A Note from Fatty: Today’s post includes about an hour of video, which should give you plenty to digest over the long Labor Day weekend. After this post, we’ll resume The Hammer’s story on Tuesday.
Wednesday morning was bright and sunny-not a cloud in the sky. The weather reflected my mood…which was fantastic!
That was the day Elden said he’d be finishing up his project at work –which would mean he could do a little more playing and relaxing. Also, this was the day we would be checking out of the Super 8 and checking in to our huge party house!
About ten months ago, Elden and I had rented this old bed and breakfast (no longer a B&B): It had nine rooms, ten bathrooms and plenty of room to just hang out in. We had invited all our friends to come stay with us and race.
Finally, this was the day we could check in…and our friends would start arriving as well!
While Elden finished his project, I packed up the truck. We were on the third floor and I think I went up and down the stairs ten times! Luckily, the altitude definitely did not bother me like it had in the past. Coming a week early was already paying some dividends!
A Ride on the Mineral Belt Trail
Elden and I decided we would ride our bikes on the same bike path that I had walked on earlier in the week. We started off from town riding the path counter-clockwise.
But first I wanted to take a detour. On one of the bike rides earlier in the week, I had noticed a small cemetery enclosed by a white picket fence. We went exploring and found a small Hebrew cemetery on one side of the road–and a huge Christian cemetery on the other.
It was interesting to compare the two: both very beautiful and very different.
The bike ride was incredible. We took it at a very mellow pace–I really didn’t have much more left in my legs; it was time to relax!
The thought crossed my mind that maybe I had done too much riding this week! My plan was to ride the boulevard with the group tomorrow and then take Friday completely off. But today I was enjoying myself. Elden and I stopped and took pictures along the way!
It seems sad now: I’d been coming to Leadville for ten years, and I had never really experienced what Leadville has to offer. It was so nice to finally be correcting that!
Tips from the Race Day Nutrition Strategy Clinic
After our ride, it was still too early to check in to our rental house, so — temporarily homeless — we crashed at Rebecca’s for a shower. [Note from Fatty: Also, I ate all her ice cream]. Then we headed to the Specialized Pop Up Store for Rebecca’s clinic on Race Day Nutrition.
This was the class I had been waiting for! How does Rebecca fuel herself for these epic adventures and races she does? We had talked briefly about it earlier in the week but I was ready for the complete rundown!
It was jam-packed with information. I came away with answers to many of my nutrition questions.
1. What is her secret for race day nutrition?
Rebecca consumes most of her calories in liquid form: Roctane Endurance Drink. She supplements it with GU Energy Gel and Roctane Endurance Gel.
2. Is GU enough nutrition to last me during my Leadville race?
Yes! I need to consume about 200 calories an hour. I decided I would eat approximately one Gu every 30 minutes. (You may need more or fewer calories, depending on how big you are, and what your metabolism is like — you’ve got to experiment during training to find your perfect calories/hr number.) I would also have my camelback full of Roctane drink to supplement my eating. I would carry a bottle of water to drink if I got sick of sweet stuff.
3. How do you carry all your food?
Rebecca suggested carrying a GU packet under each leg opening on yours shorts. This gives you easy access and it warms the GU–making it a more palatable consistency. (Elden and I have been using this method for awhile.) Rebecca also suggested using your right jersey pocket to carry unopened GU packets and your left jersey pocket to stash your trash. That way you never search through the sticky gross empty packages looking for a new Gu. Absolutely brilliant!
[A Note from Fatty: Oh sure, when Rebecca suggests this technique it’s brilliant. But when I described how I use this technique, step-by-step, back in June? She doesn’t even remember it.]
4. How do you combat leg cramps?
In all her racing adventures, Rebecca said that Leadville is the only race in which she experiences leg cramps. Which is interesting because Leadville is the only time I have ever experienced leg cramps!
To prevent cramps, Rebecca puts Gu Electrolyte Capsules (with Ginger) into a flip-top Gu Brew canister, which she carries in her middle jersey pocket. When she starts feeling an inkling of a cramp, she pops the lid and swallows a mouthful of tablets! I had never used electrolyte tablets, but it sounded like a great idea. She said the added ginger can help an upset stomach too.
5. Should I try and eat normal food when racing?
Rebecca said that I should really try and avoid my “picnic” technique of eating. Foods like chicken and stars soup are good but there are better choices when fueling quickly.
6. How should I use my crew at the aid stations? Should I have them hand me a musette bag and just keep going without stopping at the aid station at all?
Rebecca laughed at this question! Yes, she admitted to using a musette bag, but only during this race. Further, she and Greg (her boyfriend) actually have to practice this technique prior to the race. Getting that strap over your helmet while riding through a sea of people is harder than it looks— and I think it looks very hard!
Rebecca said to try and minimize your stop time during your pit stop. After looking at my Strava time for my race in 2012, I realized my actual moving time was thirteen minutes less than my over all race time!
I had stopped for a total of thirteen minutes! That is a huge chunk of change when shooting for a sub-nine time. This was one place where I could easily improve my finishing time!
7. What do you eat the morning of the race?
Eating a normal breakfast–whatever you are used to–is best (so Elden and I would be having…you guessed it, scrambled eggs. But we planned to leave the yolks in on race day). Rebecca suggests you stop taking in fluid at least thirty minutes before the race, so your need to pee during the race (or at the starting line!) is minimized.
After the clinic I gathered up the courage to introduce my self to Selene Yeager–The Fit Chick! I have been reading her articles in Bicycling for years and knew she had done a fantastic job collaborating with Rebecca on her book. Selene is also a fantastic, tough athlete and was super nice in person too.
I couldn’t believe I was meeting all these amazing people!
Home Sweet Home
Next we headed to the B&B and finally moved in. The Thompsons (Very Good Friends of Fatty), long-time blog followers and fantastic people, were also there!
We took the opportunity to pick out the best bedrooms and then headed out for Pizza.
That evening, Rebecca’s shipment of books arrived and she was kind enough to come over and autograph the copies that we had purchased for the WBR fundraiser! Thanks to everyone that donated, we’ve now raised close to $23,000!
We had quite the assembly line going.
As we climbed into bed, Elden said he had been talking to Kenny about my race. Kenny had predicted I would finish the race in 8:40! “Really?” I said, shocked. “Kenny thinks I can do it that fast?”
I always put a lot of faith in what Kenny predicts–I think he has accurately predicted my time–give or take five minutes–for the last 6 years! My confidence was soaring!
Later, I’d find out Elden lied to me:
Kenny had actually predicted an 8:57. Elden knew I put a lot of stock in Kenny’s predictions…so he fudged the number to one I’d like more!
Thursday morning, everyone in the house joined us for Rebecca’s group ride up The Boulevard — a tradition for many racers.
After the easy climb — which wouldn’t seem nearly so easy the next time we’d ride it — We stopped at the top of the paved road before the descent to the finish line.
There is a “SLOW” sign posted at the top. The sign has significance to Rebecca. I have also noticed that sign and laughed to myself. “I’m never riding slow here on race day!” said Rebecca.
The week before the race had been amazing. I’d been educated and inspired. I’d met incredible people.
Further, the whole summer of riding has also been amazing. Elden and I were able to take Lindsey (Elden’s niece) and Jedd, Lindsey’s friend, on several long rides and share our love of riding with them. We’ve pushed our old bodies to the limit; it’s remarkable to see them respond. We had made a lot of good memories!
“What will be on Saturday will be,” I thought, “but the journey to this race has been unforgettable.”
As we rode the last ¼ mile, Rebecca had us visualize our finish on Saturday. I wondered if it would be a sprint to the finish or a jubiliant procession with one hand held high (I can’t ride no-handed!).
Would I be happy with my result or would I be exhausted and depressed? I didn’t know. I couldn’t know.
But I did know today was going to be positive! I poured it on, imagining I would have a burst of energy as I flew toward the finish line. And then I was there, crossing under the imaginery finish line — and Rebecca was right beside me! She grabbed my hand and we raised them in triumph!
That was exactly how I wanted the race to end.
Thursday afternoon was filled and busy.
First, we delivered all of the pre-ordered books to the post office, then headed to packet pick up! I was excited to find that Rebecca and I would be starting in the “red” corral–just 3 corrals back from the start.
Rebecca had actually contacted the race and they changed her official race corral to red, so she could be with me. Of course, she could have started on the front row with the other pros, but she conceded that, so she could start with me. The gesture meant a lot to me.
Elden then prepared our bikes, cleaning them and putting our race numbers on.
Meanwhile, I practiced changing a back tire. Yes, I practiced changing a back tire! I didn’t want to act like a total idiot if I had a flat. I just prayed my chain wouldn’t break–i only can be so mechanically inclined.
My friend Jilene had arrived in Leadville and was also preparing her bike. It’s Jilene’s tenth time doing Leadville too. Instead of racing hard, she decided she would “parade her tenth and— she says — final Leadville. She had also convinced her riding partner Bry to do the same.
I cant believe Jilene talked Bry into parading Leadville. Jilene is a nut!
Unveiling Rusch to Glory
Rebecca was launching her book, Rusch to Glory, on Thursday night and had asked Elden to lead a Q&A with her. It was to be a big deal held at the Tabor Opera House.
Elden was really nervous; when he wasn’t working hard on his job, his was freaking out about being on stage and leading the interview. I don’t really understand why. He always appears so calm and collected when he talks in public.
At 5:00 we headed for the Opera House. Elden and Rebecca wanted to make sure they were prepared for the evening. Elden had his list of questions ready to go. The night went off without a hitch, and we got video of most all of it.
And here it is!
First, Rebecca welcomed everyone and had Ken and Merilee, the founders of the Leadville 100, come on stage to talk a little bit about the race and how Rebecca embodies the spirit of Leadville — both the place and the race!
Next came the part Elden had been wigging out about all week: the Q&A about the book.
Be sure to watch this when you have plenty of time — it’s 35 minutes long!
I don’t think Elden had anything to worry about; both Elden and Rebecca were relaxed and funny.
After the Q&A, Reba did a reading from a couple of different chapters from her book. I have to warn you, you might want to have a tissue handy!
Rebecca finished the evening with a list of twelve “rules” for racing Leadville…and for living life:
The party afterward was a great success. The line for the book signing was long, the burritos were delicious and the Raffle had fantastic prizes!
When we got home, though, I started stressing out. Only one more day until the race!
The alarm went off early Monday morning and we headed back to Rebecca’s house–she couldn’t seem to get rid of us! She made coffee for us and we made her our scrambled eggs whites again. (Yes, that’s what we really eat for breakfast pretty much every day.)
Then we parted ways with Elden. He needed to go back to the hotel; he was on deadline for a report due at work.
The Power of the Pipeline
Rebecca and I headed to the site of the Pipeline aid station. This aid station is located about 25 miles into the race. When you get here the first time, you’ve survived the first couple of big climbs and the first big descent. Now the race turns into a relatively flat-rolling section of road for about 15 miles.
I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the importance of this flat section to the race. You see, my climbing speed is pretty much set, my descending speed is pretty set too—though it may improve a little with Rebecca’s help–but my thought was that this “negative script” was pretty engrained in my thought process. I plan on changing this script to a positive one, but I think it may take longer than a few days with Rebecca.
With Rebecca’s help, this flat section is where I hoped to make big improvements — in fact, it was this part of the race I was thinking could potentially get me under nine hours. My plan was to get as much help from her as possible on this rolling section of road to draft off of her–potentially increasing my speed, and giving me a chance to rest.
The number of riders in Rebecca’s Leadville Experience group continued to grow; today there were about 25 people. It was nice to see familiar faces. Everyone seemed to be feeling good and riding really strong. It’s nice to have support from other people that are going through the same things as you.
Rebecca started out the ride with more encouraging words of advice. She said that this was the part of the course where you could sit back and relax….or you can use it to bank time. She suggested riding just a little faster than you were comfortable with, but not enough to kill you.
What a hard balance.
We started out and Rebecca was out front riding and visiting with people around her. I was in the very back, also enjoying myself and talking with people. I realized that I probably should stop lollygagging and go up front.
Fluffy Socks at 20MPH
As Rebecca and I rode, she commented we should be going close to 20 mph in this section and that I should focus on what she calls “fluffy socks.” This meant that I needed to be making circles with my pedal strokes and concentrate on my up stroke, thus giving my quads some time to relax/recover (and for the bottoms of my socks to remain “fluffy.”
I glanced down at my Garmin and saw we were going about 16mph — that’s a long ways away from 20mph! I would need to crank it up during the race.
So I did what Rebecca said…and poured it on. I was flying and I felt good. Then I came to a fork and didn’t know which way to go, so I stopped. I was surprised at how far ahead I had gotten from the group.
Eventually they arrived with Rebecca laughing at me for not knowing what way to go. “How many times have you done this race?!” she asked.
Hey, it’s something Elden and I have in common. Since we both get lost easily, neither of us is ever angry at the other for not knowing which way to go.
I stayed with the group as we entered the singletrack and then Rebecca called me out again and wanted me to lead out.
Photo taken by Linda Guerrette. Used with permission.
Her coaching from behind really helped, especially leading the turns with my “third eye”–the bike really does turn, almost by itself!
We all met up at the bottom of the single track and Rebecca gave us another pep talk. Some of the group continued on to twin lakes and the rest of us turned around and started up the singletrack. I was feeling really good and took off. There was a guy ahead of me and I made it my goal to catch him — and I succeeded…right at the top.
My Strava confirmed I was flying: I was ranked 2nd -behind Queen Rebecca by only a few seconds.
Practice, Practice, Practice
At the top of the singletrack climb there is a section of exposed roots that takes over the trail. Last year when I hit the first root, my bike came to a stop and I was catapulted into my handle bars.
I didn’t want to make this mistake this year, so I picked what I thought was the “good” line and went for it! I was wrong and went pinballing off all the logs.
Obviously, I was going to have to do something different. So I got off my bike and started again. This time I went straight over the logs, lifting my front wheel over the roots.
Success! I had a line I could use on Saturday.
I then proceeded to the next climb: “Bitch Hill.” Again I followed Rebecca’s advice and took some speed from the downhill and started climbing. And — for the first time ever — I cleaned the climb! Granted, I wanted to vomit, but still: I did it.
The group gathered again and we causally rode back to the car. I visited with other riders and enjoyed myself. I was starting to think that maybe, just maybe, I could do this!
R & R
When I got back to the Motel 8 where we were staying, poor Elden was still working. I made him some lunch and lay down on the bed. It wasn’t long before I was asleep. I think all of this riding at altitude might be exhausting me!
When I woke up, I continued reading Rebecca’s book. I cannot believe how many adventures this woman has had, nor how so many of her life lessons I could relate to — even though I hadn’t climbed huge mountain peaks or paddled into raging white waters.
I was getting restless, so I decided I needed to go for a walk. I talked to the girl who worked at the motel front desk and asked her where the bike path across the road went. She handed me a map of Leadville and said it was the Mineral Belt Trail: a 12-13 mile loop around the city. What a great place to take a walk.
As I started up the path, my thoughts returned my very first time racing Leadville, back in 2000. I had ridden on part of this same trail the day before the race. I remember how hard it was to breathe as I pedaled my bike on what I now could tell is a relatively flat trail. Back in 2000, I wondered how in the world I was going to race and breathe at this altitude!
As I walked, I realized how well I was adjusting to the altitude this year. Being here early was really helping. I noticed now when I lay down, my heart wasn’t pounding in my ears and my breathing wasn’t quite so heavy as it was on the first day.
I walked for about an hour and wondered if I should turn around. A few cyclists had passed me earlier on, but now I was alone. I noticed some very dark rain clouds forming, and wondered if my walk was going to end wet and miserable.
At this point I really had no idea where I was–basically in the middle of nowhere. I sent Elden a text, saying I thought I might be lost. He was in a meeting, but texted me back the address of the hotel we’re at.
I replied that was nice, but not very helpful.
[A Note from Fatty: I had no idea she was on a bike path in the middle of nowhere; I assumed she was lost somewhere in Leadville itself. I figured by sending her our hotel address, she could use the directions feature on her phone to get from where she was back to the hotel. That’s “guy thinking” for you.]
At that moment, the bike path crossed a road and a truck was headed my way. I flagged him down and asked him how to get back to town. He said that the road he was on would drop me back into town, and offered to drive me down.
I thanked him, but refused — I’ve watched to many “true crime” shows on TV to accept a ride, in the middle of a forest with nobody around, from a stranger! I decided my best course of action would be to head down the road before the rain started.
My phone rang; it was Rebecca. She was in town getting her wheel fixed. I told her I was walking on the Mineral Belt Trail and I might need her to rescue me if it started raining, because Elden was in a meeting…and I had the keys to the truck anyway. She said she would be happy to. What a great person! Willing to go out of her way to help me, even when we weren’t racing.
The road was steep and dropped me back onto the main road about half a mile from the Super 8. The storm clouds were heavy and black above me, but I had outwalked the rain!
Fatty Works Too Much
When I got back to the room, Elden was still working. My legs were pretty tired, so I decided to put them up and continue reading Rebecca’s book.
Of course, this is what I read:
“…The wind was howling, spraying freezing rain in our faces and nearly pushing us back up stream. Having spent hours leaning into the storm, expending a ton of energy and making little progress, we elected to get off the water and wait it out while we tried to get some much-needed sleep. We huddled under a rock, wrapped in our tiny space blankets and every stitch of clothing we had with us. We took turns being on the exposed side in an attempt to get an equal shred of warmth from each other.”
(From Rebecca’s experience in the 1999 Eco-challenge Argentina, pg 91)
I could not believe that I just asked this woman for a ride home because I might get sprinkled on! I’m so lame! She must think I’m the biggest pansy! I shot her a text, apologizing. She replied, “you’re funny!!! I’ve asked for rides too.”
I highly doubt that!
Thursday morning, Elden got up early to work…and I slept in. I could get used to this whole vacation thing!
Then, around 10:30am we decided to head out. We called Rebecca and invited her to come along. I was surprised and excited to find that she could! We also invited Yuri Hauswald (pro cyclist for Marin bikes, Elden’s friend, and — very importantly — marketing honcho for GU) and Colleen — Rebecca’s business manager.
We decided to head up St Keven’s, then to the top of Sugarloaf and then retrace our steps back home. We would “soft pedal” today–take it easy.
As we headed out, the first raindrops started to fall. By the time we reached the base of St Keven’s, it was raining pretty hard. Rain doesn’t bother me much while im climbing, but I hate to descend when I’m wet.
As we climbed, several cyclist came by in the other direction, going down. One gal actually told us to turn around–that it was really cold on top. But we just kept climbing.
I was really feeling the climb today. I think my legs were pretty tired. I was surprised at how steep St Keven’s is! I had never really realized it during race days, when I’m all loaded up with adrenaline and concentrating on picking out a good line.
When we finally reached the top, it had stopped raining. Rebecca and Yuri decided to go home on the paved road, and Colleen had turned around earlier. After a very short discussion, Elden and I decided that we didn’t want to do any more climbing; we had done enough riding before the race.
I actually had fun coming down St. Keven’s. I used my new downhill skills and really enjoyed myself. I don’t know if I was any faster, but I felt more secure and safe on the descent.
Once we got to the bottom we took a selfie:
And then I tried one of the new Root Beer GUs Yuri had just given us. I think we were one of the very first people to actually get to try them!
Wow. New favorite flavor!
When we hit the pavement, we decided to go back to town via the Boulevard. The rain had started up again lightly and we were surprised to find the lower part of the Boulevard had turned into a flowing stream. It’s amazing how quickly the rain can mess up the trail and create new ruts in the sandy soil around Leadville.
Setting Up Your Bike
Later in the afternoon, we returned to town to attend Rebecca’s class on “Bike Set Up.”
She also included information on clothing and bike accessories that can make your race experience nicer.
It was full of a lot of great information.
Elden attempted to record/video the clinic — but now says he can’t find it anywhere. I told him to look and see if it fell between the cushions on the couch. He thought that was a very hilarious suggestion.
I was a little surprised at some of the questions that were asked — one person didn’t realize that wearing cotton socks during an endurance race was a bad idea!
[A Note from Fatty: I video’d the whole thing. I swear. I sat in the front row and for an entire hour trained the camera on Reba as she dished out tons and tons of fantastic information.
By the end of the hour, my phone was down to about 15% battery, so I know I was recording. And yet, I do not have the video. I don’t know what happened to it. But when I discovered this morning that my video was nonexistent, I texted Rebecca, asking her to summarize her top bike-preparation tips. Such is my superpower — the ability to ask people to do stuff for me — that she said yes. Here it is.]
Rebecca’s Race-Ready Bike Checklist
The Bike Itself
- Make sure your skewers/bolts are tight. I also like to check the bolts in the cleats of my shoes.
- Select a fast rolling tire, but one with at least some traction. There are plenty of high-speed descents with loose corners. I do not run the lightest, thinnest sidewall available. I like a bit of insurance out there. A tire that’s 20 grams lighter but more prone to flatting, could save you a little weight…but cost you a lot of time if you flat. I run Specialized Fast Trak Control 2.0.
- Don’t pump your tires up too hard. It’s an old-school mentality that harder tires are faster-rolling. I’ve done tire testing with Specialized with all brands at different pressures. The fact is, tires are meant to be run at their suggested PSI. (Check the side of the tire for that.) The new engineering and tubeless rims allows you to run tires at much lower pressure. They are not slower at lower pressures, and you get way better traction — which means faster descending. I run my tires at 21 lbs in the rear and 20 in the front. Pressure is weight and ride-style dependent, but no one should be pumping their tires up to 40 PSI for Leadville. It’s a mistake. Practice adjusting tire pressure at home on your familiar trails.
- Suspension (front fork and rear shock): Suspension — along with your tire pressure and tread — is among the most important things that improve or deteriorate the quality of your ride. Your suspension air pressure should be checked almost every ride, and certainly before every race. Find what suspension pressure is right for your weight and riding style, then memorize it. it and check it often.
- Check your touch points: Grips, Saddle, shoes/insoles. I use Specialized BG grips, along with Specialized XC Lite gloves with smooth palm. I like to have my grip be the right shape instead of wearing super padded gloves. I feel the same way about a saddle / shorts combo. The saddle is of utmost importance and for me the Specialized Oura saddle works great. It looks thin and hard, but the saddle itself flexes with your body. Get measured for a saddle if you haven’t ever done this. They are as different and have almost as many offerings as a pair of jeans. For shoes, I wear Specialized women’s S-works MTB shoes with a Sole footbed that’s pretty beefy.
What to Carry on The Bike
- Food carrying system: Use your pockets or handlebar pouch or something else — just make sure it stays on the bike and is easily accessible, so that you will be able to eat without much trouble.
- Water Carrying system: Same as above. If you are using water bottles, be sure to mount enough cages. I use a rear seat post mount with a Specialized side bottle Z cage to have more capacity.
- Tools on bike: I carry
- two tubes
- CO2 canister pump attached to the bike
- CO2 head
- Mini pump–in case CO02 doesn’t work
- 1 tire lever
- multi tool with chain breaker
- Tire boot (can just be a GU wrapper) for torn sidewall.
- SRAM quick link (be sure it’s the right one for an 11 speed or 10 speed chain, whichever you have). I like to tape it with electrical tape to my brake cable so I can easily find it if needed. Be sure you practice fixing a chain at home. It’s super easy and can be as fast as a tire change. There’s no reason to end your race with a broken chain.
Tools for the Aid Station
- Extra seat post (since I ride carbon): I’ve never broken one, but it could be a deal breaker for the race.
- Extra wheels
- Extra tubes
- CO2, tool, etc. in case I use or drop any of these things.
Rebecca’s clinic was great; I love gathering as much information as I can, so I don’t start a race unprepared.
But I still need to learn how to fix a broken chain!
A Note from Fatty: By now it should be pretty obvious that The Hammer and I are both pretty big fans of The Queen of Pain. As such, we are going to be heading out to the second annual Rebecca’s Private Idaho this weekend to hang out and ride with her.
If you can make it happen, you should too. It’ll be a great chance to have a great ride, and to meet — and I don’t just mean “meet” in the “meet and greet” kind of way, but actually talk and hang out with — Reba.
So. Register here. And we’ll see you there.
Of Course It Starts With Egg Whites
Early Sunday morning, we woke up and made Rebecca our famous scrambled egg whites and avocados…with some mushrooms and onions and chicken and cheese thrown in; this wasn’t really the time to be focusing on weight loss! Reba was a good sport and ate them without complaint. It was refreshing to see a real pro athlete eating a normal diet. I guess I assumed she would drink green smoothies in the morning and have weird dietary restrictions at every meal.
We also cranked up “Rage Against the Machine” while we ate, because Tim Commerford was going to be riding up the Powerline along with Reba’s “Leadville Experience” group ride this morning! Tim is the bassist/back up vocalist for the band Rage Against the Machine–which happens to be one of my kid’s favorite bands. And I have to admit: I really like them too. I’m quit the hard rocker. I’ve been trying to convert Elden from Grunge to Rocker. We have come to a happy medium ……and now listen to Todays Top Hits!
[A Note from Fatty: First, grunge is rock. Second, I believe I have pointed out in this very blog — way back in 2011, even, so this isn’t me saying it just because it’s convenient -- that of all the songs in the world, a Rage Against the Machine song is my absolute #1 go-to song for climbing.]
We then headed to the middle school where a large group of riders had gathered. I recognized some from the day before, but more had joined our team!
Rebecca explained what we were in for on the Powerline climb-the false summits, benefits of walking vs riding, total mileage and elevation. Elden got video of these tips and more here:
Rebecca also added tips for the riders who wanted to break the nine hour mark, like:
- Pedal hard whenever you can-even on the downhill sections, and watch your average miles per hour on your garmin.
- Calculate what your average mph is to reach your goal and then make sure you maintain that speed (obviously you need to bank time on the flats/descents to make up for the slower climbs). Rebecca noted that her average speed is the most important thing she looks at on her Garmin when she races.
She then turned us loose, telling us we would reconvene at the top.
No Matter How Hard You Try, You Can’t Stop Us Now
And we were off. We stayed together as a group as we rolled along the pavement to the base of the climb. As soon as we hit dirt, we all took off at our climbing pace.
I shifted down and found my all day climbing pace — that’s one thing I’m really good at: finding a level of effort that isn’t easy, but won’t blow me up.
The first half mile of the climb is super steep. Rebecca reminded us that walking up this part of the climb is not a bad thing. It gives your ‘biking’ legs a break. She did suggest we “walk with purpose:” big long steps that propel you forward. She told us she has only rode this pitch once during a race, the other times she walked, but moved as quickly as the ones riding it.
I chanted my mantra silently to myself…”slow and steady, slow and steady” I looked up and realized I was almost to the top of the climb — just a few more turns of the pedals and I was there! I had cleaned the Powerline climb (lower section)!
At the top of the climb there is a false flat and short descent. At this point Rebecca was again right behind me. She encouraged me to pedal hard on the descents to build up speed to have the momentum to carry me up the bottom part of the next climb. This, she said, will shave off just a few seconds, but a few seconds here and there add up to a few minutes at the end of a big race — which can get you to a new best time.
I took her words to heart and zipped down the steep pitch -trying to rewrite my negative script and hit the climb with speed. I repeated this three more times as i hit each false flat/descent.
At some point during the climb, Elden passed me like I was standing still. If you can turn the crank on a SS on a climb you are hauling.
Elden was singing as he went by. “Say jam sucker, jam! Say jam sucker, jam!” he belted out. Later, he told me he was singing “Renegades of Funk. Unfortunately, he’s a bad enough singer that I couldn’t even tell.
A minute later, I caught up with a guy with a cool tattoo on his calf — Tim Commerford. He was climbing really well, and I yelled some encouragement as I zipped on by.
Our group had grown in number substantially as we climbed to the top. At the top we all gathered for a group jump shot!
Honestly, it’s pretty darned amazing how well we coordinated that shot. I wonder if Elden’s sister Kellene has ever got that many people to be clear of the ground in a photo like this before!
And of course I got a photo of me with Tim Commerford.
And so did Rebecca:
That is one patient rocker.
Later, I’d actually be really happy (for the first time in a long time!) to see my Strava for the segment:
Second-fastest woman overall! Considering who’s first, I’m more than happy to be second!
A Good Line to Follow
When we were done posing, Rebecca educated us on the upcoming descent (This time Elden forgot to get out his phone and video it, which he kicked himself for the rest of the day).
Rebecca called her teammate — me — up and we started down the descent. I followed her this time, watching her as she descended. I was truly amazed that she was able to drop down a technical descent like this, at a wicked-fast pace…and still turn around and make sure I’m following her! I never turn around on descents because my front wheel naturally goes the direction of my head: not a good sceneraio.
Halfway down the descent, Rebecca called out that she had a flat. So our little group got a quick lesson fixing a tire.
Rebecca decided to refill the tire with some additional “Stans” and hope it would fix the leak. The tire held air and we quickly progressed down the rest of Powerline (The tire ended up holding air for the duration of the ride, but we later found out that Rebecca’s rim on her wheel had actually cracked! I’m so happy she noticed that and had time to get a new wheel before the race.) I felt pretty good on the descent, but Powerline is scary—it may take some time to rewrite this negative script…it feels like I have written “Powerline is dangerous in stone!
Reading Rusch to Glory
After our ride, we headed back to Rebecca’s house. Elden and Rebecca worked. I started reading Rebecca’s book, Rusch to Glory. I was immediately sucked in. I was mesmorized as I learned of all of Rebecca’s adventures and achievements. I was impressed by the way she took leaps of faith in her career path-she didn’t take the easy, comfortable route.
I have to admit, I am a little envious of Rebecca’s life. I was pretty much raised to believe that a woman’s role was to be a wife and mother. I don’t’ regret my life’s decision, but it’s sure fun to read about someone who took a different path, and to live a little of her life through her words!
Watching …Burro Races?
I’m the type of person who has a hard time sitting for an extended period of time, so later in the afternoon I decided to take a walk downtown. Boom Days was still going strong and this afternoon the Burro Races would be arriving.
Burro racing has a little different vibe than a mountain bike race. The racers can only go as fast as their burro wants to go. It was fun to see the tired racers pulling the burro across the finish line.
The burro doesn’t care if there is another burro/racer 50 feet ahead of them!
As I headed back up to the house, the sky opened up and the rain began to fall. Pretty soon it was hailing, so I stopped under a tree and watched. The funny thing was, it was sunny. The weather is truly weird at 10,000ft!
For dinner, we headed to Tennessee Pass Café. It was fun to listen to Elden and Rebecca talk. Rebecca is a great motivator even off the bike. She had some great suggestions for Elden concerning his future. She has taken many risks in her life and it has paid off-not always in the way that she thought, but she made the most of the situation.
I think Elden came away motivated and optimistic about the future.
As for me, I was just in awe that I was eating dinner with Rebecca Rusch…in Leadville.
I was still a little starstruck.
A Note from Fatty: I expect that training and racing with a pro is something most cyclists think about at some point: what do they know the rest of us don’t? How do they prepare for a race? And most importantly: what’s it like to actually race with a pro?
Lisa — aka The Hammer — got the opportunity to find all of these things out at the Leadville Trail 100 this year; she was mentored through the race by four-time LT100 winner Rebecca Rusch, aka The Queen of Pain.
I’ve asked The Hammer to tell not just her story of the race day, but of the events leading up to it.
Along the way, we took video (just using my phone) during some of the clinics. Honestly, this is some of the most useful stuff you will ever find on my blog.
This will take several parts. Settle in and enjoy.
How it Began
“How would Lisa like to have a riding partner at Leadville?“
That was the text message Elden received from Rebecca Rusch about 2 weeks before the Leadville Trail 100. When Elden approached me with the question, I didn’t think Rebecca could possibly be serious about following through, so I answered, rather nonchalantly, “Sure, whatever.”
Why in the world would a pro, who had won Leadville four times, want to ride with me?
So when Elden said he had given Rebecca my number so we could talk race strategy I was freaked out! Wow, This could really happen! I might just be able to beat the magical nine hour mark and win the coveted big gold buckle! It was a thought I had never seriously entertained before. What an opportunity and great experience this would be.
And then I went to bed…and the negative self-talk started. Why do you think you would ever have a prayer at going sub-nine? You haven’t been riding fast this season. You haven’t even entered a bike race since April!
You see, every running race I have done this season, I had felt good and fast…but ended up posting a slower time than last year! My Strava QOM page hasn’t grown at all this year, and in fact is shrinking by the minute; As far as I know, I am no longer reigning Queen of Anything! (I actually have Elden delete all my notifications before I ever see them because all those “uh-oh” notifications was making my self-worth plummet straight into the toilet!)
So the next morning, I told Elden, “No way.” No way was I going to ride with Rebecca. I would only embarrass myself. I would disappoint her, I would disappoint myself!
Elden told me to think about it. He had faith in me.
A few days later my phone rang. The caller ID said — you guessed it — Ketchum Idaho.
Crap! It was Rebecca. What was I gonna do?
I took a deep breath and decided I’d talk to her, see what way the conversation flowed.
I was amazed to find that Rebecca is a very nice person — not arrogant or condescending. Her goal was to help me have my best Leadville race ever. If we broke the nine hour mark that would be the cherry on top, but she just wanted me to perform my best and hopefully take some time off my previous best race time (9:28).
She only had one request of me…….That I wouldn’t give up. That I would give it my all.
I said “Deal!” The word “quit” is not even in my vocabulary.
Two weeks is not a long time to decide that you need to be fast. Speed training/intervals had not even been part of what passes for our training plan. Strava had burned me out last year; this years rides had been focused on long, fun rides with lots of climbing. And it hadn’t been particularly fast mileage.
Rebecca mentioned it would be a great idea for us to come to Leadville a week early and participate in her free training camp. I immediately told Elden there would be no way I would be able to get off work. We had been short-staffed (running a nurse short) and I had been working an extra shift a week since May.
But it didn’t hurt to ask!
At first my co-workers were wary, and said we couldn’t make a decision until Thursday (the day before I needed to leave), so we could check the surgery schedule and patient census. Then, looking at the schedule, my awesome co workers said they would be willing to work an extra shift, if needed, to cover me.
I could go!
The First Ride: Columbine Climb
After working Friday, we packed up the truck and headed for Grand Junction–the halfway mark on the trip. Then, Saturday Morning, we got up at 4:00 AM and headed for Leadville. We needed to get there before Rebecca’s first ride and clinic: The Columbine Climb!
When we arrived at the base of Columbine, it was cloudy and looked like it might start raining. I made a decision to where some really cool socks that my friend Jilene had given me. They were bright and happy and would keep me warm.
I didn’t really realize how bright until I saw the pictures!
Rebecca had offered me her Specialized Fate to ride. It’s the same Fate that she had raced Leadville on and obviously had good Karma! Still, I had brought my S-Works Stumpy…just in case.
Elden put my saddle and pedals on the Fate, while Rebecca handed out a bunch of free goodies — Gu, sunscreen, and chain lube — and then she gave us a quick overview of the Columbine Climb.
Then she turned us loose.
The Fate was a pretty good fit. The handlebars were lower than what I’m used to; Rebecca definitely rides in a more aggressive position than I’m used to. The bar was also not as wide as the handlebars on my Stumpy.
[A Note from Fatty: I set The Hammer’s geared bike up with very wide bars because she moves from geared to singlespeed bikes often, and I don’t want the change to be jarring to her.]
The climb starts out pretty hard, so without even thinking about it, I went into my singlespeed climbing technique: standing. I stayed up with the fast guys, and started to chat with them. I think all were first timers and most were shooting for a sub-nine finish. Elden had been riding with us, but decided to drop back and ride with Rebecca who was taking the time to chat with everyone!
As we climbed, my back started to hurt. My back always aches when I ride, but this time the pain was escalating. I felt like my positioning on the Fate was off, I was too far forward and felt like the cockpit was cramped. By the time we hit the turn off from the wide road to the 4 wheel track (I think its called the Goat Trail), all I could think about was how much my back hurt. That’s when you know it’s bad.
An Interesting Question
As we approached the Goat Trail — the last couple of miles before the turnaround point of the Leadville 100, and the part where most people have to do quite a bit of walking — I wondered if I had it in me to ride the whole thing. I put it in my granny gear and started to spin up the trail.
As I progressed in the sitting position I noticed my back pain easing off. Phew! I also noted that I love gears! Riding singlespeed is fun, but it’s also fun sitting and spinning up a climb. Before I knew it, I was rounding the last bend and the trail was flattening out.
I had done it! I had ridden Columbine!
Granted, the trail was in perfect condition because of the recent rain, I hadn’t just ridden 40 miles, and there weren’t a thousand people on the trail with me, but still: I had ridden it and I was proud of myself.
I let out a loud whoop of joy, which was answered by a whoop farther down the trail from Elden. What a sweetheart. He had been watching my progress up the mountain…made much easier, I’m sure, by my awesome socks.
We took a few minutes to get some gorgeous pictures at the top.
I had never in the 9 years doing Leadville looked over the edge at the top of Columbine-What a view!
Then we gathered together for a crash (or hopefully, a no-crash!) course on descending from Rebecca. I pretty much have the climbing segments of Leadville dialed in, but descending is a different story! Rebecca is a great teacher and a great descender; the video Elden took is definitely worth watching if you’d like to get better at going downhill on your mountain bike:
The four main points I took from her lecture were:
- Stay loose. Don’t be so tense when you descend, take a deep breath, let it out. Keep the arms and legs loose, so the body doesn’t take some much abuse. Stiff arms and legs transfer all the bumps right up and into your body-jostling you.
- Keep your arms wide on the handle bars. The wider your base, the more stable you are and the harder it is to knock you off balance.
- Turn with your “third eye” or your belly button/pelvis. As you enter a turn, turn your body (lead with your belly button) and the bike follows! Way cool and it works!
- Keep up speed/ let off the brake and roll over all the obstacles!
Down We Go
Then Rebecca called me out — calling me her “teammate” (wow) — and asked if I wanted to lead out and have her follow or have her lead out and I follow her!
Ummm…I don’t know, I felt like I was being asked to jump off a cliff. I guess….. I’ll lead.
When no one is coming up, the descent down the Goat Trail isn’t too bad. Rebecca suggested we try and stay on the right side of the trail and simulate what it would be like on race day. Rebecca would occasionally yell out reminders to “stay loose” or “roll through it!”
We stopped at the bottom of the Goat Trail and Rebecca gave me words of encouragement. She reminded me how good disc brakes are and how they can stop quickly. That on downhill straightways, there is no need to use the brake. If you need to stop, your brake will stop you!
Then we headed down the Columbine road. This time Rebecca led. I tried to stay on her wheel…pretty much unsuccessfully, but it was great to watch her form and try and mimic her body movements.
I felt like we were flying. Elden actually said he had a hard time keeping up with us. I was surprised to actually pass a few people on the way down; that never happens when I descend! I was super nervous, but I tried to keep myself calm by reminding my self to relax and breath deeply.
When we rolled up to our truck, Rebecca was full of compliments and encouragement. What a great teammate! I was so excited for the upcoming week of training camp.
A big question that Rebecca had was about the Fate . How did I like it, how did it handle on the descent? For me, the jury was still out. I certainly did not like the way my back hurt on the climb, but I did like the way the Fate handled on the descent. But was it the Fate or the new techniques I had just implemented? I decided I would use my Stumpy on the next ride and see how my back felt and how I felt on the descent.
After the Clinic, Rebecca, Elden and I went into town. Leadville was celebrating Boom Days, so there were a lot of festivities going on. We got burritos and the most expensive lemonade in the world for lunch. Elden and I paid for the burritos; Rebecca bought the lemonade…which wound up costing more. That’s what you get for buying a drink from a street vendor, I guess!
As we sat there in the sunshine and ate our lunch, I couldn’t believe I was actually in Leadville on a day that wasn’t raining. It was sunny and beautiful outside. Better yet, I had just cleaned the Columbine climb, and now was eating a burrito with Rebecca Rusch!
What a crazy life I lead!
Advice from My “Mom”
After lunch, we headed to Rebecca’s rental house. Both Rebecca and Elden had work to do. Nurses, on the other hand, don’t bring their work home with them (fortunately!), so I had nothing to do.
I read my book for awhile and then Blake called. Blake is my 24-year-old son / mother. He has a tendancy to want to take care of me and give me the benefit of his vast experience. I think he thinks of me as his child.
Our roles have always been a little messed up.
Our conversation centered around my bike choice. He was pretty adamant that I stick to my Stumpy. Why change things up when they have worked all summer?
He was also very concerned about my well-being. He was concerned that I would injure myself while pushing myself to descend fast. I guess he doesn’t believe you can teach an old dog new tricks!
I think he was projecting his own nerves upon me as he thought about his overly-aggressive downhill effort that resulted in a wreck and a broken collarbone a week before his Leadvlle in 2011.
I did my best to assure my little mother that I was fine and was being coached by the very best!
While Elden and Rebecca continued to work, Rebecca had me listen to a podcast by Chris Kalous, a rock climbing friend of hers. In it, Chris interviews Don McGrath about his book, Vertical Mind. It talked about climbing and what McGrath calls “negative scripts” — the boundries that we place on ourselves that hold us back from reaching our true potential.
Although the podcast centered around climbing, I could easily apply the lessons to my biking, especially my descending. For so many years I have told myself that I am a terrible descender….which I in turn reinforce by being nervous and descending slowly.
This podcast was really helpful; I definitely recommend it! As I thought about my life, I could come up with MANY negative scripts that have come to define certain aspects of my personality. By recognizing these negative scripts, I can redefine them and turn them into positive ones. I haven’t wrecked going downhill in years. I am not a terrible descender. I may be a cautious descender, but I can redefine this script — or better yet, eliminate it by recognizing it and then turning it into a positive script.
“I haven’t had a downhill accident in years. My descending and bike handling skills have improved over the past few years and I am a better descender that can go faster, safely!”
This was an excellent week to put my new life philosophy into effect!
I have tried, over and over, to understand why Leadville has such a grip on me. Part of it is the place. Part of it is the tradition. Part of it is the incredible drama in three acts it seems to naturally create.
But a big part of it — a part I had never really thought about until just now when I needed an introduction to this chapter of my story — is the finish lines.
Yes, finish lines. Plural.
Every year when I race the Leadville 100, the phrase, “If I can just make it to…” runs through my brain.
…If I can just make it to the bottom of Powerline…
…If I can just make it to the top of Columbine…
…If I can just make it to the bottom of Columbine…
…If I can just make it to the top of Powerline…
…If I can just make it to the top of Carter’s…
Every single one of these is a significant finish line for me. And every time I cross one of those thresholds, I feel a huge surge of accomplishment. And relief.
Which is instantly replaced by the next iteration of my “if I can just make it to…” mantra.
Of all the times I mutter “If I can just make it to…” in the race, it’s while I’m climbing Powerline that I mean it the most. That’s the finish line I’m most grateful to cross.
Ask anyone who’s raced The Leadville 100, and if they’re honest, they’ll agree: everything else in the race — including the Columbine climb — is just buildup for the Powerline. The Powerline is the real test of this race, and once you’ve reached the top, you know that — barring terrible luck (my brother-in-law once broke his handle bars after this climb) — you’ve got this race in the bag.
And now, by riding whenever I could and walking whenever I had to, I was at the top of Powerline. Finish line crossed.
And somewhere — not very far — behind me, The Hammer was on her way up.
The Next Pass
Just two more finish lines. If I can just make it to the top of Carter’s, the rest is easy.
But first, there’s the matter of getting down to the pavement: the descent down SugarLoaf. And that hasn’t always been easy. Once, in fact, I crashed while descending this section. Dislocated my shoulder. I’m pretty sure I screamed loud and long when that happened. My riding buddy Ricky would have found that hilarious.
No crashes this time, though. There’s something about this new Ibis I’m riding. I’m descending better, more confidently. I’m hopping over stuff I’d usually tiptoe around. Riding fast over stuff I’d usually pick my way through. Having fun 85 miles into a race.
I make it to the bottom of SugarLoaf and onto the downhill dirt road. I pedal pedal pedal, and then I stop pedaling. I’m spun out, going fast enough that pedaling doesn’t make a difference.
Out of nowhere, a tandem flies by me. Flies by me. I could put it down to gears and weight and power, but that’s only part of it. The truth is, I wouldn’t dare go as fast as they are going. Certainly not on a bike, probably not on a motorcycle. Maybe in a car. Maybe.
I remember: I had passed that tandem as I climbed Powerline, about the same time I passed The Hammer and The Queen of Pain.
Which means I’m going to be passed again soon. By my wife.
I am pleased to report that I feel no envy or competitive angst at this prospect. I feel nothing but joy. Pride. My wife kicks all kinds of ass; shouldn’t I feel some pride that she can now kick mine?
I get to the bottom of the dirt road, slow way down for the hairpin turn that puts me on pavement. I’ll be going downhill on this pavement now for 1.5 miles, then uphill for three. I’ve been stung too many times by false hope made by false flats on this climb; I verified the distance before the race.
“Fatty!” Someone calls out behind me. I know who it is. Who they are.
“Are you still cramping?” The Queen of Pain asks.
“No, those pills helped,” I reply. “Thanks.”
The Queen of Pain looks over her shoulder and shouts to The Hammer, “This is where we earn some time! Pedal! Pedal! Pedal! Pedal!”
I look at The Hammer as she goes by. She has the most determined look on her face I have ever seen. The look of someone who has gone well past what she thought she could do and is now in uncharted territory.
She doesn’t say a word.
The Hammer had just grabbed a bottle, was about to take a drink, but she pedals. They get up to a crazy-fast speed almost immediately, and I watch, alarmed, while The Hammer holds the bottle and the handlebar with one of her hands.
I drop back, silently willing her to just drop the bottle on the side of the road. She needs both hands on the bars when she’s going this fast.
She doesn’t drop the bottle. She doesn’t wreck. She pulls away and around a bend. She’s out of sight now. In the course of three minutes, the two of them have put a minute on me. Wow.
I’m relieved. And also spun out again.
I know that this will change shortly.
The Pass After That
I love the climb to Carter’s Summit. I may, in fact, be the only person who regularly does this race who can say this. But I do.
I love standing up, letting my head droop down, and getting into the rhythm of the climb.
I love watching the sweat drip down off the tip of my nose onto the pavement.
I love passing all those people who just passed me on the descent a few minutes ago.
I see one guy, and I know it’s only a matter of time: the fact that I couldn’t see him before and can see him now means I’m catching him.
“Hi,” I say as I go by. Nothing more. I’d be more friendly if I could be, but what I’m doing takes pretty much everything I’ve got to give.
“Hi,” I say to the next guy. And the next.
I love this climb.
I see The Hammer. The Queen of Pain.
I don’t tell The Hammer that she’s got it in the bag, I don’t tell her to keep it up, I don’t tell her anything about riding. This is not my kitchen. I am not the cook. The Queen of Pain is drawing something new and powerful out of The Hammer, and I do not want to interfere.
“Hi Baby, I love you,” I say to The Hammer.
“I love you too,” she whispers back on the exhale.
Considering what she’s going through, that is a lot for her to say.
I hit the neutral aid station at the turnoff back onto the dirt at Carter’s Summit. I don’t need anything, and I don’t stop.
The Last Pass
The “Carter’s Summit” aid station leads you to think you’re at…well…a summit. But you’re not. You’ve got another mile or so of climbing to do. Remember that if you ever do this race.
I’m still passing people, because we’re climbing. I know that this is just temporary; the people I’m passing right now will likely pass me again, either on the descent down St. Kevens, or on the flats leading to The Boulevard.
That’s OK. I’m not racing these people. These people have gears.
Then someone says to me, “There’s a guy about 45 seconds ahead of you, also on a singlespeed.”
Huh. Well, I guess I am racing that guy. Are we racing for second and third? Fifth and sixth? I don’t know. But it seems like it might be worth it to burn whatever matches I have left.
Except all my matches are already burning.
If he’s ahead of me, either I’ll catch him or I won’t. But as hard as I’m going is as hard as I can go. And it feels incredibly satisfying to know that this is true.
I take risks going down St Kevens, going down faster than I usually would. I’ve seen so many people fixing flats on this section of the trail over the years, and know that this aggressive approach I’m taking may well cost me time.
But I get down to the bottom of St Kevens just fine. I exhale and laugh. A mini-finish line behind me.
It’s nothing but flat ’til I get to The Boulevard, and then about two miles of climbing to the finish.
I pedal as fast as I can, trying to delay — not prevent — what I know is inevitable: The Hammer and The Queen of Pain are going to catch me again, and they are going to fly right by.
My wife is going to be waiting for me at the finish line, I realize.
It’s an awesome thought.
But she won’t have to wait for me for long.
I look for another match to burn. Nope. Already burning ‘em. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure the one I’m currently burning is the last one in the box.
I get back on the pavement, cross the railroad tracks. More flat pavement. There is never not someone passing me. My kingdom for a taller gear.
And then, pulling alongside me: The Hammer. And The Queen of Pain. And Selene Yeager.
“I love you, Honey!” The Hammer calls out. She can talk again!
“You too,” I huff back. I am currently Cap’n Crazy Legs, and long talks aren’t easy. But I do want to tell her this: “You’ve done it! You’re going to finish in under nine hours!”
“Really? Do you think so?”
“Honey, at this point you could get to the finish line with a sub-nine-hour time on foot.”
It was true. I had actually just done the math. We could, right now, set down our bikes and run ten-minute miles from where we are, and we’d get to the finish line with — barely — a sub-nine-hour time.
The Queen of Pain flashes me a look, and I understand. It is not yet time for congratulations. The race is not over.
They drop me. I start doing mental story problems to figure out how long they’ll have to wait for me at the finish line.
Elden and Lisa have four miles left in a race. Lisa is 3mph faster than Elden on flats; Elden is 2mph faster than Lisa on climbs. The distance between the two racers and the finish line is divided equally between flats and climbs. Who will get to the finish line first, and by how much time?
My answer, for the record, was, “Lisa, by as little as Elden can manage.”
I turn onto the final climb of the day: The Boulevard. It’s a wide dirt road that starts with a steepish grade, then flattens out to one or two percent.
I stand and go as hard as I can. Every year, I do the same thing: ask myself if I have anything left to give in this race, and then give it here.
Every year, I see photos people riding a wheelie across the finish line here. Every year, I wonder why they didn’t use that effort to go faster on the course.
Different priorities, I guess. Or maybe I’m just jealous that I can’t ride a wheelie.
Hey, wait a second. I see them. The Hammer. The Queen of Pain. The Fit Chick. And if I can see them, that means I have a chance at catching them.
Well, what do you know: I have one last match I can burn after all.
But they don’t make it easy. No. Far from it. In fact, it’s not until the very end — the last hundred feet or so — of the boulevard that I pull alongside them.
“Hey.” It’s pretty much all I can say.
It’s a surreal moment. We’re down to the last quarter mile of the race. We’ve crossed paths nine times during the race, but haven’t ridden at all together.
But here we are. The Hammer, The Queen of Pain, and me. The only reason we can’t see the finish line right now is because first we have to get over this little rise.
“Do you want to finish together?” The Hammer asks.
I start laughing. “Of course I want to finish together! We’re a quarter mile from the finish line! How could we not finish together?”
And then The Hammer imploded. Right there in front of me. She had just turned in the performance of her life, and now we were together again. That was her mental finish line, I think.
All of a sudden — truly, all of a sudden — she could barely turn the cranks.
Which, really, was just fine. We could have crawled from that point and made it to the finish line in under nine hours. We had plenty of time.
But here’s the thing: I had taken a good hard look at my GPS and knew that if we didn’t push, we’d finish in 8:40 or 8:41. Which is a good finishing time. A dream finishing time, for a lot of people
If, on the other hand, we did push, we just might finish in 8:39.
Do you see the difference? It’s the difference between being able to say “I finished in the eight-forties” versus being able to say “I finished in the eight-thirties.”
And that difference is huge.
I told The Hammer, “If you go hard for just a minute longer, we can have a finish time printed on our sweatshirts that say 8:38 or 8:39. That would be even cooler than 8:40.”
The Hammer understood. The Hammer rallied.
And here’s how it ended:
8:39:22 for her; 8:39:33 for me.
So yes, even though we crossed the finish line together, The Hammer beat me by eleven seconds, thanks to the the fact that I started in a corral further forward than she did.
I am OK with that.
Photo taken by Linda Guerrette. Used with permission.
In fact, I am perfectly OK with that.
Photo taken by Linda Guerrette. Used with permission.
I didn’t get on the Singlespeed podium. In fact, I missed it by about 3.5 minutes. Huge congrats go out to David Yacobelli for an incredible second half of his race. He took a ten minute lead I had built up by the halfway mark of the race, erased it, and pulled ahead with a three-and-change minute win.
Part of me looks at how narrow the gap was between us, and how close I was to getting on the podium. And then the sane part of me reminds myself that even when that gap was less than a minute I couldn’t close it. David was fast and getting faster. I was going as fast as I could, and couldn’t catch him.
It feels good to not be plagued by “What ifs.”
The Hammer got both her big belt buckle for finishing in under nine hours, and a ten year belt buckle. As far as I know, she was the fastest non-pro on the course. And faster than many of the pros.
Here she is with The Queen of Pain, each of them with their trophies. All of which were hard-earned.
Along the way — during the week before the race and during the race itself — both The Hammer and I developed an even greater respect and liking of Rebecca Rusch. You want a sports hero to look up to? I honestly do not know of anyone who could fill that bill better.
And me? Well, I got my fourth consecutive sub-nine finish. And I got to finish with my wife.
Photo taken by Linda Guerrette. Used with permission.
And finally: of my seventeen finishes at Leadville, this one has been far and away my favorite.
PS: Next year for me: gears and sub-8.
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