Everyone has the ability to pick a battle in their life, for whatever reason. I recently found, tagged on the end of an old e-mail from an old friend was, "What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him. - Victor Frankl"
She was right in quoting Victor. Doesn't matter what struggle you choose lest it be unhealthy or unproductive. I suppose there are more points in the direction of being 'noble' or 'valiant' if you choose a battle against an oppressor and struggle to gain victory for the oppressed. However what of the self-induced battles that will not change the world as anyone outside yourself knows it? Would they be selfish or self-improving? What of the struggle to find the very limiters of your own abilities and then to boldly push past them or shatter yourself trying? To try so very hard, perhaps fail, then come back stronger than ever with the singular goal of personal success? Knowing there is a limit to it, I hope I find some meaningful redemption in this pursuit.
Call it getting older or seeing the dawn of the second half of my life on the horizon, it's time for a change. I will always look for great challenges and I will always pick a battle of uneven odds to reach past what seems possible ... however these times of 15-20 hours a week on the bike have stifled me as a social person. No longer can I continue to work for myself absent of coworkers or colleagues on top of working out by myself absent of team mates or companions. In creating the most fit, tuned, competitive person I've ever been I have constructed an insular world of solitude. My results do not keep me company on a rainy Saturday evening as I watch yet another DVD in darkness and think about the world outside mine: normal people having fun, being successful in a social arena.
I'm thinking out loud here because I realize deep inside my
entire lifestyle must soon change. I've invested heavily in myself and
waged war internally against all things that would limit my abilities
both mentally and physically. For years I have tried to become a very competitive cyclist and while I have sometimes failed, I have often
succeeded. Yet for the most part these trials and victories remain
inside while life on a much more grand scale goes by. A team mate recently said, "This really isn't much more than a softball league (with more fit players and better looking clothing)." It is likely I'll always be a competitive cyclist however it's time to find
inner peace and move on to being victorious on a level that will help
and enrich others, not just myself. But first ... I must face one more
self-defining, self-imposed, possibly self-destructive test.
Last year, after a horrible, debilitating crash in a race took the use of my left hand for 10 weeks I lost my fitness almost entirely. Yet I carried on as if nothing had happened. Fool-heartedly I toed the line at the 2011 Shenandoah Mountain 100 after only 3 weeks of 2-4 hour training rides. It should not have been a surprise that after 4 hours of my normal pace things came apart inside. I had digestion problems which led to cramping problems which led to my demise. I've never suffered so badly in a day. I've never struggled so hard to reach a finish line. I've never danced with the temptation of quitting as I did that day. I had reached my physical limit for that moment of my life and tried to push past. I could not. I could only hobble to the end, cracked for all to see and for a handful to mock ... but I kept on determined to push the bike as I walked beside it, falling back on my first goal for each and every race I enter - 'To Finish'. And that pushed me so very close to my mental limit which held fast by a thread of love and encouragement from those closest to me. Thankfully I did not decide to quit, although I don't think it was a prudent decision. My 2012 started the day after that race ended.
You see the Shenandoah Mountain 100, while it was the first Ultra
Endurance Mountain Bike Race I ever competed in, sets the bar for all NUE Races to
follow. I've traveled the world filming and competing in bike races, both mountain and
road. Many times I've had the chance to ride the hardest, toughest
sections of courses. Baring adverse weather conditions I say with
confidence the SM100 offers some of the most challenging lines a bike
can possibly take in a race of this nature. Taken in shorter segments it's one thing, all put together, on the
day it's entirely another. From leg-searing climbs where the path
narrowly clings to the side of the moss-covered, off cambered mountain
side with barely 6" of width peppered with rocks and slippery roots where if you lose balance or veer off line you tumble down the slope; to
unforgiving, loose rocks shifting under tire on 25° pitches on headwalls that seem like you're riding out the door of an airplane, to
mind-numbing stretches of fire-road climbs which corner after corner only lead higher through
cloud-covered fields of high grass and overgrown trail, over rocky
outcrops and through swollen creek beds ... the SM100 has set the bar
very high indeed.
My 2012 hasn't been measured by months and weeks but instead by hours and minutes, on the bike. I have trained harder, longer and smarter for this rematch - more than any battle I've ever picked. I've studied what I did wrong in 2011 and wrapped the entirety of my cognitive ability around it from all sides. I have plotted and planned alternate angles of attack. I created a schedule of training that took into account 364 days, each of them serving a purpose towards this rematch. I've restructured my nutrition plan, gone from a heavy camelback to lighter & more easy to measure bottles. I have given up pocket fulls of gels for real food. I won't rely on but 2 aid stations and will pass by the rest. Rethinking went into the bike and all its parts. For the first time since my racing career started I'm under a lighter, faster hard tail opposed to the heavy, more cushy full suspensions I've enjoyed for years. I even changed my pedals and shoes - with their lighter weight I will lift with my legs somewhere close to 1,500lbs less over the 100 mile course.
My 2012 has seen my best season of racing bicycles. I have maintained my best fitness and not once been sick or badly injured. I've raced less often but more strategically and with supreme focus on each race. Regardless of the size of field, or number of professionals entered, I've attained the best results in all but a couple of races, constantly placing in the top 25 with a handful of podiums and 2 wins.
Yet one defining result has yet to be determined. The score must be settled, there is one more battle to wage in the conclusion of this chapter.
I know better than most how anything can happen on the day. Top results are all fickle and fall to the mercy of time and tide, luck and chance. Regardless of what happens on the day I can with absolute assurance say I have done everything possible, everything reasonable, taken every precaution and spared no expense for every legal advantage to achieve my greatest result in the 13 years I've been associated with this race. A race worthy of 13 years of my time. All that is left in the days leading up to September 2nd is maintaining fitness and preparing mentally, knowing I will suffer at least 8 hours on the day. And when the dawn of the final chapter of this part of my life breaks the horizon, all that is left is to HOLD FAST. When it's over I plan to never do this race again.