Lauren Mulwitz is a woman. She’s attractive. She’s friendly. She enjoys sunsets, reading, quiet evenings, and filling your body with unimaginable pain as she rips your legs off, grinds you up, and leaves you heaving and spent in the gutter.
In other words, she’s a perfect candidate for the Leadville qualifying race known as Barn Burner. There’s not a lot to say about this epic 104-mile race that is done on fat tire bikes up and down fire roads that were hewn through a rock field with over 8,000 feet of climbing, except this: It’s very hard.
A couple of days ago I pretended to sit down with Lauren and imagined interviewing her about her third-place finish at this extraordinary beatdown of a bike race. Here’s what she would have said, maybe:
WM: Lauren, you’re best known in the South Bay for sausage stomping and kicking people’s dicks off, especially on the NPR. How did you get into SMESFCP?
LM: Uh, what’s that?
WM: Sado/Masochistic Extreme Sports For Crazy People.
LM: Oh! Well, I’ve always been good at endurance events, and I like triathlons, so it was kind of a natural. I’ve done Leadville, and as selection gets more competitive each year I decided to target Barn Burner to qualify for 2012.
WM: Got it. What was the hardest part of the race?
LM: Hmmm…probably the drive to Arizona along the 40. Have you ever had a root canal?
LM: It’s about as much fun as that. Unless you like wide-open landscapes filled with dirt and occasional markers for “alien landing sites.”
WM: Alien landing sites? Oh, those. Yeah, it’s hard to find a clean toilet in Arizona. So you got to Flagstaff, and then what?
LM: We headed to the race venue. The drive to the start was crazy scary, with two-way traffic trying to occupy a single lane of fire road, and dust so thick you think you’re at a Judas Priest concert. It looked like Burningman meets mountain biking race meets HempCon, so I felt right at home. I parked, unloaded my bike, and was instantly greeted by Bryson Perry, a two-time Leadville winner. We got to pre-ride the course with Dave Wiens, the six-time Leadville winner, and in addition to the great company I got some great advice for the race.
WM: Like what?
LM: “Watch out for the sausages.” That was the main thing. I mean it’s a selective race, but as a qualifier it attracts 500 entrants, and there’s a lot of sausage in that factory.
WM: Can you tell my reader how the race began?
LM: Sure. It has a Le Mans start, which means that all five hundred idiots run a ¼-mile footrace to the bikes, mount them, and begin the first loop.
WM: What’s the purpose of that?
LM: Mostly to watch the sausages trip and fall. It also staggers the start. Racers who can walk and chew gum at the same time get out on course first, sausages out later.
WM: So then you rode off into the sunset for 104 miles?
LM: No. There were four 26.2-mile loops, and you got tagged after each lap. The gun fired and everyone dashed to the bike racks. I ran carefully, avoiding the basketball-sized rocks. Lots of sausages were impaled on the granite and never even got to the rack. We sold off their shit after the race and used it for prize money, which paid 299 deep as a result.
WM: So except for the sausages who died, it was just hammer and go? Time trial mode?
LM: Actually, there was a monstrous bottleneck on the first part of the course, because the riders kicked up so much dirt and created clouds of dust. I couldn’t really go anywhere or see anything until about three miles in, when we turned onto a larger fire road, and the dust cloud cleared up. I hopped onto moderately fast pacelines and conserved energy throughout that first lap.
WM: I call bullshit. I’ve never seen you sit on a paceline at NPR. You’re always frying sausages and stomping dicks. Come on. I may be Texas dumb, but I’m not Texas Aggie dumb.
LM: Not to take anything away from your super greatness, WM, but Barn Burner is, well, a bit harder than NPR. I mean, NPR is hard, and you’re really good, great actually, don’t get me wrong.
WM: Okay, so you’re sitting in and conserving, riding smart, not stomping sausages on the first lap. I’m skeptical, but go ahead.
LM: Towards the end of the first lap, I saw a dude in a gorilla suit. He was bumping techno music, and doing some weird gyrations with his hips. It was weird.
WM: Hmmm. Really does sound like a Judas Priest concert.
LM: I completed the first lap, ran through the barn, came into the transition area, lubed my chain, ate some food, drank some water, brushed off some dust, talked to some people, and then took off for Lap 2. I probably wasted ten minutes.
WM: Why? I mean, it’s a race, right?
LM: I just got caught up in the fun.
WM: Yeah, like in junior high. One minute you’re passing a group of kids, next minute you’re smoking meth and holding up liquor stores. Good times! Okay, what happened on Lap Two?
LM: I was less conservative, and hopped on a freight train traveling at warp speed to make time on the flats. I felt really good, and hit both climbs slowly, but descended fast, and found some great wheels to follow.
WM: Sausage count?
LM: They were all over the place. I kind of felt bad for them.
WM: I don’t. What happened next?
LM: On Lap Three I stayed consistent, found some good groups to ride with and we worked together. Great rotations from a couple of guys and bing, next thing you know I’d qualified for Leadville.
WM: “Bing”? What does that mean? How’d you place?
WM: Honey, that ain’t no fucking “bing.” “Bing” is what Wankmeister does when he flails off the back or gets canned in the sprunt. Third place isn’t “bing.” It’s fucking awesome. What memories stand out?
LM: From a technical perspective, the course has two climbs, both of which are gradual. After the first climb there’s a descent named “the rock garden,” and it’s so technical and rocky that you really have to pick the right path, or slow your roll a lot! If you don’t, you’re going to endo.
WM: I’m surprised the sausages in your rotation let you suck wheel.
LM: They didn’t!! I’ve never been asked to take so many pulls. They looked back at me several times, and said, “Okay honey, it’s your turn!” I took a few pulls, but decided to be conservative and save it for the last lap. I stayed with a group that was slower than my natural pace to conserve energy, and ended up losing time. In hindsight, I should have charged ahead, and maybe made up some time.
After the third descent through the rock garden, my forearms and biceps were starting to cramp and really hurt, and I could barely grip my brakes. I managed to finish the lap in a consistent time, and was stoked to be on my last lap!
WM: Yep, you can’t neglect your arms. That’s why Wankmeister is a legend at the gym. [Flexes]
LM: [Looks like she’s biting her tongue] Ah, okay. I came into the transition area after the third lap, drank half a coke, and grabbed my last food and water. It was instant energy! I headed out like a bullet and began the final lap. I was so happy, and had so much adrenaline to be on the last lap, I was flying up the climbs and down the descents. But since the race was so spread out at this point, I couldn’t draft on the flats and had to put it in the big gear and motor.
WM: I guess that’s where doing all those NPR rides with Wankmeister really paid off, huh? There’s probably no way you could have done it otherwise, eh?
LM: Ah, ummm, well…
WM: It’s okay. You’ don’t have to praise me. [Winks.] So then what?
LM: After eight hours of riding on the rivet I was getting disoriented. My head felt like it had swollen up into an 18th Century Russian novel. My legs felt like they’d had forms built around them and been concreted in. I couldn’t see from the filth. My hands were losing their grip. At one point things were so awful and fucked up and grisly looking that I thought I was in Temecula.
WM: Wow! That’s epic! Did you die?
LM: No. Thankfully, I saw the gorilla dude, and knew I was almost done! I bombed down the last chute, came into the barn, and was introduced as the third place woman racer! I was covered in dirt and exhausted, but after 8 hours and 19 minutes, I gotta say, I had a blast! Only wish the course had more single track, and was more scenic. I’m really looking forward to Leadville, and know it’s only going to get better!
WM: Well, you’re clearly insane. Any last words before I call the authorities?
LM: Big shout out to “Tree” Perkins, who also qualified for Leadville.
WM: That wanker? He freaking never goes to the front on the NPR.
LM: There are more things in the world of cycling than the NPR.
WM: [Crestfallen at being reproached by his hero] Oh.
LM: But we love you anyway! [Pats his scrawny bicep]
WM: [Happy smile on his face] See you out there next Tuesday, and best of luck to you in Leadville!