Races are Lies

05.22.2014 | 9:58 am

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.

Love it.

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.

Real-World Races

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:

  1. Race against the clock or toward some personal objective.
  2. 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.

Why Race?

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? 

Here’s why. 

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. 


  1. Comment by The Hammer/Lisa | 05.22.2014 | 10:18 am

    You are MY king……

  2. Comment by Doug (way upstate NY) | 05.22.2014 | 10:38 am

    In my mind, if someone didn’t show up…. Well I beat them, fair and square! :)

  3. Comment by Don | 05.22.2014 | 11:10 am

    One year, I was National Triathlon Champion in 45-49 age division & 4th at World’s. I had the same realization when they handed me my trophy. None of it really matters. Whatever meaning we give it is strictly existential. The only reason to race is it’s fun. It’s the cherry on top of all the great/fun training you get to do with your friends. Whether or not you stand on the podium isn’t really important. It’s not going to change the world, or even your world.

    Thanks for another great post.

  4. Comment by ScottyCycles62 | 05.22.2014 | 11:40 am

    They didn’t show up because they knew you were going to be there Elden so they figured “what’s the point” we are beaten already!

  5. Comment by Kate | 05.22.2014 | 12:47 pm

    I love everything about this post. So true for me, including the lack of interest in watching races (unless someone I know is racing, in which case I enjoy it more). And my only podiums have been a result of basically no one else showing up. But whatever. I love racing when I don’t “win”, too, because the only thing I really care about beating is my previous ability.

  6. Comment by wharton_crew | 05.22.2014 | 12:51 pm

    chanting “Om Mani Padme Hum” 160 times (which I did in 5:32, a new PR)

    That was hilarious!

  7. Comment by GregC | 05.22.2014 | 1:25 pm

    I’m in complete agreement with Fattys position- and Kate said it perfectly. Darn those fast guys (and girls) that always show up and burst my bubble!

    BTW- good luck with your race this weekend, hope the fast guys dont show up!

  8. Comment by cyclingjimbo | 05.22.2014 | 1:44 pm

    Well said, Elden!

    Whether we podium or not, our best races are always the ones in which we know we have given it our best effort. I remember personal bests more than trophies, even if they were not in a formal race.

    Allez! Allez!

  9. Comment by SteveB | 05.22.2014 | 2:54 pm

    As far as the strava stuff goes, riding out here in the bay area is pretty humbling… Usually I’m happy when my time is in the 1000 for a segment.

  10. Comment by SteveB | 05.22.2014 | 2:57 pm

    …and here’s a fun game to play… create a segment that only makes sense when you ride it from some obscure start point that no one else will recognise – then you can be KOM (and the only entrant) for a good long time. Anyone who beats you out is probably a strava troll.

  11. Comment by UpTheGrade, SR, CA | 05.22.2014 | 3:01 pm

    I read somewhere that the best solution to stay King is to end your Strava segment in your own house, preferably in the bathroom. That way its unlikely anyone will steal it and you can happily sit on your throne as King of the Mountains! (at least your personal mountain)

  12. Comment by Skye | 05.22.2014 | 3:04 pm

    Its the same at the other end of the spectrum too: as a regular last-pace finisher, I often pride myself at being “the slowest person with the most nerve to show up today!” which gives credit to the fact that there may very well be slower people out there, but I had more nerve because I showed up.

  13. Comment by Skye | 05.22.2014 | 3:05 pm

    last *PLACE* finisher, although maybe last pace is not entirely wrong either…

  14. Comment by Jeff Bike | 05.22.2014 | 3:19 pm

    I do only one race a year. It is the Tour De Gruene (a little town just outside the little city of New Braunfels TX). It is a note worthy race not because some guy named Lance A. won it twice. And not because a few guys who used to race it also race a little Tour in France. No sir! it is note worthy because I have ridden it. So that makes it something to me! I may have finished it Dead LAST in my division because all those fast guys showed up. That is no problem for me, I ride for Team Lanterne Rouge. “Behind you all the way”.

  15. Comment by rich | 05.22.2014 | 3:50 pm

    Love this post…so true!
    Of all the races I’ve had the guts to show up at, I actually took third in one. Of course there were only 4 SS riders in the 40-50 category that day….doesn’t matter…I was 3rd fastest that particular day because none of the fast (or even moderately fast) guys happened to be in Granite Bay that weekend.

  16. Comment by Sunny | 05.22.2014 | 3:59 pm

    You bothered to show…that in itself is a win.

  17. Comment by Skye | 05.22.2014 | 4:14 pm

    @JeffBike, “Team Lanterne Rouge”, I love it!

  18. Comment by MattC | 05.22.2014 | 6:47 pm

    Wow, I’m like your exact opposite Fatty! I have not even one tiny neuron that is even remotely interested in racing! (also we’re opposite in the fact that you are so fast and I am so not fast). Seriously…I have ZERO interest in racing…I just like to ride. Right up until I don’t. The transition can be pretty quick. It usually happens during a ride.

  19. Comment by Andy@wdw | 05.22.2014 | 8:48 pm

    I really like your perspective on this!

    I’m not a racer. Oh no. My one and only “race” was the 100 Miles of Nowhere last year, and as far as races go, that’s the biggest lie of them all. I mean, while I did clearly dominate the “35-39 Year Old Male on a Green 20+ Year Old Mountain Bike with Yellow Bar Ends at The Most Magical Place on Earth” category, I also totally phoned it in because it was my first ever century and I just wanted to finish the distance, and surprise, surprise, NOBODY ELSE SHOWED UP.

    This year, I really want to push it hard, really see what I can do, and you have me thinking of finding someone to ride the 100MON with who could challenge me. But to me, that’s not what the 100MON is about. That would destroy the absurdity of the event. Maybe, just maybe, I should instead check out the racing scene in my area and see if there’s anything I can sign up for without completely embarrassing myself. Hmmmm…

    By the way, I don’t mean to bother, really, but I’m completely obsessed with the 100MON. Seriously. Obsessed. And I can’t help but note that it’s been a month since we were promised more details on this event “soon”. Anything to share? Please? I’m dying here!

  20. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 05.22.2014 | 9:36 pm

    In reverse order:

    @MattC Lies!!!! He is fast! You’ve had him in the train at Davis. He often ‘falls out’ over a mechanical, or a tire. Pretty sure he could take a podium step…if he wanted.

    @Skye Love the perspective. I bailed on my first ‘race’ entry. Personally afraid to be out there holding people up all day, only to come in with the red lantern.

    @UptheGrade… A humors but troubling visual. Though not nearly as upsetting as…..

    @Lisa, Lisa, Lisa
    “…you are MY King.” Really! you had to go there? If he starts redecorating the bedroom like a scene from The Tudors don’t say you weren’t warned.

  21. Comment by Corrine | 05.22.2014 | 10:52 pm

    Fatty, You are right on with this post. I totally agree with you. We are doing a monthly Strava challenge here in Fairbanks and I went out early in the month and posted my result immediately so I could be QOM for at least a day until somebody faster and younger did it. I made sure my husband knew that he was married to a queen for the 2 weeks that I held that honor!! Even though I’m dethroned, he still loves me!

  22. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 05.23.2014 | 2:37 am

    From Vienna, AT today, however. If I don’t have a race to “train for”, then it is just exercise (but more fun than a gym), and it’s hard to force myself out there. I need that lie to keep me motivated. Great post!

  23. Comment by ragtime cyclist | 05.23.2014 | 6:46 am

    Tibble Fork? Nope, nowhere near me, not interested.

    “Om Mani Padme Hum” 160 times in 5:32…now that’s the KOM I’m after!

  24. Comment by jrt | 05.23.2014 | 6:51 am

    I use Strava when I cycle. Every so often a slightly lighter guy with better stamina shows up and takes my PR. It seems the more I ride the more this guy shows up.

  25. Comment by BradA | 05.26.2014 | 5:41 pm

    Kind of a weird post really. The same goes in absolutely everything in life. You’re only as good (or ‘best’ or ‘worst’) relative to those around you. Whether it be cycling, triathlon, tennis, golf, waterskiing, your job, hell even as a husband etc. Work hard at what you do, put jn the hard yards, if it pays off on the day, great. If not, at least you gave it a crack and try again next time. You’re time will come.


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