Failure is Not an Option

12.19.2014 | 10:05 am

“Failure is not an option. 

How many times have you heard someone say that? How many times have you said it yourself? No, don’t answer either of those questions. (At least, not out loud. I can’t hear you.)

Here’s a little piece of actual wisdom for you, though: if you’re doing a hard ride—whether you’re training or racing—saying “failure is not an option” is completely idiotic.

I know, it’s tempting to say it. It sounds like you’re being tough when you say it. Determined. Resilient. Like you are hell-bent on not failing.

But you know what? When you say that—or think it—you’re explicitly imagining failure. You’re thinking about what a DNF looks like. You’re considering the call of shame. Even as you’re saying it, a chunk of your brain is preparing a rebuttal.

You may not like the idea of that failure, but you’ve planted the seed. You know what it looks like. And as the ride goes on and gets tougher, that seed can start growing. 

Slowly, you realize the counterargument to this aphorism is in fact more correct: “Failure is always an option.”

So do this instead: when you’re riding and suffering, think about the finishing line. About having just enough energy to stand and sprint across it. Think about the story you will have to tell after you finish this thing—about the story you are living right this second.

Think about your current effort, and how three percent of that is your ace in the hole. If you’re about to blow up or cave in, you have the option of dialing back your effort by that three percent. And then keep going.

Think about anything that does not include failure, or even the absence thereof.

I know, I know: This sounds like The Secret. And that might be because there is in fact something to be said for this philosophy when it comes to making decisions: you can’t decide to quit if you’ve never entertained the notion of quitting. 

Does this mean you’ll always finish every race, that you’ll ride strong to the end of every ride? No. Because occasionally you might hit the actual end of your strength; you will get to the point where you honestly cannot go any further. 

When that happens, you haven’t failed; you’ve just found the edge of your envelope. And you can’t stretch it next time if you don’t know where it is. 

An effort like that isn’t just a success; it’s a huge success.

Don’t say, “Failure is not an option.” Instead, focus on success.

It makes a difference. 

 

50 Minus One

12.17.2014 | 3:23 pm

You know what happens if you start a blog in your late thirties and then keep on blogging for a decade?

You wind up being a guy in his late forties, still blogging. Specifically, tomorrow, on December 18 (my youngest son’s nineteenth birthday), I will be exactly 48.5.

I’ll certainly still be blogging when this blog turns ten, and I’ll probably still be blogging when I turn fifty, a year later.

All of these facts, combined with a new year coming up, have made me consider the likelihood that at some point in what I assume is the near future, I am going to have the distinct pleasure of blogging about my descent into decrepitude. 

But not yet. Not this year.

The 2015 Plan

I don’t want to be slower in 2015 than I was in 2014. I want to be faster. In fact, I’d like to be a lot faster. Specifically, I’d like to pare  twenty minutes from the 8:18 I got in the Leadville Trail 100 in 2011. I’d like to get a Leadville 100 finish time that starts with a 7.

And being fast this summer means heading into the basement this Winter.

Here’s what my basement used to look like: 

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Basically, old, mismatched, unused furniture and a lot of dust. And a thing the cat lurks on.

So The Hammer and I did some cleaning up:

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And we did some moving around, repurposed a Mac Mini we weren’t using, and we bought the cheapest decent-size flat screen TV we could find, and we went all-in with Wahoo Fitness gear, connected up to our Specialized Shivs:

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First of all, we got a couple of Wahoo Kickrs: bluetooth-controlled trainers, which means your iPhone or computer can control how much resistance you’re pedaling against, and read how fast you’re going. 

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And very sophisticated equipment to lift the front end of our bikes a little bit: 

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We also got Wahoo Tickrs (Wahoo’s bluetooth HRM) and RPM (Wahoo’s bluetooth cadence sensor). 

And finally, we got wireless headphones to watch Netflix with while we train.

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But all of that (extremely awesome) gear is secondary. The thing that’s bringing all this together is that we’ve subscribed to TrainerRoad.

We’ve looked into it, we’ve been trying it, and The Hammer and I are sold on it. [Full Disclosure: TrainerRoad is providing us complimentary subscriptions and equipment]

Using it, we expect that this winter and spring, instead of turning into big puddles of goo, we’re going to get into the best and fastest shape of our lives.

How it Works

You sign up with TrainerRoad and choose a training plan that works with what you want to achieve. That plan has workouts all chosen for you. Like right now, The Hammer and I are on the “Sweet Spot Base 1 – Mid Volume” plan: 

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Then, you load the workout for the day—onto your iPhone or onto your computer— and you start.

And instead of you just pedaling at what you hope is the right effort for what you hope is the right amount of time, TrainerRoad talks to the Kickr and makes it go to the right resistance, and giving you instructions on what you’re doing right now, how fast you should be pedaling, and what’s coming next.

With the plans and workouts all in place, all that’s left for you to do is put in the work.

It’s incredibly easy. Well, the workouts themselves aren’t necessarily easy, but knowing what you need to do to get better is. And that’s pretty awesome.

So this is what TrainerRoad looks like on the TV loaded on the MacMini while we play Netflx (Dan Ackroyd in Grosse Point Blank, in case you were wondering): 

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Or, if you load TrainerRoad on your iPhone instead, it looks like this:

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And here’s The Hammer in action:

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Trust me: she’s having fun.

Grand Scheme

The Hammer and I have been using TrainerRoad for about a month now, and we love it. With a huge number of workouts on a well-designed plan, we’re not getting bored. 

And TrainerRoad also has workouts synchronized with the Sufferfest videos, which means you can load a video, turn on TrainerRoad, and just concentrate on surviving, instead of trying to decide whether you need to shift up two gears or three to truly be at your limit. The Hammer and I haven’t tried this yet.

But you know what I really want to try with TrainerRoad? There’s a  workout where you can simulate what it’s like to make an attempt on the Hour Record. You know, the one all the cool kids have been trying lately.

I want to know what that’s like. Maybe I’ll even live stream it (because just imagine how much fun it would be to watch me ride my bike in place for an hour). More on this soon.

The Hammer and I have had really good results by just riding our bikes a lot. I think it’s going to be interesting to see if we can break through to a different level by actually adding some structure to our training.

And I’m kind of stoked to have a Leadville hoodie with a 7:55 time on it.

Rule #5 is Stupid

12.15.2014 | 12:11 pm

Some of you have never heard of it. Some of you have heard it referenced, but don’t know what it means. But probably most of you have heard of it, know what it means, and regard it as a sacred cycling edict:

The famous Velominati Rule #5: “Harden the F— up.”

I’ve had cyclists say it to me when I’ve been stopped on the side of the trail mid-race, crouched and whimpering as my quads and hamstrings battled it out to see which could cramp harder.

I’ve heard cyclists say it to others on trails, much more frequently on the road, and—most frequently of all—on social media.

It’s time this stops. It’s time the Velominati retract and apologize for their vaunted Rule #5 as the single stupidest, most insipid utterance to ever gain traction in cycling.

Oh the Arrogance

What bothers me about this so called “Rule V” is the presumption that anyone is in any position to assess how hard another rider is, how they’re working on being harder, or how hard they want to be.

No, instead, you’ve diagnosed the problem (insufficient hardness) and—luckily for the other guy—are on hand to provide a useful solution. 

How lucky for that other person!

And of course, the fact that you are able to measure hardness and the need to have more of it means that you must be very hard indeed. Hey, you’ve been through the fire, right? You’re tempered steel; you recognize pig iron when you see it. It’s your responsibility to tell others the error of their ways.

Or, it’s possible you’re just an arrogant dork with an inflated opinion of yourself. 

First Line of Defense

I am not the first person to take issue with Rule #5, nor with The Rules in general. And whenever someone does, the Velominati apologists fall back to the “have a sense of humor” defense, a variant of the “we were just kidding around” line schoolyard bullies have used ever since there were schoolyards.

If it’s a joke, fine. Saying something absurd with a straight face is a totally legitimate way to make a joke. 

However, regardless of original intent, a lot of people don’t regard it as a joke now, and they see it as excellent advice to give to others, and then hide behind the “it’s just a joke line,” thus trying to have it both ways.

So here’s a tip for the “Just Kidding” types: You either mean it, or it’s a joke. If there’s a joke, there needs to be a punchline. And if you mean it, you’re an arrogant and presumptuous idiot. (Hey, I’m just kidding though.)

Do You Have The Right?

Here’s a question to everyone who’s ever told another person, “Rule #5,” or just gone ahead and told them to harden the f— up: Are you “hard” enough to dispense this kind of advice? Which is to say, are you so supremely confident that lack of hardness is the reason someone is having a bad day on the bike?

Or is it possible that they are bonked and hungry because they followed the absolutely idiotic Rule 91: No Food On Training Rides Under Four Hours? (If you can train for three hours without food, you’re not going hard enough. And while on your bike is not the time to cut back on calories. I’m a complete idiot and even I know that.)

Or maybe they felt like venting a little bit. Maybe they thought that—since the Velominati are apparently allowed to talk endlessly about the nobility of suffering—perhaps it would be OK for someone else to mention that they’re having a rough time today.

Or maybe they’re just not as fast as you, and have done all the hardening they can do before getting dropped.

Or maybe they’ve got another reason for not being, at this moment in time, as magnificently “hard” as you.

But know this: if you tell anyone, whether in reference (“Rule V dude, rule V.”) or by actually saying, “Harden the F— up,” you are in massive violation of the much more valid Rule 43: Don’t be a jackass. (And you’re not being the funny kind, either, in case you’re hoping to get the “or at least be a funny jackass” fine-print exception.)

Furthermore, by saying “Rule V” to anyone, anywhere, you have explicitly relinquished any claim to assistance the next time you bonk, have a mechanical, or are out in the middle of nowhere facing a 20mph headwind.

Instead, use that time to think about how wonderfully hard you are. And also, don’t tell us about it when / if you ever get back.

And finally, please note: if you make this proclamation to another rider and then are later dropped by that rider—on (especially) this day or any other, you are legally obligated to rend your jersey and kidney-punch yourself to the point of renal failure.

In short: you don’t know how hard other people are, or how much hardening they’ve done. You don’t know how far they’ve come or where they are right now. 

You Vs Others

I have, at times, actually uttered words similar to Rule #5. To myself. Because I often do find myself lacking. I often want to stretch myself, to see if I can find a new breaking point. 

I will often mutter, to myself, “Just. Stay. Strong.” Or “Five. More. Minutes.” Or even, “Five. More. Seconds.” 

I’m a big believer in testing myself. In trying to be stronger. “Harder,” if you want to call it that. Whatever.

I think most of us want to improve ourselves. And we’ve all got our internal monologues prodding us along.

Some of us even have coaches, people we’ve hired to push us further.

But for everyone else, stop it. Rule #5—faux-jokingly or not—is the dumbest, least-useful, most insulting advice you can give another cyclist. 

And if you say it, be prepared lose a kidney.

How To Pedal Your Bike Properly

12.10.2014 | 4:47 pm

KindlecoverA Great Fatsby Note from Fatty: I’m happy to announce that as of this morning, The Great Fatsby: The Best of FatCyclist.com, Volume 2, is now available on the Kindle. Please go check it out. And then buy a copy, for crying out loud. It’s been years since I’ve won an award or been invited to a fancy dinner party as the guest of honor, and if I don’t get some kind of validation soon I’m going to crumble.

Please make me feel good about myself. Buy a copy of my book, or I’ll cry.

You don’t want me to cry, do you?

Oh, and if you pre-ordered the Kindle version of The Great Fatsby, check your email. You should have the code for downloading it in your inbox right now.

A Donation Note from Fatty: If you’re looking to make a donation to WBR, and would like to have a chance at winning some awesome bike gear by doing so, allow me to recommend you check out Jordan Rapp’s RappStar Charity Challenge. His contest works (more or less) like my contests, though he sets his minimum prize-worthy donation quite a bit higher: $134 (the cost of a bike). 

And this is pretty exciting: The Great Fatsby is currently the #1 top-selling cycling book in Amazon.com’s Kindle list:

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About which I proclaim: Huzzah! And also: go buy a copy!

How to Pedal Your Bike Properly

As a cycling expert, I am frequently asked what the best way is to be faster and win races. The answer, of course, is to always wear a matching cycling kit, have the most expensive and newest bike of anyone in the race, and—above all—to enter in the least-populated age / gender / equipment / experience level group you possibly can.

I, for example, am very excited about my chances in the 80+ novice singlespeed women division when I race this year. Indeed, I expect to crush the competition.

But believe it or not, there is actually more to being fast and winning races than just how you dress, what you ride, and finding racing category nobody else has found.

And that is: pedaling

Oh, I know what you’re saying. You’re saying, “Well of course we have to pedal if we want to go fast!

[Unless we have an e-bike, in which case all we have to do is sorta-kinda make a pedaling motion at all! But let us dismiss e-bikes from our thoughts. They are too ridiculous, even for this blog.]

But pedaling isn’t enough. No, not at all. There is a proper way to pedal. An efficient and smooth way. A correct way. A way that is vastly different than the way you are doing it right now.

Fortunately for you, I will now instruct you in the proper technique to pedal your bicycle.

Pedal in Circles

The most important thing you can do when riding your bike is to remember: pedal in circles. Only when you pedal in circles will you achieve the speed and grace of a pro cyclist. 

You can prove the truth of this statement by climbing onto your bike right now and pedaling. But do not pedal in a circle. Instead, pedal in a square. You’ll find, thanks to the fact that your feet are attached to a device that has both a fixed center and radius, that it is very difficult to pedal an actual square.

Now try a rhombus. It’s not easy, productive, or comfortable, is it?

Now try pedaling in a figure-8 motion. Still no good, right?

OK, now pedal in a circle.  Suddenly, your bike moves forward. In fact, it moves forward with considerable ease. The difference is astonishing.

Well, it moves forwards as long as you pedal circles in the correct directions.

Yes, I said directions. Plural. Because the number of directions your feet must go in describing circles is as important as it is complex and counterintuitive.

Luckily for you, I am here to help you understand.

First of all, you must realize that you must turn your feet in opposite directions, simultaneously. I know, how strange is that? But you must trust me: the circle you describe with your right foot is clockwise, while the circle you describe with your left foot is counter-clockwise

Here. I’ll illustrate:

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You see what I mean? You’d think each of your feet would go around in the same direction, but the truth is demonstrably the opposite. This seems like madness. If you will follow this top-secret tip, though, you’ll find your bike goes so much faster

Pedaling With Power

Of course, it’s not enough to merely make your bike go forward. You want to go forward fast. Toward this end, I have several secrets the pros use. 

First, try the Wipe Your Foot Off technique. This means that as each foot reaches the bottom of the pedal stroke, you should perform the same action as you do when scraping gum off the bottom of your shoe. Specifically, this means you should follow this sequence with each turn of the cranks:

  1. Push down to nearly the bottom of the pedal stroke.
  2. Kick back, as if wiping your foot on the street / grass / carpet to get a piece of gum off your shoe (but hopefully not actually on the carpet, because that’s gross).
  3. Curse at the way some people spit gum out onto the street. Why would they do that? Why not just throw it away? Don’t they know someone’s going to step in it? Don’t they have any consideration at all?
  4. Go find a stick or something to try to scrape it off your shoe, because scraping it off on the curb didn’t do much good at all.
  5. Ask yourself why anyone even chews gum. It’s not like the gum keeps its flavor for more than twenty seconds anyways. And there’s probably nothing in the world that makes someone look cow-like as chewing gum does. Plus, it makes you hungry. Resolve to never chew gum yourself. Or if you do, to at least never just spit it out on the sidewalk.
  6. Repeat this process ninety times per second. 

The second technique to use is to Pull Up With Your Foot. Did you know that when you pedal a bike, up to 50% of your effort can go toward just lifting the leg that’s going up? It very well might be true! 

That’s wasted effort. And if there’s one thing you don’t want when you’re riding a bike for exercise, it’s to expend unnecessary effort. 

So: with every stroke, as soon as your get to the bottom of the rotation, begin pulling up. By doing so, not only are you not forcing your other leg to lift it, but you’re actually sending additional power to the wheel.

Or maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re just unweighting the crank. 

Or maybe you’re not even doing that, either. Everyone seems to disagree how much you’re accomplishing by trying to pull up on your pedals as well as push down on them. 

But beware of the dead spot at the bottom of the stroke—the spot where you don’t have much power, and also it sounds kind of ominous.

Except there’s really nothing much you can do about that dead spot. It’s not like you can skip past it or anything. In fact, forget about this part altogether.

Just push down on the pedals really hard and really often on the pedals and you’ll probably be OK.

Advanced Techniques

There’s more to proper pedaling technique than pedaling fast and hard in the correct direction, however. Advanced cyclists also know and religiously adhere to these three top techniques:

  1. Bring your feet to a level position at the bottom of each stroke, then stretch and flex your calves on the upstroke. This may or may not actually improve your cycling performance, but it is guaranteed to show your calves off to maximum advantage. 
  2. Keep your legs together, so your knees graze your top tube with every up and downstroke. If you do this properly and consistently, you should wear through the bike’s finish before the end of the season. 
  3. Remain seated when riding. This is the most effective way to pedal. Although it’s okay to stand during climbs. And sprints. And during hard efforts. Or when you want to switch up positions. Okay, never mind. Sit or stand, whichever you prefer. It’s all the same to me.

With strict adherence to these pedaling techniques, you’ll soon (over the course of seven or so years, generally) find that you have more power and speed on the bike than you could have ever imagined.

Or you could just get an e-bike. Those things make you go fast.

My Best Superpower: Randomly Selecting Inspiring Winners

12.8.2014 | 11:31 am

I have many superpowers. Too many to list, really. But among the most awesome and mysterious of these powers is the ability to select incredible and inspiring people from a very long list at random.

Honestly, I do not know how I do it. But I suspect this superpower is at its strongest when I am furthest from a yellow star, because I drew names for the winners of the Great Fatsby pre-order contest last weekend as we near Winter Solstice, and this power manifested itself in extraordinary ways. 

Here, let me show you how that works.

First Drawing

My contest drawings always start out kind of mundane. I start with a spreadsheet detailing who bought / donated what, then I do some Excel magic to assign everyone unique numbers corresponding to the chances they get in the contest.

And then I go to random.org and have it pick a number corresponding to one of those chances. There’s a moment of excitement as I do this, and I think to myself, “Someone’s day just got amazing and they don’t even know it yet.”

Then I send an email to the winner. A short one that communicates the point that they won a prize, but avoiding language that is likely to make it wind up in the spam folder. I let them know that if they’re worried this might be a hoax, trick, or scam, they can call me personally.

In this case, I sent an email to the first person I drew—who comments on this blog as EsteeFatty—who then called me Sunday afternoon.

My excitement turned to disappointment when she said she wouldn’t be able to accept any prize. In her own words:

I won’t begin to try to explain how wondrously overwhelming it is to have won the contest. I love reading your blog and all of the comments and have been doing so for many years. It is an honor to be a part of a community that through you and Lisa have been doing so much good.

I always enter your contests and look forward to the excitement of the winner. I never once believed I would win, and now I have. Elden you will never know how sorry I am to say that I can not use a glorious Ibis cycle or the entry to the LT 100.

As I told you on the phone, my health just won’t permit it. I have 2 more rounds of chemo to do and then a follow up brain MRI. If there is no progression of the disease from the last scan the team will take me off chemo till the next test in May. 

Most days my longest trek is out to the mailbox. In honor of my annual participation in the 100 MON I make the walk back from the mailbox a longer route, Whenever I have to make an extra trip upstairs I just tell myself, “It’s another Fatty opportunity for exercise.” The extra effort is good for me and I am lucky to have you as a goad…er…inspiration that is.

On the phone, I told EsteeFatty that the prize was hers if she wants it, and she could give it to a friend or loved one, or have me do a new fundraiser against it, whatever she liked.

We talked together, promised to stay in touch, and then she asked me to choose another winner at random in her place.

Second Drawing

I had random.org pick another number for me. This time it chose Halley from Portland. I sent the email and then—while I waited for her to reply with whether she wanted the bike or race, I looked her up on Facebook and saw this photo:

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And then I was sure she’d choose the bike.

What I didn’t realize, however, was that Halley is a pretty extraordinary person who makes the world a better place for a living. Here’s what she said about herself:

I am a 28 year old cyclist with a rare form of epilepsy. I treat every day as an excuse to have an adventure and try something new. I write a blog of my trials and successes as a bike commuter, racer and camper and the complications that present themselves with living with a chronic disability at bikeleptic.com.

I work with people transitioning from homelessness to housing. I am a life skills coordinator at a short-term transitional residential facility and my focus is in serving women veterans who are experiencing homelessness and assisting them with employment, education and volunteer opportunities in addressing their barriers to housing. 

I am overwhelmed with gratitude and surprise by this. I definitely live paycheck to paycheck and large purchases are budgeted in for a long period of time. This is so amazing. Thank you.

Could anyone argue that Halley is not a perfect storm of awesomeness? I have to say, I am so excited that Halley won this bike.

However, there are two problems Halley must now confront:

  1. The reason she bought a book was as a Christmas present for her boyfriend…who now knows what he’s getting for Christmas.
  2. She does not yet know which Ibis she should get. A terrible choice to have to make. Feel free to offer guidance in this area.

Third Drawing

Now I was ready to do the third drawing. I went to random.org, had it pick a number, and then looked that number up on my spreadsheet.

Sarah Barber. Hm. That name seemed familiar. I yelled out to The Hammer, “Someone named ‘Sarah Barber’ won the entry into the Leadville 100. Do we know anyone by that name?” 

“Yes!” The Hammer called.

As it turns out, The Hammer and Sarah had met at Rebecca’s Private Idaho last September.

Specifically, they had met on the podium—Sarah taking first, The Hammer taking second. 

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To be honest, I had been worried about whether the person who won the Leadville entry would be able to do this race—whether winning this prize would be a sentence to a day of misery.

With Sarah winning this prize, I’m no longer even a little bit concerned about this. She is going to be awesome

Here’s what Sarah has to say about herself:

I’m a Life Flight paramedic and have been for nine years, but I moonlight as an endurance athlete. I discovered cycling only as an alternative to running, which is my true passion but not a natural talent, at least not as far as I can see.

Over time, I have grown to love cycling as much as I love running, but in a different way. I’ve been fortunate to have opportunities to compete, most recently as a member of the domestic elite women’s team DNA Cycling p/b K4 Racing.

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My specialty has always been time trialing, but after doing my first gravel ginder at the end of the 2014 season, I have begun to wonder if I should try another one. I love riding on dirt because it reminds me of trail running, but I am woefully inept when it comes to technical skills and descents.

Rebecca’s Private Idaho was my longest bike ride ever–road or dirt–so I’m a little bummed it didn’t quite tally 100 miles. However, I’m guessing the Leadville Trail 100 is not even half a mile short. The idea of participating in it is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating, but winning the entry via a random drawing is a dream come true–a dream I didn’t know I had until I felt like I could describe it that way.

I know I’ll need a lot of help preparing, but I’m lucky to have a great team of supporters at home, including my husband and my two dogs, none of whom are bike riders.

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They are my biggest fans, though, and sometimes that is enough. Next year, during the moments when I’m not training for Leadville or at work, I’ll be doing other fun things like drinking wine, trying out new recipes on the Traeger, and having Sportsmobile adventures as part of my husband’s latest project.

I’m completely stoked to have Sarah win this prize, but I think The Hammer is even more excited. Sarah’s based in Idaho and comes down to Utah from time to time, so some LT100 training rides together are definitely going to have to go on their plan. 

I hope they let me tag along. 

(Sarah will be glad to know, I’m sure, that the Leadville 100 is 104 miles long.)

What We Did

Of course, every book and jersey you pre-ordered, along with the donations you made, helped raise money for World Bicycle Relief. And we raised enough money to fund thirty new Buffalo bicycles, which WBR awesomely posted on their Facebook page

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I’ll let you in on a little secret: my theory is that my superpower isn’t drawing great people at random from a long list. My superpower is having the good fortune to have an innumerable number of good and generous friends. Any time I choose a few of you from a list to win something, I always wind up astonished at how inspiring you are.

Thank you.

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