How to be a Bug, Part 2: Hard Questions I Ask Myself

10.28.2015 | 11:45 am

A Note from Fatty: The 100 Miles of Nowhere kits are going to start shipping tomorrow; the final thing to arrive — t-shirts — should be arriving today!

I went to the DNA warehouse yesterday to drop product off and take a shot of all the gear (minus the t-shirts). 

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I’m very stoked with the great swag kit that’s going out to 100 Miles of Nowhere racers this year! 

Today I’m continuing with my “sometimes you’re the windshield; sometimes you’re the bug” story from yesterday about racing the Ogden Utah Xterra. But first: I want to dwell for a moment on the huge advantages a poor swimmer can get from good equipment. Think about it: with literally no training whatsoever (and I mean the literal meaning of the word “literally” here), I had a 12% improvement over the first time I had done this swim.

Twelve freaking percent.

And I’d say that 100% of that 12% improvement is due to technology: a fantastic wetsuit (the BlueSeventy Reaction) and a GPS (the Iolite).

Think about that for a second: this gear made it possible for a swimmer with very poor form and no training to turn in a pretty reasonable time. 

Bike and clothing manufacturers: please make me a bike that makes me 12% faster. 

Oh wait, I guess you already have:


But that’s not exactly what I meant.

The Ride

The first thing I did after finishing the swim was make a huge mistake: I took my time getting ready for the ride.

Now, I wasn’t thinking in terms of “I think I’ll take my time.” I was thinking in terms of “Be calm and deliberate and efficient.”

But the effect was that I was slow and wasted a ton of time. Which The Hammer was gracious enough to record for all posterity. 

Here I am, slowly walking to the bike corral:

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And here I am, leisurely getting out bike clothes:

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And then getting a nice long drink of water:

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I remember I took especially long to get my socks and gloves on, because my feet and hands were still wet.

Now, there was never any chance of me getting on a podium — I knew that — and so I wasn’t really concerning myself with trying for a fast transition.

If I’d thought about it, though, I’d have hurried. A lot.

Because as I was taking my time getting myself together, a lot of racers who were doing the short version of the race were finishing their swim and starting their ride.

And in short, I was in there a full five minutes, on the dot. About twice as long as most people.

Which means that I was behind a lot of people, right from the beginning of the bike race:


This meant that, right from the beginning, I had a lot of passing to do:


But really, I didnt’ mind. I was on the only part of the race I am good at: the ride.

And I did…OK. Of all the people doing the race, I was the fourth fastest on the bike, and of the men in my age group, I was easily the fastest on the bike (and of the men in the age group I’ll be in next year, I was the fastest by about 13 minutes). 

But as far as I was concerned, I wasn’t competing with those people. I was competing with my own times, from previous years (2011 and 2014).

And against my previous-years’ self, I was a full seven minutes slower than my best. 

And I knew I was slower.

I knew it before I finished the ride, as I looked down at my GPS and saw how far off my hoped-for pace I was. I knew it when — for pretty much the first time ever on this course — a person passed me on the bike.

I knew it, to be honest, when I put on the one-piece Triathalong outfit the day before the race, and was able to squeeze into it only through a force of will. I knew that my extra pudge was going to be a problem when I did this 17-mile, 3300 feet of climbing mountain bike ride.

The fact is, this part of the race is all about power-to-weight ratio, and I’m not doing so great in the “weight” part of that equation this year. 

Which is to say, by the time I finished this ride, my lack of form had been pretty forcefully driven home:

Fancy gear had made me five minutes faster on the swim, but my big ol’ paunch had made me seven minutes slower on the bike.

Hard Questions

And that’s when I started learning the first big lesson of the day: When your self-image depends on you always getting faster, you will eventually be disappointed.

Some day you’ll be older. Or heavier. Or — in my case — both. Some day, you’ll slow down. At that point, you’d better have a new motivation already set up, or you’re going to have a rough time.

Though, to be honest, I didn’t really start processing the lesson until sometime after the race. During the race, I just looked at my Garmin in despair and disbelief. 

And even now, I’m having a difficult time dealing with the inevitability that there’s going to be a tapering down of what I’m capable of. I look at my results from this race and don’t see a good, fast time. I look at them and see a seven minute problem. 

I don’t look at photos of me from this race and see a guy who is not half-bad for being eight months away from 50 years old. I see a ten pound problem.

And I’m not sure where my problem is: do I need to get in better shape, or do I need to be happy with the shape I have? Do I need to be ashamed at how chubby and slow I have become, or be grateful that I can go as fast as I do?

Should I be upset at having slowed down, or proud that I have enough general fitness that with no training in two of three sports, I can complete an Xterra at all?

These are questions I’m asking myself for real, and while I kind of feel like I know what my answers should be, what I feel is completely different.

And this was only the first of the big lessons this race had to teach me.

The lesson I’d learn in the run would be much more painful.

Which is where I’ll pick up tomorrow.


  1. Comment by davidh-Marin,ca | 10.28.2015 | 12:14 pm

    Pshaw to 50!
    Take it up a notch when your motivation becomes to make the time cut offs, finish the effort, or just get in before they roll up the tents. I believe I’ve had my best year ‘riding’ and have started to think about doing better in 2016. Harder, faster, leaner is the goal, then I read this:

    I’m sticking with making the cutoffs.

    100 MoN looks awesome! I’m already a winner in the Pirate Division, just need a parrot.

  2. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 10.28.2015 | 12:40 pm

    The answers to the questions near the end of this post are in everyone’s own mind. You’ve blogged about that before.

    Everybody like us; aging but still relish pushing our bodies hard and seeing better results asks them. My motivation (besides still working to be as fast as possible) is looking at results and seeing 80+ year olds or even 90+ people still doing it.

    Slowing down is inevitable. Participating, performing at your best, and enjoying it never (hopefully) stops!

    Oh, and I think your 4th best overall is pretty darn good, despite your perceived “slow” time. I get taught a lesson about running every time I get about 10 yards into it. Can’t wait…

  3. Comment by Captain_Passive | 10.28.2015 | 1:10 pm

    I am not even close to 50 yet (Ha!), but have been asking these questions since I left my twenties behind. I guess it is universal and all we can do is to know we have left nothing on the course. You really need to work on your transitions, though…

  4. Comment by Lauri | 10.28.2015 | 1:21 pm

    In my case it wasn’t age that got me slower/fatter, but having a baby. And then a toddler. And now a pre-schooler. Along with other life stuff that makes me the primary caregiver & full time employee I have yet to figure out the answer to the questions. (Actually I think I have – because I haven’t done a race where I was trained/trying since I had my kid).

    Also – I had conveniently forgotton about the 100 Miles of Nowhere. Can I just sit on my bike without pedaling for a couple of hours & call it good??

  5. Comment by SeanB | 10.28.2015 | 1:37 pm

    As I often say – getting older is inevitable, as perhaps is slowing down. However, I keep training and racing to put that day off as long as possible. Procrastination CAN Be a positive!

  6. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach's executor | 10.28.2015 | 2:50 pm

    I took up cyclocross racing late in the 2012-2013 season. The 2 races I did that year were mostly about learning the protocols. The 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons were about fairly consistent improvement in both skills and results.

    The current 2015-2016 season has seen a plateauing of results, but not skills, which keep getting better. How’s that possible? Well, age and weight and fitness are offsetting improved skills.

    Every time I’m slogging along on a power section, I wonder how I’ll ever overcome fitness (easy), weight (less easy), and age (still working on this one). Then, I get to a technical section and love the challenge of improvign my handling of the bike.

    It took some time, but it finally dawned on me that the question isn’t coming to grips with slowly declining power or relishing slowly improving technique, but the more elemental “am I having fun racing my bike in the company of like-minded knuckleheads?”

    The answer to the latter question is a definitive yes. And that’s why I was riding around a moonlit but still very dark field in mid 30 degree temperatures at 5:30a this morning setting the course for a CX practice that drew eight like-minded knuckleheads.

  7. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 10.28.2015 | 2:51 pm

    Oh, and I guess I should probably have changed my name back. Done.

  8. Comment by Corrine | 10.28.2015 | 3:42 pm

    Yes, we all grapple with the same questions as we age. I like @JeffD’s response. Am I having fun racing my bike in the company of like-minded knuckleheads? Yes, I still do. I still am getting a little faster (or smarter) and I’m in my mid 50’s. And I’m hoping that having my knees replaced 3 1/2 weeks ago will make me even faster next year. Sometimes it helps that I didn’t really get more serious about racing until I was 50. I don’t have any expectations of what I might have been capable of in my younger days since I didn’t race in my younger days! I don’t think you are in your downhill slide yet, Fatty.
    I think 4th in biking is nothing to sneeze at by the way.

  9. Comment by davidh-Marin,ca | 10.28.2015 | 3:57 pm

    BTW Fatty, if you could ask DNA about my 3 missing pairs of socks from June I’ll thank you in pie. They’ll find my email from June(I heard they had some c.s. Issues back then.

  10. Comment by Arizona Guy | 10.28.2015 | 4:38 pm

    I’m a few years ahead of you on the rationalization curve – I’ve come to terms that the extra 10-20 pounds I carry is not the difference in me making the podium, but I enjoy all I want to eat & drink.

    What I do focus on, Mr 5-minute T1, is racing as intelligently as I can, preparing well and racing to a plan. You have written ad nauseum (literally!) about your race nutrition and bathroom breaks , so practice a transition or two! Cut 2-3 minutes off your T1 time and you would have 20-30 fewer people ahead of you clogging the trails, which would give you back several of those 7 minutes.

    But no matter how you prepare, sometimes you are still the bug…

  11. Comment by Bryant Likes | 10.28.2015 | 4:39 pm

    I don’t think you actually asked yourself the hard question that really matters: what is more important to me, being fast or eating what I want. :)

  12. Comment by Kristina | 10.28.2015 | 5:23 pm

    @davidh-Marin,ca Thanks for filling me in on yesterday’s post. Bummer about the retina… I didn’t know such a thing was possible but it sounds quite unpleasant!

  13. Comment by Kristina | 10.28.2015 | 5:27 pm

    Fatty… I’m not sure what the answer is to this, as I’ve got a while to go before 50. However, when I look at the people in their forties, fifties, and beyond, what I tend to notice is this — the ones who have lives I’d like to be living when I get to that age are the ones who are DOING things. Getting out, living, adventuring, experiencing, making a difference, finding new things, etc.

    Be annoyed by more years and more pounds… and then ignore them and do all the fun stuff anyway!

  14. Comment by Lea | 10.28.2015 | 6:59 pm


    I’ve been reading your blog on and off for years. I am finally getting back on the bike after a 25 year layoff. I hope to sign up for the 100 miles to Nowhere ride next year.


  15. Comment by MikeL | 10.28.2015 | 7:04 pm

    Go for the age groups. If you have good DNA then you can out-live the competition and always podium. I would also refer you to Jimmy Buffet’s “Oldest Surfer on the Beach”.

  16. Comment by davidh-Marin,ca | 10.28.2015 | 7:17 pm

    ‘Age Group’ is the only place I live. 3rd at Boggs in age but I registered as a beginner instead and missed my podium. Next year.

  17. Comment by LPCity | 10.28.2015 | 9:29 pm

    Good questions to always ask yourself and never any easy answers… You and your wife passed me last Sunday on Canyon Hollow: you two climbing quickly up the trail, me off to the side letting you pass as I was descending. I’m quite fast descending due to the extra 20 lbs that I’ve been packing this season. At age 58, I’m going to weigh more when I don’t have a big event to train for. I did my last LOTOJA in 2012 and my whole goal was just to finish, which I did. For me it’s just about enjoying time on the bike and enjoying rides with my friends when we can all find the time to get together.
    Sometimes the get togethers are a cookout and beers after a ride and that’s fine too. As Warren Zevon famously said “enjoy every sandwich” (or pie in your case). Time on the bike is always good no matter the result and in the end we are all ultimately racing father time.

  18. Comment by Davidg | 10.28.2015 | 11:08 pm

    I hear. I hear the trend in the comments to enjoy what you have. But what I have to enjoy is the time on the bike getting faster stronger.

    Velocity is ok but acceleration is fun.

    I enjoy being in touch with my body.
    The man mind machine thing helps me understand the man and I miss that when I let myself age

  19. Comment by Brian in VA | 10.29.2015 | 6:51 am

    I saw the pictures of me at my last Gran Fondo, the Tour of Richmond, last week and was appalled by the look of me from the front. I’ve recommitted myself to doing something about it but I’m not wholly committed to it, ya know? I’d like to lose 20 pounds but I like a Manhattan or a good craft beer, too. It’s a constant battle for me; I’d like to live longer and I don’t want to be disappointed that I did!

    Hang in there, Fatty!

  20. Comment by PaulW | 10.29.2015 | 6:57 am

    I have my own definition of ‘old’ – this is when you can no longer cycle your age in miles.

    OK – I’m not an award-winning cycling blogger, and my aims are modest, but it will do for me!

    By this reckoning I calculate that Fatty & the Hammer have about 150 years buffer.

    (Students are encouraged to check the math)

  21. Comment by *** | 10.29.2015 | 9:33 am

    It gets worse. The “epiphanies” become more painful. The declines become more stark. It gets worse. And then it gets better, because you accept what is happening (hey, it happens to EVERYONE, eventually) and you start enjoying not having a “game face.”

  22. Comment by *** | 10.29.2015 | 9:33 am


  23. Comment by rb | 10.29.2015 | 10:00 am

    Lots of people have the very positive view of being happy with what you have — because it’s better than 95% of those out there. And that’s cool.

    Never let up Fatty. You didn’t go Sub-9, nearly Sub-8, and WIN singlespeed (not age group — the whole darn division) at Leadville by being happy with what you have. And you certainly didn’t make your impact on the world through fundraising and spreading the joy of great advice like “how to pose for a picture” by being OK with things being just good.

    Yeah, those windshields are darn fast. Keep outpacing them. And like a smart bug, take the draft over the top of the car if you can’t out run it.

  24. Comment by Tom in Albany | 10.29.2015 | 11:37 am

    @Bryant likes: Fatty may or may not have asked the difficult question but, his actions have given the current answer. His weight is the indicator of said answer. He can always change his mind, though!

  25. Comment by UpTheGrade, SR, CA | 10.29.2015 | 5:31 pm

    Don’t settle Fatty. I am over 50 (just) and am the fastest I’ve ever been through a combination of better and more consistent training and a little weight loss.

    Riding for its own sake is fun and all, but what motivates me is a new PR that says I’m the best I’ve ever been. What age does that become no longer possible? Who knows, but I aim to make it a long time from now. For now I just need to survive the Holidays without adding the usual 10 lbs of good cheer!

    I’m not settling. Moments of defeat are motivating for me. – FC

  26. Comment by Ferde | 10.31.2015 | 9:23 am

    Well you’re not chubby and definitely not slow. Not every race is going to be great.


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