Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 Year in Review

Two thousand and twelve was unquestionably the most competitively satisfying year of my life. There were numerous performances this year that fulfilled me on so many different levels. Along with the tremendous athletic satisfaction I had this year I was also blessed with personal and professional satisfaction that left me feeling like one of the luckiest people on the planet. The year got off to such an inauspicious start that it is hard to believe that everything went as well as it did!

January was full of uncertainty as I continued to struggle with the stomach problems that ailed me the previous year. Going to the bathroom up to ten times a day does not generally convey confidence in ones health. At the darkest hour it appeared that I was going to have to live gluten free for the remainder of my days in order to establish some sort of bathroom regularity. Fortunately all of that changed following my January procedure that allowed my gastrointanologist to get to the root of the matter. No celiac present or inflammatory bowel disease but he did find that I have a rare condition called microscopic colitis that is mostly a mystery in the medical community. Treatment is incredibly simple and there will be occasional flares, but for the most part I will be fine. Within a week of treatment  my athletic performance skyrocketed. Looking down at my arms while on the trainer one morning it occurred to me that I was starting to look the part of being fit. My theory is that throughout my entire illness my body was in a protection mode that was not allowing me to realize my potential despite consistent training. Once my gastrointestinal system was regulated it appeared that my body had relearned how to absorb the nutrients that it needed to perform. 

My plan for the winter months, last winter, was to compete in as many snowshoe races as possible. Our lack of a proper winter severely dampened my plan and I did not compete on my snowshoes once! I even drove to the famous Sidehiller race in Sandwich only to find that the race had been cancelled the previous day.  I was fortunate enough to have a few snowshoe runs that reminded me of how difficult the sport can be. One run in particular, on a snow day from school, reminded me of just how hardcore of a sport can be. Following the purchase of our house it became a goal of mine to navigate a route from my back yard, through the trails, to the rail bed that runs parallel to route twelve. On this wet snowy day I achieved the goal and made it to the rail bed in just over a half an hour. Problem was that I was soaking wet, running out of daylight, and on the verge of bonking! I thought of attempting to run on the rail bed to a store to call Mary but I really did not know how far I would need to run. I knew the safest bet was to retrace my steps back over the mountain to my house. The way back was a huge struggle! I even worried about my safety at a few different points of the return. A mile from home I broke through some ice that was under the snow and fell into frigid water up to my thighs. My nervousness turned to boarder line fear that last ten minutes. When I finally reached the safety of my back yard I was near hypothermic and lost the fine and gross motor skills necessary to remove my gear. I shivered for the first thirty-five minutes in the 104 degree waters of our hot tub! CLOSE CALL!

The true test of my winter training didn’t come until April when I traveled to EMS in Peterborough for the annual shoot the loop time trial. The race was the debut of my new bike training plan and my new Hed Jet carbon fiber race wheels. On a breezy morning in my first big effort of the year on the bike I managed a twenty-four and a half mile per hour average over the rolling Peterborough course. I was psyched to pick up my first ever win in a pure time trial against other cyclists. Clearly the winter training had payed off and I was set up to have a great year of racing. With every passing training session I became more and more anxiously excited for the upcoming multi-sport season.  

My multi-sport debut came at the Polar Bear duathlon in Brunswick, Maine on Cinco De Mayo. Race morning I was extra jittery sitting in my brother in laws kitchen as I ate. Months of training had led me to this race that would set of my second season of focus on triathlon. The knowledge that Mary and her brother along with Steve and Ali would be there to support me made my nerves much less intimidating. Race morning was wet with that odd sort of humidity that makes you unsure of whether or not your cold or warm. I felt great on the warm-up and I knew that I was ready to rock. All morning at the race I kept hearing that there was an uber  biker at the race that was going to ride me down on the second leg following the first run. I confidently held my cards close to my chest knowing that I was going to blow up the ride and establish myself as a cyclist to be feared on the multi-sport circuit. The first run went exactly as planned. I attacked off the line knowing that nobody would have the audacity to attempt such a blistering pace. Onto the bike with a comfortable lead I decided to attack. My aggression paid off and I never saw the rider that I was supposed to fear as I posted the fastest bike split of the day in both the duathlon and triathlon. On the second run I continued to attack telescoping away from the field easily picking up the hard earned win. After the early success of Shoot the Loop and Polar Bear I knew that I was in for a big year. 

The first major race of the triathlon season came at the Mooseman International race the first weekend of June. My swim was still a question mark but I was confident that my bike, run could compete with anyone that showed up. Fortunately my friend Andy let me borrow his full sleeve wetsuit because the weather conditions at Mooseman were epic. Forty-five degrees and raining is terrifying weather for an athlete of my size. The previous years Mooseman had seriously dented my confidence and had shaken my belief in my ability to compete on a national level. I had gotten dominated on the swim and then froze on the bike and run. It had been the first time in my life that I had not had the fastest run split at a race. The disappointment of  that race alone catapulted my desire to push myself like never before. This years race started off with a “successful” swim. At twenty-six minutes I was still up to eight minutes behind the best swimmers but I was warm and relaxed. Onto the bike I simply got down to the task of riding through nearly the entire field. I was cold, I was tired but I had an ear to ear grin as I flew past the other athletes. Hard intelligent work always pays off in endurance races. Into the transition I had caught so many other athletes that I had the brief thought that I may be at the front of the race. Unfortunately three great swim bikers were up the road so I set out to try and run everyone of them down. As I approached the turnaround on the run I knew that first and second were out of the question but I knew that if I went deep that I could make a run at the podium. I bore down with every ounce of strength over that last mile knowing that my hard work would carry me to the finish. When I caught third place, who was first out of the water, I somehow found an extra gear and went eve harder. I kicked so hard the last five hundred meters that I got within shooting distance of second but I simply ran out of course. It was one of the first times in my life that I was satisfied with a race that I did not win. I knew that I had perfectly executed my race plan and that there was nothing that I could have done better. 

July brought my only speed bump of the year at the Black Fly triathlon festival. The weekend started off great with a strong showing in the time trial. I would have easily won the race had I not dropped my chain on the climb back into town. I had taken fifty seconds off my time in a year and was perched to defend my crown in the overall. Friday night was my undoing for the remainder of the weekend. I was so excited that I could not sleep. Couple that with some neighbors having a party with fireworks and guns and I was in trouble. At two in the morning I was desperate for sleep so I had a Bennadryl with a swig of Johnny Walker. Bad idea! Saturday morning I was a zombie and I raced like one. On top of that I totally talked myself out of the race when it started going bad on the swim. I hate racing scared! I still managed the fasted run split of the day but it was a full three minutes slower than the previous year. Sundays sprint was under the same cloud of shattered confidence but at least I was competitive. I failed to even make the podium in my title defense so I left Waterville Valley with a very sour taste in my mouth. 

After the Black Fly debacle everything changed and my year really took off. Sometimes I have such a hard time remember why I compete. I get so caught up in the obsession of winning that sometimes I forget that I am out there to challenge myself to be better than myself.  It’s so simple that I don’t understand how I get so mixed up from time to time! Through July and into the first week of August my training was at a whole new level. I started posting performance in training on the bike that were blowing my own mind. On top of twenty-five mile an hour rides I started running workouts at speeds that I had not seen since 2008 when I ran 8:07 for 3000-meters. One afternoon in particular when I closed out a track session with back to back 200s in 27 and 26 I knew that I was ready for Nationals on August 21. My Thirty-Six Days post highlights the run up to and weeks after nationals better than I can say in this review. 

Nationals in Burlington was everything that an athlete loves in life. The realization of a years worth of hard work unfolding in the moment is priceless. The deja vu of experiencing what you had been visualizing every dark cold morning in the basement makes all the sacrifice and pain seem minor. I felt invincible that morning in Burlington. My bike had a rocket booster that morning! I will never forget that feeling in all of my years. Going from a rider that  averages twenty-three miles per hour in a race to twenty-five miles per hour in a year is mind blowing! All because of hard work and sacrifice! On the run that morning I was the terminator, nothing was stopping me from wiping out everyone in sight. Mary snapped a picture of me passing for the lead in the last two-hundred meters that shows all of the years work. I was so lean that I could not have pared another ounce off my frame. It was all speed and adrenaline with nothing to hide! No excuses, no alibi, no questions, just one athlete better than he had ever been against himself!  

The tumble from the razors edge of peak fitness is always cruel and merciless. Amazement evaporates into despair as you try to keep the cracks in the dam from shattering into a disastrous flood. Maturity lessened the mental strain and I was able to take ten days off and start building back fitness for a short fall season before shutting it down for the year. 

The Pinnacle Challenge in October was the unheralded performance of the year that reignited my competitive juices and love of mountain bike racing. On yet another god forsaken wet morning I battled at the redline for just over two hours. On the mountain bike leg I had so many joyous emotions that made the experience unforgettable. The happiness of grinding through the muddy woods on hilly and technical trails tripped something deep in my soul. My first real bike was a mountain bike that I saved for with my own money. It was the first real thing I ever bought. I scrimped and saved from my three hours a week of work as a fourteen year old at my first job. Four twenty-five an hour picking up garbage, cigarette butts, and whatever else the local litter bugs decided to discard on the ground. That first bike, was, at the time the coolest thing ever. That bike carried me through my first ever bike race. That race catapulted my love of the sport. It was my current mountain bike that originally reignited my love of cycling in 2010. With the acquisition of my road and time trial bikes I got away from the trails in the name of unparalleled speed on the open roads. During the Pinnacle that love reblossomed like a spring tulip. Although it was under the radar Pinnacle was one of my more difficult efforts of the year. Winning that race and breaking the course record was on my bucket list so I was proud to accomplish both feats in the final year of the races existence. 

November and December have been full of excellent and consistent training. I have routinely been putting up double digit hours while continuing to push myself to new levels at school. I take great pride in trying to be great at whatever I do athletically, personally, and professionally. I have pushed myself to new levels at work this year and I really think that I am a better teacher than I have ever been. Recently I have been riding mountain bikes whenever I have a chance. I have been regularly meeting up with George Adams and Andy McCarron for hammer sessions at Goose Pond. George has been gracious enough to let me ride his all carbon Specialized Stumpjumper hard tail 29er during a few of our rides. I am in love with that bike and am once again skimping and saving like that excited teenager eager to buy a new bike. Every ride on the Stumpjumer fills me with unabashed joy and happiness. Grinding up an impossibly steep hill only to have the frenzied thrill of screaming down the other side can’t be described. The sensory input of the woods and trail triggers an emotion that I can’t describe. Every trial ride I’ve had this fall has reminded me of how lucky I am to live in such an amazingly special area. I love New Hampshire! Lately I have been very philosophical on our rides and have come to a lot of questions about my participation in endurance sports. I’ve really distilled it down to the desire to push myself. Sometimes I honestly think that I would be just as happy if I never entered a race again and only battled my own demons in training. It’s funny because when I think about that I always come to the same conclusion. I decided that if I never toed the line again that I would still get up early every day and train like I do now.  I would never want to battle myself unless I knew that I was at or near my best. (Inner Peace?) Every time I think about not racing I always come back to the idea that if I’m going to do all of this work that I might as well just race so there is a more tangible result for everyone else to grasp. 

Two thousand and twelve has been remarkably special and satisfying. Every day I wake up and share the greatest adventures with my best friend and soul mate Mary. She has been so supportive throughout this year sacrificing her summer weekends to go and watch a bunch of buffoons in spandex race so they can be at peace with themselves. She never questions my absurdity because she knows how happy my adventures make me. Our dog Eko is the best friend a guy could ever ask for. Any time I have a less than great day I instantly feel better when I see that little guy and his adorable face! Our house has ended up being better than the three of us could have ever imagined. As a family we are so lucky and have so many things to be thankful for. I continue to be amazed by all of the wonderful people that I have in my life. My father in law, goes to every race regardless of weather and location. My families are full of amazing and supportive people that are always there for the two of us. 

Two thousand and twelve has been an amazing year and looking forward to two thousand and thirteen already has me excited. I will continue to reflect the last week of the year and appreciate the fleeting brilliance of everything that has happened. Hopefully I will find the time in the next few weeks to set out a clear plan of attack for next year. Lastly I would like to thank everyone that has supported this blog and my Facebook athlete page over the past year. It still amazes me that people care to read about what I’m doing and sometimes I feel that there is far to much vanity involved in social media. With that being said I truly appreciate the support. 


1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your recap. Great 2012! Here's wishing you, Mary, and of course Eko a great 2013!