Gall Bladders Suck

As soon as I posted that I was back I disappeared again.  So what the heck happened?  The last time I was here I was talking about how I was going to get back into the game and we were going to be talking a lot more.  Well, that didn’t go as planned.  I guess that happens sometimes, life’s plans get interrupted and we have to do the best we can to cope.


I had two health issues late last year.  The first was a questionable chest x-ray.  As part of what I do for a living I have to undergo medical surveillance.  I went for a routine physical and x-ray and the clinic thought they saw a shadow on one of my lungs.  They were very careful to tell me that it was probably nothing but I should get it checked by my primary care physician.  That caused a fair amount of sleepless nights but thankfully turned out to be operator error on the part of the clinic that performed the x-ray.  Two more x-rays later and there is nothing there.


The second health issue was much more real.  My gall bladder had to come out.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was very sick.  It had started back in the previous winter.  I was tired and my metabolism was very slow.  No matter how often I worked out I could never feel right.  I went for a checkup and the doctor did an ultrasound.  She told me that it would probably have to come out at some point, but not to be overly worried about it.  She could see stones, but they might not be an issue.  By November I was feeling worse and worse and went back for my final x-ray for my chest.  I had changed doctors and my new doctor sent me for another ultrasound.  She sent me to a surgeon who scheduled me for surgery a week later.  My gall bladder came out two days before Thanksgiving.


The surgery went slightly less than perfectly and I can’t thank my wife and family enough for taking time away from their holiday to help me recover.  I had to go back to the doctor over the long weekend because I was having trouble healing.  There were a few complications in surgery and after but I am happy to report that by Christmas I was almost feeling back to normal.


The largest change was in my energy levels.  I finally felt like I could function again.  I hadn’t realized how sick I was before the surgery because I had become used to how I was feeling.  I had been sick for so long that it became my new normal.  Once I started feeling better I realized just how bad it had been.  I started to count down to the day I could go back to training.  The surgeon had told me to wait six weeks and at first I couldn’t imagine getting back on the trainer or treadmill.  Once I started to feel better I couldn’t wait.


This ambition caused me to sign up for a new gym that was opening near my house.  I can’t wait to talk about that next week!


I also learned a few lessons through all of this.  The first and biggest is that if something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out.  You know your body better than anyone else; if a doctor tells you that nothing is wrong or to wait but you still feel that something is wrong, get a new doctor or second opinion.  If a doctor tells you to take care of something, do it.  You might not realize how bad you really feel.  Take care of yourself, you are the only one who can.


Finally, it’s really great to feel pretty good again.  While nothing is perfect, I sure feel better now than I have in a long time.  I am back to training and back to planning the next season of runs, rides, and OCRs!  It’s also great to finally feel like I have something positive to share with everyone and to get back to writing.  See you soon!

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Rugged Maniac 2015

We made it!

We made it!

So how do you battle not feeling like writing or working out?  I guess you “accidently” schedule two super fun events back to back to end the summer!  The first was Rugged Maniac New England and the second was Cycle Martha’s Vineyard.  More on the bike ride next time; this update is about all things Rugged!

The blog's new team shirts! Designed by a wonderful friend, Katie.

The blog’s new team shirts! Designed by a wonderful friend, Katie.

First things first, new team shirts! Designed by a wonderful friend, Katie.irst, I need to thank my great friend Katie who designed the teams awesome shirts!  We always name the team after the blog but we never had a great shirt to go with it.  Thanks to Katie we were looking very stylish in our shirts.  I also want to thank everyone who came out to run this race.  My best friend Norm ran his second race with us and my sister in law Beth flew all the way from Florida to run.  Best of all, my wife made her Rugged Maniac debut after a huge assist from the race organizers.  Also in the list of “thank yous” is one for my father in law who took a ton of great race photos, all images here were taken by him.

Beth jumping onto the floating steps!

Beth jumping onto the floating steps!

I cannot say enough about how helpful and friendly they were in helping Katie find a last minute spot due to cancellation as well as keeping the entire team on the same start waive.  Every year Rugged Maniac puts on a great race and the staff does whatever they can to make each person’s experience a positive one.  I emailed the staff a week prior to see if there was a way to get Katie in because of a cancellation on the team and they came through.  Then there was an issue with start times where we somehow were split up and they were able to help again.  Even the volunteers out on course were on another level from other races, cheering for the team and encouraging everyone.  Again, I can’t say enough good things about this race staff and volunteer group.

Norm has been my best friend since we were kids, and now I have him racing OCRs with me!

Norm has been my best friend since we were kids, and now I have him racing OCRs with me!

Along those same lines I need to say a few things about the venue.  Running an obstacle race on a motorcross track is a stroke of brilliance.  Most other local races seem to struggle with creating obstacles on a flat course; Rugged Maniac had the great idea to make the entire course an extra obstacle!  The jumps and landing zones made great hills and the low spots between gave the organizers a great starting place for many water obstacles.  On top of that the series has really benefitted from the infusion of funds from the Shark Tank investors.  The manufactured obstacles were better than ever.  The pacing was spot on as well.  I never felt like I was running to far between each obstacle and they were varied enough where I never felt like I was crawling through another barbed wire crawl just because the race needed one more obstacle and it was the easiest thing to do.

Did I mention the giant slide?

Did I mention the giant slide?

Lastly, before I get around to writing about my race I should mention the after party.  This is one of the rare races that actually spends time and effort on getting the party right.  There is a hosted competition of games, from pull ups to holding a beer at arm’s length there is a game for everyone.  There is a mechanical bull and live music.  There is food.  Sooooo much good food.  Oh, and a free beer if you are old enough and interested.

The giant slide was a lot of fun!

The giant slide was a lot of fun!

In addition to all of our guests the usual suspects ran the race as well.  Angie recovered nicely from her injury in the Gaylord Gauntlet and ran well.  Ronna, Steve, and Joe also ran well.  Clint ran away from us and then ran back.  He even did some of the obstacles twice while he waited for us.  The biggest surprise to me is that I ran well too.  Really well.  I was able to run well enough that I could almost see where I was before I kept hurting myself all summer.  I wasn’t as fast or as strong as I was, but I could almost feel it as I went through the obstacles.  I held onto the ring cross longer than I thought, and came thisclose from getting up the warped wall.  It was just enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I can get back, and this is the race I could almost see being there.  It is huge for me.

The warped wall was the hardest obstacle there this year, but a great way to close out the race!

The warped wall was the hardest obstacle there this year, but a great way to close out the race!

The best thing about running obstacle course races is the messy fun that breaks up the monotony of a normal race.  I run to train for cycling and to train for OCRs.  I run 5Ks and other races for charity or for the experience but I never really enjoy running.  It is very different running an OCR!  You run until your team hits an obstacle and then you all work together to clear it.  Sometimes it’s fairly easy, you jump a small wall and then cheer on your team.  Other times you hit a 15 foot high wall and you have to help your teammates over that are scared of heights.  Or talk the claustrophobic ones through the sewer pipe crawl.  Or untangle a teammate’s hair from the barbed wire.  No matter what the race is always challenging your limits in every way which keeps things extremely fun.  Races like this quickly turn from intimidating to addicting.  My wife started the summer deathly afraid of OCRs and now she is looking for the next challenge.

Over the flames and into the ice cold water! Great obstacle!

Over the flames and into the ice cold water! Great obstacle!

I said a lot of positive things about Rugged Maniac New England in the beginning of the story, but in any review or recap the real result is would you run the race again?  Would you recommend the race to friends and even put your hard earned money down?  The answer is this, my entire team has already signed up again.  There was a booth in the finish fest for pre-registration for 2016 and no one even hesitated.  Once again I will put out the call to anyone wanting to join us.  Team Big Joe’s Soap Box will run again next fall in Southwick Massachusetts, who wants to join in?

water wire

The team climbing out of the ice water.

The team climbing out of the ice water.

There was a lot of barbed wire. I mean a lot.

There was a lot of barbed wire. I mean a lot.

The frog jump was difficult but fun.

The frog jump was difficult but fun.


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Starting All Over….Again

I received the auto renew on the site and realized how long it had been since I had posted here.  Why?  I’ve been struggling to answer that for a while now.  I wish there was an easy answer, but like most things in life it’s just not that easy.  There are a lot of reasons.  My job got a little hectic.  My family takes up more of my free time, and happily so.  I have been trying to solve a few computer issues.  Life gets in the way.

All of that is true, except none of that is really true.  What is really true?  I got hurt.  Not severely, but almost constantly.  I have a bad back.  It seems like I was in constant pain for almost the last year.  I have also had issues with my foot causing me to not be able to run.  Again, nothing huge but always there for the last year.  It would cost me a week here or there.  Not enough to be a real problem, but enough to stop forward progress.

So why did life interrupting plus injuries cause me to stop writing?  It was because I stopped riding.  And running.  And training.  Again, not always.  Most people would look at my event calendar and say that I was out of my mind, I hadn’t missed anything.  You would be completely correct.  I did manage to hit every event, but sometimes that was all I was able to accomplish that month.  Just as important, I did as poorly as you would imagine someone would do without training for an event.

All of this weighs in on why I haven’t written.  You see, I started this blog to be a positive voice.  I’m a big guy trying to get fit.  There are a lot of us in the world and we don’t often hear positive voices.  We hear people (including ourselves) tell us we are fat.  We get intimidated at the gym.  We know we don’t fit in, and worse, we know we stand out.  I wrote to be a small voice saying yes, that is true, but it doesn’t diminish our effort.  It doesn’t make us worth less, it just makes us different.

The issue is I had very little positive to say.  It is hard to be positive when you feel like you are failing.  Every time I got hurt or missed a workout for some other reason I felt less like writing and more like hiding.  I would have less to say because I couldn’t get over the idea that I sounded like I was complaining.  I don’t like to hear myself complain so I didn’t want to put it here either.

What I missed is that I think everyone ends up where I am sometimes.  People get hurt.  People get busy with life.  People lose track of what they are working on and lose ground on goals.  Not everyone is blessed with a great body and no one is perfect.  So we stumble and struggle and try.  No one can be positive all of the time, but we can support each other.  We can share stories and laugh at some shortcomings as well.  We can pick each other up.

So here I am, back again.  Resetting the blog and trying again.  Getting back up and writing, telling stories about what is happening, the good, the bad, and the sweaty.

This week starts a new commitment by me to write every week.  To blow off the cobwebs and get back to work.  First up, I am heading back to Rugged Maniac this weekend.  Look for a full report next week!

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Rugged Maniac 2014

Anniversaries. Some are huge, like the one marking the day you were married. Some are smaller, like the one marking the day your smartphone contract is finally complete and you can upgrade your phone. Last weekend I had one that falls somewhere in between those two events, though I am really looking forward to my next smartphone contract and the upgrade. Last weekend was one year from my first obstacle course race, the Rugged Maniac 2013. How did I celebrate, by running the 2014 edition of course.


One of the best things about any anniversary is the chance to take stock of where you were then and where you are now. One year ago I was getting ready to run a race that scared the heck out of me. I had signed up and drafted a couple of friends to run with me, but I was still scared. I hadn’t trained enough. I could barely run a mile, let alone three. I hadn’t tried climbing walls or crawling under barbed wire. I almost fell jumping over the wall into the starting pen. I was out of my depth and not ready for what was to come. I ran, I walked, I trudged. I jumped fire, climbed walls, and fell into mud pits. I crawled under wire and through pipes. With the support of my friends I finished.

I also vowed to do better. To be better. And then I spent most of the winter hurt and not training. I slid backwards. I struggled through the 5 Boro Tour and started to heal. I trained and ran other races. Somehow I managed to run a Spartan Race. That almost killed me, but it also showed me where I could go if I tried hard enough. I ran more 5Ks. I actually ran 5Ks without stopping. I still managed to occasionally injure myself, but I was so far past where I was a year ago when the time came to run again. I hurt my hand, but everything else was mostly healed. It would be the first obstacle race of the summer where my back or my feet wouldn’t be a challenge to overcome, both felt great. My hand injury was only a severe strain to one finger in my right hand, so it wasn’t something that would seriously hamper my efforts. I was more ready for this race than anything I had attempted all summer.

So what did the organizers do? They made the course much more difficult. Excellent! To be honest, the year before was not that difficult. I completed the obstacles when I wasn’t in that great of shape. The running is what I failed at the year before. This year the obstacles were much more challenging, and a lot more fun. My only complaint this year was the amount of time crawling under barbed wire seemed crazy. There were four or five sections but all were a little different. There was crawling under wire through deep water, through mud, up hill, and one memorable section had racers crawl through a pipe, into water, under wire, then pull themselves up a rope through another pipe.

There were a lot of new or improved obstacles this year. There was a warped wall, a section of hanging rings to be crossed like moving monkey bars, and a balance beam with huge punching bags blocking racer’s progress. There were many walls and cargo nets to climb as well. The organizers added a sand bag carry and an unstable pontoon bridge as well. There was also the huge waterslide and the fire jump, always crowd favorites. There was the added challenge of frigid water. The cold temperatures the night before the race had the water extremely cold. Most racers look forward to the water obstacles during a race as a way to cool down, but this time it was a real penalty to fall into the water.

All in all the race organizers did a great job. There was a great balance of running and obstacles and there was almost never a real wait to attempt a challenge. The course was in great muddy shape and the 15 minute split between waves gave each group enough space to feel like we weren’t part of a huge crowd. This race was nowhere near as physically or mentally punishing as the Spartan Race, but I don’t want it to be. This race is the most fun I have had this season because it split the difference between something as purely fun as the Ridiculous Obstacle Challenge and the Spartan Race. Rugged Maniac also had the best finishing festival of the races I ran this season. Live bands, a free beer, and great food were just the start. There was a mechanical bull, merchandize tents and an indoor bar. They also had the best viewing station as the race is run on a motocross track. In a brilliant move, the organizers also offered instant registration for next year’s race at a huge discount. I know many racers immediately signed up for 2015 on price and convenience alone. After all of the on course improvements it was a very easy sell. More on 2015 at the end of the post.

How did this year’s team do? Amazing, if I do say so myself. We covered the new obstacles, struggling but overcoming most of them. We all fell at one point or another. The ring traverse was hard on my hand, and I never got up the warped wall. I was sure of failure but I ended up attempting it anyway. Yes, I failed, but not as bad as I thought I would. If it were earlier in the course instead of the last obstacle I might have made it. While the team didn’t fail the fire jump, Angie viciously assaulted my injured hand while jumping the last section.



One year later I could also gauge my progress, and that might be the sweetest way to celebrate this anniversary. I ran far more of the course than I thought possible the year before. We ran between obstacles and covered most of the running sections by actually running. Yes, we walked up the one killer hill, but we were still vastly improved. Yes, I struggled in places, but the added level of difficulty made the course more fun and let me push myself much harder than last year’s edition. I finished, not as spent as after the Spartan Race, but more satisfied. This was the first race I had something to compare myself too, and I was pleased with the result.

So, back to the preregistration for the 2015 edition. Big Joe’s Soap Box had already registered as a team and we are running the race. I want you to join us if you can. I want to get as many people to experience this race, and the feeling you get when you finish, as I possibly can. I have recruited friends, friends of friends, and some readers already. I want to get the biggest, most inclusive, most diverse team to take on the course. Come run with us next fall. I can promise that you will have fun, make new friends, and feel amazing as you jump the fire and cross the finish line. The Soap Box team only has two rules, we ask that you have fun and we will never leave anyone behind. Here is the link to sign up:

Run with Big Joe in 2015

When you register, click “Join a Team”, choose and add the team captain name of “Johnson”. That’s it, you’re on the team! Feel free to message me with any questions, but yes, you are ALL invited to run! I really hope that as many of you as possible sign up and run with us!


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New Balance Review Part 2

Back in March I wrote a review of my experience at New Balance South Windsor and how I struggled to find the correct shoe and fit. I had tagged the brand and store is some of my tweets promoting the piece so they could see what had happened and perhaps reach out to discuss the post with me. I didn’t really expect a response, I think I tagged them as a way to gain some customer feedback if nothing else. I hated writing the review as I dislike posting anything negative, but the result was negative and I felt like I had to tell the whole story including the negative outcome. I didn’t hold anything against the store; I was outside of my 30 day warranty and didn’t feel like the store owed me anything.

I was completely surprised when Michael Disibio, the owner of the both the South Windsor and the Avon locations, reached out to me recently. Michael was concerned that I had not been able to find a product that fit my feet and my needs. He offered to refit me and give me a refund for the original products.  I was surprised to hear from the owner, let alone the offer to exchange the merchandise three months after any warranty would have expired.

Last Friday I was finally able to get back to the store. Michael wasn’t able to be there, but he put me in touch with Steve Bosse. Steve is a certified pedorthist and an expert fitter. Steve patiently listened to what was bothering my feet with the original shoes. He was able to tell by my story and by examining my shoes what some of the problem might have been. He remeasured my feet and again had me step onto the pressure pads to be able to see where my feet carried the pressure when I stood. Once he did that he also checked my ankle alignment. With all of that information he was able to explain what might have gone wrong.

In short, I have strange feet. My arch is low and normally that would require both the shoe that was recommended as well as the original insert. Once I tried the insert and came back, the next normal step would be to recommend the memory foam insert that I was given. Steve had to double and triple check my pressure readings and ankle alignment to see that my body was, in a broad sense, self-correcting for the lower arch. The first pair of shoes was designed to help someone correct for a low arch, but for me it was overcorrecting. Steve was able to recommend a pair of more neutral shoes that instantly felt better. He was also able to show me haw changing the size can affect the width of the shoe more than you might imagine. I actually ended up in a narrower shoe than I would normally wear. I am completely satisfied, and I learned a few things.

  1. Try to have a good idea of what you are looking for when you shop for equipment. It’s easy for a customer to go into a store, especially when you are new to a sport, and ask for recommendations. It can be very difficult for a staff member to properly help you out without some direction. The first time I went to the New Balance store, I had no idea what I wanted or what I might prefer. I just said something along the lines of “Hi, I am going to start running, find me some shoes.” The salesman did his best, but that was a pretty wide net to cast. This time I was able to tell Steve how many times a week I run, where I run, what my goals are, and what type of shoe I was looking for. There was a big difference in starting point when I was able to say I was running two to four times a week, mostly three to four miles a time, mostly inside but more and more outside, and that I was looking for something light but not minimalistic. I wanted something to take me through the cooler months to my last race of the year in December. That gave Steve a great place to start pulling shoes to see what I liked.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You might not know what type of shoe you are looking for, or what minimalistic shoes are. I didn’t before I went into the store. I told Steve I wanted them light, and used a pair of shoes I owned as a comparison point. I asked what the difference was between the minimalistic shoes were compared to what I was looking at. I asked the difference between models in the group he suggested. I even asked about the different types of foam in the soles. All of it helped Steve and I decide on the right shoe.
  3. Have a realistic budget and stick to it. The New Balance store has a lot of options in all price ranges. If you don’t let the staff know what you can spend you might end up looking at some shoes that are out of your budget.
  4. Don’t be afraid to go back and talk to the shop if you didn’t get what you wanted or what you expected. A second return trip in March might have solved my problem instead of leaving me with expensive paperweights. If the shop doesn’t know you are unsatisfied or if you are having a fit issue they can’t help you.

There is nothing better than getting to write a follow up to a negative post with a “happily ever after” update. It’s even better to see a merchant go out of their way to correct a problem that were not under an obligation to address. My warranty was expired but Michael cared enough about his customers to reach out to me and try to address my fit issue.  Michael and Steve worked hard to get me into a pair of shoes that fit much better and they were genuinely concerned with both my satisfaction and understanding what happened to cause the fit issue in the first place. Once Steve was able to see what happened he was able to correct the problem. No one could ask for a fairer and more customer friendly experience than that. I can’t wait to get out running in my new shoes.

New Shoes

My awesome new shoes!

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Pearl Izumi

What matters more, words or actions?  Should a company be held to a standard based on their advertisements or their products?  What do you do when they contradict each other?

I found a great blog the other day because of a link about a series of offensive advertisements. Short, Round, and Fast ( is a great running blog written by Nick Bernard. Nick writes about all sorts of topics, but most center around running and his thoughts on training, nutrition, or whatever else inspires him for that particular post. I stumbled on to him and his post about a series of advertisements by Pearl Izumi. The blog can be found here. A good amount of the ads are shown on Nick’s blog so I won’t repost them here, but this is a pretty good example.

Pearl Izumi

I was stunned when I read his blog and the advertisements. This is mostly because the advertisements are elitist and imply that if you aren’t fast you aren’t trying. As a new and overweight runner I often refer to myself as a jogger because I don’t want to imply that I am comparing myself to marathon racers, but I feel like what I am doing is still work. I know I walked in my last Spartan Race, but I finished. That isn’t what really surprised me though.

What really was shocking is that Pearl Izumi is a cycling apparel company as well, and they are known for something in that community. They are known to be a good choice for heavy and overweight cyclists. Pearl Izumi has to know about this, even if it is just from internal market research. Pearl Izumi has to know that their extra-large sizes are larger than other brands. When I first started riding I bought Pearl Izumi exclusively as they were the only clothing that I could find that would fit. It carried over to gloves and shoes as well. I am nothing if not a loyal customer that way. Once I find a brand that makes quality goods at an affordable price I tend to shop within that brand. I buy Trek bicycles, Chevrolet trucks, and Wrangler jeans. Looking at the ads, I felt a disconnect between my cycling brand and this projection of the brand’s philosophy on running.

The comment thread of Nick’s post was also interesting. There did seem to be a pretty serious schism between runners who thought that some people were not trying and others that respected every runner’s effort. It also came to light that the ads were about seven years old. Some thought that the statute of limitations should be up at that point, others were still vowing to not shop Pearl Izumi anymore.

I am still conflicted. I have a background in communications and I first saw the ads as slightly offensive as a struggling runner and obstacle course racer, but mostly that was because I am insecure. I know I am slow, and I know what others might think as they pass me. That’s okay, I try to remind myself that I am doing far better than old me, the guy on the couch. My next thought was that I could see what Pearl Izumi might have been intending.

The marketing staff at Pearl Izumi were trying to appeal to the runner’s sense of pride in what they do. Pearl Izumi wanted runners to think “Yes! I am out there deep in my pain cave, giving it my all. I am not doing this to be trendy. I am not doing this as a fad. I am doing this because this is who I am!” I get it, but they missed the mark slightly. Just by a little bit. Even those of us who are slow and jogging feel that same inner war cry as we get ready to run a race. There is something there, so pull we can’t ignore. Something that speaks to us, telling us that we have to try and give this our all. I think that is what Pearl Izumi was going for. They wanted to speak to that part of the runner. Instead they got the other part.

There is a culture of mutual respect and support in racing that has surprised me. I have spoken about it before, and it is strong. Every race I attend there are people encouraging each other. Random strangers cheer you on and it’s your job to do the same. In the middle of an obstacle course race people will stop and make sure that the racer behind them has cleared the obstacle. Strangers have helped me over walls, and I have done the same. I have paced a woman with a shirt reading “I want to break 45:00” for a while until another stranger fell inline beside us and took over. She needed to hear friendly voices telling her how close she was and how well she was doing. I have nothing but respect for someone who wears their goal on their sleeve like that. I have nothing but respect for those who willed her on to break that goal. Pearl Izumi accidently spoke to that part of the running community and that part spoke back with indignity.

My last thought is that a company with less than one percent of the market share has to take some chances. Nike had a slogan that worked for them. “Just Do It” has been a king maker of an idea. “Run like an animal” was Pearl Izumi’s shot. In some ways it was a failure, they still don’t have much claim on the market, but in others it might have been a slight success. Here it is seven years later and we are still talking about it.

Personally it did offend me, but only slightly. I’m a fat cyclist, a fat obstacle course racer, and a fat runner. I am slow, and that is okay. Being offended at a series of advertisements isn’t going to make me any less overweight or faster, trying will. I am faster than I was two months ago, six months ago, and a year ago. That is important. Pearl Izumi may advertise their desire for us all to run like an animal and to not jog, but they also make comfortable clothing for fat cyclists. That’s important too.

What do you guys think about their ads? Would they make you shop, or more importantly would they stop you from buying their clothing?

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Spartan Race

Sparta. Wow. This one is difficult to write about. It is difficult to describe the challenge of the event. It’s difficult to describe the emotions. It’s difficult to convey everything that went on the day of the race without slipping into hyperbole and over-dramatization. There are signs everywhere that simply read “Spartan Race – You’ll know at the finish”.

It might be able to frame the challenge by putting it in context with other events I have completed. It took less time to run than it did to ride the 5 Boro Bike Tour, but just barely at 4 hours. It was similar to the Rugged Maniac, but the race was a mile longer and the obstacles were far more difficult to complete. Plus, there was a punishment if you failed an obstacle that didn’t exist at the Rugged Maniac. If was far more physically challenging than the metric century ride on Martha’s Vineyard, or even the Hilly 40 mile ride that caused my legs to cramp so severely that I fell off of my bike multiple times. It was far more mentally draining than any of those events as well.

Angie and I decided to run the Spartan Race on a whim. There was a deal on the entry fee that saved us 15% and when we committed the race was months away. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Plus, it was at the Mohegan Sun casino, so we knew that we could always have a good time if the race didn’t go well. At least that was the plan. We had a midday start so we could already see the racers running as we drove to the casino. They seemed impossibly far from the building, and everyone was walking or barely jogging. And they were all in phenomenal shape. We began to worry right at that point. Once we pulled into the parking garage we parked on the top level and we were able to see across the campus to the staging area where the Start/Finish line was located. We could also see the complex of finishing obstacles. There was a fire pit to run through, the Hercules Hoist, a three story high pallet ladder attached to a cargo net bridge that spanned the main access road to the lower casino, a water obstacle that led to an inclined wall that you use a rope to climb over, and a wall that you traverse by clinging to small blocks. That was all in the last 200 yards. I went from worried to completely intimidated. If those were the only obstacles I would have been worried, but we also had to run 4.5 miles and tackle 20 other challenges. We quickly gathered our gear from the car and headed down to the staging area.

That's a sobering statement!

That’s a sobering statement!

Once we stepped into the registration and staging areas we knew we were in over our heads. Even the envelope the timing chip came in stated “There is a real possibility that you may die or be catastrophically injured”. This took away my obstacle race logic that always saw me through every race. Sure, it looks dangerous, and if you fell exactly wrong you could get hurt, but they wouldn’t let everyone do it if it weren’t safe. Ummm, yes, at Spartan they would. It all became very, very real to us. Something else happened though, something unexpected. Every single racer we met offered support and encouragement. Angie and I had resorted to gallows humor to try to stay calm and focused. Anyone who heard us worry would interrupt and say “You can do it, even if you think you can’t right now. You WILL finish”. You will finish. Every Spartan Racer had that attitude. Not I will finish, but you will finish. We will finish.
Ready to go!  I think...

Ready to go! I think…

The race is a blur. We climbed over a wall into the start pen with the rest of our wave just like the Rugged Maniac, except a foot higher. Racers were already helping each other just get to the start line. The starter had everyone chanting a response to the question “Who am I?” “Spartan!” The gun went off and we ran. The first obstacle wasn’t really one at all but it caused the first injury. The course ran through levels of the parking garage and over guardrails. Angie fell. She got back up and would later complain that her biggest bruise was from that guardrail. We ran up hills and through drainage ditches until we came to the first real obstacle, an eight foot wall. Up and over, followed by more running. I briefly thought that things were looking better until we ran out of the forest we were in and smacked into the first of the obstacle complexes. Much like the finishing complex there were a group of challenges one after the other designed to wear you down. First was a crawl under barbed wire. This is found in every race, but the wire was hung much lower and it was real. It was sharp. People were bleeding on the other side, and that was over 50 yards away. Not 50 feet, 50 yards. Once through that you had to go up the inverted wall. It was only 6 feet high, but it was tipped back toward you so there was little purchase to help you over. Once over the wall there was a water station marking the first mile and a downhill jog of about 200 yards. That was to allow you to grab your sandbag and run back up the same hill, traverse the ridge for 100 yards, then run back down. Your 80 pound sandbag. It felt more like 100 by the top of the hill, and 150 pounds by the time you were allowed to drop it. Once we finished that we found the nicest family in the world.

Angie was struggling in the first half of the race. She had injured herself early and was suffering from a lack of water. If you are running a Spartan, bring water. Bring a hydration pack. It’s worth the extra weight. She downed water at the first water station but it wasn’t enough. She lost it all on the sandbag carry. As we jogged up a road after the carry she was already overheating when we met them. There was a family that had decided to cheer on the racers as they passed their house. The kids were giving high fives and cheering as we passed and the dad had a water hose that he would spray at racers if they were overheating. I thought Angie was going to cry with relief as he spayed us. The ambient temperature was in the mid-90s and I can’t imagine anything feeling better at that moment than the ice cold spray from that water hose.

We quickly were back into the woods when I failed my first obstacle of the day. A 30 foot high cargo net that you had to climb up and over to succeed in the challenge. I climbed up and froze. I am ashamed that I didn’t get over, but I couldn’t force myself over the shaking net. I backed down and suffered my first punishment, 30 burpees. Burpees are a painful crossfit exercise that starts in a standing position and has you drop into a crouch, kick out your legs into a push up position, do a push up, bring your legs but into a crouch, then explode into a jump. That’s one. Each failed obstacle results in 30. I had never done one before that day. They sound easy. Go ahead, try one, I’ll wait. Hard wasn’t it? Try 30. After failing an obstacle you have already spent a fair amount of energy so the punishment is always worse. I can honestly say that if I knew what 30 burpees were going to cost me I would have gotten over that net. Here again I was stunned by the community of the Spartan Racers. Everyone cheered me as I finished my burpees and clapped. They knew the pain and wanted to encourage me.

Once we cleared the woods it was time for the second obstacle group. First we had a 10 foot wall, followed by a spear throw, a 20 foot rope climb, and then three more walls called “Over, Under, Through” were you did exactly what the title said. Over the first, under the second, and through the middle of the third wall before continuing on to the next run. I failed two out of the four obstacles and did another 60 burpees. At this point I was sitting on a concrete wall and drinking water from the 2 mile marker water stop. I still had the Over, Under, Through obstacle. I was shaking and starting to think about quitting. I was doing more than thinking. I was sweating and cramping and ready to call over to the paramedic to give up. They had asked me twice if I were okay and I said yes, I just needed to drink some water. Angie brought me another cup and asked how I was. I told her and she exploded on me. I hadn’t let her stop when she was injured, I got her into this with the discount, and she wasn’t about to let me quit now. She got me up and pointed toward the next wall. I made it through and kept going. Everything gets much hazier after that, but I kept going.

We had more obstacles to conquer, but thankfully they were much more in line with my strengths. We had to carry Atlas Stones, 100 pound round boulders. We had to flip tractor tires across the parking lot. There were a couple of lower walls. We had to traverse rocky drainage ditches and climb culverts. Angie and I were humbled and happy to pass the three and four mile markers. We were both blown away by the people who were still running at this point. We had long ago resorted to walking. One vivid memory is when the course went behind the casino area where most of the restaurants are located. People were out on the deck cheering for us and promising to save beers for anyone who made it there after the race. I wanted to hug every one of those strangers as they cheered us on, wanting us to finish.

We finally made it back to the finishing complex and only had those final obstacles ahead of us. The first obstacle was the three story pallet ladder to the bridge over the road. It was surreal to look through the cargo net at giant busses passing below you. After that it was the cliff hanger wall. I mounted the wall, got halfway across and fell. I wanted to cry. I lay on the hot asphalt and tried to get up, knowing I had 30 more burpees to go. The heat from the blacktop was the only thing that finally got me moving. I could feel it starting to burn my shoulders. I had to go face the music. Almost thankfully Angie had fallen as well. We did our burpees together, encouraging each other to finish knowing the rest was something we could accomplish. We could see the finish line. The Hercules Hoist was a pulley system that had a 100 pound sandbag attached to a rope, you pulled it up and lowered it down. The only problem most guys had is the weight would pull them off of the ground or out of position so that they never had leverage. Racers took turns holding each other to the ground so they could lift the bags. After that it was through the water, over the wall, jump the fire and cross the line.

I crossed the line, received my finishers medal and collapsed. A volunteer helped me up and hugged me, telling me how proud they were. I was a finisher. A random stranger crossed the line and grabbed me, hugging me because we both made it. He was already crying. I found Angie and hugged her, starting to cry. I was beaten and broken. I was cramping and dehydrated. It took me over 4 hours to finish, but I did finish. Just like the sign promised, I knew at the finish. I knew that there was a part of me that would never be the same. I took on something bigger than I thought I could and I beat it. I survived what I thought would cause me to quit. I did it with friends and stranger’s support, and there is no way to ever thank them other than to do it again and help more people feel that same feeling.

Spartan Race Finisher!

Spartan Race Finisher!

That is the other surprise I had that day. Knowing, as beaten and broken as I was, that I would be back. Me, the fat guy that rides bicycles that has turned into the fat guy that runs 5Ks and obstacle races. The guy that probably shouldn’t have tried a Spartan Race yet, and probably should have quit before he really got hurt. I will be back. I can train harder and run the course faster. Once I do that, there are other Spartan Races to run, longer and harder ones. Once you finish a Sprint you can race a Super. That’s 9 miles and more challenges. Once you finish that you are qualified for the Beast, 15 miles and 40 obstacles. Maybe I can accomplish it, maybe I can’t, but I will be back to run the Sprint again. This time I’ll be faster. This time there will be less burpees.

There is only one other question. Who’s coming with me? It’s a year from now, plenty of time to train, are you in?

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Versatile Blogger Award

One of the many things that I put to the side while on hiatus was my nomination for a Versatile Blogger Award. First things first I would like to thank Julie Stock for nominating me. She is a great writer, blogger, and a member of Monday Blogs on Twitter. She is one of many bloggers that welcome new voices to Monday Blogs and helps promote them as they find their audience and a consistent voice.

The Versatile Blogger Award is unique because once you have been nominated for the award, you win it. If a blogger who has won the award feels you deserve to be nominated you automatically win and you then must follow some version of the rules and nominate other deserving bloggers. It’s a great promotion device, but it is more than that. It is a way to feel validated, and in turn validate other bloggers.

Every starting blogger feels like they are speaking into the void. None of us speak about it much, but most of us obsess over it. We feel like we are shouting into the abyss. When we start blogging we write, sometimes using our best ideas, and we post to our site knowing that no one will read our work. We do it because we are writers and we have to start somewhere. We do it because we hope that this will be the week that someone notices. We do it because we hope that one day we will have a following and that people will go back into the archives. We promote our sites and we hope someone notices, but for the most part we don’t know if they do. We check our statistics on how many page views and visitors we receive and we promote until we see results in our numbers. The internet is a crowded place full of content creators, but devoid of an easy way to find an audience. You have to compete with uncountable sources of bloggers, Youtubers, Tweeters, and everyone else to get someone to come to your site to check out your blog. You scream and shout and plead and cajole in any way you can, feeling all the while like a carnival barker selling what is in the tent. You beg people to check out the site and you hope that they like your work.

Even after we get some people that come to the site regularly we bloggers still don’t know what we want to know. Does anyone care? Is there anyone out there that reads what we write and thinks “Wow, that was good!”? A reader comment goes a long way, as does people who take the time to share on social media, but most bloggers will still wonder how many people just click the link or share without reading. Well-meaning people that want to help promote you but do not have the time to read. In short, every blogger just wants a pat on the head and a compliment from a complete stranger. This award is so much more than that.

The Versatile Blogger Award is a tip of the cap from an established blogger that thinks what you are doing is not only good work, but worthwhile. It says that they are recommending your work to everyone who reads their blog, and they are doing it without reservation. It, at least to me, was instant validation from a complete stranger. A stranger who was an established writer and who wanted to let me know that she was willing to endorse my efforts in public on her blog. So, thank you Julie, that is what being nominated meant to me.

I mentioned that there are rules once you are nominated that you should follow, or at least follow as much as you care to follow them. The whole process has grown a little vague in the time that the award has existed and getting writers to follow rules is difficult enough, it gets worse when there is no one enforcing them. The most important rule is once you accept your nomination you have to nominate some number of other bloggers. The original rule seems to be fifteen, but other writers have done fewer. I like that idea because it makes being nominated a little more special.

First I would like to nominate Julia for her work on ILoveYouMoreThanIceCream. Julia writes about everything, running the emotional gamut from Legos to depression. She does it with such heart that each post is independent from the last and each touches you in a different way. She is rare in the blogosphere in that she truly crafts each post as carefully as one of her handmade cards.

My second nomination is Patty Chang Anker who blogs at Facing Forty Upside Down. Patty and I met through the 5 Boro Bike Tour and I have been in awe ever since. Patty is a force of nature, pulling amazing people into her circle and introducing them to the world. She assembled a completely diverse group of people to ride the 5 Boro Tour and I learned something from each and every one of them. She uses her blog to tell the stories of people she meets as well as her own amazing story of turning her life around by facing her fears. Patty goes big in each adventure, conquering a fear of riding a bike on the road by completing the 5 Boro Tour, learning to surf to best a fear of moving water, or taking the stage in New York to beat a fear of public speaking. Her blog is inspirational to say the least.

My third and final nomination is Brian who blogs at IWearSpandex. Brian found my blog and left a generous comment so I checked out his space. I was blown away. Brian is a talented writer that has been promoted by BikeNewYork for his ability to write exactly what it feel like to ride a bike. It seems simple, but isn’t. He also has built a professional quality web site that shares nutritional and training advice as well as reports from various rides he has participated in as a charity rider. He supplements all of that with some great links and a great presence on social media. I Wear Spandex has become a standard from what a single author website can accomplish.

So there you go, my three varied nominations for the Versatile Blogger Award. Go and check out their sites and enjoy the Labor Day Holiday if you are in the United States. Thanks to Julie for nominating me. It was great fun deciding who to nominate. Julia, Patty, and Brian have fun and go get your shiny new blog button and have fun deciding who to nominate!

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Back from the Break

I’ve been away for a while now and I think it’s time to start the blog back up. There is a lot going on and I want to catch everyone up but first I really want to thank all of the people that have been stopping by the site while I was taking a break. Since I stopped updating every Monday there has still been a steady stream of people going through the archives and reading random posts. No one post has seen more traffic than others so it looks like you guys have just been catching up. I can’t thank you enough for that. You guys have been checking in since the last post went live all the way back in late May. That’s amazing and I can’t thank you enough. That was a huge part of what has inspired me to get back to work writing each week. If you guys are still into reading what I have to write, I need to get back to work!

A lot has been going on in my life since May. There have been some pretty substantial changes and a couple of challenges. First, I landed a new job. I went back to work for one of my former employers as a manager of a facility. I knew it would be a challenge, and it has been a large one. It has caused a fair amount of rearranging to my schedule and the first few months have been a struggle to adjust to the increased travel and professional responsibility. It is a great opportunity and I am so grateful for the chance but it has cut down on my free time. Where I used to be able to do most of my housework during the weeknights and save the weekends for family time and writing; now I am trying to cram everything into the weekends. Sometimes that works and other times it doesn’t. For a month or two it didn’t work at all. For a while something had to give and I chose to put away my blog and keep time with my wife and son as my focus. Today I finally have some time to sit and write as I do laundry for the week. Multitasking at its finest!

I also managed to injure myself. My foot was bothering me at the Five Boro Tour, but I chose to ignore it hoping the pain would go away. Sometimes you just have pain or soreness and it fades. This time it didn’t. I probably should have taken care of the issue before the Tour seeing as it affected how I rode and caused me to be in pain walking around Manhattan, but I was still hopeful that it would fade. Once I wasn’t able to job or ride I decided to do something about it. I don’t want to go into any real detail, but in late May I went in to have a minor procedure on my big toe. It didn’t fix the issue. I lived with it thinking I would heal, but ended up going back in late June when I was barely able to walk. Thankfully the second time solved the issue and I was feeling much better. This caused me to stop training for a while and get a little depressed about losing all of the ground I gained over the last year. My weight went way up and my cardio training was almost completely lost. It was hard to think about writing a positive blog when I was no longer feeling very positive at all.

Fortunately I have some great support in my family and my training partner. My wife and son supported me when I wasn’t able to walk all that well and took care of my after my procedure. They also helped me laugh a lot when I was struggling to get my shoe on to go to work or when I was falling asleep on the couch. Both asked my when I was going to start training again and what my comeback event would be. Angie, my training and racing partner was also a huge help in getting me motivated to get back to work. She was always encouraging me to get back to the gym and get the next event scheduled. She knew that once I committed I wouldn’t have a choice. We signed up for a couple of obstacle races and 5Ks and then did the insane, we committed to a Spartan Race. The story of the race is for another update, but I am proud to say that I was a finisher of the 2014 Connecticut Spartan Sprint. It wasn’t pretty, I was barely healed and way out of shape, but I finished.

After the Spartan Race I started to feel better. It was then that I realized I was also feeling the effects of mild depression. It is something that I have struggled with from time to time and with the injury and losing so much ground on my fitness goals it had started to creep back into my life. The depression was there, and it was causing me to avoid writing because I didn’t have anything positive to write about. I might have been working, but I was also far away from where I was. I won’t say that finishing the Spartan Race cured that or solved everything, but once you accomplish something so large and seemingly impossible, other challenges appear slightly different. I watched people quit. People who hit their personal limit and just rolled over and stopped their race. People who were injured and had to quit. I managed to finish. Angie and I worked as a team, both with the physical obstacles and the mental challenge, always pushing each other to keep going. I think about than now when I get to the gym to train or when I run a race. Nothing is as hard as that day was, and I finished. Nothing hurts that badly, and I finished. This too, whatever it is, can be overcome.

So I got back to work and now I am moving back towards my goals. Some I have met. I can now run for 40 minutes straight on the treadmill and complete a virtual 5K without stopping to walk. I ran a 5K in Manchester and finished in a time of 40 minutes 20 seconds, shattering my personal record of 45 minutes. Positive results that motivated me to get back to writing the blog, something that I had let sit for far too long. I started this blog because I wanted to be a writer, and I think I accomplished that goal before I took a break, but a writer writes, so here I am. I don’t know the direction the blog will take from this point. I would like to get back to weekly updates, but I don’t know if I will be focusing on riding anymore. You may have noticed that this story has a distinct lack of two wheel fitness in it. I have been struggling to find the time and the motivation to ride. I have changed from the fat guy that rides to the fat guy that runs obstacle courses. I am okay with that for right now. I am sure that I will ride again, but for now I am happy to run. So the blog will be active again, as well as the Facebook site, but I am not sure what we will focus on, but that will be part of the fun. This is still, and will always be a positive site that will celebrate all of our victories. Let go out and have some fun.

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Memorial Day

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day here in the United States. It is a holiday that is set aside for remembering our fallen soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice. It is also the unofficial start to summer, providing a three day weekend for many and a great excuse to everyone to cook outside on the grill and have a party. There are also a ton of sales at the stores with the day off providing many people the chance to shop for big ticket items like appliances or new cars. Unfortunately this also detracts from the whole point of the day, which is to say thank you to all who served and sacrificed so we would be able to be free.

Along those lines I am going to run a repost of one of my favorite blogs from the past and take a little extra time off today. It is one that I have had some good feedback on in the past and it is also one of my personal favorites. I wrote it when I was unemployed and while that has changed, it still perfectly describes why I jump out of bed on the weekends and ride my bike as the world wakes up. I’m re-running it because I too am taking the day off to spend with my family. We are going to have some fun, but I will also set aside some time to explain a little of the meaning of the day to my 4 year old son. Then we will hang a flag on our porch as a way to say thank you to any veteran that drives by the house today.

Have a great Memorial Day today, but take a minute to remember why we have the holiday and say thanks to a vet you know. I’ll start it off by thanking my dad and cousins as well as some great friends for serving.

Why I ride:

Up. Wash face. Skip shaving. Think about cost of Electric Shave. Wonder why I do this. Think about still not having a job. Pull on chamois. Hope they hold up for a few more months. Think about the cost of replacing them. Wonder why I haven’t found a job. Eat. Think about cost of bagels. Grab protein bar for later. Think about learning how to make my own. Out to the garage. Pull on my shoes. Look at the straps as I pull them tight. Think about how long they will last. Check the bike. Tires look a little worn. Think about the cost of replacing tires. Add air and check the rest of my gear. Helmet is okay, but felt bits are falling out. Stick them back in. Don’t think about the cost of replacing helmet. Wonder why company that seemed like a perfect fit hasn’t called. Worry about mortgage payment. Worry about stress of unemployment on marriage. Worry about forgetting water. Back inside for water and remember wallet for ID and iPod. Back to garage and repack bag with forgotten supplies. Open the garage door quietly so I don’t wake my son. Worry about him and how to pay for his school. Worry about attempting a career change. Worry about not being able to be a writer. Worry about how to make writing a paying passion. Worry about not being good enough.

Quietly close the garage door. Worry about not making it home in time to help my wife. Worry about how little I have been able to help her while unemployed. Think about how supportive she had been in the drought. Mount up and head down my street. Think about which loop to take. Decide to push myself. Worry that I won’t lose enough weight to ride my new bike when it arrives this spring. Worry about paying for the bike. Wish I didn’t put the bike on order being too fat and broke to make it work. Pump harder as the street rises up to the first hill. Time my approach to the first light so I ride through on green to avoid losing my momentum up the hill. Finally see the start of the sunrise through the light fog. Laugh as my breath clouds my glasses. Feel the burn in my legs on the first hill. Wonder why I manage to start the ride on the hill. Remember that there is a bike in my future that demands better of me. Smile in appreciation of an up-tempo song on the iPod. Better to match my cadence to it for the rest of the hill. Quickly take a drink, feeling the cold water hit my throat and make it contract a little. One of the joys and tortures of an early morning fall ride, the air keeps the water cold enough to almost hurt as you drink. Think about capturing the moment later to share with readers. Start to sweat as the miles begin to pass. Worry that they seem to be going so slow as my legs seem to protest the trail that I have turned onto. Eight more miles of hill before the trail levels off. I bargain with myself, it is only a slight grade; the converted rail bed doesn’t climb that sharply. If hundreds of others can do it, I can too. I may still be fat and slow, but I am ahead of my pace one month ago, six months ago, and a year ago. A year and a half ago I would never even ride, let alone think that 35 miles is a great way to start a Saturday. Three years ago I weighed 50 pounds more and smoked three packs a day. I feel happy that my son will know I smoked one day, but he will grow up knowing a father that is trying to be fit and pass that on to him.

Check the cycle computer and see a larger number than I expect. Realize my time is good for this part of the ride and push the next two miles into the rest stop. Eat a protein bar and drink deeply. Look at the new bridge and trees and thank myself for levering my butt out of bed early enough to see the sun climb through the trees. Start to bargain with myself to push the ride a little longer and head out of the rest area. Feel the miles fly under the bike, quietly singing under my breath along with the songs on the iPod, only one ear bud in to hear faster riders approaching. Smile when I realize that I am passing more people than are passing me. I think about a year ago when EVERYONE passed me. I could only ride 8 miles at a time. I gasped for breath all the time. I thought I was going to die. Everyone encouraged me, my family, friends, especially strangers in the bicycling community. Happy I embraced the change, hopeful about changing careers and writing. Hopeful that others may see value in my communicating what I see and hopeful that I can do it well. Gliding into the turnaround I see that my time is good and I take a shorter rest, choosing to eat the protein bar on the go. Seventeen miles down, seventeen to go. I can do this.

Finish the last small hill and begin to feel less effort as the trail dips down to begin the eight miles of downhill terrain to my house. Remember that this is why I start with the large hill. Laugh as the speed picks up. Shift into the big ring for the rest of the ride. Enjoy the sun dappled trail bed as I search for treacherous sand and soft spots. Start to worry about what a crash would mean, then stop. There is too much joy in the decent, too much joy in being a fat man flying down the trail. Feeling all the benefits of lugging that extra weight up the hill, it pulls me down the trail faster and faster. I don’t think until the trail ends and I am back on the road, gasping for air and laughing like I was twenty years younger and my biggest worry was getting home for supper. I ride onto the road and smile with anticipation of the road bike and new adventures. I am still losing weight, I will make this happen. I will be able to afford it and everything else. My son is calling to me from the porch, breakfast is ready and the day will be a good one.

I open the door and can hear the dog barking and running back and forth anticipating my arrival. I can hear my wife talking to my son. I take off my helmet and earphones, stowing them away for the next ride. I feel the post ride stiffness in my legs that lets me know that I pushed just hard enough. Enough to hurt, but not enough to cause any injury. I feel the endorphin rush subsiding, but not the positive feelings it brought. There must be some way to accurately describe the post ride feelings I have, but the closest I can come to is in terms of Zen-like calm. After experiencing a version of the “no mind” I feel as if I still have problems, but they are surmountable. Things will work out. A company will offer me a job soon. Someone will read what I write, and it will connect. I have accomplished some of my goals, I can accomplish more of them. It just takes time, energy, and the willingness to keep pushing even when I feel discouraged. It is working on the bike; it will work in life as well.

That is why I ride.

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