To race fast, or not to race fast..that was the question.
The question that I kept asking myself all summer was how, exactly, would I ride Leadville this year? Should I just take it easy? After all, I would be starting the Breck Epic one day later. Or should I ride with Blake? (He quickly discouraged this idea-He wanted me nowhere near him. This was to be Blake’s race, not mom and Blake’s race.) Or should I go all out–see what I could do, maybe even break the nine hour mark?
Stop right there.
Break the 9 hour mark? That really wasn’t an option, was it? I mean, I had been riding strong all summer…I think. Strava seemed to be telling me I was, but most Strava segments are short–they don’t have anything to do with endurance riding.
What’s a girl to do?
As we packed our many (many, many) bags for this adventure, I finally decided: I would “race” Leadville. I really didn’t think I had it in me to break 9 hours, but I would ride hard and see what would happen. If I was having a horrible day, or if the weather was bad, I would back off. There would be no use in suffering, since I still had many more days of racing after Leadville with time to improve.
Then, of course, as we arrived in Leadville, some of our riding buddies approached me with comments like “I hear you’re gonna beat 9 hours this year!” Ugh!
Elden would even introduce me as “This is my wife, The Hammer. She is the one you want to be watching for this year. She is gonna smash the course.” Oh great! Everyone is expecting a great outcome, but I have no idea what I am capable of. All I did know was that the pressure was on!
After the first two years of racing Leadville, I pretty much knew I could finish the race in less than twelve hours. Because of this knowledge, the subsequent races were not as stressful. My only goal with racing was to improve my time from the previous year. Which I had successfully done, knocking anywhere from ten to forty five minutes off each year’s times. Sure, there was one exception: the year I married Elden–I actually slowed down that year. He was fixing far too many delicious dinners and I packed on a few extra pounds.
My attitude was ride hard, but rest easy. I pushed myself while riding, but I enjoyed my breaks at the aid stations–eating a sandwich and some chips, drinking my Mountain Dew, and visiting with my awesome crew.
This year, though, my attitude was changing. I found myself writing down lists of things that I needed the crew to hand me, or have ready for me to take. I was beginning to stress about my splits. I was writing the times that I would need to be as fast as my 2011 time and . . . to break the 9 hour mark. What was I doing? I was turning into Elden!
Rising stress levels
Friday’s festivities went well. Elden, Blake, Heather, Kenny and I rode down to Turquoise Lake and enjoyed a little bit of the single track around it, then we headed back up the Boulevard.
I think that riding the Boulevard prior to racing Leadville –my favorite and mandatory Leadville tradition– is the single most important thing you can do to prepare! After talking to Blake about his experience racing, I think he would agree. There is definitely a psychological component to riding the Boulevard and once you have ridden it, it doesn’t seem to get to you as bad on race day.
We also went down to Twin Lakes and got our crewing spot reserved. My son Zac, his darling wife Erin, and my brother Scott had all come to Leadville to support Blake in his quest to conquer Leadville (but they helped Elden and me, too.) Thanks guys for your wonderful crewing!
Then, after the traditional spaghetti dinner we returned to our room and started filling our drop bags with warm, rain gear and our favorite foods as well as making lists. This is when my stress level is at the highest. What do I need to pack? And what aid station should I have it be at? What do I want to eat? Drink? And when? Should I wear a camelbak or just use bottles?
And then there are the splits. How will I ever be to “that” aid station in “that” amount of time! It’s just not possible for me to ride that fast!
And then it started to rain. Not just a little sprinkle either, but pouring in rain! What were we in for now?
As I looked out the window at 4:30 on race morning, I could see that the streets were wet, but it wasn’t raining! Yeah! While I was eating my breakfast, the hotel server said that his experience with the weather was when in rained all night (like it had just done–it finally stopped around 2am), usually the next day was beautiful. I was sure hoping he was right.
As I was headed down to the corrals, I saw Blake still looking half asleep wandering down to breakfast.
I guess he was having a hard time waking up.
I asked Blake if he was ready, and he mumbled something about he would eventually get there. I gave him a hug and wished him luck as I headed to the start line.
Elden was already down at the truck, getting both our bikes ready. Elden is fantastic to me. He had gotten down to our bikes early, checked tire pressure and greased the chain. His stess level was running at full tilt, but he was still looking out for me.
As I gave him a kiss and wished him luck, he asked me where the heck Blake was. Blake’s bike was still on his rack in his truck. I informed him that he was still in the hotel. Elden gasped and said he couldn’t believe Blake wasn’t down here getting ready! The race was to start in less than 30 minutes. So Elden went ahead and got Blake’s bike ready, too.
I couldn’t really think about or stress about Blake, I was too stressed for myself.
Just then Jilene rode up and we headed for the red corral.
Elden, Jilene, and me, before the race
I was pleasantly surprised when the volunteers kept telling us to keep moving forward toward the starting line. You see, Jilene and I have posted a time in the 9-10 hour time frame at a previous Leadville100, so we were to start in the RED corral. The red corral is positioned behind the silver and bronze corrals (super-fast riders-like Elden and Kenny and the pros like Rebecca Rusche are placed in those corrals).
I couldn’t believe how close to the front we were; I could actually see the starting line! I have never been so close, in the prior 7 times I have raced.
As I waited for the gun to go off, I formulated a plan. I really wanted to keep Jilene in my site as we descended the paved section. I am usually pretty nervous and go slow down the pavement. Today I wasn’t going to do that; I didn’t want to lose my great position in the pack.
The first 40 miles
My plan worked wonderfully. I certainly couldn’t go as aggressive as Jilene does on the pavement, but I kept her in site. As she pulled onto the dirt road, I saw that she had actually caught up with Elden. (Elden can’t descend on pavement very fast, due to his singlespeed gearing).
It wasn’t long before I caught Jilene on the climb up St Kevins. I love riding with Jilene. She is quite the chatterbox and she is usually singing or talking to someone. She was appropriately dressed in a Fatty jersey, but had also added tassells to her helmet and handlebars, as well as bright red lip stick to her lips. As I rode behind her, I was entertained with the conversations she was having with other riders.
The climb up St Kevins this year was fantastic. I think it was because I was with other riders that were comparable in ability to me — I didn’t have to surge and pass slower riders; we all just moved quickly up the hill. Before I knew it, I was at the giant switchback that signifies the end of the lion’s share of climbing on St. Kevins.
As we passed through the aid station at the top of paved descent, I glanced down at my top tube. To my horror, my valuable split times, which I had written on a piece of duct tape, weren’t there! I had forgotten to put the piece of tape on my bike. All my calculations were gone. Should I be stressed? No, I thought, times don’t really mean anything to me. I ride hard when I can and I ease off when I am tired. The tape would have probably just discouraged me anyway.
I didn’t need times; I was just gonna do what I could.
As the road turned to pavement and downhill, Jilene shot by me. I took the time to sit up and eat a Honey Stinger waffle. I wasn’t at all hungry, but knew the importance of continual eating. As we turned off the pavement, I quickly came upon Jilene. I was drafting off a guy, and we were cruising.
I blew Jilene a kiss and kept going.
Sugarloaf is my favorite climb in Leadville. By the time you get there, the crowd of riders has broken up a little and it is a very pleasant climb. I was a little worried about descending Powerlline this year, though. I figured I was with the faster crowd and would probably hold more riders up on the descent.
I was pleasantly surprised when only a few passed me on the descent.
Photo courtesy of Zazoosh
I was very appreciative to Erica Tingey as I was descending. Just a few days before we left for Leadville I was able to attend a Womens Mountain bike clinic put on by her. She had given me some valuable advice about descending that I would be using a lot during the next seven days of racing! (Thanks again Erica!)
Erica had reminded me that I need to look forward — not at my front tire — when I am descending. See, usually when I get nervous on a descent, I find that I look at my front tire and all the obstacles that I need to avoid; then I start to brake, which makes me more nervous and more apt to wreck!
When I look forward and keep my fingers off the brakes, I roll over everything and my anxiety level goes down and I go faster!
Simple fact, but hard to implement when riding!
I rolled through the Pipeline aid station a little faster than I had last year. I still felt really strong. I tried to eat, but nothing sounded good. I was already breaking my number one rule!
I then cruised toward the Twin Lakes aid station. I had felt pretty good on the relatively flat section leading to the aid station. I don’t think I improved my time, but I don’t think I lost much either. As I pulled up to my crew tent, Zac quickly came up and started helping me out.
It was nice having my son wait on me. I’ve been waiting for 24years for him to serve me. I needed to sit back and relish it for a moment, but only a moment I had to keep moving. I ate part of my subway sandwich and washed it down with some Coke.
I didn’t need to refill my Bentos box yet, because I hadn’t eaten anything out of it! That is why I tried to eat a little more while I was stopped. I had them pop open a can of chicken and stars soup and I ate that too.
Then I was off.
As I started up the Columbine climb, I was pleased to find that I was with a group of riders that was riding at the same pace as me–not slower and not faster. I don’t really remember passing or being passed by a whole lot of people. I do remember thinking that I was farther up the climb this year when the first riders came by me in the other direction on their descent. That was a good sign.
As the dirt road narrowed and the rocky 4-wheeler path started, I was surprised to see people riding, not walking. In the past, I have tried riding this section, but there were too many people walking and that messes with my head. If people are walking up a steep climb, my brain tells me that the road must not be rideable, so I may as well dismount. Since most people were riding, my brain told me to continue and my legs responded.
We continued to ride and ride, then I heard a voice say, “Wow! I can’t believe we are still riding!” Now that was weird, because that was exactly what I was just thinking.
So I said, “What did you say?” wondering who I was even talking to — or was I talking to myself?
The girl behind me repeated what she had said, and I wholeheartedly agreed. She then launched into her life story…or at least the last couple of months of her life. Her name was Kristi and she had been training for the Leadville 100 run, but had experienced a running injury and had to pull out of that race. She decided — three weeks ago — to ride the mountain bike race . . . and there she was.
She did apologize for feeling so good; she is from Leadville and wasn’t having any difficulty with altitude. Her smooth-flowing conversation — without gasping — made this quite obvious! After we dismounted and started the death march, she pulled around me.
I looked her up in the results after. Kristi took 1st in her age group with a 9:10. How would it be to hop on your bike with 3 weeks of training and win your age group! Way to go Kristi!
While Kristi and I were talking, my handsome husband came whooping and hollering down the trail! I could tell he was feeling good and must be well on his way to breaking the 9hr mark! His words of encouragement buoyed my spirit for the last mile up Columbine.
I hit the turnaround point and knew my chances of a sub-9 were gone. In fact, I didn’t even know where I stood anymore. I couldn’t remember any numbers or split times. I did know that I hadn’t eaten anything on my way up Columbine, so I stopped at the aid station.
I was quickly greeted by Noah. I had met this cute 10-year old boy the night before at the spaghetti dinner. His dad, Doug, is a member of Team Fatty and we had the opportunity to ride with him last year in Davis at a Livestrong challenge. Noah and Doug were volunteering at the aid station. Noah brought me a delicious cup of Ramen made by his dad. I slurped it down, but the darn noodles got stuck at the bottom of the cup, so all I got was broth, when what I really wanted was the noodles!
I hollered a big “thank you” to Chef Doug and was back on my bike heading down Columbine. I anxiously descended, looking carefully for Blake. Where would he be on the climb? I figured I would know by his position on the climb if he had a chance at finishing in 12 hours.
The first person I went by was Jilene. She wasn’t very far behind me at all. As I crossed the beginning of the Goat Trail, I saw Blake walking his bike! “Whoopee!” I yelled. He was in fine positioning! He looked good and was right in the middle of the bulk of the riders. If he continued as this pace, he would have no problem making 12 hours.
After descending a little farther, I saw Heather. I actually was a little surprised to see Heather behind Blake. She looked really good and gave me a huge smile. She was gunning for a podium position for the SS division. I knew that she would have to have a pretty strong second half to meet her goals. “Keep up the good work Heather!” I yelled as I passed.
“Look ahead…Look ahead..Look ahead” was my mantra as I raced down Columbine. I think it actually helped. My time down Columbine was at least four minutes faster than years past.
I rolled into Twin Lakes tired. “I haven’t eaten much,” I admitted to Zac and Erin. I drank another chicken and stars soup, but I didn’t feel like eating.
I grabbed a few gels and tucked them under my pant legs. That is my new favorite place to stash food — I actually prefer it to the Bentos box. They are easier to get to and they don’t accidentally bounce out and get lost like they can in the Bentos box (which is what happened to Blake).
While I was at the Twin Lakes aid station, I made an executive decision. Up until this point, I had on a very small camelbak — the kind that is basically just a bladder. It had worked great — it hardly weighs anything and I barely knew it was there. But as I was riding down to the aid station, I could tell the wind was beginning to pick up. The forecast called for 15-20 mile/hr winds and it looked like it could be right. Not only was the wind beginning to blow, but dark rain clouds were rolling in. So while at the aid station, I ditched the small camelbak and told Zac to grab me my slightly bigger camelbak and put my new yellow waterproof rain jacket in the pocket.
Zac got it ready for me, stuck it on my back and John Mecham gave me one of his signature supersonic pushes back out onto the road.
But as I was rolling away, something didn’t feel right. The camelbak was way too tight; it was very uncomfortable. I tried to loosen the straps, but they were knotted up and I couldn’t figure them out while riding. I decided to just deal with it. This decision set me up for a very miserable 15 miles. (I later found out that Zac had put Blake’s jacket in my pack. The bigger size of jacket must have been the reason it was so tight. Blake and I had identical-looking jackets and there was no way for Zac to have known that it wasn’t mine.)
The Last 40 Miles
The section between Twin Lakes and Powerline was super hard for me. The wind was picking up and I was slowing down. Trains of riders would pass me. I would try to catch a wheel, but couldn’t hold on and would fall off quickly. This wasn’t just in my head, either. This was the only section of the whole race I rode slower than last year: about seven minutes slower!
The rain never seemed to come and my backpack with jacket seemed like overkill. As I rolled into the Pipeline aid station, I quickly found Scott. He was very helpful (but a little scatterbrained); he got rid of the big jacket and gave me a much smaller windbreaker.
He got me a PBJ sandwich, Coke and Excedrin. I needed to use the bathroom bad, and of course the actual aid station with pottyies was nowhere in sight! I had to make do with what I had: a tree. Like I always say, I love my bibshorts except when mother nature calls.
Then I embarked once again. I really wanted to find a train to ride in on the paved section to the bottom of Powerline. As I pulled out, I thought I was going to be on my own and then suddenly a group of 3-4 people pulled along side of me. I even knew one of the gentlemen. We chatted for a while as we pedaled. I was waiting for the line to turn single file and a train to depart…but it never happened. These guys just kept talking and talking.
So I decided to be the engineer and rode to the front. I put my head down and started pedaling. I had probably gone a tenth of a mile and the two guys pulled ahead of me. I thought,”How sweet, they are going to pull!”
But no. They weren’t going to pull — at least not at the speed I had been pulling. They just didn’t like being “chicked.” Which is to say, as soon as they passed, they slowed down and started talking again!
I swear this little exchange of pulling and then being slowed by “talkers who don’t like being chicked” went on for a mile! I was so frustrated that I eventually “threw the hammer down” and left them to their chatting.
Then a beautiful thing happened.
I crested a hill, just a couple minutes before the Powerline climb begins . . . and there was a Strava tent with a lovely girl passing out little cans of Coke! I had just been thinking how nice it would be to have a Coke before the climb up Powerline and here it was: an answer to my prayer!
The march up the steep section of Powerline went smoothly.
Photo courtesy of Zazoosh
Riders weren’t congested like it is earlier in the race. We hiked up quickly. As we crested the first false summit, I got on my bike and started to ride.
I actually like the Powerline climb. I know that sounds crazy, but I can really climb well in my granny gear. I pass a ton of people in this section and everyone congratulates me on my climbing as I pass them. It gives me a little boost of confidence. After the first false summit I can ride all the way to the summit. Elden had reminded me earlier that the climb is exactly 3.3 miles from the gate. That little bit of knowledge is incredibly helpful!
When we had gone about 2.5 miles, some of the guys I had been riding with were pulling over for a rest. I tried to encourage them by telling them they had less than a mile to the summit. They looked at me like I was a crazy woman, speaking a different language.
I eventually made it to the summit and went flying down the Sugarloaf side of the mountain. It was a very well-deserved descent. Then I started up the paved climb. It seemed to go on . . . and on . . . and on. I kept thinking that the aid station would be just around the next corner . . . and then it wouldn’t be.
When I finally got to the Carter Summit aid station, I didn’t even bother looking at my watch. I knew I was way off from my 9 hour finish. I figured I would be lucky to squeak in under ten hours. I was a little disappointed in myself. So many people had thought I was in better shape and riding stronger this year. I was going to disappoint them all too. Oh well, I can only do what I can do.
I slammed some more Coke and headed out. As I left this aid station, I was no longer disillusioned that it is all downhill to the finish. I know there is a significant climb before we even hit the St Kevins descent. That knowledge is also very psychologically important. Because really the climb is not that hard.
With that behind me, I cruised down St Kevins trying to remember the climb “up” the hill that I had just done hours ago. It is weird how a descent down a mountain looks so incredibly different than the climb up.
The Final Push
As I got back on the paved road heading toward the Boulevard, I felt fantastic. I was flying. As I hit the dirt road, I was surprised to be immediately passed by about six guys. Those freeloaders had been riding behind me and I didn’t even know they were there!
They quickly shot past and gapped me. I chuckled to myself, for it was now my personal goal to re-pass all of them by the end of the Boulevard! I am happy to report that I was successful. I think I passed the last one just prior to entering the paved road. Woohoo!
Photo courtesy of Zazoosh
As I coasted across the finish line I was pleasantly surprised to see 9:28.
I honestly didn’t think I was going to improve my time. A few years ago I would have never imagined doing Leadville in less than 10 hours. I have worked hard this year and it has definitely paid off. I’ll gladly take 11 minutes off my time.
It was great to be greeted by my family: Elden, Zac and Erin and Scott.
What a fantastic crew. I was so glad they got to experience this with me. But now we must wait….would Blake make the 12 hour cut off?
As I was gathering my thoughts at the finish line, I wondered if I had played my cards right. Should I have slowed down and ridden easy and conserved my energy for Breckenridge? Would I later regret my fast time?
Time would tell.