Tuesday, August 21, 2018

2018 Leadville Trail 100 MTB

**Sam raced in Leadville, Colorado again this year and below is the tale for 2018. His words are in bold type, while my rambling can be found in regular type.**

The Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race has become a kind of tradition for us. Although it's not a very long tradition (Sam first raced the 100 in 2014), the second weekend of August has become synonymous with a visit to the two-mile-high city of Leadville over the last few years.

When Sam raced last September in Flagstaff, Arizona, he hoped to get a spot in this year's LT100 MTB, and it did not disappoint. The great thing with getting his spot early is that he would have lots of time to plan and train. The bad news with so much time to plan and train is that it can be a bit of a challenge to put the plan/training into action early, especially as we rolled into winter.

Fortunately, we had a very mild winter and although most of our riding time was spent on the tandem, rides were happening and Sam knew that spring and summer would provide more time for mountain training specifically. Still, time was definitely slipping away as spring came and went and summer was very quickly in full force.

Over the winter, we also picked up a little project in the form of a 1960 camper trailer that was being prepped for use as a chicken coop. The former owner of this camper decided that there were better choices for a chicken coop and then had a hunk of aluminium he wasn't sure what to do with... Which is where we entered the picture and took this project off his hands for an absolute steal.
It didn't look too bad from the outside, but certainly in worse shape when standing face-to-face with this project.
Since we tend to be project people, it was just one more thing to add to our list of things to accomplish. Plus, we are always up for a bargain on something we can use. So, despite this option being an absolute wreck, we were willing to take it on with the hope of creating something that would make these bike race trips (and just camping in general) a little more pleasant.

You may recall my personal battle with mosquitoes on a former bike race adventure in Leadville, and I was not very excited about the prospect of being ate alive again in a tent. We figured having a more enclosed space might help with that somewhat, and not having to sleep on a slowly deflating air mattress seemed like it would make for a better race day too.
(left) After insulation and paneling was partially pulled out; (right) nearing the end of fixing up this camper.
The camper was full of wet fiberglass insulation from years of leaking and the paneling wasn't going to be salvageable at all, so we knew that we'd be gutting the insides, sealing up holes, and hopefully reusing anything that we could to keep costs at a minimum for this project. Ultimately, it came together pretty well and although we still need to paint the exterior and make a few screens for windows, it was ready to use for this trip.

In the weeks leading up to the Leadville ride, Sam was hoping to get in some high altitude training. Unfortunately, there was a disaster at his employer and he spent the few weeks prior to the race working 16+ hour days and didn't get a day off at all during that time. It certainly wasn't an ideal racing situation to be off the bike for so much time prior, but sometimes life happens.

This year, leading up to my fourth Leadville 100 mountain bike race, some unintended work issues arose and I was unable to train/taper like I should have. Without going into detail, I was never able to train above 7k feet, nor did I ride further than about 60 miles leading up to the 100+ mile event.
Things would be a little different this year. We decided to travel out to Leadville a day earlier than usual pulling our recently fixed up camper. In many ways, it was great to be there a day early and to be able to use the camper. It was definitely cheaper than a hotel room (if you can even obtain one) and way more comfortable than a tent.

We arrived Thursday afternoon, set up, then went and picked up my race packet. It was very chill and easy to be there an extra day early. We were able to relax in the camper and hang out Thursday afternoon and evening. I was also able to get my stuff set up, checked out and ready to go.
We had decided before leaving that I would bring a bike along too since we'd have an extra day and hopefully we'd be able to do some riding during our stay. The dogs were being cared for at home, so we had no responsibilities. The hope was that once we were set up and parked we could just ride instead of drive the places that we needed to go.

On Friday morning, we rode the few miles to the racer meeting, which didn't seem like a big deal but became more so after doing it (for me, not Sam). Apparently, I am a giant climbing wimp because by the time we arrived, I was panting more than I would've liked. When we got to the meeting (about 45 minutes later) I said to Sam, "And you're going to do a hundred miles of worse climbing than that? I would never survive!" The downhill back to the campground was awesome though!
The meeting hadn't even started and Sam already looked annoyed. 
Friday was the super awesome race meeting during which the organizers run through the same stuff that they have during prior events, tell you things to know, and roll out people that have been around for awhile - oh, and remind you to drink water, but only if you're thirsty. This lasts about two hours (or more) before we are freed and can go about the day. We were already hungry for lunch so we took care of that and then walked around the event tents a bit, checked out some things, but beyond that, the day was pretty uneventful. 

On Saturday, we arrived at the corral area at about 5:15a when the area opened up to racers. This year (as has been the case for the most part in the past), I was in the purple corral, which is probably about the exact middle of the field. I was one of the first there and forgot no less than ten things, which G.E. was kind enough to repeatedly walk back to the vehicle multiple times to retrieve for me. There was some talk with other racers, first timers, and we saw some familiar faces, like "Pink Taco," the tandem duo of ladies who always seem to be around me any time I race in Leadville. This year, they were lit up with lights (both themselves and the tandem). 
Not the best photo, unfortunately, but it was still pretty dark out at this point, so at least the lights on the bike can be seen.
For me, some things had changed this year. I was going geared (1x11, figuring my knees could use the break from single speed), I was using a Camelbak instead of bottles, and I was using some new-to-me nutrition (which, unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to test out before race day) called Maurten, which I would use specifically for the Columbine climb.

At 6:30a, we roll. It was a very uneventful start this year. No crashes or tie ups, oddly. At any rate, I was rolling and getting up to the pace I wanted through St Kevins. Probably my best pace yet to that point. Getting through the first aid station and continuing through was again, uneventful. 

At the first real "road" section, I hooked up with a very large and very fast group. We were probably averaging about 28mph and working like a peloton. Things were getting better.
At the base of Columbine, G.E. and I agreed that this is where I would stop on my way up. The plan was to swap out my Camelbak Chase for the second one. This would be the "climbing up Columbine" one that would have the Maurten supplement and about 640 calories of liquid. The point was to be able to drink instead of trying to chew and feed myself on the way up the mountain. 

Sam came through at the base of Columbine pretty fast. I was surprised that he'd made it to that spot a little sooner than I'd expected, but it was great because he hoped to get a sub-10 hour finish this year, and this was looking promising. Luckily, I had just finished mixing up his Maurten mix in the Camelbak so I was ready when he came tearing through.

The swap went smoothly and I was on my way up. Once again, I was doing well, riding it as though I had been riding single speed instead of geared (trying to keep it in a harder gear) and passing people.

Waiting for Sam to come back down Columbine has become less stressful to me at this point. I know it always takes longer than most seem to think it will, so I know I have some time before I'll see him again. Usually, waiting is entertaining as I have the opportunity to talk with other racer's crew and families. Sadly, this year people really didn't seem as friendly as they have in the past. There were a lot of people who thought their racer was the most important person on the planet, and while I can respect the fact that individuals want to see their person do well, I don't think this should come at a cost of respect or enjoyment to everyone else who is around. To put it bluntly, people were on the rude side this year, and I truly haven't experienced that in the past at all.

About half way up the Columbine climb, the traffic backed up a bit. We slowed, and suddenly I could hear two familiar voices behind me chatting. Unfortunately, one of the familiar voices was not paying attention and ended up hitting my rear wheel, which knocked me off balance. I couldn't clip out quick enough and before I knew it, I landed on a pile of rocks. Over I went on the same shoulder I hit a year and a half ago (that has never returned to normal), cut up my knee and mildly bonked my head.

The two helped me up and asked if I was okay, at which point I insisted it was no big deal and that I was "fine." I didn't want to rattle anyone, but my shoulder had definitely seen better days (just as recent as the day prior). 

I continued to the hike-a-bike section of the climb that we all struggle through right around mile 50. This was as slow as it usually is, but we managed to get through it and moving helped my jacked up shoulder feel a little better. I rolled through the turn around earlier than I had the previous year and bolted down the hill. At this point, I had consumed nearly all of my Maurten and was moving as quickly as I could to the base of Columbine.

By the time I met up with G.E. again at the base for the Camelbak swap out, I was not feeling as well as I had been on the way up. I was struggling to shake the "high altitude" feeling, and normally that isn't a problem. 

After the Camelbak switch with Sam on his return trip, I headed out to Pipeline in case he needed anything for the last 25 (or so) miles back to the finish line. When he arrived there, I knew he was slowing down and frankly, he didn't look good. Other than his first year, I don't think I've seen him look as bad as he did and this time may have even been worse than that. He didn't need anything other than a couple of sips of Gatorade and he was back on his way, but I could see in his eyes that he was not feeling well.

I continued with a pretty good run through the next section and hooked up with another fast group as we headed up to everyone's favorite walk: power line. 
Power line was as expected, steep and HOT. It was extra hot that day though and not a bit of rain in sight. The day prior had hailed as we walked through town, but that wasn't even a glimmer of a possibility on race day. Despite the heat, everyone seemed to be doing really well. A bystander even sprayed cold water on me (requested) and we hit the top pretty quickly. Then, on we went to the false summits.

At about 80 miles, I hit a nauseous wall. I was insanely dizzy! I was still climbing, but I began to stop about every half mile. I would hit a shady spot and stop, wait a few minutes, and then start again. I just couldn't shake the nauseous feeling, an unusual thing for me during this race. I was pretty well convinced that I was experiencing heat exhaustion and it felt like there was no way I was going to make it to the end. All that I could think to do was to keep stopping and to try to make my way to the last aid station at Carter. Then, they would be able to drive me back to the start for my DNF (did not finish).

I kept checking the race app on my phone, expecting to see Sam come through the final check point, but it was taking an eternity. I knew that most people would slow down the closer they get to the finish, but this seemed to be taking an extraordinarily long time for him to get there. I knew that Sam didn't look well the last time I saw him, but I also know that he will push through anything to finish. I continued to update the app, hoping to see him come through the check point, but it just wasn't happening. All that I could do was to wait.

I worked my way to the down hill portion and was starting to feel a bit better once air was blowing against my skin. I was still dizzy, but trying to move quickly. At the approximate 90 mile mark (the last check point), I decided that I would attempt to finish the race. At this point, I fully realized that I would not be making the sub-10 hour goal I had set pre-race and that I would probably do worse than my last finish.

Finally, I saw that Sam had made it through the last checkpoint and decided that I should head to the finish line to wait for him there. I was in an extraordinarily bad mood. People's rudeness, my lack of food/water for the day, and the heat had all got to me and I really didn't want to be in Leadville anymore. This little town had been invaded by too many people and we were all guilty of various atrocities.

Standing at the finish line, all that I kept saying to myself was that I did not want to do this again.

The rest of the race was as smooth as can be expected, but mostly painful. There was the climb up the back of Kevins, then the down hill, which was great, and then the final four miles after the 100 mile mark, just to mess with our heads. 
And then, I made it back to the finish line. Officially finishing at 10:26:29, which was not my slowest, but definitely not even close to my goal time. But then again, I hadn't thought I would finish at all this time.

On this side of things, I feel bad that I was so cranky at the finish line. I know that this is a huge, exhausting race for the participants, but the day had just got the better of me. I'm pretty sure the same thing happens every time Sam races here: I swear at the end of race day that I'm not returning to Leadville, and by the next morning I've changed my mind. It is the wondrous, magical, mystery of Leadville, I suppose. Or, perhaps it's just that I had water and food so I felt more like myself again.

I was truly concerned about Sam after hearing what had happened during the race, however. I was pretty well convinced he had either experienced a concussion from hitting his head when he fell earlier in the race or that he had heat stroke (or at least heat exhaustion). Later, we would learn that the Maurten may likely have been the culprit in all of it. After speaking to some people after the fact, we learned that the side effects for some people (dehydrated feeling, despite drinking plenty of water, nauseousness, etc) are exactly what Sam experienced, so he learned that this is not the product for him. He was unfortunately not able to test it out prior to race day, which is a lesson to take in to the future.

What did I learn this round? Don't try new stuff without vetting it first. Don't skimp on training you plan to do. Don't worry about how awesome your bike is - it probably doesn't matter as much as you think it does. Camper > Tent, without a doubt. 

In all of this I realize I'm not a great story teller/writer. I have left out tons of details - some important and some just "meh" stuff. Often I look at it like taking a GoPro on a bike ride... you just see the same stuff over and over and it's not really all that much fun to watch, so, in this case, why would it be fun to read?

As with every year, I'm not sure if I'm going to do this again, or even try. If I do try, I want to hit Flagstaff coming up soon in September, because it's the best way for me to gain entry. It does become easier to think about doing it again though every day I'm removed from the torture, so who knows?

I know I had talked about possibly doing the 10k run the day after the 100-mile ride, but we were definitely ready to get out of Leadville Sunday morning and the run just wasn't going to happen. We've toyed with the idea of me racing too if Sam goes to Flagstaff (I would just be doing 1-lap of the 4-laps possible, as I have no desire to race in Leadville), but we'll see if any of that comes about. It's all sneaking up quickly though and after my pathetic attempt at riding 3 miles up hill, I'm not sure I'm cut out for that sort of thing - but it's always fun to test those limits too.

Overall, we were both a bit disappointed this year in Leadville, specifically with the lack of enthusiasm both among the racers and spectators. Generally, riders are great at encouraging each other as they pass and spectators are happy to help anyone along the race route, but that didn't seem to be the feeling for the majority of the race. We have hypothesized that this could be due to the fact that the race continues to grow and take on more racers. It's hard to keep that family-like feeling when there are so many people. Even over the few years that Sam has been racing this event, it's easy to see that things are changing and evolving. We both hope that it doesn't become just another event like any other, but there was definitely a different feeling this year, which was a bit sad.

Only time will tell what is to be for the future of Sam's Leadville racing. I know he is still debating his desire to head to Flagstaff, but he'll have to make a decision soon. In the meantime, he should have some time to get a little training in and decide what makes the most sense for his personal goals.


  1. GE, always nice to read these adventures from two points of view. It sounds like you need a new venue, at least to support Sam. I am fascinated with your trailer! My husband and I have talked about a small RV, wanting to travel this way in our retirement years. Something easy to drive and haul a couple bikes.

    1. Annie, the trailer has been an interesting project. We had been looking for a few years for something really inexpensive that we could redo to our liking. We'd talked about pop up trailers and even the really super small "canned ham" type older trailers. This one came up and was so inexpensive that we just couldn't let it go. There's a part of me that always thinks it would be fun to just travel around and see where the wind blows us, so I can see how retiring with a small RV would be a lot of fun. I know it's not for everyone, but with the two of you having done a lot of bike touring, I think a camper of some sort would be a lovely extension of that as you make plans for the future (just my two cents... for whatever that is worth). :)

  2. I love the trailer. That has to be more comfortable than the tent! Sorry Sam felt so awful for much of this ride. I’m amazed that he was able to push through to the finish in spite of hitting his head, hurting his shoulder, not being able to train properly, and feeling nauseous. I hope his shoulder recovers.

  3. Thanks, and yes! It was very nice to have our own little space (and to be able to stand up!!) :)

    I believe Sam has recovered from the event this year (though his shoulder will likely be an ongoing issue for some time), and I'm sure he appreciates your well wishes, Kendra.

  4. G.E.,

    Congrats on the trailer! It looks very nice. I think adding an rv to the mix is good for the spirit! I have one as well and we really enjoy it.

    I've been on hiatus for a while. Recently started back riding again and checking back in on my favorite blogs. Great to see you and Sam enjoying yourselves! All the best!

  5. Hi LuckyChow! Nice to hear from you. I'm glad that you're getting back to riding (and thanks for checking in here). :) Hopefully, you're enjoying life as well as being back on a bike.


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