Getting to Know an Icon: Hanging Out in Leadville With the Queen of Pain

08.6.2014 | 10:56 am

The Hammer and I got to come to Leadville a little earlier than usual this year.

Usually, we drive about halfway to Leadville the Wednesday before the race, finish the drive on Thursday morning, and then more or less fail to get acclimated to the altitude before the race begins on Saturday at 6:30am. 

This year, things are a little different, because this year, The Hammer will have an icon of Leadville, Rebecca Rusch, riding with and mentoring her to — hopefully — a personal best.

And so when Rebecca asked The Hammer and me if we’d like to come out to Leadville an extra few days early, participate in her Leadville Experience rides and clinics, well…we made it happen (The Hammer got extra days off work, and I’m able to do my job from anywhere with an internet connection).

And it’s been an extraordinary experience. One that, frankly, I’m going to have to dial back a bit on in order to not come out too…gushy.

The Columbine Climb

On Saturday, The Hammer and I got into Leadville just in time for Reba’s first event: a group ride what most people consider the crux of the Leadville 100 race: the Columbine climb. Here we are at the start of it: 

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About 7.5 miles long, with more than 3000 feet of climbing, what makes the Columbine climb really tough is the fact that it tops out at around 12,600 feet. Which is high. High enough to make you wonder what happened to all your power. 

The Hammer and I took off with the lead group at first, and I loved watching her work this group of fast, strong guys over. I shot ahead (yes, that’s a boast), then pulled over and took some pictures of folks as they went by:
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Reba, meanwhile, just seemed so relaxed. Happy. Peaceful. When she says her Leadville finish line happened already, she means it. She was riding for fun, and to share what turns out to be an incredible wealth of knowledge and practical riding guidance. 

Here she’s riding with one of the guys from Minnesota. She took time to ride with anyone who wanted to talk with her.  

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I want to point out, though, that The Hammer rode the entire Columbine climb — including the technical steep stuff above 12,000 feet — without putting a foot down. 

I have never done that. And Reba was impressed. “We need to start talking seriously about getting you a sub-nine-hour finish,” she told The Hammer.

Of course, we got a group photo:

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And then a surprisingly good “jump” group photo (I’ve found the best way to do these is to shoot video and then pull a still from it later).

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I don’t want to boast or anything (yes, actually I do), but I think you’ll agree with me that I (second from the right) have some pretty good air there.

At that point, Reba gave an impromptu clinic on descending Columbine during the race, though the reality is this is good guidance for any big descent.


The Hammer and I didn’t have a place to stay that first night, so Reba let us crash on the pull-out couch-bed at the place she was renting. She and The Hammer talked long into the night, planning their race day strategy — as well as what it’s like to have to poop into a pipe. 

Yes, really. This is how bonding happens among alpha females.

Also, we bought a pint of Salted Caramel Gelato, which I normally would think is just the right amount for me. By myself. 

Feeling self-conscious, however, I only ate about a quarter of the amount I would want to and — this is so weird to me — between the three of us, we didn’t even finish the pint.

I am shaking my head in disbelief even as I write this.

The next morning, The Hammer made breakfast — scrambled egg whites with leftover shredded barbecue chicken, onions, mushrooms, and avocado. 

Then we were off to the next group ride Reba was leading — this time going up and down the single hardest climb in the race: The Powerline

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Reba gave us some good guidance on what the climb is like and how to ride it — I caught it on video, and will post it soon. 

It was becoming more and more clear that Reba isn’t just an astonishingly fast and strong rider — she’s an inspiring teacher. 

The Hammer absolutely killed the climb — nabbing all kinds of Strava trophies on what she said afterward was a relatively easy effort.

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Reba gave us more info about this descent, and of course I made sure we got another group jump shot:

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All the way down, Reba followed The Hammer, yelling out instructions and advice on how to descend.

I was starting to get a sense that The Queen of Pain was taking The Hammer’s success as seriously as her own. Which is about as awesome a thing as there’s ever been.

About halfway down, Reba put on an impromptu and unplanned tire-changing clinic:

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And then she made sure she got a photo of herself with Tim Commerford, the bassist for Rage Against the Machine.

Reba tim

He’s a fast guy and seems to be chasing a sub-nine-hour time himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if he winds up on the Hammer / Queen of Pain train this Saturday. 

Reba was nice enough to get an on-bike shot of me with Tim, too, timed just right so it looks like he’s laughing and happy and ready to break into song…as I’m staring intently at my stem, wondering what mysteries it holds. 



And More

Really, the whole week’s been like that. The Queen of Pain has been putting on rides and clinics — I recorded her session on how to prepare your bike and clothes for a race like this and will post it soon — all with accessible, practical information. And she’s been gracious, open, and fun. 

Meanwhile, The Hammer and I have been reading her book, and getting ready questions for the Q&A session I’ll be doing as part of her book launch and reading tomorrow night

I already knew it was a good book, but now The Hammer is reading it…and she loves it too. 

Honestly, I won’t be able to review this book; I’m no longer even remotely objective regarding Reba. I’m a full-on fan. And friend. 

But I think I’m not just blinded by admiration when I say that Rebecca is an extraordinary person, and this book tells the story of her remarkable life remarkably well. You’ll be surprised, impressed, and inspired by it. 

I have to say, I’ve never been so excited to see how a race goes as The Hammer’s and Reba’s ride together this Saturday.

And I think it’s going to make a great story. 


  1. Comment by Corrine | 08.6.2014 | 11:31 am

    WOW!! That’s all I can say. What a great week and what a great experience. Can’t wait for The Hammer’s and Reba’s race report. Will be following along closely on Saturday. Hope the weather is fantastic!

  2. Comment by pbrmeasap | 08.6.2014 | 11:35 am

    Good Luck this weekend!!!

  3. Comment by cyclingjimbo | 08.6.2014 | 11:45 am

    What an opportunity! You and The Hammer must be totally excited now to get on with the ride come Saturday morning. Kudos to Rebecca for sharing her knowledge and experience so willingly, and what a great experience Saturday will be for The Hammer as she rides with Rebecca.

    We’ll all be watching for the times.

    Good luck to everyone at this year’s LT100. Ride well.

  4. Comment by BigShorty | 08.6.2014 | 12:04 pm

    I had the opportunity to work with Reba back in 2005 while setting for a Red Bull adventure race between Silverton & Durango, CO. Amazingly nice person! I wasn’t yet into cycling and couldn’t completely appreciate how hard core she was.

    Good luck to you, Fatty and The Hammer. I’m sure it will be an amazing ride as always!

    Safe Ride!

  5. Comment by ScottR | 08.6.2014 | 1:06 pm

    Those sessions sound fantastic….

    Will fattylookingatstems be the new chrisfroomelookingatstems? :-)

  6. Comment by Grego | 08.6.2014 | 1:15 pm

    Eat the yolks, Fatty, they’re the most nourishing part!

    Sounds like your family is going to CRUSH Leadville this year!

  7. Comment by NZ Ev | 08.6.2014 | 1:34 pm

    Awesome is all I can say!!! Good luck to everyone doing LT100!!! Sounds like you, The Hammer and Rebecca will kill it!!! Can’t wait to read the story about it.

  8. Comment by Rebecca Rusch | 08.6.2014 | 1:47 pm

    Yes, Fatty: I am taking the Hammer’s race just as seriously as I would my own. Nothing better than being part of someone else’s success. I’m happy to be latching on and sharing the day. I finished the gelato for you all by myself. I would never, ever buy this on my own because I have no willpower. I will also be filming my day with the Hammer on the Garmin VIRB (as long as I don’t mess it up). No matter what happens, we’re going to have a great adventure out there.

  9. Comment by UtahTom | 08.6.2014 | 2:19 pm

    ^^^^She is so amazingly cool. #WCW

  10. Comment by CycleMedic26 | 08.6.2014 | 2:38 pm

    How cool is that?! ^^^^^
    I’m using “the secret” – for nothing in particular but it rhymes with “Dub Line Binish” for the whole Fatty crew. Best of luck guys!

  11. Comment by rich | 08.6.2014 | 3:31 pm

    This is just a whole mess of awesome!!

  12. Comment by TK | 08.6.2014 | 4:32 pm

    Rebecca seems rad.
    Thanks for that video.

  13. Comment by Marshmallow | 08.6.2014 | 4:39 pm

    Go The Hammer! Go Reba! I love this year’s Leadville so much. And thanks, Fatty, for passing on the Queen of Pain’s wisdom to all of us who can’t be there.

  14. Comment by Geo | 08.6.2014 | 6:37 pm

    I’m guessing you were not looking at your stem, but hanging your head in shame of not finishing a pint of ice cream. And you think you can finish Leadville this year after that pathetic eating performance? Puh-leeze.

  15. Comment by Maggi | 08.6.2014 | 8:15 pm

    Great entry! How exciting and inspiring — I can’t wait to hear more as the week goes on. And thanks to the Queen of Pain (I’d say “Reba”, but that would be almost as strange to me [Random Internet Fan] as calling The Hammer “Lisa”) for letting Fatty share videos of your clinics!

  16. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 08.6.2014 | 8:17 pm

    Your and The Hammer’s Leadville experiences just keep getting better! Like the QofP commented, no matter what happens it will be an amazing adventure. I refresh your blog too many times during the day, hoping for more. Keep it coming!

  17. Comment by AKChick | 08.6.2014 | 10:37 pm

    I’m so jealous!!! I wish I were there. I don’t know if I could ever ride Leadville (I’m a sealevel girl after all), but it would have been fun to meet Reba!

    What an amazingly wonderful experience for you two!! So glad you are documenting it with photos, video and blog posts. I love how you write about people. I feel like I know them. You are a gifted writer for sure!

    I can’t wait to get an autographed copy of Reba’s book! Someday, I participate Rebecca’s Private Idaho!

  18. Comment by AKChick | 08.6.2014 | 10:49 pm

    Correction: Someday I will participate in Rebecca’s Private Idaho!

    Also, great advice for descending! I’m a super cautious descender and don’t do much MTBing. Next time I’m out, I’ll have to try her tips!

  19. Comment by Doug (Way upstate NY) | 08.7.2014 | 6:29 am

    Fatty you are killing me right now. I so wish I was there……..

  20. Comment by Judy Rusch | 08.7.2014 | 7:48 am

    Fatty, what an amazing article. You have really captured it all. I knew of course that Rebecca did these clinics, but to actually experience one through your writing, pictures and video is a real eye opener. Thank you for that. This mom is so overwhelmingly proud of her accomplishments and of her sharing and mentoring.

  21. Comment by Brian in VA | 08.7.2014 | 7:51 am

    I’m now a fan. Wow, what an incredible athlete and lover of the sport. Can’t wait to read the book!

    Have a terrific race, everyone!

  22. Comment by Tom in Albany | 08.7.2014 | 9:25 am

    Fatty, No f’n way The Hammer’s a gramma! No way!! (OK. I guess maybe but… No way!!!!)

    I hope you guys all have an awesome race!!

    Rebecca, thanks for letting Fatty tape your downhill clinic. I found it very illuminating.

  23. Comment by Kim | 08.7.2014 | 11:18 am

    I met Rebecca at the first Transylvania Epic and she was super nice. Her boyfriend, Greg, is a monster singlespeeder and introduced me to the Mountain Feedbag, which is totally awesome for long races.

  24. Comment by Greg | 08.7.2014 | 2:03 pm

    ^^^Aaww shucks! Thanks Kim. Glad you’re enjoying the feedbag! Great write-up Fatty. It’s an honor to be here with you guys!

  25. Comment by TK | 08.7.2014 | 2:42 pm

    I noticed that Rebecca’s bike was sporting what looked like an RS1 fork. Was she higher up on the VIP list to get the hub that makes it work?

  26. Comment by Christina | 08.8.2014 | 7:52 am

    That video was awesome. As a beginner (like super beginner) racer, it was nice to hear her voicing things that worry me. It made me feel a little less crazy out there.

  27. Comment by Carl | 08.8.2014 | 7:24 pm

    Catching up on your blog and reading again what I skimmed the first time. This is a great post!

  28. Comment by Anonymous | 08.10.2014 | 11:28 am

    Thanks for all you do for the sport of cycling. It’s inspiring for those of us getting started. Congrats on leadville both of you!


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