This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a Singlespeed mountain bike.
Like with all goals or projects, training for something is pretty easy when you see your progress and feel like you’re on the right track. When a bunch of little frustrations build up to be bigger frustrations, however, it starts to sound way more fun to just throw the whole thing away and go have some beers instead. In my previous post, I was happy with my last race, yet lamenting how much better I would have placed if I had the chance, if we didn’t get rained out, and were all allowed to complete that last 21 miles. It turns out that surmising hypothetical outcomes doesn’t prove anything to anyone, not even to myself, even when I could potentially be the hero in my own story. The reality has been a lot less flattering to my abilities, because the truth is I had one good solid ride three days after the race and I haven’t felt strong since then.
There have been several factors contributing to my lackluster performances of late, one being the fact that work got more phyisical as we have moved away from winter operations and have been doing some spring cleaning. While it is far from the hardest job on the planet, I have been going into work tired from my workouts and then into my workouts tired from raking gravel, picking up rocks, and using a 23 foot long pole to remove strands of Christmas lights from trees. We have also moved back to our summer schedule at work, so instead of going in at 1pm through 9:30, I now go in at 7am and get done at 3:30, with different days off. None of this is a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it does require some adjustment; from sleeping, eating, and food preparation schedules, to how my body feels working out in the morning when I’m fresh, versus working out in the afternoon after work, when I would really prefer a nap. Perhaps I am being dramatic (it takes me a full two weeks to stop bitching about the Spring Daylight Savings time change), but it honestly feels like I have significantly fewer hours in my day now.
Adding to my fatigue and increasingly foul mood has been the weather. One of my favorite quotes, from what was once one of my favorite books, is from Tom Robbins, when he said “unless it was about to cause you bodily harm…weather ought either to be celebrated or ignored.” I’m not that stoic, and I suppose bodily harm is always a physical possibility with much of the weather in the mountains. After setting up my geared bike to go outside instead of sitting on the trainer, I was supposed to go out for a long, but relatively easy ride on Sunday, my one day off during the shift change week. It was afternoon by the time I got out, and Weather Channel called for rain showers around then. I diligently packed for rain showers. I did not pack for a snow squall that came in about an hour into my ride. I was about a mile from the top of a climb, and since I told the five people who read this blog how much I love riding in the rain, I decided I would continue to the top instead of turning around right away. As a result, I got way wetter and colder, and my only goal then was to get back down to Keystone Resort so I could wait inside for T̶h̶e̶ ̶w̶e̶a̶t̶h̶e̶r̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶c̶l̶e̶a̶r̶ Lee to come get me. While I survived the five miles back down Montezuma Road, I struggled to keep my sunglasses free of snow, and wondered about lots of things, like why does this time of year have to suck so much, about my decision to brush Lee off when he warned me about the weather coming in colder than forecasted, and whether or not it is possible to get frostbite on my forehead.
When Lee showed up about twenty minutes later, he had a warm coat and hat ready for me, loaded up my bike while I sat in the truck, and was really nice to not give me the “I told you so” crap. I had written the ride off for the day, both relieved and disappointed, and we went out for lunch where I had a couple beers. So naturally, the sun came back out, and when Lee, who had no beers, decided he wanted to give riding another shot, I had no real excuse not to. Full of rainy day lager and a chicken sandwich, I went back out to complete my ride according to the training plan. It wasn’t pretty. If I was slow on my first attempt, I was even slower on the second. The miles on that loop that are usually pretty easy, felt like a slog. My legs started crying for help the second I thought about putting any power down, and the dismal numbers on my bike computer seemed to confirm how I felt. I want to say that the ride got better, and all the recently uncovered dog shit I had to dodge notwithstanding, it kind of did when I decided to be ok with sucking. The evening was warm enough, and the way the golden hour sunlight played with the clouds was just right to stop for some pretty pictures.
I also want to say that my week and my workouts improved since then, but they haven’t. While I managed stay close to the plan on most of my training sessions, there were exercises that I couldn’t do, and numbers that I couldn’t hit because I just didn’t feel strong enough. After a shitty effort at the gym this past Wednesday that almost had me crying in public, I came home and finished packing before driving down to the airport where I took a red-eye flight to see my family in Philadelphia for a few short days. The couple of really uncomfortable hours of sleep I had on the plane that night took their toll on me. Thursday was a whirlwind, as family visits frequently are, so though it was a “rest day” from training, there was nothing restful about it. Today was calmer enough that I could get a workout in. I went for a run, but I had nothing still, and believe it or not, I got poured on for most of the time I was out. I was soaked again, but I didn’t really care this time, it was kind of pleasant. In my own way, I was celebrating the warm rain, and enjoyed being in it again.
It is very obvious to me that I need a reset. I’m not entirely sure what that will look like. As the most imperfect perfectionist, I can’t help but feel like I am just not trying hard enough, but at some point (I don’t think I am there yet) I just need to accept that this is where I am for now. Encouraging conversations with Lee, a change of scenery, a break from work, and some time with my family have helped with that.
If there is ever a time of year when Philadelphia looks more appealing than Summit County, this is it. I’m not a city person, even though I used to be (a little), yet coming to visit gave me a completely new appreciation for the place where I grew up. I love taking the regional rail from the airport (I have a thing for trains, when I was three I wanted to be one), even though in true SEPTA fashion, the 6:41 train never showed and I had to wait an extra half hour for the next one. I loved watching the sunrise over the Center City skyline. I still love staring down the tracks, and ever since I was a kid, thinking about how far they could take me, definitely to some pretty place, if I just followed them forever. I love how green everything is here, and how a even small patch of trees is dense enough to make me feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere. I love watching city people on their way to do everyday, city things, and thinking how that could’ve been me if I stayed.
I love the long conversations with my mom and my 90 year-old grandma at the kitchen table over tea and the Russian food that I grew up with. I love feeling that sense of self within both of them, the dark sense of humor, the warmth that hides beneath the irritability, and the high excitability. I loved going to my mom’s first art show in years, a reunion exhibit for several members of an art gallery co-op that my mom belonged to years ago in Manayunk. That gallery has long since shut down. I love that my grouchy grandma, who grumbles at my mom for everything to her face, couldn’t stop telling my how talented my mom is while sitting in her roller chair out of my mom’s earshot. I loved how my aunt and uncle showed up to the opening reception, as well as several family friends, even though it was a weeknight and everyone has had a long day already. And I love that one of my favorite people ever, my best friend since the 10th grade, drove up 45 minutes after a long day of work and kids to meet me at some Ye Olde Seedy Bar so we could catch up and loudly talk over each other like we always used to, never really having to explain ourselves, or be anyone other than who we are.
This whole mountain bike mission and fitness crusade that I have been on, is all about bettering myself and fighting my demons, and becoming a new person by doing, by making a plan and putting in the work. The person I was, the one I am trying to change, is the one who grew up in this strip-mall, working-class, immigrant neighborhood. Many of my insecurities came from never quite fitting in with this place or the people in it. I wanted out of Philadelphia and into wilder places basically since the first out-of-town vacation my family took me on, and coming back here usually wears on me pretty quickly. This time feels a little different. This place is also where a lot of good memories happened, and where a weird but strong family settled after leaving their old lives in Russia to start anew and do the best they could with what they had. This insight comes from the fact that I am getting older, and more importantly, that my family is getting older. I realize how much of their world already changed, and how they will not be around forever. I still want to become faster, stronger, and more self-confident, and I am hoping that what I gain through cycling serves as a steppingstone to doing some cool and possibly meaningful things in my life, but I also have a much deeper appreciation for this other part of me that comes from the people and places that are all too easy to take for granted, that I will miss terribly when they are no longer here.