Leadville 100 mile mtn bike race report by o2fitness long-time athlete, Andy Buckley…
Tahoe July 19– to be totally honest the Tahoe Trail 100k was my mental moment of truth. That is, it was to be a measure of my preparedness. With my South African race in April, 2000 miles of dirt training and 180 hours on the bike since April I felt I had paid my dues. Things don’t always work out though. I finished TT100 in 5h42m with a 15 minute stop at an accident, but still that was only 0.2mph faster than last time-not enough change!
Preamble – Motivation comes and goes, but commitment is forever-Ken Chlouber . The truth is my motivation took a big hit and I was still going to Leadville, after all I had committed. I didn’t think it was likely that I would meet my target (or even close), but I settled into commitment. I said I was going, so I would. And my perspective would be the joy of the Race Across the Sky and that big high country.
Race day start– I arrived with five minutes to spare. My tactic of sleeping low in Aspen meant I had a super early morning drive with my friend Zander. A timing miscalculation (I always use my best past time as the marker) and some tummy issues put us right down to the wire with Zander helping me strap my number to my bike a few blocks from the start line and a fast pedal to a jump over the fence in to the coral. In a way it was a blessing, not too much time to stew. I always love the national anthem (this year sung by Dave Wiens’ son), I stripped off my vest and with the blast of the shotgun we were off. The pace from the silver coral was strong, I was geared out downhill toward St. Kevans, the dirt was fast and so was the climb. Unusually, the field felt so open, no one falling off in this group as we moved over the hill on the way to Turquoise Lake. I was pushing but still inside myself, not particularly paying attention to racing, just going.
The low spot-is the turn on the pavement at the tail end of Turquoise Lake, ironically it was also the early point where I questioned what I was doing. “why am I doing this again”? “what am I proving”? I could just get to Pipeline aid and quit. Well I could couldn’t I?….Sometimes just having the option in one’s mind is enough to get through this block, the danger though is that you slow down.
Going fast-is relative to space, memory and of course others. Heading up Sugarloaf seemed faster than before, I was passed by a couple of trains on the low gradient dirt, but once we hit the rocky road, I started passing occasionally. The crest came quickly and soon I was threading my way down Powerline, a human slalom thru the nervous hart tail skidders. It felt smooth, fast and I am sure I passed forty people, one two, sometimes three at a time. I wondered if I looked reckless to my peers?
Realization of potential– is for me a direct correlation to confidence, but being overly confident is something I have always down played. Under promise and deliver a surprise has been my way, then only I am disappointed. Riding a nine day stage race in April changed my perspective on “hard”, in terms of what hard was anyway. Tahoe Trail and Leadville didn’t seem as “big”- I didn’t feel the same need to over plan my food, drink, split times et al. Heading down Powerline I allowed a thought, I am actually good at this, in this pace group I belong. Jumping on wheels once we hit pavement only doing one turn at the front didn’t feel like cheating, it felt like tactics. I passed Pipeline just after 8am and all of a sudden I realized that today I was faster, way faster than before.
Friends at Twin Lakes-made all the difference. “Dude you’re flying” affirmed Andy Tuthill. A fast change of camelbacks to my light Rogue, told Andy I didn’t need my jacket and asked for help ripping off knee warmers in the now bright morning sun. It is hard to explain what it feels like to have your friends support you for these brief minutes, I just know it lifts me up and makes my legs spin a little faster. As you ride through the throngs of people at Twin Lakes, complete strangers cheer, whoop, ring cowbells and offer an experience for an amateur like Alp D’Huez on the Tour.
Columbine– comes quickly from Twin Lakes; I made the bend to the start of the road climb and was greeted with a yell of my name, “Andy”, from Mr. Dave Wiens. He sounded surprised that I was there at 9:20, but it made me pedal faster for one hundred yards. The Columbine climb is hard. The six mile road grade is shallow, but between 10,000 and 11,500ft pushing the pedals feels like a fight. It is all I have to push up at 5.5mph (Todd Wells @ 9.2mph). John McCulloch and I take turns leading and we arrive at the hard part of the climb together. Here I dismount and push for a while on the first steep rocky section above tree-line on the edge of cramps for the first time. Ken is parked in his usual spot on a quad and I yell “hi Ken”, he reminds me that “you bought that thing to ride didn’t you”, as I pushed up the hill. So I got a little further up and got on the bike and rode. I have never had the opportunity to ride so much of this climb before, always too many people walking. In this group there are good gaps and I actually rode about sixty percent, with occasional hiking on the steep stuff. Maybe it was the cold up here, or riding in oxygen debt, but my arms started to go numb, as if my forearms didn’t have blood and then my vision got a little funny too. This felt close to the edge-of something, something that I didn’t want to get too close to? The top always comes, a splash of coke and a chunk on banana and I was heading down (an hour later it would be snowing up here). On the way down you see your friends still heading to the top-Jeff, Sian, Paul and Andy all said hi and a few others that I didn’t recognize as I focused on the descent. Running in to your ascending peers would not be acceptable. The warmth as I reached the valley floor felt great- I was a cold skinny (no jacket).
Friends again– were waiting to greet me at Twin Lakes. New pack, bottles, potatoes, egg, yogurt, peach, chain lube with a pro team of Andy, Jenny, Zander, Josh & Christine. In this moment time seemed to slow and I was so struck by how each person’s eyes told me they were invested in my success. I am lucky to have such good friends in this life. In past years I have taken my support from Scott for granted, my focus was me, today I had a new perspective.
Wind– is hard for me on the flats. The last thing that Andy reminded me was “get in a group”, the same advice I gave him the year before. As I ascended to the dirt roads to cross back over toward town- was there a group in site? Well yes there was, but about one hundred yards ahead and just out of reach for my legs. I looked around for others to make a new group and there was no one to be seen. I settled in and pushed the wind myself and ate the last of my egg. This roll back to Pipeline is deceptive; there are some short kicker climbs that seem to tap everything your legs have left. I did hook into a couple of guys here and there to share work, but mostly just waited for the aid station where I asked Zander to meet me with chamois cream.
Bad ass– has been a problem this year. That is my left sit bone has been trouble with saddle sores due to it protruding lower than my right and rubbing the saddle. I also have a pain starting in my right knee, but this sit bone is as sore as ever, getting old is tough. Chamois cream seems to help. A splash of coke and I was off to form a good group to push against the wind to the bottom of Powerline. Six guys can make good time even if they don’t work very well together.
Powerline– is the last brutal assault on your will to succeed. Fifteen hundred feet of vertical with twist turns, false flats and loose rocky challenge. I rode almost the entire climb with occasional push to avoid cramps. The top actually came remarkably quickly (thanks to the guy with the cold water and coke). Every bystander on this climb is in your camp. Food, cheer, maybe a little push, these folks that don’t know me make a lot of difference. It amazes me how my legs that felt so cooked on the flats can come back to life on this climb, after the first wash of lactic acid moves with the blood, the pain goes away and it’s just riding.
Sugarloaf– mountain crested the bike starts to roll and I flick my shock to float. I need to get home to Leadville and there are few people spread in front of me. As the bike comes up to speed I pick off one, two, three and maybe eventually ten people who are riding with care over the rocky descent from Sugarloaf. Strava tells great tales, I was only a couple of miles an hour slower than Todd Wells, 36th of 1600. Fast did seem easy here. Two thirds of the way down I saw my friend Garry (2012 finsiher at 9:30), he had come to meet me to offer encouragement and pace me up the hill to St. Kevans. Good to see a friendly face.
NZ kicks my butt– was not what I was expecting. Garry, a soft spoken Kiwi was ready to push me. He told me that I could catch that next guy, that I looked strong, that I could ride when others were walking, and performed as a perfect coach to take me into the pain cave. The last pavement ascent has been so tough in the past and his encouragement and company made that climb to St. Kevans very different. As we crested, he said “now you can rest-you’re good on the downhill”. We both flew down the other side and I got a little close to the edge on one water bar. I had visions of Garry explaining to Scott how he was with me when I went off trail at thirty mph, but it didn’t happen. With storms in the air a tricky downdraft had now created a headwind where there should be tailwind, so the last push to town seemed harder than it should, but soon I was on that last dirt road with the super low grade climb to town. I had just missed nine hours, but still on track for nine and a quarter. On this last climb, I passed a couple, got passed by a couple knowing that pavement meant I was within one mile.
Red carpet– can be seen way in the distance as you crest 6th street in Leadville. That last half mile is so easy as you spin toward the warmth of the crowd greeting and into the arms of your friends. Letting go as the finish line is crossed is relief that is hard to describe. But coupled with hugs, medals and smiling friends it can be overwhelming. This day for me is joy! Real joy, for a good day on the bike, supported by my friends, and coincidentally producing my best result so far. 9h 17m, 340th overall and 40th in my age group is a result I am proud of, 49 minutes faster than 2012. The lesson being that perseverance and patience will always produce a better result.
Thanks– go to so many. Julie Young and O2 fitness for my training program and general life coaching, Andy, Jenny, Zander, Josh, Christine and Garry for crewing my journey this day and Scott for tolerating my training regime (I wish you could have been there). I am so honored and lucky to have such great friends in my life.