I am talking way too much, I thought to myself. And way too fast.
I had just finished the first leg of the Rockwell Relay, where — after a considerable (and embarrassing) struggle — I had managed to hand the baton off to Kenny, who had immediately commenced to take off like a bat out of hell, racing like his life depended on it.
Photo by Heather
It’s one of the reasons Team Fatty — Heather, Kenny, The Hammer and I — are a great team together: off the bike, we’re about the most relaxed four people you’d ever meet. On the bike, we all suddenly transform into the most serious, focused racers in the world.
So now it was Kenny’s turn to pour everything he had into his first turn on the bike, and my turn to clean up (in particular, to wash all the gel off me, my gloves, and my bike), change into more comfortable clothes, relax, and eat. One of our team rules is that for the first hour after finishing your turn on the bike, your only responsibility is to take care of yourself. Relax, refuel. Rehydrate. Chill out.
And so, with my stuff was loaded into the van, comfortable shorts and a t-shirt on, and a bottle of Coke in my hand (I knew I wouldn’t want to eat for another half hour or so), I was talking a mile a minute, the endorphin rush plus the feeling that I had just ridden to the absolute best of my ability plus the excitement of the day (and night and another day) ahead with three of my favorite people, just making me giddy and happy and talkative.
The Flight of Mr Jones
We caught up with Kenny, who was blasting along at an astonishing pace. “Need anything?” hollered The Hammer.
“Nope, I’m good,” said Kenny.
We drove ahead a couple miles, piled out of the van, and got out the cowbell — we only brought one, and wished we (wait for it) had more cowbell.
The racer ahead of Kenny zoomed by. We cheered for him — everyone cheers for everyone at this race, in spite of the fact that we’re all actively competing against each other — and we started our timer.
Three minutes, and then Kenny came by:
Photo by Heather
We got back in the car, leapfrogged past Kenny — nope, he still didn’t need anything (it was still early in the morning [hence not hot] and Kenny [like me] doesn’t really drink a ton while riding. Then it was back out of the car and cheering for our rider again.
Every time he went by, Kenny would smile huge as we shouted the steadily-dwindling time to the racer ahead of him, and we put the cowbell to good use.
Then Kenny hit the downhill, and it was all over for the racer ahead of him. And the racer after that. And the one after that.
Kenny’s kind of insane on the descents, you see, and there was a lot of descending on this leg of the race — 3400 feet of it (although there’s also 2441 feet of climbing). Like this:
After an hour or so, I moved into the driver’s seat, Heather moved into the passenger’s seat (this is the person who takes care of the racer and is the busiest person in the van), and The Hammer went into the back of the van to get dressed for her turn racing.
Moment of Realization
“Are people going to make fun of me if I wear my Tri singlet?” The Hammer called out from the back of the van.
“Nobody gets to make fun of you when you’re passing them,” I replied.
The Hammer knew that her upcoming leg of the race was likely to be hot, and windy. A form-fitting outfit would be a good idea, and her tri singlet wicks like crazy.
So the Tri outfit it would be. Although not the pointy helmet. That would be a step too far. (Oh, and also not the Shiv; aero bars are specifically prohibited in this race.)
We shot ahead of Kenny for the last ten miles of his ride, giving us plenty of time to get The Hammer’s bike unloaded, take care of using the restroom, and basically being at the exchange point ready to go.
Then, since we had the time, we thought we’d go and verify that we were, in fact, the leading co-ed team. The woman who was recording times through the checkpoint was happy to loan us her binder and we started looking through it.
By each team name and number was a code. Like nc-m, c-w, or c-c, for example. It took us a moment, but we figured it out: the part before the dash indicated the type of team: competitive or non-competitive. And the second part was the division: men, women, or coed.
Luckily for us all the competitive coed teams (labeled “c-c”) were bunched together.
And one of them — Team 91, “Lifetime’s Beauty and the Beasts,” had already gone through.
We were not the lead coed team. We were in second. And Team 91 (as we called them, because that’s much easier to remember) was getting further ahead of us every second.
Well, there wasn’t much we could do about it now. Just do the best we could. We were either faster than they were, or they were faster than we were.
Looking down the road, I could see Kenny approaching, and doused The Hammer with water before her leg started.
The day was heating up.
Then Kenny and The Hammer did a rolling bracelet handoff:
Obviously, the two of them are a lot more coordinated than I am.
Kenny was all smiles as he coasted to a stop. He had ridden his leg — 44 miles — in 2:12, moving us up to eighth place overall. Eight minutes behind Team 91. A not-impossible-to-recover time deficit, though we knew that Team 91 was sending out their third man, while we were sending out our first of two women.
We had to admit that we were looking like a second-place bet. Oh well, whatcha gonna do?
Kenny set up the shower rod behind his sprinter van and took a shower. Yes, really. How deluxe is that?
We then caught up with The Hammer, who was flying along, smiling the whole way:
Which seemed deserving of some serious cowbell.
The day was heating up, and my job — now in the van’s passenger seat — was to holler encouragement at The Hammer every time we went by, and to exchange her rapidly-heating bottles for bottles full of ice water.
Staying cool is absolutely essential when it’s 85 degrees outside and looking like it’s going to get to 100. Or warmer.
About ten or fifteen miles — some of the numbers jumble up in your head after a while — another rider caught up with The Hammer, and they agreed to work together for a bit.
This of course meant that we’d be leapfrogging and stopping with this other rider’s team, which is always great, because it gives you a chance to meet some of the other teams and learn a little of their stories and what they’re up to.
In this case, the story was pretty impressive. This rider was part of a three-person team: a couple of college triathletes from Florida who were on their way to St. George for a training camp. As long as they were there, they thought they’d go ahead and do this race as a two-person team, then picked up a third rider at the last moment.
So the guy working with The Hammer was actually already riding his second leg of the day. Pretty impressive. At some point, however, his youth and eagerness to go hard were too much — The Hammer wished him well and he took off on his own.
At which point, a group of four guys came by and invited The Hammer to join their train. She was happy to oblige.
Unfortunately for one of these racers, by adding The Hammer to the line, the pace of the train picked up considerably and one of these guys dropped off.
How to Smell Good
I was glad The Hammer had been able to join up with a group of riders, because the wind — a hot headwind — was really starting to pick up. I looked back to Heather and asked, “Are you ready to ride in this?”
Heather looked only mildly concerned. Which was brave of her. (Oh, and by the way: that was foreshadowing for the next installment of this story.)
Meanwhile, the paceline was working well together and battling the wind as best as they could. When we pulled alongside the group and The Hammer was taking a turn pulling, I shouted — in (I swear) mock anger — at the group, “Shame on you for letting the woman take a pull!”
The Hammer rolled her eyes. One of the guys laughed. One guy said, “She wanted to!”
But the guy directly behind her — the racer from Team Green Gecko 1 (remember that name, because you’ll hear about them again in later race reports), yelled, “But I like riding behind her! She smells good!”
Which caused me to turn toward Kenny and say, “I’m pretty sure the guy behind Lisa just told me he likes the way my wife smells.”
“Yup,” said Kenny.
“Should that bother me?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” Kenny replied.
For the rest of the trip, however, it became a running joke to stop mid-sentence and say, “Gee, Lisa, you sure smell good.”
We Reluctantly Begin To Try To Resign Ourselves To Our Fate
As we got to within ten miles of the next exchange, we made sure The Hammer had two full bottles of ice-packed drink, then drove on ahead to get Heather ready to go.
We had everything down to a system by now. Kenny took care of getting Heather’s bike ready, I got drinks into her bottle cages, and Heather got herself ready to go. Kenny set up the shower so Lisa could clean up before we headed out to support Heather. Meanwhile, I put lights on one of my helmets (the plan was for me to be able to swap out helmets mid-ride, rather than have to carry heavy lights before I needed them), and set lights up on Kenny’s bike. It was weird to think of it now, in the middle of the day, but we’d be needing those the next time we rode.
Then, with plenty of extra time, we checked: Team 91 had put still more time on us. In fact, by the time The Hammer got to the exchange, Team 91 would be twenty-five minutes ahead of us, making our chances look pretty bad. In fact, we reasoned, the only way we were going to win was if Heather was a lot faster than the woman on Team 91’s team.
Even so, 25 minutes was a lot to try to pull back in a single leg of the race.
Well, we knew the Rockwell Relay Coed dynasty couldn’t last forever.
Heather rolled around on her bike, making sure everything was good. It was.
Looking down the road, I could see The Hammer coming, now with just one of the racers from the train she had been on. They had dropped the others during the climb.
We stood and watched. Heather got ready to start pedaling.
Lisa rolled up and held out her arm to hand the baton to Heather.
And that’s when Heather’s rear tire exploded.
Which is where we’ll pick up in the next installment of this story.