Friday, August 20, 2010

Race Day - Part 2 - The Start

Race Day - Leadville 100 MTB - 2010 - The Start

As in years past, I was so wound up that I probably got less than an hour of sleep the night before the race. I absolutely hate that part. I guess my body and mind can sense what is coming up the next day and cannot relax. It would be soooo helpful if I could start the race with a great night of sleep the night before.

Unfortunately for Joanne, my tossing and turning messes her up as well.  Although Joanne was not too thrilled with it, she agreed to get up and get my bike to Leadville and in line at 4 am and stand in the cold 37 deg 10,000’ + air until I showed up.

It is hard to describe the chaos of 1,400 nervous mountain bikers cramming in for a mass start.

I quickly realized what a HUGE gift Joanne gave me by getting up early and standing in the cold.   She had my bike about 3/4 of a block from the start line.   There were about 500 racers ahead of me and a 1,000 more behind me.

Joanne hung around until about 10 minutes before the start, keeping me company which really helped keep the pre-race jitters down.   With 10 minutes to go racers were crammed in shoulder to shoulder, wheel to wheel.   It was incredibly difficult for Joanne to just get out of the mob.  To make it even more dificult for her, random cyclists started handing her warm up clothes to haul off.   She could hardly see over the huge bundle of clothes as she weaved her way to the edge of the road.

The Start
Over 1,400 nervous mountain bike racers packed wheel-to-wheel makes a very dangerous start.   Every year there are several pile ups within seconds of the start, and usually someone or several take a trip to the hospital.  After about 2 blocks it gets a little less dicey, but until then it takes every ounce of attention you can give it.   

After 5 blocks I quickly realized how this race has changed.   The race used to have a neutral start for about 4 miles on pavement.  This year everyone was jockeying for position for the next 4 miles to try to improve their position for the first climb and to not loose time getting jammed in a bottleneck.

Since I am slow and, I must admit - scrawny, it is a precarious decision on whether to push hard and red line my heart rate in the beginning, risking using too much energy.  Red lining my heart rate early could easily cause me not to finish in 12 hours.  The other side of the equation is going too slow and getting stuck in a bottleneck of riders on the first steep climb [called St. Kevin's], losing too much time, and also not finishing in 12 hours.

I was shocked at how hard the first 1/3 of racers in front of me were pushing to get a good placement for starting and climbing St. Kevin's.

I looked at my heart rate and I decided to back off. It was going to be a long day, and I was confident that Joanne's placement of my bike in the pack would keep me from losing a lot of time on St. Kevins.

A lot of people were passing me, but I knew some of them would pay a high price for their early exuberance.    While some of the people passing me were just stronger riders and were on their way to set sub 9, 10, and 11 hour race times.

The St. Kevin's steep climb was quickly aproaching and everyone was riding four abreast, wheel to wheel.   I was very calm at this point, the race jitters were long gone.  I was interested to see what was going to happen to the huge mass of riders going close to max heart rate on a flat road hit granny gear when they hit a long steep climb.    Oh, and that is at 10,000' elevation.   

Or as one rider told me latter, "I was half way up St. Kevins and I couldn't tell if it was the altitude or if I was having a heart attack, an asthma attack, a stroke or all three at once!"


  1. You are going to torture us, making us wait while you share the story little bit by little bit, aren't you? Sigh . . . jcm

  2. I had been thinking about all your physical and mental training, and sort of forgotten all about the complications that everyone else causes in a race with so many people. So that's the third prong of the experience. It's not enough to ride your own race the best you can, you have to be watching everyone else --as much as they can be obstacles instead of just competitors. Peg