I’ve never liked the term “Endurance Race.” I mean, you endure lectures from your boss. You endure piano recitals. You endure watching flat stages on the Tour de France (though I sincerely appreciate ASO’s work at livening those stages up this year by placing invisible obstructions along the course, causing massive crashes to break up the otherwise unendurable monotony).
But long biking races? Well, sure, there are moments when I’m enduring, by which I mean “continuing as if I want to ride, even a big chunk of me would rather stop.”
But mostly, I don’t endure the Leadville 100, or I wouldn’t keep signing up for it (this year will be my 15th consecutive time). I wouldn’t have raced the Kokopelli. I wouldn’t do eight-hour training rides most weekends during the summer.
So here’s the problem: this term “endurance racing” takes an amazing, demanding, beautiful event…and then labels it with its least attractive attribute. I mean, using this technique, Soccer would be called, “Fans Murder Each Other-Ball.” Baseball would be called, “Hardly Anything Ever Happens-Ball.” Running Would be called “Ruining Your Joints.”
Why not call long-distance racing “Seeing a Big Chunk of the World Racing?” Or “Exhibiting Unusual Amounts of Stamina and Cheerful Determination Racing?” Because it’s not really just about enduring. (And don’t go trying to tell me that someone’s already solved this problem by inventing the word “randonneuring,” because that’s just a French word for “riding around with a lot of luggage and pretending you’re not lost.”)
Or at least, that was my perspective until last Saturday.
A Fateful Decision
The IT Guy — The Hammer’s 21-year-old son — has been riding with The Hammer and me a lot lately. That’s because he’s signed up to race the Leadville 100 this August. His first big endurance race.
Last week, for example, he rode Camel Pass. And here he is with The Hammer the weekend before last as we did a mini version of a local epic road ride affectionately known as The Gauntlet (The mini version has “only 78.6 miles / 10,800 feet of climbing; the ultimate version has 96.5 miles / 20,000 feet of climbing).
So, you know, he’s been doing a little bit of riding. We have high hopes for him finishing at Leadville.
And with just a few weeks ’til the Leadville 100, we decided it was time to take him out to do a mountain bike ride that really simulated what he’d be experiencing in Leadville: the Pole Line to Guardsman to Corner Canyon loop.
The Hammer and I had ridden it once before, on July 4. It’s a beautiful ride.
Anyway, the ride’s physically demanding, but not technical. Like Leadville.
There’d be multiple sustained climbs — about 13,800′ worth of climbing throughout the day.
Not too different from Leadville.
And, importantly, there’s one particular beast of a climb — Guardsman Pass — that gets in your head the same way Leadville’s Columbine Mine climb does. Nearly 4000 feet of climbing in under nine miles will do that to you.
Especially that one little section that’s at a 23% grade.
Differences Make a Difference
But The Hammer and I didn’t bring The IT Guy on this ride to shake his confidence. The fact of the matter is, The IT Guy is riding strong; we figured he was ready for this challenge.
But some things had changed since the last time The Hammer and I had done this ride. First, it had gotten warm. Here’s a self-portrait near the summit of Guardsman Pass on July 4:
Now, I didn’t take any photos when we took The IT Guy on this ride just 20 days later, but you’ll have to take my word for it: there is no longer any snow. Because whereas the first time The Hammer and I did this ride the high temperature was 80.6(F), last Saturday it got a little bit warmer.
OK, it got to 109.4(F). But it was a dry heat, and it’s not like we were toiling up a 15% grade on mountain bikes at the time. OK, maybe it was a little like that.
A Quick Aside
Have you noticed that about 35% of all photos of people on the Internet are self portraits with one shoulder in the foreground as they try to point the camera at themselves? The thing about those photos is, they all look a lot alike. Specifically, a head and shoulders shot of a smiling person, getting in the way of the subject matter the smiling person wanted a photo of. For example, here’s a picture of me when I was visiting my sisters in Brooklyn:
And here’s a shot of me on a beach in Hawaii:
Oh, and me visiting the Late Cretaceous period:
And here’s me hanging out with NYC Carlos at the Davis LiveStrong Challenge a couple weeks ago:
I tell you what: I need to start varying my smile in these self-portraits a little bit. Also, I seem to have sprouted an extra ear in that last photo. I’ll have to see the doctor about that.
OK. Where was I? Oh yeah. The IT Guy. Differences. Impending doom.
The Other Differences
So it was hot. Fine. The other thing that had changed quite a bit in the past few weeks is that the mosquitoes are hungry now. And so are the deer flies, which are just as annoying as mosquitoes. On the bright side, though, a deer fly bite hurts only 280% as much as a mosquito bite.
They’d leave you alone, mostly, as long as you kept riding. Stop for even a second, though, and they would commence to seeing how much of you they could eat before you swatted at them.
Finally, I’m pretty sure this might have been — by a fair margin — objectively the hardest, climbiest ride the IT Guy had ever been on.
The IT Guy Puts the Endure in Endurance
The IT Guy had not had a great day to start with. For one thing, he’s not an early riser type, and we had set a start time of 5:45am, in order to beat the heat as much as possible. Next, a deer had committed suicide by jumping into The IT Guy’s truck’s grill as he drove to The Hammer’s and my house.
Then, just a couple hours into the ride, a squirrel had tried to cut off its own tail by jumping into The IT Guy’s spinning spokes.
He (The IT Guy, not the squirrel) was exhausted. His feet hurt. It was outrageously hot, even high up in the mountains. He had run out of water (and was too proud to ask for some, in spite of the fact that I still had half a camelbak of water, a full bottle of CarboRocket, and a full bottle of Mountain Dew with me).
But really, it was the insects that pushed him over the edge.
“This is the stupidest, worst, $%&^!ing ride in the whole world!” said The IT Guy. “I don’t want to $%^%#@@ing ride this @#$^#%$ing bike any more!”
I looked at The Hammer. Was The IT Guy kidding around? I hadn’t ever seen this side of him. The fact is, The IT Guy could just as easily have the nickname, “The Guy Who Is Always Nice to Everyone and Is Constantly Doing Everything for Everyone.”
But that would be kind of a long nickname.
The Hammer shook her head. The IT Guy was not kidding around.
He wanted to bail out. He wanted to quit.
A Mother’s Love
As a guy, I tend to not get involved in other guys’ decisions. It’s the guys’ way: Hey, I’m out here having fun; if you’re not having fun, go somewhere that’s more fun for you.
The Hammer, on the other hand, is The IT Guy’s mother. “You are not going home,” she said. “You are finishing this ride.”
The IT Guy did not want to finish the ride.
“You are finishing the ride,” said The Hammer, with the full force of a woman whose nickname is “The Hammer.”
I stood by, enjoying watching one incredibly strong, willful person contending with her incredibly strong, willful progeny.
Eventually, he conceded to the following extent. “I’ll keep going, but not if you keep waiting for me.”
“Deal,” I said, before The Hammer could say anything.
As we rode ahead, The Hammer looked at me and I said, “Don’t worry, we aren’t going to leave him.”
Sometimes Endurance Riding is Enduring the Ride
The IT Guy finished the ride. He didn’t enjoy it. He didn’t go fast. Sometimes he walked. But he finished it.
Which was a good reminder to me.
The fact is, I have been riding a long time (since before The IT Guy was old enough to ride a bike), and right now I’m in maybe the best biking shape I have ever been in. 100 mile rides — road or mountain bike — are currently not a big deal. So it’s been a while since we’ve experienced what The IT Guy experienced last Saturday.
I had forgotten that there’s something incredibly satisfying in hitting a wall, then hauling yourself over it. Pretty, no. Satisfying, yes.
It was nice to be reminded that “endurance” rides can — and maybe even should — be about enduring.