Wish You Could Race the Leadville 100? Life Time Fitness Foundation has two charity slots available for the Leadville 100. They cost $1000 each, with 100% of that amount goes to Life Time Foundation’s Clean School Lunch program. It’s a good cause and a great way to get into this race. If you’re interested, send an email to Barb Koch. And then let me know, cuz I’ll be grilling brats in Leadville a day or two before the race; I’ll reserve one for you.
I am — to my dismay — pretty well-known for yelling at the top of my lungs when I get hurt. I don’t apologize for this trait; yelling seems to help me get past the initial shock of the pain. Plus, I assert that no matter how many times you dislocate your shoulder, the audible pop and the bright burst of agony always feels fresh and new.
But let’s not make this about me, because it’s about Kenny. Specifically, it’s about the fact that while Heather and I were at the side of the van, looking up the road, Kenny was sitting on the bumper of the van, putting on shoes.
And then he was yelling. Loud. “Well, that sounds like me,” I thought, stupidly.
Heather got to Kenny first, naturally, though I wasn’t too far behind.
Kenny was laying on the road, in a fetal position. No longer yelling, he was now groaning and holding his head.
“What happened?” either Heather or I (I can’t remember which, so probably both) asked.
“That suitcase,” Kenny moaned. And then everything became clear.
Like a (Hard, Blue) Bolt from Above
Contents sometimes shift while in transit. It’s a fact; you can look it up. And if you have a hard-shelled blue suitcase up on the high loft of a Sprinter van and you drive around, that slick hard shell might slide around on the loft’s sheets. Toward the back of the van, possibly.
And then, if you open the door and sit on the bumper, the suitcase might shift a little more.
And then it might fall about three feet and land on your head and shoulder and come darned close to knocking you out.
I’m of course saying all this as if it’s a hypothetical possibility. Kenny, on the other hand, had a good sized cut on one of his shoulders and a lump on his head to show that this scenario had gone way beyond the hypothetical.
Heather took care of Kenny. I apologized endlessly, as the person who had put the suitcase up there in the first place. Kenny said it was no big deal, but that he could no longer remember where he was or who any of us were. (I told him he is Billy Gibbons and that the only way he was going to make it to the concert on time was if he rode this here bicycle really really fast.)
This looked a lot more dramatic before Kenny washed the blood off. Trust me.
The Hammer, completely unaware of the medical drama happening in Team Fatty, ticked away the miles.
The wind kept blowing. Sometimes a crosswind, sometimes a headwind, usually some of each. Never a tailwind, though. Never ever ever a tailwind for The Hammer.
And this was a fierce, gusty wind, too. The Hammer would later tell me that at one point it actually made her rear wheel skid sideways several inches. A rider with lesser handling skills would’ve gone down; I’m super happy The Hammer isn’t just strong, she’s skilled on the bike.
With The Hammer more than halfway done with her leg of the race, my job changed from being the guy who handed out bottles to being the guy who got in the back of the van and changed into his bike gear, then got fueled up.
In my case, this took the form of two slices of ham and pineapple pizza from Paradox Pizza in Moab. And a cold Coke.
It was so good. I love pizza. I love Coke.
A Nail’s Tale
When The Hammer had about seven miles — about four of which were climbing — left in her leg, we shot ahead of her to the next exchange point, where it would be my turn next.
Yes, this is the final revelation in our team shakeup strategy: for the first time ever, I would be racing the third leg: the leg usually reserved for The Hammer. The thinking behind this was as follows:
- The Hammer was interested in trying a different leg
- So was I
- The third leg had a lot of miles, and I’ve got both good power and endurance this year
Team Fatty has, over the years, become pretty adept at timing the exchanges so that the racer coming next has plenty of time to get ready without rushing, with a nice little cushion of time to take care of bathroom business, not to mention a little extra slice of time in case something goes wrong.
Everything went right for me, so I was ready with plenty of time to spare. So, just to make the handoff easy and effective — and because I had nothing better to do — I rode my bike a couple hundred yards down the road, so I could talk with The Hammer for a moment while she handed me the baton. Ask her how her leg went.
I squinted, looking toward the point where she’d be appearing. Waiting. Expecting. Getting more anxious by the moment.
Oh, there’s a rider, I thought. Then, No, that’s just one rider — not a group — so it won’t be her.
Except it was her.
As The Hammer approached, I clipped in and got up to speed, matching with her as she handed me the baton.
“Where are the other guys?” I asked, even though I knew the answer.
“I crushed them on the climb,” The Hammer replied.
A few minutes later, once The Hammer had stopped and the others had rolled in, one of them would confront her, upset. “I thought we were all going to finish the stage together,” he said.
To which I would have replied — had I been there — with the following:
- First and foremost, a sympathetic noise and facial expression
- A reminder that it’s a race
- An explanation that if you’re riding with The Hammer, sooner or later you’re going to be a nail.
And now it was my turn. Fifty-six miles starting with a climb but averaging slightly downhill.
But the grade is deceptive. On this leg, the wind makes all the difference. And I was definitely riding into a headwind. Except when I was riding into a crosswind. Except when I was riding into a mix of headwind and crosswind.
So I wore my cool new wind-cheating Specialized Evade helmet.
My plan was as simple as it was ingenious: Go hard enough that I caught a racer, pull them long enough that they felt like they wanted to work with me, and then build the train from there. Pretty much what The Hammer had done, and a sound strategy everyone was using.
And I tried to put that plan into effect. I did. I really, really did.
But my plans just never seem to quite work out like I’d like them to.
Within five minutes of heading out, I saw a rider up ahead of me. Giving it everything I had, I caught him within a couple of minutes.
He said, “Good, I was hoping someone would catch me and we could work together.”
“Perfect,” I yelled back. “I’ll take the first pull.”
I pulled for a minute, then flicked my elbow. Like the pros do.
I flicked again. More nothing.
So I looked back behind me to verbally ask him to pull…and he was about a hundred yards behind me.
Luckily, I could see another guy up ahead of me.
Caught him, pulled him, dropped him.
This happened four more times, and I finally realized: anyone I could reel in that quickly wasn’t going to hold my wheel.
I looked back to see if anyone was catching me. Maybe I could hitch a ride.
It looked like I was in for a long ride.
Two STUPID MINUTES
I knew there were two Coed teams ahead of me, and was desperately hoping I could cut into their lead. Working together with another team seemed like my best option — if I could find someone to ride with who could hold my speed.
And yet, after I had passed the first five or so people, I was alone in the race. I couldn’t see anyone ahead, and had no idea whether there was any chance I might be able to catch them and work with them, therefore improving both our times.
So I asked my team to drive ahead ’til they saw another racer, then pull over and time how far behind him (it could only be a “him,” both the Coed teams ahead of us had their women ride in the same leg as The Hammer) I was.
Not too much later, I saw our van. I was encouraged that they hadn’t had to go too far to see a racer.
“Three minutes!” They yelled.
Awesome. That was something to work for.
As they pulled alongside me, they asked what I needed. “Just more water, and time me against that racer again; let me know if I’m making the time up!” I yelled.
The next time they timed me, I was down to 2.5 minutes. Excellent. So I had them leapfrog and time me again.
Two minutes. I was doing it! I was catching him. “Time me again!”
“Oh COME ON.”
I lost track of how many times I had my team time my distance to him, but from there on out, I remained a steady two minutes back.
As it turns out, Jim Ferrell of Serve Squad 1 (at the time I didn’t know his name or team, but now I have the benefit of race times and details) was also timing me. I guess I served as motivation for him to ramp up his speed…though in my opinion we probably would have both been able to finish the leg about 7-10 minutes faster by working together, if he’d only have sat up for two minutes and had a breather while I caught up.
But it was not to be. I was going to get to Time Trial this leg of the race. “Figures,” I thought. Out of all the Rockwell Relay legs I have raced over the years, I have worked with other riders exactly once.
I’m thinking of switching deodorants.
Water Bottle of Doom
The day was getting hotter; I was going through water fast — probably going through a bottle every fifteen minutes or so. Often enough that bottle handoffs — returning (nearly) empties and taking full bottles — became a practiced, efficient routine.
The thing is, you can really get going fast on a long, gradual descent, like this one where Heather’s photographing my handoff to Kenny:
Like into the mid-thirties, miles-per-hour-wise. But you know, I’m a seasoned veteran, and I’m going to get this right, as you can see here:
Or…I guess it’s possible I’m going to neglect the fact that I’m going way too fast to do a bottle handoff, and as soon as I let go of the bottle, my gentle toss is going to turn that easy-squeezing Specialized Hydroflo Bottle into a fast-flying Specialized Missile of Death:
…Which is flying directly toward the photographer (Heather).
Kenny spins, knowing where the bottle is headed:
Heather can probably be forgiven for the fact that at this point her photography becomes more poorly-framed:
Luckily, the bottle missed her. Barely.
I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but I’m an addle-brained chucklehead. JFYI.
In Regards to On-Bike Food and Drink
In part 2 of this story, I gave a pretty long — and nicely accurate — list of the food we had brought for this racing adventure.
I will now point out that I never had any intention of consuming any of that when I was actually riding. Sure, when I’m off the bike and emergency-refueling I like to have a bunch of options (you never know what will sound good), but when I’m racing, I am downright monastic.
Which is to say, for a two-plus all out effort in a day with temperatures ramping up toward (but not yet hitting) 90, my needs were simple:
- An ice-packed bottle of water, frequently. If my count was right (I tried to keep track but numbers are slippery when you’re at your aerobic limit), I drank 6 full bottles during this two-plus hour leg. And still felt dehydrated after.
- A Gu Roctane Gel, every twenty minutes, as close to on-the-nose as possible. I’ve been experimenting with gel for about as long as gel has existed, and I’m pretty sure that Gu Roctane is about as perfect a gel as exists on the market right now [Full Disclosure: Like many energy food companies, Gu comps me product on an ongoing basis].
I’ve pretty much switched to an all-Roctane fuel regimen for my endurance racing, and 300 calories per hour (100 calories ever 20 minutes) seems to be the perfect amount for me. Which means, yes, that in this two-plus hour race, I ate around six gels.
Although I don’t think “ate” is the correct word. Nor is “drank.” “Consumed?” “Ingested?” Ooh, Radical Ed (on Twitter) suggested the word “ingurgitate.” It seems appropriate; from now I shall refer to gels as being ingurgitated, and so should you.
I seem to be able to keep this 20 minute Roctane ingurgitation (oh I love this word) pattern up for hours during a hard effort, without bonking. The Hammer reports essentially the same effect, except she’s more on a half hour schedule.
Oh, and my favorite Roctane flavor is Island Nectars, with Cherry Lime taking a close second, and Vanilla Orange and Pineapple tied for third. The Hammer’s favorite is Cherry Lime, and she hates my favorite flavor. So you know, maybe buy and try a bunch of flavors before you spring for a case.
All of this is secondary, however, to the elegance with which I have learned to use gels, however. I have developed this beautiful system, which starts with several gels in my right jersey pocket:
- Pull gel out of pocket with right hand.
- Tear tab most — but not all — the way off with my teeth. My ability to do this consistently and quickly has become a point of intense and immense pride.
- Ingurgitate, squeezing packet at first, then rolling it up to get remainder out.
- Leave gel packet clenched in teeth while putting right hand back on bar.
- Grab packet with left hand, then stuff packet into left jersey pocket.
- Grab water bottle with left hand, take big swig of water, replace bottle.
This is about a fifteen-second process, and is perhaps the only thing in the world I am graceful at.
OK, now back to my race narrative. (And how, by the way, did this section become so long? In my mind, it was one short paragraph. Too bad this blog doesn’t have an editor, huh?)
That Doesn’t Count
As I got near the end of the leg, I started seeing cyclists ahead of me: rabbits to chase down! Each time, I thought it was my two-minute guy, but each time I closed the gap, I realized I was closing in too fast. I’d see the racer, I’d close in, and then I’d be past them.
Each time, I’d give myself a little mental high-five. I’d moved us up one higher in the standings!
But as it happened more and more often, I realized that these passes didn’t make sense — how could these racers have been so far ahead of me, but have me pass them so fast?
And then I figured it out: these were the people who were riding the Rockwell Relay in the non-competitive category. They had started at 6:00am — three hours before most of the competitive teams had — with the mission of finishing the route, having a great team experience, and seeing some beautiful scenery. And they could not have cared less about who or how many passed them.
A little later, I noticed their race numbers were a different color: black backgrounds. We started calling them “Black Flag” racers, and passing them didn’t count.
And also, I started envying their wisdom. It would in fact be awesome to do the Rockwell Relay without the pressure.
Oh Don’t Mind Me; I’ll Just Lie Here And Die of Thirst and Loneliness
I finished my leg in 2:36:12 (Strava has me with shorter time and doesn’t show that I did the whole leg because I got all excited by riding alongside The Hammer and forgot to turn my Garmin on for a minute). That’s not bad at all for a guy who had to do the whole thing solo. Heather took off, beginning the hot, long climb that kicks off the fourth leg of the Rockwell Relay.
I was proud of my time. I was also very, very tired.
So I swung my leg over my bike (barely) and handed it to The Hammer. No, just kidding, she wasn’t there. She was busy talking with her fan club.
Yes, really. A whole gaggle of men were surrounding her, talking with her about what an awesome cyclist she is.
So, partly because I needed to sit down — and a lot because I was feeling a little bit pouty and neglected — I just sat down on the pavement and waited to be noticed.
Eventually, she did, giving me the attention I felt I deserved… and the best, coldest Coke that anyone has ever given anyone.
I climbed in the van — which was air conditioned better than any van has ever been air conditioned:
My hour of no responsibility but to myself and my rehydration and refueling had begun.
I sometimes think that hour — that exhausted, relaxed, nothing-to-do hour — is the best part of the Rockwell Relay.
We started chasing toward Heather, as the day got even hotter.
Which is where we’ll pick up on Tuesday (‘cuz Monday’s post is going to be my team video / slide show from the event).
PS: My gift to you for the weekend is an installment that doesn’t really end in a cliffhanger.