A Note from Fatty: I’ll be hosting a live video chat tomorrow (Friday, May 23) at 1:00pm MDT, to talk about the Rockwell Relay — talking about what to bring, what to expect, and — above all — to answer any questions you might have about this race. I’ll have novice racers, experienced racers, and the race director along for the conversation. If you’re doing — or are considering doing — the Rockwell Relay, please join us.
Races Are Lies
I love racing.
And I want to be clear here: I don’t mean that I love watching races, because that honestly doesn’t do much for me right now. I haven’t, for example, followed the Tour of California this year (Is it over? If so, who won? Actually, don’t bother answering that, because I don’t really care).
I haven’t followed the Giro d’Italia (ditto on the previous parenthetical).
But. I love being in races. I love choosing which ones I’m going to do. I love registering for them. I love using them to lend focus to my riding. I love thinking about them as I’m riding. I love the anticipation of the race that builds the day (or two days) before. I love the nearly unbearable anxiety of the morning before the race.
I love — love desperately — the crazy heart-stopping tenseness of the moments while I’m standing at the starting line, feeling the current moment and wondering about the near future. I’m never more aware of the passage of time than during the countdown to the start of a race.
And then, there’s the race itself. The sudden quantum leap from anxiety and waiting to full-tilt doing and the juxtaposition between the physical effort and the mental calm.
I love it. I love it all.
So it’s a little bit of a shame that racing is a total sham.
I first realized that — for normal people, at least — racing is nothing but lies and wishful thinking one day when I got an email from Strava.
You know, one of the “Uh Oh! You just lost your KOM (King Of the Mountain) on…” Strava messages.
As is completely appropriate, I was furious. Furious that this person had the gall to take away this, my token of validation.
It was only later — once I had calmed down by performing several breathing exercises, chanting “Om Mani Padme Hum” 160 times (which I did in 5:32, a new PR), and taking a soothing bath — that I realized that the KOM had never really truly been mine.
Nor does this victory really belong to the guy who took it from me. Watch and see: some day someone else faster than him will come and show that he is faster.
I had just realized the fundamental fiction we all have to pretend is true if we’re going to compete:
Every single win — every single moment on the podium — is predicated not on our own speed and racing prowess, but on faster people not showing up.
That’s it. That’s the whole premise of every KOM title I currently hold in Strava. I have them because the people who should have them haven’t bothered taking them away from me.
I’m not the king of anything. Not really. I’m just a guy who hopes that the truly fast people who live in my neighborhood won’t decide to make an attempt on — for example — Tibble Fork.
And now that I’ve called attention to it, I fully expect to have it taken away within the hour.
This suspension of disbelief is not just something you have to do if you’re going to participate in Strava, either. If you go to any race — local or regional — you’ve got to do one of two things:
- Race against the clock or toward some personal objective.
- Race against the people who also showed up at the race, and hope that the people who are faster than you didn’t know about the race, or got food poisoning last night, or have something better to do that day.
I use both of these tactics, depending on the race. At Leadville, for example, I race against the clock (except for last year, where I raced against other single speeders, three of whom had the nerve to be faster than I am and to show up).
Or this Saturday, when I race the Timp Trail Half Marathon. I’m not racing against the clock — I already have a good idea of how long I’ll take to do this course. I’m racing against the men, age 40 – 49. And hoping like crazy that all of the guys who placed in the top 5 last year have other plans for the day this year.
Because that’s the only way I’m going to get on the podium.
Racing, when it comes down to it, is one thing: going as fast as you can…while hoping that the people who are faster than you are doing something else that day.
So why do it?
It doesn’t matter that racing is made up of an agreed-upon fiction. That imaginary fantasyland is still an awesome place — a place that makes you, for a little while, go faster and be tougher than you normally can. Racing — this fake thing — gives you a moment of drama and intensity, and a chance to rise to heroic levels. Whether you win, podium, or finish last.
And that — all of that — is completely real.