Gravel Road Training: What’s up with all this rain?

In Blog by Eric Benjamin Comments

The Dirty Kanza 200 is behind us. It is time to read the blogs retelling the racers’ experiences and it is time to get on our bikes and train for next year. It’s not too early.

I am riding gravel regularly again but it’s difficult with all this rain. Luckily I’ve been able to ride between raindrops and get a few miles in. I am taking my cycling goals seriously, but not too seriously, I mean it is riding bikes, not world peace or anything but it is important to ride. I found that out again.

After my wife left, I found it difficult to ride on the weeks that I had the kids. I felt guilty leaving them to go ride. My training would be good, every other week. That is no way to get into and stay in great shape. With Lelan’s help I learned to make the most out of the time I have on the bike, so now when I have the kids, the responsible 15-year-old can watch the 9-year-old and I can go ride hard for one to three hours. This is my new plan. When I have kids, I do shorter, harder rides and I will save my weeks without kids for longer rides.

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Beargrease Cockpit

The cockpit of the Beargrease as I ride into the clouds

I am feeling just as fast as my pre-surgery self, but my endurance is needing some serious work. Even though I don’t need to race the DK200 again, it is in my bones and I miss being at the DK200 as a racer. I miss the excitement, challenge, camaraderie and even the pain. I miss the feeling of the finish line. And more than anything, I’ll be damned if I am going to let the circumstances of life keep me from finishing the DK200 again. That is the main thing. Giving up is not an option. The feelings of giving up will creep into the rest of my life. I am not going to let that happen.

Cloudy Wildflowers

Wildflower field under the clouds

The gravel crunches under my tires and the miles click past. I think about the past three years and everything that’s happened. Riding gravel unwinds all the knots I’ve created in my mind. I breathe deep, push hard and create movement. Like confetti from a cannon, worries, concerns and anything else is left behind in a cloud of dust. My mind calms and becomes clear. Cycling is my zen. Cycling not only keeps me physically fit it keeps me mentally fit too.


A Beargrease blooms among the wildflowers of Kansas

I told the kids that racing the DK200 again is important to me and I would be riding more. They seemed alright with that. They think it’s cool. We are our kids’ role models. I preach cycling, exercise and healthy eating, but what I do speaks much louder than what I say. I don’t feel guilty any more leaving them for a hour or two. I rode three times during the week, with kids, and I felt amazing. And that’s when I remembered why I ride. If I don’t feed my Adventure Monkey with time outdoors and exercise, I don’t feel good. It is something I have to do. It is part of my life.

Female Cyclist 2

Melissa on gravel

And it rubs off. Melissa wants to ride this summer to stay in shape, get awesome legs and keep strong for her sport – tennis. We went ten miles the other day, her first ride of the year. She killed it. I didn’t push. I let her go at her own pace. She kept a good pace, even sprinted for some of it. When we got home she threw up. Now that’s a good workout! 🙂 We are making plans to get her riding more and get her cycling legs. Maybe the DK50 or 100 is in her future?

Female Cyclist
Flint Hills Gravel

We have to find the thing that keeps us happy. Mine is cycling. It keeps me healthy and happy. Weird, but that is that. So I am back at it with a new attitude. Every ride is a training ride, but it is also necessary for mental health. I need to get back to being able to ride 100 miles without much trouble. I am not there. In fact, 30 mile rides are tiring me out.

House in the trees

House tucked in the trees

My heart is in good shape and my heart rate is under control. It was my valve that fell apart in 2012, everything else looked fine in there. Now my legs and cardio need to get with the program. My mind thinks that I should be able to knock out 45 miles like nothing, my body tells another story. My legs get tired after twenty or thirty miles of pushing and my breathing feels a bit milky, like I need more oxygen. I’ll get in shape. It will just take some work. Sometimes I think, “It’s been three f*cking years since surgery, I should be fine!” And I begin to doubt my body and wonder if maybe I will never be able to ride 200 miles again or even 100 comfortably. But that’s bullshit. The problem is the rest of my life fell apart after my valve and it has taken me some time to deal. I haven’t been able to ride regularly like I need to. It’s definitely an ongoing process, but I am doing quite well now. I am ready to tackle life again. I am ready to kick some ass. If we aren’t kicking ass in this life what are we doing? So it has taken about three years to get to this place that I feel good. I feel ready. I feel confident. I am going to pedal past the demons that tell me differently.

Riding in the rain

Riding in the rain

I breathe deep, I turn the pedals, the gravel crunches under my tires and I ride past my demons. I feel good. I am finding my power. I am writing again. I am smiling. My heart feels good. The universe around me is shaping into something amazing. All I had to do was make that shift in my mind to see it.

As I pedal away from the demons of my past, my mind wanders to and fro and stops and chews on why in the world my heart fell apart. I had no history of heart issues. Although my grandpa died of a heart attack, he ate a lot of red meat and did not exercise, there was no family history of mitral valve problems. And I was in the best shape of my life when it happened. The doctors had no reasons. But I know.

My life needed to change. I even prayed for change back then. I was not happy. I was stressed about my circumstances back then. I hated my job and instead of concentrating on the good, on the giant possibilities of life, I concentrated on how much I hated where I was. Every day I drove to work I would feel a tightness in my chest. I hold my stress there. And soon, my heart began to fall apart.

I write about this because stress kills. We will always have stress in our lives. There will always be something for us to deal with. It is meant to be that way. We get better at anything by working at it. I will get better at cycling by doing 100’s of painful training rides. It isn’t always fun. But through the pain we get stronger. And this is true for life too. The past three years have been emotionally painful, but I would not trade any of it for an easy life. I learned. I overcame. I dealt with my demons. I learned about myself. I learned about life. I made it through and am stronger because of it.

Riding into the storm

Riding into the unkown

What it took for me to change things was a wakeup call (heart surgery+divorce+DUI+ a new job should do it) and a shift of attitude. We get to choose how we see life. What we focus our minds on is what our lives become. I am focusing on the good. I am focusing on the life I want, more than the life I have. And yet I am also remaining in the moment to thoroughly enjoy what is happening now. Now is a gift.

Life will give us hard times. I was able to realize, during meditation and visualization, that pain is as beautiful, maybe even more so, than the times of ecstasy and comfort. It is in these times of discomfort when we are learning and growing the most. Remember that when it seems like everything sucks and the world is out to get you. A shift of thinking will change your world completely.

Feed Your Monkey!
Eric Wildflower fields