A “Hey Join Me for this Last-Minute Conversation About the Rockwell Relay” Note From Fatty: I’m a huge fan of the Rockwell Relay. Huge. And on Wednesday, May 4, at 12pm (noon) MDT I’m going to get together with Tyler Servoss on a Google Hangout to talk about this year’s Rockwell Relay: what’s different, what’s the same, new prizes, new sponsor, changes to the route, and more. Be sure to come join us. We’re going to keep it short and to the point: half an hour of presentation, and then time for Q&A.
Eben Weiss is the author of the popular bike blog, Bike Snob NYC. Here we are together, in a very recently-taken photograph (six years ago):
I show this photograph, of course, to demonstrate what it would look like if Stanley Tucci and Hugh Jackman were bike bloggers who hung around together in bars when given the opportunity.
Also, I am pleased to announce that Eben has just published The Ultimate Bicycle Owner’s Manual: The Universal Guide to Bikes, Riding, and Everything for Beginner and Seasoned Cyclists.
He and I recently spent ninety-five glorious minutes on the FattyCast talking about this book, as well as about how we both regret the names we gave our blogs.
And whether Stan’s Notubes are revolutionary, or merely nifty.
And the fact that we both agree that The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the most important book ever written.
Here’s the thing: his book is useful, and not just for people who have already bought into cycling as a way of life. No. It’s for those people (i.e., us people) and it’s for normal people too — people who are new to biking, or just interested in starting, and have a lot of questions.
Eben highly recommends, therefore, that you get a copy for yourself, and one each for all the friends you have who won’t leave you alone with their bike questions.
I agree completely.
And meanwhile, you should also listen to our conversation. It’s a good one. You can find it on iTunes, on FattyCast.com, you can download it directly, you can get the RSS feed, and you can listen to it right here:
A Note from Fatty: My good friends and sponsor The Feed are doing a bike giveaway: a Cannondale CAAD12 Disc Dura Ace Road Bike.
For a chance to win, all you need to do is click this link, answer a simple question (hint: the answer is “The Feed”), and then give ‘em your email address (and then verify your email address by clicking the link they email you).
Then, if you want to get other chances to win, take the special link you’re given when you register and share it, getting other people to sign up. For everyone who signs up, you get bonus chances.
A pretty clever way to get people to spread the word about your product, right?
Full Disclosure: I am signed up for this contest, and if you use these links to join the contest, you help my chances of winning. I hope you’re cool with that.
Something occurred to me as I began my fourth lap of the 6 Hours in Frog Hollow: I was doing doing something wrong. Something I had learned was wrong, and had become a bit of an evangelist about doing right.
A simple thing. A fundamental thing. A thing that makes a difference in how fast you go. And potentially, for someone like me who is right on the dividing line between doing five laps or six, a thing that determines how many laps you do and whether you get on the podium.
And yet, here I was, doing it wrong, and I hadn’t even thought about the fact that it’s wrong until sixty percent of the way through the race.
Furthermore, it was now too late to correct my mistake and start doing it right.
So: what was this thing I was doing wrong?
Well, that’s a great question, and the previous installments of this story (part 1, 2, 3, 4) actually detail the thing I was doing wrong. But I’m curious: do you know what I was doing wrong? Let’s do an instant poll to find out:
Okay, so here’s what I did wrong: I stopped after every lap to swap bottles and get gels.
And why is that wrong? Easy. Because every time I slowed, stopped, swapped and started again, I was not moving for about a minute. Maybe more.
And since my lap times were consistently at 1:01 — that extra minute mattered.
But as I started my fourth lap, it was too late to do anything about this mistake: I had only one bottle with me, so I’d have to stop again at the beginning of my fifth — and last — lap.
“Oh well,” I thought to myself, “Lesson learned for next time I guess. And it’s not like this minute per lap is going to affect how I do in the race or anything.“
Because why would four one-minute stops matter in a five-plus-hour race, right?
As I mentioned at the end of part four of this story, Blake had told me as I left for my fourth lap that the last time he had seen them, The Swimmer was just six minutes behind me, and The Hammer was six minutes behind her.
Which made me think: that was a whole hour ago. What if either of them — or both! but especially The Swimmer! — had been catching up to me, slowly but surely? And now was about to pass me?
It occurred to me that if that were to happen, I should be proud of how strong and fast these women are. But the truth is, I know from experience that I did not want it to happen.
So I rode with renewed purpose. Not interested in whether any men of my 50+ age group were in my vicinity…but in whether my wife or daughter was about to clean my clock.
As Blake swapped my bottle and gave me my gels for my final lap, I asked again: “How are the girls doing?”
“Now The Swimmer’s about twelve minutes behind you, and The Hammer is twelve minutes behind her.”
“The Swimmer has a twelve-minute gap on The Hammer?” I thought to myself. “She isn’t a swimmer anymore. She’s a Monster.”
And henceforth, that is what she shall be known as on this blog.
To The Wire
There’s something special about being on the final lap of a multi-lap endurance race. Specifically, every time you finish a difficult segment, you get to say to yourself, “Well, I don’t have to do that again today.”
Which, I can assure you, never gets old.
This brings us to the final minute or so of the race.
There was a guy in a green kit I had been taking turns leading and following for the last lap, and at this moment he was fifty or so feet ahead of me. But as we approached the final stretch — a 0.3-mile uphill straightaway on a dirt road with plenty room for passing — I thought to myself, “You know what? I think I’ll see if I can chase him down before we get to the finish line.”
Not for any particular reason. Just for honor, really. To finish strong and whatnot.
And so, as I crossed the river bottom and got onto the beginning of the climb, I shifted into a bigger gear and stood up.
And from the sound of it, so did the guy behind me.
Waitasec. The guy behind me?
Yep, there was a guy behind me. I hadn’t even been aware of him. But now I could hear his chain (we’d all been riding in the sandy, windy desert for five hours, so we all had noisy chains) and the whoof-whoof of knobby tires accelerating on dirt.
There he was, in my peripheral vision, behind and to my right.
Now he was beside me. I matched his speed.
He accelerated. I matched again.
He accelerated once more and I could not hold him. Just couldn’t. I was outgunned.
“Oh well,” I thought. “No biggie, it’s just for fun anyway.“
As he pulled away from me, I looked over. Greying hair.
“He’s taking this pretty seriously,” I thought, as he built a larger and larger gap.
In the end, Jeff Flick built an impressive four second lead over me in that 0.3-mile section of the course.
Which is why he’s standing on the third-place podium spot here in the 50+ men’s group.
And more to the point, it’s why I’m standing in the fourth-place fake-podium spot, looking like I’d rather be just about anywhere else:
So, I missed the podium by four seconds. After stopping after laps one, two, three, and four for about a minute.
So yes, I’ve been kicking myself a bit. Maybe Jeff would’ve got me anyway — he had an astonishing kick at the end, and maybe he had been marking me for several laps and was just making his move when it was smart — but I could have easily reduced the number of stops I made by two, and thus been two minutes faster. In which case, maybe I could have obviated his obviously superior sprint.
And that would have been awesome, because when you’re 5’7” it’s much better to stand on a podium than beside one.
How the Women Did
Blake was waiting there for me at the finish line. “Do I have time to go change before they get in?” I asked him, hoping that I did. And in fact, I did have time, before The Monster flew up to the finish line, a big smile on her face and an arm raised to the sky:
This was the second bike race she had ever finished. And, strangely enough, the second bike race she had won…beating the second place Women’s Solo racer by five minutes, and the third place racer by about fifteen minutes.
So yeah: Meet The Monster. We’ll be very interested to see how she does at Leadville this year, and have a hunch that it might be pretty darned well.
And how about The Hammer? Well, she and Heidi Volpe — one of two other singlespeed women racers — found each other very early in the race…and then rode the whole thing together, talking and laughing the whole time.
Imagine that: two fast, strong singlespeed powerhouse women discovered they had a lot in common and enjoyed each other’s company.
Still, someone had to win, and Heidi had the stronger kick at the end, beating The Hammer by one second. Here they are, afterward.
As you can see, The Hammer is pretty upset at her narrow loss, and was still stewing when it came time to climb on the podium:
We had to get a family shot, with the three of us each in our respective place on — or, in my case, beside — our respective podiums:
But here’s the thing: while I definitely was pretending to be pouty…
…I didn’t have anything to complain about. I had raced against a strong group of grizzled ol’ racers, and out of twenty-two of us, I had finished fourth. And while it’s tempting to be bummed that I was outsprinted, the fact is that Jeff Flick inspired me to finish that final section of that race faster than I ever have before. I gave it my all, and he beat me in a straight-up contest. That’s pretty awesome.
But next year, you can bet that I won’t stop for bottle swaps so often.
I started my third lap of the 6 Hours in Frog Hollow. Physically, I felt fine. The wind was making each lap slower and more difficult than usual, but at least it was now a known adversary: I knew how hard it was blowing, how much it would slow me down on the parts I usually think of as fast.
And now I knew something else, too. Something that…well, something I simply would not have expected.
Because a moment ago, as I was getting gels and a bottle for my next lap, I had asked Blake (who I shall no longer refer to as “DevFoKnAIG,” because it’s too much work to type) a very simple question: “How are the ladies doing?”
“The Swimmer was about two minutes behind you after the first lap.”
Woah, I thought. She’s really doing well. And — as this photo Blake took from the beginning of the race — she was having fun, too:
Blake continued, “And my mom’s about two minutes behind her.”
What? The Hammer is two minutes behind The Swimmer?
So now I had a few things to contemplate as I rode this third lap. Namely, I thought about whether The Hammer had wrecked, or whether racing SS against a harsh headwind was just that much harder.
I contemplated whether it was possible that The Swimmer had gone out too fast, and that the report Blake had given me — which was already a lap old by the time I heard it — was no longer correct and The Hammer had raced past a fading Swimmer.
Finally, I contemplated the possibility that this was confirmation of something The Hammer and I had been privately observing a number of times: The Swimmer is way stronger and faster than a first-year cyclist ought to be.
As I began the big climb, I knew that by then both The Swimmer and The Hammer had to have finished their second laps, so Blake knew what the current status was for both his sister and mom. Normally, I’d text or call so I could also know, as quickly as possible.
But this wasn’t normal. Racing time isn’t phone time, so I would not know for another forty-five minutes what was going on. I was going to have to live with data that was an hour stale for this whole race.
And that’s what I was thinking about as I approached the hump-ledge-exposed hairpin move for the third time.
Not fretting about it this time, I rode it without incident.
I finished my third lap in much the way I raced the third lap: wondering more about how The Hammer and The Swimmer were doing.
Blake had everything ready for me; I didn’t even have to ask. Which is nice, because my race wasn’t all that interesting to me anyway: I had just turned in a third lap within seconds of the time I had turned in the previous two laps: one hour, one minute. Again.
What I wanted to know had nothing to do with me. I had just one question on my mind:
“What about the girls?”
“My sister was about six minutes behind you after her second lap.”
“And your mom?”
“And my mom was about six minutes behind her.”
“So, umm…” I stalled, not exactly certain how to ask the big question on my mind. “…how’s your mom doing?”
“Oh, she’s having fun. She and the other single speed rider are having fun, racing it together.”
And it was true: The Hammer was just happy and having fun. You can see from the pictures Blake took of her between laps:
That face is way too relaxed to be The Hammer I know and ride with.
But even as Blake told me what their relative gaps had been — had given me the most current information he possibly could — I knew that it was outdated. By now, The Hammer and Heidi could be fully duking it out.
Or The Swimmer could have faded. Or — much more likely, considering her history — she could have crashed.
I was eager for this race to be done. Sure, partly to be finished with this hellacious wind, but more because I wanted to know how the other two racers from Team Fatty were going to do.
Just two laps to go, and then I’d know.
And so will you.
A Note from Fatty: Today’s post is going to be short, because I have other fish that need frying, and decisions that need making. I’ll have another installment tomorrow, though. Honest.
I want to begin this post by giving credit where credit is due. The Developer Formerly Known as IT Guy (shortened here to “DevFoKnAIG,” which is prononounced “Duh-FON-Ig” with emphasis on the second syllable) handled his crewing responsibilities flawlessly, as far as I was concerned.
I mean, consider how things went after my first lap, the first time I rolled up.
“I need three gels instead of two, and I want one of them open now,” I said. “And while I eat that, I want my armwarmers. End pocket, grey duffel bag. They’re white.”
DevFoKnAIG swapped my bottle, tore open one of the gels he had in-hand, and then calmly reached into the back of the truck where my duffel was. He located the armwarmers immediately, handed them to me, and then — as I put on the armwarmers — he got the third gel out for me.
No lost seconds.
As soon as I had the armwarmers on, I clipped back in, and DevFoKnAIG gave me a running push to get me back up to speed. A perfect transition.
And then he took a selfie.
I Taunt A Famous Person
Here’s an easy way to tell if you have a truly strong tailwind: you can coast uphill indefinitely.
I’m not a million percent certain that this kind magical coasting ever happened during this race, but I did notice during the second lap of this race that during a couple moments — the ones where I was going both uphill and with the wind — that I was suspiciously strong.
And then the road would turn and I’d be practically knocked off my bike.
But as I climbed — whether with or against the wind — I was thinking about how, this time, I’d clean that tricky move I had missed the first time.
I thought about it long and hard. Too much, perhaps.
No, make that too much definitely, because when I got to the move, I saw the two people ahead of me clean it, and became acutely aware of the three or four people right behind me, all depending on me cleaning it too.
And in short, I choked. Again.
This time, though, I had the presence of mind to quickly scramble out of the way so the next person would be able to make the move and continue on his or her way.
As it turns out, that next person was one Tyson Apostol, who is famous for the following reasons:
- Being a FattyCast guest.
- Having a winning smile.
- Having been a pro cyclist.
- Having been on and winning Survivor.
Note, however, that I did not include the item “Cleaning the Crux Move on the Frog Hollow Course” in the previous list.
And for good reason.
Tyson put a foot down at the apex of the hairpin corner, stood on it (his foot, not the corner) and pivoted his bike.
“You didn’t clean that?” I said, infusing my voice with disappointment. And then, beceause I’m not especially confident in my voice-infusion abilities, I said, “I’m so disappointed in you.”
“Yeah? Well, I’m not the one standing on the side of the hill watching the other guy go by,” Tyson pointed out, correctly, as he went by.
I’m pretty sure thirty people went past me as I stood there, some cleaning the move, some not, all of them going by. I’m not sure why I didn’t just barge in. Waiting for the light to change, I guess.
Eventually, though, I got back on, got going again, and was once again on the very fun Jem descent.
And by “very fun” I of course mean “usually very fun,” because this time it wasn’t much fun at all, thanks to an incredibly powerful wind that kept me down to what felt like a quarter of my normal speed.
Before long, I caught the guy ahead of me, who had caught the guy ahead of him, and so on and so forth. Basically, the train was about ten deep.
And the guy in the lead had no idea how many people he was holding up.
Within a minute, another four or five or ten people had caught up to me, and within two minutes, the line was twenty strong.
“Can I sneak by when you get a moment?” the guy behind me asked.
“No,” I replied bluntly. “We all want to sneak by when there’s a moment.” At which point the guy behind me looked past and noticed how far forward the line extended.
Eventually — like toward the end of the Jem singletrack — the guy at the front noticed what he had created and let us by. To his credit, he said something like, “I can’t believe you guys made me do all the pulling all this way!” as we went by.
I finished my second lap in one hour and one minute: more or less in exactly the same amount of time it took me to do the first lap.
Tyson, who had finished his lap sometime ago — with his brother taking over for the next lap — gave me 5 as I went by:
You’ll have to trust me: that’s both of us.
I stopped, swapped out my empty bottle for a full CR333 and two more GUs, then asked DevFoKnAIG as he got ready to send me off for my third lap: “How are the ladies doing?”
His answer just about made me fall off my bike.
Which seems like a good place to pick up in tomorrow’s installment of this story.
A Note From Fatty: I’ve been a big fan and customer of The Feed for years, and am happy to welcome them as a FatCyclist.com sponsor. Right now, they’ve got a great “Free Snacks” promotion going on: get their April Fuel Kit free with all orders over $20. Check it out here or by clicking the bright orange Free Snacks ad to the right.
I need to back up a little.
In Part 1 of my 2016 Frog Hollow Race Report, I introduced you to the major actors in this Very Major Drama.
But I forgot a couple things. OK, not things per se. People. I forgot a couple people.
First of all, I just offhandedly mentioned a mysterious character by the name of “Rabid Runner.” I think I’ve mentioned her a couple of times in my blog, but haven’t really gone into detail. So here’s the short version: Rabid is our friend and one of The Hammer’s riding buddies.
Which, I’d like to go on record as saying, makes for incredibly fun introductions: “Hi, I’m Fatty, This is The Hammer, and her good friend Rabid. What’s your name?”
Rabid is training with the intensity that earned her nickname, because she’s signed up to race the Leadville 100 this year.
The other person I feel I should introduce is Heidi Volpe, who was The Hammer’s primary competition in the Women’s Solo Single Speed category.
And I feel like I can introduce Heidi because before the race ever began, The Hammer and I had…well, we had done our homework on her. Which is to say, The Hammer had looked up her race results from the past, and had thus discovered Heidi was a strong rider who evidently has some connection to Rebecca Rusch.
Which prompted me to email Rebecca, fishing for a little more information:
What did this tell us? Well, if The Queen of Pain says someone is legit, you can believe it’s true (by the way, here’s the Outside Online story I referenced).
So The Hammer would not be coasting to victory in this race.
Nor would I: 22 men were registered in the Mens 50+ Solo category. Which means there were more men in my new (50-59) age group than in my previous (40-49) age group. So my strategy of getting onto the podium simply by getting older wasn’t working out.
I guess maybe I’m not the only one with that strategy.
I didn’t have too much room to complain, though: at least I had an age group. Meanwhile, The Swimmer would be competing against all solo women under the age of fifty, in spite of the fact that this would be her second bike race, ever.
“Well,” I said to the Swimmer before the race, “just keep your expectations low and have fun. Don’t worry about the podium.”
I give such good advice.
Giving Away Too Much
OK, let’s get back to the race. Finally. We had done the Le Mans-style start, running to our bikes, and we were off: The Hammer and Rabid ahead of me thanks to being faster runners. The Swimmer behind me, thanks to a GPS mishap.
And there, beside me: a woman. Very fit. Riding a singlespeed.
“Are you Heidi Volpe,” I asked, even though I was a hundred percent certain it was Heidi Volpe.
“Yes,” she replied, probably very creeped out, because a complete stranger seems to know who she is. “How do you know me?”
“Because my wife is your main competition at this race,” I say.
“Oh,” Heidi says. “The Hammer.”
“Yeah,” I say. “My wife is The Hammer. Oh, and Reba says ‘hi.’”
I am very much enjoying the lopsided nature of this conversation.
“So what gear is The Hammer riding?” Heidi asks.
“Thirty two by twenty. You?” I ask back, although I’m only asking out of politeness, because while I feel like Heidi has some purpose in asking for this gearing, if I told The Hammer what kind of gearing Heidi had, she would not care even a little bit.
That may come off as arrogant — like The Hammer is too haughty to care what her competition’s gearing is — but the reverse is actually true: The Hammer only knows what her own gearing is because she has memorized it, which she did because people keep asking and she was embarrassed that she doesn’t know.
Anyway, Heidi tells me what her gearing is, and I nod sagely. But to be honest, I don’t even remember what she says. The truth is, I only know what The Hammer’s gearing is because Racer told me how he was setting up her bike…and I memorized it.
Yeah, The Hammer and I aren’t exactly bike equipment geniuses.
“Good luck today,” I yell at Heidi as I stand and attack the climb.
“Thanks,” she replies, though I’m certain that she realizes my well-wishing is valid only to the extent that her luck does not equal or exceed The Hammer’s.
There are certain races that are good because of the vibe of the race: the people and culture and the idea of the race. And there are races that are good because of the course.
Great races have both a good course and a good vibe, and I think Six Hours in Frog Hollow is an honest-to-goodness great race. It starts with a one-mile climb on a wide dirt road, giving people a chance to sort themselves out.
Then it meanders through a wash and a ravine, narrowing to singletrack: a good opportunity to pull yourself together for what the next few miles are all about:
A big ol’ multi-mile jeep road climb.
I like this part, because it lets me do what I’m really good at: grinding away and suffering, usually while standing and rowing my bike.
I pass a lot of people on this part.
Then, at the top of the big jeep road climb, we turn right onto the Jem trail, and it’s time for the best, fastest, funnest ribbon of desert singletrack you could ever hope for.
Except this time.
This time, when I make this right turn, I hit a wall of wind, and — even though I’m going downhill — I am barely moving.
It occurs to me all at once: this giant eight-mile-long descent that’s usually just one big thrill ride is going to be a hard-working, slow-moving grind.
There will be no PRs for me today. I’m confident of it.
In My Head
The wind has a compressing effect on the riders around me. Instead of spreading out on this downhill, we wind up bunched up.
This is OK, for the first little bit.
But then we get to the crux move of the race: you turn left, ride over a hump-style cattle guard, drop down a jagged little ledge, and immediately have to make a hairpin right turn…all with a fair amount of exposure on one side.
I’ve done this move dozens of times. I thought I had it mastered, in fact, because it had been so long since I’d had to bail out.
But this time when I got to it…things were different.
First of all, there was the guy ahead of me, already dismounted and walking down the ledge. I figured he’d move out of my way, but wasn’t perfectly confident.
Second, there were all the people behind me, stacked up several people deep. The pressure to not hold them up was considerable.
And then, most importantly of all, there was the wind, which gusted right as I got to the point where I needed to drop down the ledge.
I choked. Bailed. Pulled the rip cord.
And in doing so, forced about five more people to also dismount.
My head hung in shame, I yielded to them all, unworthy to ride ahead of these people.
“I’ll clean this move next lap,” I swore to myself.
Which, I’d like to point out, is a near-perfect way to jinx yourself.
Big Headwind, Small Person
One of the five or so people who wound up in front of me thanks to my bungling of the hairpin was a strong climber — I remember passing her only at the very top of the climb.
Unfortunately for her, she was a very light, slight woman. Even more unfortunately for her, she was wearing a windbreaker that looked to be about two sizes two large.
And in short, as we all struggled to build up some semblance of speed on this narro singletrack descent, she never had a prayer.
The wind whipped her jacket. Her slight mass was buffetted by the wind. And before long, she had a line of about ten racers (I was about five back) queued up behind her.
It’s possible the person behind her was yelling at her to yield. Even if he was, though, I’m guessing that between the headwind and her jacket, she didn’t hear. Didn’t realize she had built up a good-sized train.
We were halfway down the Jem trail before she looked back, then — startled by the crowd that had formed behind her — yielded to our group.
One Down, Four to Go
I finished my first lap in one hour and one minute. Which isn’t bad, considering the furious wind that was slowing everyone down:
However, it did mean that I could forget the idea of doing six laps. If I couldn’t even do the first lap in one hour, there was no way I was going to be able to start my sixth lap before the five hour cutoff.
I confess to being relieved.
I rolled into “solo row” — the dirt road area at the beginning of the course reserved for solo riders. Blake — formerly known as the IT Guy, but now a programmer (and Neumont University valedictorian) — was ready for me, swapping my empty bottle for a full bottle of Carborocket 333 and handing me two gels: my very easy and effective fuel plan for the entire race.
I had no idea how The Hammer, The Swimmer, Rabid…or even I was doing.
I was just a guy, riding around in a big circle, as fast as I could, five times.
Sometimes I question the intelligence of some of my choices.
And before long, I’d be questioning them even more intently. Which seems like a good place to pick up in my next post (which will be on Wednesday).
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