2017 Leadville 100 MTB

Not enough miles.  Not enough miles.  Not enough miles.  That was the thought that kept going through my head as I fell further and further behind my goal pace.  After a couple weeks of reflection and learning, it’s clear to me that that was a significant contributing factor to the missed goal, but there were many other reasons that brought me to the finish line over an hour after my goal.

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Race week approached like the previous two L100 race weeks.  I felt prepared.  I packed throughout the week and ensured that I had everything I could possibly need to finish the race.  Thursday brought the arrival of my parents and Uncle Tim who would be in Leadville for their second and first times respectively.  Friday morning, we headed up to Leadville for athlete check-in and the mandatory athlete meeting.  It lacked the energy of year’s past, but still started to put me in the right mindset

From there, we headed out to Twin Lakes to set up our tent for the next day and get the lay of the land.  Big thanks to Mom for being the team photographer!

We headed back to Breckenridge for the night, grabbed a quick dinner and headed to bed.  4 am is early, no matter when you go to bed.

Having not completed a qualifier this year, I was delegated to the white corral, which is the last corral.  I was pretty concerned about the inevitable traffic jam that would come on St. Kevins, so I headed to the corral fairly early to try and get a spot towards the front of the section.  Thankfully, I was able to hop in towards the front, but looking down towards the start line, I could see that I was going to have to deal with more people than I was used to.

 

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40 degree start at 6:30 am

At 6:30 sharp, the shotgun went off but it wasn’t for another couple minutes that I crossed the start line and the clock started ticking.  The first 3.5 miles of the race fly by on the clock but are filled with nerves and attempts to keep hands from freezing.  After 9 minutes, we were on dirt and headed towards St. Kevins.  Almost instantly the slow and go riding started.  Initially, I rolled with it and figured it would sort itself out, but unfortunately it became the norm.  Mistake #1: I should have been more aggressive at the bottom of St. Kevins working to establish my position.  By the time I did, it was too late on the climb and movement was minimal without being a jerk.  I slogged through St. Kevins, keeping myself calm by reminding myself to trust my fitness and that there was plenty of miles left to work back time on the clock.

St. Kevin’s Summit (10.6 miles) – 1:04

After a quick roll through of St. Kevin’s to grab a banana, I hit the 3 mile road descent, working my way up to 40 mph and trying to grab back some of the time I’d lost.  Historically, I’ve enjoyed the climb up Sugarloaf, so I was looking forward to getting after it.

15 minutes after St. Kevins, I turned onto the dirt road section and worked my way up towards 11,000 feet on the second climb of the day.  I was working my way up and passing riders which boosted my confidence.  I was feeling good and warming up nicely.  My Trek Procaliber 9.6 was climbing well and I was enjoying the speed of the hard tail.

I topped out a little under 2 hours on top of Sugarloaf and went to work on the sketchy Powerline descent as the leader of my group.  We reached the bottom with only one spot where I felt like I might go down.  I’ll take that on Powerline.

I was working hard to get myself back on pace and ensuring that I didn’t let time slip away on the flats to Pipeline like I had in the past.  I was able to get into a good group of 10 riders and we worked well together on the road.  Unfortunately, the clock kept ticking and I realized that I wasn’t pulling back much time at all from my initial St. Kevins split.

Pipeline Aid Station (28.5 miles) – 2:30

After a quick water refill, I was back in the saddle.  Being honest with myself, I was frustrated that I hadn’t pulled back any time yet, but there was still 75 miles left to work with.  I had time.

The course between Pipeline and Twin Lakes is a rolling mix of dirt fire roads, singletrack, and pavement.  It’s a lot of fun to ride and one of my favorite sections of the course.  I was still feeling strong and was getting excited to see my crew at Twin Lakes for a good pick-me-up.

 

 

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Descending the singletrack just outside of Twin Lakes.

A few miles outside of Twin Lakes, my goal arrival time of 3 hours ticked by.  Frustrated, but optimistic I was making up some time, I pushed onward to Twin Lakes.  I still felt good physically, but I needed a mental check-up to get me ready for the trip up to 12,000 feet at the Columbine Mine.

I came into Twin Lakes, continuing to be 20 minutes behind schedule at 3:20.  My crew was supportive and took care of my nutritional needs and gave me the much needed mental boost for the next 3 hours.  In my mind, I felt like I was taking care of what I could control and that the 20 minutes I’d lost were sitting on St. Kevins.  I was OK with that and was looking forward to getting 5-10 minutes back on Columbine.  Mistake #2: I was about to go too big at the base of Columbine in an effort to accomplish this.

Twin Lakes (41 miles) – 3:20

I rolled out of Twin Lakes optimistic and ready for the next 10 miles.  My plan was in play and I was controlling what I could control.  As we approached the bottom of the climb and started to reach the end of the tents, the rider next to me asked if we were in Twin Lakes.  It was tough to tell him that Twin Lakes was several miles ago.  Thankfully, I think he was able to get some neutral aid before the climb.  I can’t emphasize enough the value in planning and knowing where your team tent is prior to race day.  Twin Lakes is busy and there is a tremendous amount of activity.  Plan ahead!

As I worked through the beautiful columbine trees at the base of the climb, I started to notice some GI discomfort, which is not normal for me.  I’d eaten everything according to plan so far and hadn’t changed anything up so it took a few minutes to self-diagnose myself as having eaten too fast.  This was my wake-up call to scale back a bit…but it was too late.  Not long after the GI issues I was hit with cramps in my left knee.

Hoping it would pass, dropped down to my granny gear and tried to spin it out while still moving, but that didn’t help.  I started getting fluids in me as quick as possible, but that aggravated the GI discomfort again so I back off that.  I needed a plan to calm me down because I was a long way from home and shit was hitting the fan in my head.  2 hours of climbing with cramps plus whatever time I had left to get back to Leadville was mentally overwhelming me.

I settled into the plan of ride 5 minutes, walk 2 minutes until things loosened up.  The walking helped relax my knee and held me accountable to my RFM policy of Relentless Forward Motion.  I knew if I stopped, I was going to enter a whole other world of issues.

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Heading up Columbine (I think?)

My alternating plan worked well enough to get me to the point where everyone was hiking their bike just below the singletrack.  As I continued to hike, I tried to take steps to stretch out my knee and get things to relax.  While it didn’t eliminate the cramps, it at least relegated it to “something else that hurt” at the time.  I reached the summit of Columbine just under 6 hours.  I had budgeted 2:05 for the climb from Twin Lakes, it had taken me 2:30, my slowest Columbine climb of my three L100 efforts.  I looked at the clock, assessed how I felt, and made the decision that it was time to switch my goal to sub-12 hours and getting back to Leadville for a buckle.

Columbine Mine (51 miles) – 5:48

The descent down Columbine was quick, but I was struggling to fully accept the loss of my initial goal of breaking 10 hours.  My focus wasn’t as sharp as it needed to be and I left some time on the table here.  Knowing where I was at in the race, I was shocked by the amount of people still climbing Columbine.  The thought crept into my mind that maybe the course was just riding slow today…there was a lot of water on the course early on…maybe it’s not just me!  Turns out it was riding slow (the leader’s times were 20 minutes slower than most years past), but I also found out that they left the Twin Lakes aid station open until about 20 minutes past 4 hours.  There were a lot of people suffering who had very little hope of finishing under 12 hours.  Not to mention the building storms.

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Coming back into Twin Lakes after Columbine.  As Uncle Tim said…you can just tell that something happens to people up there.

I came back into Twin Lakes knowing I was way off now.  I struggled to eat.  Christine tried to force food on me.  I should have taken it, but for some reason, I couldn’t do it.  Mistake #3: Eat when your crew tells you to eat…even if you don’t want to.  It was time to head back to Leadville, but I needed to sit first.  I rolled out with the marshmallow stick and got as much fluid in me as I could.  My cramps were now of the come and go variety. That I could manage.

Twin Lakes (61.1 miles) – 6:30

I kept my focus on hydrating as much as I could before Pipeline at 73 miles.  My hope was that I could refill there, get two more bottles of fluid in me before the base of Powerline and then get home.  I wanted the cramps gone as much as possible prior to the last two major climbs.

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Coming back up the singletrack

The pipeline section went smoothly and I was right on my goal split time from my original plan, which was a nice confidence boost heading into the final climbs of the day.  I grabbed water and some food (don’t know why I was hungry…shoulda listened to Christine) and got on the road to Powerline.  On the pavement, I worked in a large line for as long as I could, but they eventually spit me out not far from the Fish Hatchery.  I was good with the effort and it probably saved me a few minutes and a lot of effort in the long run.

I took a quick pit stop right before the left turn onto Powerline to get food and liquids from my crew.  Knowing I was later in the day and with the sky filling with clouds, I also grabbed my rain jacket.  That would turn it to be the first correct decision I made all day.

I was relishing the opportunity to climb Powerline…but I’m not sure why.  Uncle Tim was waiting somewhere up there too!  I hit the steep section and didn’t even attempt to ride it.  I was on guard against explosive efforts that could risk the cramps returning.  I got in line and worked my way up by foot.

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Tim walked with me for a couple minutes which was a great change of pace and took my mind off a little bit of the suffering.  I was good with walking and the angle of the climb was actually doing a great job stretching my knee out.  From the steep section, it’s a rolling climb that is somewhat cyclo-cross in nature of how many times you are off an on the bike.  I embraced each walk to stretch out a bit more and hopefully attack the last 15 miles.

Powerline Summit (83 miles) – 9:28

I summited Powerline and was promptly punched in the mouth by a descent.  That took me off guard.

The descent down Sugarloaf is rocky in the worst kind of way and I just couldn’t find a line that I wanted.  I was tired, crampy, and it was starting to rain.  I literally cried while biking…that’s a first.  Mistake #4: Not enough mountain biking…too much Zwift.  I didn’t have the muscular endurance to support technical mountain biking.

I got through it and got myself back on pavement where I could relax a bit and recover.  I wanted to push this last 3 mile climb on pavement to get some time back.  Powerline had loosened my cramps considerably and I was able to find a great cadence that pulled me up the final 3.3 miles up the back side of St. Kevins.  I grabbed a few places on the way and topped out with 12 miles to go at 10:25.

St. Kevins (92 miles) – 10:25

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Killing some time at the local brewery waiting for me to bring my slow self home.

With 1.5 hours left on the clock, I was confident in breaking 12 hours, but I really wanted to at least beat my first time of 11:26.  There are a couple quick ups after the aid station, but by and large it is downhill until the Boulevard.  I took off descending, more cautious than years past due to my fatigue and the wetness of the course from the recent rains.

Mediocre descending brought me to the bottom of the Boulevard (and the actual 100 mile mark) at 11 hours.  I had 25 minutes to cover the final 3 miles and 500 feet of climbing.  It was going to be close!

Somewhere I picked up some energy and dug deep up the Boulevard.  I picked up rider after rider and found myself looking at the finish line with 10 minutes to spare.  I wasn’t moving quick for that last little uphill into town.  It’s a half mile or so from when you see the finish line, but it took me 3 minutes to cover.

It’s great to finish in Leadville.  The crowd was rowdy, my crew was cheering me on, and the finish was in sight.  I hit the red carpet.  Crossed the finish line.  Satisfaction.

This was the hardest of my three Leadville 100s to date.  Reflection upon the effort, I’ve realized the mistakes I made on race day as well as the mistakes leading up to it.  Some of it was out of my control due to my new role as a dad.  I just didn’t have time to ride enough miles.  I was 1,000 miles shorter in training than my previous Leadville effort.  I’d hope quality and more focused training would make up for it and to a certain extent it did, but it wasn’t enough for the aggressive goal of breaking 10 hours.

A huge thank you to Christine, Avery, Mom, Dad, and Uncle Tim who supported me leading up to the race and on race day.  Sorry to have kept you out longer than planned!  It’s time for a few year break from Leadville to focus on my racing skills in shorter races.  Hopefully be back in a few years to break 10 hours and eventually 9 hours!

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1 Week Til Leadville

bazu-6785454.jpgThe “hay is in the barn” as Coach Tucker used to say, at least as far as my fitness goes. It’s been difficult to manage being a dad and still hitting my training plan, especially in terms of total hours needed. Blueprint for Athletes and Zwift have been key in getting quality training done.

I’ve taken a plan from Peter Glassford through TrainingPeaks and had to modify some of the distances/times but have done my best to hold true to the interval training and general structure of the plan. By and large, this has gone well, but it took me a few weeks to be OK with the occasional larger rest period or missed interval due to an upset baby or the like. I also supplement as much strength training as I could to help make up for the loss of time on the mountain bike where I would normally be working on technical skills an building strength that way. Zwift has been key to providing structure and to providing a place to ride that is always ready to go and somewhat represents true riding outside.

Blueprint for Athletes has also supported my training by allowing me to examine what my body needed through blood work. Through BFA, I was able to identify weaknesses in my hydration, my diet/supplements (low Vitamin-D), and sleep/training habits (lowered immune system). With these results, I was able to make real-time decisions to adjust my training and back off a bit and shifting up my eating and drinking habits to support my goals. If you’re looking for ways to get better, I can’t recommend them enough. They’ve got “stacks” that can cater to what you need. If you do decide to check them out, enter the following code for 25% off you stack and/or coaching plan (DSGNVC136)
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With these elements in mind, I’ve entered Leadville with a goal of breaking 10 hours.  My previous two efforts have been 11:26 and 10:43 in 2014 and 2015 respectively.  With a couple more years of fitness on me and the added benefits of designed, Leadville specific training, I’m confident I can break the 10-hour mark.

One of the difficulties I will face is starting in the white (last) corral.  This is going to require that I work on my positioning in the early part of the race to ensure that I’m not caught in too much of a log jam on St. Kevins.  The goal will be top out on that first climb at 50 minutes, but I will be flexible, knowing there is time to be made up on the flats of Pipeline for me.

With a goal of summiting Columbine (the halfway mark of the race at 5:05), I need to be in Twin Lakes outbound (40 mile mark) at 3 hours.  With Columbine behind me, I will be back down to Twin Lakes inbound (60 mile mark) at 5:45 and off towards the 73 mile mark of the Pipeline aid station by 6:50.

Where I’m most concerned is the flats leading into Powerline and the Powerline climb.  This has crushed me in the past few years, but I think I’ve let myself get mentally overwhelmed by initial stretch of steepness.  This is one spot where I’m excited to be riding a Trek Procaliber 9.6 hard-tail.  Ideally it will have helped me save energy to this point, but will also give me the needed stiffness to ride more of Powerline than my full-suspension bikes have in the past.

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Steep and rutted out, climbing Powerline faster than years past will be key to breaking 10 hours

Topping out at 11,015 feet on Powerline by 8:10 will give me a great chance to break 10 hours.  From there it is a loose descent to a 3 mile paved climb back up to St. Kevins where I’ll be by 9 hours.  The finally 14 mile run in to town from the top of St. Kevins is mostly downhill with a short flat section leading to the Broadway climb back into the town of Leadville.

If all goes according to plan, I’ll roll down the red carpet at 9:55.

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Leadville Heavy Half Marathon (June 17, 2017)

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Sometimes it takes friends to float an idea that will challenge you and take you well outside of your comfort zone.  In this case, that was Alex Artel.  He asked if I was running the Heavy Half in early April and at the time I wasn’t.  However, I was about to have my first son and I was worried about losing motivation in my training for the Leadville 100MTB in August.  So I said yes.

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Start line with Alex before some appropriate suffering

I knew my body wouldn’t be able to handle heavy running mileage so most of my endurance base came from cycling, but I focused on running 2-3 times per week.  I kept my running mileage between 10-12 miles per week and added in 4+ hours per week on the bike.  My time on the bike increased towards 6-10 hours a week as we got further away from Avery’s birthday in early April and I was able to get back in my routine (and sleep!).

Race day came and I was fighting off a cold that had followed me all week, but I was looking forward to running up Mosquito Pass and putting that out of my mind for a bit.  I got to Leadville with plenty of time to check in and walk around town.  The running scene is a different vibe from the bike scene.  For one, there is quite a bit more space to maneuver around.  I was feeling at home though and thinking back to my experiences racing in high school and college.

My goal time was 4 hours.  I wanted to be conservative on the first climb and on the top half of Mosquito Pass because I wasn’t sure how my body would respond to its first effort of the year at elevation.

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Kicking off the suffering with the national anthem.

The race starts out on an incline out of town (because Leadville).  It’s paved for a short while and then turns to dirt road.  Alex and I ran the first couple miles together and focused on keeping our heart rates down but continuing to move at all times.  We were passing quite a few people which gave me pause that we were going out too hard, but I trusted my training and my fitness.  Somewhere towards the top half of the first climb, I lost Alex.  2.9 miles in, I crested the climb well ahead of pace with a time of 36:57.  2.9 miles and the first 1,000 feet of climbing down.

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Cruising down (up) a dirt road

From there its a brief, 1.5 mile descent to the base of Mosquito Pass which I knocked out in 17:29 with my first aid station stop as well.

Mosquito Pass started out gently in terms of grade but the terrain switch from relatively stable to loose rock and a small creek of snowmelt running down the trail added some new challenges!  I knew running would red-line me pretty quick, so I backed off to a brisk hike that kept my heart rate in the 140-150 bpm range.  However, I noticed that it spent most of the time in the 120 bpm range while I hiked and I was unable to push it much higher without running.  This bodes well for the 100!

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Climbing Mosquito Pass with Mt. Massive in the background

The views were incredible as I climbed and I wanted to stop and look around…but I reminded myself I was racing and to enjoy the view from that perspective.

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Looking over towards the Silver Rush 50 course just north.

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Before the climb gets too steep.

7.75 miles down, I peaked out on top of Mosquito Pass in 50 mph winds at a time of 1:56:10.  I was 35 minutes ahead of pace and feeling great.

51940806077__EEC453C5-B262-404E-947C-C01846E7A621The climb up Mosquito had gone smoothly, but I knew my work wasn’t done.  Descending can be tricky in the rocky terrain above treeline.  The next 3 miles were going to require sure footed placement and solid line choosing as traffic would be two way and the winds were strong enough to blow someone off path.

After a quick take of the scenery, I gave Ken Chlouber a five and a thank you and headed down the pass.  A couple minutes off the top, I saw Alex heading up and encouraged him to get to the top and get down!  As expected, the descent was technical at the top, made more difficult by the wind blowing endless snot out of my nose and blowing me around from time to time.  However, I was down into warmer temps and calmer winds in 37:05, covering the 3.25 mile descent at a pace of 11:25/mile.

My legs (quads in particular) felt the proverbial burn from descending for so long.  So much so, that I welcomed the short climb back to aid station as a change of pace and used it to relax a bit.

I checked back in at the top of the first (now last) aid station at 2:54.  2.9 miles to go and I knew I was going to break my goal of 4 hours…the challenge now was breaking 3:30.  I knew I wasn’t going to be able to run these downhill miles as fast as I liked, but I should be able to maintain at least an 8-9 minute pace.

It was stop and go for the top mile or so as my legs adjusted.  I would run 400m, stop and stretch, run 400m, stop and stretch.  It was catching up to me and people were starting to pick me off one by one.  Thankfully, the legs loosened up for the bottom couple miles and I was able to close in 24:19 from the final aid station.

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I finished with a time of 3:18:51, 41 minutes and change faster than my goal.  I was exhausted but satisfied!  I finished right behind a fellow Blueprint for Athletes ambassador and congratulated her on a great catch (she had caught me right before we came back onto the pavement about a mile out).

bazu-12776242 (1)As always, Leadville puts on a first class race.  Great experience from top to bottom that was well supported and organized.

Thank you to Blueprint for Athletes for the opportunity to race.  They’ve given me great insight and helped me adjust my diet and hydration habits so that I can compete at a higher level.  Check out some of their packages if your looking to gain that edge and get faster.  Use the code DSGNVC136 for a discount at checkout.

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Le Cours de L’Amour 5K

Sticking with the short race them, Christine and I headed back to City Park for the 2nd part of the Resolution Series 5K.  Same course as last time…only on black top not snowpack.  I was hoping for a non-competitive PR (i.e. not high school or college).

The weather was beautiful, 46 degrees and perfect for racing.  Warm-up went smoothly and I was able to secure a decent starting position.  Shouldn’t have nearly as many people to dodge this time around.

The first 800 was aggressive, starting out below 6:00/mile, but eventually settling into 6:30 pace.  I was comfortably uncomfortably with the pace and felt like it was a good spot to be in terms of first mile pace and position.  We came through the 1st mile at 6:39, a bit faster than my 7:00 goal pace, but hey, I felt good!

2nd mile, everyone settled into their pace, I swapped places a couple times with another runner who passed me on the slight downhill after the mile mark.  I was able to pick him up for good on the hill approaching the 2 mile.  2nd mile down, 13:43 elapsed (7:03 2nd mile).

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I was starting to hurt and my heart rate of 180 bpm was showing it.  That 2-2.5 mile stage of the race is where PRs are made though.  Mentally I focused and took my mind off the watch for a few minutes and just kept my eyes up on the next runner.  As we turned right towards the finish line with a half mile to go, I wasn’t sure I had it in me to attack the long straight to the finish but I just slowly increased the tempo as best I could.

It got ugly, but I was able to steadily bring the pace back down, lingering around 7:15 for much of it and closing the last 200 meters in 6:45.

26450_119363_1690As I crossed the finish line, the watch stopped at 21:39…a 2 second post-collegiate PR!

Christine would end up having much more fun than me but working just as hard!  She would bring home a pregnancy PR at 7 months pregnant!

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https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1568557642

 

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First Races of 2017

Feat on the Street Resolve 5K

My wife and I are incredibly fortunate to have our first baby coming our way around April 7th.  With that in mind, we know fitness and consistency is going to be a challenge.  We hoped that signing up for the Feat on the Street City Park Race Series would be a good motivator as it has monthly races in January, February, and March.

It’s been a while since I’ve raced a 5K so I was intrigued by the potential.  I’d run one for fun back in September at the Cherry Creek Fitness Festival and came in at 25:19.  I’d only started pushing myself a mile into that race and felt like I left a lot on the table.  However, with snow packed streets and a temperature of 14 degrees at the start, I was going to be happy if I broke 25 today.

At the start, I got out well and found myself towards the top 15 of the race.  I was nervous about how my body would respond to the speed of a 5K, but once I pushed through the initial burn in my legs, I was able to settle into a pace.  And settle in I did.  I tell my athletes to never expect to run even splits in a race due to the pressures of racing.  Often times, you are forced out to a fast first mile and then settle in for slower 2nd and 3rd miles.  I went almost perfectly even across the board with splits of 7:27, 7:29, 7:27.  I suppose thats the price you pay when you train for longer distances all the time.  Could probably keep running that pace for a while…

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I finished with a time of 23:17, good enough for 12th overall.  I’m pleased with the effort, but will look to improve on the first mile so that I can put myself in better position to be in the low 20s.  I’d also like to spend more time on my warmup as I was pretty lazy and discouraged by the low temperature to fully complete a proper warmup.

On my cooldown, I got to double back and support my wife, who is doing all the work in the family these days with baby Avery!  She broke 45 with a brisk walk/run combo.  Pretty strong for someone who is 7 months pregnant!

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Happiest racer of all time?!

Breckenridge Ullr Fest Fat Bike Race

Last time I rode a true fat bike was in the middle of a buddy’s bachelor party.  Lets just say it was painful and I’m not 20 years old anymore…  I was excited to get a 2nd shot at it…but that excitement faded pretty early on in the race.

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Team Bicycle Village

The race consists of 3 laps at the Gold Run Nordic Center.  The trails were pretty similar to last time, but they added a section of singletrack in this year.  That would prove to be my undoing.  Much of the snow in the race was soft and unconsolidated due to the recent heavy snows and cold temperatures.  This was especially true in the singletrack sections and I ended up running/postholing with my bike for a good chunk of the race.  I definitely wasn’t alone…but it was discouraging.

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Early packline on the first “climb”

I quickly fell behind pace and let myself use the excuse of racing earlier in the morning.  Once I did this, my race was all but over as I just let things go and didn’t fight for much.

All over the course, riders were falling into the soft powder on the edges of the trail and disappearing.  It was funny initially, even when it happened to me.  But it quickly grew old and shook what little confidence I had.

img_4403It was even more disheartening to feel the sun setting and being alone on the course (even though I wasn’t the lantern rouge!).  I considered hanging it up as I came through to finish the 2nd lap, but told myself I’d never DNF’ed a race and today wasn’t going to be the first.

On the last lap, they cut out the singletrack section which simplified things a bit, but I was still mentally cooked.  I finished well beyond my goal time and defeated to the point of never wanting to race a fat bike again.  Not sure if I will, but I certainly haven’t enjoyed the first two experiences.

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2015 Leadville 100

As I submit my entry for the 2016 Leadville 100, I realize that it’s time for me to finally finish up my recap from the 2015 edition.

Leading up to the race, I rode my bike more than I ever had before, but at the same time was dealing with health challenges that I never had before. Through the end of 2014 and early 2015, I had a strange chest pain that was unable to be diagnosed.  I went through a whole gamut of tests that all returned nothing.  With that in mind, I had ridden a lot, but my training lacked a lot of structure and I had been somewhat hesitant for much of the season to push myself to the max.

In the week leading up to race day, I developed regular headaches as well, so of course that was something else to be stressed about.  As the Friday check in approached, I regularly checked my emotions in an effort to prepare myself for the race.  I may have been dealing with these challenges, but I wasn’t going to let them derail my goals.

I was fortunate enough to have my parents fly in from Tennessee this year as well.  They have seen me race in cross country and track too many times to count, but this would be their first mountain bike race.  I was excited to have them out and excited for them to experience Leadville.

Friday morning started out early as we got on the road to head to Leadville.  Check-in wraps up early, so we were on the road by 7:30 so that we had plenty of time.

The highlight of Friday is the athlete meeting at Lake County High School. If you’ve never listened Ken Chlouber (the founder of the Leadville Race Series) speak, search his name on Youtube immediately. Here is a good place to start: Ken Chlouber

RACE DAY

The day started at 4 AM with Casey, our brown lab refusing to come down the spiral staircase in our house.  It’s the first time food hasn’t successfully lured him into something.  After about 20 minutes of coaxing, he finally made a run for it.  That was the last of that staircase for the weekend.

We were on the road at 4:45 and headed north towards Leadville.  I’ve always enjoyed the stretch of highway between Salida and Leadville.  It’s awe-inspiring to think about the connections of the Sawatch Range.  Nolan’s 14 always enters my mind as well.  Talk about a crazy task to take on.  100ish miles, 14 14ers, 44,000ish feet of elevation and less than 60 hours to do it.  Dig Deep.

The only error of the morning was a forgotten latte in the fridge in Salida.  Thankfully, Christine worked her way through the craziness of City on a Hill Coffee to procure my caffeine fix in plenty of time to head to my corral.

The corral was overflowing by the time I got there, but we were able to line up alongside the barrier and the race crew did a great job making sure we got in before the next corral came forward.  I was a significantly better corral (Probably in front of 200+ people compared to last year), but the traditional shotgun blast resulted in the same dead standstill.

The attitude around me was lighthearted and excited until that blast.  Then it changed to nerves as our minds honed in on the task in front of us.    We had 12 hours to cover 104 miles (they’re sneaky like that) and climb 11,000 feet.  My optimistic goal, if everything went right was under 10 hours.  However, I simply wanted to break 11.  I had snuck in at 11:26 last year.  I felt that a 30 minute improvement would be appropriate based on my training.

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Rolling through the start.  Thinking I’m badass…not realizing the guy next to me only has 1 arm.  He wins.

The start is supposed to be neutral, but it has a lot of positioning in the first couple miles.  It’s tough to find the balance between the aggressive start you need for position on St. Kevins and measuring your effort for the rest of the day.  I was passed by more people than I passed, but I my position was strong heading into the bottom of the climb.

It didn’t matter as we began the climb after 6 miles of positioning.  The inevitable log jam happened.  In some ways, it’s nice to knock out 6 miles that quickly, but at the same time, I’m ready to get this first climb done.  The climb to the top of St. Kevins is not technical but it does require some bike handling skills to manage your position while being surrounded by riders on all siders.  Both years, I’ve chosen not to be aggressive on this climb.  I’ll continue to follow this practice as my time will never be made on the first climb of the day, but it can definitely be lost with a nasty fall.  To those who chose to try to pass people up the middle/bump bikes/show little regard for their fellow racers, I suggest you adopt the same approach.  We would all be a bit faster up St. Kevins if you did.

I reached the summit aid station at Carter in 55:36 (Goal-50:00).  I was OK with the split, considering who hectic the climb had been.  I was feeling great and had ample opportunity to recover the time on the descent and quick climb up Sugarloaf.

I didn’t stop at the aid station and soon found myself on the pavement descent around Turquoise Lake.  It’s a lot of fun to hit this part of the race and just open it up on a “closed” road.  It’s also an important time to eat.  The upcoming climb up Sugarloaf is not big (1,too ft.), but the terrain affords you little opportunity to eat.

Last year, I relished the opportunity to attack the Powerline descent.  But it’s funny what a little bit of experience does for you.  As a newbie, I just attacked the descent and didn’t worry about the different sections.  This year, I knew the full nastiness of the descent and approached it with significantly more hesitation.  I was still confident, but I was nervous about the other riders around me.  Add in the fact that they struggled with the upper sections, and I made damn sure to have my own space around me for the descent.  Falls are a lot easier to get up from if you don’t crash into anyone else.

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The Powerline descent.  Fun until you remember you have to climb it in a few hours.

I came into the Pipeline aid station (27 miles) at 2:17.  My goal was 2:15, so I had picked up a few minutes from the St. Kevins climb.  I was feeling good still and liked my position heading out to Twin Lakes.  I refilled my water and grabbed a banana to get some nutrition in.

Pipeline to Twin Lakes is an interesting mix of fire road and single track.  Positioning is important heading into the single track descent.  There are some pretty timid riders you can be stuck behind for the 2 mile section if you don’t position yourself appropriately.  Thankfully, we only got stuck for the last minute or two and I was able to get in a good group to pull across the rolling sections heading into Twin Lakes.

A quick note on that last bit.  The portion of the race between the bottom of Powerline and Twin Lakes is not to be forgotten.  While there is very little elevation gain/loss, getting in a group and sharing the workload is important to recovery and maintaining your pace.  Even more so on your way back to Leadville.

Twin Lakes came up quickly.  The “aid station” is huge.  Often stretching for over a mile.  My crew was just past the dam, but I fed of the support from all of the other crews on my way through.  The community of the Leadville 100 runs beyond the athletes who compete.  It wouldn’t be possible without those who support them.

My goal for Twin Lakes was 3:05-3:10 (I built in variance for the single track) and I came in back on pace at 3:08.  It’s an aggressive first 40 miles, but the next 10 miles was about to make the first 40 look like a warmup.

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Maggie’s front brake was being pesky today.  She had never had issues before, but something about Powerline angered her and she wouldn’t relax for the rest of the day despite my efforts.

After tending to a variety of nutrition and bike needs as well as a hefty dose of sunscreen I headed off to 12,000+ feet.  The weather looked good and I was early enough in the day so I chose to leave my raincoat with the crew.

Columbine hurts.  No way around it.  You go up.  Way up.  Way way up.  3,000 foot climbs are burly no matter what you approach it.  Add in the fact that you are going from 9,400 feet to 12,400 feet and it takes your breath away.

On the climb, I wanted to make sure that I got in with a good group, but at the same time measured my effort.  I knew that I was going to be hiking once I hit the single track around 11,800 feet and that my pace was pretty locked there.  I had to be diligent about my pace below treeline and make sure that I didn’t get too comfortable in a group.  It’s a constant battle to make sure you are on your marks.  This is the one spot on the course where I wish I had a computer/GPS.  Much of the climb looks the same, so its hard to keep an eye on your pace.  Going forward, I’ll definitely have someway to track my position here.

Once above treeline, Ken greets you and you join the conga line on the single track.  I tried to hike as fast as I could here, but its tough to make too many moves as traffic is two-way and you have to measure your movements against bikers coming at you at 20-30 mph.

In and out of the aid station.  I grabbed some Coke and pretzels to get some sugar and salt and headed out.  It was windy and chilly (to be expected at 12,400) and there was nothing positive about being up here.

I was a bit behind pace with a split time of 5:29.  At this point, I knew a sub 10 hour finish was probably out of the cards, so I shifted my focus to breaking 11.  I was a full 30 minutes ahead of my Columbine split from last year and had a great opportunity in front of me.

I raced down Columbine back to Twin Lakes.  Traffic was much heavier coming up this year than last.  I attributed some of that being 30 minutes faster, but at the same time, it seemed like a significant amount of people were not going to be making the cut-off time of 7:45 back at Twin Lakes.

It took me 48 minutes to get back to Twin Lakes.  Much slower than I wanted to.  I spent a lot of time maneuvering the single track and wasn’t able to get going until I was back on the road after the goat trail split.  My total time coming back into Twin Lakes was 6:18.  40 miles to go and a little over 5.5 hours to hit my goal.  Power line and the return to the top of St. Kevins stood in my way.  What I didn’t know about was the unforeseen weather that was about to pay a visit.

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The best crew in the game!  Can’t thank these guys enough.

I had some muscles that needed to be tended too so I hopped on the foam roller at Twin Lakes and got rolling while the crew replaced my water and food.  I was able to get down a little bit of a sandwich, but it wasn’t easy.  I’d been on the bike long enough that my body was more comfortable on the bike than off it.

 

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Christine telling me to get the hell out of Twin Lakes.

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Trying to be happy about it!  But excited to knock out the next segment to Pipeline.

It’s a short climb out of Twin Lakes, but I was high off the cheering crowds of the aid station.  I wasn’t able to get in a great group to get across the rollers, but I was able to float in and out of groups enough that the load was shared.

Knowing that I was going to be seeing my crew shortly after PipelAine, I rolled right through the aid station.  Things were chaotic at the station and I didn’t want to lose anymore time sorting through it to get water.  My segment splits for the single track and into Pipeline were on pace and I had only lost an additional minute or two off my 10-hour pace.  I felt confident that I had the gas tank to mount a strong attack on the final two climbs of the day.  Sub-10 still out of the question, but 10:30 maybe?

We had discussed meeting my crew about 2 miles before Powerline to re-load on water and fuel.  That time on the road is important to eat and prepare for the climb.  Your body needs the time to make it usable.  However, when I got to the agreed upon spot, they were no where to be found.  There was a police officer clearing crews out though.  I began to worry that they had been told to leave.

At the same time, I became aware that I was out of water.  And there were no set aid stations between me and Powerline.  Shit.  I struggled with this for a couple minutes until I was able to talk my self out it and work on finding water.  Maybe at the Fish Hatchery?  Last year, some guy was handing out Cokes in this part, maybe he will be back?  Maybe from some fans at the bottom of Powerline?

OK.  Plenty of opportunities to beg borrow and steal.  I cam in to the base of Powerline aggressively looking for water.  I was ready to start asking people when I saw my Dad in his Reds jacket frantically waving.  I yelled at him “WATER.”  Christine and Mom were just around the corner thankfully.  I pulled off to the side and did a quick re-load.

We talked about Powerline and what was left.  I was hurting, but hoped the water and food would bring me back.  They headed off to the finish and I set my sights on the biggest challenge remaining.

1400 feet in 3 miles.  5 false summits (I think..it’s a lot…but I can’t remember right now).  Either way, they all mess with your mind.  You ask yourself, is that a false summit?  Did that one count?  A downhill!  I can ride!  Back to hiking.  One foot in front of the other.

This is where the heat of the day took its toll.  There are reports that temperatures approached the 80s.  I was definitely suffering more than I had remembered.  I also had more traffic than last year, so I found myself hiking quite a bit more.  I tried to keep the pace up, but it was hard to hike faster than 2 miles an hour.

Once again, as I approached the summit, I found myself out of water.  At least I knew I was drinking.  With the 3 mile climb between me and the next aid station, I needed to find at least a little bit to get me to the top.  Thankfully after a quick descent of Sugarloaf, I was able to grab water from a group at the base of the St. Kevins road climb.  I was the 5th person to stop and ask they said.  Glad to know I’m not along in this challenge today.

With water in hand and knowing that I had 3 miles of road climbing between me and my final peak was uplifting.  It was time to put my head down and grind.  I dug back to my final Leadville prep ride up Golden Gate Canyon, a 7.3 mile, 2800 foot, HC climb that is just a straight struggle on a mountain bike .  I’d chosen it to prepare for this part of the course.  (Golden Gate Strava)

It paid dividends as I dug it out and was able to pass 5 riders on the climb.  At the aid station, I finally re-stocked with the bounty of goods they had.  Water, Coke, pretzels, cookies…it was a bonafide cornucopia based on how I’d felt since Powerline.  I remembered that there is a quick climb to the actual summit of St. Kevins.

I didn’t care.  I could taste a sub 11-hour finish.  If I was able to dig deep, 10:45 was in the cards!  The descent is attackable, but fatigued bodies make basic mistakes.  Last year, I came extremely close to going over the handlebars on a mundane roller. I wasn’t going to let that happen this year.  Eyes forward.  Arms loose.

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The finish line is a mob-scene.  Families and crews anxiously await their riders and cheer on everyone who passes by.  You can hear them as you come back into town.  You can taste that finish line as you climb up the boulevard.  A dirt road that is the final, brutal 400 feet of climbing back into Leadville.

I was pouring everything into it now.  A 45 minute improvement and finishing my second LT100 after the challenges of year was overwhelming.  Like 2014, I had to keep my emotions in check, but a sense of pride was rising in my gut and I couldn’t wait to see that red carpet.

I crested the hill, glanced at my watch and closed out the final half mile through the streets of Leadville.

The clock stopped at 10:43.35.  43 minutes faster than last year.

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It was amazing to have my parents join Christine and I in Leadville.  Thank you for all the hard work and support!

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San Juans: Redcloud and Sunshine (July 11, 2015)

Day 2 in the San Juans found us with a much simpler day: Redcloud and Sunshine.  Redcloud is a pretty straightforward walkup peak while Sunshine is a quick jaunt over and only at 14,001 feet!

The night before, Kris and I had set up camp at the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch Trailhead.  The road up to it is straightforward and in pretty good shape.  Narrow in some spots, but nothing most 2WDs with decent clearance can’t manage.  Arriving at the trailhead, we found that we would be anything but alone.  It was the pre-Handies aid station for the Hardrock 100.

36 mile mark of the Hardrock 100.

36 mile mark of the Hardrock 100.

We talked with the crew at the station and found that were towards the last third of athletes.  Hoping for a relatively quiet night, we settled in early, falling asleep before the sun even went down.  Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn had knocked us out cold.
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3 AM, the alarm goes off.  We take our time getting ready and are on the trail by 4:10.  Feeling better, but still fatigued from the previous day’s effort, we start slow.  The trail joined us in our slow start, taking 1.7 miles to climb the first 1,000 feet of the day.

The trail follows the creek to tree line and even a good ways past it.  In the blackness of early morning, the sound of rushing water dominates the senses and we experience very little beyond the water and what we can see from our headlamps.  Around 11,600 feet, we hit the remnants of a massive avalanche.  In the early morning light, we struggled to find  the best way out of it.  It wasn’t necessarily finding a safe route, we just wanted to find the trail as opposed to awkward rocks/scree.

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Coming back across the avalanche remains.

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Looking up at the path of the slide. Snapped trees were strewn across the snow.

We eventually picked up the trail right next to the creek and were back on our way.  Shortly after, we noticed clouds already building to the southwest over Handies.  This was more than a bit confusing/disconcerting considering the forecast called for a 0% chance of rain.  Knowing this, we continued climbing, but kept a watchful eye as we approach treeline on the clouds behind us.

Morning clouds build over Handies

Morning clouds build over Handies.

As we arrived in the basin, the clouds stayed to our southwest, so we continued up.  Eventually, some wispy clouds floated their way over, but nothing that was threatening.  The train through the basin meanders a bit, but is excellent trail that gradually climbs until  around 12,400 feet where it quickly jumps up to a ridge below the summit approach of Redcloud.  We made quick work of this section since the sun stayed pinned behind the surrounding mountains and kept us quite a bit colder than we had anticipated.

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We hit 13,000 feet about 2:15 into the hike (6:15 AM) and were greeted with our first views of the true summit of Redcloud.  We stopped to put layers on and watched an incredibly quick hiker make work of the summit approach to Redcloud and move his way over to Sunshine.  He had passed us somewhere in the 11,500 foot range and seemed to be continuing at his quick pace.

The view to the top here can be a bit demoralizing as you stare up at a bunch of rock and a trail that is full of sweeping switchbacks.  Thankfully, the trail is relatively stable and you just need to put your head down and one foot in front of the other to reach the false summit around 13,800.  From here, its quick jaunt to the base of the summit pitch and then a simple switchback hike to the summit.

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Looking over at yesterday’s accomplishments. Wetter horn on the left (the one with a slant on the right side) and Uncompahgre (the giant one on the right)

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Looking at our next objective: Sunshine. The clouds are starting to add in some variableness to our day.

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We were on the summit less than 3 hours into our hike and caught the final bit of a beautiful sunrise over the peaks to our east.  With the clouds moving in, we did not spend long on Redcloud.

The hike to Sunshine is straightforward.  Its relatively downward with an ascent at the end to reach the peak.  We completed the traverse in 42 minutes.  As nice as it was to have reached our second summit of the day…we still had to go back over Redcloud on our way down!

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Sunshine Summit. 14,001 feet. The lowest 14er in the US!

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Sunshine summit looking back at Redcloud.

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Once again, clouds were still building so we didn’t spend too long on the summit.  We were quickly off on our way back over to Redcloud.  Its around 1.5 miles between the summits and its definitely more up on the way back.  Nothing steep or technical, but enough to make you notice.  I struggled to keep pace with Kris, but we still found ourselves on the summit of Redcloud for a 2nd time 43 minutes after leaving the Sunshine summit.  It was all downhill from here!

On the descent, I began to feel a pain in my right heel.  Not one for bone injuries or pain like this, I was a bit nervous as to what it was.  Stress reaction? Stress fracture?  Hot spot in my boot?  Who knows.  With the Leadville 100 coming up, I was exceedingly cautious and protected it for much of the descent.

On our way up, we had caught a glimpse of huge Columbine fields in the early morning light.  With the peaks summited, I took a moment to grab a few shots on the way down.

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Kris and I decided that if someone put a gun to our head, we could hike Handies.  However, we wanted to enjoy the peak, and with that in mind we decided to save it for another day.  As we finished our hike, the skies opened up and drenched us with a chilly rain for the last 5 minutes of our hike.  As we broke down our tent, Handies was obscured by gray clouds, reaffirming our decision to leave it til another day.

After all, we’re not just in this 14er business for the peaks, but for the experience and views as well.

Redcloud/Sunshine Stats
Elevation Gain: 4,675 feet
Mileage: 11.9 Miles
Total Time: 6:19 (2:52 to Redcloud, 3:34 to Sunshine)
Average Speed: 1.9 mph

The GPX file for this trip is attached to the 14ers.com Trip Report:

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