Two thousand and eleven has unquestionably been the most frustrating year of my entire life in terms of athletics. Ebbs and flows are to be expected with training and racing but this year seemed to cast a new standard that will hopefully never be approached again. Despite the unusually high number of issues that hindered my training and racing I still managed what I consider to be a slightly above average year. This summary will be the end of my year of training as I head into Christmas. I am going to take a few down days this week to process this year and try to gain some perspective before moving forward to two thousand and twelve.
This year started off unlike any other in my life. I was at the crossroads in my recovery from my Thanksgiving day accident. Mentally I was still in taters and anxiety issues were a constant battle. I startled so easily and could approach the precipice of true panic at the hands of something as simple as a TV commercial. Athletically I was also at a crossroads. I was firmly committed to triathlon but I did not have a bike and was unsure of my ability to ride it with any sort of fury and aggression in the wake of the accident. I had to trust my instincts and believe that everything was going to be ok when the weather finally broke. January and February exist like a blobbing amoeba in my memory. Thirty-five minute rides on The Demon in the attic and for and five mile runs in and around Keene. The all consuming sound of the knobby tire on the trainer is a memory I'll be all to happy to never live again. It was quickly apparent that this new style of training was working for me because I was feeling really fit and was running fast the few times I tested myself. I avoided Wednesday workout because I was certain that I was not ready for the mental and physical demands of Baker Street. The biggest bugger about these two months was that I did not get to race indoor like I had planned. I was looking forward to one more year of running a fast mile before shifting my focus to triathlon.
March brought my first workouts and race of the year. My first workout at Baker Street was quarters but I truly feel that my third workout was when I began to believe that everything was going to be ok in the wake of the accident. We did a two mile followed by 4 x 400. I broke 9:50 for the two mile and really blew out the tubes on the400s. I remember holding my hands over my face and fighting tears in the crazy frantic adrenaline rush that is post workout bliss. Heading into the Fast Friends race I was honestly clueless about how things were going to play out. I was up late the night before on a trip to the airport with some of my students and got a terrible night of sleep. This was also the first time that I had to manage my GI issues before a race which would become a theme for the entire year. For late March it was a extremely cold morning. Off the line Justin and I quickly distanced ourselves from everyone and I remember saying out loud that somethings never change. I really fought hard to stay with Justin and almost let him get away on the steep downhill before the two mile mark. I fought so hard the next mile to reduce that gap and was surprised when I overtook him just before three miles. I really hurt late in that race! What a killer course!
April brought my first big challenge of the year in Mr. Miller rides New Hampshire. I had organized a fundraiser for my class trip to Disney World and put myself on the line to ride a century or more or I would give back every donation! A week before the ride I did not have a helmet, a kit, or a ride over an hour. The Soloist 2.0 was still a pile of parts in my attic waiting for a fork and I was mildly concerned that I would be riding The Demon for the day. Somehow everything managed to come together in the eleventh hour and I was ready to ride. Steve accompanied me the first thirty miles of the ride to try and keep me under control. Obviously I was feeling fit but there is no way to fake a century in New Hampshire. I got a little overzealous riding from Stoddard to Henniker averaging well over twenty-one miles per hour. With sixty miles to go I was burning way to much fuel for such a long haul. I ended up falling apart in the hundred and first mile which conveniently coincided with Mary's house in Ashland. I was wiped out after that effort but we managed to raise over two thousand dollars to help off set the cost of our trip. I will be riding again in 2012 so stay tuned for details! April also brought by first DNF since... Wait, I don't even remember the last one! I thought I was in great shape heading into the BAA five k and really thought I was capable of running in the mid to low 14:40s. My stomach was a mess that morning and I visited numerous port o' johns before the race. Standing on the line I knew that I was in trouble. I needed to go again but I was sure that I would be able to make it through the race. Just past the mile mark I was forced to rush into McDonald's to use the bathroom. I was mad, and embarrassed all at the same time. I had gotten up so early to drive to Boston convinced that I was going to run fast just to be derailed by my stomach. I emerged and went back to work in the race but I was already in workout mode weaving my way in and out of traffic. Just past two miles my stomach was gurgling again so I bagged the race. I walked to the tent, gathered my belonging, and left before I could see anyone. I was so ashamed of myself for dropping out that I could not face my peers. Why I did not confront my stomach issues right then and there is beyond me, denial is a cruel mistress.
May brought my first outdoor rides on The Vulture. This bike was the ultimate silver lining from the accident. The best way to describe the B14 is an automatic assault rifle. Point, and unload. It is scary to think about how fast this bike is and even scarier to think about how fast it will be with a set of carbon hoops this coming year. Immediately I was destroying my rides on The Vulture even saw a twenty-five mph average on a seventeen mile ride. The problem was that I got obsessed with riding that fast all the time. I started neglecting long slow rides in favor of all out fifteen to twenty mile TTs. In retrospect this would be like going to the track every day for a speed session. I would be really fast in the first few weeks but then as my base mileage fell farther in the past my times would slowly fall apart. My only race during May was the Northfield Mountain race. I had planned on racing The Soloist that weekend at Sunnapee but I got closed out on the entry for the Cat. 5 race. I was very nervous heading into the race because my mileage was still pretty low and I had not been working out as consistently as I had hoped. Much to my surprise I felt great in the race and really dictated the pace on the climb to the summit. The downhill was going great and I started to feel like I had the race under control. My lack of speed work was causing my stride to feel sloppy and inconsistent but I was still covering ground fast. Looking back to 2008 I had covered this mile in 4:25 so the 4:40 pace I was churning out was within the realm of reality. One misstep really cost me as I took a tangent through a puddle. I post holed about a foot deep with my left foot and almost came to a complete stop. The jarring rhythm crashing step threw my hips and back for a loop and I was never able to reestablish control. When I emerged onto the power lines I was hurting pretty bad which was when I started to hear Eric's footsteps. When Eric passed me his stride was so smooth that I simply could not hang. I knew that my best bet was an all out attack on the last brutally steep pitch but Eric had gained to much distance for me to overcome. Northfield was and always will be one of my favorite places to run and race! Someone needs to save that race!
June brought the start to triathlon season with a resounding thud at The Mooseman. More than anything I was totally psyched out at this race by the competition and the conditions. This was my third triathlon and first attempt with my own equipment. My mentality was that I had to win or the whole endeavor was a complete failure. Seeing so many tremendous athletes put a major seed of doubt in my head the day before the race. When I woke up Saturday morning it was freezing out which made success even more difficult. Smaller athletes struggle in cold weather triathlons no matter how fit they are. With an air temp in the low fifties and water temperatures below sixty as well I should have immediately adjusted my goals. I cramped up so badly on that swim and was freezing when I exited the water. I should have been more prepared for that race and understood what I needed to do in order to be successful. The bike and run of that race was one of the most challenging that I have ever faced. I was so cold that I on the verge of dropping out and my fueling was a disaster and I ended up getting sick on the run. Talk about getting a bad race out of the way early in the season! Looking back I walked away from Mooseman with a better understanding of my weaknesses although I was seriously questioning whether I could compete at the international distance. Two weeks later I rebounded on a muggy morning at the Whatley Police Triathlon. Following an appalling swim and T1 I rode through the field on The Vulture and then dropped the leash with a 15:40 three mile to end the day. Had I not given up so much time on the swim I would have picked up the win but unfortunately I fell thirty odd seconds short. I walked away from Whatley re-energized and was looking forward to kicking off the Summer of Mark!
The Summer of Mark was an amazing journey that brought me over the red line and led me to finally investigate some of my health problems. I started putting up big hours right away and started working with a swim coach to address my biggest weakness. Not working was the greatest thing to ever happen to my training. All I worried about was resting, fueling, and triathlon! My hours rose quickly and I found excellent form heading into the Black Fly Triathlon the first week of July. The Lord of the Flies competition was unquestionably the highlight of my year. Mentally preparing for a stage race was a new experience that gave me a taste of what is expected of top flight cyclists in tours. The Friday night time trial was so intense. I remember reading an interview with Lance after the prologue of the 2005 Dauphine when he commented on how explosive the effort was and that he was not prepared to handle that violent of a lactate rush. I had never done anything explosive on the bike so this TT was a whole new experience. Having my computer on the fritz made me crazy before the race which in some ways helped keep me from getting psyched out while I waited to race. Starting one hundred and nineteenth as a face in the crowd was an new feeling. Pulling up to the start Andy Sachett blew my cover over the public address system and marked me as a contender for the overall title. The ride itself was all adrenaline, sweat, spit, and lactic acid. I was keenly aware that I was going to give away time but I needed to limit my losses heading into the international race Saturday morning. I finished off the TT in 10:50 for tenth place and landed myself in a good spot amongst the GC contenders. I was fifty seconds out of the lead but I knew that the course was for the international was right in my wheelhouse. When I woke up Saturday morning I knew immediately that I was going to have my best triathlon ever. My first step out of bed was all the information I needed and I immediately went into race mode. Setting up gear for this race is such a great time. You develop relationships with your neighbors in the transition as the race moves forward. Everyone checks in on one and other and there was an overwhelming community feeling that I had never experienced at a race. Corralled before the swim knowing that one hundred and eighteen of my peers would be off the front was more than a little daunting. Knowing that within the group there were numerous GC rivals that I would find out on the bike. The Black Fly swim, short as it may be was still an eye opener. I had just starting working with the masters group so I knew that I was swimming better but I really did not have a measure of my progress. The international race at Black Fly was where I had the realization that I have no clue how to swim fast. I have gotten pretty efficient but I just can’t change gears and haul in the water like I need to. Out of the water and onto The Vulture I knew that it was game on and the start of times of trouble for my rivals. I still question my form on the TT bike but when I am in race mode I am committed to staying in my aero position at all costs. I was passing people left and right the entire ride and with every passing meter I got more excited about the prospect of the run. Coming out of the transition onto the run course it became clear that I was about to blow up the race. With the hilly out and back nature of the run course I knew that I was literally running right into my power alley. The feeling of a predator on the prowl consumed my senses with every stride. As I started to see my peers coming off the hill close to the turnaround I grew even more emboldened by the troubled looks on their hollow faces. Through the finishing chute and over the line a race volunteer thrust a soaking wet, ice cold towel in my face. It was the perfect antidote for my predatory instincts. It felt like the towel was literally putting a fire out in my hyperactive psyche. I even needed a few minutes by myself on a nearby dock to assimilate all the stimuli that was bombarding me every millisecond. This was without question my favorite memory of the year! Sunday at Black Fly I wrapped up the overall with what felt like a pretty gritty performance. I was so tired and rested so poorly the Saturday night that it seemed impossible that I would be able to put together another performance that would secure victory. As is always the case in these situations everybody was tired and we were all on a level playing field. The feelings after the sprint race were not nearly as intense but the satisfaction of putting in three days worth of epic performances gave me a huge feeling of contentedness.
I laid pretty low in the wake of Black Fly and really concentrated on putting in a big block of work. At this point I put the Pumpkinman on my radar for September and really committed to weeks of fifteen plus hours. One Wednesday really stands out as a testament to my fitness. I did a light morning swim and a thirty mile bike ride before heading to the Wednesday track workout. After the warm-up I was already three hours into my day and about to embark on a three by mile. I finished the workout but was done for a few days in the wake of such a big effort. I was feeling incredibly strong heading into August and my hubris got the best of me yet again. One of these years I will learn to listen to my body.
Give Peace a Tri was my performance of the year which is unfortunate given the small size and lack of competition. I rode great and ran sub fifteen minutes for three miles and won by almost four minutes. Following Give Peace a Tri I was convinced that I would be able to compete at Age Group Nationals which were two weeks away in Burlington. This is where things really begin to go downhill and fast! I did not put enough stock in Give Peace a Tri and really did not put any effort into recovery. As a matter of fact I upped the intensity the following few days heading into my Wednesday track session. At the track I pulled and chased Fyffe through a workout in pretty extreme heat. I even stopped part way through the last effort because I thought my brain was liquifying. I was so dead but I foolishly started again and finished the last interval well past my limit. I had been over the red-line all afternoon and combined with my lack of recovery from the previous weekend I cracked. The next week and a half heading into AG Nationals I was a zombie. My power was way down and I felt like a shadow. I was on the couch sleeping every extra second I had and all of my training sessions were rubbish. Burlington was a nightmare that I am too embarrassed to talk about. It was a shame and a waste of an effort. I was psyched out by the way I was feeling and raced like a chump. Next year.
My long trail of doctors appointments began at this time to figure out what had happened to all of my energy. Over training? Low Iron? A combination? None of the above. Low white blood cells and gluten intolerance. I could go on and on about my health but I neither have the time or energy to explain every test, every blood marker, and every solution. What I do know is that I am perched at the edge of a major life change. I understand that despite a strong list of performances that I did not race anywhere close to my true potential in 2011. In the wake of my medical issues I decided to bag the majority of the fall racing season. I dropped Pumpkinman and only raced twice the remainder of the year.
A lot happened outside of athletics this year as well. Most importantly Mary and I purchased our first house in Marlborough. We are the last house on a dead end street and abut hundreds of acres of woods that have been placed in a conservation trust. Eko is happier than ever now that he no longer has to cower at the sound of trucks jake breaking past our old apartment. Mary excitedly walks and runs every day without being accosted by Keene’s worst characters although she has developed an illogical fear of Sasquatch. We are very happy and looking forward to spending every waking moment here!
Looking ahead to 2012 I am going to diversify my portfolio even further. My primary focus will again be triathlon but I am going to mix up the lead up to the season. This entry is significantly longer than usual so I will save the details for another day.
ps sorry if there are massive amounts of spelling mistakes. I have been writing this over the course of a few days and can’t stare at this screen any longer!