As we left our tale, our intrepid cyclists and mid-life crisis avoiders had gained entry into the 2007 Leadville 100. Notice goes out immediately after the lottery at the end of January, so by early February we knew that we had a spot of adventure on the calendar in August.
How did it go? I didn't finish.
I dropped out after 60 miles, where I had met the time cut-off, but completely certain that I couldn't make the 75-mile time cut-off which was just one hour later. PW finished the course outside of the 12 hour cut-off to take home a belt buckle, but within 13 hours so that he got a finisher's medal after he rolled across the finish line having completed the whole course.
I'm not sure whether to roll out all my excuses for not finishing or try to avoid them. I don't know whether to offer my list of training races and rides to show that I should have finished or to try to avoid that. I don't know how much anyone but me cares how much I was gutted after failing to finish, or whether I should avoid that also. Maybe I should just bottle this all up and move on, or better yet let it go and move on, or maybe in this age of therapeutic over-sharing I should just uncork.
But gentle reader, you can see all of the words trailing off below, so you know that something more is coming so I might as well blog my little heart out and tell the whole sordid tale. If you don't like to hear or read the blathering excuses of an aging excuse maker, then why are you here?
So here is what I knew about Leadville. 1 - It was very hard. 2 - That about 60% of the people who signed up every year actually got a belt buckle. 3 - That the altitude would be a huge factor. 4 - That the 100 miles of mountain biking covered about 15,000 vertical feet of climbing. 5 - That Leadville was generally non-technical and considered a good race for road bike riders.
Here is what I knew about myself. 1- I have a decent engine and can ride long distances. 2 - That I had no exposure to altitude and no idea what impact it would have. 3 - That my weight was ill-suited to the climbing. 4 - That my mountain bike skills were lacking. 5 - That I was suitably determined and had a good success ratio when I applied myself to things.
Taking all of this into account, what could go wrong? Oh yeah, you see it too?
I was lucky that Rider 1 was really getting back into cycling after some life and injury time off the bike. He had no interest in riding Leadville (his comment was, "I lived in Colorado; people from Colorado don't "do" Leadville because they already know how stupid it is to try to race at that elevation"), but he was interested in ramping up his mileage and was willing to put in the time to ride with me and train for a few mutual events.
The other thing I had going for me was fear. I was fearful of how hard Leadville would be and it was a great motivator to get out and ride and ride and ride. So, I started training early, including rides in February that were already stretching out to 3-4 hours when the weather allowed. In early April I knocked off the Spring Century at a high pace and felt good afterward. I then marched on to do the Tour of Pain (200 miles/1 day) in June, Seattle-to-Portland (206 miles/1 day) in July where Rider 1 and I finished in 10 hours total (including rolling time and time off the bike) bringing us across the finish line as the 22nd and 23rd finishers out of 2,300 one-day riders, and then I lined up to do RAMROD two weeks later and just two weeks before Leadville. PW and I did RAMROD together and I was feeling good. I think it is fair to say I was the stronger of the two of us at that point and I felt good all day. We happened into a conversation with someone it turned out was a multiple Leadville rider and his comment to me was along the lines of, "If you are rolling up Paradise this well, you will do fine at Leadville." At that point I was confident and ready. Maybe too confident, however.
After RAMROD I returned home for a week of work before we loaded up the family and headed to Colorado for a vacation and the race. I didn't ride my bike that week because of work obligations, etc. We then spent the week ahead of Leadville doing kid activities, like walking to hell and gone through museums, zoos and science centers; spent a day hiking in Boulder; and then hit Leadville, elevation 10,400', three days ahead of the race. In quick summation, I did the exact opposite of what they said to do about training and altitude ahead of the race. And it showed.
When I got on my bike for my first ride in Leadville on the Wednesday before the race, my heart was the only thing racing. As I crossed the level parking lot outside of the hotel, my heart rate shot up from resting rate below 60 bpm almost instantly to 140 bpm. I usually take a bit to warm up and this immediate jump in my heart rate was evident and worrisome immediately. I tried climbing up a grade out the back of town and my heart rate stayed in the same 135-145 bpm range whether I was going up or going flat and changing my exertion level seemed to have little or no impact on my heart rate. After a short ride, I decided that resting was a better course of action than continuing my ride.
The next day I went out to preview part of the course. It went a bit better, but the altitude was clearly having an impact on my heart rate, perceived exertion and breathing rate. I thought something along the lines of "I can get through this, but it may not be fun." I got the second part right.
The day before the race I spent walking around Leadville and then inexplicably agreed to visit the outlet malls in Frisco and spent more hours walking around, not returning to Leadville until time for a late dinner. PW had taken the more prudent altitude approach of "get in, get out" and had arrived in Denver Thursday, spent the day in Leadville on Friday and led the outlet mall expedition.
I got a horrible night of sleep in Leadville that night, tossing and turning all night and feeling as if my breathing was being constricted.
Race morning I felt tired but excited. I knew that I had the ability to grind out 12 hours of effort and it would be tough, but it had not occurred to me that I would not be one of the people getting a belt buckle and sweatshirt the following morning before we left town.
The race starts with a long roll-out from town of almost three miles downhill on pavement before it takes a turn onto dirt and starts climbing. There is very little level dirt road before the first climb starts, St. Kevins (pronounced Keevin). The moment the road turned up, my heart rate shot up, my breathing became labored and I was in trouble. I should have known 5 minutes into the first climb that it was a better idea to turn around, but I just kept thinking that I would warm-up and feel better as the day went on. It never happened.
I rolled into the first aid station area where my wife and kids were waiting, as was PW, about 15 minutes after PW had arrived. I told him to go on without me and I looked at my wife and said, "I am so completely f_____ed". She remembers it clearly because it was shocking and obviously correct. I was wasted at 26 miles into the race and had virtually nothing to go on. I had completed the first two climbs, St. Kevins and Sugarloaf, but had nothing in the tank for the largest climb or any of the return trip. I pressed on, hitting the next aid station at 40 miles and at the base of the climb feeling slightly better for the lack of major climbs in the intervening 14 miles, but decidedly wiped out. PW was more than 30 minutes ahead of me by that time and it would have been more if he hadn't waited so long previously. I headed up the Columbine climb with the stragglers and was losing spirit rapidly. The Columbine Mine climb is almost ten miles of going UP and it climbs above the tree line (the point at which the air is too thin to support the growth of trees) and reaches a peak of 12,400'. There were long sections where the steepness of the climb combined with the altitude had me walking my bike. This means that I was going 1.5 - 2 mph pushing my bike uphill rather than riding it, even if that was a meager 3-5 mph. It may not seem like a big difference, but it means that the final couple of miles of Columbine took most of an hour alone.
When I hit the turn-around spot at Columbine someone at the aid station quickly told me that I needed to hit the trail if I wanted to make the time cut-off. I don't know how compelling that was, but I did know that I would feel better getting to a lower elevation. I cruised down the 8.5 miles of downhill, humped up the one upward slope and then rolled the final mile plus into the aid station. I was stopped at the check in and told by a medical person that I looked okay and had made the time cut-off, barely, but that I had 1 hour to make the next cut-off which was 14-15 miles away and included a climb back up something known as Clavicle Hill or Ambulance Hill. I stopped to talk things over with my wife. My choice was to quit there and climb into the car or keep pedaling to the next aid station with certainty that I would be pulled from the race there and would likely be facing a long wait until an ignominious ride in the back of a pick-up into town. While I debated things with myself and my wife, those rolling up behind me were being told that they had missed the cut-off and they were pulled from the race.
I decided to quit.
It was incredibly hard thing to do. As Ken Clouber had said at the race meeting the day before, riding Leadville will hurt all day, but quitting Leadville will hurt forever, or at least until you come back and finish it. He was right.