It all started about 7 months ago, on a Saturday evening in January, I received notification from the Leadville MTB 100 Race family that I had received a lottery slot for the 2017 MTB 100! Needless to say, the reality of my situation became crystal clear. Luckily, Chad and the crew at Tri-City Bicycles were there to provide amazing service, great bikes and help. In fact, Chad offered to coach me as I trained up for the event.
My first recommendation for anyone who wants to undertake this type of event, get a coach. Of course, Chad is the best around. Soon, months of training were complete, hours in the gym, more leg presses than I care to remember, and it was time to head up to Colorado for the race. Luckily, my ride buddy, Joy, was already up there, and had a vast amount of experience in the area.
Second recommendation, allow time for acclimatization and adequate pre rides. Joy and I pre rode the majority of the course, to include the Columbine climb. This was especially helpful because I had never undertook this magnitude of climb before, and it helped to know what was ahead during the actual race. Joy was also instrumental in setting up the Crew team extraordinaire and providing great tips as to how to best crew during the day.
As we lined up early on Saturday morning, I was nervous, and my crew was ready. I was worried about my feet, which had often cramped during the long training rides, and worried about nutrition throughout the long day, a topic which would come back to impact me later in the afternoon.
Since I had failed to qualify in an earlier event, I started in the last corral. I anticipated that the corrals would stay up until the actual start, but they collapsed them a few minutes before the shotgun start. If I had been paying attention a bit better I could have probably moved up a bunch more in the line.
After the start, I followed advice from Joy and Tony and got as far left as possible and hammered it. Of note, there is a guy who starts last every year, and Transamerica donates 1,000 bucks for every rider he passes.. well.. he passed me at the start of St. Kevin’s…so I figure I was hammering it pretty good, since I was already in the back. This is where strategy comes in, my plan for pacing… not riding out of my mind (like I did in Austin) only to crater half way through. Well, I was riding about 10 bpm over my goal, however, I remembered to stick to my nutrition plan. Every 30 min, I had my proportioned food, and drank to thirst. St. Kevin’s was backed up, however by the time I caught a good train on the way to Hagerman’s and Sugarloaf, the race had opened up a bit.
Powerline was next, 4 mile descent with bone rattling terrain, and washouts that were swallowing riders up left and right if they chose the wrong line. Luckily I had ridden this with Joy and Tony earlier in the week, and felt very strong. No issues with Powerline.
Then it was the rollers and single track on the way into Twin Lakes, when I realized that I was going to make Twin Lakes under time cut, I was ecstatic. The first of my many emotional swings during the day. My left leg started to twinge a bit in the single tracks, and fearing an Austin type of experience (my legs totally locked up and I DNFd) I took Hotshot. This seemed to work, but the impact was a very upset stomach. I stuck to my eating every 30 min, and made it into the pit at Twin Lakes with no issues really. My crew had everything ready…. Really, they were the reason why I finished this race to begin with .. without my wife, Sidonie, our friend Lita, my daughter, Mel and Joy’s Crew team of Tanya, I would have probably not finished.
The next hit was Columbine, I continued eating on schedule, but noticed that I was having trouble maintaining pace at the same heartrate. I adjusted, fearing the super bonk, and made it up Columbine a bit slower than during my previous training ride. Towards the top there was a rider down on the side of the trail cramping. I talked to him, determined that he had not been eating/drinking enough, and gave him my electrolyte bottle. He quickly drained it, on the way back down he was not there, so I hope it helped. That left the last little bit to go without many liquids, but after a quick fill up on top, plus a coke that I maybe should have skipped, I refilled with liquids and started the decent of Columbine.
This is a pretty high speed descent, and about halfway down I noticed that my chain had come off both in front and in back, and in fact it had actually come part way up my crank arm. Emotions were high here and I was able to ascertain that I could fix it. It took about 5 min, but I caught up with all the riders that passed me on the way down. I knew I was near the tail end of the time cut, my chain (with a bent link) was shifting every third pedal stroke. I used the barrel adjusters to try to limit it and made the time cut back at Twin Lakes with time to spare. I took another hot shot (once again, maybe not a great idea) and asked my team to just fill my camelback with electrolytes and skip the water. It was gut check time. No pun intended, as I pedaled out of Twin Lakes into the long slow climb into and out of the single track and onto the long road uphill: I was hurting. I saw a rider in the distance and gave it my all to reach him and then sat on his wheel in the very windy conditions on the open road. I later thanked him. His name was Gabe, he said he understood and that it was no issue, and that he was in a dark place too. Gotta love bikers, always trying to help each other out.
Back to gut check time, Gabe and I made it to the Powerline climb. I lost a bunch of time on this climb as I was really unable to ride much of it at all. Gabe, and a few others, were there with me and we slowly made it up the climb. Having made all of the time cuts, and with an incredible feeling of nausea, I knew I had to make it to the finish line, no quitting now.
On the long decent down St. Kevin’s, a rider came up next to me. He said, don’t forget, we might not make the time cut for the buckle, but we can still be finishers. I did not know about this and he explained it to me. Hello emotional mood swing, I went from down to time to get down! He and I took turns pounding out the next ten miles, and then I left him on the boulevard section determined to make it in and be a finisher.
As I crested the last hill and saw the finish line I was pretty much full of emotion because I knew that with a bike that was shifting funky, and with a stomach that was wanting to empty its contents I was still going to be able to finish this epic ride. Then I heard my wife scream my name and saw my youngest and eldest daughters come out of the crowd to run with me across the line, I pretty much lost it at that point. Probably my most emotional experience ever on a bike.
So, while the military might keep me away from this next year, I’m ready and willing to get back to Leadville. Ken Chlouber, the founder of all this craziness, said that once you come you are a member of the Leadville Family. There is no truer statement. Ken and his team put on an extremely professional and enjoyable race. Chad and his crew at Tri City Bicycles taught me everything I needed to know for this race, and ensured that I was trained properly. Joy encouraged me every step of the way. Ken says you will have to reach down into that well of Guts, Grit, and Determination to finish this race, motivation will only get you to the start line. He was right about that! I can’t wait for my next Leadville experience!