A Note from Fatty: Installments of this story will resume Tuesday, September 8.
Looking for Other Installments in this Story? Here are links to all the parts published (so far) in this multi-part story:
I could see Lindsey up ahead of me; I knew that if I really pushed it, I could catch her. I opened a fresh GU and powered on. I’d close the gap and then she would power away on a descent.
We repeated this over and over. And you know what? I liked the game that we were playing (even if she didn’t know we were playing it).
As we did the quick gnarly descent down Bitch hill and the subsequent quick up hill, Lindsey sped away and entered the singletrack ahead of me. As I approached the singletrack I pulled alongside a very muscular man, instantly recognizing him as Al Iverson. I knew Al had been chasing the sub-nine dream for many years, so the fact that we were riding together this far into the race was a good sign.
I did feel bad that I ended up ahead of him on the single track descent.
Thanks Al, for not riding my wheel!
Eventually I caught Lindsey and we rode together over the last few rollers into the Twin Lakes aid station. It must have been overwhelming for our crews to have two riders enter the aid station at one time.
But Lindsey had her crew (her mom, sister, and brother), and I had mine: Scott and Kara. They were fantastic. They got me a new Camelbak, packed my jersey pocket with GU (not the Bentos box; I had learned my lesson after losing everything during the Powerline descent! For the rest of the race, I would use the Bentos box for trash only), made me take four electrolyte capsules, and I was off.
Twin Lakes to Columbine
Lindsey was already ahead of me as we left the hoopla of the Twin Lakes aid station. I was feeling good, but couldn’t quite close the gap between us. I love the cheering crowds on the road side leading to Columbine. They really buoy the spirits.
We rode by the GU van, where Kim and Yuri yelled encouragement to us (thanks!).
And then the Columbine Mine climb began.
The first half mile of Columbine is a killer. But I was pushing it hard and I could see I was slowly reeling Lindsey in.
And then, a voice from beside me: “Hey Lisa.” Sarah again!
“What? Where did you come from?” I asked. “I thought you were ahead of me.”
“I was until I had to take a bathroom break, you passed me right outside of the aid station.”
And then she was gone.
Wow. What a strong rider. I’m usually the one doing the passing on Columbine, and Sarah passed me like I was standing still.
At the first hard right turn of the climb, I pulled alongside Lindsey. I told her she was doing awesome and reminded her not to slack off when the trail eases off.
Boy, I am awful — like a slave driver or — even worse — a motivational speaker. Someone needs to tell me to shut up. “How have I turned into this person?” I wonder to myself.
Having pre-ridden Columbine twice in the last week really helped me mentally as I climbed. The climb just doesn’t seem to be as intimidating as it once was. I knew the distances between the switchbacks and I felt like I was doing well.
In retrospect, however, Strava tells me a different story. I was slowly losing time on the climb. My perceived effort was that I was going strong, but I was slacking (maybe that is why I felt so good). On the lower section of the climb, I ended up losing about 4 minutes over my time last year.
As I approached the goat trail section, I rode as far up as I could, then dismounted and began to walk. With each step my frustration level was growing.
I was exhausted.
I had ridden this same trail twice this week and now I was walking.
I was not only walking, but I was walking slow.
I went by Ken Chlouber, the founder of the Leadville 100; he was yelling encouragement and warnings to riders going up and down the mountain.
“Looking good Lisa,” he said.
But I knew I didn’t look good. In fact, I couldn’t even look up at him. I was pushing my bike and I was cooked. “Thanks,” I managed to mumble.
The conga line up Columbine didn’t seem to be in any hurry to move up this mountain. On and off the bike. Walking was misery. We were moving like snails. I felt great when I was riding, but it was always short- lived and I’d have to get off the bike again.
I was on the constant lookout for Elden. In fact, I had a preconceived idea of where he should pass me if he was on his sub-8 pace…and like clockwork, he appeared. I could see him coming from a ways away. I started screaming his name. He looked fantastic! It was the highlight of my climb.
And then it was back to pushing.
The stream of riders coming down the trail was increasing as we continued our march up. It was very difficult to pass anyone while walking.
I kept looking at my Garmin. It read 4:24. My heart sank when I saw that time; that was when I had hit the turnaround with Reba last year. This year, I still had at least a mile and a half to the turnaround. I was frustrated with the group’s progress and before I could stop myself…I was yelling.
Yes, I was yelling at the riders in front of me.
“We need to pick up this pace if we are going to make nine hours!”
A few riders turned and glared at me, but I do think they picked up the pace. We were soon back on the bike for the last rollers to the turnaround.
I was really surprised to see Ben (Lindsey’s husband), just ahead of me. I crossed the aid station in 4:40 — sixteen minutes off last year and barely — barely — with a prayer of a sub-nine finish.
I would need to do a negative split, in a big way.
Columbine to Twin Lakes
I almost caught Ben on the quick climb out the aid station, but once the trail turned down he and the group he was with were gone. There was nobody in sight ahead of me.
I hate that. It means I’m holding up traffic.
I hate to say it, but I never once turned around during the whole descent. A few riders did pass me, but they were super cool and yelled it out as they approached. I kept it within my comfort zone and cruised down the trail. This year I didn’t have Reba reminding me to “let up on the brakes” and “roll through it.” I really did miss her.
The voice of Reba was replaced this year by my very vocal bike. I’m not sure what was happening with my bike, but my brakes definitely had a thing or two to say to me. They were screaming very loudly. It wasn’t just the normal squeal that brakes make on occasion, either. This was a horrible sound like my rotors were about to combust. I have never heard them scream like this before.
I actually had people in the conga line coming up the hill yelling at me to “let up on the brakes.” How embarrassing.
I crossed paths with Lindsey—she still had about a mile to the top. I think the altitude was taking its toll; I felt for her. I think coming up a week early really does help. I think altitude is why I was also slowly reeling in Ben.
The riders coming up Columbine were super supportive; I heard my name yelled out many times. I was concentrating so hard that I rarely was able to look up to see who was yelling to me. I did take Elden’s advice and yelled words of encouragement to the riders whenever I could as I was descending.
As the road opens up, the squealing of my brakes was horrendous. I think I descended faster than usual on the lower part because I couldn’t stand the noise and I was scared my front wheel would burst into flames if I used the brakes any more!
At the bottom of the descent I passed a gal who was down on the ground. There was another rider with her and people directing us to go around. Wow. Stuff like that puts racing into perspective. It’s better that I go a little slower and stay in control. I would hate to have my race cut short because of an accident/injury.
I was happy to find that I was relaxed and calm as I finished my Columbine descent: much different from last year when I was hyperventilating and a tense ball of nerves. But Strava shows that I was about three minutes slower on the descent to the aid station.
Was it worth it to ride comfortably down?
Looking for Other Installments in this Story? Here are links to all the parts published (so far) in this multi-part story:
The climb up St Kevins went well: forward progress at a nice effort. The fog on my glasses cleared, my climbing legs kicked in, and my body started to warm.
We hit the hard left-hand corner and Lindsey zipped by me. I had wondered when that would happen. This was a good sign for me. I really thought she might put five minutes on me on the first descent. She isn’t one for conversation while riding, so I didn’t attempt to holler at her.
My main objective now was to stay on her tail.
At this point the trail turns to rollers. This is not my favorite part. When I was working with Reba last year, I let her lead out, and I stuck to her wheel. This year, I was tentative on the descents. I always feel like I am holding up traffic.
I rolled through the Carter aid station 3 minutes behind last year’s schedule. Not a good way to start, but I was feeling good.
I ate a GU and started the paved descent, while Lindsey rode away from me. I got into a tuck and pedaled hard, reeling her back in on the pavement as it turned back to a climb. She was eating, and I reminded her that this is where you can make up time by riding consistently. I rode away.
Hagerman and Sugar Loaf
As I turned on to Hagerman Pass road, I spied a fast rider and hopped on his wheel. We were cruising, passing tons of riders. He would occasionally hook on to another rider, but then be anxious and pull away from them. He never looked back at me; in fact, I don’t know if he knew I was there. A few people would hook onto our train, but no one for very long.
We eventually turned onto the Sugar Loaf climb, and my “engine” powered on up the trail and away from me. I settled in for the second big climb of the day. I was still feeling good.
I was amazed at how bright the sun was. We were riding directly into the sun and at times I was completely blinded. I cannot recall another year at Leadville when it has been this sunny in the morning.
I hadn’t been climbing long and Lindsey passed me again. I really liked having a friend so close by. She was certainly motivating me to ride harder! Plus it’s nice to see a fellow “Fatty” kit out on the trail.
As we summited the top of the climb, Reba’s voice in my head was telling me to “pick up the pace,” and I complied. I rolled past Lindsey and was trying to close the gap that existed between the rider in front of me.
Starting the Powerline descent, Lindsey (in neon yellow-green vest) right behind
As I closed in, I asked myself, “What the heck am I doing?” We were cresting the top of the Powerline descent, and I had positioned myself in front of Lindsey…who is a far better descender than me.
What a jerk!
I just hoped I could hang with the rider directly in front of me. SHE was a great climber, I prayed I could hang with her on the descent.
Sugar Loaf and Powerline remind me of a huge roller coaster. SugarLoaf is the huge, slow, menacing climb that dumps you down the terrifying hill on the other side. I held tight to my bike with a relaxed body, took a few breaths and dived down the other side, tight on the girl’s wheel.
I was shocked.
She was picking a great line and I was hanging with her! I was keeping a good distance behind her, and she wasn’t dropping me. I tried to glance behind me, Lindsey was there, but also a safe distance behind.
Flying down the Powerline. Lindsey (at far right of frame) is close behind
This is where we stayed as our little train zipped down the Powerline. I think maybe two riders passed us when the trail opened up, but it was a fantastic descent.
As I approached one of the short punchy uphills on Powerline, I passed a gal in WBR kit pushing her bike up the climb. I was confused and couldn’t figure out who it was, but then it got steep and rutted and my mind refocused on the trail ahead of me.
Finally the trail dumped me back out on the pavement, I sat up and took a deep breath. I thanked the gal in front of me for taking me safely down. She gasped and responded “Was that the Powerline?” I confirmed it was. She let out a yell of relief.
Then a nice guy passed me and thanked me for picking a great line down Powerline.
Wow, we all helped each other out and got safely down! But as I was congratulating myself, Lindsey sped by me. “We need to hurry and catch that group!” she said.
Damn her. I was just beginning to enjoy myself.
No Food for You
As I reached down to grab a Gu out of my bento box, I had the sickening realization that my box was empty. All my GUs had bounced out on during Powerline descent.
I had two emergency GUs in my jersey pocket — Would that be enough?
I turned myself inside out and finally caught Lindsey and her massive train. I told her of my food dilemma, and that I would need to stop at neutral aid at the Pipeline.
She quickly reached into her own bento box and handed me two GUs. What a sweet heart and life saver. I’m forever in your debt Lindsey! This isn’t the first time my bento box has failed me at Leadville; the exact same thing happened a few years ago. I’m not sure why I keep thinking it’s a good idea to use these.
Riding (Briefly) With Sarah
As I was settling into the pace line, a gal pulled up along-side me wearing a WBR kit. She re-introduced herself to me. It was Sarah Barber. She had won her entry into the race in one of Elden’s WBR contests. She is a darling girl and fast rider. She is a Pro roadie, but doesn’t have as much experience mountain biking.
But to be honest, I was shocked to see her — I didn’t think I would see her out here on the course. She is a machine.
And then she was gone. What should I expect – we were now pedaling down a paved road. As the road made a sharp left turn, I was the caboose on the long whip of riders and the whip cracked me off the back. I corner horribly and didn’t have the strength to pedal back to the group.
Now I was in no-man’s land: no groups I could catch ahead of me, no groups close behind. For a while I had some momentum going and I continued to rocket along, but Lindsey and Sarah and their train were quickly pulling away.
Lindsey (second from front) between the bottom of Powerline and the
Just as I was starting to slow and start feeling sorry for myself, two riders came up the side of me. This was my chance. I dug deep and caught on. My reward was instant relief and recovery. Riding in someone’s slipstream is the best.
The lead guy was a powerhouse; he never even glanced back. I was sitting third in the train directly behind a really tall dude. I couldn’t have asked for a more comfy seat. This guy pulled us all the way to the transition to the singletrack, leading to the aid station.
Then a really sad thing happened: the powerhouse was pushing it so hard, he and the guy in front of me overshot the turn. I on the other hand knew the turn was coming, so had slowed and continued on.
They, meanwhile, had to make a U-turn and come back; I never saw them again during the race. They were both awesome and I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to say thanks.
I rolled into the Pipeline aid station and threw off my oversized Chinatown-Boston-Leadville gloves. It was a bittersweet parting. I was grateful again to Lindsey that I wouldn’t have to find neutral aid for food. I had arrived at the aid station another few minutes behind schedule.
My sub-nine goal was slipping away with every passing mile.
A Note from Fatty: I’m excited to be running The Hammer’s race report, starting today. Start to end, single-spaced in a Word document (without any images), it’s eighteen pages long.
It’s also definitely worth reading; The Hammer’s reports are really from the heart, and she’s clearly a lot more interested in the people and places around her when racing than I am.
All while, I should note, she’s tearing everyone’s legs off.
Finally the alarm went off. It felt like I had been laying in bed for hours. I’m pretty sure I had, in fact.
We had gone to bed early—around nine. The Ambien probably gave me four hours of sleep, so that meant I had been laying there for about three hours. My mind was alert. I had been playing out the “what ifs” in my brain all night.
I don’t know why I was so anxious. I have done this race so many times, I know it like an old friend. I honestly think Elden’s anxiety hadn’t just worn him down; it had taken a toll on me.
This past week was not a week of rest and relaxation like I had wanted it to be. I had ridden hard the first part of the week, then continued to ride later into my rest week, decreasing the intensity, but not the amount of riding.
The week had been fun for me: lots of group rides with old friends and new.
I’m kind of a shy person, but when I start talking about biking, someone else entirely takes over.
Elden, meanwhile, had been busy…and stressed. Preparing and participating in the webinar, daily rides and clinics, WBR fundraising dinner, book readings and book signings was overwhelming—for not only Elden, but for me too.
By Thursday I was not only physically exhausted, but mentally drained as well. I tried to relax and lay down, but it never seemed like it was for long enough.
But now it was race morning. And I was so anxious I could hardly stand it. I ate and dressed and headed for the start line around 0545. I said goodbye to Elden, then parked myself in the red corral.
It wasn’t full, not yet. I would guess there were fewer than fifty of us in the corral so far, and I was only about three rows from the front. I had left the house before I had even Lindsey or Ben (Elden’s niece and new nephew-in-law). They like to sleep in to the very last minute.
Lindsey and I had participated in the Cedar City 100K back in June. Thanks to our fast times we had bumped ourselves into the red corral. I hoped Lindsey would show up soon and start alongside me. “It will probably be the only time I would see Lindsey the whole day,” I thought. She has proven to be quite the mountain bike racer this year.
She has consistently been faster than I have been in every race that we have done this year (Oh, to be twenty years younger!). I am proud of her amazing fitness and hoped I could maybe stick to her back wheel on the paved descent at the start of the race.
Lindsey didn’t materialize, so I found a nice man to watch my bike while I used the restroom. When I return to the corral, I was amazed to find that the temperature was nice—not cold at all. I removed my two thrift store sweatshirts and disposed of them on the outside of the corral.
I left my super big gloves on, though, worn over my bike gloves. I had bought these big gloves in Boston in a Chinatown thrift store and wore them during the marathon while it dumped rain. It was the best $2.50 I have ever spent. I planned on disgarding the gloves along the way when my hands were warm. I thought for a second about who might have these gloves next, and how that person probably wouldn’t know these gloves had been worn at both the most famous marathon and mountain bike race, the same year!
Then I waited.
The sun was rising; the sky was beautiful. There wasn’t a cloud in it. Dave Wein’s son sang the national anthem. And he sang it perfectly. Chills went up my spine and I fought back the tears. It was a truly beautiful morning in a beautiful place! I was lucky to be here and lucky to be alive.
The gun went off and we were rolling. The wave of bikers rolled smoothly forward. I looked for my brother at the roadside as we rolled out of town. I didn’t see him, but I was still grateful that I have such a great brother who’s willing to stop his life and come out to Leadville and support me. Thanks Scott!
My thoughts were disrupted, when a biker rolled along side of me and yelled, “Catch my wheel and lets get moving!” It was my longtime friend, Dave Green. I tried to grab his wheel, but he was gone in a flash. I had thought I was moving fast, but Dave was in a different world. He would keep up his fast pace and finish in 8:40.
As we raced down the paved road, I was surprised at how little bike congestion was around me. There really was no jockeying for position; we were all moving nicely along, with ample space between riders. It wasn’t scary at all. I took a few deep breaths and tried to relax.
My race had finally begun.
As we came off the mountain and into the valley, the site was amazing. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, but there was a cloud in the valley over the stream. We were descending into a moist, cool cloud. The temperature dropped, and it instantly got foggy.
Moisture was collecting on my sunglasses. I was having a hard time seeing as I left the pavement and started down the dirt road. It was hard to see ruts and rocks, but I kept up the pace and powered over them. Occasionally I would tip my head down and see over my glasses—I was surprised how much better I could see. There was no way I would be able to take my glasses off tho, I was too busy holding on and pedaling my heart out. [Note from Fatty: I had this problem, too. Once I figured out the mist was collecting on the outside lens, this stopped being a problem]
As we pedaled through the cloud and headed for the start of the St Kevin’s climb, one rider—who evidently thought the race would be decided at this place and time—came shooting up the right side of the road. His front wheel hit a rock and ricocheted him up and back into the middle of the road…taking everyone in his path out in domino-like action.
I was on the far left at the moment and barely missed the carnage. For a while, there was no one behind me.
I had barely escaped the first wreck of the day.
A Note from Fatty About this Guest Post: Waaaaay back in December, I did a little fundraiser and drawing for WBR. One woman won a bike, and one woman won an entry into the Leadville 100.
Sarah Barber was the person who won the entry into the Leadville 100, which proved that I am incredibly good at randomly picking contest winners. Why? Because not only was she excited about winning the entry, but she’s a bona-fide kick-butt elite racer (and the defending champion of Rebecca’s Private Idaho).
We’ve become friends, chatting by email ever since she won. She’s got great enthusiasm, sense of humor, knowledge of racing, and just a general niceness that makes her a lot of fun to be around — virtually or in the real world.
This is her race report. I should note, however, that — as is my way — I have sprinkled photos from her race throughout the report. Sarah did not ask me to place these pictures; I just rummaged through Facebook, WBR’s photos from the Leadville race week, and photos posted along with Sarah’s race time.
My Leadville 100
While a big part of my job involves flying around in helicopters tending to the sick and injured, the other part is managing Life Flight’s quality assurance program. The key element of quality management is root cause analysis—essentially, the thorough investigation into why something happened in order to prevent it from happening again.
At worst, root cause analysis reviews a major catastrophe, and in the air medical transport business, the possibilities are limitless.
Root cause analysis has become a mental habit for me, and at times I find myself studying my life like an outside observer, especially when I’m having trouble focusing on the task at hand.
Not surprisingly, climbing up the backside of Powerline during the 2015 Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike race, my mind began to wander (for the umpteenth time). One could hardly call my participation in this event a catastrophe, but at that moment it felt like enough of an adverse event to warrant some serious inquiry.
Why on earth had I gotten involved in this insane endeavor? And are all sixteen-hundred-something of us equally crazy??
I guess it all started at 0630 on Saturday, August 15, on the corner of 6th and Harrison in downtown Leadville, Colorado, when the gun went off. No—wait. It started before that. It started just a few weeks ago when Claire Geiger of World Bicycle Relief sent me an email with a registration code that made my entry into Leadville FREE! I’m a sucker for free stuff, so I signed up.
But wait. It actually started months before that when I first learned that I had an opportunity to participate in the LT100. By pre-ordering several copies of Fatty’s latest literary masterpiece (both with thoughtful personalized inscriptions!), I got my name entered into a drawing for one of two prizes. Fatty drew MY name for the prize that was a free entry in to LT100. Um…Thanks? Niiiice prize. Sheesh, Fatty, it’s YOUR fault! I thought as I trudged up the 26% incline behind a train of loonies all doing the same thing.
But wait. That wasn’t really fair. After all, I was the one who had ordered the book. But what I wanted was just the book. And In time for Christmas. I had no designs on winning prizes in random drawings. That sort of thing doesn’t happen to me…
But hold on a sec. If I hadn’t started reading Fatty’s blog, I never would have known about his book. So I never would have bought it, I never would have won the prize, I never would have signed up for Leadville—it wasn’t even on my radar. I’m a roadie, for Pete’s sake! (Who is Pete, anyway? And why did I read Fatty’s blog? I thought as I ticked off the tenths-of-miles on my Garmin, inching closer to yet another false summit on the Powerline climb.
But wait. I’m still wrong. All of this really started last fall when, just before participating in my first-ever gravel grinder, Rebecca’s Private Idaho, I happened upon Fatty’s blog while looking for beta on the event, as he and The Hammer had participated the previous year. So all this is somehow MY fault, I concluded, finally remounting my hardtail 29-er, now more motivated to get to the finish line. I got myself into this. I’m the only one who can get me through it now.
Now, more than a week has passed since the ride. My legs feel like themselves again. My lungs are enjoying the usual abundance of oxygen at a modest two-thousand-something feet above sea level. Everything is back to how it was.
Except it’s not.
Something is different. Prior to riding this year’s LT100, I had never spent more than six consecutive hours on a bike. I had never pedaled above twelve-thousand feet. And I had never relied on so heavily on loved ones and strangers, both on the day of the event and for months leading up to it, for support and information and encouragement.
You can read all about the course in people’s race reports (heck, you can SEE a lot of it on Race Across the Sky and its sequel), and the descriptions are pretty consistent. To some, the lung-searing, quad-busting final miles of the Columbine climb stand out.
For others, it’s the spectacular beauty of the view from the more humane Sugarloaf ascent. Or maybe it’s the Boulevard, so close to the finish and yet somehow still way too far away.
It’s all memorable stuff, for sure, but what I’ll remember most are the people. I’ll remember the pros at the front of the field who took off behind the “neutral” roll out at a shocking pace.
I’ll remember the Phoenix Patriot Foundation racers, some with prosthetic arms, some with prosthetic legs, all using their bikes to make their lives better.
I’ll remember the Tomorrow Chaser, who started the race in the last row, passed me at the base of Columbine, and stomped his way to 138th place overall, earning five bucks for every rider he passed (the money from Transamerica would then be donated to the local high school).
I’ll remember my new friends from World Bicycle Relief who coached my 70-year-old mother and my beloved husband in the Twin Lakes aid station—those two had me rolling through faster than any NASCAR pit crew I’ve ever seen.
And I’ll remember Fatty, as the guy who got me into this mess. Thanks a lot, Fatty. But I mean that with gratitude, rather than straight up blame. Thank you for a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
PS From Fatty: Sarah is fast.
A “Quick Links to Previous Installments” Note from Fatty: Here’s where you’ll find the parts to this story:
I’m down to the final installment of my race report. But before I begin, I want to show you a picture from earlier in the week:
This is Dave and Me. Dave’s been on Team Fatty since waaaay back. That 2009 jersey is legit.
And I’d like to call your attention to Dave’s hair, and the length thereof. You see, a couple years ago, Dave told his wife he wanted to race the Leadville 100, and would need to invest the time and money into getting ready for it.
Negotiations began, with his wife starting from a position of “for every dollar you spend on cycling, I get to spend a dollar on a giant party.”
Eventually they both realized that this would be a very pricey party, and so she changed the deal: Dave would not have to honor the dollar-for-dollar arrangement if he did not cut his hair until after he completed the Leadville 100.
As you can see, a couple years have passed, Dave’s hair has reached Samson-like proportions, and as shown in this picture a couple days before the race, he is ready to go.
I will have more on his story in a bit.
Can You See Me Now?
Scott and his friend Kara are pretty amazing. I don’t even know how many years they’ve come out to Leadville to crew for us, for one thing.
For another, it’s bound to seem a little odd to them that they make this very long drive out to help us during the race, and then — due to The Hammer’s and my new focus on fast transitions — seeing us for no more than one minute during that race.
And last year, things had gone kinda badly for The Hammer in the Pipeline Aid Station: she had ridden right by it, then had to double back.
This year, Scott had gone to some length to ensure this did not happen again:
Big thanks to Alan Schenkel for taking this picture.
Scott had printed a giant — seriously, it’s way bigger than it appears in the above picture — banner, reading “The Hammer’s + Fatty’s Aid Station.”
And sure enough, I did in fact see (and not ride by) this banner. Scott and Kara swapped me out with the most food and liquid I’d take on the whole day: two full bottles (one CR333, one water), six GU Roctane Gels, and another four GU Roctane Electrolyte Capsules.
In seconds — i.e., less than a minute — I was off.
It’s strange to consider which parts of the LT100 I really look forward to, and which I really dread.
I truly, in all honesty, look forward to what I consider the real crucible of the race: the Powerline climb. I love how it’s so intense. How it demands you give it absolutely positively everything you’ve got. How, once you’ve summited it, you know that the rest is going to be (relatively) easy.
On the other hand, I dread the flat dirt road and pavement section between the Pipeline and the beginning of the Powerline climb. Because you’re guaranteed a headwind. And you’re guaranteed to feel slow. Beaten, even.
But this year, I was lucky on this flat section. I caught up with one rider, then another, and the three of us formed a train, taking turns and giving each other a moment’s rest from the wind.
Then I turned off the pavement (forgetting to check my GPS to see what my mileage is, thereby ensuring I would not know how much of the four-mile Powerline climb I had done) and began the climb.
A quick flat section leads to a moderate climb, leading to a quick hairpin…and then I was at the Powerline march:
Earlier in the week, in one of Reba’s and my group rides, I had ridden this section without ever putting a foot down. In fact, it wasn’t even difficult.
Today, that was definitely not the case. Riding wasn’t even a consideration.
Halfway up, some of the good folks from Oakley (one of the event sponsors), were handing out little cans of Coke. The day had become hot and the prospect of a Coke was glorious.
I saw one of the Oakley guys dig into an ice chest and run up toward me with a cold Coke. “Thank you…” I began.
And then he ran by me, handing the Coke to someone else.
“…Or not,” I concluded, petulantly.
But then, he dashed back to his ice chest and dug out another Coke. “Keep going!” he yelled. “I’ll bring it to you!”
And he did.
I was so happy. And I wanted that Coke so bad. When the Oakley guy handed it to me, I — for the only time during this race — stopped dead, planted my feet, and slugged the Coke down.
I knew time was elapsing; I knew my average was dropping. I knew that I was, perhaps, eliminating my chance at beating my sub-8 goal and my “Beat 2009 Reba” goal.
In that moment, I did not care. This Coke was my whole world.
I finished, tossed the can, and resumed my march.
Then, about fifty feet later, I saw CarboRocket’s Brad, who — as he had promised — was handing out Coke and Skittles.
I took a Coke from him, too.
And if there had been someone another fifty feet up the trail also giving out Coke, I would have taken a Coke from them, too.
Summit of Slowness
Once I was past this hard 0.6 miles, I got back on my bike and promised myself I would not march again for the rest of the race.
It was a good promise to make to myself, and one I kept.
I began passing people, feeling like I was really moving fast.
I was, as it turns out, wrong. Without realizing it, I was putting in the slowest climb of the Powerline I had done in years. Check out how I did, compared to previous years:
It’s very interesting to me to note that two of the three of my fastest times were on singlespeeds, including my fastest time, back in 2013.
Why was I so much slower? One word: weight. While my power was great, the Powerline cares a lot more about your power-to-weight ratio. I was packing too much pudge up the mountain.
By the time I got to the summit of the Powerline climb, I was 6:49 into my race. To get a sub-8, I’d have to do the rest of the race — including a rocky descent, a three-mile paved climb, another descent, and a 2.2-mile climb to the finish line — in 1:10.
At that moment, I knew: my dream of finishing a sub-8-hour Leadville was going to have to be postponed to next year. If I want a sub-8, I’ve got to be this strong and at my lightest. It isn’t good enough to be one or the other.
“But,” I told myself, “If I give it everything I’ve got, I still have a shot at finishing under 8:14.”
I determined there and then that I would not let that goal get away from me.
To the Finish Line…
I’m proud of the entirety of my race, but I’m especially proud of how I raced the final portion of it: up three miles of pavement to the Carter Aid Station, down St. Kevins, to and up the Boulevard, I gave it everything I’ve got.
I did not leave anything on the course. Nothing at all.
While I wasn’t the fastest I’ve ever been up the pavement to the Carter Aid station (the power-to-weight thing again), from then on out, Strava shows nothing but personal bests.
I was going as hard as I could, and — if Strava is to believed — I had never gone this hard before.
Soon after I had begun the Boulevard climb — meaning I had about three miles left to go, 2.5 of which would be climbing, I heard my GPS chime.
I had thirteen minutes to do 2.5 miles of climbing.
Could I do it? I didn’t know, wasn’t in any state to do the math, didn’t remember how long it usually took me to get from this point to the finish line.
I didn’t know if I could do it, but I knew I could give it my absolute best.
So I turned myself inside out. Just gutted myself. And I turned in the fastest Boulevard time I have ever turned in. Including the times when I just tore up the thing for fun, not on race day.
In fact, I was a half minute faster up the Boulevard than my second best time.
Those of you who have done the race multiple times before know that turning in a PR like this, this far into the race, is not a small thing.
Here’s me crossing the finish line:
I kind of love this picture. I look exactly how I remember feeling.
8:12. At age forty-nine, I had just gone the fastest I have ever done this race (beating my personal best by six minutes), in nineteen starts and — now I can say it — eighteen finishes.
I owed Reba Rusch a huge thank you. Without realizing it, she — or her 2009 time — had pushed me to go harder and faster than I ever have before, right up to the finish line.
There’s rarely anyone at the finish line waiting for me. I expect that. They’re still out on the course, cheering on others. That’s fine.
But I am generally kind of messed up after a race, and it takes a force of will to take care of myself.
Which brings us back to Dave, with the Samson hair.
He hadn’t had a great day racing; he’d missed one of the cutoffs. So he and his wife met me at the finish line, and they took it upon themselves to take care of me. One of them went and got bottles of water (I kept sending them back for more, eventually slowing down after I drank four), while the other watched over me, while I watched down the road, hoping The Hammer would come in soon.
I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated help so much. I really really hope Dave hasn’t cut his hair yet, and that he grows it for another year and then comes and tears this course up.
Friends and Family
Once I felt well enough to walk, Dave, his wife and I went down to join the spectators, watching for racers to come in, probably fifty yards from the finish line.
When I saw The Hammer (I’m not going to reveal her time, because I’ll be publishing her writeup soon), I broke into a run, hoping she’d catch me at the finish line.
As you can see, she caught and passed me before the finish line.
That’s The Hammer for you.
My friends — the folks staying at the house I had rented for the week — all had good races, too. Here’s DJ on The Powerline, from earlier in the week:
DJ overcame a painful rib injury to finish in 11:26.
Cory, shown here (Cory’s the one on the right) conversing with a Leadville local who wandered into the house we were renting, looking for whiskey, had a strong day on the course, proving you can do the race on nothing but cream cheese, pork rinds, and water.
11:32 for Cory. Nice!
My brother-in-law Rocky learned, once and for all, that this race is not for him, getting pulled at Pipeline on the way back.
I admire the hell out of Rocky for trying so many times. The fact is, I don’t even dare try doing the kind of riding (very very very technical stuff) he’s good at.
The Hammer and I have been riding with my niece Lindsey and her husband Ben a lot this Summer. They’re a good match for us, and make us feel young.
Ben got a 9:03 (SO CLOSE to sub-9 on his first try!), Lindsey got a 9:51 (a big improvement over last year), and Ben’s dad Cory got an 11:10. Strong work by the whole family!
And then there were the Friends of Fatty, as I like to call them:
David Houston was the story of the day as far as I was concerned: he finished with a 12:51, meaning he earns the “never say die” award. I truly hope he writes his story up.
Jeff Dieffenbach, my Boggs teammate, got an extremely solid 11:30, riding a bike he had never been on before race week (my Scalpel 2).
Dave Thompson finished with a 9:28 — not as fast as he had hoped for, which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned, because it means there’s no way he’s not coming back next year.
And I’ll be back, too. For number nineteen, at age 50.
And this time, I’m gonna get that sub-8.
Watch and see.
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