Thanks UltraMidwest!

The news broke today that the Metamora 4×50 will be the final UltraMidwest race. Dave Parker, the organizer, has had some health issues and the extra stress of running races is a bit too much. The decision is certainly the right one. There’s no need to jeopardize health for a bike race amongst friends (or among strangers even!).

I want to thank Dave, Lori, Joe, and all the volunteers that helped with the UltraMidwest races. I only managed to catch the last two years of the races series, 2012 and 2013, but they were really important for becoming ever more obsessed with ultracycling. The friendliness and encouraging competition made every race something I really looked forward to doing. Hopefully some new races will pop up in the Midwest to continue the ultra spirit.

We’ll all continue riding our bikes excessively and regaling tales of the ridiculous adventures that come with so much saddle time.

The only thing I won’t miss is that 15-mile stretch of road between Lost Nation and US-61 during Balltown. It seemed to stretch on forever!

Instead of the Weekend of Racing UltraMidwest 24-hour, I’ll be heading down to North Carolina for the Mid-Atlantic 24-hour. I’ll get to link up with a really good friend, so out of the bad news comes some good.

Thanks again UltraMidwest!

 

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Havin’ a Ball(Town)

Waking my legs up for an early morning race is similar to waking my sister up when we were kids — violence and aggression are necessary. In much the same way that I would simply throw her on the floor to wake her up, I have to attack a hill to snap my legs out of their unfortunate slumber. At Balltown, like Calvin’s, my legs felt stiff and petulant for the first hour or two and only a real hard effort snapped them to life.

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Windsurfing with Calvin

Silence often hides in tailwinds, providing a respite from WHOOSH of air streaming past your ears. This past Saturday at Calvin’s Challenge, the road provided no reprieve from the aural assault of a strong wind. Even when ticking happily along at 30+mph with the tailwind, some flapping, spinning, whistling, or otherwise flailing feature of world inevitably found a way to remind me of the physical assault I’d face the next time I turned left. And so it was for the full 12 hours of the race. Murmurs during the post-race gorging placed the winds somewhere between 16 and 20mph with gusts up to 30mph; they certainly felt it.

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The Mystery of the Invisible Legs

I started riding in a weird, drizzly mist. I was soaked immediately. I pedaled and went faster, then I pedaled a little harder, and continued going faster. While physics was justly confirmed, my confusion mounted. “Shouldn’t I be dead-legged?” I wondered, given my lack of sleep or anything approaching regularity in the past couple weeks (my hours of sleep over the past week: 5, 0, 10, 6, 4, 4, 9).

Yet my legs continued to go faster. There was a vast mismatch between the feeling in my legs — happy — and the speed at which I was moving — much above normal. Based on the past month or so, I shouldn’t have been going this fast. I’ve been wrecked, scrambling to find energy and consistency, surely the result of gloriously overdoing it during my week in Death Valley — no regrets about doing it.

After my massage on Monday, in which my friend is slowly undoing years of damage to my steel-belted left IT band and myriad other horrid knots I’ve tied myself into contorted in front of a computer or on a bike, I could barely shuffle up or down stairs. I felt looser, but my knee refused to calm peacefully. I have no doubt that going from the massage to sitting in front of a computer for 27 hours or so didn’t help.

As a consequence of having too much work, too little sleep, and a grumpy knee, I didn’t touch my bike for three days. Thursday, the sun came out, and I gained a bit of time, so I went out for an short and easy two hour ride. I couldn’t push hard at all, my heart rate stayed low, and I had some knee twinges. However, being outside was glorious, and I smiled for the whole two hours.

Friday, I again snuck out for a quick 30-mile ride before heading to campus for another work binge. My knee felt much better, and I could ride a more respectable pace. I was up until 3:30am and up again at 8:30am, so there wasn’t much rest to really keep recovering.

Last night, I was mentally and physically fried, so after a night of playing some of my favorite original NES games, I crashed hard. Nine hours later I woke up cuddled up next to the words of Edward Abbey — thankfully unbent, even in sleep I respect my books! A super-productive morning led to ride time. The rain from the morning persisted into early afternoon, so I donned my cycling cap, tucked a rain jacket under my jersey and headed out onto the road, experience what I described above.

I can only guess that the forced rest, even if haphazard, finally allowed my legs to actually recover. In general, I’d rather ride a little slow than not at all, so forcing myself off the bike for three days almost never happens. But my worries of over-training seem to be the more usual case of under-recovering. Hopefully, I’ve turned the corner on the fatigue just in time for the start of the Midwest ultra season.

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The Thrill of the Chase

I was uncertain. I had done my hardest ever 5-day training block earlier in the week — 440 miles, 37,000ft of climbing — and then taken one day for rest. A day that found me eating ravenously — nothing could fill me up — and napping/lounging after a few morning hikes because I was fried. I had no idea how this “race” — technically it was an organized and supported ride, but it is timed and everyone in the first wave is out to hammer each other, which means race to me– would go. Would I be sufficiently recovered after a lazy day? Or would the mounting fatigue I had felt all week continue and make for a long day in the saddle?

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The Groundhog Rule

I am in the midst of a prolonged discussion with some friends about when to use bike lights. I always have mine on in low-light or nighttime and in bad weather, like fog or rain. If I ever feel like cars might have difficulty seeing me, the lights go on. An alternate view is for the lights to ALWAYS be on, regardless of visibility. On a bright, sunny day, having lights on seems like a waste of batteries because that light is washed out by the much stronger sunlight.

Over my past few rides, I directed a good deal of thinking towards lighting. I came up with an extremely simple rule for when to have lights on/off.

The Groundhog Rule:

If you can’t see your shadow, your rear lights should be on flashing.

Addendum: If you can’t see the road easily, rear lights should be on solid, and your front light should be flashing if day, solid if dusk or night.

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Overrun

Death is discovered on every ride. Unfortunate reminders of our ultimate fate lay strewn across the roadways in the sprawling entrails of opossums, the splatter of squirrels, and the rancid smell of a decaying deer. An unexpected bump to the hulking steel machines with whom we share the pavement becomes a visceral example of our limited mortality.

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