Sunday, August 18, 2013

Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race

Another Leadville Trail 100 MTB race is in the books for me. After over a week of rain showers and some constant pouring the day dawned clear and chilly. The first 4+ miles are downhill and on pavement so it is really a test of trying not to shiver too much while you are flying along with 2000 of your closest friends.

The speed reduces to a crawl when the dirt riding begins. All was good for me until the start of the St Kevin's climb where I was forced off my bike by a guy in front of me. With hundreds of riders streaming past I had nowhere to get back on and was reduced to walking.  I was so grateful to eventually get riding but certainly lost time.

That debacle set me back and I found I was sliding backward on my projected splits. Despite arriving at elevation 10 days prior the altitude was getting to me. I could still ride but I could not ride hard. Belt buckle dreams slipped away and total focus went toward making it past the time cuts. It was a race to each one.

The funny thing is that my climbing, while on the bike, was quite good. It was the hike a bike portions that clobbered me. On the long road climb up Columbine was passing folks all the time.  As soon as I got to the goat path portion and joined in the hike a bike my altitude difficulties started in earnest.  Emotionally I just willed myself to move forward and not quit. I just kept telling myself I would feel better when I got back to a lower elevation.  Endurolytes were a huge help with the cramping I experienced.  My walking was like a death march, but I was gambling that I would feel better when I got back to a lower elevation and pushed toward the top.

I reached the top and then the short descent to the aid station and timing mat. More Endurolytes and Espresso Hammer Gel propelled me forward. Climbing out of the aid area was torture, but as soon as the terrain tipped down I felt better. Wow!  As I descended I cheered on those still pushing their bikes up telling them they would feel better too.

It is a long descent back to the Twin Lakes aid station. One rides from the highest point on the course to the lowest, which is 3000 feet, without taking into account the undulations. I went as fast as I could back down, hoping to make the time cut. I did that, and then continued on to where my daughter MK was waiting for me with all my Hammer essentials. I am so grateful for her amazing help!

Climbing out of Twin Lakes I really thought I was out of the water. However, a big headwind kept my speed in check. I passed a lot of people when I was climbing, but this section took 10 minutes longer than anticipated. I thought I would never get to that last check point!  MK was also worried. As I finally got into the Pipeline aid station people were screaming at me to get over the mat. I got through just in time, with one person later telling me they closed it down as soon as I passed through.

More Hammer refreshments from MK and I was on my way again. I was hoping to get in before 13 hours and get an official finish, but was now on at least a 13:15 pace. Plus, the dreaded Powerline hike a bike and climb was ahead. Well, nothing left to do but attack it, right? 

Attack, I did. I started picking off people from the start of that long slog all the way to the finish. A couple of guys passed me back, but I got them well before the finish line. Finally, I was feeling good and racing like me!  I flew down the rocky descent from Hagerman Pass, grateful for the rear suspension on my Specialized Epic. This is why I bought this bike!  When I got to the smooth gravel a check of my watch told me I was on pace to finish at 13 hours. Good, but now I wanted better!

I raced down the gravel to the nice pavement descent and them settled in for the three mile climb to Carter Summit. I got there far ahead of my anticipated time and MK was there to share in this excitement. Now was the fun part, the fast descending of St. Kevin's. Now I could make up, at least mentally, for what I missed out on during the ride out when I had been forced to walk.

Fly I did. Wow, this was so much easier than it was for me 2 years ago. I was feeling fantastic and loving my bike. It was time to hammer!  In no time at all, it seemed, I was at the foot of "The Boulevard" which is the long gravel grind toward the finish. I had completely fallen apart there two years ago, but this year it was my friend. I had ridden it the day before and learned the line on the initial climb and memorized its landmarks   As I rounded the corner I could see at least 10 racers walking. No way was I walking that!  A glance at my watch said I could break 12:30 if I rode this like I knew I could. I went into full blown fury with100 miles under my belt. Better late than never, I guess.  I rode hard for me and for MK, who had so tirelessly taken care of me.

Up the Boulevard, over the pavement to Sixth St and up that climb. Then I could see the throngs at the finish. I was at12:26. Could I do it?  Push hard down the hill and then up, crossing the mat at 12:29 on the clock. Yippee!  MK waiting for me, jumping up and down, and then the finishers medal around my neck.

What a day, full of ups, downs and then ups.  Standing at the start with MK there to take my warm coat at the last second. Listening to Ken pronounce his mantra which soon became mine:  "You are better than you think you are.  You can do more than you think you can."  Over and over, for 12.5 hours, I repeated that to myself. It worked!

A huge thank you to Hammer Nutrition for its continued sponsorship and support.  And a huge thank you to MK Thompson for always being there for me with my Hammer Products and for motivating me to move forward -- as fast as I could.  Thank you also to Specialized and to Stan's NoTubes for all the help.  What a challenging and amazing day!

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