Thursday, August 22

The Leadville Saga: Meeting in the Clouds

Let me make this disclaimer right up front: I'm not slamming anyone or their methods in preparation for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race or any other such event.  If anything I'm encouraging/challenging future participants to a better style.  Please don't be offended by the things I'm about to say.  Simply look at your own methods and see if this makes any sense to you. 
 I accomplished what I set out to prove: that an average joe with a cubicle sentence, wife, kids, and a (sort of) normal sense of responsibility could finish the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race.
 No one told me what to eat.  No one told me when to ride.  No one told me what gear to use.  While my success wasn't a solo effort, it was the result of an organic process.  I used no coach.  I used no expensive nutritional programs.  I didn't spend thousands on a bike and über-light gear.
 To some it might seem my approach to Leadville was folly.  To some it may seem as if I didn't take it seriously enough.  To some I may seem unsuccessful. To all of them I would say you're wrong on so many levels.  I think, considering my circumstances, I did phenomenally well.  I proved to myself what I set out to prove.
 First off, my experiences from 2012 taught me a lot.  I had a really good refined training plan for 2013.  Then we moved from Colorado back to our home state of Kentucky.  I lost most of my good training opportunities and I shot myself in the foot from a nutritional standpoint.  It's not that if I'd stayed in Colorado I would have certainly lost those 20 pounds, but a few stars had finally started to align, and I think I was on track to make the changes in my diet I'd been unable to make for so long.  Living for five months with family made maintaining a good diet difficult.  Mandy did her best to feed us healthy food, but in the chaos I fell into the habit of nervous eating and comfort eating when no one was looking.  While I didn't gain despite my reduced activity levels I didn't lose either.
 Those 20 pounds were crucial.  My bike weighs 30 pounds.  Since I don't have the money to upgrade to featherlight componentry or to replace the bike outright I have to look to other methods to knock off the weight.
 Now, my philosophy on performance weight has always been somewhat rigid.  I used to tire of hearing skinny rock climbers whine about the weight of their carabiners or of how heavy they would be if they stayed hydrated.  "Do a few more pull-ups and shut up," was my response.
 So it may seem contradictory to some when I talk about getting rid of weight for cycling.  Why don't I just tell myself to go out and ride more miles?  Touché! 
 I have come to recognize that weight is important, and that the cumulative effects of carrying 20 extra pounds of bike or self can be defeating.  And since I don't have the money to spend on a lighter bike the only thing I could do is make myself a smaller target.  Unfortunately this is the one area where I failed miserably.
 I couldn't afford a lighter bike, and I also couldn't afford a coach.  I know a lot of people see value in getting expert advice.  I do see value in having someone to direct you and to hold you accountable through the training process.  Unfortunately I didn't have that luxury, so I had to revert to my intentional "average joe" approach. 
But I never believed that success at Leadville would be dependent on some secret knowledge available only through someone claiming to have the proprietary experience to pull down a good finish time.  I've always been a self-starter.  I taught myself the basics and the finer points of rock climbing by reading.  That user's manual for the Silent of the best reads ever. 
 I knew I could figure out the mechanics of training and strategy.  I also knew that as long as I got in the base miles and focused on shoring up my weaknesses from 2012 that I'd do fine.  All I lacked was willpower.  Still haven’t figured that one out so well.
 When I had my era of doubt back in June and July it was because I knew I wasn't getting in enough training rides.  Everyone told me I was going to be fine, but my gut told me otherwise.  My McKee century ride gave me the confidence I needed, but it proved nothing. 
 I knew enough to know I hadn't been doing enough.  But I did what I could.  In the whole scheme of things I knew I could do the Leadville course.  The big unknown was whether or not I could do it within the 12 hour cutoff.
 I have no defense for keeping the 20 lb spare tire around the middle.  Was I attached to it?  Did it have sentimental value?  Family heirloom?  Winter food storage? 
 It is where the lazy part of me resides; the part of me that is resentful of all this endurance activity...the running, cycling, hiking, rock's the part of me that would rather sit on the couch eating pizza and watching TV than going out and being active.  Granted, in me that demon is small compared to the monster others carry, but the little bugger has a way of undermining me that is uncanny.  He's like the pathetic brother-in-law I never had.
 My determination is that his mobile home is going away.  That little imp will have no place to reside when I'm done with him.  His time has come.  The gig is up. The party is over.  I've decided what I'm going to be, and now I'm going to be it.
 I'm satisfied with simply finishing Leadville this year.  I finished in 12:24 based on my own experience and effort, my own intuition, and with the limited resources of a single income family man.  I had the support of family and friends, but I pedaled myself over that finish line...all 195 pounds of me.  Demon and all.
 I admire the people that can do it fast on a fully rigid single speed, but I admire even more the people who can go it alone and be self-reliant.  I doubt there are many who pull that off, but I know there has to be some.  I know the spirit of the race in its early years was much more adventurous.  I wish I had known of it then.  I crave that kind of experience over the sanitized, over-corporatized, festival experience that Leadville has become. 
 Don't get me wrong, I'm only curmudgeonly because I can be.  I had a great time this year and will go back as often as I am able.  I'm just nostalgic for the years I missed.  I pine for ye olden days that I wasn't a part of.  And so that keeps me focused on doing things like this in a better style, not bringing the event down to my level or subduing it with money, but by raising myself up to the challenge and digging deeper than I ever have before.
 With my own eyes I saw people, both in 2012 and this year, that were on more expensive, lighter bikes, who were wearing Chris Carmichael kits, and who seemed to have it all together struggling more than me, riding slower than me, and ultimately DNFing.  It reaffirms to me that what really matters is what is already within you.  It's what's there when you make the assertion that you'll finish the Leadville 100, long before you've put in the training miles, long before you've figured out what you'll eat on the bike, and maybe even long before you purchase that one bike to carry you across the red carpet.  It's what truly matters.
 In conclusion, I just want to say that I am not trying to be judgmental about the methods of others.  I'm more trying to explain why I did things the way I did.  My approach to these sorts of events and activities has always been one of self-reliance and with increasing minimalism over the years.  I'm only this year beginning to see the terrible importance of a support system and a strong crew.  I still love the solo experience, but it has its place, and the Leadville 100 is hardly that kind of place.


  1. For me this whole experience has been about the year leading up to the race. The race itself was really just a small part of it. I liked having a coach, and structure, and for once in my life feeling like I was an athlete training for something in a formal way. I even enjoyed going out and doing intervals.

    I am looking forward to doing more training this year.

    1. And I truly think that is great. I need more structure in my life, especially when it comes to things like fitness and health. I just realized I was going to have to pull this whole thing off with limited resources and I went with it.

      Then the more I got to thinking about it the more I realized I would rather do it with limited resources. To me that is much more gratifying. But that's me.

      There's a secret part of me that would love to be a part of a cycling team and have someone telling me how to do it all. That's just never going to happen for me.

    2. It was fun to dust the fully supported Carmichael people though :)

  2. That was the shocking thing to me last year: that I was dropping them like hot rocks.