Saturday, May 11, 2013

Changing Gears: new directions

"turn & face the strain" Changes: D. Bowie

Hello? Hello? Check? Is this thing still on? Oh, yes, I suppose it is. It's been over 6 months, dear reader, since I've written anything about cycling. Worry not, I'm well. I still ride a bicycle. I've actually been riding quite a few miles this year. But my purpose, my focus in cycling has changed. I've taken on new challenges which has forced me to put aside old obsessions. 

Through the end of last year, my focus was mountain bike racing in the summer & cyclocross in fall. I mixed in a few road races in the summer for old time sake. My training plan was the same as the past several years as well. For the first time in five years I was neither sick nor injured for most of the season. Yet I still felt stale. My results were mediocre as well. I felt as flat emotionally about bike racing as I did physically.

I've seen other people hit this emotional plateau in the sport & leave it. Plenty of good racers abandon the bike for other pursuits every year. Few ever come back. Bike racing is a demanding sport in both money & time. When I was a boy I dreamed of racing bikes. I never appreciated just how consuming a sport it is. After last year I did not want to abandon bike racing, but needed to find a new enthusiasm, a fresh challenge.

Until last year I considered myself a short event racer. Indeed my best results had come in criteriums, cyclocross, and mountain bike races under an hour & a half. Even in training I was better at town line sprints than mega-mileage rides. Yet last year every long distance ride I did was easier than any I had done before. I went out on 5 hour hilly training rides and felt recovered the next day. I did the Ronde de Rosey and was fresh at the finish. I rode my first dirt road century without cracking. I did 4 gaps of the 6 gap ride in Vermont (though I cracked a little) Either I awakened an inner ultra endurance dude, or now north of 40, I had realized my "old man power". 
top of App Gap during our 4/6 Gap ride
Suddenly events that I once put out of mind as too long for me, were at least conceivable. I also discovered gravel grinders: the mid-west series of long dirt road races. I should say I discovered one gravel grinder, the Dirty Kanza 200 and then some others too. The DK200 is two hundred miles of dirt road & farm track back home in Kansas. In reading more about this event, I developed a new obsession, finishing the DK200 by sunset.

New England doesn't have any gravel grinders. But it does have several dirt road randonee's, which are essentially gravel grinders without the results sheet. And New England also has plenty of endurance mountain bike races, including the New Hampshire 100. Moreover, I can put together a dozen 100km dirt road rides from my doorstep. Last year I rode for the first time the grand daddy of dirt road randonnee's, the D2R2, and liked it.
into the woods on a dirt road century
So perhaps, ultra endurance dirt racing will become my thing. I believe the sport of cycling goes through life stages. Many BMX kids become mtb racers in their teens, become road racers in their twenties, and become cyclocross racers in their thirties, or some other progression. For me this evolution has lead to 100+ mile rides almost every weekend, and focusing on a handful for 6-12 hour races on dirt. We'll see after this season how I hold up.

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