A Note from Fatty: I know, this is getting ridiculous. Still, this is part eight of my 2013 Rockwell Relay race report. If you’re not caught up, you should read parts one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven first.
I want to start this installment of my race report by talking a little bit about Team 91 — Lifetime’s Beauty and the Beasts.
For one thing, they were an incredibly strong team, one that never ever let us rest easy and say to ourselves, “Hey, all we have to do now is get to the finish line.” Thanks to them, Team Fatty was energized and focused, enjoying the most dramatic and hard-fought Rockwell Relay, ever.
Next, I want to say what those of you who read the comments have already noticed: they’re an incredibly friendly team. I got a chance to hang out with Tommy for a few minutes before stage 5 and again before stage 11 (I haven’t talked about that yet), and he’s been actively commenting (while being very cool about not spoiling anything) during the telling of this story. In every instance, he’s been a remarkably positive and friendly guy (who can also clean my clock on the bike). I haven’t really had as much of an interaction with the rest of Team 91, but you kind of get a sense from the comments they’ve left that all of them are fierce on the bike, and friendly off it. Which is just how I like it.
And finally, I want to point out that while all three of the men on Team 91 were obviously extremely strong and seasoned riders, the woman (whose name I’m afraid I don’t know), while clearly a fit athlete (a runner, I think), was actually very new to racing the bike. In fact, she had started riding and training only very shortly before the Rockwell Relay. So the fact that she finished — and in fact raced — all three of her stages is a major testament to her.
There’s something about doing a big full-day-plus race like this: you get to know a little bit about the character of the few teams you’re jockeying with. In every case, I found myself liking and respecting the racers in the vans and cars and trucks and RVs around me more and more as the day went by, even as I openly wanted to beat them on the road.
It’s a pretty cool feeling to have.
OK, now back to the story.
I can’t help myself: whenever I talk about Heather’s stages of the race, I get this urge to dial her up and apologize. Her first stage was the absolute hottest, windiest, most miserable ride it could possibly have been: a physical and psychological beatdown if there ever was one.
And now it was 3:12 in the morning, the absolutely most difficult hour there can be for someone to get on your bike and race. The hour when when it’s coldest and darkest and loneliest. And your body just wants to go to bed.
And yet, Heather happily bundled up (but not heavily; it never got really cold this year), got on her bike, and set off racing the eighth stage of the race, which has an elevation profile that looks like this:
It’s not a super-long stage — 36 miles — but from mile four to fourteen, you’re doing nothing but climbing.
Luckily for us, Heather is an awesome climber. And while I admire the woman from Team 91’s spirit, during the race I was really glad that Heather has a lot of endurance riding experience, including experience riding in the dead of night, with lights.
Because Heather was having fun. With her bike working properly and much better weather conditions (no crazy wind, mildly cool temperatures), there was no comparison to her first stage.
It made a big difference.
Before long, Heather ate up the three-minute advantage Team 91 had, and — for the first time since my ill-advised solo breakaway in the first stage of the race — we were the lead coed team.
Kenny and I had a conference (The Hammer, meanwhile, absolutely cooked from her monster effort, half-slept in the back of the van).
“At this rate,” I said, “Heather’s going to finish this stage with a fifteen minute advantage on Team 91.”
“Yeah, but we don’t know if this is going to hold,” Kenny cautioned, but I knew he didn’t mean it. “The question is, will the other racers put enough time into us that they can erase Heather’s advantage?”
“Well, Tommy’s been faster than me by a few minutes in the first two stages,” I said. “He’ll be probably be faster than me in the last.”
“The guy I’m racing against was a couple minutes faster than me in our first leg,” Kenny said, “but slower in the second. Let’s figure that he and I are a wash.”
“And the guy racing against Lisa put a ton of time (seventeen minutes) on her in their first leg, but hardly any time at all on her (one minute) on their second stage. So let’s figure he’s stronger in the flats. Their last stage is pretty flat, so he’s going to put time on her again.”
“And figure that Heather can beat their woman in the next stage, since Heather has the endurance edge.”
“So,” I figured, “If The Hammer and I can limit our combined losses to be less than Heather’s gain on this leg, we should start the final stage of this race either ahead of or only slightly behind Team 91 when Heather starts her final leg of the race. If we can do that, we’ve got it.”
We were both seeing, for the first time in hours and hours, a path to a Team Fatty win.
“Hey Heather,” I called out the window, “No pressure, but the whole race is going to come down to you.”
“Doesn’t it always?” Heather replied.
With the excitement of this pass — and I think there might have been another one, but I’m not sure because, well, it was 4:00am and at this point I had been up and either riding my bike or crewing for others as they rode their bikes for 23 hours — we settled into our routine.
Kenny was driving, I was crewing, The Hammer was temporarily incapacitated, lying in the back of the van, groaning softly.
We were playing the now-familiar game of leapfrog support, and most of it is a blur to me.
But I do remember one handoff in particular.
Kenny had suggested that Heather, at some point, might like a Starbucks Doubleshot Espresso. The combination of caffeine and calories in a non-sweet, easy-to-drink little can make it a popular alternative to yet-another energy bar (just so long as you don’t drink too many at once).
I offered her one. She turned it down, saying, “Maybe later.”
In a few minutes, Kenny said, “Offer her one again.”
This time, she accepted it. I popped the top and handed it to her. She took one sip, made a face, and handed it back. “It tastes weird.”
Thinking that her taste buds had just been overloaded on sweet gels, I took a sip.
And promptly spat it out.
It didn’t taste “weird,” it was full-on curdled. As in, it would hardly pour out of the can.
I’m not sure how, but I really want to somehow pin this on Heather’s misuse of The Secret. I’ll get back to you once I figure out how.
Heather climbed through the night, her pace steady as a metronome. Meanwhile, I started eating again and changing into my riding gear — shorts, a long-sleeve jersey over a short-sleeve jersey, making it easy for me to peel and discard layers after the sun came up. I’d be starting in the dark, but would be riding during sunup and beyond.
And I started getting nervous. This would be my last stage of the race — a very climby one at that — and if I was not fast, I could put our team in a bad position. I could, in fact, guarantee a loss.
I knew I’d lose some time to Tommy. But I just couldn’t let it be much. I needed this to be the fastest, strongest ride of my life. I needed to race like I was being chased.
Which, in fact, I would be.
I needed to poop.
Luckily, I knew there was a bathroom in the school across the street from the exchange point, and that the school was kept unlocked for this purpose.
My thoughts increasingly turned to this school as we left Heather and drove to the exchange point.
Once we got there, I yelled to Kenny, “Get my bike out, OK?” and I rushed to the school.
I went to the guy at the Exchange point and he said, “They were supposed to unlock it… but they didn’t.”
“Kenny!” I yelled. For some reason, whenever there’s trouble, everyone on our team yelled at Kenny. ”Drive me to the nearest gas station, now!”
Luckily, that was just down the road, and Kenny needed to fill the tank of the van anyway.
I took care of my business as quickly as I could. Which was not quick enough for Kenny, who said, “We gotta hurry. I don’t want to have Heather pull into this exchange without any of us there, like we did in 2011.”
We got back to the exchange point, I put on my helmet, reflector vest and blinky light (it would still be dark for another half hour or so, and — within moments of my being ready to go — Heather pulled up. 5:29 am, for a total time of 2:16. This was the fastest Heather had ever raced the leg, by eight minutes (she had done this leg in 2:24 in both 2011 and 2012).
I took off, racing at my limit. I didn’t know how much time I had in front of Tommy.
I just knew I was going to do my absolute best to not let him catch me.