A Note from Fatty: This is Part 2 of my 2011 Leadville 100 Race Report. You can read Part 1 here.
Last year, my best section of the race was, without question, the Columbine Climb; I did this section in 1:31. This year, I held back a little, resolved not to worry about being as fast to the top. Instead, I’d hold something in reserve so that I wouldn’t implode for the second half of the race.
But my climbing technique doesn’t really work that way. I’ve been climbing with a singlespeed long enough that I can’t help but get into a standing position for hard, sustained climbs. So I passed people.
And kept passing them.
The difference was, this year I had gears. And, I’ve got to say, some beautifully-shifting gears. Huge kudos needs to be given out, again and again, to Shimano for their incredible XTR drivetrain. It worked flawlessly, under any effort, the entire ride.
I tell you, Shimano is the Acura of cycling components. And that’s coming from a guy who loves Acura.
Anyway, I rode at a pace I thought would leave something in the tank. More importantly, I did something that was, quite possibly, the smartest thing I’ve ever done during all my years of racing:
I didn’t want to eat. On this section, I never want to eat. Food sounds awful.
But I ate. Every half hour, a gel. It was the best I could do, and it was enough. Instead of feeling empty as I neared the turnaround, I reached it feeling strong and ready to keep going.
photo courtesy of Zazoosh
I hit the Columbine Mine turnaround at 4:12. While I was trying to hold back a little during the climb, I had just done it a minute faster than last year.
By my rule of thumb math — that my finish time is always close to exactly double my turnaround time — I was headed for an 8:24 finish.
If I didn’t crash. If I could avoid bonking. If I didn’t have a mechanical.
I asked for cantaloupe. They had none. My head spun around a couple of times, and then said a couple of orange wedges would have to do.
And they did just fine.
My favorite part of the Columbine Mine section of the ride — both the way up and the way down — is that I can look for friends (and family!).
Just a few minutes into the descent, I saw Kenny. “Kenny!” I yelled, which is about as smart as I get when I’m at that altitude.
“Tell Heather my bike’s busted and I need my tools!” Kenny yelled back, which wasn’t as friendly a greeting as I had hoped for. But what it lacked in encouragement, it more than made up for in information density.
It also posed a little bit of a problem.
See, we had agreed before the race that in the unlikely event that I was faster than Kenny to the Twin Lakes Dam aid station on the way back down from Columbine, Heather would leave food behind for Kenny and would rush to the Pipeline aid station in order to help me.
Except now Kenny needed Heather to stay behind.
Brilliantly, on the way down, I conceived a new plan: I would ask my crew to give me a bunch of extra food to stuff into my jersey, and then they wouldn’t need to crew for me at the final aid station; I’d be all set.
It is awesome being so smart, I can assure you.
Getting to the Hard Part
On the descent down Columbine, I followed my “take it easy” rule, and as a result some guys who were slower than me on the climbs had to either bear with me on the descents or take their chances. By the time I hit the second half of the descent, everyone who wanted by, had gotten by.
I kept looking for The Hammer. I didn’t see her. Then, as I was watching a tricky line, I heard her call out my name. I yelled her name back.
Which would be the sole interaction we had for the entirety of the race. The Leadville 100 is no time for jibber-jabber.
I rolled into the Twin Lakes aid station for the second time.
Now I was 4:50 into the race. I was beginning to believe it: as long as something didn’t go horribly, terribly wrong, I was going to finish the Leadville 100 in under nine hours.
I told Heather about Kenny’s quandary, and on the spot everyone made a new plan, which I did not pay any attention to, because I was way too busy drinking chicken and stars soup.
Seriously, if you’re ever in an endurance race, have some very salty soup during at a checkpoint. The salt — both the taste and the sodium — will taste like a little ladle-ful of heaven.
As I left, they let me know: someone would meet me at the Pipeline Aid station.
I took along plenty of food, just in case I got there before them (this happens to racers in the Leadville 100 very often), and then John — Jilene’s husband and crew — gave me a push.
Now that I think about it, though, “push” is an inadequate term for what John does. John accelerates you at whiplash-inducing speeds, creating a little sonic boom.
To tell the truth, after John’s push, I just coasted the remaining 40 miles of the race.
OK, where was I?
Oh yes, the fifteen miles (miles 60 – 75) from Twin Lakes to the Pipeline aid station.
I usually have a horrible time on this stretch. It’s where my reluctance to eat during the Columbine climb comes and bites me in the butt. This time, though, my self-disciplined approach to eating now paid dividends: I still had energy.
I tried, in fact, to form trains twice on this section. Both times I rode my passengers off my wheel.
So I kept eating. Every half hour, about 160 calories or so. And I never got sick; I never bonked. By never getting even a little bit behind on my eating, I never got to the point where it was difficult — or impossible — to catch up on my eating.
Imagine that: if you do what you’ve always known is the right thing to do, even when it doesn’t sound good, you don’t bonk. Or even fade. You can, essentially, have a perfect race day.
At least one time in your life, anyways.
Very Nearly at the Hard Part
I got to the Pipeline aid station. 5:50 had gone by. I took a moment (which makes it sound like I pulled over, sat down and put my chin in my hands and stared at the sky, but actually I just thought while I was pedaling) to think about the fact that I had always hoped to someday get to this final aid station six hours into the race. And here I was with ten minutes of cushion.
It was all coming together. Now I just needed to not crash during the next 78 miles or so. Or discombobulate. Or have a mechanical.
Nobody was at the aid station. No big deal, I had expected this. I just rolled on through.
At this point — the flat section between the Pipeline and the Powerline climb, a couple of guys caught my wheel. Amazingly, I have a picture of our little train.
Pay special attention to the guy right behind me. He factors into the story in a minute.
I pulled them for a while, then the tall guy (in second place in the photo) took a turn, riding me off the back wheel.
That’s OK, I thought. We were pretty much to the Powerline. At which point pacelines become meaningless, as your world becomes a bottomless well of pain.
The Hard Part
Just before the big Powerline climb – the hardest 3.3 miles I know of, the crux of the whole race – my niece Lyndsey and Heather met me at the side of the trail. We swapped bottles and I took off, no longer having to worry about running out of water for the rest of the race.
Spectators, realizing this is the hardest part of the race — the part of the race the rest of the race softens you up for — had situated themselves along the climb to cheer riders on, and, in a couple places, do a little bit more.
For example, during the nasty hike-a-bike section that starts this climb, people alongside the trail offered cups of Coke and water. I was so grateful — the day had become hot — that I got a little choked up thanking them.
I drank some Coke and asked them to pour the water over my head.
A mile later, a man had rigged a contraption onto his back that allowed him to run alongside racers and spray us with a fine mist of water.
Heaven. Pure heaven.
Then I caught up with the guy who had pulled so strongly I snapped off the end of the train. He asked when the race would turn downhill permanently.
“Never,” I replied, truthfully, between ragged breaths. “We climb for another two-ish miles, descend, then climb on pavement for three miles, then descend, then finish the race with a two-mile climb.”
“You have just broken my heart and crushed my spirit,” the guy said.
Those were his exact words.
I decided that anyone who could yank a one-liner like that out of his butt while doing a climb like this was someone I wanted to ride with.
We rode together, him behind me, and he explained he had joined the race specifically to help former Leadville Trail 100 champ Bryson Perry, who had hopes for a high-placing finish. But the effort of hanging with the fast guys for the first part of the race had been too much, and he had just had a bad day.
Something nagged at me as he talked. I recognized his voice, but I couldn’t place it.
“Your bad day is my best day ever,” I said. “I’ve never been this fast before.”
“Bryson’s a great guy, though,” I said. “Really likeable.”
“I’m really likeable too,” the guy said.
“Yes, you are. I like you, for example,” I affirmed.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“A lot of people call me Fatty.”
“Good to meet you, Tyson,” I said.
We got to the top of Powerline, and Tyson rode on, much faster than I was on the downhill.
Only then did I realize why I recognized his voice. I had just hauled Tyson Apostol of Survivor fame up the Powerline. Just imagine how excited he’ll be when he discovers that he rode with a beloved, award-winning internet cycling celebrity!
I hope he doesn’t bother me too often with autograph requests.
I dropped down Sugarloaf, then started the St. Kevins road climb. At the bottom of this climb, my friend Bry’s wife and their kids were running alongside racers, pouring water onto our backs.
I knew that when I got to the top of this climb, I’d have about one hour left ’til I reached the finish line.
I got there at 7:30.
Was it really possible? Was I about to do this race not only in under nine hours, but half an hour faster than nine hours?
“You’re not there yet,” I reminded myself, speaking aloud.
Just to make sure I listened.