2016 Cycling Year in Review

Well, it’s mid December and I am about to head north to my company’s annual kick-off meeting and holiday party. This means my cycling year is wrapping up. This year has been an amazing year of learning, failing, succeeding, falling and achieving beyond my wildest imagination!

As a follow of this dude named Jesus, I am told that I only really have to do one thing: repent and believe. An amazing cliché… we hear it all the time, repent your sins and believe in Jesus. Ya, ok, whatever, I screw up all the time, if I really lived by that I would spend my whole life repenting and I would never get to the believing. I don’t even know what exactly to believe!

Well, it turns out there is a bit more to what Jesus said in Mark 1:15 (NIV) “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” The real question is this: What is this good news? Well, there are two very simple parts to it, which, let me tell you, are the two hardest things in the world to believe!

  1. You are loved infinity by The Creator! So much so he knows every hair on your head! While you are the child of your mother and father, the Creator wants to adopt you, IF you will let him! He wants YOU in his family!!!!
  2. You will screw up and The Creator will ALWAYS give you another chance, there is simply no end to the chance the Creator will give you because of how much he loves you!

This has been my journey my whole life and especially this year in cycling. As I blogged about in January, I set myself a very lofty goal: Ride a specific double century route every month of the year. I failed in that goal back in April and May simply because I lost my faith (The Faithless Cyclist). With the success of this one goal, I would have also achieved two secondary goals:

The Randonneuring  R-12 and the Ultracycling Year Rounder.

Despite losing my faith, I was still able to succeed in these two goals despite the failure of the bigger one. Well, faith/belief is a fickle thing; in May I failed at the Randonneuring R-12 as well. It was the last weekend of May and I was 30 miles short of completing my 200k for the month but my foot was hurting (that shoe issue). And with everything else going on, I decided that it was too much, all these goals and for what? I figured that if I DNFed I could really step into the failure that I am (which I know is a lie, but really, really hard to believe!) and this passion for these crazy goals would subside. In other words, I lost faith YAHWEH had given me this passion for a reason and figured that if I screwed up and failed, YAHWEH would give up on me, take away the grace, thus stop pressing on me to do these crazy rides!

This, of course, was not the case. June I was back out there riding the double century and restarting the R-12. I have been faithful since June so I’m now at R-8, in four more months I will have this elusive R-12! (I have started and stopped about 3 other times.) All in all, I can very much relate to Jesus’s words, “yet not my will, but yours be done.” It is SO simply, and so NOT easy!

In 2015 I rode 4000 Randonneuring kilometers and I thought it would be cool to get 5000km this year. Mind you, I shot for 5000k last year and came up short while at the same time failing the 3rd attempt at the R-12. Well, upon completing my December Populaire Saturday, I achieved 6000km this year! I am simply amazed! What is really scary is that reflecting back, it doesn’t look that hard. Isn’t it amazing how quickly the memories of the pain evaporate? I think that is more grace from God, personally!

What has brought me the great highs and the great lows this year is a goal that still eludes me, the Tour to Toronto. In the past I have mentioned my goal of cycling 595 miles from home in Cincinnati up to home office in Toronto. My company has an annual kickoff meeting followed by a holiday party the second full week of December every year. This three-day tour was due to start on Saturday, but what officially killed it was weather, up north they got a lot of snow and it was really cold.

I say officially because the truth be told, I threw in the towel twice before the weather sealed the deal. Both times for the same reason I failed the double century goal: I simply lost my faith, my faith that The Creator gave me this crazy passion for a reason. I am a firm believer that one of the core ways in which our Creator works is by pressing passions into our hearts which we simply cannot escape.

Let me clarify here, when I say ‘our’ I am not referring to ‘Christians’, but ALL of humanity, regardless of their belief system. I have this crazy far-fetched idea that God actually loves all things he created. There is one of the many passages from the Bible that push my thoughts that direction:

Romans 2:14-15

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.

One of the ways I read this passage is ‘the law’ is the passion the Creator presses into our hearts, the only question is do we follow that passion or not? Back in June when I was inspired to reignite my dream of riding the Tour to Toronto, I sought out a cycling coach and found Coach OB, who I hired in July.

Here is what is interesting, when you put some skin in the game; when you back thoughts with actions (aka shell out big bucks each month for a personal trainer) it becomes much easier to stick to it! The best thing I did all year for both my faith and my cycling was hire Coach OB. While my commitment to Tour to Toronto faltered, never did my commitment to the training. It has been an amazing learning and growth experience!

When I first hired Coach OB, I recall him making a comment about how it wasn’t possible to ride the double centuries without training. I don’t recall what he said exactly, all I recall was that it really pushed me back on my heels for a second. God immediately brought to the forefront of my mind a conversation that changed me in the most fundamental way. And with that memory, I understood what Coach was communicating to me.

This conversation was with a dear friend who was my pastor at the time. There was a little tension in my life, well, actually a lot. He made the statement that “you cannot live that way”. Oh, man was I offended! What flashed into my head was, “I WAS living that way and doing just fine, thank you very much!” I proceeded to tell him that! He then corrected me and said: “Sam, yes, you are living that way, BUT that is not how God intends for you (or anyone) to live. You are living in a storm and Jesus is and continues to invite you into the Garden of Eden, you simply have to follow him”. In that moment my whole perspective on the world was forever changed.

This was EXACTLY what my coach was saying. Yea, I was doing the double centuries every month, but in such a wrong way that I was living in a storm for days afterwards. It would take me about four days to fully recover. I didn’t ‘get’ what Coach was saying at the time, but thanks to the change in perspective God gave me through my friend, I understood what Coach was saying.

Today, I do ‘get’ it and I got to witness both sides of it this weekend. This past Saturday I road my final long ride of the year (I think, have not done the double century this month and still might…) with my friend Scott. Through the summer Scott’s focus was on more important things than cycling. The end result was he didn’t do much cycling, ok, I am lying, he didn’t do ANY! With full knowledge of this fact, in October I invited him to join me on restarting the Randonneur P-12 challenge, which is the easiest of all the challenges since the rides are normally between 100km and 120km (64-80 miles). The first two months things went as we both expected: he was out of shape and paying for it in the last 20 miles of the 70 ride.

Saturday, due to extreme cold (20~34 F/ -6.6 ~ 1.1 C) he was paying for it after the first 30 miles of the 72 mile route! My take on the way Scott was feeling at the end of those 72 miles was much the way I was feeling at the end of the double centuries before Coach OB, and proper training. I, on the other hand, departed for my last 12 miles home and felt GREAT.

It wasn’t until I was home, showered, and kicking back on the sofa that I realized the effect the extreme cold had on me, too. My legs felt fine, like they could ride another 300 mile, but I had zero energy. I was totally spent in a way I have not felt in a very long time!

In reflection it has made me ponder: Did the Creator KNOW the weather would not be favorable, knew that while I would have the legs, I would not have the stamina to pull off the Tour to Toronto? Thus allowing my faith to falter enough that I would be at peace with it today? That does seem like a very graceful thing to do, who knows, could be…

Since July Coach OB has been my cycling Jesus, showing me the way to the cycling Garden of Eden, that of actually being fit! Man is it a nice place to be and I am finding all sorts of new ways of making sure I stay there. For example, I am developing a passion for something I thought I used to hate: running!

It HAS taken work, but here is what is so wonderful, it isn’t work anymore, it is FUN! I remember early on I thought I would HATE being on the trainer inside. At first I wasn’t a big fan of it, but now I get the HUGE benefit of it and actually look forward to it. The benefit is I don’t have to worry about going up or down hills, stoplights or stop signs, I am able to dial in the heart rate and cadence I want and GO for the period of time I want to go for! It seems like work has turned out to be very enjoyable.

God takes people (a coach, a pastor, a boss, a spouse, a friend) that have walked a way of truth and then puts them in charge of others to show them the way. God does this to each and every one of us. The only question is this: Are we going to be willing to submit to these folks or not?

What I am finding is that when I do submit, the most amazing things happen. As far as cycling I have mentioned some of them, but there is one more that I am simply amazed at: In the world of the Ultracycling the rides for the Year-Rounder (YR) Challenge only count if they are at least 90 miles. I was pretty sure I would be able to earn the 3000 miles Gold Award, but the 5000 mile Platinum Award seems like a pipe dream. Upon completing my 100 mile ride Saturday I earned Platinum. There is also a Who’s Who award that is the top five Platinum riders in each of the four YR divisions. I am currently ranked 5th in the personal long division (rides of 150+ miles).

Last Saturday was my final 150+ mile ride and I finished it feeling as strong as I started it. Back in January I would have been feeling it for days, Sunday I only felt it a little, and by Monday I was felt totally recovered (well my legs felt fine, but from what I understand cardo takes a bit more time to recover and it isn’t as obvious when it is fatigued). My amazing improvement is all due to be submitting to the Jesus God sent me and I submitted to: Coach OB!

As 2016 comes to a close, I don’t know what 2017 holds for me. I am setting what feels like smaller goals, I have a feeling it might be because God it going to have me take the new experience of good solid discipline and have me start applying it to other areas of my life then just cycling.

The only cycling goals I have right now are these:

  1. Finish the R-12!
  2. Continue on the P-12 with Scott
  3. Race in my first Ultracycling race, the Bike Sebring 24 hour time trial
  4. Run the Flying Pig Half Marathon
  5. Complete a Super Randonneur series
  6. Ride a double century every month

Considering all I have done this year, it seem pretty easy compared to this year, but maybe that is exactly what is called for in 2017. Mind you, I still have my CRAZY bucket list:

Time will tell:)

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The Answer is Jesus

Ever read something in the Bible, especially the Old Testament and wonder how to live up to those standards?  In my readings today I ran into two such passages.  Here is the first one:

Psalm 15 (NIV)

A psalm of David.

1 LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
         Who may live on your holy mountain?
2 The one whose walk is blameless,
         who does what is righteous,
         who speaks the truth from their heart;
3 whose tongue utters no slander,
         who does no wrong to a neighbor,
         and casts no slur on others;
4 who despises a vile person
         but honors those who fear the LORD;
         who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
         and does not change their mind;
5 who lends money to the poor without interest;
         who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
         Whoever does these things
         will never be shaken.

Wow, so is this saying that to live in God’s holy mountain one must be all of these things?  Is this the standard in which we are to live up to?  Can anyone really live up to this ideal?  Are we all not sinner that fall way short of God’s glory?  One might start asking:  What is the point in trying?

Let us move on to the next bit of scripture:

Sirach 31:3–11 (NRSV)
3      The rich person toils to amass a fortune,
    and when he rests he fills himself with his dainties.
4      The poor person toils to make a meager living,
    and if ever he rests he becomes needy.
5      One who loves gold will not be justified;
    one who pursues money will be led astray by it.
6      Many have come to ruin because of gold,
    and their destruction has met them face to face.
7      It is a stumbling block to those who are avid for it,
    and every fool will be taken captive by it.
8      Blessed is the rich person who is found blameless,
    and who does not go after gold.
9      Who is he, that we may praise him?
    For he has done wonders among his people.
10      Who has been tested by it and been found perfect?
    Let it be for him a ground for boasting.
    Who has had the power to transgress and did not transgress,
    and to do evil and did not do it?
11      His prosperity will be established,
    and the assembly will proclaim his acts of charity.  

Check out verse 8 through 11, it would seem that there is a rich person that does stand up the standards set in Psalm 15.  The question is, who is this person?  I don’t know about you, but I know if there is someone that is living up to the standard, I want to follow that person!  So where might we find such a person?

Well, I have this prospective that the whole Bible points only one direction.  It points towards this person that was and is fully and completely human, while is still fully and completely the one true God.  Today we call this person, Jesus of Nazareth.

What is so beautiful about this Jesus of Nazareth is that while he does live up to Psalm 15, he has grace on all of those that choose to follow him despite the fact we will fall way short of Psalm 15.  He is our path to that holy mountain, we simply need to have faith in him and the path for each and every one of us:)