A few days ago, Triathlete magazine interviewed me, talking about the upcoming Leadman Tri in Bend, Oregon. As part of that interview, we talked a little about blogging, and they asked me to give a few tips on how triathletes can make their blogs more interesting. Of course, I skipped the easy answer (write about something other than triathlon), and came up with a few suggestions, most of which are as practical and useful as they are obvious.
One of those suggestions was, “Include the drama,” pointing out that even if there aren’t overtly dramatic things happening during the race, there’s almost certainly some amazing emotions, conversations, and negotiations going on inside your brain. Even the most mundane race can make an exciting story if you can take yourself back to the event and describe what was going on in your mind.
I stand by this advice for writing race reports. Using your internal drama to spice up a race report is a good writing strategy.
But in the case of the 2012 Park City Point 2 Point, it is more or less unnecessary.
I’ve written about the Park City Point 2 Point (PCP2P from here on out) before. Specifically, I wrote about how after doing this ride on a rigid singlespeed, in brutally hot, dusty conditions, I would never ride this race — 78 miles, 14,000ish feet of climbing on singletrack in and around Park City, UT — on a rigid singlespeed again.
I made good on this promise last weekend, electing instead to ride on my geared Stumpjumper, with a suspension fork and everything. The Hammer, meanwhile, brought her Gary Fisher Superfly (thus restoring balance to the universe).
The drive from Alpine, UT (where we live) to Park City takes almost exactly an hour. So we got up by 4:00am, made and ate breakfast burritos, loaded the truck, and were out the door by 5:00am.
Which is when, of course, it started raining.
It was raining just a little bit, mind you. Enough so that The Hammer and I started talking about how maybe we should adjust what we started riding with and in which drop bags we should stow the most rain gear (we did this race without a crew).
As we drove North toward Salt Lake City, the rain came down harder. I turned the wipers from “Intermittent” to “Slow and Steady.” And then, in a minute, to “Nice and Fast.”
Then, in one minute more, to “As Fast As Those Wipers Will Wipe.”
And then, as we turned off I-15 to 215, the lightning began, with intense jags of electricity starkly standing out against the dark, briefly blinding the unwary driver (i.e., me). The only thing that saved us was my experience as a fighter pilot in the Korean war, where I had learned to drive with only one eye open, then — when that eye got temporarily rendered useless by a lightning-induced afterimage — I would switch to the other eye.
The Hammer was so grateful for my experience, tenacity, and courage. She’s very lucky to have me.
By the time The Hammer and I were twenty minutes away from the start line in Park City, I would describe the intensity of the rain and lightning as “No way in God’s green earth would I go out in that to save a puppy, much less do an all-day mountain bike ride in it.”
It’s a long — but, I think you’ll agree, surpassingly apt — description.
I asked The Hammer, casually, “So, do you still want to race?”
With the deftness and speed of a Judo master, she turned my question back on me. “I don’t know. Do you?”
I parried. “It looks pretty bad. It’s a tough call.”
I switched to my survey-style questioning technique, which I have discovered is an almost ridiculously effective technique for extracting information from otherwise non-compliant spouses. “So, if you were going to express your interest in doing this race as a percentage, what would that percentage be?”
“Five percent,” she replied.
“Wow, I’m at like two percent,” I said, relieved we were both in the single digits.
It was time to make some phone calls.
First, I called Dug (you absolutely must read his post I just linked to, by the way), because he is really good about knowing weather forecasts and how rain is going to affect a specific trail, and stuff like that. I figured his go / no go opinion would be airtight.
Dug answered the phone, but did not say anything. Then he hung up again.
For my next call, I rang up Kenny, who I knew would have good, local, updated information, since he was actually sleeping at the starting line in his Sprinter Van.
“Hey Mr. Jones,” I said, when he answered. I always call him Mr. Jones when he answers the phone, as a sign of respect.
“Hey Elden.” He always calls me “Elden” when I answer the phone, because my name is Elden.
“How bad’s the rain?” I ask, getting right to the point.
“Is it raining?” Kenny asked.
I could see Kenny was not going to be as helpful as I would have hoped. “You would drown if you stepped out of your van and into your parking lot,” I said.
“I’m down to 0.000001% on doing this ride,” The Hammer interjected. (Wives are allowed to interject into phone conversations.)
“Kenny,” I said, “Lisa and I are not going to do this race. We’re still going to drive to the starting line, though, and bring you a bunch of rain gear you can use if you choose to ride.” (We had found out the previous afternoon that Kenny and Heather hadn’t brought a lot of rain gear with them from St. George).
“OK, see you in a few minutes,” Kenny said.
The next call I made was to Ricky, who I knew was also making the drive from Utah County to Park City.
“Ricky, this weather looks bad,” I said.
“Yeah, it’s raining pretty hard,” Ricky said.
“Lisa and I are thinking we’re not going to do the race.”
“No?” said Ricky.
“Rick, I’d like you to express your likelihood of doing this race as a percentage,” I said.
“Oh, I’m 100%,” said Ricky, causing my head to spin around five times.
“So you brought good rain gear?” I asked.
“Well, I’ve got this windbreaker,” Ricky said.
I laughed and told him to come see us; we’d be parked by Kenny’s van.
Meanwhile, The Hammer was reading the PCP2P racer’s handbook. “The organizers of this race are smart,” she said. “They have a bad weather clause where they state that if the weather’s bad enough, they’ll do the race the next day.”
It was nice to know that this race wouldn’t go on blindly; there was a plan in place. My likelihood of doing the race skyrocketed to 3%.
Wait and See
We pulled into the parking lot, and immediately another truck pulled up beside us. It was Jay Burke, the race director.
“We’re obviously not going to start on time with this kind of rain,” he began, as a boat filled with pairs of animals drifted by. “We’re going to delay at least an hour to see what happens with the weather, and might have to postpone the race to tomorrow.”
“We vote for tomorrow,” I said.
“We’ll have a racer meeting in an hour and make the call then,” Burke said.
“If you do the race today,” I said, “the two of us will almost certainly DNS.”
Burke nodded and said, “I’ll take that into account.”
Meeting of the Minds
The Hammer and I made a mad dash into Kenny’s van. Shortly, Ricky arrived, too. I laughed at his windbreaker.
“Lisa and I did a whole day of racing in the rain in Breckenridge a couple of weeks ago,” I said. “I’ve never been so cold, and I lived in Finland for a couple years. I just don’t want to do that ever again.”
Heather, who had brought no cold-weather / rain weather bike clothes with her and has 0% body fat, looked concerned.
We talked about what the day held in store for riders. We talked about what mud does to bike drivetrains. We talked about rain and roots and slippery rocks.
“I don’t think I’m going to do it,” said Ricky, giving voice to what everyone (with the possible exception of Kenny, who seemed to still be on the fence) was thinking.
And then, over the course of two minutes, the rain slackened, then stopped.
It got light outside.
The sun came up.
The sky cleared.
And the race / no race decision suddeenly became a lot more complicated.
Meeting of the Racers
7:00am — which was the original start time of the race — rolled around and we, along with all the other racers who at least were considering doing the race, gathered around the race director.
“First of all,” Burke said, “The Round Valley section (the first and easiest 12ish miles), of the race is definitely not going to happen. That’s a clay-based soil; riding it today would be a disaster for the trail system and your bikes.”
“So we have options,” continued Burke, “And I’ll let you help decide what we should do. Should we do the race today, without the Round Valley section?”
About half the hands in the crowd went up. Mine stayed down.
“Or should we postpone the race ’til tomorrow?”
About half the hands in the crowd went up, including mine.
“Well,” said Burke, “That didn’t help at all. But I’m leaning toward getting this race done today. So, let’s line up at 8:00am.
Our group — Heather, Kenny, Ricky, The Hammer and I — walked back to our vehicles. The race was on. Should we do it?
The Hammer and I had a conference, where, once again, we went through all the salient points.
“What if it starts raining again? I don’t want to spend the day in the rain.”
“The weather looks OK right now, but it’s between thirty and forty percent chance of rain the whole day.”
“We’ve already been racing a ton. It’s not like we need another race to make our summer complete.”
“But what if the weather turns out fine and we didn’t do the race? We’ll beat ourselves up.”
“You don’t seem like you want to do the race.”
“Do you want to do the race?”
“I’ll do it, but only if you want to. I’ll leave the choice up to you.”
Around and around we went. I don’t know how long we talked. Finally, though, I said, “The sky is blue and the race director says the rain there’s been will help the trail be better for riding, not worse. Let’s go ahead and race.”
Suddenly, we had a lot to do, and — thanks to all the time we had spent deciding whether to race — hardly any time to do it in.
I got the bikes out of the truck.
The Hammer grabbed our drop bags and took them to the area where they’d be picked up and taken to the aid stations.
Then I started dressing (The Hammer had arrived already dressed to ride) while Ricky (who had decided not to race) followed The Hammer and Kenny to the parking lot a couple miles away where we had to leave our cars.
I went to the bathroom and took care of my requisite nervous pre-race poop.
But The Hammer and Kenny weren’t back yet.
So I waited, holding on to The Hammer’s and my bikes.
The racers started lining up, according to self-selected finishing times. I wanted to be near the front because I’ve been riding pretty fast this year. But I couldn’t just leave The Hammer’s bike alone; she’d never find it in time.
So I waited.
Finally — finally! — Ricky dropped Hammer and Kenny off. Kenny grabbed his bike and started hustling his way toward the front of the start line.
But The Hammer wasn’t ready.
Using my almost superhuman waiting abilities, I stood by my wife as she stuffed her jacket and gloves and another pair of gloves and food and a camera and a crossword puzzle and some playing cards and maybe a complete change of clothes into her camelbak (I had no camelbak; I was using two bottles, had HoneyStinger gels in my right jersey pocket, HoneyStinger chews in my left jersey pocket, and a rain jacket rolled up and stuffed in my center pocket.). She put on her headband. Then her glasses. Then her helmet. Then her gloves. Then her armwarmers. Then her kneewarmers.
By now, the first wave had left.
Now ready to go, The Hammer and I ran to the starting line. She stayed near the back with Heather. I continued to push my way forward.
“What’s your hoped for finish time?” I asked a group of people.
“Just whenever” they replied. (Everyone was using the finish times based on the full-length course, not the the shortened course)
I kept hustling forward, hoping to see Kenny.
“What’s your hoped for finish time?” I asked again.
“Around eleven hours.”
I kept moving forward.
“When’s your . . . ” I started asking, but then stopped asking, because the wave of people I was with were clicking in and getting ready to roll.
They were the next wave out. The faster riders had already gone. I jumped on my bike, clipped in, and took off.
The PCP2P race had begun, and I’d find out soon enough if it was a good idea for me to be part of it.
Which is where I’ll pick up tomorrow.