The New Jersey Fat Fondo was the third race of the NJ Fat Bike Series and billed itself as “New Jersey's first fun Fat Bike event”. I found this a little funny, as I couldn’t tell if they were actively trying to make a dig at the first two races of the series, but realistically, the slogan was true. After the first-time nerves, pushing myself into deep crack mode, and stressing about the laissez faire results treatment at Marty’s, and the well, 80 miles and nine hours on a fat bike at the D&L, I found myself feeling almost ridiculously relaxed going into the New Jersey Fat Fondo.
There were several factors that contributed to this. It was a four-hour lap race, and after the D&L, I knew that I could actually still feel pretty good at the end of four hours if I didn’t kill myself in the beginning. The race also did not start until noon on Sunday, so we got to leave the house at a very reasonable 7:45 a.m. the morning of the race, which gave me some much-needed home/chill time on Saturday in which to do a short opener workout, thoroughly clean the house for the first time since Christmas, and watch a bunch of Netflix.
Finally, the pre-reg list had me hopeful that I might see the podium for the first time this season. Selene Yeager, who had won the first two races of the series, had not registered, and that left only myself and one other girl in contention for the series championship. She’s much faster than me, so I had no expectations of hanging with her on Sunday, but the other two women that were registered had not raced yet this year, so second place at the race seemed like a distinct possibility.
I lined up near the back with the presumable winner-to-be was slightly ahead of me, and the two other women behind me in the rearmost of the field. It did seem like things were going to play out as I had expected. I started off fast-ish just to put in an early dig and get a feel for the other women’s pace while also paying close attention to my own RPE to avoid getting myself into a hole that I couldn’t dig out of later. Neither of them seemed to stay on my wheel or try to pass, so I assessed that I just needed to hold a steady pace throughout the race and it would all be good. As the first lap played out and I saw how much steep, rocky, scrambly climbing was required per lap, I settled down into maintenance mode and kept myself out of the red, except when getting up a climb required it.
The course was much more mountain bikey than we’d seen so far this season, which was a relief after all of the flat gravel paths. However, it was 50 degrees with only a small pile of ice or snow here and there, and none that we had to ride through. Needless to say it was a disgusting, muddy mess. While it was the most fun fat bike race to occur in New Jersey so far this year, there was definitely a “What the hell are we doing?” element to it.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how “history” (in that really specific regional cycling scene way) will remember, “that time we decided to race fat bikes in a strong El Niño year.” It’s not just the year that Frank and I bought fat bikes, but also the first real year of organized fat bike racing on the East Coast. I’m sure I’m not the only one who dreamed of the pristine white beauty depicted in pictures of well-established races in the Great Lakes region, only to get a winter of trudging through mud on a heavy, fat-tired bike, often when conditions at home were good enough for ‘cross bike riding or even “real mountain biking”. So as the final two “fun” races of the season are seeing 50 degree weather and registration numbers that are a fraction of the first race of the season, I can’t help but wonder if the mud has caused many to abandon the dream. It’s even caused me just a tiny bit of doubt in my dogged commitment to finishing all of the races in the series through hell, or more likely, high water, but I like to think that for those of us who stuck it out this winter, we will look back on our silliness as something special.
Anyway, back to the race. I stuck to my steady pace plan and exceeded my goal of not being lapped by first place for at least three hours. I lapped third place about halfway through what turned out to be my last lap, and came into the finish at 3:45. I was just beginning to feel real fatigue set in and was in the place where I totally felt capable of another lap, but wasn’t sure I really *wanted* to do one. The lap counter strongly suggested that I stop, as I wouldn’t finish another lap before the 4-hour mark and the women’s placings were locked, anyway. I rolled through the line very happy with my second place and mostly happy to be done early.
Now there is just one more four-hour race of the season, after which I won’t be sad about the lack of car trips to New Jersey in my near future. I’m just hoping that El Niño starts working in my favor in March, and that I can jump right into singletrack riding in Rothrock and put Hellga away for a long summer’s nap. It looks like my weird, hard, and obscure dream of becoming the first NJ Fat Bike Series champion will not come to fruition, as both myself and yesterday’s winner are already signed up for the finale. I’m pretty okay with second, though, as I can’t control the fact that women faster than me signed up to race, but I totally rocked (and will continue to for one more week) sticking it out and doing my best through a tough winter of racing.