This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike.
It’s been well over a week since my last race, so all the reflections and revelations I had immediately after the fact have subsided a bit, but I’ve been busy so this post had to wait. The race in question was the Fatty Patty 50k. It was a Fatbike race that took place on St. Patrick’s Day, in Leadville. The fact that the race happened at all was a miracle of god, snowmobiles, and grooming. The Snowpocalypse, as described in my last post, graced Leadville with about five feet of snow in the week right before the race, which made compacting the course to make it even remotely rideable a bit of a challenge. Instead of trying to beat the Mineral Belt Trail, a wide Nordic loop that circumnavigates Leadville that was used for part of the course last year, and all its new snow and relentless wind drifts, into submission, the good people of Cloud City Wheelers decided to focus exclusively on the singletrack. This resulted in a course that was five miles shorter than anticipated, with no places for riders to pass each other easily, but against all odds and conditions unsuitable for fatbiking elsewhere, the race went on. As always, here is my assessment of how things went.
Overall Objective: My only real job during these races is to go as hard as I can and have fun. It is typically a poor idea to aim for too specific of a result, since I have absolutely no effect on who turns up and how they turn up, or what conditions will be like. Perhaps as we get closer to my crux race for the summer, Coach and I may come up with more creative objectives for the training races, like practicing different pacing strategies, or working on the technical aspects, but for now, it is pretty straight-forward. I give myself an A, I went hard, and I had fun.
Training: As with the past races, my training has not been specific to Fatbike racing at all. I have been building on strength and base endurance, and an ideal race for me at this point would be more akin to a multi-hour gravel ride where my job is to just consistently crank out the miles. Fatbike racing is a bit more like cyclocross with fits and starts, dismounts and remounts, and shorter, more intense efforts that lead into easier downhills. I was definitely more tired the past couple of weeks before the race, and although I have been following my training plan fairly closely, I did not have as much “Grrr” for my workouts as I would have liked. Fortunately, I had plenty of fitness to cover this race. Perhaps a B.
Preparation: We considered this a local race, so this was not at all logistically challenging. However, due to Coach’s insistence, I decided to take preparation for this race way more seriously than last time, in order to get and stay in the habit covering my bases. I had the day before the race off from work, and used it to clean, tune, and inspect my bike. I was rewarded with a machine that ran flawlessly during the event. I had the rest of my gear and clothing together and ready to load as soon as Lee got home from work. We had everything we needed loaded in the truck the night before. This was an A.
Nutrition, Pre- Race: I had dinner and breakfast planned out. Dinner was home-cooked, roasted chicken and vegetables. It may have been a little rich. Breakfast was a simple PB&J and a banana, as well as a latte. I give myself a B. Good planning and execution, but a slightly lighter meal the night before could have served me better the following morning, since I know my belly likes to act up before races.
Nutrition, During Race: This race did not physically destroy me like Fat Bike Worlds did. I was racing for three hours, and could have taken in more calories, but with less climbing than Worlds, I did not feel like I was working as hard, and I never hit the wall. This was fortunate, because the modified course of singletrack-only, severely limited my options for fuel intake on the fly. Unless I stopped, which I did not want to do, the only logical spot for me to fuel was the very short Start/Finish area, where I had the choice of either eating a gel or drinking. I chose drinking. My water bottle had lots of sugary sports drink in it, and I decided hydration was more important anyway. I give myself a C. I didn’t start drinking until after the second lap, and I need to get better at eating on terrain where I don’t necessarily want to take a hand off the bars for very long. My next race will be on dirt, and some of it on smoother roads. It will also be a longer race, so if I don’t up my eating game then, I will feel the consequences pretty quickly.
Execution of Strategy: My current prescribed strategy from Coach involves a specific warm-up, as well the instruction to give myself a couple of minutes to settle into the race before opening it up. Instead, the improvised race course and Le Mans-style start kind of chose my strategy for me. I did not really get much of a warm-up because my stomach was not agreeing with me, so I spent a better part of the pre-race hour finding bathrooms. Then, running to our bikes to start the race was the only way to try and spread people out before going into the singletrack, but it wasn’t a long or hard enough run (it was downhill), to have the intended effect. I would have to be way more aggressive than it’s worth to try and outrun a bunch of competitive dudes, who may run fast for 50 yards, but may or may not be good on the bike. I took my chances with an easy trot to the bike, and decided to see what I can do once I was pedaling. While I was able to gain a few spots in a short wide stretch before we went into the woods, I ended up stuck in an easy-paced conga line for much longer than I was comfortable with. However, this early easy pace may have done me a huge favor by giving me the warm-up I failed to do in the first place, because once I got around the people in front of me, the course opened up, and it was go time. This was a B. I could have started more aggressively and gained a better spot right off, but I believe I better played to my strengths with my opportunistic approach.
Attitude: It’s a good thing attitudes change. For a while, mine was an F. I did not get to do this race last year because we had other things going on, and I really wanted a go at it because the course from last year was very much my type. It was a mix of everything, including longer climbs on wide trail where I could just put my head down and pedal. I was really looking forward to the race this year, especially since my last race was short, and involved almost as much time off the bike as on the bike. So, when the course change for this year was announced, I went through the all the stages of grief, minus the acceptance. I spent days complaining to Lee about how it’s impossible to pass on Fatbike singletrack, since as soon as you step off the trail, you end boobs-deep in snow. I griped about how chewed up the trail would get, and how we would all be running with our bikes, again. I told anyone who would listen that I think Le Mans starts are stupid, and that I, an endurance athlete, hate that my whole race will be determined by how well I start. Then Lee asked me if I would rather not race. I told him would still rather race.
The morning of the race, I didn’t think I was nervous, but my stomach was telling a different story. I was still grumbling about the start, about my belly, and during the few minutes that we tried to warm-up, about how my legs felt like shit, how I felt like shit. I came out of the bathroom for the fourth time in one hour with a minute to spare before the start. And as the stampede of humans and bikes went one direction and then U-turned back towards the trail, I noticed that not only was I towards the back of the pack and Tamira, a new racing friend (whether she likes it or not) who beat me at Worlds, up in the front, I also realized that I was the last woman. As we settled into our rhythm, I noticed that said rhythm was kind of slow for a race. The girl at the front of our little group was not moving over for us, the guy directly in front of me was probably running too high tire pressure and kept falling over in front of me, but not in a way I could pass easily, and the guy directly behind me was losing his shit. He was bitching nonstop about how slow we were riding, and that no one was passing the girl or moving over so he could pass. By now, the racers in front of our group were long gone and out of sight, and I already imagined the fast group finishing their first lap while we were just barely getting started on ours. Other than the satisfaction of not letting Mr. Angry pass me either, in my mind my race was over, and it was going to be a long not-really-50K.
And that’s when it became a FuckIt race, with an attitude rating of C. For more on FuckIt races, please read Simon Marshall and Leslie Patterson’s book, The Brave Athlete. It turns out that FuckIt races are actually pretty fantastic. Sometimes, when the shitty things happen, or your worst-case scenarios play out, and you realize that you’re still there, you drop your expectations and allow for whatever happens next, and actually start having fun.
The first thing that happened was the decision that I was going to outlast most of the people stuck in our little train. The girl who was leading it would either let us pass soon, or even if she made us wait the whole lap until the Start/Finish zone, she would likely not catch us again. Mr. Angry behind me was working himself up into a tizzy, and would either wear himself out from all the anger, or spontaneously combust. And the guy in front of me with the high tire pressure, well shit, he fell again, and this time I was done being polite and stepped over him and his bike to pass. I just needed to wait for one more guy in front of me to fall, he did, and then I just asked the girl in front nicely if I could pass when she had a chance real quick. She obliged. And then, with open trail ahead of me and not a chance in hell of catching anyone in the leading groups, I took off, riding where I felt most comfortable: by myself. My attitude just shot up to an A.
My solitude didn’t last very long before I was confronted with more people ahead. There wasn’t a clean pass to be had, since riders usually had to get to intersections before they could awkwardly pull over without falling off the trail, as I clumsily tri-podded around them because said intersections were sloppy and the turns too tight, but I found everyone I encountered to be a lot more gracious about the fact than the first group. One lap done, more people picked off one-by-one. It wasn’t until I got halfway through the second lap until I passed Tamira. This was my first big surprise of the race, as she is a super strong rider. The next was when I caught Lee towards the end of that lap. To be clear, this never happens. Even more surprising, was that once I got ahead of him, I stayed ahead. The rest of the race, I managed to keep a solid, steady pace, in spite of the deteriorating trail conditions. I rode every inch of trail that I could ride, and pushed my bike as fast as possible on sections that became increasingly unrideable. For such a slow and seemingly hopeless start, I ran a strong race and did not let up or give an inch until the finish. For that I am proud.
Lessons Learned: I can’t expect myself to have a perfect positive attitude going into every race. It’s just not the kind of person that I am. Sometimes I need to whine and complain and imagine my challenges in detail beforehand, both to get it out of my system, and to make the conscious choice to try, in spite of the things that can and will go wrong. For me, confidence doesn’t come from false reassurances that everything will be fine, it comes from knowing that things can be less than ideal, but I can handle it. I also need to just allow myself to be nervous if I am nervous, instead of getting nervous about the fact that I am nervous. On the other hand, I shouldn’t let my expectations for how a race should go, be the reason that I get all worked up, especially after I have already decided to go forth with it after learning all the facts.
On kicking Lee’s ass: When I first decided to hire a coach, Lee jokingly said that he will be the experimental control. The coaching “works” if I become faster than he is. While beating him in a race for the first time was a pleasant surprise, there are several factors to consider. 1. This is just one race. I may or may not ever beat him again. 2. I am OK with this fact, because I love that he is my moving target, and I do well when I have someone to chase. 3. He is not a good control for this experiment because other variables came into play this year, including his long work days and extra hours, and less consistent time on the bike. Additionally, our diets and sleep patterns are different. 4. He had some bike issues during the race and wasn’t feeling his best that day. I wanted to make sure that he gets credit where credit is due, but I will gloat anyway.
Fruita: The anticipation of riding our new Singlespeed builds has been killing us both. A couple days after the race, we decided to make the drive to get out of the snow. We were a touch early for desert season, and although it was nice and warm there (temps in the 50s), the vegetation made no pretense of springtime yet. This was actually our first time in Fruita, and we were fully aware that we were riding in Big Travel, Big Knobby territory, so we opted for some of the easier, hardtail friendly trails off of 18 Road on the first day, and Kokopelli the second. I am happy to report that after all the trials and tribulations of building my new bike (see The Wrong Gear – #2), it rode like a dream, despite my awkwardness of riding on dirt for the first time in months. It was a bit of a whirlwind weekend, but we had a lot of fun riding in the sunshine, having dinner with friends who were passing through on their way to Moab, and deciding which hotel to stay in by the presence of a waffle machine in the lobby. Also, The Hot Tomato was as good as they say, and we had the best Calzone of our lives. A miscommunication with Coach led to longer harder workouts at the end of the week to make up for my time gallivanting in the desert, but it was worth it, and I nailed them anyway.