What a week! Blake breaking his collar bone one week before the Leadville 100 MTN bike race, deciding to surgically fix it and being scheduled the day we are to be traveling to Leadville. What is a mom to do? These were the problems facing me the week leading up to the race.
Wednesday morning, Blake went to the surgeon and they decided to plate his collarbone. When could they do the surgery? Well, why not the next day (Thursday)?
Elden and I were leaving for Leadville later that afternoon! Blake has always been fiercely independent and assured me he would be OK; I could plan on leaving as scheduled. My brother, Scott, who was planning on crewing for Blake during the race, volunteered to “crew” Blake during his surgery instead.
So I made a few phone calls. I had already talked to the surgeon; I knew Blake was in good hands. I also talked to my coworkers at the hospital; they assured me they would act as surrogate parents while Blake was in the hospital. He was going to get royal treatment, probably better than he would get if I were taking care of him: Years of being a nurse have made me a little calloused around the edges when taking care of people — you’d better be hemorrhaging if you want my sympathy!
As we drove to Leadville Thursday, I made many phone calls to Blake while he waited for his surgery. Since I work with anesthesia, I was even able to talk to his anesthesiologist. I asked him to take a few pictures of Blake while he was asleep. He said he would be happy to, if Blake agreed.
Afterward, the surgeon called and assured me that all went well. He had plated the three fragments of Blake’s broken collarbone back together. Hopefully, Blake would have full range of motion in 2-3 weeks. He would just have to endure some pain over the next few days.
Poor Blake was soon going to learn the meaning of real pain!
In Leadville, Before the Race
Thursday and Friday, Elden and I enjoyed the festivities and traditions leading up to the race. We rode the last three miles of the race — the dreaded “Boulevard” — but for some reason it didn’t seem that hard. My breathing — which is usually fast and furious on this climb — seemed to be a little more relaxed this year. The climb didn’t seem to be to strenuous. Could this possibly be a good omen?
Friday, a group of us rode around Turquoise Lake. What a spectacular ride. The sky was azure blue, with no clouds. The lake was beautiful and the temperature perfect: upper 70’s and breezy. The company wasn’t half bad either. Elden and I commented how we should come back to Leadville for a vacation sometime when we’re not racing. Even though we were having fun, there is always a feeling of anxiety when you know the race you have been training for more than six months is only hours away.
We woke at 4:30 after having a pretty good sleep, thanks to the little white pill called Ambien. We dressed and went out to position our bikes in our respective corrals.
I placed mine at the front of the 10-11:00-hour finishers. Jilene placed hers at the back of the 9-hour finishers. We thought it would be fun to try and start together.
As you may remember, Jilene is my hero. She is fast! She is a fast runner and biker. I have never been able to keep up with her. She kept telling me that I was riding stronger than I had ever ridden and that she would be lucky to hang with me. I thought that sounded absurd, but I didn’t mind having someone to wait at the starting line with. I think this is the most nerve-wracking time, waiting for the gun to fire. It’s nice having a friend by your side to alleviate some of it.
I asked Jilene about her sunglasses. She was wearing them and the sun hadn’t even come out. She said they didn’t stay in her helmet like mine did, so she always just wore them. Within the next 30 minutes, I would be wishing I had just put them on at the start line…and it wasn’t because of the sun!
Beginning of the Race
At 6:30 the gun fired and we took off. Jilene zipped ahead of me immediately! I wasn’t too surprised. I’m always a little nervous on the descent. Too many people thinking they must rally for the front in the first 10 minutes of a 12-hour race!
As we turned off the pavement I breathed a huge sigh of relief….and breathed in a huge lungful of dust!
I couldn’t believe the dust storm that had formed from a few hundred bikers hitting a very dry, dusty trail. In the past years, it has always rained in the days leading up to the race making the trail nice and compact. We usually are dodging large puddles of rainwater. This year it had been completely dry and the trail demonstrated that.
I’m such a nervous Nelly. I’m always worried I’m gonna wreck. As we ascended St. Kevins, I didn’t dare take my hands off the handlebars to get my sunglasses off my helmet. So I was frantically blinking, trying to moisten my eyes so I wouldn’t lose a contact!
This year the climb seemed easy to me. I would pass people when there was a gap. I also found that if I rode up the far sides of the road and let people know I was coming, I was able to keep up a good pace during the climb.
Before I knew it, I was rounding the huge switchback, which signifies the end of the hardest part of the climb up St. Kevins. I couldn’t believe we were already there.
And guess who I could see not to far ahead of me? Jilene! What a great carrot. I was hoping I might catch her soon. At this point of the climb, riders seem to start spreading out and the dreaded dust had settled. It wasn’t long before I was pulling up along side Jilene, giving a yell of encouragement to my BFF.
And then I was passing her!
Passing Jilene so early in the race? What was up with that?
As we pulled through the Carter Summit aid station and entered the paved descent, Jilene came whizzing by me. So much for me being faster!
Getting to the Pipeline Aid Station
We had been climbing for about an hour and I thought I would take the time and eat. We were on a smooth descent, so I carefully removed my hand from the handlebars, got my sunglasses on and pulled a Honey Stingers Waffle from my Bentos Box.
Maybe you are wondering what a Bentos Box is. I love my Bentos Box. My friend who is an Ironman triathlon geek introduced me to it. It is a little box with a Velcro cover. It’s velcroed on to your bike frame below the head set. It makes getting to your food supply easy. You don’t have to reach around to your back pocket and try to find your food. For us Nervous Nellies, it’s a great invention.
When I looked up, I was headed right for the apex of a sharp turn! I frantically grabbed for my brake and was able to roll through the turn. Phew! I wondered if I was on the same corner where Elden almost met his demise in 2009. If the road had been wet, I may not have made the corner. My thoughts went to Elden. I was sure hoping things were going smoothly for him!
After I finished my first waffle, I thought to myself, I should eat another! No reason to not fuel myself. I find at the first part of a long day of riding, it is far easier to eat. Food tastes better and goes down easier. So I ate another Waffle and had a few Honey Stinger chews. No reason to not be properly fueled for the next climb up Sugarloaf.
As I rounded the bend and started down the dirt road that leads to the next climb, I caught Jilene again. I tried to ride along side her and talk, but that didn’t last long. There was really only one good line in the road; the rest was washboard. So eventually I pulled ahead.
The climb up Sugarloaf went quick. I felt strong and arrived at the top sooner then I had expected. I then started the descent down the Powerline.
Ugh! The longest descent of my life!
There is only one good line down and I am hogging it. If anyone wants to pass, they have to go kamikaze down the rutted out side of the trail. Still, I don’t think I held too many people up…but, if I held you up, I’m sorry (but you should have been faster on the climb).
When I reached the bottom of the descent, I gave a happy whoop for joy that I had made it down alive!
And then an amazing thing happened: the rider immediately behind me thanked me for leading him down. I guess I don’t always piss people off with my cautious descending!
As we came out on to the paved road to take us to the first real aid station, Jilene came whizzing past me again! This time she was in a group of riders. They were moving fast and quickly forming a train to carry themselves through the paved section. I knew it would be to my advantage to ride as hard and fast as I could to catch them, but I just couldn’t. Their pace was fast and I didn’t want to blow up.
Then, just when I thought it was hopeless, another train of riders passed me. This time I was ready. I matched their speed and worked my way in.
It wasn’t long before we had hooked up to Jilene’s train. I was the caboose of a 15-man (and two women!) train. There was some rotation going on at the very front, but it never reached back to me. I think Jilene even might have had a turn pulling. I was in the best train position possible!
I sat back and let them pull me to the Pipeline Aid Station. As we pulled off the dirt road, I pulled up alongside the train, thanked them all for pulling their caboose to the aid station and then passed them! They were probably not thinking kind thoughts toward the Caboose. Maybe that should be my new nickname: “The Caboose.”
On to Twin Lakes
As I passed through Pipeline aid station, I looked at my Garmin. It read 2:16:11. Prior to starting the race, I had written my goal split times on a piece of duct tape and stuck it to my bike frame. Before now, my fastest time to this aid station (2009, the year I finished in 10:10) had been 2:27:57.
I was almost 12 minutes ahead.
Honestly, I was a little worried. Last year I had ridden fast to the first aid station and then fell apart on Columbine. Would I have a repeat performance?
I knew it was important to continue to eat, so I slowed down and pulled out some more Honey Stinger Chews. Guess who passed me again? Jilene. “That’s OK,” I thought. At least I’m staying with her. Eventually I caught up to her and I got to follow her down the singletrack.
When It ended, I pulled up along side of her. We both looked at each other. My thought as I looked at her was “Wow, is her face dirty.” As I was thinking it, Jilene said, “Wow, is your face dirty.” I burst into laughter and explained to her that was exactly what I was thinking about her face!
We talked for a bit. I asked her how her nutrition was doing. She said thanks for the reminder and reached into her box for some food. While she was eating, I pulled ahead and whizzed into the Twin Lakes Aid station in a time of 3:11:36.
Twin Lakes Aid Station
I was immediately greeted by Kellene and Kasey. Kasey filled up my Camelback and bottles, got me my sandwich, Mountain Dew, chocolate milk, and salt-and-vinegar potato chips.
Resting at aid stations is were Elden and I differ in our racing. The first few years I raced Leadville, I rushed through the Aid stations, I hardly ate and had a miserable second half of the race. Once I started actually stopping at the aid stations, eating real food and thanking my crew for their kindness and support, my races improved. Not only in time, but also in enjoyment. I may lose a few minutes in stopping, but quite possibly I make up that time in feeling better and riding faster.
photo by Kellene
Kellene just kept asking me if she could wipe off my face! I kept reassuring her that it was okay, it would just get dirty again. I must really be a mess, if Jilene and Kellene were obsessing over how dirty I am!
As I was eating, I decided to deviate from my routine. I asked Kellene if we had an extra can of chicken and stars soup, We did and I downed it. I had been feeling leg cramps threatening and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t start seizing up. All my Honey Stingers food is sweet and delicious, but I wasn’t sure of the sodium content in them.
Jilene arrived a few minutes after me.
Jilene usually doesn’t stop at aid stations, but thought she would give her friend’s way a shot! Kellene kept offering to wash face Jilene’s face too! Jilene quickly decided she had had enough sitting and headed out first.
I finished my can of soup, replaced my camelbak, thanked my crew for their awesome assistance and headed out after her.
The Columbine Climb
It wasn’t long before I caught up to Jilene; I wished her well and forged on. I felt great, invincible almost!
Elden had reminded me that the first mile up toward Columbine Mine is steep, and to not be frustrated. I heeded his advice, shifted down, turned on my iPod shuffle and continued to power up the climb. I passed a ton of people. I’m sure it’s a bit demoralizing for some men to be passed by a girl on a hard climb…too bad, so sad.
The bonk and the cramps that I was so worried about did not materialize. When I hit the part where people are dismounting and walking their bikes, my legs told me they were strong and we powered by them.
Eventually people in their oxygen-deprived minds think they are the only ones on the trail and decide they need the whole trail to walk up and I eventually got stuck behind one and dismounted.
It was about this time that I saw a flash of orange go by me. Who was that? I yelled, “Kenny, Elden whoever you are …. Way to go!” Whoever it was..he was riding strong and was definitely under the nine hour mark. [Note from Fatty: It was me.]
I have never ridden as far up the trail as I did this time. I was lucky to have found a strong rider to follow. We blazed our way up Columbine. If there was a possibility of riding, he was on it and I followed.
Eventually, he ran out of steam, but I still felt great. The legs were threatening still to cramp up, but hadn’t seized. When I was walking, I walked fast. If there was a gap in traffic, I surged past people.
I hit the aid station in 4:58:04! “Amazing,” I thought to myself. I was now over 26 minutes faster than my best! I grabbed 2 cups of Coke and headed back out.
I was on the lookout for Jilene. I had just started to think that she must have passed me at the aid station while I was having a Coke break when I saw her tassels and bows. She was pushing her bike in what everyone at Leadville knows as the death march up Columbine. She was accompanied by hundreds of other bikers lining the trail up to Columbine Mine. I asked her why she was walking her bike, as I descended past her!
Elden dreads the descent down Columbine more than the descent down Powerline. I feel different. In the descent down columbine I feel in control. I think I probably descend Columbine slower.
Is Leadville Easy?
But as I descended, I was amazed at the number of people coming up the mountain. It was one continuous line of bike-walkers. I was surprised to see so many people walking on the “rideable” part of the climb. These people must not have realized what they were getting themselves into when they signed up for this race. I could tell a large portion of these people would not be making the Twin Lakes return cutoff and finishing this race.
Elden and I get angry when people comment that “Oh, Leadville’s the mountain bike race that’s like a road bike race on dirt.” So many people talk like Leadville is not a hard race, but nobody who has raced it talks that way. I think that once you have raced this beast, you come away with respect for it. I’m sure that the approximately 450 riders (out of 1600 starters) that did not finish this year’s race in under twelve hours will most certainly not be downgrading its toughness!
Now I will get off my soap box and return to the story at hand.
Back to the Pipeline Aid Station
On the way back down, I continued to eat Honey Stinger Waffles and Chews. I was still feeling fantastic. I breathed another sigh of relief as I pulled into the Twin Lake aid station! I arrived in 5:40:48, 26 minutes faster than my best time.
Kasey and Kellene treated me like royalty and handed me everything I needed. I downed another can of chicken and stars soup and Kellene tried to clean my face again. They happily informed me that Elden was doing terrific and was actually ahead of Kenny. Poor Kenny had a few mechanical problems with his bike, but had fixed them and was forging ahead. I was given a huge supersonic push by John Mecham (Jilene’s husband) as I left Twin Lakes aid station.
The trip back to Pipeline aid station was uneventful. I kept eating my Waffles and Chews and feeling great. I arrived at Pipeline in 6:49:22, 28 minutes ahead of schedule!
I downed two cups of Coke and took some time to visit the Honey bucket. I love my Twin Six bib shorts . . . except when I have to completely disrobe to use the bathroom!
As I left the Pipeline aid station, I was met by a brutal headwind and absolutely no one around to draft. It’s funny how a race can become so broken up and riders distributed across a 100-mile course that at one point I couldn’t see another rider ahead of me! I decided to take this time, catch my breath, continue to eat and enjoy the smooth pavement under my wheels.
The Powerline ascent was just about upon me!
As I approached the dreaded climb, I thought to myself… “How long is this climb? Is it eight miles, like Columbine?” I had discussed distance with Elden the day before, but now I could not for the life of me remember how long it was! I think that is what oxygen deprivation does to you!
As I pushed my bike, I gratefully accepted the water that the spectators would pour over me. Bless you wonderful people! The day was really heating up and the sweat was rolling off of me.
When I hit the first false summit and was able to get back on my bike, I’m proud to say I never got off. I turned it on and the legs responded. Sure, I wasn’t going very fast, but I continued to pass walkers/bike pushers. Most would sigh words of encouragement through gasps for breath. A few riders would hook on to my wheel for a bit, but eventually I would outride them.
I was feeling like I really am The Hammer. I think I will take that name back, Elden!
The only thing that was demoralizing to me was that I thought I still had five miles to climb. Could I keep this up?
Then something wonderful happened! I summited the climb and started to descend. The climb was not eight miles; it was less than 4!
I cruised down Sugarloaf and, yes, I kept eating. The Waffles and Chews were not tasting as good as they had once, but I forced them down.
I hit the paved climb up the backside of St. Kevins, feeling great. Some wonderful spectators doused me with ice-cold water and gave me a supersonic push as I began the climb!
I can throw down the “hammer” on paved climbs, and that is exactly what I did! I passed a woman with a “high” number on her bib. As I passed her, I asked her if this was her first time at Leadville. She said it was! Amazing! Her first try and she was gonna break 10 hours. It’s taken me 7 tries and 12 years of biking to get to this point!
As I rolled through the Carter Summit aid station, I grabbed two cups of Coke, drank them fast, and took off. I was happy that woman was doing so well on her first try, but I didn’t want her to pass me while I was having a Coke break!
My final descent down St Kevins went smoothly. While I was coming down I started getting emotional. I had less than ten miles left of the 2011 Leadville 100. I was going to finish and I was going to finish strong and fast.
My thoughts turned to Racer and how he had made my bike run without any problems and I wanted to give him a huge hug! Thanks Racer!
Then I thought of Blake. It’s not always fair when life throws a curve ball at you. And I wanted to give him a hug! I love you Blake! Next year will be your year.
I thought of Elden and how grateful I was to him for taking me into his life and making me happier than I have ever been. I was also hoping he was celebrating a sub-nine-hour victory. I love you Elden!
As my misty eyes were cleaning the dirt out of my eyes, I looked up and was sucked into deep sand! I started to drift to the far left of the trail and in so doing I about ran a rider that was coming up quickly behind me off the road! He yelled at me big time! As if I meant to run him off the road! That quickly ruined the moment and I returned to the race at hand.
The little burst of adrenaline carried me up the boulevard and to the finish line!
At the finish line I was greeted by a 9:39 on the clock and a huge hug from Elden.
I think he was holding off on the kiss until my face was a little cleaner!
The icing on the cake was finding out that Elden had crushed the 9 hour mark! 8:18 absolutely incredible!