A Note from Fatty: Before reading this part of my race report, be sure to check out the previous installments: Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Today you should note that I will be including some foul language. Or at least, I will be discussing the fact that I used foul language, for comedic effect.
Also, you should be aware that my intended comedic effect wasn’t particularly funny.
Staying Behind My Friends
Brad Keyes is the inventor / owner of CarboRocket, which is my go-to energy drink for endurance events.
He is also a member of the Core Team — one of the guys I’ve been riding with ever since I’ve been riding.
He’s also one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.
Finally, he is both fast and technical. Much stronger and faster than I ever have been, or ever will be.
Sadly, he has a pornstache, making him terrifying to women and small children. And men. Perhaps especially men.
Here he is, kissing Kenny, as I smile benignly at the camera:
Just in case that isn’t creepy enough for you, here he and I are right before the race:
OK, it may not be entirely clear which of the two of us is creepier in this photo.
Oh, and one more photo, just because it’s nice to know what folks who are going to appear in the story later look like:
From right to left, that’s Cori, Kenny, Brad, Brad’s tongue, and me. But enough terrifying photography already. Let’s get back to the story.
Brad, Kenny, and Cori were all racing on singlespeeds, while I was racing a geared bike in my age division (40-49). Which meant that we were all starting in the same combined wave. However, with my start waaaay in the back, I knew all three were ahead of me.
Or at least I thought they were.
Somewhere along the technical section of the Zen trail, Cori caught and passed me. The only thing that surprised me about this fact was that I thought he was already ahead of me.
“So I just went from being sure I was behind all my friends to being really sure I’m behind all my friends,” I thought to myself. But hey, I was OK with that.
No, I’m just kidding. I wasn’t OK with that at all.
But — apparently — my friends didn’t care about my feelings, and continued to stay ahead of me.
And then something happened.
I was bombing down what is arguably (i.e., I would happily make this argument) the single most fun part of the race: the Bear Claw / Poppy trail (linked video is not mine, but gives a great sense of the trail).
The Scalpel was in its element; I was flying down this trail faster and more confidently than I ever have before. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised (but I was anyway) when, looking very far ahead off into the distance, I saw Brad.
And then I saw him far off ahead in the distance, but not quite as far as before.
And then he was not that far away. Indeed, he was somewhat close.
And then I was right on his tail. At which point it struck me that this would be an awesome time to make a hilarious joke.
Oh, and also I knew exactly what that hilarious joke ought to be: I would let loose with a massive string of angry profanity at the top of my lungs, demanding he immediately get out of the way!
Is it any wonder that I am a beloved internet cycling blog comedy superstar?
I let loose. You wouldn’t believe how loose I let. I was shocked by my loosity.
Brad merely moved right, yielding the left line to me.
At which point I stopped understanding how my prank was funny. Eventually I’m sure it will come back to me.
“Hey Brad,” I said as I pulled alongside.
“Hey Fatty, have a good race!” he replied. “And if you go hard, Cori’s just a couple minutes ahead.”
I resolved to remove “pretend outrage” from my joke quiver. Although now that I think about it, this is not the first time that I’ve made such a resolution.
The Hardest Climb IN THE WORLD
With Brad behind me, the biggest climb of the day was ahead: Stucki Springs. And this climb is huge. Monumental, maybe. Soul-crushing, really. In fact, I don’t think it would be out of line for me to suggest that this climb is the most difficult mountain biking climb in the entire world.
I base this, of course, upon my experience from a few weeks ago, when Kenny and Brad vanished off in the distance during this climb, and The Hammer had to hold back in order not to leave me toiling solo in the wind.
It was in fact this climb that had been my big bugaboo for this race. My memory of it was that of pure exhaustion and misery.
So it was a little bit of a shock to find that this time, it was no big deal. I climbed it fast, frequently passing people, without difficulty or incident.
It is so weird how, in cycling, a climb can be so difficult on one ride that you are utterly convinced that it is — objectively — an impossible task. And then the next time you just…ride it.
Hitting the summit, I asked myself, “So, is this actually a hard climb, or an easy one? Which time was I correct?“
So much of cycling happens inside your head.
PS: No cliffhanger today. I’ll post the final installment of this race report on Monday, with The Hammer’s report on Tuesday. And then some new awesomeness I’m not going to tell you about ’til Wednesday.
After the race, I met up with the man whose life I had saved just a few hours ago.
No, I didn’t come to visit him in the hospital, where he had just been released from the ICU. In fact, I met him while standing in line to get the post-race meal we got as part of the race.
He was there, as you might suspect, because I had saved his life so well that he had been able to finish the race.
He thanked me. Because I’m awesome at life-saving.
How to Save a Life, Part 1
The thing is, his wasn’t the only life I had saved during this race. Earlier, I had noticed a racer walking his bike down the trail. His rear tire was clearly flat.
Pulling to a stop, I said, “I have stuff to fix a flat. Want it?”
“No,” he replied. “I’ve had three flats today already. I’ve had enough. I’m done.”
“Are you sure about that?” I asked. “You don’t want to quit this race, right?”
“You might need that to fix a flat of your own,” he pointed out.
“Yeah, but if that happens, I guarantee someone will help me out. People around here are like that,” I said. Which is totally true. I am 100% certain that anyone who needed help during this race would have gotten that help in short order (exactly this happened, in fact). Which is an awesome vibe to have during a race.
“No, I’m going to take three flats as a sign that this just isn’t meant to be,” he said. “I’d probably crash and die on my next flat.”
I had volunteered my stuff (at least) three times, and he had turned it down each time, enough that I felt like he wasn’t being polite. He really had flipped the switch. He was done.
So I left him without giving him what he needed to ride again, thus preventing him from almost certainly having a horrific, life-ending crash.
It felt good to have saved his life.
How to Save a Life, Part 2
I confess that this first saving of a life may not have been all that dramatic. I would now like to further warn you that you probably aren’t going to feel like all this buildup to the cliffhanger I set you up for yesterday isn’t going to be worth it, either.
In which case I would like to offer you a refund of your ten minutes.
As I concluded in yesterday’s post, I was riding strong. Feeling great. Happy to be outside and riding my heart out.
Then I saw a man, not on his bike. Walking up an incline — a steep incline, to be sure, but not unrideable. He was slowly pushing his bike, clearly in agony.
I recognized that agony. I’ve been there before, pushing my bike because I was in too much pain to ride.
That’s how you keep moving forward when your quads and hamstrings are both locked up, fully cramped.
The pain is incredibly intense. I swear, it feels like you are going to die.
I slowed to his pace. Which, basically, means I was going just slightly faster than a trackstand. “Cramps, both legs?”
“Yes,” he grunted between clenched teeth. “It’s killing me.”
“I’m going to save your life,” I said. And — very dramatically, as is my way — I climbed off my bike and produced a fliptop tube of Gu Roctane Electrolyte Capsules.
“Take a handful of these and you’ll be back on your bike in no time,” I said. He stuck out his hand and I shook half a dozen (maybe more) pills into his hand.
“All of them, right now,” I emphasized. “They’ve brought me back from cramps just like yours. They’re a lifesaver.”
He nodded, popped them into his mouth, and washed them down.
“Good luck,” I said, and got back onto my bike.
Clearly, I am a hero. A life-saving hero.
Still, as I rode off — my heart full and my chest puffed out — I couldn’t help but wonder: Under what circumstances would I accept and unquestioningly swallow a handful of pills (pills that had not been identified, no less) from a complete stranger?
While racing and cramping so bad I thought I might die, came back the obvious answer.
Which made me feel like even more of a hero. Because I am.
How to Save a Life, Parts 3 and 4
I had been out Carborocket for about ten minutes, and already I was getting concerned. I drink quite a bit less than most people do during races, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to not have water available when I need it.
Fortunately, about fifty feet after I had saved this (second) man’s life, I arrived at a popup tent. Beneath, a man stood, fiercely guarding several containers of water.
OK, it’s possible he wasn’t guarding the water. In fact, it’s possible he offered it to me freely.
You could even say he saved my life by refilling my Camelbak, though I might quibble with you on that score, due to my aversion to hyperbole.
Anyway, with my Camelbak replenished, I continued on, feeling like I probably would not need to stop again for water.
I was right, but I was also kind of wrong. Because not ninety minutes later, I came across the official aid station. Which means I had refilled my Camelbak with unofficial water!
I chose to press on. Indeed, thanks to the location of this unofficial aid station I had unwittingly used, I thought that I would not be using any official aid station for the entirety of the race.
And then, as I passed by, I stopped suddenly. For I had seen…a can of Coke.
A can of Coke, I tell you.
“Can I have that Coke?” I asked the aid station person.
“Sure,” this Angel of Heaven replied, and commenced to pour it over a cup full of ice.
I drank. It was glorious. I had not even realized that I had been dying, but this Coke was so wonderful that there is no possible other explanation of its perfection than that I needed it in order to survive.
Thereby was my own life saved.
Next: A Flashback
I had one more loop — on a trail called “Barrel Ride” or “Barrel Roll” or “Big Barrel Full of Rolling Riders” or something like that. And then a mostly-downhill ride to the finish line.
So you’d think this story is mostly over. But you’d be wrong, because tomorrow I’m going to flash this story back to earlier in the race, when I was a terrible person to some of my very best friends.
A Note from Fatty: If you’re catching up with this story, you should read the prologue first, then part 1, then this. Otherwise, you’re going to miss out on…well, not much, really. But still: please read them. Or I’ll be all sullen for the rest of the day.
Things have changed.
As a darned-near-49-year-old-man, it’s rare that I get to say this, but as I hit the first climb of the day, it was immediately apparent. For one thing, I stayed seated for about 3/4 of the climb; a winter of TrainerRoad has changed my riding behavior. Instead of hitting everything like a singlespeeder (whether I’m on a singlespeed or not), I was shifting to a lower gear and spinning.
Oh, and instead of a fully rigid singlespeed, I was on a technological marvel of a bike: a full-suspension Cannondale Scalpel Carbon Team, complete with a SRAM XX1 drivetrain, a fork that…doesn’t fork, and high-zoot ENVE XC wheels.
Sadly, I was killling myself a little too hard to take a selfie, but here I am with this beauty of a bike on the exact same course, wearing the exact same thing as I did during the race, but a few weeks earlier:
So really, you just need to imagine a lot of people around me. And also, I’m about four pounds lighter now than I was back then.
Anyway, while I am probably a hardtail guy at heart, this Scalpel was beginning to change my mind about full suspension.
After the first big climb — a great chance for me to move forward a few places in the group — the True Grit Epic puts you on rolling dirt roads for a few miles, punctuated with short stretches of singletrack.
I got into a nice uncomfortable riding groove, repeatedly telling me several important facts about this race:
- I would not place well. As a 48-year-old man, I was in the largest age group division: 40-49. There were 99 of us, and I recognized more than ten names of people who are much faster than I am. I would not get on the podium. I would not even get close.
- I had no objective. With a course that was changed from previous years, and with weather that was better than in any previous years, previous finish times of my competitors meant nothing. I wasn’t racing against anyone, and I wasn’t even racing against a clock. I was just racing. Going hard as practice for going hard.
- I could get injured. This course is no joke. It’s mostly extremely technical singletrack. To ride all of it would require mountain biking skills beyond what I’ve got. All the fancy suspension and geometry in the world won’t prevent me from panic-braking and going over my handlebars. The season hasn’t even begun, really. I would err on the side of caution.
During this few miles, I slowly reeled in a guy on a very nice Ibis Ripley. As I finally caught him, I said, “Hey, that is a really nice bike.”
He did not reply.
“Super nice Ripley,” I said, again.
That’s when I saw the earbuds in his ears. Both ears.
I’d see this guy probably a dozen more times during the day, but I never tried talking with him again. When I passed him, I didn’t bother calling it out. And I noticed other people frustrated with getting no response from as they called out they were coming by on one side or the other, too.
I’m not one to preach about listening to music while on your bike. Not even during races. Do what you want to do. But how about this: During a race, don’t listen to your music to the extent that you are unaware of your fellow racers. It’s dangerous, and it’s rude.
A Really Nice Surprise
I promise, that was the absolutely last grumpy thing I’m going to say about this day, in large part because it’s the only even slightly bothersome experience I had from the day.
It was mid-March and sunny, with temperatures staying in the 70s. The wind was never stronger than a couple miles per hour: just enough to be pleasant.
People were courteous. Those of us who were tentative on some of the really technical stuff were doing our best to get out of the way of those who are technical superstars.
And the course was marked beautifully.
I can’t emphasize what a wonderful relief that was.
As a person who is…um…challenged with directions and course markings in general, I had been really nervous about the True Grit Epic, especially after pre-riding the course a few weeks earlier with Kenny. Both The Hammer and I had agreed that we would never have succeeded in making the correct turns in this labyrinth of trails; we were sure to get lost or misread the course.
But I didn’t. Ever. Not one single problem with seeing the course, not one blown turn, not one question in my mind about whether I was currently going on an unmarked adventure.
Every single turn was indicated, and most places where you shouldn’t turn were taped off or marked with a “Wrong Way” sign.
I don’t think I ever went more than fifty feet without seeing a course marking, making it so I could spend all my time concentrating on riding well and trying to be fast.
GRO Productions deserves kudos galore for their extraordinary work in making this one of the easiest-to-follow courses I’ve ever been on, especially in light of how it could have easily been one of the most confusing.
Looking for The Hammer
Before long, I encountered a racer buddy / friend: Mark Nelson. He and I aren’t related (as far as I know) but we seem to have similar power, similar speed. I’ve ridden a big chunk of the 6 Hours of Frog Hollow with him. I’ve ridden a smaller chunk of the Rockwell Relay with him.
And here at the True Grit Epic, for the next two hours or so, we’d be playing a game of leapfrog. I passed him on every climb. He passed me on every descent.
I tried to get him to talk during the climbs; he tried to get me to follow his line over more technical terrain than I should have during descents.
All the while, however, I kept looking back over my shoulder. Because I was looking for my real competition: The Hammer.
Yes, I viewed my wife as the most important competition I had in this race.
Yes, also I realize that’s kind of messed up.
But here’s the thing. When The Hammer and I pre-rode the True Grit course a few weeks ago, she killed me. She was faster on the climbs. She was nearly as fast on the descents.
And — very importantly — she got stronger and faster as the day went on…while I started sagging.
The below photo, for example, shows her easily riding behind me as I do my level best to not let her hang:
This had caused me some concern for the race day. Because, you see, if The Hammer caught me, it didn’t mean we were racing together, it meant that she had made up the five minutes between our starting waves.
That said, before the race I had admitted the possibility that this might happen, and had given The Hammer strict instructions on how to interact with me as she passed.
“Don’t make fun of me or yell at me to get out of your way,” I said. “That’s humiliating.”
“OK, no making fun. No humiliating,” she said.
“And don’t tell me I’m doing good as you ride by. That’s condescending and embarrassing and I won’t believe you.”
“Fine. I won’t tell you you’re doing bad, but I won’t tell you you’re doing good, either.”
“Maybe you should just pretend you don’t know it’s me as you go by,” I concluded.
I kept looking over my shoulder, wondering if I’d see her. Whether I’d see her. Whether she’d actually not say anything when she rode by
But she didn’t pass me. I was, I had to admit, riding really strong.
Strong enough, in fact, that I caught up with and passed several racers.
Including a racer who was no longer on his bike.
At which point I got off…and commenced to save his life.
Which seems like a good place to pick up tomorrow.
A Note from Fatty: The prologue to this story is here.
The good thing about getting to the starting line of a race with no time to spare is that you also have very little time to fret. So with the ninety-or-so seconds I had before the race began, I did a very abbreviated version of the self-check I do before every race.
- Do I have my helmet on? Yes. Yes I do.
- Do I have gloves on? Yes.
- How about cycling shoes? Brief moment of panic…I don’t remember changing into cycling shoes. Then I remember: today I put my cycling shoes on first thing. I’ve never worn anything but cycling shoes today.
- Is my bike in a good gear for starting? All too many people don’t ask themselves this question, and as a result start their race with their bike in a ridiculously tall gear (this is not a problem when you have a singlespeed). I lift the rear of my bike and shift into third gear. That should be about right.
- Do I have food? Yes, about ten Gu Roctane gels, and a small camelbak full of CarboRocket 333. I expect to have to refill the camelbak with whatever is available at the aid station once or twice; otherwise I’m set with everything I need for about 5.5 hours of racing.
- Do I have sunglasses on? Yes.
Good enough. If I have forgotten something, there isn’t anything I can do about it at this point anyway.
The guy beside me — who looks to be about fifty pounds overweight, as opposed to my fifteen pounds of overweightness — scoots his bike forward into the narrow slot in front of me.
I laugh in my head, considering what this guy just implicitly said about his opinion of how fast I look. I look back toward The Hammer, giving her my best “I just got totally dissed” look.
As I will confirm later, she has no idea what this look means.
Cimarron Chacon, the race director, yells “Go!” and we do. I’m at the near-back of the line, so have half a minute to wait. I’m not bothered; I know that I have a mile or two of pavement before we hit the road.
Within ten pedal strokes I’m past the guy who moved in front of me at the starting line.
I slingshot from group to group, moving forward until there’s clear space, then I buckle down and start pushing to get to the next group, up ahead.
Just before I get there, a group I had unwittingly been pulling along shoots around me and completes the bridge. I laugh; this cracks me up for some reason I am still unsure of. Mostly, I’m just happy to be beginning a new season of racing, I guess.
We hit the dirt, roll for about fifty feet, and wham. We’re on a short, very steep, punishing climb.
This is really good for me.
I punch the lockout — one button gets me a stiff front and rear shock — and stand up, leaving the gear where it was. I like big gears for climbing.
Less than a minute later, I’m at the top of this first little climb, and surrounded by, more or less, the same group of people I’m going to be passing — and getting passed by — for the rest of the day.
Which is where I’ll pick up tomorrow.
PS: I know, this is a really short installment that doesn’t cover a lot of ground. It’s all I’ve got time for today, though. More tomorrow, I promise.
A Full Disclosure Note from Fatty: GRO Races provided complimentary entry to The Hammer and me.
I was worried.
That is not unusual; I’m always worried before races begin. But this time, I was worried for a different reason than usual: I was worried because i was afraid of the True Grit Epic course; pre-riding this intensely technical, rocky, 50-ish-mile course a few weeks ago had only underscored this fear.
I was worried that The Hammer would beat me. And while I’m perfectly happy for her to be really fast and beat everyone else in the whole world, I want to be just a little bit faster than she is, due to my fragile male ego. There, I said it.
I was worried I would get lost. I had heard the course was tricky, and I don’t really know the trails in the area. If it wasn’t well marked, I could easily wind up riding into the ocean (eventually).
And so The Hammer and I showed up early. Partially to make sure we picked up our packets, but mostly because we woke early and had nothing better to do.
We parked — getting an awesome spot in the parking lot, due to our earliness — picked up our packets, put our numbers on our bikes (I’d be riding the Cannondale Scalpel Team I’ve fallen in love with over the past couple months), and…still had about an hour and a half ’til our race began.
But First, Let Me Take a Selfie
But while the “short” race — only fifty-ish miles of technical mountain biking in mid-March — was 90 minutes away, the 100-mile (two laps of the same course) race was getting ready to begin, and folks were lining up.
Including lots of people I kinda know, or have maybe met, or don’t know but follow on Twitter, or have heard of, or something.
A perfect opportunity for me to get pictures of them. With me.
First, I got a photo of Sonya Looney, the person who would eventually win the pro women’s race with an 8:12:
Look how happy she is to be seen with me!
Then, Jeff Kerkove, possibly the nicest pro in the entire world:
Look how happy he is to be seen with me!
And then I saw Kate from St. Louis. I had never met Kate before, but had been told to be on the lookout for her. We had talked for a moment before the race, but I hadn’t realized that she’d be riding the 100-mile race. On a singlespeed.
For what it’s worth, I had considered doing the 100-mile version of this race…and had then come to my senses and rejected it as too hard.
But Kate from St. Louis — who had just finished getting her PhD and had therefore not had a lot of time for studying — was lining up for the full 100 miles.
Right at the very second her race began, I got a photo of us:
Look how happy she is to be seen with me! (Kate’s race story is great, by the way. Read it here.)
Plenty of Time
With the 100-milers gone, I still had a ton of time to kill — a full hour — before the race began. Some of my best friends trickled in:
From the right, that’s Cori, Kenny, Brad, and…me. They sure seem happy to be seen with me!
I could tell that this was an important race because even Big Bikes Thom of DirtWire.TV was there reporting it.
Look how happy he is to be seen with me!
Separated at birth?
OK, let’s move on.
Things were not as cheerful in the outhouse line, which was moving verrrrry slowly.
I was sure glad I had plenty of time!
Until There Is No Time at All
Finally, it was time to get lined up for the start. The Hammer and I wandered back to our truck, put on our helmets, Camelbaks and gloves, locked the truck, and were about to ride to the starting line.
When someone came up to us and said, “You’re not allowed to park here. You’re going to need to move your truck.”
My head spun around. The race would be starting in ten minutes. Now I needed to move my truck?
“What?” I said. “There are no ‘no parking’ signs anywhere near here.”
“We forgot to put them up,” he replied.
“There’s no available parking anywhere near here,” I said. “And my race starts in ten minutes! Where am I supposed to put my truck?”
He didn’t answer; he had moved on to evict the next person.
“I’ll take your bike and go to the starting line,” The Hammer told me. “You go find a place to park.”
Absolutely positive I wouldn’t find a place to park before the race began, I jumped into the truck and began driving, hopelessly looking for a place to park. Amazed and freaked out that after two hours of dawdling, I was about to not make the start.
Three blocks away from the starting line, I finally found a spot on the side of the road. I did the fastest (and possibly poorest) parallel parking job in my life, jumped out, and began speed-walking back to the starting line.
The national anthem started playing on the loudspeaker.
I began running. Now I could see the starting line arch again.
The national anthem ended.
I was almost there.
“One minute warning!” the race director said over the PA.
I was there. But I couldn’t see The Hammer. I walked back through the line, searching, searching.
I saw her. Ran to her. Grabbed my bike. Gasping from panic and my sprint to the starting line.
“You’re in the second wave,” The Hammer told me. “You still have two minutes ’til you go.”
Two minutes. Suddenly two minutes seemed like a vast amount of time.
I gave The Hammer a kiss and moved forward into my corral (she’d be starting in the next wave), my heart still racing.
I was ready for this race to begin.
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