2015 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 5: Zombies

06.22.2015 | 8:52 pm

Previously in this Story: 

  1. Race Prediction: We Will Lose
  2. Part 0: Generosity and Bratwurst
  3. Part 1: Cold Fury
  4. Part 2: A Day in the Life
  5. Part 3: Winning When You’re Losing
  6. Part 4: The Chase

Each installment of this race report has had a lot of pictures. This episode, sadly, has only one: a selfie Lynette and The Hammer took shortly before The Hammer’s second turn on the bike: 

Thumb IMG 3397 1024

That’s Lisa, right before she discovered that the battery on her headlamp…had not held a charge. Luckily, it was no problem; I had brought a spare battery for The Hammer’s light, which Cory had found and plugged in.

Good thing we had brought that spare.

Ode to Boulder

Leg 6, Torrey – Boulder, is about forty miles long, and has the simplest elevation profile of any leg in the race

Screenshot 2015 06 23 07 10 35

Twenty-five miles up (about 4000 feet total climbing), then rocket fifteen miles down. Back when I did a pre-race video chat with other racers about The Rockwell Relay, we spent a disproportionate amount of time talking about this particular leg of the race, because it looms large in the memory of anyone who’s ridden it.

It’s dark. You’re in the mountains. You’re climbing for what feels like forever. And then you’re flying down the other side (still in the dark, obviously), feeling like you’re on a sub-arctic rollercoaster.

To be clear, I mean all of this in a good way. In fact, after riding it the first time (in my first racing of the Rockwell Relay), I described it as “the single best ride I have ever had on a bike.”

In short, this ride sticks with you.

Marci is Fast

In addition to everything I’ve already said about the Boulder Mountain leg, this year it was the site of the KOM/QOM challenge: a timing mat at the top of the climb would give results for the fastest man and woman in the 25-ish mile climb.

I had no idea who the KOM winner would be, but I was pretty much certain of who the QOM winner would be: Marci, on team Infinite Stamina. 

[Speculation Alert] In fact, I suspect that it was with an eye toward this twenty-five mile climbing challenge that she had taken on the role of racer two on the team, instead of racer one. Why else would a climbing specialist like Marci opt out of the racer slot with by far the most climbing (racer one does 10,233 feet of climbing over all three legs; racer two does 6,346 over all three legs)? [/Speculation Alert]

The Hammer and I are well-acquainted with Marci’s climbing prowess. The Hammer’s job at this year’s Rockwell Relay was to limit damage; not prevent it.

“I have ten thousand dollars on Marci beating you to the top of Boulder,” Troy said to The Hammer as she waited for me at the exchange. “Don’t prove me wrong.”

Troy was looking for banter, but it wasn’t a good time for it. I know she’s a faster climber than I am, you don’t need to rub it in, The Hammer thought to herself. 

Aloud, The Hammer said, “I’m just going to ride and listen to my music.” Disturbed. Three Days Grace. Metallica. Lots and lots of Metallica. Some people are a little surprised at The Hammer’s music tastes. (When we first started dating, I know I was.)

I came in to the exchange, bellowing “Lisa! Lisa!” I knew that would be the only way she’d be able to know it was me, with my very bright headlamp (the incredible NiteRider Pro 1800 Race) making it impossible to see anything but the light as I approached.

We exchanged “I love yous” as Cory (or was it Lynette? I can’t remember) swapped the timing anklet to Lisa, and then she was gone.

The Hammer went as hard as she could, telling herself she would hold off the Infinite teams as long as she could.

And she did an amazing job, taking the 1:11 I had given her and using it to keep in front of the duo of Marci and Billy for a full seventeen minutes.

Then, Marci slingshotted around Lisa and Billy, flying ahead, as Billy said to Lisa, “Well, I’ve caught Marci up to you; my job is done.”

Billy then sat on Lisa’s wheel for a few moments, presumably catching his breath, and then attacked, racing to catch up with Marci.

The Hammer pulled back, finding her climbing groove.

Marci put on a climbing clinic for the rest of Boulder Mountain; she’d easily win the QOM challenge with a time of 1:50:20. Billy would finish just a little behind her with a very solid 1:52:36, nearly earning a coveted spot in the KOM Challenge top 10. (Earlier, I incorrectly thought Billy had taken eleventh place in the KOM challenge, due to looking at the “rank” column instead of the “gender place” column in the challenge results – FC)

Zombies!

And what was The Hammer’s time? She took third second in the QOM challenge, with a 2:01:37. For what it’s worth, two or three minutes of that time was when she stopped about a half mile before the timing mat and we bundled her up. Insulated tights. Jacket. Heavy gloves. (Earlier, I listed The Hammer as having taken third in the challenge, due to an error in the results which put a man’s time as second in the QOM contest. This has since been corrected. – FC)

The Hammer did not want a repeat of last year’s freezefest descent

We then shot ahead of her, doing our best to stay far enough ahead that we wouldn’t be a hazard or a drafting violation to her, but close enough that if a deer jumped out onto the road, it would hit the van, not her. 

Vans are easier to repair.

We didn’t see any deer as The Hammer descended. Not this year.

But…we did see zombies.

You may think I am kidding, but I am absolutely positively not kidding

As we got about halfway down Boulder Mountain, we saw the first one: one man, on the left side of the road, walking in the same direction we were going.

OK, “walking” isn’t the right word. More like, “stiffly shambling down the road, arms hanging limply at his side.”

Dressed in tan and grey. 

He did not turn and look at us as we approached. He did not react to us in any way at all.

I took very little notice of him.

But in another couple hundred feet, I saw another person. Dressed similarly (but not identically): muted colors. Also walking like a zombie. Also utterly ignoring our car.

And then there was another. And another and another. Every fifty to 200 feet: a solitary (or, occasionally, a pair) figure in tan and gray, slowly walking down the road. 

And get this: it was almost exactly midnight when we saw them.

Zombies. I swear. Maybe twenty or thirty of them, all told. It was unsettling.

Later, after the race, I asked everyone who had been there if they saw them. Yes, they had. Did they seem really weird? Yes, they did.

Zombies? Without question.

I know that quite a few of the folks reading these posts also raced the Rockwell Relay. I’m calling on all of you to confirm that I am telling the truth and not exaggerating even a tiny bit. (And also, if you know what was going on, I’m curious to know, although I think whatever the real explanation is will be a disappointment, compared to: ZOMBIES!)

Comfy Slippers, Part 1

After the terror of the zombies had (sort of) worn off, we stepped on the gas, leaving The Hammer to descend Boulder Mountain (and survive the post-apocalyptic horror of shambling undead humans) on her own. 

Getting to and getting ready for the Boulder exchange is always tricky. Your cyclist is coming down the mountain practically as fast as your vehicle can (sometimes faster); you don’t have a lot of time to unload the bike and get in position for the exchange.

So Cory changed clothes while Lynette expertly drove down the mountain. We found a parking place, then I hopped out of the car and unloaded Cory’s bike while he found a place to take a quick leak.

I walked down with Cory to where the timing mat was. 

I noticed he was still wearing his comfy slipper-shoes, not his bike shoes.

“What’s up with those?” I asked.

“I’ll change into my bike shoes once we get to the mat,” Cory explained. 

Except The Hammer arrived at the mat even as he said that, hollering Cory’s name. 

We hustled the last twenty feet to the timing mat and I swapped the timing chip onto Cory’s leg as he…put on his shoes. The Hammer gave me the “What’s this all about?” look. I returned her look with the “I have no idea” shrug. 

As it turns out, The Hammer had gotten to the mat even faster than we had expected because another speedy woman (sorry, I don’t know who — she isn’t on The Hammer’s Strava Flyby of the leg) had caught her on the descent, and The Hammer had used her as a guiding light to get down in incredibly fast time. In fact, The Hammer recovered two minutes on the Infinite duo in that descent.

We sent Cory off into the dead of night — it was nineteen minutes after midnight as he left — and then walked back to the van to load The Hammer into the car. 

With The Hammer just having finished a ride, with Cory on a ride, and with Lynette up next to ride, I was now the guy whose job it was to handle crewing duties.

Trouble

So as I loaded The Hammer’s bike into the van, I asked Lynette, “Are you all set for your race in a couple hours?”

As it turns out, she wasn’t all set. 

As it turns out, Lynette had no lights. Because, it turns out, Cory had given Lynette’s lights to Danny, against whom Lynette would soon be racing. And The Hammer’s spare battery…had become her primary battery when it turned out that her primary battery hadn’t held a charge.

This, along with the barely-squishy rear tire on Lynette’s bike, meant that I’d be busy, and would need to make some creative judgement calls between the hours of midnight and 3:00am…not generally my best thinking time.

Which is where we’ll pick up in the next installment of this report.

 

2015 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 4: The Chase

06.20.2015 | 6:20 pm

Previously in this Story: 

  1. Race Prediction: We Will Lose
  2. Part 0: Generosity and Bratwurst
  3. Part 1: Cold Fury
  4. Part 2: A Day in the Life
  5. Part 3: Winning When You’re Losing

A couple of days ago, The Hammer and I talked about racing. Specifically, we were talking about how much we love to race. The conversation was humming along; I thought we were going to be agreeing with and emphasizing each other’s perspectives.

But we weren’t. Sure, we both love to race, but for almost entirely different reasons. The Hammer, well, she loves to race because it inspires her to push herself to do the best she possibly can. To find out what her limits really are.

I think that’s sweet, and I think probably a lot of people race for that reason. But that’s not why I race. 

I race because I love the chase. Doesn’t matter whether I’m the person chasing, or the person being chased. Either way, I get to indulge in a sense of intensity and ferocity that I don’t otherwise get a lot of.

Some of you don’t know what I’m talking about. Some of you, on the other hand, know exactly what I’m talking about.

And this — leg 5 of the Rockwell Relay, my second time out on the bike for the day — gave me everything I needed for a good chase.

The odds were against me: Mary’s a strong rider, had a strong rider (Ryan) working with her, and had a 5:33 head start on me. 

I, on the other hand, was riding alone, and the climbing — what I’m best at — didn’t really get going until thirty-seven or so miles into the forty-five mile course.

Screenshot 2015 06 20 18 56 36

So…what are we waiting for?

Corrections

At the end of my previous installment, I wrote this:

I stood up and sprinted off the line like I was going a hundred yards, not 45 miles.

“I want time checks on Mary ASAP and often as possible!” I shouted to Cory over my shoulder.

The part about sprinting off the line is true. The part about asking for time checks as I took off from the line…well, that’s not even remotely true. That was strictly me trying to draw you in with a dramatic ending to the installment, so you’d come back for today’s read.

For that, I apologize. Also: hey, it worked.

The reality is, I had a better idea of where Mary and Ryan were than my story let on. After all, after we left Lynette to go to the exchange point, we had passed the two Infinite guys, Danny and Mark (notice how I’m not calling them “domestiques” anymore? That’s because they don’t like it, and I have a generous heart). 

It was at that point that I realized my ride had the potential to change our standings. It was then that I demanded time checks as soon as possible and as often as possible.

There. Now you know the whole story. Because truth-telling is very, very important to me. 

Not Sociable, Nor a Pleasant Person

I buried myself, right off the line. I wasn’t lying about that. And — thanks to the work I did last winter / spring with TrainerRoad — I have both good power and a really good sense of what level of effort I can maintain for the long haul.

What TrainerRoad did not give me, however, is social skills while on the bike.

Which is to say that within fifteen minutes of starting my ride, I closed in on a largish group (between six and eight of them) of racers.

“Grab my wheel!” I didn’t say.

“How’s your race going? Having a good ride?” I also didn’t say.

Instead, I looked over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t going to get run over, then blasted by. I might have said, “Hey,” but I also might have just nodded. 

It’s also possible that I just went by. Riding at the level of effort that causes tunnel vision sometimes makes me…curt.

Before too long, my team pulled alongside me in the van. “Need anything?” The Hammer called.

“Time check! Stet!” I shouted back.

Screenshot 2015 06 20 17 11 40

Yes, I actually said, “stet.” I meant “stat” — a word from The Hammer’s world, but my addled race brain picked out “stet” (a word from my world) instead.

Making me both a dork and an idiot.

The Game of Leapfrog Begins

My crew obliged, surging forward and leaving me to wonder how I was doing at catching Mary and Ryan…if I was gaining on them at all.

Several minutes later, I saw my team on the side of the road, Cory with his phone out — obviously timing ’til I crossed his imaginary line.

I sprinted like it was a finish line. I know, I know: ridiculous. But I was caught up in the chase, and the smaller the number, the more fuel to my fire.

“3:38!” Cory yelled out.

Awesome. Just seven-ish miles in and I had already cut the gap between us down by almost two minutes

My team shot by me. “Need anything?”

“Time check!” I yelled back. These time checks were everything to me.

And so my team went ahead, finding and passing Mary and Ryan, pulling over, and timing the distance between us.

So many stops gave them plenty of time for photographs. Here’s Cory and Lynette, posing in front of what they hope will someday be their home:

Thumb IMG 3391 1024

For about an hour, that gap kept dropping. In fact, it dropped very fast, to the point where there was just two minutes between me and the Infinite teams.

I could taste triumph. OK, actually I could taste blood in the back of my throat, but they’re very similar tastes.

Things Change

I remember the first time I got a time check that said I was less than two minutes behind Mary and Ryan. 

Specifically, I remember it because in the next time check, I was back above two minutes. 

And then that gap held. I went harder and harder — something I wouldn’t have even thought possible — but I couldn’t seem to close any more of the gap.

That — at least to me — was not awesome. But I expect that to Mary and Ryan, it was awesome indeed. And I knew that Mary and Ryan knew what the gap was between us as well as I knew.

Why? Because the Infinite teams were getting time checks from Troy and Big D. 

And thus began my favorite part of the whole race. I’d go by my team…and then past Troy and Big D. Then Troy and Big D — in Troy’s red truck — would shoot ahead of me to do the next time check, followed shortly by my team.

At first, Troy and Big D would stop at different places from my team. After a few rotations, though, the pretense was abandoned; both teams would park in the same place. Both teams would have their phones out, timing and shouting out the gap. 

And before long, Troy and Big D were ringing their cowbell as they drove past to do the next time check, bringing (almost) as big a smile to my face as when my own team did.

The sun started getting low. Golden hour. 

Screenshot 2015 06 20 17 15 24

When I needed to get rid of my sunglasses, I handed them off to Big D. I knew he’d get them to my team.

A Possible Reason

Warm fuzziness between teams notwithstanding, I was still flummoxed by my inability to close the gap any further. It was stuck at two minutes.

“Maybe I’ve gone too hard, too soon. They’ve meted out their energy better than I have.”

Which might in fact be the case. But — and I didn’t realize this until I checked the Flyby of the leg — it’s also possible that it’s because right about an hour into this leg of the race, Mary and Ryan had swept up another racer from another team: Brad.

I’m going to guess that once Brad had gotten a decent pull, he became a contributing member to the train, neutralizing me.

Hey, I’d rather believe that than…that I just slowed down.

Regardless, as I failed to eat into the gap, I became demoralized. I had tried so hard to catch Mary. And I was failing.

Night Rider

It seemed so weird that it was now dusk and getting dark. Hadn’t we just started this day? Wasn’t it still morning? Nope. The sun was down, and it was getting dark quickly. My team told me to be ready to put my light on the next time I pulled over.

As instructed, I came to a stop the next time I saw the van pulled over, hating every second, knowing Mary and Ryan (and, I guess, Brad) were increasing that infernal two-minute gap they had on me.

My fingers shook, I fumbled the light, forced myself to calm down, discovered that I had failed in trying to force myself to calm down.

Finally, after about four tries, I successfully slid the light onto my mount. The whole process probably took half a minute, but might have taken a month.

Now I See You

My team went on ahead. I needed to finish this leg on my own, so they could get The Hammer out and ready for her next ride.

Thumb IMG 3396 1024

I continued on, alone. And then a Very Good thing happened. 

I discovered I could see red blinking lights off in the distance. Those had to be Mary, Ryan, and Brad’s lights, right?

Had to be

I went from feeling like I had lost…to feeling like I was back in the hunt. 

And then a second Very Good Thing happened: I could see that those blinking lights were going up

As it turns out, I’m pretty good at going up. 

I charged forward, at first trying to tell whether I was getting any closer to those blinking lights. Then wondering if those blinking lights were for a stationary object: the Rockwell guys always put lots of warning blinking lights before cattle guards.

And then I was sure: three sets of red blinking lights. All getting closer. 

Minutes later, I had joined the train. 

“Hey Mary,” I said (I didn’t know Ryan or Brad’s name at the time).

“What took you so long?” Mary replied.

One Try

Mary was joking (I think), but the fact is: she and Ryan had held me off until the last couple miles of this leg. I had to decide now whether we were going to finish this leg together, or if I should try to drop these three and give The Hammer as much of a lead as possible at the beginning of her next leg.

No, I’m just kidding. There was never any decision. I knew I was going to attack before I even got close.

So I rested for a moment, then rode up to the front and stepped up the tempo. Enough so that it hurt.

Mary hung with me. The other two could not. 

I slowed, and Mary moved up front, holding my pace. Maybe even stepping it up just a little. Seeing if she could make me fall off.

Which I did. I slid back. Her gap increased to ten, then fifteen feet. And she knew it, too — seeing the wash of my headlight fade.

And then I stood up and attacked with everything I had. Rode at a stupid pace, using the metric that if I didn’t throw up at the exchange I hadn’t gone hard enough.

I went a full minute like this before I dared to look back. 

I had done it: exploded the group. All three of them were riding alone, now. Maybe they’d reconnect and finish together, maybe they’d finish individually. That didn’t matter to me, because it was happening behind me. All that mattered to me was what was ahead.

The finish line. That was what was ahead.

I kept going, just as hard. I had put Team SBR-WBR back in the lead. Now I was going to do everything I could to make that lead as big as I could.

I saw the lights at the gas station ahead, where I knew the exchange would be. I gave everything I had left to give, crossed the timing mat, stopped by Cory so he could move the timing chip over to The Hammer’s leg.

I gasped “I love you too” to The Hammer, even though she hadn’t said “I love you” yet. Then I bent over…but didn’t throw up.

So I guess I should have gone harder.

1:11 later, Mary came in (I don’t recall whether Ryan was with her), and Marci (either with — or soon to be followed by — Billy) took off, chasing The Hammer again.

Which is where we’ll pick up in the next installment of this story, which features the single weirdest, most eerie thing I have ever witnessed in any race. Ever. 

2015 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 3: Winning When You’re Losing

06.18.2015 | 12:10 pm

A Birthday Note from Fatty: Today’s my 49th birthday. Huzzah?

A Note for People who Bought the Wrong Size of Fatty Gear: If you bought 2015 FatCyclist gear and need to make an exchange based on size, please send an email to fatcyclist@dnacycling.cc. Be sure to include:

  • Your order number
  • What item and size you need to back
  • What size you want to exchange for
The good folks at DNA will get back with you promptly with your next steps.

Previously in this Story: Here are the parts that came before:

  1. Race Prediction: We Will Lose
  2. Part 0: Generosity and Bratwurst
  3. Part 1: Cold Fury
  4. Part 2: A Day in the Life

As you settle into the fact that you are going to be racing for a day and a night and another day, the actual time of day can get away from you. You stop thinking in terms of “It’s 5:00pm, which is when I usually start wrapping things up at work,” and instead think in terms of “Racer four has started her leg, which means I’m up next in a couple hours.”

It felt a little strange, this relay. Hadn’t I just been riding? How was it possible that I was the guy who’d be racing next?

And even more strangely, how could it be possible that, as I stood under the hot desert sun while Cory loaded up his bike, that my current task was to start getting lights set up on The Hammer’s and my bikes and helmets?

We’d be needing lights the next time we rode? For reals? That made no sense at all.

But it was true. By my math, I’d be doing the last part of my next leg in dusk and dark. By then, I’d be going strictly uphill, so a helmet light would be sufficient.

The Hammer, in her next leg, would be riding entirely in dark, and would be doing a very fast and long descent. Bar and helmet lights set up for her.

I took care of all of this while standing, sweating, in blazing sunlight. It was my best opportunity to do this.

Luckily — so luckily — I had a snowcone to enjoy as I did this.

Thumb IMG 3371 1024

Yep, the sponsor of this exchange point was giving out free snowcones. 

That is just awesome. It’s nice little things like that that make me love an event.

An Important Correction

In yesterday’s post, I — working from the memory of an increasingly aged man — said that Cory rolled across the timing mat about five minutes behind Troy and Big D. 

I need to correct that, now that I’m actually looking at the results. Cory crossed the timing mat, sending Lynette out, at 16:48:05. Troy and Big D had crossed it (sending out Danny and his domestique) at 16:39:32.

So, when Lynette set off — solo, without another rider to work with — Team Infinite Stamina + Domestiques had about an eight-and-a-half minute lead on us. That’s considerably more than five.

On this, one of the flatter legs of the whole race, riding with another racer was a massive advantage for the Infinite teams, and I knew that this was leg where we’d see any realistic chance of us winning disappear.

I didn’t exactly resolve myself to our fate, but I started preparing myself to resolve myself to our fate, depending on how much time Lynette lost during this leg.  

Knowing You’ll Lose Doesn’t Equal Giving Up

Don’t imagine me being all hang-dog about the probability that we were going to lose. When I wrote my prediction, I had been jokey but at least mostly honest. 

Racing hard and getting on the podium at all is a big honor, and plenty of reason for us to keep racing our very fastest. 

When / if Team Infinite Stamina beat us, they’d be able to say they beat a team that gave it their absolute best, not one that made weak excuses.

And that would feel good to both teams.

Food is Fuel. And Sometimes More.

When I said, yesterday, that I’m no good at race strategy, I was telling a little bit of a lie. See, I’m not good at the strategy for the part of the race where you’re on a bike. But I am great at the rest of it: things like remembering all my gear (and making sure everyone else does too), ensuring all equipment is in good working order, having contingency plans for mechanical problems (since all four of us are within a couple inches of each other, height-wise, we had agreed that any mechanical would mean simply swapping bikes and possibly shoes, rather than trying to field-repair the bike while not in motion; we’d fix the bike on the fly).

More than all that, though, is one very critical thing: I am very good at eating during races.

This is a more useful — and hard-earned — skill than you might think.

See, after you finish a hard effort in the heat, you’re in no mood to eat. And since you immediately climb into a car and start driving, you’re likely to compound that stomach uneasiness into full-blown nausea.

Unless you nip that problem in the bud by forcing yourself to refuel. Pronto. And perpetually.

While on the bike, I fuel pretty much exlusively with Gu Energy Gel and Gu Roctane Energy Gel. I like all the flavors (Root Beer and Salted Watermelon were my two favorites on this trip), and by eating one every twenty minutes during race effort, my energy level hardly ever sags. (For what it’s worth, when training I generally have just one per hour, because I am not going as hard and can more easily draw from the energy stores in my body.)

I’m seriously a believer in this stuff. I train with it and race with it and it works.

Now, when I’m in between legs of this race, I’m just like The Hammer, who you can see is very happy to be eating this:

Thumb IMG 3377 1024

A slice of cold pizza in one hand, a donut with sprinkles in the other. That’s racing, baby.

Meanwhile, Cory — acting like some kind of strange alien monk from a planet where they consume nothing but protein and fat — ate bratwurst and macademia nuts, along with foul-smelling beverages.

Thumb IMG 3383 1024

Then, from time to time, he’d breathe into a portable breathalyzer.

No, I am totally not making this up at all.

Screenshot 2015 06 18 07 25 50

He’d then look at his reading, which said he was a little tipsy.

Screenshot 2015 06 18 07 26 58

What Cory said was that since he eats (more or less) exclusively fats, his breath had ketones in it. The breathalyzer pretty much recognizes that as alcohol, and thus let Cory know how his body is doing at processing fat as racing fuel.

I begged him to eat a donut. A sandwich. A Coke. Anything with carbohydrates.

Cory would not partake. This new food lifestyle has worked for him in dropping forty pounds since the beginning of the year; he’s sticking to it, even during races.

Good for him, I say. Way to stick to your guns. 

(One time, during the race, I poured a Coke Zero into a water bottle and handed it to him. He looked at it suspiciously, demanding I swear I wasn’t tricking him into drinking a regular Coke. I swore, but mentally wished I would have thought to try that trick and see what happened.)

With just an hour and change to go ‘till the next exchange, I was fueling hard, considering how strange it was that the one time I had permission to really make a pig of myself was also the one time I really had no desire to eat.

Oh, irony!

Back to the Race

You may have noticed that I haven’t said much (anything, really) about Lynette’s ride. That’s because Lynette’s ride was very drama-free. One second we’d see her as a speck on the pavement: 

Thumb IMG 3375 1024

And then the next, she’d be right there, giving us a big smile as she rode by.

Thumb 20150612 182825 1024

Watching Lynette, I couldn’t help but be impressed with what a smooth, fast cadence she rides. Strong, consistent form, and she always looked like she was having a terrific time.

Screenshot 2015 06 18 07 34 35
“You can’t tell that my legs are cramping because I have a big smile on my face, but I’m actually in terrible agony! Can you get me some electrolyte tablets?”

We didn’t see Team Infinite Stamina the entirety of her leg, so assumed that due to the fact that they had two men working together on a flat course — while Lynette rode alone for the whole leg — they would naturally be adding to their lead.

My best estimate was that Team Infinite Stamina + Domestiques would be about fifteen minutes ahead of us by the end of this leg. Not insurmountable, but closing in on it.

Me, Again

With about fifteen miles to go in her leg, we made sure Lynette had both her bottles full, had the food she needed, and said goodbye. 

We shot ahead to the next exchange, giving me time for something I was increasingly desperate to take care of (i.e., poop). I then suited up, feeling a little silly putting a reflector belt, blinky light, and helmet-mounted light on; it was still bright and light outside.

But it’d be dark before I finished the lap.

I started walking my bike toward the exchange point…and suddenly had a change of heart. I didn’t want this light on my head, yet. Not when it’s so light outside. 

So I quickly removed the light from the mount and handed it to The Hammer. “Let’s wait to put this on ’til it gets dark enough for me to need to switch out to clear glasses.” 

Then I went to the exchange point, where I watched Mary and her domestique fly through.

I looked at my watch and wondered how much time I’d have to contemplate whether the amount of time it takes to put a light on for the second part of a racing leg is worth the weight savings during the first part.

I was increasingly doubtful it was worth it. To the point, in fact, that I was about to call out to The Hammer to bring the light back; I was going to put it on.

And then I saw Lynette rolling towards us. The decision was now made; I’d put the light on later. It was time for me to go.

As Lynette rolled to a stop, I looked down at my timer. What was our new gap to Team Infinite Stamina?

Five and a half minutes.

What? 

Lynette, riding solo on a mostly-flat stage, had reduced the gap between our team and two men working together…by three minutes.

Holy cow. That…changes everything. We are not out of this race. Not by a long shot. 

While I reeled from this realization, Cory swapped over the timing chip. Then I pushed off hard, my adrenaline suddenly flooding my whole system.

Screenshot 2015 06 18 07 56 28

The course ahead climbed, but nearly imperceptibly most of the way: only 600 feet in the first thirty miles.

Screenshot 2015 06 18 12 04 27

Not my ideal kind of riding — I do better against other racers in steeper climbs.

Furthermore, I had nobody to work with, and two strong riders working together with a 5:30 lead on me.

I didn’t care. This was going to be a fun chase. Real fun.

I stood up and sprinted off the line like I was going a hundred yards, not 45 miles.

“I want time checks on Mary ASAP and often as possible!” I shouted to Cory over my shoulder.

And that’s where we’ll pick up on Monday.

2015 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 2: A Day in the Life

06.17.2015 | 12:47 pm

Previously in This Series: This story makes more sense in context than out of context. So if you haven’t read these yet, you should. In order and stuff.

  1. Race Prediction: We Will Lose
  2. Part 0: Generosity and Bratwurst
  3. Part 1: Cold Fury

I am not the guy you’d want to be your team strategist. Really, I’m absolutely terrible at team tactics and strategy. 

Allow me to present an example.

In the first leg of the race, once I had been dropped, I could have sat up and pedaled easily for a minute or two while the chase group caught up with me, thus saving energy and ensuring that The Hammer, when she started her leg, would have a group of people to ride and work with.

Instead, I redoubled my efforts, giving my absolute all to get to the exchange point as quickly as possible.

This had the effect of getting me there in record time — yay, me — as well as leaving The Hammer in a true no-rider zone for the beginning of her leg.

She took off anyway, solo, knowing that our primary competition (Team Infinite Stamina + Domestiques) would be sending Marci out next.

And we were afraid of what Marci was going to do to our team.

Terror

If you ever see Marci ride, you’ll understand our fear. Marci is a tiny little person who has, over the course of the past year or so, completely demolished The Hammer’s Strava QOM list.  

Marci was going to be faster than The Hammer. There was no question about it, especially considering the race The Hammer had run the previous Saturday.

The only question was, how much time Marci would put on The Hammer, and whether our team would still be in the lead by the end of this leg.

As I changed and Cory loaded my bike into the van, we all watched the exchange, wondering how many minutes I had earned the team.

Twelve. The answer was twelve minutes.

“Marci will beat me on this leg by ten minutes,” The Hammer had said before she started.

Now we’d find out how accurate her prediction would be.

Settling In

By the time we caught up to The Hammer, the weather looked ominous. 

Thumb IMG 2812 1024

Was this going to be the year we got rained on? I asked myself 

As if in response, I felt the first rain drop.

But I never felt a second. 

Instead, these clouds provided fantastic shade and cool temperatures, not to mention a favorable wind.

Perfect racing weather. Perfect.

While it would no doubt have been faster to race in a group, The Hammer at least didn’t have to battle a headwind by herself. 

We pulled over whenever we could find a place, ringing cowbells and cheering for her and everyone else.

Thumb IMG 2889 1024

But we were small potatoes, nutty-racer-support-wise. Heath Thurston and his team were pulling their shirts up and sprinting down the road, cheering for everyone.  

Screenshot 2015 06 17 09 59 49

That guy is the coolest kind of weird.

Next Up

The Hammer more or less time-trialed the course, solo pretty much all of the time. She was relaxed, had fun, and gave a big thumbs-up as she got near the exchange:

Thumb IMG 2903 1024

Amazingly, she finished this 44.7mi course (with 3058 feet of climbing) in 2:19 — twenty-nine minutes faster than she had in 2014.

So that big run six days ago didn’t seem to be hurting her riding too much after all. (And a favorable wind helps, too.)

Thumb IMG 2912 1024

Hanging Out With The Frenemy

Cory was off next, and I looked down at my watch to see how much of a lead against Team Infinite Stamina + Domestiques we still had.

Three minutes later, Marci came in; The Hammer’s prediction had been close to spot on. 

We hustled into the van and caught up with Cory, who had managed to keep in front of Troy and Dave (known to our team as “Big D,” because “D” conveniently stands for both “Dave” and “Domestique”) on the first big climb.

Thumb IMG 3341 1024

The power of a big strong rider like Big D can’t be denied on a mostly-downhill leg of the race, though (net elevation loss of 2400 feet). Before long, Troy and Big D had swept up Cory.

Thumb IMG 3336 1024

And then something weird happened. Really weird. As in, “I still have no explanation that makes sense” weird.

Troy stopped, in the middle of the leg, and had his race number affixed to his bike.

Thumb IMG 2925 1024
That’s Mary, Racer 1 for Team Infinite Stamina, on the left. I’m not sure who the guy in the shorts is; I’m guessing he’s one of the Domestiques. Maybe Mary’s?

Why hadn’t Troy put this number on earlier? Why stop and do it now?

And then things got weirder. Troy had Mary spray some kind of aerosol adhesive in a can onto the back of his race number affixed to his jersey.

Which prompts the question: How does a group of people forget to bring enough lights for everyone on the team, but remember to bring a can of aerosol adhesive?

“Smile for the camera, cuz this is so going in the blog,” I said.  

Thumb IMG 2928 1024

Can’t say I didn’t warn you, Troy.

This is How The Race Goes

As you might have noticed, the whole “Cold Fury” thing had kind of worn off (though I reserved the right to reignite it at need). The fact is, Team Infinite Stamina + Domestiques and Team SBR-WBR were pretty evenly-matched, and we were all having fun hanging out together and cheering for each other, as well as racing against and teasing each other. 

“Look, Troy’s actually pulling!” The Hammer yelled out the window.

“Quick, get a picture as proof!” Troy yelled back.

Which I did.

Thumb IMG 3352 1024

Cory hung with the group, which was joined up with three riders from the Fishbowl team:

Thumb IMG 3349 1024

Between the favorable wind, a big group, and a generally downhill section of the race, these guys flew along, leaving me with little to do but eat the delicious banana-nutella burrito The Hammer had made for me.

Thumb IMG 2986 1024

The trick to racing hard leg after leg, kids, is to never stop fueling. 

At least, that’s what I like to tell myself.

Also, I got a picture of Mary and me. 

Thumb IMG 2988 1024

Hey, we’d be trying to clobber each other again on the bike soon enough, but for right now: BFFs. 

Exchange Rate

Troy and Big D eventually managed to get a gap on Cory, and Cory rolled in about five minutes behind them.

As close-fought as this race was, we weren’t concerned at being a few minutes back.

No, that’s a lie. We were concerned. Possibly a little freaked out, even.

But we had a lot of confidence in our Racer 4: Lynette. She has a ton of experience with endurance racing and would no doubt do us proud.

So as Cory rolled in, I sighted the timing chip wrapped around his ankle, reaching for it before he even had come to a complete stop. 

Screenshot 2015 06 17 10 49 31

I pull off the chip as Cory wishes his wife good luck…

Screenshot 2015 06 17 10 50 10

…then pivot around and wrap the anklet on Lynette:

Screenshot 2015 06 17 10 51 35

Then I send her off with a good hard push: 

Screenshot 2015 06 17 11 13 05

This whole process (including the push), I’m pleased to say, took less than eight seconds (I know because the above are actually stills from a video The Hammer took).

Racing. Cheering. Helping. Relaxing. Laughing. Eating.

This is what The Rockwell Relay is.

2015 Rockwell Relay Race Report, Part 1: Cold Fury

06.16.2015 | 10:19 am

A Note from Fatty: If you’re catching up with this story, you should probably first read:

  1. my race prediction
  2. part 0

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Backstory

I made a conscious decision when I was 20 years old. One that has probably affected who I am more than any other decision before or since.

See, up to then, I had prided myself on my ability to debate any point, to find weakness in others’ arguments, to “win” every conversation. In my mind, I was smart and logical and practicing to be a lawyer (I had always wanted to be a lawyer). But in reality I was just a contentious, pretentious, know-it-all jerk.

But I had a friend — his name is Shawn Udy — who was smarter than I am, better at persuading people than I was. And more importantly, he was nicer than I was. He was just kind and thoughtful.

I envied that.

“How is it that you’re so nice?” I asked him.

“You just decide to be,” he answered.

So I did. Right then, I decided that I was going to be nice. 

And, more or less, I stuck to it. Eventually it became easy, then natural, then at some point it became who I am. I am, by choice, a nice guy.

Except — and this is key — when I’m racing.

Because I think I still need a release valve for that part of me that wants to crush people.

The Cultivation of Indignation

I was at the starting line, nursing my righteous indignation. Trying to see if I could build it up into a full-blown cold fury.

Because when you’re racing, there’s nothing better than a nice slow-burning cold fury to keep you fast and focused.

I was doing pretty good so far. Here’s what I had as fuel for my fire:

We were outgunned, 2-to-1. When I wrote my “We Will Lose” prediction, I was unaware of the most important reason we would lose: Team Infinite Stamina actually had an entire second team whose entire purpose was to act as domestiques to Team Infinite Stamina.

So while Team SBR-WBR would be trying to find other racers to work with as best as we could, Team Infinite Stamina would always have another racer to work with them. This was an enormous advantage (and entirely within the rules).

This team of domestiques had a name, but we never bothered learning it (and I still haven’t). We just called them “Team Domestique.” And that’s what I’ll be calling them throughout this story. 

The domestique team was all male. While Team Infinite Stamina was made up of two women (Mary and Marci) and two men (Troy and Danny), Team Domestique was registered as a competitive men’s team, and in fact was made up of four competitive men. 

This was entirely within the rules.

Team Infinite Stamina + Domestiques actually brought a racing crew. When anyone on Team SBR-WBR wasn’t racing, we were driving, crewing, or prepping for our next ride. 

When anyone on Team Infinite Stamina wasn’t racing, they were relaxing.

This, I should point out, was entirely within the rules.

Everything, in fact, that Team Infinite Stamina did…was entirely within the rules. And that’s what really made my blood boil: that basically they had out-strategized and out-resourced us. They had built a completely legal non-level playing ground. They weren’t just trying to beat us. They were out there to humiliate us. 

Cold fury threshold achieved. Let’s race.

Go

I attacked from the gun, grabbing one other guy’s wheel who also seemed to want to do a breakaway. “Are you going for real?” I asked.

“If I can find someone to work with me, yes,” he replied. 

“Let’s do this,” I said. 

And then I came to my senses. A two-person breakaway wasn’t going to survive. The cold fury approach would be to instead let the lead group catch us and then work to make that lead group go as fast as I could. Work with a big group. Go fast and push them. Negate any advantage Team Infinite Stamina + Domestiques has.

At first, Mary and her domestique hung with the lead group.

And so whenever there was a climb, I jumped ahead of the lead group — significantly — to give them a sense of urgency. Better go hard, or I’ll get away from you.

Screenshot 2015 06 16 09 16 28
Yes, that’s me. And behind me, that’s the lead group, chasing me down.

This worked. Really well. I split up the lead group, whittling it down into a much smaller group. One which consisted pretty much entirely of racers from Hyperthreads Teams 1, 2, 3, and 4, and a couple of other strong climbers.

And me.

And not anyone from Infinite Stamina + Domestiques.

Thumb 20150612 100336 1024

Faster

I started talking with Spencer, who is — in addition to being the owner of Hyperthreads — a fast, strong racer who knows a lot of the local talent.

“My coed team needs help,” I told him. “Our main competition has   Mary and Marci.”

“Those two are fast,” Spencer agreed.

“And they have a men’s team acting as domestiques. I need to build a serious gap in this leg or we won’t have a prayer.”

“Yeah,” agreed Spencer.

“So can you push your guys? Work with me to earn as much time as possible this leg? It’s the only leg I’ll be able to work with anyone this whole race. I need to make this count.”

And Spencer worked with me. He and his other Hyperthreads racers rode a smart, fast pace, keeping me with them on the flats and staying with me on the climbs.

Screenshot 2015 06 16 09 54 23

At times, I was impatient, and I would find myself in front and alone at the top of climbs. When you’re racing under the influence of cold fury, you tend to go faster than you otherwise might. 

This, I should note, cannot last forever.

Pain and Loss

According to Strava, the first leg of the Rockwell Relay is 54.4 miles long, with 4976 feet of climbing. As the elevation profile shows, you’re almost always climbing during this leg of the race:

Screenshot 2015 06 16 10 00 56

Most of that climbing is gradual, spread out, punctuated with occasional steep-but-short grunts. But at around mile 44, there’s a two-point-something-mile long pitch that is just plain mean

It was during this climb that — and I honestly don’t know which is the case — either the Hyperthreads guys started ramping up their pace, or I fell apart. 

My calves cramped. Hard. Both of them, at the same time.

I’d stretch out one calf at the bottom of the stroke, get a thousandth of a second of relief, only to have it fully seized up by the time it got back to the top of the stroke.

I wanted to stop. I did not stop.

But I did watch the lead group gap me. 

By the time this climb leveled off, the lead group was well beyond my reach. The next group was not even close to reaching me. I’d be finishing the final seven miles of this leg by myself. 

I went as hard as I could, doing my best to ignore my calves, which were still cramping (the day after the race, the soreness in my calves would be enough to make it difficult to walk).

I got into the town of Monticello, went as hard as I could, seeking the familiar site of the city park, where I knew the transfer happens. 

There it is. Left turn at speed and I see Cory, waving his arms. The Hammer is right in front of him, ready to go: 

Thumb IMG 3332 1024

I roll across the timing mat, Cory takes the timing chip anklet off my left leg, wraps it around The Hammer’s ankle, and sends her off.

I look down at my bike computer. I’ve just beaten my personal best on this course by a full minute.

Cold fury, baby. Cold fury.

And now the wait would begin to see how much time I had managed to put into Team Infinite Stamina + Domestiques. I knew it would need to be a lot; their next racer would be Marci: a tiny wisp of a woman…who also happens to be a monster on the bike.

« Previous Page« Previous Entries     Next Entries »Next Page »