The Weirdest Iceman Week Ever…

It’s Iceman Week! For many of us, it’s like the week before Christmas, the Super Bowl, and National Pie Day all rolled into one. This isn’t a normal Iceman Week, of course, but nothing in 2020 has gone according to plan.  Continue reading “The Weirdest Iceman Week Ever…”

A Message from Steve Brown

I want to have a word with all of you in the Iceman community about a touchy subject.

It’s October now and the time of year when Bell’s Icemania kicks into high gear. Soon it will be November and guys will start growing mustaches and beards for Movember in support of men’s health.

My father was an alcoholic who died of prostate cancer at the age of 53. By the time they caught it at age 46, his cancer had metastasized to his bones. He battled for seven years before succumbing to the disease.

Throughout my adult life, I felt that his cancer was a direct result of drinking gallons of Tanqueray and Fresca and that I could avoid it if I led the healthy active lifestyle of a cyclist and imbibed only moderately.

Imagine my concern this past January when during my annual physical we discovered that my PSA level was 9. “There must have been some kind of mistake. Let’s check it again”, I thought. Another test came back at 8.3. My primary care physician referred me to a urologist, and I received word that I was positive for an aggressive form of prostate cancer in June (delayed 3 months due to COVID-19). Kikkan Randal’s story of winning an Olympic medal with Jessie Diggans (Nordic skiing team sprint) and discovering breast cancer a month later kept me from denying that it was possible for a healthy person to have cancer.

I am now recovering from a radical prostatectomy and, so far, everything looks good. I am counting the days until I can ride my bike again (38). Turns out that my cancer was genetically inherited and being a lifelong athlete wasn’t going to change that.

Don’t put off your annual physical and if it’s been a few years since you’ve seen your doc, get on it now. Friends, don’t let them slide. If they can’t make an appointment on their own, do it for them. This is the year to do it since the Bell’s Iceman is on hiatus and you have some extra time to look after your own health. I know I am glad we’ve addressed my situation before it had a chance to spread.

Prostate cancer may be a slow growing disease but it’s always better to catch it early. Just ask my father.

Steve

For The Fun Of It: The 2020 Course

Last week, we made the call. No doubt the announcement that this year’s Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge wouldn’t happen disappointed a lot of people, but we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive calls, emails, and text messages in the days since our racers heard the news. Your support has made a very tough time so much better, and we can’t thank you enough for the donations and kind words.  Continue reading “For The Fun Of It: The 2020 Course”

The Tough Call, The Right Call: How We Got Here

It was way, way back in March on the long drive down to Bell’s Eccentric Cafe for the registration party that we started bracing ourselves for this possibility. The Festival Foundation was scrambling not only to sign up eager Icemen and Icewomen for our 31st edition but also to switch the Leapin’ Leprechaun 5k to a virtual event. To my knowledge, they were the first event to make the move. They were not the last. 

On the drive home that night, I thought that, at most, we’d miss a few of the spring races. Over the next few weeks, events in April, May, and June canceled or postponed. Then, it was July and August. I got texts, emails, phone calls, and messages almost every single day asking one thing: “We’re still racing Iceman, aren’t we?” By August, that had changed to something more frustrating, more disappointing, and more honest: “Why have you’ve canceled Iceman yet?”

We weren’t sitting on our hands. Iceman planning starts the Sunday after race day, and that was certainly the case in 2019. By the time we flipped the calendar to 2020, we’d already restructured parking, changed traffic flows in Kalkaska, created the new course, and looked at how we could build more participation in our women’s Pro race. 

All of those plans were put on the back burner with COVID-19. By the end of March, we were already looking at a ton of ways to tweak our race for fall. As confident as some of our racers were, our team watched as event after event were forced to throw their hands up. For the Foundation team, canceling the National Cherry Festival was almost certainly the most difficult decision of their professional careers. In the process of evaluating that event, we started to realize more and more that Iceman as we all know it wouldn’t be possible. 

We ran through dozens of changes to the event, eliminating the obvious elements such as cutting the SRAM Ice Cycle Expo, removing our busing and shuttles, and drastically whittling down race day infrastructure. The finish would have no BISSELL Celebration Zone, where we often get more than 10,000 racers and spectators. In fact, after cresting Icebreaker, racers would be able to see the extent of the finish area in a split-second, with only a timing tent, first aid station, and a very apologetic race director asking them to keep rolling through to the parking lot to get picked up. 

There were many reasons to cancel the event and very few feasible ways to put on anything that resembled the quality race that’s become such an institution in bike racing. First, I think it’s important to say that even if we could have put on the race, bringing over 4,000 people to our region during a pandemic would have been dangerous. Especially with many kids heading back to school, it was impossible to forecast what conditions would look like not just in Traverse City, but in major population centers like Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Lansing, and other places that send their best riders north for the weekend. 

Next, we were denied a permit from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. From the beginning, we’ve trusted and respected the guidelines and restrictions put in place by the state to keep people safe. The DNR denying the permit wasn’t a barrier for us; we believe it was yet another way for us to measure and evaluate risk, and we thank the DNR for working so closely with us this summer. It confirmed what many of us knew to be true; bringing together people from across the state, Midwest, and country isn’t the right thing right now. 

Finally, the decision came down to quality. The Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge earns its reputation each and every year by being the biggest show in town. Our race committee spends months planning and weeks setting up something that feels a bit like the Super Bowl halftime show. We were very concerned that a watered-down version of our race would leave a bad taste in the mouths of participants; come for the Rolling Stones, but see the middle school band? It just isn’t what we do. 

I want to thank the Foundation staff for working tirelessly to try to make this happen. We met weekly (on Zoom, of course) to discuss safety procedures, bounce new ideas off each other, and constantly find ways to make the 2020 Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge a reality. I strongly believe that if any group of people could have pulled off a safe race for thousands of people in a pandemic, it would have been this team. But because they are the quality, caring people they are, they also knew that the best decision for our racers, our sponsors, and our wider community would be to wait until 2021. 

Racers, we’re going to work just hard to make sure that 31st edition of the race happens. What we need is your support to get this staff through 2020 and ready to work on making 2021 the biggest party yet. We understand that times are difficult, but if you can afford to leave your donation, you’ll be ensuring that our tradition of racing through the snow, mud, and rain in November carries on for generations to come. We’ve lined up prizes from Bell’s, a Trek Top Fuel, tons of Clif Bar, and other awesome rewards for donating, including a chance to ride with 2019 Pro winner Alexey Vermeulen! 

Be safe, stay healthy, and look out for each other. Until next time, we’ll see you in the woods! 

Riding For A Reason: Turning Training Into Something More with Less Cancer and Norte

eric norteFor many of us, it’s been months since we’ve last raced a bike. It could be another month or two until it’s safe for us all to get back on course and take a shot at a podium. But leave it to cyclists to make the most of their downtime by mixing training with some really great causes. Continue reading “Riding For A Reason: Turning Training Into Something More with Less Cancer and Norte”

Heart & Heat of Summer

     We’re getting in the heart and the heat of summer! As the weather improves and the miles rack up, we’re deep in the woods looking at ways to create a unique, challenging course that will keep you on your toes.

     So, how does a course come together? One of the biggest pieces of the puzzle comes from working with Northern Michigan Mountain Biking Association and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to learn more about logging plans. Each year, the DNR harvests timber from state land, and there are times that their planes involves sections of the Iceman course.

     We try to forecast those plans and establish new ways around logging forests, or anticipate clean-up efforts in the event that the logging in finished before race day. One of the important elements of refreshing logged sections of trails is to keep them open not just for the first Saturday in November, but to ensure marked and unmarked trails remain accessible year-round for riders.

    There is one section scheduled to log this year, but no date has been set to work on the Make It Stick area we’ve used the past few editions. On the bright side, we can open up the ‘old’ route in no time, and that flexibility gives us time to work on Make It Stick if logging operations are finished with a few weeks before November 7.

     We are also looking at last year’s wave times, average speeds, and other information to inform where and how we can reduce back-ups and open racing. After a tough 30th edition made even more difficult with rain, snow, and mud, 2020 was always planned to be a world apart. Instead of one for the climbers, we’re working on a route suited to the rouleurs, the strong riders who put out a lot of power on the flats and can really put the hurt on other riders when the race hits the Vasa.

     At this stage in the season, we have a few ideas in mind and have given the proposed, top secret route to just a few locals who will be riding the course to establish some baseline times and give their impressions. With group riding slowly coming back, we will also be able to get a better idea of how the new course breaks up slightly larger groups of, say, ten to fifteen.

    Once the DNR is open and taking permits, we’ll finalize the route and create some high-quality maps to submit for their approval as a part of our event permit. Once those receive the green light, we’ve got a course!

    Want to be ready? Get riding. Plan on faster, flatter, and a shorter course that puts the emphasis on horsepower over climbing.

Another week closer to November! Are you getting ready?

With a long three-day weekend,plenty of Iceman athletes were in the woods to enjoy some sun, warm temperatures, and a nice reprieve from being indoors. Spring is slowly turning into something like summer, and that means plenty of chances to rack up long days in the saddle and explore new places to ride. 

It’s also brought some changes to how we ride and who we ride with. Last week, northern Michigan and all of the Upper Peninsula were given the green light to slowly re-open, and that prompted the League of Michigan Bicyclists to update their guidelines. In these areas,they advise:

– Group rides should be 10 people or less

– Practice social distancing when stopped; give at least 30 feet (10 yards) of space when riding in a line

– Don’t share water bottles or snacks – bring your own

– No snot rockets! If you have to blow your nose, use a disposable tissue and throw it in the trash

– Ride two abreast only with other members of your household

– Wear a mask whenever there’s a chance you’ll come into close contact with others, because masks are the best way to protect them if you have the

If you do choose to ride with a few friends, consider keeping it the same crew to prevent further spreading. 

So, what sort of training should you be focused on? With so many races kicked back to August or September, many riders have essentially restarted their base mile phase, opting for longer,less intense rides to rebuild a solid aerobic base. The key is to work backward from your first event and incorporate something like three weeks of base, a rest week, three weeks of longer tempo intervals (think 10-15 minutes at this point in the season), and then shorter, race-intensity efforts leading into the target event. 

It’s also not a bad idea to use the first race or two of the year as a way to experiment with how hard or much you ride going into a race, making small tweaks to your nutrition, and even with how aggressive you are early on in the race, just to see where you’re at physically. “Training through” some events can have a big impact on your overall fitness and set you up to hit your bigger targets in prime conditions. 

Of course, some folks are already firing on all cylinders. If that’s where you find yourself heading into June,work in some race-type efforts a day or two per week to stay sharp. Focus on certain Strava segments that might give you something to really work for a mimic that race-intensity that is so hard to duplicate out of competition. In Traverse City, we’ve seen riders hitting the Speed of Light route, an 11 mile lap on the Vasa Pathway, at full tilt, mimicking a 35-40 minute race effort on their own, using Strava Live Segments to chase their best time or even the KOM. 

Whatever you’re doing on the bike right now, the most important thing is to enjoy it. Go fast, go slow, ride long, ride short. We’re incredibly lucky to have a tool that keeps us fit and healthy at a time when health is newly appreciated. Make sure you make the right decision on riding solo or group rides based on local guidelines and what’s safest for you. As long as you’re pedaling, you’ll be happy you’re out there!