From Triathlete to Very Dirty Girl: Leadville 100 MTB Race Report My friends and family would tell you that I “inspire easily”; that more often than not that “moment of inspiration” can send me spiraling off the path of rational decision making – to enthusiastically embrace a new activity, a new job, a new adventure…….. Sometimes dragging my best friends and often said family members along with me… It was that “moment of inspiration” last November that had me pushing the send button to the on-line lottery application for the Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike race. I had just finished watching the Citizen Picture’s production of “The Race Across the Sky” – where Lance Armstrong had spoken directly to ME when he said that next to Kona and the New York City Marathon there was no greater challenge for an endurance athlete than the Leadville Trail 100. At the time, there were certainly better choices for my on-line adventuring than signing up for the hardest mountain bike race in North America. In fact this was a particularly bad choice because for starters, I didn’t know how to mountain bike. Up to that point my idea of sketchy off road riding was trying to balance my coffee cup, while riding my beach cruiser down strand for the Sunday morning swim. I also didn’t own a “real” mountain bike. What I had in my garage was a 20 year old hard tail “Avalanche” with two flat tires, 8 speeds, and a cassette that had fewer climbing gears that my cruiser J. But that didn’t matter… these were small things when compared to pursuing an endurance athlete’s dream and honestly I never really expected to get in… he he…. But on January 31st at 5:45 pm “I Got Mail” and was notified that I was an accepted entrant into the 2011 Race Across the Sky!! It was time to buy a bike and learn to ride it. Knowing absolutely nothing about mountain bikes, I went to my favorite local bike shop Tri-Lab, sat down with Karl, Jerry and Jason and configured an awesome bike. There is actually a lot more to the bike purchase story than I am writing about here (including selecting the wrong size – I guess as women we all like to think we are smaller than we actually are) but the net result was an awesome setup on a carbon Scott Spark 35, outfitted importantly with super duper components and a mountain biking key… the best brakes money could buyJ! Then I had to learn how to ride it. Thank you to John, Lynne, Shimson, Tina, Tiffany, Liza, Stella, Wes, Marcela, Stephanie and Keevin who patiently gave me tips on climbing, descending, water crossings , and yes racing! For me learning to mountain bike can be summed up in one word “CRASH”. In fact I crashed so many times learning to ride my bike that for the 8 months leading up to Leadville my legs and arms were constantly covered with giant dirt road abrasions. My First Race: Counting Coup, April 2, Orange County To practice for Leadville, I entered the Orange County Warrior Society’s “Counting Coup” bike race – a monster of a course – 44 miles long with over 8900 feet of climbing where I proceeded to yes, “CRASH” 7 times before crossing the finishing line, posting one of the slowest race times of the day, 7 hours and 28 minutes. Counting Coup takes place in the early spring, with the starting gun (or in the case drum – get it Warrior Society) going off at 5:30 AM – which means that you start in and are riding in the dark for the first hour and a half. As a newbie rider I am completely out of my league. Where other riders have powerful specially designed mountain bike lights, I have strapped to my handle bars the equivalent of a small flashlight which barely illuminates anything.. and there is no moon. I also am the only rider who has platform pedals – a kind a riding crutch for me because I have yet to figure out how to unclip quickly before I CRASH! So I’m standing the bike corral, in the dark, with 600 other riders and I am feeling completely out of my element - I think every rider in the bike corral is looking at my dorkie platform pedals .. I am also freaking out because I know that after the recent heavy rains the normally graded fire road that I have trained on has now turned into a churning mess of ruts, rocks and other dirty hazards and it is obvious that my little flashlight will be NO help what so ever for the initial ascent. And then out of the darkness in the bike corral I hear a rider say…”at least we don’t have to swim first..” and I think Hallelujah! a kindred spirit – another triathlete who SAW THE MOVIE and was inspired!! I was dying to call out and make the connection to my fellow triathlete but I was way too embarrassed to acknowledge my “newbie-ness” – besides I didn’t want to call further attention to my dorkie platform pedals and tiny flashlight…so I put my game face on and tried to look like I knew what I was doing. It was in Counting Coup that I learned the rules of mountain biking which I carried with me to Leadville. Racing Rule #1 – you gotta be nice – MOUNTAIN BIKERS ARE FREAKIN NICE! And Patient! Racing Rule #2: There is NO CRYING in mountain bike racing. Simply put regardless of how scary or long or difficult your ride is you just have to suck it up, dig deep and keep on pedaling...keeping your eye on the prize..and in Leadville I came to accept that it was just simply the finish line. Race Report: Leadville Trail 100. The Leadville Trail 100 course starts and finishes in the town of Leadville, Colorado, population 2800, elevation 10,200 feet. It is an up and back course which begins with two significant climbs and reasonably technical descents in the first 28 miles, followed by rolling single track, fire road and paved sections before beginning the 10 mile climb up to the top of Columbine Mine at 12,500 feet, where you turn around (50 miles) and retrace your route back into town. Leadville is difficult for a number of reasons. First, the race runs at altitude – there is not a lot of air at 13,000 feet. It’s also super long – 104 miles (not 100 as I came to realize at Mile 100) - with lots of steep climbing where you actually have to get off your bike and push it until you can manage to ride again. It also has a long (5 miles) technical descent appropriately named the “Powerline” – which becomes a nasty, gut busting, ego crashing, near death/tears of agony climb at mile 80 of the course on the way back into town. The race had over 1800 registered participants, of those 1800 only 271 were women – this should tell you something about the level of difficulty of the course. Because we were “first timers”, Tina and Mo Geller, John Appeldorn, Joe Christenson, Warren Sutton and I were staged in the last corral. Problematic because it meant we were the last riders to pass through the start line – staging us at the back of the pack behind last year’s slowest riders. When the race turned from the pavement onto a fire road that took us to the first climb of the day St Kevin’s there was quite a bottleneck of riders. Race Rule Number #1: Be NICE and be PATIENT!! My race strategy was simple – SURVIVAL. Ride steady, playing the race like an Ironman. Trying to keep my heart rate low, calories and fluids in, and finish the race under 12 hours (the time cut off to win the coveted Silver Buckle). I didn’t care about winning my age group (I had had a great day in the Lake Tahoe 100 Qualifier) – but in this race I just wanted the buckleJ! Race morning the temperature at the start was 38 degrees. (The temp would climb to 94 on the Powerline by 3:00 pm that day). You begin the race with a screaming 4.5 mile long paved descent to the first dirt road turn off. By the time you get to the first climb your hands and feet are ice. Shifting skills are nonexistent. I remember glancing at Tina as we descended in the early morning watching her teeth chattering and her face go white! Through the first climb I followed my race plan. It simply wasn’t possible to push it and I settled in to a nice low heart rate pace – following the field and waiting for the first descent where the course would open up and we could begin to make up some time. On the second climb I stopped to pass chain repair tools and chain links to fellow tri-clubber Warren Sutton (again, Rule #1 BE NICE!) who had broken his chain for the second time that morning. Unfortunately the time I took to pull out of the “stuff” to get Warren on his way, the slow riders, the ones I had tried so hard to pass on the first descent caught up with me and passing them on the rocky single track climb required heart rate spiking effort..and I knew then I could be bringing on trouble because were after all only 18 miles into the race.. There are two “technical” descents in Leadville. The first the “Powerline”. Steep – rutted – and very loose after days with no rain – riding safely – yet quickly down this section is a key to a successful race. We had ridden this section in training and I felt very comfortable on the descent, comfortable enough that I began to push the speed a bit to make up the time I had lost on the first two climbs. On the steepest section my front wheel started wobbling. I was going 20 mph – glanced down at my wheel to discover that the schewer that holds the wheel on had come undone..seriously? How could I have not properly secured this wheel!! Trying not to CRASH I was able to slowly move to the side of the trial as I called “slowing” to my fellow competitors behind me – who were yes SUPER NICE (Rule Number 1) and didn’t try to run me over. As I reached down to fix my wheel, the little black thingie that turns to help lock down the wheel fell off my bike and began to roll down the dirt trail. It’s steep so it rolled really fast, and riders kept rolling over it, which kept it rolling.. I think it must have been 15 to 20 minutes before I was able to run down the hill, retrieve this piece and get my bike into a place where it could roll again. By my calculations I was now 25 minutes BEHIND where I needed to be to get the buckle. I was also at risk of missing the cutoffs and having my chip pulled. Dam the buckle – I was now going to have to hammer it to catch up ..and that is where my race fell apart! I won’t go and an on about what I did to catch up – pushing my heart rate up into an anaerobic I pushed so hard that I didn’t take time to eat – take in fluids or salt- and how my legs starting cramping and my stomach started shutting down at around Mile 50. By the time I got to the Powerline climb at mile 80 I was DONE. I was BONKING, dehydrated… the nausea set in and I began to lose the little I had actually taken in over the course of the day on the course. The pisser about this whole situation was that I know how to race better than this – but my quest for the buckle over rode my race strategy and I fell apart. RULE #2 – There is NO CRYING in mountain biking! The day just got tougher. Pushing your bike up a super steep and LONG hill (that even Lance Armstrong got off and pushed BTW) when you are sick and weak is just about one of the worse things you can ever experience. At a point in the hike a bike that NEVER ends, I sat down on the ground with my head between my knees and wondered if I was even going to be able to finish the race….that’s when I began to see firsthand the “spirit of Leadville” and why riders come back year after year to race this monster course. Here’s the secret… it’s not the difficulty of the course that brings folks back … it’s the strength and spirit of the competitors who make this race sooooo special. As I sat on the ground trying to get it together to continue a rider stopped and sat down next to me. He explained that I had “pulled” him up Columbine and he was going to return the favor. He sat next to me and talked me through sipping slowly the plain water he had in his bottle. He would count, making me take the fluids in slowly and then hold them in my mouth before swallowing. He helped me get needed fluids back into my body and in the process gave up his race to make sure I could finish. When I felt good enough to start up again, he left me and I never saw him again. But this race angel – because RULE #1 Be NICE stopped, I was able to continue towards the finish line. Other riders helped me on the course as well. A women (in my age group) name Gracie from Arkansas (who also has MS) encouraged me to ride with her slowly so I could take in food. She reminded me to “keep my eye” on the prize, that the race wasn’t about the hardware, but crossing- just crossing the finish line. Race heroes, Doug from Albuquerque, New Mexico who weak from the ALS that is tearing apart his body, in a neck braces and cast, showed up at the starting line Saturday morning. He wasn’t trying for the buckle, he just wanted to make as many of the cut off’s as possible that day just so he could be part of this event one last time. Last year 11 riders gave up their race to save the life of a fellow rider who had crashed, severed an artery and was bleeding out. While stabilizing this rider, a perfect stranger they missed the time cutoff;s and were DNF’d from the race. They were honored at this year’s athlete briefing by the guy they saved – who raced again this year! INSPIRING!!! I crossed the finished line at 12:09:13 – missing the buckle by 9 minutes, 13 seconds!! But as I sat on the grass after the race, surrounded by my fellow finishers – including Gracie who finished just minutes behind me – I came to realize that Leadville is not special because it’s difficult and you get a buckle at the end. Leadville is just plain special. … and sometimes you are just lucky enough – like I was – to see beyond the event, behind t he hardware and just experience the “Journey”. CONGRATS TO BUCKLE WINNERS: Tina Geller, Lauren Mulcwitz, Pete Smith (screaming sub 8 hour race!), Warren Sutton, Ian Murray, Shane (gosh I wish I knew your last name), Steve Lamb and other Tri Clubbers who I knew were there but I also don’t know your names. Congrats also on the “Journey” to John Appeldorn, Mo Geller and Joe Christoferson – you guys gave it your all and should be so so proud of those finishers medals..I know I am….. BUT NEXT YEAR………I’m going to get than dam Buckle! Liz Kollar