A Note from Fatty: This is part 2 of my 2010 Leadville 100 Race Report. Click here for part 1.
The first time I enter the Twin Lakes Dam aid station as I race the Leadville 100, I always get a little sense of foreboding. Up until now, the race is relatively easy. Sure, there are a couple of climbs, but you’re fresh for them; all they’ve really done is soften you up for the first of the two defining features of the Leadville 100: The climb to Columbine Mine.
The Runner’s and my crew — Scott and the IT Guy — had set up before the actual aid station (and had, I should emphasize, done an incredible job of taking care of me), so by the time I got to the aid station, I was all set and could just roll through.
The crowd at the aid station was huge. Hundreds of people. Hundreds of cowbells. I daresay, for the first time ever, that no more cowbell was needed.
And then, right in front of me, a spectator lunged from the left side of the crowd to the right.
And fell down.
“Yaaaaah!” I yelled, intelligently, and with italics. There was nowhere to swerve, so I just grabbed brake and hoped.
The spectator rolled out of the way so I missed him by inches, barely saving himself and me from a painful pileup.
Disaster averted. Time to climb. I looked at my timer. 3:07. That seemed . . . too good.
I had not been killing myself. I had not been wanting to set a personal best time. I had even thought that I had been slowed down by the crowded field during the climbs and had expected my time to be slow.
Was I going to somehow get my first sub-9 finish at Leadville, after all these years, by not even trying?
I resolved to stick to my plan: have fun and be careful on the flats and descents; hit the climbs hard.
Tick Tick Tick Tick
The difference between singlespeeds and geared mountain bikes is most obvious at one particular moment: when the trail turns upward. This obviousness is manifested in two specific ways:
- All the geared bikes make shifting noises. If there are a lot of geared bikes turning uphill together, there’s an audible concert of derailleur sounds. This is in fact one of my favorite sounds in the world. It’s beautiful, and I feel a little bit bad that when I’m on a singlespeed, I don’t contribute to that sound.
- The singlespeed changes position relative to the group. The singlespeed is either going to shoot way out in front, or if the grade is steep enough, going to fall way off the back. One thing is certain: the singlespeed is not going to stay with the geared bikes.
Now, the first part — five miles of climbing, about 3000 feet of altitude gained — of the Columbine Mine climb is always one of my favorite parts of the Leadville 100, because this kind of climbing suits me. I’m good at getting into a climbing groove and then holding it almost indefinitely. On this part of the course, I almost always pass more than I am passed.
But something special happened last Saturday: I felt limitless.
I stood up — with 34 x 20 gearing, almost all climbing is in the standing position — and just went. I passed people constantly, and that is no exaggeration, thanks to a huge crowd of racers. For five miles, I passed someone every 10 to 30 seconds. And during this part of the course, not a single person passed me.
I was like a machine, turning the cranks steadily and easily. Tick tick tick tick.
I know this comes off as boastful; you’ll have to forgive me for that. The fact is it was an incredible, rare moment for me. To be the fast guy, the guy who drops everyone. To be, in my head, briefly, Andy Schleck.
I have never felt quite so strong.
Later, I would look my stats for the day. For the Columbine Mine section (and only for this section), the way I felt while climbing would be confirmed by the numbers (Columbine section highlighted in yellow; click image for larger version):
Out of everyone who raced — all 1022 finishers — I had the 42nd best time for the climb from Twin Lakes Dam to the summit of Columbine Mine.
1:31:54. I’m kinda proud of that.
Now I’m done thumping my chest. I promise. And the truth is, my very best day on the bike is still nothing to what the fast guys were doing.
Due to the out-and-back nature of the Leadville 100, everyone who is a racer is also a spectator, getting to see and cheer on the racers go in the opposite direction. One of my very favorite parts of the race is, as I climb the Columbine Mine section, anticipating the moment when the race leaders will come bombing down the road. Much, much, much faster than I could have ever imagined possible.
This year, though, I didn’t get to have that anticipation, because the race leaders bombed by me so early in the cliimb.
Zoooom. There goes JHK, leading the race. Yelling “Rider up! Rider up! Rider up!” as he comes down, looking for a clear line because he has caught everyone by surprise. We hadn’t expected people bombing down the road so soon and so had not crowded over to the right side of the road yet.
Zoooom. There goes Levi Leipheimer, just a few seconds behind.
Zoom. Zoom. Todd Wells and Dave Wiens.
“Those fast guys are fast,” I think to myself. Then the obviousness of my reflexive statement strikes me as hilarious and I want to share it.
“Those fast guys are fast,” I say to whoever is close to me whenever someone comes screaming down the mountain for the rest of the Columbine Mine climb.
Nobody else thinks this is as funny as I do.
No Thanks, I’m Not Hungry Right Now
The Columbine Mine climb is divided up — in my head, at least — into two sections. The first five miles are the “easy” section, where you’re climbing up a groomed dirt road. Its difficulty comes from the altitude; you’re at around 12,000 feet by the time you get to the end of this section.
The “hard” section is the final three miles, where the trail gets narrower, looser, steeper, and very, very (very) rocky.
I walk a lot of this section. Lots of people do. It’s a sufferfest, and there’s nothing to do but put your head down and try to concentrate on at least walking it quickly.
Or if not quickly, at least not lethargically.
I try, in short, to not stand still.
As people zoomed down, calling out encouragement, I looked for faces I recognized. There goes Nate! And Chuck! And Mike! And Kenny! I shout out their names. None of them recognize me in time to shout mine back. I understand why. When you’re descending, you’ve gotta focus on the trail. Though Kenny would later say he simply did not believe it could be me up that high that soon. Nice of him.
And then, as I continue pushing, I see the oddest thing: A sign — “Hot Dogs and Beer.”
And it gets weirder. A guy, in a high-class maitre d’ outfit, with a platter containing little slices of hot dogs. Energetically offering hot dogs to everyone as they go by.
Nobody takes one. Right now, nothing in the world sounds quite so awful as a hot dog.
The maitre d’ sees me. Singles me out.
“Hi, Fatty, you of all people must want a hot dog!”
“The very thought,” I pant, “makes me want…to…hurl.”
“At least have one on the way down, OK?”
“Sure. On the way down,” I lie. Knowing, already, that when I come down I will not slow down. I will look the other way and not make eye contact.
Hot dogs for racers at their very limit, at 12,000 feet. It’s the wackiest, most awful idea I’ve ever heard of.
I hope they’re there again next year.
I. Want. Cantaloupe.
Eventually, I made it to the top of Columbine. My time shows I’ve got there in 4:39. I’m a little disappointed, knowing that I am not prone to negative splits in this race. A curious thing about the Leadville course is that it takes me almost exactly the same amount of time to get back to the start/finish as it does to get to the turnaround spot. So 4:39 means I’m probably going to finish in about 9:18.
Oh well. The sub-9 dream was fun to consider for a while.
But there are more important things on my mind than a fast finish time. Specifically, there is something I have been thinking of for the past half hour.
Cantaloupe. There is cantaloupe at the Columbine Mine aid station.
While most of the other racers simply hit this aid station and turn around, I pull to a stop, shouting, as I do, “bring me cantaloupe, and lots of it!”
This, to my delight, draws a cheer from the aid station volunteers, most of which don’t have anything to do (they’ll all be much busier in a little while; most racers further down the field will relish the chance to stop and eat).
No fewer than three volunteers sprint to the food table, each bringing me a handful of cantaloupe slices.
I eat three, maybe four slices. Okay, maybe five. It is so delicious.
As I finish the last one, I see a young volunteer — maybe nine years old — who has gone back to the table to bring me a double handful of more cantaloupe. He’s holding maybe six or eight slices. All for me.
I eat two. It’s the least (and also the most) I could do.
I then down a cup full of Coke (I love that they have Coke available at the aid stations; that’s new, I think), thank the volunteers for their outrageous awesomeness, and get started on the descent.
Where’s The Runner?
I have a love / hate relationship with the first three miles of the Columbine Mine descent. On the “hate” side of the equation, it’s rocky and technical, and there are a lot of people marching up the good line. And I’m tired.
On the “love” side of the equation, however, this is where I get to see and shout encouragement to friends and family who are making their way to the top.
It’s incredibly encouraging.
But there’s a problem. I do not see The Runner. And I do not hear her shout out to me.
So I start worrying. Has she had a mechanical? An accident? A bad day on the bike? Has she gotten sick?
All the way down, I worry. I worry so much, in fact, that I forget to be frustrated with myself for the fact that now on the descent, I am being passed just as often as I was passing others on the climb. That just as I never got passed while climbing, I never passed a single person while descending.
Forty minutes (about five or six minutes slower than most people around me), I pull into the Twin Lakes Dam aid station. Before I eat or drink anything, I ask, “Is Lisa OK?”
“She’s great,” the IT Guy reassures me. “She came into the aid station just a few minutes behind you. She was riding strong and was happy.”
A huge relief. I had just missed seeing her. And, as I learned later, she had just missed seeing me until it was too late to call out.
I swapped a bottle — once again, I had only drank one bottle between aid stations — and ate what is becoming my new favorite riding food: a Pro Bar Fruition. I doubt my reasons for liking them will ever make it into the marketing material but still, they’re ideal for racing cyclists for a few good reasons:
- They’re really moist. Unlike most bars that you have to chew and chew and chew and then take a drink and then chew some more, these bars are very soft and moist; you can get them down very quickly when you need to.
- They’re small enough to cram the whole thing into your mouth at once. It’s nice to get your hands back on your handle bars quickly.
- They’re tasty. The thing I like about all Pro Bars is that they taste like real food instead of something from a lab. The Fruition bars are heavy on the fruit, and are a great change from the energy bar taste.
No, You Go On
The next fifteen miles went slowly. Mostly because I didn’t pedal very fast. At least, not compared to the people who were passing me on a regular basis. If you look at my standings, you’ll see that I was the 375th fastest person on this section — a far cry from my placing going up to the top of Columbine Mine.
Then, on the paved section leading up to the hardest climb of the day — the Powerline — I met Charlie, another singlespeeder I had met and ridden with earlier in the day. It was nice to have someone to ride alongside with as geared cyclists zoomed by, hollering at us to hop on and draft. “Can’t do it!” we’d yell, wishing we could.
And then it was time for the Powerline. I — along with everyone else — hopped off my bike (OK, I didn’t really “hop;” I actually “very slowly dismounted”) and started the slow march.
And then I heard a bell ding.
Looking behind me, I saw a guy in a Specialized jersey, riding the steepest part of the Powerline.
The sheer amazingness of this will only register with those of you who have marched this trail.
I stood aside and yelled forward, “Everyone off the trail! Someone’s riding this sucker!”
Others looked back and moved aside. Some of us clapped.
Once I got to (what was for most of us) the hike-a-bike section, I got back on my bike and eventually got this guy. I asked, “Did you really just ride all of Powerline without putting a foot down?”
“That’s a hell of a thing you just did,” I said. I would have said more, but that was all the breath I had. Still, an awesome climb like that has to be acknowledged.
Your Results May Vary
I finished the Powerline climb, staying on my bike for everything but the initial hike-a-bike section, then gingerly descended Sugar Loaf. Once again, all the people I had just spent half an hour passing zoomed by me.
Really, I should learn to descend faster.
Next up was the St. Kevins paved climb. As I rode up, I once again looked for where I had shot off the road last year. Couldn’t find it, at least not for sure. But I’ve at least now lost my terror of that road. It’s no more curvy or steep than anything I ride regularly.
Nice to have that bugaboo behind me.
I got to the dirt and the final mile of serious climbing in the race. Once again I started passing people, still feeling strong even this late in the race. I was having a good day.
Then someone asked me a question as I went by. “Do we have a chance at sub-9?”
“No,” I said. “We’re 8:20 into the race. We’re about an hour from the finish line. We’re a good sub-9:30 bet, but 9:00 isn’t going to happen.”
“Don’t tell me that,” he said.
“OK, all of that just applies to me,” I amended. “If you’re a great downhiller, you might still make it under 9.”
I hope he did.
Most Awesome Friend of Fatty Ever
Finally: the last hard pitch in the last hard mile of the Leadville 100. I started churning up it. Weary. Glad it was nearly over. Pleased to note that I was riding up a pitch on my singlespeed that people on their geared bikes were choosing to walk.
And then a guy jumped out beside me.
“Fatty! You’re doing it man! You’re almost there! You’re spanking the guys on geared bikes!”
He ran / walked / sauntered up the whole pitch with me. Cheering me on like I was some kind of superhero. I swear, I have never seen so much energy in one person at one time, and it was infectious. Encouraged by this guy’s energy, I went faster and crested that last pitch.
To whoever it was who did that: thanks. Your energy got me up a really tough hill.
[Update: The Friend of Fatty I'm talking about is named Tom E (he commented first today), and he sent me a terrific photo of me working on that climb. Check it out:
Thanks, Tom! - FC]
The nine hour mark slipped by unnoticed by me, some time as I was riding along the railroad track that leads to The Boulevard — the final climb in the Leadville 100, and a real demoralizer for people who don’t know it’s part of the race. You see The Boulevard is a two-mile dirt road climb that starts at mile 100. Which means the Leadville 100 is really more like the Leadville 103. Since you don’t go down The Boulevard on the way out, you don’t expect it on the way in the first time you do this course.
Nowadays, all The Boulevard means to me is that I’m home free. I’m going to finish the race.
I crossed the line at 9:17 — not a personal best (9:13 is my fastest time on this course), but certainly a best effort.
I went and took a quick shower and then came back down to the finish line to catch The Runner when she finished, which she did in 10:29. A strong finish, and she said she had fun talking with all the people who recognized her from this blog, not to mention the admiring comments from everyone who noticed she was riding with a daisy on her handlebars.
Then, at the award ceremony the next day, I got a chance to see how awesome the really fast guys are, even off the bike. I chatted with Dave Wiens, kazillion-time winner of the Leadville 100 and quite possibly the nicest person alive. I talked with JHK and Heather Irmiger, and started my campaign to get the two of them racing the Leadville 100 on a tandem. They say they’re not interested. Pfff.
And then, JHK and I chatted with Levi Leipheimer.
Then I showed him how awesome I am at playing Yahtzee on the iPhone:
As you can see, Levi was impressed.
Kenny got his award for taking 2nd in the men’s singlespeed category; Heather got her award for taking 2nd in the women’s singlespeed category.
The symmetry was exquisite.
And, finally, The Runner and I got what we had been waiting for: our finisher’s sweatshirts, complete with our finishing time.
It was a good race.
Really, really good.
PS: Tomorrow I kick off a contest for a brand new mountain bike. I won’t tell you what it is yet, but I will tell you it is a very high end bike, tricked out with the new Shimano XTR group, and is worth more than $6,000.00!