August 14, 2013

2013 Leadville Trail 100 Mountain-Bike Race

La Plata Grande
 2013 Leadville Trail 100
Leadville, Colorado
August 10, 2013
 
Insanity is commonly defined as doing the same thing over and over again with the expectation of a different result.  If that's true, then I was pretty much insane to approach my 7th Leadville 100 with hopes of achieving what, up to now, has been the impossible. 
 
For the past 4 years, I have lined up at the starting line at 6th and Harrison with dreams of earning La Plata Grande, the Big Gold Buckle that is awarded to those who finish this psychotic race in under 9 hours.  Between untimely flat-tires, cramps, stomach issues and a general exaggerated (and even delusional) sense of self-fitness, the closest I have come was a 9:43 finish in 2010.  Would this year be different or am I insane?
 
While I have tried not to make my Leadville aspirations a burden upon my family and friends, I have been secretly consumed with a 9-hour finish.  In 2011, a series of mishaps led me to cross the finish line in 10:51.  I refer to that particular race because I crossed the line with my friend Mateo.  In 2012, Mateo trained like a madman and returned to Leadville with eye-of-the-tiger resolve and finished the race in 8:40something.   Seeing Mateo make that leap inspired me into thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could finally do it too.  So this year, I decided to change a few things in my training to hopefully give me a better shot without imposing on my family.  Essentially, I upped the intensity on all my rides and lowered the volume.  Quality over quantity.  Intervals through the winter and hill repeats through the spring.  I didn't do a ride longer than two hours until mid-April and didn't do a long ride (4 hours plus) until mid-June.  My hope was that I had already built a pretty solid endurance base over the past 6 years and that an increase in power, not endurance, would lead to a faster time on race-day.  Another thing I did this year that differed from prior years was watch my weight.  Typically I would gain about 15 pounds each year between Leadville and January and then lose it all again by the following summer.  This year I only allowed myself to gain about 6-7 pounds in those early months and I lost them all quickly in the spring.  Finally, the last big move I made this year was to invest in a new steed.  After 6 years on my trusty Gary Fisher Hi-Fi Pro full-suspension 26er, I upgraded to a sleek Scott Scale 910 29er hard-tail . . . a pure speed machine.
Scott Scale 910
 
My first big test of the summer was the Silver Rush 50 in early July.  Even with massive cramps in the last 5 miles, I was able to beat my previous best time by 15 minutes with a 5:24 finish.  This was a good omen for Leadville.  I followed Silver Rush with several 80+ mile road-rides and two 50-mile mountain-bike rides on the Leadville course and was strong on all rides.  I was feeling a cautious confidence for Leadville but, as always, was trying to stay grounded in my expectations.

To anyone reading this, I apologize for what hereafter is going to be a slightly boring rendering of my taper week, race prep and the race itself.  After 6 of these narratives, I'm going to cut out most of the side stories and flavor and just cover the nitty-gritty of the race.  Besides, since only about 5 people actually read this, I mostly need to get it all down so that I can revisit it next year to remember what I did right this year!
 
Taper week this year was actually fairly active.  I did the 80-mile Copper Triangle road-ride with Lisa the Saturday before Leadville, climbed Vail Mountain on the mountain bike with Kevin Kane the Sunday before Leadville, did a 45-mile road ride on Tuesday (with three 1-minute all-out sprints with 6-minute recoveries), massage on Wednesday, 30-minute spin in the neighborhood on Thursday with a medium speed climb up Whiskey Hill (360 foot climb) and a Friday morning pre-race loop down and up the Boulevard in Leadville.  I carbo-loaded on Wednesday night with a pasta and chicken dinner at Ti Amo's and then pizza and pasta at the house on Thursday night.  On Friday night I went with blueberry pancakes and froze a few and nuked 'em at 3:30am on race morning for breakfast.
 

Race registration and the 'mandatory ' race meeting were the usual blah, blah, blah . . . even Ken Chlouber's 'inspirational' speech seemed to lack it's usual harrumph.  However, one important tidbit was conveyed at the meeting and that was that racers were no longer allowed to lay bikes down at the start at 5am and then leave them until a later return.  This was actually a relief as it meant that we could leave for the race from Vail about 45 minutes later than usual since there was no rush to get the bikes to the corrals so early.

Team FD

Once again I would be racing Leadville as a member of Team First Descents.  Team FD is a concept created by me and my late best friend Allan Goldberg to take on an athletic challenge and raise money for the First Descents cancer foundation www.firstdescents.org.  For a full discussion of First Descents and Team FD, read one of my prior Leadville blogs.  In short, the 2013 Team FD Leadville had 23 racers and we had raised over $103,000 for First Descents as of race-day.
2013 Team FD Leadville
 Race Day
 
I was awake at about 1:30am and couldn't fall back to sleep.  I finally went downstairs at 3:30am and had breakfast and attended to final preparations.  I left the house at 4:30am with my crew who consisted of my wife Lisa and my good buddy Kevin Kane and we arrived at Mike and Laurel McHargue's home in Leadville at 5:30.  I said no side-stories, but I lied.  Mike is a badass.  52 years old and he's done Leadman some 5 times (winning it once) and the LT100 7 times.  But what really makes him a badass is that he is scheduled for hip-replacement surgery 4 days after the race this year!!  Really?  Anyway, back to the story.  I had major butterflies on race morning.  After 6 LT100s, why should this be?  Well, very simple . . . it was because of the giant sub-9 albatross that was dominating my being and fucking with my inner juju.  I truly felt that this year I was in the best shape of my life and BECAUSE of that, the sub-9 drumbeat in my head and soul was louder than ever.  Thus the butterflies.  Flapping hard.
 
Some racers tape their projected split-times onto their handle-bars.  I knew this course so well and had studied the 9-hour splits for so many years that I knew exactly where I had to be and when.  In short, to hit 9-hours, I needed to be at the following points at the following times (based on elapsed time from the start):
 
Carter Aid outbound:  52 Minutes
Top of Sugarloaf/Powerline:  1:34
Pipeline Aid outbound: 2:05
Twin Lakes outbound: 2:55
Bottom of Goat Trail on Columbine: 4:05
Columbine turn-around:  4:40
Twin Lakes inbound:  5:15
Pipeline inbound:  6:15
Top of Powerline/Sugarloaf: 7:30
Carter Aid inbound: 8:10
Finish: 8:59 or better

COURSE MAP
Inserting the Trash-Bag
I was lined up in the Red corral at the start.  This was the third grouping and contained all of the prior year's finishers in the 9-10 hour range.  Within this group, I felt pretty comfortable that I wouldn't have to kill it from the start.  That being said, it was a cloudless 34 degree morning, and I was going to need to pedal hard just to stay warm.  In fact, I tried something new this year and stuffed a plastic garbage bag down the front of my jersey to help shield my chest from the cold wind.  I think therefore I am.
 
Race Start
The gun went off at 6:30am and some 1600+ racers were off down 6th street.   The first 3.5 miles or so are all downhill on pavement and are usually pretty relaxed. 
This year, riders were blazing right from the get-go and I pretty much went full bore all the way down to the dirt and continued to pedal hard all the way to the base of the St. Kevin's climb.   The climb was pretty uneventful.  I didn't have to crush myself and the pace was pretty decent and thus I wasn't stuck in the inevitable traffic jams that would pile up with the slower riders behind me.  Interestingly, it was the stretch between the summit of St. Kevins and Carter Aid Station at mile 10 that seemed to slow down a bit.  No matter, I rolled into Carter Aid at 51 minutes and was already 1 minute ahead of pace and 4 minutes faster than I had ever arrived at Carter.
 
During the downhill pavement descent from Carter, I guzzled about 15 ounces of fluid from my Camelbak and positioned myself nicely behind a tandem bike that was hauling ass.  Rounding Turquoise Lake, I turned on my Ipod and started listening to my new "Leadville Mix" to provide extra motivation up the next climb.  I kept a strong pace up the pavement leading to Hagerman Pass Road and up the Sugarloaf climb. . . maybe not as strong as I could have . . . but part of my race strategy was to conserve energy wherever possible as long as I was keeping my 9-hr pace and meeting my split projections. 
 
I crested Sugarloaf at 1:32.  I was now 2 minutes ahead of 9-hour pace and 6 minutes ahead of my previous fastest time to this point.  So far so good.  The legs felt great, the climbs went smoothly and my tires still had air! 
Top of Sugarloaf
 
Powerline Descent
The backside of Sugarloaf is the Powerline descent.  The very name "Powerline" evokes a visceral and often nauseating reaction from anyone who has ever raced Leadville, not so much for the coming descent, but for the climb back up at mile 78.  I'll get to that later.  Although I was in a faster group of riders than previous years, the Powerline descent was a bit slow and I was getting frustrated from constantly braking to avoid involuntary rear-entry copulation with the riders in front of me.  Unfortunately, this led to me getting careless and about 3/4 of the way down, I was following too closely to the rider in front of me and didn't react fast enough to a pile of loose rocks in the middle of the trail.  My front tire slid on the rocks and then slid out from under me and I crashed hard sideways into another pile of rocks. 
With flowing adrenaline, I didn't even take time to survey the damage and jumped right back on the bike and continued pedaling.  While I discovered a huge bruise and some dried blood on the side of my hip and ass at the end of the day, the crash fortunately had no impact on my ride.
 
Ultimately, the Powerline descent was 2-3 minutes slower than normal.  So much for the 2-minutes that I had gained when I reached the top.  We now had a 5-mile stretch of pavement and dirt-road before reaching the Pipeline and it was time to find a  pace-line.  Unfortunately, for the first mile there were only scattered riders and no real prospects for teamwork.  About a half-mile past the Fish Hatchery, I turned around and saw a line of 6 riders about 500 yards behind me.  Prudence dictated that I slow down and wait for them and then I latched on the back when they arrived.  Switching turns at the front, this group kept a great 24mph+ pace to the Pipeline Aid Station, arriving at 2:04.  Give or take a few seconds, I was now exactly on pace again.

Pipeline Outbound
Singletrack Outbound
The Pipeline kind of sucked this year.   The race organizers had apparently ordered a grading of the dirt road, but it seemed more pocked and rutted than normal and it was anything but the usual smooth ride.  I was unable to find an organized group through the first half of this section, but did hook up here and there with other riders to do some drafting and taking turns.  The single-track was a little slow because of one rider holding things up (obviously a roadie), but it didn't really cost me much time.  Finally, a group of about 10 riders formed to hit the last climb of Pipeline and we kept a nice pace all the way to the top and then bombed down to Twin Lakes, arriving at my crew station at 2:50.  Regrettably, I had such tunnel vision that I barely acknowledged my friends who came to support me.  I was simply focused on switching out my Camelbak and water bottle as quickly as
possible, downing a quick gel, and then continuing.  I was probably there less than 20 seconds and was off again.  Kudos to Kevin and Lisa for the seamless pit-stop.

I crossed the Twin Lakes dam and hit the Twin Lakes timer at 2:52.  I was now back to 3 minutes ahead of pace and 10 minutes ahead of my previous fastest time to this point.  Another side note - on Friday I sent my projected split-times to about 15 friends and family along with a link to follow the race on-line.  One of my good friends, Brad Reiss, is a fellow First Descents Board Member and MS fighter and would give his left nut and most of his bank account to be able to ride a race like Leadville.  Regrettably, because of his physical condition, he can only ride it vicariously through me and I knew he would be saddled to his computer anxiously waiting for my next split to appear.  Each time I reached a split, I could sense Brad cheering me on and it gave me inspiration.

Quick weather interruption.  It had rained in Leadville nearly every day for the month leading up to the race.  However, race-day was pretty ideal from beginning to end.   Not a drop of rain and very comfortable temperatures.  The only time it got a little warm was the Powerline ascent, but all in all the weather was not a factor in the race.  Back to the story.

As usual, Twin Lakes was an absolute circus with masses of spectators lining both sides of the trail for a good quarter-mile stretch.  I thought I saw a guy holding a sign and wearing a Borat thong, but I was so intensely staring at the trail ahead that I really wasn't processing anything going on to my left and right. 

I had no issues on the short climb over the ridge above Twin Lakes or the short descent and ride through the valley leading to Columbine.  However, when I took the right turn on the last dirt road leading to the Columbine climb, I started feeling a bit sluggish in the legs.  Maybe I had pushed too hard the first 42 miles.  Maybe I was strong, but not as strong as I thought for such a long race.  Maybe 9 hours was still that pipe-dream beyond my grasp.  Riders started passing me.  I was dreading the laborious climb ahead.   I spun slowly up the steep first section to the 1st switchback (Columbine has 10 switchbacks) and tried to find a rhythm.  I decided to get on the wheel of the next rider who passed me and see if I could sustain a faster pace.  My thinking was that if I was going to be miserable, I might as well be miserable faster.  The next rider passed me and I stuck with him through the 2nd switchback, but then had to throttle down as the thought of sitting down in the grass and taking a nap started to overtake the thought of going faster.  I needed to mentally regroup.  The leaders passed me going the opposite direction between the 3rd and 4th switchback.  They are definitely taking EPO.  I continued to struggle but move forward through the 5th switchback and then just put my head down and tuned out the world and my thoughts.  I wasn't going to worry about anything but moving forward.  If I happened to make it to the top within my split time, then I would regroup on the ride down.  If not, then I knew I was still going to have a time well ahead of my previous best.  The 6th, 7th and 8th switchbacks came and went and I started feeling better knowing that I was slowly putting the worst miles of the race behind me.  At the 9th switchback I picked up my pace as I did a calculation and realized that I was going to reach the lower goat trail pretty close to my projected split of 4:05.  Sure enough, I hit the split right at 4:05.  I had only lost 3 minutes on the climb and was still on 9-hour pace!

At this point, the trail becomes steeper and rockier, which is why they call it the goat-trail.  If only I was a goat.  On training rides, I'm usually able to clean the whole next section.  Today, although I felt that I could ride it, I decided that it would actually do me good to walk a little bit.  As there was a rider riding slowly in front of me and a 50 foot gap to the next person behind me, I decided to walk the first steep section, ride the next flatter section, walk another short steep section and then ride the next quarter-mile or so to where the trail takes a steep fork to the right.  At that point, everyone was walking and this continued for the next few hundred yards.  About halfway through this section of hike-a-bike, my right inner thigh seized up in a cramp and I had to give it a quick massage.  I also bit into two S-Caps (each containing about 340mg of sodium) and chugged about 10 ounces of fluids.  I slowly continued walking while trying to rub out the cramp and hopped back on my bike at the next flatter section.  This lasted about 20 revolutions of the pedals before the cramp kicked in again.  Fuuuuuck!  I decided to just keep walking for awhile and wait for the sodium to kick in.


Summit of Columbine
The walk continued up through the steep "C" turn and then I was able to hop back on the bike for good just past the top of the "C".  I spun in the lowest gear possible for the next 200-300 yards until I was satisfied that the cramp had dissipated and then sped it up for the last half-mile across the top ridge and then down a short hill to the aid station, arriving exactly at my projected split time of 4:40.  Even with the crappy climb and the cramp, I was still on 9-hour pace.  The dream lives!

Usually, I stop at the Columbine aid station, sample some food and chug about 5 cups of fluids to hold me over during the descent.  Fearing that I couldn't afford to waste a second, I skipped the aid station and immediately headed right back up the short but annoying hill to the ridge trail and the blessed white-knuckle descent beyond.

One of my favorite things about the Leadville 100 is the out-and-back format.  This means that over the course of about 8 miles on Columbine (4 miles up and 4 miles down), every rider in the field will pass each other either going up or going down.  On a 9-hour pace, I was probably ahead of about 80% of the field and thus would get the pleasure of passing a whole lotta people on the way down.   While descending, I tried to search the faces of the riders walking up to see if I could recognize my friends and give them encouragement.  Today, I was descending so fast that I couldn't really focus on any faces, but saw a lot of Team FD jerseys and yelled "GO TEAM FD" when I passed.  It was also really cool to hear "Go Brent" at least 5 or 6 times from friends hike-a-biking up.  Another by-product of the faster pace is the distance that the line of uphill riders extends.  In past years, on a 10-hour pace, the line of riders might extend to the 10th or 9th switchback.  On my 9-hour pace, I was actually passing some poor souls coming up at the 4th switchback. 

At the bottom of the descent, I ripped through the valley, finished the rest of my water bottle, pushed hard up and over the ridge and absolutely flew down to Twin Lakes, crossing the timer at 5:15 on the nose.  60 miles into the race and I was still exactly on target, to the minute.  Check off another one Brad!  Two minutes later I pulled back into my crew station and Kevin's and Lisa's excitement was palpable as they realized that I could actually do this!  Again, another very quick switch of my camelback and bottle, a downed gel and S-Cap and I was off again.  This time the stop was maybe 25 seconds!
Heading Home From Twin Lakes Inbound
The Leadville 100 is a series of tests that provide instant feedback.  The next big test for me was the road climb out of Twin Lakes on the way back to the Pipeline.  It's about a mile long and climbs about 300 feet.  In some years, this little hill literally saps my soul as it mocks my weariness.  Today I hammered up the hill.  Great sign.

As usual, the single-track section kinda blew.  I like the old days when we just hike-a-biked straight up the Cobra hill rather than spending 8-10 minutes endlessly serpentining up, around and across the hill.  On the bright side, there was a big difference riding up this section with fellow 9-hour pacers versus those I have experienced in the past.  Much faster.

The rest of the Pipeline was basically a blur.  Throughout the race, I kept waiting to miss a split so that I would have an excuse (lame I admit) to back off.   I was already doing everything possible to just stay on pace.  I didn't think I had it in me to go any harder if I got behind.  So at this point I was totally and fatalistically letting my splits dictate the race.  They were going to be what they were going to be.  I guess I should also mention that I did have two secondary goals if sub-9 wasn't going to happen.  The first goal was what I deemed to be a realistic mark of 9:20.  That was a number that I randomly picked back in May as a healthy finish time.  The second goal was more personal and that was to beat 9:35.  What is the significance of that time you say?  I guess you need to ask my friend Gary Morris who raced with me in Leadville the last six years but for some odd reason decided to take a year off this year.

My fastest time covering Pipeline inbound in prior races was 1:08.  Today, I hit the timer in 1 hour and thus hit my split, AGAIN, right on the nose at my projected 6:15.  Now this was getting real.  If I could avoid a flat, major cramp or complete bonk, I felt for the first time all day that I could really do it as I knew I could get home in under 2:45.

Next up was the miserable 5-mile stretch of dirt road and pavement leading to the Powerline.  For a flat stretch, this should be a piece of cake.  However, it is always into a prevailing wind and today it was absolutely howling. Even in a paceline of 3-4 guys, we could barely go more than 10-12 miles per hour ON FLAT ROAD.  Fortunately, this was another place where experience paid off.  I knew this section would be frustratingly slow and there was no point expending too much energy trying to fight it.  I would need all that energy for the vicious Powerline climb ahead.

Powerline Hike-a-bike - Much steeper than it looks!
I reached the base of the Powerline climb at 6:40.  On a training ride a few weeks back, it took me 45 minutes to climb to the top on somewhat tired legs.  After 78 miles of riding, I think it is safe to say that my legs today were beyond 'somewhat tired.'  That being said, I calculated that I would be ok doing a 50-minute climb and that it was totally doable as long as I pedaled everything beyond the initial steep hike-a-bike section.  Once again, mind over matter.  Just put the head down and grind it up. 

All in all, the climb didn't go too badly.  Don't get me wrong, it totally sucked ass, but having done it for 6 previous races, I knew what to expect.  I had a couple moments with pre-cramp twinges in my legs, but quickly gulped fluids and bit into S-Caps and the twinges went away.  I ticked off the climb in segments of 100 feet of elevation gain and was feeling pretty good once I got within 400 feet of the top (the total Powerline climb is 1600 feet of elevation gain). 

Sure enough, I crested the top at exactly 7:30 . . . once again exactly to the minute of my projected pace.  Damn I'm getting predictable!  Now I could taste it . . . like a fine Chianti.  If I could do a 15-minute descent and a 25-minute climb up St. Kevin's, I would be at the Carter Summit Aid Station at 8:10.  In past years, I made it home from Carter Summit in 51-or so minutes.  With increased adrenalin and purpose, I figured I could beat that time by a few minutes and get in just under the wire.

I abandoned all caution and tore down the Sugarloaf descent in a state of possessed fury in the hopes of making up a minute or two on the descent.  In my head, I could hear the voices of Paul Sherwen and Phil Ligget screaming "He's taking incredible risks around these curves!!"  It took me 10 minutes to the bottom of Hagerman Pass road where I made the U-turn onto the pavement and immediately spotted Kevin on the side of the road (planned in advance).  I tossed him my Camelbak and he screamed "hour and twenty to the finish, you GOT THIS . . . GO GO GO!!!" 

Without the pack on my back I felt free to fly and got into a low tuck position for the remaining descent, hitting the start of the climb at, you guessed it, 7:45 on the nose.  This was the moment of truth, the final big climb.  3.2 miles and 900 feet of elevation on pavement.  As I said earlier, the budget was for 25 minutes to the top.  I knew I could do that at a normal pace.  However, I was concerned about cutting it too close from Carter Aid to the finish.  What if I cramped again on the 3-mile trail from Carter to the St. Kevin's descent?  What if I had to walk up the three little punchy climbs on that trail.  No.  I had worked too hard for this to take that chance.  4 years of thinking about sub-9 and failing for various reasons.  Thousands of miles of training and hard work to possibly achieve this.  Constant all-consuming thoughts and questions about how I would respond at the end of the race if the Big Buckle was within my grasp.  7 hours and 45 minutes of mind-numbing, muscle aching, leg-cramping pedaling today to get me to this point.  Hell no, I wasn't going to take the chance.  It was time to summon  Ken Chlouber's all-time favorite cliché to DIG DEEP.  In fact, I laughed at myself for being so cheesy, but there really was no other way to describe what needed to be done.  It was truly time to DIG DEEP and leave everything out there right NOW.

I immediately turned up my music, rose from the saddle and started pedaling up as fast as my legs would go and I continued to stand for almost the entire climb.  My legs were burning, my lungs were sucking air, my tongue was dry and my brain was on auto-pilot.  Over and over again, I kept repeating to myself: "Dig Deep, Dig Deep, Dig Deep."  It was "Dig" on every upstroke and "Deep" on every downstroke.  I was passing riders, but not looking at them.   I was only staring straight ahead in a zombie-lie stupor.  I can't remember anything in my life that I ever attacked with such mental intensity.

I arrived at Carter Aid Station at 8:05.  On exhausted legs, I managed to climb St. Kevin's in 20 minutes and shave 5 minutes off my projected time.  For the first time since Carter Aid outbound over 7 hours ago, I had a time cushion.  Unfortunately,  I was ready to puke.  I decided to spend 30 seconds of my cushion to stop at the Aid station where I chugged a cup of Coke and ate two slices of watermelon.  That 30 seconds was a life-saver and gave me the final jolt I needed.  11 miles to go.

I continued to ride hard over the 3-miles to the St. Kevin's descent and got myself over the first short two punchy climbs without issue.  On the third one (which is the steepest), I started feeling the old familiar pre-cramp leg twinges and decided to get off and walk the bike.  At worst, it cost me 20-30 seconds, but it allowed me to quickly stretch and massage the legs and was well worth it.

I reached the top of the final St. Kevin's descent at 8:18 and covered the descent in less than 4 minutes.  Hitting the dirt road on the valley floor, I once again started experiencing that crampy feeling (this time in the quads right above each knee-cap) and had to drop into the lower front ring to try to "spin it out."   I somehow had to hold off the cramps.  More fluids and 2 more S-Caps down the throat.  I alternated between big ring and small ring, sitting down and standing up, even shaking the legs out. 

I finally hit the pavement at Leadville Junction at 8:30.  Without crushing myself, I knew I could make it home from here in 25 minutes. 

I hit the bottom of the Boulevard at 8:35.  On a last pre-race spin yesterday, I decided to ride the Boulevard from the bottom at a moderate speed just to see how long it would take if I had to lay off on race-day.  It took 18 minutes.  I didn't need to go all out today, but I knew I could easily go at a stronger pace than yesterday and probably do it in 15 minutes.  I had 3.5 miles to go.  I spun slowly up the first steep rocky section and then settled into a nice 12-13mph pace as I continued to massage the legs.  While I was exhausted and didn't exactly 'enjoy' the Boulevard, I didn't mind it either.  I now knew that I was going to comfortably make it with time to spare and I started getting very excited.

Can't Believe It
YES!!!!
I hit the top of the Boulevard at 8:50 and slow-pedaled up the last little bitch of a hill on 6th Street and then there it was  . . . the FINISH LINE!!!!  I immediately thought of Allan and how elated he would be to see this if he was alive.  I also felt total euphoria, pride, satisfaction, wonderment, disbelief and buckets full of EMOTION.  Approaching the last few hundred yards, I tried to take it all in and even found myself holding back some tears.  About 50 yards before the red carpet, Kevin and Lisa popped out of the crowd and were literally jumping up and down and screaming with joy (click on the arrow below to hear the audio of Kevin and Lisa screaming as I approached the finish).  I gave them both high-fives as I passed and then I crossed the finish line at 8:54:39 (official chip time of 8:54:09).  All I could think was HOLY FUCKING SHIT I ACTUALLY DID IT.  Not the most artful of thoughts, but after 104 miles of pedaling with a grand-total of 1 minute and 13 seconds of rest, there were no brain cells capable of an artful thought.
8 Hours, 54 Minutes, 39 Seconds
 
video

Welcome Back Hug
Proud Wife
I came to a stop beyond the finish and was immediately seized in giant bear hugs from Lisa and Kevin.  Having them right there and seeing and feeling their excitement was special beyond words.  This was clearly a shared accomplishment and it would not have been nearly the same without them.  In fact, it probably wouldn't have happened without them.  I took a few minutes to drink some water and gather my senses and then found myself hunched over and convulsing in tears.  It was almost the identical feeling from my first finish back in 2007.  So happy, so relieved, so spent.

So that's my tale of Leadville #7, one of the most rewarding days of my life.  I realize that I make myself sound heroic at times with this tale.  Obviously let's keep this in perspective.  While sub-9 was a huge achievement for me, there were still some 325 racers who finished before I did and the dudes who came in first and second beat me by almost 3 hours!  So the sub-9 finish makes me a very strong recreational mountain-biker, but by no means an elite racer.   Regardless, I can be a hero in my own mind and one thing is for sure, nobody can ever take the Big Buckle away from me.

Going forward, the next big accomplishment in Leadville for me will be the 1,000 mile buckle after the 2016 race . . . assuming I stay healthy.  I'm not quite sure what next year will bring.  Now that I've broken the barrier, do I try to go even lower or do I take a completely different tack and take a casual approach.  Knowing me, I'll be shooting for 8:30 next year!  I mean, why waste the great starting position that I've earned after this finish? 

One final note, one of my Team FD teammates from Washington, Brook Edinger, finished two minutes behind me and also achieved a Gold Buckle.  This was sweet redemption for Brook as he had to drop out of the 2012 race at mile 80 for health reasons.  Apparently Brook was right behind me for much of the Powerline climb and I didn't even realize it.  Congrats to Brook.