One week from today, The Runner and I are heading to Saint George, Utah, to begin the Ironman check-in and pre-race meetings and interviews with the press (as a hall-of-fame blogger, my racing exploits are of very high interest to the press. Also, it’s actually me that’s the hall-of-fame blogger. My racing exploits are not a hall-of-fame blogger, and I regret implying that they are).
So it’s a good thing that I’ve really been training super hard for this event. Like, I’ve gone swimming and running a few times and everything.
Between now and after the race (on May 1), you’re going to need to plan on most of my posts being about the Ironman. My preparation for it. The workouts I’ve done for it. Gratuitous mentions of the cool free schwag that’s come my way because of it. My increasing concern about whether I’ll be able to fit into the wetsuit on race day.
Here, for example, is what The Runner and I did for a workout a couple of Saturdays ago.
My attitude about trying an Ironman swings from wildly optimistic to paralyzing terror on a moment-to-moment basis. On one hand:
I have a lot of endurance experience, and a natural ability to tough out hard efforts for a long time. I’ve done Leadville a buncha times. I’ve done 24 Hours of Moab. I’ve done the Kokopelli Trail Race. I’ve Done the Brian Head Epic 100 several times. Which is to say, I know what it feels like to be in an all-day race, and how to confront the demons as they arise.
112 miles on a bike — the longest part of the Ironman — is not a big deal to me. Providing the wind is not my enemy that day.
I’ve run a couple marathons, and I’ve run the Ironman course after riding the Ironman course. I think my lungs and legs are good for it.
I have no objective other than to finish.
On the other hand:
I am terrified of the swim. I don’t really know if I’ll make the cutoff.
I have done exactly one triathlon in my life: an Xterra event, as a joke, about ten years ago. Some people might claim that this is not enough triathlon experience.
While I can do each of the events individually, I have no idea what will happen when I try to do them together.
It was with this final bullet point in mind that a couple weeks ago The Runner and I decided we’d try to answer a question: what would happen if we tried to do a big swim, ride, and run in one day?
So we came up with a plan:
Start the morning at the Orem, UT Rec Center, which has a big pool. Swim 2.5 miles.
After the swim, go out to my truck, change into riding clothes, and bike over to Racer’s Cycle Service in Provo, where we’d join up with Kenny and Heather for a ride around West Mountain and then back to The Runner’s son’s (The IT Guy) house in Orem. Total ride distance would be about 90 miles.
At the IT Guy’s house, change into running clothes, then run up to the water tower road (three miles, 800 feet of climbing), back to the house for more CarboRocket and Clif Bloks, and then repeat. 12 miles, 1600 feet of climbing. That’s a lot of climbing for a run, but the Ironman running course has a lot of climbing, too.
Basically, we’d be doing a hodgepodge, self-supported, two-thirds more-or-less Ironman.
With really long transitions and one of the most delicious rest stops I have ever had in my life. More on that in a minute.
The more I swim, the more I hate it. Really. I just hate it. As soon as this Ironman is done, I am going to have a little ceremony wherein I set fire to my Speedo.
Why do I hate it? Because I am awful at it, and I am slow, and I don’t enjoy the isolation, and I am not willing to put the effort into becoming good.
That said, I would hate swimming about five times more if it weren’t for my H2O Audio Interval setup, which lets me listen to my iPod Shuffle while I swim. It’s worked flawlessly for every one of my swims. I love it. The Runner loves hers, too, especially now that I’ve adjusted her playlist to reflect her taste in music instead of mine (“I swear,” she once said, “You have put every single Greenday and Social Distortion song ever made on my iPod.” It was difficult to refute that statement, since it was in fact true.).
Anyway. We did the math and figured 40 laps made 2.5 miles in the pool, so we did it, taking care to go easy, since it was just the first workout in a loooong day of workouts.
By the halfway mark, The Runner had lapped me, as expected.
And that’s when I discovered something truly awesome.
You know how when you’re on a bike and you get right behind them that riding’s a lot easier? Well, that drafting effect holds true in swimming as well.
Except, like five times as much.
So I tucked in and basically coasted the second half of the swim. Listening to Greenday and Social D. Letting my wife do all the work.
It was downright pleasant.
The bad news came at the end of the swim: 1:50. In the pool. Considering the extra time the Ironman swim will take because it’s crowded and in open water, we were both worried.
“We’ll be faster in our wetsuits, you’ll see,” I reassured The Runner.
She wasn’t so sure, so we devised a test to find out whether we are actually faster swimming in wetsuits. And that will be the subject of my post tomorrow.
Our transition to the ride part of our DIY Tri was what I’d like to call “leisurely.” I ate a sandwich as I got our bikes ready. (Yes, The Runner is perfectly capable of getting her own bike ready, but I did it because I was feeling chivalrous, and also a little guilty for being a non-contributing drafter for more than a mile of swimming.)
We cruised — nice and easy, just trying to get our legs to remember the cycling motion — over to Racers, where we ditched our jackets and met up with Kenny and Heather. They professed admiration that we had already been swimming for two hours, and suddenly I started loving the idea of multi-sport.
Not the races, mind you. I loved that I didn’t have to make excuses for being slow on a ride, because nobody expects you to be fast if you’ve already done a workout.
The four of us headed out, and right away, The Runner started pushing the pace.
Now before I go on, I think I need to clear up a misconception about The Runner. I don’t call her “The Runner” because running is all she’s good at. The fact is, The Runner has raced and finished the Leadville 100 MTB race five times (with #6 coming up in a few months). She’s very strong on a bike. So why do I call her “The Runner?” Because she runs, that’s why.
Anyway, my point is: The Runner is also a strong rider, and has been for years.
And my other point is, on the flats in particular, she’s fast.
I did my best to stay with her, riding behind and occasionally alongside her as she pulled the entire group for more than an hour.
Finally, I said, “Um, you’re killing us back here.”
She replied, “You’re the one pushing the pace.” Which was sweet of her, really.
In the interest of factuality, however, I cleared things up once and for all by hollering behind me, “Is there any question at all about who is trying to tear the legs off this group?”
Kenny and Heather laughed.
As we approached Payson, I started dreaming of Joe’s. Joe’s is a tiny little hole-in-the-wall coffee shop where you can get a drink and a bagel sandwich. And when you’ve been on your bike for 55 miles, I assert that a turkey-swiss-avocado bagel sandwich is the best-tasting thing in the world.
We relaxed for half an hour or so, talking about maybe having the four of us race as a SS team for the 24 Hours of Moab this year. Which sounds fun, since it’s still months and months away.
Which brings up an axiom I’m working on, tentatively called The Race Axiom: The enthusiasm-to-dread ratio for a given race is inversely proportional to the chronological proximity of that race.
Can anyone find any holes in that axiom? Cuz I think it’s solid.
We finished eating, rode slow for a few minutes while our legs got used to turning circles again, and then The Runner pushed the pace again, ’til we lost Kenny and Heather, and finished the ride at The IT Guy’s house, where I was anxious to find out whether I’d be able to run at all after two hours of swimming and five hours of riding.
We changed into running clothes — neither of us is interested in running with a chamois (no matter how small) between our legs, and it’s not like the extra couple minutes is going to make or break us, finishing-wise.
We began the run, and I began to feel . . . well . . . good. Here’s why: it’s uphill, and that allowed me to use my lesser superpowers: putting my head down and my feet forward.
We got to the turnaround point, coasted easily back to the house, refueled, and headed up again.
At which point I stopped feeling so good. Where I ran the first time, I was now walking. Where I had slowed to a walk the first time, I now shuffled.
But I did make it to the top, and it was nice to know that most of the final three miles was downhill.
Then, with a mile to go, The Runner broke out ahead of me. Maybe she expected me to try to step it up, but I had nothing extra to give.
So she finished about a quarter mile ahead of me, turned around, and came back to finish the run with me. Her: cheerful and strong; me: toast.
As we sat, catching our breath, The Runner asked: “Do you think you could do that same run again now, if you had to?”
It was a good question. “I think so,” I said. “But I’d have to slow down, if that’s even possible.”
Degree of Confidence
So, after this big day, how do I feel about my chances with the Ironman? Not bad, actually. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that my primary concerns/questions are as follows:
Will I finish the swim part before the cutoff time?
Will The Runner get so bored of waiting for me at the finish line that she’ll leave and go get a shower and something to eat, figuring she has plenty of time?
When — if — I cross the finish line, will I be lucid enough to say something clever?
Five years is a long time to write a blog. Seriously, a really long time. Consider all the cycling-comedy blogs you read. How many of them have been around five years? Not many.
Sometimes, in fact, I wonder if there are a finite number of funny things to say about bicycles.
I just read those first two paragraphs and realized it sounds like I’m winding up for a goodbye. I’m not. My point — which I am finally getting to right this second — is that I’ve been around long enough that I feel totally OK with occasionally talking about a few personal items, only one of which has anything to do with biking.
I’d been an employee of Burton Group for nearly four years when it was acquired by Gartner at the beginning of 2010. Frankly, I was pretty concerned about whether I’d get to keep my job. Gartner already has a fully-staffed and capable product management team, after all, using a much different approach than I have.
As of last Friday, however, I’ve been moved out of product management and into a brand-new position within the research team, which means I’ll be researching and writing about technology topics for a living.
In other words, I’m employed in the sweet spot of a large research company, doing something I really enjoy doing.
When I started this blog five years ago, my oldest kid was 11; now he’s 16 (isn’t the way the math on that works out?). My twins were only 3; now they’re gangly 8-year-olds. And one of my kids has been suffering from a painful and serious illness for pretty much the entirety of that time.
That child doesn’t want to have me talk about that illness and what s/he’s going through on this blog, so I haven’t, and I won’t.
But that illness has recently reached a crisis point, and I am spending a lot of my time and energy on it. When you see a day (like yesterday) go by without a post, that’s probably why.
(Or it’s possible that I’m out on a long ride, because the weather here has suddenly gone from cold miserable Winter to fantastic beautiful Spring.)
3. I Have Been a Guest Speaker at a University
Yesterday morning, I went to a “Writing for New Media” class, and gave a guest lecture. I used PowerPoint and everything. The students were, as you’d expect, enthralled. And by “enthralled,” I of course mean “expressing mild interest or taking naps or updating their Facebook pages.”
Last Monday, I showed a video, shot from my helmetcam, of a group ride at Little Creek. The centerpiece (i.e., the moment I showed four times 24 seconds into the piece) of the video was when The Runner crashed, whacking her buttbone (a technical term) good and hard into a sharp protruding rock.
To add injury to another injury, I also showed The Runner’s second fall, as the after-blackout-easteregg at the very end of the video. I don’t show that fall four times, because, frankly, I didn’t get a very good shot of it.
What I don’t show at all in the video is what happened after The Runner fell. Either time. That’s because after the first fall, The Runner hops around, runs in place, and swears a lot.
If it had been a guy — Rick Sunderlage (not his real name), for example — it would have been kind of comical (especially to the tune of the Mary Tyler Moore Show) — and I would have run the post-injury footage for sure. Since it was my wife, I decided against it.
A double standard? You bet.
After the second fall, I didn’t run the footage because The Runner was just laying there — face down — for a few minutes, coping with the the massive amount of pain she was experiencing.
(Photo by Brad M)
She had hit her hands so hard she thought they were broken, and one of her knees took a very deep cut.
The thing is, we had a surprising amount of medical expertise on-hand after these crashes. Heather’s a doctor; The Runner is a nurse. Unfortunately, however, it was the nurse who was hurt, and the doctor’s expertise is in cancer research.
And as for me, well, the video reveals that apart from untangling The Runner from her bike, I’m quite useless. Mostly, I just ask her, over and over, whether she’s OK and if there’s anything I can do. Which, I think it should be pointed out, actually does serve a purpose: after I asked these questions often enough it became so irritating that it distracted The Runner from the pain of her injuries.
How to Behave
Since then, I have had time to ponder: what, exactly, should I have done while I waited for The Runner’s pain to subside?
As a cyclist who sometimes rides with a female cyclist, I realize that how one acts may depend on who one is with, and have therefore helpfully segregated my findings into appropriate gender combinations.
If you are a male cyclist with an injured female cyclist
Refrain from telling her how hot she looks in lycra. Now is not the time. Trust me.
Tell her how tough and awesome she is. By the way, she is very tough, and very awesome. Just in case you weren’t clear on that.
Tell her anyone else would be crying harder / acting more pathetic than she is, including you. But don’t use the words “acting more pathetic,” because that implies she’s being pathetic at all, which she is not.
Get her bike ready to ride again. The woman is going to want you to shut up at some point. This is a good time for you to fiddle with her bike and make sure it’s good to go.
Volunteer to make a tourniquet / bandage out of your jersey. But not until she’s on her feet and seems like she might appreciate your sense of humor again.
Describe the events leading up to the injury. Be expansive and generous with the difficulty of the triggering obstacle and / or event. She didn’t endo when she hit a rock. It was a big ol’ honkin’ ledge, and she darn near cleared it anyway. I’m not exactly sure why we all start telling the story as soon as the event happened, but it seems to help, and it seems to help more if you get started with the exaggeration right away.
If you are a male cyclist with an injured male cyclist
Ask if he’s alright. Depending on how old you are and where you live, you should either end the sentence with “dude,” “man,” or “bro.” It makes the question affectionate and concerned-sounding without being too affectionate and concerned-sounding.
Lean his bike against a tree. He won’t trust any tweaks, fixes, or adjustments you make anyway.
Wait for 30 seconds before asking if he’s ready to ride. If he says he needs another minute, wait another thirty seconds and ask again. Repeat as necessary.
Describe the event, but feel free to trivialize certain aspects (such as the prime cause of the event) and enhance other aspects (such as the high-pitched scream the victim made upon suffering a compound fracture).
If you are a female cyclist with an injured male cyclist
Tell him how hot he looks in lycra. For guys, there’s no bad time to hear this, and even when we’re injured there’s a small part of us that’s wondering if our guts are sufficiently sucked in.
Otherwise let us suffer quietly. We’re trying to be manly and stoic. If you begin to describe the event, we’re going to think it sounds silly, because you’re not exaggerating our manliness sufficiently. If you call the injury on our leg a “nasty little scrape,” you’re making it that much harder to refer to it as a five-inch-long gushing gash when we recount it later.
Don’t touch our bikes. Unless we beg you to help us unclip.
If you are a female cyclist with an injured female cyclist
Honestly I have no idea. Do whatever it is you women do when you’re with each other. Like, talk about how much you miss us men. That’s what you do when we’re not around, right?
Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Well, how about administering a little first aid?” But that would assume I know what I’m doing and would not be making the problem worse. For example, in my panic, I might have been likely to give The Runner rattlesnake poison antidote, which probably wouldn’t have helped very much.
A Back-in-Stock Note from Fatty: The 2010 Fat Cyclist T-Shirts have been out of stock for a while — but they aren’t anymore. Out of stock, I mean. What I am trying to say is that Fat Cyclist T-Shirts, which were out of stock, are in stock. They are stocked. If you want one, you can buy one — or more, for that matter — and Twin Six will send it to you. From their stock.
And hey, could someone please do me a favor and tell me how many teeth that cog has? Because that looks like a really big gear.
It’s common cycling wisdom that if you are going to be riding for less than a couple hours, you just need to bring a couple bottles of water — no food.
If you’re going to be out for longer than that, you should bring your favorite sports drink. If you’re going to be out for more than three hours, you should bring food. Most importantly, if you’re going to be out for four or more hours, that food should include a can of Vienna Sausages.
I’m just kidding of course. You shouldn’t wait that long to break open the Vienna Sausages.
A Match Made in Hell
But you know what bothers me? What bothers me is that my two favorite things — eating and biking — go so poorly together. I mean, I love food. When I’m not eating, I’m thinking about eating. And after I’ve eaten, I evaluate what I’ve just eaten, often considering how I might enhance a similar experience in the future (hint: it usually involves more salt or mayonnaise).
But I don’t enjoy eating when I ride.
Consider this for a moment. In order for me to remember to eat when I’m on a long ride, I’ve set up an alert on my Garmin 500 to go off every half hour.
Yes, that’s right: I’ve set up an artificial device to make me eat. I promise you that no such device is necessary in other parts of my life.
Which is too bad, really.
The Part of Lists (Or Actually, Just One List)
There are, of course, very good reasons why my life’s central preoccupation is suddenly so unappetizing (Oh boy, a pun!) when I’m on a bike.
I shall list them.
Sweet sweetness: I bet I’m the first person to ever notice that most every energy gel, bar, gummy chewy, and drink is sweet. And generally, I’m OK with sweet. For a while. But after six hours of washing down a sweet gel with a sweet drink, I’m ready for something less…sweet. And trying to disguise the sweetness with flavors doesn’t work. As an experiment, try this: eat (I don’t think that’s the right word) nothing but Gu for six hours, swapping out different flavors. After that six hours has passed, eat (slurp? consume?) another Gu without taking a look at the package. Ask yourself if you know what flavor it is. Take my word for it: you won’t be able to tell. I know, I know: carbohydrates are fuel, sugar is a carbohydrate, and so sugar is an effective fuel. But you know, bread’s a carbohydrate, too, and it’s not sweet. I would like a buttered toast-flavored energy bar.
Stuff sticking in teeth: Energy gels and bars are specially designed to get trapped in your mouth. Energy bars with little pieces of nuts are the worst offenders, because those nuts get lodged between teeth, between teeth and gums, and in your molars. And once it’s there, no amount of swishing will get it out. Nor will hours and hours of probing with your tongue, during which time you will stop noticing anything about your ride, because you are obsessed completely with getting that stupid piece of peanut out of your teeth. And it’s not like you can pick it out with a fingernail, because you’re wearing gloves. This will become distracting to the point that you will either go insane or make an emergency call to your dentist.
The weird coating on your teeth: You’re riding. You’re eating gels and energy bars. You’re drinking energy drinks. And after a while, your teeth feel almost exactly the same as they would if you had never brushed them even once in your life. This phenomenon is known, technically, as “disgusting.” I have, at times, nearly wept with joy when I could finally have a post-ride tooth brushing. OK, not “nearly.”
Texture: Think of your favorite food. Now think of your second, third, fourth, and fifth favorite foods. Do any of them have the texture of an extra-resilient gummy bear, or of an extremely gritty bar of soap? No? Gee, I wonder why not?
Breathing: When, someday, I make a list of all my superpowers, “being able to breathe during an aerobic effort” will not be on that list. However, “having extremely tiny, to the point of being basically useless, nasal passages: might be on that list. Which is not a very great superpower to have, by the way. My point is, if I’m riding, my mouth is open. And if I’m eating, that’s a problem for two reasons. First, it’s super gross-looking. Second, the food falls out as I chew it, producing a hilarious “cookie monster” effect. Sadly, at this time I do not have a video of this to share.
Spitting: Certain energy food combinations do not play well with each other. Suppose, for example, you eat a particular energy bar and wash it down with a particular energy drink. They — to your suprise and horror — chemically bond in the same way that epoxy glue does, except the result is extra-colorful-and-thick mucus. Which is awesome to spit. At first.
Bad combos: Thick mucus is really a pretty mild form of bad energy food combinations. Other foods might chemically interact in very bubbly ways, but only once swallowed. And shaken. At which time, a very serious case of the loud stinky farts is the best outcome you can hope for. And I probably don’t need to explain that the worse outcomes are much, much worse. And not just for you.
I should, I think, point out a couple of very important energy food exceptions. The first is that a couple of the new Clif Bar flavors are really, really good. In particular, the White Chocolate Macadamia Nut bar is delicious enough that I recently caught The Runner eating one recreationally.
The other exception is what I think may be the most perfect on-bike energy food ever created: The Salted Nut Roll. They don’t melt or get squashed in your jersey. They aren’t just pure sweetness, thanks to the brilliantly complementary taste of the marshmallowy stuff (“nougat,” I believe they call it) and the peanuts. They’re carbs and protein. And you can find them in every convenience store I’ve ever been to.
And when — inevitably — half of it falls out of your mouth as you try to open-mouth-chew it, well, some squirrel out there is going to think that’s just awesome.
PS: Remember back when Fisher Bikes put up a special Fat Cyclist Edition of the Gary Fisher Superfly as one of the prizes for the “Help Fatty Ride with Team RadioShack” contest? And Roger L. won the bike? Well, it’s now finished, built, and delivered to Roger. And it’s so pretty I just had to show it off.
Behold the only FattyFly in the universe (click the image for a larger version):
A “Hi, I’m Back” Note from Fatty: I loved my Spring Break. I rode a lot, and I’ve got a lot of fun new stuff to talk about. That said, I’m — once again — working on very little sleep today, due to some pressing family stuff. So: today’s post won’t be as riotously hilarious as it might otherwise be. But if you’ll stick with it, you’ll find it does include a rather awesome new video I finished assembling last week.
There’s no reason in the world why cyclists should choose to be either strictly mountain bikers or road cyclists (or track cyclists, or cyclocrossers, or downhillers, or BMX-ers).
Don’t be one or the other. Be both.
Or all twelve. Or — to be more realistic — as many as you have money, time and inclination for. As near as I can tell, there are no bad forms of cycling.
That said, if there must be a debate about which, between road and mountain biking, is the more awesome, mountain bikers do have a compelling argument worth making (and please note that I’m saying “compelling,” not “conclusive” or “winning”):
When you’re mountain biking, you have the choice of ridingtechnicaltrail, or riding trail with greatflow.
For those not really familiar with these terms, “technical” trail is stuff with lots of obstacles and features that demand focus and attention. Roots. Tight turns. Ledges and drops. Trail with “flow,” on the other hand, tends to have terrain changes that happen more slowly, often with beautiful scenery that lets you get immersed in the ride.
Technical trail is intense, challenging you and leaving you exhausted and happy at the end of the ride. Flowing trail is more mellow and leaves you…exhausted and happy at the end of the ride.
And having that option — flow or technical — is magnificent.
The difference in kinds of mountain biking trails came to mind strongly the weekend before last when Lisa and I were in St. George. On one side of the road is Gooseberry, justifiably famous as one of the best technical trails in America.
On the other side of the road is Little Creek, which is far less famous than its neighbor, but is — in my opinion — every bit as fantastic of trail as Gooseberry.
Because Little Creek has incredible flow. It’s a good-sized loop with a number of beautiful add-on detour trails. All with incredible views, winding singletrack and rolling sandstone.
I think Lisa, Kenny, Heather, Bob (not this one), Brad (not this one), and Dwight would all agree: you’d be hard-pressed to pick a better place to kick off your mountain biking season.
We rode for five hours — all five of which I recorded on helmetcam. For your convenience, however, I have condensed it into the following three minute video.
Seriously, there’s no good argument to not be both a mountain and road cyclist. And if you are a pure roadie, I’d like to suggest that a flowing trail like Little Creek makes an excellent case for checking out a bike with fat tires.