I listened to The Gravel Lot podcast with famous ultra-endurance athlete, John Stamstad, a couple years back. Stamstad had some very good life advice that has stuck with me, which I paraphrase: “you can have three out of four things in life as an adult endurance athlete: (1) a great married life/great life with a significant other; (2) a great relationship with your children; (3) a great career; or (4) a passion.” If you want the advice from the Zen Master himself, go to 49:20 of The Gravel Lot’s interview of Stamstad which you can find on Youtube here or on their website here. There are certainly outliers to that observation who can balance all four, but his advice certainly rings true in my life.
My racing schedule has been curtailed so much in the past twenty years, that I can’t even call it a racing schedule any more. About five years ago, I stopped calling them “races” altogether. I started referring to them as “Projects”. And I have no more than three to five “Projects” in a given year. A Project has the following criteria: it must be fun, it must be something I look forward to, it must be realistic, and it must be obtainable or “doable” based on my training volume. The fun criterion keeps it fresh and invites variation. My Project might be a big gravel race (Michigan’s Coast to Coast) or a super hard Gran Fondo (Garett County Double Diablo) or a single-minded Time Trial.
I rarely talk about my “Projects” with friends. Most of my discussions about “Projects” occurs silently between my ears. Referring to a race as a Project in my mental dialogues took more than a little of the edge off the stress of preparing for it. It also represented a sea change in my attitude the other 364 days a year, especially when I was not training.
A Project is something I can take off the shelf and work on when the rest of my life permits. If family and career obligations take center stage, I put the Project back on the shelf. I can only be as fast as my (aging) genetics and training volume permit. If the volume goes down because I have to earn a living or be a Dad/Husband/Son/Brother/Uncle, so be it. I was never paid to race, and I am certainly not getting paid to race now.
I knew going into 2023 that it was going to be a Big Year in the Carville Household: we were looking forward to a Senior Tennis Season, a Senior Football Season, a Senior Lacrosse Season, a bunch of college visits, a long-planned Graduation Party, followed by the Grad Party Circuit, all topped off with a June 16 Wedding of a mountain biking niece in Colorado, which I had the honor of officiating. That is a lot of #1 and #2 of the four options Stamstad talked about in the podcast.
Knowing we had a full Life Calendar going into 2023, I cleared the decks.
No racing at all in 2023 until the July 13 and 14 National Senior Games for me. I qualified last year so all I had to do was get trained up for two events: a 5K Time Trial and a 10K Time Trial. I would not need big, long rides to get ready, just sharpen the sword. My structured training was focused on very hard, but short efforts, for obvious reasons. I saw some of my peak 60-second efforts going into mid-July.
However, 2023 really tested my Project-mentality. I thought we were all collectively past the Pandemic, and I foolishly surmised that 2023 would be smooth sailing into July with a lot of fun once-in-a-lifetime milestones. Karma had something else in mind.
In early 2023 my sister-in-law passed away after some lengthy health complications. Soon after that, one of my best friends in the entire world fell ill with mysterious heart symptoms and his team of doctors told him he would need a heart transplant or face certain death. To make things worse, he had to stay in a hermetically sealed, but very nice, hospital room for weeks and weeks until a donor heart was available.
Those two events, and their fallout, took over most of my nonwork life from January through May. The silver lining to those two events is that my sister-in-law, really a sister to me, died a peaceful and dignified death on her terms. And my good friend avoided a heart transplant and is now back to work and home with his beautiful wife and dogs.
To be honest, my workouts were a bit of an escape this year. But I was not going into them with fire in my belly setting PR’s with each workout. I felt like shit most days because I was very anxious and not sleeping well. I was satisfied with what I could manage on that day, no more. I was taking my Project off the shelf, working on it with what I had in the tank, then I put it back on the shelf as I focused on some Real-Life-Stuff.
The National Senior Games in Pittsburgh represented an opportunity to race just as much as an opportunity to get away from Real-Life-Stuff. I brought a cheering section with me: my beautiful wife and my parents.
When I crossed the finish line in each event, I knew I had put in a hard effort. Both courses were hilly, which made pacing more difficult. One could have easily blown up on a climb and been cooked for the rest of the course. The good news is that I took Bronze in the 5K and Silver in the 10K. I performed within a handful of watts of my training efforts in both disciplines. However, I went into both events hoping (really planning) that I would have two of my best days of the year. I didn’t. And that is a good thing. I took my Project off the shelf, worked on it, then put it back. The rest of the time I spent taking in the sights, laughing, enjoying good meals, and . . . just being with family.