A Note from Fatty: I love this very funny, self-deprecating 100MoN account from John, a guy who clearly has serious cycling endurance cred. Enjoy
This was to be my third 100 Miles of Nowhere…but I had a problem. On the day of the official 100MoN I was doing 100 miles of somewhere, specifically La Ruta De Los Conquistadores (http://www.adventurerace.com/), one of the most epic rides anywhere!
La Ruta was a fantastic experience on many levels, from great riding, seeing the Costa Rican jungle, and getting to know the terrific country and people of Costa Rica. We covered mud, rivers, relentless climbing (25,000 feet in the first 2 days) and the finale on railroad tracks.
All great fun, something I would recommend to any adventure-minded cyclist who likes to climb (I’m looking at you Fatty), but definitely not Nowhere: The race cross the entire country from the Pacific to the Caribbean coast.
I came back to Colorado and there was the 100MoN goodie box, staring at me accusingly.
“Sure you had your fun,” the stare said, “but how could you wear this super-cool T-shirt without earning it?” That would be stolen valor, a grievous sin to a Marine like myself.
Still, it was now cold and my motivation to break the trainer out of the back room was…low. I had just finished my season! My first race had been in April and I had been in training since about February. So sitting in the pain cave was not an option.
I decided to head to the gym and settle in for some college football and knock it out. I had hopes of finding one of those bikes with the skewed speedometer that showed you averaging 28-30 MPH at a conversational pace. Certain my plan was a good one, I headed out one Saturday morning to go Nowhere.
This was where the insidious nature of the swag kit revealed itself. To support me for what I was now certain would be only about 3 hours, I grabbed gels and some of the snacks from the swag kit, also headphones, my iPad in case the game(s) sucked, a water bottle and more. This could be a handful and there was the musette bag – another great addition to my plan! I dumped all and sundry into the musette, put on my cycling kit and shoes and clopped out to the gym floor.
Marine Wears Man-Purse, Rides Indoor Recumbent, Feels Self-Concious
On my way out I passed the mirror and realized – FATTY HAD SUCKERED ME INTO CARRYING A PURSE! Sure, I knew it was very ‘pro’ to have a musette, but to everybody else I was a dude with a murse.
My ego and self-esteem punctured, I headed to the rows of cardio machines and realized my shame was only going to get worse. The half-dozen or so Spin bikes were all taken, as were the dozen or so LifeCycles with their semi-respectable upright position; my only option was…a recumbent.
Only a week ago I was a proud finisher of ‘The toughest mountain bike race on the Planet.’ Now…I was on a recumbent, carrying a man-bag, sitting next to wheezing geriatrics.
I could only hope not to be recognized.
I settled in, arranged my purse and started flipping through the dozen channels available on the attached monitor. I found a game, adjusted my headphones and popped open the ‘workout’ screen looking for the highest possible speed. I don’t ride these bikes much anymore, but in the past I remember seeing irrational speeds like ’28 MPH’ over decent workouts.
On my particular steed for the day, this was not the case.
My comfortable pace was only generating about 14 MPH, I played around with resistance levels, cadence and was disappointed to find the best I was going to do on this machine was maybe 17MPH. No Joy…
Grim faced, I pedaled on, avoiding eye contact and occasionally reaching into my purse for a treat.
I got through the second half of the game, flipped open my iPad and dialed up an episode of Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch (a really excellent series!), that usually run a bit more than an hour. I did manage to move to an upright bike for this portion, and the pace picked up maybe 1 MPH, and my dignity got a bit of a boost from sitting on a bike like I meant it, despite the little black purse hanging from my handlebars.
As Sherlock once again bested Moriarty, I hopped off to go refill my water bottles and check for a suitcase of courage. Finding water —but no courage — I returned to my steed trying to convince myself to get back on. With a clammy shirt, a few empty gel and chew wrappers accurately representing my energy levels, I knew I was done for the day.
I resolved to return on the morrow to complete the task, and took note of my combined stats: 3 ½ hours, 56 miles. Tomorrow I would certainly find the fabled ‘fast bike’ and polish of my 100MoN Century.
OK, so I didn’t make it back the next day, but I seriously considered it.
It was actually a week before I went back to the gym. Still smarting from the purse incident, I considered my options to carry my necessities. I considered brining my gym bag to the floor with me, but it is a nasty thing at this stage of its life, misshapen with non-functional zippers, odd stains and straps stiffly protruding at odd angles.
That would not improve my image or self-respect.
I similarly considered and discarded the ideas of: high-jacking one of my kids’ school backpacks, a grocery bag or my bare hands – before once again electing to sling my man-bag over my shoulder.
Stage 2 of my 100 MON was not terribly different from the first, though I had an earlier start, and my choice of bikes. The retired Schwinn SPIN bikes (from a simpler era, before the cycling studio added computerized ‘bikes’) looked fast and had a proper saddle on them, but no TV screen and didn’t even have a real odometer on them.
I went back to the upright LifeCycles and chose a different one than last week, praying for a loose speedometer. Sadly, this one seemed as reluctant as the last, settling in at a mulish 17.5 MPH. My personal batteries had recharged a bit more from La Ruta, and in the interests of finishing sooner, I made intervals out of the TV commercials during the game and pushed over 20 MPH for those frequent 2 minute intervals.
So another 2 ½ hours or so and I had my additional 44 miles in. The interesting thing was, that while I have done many 4, 5 & 6 hour solo rides, this ride in a public place felt lonelier than any of them. People came and went next to me over the course of the 6 hours or so of riding, but few even said hello.I’d see friends bump into each other around the gym, sometimes leaning against a machine for a good long chin-wag for 20-30 minutes, so it is a friendly place overall – but no one I knew happened by, nobody was curious about my pile of towels or man-bag, no questions about the 100MoN paraphernalia I had with me. I’ve read lonelier sounding 100MoN stories (the guys who did it on an aircraft carrier comes to mind), but I expected a bustling gym to be a little more engaging than a trainer in the basement.
So – it was great to help Camp Kesem, I was able to get back on a bike when most of my La Ruta buddies had still not even unboxed their sleds and I could finally pull on that cool T-Shirt with a clean conscience.
I don’t think I can claim first place in some obscure indoor-recumbent category, and breaking this into 2 indoor sessions in front of a TV screen doesn’t qualify me for any hardman points – but I did avoid the DNF tag…even if it took me a week.
Thanks for keeping a strangely compelling event rolling, Fatty!
A “Hey, Take One Minute to Answer a Ten-Year-Old’s Science Project Survey” Note from Fatty: A reader’s daughter is conducting a survey on insulated water bottles as part of her science project for school. I think we should help give her a ton of data to work with. Whether you use insulated water bottles or not (she needs data from both types of people), click here to take her survey. It will take about a minute, and for sure no more than two. Honest.
A “Read That Before This” Note from Fatty: This is the third installment of my Interlaken 100 Ride Report. If you haven’t read part 1 and part 2 before you read this part, you should.
We were seventy miles into the Interlaken 100, and had just refueled. With a fifteen minute rest in our legs and only thirty miles left in this century, you’d think we’d be eager to fly to the finish line.
But that wasn’t how it was.
Twenty minutes of fierce head/crosswind had left The Hammer and me pretty much demolished. And now we knew we had more of the same wind in front of us, not to mention the second significant climb of the day coming up soon.
So as we left the park, we did so with an acute lack of alacrity.
But then, within a few hundred feet, something wonderful happened.
Or rather, two wonderful things.
Or rather, two wonderful people.
Specifically: two large, strong men, on bicycles, who were both willing and able to work with us.
Train of Awesome
To be honest, I was confused by the appearance of these two very strong riders. After all, The Hammer and I had been riding alone for the past fifty miles. We hadn’t seen anyone behind us that entire time, and if we had known these guys were nearby, we certainly would have joined up with them sooner.
But that’s the thing about smallish groups and big rides. You get spread out pretty early, and then you look around and think you’re all alone, even though there’s probably someone two minutes ahead of you or two minutes behind you.
In this case, I’m pretty sure that these two big guys must have been two minutes behind us when we got to the 70-mile aid station. But these two guys guys were smart big guys, and so when they saw we were leaving, got their stuff together really quickly and caught up to us, making it so everyone had to be in front only half as often.
And suddenly, the outrageous difficulty of this cross/headwind became completely manageable, and the ride started being fun again.
I don’t know these guys’ names (I hope they somehow see their picture above, recognize themselves, and say hi), but my eyes still well up a little bit at the transformative effect they had on our ride.
A pooling of forces can be such a wonderful thing.
Together, the four of us made short work of the final ten miles in the flat part of the Interlaken 100. Which brought us to the eighty-mile mark in this race. I mean ride. Just twenty miles to go, seven of which (miles 80-87) would be up. Not radically up — 700 feet in seven miles isn’t outrageously steep.
But make no mistake: it is up.
And before long, the two big guys moved to the back, with The Hammer and me just taking turns with the pulling. Then one of them dropped off. Then the other dropped off.
The Hammer and I talked about slowing down so we could pick these guys up again. And then we even tried to do it. But there’s a weird thing about being eighty-five miles into a hundred-mile race. You’ve been going so long that your level of effort has become involuntary. You go the effort you can go, and you can no more let off the gas by five percent than you can step up your pace by five percent.
We could no more pick those guys up than they could ride up to us.
But I still felt (and still feel) bad about the inequity of it all. Big guys can certainly help little guys be faster at what big guys are good at (going fast on flats, punching holes in the wind).
But little guys can’t help big guys be faster at what little guys are good at (going up hills).
Basically, because of my height I’ve been the recipient of a lot more cycling help than I will ever give.
It’s just not fair.
Finishing (Not) Strong
The Hammer and I made it to mile 87 — the summit of the last climb, leading to a steep, fast descent, and then eight dead-flat miles along the shore of Bear Lake to a park.
I thought all the hard part was behind us.
But it wasn’t.
Sure, the descent was fun, but when we got to the lake and the final should-be-easy seven miles of the ride, something happened. Specifically, my power gave out before the ride ended.
I had nothing left. At all. I was cooked. Smoked. Done.
I had one option if I wanted to finish this ride, and one option only: tuck in behind The Hammer and ask her to not go very fast. Which is precisely what I did.
For a guy who takes pride in his power and endurance, that’s a pretty humble way to finish a ride.
But we did. And at exactly 100.0 miles (so weird), there was the park and a volunteer waving us into it.
Even through my bonk, I managed to say to The Hammer, “That’s funny. I’m so conditioned to hundred-mile rides never being exactly 100 miles that I wasn’t even bothering to look for a finish line right now.”
There’s something wonderful and rare about not having anything to do. Maybe that’s one of the things that draws me to big rides: I know that afterward, I have permission to be completely and utterly lazy.
Which is to say, The Hammer and I just laid on the grass, eating the sandwiches we had taken at the seventy-mile mark of the ride.
Relaxing is awesome.
Of course, now we had a problem: how were we going to get ourselves and our bikes the hundred miles back to where the Interlaken started?
No, I’m just kidding, that was no problem at all. The organizers had arranged for big vans to take us and our bikes back to the beginning.
During which I sometimes idly looked out the window, and sometimes napped.
And for that reason — among many others — I hereby declare the Interlaken 100 to be a wonderful event.
A Note From Fatty: If you haven’t read part 1 of this story, you probably should read it before reading this second part. Click here.
The first ten miles of the Interlaken 100 had taken us less than half an hour (25 minutes, in fact) to complete. The second ten miles of the Interlaken had taken us almost exactly half an hour to complete.
The third ten miles…well, that took us about fifty minutes to complete.
That’s what happens when things turn uphill.
We didn’t mind, though. We had studied the elevation profile of the Interlaken 100:
We knew that once we got to mile 37, we’d have miles (and miles and miles) of downhill and flat ahead of us. Just get to the top of this one big climb, and the rest of this ride would be fast and easy.
We were so naïve.
While our understanding of what we were in for for the rest of the Interlaken was sadly lacking (feel free to guess what we didn’t account for and I’ll bet you get it in one try), there was one obstacle we absolutely positively had no trouble identifying as we climbed:
Pretty much the entirety of California was on fire, and the smoke had paid a visit to Utah, big time. To the extent that we could not see further than the next bend. Which is a huge shame, because — from what we could see of it — the mountain we were climbing must have had some extraordinary views.
There was so much smoke that we could smell it, and taste it, with every breath. So much so, that The Hammer gave her ride this name on Strava:
(There’s a little bit of a spoiler there, but you had guessed it anyway, right?)
Meet Your Neighbors
By the time we got to the top of the big climb, we had started to catch a few of the people who had started in the earlier wave.
This, as it turned out, would be one of The Hammer’s and my favorite things about the Interlaken. Throughout the day, we’d have new “carrots” ahead of us, and would then have new people to give encouragement to, and get encouragement from.
It made for a really great, friendly vibe for the entirety of the race. Plus, as we’d find out soon enough, it would offer both the early and late starters some very welcome opportunities
Just before we got to the beginning of the big descent, The Hammer and I saw an easy-up tent in a pullout on the side of the road: an aid station.
“Do you need to refill your bottles?” I asked.
“Nope, still good,” she replied. “No reason to stop.”
Then, as we went by, we saw: the group of three riders ahead of us had stopped, and were refilling.
The Hammer and I had taken the overall lead.
…But Not for Long
Since I mentioned how long it took to do each of the first few ten-mile sections of this ride, it might be worth noting that mile 40 – 50 and 50 – 60 each took about fifteen minutes.
Twenty miles in half an hour. That’s what a twenty-mile descent (dropping 2500 feet in that distance) will do for you.
But at least for the first ten miles, The Hammer and I were not riding together. Our road riding arrangement — evolved over six years of training together — means that we generally climb together, and then descend separately, with me out in front.
So while I could generally see The Hammer when I looked back, we weren’t focused on flying at maximum speed.
But the group of three was.
Around mile fifty, they suddenly (meaning I hadn’t ever noticed them behind me whenever I looked back to see if The Hammer was close) rocketed by me, the three of them in a tight formation, taking turns pulling.
Within half a minute, they were fifty feet ahead of me.
Realizing that our best opportunity to get on board with a fast-moving express train to the finish line was quickly disappearing in the distance, I sat up and braked so The Hammer could get to me as quickly as possible. I then yelled, “We’ve got to try to catch those guys!”
And we commenced to turn ourselves inside out, figuring that if we could grab on to these guys now, we’d be in great shape for the twenty-mile section of flat road we’d be hitting momentarily.
But I just couldn’t do it.
We rode as hard as we could, but two fast people just aren’t as fast as three fast people. The group of three continued to put distance on us ’til we could no longer see them at all.
Once again, it was just The Hammer and me.
Wall of Wind
Right around mile sixty, the giant descent ended, coming to a T and a stop sign in the road. We turned left…
…and into a wall of wind. Specifically, a 3/4 crosswind wall, coming at us from our ten-o-clock.
Where before I would have liked to be with the group of three, now I was kicking myself. Why didn’t we join that group when we had the chance? (Answer: because I am a lousy strategist.)
So The Hammer and I rode into this ten-mile smokey hairdryer section together, taking half-mile pulls and looking forward to the seventy-mile aid station in the Randolph city park, where we could take a break, refill our bottles, and maybe get something to eat.
From time to time, we’d catch a rider from the early wave of racers. Always one single rider. Ugh, I thought. Brutal. We’d wave them onto our little train, giving them a chance to recover, hoping they’d be able to just hang on, stay with us ’til we got to the park.
Unfortunately, none of them could. They’d drop off after a minute or so — our pace just was not their pace.
Finally, we made it to the park. Seventy miles into the Interlaken 100, and I was so grateful to just have a break from the roar of wind.
Our bikes were grateful for the rest, too. Photo courtesy of the Interlaken 100.
And then I saw the spread laid out for us at the park, and I was even more grateful. Subway sandwiches galore, nuts, licorice, cookies, and so much more. If I weren’t so manly, tears of joy might have sprung to my eyes.
I grabbed handfuls of food, stuffed them into my mouth.
And then, I saw something even better: the group of three. They were still here. If we hurried here, we could ride with them and spend so much less time in the wind.
But first, I needed to go to the bathroom.
Of course, you know what that means: by the time I got out, they had left.
It was just The Hammer, me, and the wind again. And we still had thirty miles to go.
Which seems like a good place to pick up in the next installment of this story.
Picture this: you’re getting ready for a bike race. A thousand mile race, in Alaska. In February. The Iditarod Invitational…which is the same race that in prior years has just about claimed some of your toes.
Your response? Race it again, but this time do the thousand mile version.
That’s Jill Homer, and this is just the kind of thing she does. I talk with her about this race, blogging, photography at 20 below Zero, and much more, in this episode of the FattyCast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes or Stitcher, or just using my RSS Feed (http://fattycast.com/rss). And of course, you can just listen on this page or download it here:
Links and Notes and Strange Photographs
Of course, the most important note in this show is to follow Jill’s blog, which I’ve been a fan of for ten solid years now. Follow her on Twitter, too.
Of course, we spend a ton of time talking about her prep for this year’s Iditarod Invitational in this podcast, so be sure to bookmark the race site so you can follow her during the event itself.
And finally, because I said I would (for some reason), here are the photos I’ve posted of Jill as a Giant in previous posts.
And here’s the other.
I’m sorry, Jill.
I’m a simple man, with a simple request. Which is, quite simply, for a Natural Century.
What is a “Natural Century,” you ask?
Well, a Natural Century is a 100-mile bike ride that satisfies these (very simple) requirements:
- It is 100 miles long. Not 101 miles. Not 99.5 miles. One hundred point zero miles. Though I’m probably willing to give or take a tenth of a mile due to the fact that no two Garmins (or even the same Garmin twice on the same route) have ever given the precisely same result.
- It is either a loop or a point-to-point. No fifty-mile out-n-backs with turnarounds just because you hit a fifty-mile mark on your computer.
- No silly miles. This is the big one. A Natural Century can’t have you taking weird detours and snaking through neighborhoods in order to get to that 100 mile mark.
Am I really asking for too much here? It doesn’t seem like I am, but the truth is, I’ve been in search of this elusive Natural Century for years. Without success.
The Leadville 100 is perhaps the most famous Unnatural Century, considering it has the “100” right in its name, but is 103.9 miles. And it’s an out-n-back for crying out loud.
There are like a thousand different routes you can now take when riding Levi’s GranFondo, and not a single one of them forms a Natural Century (the version we always ride is 101.7 miles).
The Moab White Rim isn’t a Natural Century…although it’s astonishingly close (100.3 miles according to Strava, 99.83 miles according to my GPS display), considering that it’s a loop on a dirt road.
My big local training rides aren’t Natural Centuries, either.
The Gauntlet isn’t a Natural Century.
Riding around Utah Lake isn’t. Well, the photo below looks like it qualifies, but that’s only because it was that one time I took some detours that totally disqualified it.
Or, sure, you can game the ride. Here’s the result when we went around the lake and then added a couple of neighborhood blocks so we could claim a 100-mile ride in under five hours:
Awesome? Yes. Natural Century? No way.
Even an an out and back with a turnaround at exactly 50 miles…doesn’t seem to net me a perfect 100 miles:
To be honest, I was beginning to believe the Natural Century just doesn’t exist.
But it does. There is such a thing as a perfect Natural Century. Better yet, it’s a point-to-point Natural Century. Even more better yet, it’s from a park by one lake to a park at another lake.
Best of all, it’s a local ride, it’s an awesome ride, and it’s a local event.
It’s the Interlaken 100: Pineview to Bear Lake. It was August 22. The Hammer and I rode it, and this is our report.
The Second Prologue
Okay, now that I’ve gotten the longest story leadup in the history of self-indulgent blogs out of the way, let’s have just a little more leadup, in the form of context:
The day after racing the Leadville 100, The Hammer and I spent all day driving home to Utah.
The day after that, I flew to Austin for work, and stayed there for most of a week.
As I flew home on Friday, I started feeling tired and sore in a very unusual way. Like I was sick, and there was a large and painful sore on the back of my leg. I didn’t realize it at the time of course, but I was just starting my MRSA journey (no idea where or when that will end, BTW).
The next day — exactly one week after we had raced the LT100 — was the Interlaken 100. Which we planned to ride as if it were a race (i.e., push ourselves and try for a fast time).
Seemed like a good idea at the time. Although I can’t remember why we thought so.
Seriously, I’ll Be Getting to the Ride Itself Eventually
Actually, I’m just kidding about not remembering why we wanted to join the Interlaken: The Hammer would be racing LoToJa in about a month, and so couldn’t afford to let her fitness slip after Leadville.
Also, we thought the idea of the ride was really great: ride 100 miles from one lake (Pine View Reservoir, near Ogden, Utah) to another (Bear Lake, in Bear Lake, Utah), on roads we haven’t ever ridden before.
I was excited to be getting back on the bike; five days of forced “recovery” in a conference room had been plenty.
So Saturday morning, we got up at four, ate, and made the ninety-minute drive out to Ogden. Sitting that long was uncomfortable for me, and the whole way up I worried that biking would hurt too.
Our plan was simple: ride together, practice drafting, go at a solid pace for the hundred miles.
There were free donuts for everyone at the packet pickup. This was my kind of ride.
We started in the second wave, at 8:30 am; the first wave had started at 6:30 am (waves were self-selected by riders based on how much time you thought you would need to ride the course).
Let’s Race. I Mean Ride.
There were probably around 75 of us at the start. The Hammer and I sorted ourselves to the back third of the group, not knowing how this was going to go from the beginning.
As it turns out, it went really well. Like, absurdly well. You see, the elevation profile for the Interlaken 100 is really simple:
Two climbs, lots of flat at the beginning and in between.
And at least for the “at the beginning” flat section, we all rode together. Seriously, I am pretty sure that for the first ten miles, the entire group stuck together.
For those of us near the back, that equated out to darned near no work whatsoever for the first ten miles.
And for me in particular, it was even better than that. See, I’d — through blind luck — managed to get behind a big rider. And by “big,” I mean “tall and incredibly strong.”
Riding behind him for may have been the easiest ten miles of my life. (For what it’s worth, I did try to move forward and pull him for a moment; he laughed and came back around. I got the sense I was doing him no good whatsoever.
As a 5’7” guy, I sometimes feel bad about the big guy / little guy draft disparity issue. I typically address this issue by eating a lot, in order to make myself bigger.
Because I care, that’s why.
A Farewell to the Pack
The first climb in the Interlaken 100 is a long one. Twenty-five miles long, really. That’s a long time to be going up.
But that climb starts really gradually. So gradually that at first I didn’t even realize that the road had turned up. Instead, I found myself wondering why this big guy I was behind was starting to fall off the pack.
I indicated to The Hammer to follow me and we swung around and in front of him.
“Grab on,” I shouted as I pulled around him. “We’ll bridge back to the group.”
And he did. And we did.
But the next time I looked back, he was gone.
The group had splintered; we had bridged to the back of the leading group. And there was a problem with that. The people we were behind kept falling off what I now realized was the climbing group. Which meant that The Hammer and I kept having to swing around and re-bridge back up.
After a few times, that got pretty old.
I decided it was time for The Hammer and me to take charge of our ride…as well as anyone else’s ride who wanted to come along.
“Grab on,” I yelled at The Hammer, and we rode to the front, right around twenty miles into the race. Which, coincidentally, was more or less when the road turns seriously uphill.
I stayed there, with The Hammer in third or fourth position, for a few miles. Applying as much pressure as the group was willing to take, backing off just a little whenever The Hammer yelled at me to cool it.
The group of twenty people turned to ten pretty quickly. Then to eight. Then six.
The Hammer, me, and four more guys.
At that point, three of the guys swung around and started applying even more pressure. The Hammer, one other guy, and I couldn’t hang.
The guy hanging on with The Hammer and me was struggling. Dropping back, then working hard to grab back on. And the thing is, he was a really nice guy, plus I figured if I could help him stay with us now, he’d be a valuable asset once we got down the other side of the mountain.
So a couple times, when he dropped back, I rode back and did my best to pull him up to The Hammer.
But that kind of thing only works for a while, and we still had more than ten miles of climbing ahead of us.
“I’ll see you guys later,” he said.
And now The Hammer and I were in fourth and fifth place, overall.
Not that we were racing or anything. Because this was not a race.
And also, we didn’t have a plan to catch the three guys ahead of us.
Because, as I just noted, this was not a race.
Which seems like a good place to break off for part 2.
PS: Part 2 will come out on Wednesday, because tomorrow (Tuesday) I’ll be posting a new FattyCast episode. One which I am a thousand percent confident you will want to listen to.
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