I rode the Festive 500 the first year Rapha put it out there, back before Kid #3 and when I was still racing on the road with any regularity. It was tough but doable as I had a job where I could ride at lunch and group rides to jump on to burn up some of the miles. It got tougher each year after that. Travel days, work, riding less in general, another child, a move. It all added up, but I used it almost every year to try to motivate a burst of riding. I made it a shorter and shorter distance down the track each year, so to speak. Last year we were away over Christmas and I didn’t even try. I think the year before I made it to Dec. 26 before admitting defeat.
I hadn’t much thought about it this year, until something clicked in late November and I knew I had to try again, despite an inconsistent cyclocross-focused training schedule that rarely saw me riding more than 60 minutes at a shot. I was suddenly determined this year would be different, this would be the year I pulled it off. With a half-day of work scheduled for December 24 and Christmas Day falling on a Friday, I had a good chunk of time to knock out some miles at the start before my wife went back to work the following Monday and I would have to work things around hanging out with the kids, dinner and bath times, and the like. I knew this would eventually involve some night riding. OK, a lot of night riding.
December 24: not at all an auspicious start. The plan had been to get up early to tack some extra km on the ride in to work. Did I mention I have largely lost the ability to wake up early? The snooze button and I have a difficult relationship. Half the time I don’t even remember the alarm going off. So no pre-work ride apart from the commute. Nonetheless rewarded for making the effort to ride in with a great sunrise, though. On the way home, I tacked on some extra, enjoying the daylight ride down Berlin’s Ku’damm, delighting in the Christmas lights and last minute shoppers. Rolled up in time to make it to Christmas Eve mass and my kids in the pageant. Well, one of them. The oldest was too cool to be in the play and the youngest slept through the whole mass, missing his potential star turn as a sheep. I got some miles on the board and felt pretty good for it, despite the worry that I was already behind schedule. 40 km done/ 460 remaining
December 25: Headed out after the Christmas morning bonanza into weak sunshine and a narrow window before guests started piling in for Christmas dinner. Between the dark and the holidays and not having hooked up with a team here, I was expecting to be alone for most of this week. This time I actually had some company, with a guy joining me for a loop around the Havel and Sacrow lakes. “You doing the Festive 500 too?” he asked, rolling up from behind. He was clearly in much better shape than me as I was often just under or at threshold just sitting on. Got the ride done faster as a result but there was no way I was going to be able to keep that up every ride and survive this thing. The GPS battery helpfully died about 9km from home, which meant for the rest of the week I was also obsessing about getting in that “extra” nine kilometers to make sure I got proper credit. And I started getting “where are you?” calls and texts for the last half hour, meaning I had clearly started making people nervous about whether there would be anything on the table for Christmas dinner. 61/399
December 26: The anxiety grows. Slept in too long, so another day of working the ride in between late breakfast and afternoon prep for a Boxing Day dinner (fewer guests, but still some cooking to be done.) Also, another day well shorter than the 65km a day you need to average to stay on track. Starting to get nervous as I’m three days in, behind schedule, and patience at home is wearing thin. These are the days where there’s actually someone at home to watch the kids, too. What’s going to happen when I only have pre-dawn, twilight and after-dark hours to get this done? A big day (or two?) looms in my future. Weather is still weirdly warm; was out in winter jersey (no jacket) and no gloves. 44/355
December 27: Brunch. F’in brunch. If there’s something that separates racers from non-racers, it’s brunch. If training is key, you don’t spend your Sunday mornings sitting around burning up perfectly good daylight and hoping your kids aren’t trashing the upstairs bedrooms while trying to make polite conversation and not letting your anxiety show about how low the sun is sinking in the sky. Instead, you’re out there training. Don’t get me wrong, our neighbors are lovely, lovely people and very generous and it was a fun time. But the other half of me was freaking out about how long we were there. First night ride of the week, and the weather started to turn. Hungry the whole ride, obsessing over the Boxing Day leftovers of spiral ham sitting in the fridge and the jalapeño cornbread on the counter. Starting to get paranoid about my legs, too, setting the power meter as a restrictor plate so I don’t go too hard and trash myself before the end of the week. Constantly hungry, paranoid, and anxious – I sound like a drug addict. 43/312
December 28: Rode in the dark and cold as long as I could manage, staring straight ahead and zeroing in on that focus point, that spot of perfect stillness within. Turning the most perfect circles I could with my legs and thinking “action through non-action” again and again and again. I was trying to run to myself by riding away, seeking to capture that stillness so I could hold on to it and produce it when I need it. Like when after a great day checking out the new T-Rex skeleton and having a blast bopping around as a wolfpack of four, everything melts down over dinner and bath time and I’m left furious and loathing myself. So I rode off into the dark and sought that focus point as long as I could until the phone rang with worry. These are not normal times to be out riding a bike and I’m grateful for the holidays for the lack of cars and the way I can ride by the cozy houses with their twinkling lights out in the front yard and slip in and out of neighborhoods with no one even looking out their windows to see me pass by. I want that lonely feeling because I want it to make me want to be home when I’m there, where I can find that focus point and that stillness in the middle of chaos. And the worried phone call brings me home and I wonder if this was the part where Shackleton’s boat is frozen in place, where the whole goal comes splintering apart. 60/252
December 29: There’s always a moment that’s decisive in a big effort. Today was that one. After last night I thought it was over, that I wouldn’t ride at all today. Not even half done. A few years of attempting the Festive 500 have taught me that you can’t register a zero km day. I didn’t have any extra child care coverage so it was going to have to be worked around spousal working hours, which meant riding in the dark. I had pretty much resigned myself to the quest being over, though I still had plans to go out for a long ride with Carl on the 30th. Why cancel perfectly good ride plans?
Then my wife shoved me out the door, pretty much, saying “aren’t you going to ride?” So I kitted up after dinner and off I went into the night, cruising through Teltow in the dark with Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” ringing in my ears. The cold was truly setting in and I was glad for shoe covers and real gloves and the spare glove liners in my pocket. Rolling past oddly whirring windmills in the dark, surprised and then inspired at one point by the rumbling sound of a freight train catching and passing me out by Sputendorf and I felt like I would just keep turning the pedals over and over and over, spinning on into myself in the dark. My legs didn’t hurt and the cold made me feel alive and the shocked teenagers I rode by just made me laugh. Maybe this might be possible? 45/207
December 30: The one day I’d actually shown some foresight and planned in child care, with the babysitter showing up in the early afternoon and plans to meet up with Carl for a long road loop plus whatever I could fit in before dinner. I had hopes for 110km or so, which would mean another long day on the 31st (and a double workout at that). Running it closer than ideal, but I was still in it.
Nonetheless, at 1:00 the sun already looked like late afternoon and the wind was coming up. I was tired and so was grateful for the company as we rolled south out of town, or the temptation to just bag it and go home would have been strong. It was a cold, cold wind blowing out of the southeast. Carl and I chatted and occasionally traded off at the front to give the other a rest. As we ground through the dorfs and past farm fields and yet more windmills the sun flared ever more orange toward the horizon. We bounced over the cobbled stretch at Kietz and my legs went from sprightly to fried in the span of about eight minutes. A water refill at Carl’s place when he dropped off near dusk and I was back out on my own, and the wind now seemed to come from every direction. (I’d also screwed up the GPS tally again by forgetting to start the timer after leaving Carl’s place.) As the sun set I foolishly added on an extra out and back climb, thinking that the standard Grünewald loop wouldn’t get me the klicks I needed. The wind and my failing legs meant I was crawling at this point, though, and I had to then turn the loop into another out and back to get home only an hour after dark. I dragged in at 110km on the day, obsessed with the notion of a beer and ham and a hot shower and trying not to think too much about the double stage I had just teed up for myself on New Year’s Eve. 113/94
December 31: Part 1 — my alarm went off at 04:45, and motivated by fear of falling short because of something mundane like oversleeping, I made a beeline for the coffee machine. The morning was cold and windy and clear, with a low moon casting shadows through the trees. The wind was blessedly at a different angle than the night before, so there were actually a few tailwind sections. All the same, it was a slog, the lowest point on the bike all week in physical terms. My knee ached. For the first time I feared I wouldn’t physically be able to do this or that I would destroy my chances of riding this spring. Dread flickered through my mind with each pedal stroke while paradoxically I’m thinking keep ticking over ticking over ticking over and then I’m rolling up the driveway and craving a nap. Just around 50km left to go, too close to give up now. 50/44
Sent the wife off to work with her coffee, and managed to get about an hour of sleep in. This was disproportionately rejuvenating. After a frantic run to the grocery store for supplies ahead of New Year’s and Sunday closures and the kids’ mega sleepover (five kids in one house for three days is almost a blog-worthy epic in itself), and resorting to giving myself a haircut when I couldn’t find anywhere open or available, I kitted up to roll out as soon as my wife returned from her own hair appointment. We had formal New Year’s plans, you see. If I was crawling like I had the night before or just this morning, this could get ugly.
Part 2 — I got out just before dusk and set out on the same lake loop as on Christmas Day. The wind was gone, the clouds were holding in a little more heat, and my legs somehow felt better than either of the previous two days. It was a lovely ride, remarkable only in its unremarkable…niceness. I felt good, and watching the lights come on and the first fireworks from those too impatient to wait until midnight was as far away as possible from the willful sensory deprivation of earlier in the week. In perfect symmetry, I ticked over 500km at the same spot where the GPS battery gave out on Day 2. A light rain started, and I marveled at having been so lucky with the weather – only the second time I had been rained on all week. I rolled home damp and ahead of schedule and did a meek little hop of joy once I got off the bike – I was so much more tired than I realized. 59/-15
The Festive 500 is of course trivial, arbitrary, and silly – it is, after all, a marketing gimmick by a cycling clothes company. It’s also a real challenge. Not so much for the distance, but for the time management, motivation, and relationship hurdles that come with putting in that many hours in the saddle in the season with the shortest days and most social obligations. I like to pretend that the kids noticed that I was out riding in the dark and the cold to meet a goal. I thanked my wife for indulging my pursuit of lines on a map and numbers on a computer screen. How does that shake out in the end balance? I’m not sure. But I do think now about that freight train, a chain of black shapes and red lights against a dark sky, rolling on through the night, sure of its destination.
Totals: 515 km, 18 hours 47 minutes.
I love the Mid-Atlantic ‘cross scene. I really do.
But New England cx…just, yeah.
Gloucester was on the calendar this year, but didn’t happen. Next year. For sure.
Maybe this helps explain why:
Amazing the difference in perspective from one year to the next. Bottom line up front: same place as last year — 9th in the 3/4.
Last year, I was pretty ecstatic. This year, I wanted better. That said, I’m pleased. I went into the race fighting off some sniffles, courtesy of my daughter, and still had it for a solid placing.
Thanks to 2nd at Hyattsville, I had a front-row start, and jumped out to take the holeshot for the first time ever. Diced back and forth with Kyle from The Bike Lane/November/um, what team do you ride for, exactly? for the rest of the first half, lap, and unfortunately faded too much to jump up and grab the first-lap prime.
From there it was just a slow ebb of power. I had one speed, whether I was trying to jump out of a corner or motor along on the flat, so I would close gaps on the technical sections and then see them open up again as soon as the course straightened out. The DCCX course was still soft from a drenching on Wednesday, and the long power climbs were like riding through bubble gum.
Like I said, perspective. An off day this year equals one of my best days on the bike last year.
There’s more to come later this season.
I’m just out of time to do this report properly right now, but aiming to post something before I forget it all. We all (me, wife, son, daughter) headed out to Winchester for the Apple Cross on Sunday. The rain of the previous
week weeks month, plus the 2:00 start time, meant the course was torn up and downright boggy in lots of places. I had a great time.
Not sure what my favorite part was:
- starting from the back row of 76 starters, and working up through the field to finish 16th;
- the mid-race wedding ring handoff to my wife, live-commentated by race announcer Bill S. from In The Crosshairs;
- hearing “Go Daddy” all over the course as the boy rode around to different spots to cheer;
- having my wife volunteer to wash my bike afterwards in exchange for chasing the kids around the playground;
- seeing my son figure out how to get started pedaling on his bike (no training wheels) for the first time and watching his confidence grow as he ripped around the registration pavilion;
- hanging out by the delightfully large fire in the pavilion’s fireplace; or
- seeing teammates and friends and just soaking in the community that has developed around this little race that barely had a couple hundred racers a few years ago.
Sure, we’d all prefer to ride outside all the time, but life doesn’t work that way. Whether for time, child care, or rained-out practices due to venue preservation concerns, I find myself on the indoor trainer during the fall cyclocross season almost as much as in the winter, if not more.
The key becomes finding ways to stay motivated and interested. Last year, I came across workout videos by The Sufferfest, which combine footage from pro and elite amateur races, on-screen interval prompts (and taunts), and great soundtracks. I actually found them a bit too intense for early-season base training, but for the top-end work you need to replace a rained-out ‘cross practice, they were ideal.
The kind (?) folks at The Sufferfest were kind enough to send a copy of their latest video for review. “A Very Dark Place”fits neatly within an hour, so you get your quality work in a small amount of time. The focus is on VO2 max-style intervals, going nearly all-out for 4:00 each. But these aren’t just put-your-head-down-and-gut-it-out efforts, as the workout combines on-screen prompts and carefully chosen race footage to throw in surges and simulations of attacks and steep, grinding climbs.
In fact, if I have a significant quibble with this workout over my other Sufferfest favorites (I’m a huge fan of “Fight Club” and “Revolver”) it’s that the intervals are complicated enough that it’s hard at times to follow the prompts. By the third interval, you’re gasping for air as you try to follow Gilbert and the Schlecks in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and squinting through sweat, tears and snot to read a new prompt on sitting/standing/cadence every 10 seconds is a bit much. It’s a sequence that seems more suited to a spin class or group workout, where an instructor can call out directions.
My other whine is really just the fact that I’m getting old and don’t warm up as quickly as I used to. Five minutes (ok, seven with the intro screens at the beginning) plus a couple of :30 sprints just doesn’t do it for me. The sprints are good and help get things started, but for me, at least, I need closer to 15 minutes of warmup before I can get the most out of the first interval. That’s easily remedied, however, with a few minutes more spinning before I hit “play.”
The rest of the workout is quality — good balance of work and rest intervals, with a mix of high- and low-cadence efforts. The final, climbing-focused interval feels like a bit of a slog, but there’s a fair chance that my lack of sleep and poor training lately are as much to blame there.
The race footage is gorgeous and well-chosen (segments with a great solo win in Paris-Nice and following Cancellara in Paris-Roubaix show a particularly good editing touch) and the soundtrack is appropriately intense. Some great indie rock bands on the playlist, and although I’m coming to prefer electronica more for workouts (I blame VeloBeats), these are definitely some bands I want to check out now.
Sufferfest videos have a great flair for motivational taunts on screen, and “A Very Dark Place” is no different, with no less than Philippe Gilbert calling you out. That’ll get you going, if it doesn’t make you just curl up in the corner and weep.
This isn’t my favorite Sufferfest video, but it’s very good. If you need a hard workout that fits into an hour — I’m reminded of my team’s weekly hill ride — this will do the trick, and entertain you a bit at the same time.
…even if I had to miss it this time around. Life intervened, and besides discovering that when I’m stressed and can’t ride my default reaction is to eat more (great recipe for maintaining racing weight, eh?) I was utterly slammed.
I was lucky enough, however, to work with some absolutely incredible sponsors in putting the race together. This is by no means the exhaustive list because there’s just not room to list them all. However, these were the folks I talked to directly and know the best.
The Sufferfest was the first to pony up, with training videos for all our fourth place finishers. Besides making the best thing I’ve found for staying entertained on the indoor trainer, that’s just plain classy.
Soigneur Embrocation came through in a major way with tons of swag. Unfortunately for me, we gave it all away, so I still haven’t tried this stuff. Definitely on the list of embro to try soon, though.
I didn’t arrange this one, but Core Wellness & Physical Therapy, who has helped keep me aligned and happy, stepped up with on-site consultations, cash for the elite race purses, and a free RockTape consultation.
DZ-Nuts also made sure there were plenty of comfy crotches out there. Best chamois cream I have ever used, so I was particularly psyched they came on board.
I might be most proud, however, of linking up with an old friend at Cyclocross Magazine and lining up digital subscriptions to give out as prizes. CX Mag is the only national publication exclusively covering the sport in the U.S., and is an absolute pleasure to read, every single issue. It’s been fun to watch them grow, and their website is really rocking as well. Why, for example, check out this race report on the Cyclocross Magazine website! Reading it makes me even sadder that I wasn’t there, actually.
This isn’t the full list; my teammates did an amazing job recruiting sponsors and our sponsors reciprocated with great support. Check out the logos on our race announcement page for a more expansive list and direct links to our sponsors’ websites.
Seriously, these folks supported our sport and helped us make the Tacchino the awesome event that everyone keeps telling me it was (rub it in, why don’t you?). Do them a solid and think about sending some love their way.
A story from Sunday’s ride near my mother-in-law’s place:
I should have known I’d done something to incite nature’s ire after the fourth dime-size-or-larger bug smacked into my cheekbone. I had gone out to do climbing repeats to squeeze in a quality workout around a family visit. Fortunately, my wife’s mother lives about two miles from a 1.5-mile, 1000-ft climb. Proof of how perception doesn’t match reality: I felt awful, couldn’t remember whether the times I was seeing were any good, and bagged it after two repeats, thinking I was crawling up the hill. Looked it up on Strava afterwards, and I’d actually set a p.r. and third-best time. Shows what I know. (I’ll write later about my love affair with Strava. The KOM comparison is a fun toy, but the feature of seeing within seconds how I’m doing vs. myself is far, far easier and more useful than any other training log program I’ve used.)
I turned for home, planning an easy tempo for the rest of the way back. I was about to ride across a freeway overpass, thinking profound things about the waffle cookie with peanut butter I’d just eaten, when I picked up a flash of beige movement in the bushes to the right. In an instant, there was a deer directly in front of me, with a second following it across the road. They were both fairly small, no antlers, so probably just born this past spring.
My hands were back on the shoulders of the bar, too far to reach the brakes, so I tried to head to the right. The first deer made it fine, but I clipped the back leg of the second one with my front wheel and bounced off to the right as I heard the deer grunt and its hooves skitter on the pavement. My right foot came out of the pedal, and as I’d already been shifting my weight back, I wound up with my stomach on the saddle, hands on the tops, left foot in the pedal, right leg unclipped and thigh dragging on the rear tire.
I was wobbling quite a bit now and was 100% convinced I was going down, so I aimed for the grassy shoulder. With a jolt and a bounce, somehow I stayed upright over the blessedly low curb and went up into the grass, and was able drag my foot to stop. By the time I turned around to look at the deer they were both gone.
The damage was inconsequential. Something (the curb, I imagine) knocked the front wheel a bit out of true, the bars were slightly twisted, and there is now a gouge in the toe of my right shoe, but apart from a light tire burn on my thigh and a bath of adrenaline, I was unscathed. With the fight-or-flight supercharge, I actually debated going back for another hill repeat once I got going again. Common sense (laziness?) prevailed, though, and I rolled on through a headwind, with one last bug smacking me in the ear about a quarter-mile before the last turn down the street to my wife’s childhood home.