Leadman progress: races #4 and #5

**Warning: this is not a Twitter update thus it will be just a "bit" longer than 140 words.  Rest assured, it will be well worth the read.  Get comfy with your cup of Joe, tea, milk, sports drink, or whatever your BOC (beverage of choice) is and enjoy!  And remember, just like any ultra-endurance event, pace yourself!**

What a phenomenal weekend of racing for Coach Bob!  I have to say, I was eagerly awaiting this weekend but not to have it over and done.  Rather, I was really looking forward to riding the 100 mile mountain bike course again.  I did it back in 2004 and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Plus, this year it is actually part of my process goals of becoming a Leadman so I was even more fired up.  

My training to date on the mountain bike has been a little less than my running to be honest.  I knew I could make the bike in the 12 hour cutoff so that didn't concern me as much as being technically sound and not crashing.  I went over my handlebars in 2004 coming down Columbine but luckily (by a true act of God) came unclipped out of my pedals and while my bike lay on the rocky trail, I was sent running down the mountain.  This year, much, much better.  Despite Mother Nature letting us know that she rules (more on that later), I didn't go down once.  Goal #1 achieved!  Gotta save the body for this weekend ya know!

So the day starts out with driving to Leadville from Copper Mountain, about a 30 minute drive. It is pouring rain but that doesn't really bother me.  I had been preparing the entire week for inclement weather and when you grow up in the mountains, nothing surprises you.  I was never a boy scout but I have to admit that I was fully prepared!  My second goal was to prevent getting the hypothermic bug as I did in the 50 mile run a few weeks prior.  Not fun so needless to say, I had more layers on my body than my kids birthday cake!  Started with a short sleeve jersey, arm warmers, wind vest, long-sleeve jersey, hat under my helmet, booties (yes, I was ready for any weather!) and beefy, cycling gloves.  I carried a heavier jersey and a rain jacket in my pack.

After arriving in Leadville around 5:30am, I checked in, put my bike on the ground in the mass of over 1400 riders and went back to my car to stay warm.  Yes, 1400 riders!  I couldn't believe it.  Back in 2001 I believe there were just under 500.  Wow!  I have done plenty of Ironman races where you start the swim with about 2000 of your closest friends but never a mountain bike race with this mass of people and aluminum, titanium and carbon.  I thought to myself that it wouldn't be as bad as an Ironman swim since you could at least breathe as you were knocking into other athletes.  Luckily, I was right!

True to the Leadville nature, the race was started with the good ole shotgun blast.  I was seeded about in the middle of the pack and it took about 2 minutes to cross the start line.  Now, I knew what was to come from past experience.  A slow ride out of town then a screaming fast descent on pavement until getting to dirt.  Did I mention it was 39 degrees?  Yeah, that made for the screaming fast descent to be a little on the chilly side.  In fact, by the time I hit dirt, I couldn't feel my fingers.  No worries I thought, I knew that there was a good climb coming in a few miles and that I would have better blood circulation when I started going more vertical.  True to that, it happened and voila, I was on!  The first climb up St. Kevins was just as I remembered: crowded!  The field barely begins to thin out at this point so at that point you just have to pray that you get stuck behind someone who knows how to climb.  I had 4 people go down close to me and just barely missed one rider as he toppled into my line as he was thrown by rocks. Luckily, climbing is one of my strengths and I know how to handle and balance a bike in those situations.

All is going well, my temperature is increasing with the ascent up St. Kevins and then it happens.  Well, good morning Mother Nature!  She decided that it would be appropriate to provide the landscape a bit of moisture and unfortunately for us, it meant we were about to get wet.  It began with a sprinkle, just about the time I hit the first aid station at mile 11.  After a quick descent adjacent Turquoise Lake on pavement (just enough to get you cold again) the rain started coming down harder and harder.  As I climbed up to the Hagerman Pass road, I had to finally give in, pull over and put my rain jacket on.  No problem as I was prepared for anything!

Okay, so the climb up Hagerman road then onto Sugarloaf was about to get interesting.  The severely rocky road now had streams and puddles forming and it made for some slick conditions.  I knew what was coming and while I needed to stay in the moment of climbing Sugarloaf, I could not help worrying about the descent down Powerline.  Ah, Powerline.  The part of the course that every rider worries about and depending on ability level, that worry ranging from I can do this but need to be careful to all out fear.  I have been up and down Powerline a few times from my earlier Leadville experiences so I knew what to expect. However, I had never ridden this extremely rocky with man-eating ruts (I'm so not kidding!) when it was wet.  That is what was implanted in my thought process.  I was going over in my head how my descending tactics would change due to the rain.  Brakes don't work as well, tires are slicker and who knows who you will be following and if they will go down.  Oh, and I must not forget the fact that I could hardly see because my glasses were so smeared with mud and rain.  Just a little more "fun" but that didn't really matter.  I don't have good eyesight anyway so what were a few blurs in my vision really going to do?

The descent of Powerline was not as bad as I made it out to be.  I held a good line, maintained my patience and while the navigating was a bit tricky at times, it was doable.  I definitely had improved my descending skills this year!  The next chunk of the course was pretty "easy" in the best way I can describe racing at over 10,000 feet.  Some pavement and dirt road made up much of it with a bit of new singletrack that they put in this year as they changed the route a little.  The rain had stopped and yes, the sun finally came out.  Thank goodness because the descent down Powerline turned my fingers into popsicles again!

I came down into Twin Lakes at the 40 mile mark, filled up my water bottles and headed out to take on the grueling 7 mile climb up to Columbine, the turnaround point.  About 1 mile after coming out of Twin Lakes I begin to hear a few people cheering.  While I was flattered for a split second, I knew what they were cheering about and it wasn't this guy from Littleton.  I knew the leaders would soon be coming and who do you think blazed past me just long enough for me to see that he had grown a beard?  Yep.  That would be no other than that guy who took third in the Tour this year.  Um, what's his name again?  Well, you know who I am talking about!  :-)

Okay, so know I have to be even more on my mental game because not only do I have a long 7 miles ahead of me but I also have to watch for riders coming down the road.  At the base of the climb, I did a quick assessment of my body and legs and they were a bit heavy.  Good I thought. Time to implement "the Plan".  This consisted of a well-timed ingestion of the First Endurance product Pre-race.  I put 1 scoop of this powder, which as 200mg of caffeine and other great nutrients, into a flask with 6 ounces of water.  Three gulps later it hits my stomach and I ride off.  In about 10 minutes, I feel it working.  Increased focus and my legs are back, just in time for the climb.  

I must say, the climb felt almost effortless at times.  I was passing people right and left going up and was on my game.  And then it happened again, about 1/3 of the way up: Mother Nature. Yet another hard and fast rainstorm.  Enough that I had to pull over again and get the raincoat out (it doesn't breathe too well so I only kept it on when it was raining).  No prob.  Slap it on and go...I had a mountain to conquer!  I finally made it to the top of the road and vividly remember what was to come in the last couple of miles to the top of the 12,600 summit: hike a bike!  Yay! Well, not really but I was ready for it.  I rode as much as I could until the grade forced me off and then powerhiked my bike on the rougher sections.  I made pretty good time, was feeling pretty good and despite the seeing long line of cyclists pushing their bikes in the distance up ahead, I kept my mental focus.  The turnaround was soon and I was getting hungry! 

I reached the summit and felt like I was at Country Buffet.  There was so much food that I didn't know where to begin.  Well, I knew one thing for sure: don't graze.  I spent way too much time up here 5 years ago and wasn't about to make that mistake again!  I feverishly stuffed my mouth with the most appealing food that my body was telling me to grab (raspberry fig newtons), took some water and mounted the Black Pearl (that's what I call my black, Specialized mountain bike!).  Onward and upward.  Yes, upward.  Man, this climbing never stops.  I had to climb a bit out of the turnaround to be rewarded with a very stressful, rocky and dangerous descent where other riders are coming up on one side and I was forced on the other side where the big rocks were.  This is where I played superman 5 years ago.

As I was descending, I began to feel something hitting me.  "What the heck is going on?", I thought.  I didn't have much time to look around for fear of going over but made a quick assessment of the situation.  It was snowing.  No kidding!  Snowing at 12,600 feet.  Oh well, I thought, I'm going down and that gave me more motivation to get down fast!  So much so that I took off 8 minutes from this same descent from 2004.  Nice!  Thanks Mother Nature.  I owe you for that one!

After my rapid descent down Columbine (yes, I did stay on my bike!), I arrived at the Twin Lakes aid station at mile 60 and was feeling so much on my game that it was scary.  I had to continually remind myself that I had a 100 mile run next weekend so don't let it all out. Regardless, I was in a good place both mentally and physically.  I made it to the Pipeline aid station, about 26 miles from the finish and had to finally strip off some of my clothing.  It was starting to get warm now so I rode in my normal cycling kit of a jersey and arm warmers. I also switched out my sopping wet gloves for dry ones.  That made the last 1/4 of the ride much more pleasant!  Before getting on my bike again, ready to tackle going up Powerline in a few miles, I sucked down another First Endurance Pre-race flask and was off.  I knew it would kick in just around the time I encountered one of the last mentally and physically draining climbs on the course.

As I stared up Powerline about to embark on my ascent, I could not help but think to myself that I would be at this exact spot in 7 days.  "Bring it!", I shouted and I was off!  Encountering Powerline at this point in the race, I found that there were no puddles or streams as there were hours before.  It was completely dry!  Only in the Colorado mountains.  Similar to my climb up Columbine, I was feeling like a million bucks.  I was forced to get off in a few places but rode the majority of Powerline, even though some of my fellow competitors opted to hike-a-bike.  I cannot even begin to describe how good I felt.  I embraced this energy and despite the million false summits that Powerline has (okay, a bit of an exaggeration but there are a lot!), I made it to the top and grinned from ear to ear.  I knew that this was the last major climb and I had just defeated it!

After a rapid descent down Sugarloaf and Hagerman Pass road, it was onto the pavement around Turquoise Lake again.  It was nice to get up, ride with no hands and stretch out the back a bit.  That only lasted for about a mile or so and then there was the gnarly climb back up to the last aid station.  I remembered this climb well in 2004 because it caught me off guard.  I wasn't expecting it to be that long and tough.  Not so this year.  I was ready and dominated it!  My cadence was high, gearing was good and I was passing other riders like they were standing still. I heard a few of their comments of disbelief (that I was actually passing them this late in the race and up this climb) as I waved or said "hi" and they just made me smile even more.

I arrived at the aid station with 11 miles to the finish and looked at my watch.  "No way!", I said to myself.  I was at about the same time pulling into this aid station as I did 5 years ago.  True to my nature, I told myself that I would give it everything I had while staying within my limits to see how close I could get to my 2004 time.  The last 11 miles are fairly easy, in Leadville terms.  There are a few climbs but nothing major.  Some good descents and then then it hits you with 3 miles to go: The Boulevard.  That's what they call this long stretch of road that is plagued with good sized rocks at the bottom and a never ending dirt road climb back into the town of Leadville.  This was the third time having been up this road and it never gets easier.  I knew what to expect and instead of letting it beat me (as I heard one of my competitors riding beside me say), I put my head down and attacked it.  

If you can't tell, I'm not one to back down from a challenge and even though I knew I had to run a 10k the next day and 100 miles the next weekend, I still had to push.  That's just who I am. Push I did and when those demons where saying, "just take it easy, you are going to finish under the cut-off", I shook my head and applied more force to the pedals.  I don't think so demons, not this time.  By this time, I was breathing heavy and saw the pavement just up ahead. I knew that meant I had about a mile to go.  I looked at my watch.  Hmm, I thought.  Didn't know if I could break my time from 2004 but I was going to give it a go!

Cresting the last hill next to the high school is always an emotional one.  You see the beautiful mountains in the background and the finish line crowd so close you feel their energy.  Shift up, put the head down and hammer.  Go, Bob, go!  

Ahhhhhhhh!  I threw up my hands as I rode the red carpet crossing the finish line.  I tried to catch my breath as Merilee, the race director, dressed me with my medal and quickly turned my head to the official clock.  

2004 time: 10:59:13
2009 time: 11:01:03

Less than two minutes slower, 5 years later.  Not bad but I have to admit, it did give a little stab at me because I am competitive with myself.  However, I will accept it.  There were many successes of the day.  Goal #2 of preventing hypothermia was achieved and goal #3 of just having a great time was a check also.  

All in all, it was a phenomenal day.  Yeah, the weather wasn't as good as it was in 2004 but this is Leadville.  You expect it and embrace it.  It are moments like these that confirm what you do and inspire you to do more.

Race #4 in the series was complete!  Of course, there was the 10k run the next day and while it was the slowest 10k I have ever done, I didn't let as much of the competitor in my come out as I knew I could blow my Achilles easily.  I played it smart on this out and back course and crossed the line is a respectable 51 minutes.  Race #5 was complete.

Up next is the finale.  The "big dance".  One-hundred miles and Bob, next weekend.  I'm resting for a few days before I fire up the competitor again.  Stay tuned!

Coach Bob