Racing the LT100 with The Queen of Pain: Forceful Encouragement

09.3.2014 | 9:39 am

A Note from Fatty: This is the latest installment of the Hammer’s telling of the 2014 Leadville 100, where she was mentored by top pro Rebecca Rusch. Click here to read yesterday’s installment

We were at Sugar Loaf now: my favorite climb of the race!

I set the pace on the climb again but as we neared the top and it became rollers, Rebecca pulled ahead to make sure I kept moving at my limit.

I took a moment to eat and look up from the road; I was in one of the most beautiful places in the world and I needed to enjoy it–even if it was only for a brief moment. I yelled out to Rebecca, “This is freaking beautiful!” She agreed; this is also her favorite part of the ride.

Descending the Powerline

My enjoyment of the moment was short-lived though. I knew what was coming: the Powerline descent!

As we approached it, Rebecca asked who was going to lead. I hesitated…not quite sure what I wanted. I’m a little indecisive at times, just ask Elden. I hemmed and hawed for a minute; I think Rebecca was growing a little impatient. She calmly told me I needed to decide…and decide now! 

OK, fine. I tossed a mental coin and decided that Rebecca would lead out this time and I would follow–that way I could follow her line and watch her technique.

Screenshot 2014 09 03 05 55 03
Photo by Linda Guerrette, and originally included in her blog post, “Delivering the Goods.” Used with permission.

The descent down the top part of Powerline seemed to go smoothly. I actually passed someone, which gave me a boost of confidence. We were part of a long line of people moving down the mountain — a train of riders. I could usually see the rider in front of me. They would be slowly pulling away from me, but as the trail would hit the few parts that turn up quickly at a sharp pitch, I would catch them again.

As we descended the last really steep pitch, the group of descending riders was becoming bottlenecked—I guess I’m not the only nervous descender! I was somewhere in the middle of a long line of people. No point in trying to pass here.

Then my front wheel got sucked into one of the many erosion-caused ruts in the trail — the ruts that make the Powerline trail famous for wrecks. Luckily, I stayed on my bike. 

The guy behind me, however, wasn’t so lucky.

Riding very close (too close?), when I got slowed by dropping into the rut, he didn’t react in time and his front wheel hit my back wheel. I heard a commotion and it sounded like he went down. I tried to turn around — a bad idea! — and then yelled to see if he was OK. There was no way I could stop, or I would have caused a huge pileup!

Someone yelled that the guy was OK. Whew! Still, the moment really unnerved me. And as I’m writing this, I’m re-living that few seconds…and feeling really bad. We weren’t going very fast and I hope he was OK!

No Brakes, NO Brakes!

As we came out of the technical descent into the straight, fast (and still very downhill) part of the Powerline, Rebecca yelled, “Let up on the brakes!…No brakes, NO BRAKES!”

Screenshot 2014 09 03 05 55 56
Photo by Linda Guerrette, and originally included in her blog post, “Delivering the Goods.” Used with permission.

I was still a little rattled from the wreck behind me though. I tried to let up…but my darned fingers kept betraying me and squeezing the brakes!

People came flying by me. I really don’t see how they can go that fast. I don’t think I’ll ever be that brave!

Still, My Strava shows that I had my all time fastest time down the Powerline.

Screenshot 2014 09 03 05 39 42

But even if I would have known, I wouldn’t have had time to congratulate myself –because we were off and rolling again!

Lessons from The Queen of Pain

As we pulled onto the pavement, I saw Rebecca sit up and eat something, so — trying to emulate her wherever and whenever I could — I quickly did the same.

She then looked back at me and did something she would do many, many, many (many many many) times throughout the day: She started smacking her own butt — like she was urging on a horse, or calling a dog to her.

It was obvious what this meant: I was supposed to do whatever it took to catch up, fall in line behind her.

This gesture was frequently — but not always — accompanied by her yelling, urgently, “PEDAL, PEDAL, PEDAL!” Rebecca would then make sure I could hold onto her wheel as we bridged from one train of bikers to the next.

We eventually caught a large group and began cycling through pulls. When I got to the front for my turn, I remembered Rebecca telling me earlier to take a quick pull and get off. I thought I was doing this, but then I heard her yelling from the back of the pack:


I quickly obeyed.

As we motored along, I felt really good. My legs were responding just like I wanted them too! My back felt good and strong and my energy levels were soaring. The Gu and the Roctane were fueling my engine!

The Difference in The Flats

As we rolled into the Pipeline aid station, Rebecca enthusiastically greeted her boyfriend Greg. I was a little jealous of the emotional support she was receiving; I would have loved to see Elden right then.

Greg was great. He gave me a bottle of Roctane and I was off — giving them a private moment.

I wondered when — or if — I would see Elden during this next section of the race. This section was relatively flat and I knew he’d be spun out on his singlespeed, so there was a possibility we could catch him before Twin Lakes. I was hopeful…but not really expecting it. People don’t expect it a lot of the time because of his “Fatty” nickname, but Elden is a fast climber, and I figured he had put some good time on us on the two earlier climbs.

I remember the section between Pipeline (mile 25) and Twin Lakes (mile 40) is a blur. We moved along, averaging about 16mph. The single track section went smoothly.

Screenshot 2014 09 03 05 56 29
Photo by Linda Guerrette, and originally included in her blog post, “Delivering the Goods.” Used with permission.

I was still feeling strong as we rolled into the Twin Lakes aid station. We had covered that section in less than 45 minutes [A Note from Fatty: I have never ridden that section of the race that fast].

I had been keeping my eye on my average speed; I knew I had to keep it at 11.6mph to finish (barely!) under nine hours. So far I was averaging about 16mph…which sounded good, but the biggest climbs of the day were still ahead of me. I knew I needed to bank a lot of time.

I met my crew first and Rebecca continued on to Greg. I could see him not far from where I was.

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My crew was amazing. I had written down instructions and they followed them to a tee. I had them put a new Camelbak on, empty the garbage out of my pocket, and restock my food pocket with Gu Roctane and a salted nut roll — already unwrapped for easy eating — in less than a minute.

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Kellene, Elden’s sister, informed me that Elden had rolled out exactly three minutes ahead of me — we were starting to catch my honey! Honestly, though, I knew that the gap would widen as we started climbing Columbine. Elden had bested my time by ten minutes on this climb. I was hoping to see him on the descent, though. 

Climbing to Columbine Mine

I was looking forward to the Columbine climb. This is the part of mountain biking that I’m actually really good at. As we hit one of the first steep pitches of the climb, I automatically went into my singlespeed climbing position: standing.

Rebecca instantly reprimanded me.

“I don’t want you doing any of that standing and climbing. It wastes too much energy.”

I obediently sat back down.

Rebecca said I should try and shift my weight forward and back and side to side on the seat to help relieve the pressure on my back — rather than just standing. (I did stand up and “row” on occasion when I thought she wasn’t looking!)

As always on this climb, I steadily passed people. It’s very encouraging to do this. In past races, I would encourage people that I passed with pleasantiries. This year I had nothing. I couldn’t say a thing to anyone; I was riding at my absolute limit. I didn’t even have the extra breath to give encouragement to other riders.

Meanwhile, Rebecca seemed to have plenty of breath, and was very encouraging to me on the climb. She told me to set the pace again and she would hang with me if she could. If she couldn’t she would catch me on the descent.

It was really nice to have Rebecca acknowledge something I was good at. It gave me a little moment of happiness to know that a really fast pro didn’t think she could hang with little ol’ me!

There wasn’t a whole lot of conversation between us as we climbed up Columbine. Occasionally a rider would talk to Rebecca, usually asking her if we were on pace for a sub-nine-hour time. Rebecca would always reply, “We are at the moment…but if you can go faster, you should go!”

If only I could go a little faster! But I was really giving it all I had!

As we rounded the last switchback on the dirt road below the goat trail, I spied a girl ahead of us with some really cool socks on. I made her my carrot and soon caught her. I was surprised and shocked to see that it was Selene Yeager! It was amazing to me: I was riding at the front of the this race with some really fast chicks!

I did not ride the Goat Trail — the steep, rocky, technical final couple of miles at the top of the Columbine Mine climb, all above 11,500 feet — like I had a few days earlier. I mostly walked.

Selene passed me; I couldn’t do anything about it. I was feeling really pooped. I reached back into my food pocket and found that the only thing I had was a salted nut roll in my pocket!

A salted nut roll?!

What was I thinking? There was no way I could chew that thing right now! So I bummed a GU off Rebecca. Now, not only was she my “mentor”…she was also my Sherpa!

Hi There

As we approached the top, there began to be a constant stream of riders coming back down the trail. I was on the lookout for Elden. About a quarter mile from the top, I saw him descending fast towards me, his head down in concentration.

I quickly mustered up the air to yell, “Wahoo! I love you!” He quickly glanced up just in time to see me! I was so grateful that I hadn’t been looking down at my bike or I would have missed him altogether!

Turn Around and Back Down

As we hit the aid station — the turnaround point for the race — at the top of the Columbine climb, we had caught up with Selene again, so Rebecca, Selene and I were all riding together. One of the volunteers said, “There is a fierce competition in the women’s field today!”

It took me a moment to process what the volunteer was referring to. Then I got it: having  three women arrive at the turnaround aid station at once — in 4:23, on pace for a sub-nine-hour finish — would appear to the onlooker that we were all jockeying for position.

It’s funny: I hadn’t even thought about that I was one of the fast women; I was just feeling priviliged to be a part of this group of riders!

As  we were leaving the aid station, Selene flicked her hand indicating me to go around her and lead the descent! “NO WAY!” I told her. “You go!”

So Selene led out, and Rebecca yelled at me, “Follow Selene’s wheel — she is a fantastic descender!”

I tried my best, which lasted about two seconds. And then Selene was gone.

I can’t really explain what happened over the next 6.7 miles of descent down Columbine. All I can say was I was terrified.

I froze up. I was a mess.

Forceful Encouragement

Rebecca followed, coaching me down the mountain…like she was talking someone down off a bridge. She was yelling to me to, “Stay loose!” And to, “Ride through it!” And to, “Let up on the brakes!” And to, “Relax and take a deep breath!”

No matter what she did, though, I was terrified. The negative scripts had regained control of my thoughts. I heard people yelling words of encouragement to me as I descended down the trail. I had no idea who these kind bikers were. I was concentrating so hard on the trail that I couldn’t look up, let alone respond!

I felt bad. Coming down the Goat Trail is usually the time I yell words of encouragement to the racers who are hiking their bikes up the mountain. I know they like that encouragement, because I do too.

This time, though, it was the hikers’ words of encouragement trying to offset the yells of the “tyrant” on my wheel. Later, after the race, several people came up to me and told me they heard Rebecca yelling at me on the Columbine descent. They wanted to know if she yelled like that the whole race! I admitted that she gave me a lot of…forceful encouragement!

As we hit the final rocky section of the doubletrack — just before the trail smoothes out — I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I was officially losing it! The mantra that I was reciting in my head was anything but positive: “Oh shit oh shit oh shit!” was what was going through my head. My stomach was so tense. I’m pretty sure I was hyperventilating.

We got through it. But we weren’t done descending. Not even close. Rebecca pulled around me on the dirt road and pointed — again — at her butt and told me to follow her.

I kept reassuring myself that I had made it down the scary part. Now it was smooth sailing, right? I slowly eased off the brakes and started to follow her. I was upset, and I’m sure it showed. My stomach was knotted up. I tried to take some deep breaths and calm myself, but I was pretty frazzled.

Then, as we rounded one of the switchbacks, I was startled to see…Selene just ahead of me!

What the …?

Rebecca passed her and motioned for me to do the same. What??? Pass Selene on a downhill? That’s not possible!

But I did.

That pass gave me a new surge of adrenaline! Maybe I wasn’t descending as bad as I thought!  (I later found out Selene was having issues with her brakes.)

Multi-Purpose Encouragement

I think Rebecca realized I was losing it. She would drift back and tell me how good I was doing, yelling things like, “Looking good” and “You’re doing great!”

These words meant a lot to me; Rebecca knew I was struggling and needed some TLC. But her words of encouragement were not benefitting only me, but everyone that was climbing up Columbine heard her words, too…and thought Rebecca was talking to them! I would often hear, “Thanks!” from the someone in the train of riders battling their way up the hill!

It made me smile: Reba was not only encouraging me, but everyone else that could hear her words!

No Time to Rest

Sometimes you feel great when riding, sometimes you don’t. While I had had a great climb to the top of Columbine, I had a scary, terrible time coming down. In fact, compared against recent Leadville races, I was two minutes slower during this descent.

Ugh. I had officially caved under pressure.

But there was still more than forty miles to go. The race wasn’t over yet!


  1. Comment by Tom in Albany | 09.3.2014 | 9:51 am

    Does Fatty point at his butt and tell you to follow him too???

    Great write-up, Lisa. Glad to be reassured that The Hammer is also A Human!!

  2. Comment by TucsonDave | 09.3.2014 | 10:23 am

    I’m totally enjoying your story here Hammer!
    You and Fatty make a great writing team

  3. Comment by wharton_crew | 09.3.2014 | 10:25 am

    Descending is scary, especially when there are rocks, ruts, roots and any other ‘r’ word just waiting to cause a wreck. I’m impressed beyond measure that you guys can bomb these descents like you do.

    Even though we know the results of the race, this is so fun to hear you tell your side of the story.

    Every once-in-a-while, do you sit up and shake your head at how blessed your lives are?

  4. Comment by New Zealand Ev | 09.3.2014 | 10:26 am

    Thanks so much for the write ups. It is so very good to know that I am not the only one who sometimes is fine with a descent and then other times the same descent terrifies me.

  5. Comment by cyclingjimbo | 09.3.2014 | 11:17 am

    Great write-up! Thanks for sharing your experience and allowing us to enjoy the Leadville experience vicariously.

    It is so totally cool how Rebecca stayed with you and kept coaching / encouraging / pushing you throughout this race. What an amazing gift.

  6. Comment by Mike C | 09.3.2014 | 11:28 am

    These are great write-ups! Will there be one from Rebecca’s perspective? It’d be great to get learn her view on prepping for the race, motivating the Hammer during the race, etc.

  7. Comment by Jacob | 09.3.2014 | 11:35 am

    Just remember that when someone hits you from behind, it’s usually their fault. I’d never follow very close on a descent on a mountain bike. You kind of have to expect things to happen to the person in front of you that would cause them to suddenly slow or crash. I’ll draft inches off your back wheel on the road (assuming you know I’m there), although I’ll back on on fast downhills even there to a couple of feet.

    When I ride with other people on the mountain bike, I’ll keep several yards between me and the next guy.

    And I’m probably much more a coward than you on the descents. In fact, I’m such a coward that I’ve never actually crashed. This also feeds into the fact I’m usually in the lower half of the bike leg of offroad duathlons and mountain bike races while I’m usually fairly high on the board on the road bike. I’m 200 lbs. If I weren’t terrified of the consequences, I could really fly downhill.

  8. Comment by Doug (Way Upstate NY) | 09.3.2014 | 12:01 pm

    104 miles of Rebecca Rusch “encouraging you”. Lisa you are a brave brave person. There were so many times in that race where I was just glad to be suffering alone. :)

  9. Comment by Sara | 09.3.2014 | 12:21 pm

    Thanks for telling the ups and the downs – I’m loving this whole story!! :)

  10. Comment by Corrine | 09.3.2014 | 12:22 pm

    I’ve had the same mantra go through my head on many downhills, also. Although usually I end up breaking and stopping because I’m sure I’m going to crash. You are so brave to keep going even when you feel that way. This is such a GREAT write up. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings about the race.

  11. Comment by Brian in VA | 09.3.2014 | 12:24 pm

    Great write up, Hammer! Keep up the good work!

  12. Comment by Jason | 09.3.2014 | 12:34 pm

    That would be awesome to have a pro ride along with me and tell me what to do in a long race… and even yell at me to htfu when I have a mental meltdown! Haha!

  13. Comment by TK | 09.3.2014 | 3:46 pm

    This writeup is just plain awesome.

  14. Comment by Andy@wdw | 09.3.2014 | 5:28 pm

    So, basically you spent your Saturday following around a cute girl in spandex shorts who kept slapping her butt for you. For 9 hours.

    How do I sign up for this??

    Seriously though, I’m loving this report! It’s so inspiring to watch an already awesome cyclist break down barriers and reach new heights.

  15. Comment by Harmon | 09.3.2014 | 9:09 pm

    This is fabulous!

  16. Comment by Rob & Joanna Szrama | 09.3.2014 | 11:17 pm

    You have me in the race Lisa, keep it up!

  17. Comment by Will Benton | 09.4.2014 | 6:35 am

    Great job Hammer!

  18. Comment by Christina | 09.4.2014 | 7:38 am

    Questions for The Hammer:

    Do you ever feel like you’re going to cry during a race?

    Also, how do you handle your fear? I spend more time walking my bike downhill than I do uphill because I’m afraid. What are your tricks?

    Thank you!

  19. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » Racing the LT100 with The Queen of Pain: DEMON WOMAN | 09.4.2014 | 10:11 am

    [...] « Racing the LT100 with The Queen of Pain: Forceful Encouragement [...]

  20. Comment by The Hammer/Lisa | 09.4.2014 | 12:34 pm

    @Christina: I really fight the urge to cry when exercising! It’s like having a major asthma attack. Knowing what it does to me-I fight the urge! I’m pretty focused when I’m racing-I don’t really get “weepy”, I get angry.

    Fear factor-how i’ve dealt in the past is by slowing down-way down so if i wreck I’ll cause the least amount of damage. With Reba’s tips, I actually feel less scared now when I “go fast” and roll over the obstacles. Deep breathing and staying loose has also helped a ton! Since the race I’m feeling soooo much more secure in my downhill skills which in turn lessens my overall fear! Good luck! It is an ongoing process, I have been fearful of descents for a VERY long time!

  21. Comment by Christina | 09.5.2014 | 7:35 am

    Thanks! I’m hoping to hit the trails a few more times and try it. I know this summer when I made it over some obstacles with speed and everything was fine, I tried to tell myself, “See? We didn’t die!” It’s like banking the good times.

    I watched her downhill video before my last race and repeated, “Momentum is my friend. Momentum is my friend.”

    Okay, off to read the next part of this. Thank you again! You’re my hero!

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