A Note from Fatty About this Guest Post: Waaaaay back in December, I did a little fundraiser and drawing for WBR. One woman won a bike, and one woman won an entry into the Leadville 100.
Sarah Barber was the person who won the entry into the Leadville 100, which proved that I am incredibly good at randomly picking contest winners. Why? Because not only was she excited about winning the entry, but she’s a bona-fide kick-butt elite racer (and the defending champion of Rebecca’s Private Idaho).
We’ve become friends, chatting by email ever since she won. She’s got great enthusiasm, sense of humor, knowledge of racing, and just a general niceness that makes her a lot of fun to be around — virtually or in the real world.
This is her race report. I should note, however, that — as is my way — I have sprinkled photos from her race throughout the report. Sarah did not ask me to place these pictures; I just rummaged through Facebook, WBR’s photos from the Leadville race week, and photos posted along with Sarah’s race time.
My Leadville 100
While a big part of my job involves flying around in helicopters tending to the sick and injured, the other part is managing Life Flight’s quality assurance program. The key element of quality management is root cause analysis—essentially, the thorough investigation into why something happened in order to prevent it from happening again.
At worst, root cause analysis reviews a major catastrophe, and in the air medical transport business, the possibilities are limitless.
Root cause analysis has become a mental habit for me, and at times I find myself studying my life like an outside observer, especially when I’m having trouble focusing on the task at hand.
Not surprisingly, climbing up the backside of Powerline during the 2015 Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike race, my mind began to wander (for the umpteenth time). One could hardly call my participation in this event a catastrophe, but at that moment it felt like enough of an adverse event to warrant some serious inquiry.
Why on earth had I gotten involved in this insane endeavor? And are all sixteen-hundred-something of us equally crazy??
I guess it all started at 0630 on Saturday, August 15, on the corner of 6th and Harrison in downtown Leadville, Colorado, when the gun went off. No—wait. It started before that. It started just a few weeks ago when Claire Geiger of World Bicycle Relief sent me an email with a registration code that made my entry into Leadville FREE! I’m a sucker for free stuff, so I signed up.
But wait. It actually started months before that when I first learned that I had an opportunity to participate in the LT100. By pre-ordering several copies of Fatty’s latest literary masterpiece (both with thoughtful personalized inscriptions!), I got my name entered into a drawing for one of two prizes. Fatty drew MY name for the prize that was a free entry in to LT100. Um…Thanks? Niiiice prize. Sheesh, Fatty, it’s YOUR fault! I thought as I trudged up the 26% incline behind a train of loonies all doing the same thing.
But wait. That wasn’t really fair. After all, I was the one who had ordered the book. But what I wanted was just the book. And In time for Christmas. I had no designs on winning prizes in random drawings. That sort of thing doesn’t happen to me…
But hold on a sec. If I hadn’t started reading Fatty’s blog, I never would have known about his book. So I never would have bought it, I never would have won the prize, I never would have signed up for Leadville—it wasn’t even on my radar. I’m a roadie, for Pete’s sake! (Who is Pete, anyway? And why did I read Fatty’s blog? I thought as I ticked off the tenths-of-miles on my Garmin, inching closer to yet another false summit on the Powerline climb.
But wait. I’m still wrong. All of this really started last fall when, just before participating in my first-ever gravel grinder, Rebecca’s Private Idaho, I happened upon Fatty’s blog while looking for beta on the event, as he and The Hammer had participated the previous year. So all this is somehow MY fault, I concluded, finally remounting my hardtail 29-er, now more motivated to get to the finish line. I got myself into this. I’m the only one who can get me through it now.
Now, more than a week has passed since the ride. My legs feel like themselves again. My lungs are enjoying the usual abundance of oxygen at a modest two-thousand-something feet above sea level. Everything is back to how it was.
Except it’s not.
Something is different. Prior to riding this year’s LT100, I had never spent more than six consecutive hours on a bike. I had never pedaled above twelve-thousand feet. And I had never relied on so heavily on loved ones and strangers, both on the day of the event and for months leading up to it, for support and information and encouragement.
You can read all about the course in people’s race reports (heck, you can SEE a lot of it on Race Across the Sky and its sequel), and the descriptions are pretty consistent. To some, the lung-searing, quad-busting final miles of the Columbine climb stand out.
For others, it’s the spectacular beauty of the view from the more humane Sugarloaf ascent. Or maybe it’s the Boulevard, so close to the finish and yet somehow still way too far away.
It’s all memorable stuff, for sure, but what I’ll remember most are the people. I’ll remember the pros at the front of the field who took off behind the “neutral” roll out at a shocking pace.
I’ll remember the Phoenix Patriot Foundation racers, some with prosthetic arms, some with prosthetic legs, all using their bikes to make their lives better.
I’ll remember the Tomorrow Chaser, who started the race in the last row, passed me at the base of Columbine, and stomped his way to 138th place overall, earning five bucks for every rider he passed (the money from Transamerica would then be donated to the local high school).
I’ll remember my new friends from World Bicycle Relief who coached my 70-year-old mother and my beloved husband in the Twin Lakes aid station—those two had me rolling through faster than any NASCAR pit crew I’ve ever seen.
And I’ll remember Fatty, as the guy who got me into this mess. Thanks a lot, Fatty. But I mean that with gratitude, rather than straight up blame. Thank you for a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
PS From Fatty: Sarah is fast.
A “Quick Links to Previous Installments” Note from Fatty: Here’s where you’ll find the parts to this story:
I’m down to the final installment of my race report. But before I begin, I want to show you a picture from earlier in the week:
This is Dave and Me. Dave’s been on Team Fatty since waaaay back. That 2009 jersey is legit.
And I’d like to call your attention to Dave’s hair, and the length thereof. You see, a couple years ago, Dave told his wife he wanted to race the Leadville 100, and would need to invest the time and money into getting ready for it.
Negotiations began, with his wife starting from a position of “for every dollar you spend on cycling, I get to spend a dollar on a giant party.”
Eventually they both realized that this would be a very pricey party, and so she changed the deal: Dave would not have to honor the dollar-for-dollar arrangement if he did not cut his hair until after he completed the Leadville 100.
As you can see, a couple years have passed, Dave’s hair has reached Samson-like proportions, and as shown in this picture a couple days before the race, he is ready to go.
I will have more on his story in a bit.
Can You See Me Now?
Scott and his friend Kara are pretty amazing. I don’t even know how many years they’ve come out to Leadville to crew for us, for one thing.
For another, it’s bound to seem a little odd to them that they make this very long drive out to help us during the race, and then — due to The Hammer’s and my new focus on fast transitions — seeing us for no more than one minute during that race.
And last year, things had gone kinda badly for The Hammer in the Pipeline Aid Station: she had ridden right by it, then had to double back.
This year, Scott had gone to some length to ensure this did not happen again:
Big thanks to Alan Schenkel for taking this picture.
Scott had printed a giant — seriously, it’s way bigger than it appears in the above picture — banner, reading “The Hammer’s + Fatty’s Aid Station.”
And sure enough, I did in fact see (and not ride by) this banner. Scott and Kara swapped me out with the most food and liquid I’d take on the whole day: two full bottles (one CR333, one water), six GU Roctane Gels, and another four GU Roctane Electrolyte Capsules.
In seconds — i.e., less than a minute — I was off.
It’s strange to consider which parts of the LT100 I really look forward to, and which I really dread.
I truly, in all honesty, look forward to what I consider the real crucible of the race: the Powerline climb. I love how it’s so intense. How it demands you give it absolutely positively everything you’ve got. How, once you’ve summited it, you know that the rest is going to be (relatively) easy.
On the other hand, I dread the flat dirt road and pavement section between the Pipeline and the beginning of the Powerline climb. Because you’re guaranteed a headwind. And you’re guaranteed to feel slow. Beaten, even.
But this year, I was lucky on this flat section. I caught up with one rider, then another, and the three of us formed a train, taking turns and giving each other a moment’s rest from the wind.
Then I turned off the pavement (forgetting to check my GPS to see what my mileage is, thereby ensuring I would not know how much of the four-mile Powerline climb I had done) and began the climb.
A quick flat section leads to a moderate climb, leading to a quick hairpin…and then I was at the Powerline march:
Earlier in the week, in one of Reba’s and my group rides, I had ridden this section without ever putting a foot down. In fact, it wasn’t even difficult.
Today, that was definitely not the case. Riding wasn’t even a consideration.
Halfway up, some of the good folks from Oakley (one of the event sponsors), were handing out little cans of Coke. The day had become hot and the prospect of a Coke was glorious.
I saw one of the Oakley guys dig into an ice chest and run up toward me with a cold Coke. “Thank you…” I began.
And then he ran by me, handing the Coke to someone else.
“…Or not,” I concluded, petulantly.
But then, he dashed back to his ice chest and dug out another Coke. “Keep going!” he yelled. “I’ll bring it to you!”
And he did.
I was so happy. And I wanted that Coke so bad. When the Oakley guy handed it to me, I — for the only time during this race — stopped dead, planted my feet, and slugged the Coke down.
I knew time was elapsing; I knew my average was dropping. I knew that I was, perhaps, eliminating my chance at beating my sub-8 goal and my “Beat 2009 Reba” goal.
In that moment, I did not care. This Coke was my whole world.
I finished, tossed the can, and resumed my march.
Then, about fifty feet later, I saw CarboRocket’s Brad, who — as he had promised — was handing out Coke and Skittles.
I took a Coke from him, too.
And if there had been someone another fifty feet up the trail also giving out Coke, I would have taken a Coke from them, too.
Summit of Slowness
Once I was past this hard 0.6 miles, I got back on my bike and promised myself I would not march again for the rest of the race.
It was a good promise to make to myself, and one I kept.
I began passing people, feeling like I was really moving fast.
I was, as it turns out, wrong. Without realizing it, I was putting in the slowest climb of the Powerline I had done in years. Check out how I did, compared to previous years:
It’s very interesting to me to note that two of the three of my fastest times were on singlespeeds, including my fastest time, back in 2013.
Why was I so much slower? One word: weight. While my power was great, the Powerline cares a lot more about your power-to-weight ratio. I was packing too much pudge up the mountain.
By the time I got to the summit of the Powerline climb, I was 6:49 into my race. To get a sub-8, I’d have to do the rest of the race — including a rocky descent, a three-mile paved climb, another descent, and a 2.2-mile climb to the finish line — in 1:10.
At that moment, I knew: my dream of finishing a sub-8-hour Leadville was going to have to be postponed to next year. If I want a sub-8, I’ve got to be this strong and at my lightest. It isn’t good enough to be one or the other.
“But,” I told myself, “If I give it everything I’ve got, I still have a shot at finishing under 8:14.”
I determined there and then that I would not let that goal get away from me.
To the Finish Line…
I’m proud of the entirety of my race, but I’m especially proud of how I raced the final portion of it: up three miles of pavement to the Carter Aid Station, down St. Kevins, to and up the Boulevard, I gave it everything I’ve got.
I did not leave anything on the course. Nothing at all.
While I wasn’t the fastest I’ve ever been up the pavement to the Carter Aid station (the power-to-weight thing again), from then on out, Strava shows nothing but personal bests.
I was going as hard as I could, and — if Strava is to believed — I had never gone this hard before.
Soon after I had begun the Boulevard climb — meaning I had about three miles left to go, 2.5 of which would be climbing, I heard my GPS chime.
I had thirteen minutes to do 2.5 miles of climbing.
Could I do it? I didn’t know, wasn’t in any state to do the math, didn’t remember how long it usually took me to get from this point to the finish line.
I didn’t know if I could do it, but I knew I could give it my absolute best.
So I turned myself inside out. Just gutted myself. And I turned in the fastest Boulevard time I have ever turned in. Including the times when I just tore up the thing for fun, not on race day.
In fact, I was a half minute faster up the Boulevard than my second best time.
Those of you who have done the race multiple times before know that turning in a PR like this, this far into the race, is not a small thing.
Here’s me crossing the finish line:
I kind of love this picture. I look exactly how I remember feeling.
8:12. At age forty-nine, I had just gone the fastest I have ever done this race (beating my personal best by six minutes), in nineteen starts and — now I can say it — eighteen finishes.
I owed Reba Rusch a huge thank you. Without realizing it, she — or her 2009 time — had pushed me to go harder and faster than I ever have before, right up to the finish line.
There’s rarely anyone at the finish line waiting for me. I expect that. They’re still out on the course, cheering on others. That’s fine.
But I am generally kind of messed up after a race, and it takes a force of will to take care of myself.
Which brings us back to Dave, with the Samson hair.
He hadn’t had a great day racing; he’d missed one of the cutoffs. So he and his wife met me at the finish line, and they took it upon themselves to take care of me. One of them went and got bottles of water (I kept sending them back for more, eventually slowing down after I drank four), while the other watched over me, while I watched down the road, hoping The Hammer would come in soon.
I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated help so much. I really really hope Dave hasn’t cut his hair yet, and that he grows it for another year and then comes and tears this course up.
Friends and Family
Once I felt well enough to walk, Dave, his wife and I went down to join the spectators, watching for racers to come in, probably fifty yards from the finish line.
When I saw The Hammer (I’m not going to reveal her time, because I’ll be publishing her writeup soon), I broke into a run, hoping she’d catch me at the finish line.
As you can see, she caught and passed me before the finish line.
That’s The Hammer for you.
My friends — the folks staying at the house I had rented for the week — all had good races, too. Here’s DJ on The Powerline, from earlier in the week:
DJ overcame a painful rib injury to finish in 11:26.
Cory, shown here (Cory’s the one on the right) conversing with a Leadville local who wandered into the house we were renting, looking for whiskey, had a strong day on the course, proving you can do the race on nothing but cream cheese, pork rinds, and water.
11:32 for Cory. Nice!
My brother-in-law Rocky learned, once and for all, that this race is not for him, getting pulled at Pipeline on the way back.
I admire the hell out of Rocky for trying so many times. The fact is, I don’t even dare try doing the kind of riding (very very very technical stuff) he’s good at.
The Hammer and I have been riding with my niece Lindsey and her husband Ben a lot this Summer. They’re a good match for us, and make us feel young.
Ben got a 9:03 (SO CLOSE to sub-9 on his first try!), Lindsey got a 9:51 (a big improvement over last year), and Ben’s dad Cory got an 11:10. Strong work by the whole family!
And then there were the Friends of Fatty, as I like to call them:
David Houston was the story of the day as far as I was concerned: he finished with a 12:51, meaning he earns the “never say die” award. I truly hope he writes his story up.
Jeff Dieffenbach, my Boggs teammate, got an extremely solid 11:30, riding a bike he had never been on before race week (my Scalpel 2).
Dave Thompson finished with a 9:28 — not as fast as he had hoped for, which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned, because it means there’s no way he’s not coming back next year.
And I’ll be back, too. For number nineteen, at age 50.
And this time, I’m gonna get that sub-8.
Watch and see.
PS: Click here for my Strava of the race. A screencap of my official time and splits follows:
A “Quick Links to Previous Installments” Note from Fatty: Here’s where you’ll find the parts to this story:
There was a moment, during the three mile section between the bottom of the Columbine Mine descent and the Twin Lakes Aid Station, when I thought I had gotten off course and had become lost.
Not because I had made a turn that was questionable and was now second-guessing myself. Not because the trail looked unfamiliar.
It’s just that, somehow, in this race with more than 1600 racers in it, I was completely and entirely alone. I looked ahead. As far as I could see: nobody. I looked behind. Still nobody.
“Could it be that I am lost?” I asked myself.
“No. Ridiculous,” I replied.
“OK, then where is everyone?” I mused.
I came up with a theory: that I was currently in a very weird place for a Leadville cyclist to be. I had gone fast enough on the climbs that I had separated myself from anyone who is not an exceptional climber.
And then I had gone slow enough that I had been left behind by all the good climbers who are also good descenders.
“I need to take a skills camp or something,” I concluded.
“Yeah, you do,” I agreed.
I rode through the Twin Lakes aid station 4:40 into the race — about fifteen minutes slower than what I had noted on the poster Jeff D had created for our crews to track our projected times vs our actual times:
Note that the time written down by the crew, “11:15am,” is at odds with the Twin Lakes timing mat, which has me coming across at 11:10am (4:40 into the race). This is because our crew was stationed a few minutes further down the trail from the timing mat. And also, I’m pretty sure they rounded up. And in short, I’m going with the timing mat’s time.
This was, sadly, still about fifteen minutes slower than my projected time if I wanted to finish in under eight hours.
I had several things, however, that kept me from falling into despair:
First, my projected splits gave me a ten-minute cushion. They were, essentially, splits for a 7:50 finish. So while I was fifteen minutes in arrears for a 7:50 finish, I was only six minutes in arrears for a 7:59 finish. Six minutes can be recovered over forty miles.
Second, it’s not like getting to the sixty mile mark in 4:40 is bad. Most years I’ve done this race, I’d still be working on getting to the Columbine Mine summit at this point, not back down and getting ready for the flattish runup to the Powerline.
Third, I had a backup time objective for this race. One that had come to me very recently. One I had instantly recognized as one I liked.
And one I had — impulsively — gone rather public with.
Here’s the story.
The Thursday before the race, Rebecca Rusch and I had gotten on stage at the historic Tabor Opera House to give our ten best tips, read from our respective books, and talk about our first Leadville 100 race.
As homework, I went back to Reba’s book, Rusch to Glory (which I highly recommend, by the way), and read about her first win in the Leadville 100. And there, on page 196, was this:
Hm. Her first winning finish time in the Leadville 100 was 8:14. “Interesting,” was all I thought at the time.
And then, onstage, I introduced Reba as four-time Women’s Champion in the Leadville 100. She introduced me as a “not-so-fast guy.”
Which raised my hackles. Just a little bit.
Then, when I mentioned I am a one-time singlespeed champion (which I am pretty proud of), Reba countered with, “Yeah, but how many people were in your race category?”
“There was a full podium, and I was on top of it,” is how I replied, because honestly, I didn’t know the answer. I just looked it up, though, and the answer is 34. Coincidentally, the number of finishing women in the 40-49 age group in 2009 — which is the category Reba raced and won — was also 34.
Hackles: now at 100%.
I decided, at that moment, that I had a new race objective, which I announced when Reba asked what I hoped to accomplish during the race this year.
“This year, I’m going to finish with a time that’s faster than what you won with the first time you raced the LT100,” I said.
“How fast was that?” Reba asked.
“Come hell or high water, I’m going to finish faster than 8:14,” I said.
“Hm,” Reba said. “Good luck with that.”
And — returning back to the present — I was on track for that (impulsive and hotheadedly-stated) goal. I was still on track to beat the 2009 version of Reba.
That said, I had only done the “easy” sixtyish miles of the race. I still had the hard part ahead of me.
I don’t think I can overemphasize how incredible my crew was. As I pulled into the Twin Lakes aid station, Scott and Kara quickly swapped out my empty GU packets for new ones. They swapped out my empty bottles for a full one. They handed me four GU Roctane Electrolyte Capsules to swallow, to continue keeping cramps at bay.
This left me free to notice some strange and awesome things.
First, my friend Brad Keyes was there. In fact, he was giving me a quick neck rub. And while I’m not a fan of neck rubs in general, if I’m going to get a neck rub from a guy, I want it to be Brad.
“I’ll see you again on the Powerline,” Brad said. “I’ll have Coke and Skittles for you.”
“Uh, OK?” I replied. Coke sounded great, but there was no human way I’d be able to chew skittles while mouth-breathing my way up the Powerline.
Next, I noticed my nephew Dallas and my niece Jessica (and her whole family) were all there. Since I thought Dallas lived in Hawaii, I was especially surprised to see him, and even said, “What’s up, Dallas?”
“Just chilling,” Dallas replied.
Strangely, I did not notice Friend of Fatty Frank W, even though he is roughly twice my height and assures me he was standing right by me. I only became aware Frank was there when he let me know, afterward, on Facebook. Indeed I still cannot recall him being nearby.
Race brain is a strange thing.
I noticed (and failed to notice) all of this in the ten or fifteen seconds I was there, and then I was gone again.
So Very Alone
As soon as I was back on the course, I noticed that hardly anything had changed. Somehow, I was still — in this sea of racers — all by myself.
Which meant that I was going to have to deal with a pretty serious headwind — I think I’ve had a headwind on the Twin Lakes to Pipeline section sixteen of the eighteen times I’ve done this race — alone.
But first, there was the quick uphill pavement I needed to contend with. Which I did by pedaling.
And second, I needed to contend with one suddenly obvious problem. Namely, that it was 11:15 in the morning, the day had warmed up, and I was still wearing my arm warmers.
Luckily, that problem was easily solved, when a spectator on the side of the road hollered my name. I smiled, veered over as I stripped off my arm warmers, and tossed them to her.
“Here, free armwarmers for you,” I said, giving this poor woman what was most likely the most stinkified gift she had ever received.
And then, unburdened, I continued up the road. Alone.
Oh, so very alone.
I was really trying to find someone to work with, but I never was able to find a group. I just couldn’t. There was one short train of two or three people, up in the distance, for most of this section, but I just…couldn’t…quite…bridge.
Even so, I got to the Pipeline aid station 5:39 into the race — my second fastest time for this segment of the race:
At this point, I was about ten minutes ahead of my previous best, back in 2011, when I finished with a time of 8:18.
But that year I had been a lot lighter. And there were three biggish climbs ahead of me in this final 28 miles.
My “Beat Reba’s 2009 Win” goal was looking good. My “Sub 8” goal…maybe wasn’t looking quite as good, but still not impossible.
But neither goal was a sure thing.
A “Quick Links to Previous Installments” Note from Fatty: Here’s where you’ll find the parts to this story:
A wise man once said, “Perception is everything.”
Or was it a wise woman?
Or did s/he say, “perception is nothing.”
Let’s just agree that a wise person once said, “perception is…mumblemumble.“
My point is that what you perceive and the way things can be objectively measured, can be radically different than each other.
I have an example.
The Long Way Down
Every year since the beginning of time (or at least since I’ve started doing this race), I’ve stopped at the Columbine aid station, just for a quick drink or bite to eat.
Many years, there’s been cantaloupe, and that is the best. There is nothing in the world quite so wonderful as cantaloupe at 12,600 feet in the middle of the race.
Other years, there’s been watermelon, and that’s a close second best, wonderfulness-wise.
This year, however, I wasn’t looking for mid-race refreshment. I was looking to shave every possible second off my time. So I didn’t stop. I just went around the cones and began what has to be the cruelest, least-known joke in the Leadville 100:
The first thing you do in the big descent from Columbine Mine is…climb.
Sure, it’s just for a quarter mile, maybe less, but it still seems just a little unkind. A little unfair.
After that, though, it’s all downhill, for seven and a half miles. But you gotta be careful, because it’s a doubletrack-width trail, and other racers are going the other direction.
And in my case, several racers who were going slower than I was on the way up were finding the new gravity situation much more to their liking and wanted to get by me.
So, lotsa people, lotsa effort, very little oxygen. It’s amazing, really, that most of us get up and down that section of trail without hurting each other. (I’m aware of a couple people who crashed out on Columbine, but don’t really know their stories.)
I do know that I was nearly brought to tears — and I am not exaggerating here — by the fact that so many people called out “Go Fatty!” to me as I rode down. Ben. The Hammer. Dave Thompson. Lindsey.
And then I passed Ken again. This time, he didn’t heckle me, but yelled, “Good job! You’re my hero.”
The man knows how to motivate people, what kind of motivation to use, and when to use it.
I breathed a sigh of relief: passing Ken here meant that I had made it past the technical 2.5 miles of the descent.
The rest would be easy.
“I had no cramps, no cramps!” I said aloud, happy I had made it through this big climb and descent without this common problem.
Later, after the race, someone would approach me and say, “Why did you say, ‘No cramps, no cramps’ as you crossed paths with me during the race.
It would not be easy to explain.
Friends kept yelling my name as I worked my way down the trail. Sometimes I’d recognize them in time to yell back, but more often I wouldn’t. I’d still yell, but it would be have to be something more generic, like:
That said, I did recognize and yell to (not necessarily in this order) Rocky (whose story I shall not recount, out of respect), Dave Houston (whose story I shall not recount, because he’s currently about 18 months late on his writeup of the trip to Italy with WBR he promised me), Cory (who was eating a slab of bacon), the other Cory (I can’t believe there were two Cory’s staying at the house I rented), the other Dave (there were a total of three Daves staying at the house I rented, but that seems less amazing than two Cory’s, somehow), and DJ (I wish I had gotten a cool nickname like “DJ,” but no; I got “Fatty.”).
All of them making their way up, all of them doing their best.
I, meanwhile, was feeling…kinda weird.
And I don’t mean “weird” as in the kind of weird I usually feel. No, this was a lightheaded, disconnected weird.
I slowed down, recognizing that if I felt this way my reflexes were probably not at their best. And then I self-assessed.
Was I lightheaded because of altitude? Maybe, but I was lower now than I had been half an hour ago, and I felt fine then.
Was I lightheaded because of lack of food? I didn’t think so. I had been absolutely fastidious about my eating regimen. If I was riding hungry, this wouldn’t be the first symptom; this would come after grumbling stomach, a drop in power, and then an inability to get food down. I had none of those symptoms.
I chose to ignore it (with the exception of being a smidgen more cautious than I already was on the descent) and hope it would go away.
This, as it turned out, was a workable solution, in my case. I was never aware of the moment when I no longer felt dizzy, but eventually — before I got to the bottom of the Columbine descent — I was not.
Still, I felt like I had been taking it slow, like I had come to an almost complete stop at the hairpin corners (which also seemed very loose and dusty that day).
I felt like, as I carefully eased my way down what was in fact the least technical descent of the day, the sub-eight dream was slipping away from me.
Through the years, the Leadville 100 mountain bike race has grown and evolved. I have fun looking back to the early days of the race (400 riders, total, with me somewhere in the middle of the pack), but I also really love the current incarnation (1600+ riders, with me being one of the lead 100 or so).
One of the things I loved best this year was that with so many riders, so spread out, I got to witness people racing and chasing their goals, for the entirety of the descent down Columbine.
So many people, working so hard to show themselves what they can do. To test themselves. It’s inspiring.
I hit the bottom of the descent, stuck out my hand for Yuri Hauswald — DK200 winner and awesome GU guy — to give me a quick five, and charged forward.
In my mind, the rest of the race would be “easy.”
Perception and Reality
I felt like I had fouled this segment of the race up by descending so cautiously, and vowed to make time up from Twin Lakes to the Pipeline.
The strange thing, though, is my perception doesn’t match reality.
In truth, I had just done the descent from Columbine to Twin Lakes the second fastest I have ever done it. Just a minute and a half slower than my best, and 2.5 minutes faster than in 2011, the year I had my fastest time at Leadville.
I didn’t have the data in front of me to let me know I shouldn’t be beating myself up, though. All I had was urgency.
I needed, somehow, to step my race up.
A “Quick Links to Previous Installments” Note from Fatty: Here’s where you’ll find the parts to this story:
There were times, as I raced the 2015 Leadville 100, that I cursed myself and my perpetual lack of self-discipline. There were times when, as I sensed that I was not climbing as fast as I normally do, that I sarcastically said to myself, “Well, Fatty, aren’t you glad you kept postponing getting serious about your weight this year? Now that you’re working harder to go slower, was all the garbage you ate worth it?”
(I can be a little hard on myself sometimes.)
I am happy to report, however, that between the first main checkpoint in the race (Pipeline) and the second one (Twin Lakes), I did not think this kind of thought even once.
My spirits were high, my intensity was unlike anything I’ve ever felt in a race before. This may be because this part of the course is what is normally called the “flat” part of the race.
I put “flat” in sarcasm quotes because this is the elevation profile of this fifteen mile section of dirt road, pavement, doubletrack, and the course’s only singletrack:
Yeah. That’s super flat.
That said, this is the flat-est section of the course, and it clearly nets more descending than climbing (although there is still 673 feet of climbing).
And this year, while I am heavier than I would like to be, I am also stronger than I have ever been before. I can feel it. The work I did with TrainerRoad last winter did some amazing things with what I can push out of my legs. (Now I just need them to take control of my diet in a similar way.)
“I am an everlasting, hot-burning, Roman-freaking-candle,” I exulted to myself. Which made a lot more sense to me at the moment I thought it than it does now that I type it up.
My point is, I felt pretty extraordinarily powerful.
Jason — a local rider I’d been talking with about working together during this race since last April — was still with me, taking turns with me. Giving me moments of rest so I could continue pouring it on when I was up front.
“Let’s get that sub-eight!” I whooped.
“Yeah, let’s do it,” Jason agreed, though in a much more reasonable tone.
“Hey,” I asked. “Have you ever wondered why you never see snakes at this altitude?”
And then I realized: I had asked him this exact question about half an hour ago.
I resolved to stop making conversation and focus on riding.
The Quantification of Love
When you look at that elevation profile above, you can see that maintaining momentum is a huge part of racing from the Pipeline to Twin Lakes. If you can convert quick downhills into forward motion during the uphills, you can be so much faster than otherwise.
And for that reason, I was loving the Cannondale F-Si Black Inc. It tracked so beautifully on the descents, the Lefty fork soaking up rocks and bumps, with the ENVE 50-50s giving me greater confidence than I ever have had before. The Shimano XTR Di2 making it ridiculously easy for me to go to the biggest gear (just hold down the button you’ve assigned to shifting up for a couple seconds) and pedal my brains out.
Then I’d hit the corresponding uphill, keep pedaling ’til I started to bog a little, then shift one lighter, make a quick press of a button to lock out the fork, stand up and go.
The F-Si is an incredible bike.
Hey, I know I’ve shown this picture before, but I want to show it again, with the intention that this time you take a good hard look at what a beauty this bike is:
I’m not going to even try to humblebrag around it: when I do this, it is very unusual for me to not drop pretty much everyone in my zip code.
By the time Jason and I were a third of the way through this section, I noticed we had caught and re-passed most everyone who had dropped me during the Powerline descent (where my lack of skill overcame my bike’s awesomeness and I tiptoed down).
By the time we were two-thirds of the way through this section, Jason had dropped off my wheel.
And by the time I got to where my crew had set up near the Twin Lakes timing mat, I had fully eclipsed my previous bests on this fifteen mile section:
I had just bettered my previous best (in 2011, the last time I rode a geared bike) by nearly two minutes.
I raced into the Twin Lakes Crew Corridor, looking for — and finding without difficulty — my crew: Lisa’s brother Scott and his good friend Kara.
The night before, I had written them a detailed list of what I wanted them to do at Twin Lakes 1:
- ASK if I want my arm warmers removed
- ASK if I’ve had a flat or other mechanicals
- REMOVE both bottles (note: I had finished the half-bottle of half-strength CR333 I had started the race with but had only drank half the bottle of water)
- REMOVE the empty gel packets from my center pocket
- ADD 6 new GU Roctane gels to my left pocket
- ADD a bottle of water in my front cage, a half-bottle of half-strength CR333 in my rear cage
- PLACE IN MY HANDS 4 GU Endurolyte capsules and a bottle of water to wash them down / get ahead on hydration.
Scott and Kara were amazing in executing this rather uptight list, did everything I asked in the list, and had me rolling again within fifteen seconds.
Yes, no exaggeration. Fifteen seconds. Really, someone should video how efficient they are and how amazingly straight-faced they can be about taking my ridiculous sense of urgency so seriously.
Basically, let me say this: Scott and Kara handled everything perfectly.
And now I was off to do the part of the race that looms large in most every rider’s mind: The Columbine Climb.
Fresh Vs Not-so-Fresh
One week before the Leadville 100, The Hammer and I had arrived at the base of the Columbine Mine climb (having driven straight there from Grand Junction, CO that morning), and we had attacked the Columbine Mine Climb.
Ridden just that climb, at race pace, just to see what it’s like to really go at it with fresh legs.
Here’s us at the summit, afterward:
How’d I do? Well, this ought to give you an idea:
1:06:04. Which is to say, I turned in the 56th fastest time up that climb that’s ever been uploaded to Strava: one second slower than Jeff Kerkove’s best…and eleven seconds faster than Robbie Ventura’s.
And yeah, that’s nice and all (nice enough that I took the time to call it out on my blog, and you would too), but…how’d I do on race day?
Well, not bad at all…although — shockingly! — I was not as fast when riding this climb with forty miles of hard racing in my legs as I was when I was completely fresh.
1:15:13 — nine minutes more. Furthermore, it wasn’t even my fastest race-day performance. In 2013, I had done this climb in 23 fewer seconds.
Which is still not half-bad…but it was one of the parts of the race when I was giving myself a mental beatdown for not being five or seven pounds lighter.
Hi Again, Ken
As I got near the top of Columbine, nearing that 2.5-mile section where the air gets ridiculously thin and your legs suddenly have no power, I had a deja vu moment:
I saw Ken Chlouber, founder of the LT100, in the exact same place as I saw him last year.
Now, last year, this is the exchange he and I had:
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.
Remembering this, I know one thing for sure the moment I see Ken: this year he will never see me off my bike.
“Good to see you, Ken!” I shout. Because it is.
“Keep going!” he yells back. “Don’t quit!”
“I will,” I reply. “I’m having a good race!”
“Less talking, more riding!” he shouts.
I tell you. That man could be a professional heckler.
I do more of the climb on my bike than I ever have before, getting off only once, because I feel the twinges of a cramp coming on and I want to head it off.
I swallow half a dozen electrolyte capsules as I push my bike up to the end of the pitch. I’m doing an incredible job of managing my food, managing my drink, taking care of myself.
I have, it seems, become an actual expert at racing this race.
I’m getting to the top of the hard part of the Columbine climb. The last mile is easier. Almost flat, really.
I near the turnaround point. The beginning of the second half of this race.
And from many years of experience, I know: the way I ride, I can more or less count on an almost dead-even time split for my return trip. Plus or minus six minutes.
I haven’t been looking at my computer for most of the climb. It’s counterproductive: a good number might make me worry I’m going too hard; a bad number might demoralize me.
But as I reach the turnaround point, I do look down.
Four hours, and four minutes. 4:04. I’m within the margin of error for a sub-eight-hour finish at Leadville.
It’s not impossible. If I am just a tiny bit faster on the second half of the race, a 7:59:59 may just happen.
The blast of adrenaline I feel just about compensates for the near-complete lack of oxygen at 12,600 feet.
For the first time since I’ve begun doing this race, I do not stop at the Columbine aid station. I just hit the turnaround and keep going.
“Don’t you want some watermelon?” a volunteer — evidently aware of my racing tradition — calls out.
“Too fast this year!” I yell back. “No time for watermelon!”
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