In 2002, right after I graduated from St. Lawrence, my dad offered to get me a road bike, per my request. I had just come off of one and half years of hard partying at SLU and I had gained a pretty significant amount of weight, was probably tipping the scale at around 200lbs (currently 158). The road bike was an attempt to get back to my roots as an endurance athlete. During that last push to graduation at SLU I had completely lost touch with athletics, but now I was living in Bend, OR, and was determined to once again integrate sports into my life on a daily basis. Fast forward to 2011 and road biking/racing had become my life.
In 2003 a friend of mine, Bill Warburton, moved out to Bend to join me and brought his road bike. It was that year he and I, with the help of #10, founded the Therapeutic Associates Cycling Team. At first we were just a bunch of rag-tag cyclists living in Bend, riding around like idiots in spandex, not really caring about looking fast, or anything really. Our vision for the cycling team was to ride as a team to compete in category 3 and 4 road bike races around the state of Oregon. As of today, the roots of the Therapeutic Cycling team still exist in Bend, although I have bowed out, living in Corvallis. However, this story isn’t about cycling, it’s about confidence, mental strength, and the process of developing something that I had not had, in-between my ears.
Around 2008 I had been competing in the Oregon Category 3 field at a fairly mediocre level. I trained a ton, always eager to work on my tan lines so that I could “fit in” with the emerging cycling community in Bend. Literally, I used to judge my fitness on the strength of my tan lines, looking back it was ridiculous, but was the truth nonetheless. Always eager to race, to feel a part of something, I would join the team in competing in big Oregon stage races like Elkhorn Cycling Classic and the Cascade Cycling Classic. However, even with all of the training and racing, I still wasn’t too competitive, both physically and mentally.
The cycling scene in Bend around that time was getting very intense. Local riders would all meet every Tuesday at Sunnyside Sports for the Tuesday Hammerfest. This became known as the weekly Bend Cycling Championships of the World, who cared about sanctioned races, it was all about Tuesday evenings, for bragging rights. I was hooked. One night a dude rolled up next to me with ultra-tan legs, veins sticking out, sweat bands on, super intense. Something about him made an immediate impression on me, he was confident, fit, aggressive, with testosterone coming out of his ears. I wanted what he had. His name was Michael, the brother of the legendary Steve Larsen, another elite Bend athlete.
Word had it that Mike was coaching a couple of athletes in town. Not that I could afford it at the time, I reached out to him to try to tap into some of his demeanor. His approach to athletics was something that I wanted to latch on to, because, clearly if I was going to be a part of the uber-competitive Bend bike scene, I had to step up my game. I became addicted to getting faster.
Now, as I look back at this time in my life, I am coming to find out how important Mike was, and still is, in my life. He not only taught me how to train again, he taught me to believe in myself. See, I had the physical talent, but I lacked the confidence. I was a mental shit-show, always questioning how good at cycling I was, if I fit in, how fast I appeared, how worthy I felt. Mike’s approach to training was to get out of your head, give it everything you have and then some, and keep the big picture in mind. Sure, wattage was fine, hills were hard, time trialing was tough, but unless you have the ability to believe in yourself and rise to the occasion, what’s the point?
Mike pushed me, and showed me how to achieve new levels of pain, survive, then thrive. We would do weekly hill climb sessions on Awbrey Butte, to the Towers, he’d ride with me, yelling in my ear “don’t *$&%ing slow down, don’t let up you pu^$y, quit being a pu*#.” To some in town this might come off as offensive, but I soaked it up and responded. If I was averaging 320 watts up a long climb he’d yell and motivate me to push it to 330W, there is always more in the tank, sack up, get it! I had the fitness, I just needed to find the confidence to put it all together, and his methodology worked for me. There was something about his infectious, outlandish, aggressive personality that I bought in to 100%. With that I became a better, more confident, athlete.
This past March I joined a Bend contingent in Sedona, AZ for a week-long bike camp, Mike was included in the bunch. It was the first time that I had left Corvallis since deciding to be sober the month before. Going into that trip I had a ton on anxiety, and was still in the midst of sorting out all the bullshit in my head. A few days beforehand he sent me a text that reminding me that Strava didn’t matter, wattage didn’t matter, elevation gain didn’t matter…what mattered was the camaraderie of good friends and having fun. It’s exactly what I needed to hear at the time. That week helped me to push past the pink cloud of getting sober and refocus to become the athlete I had dedicated myself to being back when I was on the top of my cycling game in 2011. Having him there helped motivate me to get quit being a pu*$ and get back to my roots once again, to rededicate myself to kicking ass. When sobriety gets hard I try to pull a chapter from my book of Larsenism’s, sack up, and get back on track. He doesn’t necessarily know it, but he helps me stay sober in his own unique way.
Today I have paired down the bike racing and focused more on ultra-running. I have another coach, Steph Howe, who is helping me to achieve great things on the trails in her own infectious way, I love working with her. However, I will always have Mike’s voice in my head, especially when races and training runs get hard. Years ago he gave me a set of tweezers to carry on me, for when I was getting soft and I needed some motivation to pull my head out of my ass. Those tweezers come with me everywhere I go, and that will continue. Mike will always be an important person in my life, not just as a mentor, but as a friend and a training partner. If I ever get the itch to get fast on a bike again he’ll be the first person I call. Thank you Mike, for everything. Let’s run soon.