How to Enjoy a Race

I fully intended to race last Monday. The course is practically in my backyard and I know it well. It was low-stakes, so I wasn’t worried about having to do well — plus, with Kenny, Brad, and Dug racing in the same category (singlespeed), I didn’t need to worry about winning or anything.

And then, Saturday morning, on a group ride with friends, I noticed something weird.

As we did the downhill section of the Alpine Loop, I noticed that I was lightheaded. This is an unsettling sensation to come across at 40mph.

I dialed back my speed (a lot), and ended the ride early.

By late in the afternoon, it all made sense: I was coming down with a nasty cold.

Sunday, I felt lousy. And when Monday came around, I still felt lousy. No way was I going to race.

But I still wanted to go, to see how my friends did.

And I wanted to see how people looked in my sexy new Fat Cyclist jersey.

How Not to Take Pictures
Kenny, Brad, Dug, Rick S (not his real name), and Tasha (Brad’s wife) had all said they’d wear the Fat Cyclist jersey for this race.

The only problem was, I forgot my camera. Clever.

Luckily, Brad had a camera in his car, so I was able to borrow it and get some good shots. Let’s start with the pre-race parking lot shots.

I asked Rick S to pose for me as if he were an ad for a Performance Biking Catalog model:

I’d say he nailed it.

Next, I asked Kenny to show off the big guns:

As Kenny shows here, if you’re going to race single speed, you’ve got to have arms to go with the legs. A point of interest: note that Kenny is not sitting in the back of his beloved F’nJ Cruiser. That’s because he wrecked it last Friday. I feel responsible, for two reasons:

  1. He was on his way to ride with me when he wrecked it.
  2. He was looking down for a second, trying to deal with the melty chocolatey mess from a Honey Stinger Peanut Butta Protein Bar I had given him, when he got in the accident.

And here’s Dug, doing his pre-race calisthenics:

Dug loves his Diet Coke. Yeah, like I have room to talk in that regard. The only differences between Dug’s and my Diet Coke consumption are:

  • I am also perfectly happy to drink Diet Pepsi, which Dug hates.
  • From time to time, Dug tries to cut back or quit his Diet Coke habit. I embrace mine, and never look back.

And here’s Tasha, capably showing that a Fat Cyclist jersey looks great on women, too:

The Race Begins
Just before the race began, I headed up on the trail, found myself a good spot to stand, cheered people on as well as I could with my sore, froggy voice, and took some pictures. Look at Rick — dude’s totally got the eye of the tiger:

Kenny shows off that it’s possible — barely — to make an orange and black jersey go with blue shorts:

And Dug flouts convention by wearing wool messenger knickers the last weekend of May, in 312-degree (celsius) weather:

I’m going to give Dug an extra 55 style points, though, for wearing a leather belt during a race on a hot day. Plus an extra 23 style points for the socks.

How to Cheer People On
After everyone zoomed by my first spot, I relocated to a different part of the trail, where I could catch people right in the middle of the climb in the second lap — you know, where I figured everyone would be suffering the most.

And this is where I discovered something amazing.

I discovered that I really enjoy watching bike races. This is truly a startling discovery, because while I’ve been to dozens of races, it’s always been to race, never to watch.

Specifically, I really enjoyed cheering people on. Here are the things I yelled at people as they went by:

  • “Looking strong! Looking very strong!”
  • “You’re a monster climber, dude!”
  • Damn, you are fast! Keep it up!”
  • “Way to climb, man, way to climb!

To my delight, it seemed most people really seemed to appreciate my encouragement. This shouldn’t be a surprise, I guess. When I’m racing, my demons tend to talk to me nonstop, so any contrary voice telling me I’m doing OK is more than welcome.

I did notice, however, a certain amount of variance in the way people responded to my encouragement:

  • Habitual racers: Pros and experts mostly didn’t acknowledge me as I cheered them on (Chris Fox being the notable exception). My guess is because they’ve heard this kind of thing often enough that it no longer affects them.
  • Sport, novice, and masters racers: These are the people who responded best to encouragement. These are the people who are pushing themselves into new territory and just eat up any kind words that let them know they’re doing well. These are the people who usually smiled and said, “Thanks!”
  • “Cave of pain” racers: Sometimes I’d be cheering someone on and then — just as they passed me — I’d see their eyes, just for a moment. That’s all it takes, though. These racers are beyond encouragement. All they want to do is finish the race and be allowed to die quietly. I’ve been this kind of racer, and I remember thinking to myself when someone would cheer me on, “I wish that guy would just shut up.”

Big Finish
After all my friends passed me, I started working my way to the finish line. This was slow, because I had to walk on the singletrack, and there were still racers on the course. I’d walk five steps, step off the course, cheer on the guy going past, and then repeat.

I was having a great time.

By the time I got back to the Start / Finish, Brad and Kenny had finished the race — turns out they took second and third, respectively, in the SS class.

Two Fat Cyclist jerseys on the podium already. Nice!

Dug rolled across the finish line a short time later.

It turns out he did the whole race carrying a Diet Coke.

No, not really.

As for me, I left the race feeling like I had turned in an extremely strong performance. I think, in fact, I may have finally found what I’m best at.

I am an awesome spectator.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *