Race Thoughts, Winners, And Sly Hints About the Next Contest

07.24.2006 | 3:35 pm

When the Tour of Utah folks asked me if I’d like to give away a trip to see this mind-bendingly difficult stage race, of course I wanted to. And in true bone-headed fashion, I made it an essay contest. Which means I had to had the distinct pleasure of reading ten gazillion essays on how much it was going to hurt to do that brutal sixth stage.

Several essays stuck out as great, but here’s my favorite:

One. More. Rotation.

One. More. Rotation.


One. More. Rotation.

Almost at the top. I can rest a bit on the downhill.

One. More. Rotation.



I hope the next climb isn’t as bad.

One. More. Rotation…. 

Massive congratulations go out to Mark Colburn, the winner of the “Win a Trip to the Tour of Utah” (hey, what a catchy name!) contest. You’re going to dig this race, Mark. I know I’m sure looking forward to it. (Ooooh, it’s so exciting to give away a major award!)


Didn’t Win? Stick Around For Something You Will Not Believe

As if giving away a trip to come see a top-notch stage race weren’t enough, the Tour of Utah folks have another giveaway they’re working on for Fat Cyclist readers.

Something awesome.

Something I would really like to keep myself, if I could figure out how to game the system.

And you won’t have to write an essay (I’ve read enough of those for one lifetime, thanks) to win, either.

I’ll announce the giveaway tomorrow. If you love cycling—or even if you think you might like cycling—you will not want to miss this.


Now for the Part Wherein I Present Thoughts that Occurred to Me During the 50-Mile Mountain Bike Race I Did Last Saturday, In Roughly the Order they Occurred to Me

Have you ever committed to doing something without really thinking it through? Something big? Something that you will soon realize will require a lot of you—quite likely more than you’d really like to give? Something that, once you get right down to it, you realize is going to hurt a lot and you probably shouldn’t have agreed to do, but you did, and now you’re stuck?

Yeah. Doing a 50-Mile mountain bike race in Park City, UT last Saturday was kinda like that for me.

Early last week, Kenny emailed me, saying something as simple as “Hey, I’m doing this race Saturday. So is Brad. You should come, too.” I am now convinced Kenny embedded an email-based hypnosis virus in that message, because without considering the consequences, I signed up.

And that’s how, Saturday morning at around 6:00, I found myself on a 50-mile mountain bike race course I knew next to nothing about. Just that it was really, really hard.

Here are some of my recollections from that day.


A Sense of Urgency

I’m sorry to start off with a kind of tacky thought, but I’m trying to be real here, and reality is not pretty. Anyway. Up until three minutes before the race started, I felt fine. Calm. Composed. And then when the race organizer got on the bullhorn and said, “Three minutes to start” I suddenly needed to use the bathroom. And not just to pee. I wasted ten precious seconds considering what I ought to do, then dropped my bike and bolted for the bathroom Some things cannot be put off. I was tearing off my Camelback, helmet and jersey (I was wearing bib shorts, alas) as I ran to the bathroom, took care of my business in record time (I didn’t take the time to read anything), and threw it all back on  as I made it back to the starting line. The result? I was back in place and throwing a leg over the bike with a whopping five seconds to spare.


Riding with Darth Vader

The first mile or two of the race are all climbing on graded dirt road, which is a good place to pass a few people. Then you’re on tight singletrack for miles and miles and you pretty much can count on being with the group you’re with for a while.

I, as near as I could tell, was riding directly in front of Darth Vader.

I didn’t dare look back to tell if he was wearing the mask and black cape, because I figured he’d stick a light saber in my spokes or something, but I knew it was Darth Vader from the loud breathing. Kkkkrrreeehhhh….kkkkrrooohhh. Kkkkrrreeehhhh….kkkkrrooohhh. Regular as clockwork.

“Good day for a bike ride this is,” I said, in my best Yoda voice.

Darth Vader didn’t get it.


Why is it easier to go up a hairpin?

At the beginning of the race, I asked a few people what it was like. Everyone who had done it had essentially the same point of view: it’s a brutal, endless day of climbing. Estimates ranged from 9000 feet of climbing to 12,000. Either way, that’s a lot. And it’s almost all singletrack climbing. Lots of it is technical.

They were right.

The whole day seemed like climb after climb, punctuated with short stretches of technical, no-rest-for-the-weary downhill.

I had lots of time to ponder something: Whether you’re on a mountain bike riding singletrack or on a roadbike doing a hard climb, switchbacks tend to give you a little bit of a climbing boost—you swing around and gain eight feet in altitude without spending a ton more effort. Why is that?

I asked a few people that question while I was riding. Nobody had a good answer, though some agreed that it did seem like switchbacks give you a magical boost.

Anyone else notice that? Anyone got an (interesting) answer for why?


Shot Bloks

As a blogging shill, I have my rules: I do not endorse a product unless I’m being given that product for free.

I shall now break that rule.

I ate Clif Shot Bloks a lot during this ride, and I really like them. A package gives you 200 calories, they taste better than energy gels, don’t have the gross texture, and didn’t upset my stomach at all.

I need a better way to eat Shot Bloks on the fly, though. It’s easy enough to open the package while riding, but getting them out of the package into my mouth while pedaling and steering the bike wasn’t easy; I had to look for spots where there was going to be either a flat or a sustained non-technical climb before I could eat.

Here’s what I’m thinking I might try: I’ll get a little sandwich bag, spray some Pam (Butter Flavor, perhaps?) into it, and then put the Shot Bloks in there. They should just slide right out.

Yes, I’m really considering doing that. I’ll let you know how it goes.


How Far Have I Gone?

One of the games I always play when doing an endurance ride is calculating the math of the ride. How far have I ridden? How far do I have left to go? What percentage of the ride have I ridden in terms of effort, not distance?

But Saturday, I didn’t have an odometer on my bike. I hadn’t really studied at a topo map or elevation profile of the course (and those never help me anyway). I was just riding, staying at my all-day pace, figuring I’d stop when I hit the finish line.

It was kind of a nice change.


My Right Arm is Lousy

My right arm is getting worse. Any time I ride for more than just a few minutes, my right hand goes numb, and then the numbness spreads upward. I’m pretty sure this has something to do with the umpteen times I’ve dislocated it.

Still, it’s a weird sensation to discover—as you turn downhill—that you cannot operate the rear brake because you have no sensation whatsoever in your index and middle finger.


My Teeth Are Gross

You know what happens when you eat sticky, sweet food for a couple hours, while doing most of your breathing through your mouth, all while riding your mountain bike on a dusty course behind a lot of people kicking up dust?

Your teeth stay perfectly clean and white, without getting caked by a layer of grit that can only be removed with battery acid.


Why Do Slow People Race?

Saturday, I was one of the slow people. Which means I had time to think long and hard about why people who have no chance of winning or even finishing in the top half, race at all. Are we trying to build character? Are we amassing stories to tell our grandchildren? Is it because we feel the need to be punished?

All of those are partially correct, but the main answer is: slow people race hoping that this day we will magically turn into fast people.

But we don’t.


I Wish I Had My iPod With Me

About 45 minutes into the race, I had settled into my race equilibrium: I had passed most of the people I would pass during the day, and most of the people who would pass me had done so.

Which meant I could look forward to riding alone for the next six hours or so.

And that’s when I started fantasizing about my iPod, which was sitting safely in my car. During the entire day, I would think things like, “If I had brought my iPod, right now I’d put on Social Distortion, and have it play their entire catalog.

Other playlists that occurred to me during the day include:

  • Johnny Cash, American Recordings selections (I have all the American Recordings albums, but have made a playlist of my favorites from each).
  • Rush, Moving Pictures. I don’t know why this occurred to me. It’s been years since I’ve listened to this album.
  • Devo, Greatest Hits. It’s now generally acknowledged that these guys are geniuses, right?
  • Oingo Boingo, Complete catalog. No better mountain biking music in the world, as far as I’m concerned.
  • Duran Duran, Greatest Hits. So sue me.

My Hairy Legs Really Collect Dirt

As I rode, I noticed: those of us with shaved legs had cleaner legs than those of us with unshaved legs. Really hairy dudes like myself looked downright nasty.


A Meditation on Oxygen At High Altitude

Most of this race is at above 8000 feet, but there are trees and undergrowth everywhere. I started thinking, “You know, I’ll bet that with all these trees and plants I’m riding around, there’s actually more oxygen here than at sea level!”

Which, ironically, goes to show how oxygen-deprived I was.


Post-Race Nausea

You know what’s the worst thing about an endurance race? What happens to your stomach about twenty minutes after the race. You’ve been beating yourself up the whole day, suffering in the legs but otherwise feeling fine.

Then you stop riding, and twenty minutes later you’re curled up in a ball, wishing you were dead. It is during this period that I vow, after each and every race, to never race again.

Eventually, the post-race nausea subsides, supplanted by an all-consuming hunger. Even as you eat everything that might possibly be edible, you forget the nausea, figuring out how you’ll do better next time.


My Time

I finished the race in 6:32. Does that mean anything to anyone?


  1. Comment by Unknown | 07.24.2006 | 4:11 pm

    6:32 means that you finished 6 hours and 32 minutes ahead of my DNF.  Some of my thoughts from Saturday that probably don’t mean anything to anybody unless you also DNF’d the race.  Disclaimer:  If I would have finished, none of these thoughts would have occurred to me.  $125 got me a water bottle in my schwag bag.  Yeah!  $125 got me sponsor supplied energy bars and drinks at the aid stations.  Yummy!  $125 got me no course marshall where the 100 mile relay split off from the 50 mile solo race.  I guess I got more than I paid for since I got to do a big chunk of the 100 mile relay course that the 50 milers didn’t even get to see.  Lucky me.

  2. Comment by Unknown | 07.24.2006 | 4:12 pm

    Switchbacks…here is my theory:
    My observation is that the "switchback" tends to be less steep than the road/trail.  Things flatten out for just a few feet, but you don’t ease up while you are riding through.   After all, the trail keeps climbing, so you just keep up your "climbing power", except because it is flatter you "squirt" ahead. 
    Or perhaps it’s completely mental.  I just happen to like swinging the bike around.  It is just fun.  Oddly, I prefer to go UP switchbacks, rather than down.  Why is THAT? 

  3. Comment by Unknown | 07.24.2006 | 4:30 pm

    It means something to me.  It means that I am glad to have dodged that 6:32 minutes of ultimate suffering.  I assume that would have been my time since you offered a pact of riding together, no matter what.  In reality, it would have been far worse in my case. 

  4. Comment by Unknown | 07.24.2006 | 4:52 pm

    I love Clif Shot Bloks. They are like eating gummi bears and it being okay because they are suddenly good for you. I use them for long bike rides and long triathlons. Instead of Rush’s Moving Pictures go get a copy of Rush in Rio. That is what you should be riding to! I would say get the DVD, and it is unbelievable, but you probably shouldn’t be watching DVD while riding outside. Now while inside…..

  5. Comment by allan | 07.24.2006 | 5:02 pm

    Good job on the race. Sounds like it was a lot of ton. Seriously. I love long suffer fests.

  6. Comment by Andrew | 07.24.2006 | 5:06 pm

    Be honest. Didn’t you, at least once during the ride, fantasize about being Floyd Landis? "Take that, Oscar! Take that, Mattias! Jan, you didn’t even have the guts to show up! I would have ripped your lungs out and made bread pudding out of them…" and so forth.

  7. Comment by UltraRob | 07.24.2006 | 5:20 pm

    I really think the switchback thing is all mental.  When you’re going up switchbacks you get to see just how far up you’ve come and see how there’s a lot of people going slower than you are.  Or sometimes you get to see how there’s no one behind you and then switchbacks make it seem harder.
    My top 2 reasons for shaving my legs are it’s much easier to clean off mud that has dried and bugs would rather hang out on hairy legs than shaved ones.

  8. Comment by Unknown | 07.24.2006 | 5:22 pm

    TMS-NY is onto something with switchbacks.  You are riding up a slope, and it is hard.  Just as the turn for the switchback starts, you go up really steeply, especially near the inside radius.  But you can ride onto the outside radius, where it gets flat, and the level of difficulty drops.  You can even pick up some speed and carry it into the next portion of the ascent.  You turn sharply and if you are staying on the outside, the slope of the curve is shallower than it would be on the inside radius, maybe even nearly flat, and you are moving faster.  
    On the shot blocs, you can put them on your steering stem, handlebar and top tube.  Lick ‘em once, then they will stay there.  A less disgusting person would pre-open the packs, then fold over the top, then peel back the top of the pack with the teeth as the blocs are needed, but you are not a less disgusting person.  If you choose the stuck-to-frame method, you’d probably best be fast, otherwise the Blocks will collect quite a bit of dirt as youi wheelsuck up the hills. 

  9. Comment by barry1021 | 07.24.2006 | 5:26 pm

    Cliff Shot Bloks are great, but eating on the go IS a problem. I tried the gel approach by tearing off the top and sticking the open end in my mouth to suck the contents in at one time. The sucking process made a sound like an elephant in heat, but it still didn’t work too well. I got a lot more space around me on the group ride I was on, tho, not to mention some pointing and laughing in the parking lot afterward.
    If you convert your 6:32 to 6 minutes and 32 seconds, that is the amount of time it will take you to lose your stomach contents if you try pam as the lubricant of choice to get the cubes flowin’. Hey maybe you can have those guys that sent you the gel dispenser bidons come up with a blok dispenser bottle!! Sorta like a Pez dispenser for the cycling set-that would be tres cool!!

  10. Comment by Unknown | 07.24.2006 | 5:52 pm

    isn’t it queer (can i use that word?) that those same switchbacks will slow you down going downhill?
    right now i’ll bet you’re glad you did the race. well, maybe not, but if floyd can bust a move on the tour DAY france with his hip, you should feel pretty satisfied right now.
    two things we don’t need to hear for a while:
    how many pilots it took to invent a volvo and bobke’s tour DAY france.

  11. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 07.24.2006 | 7:13 pm

    Yoda doesn’t talk like that!
    "For a bike ride, a good day this is."
    The "switchback boost", I’m surprised you haven’t heard the term.  Psychologists who have cyclists for patients use it all the time.  There is no true physical benefit from riding through a switch back but there is a huge benefit mentally.  The power of being able to look DOWN at where you were 15 seconds earlier gives a powerful sense of achievement to the part of the brain that processes competitive successes.
    What about a helmet mounted dispenser of some sort for the shot blocks?  Like a pez dispenser…
    That music selection.  Um.  Er.  Yup.  Man, you’re old.  But hey, it sounds a lot like my playlist, just a personal best of from the mid ’80s.
    Didn’t you hear the trees talking to you.  They were discussing how great it is when a big bunch of cyclists come to visit and bring all that wonderful carbon dioxide with them.
    Before I form an opinion about your race time… 6:32?  Is that hours or pm?

  12. Comment by Unknown | 07.24.2006 | 7:20 pm

    Shave the legs, I say. I’ll be starting that routine again soon, after the scabs come off and the infection in my left knee goes away. Smooth skin heals much faster and is less prone to infection. Oww.

  13. Comment by Unknown | 07.24.2006 | 7:23 pm

    If you try the Pam thing, make sure you get that bag sealed before the pure grain alcohol has a chance to evaporate.  That’ll make ‘em shot bloks for real.

  14. Comment by Unknown | 07.24.2006 | 8:11 pm

    As to why slow people race, I’ve never been a slow (or fast) bike racer, but I have been a slow runner.  You’re right in that it’s not the t-shirt/cap/water bottle/goodie bag, or even the satisfaction of finishing, unless it is a marathon, or other race longer or tougher than you’ve previously done.  It’s sure not the opportunity of winning.  I always go admire the African runners at the beginning of the race because I know I’ll never see them again.
    I think that racing is the reward that validates the time/money/pain/joy of training.  A good result also validates the effort and strategy you put into your training. If their are age categories (do those exist in bike racing?), and you’re old enough, maybe you’ll even bring home a piece of metal.
    In the long run, however, everyone sets their own criteria.  For me, if I can keep up with the more athletic looking women, and stay ahead of most of those wearing race day t-shirts, well that’s reason enough to race.

  15. Comment by Unknown | 07.24.2006 | 8:20 pm

    What happened to the 150 – 200 word requirement in the essay contest? Although you have to give props to Mark for creativity.

  16. Comment by Unknown | 07.24.2006 | 8:21 pm

    What happened to the 150 – 200 word requirement in the essay contest? Although you have to give props to Mark for creativity.

  17. Comment by Sue | 07.24.2006 | 8:27 pm

    Forget Pam, use mayo with the blocks
    Hairpins make you feel fast, because you’re turning.
    Your playlist has exactly 4 good songs on it.
    I told you I have a complex about other people hearing my ragged breathing while cycling. Now I can never ride with you again.
    You remember when you got the poison oak caught in your wheel and were in agony for 20-something days because you didn’t go to the doctor who could easily fix the burning and itching in a couple hours? Now think about your arm.
    The thing I hate most (or like least) about endurace racing is post-race enui.
    bkeyes: I once paid $180 to do the E100 and then got injured and could even start. Hey, but I did get a t-shirt.

  18. Comment by Sue | 07.24.2006 | 8:29 pm

    C’mon, tell the truth. You looked at all the essay entries, and saw that Mark’s was the shortest, and it’s the only one you read.

  19. Comment by Tim | 07.24.2006 | 8:42 pm

    Mmmm… A lot of this ride description sounds very similar to my effort on Sunday. Albeit on the other side of the world. I was hanging out for the iPod – altough my music would have been slightly different. And the post race nausea – whats that all about? Although 30 minutes later I was tucking into pasta and a bowl of fries.

  20. Comment by duane | 07.24.2006 | 9:01 pm

    Hey FC!  Love the music selection!  Devo and Oingo Boingo are always loaded on my ‘Ride Mix’ playlists.  and you can’t beat Johnny for the drive to the ride!
    Hope you’re enjoying your time back in UT.  We miss you out here in Redmond.

  21. Comment by Zeynep | 07.24.2006 | 9:40 pm


  22. Comment by Unknown | 07.25.2006 | 2:03 pm

    I knew there was a reason I liked this blog…  another un-ashamed Oingo Boingo fan. 
    There are only a few CDs from college that I converted for full time use while riding the trails with my MP3 player.  Good for Your Soul might be the best ever riding music. 
    Best song to climb to: Cry of the Vatos
    The only danger being the need to clip-out to kick to the song… listen to it, you can’t help kicking along!  Pedal, Pedal, Pedal, kick, kick!  
    oh… fine… forget it… maybe it’s just me…

  23. Comment by EricGu | 07.25.2006 | 3:59 pm

    On the clif bloks, what you need to do is take them out of the package and let them air-dry for a little while. They get a nice little crust on the outside and aren’t sticky.
    I typically do this by accidentally spilling them in my Bento Box.
    Oh, and 204.5 miles, 11:45, 170 lbs, 10% body fat.

  24. Comment by Emily | 07.26.2006 | 2:14 pm

    Here’s my foolproof solution to the CliffShotBlox problem.  Remove the Blox from their packaging and wrap them in Seran Wrap in quantities of 3 (I eat 3 an hour).  Tape the Blox to your bike using electric tape.  Much easier to pull them out. Worked great in my Half Ironman last month. 

  25. Comment by Lee | 07.27.2006 | 2:58 am

    Hilarious-You make me wanna try to race my first Mountain bike race! ………not really.

  26. Comment by Zed | 07.27.2006 | 5:40 am

    It means you’re faster than I am. There was a guy at the 12-hour whose pace I figured I could pretty much match (I was faster on the climbs, he was faster on the downhills) all day if I had to. He told me he did the 50 in 8 hours. Congrats, Fatty. Sounds like you’re in okay shape for the Leadville 100.


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