A Note from Fatty: Enormous thanks to everyone who signed up for the 2014 100 Miles of Nowhere Thursday and Friday. The event is now sold out. Huzzah! And again: Huzzah!
A Note from Fatty About Today’s Post: This is part 10 of my 2014 Rockwell Relay Race Report. As a refresher (or if you haven’t read it yet), part 9 is here. Or if you need to, you can go to back to the beginning.
There are certain realities of endurance racing that you simply cannot avoid. One of them is that, at some point, it’s going to stop being fun. No, that doesn’t mean the fun won’t come back. But if it weren’t hard and painful and both mentally and physically brutalizing, it wouldn’t be cycling. It would be baseball.
Ha ha! Just kidding, baseball fans! Baseball is definitely an endurance sport, at least it sure feels like one whenever I try to watch it!
But back to the Rockwell Relay.
It’s Always Nearly the Darkest Just Before It’s Actually the Darkest
Every year, there comes a point where I stop thinking about how exciting it is and how much fun I’m having and how awesome my friends and wife are, and start thinking instead about how tired I am and how much I want this race to be over.
Without exception, that moment comes sometime during leg 8 — the fourth racer’s second turn. It starts during the coldest part of the night—three or four in the morning—so the racer heading out is starting right at the precise time she (it’s always been a “she” for our team) would never otherwise start a bike ride.
And in short, it just feels wrong to get on the bike then. And yet, Heather always takes the fourth racer place. Every single time (i.e., all four times we’ve done this race).
And somehow, she doesn’t just dial it in, either. The segment starts with a long climb, and Heather passes racer after racer. Like she’s fresh. Like she isn’t freezing. Like it isn’t four in the morning.
This Looks Like a Fine Pillow
As Heather started riding, I climbed into the back and changed into warm, comfortable clothes. Smartwool tights. Sweatpants. A nice stocking cap and a down coat. I have the wonderful just-raced endorphin buzz going on, supplemented by Red Bull and yet another slice of pizza.
As I eat, I look at the amount of pizza we have left. It’s a lot. Like, maybe three times as much as we need. “We need to bring a lot less food next year,” I think to myself.
I think that thought every year.
Then The Hammer makes a request: even though it’s still my “recovery hour,” she needs me to help. She isn’t feeling well at all. And her eyes aren’t great for night driving anyway (something you might not know about The Hammer: minus her contacts, she’s darned close to blind).
That’s fine, I say, and it really is. My heart is still pumping fast after my leg of the race, so I’m plenty awake. I feel good. Further, I know The Hammer wouldn’t ask if she was OK.
So I take over driving, leapfrogging Heather every mile or so. Ringing the cowbell, yelling in the gloaming. It feels strange. Like we’re waking someone up.
Heather catches another female racer and they start working together. Strangely, the other woman is wearing shorts, and a lightweight long-sleeve jersey.
Heather, on the other hand, is wearing roughly twenty times that much clothing, and is still cold. “Why are you dressed so light?” Heather asks the other racer.
“It’s all I brought,” the woman replies. Which wins the “most outrageously crazy thing I heard the whole entire race” award. It gets cold in these mountains. Everyone knows that. The first year, it snowed in these mountains. How could she not have brought something warmer to wear?
I guess I’ll never know.
In between leapfrogs past Heather, I start to warm up. And my heart rate drops. I get sllleeeepy.
I lean my forehead against the steering wheel. Just for a moment, mind you.
Then my next moment of consciousness is when Kenny is tapping me on the crown of my head. “Let’s go,” he says.
And that sets a pattern. I drive for a couple minutes, we cheer Heather on as we go by, I pull over, rest my head against the steering wheel, and instantly drop off until Kenny—who gets out of the van to cheer Heather on—climbs back in and wakes me.
These five-minute naps, done maybe three or four times, get me through the early hours. Give me enough rest to keep plugging away.
Welcome Back, Sun
And then, as Heather still rode, the sun comes. And when that happens, it’s magic. Somehow, even though you haven’t slept (we all know that nodding off with your head resting against a steering wheel doesn’t count), something happens to you. You wake back up. You get a renewed sense of hope. You feel a surge of energy.
You know that you’re going to cross the finish line before that sun goes down again. And that soon, it’s going to get warmer.
A lot warmer.
Maybe too much warmer.
But right at this moment, “warmer” sounds—and feels–really good.
Heather’s gotten us through the roughest leg of the race. Nobody has passed her. Kenny takes off in the early morning sunlight:
The final set of four turns for our team has begun, and Heather has definitely earned what seems like, at the moment, the ultimate luxury:
Two shirts, two jackets, a coat, and a blanket. With the van’s heater going full blast.
Hey, she’s earned it.
And that’s where we’ll pick up in the next—quite likely penultimate—installment of this story.