Note from Fatty: Part 1 of this Race Report is here.
I’ll let you in on a little secret right now. One of the most important reasons I rode a singlespeed at the Leadville 100 race this year is because I really saw no way I was going to match up to the time I posted last year. Hey, I’m a little pudgier than I was, and when you’re doing a climby race at altitude a little pudge counts for a lot.
And so I had made a beautiful plan: I would ride a singlespeed, and then I wouldn’t have to compare my now-self against my year-ago-self.
And so far it was working; I had made it to the Twin Lakes aid station in 2:50 or so — maybe fifteen minutes off my time from the previous year, when I had gears (and — ahem — when I was lighter, but you see how easy it would be for me to not mention that part, and act as if the distinction was about nothing but gearing?).
But now I was at the centerpiece of the race: The Columbine Mine Climb. A two mile roll up to the base of a mountain road, which then climbs about 3600 feet in the next eight miles.
As I went through the official Twin Lakes aid station (I always set up my crew about a quarter-mile before the official aid station, so my results are a little slow), a few people shouted, “Fatty!”
A few more shouted, “Singlespeeder!”
A rider looked over at me and asked, “Are you the lead singlespeeder?”
“No, I’m sure I’m not,” I replied, knowing for certain about the guy who had passed me on the pavement just before the Pipeline aid station, but also assuming several other singlespeeders were ahead of me too. “I have no idea where I stand vis-a-vis other SS racers. I’m just working on a sub-nine finish.”
I’m just kidding about saying “vis-a-vis,” by the way. I don’t even know what that means.
And then I started wondering about how I was constantly wondering about my time and splits, and the fact that it didn’t really matter how much information I had on-hand for this race. I was doing what I could do, at the speed I could do it. Knowing that I was a little slower than last year, but still well in the hunt for my sub-nine target finish didn’t make me go any faster or slower. It just made me more anxious. It was a Kenny had taught me (and which I still haven’t learned as well as I should).
Speaking of Kenny, how come he hadn’t caught me yet?
One advantage of having done this race several times is that I now understand the tricks its most famous section — the Columbine Mine Climb — tries to play on you.
For those of you who are going to do this race someday, listen up. I’ve got some actual useful advice, learned the hard way over more than a decade, to share. If you pay attention, it can and will actually help as you do this part of the race.
- Once you make the left turn onto the actual Columbine Mine climb, the road is brutally steep, but for only about a half mile or so. Then it evens off. Don’t blow yourself up during this section, and don’t let it get in your head. It’s not all like this.
- Once you are at 11,500 feet or so (varies by person), the altitude becomes a bigger problem than before. You’ll likely feel weaker, more tired, maybe even whipped. You might feel like giving up. When this happens, remember: this is not you. This is the air. Keep going.
- When you’re at this altitude, eating sucks so bad. Your stomach rebels. You’re breathing so fast you can’t close your mouth for long. And you’re not thinking straight. Eat 100 calories every half hour anyway. Set your bike computer to chime every half hour and make it an absolute: No matter how unappetizing it sounds, whenever the chime goes off, you’re going to suck down a gel, and wash it down with water.
- Go read number 3 above again. It’s more important and useful than you gave it credit for.
- When you can ride, do. But don’t go into your red zone to stay on your bike. It’s not worth it here.
I’m pleased to say that, after figuring out these rules last year, I adhered to them this year.
I’m also pleased to say that since my bike weighed four pounds less than last year, it made up some of the difference in how much more I weighed this year.
I’m also still even more pleased to say that at least until the final three miles, the Columbine Mine climb favors singlespeeders over geared bikes. At least I think they do, and here’s my foolproof reasoning, which takes the form of a thought experiment.
Suppose you were riding a bike, when the path turned uphill. Thanks to gravity, turning the cranks over becomes much more difficult. However, thanks to a magical device very close at hand, you can suddenly make it considerably easier to pedal! The only trade-off is that you will go a little slower.
What do you do?
Now, consider the same situation, but you no longer have the magical device that makes it easier to pedal. Instead, you simply have the knowledge that if you want to remain upright, you’re going to have to stand up and mash on those pedals. Which, incidentally, makes you go faster.
What do you do?
I am such an awesome philosopher / teller of truth.
So, taking advantage of all these facts and thought experiments and stuff, I stood up on my bike and rowed. And I passed a lot of people.
And as far as I know, during this section of the ride, not a single person passed me. I don’t know why that’s important to me, but it is.
But then I got to the hard part. Where the air gets thin and the road gets steep and loose. And I ignored rule number 5. I kept pedaling.
And my legs cramped up. Just like they had when I was riding The Rockwell Relay, but worse. Much much worse.
When I could ride, my calves would seize, followed by a near-seize of my quads or hamstrings. I’d veer all over the place, moaning out loud, and wishing I could find someone I could beg to make this pain stop.
But since I couldn’t find the person with the “Make Fatty’s Cramps Magically End” switch, I settled for getting off my bike and pushing, which was something I was going to have to do anyway for big chunks of this section of the race.
The “Nobody to blame but yourself” voice came on, saying, “Well, you wanted a story. Here’s your story. You’re cramping on the Columbine Mine climb.”
I smiled. Yeah, it was true. Like everyone else here, I had come to this race looking for pain, and had been given just what I asked for. I had nothing to complain about.
Mr. Cheerful Meets Mr. Grumpy
Sometimes on bike and sometimes on foot, I made it to the top of the Columbine Mine climb. 4:23 had elapsed. I had actually reduced my deficit to my previous year’s time. As long as the time-honored truth of the turnaround point being a good indicator of your finish time (just multiply it by two), I was looking good for my sub-nine finish.
I pulled up to the aid station and saw Doug and his son Noah. I had told Doug the night before that when he saw me, I’d be incoherent — it’s just how I am when I’m racing (and possibly at other times as well). Noah brought me three orange wedges — just the right number — which I slurped on and then headed back up the short steep pitch that precedes the eight miles of descending.
At which point I began to keep a promise I had made. I yelled and hollered encouragement to all the people who were riding and marching their bikes up toward the turnaround point.
“Good job! Keep it up! Riding strong! Almost there!” I shouted, along with anything else that came to mind as I descended.
I yelled myself hoarse and had the most fun I’d had that day. Racers love — need — encouragement, and I was having a great time being the one giving it.
Of course, I yelled extra-loud for the people I know. First, Kenny. Then — surprisingly close to Kenny — The Hammer. A little further down the line but still riding strong, Jilene, then Bry. Then The IT Guy, and close behind him, Heather.
And then, a voice, yelling at me. From behind me. “You’re too f—ing slow!” he shouted.
I moved over a little to give him the good line, and he shot by, looking angry. It was a strange moment, and ordinarily it would have made me feel bad. But — maybe because I was enjoying the shouting and encouraging and riding, this guy just made me laugh. I continued on down the mountain, still yelling encouragement to the riders who were working their way up the mountain.
The Columbine Mine road bottomed out, I cruised on to the Twin Lakes aid station, and got everything I needed from them again: one bottle (because I was going to be going only 15 miles ’til the next aid station), one packet of Honey Stinger Energy Chews, and and one gel.
Zac and Erin handed everything to me in no time flat (Scott was already on his way to the Pipeline aid station so he would get there before I did) and I was on my way again, on this fifteen-mile, rolling section of road that shouldn’t really take very long to do.
I had been out 4:59, so I was still on track. I now had four hours to go the remaining forty miles, which sounds totally do-able.
Unless, of course, there’s a nasty headwind.