Monday, December 9, 2013

Leadville Essay

Dropped my name in the hat for the big show in Leadville on August 9, 2014.  They ask you to write an essay, so I did.  It's not very funny...but hopefully someone reading it thinks I should get another shot at those mountains.

let me know if you actually want to read it.  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

2014 Race Schedule

Putting together a racing calendar for next year.  Here's what's shaping up...

Jan 18 – mcdowell meltdown
March 16– mcdowell 40 (unless I’m skiing)
March 29th – mcdowell relay (had fun last year…perhaps howard and stuart could ride later, and avoid getting lost…)
April 26ish – Whiskey 50
May 16-18 – Moab trip with the boys
July 5 – Fire Road Cedar City Utah LT100 qualifier, if necc.
August 9 – LT100 (yes, I want the big buckle)
Sept 6 – Barnburner (LT 100 qualifier..and I want the big buckle in that race too)
Nov 8 – iceman

Let's see if this all happens...

Man vs mountain

This week I went out for a ride with some friends to South Mountain Park in Phoenix.  I suspected Randy would choose the Mormon/National Loop.  I had never ridden in South Mountain, but National is pretty infamous for it's epic descent.  I am not a descender.  Well, I can fly down a rocky trail fast enough but National is something else entirely

So I dropped the kids off at school (the three year old knew I was up to something, as riding gear is not the usual drop-off attire), and headed to the middle of town (trails in the middle of in paradise...).  

The climb was great, and the legs were feeling good.  We were rewarded with some awesome views of the valley from Scottsdale clear to Glendale.

Stupid Photog got a shadow in the pic

Unfortunately the climb ended, and the descent began.  I was generally unhappy and mostly scared for the descent.  I also managed to gain another nice souvenir.

I left a trail...
I *did* ride another trail I had never been on before, and that was good.  Randy is officially forbidden from choosing riding destinations for a minimum of six months.  Did I mention he snapped his derailleur hangar?  That's the cycling gods exacting their penance.

A great day, because I was able to go beyond where I thought I could, and anytime you can push the limits, it's a good day!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Cave Creek Cactus Classic

So I lined up a the Cave Creek Cactus Classic not really sure what to expect. I had a crappy workout on Friday, and was not quite feeling it.  Friends reminded me it was a beautiful weekend, and living in Arizona, best get out and ride!  A little more encouragement from the Iron Man and The Momma, and I had my bike in the car, headed for Cave Creek bright and early on Saturday...

I got to the desk, and Boris handed my Travis Pastrana's number...I figured that was a good sign! The route is one I am very familiar with, as it is one of the best trails around. 2 intense climbs, and wicked downhills that make your teeth rattle interspersed with sweet singletrack and just enough sand to remind you that yes, you're in the desert.  Looking up from the knobby every once in a while as the views were amazing. Life in paradise after all! (as i remind Yvonne, my paradise means riding in shorts in November...) 

Travis Pastrana's number.  Good luck?
The road roll out was a bit nervous - I avoided the two wrecks and seemed to be in the right place in the pack. The first climb is referred to as "chain breaker hill". About 1/2 way up the .3 mile 8-10% grade I found my legs and was wishing I had gone harder on the road, as I was stacking up behind a long line of riders. No worries though, this was a fun ride! I crested the climb, and followed my friend Pat Moty on the descent, going about as fast as I dared on the very rocky, bumpy, twisty track. This being Arizona, missing to the left...cactus. Miss to the right...cactus. So don't miss. 

Photo: 2 weeks in a row racing. Mud and tall pines to dust, rocks and Saguaros...
Don't Miss!  Cactus are sharp
Some wash riding and ripping flats later, I was about 2/3 of the way into the race. I was on the last big climb of the day, and was pretty spun out. I was pretty sure I would not make my goal time. I kept motivated by chasing a (very) fast woman from Bicycle Ranch, who seemed to know every great line on the route. Before long, I saw a little sign that said "uphill". It was helpful, because without it I don't know how i would have known i was indeed going straight up the side of a steep hill...clearly someone with a little sense of humor marked the course, and that is always appreciated! After the "uphill" we popped out from the trail, onto the road and the 2 mile sprint for home. 

I pulled my new friend from Bike Ranch about 2/3 of the way home, and I was finished. She jumped out, and got to the line about 5 seconds ahead of me. I feel like i did my good deed of the day. I crossed in 2:02! I was pretty psyched. 2:02 for 25 miles including some intense climbs was a heck of a lot better than I thought I would do...and I was damn happy I decided to race Saturday! 

The best part of Saturday though was supporting the grass roots race organized in Cave Creek, with the Flat Tire Bike Shop at it's heart. The Flat Tire and it's owner Kaolin are little treasures we have here in the valley, and they deserve every bit of support we can muster. Kaolin is an advocate, a racer, an awesome mechanic, and a really fantastic guy. I hope the C-4 gets big. Really big. Big enough for electronic timing...and sponsor swag. So when you have a chance to race, do it. Support your local race promoter, and put your wheel or sneaker on the start line. You never know when you'll be at the birth of the next great race

Monday, November 4, 2013

Iceman Cometh Challenge -- 2013

Iceman Cometh Challenge - 2013

20ish years ago Scott Booth and I made the trek to Traverse city to ride in iceman in it's 4th or 5th year. We had steel mountain bikes thrown on the roof rack, started the race at Kalkaska high school, ended at Mt Holiday, and rode through 3 feet of snow along the way. We were cold as hell...and a tradition was born. Iceman was my first endurance mountain bike event, and is the one I go back to every year. I managed to skip a few for getting married, the birth of Anika, and the wedding of Jason Frankena and Rebekah Wolford. But for the most part, the 1st Saturday of November means getting to Traverse City, hanging with awesome friends, thrashing the trails through 30 miles of sand, mud, and the (rare) snowstorm. The race has humbled me with 2 DNFs, 1 4:30+, and many finishes with good stories attached. 

This year was a banner year with a 2:22, Dave Hunter running a 2:21, and Conrad Wasmer running a 2:15. PRs all around, and much happiness and draining of Bell's cups at the end. we missed Cliff and Scott this year, but no doubt they'll be back 

The race was really fantastic. A magic combination rain, a little cold, and the mud and sand seemed to turn the entire course into hero-dirt. That black tacky soil that lets your tires stick no matter how hard you crank or how far you lean. I felt great. I've clearly got some fitness left over from the last race (that one in Colorado...). Riding on cloud nine as I passed multitudes huffing and puffing up climbs as I flicked the thumb for a bigger gear. I even cleaned Anita's hill. Haven't done that, ever. I was pretty convinced I was finally going to win among the little gang i ride with, but Dave and Conrad were out there having even better days. To that I say...see you on November 8, 2014! 

But this race is about so much more than hammering through the woods. Iceman is real. Iceman is 4000+ people putting their wheel on the line to see if they might make it fast enough to get some beer before the taps run dry. Iceman is great friends -- some of whom I know because of this race (yeah, that's you Hunters), kids ringing cowbells, and my home state on proud display. Iceman is a bonus Christmas where I get to see people I don't see but once a year and for 72-96 hours forget all about whatever I'm sending email about day in and day out. Iceman is Bells beer at the finish, Michigan natives beating national champions, and the smell of pines and fall leaves in the north woods. Iceman set me on a path that winds through forests, mountains, over a few passes and up a few peaks. Iceman keeps me sane, and every once in a while shows me I can do more than I think I can. and this year, they took this picture of me. awwww yeah

Showboating on the last jump

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Leadville 2013 Part 6 -- Epilogue

 Leadville 2013 is in the books. I've checked off a life goal, and am a better human than I was 6 months ago. Physically, I'm much happier than I was with myself last November. I rediscovered the edge of the envelope of my own performance and I've realized my own limits are largely in my mind. Also learned a ton about nutrition and training...all that I guess I should have expected. I also learned a lot about myself, my family, and my friends. I did not do this race to raise money for a cause, or awareness of a disease. I was not overcoming major life or physical obstacles. I was doing this because I wanted to do it. And I discovered that was OK, and that everyone was willing to support me in it. Those of you who know me well understand what a leap that is. My motivation a few times was wanting to be able to tell my kids, and Suman, and all of you that I had done this, that I had dug deep, and that I did not quit. Paraphrasing Ken Chlouber, I thought plenty of times about wanting to be able to tell a story about getting a buckle, not some 20 minute explanation of why I had to quit. Mostly though, I wanted one of those silver and gold belt buckles. It looks good in it's little corner of the kitchen. Come by and see it some time. So my personal mid-life crisis appears to be addressed. I think I came through unscathed. Will I go back? Let's just say I have a belt buckles in the brain, big ones. but now...73 days to iceman

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Leadville 2013 Part 5 -- Digging Deep

Walking up Powerline is something every Leadville racer does. Dave Wiens, Rebecca Rusch, Elden “Fatty” Nelson, even Lance Armstrong walk on Powerline.  

everyone does it...
I had pre-ridden the climb on Wednesday, so I knew what was coming. However, that was with fresh legs, and now I had 80 miles in. I did know once I walked up the 2 initial pitches, the remaining 3.5 miles or so were very rideable. Here’s a video I shot on Wednesday.  (I was going to insert another story about Bahram Akradi here. Somehow he got in front of me again, and was getting another push…was anyone working a Lifetime club on Saturday, or were they all pushing Bahram?) 

As I got to the top of the 2nd steep pitch, I was able to remount (after messing with the brakes again). A large slice of pizza gave me a push. I’m totally serious, and I was not hallucinating. Actually, it was a guy dressed as a pizza. He gave me a mighty push which got me started and shooting down a small hill before starting the Powerline climb proper. 

Powerline looking back
(from Wednesday's Pre-ride)
The pic is from my pre-ride on Wednesday. The pizza pushed me at the top of the road where you see it disappear. You’ll notice the steepness… Mostly what I remember about Powerline was being in pain. Legs hurt, lungs hurt, brain hurt, eyes hurt. The Garmin seemed to be broken, and the odometer kept not moving. Of course, I was only going 3 or 4 mph, so I guess that makes sense. I remember passing more people than not. I remember stopping to imitate a bear in the woods, and I remember a dude in a pickup with water (which I did not take). I passed the little firepit which I knew signaled the end of the steep climbing, sucked down another Roctane (which nearly made me hurl), ½ my remaining bottle of electrolytes, flicked into the big ring, and started down Sugarloaf.

I’m not sure if I had ever been happier to be descending. It was a rocky, rutted, sandy trail, and I was exhausted, but I was happy. The forest trail turned into Hagerman’s pass road, and I really let it fly. (You may remember from part 2 where I was looking forward to bombing this downhill) Semi-aero tuck, it was 4:15pm. I was able to steal a look at the odometer. 87 miles. I started to believe I really was going to buckle. The turn onto Turquoise Lake road is met with equal parts dread and eager anticipation. Only about 14 miles left. Of course, 8 of those are uphill. The 4.6 mile, 700 ft climb is another one that is no problem on fresh legs. Miles 87-92 of the LT100? Dude, that sucked. 

The doubt kept creeping back in. Would I bonk? Would I suddenly cramp up? I chatted (briefly) with racers I passed, and that were passing me (Bahram AGAIN! Was he using secret tunnels or teleporters? Was he a hallucination? Totally bizzare.) We were pretty convinced if we could keep the 7-8mph pace on the paved climb, we could buckle. We all encouraged each other, expressed happiness the wind was gone, and even more that the day had stayed dry and cool. Finally, I was turning left onto another forest road, and there was the Carter summit aid station. 

The Carter summit is universally known as “1 hour to go” in the LT100. There’s a short (but steep) climb to the top of St Kevins, then a nice long downhill to Leadville. Once in town, it’s just the last 3.5 mile climb up the Boulevard and onto 6th street, and you’re home. I was at Carter aid in 10:25. The very nice volunteer who gave me a coke & water (again, how refreshing is that?) slapped me on the back and told me I would need a new belt tomorrow. Just don’t crash. 

I refilled the bottle with GU electrolyte drink, didn’t bother with the camelback (1 hour!) slurped another Roctane (my god, if I never eat one more of those…) checked the rear brake (yes, it had been rubbing all the way up turquoise lake road) and off I went. I climbed most of the backside of St Kevins, banged into a guy at about 3mph when I lost my line on what must have been the final pitch up. We apologized profusely to each other, implored each other not to crash, and decided to work together to get home. This guy had a great philosophy. You can’t flat if your tires are in the air. He proceeded to absolutely shred the St Kevins descent. I stayed in his line, though going a little slower. He was catching air and executing tail whips at mile 95 of the LT 100…so he was either completely altitude brain addled, or one tough muther. 

I remember I started smiling ear to ear as I crossed the railroad tracks which said “you’re back in Leadville”. This was the happiest descent of my life. People had told me to dread the last 4 miles (the ones that come after the odometer says “100”) and they were not pleasant. But, they were not the soul crushing lay down and quit miles I thought they would be. 

Cresting the 6th street hill there was Doc Wenmark (not riding this year due to an injury) cheering us all on. He’s a marine vet, I thanked him for his service, and kept the pedals turning. The crowd was packed in around the red carpet leading to the finish line. It looked like the shots from the Tour de France with the crowd parting in front of me as I came up the very last hill onto the red carpet (every finisher gets a red carpet home). I was coming in around 11:20. About 1 hour slower than I hoped, but I was not worried, I was under 12:00. I saw Farooq first, high-5ed him as he snapped pics. Then Priya, carrying Layla in a back pack. She ran with me for a few meters. Then Mom! I high 5-ed mom as she ran along, but did not have the presence of mind to slow down and cross the line with her. You can see in the pictures she is about 2 steps behind me. I crossed the line at 11:22. I buckled at Leadville. I was in disbelief. Then Marilee Maupin put the finisher’s medal around my neck, gave me a big hug, and told me to kiss my mom. Which I did. Priya (with Layla) and Farooq came up, hugs and high-5s. Mom notices a whole lot of blood on my knee (you may remember part 3: Heart of the race, where I went down on columbine…) I guess I had bashed myself up good, but did not realize it. So, it was off to the med tent. Farooq took my bike, and pointed out the back wheel was grabbing. At that point, if someone my size had asked, they could have had a free Santa Cruz Tallboy. Was not sure I wanted to ride the thing again anytime soon. 

Many finished in ½ the time I did. I came in #1067. 1376 people finished under the 13 hour cut-off. 1281 under 12 hours. About 175 people DNF’d, and other 300+ DNS (did not start). Everyone who started that day dug deep, and found the limits they used to have do not apply anymore.

I buckled at Leadville…

Crossing the right behind!
Farooq...holding me up(?)

Go kiss your mom

Friday, August 16, 2013

Leadville 2013 Part 4 -- Where it Starts to Hurt

I took a long time to get out from Twin Lakes. My Garmin says I was back at the aid station at 6:15. Official time says I crossed the timing mat at about 6:35. So, 20 minutes to refill bottles, attempt to fix a rubbing break, and hit the portos. That's a long time! But, it was worth it as I talked to my crew a bit, and got some encouragement for what lay ahead. 

I rode back through the crew area, absorbed the cheers, and hit the first of the rolling climbs across the valley. Somehow Bahram Akradi (the Lifetime CEO) had passed me back when I was playing around at the Twin Lakes aid. I caught him again, until some Lifetime employees made trail magic happen and starting running behind him pushing him up a small hill! I was a little irritated. He was paying people to push him along in the Leadville 100! Trail magic is fine...I took pushes over the course of the race from guys dressed like pizzas, hot dogs, a Miller Lite bottle, two girls in hula outfits and a Viking. But no one who worked for me! Somehow at mile 60 of this pure mountain bike experience I had become enraged over something very silly. I got over it, caught him again on the next hill, and passed him quickly. Wheee! At one point I looked back, and realized I was pulling a train of about 25 riders, including Bahram and a bunch of guys in full Lifetime kit. I thought "damn! Why do I have my face in the wind? Let's get some of this Lifetime crew up here!" So, I did the universal elbow flick that says “pull through, I’m tired”, and moved to the center of the road so I could get in the draft. Of course, no one pulled through, and I just slowed down. Bahram took control of the train, and went to the front on a "hero pull". All of a sudden, we're going 25mph on a slight uphill, and the paceline with massive potential has blown apart leaving just myself, Bahram, and 3 or 4 other guys. I don't know why he did this, after all, this was hour 6.5 of the Leadville 100, and the winners had finished 30 minutes ago. We were all in this together, no need to blow apart a paceline. Made no sense at all. I had been sucked back into the negative energy zone. All I could think about was my (potentially) rubbing rear brake, the fact that my carbs ended up in a bottle and my electrolytes in the camelback (who cares, I had them both), the nagging slight cramp that kept appearing in my right groin, and the potential that those puffy white clouds were going to let loose with a massive mountain thunderstorm and I have left my rain jacket back with my crew at Twin Lakes. I was no longer enjoying myself. Mile 65, and I was slogging under a brilliant Colorado sky. 

Time for the attitude check. 

Bahram came through again. He was turning the pedals very slowly on the only section of single track in the course, with about 30 of us stacked up behind him. I was 3rd wheel back. There was no room to pass on the trail. Eventually at a single-track uphill switchback Bahram slowed so much we were practically track-standing behind him. The guy in front of me did a sweet move where he wheelied and pivoted simultaneously, cutting the switchback and going straight up the side of the hill. I followed him (though with a less elegant move where I ran over a shrub) and so did about 10 other guys. 

Looking Epic, Clearing the Singletrack
I was racing again, and the grin was back! We were on the "pipeline" (so named, because it's the service road for some sort of gas pipeline) and moving fast again. The wind from the north/west was building and it was good to have people to work with. Riders accelerated faster than I could keep up, and dropped off to a slower pace. Soon, there were 3 of us moving towards the Pipeline aid station marking mile 75. 

I rolled into the aid station starting to feel tired. Not ready to quit by any means, but losing the ability to keep the speed up effectively. I crossed the timing mat at 2:20pm. Nearly 8 hours into the race. I started trying to calculate what kind of speed I needed to carry over the next sections, but was tired enough the math were not making any sense. The piece of paper taped to my top tube said I was somewhere close to an 11 hour finish, but the combination of my scribble and tiredness made it hard for me to process. A guy dressed as a banana handed me 3 Roctanes, a little girl filled my bottle and camelback, and a very nice woman handed me a cup full of potato chips. I headed out again for the last 29 miles of the race (it's 104 miles, not 100...they lie to you). 

Small problem, I seemed to be riding alone. The next group ahead was several hundred yards away, and no one from behind seemed to be catching me. I was headed onto Halfmoon road/Lake County 11, which heads straight North across a valley with the afternoon winds kicking up to 20-25 mph. This was not good. I was going to burn up a lot of energy getting across the valley to the Powerline climb unless I could find some people to work with. 

There was a group of 3 that was dropping back from a larger pack ahead. As I turned off the dirt and onto the pavement, the wind hit me full on. I put my hands together on the bar, dropped my head in some simulation of an aero position and stared at the speedometer. 12mph...11mph...10mph...finally down to 7mph and holding steady. My brain started playing games with me. 8 hours. 4 hours to go for a buckle. 7mph or less and 26 miles to go, 4 hours for a buckle...I'M NOT GOING TO MAKE IT! 

As the lactic acid built in my legs, and the speed kept falling, the doubt and uncertainty started to take over. Somehow, I kept the pedals turning, kept sucking down the water and the GUs, and managed to catch the small group in front of me. I had accelerated to about 11mph, I guess getting tiny bits of draft off the cars passing on the road. There was a funny argument going on between the 3 people in the group. None seemed to speak English. I’m guessing Spanish, Dutch, and Frech, though I may have been altitude hallucinating at this point. The whole thing (real or imagined) gave me a little boost (an international peleton!) Based on the gestures, and the volume, I was guessing no one wanted to pull. I certainly couldn't pull. So I tucked into line, and rested a bit while the group moved along at 12mph or so. Faster pacelines started to pass and I tried to grab the wheels, but could not quite keep the pace. After an eternity of battling the wind, I was finally in the shelter of the mountains and tall pines again. I was passing the fish hatchery, and the road tilted up. I passed the unofficial Strava aid station (who knew coke mixed with water would be so refreshing??) crested a small hill, and made the left turn into the woods. In front of me loomed the Powerline. 1st mile of this 4.1 mile 6.7% grade climb averages 11%. Sometimes as steep as 23%. Time to walk, just like everyone else. 3:10pm. 20 miles to go. About 3200ft of climbing 3:20 left to get a buckle. I'm 2.5mph

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Leadville 2013 Part 3 -- The heart of the race.

Columbine mine. 12,400' 

Any mountain bike racer knows what you are talking about when you say "Columbine". This is the climb to the sky in The race across the sky. The climb that takes you above where it is warm enough, moist enough, or the air dense enough for trees to grow. Above the clouds, and potentially, beyond your limits. This is not the same as the Alpe d'Huez, or the Galibier, Col de la Croix Fer, or Stilvio. It is not Hautacam or even Ventoux. Those incredible cols and passes have featured epic battles for position, classic duels between cycling's great heroes. Columbine only has survival. All of those famous European mountains peak 2000 ft or more below Columbine. They are all paved. They all have one way traffic. You can slow down and recover on Alpe d'Huez. On Columbine, the air is too thin to provide enough oxygen for recovery. Slowing down just prolongs the pain. When Lance Armstrong raced Leadville, he lost time on Columbine. To a guy who uses love and sugar for a performance enhancer. Columbine is 10 miles up, and 10 miles down. It is the heart of Leadville. 

What makes it so special (beyond the fact you might just get AMS as you turn around) is that this 20 miles is where the ENTIRE field comes together again. Being an out-and-back course, the leaders are flying down the mountain as the rest of us slog our way up. It's a chance to see the world champ ride in 3rd place, hanging onto the wheel of the American champion. It's a place to cheer your favorite pros, and hear them cheer for you. The road is only about 12 feet wide, so you are sometimes mere inches from these guys as they scream down the mountain. The family of Leadville is very apparent here. Everyone is pulling for each other. Bottles are shared, gels passed back and forth, and always the encouragement to dig deep. 

I started my climb after about a 10 minute stop at Twin Lakes. Farooq was my human bike stand, Mom had the fluids and calories, Priya bike gear and clothing. Layla was allll over the cowbell. A better crew was not to be had! Just before I returned to the trail, the lead moto came through. I wanted to be on the slopes of Columbine before the leaders had finished descending. Looked like their insanely fast pace would prevent that. 

The climb starts with a little hop over 2 ridges. Both are still decent efforts, but just appetizers for the big pain feast to come. On the first ridge I came up on the only other dark skinned racer I had seen all day. He was in full lifetime athletic kit, and astride a *very* expensive bike. This could only be one person. Bahram Akradi. CEO of lifetime fitness. My gym, and employer of my trainer, Jamie Meng.  As I passed Bahram, I complimented him on his clubs, an the quality of his trainers. I also smiled real big. It's his job to work out every day, and those sculpted quads and pecs were moving his bike pretty slow up this relatively small hill. For the first time all day, I put the hammer down. Bahram yelled at me to keep my knees in. I kept climbing. 

As I dropped over the ridge and was about to begin the next little climb, the race leaders came through. Alban Lakata, Todd Wells, and Christoph Sauser going fast fast fast. I yelled out "albanator! Yo T Wells! sausi sausi sausi!!" They kept riding. Up and over the ridge, a quick jaunt across some ranch land, and I was in the 3rd of 3 crew areas around twin lakes. There was 6 time champ Dave Wiens ringing a cowbell and cheering us on. I rode by called out "thanks Dave!" He returned "go speedy go speedy!" I passed the hula girls, and started up the climb in earnest. It was only here, nearly 10 minutes after seeing the lead group, that I saw the next leader coming down the hill. I was now firmly on the slopes of Columbine, and felt that I had indeed made my goal of being up Columbine before the leaders came down. 

As I climbed, the crowd formed again. We were mostly a tight double-file packed on the right side of the road, leaving more than 1/2 the road for the descenders. Very uncomfortable. I could not climb at my pace, and I was starting to lose 100% control of my arms, making accurate close quarters steering very hard. This was stressful mentally as well as physically. For the first time in the race, I was working really hard, and not going very fast at all. This is where the race magic took over. The really fast guys coming down started cheering for us more frequently, and us climbers cheered back to the descenders. I was looking for my favorite racers and Leadville celebrities, and a few friends from Scottsdale I knew in the race. 

About 1/2 way up I heard a 4-wheeler behind us that for some reason freaked me out. As it went by, I lost concentration, touched wheels with the rider in front of me, and went down, fairly hard. I was not hurt bad, as my first thought was to jump up, get out of the line, and keep moving. I got myself sorted, remounted, and started climbing again. I kept my eyes up...I wanted to do some stargazing. The pros coming down looked and sounded so fast, it was incredible. 2 women passed by, no Rebecca Rusch. She's the queen of Leadville, and there was some chatter amongst us climbers that she was not where we expected. Soon enough, the Red Bull helmet with Specialized kit came bombing around the corner ... Standing in the pedals, hammering "go reeeeeba!'" I yelled as she went by. Lots of us cheering for Rebecca... Then it was Elden "fatty" Nelson "go fatty!!" Ricky MacDonald, a few Bicycle Ranch riders... 

About 1 mile left in the climb, the road got even steeper and very rocky. Ahead of me was a long line of dismounted riders, walking. I had no choice but to walk also, as the road had narrowed, and there was no passing uphill safely with everyone descending at breakneck pace.  Then, as if an altitude hallucination, I saw the yellow 4 wheeler that had caused my fall. Turns out it was Ken Chlouber. There he was 11800' in the sky, cheering us on. For the one or two on their bikes, he gave them an epic push. For the rest of us, some encouragement and the exultation, "DO NOT QUIT"! 

As I got onto the "goat trail" section of the climb in Jeff and Jessica Westcott on their tandem "go westies!" And passed another Bicycle Ranch rider who I had dinner with on Thursday. I was passing people as I was walking...lots of burnt souls up here, but I kept moving fast as I could. Finally, I could remount and turn the cranks again it was a relief to get back on the bike. 

The top of Columbine has some rolling hills to the aid station. I filled the camelback, grabbed some gels and some potato chips and headed back...up!?! Yes, the aid station/turn around sits below the course high point, so you need to climb back out before you get to descend the 3800' to Twin Lakes. I got back up and over the course high point and picked my way down the goat trail. Along the way I saw Laurel Darren, spinning instructor from Lifetime, Bahram again, and the bride and groom. Turned back onto the road signaling the really fast part of the downhill, and let my bike fly. 

I called out encouragement to a whole bunch of folks who had no hope of making the Twin Lakes return cut off, but I was hoping for them anyway. Ken Chlouber was still there, cheering on the last of the racers. I yelled a thank you to him as I descended at what was probably just the wrong side of safe. About 2/3 of the way down, my brakes started to fade from the friction heat, and I started to get a funny wobble out of my rear wheel. I look this as a queue to let the bike run...and the Tallboy is made to fly on fire roads. As I rolled back to my awesome crew at Twin Lakes, I knew my brakes needed adjustment. I was starting to feel tired 60 miles in, and I had to pee. Mostly I knew I was pretty much on schedule being back at Twin Lakes about 2:40 after starting to climb. 

I knew I had spent too much time at the mountain top aid station, but no matter. I found my crew ready to go. My human bike stand was awesome, my mom-soigneur had all my nutrition, and my sister-wrench had the gear ready to go. In fueled up, refilled bottles (mixed up carbs and electrolytes, but sorted it out) messed with my brake, and was ready to roll. 40 to go. Now more like a 10:45 pace. My brake was definitely having issues, and I was worried about it. My trusty cowbell ringer was napping, so I would have to simply roll on... I had conquered Columbine. I was tired, but not wasted. All I had left was 40 miles, and 3 more climbs. all in 6 hours to get a buckle...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Leadville 2013 Part 2 -- Where I completely ride within myself

3:30am. iPhone clock tower bells signal it's time to go racing. Thankfully, I had fallen asleep easily, and managed a solid 6.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. I got mom up, made coffee, hit the shower, got dressed, and found mom putting dishes away in the condo kitchen! Well, that's mom.... Mom and I took the last bags to car, and headed up to Leadville under a clear star filled Colorado night. 

That's Me!  Note my lack of wintry garments!
Arriving in Leadville about 5:15am, we were pretty lucky to find parking at the Delaware available. I got mom a coffee from the breakfast room, and got myself ready. Shorts, Speedy Bike Club Motor City jersey, arm warmers and long fingered gloves. That was it. 36 degrees outside and that's all I planned on wearing. I headed downstairs to prep the bike, figuring if I could take 10 minutes outside before the sun came up, I'd be fine once we started climbing St Kevin's. 

What I saw worried me. Tons of racers dressed for Iceman, in the snow . Goretex jackets, tights, balaclavas, winter gloves...I reminded myself that I'm from Michigan, and set to work. I got the bike prepped, and could still feel the toes and fingers. I figured I'd be fine for the race, and all these people would be leaving some expensive gear by the side of the trail... I looked at the Garmin I borrowed from Strava and had a minor panic. 6:05!! Corals closed in 10 minutes!!! Then I remembered I was 1/2 a block from my coral. Duh. I got lined up, no drama whatsoever. 

Racing Barnburner and making the cut off there had earned me a small bump up in starting position. Instead of starting in the "white" first-timers coral at the very back of the field, or the blue "previous +12 hours" I got to start in orange coral. This small bump put about 1/2 to 1/3 of the way up from the back. Seemed I was in the right place. As the clock ticked towards 6:30, the PA music pumped up...and the dawn cracked a beautiful bright blue Colorado sky. Not a cloud to be was going to be a great day. A massive relief after the rains of the week had left snow caps on mt Massive and Mt Elbert. 

Race start standards came over the PA. AC/DC's "Thunderstruck", Rolling Stones "Start Me Up", etc. Then The Star Spangled Banner. I pitched my coat to mom waiting by the barricades, one more pep talk from Ken and Marilee imploring us to dig deep and commit not to quit... Shotgun blast at in...and we're racing! 

And we're off!
The start is 4 miles of downhill pavement, and it's fast. 2000+ racers going 30mph in tight formation. Most of these people are not road racers (including me), and the possibility of a massive crash was very real. I stuck to the left side of the road, kept a little distance, and let the draft and the hill pull me along at 30mph. Overhead, TV helicopter kept pace with the leaders already about 1/2 mile ahead of the rest of us. The roar of motorcycles mixed with chain music, freewheels, and knobbies buzzing on pavement punctuated with cheers from spectators made me feel massively pumped. This was a real bike race, and I was in the middle of it! 

I was also freezing. Fingers toes and nose went numb quick. After about 4 miles the road turns to dirt, and the pace calmed down a bit. Still fast, but where I was I the field was decidedly cautious. Soon, the road tilted up and we were on the first big climb of the day -- St Kevins. This was a 800', 1.2 mile climb, officially a Cat 3 hill. It was like climbing the subway stairs in New York City rush hour. The pace was slow, but there was nowhere to go. Boxed in on 4 sides, I focused on not touching wheels, and smoothly clearing any rocks and logs in the way. The best part about the climb was I got to warm up. I could feel my fingers, toes, and nose again, and soon enough, I was clearing the top and starting the rollers along the ridge. I passed a bunch of people stripping layers more suited for a cross country ski day in January...and I felt quite smug, despite my runny, drippy nose. 

Photog making me look fast
10 miles in, passed the Carter summit aid station. I was at 55 minutes. Exactly on pace! I made the right turn onto Turquoise Lake road, and started the screaming downhill towards Hagerman's pass road. Here's where I get scared again. 80 miles from now, I get to go up this hill that was propelling me at 35mph without turning the cranks...well, that's 7 hours and 4 big mountain climbs away so whatever. I needed to pee, remember to eat, and wanted to SMS the home and race crews so they would know I was doing well. By now the traffic had thinned considerably, and I could actually ride my own pace. This was a huge relief, and allowed me to relax. I made a quick stop as I turned onto the dirt Hagermans pass road and texted the gang. Another quick stop for the needful and I was headed up Sugarloaf mountain.

As the 4.6 mile 1100 ft cat 2 climb got steep, the traffic built again. I was back to following knobbies, but there was space to pass and ride my line. As I climbed sugarloaf, I had the opposite feeling as descending turquoise lake. In about 75 miles, I get to rip this downhill... I really wanted to put the hammer down and motor up the climb. I had some good legs, the HRM said I was not working that hard, and the cool, glorious Colorado morning was made for climbing. But, I heeded the warnings going off in my head and I kept the effort in check. The Leadville 100 is the hardest 1-day mountain bike race in the world, and no time to go on a flyer! 

Soon I was cresting Sugar Loaf and descending the Powerline (slowly). The fear is back...I'm now going down the nastiest climb on the course, and I'm going pretty fast down this hill. It's Cat 1. Gulp. As Powerline eased up I got to chat with a woman from alchemist threadworks who actually lives on the same street in boulder, CO as my friend Todd Kleinman. She nearly fell off her rig when I told her Todd's highschool nickname. I made it down Powerline safely, and got in a paceline headed for the Pipeline aid. The train was going fast. 25mph on the flats. I took my pulls, pushed the pace a bit, and screamed into the Pipeline aid at about 2:30. Right on time... I refilled the bottle, grabbed a GU, and headed into the pipeline "flats" intent on following wheels. 

Once again I fought the urge to put the hammer down, and tried to keep my face out of the wind. I mugged for the camera at the "little stinker", and fortunately had a good wheel to follow at the single track. There was one very unpleasant hill before the Twinlakes aid station. Not pre-riding the course cost me here as I had the "when will this end?!" feeling which is just draining and soul crushing. After what seemed like forever, my Garmin said "39.5mph" and I was at the Twin Lakes aid! I came down the hill, crossed 82, an headed into the "tunnel of love" of race crews cheering us all on. Crossed the timing mat and skidded to a halt where Farooq was flagging me down. I refueled again. Carbs and electrolytes...some more GUs, and water for the camelback. Hugs and pictures and I was off to climb Columbine! 40 miles into the Leadville 100, I was exactly on pace for a 10:30 finish, and starting one of the most famous mountain bike climbs in the world....
Farooq being a soingeur

Race Crew!

Rest of the crew!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Leadville 2013 Part 1 -- The Week Prior

This is the start of my 2013 Leadville 100 MTB race's in 6 parts.  Sometimes I'm long-winded.

I drove up to Leadville on Monday with a carload of stuff that could have outfit me for a week of skiing in the backcountry much less a one day mountain bike race. In the truck I had:

  • 3 coats
  • 2 vests
  • 3 hats
  • 3 pairs of gloves
  • 4 pairs of shoes
  • a whole lot of socks
  • 3 pairs of cycling shorts
  • 3 jerseys. 
  • 2 kinds of arm warmers
  • 2 tubes of embrocation
  • chamois cream
  • and regular clothes for a week. 
  • 1 bike
  • extra wheel
  • toolkit
  • enough gu and energy drink for an entire cycling club

finally for my raceday crew:

  • sun/wind shelter 
  • camp chairs
  • tarp
  • water 
  • food 


The drive itself was blissfully boring. A jaunt across the great American west...Scottsdale, Flagstaff, Moab, Grand Junction, Glenwood Springs, Minturn, and finally Leadville! A veritable feast of scenery that did not stop being majestic for the entire 12 hours. 

Leadville itself is a true mountain town. From Harrison Avenue (Main Street) you see the 2 highest peaks in Colorado...the 2nd and 3rd highest points in the lower 48. The town shows its boom-bust-boom cycle with 200 year old buildings next to boarded up houses and gleaming new coffee shops and a whiskey distillery. A modern bike shop, a famous opera house, the national mining hall of fame, and many old west shoot outs call the place home. The air is cold, thin, and heady. 

I got into Leadville 10,200' in the "air" about 8pm, checked into the Delaware Hotel, and hauled a big part of my load up to the 3rd floor room (no elevator).  Immediately I thought "I'm screwed" At the top of the stairs, attempting to unlock the door to #316 (doc holiday's favorite room, but that's another story ) I could not catch my breath. 2 flights, about 80 lbs of bags, and I was panting like I had just sprinted 400m. This altitude stuff was serious. Fortunately a pizza, small beer, 9 hours of sleep and coffee cured me and I felt fine by Tuesday noon. 

I spent the next 3 days riding the big climbs of the course, chatting with other racers, drinking coffee at City on a Hill, poking around the LRS HQ shop, Melanzana outdoor wear, and the souvenir shops. I saw, and met, the luminaries of the mountain biking world including Todd Wells, Rebecca Rusch, Alban Lakata, Elden "Fatty" Nelson, Ken Chlouber...on my rides around town I invariably saw a current or former world champion who always called out "looking tough" or "keep 'em turning" or some other encouragement as they passed by. 

Thursday came quick, and I did the race necessities...check in, med check, etc. headed down to Breckinridge to meet my awesome race day crew (mom, Priya, Farooq, and Layla). Friday was all about psyching up and avoiding getting psyched out. Harrison avenue, the expo, the hotel....Soooo many racers, pro teams, and vendors had packed into this tiny Colorado town, it looked like art fair in Ann Arbor with a spandex theme. Every corner had someone talking race strategy or had a race story of blowing up on the first climb, succumbing to AMS, dehydrating, going hypoglycemic, getting gut rot...I was ready to ride, and stop all the talk. I knew I felt pretty good, and well, Saturday was going to come no matter how much everyone kept talking. 

There was one more speech to go. Ken Chlouber needed to tell us all to dig deep. Packed into a high school gym with 2500 adrenaline pumped racers, with the Rocky Mountains looming outside... this man held us all silent. I found a recording of the 2012 speech. Here it is. Turn up the volume.  After that, we scouted crew positions, headed back to Breck, prepped bottles, bike, cars...and attempted an early night. The alarm went off at 3:30am on Saturday. Time to go racing.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Leadville 2013 -- Prologue

So you all know the outcome. I buckled at Leadville. 

For anyone that has ever put their knobby wheel on a start line, read bicycle magazines, blogs, or had the misfortune of being in a committed relationship with a mountain biker, you know that "buckling" is a good thing. 48 hours later, am still on top of the world. Heck, I'm in Velonews!

This story actually begins back in December 2012, when I started dreaming out loud to Suman about riding Leadville. She encouraged me, and when I actually got in via the lottery she continued to encourage me by making a ton of sacrifice to ensure I got my training time in. 

So this story begins with the end and the very beginning. One does not happen without the other. So thank you Suman for being the critical link in my crew that let me be stronger than I think I am. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Why I Race

Why do I race?

I am not JHK, Todd Wells or Dave Wiens. I am not as inspirational as Fat Cyclist...I'm not as cool as Drunk Cyclist...I'm just a guy who likes to ride.

So why race? 

There's three parts to a race for me -- signing up, training, and racing. 

Signing up for a race is small effort. A few mouse clicks, $50-$100 on the credit card, and boom, there's a date on the calendar. There's a commitment. There's something Suman, Anya, Anika, and Sirina point to and say "daddy, will you win?" (No Suman does not think I'm winning anything, but I only get to be a superhero for a little while longer, I'll take it)

Now Training becomes a little bit of a commitment. At least 4 people have an expectation I'll be faster than last year.

That means I get up an hour or two early. Lace or buckle the shoes, grease the chain, butter the chamois...sweat. Cut out the beers...well most of the beers.  Eat a little less cake. Push a 245 lb sled around the gym. Sweat some more...

Race day. Now A little more effort. Maybe a a drive, maybe a plane ride. More lube, more cream for the shorts, tighten all the bolts, check the pack, recheck the pack...line up....wait wait wait. And then the guns goes off (ok, rarely is it a gun anymore, but when it is, it's cool).

Now I'm out there. There's a number on the handlebars. There are people passing. There's a BIG clock...and the cranks are turning. There's that sound of 100 knobby tires zinging across the dirt sounding like Tie Fighters. The little squeaks and creaks of forks, rear shocks, and bolts that needed another 1/8 turn. The chain music as riders all around spin, shift spin again...and of course the camaraderie of the entire field. Off the line, only about 10 guys are trying to win. Everyone else is out there to help everyone be fast...and survive I the finish!

When it comes time to think about taking the short cut home, I don't. Because there's a course out there. There's hundreds of other guys in just as much pain, they want to quit too...but they don't. Someone sees me fading, and they give you a "good work...keep it up!" Later in the climb (maybe) I get to return the favor.

Turn the cranks, crest the ridge, rip the descent...everything else melts away.

Worried about the mortgage, email, size of the 401k, braces, will the kids grow up to be as strong as I can dream, am I doing this right? Yes I can worry. May even think deep about all that as the pedals tick over on some long insane climb. On a training ride, I could stop. Pull out the phone, double check that everything is ok at home and at the office.

But this is a Race.

The phone is tucked in the Camelbak, Strava is running...and all of that will just have to wait.

I'm there to go fast, and keep going fast. For these few hours, it's 100% ok to remove all other thoughts from my head. Turning pedals, shifting the weight back, then forward to clear the log, catching air off the ledge...catching the guy in front of me...that's all I need to think about.

Racing lets me get inside myself. Its often said that surviving an endurance event is mental. I heard 3-time defending Leadville 100 champ Rebecca Rusch give an interview the other day. She said the first 20 miles of an endurance event are physical. The rest of it 20,40, or 100 more miles are all mental.

I think I agree. A really good mental that keeps me from going mental. So there you have it.