My Quest for a Second Leadville 100 MTB Belt Buckle

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Leadville 2012 Overview

There were more than 5,000 entries into the Leadville 100 MTB bike race held in Leadville, CO this year. In last year’s race, I heard there were 1,900 people selected to participate via the lottery. This year, 3,999 was the highest bib I counted, but I am not sure how many riders actually were allowed entry into the event this year. This year, 1,715 racers toed the line on race day and there were 1,484 finishers in 12 hours or less. There were 1,338 male finishers and 146 female finishers. And finally, 231 racers did not finish (DNF). Official finishers are those who cross the finish line within 12 hours of the start – these riders earn the awesome Leadville 100 belt buckle. Riders who finish under nine hours receive a huge buckle and those who DNF go home with nothing.

I feel fortunate to have gotten into the Leadville 100 MTB race again this year. Last year, I was able to participate in this race – an event held at Leadville, Colorado, climbing to an elevation of 12,500 feet. I was the most difficult thing I had ever done. But participating in this race was also one of the best things I had ever done and capturing the Leadville 100 belt buckle is definitely a highlight in my life.

In the 2011 race, I proved to myself that I could accomplish this task, but the effort did take its toll. Last year I crossed the finish line at 11 hours 48 minutes, just 12 minutes under the deadline to claim the coveted Leadville 100 buckle. Following the race, I didn’t touch the bike for more than three months. The intense riding and training schedule leading to the race, and the cramps and fatigue I experienced during and after the ride, affected me physically and psychologically. Following the event, I was sickened by the idea of jumping back on the bike. Although I feel I was as prepared as I could have been, given my travel and family schedule, the time and effort required to prepare for this event seemed to have taken all I had to give.

So rather than biking, I hit the hardwood. Playing basketball was a great way to cross train. I played hoop a few times a week for about six weeks, but that ended in an injury. While running, I felt a sharp and burning pain in the middle of my calf. I took a few weeks to recover, but I hurt it again when I tried playing again. After a two-month recovery, I tried Rock Tape to wrap my calf. I started cycling again and even though I felt some strain, the kinesiology tape really gave me support and confidence. No more basketball, but I started using the tape on my longer rides.

Registering for the Lottery

My last memory of Leadville had faded – being in a medical tent, suffering severe cramping and wrapped in a sleeping bag. It was time to enter the lottery for the 2012 race and I was just as excited to do it as I was last year. I was anxious to try again, and I was determined not to make the same mistakes I made in my first effort. The goal was to one, finish the event safely, and two, to improve my finishing time from 2011.

Early Season Training

In the early months of 2012, I did as much road riding as I could when the Colorado weather allowed. Most of the rides were just long enough to get the legs moving. These rides were 20-30 miles, but on some Saturdays, I was able to go longer. My 2011 training schedule was interrupted with starts and stops, given travel and injuries, but I planned to try and follow a similar schedule this year. Race weight for the 2011 race was 175 pounds. Following the 2011 race, my weight had returned to the 185 pound range. My goal would be to lose around 10 pounds again before the event and to target at least eight hours in the saddle per week, building up to longer rides in the spring then summer. Finally, the plan was to include a few road events prior to the race.

Training schedule

I targeted a minimum of eight hours in the saddle each week. I travel frequently so there was no way to achieve this without including spin classes. When possible, I planned spin classes around customer dinners and my work schedule while on the road. Psycle Fitness in Pittsburgh really helped me in my training efforts this year. I loved spinning with the owner Tom. He is the best spin instructor I have had – intense workout, lots of cool moves on the bike, and great music. Tom helped me a lot this year to get ready for my race.

I also supplemented my training with some running and weight training. The running helped my overall fitness this year, especially since I backed off basketball. The weight training helped me to increase the strength necessary to control the bike during the Leadville event.

In 2011, I looked for ways to train in the mountains, but it was tough to find the time. I determined that I would track was the number of hours in the seat and get altitude training when I could squeeze it in. I supplemented early season training with snowboarding. Hitting the target hour goal was sometimes difficult, so the key was filling the gap for the week on Saturdays, making that my longest ride, sometimes four to five hours.

Last year, a timely bout with gout helped me lose weight before the race. This year, I lost weight slowly and steadily through June, as training time increased in the summer and by paying more attention to my diet. My race weight this year was 173 pounds, which was a 12 pound loss from the beginning of the year.

I felt my fitness level was better this year than last. My early season training was ahead of last year, and my calf, although constantly sore, it seemed to be holding up well.

When I received confirmation that I had gotten into the event again, I asked my wife Jessie if she would be my crew again. She knew from last year that this event requires a time commitment from the family, but she agreed to be my crew again this year. Jessie had entered several endurance events for the upcoming season so we would both have to weave work, family time and training, while raising our six kids. Jessie had signed up for three 50k’s and a 50 mile trail run. Also, we both signed up for the Tough Mudder event at Beaver Creek. This would be my longest run to date. The Tough Mudder is a 13 mile run at elevation with 25 various obstacles thrown in. Entering the event was a good move, forcing me to increase my running to prepare for this event.

Tough Mudder 2012

The weather during the Tough Mudder event was perfect – a cool and sunny morning in the mountains. We spent the morning, trudging through the mud and tubes, under wire and over fences, climbing over walls and cargo nets. There are also electrical wires, some as high as 10,000 volts, mixed into some of the obstacles. It was a fun event and the money raised went to the Wounded Warrior Project. Jessie did not like getting shocked and she won’t be doing this event again. I thought it was a blast – and your reward at the end is a bright orange headband.

Triple Bypass

I did get a new road bike prior to the Triple Bypass – I got a discounted carbon fiber GT Strike from Performance. It has SRAM components and the bike is much more responsive than my entry level aluminum Trek 2.1. Last year I used the Selle Anatomica saddle during all of my events – I really love this saddle. This year I have one on both my road bike and my mountain bike.

This was my second time doing the Triple. Last year’s ride was pretty tough for me. This year, I scaled back the effort on the first major pass, which is Juniper Pass. Taking it easier at the beginning saved me, as I felt steady and strong though most of the rest of the ride. The weather was nice early in the ride, but just prior to Loveland pass, gray clouds were building. I stopped for lunch at the aid station before the final five miles to the peak of Loveland Pass. I started to cramp up here as I sat eating lunch. I was feeling a strain in my injured calf. I had not put on any KT tape prior to the ride, but I carried a pre-cut strip and I put it on after lunch. Pulling the shoe off was enough to tighten my legs and I felt the onset of cramps, but I got the tape and shoes on and hit the road. My leg felt better with the extra support, and I ascended hard seeing the clouds continue to build.

Over the top and down the other side was a blast, but the clouds rolled in like a wave and then came the rain. I later found out some riders were forced to SAG over Loveland Pass – I am glad I beat the rain to the peak. But on the descent, the rain was falling hard – as I neared the bottom, the rain felt like pebbles hitting me all over my body. I thought about seeking shelter a couple of times, but some riders in front of me kept moving forward, so I kept going too. It was getting cold. As I approached the sharp left turn at a red light at the bottom, I couldn’t stop. I was squeezing the breaks enough to steadily slow the bike, but barely stopped at the light. Wet body, wet brakes, and cold, but I had made it down safely and now the rain started to fade – at least for now.

The last pass was Vail – I approached it like I did last year – with my head down, pressing forward as steadily as I could. I felt strong at the end. The last twenty miles was an emotional barrier last year – I had struggled without success to catch riders in front of me to get a pull. This year I was able to ride with a couple of groups at the end, but the rain began to pour again. I fell off the group with about three miles to go. The rain was so heavy now and I felt fatigued and cold. Coming through the last stage, there is a series of roundabouts where vehicles intermingle with cyclists. I entered the last roundabout with about a mile to go. I was moving too fast for the conditions and my ability – I didn’t turn the wheel in time and headed towards the curb. I bailed out and hit the curb. The water bottles flew, the bike slid onto the curb, and I slipped on my side along the sidewalk. Damage included scrapes on my knee, hip, shoulder and helmet. Although my jacket ripped on the shoulder, my new Primal kit weathered the slide nicely. No severe damage to me or my bike. So I put myself together, told the volunteer who rushed to my aid that I was OK and I attempted to text my wife to let her know where I was so we could meet at the finish. I was shaken by the crash and I had wet and cold fingers. So my texts to Jessie were gibberish and not one made any sense. So finally, I hopped on my bike and rode the final mile to the finish line in the rain. I was so glad to see my family inside the tent. It was raining and cold and I was shivering. After eating the most awesome burger ever, I thawed out on the drive home.

I cut off an hour from last year’s time. I believe I was in better shape this year compared to last year, but I also feel my confidence and ability had improved compared to last year’s rookie effort. I was excited about my progress and I was confident it would translate to success at Leadville.

Courage Classic

We had about ten people join the Fighting Chickens team this year. Our team raised several thousand dollars for the Denver Children’s hospital this year. One of the Chickens hurt her leg in a fall. That crash required stitches and an early exit. She recovered well and she will join us again next year. Other than our team injury, it was a good couple of days of training in the mountains weeks ahead of Leadville, and we had again raised a lot of money for the Children’s hospital.

Leadville 100

Jessie and I arrived early in Leadville on Friday to check in. I signed the medical release, picked up my chip and shirt, ate a breakfast burrito and headed to the high school gym for the pre-race meeting.

This year’s race kicked off with a famous past winner addressing the crowd. No, not Dave Weins, it was Lance Armstrong. Lance gave a motivational speech and told of his love for this race. He shared his thoughts about riding down Columbine and being cheered on by all of his fellow riders. He said you see that kind of support only at this event. He also said he would not be racing this year, as he is a bit busy right now. Of course, this was right before he had his seven Tour de France titles stripped for blood doping. He is, or at least was, a great American hero. You love Lance’s story, but there are reports that he was not a great teammate and some reports suggest he is not a good guy at all. But I can say it was motivating for me to see and listen to him prior to the race, especially since it was seeing the clip of a helicopter view of Lance racing crossing Columbine in “The Race Across the Sky” that inspired me to sign up for this event in the first place.

Sitting in the gym with fellow riders and crew is where I noticed the biggest difference from my experience last year. Last year, the experience was all new. I had lots of butterflies and I was just awestruck by everything leading up to the event. And given my difficulties finishing last year, I didn’t have an opportunity to feel what I felt this year. This year, I gained a greater appreciation for race organizers, Ken Chlouber and Marilee O’Neal. Their love for Leadville, the participants, and this event is clear. And I also felt a greater appreciation for what the Leadville Race Series has done for this small mining community. It is a great story and for me, being just a small part of that Leadville family has become my favorite part of the whole experience.

We grabbed lunch, checked into the hotel and I did a pre-race bike check. Then we joined other riders at the gym for a pre-race pasta dinner. When we returned to the hotel, the rain began to pour.

Following an evening of heavy, heavy rain, the next morning appeared to be clear and I hoped for a beautiful race-day. Jessie and I parked near the start line. We took a quick photo in the dark and then rushed to the starting corral. One of my biggest mistakes last year was the failure to take in enough electrolytes. I had mistakenly believed my Perpetuem by Hammer contained that important ingredient. That was a huge mistake that resulted in a series of serious cramps. This year my electrolyte replenishment plan included Heed by Hammer, Hammer Fizz tablets, and Endurolyte tablets. This year, I would not make the same mistake.

However, I would soon realize my first error of the day – I had left my bottle of Endurolytes on the dash of the car. Now I would have to rely only on Heed until mile 40, when I would first meet up with my crew.

The Leadville 100 MTB Race – Race Timeline

My corral was closer to the start this year – I assume I was with all of the other finishers who finished the event between 11 and 12 hours. I was nervous, but I did feel comfort that I had been here before.
The air was crisp but pleasant. I was feeling a bit constricted with my new rain jacket. I had ripped my nice ultralight jacket in my Triple Bypass crash, so I picked up a discounted rain jacket at REI. It was a medium, but I could not move my arms too well – maybe I got a women’s medium. Anyway, it was cool so I left it on, but I was hoping it would not cause me any major discomfort on the upcoming ride.

Finally after the countdown and a slow walk to the start line, we hopped on our bikes and we were quickly moving fast down the road. There was some early jockeying, as some in the back were rushing past to catch groups in front. I went steady through this area. This is a fast pace with lots of anxious riders. My goal was to just get to the dirt road safely. The paved portion turns to dirt after 3.5 miles. My pace this year through this section was the same as last year.

Mile 2012 2011
1 3:24 3:23
2 2:14 2:15
3 2:11 2:18

Last year, the path leading to St. Kevin’s was extremely dusty – I had dirt in my mouth from this portion of the ride for hours. Luckily, the night before this year’s race, the heavy rains which knocked down the dust allowed better traction. My pace was slightly better than last year, especially mile seven, near the top before the route turns sharp to the left.

Mile 2012 2011
4 6:28 6:56
5 4:05 4:15
6 4:05 4:03
7 10:40 12:53
8 12:46 12:27
9 6:38 6:52

Through mile nine, I had cut three minutes from last year’s time, hitting the summit of St. Kevin’s at 52:31. After the summit, there was lots of slowing until hitting the Carter Summit Express station at mile 11.
Mile 2012 2011
10 6:36 7:28
11 6:03 5:16

Now it was time to fly – riders hit top speeds on this paved section towards Turquoise Lake.
Mile 2012 2011
12 1:50 1:56
13 1:36 1:37
14 2:03 2:25

The road curves around the lake at the bottom of the hill, and leads into a one mile pavement climb. Then the road switches to dirt as we ascend Sugarloaf Pass – this is a 1,200 foot climb.
Mile 2012 2011
15 6:24 6:43
16 6:34 6:45
17 6:09 6:02
18 10:45 12:12
19 10:56 10:11

I passed the summit of Sugarloaf at 1:51:27, five minutes ahead of last year’s pace. It is now a quick descent down Powerline, which is an intimidating downhill with lots of ruts and crevices. I really stayed focused, recalling last year’s crash at this point in the ride. So I did take it a bit slower at points on this section. I rode through last year’s crash zone at mile 21 and I continued without incident ahead of last year’s pace.
Mile 2012 2011
20 4:22 3:59
21 4:55 6:15
22 5:43 6:27
23 5:15 6:40
24 4:35 4:11

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At the end of Powerline, we hit route 300, which is a paved road where we picked up a bit of speed.
Mile 2012 2011
25 2:46 2:51
26 3:11 2:53
27 2:40 3:10

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This section switches to dirt as we head to the Pipeline Aid Station. I hit it at 2:24:44, which was eight minutes ahead of last year’s pace.
Mile 2012 2011
28 4:49 5:33
29 5:28 4:47
30 3:52 5:02
31 5:29 3:38
32 5:01 5:02
33 3:31 5:24
34 5:45 4:57
35 4:58 5:19
36 4:00 4:44
37 5:22 3:39

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Last year I crashed at mile 38 on a steep uphill climb – there were lots of riders in the area and I did a bad job bailing out and cut my leg. I recognized the section and this time I got up enough speed to make it without stopping.
Mile 2012 2011
38 5:51 8:04
39 6:01 2:58

I crossed Highway 82 and rode through the Twin Lakes parking area, across the Twin Lakes dam and entered the Twin Lakes Aid station at 3:12:59, which was 18 minutes ahead of last year’s pace. I was monitoring my time and I knew I was on pace for a better time compared to last year. But unfortunately, I was about to give back some of that time. At mile 42, I was set to meet up with my crew – but I stopped at the porta-potty for a bathroom break. I was wearing my new awesome primal bib, but getting that off along with my backpack with my water, and my tiny jacket burned a ton of time. Then when trying to get everything back on, I broke the zipper on my jersey. I really didn’t want to ride the rest of the race with my jersey flapping open but I could not get it zipped. Finally, I gave up and rode to Jessie to get my Endurolytes and my replacement of Heed and water. That total time at mile 42 took twice as long as last year and now I had an air-conditioned shirt with the broken zipper holding only the middle of the shirt together. I tossed my jacket.
Mile 2012 2011
40 2:13 2:38
41 4:24 6:12
42 21:04 7:10
43 4:25 6:10

It was great to see Jessie, but I barely saw her. She had set up at basically the last available crew spot on this section. She re-filled my bottles and bladder and gave me a quick kiss and I finally got going. That was way too long of a break, but I felt that I was still doing better than last year, so I was panicking.
Mile 2012 2011
44 6:11 17:20

There were six miles to the top of Columbine – the first portion is slow riding with all of the leaders racing back down the path. They are whizzing by so fast that you can barely see who they are. You try to pass quickly when you can, but you have to be ready to move to the right quickly when you hear, “rider up!”
Mile 2012 2011
45 12:24 10:36
46 11:51 12:43
47 14:59 15:38

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The last two miles are brutal – I tried to ride as much as I could but often it is either too steep or too narrow to get around other walkers. So I walked a lot but I tried to move as quickly as possible. Here is where I felt my first sign of cramps – cramps almost knocked me out of the race last year, so I continued to drink water.
Mile 2012 2011
48 13:49 14:01
49 19:32 26:53
50 24:16 23:24

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I hit the Columbine Summit aid station at 5:28:07, which was 22 minutes ahead of last year’s pace. At the top, I took a quick nature break over the mountain and jumped back on the bike.
Mile 2012 2011
51 11:52 14:22

So my list of mistakes for the first half of the ride included, leaving Endurolytes in the car, wearing the bibs, wearing too small of a jacket, and wasting a bunch of time struggling to zip up my shirt. But no crashes – I had two last year. The ride from the summit of Columbine is very rocky. I only have front suspension, so both my bike and I take a bit of a beating on this section. One of the screws holding my front water bottle cage shook loose, so now my cage and bottle were hanging upside down. I was riding in a group with no open spot to pull over. The bottle was still in the cage and it was in my way of peddling. So I did what an inexperienced rider might do, I reached down to pull the bottle out of the cage. With the hand on the bottle, I must have hit a large rock and I bounced into the bushes. I didn’t get hit from behind as the riders flew past. I lost the water bottle, turned the cage upright, checked the rest of the bike and hit the trail. And I did lose more time.
Mile 2012 2011
52 13:25 5:24

I took some care down Columbine – I recall the words of several riders I have met doing this event – “you won’t win the race on the downhill, but you can lose it”. But even riding down with extra caution, my downhill pace down was slightly ahead of last year’s pace.
Mile 2012 2011
53 5:15 5:48
54 4:07 4:04
55 3:01 3:58
56 2:54 4:14
57 3:10 3:47
58 3:00 3:12
59 3:13 11:49
60 7:49 7:12
61 13:31 3:35

I met up with my crew at the bottom – Jessie had made a friend and he zip tied my cages back onto the bike. I now carry zip ties on my rides. I got a quick water fill up and I was on my way – I was drinking significantly more water this year. Last year, I did not drink enough and I paid the price. I rode through the Twin Lakes aid station without stopping.
Mile 2012 2011
62 4:56 7:50
63 9:00 7:13
64 4:21 3:01
65 3:39 3:59
66 3:43 4:21

At mile 67/68 you hit a hill called North Face – I am sure some people ride it, but I walked it and it does take some time to get up this hill. Then there is another hill called Oh My God Hill. After walking up this hill, then it is back on the bike and we are riding towards the Pipeline Aid station.
Mile 2012 2011
67 6:23 10:07
68 9:53 10:34
69 11:16 6:22
70 5:51 4:55
71 5:08 5:14

I rode through the Pipeline Aid station at 7:36:34, which was 28 minutes ahead of last year’s pace.
Mile 2012 2011
72 4:48 4:02
73 4:52 4:30
74 8:13 4:10
75 3:30 3:38
76 4:03 5:25
77 5:03 3:35

Last year, due to severe cramps, I was forced to walk much of the path back up Powerline. This year I rode what I could. It is so rocky, that even with no cramps, it’s a tough ride.
Mile 2012 2011
78 4:03 6:30
79 5:47 13:06
80 12:38 25:30
81 17:08 22:16
82 14:34 17:11

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I reached the summit of Powerline in 9:25:13, which was 29 minutes faster than last year’s pace. I did have a drop bag here – I grabbed a couple of Stinger Waffles and filled up with water. I had help from volunteers who took care of my water. That was a huge help because my hands were not working too well. I think the duration of the event just takes a toll and the normally simple things are difficult after this long on a bike and while riding at this altitude. I took a bit longer break than I planned, but I was tired and used the extra time to recover.
Mile 2012 2011
83 14:07 5:47
84 5:02 5:16

Finally after climbing Powerline, miles 85 to 87 are downhill, but the shaking of the bike down this rocky section is tough after this many hours on the bike. I struggled not to not crash. You cannot get complacent on this section – you just have to stay focused.
Mile 2012 2011
85 4:51 3:17
86 3:01 3:32
87 2:50 2:07

Now you turn left on the road around Turquoise Lake. It is paved, but this section is tough because it is so steep.
Mile 2012 2011
88 1:54 5:35
89 6:02 9:42
90 9:44 10:13
91 10:26 12:09

I rode through the Carter Summit aid station.
Mile 2012 2011
92 9:11 5:49
93 4:55 8:05

Coming down St Kevin’s seemed rough and I was real nervous, not wanting to crash at this point. This year I rode this final section about the same as I did last year. Last year, this is the point where I recovered from my cramps and turned it on, barely finishing in time to get the buckle.
Mile 2012 2011
94 7:59 4:04
95 3:49 3:14
96 3:18 3:22
97 3:17 3:08
98 2:49 3:20
99 3:01 2:45

At the bottom of St Kevin’s, we go from a dirt road to short ride on the pavement, then onto a dirt trail. I almost missed the slight right turn here last year. Then it is a left turn towards town up a steep section called the “The Boulevard”.
Mile 2012 2011
100 2:30 5:21
101 5:29 4:42
102 4:40 5:36

This is the last section towards the finish line – it is then a short ride up 6th street and then it is down hill to the finish line.
Mile 2012 2011
103 6:18 5:51
104 6:21 7:44

Finish Line 11:22:11

I really remember this part of the race. I remember riding into town, but this time I was not scared to miss the 12 hour deadline. Finishing faster allowed me to take in the sights during that last few hundred yards before the finish. I saw Jessie in the crowd and I looked at all of the spectators waving and cheering. This is one of the best feelings I have ever had – feeling the sense of accomplishment of attaining a goal, feeling of relief of finishing the race, feeling the energy of the crowd, and seeing a loved one who has been supportive the whole way who is there to welcome you home. This is a great feeling, and it is capped by knowing you will get the buckle.

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Buckle Number 2!
My chip time this year was 11:22:11, which was a 26 minute improvement over last year’s effort of 11:48:07. I sought out Merilee to receive the finishers’ medal, which was delivered with a hug.
Last year, I was forced to recover in the medical tent – this year, it was a quick recovery and a nice dinner with my crew in town. Setting a goal, and putting in the work to accomplish something so difficult is gratifying. Three years ago, I would have never thought I could do this. Once again, I am grateful to my family for their support as I sought out to try and get another Leadville 100 belt buckle – the first was sweet and the second was sweeter.

buckle_leadville_100MTB

My race results comparing this year to last year were as follows:
Activities 2012 2011
Garmin Time 11:22:30 11:55:41
Chip Time 11:22:11 11:48:07
Avg Speed 9.2 mph 8.6 mph
Avg Pace 6:33 min/mi 6:56 min/mi
Moving Time 10:31:19 11:07:31
Avg Speed 9.9 mph 9.3 mph
Avg Pace 6:04 min/mi 6:28 min/mi
Max Speed 40.9 mph 45.8 mph
Best Pace 1:28 min/mi 1:19 min/mi
Avg HR (bpm) 138 bpm 140 bpm
Max HR (bpm) 172 bpm 184 bpm
Avg HR (z) 3.2 z 3.4 z
Max HR (z) 5.5 z 6.0 z

http://www.goraceday.com/watch/17502/

 

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