Wednesday, August 22, 2012

LEADMAN FINALE - Leadville 100 Trail Run

This is nothing new to me, I have been racing in multi-sport events since the summer of 1997.  It is what I do and I love it.  Each new year brings a different set of challenges and fun obstacles to tackle on my way to a few more sprint triathlons, an Ironman, multi-stage mountain bike races, ultra trail runs or attempting to PR a marathon.  This year was different.

What I embarked on for the summer of 2012 was far more difficult than anything I have ever done.  And far more rewarding.
Time for the Family picture at Twin Lakes Inbound, mile 64
 Heading into the week of the 100 mile run, I was anxious.  Continually going over the past months and years of training to determine if I had done enough to survive this weekend.  Did I climb enough peaks, run downhill as much as I needed or come close to simulating the pain I would endure?  There was no way to answer these nagging questions without getting out there.  This was my first 100 mile run.  Coming six days after the Leadville 100 bike and starting at 10,000 feet nonetheless, dropping to about 9500 a couple times. Completing well over 16,000 feet of vertical gain and 16,000 feet of subsequent loss.  How do you possibly train perfectly for an event such as the Leadville 100?  You put in the hours and hope for the best.

I was also anxious about the weekends logistics, which were simplified greatly after I procured a home to rent, on Monday of race week in Leadville.  This gave us a perfect base camp for the family and kids, floor spaces for the crew to take naps and a close by kitchen to prep.  Man I got lucky!  But I also had my parents coming into town to help, my great friends Jared and Malia flying in from CA to be there for us and several other of the best friends around to lend their support.  Even an overturned semi didn't stop them from coming up for a few hours of sleep before our 4 am start time.

We walked to the start line as a nervous group ready to run into the unknown.  Nicole was excited for me to be done, but I could tell she was a little scared that I may not enjoy this as much as I thought.  My mom was definitely freaked out, as I can now relate, having 2 crazy sons to chase after.  Jeff and my brother Jared were so amped up you would have thought they were running too!  Malia and Jared, still half asleep from an epic travel, were like high school cheerleaders doing flips and screaming as I was getting prepped. 

Sliding my way up to the front of the start line was not too hard and I was able to position myself right next to Anton Krupicka, sizing him up to see if I could go out at his pace!  Haha, right, but cool to hang with him at the start. The shotgun echoed through the mountains and we set off on our journey, pitch black for at least the first 2 hours.  I controlled my pace, hung out with some people and just tried to relax. When we entered the single track I realized how crappy my headlamp was and this problem is only exacerbated by how bright everyone else's headlamps are.  I couldn't see SHIT.  A few stumbles, but slow running got me through to Mayqueen no sweat and I was within seconds of my predicted time.  The crew was right there and they would be at each and all stations, ready with all the hand offs and exchanges and I was off to the first climb, running and hiking conservatively.  Up Suglarloaf, down Powerline and across to Twin Lakes, which at Mile 40 was the first time I saw Nicole, Rocco and Sawyer. My family, my life.
Seeing my wife, sons, parents, brother, best friends gave me so much energy and I was so pumped leaving the aid station, ready to charge up 3600 feet in 3 miles to the top of Hope Pass.  This was going to be a breeze.  Damn it, I was way off, the steepness of this climb and the rocky terrain just drain everything from you.  Even the Llamas at the aid station, 800 feet short of the top, aren't enough to speed a person up.  And then descending into Winfield was far more difficult than anything I had ever imagined, maybe a preview would've been a good idea!  But I made it to the turn around, quite a bit off my predicted time, which I had been within minutes of during the first 4 aid stations.  I was tired, hungry, lost 5 pounds and ready to spend time with my pacers.

My brother Jared was dressed and fired up. He had the backpack loaded, bottles in hand and we were off.  Not carrying your own food and water gives so much relief alone, but the conversation and constant monitoring that a pacer provides is even more important.  He was gauging my vitals, continually feeding me different foods and drinks to get me re-hydrated and then we started climbing.  I was powering as hard as I could, charging that mountain and trying to drop him.  Didn't shake my bro, but I did end up going much faster back to Twin Lakes than I had come out to the turn around, making up some time and enjoying the insane mountain views and trails with my brother.  We had a blast.

Rocking back into Twin Lakes and seeing the family again, plus now best friends Kevin and Taylor, this had just turned it into a party. I was loving it!  So much love and energy.  After some liquids, a shirt change and some cold soup, I was ready to go.  Both Rocco and Sawyer high tailing it with me out of the aid stations, best boys ever.
Cold Soup? What? Even Kevin was disappointed!!!
 Now I had Heath Kirschner running along side of me, making jokes and having fun. Heath has done more miles running with me over the last 3 years than I can possibly count.  I have only done 2 or 3 trail run outings without him and he knows my pace and attitude to the letter.  But the real surprise he had in store was a few pages of encouraging emails from my closest family and friends from all over the country.  He read aloud the anecdotes, encouraging words and sometimes disparaging words (from those who know that making fun of me gets just as much motivation) while we were hiking and running along the next 18 miles.  It was such an amazing gesture by him and I can't thank Heath and all of you that wrote to him.  THANK YOU.
Leaving Pipeling, Sawyer and Georgia running after...
We had a big 3 mile climb and then a lot of rollers that I was able to jog, walk, run, jog, walk, hike, run through. I have to say this was a long stretch and I handled it okay, not great.  You just don't know what to expect and how hard to push at this point, but the trail was amazing and I was with one of my best friends, what an awesome time.  We made it to Pipeline aid and I needed more soup, got refueled, layered a shirt on and we took off at a blazing walk pace.  But this was also the first Starbucks Double Shot station, and by the time we were running the road to Fish Hatchery, I was flying.  In my mind, going at a 6 minute pace, but in reality, more like 8 minute per mile.  At mile 77, I will take that.

Running into Fish Hatchery was really cool.  It was dark out and everyone was so excited for me, we could feel the end nearing, only 5 or so hours left.  I grabbed some more soup, Potato this time, got my new pacer and another best friend Jeff Koski to carry the load.  Jeff is all business and I could not have come close to making these times on the 100 bike or the 100 run without him.  But he is also becoming a super strong runner and was really there for me climbing up Powerline.  We knocked off 5 to 6 other runners on this climb, knowing that for me the climb was where to make up time.  This climb, just like the bike ride, has 5 false summits and while it was again pitch black, this took forever.  We stayed focus, took in as many drinks and calories as we could, setting up for the finish.  Going down Sugarloaf was a slugfest and the single track into the last aid was very sketchy.  I stayed upright, even passed a few more runners and we were at Mayqueen, ready to embark on the final leg.

At Mayqueen, some more soup and another Starbucks and we were off.  My brother again running by my side, we entered the uphill single track.  But wait a minute, I was actually running uphill, this was mile 90, I should be walking only by now.  Once we switched headlamps and I was wearing the spot light, my energy picked up.  I started running a little faster, turning the legs over, flying by rocks and stumps, just having fun.  Jared was hooting and hollering from behind, loving every minute of this and I just kept dropping my pace.  I felt great, as if I had just started and wanted to knock out the miles and time.  We did the half loop of Turquoise Lake very fast and I was on cloud nine, ready to finish this journey.  After we exited the woods, Jared's job was done, running over 20 miles with me today on a torn Achilles tendon. But I knew he could not have been happier as he passed the baton to my best pacer, best friend and wife.

Nicole was so cute in her head lamp, just chatting away as if we were running down 7th avenue in Congress Park.  I love her so much and to have her by my side during this final hour was amazing. Our section was uphill, dark, gravel and desolate.  But she lightened the mood, asking if this would "count" as her workout since I was walking so much.  Trying as hard as she could to get me to run ten or twenty steps.  I dug deep, kept moving forward and made some running attempts.  The Boulevard is difficult, but a great build up.

When we left the gravel, got onto the road, I knew we had 1 mile to go.  My other pacers waiting at the stop sign were ready to run.  Jared, Heath and Jeff joined up and with a massive sigh of relief from Nicole we all headed down up the final mile.  Walking the first hill and then running the remaining stretch to the finish line with my gang.

I was overcome with emotion, threw my hands in the air and could not believe what I had just accomplished.  The Leadman Challenge is hard and cannot be completed alone.  My out of breathe cries when I hugged my wife, mother, father, brother and best friends could not be contained.  I don't think I had the energy to scream in celebration, so the gentle sobs of a grown man had to do.  This is not the end.  Thank you so much to all that supported me along this way.

I finished the Leadville Trail 100 Run (104 miles this year!) in a time of 22:14.  Placed 24th overall out of 800 that started the race.  Moved from 5th to 3rd overall Leadman, behind Tim Waggoner and Troy Howard, just amazing athletes and friends.  What an awesome adventure.

Malia took some video along the way. Check out her trailer!  Movie coming in Sept...

My Family and Leadman Crew, thank you from the bottom of my heart. There is now way I was doing this without you.
Nicole Berg with my boys Rocco and Sawyer
Don and Gretchen Berg, best parents ever
Candice Preslaski, my amazing sister in law
Jeff & Shannon Koski, best friend ever
Jared Berg, best brother ever
Heath and Amanda Kirschner with their girls Ella and Georgia, best friends ever
Jared and Malia Marcell, best friends since 2 years old
Kevin Curtis and father in-law Tim, best friend ever
Taylor Fenn and son Oliver, best friend who can still make fun of me while I am running at mile 63
Josh Ross, Kevin Curtis and Wade Vogt - TEAM ADDAERO

LEADMAN Challenge 2012 - Stats done be me before official Leadman results posted...

99 - registerered for the summer series.
65 - remained after the Marathon, 50 Mile bike or Run, 100 mile Mtn Bike and 10k run
34 - athletes completed the Leadman challenge for 2012

14 - sub 9 hour Big Buckles for the 100 mile Ride
7 - sub 25 hour Big Buckles for the 100 mile Run

 - Tim Waggoner
 - Troy Howard
 - Joseph Berg
 - Jeffrey Spencer
 - Mark Wallace (2 timer)
Bringing the total to 7 people ever to Complete the Leadman and double Big Buckle!  More people have walked on the moon...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Leadville 100 Mountain Bike & 10k Run 2012

Unlike some, I don't remember the precise moment when the desire to race the Leadville 100 mountain bike race began to gnaw at me.  But to cross that finish line, after 8 hours and 37 minutes of mountain biking insanity, I was overwhelmed.  It wasn't just the 103 miles and 12,600 feet of gain, all above 9,200 feet that we completed on Saturday that meant so much.  This touches deeper into your sole as you know your own personal road to make it to Leadville and come home with the BIG Gold Belt Buckle.  For some it is an annual tradition, others a lottery, others a performance spot based on a Q race and for me and a few other crazy folks, signing up for the Leadman Challenge gained us our entry into the Super Bowl of mountain bike races.  So we will be back 6 days later to run another 100.  More on that, but first, here is how bike shaped up.

Our family stayed in Vail and as another struggle to determine how to logistically overcome the Leadman Challenge, one of my best friends in the world, Jeff Koski, awoke at 2 am and drove from Denver to pick me up and get to the start line.  Then entire drive, still tired, but crazy excited, we discussed the course, the aid stations and my needs while racing. Jeff has done the 100 bike before (now wearing his buckle) and understands the importance of a race crew and a good plan.  Due to my decent time in the 50 mile bike, I was granted a 2nd corral spot, behind only the top pro mountain bikers.  At the start line early, chilling with my great friend, neighbor and new dad of a 5 DAY old girl, Rob Kosick made the time go by quick.  Talking parenting, racing and life.  He had a stellar day of 8:19 w/ mechanicals.  The 2nd corral spotting helped sort out the field and passing riders was never an issue.  The gun shot started the race and CRAP it went out fast. 

The Start -
Flying downhill, just trying to stay off the wheel in front of you required maximum concentration.  Do not go down here is what I kept telling myself. 

This fast pace riding did not let up until the first climb up St Kevins. 

The UPS and DOWNS -
This climb was a great start and I just relaxed, rode along side my old friend Mark Barrett.  Another screaming decent and we were climbing again up Sugarloaf. This climb wasn't much of a big deal.  The only issue is that I no longer love aggressive downhill riding in these races and knowing the death trap of Powerline descent was coming quickly, I wasn't too jacked.  So when we started descending, I was gaining confidence, this isn't so bad, I like this.  Well, I wasn't on Powerline yet.  The group that I climbed with was gone, so I was alone when it got steep and rutted, PERFECT, no one putting pressure from behind.  This allowed me to cruise on through and I was down before you knew it.  We rode hard to the aid station where Jeff had his sweet homemade hand off bag all set.  But the shoulder strap was too long and instead of crashing, I wisely slowed up, grabbed my nutrition and he gave me a shove off.  The long stretch here was so needed.  Ride with some new friends and get ready to see the family.  I was a happy camper, mostly because I had never ridden up the infamous Columbine climb.

I stopped at the aid to see Nicole, Rocco, Sawyer, Heath, Ella, Georgia and Crew Chief Jeff.  They got all the nutrition and chain lube on well before I was finished peeing.  Better time than any NASCAR pit.  Seeing my kids, my wife and my two best friends gave me the rally I needed to go after this climb.  
Columbine Climb -
Why, why, why would you bike up this route?  I just kept asking myself as we dug into each winding turn.  I knew it was far to the top, but I had no idea how long that would actually take.  I never felt completely drained riding up Columbine, but it never stopped. Knowing that this is the climb just to get to the halfway mark of the race, you do need to hold off on the effort.  When we finally got above treeline, I was actually relieved, we had to be nearing the turn.  I was excited that I only walked a hundred feet or so, and to be honest, that just loosened up my legs.  As we summited the climb and turned downhill, I let loose and opened up the brake levers.  Going down faster than I have in years, yelling encouraging words to the hundreds of riders coming up.  My legs felt great as I saw my crew again at the aid station and I just kept jamming the pedals into the wind. 

Road Race into the wind - 
The flat stretch before the last two climbs I was catching and passing groups and groups of riders until a new friend Craig joined me.  He and I worked together up to the Powerline climb.  This first section of Powerline was so steep and fun I almost had to laugh.  Mike Hogan offering me Starbucks, riders trying to ascend with all their might.  Then you realize that similar to the last climb, this just doesn't freaking end.  Who signs up for this?

Closing out my ride up to St Kevins, feeling sleepy and tired, I was drained.  I had never been on my bike longer than 7 hours before.  And especially this year.  My biking has been next to nothing in relation to what it should be for this race.  Let's see if that run endurance can pay off.  Thankfully I had a few other people to ride with through to the end.  The few of us working through our rough spots while drafting and then catch some energy to take your turn and pull the crew.  This team work brought us to the end and when we saw the finish line, tears were held back.  And having my great friend Kevin and his wife Marti at the finish line to help me take it all in was so cool.  Nicole and Heath were a little delayed due to a perfectly timed crap in pants by my little guy!

My Leadman journey only began when I realized how badly I wanted to ride and earn my Big Gold Buckle.  Well, I did it and I will be back to crush my time of 8:37. 

10k Run -
Oh yeah, we had to get back up to Leadville, pick up my buckle and then toe the line, run an all out 10k against a couple fresh runners and the rest of the Leadman competitors.   I ran a pedestrian time of 45 minutes, but at 10,000 feet and coming off that ride, I will take it. 

These two days whittled the Leadman participants down to 65, of which I currently sit in 5th place.  But more then placing in the Leadman, getting to know Tim, Troy, Al, Jeff and the others, sharing in these amazing experiences and achieving more than should be humanly possible is the reward.

Back on Saturday August, 18th for the Leadville 100 Mile Trail Run.

Thank you so much to Jeff Koski for his unbelievable planning and help, my amazing wife Nicole, my boys' Rocco & Sawyer as well as the best cheerleaders in Ella & Georgia whose Dad dragged them through quite the day to be there for me.  You guys are the best!