I met Chris Schmidt at my first GABRAKY (Governor’s Autumn Bicycle Ride Across Kentucky) in 2006, and at our brunch stop at his place of work on the third and final day of the ride, I learned that he is married to one of my wife’s friend and softball teammate from high school. Chris is the Dean of Students at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, KY and is an avid cyclist with infamously massive calf muscles on his legs. Funny as it may seem, those are the two things that I related to Chris when we came in contact after that first ride across the state together: his wife and his calves.
I have gotten to know Chris a little more each year as he is the face of Lindsey Wilson as an annual partner and one of the main sponsors of the GABRAKY ride. He is an intelligent, hard working, genuine family man, that has a passion for cycling, and really has a way of connecting with people of all different sorts of cultures. As we follow each other on Twitter, I couldn’t help but notice some of his posts from early in the year mentioning some cross training in swimming, cycling, and running. He confirmed that he was training for the Ironman Competition that comes to Louisville, KY every August. I was a little surprised to learn of his intentions, because I had never pictured Chris as a marathon runner, especially after swimming and cycling another 114.4 miles! After all, they don’t call him “Big Dog” for nothing. One thing that didn’t surprise me though, was when he tweeted: “I did it. I am an Ironman!” on the evening of the annual competition in Louisville. A little over a week ago Chris was part of a team that ran over 200 miles across Kentucky in the annual Bourbon Chase Race Event, then turned around and just completed the annual bicycle ride across the bluegrass state in GABRAKY covering nearly 250 miles on the bike from Ohio to Tennessee. I was lucky enough to catch up with him at Buddy’s Pizza, a local restaurant in Frankfort and hear all about his Ironman experience. Now, I’ll share it with you.
Chris has been a road cyclist for years as both recreational and some competitive. As he was helping his wife attempt to get into cycling, she decided to try a sprint distance duathlon, so he also gave it a try. After one race in the triathlon format, he decided he liked it much better than the road rage he had experienced in the criterium road racing, and hence he was ready to go all out. So in a round-about way, his wife was the initial inspiration to try the Ironman event. The family affair didn’t stop there though, in fact, his wife Becca and son Cole, both were his main trainers and coaches. “The whole family made sacrifices financially, and with their time, menu, and physically, as they both helped me train. I also had two friends also training for the Ironman competition, Claude in western KY, and Toby here in Columbia with me, and it made all the difference having others to help,” claims Chris. He also received some genuine advice from a friend Lyn Bessette, a former pro female road cyclist, Olympian, and spouse to his long time friend Tim Johnson, also a pro cyclist in road and cross. She told him to always end EVERY training ride with a run, even if it was only a mile or two. So he did, every time he finished a ride on the bike, he immediately went out for a minimum 5K run, and in the end, he felt this advice to be very beneficial.
I mentioned the financial sacrifice, let me elaborate on some stuff I had never given a thought to. Chris saved every receipt he had relating to anything that had to do with his Ironman registration, training, and actual competition weekend, so he could reflect at the end and see just how much it actually cost to pull it off. Registration is just the beginning. The real expense comes from proper training. There’s cost to set up your bike, everything from wheels, to seats, to aero bars, to tubes and tires, then running. Especially for someone who was not previously a runner. There is shoes, and shoes, and more shoes, trying to find the right pair for his style of stride and stature, and don’t forget, those shoes have to run miles and miles and miles, to ensure he could cover 26.2 on the day it all mattered. Oh, let’s don’t forget swimming! Goggles, polar or tinted lens, etc.? And we haven’t even mentioned clothing, socks, nutrition, gels, bars, energy drinks, and so on, and so on … not sure if he kept the receipts in a shoe box, or a treasure chest. It certainly mattered what it cost to pull off this great feat, but it wasn’t something that Chris and his family were going to allow to be a road block, only a hurdle, as he admitted to gathering and selling some of his cycling gear he was no longer using.
When he arrived at the venue for the 2012 Ironman Louisville Competition, his vision of having the Ironman logo tattoo came to light in his mind as he witnessed all those already proud to display their achievement. “I was amazed at all the Ironman ink. Young, old, fit, or fat, it seemed like everyone had IM ink to immortalize their accomplishment,” says Chris. “Big Dog’s” ink is the IM logo on his right calf, so you can imagine how noticeable it is! Something else that amazed him was how well organized the event is. He says they dot all the i’s, cross all the t’s, to pull off an outstanding competition weekend. He commended the Ironman team for what an excellent job they do throughout the entire event. Unfortunately, their organization, brought up some of his more sad memories also. “When the clock strikes midnight, it’s over! They roll it up, close it down, it’s over. That realization didn’t quite hit me until I witnessed some competitors coming in as I was still in the streets, beaming with confidence from the feeling of what I had just achieved, only to see them comforted by loved ones for finishing, but not in time to receive a medal or acknowledgement from Ironman officially. Once that feeling of sadness I felt for them and their families and friends set in, it was nearly as tough as any emotion I experienced during the actual race. They finished, they were all Ironmen and Ironwomen in my book.”
Chris definitely thinks the mental aspect is more key to success than the physical. He said the whole event was an emotional roller coaster filled with highs and lows, and he doesn’t discount the physical aspect one bit, but he did mention seeing competitors he referred to as in much better physical condition than him laying on the side of the road, broke, done, finished but not completed. His plan had him committed to comfort and managing those emotions. Don’t let the highs get too high, likewise, don’t let a low, be too low. He placed simple items of comfort and happiness in his personal transition bags, and he contributes much of that tactic to his success. He even made a cycling sacrifice in training leading up to the competition and a running sacrifice on the fly in the actual race. Before the competition, he had his times checked and noticed he was laying down cycling time splits that rivaled the overall top 10 (yes this includes the pros) for half IM distances, and the top 5 for olympic and sprint distances. He dialed it back a little, to make sure he had enough gas to complete his first ever marathon run. Speaking of running, he had set out a plan to run four, walk one, and repeat until finished. As he approached the 10 mile mark of the run, he decided to change socks, since one foot was very sore and getting worse. This is when he found two toes that had blisters rubbed raw to the bone, so he altered his run plan to run six, walk one because it actually hurt worse to walk than run.
All of the pain was nowhere to be found as he saw the smiling faces of his wife and son waiting for him as he crossed the finish line and received his official Ironman medal! Chris is a very humble person, but he admitted confidently, that when he reflects on everything he went through to achieve the right to be called an Ironman, he feels like maybe his head is held just a little bit higher, and his chest stuck out just a little bit now. For those of you wondering about the total cost, how much all the receipts came up to when he got home, I offer this: “The second thing my wife told me after ‘Congratulations’ was that it didn’t matter what it had cost them, it was worth every penny they spent for him to accomplish what he did at that very moment! She was absolutely right. I went home and threw all those receipts in the trash and never once looked at them,” exclaimed Chris. In closing, he says that he is planning to do another Ironman competition next year. Not sure if it will be IM Louisville again or another venue, but now that I have the experience, I will set a lofty goal for my time, and set out to beat it! Congratulations Chris, you have always and continue to be an inspiration to me, both personally and physically. I don’t plan to join you in an Ironman any time soon, but I always look forward to you challenging me on the back roads of Kentucky on our road bikes.
As the temps become cooler, the days and rides slowly become shorter, and this is what we cyclists refer to as the off season. It’s not all that bad, if you’ve trained hard enough through the season, your body actually needs some rest. Last year, I found a slump in the middle of the summer and rekindled my passion with a challenging organized ride “Hincapie Gran Fondo” in the Blue Ridge foothills. That ride sent me into a proper training mode for the off season and now here we are again. But I’m not ready to just let go of this season without some reflection first, I think the rides have earned that due respect this year. So this will be my annual awards ceremony post. First time I’ve done this, and I have a feeling the bar is set high! Here goes.
TOUGHEST RIDE (Physical): Assault On Mt. Mitchell
This was a runaway, no contest winner. The Assault is without a doubt the toughest ride I’ve ever attempted, and I earned a real sense of increased fitness by training for and completing it, not to mention, the sense of accomplishment!
TOUGHEST RIDE (Mental): Solo Century
This ride was actually a narrow winner by edging out Redbud and Old KY Home Tour. Redbud was mentally tough for me because it was my first century this year and the guys I rode with set a blazing pace (my fastest century ever) and I was hanging on by a thread the last fifteen miles. It has some serious steep climbs. The OKHT was also a very challenging climbing ride but I failed to fuel and hydrate properly before and during the ride, and this caused my mental toughness to be tested on finishing strong. My solo century was my first and immediately upon completion, I hoped my last. It was supposed to just be a ride to find some tough climbs, but 60 miles in, I received a message from my wife that I had more time to ride and instantly I was determined to make it another 100. The solo climbing and heat of the day left me talking to myself the last twenty miles and it was not fun.
MOST ORGANIZED RIDE: Bluegrass Cycling Club Rides (in particular, Georgetown)
In full disclosure, I only rode club rides out of a few other locations on occasion, but I never showed up for a ride out of the Georgetown location on a Tuesday evening or Saturday morning that wasn’t ideal. Maps, cue sheets, water, cookies, ride leaders, rest stops on longer rides, bicycle friendly routes, ever changing routes, timely starts, all in all, it was just an awesome display of organized cycling hosted by the club and huge props to the location organizer Fran Bevins!
BEST SCENERY: Horsey Hundred
So I may be a little biased, and this was tough to pick just one, because the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains are beautiful at AOMM but they only make up a portion of the ride. All the rides I completed had their own signature beauty, but the Horsey Hundred boasts miles of river views, creeks, rock cliffs, rolling horse pastures, and miles and miles of plank fence farms with amazing thoroughbreds racing the cyclists!
BEST REST STOPS: Redbud
Again, another close call narrow win, because all the rides I did had excellent support and great stops. The two rides that I recall the most friendly volunteers were Redbud and Preservation Pedal, but I have to give the edge to Redbud because of the contest they host and the “prom queens” stop put them out in front!
BEST PERFORMANCE BY INDIVIDUAL: Renaissance Man
I’ve gotta give this one to my man Timmy (Tim Stout) on his riding accomplishments in the month of September! He rode over 480 miles while completing his first century of the year, then a second two weeks later just for good measure. Awesome job bro!
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A GROUP: All our Ironman Friends
Some finished pretty darn close to each other after 140.6 miles, so that’s good enough to be a group by my standard. Hats off to Chris “Schmidty” Schmidt, Toby Young, Stephanie Allen, Mark Rucker, and Courtney Greenlee! I’m amazed at your level of endurance fitness.
BEST POST RIDE MEAL: Bloomin’ Onion from Outback
At the summitt of Mt. Mitchell, the highest point in America east of the Mississippi, they serve tomato soup and bread to the finishers. I was not ready to eat until several hours later and when I was ready, I can’t imagine anything hitting the spot quite like that deep fried flavorful goodness. It was devoured so quick, I think the waitress was still at our table after sitting it down when the plate was empty!
COUNTY LINE CHAMPION: Chris “Schmidty” Schmidt
Well we all had our moments to shine. Toby Young and I did our best to steal a few sprints, but in the end it was the Big Dog who overtook the season on county line wins. He earned it for sure, winning the last four of the season coming off walking pneumonia and operating on a half a lung, what a gamer!
CLIMBING CHAMPION: Jim Simes
This is the RAMMY I would love to receive and I have made great strides in climbing this year, but until I can overtake the climbing phenom from Carolina, I’ll have to settle for back seat driver. Jim has nearly 6000 miles logged and almost 350000 feet in elevation climbed this year via Strava stats!
BEST SAG SERVICE: Charlsie Garrett
This was a dead heat finish from our last ride of the season at GABRAKY, between Mike Staten and Charlsie, but she won the tie breaker because she’s my big sis. Both of them did an awesome job, as did all of the volunteers at every event I attended, and it makes a huge difference having great support on a ride. Thanks.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Quotes From GABRAKY
Crossing the finish line at the summit at Mt. Mitchell will be my most memorable moment of 2013, but for RAM Cycling as a unit, there was such a great bonding experience on the ride across KY and it was enhanced by all the things we saw and said along the way. Just to name a few: “Do you have any ice cold water in the van?” … “No but we have van temp water.” // Having our scooper at Baskin Robbins remove her shoes and socks to show us her feet tattoos // Hearing “Hey, nice ass!!!” yelled by a very manly voice out of a rolled down window on a beat up pick up truck on the town square in Bardstown // Slowing the van down as we passed a newly wed bride having her picture taken in front of the church and saying out the window “beautiful, just beautiful” then having her reply in a sweet country voice “well thank ya” and the look on her face said she’d rather be in the van with us. This is only a few, I could go on all day with the hilarious, very unforgettable memories on this route.
HONORABLE MENTION: All our new and old Cycling Friends
This is the shout out to all those that are dear to our cycling heart. I am proud to welcome brand new cyclists this year Charlsie and Jamie “Jarrett” Garrett (my sis and brother-in-law). Also a shout out to my pops Charlie Pearl and his girlfriend Angela Mitchell. What a great year it was meeting and riding with new cycling friends: Chuck Allran, Toby Young, Lyn Laborda, Chuck Ellinger, Fran Bevins, Char Golding, Curt, Fred, Courtney Greenlee, Tim Melton, Gene Fowler, Stephanie Allen, Bryan Williams, Jon Wiesner, Adam Crowe, Aaron West, “Wisconsin” John St. Onge, Nathan Rome, Tommy Johnson, oh and of coarse, Bena! Also enjoyed cycling with some old school bike buds: Chris Schmidt, Steve Hughes, Ed Stodola, and Jim Simes! Hope I didn’t forget anybody, although I probably did. If so, sorry! Thanks for making the 2013 cycling season one that Renaissance And Masher will never forget! By the way, I was told multiple times on GABRAKY that I deserve a RAMMY for best dressed!
In early October, Renaissance And Masher completed another organized cycling event together, GABRAKY! This was the 10th anniversary of the ride, and over the years the G’s and A’s have stood for multiple meanings, including: Grand, Autumn, Governor’s, Annual, Across, Around … while the BRKY remains the constant: Bicycle Ride Kentucky! The event was started as a fundraiser ride for the Grand Theater in Frankfort, KY that took cyclist across the bluegrass state from the Ohio River in Carrollton to Dale Hollow Lake in Burkesville, a trek that started on the border with Ohio and ventured southwest to the Tennessee line covering around 225 miles over three days. It has evolved to a four day trip nearly 240 miles, and now passes through multiple state parks.
This was my first time riding the new four day route, and I was unable to ride day 1 because of work/vacation time, but it was mainly the same route it has been. The biggest changes happen as day 2 begins and heads a different direction than my previous GABRAKY trips. Though the route may have changed, one thing remains the same. This is a great event for cyclist bonding time. The majority of the participants camp at the various state parks along the way, but being somewhat soft, I prefer to rough it in a hotel. I served my time in the field in the Marines, now I’m content to sleep in the air conditioning)
The average daily mileage on the ride is 60 +/-. But don’t be fooled by the distance, there are plenty of hills along the way to give even the seasoned cyclists a feeling of accomplishment at the finish. Some of the hills along the route find steep gradients in the 15-20% range for short spurts, while some of the longer pulls range 5-10% over a mile or two. Add in the nearly constant head wind, it is a recipe for a true cycling challenge for four consecutive days. As some of the cyclists not familiar with riding in Kentucky found out first hand, not everyone can just get on a bike and complete this ride. I even heard a couple comments that this ride was tougher than a multi-day ride some had completed in Colorado in the Rockies, and tougher than a trek some had completed that was a border to border ride in North Carolina with the exception of one day.
The weather this time of the year in Kentucky is generally beautiful with the changing of colors on mother nature’s landscape and typically dry but cool air. This weekend actually turned out to be much warmer than average, but we did manage to find some moisture as the fourth and final day began. As we departed Green River Lake State Park, it was already raining and picked up over the first 15 miles before breaking up as we pulled into our brunch stop at Lindsey Wilson College (the primary partner/sponsor for the event all ten years). As usual, we were treated with wonderful hospitality by the LWC family, and had our choice of way too much to eat. Knowing the rain was only gone temporarily, most cyclists ate lightly and hit the road pedaling. The next 20 miles is my favorite stretch over the whole ride as we found the tough rollers leaving LWC, then a very steep, technical descent into the Cumberland valley where the road and scenery is just beautiful winding along the river bed. I managed to get an extra 2 miles on a side road where I was told I could find one of the toughest climbs in the county (and I just couldn’t resist).
The final rest stop is located in the town of Burkesville, and is always the best place to take a break and fuel up for the final climbing challenge which is probably the longest, toughest climb on the entire GABRAKY route, especially since it’s strategically placed in the last 10 miles of the ride. Reach the top of it without any stopping or walking, and you have achieved a true accomplishment. I finished with my good friend, Chris Schmidt, whom I had ridden all the days with and shortly after we completed the rain was back. I felt sorry for the ones who got caught up in it again, because it was driving. The wind was fierce all day on the final day, and that rain was tough to see in, let alone pedal a bike in. But I know everyone was proud of their finish, regardless of the weather that brought them home.
I can’t say enough about how much I enjoy this ride, and what an awesome job all the volunteers do. If this is any indication of how well this ride impressions people, multiple years I’ve seen the volunteers from previous years back as cyclists the following year! Lindsey Wilson College and their entire crew has done an exceptional job helping to keep this grand ride moving and the support they always provide is top notch. Hats off to the committee that puts the event together each year and especially the ones that volunteer to be chair persons and take charge! Since I’ve now ridden this event five times, and spent some time in the front, middle, and rear of the pack, I’ve seen it from all angles. I think that qualifies me to also critique the ride some, and I recognize my opinions may be in the minority. I enjoy the the changing of the route from time to time, but I wish it could stay in the three day format. I like the challenge of a long day in the ride and I truly enjoyed the stop at Camp Acton retreat in past years (it was like camping, but in a bed with heat or air, and gave everyone an great evening/morning of bonding). As one who finished near the front of the pack this year, I’d like to see a ride representative at the end of each day to greet riders and direct them where to go as they finish. It may sound crazy, but if the ride is to be called the “Governor’s,” I think it would be nice representation for the Governor to greet us at the Capitol. It would also be helpful for the luggage vehicle to be at each day’s finish waiting on the cyclists, so that everyone can shower up as they come in without waiting for direction.
All in all, this ride is still one of my favorites, and I look forward to doing it again next year. My recommendations are only my opinion on a few things I think could be improved, but the majority of this event is golden already. It was so nice to spend some genuine cycling time with some of my family and friends! So glad I got to ride with Charles II (Pops) Pearl, Jamie Garrett, Angela Mitchell, Nathan Rome, Linn Laborda, Ed Stodola, Chris Schmidt, and Tim Stout! Also glad my sis Charlsie was able to be there with great SAG service. She’ll probably join those in the past that decided to ride after volunteering. (I hope.) I also enjoyed meeting and riding with many new faces, some from here locally, and some from as far away as Colorado and New Mexico. Thank you GABRAKY for another memorable cycling event. I don’t attend events at the Grand Theater as often as I should, but it has come a long way since my first visit there to watch a movie. Kudos to the “Save The Grand” folks for staying committed to restoring a facility that my generation and my children’s generation could use a lot more of. Hope to see all of you and more on the road soon. Cheers and Safe Cycling …