When the Tour of Utah folks asked me if I’d like to give away a trip to see this mind-bendingly difficult stage race, of course I wanted to. And in true bone-headed fashion, I made it an essay contest. Which means I
had to had the distinct pleasure of reading ten gazillion essays on how much it was going to hurt to do that brutal sixth stage.
Several essays stuck out as great, but here’s my favorite:
One. More. Rotation.
One. More. Rotation.
One. More. Rotation.
Almost at the top. I can rest a bit on the downhill.
One. More. Rotation.
I hope the next climb isn’t as bad.
One. More. Rotation….
Massive congratulations go out to Mark Colburn, the winner of the “Win a Trip to the Tour of Utah” (hey, what a catchy name!) contest. You’re going to dig this race, Mark. I know I’m sure looking forward to it. (Ooooh, it’s so exciting to give away a major award!)
Didn’t Win? Stick Around For Something You Will Not Believe
As if giving away a trip to come see a top-notch stage race weren’t enough, the Tour of Utah folks have another giveaway they’re working on for Fat Cyclist readers.
Something I would really like to keep myself, if I could figure out how to game the system.
And you won’t have to write an essay (I’ve read enough of those for one lifetime, thanks) to win, either.
I’ll announce the giveaway tomorrow. If you love cycling—or even if you think you might like cycling—you will not want to miss this.
Now for the Part Wherein I Present Thoughts that Occurred to Me During the 50-Mile Mountain Bike Race I Did Last Saturday, In Roughly the Order they Occurred to Me
Have you ever committed to doing something without really thinking it through? Something big? Something that you will soon realize will require a lot of you—quite likely more than you’d really like to give? Something that, once you get right down to it, you realize is going to hurt a lot and you probably shouldn’t have agreed to do, but you did, and now you’re stuck?
Yeah. Doing a 50-Mile mountain bike race in Park City, UT last Saturday was kinda like that for me.
Early last week, Kenny emailed me, saying something as simple as “Hey, I’m doing this race Saturday. So is Brad. You should come, too.” I am now convinced Kenny embedded an email-based hypnosis virus in that message, because without considering the consequences, I signed up.
And that’s how, Saturday morning at around 6:00, I found myself on a 50-mile mountain bike race course I knew next to nothing about. Just that it was really, really hard.
Here are some of my recollections from that day.
A Sense of Urgency
I’m sorry to start off with a kind of tacky thought, but I’m trying to be real here, and reality is not pretty. Anyway. Up until three minutes before the race started, I felt fine. Calm. Composed. And then when the race organizer got on the bullhorn and said, “Three minutes to start” I suddenly needed to use the bathroom. And not just to pee. I wasted ten precious seconds considering what I ought to do, then dropped my bike and bolted for the bathroom Some things cannot be put off. I was tearing off my Camelback, helmet and jersey (I was wearing bib shorts, alas) as I ran to the bathroom, took care of my business in record time (I didn’t take the time to read anything), and threw it all back on as I made it back to the starting line. The result? I was back in place and throwing a leg over the bike with a whopping five seconds to spare.
Riding with Darth Vader
The first mile or two of the race are all climbing on graded dirt road, which is a good place to pass a few people. Then you’re on tight singletrack for miles and miles and you pretty much can count on being with the group you’re with for a while.
I, as near as I could tell, was riding directly in front of Darth Vader.
I didn’t dare look back to tell if he was wearing the mask and black cape, because I figured he’d stick a light saber in my spokes or something, but I knew it was Darth Vader from the loud breathing. Kkkkrrreeehhhh….kkkkrrooohhh. Kkkkrrreeehhhh….kkkkrrooohhh. Regular as clockwork.
“Good day for a bike ride this is,” I said, in my best Yoda voice.
Darth Vader didn’t get it.
Why is it easier to go up a hairpin?
At the beginning of the race, I asked a few people what it was like. Everyone who had done it had essentially the same point of view: it’s a brutal, endless day of climbing. Estimates ranged from 9000 feet of climbing to 12,000. Either way, that’s a lot. And it’s almost all singletrack climbing. Lots of it is technical.
They were right.
The whole day seemed like climb after climb, punctuated with short stretches of technical, no-rest-for-the-weary downhill.
I had lots of time to ponder something: Whether you’re on a mountain bike riding singletrack or on a roadbike doing a hard climb, switchbacks tend to give you a little bit of a climbing boost—you swing around and gain eight feet in altitude without spending a ton more effort. Why is that?
I asked a few people that question while I was riding. Nobody had a good answer, though some agreed that it did seem like switchbacks give you a magical boost.
Anyone else notice that? Anyone got an (interesting) answer for why?
As a blogging shill, I have my rules: I do not endorse a product unless I’m being given that product for free.
I shall now break that rule.
I ate Clif Shot Bloks a lot during this ride, and I really like them. A package gives you 200 calories, they taste better than energy gels, don’t have the gross texture, and didn’t upset my stomach at all.
I need a better way to eat Shot Bloks on the fly, though. It’s easy enough to open the package while riding, but getting them out of the package into my mouth while pedaling and steering the bike wasn’t easy; I had to look for spots where there was going to be either a flat or a sustained non-technical climb before I could eat.
Here’s what I’m thinking I might try: I’ll get a little sandwich bag, spray some Pam (Butter Flavor, perhaps?) into it, and then put the Shot Bloks in there. They should just slide right out.
Yes, I’m really considering doing that. I’ll let you know how it goes.
How Far Have I Gone?
One of the games I always play when doing an endurance ride is calculating the math of the ride. How far have I ridden? How far do I have left to go? What percentage of the ride have I ridden in terms of effort, not distance?
But Saturday, I didn’t have an odometer on my bike. I hadn’t really studied at a topo map or elevation profile of the course (and those never help me anyway). I was just riding, staying at my all-day pace, figuring I’d stop when I hit the finish line.
It was kind of a nice change.
My Right Arm is Lousy
My right arm is getting worse. Any time I ride for more than just a few minutes, my right hand goes numb, and then the numbness spreads upward. I’m pretty sure this has something to do with the umpteen times I’ve dislocated it.
Still, it’s a weird sensation to discover—as you turn downhill—that you cannot operate the rear brake because you have no sensation whatsoever in your index and middle finger.
My Teeth Are Gross
You know what happens when you eat sticky, sweet food for a couple hours, while doing most of your breathing through your mouth, all while riding your mountain bike on a dusty course behind a lot of people kicking up dust?
Your teeth stay perfectly clean and white, without getting caked by a layer of grit that can only be removed with battery acid.
Why Do Slow People Race?
Saturday, I was one of the slow people. Which means I had time to think long and hard about why people who have no chance of winning or even finishing in the top half, race at all. Are we trying to build character? Are we amassing stories to tell our grandchildren? Is it because we feel the need to be punished?
All of those are partially correct, but the main answer is: slow people race hoping that this day we will magically turn into fast people.
But we don’t.
I Wish I Had My iPod With Me
About 45 minutes into the race, I had settled into my race equilibrium: I had passed most of the people I would pass during the day, and most of the people who would pass me had done so.
Which meant I could look forward to riding alone for the next six hours or so.
And that’s when I started fantasizing about my iPod, which was sitting safely in my car. During the entire day, I would think things like, “If I had brought my iPod, right now I’d put on Social Distortion, and have it play their entire catalog.
Other playlists that occurred to me during the day include:
- Johnny Cash, American Recordings selections (I have all the American Recordings albums, but have made a playlist of my favorites from each).
- Rush, Moving Pictures. I don’t know why this occurred to me. It’s been years since I’ve listened to this album.
- Devo, Greatest Hits. It’s now generally acknowledged that these guys are geniuses, right?
- Oingo Boingo, Complete catalog. No better mountain biking music in the world, as far as I’m concerned.
- Duran Duran, Greatest Hits. So sue me.
My Hairy Legs Really Collect Dirt
As I rode, I noticed: those of us with shaved legs had cleaner legs than those of us with unshaved legs. Really hairy dudes like myself looked downright nasty.
A Meditation on Oxygen At High Altitude
Most of this race is at above 8000 feet, but there are trees and undergrowth everywhere. I started thinking, “You know, I’ll bet that with all these trees and plants I’m riding around, there’s actually more oxygen here than at sea level!”
Which, ironically, goes to show how oxygen-deprived I was.
You know what’s the worst thing about an endurance race? What happens to your stomach about twenty minutes after the race. You’ve been beating yourself up the whole day, suffering in the legs but otherwise feeling fine.
Then you stop riding, and twenty minutes later you’re curled up in a ball, wishing you were dead. It is during this period that I vow, after each and every race, to never race again.
Eventually, the post-race nausea subsides, supplanted by an all-consuming hunger. Even as you eat everything that might possibly be edible, you forget the nausea, figuring out how you’ll do better next time.
I finished the race in 6:32. Does that mean anything to anyone?