Before I Biked

08.2.2006 | 7:30 pm

A week from Saturday, I’ll be racing the Leadville 100 for the tenth year in a row. Which means I’ve been biking for about twelve years. Which brings up the question: what did I do for exercise before that?

Well, I’ll tell you.

Age 10 – 14: Pole Vault
Watching the 1976 Olympics, I—like most kids, I think—idolized Bruce Jenner. Specifically, I loved watching the pole vault.

Unlike most ten-year-old kids, though, I had a mom who Got Things Done. When I said I wanted to be a pole vaulter, she immediately got to work arranging for me to train with the Junior High track team.

I remember it was a couple months before I became good enough to clear the bar even when it was set at the lowest rung, but I loved it.

Two years later, when I entered seventh grade and was therefore allowed to start competing, I had much more experience than any other vaulters in my age group. I walked away with first place in pretty much every competition.

I was a short, light kid though, and stayed that way, which meant that by the time I was in ninth grade, other kids were able to get some spring out of the pole, while I could not.

I stopped winning. I stopped placing.

So in tenth grade, I dropped out of track altogether and did not do anything athletic for the next ten years.

Age 22-25: Raquetball
I don’t remember why I started playing racquetball, but it probably had to do with Robert Raleigh, a guy I worked with at WordPerfect. Once a week or so, we’d reserve a court at lunch and see if we could give each other nasty welts on the back.

We could.

There were several things I loved about playing racquetball:

  • The Serve: Having a lethal serve is a very satisfying feeling. I’d sometimes reserve a court on my own and just work on my serve for an hour. I had a nice little serve that hit the front wall, the right wall, the floor, then the back-left corner, where it just kind of rolled out. Done properly, it was pretty much an automatic point.
  • The Kill Shot: Raquetball is an interesting sport because there are so few variables. The playing area is small, the ball moves predictably, and the player positions are finite. So, when a ball comes to you in just such a way, you can almost always hit it so it just rolls off the front wall.
  • The Slam: When the ball comes to you at knee level, about two feet away from you on your forehand side, you can hit it with such force you’d think the ball would explode. This serves no strategic purpose in the game, but it feels great and makes an immensely satisfying sound.

Why did I stop playing racquetball? You know, I’m not sure. I moved to Indiana and didn’t have any playing partners there, and I’ve just never picked the game up again. I wouldn’t mind, though, especially during the winter.

Age 23-28: Rollerblade
This exercise-via-commute thing I’m doing on my bike is not new to me. For about five years, I commuted to work—8 miles, each way—by rollerblade. I developed Eric Heiden-esque quads, which have never exactly disappeared, and I got to the lowest weight I’ve been in my adult life: 148 pounds.

The thing is, I never even considered learning to do tricks on my Rollerblades. I was strictly a distance guy, focusing on as powerful and efficient style as I could develop. I never learned to skate backward, but I frequently passed bicycles on hillclimbs.

I also had one of the most painful injuries of my adult life while rollerblading. I was going downhill, tucked to be as fast as possible, when I came to a curb I needed to hop. I hopped, but not quite high enough. A wheel or toe caught the edge of the curb and I went down on my stomach, hands and arms, the road cheese-grating my skin off until I came to a stop.

I have never been such a bloody, skinned up mess, and that includes a lot of falls on my bike. At least when I fall from my bike, I tend to roll a bit, so I don’t take the full slide on any one part of my body.

And I still had five miles to go. That was a slow five miles.

Age 28+: Bike
Once I started biking, pretty much every other sport has fallen by the wayside. I’m a one-trick pony (two tricks if you want to be generous and consider road and mountain biking as separate sports). I’m not at all well-rounded.

On the other hand, since I’ve started riding, nothing else has come close to catching my heart and mind the way the bike has.

At endurance races, I often see guys in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, still riding strong. The way things are going, I expect it’s only a matter of time until I’m one of those guys.

I sure hope I will be, anyway.

PS: The hypothetical guy who was trying to decide whether to race, has in fact decided to race. He has told me he will be happy to reveal his identity and how the race goes once it is over.


  1. Comment by Robert | 08.2.2006 | 8:25 pm

    I remember when you used to ride your roller blades into work. I came up behind you on my bike and said something like, "Hey Elden." You turned around and rode smack into a light pole. DOINGGG! You were sitting on the ground like a cartoon character with eyes spinning in different directions. I also remember that you wore tight black shorts, a maroon ascot, and a red cape. And you kept threatening in a British accent that you were going to "drop your knickers."

    I played racketball with both you and Robert. I didn’t stand a chance. I felt better about myself a couple years later when the WSO (World Sporting Organization) moved racketball from the "Sports" column to the "Games" column.

  2. Comment by craig | 08.2.2006 | 8:55 pm

    If I had known about the racketball and rollerblading, I would have never agreed to supply you with the ‘energy drinks’ you requested for next weekend.  I never new they made mens rollerblades. 

  3. Comment by regina | 08.2.2006 | 8:55 pm

    wow live space has certainly changed the appearance of your blog.  from one one trick pony to another mazel tov on your tenth leadville100, that seems like a pretty significant milestone to me.  I am glad hypothetical decided to go for it, I am a jumper myself, wylie coyote right of the cliff without too much thought.  Good luck to hypothetical.

  4. Comment by Tyler | 08.2.2006 | 8:59 pm

    I swear, it’s even more difficult to leave comments with the "new" system than the old.  This is a test… Oh, great.  "The server has encountered an error.  Please try again."  Nope.  Still a server error.

  5. Comment by Tyler | 08.2.2006 | 9:03 pm

    Okay, now I can make it leave comments.  But I can’t add my name or weblog address.
    In ANY event : it’s weird, but cycling is my only real athletic hobby that has stuck with me.  In short, I had
    Age 6-8 – little league.  not my idea.  I wasn’t any good, so I quit
    Age 9-11 – Soccer.  Still not my idea.  Still sucky.
    Age 12-18 – RPG’s.  Yes, that means like D&D.  Yes, I was a geek.
    Age 19-21 – Cars.  Musclecars and stuff.  At least I didn’t get a Civic and put neon lights under it…
    Age 21-22 – Motorcycles.  Like cars, only more crashable.  More painful when that happens, too.
    Age 23-present – Cycling.
    In other news, it’s good that Mister Hypothetical has hypothetically decided to race.  Good on you!  I mean, him.  or her.  or something.

  6. Comment by Unknown | 08.2.2006 | 9:23 pm

    OK, it can’t possibly be my fault I can’t sign in. What’s up?
    Fatty, I can’t believe you are admitting (again) to have been a roller-blader. Even Clinton had the good sense to lie about his indiscretions.
    P.S. How’d you like to roller blade down traverse mountain?

  7. Comment by Stuart | 08.2.2006 | 9:25 pm

    Cycling’s been responsible for my most painful injuries – plenty of road rash, but the worst was a broken collar bone. I got side-swiped by a car (while doing around 25mph on the flat?) and went shoulder first into the road. Strangely enough, it didn’t hurt while I cycled home. But then I went to take my jersey off – OUCH! Raising my arm above horizontal was agony.

    And then having to get a new rear derailleur and wheel – bah, adding insult to injury. Oh, and before you ask, no, the car driver didn’t stop, and no, I didn’t get his license plate. Scum.

  8. Comment by Stuart | 08.2.2006 | 9:25 pm

    Cycling’s been responsible for my most painful injuries – plenty of road rash, but the worst was a broken collar bone. I got side-swiped by a car (while doing around 25mph on the flat?) and went shoulder first into the road. Strangely enough, it didn’t hurt while I cycled home. But then I went to take my jersey off – OUCH! Raising my arm above horizontal was agony.

    And then having to get a new rear derailleur and wheel – bah, adding insult to injury. Oh, and before you ask, no, the car driver didn’t stop, and no, I didn’t get his license plate. Scum.

  9. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 08.2.2006 | 9:28 pm

    argentius – i was big into D&D, too. in fact, the highlight of my teenage-hood was that i was paid (minimum wage) to DM for a couple hours each week at the front of a toystore in the local mall, in order to drum up interest in the game. i was the envy of all my friends. Also, D&D was indirectly responsible for my failing geometry and spanish my sophomore year in high school, and therefor screwing any chance of getting a scholarship.
    botched – maybe you could climb better if you cross trained with rollerblading.

  10. Comment by Unknown | 08.2.2006 | 11:29 pm

    You weren’t the envy of *all* your friends.  Talk about indiscretion. . .I’d admit to rollerblading wearing a bra and pink tights while juggling flaming batons before I’d own up to being a D&D fanatic.  Sure, I owned a TRS-80, listened to Devo and was right there with you on the speech team, but I could never bring myself to make that quantum geek leap into the world of D&D.
    At least you had the good sense to find someone to pay you to play it.
    Hey!  Mrs. KYB just got back from the Post Office.  My expansion pack for Civilization IV finally got here.  Looks like I’ll be up late tonight—gotta go!

  11. Comment by James | 08.3.2006 | 12:35 am

    I hope the spammers can still scrape email addresses from the live site…I get the most interesting spam sent to the address I use here.My sports history is long but undistinguished; I was a lousy at anything with a stick and/or ball as a kid, and somehow never got around to trying track or cross country or something I might have been good at. Band practice always got in the way. Rode bike in high school and college, forgot about it for years after that, ran sporadically until three years ago when I finally got back on the bike and I’ve been consistent since then.And that brings me to my final plug: PMC is this Saturday, and the Fat Cyclist Challenge is still on. Right now we’re at $670 received, which is actually a little short of the amount at which I said I’d do the jersey. I did the jersey anyway. However, I think we can make it to $750 (which Elden will match, getting us to $1500) but I need one person’s help: Botched. Botched, if you throw in $10, another reader told me he’d put up $90. And Elden’s going to match the whole thing, so without even trying too hard, that $10 becomes $200 and we’re in jersey-land for real.I hate to single people out, because the whole readership has been astoundingly generous. However, I think Botched can take it. And if I’m wrong, well, the cost of the plane ticket to come kick my butt is probably not worth it.The ride starts at 6am on Saturday, but donations will be accepted through September. That’s no reason to wait, though. If you’ve been meaning to donate, now is a great time! Thank you for your support, and I’ll be thinking of you as I pedal up, down and around the back roads of Massachusetts this weekend.James

  12. Comment by Jsun | 08.3.2006 | 2:58 am

    I go away few a few days to enjoy the birth of our first child and everything changes.  I hope this comment thingy works; life can seem so strangley new right now I needed my old routines.    And how do I follow the previous commentor’s genuine plea for help with a worthy cause with my usual snide comments on your blog?        I’ve lost my steam and my edge.  Time to be nice instead. (see how soft I have become already) 
    After reading your Tour Day Utah post FC, you are going to rip the LT100 to shreds, sub 9 is in reach.  I ask for your forgiveness now for my poor results next week, its not been high on my priority list (excuse #1).
    I vaguely remember a mention in your blog about some long distance road race from UT to WY or ID or something.  This is my guess for the race, as for the rider, it doesn’t matter you’re better than you think you are (that comment was tough, I really wanted to say wussy, wussy but kept it nice).
    And this comment is getting boring so I will sign off now before I start to pick at your numerous recently posted vulnerablities.  (Shooting fish in a barrel comes to mind, and thats why I don’t blog)
    glad to back, see you at LT100

  13. Comment by Tim D | 08.3.2006 | 9:38 am

    I used to play football (soccer) then my brother got into it and got picked for the team instead of me.  I took up badminton, then my brother came and was quickly in the county then the England team.  I took up golf, my brother was soon junior club champion and is now a professional.
    I just ride my bikes now.

  14. Comment by Born4Lycra | 08.3.2006 | 12:38 pm

    Fatman – great stuff. The hassle I have had to leave a comment. I’ve just had to put up with being ridiculed by my 14 year old daughter (going on 25) and then been treated like an idiot for not mastering this particular art of communication. A lot of effort to just write and say I was struggling with the D & D abbreviation and thought maybe you meant B & D but finally I caught on that the D had nothing to do with discipline even though riding does.
    I would add I have only taken up cycling again properly over the last 3 years and am inspired by your blog and the stories it contains. I do a lot of long distance rides here in Sth Oz and am continually amazed by the 50, 60 and 70 year old legends that leave me in their wake.  I am not far from 50 but truly hope I can be doing similar stuff to younger riders well into my 70’s and beyond.  Born4lycra was 114 kgs now 100 aiming for 90 still bigger than FatCyclist. Cheers  

  15. Comment by Born4Lycra | 08.3.2006 | 12:47 pm

    Sorry Born4Lycra again. I forgot to add was semi-professional soccer player (got injured), tried Moto-X (stupid idea was already injured), played baseball (got injured RIDING to work – stuffed throwing arm), took up golf (got too expensive), became a Dad (still too expensive), went back to social Soccer (got re-injured), took up cycling (needed to get out of house) and loving it. Cheers again

  16. Comment by Sue | 08.3.2006 | 1:37 pm

    Touche, Fatty. However I would rather continue to suffer the smell of sour mayonaise and fermented burritos that eminates from the part of you that is closest to me as I fall BEHIND you on the climbs than to become a "roller blade cross-trainer". I don’t think my wife would approve (she’s really quite a prude) and can you imagine the dissapointment in my little daughter’s eyes?

  17. Comment by Sue | 08.3.2006 | 1:40 pm

    Hey, Fatty can I borrow $10.00?

  18. Comment by barry1021 | 08.3.2006 | 1:49 pm

    Doesn’t anyone want to focus on the point that FC becomes a fan of Bruce Jenner, who is a decathlon champion. DECATHLON is TEN events, including pretty normal running and jumping events, and our Leader chooses to focus on the….pole vault?? The Pole Vault at age 10? Is this not further proof that FC is not of this earth? Perhaps his real hero was Superman, and he wanted to leap tall buildings in a single bound? Or maybe be the youngest male to hear the line "is that a vaulting pole in your pocket or are you happy to see me"? I can picture his parents watching silently as FC practiced in the back yard by vaulting over the picnic table, his mother finally turning to his father and saying "It could be worse, he could be wearing dresses."

  19. Comment by Unknown | 08.3.2006 | 2:39 pm

    Pole vault… Ugh. I tried that a few times in track in high school and thought my arms were going to rip out of my sockets. My 120 lbs didn’t help bend the pole either. I stuck with the mile. I ran, a lot, through freshman year in college. I was a slow developer and was finally geting good in my senior year in high school. First meet I was running really well in the front 3 and not working hard at all. At 600 m, my left ankle let go and I rolled to the ground on the infield. That was pretty much it for running during the season that year. I started cross training on my bike (since I wasn’t pounding my ankle). I stayed in shape and after my ankle recovered I ran a 4:20 mile. Okay. I started training again for the Bolder Boulder in my freshman year. Two weeks before the race, I rolled my right ankle hard. I hobbled the 2 miles or so home and gave up running. My ankles are a complete mess now from running.

    I always biked though. I bought a bike the next year in Boulder, started riding. Got up to around 400 miles/week. Got pretty good. I could climb like an angel. Then went to grad school. Riding started to decrease. I still ride some (it needs to increase again). I wish I could get my resting heart rate back to 38 bpm again – that was cool!

  20. Comment by Unknown | 08.3.2006 | 4:39 pm

    Ok Botched, you’re off the hook.  I tried to donate about a week ago and for some reason it didn’t go through.  I know PMC was having some trouble with the website so I checked the credit card and just re-donated.  Good luck on Saturday Jim, looks like the weather is going to break just in time.


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