Shifting Gears #1: Daydreaming base miles

Neal Karlinsky is getting back into racing after a 20-year hiatus, despite a demanding job and family, and he'll be writing all about it.

Too busy to ride? So’s Neal Karlinsky. But the married father of two, who’s also a national television news correspondent (you may remember his bombshell 2010 interview in which Floyd Landis admitted to having doped with Lance Armstrong), just got his first USAC race license in 25 years. He’ll be blogging here throughout the year about re-entering the race world in middle age and trying to juggle training and team obligations with work, family, and unpredictable days-long trips to cover breaking news.

It’s pouring rain, freezing cold, I’ve squirmed out of parental driving duties to be here, and I’m suffering like a dog, riding up a steep climb. Oh and I have to go the bathroom, plus I need to check my phone to make sure work isn’t looking for me. This isn’t just a typical Saturday morning, it’s also the stuff that actually fuels my daydreams all week long. “Normal” people don’t get it. The other dads who I see at my kids’ soccer games don’t get it. My family kinda sorta (but not really) gets it and coworkers definitely don’t. But you do. Such is the life of a spandex-clad, heart-rate monitoring, middle-aged professional who revels in the social obscurity that comes with being a bike racing weirdo. Forget “weekend warrior” — I’m a full time obsessive — I just don’t have the time to put in the miles, except during those daydreams.

So here’s my deal. I’m on call at all times and get on airplanes a lot in my job as a journalist, often with no notice at all. I have a bag packed, a satellite phone and other tools of the trade in my trunk, and I generally don’t know how long I’ll be gone. When VeloNews heard I was taking out my racing license for the first time since 1990, they thought it would make for a fun blog, since lots of us face the challenge of wanting to race, despite way too much real life. So this blog is for you — let me suffer and embarrass myself as motivation!

During college at Michigan State in the late 1980s, I raced for a strong team, rode almost 300 miles a week and was known as the “tapeworm.” I probably weighed 120-something pounds and was an eating machine. I once ate more than 100 chicken nuggets for sport — a fact that can be backed up by witnesses — and which ended in an equally impressive amount of vomiting. Anyway, I’m older and heavier now, and I don’t puke nuggets for sport anymore. But I also don’t ride nearly as much. And that’s the heart of the question here — can you race, despite limited training time, kids, a demanding job and a date of birth that means the Betamax was once a technological marvel?

Oddly, my road back to racing coincided with my participation in the sport’s near implosion (ironic much?). I was in the process of booking former Tour de France winner Floyd Landis for a big interview in 2010 as part of an investigation about his old teammate — you know who. And it suddenly occurred to me — holy hell — I’ve never stopped loving the sport. Do I really have a good excuse for my 20-year hiatus? This is where bike computers will kill you, because my brain thought I was still something better than terrible, but that little screen on the bars said otherwise. But steadily, I began to suck less. At first, I admit to being a little intimidated by the big miles “everyone else” was putting in — but you’d be amazed what even just one or two hard rides a week can do. And hooking up with a great team this year (something I should have done sooner), which just got a delicious new sponsor, Taco Time Northwest, is super helpful and something I strongly recommend.

So, here I am, in the cold rain, chewing road grime. I can’t ease up, because Strava is watching. And the first race on the calendar out here in Seattle is crazy early — the end of February. Will I be ready? Of course not. Will I even be in town and available to race or off chasing some story and looking for my hairspray? Dunno. But I’ll definitely be daydreaming about the speed and suffering, long cold miles and tapeworm-worthy caloric burns. After all, it’s my meditation, and the rat race won’t get you kudos on Strava.