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.
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!