Our Road Continues: Ups and Downs Followed By Success!
When I last updated all of you on our Road2Rio, Ben Collins and I had just completed our first race on the Velodrome and then per took in a three day mini training camp in which we climbed over 17,000ft in Southern California. My legs were pretty well cooked after this training camp but when we went our separate ways, I flew back to Seattle and took a few days off training but began a marathon stretch at my PT job. I ended up working 19 of 20 days. Needless to say I wasn’t doing much besides working, sleeping and training. Ben on the other hand was traveling all over the place putting in some good racing on the professional circuit in triathlon. Ben started off the year with his first Ironman 70.3 victory of his career and then won his next race in Israel before coming back to Earth for his next few races. He must not have gotten enough of South Africa with me last fall because in early April Ben would race Ironman South Africa. Although this was a triathlon, he was sure to build an enormous base with the volume he needed to put in for this type of race.
Its ironic because back in 2008, Ben told me very bluntly, “There is no way I will ever do an Ironman.” He actually even said he wouldn’t do a 70.3 but I never believed that. Eight years later, Ben has now done two Ironman’s and it won’t be too long before he will have done his third. Anyone that knows triathletes could tell you that Ben has many more Ironman’s in his future, despite what he may say.
Ironman South Africa was an unexpectedly hot day and Ben had not acclimatized to the heat and he faded in the run to finish 10th overall in a strong field. At the same time, I brought Colin Riley out to Seattle for a little training camp of our own. Colin and I had amazing Seattle weather and got four straight days of riding around the beautiful lakes that surround Seattle. The green wilderness with mountains in the distance was a very different type of scenery on the ride for Colin compared to what he gets in Cincinnati. We road just under 200 miles in the four days with one day including Seattle’s version of Hollywood Hill. Here’s a little video recap of the Pain Train with Colin and I on board during our mini training camp in April. Also, we even included a little tourism and entertainment for Colin to ensure the trip was well rounded.
The remainder of April was rather uneventful with respect to the Road2Rio. Ben was busy enjoying a African Safari with his fiancé Abby, staying a little after to explore a little more of South Africa. Ben did however persuade Abby to go on an 80 mile tandem bike ride to the Cape of Good Hope where they saw penguins. Don’t worry though, they are still together so they are proving wrong the whole “divorce bike” stereotype associated with couples riding tandem bikes. If nothing else, I am sure this long duration together attached by two wheels was memorable. While in South Africa, Ben also shared the yummy Clif Bars that he had with a baboon that was roaming around. Actually, the baboon stole the Clif Bar from Ben's bag but at least we know these little thieves have good taste!
Back in the States, I remained in Seattle nearly the entire month of April except for one annual event that I always thoroughly enjoy, the CCVI Trolley Run in Kansas City. The Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired is probably the best and coolest school supporting children that are blind/VI. The Trolley Run is the largest 4-mile race in the world and is the largest fundraiser for the CCVI. It is an awesome event and i love every second of spendingtime with the children and the workers of the CCVI. Here's a little recap video from my 2016 CCVI Trolley Run experience.
The month of April hit me hard with health related set backs that resulted in very limited training and very poor recovery responses by my body. Although I felt as weak as a kitten during these days I got stronger mentally. The constant psychological struggle of wanting to train but realizing it was detrimental at the time was a constant one in my head. I had a great team of medical providers behind me that were tracking every single indicator of recovery and exertion rate. Coach Mark Sortino of Team MPI, USOC Dietician Liz Broad and acupuncture specialist Peter Schmidt were essential in getting my body to respond and begin to recover properly. The access to a NormaTec Recovery system was also very beneficial. I was sleeping up to 15hrs a day though and felt as though each day when I woke up I had done the Boston Marathon the day prior. The month of May was a day by day process in which I would do a number of tests to check my central nervous system and see whether it was responding to any stress I gave to my body. At this time, even sitting up from lying down or lifting my head was a stressor and resulted in a spike of my heart rate. Basically, whenever I moved my body was freaking out like it was being punished.
On May 16th, Ben and I would join the rest of the US Para-Cycling team for the UCI World Cup in Ostend, Belgium. We would compete in the time trial on Friday and road race on Sunday (May 22-24) and all of the best in the world would be there. For many countries this event was there Paralympic Trials so many of them were on their "A" game. I was still rebounding from my health issues and was most likely at about 70% of Max. Ben was coming off a stressful few weeks of trying to coordinate moving to Seattle, packing up his house in Chicago and still manage to get in the training he needed to. Needless to say, it was not exactly perfect leading into the trip but those were the cards we were dealt at that time.
We flew into the Brussels airport which definitely showed signs of change. Instead of being able to take our luggage out curbside and load it in the box truck we had to drag all of the 50+ large boxes that the team had across the street and down multiple floors to a parking structure away from the terminal. It was a little more challenging but the return trip back was even more challenging as security was even more for departures. Needless to say, we got all of our luggage and we were off to the smaller beach town of Ostend, which lay right along the North Sea.
The next few days we would scout out the course for the races. This was easier than most races as the course for the time trial and the road race would be the same. we didn't have to worry about hills on the course because there is not a single one in Belgium. The course had a very technical portion through the town that would bee very interesting in the road race. The part through town included 90deg turns that were often blind corners and the streets were the equivalent to US bike paths in width. In addition some of the corners were brick rather than cement which would make things very interesting if it got wet. Outside of the narrow technical section in town, the remainder of the course was primarily an out and back section out by the local airport which was often very windy.
Between training sessions, we spent most of our time at the team hotel which was quite interesting. Other than being filled to capacity with over 200 "Para" athletes, it also had its own kids play center that had a ball pit, playground and more. Although I was very tempted to jump into the ball pit, I was strongly encouraged not to because of my potentially immuno-compromised body that was still trying to recover to full strength.
On Friday, Ben and I raced the Time Trial. The distance was 25K and we would need to be on our "A" game with the best of the best racing. Looking to maximize our aero-dynamics, I switched my hand position to a much narrower grip on the bars to stay within Ben's body. I knew this was not a position I had spent much time in but I figured that with my body at 3/4 strength maybe the aero gains would help me make up for it. This was not a good decision by me as my upper body fatigued by the end of the first lap on the bike which set off a cascade of muscle fatigue. My core went out the door and then my legs. Ben and I finished in 12th place in the TT which was much worse than hoped for but we definitely learned two things. First, my body was still not recovered and second, don't ever do something new on race day. The second of these I was very well aware of and even preach to athletes that I coach, but sometimes when you are at an elite level and you feel as though you need to do something to get an edge your mind persuades you to do something you should not do. I let my mind talk to me too much. I will not do this again.
The road race was on Sunday and was sure to be interesting straight from the gun. Thirty tandems trying to race through sharp corners on bike paths is great for spectator entertainment but not exactly optimal for safety. The start was crucial as 200m from the start line there was a left hand turn. The race would much be determined by who got to that turn first. We had a little bit of a rough starts as another tandem cut us off right after the gun and Ben had not fully clipped in . His cleat slipped off the pedal as he attempted to clip in and we had to put our foot down for a split second. This was was all it took for the front pack to get out ahead. We sprinted back to catch the main pack but this was difficulty through the technical section. The road race was 12laps of 8.3Km. On the second lap, we were trying to pass this Irish team to gap up to the main pack and they proceeded to block us through every turn. This led to the main pack getting further ahead.
On the 3rd lap, the Italian team who is the reigning Gold medalist from London in the Time Trial got a flat and got back on and was sprinting to catch the main pack. We went with him and held on until the technical section. We were matching them through the turns but they were quicker coming out of the turns. They managed to gain 5sec on us going into the out and back section and they got away. Once we got out of their draft, we were unable to stay with them. This put us in "no man's land". There were packs of riders behind us and then the chase pack ahead of us. We still had 7 laps to go and the question was, "Do we slow down a bit so we can work together with the riders behind us to attempt to catch the chase pack or do we try to keep our gap between the riders behind and hope someone from the chase pack falls off that we could work with?" Ben noticed that we were keeping our gap with the riders behind and therefore we rode solo for the remainder of the race. No one from the chase pack fell back as we would have hoped. The group of riders behind us however began cutting the gap with 3 laps to go and Ben and I were determined to hold them off. As we got to the last 1K stretch of the race they were only 10sec behind and we sprinted with everything we had and managed to hold off the chaser by no more than a bike length. We had rode solo for more than half the race and therefore had spent enormous amounts of energy keeping the position without anyone to work together with. If the chasers behind us had any more real estate they may have snagged us. We finished in 13th place which again was not something to ride home about but given the situation, we knew going in that we could only be as good as we were on that day.
I didn't get much free time at all while in Belgium but I did manage to bring home some chocolate. Here are some of the other moments of my Belgium Para-Cycling World Cup experience!
Early that next morning (Monday), the team would depart the hotel at 4:30am for the Brussels airport. Ben would remain in Europe for a few more days to escape to the romantic love city of Paris with fiance Abby and I would head off to North Carolina to race the 2016 US Road Para-Cycling National Championships Time Trial on Friday May 27th with Colin Riley. Between arriving in North Carolina and racing, I managed to reunite with my motivation for getting RET The Wonder Dog, "Peanut". My good friend and amazing female guide, Caroline Gaynor is the proud owner of Peanut but for the next few days I was the one spoiling the little guy. I hadn't seen RET for nearly two weeks but Peanut calmed a little of my separation anxiety.
Colin Riley made the long trek down to Charlotte on Wednesday and we met him outside Charlotte in Huntersville, the location of the Paralympic Trials for Para-Cycling on July 2nd. The plan was that Colin and I would ride the trials course and do some scouting to prepare for the big race a month later. On Thursday, we then began the drive to Winston Salem to pre-ride the course for the National Championships Time Trial on Friday.
The time trial course for Friday was an out and back of rolling hills with the second half more uphill than the first. There was one thing that we were sure of and that was that it would be hot! I was feeling a little better in terms of body recovery and Colin and I were determined to repeat as National Champions at this event. Our start time was right around 10:30am and we hit it straight from the horn. We were killing it on the first half but the second half was much tougher and it seemed to just keep getting hotter. The time trial in cycling is all about putting yourself in the "Pain Cave" and seeing how long you can stay in there. Fortunately, this is one of my specialties and therefore we were able to finish strong as well. Colin and I finished the 32K course averaging right at 29mph and this was enough to repeat as National Champions by 1:40 over the next rider Chester Triplet and Kyle Knott. Colin and I were happy with the way things turned out. We didn't celebrate too long though because Colin had to head straight from the race to a wedding, (thankfully not his own) and I had to get to the airport to head back to Seattle because Brittney and I would be leaving the next morning at 5:30am for Cancun to relax and recover prior to the final home stretch leading into the Paralympic Trials on July 2nd.
So there you have it. You are all caught up on the up and down roller coaster ride that I call my Road2Rio. I try to leave the drama, emotional and political parts out of these updates so they are not longer than this already is. I hope you have enjoyed another update on the journey to Rio. I look forward to the next update and the recap of the trials on July 2nd in Charlotte.
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The United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) has helped me in setting up an Athlete Development Account in which any and all of my supporters can make a tax deductible non-profit donation in which 100% of the donations go towards Our Road. These funds go towards purchasing equipment, travel, race fees, lodging/housing and food for both myself and my guide/pilot along our journey. On top of that I have had a gracious donor offer to match any donation 100% up through $12,500. This means, if you give $100 your donation become $200 and if you give $500 than your donation becomes $1,000. Any bit of support counts, just as every ounce of energy into the pedal will get me closer to Rio.
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