|Brent on St. Kevin's at the Leadville 100|
Once again it’s time for that annual self-indulgent stroll down Leadville 100 recap lane. On Saturday, August 14, 2010, I competed in and completed my 4th Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race in Leadville, Colorado. This annual torture-fest is sadistically my favorite day of the year and the culmination of all athletic pursuits over the prior 11 months. 104 miles of dirt, grime and rocks on trails that climb up to 12,550 feet in the sky and with cumulative climbs of over 14,000 feet. It’s tough, it’s special, it’s beautiful, it’s . . . idiotic and borderline psychotic. Doesn’t say much for me, does it?
|Leadville 100 Course Profile|
Click Here for Animated Overhead View of the Leadville 100 Course
The cool thing about this recently acquired bike racing hobby is that I am now, at nearly age 43, in the best shape of my life. Which begs the question of why I waited so long to get that way? I “coulda been a contendah” if I hadn’t wasted my 20s and 30s devoted to career and children and beer and cheetos. Just kidding honey! Anyway, I first did this race in 2007 following a challenge from my now deceased best-friend Allan Goldberg. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 and wanted me to do a triathlon. I don’t run or swim, so I laughed in his face. Not to be deterred, he pulled some mental chicanery by using my love of mountain biking to challenge me to do the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. Accepting his challenge changed my life. That story is well told in my prior blogs, so a quick cut to the chase: In 2007 I participated in and finished my first LT100 in 11 hours and 11 minutes. In 2008, I improved to 10 hours and 35 minutes. In 2009, I improved yet again to 9 hours and 56 minutes. Yeah baby, who doesn’t like a good trend! So what was in store for 2010?
I was a wreck the days before Leadville. I wanted the sub-9 so badly and had worked so hard for it, but in the back of my mind . . . actually the front of my mind . . . I just knew that somewhere my fitness had reversed and I wasn’t in the right form to do it. I couldn’t sleep during the 3 nights preceding the race. Intellectually, I knew I was being ridiculous and irrational, but I couldn’t find that trigger that would allow me to shut off my brain and sleep. For the first time in my four Leadvilles, I actually couldn’t wait to just get the damn race over with. I was tired of my bike and I was tired of worrying about training rides and fitness levels. I knew I would try my best to the end, but I also knew that I just didn’t have it.
Some 1582 riders were registered for the 2010 LT100. I had heard that there were some 180 no-shows. 1400 riders riding is still a helluva lot of human bodies on bikes in one cramped space. Shit, did I say the word “cramped?” Bad omen. The weather was diametrically opposite what it was in 2009. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and there wasn’t a cloud predicted for the entire day. WHAT? That NEVER happens in Leadville. I had been in Colorado since July, 6 and had seen rain EVERY . . . SINGLE . . . DAY until yesterday. What are the odds? This was fantastic news . . . if you had a 10am tee-time or a family reunion picnic. For an all-day bike race at this altitude . . . not so much. No clouds means crazy direct sunshine. Crazy direct sunshine means hot dry dusty heat. Hot dry dusty heat over the course of a 9+ hour bike ride at 10,000+ feet altitude is a recipe for misery. Damn I wish I could remember the morning when I became a “glass is half-empty” guy! Where was my silver lining? I guess sometimes experience is a bad thing and I had too much experience with days like this. At least it was 37 degrees at the start, so no heat worries yet.
At 6:30 the gun went off and we were off and riding in the 17th Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race. Like last year, we had some helicopters filming the race. Unlike last year, they weren’t here for Lance Armstrong who bailed from the race 4 days before. No matter, Lance’s presence from last year had turned this race into a national and international carnival . . . I mean, sensation. The Leadville 100 had easily become the most recognizable mountain bike race on the planet and despite the fact that there was no prize money or professional points awarded to the top guys, many of the top mountain bikers in the world were here this year to see what the hoopla was about . . . or to satisfy their sponsors who told them to get their asses to Leadville! The guys at front included 6-time champion Dave Wiens, Tour de France podium rider Levi Leipheimer, Olympic mountain bikers and endurance phenomenoms Jeremy Horgan-Kubelski (JHK) and Todd Wells, local endurance icon Jay Henry, legends Tinker Juarez and Ned Overend, and budding stars Matt Shriver, Len Zanni and Max Taam. Without Lance, any one of those guys had a shot at winning and the race at the front was sure to be an exciting and dramatic spectacle. I’m sure I would read all about it tomorrow. For now, I had my own race to ride.
|2010 Leadville 100 Start|
Click Here for Video of 2010 Leadville 100 Start
I started down the pavement with GMO (Gary Morris) on my left and Gonzo (Dave Gonzales) on my right and Squatter (Kevin Kane) behind me. GMO has done this race with me each of the past 3 years (as has Squatter) and his personal best time was set in 2008 with a 9:48. Like me, he also was dreaming of a sub-9 and I figured that my best shot of reaching that goal was to stick with him no matter what. The Leadville start is insane with 1400 bikers jockeying for position and speeding down a 3-mile pavement descent. I never took my eyes off GMO’s rear . . . tire . . . and stayed glued to him all the way down the pavement section, through Leadville junction and along the dirt road to St Kevin’s. Gonzo and Squatter were not able to keep in contact with either of us. At the base of the St. Kevin’s climb, I stayed attached to GMO’s wheel and we kept a decent pace up the steepest part of the climb. So far so good. Since he had beaten me in every race we did together over 4 years and I was having no problem staying with him, maybe I was in better shape than I thought. About ¾ of the way up the steep climb, GMO slipped and put his foot down and had to quickly move to the side of the trail to let others pass. I didn’t want to disturb my rhythm, so I kept moving and assumed that he would quickly catch back up to me. That was the last time I would see him for the next 43 miles. I crested St. Kevins and the three mini-climbs after St. Kevins and hit the Carter Aid Station at 55 minutes. Not bad. Not great. Actually very mediocre. I used the downhill pavement descent to chug from my bottle, eat a hammer-gel and pop an S-Cap and then hit the uphill pavement on the other side of Turquoise Lake at a fairly benign but steady pace. Made the turn on Hagerman Road and again kept a steady pace of about 11mph. I knew I should be going faster, but just felt sluggish enough that I didn’t want to push it with so much riding ahead. I continued at a decent pace up Sugarloaf and hit the top at 1:38. This was about 8 minutes behind the pace I thought I needed for sub-9, but was 7 minutes faster than I had hit this spot in 2009. Still no sign of GMO. The sun was now out in force and it was getting warm.
The Powerline descent this year was a blast. The trail was in beautiful shape and the conditions were perfect for a screaming descent. I passed a number of riders on the descent, including Roxy Hall. Roxy was one of the riders featured in the 2009 Leadville documentary called “Race Across the Sky”. A Leadville native, she had been brutally banged up in a horrible car-bike wreck in the summer of 2008 and bravely fought her way back to participate in and buckle in the 2009 LT100. Speaking of “Race Across the Sky” (don’t mess with me, I’m Captain Segue), the production company for the movie is called Citizen Pictures and they are based in Denver. About a month before the race, I heard through the grapevine that they would be filming a Race Across the Sky sequel and were looking for interesting feature stories for the new movie. Apparently they realized that last year’s version was too Lance-centric and there wasn’t enough storytelling. In late July, Lisa and I visited the Citizen Pictures offices and met with Cyndi Ortiz and Mallory Potock to pitch the First Descents story. Shit, now I have to perform a digression wrapped inside of a digression as I didn’t really cover First Descents earlier.
First Descents is a Colorado-based foundation that runs outdoor adventure camps for young adults with cancer. When my friend Allan Goldberg challenged me to do the first LT100, he was Executive Director of First Descents. After accepting the challenge, I formed a team of friends to do the race and we set ourselves up as Team First Descents and used the race as a fundraiser for First Descents. The concept took hold and we have raced each year under the Team FD banner and have raised over $350,000 for FD in the process. In addition, I am now Chairman of the Board of Directors of the foundation and Lisa is Director of Communications for the organization. THAT is the story that we pitched to Cyndi and Mallory and they LOVED it. They told us the next week that they definitely wanted to feature our team and our story in the next movie and would be filming us before, during and after the race and would also film and interview our crew at the First Descents’ aid station at Twin Lakes.
On Friday before the race, they conducted a great interview with me and Ryan Sutter and they also gave us a camera to record the goings-on at the McHargues on race-morning and at the aid station. Additionally, each member of our group was given a sticker to put on our number plate on the front of our bike so that their film crew would know that we were “persons of interest” in the race. It was very hip and exciting stuff and we were all calculating what percentage the new movie would use of each of our remaining 15 minutes of fame (well, everyone except Ryan as he’s already famous). So we had that going for us. End digressions.
|Feed me Please!|
We left the aid station and crossed the dam, hitting the Twin Lakes timer at 3:02. The dam was packed with people . . . even more that last year. It was deafening and awesome. Leadman and I went through the trail-gate one after another and then hit the small climb up the ridge overlooking the lake. Leadman accelerated up the trail and my legs would not respond. I felt like I was pedaling through mud. Slowly Leadman pulled away from me and there was nothing I could do except wave goodbye. I didn’t actually wave with my hand . . . but with my eyes. Then I took a drink from my Camelbak. Oh you’ve got to be kidding me!! Either my taste-buds had been inextricably dulled or I was drinking water . . . straight water. I took another pull. Yep, it was just water. Somehow my wonderful and loving and caring and diligent wife had failed to mix my Camelbak water with the Powerbar powder. Since the powder is what provides n-u-t-r-i-t-i-o-n, this was going to be a problem. I had 24 ounces of formula in my water bottle. On a hot day like this, that would last me about 45 minutes. However, Columbine was a 2-hour climb. Thus I was going to have to ride the top reaches without fuel. At first I was angry. Then I was annoyed at myself as I probably should have picked up on this possibility when I saw that the water bottle hadn’t been mixed when I arrived at the aid station. Then I actually felt sympathy for Lisa as I knew she would feel horrible when she discovered her mistake. For now, there was nothing I could do. This was Leadville and Leadville is about overcoming obstacles, big and small, that ALWAYS arise during a race.
Leadman got farther and farther ahead and I started feeling more and more like colon fudge. After passing over that first ridge and riding through the valley, I started the actual Columbine climb with a sense of something between foreboding and resignation. I was pedaling slowly and every revolution was an effort. I wanted nothing more than to find a patch of grass and take a siesta, but knew that would only prolong the crappiness that I felt. I finished the formula bottle after the first of ten switchbacks and immediately took two S-Caps and ate 2 hammergels to try to counteract the lack of nutrition in my Camelbak. Nearing the second switchback, the first lead riders began to pass the other way. First was JHK. Less than a minute behind him was Levi. Next was Todd Wells followed shortly thereafter by Wiens and Bishop. I can only shake my head as I so clearly grasp the enormous difference in strength and talent that exists between them and me. Bye guys. When you are done, go catch a meal, a shower and a full football game . . . before I’m done! I put on some music to take my mind off the fatigue as I rounded the 3rd switchback. Then came the 4th and then the 5th switchback. Praise Mother Columbine that the switchbacks stayed in order! I found a slow rhythm at about 4mph and just stuck with it. I also hearkened back to an old saying of Allan’s and “put my brain in a box.” 6th switchback. 7th. 8th. I was slowly getting near the top of the dirt road and was ready to walk my bike a little bit. I remember wishing for this in 2007 and then hating the walk, but this time I was ok with it. I hit the 9th switchback and could start to feel some pre-cramp twinging in my knees and thighs. I finally reached the 10th switchback and the spot where the trail gets rocky and steep. This past Monday I rode this section in a training ride with absolutely no problem. Today, I didn’t even attempt it and dismounted. It was nice to be out of the bike seat. After a couple hundred yards of hike-a-bike, BAM, the cramps kicked in and I had to pull over and do some quick massage. I also bit directly into yet another S-Cap and washed the bitter powder down with a swig of water. Continuing on I was confronted with one of the funnier sights I’ve seen at this race as there was a guy standing to the side of the trail dressed in a vest and tie and holding out hot-dog bites and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer on a white towel and silver tray. It was comical, but I didn’t dare partake as a single bite would have sent my stomach to the circus.
The next mile and a half was spent alternating between hiking, pedaling and stopping to massage leg cramps. About a mile and a half from the top, Ryan passed me going down. I was glad to see one of us was doing well. Finally I reached the point where the steepness ended and I got back on my bike (just as Leadman passed me going down) and pedaled the last mile to the Columbine aid station, arriving at 5:02. I actually was shocked when I realized that I had made the climb in 2 hours. In 2008, I thought I rode up Columbine pretty fast and it took me 2:02. In 2009, I really thought I rode strong and it took 2:01. This year I felt like miserable camel-dung and actually rode up slightly quicker than the two prior years. Man oh man this race just confuses me to no end. At the turnaround, I quickly chugged three cups of Gatorade and filled my bottle with Gatorade and then got the hell out of the there.
The Columbine descent is a blast. For one, it is unadulterated mountain biking fun. Second, and more importantly, it signals the beginning of the return HOME! Starting down I began looking for familiar Team FD jerseys coming up. First was GMO. He was about 15 minutes behind me and didn’t look too happy. Next was Grayson at about 25 minutes back. Right behind him was Gonzo. Finally I passed Squatter at the bottom of the steep section and he gave me a big thumbs-up. Phew. I always worry about how Squatter’s doing as I want so much for him to do well, but am always concerned that he hasn’t put in enough training before the race. Continuing down the fire-road at break-neck speed I came upon Dirk about 2 miles lower. Behind him are still more riders. I think to myself that there is no way these people are going to finish, much less do it in 12 hours to buckle. I estimated that despite my feeling of fatigue and my murky self-perception of having climbed up Columbine in slow-motion, I still managed to pass some 1,000 ascending riders on my descent. What a far cry from 2007 when I was one of those riders in that bottom group.
I bombed back through the Twin Lakes dam at 5:39 and pulled into the FD aid station at 5:42. I would regret this later, but the first thing I said to Lisa when I pulled in was “Do you know what sucks about the Columbine climb?” She responded “what?” I then said “Climbing up without nutrition!” In retrospect, there was no upside to making her feel badly, but one doesn’t think clearly at that altitude after 60 miles of muscle rape. The truth of the matter is that I probably lost 10 minutes by not having the right drink mixture. However, at the end of the day, the 10 minutes was meaningless as I wasn’t going to do sub-9 with or without the right nutrition. I decided to spend a few minutes at the aid station and gather myself. I was sore and tired, but I wasn’t in agony and I didn’t have any concerns about getting through the last 42 miles. It was just a matter of how hard I wanted to go and what goal I wanted to go after. Did I mention that in some spheres of my life I am congenitally Type-A and must have a goal? Well, with my 9-hour goal out the window, I needed a new goal quickly and I immediately landed upon two. The first goal was to beat my best time of 9:57 set in 2009. The second goal was to beat GMO’s personal best time of 9:48 set in 2008. Both were doable if I simply rode the same time over the last 42 miles as I did last year. Last year I pulled out of Twin Lakes at 6 hours and did the last 42 in 3:57. Pulling out this year at 5:46, I calculated that a 3:57 would put me across the finish comfortably at around 9:43 . . . 5 minutes under GMO’s mark. I knew that I felt a lot better at Twin Lakes last year. However, I also just learned that “feeling better” isn’t necessarily the best indicator as I just climbed up Columbine faster than last year while feeling a helluva lot worse. Go figure.
|Time to Vamoose Back to Leadville. 42 Miles to GO!!|
At Carter, I emptied the remaining Accelerade on the ground where it belonged and refilled the bottle with Gatorade. I also ate a few watermelon slices and answered a quick question on camera from the Citizen Pictures guy who was standing there. Then I was off again for the final stretch. I covered the next 3 miles of trail without issue and then crested St. Kevins at 9:03. One more rocky descent to go and then it was all power pedaling to the finish. I conservatively bombed (sorry for the oxymoron) down the descent and hit the dirt trail at 9:10. I was a little surprised to have another headwind at this spot, but it wasn’t too bad. I looked for another biker to work with, but there was nobody within a ¼ mile of me in either direction and I couldn’t convince the nearest bovine to give me a lead-out. I hit Leadville Junction at 9:19 and reached the bottom of the “Boulevard” at 9:23. I’ve covered this in past blogs, but the Boulevard is the final fuck-you of this race. First of all, while this is advertised as the Leadville 100, the total mileage is actually about 103.5 miles and those last 3.5 miles start at the bottom of the Boulevard. The first 200 yards of the Boulevard are a steep pitch . . . well actually not that steep . . . but steep enough after 100 miles . . . and it is very rocky with boulders the size of elephants! Well, maybe little toy elephants. Many bikers dismount and walk this stretch. I stayed in my seat and just kept a constant slow spin to ward off the potential attack of some late flanking cramps. After 200 yards, the route just becomes a basic dirt road that climbs about 400 foot in elevation over 2 miles as it returns us to the heart of Leadville. Many guys on this section were flat-out finished and could barely turn the pedals over. For me, there is something about this last stretch that makes me want to go hard no matter how shitty I feel. The faster I nail this section, the faster I can be done and this is the last chance we have to give an effort that will have a direct impact on our final time. I stood up, put the bike in the middle front ring and pounded up the Boulevard with everything I had left. I wasn’t breaking any speed records, but I was passing people and I was feeling great about finishing strong versus limping in.
|Brent, Leadman and H-Town|
I was given my finisher’s medal and then slowly moved out of the finishing area to find a seat. I was coughing like crazy from all the dust and I was craving my annual post-race fix of Ramen noodles. I was quite surprised to learn that Leadman had finished the race only 4 minutes ahead of me. It’s too bad I couldn’t stay with him on that Columbine climb as it would have been a lot more enjoyable doing the last 60 miles with him. As for the others, Ryan finished in 8:31, GMO arrived in at 10:15, Grayson at 10:51, Gonzo at 10:56 and Kevin at 12:18. Dirk was apparently a DNF.
Another Leadville down and another Silver buckle in my pocket. So now what? Do I continue the pursuit of the Holy Grail that is 9 hours? I have to think long and hard about that. I guess I first have to figure out what made me feel weaker in the month before Leadville. If I don’t figure that out, then all the winter and spring training in the world is irrelevant. Next I have to figure out whether I want to expend another year of crazy training knowing full well that there are no assurances of success on race-day. I just don’t know.
After the awards ceremony on Sunday morning, Lisa and I took a ride to Aspen over Independence Pass. As we left Leadville, I drove a section of the LT100 course so she could see some of what we see on race-day. She was in awe of the beauty of the course and told me how great it must be to ride in such a beautiful place. I looked around and it dawned on me that I never once took in the sights and felt the beauty of my surroundings during the race. I was so consumed by my time and focused on my nutrition and energy levels that I failed to look around and smell the roses. Damn. Here I was . . . a guy who loves to mountain bike . . . and I got to go ride my bike all day long in this amazingly beautiful place . . . and I found no joy during the ride itself. In fact, how many times did I refer to the ride as torture? Isn’t there something wrong with that? Maybe next year I should forget about time altogether and just enjoy the ride. I could easily tone it down some 10-15% and feel little pain and just have fun . . . find friends to ride with and stay with . . . hang at the aid stations talking to crew and volunteers . . . SMILE and JOKE . . . formulate Haikus in my head . . .eat a hot dog on Columbine and drink a beer on Powerline. Maybe it is worth sacrificing some 60-75 minutes of time to gain perspective again. There is no question I’ll be back for the 5th buckle. I just need to spend some time figuring out how I want to do it. Of course GMO trying to reclaim his title may impact my thinking as well!