"Sometimes there's not a better way. Sometimes there's only the hard way" - Mary E. Pearson
"That's it, I'm NEVER doing this AGAIN", admonishing myself over and over again in my head as I trudge up. It's 3.4 miles, with a 7.3 percent average grade (sections in the double digits), there's five or six false summits and 1,300 feet of elevation gain, this is 80 miles into a 103 mile race. Most racers push up Powerline ascent. Yes, some ride it, but the majority of us mortals just push. I pushed. I pushed for what seemed like days. This 48 year old man, dealt 2 pair at the genetics poker table, burned a few too many matches in the hours prior. I was bonking in mushroom cloud fashion and seriously unsure I could finish.
|Leadville Trail 100 Course Profile|
"Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day." - A.A. Milne
Tuesday evening, Aug 5th. John Bradley and I loaded up our bikes and gear. We planned to arrive in Summit County on Wednesday to get a ride in. In order to blunt the excitement that is driving I-70, I brought along an audio CD of John Krakauer's "Into Thin Air". My logic, the gravity of the ~28,000 ft. Everest disaster would mitigate the harsh effects of racing at 10,000 ft. -12,000 ft..........it did not.
|Nearing Summit Co.|
Wednesday Aug. 6th we arrived in Summit Co. Colorado. Upon storing our gear, we ride the recreation trail up to Copper and back, followed by a section of the lake trail. I live at 1,200 ft. and the first effort at +9,000 ft. always feels like you're breathing through a stirring straw.
Thursday Aug. 7th we made our way up to Leadville. At 10,200 ft. Leadville in the highest incorporated city in the United States and home to the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike race as well as the Leadville Trail 100 Run. A historic mining town, in 1880 there were 15,000 residents, per the 2010 census, 2600 residents. We unloaded the bikes and pedaled down 6th street for a course pre-ride up to St. Kevin's. Within a stones throw of the city limits, the clouds opened up and dispensed liquid ice on what was, ten minutes earlier, a beautiful day. Welcome to the mountains. Riding in wind driven, pouring rain, John and I played poker and continued on, one waiting for the other to fold.............neither did. The rain eventually stopped and the partial climb up St. Kevin's warmed us up a bit. We descended and headed back to town, riding the alternate route that is the last 3 miles of the race. Rebecca Rusch was leading a riding clinic group out of town earlier. It looks as if they experienced the rain as well. Upon arriving back in Leadville, we stopped by race HQ and completed the check-in process. With race number in hand, I made my way over to the Specialized pop-up to get a copy of Rebecca Rusch's new book, "Rusch to Glory". She signed my copy and Linda Guerrette was kind enough to snap a few pics of the moment. Go ahead, color me a Reba fanboy, guilty as charged. Rebecca is a hardcore athlete, with capabilities beyond the comprehension of the typical weekend warrior. Read this book.
|Rebecca signing my copy of "Rusch to Glory"|
Friday Aug. 8th was a gorgeous mountain day. We met fellow racers near the Pipeline Aid Station and rode toward the single-track section. John and I had some specific exercises to complete in order to top-off the race tank. Saturday would test our mettle.
Saturday Aug. 9th, 3:00AM. John and I had completed our nutrition and bike prep Fri. evening. Race morning required only a quick breakfast, loading the bikes, and driving the 35 minutes from Frisco to Leadville. We were now 3, Cynthia (John's wife) was kind enough to crew for us on race day. Leadville was eerily quiet upon our 4:45AM arrival, allowing a premium parking spot on Harrison Ave. near ground zero.
As with most large races, you're staged in corrals prior to race start. Your corral position is based on your finish time from the year previous, or a Leadville Race Series qualifying race, then compiled with all other eligible applicants. Once compiled, all racer stats are ran through a complex algorithm capable of choking a bank of Google servers, and violà, it's 38°F and you're standing in the middle of sixth street, wearing what is basically REALLY thin underwear. A month prior, a great race and good fortune at the Leadville Silver Rush 50, has me in the Leadville Trail 100 green corral (4th back) with my friend Dennis Rathke, meaning I have 700 riders to watch zoom away at 20 mph vs. the 1300 riders from last year.
|At the Starting Line|
At 6:30AM a blast of the shotgun sends me off and freezing. The paved downhill start makes for dangerous fare in the first few miles. Inevitably, there are racers bent on advancing themselves in order to have a slightly different arse to stare at whilst enjoying the St. Kevin's conga line. I proceed cautiously on the periphery of the mass, somewhat relieved when the pavement turns to dusty sand and the first climb, St. Kevin's. Unless you get paid to race Leadville, your ascent speed of Kevin's will be dictated by riders ahead. Use this as opportunity to keep your heart rate under 200 bpm as there will be plenty of opportunities to show your climbing prowess later in the day.
|The Paved Rush to St. Kevin's|
|En Route to St. Kevin's|
50 minutes later, I'm at Carter summit turning right onto the paved road and descending rapidly to the tip of Turquoise lake, on to Sugarloaf. It's a gorgeous morning, I'm feeling good and hit the Pipeline Aid Station (Mile 28.3) in 2hr:12min. With a few cheers from fellow racer's crew I blasted through the aid station and continue on. I arrive at Twin Lakes Aid Station (Mile 40) in 3hr:4min. and meet with the phenomenal Cynthia and crew for refueling. I remove my hydration pack and add (2) new bottles for the Columbine ascent.
|Twin Lakes Outbound|
"In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way" - Yoda
At Twin Lakes I noticed my rear tire pressure was low and planned to top it off on the inbound stop. I head out, making my way to Chaffee Road (the new crew spot). I see a crew with a tire pump present and ask if I can top off my rear tire. The fellow enthusiastically volunteered and proceeded to bend the presta stem upon pump head removal. I borrowed a pair of pliers, quickly straightened the stem, but the threads were damaged and I could not get it to seat properly. I tightened it as much as possible and borrowed a valve stem cap in an attempt to slow any leakage.
Ahead of me, the Columbine ascent. I start working my way up the switchbacks. It's here I meet my first inbound rider. It's Todd Wells, in full Captain America regalia. Todd went on to best 1,284 riders with a 6:16:27, averaging right at 16 mph for 103 miles!! I rode up to the first rough pitch and joined the Columbine conga line. Near this pitch, the legend himself, founder Ken Chlouber was perched atop his ATV cheering (and sometimes heckling) the racers. Around 11,500 ft. I meet Lisa Nelson (aka "The Hammer" of Fat Cyclist fame) immediately followed by Rebecca Rusch (of Rebecca Rusch fame) then Selene Yeager (Bicycling magazine's Fit Chick). Rebecca shouts "It's HAMMER TIME". This put a smile on my face and momentarily took my mind off the task at hand. In a matter of seconds I meet none other than SBC Cycling legend, John Bradley! John was on a screaming descent and REALLY focused. He would go on to join the "Queen of Pain Train" and clock in on the red carpet with a 8:38:52!! Here they are inbound on the single.
|F to R - Lisa Nelson, Rebecca Rusch, Selene Yeager, John Bradley|
I'm always impressed with the words of encouragement my fellow racers shout on their descent of Columbine. It's a dark spot and every little bit helps. I do my best to return the favor if I'm not involved in a white knuckle, endo inducing rock garden section, of which there are many. Finally, I summit the 12,600 ft Columbine and start the welcome, although short lived, descent over to the 50 mile aid station. I arrive in 4h:59m:32s. I averaged slightly over 4mph from the Goat Trail to the aid station. I was on schedule, but my head is spinning a bit. I grab a coke, answer a call of nature, and start the second half of this journey.