1st at Ringwood MTB, now cross

BY KENNETH LUNDGREN

Hey Gang,

Been having LOTSA fun over here… This is my favorite time of year, the road season winding to a close, the pressure off, no more truly intense training, the temps cooling a bit, the form is still there — time to go out and ride with buds and enjoy the weather and the priceless time on the road — just a great atmosphere, a wonderful time to be a cyclist!

I have been riding my mountain bike a lot. I didn’t think the woods would have this effect on me, but they do… After being a 100% roadie for so long, the woods were just this alien change for me, and I’ve embraced it… I coach many MTBers, and this year I said I wanted to get out there with them, show my face, support them at races, just have good times…

Well, 2010 has been a terrific change of pace in this regard… Every MTB race I’ve been to, an Elite Endurance athlete has won and podiumed, just incredible actually seeing this in person… June’s Lewis Morris MTB event was very roadie-friendly, very fast and not too techy, and after a disastrous start which involved riding through WATER and ROCKS, I was THE last rider into the singletrack (WTF???), but I fought back to finish 5th, just 20 seconds off 3rd…

July’s Kittatinny MTB race proved to be far more technical, very rocky, and I was very much out of my element, getting MAULED and passed by what seemed like riders from every category! However, I was smiling all the way… I’d like to think I can be a cold-blooded killer on the road, but in the woods I was hootin’ and hollerin’ and letting guys pass if they wanted to pass and stopping for riders who needed help with flats. Just a different dynamic for me, this MTBing, almost an escape from stress and competition…

However, I wanted to do well at the epic Darkhorse 40, and pre-riding the course I again thought I was in over my head — I felt flat and there were some very techy spots where I had to always clip out. But the legs came around magically days before and during the race I didn’t have to clip out at all, just flowing and flying. I was able to finish 5th… I certainly want to go back and WIN this race next year, and maybe it’s rubbing off on other riders too because a few athletes have contacted me, want to start up, want to use the Darkhorse as a peak event next year — and WHAT an event it is! SURREAL racing in the woods, then a BBQ with beer and steak with all MTBing buds — good times had by all…

My friend Laura, a long-time Elite Endurance athlete who is a professional MTBer and cyclo-cross racer, came home from Oregon earlier this month, after I came home from Kingdom Trails, and we just rode our mountain bikes a lot, just had a lot of fun, hung out every day she was home. She’s my best friend, one of the most important people in my life, and seeing her again, you realize how much you actually miss her, just time with her. I dunno, when you re-unite with old friends, the days just seem to have more color, you seem like a better person — you laugh more, you smile more, problems just melt away, you have boundless energy. The days just had this bloom when I was in her company again, brought back so many memories — just a great f*cking way to end the 2010 racing season, couldn’t ask for a better way…

She took me to her brother’s wedding party over in Peekskill. I don’t drink that much, but we got fantastically drunk and everyone in the building seemed to be smiling and laughing all night — God, what an awesome night, out with friends and family, one of those nights you wish could go on forever…

As a stubborn Swede, I, however, was still intent on racing the next day — so ended up rolling out of bed (had stayed overnight at the Inn in Peekskill) and drove a 1/2 mile, got to the start line of the Blue Mountain MTB race JUST IN TIME. I mean, I was still tying the number to my handlebars and off we go! 🙂

I was really in no condition to race (“Laura, should I race?” “Ken, you have nothing but alcohol in your body.”), hadn’t eaten anything, was still a bit, um, hungover, but eh who cares? It’s mid-September, we’re only on this earth once — let the roadie have some fun after an arduous year of war (Eat a bag of what?!?! A whole bag of ’em?!)!

I was actually riding well, nauseas but WELL lol, had been to Blue several times before the race, had actually ridden the race course that Thursday. Unbelievably, feeling 1000 pounds overweight and still towing a couch behind me, I was in about 5th, right with the leaders, feeling like $hit but knowing if I could survive that first lap, I would start to feel better and better and could hopefully charge forward as the others faded…

But, when you’re not 100% awake and sharp, you tend to hit things — like ROCKS — a bit harder! And I got two flats in the second half of the first lap — doh!!!! But I wasn’t much jaded — life is good when you’re in the woods, people. I just fixed the flats, got back on my bike, kept on soaking up the woods around me… Ended up 12th, even.

Laura left for Oregon right before Jungle Habitat, which was the MTB State Championships… The course was “gnarly,” very technical, and I’d ridden the course a few times, was ready to rock and roll. However, come race day, I felt like almost a part of me had left when she had left, like I was missing something… Hmmm, dunno if it’s the most professional thing in the world to write about these things, but I’m an incredibily honest person and always like to keep it straight. That way at States, I still rode well, took 5th, but in those woods I was uninspired and empty… Just… blah…

However, off the bike that day was a SMASHING success — THREE Elite Endurance riders took home State Championships, two others podiuming… Seeing this first-hand, I knew right then and there I was becoming more coach and less athlete, and here I am, in my athletic peak, saying this — but it’s true… Seeing these athletes do well means MUCH more to me than me winning the State TT or the TT Cup overall…

For SEPT, I had pretty much just ridden my MTB for fun, no true hammering or training, just riding, getting better over rocks, off-camber stuff, just getting acclimated to these very technical north Jersey trails…

And in the back of my mind, I was preparing for cross, not like peaking for States or anything, just finding respectable shape (I think I really want to maul cross 100% in 2011). I do want to race the NJ State Championships in Hidden Valley on NOV 7, maybe race through NOV, then shut it down completely. MTBing aside, I’ve been on the PowerCranks, doing plenty of Tempo work…

I just picked up a WICKED cross bike, a full race rig — the Full Tilt Boogie from Van Dessel, which is a new sponsor of the Elite Endurance CX team (along with Van Dessel, PowerCranks, Campmor, and Hammer Nutrition, Elite Endurance will be sponsoring a few select riders this year for cyclo-cross).

In late-September, I did do a final CRCA Central Park race for Blue Ribbon, but when I awoke that morning at 4:45, something felt wrong. My head hurt, I was covered in sweat, but I had the chills… Still, I was up, had planned to race, didn’t want to let the team down. However, once in the peloton, something felt wickedly wrong, and I had to pull out after 3 laps. I came straight home and laid in bed for the next 3 days, just black coma — I’m certain it was the flu, had all the symptoms…

When you come back after being sick, with the forced rest, you can feel like Superman. The final MTB race of the year, the Ringwood Leaf Blower, came up so fast, just 6 days later. I’m not the most spiritual person in the world, am really just this realist, but at that race I kept on thinking of my best friend in Oregon, knowing she had grown up in Ringwood and had ridden these very same trails for so many years, and she’d JUST been here in NJ and I was still thinking about her… In a way, at that start line, I just felt inspired, scary, just violent inspiration out of NOWHERE, just this wonderful energy that reaches out and touches you.

I mean, Ringwood is a tough course, techy, hilly, and I’m still exponentially more roadie than MTBer, but in the race, I felt like a different rider, was doing things on that mountain bike I’d never done before… I was in the top-6, and then on first techy climb, I couldn’t believe I had cleared everything and found myself in 3rd, then 2nd… Out there, I found myself loving these woods, ripping over the rocks, finally feeling the finesse, just feeling nature underneath me, just a beautifully raw sensation. I suppose this is “the zone,” just seeing obstacles in front of you and instantly creating solutions to these problems, uncannily intrinsic, completely in tune with the effort.

The final lap was just magic — I was FLYING out there, totally surreal, just felt so strong, foom foom foom foom everywhee, everything happening so naturally, and I ended up catching the leader on the most technical part of the course — the treacherous switchbacks. I just RIPPED up them. Whoever would’ve thunk the roadie would catch the leader HERE?

But, hard to explain — just golden strength in the woods. That’s all. You pray for days like this to happen, and for it to occur, in the MTB mecca that is Ringwood, it was just an incredible experience. All day long I was smiling and digging and pushing, just smiling snarling snarling smiling, just loving the woods and the energy I was getting from them. I almost felt like, in some way, I was riding through HOME…

I was able to finish strong and win the race, just surreal. I hadn’t planned on it, hadn’t trained for it, hadn’t ridden the course. But sitting at the line, then riding in those woods, I just felt a desire, an elation, just felt I had something special to give…

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In the end, people will see I won that race, see my name in 1st place, and all day at Ringwood people were asking me what had happened, lol — “Where did THAT come from?” I just told people I was on a good day, was just in tune with the trails, just had that “flow”…

But that really wasn’t the truth.

Inspiration is a scary thing, perhaps THE most powerful tool in any athlete’s arsenal.

I just wanted to win the gold medal and wrap it around my best friend’s neck.

Thank you, Mami Eskimo — that, that was for you.

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Kenneth Lundgren's Diary | Friday, October 15th, 2010 | | |