Tuesday, September 15, 2015

2015 Leadville 100 Trail MTB Race

One of my goal races for the summer was the Leadville 100 mountain bike race.  A few years ago I tried to race the 100 mile run and flamed out spectacularly after 87 miles.  Unable to walk, I scored a DNF, and have enjoyed the memory of that dramatic day since.  I recall the electricity coursing through the town of Leadville and every runner there.  I recall the elation and weightlessness I experienced running near the front of 1000 runners for over 50 miles.  I recall and laugh at the mental image of myself hobbling along while runners passed me by the hundreds.  In spite of the outcome, it was a tremendous day and I felt strong even though my body failed me.  Returning with a bike, I was curious if I could recreate the experience (except I wanted to finish this time).

Having owned a mountain bike for about a year prior to the race, I knew that my major weakness would be my bike handling and downhill ability.  I hoped that Leadville's reputation as being a non technical mountain bike race would suit me rather than expose me as a fraud.

Since my kids are still little, I left them home and traveled to Colorado solo to be able to focus on the race and actually get some sleep.  Troy and Darcie Gorman were out as well and Darcie kindly offered to help crew me throughout the day.  Further, they contacted me previously to offer an extra hotel room, since like most things in life, I had procrastinated until there were none available in the whole town.

The day before the race, I attended the cheesy pre race meeting with the crazy Ken Chlouber who said a bunch of crazy stuff.  I actually really enjoyed all the hype as they do a corny but good job trying to inspire 1500 people.  After, I bumped into the youthful Jon Brown, and he also offered the support of the Griggs Orthopedics team as he was there to crew his super fast lady friend, Amy Beisel.  These guys were incredible.  They gave me a jersey and welcomed me like family.

With all logistics now in place, all that remained was the fidgety waiting game.  Fortunately, the mountain bike version starts at 6:30 AM instead of 4:00 so I had a decent sleep before rolling into the my corral at the start line.  The start is divided up into numerous color coded corrals based on one's qualifying time.  I was just able to sneak into the gold or first one and snag a good position.  I lined up about four riders back from the line as over 1600 other packed in behind and around.

A previous start, stolen from the internet

Another from the internet
With more fanfare, speeches, and a great rendition of the national anthem, they fired a shot gun and we all lunged forward.  The energy of 1600 riders and thousands others working toward the same end made for the least neutral neutral start ever.  From the gun, it was madness.  We were pinned, riding 40 mph, bar to bar, out of town.  Once we hit the dirt, the chaos continued but the speed slowed and the mass of nervous riders seemed more manageable.

Then abruptly, the course heads uphill and the whole field was blown apart.  The big five were off the front and a group of 10-15 of us managed to give chase.  This continued through a series of rolling climbs and descents until we climbed once more to the top of the Powerline descent.  I was in good position (6th-15th), feeling strong and confident.

Thirty seconds later, confidence shot, I was gripping the brakes while my cohorts left me for dead.  This non technical descent was technical enough with loose rock and deep ruts that I completely lost contact with the riders of similar climbing ability.

When I finally hit the pavement, I was alone.  What ensued was a long and hard effort to "get back in the race" by the time the course tilted upward again.  Riding through the Twin Lakes aid station, the throngs of people resembled a scene from the Tour de France  Through the crowds, I could see the Griggs Orthopedics team holding out bottles for me and I was able to ride through without stopping.

Now heading up the long Columbine climb, I was feeling fresh and began to pass a number of guys.  I believed a move into the top ten was possible.  It seemed like I was just out for a ride up Big Cottonwood Canyon, or so I told myself.  Of course those good feeling didn't last as the air thinned and the road tilted upward and became more rocky.  Here, up in the sky, I could feel the impending cramps and immediately shut it down.  I got off the bike, stretched, and resumed riding at a much diminished pace.  I wasn't even half way!

The Columbine aid station, half way through the race with insane two way traffic. Photo from the internet 
Finally at the Columbine aid station, I rolled through, zipped up my jersey, and started the long descent.  I was in 14th place.

A few minutes later, I was in 19th, having been passed by every rider I had passed on the way up.  This descent can't even be contrived as technical, even by me.  It was unique though with 1600 other riders climbing up while we descended at high speed right next to them.  Miraculously, no one has ever been demolished on this section.

Back on the flats, I was again alone, riding into a headwind, and still dealing with misbehaving legs and threatening cramps.  I plodded alone, taking on calories and drink until hitting the Powerline climb.  There, without even making an effort, I got off the bike and walked.  Normally, it would be a non event to ride this but I was in conservation mode, just trying to get home.  Spectators yelled for me to get back on the bike so they could push me and others doused me with cold water.

At the top of the steep lower section, I got back on and rode easy to the summit where I was passed for the final time.  Some of my more ambitious goals were clearly shot, but I still thought I might have a chance at breaking 7 hours.  On the penultimate descent, I saw JB for the last time as he handed up one more bottle.  Drinking thirstily, I told my cramping legs to shut up and got about the business of the last climb and descent back toward Leadville.

Doing the math, I thought I'd be close.  I took chances on the descent and was outwardly smiling as I was having fun.  Exhausted as I was, riding fast downhill was thrilling instead of punishment as it would be in a running race.  Nearing town, my GPS clicked past 100 miles and the time was in the low 6:50s.  I couldn't quite remember how much was left but it was a lot more than I hoped.  Four more slightly uphill miles took some time and I finally crossed the finish in 7:07:07 in 20th place.  

I didn't meet a single pre race goal but the race itself exceeded pre race expectation.  I count it as one of the more satisfying races I've done.  I rode hard, suffered well, met a bunch of cool people and reconnected with friends from around the country.  Although I'm still somewhat torn on what to do in the summers, I plan to return with some better DH skills next year.

Some Details:

I rode a Cannondale FSI hardtail with the Lefty 2.0 fork.  I built it to be super light ~17 pounds.  I think it's a great bike for this race.

I rode Schwalbe Thunder Burts with snake skin protection tubeless at a PSI of 29-30 which was much too high.

I put 3-4 gels in half my bottles mixed with Scratch drink mix.  I drank 9 bottles.  It's fast and easy without any mess while riding.

The GO Ride team (Griggs Orthopedics out of Crested Butte) was amazing.  It felt very professional to ride through an aid station and have them holding out staggered bottles so I never had to stop.  I was proud to be an honorary member for the day.

I owe the successful weekend to Darcy and Troy Gorman for arranging for a hotel, providing beta, and helping crew as well.