Tuesday, August 15

Leadville MTB 2006: 100 Emotional Miles

I'm warning you now, this is probably going to be long. For starters I just uploaded about 30 pictures which comprises only the ones from Marni's camera. Those of you who were along on this adventure, feel free to send along any cool shots you got too. I'd love to have them. Ah yes, onto the story.

If you're reading this blog you likely know that I've been a maniac on the bike for about a year now. At least this time around. All that craziness started 2 years ago when my good "friend" Scott talked me into doing the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. Our entries were accepted and I neglected to get a bike that fit me or actually ride at all in preparation. I instead attempted to will my mind and body 100 miles on Marni's hand me down mountain bike. And not just any 100 miles, but 100 difficult, high altitude, climbing 12,000 vertical feet miles. Let's just say my mind is strong but I got my ass kicked regardless. 365 days prior to this year's Leadville 100, I dropped out at mile 74 nine hours and fifty nine minutes into the race with a cold, broken and speech sluring body. Naturally I did what any normal person would do following such a defeat. I signed up for this punishment again and rode over 6000 miles.

At first it started out as revenge. Revenging one of the few things in my life I started but couldn't finish. Along the way though it became more than that. I remembered how I loved riding my bike. I bought myself a mountain bike. I fixed up my road bike. I bought a single speed and put my time trial bike back together. I rode day in and day out, often not having a day off for weeks at a time just because I love to ride. I rode when it was so cold out Scott's beard froze into an icicle. I rode in the snow and darkness until my suspension fork froze solid and my deraillers would no longer shift. I rode my singlespeed up and down every mountain bike trail near my house just because I was so happy that I could. I rode my road bike where ever I wanted, even to towns I'd never visited over 150 miles away. My bike and I went in the heat and the cold, the snow and rain, day in and day out. Every day passed and it was rare I wasn't on my bike. I even got on the podium again, something I hadn't done since I was in high school racing triathlons. And a few times I was licked by my body or a difficult course or both and I stopped to rest. Days, weeks and months all passed until last Thursday when I nervously packed up my bike and Marni, Steven and I drove the Element back to Leadville.

We pulled into our rental house in Leadville at sunset on Thurday, bellies full of Beau Jo's pizza and mine full of butterflies. I'd been here before, just one year ago. The same house. The same race. We woke up early and got checked in at the gymnasium in town before having some breakfast at a local diner. The same as last year. I ordered the same thing. After breakfast we sat through the prerace meeting. Everyone was excited and we cheered for those going for their 10th finish, the Leadmen and Leadwomen and those who had never failed to finish a race for 13 years. We were told that we were better than we thought we were and reminded how quiting would haunt us. It certainly would. I had thought about this race in some form every day for a year. It was hard not to tear up already and it wasn't even race day.

The rest of the day was mostly a blur. We bought food for dinner and breakfast and then the victims, I mean racers, went for a ride. Steven, Erik and Ryan rolled out of our rental house.I still took self portraits.
Ryan and Steven at the base of the first climb, St.Keivens.Erik at the same place.MooCow and I at the same place.12 miles flew by and the girls were waiting for us at the house. I felt strong.Marni and I mugged for more pictures. Smiling on the outside but both of us had nerves within.That afternoon I cleaned my bike the final time before the race and put my numbers on. I love racing with numbers and my bike looked ready.We ate dinner and finished our race plans, prepared our crew and worked on our bikes more. Some of us were not so lucky as Steven's tire blew off the rim creating an interesting few hours as we decided what to do. In the end we trued the rim well enough and Steven was ready to roll. Luckily I slept well Thursday night because I tossed and turned for hours on Friday. I watched lightning illuminate the dark sky shortly before I finally fell asleep.

I awoke to damp ground and rain dotted cars. The group ate breakfast and rolled out to the race start early. We were lucky to start in a reasonly up front position again and then began the nervous hour wait until starting time. Erik and Michelle posing during our wait.Ryan and Tricia doing the same.Marni and I in our new jackets. Warm and remarking that it wasn't nearly as cold as last year.Ryan, Erik and I pretending we're ready to do this again.Scott was along to crew and help us get ready.Me among 802 other starters, all hoping to finish the next 100 miles.The cannon went off at 6:30 and the race started without at hitch. At least no one crashed in the first 50 feet this year. The yo-yo was in full effect down the hill though and I was happy to make it onto dirt without incident. I rode fast but easily, my breathing not labored at all. By the base of St.Kieven's I was warmed up and ready to race. The next hour and a half was some of the best racing I have ever done. I passed people effortlessly one after another anywhere I could, riding from the middle of the group up among those who sported double digit race numbers indicating their top 100 finish from the previous year. The first climb was over and I was descending the rode in under 55 minutes. The next climb came quickly and fueled by my first Ensure I summited that around 1:30 into the race. I was flying high until an all too familiar hiss from my rear tire down the Powerline descent. A flat deflated my enthusiasm. I quickly rallied my brain and fixed the flat. The sidewall slice took a big chunk of time out of my early efforts but even with slow and careful descending I chased my sub 9 hour splits as hard as I could. By mile 26 I was 8 minutes down. At mile 40, after chasing even harder over the road I was only down 5 minutes from my goal pace. I rolled into mile 40 to my waiting crew.Marni, now a crew vetern after this season, got right to work putting my new bag on my back and getting me another spare tube. I left quickly and flew up the road towards Columbine mine. I still had dreams of sub 9 hours in my head and I knew that in order to achieve that I had to be coming back down this mountain before me at 11:15am, 4:45 into the race. The early switchbacks went well and I climbed in my middle ring. I reeled in more people than passed me but as I began to get close to tree line my energy was fading. Just about then the Fat Cyclist, Eldon Nelson, came upon me for the second time this race. We rode together over Columbine Mine's rocky and steep sections before he slowly began to pull away from me. I wasn't alone though and I rode and pushed my bike up the seemingly never ending climb to the turn around tent. Columbine Mine tests you as much as it can, taunting you with seeing the turn around easily a couple miles from reaching it. Step by step and pedal by pedal I reached the summit of the climb at 5 hours into the race. My goal of 9 hours was now likely gone but I was so proud to have climbed to this point in the race over 2 hours and 20 minutes faster than last year. Without stopping I headed back down as fast as I dared Marni and my crew at the Twin Lakes aid station. I showed Marni I was happy with a wheelie into the aid station and my crew once again got me a new pack, stuffed my jersey pockets and cleaned my glasses. I told them that my sub 9 hour time was now probably gone but I was feeling good and couldn't wait to see them at the finish line. Rolling out of that aid station had tears in my eyes again. Last year I was broken at this point. Barely able to follow Scott's slow pace, weaving back and forth in my easist gear. This year I was strong, climbing the road quickly in my middle chainring, a theme on the day in all but the hardest, steepest parts of the course. Eager to still finish in a good time and see Marni I powered on. I caught Eldon again on the two steep climbs between the aid stations. We talked more and cheered on a fellow racer who bucked the walking trend and rode up the steep, loose climbs. Eldon and I had a great time riding together and I am amazed at his ride earning him the 1000 mile buckle. However just before the pipeline aid station a second time our paces became too different and I pulled away. Sometime around 6:45 elapsed time I passed through the aid station where I dropped out last year. My only pause was a quick wheelie for the crowd as I powered through. I didn't want to stop here for anything.

Twenty six miles stood between me and the finish line and while there was time to spare, the ride was far from easy. My energy waned further as the storms blew in. I did my best to refuel over the paved section and prepare for the powerline climb to come. Before I was ready it stood before me. The hardest climb in the race, 7 hours and change after begining the day. Powerline was long. I rode and I walked. I talked with fellow racers and I was silent. Halfway up the skys opened up and I stopped briefly to put on my jacket. I rode and I walked further. After seemingly an eternity of riding in crashing thunder and rain the trail pointed down and I began a slow descent of Sugerloaf. Definitely the worst descent of the race for me due to the fact that I was freezing cold and couldn't see a thing. I kept two wheels down and shivered my way through the trail, onto the dirt road and finally past the cheering section and onto the road. My shoes and gloves were soaked so despite my jacket and hood I was freezing cold. I knew my best chance to get warm was to climb as hard as I could so when the road turned up, out of the saddle I stood. My sore and stiff legs hated me but I told them to shut up and climb. Essentially the last difficult climb of the race, I knew the sooner I got to the top the sooner I could see Marni. I passed person after person standing and climbing. I began to warm up and for a little while the sun even came out. Out of nowhere the road turned left onto the dirt and the final aid station appeared. I hadn't planned on stopping but with sub 9 no longer a worry I enjoyed some hot soup. It was heavenly along with a few fun size dark chocolates and I thanked the volunteers as I left my last aid station.

The road continued to roll up and down a few more times but it wasn't long before I found myself turning right onto the wide dirt road with another rider. Jason was his name and he had similar if not worse bad luck flatting than me. He had flatted his UST tires twice but we were both over our bad luck and focused on getting to the finish under the 10 hour mark. I felt amazing and pulled us as hard as I could all the way until the boulevard, the race's final climb. Jason was thankful for the pull and rode away from me as we hit the babyhead studded climb due to my wonderful mud caked deraillers no longer working. Up ahead my friend Steven was probably finishing and I was eager to join him.After getting off the bike quickly and manually shifting my bike I climbed the boulevard with everything I had left. It seemed long at the time with the clock counting towards 10 hours quickly but then the paved road appeared ahead of the riders scattered around me. Looking at the clock I knew I had it made and I got ready to ride across the line. I climbed the last hill and flew down towards the finish line. No one was behind me and I had the finish all to myself, enjoying a wheelie and raising my arms up across the line. I rode straight to Marni and we both couldn't believe it.The face you see is one of relief, happiness, pride, amazement and 1000 other emotions. 365 days ago this course had broken me down and spit me out. This year despite the rain, cold and mechanical issues I had finished before I had even dropped out last year with 26 miles to go. 9:53:36 after I rolled across the starting line I had finished the Leadville 100 mountain bike race and avenged my DNF.
My lips were blue when I crossed the line so Marni quickly got me changed into waiting warm dry clothes and I ate some more hot soup and oranges. Scott made sure I stayed under the umbrella as we waited for Doug and Erik to finish. Both of them looked strong as I passed them on Columbine mine and Doug finished in 10:40 to take 3rd place in the male 60-69 age group. Erik came across the line in 10:58 to take almost an hour off of his finishing time from last year. Ryan has to drop out at mile 60 due to his knee meltdown and stomach issues but he still did a great job despite his lack of training time this year.

The next morning was all smiles for Marni and I at the awards ceremony. I earned my belt buckle and more importantly to both of us, my sweatshirt with my name and time screened on. Marni has been coveting that for 2 years now. More pictures were taken, congratulations and goodbyes were said and the group headed back to real life one by one.I said before the race that if I finished I wouldn't be back. I have other races and challenges I want to accomplish. But there is a strong pull to return too. The race experience is too much fun from hanging out and training with my friends to riding with first timers and 1000 mile finishers alike. I do have unfinished business in Leadville including a sub 9 hour finish, a singlespeed finish and completing the Leadman which is all the races (marathon, 50 mile bike, 100 mile bike, 10k and 100 mile run). Will I return to Leadville next year? I guess I don't know yet. But I will definitely be back someday soon.

For now I will enjoy my accomplishment and set my sights on two new pursuits. First up is completing a 24 hour solo mountain bike race, mostly likely the 24 hours of Moab in October. Second up is beginning to run again and finish a marathon which I have already started training for yesterday. There are now less than 365 days until Leadville next year but each day won't haunt me this time around. Instead Leadville will be part of that wonderful memory bank which inspires me to challenge myself and provides me inner strength during my many other adventures to come.

Last but not least, thank you to all my friends and family for your support over this past year. Marni without you I never could have done so much this year. To my riding buddies: Scott, Erik, Jim, Doug, Bill, Craig, Stephan, Dave, Ryan, Walt, Dan, Derrick and *everyone* else, thank you so much for training with me and putting up with my insanity. To my Mom, Dad, Patty, Jessica and Nick, thank you for putting up with my lack of phone calls and talking mostly about bikes when we did talk. To all my blogger friends, thanks for all the support and wonderfully kind comments. I may have ridden the 100 miles alone but I've ridden every mile with all of you in my head and heart.


Dave Roberts said...


Amazing story! Great job completing the 100. After following your blog for the past months, I was cheering for you from Michigan last weekend, and it is good to hear you did so well. Awesome!

Dave Roberts

Marni said...

Good job Chris! That was a much more pleasant experience this year! I had so much fun with you and felt like I had ridden the 100 miles with you when you finished. It's not easy to be a wifey...

Joel White said...

Congrats Chris, sounds like you had a strong finish and a great ride. Great write up on the event, you did a great job of conveying what it was like to be there.

Becky said...

I'm proud of you Chris! Great job!

dave harris said...

Great, great job Chris!

You chased down those demons and for your efforts were rewarded an emotional finish. There is no better way to complete a pursuit of passion. Savor it!

Endurosnob said...

Well Done Sir!! Great ride, great post.

Cellarrat said...

Awsome Read!

Thanks for sharing with the class =)

Its been awsome to ride with you and to get to know you and Marni!

I am so Glad this race went well for you.

Scott DL said...

Damn it Chris, now you made me all tear up and stuff...

Congrats man, 2 hours and 20 minutes faster up to Columbine is absolutely amazing! I thought I did well doing it 45 min faster than my previous attempt...

jess said...

So I guess the means your BHD has only gotten worse?
Congratulations Chris! You deserve it!
Now stop harassing me.
Your sister

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Little Chris! You had an amazing race and I am proud of you. By the way, where did you get that awesome little knit hat?

Heath said...

I found your story somehow, I like reading others stories on LT100. Thanks. Cheers. I have way too long of a story on my blog too. Nice work.