This is going to be a tricky story for me to write, for a number of reasons:
- I’m pretty sure that anyone who is interested already knows: I finished the 2007 Leadville 100 with a time of 9:14:13 — 14 minutes and 14 seconds too slow to hit the goal I have been so publicly striving for. It’s not easy to write a suspenseful story everyone already knows the ending to.
- I’m dealing with some pretty intense, conflictingÂ emotions right now: disappointment in myself, pride in my wife, happiness for some of my friends, empathy for others (and for one friend, both happiness and empathy — I’ll get to that).Â And battling all these emotions is this really overwhelming urge to make excuses and rationalize for myself. Which — whenever I catch myself doing it — I will try to erase and rewrite.
- Unlike most years, I haven’t got a good conclusion set in my head, the part where I say, “Next year, I’m going to do better by . . . .”
- I am not certain I am a good enough writer to do justice to the incredible bratwurst / Italian sausage feast Fish put on after the race.
So you know the ending, you know I’m pretty worked up, you know I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do next year, and you know I like a well-cooked brat.
But I think there’s a pretty good story in between. Some of it’s about me, some of it’s about Susan, and a lot of it’s about my friends.
It might take a couple days for me to tell it.
I look forward to the Leadville 100 every year, and the reasons why become a little more clear each year. It’s four days away from my computer. It’s a tiny town — so small that you can’t get lost and you feel like a local within twenty minutes. It’s where all my biking buddies — many of which I only see at this one annual race — catch up with each other. And it’s a great tradition, something that you can rely on to be the same, more or less, fromÂ year to year. Like Christmas or Thanksgiving, but it lasts four days. I like that.
What made it even better this year was that my wife felt well enough — or at least said she felt well enough to come along for the trip. So we dropped the kids off with Grandma on Wednesday night and then took off to Leadville Thursday morning, where we proceeded to do nothing but relax.
It’s weird — you have kids long enough and having a full day toÂ relax feels downright weird. And good.
ByÂ ThursdayÂ evening, lots of my close friends — more than a dozen — had arrived.Â And thanks to this blog, I got stopped several times on the streets by people wishingÂ Susan well.Â At theÂ hotel, the manager rushed out upon seeing me and gave me a big hug, welcomingÂ me back.
Seriously, she did.
The Leadville 100: It’s like Cheers, but bigger.
At the Starting Line
With 1000 registered riders this year, the field of starting racers stretched out more than a city block, with areas set up for everyone to place themselves — by honor system — where they thought they would finish: under nine hours, between nine and ten hours, and so forth.
You’ve got to be early to get yourself a good spot in the starting area. I got there about 5:30 — an hour before the race began. By muscling other bikes aside, I was able to plant myself by Rick Sunderlage (not his real name) and Brad. We hadÂ boldly set ourselves in the “under nine hours” area. Racer had set himself in the same area, but further up the field.
Kenny was in the special area reservedÂ for the elite first 100 finishers the previous year.Â Jolene, too.
Dug, Bob, Lisa, Nick, Linde and Bry had set themselves further back in the field. Everyone had a time or objective in mind, and everyone was serious about it — at least I believe they were, because I just can’t imagine doing this race as a lark.
All of us were wearing Fat Cyclist jerseys of one color or another. It made me so happy I thought my heart would burst. Or maybe it was the altitude that gave me that heart-about-to-burst feeling. Either way, I thought it was pretty cool.
I looked around, trying to find one particular face: Dean. Dean’s easy to recognize because he has the most outrageous lambchop sideburns you’ve ever seen. These are not sideburns one grows on a whim, these are the product of years of hard work and dedication.
Dean and I have done the Leadville 100 the same number of times, and usually with eerily similar results: out of ten tries each, neither of us had ever managed to break the nine-hour barrier. So we’ve been exchanging email this last year, encouraging each other, telling each other this is the year. And I think we each believed it was.
So when I found Dean and shouted his name, he waded toward me, shook my hand, said, “Let’s get this done,” and handed me one of those rubber bracelets that are so popular — you know, the kind the yellow LiveStrong bands made famous. Except the one Dean handed me was black and said, “Harden the F— Up.”
Very early in the race, threeÂ things I would never have expected occurred. First, I felt invincible in the first climb — St. Kevins. My gearing felt a little tall, but not too bad, and I rocketed by dozens of people. Then I looked down.
I was climbing St. Kevins in my big ring.
I shifted down to my middle ring and continued to pass people all over the place. And here’s the first unexpected thing: I was feeling no pain whatsoever.
Bry was way behind me (I assumed). Rick S. was nowhere close (as far as I was concerned). And there, not too far off ahead of me, was someone I would never have expected to see: Kenny Jones.
And then — here’ s the second thing I would never have expected — I passed Kenny. He had had to get off his bike and push (because he was on a singlespeed with a tall gear) and I whipped by him without so much as a how-do-you-do.
It was an exquisite moment.
And then, after finishing the hardest part of the St. Kevins’ climb, the third unexpected thing happened: I caught Chris Carmichael — yes, the honcho of Carmichael Training Systems. Chris was redfaced and at his absolute limit, while I was feeling fresh and somewhat chatty. He was, essentially, a captive audience.Â It was a glorious opportunity.
Briefly, I considered saying, “Hey, you’re doing all right, Chris, but what you need is a really good coach. I highly recommend Lofgran Coaching.”
But I didn’t. Because when it comes down to it, making people feel angry or bad isn’t really my thing. Usually, anyway.
What I did say was this: “Hi Chris. I know you’re hypoxic right now, but I’m hoping you can tell Lance Armstrong something the next time you see him. Tell him that at the Leadville 100, you rode with a guy who said that the Lance Armstrong Foundation has done his family a lot of good. OK?”
Chris nodded yes, and I rode on.
Eventually, I would be glad I did not tweak Mr. Carmichael as originally planned, because he and I passed each other probably half a dozen times and rode together for probably an hour of the race — in fact, he and I were probably more closely matched than I was with anyone else on the course. It would have been kind of embarrassing if the whole race I rode with a guy who I had made a snarky comment to before I had had a chance to see how strong he really was.
And besides, in the final fifteen miles of the race Chris would eventually pull away from me and beat me by nine minutes.
Tomorrow I’ll continue this story. I’m not too sure how far I’ll get. There’s still a lot to tell. I mean, I haven’t even gotten us to the first aid station yet.