Sixty-five-ish miles. Two-thirds of the Leadville 100 was behind us, and I hadn’t looked at my bike computer in about fifteen miles — since when we had hit the turnaround point at the top of Columbine and I had discovered we weren’t on track to finish the race in the time The Hammer had projected.
It wasn’t a conscious decision to not look at how we were doing; the Garmin 520 was right there for me to look at, if I felt like it. It’s just that it didn’t really matter to me. All that mattered was helping The Hammer.
And I was being just a little too aggressive about it.
How Fatty Transmogrified Into a Complete Jerk
If you read the end of part 6 of my race report, you’ll see that I was being loud and obnoxious. And if you read the other parts of my race report, you’ll see that this was not the first time.
You’re just going to have to trust me when I say that this is not in character. When I race, I am generally the friendly guy. The helpful guy. The positive and supporting to everyone guy.
How did I turn into a competitive neanderthal? Well, I don’t know for certain.
But I do have a theory.
In normal circumstances, I think of myself as just another racer. A guy whose race goals are no different — or any more important — than anyone else’s race goals.
But on this day, my race goals weren’t for me. They were for someone who I think of as much more important than me. Her goals are much more important than mine. Hence, my sense of purpose was much higher than usual. And my commitment to helping The Hammer achieve her goal was way higher than it ever is to achieving goals of my own.
Anyone who was in our way was an obstacle, pure and simple.
So my aggression came from a place of love; my trash-talking came from a place of high purpose.
But that doesn’t excuse me for being a jerk. Sorry, everyone I was a jerk to.
So, back to the story.
“I feel like giving up,” The Hammer had just said.
My heart rate shot up twenty beats per minute. I clenched my grips. I clenched my teeth. I thought of several things I wanted to say in reply, mostly along the lines of, “Don’t you dare say that. Don’t you dare think that. I am dedicating my whole day to your success, and you are not allowed to do anything but win.”
Wisely (because I do have moments of lucidity, from time to time), I did not say this. I bit back my anger and said, “What’s up?”
“Our pace. We aren’t on track to finish this race in 9:30.”
The relief I felt was incredible; the rage I briefly felt disappeared instantly. This wasn’t a Crash-and-Burn problem. This was just The Hammer experiencing unrealistic expectations.
“Oh, 9:30 was never even on my radar, Sugar Plum,” I said. “Just put that out of your head. The only objective we care about is beating your previous single speed record. All I want is a 9:49. Or maybe a 9:45, just to be safe. Do you think that’s still possible?”
“Yeah, we’re on track for that,” The Hammer replied.
“Then we’re awesome.”
We finished the single track, riding behind that group of five for the whole thing, just recovering. Approached intelligently, a bottleneck is an opportunity to eat, drink, and rest your legs.
Then, the moment we hit doubletrack, we dropped them hard and shot forward. “Let’s fly,” The Hammer said. I got in front of her, told her to yell if I started losing her, yell if I was going too slow, and to otherwise just hold on.
OK, this is the part I’ve been looking forward to writing about since before I even started this race report. Now that I’m here, though, I am simply unsure I can do it justice.
I’ll do what I can, though.
The Hammer and I just railed the next ten miles of the race. Just crushed it. The only time we slowed was to hand off come GU Endurolyte Capsules to Dave Thompson, who had been ahead of us the whole day and on track for a sub-nine-hour finish, ’til he had been brought low by cramps.
“Swallow as many as you can. They’ll help,” I said, and we ramped up our speed again.
Then, a mile or so before the Pipeline aid station, where our crew should be waiting for us, I had a two-birds-with-one-stone epiphany. “I gotta pee, so am going to peel off here for a second,” I told The Hammer. “You go ahead, so the crew can take care of us one at a time.”
The Hammer understood and shot on ahead.
I took care of my business, got back on my bike, and a few minutes later saw — right at the very beginning of the long alley of pit crews — our crew (Couch, Car, Scott, Kara).
Weird, I thought. We had expected them at the other end of the pit crew area. By the timing mat.
The Hammer wasn’t there, which meant — I assumed — that they had already taken care of her and she had gone on ahead. Awesome; I’d catch her when I could.
I pulled up and stopped. Put a foot down.
Nothing happened. In fact, nobody noticed that I was there. They were all busy putting up the banner that would make them easy to find.
“We didn’t expect you for another ten minutes!” Scott said. Which was a fair point. The Hammer and I had, in fact, just beaten our projected time for this part of the race by at least ten minutes.
See, that bit about flying wasn’t hyperbole. OK, it was hyperbole, but not as hyperbole-ish as you might have thought.
“Hasn’t Lisa come through?” I asked, connecting the dots.
“No!” Everyone replying together.
I said some words I would have to apologize for later. Then, “She’s come through. She expected you at the other end, and you didn’t see her because you were putting up the sign.”
For a moment, I was at a loss. Then: “Quick, stuff her gels into my jersey. And give me her Camelbak.”
They sprang into chaotic action, loading me up. All my gels, plus all The Hammer’s gels: two jersey pockets, stuffed full of gels. All my bottles. And The Hammer’s Camelbak.
Which, I would like to point out, did not even remotely fit. To wit, it was so tight it acted as a tourniquet and both my arms started tingling and falling asleep within a minute.
“Now I’m a real domestique,” I thought to myself as they saddled me up with all this stuff, “Carrying food and water up to my GC rider.”
Meanwhile, something snapped in Scott, The Hammer’s brother. He had had too many accidents while crewing for The Hammer, and felt an overwhelming urgency to do something — anything! — to get food and water to The Hammer…wherever she happened to be.
He grabbed a bottle and some gels and bolted, running in a dead sprint down the road, wildly looking left and right for The Hammer.
I found myself laughing at the bizarreness of the moment.
Let’s back up a minute and switch to The Hammer’s perspective for a moment. She came into the Pipeline Pit Crew Alley riding hot — thinking our crew would be at the end of the alley, near the timing mat. As such, she had blown right by the crew: not seeing them, and them not seeing her, because they were facing away and setting up a big banner…to make them easier to find.
That, my friends, is the story you can use when someone asks you to give an example of “irony.”
As she got to the end of Pit Crew Alley, now looking hard for her brother, she saw him! She pulled over, put a foot down, and waited for him to begin swapping out bottles, camelbak, and so forth.
“May I help you?” the man asked.
Recognition — or recognition that she did not recognize this person after all — The Hammer exclaimed, “You are not my crew!”
“No, but I could be if you need me to be,” The stranger replied.
“I’ll just keep going,” The Hammer said, and began riding again, once again starting a section of the race with a mostly-empty Camelbak, and without much in the way of gels.
And then she saw it: The neutral aid station. A light went on, she pulled over, and they sprang into action.
Now let’s go back to me. A few seconds after Scott began running down the trail, desperately looking for his sister, I finished getting all The Hammer’s food and struggling into The Hammer’s camelbak and began riding down the Pit Crew Alley, conducting my own hunt for The Hammer.
Within a few seconds, I had caught Scott, stopped, and had had him stuff the bottle and (still more!) gels he was carrying into my center jersey pocket.
My jersey — already a little tight due to my failure to lose any meaningful amount of weight this year — now felt incredibly tight, with a full bottle and around twenty-five gels (I’m guessing here, but am not far off because I counted around 15 unused gels in my jersey at the end of the race).
I took off again — more loaded down than I have ever been — looking side-to-side as I rode, sometimes calling out, “LISA!”
Scott walked back to their crewing area, fully intending to avoid The Hammer after the race.
As I got to the end of the aid station area, I saw her: The Hammer, with a couple of volunteers helping her out.
“Our crew didn’t make it in time!” she said.
“No, they’re here. You just missed each other. I got you a full camelbak,” I said, fighting to get the thing off.
“I don’t need it, these volunteers have refilled the one I have.”
“Well, I am NOT going to wear this thing for the rest of the race,” I said.
“We can take it,” said a volunteer. “We’ll put it in lost and found, you can get it after the race.”
“Perfect,” I said.
Alas, we would never find that camelbak in lost and found. Which, considering the fallout that could have resulted from this Benny Hill moment, is a not-bad result.
We were back together again. Racing again. As weirdly and hilariously wrong as things had gone, we still hadn’t really lost more than a minute.
“Hey,” I said, “I got your gels too,”
“I don’t need those either, the volunteers got me plenty.”
“Well I have enough to do pretty much another lap of the course.”
“You could hand them off to a course marshal,” The Hammer said.
“Are you serious?” I asked, astounded. “Do you know how much these things are each worth?” I considered for a moment and said, “I’m not giving away $40-worth of gels. But will you at least take this bottle I’ve got stuffed in my jersey?”
Yes, she would take that. And the strain against my midriff became a little easier. Yay.
We were on a paved part of the road now, once again pushing the pace as hard as we could. Me taking my role as domestique as seriously as I could. Keeping The Hammer right behind me, but pushing the pace. Blocking the wind. Encouraging her.
I was doing a pretty darned good job, if I do say so myself.
Until, all of a sudden, I wasn’t.
In the space of a moment, I went from strong workhorse to completely smoked and bonked out husk of a human being.
I’m not really sure what an implosion sounds like, but let’s go with “Kaboom.” In which case that’s the sound I made. Or maybe a better metaphor would be me hitting a wall, in which case I made a “splat” sound.
Either way, I was toast. And this seems like a pretty good place for us to leave off ’til the next installment of this story.
It’s wonderful to have important friends in high places.
And by “important friends,” I am of course talking about Yuri Hauswald, my friend and co-host on the new podcast I’m doing with GU Energy: The Pinnacle. (Our premise is simple: great conversations with extraordinary, inspirational athletes about how and why they do what they do. You really should listen to the first couple episodes.)
And by “high places,” I of course mean the base of the Columbine Mine climb (9600 – 12,600 feet), where Yuri had told me — a couple days before the race — GU Energy would have a tent set up.
So when The Hammer told me that she needed to get rid of her toe warmers and warm gloves before we climbed Columbine (you just don’t want to pack anything you don’t need up that climb), you’d think it would have been very obvious to me to say, “Oh, let’s just drop them off with Yuri.”
But let me assure you: having this actually occur to me during a race felt like a truly mighty stroke of genius. I can’t even quite explain how remarkably proud of myself I felt, having a sensible, simple solution occur to me when I was racing.
It just doesn’t happen that often.
Yet Another Stroke of Genius
But my remarkable brilliance had only just begun to manifest itself.
We rolled up to the GU tent, got Yuri to yank off The Hammer’s toe covers and warm gloves, and had begun to roll away, when Yuri called out, “Need anything else?”
Why yes. Yes we do need something else. The Hammer hadn’t got a refill on her Camelbak at the Twin Lakes pit stop, so she needed water.
“Got a bottle of water you can spare?” I asked.
They did. Ready to go and everything.
Seconds later we were going, no longer burdened with stuff we didn’t need, nor lacking things we did need.
Yuri is the best.
I have no idea whether a lot of people noticed that The Hammer and I were a wife-and-husband duo as we climbed up Columbine. I have no idea whether a lot of people noticed we were both riding singlespeeds, and how unusual that is in this race.
I do know, however, that a lot of people at least had the opportunity to notice these two things, because we passed — and while it’s a guess, it’s a conservative one — around 150 people going up the first five miles of Columbine.
Me, standing the whole way, as is my climbing style when on a singlespeed. The Hammer, sitting. In spite of being on a singlespeed. Which shows that when it comes to power-to-weight ratios, The Hammer is just off the charts.
“No shame in being passed by a woman,” I told one large group of young, very-fit-looking guys as we went by.
“Who is 48 years old,” I continued.
“And is riding seated on a singlespeed,” I concluded.
The Hammer rode behind me, shaking her head and apologizing for my behavior.
“I can’t take you anywhere,” she muttered. Correctly.
Hard Math: Multiplying by Two
I felt like we were doing well. I really did. But how you feel doesn’t really buy anything in a race. And according to our time, we weren’t doing as well as I’d have liked.
In particular, we hit the turnaround point on Columbine at 4:57. Since your turnaround time is generally a pretty good predictor of your finish time at this race — just multiply by two — we had a problem.
We were on target for a 9:54 finish. Which would not be a record singlespeed time, and would not beat The Hammer’s previous best on a singlespeed.
Which meant, obviously, that I was a terrible domestique / motivational spouse.
I resolved to not say anything to The Hammer about my disappointment. What she did not need from me was negativity. I know The Hammer well enough to understand that she is plenty hard enough on herself with her training and racing; I don’t ever need to pile on.
We turned around and rode to the bottom, with me peeling my eyes for a woman on a singlespeed, wanting to know how close Christina Ross — The Hammer’s competition — was. I didn’t see her (she was just nine minutes behind us at the turnaround), but honestly it’s very difficult to pick out drivetrain subtleties on others’ bikes when you’re coming down the Columbine Mine trail.
I did see, however, The Monster — smiling and pushing her bike. Not far behind us (her turnaround time was 5:18) at all, which made both The Hammer and me incredibly proud. She was on track to demolish both our first Leadville times (I finished my first LT100 in 10:36, The Hammer finished her first LT100 in 11:55).
And we saw Katie Bolling. And David Houston (who I had been calling “Dave” the whole week, to my embarrassment). And many others who called out our names, but we didn’t recognize, because we were too focused on not crashing.
No crash. No flat (although the ground was soft enough for one stretch of trail that I stopped and checked my tire, thinking it was going flat).
Sixty miles into the race and, as far as I was concerned, the worst was behind us. The places where I always worry I’m going to wreck or flat were all in the rear-view mirror.
Not that I have a rear-view mirror on my helmet. I just want to make that perfectly clear.
More Hard Math
As we got close to the Twin Lakes aid station, I had a brilliant idea: I would shoot ahead, so our crew would know The Hammer was coming, and so they would only have to take care of one of us at a time.
This, I am happy to say, worked beautifully. I tell you, I was really being smart.
“See you in about an hour and ten minutes!” The Hammer called out as we left.
“Closer to an hour!” I shouted over my shoulder, optimistically.
Either way, our crew had a tough job ahead of them: drive to the Pipeline aid station, park, and set up before we got there…in about an hour’s time.
And I was really making it my task to make it closer to that hour than the 1:10 The Hammer had projected. I rode in front, looking back frequently, doing my very best to gauge what the line was between giving her a fast draft that pushed her pace, and blowing her up.
And — I say this perfectly aware that it’s boastful — I did a pretty good job, especially considering that I don’t have a lot of experience being a domestique.
But we were moving well, making good time on this flattish section. Not as good as the people with geared bikes who buzzed right by us (“Ignore them, we’ll pass them on the climb!”), but pretty darned fast for the gear we had chosen.
And then we hit the singletrack.
I stayed in front still, not for drafting sake but to keep The Hammer going at her hardest.
Sure enough, we soon caught up with the group that had passed us on the dirt road a few miles back.
“Hey there,” I said. Usually that’s enough for people to yield, when they discover that someone going much faster has just caught them.
Nobody yielded. The congo line of five or six just kept going, slowly, in their granny gears.
Driving me insane.
So I started talking. To The Hammer, of course. “Hey, baby, you just let me know when you feel like it and I’ll ask these nice folks ahead of us to yield so we can pick up the pace,” I said.
The Hammer said nothing. Nobody moved over.
“I’m sure these people won’t mind moving over whenever you want,” I said. “They’ll understand you’re chasing a new women’s singlespeed record.”
Nobody moved over. But The Hammer did speak this time.
“We’re not going to finish in 9:30,” she said. “We can just forget about that.”
And then, something I would never have expected her to say:
“I feel like giving up.”
And with those words, I became the angriest at her I have ever been.
Which — believe it or not — is a necessary place for us to pick up in the next installment, because things are going to get a little bit crazy in the next episode.
In any given race, there is a period after the start-of-race adrenaline and nervousness has faded away, but before the race-induced exhaustion sets in.
This period is the golden moment of racing. The best part of racing. It can last an hour, but it can also last for about two seconds. So it is definitely something to be anticipated, recognized, and savored.
In the 2016 Leadville 100, this golden moment lasted for — more or less — the entirety of the fifteen flattish miles between the first and second aid stations (Pipeline to Twin Lakes).
The Hammer and I were both relieved to have made it down the Powerline section, we were happy to be riding together and discovering that all the training we do together was translating well into racing well together, we were both feeling good and strong.
And somehow, we had wound up riding with a fun group of people.
First, Rohit caught us and volunteered to give the two of us a pull for a bit. We gratefully accepted, and stuck on his wheel for as long as we could ’til he dropped us and continued on ahead. I considered calling out to him that he was losing us, but decided against it. He was riding great, let him go. I was confident we’d see him on Columbine.
And then we caught up with another singlespeeder. As is traditional when singlespeeders catch each other, we performed the “What gear are you riding?” ritual.
He started out. “What gear are you riding?” he asked.
“34 by 19,” I answered, then continued (as dictated by tradition), “How about you?”
“32 by 20,” he replied.
“Oh, that’s the same gear my wife is riding,” I replied, truthfully. Then, realizing that this could be interpreted as a jab, I amended, “And I’m sure lots of men ride that gear too.”
At this point I realized that I was only underscoring the unintended jab and was making things worse. Which put me at a crossroads: redirect the conversation (best choice), continue to backpedal (not a great choice, but definitely in character), or spike the ball.
“I’m going to give you the nickname 32 20, OK?” I asked.
The Hammer rolled her eyes. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“Craig,” he replied.
“Good to meet you, 32 20,” I said.
The Hammer punched me in the throat, crushing my larynx, cutting off my air supply, and effectively stopping me from saying anything further.
OK, she actually just gave me a look, but it had more or less the same effect.
The three of us rode together, happily chatting. And we were moving fast, too. Catching racers, in spite of the fact that we were all on singlespeeds.
And then we caught another singlespeeder. “I have never,” I said, “been in a group of four singlespeeders in a race before.”
And then I attacked both of them, yelling as I went by, “I just jumped two places in my division standings!”
It was hilarious. Trust me.
All Together Now
I don’t remember where or how we parted ways with Craig (32 20) or the other singlespeeder (never learned his name and can’t remember his gearing, but his jersey read “Pantone” across the back), but I think it must have been as we reached our crew at the Twin Lakes aid station.
We had a lot of people there crewing for us: The Hammer’s brother, Scott, his friend Kara, Car and Couch, Blake, and Rohit’s mom. And we had given detailed instructions on what we each needed.
As a result, they were prepared for any of us to come in at any time.
What they were not prepared for, however — what never occurred to us to ask them to be prepared for — was us all coming in at more or less the exact same time.
Let me just lay things out, chronologically, as best as I can, using what I realize is incomplete information. We’ll start with “0:00” as being the moment the first of our group entered the area where our crew was waiting for us.
0:00 – Rohit enters the pit area
0:01 – Rohit’s mom starts helping Rohit
0:10 – The Hammer and Fatty enter the pit area
0:11 – The Hammer climbs off her bike and walks behind the pit area, telling everyone there not to watch, she has to pee.
0:15 – Car hands Fatty a Coke and some endurolyte capsules
0:16 – Couch swaps Fatty’s bottles
0:17 – The Monster pulls in to the crew station and begins bellowing for support. Why is nobody helping her?!
0:20 – Fatty wonders aloud why nobody has given him any new GUs (the reason? Kara and Scott have hurried over to help the very urgent requests of The Monster)
0:23 – Couch hands Fatty a handful of GUs
0:25 – Fatty yells to The Hammer that he’s heading out, but will be stopping at a porta potty as soon as he can find one (Fatty is more private about such matters than The Hammer). She should continue on and he’ll catch her as soon as possible.
0:40 – Fatty finds a porta potty not fifty feet away from the pit crew tent. Relieved, he steps inside to…get some relief. He considers, briefly, that usually he doesn’t need to pee until about five hours into this race, but this time needs to a mere three hours into it. Weird.
0:50 – The Hammer rides by the porta potty, yelling as she goes by
1:00 – The Monster rides by the porta potty, but does not yell as she goes by.
1:10 – Fatty exits the porta potty, wondering at how he’s managed to wind up in last place. He spins up to full speed, hoping to catch back up as quickly as possible.
What Didn’t Happen
Here’s the thing: by me detailing out the timeline of who did what for whom and when, I have made it seem like things went pretty smoothly at the Twin Lakes pit stop.
And as far as I was concerned, they did go smoothly. I got out quickly with everything I needed, found a toilet immediately after, and got back to racing. Very few seconds lost.
However, things had not gone as smoothly as I had thought. Which I would find out very soon.
As I exited the porta potty, I could see The Monster just a hundred or so feet ahead. I jumped on my bike and gave chase, trying to catch up to her as quickly as I could.
“The Moooooonnnnnnnnnssssssttteerrrrr!” I yelled, as I closed in.
“Faaaaatttty!” She yelled back.
“You are killing it!” I yelled. “I gotta go catch your mom now!” And then I redoubled my efforts, racing like I was in the final stretch of the race, and not about to hit an eight-mile climb that would take me up to 12,500 feet.
By going absolutely all-out, I managed to catch up to The Hammer just half a mile outside the aid station. “Back together!” I yelled, happily. “What a madhouse at the pit stop,” I effused, “But it went great!”
“It didn’t go great,” The Hammer said, her voice flat in the way that tells me that things went very not-great indeed.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I’m still wearing my toe warmers and heavy gloves,” she said.
Mentally, I sighed with relief. That was an expensive mistake, but not costly in terms of time. We could always just ditch those, toss them to someone on the side of the trail. We’d never get them back, but it wasn’t the kind of thing to be concerned about during a race.
“And also,” The Hammer said, “They didn’t switch my Camelbak out.”
“In the confusion with me peeing and The Monster coming in so we’re all there wanting stuff at the same time, I forgot to have them switch my Cambelbak out, and they forgot too. And they didn’t ask about gloves or my toe covers.”
“So how much do you have left in your Camelbak right now?” I asked. “Anything?”
“Some,” The Hammer answered, which is really the best estimate anyone wearing a Camelbak can ever give. Personally, I have several times been utterly convinced I had a third of a bladder full at the moment I got that shkkrkrrreekkk slurping sound that indicates you are out.
And she had a new, full bottle of Carborocket 333. And I had two full bottles. Enough to get the two of us to the top of Columbine. Probably. And we could refill there.
“OK,” I said, and told her my plan, which involved her throwing away about $100-worth of her favorite cold-weather bike gear, as well as both of us probably hopefully only running out of water just slightly before we reached the Columbine mine summit.
The Hammer was not delighted with this solution, but it was something.
And then, like a bolt out of the blue, I had a perfect moment of clarity. One which would let The Hammer get rid of her cold weather stuff now, without losing it forever. Further, she’d have enough fluid to get not just to the summit of Columbine, but all the way back to the Twin Lakes aid station.
It was simple, it was smart, and I was 100% certain it would work. To be honest, I was a little bit astonished that the idea came to me at that moment. My brain doesn’t usually work all that well when I’m racing.
And I will explain what this brilliant moment of clarity was — and describe the two most disheartening moments of the entire race — in the next installment of this story.
A “I Have Women’s Gear Available and Didn’t Even Know It” Note from Fatty: In my most recent post, I pointed out that I have men’s Fat Cyclist gear — bibs and jerseys — available to be shipped immediately. And I still do. Let’s take another look at them:
Oh my. Those are nice.
However, I didn’t even mention the women’s gear. This was because I was mistaken, thinking I didn’t have much (if any) available. As it turns out, that was wrong. I have pretty much all sizes of women’s jerseys and shorts available and in stock, now, in all sizes.
The Hammer, The Monster, and Lindsey all wore this kit at the Crusher in the Tushar and agreed they’re comfortable enough for a full day in the saddle:
And The Monster wore hers at the Leadville 100, where she showed that badass is beautiful:
I don’t consider it a spoiler to show The Monster at the finish line, because I don’t think there was ever any doubt that she would finish. (That helmet angle though.)
So, yes. My point is the men’s and women’s FatCyclist gear this year is great. Not just great looking, but full-on great. So please: buy it.
Race Report, Interrupted (by a Different Race Report)
I should be writing part 5 of my LT100 race report right now. I know I should. But right now I really want to talk about the race I did last weekend — the Draper Fall Classic.
Why? Two reasons. First, because it’s fresh in my mind. Second, because I just can’t get all the “what if’s” out of my head.
Oh, and one more reason: because of the “why” I was out there racing at all.
I Don’t Feel Like Racing, So Let’s Solve That Problem by Entering a Race
After I raced the Leadville 100, I was tired. OK, that may well be the single most obvious thing I could ever have written, but the duration and depth of my tiredness caught me off guard.
Specifically, when I got back on my bike for the first time after the race — probably a few days after Leadville was over — I just had no oomph whatsoever. I went out with the intention of riding to the top of the Alpine Loop, but changed the ride to a slow spin to the Tibble Fork parking lot.
Riding didn’t hurt, but it wasn’t fun. And I had no power for climbing at all.
This oddness continued the next day. And the next. And so on and so forth. Usually I recover quickly. This time, I didn’t seem to be recovering at all.
And even weirder (for me), I just didn’t feel like riding. So of course I did the smart thing and listened to my body, giving myself a full week off the bike.
Ha ha, just kidding! I actually signed up for a really hairy, big-mile (45 miles), big-altitude (6300 feet of climbing), technical (almost all singletrack) mountain bike race: The Draper Fall Classic.
And I got The Hammer to sign up for it too. And I almost got The Monster to sign up, but she changed her mind at the last minute and didn’t register (even though, now that I think about it, she was the one who brought up doing this race in the first place).
It’s a local race: about a fifteen-minute drive from home, in Corner Canyon. It’s a very small race: there were only three people signed up in my category (expert men 50+), and only three women signed up in The Hammer’s category (expert women, all ages).
And since Doug Bohl was in the area, getting paid to release poisonous chemical gasses into the air (yes really), I convinced him to sign up too. We even loaned him The Hammer’s geared Stumpy S-Works.
I Think I’ll Give Something Away The Ending Right Here
I really believe that most of my race reports are about what happens during the race, not about how they end. So let me show you the podium for the men’s 50+ group:
That’s me. Third place of three 50+ racers. But the fact is, I actually finished second. And that was a bad thing.
And I very nearly finished first. And that would have been a worse thing.
And to be completely honest, I probably shouldn’t have been on that podium at all.
And that brings us to the story I actually want to tell.
Which seems like a good place to…no, just kidding. I’m going to tell that story right now.
I’m not going to say a terrible lot about most of the race, except that it’s really hard, no matter what. I will also say that it’s especially hard if you’re lacking motivation and power thanks to a very demanding race a couple weeks ago.
I will furthermore say Corner Canyon is very dusty and loose right now, due to the fact that it hasn’t rained in my part of Utah since 1972. Give or take a month.
And that’s the excuse I would like to give for why I crashed three times during the race.
After quickly scrambling up following the first crash (I slid out on a loose downhill turn), the guy you see on the top step of that podium passed me, remaining ahead of me for almost all of the rest of the race (more on that later).
The second crash was of no great importance. Honestly, I don’t even really remember it.
The third crash was face-first right into a very thorny bush, scratching my face up pretty thoroughly (but not at all seriously). Also, that crash somehow deposited a very long, painful thorn through my right shoe into my foot. Painful enough, in fact, that I was barely able to ride for another half mile or so before I just had to sit down (I chose to sit near a picturesque bridge across a cheerful water crossing), take off my right shoe and sock, and dig at the thorn with my fingernails ’til I successfully pulled it out.
KC Holley, the leading elite women’s racer, passed me as I put my sock back on. “What are you doing, Elden?” she asked.
I considered how I must look: in the middle of the race, shoe and sock off, by a little stream. I bet she thinks I’m going wading, I thought. And that’s not such a bad idea, really.
But I didn’t go wading. I finished putting my sock and shoe on and battled my way up Clark’s.
That, at least, led me to Rush, one of the very most fun parts of Corner Canyon. Here’s a video of the entirety of that descent (it’s a downhill-only trail), filmed a few years ago, but still mostly accurate:
If you happen to watch this video, pay special attention to the trail between 2:12 and 2:15.
I sure wish I would have.
It’s Only Quitting If You Actually Quit
The Draper Fall Classic is a two-lap race, which means you’re only done when you’ve ridden two laps.
Except I was pretty sure I was done after just the first lap. I was just beaten. Exhausted. Weak.
So I developed a plan.
I would stop at the ice chest The Hammer and I had set at the beginning of the course to swap our bottles from, where I would wait for her, and then we would ride the rest of the race together. I’d be her domestique again. It would give me purpose.
So I stopped, drank a Coke, and waited for The Hammer.
And I thought.
And while I thought, it occurred to me that The Hammer hadn’t asked for a domestique. Nor would a domestique help in a race like this. There’s literally no place to draft.
Also, I had signed up to race, to get my mojo back. Changing my purpose mid-game wasn’t a strategic move, it was a cop-out.
I put down the Coke, got back on my bike, and began the second lap.
I had wasted time, but had recovered some self-respect.
The Trees of the Damned
The second lap was harder than the first lap, for some reason, making the Consuming of the Final Gel (when I am pretty darned certain that I am less than half an hour away from finishing the race) an especially glorious occasion.
I finished climbing Clark’s and began, once again, descending Rush. Which meant that all the meaningful climbing was behind me. Yay!
And then, a couple of minutes into the descent, I noticed something. Something I had not noticed during the first lap.
An arrow. Pointing right. diverting me off “Rush,” and onto “The Trees.”
Damn it. Damn it.
It’s not that I don’t like “The Trees.” It’s a fine trail, although I rarely (ok, never) take it. I’m generally just too into the Rush descent, loving the flow of it, to even consider this longer trail diversion.
I turned right and finished rode onto “The Trees,” no wind in my sails. I had missed this turn the first time down, not even looking for places where I might turn. Riding by muscle memory.
I considered: back when I had stopped and drank a Coke at the end of the first lap, I should have taken my time and finished it. My race was already over; I just didn’t know it. That traditiional Rush descent had shortened my lap by three minutes or more.
I finished the race casually and without pushing myself:
I rode at the pace of the DQ’d.
Close But Not Close
As I got near the finish line, I saw something peculiar: the fast 50+ guy. The guy who I hadn’t seen since he dropped me halfway through the first lap.
I had closed in on him, somehow. Interesting.
He finished half a minute or so in front of me. He was still breathing hard, resting on his top tube as I crossed the line.
“You almost got me,” he said.
“I’m glad I was able to motivate you,” I replied. “But I’m afraid it wasn’t as close of a race as it looked.”
Then I walked over to the race director and explained why I had to be DQ’d from the race. He understood and said he appreciated me coming forward.
Then Doug walked over. Changed and clean. “Did you switch to the one-lap race?” I asked. It wouldn’t have been a bad call for a guy who lives at sea level.
“No, I missed a turn early,” Doug said. “Never found my way back onto the course.”
I took a moment to consider the strangeness of our circumstances: He had DQ’d because he didn’t know Corner Canyon at all, I had DQ’d because I know Corner Canyon too well.
Coulda Shoulda Woulda
I sat down in the shade, drinking can after can of Coke, watching for The Hammer to finish. As I relaxed, a question occurred to me:
What if I wouldn’t have seen The Treesturn in the second lap either?
The answer was easy.
The three (or so) minutes taking Rush down would have shortcutted me would have definitely put me in front of the fast guy who in the end finished a half minute or so in front of me.
Without him (or me) understanding how, I would have magically teleported ahead of him, and would have been sitting there at the finish line when he finished.
I wouldn’t have known what the problem was, and neither would he. But knowing myself, I would guess I wouldn’t have just handed over my winning spot.
Suddenly, I was so glad I had seen that turn the second time. It made things easy and clear.
(Also, I’m glad I had to stop and take off my shoe and sock and fix my foot, because that also ensured I didn’t wind up with an illegitamite win.)
The Hammer rolled in a few minutes later. First place in women’s expert division, riding her singlespeed. She had missed a turn too (that’s three of three of us), right at the beginning. She didn’t need to DQ herself, though because all three of them had missed the turn and worked themselves back onto the course together.
So The Hammer, at least, was where she belonged:
Third place hadn’t crossed the line by podium time.
When it came time to call podiums, they had me come up anyway, in third place, even though I had DQ’d myself. Hey, nobody else was going to stand there.
And I was perfectly happy to. Because, hey, it’s not often you get to stand on a podium at all, much less because you very nearly stood on all three of the steps.
And besides, I was very stoked to show off my new podium socks.