Here’s a fun way to determine what kind of person you are.
Step 1. Go sign up for a big, long, hard-to-get-in race.
Step 2. Train for that race all year. Make it the main thing you think about.
Step 3. Go race that race.
Step 4. Repeat steps 1-3 every year for close to twenty years.
Step 5. Crash your bike about 7% of the way through step 3.
Step 6. See how you react.
- If your primary reaction is pain, then you are a well-adjusted individual who doesn’t let externalities bother you. You live in the moment and experience the world as it is.
- If your primary reaction is embarrassment at the prospect that someone saw you have a totally rookie crash, mingled with terror that someone is going to run over you in just a second, coupled with a fear that your bike is ruined and you won’t be able to finish the race, all wrapped up in a bundle of pain…well, then you are an award-winning, beloved, and pretty darned neurotic cycling lifestyle blogger (i.e., me).
Which is to say, after I hit the downhill left turn at speed, bumped my rear wheel into and over an erosion rut — and slightly into the air — and crashed hard onto my left side, I scrambled off to the side of the road, desperate to not be the cause of a multi-rider stack-up. Simultaneously, I looked behind me, hoping that whoever I was scrambling to avoid didn’t see me.
Then I experienced massive relief. Nobody was immediately behind me, which meant that I wasn’t going to cause anyone else to wreck, and — more importantly — my boneheaded crash had not been witnessed.
At which point the pain hit.
My left forearm stung, feeling like a good case of (dirt) road rash. But that pain was barely playing second fiddle to the whole orchestra of pain that was my left hip and left butt cheek.
I didn’t even look at where it hurt. Didn’t want to know. I just climbed back on my bike — which I also didn’t inspect — and got back to riding.
Every turn of the cranks hurt. For a few minutes. Eventually, though, the sharp pain settled down to a dull pain and I dared to reach down and touch my hip, then take a look at my glove: no blood.
Then, a look down to see if my shorts were ripped. Nope. They looked OK.
I grabbed onto the wheel of the next guy who passed me as we got near the Carter aid station — ten miles into the race — and vowed that I would hold his wheel. That I would not let this crash turn me into a tentative descender (or at least, no more tentative than usual). Not today.
Beauty and Bygones
After the Carter aid station, there’s three miles of paved descent — the Leadville 100 was a road/dirt race before anyone knew they should brand it as such — followed by another 1.5 miles of gently uphill paved climbing. The perfect place for me to eat a packet of Gu Chomps (the Raspberry and Lemon flavors are my favorite).
200 calories down the hatch. I have gotten so good at hitting my food-consuming goals on this race (note: since I have taken Kenny’s axiom that “Leadville is an eating contest disguised as a bike race” to heart, I have not had anything but sub-nine-hour finishes).
Then a couple miles of climbing on dirt road — I pull for a while and get pulled for a while — brought me to the base of the best part of the race: Sugar Loaf.
Here’s the thing about the SugarLoaf climb: people forget about it, because it’s sandwiched between the start of the race (jumpy!) and Powerline (scary!).
But earlier in the week, when Rebecca Rusch asked The Hammer and me what our favorite part of the race is, both of us answered — genuinely together at the exact same moment — “outbound SugarLoaf.”
Rebecca looked startled, then said, “Mine too.”
There are a bunch of good reasons this is the case for all three of us (as well as for anyone else who’s paying attention). The day has warmed up. Your legs have warmed up. The climb is moderate and mildly technical, but with a good line. And the view is extraordinary.
So: If you ever do Leadville, take a second when you get to Sugar Loaf to note that this — right here, right now — is a pretty amazing place to be.
And then get back to work. This ain’t no time for lallygagging.
And, to be clear, I was not lallygagging. I was busy re-passing all the people I had passed on St. Kevens, who had passed me on the pavement and dirt road.
This yo-yo effect is something you get used to on a singlespeed.
One of those people I caught up with was wearing a UtahMountainBiking.com jersey.
“Hey Utah boy,” I said as I pulled up behind him, collecting energy by sucking wheel for a minute. “I’m a Utah boy too.”
“Hi,” he called back. “Who is it?”
“Elden. Who are you?”
“Jason,” he replied. “How much further to the top here?”
“A mile to a mile and a half.” I was wrong; it was less than a mile; this is one section of the race I don’t think about distance on.
“I feel like I’m going slow,” he said.
“Well, we’re right on track for an easy sub-nine finish,” I said. “8:40 is a good bet for us at this pace, in fact. That’s not slow, is it?”
He didn’t respond to that question, but said, “Hey, I want to apologize.”
I knew what he was talking about, but he had already sought me out and apologized, completely and fully and without prompting, more than a year ago, at the finish line area of the Crusher at the Tushar. And I told him so.
“It was a heat of the battle thing,” he said. And I understood. And I appreciate it. Even more so that he would take the time while racing hard — while climbing in a race — to say so.
“We’re good, it’s behind us. I’m happy to see you here,” I said. And I meant it. Everyone has a bad moment from time to time, but not everyone goes out of their way to fix it. Jason did. Twice.
Then, due to the way singlespeeds demand you ride, I passed Jason and continued working my way to the summit.
It was time to transition from my favorite part of the race to my least-favorite: descending down the Powerline.
If you’re a lousy descender (e.g., me), Powerline is scary. It’s 2500 feet of down, across erosion ruts and over embedded rocks, on a surface made — as near as I can tell — entirely of kitty litter.
This is where people wreck (I once watched a guy stack it up immediately after passing me). This is where people get injured. I’ve seen more people fixing flats here than everywhere else on the course combined.
But I tried to be fast. Fast for me, anyway: I didn’t pass a single person on this descent, and probably got passed by more than ten (including Jason, who I would not see again ’til after the race was over).
I tried to banish my scaredy-cat-ness by yelling. By whooping. By, in short, bluffing with bluster.
To my delight, the amazing Linda Guerrette caught a wonderful photo of me as I shouted my way down one of the steepest grades of the mountain, on what feels like a narrow blade of a ridge:
Photo by Linda Guerrette. Used with permission.
I made it. Without crashing, without flatting. Relieved and grateful to have that part of the race — really, one of only two parts of the race that I don’t look forward to — behind me. I got on the flat pavement that would connect me to the first big aid station — known as Pipeline — and sucked down a gel. I did some math and figured I’d be hitting it right at two hours. A good fast time for a singlespeed.
Oh, who am I trying to kid? I’m going to own my boast: two hours is awesome, and there are very few people who can get to that aid station so quickly.
I’ve earned my fitness, I’ve earned my speed. I get to thump my chest a bit.
My relief and pride turned to resignation as I rode on this flat section, as train after train of riders, working together, blew by me, putting twenty seconds on me for every minute of flat.
I made this choice, I thought to myself. I’ve done this before and I knew it would be like this.
Which is true.
So I’d laugh and yell, “No, you go on. I’m riding sweep today,” as mini-pelotons of racers (including one led by blogger Bart Miller) shot by me.
Om manipadme hum, I thought to myself. Then I dialed “Renegades of Funk” into my head instead. Because some chants are more useful than others at different times.
Through the aid station and into the fifteen mile rolling section before the Columbine climb. Passing people on the short climbs, getting passed by those same people on flats.
And in general seeing the same groups of people. And expecting, any minute, to have The Hammer and the Queen of Pain catch me.
To my surprise (and, let’s face it, delight) they did not catch me. Not yet, anyway. They remained my whip; I remained their carrot.
The short singletrack section — which often is loose and dusty — was tacky and packed.
Photo by Linda Guerrette. Used with permission.
“I love this Tranny 29,” I thought to myself for about the fifteenth time that day.
Quick Change Artists
I hit the first aid station I planned to stop at — Twin Lakes Dam — a few minutes slower than I had hoped to, but only a few minutes. I was still looking good for a sub-nine-hour finish, and since I had not seen any other singlespeeders out there, figured I had a chance at the podium.
My crew — The Hammer’s brother and his foster kids — performed what must be the fastest crew work that has ever been done. As soon as I put my feet down, one kid was pulling my bottles out while another put the new bottle (just one bottle — water — for this next leg of the race).
Meanwhile I threw my empty chew and gel wrappers on the ground with one hand while someone put new gels in my other hand. I stuffed the gels under my shorts’ elastic with that hand while someone put a Coke in the other.
As I took a few quick tugs at the coke, someone asked if I wanted my arm warmers removed, just as I had indicated I wanted them to ask on my plan.
“Yes I do,” I said, and stuck out my arms.
One guy pulled off one arm warmer, another pulled off the other. And then I was off, less than one minute after I had arrived.
It was graceful and fast and perfect. A good crew is a beautiful thing to behold.
Now it was time for the Columbine climb. The part of the race where I typically shine. It’s a climber’s dream, especially for a guy with strong legs, big lungs, and tall gearing.
It’s my wheelhouse.
This time, though, it wasn’t going to be my wheelhouse. Indeed, the wheels were going to come off.
Which seems like a good place to pick up in the next installment of this story on Monday.