Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Big Goal

The "A" race. The premier event. The epic destination.

For endurance athletes, the end of the calendar year triggers dreams of the big goal for next year. What could it be? Is it even possible? How? To make it so, what must be? What must not be? The questions and analyses percolate for hours, days, weeks, even months. And that's just identifying it. Then the real work begins. Gotta plan. Gotta organize. Gotta train. Gotta turn everything around to focus on the big goal.

I've spent most of my adult life with such a mindset, resulting in many memorable races, events and destinations over the years. There's much to be said for setting a big goal and working to achieve it. I'm a big fan of big goals.

The big goal dominates all thought, like Pikes Peak looming over the Colorado landscape.
Back in 1989, my big goal was the Pikes Peak Marathon.
Undue emphasis on results, however, inevitably leads to a letdown afterward. That is, after achieving the big goal, what then? Typically, I respond by identifying the next big goal and fixing it on the horizon. Start the process over again. Then again. And again. The process becomes a lifestyle, all dependent on setting and achieving the next big goal.

It's all good. Until there is no next big goal. Or identifying the next big goal is elusive. What then?

In July of 2017, I finally completed a bicycle ride covering the 310 miles of the Black Hills BackBone, a North-to-South remote road crossing of the State of South Dakota. Admittedly, the ride was different from that originally conceived, but I celebrated achieving a major, multi-year goal. Three Days of BackBone.

Then I drifted.

Months passed. Fitness plunged. Weight soared. In October of 2017, the changing season eventually triggered a nagging feeling that I needed a big goal to kick start stuff. But identifying it was more than elusive. For some reason, I could not even begin to consider one.

A simple journey with no big goal in sight.
To clear my mind one day, I went on a long bike ride. Somewhere along that remote dirt road, I recognized what has been a mainstay for the past 10+ years - my daily bike commute. Every day I ride to work, unless a family commitment prevents it. It's what I do, regardless of weather, mood, physical ailments, or any thing else. It's just part of my day. There is no big goal.

Well, maybe it's that simple. Maybe I don't need the next big goal, after all. Maybe I should just add something small to my daily routine. Make it part of my day. Like my bike commute.

But what? What's missing? Running. I don't run any more, since all but abandoning it over 15 years ago. Thousands of hours spinning circles over the years must have physically changed something. Running now is awkward and uncomfortable, rather than natural and smooth. This will be difficult to start, let alone maintain, especially without a big goal.

Then, one morning I just started. It was short (less than a mile), slow (barely above walking speed) and painful (ice and ibuprofen afterwards). Too sore to run the next day, I ran again the day after that. To allow some recovery, I decided to run just three mornings a week, making the third run on my favorite M-Hill trails. Time passed, but progress was almost imperceptible. I repeatedly reminded myself that speed and distance mattered not. Just keep at it.

Now, over a year later, I am still running three early mornings a week. Speed, distance and difficulty have increased some, but not a lot. Maybe that's the next step, or maybe not. I just love getting back out there running. A part of me awoke from a long slumber.

I didn't set or achieve the next big goal in 2018. It's much bigger than that.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Gravel Community Builds

The Black Hills of South Dakota are a forested island of imposing granite and shale, surrounded by rolling seas of prairie. Throughout these lands wind remote roads, trails and paths of every description, beckoning the adventurous cyclist. With so many ride options and such variety, the relatively small cycling community naturally scatters and often feels smaller than it is.

How then to draw together this small, diverse assortment of cyclists? A start is the Black Hills Gravel Series. By organizing these rides, Lucas Haan tapped into a wide spread yearning throughout the Black Hills for a low-key, regular gathering for area cyclists of all kinds to share their passion. Every other week in April and May, folks could simply show up at a fun start/finish restaurant, sign a waiver, receive a set of cue sheets, ride a unique, remote rough road ride into the amazing Black Hills, and then hang out for lunch. What a wonderful addition to the local cycling scene.

Lucas Haan addressing the gathering collection of cyclists at the 2018 Black Hills Gravel Series - Hill City.

This all started slowly in the spring of 2017, with a core group of maybe 10-15 cyclists riding the first several rides. By the sixth and final ride that year, however, the word was out and that number had more than doubled, twice. These rides were a boat load of fun and the atmosphere was friendly and lively. For months thereafter, informal groups continued to regularly ride area gravel and dirt roads. A gravel cycling community took root. A Six Course Feast.

When Lucas announced the 2018 Black Hill Gravel Series, folks jumped at the opportunity. Despite a series of crazy spring snow days and some re-scheduling, over 100 cyclists rode the first ride out of Sturgis. About that many rode the second ride out of Spearfish, as well as the third ride out of Hill City.  The fourth and final ride out of Custer drew a smaller group, as persistently nasty weather brought 30-something degree rain and sloppy roads. In any event, around these parts, that's a lot of cyclists in one place. And they were out there having fun. A Gourmet Meal Discovered.


Lucas Haan checking on the riders out on the course at the 2018 Black Hills Gravel Series - Hill City.

Where did these riders all come from? Well, apparently from all across the cycling spectrum. For 2018, Lucas added a 10 mile "Starter" route to each ride, which drew beginners that added up to about 15% of all riders. For many of these riders, a 10 mile ride on unknown dirt roads into the forest was a very big step. At the other end, the 50 mile "Scenic" ride totaled about 35% of all riders. Many of these were seasoned gravel grinders building base or adding speed for bigger events later in the season. What about the remaining 50%, who enjoyed the 25 mile "Social" ride? I'm thinking a bunch of those social riders added the 2.5 hour average ride time to the 9:30 start to reach a noon finish for a first call for a round of micro-brews. Just saying that a lot of folks enjoyed these rides and the get-togethers afterwards.

In any event, the growth of these rides was not fueled by local racers chasing trophies or enthusiasts chasing the latest trend. And it certainly was not fueled by big production starts, finishes, celebrities or prizes. For the bulk of the riders out there, the Black Hills Gravel Series was a nice spring challenge with like-minded folks in a low key, social environment. It was fun.

I can't wait to ride whatever Lucas dreams up for next spring. And I hope to see even more of you out there in 2019.