The Timpanogos Trail Half Marathon. It would be a day of firsts. For example:
- The first time I would try to run a straight-up half marathon (I’ve run marathons, a marathon as part of an Ironman, and a half-marathon as part of a half-ironman, but never a half-marathon)
- The first time I would try running a trail race
- The first time The Hammer would try running a trail race
- The first time The Swimmer would try running a trail race
- The first time the Swimmer would try a half marathon
Most importantly of all, though, was the fact that I was the one who suggested we should do this race. Yes. Me. Suggesting a running race. On foot. Without a corresponding bike leg to compensate for the nigh-incomprehensible suckitude I would exhibit when trying to run.
Oh, and there would be a couple of other firsts that day. And a couple of other seconds, too. And a sixth. But I’ll get to all of those a little later in this story.
So, in short, I have gone mad and am now, yes, completely insane haha. Heehee ho!
I Very Nearly Get Right to the Point, Without Actually, You Know, Getting Right to the Actual Point
Why would I suggest a running race? Oh I know, let’s have a list.
- Because I have recently discovered that I like trail running, thanks to the fact that my ankles, knees, and hips no longer kill me after even the shortest run, which I assert is in turn thanks to my Altra Olympus shoes.
- Because I harbor hopes that someday The Hammer will want to do the running version of the Leadville 100, because I think crewing for her as she did that would make for the most amazing series of I’m trying to nudge her in that direction by encouraging races like this.
- Because this race is on the same trails where I learned to mountain bike, and thus has nostalgic draw.
- I looked at the elevation profile, and knew it favored me.
Let’s talk about that last point for a moment. Here’s what the elevation profile of the race looks like:
That’s about 2600 feet of climbing in a trail half marathon. That much climbing, with very little flat (really, the only flat is from mile three to five) really favors mountain bikers: those of us with a lot of power and the ability to turn over a high cadence in a low gear.
Specifically, the way I saw it, this was a running race for mountain bikers. Or at least as close to one as I was ever likely to find.
The Hammer and I had pre-run the course together once before (which, by the way, was the day after The Hammer pre-ran the course solo, and the day before the White Rim weekend). And The Swimmer and I had pre-run it together, too. It was nice to not be going into this race blind.
This race was a very low-key, grass-roots affair. So small (just a few hundred racers), in fact, that they hadn’t even gotten port-potties for the event, relying on the permanent bathrooms installed at the park.
I found this fact very distressing. Or at least I did until, as we pulled into the park, I noticed a porta-potty set up out of the way for construction workers in the area. Except for, on this day, it was really set up for me, and those I chose to share it with.
Little things like this matter when you get nervous at races.
Now feeling fine, I got a picture of The Hammer, The Swimmer, and me together before the race. “Make a silly face,” I urged.
I can’t believe they fell for that old trick. (Also, I’m super tall.)
We lined up — The Hammer near the front, The Swimmer and me somewhere in the middle — and awaited the Go.
At 8am the race started…and we began. Some of us running. Some of us walking. Some of us running and then quickly realizing that was a mistake and slowing to a walk. With a starting uphill grade of 9 – 16%, that kind of race plan revision wasn’t just acceptable, it was downright prudent.
As for me, the race bloodlust was upon me. I moved to the left side of the road and began passing people immediately, finding a suitable carrot to chase.
“Oh, there’s a carrot,” I thought. “She’s even wearing orange like a carrot. And she has a big orange target (where have I seen that before?) on her back.”
My mission for the moment: try to keep The Hammer in sight.
New Character in the Story
I s-l-o-w-l-y reeled The Hammer in, wondering if this was a wise thing to do, but hoping that if I could be close to her by the time the big climb began around mile 2.5, I could get enough distance on her that I could still manage to keep her in sight by the end of the big flat section.
It is so weird to have your primary athletic competitor also be your wife. Trust me on this.
As I got close, I said, “Hey Beautiful, you’re looking good.”
“I can’t talk right now,” she replied.
“Right,” I said, “This ain’t no time for jibber-jabber.”
“You’re. Still. Talking.”
I would have come up with a suitable reply (I.e., “No I’m not”), but right then a boy in kick-butt dreadlocks ran by the two of us as if we were, well, jibber-jabbering.
I was caught between deciding which I wished for more: to be young and fast, or to still have hair.
But now we were at the base of one of the two really steep climbs, meaning this was my opportunity to bank some time. To run where others walked.
I put my head down, shifted into my mental granny gear, and started huffing up the shale-strewn singletrack.
I had a teenager to catch. For the honor of all bald, middle-aged men.
Which is where we’ll pick up in part 2 of this story.
Hey, I’m sitting here in the SLC airport, about to fly out to Austin for the next few days. I hope — hope — I’ll have time during my trip to write about some of the things that happened during the Memorial Day weekend.
Because some very awesome stuff happened.
For example, on Saturday, The Hammer, The Swimmer, and I all raced the Timp Trail Half Marathon. Here we are — oh so happy — before the race.
Yes, I want to be clear: that’s before the race. The “after” pictures are somewhat different. I’ll show those as I tell the story (hopefully) during the next day or two or three.
But that wasn’t the only big event of our weekend. The Hammer also took delivery of the bike she gets as one of the incredible perks of being a World Bicycle Relief Athlete Ambassador. Here she is with Taylor Felt, the manager of Bountiful Bicycles, where her awesome new Specialized S-Works Roubaix was built:
She’s had that bike for two days, and has already put around 150 miles on it. So yeah, I’d say it’s going to be a well-loved, well-used bike.
More on that soon, too.
So, how was your weekend?
Today at 3pm EDT / 2pm CDT / 1pm MDT / 12noon PDT (people in AZ are going to have to do their own time-related math), I’m going to be hosting a video Q&A about the Rockwell Relay on Spreecast. Now, I’ve talked about this race before. In fact, I’ve probably talked about it more than anyone else has, ever.
But today, we’re going to talk tactics. And strategy. And gear. And other stuff. If you are considering doing this race or have already signed up, you should watch. Here, let me make things easy for you by embedding the viewer here:
You should know, though, that the whole experience is going to be better at the Spreecast site, where you can enter questions and stuff.
Oh, and speaking of questions, please, for the love of all that’s good in the world, start thinking of some questions you can ask, or this Spreecast will wind up being a very awkward ten minutes of people staring blankly at the screen, humming softly to themselves (i.e., ourselves).
And nobody wants to see that. Or maybe you do. But I hope not.
So Who’s Going To Be On the Panel?
For this chat, I thought I’d bring on a variety of folks to talk and answer — as well as ask — questions:
- Me: In spite of all my efforts, I seem to have become someone who actually knows something about this race. Weird.
- The Race Director: Tyler Servoss is race director for the Rockwell Relay, and so will be able to give actual official answers, as opposed to the answers which I will be pulling directly out of my butt. (Luckily for everyone, this will remain off-camera.)
- An Experienced Racer Guy: Spencer Story has done the Rockwell Relay before, and knows a thing or two about a thing or two. He’ll be a good person to ask questions if you expect a sane experienced perspective on the race, as a counterpoint to my perspective.
- The New Guy: Ted Twogood has never raced the Rockwell Relay, and should therefore have a lot of questions. It’s my hope that he’ll want to ask us these questions, in order to help us avoid the aforementioned awkward silence.
Questions I Think Someone Ought To Ask
OK, really this is just me writing some notes to myself for things I’d like to bring up. Please give me more ideas in the comments section, OK? I’m begging here.
- Why the staggered start? And how will it affect race tactics?
- Any course changes this year?
- How long will Dave Towle be commentating? For the entirety of the race? Because I think he may be the only person in the world who could commentate for 35+ hours straight.
- If Dave isn’t commentating for the whole thing, does he want to drive our van for us? If he’s on the clock, he ought to be doing something.
- What kind of riders are best suited for which stages? I’ve detailed probable weather conditions for each stage before, but it might not be a bad idea to talk about what the elevation profiles indicate, rider-type-wise.
- What kind of vibe should you expect at the Rockwell Relay?
- What are some clever food ideas? Load up on Paradox Pizza the night before and stow it in plastic bags, of course. But what else?
- How do you keep your rider from catching fire? It gets kinda warm out there in the middle of the day.
- When do you need to register by? Registration closes June 1. So that’s probably going to be a pretty brief Q&A moment.
- What are things that people do that are against the rules?
- What kinds of stuff — tools, clothes, other gear — should people bring?
- What if your team is having a crummy day? What are your options?
- Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?
- Will there be brats at packet pickup this year?
- How many teams raced last year? How many are registered this year?
- What if someone wants to do this race, but doesn’t have a team?
Oh, and how about one last question: Will Team Fatty employ new race strategies to defeat or at least confuse the sudden profusion of high-zoot coed teams? The short answer is “yes.” I’m not sure how much detail I’m going to go into, though. Let’s just say that the phrase “no shortcuts allowed” doesn’t appear anywhere in the race bible and leave it at that.
A Note from Fatty: I’ll be hosting a live video chat tomorrow (Friday, May 23) at 1:00pm MDT, to talk about the Rockwell Relay — talking about what to bring, what to expect, and — above all — to answer any questions you might have about this race. I’ll have novice racers, experienced racers, and the race director along for the conversation. If you’re doing — or are considering doing — the Rockwell Relay, please join us.
Races Are Lies
I love racing.
And I want to be clear here: I don’t mean that I love watching races, because that honestly doesn’t do much for me right now. I haven’t, for example, followed the Tour of California this year (Is it over? If so, who won? Actually, don’t bother answering that, because I don’t really care).
I haven’t followed the Giro d’Italia (ditto on the previous parenthetical).
But. I love being in races. I love choosing which ones I’m going to do. I love registering for them. I love using them to lend focus to my riding. I love thinking about them as I’m riding. I love the anticipation of the race that builds the day (or two days) before. I love the nearly unbearable anxiety of the morning before the race.
I love — love desperately — the crazy heart-stopping tenseness of the moments while I’m standing at the starting line, feeling the current moment and wondering about the near future. I’m never more aware of the passage of time than during the countdown to the start of a race.
And then, there’s the race itself. The sudden quantum leap from anxiety and waiting to full-tilt doing and the juxtaposition between the physical effort and the mental calm.
I love it. I love it all.
So it’s a little bit of a shame that racing is a total sham.
I first realized that — for normal people, at least — racing is nothing but lies and wishful thinking one day when I got an email from Strava.
You know, one of the “Uh Oh! You just lost your KOM (King Of the Mountain) on…” Strava messages.
As is completely appropriate, I was furious. Furious that this person had the gall to take away this, my token of validation.
It was only later — once I had calmed down by performing several breathing exercises, chanting “Om Mani Padme Hum” 160 times (which I did in 5:32, a new PR), and taking a soothing bath — that I realized that the KOM had never really truly been mine.
Nor does this victory really belong to the guy who took it from me. Watch and see: some day someone else faster than him will come and show that he is faster.
I had just realized the fundamental fiction we all have to pretend is true if we’re going to compete:
Every single win — every single moment on the podium — is predicated not on our own speed and racing prowess, but on faster people not showing up.
That’s it. That’s the whole premise of every KOM title I currently hold in Strava. I have them because the people who should have them haven’t bothered taking them away from me.
I’m not the king of anything. Not really. I’m just a guy who hopes that the truly fast people who live in my neighborhood won’t decide to make an attempt on — for example — Tibble Fork.
And now that I’ve called attention to it, I fully expect to have it taken away within the hour.
This suspension of disbelief is not just something you have to do if you’re going to participate in Strava, either. If you go to any race — local or regional — you’ve got to do one of two things:
- Race against the clock or toward some personal objective.
- Race against the people who also showed up at the race, and hope that the people who are faster than you didn’t know about the race, or got food poisoning last night, or have something better to do that day.
I use both of these tactics, depending on the race. At Leadville, for example, I race against the clock (except for last year, where I raced against other single speeders, three of whom had the nerve to be faster than I am and to show up).
Or this Saturday, when I race the Timp Trail Half Marathon. I’m not racing against the clock — I already have a good idea of how long I’ll take to do this course. I’m racing against the men, age 40 – 49. And hoping like crazy that all of the guys who placed in the top 5 last year have other plans for the day this year.
Because that’s the only way I’m going to get on the podium.
Racing, when it comes down to it, is one thing: going as fast as you can…while hoping that the people who are faster than you are doing something else that day.
So why do it?
It doesn’t matter that racing is made up of an agreed-upon fiction. That imaginary fantasyland is still an awesome place — a place that makes you, for a little while, go faster and be tougher than you normally can. Racing — this fake thing — gives you a moment of drama and intensity, and a chance to rise to heroic levels. Whether you win, podium, or finish last.
And that — all of that — is completely real.
I’m a cyclist. I ride my bike. On the road or on the dirt, it’s what I do; it’s who I am. It’s about 80% of my identity (the other 20% is the making and consumption of guacamole).
Oh sure. I’ve tried other sports. Like, racquetball. Or roller blading. Or pole vaulting. Or competitive eating. (Yes, really, for three out of four of these.)
Or, when absolutely necessary, I’ve run. And by “necessary,” I mean “when training for a triathlon I’ve somehow been hoodwinked into registering for” or “when trying to impress a girl.”
Well, The Hammer knows me too well (now) to be impressed by my efforts at keeping up, so I must be training for a triathlon. Or two. Or possibly three. (I blame The Hammer for this; she’s taking the “Athlete Ambassador for WBR” thing pretty darned seriously.)
And so I’ve been trying to run. And expecting to — as usual — deeply resent every moment of it.
But a weird thing has happened. I’m…enjoying running. On trails, at least.
And I think I know why.
Meet the Altra Olympus
I’ve been a fan of Altra footwear for a couple years. Their big wide toe box and zero-drop foot profile just feels right on my feet in a way that no other shoe ever has.
And so I’ve collected a few pair:
From top left: Altra Three-Sum, Altra Instinct, Altra Olympus, Altra Lone Peak, Altra Instinct Everyday
But while these shoes fit great, they haven’t really changed my life or anything…well, except maybe the Everydays — which are my absolute favorite shoes for whenever I’m forced to wear pants.
But then, Heath Thurston — one of the guys at Altra — set me up with a pair of the Altra Olympus trail running shoes. Like all Altras, they have the whimsical footprint highlighted in the sole:
But what makes them really different is the massive amount of cushioning the shoe has, while still being really light.
Now, I like these plenty just for the fact that they make me about 1.5” taller — when you’re 5’7”, that makes an important difference.
But all that cushioning serves an incredible purpose — it softens the pounding I take when running. And not by just a little bit, either. Running on these is like running with a pair of pillows strapped to your feet (but much less awkward).
In practical terms, the first time I ran with these, I noticed that when I hit the three-mile mark in the trail run — which is where I usually start hurting and just wish I could quit — I still felt fine. And so I told The Hammer that I’d stay with her for another mile or so.
I wound up running on trail six miles that day. And, extremely importantly, the next day I wasn’t completely disabled. My ankles were OK. My knees were OK. My hips were OK.
A few days later, we went running again. It was raining out, so we went on the road this time. My plan was to stay with The Hammer for the first four miles of the run, then head home while she did another four.
Instead, I ran with her for the whole eight miles. And again, was OK the next day.
Since then, I’ve gone out running with The Hammer a couple times a week — mostly trail, because I don’t think I’ll ever really enjoy running on the road — and I’m fine.
In fact, I’m better than fine. I’m great. As it turns out, I like trail running. It’s like mountain biking for when you don’t have enough time for a ride (an hour of mountain biking is hardly enough time to get warmed up; an hour of trail running is a good solid workout).
And I have to give most of the credit to the Altra Olympus. It’s been like going from a fully-rigid mountain bike to full suspension. For me, it’s made all the difference in the world; for the first time since we met, I’m able to go out with The Hammer and enjoy participating in one of the sports she loves.
I kid you not: I love these shoes. Love love love them.
So a couple of days ago, I went out running with Heath Thurston of Altra, and asked him about these magical, magical shoes. Watch this very professionally-made video yourself, then gather your family around and watch it again.
That was a masterpiece, as I think you’ll agree.
A Foolish Plan
As I ran with The Hammer, successfully — and even happily — completing trail runs of eight or more miles, I began to wonder: what if I signed up for a race? Not a marathon. Nooooo. And not even a regular half-marathon. But how about a trail half-marathon?
As it turns out, there’s one coming up, and it’s close to where I live:
Even better, the trails are familiar to me — they’re the same trails I learned to mountain bike on twentyish years ago.
I started researching the race and found that the course record is held by Vic Johnson (1:39:37.7), who was my relay teammate in the Utah Half last year:
Vic’s the one in the middle.
Obviously, I wouldn’t be going after that time. I’d be looking more to complete than compete. Still, I liked the idea. Which felt weird: me, liking the idea of doing a running race.
I brought the idea up to The Hammer. “You want to run a half-marathon?” she asked, not even bothering to try to conceal her incredulity.
“Well, I’m liking the whole trail running thing,” I said, also not bothering to conceal the incredulity in my voice.
“It is a week after the Ogden Marathon,” The Hammer mused, “So I’ll be in as good of running shape as I’m going to be for the season.”
And the very next day, she went and pre-ran the course, just to see what it was like.
The race course starts at the green dot and then goes around in a counterclockwise figure 8.
“I love it,” The Hammer said. And so the next day, she took me out to pre-run the course with her, during which each of the following happened, in this order:
- We stopped and talked with Survivor champion Tyson Apostol.
- I punched a mountain biker in the kidneys as he went by. He stopped and turned around — really mad — and then recognized that I’m a famous and beloved blogger, at which point he had to pretend my prank was funny.
- We saw two bighorn sheep, just twenty feet or so from the trail:
And, more importantly than any of this: I survived. In fact, we did it in 2:36:45. Which may not sound too impressive, until you take the elevation profile into account:
That’s 2223 feet of climbing.
Oh, Let’s Do That Again
So I started talking with The Swimmer about this race, trying to persuade her that she should try doing it too. And so last Saturday, while The Hammer was out running the Ogden Marathon, The Swimmer and I went and pre-ran the Timp Trail half marathon course together.
Here’s a selfie of us at mile 10. We’re smiling because we know it’s pretty much all downhill from where we were:
And here’s The Swimmer at the iconic “Pile of Rocks” in the meadow on the Frank trail network. From there, it’s just two miles to go.
We finished just about the same time The Hammer finished her marathon in Ogden, where she took third in her age group with a 3:30:
So yeah. Next week, the three of us are going to do a trail half marathon together.
Well, maybe not together. Because The Hammer’s still trying to decide whether to do the full marathon or the half. And I expect to go out hard and then bonk and have everyone laugh at me as they run by.
But here’s the thing: until I got these shoes — the Altra Olympus — I would never ever have considered doing this kind of event, much less been the instigator.
I’m still a cyclist. That’s my thing, and it always will be.
These shoes have, no joke, completely changed my outlook on trail running. And it’s nice to have a second sport. Especially one I can do when I don’t have a lot of time (which happens a lot right now), the gear for which fits into a carry-on bag.
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