October 18, 2012

Lance and USADA - My Take

Yesterday afternoon I went out for a bike ride.  It wasn’t any different from any of the other hundreds of rides I have taken in the last 7 years.  I had been staring at a computer screen for 5 straight hours and simply needed a release.  The bike always gives me that release and so much more. Over the years, my bike has satisfied my need for exercise, quenched my thirst for adventure, fueled my lust for competition (mostly against myself), taken me places without having to turn an ignition and provided a great social outlet.  Most importantly, it has given me the means to annually raise a large amount of money for First Descents, a cancer foundation that is near and dear to me.

           As I was riding on this beautiful sunny fall afternoon, I started thinking about Lance Armstrong and the voluminous number of pages of damning materials that USADA published last week (a large portion of which I have read word-for-word) that appear to prove beyond a shadow of rational doubt that Lance was doping during his 7 Tour wins and beyond.  Subconsciously, I think I had already reconciled that Lance had been doping but justified it with the belief that he was playing on an even playing field as they were all probably doping.  Additionally, I was still holding out some wishful hope that there was truth to all of his strident and vehement denials.  I read both of his books.  One thing that always stuck with me is how he maintained in the books that after going through cancer, he would have to be crazy to take PEDs and other drugs.  Crazy indeed.

            I reached a hill about halfway through the ride and stood up on the pedals.  As the heartrate increased and the legs started burning, I thought about all the other hills I have furiously climbed over the past few years channeling my inner Lance Armstrong on the L’Alpe D'Huez circa 2001.  However, on this ride and on this climb and for no apparent physical reason, I started slowing down as I was overcome with a deep abiding sadness.  I was sad that a hero was knocked from his pulpit.  I was sad that a man I admired appears to be a hypocrite and liar of the highest order.  I was sad that the indelible memories of those 7 Tour victories which entertained me, amazed me, captivated me and inspired me are forever tarnished.  However, my sadness extended well beyond Lance.  It was much more fundamental and deep.  It was the stark realization that an entire group of athletes, coaches, trainers, doctors, masseurs, administrators, family members and even those associated with the governing bodies of professional bike racing collectively and nearly unanimously violated the sanctity of sport and the purity of competition.  Lance was just the poster-boy and is certainly an easy scapegoat.  Not only did they all dope, but they laughed about it, they discussed it openly, they were cavalier . . . hell, they practically flaunted it.

The affidavits provided by Hincapie, Landis, Andreu, Leipheimer, Danielson and Zabriskie are frightening in their clarity as they provide a sordid visualization of the doping culture that was prevalent for an entire era.  What was really disturbing was that the affidavits confirmed and conveyed the common acceptance among an entire generation of riders that the decision to dope was a necessary and mandatory evil of professional bike racing.  How could none of these guys stand up at the time and defend the ideals of honest and fair competition that we were all taught as children and that we teach our own children?  How could they just go along and keep silent for years and years?  This code of silence that they call omerta is cute and quaint in fraternity barrooms, Elk Lodges and Masonic temples, but not on the world stage.  The USADA report wasn’t just an indictment of Lance Armstrong.  It was an indictment of an entire sport and, worse, an indictment of us as human beings.  

As I reached these conclusions, my pedal stroke became even heavier as I began to feel a sense of violation and loss.  Sure, the UCI can take away all the titles and medals and awards that these riders won during the “doping years” and they can hand out some lame suspensions after-the-fact.  However, nothing can ever compensate me and all the other fans, casual riders, amateur racers, up-and-coming pros and interested observers for the ideals, memories, awe, innocence and trust that these dirty athletes took away from us.  Yes, I suspected that it was going on, but I didn't really get it until I read the USADA report.   The time has come for professional cycling to make a choice.  Either it accepts that doping is part of the sport and simply lets them all do it.  Or it makes a real effort to get rid of it.  To me, the only way for them to do that is to impose lifetime bans for doping offenses.  That would be the only true deterrent from such a travesty happening again.

August 27, 2012

2012 Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race

2012 Leadville Trail 100
Mountain Bike Race
August 11, 2012
        I love the Leadville 100.  It is unnatural and questionably disturbing how much I love it.  I love the short but storied history of the race, I love the ambience, character and feeling of the town of Leadville, I love the characters associated with the race (guys like Ricky McDonald, Stephen Rodgers, Doc, UltraRob, Roger and, of course, the ageless wonder and mentor of all, Sir Arthur Fleming), I love the training and how strong it makes me feel, I love the pre-race and race-day experience, I love the sadistic suffering and, most of all, I love crossing the fu**ing finish line!  On August 11, 2012, I participated in and completed my 6th Leadville 100.  It was a great day.  It was a miserable day.  It was a rewarding day.  Like my other 5, it was a day I won't ever forget.
       This is the 6th time I have blogged about this race.  I'm going to take a leap of faith (which is not easy for an agnostic) and assume that anyone reading this one has read at least one of my other five.  Thus I'm going to skip all the background about why I do this race (originally as a challenge from my late best friend, Allan Goldberg), why I continue to do this race (personal challenge and as a fundraiser for the First Descents cancer organization) and why I will continue to do this race (because I'm an idiot and hopelessly addicted).  I will also keep course descriptions to a minimum as I have described the course sufficiently in my previous narratives.
       My finish times in the Leadville 100 improved on a nice downward track from 2007 to 2010 as I went 11:11, 10:35, 9:57 and 9:43.  In 2011, I was shooting for a sub-9 hour finish, but my plans were immediately derailed by an untimely flat-tire at mile 3.  I ended up riding most of the 2011 race with friends and finished in 10:43.  This year I was looking for some redemption and improvement.  I had worked hard all spring and summer using a slightly different training regimen.  I put in less volume, but rode harder when I rode.  By race-day, I felt like I was in great shape and while deep-down I didn't think I was in sub-9 shape, I felt that I could get within spitting distance if I had none of my usual mechanical issues or cramping.
      On race morning, GMo (Gary Morris), Hoof (Kevin Kane), Mateo (Matt Hayne) and I were out the door from Vail at 3:50am and we made the trek to Leadville, arriving at Mike and Laurel McHargue's Leadville abode (affectionately known as the "LeadAss Inn") at 4:50am, where we met Jamie Malin and Kyle Herren.  After exchanging some quick groggy 'good mornings,' we immediately grabbed our bikes and helmets and rode to the start, laying our bikes down in our respective starting corrals.  GMo, Mike, Kyle and I (along with our friend Mike Lamond) were in the red corral (3rd corral) based upon prior times in the LT100 and/or the Silver Rush 50.  Mateo was in the purple corral (5th corral) and Hoof was in the back corral as he didn't race last year.  We also had another 12 racers in various corrals making up the 23 riders of Team FD.
15 of the 23 riders from 2012 Team FD Leadville
Final Preparations


Pre-Race - Mike, Jamie, Mateo, Kevin, Ryan, Brent
      It was a chilly morning in the low 40s, which was actually warmer than prior starts, and dawn was slowly greeting us with the makings of a cloudless blue sky.   The gun went off promptly at 6:30am and we were off down 6th Street.  I took it easy down the inital paved descent to Leadville Junction and breathed a sigh (or was it a grunt?) of relief when we turned onto the dirt and both of my tires were still full of air (see 2011 Blog).  GMo was right behind me when we turned onto the dirt, but I lost sight of him about a mile before the start of the St. Kevins ascent. 
      The climb up St. Kevins wasn't too eventful.  I never pushed too hard, kept my heartrate below red-line and felt pretty good the whole way up.  I didn't really try to pass anyone and pretty much kept the riding pace of those around me.  Several uppity guys passed me, but I didn't feel the need to try to be a hero this early in the race and was looking forward to seeing where things stood when I reached Carter Summit at mile 10.  I would be happy with anything under 55 minutes.
      I reached Carter Summit in 53 minutes . . . 4 minutes faster than my previous fastest time to this point.  It was still far too early to tell whether 9 hours was possible, but I was definitely off to a promising start.  I used the St. Kevins' road descent to ditch my arm-warmers and chug about 12 ounces of fluids.  As I was making my way around the last curve at the bottom of the descent, I felt my front tire start to slide on the pavement.  I rode another couple hundred yards hoping upon hope that I was imagining things, but noooooooo, I wasn't.  Flat tire.  How many times do I have to read this book?!?!  I had just bought brand new Maxxis Aspen tires 10 days ago and had the shop do the tubeless installation just to be sure it was done right.  I rode on them 5 or 6 times to ensure that the sealant spread throughout both tires and that the tires were properly seated to the rim.  I bought two brand new rim strips and two new new tubeless valve-stems.  Unfrickinbelievable.  I pulled over and began inspecting the tire and discovered air escaping from a small puncture hole smack in the middle of the tread.   Apparently the hole was too big for the sealant to seal it (nice deduction right?), so I figured that I'd have to stick a tube in the tire.  Just as I was about to take apart the tire, GMo pulled up and said that he had a special kit with a gummy rubber substance that plugs punctures.  He pulled out a needle, shoved the rubber stuff into the hole and, presto, the leak was plugged.  I pumped up the tire with a CO2, waited for GMo to relieve himself and then we were off again.  The repair took about 5 minutes, but I wasn't panicking as there was plenty of race to ride.  Also, maybe GMo and I could actually work together from here forward to make up the lost time.
       At this point of the race, the pavement turns up toward Hagerman Pass road and I put the bike in the middle front ring and started pushing up at a pretty strong pace.  Assuming GMo was right behind me, I didn't look over my shoulder for about a half-mile and when I did, I saw that GMo had fallen a good 100 yards back.  I hope he didn't think I was an asshole for scooting out ahead of him.  Then again, it was too early in the race to slow down and wait if he was simply not feeling strong enough to keep up and I was pretty sure he recognized that.  Upon making the turn onto Hagerman Pass Road, GMo was nowhere to be seen and I just kept plowing ahead.  My next time checkpoint to measure my progress was at the crest of Sugarloaf Mountain.  I originally projected needing to hit this summit at 1:35 to remain on a 9-hour pace.  With the flat tire fix, I was thinking that I would be ok if I could get to the top in under  1:40.  I rode steadily up Sugarloaf, again not pushing too hard or red-lining, and made it to the top in 1:38.  Ok, I was starting to think that I could overcome the early flat and still have a shot at 9.  If not 9, then I felt really confident about something well under 9:30.  Cue up the foreboding music.
       The Powerline descent was going well.  There was plenty of space between riders and the trail was in great shape.  Then about 1/3 of the way down the descent, the next 'fuck me' moment hit as my front tire hit a rut and instantly went from fully inflated to completely flat.  One minute I was gleefully flying along, the next minute I was nearly crashing into the side bank as the front-tire had no traction.  Arrrggggghhh!!  I pulled the bike off the trail and into the woods and looked down to find that the tire had unseated from the rim (known as a tubeless tire burp).  Now I had three choices:  (1) attempt to re-seat the tire to the rim and inflate it, (2) take off the tire and throw in a tube . . . which I was now regretting not doing when I flatted the first time, or (3) throw the bike into a frickin' tree.  Wisely, I quickly eliminated option 3.   I briefly considered option 1, but then recalled that when I bought the tires 10 days ago, Dan at the shop actually had a very difficult time getting the tire to attach to the rim, and that was using a powerful air-compressor.  There was no way my little can of CO2 was goint to do the trick and if I tried, the end result was that I would probably blow (no pun intended) through all my CO2 and still end up with a flat tire without any other means for inflation.  Thus it was option 2 . . . inserting a tube.  The whole process of determining my options, selecting option 2, cleaning all the gooey sealant out of the tire, searching for any burrs or other sharp protrusions, putting in and inflating a tube, checking on the plug that GMo inserted and getting the tire back on the bike probably took 7 or 8 minutes.  Clearly this is a skill I need to practice.  
         Now I was really bummed out.  Some 300-400 riders probably passed me as I was repairing the tire and reality was setting in that flat-tires had once again derailed my race.  I got back in line with Powerline descenders and the pace was drastically slower than what it was prior to the flat.  To add insult to injury, I started noticing that my rear-tire was feeling a bit squishy around the last turn at the bottom of the descent.  Of course.  Why not?  All I could do was laugh as I got off the bike yet again, threw the CO2 over the valve and blew it back to full pressure.  Maybe I would finally get lucky and the sealant in the rear tire would find the leak and seal it.  If not, I would simply wait until the air pressure dropped again and then put a tube in the rear as well.  Whatever.
Powerline Descent (picture taken by Tom Lining)
      So, three flats in a 10-mile stretch.  Story of my Leadville life.  That's 9 flats in 6 years of this race.  Not normal.  I turned onto the pavement off the Powerline trail in a pure funk of disappointment and frustration.  Once again, all of my time-goals were shot to hell and I wasn't really in the mood to formulate new goals.    I rode the next 5 miles to Pipeline trying to fight apathy.  I didn't pedal particularly hard and I really tried to focus on just enjoying the sights and sounds of the race.  I even briefly thought of slowing down and waiting for Kevin, but I didn't know how far back he was and, frankly, I wasn't so sure that my presence to him wouldn't have the opposite effect and annoy the crap out of him.  I hit Pipeline at 2:24 . . . a good 24 minutes slower than my projected 9-hour pace.  An outsider looking in might say "so just ride the same ride from here out and try to finish in 9:24."   Unfortunately, that's just not how it works.  The difference in the speeds of riders passing through Pipeline at 2:24 versus 2:00 is significant.   Morevoer, where that 24 minutes was really going to cost me was on the last 3 miles of Columbine as I would be hike-a-biking a bit lower down the trail.  Wah wah, woe is me.  Get over it.
      I actually enjoyed the Pipeline section, riding it at a nice leisurely pace and, physically, I felt great when I crested the last rise before dropping down to Twin Lakes.  While screaming down the pavement to the Aid Station, I vowed to myself that I wasn't going to impose my frustration on Lisa or anyone else out there to support us.  I pulled into the Aid Station with a smile, grabbed a new bottle and Camelbak, gave a hug, kiss and big thank you to Lisa, gave a high-five to my buddy Jon Lerner who made the trek over from Aspen and then took off for Columbine alongside Jamie Malin (who was leaving the Aid Station the same time as I).

FD Aid Station - Twin Lakes Outbound - With Lisa and Jon Lerner

     We passed through the Twin Lakes timer at 3:17 and blew through the tunnel of humanity at Twin Lakes.  Wow, this was the biggest mass of people at Twin Lakes in my 6 years of this race . . . even bigger than the Lance years!  Very cool.  Heading up the first small climb out of Twin Lakes, I stopped for a few minutes to try to go to the bathroom, but did not succeed.  A bit farther up, we came upon fellow Team FD'er Dirk Sorenson trying to fix a chain that had gotten stuck between the front chain ring and the frame.  Jamie and I both got off our bikes and Jamie was able to pry the chain loose.  Continuing on, Jamie pulled away as we began the Columbine climb and I wasn't yet in the mood to chase him.  At this point, I still had not re-set any time goals and was still lacking motivation to try to hammer up Columbine.  I briefly pulled over and turned on my Ipod and just started riding a steady relaxed pace up the climb.  At about the 4th switchback, I finally began to remove my head from my ass (where it had been firmly entrenched since flat #3) and started thinking about how I wanted to ride the next 6 hours.  I also started thinking about my friend Brad Reiss for whom I had proclaimed earlier in the week that I would be honoring with this race.  Brad was sitting home in his apartment in New York wearing his Team FD bike jersey and following my progress on the live-timing website.  It was time to make him proud and stop wallowing.  While a personal best time was probably out of reach, I decided that it was still important to me to finish with a 9 in front of my name and not a 10.  With that, I immediately stood up on the pedals and increased my pace.
     I caught and passed GMo between the 8th and 9th switchback (he obviously got past me when I was fixing flat #2) and then passed Jamie between the 9th switchback and the end of the dirt road.  As expected, I had to dismount from the bike as soon as the trail hit the steeper rocky section as it was a line of walkers in front of me and the effort required to ride past the walkers while simultanously avoiding oncoming descending traffic was not worth the expenditure.   I rode a couple sections where it flattened out, walked the steeper sections and finally got on the bike for good a few hundred yards before the trail turned left across the last upper ridge.  I arrived at the Columbine Aid Station at 5:12 and spent just enough time there to chug a cup of gatorade and then move out.  The climb from Twin Lakes took 1:55.  That beat my 1:57 ascent in 2010 despite the 2-3 minutes spent helping Dirk and trying to relieve myself.  It was still well off the 1:45 pace I needed for sub-9, but I think the story would have been quite different if I had been on 9-hour pace when passing through Twin Lakes.
     Sharing the trail with hundreds of ascending riders to my left, I had no choice but to take the descent fairly conservatively.  I saw Jamie and GMo in the early stretches and then slowly passed other Team FD riders lower down the trail.  At the bottom of the rocky section, I started to get concerned as I still had not seen Kevin.  I went through the 1st, 2nd and 3rd switchbacks and still saw no sign of him.  Finally, just before the 4th switchback, I came upon Kevin walking his bike.  He gave me a look of frustration and resignation, but I was going too fast to do much more than just frown and tell him to keep fighting.

      I made it back to Twin Lakes feeling good, crossing the timer at 5:49 and then arrived at the Team FD aid station at 5:53.  Once again, I switched out my bottle and Camelback for new ones and also quickly chugged a 20 ounce bottle of Infinit to rehydrate as I barely drank anything during the Columbine descent.  I gave another hug and kiss to Lisa, a quick handslap to my dad and was off for home at 5:55.

Returning to FD Aid Station from Columbine

      In 2009 and 2010, I rode the 43.5-mile finishing stretch in exactly 3:57.  I felt stronger today than in those two years, but today we also had a massive head-wind blowing north to south which I knew would be a huge buzz-kill for most of the ride in.  I simply assumed the two factors (feeling stronger vs. headwind) would cancel each other out and I would be looking at something pretty close to a 9:52 finish (5:55+3:57=9:52).  Not as good as my 9:43 in 2010, but respectable nonetheless.
     Now that my finish time was preordained, I will try to quickly get through the last 43.5 miles.  Pipeline inbound was relatively tame, though the wind definitely slowed things down leading to the single-track.  The single-track was the usual slow slog and the rest of Pipeline was uneventful.  I did come upon my friend, Matt Delaney, about 2/3 of the way through the Pipeline and tried to encourage him to ride with me the rest of the way, but he had that glazed I'm-in-my-pain-cave-leave-me-the-flock-alone look in his eyes and he told me to ride on.  I reached Pipeline Aid Station in 6:57, which was still pretty much right on a 9:52 pace.  As an aside, for the past 3-4 hours, I had this annoying underlying feeling that I needed to pee, so I once again pulled over and tried to relieve myself.  I pushed hard, I thought of raging streams, I tried deep breaths and zen-like concentration . . . all to no avail.  Back on the bike.
     The headwinds between the section from Pipeline to Powerline were ridiculous.   There was one point where I was in a paceline with 6 other riders and we couldn't get over 11mph . . . on FLAT GROUND!  Brutal.   Finally got to Powerline, rode up the initial section and then settled in for the 10 minute grinding walk when the trail turned left and streaight up.  This walk is totally miserable and will always be totally miserable, but it is what it is.  At least this year we had some cloud-cover and it wasn't blistering hot like the past few years.
Turning onto Powerline (Inbound)
     After cresting the 1st of 4 false summits, it was back on the bike for the remainder of the Powerline climb.  There were several points where I thought of dismounting and walking, but figured that as long as I wasn't cramping, I might as well keep riding.  The rest of the ride up Powerline was its the  usual painful, arduous, mind-f**k, but I've learned through experience to just shut everything off, "put my brain in a box" and keep pedaling forward, one revolution at a time. 
     I reached the top of Powerline at 8:21, right on schedule, had a fun descent down Sugarloaf and got around the bottom of Turquoise Lake and began the pavement climb up St. Kevins at 8:35.  Normally I don't mind this climb.  In fact, I should have really enjoyed it today as it was one of the few spots on the last 43.5 miles where we actually had a tail-wind.  However, I just wasn't feeling the mojo on this climb today.  In fact, I was really starting to feel like dog-shit.  Ironically, I didn't fare too badly timewise on this stretch, as I made the climb in 23 minutes and arrived at Carter Summit at 8:58.  Barring another flat, I would make it home in 50-55 minutes and easily break 10 hours.
    At Carter Aid, I quickly swallowed a few pieces of watermelon and continued on.  There are three punchy little climbs between Carter and the top of St. Kevins that I've been able to ride each of the past three years.  This year, I made it up the first two, but just didn't have the energy (or desire) to ride up the 3rd one.  I knew it would only cost me about 30 seconds, but was still a bit surprised by my fatigue.  I bombed down the St. Kevins descent, nearly crashing from a hidden ditch about 3/4 of the way down and then got in with a small group of riders from the base of St. Kevins all the way to the base of the Boulevard.  I used up the remaining reserves in my tank picking my way through the rocks over the first 200 yards of the Boulevard and then pedaled up the remaining road to town in a catatonic state.  Even the final triumphant turn onto 6th Street was a chore and, for the first time in 6 races at Leadville, I felt very little exuberance riding up the last short 1/2 mile to the finish.  I was simply done and checked-out.
    I sluggishly limped across the finish line with a finishing time of 9 hours, 52 minutes and 49 seconds.  How's that for spot-on?  I received the finisher's medal and obligatory hug from Merilee and then got my usual wonderful hug from Lisa and also one from my dad.  Then I leaned against the fence.  And then I slid down the fence and simply sat in a daze.  I was totally spent, totally relieved and, once again, totally rewarded and proud.
Approaching the Finish Line

Brent and Dad
Brent and Lisa - Sweet hairdo!

Jamie, Brent, Kyle and GMo at Finish
    So, what were my takeaways this year?  For one, I think this was my strongest effort yet.  That being said, I am not going to delude myself into thinking sub-9 was in my grasp.  Realistically, without the flats, I am reasonably confident that I would have finished around 9:20.  If I am seriously going to make a run at sub-9 in the future, I think the only way to do it is to train for 8:30 so that I have a margin for error.  While I rode pretty strong all year, I never really built my power to where I needed to be for sub-9.  This became evident in a training ride that I did with Mateo two weeks before Leadville.  Mateo and I crossed the line side-by-side in 2011 in a time of 10:43.  This year, Mateo spent the spring doing a regimen of twice-weekly power hill puke intervals and it showed.  On our very first climb up St. Kevins on the training ride, he effortlessly shot up the climb ahead of me and put some huge distance between us.  Now granted he is also only 29 years old, but his training clearly put him in a better place.  Another thing that Mateo did was lose a ton of weight early-on in the process.  He said that he started eating smart as soon as Leadville 2011 was over so that he was already in fighting shape when he started his training in January.  Mateo finished this year in 8:46.  I have always taken the wrong approach by stuffing my face from September through December and gaining 15 pounds under the misguided expectation that I would simply lose it all between January and August.  What I've learned is that I can't effectively build power if my body has to spend all of its energy losing weight.  Thus my goal for the next 4-5 months has to somehow include keeping the weight off.  Finally, I've convinced myself the last several years that it is important for my mental fitness to take an extended period off the bike from late October through February.  If I'm serious about sub-9, I should be riding throughout the year.  I just somehow need to find a way to keep it interesting during the cold winter months.
     And there it is.  Six Leadville 100s and six silver buckles.  All great and different experiences.  Right now I am pretty amped up to make one more strong run at sub-9.  Of course, that could simply be the normal post-race euphoria that may wane in the coming weeks.  We'll see.  One thing I do know for sure, regardless of whatever I choose to do fitness-wise in the next year, is that I will be back on the starting line for #7 next year.  Only 4 more finishes until the 1,000 mile buckle!
     For a cool video of my race, check out:  http://www.goraceday.com/watch/17107/.