2015 Leadville 100 Race Report, Part 5: Perception and Reality

08.25.2015 | 8:33 am


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. 

Screenshot 2015 08 25 08 22 11

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.


  1. Comment by Brian in VA | 08.25.2015 | 9:10 am

    I think Yeeeeehawwwww! is a perfectly acceptable greeting in this case; frankly, in any case. I’ve just done it to someone walking past my office and their smile was my reward.

    I do love these race reports!

  2. Comment by Anne | 08.25.2015 | 9:39 am

    Fatty, this is so exciting. Catching up because I took the kids racing this weekend. I miss the quick links. Bring them back.

    You know what? Putting the links to the previous installments sections in has completely slipped my mind. Thanks for the reminder! Fixing now. – FC

  3. Comment by Andrew | 08.25.2015 | 9:59 am

    Not at all relevant to the point of the story – but a minor correction to your math: Your PR on the descent was about 4 minutes faster than 2011, but 2015 was only ~2.5 minutes faster than 2011.

    Aren’t people like me really annoying?

    I actually really appreciate this kind of catch. Thank you! – FC

  4. Comment by Rob W | 08.25.2015 | 11:36 am


    I am loving the story! Thanks for sharing.

    Any chance you will repost your ‘night with Reba’ either the video of it or (gasp) the text of it? I am super interested but unavailable to watch on Thursday.

    Also, are you going to be The Hammer’s support at Lotoja?

    EDIT: Earlier I thought you were asking if I recorded the conversation Reba and I had the Thursday BEFORE the LT100. That’s ridiculous of course, and shows I’m addle-brained. I will be recording and posting this Thursday’s event.

    I am going to be The Hammer’s crew at Lotoja. She and my niece are going to be working together to put together a fast time on the course. – FC

  5. Comment by MikeL | 08.25.2015 | 12:06 pm

    Perception is in the eye of the beholder.

  6. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 08.25.2015 | 12:31 pm

    Fatty, I think that Rob W means the UPCOMING Thursday Leadville Fatty-Reba debrief webinar.

    Oh, that. That makes sense. Yes, for sure we’ll record and post that. – FC

  7. Comment by rb | 08.25.2015 | 12:42 pm

    I saw you coming down. At least one wheel was in the air, and you were moving. You even had the presence of mind to yell “nice job guys!”. So in my perception, your reality was that you were flying, especially for a guy who claims he can’t descend.

    I’m a big fan of your perspective. – FC

  8. Comment by Rob W | 08.25.2015 | 1:00 pm

    Jeff Dieffenbach is right……sorry I wasnt very clear.
    I was thinking of the upcoming recap of Leadville that you and Reba will do on Thursday.

  9. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 08.25.2015 | 1:13 pm

    My Leadville recap-in-brief: down-up-down-up-down-flat-up-down-flat-up-down-up-down-up.

  10. Comment by LowPhat | 08.25.2015 | 1:49 pm

    I’ve spent enough time on the track on motorcycles, and, more recently, karting to learn something.

    It’s really easy to confuse effort and intensity with going fast. Being smooth and controlled feels than working hard, but often ends up being faster…

  11. Comment by Eric | 08.25.2015 | 1:50 pm

    I really appreciated the “YEEEEEHAAAWWW!” I got from you Fatty, especially since I was just starting the Columbine climb when you came zooming past me.

    This post is a good reminder that improving my descending will not help my time that much, since I lost less than 5 minutes to Fatty on the Columbine descent (which was probably mostly in the section to Twin Lakes), compared to the 50 minutes I lost on the Columbine climb or the 22 minutes I lost on the Powerline climb.

  12. Comment by MattC | 08.25.2015 | 3:22 pm

    Fatty, was meaning to ask this the other day (after you posted the pic of your awesome race-bike)…are you riding a dropper post? It doesn’t appear to be so.

    All I will say about them is that long ago, Kenny (p/o your core team) had been asked about dropper posts here in your comments, and he replied back “it changed my life”.

    I remember at the time thinking that answer seemed maybe a bit over the top…I mean, change my life? REALLY? Well, back in late May I FINALLY put one on. His words were SO not over the top…they were SPOT ON! (thanks Kenny!) I can’t BELIEVE I didn’t get one of these sooner!

    Suddenly I’m tearing down (my perception) what used to be spooky descents whooping it up. Dropping my seat 5″ (125mm) makes a TON of difference. My confidence is SO much greater now on downhills. IMO, they are even more important than tubeless tires, disc brakes or even gears (and I LOVE and NEED all of those things). I’ll NEVER have a MTB w/out one again.

    Sorry…got kind’a preachy there.

  13. Comment by MarkM | 08.26.2015 | 5:19 am

    I saw you just as you were finishing the descent. I, ahem, was just starting so had plenty of air to yell out your name., which did get me a big smile. As I move further away from the race and think about what it would take to get a buckle, I am actually considering another try.

  14. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 08.26.2015 | 9:27 am

    @MarkM, were you able to watch the 3-webinar series that Fatty and Reba gave before this year’s race? LOTS of great thoughts in there that can probably shave 30+ minutes off your time without training any more.

  15. Comment by Anonymous | 08.26.2015 | 12:26 pm

    So, Like MarkM, after the ‘race’ I considered “one and done” a noble accomplishment. No Buckle, but satisfaction of being an official finisher and haveing my family there to see me complete. By Thursday, I was thinking lioke Mark. I KNOW I have a sub 12 in me. THe challenge is now to get back in the race. See you there Mark, let’s work together!

  16. Comment by Kiki | 08.29.2015 | 2:28 pm

    Fatty, I tried really hard to persuade you to take some watermelon as you were starting the climb to the descent BUT you declined. I was sure with that determination you were going to break the 8 hour barrier, I mean you turned down watermelon!

  17. Comment by Ian | 09.9.2015 | 2:24 am

    Great write up, something which came to mind reading this series, is over your continued acceptance of your weakness in descending.

    If you are chasing a time so hard, why do you let this go unresolved? You’ve worked hard to gain fitness, yet you’re really only racing on the portions that play to fitness, where you start to point downhill you are happy to let people go past??.

    Have you considered a coaching session to improve your confidence in descending? at least that way you know you’re going to race the whole of the course, rather than just the flat and uphill parts?

    That is in fact something both The Hammer and I plan to address in the coming year. – FC


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