Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Leadville Trail 100 MTB: The Tale of 2017

Leadville has become a bit of a tradition for us over the last few years. You may recall that Sam was unable to participate in the 2016 Leadville Traill 100 MTB because of a misunderstanding during a qualifier last year. When the time for the race rolled around last year, I think he was disappointed that he wouldn't be racing, but we both kind of figured it would be a nice break and give Sam time to train for 2017. 
We never stop to get this photo... but this time, we managed to get the iconic Leadville photo.
Sam knew that he'd be racing in 2017 very early as he obtained his spot in September 2016 during the Barn Burner in Flagstaff, Arizona. I can say with certainty that he rode more this year than in any year in the past, so I knew he was ready to do his best when August rolled around. I think he actually pushed himself more this year because of missing out on 2016's race. Perhaps that extra push was the right sort of motivation?

Originally, I wasn't going to attend the race with Sam. As has been pointed out in past race tales, taking our dogs along for these adventures has proven difficult at best and nightmare-ish at worst, and because we didn't have anyone to watch them, Sam was planning to go alone. Fortunately, we had a friend who was able to put her plans on hold and stay with our four-legged kids at home so that we could travel together.

So, without further ado, here is Sam's tale of the LT 100MTB for 2017...
I'm back for my third installment of single-speed pain in the "Race Across the Sky."

You might recall that I qualified nearly a year ago in Flagstaff. I have been hammering since then in preparation for this race.

About a week out from the LT100, I received an email with the athletes guide. Monkey wrench. For some odd reason, everything related to the timeline for packet pick-up and the pre-meeting had shifted. Packets/race bibs could be picked up on Thursday, all day, and then Friday from 7a-10a only, which would be followed by the "mandatory" racers meeting at 11a. In the past, packet pick-up has been available until the afternoon with the racer's meeting taking place late in the day, which allows us to take our time driving up.

No such luck this year. Instead, we would have to leave prior to 6a on Friday in order to make it up in time. I assume that this is a maneuver to get and keep racers around the city of Leadville for an extra day. For out-of-state individuals, it's not a big deal, but when living within a reasonable driving distance, it's unfortunate to not have more time to doddle in the morning at home. But, I digress.

Ultimately, we arrived on Friday pretty early, making incredibly good travel time (likely because of the early hour). I picked up my packet, medical bracelet, and discovered that they had aged me an extra four years. Apparently, this happened to a number of people. I made a comment to the volunteer that it didn't matter for me anyway. He looked confused and asked why it wouldn't matter, to which I responded that I was riding single speed, which removes me from the age division categories.
A full auditorium for the racer meeting
Fast forward a bit to the (mandatory) racer meeting after we'd spent a few hours walking around Leadville. The meeting, I have found, is largely pointless and mostly consists of boosting the egos of the special people, meaning the professionals, the people who are heads of the sponsor organizations and so on. Then, we are all reminded by Ken Chlouber that we won't quit during the race. Ken and Merilee Maupin seem like very sweet, caring people, but beyond them, there is little I find beneficial, essential, or motivational in this meeting that couldn't be expressed in the athlete guide.

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate this duo and the team that created this event and the idea of helping out this small, former mining town. I just get worn down with the meetings and the hoo-rah for others. [G.E.'s Note: Sam spends a good chunk of his work days in meetings (which he doesn't love, especially when nothing is accomplished), so it shouldn't be surprising that he's not thrilled to have to sit through a meeting in his off time. I will also add that I get a bit restless toward the end of the meeting too. It just feels like something that could be shortened a bit. Of course, I don't actually have to be there, so perhaps in the future I'll find something else to do during this time.] Even as I type this though, my mind is wandering, thinking about Flagstaff and racing in the Barn Burner again, potentially getting to ride Leadville again in 2018, despite my loathing the long, drawn out, high school gym meeting time.

Eventually, what feels like five hours later, we finish the meeting. [G.E.'s Note: The meeting is not five hours, for the record. It usually lasts about an hour and a half or so.] We had a bit of time to kill before we would be able to check in to the Airbnb house, so we made a decision to drive back down to I-70 to find lunch. While there, we were met by the worst Taco Bell ever. I hadn't been to one in about ten years, and this one definitely motivated me not to go back. Ever. [G.E.'s Note: We were looking for something better as we don't generally eat fast food, but we exited in the wrong spot and ended up with a couple of very poor options. Sadly, Taco Bell seemed like the best choice... but we were wrong. Very, very wrong.]

After surviving the horrors of The Bell, we headed back to Leadville, checked into the Airbnb, walked around the city some more, and then settled in. The house was actually a very cool old place. Once a bed and breakfast, the current family lives in the back house and uses the front as a rental through Airbnb. It was a great, (relatively) inexpensive, laid back option in a fantastic location that was very close to the start line of the race, but tucked away well enough to not be too loud from street noise.

The evening was quiet. I believe everyone staying in the house was racing, but we (myself and G.E.) weren't particularly social that evening because I wanted to try to get to sleep early to be rested for the following day.
Our bunk for our stay. The room was small, but cozy. We'd definitely stay again.
The room we were staying in was intended to be just for me. We had reserved it months prior, knowing that G.E. would likely not be coming along, so when we arrived, we discovered that our room had single sized bunk beds. G.E. immediately proclaimed, "You're in the top bunk!" and laughed. [G.E.'s Note: To be honest, I have a mild amount of fear when it comes to heights, so it was just instinctual.] Ultimately, we ended up both sleeping in the bottom bunk, as it was wide enough to accommodate us. At about 8p, I forced myself to sleep, and so did G.E.

Somewhere around midnight, I began to wake up every hour. Finally, I got up at about 3:30a, deciding that I just wasn't going to sleep anymore. [G.E.'s Note: I am not the best sleep mate, I must admit. I like to sleep diagonally across the bed, so the fact that we were sharing a single likely didn't make Sam's sleep time very enjoyable. When I'd wake up occasionally, I'd realize I was infringing on his space and move back to keep Sam from falling off the bed, but it's not easy to fight natural tendencies.]
Line up starts at 5a and continues until 6:15a, so it gave me plenty of time to prepare. I shuffled around, ate something, stretched, and finally got dressed at about 4:45a. I said my goodbyes to G.E., knowing that she would see me over at the super awesome, middle of the road, green corral shortly. I did some sprints up and down one of the streets nearby, then drifted my way over to the start area. I was nice and warmed up... ready to stand around for an hour.

I was the first person there in our corral, but was quickly followed by a few others. We chit-chatted for a bit, which helped pass the time. A tandem team, that I believe got on the podium at the end, was there, and there was a woman from northern California who was doing this Leadville ride for the "first and last time," as she stated. She had injured herself just before arriving, but she seemed in good spirits and ready to tackle the challenge. She asked a few questions about what to expect and we passed the time. G.E. had arrived at this point as well, which gave us plenty of time to shiver a little bit (it was cold, as always, in the early morning hours of August).

At 6:15a, the organizers moved us all forward to cross the main boulevard (Harrison), so now we were all crammed together. [G.E.'s Note: The organizers had kept the main road open to allow those staying out of the city to get to the start line. Fifteen minutes prior to the start, they removed the barrier separating the green corral from the red, which then blocked Harrison until after the start.] I think it's the most fun part because those who believe themselves superstars try to move up through the pack, believing that the five feet they just gained is going to somehow make a difference or give them an advantage.

The national anthem was played by the guitarist from Sugarland, who was also racing this year, and then it was time to go.

104 miles to plow.

The race gun was fired and we took off. I was spinning my single speed gear as usual, and those with super high hopes and $6k+ bikes were already crashing less than a mile down the boulevard. One sad racer was walking back toward the field very early on, with twisted/broken carbon handlebars and a bent front wheel.

In these early moments, I spotted another single-speed rider who I nicknamed the Power Single-Speeder. He was killing it on the boulevard, heading out to St Kevins. I could not touch him; he was so, so fast!
In almost every photo of Sam racing this year, it looks like he has a bulging stomach. For the record, he does not. We've tried to figure out if it's the jersey, the colors, the fact that he has stuff crammed in pockets, or some other reason, but have come up empty.
*Photo courtesy of CenturyLink
The Leadville course is largely climbing and it starts pretty early on. I was doing well, passing the slower spinners, feeling good and fast (at least for someone with only one gear).

At about mile 18, during an attempt to pass a slower rider, I was cut off and went down on a very large rock. My left kneecap and head broke the fall nicely. Nothing was broken, but I had to do the rocking back and forth OWWWWEEE warble for about three minutes before I was able to get going again. I knew stopping would only allow my knee to freeze up, so I had to keep moving forward.

I was well stocked with Gu and water, so I didn't stop at the first aid station at mile 26 at Pipeline. I rolled through, knowing G.E. would be at Twin Lakes at just about mile 40 with a bottle reload and Gu if I needed it. Plus, a familiar face (which is always nice to see).
This was the group of leaders when starting up the climb to Columbine.
There is an open road section between Pipeline and Twin Lakes Dam, and I was able to lock on to a few different pelotons to break the headwind. This seriously helps, even though I had to push hard to hang on. The single speed decision definitely reared its head. I rolled to Twin Lakes pretty well and had that familiar feeling of thinking that was where G.E. was supposed to be, but after going straight through and not seeing her, I thought I had missed her somehow. I'm pretty sure I do this every time. I think she'll be at Twin Lakes, but then end up seeing her at Columbine.[G.E.'s Note: The night prior we had a discussion about where I would be. We had decided that waiting at the base of the Columbine climb made the most sense because I could refill anything before Sam went up and when he came back down, if needed. Sam insisted that I was referring to Twin Lakes and not the base of Columbine, so it's not surprising that he thought he'd simply passed and not seen me while riding. I had actually attempted to get to Twin Lakes, but the traffic was so ridiculous that I opted to continue to the originally discussed location.]

G.E. waved me down at the base (duh, where she was supposed to be), swapped a bottle and threw in 3-4 Gu packs. The stop was short and sweet; no more than 45 seconds, and I headed up the eight mile climb to over 12,000 feet. [G.E.'s Note: This is where I was informed that Sam had fallen off his bike and messed up his knee (at the time, he failed to mention that he also hit his head). He didn't have time to explain what had taken place, but he looked to be in pain, which was concerning since he was getting ready to head up the highest elevation climb.]

Besides the sick feeling I get every time I go somewhere over 11,000 feet in elevation on a bike, it was going great! I was passing others and chugging along at about 5mph (Don't laugh.. It's actually pretty fast). The sad part is that reality quickly sets in and at about 48 miles into the race, everybody starts doing the hike-a-bike portion. It's not that the terrain is that steep, but it is somewhat narrow and washed out in the middle, so many riders stop and get off their bikes to walk. In addition, by this time in the race there are now super fast, leader group riders coming down the mountain, so it simply isn't plausible to continue to ride. So, we're all stuck walking for about a mile.

This year, the walkers seemed extra slow, walking at about a 1.5mph pace. This was terrible and it was taking an eternity, which was, of course, killing everyone's time. Eventually, we got through it and mounted bikes for the last 1/2 mile to the top. Normally, I don't stop at the top, but I needed to take care of some relief business, so I did that and ate a quarter of the worst PBJ I have ever eaten. [G.E.'s Note: As someone waiting at the bottom of Columbine, I will confirm that other racers coming in were saying the same thing -- that people were really slow walking this year.]

Heading down off of 12,600 feet always amazes me. Once we get about four miles down the hill, that sick feeling goes away and I just feel beat up from riding about 50 miles and about 5 hours in the mountains.

At the base, I met up with G.E. again for a deja vu stop. She swapped one bottle again and gave me a bunch of Gu to get me through to our next meeting. She asked how I was doing and told me she would see me again at Pipeline inbound. I took off, knowing the worst hike-a-bike's were to come, along with another trip through the windy flats. Unfortunately, on the return trip, I'd have trouble finding help from a group.
*Photo courtesy of CenturyLink
Through the flats, I saw a familiar person... a person with one gear too. Boy, was he struggling! I offered to let him draft, but he didn't want to come along (I'm still not sure if he was angry or if he just didn't want to slow me down). So, I proceeded, mind filled with thoughts about the next of the four hike-a-bike sections I would encounter.

I won't bore you with all the walking, but will tell you that the Power Single-Speeder from the start line and I jockeyed for position so many times you wouldn't believe it. His obvious strength was downhill, but mine is climbing. Over and over we would repeat the same equation: he would nail the downhill, and I would lose him on the next climb. At the time, I had no idea what our positions were, but in my mind I was convinced we were first and second place in this little universe I'd made up.

We came up on the last hike and then the last serious downhill on St Kevins inbound. He nailed it again, and I didn't even see him, and then he was literally out of my sight. All I had been thinking was that I needed to hold him off because it was all I had in the moment, besides the searing pain in my knee.

Between mile 95 and 100, it gets very lonely and spread out. It was looking like rain and massive thunderstorms, which didn't help my mental state. I had tried to hang on to a small group, but they were too fast and I was too tired and in pain from my crash.

Mile 100 might be the most demotivating portion of this ride because the organizers put riders through four more miles and one last climb before getting back to the small climb up to Harrison and the finish line.

With about two miles to go, I hit the last dirt road climb, slogging my way to the end. I knew I would not make sub-10 hours at this point, but I had hopes to at least beat any of my prior times. [G.E.'s Note: Waiting at the finish line is the worst part of this race to me as a crew/spectator. Of course, I want my rider, in this case, Sam, to finish in his best possible time, so I always head there early, hoping that he'll be able to push through. Standing there, waiting, is just excruciating for some reason.]

To my surprise, who do I roll up on? The Power Single-Speeder. During the last dirt mile climb, we had chatted and he shared that he was from North Carolina, how many times he'd finished this race, and we both complained a bit.
Last push to the finish line.
Once we hit the pavement and the final mile up the boulevard, I knew it was made for me. I slowly moved away from him, knowing he wouldn't make up the distance with the mild uphill at the finish. It was my sole victory in this race, which landed me an exhausting 13th place in the single speed division, with a finish time of about 10:12. [G.E.'s Note: There is nothing as exciting as seeing Sam finish this race. I find myself constantly looking and thinking that he's coming, so when it is finally him, it is a moment of pure elation and pride to watch him roll through to the finish.]
I'll skim over the rain, the pain that night, a pretty decent burger for dinner, and a tough night's sleep, and skip ahead to the 7:30a meeting on Sunday. God, I do love meetings. [G.E.'s Note: In case it wasn't obvious from earlier comments, this is sarcasm.]

Again, we all attend the after meeting so that we can hear more about the awesome people... the pros, those who've done this 10 years, 20 years, the last ass (the last person to finish in the time constraints of the race). Basically, we are all held hostage until the end when we are finally released to collect our finisher belt buckles and custom finisher sweaters. This year was absolute chaos. The buckles and sweaters were on site at the gym/meeting location unlike past years and nobody listened to the instructions and instead nearly everyone got up the moment they heard the buckles and sweaters were ready, and stood in the doorways and hallways.

Choosing to try to follow instructions, G.E. and I sat (along with a small handful of others) and waited for the crowd to disperse, all the while becoming more hungry and agitated. I cannot state this strongly enough: I do feel it's important to recognize people, their achievements, all of us; however, it gets tiresome when people don't listen and the meeting drags on.

Eventually, the lines died down and we got up to stand in line. G.E. had a raging headache at this point, and mine was coming along too. It had also become quite hot (as is typical with so many people in an enclosed space). We drifted through the confusion and after being in the gymnasium for about three hours, I finally get to the front of the line and give the representative my name.

Someone is shuffling around behind the rep who then hands me my sweater (unfortunately, it was the same color as 2015 - I was really looking forward to a different color), and then the representative states this: "Here's the thing, we ran out of small buckles." He smiles as he says this, which just stings all the more. My only response is to lower my head. He then proceeded to snark at me, "What? It's not like you were going to wear it today."

I responded, "So, I guess I waited here for nothing?" I started to say something else, but then decided to just walk away.

Eventually, the buckle will supposedly be mailed out to those of us, however many didn't get theirs, who finished in time but hung around for no real reason. We'll see if it actually happens. [G.E.'s Note: I find this to be a terrible thing - both the interaction with the worker/volunteer (I'm not entirely sure which he was) and the fact that they ran out of buckles. The buckles don't change from year to year, so why not have some extras available and keep them for the year following? I realize that Sam has other buckles and it seems like a silly thing to be upset about in some ways, but when that is the "prize" for completion, everyone should either get them at the end of the race, or send them out to every finisher afterward. Following instructions definitely didn't pay off in this instance.]

I try not to get agitated by the little things, but this was difficult when, for all of us, we put so much into this event for an entire year. The planning, the training, the money, the sacrifices... only to be slighted in the end.

As I said though, in the time I've been typing this I've also had a browser tab open for the Barn Burner registration. What is wrong with me? It's as though I keep getting pulled back in.
One of the art galleries in Leadville always has fun bicycle art.
Through my training this year, I found that I did not become particularly faster. I need to figure that one out. Perhaps it's because I should be on my geared mountain bike instead of doing this on my completely rigid single speed. I did certainly become much, much stronger.

There were many, many great people out there - participants, event staff, and volunteers.

Later on Saturday, we ran into the woman from Northern California who was racing her "first and last" time, and found out that she crashed at mile 80 and called it quits. I felt bad for her, but hope that she'll come back and try again. She seemed in relatively good spirits when we chatted at the end though.

When we returned to the Airbnb rental, another racer was in the hot tub. It was his first time out and it thrilled me to know he was able to make it to the finish on his first try.

As always, a special thanks to G.E., your awesome author of this blog, and of course, my lovely wife! [G.E.'s Note: I am pretty awesome. <laughing> Seriously though, it's always an adventure in Leadville and I'm glad I was able to come along.]

And, I can't leave out our fabulous friend who was willing to put her life on hold to watch our two crazy dogs either. It was great to be able to have G.E. with me in Leadville once again.
I don't know that I have anything of much significance to add to the end of this 2017 tale. A couple of items come to mind though. 

First, Sam had a second fall later in the race that he failed to mention, but I think by that point he just wanted to get to the end so it seemed less significant. I know he was disappointed to not finish quicker than he did, but all things considered, he still improved and even finished being injured, which is nothing to take lightly.

I'm also always amazed at the amount of walking I do during this race. This year I wore a pedometer because I was rather curious to see how far I actually walk with all the picking up and moving to a new spot. Even though I know pedometers are notoriously imprecise calculators, it marked me at just over 12.5 miles for the day (I joked near the end of the day that I should go walk down the boulevard just to make it a half marathon). I had no idea it was anything close to that, but then again, I'm a horrible calculator of distance, usually far underestimating the distance I've traveled both on bike or foot.

I am curious to see if Sam will race in Leadville again. He seems to improve each time, so I think it's possible he could get under the 10 hour mark if he were to give it another go. The Barn Burner in Flagstaff will perhaps give him that opportunity, if he decides to go and race there. We shall see!


  1. Congratulations for doing so well in what was clearly a very gruelling race, Sam. You must be very strong and fit! Nice that GE could come with you in the end.

  2. Thanks Stephanie! It's not getting easier for some reason : ).


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