I started my third lap of the 6 Hours in Frog Hollow. Physically, I felt fine. The wind was making each lap slower and more difficult than usual, but at least it was now a known adversary: I knew how hard it was blowing, how much it would slow me down on the parts I usually think of as fast.
And now I knew something else, too. Something that…well, something I simply would not have expected.
Because a moment ago, as I was getting gels and a bottle for my next lap, I had asked Blake (who I shall no longer refer to as “DevFoKnAIG,” because it’s too much work to type) a very simple question: “How are the ladies doing?”
“The Swimmer was about two minutes behind you after the first lap.”
Woah, I thought. She’s really doing well. And — as this photo Blake took from the beginning of the race — she was having fun, too:
Blake continued, “And my mom’s about two minutes behind her.”
What? The Hammer is two minutes behind The Swimmer?
So now I had a few things to contemplate as I rode this third lap. Namely, I thought about whether The Hammer had wrecked, or whether racing SS against a harsh headwind was just that much harder.
I contemplated whether it was possible that The Swimmer had gone out too fast, and that the report Blake had given me — which was already a lap old by the time I heard it — was no longer correct and The Hammer had raced past a fading Swimmer.
Finally, I contemplated the possibility that this was confirmation of something The Hammer and I had been privately observing a number of times: The Swimmer is way stronger and faster than a first-year cyclist ought to be.
As I began the big climb, I knew that by then both The Swimmer and The Hammer had to have finished their second laps, so Blake knew what the current status was for both his sister and mom. Normally, I’d text or call so I could also know, as quickly as possible.
But this wasn’t normal. Racing time isn’t phone time, so I would not know for another forty-five minutes what was going on. I was going to have to live with data that was an hour stale for this whole race.
And that’s what I was thinking about as I approached the hump-ledge-exposed hairpin move for the third time.
Not fretting about it this time, I rode it without incident.
I finished my third lap in much the way I raced the third lap: wondering more about how The Hammer and The Swimmer were doing.
Blake had everything ready for me; I didn’t even have to ask. Which is nice, because my race wasn’t all that interesting to me anyway: I had just turned in a third lap within seconds of the time I had turned in the previous two laps: one hour, one minute. Again.
What I wanted to know had nothing to do with me. I had just one question on my mind:
“What about the girls?”
“My sister was about six minutes behind you after her second lap.”
“And your mom?”
“And my mom was about six minutes behind her.”
“So, umm…” I stalled, not exactly certain how to ask the big question on my mind. “…how’s your mom doing?”
“Oh, she’s having fun. She and the other single speed rider are having fun, racing it together.”
And it was true: The Hammer was just happy and having fun. You can see from the pictures Blake took of her between laps:
That face is way too relaxed to be The Hammer I know and ride with.
But even as Blake told me what their relative gaps had been — had given me the most current information he possibly could — I knew that it was outdated. By now, The Hammer and Heidi could be fully duking it out.
Or The Swimmer could have faded. Or — much more likely, considering her history — she could have crashed.
I was eager for this race to be done. Sure, partly to be finished with this hellacious wind, but more because I wanted to know how the other two racers from Team Fatty were going to do.
Just two laps to go, and then I’d know.
And so will you.
A Note from Fatty: Today’s post is going to be short, because I have other fish that need frying, and decisions that need making. I’ll have another installment tomorrow, though. Honest.
I want to begin this post by giving credit where credit is due. The Developer Formerly Known as IT Guy (shortened here to “DevFoKnAIG,” which is prononounced “Duh-FON-Ig” with emphasis on the second syllable) handled his crewing responsibilities flawlessly, as far as I was concerned.
I mean, consider how things went after my first lap, the first time I rolled up.
“I need three gels instead of two, and I want one of them open now,” I said. “And while I eat that, I want my armwarmers. End pocket, grey duffel bag. They’re white.”
DevFoKnAIG swapped my bottle, tore open one of the gels he had in-hand, and then calmly reached into the back of the truck where my duffel was. He located the armwarmers immediately, handed them to me, and then — as I put on the armwarmers — he got the third gel out for me.
No lost seconds.
As soon as I had the armwarmers on, I clipped back in, and DevFoKnAIG gave me a running push to get me back up to speed. A perfect transition.
And then he took a selfie.
I Taunt A Famous Person
Here’s an easy way to tell if you have a truly strong tailwind: you can coast uphill indefinitely.
I’m not a million percent certain that this kind magical coasting ever happened during this race, but I did notice during the second lap of this race that during a couple moments — the ones where I was going both uphill and with the wind — that I was suspiciously strong.
And then the road would turn and I’d be practically knocked off my bike.
But as I climbed — whether with or against the wind — I was thinking about how, this time, I’d clean that tricky move I had missed the first time.
I thought about it long and hard. Too much, perhaps.
No, make that too much definitely, because when I got to the move, I saw the two people ahead of me clean it, and became acutely aware of the three or four people right behind me, all depending on me cleaning it too.
And in short, I choked. Again.
This time, though, I had the presence of mind to quickly scramble out of the way so the next person would be able to make the move and continue on his or her way.
As it turns out, that next person was one Tyson Apostol, who is famous for the following reasons:
- Being a FattyCast guest.
- Having a winning smile.
- Having been a pro cyclist.
- Having been on and winning Survivor.
Note, however, that I did not include the item “Cleaning the Crux Move on the Frog Hollow Course” in the previous list.
And for good reason.
Tyson put a foot down at the apex of the hairpin corner, stood on it (his foot, not the corner) and pivoted his bike.
“You didn’t clean that?” I said, infusing my voice with disappointment. And then, beceause I’m not especially confident in my voice-infusion abilities, I said, “I’m so disappointed in you.”
“Yeah? Well, I’m not the one standing on the side of the hill watching the other guy go by,” Tyson pointed out, correctly, as he went by.
I’m pretty sure thirty people went past me as I stood there, some cleaning the move, some not, all of them going by. I’m not sure why I didn’t just barge in. Waiting for the light to change, I guess.
Eventually, though, I got back on, got going again, and was once again on the very fun Jem descent.
And by “very fun” I of course mean “usually very fun,” because this time it wasn’t much fun at all, thanks to an incredibly powerful wind that kept me down to what felt like a quarter of my normal speed.
Before long, I caught the guy ahead of me, who had caught the guy ahead of him, and so on and so forth. Basically, the train was about ten deep.
And the guy in the lead had no idea how many people he was holding up.
Within a minute, another four or five or ten people had caught up to me, and within two minutes, the line was twenty strong.
“Can I sneak by when you get a moment?” the guy behind me asked.
“No,” I replied bluntly. “We all want to sneak by when there’s a moment.” At which point the guy behind me looked past and noticed how far forward the line extended.
Eventually — like toward the end of the Jem singletrack — the guy at the front noticed what he had created and let us by. To his credit, he said something like, “I can’t believe you guys made me do all the pulling all this way!” as we went by.
I finished my second lap in one hour and one minute: more or less in exactly the same amount of time it took me to do the first lap.
Tyson, who had finished his lap sometime ago — with his brother taking over for the next lap — gave me 5 as I went by:
You’ll have to trust me: that’s both of us.
I stopped, swapped out my empty bottle for a full CR333 and two more GUs, then asked DevFoKnAIG as he got ready to send me off for my third lap: “How are the ladies doing?”
His answer just about made me fall off my bike.
Which seems like a good place to pick up in tomorrow’s installment of this story.
A Note From Fatty: I’ve been a big fan and customer of The Feed for years, and am happy to welcome them as a FatCyclist.com sponsor. Right now, they’ve got a great “Free Snacks” promotion going on: get their April Fuel Kit free with all orders over $20. Check it out here or by clicking the bright orange Free Snacks ad to the right.
I need to back up a little.
In Part 1 of my 2016 Frog Hollow Race Report, I introduced you to the major actors in this Very Major Drama.
But I forgot a couple things. OK, not things per se. People. I forgot a couple people.
First of all, I just offhandedly mentioned a mysterious character by the name of “Rabid Runner.” I think I’ve mentioned her a couple of times in my blog, but haven’t really gone into detail. So here’s the short version: Rabid is our friend and one of The Hammer’s riding buddies.
Which, I’d like to go on record as saying, makes for incredibly fun introductions: “Hi, I’m Fatty, This is The Hammer, and her good friend Rabid. What’s your name?”
Rabid is training with the intensity that earned her nickname, because she’s signed up to race the Leadville 100 this year.
The other person I feel I should introduce is Heidi Volpe, who was The Hammer’s primary competition in the Women’s Solo Single Speed category.
And I feel like I can introduce Heidi because before the race ever began, The Hammer and I had…well, we had done our homework on her. Which is to say, The Hammer had looked up her race results from the past, and had thus discovered Heidi was a strong rider who evidently has some connection to Rebecca Rusch.
Which prompted me to email Rebecca, fishing for a little more information:
What did this tell us? Well, if The Queen of Pain says someone is legit, you can believe it’s true (by the way, here’s the Outside Online story I referenced).
So The Hammer would not be coasting to victory in this race.
Nor would I: 22 men were registered in the Mens 50+ Solo category. Which means there were more men in my new (50-59) age group than in my previous (40-49) age group. So my strategy of getting onto the podium simply by getting older wasn’t working out.
I guess maybe I’m not the only one with that strategy.
I didn’t have too much room to complain, though: at least I had an age group. Meanwhile, The Swimmer would be competing against all solo women under the age of fifty, in spite of the fact that this would be her second bike race, ever.
“Well,” I said to the Swimmer before the race, “just keep your expectations low and have fun. Don’t worry about the podium.”
I give such good advice.
Giving Away Too Much
OK, let’s get back to the race. Finally. We had done the Le Mans-style start, running to our bikes, and we were off: The Hammer and Rabid ahead of me thanks to being faster runners. The Swimmer behind me, thanks to a GPS mishap.
And there, beside me: a woman. Very fit. Riding a singlespeed.
“Are you Heidi Volpe,” I asked, even though I was a hundred percent certain it was Heidi Volpe.
“Yes,” she replied, probably very creeped out, because a complete stranger seems to know who she is. “How do you know me?”
“Because my wife is your main competition at this race,” I say.
“Oh,” Heidi says. “The Hammer.”
“Yeah,” I say. “My wife is The Hammer. Oh, and Reba says ‘hi.’”
I am very much enjoying the lopsided nature of this conversation.
“So what gear is The Hammer riding?” Heidi asks.
“Thirty two by twenty. You?” I ask back, although I’m only asking out of politeness, because while I feel like Heidi has some purpose in asking for this gearing, if I told The Hammer what kind of gearing Heidi had, she would not care even a little bit.
That may come off as arrogant — like The Hammer is too haughty to care what her competition’s gearing is — but the reverse is actually true: The Hammer only knows what her own gearing is because she has memorized it, which she did because people keep asking and she was embarrassed that she doesn’t know.
Anyway, Heidi tells me what her gearing is, and I nod sagely. But to be honest, I don’t even remember what she says. The truth is, I only know what The Hammer’s gearing is because Racer told me how he was setting up her bike…and I memorized it.
Yeah, The Hammer and I aren’t exactly bike equipment geniuses.
“Good luck today,” I yell at Heidi as I stand and attack the climb.
“Thanks,” she replies, though I’m certain that she realizes my well-wishing is valid only to the extent that her luck does not equal or exceed The Hammer’s.
There are certain races that are good because of the vibe of the race: the people and culture and the idea of the race. And there are races that are good because of the course.
Great races have both a good course and a good vibe, and I think Six Hours in Frog Hollow is an honest-to-goodness great race. It starts with a one-mile climb on a wide dirt road, giving people a chance to sort themselves out.
Then it meanders through a wash and a ravine, narrowing to singletrack: a good opportunity to pull yourself together for what the next few miles are all about:
A big ol’ multi-mile jeep road climb.
I like this part, because it lets me do what I’m really good at: grinding away and suffering, usually while standing and rowing my bike.
I pass a lot of people on this part.
Then, at the top of the big jeep road climb, we turn right onto the Jem trail, and it’s time for the best, fastest, funnest ribbon of desert singletrack you could ever hope for.
Except this time.
This time, when I make this right turn, I hit a wall of wind, and — even though I’m going downhill — I am barely moving.
It occurs to me all at once: this giant eight-mile-long descent that’s usually just one big thrill ride is going to be a hard-working, slow-moving grind.
There will be no PRs for me today. I’m confident of it.
In My Head
The wind has a compressing effect on the riders around me. Instead of spreading out on this downhill, we wind up bunched up.
This is OK, for the first little bit.
But then we get to the crux move of the race: you turn left, ride over a hump-style cattle guard, drop down a jagged little ledge, and immediately have to make a hairpin right turn…all with a fair amount of exposure on one side.
I’ve done this move dozens of times. I thought I had it mastered, in fact, because it had been so long since I’d had to bail out.
But this time when I got to it…things were different.
First of all, there was the guy ahead of me, already dismounted and walking down the ledge. I figured he’d move out of my way, but wasn’t perfectly confident.
Second, there were all the people behind me, stacked up several people deep. The pressure to not hold them up was considerable.
And then, most importantly of all, there was the wind, which gusted right as I got to the point where I needed to drop down the ledge.
I choked. Bailed. Pulled the rip cord.
And in doing so, forced about five more people to also dismount.
My head hung in shame, I yielded to them all, unworthy to ride ahead of these people.
“I’ll clean this move next lap,” I swore to myself.
Which, I’d like to point out, is a near-perfect way to jinx yourself.
Big Headwind, Small Person
One of the five or so people who wound up in front of me thanks to my bungling of the hairpin was a strong climber — I remember passing her only at the very top of the climb.
Unfortunately for her, she was a very light, slight woman. Even more unfortunately for her, she was wearing a windbreaker that looked to be about two sizes two large.
And in short, as we all struggled to build up some semblance of speed on this narro singletrack descent, she never had a prayer.
The wind whipped her jacket. Her slight mass was buffetted by the wind. And before long, she had a line of about ten racers (I was about five back) queued up behind her.
It’s possible the person behind her was yelling at her to yield. Even if he was, though, I’m guessing that between the headwind and her jacket, she didn’t hear. Didn’t realize she had built up a good-sized train.
We were halfway down the Jem trail before she looked back, then — startled by the crowd that had formed behind her — yielded to our group.
One Down, Four to Go
I finished my first lap in one hour and one minute. Which isn’t bad, considering the furious wind that was slowing everyone down:
However, it did mean that I could forget the idea of doing six laps. If I couldn’t even do the first lap in one hour, there was no way I was going to be able to start my sixth lap before the five hour cutoff.
I confess to being relieved.
I rolled into “solo row” — the dirt road area at the beginning of the course reserved for solo riders. Blake — formerly known as the IT Guy, but now a programmer (and Neumont University valedictorian) — was ready for me, swapping my empty bottle for a full bottle of Carborocket 333 and handing me two gels: my very easy and effective fuel plan for the entire race.
I had no idea how The Hammer, The Swimmer, Rabid…or even I was doing.
I was just a guy, riding around in a big circle, as fast as I could, five times.
Sometimes I question the intelligence of some of my choices.
And before long, I’d be questioning them even more intently. Which seems like a good place to pick up in my next post (which will be on Wednesday).
If you want a good race report about 6 Hours in Frog Hollow, you ought to read the one I wrote a couple years ago, back in 2014 (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).
That was a good race report. With lots of action and excitement.
This race report, on the other hand, has distressing stories about invisible barriers, resignation to inevitable (yet still tragically disappointing) realities, and a heartrending philosophical question that is far from hypothetical.
And with that incredible teaser, let’s get started with this year’s race report of the Six Hours in Frog Hollow.
With a poop story (of course).
And a near-death experience.
The Near-Death Experience
Of all the factors in the Six Hours in Frog Hollow race, I saw myself as the least interesting and important. Here is a small sample of the myriad more interesting things about this day:
- The Swimmer would be participating in her second bike race. Like her first, it would be at least fifty miles and five hours long. This would be the race where we decided her great result at True Grit was a fluke.
- The Hammer would be racing single speed, racing against Heidi Volpe, a very strong racer from California.
- The wind. Oh, the wind. It was predicted to gust to forty miles per hour. The direction it was blowing didn’t really matter; since we were riding in a loop, it would be a headwind, crosswind, and tailwind at some point.
I was excited about items one and two. I was resolved to just cope with item three the best I could.
But it was item three that just about killed me. Before the race even began.
Like many people do, I often improvise a “dressing room” out of my front and rear car doors, giving me at least three sides of privacy as I change into bibs and a jersey.
This went off without a hitch; I have years of practice (the trick is to already be wearing socks and point your toes as you put your feet through the legs). In under fifteen seconds I went from wearing jeans to being completely naked to wearing bibshorts.
I’m a public nudity ninja.
I then put my jersey on at a more leisurely pace, zipped it up, and then bent down to put my shoes on and lace them up.
And that’s when I was nearly killed. Or at least sent to the hospital with stitches.
Because that’s when an incredible gust of wind slammed the front door shut.
The edge of the truck door missed my skull by…oh, let’s say half an inch.
The Hammer gasped, then screamed.
I continued tying my shoes.
The Poop Story
You would not be out of line to wonder whether I intentionally seek out pre-race outhouse poop stories.
I swear to you: I do not seek them out. I would be so much happier to not have to begin my race reports with pre-race poop stories.
And yet, for whatever reason, they seem to factor into my race reports.
Here, for visual purposes, is the very outhouse in which my poop story occurs:
I am happy to report that the tipping over of this outhouse is not part of the story I am about to tell.
Nor is this one:
Rather, these are all just to give you a sense of exactly how big a part the wind will come to play in upcoming installments of this race report.
For this part of the story, let’s just say that I went in to a portapotty and took care of my business.
And then discovered there was no toilet paper. None. Just two empty cardboard tubes.
I reached for my phone, knowing that my truck has a roll of toilet paper stored in a storage compartment.
But I didn’t have my phone; I was suited up to ride and my phone was stored in the same compartment as the toilet paper.
Ironically, I suppose.
So I looked around and assessed my options.
There were my FatCyclist logo socks. I didn’t really want to lose them.
There was my Ironman beanie. I didn’t really want to lose that.
And there were two toilet paper wrappers lying on the floor. You know, that really hard, stiff, waxy stuff they package toilet paper in, as if to convey, “Hey, this is not the part you should be wiping your butt with.”
Unless, of course, your need is urgent.
Which mine was.
With my near-death and near-gross experiences behind me, I finished getting my bike ready, set it down on the dirt road, and got to the starting line with one minute to spare.
I found The Hammer, The Swimmer, and Rabid Runner together — all three in FatCyclist kit, making them both easy to find and devastatingly attractive.
Of course they’re all devastatingly attractive regardless of whether they’re wearing FatCyclist kit. I mean devastatingly attractive-er.
Cimarron started the race at nine o’clock in the morning exactly (I love on-time starts!) and we all began the fifty-yard-ish run to our bikes.
The Hammer, Rabid, and the Swimmer all distanced me immediately. I was in last…and the race hadn’t even begun yet.
By the time I got to my bike, The Hammer and Rabid were gone…but The Swimmer was chasing her Garmin 500 around in the dirt. Evidently it had popped off her mount when she tried to press Start.
Normally I would have picked it up and handed it to her.
But this wasn’t normal. This was racing. And to be honest, I was just a smidgen nervous about her catching and beating me. (Yeah, she’s fast.)
So I yelled “Good luck!” and rode away from her. Saved from being last by a weakly-mounted GPS.
Now I just had to catch my wife. Hopefully.
I know, I know: story of my life.
And we’ll pick up with that story in the next installment of this race report.
If you ride bikes and you’re on Facebook, you’ve almost certainly seen this sponsored post (or one very much like it):
The SpeedX Leopard is the most-funded bike campaign on Kickstarter, surpassing its goal of $50,000 within two hours of launching. With three days left in the campaign, this very affordable, nice-looking, carbon fiber road bike with a built in GPS and cadence sensor is a rounding error away from two million dollars in pledges.
It’s a huge success story…and it’s also a symptom of a big problem (and not just in the bike industry): circumventing the trusted, knowledgeable salesperson, in order to get a lower price.
It’s not worth it.
The Dangers of Bargain Hunting
I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the pros and cons of the SpeedX Leopard here (although in the most recent episode of The Paceline [Download or find on iTunes], we get into that a little bit).
The fact is, for certain people, the Leopard may in fact be a really good option.
But there are a lot of people for whom this bike isn’t right, too.
Which leads to the $1400 – $2500 question: which are you?
A lot of people don’t know the answer to that question…and when knowledgeable people are left out of the purchase in the name of low price, buyers aren’t going to find out until too late whether they’ve made a bad call.
Without a knowledgeable salesperson they trust, a lot of people won’t realize this cool-looking, high-tech bike they’re excited about is actually non-adjustable in some important ways, does not fit, handles poorly, is very heavy for a road bike, and has seriously suspect wheels.
They’re not going to find out, ’til too late, that for them this record-breaking Kickstarter-funded bike is not such a great deal after all.
Of Bikes and Enterprises
I’ve been reading a study published by Altify talking about the relationship between sellers and buyers, based on a survey it conducted with a combination of 1200+ people. The results are meant to be used at an enterprise level, but the truth is they actually provide some important insights for anyone, at any level — including people who are buying or selling bikes, online or in stores.
One thing that really caught my eye: buyers don’t think salespeople matter all that much. Fewer than half think salespeople are “very important” or “critical.”
I can understand why, I suppose. We’ve gotten used to being self-service in a lot of our purchase decisions. And the Amazon.com-itization of the world is fine…up until you start making complex buying decisions. Like in a sophisticated software solution to be deployed across your enterprise.
Or for buying a bike.
Knowledge and Trust Matter
Once you get past the point of comfort with your own expertise, you need a trusted, knowledgeable person to guide you through complicated purchases.
Both of those words — trusted and knowledgeable — are critical, no matter whether you’re talking about big business or buying from a bike shops. The Altify study emphasizes:
If there is one message that you take away from this study it should be that you have to take care of your customers.
An incredible 80% of customers say that previous history is the top factor in determining where they go to buy.
That, of course, is only true if that “previous history” is a good experience — where a salesperson doesn’t just relay information that could just as easily be found with a quick web search, but instead understands the customer well enough to not just make a goode-enough transaction, but to help the customer make a better purchase than they would have on their own.
This doesn’t happen as often as salespeople might think, unfortunately; about half think they almost always add value, while buyers are more likely to say “rarely” or “sometimes.”
Yes, I know: this study is focused on business sales, not bikes. But the critical point stands, regardless: people need help to make difficult purchases, but “help” needs to be more than just conveying information.
It Goes Both Ways
Whether talking about bike shops or large enterprises, it’s pretty obvious that the seller needs the buyer. But I think it’s equally clear that buyers need good, real-world salespeople for complicated purchases.
We need people we can trust, people who know not just the facts, but what matters to us. People who are going to bring us back to the shop for service and for group rides…and for the next time we want a bike. People who know enough to say, “Sure, a built-in GPS and carbon wheels for a $2500 bike sounds good, but what if that GPS fails? And do you want to trust no-name rims to not delaminate at 40mph?”
So there’s a call to action on both sides of the fence for my readers.
First, for my friends at bike shops: Center everything you do around your customers; earn repeat business from your customers by being trustworthy, knowledgeable, and rewarding your best salespeople for great work. Find out from your customers whether your salespeople are providing value. As the Altify study shows, this may not be obvious to the salespeople themselves.
Second, for my friends who are bike shop customers: Reward shops with great salespeople with your repeat business. Recommend them to friends. And understand that a bike is not a simple online purchase, because you certainly can’t have it properly fit, serviced or upgraded online.
In short: remember: Good salespeople aren’t just a value-add; may be what stands between you and a disastrous decision.
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