Tuesday, September 7, 2010

24 Hours of Leadville Mountain Bike Race, September 4-5, 2010

I'll be the first to admit that elite athletes sometimes toe the line with little but prize money on the mind. At times, however, most racers return to the original motivations of sport, to the competitions and challenges that are completed simply for growth, betterment of self, comaraderie, and glory.

For me, the Leadville 100 series provides such a venue. The LT100 series, which has grown incredibly despite offering no prize money, expanded this year to host a 24-hour mountain bike race. The concept is simple: ride as many loops of a 17.1-mile course as possible between 10:00 a.m. Saturday and 10:00 a.m. Sunday. The altitude ranges from 10,000' to about 11,400', and each lap climbs almost 2,000'. Some athletes compete on relay teams, and others race solo.

I trained hard for this race, and traded in what would normally be running sessions for extra time on the bike. Despite fighting a nasty cough for a couple of weeks before the race, I went into the competition feeling pretty good. I was also lucky to have an incredible support crew on my side. My dad, Mark, who has finished the Leadville 100 run many times, was accompanied by Uncles Brian and Eric Pence, also multiple finishers of the 100 run. My sisters, Katelyn and Dona, also stayed on course all night, and my wife, Amy, and mom, Pam, chipped in as well. Some families watch football games together...I guess we tend to attend ultra-distance events in Leadville! I was truly inspired by my team.

When race director Ken Chlouber fired a shotgun (yes, real ammunition) at 10:00 a.m., the field took off running up Dutch Henri Hill, a massive, un-bike-able pitch at the start of the course. Eager to stay out of trouble, I took the lead and held on for the first few laps. I completed four laps in six hours and was just behind the first few relay teams. Unfortunately, another solo competitor was just a few minutes behind me. This pressure in mind, I went hard for the final two laps before dark, knowing that we would all slow down when the night brought sleepy, lonely hours on the trail.

And boy were they sleepy and lonely! Adventure racing experience paid off as I was able to hold a steady pace through the night, when I would often ride for well over an hour without seeing another racer. My mind often wandered, but my AYUP lights burned bright and something like happiness stoked in my heart.

Just before dawn, I caught eight minutes of sleep in a nap on the side of the trail. Revitalized by the shut-eye and refueled by yet another helping of Uncle B's signature hash browns, I cranked out two more laps before 8:38 a.m., when it was too late to start another. I had completed a course-record (this was a first-year race) 12 laps and been able to lap the field. I was ready for a nap and some real food. Most of all, my butt was chaffed and I needed a shower!

Thanks again to my incredible support crew--this really was a team effort. Sponsors like Merrel/Akali and AYUP also helped out in creating a great racing experience.

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