2011

Cycling Through Life--cycling, triathlons, training and thoughts on an active, adventurous and healthy life!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Dave Weins West Elk Bicycling Classic--a classic!

The West Elk Bicycle Classic showcases remote parts of the Rocky Mountains and treats riders to a nostalgic ride through Colorado history where the past lives of miners, ranchers and pioneers have transformed into a timeless lifestyle rare to many of the riders who traveled from Colorado’s populated Front Range cities such as Denver. At every turn and climb a “different” Colorado greeted us, unveiling a rich history giving way to modern prosperity and vibrancy sprinkled with doses of past isolation, tranquility and even desolation.

The West Elk Classic brings a timeless Colorado into full focus beginning with the end in Crested Butte, a storied mining town turned ski resort. I was immediately struck by its genuine charm with so many old buildings and homes seemingly unfazed by the 20th Century. Crested Butte is nestled in a Cul-de-sac of mountains feeding the Taylor River heading 28 miles south to the race start in Gunnison. The topography of the West Elk Bike Classic speaks for itself with 134 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing, but the map doesn’t tell the story of what makes this ride the best one I’ve ever done.

I had just ridden through the fruit orchards of the Palisade Valley eating peaches picked from a nearby tree at a rest stop in Paonia, when a scene unfolded that summed up the West Elk Bicycle Classic for me. A boy with a fishing rod over one shoulder and two trout half his size slung over his other, was walking his dog along the highway heading toward Kebler pass. As I was anticipating the final 30 miles of the day and a bit nervous about the dirt road climbing some 4,000 feet, he seemed to not have a care in the world. He was from a time long passed to us visiting city folks; a time when little boys fished the rivers and walked to their homes in small coal towns like Somerset that I had just passed through. I was riding in his movie of life, merely a spectator to the simplicity and hardship treasured by all and experienced by few. Here I was, on a space age bike wearing synthetic materials armed with computers that so contrasted my surroundings that it was simply a beautiful moment.
This lifestyle permeated the enthusiastic staff greeting us at every pit stop. The West Elk Classic is not a race but it’s timed. Some riders make it race and others like me, soaked it in and tried to absorb the energy and spirit of all that rode and those places we passed through.



The ride simply offers a chance to experience anything and everything any road cyclists can appreciate. It begins with a gunshot and a mass exit from the Western State Colorado University campus. The group shapes into an impressive Peloton that picks up speed heading west on Highway 50 to the Blue Mesa Reservoir. I felt like a rookie as a bump ejected my water bottle causing me to leave the protective confines of the peloton to retrieve it.  200 cyclists quickly faded from sight and I realized just how powerful the slipstream of a large peloton is as it took substantial effort to catch up.

The Peloton splintered about 10 miles in and for the rest of the ride small groups or solo cyclists rode some of the most spectacular and diverse routes that could possibly exist in Colorado. From the high mesa’s overlooking the black canyon of the Gunnison to the orchards and coal mining towns in the Palisade Valley capped off by an amazing climb through the state’s largest Aspen grove, each turn of the road and climb of a hill treated the riders to a unique Colorado experience and landscape. To finish, climbing Kebler pass, a mostly dirt road canopied in Aspen and rolling into one of the most picturesque towns in Colorado, Crested Butte, ended the day perfectly.

There is not one reason why this ride felt so epic. The ride itself challenged all. The support was amazing, not because of the tootsie rolls and freshly picked fruit and icy cold cokes that I so much enjoyed, but the energetic staff really made it fun.
By starting all together and knowing some riders were there to “get a time” and compete, made the atmosphere a little more edgy and electric, but it certainly didn’t make a compelling enough case for all to find the work, many simply let the vigor of the West Elk Loop find them as they enjoyed a day of riding.

The star of the show for me was Crested Butte and its authentic charm that gives away a storied and colorful past as a tough nosed mining town turned rustic but modern ski town. It spoke to the ride and riders and mirrored the flavor and uniqueness that I believe this ride tries to encompass.

The West Elk Bicycle Classic offers a true escape from the typical century ride offered in the front range of Colorado.  It’s virtually free of car traffic and the tranquility of this remote area simply allowed me to let go of time and ride with my heart and not a care in the world.


Friday, August 29, 2014

What is being fit?

I paused, perplexed, as I stepped out of the kayak, slightly out of breath with my arms sort of quivering and feeling embarrassed at how tired I was after rowing 2.4 miles in a kayak with my daughter.  It was no coincidence we kayaked 2.4 miles, my Garmin just happened to be in the car so I figured, why not. I swam the same distance in Ironman Boulder faster than we rowed it. My chest and arm muscles hurt for days after. Wasn’t I in shape? Why do I feel so exhausted? Annoying. Specific fitness I will call it. But is that best kind of fitness for a normal age group triathlete approaching 50?

Sure, physiologically I am fit; my heart rate and blood pressure suggest that. I feel fit, look reasonably lean, but can become exhausted at the most menial of task that doesn’t involve triathlon specific muscles. Will this fitness serve me well as I age?

10 years ago I wasn’t as fit as I am now, or was I? I hadn’t even considered participating in a triathlon yet alone an Ironman. I weighed more, couldn’t run or bike as far and it was impossible to swim more than a few laps. But, I played basketball, soccer and hockey just fine, could dig a hole, trim bushes and probably could’ve rowed across that lake more successfully. I was certainly more balanced physically.

I think triathletes probably fall victim to specific fitness more than most athletes, especially older athletes. Obviously an offensive lineman probably can’t run a 10k very successfully, but he is a great athlete who can shove around 300 pound defensive linemen with precision. But he is young and that’s his profession and of course every athlete has honed their skills to their sport of choice. But triathlon training to me at least, is part of my lifestyle, it almost has to be to find the hours to train and to work and do everything else in life. It’s easy to get stuck with the limited time doing the same things for fear of not maximizing an opportunity to improve speed or endurance.

I am old, relatively speaking, and want to live a healthy life and no doubt training for triathlons will keep me healthier than most. But with school starting, the days shortening and race season winding down, it’s transition time yet again and as much as I hate to admit it, it’s time to think about some changes to my regiment as indoor season approaches.
 
Every year I vow to try more yoga or Pilates or simply lift weights. The pressure of building endurance and speed for the season will have dissipated and as I face the tedious hours of being inside, I know I should try to find more balance in my workouts. But I fall victim to the temptations of spin classes and treadmills.

My plan is to at least ski more and hopefully play some basketball and those two activities alone will undoubtedly give me some variations in my training and most importantly be enjoyable!

Perhaps with a little discipline, a few alternative workouts and other activities, I will be able build a snow fort, have a snowball fight and in the spring row across a lake without feeling so tired and still be ready for tri season next year!

Plenty of great weather will provide thousands of miles of riding yet this fall, but I hope to approach the Winter with a broader perspective.










Sunday, August 24, 2014

Boulder Ironman, will it sell out?

Like a gigantic ocean liner heading out of port and slowly disappearing on the horizon, the 2014 Boulder Ironman is now a memory with small bits of chatter still floating in the wake of experiences it left behind. The ship is off to different ports and it will be back in about 350 days but I wonder if it will arrive in 2015 sold out?

I find it interesting and bit puzzling that general entry spots for next year are available nearly three weeks after it opened. I can’t help but wonder why. Historically Ironman races seem to sell out in hours or in the case of some like Arizona, in seconds.  

Many reasons can be hypothesized but I will argue Boulder is a bit of a one and done kind of race for many, especially locals. I have no data to back this up but I know many people who raced and don’t plan to do it or any Ironman again. With such a huge triathlete base in Colorado, I believe many athletes want to travel for their Ironman race.  For other locals it was a bucket list race with the inaugural Boulder venue providing a good opportunity to do their first full Ironman or try one again after years of absence.

I know statistically Boulder is one of the harder Ironman’s based on time averages. But the atmosphere was the best I had experienced.  I’m not sure what factors athletes from around the country, or world for that matter, become most important when choosing a race.  Interestingly the national triathlon club of Mexico picked Boulder for their club race this year. I wondered why I saw so many Mexican tri kits on the course. There were over 200 participants from Mexico.

I believe they will have a hard time selling out the race. I think the heat, altitude and gaining notoriety of the tough course coupled with more and more choices of venues across the country will keep Boulder open for a while. No doubt a new batch of locals will make it their first Ironman but I think the draw of the first one captured more than any future races will.

I signed up 10 seconds after it opened. For me Boulder is a race I want to conquer and do well. I like not traveling for a race and prefer to use my resources and time to take actual vacations that have nothing do with racing.

I think it will be interesting to see how this race evolves over the next few years. It seemed to go very well this year and as a participant I wouldn’t change a thing. I like the energy and camaraderie that develops locally during the off season and I’m looking forward to it already.

I’m not ready to hibernate just yet as I feel fall is the best time of year to ride and run in the mountains, taking in all the colors and crisp air.

The Ironman ship may be out to sea, but now is the time to enjoy the rewards of all that training and get out and have fun before the snow flies—which of course has its own fun rewards!


Carry on mates!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The dark side of my Ironman


I’m still emotionally reeling from Ironman Boulder. I’m feeling very conflicted. How can it be my worst race ever but be an amazing ironman experience?  I went deep into the dark side. Where is Obi Wan “Ben” Kenobi to guide me out? The darker side is this; I like to project a sense of strength and ability. It’s part of what I do and who I am. I don’t want to be ordinary or part of the pack in the world of triathlons and cycling—maybe in anything. Maybe that’s why I’m really disappointed. Boulder called me out and put me in my place. So now it’s time to learn and be honest with myself and accept the result and even myself and be a better person and racer. This Ironman, and I believe most any epic event can do this to anyone, brings everything to surface. I see missing a goal by such a margin as a failure and I am afraid of that label. It’s totally irrational I know. Believe me. But it’s a real fear I must deal with.

With my brother and daughter
I hate to even say I had a bad race because I know success should be in finishing and that it’s not supposed to be about time, but rather in trying and giving my best. I’m sorry, but sometimes that’s not enough--sometimes it just isn’t. I’m being brutally honest. I’m happy I finished but only because I know I would’ve been more disappointed had I quit. I finished because of that fear more than relishing the joy of finishing. Fear of losing and failing is a powerful motivator. There I said it. That is the dark side of racing that few talk about.

My mom's, I'm adopted and my mom and birth mom
 got to see me finish, also my niece and daughter
some great emotions for all
For some people this isn’t a race, it’s an accomplishment or a triumph or a symbol of battling life and conquering something or fulfilling a dream. Everyone has a motive and I’m jealous of those people who crossed the finish line beaming with the joy of finishing. I crossed with disappointment and not enough pain. Truly the only joy I found was in the joy of others and in my family who came to watch.

It was their first euphoric Ironman finish and it gave them some understanding of why I tenaciously train. I’m told that I’m not always easy to know, but that day at least they understood my passion. Now I just need to understand it as well.

I realize I didn’t fail, but I missed my goal by 90 minutes. That’s an entire soccer game, or time to fly to Chicago—it’s a long time and a big miss for me. In my triathlon career I have never not been faster in a race the following year. Yes each race is different, but still I knew where I wanted to be and should’ve been.

heading up the day before to check in
My swim and bike were solid but I fell apart on my run and respiratory problems caused me to walk half of it. I got so frustrated I thought of asking a spectator to borrow their phone and call my brother at the finish line and apologize for being so late. Really, that is silly.

I share this with you because I want to be authentic to you and myself. I know I didn’t fail, that would’ve meant quitting because I wasn’t going to meet my time. Disaster would’ve been a non-finish because of an injury. I am greatly disappointed though.

T2 at Boulder High School
It’s been hard to answer or comment on the amazing support and well wishes from family, friends, people in my spin classes and others I just don’t know. I feel like saying how bummed I am but I feel like whiner then. And I’m not looking for sympathy. I still finished in the top 15%, which is partly why I feel so conflicted. That is quite respectable.

I think what I’m learning is it’s ok to be me. It’s ok to not be as good as I had projected or hoped for and really I’m the only judge that matters. I take this race as a life lesson and for the nearly 12 hours I endured the challenge I hope I found decades more of happiness that I lost somewhere on the course.

A reminder of more to come...
Oh and you know what? I’m signed up for next year, and I’m going to cross the finish line with pure joy, one way or another.

I’m Bill Plock and I can fail too, and can take it and be better for it.  People can judge for themselves and either accept me as I am or not, but I know who I am and I have a lot to work on both on and off the course, but don’t we all? Let’s just do it and be happy!

Rock on…..