This Grand Slam for Zambia project is getting out of control, in the best way possible.
First of all, we crossed the 750-Bike mark (our 3/4 mark) today. What does that mean? Well, it means that Trek Travel is going to send some lucky donor to the 2012 Tour de France, to witness the final stage on the Champs-Elysées.
Seriously, that’ s amazing.
But you know what? There’s even more awesomeness I get to tell you about today. And that awesomeness comes courtesy of National Champion Ben King, who has a prize he’s going to add to the pot.
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.
photo by Zazoosh
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.
I was now fourteen minutes ahead of my best time. photo by Kellene
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.
Photo by Kellene
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.
photo by Kellene
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!
We’re down to the last ten days of the Grand Slam for Zambia — the project where we’re trying to raise enough money to buy 1,000 kids in Zambia bikes.
I’ve got some great new prizes to announce, but first, I want to talk just a little bit about what we’re hoping to accomplish.
When we give a bike to a kid in Zambia, we are changing that kid’s life — not just for the moment, but permanently. We’re making it so that kid doesn’t have to walk four hours to cover the ten-mile trip to school and back.
That means the kid gets to school quicker. And safer.
And that means the kid is more likely to stay in school. And graduate. And get a better job.
In short, when we give a bike to a kid in Zambia, we are drastically improving that person’s chances at having a good life.
So really, what we are trying to do is give 1000 kids a better life.
I love that.
Where We Stand
If you take a look at the donation page for this contest, you’ll see that we just crossed the $70,000 mark. We’re trying to get to $134,000, so we’re just over halfway there.
$70,000 is a lot of money. Enough to buy 522 bikes. That’s pretty impressive.
But we don’t want to buy 522 bikes. We want to buy 1000.
And since the contest ends August 27, we don’t have much time left.
So we’re going to throw some more prizes in the pot. You know, just to give you an extra little nudge.
Hey, have you ever heard of Chris Horner? Yeah, I hear he’s a pro cyclist or something. Well, a couple of days ago, he tweeted this:
And what did he want to throw into the pot? This:
So yes, a jersey autographed by Chris Horner is now officially one of the things you can win by donating in the Grand Slam for Zambia contest (Thanks tons, Chris!)
Oh, and here’s a little something some of you may have heard about at some point or another:
Yup, RadioShack has thrown a 16Gb White iPhone into the fabulous Grand Slam for Zambia pot o’ prizes. This is exactly the phone that The Hammer uses, by the way, so that adds an extra measure of awesomeness, if that’s possible.
A Note from Fatty: This is Part 3 of my 2011 Leadville 100 Race Report. You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.
I was stopped, straddling the top tube of my bike at the 90-mile aid station. I was drinking a Coke one friendly volunteer had just handed me, while another volunteer poured water over my head and down my back.
I had another Coke, and thought back to something LifeTime Fitness Owner Bahram Akradi had said at the pre-race meeting the day before: that, starting next year, aid stations would not have any foods with preservatives or food colorings.
Which, I guess, means I could say goodbye to the aid-station-provided Coke I was drinking. And goodbye to the chips everyone eats at the aid stations. And goodbye to the M&Ms everyone eats at the aid stations.
I have to admit, though: getting rid of these aid station staples is a really good idea. Except for the “good” part, I mean.
I had a third cup of Coke. Delicious.
I had not peed since I had left my hotel room more than eight hours ago, and had no urge to pee now. It’s entirely possible that I was a little bit dehydrated.
I Believe This Is Going to Happen
I looked at my GPS. 7:30 had come and gone since the start of this race. Traditionally, when I reach this 90-mile aid station, I’m just about one hour from the finish line. Ahead of me I had a little bit of climbing, a good-sized descent, and then two or so final miles of climbing before I got to the finish.
I couldn’t avoid the truth any longer. In the absence of a crash or monster mechanical, I was going to finish this race in under nine hours.
In fact, it was starting to look like I was going to get to the finish line in 8:30.
I got down St. Kevins — the last descent of the day — without trouble. People had talked about how this jeep road had been graded recently, but it didn’t feel much different to me going up earlier in the day, nor descending at the end of the race.
The ruts were gone. That’s about the only real change.
As I finished the descent, a woman I remembered passing earlier in the day — remembered her because she was wearing a Honey Stinger jersey and I had yelled “Honey Stinger Rules!” at her — caught up with me: Sari Anderson, champion endurance athlete and mom.
“I’m so frustrated,” she said. “I crashed yesterday and now I’m having a really bad day on the bike.”
Why do people keep telling me, as they ride alongside me, easily matching my speed on my best-ever-by-a-huge-margin day, that my absolute cycling apex is their worst day on a bike ever?
Don’t these people know how fragile my ego is?
Sari leads a small group (including me) across the railroad track that signals you’re almost done with the race. Photo courtesy Ian Anderson.
We stayed together, riding and talking as we approached the Boulevard, the two-or-so mile wide dirt road climb that blindsides pretty much everyone the first time they race the Leadville 100.
The End of a Fifteen Year Pursuit
Since I was feeling good and Sari’s with the Honey Stinger people, I figured I’d do her a favor and pull her up the Boulevard.
I gave it everything, no longer talking. I was breathing too hard, and had started repeating my personal cadence mantra to myself. “Up. Up. Up. Up.”
I say this to remind myself of two things:
To use an upstroke and not be such a pedal masher.
To go uphill.
It’s a very easy-to-remember mantra, and you’re welcome to use it, too.
I pulled Sari all the way to the top of the Boulevard. No, wait. I thought I was pulling her up the Boulevard. When I looked back at the top, it turns out I had given a free ride to someone else, who passed and shot ahead without even saying “thanks.”
I saw the red carpet, leading to the finish line. In the absence of a lightning strike, I was about to dispatch a 15-year bugaboo.
Okay, I suppose it’s possible I didn’t stop grinning for the whole rest of the day. It’s possible, in fact, that I am still grinning right now.
I was feeling good. Feeling surreal. Feeling like I was Ferris Buehler.
8:18:01. Eight hours, eighteen minutes. Well ahead of that nine hour hobgoblin that has been living under my bed for the past fifteen years.
I gave Merilee — who has been race director as long as the race has existed and has always been at the finish line to give finishers their medals — a big hug and told her, “Fifteenth time is the charm, I guess.”
I then took off my helmet, at which point a careful observer might notice that the trail I had been on all day was just a smidgen dusty.
photo courtesy Ian Anderson
Then, as a responsible social media celebrity, I took a self-portrait with my phone and tweeted my accomplishment to the universe.
My quest for a sub-9 Leadville was — finally — at an end.
And you know what was some pretty fine icing on the cake? The fact that by doing so, I had just become the proud owner of a Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper 29er:
Don’t worry. Once I get it cleaned up, it’ll look just as pretty as ever.
I might leave that 555 on it for a while, though
Before long, friends and family started crossing the finish line. In fact, my friend Nick — of the once and future Team Fatty for 24 Hours of Moab — finished four minutes ahead of me. Amazingly, he spent the entire day between three and eight minutes ahead of me; we saw each other only as he exited the Columbine Mine aid station and I was riding toward it.
Then The IT Guy’s boss, Dave, finished, just a few minutes behind me.
Like me, Dave has been chasing this sub-9 finish time for years. And like me, he got it this year, with time to spare. Unlike me, he brought a tank of Nitrogen to Leadville, to fill his tires. Which just goes to show, it’s totally possible to be more obsessed with this race than I am.
Kenny came in at 8:42. And that’s after dealing with a mechanical that would have ended my race (although I could argue that I don’t have mechanicals like that because I have the foresight to have an incredible mechanic — Racer — go over my bike with a fine-toothed comb before races).
My friend Bry celebrated turning 50 this year by doing the Leadville 100 on a singlespeed.
And The Hammer? Well, I’ve been telling her lately that I no longer hold back at all when she and I ride together. So is it any surprise she finished her race in 9:39, knocking 31 minutes off her previous personal best?
And the next day, to cap it all off, I’d get this:
That thing’s 5.5″ wide by 4″ tall, by the way.
So here’s the thing. The Hammer has now finished the Leadville 100 seven times. She wants to get her 1000 mile belt buckle. Which means we’re going back at least three more times.
But I’ve got a new quandary. Instead of thinking — as I have every year since I’ve started this race — “My objective will be to finish in under nine hours,” I need a new carrot.
Should I race with gears again and see if I can be faster? Aim for 8:10, maybe?
Or should I try the singlespeed again? See if I can finish in under nine hours without the help of gears?
Or should I make it my personal mission to get the IT Guy across the finish line in under twelve hours?
Or — and The Hammer and I have talked about this before, but until last night we never gave it much thought — should The Hammer and I invest in a tandem mountain bike and see how we do racing that way?
I’d be interested in your thoughts on this matter.
There’s a lot about this race that doesn’t really fit into a story. Here are a few things knocking around in my head, in the order they occur to me:
This is not Rocky’s race: I mentioned in part 1 of this story that my brother-in-law Rocky entered this race. Well, a bad case of the barfs ended the race early for him. Some people are not meant to do endurance events. Rocky is the template for such people.
Quantify my experience: If you’d like to geek out to my GPS data from the race, you can find it here. My Garmin apparently always thinks it’s about 700 feet lower than it actually is, which really makes me want to take it to sea level.
Ridiculous speculation: If I had gotten this year’s finish time the first year I did this race (1997), I would have taken 15th place overall. In contrast, now an 8:18 got me 115th place. I think this may be because more people attend this race now.
Sweatshirts after all. Last week I vented my spleen about how angry it made me that there would be no personalized sweatshirts this year. Well, during the awards ceremony the race director surprised us by announcing there would be the personalized sweatshirts after all. Huzzah! I take full credit for this reversal, by the way.
Zazoosh did a great job. You’ve probably noticed that throughout this story, I’ve been putting up pictures provided to me by the official photographer of the event, Zazoosh. The thing is, I didn’t get any special treatment during this event, photography-wise. Zazoosh took great photos at key places on the course of everyone. Zazoosh did a great job at the Ogden Marathon, and they did a great job at Leadville. If I were to put on an event, you can bet they’d be who I reach out to. If you’d like to see photos Zazoosh took of folks, just click here and enter their race number. Like Kenny (55), Tyson Apostol (236), The Hammer (933), Tinker Juarez (16), or me (55). Or Todd Wells (3), if that’s your kind of thing.
I am remarkably inconsistent. To demonstrate how far I’ve come and how amazingly inconsistent I’ve been in terms of improvement, check out my finish times for previous years:
So. It was a long time coming, but there it was. A day where everything that could go right, did go right. And everything that could go wrong, didn’t.
Proof that, once in a while, the planets align and — if you’re ready for it — you can have the race of your life.
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.
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.
photo courtesy of my sister Kellene
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.
photo courtesy of Ian Anderson
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.