Monday, September 10, 2018

2018 Cougar Slayer

It was a beautiful morning up in Nederland, CO to ride bikes; and I was happy to see friends at the start line.  Especially my buddy Ben Parman who I've seen come up as an elite racer since we met back in 2013.

The day started out at a relaxed pace which gave everyone a chance to chat and help each other navigate the confusing first part of the race.  At about a half hour into the race, Ben, Honey Stinger Bontrager teammate Scott, and myself started to pull away from the group.  After many wrong turns and some crashes, the three of us made it out of the labyrinth that was the first big loop.

Catching up, and up, and up

We all started up one of the biggest climbs of the day together, chatting and having a good time along the way.  The whole time, I knew Ben was holding back.  After a big descent, we started up another big climb on a dirt road.  This is where Ben started to show his abilities and pulled away.  Soon Ben was out of site up the mountain in front of me.  I followed chase, and Scott was soon out of site down the mountain behind me.  At the peak, I caught a glimpse of Ben leaving the aid station set up there.

After grabbing supplies, I continued the chase.  The next section was a rough, rolling 4wd road to a dirt road descent.  Somehow, I was able to pull Ben back in, and grabbed a Strava KOM for the section by doing so.  By the time we reached the next trail head I had caught up to him.  We started up yet another massive climb.  After a minute or two, Ben once again pulled away and that was the last I saw of him until the finish line.

Big climbing means big descending 

What seemed like a lifetime, I finally climbed to the top of the mountain which topped out at about 10,500ft.  There was no time to rest though since the next section was super technical.  It went from rolling terrain into the biggest descent of the day.  It was a crazy downhill navigating around a boulder filled trail.  Last year this section tormented me, but this year I was ready for it.  I was pretty proud of myself for clearing this treacherous terrain.

Into camel-mode

With the majority of the climbing out of the way, the descent ended to lend way to some more relaxing dirt road rolling.  It must of have been a little too relaxing because I blew by the last aid station.  By the time I noticed it, it was too late to turn around.  Luckily, I had packed an extra water bottle with me just in case.  Still, this was my only water bottle for next two hours (which I didn't know at the time).  Mother nature must of have been watching over me though because she provided me some cloud cover to cool things down.

Primal instincts to avoid carnage

Next on the plate after my aid station debacle was a primitive trail descent.  I haven't been so scared on a bike in a long time.  The trail was so steep that my saddle was on my chest — that's how so far behind I was on my bike.  I was certain my brakes were going to catch on fire at some point.  Amazingly, I avoided carnage, but missed a turn costing me a couple of minutes.

After a big descent, it was time for another big climb.  Although not nearly as long as others in the day, it was by far the steepest.  I still have no idea how I didn't put a foot down to hike up these beasts of climbs, but I was able to grind them out.  After a lot of cursing into the air, I embarked onto the last technical descent.  At this point, my hands/arms were about at their limits.  Perhaps the adrenaline gave me the extra grip I needed to complete the descent down to a canyon road.

Legs, don't fail me now

I was down to the last couple of miles, and one last short climb.  This is when the navigation file loaded onto my bike computer decided to act up.  After nearly five minutes of confusion, I finally found my way again.  Frustrated, I was determined to give the last climb every ounce I had left.  Let me tell you, it took every ounce too.  The last part was so steep I was seeing double.  Coming to the crest of that hill was extremely gratifying.

Still shaking from the cougar attack

After a long, fast, pavement descent I was almost done.  The last section was an easy dirt path ride away from the finish.  Nobody was in sight behind me, but that didn’t stop me from gassing it to the finish.  I like to say I was smiling at the end but being dehydrated while still shaking from the brutalizing trail I embarked on didn’t leave me in a happy place.  However, it only took a sip of Jagged Mountain Brewery’s special Cougar Slayer Blackberry Saison to put a smile back on my face!  Hands down, the Cougar Slayer was the toughest 69 miles and 9,505 ft of climbing (including all the missed turns) I’ve ridden!

The cougar is slayed!

I once again slayed the cougar, but not without a couple of scratches.  After a long battle on the bike, I came out alive with a 2nd place!  Seeing Ben come up through the years as such a strong racer, it’s an honor be second behind him.  I’m extremely proud to have earned the prestigious Cougar Slayer belt buckle!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Race Report: 2018 Desert RATS Classic

Often in racing, the hardest part isn’t the race itself, but the week coming up to the race.  Especially true for the first race of the season.  Early the week, nerves where high.  But by Friday, nerves turned to excitement.  When race morning finally came around, I was ready to race!

Too early for a fast start

I have done the Desert RATS Classic once before the year prior.  In 2017, the roll out was moderately paced — not too fast, not too slow.  I was hoping for the same this year, but no such luck.  Immediately, a pack of about six of us where off to the races at a crazy fast pace.  This pack included my friend Caleb Reese, a young fast cat of Pedal Pushers Racing.  Soon, the pack divided into two.  In front, a group of three.  Behind, me, Caleb, and another racer.
In this scenario, what usually happens is a fast group of racers start out too hot and fizzle by the end.  However, after the first thirty minutes of the lead group still pulling hard, I didn’t want to leave “fizzle” to chance.  It was time to start pulling them back in and close the gap.  Caleb and I took turns taking pulls to catch up, narrowing our group down to just us.
The goal was to catch up before the first big climb of Zion Curtain trail.  This trail is a particularly nasty one with a technical up and down.  Since the race is an out of back, you do it both ways as well.  As we entered Zion Curtain, we caught a glimpse of the lead group starting up the mountain.  We almost hit our goal, but not quite — our chase continued uphill.  Caleb was riding strong and started to pull away.  Nonetheless, I hold my pace because A) I knew I had it play it smart this early in the race B) there was no way I was holding the young’uns pace.  By this time, we were only an hour into a long day.

Get’em on the down

Barely keeping Caleb in site, we swiftly climbed the first big one of the day.  It wasn’t until near the top that I finally caught up.  As I passed, I told him that we needed to descend like mad men if we wanted rake them in.  I took the lead and hold on tight to rip the descent — with a big smile on my face of course.  It was time for me to pull away from Caleb.  In his defense, he was on a hardtail.  In addition, my Trek Top Fuel 9.8 excels on the downhills like an all mountain bike.  By the time we reached the bottom, the lead group was still nowhere in sight.  Thus, the hunt continued.

Dirt Road Flyin’

After round one of Zion Curtain, it was onto a long rough dirt road section.  First up was a steep climb, which at that point I was riding solo and feeling good.  Once on top, the trail continues upward, but only with a slight grade.  This is where Caleb came out of nowhere and we rode together until the next down descent.  Once again, I pull away flying down the mountain.  Nearing the midway turnaround point, I kept my eyes open for the top three to calculate the time gap.  The first-place racer was riding super strong with a big gap in front — chances were slim to none to catch him.  Quite some time past until before I saw second place roll by, and he was only two minutes ahead!  Third place soon came by with only a minute gap!  I hit the turn-around point ready to climb my way back into top three.  It was time to rock ‘n roll!

Zion, Round Two

After chewing up and spitting out the dirt road section going the opposite direction, my competition was still just out of sight.  I knew it was going to take a hard effort back up Zion Curtain, and this way was more brutal.  I settled into my pain cave, and up I went.  Although my physical sight was blurred with pain, my eyes remained on the prize.
Once at the top, still no site of anyone!  Although frustrated, this just fueled my determination even more.  I had one last chance to catch up by cooking the uber rough Zion Curtain downhill!  The key to going fast on the descents is staying low.  I kept repeating, “stay low”, to myself as I flew down the mountain.  I also repeated, “don’t die” a couple of times for good measure.  Near the bottom, after nearly four hours of chasing, I finally saw one of my competitors!  We finished Zions Curtain entering the last leg of race riding neck to neck.

The last miles

Within the last hour of the race, it was a cat and mouse game between the two of us.  I pulled away on the first section of flats and descents for a while, but he caught me on the last big climb.  I knew the race ended with one last descent to another flat section, so all I could do was hold on.  I kept him in site, and pushed like hell.  Within the last couple of miles, I began to slowly close in my competition.  It came down to the last feet and inches as I continued to close the gap.  Unfortunately, I still needed a couple of more inches to fully rake him back in.  It was only by a mere two seconds that my competition grabbed the top three from my grasp.  Second place only had 1:12 on me as well.

No podium, but a huge victory nonetheless

Although I just missed the podium, there wasn’t room for any disappointment.  I still beat my personal record by a huge twenty-nine minutes margin!  Plus, I couldn’t have been beaten by a nicer guy!  Great meeting you Cameron.

Major progression

To make this kind of progress in one year is a feat I’m still trying to grasp.  On paper, I averaged twenty-eight watts higher than the previous year!  For reference, my biggest gain over a year of training has only been ten watts in the past.  I have made drastic changes in my training and life during 2018, unsure how it would play out.  This first race proved that everything I’ve done thus far has been a massive success!  What can I say other than damn, I feel so Pro!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Acceptance onto a Pro level team — my lifelong pursuit

It is with great honor that I announce my acceptance onto the pro level team, Honey Stinger-Bontrager Off Road!  This is the highest honor I could ever image to attain as a mountain bike endurance athlete.  I also bring with me the expertise of Coach Lynda Wallenfels, LWCoaching.  In addition, I will continue to support XX2i Optics.  It’s been a long journey with humble beginnings to reach this accomplishment.

Overly humble beginnings

I grew up in the Quad Cities, IL as a chubby kid who was painfully shy, and had zero self-esteem.  To attribute to my non-existence self-esteem, I was held back in the first grade with a reading disability and put into special education.  Although after fourth grade I was no longer in special education and obtained solid grades thereafter, it didn’t matter.  Knowing that I would always be a year behind my first-grade class loomed over me. Thus, the crushing feeling of inadequacy tarnished my confidence as a youth.

Athletics early in my life

The only thing that gave me even a sliver of confidence was athletics.  In elementary school, my father put me and my brother on a ski team at a small local ski “valley” not far from where we lived.  From fourth to eighth grade, we spent our winter weekends racing mostly in Wisconsin.  I attribute much of my leg strength I have today to my ski racing days.

Credit to Ed Epperson for photo
Also introduced in my elementary years, I played football starting with flag in fourth grade, and then tackle fifth grade all the way to graduating from high school.  I started as center (I told you I was chubby) from fourth grade to freshmen year of high school.  I finally started to thin out after my freshmen year, and soon I wasn’t as big as the other linemen anymore.  Although I wasn’t as big, I was still ranked top three in squat among the team thanks to my ski racing days.  However, I struggled to get my bench press up.  Furthermore, I wasn’t fast compared to other non-linemen positions on the team who were more naturally athletic.  Thereafter my freshmen year I was never strong enough, big enough, or fast enough to be a starter again.

Even though I didn’t start, I still enjoyed staying athletic and being on a team so I stayed on.  I’m glad I did because I went on to learn an invaluable lesson from the football coaching staff.  They forever instilled in me that the body can be pushed far past the limits of the mind.  As an endurance athlete, this mindset is the strongest trait one can possess.  Very happy to have been taught that before entering the realm of endurance racing years later.

Finding my confidence

After high school, I stayed athletic with various athletic endeavors including power lifting and running short road races.  While pursuing my under-graduate degree in Springfield, IL; I found the most athletic success racing short (sprint) triathlons in the surrounding area.  As a college aged tri-athlete, I raced road triathlons on a 1999 Trek 6500zx mountain bike I lovingly called the green machine.  It seems fitting that I started on a Trek, and now will be proudly racing a Trek for Honey Stinger-Bontrager.  I bought the green machine brand new in high school from money I saved from being a lifeguard.  It wasn’t the best bike for road triathlons, but it still allowed me to discover my strength as a rider.

A later iteration of the green machine
Also during this time, I found success academically as I was close to graduating college with honors (cum laude).  Finally, being held back early in my education would no longer matter.  I should note that if my parents hadn’t made the decision to hold me back in first grade, I most likely would never have graduated from college.  Regardless, not having the notion of feeling behind loom over me anymore was a huge relief.  As a result, my self-esteem slowly started to build.

I wasn’t bursting with confidence, but I had enough to not be completely saddled with shyness anymore.  Around that time, I was introduced to a young flight attendant based in Chicago.  Her name was Megan, and I knew the second I met her I wanted to marry her.  I had no idea how drastically she would forever change my life.

Discovering my passion for mountain biking

After graduating college in 2006, I moved back to my home town of Rock Island, IL and was introduced to a small mountain biking club called FORC (Friends of Off Road Cycling). They had just opened a new trail system not far from where I lived, Sunderbruch Park. From the time I first rode singletrack, I instantly fell in love with mountain biking.  Around the same time, I found success in the corporate world and landed a job in my field of study.  Good thing too, because I needed the money for all the beers and bikes.

It wasn’t the love for mountain biking alone that drew me so close to riding trails.  I also fell in love with a bunch of dirty, beer drinking folks that were the mountains bikers of FORC.  As you can image, being painfully shy most your life doesn’t serve well for having many friends.  Then transitioning from being shy to never shutting up — well, that can produce a lot of awkwardness.   This small community accepted me with all that awkwardness anyway.  To this day, I still consider many in FORC as family — you know who you are, and I love you all.  You were, and still are a driving force in my love for mountain biking.

Credit to Rebecca "Bexter" Kloos Bernard for photo

I soon found myself mountain biking every day with my friends and spending my weekends building/maintaining trails in the local area.  After many crashes from pushing my limits far past my abilities, I quickly became a decent mountain biker.  In April of 2008, I entered my first XC mountain bike race. I won that race, and went on to winning the whole I-74 Race Series in the Novice class that year.

Endurance racing – my true calling

After winning the I-74 Race Series, I was hooked on competitive mountain bike racing.  The next year, I moved up to the Sport class and I took the same approach to training as always.  Simply train more and harder than the competition.  You would think that would work, but what I discovered was that racers who were more naturally athletic kicked my ass regardless how much I trained.  That is until I raced with the same racers during my first endurance race in Wisconsin.  I finally beat my competition, and by a good margin!  I discovered that day that when it comes to endurance racing there are no shortcuts, not even for the most naturally athletic.  Thereupon, my true calling in endurance mountain bike racing was found!

Pursuing greatness

Through success on and off the bike, after many years of feeling inadequate, I finally conquered the low self-esteem that plagued me most of my life.  This burst in my confidence helped me make the toughest decision of my life.  The love of my life was now a flight attendant based in Denver, CO, and there was no easy way for me to join her.

With a tremendous amount of love and support from my now wife, Megan, I quit my well-paying job in the Quad Cities to move to Colorado in Fall of 2009.  Other than having two job interviews lined up, I made the move without certainty of my future.  Luckily, one of the two companies I interviewed with hired me.  I took a sufficient pay cut in an area with a higher cost of living, but I was in Colorado.

Side note: I went on to work my way up at that company, and landed a job with a competitor years later.  With that new job, I reclaimed the salary I lost when I moved, and more importantly it allowed me to work remotely.  Thus, allowing me to become a digital nomad!  But that’s a whole other blog.

After taking the leap of faith and moving to Colorado and having a woman by my side that inspired me to pursue greatness, I felt I could achieve anything.  Once in Colorado, I decided to take my newfound love of endurance mountain bike racing a step further.  I dreamt a dream so massive and crazy that to this day I can’t recall how I got the idea into my mind.  My lifelong pursuit suddenly became about one thing — becoming a pro level endurance mountain bike racer.

Dreams are paved with rough roads

As with everything in life, things didn’t fall right in place in my endurance mountain bike racing career.  My first year of racing in Colorado, I DNF’ed (Did Not Finish) two out of the five races I entered.  The ones I did complete, my placement was deep in the back.  This didn’t deter me in the least bit though.  After spending a lifetime of feeling like a failure, I knew how to endure defeat regardless of how much was thrown at me.  Let me tell you, there was A LOT of defeat thrown at me.

The second year went much smoother, and by the third year I won my first race in the 30-39 age group; which is essentially Cat 1 in the Colorado endurance scene.  My fourth year I landed on the podium a couple more times in 30-39, and was top ten for several races.

In my fifth year of endurance racing I decided to move up to the pro/open class.  Although I didn’t feel ready, I knew that if I was ever going to compete in the pro class I needed to race at that level. For this reason, I made the move up and never looked back.

For all the nitty gritty details of my biking career, see my MTB Resume.

To be pro

Even though I entered the pro/open class in 2014, I never truly felt pro.  For a long time, it was my belief that to call myself a pro I needed to consistently be on the podium. Admittedly, I have yet to reach this accomplishment.   Although top placement is critical, it took me a long time to realize that there is a lot more to being pro.

Even if I’m not on the podium all the time (yet), my passion and drive to reach my highest athletic ability is undeniable.  Consistently year over year, my athletic ability has substantially grown, and I have yet to reach my peak.  When I do reach my peak, I believe that the rest will fall into place.  In the meantime, consistently being top ten with the occasional podium will have to sacrifice.  Coupled with fact that I’m now on a pro level team, it’s time for me to start truly feeling like a pro.

An accomplishment to embrace

My acceptance onto Honey Stinger-Bontrager Off Road team finally solidifies my place as a pro mountain bike endurance athlete.  It’s hard to believe that a chubby, painfully shy kid with no self-esteem could achieve such an honor — or is it?  As the saying goes, it takes pressure to create a diamond.  Perhaps having low self-esteem was my own personal pressure in life. It could have easily broken me.  Instead, somehow, I turned it into something beautiful — a lifelong pursuit as an athlete.  I could not be happier with how my life turned out, and I’m especially happy with my new team. #StingorBeeStung

Special Thanks

Special thanks to my father, John Collier (1950-2014), for encouraging a chubby kid to try out sports for more than just a day.  You supported me wholeheartedly when I did pursue them and were my greatest fan.  I’m sorry you weren’t in this world to see this accomplishment.  More regretful, I’m sorry you never met your grandson Nolan.  At least in your last months with us we were able to tell you that little Nolan was on his way.  I know that gave you some peace before leaving us all.  Without a doubt, you would be as proud of him as you were of me —because I know I sure am.