They call it the race across the sky, endurance extreme. They fill you tons of cool aid and tell you to dig deep, go further. I can save em a lot of valuable thin Colorado air and ink by simply self titling the Leadville 100 with one very descriptive word…sadistic. (1. The deriving of pleasure, or the tendency to derive pleasure, from cruelty. 2. Extreme cruelty.) That was the only description that came to my mind as I pushed my bike up the top of Columbine Mountain at 12,800 feet then again at the lower portion of the power line climb with 80 degrees of high altitude sunshine evaporating the ever so valuable life source; h20, from every remaining living cell in my body. Oh the flipp’n pleasure from this cruelty. The great thing about our human body is we come with a turbo charged air conditioner. When we get cooked, baked, and simply run out of water our built in chemistry cools our body down rather quickly. A nice, very calming cooling effect combined with a change in skin tone keeps you feeling downright cozy. So how did I find myself back in the thin air of Leadville Colorado for a 3rd time climbing over 12,000 feet of vertical elevation and shooting for another sub-nine finish?
Hey Kevin, we’re all signing up for Leadville, you should do it again, it’ll be a great time. By the way, they’ll be 2-3 ex Tour de France racers there, along with a 2 time eco-challenge winner and various other long distance cycling freaks and who that’s guy with all the hype, the 2006 Tour de France winner, ya him -Floyd Landis and there are tiny rumors stirring in certain “BOGUS” cycling publications that sir Lance might appear. Yep, I fell for it. 6 of us Ohio boys sent in our race applications. It would be a party with tons of great riding climaxing with a 103 mile race of truth. I was roped in again! But due to the added publicly of “famous” riders only three of us got accepted into the race despite an added 200 entries bringing the total to a massive 900 entrants. So Ross, Ken and I settled into the mystic and sadistical rocky mountain high of hurt and fortitude that is known as the Leadville 100.
This year I only had 1 week to acclimate for the race. (Mistake #1) Due to all the doping allegations and the unraveling of the sport at the professional level I’ve been able to learn a lot; most importantly you can’t win clean. No wonder I’ve never been able to pull off a big victory. So I’ve been picking up books such as “From Lance to Landis” and taking a lot of notes. Recently I’ve learned to give myself injections and clean my own blood after hard training rides. I found my trusty 4 legged companion; Titan, has the cleanest blood with the highest hemocit level, (Whoa Neely)…I’m a fast f’er when infused with that stuff, but Connie caught me several times licking myself so no more dog blood. But despite all the new secret training, medical experimentation and consultations with an unknown doctor I thought it best to sit low this year and leave the blood bags and paraphernalia in my shoebox at my friend’s house tucked neatly in the fridge behind the Le Fin du Monde (beer) in Medina Ohio and try one last clean race. The only new substances I tried was increasing my Iron and Vitamin C consumption and dosing up on Echinacea a bit to see if it would help increase the red blood cell count with the altitude. So to do this clean we decided to spend a couple days working up to altitude to avoid the swirling vortex of AMS. (acute mountain sickness) We started at 850 feet above sea level for 355 days in Medina Ohio and then moved up to 6500 ft for two days, then over to Crested Butte for 2 days at 8000+ feet then finally over to Frisco at 9100 ft for 4 days before the race. This supposedly allows time for your body to create more red blood cells so the body can process and convert the short supply of oxygen to the muscles or whatever. In the past Leadville experiences I gave myself two weeks at altitude, more would help but this year given the time frame this was the only choice (1 week).
Fast forward to night before the race. No pressure here. I was still breathing heavy every time I climbed the stairs of the condo to get ready for the race. A lot of family showed up this year to give me and my teammates, Ross and Ken much needed support. My wife’s parents from Ohio and her aunt and uncle from Florida made their first journey to see what a 100 mile endurance race is all about. They’ve seen enough pictures and read the reviews, time to experience the experience in person and what not a better atmosphere then Leadville. My parents also made the journey along with my wife and two year old son Landon. (we choose a name close to Lance and Landis but are holding off any name association pending any future arbitration rulings) We all sat down and enjoyed a fantastic pasta and chicken dinner from our head team chief. (Mistake #2) Then Ross and I packed up and headed over to crash with Ken in his RV parked down at the friendly RV Park near Turquoise Lake.
Since I hit the sub nine time of 8:48 two years ago, I was eager to improve on my time and set up two goals, finishing sub-8 and a back up goal of finishing sub 8:30. Why those times? In the previous two 100’s I’ve done this year I hit 8:03 at the Cohutta 100 in Tennessee and 8:07 at the LumberJack 100 in Michigan. Those races actually contained single track and a bit of technical riding, Leadville is all fire road…realistic goals right?
Five, Four, Three, twoone…BAMB we’re off! You gotta check out the videos of the start, I’ve never seen anything like this in mountain bike racing. 900 racers taking off. Ross and I got with the 10-11 hours starters/finishers because we got to the start a bit late and found absolutely no space to put our bikes in the sub-nine staging area. Ken was in the top 100 last year and was upfront relaxing with the fast guys (lucky dude). It took a minute or so for the accordion to stretch allowing our wheels to get rolling, then it was a desperate and hilarious video game trying to crawl, sneak and finagle our way into the top 100. 3 miles later I had moved up into the top 50 and the police escort drove off…race on. Damn that was a lot of unneeded stress trying to get up front, I had no intentions of getting off and walking the first climb and knew you have to be up front at this point, it only takes 1 rider to dismount and then all chaos can prevail behind him. I felt decent, spent more energy then I wanted getting up front but non the less I was there. I settled down into a decent tempo and followed the train up and over St Kevin and then up to the power line where Ross caught up to me. A small group of us soldiered up the hill and the decent down the power line was status quo. Ross was riding full suspension, I was riding a hard tail so he pulled out of site on the down hill but I caught him and a small group before the fish hatchery and we formed a fairly organized double pace line and began picking people off. By the time we made it to the first check point we had worked into the top 30 and I was on track for my sub-eight and feeling good. We hammered through the pipeline over to Twin Lakes. Connie, Karen and Tiff greeted us with smiles and gave us what we needed to for the push up Columbine. We set up our support tent before the scorer’s tent, so when Ross and I passed through I was in 42nd place and he was in 45th. 2:36 elapsed time - 6 minutes off the top 20 guys - my fastest time compared to last 2 years. Legs still felt good, heart rate was as normal as can be for an Ohio boy but something was stirring in the stomach, I kinda dismissed it as temporary and began the assault on Columbine. This is always where 6-4foot 190lb sea level dude gets crushed, but I was trying to redeem myself this year for I trained as much hills as I could this year, but soon realized something was amiss as I was slowing down and riders began to pass me. My stomach was beginning to inflate. I felt my skin stretching and imaginary weight gain in first two miles of the climb. I laughed! I pushed on and backed off the pace, hoping the GI issues were only temporary, by the time I reached the aid station at 12,800 feet I had dropped back to 91st place with a time of 4.29. OUCH! I was losing my split time goals. Ross had passed me at the bottom of the climb and said he would notify EMS at the top to prepare for the first Leadville 100 race day birth. I tried to hang on his wheel but no dice, I offered him my extra 30 lbs of body weight in exchange for is extra 5 lbs of bike weight, but he flipped me off and rightfully so and finished the climb in 77th place at 4:27.
Pipeline1 Twin Lakes1 ColumbineMine Twin Lakes2 Pipeline2 Finish
2007 Actual - 1.54 2:36 4:29 5:05 6:05 8:50:30
2005 Actual - 1:58 2:42 4:39 5:12 6:08 8:48:56
Sub 8 goals - 2:00 2:48 4:16 4:51 5:38 7:57:22
Sub 8:30 goals - 2:00 2:46 4:25 4:55 5:50 8:29:25
I quickly grabbed two pieces of watermelon and hopped back on my bike. The first part of the decent is brutal because the clean line is taken by the climbers. So off in the rough rock, my arms and legs were my suspension as I tried to float over the rocks. I wanted off that mountain fast, we were above the tree line, snow could still be seen on adjacent peaks and the oxygen level was super low for us Ohio boys. Quick decent = more oxygen!? Once I cleared the top mile of rough rock and hundreds of ascenders, I went to hammer down and nothing, my chain was locked up. I slowed down and tried to get it back in the chain rings but soon realized the chain was wrapped around my crank twice. I dismounted, thinking I would have to do major repair but thanks to years spent mastering the rubuix cube I was able to detangle the chain puzzle in seconds and I was off. I hammered the hill and soon caught my teammate Ross who appeared to have settled down in a lazy boy at the Columbine aid station and ate as much as he could. We made it back to Twin Lakes outbound checkpoint together at 5:05, I was 15 minutes off my split sub eight goal. It was amazing, no matter how terrible or good you felt, when you passed through check point zones you got a great dose of feel good energy from the 1000’s support crews and families. It was the closest atmosphere to the Tour de France I’ll ever experience.
Ross and I took off and he helped pull me up the first small hill, then we exchanged pulls and dropped a few guys and caught a few more. When we reached the small open desert climb out the pipeline outbound trail I looked up and it looked like another flipp’n mountain. My stomach was in full arrest, churn’n and burn’n. I was sure a content cleansing moment was near. I had dumped most my Hammer stuff and gone to backup nutrition of Coke and water. My stomach was stretched to the max, I was turning white and a Leadville born mutant was eminent, it was only a matter of time. Ross saw me drop off the pace, we dismounted and began the hike a bike. Despite my long stride and mountain climbing finesse, Ross and the others easily pulled away. Ross slowed a bit and encouraged me, “Hurry up Sally”. I stepped it up in my mind but my body did not respond. I needed to back off and race my own race. This is the point that you train to avoid but sometimes find yourself alone, body failing you dig into your inner reserves and trick yourself and play the little mental games to push on when common sense says to stop and go grab a cold one. I also got severally pissed off, all the time spent training this year, my family was out here in full force, I was hitting my splits and now I was faltering. Flippn-ME! What did I do different, why now? I hadn’t a clue during the race. I turned up my MP3 player and tried to find an easy tempo, I went through several emotional fights with myself but eventually the coke, water and decreased tempo allowed my body to slightly recover, I began to push the pace again but just did not have the mojo I’m used to having at this point in the race. I was only faster in my mind! I came in at the Pipepline 2 checkpoint at 6:05. I was given all my Hammer Nutrition stuff and the thought of drinking it nearly made me sick, I immediately threw the Sustained Energy and Perp back on the ground and opted for another Coke, water and Heed/SE mix. I put my head down for a moment, I felt unusually wasted. They said Ross was 1 minute ahead and that was all it took to get me going again. He must have had high altitude issues also, for he has finished top 10 in many of the east coast 100 milers the past 2 years and here we were both dropping from being fiercely competitive into survival mode, would we even finish? They did not tell me at the time, but I was white as a ghost! Maybe it was my spirit that was getting me through as my body tried to catch up?
From this point, I caught a small group and we paced over to the power line climb. I tried to ride the plank across the creek and nearly fell in, what a wuss! I dropped the gears and began the brutal lower portion of the power line climb. Once again I made it up close to the straight away and then the vortex of thin air and zapping power lines ripped the strength from me, my head was spinning hard and I was fighting for each breath. I knew better but once again pushed that damn climb to hard and had to put my head on the handle bars. Its not that this climb is not climbable but it was not climbable, does that make any sense? Rumors are Floyd and Dave also walked immediately after this photo was taken. After I recovered, I hiked a bit more then jumped back on the bike and pedaled all the way to the top. From here on I basically rode the race alone. Connie met me at the bottom of the power line decent for a bit of encouragement. St Kevin’s was an uneventful climb but I was stoked to hear my name by the volunteers and given a fresh bottle of water without stopping. I looked at my watch; I was close to the sub-nine again. I was beginning to regain consciousness, or so I thought and made the push to the finish. I was looking for someone to share the pace with but no one was in front and nobody was in back. Somehow I managed to get to the Boulevard, just when you think you’re finished you begin the climb to the finish line. It’s a 3 mile at a slight gradient, mid-tempo pace but seems to never end. I saw five different false finishes. Damn my mind is weak today. I finally saw riders ahead but could not bridge the gap, although they got closer. I dumped out onto the final road leading into town, looked at my watch and saw I had 15 minutes til the 9 hour cut off time, this usually puts you in the top 50 or so riders but not this year! I crossed the finish line at 8:50:30. 3 minutes slower than my 2005 time and 3 minutes behind by teammate Ross. Toasted, wasted, and spent; my handlebars became my pillow again. I was told I still had no skin tone looked a tad dehydrated. I was eventually helped off my trusty Specialized steed and Connie began shoving recovery drinks in my face. She knows me. I wanted to dump em but knew I needed to get stuff into my body.
So I guess I should be happy with my finish, coming from 850 feet above sea level and being able to finish in the top 10% is good egh… Dunno, I was pushing for that sub-eight and maybe that is what keeps everyone coming back to Leadville, not necessarily to win the race, but to win your own race. To set individual goals and attack them with feverish vigor and passion. It became very apparent to me what I did different this year, I was in suburb shape compared to previous years but I only spent 8 days at altitude but the big mistake was the big pasta and chicken dinner 10 hours before the race. I never eat that much before a 100 mile race, sure 2-3 days before I scarf down some sizable carbo meals but I just couldn’t resist this year, our team chef whipped up one hell of a meal and I ate it all and wanted more. This had to be a major factor in the GI distress experienced during the race. I didn’t feel I went out to hard, considering the efforts of the other 100’s I’ve done this year, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. So that leaves me with the empty satisfaction that I can and will do better. The only question is why I would put myself through this again. Only those that have done the Leadville 100, the Race across the Sky will ever know!
1 week ago