October 30, 2008

2008 Shenandoah 100 Mountain Bike Race

2008 Shenandoah 100 Mountain Bike Race
August 31, 2008

Do I do this race, do I not do this race, do I do this race, do I not do this race? For three weeks since Leadville I had been struggling over whether I should put my body through the torture of another 100 mile mountain bike race so soon after Leadville. My wife was the angel on one shoulder telling me that I should rest and spend the entire Labor Day weekend with the family. GMO (Gary Morris) was the devil on the other shoulder telling me that it would be a waste not to take advantage of my great shape to test myself in another endurance event. So confused. After all the waffling, I finally made the call to do the frickin’ race as I just didn’t feel like sitting around a pool for 3 days straight.

GMO and I drove down to Harrisonsburg, Virginia on Saturday afternoon, checked into the Motel 6/Holiday Inn/Ramada Inn/Name-that-motel, and then headed to the Stokesville Campground for registration and carbo-load dinner. The scene at the campground was way more relaxed that its Leadville counterpart. There were no medical check-ins or bracelets or formal presentations. There was a pre-race meeting, but it was pretty casual. I think we could have skipped the whole shindig and just shown up to race in the morning. During the meeting, there was a guy who yelled out the following: “We like to ride mountain bikes right? Right. Well tomorrow we get to do what? What. We get to ride our bikes ALL DAY! How long are we going to ride? ALL DAY!” Not sure if that guy was a shill for the organizers or just a highly exuberant (and highly caffeinated) fellow racer, but now I had the ALL DAY catch-phrase stuck in my head.

OK, now I’m going to shun all rules of literary form and fast-forward 24 hours to the end of the race as the rest of the narrative is based on a recap e-mail that I sent out when I got back to Maryland:

Holy Shit, was that hard! In many ways, I found the Shenandoah 100 to be a MUCH tougher race than Leadville. Now I can fully understand why many don’t consider Leadville to be a technical course. Wow. The Leadville course is a frickin’ superhighway compared to this one! My Garmin showed 12,556 vertical feet of climbing at the end of the day. Thus the total climbing is comparable to the total climbs in Leadville. While Leadville has the obvious altitude issues that we all dwell on ad nausea, this race had humidity. Frankly, I’m not sure which is worse. I think I’ll take the altitude. Also, Leadville’s descents are strolls in the park by comparison. In Leadville, there is this nice concept called “recovery” on the descents. Not here. All 5 major descents were rocky, rooty, muddy singletrack including one never-ending shoulder/forearm/hand-busting descent of 2400 feet . . . at the end of the day! A lot of the singletrack is off-camber, so I was just holding on for dear life. I got to the point where I was dreading the descents more than the ascents. I’m sure my complete lack of course knowledge didn’t help either as I never had a clue whether the trail was going to straighten after a steep curve or possibly switch-back. Thus I was wearing out my brake-pads. As for conditioning, I thought that my Leadville shape would carry me through. NOT. I started struggling quickly. My legs felt heavy on the first climb and I couldn’t keep my heartrate down. In Leadville it never got above 157 bpm. I was up at 170bpm on the first climb and I didn’t even feel like I was really expending a lot of effort. That kind of freaked me out and I knew I was in for a long day . . . ALL DAY.

I was tired and sore at mile 20 and then I bonked and cramped hard at mile 51. Everything took longer from point to point than I expected, so I probably underestimated my hydration and was at a little bit of a deficit at the Mile 45 aid station. It is also a bit harder to drink on that singletrack as it is tough to take the hands off the handlebars to even stick the Camebak nozzle in the mouth. Anyway, by the time I arrived at the 45-mile aid station, I had probably only consumed about 105-110 ounces of fluids, but it had taken me nearly 5 hours to get there. It was clearly not enough fluids and I paid for it on the next climb. About halfway up, my legs seized and I had to walk the bike. Then I just felt my energy drain and I started feeling very lightheaded. I made it to the crest of the climb and started the descent and I couldn’t keep my bike on the trail. That led to two minor crashes and to some serious thoughts of withdrawing at the next aid station as I was both utterly miserable and concerned about my safety. I then started wondering whether Ken Chlouber’s statement about quitting and the pain lasting for 365 days applied to just Leadville or would I feel the same about this race. I got to the mile 57 aid station (#4) at about 6 hours and 50 minutes and was rescued by an angelic aid worker. Within seconds of pulling in, she recognized that I wasn’t looking or feeling too good. She said my eyes were glassy and I looked unsteady. She had me lean against one of the tables and proceeded to nurse and ply me with food and beverages for about 10 minutes until I started to come around. I went on to sample pretty much every liquid and piece of food that was served at the station. Fortunately, I wasn’t having any stomach issues. Loved the Pringles chips and the cheese-balls! I also popped 3 S-Caps for a quick 1,000mg of sodium. Don’t tell my cardiologist. She also assured me that there was no more single-track for the next 25 miles. I saw a guy loading his bike into a car and decided on the spot that I never wanted to be that guy. So, I figured I’d keep slogging on as I probably would never forgive myself if I quit and I also hoped that I would recover as I was able to spin the legs at a steady pace.

The next 25 miles were all gradual climb starting relatively flat for about 5 miles, steepening a little for the next 10 miles and then turning upward for the last 10. I had been told that this was a Death March, but I actually didn’t mind it. Sure enough, about 5 miles after the #4 guardian angel aid station, I started feeling my strength come back and I started making up ground and picking off other riders over the next 2 hours. Got to the #5 aid station at 8 hours 40 minutes and got out of there within 3 minutes as I thought I might still have a chance to go sub-11 hours if I didn’t waste any time. Little did I know that there was still another 700 feet of climbing between the #5 aid station and the beastly 2400 foot descent. I painfully slogged up those 700 feet as my remaining strength ebbed away (slogged because it was a muddy mess). As I said above, I hated the huge descent from the top. It just wouldn’t end and it was rare that there was even a 50 foot stretch of straightaway where I could release the brakes for a few seconds.

I finally got to the bottom of the descent and hit the mile 88 aid station at 10 hours 8 minutes. I stopped just long enough to chug two cups of Gatorade and listened attentively as the aid workers told me that I was in the home stretch and it was a “piece of cake from here.” Bastards. I remembered seeing another climb at the end when reviewing the elevation chart prior to the race, but I thought it was only about 400-500 feet of climbing. It turned out to be over 800 feet of pure hell as it was sunny and hot, the legs were toast and I just wanted the misery to end. A lot of riders were walking at this point. I just kept slogging. Yes, “slogging” is the word for the day. I crested the top and was dismayed to find yet another frickin’ singletrack downhill to the finish.

I’ve never been more tired or sore in my life when I crossed the line . . . way moreso than either of my two Leadvilles. I could barely move or walk. Everything hurt – calves, thighs, quads, palms, forearms, shoulders, neck, ass, feet, taint . . . I finished in 11:03. Damn. I was really hoping for the sub-11, but I just didn’t have enough course-sense to know where I was at any time. The finish actually came about 2 miles earlier than I was expecting. If I had known, I would have pushed it harder (or at least tried to push it harder) up the last hill to make the sub-11 finish. I had written it off about halfway up that last climb when I looked at my mileage on the Garmin and calculated a finish somewhere between 11:10 and 11:15. So hitting the finish line 2 miles early was actually a pleasant way to finish.

Anyway, I came in 194th place out of the 500 starters. Considering that it was a field littered with pro racers and seasoned amateurs, I was all-in-all pretty satisfied to finish in the top 40%. I’m not sure if I would do this one again in a year where I also raced Leadville. Thus it may be quite awhile before I do it again. Then again, like childbirth (so I’m told), the bad memories of these races seem to fade quickly and it doesn’t take long for stubborn fools like me to start wondering how I could do better next time if I just eat better, drink better, train better, know the course better, yada, yada, yada!!!! SOOOOOO, I’ll probably be back in 2009. Idiot.

October 29, 2008

2008 Leadville Trail 100 Mountain-Bike Race

2008 Leadville Trail 100
August 9, 2008

It’s hard to know where to begin. My narrative of the 2007 Leadville 100 was quite comprehensive and detailed and described a total experience that transcended the actual bike race. 2008 was a different experience altogether because of the tragedy of losing my best friend, Allan Goldberg, to cancer in June. Thus, a lot of description about pre-race preparation and training would not only be redundant, but somewhat hollow.

After the success of the 2007 LT 100, in terms of both physical performance and our amazing fundraising efforts for First Descents, it was clear that I would return for another go in 2008. Gary “GMO” Morris, Kevin “Hoof” Kane and Dean “Deano” Gregory all committed to return as members of Team First Descents and Neil “Nile” Markus, David “Fly” Flyer and Larry “Larry” Weinberg also jumped in as newcomers. (John “Wobber” Wontrobski rejoined Team FD in February and we were also unofficially joined by our new riding friend from Bethesda, Dave “Gonzo” Gonzalez.) In September, 2007, I contacted Chris Carmichael and worked out an arrangement for me, Gary, Kevin and Neil to register for a 12-month CTS coaching package at a discounted rate. Gary and I shared a young coach named Mike Durner and he had us start our training in October, 2007. Much of the fall and winter was spent increasing our power outputs through a heavy dose of interval training. The purpose of this was to increase our strength so that we could ride hills faster and longer at higher efforts. The spring months were spent continuing with intervals while also rebuilding endurance through long road rides. We did our first road century in April, a good 5 weeks earlier than our first century in 2007. We also incorporated a lot more hills and climbs into our longer road rides. All in all, we were a lot stronger entering the summer of 2008 than we were in 2007.

On the fundraising front, Allan and I spent the winter strategizing how we could increase the fundraiser for First Descents from the $81,000 that we raised in 2007. For starters, with the assistance of Christie Farin, fellow FD Board member and Nike executive, we were able to convince Nike to design and donate unique First Descents bike jerseys and exercise shirts. Through Allan’s connections at the Lance Armstrong Foundation, we were also able to commit Lance Armstrong to signing 5 jerseys for our 5 highest donors. We again tied the shirts and jerseys to minimum donation amounts and we started the fundraiser at the beginning of June.

On June 19, I received a call from Allan’s sister Amy telling me that Allan had joined his family in the Outer Banks for a beach vacation and had not left the couch for 4 days. He had undergone a chemo treatment the prior weak and had assured the family that his weakened condition was a result of the chemo. I had been noticing through the winter that his appearance was growing more frail, but like his family, he constantly assured me that his weakened appearance was nothing more than a sign of the cure, not the disease. Why we all decided to remain so blind is something that will trouble me forever. Not that there is anything I could have done. Allan returned to Washington with his parents on June 20th and I visited with him on Saturday the 21st. Nothing could prepare me for what I saw. In the 6 weeks since I had seen Allan in early May, he had morphed into a sickly and elderly person. It was heartbreaking. He couldn’t stand up on his own and he could only talk and walk in excruciating slow motion. It was clear that this was end-game and not recovery. Allan tragically passed the next morning and so began the worst weeks of my life.

I’m not going to spend more time on Allan’s passing as this narrative is about the 2008 Leadville 100. Sufficeth to say, Allan’s passing had a profound effect on my race outlook and the preparation leading into the actual race. It would be cliché to say that I was doing the race for Al, as I had developed a love for endurance bike racing and was clearly doing this for myself. That being said, I was hoping that my performance in this year’s race would be a tribute to Al. During the weeks after his passing, I whittled my life focus down to two simple things: training and fundraising. I was tireless in my fundraising efforts and, with the help of my friends and Team First Descents teammates, we actually exceeded the 2007 fundraiser by mid-July. By the start of the 2008 Leadville 100, we had raised close to $100,000 for First Descents. The final tally was just over $112,000. Amazing.

Lisa and I drove to Colorado on July 7 and spent 6 weeks in the Vail area. This was great for my bike training as it allowed me to fully acclimate to the altitude and also allowed me to train in comparable conditions to those I’d find in Leadville. On July 19 I raced in the Silver Rush 50 in Leadville. This was a very tough race and was a bit of a struggle for me. I cramped pretty badly at mile 35 and had to walk the bike for a good stretch of the final climb. For a year I had been experimenting with Endurolytes to avoid cramping, but I couldn’t seem to find the right mix. The day after the Silver Rush, Dean, Kevin, Wobber and I volunteered to man an aid station at the Silver Rush 50 Run. Toward the end of the day, I met a woman who was a local EMT and endurance biker and she told me about Succeed Caps. Succeed was a local Colorado company that made powdered pills containing about 340mg of sodium (vs. the 80 or so mg of sodium contained in an Endurolyte). I ordered 2 bottles and immediately started using these caps in preparation for the 100.

The week before the 100, the circus came to town. While I was thrilled for the company of my friends, I still couldn’t fully shake the doldrums from Allan’s passing. Additionally, I never felt like I fully recovered from the Silver Rush effort. We had a very nice week before the race. I did a couple training rides over the first 25 miles of the Leadville course and did some easy rides around Vail. I didn’t touch Columbine in training this year as I had no interest in seeing that beast again until race-day. We did rides on Monday and Wednesday and then a short ride on Friday just to keep the legs loose.

The Friday morning check-in and pre-race meeting was the usual combination of zoo, excitement, adrenalin and fanfare. There was an extra buzz in the air as Lance Armstrong would be racing with us and everyone was wondering whether he still had what it took to compete at a high level, much less knock off Dave Wiens. Lance spoke for a few minutes at the meeting. That was pretty cool. Ken also gave his annual inspirational speech. Last year’s mantra was “you are better than you think you are, you can do more than you think you can.” I was looking forward to hearing that line again but Ken changed it up a bit. This year’s mantra was “you each have an inexhaustible well . . . just keep tapping it and it will take you across the finish line.” He also reminded us again that while the race will be painful, even possibly 12 hours plus of painful, nothing will compare to the 365-day pain of quitting. So right.

We received a pleasant surprise in the mail on Friday as well. My friend from high school, Lisa Bernstein (“Bernois”), sent us a box of buttons to wear on our jerseys. The buttons contained a picture of Allan from the 2007 race. Bernois was with us in 2007 as cheerleader and photographer extraordinaire and was bummed to not make the trip this year. She also included a button with a picture of her for my Lisa to wear on race-day so that Bernois could still be present in spirit. Great stuff.

We spent the night before the race having a little family cook-out at the house, going over our bikes and food plans and prepping our wives for what we would need when we saw them at Twin Lakes (mile 40/60). My nutrition plan had changed completely since 2007. Last year I tried drinking exclusively bottles of Hammer Sustained Energy and Hammer gel and a big dose of Endurolytes. I couldn’t eat or drink the stuff by hour 6 and I ended up with major cramping and stomach issues. This year I was using PowerBar fruit punch formula, CLif Shot Blocks and Succeed Caps. I was assuming about 33 ounces of fluids, 6 shot blocks and 1 SCap per hour. Instead of bottles in my shirt pockets, I would use a 70ounce Camelbak and 1 24-ounce bottle from the start to Twin Lakes, switch to another 70-ounce Camel and 24-ounce bottle for the round-trip from Twin Lakes to Columbine and back, and a last 70-ounce Camel and 24-ounce bottle from Twin Lakes back to the finish. If the last set of fluids wasn’t enough, I would replenish at Pipeline or Carter Summit aid stations.

Race day morning, August 9, 2008, was similar to 2007. I didn’t get much sleep and was a bit of a zombie for the first few hours. I didn’t quite have the same excitement that I had in 2007. In fact, I felt a little feeling of foreboding as we drove up to Leadville at 5am on race-day. Something just didn’t feel altogether right and I knew it was mental. This was going to be a tough day.

Upon arrival, we walked our bikes down to the intersection of Harrison and 6th and took spots in the 9-10 hour slot. For a good part of the winter, I had set a ridiculous goal of sub-9 for this race, but it became apparent around the time of Allan’s passing that sub-9 was not realistic this year. I was still hoping to make sub-10 a reality. After putting our bikes down, we went in search of open toilets and then back to the cars to finish getting all of our gear, food, and hydration together and also to give some last instruction to the wives. We made a smart move the day before by driving down to the parking lot at Twin Lakes and saving two spaces right where we cross Rte 82 and descend into the parking lot. The girls were going to set up a fully-loaded First Descents aid station in the parking lot so that we wouldn’t have to deal with the circus at the official LT 100 Twin Lakes aid station.


At 6:10am we made our way down to our bikes and awaited the countdown. Here we were again. I thought of Al and I thought of the task at hand. For better or worse, I felt a lot more serious this year than last. I didn’t feel as nervous . . . just that I had a job to do. The music was blasting, the town mayor was ranting, the crowds were offering their last words of encouragement and the racers were itching to go. The gun went off at 6:30 on the nose and Wiens, Lance and the rest of the contenders led the pack down 6th. I rubbed the Allan button pinned to my chest for inspiration and then was off with the crowd.

As I said before, I was hoping for sub-10 hours and had mapped out the following targets:

1:50 top of Sugarloaf2:15 Pipeline outbound3:00 Twin Lakes outbound5:05 Columbine5:45 Twin Lakes inbound6:50 Pipeline inbound8:10 top of Powerline inbound9:59 Finish

The 3.5 mile descent down the pavement was pretty uneventful. I was with GMO and Nile and the other boys started a little behind us. We all stayed together at a pretty steady pace all through the dirt flats and then separated at the St. Kevin’s climb. GMO shot out a bit ahead of me and I shot out ahead of Nile. That was the last I saw of Gary for a long time. St. Kevin’s was pretty clogged with people and it was difficult to do much more than stick with the pace of traffic. I didn’t see any point exerting extra energy to pass people, so I just pushed up without great effort and reached the top a little quicker than I was expecting. The next few miles were pretty fast with no great pushes and the pavement descent was heavenly. Rounding the lake, we began the climb that would eventually take us to the top of Powerline. I kept a steady pace on the road and continued a steady pace of about 10mph on the Hagemann Pass dirt road. I was mostly passing riders on this stretch, but a couple guys passed me as well. The Sugarloaf climb was pretty easy and pretty fast. I again stuck with the speed of traffic and hit the top at 1:43 without even feeling like I had worked hard yet. So far, everything was going better than I expected. I was about 7 minutes ahead of the 1:50 pace that I had mapped out to this point and was starting to think that this was shaping into a great race day. The weather was perfect. It started cold at about 38 degrees, but warmed up quickly. I started with nothing more than shorts, bike shirt and arm-warmers and I had already removed my arm warmers.

The Powerline descent in 2007 was a pain in the ass. It was crowded and I had to ride the brakes the entire way down. This year, I was having a blast on the descent and there weren’t many people around me. Unfortunately, the good times were about to end. About 1/3 of the way down the descent, my rear tire audibly popped. Damn!! Everything had been going so well to that point. Oh well, I was hoping this wouldn’t cost me more than 5 minutes or so. I pulled over, turned the bike upside down, removed the wheel and took out the bad tube. I put in a new tube and began to pump . . . and pump . . . and pump . .. and pump. Shit, it won’t inflate. I removed the new tube and discovered that it had a hole in it. Jackass, why didn’t I test the tube yesterday! I took another tube from my seat-bag, got it ready and attached the pump. I tried to push in air, but the nozzle was clogged. For 5 minutes I tried everything I could do to get the tire to take air, but nothing was working. Now I was getting really frustrated. This couldn’t be happening. Deano came upon me a few minutes later and, noticing the FD jersey, he stopped to help. We tried using his pump, but to no avail. Finally he gave me one of his tubes and we spent a few more minutes trying to get his tube to take air. For whatever reason, it just wouldn’t fill up beyond about 28PSI. At this point I had been sitting in that spot for some 20 minutes and had been passed by a good 300 riders. It was killing me. I told Dean to go as I didn’t want to be responsible for him not buckling again (he finished in 12:07 in 2007). I finally got everything back together and gingerly descended Powerline and got to Pipeline aid station at 2:33. Knowing that I couldn't push the next 12 miles on a bad tire, I wrote off sub-10 and just went through the motions getting to Twin Lakes.


I pulled into the First Descents aid station full of piss and vinegar. It was good to see the whole crew, but I was in no mood for pleasantries. I needed to deal with this tire problem. On arrival, I grabbed a foot pump and when I went down to attach it to the nozzle of the valve, I noticed that the nozzle head had broken clean off. I don’t know how the hell air had actually stayed in the tire over the previous 16 miles. So, I went to a 5th tube, blew it up, got it back on the bike and as I started to ride off . . . pfffft. Another blow. Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME!!!! I pulled out the tube and found a rip in the rubber seam. For those of you counting at home, that’s 5 tubes and 5 totally separate issues. I was out of tubes. Lisa had to walk up and down the line of cars begging for spare tubes. Bless her heart, she found two. So now I installed tube number 6 and was finally ready to hit the trail. Between the actual fix times and the slower pace that I had to keep on the low pressure tire, I figured that I had easily lost some 40-45 minutes. My calculations proved to be correct as I hit the Twin Lakes aid station at 3:36 (36 minutes behind my target pace . . . of which I was 7 minutes ahead at the top of Powerline). I also later learned that I was in about 647th place at this point.

On the bright side, I wasn’t tired. In fact, physically I felt pretty good. Except that I had been holding in a piss for about the last 2 hours! About ¼ mile above Twin Lakes, I finally pulled over and relieved myself. Staring into my stream of urine, I felt a new surge of resolve. Ah yes, the strange places where we find our inspiration! Anyway, with sub-10 out of the question, I needed to set a new goal. As I was close to 40 minutes behind my targeted pace, I decided to simply add 40 minutes to my end goal and shoot for a 10:40 or better finish. With a new goal in mind, an eerie calm came over me and my attitude completely changed. Gone was the frustration and back was the resolve. I got back on the bike and opened up the leg-throttle. I started passing riders quickly on the Columbine climb and just kept picking people off, first one by one and then groups of riders. About 1/3 of the way up, Lance and Wiens stormed by in the opposite direction. A year ago I was a bit dismayed when Floyd Landis and Wiens shot past me the other way as I realized how far ahead they were. This year, I didn’t even think about it. I was on a mission to get to the top and make up time. I kept a very steady average 5mph pace for most of the climb and must have passed well over 150 riders (including Nile and Wobber). When the road took a turn up and to the right into the steeper rocky section, I stayed on my bike and kept pedaling and kept passing walking riders. This was a pure torturous hike-a-bike section last year. This year I rode up to where the trail veered up and to the right, dismounted for a short walking push and then continued to ride to the top. GMO passed me in reverse when I was still about a mile from the top. He was having a great race and was a good 45 minutes in front of me. About ¼ mile from the top, I passed Dean. He was struggling a bit, but seemed like he’d make it through ok. I asked if he needed anything and he just gave me one of those “get the fuck away from me” grunts. I felt some leg-twitching toward the top and downed a couple S-caps. That was the closest I came to cramping the entire day.

I pulled into the Columbine aid station at 5 hours and 39 minutes and immediately chugged 5 cups of Gatorade. In 2007, I recalled that the descent was so fast and harried and that I didn’t take my hands off the handlebars for a good 30 straight minutes to drink anything. This may have contributed to some of my cramping problems. I figured that the 5 cups of Gatorade would fill that void. I jumped back on my bike and began the descent back to civilization. In all, I spent less than 60 seconds at the Columbine aid station.

The Columbine descent was a blur. No stopping, no brakes, all balls. I knew that Gonzo was about 90 seconds ahead of me, so I was on a mission to try to catch him. I made a point of searching out the FD jerseys on the way down. First was Deano, who was pulling into Columbine a few minutes behind me. About a ½ mile down was Nile, about a mile down was Fly, then Hoof and finally Wobber. I never did see Larry. I felt frickin’ great on the descent! Now if only I could make it through this thing without any more mechanical issues. I blew through the official Twin Lakes Aid Station at 6:17 and reached the FD aid station a few minutes later.


I was still 4 minutes slower than 2007, but I did the Columbine round-trip a good 15 minutes faster this year than last. I also knew that I had a lot more strength and energy for the last 40 miles than I had in 2007. I actually had no dread of the final 40 this year. I gave Lisa and Bailey a quick hug, gave a high-five to Jon and Noa (who had flown out for the event), switched out my Camel and Bottle and shot out of there. I only partially processed the fact that Gonzo was still at the station when I took off.

Climbing up the road out of Twin Lakes was definitely a better experience this year than last. In 2007, a bad stomach cramp hit me on the way up the hill and it plagued me all the way to Pipeline Aid Station. No such worries this year. I crested the top of the hill, bombed down the dirt road and took the left onto the path that leads to the base of the North Face. I was able to ride up the first steep section, but then dismounted and climbed up the main face. Nobody rides this face. It is steep and soft and traction is impossible. It isn’t a fun bike push either as it’s like pushing a bike up slippery stairs. I Got back on the bike at the top of the Face and pedaled slowly trying to regain my breath and lower my heartrate from the hike. Made it up the next steep hill without much issue (though I had to walk the bike the second half of the hill because of biker traffic) and then gave a steady and consistent push for the next 8 or so miles of Pipeline. I kept trying to find some others with whom to paceline, but couldn’t really find anyone who was interested.

I arrived at Pipeline Aid Station at 7:29. Without the stomach cramps of 2007, I was able to do this Twin Lakes to Pipeline Aid stretch a good 10 minutes faster this year. Unsure of my fluid situation and wanting to be safe, I chugged 3 cups of Gatorade and ate a chocolate chip cookie. Again, not wanting to lose time lingering, I got back on my bike and carried on. Oh, it was also at this point that I learned that Wiens had won his 6th consecutive title, edging out Lance Armstrong by a mere 90 seconds. Wow, it must have been an incredible duel.

After passing the salt flats, I hit the open dirt road and tried to hold a consistent steady pace. Two riders pulled up next to me and asked if I wanted to jump on. I said sure and jumped in line. After about 2 minutes, I decided that even in a paceline, their effort was stronger than I wanted to exert right now. I thus thanked them and dropped off. I wanted to conserve as much energy as I could for the upcoming Pipeline climb.

Damn this narrative is really getting boring. I guess that’s good! No issues on the paved road leading to Pipeline and no issues on the opening half-mile of trail that takes us to where the trail turns up and the next hike-a-bike begins. Right at that turn was a guy offering water, soda or beer to the riders. That cracked me up. No thanks buddy, but keep up the good work! The next section is about a ¼ mile walk straight up the spine of Pipeline. The only riders to ride this section this year were apparently Wiens and Lance. As long as I could continue to avoid cramps, I knew this would be my last walk of the day. To keep me amused during the slog, I kept repeating the mantra that Kevin coined at the Silver Rush – “Me No Likey Hikey Bikey!” At the top of the hike section, I got back on the bike with a little trepidation. This is where the legs seized in 2007. No such worries this year. Other than one very small section, I had no trouble pedaling the entire way to the top of Powerline. Was it easy? Hell no. It still completely sucked. However, it was a helluva lot more pleasant to ride in weariness than to walk with cramp pains.

Toward the top of Powerline, the skies palpably darkened, the temperature dropped and it began to rain . . . and then hail. I looked at my watch. It was 3:30 in the afternoon. I had been at this now for 9 hours. Could I cover the last 18 miles or so in under 1:40? Only one way to find out. I threw on my rain jacket and did a conservative bomb down Sugarloaf as the rain picked up and it started getting a little slick. On Hagerman Pass road, it really started to pour and it was all I could do to see the road in front of me as a steady stream of water, ice particles and dirt-road grit splashed my face from my spinning front tire. I was also shivering from the cold. I couldn’t believe I was thinking this, but I actually couldn’t wait to get to the bottom so that I could begin the road climb on St. Kevins and warm up! I made the u-turn onto the pavement after Hagerman’s, continued down around the lake, took a quick side-trip in the woods to go to the bathroom and then started the climb. The rain turned to a drizzle and, halle-frickin-llujah, I warmed up. Yet annother far cry from last year. At the beginning of the St. Kevin’s climb in ’07, both legs buckled from cramps and I literally had to aim my bike to a grassy spot on the side of the road so that I could roll over and extricate myself from the bike. No such problems this year. I hit the hill at a decent pace and never broke stride all the way to the top. Without cramping, I could actually stand up and pedal and was able to alternate between sitting and standing the whole way up. You know the race is going well when you lose track of where you are on a climb and suddenly the end is right there . . . well before you expected it. Sweet!

I took the left turn back onto the trail and didn’t even bother stopping at the Carter Summit Aid station. I was now at 9 hours and 40 minutes and I knew it was tight to make 10:40. I covered the next three miles of rolling dirt in about 15 minutes, never once having to get off the bike like in ’07, and began the St. Kevin’s descent at 9:55. I was down St. Kevin’s in less than 5 minutes and hit the flat dirt section in full steam. I covered the next 3 miles of dirt at a strong pace of about 18-20mph and reached the paved intersection at 10 hours and 10 minutes on the nose. I had 30 minutes to break 10:40 and 33 minutes was the length of time it took me to cover the same ground in 2007. Since I felt stronger this year and didn’t have cramp issues, I felt reasonably confident that I could take 5 or 6 minutes off last year’s time. Regardless, I increased my pace and flew the last few miles on pavement at about 26-27mph before taking the left turn up the “Boulevard” and back to town. Meanwhile, during the last 5 miles, it appeared that I had gained some friends who had stuck to my wheel as I hammered the pace. Three guys and a woman made the Boulevard turn right in a paceline right behind me.

The Boulevard is the Leadville 100’s final “fuck you.” It is a 600 foot slogging ascent back to the finish line with the first quarter mile or so being rather steep and rock-strewn. I was determined to not only finish strong, but to shake the hangers-on that were latched to me over the last 5 miles. Although I subconsciously recognized and accepted that I was nothing more than a hack, middle-aged, mid-level, recreational endurance racer, I let my mind take over and imagined hitting the last ascent like I was one of the race leaders. I convinced myself that it was imperative that I didn’t let up and that I used up whatever energy I had left on this last climb. There would be absolutely nothing gained by crossing the line with extra reserves. So, I bounded up the hill, again alternating between standing and sitting. Each rider I passed gave me added energy and before I knew it I had reached the top.

I took the pavement left and then a last right on 6th Street and then hammered the last bitch of small hill. Cresting the top was the most beautiful scene of all - the FINISH banner.

It was still about ½ mile in the distance, but this was the best part of the race. I made a quick stop to take off my jacket and tie it around my waist as I wanted my First Descents jersey to appear front and center when I crossed the finish line. I literally floated the last several hundred yards to the finish line. I forgot to slow down as I approached and I think I surprised Lisa and Bailey as I stormed across the line in 10 hours and 35 minutes, one hand on the handlebars, the other clutching the Allan button on my chest.

I was quickly greeted by Lisa’s and Bailey’s hugs and kisses and then got a nice little hug and a medal from Merilee. I was also greeted by my coach, Mike Durner (who also raced and finished in about 8:45) and by my college buddies Mad Dog and Kagan. Lastly, I was approached by the guy who finished right behind me as he thanked me for pulling him along the flat miles of dirt and pavement before the Boulevard. It was a classy move on his part. While I didn’t achieve my sub-10, I felt like I had ridden a great race considering all the tire difficulties and was very proud of myself for being able to re-adjust my time goal on the fly and then comfortably beat it. I was tired, but not spent and, surprisingly, felt no emotion beyond joy and satisfaction. It was strange as last year I was a complete puddle of tears and emotion. Coming off Allan’s passing, I naturally assumed that I would be a mess at the finish line this year as well. Instead I felt strength and power and not sadness. Frankly, I think the last 6 weeks had sapped me of whatever tears I had left.

After clearing out of the finish area, I headed over and congratulated GMO. He finished in an amazing 9:45 and I don’t think I would have come close even if I had a perfect day with no tire issues. He gets to wear the crown for another year. The bastard. Now it was the waiting game for the rest of the crew. I figured that I had a good half-hour before the next arrival, so I went over to the food-tent and scarfed down three cups of Ramen noodles, 2 chocolate chip cookies and a can of Sprite. Yummy. Unfortunately I missed Gonzo crossing the line at about 10:55 while I was gorging. At 11:03, Deano crossed the line and got his buckle, thus successfully exorcising his 2007 demons. Nile crossed at 11:24. Nice job newbie! We all kept our fingers crossed that Kevin and Fly would make it before the 12 hour deadline. At 11:48, Fly crossed the line quite jubilantly. 11:50 hit. C’mon Kevin, where are you? At 11:51 Kevin crested the hill in the distance and he crossed the line at 11:52. Raising his bike over his head as he crossed the line, Kevin nearly took off the head of Anna Hansen, who crossed 5 seconds behind him. Buckles for everyone!! Well, almost everyone. Larry Weinberg and Wobber were still out there somewhere. I was surprised the Larry had issues as he’s a strong and stubborn MF. After Wobber’s performance at Silver Rush (well over 7 hours), I wasn’t surprised that he hadn’t finished yet. Larry finally crossed at 12:52 and Wobber was the last guy to cross the line at exactly 13 hours. All in all, it was a great race day.

Final Thoughts. Great race, tough year. Allan got me into this mess and now he’s not around to share it. That continues to be a tough thing for me to internalize. I’m not really sure what my goals for the race will be going forward. I set out on a very aggressive schedule last fall in the hopes of getting near the 9-hour mark. I discovered that the time and effort needed to get there just didn’t jibe with my lifestyle and family situation . . . especially considering all my other interests. However, the increased training definitely made a mark as I had substantial improvement this year over last year. Do I try to step it up further for 2009? Is there a real point to stepping it up? Will chopping another 45 minutes off my Leadville time make me a better person or athlete or make me happier? Doubtful. I liked my training plan and everything came together pretty well on race day. I feel like my nutrition and hydration was dialed in and I think I have room for improvement on a few fronts. I can certainly continue to increase my power during the winter. However, I don’t plan to think about endurance again until April. One thing is for sure and that is that I will be back on the starting line in 2009 and will hopefully continue to come back every year thereafter for as long as Ken and Merilee will have me.

I would be remiss if I didn’t shout out a few thank you’s again. First, of course, to my lovely wife Lisa and my daughters, Daryn, Arlyn and Bailey. Thanks again for all your love and support. Big thanks to my fellow Team FD buds for generously supporting the FD fundraiser and for enthusiastically sharing in this awesome experience. Thanks to all the wives and many friends who helped out with the Team FD aid station at Twin Lakes. That was awesome. You guys rocked.