Sunday, August 25, 2013

Leadville MTB 100 Race Report

Race Information
Where: Leadville, CO (2-mile High City)
When: August 10th, 2013
Distance: 104 (every bit of 104 miles)
Starting Elevation: 10,200'
Total Climbing Elevation: 11,800'
Racers: 1500+ (with a mass start)
Starting Position: Red Corral (3rd from the front of the pack)

I was a bit nervous at the start of this race. I knew I had put in the training time, but you just never know what is going to happen. My legs felt a bit sorer than they had all week long which was very frustrating and not how you want to feel before the start of the race. Still, you try to put that out of your mind and focus on what you are about to embark on. The start of this race is a mass start meaning that all 1500+ racers leave the start line at the same time. Based on my qualifying time at the Wilmington Whiteface 100k race (5:19, but I was sick with a cold, fever, and hopped up on cold meds) it placed me in the 3rd corral. This is obviously way better than being placed in the last corral, the 8th corral, last year, however it also means that I stand a much greater chance of getting into a crash due to everyone behind me trying to race up to the front on the paved portion of the race just prior to hitting the first dirt road. Prior to the first dirt road the race typically hits 30+ mph, so you gotta hang on, keep your space, and stay away from the idiots.

The temperature was a lot better than last year although still a bit chilly in the low 40's, but having a much better corral meant that I could get there a little later and sleep in a bit more (very nice). Having drank some coffee in the morning I could already start feeling the effects, and being so close to the race start figured I would just stop somewhere along the route. Note, I am always surprised at the number of women that don't seem to have much of an issue with squatting right near the route during the race. Some a lot more revealing than I would think one would want, but I guess that's just me.

At the start of the race, I had my awesome crew there which consisted of Angie and both of the parents. I was very excited to have my parents there, plus my mom has never seen me race, so she was in for a very different experience ... and a very loooooong day. Another cool aspect to this year’s race is that a great friend and extremely talented MTB teammate of mine, Dave Jolin, had qualified at Whiteface Wilmington the year before and opted to race in 2013. Having a teammate in the race is just comforting and also makes the race even more fun, because you just know that your teammate starts to pass you it is time to kick up the pace and push all that much harder. Dave is definitely a guy that can push the pace and get the job done very quickly.

It was again a very fast start being closer to the front of course as luck would have it, one guy made a very dumb move and almost took someone out at the very beginning. Fortunately, this other guy appeared to be rather skilled as he veered off onto a side street nearly avoiding a large "Do Not Enter" street sign, hoped the curb to get back onto the route. Phew.

I made to the dirt road fairly quickly with no issues and drafted as much as I could. It was about this time that the second of the three issues that I had that day started (the first being that my legs were more tired than I felt they should have been). My front brake began to squeak. This usually means one thing, the front brake is rubbing. Just what I needed. While it did not seem like a huge brake rub, it was enough to get under my skin. I tried not to focus on it, but this would continue for roughly 60+ miles of the race (maybe even 70). Every now and then I would give a quick front brake test to see if I could get them to stop (I probably did this a couple dozen time throughout the race!). While this seemed to help initially, the squeak would always come back within a few wheel rotations. I mean, seriously? After all the hard work, training, racing, I draw a free front brake-rub card out of the hat. Oh man ... this is gonna be a very long day I thought. Oh well, unless I was willing to sacrifice time by finding a mechanic, I was going to continue to push on and not cry about it. It'll just make me stronger, right? Besides, there are guys from Ride2Recovery out here that have prosthetic limbs and I am thinking about how a rubbing brake is going to slow me down? Yep, those guys are truly bad-ass and made of guts and determination! I have nothing but respect for them! I have nothing to complain about!

Once you hit the dirt road it is a few miles of small rollers before making the sharp left to St. Kevins, the first climb. This climb is not all that bad, but due to the number of people in front of you, not all of them great climbers, there are typically two lines going up, the slower line to the right and the slightly faster line to the left. I was on the left most of the climb, but had to keep switching back and forth due to some riders not being on the correct side and not really caring that they did not have the skills to get up the climb faster. Regardless, I did not have any problems and only tapped someone’s rear wheel once as they slowed down nearly to a crawl. We both stayed up, I apologized, and it was all good.

Once you get to the top of the steep section of St. Kevins, there is a sharp left turn and the remainder of the St. Kevins climb is what I would call rolling with some nice flat-ish sections so the pace picks up quite a bit. After a quick descent down the backside of St. Kevins you pass the Carter Aid station and hit the pavement (where I downed a couple of GUs) for a very fast descent around Turquois Lake and then up the other side of the lake to where you enter Hagerman's Pass. The climb up to Hagerman's pass is a nice grade of around 3-5%, so you just need to get into a good tempo pace and you can actually pass quite a few guys on this section. Hagerman's Pass is a false flat sitting around 2-3% incline. They graded the road this year and packed it down, so it was much faster than last year and is a good place to catch a wheel to the bottom of the Sugarloaf climb. The scenery here is beautiful, but nothing I wanted to take notice of on race day.

My plan was to push on the Sugarloaf climb and pass as many riders as I could, however even with starting much closer to the front of the pack I still was stuck behind two rows of cyclists, one on the left side and one on the right side. I don't think I could have pushed too much faster than they were going, but given the option I would have liked to have made up more time on this climb. Regardless, the climb went well and we began the 3.5 mile descent of Powerline. A good portion of Powerline is fairly technical, at least for me, and this is an easy place that you can lose the race and end your day so I was apprehensive going into it. I still let it hang out as much as I felt comfortable doing. Fortunately everyone around me was being careful and unlike last year nobody stole my line so the descent was good and I felt like I went down it about as fast as I really wanted to. I really need to work on my descending skills and building up my confidence with rocky, rutted descents. Part of the problem could be that I am on a Hardtail, but overall I would much rather climb on a Hardtail than worry about the quick descents on a Full Suspension. I made it to the bottom unscathed and passed a surprising number of riders that had flatted. Unfortunately for my good teammate, Dave Jolin, had flatted along the Powerline descent and that cost him a fair amount of time during the race (he still managed to fight back and have a great race!! I have total respect for how strong Dave is and his bike handling skills and look forward to continue to train with him.). When I got to the bottom of Powerline, where it turns to pavement, I knew my crew would be there to cheer me on, and they were. As I made the turn, I heard them cheering me on and even though I rarely acknowledge people cheering me on during a race, due to being focused and in the groove, I always appreciate the support and it gives me a huge boost during the race. I am total game face during the race though!

Coming up is the Pipeline section that is the "flattest" part of the race and where you can make up some time if you catch a wheel. As I was entering the Pipeline Aid station I took notice of a one of the LT100 MTB hometown favorites, Ricky McDonald. I gave him some kudos for working hi 20th edition of the race (for what it is worth this was the 20th anniversary of the race so he has completed all 20 races! Huge accomplishment). A quick side note, at the post race awards ceremony we found out that Ricky has carried with him a small vial of ashes from a good friend of his that had ALS, but unfortunately lost his battle. Ricky carried the vial to the top of Mt. Columbine, stopped at the top to spread the ashes on one of the window ledges of the Mt. Columbine Mine, and placed a penny there as well. He called out that anyone climbing to the top add a penny to his in memory of his good friend. Ricky is just a great down to earth guy, has a huge heart, and really is one of the reasons that this race is so wonderful. He said it best, "This race gets into your blood" and it is people like Ricky that make this race so awesome!

With my legs feeling tired (man that really sucked!) I had a tough time catching any wheels. People were either going faster than I would go or slower than I was going, so I rode most of this section by myself. Still, I PR'd this section, bombed Little Stinker (a very short quick descent), and headed to the "single track". The singled track is probably one of the most fun parts of the course, is smooth and flowing, but is also a section that you can get stuck behind people. Due to its tire-width nature, there is just no going around people so I was subjected to go at the pace that everyone in front of me was going. Again, the race is not won on these sections, but rather on the climbs, so I was content sitting back and going with the flow. The pace was not all that bad and it moved rather quickly since it is probably under 2-miles in length. Once you pop off the single track you hit some pavement and then small gravel road climbs and passing people is not a problem if you have the gas to do so. I took a short bathroom break, like about 30-seconds, after getting to the top of the climbs and then bombed the paved road section into Twin Lakes. The goal on the back of my mind was a sub-9 time, but with the brakes issue I was having and my legs not 100% I was not too disappointed when I hit the Twin Lakes Aid station 20 minutes slower than I had wanted to. A sub-9 time should have put me at Twin Lakes at 2:35 and got there by 25-minutes over that time. At that point I figured a sub-9 time was well out of my ability for the day. No big deal, because I was still racing faster than last year, so I kept pushing. 

At Twin Lakes, my Chief Crew Officer (CCO) was there like Flash and had me re-fueled and going in under about a minute. Seriously, if she worked on a NASCAR crew the rest of them would not be able to keep up with her. She is just that good. We also work out what I need in terms of fluid days before the race, so it makes the stops very fast! She gave me my second Camelback full of Infinit Go Far, a mini PB&J (thanks for the idea Dave!), and a few GU packets and I'm outta there! I hate taking long stops as the legs tends to stiffen up quick and it makes it that much more difficult to start back up. So, once re-fueled I headed over the Twin Lakes bridge, through the chaos that is the Twin Lakes Aid station, and onto the back side of Twin Lakes into the Three Sisters. The Three Sisters are three short little climbs that you tackle prior to getting to the bottom of the Mt. Columbine climb which gets you to the half-way turn around point of the race. The Three Sisters are not bad, but they still sting a bit.

The crowds around the bottom of Mt. Columbine were larger than I recall from last year, but like all of the other aid stations the people and support is phenomenal! Everyone cheers you on and willing to give you food or drinks should you need it. This is part of what makes this race so great and just the MTB culture so friggin fun! I so enjoy the personalities of MTBers, just a cool group of people all who know how to suffer with a smile on their face and always willing to help each other out in a time of need.

The grind up Mt. Columbine is just that, a grind. Find a gear, get comfortable, and just keep going up ... and up ... and up. The climb is about 7.5 - 8 miles in length, reaches an altitude of roughly 12,400', and has a total elevation of about 3600'. You get to pass a lot of people (non-climbers), hook up with people that are going your pace (which I did), and this is where you get a first glance (a very quick glance) at the pros absolutely bombing the descent, because while you are roughly 40 - 50 percent up the climb, they have already cleaned the climb and are heading back. While as demoralizing as that can be, even the pros shout out props to all riders grinding their way up the climb which is just awesome! I love seeing the pros come down and I always give them props and like to see where the "big named" pros are. This year I saw Alban Lakata, Christophe Sauser, and Todd Wells descend and they had a HUGE lead on the rest of the field (they all broke the LT100 course record!!). It seemed like at least 15 minutes passed before we saw any other riders descending the climb. Additionally, I saw the lead female riders and I always give a shout-out to one of my favorite MTBers, Rebecca Rush! She is just an absolute awesome individual and MTBer and I will always cheer her on when I see her.

About half way up the climb I caught the wheel of a female MTBer. She has a great cadence and pace, so it was perfect for me to follow her up the climb until we hit the Goat Trail. The Goat Trail is where the route turns to about 1.5 miles of jeep double track and while they did clean up the trail this year which made it totally ride-able (I cleaned the entire Mt. Columbine climb less than a week ago on a training ride), there were walkers which means you have to get off the bike and walk since you cannot always get to the left hand side due to the riders descending using that line. Regardless, I only had to dismount twice and overall I was only 10 minutes slower that I was on my training ride and was a good 20-30 minutes faster than last year. Fairly happy with that, but if there were no walkers I am sure I could have cleaned the climb and knocked off another 5 minutes or so. No big deal. It is a long day out there and better to be safe than end your race on a stupid move trying to get around people, unlike what I saw some people do!

At the turn around, I never stop. I hit the gas on the quick descent, make the turn at the aid station, try to remember to thank the volunteers as they are just awesome, find a comfortable gear, and grind out the little climb back to the top just before the long descent down the Goat Trail and back onto the fire road. In looking at the time I had unfortunately lost another 20 minutes of time on the climb. Again, my legs were just not feeling the same as they did a week ago on the climb, but what can ya do. Just keep going, don't get down about it, and keep pushing! The descent on the Goat Trail can be tricky. It is rocky, you have guys trying to pass the slower riders (again ... just not a safe thing to do), and there are a couple of sharp gravely switchbacks that you need to be paying attention to or you will end up down a cliff. It was descending the Goat Trail that I got to see Dave riding up. I figured something had happened (i.e. the flat that I mentioned earlier), but he looked strong, in control, but most likely frustrated with having to walk some portions although at the time he was on the bike grinding out the climb. He is such a bad-ass with a never give up attitude! Once you get off the Goat Trail you can really wind it out and hit the gas to the bottom, which I did. I had nobody around me and was able to average about 22-25 down the descent, even with the gravel switchbacks you can absolutely fly down this mountain. It was about halfway down that I realized I was running dangerously low on fluids and prior to getting to the Twin Lakes Aid station actually was all out. I could have stopped at one of the tents at the bottom of Mt. Columbine, but at that point you are not far from Twin Lakes and you just never know what you will find, so I just kept going telling myself it was not that far away before I would see Angie and get my much needed fluids. As you descend you get to see how many people still have that long grind up and you always feel bad for them knowing that they will not make the cut-offs. Still, we all cheer them on and hats off to them for pushing forward and NEVER giving up!

After you get to the bottom, you've got to navigate the various aid stations, the one at the bottom of Mt. Columbine followed by the much larger and chaotic Twin Lakes Aid station (where most people place their crews and pick up much needed fluids and food). Once again, I stopped at my lighting fast Chief Crew Officer and she had everything ready for me; new Camelback full of Infinit Go Far, a bottle with Infinit Speed, a PB&J (the mini ones ... thanks again for the great suggestion Dave!), and about three GU (one Espresso for that extra jolt). Unfortunately, somewhere between the middle of the Mt. Columbine Climb and the descent I started to have some uncomfortable GI issues (the third issue I ran into during the race). Nothing too horrible, but enough to slow me up and make me take things a little easier so as to not lose what food I had ingested. Still suffering from that, it was tough to put down the entire PB&J so I gave a bit to the animals on my way up the paved road right before it turns back into gravel prior to hitting the single track section on the way back.

I made my way through the single track behind a tandem and while I would have rather not been stuck behind a tandem on the east climb, my stomach was still bugging me and that gosh darn front wheel continued to squeak. I wouldn't have been surprised if the tandem guys got out of my way just so they could stop having to listen to that annoying squeak! Man I gotta get those brakes figured out!! Sooooo annoying and it just eats at you every time you hear the noise ... which was every time the wheel made a full rotation Aaaahhhhh!!!!! Once through the single track I decided that I would walk Little Stinker. I have cleaned it several times before, but knowing that I really wanted to clean the Powerline climb I decided to cut my legs a break and walk the very short steep ascent. The ride back along the Pipeline was a bit more painful that I had hoped and I was not able to catch a wheel (as usual ... really gotta work on that, but I just did not want to blow up knowing full well that there was a good 25+ miles left in the race). Once I got to the Pipeline Aid station I actually stopped, like last year, and grabbed a couple of cups of water. Last year I grabbed a coke, but die to the GI issues I was dealing with I decided that water would be the best course of action. Once you pass through the Pipeline Aid station you hit the pavement and one VERY NASTY headwind. Seriously, it is rather brutal and if you can catch a wheel, do it! Of course, I was unable to. One guy slowly road up to me and asked if I wanted to work together with him, but I had to pass. I tried to stay on his wheel but I was just chewing up too much in the reserves and backed off. This paved, windy portion of the course takes you to the bottom of Powerline where my most awesome wife Angie, my parents, and Dave's wife Debbie waited for Dave and me to pass through. They cheered me on, but at this point all I could think about was ... at what point am I going to join the other lemmings and get off my bike and walk up Powerline. It is the first part of the Powerline climb that is extremely difficult to clean, that being about 1/4 mile. After that, the remaining portion is all totally ride-able. Last year I made it up 3/4 of the way of that first difficult section before my front wheel washed out (chose a bad line) and I had to dismount and walk the remainder part of the first section before I re-mounted and climbed the rest of the 3.5 mile climb. This all happens at 80-miles into the race, so you I guarantee you that your legs are fairly cooked by this time.

I swore last year that this year’s goal would be to clean that fist portion of the climb. Well, upon making the turn onto the dirt trail from the pavement I just did not feel like I had it in me. So, I began the slow, demoralizing ascent. It is an easy 4-6 % grade at the bottom (again, this is the first 1/4 mile portion of the Powerline climb that most people walk), it S-turns to the left, and then right. As I got around the turn I noticed there was already a line of walker, so it was here that I decided to dismount and walk (and join the other lemmings). Except, just before dismounting I heard a spectator (this is a very popular spectator spot and there are lots of people lining the climb to cheer the racers on) say ... "Hey we have a rider, move out of his way". Damn! Well, I guess I will continue on to the next corner then dismount, right? So, I get to the next corner ... still grinding up the steeper and steeper climb (this this one section has three false peeks and has a rough average grade of over 11%, with the steepest being around 25%, and is at 11,000' in elevation ... pure lactic acid fun) and I hear another spectator say ... "We've got a rider, move out of the way walkers". Now, most of the walkers don't mind getting out of the way and last year they actually gave me a push. No pushes this year, but I did have a few of the women call me a stud as I grinded out the climb. Always a moral boost!! So, now I am thinking, ok at the next "flatter" part I will dismount. The legs are burning, the lungs are currently lodged in my throat and I made it farther than I had anticipated from the bottom of the climb. Of course ... up ahead I see another rider and a spectator yell out, "Hey we've got a rider". I think go man!! That is awesome, but I am ready to dismount. Except of course as I clear a tree and the same guy yells out ... "Wow, two riders!! Make way". Crap! Now I gotta keep charging this friggin beast. Ok, fine ... let’s give it a go! By this point I am half way up and I think ... dang (ok, maybe something more colorful, but let’s go with that) I might actually clean this climb. So I keep pushing and keep pushing. At about 50' from the top (seriously, 50 feet!) there was a walker that had the line that I wanted, so I took an alternative line and well, wash out the front wheel. Regardless, I made it farther than last year and I was good with that (ok, it is still eating at me ... I want to clean that climb in the race!!!!). Epic effort and at the top (again, 50'!!!) I grabbed a couple cups of water, re-mounted, got a really good push by some people giving out free pushes (yeah buddy!!) and I cleaned the rest of the 3+ mile climb passing a bunch of people on the way.

At some point my stomach actually began to recover and I started to pick up the pace again. Near one of the four false peeks on the Powerline climb there was an elderly gentleman with water bottles and coke. What a life saver!! I grabbed a bottle of water, managed to open it while navigating the terrain, and downed the entire bottle. I didn't even have to stop!! Way cool! I finished the climb, bombed the Sugarloaf descent, raced down Hagerman's Pass, made the turn around Turquoise Lake (back onto the paved road now), and headed up the paved grinder to the Carter Aid station. It was about halfway up this climb that I met someone that had a Fat Cyclist jersey on. A very strong rider in my opinion and an even nicer lady. Her husband was cheering her all the way up the climb from his van. During our conversation I discovered she had a 9:30 goal in mind and it was at that point that I decided that if I could stick with her to the end, I could take off about 45 minutes from my time last year. She beat me to the Carter Aid station by a minute or so (I stopped for a couple cups of water again just to make sure my stomach issues did not return with a vengeance), but I managed to climb my way back to her wheel on the backside of St. Kevins. Of course, when we made the turn to the descend St. Kevins ... she was gone. And I mean in a quick way. Wow! She is a much better descender than I and while it had entered my mind to go faster, I decided that I made it this far into the race and to just play it safe and not wreck. I am not a great descender, I was running a solid time, and there are some flat sections coming up where I can empty the tank.

Once at the bottom and onto the flat section of the gravel roads, I put the pedal done (pun intended) and was cooking along at 22+ mph. I got her and a few others (got passed by a couple people as well) and kept pushing. One guy I passed grabbed my wheel for a couple miles and when we chatted a bit once we hit some not-super-technical but rockier double track. He was shooting for a sub-9 time and was frustrated that he would miss it. I told him that I was just grateful to be doing so well this year, even given the issues that I had, grateful that the weather had turned out much better than was forecast, and was happy that we were close to the finish line. As we turned onto the Boulevard the course turned into a not so kind rockier road and shortly after he went down. Now, I am all for helping others, but during a race it is tough to want to stop. Still, I called out to him to make sure he was alright, which he was, and I kept climbing. Yes, this last section is a gravel climb albeit not a terrible grade 3-5%, but at 100+ miles it still hurts. BTW, I did finish 100 miles of the race in just under 9-hours. Too bad the race is 104-miles long. Otherwise I would have been sub-9. Shoulda, woulda, coulda, but it just wasn't my year for that goal. No big deal.

 I pushed to the end doing my best to empty the tank and pass as many that I could. Once you get off the gravel road it is all pavement to the end (about 1+ miles). I passed a few more riders on the paved climb to the finish line, started the descent, and then let it all hang out on the final grade up to the finish line. I had a ton of people cheering me on because, unlike the other riders around me, I got out of the saddle and hammered as much as I could until I hit the timing strip. Done. Another LT100 Race in the books. 9:19, which is 56 minutes faster than last year. Not a sub-9, but for a flat-lander to take off just shy of an hour from last years’ time given the several issues I was dealing with ... I'll take it in a heartbeat!

 It was so great to see my wife taking pictures as I crossed the finish line and then to see my parents was very cool! I am so thankful that Angie supports me on these adventures (and supports my obsession)! She is the best and most supportive person in my life and I could NEVER do these racers without her!

Congratulations to my good friend and awesome teammate and training partner Dave Jolin. He pushed through the high altitude, overcame a frustrating flat, and had a great finish time! All this after having raced just one week earlier! Great job Dave!