Here’s a question to ponder instead of doing whatever it is that you ought to be doing right now:
There have to be reasons, right? Because you’re paying to do it. I don’t know what your reasons are (though you should feel free to tell me in the comments section), but I race to see if I can make myself go faster than I normally would. Or even could.
I race to see if I’m faster (or, often, slower) than I was the last time I did an identical race.
I race, every once in a while, to win — or at least try to get on a podium.
I race to be with other people who like the energy of a race.
But all that’s pretty general. For a specific race, there needs to be something specific that draws you to it. And the Moab to St. George Rockwell Relay — which Lisa, Heather, Kenny and I raced as a team for the first time last year — has some things about it that really draw me in. That make me not just enjoy the race, but love the whole experience.
So, fair warning: I love this race, and I loved this edition of this race. My storytelling may gush a bit. Feel free to roll your eyes as often as necessary.
The Night Before
It may surprise you to find that I like bratwurst. But only if you’ve never really read my blog before.
It may also come as a surprise to you (if you’ve never met me before or have never read my blog) to find that I like to talk and exchange ideas. If someone asks me for ideas, I’ll usually give them ideas.
It may further surprise you to find that I’m a cheerful, enthusiastic person who likes to jump in and do stuff.
As a result, when — probably as a courtesy — Tyler S with the Rockwell Relay called, asking for ideas on how to improve the race, I said, “Everyone else does pasta feeds before big races. You should do something unique: serve brats. I’ll even be in charge of grilling them.”
“Where would we get the brats?” asked Tyler.
“I’ve got a connection for that,” I replied, remembering that I had exchanged email once or twice with guys from Colosimo’s about two years ago.
So I introduced the guys from the Rockwell Relay to the guys at Colosimo’s Sausage, and within a few hours I was all signed up to work the grill during the pre-race dinner / packet pickup.
And I have to say: I loved it.
For one thing, it put me in exactly the right kind of place for me at a party or picnic: staying busy. I am not great at just standing around. I need something to keep me occupied.
Here I am, for example, with both hands occupied:
It also put The Hammer and me in an easy spot to talk with people as they picked up their packets. For people who had done the race before, we could talk about last year’s event. For the large number of people who were new to the race (registration for the 2012 event grew by more than 50%), I could give them all kinds of valuable advice on how to race.
Here I am with one of the teams that raced in 2011 and came back in 2012 for more:
You know how many times I’ve been asked whether I’ve reserved the domain ShortCyclist.com? Plentysix times, that’s how many.
At The Starting Line
About an hour and a half after when we said we were going to close the grill and packet pickup, we actually did, then headed to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.
The next morning at the starting line, I discovered — to both my amazement and delight — that one of my nieces was also doing the race — and that she had taken on the hardest race position (racer 1). The moment called for a cameraphone portrait, to text to my sister / her mom:
With just five minutes ’til the race began, we got someone to snap the obligatory Team Fatty pre-race photo, which captured the last time we would look well-rested and lucid and stuff for what seems like several days:
Just in case you were wondering why I’m dressed like it’s cold outside while everyone else is dressed like it’s summer and already hot outside, I have a very reasonable explanation:
It’s because I’m dumb.
We didn’t plan which of the FatCyclist jerseys to wear on which laps, the result being that we all always looked like a rolling museum of FatCyclist.com wear.
Oh, and if you look closely, you can see an important equipment difference between this year and last year: Kenny was riding a road bike with gears.
Hey, we had a “Coed team champ” title to defend, and we were taking it waaay more seriously than we would have liked to admit.
Kenny Goes First: The Race Begins
Everyone was really happy with the legs of the course they raced last year, so we all kept the same legs. Which meant Kenny first, me second, The Hammer third, and Heather fourth.
The race started, and Kenny took off like . . . Kenny. Which is to say, he took off very, very fast, while the rest of us were happy to ride the couple of “parade” miles at a dawdler’s pace. Hey, we had our own hard riding to do soon enough; we weren’t about to bust a move when it didn’t count.
Then, with Kenny gone, we rode our bikes into town, picked up our race vehicle, went to the grocery store to pick up half a dozen bags of ice to go in various ice chests, and then out toward Monticello to start support.
A Quick Aside About The Race Routine
With the experience of last year’s race under our belts, we settled into our race routine quickly. One person would drive. The person in the passenger seat was in charge of preparing and handing off drinks, as well as being the main cheerleader for the current racer.
And the third person — usually the person who had just finished a leg, but in this case the person (me) who would be racing the next leg.
We’d leapfrog the racer, pull off the side of the road, climb out, and cheer. Once the racer went by, we’d pile back into the van, ask the racer what s/he wanted as we drew alongside, then dropped back to grab the requested stuff: usually a drink (water or sports drink) and / or food. We’d then catch up, gather any spent bottles or wrappers, and then hand off the new supplies.
No seconds wasted.
Which leads to one of the things everyone on the team loved about this race: you’re engaged in what’s happening all the time. You’re either racing, driving, supporting, recovering, or suiting up for your next leg.
And almost always, we were talking about how the race was going.
I don’t think I was bored during this race, ever.
Back to Kenny
Kenny’s first leg told us some very important things about the race. First of all, it told us that of the 25 or so new teams in the race, at least 15 of them were very serious about racing it fast. Whereas last year when we raced we were never in worse than fifteenth place (overall), this year Kenny quickly found there were some really fast guys racing the first leg.
Which meant that, overall, we were in about 25th place.
“Well, we don’t really know which — if any — of these racers are in the coed division,” we observed, since there were no women racing leg 1 that were ahead of Kenny.
So how were we doing? We just didn’t know.
But we’d figure it out soon enough. Or at least we’d think we had it figured out.
Meet the Ultimate Bikemobile
OK, now for another quick aside. I’d like to present Kenny and Heather’s Dodge Sprinter van, customized to be the ultimate bikemobile: easy bike storage for four bikes, a bed over the bike storage area, a bench seat in back, and still plenty of floor space for ice chests, bags of bike clothes, and bins of food.
From the outside, it looks like your run-of-the-mill van, the kind you’d expect to see hauling dry cleaning around, or parked across the street from a suspected mob lair:
But check out how deluxe-ly roomy our ride was, especially compared to the minivan we drove (my 2001 Honda Odyssey) last year:
Here, Heather’s showing she has room for full leg extension. Behind her, you can see all our bikes, some mounted on fork mounts, some hanging from hooks. All easy to get to. Above that is the bed, which meant we all got to get in an hour or two of sleep during the race — an incredible luxury.
The Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Wheel Change
There was a paceline of twelve up front, a lone rider in-between, a group of eleven next, and then Kenny’s paceline of three. Riding 54 miles, with around 4100 feet of climbing.
Against a fierce headwind.
And then Kenny’s rear tire started going soft. Soon it would be flat.
“Get ready to swap out Heather’s rear wheel for mine!” Kenny yelled as we went by. So we drove forward a quarter mile, stopped, and I got out Heather’s bike and had the wheel off by the time Kenny pulled up.
Quickly — but shaking with adrenaline — Kenny got the old wheel off, and I put the new one on.
But the cranks wouldn’t turn when Kenny got back on.
So he got back off and took another look.
Oh, that’s the problem — the chain wasn’t threading properly through the rear derailleur. A quick tug fixed that problem and he was gone.
In only about 10X the amount of time a pro would do it, we had Kenny off and riding again.
Kenny’s First Finish
About ten miles before a racer on our team will arrive at their designated exchange point, our team waves goodbye and drives on up ahead, so the next racer can get their bike out, get dressed, use the bathroom, and so forth.
We got to the Exchange point in Monticello without trouble — having already done this race made finding Exchange points so much easier — and I got all suited up. I wanted to ride at my absolute limit — or maybe just a hair past that limit — for this leg, hoping to keep the placing Kenny had earned for us, or maybe even earn a couple places further up the field.
So I put in my Arriva Leo Bluetooth Headphones (Full Disclosure: I bought these online and got no special deal), planning to play music loud, nonstop, for my entire race leg.
This was time for rocking out and riding out of my skull. It weren’t no time for jibber-jabber.
And then the waiting began. Here, I’m looking up the road, expecting Kenny any moment.
Then Kenny came by, handed me the baton — a slap bracelet — and just about collapsed on the ground. He had really pushed himself hard.
Kenny had raced as strong as ever, but even so, he was considerably slower than he had been last year.
My First Turn
Kenny had ridden in with one other racer, and so it made perfect sense — especially considering the headwind — for me to stay with the counterpart to the competing racer that started the leg at the same time I did.
And that was my intent. Really it was.
But I tend to ride a little bit out of my head when I’m racing. Meaning I honestly do not exactly understand words anymore, and don’t think about anything except the question, “Can I push harder?”
So while I rode with the other racer for a mile or two, taking turns pulling, when we got to the first major climb I just stood up and attacked from the front, not thinking about strategy, not thinking about tactics, not thinking about cooperation.
Just thinking that the answer to my question was, “Yes. A lot harder.”
And that was the end of our cooperation.
Before long, I caught another guy, and dropped him similarly. Then I caught and dropped two guys who were working together.
I’m pretty sure they said something about working together, but I wasn’t listening to anything but My Chemical Romance and the question / answer session going on in my head. “Yep, you can still go harder,” was the answer.
If it weren’t a race, I guarantee you the answer would have been much different.
Although, come to think of it, it’s possible that they were just asking each other whether it was really possible they had just been passed by a guy who looks like this:
I wasn’t kidding when I said I’m Fit-Fat.
The team caught up with me. I assumed they were asking if I needed anything, although I couldn’t tell for sure, due to the wind noise, the music playing, and my inability to make sense of words when I am riding my hardest.
As it turns out, they were asking something completely different, so the vague “thumbs-up” gesture I hoped answered their question didn’t really give them the info they needed.
They went on ahead, so The Hammer could prepare for her first leg of the race, which was totally fine — I was doing great and wouldn’t need any more food or drink for the rest of the leg of my race.
And that’s when my calves both started cramping up. Hard.
So hard, in fact, that I became fascinated with the new shapes they were taking on. How is it my calves had become concave? Was it really possible they were going to split right down the middle?
Could they hurt any worse? I didn’t think so, and decided I’d better stop pedaling and stretch. But as I coasted to a stop, my calves proved to me that they could hurt very much more indeed.
So I switched to a new plan: don’t stop pedaling. Try to stretch while pedaling.
I slowed, drastically, but the pain eased off. And none of the people I had passed earlier ever came into sight.
With the pain fading away, I picked up speed again, now wishing I had had the presence of mind to take a photo of the truly freakish shapes my calves had twisted into. Next time, maybe.
Finally, toward the end of the leg, I dropped two more racers who were working together. And then one more guy on the last big climb.
All told, I caught and dropped seven people by the time I handed The Hammer the slap bracelet at the end of my leg. And none had passed me.
Sometimes, riding stupid and hard works out OK. Which is good for me, cuz sometimes that’s all I’ve got.