A Note from Fatty: This is part three. Three shall come right after two, and right before four. Except there is no part four, nor shall there be. Part Two comes right after part one, and before three. Part one, meanwhile, is the first part and has no part before it, although part two comes after part one. Five is right out.
As I left the first aid station — right at about six miles — I looked behind me. Somehow I had stayed ahead of The Hammer, which scared me. I knew that she knows much more about running long races than I do, so being ahead of her after the flat section made me wonder whether I had gone too hard and was destined to blow up in short order.
If so, The Hammer would catch — and pass — me for sure. But if I kept going, trying to stay at — but not above — my limit, well, maybe she’d catch me and we’d finish together?
It was worth a shot.
A Greeting As If Across A Chasm
You might remember this graphic from the end of my part 2 post:
From this, it looks like immediately after the six-mile aid station the course shoots straight uphill. But that’s not the case. From mile 6 to about 7.5, it’s uphill, but not egregiously so. I closed in on and even passed a couple of the downhill speed demons.
“You’ll get me in the end,” I said. “The final four miles is all downhill.”
“But first,” I concluded, as I went by, “You’re going to have to climb Dry Canyon.”
The trail curved around, hugging the mountain’s contours. Sometimes you couldn’t see anyone; sometimes you could see folks way ahead of you. At one of these points, I looked back, hoping I’d see The Hammer come around a bend.
And there she was. Even better, she apparently was looking ahead and saw me at the same moment. I waved an arm overhead back and forth, in the universal sign for, “Hey it’s me, your husband! I’m over here!” The Hammer replied with a, “Whooooooo!”
I fought the urge to back down and try to finish the race with her, knowing that if we ran together, it’d slow both of our races down: I’d have to slow down during the climbs, she’d have to slow down when I inevitably bonked. This way was better: I was her carrot. She was my stick.
So I kept going.
At about mile 8 – 8.5 I hit the crux of the run: Dry Canyon. This sharply uphill section actually begins with “steps” — 1.5’-tall gravel beams acting as retaining steps. These brought everyone (including me) to a walk.
Once I was past those steps, though, I resolved to not walk any more of the climb. As I “ran” up this section, though, I wondered what constituted “running.” Was it moving your arms in a running-style motion? Speed? Putting your feet up and down in a certain way?
I suspect that by some definitions of running, what I was doing qualified. By others…probably not. Whatever you name it, though, I was picking up my feet and putting them down in front of each other more quickly than if I were walking, although with very small steps.
And I was passing people, so there’s that.
As I caught and passed Phineas, for example, he said, “Have you lost your mind? Why are you running this climb?”
“It’s the only kind of running I’m any good at,” I replied, truthfully.
I was hurting as I got to the second—and last—aid station at around mile 9 (where the marathon route rejoined the half-marathon route), but in a good way. In a way that I thought I could probably sustain. At least for a little while longer.
And I did. I got to the summit. An occasion so happy and momentous that when The Swimmer and I had gotten there on our pre-run of the course a couple weeks earlier, we took a selfie.
From now on, it was just coasting downhill for the rest of the run, right?
All Downhill From Here
In cycling, going fast downhill is more a matter of courage than anything else. If you don’t grab the brakes, you’re going to go. (Until, suddenly, you don’t.)
In running, this is not true. Because I was trying to go fast downhill. Really giving it my all. For the first time that day, in fact, I started getting a side ache from the exertion.
In spite of all this, people passed me. Often and easily. Taking extraordinarily strong, long, sure, bounding strides down rocky singletrack.
In trail running, downhill speed is a whole new level of both fitness and grace (neither which I possess). All I could do was move aside, admire them, and shout encouragement and appreciation.
“I appreciate you!” I never shouted, because that would be weird. Also, I never shouted, “You should be encouraged!” because that would be nearly as weird.
I just thought you should know, in case you ever choose to run a foot race.
I found myself at the iconic Pile of Rocks cairn, a known-by-all juncture in the Frank trail network:
This photo was taken during a pre-run, not during the race itself, although I wore the exact same clothes during the race, so I’m not sure why I’m not pretending that this photo was taken during the race. OK I CHANGED MY MIND; IT WAS TAKEN DURING THE RACE.
Once I was at the Pile of Rocks, I knew I was on the homestretch. Like, just three miles to go. “You’re at the home stretch,” I told myself. “Just three or so miles to go.”
Phineas ran by me, lightly and easily. I’d never see him again ’til the finish line, where he finished well ahead of me. Kids.
Several more people ran by me, also lightly, also easily.
I wondered if I was slowing.
I made it to the high road, which meant a half mile or so of running on flat dirt road, and then — then! — the final mile to the finish line.
But I had a problem: I was cooked. Done. Blown. Demolished and destroyed. And so forth.
Running in slow-ish motion (as witnessed by the numerous people who were running by me in not-slow motion), I plodded to the hairpin turn, signaling more downhill singletrack.
This was where, a few weeks earlier, The Hammer and I had seen a couple of these guys, no more than twenty feet from us:
OK, maybe it was fifty feet. But it seemed like 20.
Anyways, there were no cool bighorn sheep staring me down on this run.
And more to the point, I was tired of running. I was tired, period. “What if,” I thought to myself, “I just slow to a walk for a couple of minutes. Just ’til The Hammer catches up with me. Then we could finish this thing together.”
It sounded like a great idea when I put it to myself that way. But I knew better. Knew it was a terrible idea. Because I had already — back in the 6 Hours in Frog Hollow — seen what it’s like to back off during a race. And while it’s not like it was the end of the world, it also wasn’t a pattern I was very interested in establishing.
So I put my head down, figuratively (because it was already down, literally), and started talking to myself. “You can be strong for one more mile, Fatty,” I said. “Ten minutes or less. All downhill. One. More. Mile.”
I kept going. Decided I wouldn’t stop, not ’til the finish line. That I’d go harder, if I could.
And at that moment, I won whatever I was going to win in this race.
The steep singletrack dumped back onto the dirt road. The same one we had started this race on. Just two hours ago. Forever ago. Same thing.
At the moment I started running down this road — this last half or third or whatever of a mile — a woman with a thick red braid zoomed by me, patting me on the shoulder as she flew by. (Going by way too fast, as far as I was concerned — if she was so fast, why hadn’t she passed me long ago? Why had I seen her at all during this race?)
“Let’s finish this strong,” she shouted cheerfully as she ran by at full blast.
“Well, that’s an idea,” I though. “I wonder if I could do that.” I stepped it up. And up And up.
And in short, for the final half a mile, I ran at a seven minute / mile pace.
Another woman pipped me at the line, but I didn’t care (at least, not very much). I had beaten my best estimate — 2:10 — by a whole minute. 2:09.
I took a picture of my legs to commemorate the occasion:
I went over to the picnic table to pick up my t-shirt and medal, then back toward the finish line to watch The Hammer cross the finish line.
But by then, she already had. A scant two minutes after I finished. And while I felt like I was going to die, she felt like this:
And she won this:
First place in her age group. One week after she took third place in her age group in the Ogden Marathon. I swear, we’re going to have to get a bigger trophy case for this woman.
The Hammer picked up her medal and t-shirt, and then we walked back to the car to change into some less-sweaty shirts, with the intent that we’d then come back and maybe work our way up the trail a little bit, then run to the finish line with the Swimmer when she finished.
Except by the time we got back to the finish line, The Swimmer had already finished (just fifteen minutes after me).
Which meant we were three for three: none of us saw any of us finish.
In the end, The Hammer got first in her age group, The Swimmer got second in her age group, and I got…redemption. (And sixth in my age group.)
Not a bad day.
You know, considering we were running.
A Note from Fatty: This is the second part in my Timp Trail Half Marathon race report. It might — but is in no way guaranteed to — make more sense if you read part one first.
There are a few things I know about myself. I know, for example, that I have a good set of legs. I know that I’m very competitive. I know that I am willing — eager, in fact — to hurt strategically.
I know that I can combine these facts to keep running up steep hills, when other people slow to a march.
Which, two miles into the Timp Trail Half Marathon, is precisely what I did. Not to catch and put a lot of distance between me and my competitors. No indeed, because I’m pretty sure that my running up steep pitches wasn’t a lot faster than marching up them.
But it did have the strategic benefit of making me feel better about myself. Of making me think, “Well, I’m good at something, at least.”
OK, fine. It was showing off.
I Question Myself
I passed a couple people as I grunted my way up the hill, bringing me to what is arguably the most beautiful part of the whole trail: Johnson’s meadow. It’s a gorgeous little valley, especially on a perfect Spring morning after a short rain during the night, which this was. Green and perfect, with tiny little flowers blooming among the tall grass.
“This is so beautiful!” shouted The Hammer, now right behind me. And she was right. It was a good reminder to me to look up and around during this run.
Then one of the guys I had passed during the climb came blasting past me down the hill and into the valley.
“See you on the next climb,” I said, presumptuously. But not, as it turned out, inaccurately. Because — if you’ll take a look at the elevation profile below (look at the dip starting right at mile 2), that little meadow only lasts about a third of a mile before you’ve got quite a bit of up (look at mile 2.5 – 3):
During that little climb, I passed the guy who had just passed me, along with a couple more people. And the young man in dreadlocks.
“Strong work, man,” I said to him as I went by, doing my best to not say something envious about his hair.
It would not be the last time I saw this kid, who, as it turns out, is named Phineas, and would eventually be the division winner in the under-19 age category.
To my dismay, in this photo you can’t even see those dreadlocks. Which is too bad, because they look pretty darned awesome. (Also, I love the fact that you can see someone behind Phineas in this photo is carrying a box of Krispy Kremes.)
I got to the beginning of the only extended mostly-flat section (look at mile 3 – 5.3 in the elevation profile above) with my super-secret strategy (which I will now reveal) intact: get to the flat section before The Hammer did, so that by the time I got to the end of it, she wouldn’t be too far ahead of me.
But a strange thing was happening: I was feeling good. Strong, even. Like I could speed up a little bit.
And so I did.
I ramped up my effort to what I’d later find is an eight-ish minute/mile pace. OK, more like 8:40 min/mile, but you get the idea.
And it didn’t matter, because Phineas still blew by me like I was a middle-aged man.
And I began to ask myself a question: “Am I going too fast?” Because if so, I was going to bonk before I finished the race.
But then another thought occurred to me. “If I bonk, does it matter?” The realization that if I had a legitimate reason to slow down and walk the rest of the race — i.e., I couldn’t do anything but walk — that it was perfectly OK for me to do so, was completely liberating.
And so I continued to go hard. To see how I’d do if I really pushed.
At mile 5.3 the Timp Trail race has a mile’s worth of fast, easy dirt road downhill, allowing me to clock my only sub-8 full mile of running in the history of…me.
I thought I was flying…until the guy I said, “See you at the next climb” a few miles back came running by me.
“See you at the next climb,” I said, again, (still) presumptuously.
“How old are you?” he asked.
“Forty-eight,” I answered, proudly — although incorrectly (I’m still a couple weeks away from turning 48).
And then another guy passed me. And another.
Whether on bike or on foot, I guess I’m just a lousy descender.
I pulled into the aid station, slowed to a walk, and sucked down a Cherry-Lime Roctane Gu (my current favorite gel) — the first of three I was carrying with me and intending to eat during the run. People continued to pass me.
Luckily for me, miles 6.3 to 9.3 were next up.
And by next up, I mean next up.
And that’s where we’ll pick up (and most likely conclude) tomorrow.
The Timpanogos Trail Half Marathon. It would be a day of firsts. For example:
- The first time I would try to run a straight-up half marathon (I’ve run marathons, a marathon as part of an Ironman, and a half-marathon as part of a half-ironman, but never a half-marathon)
- The first time I would try running a trail race
- The first time The Hammer would try running a trail race
- The first time The Swimmer would try running a trail race
- The first time the Swimmer would try a half marathon
Most importantly of all, though, was the fact that I was the one who suggested we should do this race. Yes. Me. Suggesting a running race. On foot. Without a corresponding bike leg to compensate for the nigh-incomprehensible suckitude I would exhibit when trying to run.
Oh, and there would be a couple of other firsts that day. And a couple of other seconds, too. And a sixth. But I’ll get to all of those a little later in this story.
So, in short, I have gone mad and am now, yes, completely insane haha. Heehee ho!
I Very Nearly Get Right to the Point, Without Actually, You Know, Getting Right to the Actual Point
Why would I suggest a running race? Oh I know, let’s have a list.
- Because I have recently discovered that I like trail running, thanks to the fact that my ankles, knees, and hips no longer kill me after even the shortest run, which I assert is in turn thanks to my Altra Olympus shoes.
- Because I harbor hopes that someday The Hammer will want to do the running version of the Leadville 100, because I think crewing for her as she did that would make for the most amazing series of I’m trying to nudge her in that direction by encouraging races like this.
- Because this race is on the same trails where I learned to mountain bike, and thus has nostalgic draw.
- I looked at the elevation profile, and knew it favored me.
Let’s talk about that last point for a moment. Here’s what the elevation profile of the race looks like:
That’s about 2600 feet of climbing in a trail half marathon. That much climbing, with very little flat (really, the only flat is from mile three to five) really favors mountain bikers: those of us with a lot of power and the ability to turn over a high cadence in a low gear.
Specifically, the way I saw it, this was a running race for mountain bikers. Or at least as close to one as I was ever likely to find.
The Hammer and I had pre-run the course together once before (which, by the way, was the day after The Hammer pre-ran the course solo, and the day before the White Rim weekend). And The Swimmer and I had pre-run it together, too. It was nice to not be going into this race blind.
This race was a very low-key, grass-roots affair. So small (just a few hundred racers), in fact, that they hadn’t even gotten port-potties for the event, relying on the permanent bathrooms installed at the park.
I found this fact very distressing. Or at least I did until, as we pulled into the park, I noticed a porta-potty set up out of the way for construction workers in the area. Except for, on this day, it was really set up for me, and those I chose to share it with.
Little things like this matter when you get nervous at races.
Now feeling fine, I got a picture of The Hammer, The Swimmer, and me together before the race. “Make a silly face,” I urged.
I can’t believe they fell for that old trick. (Also, I’m super tall.)
We lined up — The Hammer near the front, The Swimmer and me somewhere in the middle — and awaited the Go.
At 8am the race started…and we began. Some of us running. Some of us walking. Some of us running and then quickly realizing that was a mistake and slowing to a walk. With a starting uphill grade of 9 – 16%, that kind of race plan revision wasn’t just acceptable, it was downright prudent.
As for me, the race bloodlust was upon me. I moved to the left side of the road and began passing people immediately, finding a suitable carrot to chase.
“Oh, there’s a carrot,” I thought. “She’s even wearing orange like a carrot. And she has a big orange target (where have I seen that before?) on her back.”
My mission for the moment: try to keep The Hammer in sight.
New Character in the Story
I s-l-o-w-l-y reeled The Hammer in, wondering if this was a wise thing to do, but hoping that if I could be close to her by the time the big climb began around mile 2.5, I could get enough distance on her that I could still manage to keep her in sight by the end of the big flat section.
It is so weird to have your primary athletic competitor also be your wife. Trust me on this.
As I got close, I said, “Hey Beautiful, you’re looking good.”
“I can’t talk right now,” she replied.
“Right,” I said, “This ain’t no time for jibber-jabber.”
“You’re. Still. Talking.”
I would have come up with a suitable reply (I.e., “No I’m not”), but right then a boy in kick-butt dreadlocks ran by the two of us as if we were, well, jibber-jabbering.
I was caught between deciding which I wished for more: to be young and fast, or to still have hair.
But now we were at the base of one of the two really steep climbs, meaning this was my opportunity to bank some time. To run where others walked.
I put my head down, shifted into my mental granny gear, and started huffing up the shale-strewn singletrack.
I had a teenager to catch. For the honor of all bald, middle-aged men.
Which is where we’ll pick up in part 2 of this story.
Hey, I’m sitting here in the SLC airport, about to fly out to Austin for the next few days. I hope — hope — I’ll have time during my trip to write about some of the things that happened during the Memorial Day weekend.
Because some very awesome stuff happened.
For example, on Saturday, The Hammer, The Swimmer, and I all raced the Timp Trail Half Marathon. Here we are — oh so happy — before the race.
Yes, I want to be clear: that’s before the race. The “after” pictures are somewhat different. I’ll show those as I tell the story (hopefully) during the next day or two or three.
But that wasn’t the only big event of our weekend. The Hammer also took delivery of the bike she gets as one of the incredible perks of being a World Bicycle Relief Athlete Ambassador. Here she is with Taylor Felt, the manager of Bountiful Bicycles, where her awesome new Specialized S-Works Roubaix was built:
She’s had that bike for two days, and has already put around 150 miles on it. So yeah, I’d say it’s going to be a well-loved, well-used bike.
More on that soon, too.
So, how was your weekend?
Today at 3pm EDT / 2pm CDT / 1pm MDT / 12noon PDT (people in AZ are going to have to do their own time-related math), I’m going to be hosting a video Q&A about the Rockwell Relay on Spreecast. Now, I’ve talked about this race before. In fact, I’ve probably talked about it more than anyone else has, ever.
But today, we’re going to talk tactics. And strategy. And gear. And other stuff. If you are considering doing this race or have already signed up, you should watch. Here, let me make things easy for you by embedding the viewer here:
You should know, though, that the whole experience is going to be better at the Spreecast site, where you can enter questions and stuff.
Oh, and speaking of questions, please, for the love of all that’s good in the world, start thinking of some questions you can ask, or this Spreecast will wind up being a very awkward ten minutes of people staring blankly at the screen, humming softly to themselves (i.e., ourselves).
And nobody wants to see that. Or maybe you do. But I hope not.
So Who’s Going To Be On the Panel?
For this chat, I thought I’d bring on a variety of folks to talk and answer — as well as ask — questions:
- Me: In spite of all my efforts, I seem to have become someone who actually knows something about this race. Weird.
- The Race Director: Tyler Servoss is race director for the Rockwell Relay, and so will be able to give actual official answers, as opposed to the answers which I will be pulling directly out of my butt. (Luckily for everyone, this will remain off-camera.)
- An Experienced Racer Guy: Spencer Story has done the Rockwell Relay before, and knows a thing or two about a thing or two. He’ll be a good person to ask questions if you expect a sane experienced perspective on the race, as a counterpoint to my perspective.
- The New Guy: Ted Twogood has never raced the Rockwell Relay, and should therefore have a lot of questions. It’s my hope that he’ll want to ask us these questions, in order to help us avoid the aforementioned awkward silence.
Questions I Think Someone Ought To Ask
OK, really this is just me writing some notes to myself for things I’d like to bring up. Please give me more ideas in the comments section, OK? I’m begging here.
- Why the staggered start? And how will it affect race tactics?
- Any course changes this year?
- How long will Dave Towle be commentating? For the entirety of the race? Because I think he may be the only person in the world who could commentate for 35+ hours straight.
- If Dave isn’t commentating for the whole thing, does he want to drive our van for us? If he’s on the clock, he ought to be doing something.
- What kind of riders are best suited for which stages? I’ve detailed probable weather conditions for each stage before, but it might not be a bad idea to talk about what the elevation profiles indicate, rider-type-wise.
- What kind of vibe should you expect at the Rockwell Relay?
- What are some clever food ideas? Load up on Paradox Pizza the night before and stow it in plastic bags, of course. But what else?
- How do you keep your rider from catching fire? It gets kinda warm out there in the middle of the day.
- When do you need to register by? Registration closes June 1. So that’s probably going to be a pretty brief Q&A moment.
- What are things that people do that are against the rules?
- What kinds of stuff — tools, clothes, other gear — should people bring?
- What if your team is having a crummy day? What are your options?
- Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?
- Will there be brats at packet pickup this year?
- How many teams raced last year? How many are registered this year?
- What if someone wants to do this race, but doesn’t have a team?
Oh, and how about one last question: Will Team Fatty employ new race strategies to defeat or at least confuse the sudden profusion of high-zoot coed teams? The short answer is “yes.” I’m not sure how much detail I’m going to go into, though. Let’s just say that the phrase “no shortcuts allowed” doesn’t appear anywhere in the race bible and leave it at that.
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