2016 Leadville 100 Race Report, Part 8: The Crux

09.14.2016 | 7:31 am

We were eighty miles into this 104-mile race. I had truly, absolutely been giving it my all, working harder for The Hammer than I have ever worked for myself.

But I had paid a price. I had been riding into a headwind since we exited the Pipeline aid station, and I was cooked. I flicked my elbow, pro peloton-style. Nothing. 

This is most likely because that’s not how The Hammer and I generally signal to each other that it’s time to come around and take a turn. Generally, in fact, we just have a pre-arranged agreement: we swap at the mile marker signs on the road.

It had been more than a mile, and I was tired. 

No, “tired” doesn’t really get to the heart of what I felt. I wasn’t just tired. I was smoked. Cooked. Destroyed. Done. Over. Finished. Beaten. Demolished. Fried. Bonked.

Bonked?” Was that the word I was looking for? Yeah, maybe it was. But I hoped it wasn’t.

I waved my left hand in an exaggerated motion, like I was bowling. Sweeping The Hammer forward.

The Hammer rode forward, easily. “Oh, are you finally going to let me have a turn?” she joked.

“Please,” I replied. “I am toast. And I can feel that my legs are on the verge of cramping.”

Which they were. It seems to happen at this point of the race every year. On the one truly flat section of the course.

I had just taken four electrolyte capsules — as I had done at each aid station in the race, washing them down with a small can of Coke — but I could tell: the cramps were coming anyway.


The thing is, I had two HotShots (formerly #ItsTheNerve) in my jersey pockets…but I couldn’t get to them very easily, because they were buried, quite literally, under around twenty gels.

Such is the racer’s brain that I would rather put up with the discomfort of pre-cramps than unload or dig around in my jersey pockets.

In any case, the pain subsided almost instantly as The Hammer began pulling. My level of effort dropped just enough that my legs recovered, my lungs caught up, and the threat of cramps receded.

For five minutes or so, The Hammer was my domestique. And that was just what I needed. I ate a couple of gels, drank a third of a bottle of CR333. I wasn’t bonked; I had just needed a respite. 

I was ready to push it again. Which was a good thing, because we were at the hardest part of the Leadville 100: The Powerline Climb.

Up We Go

The Powerline Climb is the actual crux of the Leadville 100: four miles of incredibly hard climbing, eighty miles into what has already been a high-altitude climbfest.

If you don’t know how to work this climb, it can break you. I’ve seen people stopped — just standing there, hands on knees — on this trail. People who have been racing hard and with purpose the whole day. Stopped. Beaten (usually temporarily) by this blindside of a climb.

But The Hammer and I had raced the Leadville a combined thirty times. There would be no blindsiding us. 

“Check your GPS,” I said as we turned off the pavement onto the beginning of the Powerline. “The summit is exactly four miles from here.”

When we got to the part of the climb that most everyone has to walk, we didn’t crush ourselves, trying to ride up as far as we could. No, we just got off at the base and began marching. No point in burning matches here. We’d need those later.

No Coke for You

One of my very favorite things about this part of the race is that there are always people on the hike-a-bike section, handing up paper cups full of Coke. I love getting a little hit of sugar and caffeine right there.

But this year — at least when we were there — nobody was handing out Coke. We did get some water (which was almost as good), but nobody had a Coke to hand out.

I pouted, but just for a moment, because really there was no time for pouting. I needed to put all my energy into just trying to keep up with The Hammer.

Because, my friends, The Hammer was on fire. Just flying. Once we were past the obligatory marching section, she just sat on her single speed — yes, she was riding her SS seated, which left me gobsmacked every time I thought about it — and churned her way up pitches that many people were hiking. 

And let me be clear: I include myself in this “many people.”

“I have never felt this good riding the Powerline!” The Hammer exclaimed. “Never!” 

And it showed. She was just killing it. It was all I could do to hold on to her wheel.

And the cramps were catching up to me. I could feel them closing in. 

The question was, could I outrun them?

Thank You Ma’am, May I Have Another?

As I felt both my left and right calves tightening up, I knew it was only a matter of time before they locked up and shut me down.

So I stretched my calves at the bottom of each pedal stroke, willing them to not cramp up until I reached the summit of The Powerline. If I could make it that far, I knew, I could get some help.

Because I remembered from earlier in the day: Hotshot had set up a “Cramp Aid Station” at the Powerline summit, handing out Hotshots. And I know from experience that these work for me, stopping cramps — at least for a while — in their tracks.

And sure enough, there it was. A woman at a card table, with a whole raft of the little black Hotshot bottles. 

Clouds parted. Angels sang.

I told The Hammer to continue on without me — I would catch her during the semi-technical Sugarloaf descent. Then I put a foot down and the woman ran up to me, handing me a Hotshot.

I slugged it down and my mouth caught fire. In a good way. I like spicy.

“Can I have another one?” I asked. 

“Really, you want another one?” the woman asked. “I don’t get that question often,”

“I really like these,” I said. “They work for me, and the flavor’s a nice change. I really like the way these taste.”

So she handed me another one, which I also slugged down. For the rest of the race, I would be burping a weird Christmas candle flavor (The Hammer correctly says Hotshots taste like Christmas candles smell), but that’s a small price to pay for having your cramps disappear. 

Which mine had.

We had one more big climb, one small climb, and two descents ahead of us. 

The race was almost over. Only sixteen miles to go. Even so, I still had two big surprises ahead of me.

Which is what I’ll get to in the next installment of this story.


  1. Comment by LKB3 | 09.14.2016 | 7:51 am

    dangit, these cliffhangers are a killer. Can’t you just tell the whole story in one shot for once? ;-)

  2. Comment by MikeL | 09.14.2016 | 8:34 am

    Spicy is a good way to describe the #Hotshot flavor. And since I am a wimp with spicy… I agree with The Hammer’s assessment but seriously these things do work. In the mean time I will go with my garlic dill pickle juice when I can get it.

  3. Comment by Jon | 09.14.2016 | 8:35 am

    And here I thought the “Kaboom” was going to be from the gels in your shorts, or something actually going “boom”.

  4. Comment by owen | 09.14.2016 | 9:09 am

    seems the gearing selection allowed the Hammer to sit and spin while you had to stand with your gearing selection. I stopped questioning others on SS gearing as there is more than one way to get from point A to B and it can never be perfect for any race anyways.

  5. Comment by Don | 09.14.2016 | 9:19 am

    I’m in awe of the Hammer’s entire race, but her second half, you can square that awe, multiply it by a factor of 10 and have……a REALLY BIG awe number.
    How does she do that??

  6. Comment by Bart the Clydesdale | 09.14.2016 | 9:52 am

    I agree that Powerline is the crux, and it certainly blew my race up. I was never on all fours, but I was off the bike wondering where all my leg power had gone.

  7. Comment by Corrine | 09.14.2016 | 10:16 am

    Way to kill the Power Line climb, Lisa! So awesome and inspiring.

  8. Comment by Tom in Albany | 09.14.2016 | 10:47 am

    The crux is the crux. When you’re past the crux it’s not usually over. Often the crux becomes the next hard thing after what everyone usually considers the crux. Because you sometimes take the rest for granted.

    So true. – FC

  9. Comment by BostonCarlos | 09.14.2016 | 1:11 pm

    2 hot shots? I would have vomited right then and there.

    I really like them. I would drink them recreationally. Like maybe mixed with a Red Bull and some Patron Silver. – FC

  10. Comment by BostonCarlos | 09.14.2016 | 2:30 pm

    That is not the experience I have with them. I don’t cramp after I have one, but man oh man is my stomach destroyed afterwards. They should come with 5 tums in the cap… or maybe a shot of pepto bismol to wash it down.

  11. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 09.14.2016 | 2:45 pm

    At RPI, I enjoyed a Head Rusch, which is Patron, orange RedBull, and bitters. Add in HotShot and I think what you have is a Bum Rusch.

  12. Comment by Tom in Albany | 09.15.2016 | 5:51 am

    @Jeff D. Are you an RPI (Troy, NY) grad? I know you live in the northeast…

  13. Comment by Jeff Dieffenbach | 09.15.2016 | 6:56 am

    @Tom, this is RPI as in Rebecca’s Private Idaho, not RPI as in the cute little tech school where BostonCarlos learned to count and such. [grin]

  14. Comment by Tom in Albany | 09.15.2016 | 12:15 pm

    LOL. Got it, Jeff.

    Didn’t know BostonCarlos is an educational descendent of the the man that invented the Ferris Wheel.

  15. Comment by rb | 09.17.2016 | 12:15 pm

    I like HotShots. However, using them is not for the faint of heart, or the stupid. If you’re also dehydrated, having stomach issues, hyperthermic, or all three, a hot shot will indeed stop the cramps. Because right after you take one you’re puking. Makes it really hard to continue pedaling, and therefore the cramps go away.

    Having said that and experimented all season with them, I’ve decided I really like them mixed with my CR333. Sounds gross, but what you end up with is a lemony-peppery flavor that is a nice change from the sweetness of most of what is ingested.

    And yes, I would like GU to get on making a Wasabi-flavored gel. Can you see if Yuri can help make that happen?


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.