A Note from Fatty: I set out today to write a race report. But I — somehow — wound up with a list instead. Nobody’s more surprised about this than I am. I’ll have the actual chronology of my day posted soon. I promise.
But I had a great race. Really. It was quite possibly the high-water mark in my racing career. Here are 7 — among many more, many of which I probably haven’t even realized exist — reasons why.
Reason #1: I Really, Really, Really Needed a Vacation
This was my 12th consecutive Leadville 100, and I look forward to going every year. I love all the lollygagging that happens before the race. I love the traditions surrounding the race — the pre-race meeting, the standing around in line right before the gun goes off, the being greeted by faster friends when I cross the finish line.
And this year, I was doubly looking forward to it. Because I needed a vacation. A few days where I would have responsibility for nothing but myself.
And then, at the last minute, I decided not to go.
You see, the morning before I was to leave, Susan had a fall. And then another. For the second one, she banged her shins and started bleeding. Since Susan’s on blood thinners, the blood was gushing out. When we got the bleeding stopped, the bruises on her shins were already black and enormous.
So I said I was staying home. The race isn’t that important. It’s just a race.
But Susan would have none of it. I had to go, she said. It wasn’t up for discussion. She didn’t want me at home, moping around the house.
So I made sure every phone number of every person in the neighborhood was written down on a piece of paper, made sure Susan would have someone staying with her, and I went. Grateful for a wife that knows that not many things matter much to me, but this race does.
Reason #2: No Pressure
Another thing that was great about this year’s race was that I didn’t have a goal. Sure, I talked about intentionally being the last person across the finish line before twelve hours had elapsed (making myself the first person ever to try to get the famed “Last Ass Over the Pass” award), or trying to get exactly 11:11:11.
But really, I had no idea how I’d do. I’m 20 pounds heavier than I was this time last year, haven’t been training, and was riding a singlespeed on the course for the first time ever. How could I know what to expect?
Well, I could expect to have fun. And I could, for the first time ever, expect to get a good night’s rest the night before the race. No pressure meant that I didn’t have to lie awake all night, fretting.
Reason #3: Lots of Friends of Fatty
I have no way to know for certain, but I believe that there were more Fat Cyclist jerseys at Leadville than any other kind. And every time I saw one — whether on a friend or stranger — I’d get a big smile.
Even better than seeing all those jerseys, though, was all the kind words I got on the trail. So many people said, “Give my best to Susan,” or “We’re thinking about / praying for Susan,” that I lost count.
Reason #4: I Have Figured Out What and When To Eat
Every year, I fade toward the end of the race. I’m convinced that it’s because I just can’t eat. No matter what I bring, I stop eating when the riding gets difficult. This, in turn, makes my stomach clench up and it becomes difficult to drink. And then the effect cascades, leaving me weak and wiped out. In a state of self-inflicted bonk.
This year, that didn’t happen. I went through two packets of Shot Bloks (rotating through Strawberry, Cran-Razz, and Cherry this year), two packets of Sports Beans, and a PowerGel every two or three hours. And some chicken soup at each aid station.
All of this, however takes a back seat to Coca Cola.
All of my friends gag at the idea of keeping Coke in a bottle and drinking it warm, and probably it grosses you out too. That’s fine; I’m not trying to sell you on it. But warm, flat Coke doesn’t bother me a bit. I just love the stuff. Can’t get enough. And since a good-sized water bottle holds around 300 calories-worth of soda, it’s not like taste was the only thing it had going for it. Fast calories + hydration + caffeine. And it’s available in every store in the entire world.
I also made up a new rule: any time I had to get off my bike to push, I had to stuff something in my mouth before beginning the push. This rule doesn’t make any sense at all in most places in the world, but on the Leadville 100, it makes great sense, because you’ve got to push up part of Columbine. Then you’ve got to push up a steep little grunt of a hill. Then you’ve got to push up the Powerline trail.
Usually, these sections are just frustrating to me: I’m walking in a bike race, for crying out loud! This time, though, I was eating and stretching my legs during these sections, making good use of the terrain.
Check me out: I was thinking strategically.
Reason #5: Everyone Loves a Single Speed
I remember, in Leadville 100s past, giving a shout-out to any rider I saw doing this race on a single speed. Since this year I did the race on a single speed, I now found out that apparently I’m not the only guy who does that. Dozens and dozens of people yelled things like “Go single!” during the race. I bet my time was 15 minutes faster because of this encouragement than it would otherwise have been.
What is very important at this juncture is that the rest of the world must not find out that riding a single speed is no harder than riding a geared bike. Oh, sure, there were parts where an easier gear would have let me stay on my bike longer. But there were many more parts where, because of the bike gearing, I climbed much faster than I would otherwise have. And without significantly more effort.
Consider this: overweight and undertrained, I finished the final 25 miles — the climbiest and hardest part of the race — faster than I ever have before. Why? Because on a single speed, you know when you’ve got to walk, and so you do, instead of frying yourself in granny gear to go an extra 20 feet on your bike.
And when you’re on your single speed bike on a climb, you’re going faster than you would on a geared bike, because you’ve got to turn the cranks at a certain rate…or fall over if you don’t.
And then, finally: on the flats. Single speeds are slow on the flats, no doubt about it. If I were going for a fast time, I could have tried to compensate by spinning a fast cadence. Instead, though, I just churned along at the rate I felt like going. When the course turned up, I passed people. When it was flat, I got passed.
And in this way, I passed and got re-passed by the same group of people over and over and over, until it became a joke. “Eighteen,” I’d say, passing one guy on a climb.
“Nineteen,” he’d reply, passing me back once we got to a flat spot.
The unplanned consequence of all this was that I still had some power in my legs when I got to the big climbs.
Reason #6: I Love to Climb
I don’t know if I would be a cyclist if I lived in the flatlands. Maybe I’d learn to love powering along in big gears, mile after mile. But for right now, I love to climb. I just do. I love the intensity of it. I love reaching a summit. I love looking down from the top of a mountain into a valley, knowing that I’ve earned that view. I love that I’m pretty good at climbing — considering my paunchiness — and can do it for hours on end.
And Leadville is all about climbing. About 12,000 feet of it.
Traditionally, I dread the final quarter of the race, because I’m so tired that I can’t enjoy the climb. This time, I got to the final quarter of the race feeling just as good — possibly better — than I did at the beginning of the race. How did that happen? I don’t know. But it did. And so while those around me suffered just like I normally do, I was feeling calm. Peaceful.
I just stood up and pedaled, rocking the bike left and right with each turn of the cranks. Maybe that’s it: climbing with a single speed forces you into an insistent, consuming rhythm. There’s no room left in your head or body for the demons to talk.
Reason #7: I Can Descend
Separated shoulder notwithstanding, I’m descending better than I ever have before. It used to be that when I passed friends going up St. Kevins, they’d pass me coming down the Powerline. If I passed them climbing Columbine, they’d pass me on the way back down.
This year, that didn’t happen.
Well, actually I think it did happen.
But not as often. And not as embarrassingly.
PS: Check out this great photo from CyclingNews’ coverage of Leadville 100. That’s Bry in the background, proudly sporting a pink Fat Cyclist T-shirt. Way to infiltrate the press, Bry!
PPS: For a “Where’s Waldo”-ish game, see if you can find me in the this VeloNews photo of racers waiting at the starting line.