Friday, August 22, 2008

Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race – 2004

As I mentioned in my initial post, we first competed in the Leadville 100 MTB race in 2004.

We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. To start with, when we (okay, I) first suggested doing the event, I didn’t realize it was a race. I thought it was like the many road bike century events we had done – start when you want, take the time you need to finish, hang out in the aid stations eating snacks and watching people . . . Instead, there is a mass start, people fighting for position, and by the way, time cut-offs. If you don’t make it to a certain check point by a pre-determined time, you are pulled off the course.

Racers start lining up at the corner of 6th and Harrison in Leadville beginning at 5 am. At 630 am, Ken Chlouber counts down to the start, and then fires a real-live shotgun. Your adrenaline shoots through the roof; your mouth goes dry, you immediately wish you had peed just one last time (even though you’ve gone at least 7 times since you rolled out of bed at 4 am) and you try not to crash into or be crashed into by any of the other 650 riders. [Also be sure to see the other side of the story . . .] By the time the people at the back of the queue (riders like me and Phil who are just trying to beat the 12 hour time cut-off, not win the race) roll through the start line, at least 3 minutes have passed and the lead riders are one-half to three-quarters of a mile ahead – a lead which will just continue to increase as the time ticks away.

But we didn’t know any of that.

So we went about preparing for the race as we would for any other century. We did a lot of riding in the spring and early summer, including a MTB trip in April to the White Rim in Utah with guides from Rim Tours in Moab – beautiful scenery, pretty easy riding and great food. We commuted to our jobs downtown via bike 2 to 3 days per week (30 miles round trip), took indoor cycling classes at our gym 2 or 3 days a week, rode the Santa Fe Century in May, the Elephant Rock Century in June, rode Squaw Pass a few times, did the Triple Bypass in July . . . and finally, in the third week of July, went up to Leadville to ride on the course.

Oh. My. Goodness. First of all, finding the course is not as easy as you might think. Oh sure, there is a map in the race booklet, but nothing is marked when you get out there. On that first trip we didn’t even find the first 10 miles of the course. Not an auspicious beginning.

The next week we rode the first 25 miles of the course – from Leadville to the Powerline. And driving home from Leadville, we sort of glanced at each other out of the corners of our eyes, and burst into a fit of uncontrollable giggles. Because we had just figured out the race thing – the first time cut-off is at Twin Lakes. If you don’t get to that aid station (40 miles) in 4 hours or less, you will be pulled off the course. And it had just taken us something like 4 hours to ride the first 25 miles. Not an omen of ultimate success.

But while we’re sometimes slow on the uptake, by God we’re stubborn. So the next week – 2 weeks before the race – we went back and tried to make that 4 hour mark. It was very close. We went back the next week – 1 week before the race – and we tried again. And made it. Yee Ha!

August 14 dawned clear and cold. We lined up at the start. Boom! And we were off. Phil made it to Twin Lakes in 3:42; I made it to Twin Lakes in 3:44. Mission accomplished. Or not.

Here’s the rub. We had trained to make the first time cut-off. Not really considering what that meant.
What it meant was that we were allowed to continue.
Which wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
We rode up to the 50 mile turn around point at Columbine Mine, which is at about 12, 600 feet elevation. I made it there at 6:25 elapsed time; Phil made it at 6:29.
The excitement, the exertion and the stupidity caught up with me then. I had a massive migraine, and I knew I couldn’t finish under the 12 hour cut-off. I waited for Phil at the top of Columbine and told him I was going to abandon when I got back to Twin Lakes (the 60 mile mark). Riding down from Columbine that year was sheer misery. My vision was blurry, every rut and bump made my head pound and it was all I could do to keep from vomiting. When I got to the check point (7:31 elapsed – 30 minutes under the time cut-off for that station) I told the race officials I was quitting. They tried to talk me out of it. Ken Chlouber himself was there, and he tried to talk me out of it. But I really couldn’t continue.
Phil rode on to the next check point at the Pipeline (about 75 miles). He made it at 9:05. But he had taken a fall earlier and his back was starting to cramp. Also, I think it was just mentally hard to continue when he knew I was done & drinking a cold diet Pepsi (to wash down the Excedrin and Imitrex for my headache). He also abandoned.

In one of the next posts, I’ll tell you about our great support crew in 2004, Jean Carpenter, who was a big part of the reason we made it as far as we did in that first attempt.

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