Monday, January 11, 2016

Marty's Fat Fifty

As of this weekend, I am officially a fat bike racer. Of course, I’ve been joking since at least September when I found my first East Coast fat bike race on Bikereg, that I am an undefeated fat bike racer. The weekend rendered the latter no longer true, but it was worth it to see months of anticipation finally come to fruition.

I was so stoked that I got a Hellga-colored manicure before the race.

Since fat bike race courses are usually designed to be easy enough that several inches of snow won’t render them impassable to mere mortals, the lack of snow so far this winter basically turned Marty’s Fat Fifty into a fat bike road race. The course was an out-and-back of mostly flat gravel multi-use paths, broken up by 2-3 miles of rolling pavement and 2-3 miles of singletrack with a big climb in the middle. Since long, flat, and non-technical are all words that would go into the description of my personal cycling kryptonite, as the race neared and it became clear that there would be no snow, I lowered my expectations quite a bit. I just didn’t want to get dropped from the “neutral rollout” like at Iron Cross.

Luckily, that did not happen. When the race started, I attempted to set a strong, steady pace, and while I was further back than I might have hoped, I wasn’t completely dropped by any means. Around the time that I started to settle in, a group caught up with me and we pretty much stayed together until the singletrack. I’d already been working a bit too hard on the pavement, but I wanted to break out on my own on the singletrack. I jumped into the woods first and rode as hard as I could to break away. A couple of guys passed me, but I succeeded in breaking up the group.

Some would call this a pretty terrible tactic with the amount of straight, flat riding ahead of us, but being the utter non-roady that I am, I simply wanted to focus on my own rhythm and not have to sit through 40 more miles of listening to, “Gate! Hole! Slowing! Speeding! Blah, blah, blah…” If I had three more hours of suffering ahead of me, I wanted room to see the trail ahead of me and silence except the rumbling of my tires and the demons in my head.

Once I hit the flat trail again I settled into a hard, steady rhythm and worked on reeling in the guy ahead of me. I observed my heart rate sitting at a stable 178, which is solidly into Zone 4 for me. After several minutes of cyclocross-level anaerobic effort in the singletrack, I wondered how long I would be able to keep that up, but knowing that there was at least one girl from my category only a bit behind me, I knew that backing off would result in being passed. I kept the pressure on the pedals and decided to ride that train until it crashed. In the words of Daenerys Targaryen, “If I look back, I am lost.”

That didn’t mean that I couldn’t look at the traffic in the other direction. As I approached the turnaround, I counted five girls in front of me. Things got tougher after the halfway mark, as it switched from a 1-2% downhill to a 1-2% uphill. I passed fifth place who was stopped with a flat, and I was temporarily motivated by the thought of prize beer and podium pictures. Then I was passed by another girl with a Hellga the same color as mine all the way down to the sparkly purple rim tape. For some reason, I thought she was in the non-racing class, though, perhaps because she’d come into the turnaround with a big group of guys from that class. Competition or not, the slight uphill grade was wearing on me and there wasn’t much I could do to keep up.

As the second half wore on, I could feel my body starting to crack. The fat bike does weird things to my sit bones in hard efforts and it was getting really hard to sit comfortably on the saddle. I was scooting around a lot, clenching my abs, and just trying to find a way to get comfortable while still making my legs pedal hard. I even resorted to doing Kegels to try to take pressure off my sit bones while still holding my core steady enough to pedal. It was pretty brutal.

Finally, at about 12 miles to go I was passed by the girl that I’d been trying to hold off for the whole race. It was disappointing, but I was proud of my hard-fought effort. I drug my sore, sore butt to the finish for what turned out to be 7th place, as “Other Hellga” was in my class after all. Basically, I think it was the hardest race of my life.

Trying to smile...

I was satisfied enough with my finish, knowing that the race didn’t play to my strengths, and that I will have time to get a little more fitness before the next one. My biggest frustration of the day was that the organizers refused to staff the finish line for more than an hour after the first men’s finisher. Their logic was that only the first 15 men would get NJ Fat Bike Series points, so that was all they bothered to record results for, but since only 10 women entered, all were eligible for points. It caused me a lot of anxiety knowing that there was a good chance I wouldn’t make it back it time for my finish to be recorded, and how that would affect how my points reported for the series.

Even though Frank raced his own race, he came back to the finish to shepherd me the two or so miles back to the shop to try and ease my fear of getting lost before the check-in and not getting my placing recorded accurately. When I did get back to the shop, the woman just put a check by my name and didn’t write a place or time. The director came over, but he only seemed concerned about recording the top 5 so that they could do podiums. He wrote my number down in 6th place, but seemed pretty dismissive about the whole process.

I broke down and cried on the way back to the car, because I was in so much pain and had worked so hard only to have my effort blown off. I didn’t care about whether I got a prize or not; I cared that my placing would be recorded accurately for the series, which was my bigger goal. I was just really angry that they considered the women’s placings so unimportant that wouldn’t monitor the finish line until all the female racers were scored.

The results were published with me in 7th and I guess that is probably accurate. It’s not the best start on the series, but it’s something. The next race is 80 miles and pancake flat, but I have four weeks to work on my endurance. Hopefully some perseverance and a couple of four-hour races on mountain-bikey trails at the end of the series will improve my placing by the end. If not, at least I can say I’m already in better shape than I’ve ever been in January and will inevitably be a bit closer to overcoming my bike kryptonite by spring.

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