A Note from Fatty: MikeRoadie — the Co-Captain for Team Fatty Austin, has a friend who is putting together a solo 660-mile ride through New England to raise money for childrens’ cancer hospitals. Please check out Nick’s Ride for Kids and donate. You may win one of 22 weekend getaways. Nice!
There are big mountain bike races. There are big, long mountain bike races. There are big, long, important mountain bike races.
And then there’s the (hushed silence, please) . . . Alpine Days Mountain Bike Race.
Using the mountain biking trails (Hogs’ Hollow, Lambert Park) in and around Alpine, UT, the Alpine Days Mountain bike race is something I’ve always wanted to do, but never have, because the race always seems to land on the same weekend as the Leadville 100.
This year, though, the Alpine Days race was a week earlier. That fact, combined with the fact that the race costs only $15 to enter, combined with the further fact that the starting line is three blocks, downhill, from my house, combined with the additional further fact that the $15 entry fee includes a t-shirt, combined with the final additional further fact that I had nothing else going on last Saturday at 7:00 AM, made this a must-attend race.
Late last week, The Runner and I went to the city hall to sign up. I signed up for the Men’s 40-49 Expert category, for three reasons:
- I am a man.
- I am 44, which falls neatly between 40 and 49.
- I am not an expert racer, but the Expert course covers Hog Hollow and the Chute to the sliding rock in addition to the Lambert Park loop. I like those trails, so expert it is. (was.)
The Runner chose the Women’s 40-49 Sport category, because she did not care about climbing Hog Hollow yet again for the third time that week.
And then she signed up her son, The IT Guy, to race against her, mostly to put him in his place. It’s not every mother who can throw down a mountain biking challenge to her 20-year-old son, but The Runner is not every mother. Obviously, I guess.
Before the Race
We showed up early, me on the FattyFly SS, rolling completely rigid; The Runner rode the SuperFly. The Runner found she had been placed in the Expert category by the wily race organizers. She corrected the mistake and went back to Sport, in spite of the fact that as the only woman in the Expert category for the race, she’d almost certainly take first.
I picked up my number and looked through the list of entries. Core Team Member Rick Maddox was there.
Awesome. Now I knew who to care about beating.
I walked around, looking for anyone else riding a singlespeed. And sure enough, I found one other guy: Corey. A new dad of twins, not to mention a cancer survivor. Riding a nice Niner, he looked like he would be kicking my butt for sure.
That’s OK, though. I wasn’t there to try to beat anyone. In fact, The Runner and I reminded each other, multiple times: With just one week to go ’til the Leadville 100, the dumbest thing either of us could do would be to wreck.
So — to anyone who asked, as well as to several who didn’t — I explained my race plan: hit the climbs as hard as I could, and then be very conservative on the descents, and don’t worry about who’s in front of me and who’s behind.
(Except, I noted to myself, I really really wanted to make sure I was faster than Ricky).
The Awesomeness of The Familiar
The starting line was hilarious, and I wish I would have had a picture. The Experts pointed one direction — toward Hog Hollow — and the Sports pointing in the opposite direction. Like we had had an argument and weren’t speaking to each other.
The gun went off (or it’s possible the race organizer said “Go!”), and we went; that’s all I’d see of The Runner ’til the race was over.
Since the first quarter mile or so of the race was on flat road, I figured my singlespeed and I would get dropped off the back right away. But I was lucky; everyone seemed to keep their speed dialed back. I sat behind the group, getting sucked along.
Then the road turned right and sharply uphill. As (just about) everyone else shifted down, I did the SS equivalent of shifting down: I stood up and kept pedaling, conserving as much momentum as I could.
And a weird thing happened: without meaning to be, I was at the front of the race. Oops.
Two guys quickly shot out of the pack and joined me: a guy on a Canondale and a guy on a Gary Fisher Sugar 1 (an old design, but still regarded by those of us who’ve had one as one of Fisher’s best). We stayed together until the paved road turned left onto Hog Hollow Road and became flat again, at which point they quickly dropped me and created a sizeable gap.
“Oh well, it was fun while it lasted,” I thought to myself, and took a quick drink, then a look behind me. Nobody was especially close. First place didn’t look good, but it looked like I had a crack at the podium.
I hit the dirt (not literally) and began climbing Hog Hollow. And that’s when I realized how helpful it is to race your hometown trails. I’ll bet that in the past four years or so, I have climbed Hog Hollow 100 times. Maybe 150. So I knew how hard I could go, and I knew how long the trail is. I knew the right lines.
So when I ratcheted up my effort to about the point where I thought I was going to puke, it wasn’t because I had racing fever. It was because I knew, from past experience, that the “threshold of puking” effort was pretty much sustainable for the duration of this climb.
And then I saw the Cannondale guy.
Which meant I was closing on him.
To be honest, this was a weird sensation. It’s pretty rare for me to pass anyone in a race. I tend to be the guy who gets passed a lot.
You know what? Closing a gap and passing someone feels pretty darned good.
Then, a few minutes later, I saw the Fisher Sugar guy. It took longer to close that gap, but I did.
And then, to my surprise — and delight, most definitely to my delight — I was winning the Expert category in a mountain bike race.
This Race Should Have Been Shorter
I pedaled as hard as I could, when I could. Though I am not ashamed (OK, a little bit ashamed) to admit that I walked the top half of “Puke Hill.” Sure, I coulda ridden it — do it all the time, really — but it would have cost more than it was worth.
And as I pushed up Puke Hill, I looked back.
There was Corey. The other Singlespeeder. Close behind and getting closer (though he was also walking the second half of Puke Hill).
I found a little extra power and poured it on. And I made it to the top of the climb, and even to the top of “The Chute” — a treacherous ravine that goes down to the Sliding Rock in Alpine.
And then Corey caught me, right as the downhill began.
So, you know, if this would have been strictly a climbing race, I think I might’ve won. (I could’ve been a contender, etc., etc.)
But I let Corey go without a fight, fully intending to honor my promise to take the descents nice and cautiously.
And so, of course, ten seconds after Corey passed me and I had gained a good head of steam following his line, I slid my front wheel into a narrow-but-deep erosion trench and flipped, heels-over-head, in a fast downhill endo.
Without thinking about it, I put out my arms.
Which was a bad idea.
I heard the “pop” sound my right shoulder makes whenever the many-times-separated thing is getting re-injured.
I’m pretty sure I was yelling at the top of my lungs before I even slid to a stop.
Corey, to his credit, immediately stopped and looked around to see if I needed help.
“I’m fine,” I yelled at him. “Go!”
“Are you sure?” he yelled back, probably because he had never heard anything quite like the sound I have just made (my “I’ve been hurt” scream is the stuff of local legend).
“I’m fine,” I yelled back. “Go!”
Even as I picked myself back up and sorted my bike out (everything was good, except the saddle now pointed slightly to the right — not enough to waste the time fixing it, though), I thought about how strange it was that I had just repeated myself to him, word for word. “I thought I was more original than that,” I thought to myself.
Yes, I really did think that.
Third Is OK. And Fourth Is Too, I Guess. Kind of.
It was no longer an effort of will to go slow down The Chute. My fall — which, in addition to my shoulder, had also banged up my left quad enough that it hurt to pedal — had put the fear of God into me, and I rode tentatively on every downhill for the rest of the race.
So it should be no surprise that halfway down The Chute, the guy on the Fisher Sugar 1 passed me, calling out “Hi Fatty!” as he did.
And then, as I got to the bottom of The Chute (having had no more wrecks, luckily), the guy on the Canondale passed me.
And just like that, I was off the podium. Strange how I could be bummed out to lose something I had not previously even considered as possible.
And while there was more climbing to do in the race, there was a lot more downhill than climbing left.
So while I occasionally caught glimpses of the Canondale rider out in front of me, I never got close enough to make a serious attempt at closing the gap.
And for whatever reason, it’s harder to turn yourself inside out to catch someone you can’t even see.
But still, as I finished the loop on Lambert Park singletrack — a loop very familiar to The Runner and me because it’s our favorite trail run — I pedaled as fast as I could.
Fourth was OK — it had to be — but I did not want to move down to fifth in the last moments of the race.
I rode by The Runner and The IT Guy, both of whom had long since finished their race and were now hanging around to cheer me on.
I crossed the finish line. Fourth. Hey, that’s pretty good, and pretty good is often good enough.
The Runner’s Tale
After the race, I asked The Runner how she had done. “I took second,” she said.
“Not bad,” I thought to myself, though quite frankly there weren’t many women who had shown up to the race at all.
But it turns out I had misunderstood. The Runner had take second in Sport overall.
Essentially, during the mile-long paved run-up to the dirt loop at Lambert Park, The Runner shifted up into a tall gear and just rode away from the field. Once she hit the dirt, one man was able to catch and stay away from her.
Another tried to pass, but since The Runner is a nurse, she knows exactly where a human’s nerve clusters are located. A quick jab in the right spot temporarily paralyzed that rider’s left side, leaving him to thrash around, describing counterclockwise circles in the dirt.
Sometimes, I fear The Runner.
OK, actually that part didn’t happen. Just one guy passed her, and she rode a smart, fast race. And she didn’t fall down, unlike me.
“I expect there were quite a few surprised and angry men behind me,” speculated The Runner as we lounged after the race.
Yes, I expect that’s probably true.
PS: I finished seven minutes ahead of Ricky. Not that I was counting, or that it was important, or anything like that.
PPS: The IT Guy did great in the race, too. He finished about three minutes after The Runner. Now, most 20-year-old men wouldn’t find it something to be proud of to finish three minutes behind their mothers, but The Runner is not an ordinary mother. Obviously.
PPPS: My right shoulder hurt pretty badly the rest of the day — it was painful to do even ordinary tasks like shift gears in the car. It hurt less yesterday (Sunday) though, and seems to be getting better quickly. I think I’ll need to be careful at Leadville, and I expect my shoulder will ache badly by the end of the race, but I don’t think my shoulder will stop me from racing.