I’ve Never Suffered So Much: The Hammer’s First Leadville 100

10.24.2011 | 6:58 pm

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.

First Blood

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!

The Race

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.

The official Leadville 100 photo makes it look like I’m the last, but by now there was actually one person behind me. Or maybe three.

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.



  1. Comment by MattC | 10.24.2011 | 7:59 pm

    Holey-schmoley Lisa…that is an awesome story! My suffering stories have big horrible events such as splinters and paper cuts…you know, debilitating stuff like that. Truly not being able to hold your head up and in some pretty deep hypothermia…wow. Just wow.

  2. Comment by James | 10.24.2011 | 9:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing Lisa. What an inspiring story!

  3. Comment by Jesse | 10.24.2011 | 9:55 pm

    So glad I thought to check back for more! I needed some company…thanks for the story! It sounds awfully similar to a trail half marathon I did here a few weeks ago during that freak snowstorm (except that you were miserable for about 9 hours longer than I was, with a lot more climbing). Even down to the thinking you’re done when you aren’t. Someone had told me we had 2 miles to go, so when I heard people about 20 minutes later, I was expecting the finish. It was an aid station at 11.5 miles. I started to cry and then realized that I couldn’t breathe if I was crying, so I’d better get it together if I wanted to warm up again.

    It’s so impressive to read this story and this year’s Leadville report back-to-back. You’re an inspiration!

  4. Comment by eclecticdeb | 10.24.2011 | 11:01 pm

    That’s it…I can NEVER complain about a ride EVER again. You folks are amazing!

  5. Comment by Clydesteve | 10.25.2011 | 12:56 am

    Great story, Lisa – Thanks for telling it! It cheers me up to hear stories from friends while I am over here in South Korea.

    Your condition reminds me of my worst bonk ever. I was riding from the Wilamette Valley (Oregon) over the Coast Range to Newport, on the beach. About 120 miles, the route we took. I had never riden farther than 40 miles on a bike, and I did zero training. It had not occured to me, I just took an invitation from a workmate to ride over, sleep in a park and ride back.

    I took no food. (It never occured to me.) We got to a pass above Newport, and stopped for a brief rest. I think Jeff had probably dropped me and had been waiting for 10 minutes. I laid down in the gravel by the side of the road. The worlds was spinning and I saw black spots, eyes open or closed.

    Jeff kept saying we should go, and I kept ignoring him or saying just a couple more minutes. He finally told me Steve – you bonked, it’s not getting better until you get food, you have to get up and follow me!

    I was so starved that I actually started reviving eating saltine crackers before the Moe’s Famous clam chowder came. I figure you have to be pretty low on energy to use saltines as an energy food!

    I might have suffered more riding back the next day, though. Sore butt!

  6. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 10.25.2011 | 1:57 am

    Great story!! I’m feeling a little like MattC, I’d use the word ‘inadequate’, but that opens up a lifetime of introspection and it’s late. I think this report will be the one to push Paul Guyot into riding Leadville (hah). Imagine the words he would spin.

    I have to take exception with your interjection: “Men, don’t rescue your wives and girl friends…” Guys stop to help so they can MEET the women who may become their girlfriends or wives. Otherwise how are they ever going to meet a woman who understands a man who wears Lycra and shaves his legs?

    Lastly I now know how you keep Fatty in line. You just have to threaten to call….your brother.

  7. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 10.25.2011 | 2:09 am

    Side Note: It’s probably in ‘your’ mailbox, but check out the WBR blog of October 20th. http://www.worldbicyclerelief.org/blog/?p=2088 A wonderful summary of all the effort the Grand Slam for Africa accomplished. Especially the brief reports on some of the prize winners reminds everyone that Fatty’s Mystical Prizewinner Selection Spreadsheet really does pick…… the winners.

  8. Comment by Doug (Way upstate NY) | 10.25.2011 | 5:27 am

    Wow that looks like fun! Makes me glad I am building a bike to do this race……..

  9. Comment by mtnbikechk | 10.25.2011 | 5:54 am

    Chapeau to you, CHAPEAU..talk about the Pain Cave. You were in the Pain Tunnel, the Pain Cave and the Pain Highrise Condo Building…dear lord how did you not just freaking fall over. Stunning way to finish the your first Leadville.

  10. Comment by Rebecca | 10.25.2011 | 6:26 am

    Hammer, you are absolutely right about women cyclists and tires. I offered to pay a bike shop owner once to show me how to change a tire (because my husband kept changing them for me) and he said, “Just bring a twenty in your seat bag and pay a man on the ride to do it.” Gah! Finally, I spent an evening with tires and bike, changing them back and forth until I had it mastered. You have inspired me to tackle brake cables next! Great post, amazing effort–you really are The Hammer.

  11. Comment by not much further... | 10.25.2011 | 6:51 am

    A great story Lisa, and a great one to refect on given all you have achieved subsequently.

    Sometimes its good to look back and remind ourselves how far we have come (I know I have probably never suffered so much on a bike as my first triathlon whilst I was still ill with my head injury but I never give up and keep going, onwards and upwards – and now I have a torn FC jersey from my accident, and a Chris Horner one as well!)

  12. Comment by Sara | 10.25.2011 | 7:20 am

    Amazing story! Thanks for sharing!!!

  13. Comment by Ashley N | 10.25.2011 | 8:33 am

    Thank you Lisa. For your example, your courage, and for sharing your story. You are an amazing woman and Fatty is lucky to have you by his side.

  14. Comment by Mark in Ottawa | 10.25.2011 | 8:43 am

    What an awesome story! It’s funny how most bonks happen when you mix a long distance in with poor nutrition and cold…it’s always the cold that is the final straw.

    That was extreme suffering – hypothermia, as you well know, is nothing to laugh off – it’s deadly! I’m happy to see you came through that no worse for the wear!

    Your brother is also one tough Hombre!

    Thanks for sharing!

    Mark (in Ottawa, Canada)

  15. Comment by Rob W | 10.25.2011 | 8:54 am

    Great story. Wowza ! And you even went back to Leadville over and over again after that. Very cool

  16. Comment by The Flyin' Ute | 10.25.2011 | 9:17 am

    Driving up to Park City last week behind a big truck. Going about 70 mph when his hitch fell off and started bouncing along the road.

    I had instant visions of that 2″ ball of steal taking a wild hop and coming through the window. As I swerved to avoid hitting it I was able to stay on the road and watch the hitch skid on by. No wild hops!

    Your story reminded me of how lucky we are.

    Way to dig deep deep at Leadville. I think that first Leadville for all of us is a thing of beauty and misery. I confidently stated that I would NEVER do that ride again after my first true sufferfest. I had no idea that my body could cramp like it did. Now as I look forward to my 7th it is the highlight of my entire year.

    Great story.

  17. Comment by NoTrail | 10.25.2011 | 9:30 am

    Wonderful story Lisa. Thanks for sharing. :)

  18. Comment by roan | 10.25.2011 | 9:32 am

    Now I know a little something more about you, Runner, Hammer or Awesome, you wear all well. Perhaps getting back out there on a bike after your 1st Leadville Race is your true character. And inspiration to many.

  19. Comment by Mike C | 10.25.2011 | 9:34 am

    Thanks for sharing that great story!

    Also, that’s great advice about changing a tire. My wife and I rode in Levi’s GranFondo this year. This was her first organized ride. Since we would not be riding together (she did the Piccolo while I road the Gran), we made sure to have her practice fixing a flat before the ride. Fortunately, she didn’t have to test those skills on the ride.

    You and Elden are so inspiring! I’d love to read the story of the two of you someday. (Maybe that is in the archives, I’ll have to search.)

    Thanks again!

  20. Comment by Cole Chlouber | 10.25.2011 | 9:41 am

    Great story Lisa, the conclusion is a reality for many of us! What an inspiration, thanks for sharing.

  21. Comment by Bragi Freyr Gunnarsson | 10.25.2011 | 9:54 am

    Cool story. You look incredibly miserable in that last picture of you. There is truth in your conclusion. Bonking, and overcoming, builds character.

  22. Comment by Evelin B - New Zealand | 10.25.2011 | 11:04 am

    Great Story!!! Thanks for sharing!!!!

  23. Comment by Bee T | 10.25.2011 | 11:24 am

    You had me at “The Hammer”. So much so that I am posting my comment before I even read her story. Love the Hammer! She inspires me and makes me feel like going faster and finding a steeper trail.

  24. Comment by AKChick | 10.25.2011 | 11:49 am

    I love it when the Hammer writes posts. I don’t know if it’s because she is a woman and I can relate or what it is. Something about her writing really grabs me. I felt her pain even though I haven’t had a really difficult time on a bike yet. I mean, I’ve had hard rides, but nothing like what has been described so far. I’m amazed at the ability of the human mind and body. I felt horrible that she was beating herself up mentally and was thinking, no way, you are awesome, I know you were awesome back then too! But you know what, I do the same thing to myself. I did let a guy help me change my tire on my rental in Austin, but if it had been my bike, I probably would have been okay cause I would have been familiar with it. I’m still not very good at it since I think I’ve had maybe 2 flats in the past 3 years on my road bike. Just got the cross and expect the same thing since I have awesome tires. I digress. Anyway, I love the Hammer’s guest posts. They are like chocolate to me (not that I don’t love Fatty or the guest bloggers, I do, but the Hammer is the Hammer!).

    BTW – it’s 50 degrees in Anchorage right now. Weird! We have a chinook wind heating everything up. Only problem is that it’s too windy to ride (18mph sustained last night with higher gusts). At least too windy for me. :)

  25. Comment by Liz | 10.25.2011 | 12:05 pm

    Wow! Way to go Hammer and Scott!

    Thanks for writing again, Lisa. Love your posts!

  26. Comment by NancySinMN | 10.25.2011 | 5:07 pm

    Loved your story, Lisa! If I could write well on command, I would also tell a tale of hypothermia on an April ride in Minnesota. But YOU can write, baby! You describe that misery well.

    And Scott? What can one even say? I think I love him like I love my own insane brother!

    I second the motion to hear the love story of Lisa and Eldon. Perhaps, if I delved into the archives, I would find it… or maybe not. The sap in me wants to make a connection between crazy cycling fanaticism and love. And, as touched upon at the end of your post, the idea of happiness after hard times is compelling. We all face hard times, and stories of perseverance and triumph are inspiring.

  27. Comment by jeff | 10.25.2011 | 6:26 pm

    Lisa, I’ve enjoyed reading about Fatty’s rides at Leadville, and Lance’s, and Levi’s. And I was lucky enough to just happen to be in Leadville one year about five years ago and was in awe of those finishing in just under 12 hours. But reading your account gave me chills. Very inspiring. Thank you!

  28. Comment by Laura S | 10.25.2011 | 7:17 pm

    Wow what a story! I don’t know if I could ever make myself do something as hard as Leadville, but reading this gives me some inspiration!

  29. Comment by James | 10.25.2011 | 10:39 pm

    Have been riding for 6 months and have Leadville on the calendar in 2012. Your post has definitely inspired me to keep training hard. Thanks!!!

  30. Comment by Bee | 10.25.2011 | 11:21 pm

    By the way, gentlemen, on the “don’t help the ladies” front: I chose my current local bike shop precisely because the mechanics let me come in the back and they teach me how to do stuff on my bike, like change my own tires (and help show me where I went wrong when I seated the tire wrong). It’s super-hot of a guy to let the girls play with tools on our own bikes.

    It gives you more time to flirt with us at the side of the trail when you stop to check us out… I mean, check on us to make sure we’re okay. I always feel way hotter when I am changing my own tires. :-)

  31. Comment by Maggi | 10.26.2011 | 5:34 am

    Lisa, you are an inspiration. Thanks for sharing this story! What an amazing feat, and what a great outlook.

  32. Comment by Gavin Smith | 10.26.2011 | 5:41 am

    What an amazing feat of endurance, congrats

  33. Comment by Moishe | 10.26.2011 | 9:07 am

    Great story! 2000 was my first Leadville, also: the rain and the lightning going up the Powerline trail and everybody wearing garbage bags pretty much form what Leadville “is” to me. Thanks for the reminder!!! Hopefully I’ll see you & Fatty there in 2012.

  34. Comment by zac_in_ak | 10.27.2011 | 12:06 am

    WOW! Lisa and Scott talk about hardcore I’m pretty sure the flying stuff would have already stopped me. Let alone the race :) One day I hope to have people questioning my sanity because of my cycling ;)

  35. Comment by Drew | 10.27.2011 | 5:13 pm

    All I can say is that I am sooooo glad I am NOT related to the Hammer. It seems that whenever she heads to Leadville, some poor male relative is getting busted up?!?!

    Fatty, not sure if you are in danger or not…

  36. Comment by Tim Joe Comstock | 10.28.2011 | 10:48 am

    In that photo of you at the finish line you look…transcendent.

  37. Comment by Bruce E | 11.2.2011 | 8:52 pm

    That is going deep. Really deep.


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