A Note from Fatty: For those of you who were expecting me to start my Breck Epic race report today, well, that will start really soon now. But not today. Because I choose to be mercurial, that’s why.
Another Note from Fatty: For those of you who were expecting me to talk about Lance’s decision not to not contest the USADA allegations against him, I’ve pretty much already said what I have to say. The only thing that is different now is that Lance isn’t going to spend a ton of time or money fighting this fight. That’s a personal decision and honestly I don’t have a dog in that fight. I will reiterate a few things, though, for the folks who might be wondering:
- I will continue to support and raise money for LiveStrong.
- I will continue to capitalize “LiveStrong” the way I do, because all-caps words draw an unfair amount of attention to themselves, making other words in the sentence feel resentful.
- I am not going to let my comments section become a debate podium or shouting match over Armstrong.
And now, on to today’s story.
(Less Than) One Month To Go
On September 22, The Hammer, The Swimmer, and I will be participating as a relay team in a very different, very interesting, and very hard triathlon: The Leadman Tri, in Bend, Oregon. I’ve talked about this race before, where I’ve described what makes it unusual: instead of going the usual “Iron” distances of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run, the Leadman Tri does things a little bit different:
- 5K swim (that’s about 3 miles)
- 223K Bike (that’s about 140 miles)
- 16.5K run (that’s about 13.6 miles)
If biking is your main thing, you can see the appeal: this is a serious endurance race with monster swim and bike distances . . . but with a much less brutal run.
I like it. I want to do it. And I think I can do pretty well at it. As long as I don’t have to do the actual swimming and running parts.
So I’ve talked with Life Time Fitness — the people putting on the Leadman Tri — and they’re putting on a contest, which they’re calling the “Faster than Fatty” challenge. It’s pretty easy to explain:
If you do the 250-mile version of the Leadman Tri — whether the whole thing or as part of a relay team, like I am — and your bike split is faster than mine, you get this otherwise unobtainable t-shirt:
And then, of course, you’ve got to actually be faster than I am in this race on September 22, less than a month from now.
And hey, even if you don’t beat me (and believe me, I do not intend to make it easy for you to beat me), we can still hang out. It’ll be awesome.
Team Fatty Gets Prepared
The Hammer, The Swimmer, and I don’t want to show up unprepared at the Leadman Tri — we want to have our transitions down cold. We want to to be fast. We want to be competitive.
We want, above all else, to not embarrass ourselves horribly and make Life Time Fitness wish they had never invited us to come play at their race.
And so — without looking at our calendar and noticing it would be exactly one week after we had been racing for seven straight days in Leadville and Breckenridge — we signed up as a Relay Team for the Utah Half, a half-iron distance triathlon in Provo, Utah (about 15 miles from where we live).
This would be a good chance for The Swimmer to get some experience swimming in open water. In fact, it would be her first open water swim, ever.
My leg of the race — 56.6 miles — would be my first race on this bike, as well as the third time I had ever been on it.
So, two days before the race, I went to Bountiful Bicycle and had Taylor — master Body Geometry fitter and extremely good guy in general — fit the bike for me.
The guy was thorough; the fitting took around four hours. (I’ll post a video of it soon.) By the time he was finished, the Shiv felt like it was mine, and I was both excited and scared to see how I’d do TT’ing for just over a half-century.
Saturday morning, 5:45 am. We showed up at the dock of Utah Lake. As I am before any race, I am not just nervous. I am keyed up. I am bouncing off the walls. Or I would be bouncing off the walls if we weren’t outdoors and there were walls to bounce off of.
I suggest we take a group self-portrait:
We are a very happy team.
Then the race director gives the most hilarious pre-race pep-talk ever (note: intentionally hilarious), where he said this race would come to be a defining moment for us and may well be regarded as the “meridian of our lives.” He ended by screaming at the top of his lungs and dashing his clipboard to the ground, smashing it to bits.
I like this guy.
The Swimmer then went and — for the first time ever — squirmed into her wetsuit:
It is not easy getting into those things. Believe me. Here I am, helping her get one of the arms to fit right:
I thought I was going to have to bring out the Jaws of Life.
Eventually, The Swimmer got so she felt reasonably OK in the suit, and even agreed to strike a heroic pose:
Really, how could we not win?
Since we were racing as a relay team, we were several waves back: all the elite racers and male age groupers went, then us (and Clydesdale and Athena racers), then us. Then the women age groupers.
That was fine by me. Hey, I didn’t have a strategy; I just wanted to see how we’d do.
The Swimmer got into the starting line for her wave and The Hammer and I could tell right away that she was good and confident: she had gone right to the front:
Trust me, she’s in there.
As soon as The Swimmer’s wave took off, I took off for the restroom, to use the bathroom (once again), as well as to get suited up. and ready to go for my wave. After all, I’d be riding in just half an hour or so.
And then, I stood in the transition area, waiting, while The Hammer stood on the dock, watching her little girl kick serious butt in the water.
Then, 37 minutes into the race, The Swimmer came out of the water, nearly impossible to see as she was surrounded by clydesdales:
She ran into the transition area, where I was waving my arms at her, so I’d be easy to see.
I needn’t have worried, really. The TT2 helmet I was wearing made me hard to miss.
The Swimmer stopped right in front of me, just as planned. I knelt down, removed the ankle bracelet containing the timing chip from her, and wrapped it on me:
Later, The Swimmer would have time to consider why she had ratcheted her goggles on so tight:
But now was not that time.
I got up, rolled the Shiv out of the transition area — so focused on the race now that I didn’t even spend a nanosecond considering the fact that somehow I had arrived at a place in my life where I was wearing a pointy helmet in absolute earnestness.
The Swimmer had put us in a podium position, and now It was my turn to race.
The Race of Truth
I want to be clear about this: I had no plan for how hard I should go out, how I should mete out my effort, how I should finish. I had never raced a road bike for 56 miles before, and certainly never TT’d that distance. Or any other distance, for that matter.
So I just started out with a Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gel under each leg gripper, and two more in jersey pockets, along with the half-liter of water the Shiv’s “Fuelsalage” onboard bladder holds. I figured that would be enough for at least most of the race, and I could always get more at the aid stations along the route.
I rode out of the parking lot, got past the first quick turn or two, and into the first reasonably long straight. With a deep breath, I leaned forward, grabbed the aero bars, spun my legs up to a good cadence, and then shifted up two gears.
“Check me out,” I said to myself. “I’m time trialing.”
And right away, I started passing people. That wasn’t too big of a surprise, because I wasn’t just starting in the relay, Clydesdale, and Athena wave. I was starting behind all the men age group waves.
That’s when it occurred to me: thanks to where we got started, I had a never-ending supply of carrots to chase.
I got as low as I could and went as hard as I could. I looked at my computer: 28mph.
Yes, 28mph. I was riding my bike — probably with a mild tailwind, but still — at twenty eight miles per hour. And I felt no need to slow down.
I passed more people, often fast enough that they must have wondered what was going on. I passed groups of people. I got so my favorite thing to do was yell “on your left!” to people who were currently passing other people.
I didn’t slow and talk to anyone. I was breathing fast and hard, and had no interest in words. I would nod slightly each time as I went by a person, because I didn’t want to be rude, but that was all.
Once I passed a person, I never considered them again. They just ceased to exist. Nobody — literally nobody re-passed (or, for that matter, passed the first time) me.
I was racing. Maybe more than ever before in my life, I was racing.
I turned, now facing into a headwind. I experimented with my head position and my back position. I could tell I had so much to learn to really cheat the wind, but at the same time, I could tell that when I got my head just right, the headwind felt weaker. The guy from Specialized who got me this helmet said that it’s the single most cost-effective way to improve your aero profile. Now, riding into a headwind and still blasting along at 23mph, I believed it.
I got to the first aid station. I didn’t need anything. I had plenty of gels, and had only barely touched my water.
“I love racing,” I thought to myself. I love seeing how fast I can make myself go. I love the empty mind it forces, the complete concentration that drives every single other thought out.
I neared the turnaround point of the out-and-back course, 28 miles into the race. I have seen remarkably few people on their return trip. I am still catching people; I feel incredible.
I hit the 25 mile mark in almost exactly one hour. It occurs to me: this is the fastest I have ever ridden a bike. 25mph, on average, for an hour.
And it occurs to me: I love this Specialized Shiv, and I love time trialing. I want more.
I turn around and start back. I am no longer passing people as often. I picture the race and the starting waves in my head and I can see why. The fastest people started 15 minutes before I did and are faster than I am anyway; I would never see them. The quite-fast people who started several minutes ahead of me were out of reach, too.
By now, I thought, I’ve caught and passed most of the people I would catch and pass.
And it was true. I rode the second half of the race mostly alone.
But I was still racing. Head low, body low. Trying to feel aero. Trying to keep my speed at or above 25mph.
But there are some problems with this.
The big one is corners; I’ve got to slow down for those, then ramp the speed back up after. I’m trying to get a sense for which corners I can stay in the aero bars for, and which I have to get in the brakes for. I err on the side of caution. This bike handles well — much better than I expected, having listened to Paul Sherwen talk for years about how awful TT bikes handle — but I am not willing to risk it.
The bigger problem is that I bungled three intersections. I’d see someone standing in the intersection holding an arm straight out — pointing left or right — and I’d see that as a sign that I should go in that direction.
In reality, though, the person in the intersection was stopping traffic by holding out an arm, so I could go straight through.
I screwed this up three times in one race. Realizing my mistake as the person in the intersection yelled at me that I was going the wrong way.
Two out of the three times, I brought another rider with me into the wrong turn.
I get back on the correct road, stand up to get back to speed, and I’m back in the aero bars. Flying again.
Over and over, I have to remind myself: “This isn’t real, you know. You need to remember that all these people you are passing and feeling so smug about have just finished a mile-point-something-long swim, while you haven’t. And more importantly, after they finish this bike ride they’re going to all go run half a marathon, while you change clothes and drink a Coke.”
And whenever I reminded myself of that, I’d take a moment to be impressed. I love bikes, not running or swimming. I don’t think I’ll ever make triathlon my thing. But I have to say, I admire the people who can — and want to — do all three sports in a race.
That said, this race was amazingly satisfying to me. I got to go as hard as I could, without any drafting or help from other racers. And I could tell, from the way I could no longer see anyone ahead of me for hundreds of yards, that I was not doing half-bad.
Then, maybe two miles from the finish, one person does re-pass me. “Good ride,” he says as he goes by.
And he was right.
I roll easy into the staging area, dismount, and run into the transition area, looking for The Hammer. The near-total lack of bikes on the racks tells me that I have ridden a good race:
I stand still while The Hammer moves the ankle bracelet with the timing chip to her own ankle. While she does this, I say something about having given it my all.
I have, too.
By my computer, I’ve done this 56.6 miles in around 2:19. I am absolutely certain that we are currently in the lead for the Relay division.
The Hammer takes off; it’s her turn now.
How does she always look so happy when she’s running?
I take a few minutes, just standing there, resting.
The first time I try to walk, unaided, I almost fall over.
My respect for those who do a half-Ironman by themselves goes up a couple notches.
The Hammer hasn’t been running a lot this summer. We’ve both been all about the bike. But she’s managed to squeeze in a run, from time to time. Not often, and not far, but she’s got in the occasional run.
And so I expect that it will not surprise you that she knocked out a 1:49 half-marathon. Except it wasn’t really a half marathon. The course was a little long. So The Hammer ran 13.6 miles in 1:49.
And I swear, she smiled the whole time. Mile 0:
Meanwhile, I am sitting on an ice chest, drinking my second Coke and third bottle of water, cheering her on. She’s the first woman on the course, and she’s keeping it that way.
After seeing The Hammer go by at the 9-mile mark, The Swimmer and I make our way to the finish line, so we can cross as a team with The Hammer.
Which we do, in full awesomeness:
And then a quick group shot right after:
How We Did
So, we had done it: finished our first triathlon relay. But how had we done?
Well, as it turns out, we had done pretty darn well. Namely, we won the relay division:
In fact, we had won the relay division with almost exactly a half hour to spare.
Even more in fact, we would have placed tenth in the overall individual competition (by the way, the bike times highlighted in yellow in the above graphic are the four people in the entire race who turned in a faster time on the bike than I did.):
Now, the big difference is that places 1 – 9 are all real individual people who were faster than the three of us each just doing a single event.
But we choose to still be pretty proud of how we did. And unlike at Leadville, we stuck around to climb on the podium:
So. That’s our first race as the Team Fatty Family Tri Relay team.
And I’ve gotta say: I’m pretty psyched for the next one.