In my seven years of Leadville experience, I’ve made many new friends. This year, a group of eight of us from the Chicago west suburbs entered the LT100 as a team. This doesn’t mean anything other than a name on the entry form and that if one is accepted, all are accepted, and that it enabled us to feel a common bond as we trained for the race, sometimes together, mostly still on our own, through the spring and summer. On race day, it’s still every person riding his/her own race. The team was Carlos Sintes, Carlos’s son, Nick, Mark Ackerman, Ben Fischer, Paul Meier, Jeff Bolam, Craig McKenzie and me. Nick got mono during the summer, never got his training down and didn’t participate. Jeff had serious back issues in the spring, was recovered, but not enough to race. So there were six of us who lined up on race day.
My wife, Lois, has never been fully on board with my racing Leadville. Let me put it in her words: “If you go down and break your neck, I’m just putting you straight in a convalescent center and getting on with my life.” So, no pressure of any kind as I crossed the starting line this year for my fourth LT100. But I did make a determination that this would be my last one… if I buckled. Having buckled in my first two attempts (2011, 2013), I DNF’d in 2015 (see “Report from Leadville 2015” for that story). I felt if I could earn one more buckle, I would have proved everything there was to prove from this race: one buckle could be a fluke, two buckles probably not a fluke. But three buckles? There’s no questioning someone who’s earned three Leadville buckles. Anything after three is gravy. So the question today was: can I get that third buckle? Answer: Can you say “storybook finish”?
Race Day, August 12, 2017
Writing at 5:04 a.m. Sat. August 12, 2017 – Race Day – In bed by 8:30 last night, read for about 15 minutes, then… gone. Woke at 2:30 to pee, then laid in bed trying my best to “rest”, kind of on the edge of sleep until the alarm went off at 4:00. Then up, the traditional double shot of oatmeal with loads of raisins and a big glass of chocolate milk. Took a calcium pill, and 3 Aleve (for the ankles). Good hot shower, dressed and ready to go. JJ had bacon and eggs, and was sitting at the table, calmly reading Blake poetry.
Feeling good. Good little spin behind the lakes yesterday to scatter Rufus’s ashes. Legs feel ready. Just keep the cramps away.
5:10 a. m. – We’re out the door. JJ hopes to be near 7 hours. I hope for a buckle. Let’s see what the day brings, eh?
A few days before the race I took this picture of a wall mural near downtown Leadville. I thought, “Perfect for Saturday.”
Written 4:02 p.m. Sunday, August 13, 2017 (edited Feb. 1, 2018) – JJ, Cheryl (JJ’s girlfriend) and I rode into Leadville, parked behind the Opera House and got our duds on.
Selfie with JJ behind the Opera House, 6:10 a.m.
I went down to the Race Store to use the bathroom and stretch. Just like 2013, there wasn’t another soul in there. Great spot to prep: warm, and “far from the madding crowd”. I hate stretching, but I took a good twenty minutes on the hams and the sartorials.
This was JJ’s first LT100. He didn’t know how he’d do, but he had already established some “beast” credentials: 3rd in Race Across the West in 2016 and later that year 3rd in the World Endurance Time Trials out in the Mojave Desert. He was hoping for something between a 7-8 hour finish. Me? My hope was anything under 12 hours: I wanted that third buckle. Note how differently we dressed for the day: he for speed, me layered up for the long haul: he would be getting warm a lot faster than me (See how that yellow jacket makes me look like I weigh a lot more than him? You see that, right?) JJ would carry one bottle. I’ve got one bottle on my downtube AND a 72 oz. camelbak. But he’ll be at Twin Lakes while I’m still descending Powerline.
We headed over to our corrals around 6:15. I knew I was in the last corral, so it made no difference to me, and JJ didn’t seem to care about getting into his corral early. As it was, we were both in the very back of our respective corrals.
I’ve made a lot of friends over my years with the Leadville 100 – today I made a point of not finding any of them before the race. No distractions. I felt sharp/focused in the corral, unlike both 2013 and 2015 (when I felt relaxed, but “fuzzy”). Not nervous at all. The day would bring what it would bring.
To give some idea of our respective starting positions, in this picture JJ, at the back of the red corral, was right on Harrison St, which would be the line of buildings you see toward the back end of the pack you see. Of course, that’s not the real back of the race, because 6th Ave. jogs there at Harrison, and the rest of the corrals extend up the hill past the gym, which is the large roof you see just below and to the right of the steeple. So where was I?
Miles 1-10 – The gun went off and it was 3 ½ minutes before I crossed the start line. Ha! Turns out there were 1440* racers present (does that mean there’s 560 no-shows?? Seems crazy to pay all that money and not race.) (* Editor note: according to official race stats, 1261. Seems crazy low – maybe that’s how many actually finished??)
This picture is proof of just HOW far back I started the race. It’s the official photo of the very last corral just after going across the starting line. I’m the guy in the yellow jacket on the right, so as this picture shows, there’s exactly ONE racer who crossed the starting line behind me. But I didn’t care. It’s a chip time race, and I was mellow. (One other thing: you can’t roll down 6th Avenue at 6:30 in the morning with 1500 fellow cyclists and friends on a crisp 40 degree morning at the start of an epic adventure with that view of the sun hitting Mt. Massive, and feel bad about anything.)
The usual spin down 6th Avenue and I could tell on that first little 6th Ave. rise that my legs were in a whole different place than they were for the past month. JJ’s advice to rest them all week was good.
After turning onto the dirt, the road was so jammed it was impossible to make speed. Every little hill heard the tumbling calls of “Slowing!!”. I dreaded thinking of what was happening to my time. Maybe my back-of-white-corral start would kill my chances for a buckle.
I stopped at the turn for the climb and took off my yellow rain shell, pulling the arm warmers down. That was a good move – the sun was shining and you don’t want to overheat on the Kevin’s climb.
That left turn onto the St. Kevin’s climb saw no diminishing of the crowd. Wall-to-wall riders all creeping along, but… miraculously I was able to ride to the hairpin without having to dismount once. It was a snail’s pace, which as a result made for the easiest ascent to the hairpin of all time.
Now another test of the legs on the rollers behind the hairpin. And they were rock solid. Those little climbs that I remember from 2011 as being so easy… were easy again today, unlike every training ride over the past three weeks. I rocked every one of them, and pulled into Carter Summit with what my Garmin said was a time of 1:07. Wow! That shocked me, considering the slow start. Only two minutes off my split. This was going to be a fun day.
Mile 10-25 – I rocketed down the Carter Summit descent to May Queen in full crouch at speeds topping 40 mph, faster than I thought possible on this bike (I bought a Giant XTC Advanced in 2016 – less range in the gears than my old Trek 8000), and the climb up the south side of the lake to Hagerman Pass Rd. was “easy”, as was the 2-mile stretch of Hagerman Rd. that I have come to despise so much. Effortless.
I stopped for my “traditional” pee at the Sugarloaf turn and then jumped on the bike for my favorite climb. It didn’t let me down, and on this day, unlike every training ride this year except one, it was also the “easy” and enjoyable climb I remember from days of yore. I was having a blast.
As I topped the summit I did a shout-out to Scott Ellis, who died up there in 2015, and to Tom Bryant, whose ashes are scattered and memorialized by a sunken ore shovel.
And now the Powerline descent, which is what did me in in 2015. With my usual “Focus Focus Focus” mantra I began the descent. Traffic had thinned considerably by now, but there were still many riders in front and behind. I made sure not to do a crazy descent (but I did have the pleasure of catching air at three different places :-)) and as usual by the steep last decline the line was slowed to a snail’s pace as the first-timers scraped their way down the final ridge line, the sound of squealing brakes and back tires skidding on the pulverized granite.
I saw several riders go into the ditches but I was able to maneuver around them, making that final big curve at the very bottom before letting it fly down the straight-away to the old creek crossing road. I slayed the 2015 dragon. I was having a ball.
Had to stop to pee. Again!! I guess I was hydrating okay, but come ON!
The turn onto the pavement that leads to those little climbs over to the fish hatchery is also one of my depressing moments on the course. In training, they just seem to take so much energy for such little tiny bumps. There are so many “small” climbs on the course that impose obstacles for racers like me that aren’t even mentioned in race lore. Not today. I flew over to the fish hatchery, on the way gathering up (more like ordering up) a pace line of four guys for when we left the trees and hit the open space. And off we went. The pace line was amazing. We were in sync with each other, each pulling for 30 seconds or so and by the time we reached the turn off of 300 the line had grown to about a dozen riders. We made the turn and just hauled over to the dirt cut-off. I looked down once and we were running at 25 mph. No way I’d have been at that speed riding alone. I had one of those great little “This is SO much fun!!” moments. Once again, those “hills” on the blacktop you hit just before turning onto the connector were NOTHING today. I felt on fire. What a gift.
The little double-track connector over to the Pipeline flew by (I was doing this at 5-7 mph in training – today my speedometer said 10-14 – go figure), and I hit the Pipeline at 2:40:54, right on my target time. I stopped briefly to tell Donna and Marie, wives of my Chicago friends, to call ahead to Twin Lakes and tell them I was on my splits, then took off.
Mile 25-40 – The Pipeline was so much fun. I can’t really describe that feeling of cycling with no pain or discomfort up hills, but I was being given this gift today. It was especially sweet considering how bad all my training rides had felt). There’s one particularly steep little climb on the Pipeline and several moderately long climbs. Today they were fun.
I’ll add here that in addition to having my legs, I also had that athlete’s “in-syncness” that meant I was hitting my lines perfectly, avoiding every unnecessary rock – perfect combination of seeing what was immediately in front of me while also seeing my next line ahead, whether it was picking my way up Sugarloaf at 5 mph or flying along the Pipeline at 20.
Due to traffic, I ran the single track section slower than I probably would have if I’d had it to myself. Near the top the guy behind me says, “Hey man, can I pass you?” I said, “Why? There’s another 25 people in front of me you’d have to pass.” He actually attempted to pass me once, which is just stupid, let alone endangering to others (like me), but he pulled back and got in line like a good boy when I gave my bike a little bump in his direction. If he had passed me he would have tried to pass more, and that was going to lead to a crash involving how many bikes? Dumb. Especially since the single track is what, five minutes?
Rte. 10 over the hills to Twin Lakes was the same pleasant “gift of the legs”. They had all the strength they needed to push me over the top, and soon enough I was flying down the hill in full crouch with the beautiful view of the lakes to the right and the medieval tent pageantry of the Twin Lakes Aid Station stretching to the left and across the dam, flags fluttering and the sound of cowbells in the distance growing louder by the second.
Down past the state troopers holding traffic on Hwy. 82, down that little ditch and into the cacophony of the Twin Lakes circus. Nonstop cowbells now, right in your ears. I flew past the First Descents tent with a shoutout to them, then across the dam (new this year – tents leading from the yellow gates by the road all the way to the dam gates) and skidded into our team tent, where Cheryl was ready with my Garmin refills. My time was 3:36:51, three minutes ahead on my splits). In any event, I was having another of those “time of my life” races. I pulled off my arm warmers and left them and my phone with her, telling her to call Lois and tell her I was doing great. I had to pee again! – went over to the porta-johns right behind the tent to take care of that. Cheryl had me all ready to go when I got back, so I pulled on my gloves and took off.
Mile 40-50 – The Four Stooges were no problem today and I flew into the back valley, heading across to the base of the Columbine climb. Approaching the tents in “New Twin Lakes” I heard a voice call out from a tent, “Go get it, Bob.” I realized just after passing, it was Brian Feddema, the owner of Cycles of Life. But I was gone before I could respond.
Columbine. This is where things start getting fuzzy for me regarding split times. Not so much because my brain was getting fuzzy, but that I couldn’t remember what the splits were supposed to be. I could remember my target time of 2 ½ hours to the top, but couldn’t do the addition in my head based on the day’s stats.
Near the base of the first steep climb into the trees on lower Columbine, JJ flew past, heading back to Twin Lakes. Holy crap!! I hadn’t been counting exactly, but pretty sure he was in the top 25. I gave him a huge shout. Holy crap. Top 25?? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
I’ll throw in several pictures of JJ here. He finished in 7 hours, 32 minutes, in 27th place overall, 3rd in his age group.
Ok, back to the reality of a 67-year-old Leadville racer.
Columbine felt somewhat better than my training rides, but not nearly as good as the “old days” when I had legs. I recall average speeds on lower Columbine in the 5-6 mph range. My training rides had been in the 2-3 mph range (discouraging), and today I was in the 3-4 mph range. Meh.
Somewhere on “upper” lower Columbine I stopped to put on my jacket, as it was getting pretty nippy. No rain in sight, just cold, which I don’t like being.
Also another harbinger of what was to come. When I’m feeling “good” on lower Columbine, that “Army base encampment” with the Don’t Tread on Me flag and the no trespassing signs at the last hairpin comes sooner than I expect. Not today. Discouraging.
I rode the first steep section after the A-frame as far as I could before dismounting due to traffic, but unlike a couple of training rides this year where I cleaned both early climbs all the way to the Goat Trail chip mat, today I had my first inkling that maybe my legs might be giving out: I could not have made these two climbs today even if there had been no traffic. Hmm.
So up I hiked. I had taken 3 Aleve and I think that really helped lessen the pain of walking. I got back on the bike for the short stretch over to the Goat Trail, and then… cramps. Adductor, inside left thigh. I was able to ride through it by doing an exaggerated full extension on every pedal stroke, plus I knew I wasn’t going to be riding far. This was a concern, however, and the cramps would crop up throughout the rest of the day, on and off, all the way to the top of Powerline (Mile 83). They were a worry every single time (they can end a race), and every single time I was able to back off a bit and pedal right through them. I also made a point of taking two or three full mouthfuls of liquid through the camelbak as soon as I felt one coming one, and whether placebo or not, the immediacy of the relief was surprising. Maybe because the liquid went (more or less) straight to the muscle.
I dismounted again before I usually do, then began the long dreary march up the hill. It’s simply one foot in front of the other, picking which rock you’re going to use as push-off leverage, and making sure your front wheel doesn’t get halted by a rock, which means energy expelled unnecessarily by having to stop the rhythm of your trudging and lift the front wheel over that rock. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it? Well, get up there yourself and you’ll know what it’s like. Experience tells you it’s easier hike-a-bike to be on the high side of the bike… but on Columbine you must be on the right side of your bike – if a descending rider either loses control or brushes too close at 25 mph you want them to hit your bike, not you. (Luckily, the high side is usually on the right side.)
Today, my back hurt more than my legs or feet. I think it’s either the camelbak putting stress on the muscles in the middle back, or else the pressure on those muscles leaning over and pushing the bike. In any event, if felt good to get back on the bike at that little level-ish stretch before the big curve to the right where you have to get off again and join the march. Columbine was having its effect.
I walked that “second hike-a-bike” much farther than I usually do, with the understanding that 1. I was walking just about as fast as I would be riding it (meaning closer to 2.5 mph than 1.5 mph – thank you, Aleve), and 2. that I was feeling pretty good about my split times.
When I finally got back on my bike, I was relieved to see that the cramps were gone, and I cleaned those final small hills up to the summit like they were nothing (again, a wonderful gift compared to every single one of my Columbine training rides. I can’t begin to describe the mental/emotional difference between being in pain ALL the time in this race as opposed to at just the most difficult times).
I topped Columbine at 12:45 (clock time, not chip time!), and a return trip of 45 minutes would mean I was right on my splits after 60 miles. This meant my Twin Lakes-Columbine split was 2 hours 40 minutes, slowest ever. (In 2011 it was 2 hours 26 minutes. In 2013 I was 2 hours 36, and 2015 was 2 hours 28 minutes – with a broken wrist and a knee bleeding like a stuck pig. So go figure.)
Mile 50-60 – I made the wide turn at the Columbine aid station and never stopped, turning right back around for that slow slog back up to the summit before beginning the wonderful descent. Again, that trudge was pretty decent, but I was beginning to understand that today short climbs (even steep), flats, and descents were not a problem, while steeper, long climbs were going to be problematic.
Down, down, and down to the base at speeds around 30 mph, taking the hairpins beautifully (if I do say so), and then flying out onto the flats. When I turned left to go through the ranch, I stopped at the Cycles of Life tent. Brian immediately asked “what’s wrong with the bike?” I said it was operating perfectly – I was just stopping to take off my jacket. He spun the rear tire a little, checked things over, got his chain lube and did a good squirt and spin, saying, “You always go faster when the chain is lubed.” Brian understands the psychology of endurance racing.
The dreaded Four Stooges loomed across the valley. One of my least-favorite parts of the entire race. The hills are so small but they come at you one after another after another on the return, and how can they be THAT steep? As I’ve noted in other posts, I think it’s because for the last 40 minutes of descending Columbine, the legs have been mostly unused, and now when asked to actually work, they feel drained. But… another gift today. I cleaned them pretty effortlessly and that put me on that short fast descent back to Twin Lakes. Be careful of that spot where you endo-ed on the 2011 training ride. Be careful of that spot where you went down in 2015.
And back to the Twin Lakes feed zone. Cheryl was gone to the finish line for JJ, but I got a refill from Chris Zebrowski. And there was Randy!! What a wonderful surprise. You can’t describe how good it is to see loved ones along the course. We had a little trouble getting the camelbak cap off and back on, but it was a short aid stop and then I was off across the dam. Don’t know chip time here. Was I behind? Ahead? Didn’t know. Just knew I was going as fast as I could, so what more can you do.
Mile 60-75 – What I did know crossing the dam was that I felt pretty confident about a buckle, and also that there was nothing I could but ride as fast as I could in any event. So I spent no time, like in 2013, fretting about the hurdles ahead because they were going to be what they were going to be. Enjoy the day. Which I did… for awhile.
The pavement climb up to the Twin Lakes overlook was a little slower than I would have liked, but again, it was all I had to give it. And then my old nemesis: the dreaded headwind. I remember thinking uh-oh for about ten seconds, and then I never thought about it again until twenty miles later on the pavement to the fish hatchery. As I crested the hill I saw Doc Wenmark off his bike by the side of the road. From the looks of it, a mechanical issue. I exchanged a quick greeting as I went past, but no time to stop and chat. I flew pretty fast back down 10 to the pavement and over to the singletrack. This was the first place where my mind was asking, “Do I have the singletrack in me?” Turns out I did, as once again I got into line and the pace was just perfect, maybe even pushing me a little to keep on the back wheel of the guy in front (you don’t want to be “that guy” who holds up a huge line behind you).
Went across the roots and through the pines and out onto the ridge before diving down to Lil Stinker. First disappointment of the day. I can usually slingshot at least a third to half-way up Lil Stinker, but today there was a logjam of dismounting cyclists at the very bottom, meaning I was going to have to hike-a-bike the whole hill. Ugh.
But on a positive note, when I got to the top of the hill I was able to immediately get back on my bike and pedal away, unlike previous years where I’m leaned over my bike seat, gasping for breath for about 30 seconds. (Note here: I moved my Garmin Heart Rate screen away from my first screen, and I’m glad I did. I checked it once during the race when I thought I was running in the low 140s. It read 155. Oh well.)
Back on the Pipeline and the riding was fun. As in outbound, there wasn’t a single one of those climbs in there that gave me any problem at all. That Pipeline ride was another gift. So much fun. I stopped again at the Chicago “team” Pipeline tent just to exchange a few words, and then I was off again. My chip time will reflect that extra minute I stopped at the tent. I was feeling very confident about being on a good pace. (Note: 1 hour 22 minutes from Twin Lakes to Pipeline. (1:13 in 2011, 1:21 in 2013, 1:21 in 2015)
Mile 75-90 – And then another gift. After flying down the doubletrack to the pavement, now exposed to the wind in the open on the way to the fish hatchery where you once again get into the protection of the trees, I hooked up with several pacelines until I found the one that worked best. Another piece of the race no one talks about, but it’s as psychologically difficult as any climb. The headwind on that road was blowing hard from about 10 o’clock, and I had to “train” the lead rider to get more toward the centerline of the road because we couldn’t just line up straight behind him; we all had to tuck behind each other at about 4 o’clock. I was able to paceline all the way to the trees by the hatchery. Wow!! What a difference a paceline makes. That stretch was “easy” compared to what I had been mentally bracing for… and compared to some past years, notably 2013 when it seemed it would never end.
And now another wonderful surprise – JJ and Cheryl were right by the fish hatchery, clapping and cheering and calling my name. JJ handed me off a bottle of cold ice water on the fly! As I went past I asked how he did. “26th!” Holy Crap!!! His first Leadville! I zoomed on past the crowd, pointing back and yelling “That guy just finished 26th!!”
The hills past the fish hatchery were nothing (again, so different from my training rides) and I zoomed down to the turn-in to the Powerline climb. By this point I had made “friends” with a young first-timer in my paceline. As we turned to face the first leg of the Columbine climb, he looked up and asked, “is that the whole thing?” Ummmmm. I hated to tell him the truth… but I did.
Bryan was at that corner filming. I don’t know how far he was able to film. I think I gave him a good positive wave, but truth is I was having inner doubts. How far would the legs hold out? Would it be overall fatigue, or cramps that would do me in? Of course you can’t dwell on those kinds of thoughts, but they do enter your mind. At the same time, by this point in the race, you’re pretty far past singing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning!” In any event, the Powerline ascent should, from past experience in training and races, take me about an hour. You can do anything for an hour, right?
Lower Powerline was… well… lower Powerline. I was off the bike significantly lower than usual, by my choice I’m afraid. Not a good sign. The trudge up the hill was the usual awful, but maybe not the worst ever. Sounds strange, but you need to choose the right line to walk. I saw people “choose poorly”, and they found themselves two feet deep in a rut trying to push their bike waaaayyy above them, having eventually to pick their bike up and carry it over to the “straight and narrow”. (Hmm, is this race a Pilgrim’s Progress analogy? If so, Powerline was my Slough of Despond.)
At the top of the first hike-a-bike hill I mounted up and flew down the back of the hill, slingshotting as far as possible up the first climb of upper Powerline. So depressing how fast a bike slows from 25 mph to 3 mph.
I felt pretty good on that first hill, but then, slowly and inexorably… Powerline began to sap me. I rode as much as I could, eventually walking way more than I ever have, again figuring that my walking was as fast as my riding. That should not have been the case, but today, I simply could not ride any faster than walking pace. This was either age catching up with me, or my fitness level being lower than previous years. In any event Leadville, a race of attrition, was catching up to me. In many cases I was riding behind walkers at the very same pace, but I rode whenever I could because I don’t do real well with walking: otherwise I might have walked a lot more. My average speed on that section was around 2.5 mph. Not good. There’s no chip mat at the top of Powerline and I didn’t check my watch (I think the lack of oxygen was now really beginning to affect my thinking), so I don’t know how long that “one-hour” climb took. (Note: considerably longer than one hour, I’m sure)
Another fatigue factor began to creep in. I do more standing than most riders, which takes a lot of arm strength, so by somewhere on Powerline it was my arms giving out on standing pulls before the thighs burned out. It was identical to the feeling of having no leg strength left with which to push the pedals. Only arms. This meant I was going to have to stay in the saddle longer, which meant losing more leg strength. Just one of those juggling acts from here to the finish line. Attrition! (please sing that like Tevye sings “Tradition!” in Fiddler on the Roof)
Somewhere near the top I caught up with Frank Gepfrich. It was like old times, my first Leadville friend, the two of us climbing Powerline together, as we had done on a beautiful morning training ride in 2015. But neither of us was in a jovial mood today. We pretended, but were both pretty deep in our respective pain caves. He’d ride ahead, I’d catch him, and so on. We crested the top, having been riding the last ten minutes in a light, chilly rain (amazing how Leadville weather tends to come at the worst times). Nothing that soaked us, but cold. I asked Frank, “how are we doing for a buckle do you think?” He said, “I think we’re okay.” I asked, “Should we stop and put on our jackets?” because I really wanted to – I don’t like riding cold. He said, “Nah, we’ll be down at May Queen in a little bit and then we’ll just get hot on the Turquoise Lake climb.” Darn. I really wanted my jacket. I was cold. (In retrospect, this jacket-donning minute was vitally important.)
At the peak, Frank took off on his 29er, flying down Sugarloaf. I had no thought for either Tommy or Scott now. This was hammer time with a buckle on the line. I couldn’t stay with Frank. He has become a MUCH better descender, that’s for sure. And I guess I was seeing the difference in those 29” wheels vs. my 27.5” wheels – they just roll over obstacles better. I followed as best I could, but he was out of sight by the time I turned out onto Hagerman Rd. My wristwatch was now telling me a story I didn’t like seeing. It was 5:00 and I had a good 45 minutes up to Carter Summit (IF my legs held) and more than an hour to the finish line from there. That would be 6:45 p.m., if my addled brain was doing the math right. And I needed to cross the line by 6:30 to get a buckle. I was feeling apprehensive now and really stamped the pedals down Hagerman and then down the Turquoise Rd. to May Queen. 25-35mph. Still raining, maybe 50 degrees now. It was cold! Darn you, Frank.
Strangely, I caught up with Frank on that pavement descent and we rode together around May Queen over to the beginning of the Carter Summit ascent where I pulled ahead of him. After a few minutes of climbing I heard him right on my wheel. I called, “Frank?” two times with no response. The third time, a voice said, “I’m not Frank.” A quick look over my shoulder saw no sign of him coming around the curve. Where had Frank gone? My wristwatch told me I couldn’t wait for him. Had to go. This was gonna be close.
The 3-mile Turquoise Lake climb was simply no fun. Sure not as much fun as ten hours earlier screaming down it at 40+ mph in the other direction. Now… maybe a 4 mph average on what should have been at least 6 mph. But it’s all I could do.
And then another gift: unlike 2013 when I was in a similar position and so frustrated at the thought of not buckling. Today, a peace came over me: I’m going to try as hard as I can to get a buckle, but if I don’t, I’m no less of a human being, friend, father, husband, grandfather. It was just a good feeling.
The climb seemed interminable, certainly because of everything at stake. Bless their hearts, Randy and Bryan, JJ and Cheryl were at the summit. So good! Thank you!! As in 2013, I didn’t dare stop. Unlike 2013 when I had an hour 15 to the finish line in what I’ve done in an hour and five minutes on my best short training rides, today as I made the turn I looked at my watch and it said 5:25: I had…. an hour and five minutes to the finish line. I was feeling pretty toasted and my face showed it. I passed them, saying, “I’m on the bubble.” They said later I looked pretty grim; JJ told them it wasn’t a good sign. He knows the look. Would the cramps stay away? What did my legs have left in them? I simply didn’t know. My job now was to turn the pedals as fast as I could – every second counted.
Mile 90-104 – I pulled off the first climb back to St. Kevin’s pretty well –not anything like the outbound trip, but okay enough to give me heart. Approaching the second short steep climb I was slingshotting in my big front chainring, then jumped down to the small as I hit the steep, and… the pedals wouldn’t turn. Chainsuck. Well, that did it. I didn’t have a minute to spare and this was going to take at least a minute to dismount, get the chain back on the small ring, and remount. Uh-oh. Couldn’t remount – too steep. I walked the top as fast as I could (15 seconds??), then jumped on and flew to Ken’s Corner, where the last steep climb starts. To make the hard left turn onto the climb you have to slow to about 5 mph – no slingshotting – and the climb is steep and maybe 150 yards long. It’s so demoralizing. I pedaled about 20 feet and was done. I’ve cleaned this hill in every previous race AND training ride. But today… Attrition!! Nothing to do but walk. Again. Trudged to the top and jumped back on. I was now going to have to make up time. I flew (and I mean flew – how many times did I catch air? One time came down so hard on the seat I heard a cracking sound: seat post? frame? seat?) down to the hairpin and flew down St. Kevins like I’d never done before. Prudence says take it easy on the Kevin’s descent at Mile 96 because you don’t want to end your race so close to the finish line. But no time for caution today. Out onto the flats and amazingly, had the legs to fly to the pavement. It’s mostly 2-3% decline and you can cut it loose, but I really wondered if there was going to be ANYthing left in the tank. Turning onto the pavement a guy was yelling “31 minutes! You got it.” I knew I needed 30 from the base of the Boulevard (and I was still five minutes from there), but I also figured I had about 2 ½ minutes of chip time. (Editor note: chip time was actually 3 ½ minutes) I flew the pavement, 22-25 mph, and as I hit the dirt leading to the Boulevard the volunteer there was yelling “29 minutes!!!” I followed right behind two guys who were as desperate as I was, all three of us flying through that weird road that leads to the Boulevard. At one point you ride a center ridge about 6 inches wide with two huge mud puddles on either side. Nailed it at 20 mph. Had to.
Then that hard left turn onto the steep, rocky Boulevard. You have to slow way down just to make the turn and you’re dropping from your big chainring/smallest cassette to your small chainring/biggest cassette as you hit soft sand, then the rocks. I rode the whole thing, but the legs simply weren’t there. Attrition!! Hit the smooth road back to town, thinking to myself at one point, “I can’t believe I’ve actually done this entire thing!” And then a minor miracle. I found myself cranking the pedals at 10-14 mph up the Boulevard, faster than my normal speed. I had had no cramps, zero!, since the Powerline ascent. My legs were numb. At the second RR crossing there’s a little tiny hill at which I slowed way down because there wasn’t anything left in the tank (Attrition!!). Suddenly, like an angel from heaven, there was Brian Feddema and the Cycles of Life crew and other friends, maybe about ten people. And Brian knows the clock. He’s out on the road, yelling at me: “You gotta go, Bob, you gotta go, smash those pedals, smash those fuckers, smash those fuckers!!!!!” and he stepped out and gave me a huge push up the hill. Like I said before, Brian understands endurance cycling. What a lift!! Wish I had a video of that, but the memory will last.
The Boulevard becomes steeper as Leadville comes into sight – just another little soul crusher for those of us on the bubble. But I got to the blacktop, and now my watch was saying 6:25. I had timed this section, and on a slow day I was five minutes to the finish line. Add my chip time, and… holy crap!!! I had myself a buckle!
As I turned onto Sixth (I almost can’t believe those words as I write), I stood on the pedals until my arms gave out, then settled in for the 3 mph grind up that last hill. And then another gift: there was a family alongside the road cheering like crazy. They also knew the time situation. One after another, at least three of them, they came out and gave me huge pushes up the hill, accompanied by shouts of encouragement. Oh my gosh – what a lift. I’m sure there’s something in the handbook about illegal assists, but it sure got me up the worst psychological part of that hill. I cleaned the rest, saw that wonderful finish line six blocks away, broke into a huge grin because I knew now for sure I had the buckle, because I knew that even though I might not make 12 hours on the clock, I knew my chip time was all good. And then began that last wonderful descent to the finish line. I was hammering now, because why not? You can do anything for six blocks. I knew it was close on the clock. But who cares? I had my buckle. And then… there was the banner stretched across the street, a huge crowd in the bleachers and crowding the street for an entire block before the finish line. Ah yes, the “12-hour crowd”. I’ve been in it a number of times, cheering for that “Last Ass Over the Pass” to get over that line before Ken fired off the shotgun and the clock chimed midnight.
As I began the final grind uphill toward the finish line, there was a gauntlet of people cheering wildly. JJ and Cheryl were at the front of the pack, going crazy. This picture doesn’t show the frenzy of the 12-hour crowd, but it’s all I could find. My experience was like the Tour de France when they’re approaching the summit of the Col du Tourmalet – the crowd like a wall in front of you, blocking the way, then magically melting to each side like the Red Sea, reaching out to clap you on the back, give you a shove, screaming, yelling, cheering. I was grinning like a fool.
Race founder Ken Chlouber appears at the finish line as the 12-hour mark approaches and fires a shotgun (he also starts the race the same way) at exactly 12:00:00. But I wasn’t paying attention to that.
The PA system came into hearing, and it became clear as I pedaled through the crowd that the clock was winding down to 12 hours and me and one other guy were vying for the coveted “last ass over the pass”. I heard the countdown, “10-9-8-7”. I smashed those fuckers. The crowd was cheering wildly, and I mean wildly – you just want that rider to get across that line before it hits 12:00.
People pumping their fists, screaming at us. iPhones recording. Somebody gave me a push. “5-4-3”. I hit the red carpet. “2-1” and saw 11:59:59. I flashed across the finish line (well, maybe “flashed” is the wrong word) just as Ken Chlouber fired the “12-hour” shotgun. The guy next to me nosed me out, but that just meant I was literally the last guy in under 12 hours. Huge cheer from the crowd. (Editor note: a lady posted her iPhone video of this scene on FB, saying she was in tears watching it happen. It’s not the first time I’ve brought a woman to tears.) I’ll let the pictures tell the story.
I was pedaling so hard I almost crashed into a photographer sitting on the ground about five feet behind the finish line. (Editor note: videotape evidence seems to indicate he was at least 15 ft. behind the line, lol.) He better have got the greatest shot of my athletic career, me crossing the line with a huge grin on my face, hundreds of cheering people going crazy behind me, or I’m gonna be mad at him. (Note: he did.)
I had my buckle.
I walked the bike about five yards behind the red carpet and collapsed over the handlebars, breathing heavily and laughing. And then a parting gift. That woman in the red fuzzy sweater who cuts you off at the Pipeline with a huge hug and a the smootchy kiss while she’s taking off your number plate chip strip – Suzy, or something like that – she’s in the movie – came over and put the finisher medal around my neck and asked if I was alright. I told her I was more than alright. Before the race, I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “There is no way that lady (I actually had another word in my mind) is going to remove my chip strip at Pipeline. I don’t mind dnf-ing as much as I just can’t stand her huggie/kissie thing.” And there she was, NOT taking my dnf, but putting the finisher medal around my neck. Ha!
After I recovered enough to look around, I saw Stephen Rodgers standing to my right. We chatted a bit. I had seen him coming through Twin Lakes on the return; he got pulled there.
That thing hanging around my neck is a finisher’s medal: you get one if you finish the race in under 13 hours. You get the buckle if you finish under 12. I now owned three finisher medals and three buckles.
Stephen had been talking to Doc Wenmark’s crew who were worried that the 18-time buckler wasn’t in yet. I told them I had passed Doc way back at Twin Lakes. He was stopped by the side of the road, straddling his bike, and that he hadn’t passed me again. As we talked, Doc pulled in. He missed a buckle by maybe ten minutes. He had flatted twice and had some kind of valve stem issue. I felt sorry for his mechanic (yes, Doc has a mechanic), sort of.
Frank pulled in right behind Doc. I saw him cross the finish line, but by now I was engaged in my own victory, talking with Bryan on film and spotting JJ, Cheryl and Randy behind the fencing. I couldn’t stop grinning. I remember hoisting my bike over my head and shaking it up and down. I called Lois, who of course had told me, per pre-race tradition, to either come home either with my buckle, or on my buckle.
After about a half hour at the finish line, Bryan took me to his truck where he had a quart of chocolate milk waiting. Cheryl and JJ took the bike and camelbak to their car, and then all of us went to the Grill where they ate well. I was simply not hungry, but forced down a beef taco a la carte and about four glasses of water.
Home and in bed by 10:30 or so, wondering how bad my cramps would be that night and how many times I’d be hopping out of bed, teeth clenched, foaming at the mouth, trying not to cry. JJ suggested taking ibuprofen. I took three, and had zero cramps during the night. J (Note: or the next, or the next!)
We got up at 6:00 a.m. (oh man!) and headed into Leadville to get our buckles and jackets. JJ was a podium finisher in his age group, so he got to get up in front of the whole gym and stand on that podium. I know JJ: he’s not satisfied with that small plate. (Little story about his 27th place finish: the guy who finished ahead of him in his age group cheated, and JJ witnessed it. The two of them got to the top of Lil Stinker and there was a guy waiting in a van who pulled out a bike. He proceeded to lead, with this other guy drafting. They dropped JJ. At the ceremony, this guy didn’t show up to get his 2nd place plate. Scumbag.)
Hooked up for pictures with Ben Fischer and Carlos Sintes, the only other racers of the “Chicago Eight” to buckle.
Carlos: 11:53 (despite getting whacked with a rock that broke six spokes and flatted his rear tire at Mile 92. He descended St. Kevins at breakneck speed to beat the clock on a wheel that could have collapsed on him at any time. You do what you have to do.) Carlos was an Olympics-caliber racer when he was younger. His major claim to fame, though – he played one of the bad guys on the Italian National racing team in the 1979 cult classic film, Breaking Away.
Ben: 10:45 (a little slower than he would have liked, but not bad for his first LT100)
Mark: missed the Twin Lakes outbound cut-off by one minute
Paul: got pulled, I believe, at Pipeline inbound
Craig: dropped out at Mile 66 at base of the single track
Jeff: did not race due to long recovery from his back injury
Nick: did not race due to long recovery from mono
11 hours, 56 minutes, 37 seconds on the bike
103.21 TOTAL MILES
8.6 mph av. speed, 42.4 mph max speed
142 bpm av. HR (this is good!), 169 bpm max HR (didn’t know I could go that high anymore!)
11,800 feet of climbing (this beats Warrenville’s Mt. Trashmore hill repeats)
5313 calories burned
Third buckle earned
Age group 60-69 – 41st/52 finishers ( 12th percentile) 41st/69 starters (17 dnfs) (41st percentile – makes me feel a LITTLE better)
Overall – 1158th/1261 (8th percentile)
(both indicators of two things: my increasing age, but even moreso the attraction to the race of better and better riders each year)
Gun time – 12:00:03 (although pictures clearly show my number plate across the line at 11:59:59)
Chip time – 11:56:38 (and never more proud of any of my Leadville finishes)
Start to Carter Summit (11 miles) – 1:07:20 – target time 1:05-1:10 – pretty much right on track
Start to Pipeline outbound (26 miles) – 2:40:54 – target time 2:40 – doing great
Start to Twin Lakes outbound (40 miles) – 3:36:51 – target time 3:35-3:45 – exactly on my 2011 split, actually at the front edge of my window
Start to Columbine Summit (50 miles) – 6:15:50 – target time 6:00-6:15 – Oops, now on the back edge of that window – lost 15 minutes
Start to Twin Lakes inbound (60 miles) – 6:59:55 – target time 6:45-7:00 – still on that back edge – the very back edge
Start to Pipeline inbound (74 miles) – 8:22:15 – target time 8:00-8:15 – losing time when I was feeling “fast”. I can’t account for losing seven minutes in this stretch.
Powerline ascent – approx. 1:20 – should be an hour or so. Lost even more time.
Start to Carter Summit inbound (89 miles) – 10:53:03 – target time 10:30-10:45 – Uh-oh. On the other hand, 10:30 to Carter makes for an 11:35 finish. 10:45 to Carter makes for an 11:50 finish. 10:53 to Carter makes for an…. Uh oh. Better get my ass in gear.
Carter Summit to Finish (103 miles) – 1:03:35 – ties my fastest time in any race or training ride
Post-mortem: Talked with Frank on the phone Monday morning in the car driving home through eastern Colorado. I asked him what happened. He said when he got to the bottom of the Sugar Loaf-to-May Queen descent he had goose bumps and was shivering all over. Couldn’t stop shivering, so he felt he had to stop and put on his rain shell. He also felt he had to eat something. This is why he wasn’t there when I looked back over my shoulder. When he got back on the bike to begin the Carter Summit climb, he just didn’t have it. I told him I felt bad about leaving him, but I knew I was on the bubble, and I hoped he would have done the same thing if he were in my shoes.
About two hours after talking with Frank, I got a call from Stephen Rodgers saying that Frank’s girlfriend, Christina, had had a stroke and was airlifted from Leadville to Denver!
As the day went on, I talked with Frank, who had driven down to Denver while Christina was being airlifted. When he got there they had determined that it wasn’t a stroke, but a “non-medical” condition called complex migraine, which has stroke-like symptoms. They gave her blood thinners. By the late afternoon, Christina was home with full recovery.
They had gone out Sunday evening, had a few drinks, tipsy but not drunk, came home, went to bed. In the morning Christina threw up. Odd because not really enough to drink the night before to warrant. As is the case, she felt a lot better after throwing up and Frank started to make her breakfast. She was standing next to him when she started to pass out. Frank got her over to the couch, and she said she couldn’t feel anything on her left side. Frank helped her to the car and drove her to the emergency room (one minute away) where their quick diagnosis was stroke, and they called for the Denver airlift. Frank was impressed by the professionalism of the Leadville hospital.
(Feb. 2018 – Christina is fine today, but it was a heckuva scare.)
Post-Post-Mortem August 29, 2017
Physical stuff. Upon returning to Naperville, I had the usual several days of “god-like” fitness. I went out on the bike several days later and it was a pure joy to just pound hills with no sense of fatigue. This, plus no kinds of aches or pains in general, plus feeling as fit and trim as I’ve ever felt, made for a great first week home. Simple things, like putting on socks effortlessly and reaching more of my back in the shower. I was thrilled to get on the scale a week after the race and weigh less than on race day. Our scale here is about ten pounds light, but I know to adjust for reality, which meant I was under 170 pounds. My previously-recorded race day weights of 165 were in reality a shade over 170. In any event, I’m pleased that for the first year in four LT100s that I’m keeping the weight off. Past history saw me work so hard to get fit and lose weight for race day that the day after the race I’d start “rewarding myself” for my labors, and the downward (or upward) slide would begin. I’m determined not to let that happen again, and to never return to the 205 pounds of my retirement year. In fact, I have another ten pounds I could lose, and it would be lovely to do that.
After a week or so reality began to set in. I read an article in Smithsonian about Astronaut Mark Kelly’s return from the ISS. He talked about gravity feeling like a 10-ton weight. I’m wondering if there’s a bit of that same feeling when you return to sea level from 10,000 ft. I first noticed the feet and ankles. It’s not that they didn’t bother me at the cabin, but by comparison they were much better up there than down here. Humidity? Altitude?
And then it was other minor aggravations that began to return one by one, particularly on the bike. The hamstring issue that plagued me all year but had disappeared in Leadville and was not an issue of any kind on race day. The adductors that gave me no problems in training at altitude, (although they cramped up on race day).
Post-Post-Post Mortem – August 31, 2017
The end of a great month.
Unlike previous LT100s where I let all the work I’d done to get my weight down go right down the drain as I “celebrated” the whole thing being over, I’m determined this year to keep the weight off, and I’m pleased that my weight today is just a few pounds over my race day weight. I’ve got Chequamegon on Sept. 16 and my 50th reunion in mid-October and Iceman in early November as incentives, plus Lois as inspiration. She’s lost 25 pounds this summer and is hell-bent on losing another thirty. She’s looking good and I’d like to look good beside her.
Upon reflection, it’s a pretty amazing thing to reach the kind of peak fitness needed for Leadville. All kinds of things you thought were “routine aches and pains of aging” simply disappear in the urgency of the race. For instance:
- By early summer I was noticing a clicking in my left knee when I stood on the pedals. Was going to have Steve Baker look at it when he was visiting the cabin in August, but forgot to. Disappeared on race day.
- I was using toe spacers between the big and second toes on my right foot as the bunion there pushed my toes over to the right, irritating them. I quit using them.
- The hamstring issue – never entered my mind on race day.
- The Achilles heel issue – never entered my mind on race day.
- Lower back pain. Definitely felt it on the hike-a-bikes, and I think it did slow me down
- The ankles. Not until Powerline did the left ankle really give out (see below)
I am particularly grateful that on race day I was able to focus on the right things and not the wrong things:
- that weird clicking that had developed in Colorado in my left knee when under load climbing. It was a non-factor on race day or since. Go figger.
- an even weirder thing that happened with my jaw on its right “hinge”. I noticed one day in training about a week before the race that it was really sore. I thought, man, I must be really clenching my jaw while climbing… but I wasn’t. I had taken a minor fall a few days before – had I somehow jarred my jawbone? What was the deal? TMJ? Cancer?? (only because my cousin Jim died of throat/tongue/jaw cancer). It was a non-factor on race day and two weeks later now I can feel only the faintest trace of pain and that only when I open my jaw wide.
- My ankles. I took three Alleve race morning. Did that help? By the Powerline climb I did have to do that awkward “right foot straight ahead, left foot 90 degrees to the left” thing because I couldn’t put weight on it, and I did walk more in this race than any other, but it was just one more pain that had to be dealt with, as opposed to a (mentally and physically) crippling handicap. Fortunately I was able to push off the right foot all day.
- the week-old road rash on my right hip (I fell hard in training at the top of Powerline – a silly fall that makes you realize you can fall at any moment), still kind of “fresh”. It stung when I slid my shorts on in the morning. End of story.
- leg cramps. None in the calves (never have had those), zero problem with my left hamstring that had given me problems for the past couple of years. None of those “tennis ball” cramps on the quads just above the knees. The adductor cramps that came and went and fortunately never really took me off the bike. I don’t believe I lost any time due to them. Super lucky. (As mentioned, because of the amount of standing I do, my triceps were toast by the 80th mile. My arms gave out before my legs on standing stretches, and they were so sore the next day.)
- taint issues. JJ’s bike seat did the trick and I rode 103 miles with only the slightest chafing the next day. I don’t think I even added butt lube at any point in the race.
- lower back muscles. I really felt the lower back muscles tightening up on the upper Columbine climb (my first hike-a-bike) and they grew more uncomfortable with each successive hike-a-bike, particularly the steep ones where it feels like you’re pushing your bike over your head. I tried to keep on the high side of the bike whenever possible, which helped, but the muscles never cramped (thankfully).
- I made very few mistakes on the bike, in fact I felt absolutely locked in finding the right lines, whether picking my way through rocks on ascents or descending fast. –
- I remember in 2011 being so concerned about the morning cold. That year my solution was the poncho. In 2013 I had leg warmers, arm warmers, a jacket and two layers of gloves. In 2015 it was pretty much the same. This year, no leg warmers, the yellow rain shell, arm warmers and a single pair of full-finger gloves. The cold lasts, what, 20 minutes out of 12 hours?
- I had prepared a bottle of HEED/NUUN mix to leave with Donna in the morning to take to their Pipeline aid tent. The idea being that I usually run out of hydration by the end of the race, so I’d add that bottle to the camelbak at Pipeline and be good for the rest of the race. But I forgot to give it to them. Rather than have it bother me for the entire race, I didn’t give it a second thought. Grateful for that, especially since I didn’t need it.
- I didn’t completely drain any of the three camelbaks all day long. This could have been a deep concern. It wasn’t. (Maybe it should have been.)
- Heart rate. In light of the death of Scott Ellis in 2015, you might think it would be high on my list of things to keep track of. I remember being very aware of it on my Garmin in previous races. Too aware. So this year I moved it off my first Garmin screen (I ran with ‘mph’ and ‘time elapsed’ – mph because I wanted to know if I felt like I was flying along whether I actually was flying along, and elapsed time because that’s the critical factor in a buckle. I figured by now I know when I’m blowing up so why bother constantly monitoring it as I ride.
- My contacts. A combination of the dry climate and the speed and jarring of descents on training rides meant a contact lens would pop out, usually at the worst of times. Rather than worry about losing one or taking the time to put one back in I chose to race without them. It was a non-issue on race day. One more thing I could have worried about that I never gave a thought to.
- Pedal squeak. Okay, yes it’s minor on a 10-minute ride, but not for 12 hours. My right pedal for some reason “squinches” on every turn. A little oil in there makes it go away. Except I kept forgetting to do it, and on race day there it was. It could drive you crazy if you let it, but it was one more thing that just didn’t get in the way of the race.