Thursday, August 27, 2015


I was scared. I feared I had done something terribly wrong. Not a "was that donation of an old cost worth $250 or $50, and is the IRS going to catch me?"  This was shaking me to my core as a person

I believe in helping others, as much as possible. I'm not so noble as to live as an ascetic monk and give away all my stuff (I like my stuff) but I always hope that when a call came I could do my best to help. 

During the 2015 Leadville 100 I passed a couple riders in trouble on Powerline. I was in a bit of hurt myself, but I was moving  forward. I called out to some, others I just rolled past. Sometimes people don't want you to say anything.  They are in their own personal hell of bonking and cramping and feeling queasy. I have been that guy (more than I would like) and truly, not having to say, "I'm ok" is a blessing. 

At mountain bike races, there are some basic rules.  

  1. Help people who need it.  Racers are the first responders.  
  2. Don't litter 
  3. Be nice 
  4. Don't quit  
Rule 1 basically trumps all the others.

Sunday morning, I found out a man named Scott Ellis riding about my pace had died of a heart attack on the Powerline climb. 

I was immediately paralyzed with fear. Had I passed someone I could have helped?  Was I such an asshole racer that I let a dying man suffer in the woods as I pedaled on?  

For days I did not check his splits. I was consumed with the fear that I had indeed failed to help when help was most needed. 

I finally checked. I was ahead of Scott Ellis by nearly 30 minutes at the previous checkpoint. 

While my guilty fear was relieved my heartache and self-preservation concern was not. People are not supposed to die in a race. Especially people who are fit, have done the event before, and "know what they are getting into".  True, the medical statics say if you take enough people, sit them down, and stare at them for 10 hours, someone will have a heart attack.  Over 25 years, something like 20,000 people have ridden Leadville, and it took (most) of them 10 hours or more.  Therefore, someone was going to have a heart attack.  

That doesn't help.

Riding around the following week, making some hard efforts I felt my chest tighten up.  Difficulty breathing.  I'm back in the desert...was it the dust?  Was it lingering fatigue?  Did the fact that I don't really care what I eat anymore (I simply can't eat enough) finally catch up with me?  Then it happened again, JRA (Just Riding Around).  It was hot though.  Close to 100. 

I have a lot more to live for than 2 wheels on dirt and the occasional start and finish line.  What am I doing?  I ride fast enough now, that even JRA and sticking my wheel in a rock and going over the handlebars could kill me.  

Of course, so could standing on the corner waiting to cross the street in New York when a garbage truck misses its turn and squashes me.  Or waiting at a traffic light when some texting fool slams into my car.

Somewhere in the recesses of philosophy and lessons absorbed over the years I was reminded.  Fear has no power when faced head on.  Face the fear, and it becomes the truth of what you are made of.

I won't stop.  I will ALWAYS ask.  Always.  They can curse me later.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Leadville 2015


Check out my composition...Mt Massive in the background!


This is the 3rd time I have had a chance to race Leadville.  Clearly I have a mental defect.  My amazing family continues to put up with the training, the travel, my constant talking about bikes and training and more bikes.  I'm truly a lucky, lucky guy.  I manage to keep getting in, and with  the kind of support I have at home...who can lose? (btw, here's the 2014 story and the 2013.  They spend more time talking about the course and the race vs what's in my head)

I really enjoy Leadville.  The chance to play bike racer for a week, soak in the atmosphere of a world class event, hang out with amazing people, and test myself on a iconic race course.  Besides -- Colorado, around the Continental divide, in August...what could possibly be better? 

The drive to Leadville is one I look forward to each year.  It is amazing.  Driving across the Sonoran Desert, Monument Valley, 4 corners area, Moab, Fruita, Grand Junction, Glenwood Canyon, Vail, and finally up the hill to Leadville.  It is the American west in all it's glory.  It's also completely maddening as I drive within 30 minutes of about 20 bucket list bike trails and ride none of them.  This year I smartened up and activated the satellite radio in the car, which made the entire trip go by in a flash.  I highly recommend satellite radio if you're driving for a 12 hour period by yourself.

Due to bad fate, I had no lodging in Leadville this year. Instead, I was down the slope in Copper Mountain.  A soul-less, if clean and comfortable condo.  I did sleep better being about 1500' or so lower, but I missed out on the Leadville atmosphere.  Waking up and walking over to the City on a Hill for coffee listening to race chatter, talking with friends met in person and online...all with Mt Massive and Mt Elbert as a backdrop is something I could do every day. But not this year.  I did get to hang out with Laurel Darren-Simmons, one of my personal inspirations who was working medical for Leadville and for the Trans-Rockies run, and one of her buddies, Matt before the massive waves of cyclists rolled in.  It is nice to have friends at 10,200'.

I did manage to participate in a couple of pre-race festivities happening in PbVille.  The Fat Cyclist and Rebecca Rusch hosted pre-rides, a brat-roast for WBR, and generally shared their awesomeness.  

Fatty and Rebecca have some amazing stories that you can read in their books and on their websites.  The battles they have fought with sickness and personal tragedies, the victories they have achieved on the race course and what they have given back to the world are pretty amazing.  They have lived full lives, and are willing to share with the rest of us.  For that I thank them.  Their impact on many people, including myself is hard to appreciate. Heck, I probably wouldn't even have contemplated Leadville in the first place were it not for Fatty's writings. If you're looking for some good inspiration, or good mountain biking advice, or stories, or humor check out their books and websites.  

I only managed to make it to the barbecue, and do one pre-ride, but I did make the most of it.  Here's a picture of me with Fatty:

Fatty has great advice on how to suck in your gut properly for pictures
and here's a picture of me with the Queen of Pain:

Tiaras are for Princesses.  The Queen wears rainbow stripes
CONCLUSION:  I am GIGANTIC.  Seriously.  Look back at those pictures   

Here's a shot of the group listening to Rebecca Rusch share knowledge. I think it's pretty:

I did one serious pre-ride.  I rode the Powerline climb on Wednesday to prove to myself that I could ride the "normal" part of that climb at pace.  And I did.  Even stopping for people bombing downhill I rode the 2.5 mile section from the steeps to the Sugarloaf summit in 35 minutes.  This is where the race has fallen apart for me the past 2 years.  I wanted to ride this section on Saturday, and ride it properly.  Proving to myself on the first day at altitude I could just go on up without hurting myself was key to my mental prep.  

At packet pick-up I connected with Abby froth LRS team.  She's awesome -- one of the people that makes the entire organization special.  More friends at 10,200'...always makes me smile.

Thursday night rolled around, and I picked up my race crew:

Mom as Race Crew.  How Awesome is that?
Friday was the meeting.  I'm pretty convinced that there's a group of people that sign up for Leadville 100 events so they can hear Ken Chlouber go into full preacher mode and minister to the assembled masses.  His speeches are moving, he has the gift.  I did not take pics or record.  If you're interested, someone did a great job of setting his speech to scenes from the 2014 race here.  It really is special.  Each year I've taken a little piece away as personal motivation.  This year, Ken talked about "how" and "why" we are all out here in the mountains.  "the how is easy" he said.  "Put your head down turn the pedals, don't quit".  He went on, "They why is much harder.  They why is all the sacrifice not by you, but by your families, your spouse, your kids, your parents, your job so you can be here..." True words indeed.

Race day 

I came into the week in some of the best shape ever.  I set some truly aggressive, perhaps pipe-dream like goals, but figured, what the hell.  I'm here, it's too late to go home, might as well go BIG. So far everything had gone perfectly, and that would indeed continue...

Staying at Copper was relatively easy for not being in town.  30 minutes from condo to Leadville, so 4am wake up, 5am departure.  Sure, I could have slept until 5am with an in-town place, but it worked. I was there in plenty of time for start line pic with my awesome crew:

That's my crew!
Selfie Mode!
This year, thanks to some miracle of effort at BarnBurner last year, I was in the RED corral for the start.  This means the people in front of me had previously gone sub-8 or were honest to goodness pros.  Like previous World Champions.  And the American Champion.  And last year's winner.  And the winner from the year before that.  Behind me was 2/3 or 3/4 of the field.  I am naturally very self-critical, but I did let myself puff up a bit.  Red means "you're fast Rohit", and I would hang on to that thought for much of the race. Because when this race gets hard, you need every bit of encouragement to keep you moving forward.

That's the start line.  The collective Quads and Gastrocs belonging to people in this picture are truly phenomenal

Start to Pipeline Outbound

Last year, I lost the eating contest.  I was in calorie deficit before I even started the 2nd hour of the race.  This year, per Fatty and Reba's advice, I started eating before the race started.  One cookie-like thing from the grocery and one package of GU watermelon chews.  210 calories before the gun went off.  I was ahead of the game in the eating contest.  

Pro Call ups, call-outs, Thunderstruck, Bulls on Parade, Ben Wiens singing the National Anthem, one more "love ya" from Ken and Marilee and the shotgun went off.

Unlike the previous years, I was rolling from the gun.  Maybe 15 seconds passed before I was clipped in and rolling.  30 seconds later I was in my biggest gear, and spinning easily up the little rise on 6th street.  I stood up to take in the hill, and never had to drop into a lower gear.  Cresting the hill, it was full speed jostling, no screaming breaks, no people flying up or dropping back...just that tie fighter sound of 600 knobby tires on the road at 30 mph.

Going fast in a qualifier is really really worth it.  

As we hit the dirt road leading to St Kevins the confidence was bubbling up.  I had just ridden the first few miles of this course much faster than I ever had previously, nearly all of it in my biggest gear.  No huffing, no puffing, just laying down the power and making the bike move.  On the dirt, the magic of the Red start came through again.  I could actually ride my pace, allow my legs to warm up and take in the race experience.  I saw a bunch of Phoenix area jerseys from various shops and clubs.  Even had a few people call out my own Shadetree jersey.  That's worth more than you might think to keep you motivated.  

Just before we hit the cattle guard signaling the start of the Kevin's climb, I passed The Hammer.  Aka, Fat Cyclist's wife.  I called out "Nice Shorts Hammer!" (because I was wearing FC shorts ya know).  Since she does not know me at all, when she looked over her right shoulder to see who was calling out to her, and it was this big Indian dude, her look showed "What the F??" vs "hey cool".  For me personally, knowing I was riding close to the Hammer was a great indicator that I was going the speed I needed to meet my goals. She is one fast lady, and I figured she would be a good person to mark my progress.

We climbed Kevins uneventfully.  The tempers were starting to pick up a bit with a few folks yelling about keeping lines and whatnot.  I kept Rebecca Rusch's words in mind, "your body does not distinguish between types of just burns calories.  So don't waste them being mad".  As always, I climbed at the pace of everyone around me.  This year, that pace happened to be quick vs plodding.  HOORAY RED!  I was topping the fist hard effort of the course, and I was not feeling one bit of tiredness...only total excitement.  That's new.

As we approached the big left turn there were a couple guys camped out on the road.  One was Doc Wenmark, the other appeared to be Ricky MacDonald.  Ricky MacDonald?  21 time finisher?  sitting on the side?  I must be hallucinating.  I was so stunned, I didn't even give him a shout out.  ah well, I'm sure he won't miss it.     

As the race rolled along the Carter summit I started to feel the pressure of the clock.  I wanted to be at Turquoise Lake road in 45 minutes.  I kept thinking, "the Carter Summit aid must be around the next corner" but it kept not showing up.  I was maintaining a good pace (I thought) and keeping up with the Hammer.  Keeping pace with someone as fast as the Hammer gave me a lot of confidence, as well as reminding myself where I was...riding in the clear due to the fact that I had started in RED...because I was fast. ('s all in your head, or my head as it were, is, something)

I managed not to panic with the elapsed time, and came to the road in 50 minutes.  Not bad.  And a good 10 minutes faster than I had made it in previous years.  Down Turquoise Lake Road as fast as I dared.  I tried to stay off the brakes, after all, this was a paved road downhill...what could go wrong? 

The road tilted up and I was feeling strong.  Again, the Hammer was my marker, and I was (mostly) keeping up.  That is until I took a minute to take a drink and down a GU.  I looked up, and she was gone.  I felt a little deflated as my rabbit had gotten away, but that was OK, it was time to work up Haggermans.

That's the fierce face.  This road is not flat

Heading up Hagermans I could not find wheels to follow. I was not being passed, and I was not catching people in front of me (Based on this picture, I should have looked behind and flicked this guy through...).  So I put on "fierce face" and put the bike in 1-harder gear than felt comfortable. Doing so added about 1.2mph, without putting me in too much difficulty. Magic! This year, I was RACING the Leadville 100!  I was racing a clock, but I was really racing it.  Another luxury I allow myself in a bike race that I don't really get to explore in daily life -- I was one of the (smaller) group of people that got to perform ..not just survive.  This part of the race the sweat and the effort in the legs just generated more adrenaline  and more speed.  It was euphoric.    

Taking the turn onto the Surgarloaf climb I started to get a little huffy and puffy.  We were crossing over 11000', so it was expected.  I slowed a bit, and again, did not panic even though the clock seemed to be moving against me.  I topped Sugarloaf at 1:34.  I had gained one of my 5 minutes back!  Feeling awesome (I'm RED baby!) I started down Powerline, willing myself not to crash.

That's Terrified Face.  Evidently I wear the flag of Arizona now.
I made the descent in record time, managed not to crash, even though I was in a 2-wheel slide at one point.  

The pavement after Powerline is a place I collect myself for about 2 minutes before laying on the gas.  The descent really is terrifying.  It's so steep, and rutted, and lose, and rocky...I really need that time to breathe a bit.  Yeah, it a race famous for it's insane climbs, I was most relived at the bottom of a descent.  That's not really conventional wisdom, but conventional or wise I am not.

Rolling past the fish hatchery I looked ahead to see a good size group forming.  My brain said "catch the group!  save energy"  But, rather than sprinting up, I did something smart.  I looked back!  Sure enough, there was a bigger group coming up, and they were moving fast.  About 20 riders went by before I saw a gap in the line.  I jumped over to the left and sprinted to catch up... now I was at the back of a 20 person paceline going 25mph, and I was soft-pedaling.  THAT is an amazing feeling.  Sure enough we swept up the group I had thought about catching, and there I was flying down the road towards the Pipeline spun out in my biggest gear. Beautiful!

One thing Leadville attracts are idiots on bikes. I do not know why.  I had seen one back on St Kevins trying to take his jacket off, no hands, on a trail.  He crashed.  Now I saw a guy riding inside the pace line, 30+ mph, no hands, taking off arm warmers.  I tried hard not to look at him, and breathed a huge sigh of relief when my part of the pack went by him.  He could have taken out 30+ riders with a small rock or bobble.  People are just strange.

Having avoided sure disaster 3 times (2 idiots, plus the Powerline) I rolled into the Pipeline aid at 2:08.  IT WAS LOUD!  perhaps there were more spectators, perhaps I was just earlier so they had more energy, but the tunnel of noise was amazing.  Talk about a launch pad for the next few miles!  I had lost 4 minutes to my goal time, but I was feeling good, and there was plenty of time left to race.  8 minutes on 2:00 is not bad at all...and 2 hours for 28 miles on a MTB is fast no matter how you cut it.  A great volunteer filled my empty bottle, and I was off for Twin Lakes!   

Looking for Friends on the Pipeline

The Pipeline is anything but flat (though people refer to it as "flat", people are weird).  It does lend itself to road tactics -- pacelines!  However, I must have done something wrong or used up all my RED energy, because I was alone.  I could not find a wheel to follow, and I kept catching riders going much slower than I was.  I did not really have a group to work with until I was descending the singeltrack, and back on a road the last 3 or 4 miles before Twin Lakes.  I was very happy to find some friends here, as it's a hidden hard part of the course.  It's just neighborhood roads, much of it paved, but the hills are just long enough to be painful.  I played leapfrog with someone from Phoenix in a Vassago kit riding a sweet Ti Vassago singlespeed.  I let him know he was riding my dream bike.  He let me know indeed, it was a nice bike.  I was happy we agreed, and my gears carried me forward a little faster than the singlespeed could maintain.  

About 3 miles out from TwinLakes I hit 2:45.  That was the time I wanted to be in TwinLakes, and I was feeling the pressure of being behind my goal.  The RED magic intervened again. As I was starting to despair a bit, I topped out the last rise before Twin Lakes, and started the nice long paved downhill to the dam.  

The crew area at Twin Lakes was louder than I ever remember.  Just like the Pipeline, but LOUDER.  cowbells, vuvuzuelas, viking horns, and cheering.  WOW!  Three people even knew my name in places I was not expecting.  THAT was a massive boost for me...people in Colorado at the Leadville 100 yelling "GO ROHIT!"  Talk about a heady feeling!

I crossed the dam in 2:58.  I had lost a little more time, but chin up -- I was still moving faster than I ever had by nearly 30 minutes.  I was 13 minutes off the goal, but putting in a strong effort on Columbine could make up some of that time.  It was time to put all the preparation to use.


Mom set me up awesomely with fresh bottles, GU, and a new set of electrolyte capsules.  Mom really is a great crew!

They say the Columbine climb is 10 miles up from Twin Lakes.  It's really more like 7 miles up after 3 miles of rolling hills across a ranch.  I started my attack right out of the aid station.  Both prior years my legs had started to give out, and even cramp, on the rocky climb out of the aid station.  Not this year.  This year it was time to pass folks, provide some words of encouragement to people suffering, and try and get in a draft for the flatter sections.

Coming onto the doubletrack leading the final crew area before the climb proper I was behind 3 Ironmen.  I could tell they were Ironmen because of their little "M with Dot Head" tattoos on their calves.  I figured "awesome.  here's 3 guys who think this is a short race.  They are built like swimmers with broad torsos...let me see if I can tuck myself behind them and get some free speed for a mile or two!"  

Unfortunately, they were not moving fast, so soon I was looking to pass them.  As I was spinning up, all three of them were sucking down some GUs.  Then they did the MOST irritating thing I have seen so far at Leadville.  THEY THREW THEIR WRAPPERS ON THE TRAIL!!!  This is a HUGE no-no.  This was not the trying-to-put-the-wrapper-in-the-back-pocket-and-missing drop.  This was a flat out, throw foil wrapper on the trail.  I had to say something.  I yelled "Hey Ironman, you really going to throw that wrapper there??"  I got no response so I said it again, "Dude.  this is not Kona...we take care of the land".  Gah.  Those guys were wasting my energy.  So I added a gear, and accelerated past them.  Wish I had their race numbers.  

I digress.  

So I'm climbing Columbine.  It long, its pretty steep, and it never seems to end.  I was significantly buoyed by the fact that I made 2 switchbacks before the lead moto came through, followed by the men's pros.  World Champion Stripes, former World Champion Stripes, Swiss Champion, US Champion...WOW.  Those guys are fast.  But you knew that.  What you don't know is that I was seeing the pros well up the slopes of the mountain.  Both prior years I saw them much earlier on the course.  Again, feeling RED!

I was working hard on my "fast climb" cadence.  50 standing revolutions, followed by 50 seated.  Just keep doing it.  A lot like my daughter climbing Sleeping Bear dunes this summer, just a variation on "one foot in front of the other".  At one point, I tasted blood in the back of my throat.  YES!  YES! I was making this hurt and I was climbing at a pace I had never done before!

Until I wasn't.

The taste of the blood was gone.  My legs were tired, but not cramping. I had been eating and drinking effectively, but I was not able to make it hurt more after a while. I had the fitness, but I was losing the mental game. I thought I was in a good, even great mood, but clearly, more was needed. I started cheering other racers.  Guys who were seriously struggling I reached out and patted on the back.  I cheered for guys bombing downhill.  I saw Fatty, "GO FATTTTYYYYY"  Fatty said "nice job guys". He sounded casual.  Like he was having fun, or perhaps he was just happy he was no longer one of us going up.  I kept climbing.  

Reaching the rocky section I stacked up behind other riders and dismounted to walk -- but the downhill traffic was not too thick.  If I could have made the hurt come back, I could have ridden.  But there was no hurt to be had.  So I kept walking.  At the treelike Ken was in his usual spot watching the race.  He teased us, "it's faster if you'd be surprised".  I yelled out "I won't quit Ken!" Then I got one of the truly big boosts of the race.  Ken Chlouber growls back, "I've seen you before Arizona.  There's no quit in you."   YEAH BABY!!  

I ground it out to the top of Columbine emptying my bottles and most of my GU on the way.  I knew I had a friend at 12,600', and I was looking forward to it.  

Friends in High Places.  A LDS hug will get you moving.  
Photo Credit:  Laurel from her FB page

My friend Laurel Darren Simmons was working medical at the top of Columbine.  It's nice to see a friendly face at the top of the world!  I got some water, took 20 seconds for a selfie, and started coughing.  It was time to get down the mountain -- STAT.  

I made the turn at 5:10.  I was 25-40 minutes behind my goal.  The 9 hour pipe dream had dissolved on the slopes of Columbine.  However, I was still a full 45 minutes ahead of where I had ever been previously.  No regrets.  Time to get down this mountain, see mom, and reset the goals for a glorious Colorado day.

I bombed the downhill as fast as I dared.  I was looking for friends like Bonnie Moebeck, anyone in a jersey I could recognize, anyone who looked like they needed a cheer.

As I was headed down the goat trail and the rocky section of road, I was again puffed up about my performance.  I saw plenty of gold, silver and red race plates still climbing, and I saw A LOT of people.  More than I ever had...well, duh, I was going faster than I ever had.  Joey at the Shadetree had changed my tires out 2 weeks before the race to wider, higher volume tires.  Perhaps a risky move, but those tires were paying massive dividends now. Those things were letting me fly down the mountain. (Joey and his team are fantastic.  You'll notice I'm wearing their shop colors...if you have an opportunity to let them lay hands on your bike when in Phoenix, I highly suggest it). I was going fast enough I could not make out anyone specifically in the line going up, so I just cheered for everyone.  I love this part of the race.  Hopefully I don't sound like a jerk, cheering for everyone, but it does make me feel good.   

By the time I reached the ranch it was HOT.  I needed to get rid of the arm warmers, ditch the trash, and get some cold drinks.  Time to make this whole thing hurt again.

Coming over the ridge from the ranch to the Twin Lakes aid.  Fierce face is back

Paceline on the Pipeline

Mom was ace crew again.  I was a little antsy, perhaps petulant.  But mom dealt with it.  That's what moms do!  In less than 90 seconds she had me rolling again, full of GUs, sans arm warmers, and ready to turn in a fast last 40 miles.  I left the Twin Lakes Aid at 5:45. I rode through the crew area, and there were many more cheers, Matt PNut Laney gave me a high was good!

As soon as the climb through the neighborhood was done, a pace line starting forming.  Hallelujah!  Not a very efficient paceline, as the guy on the front was just drilling it, and not moving over for anyone to take a pull.  It was however, fast, and took us all the way to the singletrack climb.  During this transition I was able to load a few more calories, and think about where I was.  My real goal was out the window.  No way to make 9.  So I started doing the math.  I was sitting at about 11.2 mph.  hmm.  If I could keep this above 10.5...I could go sub 10!  so, 9:something.  That would be awesome! I glanced down at the Gamin and seemingly at that moment, the average speed ticked up.  11.3!  Whee!  I could do this!  So 9-something was the new goal.  Love life under the beautiful (but hot) Colorado sky, and go as hard as I could enjoying the Leadville 100!  RED WAS BACK!

The pace line pretty much survived in one form or other all the way to the Pipeline aid.  My elapsed time showed I had just done Twin Lakes to Pipeline in 1:05  That was well within my original goal for the segment...and that felt awesome.

I reloaded water and headed out of the Pipeline bound for the Powerline Climb 

Blowing up and Finding the Will

This is the part of the race where I find out I'm not a very good paceline rider.  Because I'm not really a roadie.  So when I turned onto Half Moon road into that brutal afternoon Rocky Mountain wind, I just turned up the power as far as I could go without going completely into the red zone.  After a few minutes I saw the shadows on the road -- I was pulling 3 guys.  So I skipped left, gave a flick of the elbow, and they pulled through.  The three of them took good pulls and we were moving.  When I rotated to the front, something in my head said "make it hurt".  So I did.  When I rolled off after exactly one minute, 2 guys said "nice pull" and I struggled a bit to grab the back of the train.  When my turn came again, I burried myself for one minute.  I was doing my part!  When I rolled off, the guys said, "NICE FREAKIN' PULL DUDE!  WHOOOO!!!"  Yeah it was.  I had just given those guys such a sweet pull I couldn't grab the back of the train.  oops.  

Fortunately for me, I have been working pretty hard this year, and I was able to recover after a few minutes.  My average speed was still above 10.5, and I was doing better than 11mph by myself on the road.  But I was burning valuable matches to keep the pace.

Just before the turn onto the Powerline climb I passed a Specialized Factory rider.  Yeah baby.  This guy had his name on his jersey, his bike, and his helmet.  Might have been 20 or 21.  He was wearing a factory team kit, and I passed him. He laid out a tale of woe about what a terrible day he was having.  Whatever. I passed a pro. Add one point to the ego.

The steep part of Powerline was the steep part of Powerline.  I rode until the big right hand turn, then got off to trudge up the steeps.  It looks like this:

It's really steep.  You can see the Factory rider behind me.  Yep That's a gold number.  
Along the way there were people with water hand ups (THANK YOU) and Mr Pizza was there as I have become accustomed.  I also saw bRAD Keyes the man behind CarboRocket.  I love CarboRocket and I think I would love Brad if I knew him better.  As it is, I like him a lot.  He was out of water and CR, but he still had smiles to give away.  I took one, and kept on moving.

I reached the part of the course that I had pre-rode Wednesday.  40 minutes.  It should be 40 minutes of hard work, and this will all be done.  It's all rideable, and I can do it at 4-5mph, even though it is steep and somewhat technical.  

That was the plan anyway.  Then I got hit in the mouth, proverbially.  The cramps kicked in, and I got real tired.  I could not make the go happen.  Bonked.  I was done.  The number of GUs in my pocket said I had fallen behind on calories, and I was now paying the price.

So it was a slow trudge up to the top of Sugarloaf.  I watched the average speed dip below the 10.5 mph I needed for "9 something" and began to be pretty unhappy.  I tried to keep myself going by reciting some of the endurance mantras -- run across the coals, don't walk,  Keep moving,  Make pain your friend.  I tried resetting the soundtrack in my head.  "Bullet with Butterfly Wings", "Bulls on Parade", "Renegades of Funk", "Brainstew".  yeah, none of it was sticking or working.  So I was back to counting steps or pedal strokes.  I did sit once, waiting for the electrolytes to kick in and relieve some of the leg cramps.

Then it was over.  I was at the top and going down.  Fast.  Then faster.  Bouncing off rocks I would normally have braked for or gone around.  I was a bit too fatigued to choose a good line, and I was really hoping the tires, wheels, fork, and the rest would hold up to the abuse of a badly executed descent.  

I made it, and once on the dirt road I did my best to keep pressure on the pedals, keep the hands off the brakes, and make up some time.  23, 24, 27mph.  I was willing the average speed up, but it was not going to move very fast.  


I gave the 2.4 miles up Turquoise Lake road everything I had.  I stood, I spun, I sat and applied big power, I stood again.  The road required little concentration, so I put everything into leg mechanics.  Drop the heels on the down stroke, shoulders down, rock against the down stroke, shift forward to reduce pressure on the quads...shift back to relieve pressure on the hamstrings..maybe I have that backwards. Whatever.  Just keep pushing. The tang of blood was back in the back of my throat and it did wonders for my morale.  I was back working as hard as possible again, making it hurt. That. Was. Awesome. 

I reached the Carter Summit at 9:15. I had gone up Turquoise lake road in 30 minutes. 15 Minutes faster than I had previously. Even with that, only a world-class finish would bring me in sub-10.  So I reset the goal.  Sub 10:20.  I was going to make that last little goal...maybe even pull a 10:15.  2 cups of coke, 2 of water, new water in the bottle, and it was time to hammer home.

The final steeps on Kevins were not pretty.  I clawed my way up them.  Now, pretty much totally riding alone.  The downhill was terrifying, perhaps more terrifying than the powerline descent because I was going much faster.  I could see the dips and ledges coming, and the loose sand.  I tried to time the weighting and unweighting of the wheels and the brakes to make it all happen smoothly.  I must have plowed into some big stuff, but I managed not to go OTB at 30 mph.  Not sure how I did it, I was pretty much on auto-pilot.  

Off the steeps and across the valley to the railroad tracks.  Just kept it turning, pushing as big a gear as I could muster.  There was a big group of volunteers at a road crossing where the odometer crossed 100 miles...I cheered.  They cheered.  I cheered.  

I came to the Boulevard, 2.3 miles of steady uphill.  It's a nothing climb.  An easy spin.  Unless it's miles 101-103.  Then it's insanely painful.  I tried to call up the same mode I had on Turquoise Lake Road.  I wanted to taste that blood again.  I ate my last GU, downed the last of my water (no more than 20 minutes left), and put everything in.  I caught myself with my eyes closed a few times, which I guess is good? I was finished. My awareness was narrowed to my legs pushing and pulling. I was vaguely aware of steering, I saw some lightning (confirmed later).  I could not call up any songs, motivational speeches or mantras. Push-pull..that was it. I knew I was going to make it home, but there would be no victory sprint, no wheelie, no salute.  

The Boulevard ended, and dumped me onto the road.  One final uphill, which I managed to stand for.  There was the blood again...I crested at 10:15. I missed that target. 10:20 it would be.  The crowd at the finish line surrounding the red carpet was huge!  One biker-width only with kids hands out for high-5s...I think I gave out a few.

I was emptied. A truly amazing feeling that I simply don't get to have in my day to day life.  I didn't even see my mom wave and run beside me the last few meters, but you can see her in the picture!  Most of you have seen what I put on Facebook about this picture.  I love it.

I crossed the line, and crumpled onto the handlebars.  I was aware Mom was there.  I told her I was OK.  I got my finishers medal on my neck. Someone asked me if I was OK.  I told them I was.  No hug.  I was missing my finishers hug.  I was promised a hug from one of the amazing people that make the LT100 what it is.  I got no hug.  Mom hugged me after a bit.  Yeah mom!  I collapsed onto the courthouse lawn and laid there for about 90 minutes.  I wanted to get up and cheer the folks coming in -- all those people who refused to quit, bit I couldn't get up.  Instead I congratulated those around me, knowing each of them had turned in something special today.

Post Race

So I made it to the awards ceremony to pick up my hardware and my jacket.  A slight tinge of regret that it was "only" a silver buckle.  But heck, that Colorado silver sure does shine bright in the morning sun!

The usual question is, "will you do it again?"  Well, depends if they let me in.  But I do have a plan to get that last 1:17:22 off my time.

UPDATE:  Sadness

RIP Scott Ellis #1249.  Scott had finished the race 18 times, and died of an apparent heart attack on the top of Powerline.  The LRS has retired his race plate.  That's the 2nd time in 2 years someone has died at a race I was in.  The first was Iceman 2013.  It's common for people to say "at least he died doing what he loved".  Maybe.  But you never think "I might die" when you put that knobby on the start line.  We'll be thinking about you and your family Scott.  Ride in Peace.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Mayhem

Captain Slow accomplished something special back in July.  He went balls out to crush demons and history, all while narrowly avoiding killing a tequila bottle.

Boy still thinks he might not be that fast.  He's a liar

* * * * * 

Captain Slow Rides a Mayhem
To get ahead, one needs a plan. So I set two simple but crucial goals for 2015.
1. Complete Michigan Mountain Mayhem 200km road ride
2. Not suck at Iceman

All of this is about point 1 because we won’t know until November, about the other.

One wintry night a few years ago, I was hanging out in my kitchen with my instigator neighbor Jim, and with too much wine in me, I agreed to a stupid plan. Let’s get in shape and do a road ride in Northern Michigan, near the ski areas, in mid-June. There are some hills. 10,000 feet of hills actually. (Yeah OK it’s Michigan. Up 600, down 600, rinse, repeat. Still counts.) And the ride is 200km. So why not, I like a challenge, and I need to get back in shape. And, mostly, wine.

This was 2013. I trained, a little. Not even near to close to enough. I showed up. I faked it. I bailed out and did the 100k loop while Jim and Mike did the full ride. I finished, and I was proud of that, because, bail notwithstanding, it was the hardest 100k course I’d ever been on, and I knew that I hadn’t done the work. The guys said nice job anyway.  But, a hollow victory. I had proven to myself that I am weak, slow, and stubborn. Only one of those is going to get me anywhere, and by itself, it’s not enough.

Last year, I did the same thing and was less proud. Well not at all proud really. I trained I think a bit more. Still not enough. Signed up for 200k and rode 100k. Again. Crossed the line and immediately went to the timing tent to report my fail, so my time wouldn’t screw up the 200k rankings. Again. Waited the extra hours for Jim and Mike to finish. Again. Drank 1 beer and rode the bike 2 more uphill miles so I could move the car to the finish line, again, because slow and weak is no excuse for asshole. Drank more beers and got bitter. Congratulated the guys on their finish and felt worse. Went home and told my family what had happened. I could feel the question “why are you even trying to do this?” hanging in the air. Hell maybe I put it there myself.

Faking the same thing the second time around shows less excellence in, well, everything except fakery.

Now I had two expensive T-shirts that I couldn’t wear. One says right on the back, “Can you handle 10,000 feet?” No. I could not. The other one doesn’t say that, but remains living proof of the same fact. I am not of Mayhem caliber. Shirts stay in the drawer. And churn drives them to the bottom of the pile.

So January 2015. This must be the year. Has to be, if I am going to continue this pretense. I buy a bike trainer that can simulate elevation profiles, and I upload the Mayhem course, and ride it. Hours and hours of work. Riding different sections each day, watching my dot move on Google Maps. I learn the roads, the turns, where the worst hills are. I work and sweat and obsess over watts and seconds and fractions of mph. Mostly I sweat. Salt stalactites form on the bike. My family becomes less enthusiastic and more confused by, or afraid of, what I am up to. Body fat slowly turns into hope, which weighs less, so that’s good. But is it enough? After 4 months of this self-created hell, I’ve completed the Mayhem course a total of 7 times. That’s a lot of trainer miles. But for the actual ride, I won’t have the luxury of overnighting at every aid station along the course.

Spring takes a while to come to Michigan, and it usually arrives wet and sloppy. So there are not as many good outdoor riding days before June 13, as one would maybe expect from, say, looking at a calendar. And I am getting a little over the top with the daily trainer rides and making little hash marks on the course map that is taped to the wall each time I cross that virtual finish line again. I could ride outside? Hmm it’s wet and cold. I might get wet or cold. Can’t have that. But if I ride inside 2 more times, I can make another mark.

Still, I do get outside, which is good because as good as the trainer is, it’s not all that, compared to reality. Real hills are more nuanced um harder, you have to deal with wind, and the crushing psychological blows of dropping to 5mph as you climb a steep hill are lost in translation when it’s just a number on a screen.

I do a few road rides alone to work out the kinks and try to recalibrate. First time out I go right for the longest hardest hill loop that I train on, crush half of it, and explode. Next time I pace a little better and force myself to consume actual calories on the bike, by spoiling my clean refreshing water with lemon chalky grit. Maybe it is orange chalky. I can’t really tell. Since I can never remember to eat on the bike, this is the only way. But it seems to help. Apparently muscles require ready fuel for long efforts. Who knew?

I manage to work in a couple of good training rides with the guys. Mike has done this ride with us both times before, has always been the fastest, and proves this by dropping me, decisively, on every climb. But I am maybe in less pain than before and was that Jim dropping off my wheel just now?  Still back there? Maybe during the ride Mike will take pity on Jim and we can ride at a compromise pace and I could maybe hang on?

The week before the ride, Jim gets the flu. Not the bullshit virus we all call flu, the bad, real flu. He recovers but is not ready to ride. Not expected to ride. Now it is just me, and faster Mike. And, as I find out in the same text, another girl Holly, whom I’ve never met. She is young and fit. She’s doing the 100km but will be starting with us. Shit, what if I get dropped by BOTH of these people that I barely know?

The afternoon before the ride. We meet in a parking lot, and while we are loading the bikes, Jim rolls up to present us with a gift box of Don Julio tequila. We had acquainted ourselves with the Don the previous year, in the appropriate pre-ride dinner fashion. So it now becomes part of the ritual. Jim makes many challenges regarding the use of the tequila. Amounts, times, demands for photographic proof. With that done, he goes home to rest.

So off we go to Boyne City. Holly drives separately, so for 4 hours it’s me and Mike awkwardly not talking much in the car. I’ve told this part of the story before, and guys understand. Girls say “what, were you nervous, like on a date?” Well of course not. But you don’t want to be too talky, or too quiet, or really say anything that was supposed to be funny but turns out dumb. So, um.

Check-in. Do people need to show up in full riding kit the night before the ride, to pick up packets and maybe hit the beer truck? We didn’t get that douche memo. We pick up our stuff, down a beer, and head to dinner, where we side step our first tequila challenge (shot-upon-arrival) by sending a photo of a few Don margaritas and the fabricated explanation that civilized cyclists consume tequila in glasses, with ice, laced with hydrating elixirs by professional mixologists, and delivered with a side of Mexican food. That argument does not go far. The retort challenge is a bedtime shot, with photo.

Which is why I end up carrying the still-boxed tequila into the condo, really quite sober, and then proceed to trip on a poorly placed, put your winter wet boots in this, rubber tray. But since I am using both hands to carry my valuable cargo, I have nothing with which to break my fall except my legs and a side table. Hard bang on the knee, big ouch, start to kid myself this is NOT a problem NOT at all. Nope didn’t see any blood taking off my jeans before bed.  Certainly not THAT much blood. Trick of the light.

Nobody does the night time shot. I could have left the tequila in the car. Little sleep that night. My knee hurts. A little. Maybe a lot. Doesn’t matter. Must ride. No other option.

The 6:30am breakfast shot goes down better than expected, video is sent, and we head on to the start. It is a timed ride but you can start whenever. We get going, find a pace, work together. Holly doesn’t know from pacing, so she is all over the place. But I figure that out and let her bound to and fro, like an excited puppy. I take it easy on the hills and let Mike go. And catch back up on the flats and downhills. It’s working, so far.

The second aid station on the Mayhem route is about 30 miles in. This is where the 100km ride splits off from the other two, a 100 miler and the 200k. This is my traditional unplanned-bail point. After the split, the 100k route heads up a long slow hill that crests at the Antrim Country Airport, which in my mind shall always and forever be known as the Airport of Shame.

We relax for a bit, and then with some encouraging words and what I believe to be good course info from my own memory, Mike and I send Holly off to her Shame. We continue. Effectively. Trading the pull, getting over the hills, pounding down some miles. I am still letting Mike pull ahead on the steep hills and catching up on the flats. It is still working. This may all be OK after all.

Then he is not pulling me on the hills.

Then he is not matching me on the flats.

I begin to worry. Not for him, he’s got that. This is pure self-interest. We need to do this together. It is hard to ride alone and the fast groups are long gone. Now it’s just us. Has to be.

At mile 70 Mike has had enough. He cashes in and turns off to finish the 100 mile route. I send him off with my car key and a maybe not so polite reminder that the car belongs in the finish area. I enjoy a few moments of elation. I rode this guy off my wheel. I am fast. I am strong. I am awesome!

But wait. I am not done, really not even close. To get done, I have to ride 50 more miles alone, the wind is picking up, and some of the worst hills are yet to come.

I could be awesomely fucked.

Now it all becomes mental. Fucked is subjective. Pain is subjective. I will decide how much I am hurting and how badly I am fucked. But neither one is important because I am going to PREVAIL. I am going to FINISH. Just by riding the bike. Turning the pedals. Pace. Grind.

I catch a strong tail wind, bang out some more miles, going well. Flying along really, but I know it won’t last because the course is going to turn. I pass some guys that are too slow to work with, and then can’t quite hang with a passing group that could have been a big help. That was probably the last pack of 200k riders, now it’s just you, alone, forever.

The turn. Now head wind and lots of hills. No more bail out roads left. No shorter course. It is riding, or sitting at the side of the road waiting for a van. Vans are not subjective and cannot be argued around. Therefore not an option. Two wheels will deliver me across that line.  Not four.

The leisurely aid station stops with the group are no more. I am doing pit stops. Off the bike, fill bottles, back on the bike, go. No point in walking around or stretching out on the ground for a big old cyclist nap. I will cramp, time is short, I need to ride.

Naturally, one of the worst hills is right near the end of the ride. It consists of a 3 mile grind that gets steeper as it goes, followed by a quarter mile pop of WTF is this thing doing in Michigan. There is an aid station before it all starts, so you can pause to fill your water bottles and properly start to fret. Here I meet some Ann Arbor guys who are paying proper respect to the Wall by planning to ride the 3 mile intro as slowly as possible. So this becomes my plan as well, and for a while we ride and chat. It is nice to chat, I’ve been alone for hours. Then they drop me anyway. Maybe I am out resting them?

The Wall hits 18% and that is steep. I’d made it up the first year (how?) and walked it the second. Both times with 60 fewer miles under me than today. This time, I’m not at all sure that I am capable of walking, so decide that I must stay on the bike. Therefore the bike must always move and not be falling over. So as the road rises up, I follow imaginary switchbacks, tacking back and forth across both lanes, at walking speed, gaining a few feet at a time.  At one point a stronger guy goes up on the actual road line (that is, straight up) and while I may have offered encouragement, my principal reaction is annoyance that I must alter my slow and wavy line to let him by. The next day, I note that the data from the bike computer says that the ascent took me two and a half minutes. Or hours.

I make the top. Leg cramps hit, that’s real pain, not so subjective. I want to stop but fear that would be the end. So I drink some more foul energy concoction, and try to spin back up. Hey I made it up the Wall. I cry a little. Not too much, must stay hydrated and save some for the finish. Only 6 miles to go. I think this part is easy, I think I remember that from before. What I told Holly. Well maybe after this hill. Or that one. Nope, I am full of shit, it’s just going to keep on coming. I gave Holly bad post-Wall info. Right now she must think I am an asshole. No you idiot, she thought that HOURS AGO because she is already done. That bitch. Grind. Asshole. Grind. That ridge on the horizon has to be the other side of Lake Charlevoix. Which means the finish is before the horizon. So I may still make it. Grind. The computer clicks over actual 200k, and while I know that’s not the end, never was, wasn’t supposed to be, I get mad anyway. But, grind more miles. And finally a downhill, and I know this one, it’s the real end. Roll back into town and there is an inflated red arch at the line and bunch of riders and spectators who are cheering everyone in, and THAT is what is awesome. I cry some more.

This time I could look at the bike computer. 128 miles. 9,662 feet. 8 hours on the bike, 9 on the course, with stops. The computer didn’t say how many times I bent my left leg, but that knee hurt every one of them. Tequila always wins.

None of this, except maybe the pit stops, is remotely competitive in this race-not-a-race. But not a DNF, not a DFL, not a van, and I did not see that airport this year.

It's not a race.  Just a ride with numbers and a timer
Proper behavior from a sick ride mate...send fancy booze 

DC Kit.  Enough said
Proof, demons slayed.  Time to eat