2011 Leadville 100 Race Report: Part 1

08.15.2011 | 10:37 am

I have an annual tradition surrounding the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race. Specifically, I go and do the race, and then I write a race report describing all the things I did wrong and plan to do better the following year.

This year’s report, finally, is going to be a little bit different.

This year, for the first time ever, instead of talking about lessons learned via “don’t do what I did” preaching, I think I can describe a number of things I did right.

How refreshing!

Setting the Stage

First, I want to describe how I trained, partly because it worked, but mostly because I think an enormous amount of credit for how the day went goes to The Hammer.

We both trained by riding together. It was as easy as that. By riding with her, I stopped treating every ride like it was a race. By riding with me, she discovered that if she tried to keep up, she could.

And dates and weekend getaways were generally in the form of long rides together.

I’d get my intensity in by going out on a solo ride about once a week, and riding all-out for ninety minutes or so.

Plus – and I hate to admit this – I think that adding variety in the form of running has made me stronger.

Finally, being light helped. The egg white and avocado diet worked, and continues to work, for both The Hammer and me. I’m not saying it’s perfect for everyone, but honestly, I just don’t get sick of it. And I’m stronger than (and about as light as) I’ve ever been. And I’m 45 years old.

So there are the first couple of things I did right: I had fun training, and I got rid of some blubber.

photo.jpgThe Missing Ingredient

There was just one problem with the whole trip. The day we drove out, The IT Guy had his collarbone plated. It was not easy at all for The Hammer to be away from him. She did her best to stay in touch by calling The IT Guy several times per day. And texting. And having her co-workers take pictures of the surgery.

The IT Guy’s surgery went well, and he’s recovering nicely. Which is not to say that it doesn’t still hurt. Because it does.

Also, The Hammer and I had to scramble to find new people to crew for us, since we discovered that the people we thought were our crew were actually coming to Leadville to see The IT Guy race. In his absence, they suddenly had conflicting appointments and let us know that, alas, they could not come to Leadville after all.

What, watching Fatty and The Hammer isn’t entertaining enough? Humph.

My Goiter Is Acting Up

As the race neared – just a few days to go — I began to experience mysterious aches and pains. For example, my throat became a little bit sore.

And during one short ride, my left hip bothered me.

And I was pretty sure something was wrong with my right elbow.

What I was suffering from, of course, was pre-race hypochondria. Essentially, I was so worried about not getting sick that I was running self-diagnostics constantly (Is my throat sore? No? A little? Why yes, I believe it is a little sore!) and fixating on the tiniest aches that I would normally not even notice were there, and give ridiculous amounts of attention to these imagined maladies.

Why do I tell you this? In hopes that you will say, “Don’t worry Fatty, I do the exact same thing,” because if we all do it, then I’m no crazier than anyone else, which is a lot like not being crazy at all.

201108150857.jpgThe Start

The morning of the race, I was nervous. In fact, I was more nervous than usual, if that’s possible. After all, in addition to the normal self-imposed pressure, this time there was a bike on the line. If I finished this race in under nine hours, I’d get to keep this bike I’ve fallen in love with: the Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper 29er.

Plus, there was a little problem: I honestly didn’t know whether I could do it. I mean, I could tell that The Hammer had been riding increasingly strong this season; I knew she’d do great (and probably finish in under ten hours). And a few friends I’d ridden with told me that I was riding strong.

But I didn’t really have evidence that I was fast. I just felt like, well, me. And traditionally, being me isn’t the best way to have a fast race.

So I kept wondering to myself: am I fast without realizing it? Or all these people thinking I’m fast because they believe all the boasting I’ve been doing on my blog?

I made a note to myself to be more self-deprecating, more often.

There was one really good change at the starting line: a corral system. Instead of everyone just jamming themselves up front, racers’ race plates were color-coded according to their best finish time during the past three years. Since last year I finished with a 9:17, I was put a couple groups back, with the other people who had finished between nine and ten hours.

I expect the only people who weren’t happy with this system were racers who had high hopes for a fast race, but were there for the first time…and were therefore required to start in the very back corral.

I thought back to my first Leadville, where there were about 400 of us lining up. There were four times as many of us at the starting line now. Amazing.

Anyway, I got myself into about the fourth row in my corral about half an hour before the race started, then stood around with my fellow sub-10ers. Out loud, I posited the question: “Is there any one of us in this area who is not shooting for a sub-9 today?

Everyone shook their heads “no.” I was with the right group.

With fifteen minutes to go, I pulled a Cocoa Pistachio PRO Bar out of my jersey pocket and ate it. I planned to eat around 300 calories per hour, and I knew I wouldn’t have much of a chance to eat during the first (very crowded) hour on my bike.

The gun went off and I clipped in, punching the Start button on my bike computer as I crossed the starting line.

photo by my sister Kellene.

Photo courtesy of Zazoosh

I managed to not get passed by too many people during the paved descent at the beginning; I knew that practically every person who went by me in this section would be a person I’d have to spend energy passing in the St. Kevin’s climb.

To my amazement, by working a little to stay further forward, my descent on this section was a lot less frightening than it had ever been before. It was less crowded, with many fewer people juking for position and making risky, meaningless passes.

We hit the dirt, and it got dusty. Amazingly dusty. As in, hard-to-breathe dusty. I could see where the trail went, just by looking ahead into the narrow cloud of dust rising twenty feet into the air.

“We are all going to have very gritty teeth by the end of this day,” I remarked, to anyone who happened to be listening.

Which probably was nobody.

Climbing St. Kevins

While corrals helped get racers into some semblance of where they belonged at the beginning of the race, the first real sorting of the day happened on St. Kevins. This is about a three-mile climb (I’ve never checked the mileage), and — depending on my fitness — is either a middle- or small-ring climb.

Also, thanks to lots of erosion and ruts, St. Kevins is normally a real bottleneck. This year, though, the jeep road has been graded, making it possible for many more people to ride — and pass — alongside each other.

I climbed this mostly in my big ring this year.

Now, since the Stumpy is set up 2 x 10, saying “big ring” isn’t quite as meaningful as if it were a really big ring, like on a traditional 3 x 8 setup. Still, all the way up I was wondering if I were pushing too hard, too soon. But I didn’t feel like I was going too hard. I was breathing relatively easy, and my legs weren’t burning.

Then, about two-thirds of the way up, I caught Kenny.

Yes, that’s right, you read right. I caught Kenny.

The thing is, Kenny was riding a monster single speed gear: 34 x 18. Yeah, those of you who ride SS know exactly how outrageous that is.

Kenny was working hard, trying to keep momentum with all the people around and the pitch of the climb.

“Tall gear, Mr. Jones,” I commented, and kept going. Feeling just a little bit perkier than a moment before.

As I climbed, I kept looking around at the race plates around me, all of which had been color-coded for their start corrals. Bronze plates were reserved for the elite racers, who started up near the front. Red plates were for the second group — the racers who could claim a sub-9 time in the past year. Blue was for my group: the folks who had finished faster than ten hours at least once during the past three years.

At first, I mostly saw blue plates. As I got higher, I saw an increasing number of red plates.

And then, by the time I dropped down the paved St. Kevins section, I was starting to see bronze plates here and there.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” I told myself. I knew my pattern: go fast at the beginning, blow up toward the middle, limp to the finish line at the end.

But an hour into the race, I did the next important right thing: I started a pattern of eating throughout the race, whether I was hungry or not. Whether I wanted to or not. Whether it was convenient or not.

I got out a Honey Stinger Waffle — one of three I had pre-opened for eating during the first forty miles of the race — and wolfed it down.

Then, half an hour later, I had another.

You know what? It’s a lot easier to eat energy food when you like the way it tastes.

Powerline to Twin Lakes

I got to the bottom of the St. Kevins descent safe and sound, sitting upright and not worrying about the people passing me (Kenny being among them). I knew the crowding issue was behind me, and I wasn’t racing these people anyway. I was racing a clock.

I went up Sugarloaf feeling good, not even really feeling like it was much of a climb, in spite of the fact that it’s more than 1000 feet of climbing (from 9383 feet to 10,476 feet) in about four miles.

I was feeling good. And liking the fact that more and more, there were red and bronze number plates surrounding me.

I just had to remember not to do something dumb. Like go too hard. Or crash.

Remembering the lesson I learned (and that the IT Guy probably wishes he would have learned) last week at the Alpine Days Race, I took it easy down what is the most technical descent of the whole race: the Powerline.

Photo courtesy of Zazoosh

Some people passed me, but the truth is, fewer people passed me than usual. Part of it is probably the fact that last year a guy got crashed to within an inch of his life on this section. And part of it is the fact that I just feel good riding the S-Works Stumpjumper 29er. I forget that I’m even on a bike sometimes. Like it knows what I want to do – where I want to go and how – and it just does it for me.

Still, I always get a sense of relief when I get to the bottom of the Powerline — once again, I made it without crashing or flatting.

Now for the flat section leading up to and beyond the first aid station.

Everyone knows you should catch a group on this flat section; it’s a great way to get some fast miles without burning a lot of energy.

My problem was, there was no group close ahead of me, and no group close behind me. So I went out on my own.

I caught Kenny, and laughingly told him to grab on. We both knew there was no way to do that when he was on a singlespeed.

I hit the first aid station. 1:56. Four minutes faster than my hoped-for time. I couldn’t help but wonder: is this the year I’m going to finally do it? Then I reminded myself: a lot of things could go wrong between now and then. And in fact, I thought, maybe something had already gone wrong: perhaps I was running too hot. Maybe I was about to self-destruct.

But I didn’t feel like I was overdoing it. I was constantly running self-diagnostics (“How do my legs feel? Fine. How do my lungs feel? Fine. Am I hungry? No. Have I eaten recently? Yes. Am I thirsty? No.“), and I felt good.

I opened a pack of Honey Stinger Energy Chews and kept going. No reason to stop at the first aid station.

The fifteen miles between the Pipeline aid station and the Twin Lakes aid station is what most people think of as “the flat section.” The thing is, though, the flat section isn’t flat. It’s just not.

Photo courtesy of Zazoosh

But at least the climbs aren’t monumental, and the descents are gradual enough that you can really open it up.

And with gears, I was able to really open it up. Fifteen miles in forty-five minutes.

By the way, this section contains the only singletrack in the whole course.

Photo courtesy of Zazoosh   

Oh, and here’s an awesome shot of my friend Jilene, who accidentally rode through a gift-wrapping factory earlier in the day.

Photo courtesy of Zazoosh   

I pulled into the Twin Lakes aid station at 2:35 (not the official one, but where my crew was), ten minutes ahead of schedule.

photo by my sister Kellene

Did I just say I had a crew? Why yes, yes I did.

You see, unbeknownst to everyone in the whole world, my brother-in-law Rocky had signed up for Leadville for the fifth time, and had brought — in addition to my sister Kellene, who was crewing for Rocky — two of his daughters, one of which I commandeered as my crew.

photo by my sister Kellene  

My crew is the one on the right. By the time I arrived, by the way, she was awake and totally ready for me.

My niece took great care of me, swapping out my bottles and food, pulling off my arm warmers, and cleaning my glasses in the time it took me to slug down a single-serving container of Chicken and Stars Soup.

The “easy” part of the race was over. Time for the Columbine Mine Climb.

[Click here to continue to Part 2 of the 2011 Leadville Race Report]


  1. Comment by zeeeter | 08.15.2011 | 10:47 am

    Awesome! But how do I politely say I don’t want to wait until tomorrow for the next stage!?

    PS, you too are ready for a smaller vest size I’d say . . . . looking trim!

  2. Comment by Jason | 08.15.2011 | 10:53 am

    Awesome job, fatty. I really love your race reports – and cant wait for the rest!

  3. Comment by bikemike | 08.15.2011 | 10:54 am

    The new Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper Fatty Sub-9 29er. I haven’t seen it in the new catalog, yet. Must’ve just overlooked it.

  4. Comment by Jim Tolar | 08.15.2011 | 10:55 am

    Dang, Fat-man! I’ve been hitting refresh on my Google Reader all morning waiting for the ride report. It was worth the effort. Great part 1. You can go ahead and send me part 2 right now it you want, I’ll be happy to give you feedback on that.


  5. Comment by Janneke | 08.15.2011 | 11:03 am

    Well mr ex-fatty. You do set a good example. Now for me to follow. I ‘ve got to check me out that eggwhite and avocado diet. This is an inspiring story, by the looks of it you didn’t do anything wrong and everything right. Can’t wait for the 2nd installment.

  6. Comment by muskyhunter | 08.15.2011 | 11:03 am

    Love the picture of the “crew”. It shows they know how to stay rested and ready for their rider…

  7. Comment by dvhansen | 08.15.2011 | 11:16 am

    can’t wait for the 2nd part – can you (if possible) refresh what the egg white/avovado diet was or link us to where you talked about it a few months back? i need to lose a bunch more weight and that sounds like the way to go…

  8. Comment by Paul Guyot | 08.15.2011 | 11:22 am

    You and The Hammer are so inspiring. On so many levels.

    I dream of one day being able to complete Leadville in under 12 hrs… then I wake up and eat donuts.

    I read some stuff from Rebecca – the Queen of Pain – saying how disappointed she was that Lifetime Fitness, in an effort to make the race “more accessible” graded a bunch of sections, thus making it easier than years past.

    If the toughest single day mtn bike race in the country could ever be “easy” in any way. Did you feel the graded sections made a difference?

  9. Comment by rsmullen | 08.15.2011 | 11:25 am

    Aren’t you going to ride this course on the super fly now and let us know if it is faster?

  10. Comment by CRSonic | 08.15.2011 | 11:34 am

    Part 2!!!!! *please*

  11. Comment by MellowJonny | 08.15.2011 | 11:35 am

    I am ready for part 2 already!!!!!!

  12. Comment by Jolene | 08.15.2011 | 11:39 am

    Hey Elden, I would love to see “I’m no crazier than anyone else, which is a lot like not being crazy at all.” inside the back pocket of my new Fat Cyclist jersey…

  13. Comment by Liz | 08.15.2011 | 11:40 am

    “Don’t worry Fatty, I do the exact same thing.”

    Excellent race report. Good luck to IT Guy for continued speedy recovery. Now that he’s armor plated, he can endo to his heart’s content without fear of further injury!

    Nice photos Kellene.

  14. Comment by Josh in Upstate NY | 08.15.2011 | 11:40 am

    Can’t wait to read part II and I’m going to be in Leadville next week (I know, timing didn’t work out) so I can’t wait to see these places you are talking about!

  15. Comment by StephBachman | 08.15.2011 | 11:41 am

    Way to go Man-Formerly-Known-As-Fatty! I was lucky enough to be in Colorado on Saturday, but my host did not feel like driving all the way to Leadville, so I thought good thoughts for you and the Hammer from the Garden of the Gods instead. : ) Can’t wait for tomorrow’s report!

  16. Comment by The Bike Nazi | 08.15.2011 | 11:54 am

    Elden, I love reading these types of posts. I can’t wait to read the next one! You have a way of writing that makes readers feel like they know you! Great job at Leadville too!

  17. Comment by Jacob | 08.15.2011 | 12:04 pm

    I kind of want to know the story about all of the exploding mayonnaise comments in the post you linked about the crash caused by the neutral start passer.

  18. Comment by Shane | 08.15.2011 | 12:09 pm

    Great race Fatty. I was volunteering in the area at the end of the unofficial Twin Lakes aid station (right where the dirt road goes into singletrack through the railroad ties). You looked super-strong on the in-bound and I told my fiance that you were not going to be denied that bike. Also, I believe that is exactly how I saw your crew when we got there to start our shift.

  19. Comment by Mike@Squirrelhead | 08.15.2011 | 12:22 pm

    Great writeup so far! I can’t wait to get to part 2!!! I was amazed when I saw you finish time online. You totally rocked this race.

  20. Comment by Robert | 08.15.2011 | 12:22 pm

    Good job Fatty!
    I was one of the unfortunate first timers stuck in the ‘way back’. St. Kevins was brutal- as in brutally slow. People walking their bikes, walking their bikes up the middle of the road, riding into other people. I knew within a few minutes that my time goal was rapidly vanishing. Hopefully I can get in next year and start a little further up. Props on the great ride!

  21. Comment by Maggi | 08.15.2011 | 12:33 pm

    Awesome Part I, Fatty – can’t wait for the rest! I’ve been trying to be patient, ever since the news of your finish time hit Twitter– and I was on a camping trip, sneaking out the iPhone as often as I could get away with it. Obviously, I mostly fail at being patient.

    (I feel like a kid– “Tell us a story, Uncle Fatty!”)

  22. Comment by centurion | 08.15.2011 | 1:02 pm

    My SS is 32/18 and is waaaay under geared. But I also live and ride in New Jersey(wanna make something of it?), so simply standing up at 10,000 would require oxygen. Kenny is also a bad Mother F’er.
    Great report of a great ride Fatty.

  23. Comment by Patrick #4091 | 08.15.2011 | 1:15 pm

    Great stuff, even though I know the end result, I’m on tenterhooks in anticipation of Part 2!

  24. Comment by Big E | 08.15.2011 | 1:30 pm

    I had no idea that you were a fiddle finger brake grabber! I looked at all the pics you were as consistant as the tides. Good for you Fatty! I didn’t think there were that many of us out there.

  25. Comment by Rob Mance | 08.15.2011 | 1:38 pm

    Congratulations, what an awesome performance, very well done, can’t wait for 2nd instalment !!!

  26. Comment by gogogo | 08.15.2011 | 1:38 pm

    awesome job, fatty! congratulations. can’t wait for the next installment.

  27. Comment by D. | 08.15.2011 | 1:53 pm

    Even something you couldn’t control worked out perfectly for you – weather. Save the dust, I guess. But I’ve never seen friendlier temps, wind, and sun.

  28. Comment by RandoBoy | 08.15.2011 | 2:02 pm

    Don’t worry Fatty, I do the exact same thing.

  29. Comment by Jarom | 08.15.2011 | 2:37 pm

    Great job on the race and write-up!

    I’d also like to second Jolene’s suggestion:

    [Hey Elden, I would love to see “I’m no crazier than anyone else, which is a lot like not being crazy at all.” inside the back pocket of my new Fat Cyclist jersey…]

  30. Comment by bradk | 08.15.2011 | 2:44 pm

    Nice socks! 8:18, really? That’s like an hour faster than you’ve ever done it. That’s awesome, proud of you! You know I once said I’ll go back to Leadville when Elden beats my time, really didn’t think I’d ever be going back.

  31. Comment by The Flyin' Ute | 08.15.2011 | 3:05 pm

    Good work bro! You have one thick matchbook!!!! You were flying. I was hurting to get under 9 hours again. I did not feel as good as you seemed to.

    Keep smoking!!!!

  32. Comment by atxcyclist | 08.15.2011 | 3:20 pm

    …enjoying the report. looking forward to part deux.

  33. Comment by Dan | 08.15.2011 | 3:45 pm

    Great job on both the race and the race report. Your writing style and the fact that we feel like we’re right there with you is what keeps us coming back.

    Thank you! Race / big ride reports are my favorite thing to write. Glad it shows. – FC

  34. Comment by Jason | 08.15.2011 | 5:03 pm

    I was lucky enough to get in Leadville this year for the first time. It was an incredible experience, one that you truly could never fully comprehend with out being there. The spectators were absolutely amazing and the volunteers were incredible. Because it was my first time I was placed in the last corral and the St. Kievens climb was insane. Total gridlock for over an hour. Passing was challenging due to the incredibly crowded road. I had a goal to simply finish in under 12 hours, which I accomplished with a finish under 11 hours that I am pleased with. I wonder though how much of a difference it would have made if I had not started in the very back. Great experience though, hope to do it next year. Great report, looking forward to part 2.

  35. Comment by NYCCarlos | 08.15.2011 | 6:18 pm

    Great seeing you this weekend! Congrats on the killer time! Glad to hear they’re giving out finisher’s sweatshirts too (especially since you ROCKED your time this year! :) ).

    And don’t think I’m going to forget your promise to try to come do this race! – FC

  36. Comment by DH | 08.15.2011 | 6:45 pm

    Wow that Cocoa Pistachio bar goes for $3.00. I guess I would eat that too before it fell out of my pocket.

  37. Comment by Cyclin' Missy | 08.15.2011 | 7:06 pm

    They caught great pictures of you!

    I’m lucky; friends and family got good photos! Also, the good folks at Zazoosh — the official photographer of the race — have been good enough to go through their photos and send me a batch early. Other racers will have an equally awesome selection of photos to choose from soon. – FC

  38. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 08.15.2011 | 7:36 pm

    “….made note to be more self deprecating.”
    Would there be any room left for the story?

  39. Comment by Dan in Sac | 08.15.2011 | 8:31 pm

    Fun, fun fun story.

    Wow, that Specialized is soooo sexy. Did I say that out loud?

  40. Comment by Rob M | 08.15.2011 | 8:41 pm

    Congratulations to you and The Runner on a great ride.

    And to you on winning a great bike.

    Your photos at the start of the race make me wonder about the time and the temperature. Also, what did the temp go up to during the day?

    The temperature started at around 40 and went up to the low- and mid-80’s during the day, depending on your current altitude. I started the day with armwarmers and got rid of them at mile 40. The Hammer did the same thing, but with the addition of an extra layer of gloves for the first part of the race. – FC

  41. Comment by GTM | 08.15.2011 | 9:18 pm

    Great ride. I learned about pre-opening the HS waffles which I agree are great this weekend during the race I did in the UP of Michigan, The Ore 2 Shore 48 miler, where I learned that opening the packages was a pain when actually riding.

    They’re easy enough to open when road riding, but when on an MTB and you never really know how long you’re going to have a free hand, pre-opening is definitely the way to go. Once they’re open, though, they dry out, so don’t pre-open more than you know you’ll use! – FC

  42. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 08.15.2011 | 10:55 pm

    A new question for you:
    Tell us about the pictures. Did you go out the day before to get ‘THE FATTY RIDIN’ SOLO’ shots? Or, were you riding a different course than the others. I know you have few equals, but these pictures kind of rub it in…don’t you think.

  43. Comment by Grego | 08.16.2011 | 2:20 am

    Genuinely inspiring stuff Fatty, cheers. Look forward to Part 2!

  44. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » 2011 Leadville 100 Race Report: Part 2 | 08.16.2011 | 9:01 am

    [...] « 2011 Leadville 100 Race Report: Part 1 [...]

  45. Comment by JamesInPhoenix | 08.16.2011 | 12:40 pm

    a 3×8… wow fatty you’ve been off gears longer than I thought…

  46. Comment by Zach | 08.16.2011 | 2:08 pm

    So is the avocado and egg white diet really ALL you eat? How often do you eat something else? I’m curious. My wife hates eggs, so I don’t think we could swing that at our house — but she does like avocados… Hmmm…

  47. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » 2011 leadville 100 Race Report: Part 3 | 08.17.2011 | 7:01 am

    [...] Note from Fatty: This is Part 3 of my 2011 Leadville 100 Race Report. You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 [...]

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  49. Comment by Lisa | 08.18.2011 | 5:05 pm

    Taper week makes me a total mental case. I am suddenly convinced that I have a brain tumor, a broken leg, a cold, a pinched nerve in my back–doesn’t matter. I go totally crazy with anxiety and worry about the BIG DAY. It’s so stupid too!

    I have the Portland Century this Sunday. All week I’ve been stressed that my back is tweaked. #mentalcase


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  51. Pingback by Fat Cyclist 2011 Leadville race report | 08.23.2011 | 8:11 pm

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  53. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » How to Stop Gaining Weight | 10.10.2011 | 9:01 am

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  54. Pingback by Am I crazy? | Hill Country Biking | 11.3.2011 | 8:24 pm

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