2014 Leadville 100 Race Report, Part 2: Starts with Pain, Ends with Beauty

08.14.2014 | 10:11 am

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.

Good.

Then, a look down to see if my shorts were ripped. Nope. They looked OK.

Awesome.

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.

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:

Screenshot 2014 08 14 07 24 33
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.

Thump.

Singlespeed Purgatory

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. 

Eldenpipeline1 
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.

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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.

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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.

22 Comments »

  1. Comment by dug | 08.14.2014 | 10:35 am

    “Leadville is an eating contest disguised as a bike race”

    this is the best race advice i’ve ever heard.

  2. Comment by Doug (Way upstate NY) | 08.14.2014 | 10:41 am

    I am surprised that you only take 1 bottle with you up Columbine. Going on the “1 bottle/hour” general idea to remain somewhat hydrated, that seams light.

    I drink approximately 4 bottles of fluid during the LT100. – FC

  3. Comment by CycleMedic26 | 08.14.2014 | 10:57 am

    Do work, Fatty!

  4. Comment by Tom in Albany | 08.14.2014 | 11:07 am

    No!!!!! I want a Friday edition!

    I’ll be on vaca next week and will have a hard time keeping up.

    Cheers all!!!

  5. Comment by Deuce | 08.14.2014 | 11:14 am

    “…the next installment of this story on Monday.” Ha! For a minute there I thought you said Monday. Wait. Crap. You did say MONDAY??? NOOOooooooooooo

  6. Comment by Will Benton | 08.14.2014 | 11:49 am

    Lol what did you do Fatty? Look at the kid in the picture to your left he looks disgusted! :)

    You know, if you eat and drink nothing but energy food for a few hours, there are going to be consequences. – FC

  7. Comment by Doug (way upstate NY) | 08.14.2014 | 12:07 pm

    And Yeah, Sugarloaf outbound, best climb in the race.

  8. Comment by Brian in VA | 08.14.2014 | 12:27 pm

    Great post! Have a great weekend and I can’t wait for next week.

    I almost hate to say this but you misspelled lollygagging. (Secretly, I correct everyone’s spelling.)

    I spelled it the way you do and autocorrect changed it to the way you see it in the post. Apparently they’re alternate spellings of the same word (which was news to me). – FC

  9. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 08.14.2014 | 1:17 pm

    Well, we know the wheels didn’t come off completely, but it will still be a long break until Monday. Guess I’ll have to search around for some other blogs on the race to tide me over. Any good links? (I like the photos; I’ve climbed all the 14ers, it’s fun to see them in the distance).

    Spoiler alert: the wheels came off neither entirely nor literally. – FC

  10. Comment by Corrine | 08.14.2014 | 2:30 pm

    I, too thought outbound Sugarloaf was the best part of the course for all the same reasons. Plus by then the crowds have thinned out and you still have lots of energy. Only ruined by the fact that I kept thinking about the Powerline descent and I have to say that I am the wimpiest mountain bike descender (just ask my husband, he will agree with me). I was so happy to descend and stay on my bike the whole way. Unfortunately, I held up a few people behind me but they were all very gracious of my slowness.

    Wait, maybe I’m not the wimpiest, but almost the wimpiest, I think I recall that some people were actually walking down Powerline. I did actually ride the whole way down. I feel much better now!

    Don’t make us wait until Monday for more!!!

  11. Comment by Bart the Clydsedale | 08.14.2014 | 3:51 pm

    Evidently there are several other riders who are poor descenders, I always thought I was alone. I faced down a demon by riding at Hartman rocks without leaving blood all over the place. Maybe there is hope for me, but my plan will most likely remain nurse the bike down the steep parts while trying to hide the fear I feel. Great report Fatty.

  12. Comment by rohit | 08.14.2014 | 4:35 pm

    I am surprised that you only take 1 bottle with you up Columbine. Going on the “1 bottle/hour” general idea to remain somewhat hydrated, that seams light.

    I drink approximately 4 bottles of fluid during the LT100. – FC –

    Last year someone asked The Queen of Pain a similar question. She responded with “you only need 2 bottles on your bike if you’re fast enough”

    Way to be just a little bit modest, I was hoping for more well deserved chest thumping

    When I feel like chest-thumping is in order, believe me, I will do it. The reality is, though, for whatever reason, I don’t seem to want or need a lot of fluid when I ride. Ever. Even when it’s hot.

    I’m not really going deeply into how much I drink / eat in this installment of the race report (though maybe I will in a different installment), but here’s a little bit about how much (little) I drank and why:

    First, for this year’s LT100, the forecast never had the temperatures hitting higher than 70F. And my projected time splits had me starting the climb to Columbine at around 9:15am. As I’ve learned, the higher you go, the cooler it is (i.e., it’s rarely even warm at the top of Columbine, 12,600 up). I wouldn’t be sweating a lot until around mile 60 (when I got back down from Columbine) at the earliest.

    With that in mind, here’s what I took on board with me, fluid-wise at the various aid stations, and how much I used:

    Starting line: 1 bottle CR333, 1/2 bottle water [did not drink the water]
    Twin Lakes I: 1 bottle CR333, knowing I could refill the bottle if I needed to at top of Columbine [but did not refill, finished bottle of CR333 as I returned to Twin Lakes]
    Twin Lakes II: 1 bottle water [knowing I would be tired of any flavor by that point and would want plain water, and also knowing the section was only 1hr long but that I would want to drink a lot leading up to the Powerline climb]
    Powerline II: 1 bottle CR333, 1 bottle water [plus I knew I would be able to get a Coke handup from Strava at Fish Hatchery, more drink at Carter neutral aid; I did take a coke from Strava, didn't use neutral aid; drank all CR333, half the water]

    Doing the math now, I see I actually drank 4.5 bottles while riding. Plus at aid stations I would often take a slug of Coke, Redbull, or just plain water. That probably totals me up to about 5.5 bottles of fluid during the race.

    So now you know way more than you wanted to about how much I drank. – FC

  13. Comment by Ian | 08.14.2014 | 9:16 pm

    1st time leadville rider here @ 9:06 -mildly disappointed but motivation for next time. Doesn’t take away from fact it’s the most fun I’ve had on a bike with that atmosphere.
    Anyhow.. agreed sugarloaf is best climb and part of the race w/ the scenery/timing of it all but the descent on it was as much fun as I had during the race -absolute (potential sideway tearing) blast. That and Kevins descent has some rollers that are pretty darn fun.
    BTW thx for the past LT100 posts- between you and a few other resources felt as thought I had already ridden much of the course.

    9:06? Oh, that hurts. When I came close — but missed — to sub-9 (with a 9:13) years ago, I was crushed. But with the course experience you have now, you’ll get it next time! – FC

  14. Comment by Christina | 08.15.2014 | 7:28 am

    I dislocated my elbow when my front tire hit a patch of sand many years ago. This means I spend every moment on loose material trying my hardest to relax. I sing “Take Me Home,Country Roads” by John Denver when descending.

    I like the shorter posts, longer time span format. It’s like settling into a good ride. I’m all nervous at first and then I relax and then ooh, there’s something interesting and then it’s over.

  15. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 08.15.2014 | 7:57 am

    I may not be the best climber in the world, but I’m a better climber than I am a descender. I’ll say this, though–if you have to descend scary stuff, better to do it on a mountain bike than a road bike. I volunteered at Twin Lakes this year in hopes of getting in next year … and I’ll be a mere babe in the 50-59 age group. Hoping to put my poor descending to the test–I’m ALREADY uptight about going down Powerline and Columbine.

  16. Comment by ScottyCycles62 | 08.15.2014 | 8:46 am

    You are looking mighty lean there Fatty!

  17. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 08.15.2014 | 11:28 am

    Fatty, I assume that you can do the same math that we can. At 3 parts per week, you’re only going to get to the Carter inbound portion of your 2014 Leadville race report before the start of the 2015 race.

  18. Comment by warren g | 08.15.2014 | 12:49 pm

    I went for a ride yesterday too, and got another flat tire with my tubeless tires, with orange seal, arrhhhhggg, I curse the heavens!!! Why lord why must I get 2 pinch flats and a sidewall slash/possible pinch flat?? why why why??? I use tubeless ready extra strong sidewall tires, I fill them with air! sometimes as much as 30-35 pounds, I dont weigh that much! I Mean 6′2 191 isnt fat. Im not a Fat cyclist. Ok i used to be and maybe thats why im a fatacolyte now. But seriously and when i say but seriously i mean but seriously,( to change topics completely) I think one solution to decreaseing the worship of some of these former pros who have commited sin, who shouldnt be role models, maybe we should start holding up other people as shinning examples of human beings, like fatty and his wife.

    p.s. what tire combination are you using? I cant distiguish the front tire pattern. BTW I

  19. Comment by Carl | 08.15.2014 | 4:41 pm

    Some of the latest things I have read is to drink when you are thirsty. The bottle per hour rule isn’t the current advice. I believe I read that in a recent Fit Chick article.

  20. Comment by Libby | 08.15.2014 | 8:50 pm

    You really make me want to ride a mtnbike down a steep dirt hill. I get a gas out of doing it on my road bike (on pavement) so it should be a real thrill on a mtn bike. Weee!

  21. Comment by Slo Joe | 08.16.2014 | 12:18 pm

    As an older than dirt and running water cyclist who is also very, very slow, I’m enjoying through your writing what it might be like to be a fast mtb racer. The only thing I can pass is gas!!!

    Ride Long and Prosper

  22. Comment by Kevin | 08.17.2014 | 10:59 am

    Wasn’t there a crash at another Leadville a few years back also?

    Hmmm, I’ve crashed a few times at Leadville. Only crashed OUT once, though, so I must be really good at handling my bike. Right? – FC

 

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