I was in Bend, Oregon for the Leadman Tri: Life Time Epic 250. The day was beautiful, and The Swimmer, The Hammer, and I had spent the morning walking around and enjoying the town and race venue.
As I was sitting in the mellow, outdoor pre-race meeting, hearing about how the race was set to go — how all the details had been taken care of, and the way this first-year event felt like it had been going on for years — it occurred to me:
I should feel happy.
But I was not happy. I was panicking.
Why was I panicking? I was panicking because I was looking around, and quite clearly was the least fit-looking person within a mile radius.
I leaned in and told The Hammer and The Swimmer the same thing I had told them a dozen times already that day: “I am going to be destroyed by every single one of these people tomorrow.“
They rolled their eyes, looking eerily similar as they did so. “You’ll be fine. Riding bikes is what you do.”
“Not this kind of riding. Not this kind of distance. Not this kind of bike,” I replied.
I had a point, in a way. I had ridden a time-trial bike a grand total of four times in my life thus far, and the next day I’d be racing against the fittest-looking group of triathletes I’d ever seen.
The way you see it here — as built up in the hotel room just before I took it to the transition area — is the way I planned to ride it. Which is to say, I kept it as aero as it was designed to be.
Notice any bottle cages or bento boxes or anything strapped or taped to the bike? Nope, you don’t. The internal bladder — called the “Fuelsalage” — would be what I drank out of, and I’d be carrying enough Honey Stinger Organic Energy Gels (fourteen altogether) in the back left and right pockets of my jersey to supply all the calories I’d need.
I wanted my bike to be as aero as possible, especially since I’m really new to riding in this position and unable to get very low at all (note how high the aero bars are) for very long without my back starting to hurt.
We drove out to Cultus Lake, where I’d be dropping off my bike for the night and The Swimmer — at 16, the youngest participant in the 250-mile race — would be swimming about three miles the next day.
The lake was exactly what you’d imagine a mountain lake ought to be; evergreens were everywhere and the water was incredibly clear.
The Swimmer suited up, to test out how she felt in the wetsuit:
The thing is, the water was supposed to be icy-cold: 58 degrees. Which The Swimmer quickly verified:
A few minutes in the water was enough to get her feeling comfortable, though, and she knew she could do the distance — she swims that far — or more — pretty much every day, as part of the high school swim team.
While The Swimmer swam, The Hammer and I relaxed on the dock and talked with another athlete who had just finished his own pre-race shakedown swim. As it turns out, he was with the US Air Force, and told us that Life Time was waiving the entry fee for all military athletes. I’ve never heard of another race promoter making that kind of offer before, and think Life Time deserves massive kudos for that kind of generosity.
Once The Swimmer finished up her swim, we got one last photo of Team Fatty at the Swim / Bike transition:
We got to bed early. We had a big day of racing ahead of us.
The Race Begins
We were up by 4am, grabbed our stuff, made some bagel sandwiches, and headed out to the bus, feeling that weird sensation that comes only with racing: sleepiness, combined with nervousness, combined with anxiety, combined with excitement, combined with the need to pee, pretty much constantly.
For some reason — maybe he got lost? — our bus was very slow, so we could tell that by the time we got to Lake Cultus, we’d have only a few minutes before the race began. So The Swimmer changed into her wetsuit while riding in a school bus.
Those of you who have ever struggled into a wetsuit know exactly how impressive of a feat that was.
The racers then stood around on the dock for a moment before swimming out to the first buoy, where their wave of the race would be starting.
I assumed they’d be treading water out there. As it turns out, though, the water was not particularly deep.
Yup, they were all just standing. Which means, I suppose, that you could just walk across (this part of) the lake.
And then they were off.
Swimming is a hard kind of race to spectate, mainly because everyone looks exactly alike. So The Hammer and I were standing out on a pier, trying to figure out which swimmer was The Swimmer, and completely unable to do so.
Meanwhile, though, The Swimmer was doing great. The race organizers had put buoys out very frequently, so sighting wasn’t even a minor problem. Plus, the water was so clear The Swimmer could easily see the feet of the next racer ahead of her.
After the first lap (of two), swimmers had to come out of the water — so race officials could verify they were lucid — and then head back out.
“I’m so mad,” she said, as I ran alongside her during her quick run up and then back down the dock.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I overshot the last buoy and swam too far,” she said, as she dashed back into the water.
She had added between three and five minutes to her time by doing this, so the fact that The Swimmer finished her ~5K swim in an outstanding 1:15 is even more impressive.
The Swimmer didn’t waste any time getting to the transition, either. She ran to where I was waiting, suited up and ready to go:
Then I removed the timing chip from her ankle and strapped it to mine:
“See you in about seven hours!” I shouted, and ran to the end of the transition, where I would begin my 140-mile ride.
I am always so relieved once a race begins, because all the fear and doubt and guessing and second-guessing disappear. I’m — finally! — doing what I love doing, and I’m doing it as best as I can.
If that makes me faster than some people, great. If that makes me slower than other people, well…that’s not as great, but it’s not like I can do much about it.
I spooled up to speed with a few quick standing strokes, then settled into what passes for an aero position for a guy with very little flexibility or experience on a TT bike.
A huge rush of adrenaline surged through me, and my speed rocketed to 28mph. A small part of my brain told me to hold back; it was a long race and I had only just begun. I ignored it gleefully. I love going fast and, right then, I had the energy for it.
I’d pay my dues when they came due.
Within a mile, I passed my first and second person. Within five miles I had passed ten.
Yes, I was keeping count of how many I passed, as well as of how many passed me. Except nobody had passed me. Yet.
Whoops, there went the first one, with the distinctive “whommwhommwhomm” of a disc wheel letting me know he was coming.
And then he slowed down. So I re-passed him.
And then he re-passed me, but much more definitively, and disappeared ahead of me.
Taken from my Strava of the ride, here’s what the map of the day looked like (click the map to see a larger version of it):
As you can see from the elevation profile, the first seventeen miles is relatively flat. That seventeen miles leads to the bottom of the red line on the left side of the map. Then we turned around and headed back up the same road, turning right 26-ish miles into the race.
Except a few racers didn’t go that route. Not realizing that there were different course markings for the 125K version and 250K versions of the race, a few racers doing the long version of the race skipped fifteen miles of the out-and-back part of the race, and instead took a left turn at mile nine, eliminating miles 9 – 26 (fifteen miles) of the race: about a half-hour’s-worth of riding.
I am pleased to announce, however, that I was not one of those riders. Indeed, just to assuage any anxiety you may have that this story is going to include me missing turns or cutting the course, I am pleased to tell you that none of this happened. Indeed, for the entire day, I experienced a surge of joy as I saw the mile markers every five miles, noting that they lined up precisely with my own GPS readings.
You’re relieved, aren’t you? (So am I, by the way.)
By mile 25, I had passed forty people. I made a resolution that I would try to keep my number of people passed higher than my mileage for the entire ride.
This was a ridiculous resolution, by the way.
Quick Stop, No Stops
At mile 40-ish, we came upon the aid station with our “special needs” bags. My bag had in it, just for your information, a peanut butter and Nutella bagel sandwich, two spare tubes, four CO2 cartridges, and nothing else.
I needed none of those things. All I needed was to get rid of my arm warmers and gloves.
I rolled to a stop, by which time an extremely fast volunteer had my bag out and open. I stripped and stuffed the stuff I no longer needed, thanked the volunteer, and took off.
Grand total of stopped time: 10 seconds. Maybe. And that was the only time I would put a foot down for the entire 136 miles (no, I never had to pee during the race).
Every half hour, my GPS would chime and I’d open and suck down a Honey Stinger gel. I’ve learned to be religious about this; I’ve discovered that if I am extremely consistent about getting 300 calories down every hour, I don’t bonk.
I’d stuff my used gel packets into my center jersey pocket. At the end of the day, here was the contents of that pocket:
But the gels only account for 200 calories per hour, so where does the rest come from? Well, that comes from energy drink (Heed in this case, I think), and I’ve learned to not be picky about what kind, because you never know what kind or strength of drink you’re going to get at events.
I was, however, extremely proud of how I was storing my drink. Whenever I was getting low, I’d slow down at the next aid station (aid stations were never more than ten miles away), grab a bottle on the fly from a volunteer, and then squirt the drink into the Fuelselage in my Shiv and drop the bottle.
A few seconds later, I’d be back up to speed.
Almost as if I knew what I was doing.
When you’re racing, you sort of feel obligated to suffer. “Well, I paid good money to go as hard as I can; I’d better do my level best to make sure I’m hurting 100% of the time and not having any fun,” is something I might as well tell myself when racing.
But you know what? As I flew along, riding in a beautiful corridor of evergreens or past yet another pretty green lake in a mountain valley, I found myself thinking, “I love it here. I love what I’m doing. This is an incredibly good day.” Just a huge wave of happiness.
I was loving the view, the course, the level of effort, everything. The volunteers were amazing and helpful (All were encouraging, none ever missed a handup, and none ever gave me a bottle of something I didn’t ask for). The course was so well-marked that I never felt concerned I was off-track.
Everything was going great. And I was going fast. So far I had passed 60 people, and had been passed by only two.
And then, just as I was about to engage in a protracted bout of chest-thumping, I’d realize that after I finished the bike part of this race, I’d be done. Meanwhile, everyone around me had already swum a few miles and would have to run a half-marathon.
That would moderate my smugness by at least a little bit.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that for the entirety of this race, I was absolutely, positively disgusting to behold.
Something was going on with my nose. Something horrible. Specifically, it was running, nonstop. And mixing with sweat. And creating snotulae (plural of “snotulum“) on a scale heretofore unseen in the history of cycling. And probably the universe, too.
At the beginning of the day, I thought my prodigious snotulum production was due to how cold it was. But as the day continued on (warm enough for short sleeves, though I left my jersey zipper all the way up the whole day), I continued to produce snotulae at a ridiculous rate.
Eventually, I gave up even trying to wipe them off. I just let them grow, stretch and fall off as they liked.
Here’s a really nice picture of how my nose looked at the end of the day (you’ll have to click the photo to expand it to see how gross it really is):
The Big Climb
Up until about mile 40, it was really rare for me to drop below 20mph. In fact, I spent most of my time riding at around 24 – 25mph, just pleased as punch that I could go that fast, for that long, on this bike.
Have I mentioned that I really like the Shiv and the C50’s?
Then, beginning around mile 40, the road turned uphill. But not seriously.
At mile 55 to 65, though, the uphill — Mt. Bachelor — became serious. That was good news for me, because I love climbing, and during that climb I brought my “passed” count up to 78.
And there, right at the summit of the climb, was ClydeSteve, handing me a Coke. Making him the greatest Friend of Fatty who has ever lived.
Then I turned right to circle back round; I’d be having to do that climb again.
I had a feeling it’d be quite a bit more difficult the second time.
A strange thing happened as I began the screaming-fast descent (top speed of the day: 54.6mph) from Mt. Bachelor: I stopped seeing racers. Really. For the rest of the race — the second half of it — I saw grand total of two racers.
Other than that, all I saw were volunteers.
Clearly, I had found my place — whatever place that was — in the race. The place where I’d no longer be passing people, and where nobody would be passing me.
In fact, after mile 70, I would pass only one more person, and one person would pass me (the person who passed me flew by, leaving me to think he must’ve been a fast guy who had been taking care of a mechanical problem or something for a while). My final count:
- Number of people (including racers doing the 125K distance) I passed: 79
- Number of people who passed me: 3
It was now just a matter of keeping my speed up and putting in the miles. I went into robot mode, concentrating on turning circles. Or, at the worst, rounded rectangles.
Meanwhile, unmercifully, the chorus to Madonna’s “Material Girl” played through my head, on infinite repeat. Punishment for listening to the 80’s station on Sirius XM the day before.
And that’s how mile after mile went by.
Except for one brief, painful moment.
I had just passed the Special Needs aid station (where I refilled my Fuelselage for the second time during the race) for the second time at about mile 90, when — from out of nowhere — a spot near the top of my left shin exploded in intense, acute pain.
No, not literally exploded. Figuratively. Still, it hurt. A lot.
I looked down to see what had happened. Had I been shot? Had a shard of glass flipped up and embedded itself?
All I could see was an angry red welt, rapidly swelling up: a wasp sting, probably. And it hurt like crazy.
Strangely, being able to focus on an immediate, acute pain like this helped divert me from the general pain and fatigue I had been feeling from riding; I stepped up my pace.
So from now on, 3/4 of the way through every endurance race, I’m going to bring a needle and stab it directly into my knee or forehead or elbow or something. You know, just to give me something to divert my focus with.
I recommend you do exactly the same. It’s clearly a sound racing strategy.
Big Climb, Big Descent
You’re going to find this hard to believe, but when I had speculated it would be harder the second time climbing Mt. Bachelor than the first time, I was right.
It was harder. Quite a bit harder, in fact. But I ground out the miles as hard as I could, not worrying about how I’d feel once I got to the top.
I didn’t need to worry, because in my mind, mile 120 was the finish line, effort-wise. Because after that, It was all downhill. Which meant that as I cruised downhill for fifteen miles — often going too fast to bother pedaling — I got to wonder:
- How many people had beaten me on the bike split?
- Were there any relay teams who were beating us? Were we even on the podium?
- Would my nose ever stop running?
As I dropped into the valley where Bend is located, the brilliant clear day gave way to a wall of hazy brown smoke: it’s been a bad fire season. I was glad I had spent the day above this, seeing as how I had been breathing as fast as I possibly could for the past several hours.
I got into town. I was going through roundabouts. I hit the mile 135 marker. Five miles to go, I told myself. Maybe they’re going to send us on a tour of the city for the final five miles.
And then, a 136 mile marker. Curious. To this point, there had been mile markers only every five miles.
But then I was directed past the Deschutes Brewing company (which has a very distinctive smell) and into the finishing chute for the second transition.
Huh. The bike ride was four miles shorter than I expected.
My gratitude knew no limit.
I dismounted and let The Hammer take the timing chip anklet off my leg, wrap the anklet around her ankle, and dash off:
I had just ridden 136 miles, with around 6400 feet of climbing, in 6:23, when my target time had been seven hours, even.
So was I happy with my time?
I should say so.
The Big Finish
The Swimmer and I now had about 1:45 — The Hammer’s estimate — ’til we’d be seeing The Hammer finish. “You should go back to the hotel and shower,” The Swimmer advised. “You have time.”
“Nah, I’m good,” I said. “Let’s just hang out here and wait.”
“No,” she replied, looking (and let’s face it, probably smelling) at my sweat- and snot-covered shorts, jersey, and — especially — nose. “You should definitely go shower. Now.”
This time, I got the point.
Luckily, our hotel was only a short walk from the race venue; I had plenty of time. And The Swimmer had a cold extra-large Coke waiting for me when I finished.
The world was good.
“I had an idea,” The Swimmer told me as we walked back toward the venue. “We should join my mom when she runs across the finish line. You wear your helmet, and I’ll wear my swim cap and goggles.”
Maybe it was because I was still addle-brained from the ride, but I was easily convinced. “That’s an awesome idea,” I told her.
So we waited for The Hammer, but we didn’t have to wait for long. Right on schedule, she came up the running path, and we jumped up and grabbed her hands:
Then we ran together across the finish line:
It was a beautiful, perfect, ridiculous, hilarious moment.
Together, we had done the Leadman Tri in 9:27 (for those of you noting that the clock in the picture above shows 9:33, remember that the Relay teams started in the third wave, six minutes after the gun time). This made us the second relay team to finish; an all women relay team had beat us by fifteen minutes, thanks to an extremely fast swim time and a bike time — on a straight-up road bike, no less — that was twenty-five minutes faster than the fastest pro woman’s bike time.
In fact, her bike split was only eleven minutes slower than the awesome pro triathlete Matt Lieto’s bike split, and he was on home turf, fully kitted out on a TT bike with a TT helmet. No way can I compete with that.
Team Fatty — a 40-something married couple and a 16-year-old girl — would have to be content with second place. Which is just fine.
Awards are Awarded
As is usually the case after a big race, I couldn’t sleep that night. I just lay there, listening to my elevated heart rate, then wasting time tweeting my favorite movie quote of all time:
By my count, fourteen people had won this shirt, including most of the pro men, the age-group winners in the various men’s categories, and one woman: the woman in the relay team that beat us.
The next day, we hung out at the awards ceremony, which doubled as a breakfast. Which brings an important observation to mind: every award ceremony should serve a free breakfast.
We then got our picture with Matt Lieto — who had just taken fourth in the pro men category — partially because he’s just an incredibly awesome guy and blisteringly fast whether he’s swimming, biking, or running, but also because I kind of wanted to butter him up because I figured I could get him to give us a place to stay when we come out to Bend again, just to ride and oherwise hang out there.
Because Bend, Oregon is a wonderful place. The kind of place where a guy with a love of the outdoors could live.
The Next Day
So Monday, I called Life Time Fitness up, just to chat. You know. And somehow — I’m not sure how — the topic of next year’s Leadman Tri came up.
“Hey,” I said. “That was a really great race. You guys should be proud of it.”
“And you know,” I continued, “If you’d like to bring me out again to do another ‘Faster than Fatty’ challenge, I think I could make that happen.”
Because, as you know, I am a generous, warm-hearted person, and am always looking for ways to help others succeed.
Or it’s possible I loved the race and really want to go do it again.