A Note from Fatty: This is part 3 in my writeup of this year’s Rockwell Relay: Moab to St. George, a 516-mile road bike relay race across the beautiful Southern Utah canyon lands and desert. Part 1 of the story is here. Part 2 of the story is here.
Before I continue with the telling of how our race went, I want to talk about a couple of things fundamental to any race: time and food.
The Oddness of Time
During this race, time seemed to progress so strangely. After each of my legs of the race, I always thought to myself, “Good, I have three legs of the race now — hours and hours — to recover.”
But then you’re busy crewing and spectating and cheering and in no time at all, it’s your turn again.
The second way time was odd had to do with how simultaneously short and long the race day was. We had been racing since 8:00 this morning, and had just finished going through one race rotation for our team. In a way, it still felt like it ought to be morning, like we had been racing for no time at all.
But it wasn’t morning; we were well into the afternoon. In fact, the sun would set and night would come on during Kenny’s next racing leg.
Simultaneously, as the race wore on, time seemed to stretch out. I’d lose track of how long we had been out there (is it Friday? Saturday? Something else?), as if we had never been doing anything but this race.
After a while, I got so I stopped even worrying about what day it was or what time it was. All that mattered was taking care of the person who was racing, and getting prepared for when it was my turn to race again.
It was both surreal and wonderful.
Food and Rest
In yesterday’s post’s comment section, Roan had a great question:
What do you guys do to recover a little on your idle legs? Sure I know you are crewing & driving too. But is there any slack time for the next rider? What diet? What are the fine points?
On our team, the person who just finished racing a leg was always given at least an hour or two without any race responsibilities. They just got to relax in the van, either sitting or climbing into the bed and sleeping.
And — more than anything else — getting caught up on eating and drinking. What we each ate and drank, though, really depended on the rider.
At about the halfway point for the current race leg, the person who would be racing next would trade places with the person who had just raced, and would have time to dress, eat, drink, and otherwise prepare for their next leg. (As I write this, it sounds like this was some kind of cleverly planned rotation strategy, but in reality it just naturally flowed and worked out this way.)
All of us, I know, would drink a ton of water after each of the day legs. There wasn’t any strategy behind this; it was just that our bodies craved it after being out there in the heat for so long (especially Lisa’s and Heather’s first laps, where they were riding 50+ miles in 100+-degree weather against a headwind).
Most (if not all) of us also loved having a Coke right after finishing a race leg. And salty food like chips.
For food, The Hammer and I had bought four footlong club sandwiches from a Subway sandwich store the night before the race began, having them hold the mayo and mustard (so the sandwiches wouldn’t get all soggy and salmonella-y). After each leg, I’d eat a third of one of these sandwiches.
Kenny and Heather had a similar strategy, except instead of Subway sandwiches, they had bought a couple of pizzas (from Paradox Pizza in Moab — great place to eat if you’re visiting Moab) the night before the race, and were eating that before and after their race legs.
During the race legs, all of us tended to drink a lot of water and sports drink, and eat Honey Stinger Waffles and Energy Chews. We’re all big fans of Honey Stinger (and in this case, we were eating ones I had purchased at REI just before the race, so it’s not like we like them just because I sometimes get them for free).
OK, let’s get back to the story.
I knew we’d be busy when we got to the Exchange after Heather’s first leg.
This Exchange point was at the Hollow Mountain gas station in Hanksville, and was important for several reasons:
- It was the last Exchange point we’d have in the light, so was a good time to set lights up on our bikes.
- It was a good place to buy ice and water, which was good because we were all out.
- There was a restaurant there, so we could buy a hot meal (to go, obviously).
As we waited for Heather to come in, I took care of setting up lights for The Hammer and me, while Kenny set up his bike and got ready to go.
The Hammer, meanwhile, went and bought ice and water to replenish our ice chests and water cooler, then went into the diner — Blondies — and ordered a burger and a chicken sandwich.
Then a few things happened all at once:
- Heather rolled in to the Exchange point, so it was time for Kenny to take off.
- Kenny discovered that he had forgotten to fill his bottles, so had nothing to drink — and it was still 90+ degrees outside.
- Lisa ran out of the diner, telling me I had to come inside; there were some people wanting to meet me.
I figured the people at the diner could wait; I needed to get Kenny a bottle. But Kenny took off, yelling over his shoulder, “Just bring me a bottle as soon as you can!”
My heart sank, because I knew that would be a while; I remembered from last year at this Exchange point that Blondies isn’t a place you go for fast service, and The Hammer had already ordered.
So — leaving Heather to fend for herself, post-race — I quickly finished setting up lights for The Hammer’s and my next race legs, loaded the bikes, and then went into the diner (the food had not yet arrived).
And met Barb — a longtime Friend of Fatty — and her entourage, all of whom were on a cool biking tour in Utah.
As I enjoyed talking with these people, I was simultaneously wondering, “I wonder if Kenny’s died of thirst yet,” and “How long is this food going to take to arrive, anyway?”
Then — finally! — the food arrived, I said a quick “Gotta dash, we have a teammate who is probably dying on the side of the road of heat stroke right now,” and bolted out the door.
Joined at the Hip
Luckily for us, Kenny was still very much alive by the time we caught up to him, though he seemed exceptionally grateful to get a bottle of ice-cold water from us.
As it had turned out, it had actually been a fantastic race strategy for Heather to wait for Troy from Team Control4.com as she came in to the Exchange point (see the end of yesterday’s post if you don’t know what I’m talking about), because that meant Kenny — our fastest guy — and Team Control4.com’s fastest guy would start together and — just like in their first race leg — work together for the entire leg of the race.
And since this was a truly brutal leg with an extraordinarily harsh headwind, working together made them each much faster than if they had started out on their own.
Each time I got out of the van to cheer Kenny on, the wind would about knock me off my feet and I’d think to myself, “I am so glad I am not racing this leg.”
Then I thought ahead to my own race leg, coming up next, and wondered if — like the previous two legs of the race — I’d be trading pulls against a tough headwind with Team Control4.com.
It seemed probable.
My Second Leg
The sun set and the dark set in during Kenny’s second leg, which reminded us of how much the wind had affected our race this year; last year the sun hadn’t set until I was out on my second leg. We weren’t worrying about that, though; everyone else was being slowed by the wind, too.
We got to the Torrey Exchange, where I got out my bike, clipped a blinking red light to my jersey pocket, put on a reflective belt, and strapped on my helmet (with the battery in my jersey pocket), now sporting my beloved NiteRider Pro 1400 LED light setup.
The next rider from Control4.com and I stood at the Exchange point, waiting for our respective riders to come in. As we did, a local cyclist offered some valuable advice.
“You’re about to do the ride we all do as our big climbing ride,” he said. “The climbing goes up to mile marker 108.”
“Mile marker 108. Got it,” I said. “Thanks, that’s incredibly helpful information.”
Then Kenny came in and the racer from Team Control4.com (sorry I don’t know your name, other racer!) and I took off.
I figured I’d take the first pull and rode hard, trying to set a good fast tempo for us to do together, all the while keeping an eye out for the left turn I had blown by last year.
There were two markers for this turn this time (The day after the race, Dan — the race director — told me in fact that those were just for me), and I made the turn without trouble.
But I took the opportunity of this turn to look back, and the guy from Control4.com was nowhere to be found.
So I was on my own again.
How come nobody likes riding with me?
I am Very Snotty
I rode hard on this very climby section (39 miles, 3442 feet of climbing) of the race, and within a half hour or so of starting had caught and dropped another rider.
The night cooled down, and I pulled up my armwarmers.
I watched the mile markers as they went by, counting down toward 108. “Wow,” I thought to myself. “The climbing won’t last as long as I remember for this leg. I’ll be finished with the climbing by the time I’ve ridden sixteen miles.”
The climbing started in earnest. I stood up and started going as hard as I could up the mountain. It was cold out, but I was heating up.
Which caused a kind of interesting reaction.
Specifically, I was sweating hard, but my nose was running from the cold. This all mixed together to form what I like to call a “snotulum” — a dangling mucous rope — hanging from the tip of my nose.
Swinging, back and forth, in time to my pedal cadence. Growing longer and longer as I rode.
Six inches long! Now eight! When — if, indeed, ever — will it snap and fall to the ground?
When I could sit for a moment, I’d wipe the snotulum off onto my gloves. Until my gloves got soaked, at which point I’d wipe the snotulum off onto my armwarmers.
This fix, however, was the most temporary of all possible temporary fixes. A new snotulum would replace the wiped-off one within moments.
Passers-by stared, transfixed with horror.
Not the Top
I continued to count off the miles, pleased that within a few more minutes I’d be reaching the 108 mile marker, and therefore the summit.
And then the team rolled up alongside me for the first time since I had begun this leg (I had told them before to take their time loading the van at the Exchange; I wouldn’t need support for a while).
“I only have a few more miles to climb!” I shouted, ebulliently.
The Hammer, who was leaning out the passenger window, looked doubtful, but handed me a new bottle and some Energy Chews.
She probably also stared in revulsion at my snotulum. As would anyone.
A few moments later, they pulled alongside again. “You have eleven more miles of climbing!” The Hammer called.
“No, just three!” I called back. “The local guy I talked with said mile marker 108 is the summit!”
“He’s wrong,” The Hammer called back. “You don’t hit the summit ’til you’ve been riding 24 miles.”
Who should I trust in this situation: the local who gave me a very specific mile marker? Or my wife.
“OK, eleven miles of climbing,” I called back, glad I had found this out and had a chance to mentally recalibrate before I hit mile marker 108.
And of course, The Hammer was right. Mile marker 108 actually was a place where a false summit happens. Maybe the local really thought that’s the summit and does turn around.
Or maybe he was having a little joke at my expense.
Either way, I now knew I’d be climbing ’til the true summit at mile marker 100.
Carrots and More Carrots
The next time the van pulled alongside me, I asked them to go on up ahead ’til they came across the next rider, then time how long it was ’til I got to that point. I wanted to know whether I had a shot at catching anyone else during this leg of the race.
Several minutes later, I saw them parked at the side of the road.
“You’re just two minutes behind the next racer,” The Hammer called, “and three minutes behind the one after that!”
Which was everything I needed to know.
It’s weird how you can be absolutely certain that you are going your very hardest, but then upon discovering there’s a chance you’ll catch another racer, find it within yourself to go much harder.
I don’t know how long it took me to catch my two-minute guy, but I did catch him. By which time I could see the red blinking light of my three-minute guy (a member of Ryan’s Life Time Fitness team), and I somehow found it within myself to catch him, too.
“Want to work together?” he asked.
“Just try to hang on,” I replied. Which probably sounds kind of arrogant, but I didn’t mean it that way.
OK, maybe I meant it that way a little. But I was feeling incredible pride. In spite of the fact that I’m riding heavy this year (still in the 170s for crying out loud), I passed four people on this leg of the race, putting more than half an hour into our frenemy team, Control4.com.
Oh Yes Indeed It’s Fun Time (Fun Time, Fun Time)
At mile 100 — just as The Hammer had said would happen — I hit the real summit of Boulder pass. My team quickly got me into a windbreaker for the fast descent ahead of me and I got rolling again.
The whole way down, I could not stop laughing. It was such a fun, fast, open descent. Big wide turns you don’t have to brake for. Nice road. The oddness of doing this in the dead of night. It was just a pleasure.
My NiteRider light setup was so powerful I had no trouble seeing everything around me, plus I had our team van ahead of me, just to make sure there weren’t any deer that might want to jump right in front of me at the last moment.
And a good thing, too, because they had to stop, honk and yell at one deer that looked like it was ready to make a kamikaze jump right into me.
The only downside to this technique was that I pulled into the Exchange only seconds after the rest of the Team did, so The Hammer had to unload her bike before she could take off. Since, however, she was otherwise dressed and ready to go, this was not exactly a big loss — a couple minutes, tops.
Once again, The Hammer had a huge ride ahead of her: 56.6 miles, and 3061 feet of climbing. Into a headwind that continued to grow worse and worse, through the very darkest part of night.
Which is where I’ll pick up (and maybe I’ll even finish?) the story tomorrow.
PS: Notice how the number of photos dropped off pretty drastically when the night legs began?