We'd arrived in Leadville in preparation for the Big Day on Saturday. I'd have a week to try and get reacclimated after having lived and worked at less than 1,000' for more than seven months. My one big fear going into this year's Leadville Trail 100 was that having moved from 5,400' in Colorado to Kentucky at 700' (and from being a full-time bike commuter to spending 90 minutes a day in the car getting to and from work) would absolutely kill my chances at finishing.
Last year I quit at mile 87 on the descent to the backside of Turquoise Lake. Well, no, that's not exactly true. That's where my crew picked me up. I think when I went through Pipeline inbound I was already quit.
I lay blame at a tactical error I made. My crew took my hydration pack, with my bib number, at Pipeline and I worried I'd be DQed either at Carter or the finish if I didn't have it. So at the bottom of Powerline I texted them to meet me on the blacktop after the Sugarloaf descent so I could get my number back. It really wasn't the tactical error.
Powerline beat me into oblivion. I knew on the descent down to the paved road I was done. I tried to talk myself out of it but I couldn't. And when I saw Mandy, Lily, and Laurie (my mother-in-law) I fell apart, and collapsed on the side of the road sobbing in Mandy's arms. Powerline didn't defeat me though.
I had time to finish still. I just didn't have the will. I'd found the darkness in my soul where a part of me lurked that didn't want to do any of this silly endurance racing crap, and that part lashed out and tore the weakened portion of me to ribbons. I had nothing left; I gave in to laziness, exhaustion, and gravity.
Tuesday after we got into town and unpacked our things for the week I suited up and rolled up town to meet Doug. He agreed to ride out with me to Turquoise Lake so we rode and talked. Then Doug turned back and offered the best encouragement I could have gotten at that point:
"Good luck with your demons."
I've always struggled with inner demons. I'm an obsessive introspector. I look inward to a fault sometimes. Tuesday's ride was about getting some of that out. So I need to do this, Dear Readers, I need to share with you the self-talk I had as I rode up from the backside of Turquoise Lake to Carter summit. I took a voice memo of me talking as I rode. I didn't know exactly what I was going to do with it, but the more I think about it the more I think I need to share it. At the time that wasn't the intent. It was me taking notes on my own life, me analyzing where I was at and where I thought I could go, I guess.
I rode up Carter Summit, over St. Kevin's and on to the Boulevard and finished the 2012 race. I put it to rest. And I think it helped me on Saturday. I almost never thought of the year before and it's abrupt end.
I apologize in advance for the stream-of-consciousness rambling. My thoughts are a rabbit warren of genius. It's just too easy to get confused within them. Anyway, here is an unlikely post by me, but not intended as such. Somehow.
8/6/13 10am MST
So get this:
Coming to you live from Turquoise Lake Road, climbing up to Carter Summit, past the 87 mile mark. Rode up from town, to where I DNFed last year. Stopped, saved that Strava track, collected myself, not that I was whupped or anything, got ready to go, reset Strava, and started...to finish the 2012 Leadville 100.
Like I said, I'm in my middle chainring—I'm not going real fast—but I'm climbing it. First day in Leadville; altitude's not killing me yet. Doing some self talk, figured it would be a good time to do another entry.
Back down at the bottom of the hill I said if nothing else I would do this for the team, win this one for the team...for everybody who's waiting back home, to hear [interrupted by a high pitched whine]...some cyclists doing the 40 mile an hour descent...I told myself there wouldnt be any tears and I mean it.
Do this for the team. What killed me last year was the perception that I couldn't do this. I'm doing it now. In my middle chainring. Its not that steep, its not that bad. Its quite enjoyable, its quiet, its peaceful, I'm riding my bike.
The perception must be that nothing can stop me. The perception must be that theres no obstacle too big. Theres nothing I can't overcome. Maybe its sounds cliché but its true. And the perception must be that it might be difficult now, I might feel like I'm at my limit, but God and the universe will not hold me to my limit indefinitely. The challenge will ease. There'll be a respite there'll be a recovery, there will be a rest on the other side.
So knowing that...knowing that...we have to believe that no challenge is too great. And if you see that you really are going to hit your limit and its the end and you're done and you're ready to give it all up, then I say thats when you turn into it and throttle up. Don't look back; don't give in.
At that point you turn off your brain and you just pedal. You just go. I'm not saying I would redline and kill myself to finish this—that would be a beautiful resting spot, I don't need rest—Mandy, this is what I was talking about yesterday, finding that threshold to overcome your barriers and transcend gravity...and I don't mean this gravity, I mean the gravity and friction of life.
So the Avett Brothers say "decide what to be and go be it." Right now at this moment today in the immediate future I want to be a Leadville finisher. But only because having successfully finished it will validate all of this rambling that's only based on my experience. Not on science, not on anything tested other than in the laboratory of my own life. Its not mystical but in a very spiritual way its transcendence, cathartic. Its testing yourself against the biggest and the baddest . Its throwing yourself at the mountains not really to see if they'll break you, cause you know they can, proving to yourself that you can get in and out without being broken.
Mountaineers—alpinists—use the tactic of fast and light because living at altitude is toxic. It kills your brain. And so to go into that dead zone and come back to challenge yourself to climb some peak and return home because you're never going to that peak to find a home, to find a permanent dwelling place. To go into those places means that you have a hope to come back into the world alive. Its why you do it. To taste a world thats inhospitable, beyond any imagining, to enjoy it, to relish it, but to return home, to return home to your loved ones, your safety and back to the life that you live everyday the life where you don't transcend, where you have barriers and friction, but in the perspective of normal life seem massive and you can't overcome them, but in reality compared to going into these mountain or going to whatever difficult place you go, whether it be physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially...you go to those difficult places so you can go back to your life and live a little bit freer of the obstacles so that you can more easily overcome the mundane and the lesser obstacles and the easier challenges and thats why you do it. You do it...its all endurance.
It really just goes back to a philosophy of endurance. You don't gain endurance by saying I'm going to go a long way or I'm going to immerse myself in a persistent difficult task, you desensitize yourself over time to the hardships, to the discomforts. You gain in increments your strength and your stamina, you do it with patience and control in wisdom through trial and error and with a growing confidence.
Its like we talked about last night at the table: you don't wait until you're fit and make the challenge. You don't get fit until you've challenged yourself. Mentally or physically you look at yourself and see the chasm between yourself and your goal and you say I think I can bridge that chasm and reach this goal, and thats why you do it you make the goal and you forge yourself into the person that can reach it. Its that simple. You don't have to be able to reach the goal to make the goal you just have to have the vision and the will and you have to be able to identify a goal.
Man, I hope this all comes through. I'm almost to Carter Summit. I'm still in my middle chainring, still feel really good. I'm gonna crush this this year.