“The Faceplant”

IMG_2349root If you examine the photo above, (click on the title of this blog if you don’t see it), you will see what I would term as one of the great face plants of all time. This is my friend Scott Root who was leading a mountain bike race down in West Virginia when he had a slight collision with another rider that sent him flying and tacoed his wheel. You can see this in the flying debris above Scott’s head. Now I have been over a lot of handlebars in my time both on the road and on a mountain bike and also have caught an edge on skis that sent me careening on my face down a snowy slope, but I have never seen a plant as heinous as this. Interestingly Scott survived and actually drove himself home and was nursing what he termed as “hole” in his shoulder. He had the foresight to go see a doctor the next day but somehow managed his pain after the race and on the long drive back from the mountains of West Virginia.

I tell you all of this not only to give you appreciation of the collossal face plant, but also to tell you a little bit about Scott Root. I first ran into Scott years ago when he was an outstanding swimmer and a terrific athlete even at a young age. We are contemporaries and his prowess as a swimmer was well known in the AAU circles. He went on to a very successful high school and college career and I ran into him years later when he entered the fray of mountain bike racing. ” Weren’t you the Scott Root that I knew years ago as a swimmer?” The affirmative answer also led to many discussions which included the fact that Scott was the silver medalist in the World Masters Mountain Bike Race in Quebec a number of years ago. He is a very successful local and regional racer and to this day still races in the Expert Category rather than compete with the Masters who are his contemporaries. Point being that Scott still rides and races at a very high level despite the fact that he is a contemporary of the 59 year old kid. Some of us have kept up riding and staying in shape because it is important for good health. Scott takes it one step further by staying in race shape and never letting his guard down over the years.

Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin refer to the classics bike racers as “hard men of the peloton.” If you look at my post from last week, you will see George Hincapie competing in Paris Roubaix and he surely was one of the “hard men of the peloton.” Scott Root would qualify as one of the hard men around here. Not many guys could pick themselves up after a face plant like that and get home with a “hole” in their shoulder and not seek medical help until the next day. Not many guys his age can ride at that level against a much younger competition and still win and place in most Expert Races. Not many guys are that dedicated that they commute to work on a bike in all kinds of winter weather and searing summer temperatures. Scott does and remains a very fit individual. There is a lesson here. I always try to encourage folks to get involved with outdoor pursuits and even at my age, you can keep doing what you have been doing as long as you are consistent and nothing catastrophic happens to you. Ratchet it up a level and some of you can continue to ride, run, ski hard and do it at a very high level. Ratchet it up one more level, and you continue to train and race like Scott and keep being competitive at an older age. No matter where you find yourself, keeping fit and testing your limits, can be an enlightening and productive way to spend your off time. You would be amazed to see the older athletes out there today competing and just partaking in high level outdoor pursuits. You don’t quit playing because you get old, you get old because you quit playing. You don’t have to be a “hard man of the peleton” but you also don’t have to let age dictate your fun or lack thereof.

One other comment on the “Faceplant”. Many of us have faceplants in life that do not happen over the bar of a bicycle or on a pair of skis. Some of us have things going real well and then all of a sudden we have a job loss, the loss of a spouse, issues with children, aging parents, any number of things that can lead to a virtual faceplant but a tough experience nonetheless. Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it. Can you survive the faceplants in life? I have had my share both literally and figuratively but I always find that having a positive attitude and counting my blessings in life help me through these “plants”. Never underestimate the power of thankfulness and prayer as you go through life’s faceplants. You may not be banging your head off the asphalt like Scotty here but if you take his attitude and get up to fight another day, you can be a “hard man” in your own right aided by the experience of a fall and the courage to face another challenge- day by day. Keep riding, running, skiing, swimming, whatever floats your boat and thanks for reading and following the blog.

Transition- Oh! The Pain of It All

FShincapiephoto I hope you all enjoyed my blasts from the past with the “Best of Chronicles of McCloskey”. I tried to use those to transition to the new season of blog posts following the winter posts and winter activities. As I made my last turns of the season today at Whiteface in the Adirondacks, I felt my usual melancholy of another ski season coming to an end. I know that it has been a long, tough winter for a lot of folks, but I love the winter and I love to ski and it always makes me a little sad when I make the final turns of the year. But, spring is here and the anticipation of the spring and summer activities makes the transition a little easier. Or does it?

If you look at the picture above of George Hincapie suffering in the Hell of the North- Paris Roubaix, it reminds us all that the Spring Classics in Europe are under way and that the suffering that the pros endure will trickle down vicariously to our spring rides on the road and mountain bikes. In the days when I used to race a bike, I paid for all of those ski days and light fitness maintenance in the winter when I dragged the bike out and climbed up that first hill in the spring. I suffered trying to get into shape the best way I could but there is a huge difference between riding rollers and running flat trails in the winter, and actually getting back on the bike and climbing a real hill again. The spring brings back painful memories of trying to shed the winter pounds and getting some miles in on the road and mountain bike.

I can remember clearly doing some early time trials on the road bike with our ACA Bicycle Club and feeling horrible as I pushed myself to my first posted times of the year. I can remember the unpleasant feeling of throwing up all over a tree at the end of the trial and laying on my back wondering why I tortured myself this way. I remember my Greenlee Mountain Bike friends convincing me to do some early season races like the event up in Coburn,Pa where the climbs were painful and muddy and the fire roads at the top of the ridges were still frozen. Guys were dropping like flies as they slid on the ice into the trees and it was all I could do to keep the bike upright and descend in one piece. I was conservative and took my time but it was still an early season, hair raising, rude awakening. It took a while but eventually I was able to get into some reasonable shape but the early season suffering was always something I did not look forward to after a long, fun winter of skiing.

Fast forward to today and the 59 year old kid has a different philosophy. I don’t pressure myself to ride hard to get into shape. With age comes patience and I know that eventually I will get into shape but when the pain on a climb becomes too much, I back off to a reasonable pace and enjoy the ride instead of keeping the back of some guys jersey in my immediate vision. There is no rush anymore to get into shape as quickly as I can. At my age, you can “ease on into it” and I encourage any newcomers to the sport of cycling to do the same. Also, if you are a grizzled veteran like me, I encourage you to do the same and enjoy the ride with me. Let the fast guys go and kill themselves. We have earned the right not to do that anymore. We are not the fast guys- we are the fun guys. Enjoy the ride. I tell anyone who is embarking on an exercise program to always ease into it because if you push yoursef too hard, you will find an excuse not to do it. But if you have patience and slowly develop your fitness base, you will not only enjoy the fresh air, scenery, and exercise, you will also benefit from the mental well being of being on a bicycle. Ease on down that road or trail. You can push yourself eventually and you will know when you feel like you are getting into some decent shape. But for me, there is no need anymore to blow lunch on that tree. I would rather have a nice ride, get into shape and eat that nice enjoyable lunch afterwards.

One other thing that Chris Crowley says in his book,” Younger Next Year” is to get the best equipment that you can afford. Good equipment in any sport makes all the difference in the world and gives you an opportunity to enjoy your sport with the confidence that you have a good ride under you. What the heck, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow, why deny yourself? Something that you are going to ride 3-4 times a week or more should be something that you look forward to using. Old guys like me usually have good equipment but guess what- we need it! Chris Crowley also says that if you keep the same regimen in life, you will be able to do the things that you like to do well into your sixties, seventies, and even eighties. Carpe Deium folks- it’s spring! Thanks for reading.

The Wild and Wonderful West Virginia NORBA

pat 2 I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you the zany story and experience of the 58 year old kid at the NORBA National Mountain Bike Race in Snowshoe, West Virginia. NORBA stands for National Off Road Bicycling Association which, at the time, ran the national series of age group and professional mountain bike racing in the U.S. I had raced bicycles for 25 years and had my experiences sailing over hay bales in tight corners in road criterium races, doing spectacular endos over the bars and into a face full of mud in mountain bike races, throwing up after contesting a time trial in hot humid conditions. I have been dropped off the back of my group in long road races like the Tour of Cayuga Lake and had some moderate success in regional events racing with my friends. I was not in the league of guys like Scotty Root or Mac Martin who rose to national class heights from our area, but I was able to hold my own training and racing with my friends as a weekend warrior.

So my pal Ralph Phillips calls me on my 51st birthday and says,” Paddy- why don’t we race in the NORBA Nationals in Snowshoe next summer?” Now I had slowed down considerably after my 49th birthday as my obligations with my son began to increase with ball games, practices, and the like. However, I had always been just off the podium in previous NORBA Races and I always was miffed that I never medaled in one of those races. So Ralph says we should enter the Sport Division and that I had a good chance of medaling in my age group. The Sport Division is an interesting age group division in that it catches guys who don’t want to get their butts handed to them in the Pro Expert Division by National class age group racers. These sandbaggers move down a class to Sport and contest for the prizes. On the other end of the spectrum are the guys who have some success regionally in the beginner class and decide to move up only to be surprised when the gun goes off. It really is a catch all division and if you don’t want to face Scott Root, Gary Fisher, Steve Tilford,and other killers,you can enter this class and have a chance to stand on the podium for your age group. Ralph was confident that with a little training, I might have a shot at that elusive medal for over 50.

Fast forward to race day and it poured biblical rains the night before and the course was a mess. The announcer warned us at the start line about the deplorable conditions and to be careful. We lined up by age group with women, juniors and age group men. As the gun went off, I found my place with the other gray hairs and a mixed bag of other age group men, women and juniors. As we approached the first downhill, it looked like they had plastered the downhill through the trees with axle grease and people were crashing right and left. A lot of racers got off their bikes and tried to walk down the hill but that was no better because it was like walking on butter. I decided to stay put way back in my saddle and slide my way on the bike down through the trees and to my surprise, I made it all the way down to the accolades of the few brave souls who were spectating and encouraging the group in this treacherous descent. After I collected myself I moved forward on the course only to find that the conditions had turned to peanut butter and the further I rode, the more mud collected on my bike until I had what felt like a 70 pound bike. I dismounted and ran with the bike stopping along the way to remove clumps of mud with my hands to assist the turning of the gears and the wheels. Besides this maddening condition, it was extremely humid and hot and I was sweating like I had just gotten out of the shower. Racers were moaning and complaining all along the course and as we began the long brutal climb to the start/ finish line at the top of the mountain, we all tried to make the bike as light as possible.

As I made my way up the climb I noticed that there were a lot of people who had given up after one lap. Ours was a two lap race and there were a lot of juniors, women and gray hairs that had enough and as I came through, the thought crossed my mind. But I had never, ever quit anything in my life and I was not about to start now seeing that this was most likely the last race I would ever do and that I was getting a little long in the tooth for this sort of thing. Also, the time needed to train and travel to these events was not feasable and I decided to slog along and finish the damn thing. One more descent of death on the axle grease through the trees safely and one more slog through the peanut butter. As I approached the final climb to the finish, I was totally dehydrated and out of water. I stopped quickly at a hunting club and drank from a hose for a short time. I didnt really care what the source of that water was but it was cold and I filled my bottle.

I got within 800 feet of the finish line and I saw Ralph who had already completed the race. As soon as I saw him, my hands started to cramp out of control and I couldn’t hold on to the bars. I also felt my thighs and calves cramping and soon I was on the ground writhing in pain. Spectators and fellow racers were encouraging me to continue because I had only a short time left to the finish. I rubbed my legs and thighs, stretched my hands and with one last “old dude” effort, I mounted the bike and pedaled accross the finish line and collapsed. The announcer loudly exclaimed,” and yes ladies and gentlemen, here is Pat McCloskey from Sewickley, Pa crossing the line as the lone survivor in the over 50 class of the Sport Division of the NORBA Nationals at Snowshoe,West Virginia.” A rather inauspicious ending to my 25 years of racing bikes ……but I got my NORBA medal and a Class Division Champion Red Sweatshirt which was pretty cool SWAG.

The picture above is of the presentation and you will notice indeed that there are no others on the podium. This picture is one of the funniest pictures that I own and I wanted to share it with you. Nobody else in my division was stupid enough to do another lap in the heat and muddy conditions of that day. But, the 51 year old kid at the time, persevered with his rock head and Ralph was proud of me for finishing. That was it for the racing. As I said, it was a rather dubious ending with a funny result but I will always remember the NORBAS and friends like Ralph who take you out of the comfort zone and put you in a position to push yourself beyond what you think is plausible. Thank you Ralph and thanks to you all for reading.

The 24 Hours of Canaan

photoNiteRider2 So I am at the start line in Davis, West Virginia representing the Vet division entry for Greenlees Mountain Bikes. The atmosphere is electric as the clock winds down to signal the start of this 24 hour team relay on the old motocross enduro course at Blackwater. Only there are no throttles in this race. All legs and lungs as the group lined up at the entrance to the river crossing at the very beginning of the course. West Virginians make mountain bike racing hard and Laird Knight was no exception in his innaugural races in this format. http://www.grannygear.com As the gun went off, we all ran towards the river with our bikes on our shoulders and waded accross the thigh deep water until we reached the trail on the the other side. Soaking wet, we were now in the race and the bumping and positioning on the trail was in full swing. As we found our pace, I let the adrenaline calm down a bit and got myself into a good peddling rhythm with some other guys as we made our way on the course. The next obstacle was a group of rocky ledges called “The Moon Rocks” which were a challenge to even run much less ride. It was followed by a swampy,thigh deep bog which represented another hike a bike until the trail emerged again. The finish of the course was non-eventful until we reached the end of the lap at the river crossing again. The portage of the bike began again and exhausted I reached the exchange tent where Chuck Greenlee was waiting to take the baton from me and begin his lap.

The important thing in 24 Hour Racing is to try to get some rest because your next lap was usually in another couple of hours. You had to clean and maintain your bike for the next ride( we had the luxury of shop mechanics from Greenlees and Dirty Harry’s) helping us. http://www.dirtyharrys.net We also had to get something to eat and then lay down in the small motel that was in Davis at the beginning of the course. Usually you had another afternoon lap before you had to rest again and then the real racing began- the night laps. Riding a mountain bike at night on rocky, muddy treacherous trails is a challenge seeing that 90% of all mountain bikes are never taken off road much less at night. I had some experience riding in North Park at night but racing at night is a whole other kettle of fish. In West Virginia it is eerie at 4 AM in the woods. The race is pretty spread out by that point and your light is fixed on the trail ahead of you. When someone came up on you it made you jump a little and when you came up on someone ahead of you, it was creepy too. Often times you heard things in the bushes beside you and you couldn’t help to wonder if it was a bear, or something else that goes bump in the night. One guy came up on me from behind and his light was burned out. He asked if he could folow me and I said sure. It wasn’t long before he fell off and I felt bad leaving him but I had a responsibility to my team mates to get back as soon as I could. Kind of like the guys who climb over people on the way to Everest or the selfish skier who says,” no friends on a powder day.” Oh well.

Our group was doing real well in the Vet division and as we approached daylight, I saw Tim Sweeney,my roomate, getting a cup of coffee in our room. The next thing you know, he falls over in his bed with the coffee spilling all over the place. He had passed out and I quickly tried to revive him to no avail. So, I managed to get him into my Blazer and started to drive towards the hospital in Oakland, Maryland. Tim would groggily come to and then pass out again leaning on my shoulder. I had to drive and push him towards the window. I was going about 90MPH on Rt.219 because I didn’t quite know what to think about Tim’s condition. All I knew was that I better get him quickly to the hospital. As I made my way to the emergency room, a nurse met me and I explained what had happened. She was a mountain bike racer as it turned out, and said that Tim was dehydrated. Tim was an expert racer and as all of our guys did, gave his all on all three of his laps to that point. Several of our guys had done the same and could only ride three laps. Unfortunately they were counting on me to do more because I paced myself and had some gas left in the tank for the morning laps. Knowing my fate, the nurse said to pick Tim up at the end of the day and I should go back to do my next lap. So there I was driving 90MPH again down 219 only to peel into the parking lot to my team mates yelling to hurry up because it was my lap. I didn’t even have time to explain why I was driving and they pushed me towards the river for my fourth lap.

Coming into the finish area after 4 laps, I was spent and the other guys asked me if I could do one more. They were so fast that they had expended all of their energy on three laps and I was the last guy to be able to make up more laps. Cramming some bananas down my throat and downing some Gatorade, I got on my bike and went out for my final lap. Being slow and methodical and saving energy in endurance races of this type can be a blessing or a curse. In this case, it helped our score, but in my eyes, it was a curse because I was trashed. Wading through the river for the last time was cold and I began to cramp. I made it to the other side and laid down for at least an hour talking to friends recounting the race and the harrowing drive to Oakland,Md. I always seem to get into some kind of pickle in events and this 24 hour race was no exception. We won the Vet division, our experts won their division, it was a successful jaunt to Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia for the Greenlees boys. Tim spend the day on a gurney but was glad that we did well. Racing or just riding in West Virginia is not for the faint of heart. I went back for another year and did some other 24 hour events over the years. But the Canaan experience is one that I will never forget. Tim won’t either. That gurney ruined his back. Thanks for reading.