Monday, August 20

The Leadville Saga: How I Did It

Before the race my wife asked me, in complete seriousness and sincerity, three questions. She wanted to know how I could do something like the Leadville 100, why I would do it, and how I'd feel afterward.

I thought I'd nailed it with my "To Have the Apprentice Dig Deep" post, but I really didn't. So here goes. I'm going to give one full post to each of her questions.

Immediately after completing my first road century I had the conscious thought that a hundred mile off-road century would be much harder. There must have been some relevant context at the time. I'd been training for the 2009 Triple Bypass tour by riding passes. Guanella Pass was still dirt then, so I'm guessing I was comparing my time up Guanella with my other road rides. I do remember at the time strongly believing the mountain bike and off-road rides were just going to be inherently slower and take a lot more energy. I'd reached Avon with little to spare.

The acknowledgment in my mind that (specifically) the Leadville 100 would be much harder than the Triple Bypass opened up the door to the possibility for me. I needed the TBP to get me close. It truly took a lot of effort to get myself ready to, and to have faith that I could, do the Triple Bypass. That process was the first stepping stone. And it bridged a huge gap.

Over the past four years I've ridden a lot of ambitious rides around the Denver area into the foothills. Those rides have built up the tools and confidence I needed to shore up that one huge stepping stone.

2010 was a pivotal year for me. I became a full time bike commuter and I saw Ride the Divide and Race Across the Sky 2010.

Those two things, the mileage and the movies, comprised the final two stepping stones. I walked out of the theater at Colorado Mills on the opening night of RATS 2010 fully intending to do the Leadville 100. What was it about the movie that reformed my mind? I saw that normal people were attempting the race and succeeding. I saw that people with huge obstacles in their paths were doing Leadville despite their personal day-to-day hardships. Leadville wasn't just a race for hardcore jersey guys or young, aggressive and angry men.

The next day I posted that my training had begun. At the time I only had a partial plan on how I'd do it. I had bravado, but little true confidence. The confidence finally came two weeks before when I rolled into the Bikeport after my Corona Pass century ride. That's when I was finally sure I could do Leadville.

I knew if I put in the miles, made the climbs, learned to eat right, maintained my bike...I could do it. Over the two years leading up to August 11 those things came together.

I got there, and will eventually cross that finish line, through series of stepping stones, incremental foundation stones and beyond, that got me closer and closer to my goal, building confidence and skills with each new step up. Finally, with the goal in sight, I had only a small step left to make. I'll admit, that last step was a doozy, made me nauseous, gave me pause. I'm rarely nervous about stuff. I was so wrecked on Saturday morning I couldn't eat.

Maybe, Dear Reader, your question isn't about motivation, but how I endured almost ten hours on the bike, and how I got up Columbine and Powerline.

I ran cross country in high school. I learned a lot in that one year through an amazing coach, that has helped me even to this day. As August 11 approached I kept remembering one particular meet where the coach told us beforehand: "You're going to run your fastest times today. This will be the biggest field you'll run in all year. It's going to hurt, but you're going to do it." And we did. Leadville was the same.

Excitement and adrenaline will only carry you so far. Novelty will keep your interest through a hard new experience as well. But you have to break it down into smaller goals and victories.

When I was a rock climber I struggled to get better, until I became frustrated and started bouldering intensively. Bouldering involves doing short, hard moves near the ground. After a couple of years I realized I could break down long roped climbs into a series of shorter problems. Instantly I was a better roped climber.

Leadville isn't a 50 mile climb followed by 50 miles of coasting. No, it is a series of lesser challenges that, when strung together, become much greater than the sum of their parts. 

St Kevin's was "easy" because I'd heard it had been recently graded. If I'd actually seen the climb beforehand I may have been intimidated. It was much longer than I'd expected.

Conversely, outbound Powerline was "easy" because I had ridden it. I knew what I was in for.

The midsection, between the bottom of Powerline and Twin Lakes, was where I felt like I was really working hard to make it to the finish line. I kept my eyes up on the horizon, I passed when I could, I never let myself get stuck on a slower rider's wheel, I kept my gears high, I tried to pedal efficiently and continuously and I focused on just getting the job done. That was the most enjoyable part of the day, both inbound and outbound.

I never stopped to rest, to chat, or to look at the view. I was continuously cognizant of the task at hand. You have to be always moving, always looking ahead, ever alert and continuously engaged in strategery.

I think I failed mentally because I stopped breaking it down. I was sore and tired and weak and I could only see a single 1,200' and 13 mile push. Truly it wasn't like that.

Was the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race hard? Yes. And no. It was no giveaway, but I it was well within my abilities. I made a fatal decision in conjunction with a fueling snafu. That simple.

To ride all day? That just takes preparation. You've got to condition your body if you want to enjoy it. Learn to change hand positions. Learn to rest your feet while pedaling. Learn to stretch your legs while riding. Bike fit is crucial. Eat by the clock, drink when you're thirsty.

The most important things? Be positive and have fun!

photo by zazoosh

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