The Giant

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By early afternoon, the day before Bastille Day, I was on the twisting country roads, riding to Mont Ventoux.

Just the day before, I had flown into Paris from Boston, a last minute trip to visit a friend that had turned into a surgical strike to see stage 12 of the Tour de France. Just that morning, I was on the TGV to Avignon. Just an hour before I was in the Renault navigating my way through Provence to the bike shop where I had rented a bike.

I was happy just to be on a bike after the shop in Beaume-de-Venisses had screwed up my reservation, first telling me that daily rentals didn’t start until 6:30 in the evening and then that I had reserved the wrong size. It took me and two Danes to get it sorted out with the French shopkeeper. It was France, so I expected nothing less. The Bianchi Integro I had rented was nothing in comparison to my Look 695, but it would do for the day next few days, especially with its compact, ultra-low gearing.

I had been a fan of the Tour and of Mont Ventoux in particular since 1985. It was CBS Sports schmaltzy, high-pathos account of Le Ventoux in 1987 that made we want to ride it and it to suffer like those riders I saw. Suffer for glory and greatness. Continue reading

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Longsjo, Or Why I Can’t Stop Doing This


Longsjo didn’t even seem like a good idea at the time I registered:

  • Three races in three days–more back-to-back racing than I’ve done in years and only my second bike race of the season.
  • Pro 1/2 category, the longest distances with the fastest riders–didn’t want the risk of crashing in the Masters races.
  • $60-plus entry fees (per day!) and pretty much guaranteed not to make it back–but still cheaper than therapy.

But I had been training intensively on the bike and feeling progress so it seemed like the best way to test myself. And when presented with the options of doing something hard, or doing something harder, I’ll invariably choose the harder path.

The Ritual

I’ve always loved the preparation for a bicycle race, from when I was young. Wash and lube the bike. Pack the gear bag with everything you’ll need for race day, plus extra for every conceivable weather conditions. Fill the bottles. Load the car. Pin the numbers on the jersey in the hallowed 7-pin manner. Pump up the tires. Warm-up while listening to music. I did a textbook trainer warm-up all three days because I knew the racing would be fast. One final piss, then swap out the bottles, chug some Mountain Dew, and line up to race. Wait on the line while they call up the better riders. Have a clean start.

I’ve done this, with minor variations, for every race for 30-plus years now and, it’s safe to say, I’m still perfecting it.

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Time Machine

In the early afternoon, the rains came and left the roads slick and covered with leaf debris. I rolled across shattered pavement, over potholes filled with water, past tumbledown stone walls, farm fields and through thick groves of trees. The tires of my bicycle kicked the grit of the road up onto my legs and the brown leafy bits stuck to them.

I was on familiar terrain — roads I had ridden for the years of my youth but had not ridden in the last twenty, not since I was a full-time racer, not since I was fitter and faster. Roads that had etched into my memory long summer days of riding, of steep climbs and even steeper descents, of freshly tarred road surfaces and small chunks of gravel that kicked up and clinked against the downtube and chain stays of the bicycle. Days of freedom and exploring, the feeling of being the first person on a bicycle ever to ride these roads, of rising to the challenge of improbable climbs, of promises to never dismount and walk. Days that became years, of fitness found and then strength and power…

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Tiny Robot

A few years ago I started working on a short film with my friend, Naveed. He had become intrigued by the rituals related to cycling: the preparations, the superstitions, the motivations.  The project turned into something quite more meaningful.

Those of you who have followed my writing over the years will understand the role Romeo has played and how I’ve used cycling to work through the loss. This film communicates more, in many ways, than simple words ever could.

For more details and credits, checkout tinyrobotfilm.com

Gapped

Brandon Gap Vermont bike racing

As mid-July approached and the days grew heavy with heat, I found myself reminiscing of the long Vermont climbs I raced when I was much younger. I had recently dropped my son off at camp in Plymouth and as I drove along Rt. 100 and the vaguely familiar roads near Killington, I somehow conceived the notion to ride again some of those old climbs: Rochester Gap, Middlebury Gap and Brandon Gap.

I drove to Bethel in the humid, early morning, parked my car, unloaded my bike, got dressed, packed my pockets full of food and spare tubes, then started riding north on Rt 12. The sky was clear. The air was thick and soft. The wind urged me along the valley road.

The left turn onto Camp Brook came much quicker than I expected and then I was already climbing Rochester Gap.

I had never raced up this one, as far as I could remember, but I had driven over it in the dark and the snow a few seasons ago to get to a ski race at Rikert. With the morning sun hitting the eastern slope and the heat collecting on the back of my black jersey, remembrances of snowy nights and slipping tires melted away.

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Boston 2015

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After last year’s Marathon, I was pretty sure I didn’t need to run it again.

But then registration opened last fall and I had run a qualifying time in the 2014 race. So I signed up. Just in case I changed my mind.

After a summer of bike racing, I switched to dryland ski training, and running was a big part of it. I was running well, without injury. I ran PRs in the BAA Half-Marathon and a 5k in early December. I was running to run. Maybe for fitness. Maybe for cross-training. Maybe to outrun my problems. The idea of the Marathon was there, but there was never a training plan and I wasn’t making any decisions until spring.

Then there was the winter. And my separated ribs in Monte-Saint-Anne. And the record-breaking snow fall. And the cold. I still ran. Maybe once or twice a week. I did a lot of skiing. The season was better for being on the snow than on the road. Seriously, it was hard to find the road most of the time. Heartbreak Hill was covered in snow in most of the winter. I invested in studded running shoes. And I didn’t worry about the Marathon. Because I hadn’t yet decided.

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I squeezed as much as I could out of the ski season. Last year, I gave up a lot of time on the snow to train for Boston. This year, I didn’t worry too much about it.  I raced the Tuesday Night ski races until the slushy end.

In early March, I drew up a plan. If I was going to run the Marathon, I would need to ramp up my mileage. I only had about 6 weeks to work with. I had plenty of aerobic fitness to work with, but the legs were questionable and potentially unreliable after 20 miles.  There were risks. If I ran too much, I might end up injured. Too little and the Marathon would be a miserable experience.

So I built a plan around two concepts:  No really long runs. And no taper.

Instead, I stacked my runs, doing two longish runs back-to-back, rather than one really long one. This loaded my body and legs more quickly but left room for a little recovery, and — in theory — would encourage my body to adapt more quickly.  I didn’t have time to accommodate a taper, either, which was less a concern because the taper was always an awful experience with the fatigue, allergies and restless legs making me worry.

After 4 weeks of Marathon-focused training, I decided on April 1st that I would go for it.

It’s been full-on since then. No holding back. I’ve run speed workouts. I stacked 10-20-30km runs day-for-day. I got my massages. I’ve recovered. I tried not to think about a target time. I’ve run the finale several times because my office is now just a few blocks past the finish line on Boylston.

The last few days approaching the Marathon have been a struggle. I feel tired but fit. I can sense my body wanting to go into full recovery mode, and I’ve been fighting it by maintaining the distance and intensity.

I’m sick of running at this point. I’m ready for the bike. But the city is buzzing with runners and all the signs of the Marathon coming. And the energy is infectious. Last year’s race and motivation was very different for me and my family. This year has been under the radar, less stress, and may end up being a more comfortable race.

I’ll know in a few days just how well this plan worked out.