Leadville 100 MTB – Epitaph for a Participant

17 08 2010

Readers of my blog know I take pride in being a participant in a myriad of endurance events: Running, swimming, nordic skiing, Ironman, road cycling, cyclocross, and mountain biking. Note my studied use of the word participant instead of competitor. I am not now, nor have I ever been an elite athlete. In fact, in the realm of the athletic, I have become comfortable with the fact that I have minimal genetic abilities. Ten years of pack a day smoking didn’t improve my natural abilities. I am a mediocre athlete at best. Any achievements stem from a determined and dogged refusal to accept my stunning lack of talent as a limiter. This innate masochism makes me particularly well suited for participating in endurance events.

Powerline Descent

In light of this it shouldn’t be surprising that I don’t recall winning any race. A podium here and there in some esoteric event with a particularly weak field is to be expected: even a blind squirrel stumbles upon a nut from time to time. Participation is about enjoying your surroundings and the company of like minded individuals, a kind of active tourism. It is about enjoying the challenge presented by the event. Participation is NOT about turning yourself inside out to beat the next guy or to meet some arbitrary time standard

Well I am sorry to report that after participating in the Leadville 100 three times, I have determined that participation alone can not earn you a buckle, at least not if you are a 50 year old with a genetic predisposition for couch warming.

The story of my 2010 Leadville experience isn’t exciting. No tumbles and no epic equipment failures. The only drama was internal. Sure I missed breakfast and had some early nutrition issues, and my hydration pack and hands both froze during the initial rollout from the 6th and Harrison start, but, all in all, no excuses. Indeed I had every possible advantage: A top coach from Carmichael Training Systems,my best starting position ever, a state of the art lightweight 29er.

I just wasn’t fast enough.

The rollout was the best part of the day. When the shotgun went off at 6:30 am, I was close enough to the front to see the favorites. The line of 1400 starters stretched back 1/4 mile up the narrow street. Over the next 3 miles, I did my best to stay out of the way of zealous competitors intent on getting to the front of the unruly pack before the single track. I held my own, kept the rubber on the pavement, and tried to maintain good position for the single track.

St. Kevans (Pronounceed KEEVANS) is the first climb. 7.2 miles from the low point to the high, about 1350 vertical feet. It’s a lumpy, rocky, steep climb with lots of grunty little ramps. I rode on plan, keeping my heart rate at an average of 80% of max and summited in about 57 minutes (1:04 from the start). I didn’t put a foot down the whole climb. Considering the crowds, this was an accomplishment in itself. Only later did I understand the price I paid for this. I was paying so much attention to my staying upright that I didn’t bother to drink.

I paused at the road marking the end of this section, slammed a couple Cliff Blocks into my face, and plunged down the 3.75 mile descent. My speed maxed out at 37.

Now, five steady even miles up Sugarloaf. First, pavement then gravel, then rocky ATV roads to the peak. My HR was a bit low, 76% of max, but I was starting to feel the altitude. 49 minutes and 1200 vertical feet later I reached the final section of the fearful Powerline descent. A long string of cyclists clogged the lone safe line down Powerline. A single poor descender can clog the works like an underpowered motorhome up a windy mountain road. On Powerline most are over cautious. Those that aren’t are dangerous. There are few safe places to pass. On the way down we pass a multi cyclist pile up on the side of the trail. It’s clearly bad. I try not to look. Plenty of others are tending to the injured. Don’t want my rubbernecking to add me to the body count.

Finally I splash over the makeshift log bridge, up the embankment and onto the long road to the Pipeline aid station. A stiff head wind greats me. I glance at my GPS: 2:30. That can’t be! The first aid station is at about 28 miles from the start. How can I be six long miles from the aid station? The reality sinks in: I am not going to make my 2:35 goal for the first aid station. If I can get there in 2:45 or better, I still have an outside chance at a buckle, but I need to scramble. Last year I made it in 2:46. In practice last week it took 2:48. A dark cloud descended on my previously buoyant mood. I slogged through the gusty miles and hit the aid station in 2:47:55.

I am already in trouble and I know it. Time is not on my side. Instead of eating and drinking through the aid station, I pedal through with my head down thinking of the next 12 miles to Twin Lakes Dam. I have 1:13 to get there before the time cutoff. Last year I was riding stronger than this and it took 1:03. No time to eat, just push.

A bit more than an hour later, I start the descent down the paved road into Twin Lakes and I see flashing lights coming my way. Another bad crash? No. It’s Levi and JHK heading back to the finish line. Last year I went by Lance after reaching Twin Lakes aid station, 1 ½ miles up the road. The year before, Dave and Lance cheered me up Columbine as they passed, 3 miles up the trail. How can the leaders have this much extra time gap on me? I must be really slow. I glance at my GPS – 3:52!#&$. I am still a mile from the aid station. If I don’t get there in less than 8 minutes my day is over.

The unthinkable seeps into my head: “How bad would it really be to miss the first time cut? My chances of getting the buckle are already slim. At least my day will be over.”

Race director Ken Chlouber’s voice echoes in my head. “Never quit. This race is not for crybabies.” I think of Joanne and the kids waiting at the CTS tent with my supplies for the Columbine climb. I think of all the people who wanted to do this race and didn’t get in. I think: “If you have to ask yourself whether or not to make that cutoff, you don’t deserve to be here. Pedal!!!”. I crank it.

Joanne and the kids are waiting for me with the supplies they and my CTS crew have packed for me. They are screaming: “Hurry!” I don’t even stop. I throw off my hydration pack. (If I had followed my hydration plan, it would have been empty. Noah told me today it was almost half full. 50 ounces of fluid in 4 hours. Not nearly enough.) I take the newly prepped pack from Joanne, and pedal through the aid station. 3:59:18.

“Yikes. That was close.” I yell to some spectators to make sure: “did I make the cutoff ?”. Their affirmative shouts tell me it is O.K. to slow so I can finally take care of some urgent business in the woods. (If you’ve never attempted this in racing bibs and a hydration pack, you don’t realize the complexity.) Upon my return I take a minute to find my whole wheat organic PBJ rollups and wolf down my first real food of the day. I also slug down some water and start to pedal again.

The numbers are rolling around my head. If I can climb Columbine in the same 2:02 I did during last week’s pre-ride, I will hit the top at 6:15. Last year I was 6:25. My descent in pre-ride was 6 minutes faster than last year. Shave another 20 minutes off my best time for the rest of the course and I still have a slim chance for a buckle. “Pedal!”

My gut has other ideas. A half mile later I am doubled over with dry heaves. I try to keep moving while I push my bike and drink some water. I down a couple salt tabs, get back on the bike and try to move the pedals. It’s slow, but I am moving. More than I can say for some that I roll by. I realize now that I am one of the walking dead – those riders too slow for the buckle, but unable or unwilling to give up.

I cajole a guy with a single speed to start pedaling again. He has buckled at Leadville 8 times. Not today. He turns around and heads back down. His parting words: “don’t prolong it. Call it a day. Don’t run on ego.”

This isn’t about ego. Quitting isn’t an option. Some riders heading the other way give us scornful looks as they fly past us downhill. We are slowing them down by making them ride a slower line to avoid running us down. But most take the time to shout encouragement. “Just pedal”; “One foot in front of the other”; “Never give up!”.

Slowly my stomach settles and I regain a bit of strength. I am not sure if the kind words or the two gels I force down are responsible. I try to continue to drink water. My fantasy of a 2:02 climb has faded. One hour blurs into two and then three. The number of riders going the other way begins to slow, and their encouragement evolves into “almost there.” More than 3:30 hours after leaving Twin Lakes, I complete the 10 mile climb to the Columbine Turnaround – 51 miles and 7:32:15 since the start. I drink, I eat, and I make sure I am steady enough to complete the 10 mile return to Twin Lakes. My fastest split from the turnaround to Twin Lakes was 36 minutes. My fate at Twin Lakes is clear.

As I enter Twin Lakes, I see my son Noah out of the corner of my eye running alongside me. My youngest, Zach, is just inside the line demarking the aid station boundaries. He has been crying. I was so slow on the climb up Columbine, he thought I had been hurt. The race officials in the yellow shirts stop me. My buckle bid is over.

Crazy as it sounds, I love Leadville. During the race and my pre rides, I have ridden with a legion of great people. Champions and other athletic tourists. CEO’s and carpenters. Men and women of every description. All sharing a love of the outdoors and the allure of the pedals.

I have become obsessed with that buckle. This will be my last year as a participant in the Leadville 100. If I am fortunate enough to gain entry and return to race again, (reportedly 15,000 applied for the 1500 entries), I will return as a competitor. I don’t yet know how to accomplish this, but I am committed to transforming my sightseeing self into a well tuned competitive machine. I am going to start with shorter races where the suffering will be short and build from there. I may need help from those of you who are true competitors. I don’t expect that I can completely overcome my poor genetics, but I really want a buckle.

Sheryl Miller, who along with her husband first convinced me to attempt Leadville many years ago, proudly displays her 1000 mile buckle. She is one of the few women to buckle 10 times.

Leadville Silver Rush 50

8 08 2010

It’s been two years since I last rode the Silver Rush. Seven hot, dusty, lung burning hours after the start I remembered why I skipped this race in 2009. It’s painful! I know that sounds like a given for an ultra distance race. But Silver Rush is different. Locals refer to it as the Leadville 100 with all the fun parts removed. Unlike the 100, the course never dips below 10,000 feet and there are no flat sections, only climbs and descents, and MILES of rocky terrain too steep to ride. Pushing a mountain bike up a steep climb while trying not to lose footing and turn an ankle is more difficult for me than the long low cadence grinds characterizing the 100. At Silver Rush, the hike-a-bike sections seem endless. This year added heat and vast amounts of dust to the equation.

I lined up on the start line with Team Millstein. Kevan, Ethan, and Jim Snyder strongly advised a fast start from the front of the pack to avoid the traffic jams that slow the pack as it enters the single track and begins the long (10 mile) first climb of the day. My conservative side got the better of me and I moved back. I preferred avoiding the crush. Besides the effort necessary to sprint up the absurdly steep hillside while carrying the bike seemed sure to push me into a red zone from which I could never recover. Think of the longest, steepest run up you can recall from a cyclocross race. Now add large loose rocks, triple the climbing distance and multiply the number of riders fighting for position and you have a good idea of the Silver Rush start. Oh did I mention the race officials standing at the top of the run up swinging two bags of silver coins for the first male and female racers to reach the top?

The shotgun blast sounded at 9:00am and up we ran. The consequences of my conservative approach were quickly apparent. Everything ground to a halt as the mass of riders hit the bottleneck opening of the single track first climb. We stood around waiting to get on the bike for what seemed like hours. Once on the bike, I rode the start, stop, start, speed up, slow down back of the pack caterpillar for another eternity. Millstein was right. Gotta give him credit on this one. If I miss my 7:00 hour goal due to poor start strategy, I will really be bummed. I cross the first timing station at the top of run up in the back in the pack of 700 starters. Going to be a long day.

I ease into a a steady climbing pace and expend extra energy every time I have to switch up my line to pass a slower rider or avoid riders stalling on the climb and falling. Suddenly I come to a realization: I am not a mountain bike newbie anymore. I am the one passing and staying on the bike. Strategy aside, this is progress. My observation is reinforced as we crest the first climb and begin the descent to the first aid station. I am passing on the descent. Not one or two, but 25 or 30 slower riders. Nobody is staying with me. I feel smooth and in control. Maybe I am finally becoming a mountain biker. (Or maybe this full suspension 29er was worth every penny I invested in it.) The dust and heat don’t seem so bad as I descend swiftly down the loose gravel. By the aid station, I have scratched my way up 75 places.

I grab a handful of chips, check the water bladder to make sure I am not going to run dry like Lumberjack, and roar out of the aid station. The next 10 miles to the turnaround make the first 15 look like child’s play. Steep, narrow rocky descents, treacherous hike a bike sections, a stream crossing on a rickety log bridge with rotting slats, more climbing, most of the time with the lead riders blowing past you in the opposite direction as they return to the finish on the out and back course. The descents are the most harrowing. Plentiful sharp rocks littering the V shaped ruts that carry melt water down the mountain and double as our downhill route. Few clean lines, and those are often blocked by faster riders pushing their bikes UP the hills on the way back. Somehow I manage to stay on the bike, even passing slower riders on the ups and downs. The only place that I am consistently being passed is on the hike a bike sections. I need to spend some time with Marc Harrison and figure out how he hikes so fast with his bike. He is the fastest hike a biker I have ever seen. Something tells me it is the product of many 6 minute miles on portage in canoe races and not reproducible by me.

I reach the turnaround more than 30 minutes faster than my 2009 effort in 463rd place. Refuel, refill and off I go to retrace my pedal strokes back to Leadville Start/Finish. Hiking where I need to, and climbing slow but steady when I can. I am riding sections others are walking and passing riders as I climb. 7 hours is looking tight but doable. The heat makes nutrition and hydration even more important than usual. I try to drink as much as possible, but the combination of grinding climbs, dust and altitude often leave me gasping for air as I try to sneak a sip from my hydration pack. Its hard to drink and breathe at the same time and I need every breath. Soon I feel cramps coming on in my thighs and quads. I slow a bit and grab a handful of salt tablets. Chase then down with big gulps of water. Muscle cramps ease after a while.

I reach the top of the final climb at the 6:15 mark. Certainly I can cover 10 mostly downhill miles in less than 45 minutes to reach my goal. I start down, picking up speed and passing people here and there as storm down. I keep remembering the words of my local MTB gurus: “Hands off the brakes. They only get you in trouble.” Suddenly: “on your right”. I am being passed. A large guy in long baggy camouflage shorts – a true to life MTB dude. I think: “Follow his line, he knows what he is doing.” I let go of the brakes. Loosen my grip on the bars so I can flow through his line and hurtle down the descent. After 5 or 6 puckered miles, we have passed twenty or thirty slower riders. And then . . . Pfffft. Argh! Didn’t I have my share of flats at Triple ByPass? 3 miles from the finish? Really? My minimal descending skills have caught up with me. Must have hit one too many rocks. And I have never changed a flat on a tubeless tire. I try to reinflate the tire and see if I can limp to the finish without changing the tire. Nope. Most of the riders that I have passed are now passing me back giving me this “serves you right for scaring the spit out of me when you passed” look.

Tubeless wheel and tires offer many advantages. Lighter, better traction, fewer flats because there is no tube to pinch. But they also offer some unique flat changing challenges. The sidewall is sealed to the rim with a special sealant poured into the tire cavity prior to inflation. The sealant is supposed to seal leaks too, but I must have damaged the tire. I unseal the rim and struggle to remove the valve installed in the rim. Grab a tube from my pack and install it so I don’t have to try to find and repair the tire damage. I reseat the tire and inflate. Sealant, displaced by the volume of the tube, sprays everywhere. Guess I should’ve seen that coming. Covered in white tire sealant, I press on for the finish line. I ride hard. I downshift, spin and try to grunt up the last cruel steep hill on the course. Two riders hiking their bikes up the climb jump back to make room. “Sorry dude. Didn’t expect anyone this far back to be riding so hard up this be-atch”. Nice. Thanks for the encouragement. Reality bites.

I cross the finish line in 7:12. I find the big camo wrapped downhiller guy near the finish line. What was your time? 6:58. Damn. I can’t catch a break. Gotta find more speed if I am going to finally bring home that Leadville 100 buckle.

Final results: 370 out of 550 finishers and 700 starters. If not for the 14 minutes lost to my flat tire, I would have broken 7:00 hours and had an honest to goodness top half finish. Leadville here I come.

Why do I do it?

23 07 2010

Someone asked me the ultimate question today. Why?   It’s a fair question, even though it came from a friend who just spent 8 days racing across the continent sleeping only 15 to 90 minutes at a stretch. If anyone can fathom the reasons for subjecting myself to extreme events, it would be a Race Across America finisher. Yet, he asked again. I guess he seriously wants to know. So here goes:

I’ll start by making clear that I don’t do it to win. Or even to be a top finisher. No. Competing takes an external focus. I am internally focused. I only compete against myself. I compete against the urge to hang out on the couch. I compete against the inclination to eat and get fat. I compete against the fear of growing old, ill and infirm. I compete against my own mortality.

External competition assumes a desire to win. Winning requires suffering. (At least I think it does, having no recollection of ever having won an athletic event.). I avoid suffering and as a result, rarely compete, I participate.

You might ask: How do I reconcile riding my bicycle for 12 hours at high altitude over steep mountain passes with a desire to avoid suffering? There’s an old saying in bicycle racing circles: Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. Pain allows you to focus on the immediate goal and to filter out the noise of everything that is unimportant. Suffering is a distraction that demands attention. Suffering is counterproductive.

Long winded, but wrapped up in the previous paragraphs are the three primary reasons that I enter (and finish) extreme events.

  • To live – action is life. Inaction is not.
  • To participate – to be part of something bigger and greater than myself and my own daily annoyances.

  • To focus – Those who know me, understand my propensity to flit. Few things can keep my mind fully occupied for very long. Extreme events allow me respite from my multitasking, multithreaded daily existence. They hone my ability to focus.

Triple Bypass – July 2010

11 07 2010

I have come to expect the unexpected during mountain bike races, especially the ultra endurance variety. Road rides, however, have always struck me as more controlled and controllable. Triple Bypass has changed all that.

Triple Bypass Course Map – Click Here

During Triple Bypass, I spent a total of three hours of down time sleuthing the causes of mechanical issues, begging for parts to fix my mechanicals, and resolving the issues. I rode in torrential rain, sleet, hail, and sun. I traversed bike paths, country roads, dirt roads, major highways. I saw some of the most majestic vistas that Colorado has to offer. And I slogged ever uphill in my 120 mile ride from Evergreen to Avon over three major mountain passes. In short, this ride was every bit as epic as any MTB race.

Lessons learned:

  • Being prepared is essential, but not sufficient. A go with the flow attitude is a must.
  • Mustaches freeze when exposed to cold, windy descents
  • Don’t skimp on rim tape. An expensive bike is only as reliable as its least reliable part.
  • Reliable is more important than light, at least when you don’t have a team car and mechanic support.
  • You CAN rehydrate a contact lens dried out by a long descent, but be sure to keep one eye open.

After several DNS (Alan Chesick and Kevin Czinger were pre ride drop outs because they were busy in China putting the finishing touches on the Coda all electric peoples sedan, due to hit California in September. Scott Spero bagged out for family reasons. Joanne injured her shoulder in a bike mishap and didn’t make the start line. Noel decided to move from Colorado back to Cleveland and preferred sweltering heat and civic hand wringing over perceived basketball slights to epic bike rides.), only Jonnie Kaye and Brother Larry joined me on the start line. Of course the usual array of Coloradan friends were riding, but they are so much faster than me in a ride at altitude that I have given up trying to ride with them.

We got off to a good start at about 6:10 am, just after the onslaught of peloton riders who race the 120 miles as if it were a stage of the Tour de France. The climbing starts immediately with a 3300 foot 15 mile ascent up Squaw Pass. Grades of 4 to 6% make the climb a slog, but not a real gut buster. We ride a nice steady, but comfortable pace, passing some and being passed by other stronger riders. The top comes in a respectable 1:50 minutes, representing a VAM of about 600 M per hour. (For comparison, Tom Danielson, a pro-rider, averaged 1800 M per hour in his win at the Mt Washington Hill Climb last week.). We are working, but not so hard that we cant enjoy the view and carry on conversations with our fellow riders. There will be plenty of time to hammer later in the day.

Pause to refill water bottles at the top, and set off down the other side. About 2 miles down, at about 35 MPH, I hear the sickening pffft of a blown rear tire. Damn. Larry goes zipping by. Jonnie stops to make sure I have what I need to change the tire and continues on, yelling back Well wait for you at the bottom. If only, it was that easy. I strip the tire, replace the tube, and attempt to re-inflate using one of my two CO2 cartridges. Empty. I use the other cartridge and re-inflate, reinstall the wheel and head back down the road. A mile later, pfffft. Same wheel. Damn. Something must be in the wheel and I didnt check carefully. Remove wheel, strip tire, carefully inspect the tire and wheel and realize that a whole has developed in the rim strip over one of the spoke holes. The tube is being sucked into the hole by the 110 lbs of pressure in the tires and the tube is bursting. I patch the hole in the rim strip with a tire patch, reinstall tire and tube, but I am out of CO2. I wave to the riders zooming by at 40 mph to try to get a cartridge or pump, to no avail. Hundreds of riders pass me by, but nobody stops or even slows. Finally, the police come up and call the sag wagon, but it never arrives. Finally, two guys from Boulder, riding UP the descent (not part of the TBP) stop to help out with a hand pump. We re-inflate as best as we can and I set off intending to find a floor pump to get full pressure when I get to the bottom. A women spectator in Idaho Springs has a floor pump. I re-inflate to full pressure and set off. I lose about 45 minutes during the whole ordeal. Jonnie and Larry are understandably long gone, having waited for me for a half hour.

I dejectedly ride the next 10 miles to the 2nd rest stop on my own with the later starters and slower riders. As I get back on my bike at the aid station, the rear tire is flat again. I am out of tubes, out of CO2 cartridges. I soon learn that my Rim Strip is too thin and EVERY spoke whole has a weak point in the strip. This is causing the tube to deform and blow out. Winston, Carmichael Bike Mechanic and volunteer, helps me tape the entire inside of the rim with electrical tape to protect the tubes, but he has no tubes and I am out.

$3.00 part takes down expensive bike

We spend the next 90 minutes patching my old tubes (each patch fails and blows out again when we try to re-inflate), begging the few riders who are still coming through for a spare tube (no one has tube with the right length stem for my aero wheels). I find a valve extender, but it doesnt fit the tube I have borrowed. Finally, a South African living in Vancouver pulls in for mechanical help and he has the right tube and non-aero rims. I trade him my 40mm stem tube for his 60 mm stem tube, rebuild the wheel, re-inflate and finally get back on the road at 11:10 am more than 5:00 hours after the start. The top riders will be finishing soon and I am at mile 40. Its going to be a really long day.

I decided hours ago that getting frustrated wasnt going to improve my day. So I adopted the attitude that one way or another I was going to finish this ride, but I was going to be mellow and sociable. After all, I wasnt in danger of missing the time cut offs I chatted with people along the way as I passed many of the slower riders and late starters who make up the back of the pack. Shades of Assault on Mt. Mitchell last year, except without the strong riders to work with me and motivate me back to the middle of the pack. I stop at a bike shop several miles down the road and buy more tubes and CO2, just in case.

The next 20 miles are a long, uphill slog, over dirt roads, bike paths and then on the shoulder of I70 with 18 Wheelers buzzing 3 feet from my shoulder at 70 mph. The skies are getting more and more threatening. I stop and pull on my rain jacket. As I pull off I70 at the Rte 6 Loveland Pass effort, the skies open up and the rain becomes torrential.

It rains and then sleets while I grind my way up the final 1500 feet of the 3500 ascent to the top of Loveland Pass at nearly 12,000 feet. I just keep hoping that it will dry out and warm up before the descent. The sun peaks out as I hit the crest and start down.

Wet, Cold and Three hours behind schedule, but not defeated

While the road dried out, it didnt warm up. My mustache and beard, still soaked from the rain on the ride up, froze solid. The descent through the twists, turns and switchbacks takes just over a half hour at speeds from 25 to 40 mph. Hanging out in the drops for so long eventually locks up my hands from the cold. On the flats after the descent, I try to shake them back to life. I hear someone calling out, Hey Shaker Heights. Yeah? We are from Shaker too. Are you Morris? We are the Kleins, we have seen your posts on Shaker Cycling, but rarely get to ride because we have young kids. Small world.

I motor into the final Aid Station just out of Breckenridge, stop briefly at Starbucks for a shot of espresso, and set out for the final climb up Vail Pass. On the way up, I chat with Patrick, a rider from Denver who has seesawed back and forth with me throughout the ride. He says he is under-trained, but ready to push up Vail Pass and through the last 25 miles of the ride. We pause for a photo opportunity at the top of Vail Pass and then trade pulls for the last 25 miles of the ride passing large groups of riders and stragglers alike during our final push. We arrive at Avon 1:10 minutes later after averaging over 22 MPH for the last 25 mile stretch. We triumphantly cross the finish line and call it a day. Not the ride I was expecting, but an epic day on the bike nonetheless.

Lumberjack – Post-Log

21 06 2010

Team Millstein completed the 100 Miler in predictable fashion. Youngblood staggered across the finish line in a complete dehydrated haze in the remarkable time of 8:30, 50th overall at the tender age of 18. Kevan “the Energizer Bunnie” bounced across the line in 10:20, handily beating Youngblood’s over under bet and proclaiming, ride time was only 9:30. I could have easily ridden 9:30. His claim was fully believable. He was smiling and looked like he had just finished his morning dog walking. Jim “Finish or Die” was another story altogether. I knew something was up when he wrote “My stomach hurts” on the chalk board after lap two. Jim desperately wanted to join my 100k race after that lap, but Kevan (rightfully) told him that registration for the shorter race closed after the start horn sounded. The only way to taste glory was to gut it out for another lap. Jim spent the next 3:30 hours getting on and off the bike and doing what only he (and Kevan maybe) knows what deep in the woods away from the course. But he finished. And Kevan being the dear friend he is didn’t leave him for dead on the course to break 9:30 hours. When we got back to the hotel, Kevan was ready for dinner (customary McDonalds meal) and a trip to the casino. We all passed (out)

Another one for the blog. Wait till next time.

Lumberjack 100 k – In a class by myself

21 06 2010

Lumberjack 100 – first race of the season. Second time on single track this year. Longest ride to date road or MTB only 5 hours. Expectations were necessarily low. Figured I would work on nutrition, hydration and trying to maintain intensity for the uphill sections of the race.

Course was 33 mile loop consisting entirely of forested, sandy single track. Lots of tight tree squeezes and flowing turns. 100 milers do 3 laps. I was going for two laps. I was the race organizer and only participant in the Lumberjack 100k. Everyone else was riding a 100 mile race. My best time at Mohican for 100 k was 8:40, so I was hoping to break 8 hours for this race. Elevation gain for each loop is bit less than Mohican, but Lumberjack loop is 8 more miles so the hills are less of a factor.

Our Team for this race consisted of Kevin “Energizer Bunny” Millstein, Jim “Finish or Die” Snyder, and Ethan “Youngblood” Millstein. After back to back mudfests at Cohutta and Mohican, Team Millstein was hungry for a dry, fast race; one not requiring a complete post-race drive train overhaul. They got it.

This being our third season of MTB races, we are getting the routine down. Arrived at venue by 5:45, set up our support area with pumps, tools, spare parts, water and a new addition – the lap time slate board. Youngblood’s brilliant idea was to mark down our times for each lap as we came through so we could keep tabs on each other. And so YB could gloat about how much faster he was than us before the race was even over. He had given the Kevan and Jim a 2:00 handicap to motivate them. Amazing how fast he has gotten in a single year of riding. Kid’s got skillz . . . and youth . . . and he is only dragging about 135 pounds up those hills.

For the start, we roll out a mile or so down the road to spread the 350 person field out before we hit the single track. The horn sounds. A frenzy of peddling ensues and I watch Team Millstein pedal off into the distance. See you guys at the finish. I settle into a comfortable tempo pace and join a long train of riders snaking up the single track. The first five miles of the course are largely uphill and I let the group set the tempo and hang on for the ride. Not worth passing in this much congestion. Just uses up limited energy stores just to end up back in the middle of a long train. And the crash risk is real. Better to wait until the field thins out.

The occasional new rider attempts a pass, the vets growl at him or her for not realizing the futility of passing in the middle of the pack during the first 15 minutes of a race that for most in this group will last 10 to 12 Hours.

My pace is brisk. 10 to 12 mph versus a normal 8 to 8.5 mph pace for a race like this. The introductory 5 miles of hills come and go and the train motors on with Diesel holding pace. We are riding hard, but comfortably. I am chatting with the rider behind me who is also planning an attempt on Ironman Wisconsin later this year. He laments the difficulty of the course we are riding. Others echo his sentiments and bemoan the hills. (Funny I am thinking that Noah or Joanne could ride this without being technically challenged and being thankful that the hills are barely noticeably). Ironman guy cuts off the conversation in mid sentence after explaining he must maintain his focus to not crash. In the distance, I think I hear a faint thud and moan.

At about 1:40, we hit the 1st aid station at about 19 miles. Most of the train stops for refreshments. I realize that Ironman guy didnt consciously end our conversation. Speedy Gonzalina (she passed us early and the train reeld her back in near the aid station) tells me Ironman guy had crashed hard a few miles back.

I grab a PBJ without slowing down and motor on. Big mistake. Three miles out from the aid station, I realize that by water bladder is empty. The weather was warm and I was doing a good job of staying hydrated. But for the next 1:15 I am forced to slow down and awkwardly reach for the emergency bottle, I stuffed in my bottle holder at the start. Eventually, I give up and only drink when I am forced off the bike by over steep climb. I go from an intake of 35 oz of fluid per hour to less than 15 oz. I also managed to leave my train behind at the aid station, so I have no one other than myself to push the tempo. I am all by myself with no easy hydration. I do my best to smoothly navigate through the 2nd half of the first lap, imagining myself as a stream of water flowing down the endless darts and dives that make up the trail. It helps a bit. But I pull into our support station after lap one down a few quarts and paying for it with some queasiness and disorientation. 3:18 for my first lap, better than 10 MPH. I feel like a rocket . . . until I glance at the chalk board Kevan and Jim clocked in at 2:54 and Ethan came through in a blistering 2:39 (the little runt is with the race leaders!).

I take a bit of extra time to switch out water bladders and to pound down the nutritional secret weapon organic PBJ on whole wheat tortillas. A handful of fig cookies and an extra bottle of cold water didnt hurt either. Satiated, but still behind on my hydration, I start climbing the hills that make up the first five miles of the course. I do my best to dig deep and keep pushing myself, but I am approaching the dark place. My mind wanders. I think of chocolate bars and whether my pace is good enough to get me a buckle at Leadville. I crank it up on the hills and forbid myself from walking even the steepest inclines. I desperately look for a rabbit ahead to push me faster, because I am not doing myself any favors by loosing focus. I dont want to end up like Ironman guy.

I focus on hydration and flowing. I am a human stream. This helps. After an hour or so, I am feeling good again.

Now my challenge is different: I start thinking of all the reasons why continuing past the 100k mark to finish the 100 miler is a bad idea. Coach told me NOT to do 100 miles because my recovery would get in the way of the hill repeats necessary to get me through Triple Bypass and get me to that Leadville Buckle. But all these other riders think this is a 100 mile race. I dont want a DNF. Its not a DNF if you never intended to ride 100 miles, I tell myself. You are the race organizer and only participant in the Lumberjack 100k. Its not working. I am having this overwhelming desire to keep racing at the end of my second lap. Luckily, the second helping of steep hills and climbing at the end of the 2nd lap helped knock some sense back into me. By the time, I reached the finish line for the second time; I was realizing that lap 3 would be no picnic. In fact, it would be a debilitating ordeal. Stop now while you feel good. I told myself. Those hill repeats on Tuesday will do you more good for TBP and Leadville than another lap. Those races are your real goals. This is just a training race.

I cross the finish line at the end of lap 2, note the 65 miles on my speedometer, and pull into the support station. I grab my chocolate bar, a bottle of fresh water, toss off the backpack, and put my feet up. 7:10 for 100k is a great result. I am done. In a class by myself, 1st place in the Lumberjack 100k.

Leadville Trail 100 – Race Description

19 08 2009

Endurance mountain bike racing is just different. Like trail running, being alone in the woods for hours gives you time to think and work things out. Unlike trail running, hurtling down a foot wide dirt path through trees, rocks and roots while trying to stay on the bike keeps your mind occupied and the adrenaline flowing for a good part of the journey. Introspection is part of MTB racing, but much less so than trail running.

The Leadville 100 is unique among mountain bike races. It is not the longest race – there are a growing number of multi-day races like the Ruta de los Conquistadores and the Breck Epic – which make Leadville look like a day in the park. It is not the most difficult course – races like the Breck 100 and even the Mohican 100 in my own back yard – sport far more “singletrack,” the ultimate manna for the true MTB racer. But the Leadville 100 has something that none of those other races can ever have – a history, a community and a cast of epic characters that no other race could ever match.

Leadville’s history has been chronicled in many places, most recently the bestselling book “Born to Run,” so I won’t repeat it all here, but in highlight: Leadville, Colorado is a hardscrabble mining town high in the Colorado Rockies. In the early 80’s, after the closing of the local Molybdenum mine which had employed about half of the local population, Leadville was an economic hardship zone without peer in the United States. Ken Chlouber, a local miner, tough guy, and marathon runner, got the idea to start a 100 mile trail race through the Colorado Rockies to attract attention to the city’s plight and to raise tourist awareness. In oft repeated story, when Ken told the local hospital administrator in 1983 about his idea he was told, “You’re crazy! You’ll kill someone!” Ken responded, “Well, then we will be famous, won’t we?” Thus was born the Leadville Trail 100 running race. If I am not mistaken, Ken, now in his 70’s, completed 25 straight trail 100 running races. In 1994, Ken added the Leadville MTB race to the cities now large array of “adventure” races. Today, tourism, not mining, is the main economic driver.

Over the past 16 years, the race has given birth to a community of colorful characters. Ken’s co-director, Merilee O’Neal stands on the finish line and personally puts a finisher’s medal on each and every person who completes the course. Dave Wiens, the soft spoken 6 time winner of the Leadville 100, is a Coloradan who at 44 years old beat Lance Armstrong at in the 2008 Leadville 100. Art Fleming, reputed to be a former National MTB Champion and the undisputed guru of the Leadville race, at 66 years old completed the course in 11:47, slower than last year’s . Art leads training rides during the month leading up to the race every year his sage advice — “You can’t outsmart or outthink Leadville: You can, however, ‘out-train it’ so you will be fully prepared and not die out there.” There’s Elden Nelson, the “Fat Cyclist” who through his blog chronicled both the tribulations of his preparations for the Leadville 100 and the trials of his wife Susan’s battle with breast cancer. Fatty raised more money for the Livestrong Foundation through his blog and team than any other single person. His wife Susan died the week before the Leadville 2009. These are just a few of the Leadville family. As Lance Armstrong pointed at his post race interview, Leadville’s out and back course requires every finisher to see every other finisher on the course at some point. This creates a unique sense of community. In 2008, Lance and Dave Wiens, while descending at 35+ MPH on gravel covered dirt roads, both shouted words encouragement to me as I attacked the grueling Columbine climb.

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