August 25, 2017

2017 Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race


Leadville #11 is now in the books. While I really don't have anything new, exciting, inspirational, emotional or amusing to add to my previous 10 recaps, I'm still going to throw down some words . . . because you are presumably here to read something.

After a very focused and taxing sub-9-hour performance in 2016 to commemorate my 10th LT100, I did not return to Leadville in 2017 with my usual desire (or madness).  In fact, I think I was a bit complacent coming into this year's race.  I did my usual perfunctory training all winter long and even managed to change my diet such that I was nearly 10 pounds lighter on race-morning this year than I was last year.  No matter.  As summer wore on, I simply lacked the motivation to punish myself with structured training rides.  I was Sheryl Crow.  All I wanted to do was get out on my bike and have some fun . . . 'til the sun came up over Santa Monica Boulevard. Sorry, pop-culture digression.  I felt great throughout the summer, but the training drop-off was noticeably impacting leg-strength on steep climbs as well as late-ride vigor.  Most importantly, I did not really give a shit.  Every time I was asked in July about my goals for Leadville, my response was a canned "sub-9 would be great, but I wouldn't mind just enjoying the day."

So race morning arrive on August 12 and my attitude was one of Que Sera, Sera (translation for those of you who didn't study in school - "whatever will be will be.")  I would ride the first 40 miles at a comfortable pace, see where I was time-wise and then decide whether to go for another big beautiful buxom sub-9 hour buckle or lay back and settle for the cute little silver one.  A sub-9 pace would be 2:53 or faster to the 40-mile aid station at Twin Lakes.

For the 11th year in a row, I was riding for Team First Descents (www.firstdescents.org) and was joined by 23 fellow Team FD racers. I don't know whether it is because the economy is stronger or because all of my friends have truly adopted the First Descents' mission, but this was my biggest fundraising year since 2007 with nearly $80,000 donated through my Team FD page as of this writing. To quote that idiot Donald Trump, "I know the best people!"

We had a fairly mild start at about 42 degrees and the usual fast descent to Leadville Junction on the pavement. No major logjams on the dirt road to St. Kevins and no major strain climbing St. Kevins to the u-turn.  I hit Carter Aid at 52 minutes, bombed the road descent around Turquoise Lake and kept a moderately strong cadence up the pavement climb on the opposite side of the lake.  I started noticing my first signs of weakness on the Hagerman Pass dirt-road as I simply couldn't carry the 12-13 mph pace that I wanted. Made it to the top of Sugarloaf at 1:34 and had a grin-inducing (grinly?) descent down the roller-coaster known as Powerline.  Found some pacelines on the road past the Universe-famous Fish Hatchery, but once again couldn't keep the faster pace that I thought I felt I needed.  I hit the Pipeline Aid timer at 2:10.  This was about 5 minutes slower than my fastest time to Pipeline in 2013. The pipeline section was smooth and fast, but the final climb before the descent to Twin Lakes was a bit of a grind. I reached our FD aid station at Twin Lakes at 2:53 on the dot. Although I was exactly on pace for sub-9, I could already tell that the legs were AWOL. I smiled and thanked my wife and crew for getting me re-loaded quickly with fluids and gels and also told them that I would give Columbine my usual stubborn fight, but that I suspected that this probably wasn't going to be my day.

I cruised up and over the ridge above Twin Lakes still feeling ok, but then struggled as soon as I hit the first steep pitch on the Columbine climb. It was abundantly clear that I had not been imagining things with my legs over the first 40 miles. I was getting passed by gaggles of riders and I just couldn't get my legs to respond. Decision-time came way early as I still had 7 more miles to the summit. Do I throw myself into the pain-cave and crush myself climbing Columbine or do I throttle it back a bit and just enjoy the ride? The sun was shining. The temperature was perfect. I dropped to my easiest gear, lifted my head up, smiled and told myself to just enjoy the big bike ride.

Once the decision was made, I started enjoying the rhythm of the climb. I was still getting passed by faster riders, but really didn't care. I reached the goat-trail at 4:15, which was a good 10 minutes off sub-9 pace. By taking it easy the last 5 miles, I actually felt good enough to ride the whole lower section of the goat-trail while navigating around walkers. And for the first time ever in this silly race, I felt no cramps or even twinges in my legs. When it was time to walk the bike, no problemo. It was simply a beautiful day for a relaxing walk. Toward the top, my chain got stuck between the lowest cog and the rear-derailleur.  It took me several minutes to pull it apart, but there was no stress.

I reached the Columbine turnaround at 4:55 and immediately raced back down, pulling into the aid station at 5:30. There was no rush. I hung out for a good 5 minutes talking to Lisa and the rest of the FD tent-crew and gave Lisa an estimated finish time of between 9:30 and 9:40.  Unlike past years, I was not dreading the last 40 miles because I had not brutalized myself on Columbine.
SMILING!


Arriving at Twin Lakes Aid Inbound

Twin Lakes Inbound - No Rush

Heading Home
With a kiss goodbye for Lisa, I pulled out of the aid station and slowly pedaled up the ridge above Twin Lakes. I was keeping pace with another rider on the dirt-road section back into the Pipeline and he kept trying to give cliched pep-talks about "working together" and "digging deep" to go faster. It was his first Leadville. I told him to go nuts and, in keeping with the cliche motif, to "ride like the wind!" He rode off in disbelief that I was so nonchalant. I passed him later on the Powerline climb and never saw him again.

I continued to lose time on the Pipeline section and reached the Pipeline aid station at 6:40. For the first time in 6 or 7 years, I actually stopped at this aid station, drank some Coke and ate a chocolate-chip cookie. I was now 25 minutes off sub-9 pace and quite content with the day. Even the headwinds on the road between Pipeline and Powerline didn't bother me. I just kept pedaling along with a smile (or maybe it was a knowing smirk) and relished the fact that I was healthy, not cramping, not dehydrated, not particularly hungry and generally doing pretty damn well for a guy about to turn 50 years old.

I started up Powerline with my usual resignation and was able to pedal up to the big left bend. Then it was the usual hike-a-bike for the next 15 minutes. Just another nice walk on a section that many compare to one of the Dante's rings of hell. In years past, even sub-9 years, I would choose certain sections of the remaining Powerline climb to hike instead of pedal. This year, I didn't put my foot down the rest of the climb. In fact, my time climbing Powerline this year was only 20 seconds off my fastest time from 2013.

Since I wasn't smashing any personal time goals, I descended the rock-strewn Sugarloaf section a bit more cautiously than usual and hit the bottom of the St. Kevin's road climb at 8:15. My fastest time up this next climb was just under 20 minutes in 2013. While I knew that wasn't in the cards this year, I still hit the climb with some aggression, but could only manage about 22 1/2 minutes to the summit at Carter Aid.

I drank my usual two cups of Coke at Carter Aid and then set off for the final 12 miles. I chose to walk up the 3rd of 3 punchy climbs before the St. Kevin's descent for no other reason than I didn't feel like riding it. Crested the top, tore down the front, breezed through the valley and hit Leadville Junction at 9:10. Picked my way through the loose rocks at the bottom of the Boulevard and then settled into an easy spin for the rest of the 3-mile climb back into town.

50 yards from the finish line, I found Lisa and pulled over. Our friend Matt "Mateo" Hayne, a former First Descents' participant, program leader and Team FD Leadville racer (see my blog from 2011) had recently suffered a recurrence of cancer and had to have major reconstructive surgery on his jaw. His girlfriend created t-shirts in his honor that were sold to raise money and awareness for Mateo's plight. Lisa and I bought a couple of the t-shirts and she was waiting for me before the finish with one of the shirts in outstretched hand. I whipped off my Camelbak, pulled the t-shirt over my bike-jersey and rode across the finish-line proudly showing off the "Crush Cancerasaurus Rex" logo on the front of the shirt. Finish time was 9:36. Sticking with the theme for the day, I was still smiling. I didn't break any personal records, but I had a fantastic day riding my bike in my mountains. Damn I'm lucky.

CRUSH CANCERSAURUS REX!

Final Note: part of my malaise this summer was due to something much bigger that I have in the works for 2018. With my 50th birthday upon me and nothing really left to prove in Leadville, I feel like I need to do something massively epic this coming year. My sights are set squarely on a little race called the "Tour Divide."  It is a self-supported mountain-bike race that starts the second Friday in June from Banff, Alberta, Canada and follows the Continental Divide down through the Rockies ending 2800 miles later at the Mexico border in Antelope Wells, New Mexico. The attrition rate for the race is over 50% and it is generally regarded as the toughest mountain-bike race in the world. My goal would be to finish it in about 30 days. Time to learn how to pitch a tent and practice my aim with bear spray. What is the over-under on how many times I call myself a complete fucking idiot between now and the finish of the Tour Divide?


September 01, 2016

2016 Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race

Rest and Reward
10 years.  I have been at this Leadville nonsense for 10 years.  The picture above contains 8 silver buckles (awarded to those who finish in between 9 hours and 12 hours), 2 gold buckles (awarded to sub 9-hour finishers) and one big-assed 1,000-mile buckle.  Those buckles may just be pieces of metal, but they represent so much more.  They represent blood, sweat, tears, pride, accomplishment, endurance, discipline, happiness, sadness, frustration, strength, ego, stubborn will, focus, relentless self-belief, recaptured (or clinging) youth and, in the immortal words of Ken Chlouber, "grit, guts and determination."  Each buckle tells a tale and each tale is inextricably tied to the story of a man with cancer (Allan Goldberg) challenging his best friend (me) in 2006 to enter a stupidly unthinkable race. Allan is now over 8 years deceased, but he lives on through these buckles and that big one up there truly idealizes the perseverance and toughness that were the cornerstones of his life.

    The 2016 Leadville 100 mountain-bike race was held on Saturday, August 13, 2016. I had my sights set on this particular version of the race for the past 5 years as I badly wanted that obnoxious WWF-sized buckle awarded to those select few who have completed Leadville 10 times.  I viewed my impending 10th finish as both a milestone and a stepping-stone as well as a culmination, a transition and an affirmation.  Without being too melodramatic, the Leadville 100 now inhabits a large chunk of that valuable internal real estate that makes up the "core of my being."  Yes, I supoose it is just a meaningless one-day race in the mountains of Colorado, but it has changed my life in ways I could have never anticipated 11 years ago.  Specifically, it has fueled three major passions that now define me and that impact everyone close to me, namely (1) a year-round quest/thirst for exercise and training that I hope to continue for the rest of my life, (2) a heightened love for the Rocky Mountains that has resulted in Lisa's and my escaping life and running off to Colorado for 8 weeks every summer, and (3) a huge philanthropic commitment to the First Descents cancer organization for which I currently am serving my 8th year as Chairman of the Board of Directors.  Maybe my life is like that scene in the movie City Slickers where Billy Crystal's character, Mitch, is alone with Curly, played by Jack Palance, and Curly is giving Mitch some life advice.

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? [holds up one finger] This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean shit.

Mitch: But, what is the "one thing?" 
Curly: That's what you have to find out.

Maybe Leadville is my "one thing."  Deeeeeeeep.  

But enough waxing philosophic . . . or rhapsodic?  This is supposed to be a race blog.  My 10th race blog.  And as this 2016 race was eerily similar to 2013 (almost to the second), I am going to try to breeze through this sucker and just hit the highlights.

First, a quick recap of my prior 9 years:

2007 - Newbie. Finished in 11:11 with major cramps inbound
2008 - 5 flat-tires, but improved to 10:35
2009 -  Breakthrough year with first sub-10 finish of 9:56
2010 - PR with a 9:43
2011 - Early tire problems put me at the back of the pack and I could never mentally recover. Dawdled at aid stations and rode in with friends. 10:43
2012 - Felt like I was finally in sub-9 shape, but suffered three flats between mile 15 and mile 20. Race shot.  Grrrrr.  9:52
2013 - VICTORY!!!  Big Buckle.  8:54
2014 - Lost the mental edge from 2013. 9:15
2015 - Heat bath.  I hate heat.  9:23

For year 10, I had two main goals.  The first was to simply finish upright to collect the giant 1,000-mile buckle.  The second was to collect that giant buckle in a blaze of glory with a return to sub-9-land. For the first time since 2008, I decided to dig out my heartrate monitor from a dusty closet box and follow a formal training plan.  A guy named Cody Waite had just thrown down a 7-hour finish in the 2015 LT100 and offered a detailed 6-month plan for a very reasonable price. I reached out to Cody, listened to his training philosophy and purchased the plan in December. I then convinced Cody to provide the plan and some monthly coaching to the First Descents Leadville team (which consisted of some 25 racers). I also dangled the plan as bait to convince my Rockville buddies, Kevin Kane and Dave Flyer, to join me in Leadville again this year.  Dave did Leadville with me in 2008 and vowed never to return.  Kevin has had a love/hate relationship with the race, but most of the hate has been self-inflicted due to lack of training. Because of Kevin's spotty history with the race, I kind of made him promise to follow the plan with me. Also joining us in the race (but not the training plan) was Gary Morris ("GMO"), an original Team FD member who was doing Leadville for his 9th time, and Jamie Malin, owner of the Kind Bikes & Skis in Edwards CO and long-time unofficial supplier of equipment, parts and service for select Team FD Leadville members.

Cody's plan called for several months of slow base/foundation development at low HR zones and then an increase in intensity starting in May and continuing through mid-July.  It also included a weight-room regimen, which was definitely a change for me.  It was a pretty easy plan to follow, especially on indoor bikes through the winter, and it got me in pretty good shape by spring. The only thing that troubled me was that I didn't have my normal power in late April and early May and was concerned that the plan went a little too overboard on the foundational stuff.  This concern was crystallized when I struggled with some hard climbs at a "climbing-camp" in West Virginia the first weekend of May and then fully manifested in early July with a miserable crampy outing at the Silver Rush 50 in Leadville where I finished some 30+ minutes off my desired pace.  Needless to say, after Silver Rush, I more or less blew off the rest of the plan and just rode hard with both volume and intensity for the last month.

As usual, taper week (the week leading into the race) really sucked.  It is tough to do big rides week after week after week and then suddenly force yourself to sit on your ass to rest for the big race.  I did institute one small change in the week as starting Wednesday, I topped off every meal with a healthy sprinkling of salt to try to overload my internal sodium storehouse. This was in direct response to my early cramping at Silver Rush. 
2016 Team First Descents Leadville -
With Leadville 100 Founders Ken and Merilee

Fortunately, taper week ended with one of the coolest moments in my Leadville race career and, frankly, one of the sweeter moments of my life.  If you are reading this blog, you probably know well my Leadville story from Allan to First Descents to Team First Descents to Team FD's hitting the $1Million mark for funds raised  for FD through Leadville in 2015.  Anyway, at the pre-race meeting on Friday, I got a special call-out from Josh Colley (Leadville race-director) for both my 10-years and for Team FD's accomplishments in Leadville over these 10 years.  That was great, but what followed was really special. I stood up to wave and slowly others in the crowd stood up to applaud. This cascaded into a standing ovation and I couldn't hold back the tears.  Below is a video of the moment captured by GMo. Unforgettable.



THE RACE
Race day began with the 3:30am alarm, a quick inhaling of scrambled eggs and pancakes, a swigging of a bottle of electrolyte-laced water, a drive up to Mike ("Leadman Emeritus") and Laurel McHargue's house in Leadville, three trips to the porcelain throne, meticulous donning of gear and sunscreen, some deep stretching, a group photo, a freezing ride to the start in 33 degree temperatures and the usual anxiety-ridden countdown of the final minutes until the 6:30am shotgun blast.  It was a stunningly gorgeous morning without a cloud in the sky.  While 33 degrees at the start is a bit bone-chattering when you are just wearing a thin bike jersey and spandex shorts, I was pretty excited that we weren't going to have a repeat of last year's hot weather (when it 45 degrees at the start). So no complaints from me about the weather this year!

Settling in at the McHargues - 5:15am
Donning the Gear - 5:35am


Stretching - 6am

Group Shot before Heading to the Start - 6:05am
Fly, Jamie, Brent, Kevin, GMo, Leadman Emeritus

My race and pacing strategy for this year was pretty similar to the previous 3 years.  The only real difference was that I would be using a heartrate monitor and I vowed to keep my heart-rate below 155 at all times. If I was truly in sub-9 shape, then I should be able to stay on a 9-hour pace below 155 without blowing up over the last 43 miles..  Time targets were as follows:

Carter Summit - 50 minutes

Sugarloaf summit - 1:32

Pipeline Aid - 2:05

Twin Lakes - 2:55

Goat Trail - 4:05
Columbine Aid - 4:40
Twin Lakes - 5:15
Pipeline - 6:15
Powerline Summit - 7:30
Carter Summit - 8:05
Finish - 8:55

The start to Carter was pretty uneventful. Within about 200 yards from the start, I was passed by a big dude who seemed late for a meeting and I cozied in behind him and drafted all the all the way down to Leadville junction.  I kept things pretty steady and conservative on the flats before St Kevins and also didn't push too hard during the climb up St. Kevin's and over the rollers between St, Kevins and Carter Aid.  I was pleased to reach the pavement at Carter at 49 minutes.  After a frosty Turquoise Lake road descent, I picked up the pace a bit on the pavement climb and the Hagerman Pass Road dirt and continued steadily on the Sugarloaf climb, reaching the summit at 1:31.   

Bottom of Powerline 
Top of Singletrack
Bottom of Singletrack.
Pulling into FD Aid Outbound
The Powerline descent was a blast this year. Riders were spaced enough apart to go our own paces and I never felt pressured or held up. I reached the pavement at the bottom of Powerline at 1:46, connected with a group of about 6 riders and rode a strong paceline to Pipeline, arriving at the aid-station at 2:03.  So far so good.  No cramping, no muscle weariness, perfect temperatures and no bike issues.  The Pipeline, like the 28 miles preceding the Pipeline, was uneventful.  We had a slight tailwind, the crowds were thin, the single-track section was smooth and fast, I felt strong on the short climb up and over the ridge and even better on the bomb down to the First Descents aid station at Twin Lakes, arriving at 2:49. Lisa, my lovely wife and crew-chief, got me in and out in about 30 seconds flat and, after a quick high-five and smooch, I was off again.

After crossing the Twin Lakes Dam, I hit the 40-mile timer at 2:51, which was 4 minutes ahead of pace. These 4 minutes immediately turned out to be precious as I made the mistake of chugging about 18 ounces of fluids during my 30 seconds at the FD aid station . . . which was on top of chugging about 12 ounces of fluids about 5 minutes before hitting the FD aid station. Needless to say, I was feeling a bit bloated leaving Twin Lakes and was forced to slow-pedal up over the ridge into Lost Canyon and then up the first steep stretch of Columbine climb.  This probably cost me 3-4 minutes, but I started feeling a lot better once I hit the campground at the first switchback and was able to to then settle into a great pace for the next 5 miles.

The three leaders (Todd Wells, Joe Dombrowski and Jeremiah Bishop) all passed me on their return at about the 5th switchback.  This was the highest I had ever made up the climb before being passed by the leaders.  I wasn't markedly faster than last year, so obviously those guys were on a bit slower pace than when they shattered the record in 2015.  This observation proved to be correct as the winning time this year was 6:19 . . . 21 minutes slower than the winning time in 2015. Regardless, they were still freakish freaks.

I hit the bottom of the Goat-Trail at 4:03 and was feeling great.  I was still 2 minutes ahead of pace and I successfully avoided those dark places where my mind usually wanders on the climb up Columbine.  However, I recalled that I was in this same spot at this same time in 2014 and couldn't hold it together.  I vowed to keep pushing this year.  The bottom of the goat-trail moved well and I didn't have to take my feet off the pedals until the steep right x-roads veer about 1/3 of the way up. After dismounting and walking about 30 steps, I felt the first twinges of some impending leg cramps.  Here we go again.  I immediately popped 3 S-caps into my mouth.  Each S-Cap contains 320mg of sodium. I even chewed them for maximum affect. That oral infusion of 1,000 mg of sodium did the trick as the cramps quickly dissipated and never returned.  As soon as the trail grade flattened, I rode for a few minutes, walked again at the steep S-turn section and then rode the rest of the way, arriving at the Columbine turnaround at 4:38.  As I still had plenty of fluids and wasn't feeling any hunger pangs, I bypassed the aid-station and headed straight back down without a stop.

The Columbine descent was a bit dicey this year.  As well as we moved on the ascent, the pace heading down was a bit conservative and the line of riders coming up extended solidly about 2/3 of the way down the mountain.  This made it difficult to really open up the throttle (or fully release the brakes) until near the bottom.  I passed Jamie about halfway down the goat-trail about 20 minutes behind me.  Then I reached GMO and Kevin as they were walking up the Goat-trail about 45-50 minutes behind me.  Kevin was kicking ass to be up that far and GMO was about the pace he expected to be.  A little further down was Flyer.  He was looking down at the ground, but I think he was doing ok.  The road was a bit sandy and soft and I actually overshot one of the switchbacks and nearly slid into a strand of trees, but was able to rescue myself.  I hit the valley floor at 40+ mph and had to regain control before turning onto the path back toward the ridge.  As that path turned upward, my hamstrings and calves screamed a bit from the lengthy descent, but they loosened quickly and I was up and over the ridge and through the timer at Twin Lakes right smack on my sub-9 pace at 5:15.

As I pulled back into the FD Aid station, I was conflicted by positive and negative thoughts. On the positive side,  I wasn't overly exhausted and was still on a 9-hour pace.  On the negative side, I definitely felt that I had worked pretty hard to stay on pace and had not given myself any cushion or margin for error.  Once again I was faced with a choice about what I was willing to endure over the final 43 miles.  In 2013, the choice was dictated by a rabid eye-of-the-tiger hunger to get that sub-9 Gold buckle if it killed me.  In 2014, I was at this same spot at the exact same time . . . literally to the minute, and the fire simply extinguished on the first climb out of Twin Lakes.  In 2015, I was already 10 minutes behind at this point and there was no decision to be made. This year, the fire had returned.  I really wanted another Gold buckle to commemorate my 10th.  So I wasted no time at the aid station and willed myself to hit the first hill as hard as possible . . . if only to put me in the right frame of mind.  This lasted all of about 10 minutes.  By the time I reached the single-track, my pace had slowed and groups of riders were starting to pass me.  I tried to summon the extra energy, but I didn't have it.  I muddled through the single-track and kept the strongest pace possible through the rest of Pipeline just hoping that I would hit the timer still on pace.  Sure enough, despite the struggle, I hit the Pipeline timer at 6:16, just 1-minute off pace.  In 2013, I hit Pipeline at 6:15 and finished in 8:54. If I could simply repeat my 2013 performance over the last 30 miles, I would be fine. I just needed to take it one segment at a time.

The next checkpoint was the base of Powerline. I needed to get there by 6:40.  As usual, there was a stiff headwind, but I just kept plugging along and, lo and behold, I hit the base of Powerline at exactly 6:40. So I next set my sights on reaching the Powerline summit by 7:30.  To help my cause, I pedaled a few chunks of the lower-section where I usually walk and was able to reach the first false-summit without keeling over. I was also pleasantly surprised to be offered a few cups of Dr. Pepper from some volunteers on the trail. The rest of the climb was the usual painful monotonous drudgery.  I walked a couple spots where I just didn't want to overextend and I forced myself to keep pedaling through those spots where a nice nap would have been preferable. Powerline is always the low point of the race. However, I had been through this 9 time before and it was nothing new.  I knew it would suck, it did suck and I know it will suck next time. Despite the begrudging acceptance of the suck, I still couldn't help asking myself the annual question of why the hell I keep doing this to myself each year.

After climbing for days . . . well, actually 51 minutes . . . I reached the Powerline summit at 7:31. There was no time to relax. I tore down Sugarloaf and was particularly thankful that I had switched this year from a hard-tail to a full-suspension bike as I was able to ride a line that would have crushed my lower-back on a hard-tail. At the 180 turn at the bottom of Hagerman Pass Road, an angel handed me a bottle of Coke. I downed it in 3 swigs. I furiously pedaled down around the south end of Turquoise Lake and began the St. Kevin's climb at 7:45 . . . which is exactly where I was in 2013 at this spot. In 2013, I did this climb in 19 minutes. I was feeling calmly confident that I could match that. I stood on the pedals for most of the first half of the climb and kept the chain in the front big-ring. I was now passing those very same riders who had passed me back on the Pipeline. I felt myself slowing a little on the top-half and I started day-dreaming about more Coke and salted watermelon at the Carter Aid station. Finally, I hit the last curve, saw the spectators crowding around the turn-off for Carter and charged into the Carter Aid station at 8:05. Barring a mishap, I was now feeling pretty good about another sub-9. I knew it was about 50-minutes to the finish and I knew I had enough reserves in the tank to do it.

I quickly chugged three cups of Coke, scarfed down two pieces of watermelon and locked my cleats back into the pedals for the final 12 miles. I still had an outside shot of besting my 2013 time, but I really was only focused on the 9-hours. I struggled getting up and over the 3 short punchy climbs before the St. Kevins' descent and had to walk the 3rd one because it came upon me too quickly to switch gears. I blasted down St. Kevins in full glory knowing the end was near and, once again, fully enjoying the dual suspension. There was a slight headwind that slowed me down in the flat section in the valley, but I kept a hard pace as I was suddenly questioning whether I had miscalculated the time. I reached Leadville junction at 8:32 and the bottom of the Boulevard at 8:37. Just 3.5 miles to go.

I was able to keep a pretty strong pace the first half of the Boulevard, but then really started petering out with about a mile to go.  By then, I knew I was comfortably going to make it under 9 and I also knew that a PR was out of the question.  I made the turn onto 6th Street at 8:52 and even though there was still one more short climb before the cruise to the finish, I started feeling total joy and elation. I rode up that short climb with a huge smile on my face and really made it a point to savor all of the sounds and visuals over those last few blocks toward the finish.  I had been riding the last 5 miles with a small group, but with about 500 yards to the the finish, I decided to let them go ahead of me so that I could hit the red carpet alone.  The last few hundred yards were filled with fist-pumps and fist-bumps and howls of delight.  About 50 yards from the finish I spotted Lisa and gave her a massive grin. Then my niece and nephew, Noa and Eli, jumped from the crowd and flanked me on each side for the final few pedal strokes to the finish. My last act of the race was to pull a wheelie at the finish line and then cruise right up to Merilee for the post-race medal and hug.

My final time was 8:56:37 (even though the finish clock showed 8:57:31; the reason for the discrepancy is that it took a good 50 seconds to actually cross the starting line in the morning and the official time is based on each person's actual start, not when the gun goes off). I felt nothing but joy and satisfaction and not a whiff of that tearful emotion that hit me in waves when I finished the race in 2013.  It was the perfect ending to a 10-year story.  Now I guess it is time to start a new story.
Noa and Eli by my side.
Hamming it up.












Here comes the wheelie!













Brent, Fly, GMo and Kevin at the Finish



1,000-Mile Buckle - Class of 2016


POST-SCRIPT - Jamie finished in 9:46.  That was a personal best by about an hour.  GMo finished in 10:24.  Ho hum day for him, but pretty much what he expected.  Kevin was on a sub-10:30 pace for much of the day, but bonked a bit on the Powerline climb. He finished at 11:03 which crushed his previous best of 11:56. His line a few minutes after crossing the finish: "Apparently, training makes a difference!"  I think I may have been more excited for Kevin's finish than my own! Fly came in at 11:56, which was nearly identical to his finish time in 2008.  He was thrilled to get another buckle and promptly retired from bike racing.  We had three other DC area friends who were supposed to race with us.  Larry Weinberg punctured a lung and broke 10 ribs in a crash at the Silver Rush.  John Murray broke his scapula in a crash in the Pipeline during a training ride.  John Ourisman suffered a concussion and a broken rib in a crash descending Meadow Mountain in Vail in mid-July.  His family forced him to sell his mountain-bike after that.  Finally, a special mention for FD Alum Nate "Scooter" Post. Scooter missed the 8:45 time-cut-off at Pipeline inbound by about 10 minutes, but pulled the cancer-card and convinced the authorities to let him keep riding. He finally crossed the finish line in the dark at 13:55. An amazing display of grit, guts and determination!

As of this writing, the 2016 Team FD Leadville team had raised over $208,000 for First Descents. This was by far our most successful year ever.

August 24, 2015

2015 Leadville Trail 100 Mountain-Bike Race


Another year, another buckle, another tough race, another fantastic Leadville experience.  Number 9 was much like several of the others: grueling and fun, miserable and rewarding, unmet expectations, but satisfying nonetheless.  My 9th was a lot like my 8th, so I might as well just jump right in.

I had a tumultuous 3 months leading up to this year's race with two bad bike crashes mixed in with a bunch of May and June travel that kept me sidelined off the bike for long periods of time.  From May 5 to June 20, I was on my bike a grand total of 5 times.  Needless to say, I arrived in Colorado on June 30 with a lot of question-marks about my fitness and low expectations for Leadville.

My custom upon Colorado arrival is to do a fitness test which consists of riding from our home in Eagle-Vail to the peak of Beaver Creek ski resort.  It is an 11-mile climb with a 4,000 foot elevation gain. When I'm strong, I can usually do the climb in 1:45.  When I'm out of shape, I'm closer to 2 hours. This year was 1:55.  Not great, but not horrible.  On July 11, I raced the Silver Rush 50 mountain-bike race in Leadville.  I started casually with my buddy Dean, but picked up the pace and ended with a respectable finish time of 5:39.  Not quite as good as my 5:24 PR in 2013, but also not horrible.  I continued to steadily add miles through July and early August and felt that I was pretty close to 2013 form (my only sub-9 hour Leadville finish) when Leadville arrived.  However, I also knew that I would need a perfect race with perfect weather conditions in order to achieve a second gold buckle.

My plan for the 2015 race was to ride hard for the first 40 miles and try to give myself some time cushion when I got to Twin Lakes at mile 40.  In prior years, I tried to conserve energy for the first 40 so that I could hit the Columbine climb harder.  That worked in 2013, but not in 2014.  So I figured "what the hell," let's change things up this year.  Time targets were as follows:

Carter Summit - 50 minutes
Sugarloaf summit - 1:30
Pipeline Aid - 2:00
Twin Lakes - 2:50
Goat Trail - 4:05
Columbine Aid - 4:35
Twin Lakes - 5:10
Pipeline - 6:10
Powerline Summit - 7:25
Carter Summit - 7:55
Finish - 8:45

Once again I would be racing Leadville as a member of Team First Descents.  Team FD is a concept created by me and my late best friend Allan Goldberg to take on an athletic challenge and raise money for the First Descents cancer foundationwww.firstdescents.org.  For a full discussion of First Descents and Team FD, read one of my prior Leadville blogs.  In short, the 2015 Team FD Leadville had 26 racers and not only had we raised over $130,000 for First Descents as of race-day, but about 3 days before the race we hit the $1Million mark for total raises since Team FD Leadville's inception in 2007!  Not bad for a bunch of scraggly mountain-bikers.  And we all looked great in our new Primal race kits!
2015 Team First Descents

Race morning began with the usual 3:30am wake-up, 3:40am blueberry pancakes, 3:50am toilet visit, 4am car-load, 4:10am bottle of fluids, 4:15am departure, 5:05am arrival at Mike and Laurel McHargue's house in Leadville, 5:10am toilet visit #2, 5:25am donning of riding gear and application of sun-screen and butt-balm, 5:45am toilet visit #3, 5:55am street photo and 6am departure for the start.  This year I was starting from the green corral based upon my Silver Rush finish . . . which is kind of absurd considering that my 9:17 finish at 2014 LT100, which would have put me one corral behind the green, was far more impressive than my 5:39 Silver Rush finish.  All hail the powers that be.

At 6:15am, standing in the back of the green corral, I had my first moment of dread. It was warm.  Well, relatively speaking.  It was 44 degrees, but that was warm for a race that typically started in the low 30s.  There was no need for a jacket and no need for the plastic bag that I usually stuffed down the front of my jersey for the cold pavement ride down to Leadville Junction from the start.  This was not a good sign for me.  Heat is my kryptonite and a warm start forshadowed a hot day.  With that, I quickly downed about 10-12 ounces of fluids to pre-hydrate.

After Dave Wiens' kid sung the national anthem, the shotgun went off at 6:30 and Leadville #9 began.  It took 2 minutes for the riders in my corral to reach the starting line, but then things picked up quickly. The ride down the pavement and all the way through the base of St Kevins was at a very fast pace . . . the fastest of my 9 races.  St. Kevins was a bit crowded and so was the 3-miles of trail between the top of St. Kevins and Carter Aid, but I still managed to reach the pavement just past Carter Aid at 50 minutes on the dot.  So far so good.
Hagerman Pass Road



Pipeline outbound - Singletrack
The pavement descent was fast and warm and the ensuing climb up pavement, Hagerman's dirt and Sugarloaf rocks was smooth and fairly effortless.  I crested Sugarloaf at 1:32.  Considering the 2 minute delay in getting to the start, I was still right on pace.

The Powerline descent was a little slower than I would have liked, but I made it down without issue and found a great paceline group on the pavement around Fish Hatchery that stayed together all the way to Pipeline Aid, which I hit at 2:06.  By the way, the tunnel of people at Pipeline Aid was incredible and extended for a good half-mile on both sides of the trail.  Anyway, I kept pushing a strong cadence (for me) all the way through Pipeline, continued pedaling hard up the last hill before Twin Lakes, and bombed down the other side arriving at the First Descents' aid station at 2:50.  Lisa and Kevin (Kane) got me in and out in less than 40 seconds and I crossed the dam and hit the Twin Lakes timer at 2:53.

Mountain-View Lot - Twin Lakes outbound
Looking for the FD Station
Kevin - Octopus Man

So, 40 miles into the race I was feeling good and, while I was a few minutes short of my aggressive 8:45 pace, I was a couple minutes ahead of my pace from 2013.  The problem was that I had pushed pretty hard and only had a couple minutes to show for it.  Not exactly the cushion for which I was hoping. Up to that point, I had ingested approximately 90 ounces of fluids and 2 S-Caps an hour in anticipation of the hot weather ahead.  And it was definitely getting hot.  I climbed the hill beyond Twin Lakes and dropped into Lost Canyon and was met with an immediate change in climate.  It was as if somebody had turned up the thermostat 10 degrees. The cliche'd 'moment of truth' was now upon me.  How my legs responded in the next 10 minutes would dictate the rest of my race.  Unfortunately, my legs told me to fuck off.  As I started the long climb up Columbine, my legs turned to rubbery mush and I felt like I was riding in deep wet mud. Dozens of riders passed me in the first mile of the climb.  Before even the second switchback, I was already looking forward to walking my bike on the goat trail. I usually don't get that feeling until about the 8th of the 10 switchbacks.  And I still had an hour to go before even reaching the damn goat-trail. Around the 2nd switchback, the race  leaders, consisting of a group of 5 professional aliens, passed me the other way on a maniacal pace that would ultimately result in 2 guys breaking the 6-hour mark.  It's good to be young.

The slow slog continued slowly and sloggingly until I finally reached the Goat Trail at 4:21. I have had Columbine climbs before where I thought I was climbing at a snail's pace and was surprised to see that I actually didn't do too badly from a timing standpoint.  This wasn't one of those times.  I lost nearly 15 minutes on the climb. WTF? To add insult to injury, when I finally got the joy of dismounting and walking the bike, the leg cramps set in with a fury. The next 40 minutes consisted of leg-rubs, fluid-chugs, S-cap chomps, slow spins where possible, excessive sweating and the final transition from having fun to having no-fun.  I also ran out of fluids before reaching the top.

I hit Columbine Aid at 4:50 and had to quickly stop to fill a bottle with some kind of red fluid (Gatorade Roctane?).  I then slowly trudged back up the little aid-station hill and began the descent down Columbine.  Strangely, about halfway down the descent, my leg cramps had moved from my thighs to my quads to my calves and finally to the flats of my feet.  This was new and unusual.  I had to unclip my shoes from the pedals a few times at 40mph to shake out my feet.  This just slowed me down some more.  Meanwhile, the line of riders coming up Columbine continued all the way down to the 3rd switchback.  Things could have been worse . . . I could have been one of them.  After tearing through what was now a heat-bath on the valley floor, I made the descent into Twin Lakes and crossed the timing checkpoint at 5:26.

I felt like ass. I was hot and thirsty and trying my best to keep the cramps on the shelf.  Sub-9 hours was going to be a tall, if not impossible, order at this point.  I pulled back into the First Descents aid station at 5:28 and didn't bother trying to rush out. I chugged a bottle of fluids, ate a gel, rapped with Lisa and the gang for a few minutes and then headed back out for the final 40.
Return to Twin Lakes
No hurry today.


Damn it's hot!
As I started slowly spinning up hill into the Pipeline section, I figured that I should just lay back and not kill myself.  Then I remembered that I did the same thing in 2014 and this was history repeating itself.  Then it got hotter. By the time I reached the single-track climb, my Garmin was showing 98 degrees . . . though I'm pretty sure it wasn't more than mid-80s. Now I finally understand what people mean when they say "ground temperature" is different from "air temperature."  

At the top of the single-track, I hit the wall and just wanted to be done. As such, if I was going to feel this miserable, I should at least push harder and try to go faster to decrease the time that I would be out here feeling miserable.  Logical, right? So I started doing some calculations and picked 9:30 as a realistic target-time to beat, with 9:15 as a reach.

I hit Pipeline Aid at 6:33.  This was 18 minutes behind my 2013 pace when my final time was 8:54.  Equaling my 2013 time for the last 28 miles would put me at the finish at 9:12. With this heat, there was no way I was going to come close to 2013 as I knew that Powerline was going to crush me.  And it did.  The only thing I can liken this year's Powerline climb to is one of Dante's Rings of Hell. During the walk up the steep first 1/3 of Powerline, I was borderline hallucinating from heat exhaustion.  I'm pretty sure I recall people handing out cups of water at the first false-summit and I'm pretty sure I simply asked them to dump it on my head . . . but I really can't remember.  The rest of the climb consisted of a combination of walking, riding, panting, sweating, grunting, groaning, cursing, spitting and zombie-gazing at the ground in front of my front-wheel.  This was the worst Powerline climb since 2007 when I had to walk the whole thing because of leg and stomach cramps.  

I finally reached the top at 7:50.  Usually I'm pretty elated at this spot and descend Sugarloaf with a grin. Nothing but grimaces this time. I rode the rocky first section pretty conservatively as I was still within my 9:30 target and realized that my primary goal at that point should be finishing safely and getting that 9th buckle. For the first time in 3 years on a hard-tail bike, I was also wishing I had full-suspension.

The St. Kevins climb was slow and steady and I was pretty happy to have a tail-wind.  About halfway up, I started dreaming about the Cokes I was going to chug when I got to Carter Aid station . . . and I don't drink soda.  I reached Carter at 8:27 and fulfilled my daydream by downing 3 cups of Coke and 2 slices of watermelon.  In 2013, I covered this last 10 miles in about 50 minutes.  I figured I was good for about 55 minutes this time . . . which would put me in right around 9:23. I made it through and down St Kevins without issue and then made it through the dirt-road section to the pavement at Leadville Junction when the cramps smacked me again.  This time in the groin. Really?  I bit into my last two S-caps, chugged a quick 15 ounces of fluids and spun the pedals for a few minutes in a really high gear until the cramps dissipated and then made the turn onto the Boulevard at 9:05.  It took about 14 minutes to get back to 6th Street and another 4 minutes to get up Cry-Baby Hill (or Mom's Hill if you are Ricky McDonald) and down 6th and up to the red carpet.  Final time:  9:23.  Another medal, another hug from Merilee, a better hug from Lisa, a high-five from Kevin, another buckle, another collapse on the sidewalk in an exhausted heap! 
Red Carpet




9th Finisher's Medal



Finished!
All things considered, I was pretty satisfied with 9:23. Between the heat and the cramps, not to mention the several months of poor training, sub-9 was a big long-shot this time.  I still finished fairly close to the 20th percentile of all riders who started the race . . . which is about where I have been percentage-wise for the last 3 years.  There are a lot of men and women who are much faster than I am, but I am still faster than most.  On the eve of my 48th birthday, I can live with that.

Next year will be a momentous year as I will be riding for my 1,000-mile buckle.  I'm hoping to get a big contingent of friends to join me and, at some point, I will have to decide whether I am going to "race" the 2016 race or just ride in the back with my friends.  For now, it's beer and chill time.

NOTE 1 - my long-time friend and partner-in-crime, Gary Morris, was riding his 8th LT100 this year.  He didn't do much training, but still thought he could throw down a time in the mid 10s.  Blaming a mild case of pulmonary edema (a condition he read about in an airport magazine), Gary struggled to an 11:48 finish, upon which Kevin stated "Gary, you really thought you could Kevin Kane your way through this race, didn't you?"

NOTE 2 - a week after the 2014 LT100, I took my friend John Ourisman on his maiden mountain-bike ride in Beaver Creek.  John is an avid endurance road-cyclist and was looking for his next challenge.  He figured, why not Leadville?  So he trained all winter and spring, joined Team FD and, at 62 years young, went out and completed his first LT100 in 11:02.  The big question is whether he will come back for more.

NOTE 3 - my friend Mike McHargue was going for his 10-year buckle and had a rough day.  He fought severe dehydration for the last 30 miles and dry-heaved his way to the finish line and then directly to bed.  He got his 1000 mile buckle though!

NOTE 4 - This was also a particularly sad year in Leadville as the heat contributed to the Leadville 100s first fatality when a 55-year old man named Scott Ellis suffered a massive heart-attack at the top of Powerline.  This was his 19th LT100 and he was supposedly on about a 10:30 pace when he succumbed.  You just never know.  Carpe Diem.




August 23, 2014

2014 Leadville Trail 100 Mountain-Bike Race

Top 'O Columbine
It's been 2 weeks since the 2014 Leadville 100 and I have been struggling with this, my 8th chapter of Leadville blogging.  After 7 finishes and 7 blogs, is there really anything left for me to say?  Well, obviously yes based on the fact that a bunch of words ramble on beyond the end of this sentence!

In 2013, I achieved my ultimate quest for a sub-9 hour finish and a coveted Gold Buckle. That stupid shiny buckle represented years of hard work and provided me with endless moments of glory, fulfillment and, I daresay, rapture. Seriously.  I'll say it again: RAPTURE.  That stupid shiny buckle also instilled me with a level of confidence and hubris that made me think that an 8:30 finish might be in the cards in Leadville this year.  So naturally, I tried to follow a similar training program this year as 2013 with many short, high-intensity rides and lower overall volume.  I spent hours on the spin bike through the winter, played ice-hockey two nights a week, did many strenuous rides of the 2-4 hour variety and climbed a lot of hills fast.  What I didn't do were long hard rides and I also rarely pushed myself when I was tired (i.e., no consecutive-day intense efforts).  I did no races in the spring.  As of July 10th, I had only done one ride of over 62 miles and I cut that one 20 miles short at that because I was hot, bored, hungry, tired and bored (extra "bored" for emphasis).  Most significantly, I never once felt the agony of crushing my legs during a 5th, 6th or 7th hour of a ride.  So while I felt very strong this year, the million dollar question is whether I would have endurance strength for the last 40-50 miles of the race.  Actually it was more of a 10-dollar question, but I digress.


Team FD

Once again I would be racing Leadville as a member of Team First Descents.  Team FD is a concept created by me and my late best friend Allan Goldberg to take on an athletic challenge and raise money for the First Descents cancer foundation www.firstdescents.org.  For a full discussion of First Descents and Team FD, read one of my prior Leadville blogs.  In short, the 2014 Team FD Leadville had 26 racers and we had raised over $130,000 for First Descents as of race-day!
2014 Team First Descents
I started the 2014 Leadville 100 from the red-corral.  I believe this corral included all of those who finished between 8:30 and 9:30 in last year's LT100, plus several racers who qualified with fast times in some of the Leadville Series affiliated races.  I don't know why they use colors for the corrals.  I wish they would come up with something more creative and appropriate to describe each group.  For example, the first corral with all the Pros could be called the "Extraterrestrial" corral because they are either all on PEDs or are from another planet.   The second corral with all of the 8-ish hour guys and gals could be the "Stud" corral.  My corral, the third corral, could be the "Pretender" corral since we pretend to be studs, but we really aren't. Then what follows could be the "Average Joes," "Strugglers," "Newbies," "Daisy-Pickers" and finally the "Deluded."  Damn, I digressed again.  Race morning was a typical beautiful Colorado morning with temps around 38 degrees and few clouds in the sky.  I have Canadian blood on my father's side and actually crave cold weather, so I started with only my shorts, jersey, arm-warmers and a trash-bag inside the front of my jersey (which I would immediately pocket the second I reached the first climb).


The gun went off at 6:30am and after a slight hold-up due to what I think was a downed-tree and orange cones questionably paced about 100 yards beyond the start, we were off down 6th street at a very vigorous pace.  As mentioned above, I had started the year with aspirations of an 8:30 finish.  However, some inexplicably tiring rides in the weeks before Leadville knocked me down a few mental pegs and I had re-set my goal by race-morning for anything under 8:59:59.  To that end, I was looking to meet or beat the following splits:


Carter Summit - 52 minutes
Summit of Sugarloaf: 1:34
Pipeline Aid Outbound - 2:05
Twin Lakes Aid Outbound - 2:55
Bottom of Columbine Goat Trail: 4:05
Columbine turnaround - 4:40
Twin Lakes Aid Inbound - 5:15
Pipeline Aid Inbound - 6:15
Summit of Powerline - 7:30
Carter Summit - 8:10
Finish - 8:59


The pace was strong to the end of the pavement at Leadville Junction and through the three miles of flattish dirt-road to the base of St. Kevins and continued at a fairly steady rate all the way up the first climb.  I felt very little stress on the climb and had no issues riding at the speed of the pack.  After cresting the top to mild inner-applause, I hit the three-mile section from St. Kevin's summit to Carter Summit with a lot of energy and made sure to scale back a bit on the two short, punchy climbs in that section as there was value to be gained redlining (that's a heart-rate term for the uninitiated) to gain some 30 or 40 seconds in the first 10 miles of the race.  I reached Carter Summit at 50 minutes and was pretty satisfied to that point.  Unfortunately I had to pull over for 30-45 seconds when I reached the start of the pavement descent as one of my rear-brake cables was rubbing against my rear tire and the noise was driving me batshit.


The pavement descent down to and around Turquoise Lake was fast and cold and I slurped a good 15 ounces of fluids from my Camelbak to make up for the lack of intake over the first 50 minutes.  While I wanted to hammer up the pavement on the far side of the lake, I kept my pace at a steady 10-11mph and continued at a similar speed for the entirety of the Hagerman Pass dirt road.  Making the U-turn onto the rocks on Sugarloaf, I slowed a little as I started to feel the first twinges of overexertion and I felt that it was still too early in the race to push it.  Plus the Sugarloaf climb is truly my favorite climb of the race (yes, there is such a thing as a 'favorite climb'!) and I always find it a great spot to take in all of the views and sounds of the race.  I crested Sugarloaf at 1:32, two minutes ahead of 9-hour pace.


When I rode the Powerline descent a week before the race, I was slightly alarmed by the condition of the terrain from a recent spate of heavy rains.  The ruts were deep and there were piles of loose rocks in various spots that I thought could result in yard-sale crashes and spilled hemoglobin on race day.  Fortunately, either some trail-maintenance was performed during the week leading up to the race OR the flow of a few hundred riders before me on race-day had smoothed out the descent and it was actually not too bad. I was able to be conservatively aggressive (and oxymoronic!) and was happy to not get held-up by slower descenders.  Upon reaching the pavement at the bottom, I immediately began seeking a group of riders to join in a paceline for the next 5 miles to Pipeline.  To my amazement, all of the riders around me were spread apart and nobody seemed willing to work together.  Year after year I marvel at how we neanderthal mountain-bikers can't seem to figure out how to ride and work together on this section.  I finally joined with two guys just past the Fish Hatchery, but neither had a clue about taking turns.  Then a 3rd guy went flying past in a rush of misplaced pride, but his pace was ridiculous and I didn't want to burn myself out trying to keep up with him. As it turns out, he blew himself up and I caught and passed him about a mile short of Pipeline.  Regardless, I wasted a lot of pointless energy over this 5-mile stretch with much of it being ridden solo.  I hit Pipeline Aid at 2:05 . . . again right on schedule.

Lower Powerline Creek-Crossing

The Pipeline section was pretty uneventful.  I didn't try to crush it and, once again, I couldn't find any pace-lining riders.  Thus I probably expended more energy than was necessary, but I still managed to reach my fantastic crew (consisting of my wife Lisa and my good bud Kevin Kane and his wife Jill) at 2:52 and the Twin Lakes timer at 2:55 . . . still on sub-9 pace.  I exchanged my 70-ounce Camelback for a 50-ounce Camelbak, exchanged my bottle and sucked down a quick gel and was on my way to tackle the big hairy beast known as Columbine.  At this point I wasn't sure what to think about my race.  I didn't feel particularly good or particularly bad and just assumed (hoped?) that I would continue following last year's form as I climbed Columbine.
Twin Lakes Aid Outbound

After passing through the tunnel of colorful humanity at Twin Lakes, I rode fairly slowly on the short ascent up from the dam and also began the main Columbine dirt-road climb at a pretty benign pace.  I knew that the grade on the opening stretch of the climb was actually the steepest section of the lower climb, so I stayed in my lowest gear and just took my time finding a good climbing cadence.  There was no upside in trying to kill this section.  As I passed the 2nd and 3rd of the 10 switch-backs, I actually started feeling pretty good and was able to settle into a great 5-ish mph pace for the full 6 miles of the dirt-road climb.  The leaders once again passed in the opposite direction between the 3rd and 4th switchback (same as last year) and I once again paid them no mind.  Like I said, Extraterrestrials.

I reached the Goat Trail at 4:03, two minutes ahead of 9-hour pace and 2-minutes ahead of my 2013 pace.  Here the trail becomes rocky and steep and while I began riding the lower section of the rocks, I quickly started to feel that old familiar twinge of leg-cramps and decided to walk for a little bit.  Bad mistake. Within seconds of getting off the bike, the cramps hit both of my quads in full-force.  Imagine a vice-grip clamped on each leg, a few inches above each knee, squeezed one turn too tightly.  I bit into two S-Caps, chugged some fluids and continued gingerly walking until the grade flattened a little and then I got back onto my back and tried pedaling slowly in my easiest gear.  I was able to pedal up to the X crossing where the trail veers even more steeply up to the right and then the cramps hobbled me again.  I couldn't believe that I was still dealing with these cramping issues 8 years into this race.  So I got back off the bike, walked for awhile, then rode for a bit, then walked up through the S-turns, then rode for a bit, then cramped again, then gnashed my teeth, then walked for a bit, then stretched, then rode for a bit and then finally took the left turn at the top, crossed the last ridge and descended down to the Columbine aid turnaround.  As I hit the bottom, I looked at my Garmin and was a bit dismayed to see 4:41, now one-minute behind pace.  How the hell did I lose 3 minutes on that stretch from last year?!?!  I don't think I walked more this year than last.  The only thing I could think was that the walking pace must have been slower this year than last.

I saw no reason to stop at the aid station and since I was a bit pissed about losing time, I continued right around the little aid-station cul-de-sac and headed right back up the short hill to the ridge.

The Columbine descent this year was a bit sketchier than normal.  The local authorities had performed fairly extensive road-maintenance this summer and a lot of gravel had been laid down for some reason.  This made the surface a bit more slippery and required a little more braking and speed governance than in prior years.  Plus the line of riders still climbing extended pretty far down the mountain.  I felt nothing but sympathy for the poor souls who were still climbing up as I descended through the 5th, 4th and 3rd switchbacks and who essentially had no chance of finishing the race.
Columbine Descent
 
What felt like a slower pace down Columbine was confirmed when I I arrived back at Twin Lakes at 5:18.  I had lost another 2 minutes to 9-hour pace and was now 3-minutes off 9-hour pace.  My legs were still kind of sore from the cramping and I was starting to feel my first real energy depletion.  The next climb out of Twin Lakes would tell the tale of this race.
Descent into Twin Lakes Inbound

I pulled up to my crew (which had grown to include my mom and her husband Jesse, who were making their virgin appearance at the race) and swapped Camelbaks and bottles and downed another gel.  I put on my best sub-9 face, but my first doubts were creeping in about whether I could close the deal again this year.  Those doubts were immediately crystallized when I hit the climb out of Twin Lakes and my legs simply didn't respond.  No pep.  No snap.  No energy.  No verve.  No more synonyms.  To make matters worse, I was faced with a hellacious headwind that further sapped my morale.  By the time I reached the single-track section of Pipeline, I pretty much knew my race was over as I just didn't have the energy or the drive to put in the continued effort that was needed to not only make-up the 3 minutes that I had lost, but to even maintain a sub-9 pace.  Suddenly, it occurred to me that my 2013 Gold Buckle had become that proverbial 'albatross around the neck.'  In those few moments of plodding up the singletrack, I was suddenly able to justify my lack of inspiration and desire by the fact that I had already achieved what I wanted to achieve (in 2013) and I simply didn't feel like destroying myself to do it again.  Moreover, I convinced myself that I didn't want to risk putting in a massively painful effort only to arrive at the finish-line in 9:03 or 9:04.  That would be excruciating.  So for the first time in 8 years of Leadville, I simply accepted my fate and figuratively quit.  I arrived at Pipeline Aid at 6:22, losing yet another 4 minutes.  At that point, I was 7-minutes off sub-9 pace, the headwinds were howling and I was mentally checked-out.  It was zombie-time.  Oh, and my frickin' Ipod battery died.

From Pipeline, I loafed over to the base of Powerline, did the usual walk up the steep first 1/3 of Powerline, stopped at the first ridge to rest and enjoy a Coke, happily walked the bike several more times on the upper sections of Powerline and crested Powerline at 7:40.  Amazingly, even with the slow-down, I only lost another 3 minutes on this section. Kind of confounding actually.  And as in my 7 previous efforts, I felt a form of mild euphoria knowing that the hardest part of the race was now behind me.

I gleefully bombed down the Sugarloaf descent and even took a few minutes to hang with my friends Kevin Kane, Mike and Sunni Lamond and Nick McHargue at the Hagerman Road U-turn.  I then actually summoned some some late-in-the-game renewed energy for the St. Kevin's climb . . . mostly because I just wanted to be done.

I reached Carter Summit Aid at 8:22 and stopped to have some salt-laced watermelon and a few cups of Coke and then, after thanking all the aid-station volunteers, continued on.  In 2013, I covered this last 13 miles in 50 minutes.  A repeat of that performance would have me across the line at 9:12.  That simply wasn't going to happen this year.  Every bodily reaction and feeling was just a bit slower this time around.  My traversing the 3 miles to the top of St. Kevin's was slower, my descent down St, Kevin's was slower (mostly because I decided to take no risks that would jeopardize my finish), my jaunt over to the Boulevard was slower, my climb up the Boulevard was slower and, finally, my push up the final hill on 6th Street was slower.  Whatever.

For the 8th time, I crested the final little hill on 6th Street and enjoyed the unrivaled pleasure of cruising down and then up the last few blocks to the red-carpeted finish line, crossing the line at 9:17.  The coolest part of my whole day was when my buddy, Brad Reiss, popped in on his scooter in the last 100 yards (he has MS) and trailed me up the red carpet and over the line.  While not totally satisfied with my time, I knew in my heart of hearts that it was a time that I deserved.  It was my second best time in 8 Leadvilles and was perfectly respectable.
Red Carpet

"Perfectly respectable."  That sounds nice, but I had to be honest with myself.  What went wrong?  Why did I fall apart after 60 miles and why couldn't I summon the incentive or desire to push through it?   I think if I shine a harsh light on myself, the answer is that I lied and I cheated this year.  I lied to myself by convincing myself that the simple act of crossing the line in sub-9 hours last year would permanently lift me over the hump and lead to a string of sub-9 finishes going forward.  I cheated myself by decreasing my endurance training in 2014 based on the faulty logic that I could achieve the same, if not more, by doing less.  Unfortunately, the Leadville 100 platitude "there are no shortcuts" took a dog-sized bite out of my ass this year. By not doing any long endurance training and by not pushing myself on tired legs, I was simply not equipped to maintain the same exertion level after mile 60 as I did for the first 60.  Does it make any difference to anyone but me?  Emphatically not.  Will it light a new fire in me to train harder in 2015?  I probably can't and won't answer that until next Spring rolls around.

Anyway, to bring everything back to the correct perspective, I finished the race for the 8th time, I got my 8th buckle, I didn't get hurt, I had another fantastic spring and summer of training, I met new people whose posts I will be forever stuck following on Facebook, I remain in pretty much the best shape of my life while getting deep into my 40s and, best of all, I once again was part of a group of riders who raised a significant amount of money for First Descents . . . money that will allow many young cancer survivors to seek outdoor adventures that are no less incredible than the one in which I get to participate on the second Saturday of every August in Leadville, Colorado.

A few final notes:  From among the 26 Team FD riders, I believe that there were 3 Gold buckles and 14 Silver buckles.  The fastest Team FD time was turned in by Craig Cohn at 8:38.  I had two long-time riding buddies from Maryland riding with me this year, Dave "Gonzo" Gonzales and Gary "GMo" Morris.  Gonzo trained like a madman this past year in hopes of going sub-10 for the first time and he succeeded with a 9:51.  GMo skipped Leadville in 2013 and really didn't get himself into great riding shape in 2014, but he came back out and managed to throw down an 11:15 finish despite wrestling with a tire issue for a good 35 minutes on Powerline outbound.  Finally, I have mentioned my friend Mike McHargue in several prior blogs.  Mike is a former multiple Leadman finisher and raced in his 9th Leadville this year on a brand new hip and finished in 10:13.  I look forward to seeing Mike earn his 1,000 mile buckle in 2015!