Evaluating 2012

Here it is: my annual self-evaluation and plan for 2013. Its really not about popping off about how great I did in 2012 as it is putting the plans for 2013 in place. Putting it down here makes it more likely that I’ll follow through.

2012 was the year of travel for the Downey/Wagners. Late in 2011 we bought a vehicle big enough to travel in style anticipating a couple long road trips and we used it to its potential. In July we loaded up and made the 29 hour drive to extreme southwest Florida to see my brother and his family. It was a good trip, but the drive was almost too long to do straight through. I’d do it again though.

August saw us going the opposite way to see our “adopted” family in California and attend a wedding. It too was a good trip and the 22 hour drive seemed like a piece of cake. There were a couple hitches on the trip home (one involving a meltdown on my part over a missing wallet) but it was a good trip.

In 2013 we’re pledged to take my brother-in-law to California by plane. You see, he has some special needs but he is finally game to ride on a plane so its going to be interesting. It will be fun showing him places I am sure he never dreamed of seeing. We may have to knock him out to get him on the plane but once we’re aboard it will be fine, I’m sure.

Over the winter of 2012 Kandy and I decided that we wanted new floors and the cheapest way was to do it ourselves. We also decided that we wanted wood floors. The only problem was that neither of us knew how to lay floors. It took a while but with some patience and a ton of advice from a Menards person we did it and it looks beautiful.

We wanted to put up a pergola on the back of the house but just never seemed to get it done. Our pledge is to start it as soon as the frost is out of the ground in 2013. Again, I have no idea what I’m doing, but that’s never stopped me before.

After the trip to Cali our grandson moved in with us. Braxton is only 2 so he had to bring his parents with him as well. They put their house on the market and it literally sold out from under them. Now they really can’t find a house they want and are still with us. I’m in no hurry for them to find a house as its has been wonderful bonding with the kids and spending so much time with B.

We had our last high school graduation party in 2012. The guest of honor is still with us while he continues school but I anticipate that when Braxton and his parents move Jake won’t be far behind. That’ll leave just Kandy and me in the house – that will be a whole new chapter that promised to be interesting. As much as I am not trying to get anyone to leave, I am looking forward to having that time with my wife. We’ve never had time to just be a couple and I am looking forward to having it.

I kind of let my cycling slide a bit in 2012 – I still raced some and did (not as well as I’d have liked but) OK but it was not my best effort. It started in the fall of 2011 when I really started to slide in both time and quality and ended up putting on a few pounds. Consequently, when I did race or go ride with friends the legs just weren’t there.

But, in 2012 I really upped my game with my yoga practice and made it a part of my daily routine. I also studied and taught myself the Tai Chi 24 form and have worked that and some qi gong into my morning practice. I joined a gym again and went sporadically until late November when I decided to quit messing around and go.

For 2013 I am determined to get back into decent shape. Nothing crazy and no humping to every race on the calendar but I want to do better than 2012. I have laid out a detailed training plan incorporating cycling, running, weight training and yoga/tai chi and am just finishing the first  microcycle. I think I am already in better condition than I was for most of 2012, certainly my base training is better that it has been for a couple years.

Oh, and I got a new tattoo – covering up an old one that needed to be gone. Now the new one needs a friend. I am thinking I’ll go back to the same shop in Cali again for the new addition.

There are a couple other things looming for 2013 that I just can’t discuss right now. A few people know what I mean, but suffice to says its Kind of a Big Deal, at least to me. I’ll let you all in on the secret regardless of the outcome at the end of 2013. You’ll all have to suffer until then.

Last – and most important – I need to work on being a better person. Not only for myself and my future plans but for my wife and family. There is always room for personal growth and improvement but in may case there is a ton of room for improvement. I am thankful every day that my wife has the ability to look beyond my poor behavior and see how much I love her and how much I want to do better. My goal is to not make her do that so often.

Happy New Year.

Why?

In the wake of yet another senseless mass murder I am left with the same question as many others: Why?

The murder slaughter of 20 children and seven adults is beyond comprehension. I have a brother who once was a little baby in my arms, I had two of my own children and helped raise three more, and I have a tiny grandson – I cannot comprehend the grief and loss felt by all those moms, dads, siblings, extended family, and friends. I hope I never can. 

Why does this have to happen? There are several factors in my opinion  none of which can be isolated and controlled completely.

The fact that people who are bent on killing others and themselves have ready access to machines designed for the purpose of killing not animals but humans is one factor. I am all for hunting if that is your bag. Kill it, eat it, go for it. I don’t hunt – I did when I was young but lost my taste for killing animals when I killed a jack rabbit for no other reason than to kill it. When I presented my “trophy” to my Dad he asked why I had killed it and what I was going to do with it. I had no reason and suddenly had no desire to ever hunt again. 

On the other hand, I carry a gun for a living and have no qualms using it under the correct circumstances. That was not an easy decision and that situation haunted my dreams (literally) for years. But I have no doubt I’d be scarred forever if I had to use it. But I know I will when necessary.

Another factor is mental illness. Unfortunately, there are people who, for whatever reason, and wired for self-destruction. I have seen it several times where a person is determined to take their own life and most are eventually successful even if it takes a few tries. Why is this? I cannot answer that but there are those who can, and they need to be brought to the forefront to inform and educate all of us to recognize the signs and symptoms in order to help these tortured souls. 

Another factor I see is the de-sensitization of humans to the value of human life. Think about all the role playing video games where opponents are killed. Think of every action movie where waves of disposable soldiers/firefighters/police officers/bad guys/bystanders are slaughtered with reckless abandon. Each and every one of those disposable humans would have had a family were they real. Sadly, many people have a hard time discerning fantasy from reality and this notion of disposable humans becomes a part of their psyche. 

I don’t feel I am disposable. The people I work with aren’t disposable. They bleed, they die, they leave family behind. 

Along those same lines most people who think about suicide don’t take into consideration the finality – there are no second lives, no do overs. If you are a believer, you know the consequences of those actions are horrifying. Regardless, after that selfish suicidal act, someone has to find the remains, tell loved ones, clean it up, and deal with the aftermath. There is no glory in that. 

None. 

Rather than glorifying the people who shoot and kill disposable humans at will until their ammo runs out, we should at take a moment to remember the consequences of those actions. 

Maybe instead of crying out that our liberties are being assaulted when we can’t buy a gun designed for war, we should work to assure that our most vulnerable are not being assaulted. Instead of complaining when we cannot buy a war machine that will shoot 30 rounds a minute to keep in our house we should be looking to provide a mechanism for those weapons to be placed only in the hands of those who need them – the soldiers they were designed for. 

Maybe instead of allowing our passion for change wane in the coming days we should remember everyday each and every person killed in atrocities like Sandy Hook. 

Why do these atrocities happen? I don’t know, but I am tired of them. 

Time for summer

Ponca SP and Mother Nature’s teamed up to turn an already tough race into something completely different . I was (really) nervous going into the start of the race after a heavy shower turned the  trail muddy and slick in some spots. But, I fell i with the group I wanted to and rode conservative, if not tentative, for the first lap. Lots of crashes on an obstacle in the course, some pretty horrific, left me thinking that conservative was fine by me.

As the race went on the track improved and was perfect by my third lap. I picked up my pace on that lap to finish strong with some left in the tank. I finished where I thought I would, with finishing being the key. The conditions were never horrible, but it was my first muddy race so getting through it and managing my nerves makes it a big win for me.

When I finished last season my plan was to have an easy spring and get into competition mid-summer. But with the Nebraska MTB schedule being changed, making it basically finished mid-June, I decided to go ahead and hit some early races. It wasn’t a mistake ( I had fun ) but I clearly wasn’t ready and my spring schedule never really allowed me the luxury of getting into race condition. Consequently, the 2012 season is over for me on the MTB with a lukewarm to poor outcome.

However, now my summer is clear to spend some quality time with my wife and family. We have a couple big trips planned which I am very excited about. Aside from that, I am planning on getting at least one century in and some long gravel rides. I just want to go ride my bike.

I’d like to think I’ll be ready to amp it up again for some cyclocross races this fall, but if I’m not its not the end of the world.

Here’s to summer, and I hope to see my cycling friends in the fall.

…and, its over.

Big weekend, that is. 

Relay for Life, done, Cold, damp, but very good. Thank you to Katie for putting this together.Aside from losing B for a short time, it was great fun.

Maskenthine XC race, done. Race went off without a significant hitch. Lots of volunteers, lots of riders. I raced, hard and well first 1.5 laps, then faded. Didn’t finish as high as I would have liked but performed well.

Norfolk Classic Criterium, done. Aside from one person trying to ruin everyone’s party, it turned out very good. Lots of volunteers, happy riders, good races. Not sure where this event is going in the future. It was a bittersweet end of the weekend.

Thank you to everyone who helped put on these events, you know who you are. If I didn’t thank you in person, I will try the next time I see you. 

A special thank you to my wife: Couldn’t do it without you. 

Hiding from it won’t change it

Sometimes the a person can fool themselves into believing that something doesn’t exist, just to not have to face it. With some it is bills – don’t open the envelopes and technically you don’t know you owe the gas company their money. With others its family issues – don’t acknowledge that Junior has a drug problem and his erratic behavior remains cute and funny.

I do it too. Slide files under some papers on my desk so I don’t have to deal with the contents. Ignore the rattling muffler a little longer. Bury my feelings a little longer. But, sometimes the people around me don’t understand and wonder why or how I can be dismissive or act like I don’t care.

Which brings me to the point of this post:

Among the other things going on this weekend, my daughter Katie set up a team, me included, for the annual Relay for Life. Her life has been touched by cancer: her grandfather, her mother-in-law, and my mother. Out of the goodness of her heart she has poked, prompted, and prodded various members of her family into being a part of her team. Me included.

I tried to weasel out of it with “Nope, sorry too busy. Bike races you know.” That didn’t work out too well. I got called on the carpet about it and said I would “try” to help out however possible.  Over the weekend she put together another build up fundraiser for it, which again I tried to ignore. I didn’t completely, but my lack effort was painfully obvious.

Why am I being such a jerk? That question, in some form, was put to me this weekend. After some stammering I sputtered out an answer. It deserves to be shared with some key people. Also, by putting it out here in public I can’t hide from it anymore.

When Mom was diagnosed with cancer it was a total surprise. A supposedly simple procedure revealed a belly full of cancer. The doctor who found it ended his procedure early and came out to tell me and my family before she woke up. Basically he said your mother has cancer, she’s going to die. Oh, and I gotta go so make sure you tell her.

Wait.. what?

The next ten months or so were rough. New doctor, promises of a cure, surgery, chemo, remission. Symptoms, exploratory surgery, another terminal diagnosis. Another doctor saying you need to tell your mother she’s going to die. This time for real.

Most of you can imagine the road from here – suffering, death, a funeral.

It wasn’t enough to have just this to deal with. Throw in the cancer death of a good friend, too. Now mix in a total estrangement from my biological children over something very, very stupid (and partially my fault) and my life became a total mess.

I went through all this full steam ahead. What choice did I have? I made decisions, I defended my Mom to and against many people, I took counseling, I grieved, I cried. With my wife at my side, we did the things that needed to be done. Some had to be done alone because my only sibling, my brother, lives out of state and just couldn’t.

When it was all done I assessed the damage. I was alive. I was without a mother, my brother was back in Florida. I was still married (to a wonderful person by the way). I had three children who proved an amazing amount of loyalty and love. I had two children who were without their grandmother and their father.

Over the last six years I’ve changed. Mellowed a bit, maybe. I added a son-in-law, a grandson, a niece, a sister-in-law. I gained back a daughter. I gained, lost, and I-don’t-know-what-the-hell-is-going-on a daughter. My family came within hours of disintegrating and miraculously held itself together.

But, right now, for the most part things are pretty darned good. If I could figure out why that last daughter won’t speak to her step-mother (and stop breaking her and my hearts) things would be damned good.

So, why am I hiding from the Relay for Life? The wound from the death of my mother is still open and weeping. I keep it covered but its there. As long as its covered I don’t have to deal with it. Luminaries, cancer walks, and the like rip the band-aid off and it bleeds again.

But, the love and support that I have gotten from Katie means her efforts to put this team together deserve to come above any personal discomfort. I will be there, head high, band-aid in place, with some spares in my pocket just in case.

Hiding from it doesn’t change it. It just confuses the people around you.

A new mindset

One thing I try to keep in mind is that my goal is to be competitive, with a full understanding that I am neither the fastest or the slowest. The other goal is to have some fun. A few weeks ago I was seriously questioning my motivations and my abilities to the point of walking away from any competitive cycling – I just wasn’t feeling it anymore.

A couple weeks ago I almost didn’t go race, even though I was pre-registered. I went ahead and raced, and it wasn’t horrible. Better than anticipated even. With some renewed interest I refocused my workouts to see if I could make things work out a bit better. I am happy to say it worked.

Without going into a bunch of boring details and self-promotion, let’s just say I have learned how to better deal with moderate to high intensity workouts, which translated directly into dealing better with race intensity. That is once I pulled my head out and treated the race intensity like I treat my training  intensity: settle in and work.

With all that in mind, the only thing I am disappointed about is that I didn’t adopt that attitude until into the second lap. For whatever reason racing has always been about just trying to hold on and praying for it to be over. Something changed yesterday and it turned into real racing – working hard, measuring intensity, capitalizing on strengths and not worrying about how much I suck.

The first lap started off okay. I lost a little ground here and there, made up some ground, but somewhere on the far south end I started to fade. I am not real sure what happened – I believe it was the old feelings off self-doubt and fear. When you look up and no one is in front of you, and you’re not winning, its hard to keep motivated.

Then I started to see a few people ahead of me and pulled myself out of survival mode and back into racing. I picked  up speed, picked off a few people, and finished strong. I know I had another place higher in me if I hadn’t fallen into that “middle third blues.”

So, coming away from Tranquility 2012 I can honestly say I learned something. I anxious to continue the training plan I have been working with and applying it to the rest of the Psycowpath season.

The best part of the day was that the race was just part of it. Kandy rode to Omaha with me and I raced while she took care of some other things since there isn’t much for her to see during the race anyway. Afterward we had a date afternoon and evening and had the best time. We ate and drank and shopped and enjoyed each other’s company immensely.

Still not sure if I am going to make it to Platte River but I am planning on Maskenthine and Ponca. Then its time for family things and vacation before I try to apply this new mindset to cyclocross.

Swanson 2012

Photo by Michael McColgan

For being completely uninspired about racing yesterday it didn’t turn out too bad. We have been so busy at home with projects and life that training seems to have taken a second row, if not back, seat. Good for some things, bad for trying to be competitive.

I showed up at Swanson completely in the dark about my fitness. Crunching the numbers in my several year’s worth of cycling logs gave me a vague notion that I was somewhere near where I was last year but I hadn’t ridden with anyone to see how I really stacked up. Showing up at a race in 90 degree weather with a couple hundred other cyclists is a good way to find out, or as good as any.

Off the line I was where I wanted to be. No sense fighting for a front spot because I knew I didn’t deserve it. I was mid-pack in both my category and wave of racers. I found out soon that I hadn’t prepared my nutrition as much as a I should. My energy started fading fast and by the end of the second lap I was in the bag. I was tired and cramping badly.

I had stashed a spare bottle of Heed at the entrance to the singletrack and on the start of my third lap I stopped and sucked down what I was carrying and half of my stash. I managed to get a gel in as well. About halfway into the lap the cramps subsided and I actually started to feel pretty good. I picked up my pace and managed to pick up a place in the process.

I was hoping for fifth, and ended  up fourth.

My lap times were ok; still fast enough to warrant being a cat 2 anyway. Had it not been for an abysmal second lap they’d actually look pretty good overall.

It looks like the Heed drink works, but I need to pre-load a lot more. A LOT more. It is just too hard to make up any deficit that comes on after the always fast first lap of a Cat 2 XC race so I need to take on enough before the start to keep me going past the initial rush and into the meat of the race.

I am hoping to get to the L&C/Tranquility double header, but I will probably miss Platte River, again. Then its our race and Ponca.