Tainted Glory 3: How I Became a Cross Country Racing Machine

03.1.2006 | 4:18 pm

I have not always been obsessed with mountain biking.

Once, in fact, I was an ordinary guy, with a variety of interests. Sure, I loved biking, but I wasn’t in love with it.

The problem was, though, all of my friends had pretty much already caught the bug. They had started buying the lightest cross-country bikes they could afford, and were racing on Tuesday nights. They were training. They were watching their weight. They were selecting rides based on what kind of workout they’d get: the more climbing, the better.

Naturally, every group ride became a race. And naturally, as the newest — and sole remaining recreational — rider in the group, I always came in dead last.

Usually by several minutes.


Last Straw

For a while, this didn’t matter at all to me. Well, actually, I should point out that previous sentence is a total lie. Every ride, as I rode up to the designated “regroup” spot and saw everybody watching me, I’d be embarrassed. Not embarrassed enough to do anything about it, but embarrassed.

Then, one day, at the top of Frank, Dug and I had an exchange.

“So,” said Dug, as I churned up to the top of the climb in my granny gear, “Did you have a flat on the way up, or what?”

This was perfectly normal trash talk, but I was in a foul, embarrassed mood. “Shut up, Dug,” I said. “Why don’t you start always riding with guys who are three levels faster than you and see where you sort to in the pack.”

You shut up,” said Dug. “I already do that every Tuesday night.”

“And does the winner ask you whether you flatted out during the race?” I asked, probably more petulantly than I intended.

“Whatever,” concluded Dug, and he rode away.



Having written it down, I can see that this is a pretty silly conversation. But it stuck in my craw. And no, I don’t know what a “craw” is, which makes having a conversation stuck there even worse.

Turning this talk over and over in my mind over the next few days, I reached a conclusion: the only way to definitively win this argument was to become the fastest rider in the group.

So I started training. I bought a light cross country racing hardtail. I started doing the Tuesday night races. Before long, I started placing well. I dropped 25 pounds. I started seeking out long, difficult climbs. I would experiment to see how much pain I could live with before I blew up, then learned how to stay right at that threshold. 

It took about three years, but I got to the point where I could outride even the fastest of my friends.

At least on the climbs, anyway. I’m still the one they wait for at the bottom of the descents.


The Part of the Story I Never Tell Anyone

During the three years I was focusing on becoming a fast climber and racer, my friends were exploring other biking interests, as well. So, about the time I got to where I could keep up with them, they were discovering full-suspension.

And they were losing interest in racing.

The practical upshot of this was that right about the time I became fast, my friends lost all interest in being fast. They were all about downhill and doing cool moves.

Neither of which — of course — I am any good at.


Today’s weight: 167.4


  1. Comment by Unknown | 03.1.2006 | 4:44 pm

    Darn skippy those were some petulant comments you made.  If MTB’ing weren’t such a laid back environment, Dug would have been completely within his rights to pimp slap you.  Of course he probably just crushed you on the next climb, which is the same thing when the guy who beats you has the requisite malicious intent.  I’m impressed you have the courage, or the lack of judgment (often the same thing) to tell us about this low spot in your riding career. 

  2. Comment by Unknown | 03.1.2006 | 4:45 pm

    of course, now we’re interested in hot air balloon racing, so you might want to catch that wave now while there’s still time.
    and, i feel the need to recognize. the "stuck in the craw/what’s a craw" comment gave me an extended audible.

  3. Comment by Unknown | 03.1.2006 | 4:52 pm

    No longer able to deal with the humiliation of being crushed by you on the climbs, your "friends" decided to switch interests.  It was because of your prowess, not irregardless of your prowess they lost interest in being fast.

  4. Comment by Unknown | 03.1.2006 | 4:53 pm

    Maybe that should have been ‘irregardless of whether or not you had prowess or not’.

  5. Comment by barry1021 | 03.1.2006 | 5:42 pm

    Warning the following is not PC and may offend
    "The Craw" was the Oriental evil force opposite Maxwell Smart on Get Smart (RIP Don Adams). He was of course THE CLAW but his dramatic introduction to Smart was hilarious because of his accent..
    Claw: "I am….THE CRAW"!!!!!
    Smart: "The Craw"???
    Claw: No, not The Craw, you fool….The Craw!!!!!"

  6. Comment by uncadan8 | 03.1.2006 | 6:10 pm

    Actually, Botched, that would be regardless; no need for "ir-" tagged on the front. It makes the word mean, in essence, "because of", which would mean you are repeating yourself. Very bad form. Okay, the lesson for the day is over. Everybody go back to riding your bikes now.

  7. Comment by Unknown | 03.1.2006 | 6:13 pm

    botched: i got it.

  8. Comment by Tom Stormcrowe | 03.1.2006 | 6:43 pm

    Info dump warning:I looked it up in a language morphology site, and your craw is the throat, right at the top, where if something gets stuck it causes nausea. The term originated in England in the 1600’s.

  9. Comment by Unknown | 03.1.2006 | 8:55 pm

    it took about 3 years and the help of a phamacist.

  10. Comment by Unknown | 03.1.2006 | 8:55 pm

    and no, i’m not bitter. nope.

  11. Comment by Zed | 03.1.2006 | 9:12 pm

    Is there an association between ‘craw’ and ‘crawdads’? Just curious.

  12. Comment by Teresa | 03.1.2006 | 10:23 pm

    I’d hate to get a crawdad caught in my craw.  I went to a Cajun Festival in Aptos (just south of Santa Cruz, CA) once and they cooked up a mess of crawdads as substitutes for crayfish.  To eat one you bite the heads off first and then suck the meat out.

  13. Comment by Andrew | 03.2.2006 | 12:27 am

    Dear Ambassador of Adiposity,
    I’m new to biking and I don’t understand all there is to know about trail ettiquette, so let me ask you: would it have been acceptable just to kick Dug in the balls?
    Just wondering.

  14. Comment by Burra King | 03.2.2006 | 5:48 am

    Curse you people! I just wasted 30 mins searching the net for all things craw.
    ps. gee there are a lot of craw related things, watch out for the craw worm!! frightening.

  15. Comment by Christina | 03.2.2006 | 5:56 am

    Hey FC,
    I just found out from my husband that you can get a $50 gift certificate for every 500 miles you commute.  You have to log your miles or something on the city website, but I just thought I’d pass that on since you could get PAID to ride to work…maybe you already know this though…
    -Beast Mom

  16. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 03.2.2006 | 7:07 am

    Beast Mom – Nice one, if I got paid to ride to work I’d go the long way around.  However last year I would have starved if I had to live off the payments.

  17. Comment by Unknown | 03.2.2006 | 5:58 pm

    Late for the dance, eh Fatty?  That’s a dance I chose not to go to.  Well, I went a couple of times but realized I had not rythm. 
    dug says "hot air balloon racing."  I say it’s ice dancing.  You should get started.  You already look good in tights.

  18. Comment by Valerie | 03.30.2006 | 2:15 am

    You could be a triathlete- it sounds through some of your "trying to kill youself" training and "seeing how much pain" you can handle you have the mind set.


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