"Why attempt something like the Leadville 100?" is a question that comes up a lot. My friends and family ask it. I ask myself while out on those long, arduous, rainy, muddy, exhausting training rides...sometimes peppered with expletives...and I still struggle with the answer. I've had a lot of time to think about it. And even though I think I know why, I still have a great deal of difficulty in articulating why.
One big reason I did it this year was for redemption. And as an apology. I needed to redeem myself after quitting last year. I needed to prove to myself that I could come back and finish something big like this that I started. That doesn't explain why I started down this path in the first place, and it isn't the be-all-end-all explanation, but it's a good place to start. It's an apology to those that invested so much with me in this journey that didn't get to see me cross the finish last year, that had to listen to me whine and carry on over the past year in regret, and who worried over me all along. I'm good. Thank you all for your support and prayers! You really had a hand in getting me over that finish line. There were times I wanted to give up but I kept going because I didn't ever want to let anyone down again.
Since last year I have identified that there are two distinctions of ultimately why I went back to do the Leadville 100 mountain bike race this year. The first, and lesser, reason is that I needed to keep from bouncing a big check. I've been blabbing about doing this race since 2009. Since late 2010 I've been saying emphatically that I was going to do it. I had to follow through.
Believe me, in June and July I was too cognizant of the fact that I had shouted from the rooftops for too long that I was going to get a big ole belt buckle. In late June and early July when I just wanted to eat the registration cost and hope everyone forgot I had ever wanted to take my bike back to Leadville I knew I could never give it up until I could cover that debt. That kept me going.
But then that leads us to the ultimate "why" question. Why did the race appeal to me enough that I would make such a bold statement, that I would assert my desire to take on such a goal and accomplish such a difficult task? Why?!?!
It's my nature.
I finally rememebered where I first heard about the Leadville 100 mountain bike race just this past Tuesday. In 2007 I bought my first nice road bike, a Giant OCR2, and began riding all over my home watershed. My rides were short compared to most of the rides I do today, but I was pushing my comfort zone as fast as I could. I went on many 15-20 mile rides and came home happy to have covered such a long distance. I started to dream of touring, and of riding longer and longer rides, until finally one day I picked up a book called The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling: Build the Strength, Skills, and Confidence to Ride as Far as You Want by Edmund R. Burke & Ed Pavelka. It actually went far beyond what I was looking for in cycling. And in that book the authors mention The Race Across America (RAAM), the Leadville 100, and a host of other long and ultra-long rides.
I was hooked. The idea fit within my existing world view nicely, and I began fantasizing about doing longer and longer and longer rides. Really long rides. It was after reading that book that I truly began to see myself as an endurance "athlete."
I had began to see the possibilities of the bike for exploration, for internal discovery, and to test my physical limits. When we moved to Colorado I had sudden proximity to some of the races and rides the authors had mentioned in the book. The Leadville 100 was one of them. I was already headed down the path, even through I made the comment after the Triple Bypass that "I could never do that" in reference to the 100 mile mountain bike race.
As you can see, I came to the Leadville 100 through an organic process. I hadn't been looking for it, but it found me. So in 2009 when we just happened to be camping in Leadville with our church group on the weekend of the big race, and our friends from Kentucky just happened to be volunteering that day as well, and that we all got together afterward and talked about the big event, seeing Lance, and it was in the context of reminiscing with old friends of our glory days in rock climbing...well, let's just say that the idea had crystallized in my mind even then. And one year later when I went to the opening of Race Across the Sky 2010 and saw that real human beings were able to ride and complete the race, and that normal people with jobs and families and responsibilities were able to train enough and to work hard enough to finish and not die...
I couldn't—at that point—have notwanted to do the Leadville 100. I'd missed the fork in the road at some point, and a crossing of that finish line in Leadville was inevitable.
I love to cover great distances under my own power. In my early twenties I did that through hiking in my beloved Red River Gorge. On my own I would go and cover anywhere from 5 to 10 miles a day, sometimes three or four days a week. I hiked all over the area, both on trails and off, and even today, after so many years of not hiking that intensely, I would argue that there are few people that know the area as completely or confidently as I do.
Once I figured out that I could use a mountain bike and cover a far great amount of ground in less time than by hiking I've been hooked on mountain biking. My deepest compulsion is to be moving and seeing new things all the time. The bike, and specifically the mountain bike because I love being in the woodsen, has given me the power to feed my compulsion in an efficient and effective way.
How does this benefit me and my family? It keeps me sane and effective as a husband, a father, and a provider. It keeps me healthy. It keeps me happy with life and with who I am. Mountain biking staves off the attacks of my inner demons. It heals me when nothing else seems to be able to.
Maybe that seems melodramatic or overly romantic to you. If so, I am happy for you that you don't have any problems in life that you need help with. For myself, I plan on getting in my dirt therapy as often as I can manage so I can continue to be (or seem to be) a functioning member of family and society.
Something else that kept me going between miles 65 and 90 Saturday before last...I'm historically a quitter. I have a very difficult time following things through to completion. I can come up with grand ideas, and I can even begin implementing them, but I'm much more likely to leave things unfinished than to wrap up my projects and move on. I am known for this. It's not something I'm proud of or happy about.
So after last year's DNF it became increasingly important for me to finish what I started. DNFing at the Mohican only made things worse. That my dropping out then was almost out of my control didn't matter. I quit that day. I failed. I was tired of failing. I was tired of saying I was going to do things and not following through. I want my friends, family, and co-workers to be able to know they can count on me.
I've also learned (a little bit anyway) to play things a little closer to the chest. I've got some big schemes cooking that I'd love to share here (one that may have made a huge leap a few days ago!), but I am much more reluctant to reveal too much too soon because I know that even people who do typically follow through on their promises sometimes fail to deliver.
I asserted my desire, I got in, I trained hard, and I blathered all along the way...but I finally finished the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. I did all of that because it's who I am. The fact that it was the Leadville 100 and not some other bike race/ride is mere circumstance. But circumstance really just reflects where you are in life. I don't think any of this could have happened any other way. I simply acted in my own nature, I was true to myself, and I followed the dreams that came with energy.