When I was sixteen years old, I worked a summer for my uncle in Wilson, NC, mowing lawns — commercial and residential (one memory I will never ever be able to erase from my mind is the odor of one of my uncle’s clients: a pig rendering plant).
Toward the end of the summer, my uncle took me aside and gave me some advice. “Elden,” he said, “I have never in my life met someone who is as easy to read as you. Everyone always knows what you’re thinking, and what you’re feeling, before you ever say a word.”
He went on to tell me that I needed to learn to present a neutral expression, to be able to look interested when I’m not, to look happy when I’m angry.
I did not take his advice then, and I never really have since, either. Whether in person or when I write, it’s pretty obvious to most everyone how I’m doing.
And judging from the comments I’ve read the past couple days, it’s obvious to a lot of you that I’m seeing someone I’ve referred to as “The Runner.” Furthermore, it’s obvious that I’m pretty darned happy.
So let me introduce her to you a little less obliquely.
First off, The Runner definitely is a runner. She’s run several marathons (3:33 in her most recent one a couple months ago). She runs several times a week, and has for about ten years.
However, calling her “The Runner” because she runs is a horribly misleading nickname. See, she is also a cyclist — both road and mountain. She’s done Lotoja, a popular 200+-mile road race. And — much more importantly (in my mind) — she’s done the Leadville 100…five times. And she just sent in her application for number six.
Here she is, with the bike she’s planning on riding:
Guys, I’d like you to please stop checking her out for a moment, and look at the bike.
Superfly. Singlespeed. Yeah.
So: a hot chick that rides a 29″ singlespeed mountain bike, and loves the race I love.
Gee, what a surprise that I’m attracted to her.
Waitasec, what was I supposed to be talking about here? Oh right, her name. See, between the road biking, the mountain biking, the swimming — more on that in a second — the lifting, and the yoga, nicknaming someone “The Runner” seems kind of limiting. Almost as odd as calling someone “Fatty” just because he’s got a middle-aged gut, even though said Fatty is also a handsome, multiple-award-winning superstar internet cycle blogging megastar celebrity. With his own line of apparel, thank you very much.
OK, I’ve lost my train of thought again. Where was I? Right, her name. It’s Lisa.
But I think I’ll still mostly refer to her as The Runner. Since she calls me “Fatty” in real life. Which isn’t necessarily as flattering as you might think.
The Runner has been a Friend of Fatty since there was ever such a thing. Check it out, she’s got a first-edition Fat Cyclist jersey (only 250 of them in existence) and everything:
I gotta say, though, I like this picture better:
As you can see in this photo, she loves being photographed, repeatedly. She’s not irritated with me here at all.
The truth is, though, she’s been a good friend — both to Susan and me — for about fifteen years. Which means there’s been an — um, interesting — mix of oddness about being in a relationship with a woman who has always been just a good friend, combined with relief that you don’t have to worry about whether the person you’re seeing is actually who they seem to be.
I.e., I already know she’s a smart, funny, hardcore athlete with varied interests and a no-nonsense attitude. She knows I’m a goofy dork who gets fat each winter and never thinks about anything but bicycles.
Gee, I wonder who got the short end of the stick?
The Runner is a nurse, working in the Pain Service team at a local hospital. You would think that would be an incredibly useful skill for me to leverage, but whenever I complain of achiness, she just tells me to take ibuprofen.
Seriously, I have to say that her being a nurse is one of the things I really, really like about Lisa. If the past five years has taught me anything about the medical world, it’s that nurses are its backbone, muscle and heart.
And I am perfectly willing to stand by and defend that mixed metaphor.
Of course, nobody is perfect. And The Runner’s problem is: she’s interested in triathlons. And not just any. She’s currently training, in fact, for the St. George Ironman this May.
Honestly, though, I’m excited for this event — much more excited for it than if I were going to do it myself. It will be fun to be able to sleep comfortably the night before a big race, and then cheer her on, offering useful and practical advice. Such as, “Keep your chin up!” and “Only 14 hours to go!”
Yeah, I know. You’re thinking, “What a lucky gal.”
Dating The Runner has broadened my horizons. Sort of. Mainly, as I desperately try to keep up, I’ve discovered that I really like trail running. Enough, in fact, that I have signed up to run a marathon with her in a few months.
Partly because the training gives me a way to spend more time with The Runner, and partly because I just cannot stand another winter of riding the rollers.
This will be my last long post until after the new year. I’m taking my family — along with The Runner and her family — to New York, where we are all going into full-on tourist mode. I plan to take photos and post short notes from time to time, but the truth is, I’ll be in vacation mode and may not post anything at all.
It’s been a helluva year — about as awful of one as I could imagine in some ways, but with some incredible high notes as well. Right now, I’m genuinely happy — I think it shows in this blog — and I owe a lot of that to The Runner.
Thanks for sticking with me through 2009. I hope you have a Merry Christmas (or a good whatever-you-celebrate), and a great start to 2010.
A Plea ForVotationfrom Fatty: As you know, I am an extremely vain man. I have purchased a special high-optic mirror, constructed for its perfect reflection, so that I can see exactly how handsome I am as I stare in that (very expensive) mirror for hours. I go to only the finest salons to have my hair styled. I wear the fanciest clothing REI has to offer.
I shave my legs twice per day.
This kind of vanity doesn’t feed itself. Well, actually it kinda does to an extent, but work with me here, because I’m leading up to a point:
My vanity must be fueled.
By awards. Lots and lots of awards. Acknowledgement that I am not merely awesome, but somehow more awesome than other bloggers. And I cannot do this without you.
No registration, captcha nonsense, or anything like that. Easy as pie. And you’ll be able to sleep easy tonight, knowing you’ve done your part to sate the ravenous beast that is my vanity.
For the moment.
What It’s Not Too Late to Put in a Cyclist’s Stocking
Each year, I put together a list of stuff cyclists might like to get as Christmas presents. Ordinarily, I publish this list in plenty of time for you to order online, browse your local bike shops, and otherwise comparison shop.
This time it didn’t work out that way. I’ve been kinda sorta preoccupied with that little “Win a Whole Truckload of Awesomeness and Send Me to Team RadioShack” saga.
But you know what? I think that’s a good thing. Because I’m guessing there are a few of you who haven’t bought gifts for the cyclist in your life. And by “cyclist in your life,” I am of course including yourself.
This year, we’re going to focus on small things — stuff that fits in a stocking. And since it’s a little late to do mail order, we’re also going to keep it down to things that can be bought at your Local Bike Shop.
And they deserve and need your business anyways.
So let’s get started.
Tubes: This is one gift you absolutely positively will get used. I love having a stack of five or six tubes in the garage, so I don’t have to go shopping for tubes anytime I get a flat. Make sure you get the right size of tube. If you know the kind of bike the stocking recipient has and what kind of riding s/he does, a bike shop guy will be able to help you get the right kind of tube.
A good bottle: Every cyclist has a near-infinite number of bottles, but that’s not the same as having good bottles. Buy your cyclist some Camelbak Podium bottles. If they don’t mind getting an IOU in their stocking, maybe you should order some with the Fat Cyclist logo on them. Just a thought.
A replacement Camelbak bladder: If your cyclist rides with a Camelbak, does so frequently, and puts a sports drink in it, chances are s/he’s got some gunk in the bladder. Keeping the bladder clean helps, but that tube’s just going to get nasty eventually, no matter what. So buy a replacement bladder. There are lots of sizes and kinds, so sneak the current bladder to the store with you so you can get a replacement that matches.
Socks: Here’s an interesting fact: most cyclists like cycling socks so much — they really are comfortable — that they wear them even when off the bike. Smartwool socks are especially awesome. And once again, I’d like to throw the IOU idea out there and suggest getting them some Fat Cyclist socks.
Shoe covers: Cycling shoe covers turn a miserable cold ride into a very nice ride. The thing is, they wear out. So even if your cyclist has some, if s/he’s had them for a few years, chances are they’re falling apart. Get some new ones.
Gloves: Here’s another thing that every cyclist already has, but which every cyclist can always use more of. I’m a big fan of Specialized gloves. The Body Geometry thing is no mere marketing ploy.
Energy bars / gels / chews: Instead of chocolate, fill the stocking with food your cyclist can use on the bike. I’m currently really digging ProBars. I also love Clif Shot Bloks.
Lube: Every cyclist goes through it and will always need more. If your cyclist is already committed to a particular lube, make sure you get that kind — most cyclists don’t like to hop around from lube to lube. It’s a superstition, I think. For myself, I’m currently using and loving Rock N Roll Extreme Lube. Because I’m extreme, that’s why.
A multitool: If your cyclist doesn’t have a multitool, s/he needs one. Be sure to ask the guy at the bike shop for one with a chain tool.
A box full of sandwich bags: This may be a weird-sounding one, but I love having a box of sandwich bags in my garage. Before I go out on a ride, I put my phone in the bag, so it doesn’t get sweat, grime, and other miscellaneous crud on it during the ride.
A gift certificate to your LBS: You’re supporting your local guys, and you can have perfect confidence that your present will be used.
Rags: Cut up a few old cotton t-shirts, and make a present out of them to your cyclist, for bike cleaning and chain lubing. It’s a free gift, and incredibly useful. I guarantee this gift will be appreciated.
And when your cyclist compliments you on your awesome stocking-stuffer prowess, please take all the credit for yourself. That’s my gift to you.
Again, thank you to everyone who donated and participated in this crazy adventure.
I Am Excellent At Wrapping Presents Up
Ordinarily, I love everything about Christmas except for one thing: wrapping presents. I can’t cut straight lines in the wrapping paper. I can’t seem to get the paper to be the right size for the present and usually wind up patching the bare spots on the box with extra pieces of paper — usually of a different color and pattern. Whenever I tear off a piece of tape it immediately sticks to itself: sticky side to sticky side, a bond so powerful it takes lasers to separate them.
I give myself paper cuts.
That all said, I’m quite pleased with the way I wrapped up the gift I’m giving The Runner (click image for stunning, beautifully larger image detailing my exquisite wrapping and taping technique).
A Note from Fatty: Part II in the video series about my weekend with Team RadioShack is now posted. Check it out:
In today’s video, you’ll see me ogling the signed Madone, as well as drooling on my own. This is also the video where Johan Bruyneel and I present the giant checks for LiveStrong and World Bicycle Relief.
I always experience an odd moment at the beginning of a major ride or race. Just before it begins, I think something along the lines of, “It’s finally here. It’s starting in just a few seconds. This thing I’ve been thinking of as ‘in the future’ is about to become the present.”
This thought is usually accompanied by a twinge of nausea. Or, in this case, by a pretty big batch of nausea.
But then I start riding, and the nervousness goes away and I start enjoying the ride or race or whatever.
Except in this case, the nervousness just changed.
For the first hour or more of the ride, I never took either hand off the bars, not even to get a drink. Whenever we stopped at a light, I unclipped well ahead of stopping. I focused constantly on keeping a good distance behind the next bike, and was careful never to suddenly brake or stand.
I just did not want to crash these guys out.
That said, the first several miles — from the hotel to the base of the Mt. Lemmon climb — was easy. The road was flat, and people were talkative. I stayed in the middle of the pack, riding and talking with the U23 racers (Ben King of Australia shown with me here).
After riding a while (45 minutes? An hour?), we reached the base of the climb. Feeling good, feeling fresh, with adrenaline surging, I drifted toward the front.
Every couple of minutes, Johan would pull up beside me in the team car and ask, “How’re you feeling? How’s the bike? You doing OK?”
I’m pretty sure Johan was concerned for my health…as well as for his riders’ safety.
We eventually narrowed into (more or less) two columns, with me and Chris Horner — yeah, really — in second position.
And then the riders setting the pace dropped back, and I was in front.
Now, I would assert that I did a pretty good job holding the pace where it was. I learned later, however, that there was some grumbling toward the back about “Fatty ramping the pace up right at the beginning of the climb.”
And by “toward the back” I mean “by Lance Armstrong.”
Yes — and I believe this was caught on film — Lance complained about my pace.
Which may be the single most awesome thing that has ever happened to me.
Getting Some Help and Advice
I dropped back a little after a few minutes of pulling — and Lance rode up alongside of me.
“Pull those armwarmers down, Fatty, or you’re going to overheat,” he said. And then, “This climb’s 25 miles long, and you’ve got a car beside you. You don’t need any extra weight; give me that second bottle.”
Which I did, without — to my relief — crashing Lance out.
We then rode and talked for several minutes — honestly, just chatter. He mentioned he really likes the 2010 Fat Cyclist kit, and asked me to send him a jersey, socks, and set of armwarmers.
I believe I can oblige him on that.
Then Lance rode forward, moving on to talk with someone else. Putting me in the surreal position of sucking Lance’s wheel.
Then, as Daniel the video guy leaned out the window with his camera, Lance dropped back and said, “Put your hand on my back like you’re giving me an assist up the hill.”
And that brings up one of the most interesting things about my ride with Team RadioShack — what Lance is like on the bike. I noticed him moving back and forth in the group, talking and joking with his teammates — especially with the U23 riders — and looking like he was having a great time.
I kinda got the sense that this is the “real” Lance. A guy who loves riding his bike, and who loves riding with his team.
Which sounds pretty familiar.
The Fuse, The Bomb
About nine miles into the climb, I found I was having a hard time staying with the group. I was maxed out, and it wasn’t enough. I kept asking myself, “Am I losing power, or are they accelerating?”
I was pretty sure they were accelerating.
Half a mile later, I knew it was over — I couldn’t hold their pace any longer. “Goodnight everybody,” I said in my Donny and Marie voice.
“No way, Fatty,” replied Taylor Phinney, and he gave me a push back to the group.
I dropped back a couple more times, each time getting a boost back to the group by various riders.
And then, around mile ten, it happened. They accelerated. Hard. They just flew up the hill.
Within moments, I was at the back.
And then, moments later, I was shot out the back, babysat by a couple of club riders who were along with the group. Though I do take solace in the fact that I was able to catch and drop one of the U23 sprinters.
And after the club riders peeled off, I was completely alone.
OK, the truth is, I was never completely alone. Because Johan told one of the team cars to stay with me at all times — piloted by Philippe, with Glenn taking all these great photos. And with The Runner cheering me on.
I can’t even tell you how many times I was given an opportunity to pull over and throw my bike in the back, calling it a day. But here’s the thing: would you, given the opportunity to ride with (and eventually be dropped by) a top pro team, want to finish the ride by abandoning?
No, me either. So I kept climbing.
Then I saw the pros start coming down. Flying. Several of them yelling “Go Fatty!” as they went by.
Or maybe they were yelling “Slow Fatty!” Hard to know for sure.
But it reminded me a lot of Leadville — the way the fast guys on their way down are willing to shout some encouragement for the slower guys still working on getting to the top. Very, very cool of them.
I kept climbing.
And then the team car passed me and waved me over. “You’ve passed the turnaround point,” Philippe said.
“Whu?” I replied.
“About half a mile ago. That’s where everyone else turned around.”
“So I’m the first one to get here?”
“Yes, I suppose.”
At which point I drew an imaginary finish line on the road and crossed it. “I win,” I said.
I was fully expecting to freeze to death on the descent — snow was more than a foot deep on either side of the road, and the wind was cold and strong.
So I have Glenn to thanks for my life: he loaned me the jacket he was wearing.
Knowing that I would never catch the pros on the descent — they had a massive lead on me and were increasing that lead every second — I cruised comfortably down the road. Enjoying the view. Considering that I had been on a ride with the pros.
And making sure I turned whenever the road did.
By the time I got back to the hotel, everyone else had been back for half an hour or so. Still, Johan was out in the lot, waiting for me. We talked about the bike, and talked about the ride.
Then, after a quick shower (and after somehow managing to not lay down and take a nap) I met Johan and Lance for lunch, where they assessed my riding performance (mediocre but tenacious) and told me what my big surprise is: I get to bring my family to the Tour of California for a stage, and ride in the team car. Lance suggested I try to be there for a mountaintop finish stage. Which sounds pretty darn good to me.
And then we talked about doing it again next year.
PS: I’m heading out right now to be interviewed for The Story, a public radio talk show hosted by Dick Gordon. Assuming I don’t completely freeze up and stutter and pass out, this interview should air sometime in mid-January. I’m nervous as can be. Wish me luck.