Jul 312013


Confession time: I have only run twice in the entire month of July. I’ve been conditioning, for sure, but I just haven’t worked out the time to go running. All of the endurance training on my bikes has soaked up an insane amount of time.

So when I showed up to running club on Wednesday, and heard the workout included hill repeats, I was a little nervous. It wasn’t as if my legs were fresh, after banging out a bunch of miles on the MTB in the previous two days.

Dale, the coach, sensed my trepidation and put me back with the “easy” group. We were only supposed to do three hill repeats, but after my first couple, I was feeling good, and surprisingly strong. Instead of pausing at the top with the rest of my group, I started turning and chasing the next group. I got in five repeats before Coach pulled me off, and we jogged back to the track to finish up our workout with some regular intervals.

Even during the last two sets, tired legs and all, I was surprised how much juice I had. I was a few steps off of Vince, the guy I’m usually right with, but only a few steps. Not bad, considering.

At the end of the workout, I was stretching and noticed a fresh crop of freckles on my shins. I’ve always had bunches of freckles, but the past two years have seen them sprouting on my legs like never before, courtesy of countless hours spent in the sun, running and riding and racing.

Jul 302013

This sort of thing may be why my arms aren’t all that hairy.

I went back to JB today, to put in a couple solid (not hammering, but not being lazy either) laps on my mountain bike. The next big challenge I’m getting ready for is the 6 hour enduro there, so I thought it would be prudent to start getting in as many miles as I could.

What you see above is the result of an almost-crash. Sometimes, even at 90% pace, you pick a line just a hair wrong, or enter a corner just a hair shallow, and have to really squeeze past a tree. I just barely squeezed past the one that left this scuff on my arm, but avoided banging it with my bar and crashing violently. It’s a minor bruise, but it’s a reminder to never lose your concentration on singletrack, because something may just jump out and bite ya’.

What’s more amazing to me is how often this sort of thing happens, and how seldom I crash as a result. It’s a rare ride around here that I don’t bang my arm, or shoulder, or my bar end, or brush my pack against a tree, just trying to squeeze everything I can out of a corner, or flow a section a little faster. But, despite coming as close as one can come, I don’t crash very often. I guess I’ve finally reached the point of riding instinctively, where I can bend body and bicycle around without thinking, and where my vision and my body can work together to make it all happen. It’s a cool feeling, almost like being invincible. But my bruised forearm will remind me that I’m not.

Jul 292013
Back where I belong, on the trail.

Back where I belong, on the trail.

210bI’ve spent entirely too much time lately on asphalt.

Since my trip to West Virginia in Mid-June, my training focus has shifted to the road, as I ramped up the miles in anticipation of the Young’s Bike Tour. Combined with the fact that my mountain bike has been in the shop for some of that time, meant that, except for a brief shakedown ride after retrieving my Fuel from Village, I haven’t turned a wheel on dirt in about six weeks.

That trend finally righted itself today, when I was able to get out and hit John Bryan for a lap with a few good riding buddies. I was riding sloppy at first, choosing crappy lines and generally not thinking fast enough, but it came back pretty quick, and soon I was railing along with the boys, loosening up and letting the bike work how it’s supposed to.

And boy, how it works. The new drivetrain has completely revitalized the bike, making it a joy to ride again. The new front shifter is especially good, so good that it’s taking some getting used to. The effort on the lever is so light that I’m blowing through two gears at once sometimes. I guess my thumb needs a tune-up to match the bike!

At any rate, I’m in love with the dirt, and my bike, all over again. Maybe I won’t be in such a hurry to upgrade to that Hobgoblin, after all…

Jul 282013

209This came in the mail the other day. It’s my “thank you gift” for my fundraising for this year’s Tour de Cure ride. It was funny, because after the ride, they sent me a survey regarding my experience, and one of the questions was about how much the fundraising level gifts (they had levels from $250 to $10,000) motivated me to raise more. Which was confusing to me, because I didn’t know about any gifts! Sure enough, some time later I got an email telling me to log into the site to claim my gift.

I have to say, as swag goes, this thing is really nice. It’s huge, properly insulated, and has a well designed top. If you drink as much coffee as I do, you know that a well sorted travel mug is sometimes hard to come by, so for a “freebie” to be this nice is really unusual.

So to those of you who donated to my Tour de Cure ride, thank you again!  I’ll be thinking of you with every sip.

Jul 272013

Today was Katie’s big event of the year, the Mud Ninja Extreme Challenge. Hosted on a horse farm outside of South Salem, Ohio, it’s no stretch to call it Ohio’s premier mud race. While the race distance won’t impress any Tough Mudders, the obstacles will. Packed into just over 3 miles were 25 obstacles, ranging from pretty hard to “you want me to do what?!”

We did the Mud Ninja for the first time last year on a whim, and Katie signed us up for it. While we did very well for our first try, we left a bit on the table to conquer this year. In 2012, Katie wasn’t able to attempt some of the obstacles at all, having turned her ankle pretty seriously before the end, and I fell off/didn’t complete a few, myself.

But this year would be different. We’ve both been training hard, we’re both lighter and stronger, and more confident in our abilities. Even the fact that the day dawned cool and rainy didn’t phase us much, as we drove into the middle of nowhere, and then 15 minutes further to reach the event.

The rain had made the whole course a slick, sticky, muddy mess, even more so than usual. And the new obstacles looked serious, like an American Ninja Warrior inspired, springboard-equipped leap for a vertical cargo net. It was hard, all of it. Harder than last year, both because of the new obstacles and because of the rain slicking everything up. There were people quitting in several places, and lots of people giving up on every obstacle, but not my Katie. And not me.

We slipped and slid and climbed and scampered and pulled our way through the whole way, thorn bushes, sharp rocks and rope burns be damned. And we did it, did it better than last year, and stronger than even we had hoped. For my part, I only fell off of one obstacle, and completed 3 that I remember failing on last year. I was blown away at how strong I felt, and how I was able to command strength and confidence in ways I was unable during our last attempt. Both of us are stronger and lighter than we were last year, but our performances at the Mud Ninja demonstrated just how much stronger and lighter, in undeniable terms. We will most definitely be back next year!

Pre-race, and feelin' rowdy.

Pre-race, and feelin’ rowdy.

A South American jungle? Nope, just southern Ohio.

A South American jungle? Nope, just southern Ohio.

One of the early obstacles, American Ninja Warrior. I was one of a very small percentage of entrants who cleared it, unassisted!

One of the early obstacles, American Ninja Warrior. I was one of a very small percentage of entrants who cleared it, unassisted!

The wall. You aren't getting over without help. There's a lesson there, about life in general.

The wall. You aren’t getting over without help. There’s a lesson there, about life in general.

Not many people cleared this one either, but I did. Make your hands into inflexible hooks and swing side to side, and you can make it!

Not many people cleared this one either, but I did. Make your hands into inflexible hooks and swing side to side, and you can make it!

Slide into a muddy trench, then scamper up the hill, using those ropes. Easy enough, right? And then your reward is...

Slide into a muddy trench, then scamper up the hill, using those ropes. Easy enough, right? And then your reward is…

Dangling by your hands from this rope across the gap. You could rest, sort of, on the slack lines. But you had to reach them first. A real test of grip strength...

Dangling by your hands from this rope across the gap. You could rest, sort of, on the slack lines. But you had to reach them first. A real test of grip strength…

Followed immediately by another. This time you got to use your feet, but the gap was wider, and had no breaks. This was a test of not only grip strength, but concentration and endurance. I failed on this obstacle last year, and nearly clocked my head on the ledge at the far end. This year, no such trouble.

Followed immediately by another. This time you got to use your feet, but the gap was wider, and had no breaks. This was a test of not only grip strength, but concentration and endurance. I failed on this obstacle last year, and nearly clocked my head on the ledge at the far end. This year, no such trouble.

But even if you made it across the gap, you weren't making it out of this by your lonesome.

But even if you made it across the gap, you weren’t making it out of this by your lonesome.

More slacklines. A few tried to just walk across. They failed.

More slacklines. A few tried to just walk across. They failed.

Harder than it looks, given how slick they were, and some uncomfortably placed knots.

Harder than it looks, given how slick they were, and some uncomfortably placed knots.

The final few obstacles were like this. At that point you're so exhausted you don't even think. You just grab something and pull, and struggle, and slip back into the water, and keep trying until you make it.

The final few obstacles were like this. At that point you’re so exhausted you don’t even think. You just grab something and pull, and struggle, and slip back into the water, and keep trying until you make it.

Feeling proud of ourselves. Wait, is that THE Mud Ninja in the background?!

Feeling proud of ourselves. Wait, is that THE Mud Ninja in the background?!

The happy, muddy couple. This would be a heck of a venue for a wedding, come to think of it!

The happy, muddy couple. This would be a heck of a venue for a wedding, come to think of it!

A foam party for the kiddos, who also had their very own course!

A foam party for the kiddos, who also had their very own course!

The consequences of using thorn bushes for handholds. Worth it!

The consequences of using thorn bushes for handholds. Worth it!

Incongruously beautiful.

Incongruously beautiful.

Jul 262013

Now this is an entirely satisfactory number!

Four years ago, I decided I had had enough. Since meeting Katie, we had both gained somewhere around 60 pounds, and I found myself overweight, weak, and wheezing walking upstairs in our house. After having spent my whole life being skinny and eating however I wanted, I had simultaneously hit a metabolism wall, gone TDY for an extended period of time (read: beer, and a lot of it), and gotten my first of a few desk jobs. I was 225 lbs, and looked like somebody had inflated me with a pump full of jello.

Slowly, and in fits and starts at first, I started working to change that. I started lifting with some friends at work. I bought a cheap mountain bike off of Craigslist and started pedaling, at first only a few miles at a time. I brought my diet under control for the first time since High School. The following year, in 2010, I started jogging. I did a couple 5k races and got hooked on the high of the finish line, of conquering a distance I previously thought impossible.

That winter, I blew my right ACL at the gym, playing basketball with some high school kids. After surgery, I started rehab, and the challenge lit something else in me. During a session where they had me on a treadmill for the first time, one of my physical therapists started telling me the things I probably wouldn’t be doing any more, given the irreparable damage to the menisci in my knee. A voice in my head said, “oh, really?”

I finished my rehab program in half the allotted time, and started mountain biking and running more seriously. Another lengthy TDY sent me around the desert Southwest, and I used the opportunity, particularly in Southern California, to hone my skills on the bike. I fell off the wagon for awhile in Arizona, but then came back home with something to prove, and objectives to reach.

I spent all of last year learning lessons, some the hard way. I locked my diet down and cut to 195 lbs. I signed up for my first half marathon and trained all year for it, like I’ve never trained before in my life. It was hard, and I literally ran myself into injuries midway through the summer, but the personal victory of conquering the race was such a strong elixir, that I signed up for another one weeks later.

Last winter was spent recovering on doctor’s orders, brooding, scheming and reviewing lessons learned. I signed up for more races, including the Death March and more Half Marathons. I started lifting hard and heavy, determined to overcome the weaknesses that held me back on the bike and on foot last year. And I locked the diet down again, cutting the 10 pounds I had gained through the holidays and then five more, before race season started and I had to add some calories back in.

And finally, today, I reached a goal on the scale, to go along with all the goals I’ve reached on the trail, and the road, and in the weight room. I haven’t been this light since probably late 2006, and I’ve never been this strong and lean. While I’m not quite to the bodyfat percentage that I’d like to be, yet, I’m finally at a point where I feel that my weight isn’t holding me back, anywhere.

Did it take me 4 years to lose 40 lbs? That’s one way you could look at it, I suppose. I did lose 15 lbs in six weeks this year, and I’ve cut weight in a short amount of time before. But for me, the long view is more important, and maintaining the overall trend over time is what will count when I’m 60. The trick now is to stay at it, to keep running and riding and living, so I never find myself where I was in 2009, again.

Jul 252013
An unassuming place out in the boonies, but they do good work.

An unassuming place out in the boonies, but they do good work.

The day arrived at last! It’s not normal for me to get this excited over what amounts to groceries (okay, maybe it is), but today was the day we got our beef from Innisfree on the Stillwater! Six months after we bought our freezer for just such a purpose, and almost three weeks after we helped pick out our steer, we got the call from Kirby’s Butcher Shop that our “quarter” of beef was ready. In fairness to Kirby’s, the beef was ready awhile before we came to get it. But they had suffered a power outage, and when we had planned to go pick it up, they were disinclined to open their freezer and risk thawing out thousands of dollars worth of meat.

So on a beautiful day off from work, I loaded up the dog in the pickup truck, threw a few coolers in the bed, and made the drive out to Greenville. The shop itself is nothing to look at from the outside, and inside is all business too, with just a desk up front, full of the usual clutter of papers and aged office supplies that seems to characterize these sorts of small, rural businesses. The rest of the building is the butchery and freezers.

That is a pile o' protein!

That is a pile o’ protein!

But whatever they lack in curb appeal, they make up for in expertise, professionalism and customer service. When the steer came in, I gave them a call, and the owner of the shop talked me through the process, since it was our first time ordering beef wholesale. We went cut by cut, him asking me what I wanted and didn’t, and what sizes, thicknesses and denominations to package for each. The result is a completely customized beef order, with all the cuts I want and none I didn’t, in packages sized perfectly for Katie and I to use as we need.

Picking up was just as nice. I showed up, having already paid Innisfree for my share of the steer, and they just brought up the trays with my beef, I loaded them into my coolers, and was on my way. Each portion is clearly stamped with the cut, quantity and our name, for easy sorting and tracking later. In all, our quarter ended up being right about 100 pounds of beef, and this from a steer that lived through some lean times, in terms of rainfall and resulting pasture density. The meat itself is lean, healthy and so incredibly tasteful, you might not even recognize it as beef, if all you’ve ever had is store-bought, grain-fed, factory farm beef. It’s great stuff! Now we’ll have to see how long 100 lbs of beef can last two athletes.

Jul 242013

205After 250ish miles of training and touring on my new tires in some widely varying conditions, I feel I can provide a pretty thorough review. On a recommendation from my brother-in-law, who is the sort of cyclist who makes us rank amateurs look like, well, rank amateurs, I picked up a set of Continental Grand Prix 4000s tires from Performance bike, after my stock Bontrager R1s let me down in somewhat spectacular fashion.

Rank amateur or not, these are great, great tires. Everything you want out of a road bike tire, they seem to bring to the table, effortlessly. They’re smooth, quiet, and fast-rolling. They corner confidently and steer quickly, and brake particularly well in a straight line. They were surefooted in the pouring rain on the Young’s Bike Tour. They handle gravel without making you nervous, and dampen road imperfections impressively, for a 23mm tire. And best of all, the mileage I’ve put on them already has barely put any noticeable wear on them, which is a decided improvement over the marshmallow-like compound of the stock tires I rode to failure. I can see myself running these for a long, long time.

Jul 232013

204Not every day is sunshine and rainbows.

The day or two following a big endurance race are often unpleasant. It’s as if my body has used up all of its happy chemicals and is only left with the grouchy, depressed pockets where my energy and enthusiasm once was. After riding the high of two days of spectacular and challenging riding during the Young’s Bike Tour, I returned to work yesterday and today to find it, well, work. It’s the sort of pervasive funk that makes everything and just about everyone you look at seem like one more thing that’s keeping you from being happy.

It sucks, and I’m sure it’s not a lot of fun to be around, either.

But it is predictable. The first few big endurance events I did, like last year’s Air Force Half Marathon, I couldn’t understand why, a day or two after accomplishing a huge goal I had worked so hard on, my attitude was so terrible. But now, even though I don’t completely understand the biomechanics of it, I can at least anticipate it.

The solution is easy enough. Get plenty of coffee and sugar back in me, relish whatever pictures/medals/memorabilia I earned at the event, and most crucially, start planning the next step. Lately, I’ve had races stacked months in advance, so aside from a rest day or two, it’s gotten easier to look forward and find motivation, rather than sit around and grump.

So if you see me after a big race and I look like this, don’t think it was because I didn’t have fun (I probably did), or that it wasn’t worth it (it most assuredly was). I’m just in a post-race funk. I’ll pull out of it in plenty of time to be ready for the next one.

Jul 222013


When I finally stopped being a wuss and signed myself up for this year’s Young’s Bike Tour, I was a little conflicted. I had only left myself three weeks to raise money, but I also felt compelled to set an ambitious goal, as the charities supported by the ride are very near and dear to me. So I picked a number, $500, and then added one more, just because.

For a few days after, I was wondering if I was some sort of idiot. Five hundred bucks is a lot of money, and I had just recently tapped the same group of people to help support my Tour de Cure campaign. I thought for sure I’d get some contribution, but never the full goal I had set, and I even anticipated having to make up a little of the $200 minimum to ride in the 2-day.

So I wrote my post, talking about what I wanted to do and why, threw a link up on Facebook and R6Live, and hoped for the best. What I found out is that I’m surrounded by the best. The best family, the best friends, and the best people one could ever hope to be associated with. Suddenly, my email inbox blew up. Like massively. I was at work when the emails started, and they came in so fast, and in such amounts, that I was nearly moved to tears.

Maybe it seems like the $501 we raised this year isn’t a lot of money, when you look at the mountains of cash required to fund the research and treatment of all these diseases. But it is something. And together with a whole lot of other little amounts, we made one big amount (over $50,000 and counting, last I checked), and that is going to go on to make a tangible difference in the lives of real people, with real families, and real hopes for a better life.

So I wanted to write a post to you, the amazing, generous, big hearted people in my life who have donated to my charity campaigns so far this year. I am so honored that you would help me with my efforts, and I will never forget how much each of you mean to me. Thank you all, from the very bottom of my heart. You have helped make the world just a tiny bit brighter.

Humbly and gratefully yours,


Jul 212013
Not exactly the breakfast of champions, but it'll do.

Not exactly the breakfast of champions, but it’ll do.

Day 2 of the Young’s Bike Tour dawned early, and I honestly had a little trouble getting my wits about me to go to breakfast. I was drained enough from the previous day’s effort that, despite having a full night of uninterrupted sleep, I was having a hard time making simple decisions, for the first few minutes anyway.

After finally succeeding in dressing myself, I strolled off to breakfast, a little bit early, and with substantial complaint from my legs and hips. When I got to the dining hall, the doors were not yet open, and I wasn’t at all interested in standing in line any longer than I had to, so I parked myself in a chair nearby and waited for the doors to open. Meanwhile, the line kept growing, so that by the time the doors opened, I still wasn’t interested in standing that long.

So I ate breakfast, such as it was, a little later than I should have, again owing to poor decision making skills from my depleted brain. And I didn’t get any smarter once I got back to the room and started trying to get ready. It must’ve taken me a half hour to get dressed, get packed, load everything and get downstairs. By the time I finally did, it was well after the 8am start, and even the volunteers were packing up to leave.

I got a quick shot of air in my tires from the K&G support van and hit the road, figuring my more aggressive pace would allow me to catch and pass a fair amount of riders, despite the late start. But even the stragglers were ahead of me by some distance, and it was 5 miles before I passed the first one. Despite the early hour, the sun already seemed high and strong, burning through an early fog born of the previous day’s rain. I was drenched in sweat before I even reached the first rest stop, which I skipped, as it was only 6 miles from the start, and I wanted to make up some time.

I got some weird looks when I whipped out my magic box to take this...

I got some weird looks when I whipped out my magic box to take this…

I’m not exactly sure how much good it did me to skip that stop, because I think everybody else did, too. It also meant that the first stint of the day was almost 24 miles, a helluva warm-up for my aching legs and already angry hindquarters. It felt strange to roll into Belle Center so early, as it had been the lunch stop the day before. I went through the now automatic routine of refilling my bottles and taking in a little nutrition, and set out on the road again, still aiming to make up for my lackluster start and catch some of the riders I had seen the day before.

I was satisfied with my pace thus far in the morning, tired legs and all. I was managing to average 16 mph or so, but my pace was nowhere near as consistent as the day before. I tried to use momentum as much as I could, but already I knew my legs simply didn’t have the power to charge the hills the way I was able to on day 1.

That point was underlined when I properly discovered Jill’s Hill, by riding up the series of climbs on the north side of it. I was passing other riders regularly now, and especially going uphill, but I was suffering as badly as they were. The thing about cycling in almost any discipline is that you work harder to go slow, so the best thing is to try to keep your momentum up whenever possible. But you never stop putting the same amount of effort through your legs, either. To quote the great Greg LeMond, “it never gets easier, you just go faster.”

When I reached the top, there was no mistaking it. This was clearly Jill’s Hill, and I had clearly not even noticed it when I was pushing through the rain the day before. I stopped at the top to take a picture, then charged down, hitting 40 mph before the bottom. It was a fairly decent little hill, but nothing like the reputation it seems to have garnered among the ride’s veterans. Certainly must be one of those stories that gets better with each telling.

The third stop (my second) at Bellefontaine was a welcome one. I was encouraged by the fact that we were nearly halfway done already, but the negotiations with my legs and butt were becoming a losing battle. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I could keep going, only that I was having a harder and harder time staying comfortable, and focused, and keeping up any sort of pace.

Jill's hill, from the top.

Jill’s hill, from the top.

The next stretch seemed longer still, as I found myself mostly alone again, still not finding any of the groups or pace lines I had passed the day before. There was every chance that they had left substantially earlier than I did, as some riders chose to leave directly from breakfast, while I went back to the dorms. Still, it was somewhat disheartening not to catch them.

The upside was that the elevation gently descends from Bellefontaine to Urbana, losing 1000 feet through gently rolling hills and beautifully wooded farmland. I got as comfortable as I could on the bike and just focused on the good as much as I could, trying to take my mind away from the things that were bothering me. It’s an old trick, and only works for so long at a time, but it’s an effective way to speed up time during long rides and runs, and I use it often.

I looked at the weeds along the side of the road with their little flowers, at the grey-blue sky that seemed itself to be hungover from the hard partying of yesterday’s storm. I looked at the gorgeous old farm houses and newer yuppie houses and tried to guess what they’d cost. And mostly, I looked at the road. An amalgamation of rock and tar and asphalt, all full of lines and cracks and patterns. On a bicycle, the road is not the long, grey monolith you perceive from a car, but a patchwork, a mosaic of the work of hundreds of laborers and travelers. It tells useless snippets of a thousand stories, even as you write your own upon it.

I thought about what an amazing thing it was to be out there, on a warm, sunny Sunday morning, cruising silently along on my meticulously engineered machine of aluminum and carbon and rubber. I thought about how blessed I was to even be there, given what the vast majority of people in the world would be waking up to the same morning, in abject poverty, or in war, or in famine.

And I thought about the point of the ride, the charities I was sweating to benefit. Of the disadvantaged and disabled children helped by URS and South Community. Of the kids living with juvenile diabetes, who are helped and given hope by the efforts of the JDRF. I remembered my Grandmother, whose life was taken by Alzheimer’s long before her body expired, and of the work the Alzheimer’s Association does to help ease the pain of victims of the disease and their families.

It is true that relative pain does not ease pain. The old “starving people in China” routine never made me want to finish my dinner as a kid. As far as I was concerned, the kids in China could have it! But for awhile, thinking about what I was doing instead of how I was feeling helped me keep going, and hardened my motivation.

The next rest stop marked where the route home differed from the route to Ada, as we would swing east to Urbana, have lunch at the station there, and then follow the bike path along the Simon Kenton and Little Miami Scenic Trails through Springfield, and back to Young’s Dairy. This deviation on the return trip also meant that I could no longer count down the miles to the next stop, another strategy I use to help my mental endurance.

I had asked a few people before leaving how far it was to the lunch stop in Urbana, but had received only a few vague and varying answers. As far as I could tell, it was about 4-6 miles, so I ignored my rumbling stomach and pressed on, looking forward to a longer break and a real meal, instead of gels and fruit chews. But when I rolled through 4 miles and saw no sign of the stop, I started to get nervous. At 6 miles, we finally got into town, but had to ride a couple more miles and make several more turns, each more disheartening than the last because it did not reveal the stop, before finally pulling into Urbana Station.

Sweat and the road, and nothing else.

Sweat and the road, and nothing else.


The converted old railroad station was chock full of riders, and this was the first time we mixed in with the one day riders, who had trekked up from Young’s for lunch, and would return after. I found a place among the throng to park my bike, piled up a plate and sat down to eat, lacking the urgency of the previous day’s lunch. The end seemed easily within reach now, a mere 20 or so miles up an easy bike path, mostly flat and smooth. I ate and joked with a couple of the one-day riders, their eyes getting big when I told them how many miles I’d covered so far.

Finally I felt like I had waited too long, so I stuffed the last couple bites of chicken wrap in my mouth and set out again, still chewing, to cover the final two legs home. I was told there would be a final rest stop along the path somewhere in Springfield, and then I’d be done. I spun up my legs as aggressively as I dared, and soon was humming along fairly well, doing my best to maintain 18-20 mph, trying to raise my overall average speed back to something respectable before the end.

For awhile I was successful in that endeavor, pushing harder than I’d normally need to maintain the pace, but at least my legs were still taking requests. I passed riders and runners and walkers with increasing frequency as I approached Springfield, including one pace line that contained one of the main organizers of the event. They were going along fairly well, and I considered easing off a touch to stay with them, but only managed to do so for a half mile before getting bored and surging ahead again.

The triumphant return!

The triumphant return!

We hit the last rest stop and I almost skipped it, with the end so near, but decided it was prudent to shake out my legs and empty my bladder one last time before the final sprint to the finish. It seemed so close now that I was practically there, and finishing the tour felt like a foregone conclusion. In stopping, though, I ran across my friend Earl, who had just been pulled out of the ride, suffering from cramps and dehydration, exacerbated by a lack of sleep. I commiserated with him for a moment, but the sight of another rider, particularly one I know to be strong and fit, sidelined as he was, didn’t have the sobering effect that perhaps it should have. I was almost there, now. Everything was going fine, everything would go fine. It felt automatic, like all I had to do was mount up one more time, blink, and it’d be over.

But it wasn’t over, not yet, which is a lesson I’d do well to remember next time. When you feel like you’re almost done, it is not the time to relax, lose focus, and get sloppy, because there is a lot of work left to do, and it may be harder than you think.

The bike path wound through north Springfield, dumping us out onto surface streets near downtown. I got stuck waiting on a traffic light for what seemed like forever, allowing the pace line I passed earlier to catch back up to me. I initially took this as a sign, and made no effort to drop them when we got moving again, but it just sort of happened anyway.

Downtown gave way to the south side of town, and I pushed the pace up a little again, as this was not the nicer side, and I, spandex-clad on an expensive new bicycle, was starting to get looks from the locals that made me less than comfortable. At one point, just as I was overtaking an older couple on a tandem, a kid walked out in the middle of the street and started lunging at the riders, trying to startle them into a mistake, for who knows what further purpose. My anger flashed when I saw him do it to the older couple, and I silently wished I was wearing my mountain bike gloves, the ones with the carbon fiber knuckles.

Probably better that I wasn’t, anyway. Just as we turned west to zigzag back to where the bike path proper started again, I hit a bump and krrt! My seat went abruptly nose-high. The stock seatpost on my bike uses a single bolt to both fasten the clamps to the saddle rails, and control the pitch of the saddle itself. Whether that bolt had gradually worked itself loose over the past couple hundred miles, or whether it’s just a crap design was irrelevant, as I now I had a barely rideable bike, in a part of town that didn’t encourage me to stop and make a trailside repair. Fortunately, I only had to struggle on, half sitting and half standing, for another half mile before turning back onto a section of bike path that was relatively more safe. I stopped and re-leveled my saddle, tightening the bolt as much as I dared without snapping the head off, and hopped on again, gingerly, lest I bust the seat loose again.

My delay had allowed the pace line I had now twice left to pass me once again, and I was starting to wonder if they were laughing at me. I couldn’t have blamed them, if they were, but they all seemed as friendly as the last time we had mingled. I got in the middle of them and stayed put, figuring that it was about time for me to get the message and just stroll along with them to the finish. After one more short stretch on the street, we were back on the bike path, at last approaching territory I recognized, and we could nearly smell the finish. And the smell was intoxicating, as the whole paceline seemed to simultaneously become excited and quiet, and the pace picked up considerably. I weaved my way to the front of the line, just behind the organizer guy, a big, tall, strong rider whose pedaling seemed entirely effortless. We steamed on in silence, I using the first real draft I’d had on either day to rest my legs. Finally I couldn’t take it any more, and my exuberance burst through, and I tried to make a break! I charged ahead, 20, 21, 22 mph, spinning for all I was worth, knowing that there was no reason to hold anything in reserve, and wanting so badly to finish this ride strong.

As it turns out, exuberance has a short fuse, and a short time later I was spent, heart rate dropping along with my pace, and my legs letting me know that 15 mph would be just fine, thanks. I was swallowed up by the pace line in short order, and dutifully tucked back in line, happy to just survive to the finish. But then the guy I was behind started throttling up, and in his sizable draft, I was able to do the same. Soon we were back up to 19 and doing it easy, and the rest of the riders were dropping off the back. I didn’t want to say anything. I was perfectly happy to let him tow me the rest of the way in, at this pace. But I figured, and rightly, that the group we were leaving were his friends, so I pulled beside him and told him we were dropping them. He acted genuinely surprised, and thanked me, saying one of them was his wife, so he’d better slow down.

The obligatory victory pose.

The obligatory victory pose.

I didn’t, though. With my momentum up again, I was holding the pace well enough, and I surged ahead of the recurring pace line for the last time, jogging left and then right, onto U.S. 68, and back into the lot at Young’s. The finish was, true to form, an informal affair, as riders from each of the several day- and distance options were finishing sporadically, in various states of exhaustion and joy. I was greeted with applause from my wife, my older sister and her husband, which was more welcome and appreciated than I could have possibly conveyed at the time.

This year has been full of things that I am tempted to call “the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” but I’ve done so many of them now that they’re hard to classify. Riding so far in two days was the hardest thing of its kind that I’ve ever done, but it was a much different kind of hard than the Death March, or Calvin’s Challenge, or my Half Marathon PR in June. I have yet to find my limits, and that’s part of what keeps me going, keeps me trying, and keeps me training. And thanks to excellent events like the Young’s Ice Cream Charity Bike Tour, I have a way to use all of that to help other people, and that makes it all even more worth it.

Jul 202013
The gaggles forming at the start.

The gaggles forming at the start.

The day began early and strangely, with Katie and I both preparing for athletic events, but different ones. Katie was scheduled to run the Fairborn 5k, and I was loading up for the bike tour. While our events could not have been more different in nature, our trepidation was the same, and it was strange not to have one backing the other up with preparation and encouragement. Our nerves were apparent, as neither of us were exactly sure how we were going to do, and both felt just barely ready. We groused and grumbled our way through our morning routines, a little behind schedule and generally cranky.

Arriving at Young’s some 20 minutes after registration opened, the pinpricks of discontent and worry started to add up. We were behind schedule. I hadn’t had breakfast, hadn’t pooped (which I always prefer to do before wrapping myself in spandex for the day), hadn’t had time to make coffee, had forgotten my weather bag for my phone, hadn’t double-checked my tire pressures… But there was nothing for it. I unloaded my things from the car, gave Katie an unnecessarily terse kiss goodbye, and went to check in.

I should’ve relaxed, knowing everything works out how it was supposed to. There was coffee in the breakfast area, courtesy of Earth Fare, and it wasn’t half bad. Some kind soul did me the unwitting favor of bringing their contribution money in a Ziplock sandwich bag, which I repurposed for my phone. And the spread of breakfasty things, though it lacked my traditional PB&J on wheat, was certainly large enough for me to get what I needed, calorically.

Stop 1 was a hurried affair.

Stop 1 was a hurried affair.

After a little waiting and a lot of fidgeting, the time finally arrived for the ride to begin. For such a large undertaking, the start was without much ceremony. One of the organizers made some basic announcements, and then groups and clumps of riders formed and started heading out on the road. I made a last check of my supplies and rolled out myself, trying to position myself towards the back of the gaggle, the better to pick a group that would match my pace.

It's a happenin' place.

It’s a happenin’ place.

The prudent thing, of course, would have been to just take it easy, pick a pace line and stick with it. But I was far too rested, too excited, and too fueled up to be prudent. So instead I surged forward, moving through and past groups at a giddy pace, spurred on by the sight of yet more riders ahead of me. Soon I was spinning along happily at 22 mph, the tires singing against the pavement, the bike gleaming in the morning sun, and everything feeling perfect. At the first rest stop, I quickly topped off a bottle and stuffed a few grapes in my mouth, hurrying to get back on the road before too much sweat ran into my eyes.

Stop 3. Little did we know what awaited us...

Stop 2. Little did we know what awaited us…

I pressed on to the second stop, linking up along the way with a couple riders who were going just a tick slower than I wanted to, but close enough for me to hang with for the segment. But when we reached a couple short climbs just before the second stop outside of Urbana, I looked back and they were gone. Oh well. If it was to be a lonely ride, that was fine with me. It’s what I’m used to, anyway. I was surprised to see so many bikes already at the second rest area, considering the number I knew were behind me. They must’ve kept a pretty serious pace to have arrived so far ahead of me!

For some reason this sign was really funny to me.

For some reason this sign was really funny to me.

After a quick bottle refill, I headed out from the church parking lot alone, briefly heading the wrong way before doubling back and taking the correct road, north. The road rose slightly for a few miles, and when I crested and came out of the trees, the sky before me was menacing. Heavy, dark clouds, the kind that lack any outline or definition because of their immensity, darkened the road ahead. I chuckled to myself and pressed on, stopping only to take my phone out of its mount and put it in the ziplock bag in my jersey pocket.

For a moment, it seemed we might get a reprieve. Just as the air began to turn cool in front of the storm, the route doglegged east, turning us parallel to the front and towards friendlier skies. Maybe we’d run around the edge, and only get a little wet! But no, a mile or so up the road, we turned north again, and into the teeth of a surging, chilling wind. The rain began at around mile 37, at first just a spitting rain, but accompanied by arctic blasts from the storm’s upper levels. The combination felt good for a moment, but then became downright cold to me, having worked up a good sweat through the morning.

A few miles later, the rain began in earnest, lashing against my face and legs, pelting my arms with hundreds of little needles. I put my head down a little and just pedaled, trying to stay out of the streams of water forming in the tire tracks of the road. Oddly, my pace didn’t seem to slack much, except when the wind gusted in my face. The taste of salt and sunscreen filled my mouth and I surged on, refreshed by the cool rain and determined to make good time through the storm, the quicker to have it over with.

A ragtag group of riders slogged into the third stop with me, nonsensically propping up our bikes under an awning to keep them out of the rain. The storm had a sense of humor though, and stopped as soon as we did, allowing us to refill our bottles and eat in relative comfort. As soon as I strapped my helmet back on, however, the rain began again, distant thunder almost sounding like a chuckle at the storm’s clever trick. Several of the riders I left with responded with expletive gestures, grinning at the irony nonetheless.

We stopped-and-started our way through the western edge of Bellefontaine, getting strung out by stop signs and traffic lights before finding ourselves in farmland again, and in a proper deluge as well. The torrent seemed to slow and discourage the riders around me, but I had made my peace with it, and pressed ahead on my own, marveling at the bow wave coming from my skinny front tire, and the rooster tail of water spinning off the top.

Tut, tut.

Tut, tut.

The terrain to this point had been almost entirely flat to rolling, with a few little climbs here and there just to keep your interest. Now, with my head down to keep my face out of the rain, all I had was pedaling effort to tell me what the road was doing. Somewhere during this segment, I climbed “Jill’s Hill,” about which I had heard rumors earlier in the day regarding its difficulty. Between the storm, and the miles behind, and the miles to go, I can’t say that I even noticed it. Without the ability to look ahead and judge the upcoming rise, all I knew was that I downshifted and spun my legs harder for awhile, and then upshifted and relaxed for a longer while, peeking up just long enough to periodically check for road hazards.

At long last, I wound my way into Belle Center, the lunch stop for the day, and 61 miles into the ride. I was very much looking forward to taking a break from the rain, even if it meant soggily sitting in a picnic shelter for a few minutes while I wolfed down my food. That I ate quickly wasn’t because I was hungry. Truth be told, I had to make myself eat. But I knew I needed the calories, and I also knew that stopping for too long would allow my legs to tighten up, and that was the last thing I wanted, with another 40+ miles of riding left to do, on unknown roads, in unknown weather conditions.

I left the lunch stop, alone again, and took my time spinning back up to speed, letting my legs come back in and my lunch digest a bit. The roads from Bellefontaine had been more or less downhill, and that trend continued from Belle Center, which bothered me not at all. I wasn’t all that tired physically, but pressing on through the storm, and being alone for so long in unfamiliar territory were taking a compounding mental toll. I still hadn’t reached that point where I was sure I could do it, and it was simply too early to say, so the tail wind and descending elevation were just fine with me.

This playful little kitten was the mascot of the stop in McGuffey, and adored by all the riders.

This playful little kitten was the mascot of the stop in McGuffey, and adored by all the riders.

The scenery changed a bit in this segment, as the rolling hills gave way to flat, featureless, factory farmland, of the sort that feels less charming than industrial. The landscape reminded me of parts of Calvin’s Challenge, stripped bare of trees to block the wind and break up the horizon. Another side effect was the deprivation of any sensation of speed or progress, and the miles seemed to drag on. Without the visual cues I subconsciously use to divide distances into mentally digestible portions, I seemed almost to be pedaling through an interminable desert, despite being surrounded by soaring corn stalks and lush soybean fields.

On the bright side, the rain finally tapered off and stopped, the storm having burned itself out more than moved on. I zigzagged my way into McGuffey, a postage stamp of a town that played host to the next rest stop, and a very welcome one, at that. This was the decision point for a lot of riders, as it marked the place where you either pressed on to the finish in Ada, or signed up for the 19-mile “Power Loop” that extended the total distance to over 100 miles for the day. I overheard more than a few saying that they had intended to do the full century, but the weather we rode through for thirty or so miles had changed their minds.

But I was committed. I had signed up for the full ride online, I had told everyone who would listen that I was doing that distance, and most importantly, I had told the people who had contributed to my fundraising campaign that I was riding 180+ miles. So that’s what I was going to to. I signed the check in sheet, topped off my bottles yet again, and set out up the road, taking the right turn to start the loop.

Initially, I thought it might go quickly. The road ran to the east, putting the breeze at my back, and I fairly sailed along at a carefree 20 mph, my brain hardly believing what my legs were churning out, this far into the ride. But what goes downwind must come up, and as the route swung around to the south, and then west to rejoin the main route, I reaped the consequence of the easy speed on the eastward leg. Without any real power left in my legs to fight it, the wind reduced my pace to a paltry 12-13 mph, and the aforementioned landscape made it a miserable ten miles.

Any delusions I might’ve had about a strong, triumphant final segment to my first century ride evaporated on the power loop, and I limped into McGuffey again, taking advantage of the rest stop even though I was only seven miles from the end. I filled one bottle, stretched my legs and tried to rub some life back into my muscles, and then set out for the final time. North and west and north and west again, the final, short segment seemed interminable. My trip meter rolled over 100 miles, and I mentally checked the box next to “Road Century,” trying to celebrate the moment while urging my suffering legs to keep spinning. Finally, the town materialized in the distance, and soon I was on residential streets, peering ahead for any sign of the finish.

All nested in for the night.

All nested in for the night.

The finish itself was as abrupt and nonchalant as the start. I followed the arrows into the residential section of Ohio Northern University, through a parking lot and between a new-ish pair of three story dorms, and was greeted by applause from volunteers and a single photographer. There was a beer garden set up between the buildings and plenty of dead-looking people in various combinations of riding and casual gear, so I was clearly in the right place. But in my mind, having completed what I just had, I was expecting a clearer indication of the finish line. But it was good enough. 104 miles from where we started, day 1 of the Young’s Bike Tour was over, at least for the riding.

I checked in at the front desk, got my room key and a beer, and hauled my bike up the stairs to my room. Along the way, what seemed like a half gallon of water poured out of my frame from the hole in the rear triangle, where it had been trapped for the last several hours. After another beer, a shower and a quick massage, I was feeling nearly human again, and it was time for dinner.

Troughs of happiness.

Troughs of happiness.

This being a college campus, I grabbed a “walking around” beer from the cooler and started the half mile walk to the dining hall, only to get turned around half way there by a ranting and raving campus bike cop. Apparently, and unbeknownst to me or several other riders, the beer was to stay in the area between the dorms. There were no signs to tell us this, but apparently we had violated the bike cop’s sense of propriety, and after trying to confiscate my nearly-full beer (which I was having none of), she proceeded to follow me all the way back to the dorms, all the while demanding to know from passers-by who was in charge of the gathering.

Apparently the sight of this object is enough to damage children irreparably.

Apparently the sight of this object is enough to damage children irreparably.

I would have been embarrassed, had the bike cop not been doing such a fantastic job of embarrassing herself. I sauntered on, swigging my Great Lakes brew, smugly returning the knowing smirks of the other riders processing towards the dining hall. All the while, she was still ranting, going on and on about there being children(!) around, and we couldn’t be seen by them doing something so outrageous and disgraceful as drinking a beer (I’m paraphrasing)! When we got back to the dorms, I had finished my beer, so I dropped the bottle in the trash, grabbed a bottle of water instead, and reversed course once more to walk back to the dining hall. Meanwhile, the bike cop was bellowing at whomever was in earshot that the beer was, under no circumstances, to leave the area between the dorms, and demanding to know who was in charge of us rabble. She got only shrugs, chuckles and a few vague points in reply.

A heartfelt presentation.

A heartfelt presentation.

I was a touch late to dinner after all that, but as luck would have it, a single seat remained at a table with Earl, a friend from Facebook whom I had never met in person previously. Also at the table was his son Tim, an engineering student with whom I had unwittingly ridden early on in the day. Dinner was typical buffet fare, and we all ate heartily, trying to replace at least some of the 5,000 or so calories we burned during the day’s ride. Following the meal, representatives of each of the four charities benefiting from the ride spoke and gave presentations, and emotional thank yous to all of the riders and volunteers. It was a really moving experience, and cemented the purpose for all of us being there.


After dinner, a small group of us strolled over to the football stadium to catch the sunset. The day’s dramatic weather had created the perfect heavenly canvas for the sun to paint its masterpiece, and we were rewarded at the top of the stadium steps with a brilliant display of color and depth. A sublime end to a day of challenge, struggle and triumph.

The end of an amazing day.

The end of an amazing day.