The Grand Illusion

03.23.2010 | 6:44 am

A Get-Em-Before-They’re Gone Note from Fatty: Registration for the Third Annual 100 Miles of Nowhere has been selling pretty darn briskly. So darn briskly, in fact, that by the time the Twin Six guys went to bed, there were just a few dozen slots left. Rather than leave registration open overnight and wind up overselling the event, they suspended registration for the evening. But it’s open again, right now. Men, register here. Women, register here.

There are fewer than 40 slots available at this point, and I’m certain they will sell out within an hour or two. So if you’re going to register, do it now.

Update: The 100 Miles of Nowhere is SOLD OUT. Thanks to the 500 people who signed up!

The Grand Illusion

I don’t mean to boast (yes I do), but I’ve made it through the winter without gaining much weight at all. Maybe five or seven pounds. Maybe nine or ten at the most.

Okay, I’ve gained eleven pounds during Winter. But compared to my usual annual weight gain / loss pattern, that’s practically like losing fifteen pounds. Practically.

And so it was with no small amount of pride a few days ago that I, at the beginning of the South Suncrest climb, marked another rider so far ahead of me that I couldn’t even tell what color his (or her) clothes were. A veritable dot of a cyclist, on the mountain equivalent of the horizon. And then — this is the part in which I have pride quantified as “no small amount” — I caught, briefly chatted with, and then dropped him (for it was indeed a him).

“Clearly,” I thought to myself, “I am a force to be reckoned with.”

And I continued my ride, feeling strong. Feeling fit. Feeling like I am — as I have recently mentioned — a force to be reckoned with. My legs turning smooth circles, my arms applying exactly the correct amount of counterbalance to my downstroke, so that I ride a smooth, clean line.

I was powerful, efficient. A cyclist in the prime of my life.

Then, once home, I swung my right leg over the saddle (I always dismount on the left, though I’ve never considered why) clicked out of my left pedal, and was on the ground once more.

And then I limped through my front door and up the stairs to my bedroom. Needing the rail, because I can barely walk.

I stripped and turned on the shower, then attempted my “while the water heats up” ritual: doing sets of pullups. For today’s ritual, my sets were remarkably consistent: 0, none, and zero. This is because I have — once again — recently injured my shoulder, and it hurts too much to haul my weight up to the chinup bar.

As I sat in the shower, I contemplated the ride and the events that followed. Which was when I had the following great epiphany:

Cycling is popular with middle-aged people because it gives you the illusion of being in great shape, even though your body is completely falling apart.

What the Illusion Feels Like

Cycling, by being no-impact on road and only moderate-impact on cross-country trails, gives you the sensation that you are whole and healthy. And why not? You’re climbing up mountains and flying down them, all under your own power.

And the bonus is, if you’ve been doing it for a few years, your legs magically transform and you can — in spite of being middle-aged — show those young’uns a thing or two.

And if you keep it up, you continue to improve, getting stronger and faster while everyone you know complains about getting slower and older.

It’s like the Fountain of Youth

The Reality

The problem — which I just recently banged my head against — is that cycling makes you fit within a tiny little narrow set of parameters.

Specifically, cycling has made me very fit to turn my legs in small, smooth circles, under heavy load, almost indefinitely. And it’s made my arms — forearms, especially — very fit at counterpulling against the downstroke of my pedals, again, almost indefinitely.

This kind of fitness translates, once I’m off the bike, to…um…nothing. As I mentioned before, walking hurts right now. Running is out of the question (which should make for an interesting Ironman in a month and change).

And while my arms look toned — having done near-infinite low-effort reps — I am not the guy you want to help move your piano.

And I’m far from the only example of this kind of pseudo-fitness. Take Kenny, for example. He looks strong, and on the bike he is nigh indestructible.

Off the bike, however, he walks gingerly, and if you punch him in the arm, it will break.

And the thing is, this illusion perpetuates itself. Off the bike, I’m human. OK, fine: subhuman.

On the bike, I’m strong like bull.

So, given an opportunity, where do you think I’m going to be?


  1. Comment by Fuzzy | 03.23.2010 | 6:57 am

    … the knackers yard?

    Only kidding Fatty. I know exactoy what you mean.

    Luv ‘n Stuff
    Fuzzy from the UK

  2. Comment by Pete | 03.23.2010 | 7:08 am

    You oughta try hockey. There’s no false illusions there and some of the older guys I play against are beasts.

  3. Comment by Mike in Houston | 03.23.2010 | 7:25 am

    Fatty, your entry today has really hit home everything I have come to realize. A beast on the bike but nearly calling for help on the 4th flight of stairs.
    It is also evident that all my sports are straight-line sports (biking, running, etc) Playing a side to side sport (flag football, tennis) can prove deadly to a knee.
    Thanks for the post!


  4. Comment by Greg @ GregRidesTrails | 03.23.2010 | 7:28 am

    Heck yeah, the only logical place to be is on the bike.

    Actually, I have been thinking about this a lot over the past couple of months as all of my “work outs” are now 100% on the bike. I (and most riders probably) am no longer a well-rounded athlete. My upper body has degenerated. My legs are only in shape–like you said–for spinning small circles. Sure I can run a little bit because of the cardiovascular fitness from cycling, but my body overall is not up to par.

    Like I said, despite working out strictly on my bike, I’m generally pretty fit whenever I jump into a different sport (but not really fit). That’s probably due to the one advantage I have on you Fatty: I’m 21.

    Yep, you’ve got the short end of this stick.

  5. Comment by wilsonjr | 03.23.2010 | 7:28 am

    Since I have start to ride I have lost 61 pounds. (I was beyond fat) So I will continue with the illusion.

    I walked in pain before I started to ride and most likely will continue too. But I love the way you put it. The Grand Illusion!!!

    Thanks for the great blogs.

  6. Comment by M | 03.23.2010 | 7:32 am

    Great word pictures!

  7. Comment by KovasP | 03.23.2010 | 7:37 am

    Say what you will about the triathlon, it makes for well-rounded fitness!

  8. Comment by Richard | 03.23.2010 | 7:38 am

    Unfortunately my back is that buggered that it hurts as much on the bike as off.

  9. Comment by Neil | 03.23.2010 | 7:46 am

    I recommend you start some Olympic lifting. Maybe something like crossfit or a plan similar to the Stronglifts 5×5.


  10. Comment by eric the swede | 03.23.2010 | 7:50 am

    I can ride all day. I played pick up hoop for an hour Sunday afternoon and I still can’t walk proper.

  11. Comment by weaky6 | 03.23.2010 | 7:52 am

    @fuzzy What the hell is “knackers yard”? Off to google this new term. Probably english slang for laying in the hay perhaps? I suggest . Break up the monotony of riding a bike. Kick boxing would help also. ;-)

  12. Comment by Wes | 03.23.2010 | 7:55 am

    Ironman will fix that…

  13. Comment by Rantwick | 03.23.2010 | 7:57 am

    Dear Fatty:

    Leave my middle-aged illusions alone, you dork. They’re all I have.

    Nice post!

  14. Comment by Chicken Legs | 03.23.2010 | 8:00 am

    11 lbs? You can take that off in the 100 miles of nowhere!

  15. Comment by Fish | 03.23.2010 | 8:02 am

    “Cycling is popular with middle-aged people because it gives you the illusion of being in great shape, even though your body is completely falling apart.”

    Thou speakest the truth.

    I went for an agressive ride last Thursday and my legs have been dead since then. I went for an easy run last night and it still felt like my pants were full of lead.

  16. Comment by roan | 03.23.2010 | 8:04 am

    Yep I agree completely. I 1st noted the slow down after breaking my R leg at age 52 mtn biking. Rescued by horseback near Cle Elum. Focused on road cycling, was OK but not able to keep up with the few really fast riders. More recently L shoulder impack to car door when driver turned in front of me, age 61.
    Now I have trouble reeling anyone in…except the “really” old timers on trikes and slow runners.
    Now I keep an eye(the 3rd)looking for the broom wagon.

  17. Comment by buckythedonkey | 03.23.2010 | 8:13 am

    “Knackers Yard”: it’s where you they used to take old workhorses to die. The term “knackered” can be applied to anything broken down, for example an old car (or a middle-aged male cyclist).

    Males of the species can also be kicked in the knackers. Need I explain that particular meaning of the word?

  18. Comment by Kathleen Lisson | 03.23.2010 | 8:43 am

    And you haven’t even done a brick yet. I cannot wait for that post!

  19. Comment by Kathleen Lisson | 03.23.2010 | 8:47 am

    Sounds like a Fatty Theme Song (to the tune of Pants on the Ground).

    Pants full of lead, Pants full of lead,
    Legs feel like rubber
    He’s got pants full of lead…

  20. Comment by Mark | 03.23.2010 | 8:48 am

    Taking up serious cycling after quite a few years rowing really emphasizes your observations! I now row my Concept 2 ergometer extensively in the winter and try to get in the boat occasionally in the summer to keep a little upper body fitness. Great post – pointing out the oh-so-obvious but purposely ignored, facts of middle age life!

  21. Comment by OldRockClimber | 03.23.2010 | 9:18 am

    I have found a good cross training sport — Indoor Rock Climbing. All winter long, while the sun is not shining, it is warm in the climbing gym. Once riding season comes again, people will not dare cross your path for fear of your new found strength. Your arms magically grow, and your leg strength is a real bonus.

    As an aside, I wonder why I am drawn to sports where the preferred body type is somewhere between clinically anorexic and missing normal body parts. And at the same time, my body type is somewhere between boat anchor and boat.

    P.S. There is a really nice climbing gym in Sandy next to the REI. Take your kids and the runner. They will have a blast.

  22. Comment by randy | 03.23.2010 | 9:19 am

    Go back to your no suspension mt bike, this will help some. That’s right, not just a hardtail, but a fully rigid rig for the most technical stuff that you ride. You’ll rediscover some of those lost muscles, or kill yourself, or maybe even both. But hopefully you’ll just get more of an all body workout.

  23. Comment by dug | 03.23.2010 | 9:23 am

    we’re all mr glass off the bike.

  24. Comment by Middle Age-Schmidde Age | 03.23.2010 | 9:27 am

    Dear Mr. Fatty,

    I just turned 48 and I have to say your winging makes me sick. I get up at twice every morning, do exactly one knee bend, empty by bowels, drink a gallon of coffee then set out on my morning training regimen. Details can be found at my website: http://www.ican‘taccceptmymortalitythusidocrazyobsessivedisplaysofphallic

  25. Comment by Fish | 03.23.2010 | 9:38 am

    Kathleen: Good for you for taking the high road. After I posted my comment, I realized that “Pants full of lead” could have inspired far more… colorful … responses.

  26. Comment by Jenn | 03.23.2010 | 9:54 am

    Let the Church say AMEN, Brutha! I was lamenting the pitiful post-winter status of my core strength just now, as I TRIED to pedal circles (and managed…parallelograms?) for 40 clicks. That said, most people my age are only ‘clicking’ the TV remote, so there’s that. Even so, I’m significantly beefing up the morning pushup and ab routine starting tomorrow.

  27. Comment by bikemike | 03.23.2010 | 9:58 am

    just wait, when you turn 50 all of these issues will pale in comparison to the whole other set of issues waiting for you.

    oh, yeah it gets better and by better i mean horribly worse.

  28. Comment by KanyonKris | 03.23.2010 | 10:01 am

    Better narrowly specialized fitness than no fitness (which is where I’d be without cycling). But you’re right, it is an illusion of all-around fitness. Even doing a wimpy sprint triathlon showed me this.

  29. Comment by whit | 03.23.2010 | 10:23 am

    congrats on selling out! doin’ great work, and i’m excited to “race.” (race in quotes…)

  30. Comment by Roger Whitney | 03.23.2010 | 10:24 am

    I am very excited to be part of this. Kinda

  31. Comment by KanyonKris | 03.23.2010 | 10:26 am

    Your intro spawned an idea for a cruel trick: the rabbit playing possum. Start up a climb at 50% speed or less then when a pursuer catches you ramp up to 80-90% and retake the lead thus dashing his/her victory. And the variations are endless: fake panting and other signs of distress, retaking the lead excruciatingly slowly or in a blinding sprint, talking on your cell as you pass, pedaling with one leg, ride a crappy bike, ride backwards, wear jeans and a t-shirt.

  32. Comment by Minh Nguyen | 03.23.2010 | 10:31 am

    you dismount to the left because if you dismount to the right, you risk getting chain lube on your leg (newbie mark). Also for cross you dismount on the left and mount from that same side. =)

  33. Comment by Cardiac Kid | 03.23.2010 | 10:50 am

    I agree. On the bike I’m unstoppable. However off the bike the 3 heart surgeries have have left their fair share of aches and pains.

    But one thing that remains constant on or off the bike is this: I AM AWESOME.

  34. Comment by tim | 03.23.2010 | 11:49 am

    I think the cycling fitness translates well to skiing fitness – I don’t get tired on the ski slopes compared to the other middle aged guys that exercise other ways – as long as I don’t have to push too much with my skinny arms.

  35. Comment by Sarabeth S | 03.23.2010 | 11:56 am

    Fatty, what caught my eye in your post was mention of your shoulder pain. I injured my shoulder yanking on some heavy luggage while doing RAGBRAI bike ride across Iowa last July. When your pain in the shoulder starts to wake you up at night and you baby it (not doing chin ups!)you should have it checked out. My MRI showed a significant tear – had surgery last of Dec and just got back on the bike this week. OUCH! Good luck and hope your shoulder pain heals uneventfully!

  36. Comment by Clydesteve | 03.23.2010 | 12:11 pm

    Fatty – Get thee to the repair garage. Like me. New knee, check. Shoulder PSLAP & rotator cuff repair, Scheduled for July 6th.

    The shoulder should not be put off forever, BTW. There comes a point when it is much worse to repair. At least get the MRI & talk to the ortho surgeon.

    There. Now I have given you some unsolicited advise. Which i never do. So you know I am kidding.

  37. Comment by Joel P. | 03.23.2010 | 1:00 pm

    I will hang on to the Grand Illusion for all I am worth with my wimpy hands attached to my wimpy arms. Lets all get together and compare our middle aged aches and pains.
    Joel P.

  38. Comment by Mike Roadie | 03.23.2010 | 1:03 pm

    Oh……did you have to post this on my Birthday??!!??!!
    (Not saying which number)

  39. Comment by Pam | 03.23.2010 | 1:21 pm

    Naked pullups after a 10lb weight gain…maybe you better keep the bike shorts on while the water warms up :)

  40. Comment by VA Biker | 03.23.2010 | 1:34 pm

    I can relate. Slowly gaining other strength running instead of cycling has helped me better appreciate my feeble nature when only cycling.

    Mr. Middle Age’s fake URL at 9:27 am made me laugh.

    Good post, Elden.

  41. Comment by cece at work | 03.23.2010 | 1:56 pm

    ISo, given the opportunity, I think you will be on the yoga mat!

  42. Comment by donbiker | 03.23.2010 | 2:00 pm

    A sense of humor is the path to greatness in old age. I’m 78 and can’t keep up with anyone anymore, but still love to ride and talk to the gang at the coffee stop.


  43. Comment by AngieG | 03.23.2010 | 2:24 pm

    @Mike Roadie- Happy Birthday! You don’t look a day over….29! Hope your coming to join MattC, GregC and I in San Jose. :-)

  44. Comment by Constantin | 03.23.2010 | 2:36 pm

    Cycling gives me general fitness! I also do rock climbing and mountaineering so each of my other activities help me in cycling and vice versa.
    I don’t do running as I have some problems with my knees but cycling seems to be a good sport for my rest days (outside climbing).

  45. Comment by kenny | 03.23.2010 | 2:48 pm

    HEY!! I can still walk away from a pretty good crash.

    So, naked pull ups are your secret weapon? I need to try that.

  46. Comment by AndyH | 03.23.2010 | 2:59 pm

    I’m kinda in the same boat. I have been working very hard on the trainer all winter. We had our first reawlly nice weekend here in VA last weekend and I decided to go for a quick 2-mile jog. Good news is that I had the overall fitness to get it done without too much trouble. Bad news is that my legs were sore the next day!

  47. Comment by bubba seadog | 03.23.2010 | 3:11 pm

    didnt even read most of the comments but can identify with your pain have come off centuries feeling strong and lay down for a while and leg gos into lovers knots and unbearable pain….. usually lick hand full of salt pain subsides and am able to walk again

  48. Comment by Bruce | 03.23.2010 | 3:19 pm

    I guess that I learned to mount/dismount from the left side because that’s where the kickstand was located, even though I have’t bought a bike with a kickstand in 25 years. Ditto for motorcycles.

  49. Comment by Linda | 03.23.2010 | 3:56 pm

    the hardest part for me is mentally I feel so young and full of adventure and want to do everything…then I realize I can’t remember the last time I woke up in the morning and didn’t hurt somewhere. I still wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  50. Comment by Hrsgrl | 03.23.2010 | 4:45 pm

    Ahhhh, so the reason you mount a horse on the left side is because of the grease.

  51. Comment by Jo | 03.23.2010 | 5:13 pm

    Thanks for the reality check pal, and I only had a medium sized illusion.

  52. Comment by Kermitsgirl | 03.23.2010 | 5:16 pm

    Linda’s comment about feeling young mentally but not matching up physically is pretty much the boat that I am in. It doesn’t stop me from riding though – in fact I’m VERY AFRAID of what I would feel like without riding.

    Congrats on selling out Fatty!! Wish I could have participated, but the finances are a bit tight this year – maybe next year…

    And Fatty, thanks SO much for sharing your pre-shower routine with us. I don’t know about anyone else but I just can’t seem to get that image out of my head now!!! Haa!!!!!!!

  53. Comment by Marilyn | 03.23.2010 | 5:23 pm

    Too funny!! I went for a butt kicking 55 mile ride with the gang on saturday and got home and said to my son I don’t know why I do this to myself as I am trying to walk but of course I was out the door sunday morning for a ride with the gang in the sweetest place on earth. Hershey!!

  54. Comment by Triflefat | 03.23.2010 | 6:13 pm

    You sit in the shower?

  55. Comment by Zed | 03.23.2010 | 6:54 pm

    Speak for yourself. I can move a piano pretty well, thank you.

    P.S. to Triflefat, you haven’t tried it? I love sitting in the shower.

  56. Comment by db | 03.23.2010 | 9:04 pm

    I think you are just sandbagging again to get us to fall for a really slow time on your ironman contest coming up. You have had this injury for years and haven’t done anything to fix it. Why do anything now. Pullups aren’t a part of the ironman anymay. Think I will do a 100 miles on the track even if I didn’t get registered in time.

  57. Comment by windbreak | 03.23.2010 | 10:18 pm

    amusing as always.
    good luck with the ironman.
    I actually had to work for the last 2 days and consequently missed registration. I’ll have to wait for next year’s century. I hope the route doesn’t change. I absolutely love and despise the course.

  58. Comment by Jenn | 03.24.2010 | 12:24 am

    @donbiker – way to rock what you’ve got! That is AWESOME!

  59. Comment by MattC | 03.24.2010 | 1:13 pm

    Just to totally dash the ‘grand illusion’ that I live under, I just peeked in over at Jills (Jill Homer…Fatty’s friend who lives in Alaska)…she did the Fairbanks 100 this last Sunday…her last post talks about the first half of the race.

    Apparently I am one of the wimpiest people on the face of the planet…and she is one of the toughest. Way to go JILL! You absoultly ROCK!

    (here’s the link in case you don’t have it saved to your favorites:

  60. Comment by cyclingjimbo | 03.24.2010 | 3:40 pm

    Truth is, we’re all in the same boat – either all the way in or still with one foot on the dock. Welcome to middle age, and it doesn’t get any better. Seems like after 40 everything is pretty much downhill.

    On the plus side, the riding, swimming, running, rowing, etc., etc. keep us fit much longer, and help keep us up and about and much healthier than our parents were at the same point in their lives.

    Keep on pedaling, and don’t look back – something may be gaining on you.

  61. Comment by Sherlock Holmes | 03.24.2010 | 8:03 pm


    With the overtraining you’ve been doing, no wonder you are falling apart.


  62. Comment by Al | 03.25.2010 | 4:07 am

    Brilliant Fatty! As a 50 year old who also can’t remember when I last woke up without something (usually knees and back) hurting, I am overjoyed that this post has finally allowed ageing riders to find their voice and grumble about, about, about…er, whatever we’re grumbling about.

    Having given up running and cycling for a couple for years to make the pains go away (they didn’t) and now riding 50-70 miles a week and hoping to increase it if the sun ever comes out again here (in Scotland) I can definitely agree with everyone that if you have to deal with aching limbs, you might as well do it on a bike. I still feel better for it.

    Thanks for the new training regime, too: zero reps, rest, zero reps, rest, zero reps, stop. Cool. I imagine I’ll need at least half a pack of Oreos afterwards.

  63. Comment by hombre | 03.25.2010 | 6:26 am

    Feeling yer pain bro.
    Been there, done that.

    But the good news is, your writing has now returned to its previous insane and enjoyable level (after a most important and beautiful and painful and very sad detour then un-detoured by love and happiness etc etc)–detailing the miseries, indignities, and insults of middle age, cycling etc etc.

    Luvin it.

    Just one question–got to hear about the kids before. Curious how they are but respectin yer protecting their experience.

  64. Comment by plutosdad | 03.25.2010 | 9:09 am

    Many people have similar problems, such as competative weightlifters or bodybuilders will only be good at certain movements.

    There is a thing I’ve been trying to do more called GPP: General Physical Preparedness. It can start out with body weight workouts, all sorts of lunges in different directions, burpees, medicine balls work, calesthetics, whatever you make up. To using weights such as the “farmer’s carry” or just carrying weight around, short running sprints, pulling a weighted sled or sprinting with a weighted vest, etc.

    Basically using the body in more angles and movements to get all those stabilizing muscles stronger, conditioning, whatever other benefits.

  65. Comment by soror ienai | 03.26.2010 | 8:48 pm

    My dad told me something, when I was whinging about how getting older sucks( Im 41).
    He said ; welcome to age.
    First Rank : everything hurts
    Second Rank : everything hurts ALL the time
    Third Rank : everything hurts all the time AND IT’S NEVER GOING TO STOP!! (That’s where he is at).
    That comment about middle aged cycling was classic!
    But as a certified fitness instructor I have to tell you:
    1. You have a Rotator cuff injury, most likely. This means you possibly may never be able to lift your weight overhand again. But, this may get you to lose some weight!
    2. Losing weight is easy, just start doing some strength training. (You wont get brittle either.)

    Everyone can be strong AND fit, but you need to do graduated strength training. Forever. :)


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