A Note from Fatty: Today’s “I’ve Never Suffered So Much” story comes from The Hammer, from the time she raced the Leadville 100 for the first time…back in 2000. Enjoy!
Sometimes the times in our life that we suffer the most, we end up growing the most too. The most suffering I have ever done on a bike occurred back in 2000. During that suffering, I dug deep into my soul and found out what Lisa is really made of. In fact, I would say that was a turning point, a defining point in my life. And it occurred on my bike. I guess maybe that is why I have come to love my bike so much–it truly helped me figure out who I am and how strong I can be.
It was the first part of August 2000. My brother, Scott, and I had been training all summer long for the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. Nine months earlier, my neighbor, Elden Nelson, had persuaded me and I, in turn, persuaded my brother that we should attempt the Leadville100 mountain bike race.
Elden explained how challenging and how fun it was. His stories hooked me and I signed up. My brother and I rode every chance we got. We only had mountain bikes, so we rode our mountain bikes every where-on the road and trails. We rode Elden’s Gauntlet -(80 miles and 8000ft) on our mountain bikes! It is tough enough now on my road bike; I do not know how I did it on a mountain bike! Let’s just say-you move a lot slower on a mountian bike. (It took about 3 hours longer on my mountain bike, turning a 6 hour ride into a 9 hour ride!)
During these training rides my brother and I found that we were quite comparable in biking abilities, and enjoyed riding together. Our relationship grew as well, my brother truly became my best friend.
Up until the time I left for Leadville, I could have chosen any number of my training rides and said they were the “most suffering” I had done on my bike. Every training ride seemed to push me past my perceived limit of what I thought I could ride.
As we packed the truck with our bikes and gears that August mornng we were ready. We had put in the mileage and we thought we were ready for the challenge.
As we were driving up Spanish Fork Canyon (voted one of the most deadly stretches of road in the US), on our way to Leadville, we were all happily chatting about the upcoming race. My husband was driving the truck, I was sitting in the passenger seat, and Scott was sitting directly behind me. In one brief moment, I looked up and out the front window and saw something flying towards us.
My mind didn’t comprehend what was coming towards me; I just knew it was coming fast and I braced myself for impact.
And then the windshield exploded. But nothing ever hit me!
I was screaming and confused. My husband was yelling something about them not knowing they even hit us! I turned to my brother in the back seat and frantically asked if he had been hit…by what I didn’t know!
His head was rolling around on his neck, his glasses were knocked off, and his mouth was bleeding. As my husband was pulling over, I found out what had hit Scott. A piece of metal, 3 inches thick and 18″ x 4″ long had come flying through the windshield and had hit Scott in the face.
Thank heavens, the piece of metal hit the hood before it came through the windshield, knocking it off its missile-like track or it would have decapitated my brother.
Instead it struck my brother in the face, breaking his nose and knocking his front teeth loose, as well as cutting up his face. A semi-truck that was passing us must have kicked up this piece of scrap metal and sent it flying through our windshield.
After an ambulance ride, an ER visit, a bunch of stitches in the mouth and face, a visit to a ENT who said Scott nose was broken (but not displaced), and a visit to our dentist, we made our way back home.
Bruised and broken, Scott was still determined to do this race.
Our dentist got to work making scott a brace to keep his loose teeth in place, and the next day we were on our way to Leadville…again! My brother was (and is) amazing! His mouth and nose were so swollen he could hardly breath, but he didn’t complain! He was there to race and tackle the beast known as the Leadville100.
Maybe someone was trying to tell us something. Maybe we shouldn’t go to Leadville and race. Maybe we should wait and try again another year.
Well, whoever was talking, we weren’t listening!
After a rainy week, Saturday morning dawned with a few clouds over head. Scott and I lined up together. He still wasn’t complaining, and said he was able to breathe through his nose. Thank heavens he didn’t feel like he looked! He looked like he had been through a meat grinder and his nose was huge.
We started the St Kevins climb together, but we quickly lost each other. We had decided that this was an individual race. If we were able to ride with each other,great, but if not, we would tackle it solo.
As we left the dirt and started to descend on the paved road, Scott went sailing by me, yelling words of encouragement. Then, not two minutes later, my back tire started making a funny noise, and my bike started to shimmy. I slowed down and — to my horror — saw I had a flat tire! I pulled over, pulled out a tube and proceeded to change my tire.
Now, I need to stop telling this story to interject something here. Men, don’t rescue your wives and girl friends every time they need help. For example, if they have a flat tire while riding their bike, let them change it! Don’t help, dont step in half way through because they are going too slow and finish it for them. Let them change it all by themselves, from start to finish!
Needless to say, I had never changed a tire by myself prior to this. Granted, I knew the concept, I knew what I should do and how to do it, just never done it by myself!
So…forty five minutes later, after everyone in the whole bike race had passed me by (I’m not exaggerating, either), I put my bike tire back on and started down the hill, only to find that the tire wasn’t spinning right and was making a thumping sound! I was frustrated and so very angry at myself for being so dumb.
As I turned off the pavement and started up the single track, there was a man there directing traffic. I showed him my wheel and he laughed (it is so funny–haha). He explained to me that I didn’t have the wheel seated correctly. He put the wheel on right and I was off.
As I started up the single track, I passed a very old man pushing his bike! Yeah! I was no longer the last person in the race.
As I rode I continued to put myself down, telling myself how stupid I was that I didn’t know how to change a tire! How stupid I was to be the last person in the race! I eventually rolled into the first aid station. I was lucky they weren’t pulling people off the course yet for being too slow!
Eventually I made it to Twin Lakes. My husband was there–wondering what had happened to me! He said Scott had stuck around the aid station for thirty minutes, waiting for me. He was worried about me–him with his broken nose and face! Scott had left about 10 minutes earlier, I might be able to catch him!
Thus far, I would say I had suffered more mental anguish than physical pain. How could I be some dumb? My success in the Leadville 100 was about to be ruined by my inability to change a tire, not by my physical prowess!
Then, as I rolled up Columbine, my spirits started to lift. I started seeing people and passing them. The adrenaline was coursing through my veins and I was feeling invincible.
The death march to the top was pretty tortuous, but I was no longer alone, I was surrounded by other riders now. I rolled into the 50-mile aid station and turn around point in six hours and to my amazement and surprise caught up with Scott! I was ecstatic!
Maybe, just maybe I could finish this thing in twelve hours!
Scott and I descended Columbine together and rolled in to the Twin Lakes aid station together. We grabbed our windbreakers (I didn’t have a rain coat) and headed out.
And that is when the story turns ugly.
Not five minutes later, the heavens opened up and the rain began to pour. The next 20 miles has become a blur of rain and cold. As we started up the dreaded power line climb, I pulled ahead of Scott and thought I had lost him for good.
As we pushed our bikes up the power line climb, the lightning was flashing overhead and the power lines were humming loudly. The words of warning about lightning from the pre race meeting were ringing in my ears, but I thought “to heck with them! I might just make the 12 hour mark–a little bit of lightning is not going to stop me!”
There was a steady flow of walkers ascending power line who must have shared the same sentiment as me. While I was climbing, I guess I didn’t realize how cold I was, but the realization of the cold hit me as I began the descent. I couldn’t shift with my fingers, I had to use the palm of my hand. Braking was non-existent. The grime from the muddy dirt had worn my brake pads and all my cables had stretched out.
If I couldn’t change a tire on my bike, I certainly knew nothing about tightening brake cables.
As I came out of the single track section onto the paved climb, I had to have a volunteer tie my shoe. My hands were so frozen I couldn’t do that myself!
The same volunteer asked if I wanted a garbage bag to wear. In my frozen, brain-dead state, I declined. I also declined food.
I was entering the worst bonk of my entire life. Up to this point in the race I think I had consumed about 10 power gels. Not even close to enough nourishment for a twelve-hour endurance ride in the freezing rain.
I do not know how I had the strength to make it up the paved road, but somehow I summited and thought I had made it, and it was all downhill to the finish line. I knew it would be close to the 12 hour mark, but I was hopeful.
But I was wrong, it wasn’t all downhill. Someone kept throwing in these damn uphill sections!
Finally , I descended St Kevins and my bike computer said 98 miles. I was almost there! But where was the uphill Boulevard that everyone talks about? I was so cold, my brain seemed to have stopped working.
Now my bike computer said 100 miles, but I saw no finish line. I just kept pedaling. I could no longer hold my head up. My neck muscles were gone. My head had fallen forward and was resting on my chest. I could only see the front tire and dirt road.
I think I must have been going five miles per hour. I had been out in the pouring rain for more than four hours.
And I just kept pedaling.
Finally the dirt road turned to pavement. I was getting closer. I had to use all my might to throw my head up and look forward. Eventually I saw the finish line! What was the time? I really didn’t know or care. I just wanted the misery to end.
As I crossed the finish line, my head was hanging (I really couldn’t lift it up), I stopped the bike and just stood there.
Everyone was telling me to get off and get to the medical tent, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t get off my bike. I had no strength to even lift my leg over the bike. Someone finally laid the bike down [A Note from Fatty: That was me.] and I stepped over it.
They got me to the medical tent, stripped off my wet clothes and put me in a sleeping bag. I was on the verge of passing out. If I closed my eyes I thought I would pass out. Everything was swimming and I was so dizzy. As a nurse, I would have loved to know what my body temperature was.
I finally started shivering. Up until this point I hadn’t shivered, I think I was shutting down. When the shivers started, they were violent!
After more than an hour of sitting in an ambulance with the heat blazing, I finally started to warm up.
So had it all been worth it, did I make the 12 hour mark? And what had happened to Scott, did he finish? Was he as cold as me?
Yes, I finished in 11 hrs 55 min and 30 seconds. I wasn’t even the “last ass over the pass,” there were seven people who finished behind me. And one of them was Scott!
In fact, he finished five seconds behind me! I didn’t know he was behind me and he didn’t know I was ahead of him.
He was cold, but not as cold as me. More importantly, he had taken the time to eat. I think if I had taken in a few more gels, my body would have reacted better to the cold.
I definitely learned a few lessons from “my most miserable day on a bike” about racing and about life that day! I learned a few important things about nutrition and clothing choice when racing in high altitudes.
More importantly, though, I learned that when faced with a challenge, I can push myself harder and farther than I thought I could. And also, when you’re faced with a challenge, sometimes it’s better to stop and take a breather: reassess the situation, utilize the help around you and then continue on.
I learned I can push through just about any physical challenge thrown at me while on a bike, but I need to learn to accept the aid along the way.
In the years that followed my first Leadville100, I was faced with many hardships; many wondered how I kept myself together. I think it was because I learned who I was and what I can handle on a rainy mountainside in Leadville, CO.