Leadville 100: Fight Like Hell

“Help! I need help!!” My focus was abruptly interrupted at mile 16 during the Leadville 100 when I was desperately trying to wrangle my derailleur into working. 

Coming into Leadville was uneventful, I left Law School Orientation early for it and was focused on trying to get prepped for the event. Sully and I headed up to Leadville the Thursday before where we did packet-pick up, a pre-ride and met up with the World Bicycle Relief Team. Friday was spent much of the same, taking it easy, making sure the check-lists were complete, food was made, bottles ready. Sully went over the bike once more and I was good to go. 

Final thoughts…

The morning of the race, I didn’t feel nervous, I didn’t have a lot of excitement either, I felt focused and calm–two things that I did not expect. Sully and I rode down to the start line and I maneuvered my way into the front of my wave. Some guy around me crashed, which was a little comic relief because the race hadn’t even started yet. The gun went off and the waves started to move, I didn’t have to wait long because I was towards the front and before I knew it we were off. I always get a little nervous for St. Kevin’s, even with doing Leadville before. Everybody talks about the bottle neck and the jostling for position. Neither time has it happened to me where some asshole runs me off the route but it’s always in the back of my mind. As we started up into the double track climb one of the guys I know passed me so I sat on his wheel to get through the throngs of people. After the initial climb I settled into a pace but still weary of everyone around me. I pulled my arm warmers down so I could drop them at the first aid station around mile 11. I was only able to get one off in time to drop it before turning onto a three mile descent on the pavement. This is where I knew I could make up time from the previous year; instead of eating on the descent, tuck go faster and eat on the climbs. So that’s what I did. 

With the uphill I took my arm warmer and stuffed it in my middle jersey pocket (because I didn’t want to litter) where it would be out of the way and took out some food to eat. I was in my groove working my way up the double track on the back side of Powerline when I heard one guy not even finish his sentence, “Hey girl in the pink helmet your arm warmer…” But in that moment the arm warmer had slipped from my jersey pock and straight down into my rear derailleur, slinking around it like a serpent and clogging up the whole system. “Ohhhhhh Fudge!”

Except, I didn’t say Fudge. I wrestled with the arm warmer trying to get it to untangle and saw the end of the race looming. Some guy called out if to see if I needed help, I exclaimed, “Help! I need help!” and he stopped and was able to rig it back into some what of a shape that would get me going. I remember standing there and looking at the impending climb, and thinking Okay, you have two options now, you can quit, blame it on the derailleur and walk away orrrrr you can fight like hell. Oh yeah, option 1 doesn’t exist. I took off with a vengeance, I had no idea if it would hold so I would ride that thing until it broke and then I’d start running. I took off continuing the climb, at first gingerly shifting and seeing what my range was, not much- about 5 gears in the middle, no easy climbing gears and nothing on the top range. Gears are shifty so that’s fine. I had some reprieve at the top which opens up into Powerline at the bottom. It’s a really fun descent and I bombed down it, taking the B line as much as I could to make up time and get around people. Powerline proved to not be too difficult getting down, there is only one really good line and most people are pretty cautious about it so I kept my distanced and followed suit. At the bottom and once on the pavement towards the Pipeline aid station the guy who helped me made a comment while passing “Dang, you went down that hill and passed me like I was standing still.” I laughed and thought of all the sketchy events that have led to the confidence I now have in descending.

Blue Steel face

The next section is really great if you can get onto a group- it’s about 5 miles of pavement and if you can sit with a group they’ll pull you right in to the aid station. Expect that gear issue, I couldn’t get into a hard enough one so when the group took off my little legs were spinning as fast as they could but to no avail. I was stuck out there on my own with a lone single speeder behind me. I’m sure people who saw me were thinking I should just shift to a hard gear. Fast twitch muscle have never been my strong suit. 

After the derailleur issue I lambasted myself for not taking my phone, there was no way to tell Sully at mile 40 what had happened so he could prepare. I thought maybe if I saw someone at the aid station at mile 23 I could have them text him. I didn’t know anyone who

was going to be there, let alone who had Sully’s number. I slowed a bit but not much as I still wasn’t hopeful I’d know anyone but then I saw the Luna Pro Team’s Van- he should have Sully’s number. I rode to the side of the van “Chris! Can you text Sully that I bent my rear derailleur. It’s working but will need something.” “Yeah, sure! anything I can do?” I told him I’d just wait till I saw Sully, I don’t know why I passed. But that’s okay. I continued eating, drinking, riding and making sure not to shift under load. The section is fast, only about 50 minutes and I rolled into the 40 mile aid station to see the WBR tent where they told me to keep going Sully was further up. 

I turned onto the dam and towards the end I saw a group of pink shirts (the same ones from the last time) and waved to acknowledge that I saw them. I rode up and they were all ready to hand me food, “My derailleur, did Chris text you?” Sully had only taken my phone to the aid station, which I thought could happen- I told him it was bent and when he was looking at it, I took in some food and drink and waited for the diagnosis. Since Sully hadn’t gotten the text he didn’t have a spare derailed to put on there and asked if I could deal with it until he saw me again at mile 60. He had bent it back a little more so I was able to access a few more of the harder gears. I told him that was no problem and began the process up Columbine. To say I was nervous was an understatement. I had no idea if my gear range

was going to get me to the top without snapping my chain or throwing everything into  the wheel. All I had to do was get to the top and then I could just coast downhill if all else fails. I’ve always had a vendetta with Columbine, it is the same mountain that gave me a TBI but I’ve never felt like I’ve ridden it to my full potential. I’m not sure if it was the broken derailleur, the fact law school started on Monday, or plenty of past visualization but I had the best ride up it. I actually think by not having my easy gears I went up faster (and I did, it was my fastest time up, including training rides). I was making up time, and passing people doing it. I did make a point to try and tell everyone “good job” as I passed them, because I’ve been in their place where everything starts to fall apart on the climb. Towards the top one guy asked me why I was in such a good mood, I informed him, “I start law school on Monday! So this is great!” 

I was prepared for the walking section of Columbine, after the gravel road, it funnels into a goat trail that can be somewhat limiting because you have people coming down on the left and nowhere to pass on the right. If anything I’ve learned, it’s to sit tight here and just go with it. I don’t know if it was because I got up there faster but there was very limited walking. The last time it was almost 1.5 miles of all just hiking because of how backed up it got, but this time there were sections of walking but usually only 100-200 yards before being able to ride again. I ran into one of the ladies I knew- she told me that somebody crashed right in front of her going down Powerline and caused her to crash and go over the bars, she landed right on a rock with her chest and had been having trouble breathing the rest of the time. So she was going between walking, riding, and sitting to catch her breath. That lady is hard core (side note she finished and finished well!). Once I got to the top I knew there would be no time to waste, but I knew I needed to grab some food. In the midst of telling Sully what had happened to my derailleur I handed my food back to my mom when I went pee and forgot to grab it back. I had enough bites of things left and a whole bottle of skratch that got me up the mountain. I had even started looking for food that had been dropped when I was hiking but didn’t find anything (my mother is thanking the lord I did not pick random race food up from the ground, Wayne, he other hand is probably shaking his head…). I got to the top refilled my bottle with water and took in some oranges and watermelon. I turned around and did the short 100 yard climb up and right before the descent started, I was on a tandem’s wheel. I thought about passing them but then they made the move through the middle and I realized I just needed to stay on their wheel. They navigated through the throngs of people now pushing their bikes up and the people on the right riding down. Fortunately, most people realize that a tandem coming down is like a freight train so they conceded the right of way to them and I was able to squeeze by behind them. Once we got to the gravel section the tandem completely dropped me. That was fine, the gravel had been a little loose on Columbine so I was being a little conservative still. On a flatter section I went to drink but dropped my bottle and thought about stopping to pick it up but then ran over it so at this point I was completely out of food and water but only had about 10 minutes to go before I saw Sully again. 

I got back to the aid station and Sully had his whole tool roll laid out. My dad held my bike while Sully switched out parts and I ate food and posed for my mom to take pictures.

Before I knew it, Sully told me I was ready to roll, he said it might make some noise but it should shift smooth and not cause any more chain tension. OH MAN! Was he right-smooth as butter- and I was on a roll! I left the aid station and stopped by the WBR tent to see Claire and two of my friends who I missed on the way in. I quickly filled them in on my adventures and they then told me I should go and keep riding. The next section back to Pipeline Aid station isn’t anything special, there is one mile of single track which is nice but that’s really it. I avoided the back log that happened about 1/3 of a mile behind me. Sully and I had initially talked about him being at the Pipeline Aid Station but figured he wouldn’t have enough time to get back there so mentally took stock of my food/water situation incase I needed to make it to mile 89. I could do it so I didn’t take anything from the aid station and was able to get in a group this time for the pavement section. Before the turn off for Powerline I saw Sully’s big blue van so knew he was close. The WBR girls were planning on being on Powerline so I thought maybe he was with them. I turned the corner and saw him with his tool roll and food waiting for me. He wanted to make sure the derailleur was holding up. I grabbed some more food and was grateful to be able to restock just incase I needed it for the climb.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

Powerline is always tricky because there is really only one line up and that seems to be the one people want to walk up too. I knew I could make it up a good chunk of it before needing to walk- fortunately Powerline draws enough crowds that they yell for you at walkers to get out of the way. I saw the WBR girls which helped to give me a little surge of energy. I figured I just needed to make it to the photographer so there is proof of me being a badass, I did but the photo has yet to show up. About half way up it becomes so steep that I’m at an advantage to walk because it’s faster- so that’s what I did. I made it a point to get back on as soon as I could and begin the climb up into the 4 false summits before reaching the top. Going down this section is much more fun than going up. It’s only 3 miles but still takes me about 50 minutes. I still felt great going up, and once I got to the top I found a girl’s wheel to sit on for the descent. She rallied and it was all I could do to keep up with her but her lines were smooth, not what mine would have been had I been doing it solo. We got down the mountain pretty fast and soon we were almost to the home stretch. More descending on pavement followed by a 20 minute climb up to the last aid station. I had made a rough plan to see my parents at this one, drop my camelbak and get one last fuel grab before the descent into town. As I approached the aid station I couldn’t find them so I grabbed a handful of M&Ms and a cup of coke. I then saw they had full unopened cans

and I asked if I could take one and stuffed it into my sports bra–incase of emergency. I was now ready to begin my descent with a jersey pocket full of M&Ms and a can of coke in my sports bra.  I still approached the descent like I had most of the other ones, with reckless abandonment, especially knowing I was so close to home. Toward the end of the descent you end up on a narrow gravel road, about 6 miles from the finish, this is when I started to feel the fumes. I searched in my bag and pulled out my in “super case of emergency” bar, I had never tried it and immediately regretted it, it reminded me of tequila, not what you want when you’re that far into a race. 

With about 4 miles left I saw Sully, I thought about stopping but realized I was so close so the only thing I could think of to yell at him was “I’m dead!” clearly brain function was starting to go too. After seeing him it’s a double track again that feels like a rutted out alley. I saw a RudeBoy (it’s a team in CO that gets rowdy) and knew he’d navigate the section with ease so I followed his lines up onto the gravel road that flows into town. Last time I raced Leadville I was so unprepared for this section but now I knew what to expect so it wasn’t as demoralizing. I could see the crest of the hill that I needed to reach to begin the descent into town. At this point I was really only on fumes, I don’t remember any other time that I had felt so spent in any race or training ride. I reached the pavement and turned onto the final stretch. It was all I could do to turn the pedals over. I remembered the coke (a weird thing to forget) and opened it with about half a mile left and chugged it like I was in a frat house. I shoved the can in my jersey pocket and proceeded to the finish line. I don’t remember much just a blur of people yelling. As I crossed the finish line I tried to put my arms up–but almost fell off the bike in the process so put them back down almost immediately, the pictures are real gems. I got my medal and went and found my mom, dad and Sully and almost immediately  regretted chugging that can of coke. I don’t know if I’ve had much more than a sip or two of pop for at least 12 years so it was quite the shock to the stomach, which so kindly reminded me of that fact when I was throwing it up later. 

The best team!

I finished in 10:09- about 16 minutes faster than my previous attempt. I finished 39th for women and 8th in my age group (it’s a weird race because they clump all the pros and amateurs together in the same age groups). It might have been the best race of my life. I relished every moment and only the last few miles did I start to fumble. I loved racing for WBR, and I’m really proud of how I dealt with the derailleur issue, a few years ago I’m not sure I would have had the perspective to keep going. It was really a great hurrah before law school. And totally worth spending the first two days of law school bonking from it. 

The best mechanic/support crew!!

If children have the ability to ignore all odds and percentages, then maybe we can all learn from them. When you think about it what other choice is there but to hope? We have two options, medically & emotionally: Give up, or Fight Like Hell. 

These are the HILARIOUS finish photos. 

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