A Note from Fatty: If you haven’t signed up for the Cannondale CAAD12 Disc Dura Ace Road Bike giveaway sponsored by my friends at The Feed, you need to. Now. It takes less than a minute to do, costs nothing, and someone’s going to win that bike. Why not give yourself a shot at it?
Race in the Basement
I had been dreading this moment. And yet, I had also been so excited for this moment. I had put off this moment, partly because of sickness, but mostly because I didn’t want to know.
And yet, I so wanted to know.
I am talking, of course, about the TrainerRoad 20 Minute Test, and — much more specifically — that as part of beginning the TrainerRoad Sustained Power Build training plan, I needed to do this 20 Minute Test…which, oddly enough, takes an hour.
Here’s what I posted on Twitter an hour or so before I went down into my basement to do the test
Why was I so nervous? Why was I so conflicted? Because this workout gives you a very accurate measurement of how strong you are. If you commit to going as hard as you can, it delivers an extraoridinary amount of pain, followed by an extremely honest, numerical assessment of how many watts, on average, you should be able to generate in an hour. Your “Functional Threshold Power (FTP) number.”
My most recent FTP test was a couple months ago, and resulted in a score of 269. Which is not bad. But I had been sick when it was time to do this test a month ago, and so I hadn’t.
And now, well I was curious: was I getting stronger? Weaker? Staying the same?
“Oh please,” I prayed to St. Merckx, the patron saint of quadriceps, “Don’t let me wind up with a result that’s weaker.”
I loaded the workout, fully aware of how odd it was to have a case of the butterflies in anticipation of doing a solo workout, in the basement, on my Wahoo Kickr trainer.
The screenshot of the profile tells you everything you need to know about what this workout does to you. A half-hour warmup slowly ramps up your effort, gives you a few short, hard efforts, a practice five minutes above your previous FTP effort.
And then, for twenty minutes, you go. Just as hard as you can.
Which is a very interesting thing to try to do.
Because going at your absolute limit for twenty minutes isn’t the same as going at your one-minute absolute limit. One minute means I’m going at a dead sprint and it’s the end of the world and I’m throwing up and oh mercy I’m starting to black out and how did a minute turn into three thousand years and oh I thought I was going to die and I guess I’m not but yes I guess I really did throw up on myself.
And it’s not like going at your nine-hour absolute limit, where basically you’re just riding just two notches into your discomfort level, and never letting yourself slip into the “one notch of discomfort” zone.
A twenty minute effort leaves room for uncertainty: Could I possibly go just a little harder right this second? And of course the answer is “Yes, but if I do I may completely collapse and be unable to continue for another seventeen minutes.“
And on any given day, you can go to the TrainerRoad 20 Minute Test page and see how that test has defeated people. Some go too hard at the beginning, and melt down as they get to the real part of the test:
Some bonk, recover as best as they can, and struggle on valiantly:
And some people…well, some people do it more or less perfectly, keeping their effort smooth and consistent through the whole thing:
As for me, well…I was somewhere in between. Here’s my whole thing:
And here’s the closeup of the real star of the test: the twenty minute block:
That jagged yellow line represents my mental state incredibly well. I began overconfident, thinking I could keep my power at or above 350 for the whole time.
This was as stupid as it was wrong.
Before long, I revised my estimate to thinking I could keep my wattage above 320. And then 300.
To my credit, I never revised my intent below 300. But sometimes, if I let my attention stray even briefly, my power would dip down, and I’d have to wind myself back up again.
Each time it hurt. And you can see from the jagged yellow line that it was a constant battle.
But — and I’m proud of this — I did not give up.
“Go. come on. Go. You’re dropping again. GO! OK, you’re back up to where you should…no, you’ve dropped again. GO!”
Like that. For twenty minutes.
Furthermore, I even managed to, for the last few minutes, give it everything I’ve got to climb up to the 320 zone.
The moment that twenty-minute test ended and the ten minutes of cool down began, I felt a gratitude and exhaustion I have experienced only at race finish lines, and even then only rarely.
But even as I cooled down, I wondered how I had done.
Was I proud? Well, of course I was proud. Still am. So proud I’m writing this incredibly vain post about it.
Proud enough that I texted the above screengrab to my wife, to friends, tweeted it to the universe, and even sent it to Jonathan at TrainerRoad.
He said it was a solid effort, but that if I don’t go so hard at the beginning, instead keeping my effort smooth throughout, I might be able to average a better overall number.
He texted me this helpful graphic to demonstrate:
So I still have room for improvement. Still, I did manage new personal bests with this workout, shown with the cute little ribbon icons:
Although, the assertion that I went through 753 calories is suspect:
To be fair to TrainerRoad, this is not their fault. They can’t possibly know that my metabolism defies physics and that I actually gained weight as I did the test.
So: 289 FTP for Fatty. The highest I’ve ever measured it. Not bad for a guy who turns fifty next month.
I’m beginning to believe there may be something to this whole “structured workout” thing. Weird.
A “Hey Join Me for this Last-Minute Conversation About the Rockwell Relay” Note From Fatty: I’m a huge fan of the Rockwell Relay. Huge. And on Wednesday, May 4, at 12pm (noon) MDT I’m going to get together with Tyler Servoss on a Google Hangout to talk about this year’s Rockwell Relay: what’s different, what’s the same, new prizes, new sponsor, changes to the route, and more. Be sure to come join us. We’re going to keep it short and to the point: half an hour of presentation, and then time for Q&A.
Eben Weiss is the author of the popular bike blog, Bike Snob NYC. Here we are together, in a very recently-taken photograph (six years ago):
I show this photograph, of course, to demonstrate what it would look like if Stanley Tucci and Hugh Jackman were bike bloggers who hung around together in bars when given the opportunity.
Also, I am pleased to announce that Eben has just published The Ultimate Bicycle Owner’s Manual: The Universal Guide to Bikes, Riding, and Everything for Beginner and Seasoned Cyclists.
He and I recently spent ninety-five glorious minutes on the FattyCast talking about this book, as well as about how we both regret the names we gave our blogs.
And whether Stan’s Notubes are revolutionary, or merely nifty.
And the fact that we both agree that The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the most important book ever written.
Here’s the thing: his book is useful, and not just for people who have already bought into cycling as a way of life. No. It’s for those people (i.e., us people) and it’s for normal people too — people who are new to biking, or just interested in starting, and have a lot of questions.
Eben highly recommends, therefore, that you get a copy for yourself, and one each for all the friends you have who won’t leave you alone with their bike questions.
I agree completely.
And meanwhile, you should also listen to our conversation. It’s a good one. You can find it on iTunes, on FattyCast.com, you can download it directly, you can get the RSS feed, and you can listen to it right here:
A Note from Fatty: My good friends and sponsor The Feed are doing a bike giveaway: a Cannondale CAAD12 Disc Dura Ace Road Bike.
For a chance to win, all you need to do is click this link, answer a simple question (hint: the answer is “The Feed”), and then give ‘em your email address (and then verify your email address by clicking the link they email you).
Then, if you want to get other chances to win, take the special link you’re given when you register and share it, getting other people to sign up. For everyone who signs up, you get bonus chances.
A pretty clever way to get people to spread the word about your product, right?
Full Disclosure: I am signed up for this contest, and if you use these links to join the contest, you help my chances of winning. I hope you’re cool with that.
Something occurred to me as I began my fourth lap of the 6 Hours in Frog Hollow: I was doing doing something wrong. Something I had learned was wrong, and had become a bit of an evangelist about doing right.
A simple thing. A fundamental thing. A thing that makes a difference in how fast you go. And potentially, for someone like me who is right on the dividing line between doing five laps or six, a thing that determines how many laps you do and whether you get on the podium.
And yet, here I was, doing it wrong, and I hadn’t even thought about the fact that it’s wrong until sixty percent of the way through the race.
Furthermore, it was now too late to correct my mistake and start doing it right.
So: what was this thing I was doing wrong?
Well, that’s a great question, and the previous installments of this story (part 1, 2, 3, 4) actually detail the thing I was doing wrong. But I’m curious: do you know what I was doing wrong? Let’s do an instant poll to find out:
Okay, so here’s what I did wrong: I stopped after every lap to swap bottles and get gels.
And why is that wrong? Easy. Because every time I slowed, stopped, swapped and started again, I was not moving for about a minute. Maybe more.
And since my lap times were consistently at 1:01 — that extra minute mattered.
But as I started my fourth lap, it was too late to do anything about this mistake: I had only one bottle with me, so I’d have to stop again at the beginning of my fifth — and last — lap.
“Oh well,” I thought to myself, “Lesson learned for next time I guess. And it’s not like this minute per lap is going to affect how I do in the race or anything.“
Because why would four one-minute stops matter in a five-plus-hour race, right?
As I mentioned at the end of part four of this story, Blake had told me as I left for my fourth lap that the last time he had seen them, The Swimmer was just six minutes behind me, and The Hammer was six minutes behind her.
Which made me think: that was a whole hour ago. What if either of them — or both! but especially The Swimmer! — had been catching up to me, slowly but surely? And now was about to pass me?
It occurred to me that if that were to happen, I should be proud of how strong and fast these women are. But the truth is, I know from experience that I did not want it to happen.
So I rode with renewed purpose. Not interested in whether any men of my 50+ age group were in my vicinity…but in whether my wife or daughter was about to clean my clock.
As Blake swapped my bottle and gave me my gels for my final lap, I asked again: “How are the girls doing?”
“Now The Swimmer’s about twelve minutes behind you, and The Hammer is twelve minutes behind her.”
“The Swimmer has a twelve-minute gap on The Hammer?” I thought to myself. “She isn’t a swimmer anymore. She’s a Monster.”
And henceforth, that is what she shall be known as on this blog.
To The Wire
There’s something special about being on the final lap of a multi-lap endurance race. Specifically, every time you finish a difficult segment, you get to say to yourself, “Well, I don’t have to do that again today.”
Which, I can assure you, never gets old.
This brings us to the final minute or so of the race.
There was a guy in a green kit I had been taking turns leading and following for the last lap, and at this moment he was fifty or so feet ahead of me. But as we approached the final stretch — a 0.3-mile uphill straightaway on a dirt road with plenty room for passing — I thought to myself, “You know what? I think I’ll see if I can chase him down before we get to the finish line.”
Not for any particular reason. Just for honor, really. To finish strong and whatnot.
And so, as I crossed the river bottom and got onto the beginning of the climb, I shifted into a bigger gear and stood up.
And from the sound of it, so did the guy behind me.
Waitasec. The guy behind me?
Yep, there was a guy behind me. I hadn’t even been aware of him. But now I could hear his chain (we’d all been riding in the sandy, windy desert for five hours, so we all had noisy chains) and the whoof-whoof of knobby tires accelerating on dirt.
There he was, in my peripheral vision, behind and to my right.
Now he was beside me. I matched his speed.
He accelerated. I matched again.
He accelerated once more and I could not hold him. Just couldn’t. I was outgunned.
“Oh well,” I thought. “No biggie, it’s just for fun anyway.“
As he pulled away from me, I looked over. Greying hair.
“He’s taking this pretty seriously,” I thought, as he built a larger and larger gap.
In the end, Jeff Flick built an impressive four second lead over me in that 0.3-mile section of the course.
Which is why he’s standing on the third-place podium spot here in the 50+ men’s group.
And more to the point, it’s why I’m standing in the fourth-place fake-podium spot, looking like I’d rather be just about anywhere else:
So, I missed the podium by four seconds. After stopping after laps one, two, three, and four for about a minute.
So yes, I’ve been kicking myself a bit. Maybe Jeff would’ve got me anyway — he had an astonishing kick at the end, and maybe he had been marking me for several laps and was just making his move when it was smart — but I could have easily reduced the number of stops I made by two, and thus been two minutes faster. In which case, maybe I could have obviated his obviously superior sprint.
And that would have been awesome, because when you’re 5’7” it’s much better to stand on a podium than beside one.
How the Women Did
Blake was waiting there for me at the finish line. “Do I have time to go change before they get in?” I asked him, hoping that I did. And in fact, I did have time, before The Monster flew up to the finish line, a big smile on her face and an arm raised to the sky:
This was the second bike race she had ever finished. And, strangely enough, the second bike race she had won…beating the second place Women’s Solo racer by five minutes, and the third place racer by about fifteen minutes.
So yeah: Meet The Monster. We’ll be very interested to see how she does at Leadville this year, and have a hunch that it might be pretty darned well.
And how about The Hammer? Well, she and Heidi Volpe — one of two other singlespeed women racers — found each other very early in the race…and then rode the whole thing together, talking and laughing the whole time.
Imagine that: two fast, strong singlespeed powerhouse women discovered they had a lot in common and enjoyed each other’s company.
Still, someone had to win, and Heidi had the stronger kick at the end, beating The Hammer by one second. Here they are, afterward.
As you can see, The Hammer is pretty upset at her narrow loss, and was still stewing when it came time to climb on the podium:
We had to get a family shot, with the three of us each in our respective place on — or, in my case, beside — our respective podiums:
But here’s the thing: while I definitely was pretending to be pouty…
…I didn’t have anything to complain about. I had raced against a strong group of grizzled ol’ racers, and out of twenty-two of us, I had finished fourth. And while it’s tempting to be bummed that I was outsprinted, the fact is that Jeff Flick inspired me to finish that final section of that race faster than I ever have before. I gave it my all, and he beat me in a straight-up contest. That’s pretty awesome.
But next year, you can bet that I won’t stop for bottle swaps so often.
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.
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