the screenplay was even considered. After exactly two weeks off the bike, 3 January 2015 arrived and it was time to reinitiate training one month earlier than I ever had before. A few days later, I was living and training on the Big Island of Hawaii from a base camp in the Village of Pahoa (scroll down and you'll find a blog entry about Hawaii). On my birthday later that month, I rode to the top of Mauna Kea Volcano and then descended back to Hilo, a ride I had imagined many times and so already knew that I would name 'Sea to Summit to Sea'. And there were many other rides and adventures in Hawaii, all on the road bike. By the end of the month, I had accumulated 1627 kilometers (1011 mi) of cycling, a big month for an amateur cyclist with just two seasons of training and racing experience behind him.
The next month, February, another 1630 km (1013 mi), essentially the same as January but over fewer days. After two more months of mostly base training, March 1679 km (1042 mi) and April 1726 km (1173 mi), I was just 1/4 of the way through the year and already at 6822 km (4239 mi). For comparison, at the same time the year before, by 1 May, I was at 3757 km (2335 mi) for the year. My distance had nearly doubled over the same interval.
In May, distance began to decline slightly as intensity increased (speed work, intervals, etc). By June, training settled into more racing, and recovery, and less training., less distance on the bike Still, the kilometers continued to accumulate until eventually, somewhere out on the race course during the Leadville Trail 100, I crossed the 11,200 km (7000 mi) threshold that inspired my mind to, unbeknownst to me, initiate a screenplay and eventually produce a short film that concluded at 1,6000 kilometers (10,000 miles) ... somewhere on Planet Earth ... and likely in Germany.
As of 21 September 2015, I've been living in the city of Hamburg, not far from the River Elbe in Eimsbüttel quarter. After parting in March at Denver International Airport, I've finally re-joined my very patient girlfriend. At her home this time, in Deutschland. Without a visa, I'm allowed to stay for 90 days, that puts me back in Colorado in late December ... but stay tuned, there is much that hasn't been decided and I'm not planning to change that for a while. We will see where life takes me until then and I'll keep the world posted on Facebook and here, on my blog page.
This morning, it's drizzling in Hamburg and the daily forecast predicts the same or worse until tomorrow afternoon. This likely means that I'll remain at 13,173 kilometers (8233 mi) for the year until Samstag (Saturday) morning when I plan to ride a century or more and possibly the same on the Sonntag (Sunday). Thanks to my roommate, I've been very fortunate to ride with a local cycling team, RG Uni Hamburg, and to-date I've ridden with them four times and about 400 kilometers. I've ridden another roughly 300 kilometers on my own. The process of getting to know the area and where I can cycle is well underway. Nonetheless, 'on my own' is sometimes slow going, stopping to check my eTrex 20 GPS every 5-10 kilometers between villages depending on how comfortable my internal compass is feeling. So far, I've gone the wrong way, the right way, the popular way, the seldom used way, and the never considered way. For the latter, picture two tracks, a large tractor, and deep sand, or nothing but a quiet landscape or a group of confused cows, sheep, or horses. I've tried to be as friendly as possible throughout, even greeting the cows in my elementary German, guten morgen mein schatz! Nothing much disturbs them it seems, even my verbal affection.
To ensure my best chance of reaching 16,000 km (10,000 mi) before years-end, I've set a shorter-term goal to reach at least 14,400 km (9000 mi) by the end of October. That's about 51 km (32 mi) per day or 4-5 longish rides each week. Also helpful, the country-side, once I manage to get out of the city (about 30 minutes over streets, side-walks and pedestrian/bike paths), is nearly flat with just a few very modest hills. For example, a ride of over 5 hours last week resulted in only ... 306 meters (1,004 feet) of elevation gain and, according to Strava, some time spent actually below sea-level! Not bad, especially for the off-season when I should probably be resting rather than chasing after a goal that will require me to pedal a distance equivalent to a flight from San Francisco to London and back, a flight from New York to Hawaii and back, a one-way flight from London to Sydney, Australia, or a one-way flight from Los Angeles to Cape Town, South Africa.. If I'm successful then I'll have cycled 40% of the distance around the equator in 2015.
When I consider the next few months and whether I'll reach my goal or not, what I'm often wondering is not success or failure, Instead, I wonder what will my mind do with the knowledge that its body cycled so many kilometers? Even my current 13,173 km (8233 mi) has been enough to get that process, that screenplay, into the writing stage. No doubt, by December, my mind will be debuting a full-feature world tour film. If so, I'm going to need a new bike, possibly a new body, and a sponsor!?
On the morning of 15 August 2015, I woke at 330 am and began preparations for what I anticipated would be my last race in 2015. I felt then, and still do, that there really wasn't a point to "racing", i.e., to putting-in a competitive all-out effort on race day, after Leadville. The athlete that raced on 24 May in Gunnison made their last appearance for the season at '40 in the Fort' on June 27th. In the month that followed, July, each time I raced my legs offered a little less than the preceding race. My legs were at about 75% on the first climb at the Firecracker 50, not enough to hold the fast guys in my age class, regrettably they dropped me on that climb as quickly as they had in 2013. During the opening 10-mile climb of the Silverrush 50 in Leadville, my legs were perhaps less than 75%, certainly no better, again the fast guys easily left me behind. And then at the Laramie Enduro, on 1 August, despite draining my tank more than ever before, I finished 13 minutes slower than the year before. Down, down, ... down ... my form descended and with it any reasonable hope of achieving my 2015 goals including a top-50 finish in the Leadville Trail 100.
A year ago, on 9 August 2015, I finished 75th in the Leadville Trail 100 (LT100) in just under 8 hours and 2 minutes (8:01:54). That day the top-50 finished in under ca. 7 hrs 50 minutes. To finish among them, I would have to shave roughly 12 minutes from my 2014 time,. The form that I had in May could have done it, and possibly more. But the form that I arrived with on the morning of the race was likely going to struggle to finish in under 8 hrs 30 minutes. Nonetheless, for three or four days leading up to Leadville a glimmer of hope combined with a new goal for the race began to have a positive affect on my race outlook. Instead of a top-50 finish I would attempt to finish in under 8 hours, even 7:59:59 would be acceptable! All I needed to do was shave 1 minute 55 seconds over a 104 mile course. Sounds straightforward, but nothing is ever easy, nothing is given, in a century-distance mountain bike race that starts at close to 10000 feet, climbs to nearly 12560 feet and then descends by-way-of many small and a few big climbs back to town - at the intersection of 6th and Harrison Avenue in Leadville, Colorado.
From the starting line to Carter Summit, the top of the first big climb, my body went through the usual process of waking-up,. At that time, I was feeling stronger than anticipated, I thought to myself ... okay, you have a chance to reach your sub-8 goal ... keep the pace up and try to recover time on the descents. In hindsight, I was, in fact, 'close' to my time from last year, within 2 minutes,. but I was two minutes behind after less than one hour of racing
Not far from Carter Summit, I arrived at the first of the big descents, Powerline, this was an opportunity to recover some lost time. which I managed to do thanks to my full-suspension Niner Jet 9 RDO. Top to bottom, my 2014 time was 11:40; in 2015, 10:53. Nearly 50 seconds to subtract off the deficit I accumulated in the first hour of the race. I made-up a little more time on the road section below Powerline. By Pipeline outbound, the first aid station after Powerline, the Carter Summit deficit had decreased to just 1 minute 4 seconds. My crew, a mix of generous family and friends, shouted encouragement as they handed-up a bottle.
Between Pipeline and Twin Lakes my pace was, again, slower than 2014, that added two minutes back to my 1 minute deficit. About ninety minutes later, I reached the thin air at the top of Columbine at 4:11:03 chip time; in 2014 I arrived at 4:08:31. When I reached the summit of Columbine, I knew I was close to my 2014 time, within just a few minutes as I had been back on Carter Summit, and at Pipeline and Twin Lakes outbound. That gave me encouragement to keep pushing. The Jet 9 RDO easily plummeted down the loose jeep trail eventually to the dirt road that descends to the base of the mountain. From the very top of Columbine, at about 12,560 ft, to the very bottom, my average and maximum speeds were 22.8 and 38.5 mph, respectively. Fast enough to shave 27 seconds off my previous best time on this descent.
Now inbound, I returned to Twin Lakes with a deficit, from 2014, of just about one minute. Later that day, after the race was over, my crew told me that when I passed Twin Lakes, even Pipeline inbound, they thought I had my goal in the bag. Unfortunately, I was slipping back again as I rode towards Pipeline. On the Columbine climb, I had to push my bike on sections that I had cleaned in 2014 (I cleaned the course that year except for one dab). I was off the bike again on a small, punchy, climb called Brutal Bill on my way back to Pipeline. That push alone added almost a minute to my deficit.
Fortuitously, I managed to exit Twin Lakes with a small group (that wasn't the case in 2014, that year I was alone), just two initially but then quickly that group grew to four or five and we stayed together, and worked together, all the way to Pipeline. But despite the benefit of drafting, by Pipeline inbound I was again about two-and-a-half minutes behind last years pace. But I had time to recover, there was still about 30 miles of racing remaining, I could make that much time-up and more.
That is unless ... my legs were tapped-out. And they were: when I arrived at the base of the Powerline climb, something I managed to clean in 2014, I was pushing my bike well below where I started pushing in 2013 when I was a racing rookie. And once I was above the worst of the steep climb on Powerline, my pace was a painful, for the mind and body, crawl. I stayed on the bike, but I kept my 1-by-11 drivetrain, with a 32-tooth ring up-front, in or at least very close to it's easiest gear combination ... an easy that was barely easy enough for me to maintain forward progress at times. As this implies, I suffered through it, more than I had the year before, but of course everyone suffers at this stage of the race.
It's worth pausing at this point in the story, the base of Powerline, for a side note: Many people criticize the LT100 for not actually being a mountain bike race. I get their issues with the event, the cost, many miles of forest service roads, etc, and agree with many of them. However, to suggest that the race is not legitimate is absurd. In my opinion, anyone that feels confident responding "because I'm a mountain biker" to the question "why don't you compete in the LT100" hasn't arrived at the base of the Powerline Climb with 80 miles in their legs and 25 more to the finish. They're also missing the point of the race, it's not about the pro's and near-pro's that compete in the event (or not) every year ... it's about the regular women and men that line-up for their own reasons, often personal, it's about the value of taking on a challenge as big as the LT100. It's possible that the last place finisher in Leadville will be the biggest winner, it's about them, it's not about how fast Tod Wells is, for example, though we all appreciate Tod's participation and stories he tells about his experience on the race course at the award ceremony! Sometimes mountain bikers lose sight of what the bike has given them, that's what we want to share in Leadville, we need more of that in a society that encourages two week vacations for every 50 weeks of full-time work.
Looking up from my saddle as I approached the Powerline climb I felt intimidation, I always have felt this way, the bottom is especially difficult but then the climb just continues up-and-up seemingly forever. On the false flats leading-up to the climb, as the intimidation settles in, I've developed a habit of slowing-up my pace. I think that brief hesitation is my way of paying respect to what I know will be a long battle between the mind and the body Alternatively, or perhaps in addition to, it's a chance for the mind and body to take in a very deep breath. Yet, in 2015, that wasn't enough. As I approached the first of the climbs, I already felt defeated. And for this reason, my race, for the most part, ended at the base of the Powerline Climb. As much as I wanted to climb as I had the year before, or better ideally, overtraining meant that my legs were on borrowed time when the shotgun blasted to signal the start of the race at 6:30 am that morning. My borrowed time ran-out at the base of Powerline, even though my mind wanted to dig deep, as race founder Ken Chlouber encourages all of the LT100 participants to do, the body can't access what the legs have given-up prior to the race and not replenished..
Reflecting on the wisdom of the Four Agreements from Miguel Ruiz, our best will not be the same every day. My best on 15 August was not what it was on 9 August the year before; and dreadfully, it wasn't even better than what I had accomplished my first year of racing in 2013. From the base of Powerline to the finish line., my times on this final section in 2013, 2014, and 2015 were 2:15:24, 2:01:13, and 2:17:21, respectively. As these numbers show, from 2014 to 2015, I added about 16 minutes to the last 25 miles of the race. As much as I wanted to feel good about the race, and certainly the season as a whole, the images, below, taken at the finish-line reveal another reality, one of disappointment. Yet, I did do my best that day. no doubt Miguel Ruiz would be pleased. I will be working on getting there too ... as I consider what my training and racing future might look like in 2016 and beyond.
More blogs are coming soon from Andre-Breton-Racing-Dot-Com. Including perspectives from life bound to a recreational (R)-pod, my life in Germany, and some very preliminary thoughts about my racing future. Thank you for dropping in .... and for your support elsewhere including on Facebook.
I want to thank Rodney Breton, Diane Breton, and Chris Breton for flying-out from the Boston area, in Massachusetts, at their own expense to crew for me a second or third time in Leadville. Thanks to Kelly Breton as well for loaning me her husband for nearly two weeks! Two friends from Fort Collins took time out of their schedules to help at Lost Canyon, thank you Dirk and Anne! I also want to thank two new friends, that not only bought me dinner the first night I met them but they also, the same evening, enthusiastically said "yes" when I asked them to crew for me at the LT100! Thank you Ron and Karen for sharing your generous positive energy with me and for your assistance at the race. I want to thank a friend that I serendipitously met on the side of the road a few years ago, not awfully far from Leadville, her friendship has been an asset especially as I've struggled with the disappointments of not meeting my racing goals in 2015. Thank you Becky for your help in Leadville and for your encouragement since we met! From the Leadville Race Series, I'm grateful for the kindness and friendship provided by Abby Long. and Josh Collie. Thanks as well to Dave Wiens for inspiration and for always being willing to pause for a conversation with the mortals.