A “Quick Links to Previous Installments” Note from Fatty: Here’s where you’ll find the parts to this story:
The night before the 2015 Leadville 100, Jeff Dieffenbach — my co-racer from Boggs and now an extra-good friend of Fatty — had done something wonderful. He had made a chart:
Now, try to ignore the numbers in black (the actual times) and just look at the color numbers; these are the guesstimate times everyone staying at the house we had rented, as well as how to recognize us one from another as we pulled into our community aid station / tent / hangout.
The problem for me was: I really had no idea of what kind of numbers I ought to put down. I tried figuring out aid station times that added up to under eight hours, but when I did…well, they just didn’t look realistic. I’d have to reach the turnaround at the top of Columbine in four hours, more or less.
That just sounded ridiculous. I mean, hitting the turnaround in 4:30 is a dream scenario. Half an hour faster than that? Pffff.
But I wrote those numbers down anyway. In fact, I wrote down numbers that more or less had me hitting the top of Columbine in under four hours. Because that’s a totally plausible thing that could actually happen.
And now I was racing the race. I was at the top of Powerline, one of two parts of the race I just do not enjoy.
Because I am a mediocre descender.
Let’s Get This Over With
When you are a mediocre descender on the Leadville 100 Powerline descent, you are acutely aware of four things as you descend:
- You are not going very fast
- Lots of people are passing you
- There are many bikes with flat tires on the side of the road, acting as object lessons as to what could happen if you go any faster than you are currently going
- Your hands are going numb from pulling on the brake levers nonstop since you were seven years old
Both of these happened all the time as I came down the Powerline. And also, I set a world record for “Longest Amount of Time Anyone Has Held an Expression of Shock and Dismay on One’s Face.”
Huge thanks to the amazing Linda Guerrette for this photo
Of course, I need to be honest here and say that this photo is the most humblebraggy humblebrag I’ve ever humblebragged, because while I’m self-deprecatingly poking fun at my expression, I’m really hoping that you’ll notice that for a 49-year-old, my legs do not look half bad.
In fact, my legs do not look half bad for a 25-year-old.
Furthermore, the Cannondale F-Si Black Inc I’m riding is almost without question the sexiest bike I have ever brought to a race, and it was handling better than I had any right to expect.
And also, my socks and shoes go rather fetchingly together and make me easy to distinguish from the rest of the Fatty Army on the course.
All that said, my game face still sucks pretty bad. By way of comparison, this is what it looks like when everything comes together, from legs to outfit to race face:
Kudos, by the way, to the race organizers for providing free photos to racers for download this year. That’s a nice (and unexpected) touch.
Back to the Story
Right, I was going to talk about descending the Powerline. Except I’m not really going to. Because while I was nervous the whole way down and was grateful when I reached the bottom, I raced according to my plan for this descent: treat it as one of two places in the race where time does not matter. Let people by when I could, hold my line when I needed to, and get to the bottom safe and ready to catch and slaughter those who had just passed me.
And in fact I reached the bottom safe, sound, and with legs that felt like they could and would do anything I asked of them.
Powerline empties onto a few miles of pavement, followed by fifteen miles of rolling dirt road, so I knew that very soon I’d be riding hard in a paceline. So I had a gel early, had a quick drink, and then looked down the road.
There’s a guy. Riding solo. He’ll be looking to start working.
I spooled up, caught him, passed him, pointed at my back wheel, and ratcheted back my effort just a smidgen.
My train was formed.
Pulling him along, I hammered to catch another guy, then a group of two. I had built a train of five just by pulling for a couple minutes. Now it was my turn to put it to work. I pulled off left and drifted back, hoping, hoping the guys I was with knew what to do.
The guy right behind me pulled through, then drifted back immediately. Then the next guy did, and so did the next guy.
They knew. All five of us knew. I had stumbled into a Christmas Miracle of a paceline: four complete strangers who either knew how to ride a paceline or were able to quickly figure it out by example.
We flew along the pavement at a near-obscene pace, getting to the right turn in what felt like mere moments, closing in on a much larger group ahead of us.
We caught them, they joined up, and…that ruined the train. This new group hadn’t been doing a fast, efficient rotation. Who knows what they had been doing, in fact. It was no wonder our group had swept them up.
With the rotation messed up, the whole train fractured. Some racers shot ahead, others drifted back. I looked to grab a wheel of anyone who was going hard, made my choice, and joined up.
As it turns out, that was Jason. We had agreed — as far back as the True Grit Epic last spring — that we should try to work together in the Leadville 100, and now we were getting the chance.
“Let’s do this!” I whooped, feeling the intense joy of someone whose race is going impractically, impossibly well. I knew Jason’s fast. Faster than I am. Maybe this guy was going to be my ticket to a sub-eight-hour race.
We began quick rotations, which kept up for the remaining couple minutes ’til we hit the dirt.
I’m not sure what happened after that. Maybe someone got in front of Jason, holding him up. Maybe I was just feeling too good, racing out of my head. But I lost him before we got to the first meaningful checkpoint in the race: Pipeline.
I looked at my GPS: I had done this first section in 1:56.
One hour, fifty six minutes. More or less exactly the amount of time it had taken me to get to this point in 2011, when I had finished the race in 8:18. Not exactly on track to do this race in sub-8.
Which did not even occur to me a little bit. In fact, I just thought to myself “UNDER TWO HOURS TO THE FIRST CHECKPOINT!”
In my own mind, thanks to a failure to correctly do year-to-year time comparison, I was doing awesome. Maybe Han Solo was right; sometimes it’s better to not know the odds.
I blew through the first checkpoint, howling aloud; dozens of spectators joined me in my cries.
I was in full Joyful Warrior race mode, and there was nothing I loved more than racing my bike.
A “Quick Links to Previous Installments” Note from Fatty: Here’s where you’ll find the parts to this story:
Five minutes before the race began, I tossed my puffy, fleecy, faux-lambswool jacket over to Katie Bolling with World Bicycle Relief. I was ready to ride, ready to race. I had not only been preparing for this race, I had been teaching clinics on how to do this race.
I was prepared.
And then, three minutes before the race began, I realized I had forgotten something: to eat.
No, I hadn’t forgotten to eat breakfast. But during the past weeks I had badgered audiences about how they need to start eating for the race before the race even begins — as they stand in the starting line. Get the first half-hour’s calories down before the race even begins.
Well, three minutes is enough time. I opened the two packets of GU Salted Watermelon Chews, chewed them down, took a slug of water, and found that this action had helped me calm down. I had gone from passively waiting for time to pass so I could start racing to actively doing something to help my race.
“Let’s do everything we can to work together, Ben,” I said.
“Sure,” Ben said, noncommittally. He’d never raced this before; he had no idea whether he’d be much faster or much slower than I am. And to be honest, I didn’t know, either.
I pivoted back and looked to Jason Sparks. I figured he and I were genuinely likely to work together. “I’ll see you on the course!”
The announcer called out the pros, gave the one minute warning, and then had the whole crowd shout out a countdown from five to the start of the race.
I pressed the start button on my Garmin 500 (yes, I’m back to the Garmin 500; I prefer it over the 510) and waited for the lag between when the shotgun announced the starting of the clock to when I would actually get to clip in and ride.
So Nice, So Easy
But here’s the thing: this time, there was hardly any lag between gun time (when the shotgun started the race) and my chip time (when I rolled over the timing mat). Maybe three or five seconds.
I was that close to the starting line, thanks to being in the silver — i.e., only the second one from the front — corral.
And I found out that the difference between starting from the front of the line of 1600 people and starting from the middle-ish part of a line of 1600-ish people is incredible.
I know, I know. It’s obvious: I expected it to be easier. Faster. Less congested.
But I had had no idea how much easier and faster and less congested it would be.
Usually, as soon as I’ve got a little bit of momentum I have to brake hard, because the 200 racers ahead of me have slowed and geared down to go up the first little rise.
But not this year. This year, the only people ahead of me were pros and might-as-well-be-pros. They didn’t slow down, so I didn’t have to shrug off speed.
Usually, there are screeching brakes all around me as I round the first right turn, after the school.
But not this year. This year racers hadn’t had time to bunch up around me yet, I had a free and clear line as I made that corner.
Usually, racers who feel their best chance for winning this race is to jockey around racers the whole way down the pavement, risking tangled handlebars every second in order to gain a tenth of a second advantage on the course.
This year, I was ahead of all that. The pros were ahead of me, the near-pros were all around me, and we were just zooming down the pavement, neat and orderly as you please.
For the first time in my Leadville 100 racing life, I didn’t heave a massive sigh of relief when I reached the bottom of this paved descent and turned onto the dirt. It had gone comfortably, perfectly, and safely.
For that moment alone, the work I had put into the Cedar City Fire Road 100 qualifying event had been worth it. And Strava bears it out: in this section, I had set a personal best, getting to the bottom of St. Kevins 1:24 faster than I had ever done so before.
That’s a lot of time to earn in the first fifteen minutes of a race.
Up St Kevins and to the Carter Summit
In real life, I am nothing if not deferential to those in a hurry. I’ll make way for people to get in front of me in traffic. I’ll open doors for people. I’ll yield my place in the grocery line? If they’re in a hurry, why not help them get where they’re in a hurry to get to?
When I’m racing, my philosophy shifts, somewhat. I become the one in the hurry, the one who wants to get around people. I’m careful to not be rude about it (at least, my race brain doesn’t perceive me as rude), but I am vocal, asking for people to move, to yield their line, to let me by.
But I didn’t have to do that at all this year.
Starting from where I had, I was already as far forward as I needed to be. I didn’t need — or even want — to get around these racers; they were working their way up the mountain as fast as I wanted to go. So I found a good wheel to follow, settled in, and rode along. No need to expend energy by moving into a bad line and accelerating past someone.
The paradox struck me: up near the front of the race, it was both easier and faster.
An Aside About Eating
I hit the sharp left turn in St Kevins in a new best time (27:31) and remembered when Reba and I had told people during our webinars: once you hit this turn, the trail continues steeply for one last short pitch, and then you’ve got a great opportunity to eat.
I took my own advice and grabbed out my first GU Roctane gel of the day. I won’t keep mentioning this, but let me say right now: I was absolutely fanatically disciplined about eating a GU Roctane gel every half hour of this race. I never made exceptions, except to perhaps sometimes eat one two or three minutes early or late based on where I was on the course.
I washed the GU down with a swig of half-strength Carborocket 333 (I’m perfectly fine with mixing nutrition brands), which is what I’d keep in one bottle the whole day; the other bottle would have water.
And for the record, I never ever ever felt any stomach discomfort, the entire day.
Folks, I have gotten the eating part of this race nailed.
Down We Go
Once you make that hard left turn at St. Kevins, you’ve really gotten the first hard climb behind you. A few more miles of rolling riding in forested doubletrack and dirt road pops you out onto the Carter’s Summit pavement, descending for three miles in about five minutes.
I marveled at how I’ve changed as a rider since 1997, when this section really scared me with how fast and steep it is. Now…I just crouched low and rode to the bottom. No drama, no sense of riding on the edge.
Part of it’s me — twentyish years of cycling experience evidently counts for something — but a lot of it is how good modern bikes are. Big wheels, low pressure tubeless tires, amazing frames and components: the cycling world has seen so much change for the good since I started this sport.
I claim credit for it all.
My top speed for the day was 41.8mph. I’m pretty sure this is where I hit it.
On To Sugarloaf
After the three miles of descending, a 1.5 mile gentle uphill gave me a chance to sit up and drink, then I was on Hagerman’s: a wide, graded (though often washboarded) slightly uphill road that gives you one of the very best places in the course to work together.
I got lucky right away: the cyclist fifty feet ahead of me looked back, saw I was near, and sat up for a moment for me to catch up.
“Let’s go get the next big group,” he said.
“For sure, for sure,” I replied.
Yes, I really said, “For sure, for sure.”
Immediately, I thought to myself, “Why did I just say, ‘For sure, for sure?’ Am I Frank Zappa? Am I singing Valley Girl? That is the dumbest thing I have ever said.”
Sometimes I can be a little self-critical.
This guy didn’t comment, however, and he was a champ at working together. Fifteen second pull, peel left, drop back and rest, repeat.
Soon we had caught…Brandon Smith, whom I honestly had not expected to see this day. Brandon had kicked my corn at Cedar City; I assumed he’d be miles ahead of me by now.
“Jump on, Banks,” I said, getting his last name wrong. Then, remembering Brandon Banks is a different local rider, I said, “Damn it. I just got your last name wrong, didn’t I?”
“Doesn’t matter,” he said, while I noted that in the past two minutes I had said two dumb things aloud and that I’d probably be best off keeping my mouth shut (figuratively, not literally, since I needed to keep my mouth wide open to get enough air) while doing this race.
We caught group after group, growing our line, ’til as we reached the sharp left turn that signaled the Sugarloaf climb, we were a dozen strong.
Which would mean nothing at all now that we were heading up one of the rockiest parts of the race. The time for pacelines was — for the time being — over.
Three Utah Boys
Brandon and I kept riding together, climbing fast and occasionally passing people.
The “occasionally” part of this disconcerted me at first. This climb is usually where I pass dozens of racers.
And then I figured it out: I wasn’t passing as many racers because this time, I was up where there weren’t a lot of racers to pass. I was already with people who are every bit as strong of climbers as I am.
I did my best to stop finding reasons to freak out over nothing.
I saw a UtahMountainBiking.com kit, knew it had to be Jason. Marveled that I was now riding with two Utah guys I know and respect as racers. That all three of us had gotten into the silver starting corral by virtue of doing well in the Fire Road 100…and that I had finished third of the three of us.
“How about that start today?” I asked? “I am never starting from the middle of the pack again.”
They agreed, briefly.
“Have you guys ever seen a snake on this course?” I then asked. “I was just thinking about how in nineteen years of doing this race, I have never seen a single snake.”
They did not reply. My ruse to get them talking had failed.
We rode in quiet, all three working hard, all three getting to the summit of Sugarloaf together.
I waved them past. “You guys know I suck at descending; I’m just going to try to survive this next part,” I said. “If I can catch you at the bottom, let’s work together on getting to Twin Lakes. Maybe the three of us can get this race done in under eight hours.”
They may have agreed; I don’t know. They just kept going, racing hard, and I was on my own for the part of the race I dread above all others: the Powerline descent.
Which seems like a good place to pick up in the next installment of this story.
A “Quick Links to Previous Installments” Note from Fatty: Here’s where you’ll find the parts to this story:
I was at the starting line for the 2015 Leadville 100 — my 19th start, although (with any luck) it would be my 18th finish — and I was wigging out. Wigging out more than usual, I mean.
To illustrate, I was at this moment actually at the starting line for the race for the second time. The first time, fifteen minutes ago, I had arrived with The Hammer. Then, upon arriving — and as she serenely walked toward her red corral — I abruptly turned around and rode back to our house to use the bathroom just one more time.
I was nervous. I had my reasons.
“OK, you’re standing here, now, just like you knew you’d be. And all those moments where you thought you’d lose the weight you needed to ‘later’ didn’t exactly pan out, did they?” I told myself. “You’re about seven or ten pounds heavier than you’ve been the past several years you’ve done this race. You know: about seven or ten pounds heavier than you’ve ever been since you started finishing this race under nine hours.“
And it was true. I was — am — heavier than I’d like to be, and I knew that this isn’t the kind of race where extra weight doesn’t matter.
It’s more than eleven thousand feet of climbing, after all, most of which happens at ten thousand feet and above. Sometimes way above.
“So I’m heavy,” I argued. “But I’m also really strong this year. The work I’ve done with TrainerRoad has made a big difference. I can feel it. I (spoiler alert) was the fastest I’ve ever been at The Rockwell Relay. I was (another spoiler alert) the fastest I’ve ever been at the Crusher in the Tushar. I was fast enough in the Cedar City Fire Road 100 that I got moved to this starting corrall all most all the way at the front.”
“That counts for something, right?” I asked myself.
I looked around. I was surprised how many people I knew. There was Jason, a racer I had had words with in the distant past, but now consider a friend and racing doppelgänger. And there was Brandon Smith, with whom I had shared court time.
And right next to me was my nephew-in-law, Ben Stevenson.
He and Lindsey have been doing a lot of training rides with Lisa and me. Lindsey and I have similar taste in pre-race heroic poses in big puffy coats:
I knew that Ben was strong, and that I am generally faster than he is (sprints definitely being an exception). So why couldn’t I accept that weight notwithstanding, I had pretty goo chances at hitting my objective?
Oh, that objective. Sub-eight-hours to do Leadville. I had said it out loud. Had written it down and published it.
“You’re an idiot,” I told myself. “You didn’t get under nine hours ’til your fifteenth try, and now you think you can be nineteen minutes faster than your best? A best (8:18) which — by the way — you have not repeated in four years. When you were in your mid-forties instead of your very very very late forties.”
“But I haven’t told people about that goal in a while,” I said. “I’ll bet most people have forgotten it. Lately I’ve been saying that my objective is to beat my best time, with a stretch goal of beating Rebecca Rusch’s time in her first Leadville 100 (8:14:53). I think that might be do-able.”
Why did I want to beat Rebecca Rusch’s ’09 winning time? Because I thought it might be a useful data point to have the next time she refers to me as one of the “not so fast” people in the race.
(And also, I chose her ’09 winning time because I know there’s no way I could ever touch her ’10 – ’12 winning times.)
To be truthful, I was mentally exhausted from a jam-packed week of riding, online webinars, clinics, fundraising dinners, and preparing for the race. Somehow, I had let my taper week become incredibly busy.
Of course, we had time for a great WBR-Fatty photo shoot, courtesy of the talented Linda Guerrette:
So to be really and truly truthful, I didn’t have much to complain about. I had had a lot of fun doing these clinics and webinars; I lose count of how many times people had approached me and told me how much they had learned. And Reba really is way more than the Queen of Pain; she’s a very knowledgeable and big-hearted person.
Fatty and Reba on Columbine during pre-race clinics. Weirdest. Selfie. Ever.
And I had completed and had a celebration around my Grand Slam for Kenya, announcing — and talking on the phone with — the first winner right there in Leadville.
I tried to put all the nervousness out of my head. I failed.
Dave Wiens’ son sang the most beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner I have ever heard. Honestly, he is an extraordinarily gifted singer, and the cheering after he concluded was huge.
The gun went off. It was time to put my stress and my jitters behind me.
Once again, the future had become the present.
I clipped in and took off.
Which is where we’ll pick up in the next installment.
I’m back from Leadville, where I’ve had an amazing week and an extraordinarily intense race (more intense than I’ve told anyone about, so far).
I’m not going to do much in the way of spoilers, except for one really big one. Here’s The Hammer and me, at the finish line:
Yeah, it kinda gives away that weboth finished the race and were both happy and dirty when we did, but I think we can all live with that level of spoilerage.
And now I need to pack my bags and get to Austin, for a three-day workshop I’m leading.
Time to write is just a little bit elusive right now.
But let me promise you this: I have stories to tell, and I’m going to tell them. Including:
- My Leadville writeup
- The rest of the Crusher in the Tushar story
- The Hammer’s 50-mile trail run writeup
- A 100 Miles of Nowhere Update
- My Cedar City Fireroad 100K writeup
- My Interlaken 100 writeup
- The Hammer’s Lotoja writeup
Also, I have winners from the Grand Slam for Kenya, whom I will talk about (who they are and what prizes they select).
I hope to do some writing on the plane this afternoon / evening, which means the first part of a race report tomorrow AM.
Lots coming soon. I haven’t forgotten about you. Honest.
Dear Friends of Fatty,
I’m on vacation this week, hanging out in Leadville Colorado, acclimating to the altitude and getting ready for the big race.
I’m also hanging out with other racers and doing my best to be a nuisance to The Queen of Pain as we do the “Reba & Fatty’s Leadville Experience.”
We’re having a fantastic time.
The Hammer and I drove out here, which means that we were pretty darned liberal with how much stuff we brought:
Why four bikes? Well, I’m loaning the Scalpel to a friend, The Hammer is riding her Specialized Stumpy S-Works, I’m riding my (amazing) Cannondale F-Si Black Inc., and we’re bringing my Felt 9 FRD as a backup bike for The Hammer and me.
Nothing but the essentials here, folks.
The Hammer and I didn’t have a place to stay in Leadville for our first couple days, so we rented a little place in Breckenridge.
Within 15 minutes, the place was a complete disaster:
The thing is, most of this mess is from The Hammer. When she’s on vacation, her neat-freakiness is on vacation too.
My messiness, on the other hand, maintains its current horrid levels.
The first day we were at altitude, The Hammer and I rode the Columbine climb, the most-talked-about climb of the Leadville 100. We agreed that for this ride, we would go good and hard. I could be humble about the results, but I’m not going to be. I knocked out a 1:06 climb; The Hammer did it in 1:20.
We’re both feeling pretty good about those results.
The next day, we pre-rode the St. Kevins climb, vowing to no longer do any race-level riding.
Which meant that we weren’t feeling too cooked to take a picture.
Then, yesterday, the Leadville Experience rides began, which meant another climb up Columbine. This time I had fun, talked with people, and took pictures of people as they rode up this amazing climb:
It was a good-sized group, and we got a fantastic photo of all of us at the summit:
Then I got a photo of The Queen of Pain and me.
As you can see, I’m an amazingly good selfie-taker.
Linday Guerrette, the amazing photographer documenting this week for Reba, didn’t necessarily approve of my photo, however, and got one that may be a little better:
Today? The Powerline Climb. I’m proud to say that for the first time ever, I did the entire “hard part” without putting a foot down.
Of course, nobody took a picture of that.
However, I did get a picture of The Hammer, also killing it on the climb:
And I got a photo of Dave Thompson, doing it the way we’ll all be doing it this Saturday:
Reba, of course, was riding it. As I’m taking this picture, I was cheering her on:
“You’re in my way,” she replied.
At the top of the Powerline, Dave Houston posed in front of the incredible mountain vista. He’s riding strong; I have a feeling he’s going to have a terrific race this Saturday.
For perspective of his heightedness, check out David with The Hammer and me.
And finally, a tip, because this blog is nothing if not educational.
When you drive up to 10,200 feet, be careful or your snacks might explode.
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