I couldn’t sleep last night. I was thinking about the Leadville race. I swear, I went through the whole race in my head. St. Kevins. Powerline. Rest stop. Flat stretch. Columbine. Now do it again, but in the other direction.
It’s like this every year. For two days before the actual race, I can’t sleep. Can’t think about anything else. Can’t wipe the big grin off my face. The Leadville 100 is just like Christmas for me.
Now, anyone who hasn’t been to Leadville won’t get what I’m talking about, but if you’ve got an annual tradition that you absolutely love — something you want to be exactly the same every year — then at some level you know what I mean.
Here’s what I’m looking forward to over the next couple days.
- Meeting all my biking buddies again. Over the past eight years, I’ve got to know a lot of people who are a part of this race. Going to Leadville is like a big family reunion, assuming your family is made up of guys with shaved legs and $4000 bikes.
- The drive over to Leadville. Usually, the thought of 7 hours in the car sounds awful, but with Kenny, it’s a highlight of the trip. Note to fast guys: Watch out for Kenny; he’s going to clean your clock this year.
- Wandering around Leadville with nothing much to do. I live my whole life at a fast pace. But the day before the race in Leadville, I just hang around the town. Talking with people. Looking in shop windows. Loitering. Napping. It’s heaven, I tell you.
- The Pre-race ride: Hooking up with Mark, Serena, and Bry to do a little ride the day before the race has become one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. Lots of stories, trashtalking, and wacky hyjinx. (Mark and Serena have won the tandem division every year they’ve raced it. They’re back to win a fourth. They say they haven’t trained, but they say that every year. I wouldn’t bet against them. And to hear people talk, Bry’s a lock for a sub-9 race this year. I wish I were in better shape and had a chance of finishing with him.)
- The pre-race meeting / motivational speech. Generally I’m not one for meetings, and definitely not one for motivational speeches. But Ken — the chief promoter honcho — is a funny guy with serious endurance cred — he does the running version of this race each year, which I can’t even imagine. I love hearing him shout his catchphrase: "You’re better than you think you are." For that moment, I actually believe him.
- Talking about the race at the pre-race dinner. Preferably with someone who’s never ridden it and is listening to your advice as if it’s actually helpful.
- Looking out the window at 4:30am on the day of the race to see what the weather’s like.
- Talking to people at the start line, as well as during the ride.
- My dad crewing for me. There’s nothing like seeing a member of the family to boost your morale on a big race like this.
- Dodging erosion trenches while coming down Powerline.
- The sweet agony of seeing the Columbine turnaround point — from three miles away, and knowing I’ll have to hike most of it.
- Crossing over from the Boulevard onto the pavement, knowing that I’ve made my last turn.
- Laying down on the grass after I finish the race.
I won’t be online tomorrow, but I’ll definitely have my wife post my finishing time this Saturday afternoon/evening.
It’s 4:00AM. I’ve got a plane to catch.
Today’s weight: Dunno. Too late to worry about it now. Time to think about racing.
The last time we had serious rain for this race was back in 2000 — and that was just for the final 25 miles of the race. Here’s what I had to say about that (excerpted from an article I wrote for active.com):
"Take your jacket," Susan said at the final aid station. "It looks like rain is coming."
"Weighs too much," I said, and rode away.
Soon it started raining. Hard. Then the lightning started. It was close, too; the flash and boom were essentially simultaneous, and the powerline above made an audible "zzzztttzzz" after each flash.
I weighed my options.
One: Take cover under a tree to at least try to avoid the downpour, as some riders were doing. Nah, that improves my chances of getting hit by lightning.
Two: Turn around and head back down Sugarloaf. Nah, I had already done the brutal hike-a-bike. I didn’t want to bail out anymore.
Three: Ride like crazy and try to get off the mountain as fast as I could. That sounded good. I must’ve got an adrenaline rush from the fear (oh yeah, I was big-time scared), because I started passing racers again. Some I passed as they were riding, but most I passed as they were donning their rain gear. Since I didn’t have rain gear to concern myself with, I continued on in my shorts and short-sleeved jersey.
Released from any prayer of finishing under nine hours, and having a fine excuse (thanks to mother nature), I started having a blast. I stopped worrying about time and started enjoying the ride. I rode through puddles intentionally. I sang "Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head" and "Here Comes the Rain Again" as I passed riders. I squinted and blinked as I downhilled, mud flying into my eyes.
I laughed out loud at the volunteers who shouted, "Looking good!" as I rode by. I had a pretty good idea how I must’ve looked and it was not good.
The singletrack section was a running river when I got to it. I aced it — except in one place where I slid out and gashed my left knee. The water, mud and blood combined for great dramatic effect and left the bottom of half of my leg looking grisly. I admired it greatly, and appreciated the fact that my leg was cold enough that I couldn’t feel the cut at all.
Feeling amazingly good, completely fresh, and probably hypothermic, I noticed my hands were now so cold that I couldn’t feel them at all. I kept checking to see if they were really on the handlebars. When I needed to push the shift lever for my front derailleur, I found my thumb didn’t have the control to push that hard; I had to reach under the handlebar and push with my palm. All this, I thought, was hilarious.
So. What if it rains the whole day this Saturday? I predict the following:
Massive DNFs: Most of the people who line up to start the race are prepared to suffer on a bike for 9-12 hours. Many are not prepared to suffer for that long while rain pounds them and they’re freezing cold.
Lots of people in the medical tents: You get really cold when you’re soaked for that long. Lots of riders will be pulled from the course with symptoms of hypothermia.
Lots of ruined wheels: The sandy, gritty Leadville course means that when the weather’s wet, you go through your brake pads unbelievably quickly. Many people will go through their brake pads, then gouge their rims.
I will be insufferable: One thing I know about myself. As things get increasingly nasty, I am capable of acting ridiculously cheerful. That is, in fact, my typical response to crisis. And since I’ll be shoving a digital voice recorder (got it yesterday) into people’s faces and asking them whether they’re enjoying themselves, I should probably plan on getting punched in the face at least once or twice.
Today’s weight: I didn’t check. Not going to check again until I get back from Leadville.
Bonus Excitement: Cyclingnews.com has published my second article, this time a fake news piece about a sport-class mountain biker who feels sorry for Jan Ullrich. I really, really hope everyone who reads it gets the irony.
Bonus Potential Offline-ness: Tomorrow early AM I head out towards Leadville. Once there, I really don’t know what kind of connectivity I’ll have. I hope to keep posting, but if I can’t, I’ll at least have my wife post my finishing time on Saturday afternoon.
Endurance athletes do something called "tapering" before a big race / event. The idea is to decrease your activity for a week or so before the ride, so you’ll be fresh and rarin’ to go.
There’s a proper way to taper, and I’m horrified with myself to announce that I don’t know what it is. I blame my trainer for never properly explaining it to me. It’s almost as if he’s never done more to learn about tapering than scan a couple of magazine articles. Moron.
Still, though, I have slacked off on the riding, starting last Friday, and it seems to have had some effect: this morning as I was riding to work I felt really good — much stronger than usual. Climbs were easier, I was faster on the flats without really trying. Never one to waste an opportunity, I shifted up a couple gears and started seeing exactly what I had in me.
It turns out I had a whole bunch in me. I rode the flats at 25-27 mph — I usually go around 22-24. I looked at the trees and grass to see if I had a tailwind, but no: it was me.
Then I came to the climb that parallels Highway 520. It’s about a mile long and can be pretty steep in some parts. It starts right after a street crossing, where you have to wait for a light. By the time the light turned, there were four other cyclists gathered with me.
So I decided to show them who’s boss.
I gapped the first couple before we even got across the street. The third dropped off without a fight during the first steep pitch, but the last guy stuck with me. The race was on!
In the first part of the climb, the pitch goes from moderately steep to very steep. It doesn’t last long, but most people downshift for it anyway. Today, though, I listened for his shift as we reached the steep part, then I upshifted two gears, stood up, and attacked off the front.
I gapped him by 20 feet almost instantly.
"This is a good time for me to see whether I’m still any good at riding just below the red zone," I thought, and kept exactly the amount of pressure on myself I could sustain without blowing up. Before long, my nameless archrival was vanquished.
I was the victor. I was the hero.
Also, I’m a complete idiot. The whole point of the taper is to get me rested. And since it was working, I decided to do a personal time trial and VO2-max hill interval.
But this brings up a question: am I the only one who consistently fails to rest on rest day rides? I mean, when you’re just tooling along and some guy passes you at a speed you know you can counter, are you really able to just let him go?
I’m telling you, it’s a lot harder to rein yourself in than to go all out.
Today’s weight: 164.8
Bonus Delicious Cookie Alert: An important part of tapering is to eat more, right? This isn’t the week for me to lose weight. And that’s why Keebler Fudge Shop: White Fudge Stripes Cookies-and-Creme cookies were an important part of my diet yesterday. I mean, these things give White-Fudge-Covered Oreos a run for their money, and that’s saying something. I mean, it says something besides that I know way too much about really-bad-for-you cookies.
I bet my weight goes up to 280 pounds by tomorrow.
One nice thing about writing a blog called "Fat Cyclist" is you no longer have to worry about losing your dignity. Since you’ve kissed it goodbye as part of the blog’s premise, you’re free to do just about anything without worrying about embarassing yourself.
And so it is without hesitation that today I answer the question, "Why do cyclists shave their legs?" with "before" and "after" photographs. I suppose I could have also posted "during" photographs, but then I might have gotten comments to this post from distraught readers who had gouged out their eyes in an attempt to get the horrible, horrible vision out of their heads.
I think I made the right decision.
OK, So Why Do Cyclists Shave Their Legs, Then?
Well, there are several reasons most cyclists will give you. They will say that it makes them more aerodynamic, which would be a good reason…if it were true.
They will say they do it because it makes it easier to clean road rash out of their legs. To which I answer, if you’re so confident you’re going to be crashing, maybe you need to look into a different sport. Like chess, for example.
They will say they shave their legs because of tradition. This reason actually does have merit, but it’s tantamount to proclaiming that you’re a lemming.
There are two — and only two — real reasons cyclists shave their legs:
- Vanity: You’ve worked hard to get the legs you’ve got. Why hide them under a mat of hair?
- To impress other cyclists: Once you’re on the bike, there’s not much you can do to hide whether you’re the alpha rider or a domestique. But at least while you’re hanging out at the bike shop, shaved legs say, "I’ve joined the club; I’m a serious cyclist. I am so confident of my manliness that I can wear a bright jersey, tight lycra shorts, and have shaved legs without feeling ridiculous in public."
You see, when you shave, the hair that hides your muscle definition is gone, making it easier for you to admire those quads in the mirror, and for other cyclists to admire your calves on the bike. And since you’ve worked so hard to get those muscles, you feel it’s your right to show them off in all their glory.
Here. I’ll show you what I mean.
Here I am before shaving. If you look hard, you can see a hint of some quads, but mostly you just see big stumpy legs.
As you can see, I’ve got hair-o-plenty (except on the top of my head, where the hair’s becoming increasingly scarce). Before I could shave, I needed to mow down the tall grass with the electric clippers. What surprised me was the sheer volume of hair I had on my legs. I swear, the below picture is just of the clippings of my legs, not of a shorn llama.
It’s been some time since I regularly shaved my legs. During my hairy period, I seem to have forgotten how much time it takes. Even more, I had forgotten how much agility it takes to reach around and shave the back of your knees — all while fearing that you are about to hit a major artery.
Believe me, most middle age men do not want to be discovered dead in the shower with their legs half-shaved.
So — and I can say this only because I am the dignity-free Fat Cyclist — I asked my wife for help. She rolled her eyes, locked the bathroom door (this was definitely something I did not want the kids to see), and got to work. Two Mach 3 razor cartridges later, I was as smooth as can be.
You may be asking yourself right now, "So how high do cyclists shave themselves?" Or you may be really resenting that I articulated that question, because you had successfully avoided bringing that image to mind up to that point. Regardless, you shouldn’t look for an answer to that question here. If there’s consensus in the cycling world on where the "Do not cross this line" point is, I don’t know what it is. As for me, let me just say that I’d look verrrrry ridiculous in a Speedo right now.
OK, on to the "After" photo:
Well, whaddaya know. The Fat Cyclist actually had some big ol’ quads underneath all that hair. Though they still — alas — lack definition. And who do I gotta bribe to get some calf muscles?
And What About After?
The thing about shaving your legs is, it’s not just a one-time deal. You’ve made a commitment. Because once the hair starts growing back (about 4 hours, in my case), you’ve got to shave again — because male stubble is abrasive enough to scratch the paint right off a car.
So how long will this last? I dunno. Through the Leadville 100, at least. Gotta impress the fans.
Watching the Tour de France, you might reasonably come to the conclusion that all cyclists are dangerously thin, in their early 20â€™s to early 30â€™s, and can ride their bikes for up to three weeks without a rest.
The reality is a little different. Most of us are middle-aged. Most of us need to lose weight. If you want to become a bike enthusiast, you may as well learn how to be middle-aged, too, or at least act that way. Here are some helpful tips you can use:
- Wear a long, loose-fitting jersey. A long, loose-fitting jersey will hide both your behind and your belly. This will make it impossible for others to recognize the fact that you are overweight. Because you are the only person who has ever thought of wearing loose clothes to camouflage extra weight.
- Spare no expense in making your bike light. If you can find a way to reduce the weight of your bike by 20 grams, itâ€™s worth the cost. Period. And donâ€™t think about the fact that dropping 10 pounds from yourself would be much safer and less costly. Thatâ€™s not relevant.
- Get a triple chainring on your roadbike. It’s not because you don’t have power in your legs, it’s because you want to spin a higher cadence up the hills.
- Obsess endlessly about equipment and technique. These are the keys to going faster. Those who would say that riding with more power simply donâ€™t understand the complexities of riding.
- Buy a helmet without many vents. If they canâ€™t see through your helmet, they canâ€™t see your male-pattern baldness, can they?
- Learn the fine art of anti-trash-talk. Describe your potential ailments at the beginning of each ride. Be careful not to be too concrete about whatâ€™s wrong, because itâ€™s always possible youâ€™ll have a good day and wonâ€™t need to refer back to your pre-ride excuse.
- Yes: â€œWeâ€™ll have to see how long I can ride; Iâ€™m still recovering from a cold.â€
- No: â€œI may have to break off early; I had a lung removed earlier this week.â€
- Corollary to anti-trash-talk rule: All ailments are things that have happened to you, not things you have done to yourself. For example:
- Yes: â€œMy tendonitis is acting up.â€
- No: â€œI failed to stretch and am paying for it now.â€
- Start riding your road bike more, and your mountain bike less. Explain that this is because you like the rhythm of the road, or because it builds your fitness better. Do not acknowledge that you feel completely pounded after mountain bike riding, and are afraid youâ€™ll break your hip if you fall.
- Stop shaving your legs. Describe it as a “silly custom, and I’ve got better things to do with my time.” Under no circumstances admit that you can no longer reach down to your ankles, nor that shaving your legs underscores the fact that you have varicose veins.
- Let everyone know that â€œIâ€™m just taking it easy today.â€ All cyclists know that some days are for going out hard, some days are for resting. When you ride with someone else, tell them youâ€™re just resting. Then ride at 80%. If the group still drops you, wellâ€¦you were just resting. If you manage to hang with the group, then youâ€™re a strong rider even when youâ€™re resting. And â€“ trust me on this â€“ nobody else has ever used this excuse, so everyone will believe you.
- Dispense advice to younger riders. Tell them their seat is too far back. Tell them theyâ€™re pedaling squares. Tell them they need to ride with their hands in the drops. Tell them to stop accelerating during their turn leading the group. Kids love to be taught, and never get tired of hearing your wisdom. Really, itâ€™s the main reason they ride at all.
Finally, I’d like to point out that I have discovered these tips purely by observing other cyclists. None of these apply to me. Nope. Not even one.
I have to go now.