I was in trouble. Something wasn’t right. I was a little over 40 miles into the Leadville 100, on the early slopes of the Columbine climb and I was feeling sick. The first waves of nausea hit me a few miles before the Twin Lakes Aid Station and at first I had attributed the feelings to overeating in preparation of the Columbine climb. The Columbine mine sits on a spectacular ridgeline at 12,600′ and I’ve had trouble eating properly above 11,000′ in the past. The strategy I’ve developed to deal with this is to overeat a little down low then cruise up.
So I cut back on eating and slowed my pace waiting for the inevitable recovery that never came. I felt worse and worse as I climbed and started alternating walking and riding my bike slowly much much lower than I ever have on Columbine. Nausea gave way to the shakes as I started to Bonk from not eating. I could eat only if I stopped and let my heart rate settle to normal.
This was not good at all.
Marcos and I had started the race in fine form. We’d laid down our bikes on 6th Avenue at 5:00am only about 400 places back which put us in great position. The shotgun blast and initial rollout was emotional for me as hundreds cheered us on. The initial fire roads were blazingly fast and I was barely working in a 6 across peloton. We hit St. Kevins in a clump and experienced the normal log jam which was actually a great way to stay on tempo pace. By the time I got to the top of Carter Summit, I was already 15 minutes ahead of last year’s time.
We flew down Turquiose Lake road and I made sure to eat a lot to stay on my nutrition plan. I was worried about the Sugarloaf climb which I had bonked on last year. I settled into a steady rhythm, feeling good and surprised at how good I felt. Marcos caught me and we climbed steadily together to the top of Hagerman Pass.
We fist-bumped as the trail tipped downward and began the long exciting descent down the Powerline. We were in a good group and absolutely flew down – the fastest I had ever gone down the Powerline. We got to the bottom, negotiated the creek crossing via the mostly unknown jump-over and hammered towards the Pipeline Aid Station.
I was feeling great. I was right on schedule with my eating and was generating more watts than I’d expected. By the time we hammered through the aid station and onto the Pipeline, I was 25 minutes ahead of last year and only a few minutes off my sub-10 time. The idea that I could finish the Leadville 100 under 10 hours was intoxicating. If I could stay within 30 minutes of the sub-10 schedule I had a chance. I always finish strong and would gain time in the last 10-12 miles of the course.
Now, climbing Columbine was like a bad dream. I was bonking because I had stopped eating. But eating made me want to puke. I was walking a LOT more than I ever had here. My dream of finishing in under 10 hours was out the window. I was losing ground fast and was about to lose my goal of finishing an hour faster than last year. All I could think about was getting to the top and back down, confident that I’d feel better at lower altitudes and after a rest on the descent. My mind was in a haze as I finally summited and began the descent. I had lost my lead over last year’s time, but it was possible for me to still get my sub-12 hour buckle.
I ate on the descent to stop The Bonk and initially felt better. But once the trail flattened and went over The Stooges back to Twin Lakes, my nausea was back and my power and speed went out the window. I crawled my way back to the Aid Station, refueled my nutrition, kissed my family and headed back up the Pipeline. My plan was to finish sub-12 and get my buckle.
Riders streamed by me on the shallow climb out of Twin Lakes. I was going way slower than I wanted to. I was falling off the 12-hour schedule and not feeling any better. I’ve bonked and had nausea on rides before but I’d always recovered. Not this day.
The singletrack was a blur. I rolled through Pipeline and got back on the pavement. I tried to draft a tandem couple and couldn’t generate enough power to stay with them. I started calculating my finish time and realized at my current pace I was on the bubble for 13 hours. I thought about the climbs ahead. The Powerline was the most significant. It’s the ‘Monster’ at 78 miles. Given my current state, I was sure I would have to walk the whole distance. Usually, I just have to walk the lower steep sections. The road climb back to Hagerman is smooth and fast on a good day. I was sure I’d have to stop and rest several times. The short climbs back to the top of St. Kevins would be hike-a-bikes too. Last year I had hammered the fire roads back into town, there would be no more hammering this year.
I was not going to buckle and was courting having to be swept from the course. I also wasn’t feeling any better and getting dangerously dehydrated. I stopped at the bottom of Powerline and called my crew for a pickup.
Ken says something like this at the race briefing, “When you get home, everyone is going to ask you if you finished. If you don’t quit, you can answer with one word – yes. If you do quit, you’ll have to spend 20 minutes explaining why you were such a crybaby.” He’s right.
ps: Marcos went on to finish in 11:35, earning his first Silver Buckle and saying this race was the hardest thing he’s ever done. Congrats Marcos!