This Race Should Have Been Shorter

08.9.2010 | 1:05 am

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:

  1. I am a man.
  2. I am 44, which falls neatly between 40 and 49.
  3. 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.


One Year

08.5.2010 | 10:30 am

Susan died a year ago today. I’ve been grappling with a few thoughts. None of them especially deep, but here’s what’s on my mind.

  • I think Susan would be happy with where I am. Susan and I had some very frank — but private — conversations during the times she was lucid. I think about these often, and am pretty frankly amazed at how some of the things she said she wanted have happened. My life is good now, the kids are doing well. Susan would be happy about that.
  • I’ve avoided letting Susan’s biggest worry happen. Several times, Susan told me that she was worried that I would let her death change me, turning me into an angry and bitter person. That’s the opposite of who I’ve always been, and she didn’t want me to, in effect, become someone else. She wanted me to stay who I am, and I have. I’m proud of that.
  • I don’t want this day to be a big day. It’s school break right now, and so the kids don’t even look at calendars (in fact, I’m pretty sure they studiously avoid looking at the calendar, so as not to have to think about the fact that later this month they’ll be back in school). The important thing about Susan wasn’t her death, it was the way she lived. So while I will talk with the kids today, I don’t think I’ll make it a big day. I think maybe Susan’s birthday is a better, more appropriate day to celebrate her life.

My 2010 Leadville Plan

08.3.2010 | 8:23 am

A Kidney Transplant-Related Note from Fatty: Many of you helped me raise money to help out my sister and her son as they went through an incredibly difficult kidney failure. I think you’ll all be excited to know, then, that last Thursday, my sister Kellene successfully donated a kidney to her son, Dallas. Since then, Dallas has been recovering at a remarkable rate, with signs that he and his new kidney are going to be get along just fine. Kellene’s out of the hospital now and in a lot of pain, but she’s tough. She’ll be home and riding again soon.

Once again, thanks to everyone who helped!

On August 14 — just eleven days from now — I’ll start the Leadville 100 for the fourteenth time. And, provided I have a good day, I’ll finish — for the thirteenth time (remember, I didn’t finish last year) — a while after that.

This is my plan for what happens between when I start, and when I finish.

My Overarching Race Day Philosophy

Every year, I seem to have a certain goal for the Leadville 100: Sometimes it’s been to finish it in under ten hours. A few times it’s been to finish it in under eleven. When I’m really fit, it’s to finish it in under nine hours.

Of course, that’s never happened.

This year, however, I’m not bringing a time objective to the race. I think that’s because something’s changed. Maybe it’s because I’m mellowing with age. Maybe it’s because for the first time in a long time I’m riding for fun instead of to vent pent-up anger and frustration. Maybe it’s just because I’m looking at the data and facing the facts.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m getting a weird thing called “perspective.”

At the beginning of spring and throughout summer, I asked myself a question: what kind of memories do I want to have when the snow starts falling (hard to even consider when it’s 100 degrees outside, but it’s never more than a few months away)?

Memories of training hard? Or memories of having fun on my bike?

Some years, those would have been the exact same thing — there have been years when pushing myself to the absolute limit gave me intense joy and pride.

But not this year.

This year, how I’ve defined “fun” on my bike has been to go out riding with my wife. We’ve ridden a ton together, and I’ve had a blast. I haven’t done a single interval, and I don’t care. It’s been my favorite riding season ever.

As a result, I’m in good riding shape, but don’t have the eye of the tiger (nor the thrill of the fight). I’ll finish the Leadville 100, probably in about ten hours (though to be honest with myself, I’d like to keep it under ten hours). I’m going to race it hard, but if I find myself riding alongside someone who doesn’t mind talking for a few minutes, that will be just fine.

And I will do my best to have fun.

What I Will Ride

I briefly considered riding a geared bike at Leadville this year, but once my FattyFly frame arrived, that pretty much ended the debate.

And now that I’ve got it all tricked out with Shimano and PRO components, the debate is really ended. Check it out, all nice and dirty from yesterday’s ride (click image for a larger version):

My Photo_20.jpg

PRO XCR stem and PRO XCR seatpost, along with XTR cranks and brakes make this about as nice a bike as can be imagined. Factor in the Bontrager XXX Carbon wheels, the Niner carbon fork, and the Salsa Pro Moto bar, and I’ve got a bike that weighs well under eighteen pounds.

Sure, I’ll get beat to death on the downhills, but the climbs should be nice.

Oh, and for those of you who were going to ask: 34 x 20.

What I Will Eat and Drink

I usually obsess over what I will eat at Leadville. This year, for some reason, I’m not obsessing over it at all. Maybe that’s because I have stopped looking for a magic bullet. Here’s what I’ve been carrying with me on long rides lately, which will be the same thing I have at the aid stations in Leadville:

  • CarboRocket
  • PRO BARs: I’m a huge fan of Art’s Original Blend. A bar that doesn’t look and taste like it was extruded from a gross vat of goo, then left to harden for ten years before packaging it? Genius!
  • Clif Shot Bloks: Tropical Punch and Mountain Berry are the best.
  • Campbell’s Chicken and Stars soup: Sodium-tastic.
  • Water: Sometimes, nothing tastes better.
  • Several mayo packets. Just in case.

Pretty easy, and I haven’t had an upset stomach with this mix of food the whole year.

How I Will Ride

Up at 10K+ feet, it’s not easy to remember stuff. Hence, I have condensed my riding strategy into easy-to-recollect bullet points, as follows:

  • I will fight the urge to pass a bunch of people during the St. Kevins climb. Every pass on that climb costs three times as much energy as a similar pass anywhere else on the course.
  • I will not look at my bike computer more than once every fifteen minutes. At least during the first half of the race. During the final ten miles of the race, I reserve the right to look at it every five seconds.
  • I will be friendly and yell encouragement. But I will try to keep that urge under control, so as not to frighten other racers. And bystanders, for that matter.
  • I will not mention that I am riding a singlespeed to anyone who does not mention it first. However, I reserve the right to grimace and strain as I pedal, in the hopes that people will take notice and look at my drivetrain.

As always, I appreciate any guidance you would care to lend me. After all, I’ve only done this race thirteen times; I’m still kind of new at it.

Fatty’s Hierarchy of Needs

08.2.2010 | 12:12 pm

Abraham Maslow is famous for creating the “Hierarchy of Needs” — a graduating set of general requirements for human motivation. Like this:


The idea behind this pyramid is that you need to fulfill the needs in the lowest (Physiological) level of the pyramid before you start thinking about the needs in the second-lowest (Safety) level. Then you can move on to the Love / belonging needs, and so forth.

Then, hopefully, once you have satisfied the needs in the first four levels, you can start working on self-actualization, at which point you are a fully-realized human. Which would be, I assume, awesome.

Sadly, however, this hierarchy is woefully out of date.

Updating the Hierarchy

Now, I’m not slamming on Abe (Maslow’s friends called him “Abe”); back in the 40’s, this was a pretty good scale.

Since then, however, things have changes. Specifically, mountain bikes have been invented (thanks, Gary!), and road bikes have gotten much, much better.

And hence, our needs — and the order of precedence and priority for these needs — have changed. Which is why I am happy to present:


You can tell that my hierarchy is superior to Maslow’s, just from a quick glance. For example, where Maslow’s pyramid is only two-dimensional, mine is three-dimensional. Where his uses stodgy, overly-saturated colors, mine uses eye-pleasing gradients. And my pyramid has an attractive shadow.

There’s more, of course. Mainly, my hierarchy is much more relevant and meaningful to today’s cyclist.

Fatty’s Hierarchy, Explained

I shall explain the needs of the cyclist, beginning with the lowest level.

  1. A Working Bike: Before all else, the cyclist must have a bike that can be ridden. The tires must be able to hold air. The brakes must stop the bike. The crank cannot creak so loudly that the cyclist loses his or her mind when riding. The bike must fit, at least sorta. In the absence of a working, rideable bike, the cyclist simply ceases to exist and becomes a much lower form of life (i.e., a non-cyclist). In short, having a rideable bike is the most important thing in the world, which is why many cyclists amass a sizeable collection of both bikes and bike parts — if one has enough bikes and components, one need never step outside to begin ride only to find an unexpected and catastrophic mechanical problem, thus causing one to — for all intents and purposes — cease to exist.
  2. Lose 15 Lbs / Kg: Any cyclist that says she or he rides strictly for pleasure is a liar. The truth is, all cyclists have an event or race in the back of their minds, and they have a goal for that event or race. And to achieve that objective, the cyclist must lose either 15 pounds or kilograms. Also, cyclists know that their clothing — specially designed to be embarrassingly revealing — is going to look a lot nicer if they lose that fifteen pounds (or much, much nicer if they lose 15 kilograms). And they’ll be able to beat people to the tops of climbs. And they’ll be able to get into their drops without their knees pushing all the air out of their lungs.
  3. Riding Buddies: Once you’ve got a bike in working order and have lost (or at least frequently talk about losing) that fifteen pounds / kilograms, you will naturally try to find a group of like-minded individuals. Individuals who will not condemn you for the way you spend all your time, money, and mental cycles on doing something you learned to do when you were five. Individuals who agree it is not even remotely pointless to expend a huge amount of energy and time to go in what is, invariably, either a loop or out-and-back, arriving exactly where you left, except much more tired. Individuals who are enough like you that when you’re around them, you can convince yourself that you’re normal.
  4. Good Gear: Once you have the basics of cycling down — a working bike, good fitness, people who share in your warped perception of priorities and fun — you will no doubt want to recapture the extraordinary feeling you had the first time you rode a decent — i.e., a non-big-box-obtained — bike. You will need a lighter bike, nicer components, an expensive pair of shorts with an anatomic wicking antibacterial chamois, and handmade Italian shoes. The more you spend, the easier it is for you to convincingly imagine that you notice a difference.
  5. A Perfect Place to Ride: The ultimate expression of a cyclist’s needs is the perfect route. What that perfect route is depends on the rider (although it has been widely rumored to be Tibble Fork in American Fork Canyon, Utah). Paradoxically, you may have — in fact, almost certainly will have — ridden the perfect route many times before you discover that it is, in fact, perfect.

I am looking forward to your reactions supporting this hierarchy. (I would also look forward to your reactions rebutting this hierarchy, but since is perfect, there can of course be no convincing counterargument.)

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