A Note from Fatty: While I was racing Boggs (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6), The Hammer was — as you might expect — also racing. But she was doing the St. George Half Ironman.
Does she have a story about her race? You bet she does.
It was April 15. I had just over two weeks before the St George Half Ironman…and I hadn’t even thought about swimming. At all. Even once.
And things weren’t looking good for finding time to swim between now and the race, either.
For example, I would be getting on a plane for Boston to run the marathon that week. So I wouldn’t be swimming then.
Then I was off to Moab to ride the White Rim the following weekend. And while I could theoretically have done a post-ride swim in the Colorado River…well, that just wasn’t going to happen.
So when was I ever going to find time to swim?
I figured that day was as good as any and — not very enthusiastically — headed to the rec center pool. I figured I would swim a mile and see how it went.
How’d it go? Well, let’s just say that when I got out of the pool, my neck was killing me from turning to breathe and I had a sharp pain in my right knee.
How does someone hurt their leg while swimming?
On the bright side, I had successfully completed the mile swim. So I figured I could probably — hopefully — drag my body another .2 miles on race day.
What had I gotten myself into?
Reality Sets In
The following weekend — the Boston Marathon — was a blast. My knee pain disappeared, and my friends and I had a fantastic weekend in Boston culminating in the iconic run on Monday (in the rain, of course, just to make it a fine adventure).
When I returned home, my attention turned again to the Half Ironman. I had a day off work and thought I would head to the pool and put one more effort toward the swim. This time I completed the whole 1.2 miles.
I felt pretty good, but was horrified to see that it had taken me over fifty five minutes to swim it!
How long would it take me to do this swim in a lake, when I would have to sight for the buoy every ten (or fewer, if I’m being honest) strokes?
The swim was looking more dismal by the moment.
A Possible Solution?
I got home and started whining to Elden. Elden always has helpful suggestions. The first one being that I would be fine…because I would be swimming in a wetsuit. For some reason, The wetsuit is the cure-all for Elden’s swim woes: it makes him buoyant and fast.
For me, the wetsuit just makes me feel like a suffocated sausage.
Then Elden came up with a brilliant suggestion. And this time, it really was brilliant. He had heard of a GPS device that connected to your swim goggles that was supposed to help you swim in a straight line…with minimal need of sighting!
I wanted to know more, because I had suffered from a terrible swim in the 2013 Half Ironman-I zigzagged all over that darn lake.
So Elden, being the well-connected man that he is, made a few phone calls and was soon talking to the creator of the “Iolite”-Steve H.
Steve said he would be happy to set me up with an Iolite to use in St George. He was even going to be at the Half Ironman Expo and said I could pick it up from him prior to the race!
Things were starting to look up….So I instantly forgot about the swim and went to Moab to ride the White Rim…which ended up getting rained out and Elden and I returned home and rode the trainer for 3 hours instead.
The following Tuesday as I was packing to leave for St George and the race, my thoughts turned toward the dreaded swim. I figured I should probably get online and find out some information about the Iolite. I went to the web site. It had a brief description about the lights that would attach to my goggles. It was pretty straightforward. The yellow light would come on when you were drifting “slightly” off course, a red light would illuminate if you were “way” off course. The green light would be lit if you were swimming straight toward your target.
It seemed easy enough, but the direction you were drifting off of center and the lights that illuminated seemed to me to be backwards — I was soo confused. Plus I was worried that all I would be seeing was a bunch of bright lights shining into my eyes! Ugh, that would only make me feel more confused and claustrophobic.
I thought again: what was I getting myself into? I definitely needed to use this in a lake on a trial swim before the race! I hoped I would be able to fit that in!
I was actually really looking forward to the up coming race weekend. Elden was going to California to race, the kids were safe at home under the watchful eye of Nigel, and I would be going down to St George with my really good friends, the Borups.
My work had given me an additional day off, so we were going down on Wednesday and would be staying until Sunday. I would have no one to have to take care of or entertain. The Borups are like family.
On the way down, we stopped at Sand Hollow reservoir for a swim. I hadn’t gotten my Iolite yet, so this would be a good chance to see how I’d do in the reservoir without it.
It…went as expected. I started out heading for the big rock island in the middle of the reservoir. I looked up after 10 strokes…and was no longer headed for the rock, but for open water.
How did I get so far off, so fast? I put my head down and started to swim. Ten strokes later…I was way off course again. The third time was the charm and I was finally swimming straight, more or less.
We ended up swimming for about half a mile. I felt fine. I didn’t panic, the water was a perfect temperature…I was just slow and zigzagged everywhere.
Prepping on the Bike
Thursday morning I got up and rode Snow Canyon (the biggest climb on the course) and the last twenty miles of the bike course. No one wanted to go with me. They said they needed to rest.
Rest? Pfff. What is that?
Later that afternoon we ended up at the Expo. I found Brad at the CarboRocket Booth. It’s always nice to see Brad.
Although I am terrified of his mustache.
Next, I found Steve at the Iolite booth.
What an awesome guy! He not only set me up with the Iolite, but he put it on a nice pair of goggles for me.
He then had me put the goggles on. We pretended that I was in the water and he walked me through using them. First off, you need to pinpoint your destination. Then you head straight for it. In the water, it would be the turn buoy (in the park it was a flag). You then must head directly for the target for about ten meters, so the GPS can lock onto it.
This was the part I was worried about. What if I couldn’t swim straight for ten meters? Would the Iolite would grab on to the wrong point and steer me off course? Steve suggested I swim with my head out of the water for a few strokes and that should solve my problem.
I then proceeded to walk around the park with my new goggles. I would purposely get off-course to see the lights come on. Steve explained that if I was drifting, I was to swim “toward the light.” That would be the direction that would correct my drifting. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the lights sat just below my level of vision, so as not to block it. I still had full vision and did not feel at all claustrophobic. Things were starting to look up; I was actually excited to go swimming!
Trying Out the Iolite
After taking Borups’ dog on a three-mile walk (that’s my idea of a rest), we headed out to Sand Hollow to drop off our bikes at Transition 1…and to try out my new gadget!
Mckenzie (the Borups’ daughter, who would also be racing) also had a new Iolite. Mckenzie and I share similar stories when it comes to Ironman competitions. We are both strong cyclists and runners, but suffer in the swim. Neither of us like to spend much time in the pool.
Our swim times are similar, and she was also hoping to improve her swim time with the Iolite. Much like me, Mckenzie had not been in the pool this year either. I think I actually had swam more than her (pathetic).
Needless to say, we were hoping for really BIG things with the Iolite!
As I emerged from the lake with my new Iolite I couldn’t help giggling. The Iolite had worked! I swam straight! The Iolite also kept my mind off the tedium of swimming. Instead, I was fixated on my light. I celebrated whenever the green light stayed on for ten seconds. I giggled because I wasn’t having to look up every third stroke to make sure I was headed in the right direction. I did “sight” a few times, just to make sure I wasn’t heading off in the wrong direction…but I never was!
As I came out of the reservoir, I couldn’t help but laugh; I’ve never had such an easy time swimming in a straight line. I looked at Mckenzie; she was beaming and laughing, too! She enthusiastically told me she had not sighted even once. Wow!
I was so excited, I dove back in and swam another little loop. This was going to be awesome. I had no idea how fast or slow I was—but I was positive that my comfort level in the water had skyrocketed!
I didn’t know if I’d be fast in the water…but thanks to the Iolite, I definitely felt like I at least wouldn’t embarrass myself!
And in the next installment of my report…I’ll show you how I did!
When I last posted, I had just finished my second lap in near-record time (where “near-record” is defined as “less than a 50% variance”). I had ridden into the transition area, looking for Jeff, who now needed to do his second lap.
But there was no Jeff to be found.
“He was around earlier,” Levi said. “He went to use the bathroom or something, and now he’s disappeared.”
“Perhaps his attention drifted, he wandered into the woods, and he is now lost,” I postulated. “That’s happened to me before.”
“Or maybe he got hungry, distracting him from the race, and he went to make a sandwich,” I said. “That’s happened to me before too.”
“I don’t think Jeff’s very much like you,” said Levi, by way of both defending and complimenting Jeff.
“Maybe he’s having a serious bathroom crisis,” I suggested. “That’s happened to me…”
“Please stop talking,” Levi interrupted.
So we went to find Jeff. Specifically, we went to the RV to see if he was somehow in there. He was not.
“Maybe he took off when he saw you come in,” Levi now guessed. “And we just didn’t see him go.”
Which was not in fact what happened. But it was close.
Well There’s Your Problem
The reason we couldn’t find Jeff was in fact this:
No, not that Dave Thompson and I had been taking selfies together.
It was that Dave Thompson came in just a few minutes before I did, and — since Dave and I are both tall and thin and handsome and were both wearing the WBR kit — Jeff mistook Dave for me.
This mistake would eventually make an enormous difference in our standings in the “retired pro cyclist, contest winner, and fat middle-aged blogger” team category, moving us from being the first team in our category to still being the first (and only) team in our category.
When he came back in and Levi took off, I applauded Jeff for his ingenuity. Indeed, I was all for adopting this technique — each person starting his lap approximately four minutes before the prior racer finished his — as a new team strategy.
“We’ll demolish all the other teams in the “retired pro / contest winner / beloved blogging icon” team category!” I enthused.
But Jeff couldn’t hear me; he was sprinting toward the timing tent to have the results corrected. Something about “ethics” and “doing the right thing.”
All I know is that until Jeff had the extra four minutes added to our time (the time between when Dave finished his lap and I finished mine), we were a lock to win our race division.
Now, thanks to Jeff, I had my work cut out for me.
My Final Lap
Levi somehow did his final, third lap in 44:23, setting the fastest time for the day. Which meant that I was free to go do another lap but —unless I was just a little bit faster than Levi — Jeff was done for the day.
I was not, to my shame, faster than Levi.
However, I did manage to have a lot of fun, connecting early in the lap with a guy on an Ibis Tranny, set up as a single speed. We talked for a bit about what a great bike the Tranny is, and I casually mentioned that I too have a Tranny set up as a single speed and had ridden it in the Leadville 100 last year.
I’m sure he was very impressed.
Then he rode away from me.
But then I caught back up with him.
Just before he rode away from me again.
This continued for pretty much the entire lap, until the final big downhill, where he got in front of me for good, which turned out to be a Very Good Thing; following this guy’s line helped me have my fastest, most confident descent of the day.
As I crossed the line, I was pretty proud of the fact that I had hung with this guy for the entire lap. Later, I would find that his name is Steven Mills, and that he had just done his eighth lap of the day, winning the Pro SS division.
At which point I became unsure whether I should be more proud (I had hung with a pro for a whole lap) or less (but only because he had done 2.5 the distance I had).
Cycling can be so emotionally complicated.
In any case, we had won our category, somehow fending off other retired pro / contest winner / balding blogger teams, each of which was equally imaginary. Here we are on our rightful place on the podium:
I take full credit for this achievement, as I believe is proper.
The next morning, some of us would do the Super-D. Jeff should probably get a trophy for best-planned flat in the history of the world: he basically flatted and DNF’d within spitting distance of our RV.
Dave Thompson and I would both finish the Super-D, though our times would cause any reasonable person to say we had raced a Mediocre-D.
In the process, we had an incredible weekend at this race. At times intense, at times relaxing, always fun.
I’m coming back next year.
You know what’s really great about racing in a relay? The part where you’re not racing. The part when you can — for a little while — put aside the fact that soon you’re going to be gutting it out, giving your all, and just…relax. Chill out. Be one of the guys, rooting for other guys.
So right after my first lap in Boggs, I went back to the trailer, cleaned the dust off my face (without getting too religious about it, since I’d be heading out again in less than two hours), and then hung around with Levi for a few minutes, ’til it was his turn to race again.
After which, of course, it would be my turn to race again.
And that’s the problem with three-person relays on a one-hour-long course: your break from racing just doesn’t last very long.
Still, it’s nice while it lasts.
I Will Probably Not Be Hired as a Broadcast Professional
I walked down to the start / finish line with Levi, to cheer Jeff as he came in, as well as to cheer Levi as he took off (and also to set a 45-minute timer once Levi left, so I’d know when I needed to be back, ready to go again).
Jeff had told us he’d be a little slower. Which meant this would be a good time for me to pull out my phone and — thanks to the remarkably strong 3-bar LTE mobile phone connectivity I had — start a Periscope session (Periscope is a Twitter-owned live video streaming service. If you have an iPhone, I recommend you get it).
Which I cleverly also saved and now present to you in full. I recommend watching it; it actually gives you a pretty good sense of what it’s like to hang out at the exchange point.
Plus you’ll see a woman finish a lap while wearing a wedding dress, a man in a tux, and me being recognized as the famous and beloved person I am, making for an excellent live selfie opportunity.
And also, I ask Levi a few stupid questions.
Moments after I finished this extraordinary piece of live, man-on-the-ground journalism, Jeff finished his lap and Levi took off.
Jeff, astonishingly, looked perfectly clean after his first lap. I’m still wondering how he managed to keep all the dust off him.
Frankly, I find myself wondering whether he took a much cleaner, less-dusty shortcut or something.
Also, I find myself wondering both about the aesthetics and comfort of his sunglasses placement.
Levi was away, so my prep-for-race fuse was lit; I now had 45 minutes ’til I needed to be watching for Levi. But my jitters were gone. For some reason, getting ready to start the second lap of a relay race doesn’t load my body and mind with the same anxiety.
Instead, I calmly suited up and got my tube, lever, CO2, and gels in place. Jeff captured this photo as I prepared:
That photo, as you no doubt are aware, is not staged. Nor am I sucking in my gut.
I just tend to maintain a heroic pose at all times. Because I am heroic.
I Am An Awesome Singer
I arrived at the start/finish checkpoint early, because I am very punctual.
I began my vigil for Levi, who would be arriving in a few minutes, when I saw Friend of Fatty David Houston, taking a rest between laps. He was soloing this race, using it as training as he prepares to race the Leadville 100 for the first time this year.
And, as I’ve noted before, it also happened to be his sixty-first birthday.
I recalled how I had been beating myself up for forgetting to sing a line of the Happy Birthday song when I had seen Dave during my first lap, and decided that I would not let such an opportunity go by again.
I walked up to him, stood on my tiptoes so I could put an arm around his shoulders (I am 5’7”, he is 6’9”), revved up my lungs, and yelled for everyone to please join me in singing happy birthday to Dave.
I think a few people might have joined in on the singing, but I couldn’t tell for sure, because I was singing as loudly and as badly as I could. This is in accordance with a family tradition: to always sing the birthday song as intentionally loudly, off-key, and out-of-time as possible.
I take this tradition very seriously.
Dave was so moved by my singing that he decided he had had enough of a rest after all and that maybe it was time for him to get back to riding.
So, note to people who might notice Dave lallygagging on the course at Leadville this year: sing the birthday song to him. Loud, and off-key.
He’ll thank you later.
Levi came in, taking forty-nine minutes to complete the course. In doing so, he would be the first person the entire day to complete a lap in under fifty minutes. (Also, he was the only person the entire day to complete a lap in under fifty minutes.)
This after complaining in the above video that his legs felt like concrete. Pfff.
I went out. Riding like a well-oiled clock. Because — take note, clock owners — it’s vital to regularly oil all your timepieces.
Although, if I am to be completely honest, I was a moderately slower clock this time: 1:02:27. About 1.5 minutes slower than my first lap.
Oh, who am I kidding? I’m incredibly proud that I was so consistent.
The Curious Incident of the Disappearing Jeff in the Day-Time
I approached the start / finish warily this time, not wanting to repeat my crowd-pleasing performance as an endo savant. Happily, I did not.
“Jeff, go!” I yelled as I crossed the finish line.
But I didn’t see him go. In fact, I didn’t see Jeff at all.
“Go, Jeff, go!” I yelled, instantly aware of how that sounded. Scanning the crowd, looking for Jeff.
I saw Levi, but not Jeff.
“Where’s Jeff?” I yelled. “It’s time for him to go!” I am capable, when necessary, of stating the exquisitely obvious.
“Jeff isn’t here!” Levi yelled back.
“Where is he?” I yelled, although by now I was no more than a yard away from Levi.
“I don’t know!” Levi yelled, because we seemed to have established yelling as the way we would convey our messages.
“Let’s go find him!” I yelled.
But we would not find him. We could not find him.
Had he been kidnapped? Possibly! Was he jeopardizing our team race standing? Definitely!
Which seems like a good place to pick up in the next (and probably final) installment of my Boggs writeup.
A Note from Fatty: Free-verse Friday is back! At least for today it is, anyway. Because I’m feeling extraordinarily poetic for some reason.
In Hodgkins, Illinois
There is a truck
Or a plane
The vehicle type is not the point
What is on that vehicle
This UPS-owned vehicle
That my friend
Is the point
At three this morning
By the way,
Feels not at all morning-like)
I got a text message
From the Oracle of Cannondale
(AKA Matt Ohran)
I would be receiving
IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE
An F-Si Carbon Black Inc
I knew at once
That for the next two hours
I would lay awake
To the reality
That soon I will be riding
That dream bikes
So now I sit
This rainy day
Refreshing the UPS tracking page
As if that will somehow speed things
And otherwise move things along
For Monday afternoon
Cannot come soon enough
Sure, it’s a test
And I will be honest in my review
But I am not VeloNews
Nor am I Bicycling Magazine
Nor CyclingNews nor BikeRadar neither
My point being
That nobody really expects me
To talk about torsional stiffness
Or vertical compliance
Instead, I plan to talk about what it’s like
To ride the bicycle equivalent
Of an Acura NSX
For a season
(I sort of suspect it will be fun)
PS: I will be tweeting and quite possibly live broadcasting (using Periscope) the unboxing and build of this bike this Monday afternoon, or Tuesday morning…depending on when the bike arrives. You should probably follow me on Twitter for updates.
Today, I will write about what I had for breakfast on the morning of the Boggs Funduro eight-hour relay. I shall go into excruciating detail. I shall provide photographs. I shall provide lengthy asides that meander here and there, without even a tangential connection to the race at hand.
OK, OK. How about if I start talking about the race itself instead?
I thought you might say that.
How It Works
I’m not one to get too caught up in details, but it probably wouldn’t hurt to give a quick description of the Boggs Eight-Hour race format. To wit, your team tries to do as many laps before the eight hour cutoff as possible.
A team can be one, two, or three people, with categories for pretty much every possible combination of age range, gender, skill level, bike type, and number of racers.
Jeff, Levi, and I would be racing in the “Pro, lucky random winner guy, and paunchy aging bike blogger” category.
We liked our chances of getting on the podium.
Levi would race first, I would go second, Jeff would go third. As many times as possible. And since this course is about eleven miles long with about 1650 feet of climbing, we figured we’d be able to do either eight or — if things went perfectly — nine laps.
Levi’s First Lap
The first lap, it should be noted, is different than the other laps, in that it has a little bonus loop up a wide dirt road climb and then down singletrack, before beginning the regular lap. This loop, sensibly, is designed to thin out the crowd, which would otherwise be impossibly funneled into singletrack right from the beginning.
Carlos Perez, race director, stood atop a truck bed, heroically gazing into the future:
Also, he told us about the race course and rules and stuff.
Meanwhile, Levi meditated, putting on his game face and focusing on the race and how important it was to him.
Or, it’s possible that he just did his best to wake up.
Oh, and also he stared down a very small dog.
Who won the staring contest? Pfff, like you even need to ask.
The race began, and Levi was off, giving me the instruction that he would be back “in about an hour.”
I went back to the RV and suited up, wearing — for the first time ever — my WBR kit. Naturally, I took a selfie:
I’m so good at selfies.
I returned to the exchange point with about half an hour to spare. You know, just in case Levi turned out to be fast or something.
All By Myyy-seh-eh-ellffff
As it turns out, it wasn’t a half-bad idea for me to get to the exchange point nice and early. Levi finished his first lap (including the bonus loop at the beginning of the race) in almost exactly an hour (1:01:09, according to the official results).
I watched closely, and as soon as Levi crossed the timing mat, I was off, racing as if it mattered.
Which, to be clear, it did. Racing always matters to me during the race. If I’m not out there to be my fastest, hardest-working, absolute best version of me, why did I bother to make the trip?
So — as usual — I went out at full tilt, one simple question dominating my thoughts:
Can I go harder?
And if the answer is yes, well…do.
All of that is normal. All of that is how I always race. But there was something very, very different about this race, during this lap, at this moment.
I was entirely and utterly alone on the course.
Levi had gapped the entire field to such an extraordinary extent that not only was nobody in front of me, but when I looked over my shoulder, there was also nobody even remotely behind me.
This course belonged to me, and to me alone.
But I knew this would change. Furthermore, I knew it would change sooner than later if I didn’t give this lap everything I had to give.
So I had an unusual objective: stay alone, for as long as possible. Which is an anti-social objective for a pretty social guy.
And I did pretty well at staying alone. For the first 25 minutes, in fact, I managed to stay ahead of the entire field of racers.
This was awesome. Mostly. Except for one time, during a climb. There was a sign, pointing left. Except there was no left turn to make.
So I kept going. For about twenty feet. “Did I somehow just miss a turn?” I thought, my second-guessing superpower taking control. “I bet I did. I bet there is a left turn, and I somehow just missed it.”
I slowed. I stopped. I turned around and rode back to the sign. Sure enough, the sign pointed left toward no road or trail.
“I wish there was someone around here,” I thought.
Then a guy just blew by me: foooooosssh. I swear, a little swirl of dust and leaves followed in his wake and there was a noticeable doppler effect.
“So it begins,” I thought, expecting more very fast guys to come flying by me any moment.
But they did not.
In fact, the next pass I was involved in was when I passed a person, about five minutes later.
And then I passed another and another.
I was confused. Who was I passing? How did these people get ahead of me while going so much slower than me?
It just didn’t make sense, which just goes to show how my brain doesn’t work at all when I’m racing. It wasn’t until after I passed ten or fifteen people that it finally occurred to me: thanks to Levi’s crazily fast first lap, we were already lapping people…before they finished their first lap.
And in fact, I passed Friend of Fatty Dave Houston, who was celebrating his 61st birthday by racing this event solo.
“Hi Dave!” I yelled, as he let me by. Then, five minutes later, I thought, “I cannot believe I neglected to sing Happy Birthday to him.”
I resolved to rectify that problem, should I see him again during the race.
Up and Over
I feel like I need to emphasize, perhaps with bold, italics, all-caps, and underscore: THIS IS A REALLY GREAT COURSE. Seriously, it is. (I don’t use this combination of emphasis tactics lightly.) It’s more singletrack than not, it’s forested and beautiful. The light stipples through the trees, and whatnot.
And, very importantly, no climb lasts for very long without giving you at least a few seconds of recovery:
You see that? Even the really big climb, from mile 6.3 – 8.5, has lots of little breaks in it.
At first, in each climb I’d lock out the fork and rear suspension of my bike, but I was swapping so often I tired of it. By the time I was 2/3 of the way through my lap I decided I’d just do all my riding seated for the rest of the race.
The course finishes with a big, fun, curvy, singletrack descent, opening out into the transition area.
I saw it and opened up, wanting to finish strong, proud of the fact that only one person had passed me during my lap.
Then I it a rise right before the arch and timing mat. Without seeing it, without expecting it.
And in short, I flipped, ass over teakettle, right in front of everyone.
I stood up, not yet feeling any pain, looking at my bike to see if it’s got any obvious damage. It does not, but everything that was in my jersey pockets is laying scattered on the ground. Yard sale.
I grab my phone and other stuff and run my bike the ten feet to the mat. Jeff takes off. It’s his turn.
I’ve done a pretty respectable 1:00:54, finish line crash and all. At which point, it’s time to take a selfie.
Don’t you love the way Dave Thompson is laughing in the background? That dude is cold.
In addition to the elbow, I scraped up my left knee pretty well.
Embarrassment at my crash notwithstanding, I was proud of my effort.
Now I had two hours — more or less — ’til it was my turn to do it again.
Which is where we’ll pick up in my next post.
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