A Note from Fatty About Tomorrow’s Post: Last week when I published the interview I did with Levi Leipheimer, I thought to myself, “I’d be really interested in knowing that rice cake recipe he’s talking about.” So I contacted Dr. Allen Lim and asked him if he’d write a guest post, sharing it with us, and maybe give us some tips on how to eat while riding without getting gross stomach issues. Allen said he’d be happy to, and so will be guest posting tomorrow. He’s then going to join us for a live chat here tomorrow at 4:00pm (ET) / 1:00pm (PT) for a couple hours. It’ll be an awesome chance to ask questions and get advice about nutrition for cyclists from the top expert in the field. Check out Allen’s book at feedzonecookbook.com.
A Note from Fatty About My Book: I still have copies of Comedian Mastermind: The Best of FatCyclist.com, 2005-2007 for sale. If you buy it now, chances are — if you’re in the US — still very good it’ll get to you before Christmas. Click here for more info, or to buy. This page now has shipping options for people who want to buy the book outside the US. Not cheap options, but options.
One Last Note from Fatty About the Fat Cyclist Holiday T-shirts: There are still a few of the FatCyclist Holiday long-sleeve t-shirts available, in men’s Small, Medium, and Large sizes. Women’s-sized shirts have (
almost) sold out, but men’s-sized shirts work just fine for women– just go down one size from what you’d get in women’s sizing. For example, if you’d get a women’s Large, get a men’s Medium. Click here to buy.
The Ultimate Race Format: The Race of Uncertainty
A week or so ago, when I talked about running in Titus Canyon, I left something out. Something important. I left out the degree to which The Hammer had exposed my personal anti-superpower. When she proposed, cheerfully, that we up the mileage of the run we were currently doing, she had, for all intents and purposes, pulled out a fist-sized Kryptonite nugget and rammed it down my super-gullet.
When I’m suffering — whether I’m on a bike or running — the most certain way to kick my knees out from under me (apart from, you know, actually kicking my knees out from under me) is to change the plan. Because then, my carefully constructed and protected mindset is upended. The way I’ve divided the race up into manageable portions — thereby keeping me sane and strong — is suddenly destroyed.
Instantly, I go from a strong, focused endurance athlete to a total mess. I am not fun to be with when that happens.
But, plodding along in Titus Canyon, trying to assemble a new and acceptable reality where I would be running fourteen miles instead of thirteen, I had an epiphany: this mental brittleness I have about running (and, to a much lesser extent, about riding), is a form of weakness. And I suspect that it’s a fairly common kind of weakness.
And what do endurance cyclists like more than a race that challenges weakness? What do cyclists like more than a race that identifies something you are not good at, and forces you to become good at it?
The correct answer to those questions, for most cyclists I’ve ever met, is either “beer” or “chocolate milk,” but that’s not really where I was heading with my hyperbole. What I really wanted you to focus on is the fact that we cyclists kind of like to meet our weaknesses head-on.
Or at least, we like to imagine ourselves liking that. When we’re actually confronting our weaknesses, experience suggests we may not like it all that much.
Enough. Let’s move on.
As I climbed to the newly-agreed-upon turnaround point, and as my right achilles tendon began aching more and more, I began formulating what I believe may be the ultimate bike racing challenge, The Race of Uncertainty.
What Is The Race of Uncertainty?
The most important thing to know about The Race of Uncertainty is that you just don’t know what’s going to happen. Until it’s too late to do anything about it, you won’t know whether your race will be on mountain bikes or road (so bring both).
You won’t know how long the race will be. Oh sure, you will be given some rough parameters, so you will know how much time to take off work. But it could go for 50 miles. Or maybe 100. Or maybe some people will go 30, while others go 150.
You just won’t know.
You won’t even have more than a general idea of where it’s going to start. Or what your course is. You just show up at an agreed-upon point at an agreed-upon time, where the race director tells you where the starting line is, and that you have a reasonable time to get there, before the race starts.
So if you’ve been planning on a 100 mile road race and have been training and tapering accordingly, maybe that’s going to work for you. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe you should should have focused more on your sprinting. Or your big-hit descending. Or your barrier jumping.
Maybe you should be ready for anything. And to not be surprised when that “anything” changes, multiple times during the race.
You show up at your local bike shop at 5:00am on Saturday. You’ve got both a road and mountain bike on your car rack. A notice is posted in the shop window. “The race begins at 8:00am. MTB.” And it gives the name and GPS coordinates for a well-known trailhead.
You get there with an hour to spare, plenty of time to pack your Camelbak with a lot of food and water, not to mention lights, tools, and some survival gear. You don’t know which part of it you’ll need.
Then, at 7:30am, the gun goes off. The race has begun half an hour early. You weren’t ready for this and were in fact locking your car up at that moment, but you only lose a minute or so. Just think about all those poor riders, though, who were sitting on a port-throne when that gun went off. Or the guys who went for breakfast. That’s going to be a rough way to start the race for them.
Not your problem.
You motor along for the first couple miles of the race, moving up the field as you climb up the jeep road. Then it comes to a fork. One road goes up; the other stays pretty much level. The fork in the road is well-marked; the problem is that arrows point in both directions.
Looks like you’re going to have to make a choice.
Figuring that if you choose wrong you’ll at least have a downhill return trip, you veer right and begin climbing. After going for about 1.5 miles, you see another racer, coming around a bend, heading towards you.
“What’s up?” You ask, hoping to learn what’s ahead.
“You get turned around about a quarter mile ahead,” the guy replies.
“Thanks,” you reply, pulling an immediate U-turn. No point in following this trail any farther (you will find out after the race that at the U-turn spot there was a volunteer who handed racers coupons good for subtracting ten minutes from their finishing time, something the other racer did not feel obligated to tell you).
As you head back to the intersection, you encounter other riders heading on. As a helpful, friendly person with a sense of fair play, you signal a U-turn. Some heed your advice. Others suspect your motives and / or your correctness and continue on.
Back at the junction, you now take the left road. It narrows to singletrack and rolls along nicely for twelve miles or so, after which you arrive at the first aid station.
You continue on; you have plenty of food and don’t need anything yet. You look back, however, and notice that the guy behind you — who did stop — has had his bike taken away and has been handed a largish cube of Velveeta cheese.
You’re pretty sure he won’t get to ride again until he finishes eating that cheese.
Ten minutes later though, another volunteer, standing in the middle of the trail, puts out a hand for you to stop, and hands you a pair of dice. “Roll,” he says.
You roll a nine.
“Sorry,” he says. “You have to wait one minute, then you can roll again.”
On your next roll, you get a twelve. You wait another minute, then roll a two.
“Oooh, snake eyes,” says the volunteer, sympathetically. “You have to wait two minutes for that one.”
The racer who was eating a block of Velveeta approaches and rolls to a stop. He does not look well. “One dice roller at a time,” the volunteer says, and waves the other guy through.
Your blood begins to boil.
Finally, you roll a seven. “Have a good race,” the volunteer says, stepping aside.
By now you’re really beginning to feel picked on, but you know that you’ve just had a run of bad luck. Still, you’re worried when — about five miles later — you come to a volunteer at an intersection.
“Your bike is red,” says the volunteer, “and I’m pleased to tell you that all red bikes get to turn right here, which shortcuts about one mile off the course.”
Never have you been so glad to have purchased a red bike.
Ninety minutes later you pull up to an aid station, glad for the chance to refill your bottles.
“Sorry,” the volunteer manning the station says. “This is a decoy aid station. There’s no drink here, and the only food we have is PowerBars from 2004.”
You decline, but you’re starting to get pretty thirsty. Luckily, there’s a sign up ahead: “Next Aid Station: 2 Miles.” You glance at your bike computer.
Two miles go by. No aid station. Then, after another mile, you see another sign: “Next Aid Station: 2 Miles.”
And then, one mile later, there’s the aid station. And at this one, they’re offering made-to-order sandwiches. And ice cream cones.
After filling up, you ride for the next hour, during which time you notice that the weather has started changing. The wind has begun blowing, clouds are darkening, and you’re pretty sure it’s going to rain.
Sure enough, there’s a volunteer where the single track intersects a paved road. “There’s a severe weather warning,” he says, “so we’re having to shorten the course. Turn right here, and you’ll be directed to a junction where the return track picks up. You’ve got about fifteen miles to the finish.”
Dutifully, you turn, although you’re not so naive that you believe the course has actually been shortened. Surely you’ll be redirected soon.
But as you ride and follow the course markings, it becomes clearer and clearer: You’re getting close to the start/finish line.
You pick up the pace. You long ago stopped having any idea of how you’re doing in this race, but you’re glad to be nearing the finish.
As you get closer, you can hear the crowd cheering. You can see the finish line now, and it doesn’t look like there are many cyclists there. Maybe you’re in first!
You’ve been out for four hours, and while you feel like you probably could have gone another hour or so — you’ve been good about conserving energy — you’re excited to be crossing the finish line before the rain starts coming down hard.
You break into a sprint, giving it everything you’ve got. You cross the finish line, put down your feet, and breathe hard.
A volunteer walks over with a medal. But instead of putting it around your neck, she says, “Congratulations!…you’ve finished the first lap.”
So you go and do another lap.
When you arrive, a volunteer congratulates you, notes that it’s starting to get dark, and asks, “Do you have lights?”
“Yeah,” you reply, “I brought lights.”
“Good,” the volunteer says. “People who brought lights have to do a third lap.”
“You mean you’re going to punish me for being prepared?” You ask, incredulous.
“What makes you think this is a punishment?” the volunteer asks.
Grumbling, you set your lights up, and do the third lap. By the time you pull in, you are pretty much certain that you are the absolute last person to have finished this race.
“You’re the last one in,” the race director says, welcoming you across the finish line. “What’s your total mileage?”
“78.8 miles” you say, barely. Completely beat.
“That’s the most mileage of anyone,” the race director notes. “Which means you won.”
“What?” you ask.
“For this particular race, we’re using distance, not time, as the winning metric. You won.”
Strangely, though, that knowledge doesn’t make you any less tired. But you have learned to ride — and continue riding — in the face of uncertainty.
When I first started this post last night, it was just a silly fantasy. But I’ve had some time to think about it and you know what? I would love to be in this kind of race. Or maybe even put this race on. Corner Canyon would actually be a very easy place to put on a Race of Uncertainty, because there are a lot of connecting trails.
I’m curious: if you had a chance, would you participate in a Race of Uncertainty?