In February of 2001 I raced my last 200 backstroke. That race ended nearly 20 years of competitive swimming. Following that meet I went through what could only be called a quarter life crisis. A huge part of my identity vanished and I struggled for a time to find something to replace that part of my life. I couldn't easily give up on being an athlete and my love of competition.
On a lark I went to a bike shop in Chicago and bought my first bike. As soon as I got it home I went for a 30 minute ride in my neighborhood in a worn out pair of shorts that I had used for weightlifting and a white t-shirt. By the end of that Summer I raced my first race, and crashed twice in a 10 lap crit. I joined the University of Kansas Cycling Team when I returned to school and made some of the best friends that I have kept to this day.
I went from a Cat 5 to a Cat 3 by May of the following year. Then inexplicably I left the sport. I started law school and somewhere on the journey from Kansas to Mississippi I allowed someone to surgically implant a giant pole into my body and lost my focus on those things that made me who I was. I flopped around in local races over but never made a commitment to racing like I had done while at KU. I graduated from law school and moved to DC where I continued to "kind of" race and "kind of" train. I had goals but no focus. I had dreams but no passion. I had ego but no commitment.
Then in April of 2008 the inexplicable happened again, I blew out a spoke on a brand new pair of wheels. Somehow this spoke represented a metaphysical snapping within me. I opened up the brakes on my rear wheel to keep it from rubbing too badly and rode McArthur back into DC. Along the way I opened up myself too and spent a long time thinking about who I am and what I was doing in my life. I made a real simple decision, rather than just fix the spoke I was going to buy a whole new wheel set, I was going to buy a PowerTap.
I called up one of my best friends from KU, Adam Mills, who in the time since I had left school had become a cycling coach and one of the best bike racers in the Midwest. I told him that I was tired of it all and that I wanted to do something other than just finish Cat 3/4 races (actually I had been dropped from a PA race two weeks prior). I told him that I was buying a PowerTap and that I wanted to start training like I had when I was swimming. He warned me that it wouldn't be easy. In typical fashion I responded "I ain't scared."
I went down to a trusted bike shop and met with a very trusted friend, we shall call him Mr. Jones. I told him what I wanted to do and what I wanted to buy. He obliged and a week later I got a call that my brand new Mavic Open Pro's were in and ready for me. As fate would have it, I was getting ready to head out for work to Colorado and to LA. I packed up the bike and flew out to the mountains. It wasn't until I got to LA that I realized what was happening. In the middle of a ride out in Riverside, CA (which is nowhere near LA contrary to what I had been told) while going up a hillside I made a promise to myself that I had a goal and that I was going to achieve that goal. I was going to dedicate myself to training and racing and I was going to move up from Cat 3.
Adam and I spent the Summer pushing my limits on the bike. I followed Adam to a new coaching organization, Source Endurance out of Austin, TX, and made contact with some incredibly skilled and talented people. The folks at Source-E have opened my eyes to the fundamentals of the sport that I had overlooked or misunderstood, like nutrition. For those who think that good coaching doesn't pay off, well I hope that my example will show forth that it really does. Adam punished my legs daily with workouts that I often cursed him for but it began to pay off. I won my first ever race and a couple weeks ago I achieved my goal of upgrading.
It's been a tale of suffering but it's all been worth it. It was a goal that at times seemed inevitable and impossible. The statistics on what it took to get me to this goal aren't anything out of the ordinary. However, these are some of the odder statistics that I compiled along the way in the past 15 months since I set out on this quest:
1. Number of Miles Ridden in Training: 10086 this doesn't include races or the months of January and July 2009 when I sent my PowerTap back for re-calibration (Saris Cycling is a great company and I have tremendous respect for them and their product).
2. States that I have raced or trained in (including DC): 15: DC, VA, MD, SC, KY, IL, KS, CA, CO, AZ, WA, MO, OK, IN, WV.
3. Number of bike chains: 4
4. Avg. Calories Consumed per day: 3200
5. Mountains Climbed: Sugarloaf (MD), Mt. Weather (VA), Blue Mountain (VA), Naked Mountain (VA), Mt. Tam (CA), Cougar Mountain (WA), Random 6 mile 2000 foot climb outside of Eureka (CA), Mt. Mingus (AZ), Mt. Oread (KS)[ok, I cheated on this one].
6. Number of bike tires used: 3 sets
7. Number of crashes on training rides: 1
8. Number of times I fell off the bike while racing 3 cross races: 4, once into a brier patch
9. Most listened to song on my IPhone: Miranda Lambert, Gun Powder and Lead (I swear I put the thing on shuffle).
10. Number of curse words used in a single race: 1058, and all used while chasing down a breakaway at the Low Country Challenge Stage Race.
The act of purchasing a PowerTap wasn't the impetus of anything but rather the first step in making myself accountable, accountable to ultimately myself. There is no hiding when you use wattage, either you're pushing 300 watts or you're not. The data allowed me to mark and track changes and progress in a way that I couldn't do before, and it gave me many many many reality checks. More so, my coach Adam was my reality check. A steadfast critique of bike racing and tactics and a genius for understanding the minutia of training. I could not have done this without his guidance.
Along this path I relied heavily on the kindness of strangers, friends and family. My teammates were a constant source of strength and advice. My family was a rock of support and I found the most beautiful woman in the world who helped me along with gentle nudges and swift kicks. I'm confident that she doesn't understand this obsession of ours to deliver so much pain to our bodies, but she understands what it means to me and supports me throughout with unwavering strength. This has bolstered me throughout and has gotten me over the crest of numerous hills, both physical and metaphysical. For me that's all I need.