Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Second Chances

As many of you know, over the last couple years I have been struggling with motivation to really bear down and go for good results. Yes, I still love to ride my bike but between feeling burned out, feeling out of shape, and feeling stressed with work and personal issues, I just couldn't get myself geared up to get and stay fast. It was a self fulfilling prophesy... I wasn't fast so it wasn't worth training because I was too far behind to see benefits, but I couldn't get fast because I wasn't making the effort to do so. This fall I was silently considering stepping down from the Dynamic Physical Therapy Cycling Team because I my heart wasn't in it anymore. I decided to give it one more year and to see how I felt this coming fall before making a decision to hang up the race bike for good.  This spring has been more of the same, I was starting to feel good when I got hit by the car and basically lost a month of riding because I couldn't grip the handle bars and/or brakes. I thought it was a sign that maybe I was meant to quit racing, and just stick to riding recreationally.
Silently contemplating whether it was worth it...

But then along comes the Greene County Road is always my favorite race of the year. It takes place on some of the very roads I grew up riding on back in the day. Occassionally, like last year, a new variation is thrown into the mix, and I finally learn where "THAT" road goes, but for the most parts, I could ride the routes blind. This years course was probably my favorite race design yet. I have literally done that exact route (minus the double loop) at least a dozen times in my life. I can always mask the pain by looking around and seeing things along the way that sparks fond memories of my childhood, like the picture below. It was the last time I got to ride with my Grandfather (far right) and we in fact rode out the Oak Forest Road from Waynesburg to Brave (but came home via Blacksville and 218). I can still remember some of the stories my Grandfather told to Dad, Bob Faddis, and me. 
Circa 1985... check out those shorts I'm wearing!

So when I lined up with the other 40, 50, and 60 plusers and Women's 1/2/3, I knew my day with them was going to be short lived because a steep climb awaited us just 4.3 miles in. We rolled out and I found my self chatting it up with Gary Rodosta & Ted McPherson. About a mile from the climb, the three teammates from World Cup Ski & Cycle (the eventual 1st and 2nd place finishers in 50+, I knew that things were about to get animated. And it did. I knew better than to try to stay with them, I just don't have my climbing legs these days, so I set a tempo I thought I could feel comfortable with and kept pedaling. I fell back through the field and found another rider who was riding at my pace. I just rode his wheel to the steep section and when he finally cracked, left him behind. When I finally topped the climb, there were 3 riders a short distance up the road from me and I knew if I could make it to them, my day would be a lot better than riding the rest of the race by myself. I first reeled in Jeff Palm (I think) of Flood Valley Velo, then Traci Rodosta of Breakaway Velo, and then finally we worked up to Chris McElhinny (eventual 60+ winner) of UPMC. A small groupetto of riders was just up the road from us and looked to be around 8-10 riders and I knew from the color of the team kits, I new that there were some strong riders in that group. I wanted to work with my group and chase down the other group, and so did Traci, we worked hard but never got things together enough to ever close the distance. We did pick up another rider who was caught in no mans land, so we charged on across Bluff Ridge Rd 5 strong. About the time we brought Scott House into the group, a hard charging single caught and passed us like there was lion chasing him. try as we might, we all missed the opportunity to get on his wheel and he was gone.
Almost to the top... but almost off the back
(Photo Credit to Fred Jordan)

No help back there... better look ahead and see who I can string together for the next 40 miles
(Photo Credit to Fred Jordan)

We lost sight of the group in front of us, except for an occassional glimpse of the tail end of their group as we curved in and out of the hills. But as we finished our first lap and started up the second climb, we had virtually given up on our chase. And as we topped out, I was about 50 yards back from my group. JR was marshalling at the top of the hill, and was giving me directives to close the gap, so I gritted my teeth and closed the gap. The second lap was more of the same, we tried working cooperatively but 1 rider just didn't have the hang of a paceline and tended to throw off the cooperation. but about 2 miles from the base of the final climb, there they were... the main group was back in sight. I knew I would be toast on the final climb either way, but for Traci, I decided to put her back in the field (that hopefully contained the leader of the Women's 1/2/3 field). I started squawking to the other riders to just help a little and I'd get them back to the group. I took long hard pulls at the front and over the next couple miles drug our group of 5 back to the field. Mission accomplished. As the road went up, I sat up and set a tempo that would carry me over the top as I watched the much larger group slowly roll away from me.

While I ultimately finished last in my field again, it was the first time in well over a year that I actually felt like I was in a race. So many times before, I'd start with the field and would find myself in a long solo time trial to the finish after the first climb, but this was different. With less than 5 miles to go, I had made it back to the wheels of the riders I have been chasing for the last 2 seasons... finally. And in the back of my mind, I knew that the month I lost after the accident had probably kept me from riding to the finish with them. On the drive home to Pittsburgh my mind kept rolling through the race like it always does and it was a great feeling to actually find myself smiling about racing again. And by the time I got home and started unpacking the car, I was feeling excited to have stuck it out this year with racing. My cup was no longer half empty, it was now half full. And with a lot of work over the next couple weeks, that cup will be filled to the top and overflowing again. Mind you I will never drink from that cup, because it will most likely be filled with the a collection of sweat, dirt, and grime, but I look forward to the day when I can successfully string together a series of podiums, instead of a series of DFL's. Keep checking in here, and I will pull you along my journey as well.

Toast... but loving life. :-)