Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Leadville 100 MTB Race Report: Part two

It’s been almost four weeks since the Leadville 100MTB race, which means I should really just skip the race report, but considering this race was one of the greatest endurance events I’ve ever done (and I’ve had more than one request for a report), I’ll do my best to recount this highly memorable day.

On race morning we arrived in Leadville about 60min prior to the 630 start time. The crowds had already formed, and we were forced to line up pretty far back from the start line. People lay their bikes in the street to hold their place, and we squeezed into the mayhem on the far side of the Main street intersection. This would be my first MASS MTB start like, and with 1600+ riders anxious to start their journey, I knew it would be tricky. I kept thinking how much I’d prefer an Open water mass swim start…

With Temps in the mid 30s, I was doing my best to stay warm. I had thick gloves and hand warmer packets to keep the blood circulating in my fingers. With just shorts, knee warmers, jersey, arm warmers and vest, I knew I’d be chilly on the 4-5 mile downhill asphalt descent out of town, but I was careful not to overdress as the first climb up St Kevin’s was bound to get the fire burning. I’d been warned that the start can be tricky as people jockey for position before hitting the double track dirt trail. I didn't want to risk anything during that section of the race, but looking back, I believe I took it out too conservatively and paid a price for it during the chaotic climb up Kevin’s. I felt strong on the climb yet was forced off my bike several times as people lost traction in front of me. I patiently navigated the masses, and was excited to start seeing more open trail towards the top of the first major climb.

After about 10-15miles into the ride, I was having a blast and loved the fact that I could finally ride without worrying too much about the mobs of people around me. I LOVED the 3+ mile asphalt decent on Sugarloaf. I had a flash back to my alpine ski racing days as I navigated the curvy roads in a deep tuck. It was so much fun to take advantage of the fat tires by taking the descent more aggressively.

The Hagerman’s Pass climb got super crowded in a hurry, but at least this time I was able to maneuver and get in a decent position before the BIG descent. I found my buddy AL towards the top of Hagerman’s and with him nearby I knew I was in good company. We finally arrived at the top of Powerline - The most dreaded downhill of the race, and although I survived without any issues during camp, I knew it would be a different story this time around with the extra riders. As we were flying down near the top, we could hear screams of ‘Rider down, SLOW down.’ This is the most dreadful sound, and I was a scary sight to see a pile of riders and people hovering around to help. They were telling everyone to keep moving. Of course people fall all the time in mountain biking, and even though I couldn’t see the rider, you could tell it was serious based on the emotions of the helpers around him. I think that slowed the pace of the entire descent as people instantly became more cautions. I was able to make it down without any issues, but seeing an ambulance rushing in the road made me queasy for a while. I knew the rider was getting the help they needed, and with that I tried my best to get positive thoughts flowing through my mind again.

Luckily I was just a few miles from the first aid station called Pipeline. With hundreds of spectators and energy from the support crew the race day energy was back at max. This would be my first time check … and I was about 10min ahead of schedule. I didn’t have any plans to stop at this aid station as I was well stocked to make it all the way to Twin Lakes

From there, I caught up with a few LTF guys; Peter S, Jeff R, Jeff Z and we worked together in a paceline for a few miles. It was really fun to catch up with these guys and see a few familiar faces. The section from Pipeline to Twin Lakes is relatively mellow, with one pretty steep descent before the new single track section. I’d seen a few riders crash there during camp, so I was a little nervous, but thankfully (I put on beefier front tire for the race) I was able to get down ok. I did find out later that my friend Coach Troy actually broke his collar bone there just before I arrived.

I was really looking forward to next aid station at Twin Lakes. This was the Main area for support, and it was nothing short of MAYHEM (in the best of ways). Most riders have their own support crew, so you can imagine all the people with tents and parties set up in this area. My crew was planning to position themselves on the other side of the dam, but I couldn’t make out any individuals in the sea of festivity. I actually rode right past my crew, and the LTF folks started chasing me to tell me to turn around. Thankfully I found them, and I was able to execute my plan, and get ready for the next MAJOR section of the race. I swamped out my 80ozCamelback bladder (with 5 scoops of Carbo pro) for another. Although I was plenty warm at this stage of the race, I’d been warned never to climb a mtn in Colorado without extra warm clothes, so I kept my arm warmers (pulled down) and my wind vest (wide open) for the hike up Columbine.

In my pace planning for the race, the climb up Columbine was the big X-factor. I felt great during camp, but that was on relatively fresh legs and with less people covering the trail. I forecasted 2:25 for the ascent, but I was really hoping that I could do it in less than 2 hrs. I was constantly passing people on the climb, but once we got to the top of the treeline, the two way traffic from the riders making their way down made it very difficult to ride around the ‘hike- a- bikers’. Even at this stage of the race (about 4 hrs in), I was passing a lot of people who were cramping pretty badly or just couldn’t ride the rocky trail. Eventually the trail narrowed and the downward traffic increased, and everyone climbing was forced into a single file ‘death march” for about a mile. A large portion of this area was in fact rideable, but there was no chance of that with the traffic.

Summiting Columbine was unbelievable! There was a neutral aid station at the top (they did not allow crew or spectators up there), and I enjoyed the buffet of Watermelon and PB&J sandwiches. Typically this is where people add warmer clothers for the descent but today was different. It was much warmer than usual, and unlike last year, we didn’t have rain and hail to terrorize us on the descent. ON the way down I was able to see more friends, and it was wonderful to hear Kerry yell my name as I passed by. I heard so many encouraging words from fellow LTF riders, but it I was pretty much 100% focused on the trail as the descent on the narrow baby head terrain was pretty scary at times.

I could smell hydraulic brake fluid and I did my best to work my brakes in an attempt to prevent overheating and loss of function. The descent took about 40 minutes, and I was back at Twin Lakes in no time. By this checkpoint, I had made up about 45 min on my goal, and was still feeling strong. I finally shed the arm warmers, knee warmers, changed into lighter gloves, and swamped my empty Camelback again with another 80oz + 600 cals of Carbo Pro. I wish I had lubed my chain at this stop, but I was just too excited and wanted to keep it moving.
Our crew was awesome. They changed out my packs, gave me a few extra gels and lot of encouragement as I took off from Twin Lakes.

In about another 65 minutes I made it to the Pipeline aid station. I refilled my camelbak again leaving me with about 80oz of fluid for the final 25 miles. This section was the final test with challenging climbs back up Powerline and Sugarloaf.

Coming out of Pipeline someone told me I was in about 12th place. This was the first time I even considered this a ‘race’ per se, and I was shocked. Of course, at this point, the competitive juices started flowing, and I started dreaming of a top 10 finish. I worked hard, on the windy road section, but I knew I couldn’t get ahead of myself as the Powerline climb was still looming.
Powerline - It was what I expected- Brutal. I was forced to walk a large portion of the lower section and I was passing many folks suffering with severe cramps. Everyone was doing their best to motivate each other upward, but it was grueling. This was by far, the toughest section of the race, and it came at mile 80… With multiple false summits, it was a mental battle as well as the obvious physical battle to keep the pedals turning over.
Once I reached the top, I looked at the clock and started thinking about the finish line for first time. I realized that a sub10 hr race was possible, and became hyper sensitive to anything that could cause mechanical failures. The rocky decent down Hagerman’s left me concerned in a few sections, but once we hit the asphalt/ Sugarloaf, I knew the likelihood for mechanical failure was minimal for a while (Great Feeling)!

The final descent was St Kevin’s, and after almost biting the dirt at a very high speed, I was quickly reminded just how dangerous this type of riding can be. I had no reason to risk injury, and I dialed it way back for the rest of the descent. Once at the bottom, I knew I was pretty much home free with just 7 additional miles of fairly straight forward terrain. Knowing I didn’t have to run afterwards was enough to keep the legs feeling strong through the finish. LOVED THAT!!

Coming up 6th street and seeing that finish banner evoked such a mix of emotions: Relief, Excitement, Pride, etc. I ended up finishing 12th Overall female, which included a slew of veteran Pro MTB riders and experienced Leadville riders. My finish time was about an hour faster than my projected time, and I was INJURY FREE!!!

I hung around the finish and watched fellow Lifetime Fitness riders cross the line. Words can’t even begin to describe all the excitement in that area. It was unreal. I heard from our crew that Kerry was riding well, and was managing his hydration to a tee. Although Kerry’s original forecasted finish time was 11:40, the latest update was closer to the 11hr mark.

Being inside the chute to watch Kerry cross the line was by far the greatest moment of the day. We BOTH did it!!!! This race was truly a celebration of our Epic Journey together, and we’re so blessed to have survived this day with no injuries and a shiny new belt buckle.

We enjoyed watching more riders to cross the line. Our dear fiends Patti and AL, ran into some trouble on the course. AL who has already broken his wrist earlier this year in a horseback riding accident had injured his other wrist (with a possible concussion), while Patti ran into some gut issues and had trouble getting calories down. Even with these unfortunate events, they persevered, and ended up coming across the finish line together –Holding hands -Incredible!

After watching all these people get their belt buckle, I received the news regarding the seriously injured rider I mentioned earlier. Well it turned out that it was in fact our friend and fellow LTF rider Gary W. He had been airlifted from the top of Powerline to a hospital in Denver. He was in very serious condition, but around 7pm, we all received the update that he was going to be ok. His family was there watching, and although his wife went with him to Denver, his two girls were still in Leadville. My heart was so scared and sad for these amazingly strong little girls. Luckily Bill D. and family took great care of them and were able to keep the emotions in check as best they could.

UPDATE ON GARY: He has finally been able to come back and receive his care in MN after a 2 week stay at the Denver Hospital. He encountered a bad head injury and multiple rib fractures in the crash, and although it won’t be an easy road to full recovery, it’s been incredibly inspiring to read and hear about all the wonderful support he has by his side. Gary- I’m checking your Caring pages every day, and I’m so trilled you’re back in MN with your family. Sending you all the strongest healing wishes possible my friend. Thinking of you and your family - Can’t wait to ride by your side again soon!

A special Thanks to Lifetime Fitness for doing everything possible to help Gary and his family through this. It was very special to be part of your team for everything that you represent. Outstanding group of people – Thank- You, Thank-You, Thank-You!!!