Three times the screw

by Arlyn on September 4, 2009

Thirty-six hours before I was to board my flight to Colorado to race the Leadville 100 I was riding peacefully in my backyard canyon, trying to keep my legs loose. That’s when I felt a terrible “ker-chunck!” from somewhere and felt my bike sag depressingly towards the ground. Shiny metal fragments flew off my bike as I skidded to a halt. Oh, this can’t be good, I’m screwed…

Have you ever seen someone with a broken arm? You know how it just looks so strange for their arm to be hanging off at that strange angle? That’s how my bike looked – it took me a minute to figure out that my rear suspension had basically exploded.

The part that broked

This is how my rear suspension should look – the part that broke was the pin at the base of the shock. Everything in that joint needed replacing.

Two miles from my car, I tried pedaling it in. I was sagging so low that my pedals hit even small rocks protruding from the trail. I kept pedaling and started weighing my options.

OPTION ONE – Get it fixed? There was *NO* way I was going to get my bike repaired – this wasn’t a flat tire, my suspension had fallen completely OFF!

OPTION TWO – Borrow a bike? Unfortunately, I’m the only 6’4” mountain bike racer I know. All my friends ride size Medium. That won’t work…

OPTION THREE – Best excuse for a new bike! I was going to have to buy a new bike – screw it, I’ll go in debt. I have to race. I will not be stopped.

But… Buying a new bike the day before the race would be VERY risky. My chances for a race-ending mechanical issue on a 100-mile mountain bike race with a brand new bike were very high.

Racing a 100-mile mountain bike race requires rock solid equipment. I had been vetting my bike and it’s configuration for months, carefully tuning it to be as ready as me on August 15th. Too many Leadville racers have their races ended by stupid mechanical errors.

Ok, so buying a new bike was actually my second choice. Best choice was a repair, no matter how slim the chances. I decided to call Morgan at Bicycle Warehouse to verify I was screwed then head straight to the Trek Store and their 1-year, no interest financing.

I sat sweating in my car listening to the phone ring at Bicycle Warehouse. Morgan picked up and I explained that some pin sheared off in my suspension. You know what he said? “I have three of those right here, come on down.” My head almost exploded with joy. I threw my bike in the back of the car and raced to the shop, still wearing my kit, covered in dirt and mud.

We hung my Santa Cruz in the bike stand and Morgan started shaking his head, “No, no, no – you said you just broke the pin. I have a pin. This thing is completely fragged.” He was right. I was twice as screwed as I first thought.

My shattered bike

Morgan is disassembling my bike to get a better look. So far, it doesn’t look very good.

What initially broke way back in June was the pin that connects my rear shock to the rear triangle. A squeak developed in my Santa Cruz – the classic Santa Cruz squeak – so I ignored it. Since a broken pin wobbles ever so slightly, by the time it finally fell out it had ruined the joint bearings, bent the connectors and ovalized all the spacers. I needed more than a new pin, I needed a whole new… everything – which, of course, no bike shop carries.

Morgan came out from the back room carrying a small cardboard box of assorted parts. Then, like a magician, he fished out first one bearing and then another. Those were the only parts that couldn’t be re-machined. He quietly went to work rebuilding my bike’s suspension. Parts that were bent got un-bent, torn parts got smoothed. I waited quietly, knowing I was watching a miracle. After a time, Morgan finished, looked up and said, “You can race this Saturday, and it will hold, but then we’re going to re-order all these parts and rebuild it new. This is just temporary.”

Nice! Then Morgan went to re-attach the rear shock and stopped. There was a big gash on the shock’s piston – the gash would burp air into shock, rendering it useless. I said, “So, sell me a new shock”, and he explained that there are too many size variations among mountain bikes; none of the stores stock them. They just order them one at a time, as needed. I tried to suggest that they sell me one off of a new bike, but Santa Cruz had changed their design specs for 2009, it was different and wouldn’t work. I was triple-screwed.

Bad shock, bad.

The divots on the shock arm may be hard to see, but they’re big enough to burp air into the shock.

So, I got on the phone and started dialing bike shops around San Diego – maybe I’d get lucky. I got a lot of sympathy everywhere I inquired – the guy who’s racing Leadville and needs a rear shock is a good story, but still no shock was found. I stared at the Maps app on my iPhone, I had called all the bike shops – now what? What about JensonUSA? I order a lot of bike parts from them online and they have super quick shipping. Maybe, just maybe…

I called JensonUSA and the rep casually said he had one in stock – no way! I don’t think he really understood why I was so excited. The shock was about 2 ½ hours away and rather than risk shipping it, I decided to drive up and pick it up personally the next morning.

Less than 24 hours after my bike exploded, I was packing it carefully for my race, thanks to Morgan and Bicycle Warehouse. And after 103.5 miles of racing, my only mechanical issue was a minor adjustment to my front derailleur. Rock solid gear and rock solid service. Thanks guys!

ps: Morgan contacted Santa Cruz who decided this was a warranty failure. They sent all new parts gratis which Morgan installed just today. Nice…

{ 2 comments }

So, what’s next?

by Arlyn on August 31, 2009

Standing in front of the Leadville Courthouse at 5:54pm on August 15th, it occurred to me that for the first time in a long while, I had nothing to do. I did need a shower pretty badly, but besides that, my schedule was completely empty. Wow, what a strange feeling…

I started preparing for Leadville as I filled out my application back in January. After finally receiving my “Yippee!” card, I dedicated everything to the race. I hired a coach, religiously executed a training plan and devoted every training experience to optimize my performance in August. Everything I did was about Leadville. Everything.

Fun rides like the Triple Bypass became fitness and nutrition tests – ways for me to test how I would react to altitude. A week’s vacation in July became my High Altitude Training Camp. I routinely bailed on rides with friends, giving the excuse, “Sorry, my training plan says I need to…”

But all that came to an end as I rolled down the red carpet and across that glorious finish line in Leadville.

So… What’s next?

I think some people (maybe myself include) expected me to quit cycling after Leadville… Oh, I thought about it, sure. You spend 6 days a week on a bike for 7 or 8 months and see where you end up mentally. But deep down I know I’m not done with it yet. Rolling down that red carpet felt so good. Punching the air as I crossed the line was a declaration! It was just the beginning, really.

If I’m to figure out where I’m headed next, I needed to first decide where I’m at already. I’ve done quite a bit of introspection since the race and here’s what I know so far – The reason I raced Leadville was to learn something about myself, to see if I had what it takes to do something that hard. I think cycling still has a lot of challenges left for me and I guess I’ll keep pedaling till I’m done learning.

Whatever it is, it’ll find me – not the other way around. It always happens that way with me.

{ 3 comments }

You’re going to crash!

by Arlyn on August 28, 2009

If you ride a mountain bike with any regularity, you already know what this is about. If not, you may be surprised to learn that you are going to crash if you ride a mountain bike, so just expect it.

Sometimes crashing happens in predictable ways. Like, you know you shouldn’t have bombed that section quite so fast – right? But sometimes the crash comes completely out of left field, where even later you can’t really say what happened.

Check out this picture my buddy Mark sent me – can you figure out what happened? Neither can I, the message was something about how he fell off a cliff and into this tree.

Mark and the tree that caught him

Not sure what happened, but the story is that Mark went flying off a cliff and landed in the tree. Epic… Courtesy my buddy Andrew

I’ve crashed a few times this season – I figured I’d share my favorites so far.

Honorable Mention – “Watch out for that tree!”

Just last weekend, Andy and I were out for a fun ride in the canyon. Almost back to the car, coming down a really fast piece of single track, I overcooked a corner which was really no problem since there wasn’t any kind of drop off. I veered off the trail and into this field – the only obstacle was a single bushy tree.

For some reason, however, I couldn’t avoid the tree. I thought about going farther right, but nothing happened – I turned my head and closed my eyes as I horked the brakes and crunched into the bush/tree. Of course, it’s August here in San Diego (read: the desert) which means that bushes are really collections of thorny pungi sticks.

Picking myself up off the ground, I could feel my face was wet and salty but couldn’t tell if it was blood or sweat. I asked Andy if I was bleeding and he asked me about my “antennae”. I wasn’t bleeding, but I did have two good sized branches stuck in my helmet – including one that apparently bounced off my sunglasses.

2nd Place – “Do you think I should go to the ER?”

At mile 2 of a 50+ mile day, I came to a complete stop trying to negotiate a tight switchback in loose, rocky conditions. My bike slowly tipped to the right and I put out my hand to catch the fall – no biggie. Mark was behind me and quickly asked if I was ok. I responded, “Yeah, no problem”, I mean I just tipped over uphill. It was nothing.

Then I looked down at my shin which had been neatly sliced open by a scalpel shaped rock fin jutting out of the soft dirt. The rock fin now glistened with my, well, juice… My shin was cut so deeply I could see underneath my skin at globs of subcutaneous fat. Eewww! I got dizzy and almost passed out.

Eeww, that's just gross.

Is that my liver in there? This view into my leg gave me little comfort.

We bandaged up my wound and continued an abridged version of the ride, of course. 10 hours later when Mrs. Adventures took a look at my wound, she sort of lost it and forced me to go to the ER. Three weeks later, the gash was still deep enough to whistle if I rode faster than 17mph…

My Favorite Crash (so far!) – “When I grow up, I want to be Superman!”

Andy and I were making our way back to Cuyamaca from a fun day getting lost in the Laguna Mountains. I could almost taste the Stone Pale Ale as I hammered my way down a beautiful narrow single track through oak trees and grassy meadows…

And then I was flying through the air, seriously, with the greatest of ease. I tucked, landed hard on my left shoulder and tried to make myself into a ball. I figured my 25lb bike was also flying through the air and I was hoping it wouldn’t land on me. I was spared as it crashed down heavily beside me.

It was later determined that I had hit an immovable rock at between 15 and 20mph which catapulted me into the air. I flew at least 15 feet before landing in a nice rock garden. How I managed to pedal away with only the slimmest of injuries amazes me still.

The Moral of the Story?

So get out there this weekend and ride your mountain bike. You’ll have a great time and you’ll probably crash too. Embrace the crashing, it’s all good.

{ 2 comments }

2009 Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race

by Arlyn on August 27, 2009

The shotgun went off about a half second early. The blast surprised me as I counted down the last 10 seconds to the start of this year’s Leadville Trail 100 MTB race along with 1,232 other riders. I half-expected to start moving at the sound of the gun, but with about 800 riders in front of me, I was going nowhere until they did.

Arlyn at the start

Me at the start. I was so amped. Courtesy Dave Mozealous

The pause gave me time for a little joke – I exclaimed, “There goes Lance and Dave!” as we all stood there, waiting for the gaggle of riders ahead to get moving. No one laughed, but I did imagine that Dave Wiens and Lance Armstrong were rolling down 6th Avenue in downtown Leadville, even though I couldn’t see them.

Start of the 2009 Leadville Trail 100

A shotgun triggers the start – 1,232 riders begin the 2009 Leadville Trail 100 MTB.
© 2009 Barry Munson. All rights reserved.

The first few miles of the race are neutralized and we sped downhill and out of Leadville proper. I was amazed at how composed and fluid the peloton was with so many riders. Only a few people bothered trying to move up – with so many riders, how far could you get? The race would be decided on the climbs anyway, not here.

As we descended from town, the most magnificent rainbow I’ve ever seen appeared over the mountains ahead. I’ve honestly never seen a rainbow that was as colorful and distinct. I took it as a good racing omen. “Wow, I’m actually racing the Leadville 100!” I thought to myself.

Rainbow

What a beautiful rainbow – and a great omen for the race ahead.
© 2009 Barry Munson. All rights reserved.

We made the right turn onto a dirt road and the racing began. You could feel the energy of the group double as we began to string out, approaching the first big climb of the day, St. Kevin (pronounced “Saint Key-vin”).

The brakes came on at the base of the climb as riders slowed and engaged hill. We bunched up with two clear lines forming and an occasional walker to the right or left. The trail was a lot smoother than when I previewed it in July, probably because of the recent rain and the 700 riders ahead of me. I settled into an easy rhythm. My legs felt great and wanted to go faster, but my HR monitor said I was doing exactly right so I didn’t bother trying to pass anybody.

Elevation profile of the Leadville Trail 100 MTB

Wow, that’s really lumpy.

Significant climbs of the Leadville Trail 100 MTB
St. Kevin: 1,191 feet in 4.2 miles
Sugarloaf: 1,017 feet in 5.2 miles
Columbine Mine: 3,179 feet in 10 miles
Powerline: 1,378 feet in 3.9 miles
St. Kevin (backside): 715 feet in 3.3 miles

I was expecting carnage on this first hill with so many amped up riders trying to get up a narrow, steep climb. A few riders were frustrated by the slow pace and I remembered some advice to tell jokes or sing a song to get the group to settle down, avoiding hot tempers and crashes. I said loudly, “So a guy walks into a bar naked with an iguana under his arm…” and received several chuckles. The shouting up front seemed to stop too. I don’t really know the end of the joke; I made it up on the fly.

As we continued climbing as it began to rain gently. The rain made me nervous. Every day for the last 10,000 years, the same pattern has repeated itself in the Rocky Mountains – mornings are cold and clear, leading to much sunshine and at sometime between noon and 4pm a thunderstorm rolls through bringing anything from light rain to hail and snow. All my wet weather gear was with Dave, my crew chief, at the Twin Lakes aid station, 35 miles ahead of me. All I had with me was my vest and arm warmers to ward off the morning chill. Cold rain slowly soaked me head-to-toe.

Lance and his posse in the rain

The rain spared no one. Lance and his posse descending towards the Sugarloaf climb.
© 2009 Barry Munson. All rights reserved.

We made the left turn where St. Kevin’s grade lets up and the speed increased as we motored on smoother trails towards the summit. The trail was getting really wet and I removed my sunglasses because of mud and fogging issues. Now I had to blink every couple of minutes to keep the mud out of my eyes. We descended the bit past the first aid station (I didn’t stop), made the sharp right hand turn onto the road and immediately kicked up the speed to 35mph. This is when being soaking wet in 30-something degree air becomes a problem. Down and down we sped as I lost all feeling in both feet and both hands. I could tell I was braking only when the bike slowed down. I began to shiver uncontrollably.

Arlyn in the rain

This was the hardest part of the race for me. I dug deep.© 2009 Barry Munson. All rights reserved.

At the rider briefing the day before, Ken Chlouber, Leadville Trail organizer made the point that Leadville was about digging deep and not giving up. He rallied everyone to stand and declare to not quit – no matter what. I looked down at my odometer – a paltry 14 miles in, 89 miles to go. Shivering, numb and soaking wet, I was surprised to have gotten so quickly to wondering whether I could finish or not. If I was digging this deep at mile 14, what would it be like at 67 or at 83? I resolved keep pedaling and worry about all this later.

The road finally flattened out, we made a right turn onto a nice smooth fire road and began the Sugarloaf climb. I couldn’t climb fast enough to keep warm and other riders streamed past me. I shivered and ticked the pedals over, but without much result. I told myself I was racing my race and to just let everyone go. Up and up I went. I knew the top was around 11,000 feet and my altimeter only begrudgingly recorded my elevation gain.

It’s times like this where you just have to settle into yourself and ignore all the warning signs. Get in your head, go to your “happy place”, whatever works. Just keep pedaling and everything will work itself out. In a bit of a stupor, I looked up and recognized I had summited Sugarloaf. Nice.

Every Leadville race finisher receives a medal from Merilee at the finish line. Those who finish under 12 hours receive a small silver belt buckle. Hard men (and women) who finish under 9 hours receive a much larger gold belt buckle.

Only 128 riders finished under 9 hours this year out of 1,232 at the starting line.

The overhead power lines crackled sharply in the rain as the trail tipped down. It sounded like man-made lightning and I wondered if this was normal – one more thing to not think about. The Powerline descent is fast and technical down a rutted and now very muddy trail. It’s the kind of descent where it’s impossible to stop; you just have to focus on nailing the line and not going over the bars.

As I sped downhill, picking up speed, I began to smell hundreds of hot brake pads – apparently I wasn’t the only one taking it easy down Powerline. As they say, you can only lose Leadville on the downhills. I picked my way down the line as fast as it felt comfortable amid a giant cloud of asbestos pad fumes. Do they use asbestos for MTB brakes?

I made it down and crossed the creek on the 2-plank bridge, ignoring calls from the mass of spectators to ride through the 18-inches of water. The last thing I needed was to crash in the creek. Re-mounting my bike after the bridge I heard a gasp from the crowd and a big splash as another rider confirmed my fear of falling in. I never even looked back; I had a race to run.

The Leadville 100 is an out-and-back course, so every rider sees each other at least once. You have to be careful near the turnaround point to not have a head-on collision with other riders.

We had a couple of miles of mostly flat roads ahead of us before the Pipeline aid station so I tried to find someone to draft with and cut down my workload. I found one guy and we had a good thing going, but we needed more riders. Most other riders were unable to hold our pace and I didn’t feel like going much slower. The rain had stopped and the sky was threatening sunshine as we traded pulls to the Pipeline Aid Station.

Race number 1399

Race number 1399.

I heard rather than saw the aid station – the cumulative cheers and cowbells let me know we were closing in. We broke out of the trees into complete pandemonia. One of the best things about the Leadville 100 is the love it gets from the locals. The entire town had turned out to support the race, cheering and waving cowbells at us – giving encouragement and support. The aid stations are also full of family, friends and crew, giving the place a decidedly circus appeal.

I rolled through the mass of people, suddenly feeling fantastic. Even though I had no crew at this first aid station, the collective energy really filled me up. I got a bit emotional realizing how stoked everyone was about us racing. It hit me for the first time that in a way, we were racing for them. As I rolled out of the aid station, I looked down and saw my shadow, realizing the sun was coming out. I resolved to finish – I could do it. I would not quit.

The sun brightened and brought wonderfully low humidity with it, I was quickly dry and my hands and feet became very painful as the numbness wore off – that was a good sign. I flexed my hands to help the circulation and soon they felt nice and warm.

Twin Lakes on a sunny day

Twin Lakes on a sunny day – it was not sunny on race day.

The trail to Twin Lakes went quickly. The “new” single-track section was easy enough but the guy behind me wanted to go much faster. It was a race so I didn’t stop to let him pass. If I finished in 12:00:36, I’d feel like quite the bonehead, no? He came around me when we hit the road without so much as a comment or looking back. I think he understood.

The last mile into the Twin Lakes Aid Station is fast and downhill. You zoom down this fire road, get waved across the highway by a state trooper and then drop into the parking lot which was twice the circus that Pipeline was. There had to be a thousand people lining the parking lot and aid station, stretching almost a mile. I felt electric as I made my way through the crazyness. Someone shouted, “Way to go 1399!” at me and I got a bit emotional again. All I wanted was to make these people proud of my race.

Lance at Twin Lakes

Lance rolls through Twin Lakes without stopping.Courtesy Dave Mozealous.

Finally, I saw Dave in his bright orange Team Climb On jersey waiting at the CTS tent for me. I could tell he was 100% “game on” and handed me a fresh bottle of Perpetuem as I skidded to a halt. The weather had me nervous and I asked for all my rain gear. Dave talked me out of it saying everyone else was ditching theirs. He checked my water and GU’s as I lubed my chain and then I was off again. I can’t tell you how great it was to have Dave crewing for me. It makes a huge difference knowing I had someone in my corner. I was really looking forward to seeing him again in 3 or 4 hours after climbing to Columbine mine.

Lance's entourage

Can you spot Baby Max, Anna Hansen and Linda Armstrong?Courtesy Dave Mozealous.

Heading out of Twin Lakes, I calculated my time and realized I was moving slower than I thought. I kicked it up a little, hoping to make up some time up Columbine.

Dave Wiens at Twin Lakes

Dave Wiens coming through Twin Lakes.Courtesy Dave Mozealous.

Making my way to the base of the climb, I heard a siren approaching. Knowing what it must be, I moved as far right as possible, looking up just in time to see Lance Armstrong fly past me in the opposite direction going near light speed. He was followed closely by a motorcycle with lights and a loud siren. I’ll never forget the look on his face – he was fully pissed off and hammering. I yelled, “Go Lance!” as loud as I could and he was gone. Seeing him in full racing anger, I felt sorry for anyone who’s ever looked back and seen that coming. The man was on fire.

I was hoping that Dave Weins would be in hot-pursuit, but the gap was already very big – like 15 minutes big. Lance was going for the record. When Dave finally passed me he looked a lot more tired than Lance. I gave him a “Go Dave!” at the top of my lungs and kept climbing towards Columbine.

Dave Wiens, 6-time Leadville Champion

6-time Leadville Champion, Dave Weins.
© 2009 Barry Munson. All rights reserved.

We all know Lance Armstrong – but you should know who Dave Wiens is. Dave has won the Leadville Trail 100 MTB 6 years in a row, until this year. He beat Lance last year, of course. Ken Chlouber joked that this is the first time a rider has used the Tour de France to train for Leadville.

I just think that is what it takes to beat Dave Wiens.

In July, I previewed the Columbine climb at the CTS Leadville camp. I thought it was very straightforward and set a strong time for myself. Today was totally different. I don’t know if it was the weather, nutrition or just having 40 miles already in my legs, I found it difficult to settle into a rhythm. My back began to hurt and again the altimeter on my Garmin seemed to refuse to count my upwards progress. Slowly, slowly I climbed in a group of people. Someone would pass me and then stop for a rest so I’d pass them back. Then I’d have to stop and we’d yo-yo like that for a couple hours. I passed the guy I shared a table with in the packed coffee shop the day before. He was hurting and would finish at 12hr30m, outside the cutoff. I passed the girl who was standing next to me at the start. She’s a Leadville resident who just did great at the Silver Rush 50 a few weeks ago. She was hurting and we yo-yoed awhile until I stopped seeing her. I don’t usually stop to rest on long climbs; I can generally pace myself and keep going. It was harder today, I had to stop. I increased my calories, thinking it might be nutrition related. Up and up we went, just ever so slowly.

This was the 16th edition of the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race. There were lots of riders going for their 13th, 14th and 15th finish. One guy was going for number 16, having raced every edition.

It rained a little bit about mid-way up the climb and I seriously worried that I’d made a terrible mistake by leaving all my rain gear at the bottom of the mountain. Everyone warns not to ascend Columbine without adequate weather protection – what was my problem? Then the rain subsided a little and I forgot all about it.

I finally made it to the unrideable sections near the top. Ok, Lance probably rides these sections, and when I previewed in July, I certainly rode a much higher percentage of them, but today, it was a long line of riders, pushing their bikes. I got in line. Because of the out-and-back nature of the race course, it’s difficult to pass anyone here without risking a head-on collision on the narrow trail. Sometimes you can do it, and sometimes you just have to suffer the traffic. At one point, I sprinted past three or four riders and then immediately bonked. I felt dizzy and shaky, the whole world started to spin a little. Well, I couldn’t stop and let them pass me again so I choked down two GU’s and just kept pushing until I felt better again.

Columbine Mine on a warm day

Columbine Mine on a warm day. It was hailing on race day.

Next thing I knew, I was back on my bike, riding the final half mile to the aid station. It was hailing gently at the top. I knew that I’d freeze if I stopped so I sucked down my last GU and pointed the bike downhill.

Now, I ride with a few guys locally and am always the last one to the bottom of any descent. I’m just chicken and don’t want to risk crashing. I don’t mind very much and joke about my “mad descending skills”. So, as I prepared for the descent off Columbine and another racer suggested I go ahead of him, I said, “No, no, I’m chicken and slow. You go first.” Except that I caught him almost immediately. Then I passed him over the ruts, between him and the line of uphill traffic. Then I passed another guy and then another. Then I passed a whole knot of riders by going way outside close to the drop off. When I previewed the course in July, this section was very dry and a lot rockier. The 700 riders ahead and recent rains had made the trail very rideable so I just flew. Down I went, like rocket and I have to say it felt damn good. I guess I really do have “mad descending skills”…

Coming off Columbine

The trail off Columbine where I discovered my “mad descending skills”.

The 3,300 foot descent back to Twin Lakes went very quickly. Realizing I had 3 of 5 major climbs done including the longest, I got really excited. I could see myself finishing on 6th avenue.

Pedaling the final bits into the aid station my legs began to feel funny – my quads and hamstrings were getting tight on each pedal upstroke. I have NEVER cramped up on a bike before – today would be the first. It got worse and I wondered what to do about it. I decided to just ignore it and get to the aid station. I smiled to myself thinking back to all the chatter online about how to “expect the unexpected” at Leadville.

I dropped into the Twin Lakes aid station and came skidding to a halt in front of my faithful crew chief Dave. He handed me a new bottle of Perpetuem and I asked him to fill my Camelbak with the GU Brew mix instead of plain water. I hoped the additional salts would fix the cramping. I took onboard my remaining GU and ALL my rain gear. “For when it goes to shit later” was my reason. I re-lubed my chain and was off. I told Dave, “See you on 6th avenue!”, and I heard someone else say, “right on!” in appreciation. I was at mile 60 after 7 hours on the bike with only 43.5 miles to go.

Having a crew is great.

Having crew on the course made the difference.
© 2009 Barry Munson. All rights reserved.

I was back into “The Flats” as I was calling it, on my way back to the Pipeline aid station. Again, I tried to form a group to share the work, but no one was interested or fast enough. I was feeling pretty good at this point and pushed up the pace a little. When I got to the single track I saw my friends Barry and Daphne taking pictures. Barry’s really into photography and came all the way to Leadville just for the chance to shoot the race. He’s responsible for most of the photos in this post in fact. He’s also a big fan of a certain pink-helmeted photog (just in case she reads this!). It really lifted my spirits to see them both. Daphne called out that my wife had called her and sends her love. Man, how to make a guy cry at mile 70.

I started up the narrow trail just behind a girl who was obviously at her limit. Unable (and unwilling) to pass on the narrow, rocky trail, I encouraged her with, “nice pace, nice and smooth” and “you’re doing great number 571 (race number)”. Thinking this was karma for not letting someone pass from before I just played it cool. We got to the top and I passed, thanking her for the pace.

The single track

The new section of single track was a lot of fun.
© 2009 Barry Munson. All rights reserved.

I was feeling great and tried to start calculating where I was in relation to the 12-hour cutoff. I hammered it into the Pipeline aid station, stopping only to pee and check how dehydrated I was. I got a bottle of GU Brew from the CTS staff and downed the whole thing right there. Handing the empty bottle back, I took off. I pointed at my race number as I passed the official timing table – I didn’t want them to miss me. I was coming back in and felt great.

Back at the creek at the base of the Powerline climb, I hopped over the bridge and sped towards the climb. The lower sections of the Powerline climb aren’t really rideable uphill but my plan was to go strong until it became impossible. I saw Daphne again and she shouted something. I passed a guy and exclaimed, “We’ve got this fucking thing in the bag!” I was feeling really good.

At the bottom of Powerline - before the bonk

At the bottom of Powerline – before the bonk!
© 2009 Barry Munson. All rights reserved.

When the trail got unrideable, I hopped off and started pushing. I was pushing faster than some others and passed many riders. Without oncoming traffic to worry about, this was much easier than on Columbine. Up and up I went. I got past the steepest section and coasted through the short rolling section. Then the hill bit up and I was walking again.

And that’s when The Bonk began. It always starts with my attitude. I start wondering where the top is, why am I racing today or why can’t that guy push any faster – why does she have to push like that? Then my stomach started to roll over so I stopped eating – ouch, big mistake. All at once I got shivery and felt like puking so I just plopped my bike down and sat there on a log, trying to figure out who I was and what was happening exactly. I forced myself to eat a GU very slowly and take short sips of Brew. Then I ate another GU and took a big slug of Perpetuem. I started walking a bit and riding as we approached the top of the Powerline climb.

In just under 12 hours, I managed to burn 8,118 calories (about four pounds of fat). I consumed 4,460 calories during the race in the form of 11 hours of Hammer Perpetuem and 16 GU gels.

When I previewed the course in July, I predicted that this would be where the race really happened. The wheat gets separated at mile 80, on super-steep Powerline with another climb up to St. Kevin still ahead. Here I was, in that moment. There was no way I was going to quit so I just gritted my teeth and kept going.

After a long time, I finally made it to the top. I pedaled the rolling sections and began calculating how much time I had to make the 12-hour cutoff. I figured that I could make it if I averaged 9 mph all the way in. Then I realized that with Powerline done, the only remaining climb was paved and rather moderate. I was totally going to buckle!

Gulping Perpetuem and GU, I hammered the descent off Sugarloaf, passing several riders. When it got to the wider fire road, I got in an aero position and notched my speed up to 35+mph. Every minute at this speed was reducing the 9 mph requirement to buckle. I was making great time and passed loads of other riders just coasting downhill at 20mph or less. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t just pedal a little and drastically increase their speed. I wondered how many of them would miss the cutoff.

Leadville, Colorado

The Historic Town of Leadville, Colorado.

Back on the highway, the road tilted up gently so I locked out my suspension and settled in for a climb. I heard a spectator yell out we only had 3 miles to go to the top and I made a mental note of my odometer. Achingly slow, the hundredths of miles ticked by. At first I was feeling a bit poorly from my bonk on Powerline, but because of all the food I took on board, I began to slowly feel better and better. By the time we reached the left-hand turn into the woods and the final aid station, I was feeling really good again.

The left turn into the woods is steep and tricky. There was a race official yelling at all racers to watch the sharp turn. I preemptively shifted into a small gear just as I engaged the hill, but my chain crunched and ground at first, angry from all the mud it had endured that day. I yelled out, “Come on you bitch, let’s go!” and got several gasps from the big crowd at the turn. I guess Coloradans are more polite than San Diegans. Sorry…

The bike shifted finally and made it into the aid station. They were offering Powerade and water. I wanted the calories from Powerade, but had never tried it before. Thinking back to stories of people puking up newly tried products on race day, I opted for water. A volunteer helped me balance my Camelbak as I poured two bottles in. I was washing down a GU with a big gulp of Perpetuem when I saw James, the guy who rented us his house in Leadville. He and his wife were sleeping in the attic above his shop while we lounged in his historic house, just 5 blocks from the start line. That’s how stoked Leadville is to host the race.

Our House in Leadville

Our house in Leadville made the trip super comfortable.
© 2009 Barry Munson. All rights reserved.

James was really excited, saying he’d been looking for me all day and was happy to see that I was going to buckle. Even though I barely know him, it felt like running into a long-lost friend in the woods. It’s hard to explain how cool it is to see people you know after racing for 10 hours.

I got my crap together and took off, determined to make as good a time as I could. All I had left was the descent down St. Kevin, a few miles of flats to town and the infamous “Boulevard” section. I went as fast as I could down St. Kevin. I used every bit of my newly found “mad descending skills” and only almost went over the bars once. With 700 or so riders ahead of me, the line was clearly stamped on the trail and I had a blast hammering downhill as fast as I could. I kept passing people and shouted at one pair of guys I recognized from somewhere, “Let’s hammer! We’re almost done!” They later caught me again – nice.

I hit the flats into town and kept the tempo going. I just felt great – I knew I was going to make it and my heart was soaring. I had dedicated my life to training for this race over the last eight months. Being on the precipice of achieving that goal really choked me up, which made it hard to breathe – I resolved to cry at the finish line and pushed on.

Zooming through an intersection on my way back to town, I was cheered by a crowd as the state patrol officer flagged traffic to let me through at top speed. Someone shouted, “Finish strong 1399!” and my heart almost burst. I wanted the best time possible to honor this race and the people who support it.

I made the left turn onto the “Boulevard” and resolved to not walk it. The Boulevard is only about a kilometer long, but it’s steep, rocky and most importantly, at mile 100 of the most grueling mountain bike race you may ever experience. It’s the final challenge before victory on 6th avenue. I had ridden it in July and it looked even smoother today. It was also covered with a dozen riders pushing their bikes. I hammered past them, my HR spiking. I backed off a bit and pedaled past the remaining riders onto the long fire roads to town.

Lance riding his flat in

Lance rode this flat the last mile or so. Apparently he can’t fix a flat. Must be nice.
© 2009 Barry Munson. All rights reserved.

I spied a guy not far in front of me so I set up for intercept speed. It’s always more fun to chase than be chased. I caught him with about 2 miles to go and immediately started to feel bonky from the effort. I slugged down my final GU of the day and slurped in some water. He passed me just before we made the final turn onto 6th avenue in Leadville. With just ¾ of a mile to go, I resolved to catch him again. I dug deep and gave it everything I had, making the catch just a few hundred feet before the red carpet and the finish line. I saw him later after the race and thanked him for making me work so hard. He laughed saying that was pretty good for a 65-year-old. Wow, I hope I’m that strong when I’m 65.

I rolled down the red carpet and punched the air as I crossed the line at 11 hours, 24 minutes, 24 seconds. There was a big crowd at the line and I rolled into its middle. Not sure what to do, I just looked around. Someone took the timing chip off my leg and told me to get some food and water at a tent. Merilee, the other Leadville race organizer, put a medal around my neck and congratulated me on finishing. I heard my name read from the announcer podium. Still in a daze, I wandered towards the tent when I heard Daphne calling for me. She and Barry were at the finish waiting for me. I gave her a big hug and just like that, my Leadville 100 was over.

At the finish line

I can’t tell you how happy I am that I finished under 12 hours and got my buckle. Can’t wait for next year!
© 2009 Barry Munson. All rights reserved.

{ 6 comments }

Photo Montage from Leadville

by Arlyn on August 18, 2009

I used this really cool tool called Screenr to put together a little photo montage of my Leadville 100 race. There’s some good shots of Lance and Dave Wiens in there too.

{ 3 comments }