Race Across the Sky: Part 3

Ok, let’s get to the meat of the issue. I left Twin Lakes aid station feeling good. Somehow Columbine ended up being “fun” (sorta). Now it was time to take it home. I distinctly remember feeling like I totally had this, and then telling myself to shut up, there was a lot of riding left to do. How right I was.

I was lucky in that I had another really good pace line to ride with from Twin Lakes to Pipeline Aid station. I was definitely more tired going that direction than I was going out (it is also a net up hill ride on the in direction, so is slightly tougher that way too) but we made good time and I rolled into Pipeline still over 30 minutes ahead of the cut-off times I had written on my bike. I was on pace for a solid 10 hour finish.

At Pipeline Jenni and Bailey gave me my last bottles. Jenni looked at me and told me all I had left was a ride of a length I would normally do on any given day (about 23 miles). Ummm, Jenni, FYI, that’s a “yes but” if there ever was one :). Off I went. On the pavement leading to Powerline I never really got into a good group. I rode about half of it with two other guys but they were going too fast and I did not want to expend so much energy so I backed off and got myself to Powerline at my own pace.

Powerline. OK what can I say here? It was everything, and more, that it is hyped up to be.


You start by going (and by that I really mean walking) your bike up a 24(ish)% grade section. The course was lined by people who were shouting things like “you look great”. And I will admit there was a certain amount of malice in my heart towards those people at that point (sorry if any of you were there shouting encouraging words, I was starting to go to my dark place). Sometimes you want to suffer, alone, in silence. Sometimes “you look great” doesn’t match with how you feel.

That section wouldn’t have been so bad except that it was followed by three other sections that were just about as bad. Not as steep by rocky and loose. To ride those sections took extra energy because of the surface. It felt like every time I got to the top of one of those sections and rounded a corner I could see another section with people struggling up. It hurt mentally and physically like nothing I had every felt before.

“Pain is just nerve endings telling your brain your body is doing something stupid.” Elden “Fatty” Nelson

Thing #5: I rode when I could, I walked when I had too, but I never stopped going forward.

I looked at my gps and realized I had enough time to walk this entire climb and still be OK for a pretty good finish. I stayed positive and kept moving forward. This was the first time people passed me on a climb, but I remained in my own race and didn’t worry.

On the back side I bombed down Sugarloaf and onto the pavement. One more big climb: paved up to Carter Aid station. Here again I stayed positive. I put my bike in a gear I could spin and spun. Every time I felt like I was getting to the bottom of what I had, I told myself to go deeper and did that. I promised myself water and a coke at Carter Aid station.

Carter was the only neutral aid I took during the race. I rolled in and the volunteer had both a coke and water. He asked what I wanted.


“OK. Water first then coke. You are on pace for a 10:20 finish”

Both were fantastic.

Fatty had warned me that after Carter there was more climbing before you descended St. Kevans. Here I will take exception to how Fatty described this part. He said it was “a little climbing” and that it “wasn’t bad”. It felt like more than a little and it had 3 or so 15% short kickers. It hurt. It hurt everyone around me. I could hear the comments form others. But it finally ended and I got to go down the backside of St. Kevans.

Now I was in the home stretch. I rode the bottom of St. Kevans to the finish line nearly every day I was in Leadville. I knew that initially it was a descent, then it would turn up hill and over the last 3 miles climb 300 ft back to the finish. In that 300 ft there is an initial section of the Boulevard that is pretty steep and loose. Its about 1/4 mile long. I rode up the initial part and then decided that I need to walk some. I felt totally exhausted. Still I kept moving forward.

On the more gentle section of the Boulevard a guy caught me and started to pass me.

“Michigan State right?” (I had worn my MSU jersey while training in Leadville).


“Is this you first time?”

“Yes” (that was about the extent of what I could vocalize).

“Congrats. You have put up a great finish time.”

It was right around this time when I lost pretty much all the strength in my arms. I knew that I was in serious trouble. And I was not amused that this guy was congratulating me 1.5 miles short of the finish line. I knew this was going to be my struggle in the race. I knew it in the bottom of my heart. (Again I apologize, the words were said with friendship, but I was so deep into it, and I was in so much trouble at that point.)

The dirt road eventually ends up at the paved road that you took out of town. The finish was about 1 mile away. There was a 200 yard 6% grade climb between me and the finish line.

I do not want to sound mellow dramatic here but I was pretty much done. I was experiencing the worst bonk of my biking life 1 mile from the finish.

“The good lord gave you a body that withstand most anything. It’s the mind you have to convince.” Vince Lombardi

I stopped and unclipped from my bike. There were people sitting there cheering for the riders. They looked at me and knew I was in serious trouble.

“Do you need anything?”

I couldn’t answer.

“Do you need water? Skratch???”

I took a couple of deep breaths. Then I took a couple of big drinks. Then I clipped back in and went up towards the finish line. It was the only time during the race that I had to stop to collect myself.

Thing #6:  I found that little bit you have when everything else is gone

Grannie gear up the 6% grade. Peter Coffin (my former student) was on the pavement taking pictures. He got one of me


Well actually Peter got two of me at the finish. I like this one the best. The guy in the black sweatshirt with his arm in a sling is Doc, a regular at Leadville. He was injured and didn’t ride. I met him while training. I saw him at different several places during the race cheering people on. I don’t remember seeing Doc here.

Here is a close up of me


And just for comparison, is a picture of the girl with the rainbow socks I saw back and forth all day


Clearly she was in better shape at that point than I was. (Author’s note: she ended up about 8 minutes ahead of me. I do not remember when she passed me the final time.)

I saw the red carpet and spun my grannie gear up the final 1% grade to the finish line. I rode on the red carpet across the finish line. Done. 10:30:05.67

Well not really. I tried to unclip, failed, and met the pavement hard. I started to sit up and felt two arms come and grab me.

A voice said “You know, for an engineer you really should figure out how to fall better.”

The voice was familiar. Flash back to June when I did the Wilmington Qualifier. My brother, father son and I volunteered to help set-up the race. We worked with a Lifetime employee named Curtis. Curtis is a science teaching in Houston during the winter and works with Lifetime on the races during the summer.


“I got you, don’t worry about your bike, someone else has it”, Curtis said.

He helped me to the exit of the finish line. It was not the way I wanted to finish Leadville, but I am thankful there was a friendly, cheerful person there to help.

Here you go. Jenni got my finish on video..

I started looking for Coreen because I knew that she saw what had happened and would be concerned. Curtis turned me over to her at the exit.

“What do you need?”

“Chocolate milk, sugar, something.”

She gave me a granola bar. Bailey went and bought me chocolate milk. I was totally spent. I had nothing left in the tank.

Picture of the day:


I call this one “Done”. Courtesy of Jenni.


24 thoughts on “Race Across the Sky: Part 3

  1. Doug, as awful as it must have felt to bonk right when you did, at least you can say without any doubt that you left it all out on that course. You gave it everything. And you did it! Congrats, man.

  2. A W E S O M E.

    Finishing in any amount of time is awesome.
    Finishing within the 12 hour limit is awesome.
    Finishing 90 minutes before that limit is awesome.
    Finishing in only 3 blog posts is really awesome, though, and on that measure, you’ll have Fatty beat.

  3. I think this one is my favorite: Thing #5: I rode when I could, I walked when I had too, but I never stopped going forward.

    That applies to sooo many things! Love it!

    Way to go on finishing! Great video, too! Instead of admitting you forgot to unclip, just tell me, “And this is exactly how I felt crossing that finish line” it’s perfect! =D

  4. Bravo, Doug!
    Reading your reports, your training, and your prep I was almost there for next year. Then you put that finish video in and I have now retreated to my burrow.

    Awesome, just Awesome!

  5. Way to go Doug! You are amazing!!! Thanks for the amazing write-up! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It also reinforces that I do not want to do Leadville! I’ll stick with 100 mile road rides though my goal is to do a 200 miler in one day (we have one in Alaska). I suspect that a 200 miler on the road is FAR easier than Leadville. 🙂 Congrats!

  6. I teared up at the end. I don’t know what it’s like to do Leadville, but I do know the tired of not being able to clip out.

    You kicked ass! Way to leave it all out there. I’m proud of you.

  7. Awesome job, Doug, and a really nice write-up. You gave it everything you had, and finished with nothing left in the tank, which shows you paced yourself pretty well and you were able to dig as deep s you needed to to finish the course. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Makes me wany to be there next year – almost. nah, who am I kidding?

  8. Fantastic writeup – and the comparison shots between you and the girl in the rainbow socks are truly fantastic – worth a million words, all by themselves.

    Congrats on your accomplishment!

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