A note from Fatty: The Hammer and I are PlentyPlus™ excited to be coming to Rebecca’s Private Idaho this Labor Day weekend (the ride is 8/31) — a 90-mile (with a shorter 56-mile option) dirt road ride in the mountains outside Ketchum Idaho, hosted by The Queen of Pain herself.
The atmosphere is friendly and low-key, the ride is challenging, the place is beautiful. We’re excited to be going.
If there’s a chance you’re going — and there should be a very good chance indeed that you’re going — too, we should totally meet up. Like maybe meet somewhere for dinner on Saturday night, the evening before the race.
I’ll figure out the “where” part once I know how many of us are going. Let me know if you’ll be around and how many are going to be in your party in the comments, OK?
Finally, on the day of the ride itself, The Hammer and I are going to be going to be trying for the new-for-this-year RPI Bolo Tie. The only way to get one of these is to finish the ride in less than 6:30. We wouldn’t have made that time cutoff last year. This year I think we’ve got the incentive to get it done.
2014 Leadville 100 Race Report, Part 3: I am the Fast Guy, I am the Slow Guy
Now it’s my turn. Those are the exact words that ran through my head, over and over and over. Like it was payback time. My opportunity to get revenge for an injustice done to me.
Except, of course, the slight was purely imaginary. All these people who had been passing, passing, passing me on the flattish 20 or so miles we had just completed were just riding their bikes. Racing. Going hard, like I was. It wasn’t their fault I had made the singlespeed equipment decision.
But hey. I needed something to get worked up about. Some reason to get angry, so I could stand up and climb from 9600 feet to 12,600 feet in eight miles.
(And yes, I would be standing for all but short moments of that climb.)
Revenge is is as good a fake-anger motivation as any.
I began climbing. And I began passing people. Even though I was turning the cranks over slowly, slowly. It’s hard work, and requires some serious power, as well as a willingness to embrace pain.
Both of which I have.
To get a sense of what the The first five or so miles look like in the Leadville 100 Columbine climb, take a look at this photo, which I took while riding the Columbine climb a week before the actual race:
Okay, that’s what it looks like. For five miles. Except there are a bunch of people ahead of you. Some you are passing, and some are passing you.
And then, at some point, race leaders begin tearing down the other side of the road, inconsiderately leaving you to deal with the sonic boom in their wake.
So it’s extremely important to stay on your side of the road at all times. I don’t even want to think what the collision of a a racer going slowly uphill with a racer going 40mph downhill would look like.
Inklings of Trouble
I keep riding, and — to my vast pride — I keep eating. Every thirty minutes or so, whether I feel like it or not, I suck down a Gu Roctane gel. I don’t even check what flavor I’m putting in my mouth, because I made sure when packing my stuff the night before that only my favorite flavors (Island Nectars, Cherry Lime, Vanilla Orange, Pineapple) are with me for this leg.
I don’t want to give myself any excuse to not keep eating.
And — whenever I get a moment of climbing reprieve — I sit and take a quick tug of water.
I hit 11,000 feet and noticed that — unlike most years — I still felt pretty good. It seems that coming out to Leadville a week early to make some red blood cells has helped.
But no matter how acclimated you are or well you fuel, when you’re doing this much climbing, at this high an effort (I’m pushing a 46:26 — reducing down to 1.8:1 — gear ratio), your muscles will get fatigued.
And then they might cramp.
But they weren’t cramping yet. Not yet. But I could start to feel them twinge. My hamstrings. My quads. My calves. Both legs. Just the bare inklings that my legs aren’t a bottomless well of power.
If I wasn’t smart about this climb, I’d pay the price at some point.
So I tried to be smart. At about five miles into the Columbine climb, suddenly you turn a corner and all the trees disappear.
Now you’re on the final three miles to the summit. And this is the hard part.
The trail, most of the time, looks about like this:
Except with a lot more people, and a lot of them are walking, and there are people flying down one side of the road, and there are sections that are terrifyingly loose and rocky.
But otherwise, a lot like that picture above.
As you climb that last three miles, you have to make decisions pretty frequently. But really, it’s the same decision, over and over, at different places on the trail:
Is it smarter for me to ride this section, or hike it?
As The Hammer had demonstrated a week ago, the whole Columbine mine climb — all eight miles of it — is rideable. But there’s a price to pay. You only have a certain number of matches in your box for the day: do you burn one now?
It’s a hard question, because you really don’t know how many matches you have until you’ve burned your last one.
With twinges of oncoming cramps in my legs, I opt to walk pretty early, and pretty often. Hey, I’ve got nothing to prove to anyone.
Except there’s a guy there. Wearing a cowboy hat. Sitting on an ATV. And he’s yelling at me.
“Get back on that bike! Get back on that bike and pedal!“
It’s Ken Chlouber, one of the founders of The Leadville 100. He’s every bit as much an icon of this race as the climbs. As much of an icon as the red carpet finish, or the big belt buckles.
And right now he’s laughing at me and telling me to get back on my bike and ride it.
I try reasoning with him.
“I’m on a singlespeed! Walking this part of the climb is a sound race strategy!”
He laughs at me again.
“Around here, we just call that being a sissy!” (Except he doesn’t exactly use the word “sissy.”)
I’ve just been called out by Ken Chlouber, as I climb the Columbine mine. It’s like being called out by Elvis as you’re passing through the doors of Graceland.
So what am I going to do?
I get back on my bike and climb. Obviously. Until I’m out of site of the man, anyway.
At which point I have to get off the bike, because my quads and hamstrings, on both legs, have just gone into full-blown cramp mode, and there’s nothing in the world I could do right now to keep pedaling my bike.
The pain of your two biggest muscles, on both legs, going into a monster cramp, is incredible. Exquisite even.
There was nothing I could do to ride. I couldn’t even walk. I just held on to my handlebars for balance and crouched on the side of the trail, grabbing my brake levers to keep my bike in place.
Hoping, hoping the pain would pass soon so I could continue on.
Hoping, hoping the cramp would subside before The Hammer caught me. I don’t want her to find me here, immobile. If she caught me here, she’d want to stop, check on me. Help me.
Then I’d ruin both our chances at finishing this race under nine hours.
Oh great. Here comes a rider and he’s on his bike. I’m directly in his way.
I scuttle — crouching — to the other side of the trail.
Oh, even better. Here comes a racer, bombing downhill. I’m directly in his way. He’s yelling at me and rightly so.
I scuttlecrouch back to the correct side of the trail.
I wait, and I suffer.
The pain backs off a little bit. I can stand again. I try walking, leaning forward to stretch my hamstrings.
Yes. Yes, I can do this.
I begin walking again. And if Ken Chlouber himself would have walked up to me and started yelling in my ear to get back on my bike and beating me about the head and shoulders with an enormous Leadville belt buckle to drive home his point, I would have kept right on walking.
The last three miles to the turnaround point in the race isn’t all hiking and misery. Some of it is very mild climbing, and a lot of it is beautiful.
I ride when I can, and walk when I need to. And during one of these marching sections, I see something important: a guy on a singlespeed. Or more to the point, another guy walking his singlespeed.
I commence marching with purpose. I catch him, say “hi,” and push by.
I do not know whether I have just marched myself into fourth or fifth place, or onto the podium, or maybe into second place. This is the first singlespeed I’ve seen the whole race.
I start thinking about how nice it would be to have a spot on the podium. And that thought gives me purpose as, little by little, conservatively, I get to the turnaround point.
4:18 on my Garmin. Which, using my simple-but-reliable calculus of “finish time for Leadville is double your turnaround time,” I was still in good shape for a sub-nine finish. 8:36 was my probable finish time.
My heart leaps for joy.
I dreamed of a Columbine split time of less than 4:30 for so many years. For more than a decade I dreamed and worked toward this. I don’t think it will ever feel ordinary for me to have this kind of power, this kind of speed.
I stop, put a leg down. This is the view from the Columbine mine, if you care to take a look:
I don’t look. Not today. Today is not about sightseeing (but I’m glad I had the chance to sightsee a week ago).
I take a drink of Coke a volunteer offers me. Ask for another. I drink it, toss the paper cup in the trash, and clip in. Half a minute is all the time I want to spend up here at 12,600 feet.
I wonder about The Hammer. Was she on track for a sub-nine-hour finish? If so, she’d need to hit this turnaround point soon. Really soon. Like, within ten minutes at the very most.
Then I begin climbing, so I can’t wonder about The Hammer anymore.
Yes, the first thing you do after climbing for eight miles and get to the turnaround point at the top of Columbine mine is climb some more. Just for a minute, though, and then it’s time to descend for eight solid miles, trying to choose a balance between going as fast as you can and not wrecking into one of the hundreds of people marching up the mountain, while also trying not to hit one of the loose or embedded rocks that will give you a flat.
It’s been maybe four minutes since I left the turnaround point. I’m picking my way down through rocks and around a mud puddle.
It’s The Hammer. She’s right there. I had hoped to see her soon, but I hadn’t expected to see her this soon.
She’s on track for a sub-nine-hour finish. Right at that moment, I become absolutely, completely certain: She is going to do it.
I want to shout. I want to yell. I am so incredibly happy I cannot even come close to describing it.
But also I’m surprised and my brain is not functioning and I don’t have words ready to say what I want to say.
So I just yelled, “Hey!” And hoped that conveyed everything I wanted it to. But I kind of suspect it didn’t.
Close maybe, but not quite.
PS: I think you’ll agree that once in a while, it’s kind of nice to have an installment end in a happy place. So let’s pick up here in the next installment of this story.