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A "blue collar" cyclist's adventures from the saddle of a bike.
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The Spirit of Adventure: An Interview with Charlie Farrow - part II
My interview with Charlie Farrow continues as he shares some insight into how he views "limits", what he thinks of quitting, and some fond memories of riding with yours truly. So, grab a cold one and enjoy some thoughts from a modern day adventurer.
Have you ever legitimately feared for your life while pushing your limits?
Fearing for my life while pushing limits? I cannot say that I have ever gotten that far down the wormhole. To be honest, both physiologically and mentally, I am simply not cognitively advanced enough to really break down or break through what David Epstein has called psychological “limiters” within the context of endurance endeavors (see his compelling book, The Sports Gene, for a much more in-depth explanation). In a compelling TED talk Epstein maintains that "Our brain acts as a limiter, preventing us from accessing all of our potential physical resources, because we might hurt ourselves, tearing tendons or ligaments. But the more we learn about how that limiter functions, the more we learn how we can push it back just a bit, in some cases by convincing the brain that the body won't be in mortal danger by pushing harder.” I agree in part with Epstein, in that I do believe that there are highly motivated athletes amongst us that can “push” their limits beyond what their brains want them to do (or not do), but I am worried about the second part of his conclusion, that is, the part where he states that the brain of such athletes can convince the body that irreparable danger will not occur once these limits are surpassed or even transcended. You may recall that truly epic 24 hour national race that pitted the great Trek Rider Chris Eatough against the indomitable Aussie, Craig Gordan, in which they essentially rode each other into the ground. Gordan won, but the price was severe kidney failure and ultimately compromised health for a long time. My sense is that these limiters are in place for biological reasons and that to break through these limiters, may be to invite serious health problems down the road or even a shortened or compromised life span. Recently there has been a real interest in looking at the long term effects of endurance racing on its practitioner’s cardio-vascular systems. The evidence is still very new and to some extent confusing, but from what I have been able to glean from various ‘Google’ searches and in speaking with friends-in-the-know, pushing the limits a few times a year is probably okay, but breaking down biological “limits” is also not a healthy choice and thus doing more than three or four extended (24 hours or more) events per year is probably too much for most athletes. Below is a link to an interesting website that offers access to several recent studies done on endurance athletes and the long term effects on their cardiovascular systems. Nowadays, during a long race, like for example the Arrowhead 135, when I get really really tired and/or start to feel really exhausted, I lay down and take me a little nap or if I have the time, even a long sleep,…Its amazing how just a fifteen to thirty minute nap can revitalize one’s outlook on life’s little challenges and a good six to eight hour sleep can simply work miracles.
Often times it is the successes that we talk about, not the failures. Tell me about some of your failed attempts; were these "soul crushing" or motivating "I can’t wait for next time" moments?
Like you and the majority of the guys reading this, to me the achievement of finishing a race is very important and thus quitting a race should only be considered under very extraordinary circumstances. I take pride in the fact that I have really never simply quit a race because things were not going well for me. I remember a passage in Ned Overend’s classic, Mountain Bike Like A Champion, in which he stated that he will never be good enough to quit because he is having a bad race. In recent years, as I have gotten older, fatter, and slower, I have missed making the cut-offs on a couple long races, the most recent one was at the Tuscobia 150 where I made an ill conceived attempt to ski it and in doing so, missed the third time-cut-off at the 68 mile check point, but I have never just said, “the hell with it” and quit a race. We all have very busy and hectic lives and so these long races or endurance efforts act as a form of cathartic escapism for our regular and predictable routines. Quitting just is not an option. My amateurish advice or basic rule, for those in the game for the long haul— When things go wrong, I recommend to take the attitude that since you have taken the time and paid the fees to get into the race, use all the time allotted and see how far you can get. Remember that conditions do sometimes change for the better, so hang in there and hope for positive change. I remember five or six years ago, Jeremy Kershaw and I were battling really tough conditions going into the last couple hundred miles of the Trans-Wisconsin, including torrential rains and strong head winds. We were in tough shape, really dragging, but the circumstances were such that we couldn’t really quit, even if we wanted to (those are the best kind of races, in my view). Then, miraculously the skies cleared and the winds dramatically shifted to the point that for the last hundred miles, we honestly felt like we did not have to pedal and yet we were flying. It seemed as if we were heading downhill for the rest of the event. It was an amazing transformation. I guess in summary, I have always felt that there are very few reasons to quit a race. Obviously, one would be if a vital piece of equipment breaks and yet even in these rare situations, I have been able to borrow a bike or a seat post, etc. Last year at Chris Shotz’s ThunderDown Race, hitting a rock just after the start, I bent my chainring significantly, to the extent that I believe most riders would have quit because by the time it took to get it off the crank and then find some guys to help me hammer it back into functionality, I had already been lapped by the entire field. Yet, I soldiered on and actually started to turn some fast laps and while I finished near the end of the group, I remember that race with fond memories. In short, unless you are a professional cyclist, you are simply not good enough to quit a race unless you are really seriously hurt or if you have experienced some kind of catastrophic gear failure. If you are just getting your butt kicked by a bunch of faster guys, hang in there, eat the humble pie, and then feel good about guttin’ it out…
You and I have ridden literally thousands of miles together; many of those have taken place while laughing hysterically at the ridiculousness of what we were in the middle of. Tell me about some times where you’ve paused and contemplated a situation that you were in that even you had a hard time wrapping your head around.
have enjoyed every minute of our time together. Throughout my life, whether it involved playing football in high school and college or rock and ice climbing in my twenties and thirties or riding bikes in my forties and fifties, my strongest and most meaningful friendships have always resulted from doing athletic feats with other people. The power of shared experiences while pursuing adventures coupled with shared exposures to misadventures seems to really solidify personal relationships. The act of doing something challenging and the shared experiences that results are the building blocks for solid friendships. One memory that really sticks in my mind is the time you and I were riding together in the Trans-Iowa chasing the two leaders. At this point, you were essentially pulling me along as I was intellectually at the level of an aged mollusk. It was late night and somehow as we left a little town, ultimately confused, we got totally turned around, and thus started heading back the way we came. In a most surreal moment, far out in front of us, we spied a series of lights heading towards us. I thought it was perhaps the lights of a tractor and you were as confused as I was. It was such a strange thing to be riding towards the lights but not realizing what was happening. Eventually as the lights came closer we realized that it was a group of two comprising Troy Kraus and the eventual winner, Dennis Grelk. We were stunned and also incredibly thankful that we had run into them. Dennis was feeling very strong and thus lead us for many miles, until we encouraged him to push ahead. Of course I eventually fell apart, while you and Troy finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. I will always remember watching those strange lights coming towards us on that remote gravel road out in the middle of Iowa…
Part III, the final installment coming soon.