While triathletes have given the bento box a bad name, it puts food within arms reach.
Enter the Bento Boys
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the most important piece of kit I had with me for this adventure — a Fuel Belt bento box. After experimenting with different options at the Dirty Kanza Half, the Tahoe 100 and the SuperPro Mendocino 62, I came to see the value of having a top tube bag to stash calories that were easy to access on rough terrain. I stepped into the Bento game about a month before the Taint Hammer when I saw one at a very steep discount — just $5 — probably because there’s not tremendous demand for hot pink bento boxes, even among triathletes.
At the riders meeting immediately before the start, Mack gave some details about the route along with what participants in his events know as his trademark statements:
1. “Go fast and take chances because faster isn’t always better but it’s always more fun.”
2. That the ride would be like a mullet, “Business in the front, party in the back.”
Storm clouds hung in the sky to the north and west promising rain.
Dark clouds formed a wall to the north and west making final wardrobe decisions challenging. At the last minute, I ditched my wet-weather gloves but stuck with my rain jacket, light full finger gloves and legwarmers even though many riders wore just jerseys, bibs, arm and knee warmers. Anticipating rain, I’d also used packing tape to cover the top vents on my helmet.
The race started with a cop-escorted neutral rollout to the city limits and I felt like I’d dressed appropriately. The #RAWSTEELTHUGS — myself, Blake and Jason —made it about a block before Jason discovered that his rear derailleur wouldn’t shift. At all. He was stuck in one gear and couldn’t up or downshift. I rode behind him and saw that he’d looped the strap for his removable fender over his rear derailleur cable pinning it to his frame, incapable of moving in either direction.
The #RAWSTEELTHUGS code calls for mutual assistance of riders in distress, so as the pack rolled away at a 20 mph clip, I helped Jason liberate his fender and liberate his shift cable then remounted and drilled it for a few minutes until we caught the pack. As soon as we left town, the smooth pavement turned to broken asphalt and the hammering of the taint would barely let up for the next eight hours.
While Blake, Jason and I had all equipped our rigs with rear fenders, not everyone in the pack had, so every time we hit unavoidable puddles and potholes on the broken road as we flew along in a paceline, each of us had the pleasure of getting a fertilizer and/or cow dung-laced face full of spray. Muddy droplets accumulated on my clear lenses and I moved up to the front of the pack took a pull and rotated through. The pace picked up until I found my heart rate pegged at my LT and that’s when the pace got even harder and the group started to split.
Swarm and Punish
The moment the surge happened that stretched the rubber band of the pack until it snapped, I found myself too many wheels back and too far in the red to follow the move. A group motored off the front and up the road.
There was no mistaking their intent: to swarm and punish.
In a minute they pried open a gap of a few hundred yards. I soft pedaled and caught my breath watching the gap grow bigger and bigger knowing there was no way I could bridge it myself. Part of the beauty of the new breed of mixed terrain races is that they’re often on new courses or courses few riders have ever ridden. In long-established road and mountain bike races, everyone knows every inch of the course or can pour over Garmin and Strava files to see where the shit will hit the fan. As I contemplated my next move, I kept in mind that I knew how long the course was and roughly what the road surfaces would be the rest of the day. I knew I had a very hard ride ahead of me, but not exactly how hard or when and where it would be its worst.
Like any race, though, I knew that conserving energy when and where possible could make the difference between doing well and barely making it through the experience. Accordingly, I sat on until a fast moving duo flew up on my left from several wheels back fully intent on closing the gap. As soon as I felt them coming around, I jumped on the second man’s wheel and followed this pair as they bridged to the group. I sat on and caught my breath then rotated through a few times, but mainly tried to stay out of the wind and sit in. This gave me time to admire the fitness of the two psychotic singlespeeders in the group, both of whom helped drive the pace.
Taping over your helmet vents to keep out rain during a probable eight-hour race seems like a great idea until it doesn’t rain, you ride at your LT for an hour and feel like your brain might melt and drip out of your ear.
Now about 40 minutes into my Taint Hammer experience, the rain I’d anticipated hadn’t materialized and the tape over the vents on my helmet and my rain jacket made me feel as overheated and drained as an MMA fighter in a plasticized suit in a sauna the day before weigh-ins. I also realized that I had better start eating and drinking, stat, because I hadn’t had a bite yet and just a few sips of water and it was going to be a long day.
The pile of bacon that would become part of the bacon-and-eggs rice cakes I made using the Feed Zone cookbook recipe that I heroically aspirated.
This front group of about a dozen riders had a mix of what appeared to be roadies, mountain bikers and guys I know from racing ’cross. We were hauling ass, but it was very surgy and one very strong rider in particular would sit in for a few minutes then go to the front and start drilling it at what felt like 25+ mph on pothole-riddled, broken asphalt stretches through pancake flat farmland with the wind punishing us every which way we turned.
Continue reading for more on the Taint Hammer and full photo gallery.