I have previously made it clear that I did not have any particular expectations for this year’s Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race. After all, The Runner and I have been riding a lot, but not really training. As in, neither of us has ridden a single set of intervals. Neither of us have done carefully-considered recovery rides.
We’ve just ridden our bikes. You know, actually treating our recreation as if it were for fun.
So as you would expect, when the alarm went off at 4:30 on the morning of the race, I was not nervous at all.
My ten trips to the bathroom before the race? Not nervousness.
My constant sorting and fidgeting with the food I was going to put in my jersey? Not nervousness.
My asking The Runner questions she had no way of knowing (Do you think Levi will race? Do you think it’s going to be a hot day? What flavor of Shot Bloks should I start the race with? Is it better for me to have a PBJ for breakfast, or a bagel with cream cheese?)? Not nervousness.
My turning around and heading back to the toilet one last time as I approached the starting line, with only about thirty minutes ’til the start? Not nervousness.
Although I will point out that at this point The Runner grabbed me by the back of my jersey and said, “You do not need to go to the bathroom. There cannot possibly be anything for you to poop or pee out at this point.” And she was right. In fact, once the race got started, I didn’t need to pee until mile 70.
By the way, for those of you who are interested, Levi did race, I started the race with Mountain Berry Shot Bloks, it was indeed a hot day, and I had two (yes, two!) PBJ sandwiches for breakfast.
Surprise at the Starting Line
The Runner went and self-seeded herself in line with a group of people who were hoping to finish between 10 and 11 hours. I moved further up in the line, because I hoped to finish between 9 and 10 hours.
Now I just had twenty minutes to stand around, in the middle of a crowd of 1300+ (I’m speculating) riders.
Then someone asked, “Have you heard about Levi’s response to your letter?”
I overcame the shock of being recognized — after all, I was just wearing my Fat Cyclist jersey, Fat Cyclist shorts, Fat Cyclist socks, and was standing by my Fat Cyclist bike — and said, “Oh yeah, I saw the tweet he sent a day or two ago. Awesome of him to call it out!”
“No,” the guy said. “I mean he actually wrote a long reply. You’ll have to check it out when you finish the race.”
And so I was left, for the next 100+ miles, to wonder what Levi had to say to me. As it turns out, Levi has an awesome sense of humor, and is incredibly generous to boot. Be sure to check out his reply to my open letter to him.
I Am Evidently Very Focused
The gun went off and the huge mass of cyclists started down the pavement. My fingers were freezing cold, my teeth were chattering, and my brain was on high alert. I did not want to get in an accident.
Hundreds — literally — of people passed me in the first few miles of the race. On a singlespeed and with my poor descending skills, that was just the way it was going to be. I’d have to earn a place further up the field once we got on dirt and started climbing.
And then, just before I got to the dirt, I heard, over my right shoulder, a familiar voice.
“You sure are focused on the road.”
It was The Runner. She had caught up to me and had been riding alongside me for a minute or so, and I had not noticed.
It was so good to see her.
We rode together for a couple of minutes, then hit the dirt, and it was time for me to go at my race pace, and for her to go at hers.
I had told myself that I would not kill myself on the first big climb of the day — St. Kevins. But on a singlespeed, it is not easy to ride at the pace of geared bikes in their granny gear.
So I started passing. Or at least, I tried.
With 1300 excited racers funneling into a jeep road climb, things can get a little bit crowded. And for those of you who remember how crowded this climb was back in the days when 400 people would ride the Leadville 100, well, triple it and you’ll get the picture of how it is now.
Wait, did I just do a “I remember back when…” anecdote? Oh, I am getting old.
I heard some racers shouting at other riders — most people encouraging, but some as if they had chosen themselves as trail boss for the day. “Keep it moving, people!” they would shout.
I can just imagine the gratitude other riders must have felt upon hearing things like that. “Oh, that’s my problem. I forgot to keep moving! Thanks, trail boss!”
So I adopted a different approach for passing. I chatted.
“Hey there, racer 429. That’s a sweet setup you’ve got; I’m coming by on your left. Thanks man, have a good one.”
“Hi racer 777, how’d you get such an awesome number plate? Could you scootch over just a hair? OK, that’s perfect, keep it up.”
“Morning racer 1212, I’d like to borrow your line for about three seconds. No? That’s OK, just whenever you can.”
I was chattering like I was selling peanuts.
When I asked people to work with me to let me by (or just to let them know I was coming by), they almost always did. And as a bonus, I figured that if I had enough wind to keep up the talk while I passed people, I was not in my red zone.
We all knew there would be a lot of people on the course, and so we all (or at least most of us) were dealing with the crowded situation at the beginning of the race without too much difficulty.
But I did see one moment that was awesome in its crowd-related messiness.
There were four of us riding abreast at one particular moment. I was the one on the far left. And then the person on the far right lost his (or her?) line, swerved, and collided with the person on his left.
They both went down, and brought the person to their left down as well. Somehow — I do not know how — I sensed the moment coming and shot forward enough that I didn’t get trapped in the snarl of bikes and people.
But I expect about 500 people had to put their feet down and wait for a minute while those three people disentangled themselves from each other.
I got to the top of St. Kevins, then dropped down the paved side. I sat up and took it easy, not wanting to repeat the huge crash from last year. Dozens — maybe more than a hundred — of people zoomed by. As I cruised down, I began to wonder: where had I even crashed? This road was easy.
The truth is, there’s nothing especially difficult or hair-raising about that descent. Last year, it was wet, but that wasn’t the real problem; everyone but me navigated it successfully even though it was wet. The real problem last year was that my head wasn’t in the race.
This year though, it was. And I made it down just fine and began my climb.
Going up Sugar Loaf, I was feeling great. The day was warming up and people were being incredibly friendly. Several riders commented they were glad to see that I had made it down the St. Kevins descent this time, and I agreed.
The climb up Sugar Loaf went by fast — I got into a climbing groove easily and started passing all those people who passed me as we were going downhill moments ago.
And then, of course, we got to the Powerline descent and all those people I had just passed passed me again.
Powerline’s a tricky descent — the most technical of the race — and I’m always glad to get to the bottom of it with my tires still inflated and my body uninjured. Still, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “If I weren’t such a lousy descender, I’d do pretty good at races.”
David Kutcipal caught and emailed me a good photo of me coming down Powerline. Check it out:
(And chances are if you rode in Leadville, David got a photo of you, too — he took more than 1100 photos, and organized them by bib number. Find yourself here.)
As I got to the bottom of Powerline, the dirt road turns up to intersect the right turn. There were several people on the left, going straight up the little pitch, so — wanting to conserve the momentum I had built up on my ss — I veered right.
I should not have veered right.
As it turns out, the right line was full of loose gravel. My bike slid out from under me and I went down, scraping up my right leg. Right in front of about 50 spectators.
The collective gasp would have been hilarious to me, had I not been so incredibly embarrassed.
I got up quickly, without even checking to see how my leg looked or whether my bike was OK. I did not look anybody in the eye, but rather hurriedly jumped onto my bike and rode away.
Once I was away from spectators, I slowed and looked my bike and myself over. My scrapes were not a big deal, and in fact I’d soon forget about them until I showered after the race. And my bike was fine.
Only my pride remained injured.
Hi and Goodbye
The next 20 miles of the race average out to be flat. Which is awesome if you’re on a geared bike; you have a chance to get into your big ring and increase your average speed by quite a bit.
On a singlespeed, this 20 miles is where you just kind of recover. I felt like I was getting passed constantly. Like, by hundreds. Groups would come by, drafting each other, and would even shout at me to hop on to their train. I’d just laugh; draft or no draft, I could not pedal that kind of cadence on my singlespeed.
And so it’s strange for me to look at the details of my race splits and see that during this flat section (Pipeline Outbound to Twin Lakes Outbound) I actually moved up 60 places (from 378th to 318th) in the overall standings, and even moved up 4 places (from 17th to 13th) in the ss category.
But I still felt like I was getting passed a lot.
I arrived at the Twin Lakes Dam aid station and The Runner’s brother Scott and her son (IT Guy) took care of my food exchange in no time at all, swapping out bottles and food exactly as I had asked them to the night before. But the truth is, I hadn’t eaten or drunk much. I’d emptied only one of my two bottles in that first 40 miles, and had eaten two packs of Shot Bloks. I just can’t seem to get the knack of eating and drinking enough during these races.
Then — for the first time during the race — I took a look at my time. 3:07? That’s not bad at all, considering I’d just been enjoying myself.
Now it was time for one of the two defining moments of the Leadville 100: The Columbine Mine climb.
“Maybe,” I thought to myself, “I should start taking this race seriously.”