I Got My “Yippee!” Card

by Arlyn on March 3, 2011

I’m in.

For the third year in a row, I’ve won the Leadville lottery and the opportunity to race the Leadville 100 MTB race this August.

Ok, they don’t send cards out like this anymore – it was more of a “Yippee!” email.

In 2009, I raced my heart out, finishing after 11 hours and 24 minutes on the grueling course. I returned last year with one of my best friends, Marcos, for my second buckle – it was not to be. Marcos earned his buckle, but I bailed at the bottom of Powerline (inbound) after 8 ½ hours and 80 miles of racing.

So, here we go. On this crazy adventure to race my bike above 10,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies, just to see if I can.

Stay tuned for lots more adventure…

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2010 Leadville Trail 100

by Arlyn on August 15, 2010

I was in trouble. Something wasn’t right. I was a little over 40 miles into the Leadville 100, on the early slopes of the Columbine climb and I was feeling sick. The first waves of nausea hit me a few miles before the Twin Lakes Aid Station and at first I had attributed the feelings to overeating in preparation of the Columbine climb. The Columbine mine sits on a spectacular ridgeline at 12,600′ and I’ve had trouble eating properly above 11,000′ in the past. The strategy I’ve developed to deal with this is to overeat a little down low then cruise up.

So I cut back on eating and slowed my pace waiting for the inevitable recovery that never came. I felt worse and worse as I climbed and started alternating walking and riding my bike slowly much much lower than I ever have on Columbine. Nausea gave way to the shakes as I started to Bonk from not eating. I could eat only if I stopped and let my heart rate settle to normal.

This was not good at all.

Marcos and I had started the race in fine form. We’d laid down our bikes on 6th Avenue at 5:00am only about 400 places back which put us in great position. The shotgun blast and initial rollout was emotional for me as hundreds cheered us on. The initial fire roads were blazingly fast and I was barely working in a 6 across peloton. We hit St. Kevins in a clump and experienced the normal log jam which was actually a great way to stay on tempo pace. By the time I got to the top of Carter Summit, I was already 15 minutes ahead of last year’s time.

We flew down Turquiose Lake road and I made sure to eat a lot to stay on my nutrition plan. I was worried about the Sugarloaf climb which I had bonked on last year. I settled into a steady rhythm, feeling good and surprised at how good I felt. Marcos caught me and we climbed steadily together to the top of Hagerman Pass.

We fist-bumped as the trail tipped downward and began the long exciting descent down the Powerline. We were in a good group and absolutely flew down – the fastest I had ever gone down the Powerline. We got to the bottom, negotiated the creek crossing via the mostly unknown jump-over and hammered towards the Pipeline Aid Station.

I was feeling great. I was right on schedule with my eating and was generating more watts than I’d expected. By the time we hammered through the aid station and onto the Pipeline, I was 25 minutes ahead of last year and only a few minutes off my sub-10 time. The idea that I could finish the Leadville 100 under 10 hours was intoxicating. If I could stay within 30 minutes of the sub-10 schedule I had a chance. I always finish strong and would gain time in the last 10-12 miles of the course.

Now, climbing Columbine was like a bad dream. I was bonking because I had stopped eating. But eating made me want to puke. I was walking a LOT more than I ever had here. My dream of finishing in under 10 hours was out the window. I was losing ground fast and was about to lose my goal of finishing an hour faster than last year. All I could think about was getting to the top and back down, confident that I’d feel better at lower altitudes and after a rest on the descent. My mind was in a haze as I finally summited and began the descent. I had lost my lead over last year’s time, but it was possible for me to still get my sub-12 hour buckle.

I ate on the descent to stop The Bonk and initially felt better. But once the trail flattened and went over The Stooges back to Twin Lakes, my nausea was back and my power and speed went out the window. I crawled my way back to the Aid Station, refueled my nutrition, kissed my family and headed back up the Pipeline. My plan was to finish sub-12 and get my buckle.

Riders streamed by me on the shallow climb out of Twin Lakes. I was going way slower than I wanted to. I was falling off the 12-hour schedule and not feeling any better. I’ve bonked and had nausea on rides before but I’d always recovered. Not this day.

The singletrack was a blur. I rolled through Pipeline and got back on the pavement. I tried to draft a tandem couple and couldn’t generate enough power to stay with them. I started calculating my finish time and realized at my current pace I was on the bubble for 13 hours. I thought about the climbs ahead. The Powerline was the most significant. It’s the ‘Monster’ at 78 miles. Given my current state, I was sure I would have to walk the whole distance. Usually, I just have to walk the lower steep sections. The road climb back to Hagerman is smooth and fast on a good day. I was sure I’d have to stop and rest several times. The short climbs back to the top of St. Kevins would be hike-a-bikes too. Last year I had hammered the fire roads back into town, there would be no more hammering this year.

I was not going to buckle and was courting having to be swept from the course. I also wasn’t feeling any better and getting dangerously dehydrated. I stopped at the bottom of Powerline and called my crew for a pickup.

Ken says something like this at the race briefing, “When you get home, everyone is going to ask you if you finished. If you don’t quit, you can answer with one word – yes. If you do quit, you’ll have to spend 20 minutes explaining why you were such a crybaby.” He’s right.

ps: Marcos went on to finish in 11:35, earning his first Silver Buckle and saying this race was the hardest thing he’s ever done. Congrats Marcos!

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2010 Julian Death March

by Arlyn on August 12, 2010

W

hen I saw Sam ahead of me I knew that it was time to attack. Glory was at hand. Sam was the strongest rider amongst the group of friends I was racing the 2010 Julian Death March with and if I finished ahead of him, I would be first among my friends. It was Go-Time.

The Julian Death March is an 86-mile mountain bike race that gains 14,000 feet of elevation on everything from clean pavement to hike-a-bike jeep trails. I first raced the JDM last year and completed the first 62-mile loop in about 7 hours before calling it quits. Not being able to complete the full course last year left a sour taste in my mouth and I was back for redemption. I would do everything to finish the full Death March this year.

The race started at 8:00am from Frank Lane Park in Julian which is really just a dirt parking lot. About 80 riders rolled out of town on pavement with a police escort. We turned left onto a rolling country road making our way into the hills. I was in a group just behind the leaders, watching them quickly spin away. Placing high up in the JDM was out of the question; my goal was to simply survive the race. In order to survive, I needed to keep an easy pace early on and let the leaders go. My friend Sam was in that front group – he’s a serious hardman.

Mickey and I looking fresh before the race.

The gap was widening when a rider flashed out of our group, sprinting to join the leaders. She was going all out to chase them down and I seriously wondered if she knew this was an 86-mile race. If it was so important to stay with the leaders, she should have been with them from the start. Chasing at full power in the first half hour of the race can’t be good.

The leaders disappeared and soon we were flying down the 8-mile descent along Eagle Peak Road. Down, down, down we went on gravel roads. It’s eerie losing 2,500 feet of elevation all at once because you know you’re going to have to get it back soon enough. After 20 minutes in free-fall, the fun was over and we made the left had turn onto Cedar Creek and began climbing rugged jeep trails.

Great fisheye perspective on the initial 2,500 foot descent.

I kept an easy pace and focused on proper nutrition – it was going to be a really long day. The jeep trails gave into gravel roads and then quickly into smooth pavement as I began the climb up Engineers. I was feeling much better than I did racing last year and made quick progress to the top.

I was racing with several friends. My friend Sam was with the leaders. Dr. Hodges was somewhere ahead, not sure how far ahead. And my friend Mickey was somewhere behind, taking a slightly easier pace to finish the day. So, I considered myself 3rd among friends, which isn’t bad – it’s at least on the podium, right?

Sam, Dr. Hodges, Mickey and I.

After a quick stop to refill bottles, I began my descent down Chariot Canyon. I was feeling great and kept a quick pace as I turned down Rodriguez Canyon to the base of the infamous Oriflamme climb. Oriflamme is an absolute beast climbing 1,600 feet in just 3.5 miles over a rutted and rocky jeep trail. It was in the early steepness of Oriflamme that I discovered that my lowest gear was worn out, the chain skipping whenever I tried applying high torque. I walked a lot more than normal telling myself I was preparing for the hike-a-bike sections of the Leadville 100.

At one point I was passed by two women racers. They looked super strong and were climbing fast. I remembered passing them earlier and said “Hello” as they rolled past me walking. I caught them up near the top as they apparently stopped to pee. We would spend the rest of the race leap-frogging each other. The only reason I ever caught them was when they stopped to pee. Funny.

Back at the top of Chariot Canyon I felt déjà vu descending again. But, instead of turning towards Rodriguez this time, I kept left headed for the base of Banner Grade. I found Dr. Hodges at the Aid Station at the bottom of Banner Grade and we left together in search of the new section of the JDM nicknamed “Wayne’s Trail”.

Headed to Chariot Canyon after Fages Monument.

The trail turned out to be little more than a goat path through the rocks and weeds. With my lowest gear out of commission, I was forced to walk a lot and got frustrated and a bit bonky. I was not prepared for the climb back into Julian to be this difficult and I suffered as I watched Dr. Hodges go off the front.

The Girls passed me at some point then another woman racer passed me that I recognized as the one who’d sprinted to join the leaders early on. How the heck did she get behind me? She must have gotten lost along the way. She climbed ahead of me and then dropped down another trail to the left and began to accelerate away. I didn’t think there was a descent here so I stopped and consulted my Garmin to find out she’d just gone off trail again. She was headed back for the bottom of the climb. I shouted “Wrong way!” to no avail. I remember seeing her wearing earbuds…

On Hwy 79 speeding towards Soapstone Grade.

I finished the remaining bits of the climb and headed back into Julian, the first 62-miles of the race complete. This is when I had quit last year, too exhausted to go for the final 22-mile section. When I had checked in last year they asked me if I was headed back out and I had answered, “Heck no!” This year, when I checked in I told them I was headed back out before being asked. I wanted to commit to going back out.

Dr. Hodges was just finishing up refilling his bottles when I arrived. We decided to head out for the second section together. As I was mixing Perpetuem I saw Brent Prenzlow (race winner) who said “Hello”. We chatted a bit and it dawned on me that he’d won the entire race 20 minutes faster than it took me to complete the first 62 miles. Damn, that’s fast.

Dr. Hodges and I heading into the Santa Ysabel Preserve.

Within minutes, Dr. Hodges and I were speeding towards the Santa Ysabel Preserve and the final miles of the race. I was feeling good and optimistic about a strong finish. We hit the initial sections of dirt in a strong clip and Dr. Hodges admitted to feeling a bit knackered and suggested I go on ahead. He couldn’t follow any strong pushes now. I thought about it but decided to finish with him. I had nothing to gain by being a few minutes ahead of him so we continued on. We caught the Girls (peeing again, I believe) and descended to the bottom of the hill. They caught us up on the climb and everyone was friendly about it. They were getting to be old friends at this point. They must have stopped again for some reason because we caught them just as it started to flatten out in a faster section of the course. I spotted Sam ahead just after passing them.

I accelerated up to Sam to see what happened and could tell immediately that he was struggling with The Bonk. He said something about being surprised we had caught him then mentioned he probably hadn’t eaten enough. He looked confused and pale and his eyes were almost rolling in their sockets. I offered him a GU which he accepted and then I was off the front, hammering to put some distance between us.

I don’t know who this guy is, but he sure is having fun!

I was ahead of the Girls, Sam and Dr. Hodges. I was the first of my friends on the course – in my mind it became a Stage Win that I was after. I doubled-down on GUs and sucked at Perpetuem to keep myself from bonking and forced my legs to go harder. I spotted a rider ahead of me and made it my goal to catch him on the next hill. I did that and then spotted another rider and another.

I caught a rider just as we were leaving the Preserve and dirt trails for good. The only thing ahead of us was the 3 or 4 miles of pavement back to the Start/Finish line. We had to dismount to get through the gate and I made sure to use a cyclocross move to get going again faster than him. He said something like, “Well, I hope you’re good on the road” and I thought to myself, “Actually, yes, I rather do enjoy the pave…” I hammered it hard to keep a gap to him, but never really looked back either.

Completely wiped out, but very happy after the race.

My legs were searing, on the verge of cramping up. I was dead tired. Salt encrusted, sticky from GU and Perpetuem, I had been on the bike for NINE solid hours. I was scared shitless that a revived Sam would chase me down in these last miles so I kept the pressure on, not believing that I could stay away. And that’s when it hit me…

I absolutely love this shit.

I got pretty emotional at this point. After all the hard work, long hours and endless miles of training. All the energy and preparation, it was really worth it. I was doing something that was extraordinarily hard and I was doing it well.

I wiped the tears away and continued to hammer back to Julian. I finished the Julian Death March in 9:27:10 in 18th place overall, 7th place in my age group. Of the 80 riders who began the day, only 28 would finish the entire course.

Good night, Julian. Thanks for a great race!

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I Do Not Ride Alone

by Arlyn on August 10, 2010

When the shotgun goes off this Saturday morning signaling the start of the Leadville 100, I’ll roll out all alone in a sea of 1,500 other racers. I will pedal the fifty miles to the top of Columbine Mine and the fifty miles back all by myself. No one but me will push my bike up the Powerline. No one but me will turn those pedals over to get me to the finish line. It’s easy to think I’m in this alone, but really, that’s just an illusion.

I do not ride alone.

Karydes got the ball rolling way back in 2006 by inviting me to train for and ride our first century together, the MS 150. The team we organized for that ride (Team Climb On!) has raised over $50,000 in the fight against MS since then. Oh, and we completed the ride in style…

In 2007 alone, Team Climb On! raised over $22,000 for the National MS Society.

Dr. Hodges, Alpha Dave and the rest of the Mighty Descenders showed me what riding hard was really all about. Getting invited to their Monster Climbs trip in 2008 was a breakthrough experience. Suddenly, I could pedal all day, up mountains and down.

Horseshoe Meadow Road climbs 5,000 feet out of Lone Pine. Amazing.

The Mighty Descenders at Monster Climbs II

Marcos kicked it up a notch by suggesting that I race – “You should race, you’ll do great.” Suddenly it was all possible and we began cycling at a whole new level. Later he’d remark that we should, “Mix it up a bit to keep it fresh, maybe do some MTB rides.” That would be how I started MTB racing and entered my name into the 2009 Leadville lottery.

Marcos and Dr. Hodges racing the 2009 Julian Death March.

After winning last year’s Leadville lottery, I was terrified – what had I gotten myself into?!?! Having DMoz crew for me and Bazza and Daphne join me at the race made it all possible. Their support and encouragement sped me along my race and helped me finish strong. I’m very much looking forward to sharing this beautiful race with my wife and kids this year.

Bazza took this photo of me racing inbound on the new singletrack at last year’s Leadville 100.

Racing Julian Death March this year was crucial to my Leadville training plan. Riding alongside guys like Mickey, Dr. Hodges and Sam taught me what “Never quit!” really means. I’ll never forget watching Sam struggle against The Bonk without giving in and how Mickey finished his JDM within minutes of the final cutoff because he just wouldn’t quit – no matter what. I could not have done as well as I did without these guys.

Sam, Dr. Hodges, Mickey and I at this year’s Julian Death March. I’ll never forget this day!

Having training partners, nah… having Dirt Bros like Marcos, Mickey and Karydes have allowed me to take ultra-endurance cycling to a new level. Heading out into the pouring rain for a 40-mile MTB ride with 5,000 feet of climbing is a great way to get strong. I can always count on a hard ride and “never give up attitude” every weekend. The way we encourage each other to go hard and push our boundaries makes us all stronger.

The Dirt Bros make their way down a cold and snowy trail to climb the infamous Oriflamme Canyon.

Two of my Dirt Bros, Mickey and Marcos enjoying a recovery bevvie in Cuyamaca.

And of course, the Family… Always there, supporting me to ride countless hours even to the point of organizing our vacation calendar around cycling events. Putting up with stinky kit hanging from the banister and a sore, sleepy Dad every Saturday afternoon.

My Girls cheering me on!

When I finally roll back onto 6th Avenue, at mile 103.5 on Saturday, I’ll be thinking about all the people who helped make this day happen. Thank you.

The 2009 Leadville 100 gets underway on a shotgun blast. By Bazza.

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My Secret Leadville Plan

by Arlyn on August 2, 2010

I finished the 2009 Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race in 11 hours and 24 minutes, and I have to say I am rather proud of that. This 100-mile MTB race is aptly nicknamed “Race Across the Sky” for starting above 10,000’ and topping out well over 12,000’. It took everything I had to finish under the cutoff and earn my Silver Buckle.

My 2009 Leadville 100 Silver Buckle wants a little brother. I’ll do my best to deliver.

This year, I want to go faster. I’ve thought long and hard about what I want to accomplish this year, and since I’m one of those “you gotta say it to create it” kind of guys, here it is…

I will finish the 2010 Leadville 100 an hour faster than last year.

Yes, finding 60 minutes on the Leadville course will be difficult. And, just saying so doesn’t make it happen, but I do have a secret plan. And since my plan is secret I’ll share it with you here. Just don’t tell anyone else, especially Lance – ok?

A Year’s Training

After winning the race lottery last year, I hired a coach to help me train. We had just enough time to work together for me to fully understand the benefit of coaching. This year I have a whole additional season of training under my belt and I have data to prove that I’m faster and stronger this year.

I’m confident that training with CTS helped me earn my Silver Buckle last year.

Data is a big part of my training regimen and all indicators are up. My long-term endurance power is higher and much longer. My short burst power is also higher and I’m able to recover and go again faster and more often than last year.

I’ve also raced a few key endurance events this year that point to success. I finished the 86-mile, 12,000’ Julian Death March this year when last year I bailed at mile 62. I also finished this years’ Triple Bypass an hour faster than last year.

After crunching all these numbers, I am confident that my training this year will take 23 minutes off my Leadville time.

Pacing and Experience

Hey, I’ve “been there and done that.” Experience is a huge advantage and even though I was able to preview the course last year, nothing could prepare me for racing over 11 hours in the Rocky Mountains. And previewing the course again this year was a great opportunity to refine my ideas and approach to racing Leadville.

One of the biggest breakthroughs that came from my preview trip last month was about how to properly pace the two hardest climbs, Columbine and Powerline. Instead of trying to hammer these climbs (and then explode), I’m going to set a reasonable pace to stay moving and feeling good. I’ll spin over the top quietly instead of trying to “stamp my authority” on these vicious climbs.

The infamous Powerline.

Between my experience on course and new approach to pacing and nutrition, I’m sure I can steal back 19 minutes over last years’ time.

My Racing Machine

Last year I raced a 2007 Santa Cruz Blur LT which is a very sturdy and capable all-mountain bike. With an aluminum frame and up to 160mm of travel, it was a solid and totally inappropriate racing platform for Leadville. My Santa Cruz was for sale within hours of finishing Leadville.

Searching for a new bike to race Leadville, I looked no further than the winner’s bike. Sure, I considered a lot options, but in the end, the Trek Top Fuel won out for being super light and rigid with a gruppo made for XC racing. I love the fact that it’s a 10-speed double instead of a 9-speed triple. And being an easy 6 pounds lighter than my Santa Cruz, it is super responsive and climbs like a goat.

My Trek Top Fuel 9.9 SSL doing what it does best – looking good.

Many say that a full-travel bike is not the way to go at Leadville, but I really appreciate the ability to climb smoothly while sitting and being able to hammer the bumps without hovering over the saddle wasting my legs. I firmly believe that modern suspension systems have effectively minimized power loss from the “bounce” and more than make up for it with better traction, handling and more comfortable ride.

I’m confident that my new racing machine will save me 12 minutes this year.

Friends and Family

I had a fantastic support crew last year headed by my longtime friend DMoz. Having a dedicated crew chief at the start and Twin Lakes gave me the support, confidence and encouragement I needed to finish the race last year. I also traveled to Leadville with my dear friends Bazza and Daphne who roamed the race course shooting some really great photos of me and the event. It made all the difference in the world to have such great friends supporting me in the days before and during the race.

The great news this year is that they are coming back with me to Leadville to help me race again. And as a bonus, my wife and kids will be there as well. It’s going to be a huge boost to have my family with me, both in motivation to do well and excitement to share this beautiful race. I’m looking forward to seeing my family at the finish line – and how cool would it be to pull off what Wiens did last year – cross the finish line with my kids? Outstanding!

Dave Wiens finishing the 2009 Leadville 100 with his boys. Photo courtesy DavidWiens.com & Kurt Hoy/singletrack.com.

How much faster will I go having the best support crew in the world and my family by my side? I’m convinced exactly 6 minutes faster.

My Secret Plan

So that’s the secret plan I’ve been developing all year long. I’ve shaved exactly 60 minutes off my Leadville time. All that’s left to do now is race. See you in Leadville, look out for #126!

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