My Quest for the Leadville Trail 100 Buckle

My Quest 2011
I heard about the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race one year ago. From that time, the thought of participating in this extreme endurance event consumed my mind. The problem was, I was not an endurance athlete and I had never considered taking on this type of challenge. But I was driven to be part of this epic event. This is the story of my effort to achieve the Leadville 100 belt buckle. I believed attaining this goal would be a milestone event in my life that would serve as a source of strength and pride. But I would find that my quest for the belt buckle would be as rewarding as actually receiving it. The journey tested both my physical ability and my mental toughness more than I had ever expected. My question as I began this effort was, “Did I have the ability to dig deep and push through to the finish line or would I quit?” I was determined to put myself to the test and I would do it at 12,500 feet in the rugged mountains of Leadville, Colorado.

My First Bike
My buddy Ted rides to work in Denver almost every day of the year. That was a source of inspiration to me that someone would brave the elements each day to ride their bike to work. I wanted to do that, but I work at home. Two years ago, Ted mentioned he had a road bike he would sell me. He converted my new road bike to a comfortable upright bike with mustache handlebars and I was all set to go. Easy on the back and I hooked the bike carrier on the back to carry my youngest two kids around our Aurora, CO neighborhood. But I had dreams of riding from our home all the way to Denver.

I Like Saying “Triple Bypass”
I enrolled in the Executive MBA program class at the University of Colorado. One classmate mentioned in our first introductory meeting that he had participated in something called the “Triple Bypass”. I mentioned to my wife a few times the details of this Triple Bypass. I even told her that maybe I would ride in the Triple Bypass sometime. My wife, Jessie, is the love of my life. She is my best friend and I need her support in all that I do. She did have some memorable comments during my quest. “I think the only reason you want to do it is because you like saying ‘Triple Bypass'”. I have to admit, I think I did like saying it. But it would sound sweeter if I actually did it.

Courage Classic 2009
My new classmate Dave would soon become one of my best friends. He asked the MBA class for volunteers to join his cycling team that would participate in the 2009 Courage Classic, a cycling event that raised funds for the Denver Children’s Hospital. When Dave asked for volunteers from the class, no one seemed immediately interested. Even though Dave named the team the “Fighting Chickens”, I decided to join the team. The Courage ride was my first ever attempt riding in the mountains of Colorado. To be prepared, I took my upright bike to the shop for a tune up and asked the technician how it would do climbing Vail pass for the Courage ride. He responded, “I am sure your friends will give you a head start.” I bought a new road bike off of Craig’s List later that week. I found a used Trek 2.1 and started riding in May to get ready for the July ride. After I proudly finished climbing steep mountains on the first day of the Courage Classic, Dave reached down and pulled the “made in Taiwan” sticker off my bike, telling me, “O.K., now that you have proven you can ride, we can get rid of your little sticker.”

The Fighting Chickens teamed up with the Primal Wear team. This was also my first experience interacting with serious cyclists, other than Dave I guess. Some of the guys on our team had finished amongst the top riders in the Triple Bypass. Being part of this group was kind of a motivating factor. These guys are very serious riders and most seemed to be six feet plus, and I estimated them to be in the 140 to 160 pound range, while I was clocking in at 5’10″‘ 185 pounds. Not an ideal cyclist frame, but I had my bike and we were all wearing the same team jerseys so I felt like I could ride. During the event, I did learn that I am a relatively strong climber and that my endurance was better than I realized, especially considering the minimum amount of training I did prior to the event. This was my first indication that an event like the Triple might be something I could actually do. The Courage was the only event I did for the 2009 season and I didn’t ride much the rest of the year.

Courage Classic 2010

The next year, Dave signed up the Fighting Chickens to participate in the 2010 Courage classic. Dave looks for ways to keep me humble. Prior to the ride, I could not find my sunglasses in the car. I scrambled to find a pair with no success. Finally, I found my wife’s Nike shields and I was ready to ride. That was, until Dave saw me and said, “Whoa, nice ladies glasses” and then he said something about an upcoming fashion show. Dave’s awesome. Ted joined our team, which had expanded from the original 10 to 20 riders this year. The Primal guys were on the team again. I had trained a bit more for the event this year by doing rides of 30 miles or so. I felt much stronger this year than the prior year. After the event I put the bike away for the season. But that would soon change.

The Race Across the Sky Video

My wife is a member of Lifetime Fitness. She mentioned that during a spin class, she had seen a video of a Leadville mountain bike race that she thought I would like. She showed me a clip of “The Race Across the Sky” with thumping music and clips of elite riders like Lance Armstrong flying down the mountains. There was a short clip of Lance literally racing across the sky at the top of Columbine with a cloud of dust trailing behind him – that image was burned into my mind. I watched that clip many times, and it changed me. It lit a fire within that made me want to do this event. I learned that entry into this race required a lottery. I entered the lottery and crossed my fingers.

Lottery
I anxiously awaited word from the Leadville race officials whether I would be accepted into the event. When notified that I had been accepted, I got very nervous. What would my wife say? What would people who might be familiar with the event say? But most importantly, I needed a mountain bike. I had an old, used, dented and dust-covered mountain bike that I had bought in California 15 years ago. It had seldom been ridden, and when it was ridden, there was a kid bike trailer attached.

Niner
So Dave introduced me to Adam at the Golden Bike Shop. Adam was a huge help getting me the bike needed to make this ride. We went steel frame hard tail with SRAM components and Stan’s tubeless tires. Adam fitted me and gave me a few tips for the ride and off I went. I really didn’t know much about the bike I had just bought and to be honest, I knew very little about the event I had signed up for. But this much I did know – finishing the Leadville Trail 100 race in less than 12 hours would earn the coveted belt buckle, and for anyone I talked to about the event, they said one, it is a tough event, and two, you better get the belt buckle. I had learned that Dave Wiens had won the event six times in a row. If I could look to him in how he trained for the event, I would at least have something on paper to follow. Another thing I knew was that less weight would be easier to push up the mountain. When I started counting pounds and grams on my bike and studying how much weight to carry, my wife laughed and said it was better to lose pounds off my frame than to worry about a few grams here and there. So I set a goal to lose 10 pounds. Why 10? It seemed like a good number. If I were to lose weight and get serious about taking on the event, I had to think more like a champion. So I decided to stop drinking soda. I decided to stop drinking it and I haven’t had any soda since. That has been eight months now. Another thing I decided to do was to eliminate two of my favorite snacks completely from my diet – M&M’s and licorice. These were my staple snacks during my MBA studies. I’ve stayed true to this effort too. So, these new self-imposed limits added to my lifestyle of abstaining from alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco. Now, left with no vices, it was time to train.

Start of Training
In addition to the Leadville event, my goal for the season was to participate in the Triple Bypass. The Triple was a month before Leadville, and yes, I still liked saying it. I felt this would be a good training ride for Leadville. That was also a lottery entry and I was grateful to have been selected for that ride too.

Training Schedule

I found an interview that Leadville champ Dave Wiens had given, and in it were some comments about his training schedule for the event. I took this as gospel and copied it and modified it to meet my needs. The main focus of the schedule was a number of hours in the saddle each week and a certain amount of elevation climbing each week. In addition, the schedule had expanded training hours as the season went along and included a couple of events that would gauge training effectiveness. My plan included a few trips up to Leadville to train at altitude and get a feel of the track.

My buddy Dave also got into the Triple, so I was excited to have some company, at least for that ride. I stayed up late one night crafting a training schedule for Dave and me to follow. I sent him the schedule, expecting that we would both immediately attack it. Several weeks later, Dave and I met and I asked how the training was going. I had been mostly on schedule riding my eight hours a week, while also doing some snow shoeing in the mountains on Saturdays to get my elevation training. Dave had not even opened the schedule I sent to him. He said something like, “do you realize Dave Wiens is an elite rider?” – he was implying there is no way guys like us could maintain that schedule. Turns out he was partly correct – I didn’t maintain the schedule like I had planned. The number of hours given my travel schedule for business was impossible. Trying to achieve the altitude goals was way too far out of reach. But I kept that schedule in front of me the whole time as I prepared myself. I strived to meet it the best I could. At parting this meeting with Dave, he told me something like “when you find that you can’t maintain that schedule, let me know and I will help you come up with something.” His comment lingered in my mind and served as motivation – I fully intended to keep with the schedule I had designed, courtesy of my new hero, Dave Wiens. Unfortunately, my buddy Dave got injured, and he was unable to do the Triple, leaving me alone in my training and during the ride. I was disappointed, but not deterred.

My training schedule consisted of riding whenever I could, given a pretty busy work travel schedule. This typically meant a Monday travel day to somewhere outside of Colorado, a Tuesday night and Wednesday night spin class while on the road, a Thursday or Friday travel day home and maybe a training ride either early Friday morning or Friday evening before dark. Finally, the key training effort was a long Saturday ride, lasting three to four hours. Given time restrictions with the family, the ride time was seldom more than that, but Saturday was the catch up day, used to fill the gap in the minimum eight hour weekly target. Sundays was always a rest day and was a day focused on only church and family. In addition to counting the hours in the saddle, I also began lifting some weights a couple of days a week. Mostly step ups to strengthen my hip flexors, along with push downs and power cleans to strengthen my upper body for the ride.

Setbacks
I did have a couple of setbacks during training. The first occurred in May. I fell down a step in the garage. I just slipped. I crumpled to the floor and twisted my left knee. I was scared that I had damaged my knee – it was the same knee that I had meniscus surgery on the past December. I was there motionless on the floor. I finally crawled inside more scared than hurt. I recovered from what I would call a mild sprain after about two weeks. I took that whole time off from riding. The next set back was during a trip to China during the last of May. I had no opportunity to bike and had only minimal trainingb time in the hotel fitness centers. A life cycle-type bike can be effective for training, but I again tweaked my knee while riding one of these bikes. This was a downer for me, because now I would take another 10 days off and I felt I would not be able to put in the required training, and I felt I was too far behind my plan. I returned from China and I was committed to get back on my schedule the best I could and get ready for the upcoming Triple Bypass.

Weight Loss
The weight loss efforts through May had yielded no results. I told just a few people of my goal to lose the weight because I felt if I did not tell some people that I would not have the desire to do it. But even without the soda and the snacks, I was not losing. The weight would finally come off, losing a total of eight pounds just prior to the Leadville ride.

The Bus Ride to the Triple Bypass Event
I viewed the Triple as a training ride and as a means to achieving my goal of the Leadville 100 buckle. But I must say I was very excited to do the Triple as it approached. My longest single-day bike ride to date was 70 miles, and the Triple Bypass is 120 miles over three mountain passes. Other than the Courage rides, this would be my first real event. Courage is three days of riding with full support, and while it has some difficult portions, it is a pretty casual ride. It has a sit-down lunch and the participating riders are all shapes and sizes. The Triple was a much more serious ride and as I sat on the bus ride from Avon to Evergreen, I let some doubts creep in to my mind as to my ability compared to others on the bus. I sat and listened to the other riders while on the early morning ride. Many of the riders I was with had traveled from all over the country, and they spoke of their multiple events they each had done during the season. This made me question my training in the local fitness centers as I sat during the two hour bus ride. I looked at my aluminum Trek 2.1 sitting alongside the carbon horses strewn in the bus. At least there was no sticker on my bike anymore. I glanced at my mountain bike shoes – shoes that I had gotten so I could wear them in my MBA class if I had ever made the ride to Denver, which I had planned to do, but never did. I’m a beginner and I’m a bit budget conscience, so maybe that is why I never bought a pair of road cycling shoes. It seemed my bike and I both felt inadequate on the bus ride. But then I recall, at some point, I took a deep breath – I was doing this for me, not for any of them, and I felt a surge of confidence that happened to be a turning point in my training as I turned the focus inward. We finally got to the start line – I grabbed a bit of fuel and hit the road.

Triple Bypass
I had two goals. One, I wanted to prove that I could slay something of this distance. Two, I had to finish in time to hit the road to meet my wife at Red Rocks to catch the Avett Brothers concert. I had gotten these tickets after entry into the event. I had full intention of making it to this concert. I felt great up Juniper Pass. I stayed on the wheel of a married couple from Denver who had done the event the year before. I stayed with them for the first third of the event, moving at a pace much faster than I had planned. During the middle portion, which is Loveland pass, my body was aching from every joint. My back and legs were sore and I lumbered through this section. I took a couple of Tylenol that I hoped would relieve my pain. The last portion was Vail pass. There is much of this last section of the ride that I don’t recall – I moved forward with my head often pulled down – I passed many riders as I pushed for home. At mile 110, I faced a mental barrier that briefly left me wanting to stop riding. For what seemed like an eternity, I tried unsuccessfully to catch a group of riders in front of me. I so wanted to catch them and join their pace line. My pace was steady over these final ten miles but I felt alone. That was until I glanced back and noticed I was pulling several riders. That gave me a boost as I realized I had led this train. But my lack of experience left me expending way too much energy. Exhausted, I crossed the finish line, picked up my chain link medal and a hamburger. I saw Keith, who was a fellow Fighting Chicken. He works for Primal and he is a very strong rider who looks like a linebacker. I thought, wow, he looks good and fresh. Did he even do the event? Yes he did – he had finished, and maybe showered, and had gotten a massage. Keith gave me an indication how I looked – as I approached him, his smile left as he asked me, “Are you feeling alright?” Obviously, I looked how I felt. The mirror in my car confirmed to me why he asked – dirty and pale. But I had done the Triple – I rushed to the concert and between songs, I found myself saying “Triple Bypass” in my mind – she was right, I did like saying it.

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Courage Classic 2011
The Courage was once again a very memorable experience. I bunked up with Ted at a place in Breckenridge. Also, we met up with Dave. The three of us made up the entire Fighting Chickens team this year. We rode in what is becoming one of my favorite things to do – biking in the mountains in Colorado with 2,500 friends, raising money for the Denver Children’s Hospital.

Final Two Weeks Before Leadville
My training leading up to the final two weeks before the Leadville race left me in pretty good shape for the ride. I knew I could have done more training, but following the success of the Triple, along with staying pretty true to my minimum target hours laid out in my plan, I felt ready. I was no longer nervous about the upcoming event – rather I was just anxious for race day to arrive. My plan was to do one more Saturday ride in Leadville two weeks before the event. I would try and ride at least a portion of the course and benefit from one more day of altitude training. I made my second attempt up St. Kevin’s. My first effort a few months earlier fell short as snow blocked my path half way up the climb. On this training ride, I made it over the hill and onto the next section, only to miss the gate, once again leaving me riding in the beautiful mountains of Leadville, but giving me no more course experience. I rode forty miles over the next four hours. I felt good on this cool morning, but I later learned that I had failed to take in enough water. Following the ride, on the way to Copper to meet up with my family, I stopped at a roadside jerky stand. Venison sounded good – I ate the entire package. The next day, I was limping and my right big toe was inflamed. The aching made it feel like I had a stress fracture in my foot and left the whole leg in distress. I went to the doctor on Sunday – diagnosis was gout. The doctor said this often occurs in golfers who spend the day in the sun drinking alcohol and fail to take in enough water. My extreme physical activity the day before, combined with the lack of proper hydration, must have caused the gout. Come to find out, venison can cause gout to flare up. Medicine cured this ill, but training had now abruptly stopped – it was my plan to taper at this point, but I could barely walk. I felt better later in the week, but then the following Saturday night, my neck was extremely sore on one side. Sunday, I went back to the doctor. Two weeks in a row – I think my doctor should give me a club card like they give at the grocery store. Diagnosis was an inflamed lymph node. The doctor ordered a CNC – report came back as negative. Jessie suggested that instead of going to the doctor, if I didn’t want to do the race, that I just shouldn’t do it. This comment reminded me to not share with her any of my injuries or illnesses in the future.

The Days Before the Leadville Trail 100

Jessie and I dropped the kids off at their grandparents’ house and headed to Leadville the day before the race. I checked in and we bumped into biking legend Tinker Juarez. Then the racers joined in a rousing welcome from race director and founder Ken Chlouber in the local gym. I was pumped and really ready to get this thing started. We grabbed lunch and then I did a pre-race bike cleaning, ate dinner, and then went to bed for a generally sleepless night.

Leadville Trail 100
I heard there were 5,000 entries into the event, 1,900 people would be selected to participate via the lottery, 1,600 racers would toe the line, and approximately 1,100 official finishers would cross the finish line within 12 hours of the start. Would I be one that would finish the race in time to earn the buckle? At the start line prior to the firing of the shot gun to start the race, there were two thoughts that filled my mind. Ken, the race organizer, mentioned prior to the event that we should not quit during our respective efforts to claim the buckle. He said when you are asked if you earned the buckle, it will be much better to say “yes”, than to quit during the race and have to explain for half an hour why you failed to get it. The other lingering thought was that of my family members. I could not have taken on this type of challenge without the support and sacrifice of my wife and our six kids. In addition to my heavy work travel schedule, training did take time from those who are most important in my life. I believed that succeeding in my effort was important to them and I did not want to let them down. And I did not want all of the time away from them to be for naught – I had to claim that buckle.

Sunrise at 6am before the start of the race

Race Timeline
The morning air was crisp but pretty pleasant. I expected it to be a pretty warm day, but I still chose to wear my bright yellow wind and water-proof road cycling jacket. As I looked around, even as the sun barely peeked over the mountains, I concluded that it was I who wore the brightest color in the whole field. First time participants began the race in the last corral and I estimate I was positioned in the last couple hundred of riders of the total 1,600 who started the race. The first portion of the race is on pavement, which switches to dirt after 3.5 miles. A countdown and a shot gun blast signals the beginning of the race, and then we were moving. The excitement I was feeling, along with the shock of the brisk start off the line in the cool morning, caused my heart rate to hit the highest number I would hit all day during just the very first three miles of the ride. We started on pavement and rolled downhill. I expected I might start too fast so I forced myself to back off a bit to ensure I wouldn’t red-line right off the bat.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
1, 0:03:22, 0, 131, 30.3, 184
2, 0:02:15, 0, 115, 32, 181
3, 0:02:17, 0, 124, 31.7, 181

The weather had been very dry and as I approached the dirt road for this first climb, I saw a huge cloud of gray dust that trailed the first thousand plus riders who had already started up the path to St Kevin’s mine. I was soon literally eating their dust. Later photographs show a nice buildup of dirt caked on my front teeth.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
4, 0:06:55, 71, 0, 27.1, 163
5, 0:04:14, 48, 30, 18.8, 167
6, 0:04:03, 19, 9, 21.7, 159

The road turned uphill and at mile 7, I noticed heavy breathing amongst many of the riders. I felt pretty good and did not feel that I was out of breath at all. The pace was slow and I had too few opportunities to pass, so I stayed with the group and tried to enjoy the 800 foot ascent.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
7, 0:12:53, 281, 0, 17.3, 159

The path then turns 180 degrees to the left. This is the spot where I had turned around during my first attempt to climb St Kevin’s in May. It had been completely snow packed and on that day I made a reluctant retreat feeling unsatisfied with my effort. But on this race day, I was steady to the top. I hit the summit at St. Kevin’s at about 55 minutes. The slow traffic made me maintain a slower pace than I had planned.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
8, 0:12:26, 435, 0, 14.7, 166
9, 0:06:51, 161, 111, 19.3, 170
10, 0:07:27, 183, 143, 20.9, 159
11, 0:05:16, 136, 179, 38.8, 162

The Carter Summit Express Aid station was at mile 11. I rode by and hit the paved road where I hit my max speed for the day at 46 mph. The fastest I rode on my road bike during my prior events and training was about 40 mph. Flying down this road to Turquoise Lake at this speed was a huge rush!

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
12, 0:01:56, 28, 283, 40.6, 142
13, 0:01:37, 0, 259, 45.8, 128
14, 0:02:24, 31, 204, 39.9, 153

At the bottom of the hill, the road curved around the lake and then started a one mile pavement climb. The road switched to dirt as we started to ascend Sugarloaf Pass, which is about a 1,200 foot climb.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
15, 0:06:43, 151, 3, 19.3, 155
16, 0:06:45, 204, 0, 12, 152
17, 0:06:02, 237, 0, 11.3, 152
18, 0:12:11, 313, 0, 10.2, 162
19, 0:10:11, 270, 0, 20.4, 162

I passed the summit of Sugarloaf at one hour and 56 minutes. Then at the top, things started moving pretty fast. I was having trouble seeing through my sunglasses, given the layer of dust they had collected so far. This part of the ride was testing my technical skills – it was rocky and the grooves were taking turns grabbing at my tires. But I was feeling pretty confident and happy. My pace was about 20 mph.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
20, 0:03:59, 0, 328, 22, 153

Then during mile 21, I crashed –I flew over the handlebars onto my left shoulder. I skidded and hopped up in what seemed like a single motion, hoping the riders behind me would miss me. They did. My water bottles had escaped, but without really thinking, I had my bike and bottles secured as I sidestepped over to one side of the path, leaning into the trees. Many passing riders asked about my condition – I repeated “I am fine, keep going” several times. The brotherhood and sisterhood of the cycling community is both comforting and heart-warming. I settled for about a minute to check my bike and my body – both were still functional with no obvious damage. I had torn my jacket on my shoulder, which took the brunt of my fall. I guess I just relaxed for a second and I lost control of the front wheel.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
21, 0:06:14, 19, 401, 19.4, 155

I picked an opening and I was back on the course. My nerves had been shaken and I rode the next two miles like someone who was afraid to crash.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
22, 0:06:27, 74, 458, 17.3, 161
23, 0:06:39, 47, 441, 20.4, 160

But I steadied my nerves – the bike and I were back on track, picking up speed again.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
24, 0:04:10, 28, 67, 28, 158

The end of Powerline put us on route 300, which was paved – here I picked up more speed.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
25, 0:02:51, 23, 72, 26.7, 159
26, 0:02:53, 11, 49, 24.7, 158
27, 0:03:09, 47, 45, 25.3, 169

This section was paved then switched to dirt leading to the Pipeline Aid Station, which I hit at two hours and 32 minutes.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
28, 0:05:32, 96, 0, 17.1, 165
29, 0:04:47, 47, 0, 16.9, 158
30, 0:05:01, 78, 9, 20.8, 162
31, 0:03:37, 0, 41, 23, 156
32, 0:05:01, 80, 43, 22, 160
33, 0:05:23, 100, 103, 23, 159
34, 0:04:56, 55, 178, 21, 165
35, 0:05:18, 0, 267, 17, 146
36, 0:04:44, 75, 98, 20.1, 156
37, 0:03:38, 60, 53, 26.2, 156

Ten miles into the Pipeline section, at mile 38, I crashed again. This was a slow-paced crash during an uphill climb, but it did do some damage. The riders in front of me slowed and I had to unclip, but I failed to exit cleanly. I fell into jagged rocks that scraped some layers of skin from the front of my left leg, leaving it bloody, and I had a stinging sensation and I felt embarrassed falling in front of my fellow racers. This crash also left my bike seat twisted to the side, but I was not in a spot to fix it – so I quickly hopped on my crooked seat and continued. My actions after this event showed my inexperience and haste – this crash also caused my seat to drop about two inches – unfortunately, I would not correct this issue for the duration of the ride. Riding 60 miles on a bike with a seat dropped too low would make me pay a heavy price that would almost knock me out of the race.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
38, 0:08:04, 263, 48, 21.8, 158
39, 0:02:57, 55, 105, 29.1, 155

I crossed Highway 82 into the Twin Lakes parking area, across the Twin Lakes dam and entered the Twin Lakes Aid station at 3 hours 31 minutes. I rode through this station without stopping because I had planned to meet Jessie, who was my sole crew member, later at mile 44.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
40, 0:02:37, 0, 256, 36.4, 142

Columbine is a ten mile climb – the top is at 12,600 feet of elevation. At mile 43, I stopped and took a mere 30 seconds to straighten my seat, but I failed to raise it to the proper height. I didn’t realize it was low, but my lesson learned was to take the time to check the actual seat height – my race number was on my post and it was blocking my view of the seat height. I guess I just did not want to mess with taking off the number as I watched riders whiz by me one after another.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
41, 0:06:11, 115, 23, 16.1, 157
42, 0:07:10, 229, 145, 26.7, 171
43, 0:06:09, 104, 70, 23.4, 158

At my first official stop, I was so happy to see Jessie. I was glad she was there, even though I saw here for only seven minutes. I refueled with Perpetuem and she asked why my Heed bottle was still so full. I had been drinking only water and Perpetuem. This would later turn out to be my second mistake for the day – the Perpetuem had no electrolytes. I also carried a bottle loaded with Heed that would have met this need for me, but I ignored that bottle, not realizing the Perpetuem was not an electrolyte source. Jessie asked how I was doing – I told her I was making up lost time from St Kevin’s, and kiddingly that I was averaging a crash only every 20 miles, but I was feeling a bit fatigued. But generally I felt good and I was soon on my way up the dirt road continuing the climb to Columbine.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
44, 0:17:19, 366, 23, 12.6, 169

With six miles remaining to the peak of Columbine, I began passing a lot of riders. But I had to be careful passing because there were fast riders racing down the hill, seemingly inches away from the pack that was climbing. During miles 45 through 47, I was feeling strong and my uphill pace was pretty steady.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
45, 0:10:36, 266, 0, 18.6, 162
46, 0:12:42, 434, 0, 10.7, 166
47, 0:15:38, 534, 0, 6.7, 160

But then the road turned steep and it was time to walk. Trudging up the hill with all of my fellow riders was like ants moving in a line with no thought of anything other than the next step. I heard many of the downhill riders whooshing by – these were riders who had recently crested the top of Columbine. Many offered words of encouragement to the rest of us who were trying to reach the same goal. Calls of “you are almost there” and “keep going” entered my head but my body seemed to be saying “this is not a good idea”. I was feeling the cramping start to increase a bit at this point – but I had been drinking water and I thought my drink was replenishing essential elements needed to continue – but nope, that was not the case.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
48, 0:14:01, 403, 0, 6.9, 158
49, 0:26:53, 566, 13, 5.5, 154
50, 0:23:24, 529, 12, 9.3, 152

Walking most of the last section, I finally arrived at the Columbine Summit aid station at five hours and 50 minutes. At the top, I took a three-minute break for two Tylenol from the medical tent and I took a nature break over the edge of the mountain. But my biggest concern was the onset of cramps in my legs. The medic said to take in more water. Starting the descent, my legs began to shake and I could not clip in to my pedals. I got one in but the other would not. Starting to head down Columbine I swerved to miss a crash and hit a pedal on a large protruding rock – I kept it together, but my reaction time seemed to be slowing. It was possible that this was from the lack of oxygen, given the extreme altitude.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
51, 0:14:21, 116, 122, 16.2, 153

The remainder of the first mile of the descent went smoothly. But then came the rocky section, which was littered with boulders and I witnessed another crash in front of me. I again, safely maneuvered past that situation. As I looked in the faces of the riders forced to march up this section, my thoughts were not of encouragement, but rather of pity. Some of these riders were well behind me – I felt I was on track to finish under twelve hours, but not by much. Would these riders be able to make up the necessary time to get that buckle? I wanted to yell “go back, it’s not worth it!” and “turn around and save yourselves!” But instead, I yelled “good job – you can do this!”

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
52, 0:05:23, 0, 398, 17.2, 148

I was feeling more cramping – to the point that I could not get my foot in the pedal despite my determined effort. Soon it was too late to try anymore because I started going too fast as I traveled back down the mountain that the leaders had traversed hours before.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
53, 0:05:47, 0, 488, 16.8, 140
54, 0:04:04, 0, 446, 18.9, 131

I decided to follow a female rider down the hill– I stayed on her every line the best I could, given I could barely see out of my sunglasses. She was patient but steady. Some faster riders passed – but I was thinking a faster pace for me would turn out badly. I chose control over high speed. She seemed to be a pretty skilled rider – there were ruts and rocks and she missed them all. I was moving just as cleanly and I heard a string of riders behind me, apparently following the same trail.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
55, 0:03:58, 0, 521, 19.3, 120
56, 0:04:13, 0, 406, 18.1, 132
57, 0:03:46, 0, 382, 23.4, 132
58, 0:03:12, 0, 351, 21.3, 132
59, 0:11:49, 26, 156, 26.9, 136

I flew down the last few miles and saw my trusty crew reading a book as I came to an abrupt halt beside her – she didn’t even notice. “Hello? Help me.” I hit this point at six hours and 38 minutes. I had made up my time and I was now ahead of my goal. But I was feeling fatigued. I filled up with water and got a new bottle of Perpetuem. Again, the Heed was hardly touched. Total stop time at this crew stop was again only seven minutes. “See you at the finish line, I am ahead of schedule.” I rode through the Twin Lakes aid station without stopping.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
60, 0:07:11, 170, 78, 23.1, 154
61, 0:03:34, 0, 237, 26.6, 138
62, 0:07:50, 208, 0, 14.5, 147
63, 0:07:12, 165, 44, 14.3, 145
64, 0:03:01, 62, 264, 30.8, 137
65, 0:03:58, 0, 21, 30.8, 142
66, 0:04:21, 30, 74, 23.8, 149

I faced a steep hill called North Face at Mile 67, which took about ten minutes to walk, followed by what is called Oh My God Hill, which also took about ten minutes to walk.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
67, 0:10:06, 271, 18, 13.8, 153
68, 0:10:34, 188, 57, 23.9, 153

Then I was back on the bike and headed back towards the Pipeline Aid station.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
69, 0:06:22, 151, 104, 22.7, 148
70, 0:04:54, 76, 82, 22.6, 144
71, 0:05:13, 52, 26, 24.5, 143

I arrived at the Pipeline Aid station at eight hours and 4 minutes. I rode through without a stop. I did wave at the cheering fans along the course – you won’t find a nicer group of people than those who are out along the trail supporting all of the riders with applause and cheers.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
72, 0:04:01, 0, 73, 28.4, 141
73, 0:04:30, 14, 18, 19.2, 140
74, 0:04:09, 0, 94, 20.6, 142
75, 0:03:37, 31, 87, 20.5, 139
76, 0:05:24, 61, 0, 13.5, 139
77, 0:03:34, 0, 25, 19.6, 138

Approaching mile 78 is when I really start feeling pain from my cramps – it was starting to hurt more and I was not sure why I was experiencing them so intensely – I had not ever experienced this feeling before. Here is where I began to pray for help – I knew I would need some help because I felt I was taking in enough water and fuel, yet I was in trouble. I didn’t know what to do. At mile 79 I hopped off my bike so I could walk – but this rapid motion getting off of the bike gave me my first severe cramp of the day. I was struck by what felt like a snake bite and I could not move. Every effort to move forward created a new cramp. I looked down at the muscles in my leg, which had begun to deform and contort into shapes I had never seen. It was like they were trying to disguise themselves to make me guess what they were. But then I received an answer to my prayer – a fellow rider stopped and asked me if I was experiencing cramps. He offered me Endurolytes – I had never taken these – he gave me five and said to take three now with lots of water, and to take the others later. As I looked at them, one accidently rolled out of my hand onto the ground. It looked like it was ten feet away. It was like it was begging me to be picked up. I tried to bend to retrieve it, but I could not. The cramps were threatening me to hold still or else. I chose to hold still, then sadly walked away from this abandoned electrolyte capsule. I walked up the hill and any attempt to get on the bike resulted in more cramping. So a walking I did go. Then I received another answer to my prayer – a spectator holding a bottle of something was yelling “does anyone need water or Endurolytes?” Do I ever – “I will take six please.” She freely gave and I accepted with a glad heart. “Thank you, my dear!” I made sure not to drop these and put them in my pocket for safe keeping. Some of the friends I had made earlier in the ride were now passing me and were coaching me to get back on the bike and ride through the pain. I tried, but I could not endure the pain. I felt helpless, yet I walked as fast as I could go. I knew my body was trying to shut down – it had had enough. Miles 79 to 81 almost did me in. It was taking me far too long to climb the three mile path up Powerline.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
78, 0:06:29, 128, 0, 19.8, 143
79, 0:13:05, 226, 87, 29.5, 148
80, 0:25:30, 621, 99, 14.3, 148
81, 0:22:15, 405, 14, 16.8, 140
82, 0:17:10, 374, 0, 13.5, 143

I reached the summit of Powerline in nine hours and 54 minutes. I could now go downhill so I gently snuck onto the saddle – I performed a successful mount and now it was time to move. I started down Sugarloaf towards the gravel road then I hit the pavement. I was unclipped because efforts to lock in were still causing cramps – “when would this stop?” The supplements provided me some relief and I was euphoric to finally be on the bike again.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
83, 0:05:47, 47, 191, 17.9, 136
84, 0:05:16, 0, 340, 16, 122

Miles 85 to 87 are downhill – I was completely unclipped, which created a harrowing ride down, because as I picked up speed, my feet slipped on and off the pedals. I hit 33 mph and again I was partly blinded by the dust, which I realized was also covering my eyes, in addition to coating my glasses.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
85, 0:03:16, 0, 278, 22.6, 120
86, 0:03:31, 20, 109, 23.3, 120
87, 0:02:07, 0, 263, 33.6, 119

I headed to the road around Turquoise Lake – I asked a spectator to fill my water bottles. I love these people who were saving me on this ride. Then I traveled on the pavement up the 1,000 foot vertical rise – as I climb the steep road, it becomes clear to me how I hit those top speeds earlier in the day. But then I was finally able to clip in – this was so much better because now I could create some power with an upstroke. I met a fellow rider from NE who gave me a rundown of how fast we had to finish these last miles to meet our goal. The math added up, but I knew the required speeds would be a challenge to maintain. That little chat with my new friend really motivated me.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
88, 0:05:35, 110, 30, 28.2, 135
89, 0:09:41, 305, 0, 10.4, 140
90, 0:10:12, 246, 0, 16.6, 140
91, 0:12:09, 195, 0, 21.1, 138

I approached the Carter Summit aid station with the goal of a maximum two minute stop. I yelled out for some Tylenol. A spectator appeared and gave me two tablets – I gulped them down with more Endurolytes. I ate some watermelon and leaned on a tree to help me clip in for the last 13 miles. My legs were shaking and I struggled to get in the clip so I could finally move up the hill. After two miles, I hit the St Kevin’s Summit at 11 hours and 6 minutes. Finally I was feeling good again, but my only question now was whether I would have enough in the tank to finish on time.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
92, 0:05:49, 85, 289, 19, 144
93, 0:08:04, 163, 159, 21.9, 140

The cramps seemed to be gone but I was watching the clock tick away precious seconds. I was making up time, passing riders like they were not even moving.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
94, 0:04:03, 40, 334, 21.8, 135
95, 0:03:14, 0, 388, 23.3, 124
96, 0:03:22, 0, 60, 25.9, 133

I felt renewed and I sensed that I was on track to do this.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
97, 0:03:07, 0, 30, 25.4, 138
98, 0:03:19, 55, 114, 24.3, 141
99, 0:02:45, 20, 106, 25.4, 140

We moved from a dirt road to a paved road that then turned into dirt trail. Then finally we turned towards town up a steep section called the “The Boulevard”. I follow a fellow rider, matching his cadence – we marched in unison up the hill.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
100, 0:05:20, 95, 41, 23.3, 152
101, 0:04:41, 108, 15, 24.7, 149
102, 0:05:35, 131, 0, 17.4, 151

The volunteers along this section of the path were advising riders that the clock was about to strike, or in the case of Leadville, the shotgun blast was about to be fired, signaling the end of the race. I was heading to the finish line, but I was running out of time. Then I rode up 6th street, which was another tough climb, before finally seeing the finish line.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
103, 0:05:51, 142, 0, 26.2, 154

Hearing my name over the loud speaker as I lumbered the last section of the race was like hearing the sweetest music. The fans were cheering and I had recovered from certain defeat to accomplish this goal.

Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
104, 0:02:08, 41, 0, 13.9, 151

TOTALS
Mile, Time, Elevation Gain, Elevation Loss, Max Speed, Max HR
11:48:11, 12,449, 12,454, 45.8, 184

“Buckle Baby!”
My official time finishing the race was 11:48:07 – The finishers’ medal was placed around my neck. But I hardly remember how I felt – all I know is that I was spent and in pain. I was leaning over my bike in agony as the cramps returned, like unwelcomed guests. It was like my body knew the race was over and had only held on until that last pedal stroke before finally shutting down. Jessie relieved me of my bike at the finish line and I limped to the medical tent, finally looking down, proudly watching the medal swing in cadence to my limping steps. My legs were suffering from severe cramping and I was dehydrated. I curled into a sleeping bag on a cot and I tried not to make any sudden movements, as each turn in the bag left me reeling in pain. As new cramps appeared, I labored to work to rub them out, while containing my urge to whimper too loudly. The cramps would alternately hit the calves and hamstrings, like they were competing to see which could make me scream. I downed eight electrolyte drinks and I ate slices of watermelon and saltine crackers. Jessie patiently waited for me to recover- I could see in her face that she yearned to get something to eat. She is always a very pleasant person, except when she is hungry. That was my bit of extra incentive to get better faster. But I couldn’t rush it – I tried once to get out of the bag, but I quickly cramped up and let out a shriek that made my fellow tent-dwellers wonder what was happening. Finally after 40 minutes, I was able to limp out of the tent. That sleeping bag and cot felt as comfortable to me as a new pillow-top mattress on a vacation morning – I longed to stay there, but I forced myself out. So it was off to a restaurant for a pasta dinner, then off to bed in advance of the awards ceremony to be held on the next day. Jessie wanted to leave early and just have them send me the buckle in the mail – but after my journey that had a final chapter of crossing the finish line in under twelve hours, I just didn’t have the heart to leave. So we attended the ceremony and I proudly collected my award – an award that I share with my wife and six kids. They had sacrificed like I did during my ride for the buckle, given the significant amount of Saturday hours training instead of spending more time with each of them.

Final Reflections
As I reflect on my quest, I realize I left some of my blood on the course and I left my sweat on the course as I labored the almost twelve hours, with only few minutes of rest. And although I didn’t leave any tears on the course, I had moments that, had I not been so focused on the finish line, I would have broken down – but I had vowed not to give up. And while on the rocky paths through Leadville and up and down Columbine and Powerline, my heart grew and I gained a new measure of courage as I rolled along those 105 miles. I also learned a few life lessons along the way. I proved to myself that I could take on a monumental challenge that few people will ever try to take on. I planned, trained and executed to the best of my ability, with an eye on the prize in the form of that belt buckle. That buckle stands as a symbol to me – one that will sustain me as I strive to accomplish other goals in the future. But even more importantly, I will especially recall some specific memories from this experience that may serve as lessons to my kids. I want them to seek the fortitude required to take on challenges in their lives that may at first seem to be insurmountable. I will stress the importance of setting specific goals then establishing plans necessary to achieve those goals. I will reinforce the need to execute the plan they design. I would remind them that most goals of any significance often require personal sacrifice and the support of loved ones. And striving after a goal may also require loved ones to fill the role of a support crew, who patiently and lovingly stand by your side. And finally, there are going to be times along each difficult ride in life where we have to call on God for help and strength. My message to them is if they do these things, they will accomplish any quest they set out to achieve. My proof is the Leadville Trail 100 belt buckle, which I now wear with pride.

 

 

 

 

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9 thoughts on “My Quest for the Leadville Trail 100 Buckle

  1. Steve,
    This was awesome! I could not stop reading and felt as if i was right with you and getting cramps too. You are a good writer and a couragous rider.
    Way to go…my best to your family who hopefully will take more away from this than their “crazy” Dad.
    Love ya Brother!!

  2. Awesome job, a truly remarkable accomplishment. What a great write up, I enjoyed reading it very much and I thank you for sharing your story.

  3. Steve, I was mesmerized by your story. You are an inspiration to those who want to achieve their goals. I’m training for a 1/2 marathon. Your story has inspired me to re-set my goals and work on making steps to achieve those goals. It’s nice to see former Alamosa residents doing amazing things! Great story and I truly enjoyed it.

  4. Great story and good writing. Thank you for being a public hero. Anyway, thanks for sharing great male adventure story. First class all the way. Thanks.

  5. Awesome – great write up. When you jumped into cycling you went full-bore all the way. That took a great deal of courage to complete the Leadville race. Congratulations!

    JP

  6. Steve, our experiences were very, very similar other than I was fortunate to remain upright all day (well until the cramps flattened me out after the finish. What a great account of your ride. I’m sure several hundred others could say: “Sounds like my day!” Enduralytes saved my butt for sure!

    I was the first ass after the last ass over the pass this year. If not for chip timing, I would have been the first to miss a silver buckle. As it was, my chip time was 11:58:54. It’s an accomplishment anyone who as finished can be proud of for life. In some ways, I think the folks who continue on in knowing they’ve missed the buckle are even more special than us.

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