August 20, 2007

2007 Leadville Trail 100 Mountain-Bike Race

AUGUST 8, 2007


It was August, 2006 and Washington DC was a boiling cauldron. Unless I was poolside with a cold Heineken, it was my least favorite time to be doing anything. I had just gotten home from a fantastic 2-week vacation in beautiful California with my wife Lisa and my 3 daughters (Daryn – 11, Arlyn – 7 and Bailey – 4) and was cursing the Washington DC heat. As I was sitting in my office going through old mail, my cell phone rang and I saw that it was my oldest friend, Allan Goldberg, calling me. “What’s up Bruthah?” said I. “Hey man” said Al. His opening phone line had been “Hey Man” for as long as I can remember. I continued with a simple question: “How’s Vail treating you?” Al had just moved to Vail, Colorado to start a new job as Executive Director of the First Descents, a non-profit that offered outdoor adventures young adults with cancer.  I had strongly encouraged Al to move to Vail for this opportunity and I was looking forward to hearing his first impressions. I couldn’t believe his abrupt response. “I’ve got cancer again.” Holy shit. How cruel. as a 12-year old, Al had bravely fought a horrible form of cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. Despite a 3% survival rate, he survived and made the fight against cancer his life’s work. “How bad?” I asked. “Not too sure,” he responded. “I started feeling back pains about a month ago. I at first attributed it to my workouts (Al, by the way, is an Ironman triathlete), but the pains didn’t go away. I went in to have it checked out and they found a tumor.” This time I said “Holy shit” aloud. “Al, I’m so sorry. What’s next and what can I do?” I asked. Al responded that “the good news is that the tumor is confined. Thus, the docs are pretty confident that 6 months of chemo and radiation will knock it out.” “And what can I do for you?” I asked again. Al responded, "I'd like you to do an Ironman with me." I quickly laughed out loud an said "No chance. I can't run, I sink in water and I think road-bikers are weenies."  Without missing a beat, Al said "Ok, I figured as much. So I have something else for you since you are a mountain-biker. I want you to come out to Colorado next summer and do the Leadville 100 with me.” Though I recognized how he was ingeniously baiting me on this one, I couldn't help but respond with a third "Holy Shit!" followed by "are you out of your fucking mind?!?!?” In the midst of some muffled cackling from Al, I continued with “there’s no chance I’m signing up for that insanity.” Quick background - in mountain biking circles, the Leadville 100 is a mythical race held in and around Leadville, Colorado at and above 10,000 feet. It is generally known to be about the hardest one-day endurance mountain bike race of its kind in the world. The guys who compete to win are among the toughest and strongest athletes on the planet and pretty much everyone who signs up and competes in the race is deemed mentally unstable before the starting gun even goes off. There’s no way Al was serious . . . was he? “Yes you will,” said Al, “because if I have to endure 6 months of chemo and radiation, then you could do this. Also, I need this so that I can have a goal to shoot for after my treatments.” I immediately responded "seriously, you're going to play the fucking cancer card on me?" More muffled cackling. I then naturally asked “why the hell would you choose the Leadville 100 . . . you don’t even mountain bike!” “Well” responded Al, “if you won't do a triathlon, then I have no choice but to do your sport if it will get you to do an endurance event with me.” After a 4th Holy Shit, I reluctantly agreed to join him.


That is exactly what Lisa wanted to know. Over the next 3 months, I devoured every piece of information I could about the race. I Googled “Leadville 100” and read through every website on the world wide web that made any mention of the race. I read racer’s accounts of past races, I read newspaper articles about past champions, I learned about the course, I learned about the affects of high altitude on prolonged exercise, and I read through a good 30 websites about endurance training and endurance riding as the longest mountain bike ride I’d ever been on was probably no more than 20-25 miles. During the fall of 2006, as I thought about how much time and effort I would be putting into this endeavor, it began to occur to me that I should use this whole experience for something philanthropic. I would be turning 40 the following September and I wanted this race to be about something more than meeting a friend’s challenge or spitting in the eye of age 40. An idea took shape that I could use this race as a platform to raise money and awareness for Al’s foundation, First Descents. Al loved the idea.  Now we just needed to figure out exactly how we would get into the race.  The Leadville 100 usually receives twice as many applicants each year as there are spots for racers. The top 100 each year are automatically given spots in the next year’s field. The rest of the spots are determined by a lottery. Hopefully the lottery would be kind to us.


Registration for the race was due by January 31 and the lottery wouldn’t be held until the first week of February. Although I felt like karma was with us and that we would get in, I wasn’t willing to start formally training until we actually received the little acceptance cards. I stayed in decent shape by doing my normal mountain bike rides and by playing hockey and skiing. I knew that I would have to do a formal program come spring. I also knew that I didn't want to do this alone, so in early December I threw out an e-mail invitation to about 15 different guys asking if any of them had cajones enough to train for and ride in the Leadville 100 with me. The immediate responses were as follows: “you’re insane” “you’ve got no chance” “you’ll die at that altitude” “you won’t make it to the halfway point” “what are you thinking by starting with one of the hardest races in the world for YOUR FIRST ENDURANCE RACE” and my favorite for its stark simplicity “you are a dumbass!” After the tumult died down and I had the chance to state my case and my friends could see just how resolute I was to do this, I started to see sparks of interest. Soon enough, I had four fellow foolish saps willing to commit to this “opportunity of a lifetime” and agreeing to be members of “Team First Descents.”

First in was Gary Morris. I met Gary in 2003 when our daughters shared a nursery school class together. His wife learned from my wife that I was a mountain biker and shared this amazing news with her husband and told him to call me. He blew her off as he’d been told many times before that so-and-so was a mountain biker only to subsequently learn on the trail that the guy was a poser. Anyway, one day Gary dropped his daughter off at my house and he noticed my bikes in my garage and realized that I must be fairly serious about the sport. At the next birthday party, we started talking about biking and I invited him to ride with my group. He joined us at our next ride and we’ve been riding together ever since. Gary is 34 years old and was the baby of our group. He is married to Sharone and has two daughters, Lainey (5) and Jaime (3). He goes by the nickname “G-Mo”.

Next in was my Colgate fraternity brother, Dean Gregory. Like me, Dean (also known as “Deano” and/or “Ho”) is ultra-competitive and is overflowing with foolish pride. We have been challenging each other in the fraternity bar-room (beer-pong, quarters, Mexican) and on the ski slopes for the past 20 years. I knew there wasn’t a snowball's chance in Cuba that he’d let me do this race without him as I’d hold it against him, vocally, for the rest of his life. Dean lives in Denver, Colorado, is recently single, and turned 40 three days after the race.

Kevin Kane was next up. Even though Kevin is 4 years younger than I, we have been friends our whole lives and he is like a second brother to me. Our families are very close, our kids are friends, we travel together, dine together, celebrate together and Kevin has been a member of my little Maryland-based mountain biking posse for 6 or 7 years. Kevin had been looking for an excuse to get in great shape and he loves a challenge. His wife Jill was also very encouraging of his doing this. Kevin often responds to the nicknames “HOOOOOOF or Kaner”. He has three daughters – Olivia (9), Meredith (6) and Dani (4).

The last guy in was another Colgate fraternity brother named John Wontrobski. Known affectionately as “Wobber”, he is a Deputy Marshall in the ski-town of Telluride, Colorado, where he resides with his wife Suzanne and his 11 year old daughter Sarah. Also turning 40 this year, Wobber thought this would be a “fun” thing to do. Silly Wobber.

So although this wasn’t a team race per se (as this was an individual race), we were now a team of 6 and we were keeping our fingers crossed for cosmic lottery success.


In early January, we all filled out our registration applications and mailed them to Leadville along with our respective $220 entry fees. We each listed each other on our applications to ensure that we were treated as a group. Now all we could do was wait.

During this time, I discovered that there was a Leadville 100 message board through Yahoo Groups. I registered for the group and discovered about 3000 messages dating back 5 years from those in the Leadville 100 family. The board provided a wealth of information about training and also gave me an opportunity to learn a lot about the race itself. During the late weeks of January, the messages on the Board predominantly centered around the Lottery. With only about a 50% chance of getting into the race, everyone (except the aforementioned top 100 and those with special exemptions) was outwardly nervous about the lottery results. The more posts that I read, the more I started to wonder whether our plan would come together. The other guys were nervous. Some of us were actually joking that not getting in would be a big relief! I think our wives weren’t even joking.

February 11, 2006 – WE’RE ALL IN! The official entrant roster was publicized today and all 6 of us were on it. HOLY SHIT!!!! NOW WHAT?


The first guy I called after learning we were in was my old friend Dan Berger. Dan and I were friends from our teenage years and I had followed his exploits closely as he became an ultra-endurance athlete and an endurance trainer. He had competed in many Ironman triathlon events as well as some other nutty things such as 50 mile runs and 24 hour adventure races. As all of us were clueless about preparing for any endurance race, much less Leadville, we (the Maryland contingent) decided to engage Dan as our coach.

Gary, Kevin and I met with Dan in late February and came up with a plan of attack. The three of us would first get tested in early March on an exercise bike to determine our current maximum heart rates, current power (wattage) rates and our lactate thresholds. This was all Greek to me, but I was putting my trust in Dan.

On March 8 we each took an hour at Dan’s studio in Rockville. We strapped heart monitors onto our chests and began pedaling on a stationary bike. Every 4 minutes, a paramedic drew blood from our fingers and we increased our power output by 25 watts. This went on until we were pedaling so hard that we could barely breathe and our hearts could not pump any faster. From these sessions and from our bloodwork, Dan determined our respective maximum heart rates and lactic thresholds and set out a 4-week training regimen for each of us.

In addition to our tests with Dan, Lisa required me to have a cardiac evaluation to ensure that I didn’t drop dead of a heart attack 70 miles into the race. I thus made the requisite appointment, allowed myself to be connected to an EKG and some other wires, and ran on a treadmill for a ½ hour so that a cardiologist could look for abnormalities. Fortunately none were found (he obviously didn't check my head) and I was given the green light to race to my heart’s content (no pun intended).


I’m not going to go into any of the scientific explanations about lactate thresholds and I’m not going to go through a comprehensive blow-by-blow of our training schedules. Basically, the month of March was spent doing long slow bike rides to be build up our “endurance bases”. These rides were supposed to be performed at between 60% and 70% of our maximum heartrates (mine being 183 beats per minute). In April we increased the length of our rides and starting sprinkling in some higher intensity training (sprints, hills, etc. at 70% to 90% of our maximum heartrates). During these months, the majority of our training rides were actually on road bikes and not mountain bikes. Mountain biking, especially in the Washington DC area, typically involves a lot of short rolling hills where you are rarely pedaling with the same cadence for more than a minute at a time. To build an endurance base, we needed to be riding with a steady cadence for hours on end. The only way to do this was by riding on the roads. So we did. And did more. And yet more. By late May we had worked ourselves up to our first “Century” road ride. Although Leadville would be a completely different kind of century, we (and our beloved taints) at least now had an understanding of what it means to ride a bicycle 100 miles. Also during this time, our wives started to fully comprehend what this race meant . . . and they weren’t happy. I don’t think any of them had an inkling of the time commitment that training for this race would require.

For each 4-week period, Dan had us increase our riding hours from week 1 to week 2 to week 3 and then drop back in week 4 for a “rest” week. Again, I’m not going to go into the reasons for this as I won’t do justice to a proper explanation. We just continued to trust Dan. During this period, we also started experimenting with different food and hydration products for long rides. Most of our rides in the years preceding this endeavor were of the 1-3 hour variety with several rest-breaks. Normally we would just fill up a Camelback (hydration backpack) with water and scarf down a few Clif Bars or Power Bars on the ride. For these new rides of 4-5 hours and more, we were learning that we had to be a lot more conscious of what calories we were taking in and what fluids we were taking in. For an average 155 pound male, the human body can only process about 25 ounces of fluids per hour and 250 calories of food per hour. Anything less of either could lead to dehydration and “bonking” (i.e., running completely out of energy) and anything more could lead to hyponatremia (i.e., water intoxication), bloating and some other conditions that aren’t very pleasant. It was all very complicated and we were all trying hard to find a system that would work for each of us. Dan introduced us to a company called Hammer Nutrition. Hammer manufactures nutrition products for endurance athletes that are easily measurable so that you can plan your nutritional needs before a long ride. Additionally, most of their nutrition products come in powdered form to be mixed in water. Thus it basically allows you to combine hourly food and hydration needs into one 25 ounce water bottle and not have to think about anything else. I was basically starting to use 4 Hammer products: HEED - a short-term energy boost powder mixed in water to be used for activities under 2 hours (or during the first 2 hours of longer activities), SUSTAINED ENERGY – a long term nutritional supplement powder to be mixed in water for activities over 2 hours, ENDUROLYTES – these are basically salt and electrolyte pills to keep electrolytes in balance and to prevent muscle cramping, and RECOVERITE – a post-ride re-supplement. Over the months of training, I experimented with all of these products and became very comfortable using them. They were easy. I didn’t have to think. They tasted fine. They seemed to do the trick. I was feeling good about my nutrition/hydration program for race-day.


In the meantime, once we were through the first four weeks of training, I decided it was time to put the philanthropic side of my plan in motion. On April 11, I sent out an e-mail to all of my friends, family and business associates which explained what I was doing and why I was doing it and which asked for help in raising funds for First Descents. My goal was to raise $25,000 and to help get there we designed a Team First Descents bike shirt and matching t-shirt and offered the following incentives for donating: $125 for a t-shirt, $500 for a bike shirt, $1,000 or more for a bike shirt and your name on the back as a sponsor. I thought I was being ambitious. People are hit with so many charitable requests. This was just another great cause in a long line of great causes. Al said he would be absolutely thrilled if I raised $25,000. Coincidentally, it was around this time, around 1 month after his final dose of chemo and radiation, that Al learned that his tests were excellent and that he was essentially cancer-free again. This was such amazing news and really gave me a boost of energy and enthusiasm. On April 12, the first donation of $2500 came in. No big surprise as the donation was from me through my company. I held my breath for the next couple days. Then the floodgates opened. $1,000 from my friend Matt McManus in Philadelphia through his company Remington Financial. $1,000 from the Eisler family in California. $5,000 from Mike Postal, Erik Bolog, JR Schuble and Jeff Lobel through their company Tenacity Group. $2500 from an old high school friend Stefan Lalos through his company IT Solutions. The responses were immediate and incredible. Many more $500 and $1,000 donations came in. Dozens of $125 and $250 donations came in. I revised the goal to $50,000. By mid-May, I had blown through $50,000 and revised my goal to $60,000. By June 1 I revised the goal to $70,000. Finally, after busting through $70,000 in early July, I raised it to $80,000. The support I received from the community was incredible, stunning and, frankly, overwhelming. In my mind, it was now absolutely essential that I succeed in finishing this race. I couldn’t bear to let anyone down after all of this support.


In June we further stepped up our intensity by adding interval training (basically 3-5 minute sprints followed by short rest-periods) and race-pace time trials (15-18 minute sprints at around 80% of maximum heart rate). We also began spending one night a week strapping lights to our helmets and heading up to Frederick, Maryland to do “hills training” or “ups” by riding up and down the Appalachian ridge west of Frederick. Although this ridge with a 1,000 foot elevation rise could not match the elevation rises that we would see in Leadville, it was the biggest thing around within 100 miles of Washington. The month culminated with our participation in a 12-hour solo race in Quantico, Virginia called the “Cranky Monkey 12-hour.” We did this race solely to get a sense of what it’s like to be in an all day mountain biking race. We knew this wasn’t in any way comparable to Leadville, but we believed that it would provide us with a mid-term report-card on our progress. I won’t waste a lot of time with this race. It was a 95 degree day and we decided that there was no point in killing ourselves. We all rode between 50 and 70 miles over a 9-10 hour period with several rest breaks and decided to call it a day. Leadville was now squarely in our sights a mere 6 weeks away.

July was pretty uneventful. We basically continued the same program as we crept toward race day. I had a bit of a scheduling glitch as I had planned an 8-day golf trip to Ireland for mid-July well before agreeing to the race. It actually came at a good time as I kind of needed a break from the bike as I was starting to burn out. In Ireland I was able to do a couple 1-hour rides just to spin the legs, but really tried hard not to think about the race. When I returned to the States, I did several long road rides to get my legs back in gear and then, lo and behold, it was time to leave for Colorado.


I left for Colorado on Thursday, July 26, a full 16 days before the Leadville 100. I wanted to get there early both to acclimate to the altitude and to do training rides on the course. I couldn’t wait to see the course. I had been obsessing about this race and the course nearly every hour of every day since February 11. The names of the 5 different climbs were imprinted in my brain and I couldn’t wait to see what they actually looked like in person. I’m going to save the descriptions of the course for the race summary below. Needless to say, in the 2 weeks before the race, I rode every inch of the course, albeit in small sections at a time, and did not feel too intimidated by any 1 section standing alone. The big unknown for me and for all of us is how each of these particular sections would feel on race-day after having already done 40, 60, 80 or 90 miles.

During this time, I also had the great fortune of accompanying Al to a First Descents “Camp” at a ranch about an hour west of Vail, Colorado. While there, I met 20 amazing young individuals who were recovering from cancer treatments and who were so excited for this opportunity to forget about their health and challenge themselves in the outdoors. Most magical is when Al told me that this camp was made possible by the unbudgeted funds that found their way into the First Descents’ coffers as a result of my fundraising efforts and the generosity of Team First Descents’ supporters. How cool is that?! These kids (actually young adults) were awesome and their indomitable spirit was indescribable. After spending an evening at the ranch, I was absolutely certain that I was going to finish this race, even if I had to walk my bike over the finish line.

Gary and Kevin arrived in Vail the week before the race and we spent the week getting our bikes in order, finalizing our hydration and nutrition plans, re-reading prior race accounts for the hundredth time and simply taking it easy. Before an endurance race, you are supposed to “taper” your exercise. In other words, slow down and don’t do anything that will tire you out in the days leading up to the race. At this time, training is finished. There is nothing else you can do to get yourself in any better shape for the race. Fine with me. I was happy to relax.

I was given a piece of awful news on Thursday (two days before the race). I learned that a girl with whom I had been very close during my late high-school and college years, Bonnie Kramer, had died Thursday morning from Leukemia, leaving a husband and two young daughters. Earlier in the week she had been given 1-2 weeks to live, but you never believe it until it happens. She had fought a brave fight against the disease two years ago and thought she had it licked. It came back in full force this past June and she ultimately and sadly succumbed after fighting with every weapon (chemo, radiation, etc.) known to medicine during the month of July. The irony was not lost on me that I had lost a friend to cancer after spending all these months training for a race and raising money for young adults with cancer. As if First Descents was not enough to motivate and inspire me for this race, I now also had Bonnie to further inspire and motivate me.


On Thursday night we mixed all of our various nutrition/hydration formulas and prepared our drop-bags. There were several aid stations on the course where food and drinks would be provided to the racers. At these stations, racers could also leave “drop-bags” containing personal supplies. Do we leave a jacket in our Columbine bag in case it’s cold and/or raining at the top of the biggest climb? Are we going to stop at Pipeline Aid station to re-fuel? Do we trust the sunny forecast despite the fact that it has rained in Leadville every afternoon for the last month? All of these questions and many more raced through our minds as we tried to figure out our respective drop-bag strategies. Kevin and Gary were going with Camelbacks for hydration, so their plans were a bit different than mine. Al was home doing his own thing. I wasn’t sure what Deano and Wobber were doing. I was going strictly with water bottles filled with Sustained Energy. I figured 4 bottles through Twin Lakes, 3 more for Columbine and 4 more for the inbound return. We finally got our shit together and tried to get to sleep early as we had been told on numerous occasions that the “night before the night before” is the most important sleep night. Whatever, I still didn’t sleep much on Thursday night.

On Friday morning, August 10, the day before the race, we headed up to the Leadville town gymnasium for registration, medical check-in, and a mandatory pre-race meeting. We were among the first to arrive at 8am. Registration consisted of filling out a waiver and registration form before heading to the medical tables. At the medical table, we were asked whether we were taking any medications or had any allergies and then were given a wrist-band. We ran into a bit of glitch when it was Al’s turn to get the bracelet. Obviously, it was a rare occasion when a racer showed up and stated that he had just completed 6 months of chemo and radiation and was still taking cancer-related medications. After a half-hour of discussions and Al’s having to sign and have notarized a special waiver, he was cleared to race. I joked to Al that this could have been the perfect excuse to bail on the race, but he would have none of it. He was going to give it his all or go down trying. From there, we were given a bag of swag, our racer numbers and a sweet Leadville 100 shirt before heading off to a great omelet breakfast at the local diner. At 11 AM we returned to the crowded gymnasium and found seats along with 950 or so of our fellow racers. The pre-race meeting consisted of several greetings, thank yous, kudos to past champions, an introduction of Floyd Landis and an inspirational speech from Ken Chlouber, the founder and race director of the Leadville 100. There were several very poignant and memorable moments from Ken’s speech. For one, he continually expressed the mantra “you’re better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can, the time is now.” More importantly, he reminded us that we are all likely to suffer pain during the Leadville 100. However, he implored us not to quit. He told us that enduring 12 hours of pain will be nothing compared to the 365 days of pain (the number of days until the next Leadville 100) we’ll have to endure if we quit.
The Leadville Gymnasium – Registration and Pre-Race Meeting

Video -Last Minute of Ken's Speech
The meeting ended at about 12:15 and we stayed around to find Bill Moyer, the gentleman in charge of the aid station drop-bags. He had told us that he would let us give him our bags before the official 3pm bag-drop so we wouldn’t have to hang around Leadville for 3 hours. In return, we volunteered to help deconstruct the seating in the gym and help set-up for the big Friday evening carbo-load dinner. For the next hour we lugged tables and chairs around the gym and set the whole place up. As a bit of a bonus, we were told upon completion to put our names on a list as our volunteering to help would give us preferential treatment at next year’s lottery. For us, that was like Scooby Doo being given a Scooby snack. We were psyched. Not that any of us were sure that we wanted to re-enlist for this nuttiness next year. After finishing up in the gym, we headed back to Vail for a relaxing afternoon, a spaghetti dinner, an equipment, clothing and supplies run-through and one more completely sleepless night. Race day was finally upon us.


The alarm was set for 3:30am. That was a laugh. I was already up and had been up for most the night. I was thermonuclear excited and nervous for this day and could not believe that it had actually arrived. I went downstairs and ate a Clif Bar and spent the next 45 minutes getting everyone up and getting ready to roll. We all pulled out of the driveway at 4:30 and made the hour trek to Leadville. I drank a bottle of HEED during the ride. Upon our arrival, we scattered in several directions trying to find the nearest restroom. It was imperative to perform our morning “business” before getting on our bikes for 10-12 hours. The last thing I wanted to do was make a mid-race pit-stop with a roll of toilet paper. I am pleased to report that it was mission accomplished for all of us by 5:45. The press was alerted. Only 45 minutes until the start. For the next 15 minutes we all donned our gear, loaded our various backpacks, locked up the cars and then headed down to the starting zone to check-in. The race starts at the main intersection of town at 6th and Harrison. The top riders and other dignitaries start at the front of the pack. Then everyone slots themselves based upon where they reasonably see themselves finishing. There is a section for those Uber-males shooting for under 8 hours, then a section for 8 to 9 hours, then 9 to 10 hours, 10 to 11 hours and finally 11 to 12 hours. Team First Descents optimistically grabbed spots toward the front of the 10 to 11 hours group even though, to a man, our goal going in was to simply finish the race within 12 hours. 25 minutes to the start. I had to go to the bathroom again. I quickly ran to the local diner and was fortunate to find an empty bathroom. Back to the bike with 20 minutes to go. There was music blaring. The sun was starting to rise and the mountains in the distance were starting to glow. It was a chilly 45 degrees and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Lisa, Jill and Sharone joined us for some group pictures and group hugs and kisses. We took a great pre-race picture of the entire Team First Descents.

Gary, Al, Dean, Wobber, Brent, Kevin

15 minutes until start time. I had been wearing leg warmers but made a last minute decision to give them to Lisa and go with the shorts. It was an atmosphere of nervous anticipation and idle-conversation. The street was packed with bikers as far as I could see forward and backward. The sidewalks were packed with spectators. 10 minutes until start time. Kevin and Gary were starting right next to me. Wobber and Deano were a few rows behind us. Al was a few rows behind them. I did a few more stretches to pass the time. The girls said their goodbyes and good lucks and went to find a good place to view the start. 5 minutes to go. I had bald-eagle sized butterflies in my gut. Here we go. Here we go. Here we go. 4 minutes. Everyone was hyped. I briefly thought about the scene in the classic movie Vacation when Christie Brinkley invites Chevy Chase to join her for a skinny-dip and he blurts out "this is crazy this is crazy this is crazy!" The scene was absolutely electric. This is crazy this is crazy this is crazy.  I could hear Ken’s words rattling loudly in my brain: “You’re better than you think you are”. 3 minutes. “You can do more than you think you can.” 2 minutes. “THE TIME IS NOW!!!” 1 minute. HOLY SHIT! I locked my right cleat into the pedal, took one more look at the scene around me and waited impatiently. 10 seconds, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, BOOOOM. The shotgun blasted and the 2007 Leadville 100 was underway. As I said, the 2007 Leadville 100 was underway. Again, we’re underway. Wait a minute. Why aren’t we moving? Why are we still standing here? We learned quickly that the problem with the 10-11 hour grouping is that there are probably some 600 people in front of us. It thus took a good 60 seconds before we actually started moving forward.

Race Elevation Profile

The start of the Leadville 100 is essentially a big human cattle-drive on bikes. 900 bikers squeeze onto one street heading out of town in a line that, by the time the last riders are moving, probably stretches for a good mile. It was an awesome sight.

Race Start – Heading out of Leadville
The first 3.5 miles of the course are all downhill on pavement and very little pedaling is required as you can simply move with the flow of a peleton that is hundreds of bikers strong. The downhill grade created a great way to lightly stretch the legs in the early hours of the morning, but also provided a grim reminder that paybacks will be hell when it comes time to ride back up to town at the end of the race. The pavement ends at an intersection known as Leadville Junction where we crossed some railroad tracks and immediately took a right on a fairly narrow and flat dirt road that continued for another 3-4 miles. It was too congested to do much of anything except hold your place and move at the speed of the crowd. At mile 7 the road took a turn uphill left and we were beginning our first climb of the day, an 800 foot rocky ascent over 2 miles of trail to St. Kevin’s (pronounced “Keevins”) mine. I had ridden this climb twice during training and both times I had to walk my bike at certain steep sections to keep my heartrate from blowing through my Lactate Threshold (which for me is around 164 beats per minute). However, on race day this was never a concern. Between the adrenalin from the race and the slow speed of the crowd, my heartrate never even approached 160 bpm and I made the whole climb without even thinking of dismounting. About 2/3 of the way up the ascent, I tried to take note of where everyone was in our group. Deano had shot ahead as he likes to be an early rabbit. Wobber, G-mo and Kevin were just over my shoulder and Al was somewhere farther back. At this point, the path also took an abrupt 180 turn left. I made the switch-back, picked up my pace and pushed to the top of St. Kevins at about the 47 minute mark. So far so good. I was feeling great, I was warming up nicely, and I seemed to be doing everything right except that maybe I wasn’t drinking enough from my bottle. No matter, I thought . . . I’ll catch up on the descent. From the top of St. Kevin’s, we continued through about 3 miles of rolling rocky trail that was still too crowded to really do anything aggressive. This was actually good for me as we’d been told on numerous occasions to just take it slowly for the first 20 miles.

At the 11-mile mark we passed the Carter Summit Express Aid station and then turned right on a paved road that heads down to Turquoise Lake. This road is a beautiful 3.5 mile downhill and provided the first chance to sit up, go fast, relax, take some drink and adjust clothing. It was also a chance for the bigger riders and those on tandem bikes to really show off their speed. At the bottom of the hill, the road curved around the lake and then started a 1 mile pavement climb. I was finally warming up and decided to take off my jacket. I didn’t want to stop and tie it around my seat-post, so I tried to tie it around my waist as I was pedaling up the hill. Bad call. When pulling it tight around my waist, it pushed one of my water bottles out from my back jersey pocket and onto the road. When the bottle hit the road, the top popped off and I lost the entire contents of Sustained Energy. At that point, I had consumed about ½ of one bottle, I had another full bottle on my inside frame and had a bottle of water on the front of the frame. I did some quick math (the first of many instances of quick math over the next 9 hours) and thought I would be ok as I only had one big climb between now and the Twin Lakes Aid Station at 40 miles. I also had a bottle of Sustained Energy in a drop-bag at Pipeline (28 miles) but was hoping not to stop there.

The pavement ended and we made a 180 degree turn right onto a dirt/gravel road that really signaled the start of the Sugarloaf Climb. Sugarloaf is a climb of about 1100 feet. The first 300-400 feet consist of the paved road and the gravel road. The gravel road doesn’t have much pitch, so I was able to get into a decent rhythm at about 9-10 mph. After 2 miles, there was another 180 degree turn to the left and we began an arduous climb on a rocky dirt road toward the peak. My legs still felt great and I didn’t feel any need to push it here. While some guys were passing me, I tried to stay disciplined and focused and just ride at a slow and even pace. Although I was secretly hoping for a finish in the 10:30 range, I had set a conservative timeline before the race that would get me to the finish line at 11 hours and 15 minutes.

In short, this called for achieving the following milestones:

Location Mile Marker Time Goal:
St. Kevin’s summit Outbound 9 miles 45 minutes
Sugarloaf summit 20 miles 2 hours
Pipeline Aid Station 28 miles 2 hours and 30 minutes
Twin Lakes Aid Station 40 miles 3 hours 30 minutes
Columbine Summit 50 miles 6 hours
Twin Lakes Inbound 60 miles 6:45
Pipeline Aid Inbound 72 miles 8 hours
Powerline Summit 80 miles 9:45
St. Kevins Summit Inbound 92 miles 10:30
Finish Line 104 miles 11:15

I reached the Sugarloaf summit at 1 hour and 59 minutes. I was thus right on my conservative pace and was looking forward to the Powerline downhill.

The Powerline downhill is a blast. Although, if you aren’t a very good technical mountain biker, it can be intimidating and scary. It is very rocky and narrow and there are troughs cutting down the trail almost the whole way down. A successful descent requires picking a good line and having confidence in your bike. In a training run, I was able to fly down this descent without killing my hands from tightly squeezing the brakes. On race-day, it just wasn’t as fun. With such a narrow trail, it was very difficult to pass people and I could really only descend with the speed of traffic. This meant riding the brakes the whole way down or else crash into the bike in front of you. Although I wasn’t really losing much time in the overall scheme, I was definitely frustrated to not be able to ‘let it out’ on this descent. Regardless, the whole thing took about 10 minutes.
Powerline Descent

At the bottom of Powerline is the sole water crossing on the course. Most people dismount and walk across a plank that crosses a 15 foot wide creek. I chose this route as I didn’t feel like riding with wet shoes. G-mo, who was a few bikers behind me on the descent, decided to plow right through the creek and he shot out ahead of me (with very wet feet). At this point, Deano was now somewhere way ahead, G-mo was about a minute ahead and Kaner, Wobber and Al were somewhere behind.

About 100 yards past the creek crossing, the Powerline trail ended at another paved road (Rte. 300) where we took a right toward the Leadville Fish Hatchery. This road was about 2.5 miles of mostly smooth and fast downhill. We then took a right on Rte. 11 which consisted of about a mile of flat paved road and then another mile of dirt road. This dirt road veered right and deposited us at the Pipeline Aid Station and the start of the 12-mile Pipeline section of the course. About a mile before the Pipeline aid station, I caught up to G-mo who was traveling with a big group of riders. I decided that they were moving too slowly for me and I passed the group. As I was passing G-mo, he looked at me and said with a grin that he was “in with a good Peleton.” A Peleton is a group of riders clumped together. By riding in a group, an individual biker can keep the same speeds with about 30% less effort because of the effects of wind drafting. Under my breath I muttered “yeah, great frickin’ Peleton as I blow by all of you.” Unfortunately, this wasted effort on my part would ultimately give GMo the last laugh.  The Pipeline aid station was a zoo. There were cars and tents and masses of humanity on both sides of the trail and I really couldn’t see where the actual aid station was. I was down to half a bottle of Sustained Energy and one bottle of water and I was thinking that I should pick up another bottle of Sustained Energy from my drop-bag at Pipeline Aid to carry me through the Pipeline. However, since I couldn’t find the drop bag area and I didn’t want to lose momentum, I decided to just blow through and get to Twin Lakes. I looked at my watch and saw that I had arrived at Pipeline in 2:20. I was 10 minutes ahead of my conservative pace. That meant that I didn’t have to push it too hard on Pipeline . . . especially with the hellacious Columbine climb to follow. The next 12 miles were rather uneventful. The first 8 miles or so are just a fairly flat dirt trail that rolls through a swath in the forest where there is a giant pipeline. The last 4 miles start with a super steep stomach-in-your-mouth drop called the North Face followed by a small gradual climb over a ridge and then a 1-mile pavement descent to the Twin Lakes Reservoir. Other than the North Face drop (which tends to freak a lot of riders out because of its steepness), this stretch is not technical and does not require any major expenditure of energy. I kept a steady pace at an average of about 14mph and was feeling on top of the world when I descended to the scenic Twin Lakes.

At the bottom of the short pavement descent, we crossed Highway 82 into the Twin Lakes parking area and followed a path through another army of people, tents, cars and campers and then took a right across the Twin Lakes dam and into the Twin Lakes Aid station. This dam is closed to the public 364 days a year by order of Homeland Security, but opens up for the racers of the Leadville 100. The dam crossing threw us into another raucous scene with hundreds of people yelling and screaming and converging on both sides of the route. At this point I was just looking for the drop-zone so that I could switch out my bottles. I had no intention of stopping long. As I entered the area, I heard one of my college buddies (one of 4 who had made the trip to Leadville to cheer us on) yell that Lisa was about 50 yards up on the left. I kept moving forward slowly scanning the crowd until I saw my wife jumping up and down waving. She was there with Sharone and Jill and Olivia as well as two other friends who were there to support us for the weekend. I was so excited to see them and their own excitement at our arrival was an incredible pick-me-up. The girls quickly motioned that they had collected our drop bags and would get us whatever we needed. I asked Lisa to fill my three Sustained Energy bottles with water and shake them up. I also handed her my 3 empty bottles, my jacket (which was still tied around my waist) and my arm warmers (which were now simply wrapped around my wrists). It was now 3 hours and 15 minutes into the race. I was 15 minutes ahead of schedule and was ready to tackle Columbine. It turned out that Deano had only arrived about 2 minutes ahead of me. G-mo rolled in about 2 minutes behind me. Once I had my bottles in place it was time to push off toward the highest summit of the race.

Arriving at Twin Lakes Aid Station - Outbound

Columbine is a long nasty beeeyotch. There’s no sugar-coating it. From Twin Lakes it is a 3600 foot ascent over 10-miles of road and trail that ends at 12,600 feet with the last 1,000 feet or so being above treeline. The first mile rises over a small ridge and then drops into a few acres of open valley before leading to a dirt road that signifies the true beginning of the Columbine climb. I passed Deano going up the first ridge and he mentioned that he was nauseous and felt like crap. We had all pretty much agreed before the race that there is very little we can do for each other on the course and that we would have to first and foremost take care of ourselves. I certainly couldn’t do anything for his nausea so I told him to just keep plugging and then I shot ahead. From the dirt road entrance, it is about a 6 mile gradual climb up with some 2200 feet of elevation gain. Earlier in the week, Kevin and I went into a bike shop in Vail where we met a grizzled veteran of the Leadville 100. He told us that the entire race comes down to how you feel on Columbine. If you feel good climbing up, then you are in for a great day. If not, then the day could turn hellish quickly. I was not quite sure yet where I stood. I was definitely getting tired and leg weary, but I wasn’t actually hurting. About 1/3 of the way up the mountain, I heard shouts from ahead that said “RIDERS COMING”. Suddenly there was a surge of excitement among the bikers in front of me and behind me. This meant that the leaders of the race, who had probably reached the top 20 minutes ago, were now bombing back down. The ascending riders all moved to the right of the road and we were all collectively wondering who was leading. It didn’t take long to find out. Suddenly, there was Floyd Landis coming at us at about 40 mph. At first I didn’t see anyone behind him as I was looking way up the road. As he passed, however, I realized that the reason I didn’t see anyone behind him was because Dave Wiens was literally glued to Floyd’s rear wheel! The two of them were separated by about 2 feet and they were flying . . . I mean FLYING . . . and then they were quickly gone. I instantly recognized that that split-second fly-by may have been one of the coolest moments I’ve ever been a part of as a sports participant. In short, the 2006 Tour de France winner, who is racing in the same race as I, just blew past with the 4-time Leadville winning Mountain-Bike-Hall-of-Famer Dave Wiens right on his rear wheel. Almost too cool for words. Alas the reverie died down quite fast when it dawned on me (and everyone around me) that we still probably had a good hour and 15 minutes before reaching the top while Landis and Wiens probably only had a few hours left in the whole race! What a buzz-kill. Onward and upward, upward and onward. The road just kept going and going and going. I was in granny-gear (the lowest gear) and was only pedaling at about 3.7 mph . . . significantly slower than the 4.5 mph I did on my training ride up Columbine two weeks before. I kept looking at my elevation readings and was dismayed at how slowly we were ascending. It took nearly an hour and 20 minutes to get up the 6 miles of road and pain was slowly filtering in. My left shoulder was really sore and I had to keep stretching it. I knew that there was a steeper rocky section coming up and I was actually looking forward to getting off the bike and walking it for a little while. Sometimes I hate it when a fool gets what he wishes for . . . especially when the fool is yours truly!

After the 6 mile road climb from the entrance to Columbine, the smooth road suddenly ends and a steep and very rocky ascent up to the heavens begins. In training, I pedaled through this next section. Today, there was no chance of staying on the bike. There was a line of bikers walking their bikes across the entire horizon of trail in front of me. NOWHERE in the distance did I see anyone riding their bike. I did a quick calculation and realized that I would likely be walking my bike about 2 miles (1300 vertical feet of rise). I just put my head down and started slogging. I was listening to tunes (coincidentally the Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain” played during this section) and just trying not to think about anything. I had no idea how far back Deano and G-mo were. It took about 30 minutes to walk 1 mile. I was trying to drink every few minutes, but my Sustained Energy mix was starting to taste like liquid cardboard. It’s really a demoralizing walk. After that first mile, I came around a little bend and I could actually see the Columbine aid station (which is the turnaround point), way off in the upper distance. Without any trees up there, it may as well be on the moon. The trail heads up and off to the right before coming back to the aid station. As I looked way up and way off, I saw that the trail switched back and forth and, again, NOBODY was riding. My quads were really starting to hurt from the walking. It was kind of a cruel irony as we’d been in Colorado for 2 weeks and I’d refused to do any hiking with Lisa as I absolutely didn’t want to put any stress on muscles that I wouldn’t use during the race. Nice work dumbass. I guess I should have been hiking as part of my training regimen. The only good thing was that the air was getting a lot cooler with every step up. I decided not to look up anymore. I just looked at the ground and watched my feet move forward. That was my new mantra. Just “move forward”. Don’t stop “moving forward”. Don’t stop at all or else you are not. . . “moving forward”. All together now: just keep “moving forward”. Yes, altitude was also starting to get to me as I played stupid word and mind games with myself. I was now over 12,000 feet and was starting to get a little lightheaded from the altitude combined with the exertion. There was still 600 feet of vertical rise to go. Thankfully the tunnel was lightening. Although the aid station was still far off in the distance, I finally reached a spot where, not far away, riders were starting to get back on their bikes. Hallelujah. 10 minutes later the path leveled off a little and I was able to mount my bike. I still had a few hundred feet of climbing to get to the aid station, but it felt great to be back on the bike and I actually flew up to the crest of the hill and then down a little hill and arrived at the aid station at 5 hours and 35 minutes. After the sheer hellish monotony of climbing up the dirt road in endless granny gear followed by a grueling hike-a-bike for an hour, I had actually gained a little bit of time and was now 25 minutes ahead of my conservative pace. There was no way I was going to linger up here. I chugged a couple cups of Gatorade and a cup of water and then headed back out. The race was now halfway over and it was time to start heading home. I was really excited for the coming downhill and was feeling great about my overall performance so far. The only thing troubling me was that I could barely stomach any more Sustained Energy and I couldn’t force myself to eat anything at the aid station.

Columbine Summit

The first mile of the descent is relatively smooth. It was such a welcome relief to know that every turn of the pedals would now take me closer to the finish rather than farther. About 5 minutes into the descent I passed Deano and G-mo as they were still ascending. They were about 3 bikers apart and it didn’t look like either of them realized that the other was so close. I quickly calculated that they were about 15 minutes behind me. The descent then became really hairy as I had to now travel down the very rocks that I had hiked through for an hour. Some of these rocks were the size of cantaloupes and in some places they were loose and jagged. It was really important to keep in control and concentrate as one false move could easily end my day and my summer. About 12 minutes into the descent I passed Wobber and Kevin. They were both together and they did NOT look happy. Another quick calculation and I figured that they were nearly an hour behind me (as those 12 minutes of descent probably equaled a good 45 minutes of climbing for them). My hands were on fire from the death grip I had on my handlebars and brakes. It was hard enough to find a good line through the rocks. It was even harder to find it while trying to avoid all of the bikers walking up on the other side of the trail. The greatest positive about this part of the descent was the realization that I was passing hundreds of bikers going the other way. That meant that hundreds of bikers were pretty far behind me. Again I was feeling great. I finally came out of the rocky section and hit the dirt road at full speed. Now I knew I could really move. 6 miles of nothing but bombing downhill. Additionally, with the 4-hour cutoff at Twin Lakes, I knew that there wouldn’t be too many more riders coming up to worry about getting in my way. I covered the 6 miles in less than 10 minutes. I was passing people left and right and was going so fast that I couldn’t take my hands off the handlebars to drink. I finally shot out of the woods at the bottom entrance, crossed the field, tore back up the ridge and cruised back into the Twin Lakes aid station at 6 hours and 13 minutes. I was now 32 minutes ahead of the conservative 11:15 pace I had set for myself and was gaining time at each stretch. I was now realistically thinking that I could come in around 10:30 without even having to kill myself the rest of the way. This couldn’t be going better for a first-timer.

I met back up with Lisa and the crew at Twin Lakes and they were now joined by Al. He apparently didn’t make the 4-hour cut-off at Twin Lakes outbound and, frankly, he appeared ecstatically relieved to not have to deal with the race anymore. Between the hard-core chemo and radiation treatments all winter, the continuing treatments every few weeks that had a physically weakening impact on his stamina, an incredibly busy summer with the First Descents foundation that prevented him from putting in the necessary training time and, most importantly, his technical inexperience on a mountain bike, the odds were really stacked against him in this race. In true Al fashion though, he gave it his all and when his all wasn’t good enough, he converted himself seamlessly from racer to crewman/cheerleader extraordinaire without a scintilla of bruised ego and with an abundance of enthusiasm and encouragement for the rest of us. Truly first class. But I digress. Anyway, I quickly changed out my Thump MP3 glasses, got 3 new Sustained Energy bottles and a bottle of water, took off my shell shorts and accepted a quick calf massage on each leg and then was off again for the 40-mile homestretch. I was definitely sore and tired and I knew that there were some tough times ahead, but I now had no worries about finishing in 12 hours due to the cushion I had created for myself. Unfortunately, as I’ve read 50 times about this race, nothing comes easy and the unexpected should always be expected.

Twin Lakes Aid Station - Inbound

I gave Lisa a quick kiss goodbye and then took off across the Twin Lakes dam. On the other side, I took a left back through the Twin Lakes parking lot zoo and then crossed the highway to climb the paved road up the ridge that I had descended 3 hours ago. Although the legs felt pretty good, a new problem arose quickly. Stomach cramp. There was a sharp pain developing in my right abdomen. Shit shit shit. What caused this? In training I had several rides where I developed leg cramps and they usually were the result of dehydration. I had never dealt with a stomach cramp. I tried to drink from my Sustained Energy bottle, but each sip made the cramp intensify. This could be a big problem and quite the catch-22. If I drink, it hurts my stomach. However, if I don’t drink, I dehydrate and massive leg cramps are almost a lock to follow. I slowly crested the ridge and then descended with the hope that the stomach pain would subside. However, I was soon back at the North Face. Outbound, these are two really hairy but fun connected drops right down the spine of a ridge. Inbound, however, these drops, which are now steep ascents, are absolutely unrideable. It took about 10 minutes to walk up these two short steep hills. I was thinking that ropes would have been appropriate to help get up the second hill! These two hills were brutal and only made my stomach worse. About a mile after the North Face there is another short but pretty steep uphill. This is apparently called “Oh My God Hill.” In a training ride, I easily rode up this hill. However, after 65 miles in the blazing sun, it was back off the bike and a trudge up to the top. I now had about 7 miles to the Pipeline Aid station. I kept trying to sip my bottle, but now I was really starting to suffer with the stomach. I just picked a fairly even pace and slowly let my bike eat up the miles to the aid station. I rolled into the Pipeline Aid station at 7 hours and 32 minutes. It had taken me 25 minutes longer to cover the Pipeline section inbound as it had taken me to do it outbound this morning. This wasn’t a good sign. On top of that, my 32 minute cushion at Twin Lakes was now a 28 minute cushion. This doesn’t sound like much of a big deal, but this was a section where I should have increased the cushion by 5 or 10 minutes, not lost time. When I rolled into the aid station, I immediately asked for a medic. I explained the stomach cramp issue and asked what I should do. The medic responded that there was nothing I could do. I HAD to keep drinking somehow. The problem was that I just couldn’t drink any more Sustained Energy. I went over to the drink table and chugged 3 cups of Gatorade and a cup of water. I also emptied one of my Sustained Energy bottles and filled it with water. That left me with one bottle of Sustained Energy and two bottles of water for the last 32 miles. I was hoping that would be enough. I was also absolutely dreading what was to come in just under 5 miles.

Pulling out of Pipeline was tough and I probably lingered longer than I should. It didn’t help matters when, as I was leaving Pipeline Aid, I learned from a volunteer that Dave Wiens had beaten Floyd Landis by 2 minutes . . . 30 minutes ago! Those guys are on a different athletic planet than I. As I was ready to leave Pipeline, I also happened to take a gander at the medical tent containing occupied cots with fallen riders. I think the sun and heat were really taking a toll on a lot of us. I must not have looked too great either as three different aid station volunteers made me lift up my sunglasses so that they could inspect my pupils. Fortunately they didn’t see anything too ugly as they cleared me to leave. If they hadn’t, they would have been in for a maniacal fight. Anyway, I was back on the road with the beast that is Powerline looming ahead of me. About 2 miles past the Pipeline aid station, I saw a truck parked in the distance with some loud idiots drinking beer on the back hatch. As I got closer, I discovered that it was my college boys! It was good to see them and I almost stopped. I was afraid, however, that a stop could be fatal. I gave them all weary high-fives and kept slogging along. I was now back on the pavement and riding into a headwind. I was only able to do about 12 mph and I was still nursing the sharp stomach pain. As the road started to rise upward, the situation I feared most began to materialize – my thighs were starting to cramp. As they say in Sicily, isssssssaaaaanogoooooooood! I made it to the entrance of Powerline, crossed the creek via the wood plank and rode the path for about ¼ mile. I then made the mistake of looking up. Horrifying. The path steepened and there was a line of walkers heading all the way up the ridge. I didn’t really explain this section well on the outbound as it was fun back then. The path up Powerline is literally a brown dusty gash that runs up the front of the Sugarloaf Mountain. This side of the mountain is called Powerline because there are actual powerlines that run from the bottom all the way to the summit and over the other side. The climb is about 3 miles long and rises 1600 menacing feet and there are about 5 false summits. In a training ride, I did this climb in 45 minutes and rode the entire thing but for about ¼ mile. That would be a pipe-dream today.

This next section of the race is, and will always be, so vivid in my memory that I beg indulgence as I intermix past and present tenses in my description. About halfway up the first steep face, my legs totally buckled from cramps . . . and I WAS WALKING! Now what? I can’t pedal or walk. I can’t drink because of my stomach and I’m ready to pass out from the sun. I don’t want to stop and take a break as I’m afraid I won’t be able to start again. There are people littered all over the trail. Many have chosen to seek 5 minutes of refuge under a tree. I’m not willing to do that. I just keep moving forward. I convince myself to just take baby steps. Each step forward gets me closer to the top. I know I still have plenty of time in hand and that I just have to suck it up and take it slowly. After about 20 excruciating minutes, I make it to the top of the first false summit. From here it is about a 75 foot drop before the climbing starts anew. I hopped back on the bike and cruised down. The second I hit the uphill though, the legs locked up again and I was back pushing. I’m muttering to myself – “just keep moving forward. Do NOT stop moving forward. Put the brain in a box, lock it and throw away the key”. I’m actually walking like a duck now as I can’t straighten my legs. I break open 4 Endurolytes and swallow the powder so that the electrolytes can activate quickly. Damn, I only have about 3 pills left and there is still a good 2 and ½ hours to go. I’m in big trouble. Again I implore myself to keep moving forward. My thoughts turn to Bonnie Kramer. She suffered through horrible chemo, painful treatments, and a horrible emotional toll in her last days on earth. Her daughters would grow up without their mother. That is real pain and real suffering and real tragedy. For me, this is just physical pain. It will go away in a few days. I still get to be healthy and vibrant and I get to celebrate with my wife and kids when this is all said and done. Out loud I tell myself to “suck it up asshole.” Move forward. I’m now 600 vertical feet from the top (over about a mile of trail). I’ve been at this climb for 50 minutes. I try to ride a few sections, but to no avail. Every time the trail rises steeply, the effort locks my thighs and I practically fall off the bike. I realize that I just have to keep walking. I popped my last three Endurolytes and this gave me some temporary relief and allowed me to pick up the pace a little. 300 feet from the top. I can see the top. I’ve lost a lot of time, but still have plenty of time in hand. 10:30 is out of the question. However, there is a good chance I can still break 11 hours if I can just get the cramps to recede a little bit. 100 feet from the top a guy comes riding up behind me and passes me. I look up and recognize the familiar back of the Team First Descents bike shirt. It’s G-mo. Damn!! The bastard caught me. Wait, thank goodness he caught me. “G-mo, have you got any Endurolytes” I plead. With that he stopped and pulled out a full bottle. Now I know exactly what it’s like to be a crack-whore getting a fix! I was overjoyed. He poured half the bottle (about 20 pills) into my pocket and then continued on. I quickly broke open 3 and swallowed the powder directly and then washed down another 2 for good measure. I kept moving forward (still walking) and 5 minutes later came upon the crest of the mountain. It took 90 minutes to get up this absolute bitch of a hill. Twice as long as my training ride just 6 days prior. But it was over. I knew I still had another big hill to go, plus the slow rise into town at the end, but the last really hard part of the race was now behind me.

I was now at 9:20. I was still 25 minutes ahead of my conservative 11:15 pace, but if the cramps kept up, I would probably lose the cushion on the next climb. I was hoping that the descent down Sugarloaf would allow me to stretch out and work out the cramps. I flew down Sugarloaf with reckless abandon as I was simply too tired to brake. When we hit the 2-mile gravel road I started spinning the legs at a slow cadence just to keep the muscles moving. A few minutes later I hit the pavement for the mile descent and, again, kept pedaling slowly to stay in rhythm. The road swung around Turquoise Lake and then started upwards. This was it. The last big climb. 3 miles of pavement and a 1,000 foot vertical rise. This was no different than our night training climbs in Frederick. Several of them are 3 miles long with a 1,000 foot rise and we did those in our sleep. Earth to Brent – yo dumbass, you had fresh legs in training, not 90 miles under your belt! I started up the road in my 1-3 gear (granny gear being 1-1). I was even moving at a reasonable pace of about 8mph. This was going to be no problem. If I could get up this hill in a half hour, sub-11 was mine. 50 yards later found me literally sprawled on the ground by the side of the road. So much for that idea. Cramps right at the knees pummeled me so hard and so quickly that I couldn’t even swing me left leg over the seat to get off the bike. I thus had to fall sideways onto the ground to extricate myself from the bike. GRRRRRRRR!!!! At this point I was more frustrated than anything. I wasn’t feeling weak. I wasn’t bonking. I wasn’t sick. I JUST COULDN’T GET RID OF THE FRICKIN’ CRAMPS!! I pulled myself up and started walking the bike again . . . on the road for crying out loud! I stretched and massaged myself as I walked and also popped another 4 Endurolytes. 5 minutes later I hopped back on the bike, put it in granny-gear and pedaled as slowly as possible. After a few minutes, I was able to sustain a very slow cadence (about 4-5mph) and could keep the cramps at bay as long as I continued to pedal slowly. It was agonizing to go this slowly and, to make matters worse, other riders were constantly and annoyingly passing me. I thought of Bonnie again and I willed myself to just keep moving forward moving forward moving forward. The road just kept going on forever. Around every curve was another long straightaway into another curve. After nearly 3 miles of this torture, there was suddenly a guy in the street telling me that the aid station is only 200 yards away and that “you’re doing great!” 3 minutes later I pulled into the Carter Summit aid station with about 13 short miles to go. I was just past the 10-hour mark.

I hadn’t had a bite to eat since a Clif Bar at 3:30 in the morning. It was now about 4:35pm in the afternoon. Hmm, maybe I should eat something. Makes sense right? As watermelon was the first thing offered to me, watermelon it was. I ate two pieces practically whole. I also decided to try something new and chugged a cup of Coca-Cola. I’d heard from past experiences that some guys loved the sugar and caffeine boost this late in the race. What the hell, how much worse could it be? I’d really only been drinking water for the past 3 hours as the Sustained Energy just wasn’t going down. That meant that I hadn’t taken in any calories. Not good, but screw it, I’m almost there. I left the aid station with new resolve. I only had to make it through this next 2.5 miles of rolling terrain and then I would be at the last big descent. Not so fast bucko. The rolling terrain turned out to have 3 leg-busting short uphills that, of course, triggered the cramps and forced me back off the bike. I tried to pop two more Endurolytes at the first rise (which was not more than ¼ mile after the aid station) when I suddenly spit up the two Endurolytes along with the two pieces of watermelon and the coke. So much for the caffeine theory. I waddled my way to the top of the hill, got back on the bike and kept going. I did the same thing for each of the next two hills and, before I knew it, I had reached the point where the trail turned downhill. I was now at 10:25 and it would take a big effort to break 11 hours.

With the sub-11 possibility still out there, I tore down the descent at speeds I had no business going that late in the race. I simply didn’t have the reflexes to react after 96 miles. However, I also didn’t have the strength in my arms to brake anymore, so speed and reckless abandon won out. The descent only took a few minutes and then I was on the 3-mile dirt road and there wasn’t another rider in sight. It’s amazing how much things change in 10 hours. 10 hours ago this stretch was packed with people. Now I was lonely. I tried to set a high tempo on the dirt road, but again, the cramps got the best of me and I was stuck riding at 9-10mph instead of the 15-16mph that I should have been going. I reached the Leadville Junction railroad tracks at 10 hours and 40 minutes. I was still about 4.5 miles from the finish line. Was it possible to do that 4.5 miles in 20 minutes? By now, I was well beyond brain function to perform a calculation of how fast I needed to go. Regardless, I thought I had an outside chance.

The last 4 miles of the course follows different roads from those on which we started this morning. That was THIS morning right? It seemed like the start was days ago. We followed a paved road along the railroad tracks. This then becomes a double track dirt trail. This ends with a 90 degree left turn onto a section known simply as “The Boulevard.” The Boulevard is nothing but a bitch-slap on all of us. It’s the town’s way of saying “so, you think this race is over . . . THINK AGAIN SUCKERS!” The first quarter mile is a fairly steep jagged section with rocks the size of bowling balls. This then smooths into a 2.5 mile dirt road that climbs a good 400-500 feet in elevation back to the town of Leadville. I hit the bottom of the Boulevard at 10 hours and 47 minutes. I refused to believe that sub-11 was gone. Let me put it another way . . . I was too far-gone to accept that sub-11 was too far-gone. I rode through the rocky section. The legs were aflame again but I had had enough of getting off the bike so I just powered through and clenched my teeth. I got to the smooth section and just kept pedaling. Not much farther now. Not much farther now. Not much farther now. Shit, this frickin’ road just keeps on going! What a parting shot for this race! There would be no casual stroll to the finish. Halfway up the road my timer hit 11 hours. Oh well. I tried. At this point, it didn’t really matter to me whether I finished in 11:04 or 11:14, so I simply slowed down. It was like the clock striking 11 just took the last bit of wind out of my sails.

I snail-paced myself up the rest of the Boulevard and finally came to the last mile of pavement back into town. The volunteers directed us back to 6th street and now I was really in the home stretch. Of course even this part can’t be easy. The first quarter mile of 6th street is straight uphill. It’s a nothing little hill but with the odometer showing 103.4 miles, it is awful. 3 minutes later I crested the hill and could see the purple finish line less than half a mile away. I couldn't believe that it was practically over and I had done it. There is one last little downhill followed by a two-block uphill to the finish line. As I started down the little hill, there were people on both sides of the street cheering. I started crying. I was absolutely overcome by emotion as I made those last few pedal strokes toward the finish line. 50 yards from the finish, I was able to see Lisa and Bailey cheering for me from about 10 yards in front of the finish line.

Approaching the Finish Line

In the last few yards before the line, I heard the Mayor of Leadville announce “Now finishing the Leadville 100 is Brent Goldstein from Rockville, Maryland in a time of 11 hours and 11 minutes”. I crossed the line with my head lowered. My race was over. I was bawling like a little girl. Lisa and Bailey ran up to hug me. When Lisa saw my tears, she thought the worst and asked if I needed a doctor. No, I assured her. I just wanted to stand in the finish area for a minute and collect myself.
Crossing the Finish Line

Pure Exhaustion

The next 10 minutes were a blur. There was suddenly a Silver medal around my neck. My friends were all right there. Al gave me a huge hug and told me how proud he was. A second wave of emotion hit me and I was crying again. My friends rolled my bike away and I moved to the side of the finish area where G-mo was sitting with his family. He finished in 10:56. I congratulated him. I was proud of him. But I was pissed that he beat me. I sat down on the sidewalk and then reclined. Al began to help stretch my legs. A few minutes passed and I was hit with yet another wave of pure emotion and tears start streaming down my face again.

Brent and Al at Finish

All the months of training, all the family sacrifices, the best friend with cancer, the fundraising efforts, the training injuries, the death of a friend two days before the race, the unconditional love and support of my wife, my kids, my extended family and my friends, the pain, suffering and exhaustion of the race . . . all of these things were hitting me at once and I simply had no control over my feelings. It was something I’ve never experienced before and may never experience again.

I finally settled down, got my emotions in check and began to feel a semblance of normalcy again. I went to the post-race refreshment tent and ate three cups of ramen noodles. They were pretty much the only thing I could eat. I then went back to wait for Deano, Kevin and Wobber. We kept watching the big clock . . . hoping that the boys would make it in before 12 hours. Alas, it was not to be. The “last ass up the pass”, a name given to the last guy/gal to finish in under 12 hours, crossed the line at 11:58 and there was nobody else in sight. Now we just had to hope that they would all finish before the 13 hour cutoff. At 12:05 Deano crested the hill in the distance and he crossed the line at 12:07. He had been crushed by stomach issues on Columbine and never recovered. He was happy to be done, but he would have killed to have those 7 minutes back. Kevin crossed the line at 12:20 with a flourish. Surrounded by Jill and his three daughters, he stopped short of the finish line, hoisted his bike over his head and walked across the line. Like Dean, Kevin was thrilled to finish, but was a little disappointed to come in over 12 hours. I gave him a hug, told him I was proud of him and told him that 12 hours is an arbitrary number. Our goal was to finish the damn race and it was no less an amazing accomplishment at 12:20 as it would have been at 11:58. As the clock hit 12:40, we were all getting really worried about Wobber. We sent friends over to the infirmary tent to see if he was there, but there was no sign of him. Finally, at 12:49 he crested the hill and he crossed the line at 12:51. He was a bit stoic at the line, but I think he was pretty satisfied with his performance.

It was now officially over. A few stragglers remained at the finish line waiting for loved ones, but pretty much anyone who was going to finish had finished. We took in the scene one last time and then staggered to the cars for the ride back to Vail. Once back at the house, I took a long cold shower and wearily made my way back downstairs where my friends were all celebrating. I was too tired to do anything. I wasn’t hungry, I wasn’t thirsty, I wasn’t moving. I stayed up as long as I could and then crashed hard at midnight. I didn’t even have a chance to reflect on this magical day as I was sleeping before my head even hit the pillow.


The awards ceremony was back in Leadville at 8:30 on Sunday morning. As much as I wanted to go up and collect my Silver belt buckle (given to all racers who finish in under 12-hours), I just couldn’t get myself out of bed to make the hour drive. I had already made 6 trips to Leadville in the past 2 weeks and one more was one more too many. When I awoke, the very first thing I started pondering was whether I wanted to do this race again next year. In all the weeks and months leading up to the race, I always assumed that this was a one-shot deal. I had more or less promised Lisa that this was a one-shot deal. However, to Lisa’s dismay, I began hedging in the days before the race as I was so enjoying my time in Colorado. I did notice a slight change in her questioning though. For months she would say “you’re not doing this again!” In the days leading up to the race, this became more of a polite query - “you’re not thinking of doing this again . . . are you?” It was an imperceptible change in verbiage, but it was clear that her tone had slightly changed. I told her that we shouldn’t make any decisions until the race was over and we could see what the experience was all about. Here’s where things got interesting (and funny). As I was struggling and cursing my way up Powerline, I was not only ruling out ever doing this race again, but I was kicking myself for ever agreeing to it in the first place. That’s how completely miserable I was. By the time I crossed the finish line, I had softened my views a bit. I didn’t think I would want to do it again, but I would leave the door open for a change of mind. Then the strangest thing happened. At the finish line, after Lisa was assured that I didn’t need a doctor and all hugs had been dispensed, Lisa looked me in the eye and said “this was such an amazing day. I want you to do this again next year. If you don’t, I’m still coming back!” Wow. Talk about a change of heart! Regardless, I was in no condition to respond rationally. In fact, I figured that it would take days and possibly weeks of soul-searching before I could make a decision. I was only off by a few days and weeks. Within 5 minutes of regaining consciousness the next morning, I had made my decision. YES. I absolutely wanted to do this race again. All the pain was worth it. This race was now in my blood. It had led me to one of the most fulfilling accomplishments of my life. Most germane, I knew I could do better. I knew I could train better and smarter (not necessarily more). I knew I could eliminate the nutrition and cramping problems that plagued me this year. I knew that I could successfully draw from this first-time experience to greatly improve. I had an immediate new goal to finish this race next year in sub-10 hours and, who knows, maybe sub-9 in the years to come. SO . . . here we go again! Who’s with me?


To Lisa, my wife of almost 15 years, my love, my partner and my best friend: thank you. Thank you for your support, your encouragement, your understanding, your sensitivity, your constructive criticism, your pride in me and, most importantly, your unconditional love. I couldn’t have done this without you and I wouldn’t do it again without you. I love you so much.

To my daughters: I love you all and I thank you for not getting too upset when I had to leave for long training rides. I hope that I set a great example for you through this process . . . not just for achieving a personal physical goal through hard work and dedication, but for taking on a tireless fundraising effort that will help a lot of sick people.

To Al: Did you really get cancer again or was this just a big trick to get me to do an endurance race? Just kidding. You are my brother, I love you, I am so thrilled that we shared this experience over the last 12 months and that you kicked cancer’s ass again. I’m sorry that the race itself didn’t work out the way you planned, but you were a star in how you dealt with it and you were an incredible crewman and cheerleader on race-day. If you decide to try the mountain biking thing again, then let’s shoot for success next year. If you decide to do the even-more-insane Leadville 100 mile run next year, than count me in as your #1 crewman.

To Kevin and Gary: all the miles, all the sweat, all the planning, all the experimenting. You guys are my brothers in arms and I can’t think of two better dudes with whom I would rather have shared these months of training. I can’t wait to spend the next bunch of weeks and months riding with you guys for the pure love of riding.

To Deano and Wobber: I loved having the Colgate Theta Chi component making up 50% of Team First Descents. My only regret is that I didn’t get to train with you guys. I hope this race and experience was everything you wanted it to be. Deano, will that extra 7 minutes bring you back again? I hope so. However, you have to promise to let me get you a heartrate monitor and teach you how to eat the next time around. You are stronger than all of us, but I think your hopes of doing this race via old-school methods may have cost you . . . especially your digestive tract.

To Jill and Sharone: sorry for stealing your husbands for so many hours. You both were awesome and I’m so glad that you became true converts and over-the-top co-participants on race-day.

To Mad Dog, Brauny, Jayshe and Murr-Dog: boys, it meant so much to me, Wobber and Deano that you guys made the trek to Vail to support us race weekend. We are touched by your friendship and you guys were a sight for sore eyes and limbs on the course. I must admit, it was tempting to toss the bike and start drinking beers with you when I saw you at the 74 mile-mark.

To Lisa Bernstein, Belinda Kuo and Lauren: ladies, it was a pleasure having you join us over race-weekend and thank you all for your support. Lisa, your pictures were fantastic and your enthusiasm for the race was unbelievable. Thank you so much.

To Dan Berger: thanks for ably leading us through the murky waters of endurance training. 6 months ago we were newbies in the truest sense and you successfully helped us achieve our goals. This was a long process and I appreciate your patience and your willingness to answer all of our questions, regardless of how stupid they were!

To Art Fleming: Art is one of the gurus of the Leadville 100. 63 years old and still plugging through this race in the 10-hour range. Art provided a wealth of information and advice about the race, training and the course and is truly an inspiration. In a training ride the week before the race, Art gave me the best pre-race confidence-boost you can give when he told me "Brent, you'll have no problem finishing this race."

To extended family and friends: thank you so much for your verbal and written encouragement and an incredible thank you for your financial support for First Descents. We all did an amazing thing by providing nearly $80,000 for First Descents. This will have a huge impact on young cancer survivors and will change lives forever. You should all be proud and feel good about what we accomplished and I hope you will support the cause again next year.

To the Photographers: Many of the pictures in the blog were taken by my wife and friends. However a few were poached from online articles and websites. My apologies for not crediting specific photos to their takers. Specifically, UltraRob took a million pictures of the event and I can't remember whether any of the pictures I used were his. If so, thanks UltraRob. If not, then thanks to UltraRob anyway as he took some amazing photos of the 2007 race.


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