The final part of the Leadville 100 Race Report. No, I can't believe it was this long either. But then again, the race was really damn long too.
Twin Lakes Inbound Aid Station and Unremarkable Portion of the Course, again. So, next stop is the Twin Lakes "inbound" aid station, which is the 40 mile aid station but on the way back it is at 60 miles. My plan was to make it back here by the 7 hour mark. I stopped to see my wife and boys again, get re-supplied and planned to make it another sub-5 minute stop. My NASCAR quality support crew made it happen even with posing for a picture and my feet hit the pedals right at 7 hours on the nose. So, only 43 miles to go and 5 hours. Let's see, that means an average of 8.6 mph would get me home with a belt buckle. I actually did that calculation in my head at the time. I didn't take the time to consider that the prior 7 hours and 60 miles had been done in 8.6 mph average. At least I didn't have another Columbine climb ahead of me, right?
No, but I did have the dreaded and awful Powerline climb. First, I had to get there however. This meant back-tracking to the Pipeline "inbound" station. Again, lots of up and down and back up the new singletrack which meant just following the line of riders back up. I got to the Pipeline inbound station at 8 hours, 16 minutes (relatively proving that I would not have made it in 1 hour exactly in 2007 - maybe quitting was the right decision; maybe). This put me at about 75 miles covered and 28 miles to go. A quick calculator process indicates that I had bumped up my average speed to 9.1 mph. I had 3 and 3/4 hours to go 28 miles, or an average of 7.5 mph to get my buckle. I was worried, but not overly so. I knew I had two climbs plus the Boulevard, but one of the climbs was primarily pavement and I had been focused literally all day on eating well, not digging too deep at any one point and saving energy to finish well. I was about to put that to the test. As a point of interest, I had moved up again to 777th overall at this point. I had lost places on the downhill from Columbine (I am a "cautious" descender - maybe some would say a 'fraidy cat, but pish-posh, even Ken Chlouber said at the revival meeting that there was an inverse relationship between your descending speed and your mortgage, and I have a healthy mortgage), but I had continued passing people at this point in the race.
So, let's recap. Almost 3/4's done; feeling decent; on track for a belt buckle. What could go wrong?
Powerline, or rather, POWER LINE.
Well, I can't say it went "wrong". It doesn't go right or wrong; it just goes UP. Straight up. G-damned f___ing straight up and just about the time that you have nothing left in the tank, nothing left in the legs, nothing positive left between your ears. Really, completely, almost, nothing left.
The important word in that paragraph - almost. Because I did have some determination left. Maybe not much to back it up, but what the hell else was I going to do except just start pushing my bike up the fucker and hope I saw the top someday. A couple of quick statistics - Powerline is 2.7 miles, 10.9% average grade with sections at 25%. Could you go back and read that again? Seriously. Almost 3 miles at almost 11%?!? Seriously? What sick bastard would do that to you at 80 miles into a brutal and long day?
I had read and been told that Powerline had numerous false summits and that you could not let it get to you too much by falling for it when there was more to climb. I KNEW that . . . and yet. You just can't understand how long it takes to get to the place you start descending. The "climb" is measured under 3 miles, but it is actually a total of 4 miles before you get to coast downhill for more than 15 seconds. It is a rotten, mean, horrible m-f'er of a hill. And honestly, it takes everything out of you to get over the top. I have tried to describe this to a certain degree, but the only people who will really and totally "get" what this involves are people who have done this ride.
Last year when Lance Armstrong and Dave Wiens were approaching the bottom of Powerline, LA asked DW if he usually rode Powerline or walked it. Dave said that every year he walked the first section. Keep in mind that this is the same Dave Weins that had WON the race the prior 6 years, including defeating Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong, among many others. Lance responded by saying "let's ride what we can." Lance and Dave went on to ride the whole thing, but that means that they were the first two people to ride this climb in the 15 year history of the race. It makes me feel not so bad about walking, but at the same time, I gotta tell you that it was a really long, slow, miserable walk. And that was even with passing a few people up this climb.
After Powerline . . . No, sorry. I can't leave it yet. It took too long and was too hard. I mean it was really, really hard. Also, it took me a full hour to cover this 4 miles. Yes, 4 mph average for a full g-damned hour. So, I crested Powerline just a couple of ticks past 9 hours on the bike. I still had 3 hours to get my buckle, but also still had about 23 miles to go and another major climb plus the Boulevard to cover. What had I done to myself? This meant 7.7 mph hour average and I had just covered 4 miles in the prior hour. It was at this point that I started to doubt my ability to get a buckle. The most surprising thing? I didn't care. I really, honestly didn't care. I knew there were 3 more hours to go and my calculation was that I would take about 3 hours and 10 minutes to cover the remaining distance, but I was okay with that. I knew that I had done what I could and that just might be the best I could do that day, and I knew that I was going to roll across the finish line barring an injury or major mechanical. And I was okay with it. I didn't, however, stop to contemplate it. I kept riding.
Sugarloaf and back up St. Kevins. From the top of Powerline, you descend Sugarloaf for about 5 miles. The road gets progressively better and finishes with a bit of paved descent. At this point, I knew I had about a 3-4 mile climb to get back up to the top of St. Kevins. I knew that most of it was paved. My plan had been to be conservative with my energy and I believed that I could get up this paved climb in good shape. At some point early on I passed a race official who said that it was 2 1/2 miles to the turn-off, meaning that it was that much pavement. I thought something like "hey, only 2 1/2 miles; not too bad". And yes, I do think with semi-colons.
The problem was that my mind had spent all day thinking this was going to be a decent spot for me, but I guess I forgot to tell my legs. This was not the middle-chain-ring-make-up-some-ground climb I had envisioned. Instead it was an oh-my-god-I-have-nothing-left-in-my-legs climb. I was quickly in my 2-3 smallest gears, using the granny gear in front and just slowly, ever so slowly, pushing the pedals over the top to try to do the same thing again. That 2.5 miles was excruciatingly slow. It never seemed to end. It just went on and on and on and on. In reality, my Garmin data tells me that it took about 30 minutes on the pavement and another 15 minutes of climbing on the dirt, but I would have guessed that those two segments took twice as long. BTW, St. Kevins inbound is reported as being 2.7 - 3.3 miles and 4.1 - 6.3% grade, depending on where you measure it. I would measure it from the mouth of Hell, where it seemed to start.
At this point, this blog entry is nearly as long as the race itself and I don't really expect anyone to be reading this paragraph except my wife and maybe my Dad. I may not even have the energy to proof-read it so I won't even get this far again. Let's just say that the fatigue you feel from this blog really can't compare to what I felt at that point in the day. That's fair, don't you think?
Getting back and the Boulevard. As I crested the high point of St. Kevins, I was 10 hours and 52 minutes into the race. I had 1 hour and 8 minutes before the shot-gun blast that said "NO MORE BELT BUCKLES TODAY!" I had over 12 miles to ride. My average pace had dropped to just over 8.3 mph for the day. I knew I had a descent, but then I also had to climb a number of miles back into town and I had to ride up the "Boulevard", which I had never seen and I could no longer remember how long it was supposed to be or how steep. I just knew that I was very unlikely to be able to ride the final 12 miles in an hour. And yet, I was still okay with that. I really was at peace with the idea that it was going to take me 5-15 minutes too long to get a buckle. Maybe if that is how it really turned out, I wouldn't have been, but I had a lot of time on the bike to think about it; really 2-3 hours when I was reasonably sure I was going to be just off the mark and it didn't bother me even one minute of that time. Maybe I was just too tired to care at that point, but I didn't.
As I descended St. Kevins the late afternoon/early evening light left the trail dappled so that it was hard to see the texture of the road. I knew that my only chance of buckling was to hit that descent as fast as I could, but I really didn't go down very fast at all. I was passed by a few people, but I just wasn't comfortable picking up the pace much. This seemed to be validated just after the switchback that marks the change from steeper to less step because someone who had passed me was picking up his bike from a crash. He was remounting and looked fine and in fact passed me just a few moments later, but it made me comfortable with my pace. As the road leveled out to a gentle slope and smoother road, I thought to myself, "this is the only and best chance to make up some ground." I picked it up the best I could and while my computer was not set to show speed, I felt confident that I had ramped up to about 20 mph for a couple of gentle miles and then 17-18 for another mile or two of pavement that was rolling to down. My Garmin confirmed that I did between 16.8 - 22.6 mph for 3 miles. In fact, at 99.07 miles I was doing 22.4 mph. The problem came at the foot of the Boulevard, where at 100.12 miles I was doing 2.5 mph.
Oh yes, the final kick to the balls known as the Boulevard. Shouldn't something called a "Boulevard" be grassy and a bit swank? Instead, this Boulevard is a river rock strewn slap in the face. You come down what appears to be a rocky alley and make a left turn to look right up this wall of crap. The steep portion is probably only .3-.5 miles long but it takes the wind out of your sails so completely that it is stunning. I went from "oh my gosh I might make it!" to "oh hell what kind of sadists are these people!"
I hit the bottom of this section just behind someone I had been drafting and who looked too young and fit to be as far back as I was and just a few feet ahead of someone with an english or australian accent. We all dismounted about the same time and I said to these two, "How long is this climb?" The fit young guy said, "I don't know" and remounted his bike and started riding. The english bloke, who I have to confess I never turned my head to see, said something more like, "Bloody hell I have no idea!" I started walking as fast I could muster and I was pleased to be moving ahead of the english bloke and not falling too far behind fit dude riding his bike. At the top of the pitch, I remounted on a decent gravel road and started up as fast as I could muster. At first it wasn't too bad, however, I could tell immediately that there wasn't a lot left.
Minor or Major Miracles. And Finishing. At this point I had about 2 miles to go and about 20-22 minutes. My mind kind-of told me that it was okay. I only had to do a tenth of a mile per minute and I would get there, assuming that 1) I really only had about 2 miles to go - something my Garmin said, but who knows about the relative accuracy at that point; and 2) that my clock matched up with Ken's at the finish line. I watched the first couple of tenths tick off in less than a minute each, but then I started to shift down gears to find something I could keep turning over.
Then one of three great things happened. First, someone from Spokane who was injured and couldn't race and his S. O. pulled up in a vehicle next to me an offered to take my camelback. It was dead weight at that point and I had considered throwing in the bushes a number of times over the prior miles, so I was thrilled to hand it over, so thank you to DR and H for this morale booster. That helped me get through at least a tenth of a mile with a smile. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough of a weight difference or psychic lift to help my legs as much as I needed. The dirt road was still going up and seemed to just go on endlessly. My speed continued to drop and my gears kept getting smaller. As I finally approached the end of this dirt road, someone gave me encouraging numbers about how far and how much time, but I think I was still on my absolutely smallest gear as crossed from dirt to pavement. It must have been interesting for DR and H to watch as my speed dropped and dropped and dropped.
Then, a second nice thing happened. At this point there was one more crest about three blocks long (?) and then a downhill and the final couple of blocks to the finish line. Rationally I "knew" I had the time, but that was assuming I kept moving and didn't come to a crawl. Just about then a guy who was walking with two kids yelled, "You've only got a mile and you have 11 minutes! You can do it. It's just over this crest and then you can almost coast the finish!" I appreciated hearing that; I really did, but I think I was just staring at my headset and probably didn't acknowledge it much, because then he did the best possible thing he could have done. He turned around, ran behind me, grabbed my seat and pushed me for about 40-50 feet of the last 100-150 feet of hill I had left. It was so, so nice to get that boost. It makes me happy just typing these words. It was a huge emotional gift. I wish I could kiss that guy right now. And the best thing about his words is that they were exactly right. I pedaled the last yards and started coasting downhill, down a nice loooonnnngggg hill. I geared up and pushed with everything I had left to get up the most speed possible so that I could coast as far as I could up the remaining slope. It turned out I had to pedal again, but not much. At that point I must have had a cosmic Red Bull because I had wings again. Then the third nice thing happened. I started hearing people cheering. It was started by my wife and two boys, helped on by PW and family, PK and DD and family, DR and H who were at the finish line and supported by lots of people who were just happy that one more poor bastard was about to cross the finish line with just a few moments ahead of the shot-gun blast. I raised one arm in triumph and may have expressed more joy than any one of the top 100 finishers. I was really, really, quietly, deeply and fully happy.
I also can't really imagine what my family and friends were thinking as the clock ticked by. As the minutes passed and it got closer and closer to 6.30 pm, it must have been approaching painful to stand there and wonder if they would see me humping over that last hill in time to break the 12 hour mark. And while I can't really imagine how much relief they felt, I can tell you I was very happy to be able to be there, to justify their belief that I could make it and to finally finish the race.
Conclusion. I once read that people who win silver medals in the Olympics are not happy with their experience (because they were so close to the gold generally), but that bronze medal winners were really happy with their experience. They realized the joy of being on the podium and ahead of everyone who didn't make it. I was that bronze medal winner. I knew there were lots of people ahead of me. Hell, I was behind every single person I knew there that day, but it didn't matter to me one little bit. I was so happy to have accomplished the very difficult goal of finishing the Leadville 100 in under 12 hours and earning a finisher's medal, belt buckle and sweatshirt with the time ironed onto the sleeve. Someone said to me that I might have been the heaviest guy to finish or at least on the top 1% of size to finishing time. However you look at it, I finished the damn thing in under 12 hours. While I was typing this up, it occurred to me that I might be able to figure out whether the guy who was behind me on the Boulevard was British or Aussie. I am chagrined and amazed to see that 22 spots behind me, and about 7 1/2 minutes behind me, a guy from Great Britain finished in 12 hours, 0 minutes and 50 seconds. I not only feel bad for this guy (oh, and the one who finished in 12 hours, 0 minutes and 1.9 seconds) but it makes me feel justified in my paranoia about my ability to keep going at the bottom of the Boulevard. I really can't believe that I was right next to a guy about 2 1/2 miles out - one of us made it and one didn't.
Here are all the numbers. Total registrants - 1,552 riders. Total starters - 1,338. Finishers in less than 9 hours - 136. Finishers in less than 12 hours - 908. Additional finishers 12 - 13 hours - 114, or 1022 total. Less than 10% finished in under 9 hours and 68.4% of the starters went home with belt buckles, which means 31.6% of the starters didn't. Yea, I'm happy to be on the 68% side of that equation.
So there is my story of Leadville. From the fruition of idea 3 1/2 years ago to conclusion just a couple of weeks ago. For anyone who stayed with the blog from beginning to end, thank you for taking the time. Thanks to DR, H and the unknown dude just before the crest of the last hill for the support in the last miles when it meant a lot. Thanks for PW for making the trip twice, even though I diss'd your "finish" the first time when you deserved credit for making it around course and getting a finisher's medal. Thanks to DD for the support and the training rides, and also to Rider 1 for the many rides, coaching, support and the day-of Leadville post. I did learn a lot of things. Thanks to Two Wheel Transit for the support and the Superfly. And, of course, thanks very much to my wife and two sons who put up with the training, obsession and endless discussions prior to race day, the support at the race itself and the abiding belief that I was going to roll across the line in 12 hours combined with it not mattering to them at all if I did.
Now, what's next? Any ideas?