On the morning of 15 August 2015, I woke at 330 am and began preparations for what I anticipated would be my last race in 2015. I felt then, and still do, that there really wasn't a point to "racing", i.e., to putting-in a competitive all-out effort on race day, after Leadville. The athlete that raced on 24 May in Gunnison made their last appearance for the season at '40 in the Fort' on June 27th. In the month that followed, July, each time I raced my legs offered a little less than the preceding race. My legs were at about 75% on the first climb at the Firecracker 50, not enough to hold the fast guys in my age class, regrettably they dropped me on that climb as quickly as they had in 2013. During the opening 10-mile climb of the Silverrush 50 in Leadville, my legs were perhaps less than 75%, certainly no better, again the fast guys easily left me behind. And then at the Laramie Enduro, on 1 August, despite draining my tank more than ever before, I finished 13 minutes slower than the year before. Down, down, ... down ... my form descended and with it any reasonable hope of achieving my 2015 goals including a top-50 finish in the Leadville Trail 100.
A year ago, on 9 August 2015, I finished 75th in the Leadville Trail 100 (LT100) in just under 8 hours and 2 minutes (8:01:54). That day the top-50 finished in under ca. 7 hrs 50 minutes. To finish among them, I would have to shave roughly 12 minutes from my 2014 time,. The form that I had in May could have done it, and possibly more. But the form that I arrived with on the morning of the race was likely going to struggle to finish in under 8 hrs 30 minutes. Nonetheless, for three or four days leading up to Leadville a glimmer of hope combined with a new goal for the race began to have a positive affect on my race outlook. Instead of a top-50 finish I would attempt to finish in under 8 hours, even 7:59:59 would be acceptable! All I needed to do was shave 1 minute 55 seconds over a 104 mile course. Sounds straightforward, but nothing is ever easy, nothing is given, in a century-distance mountain bike race that starts at close to 10000 feet, climbs to nearly 12560 feet and then descends by-way-of many small and a few big climbs back to town - at the intersection of 6th and Harrison Avenue in Leadville, Colorado.
From the starting line to Carter Summit, the top of the first big climb, my body went through the usual process of waking-up,. At that time, I was feeling stronger than anticipated, I thought to myself ... okay, you have a chance to reach your sub-8 goal ... keep the pace up and try to recover time on the descents. In hindsight, I was, in fact, 'close' to my time from last year, within 2 minutes,. but I was two minutes behind after less than one hour of racing
Not far from Carter Summit, I arrived at the first of the big descents, Powerline, this was an opportunity to recover some lost time. which I managed to do thanks to my full-suspension Niner Jet 9 RDO. Top to bottom, my 2014 time was 11:40; in 2015, 10:53. Nearly 50 seconds to subtract off the deficit I accumulated in the first hour of the race. I made-up a little more time on the road section below Powerline. By Pipeline outbound, the first aid station after Powerline, the Carter Summit deficit had decreased to just 1 minute 4 seconds. My crew, a mix of generous family and friends, shouted encouragement as they handed-up a bottle.
Between Pipeline and Twin Lakes my pace was, again, slower than 2014, that added two minutes back to my 1 minute deficit. About ninety minutes later, I reached the thin air at the top of Columbine at 4:11:03 chip time; in 2014 I arrived at 4:08:31. When I reached the summit of Columbine, I knew I was close to my 2014 time, within just a few minutes as I had been back on Carter Summit, and at Pipeline and Twin Lakes outbound. That gave me encouragement to keep pushing. The Jet 9 RDO easily plummeted down the loose jeep trail eventually to the dirt road that descends to the base of the mountain. From the very top of Columbine, at about 12,560 ft, to the very bottom, my average and maximum speeds were 22.8 and 38.5 mph, respectively. Fast enough to shave 27 seconds off my previous best time on this descent.
Now inbound, I returned to Twin Lakes with a deficit, from 2014, of just about one minute. Later that day, after the race was over, my crew told me that when I passed Twin Lakes, even Pipeline inbound, they thought I had my goal in the bag. Unfortunately, I was slipping back again as I rode towards Pipeline. On the Columbine climb, I had to push my bike on sections that I had cleaned in 2014 (I cleaned the course that year except for one dab). I was off the bike again on a small, punchy, climb called Brutal Bill on my way back to Pipeline. That push alone added almost a minute to my deficit.
Fortuitously, I managed to exit Twin Lakes with a small group (that wasn't the case in 2014, that year I was alone), just two initially but then quickly that group grew to four or five and we stayed together, and worked together, all the way to Pipeline. But despite the benefit of drafting, by Pipeline inbound I was again about two-and-a-half minutes behind last years pace. But I had time to recover, there was still about 30 miles of racing remaining, I could make that much time-up and more.
That is unless ... my legs were tapped-out. And they were: when I arrived at the base of the Powerline climb, something I managed to clean in 2014, I was pushing my bike well below where I started pushing in 2013 when I was a racing rookie. And once I was above the worst of the steep climb on Powerline, my pace was a painful, for the mind and body, crawl. I stayed on the bike, but I kept my 1-by-11 drivetrain, with a 32-tooth ring up-front, in or at least very close to it's easiest gear combination ... an easy that was barely easy enough for me to maintain forward progress at times. As this implies, I suffered through it, more than I had the year before, but of course everyone suffers at this stage of the race.
It's worth pausing at this point in the story, the base of Powerline, for a side note: Many people criticize the LT100 for not actually being a mountain bike race. I get their issues with the event, the cost, many miles of forest service roads, etc, and agree with many of them. However, to suggest that the race is not legitimate is absurd. In my opinion, anyone that feels confident responding "because I'm a mountain biker" to the question "why don't you compete in the LT100" hasn't arrived at the base of the Powerline Climb with 80 miles in their legs and 25 more to the finish. They're also missing the point of the race, it's not about the pro's and near-pro's that compete in the event (or not) every year ... it's about the regular women and men that line-up for their own reasons, often personal, it's about the value of taking on a challenge as big as the LT100. It's possible that the last place finisher in Leadville will be the biggest winner, it's about them, it's not about how fast Tod Wells is, for example, though we all appreciate Tod's participation and stories he tells about his experience on the race course at the award ceremony! Sometimes mountain bikers lose sight of what the bike has given them, that's what we want to share in Leadville, we need more of that in a society that encourages two week vacations for every 50 weeks of full-time work.
Looking up from my saddle as I approached the Powerline climb I felt intimidation, I always have felt this way, the bottom is especially difficult but then the climb just continues up-and-up seemingly forever. On the false flats leading-up to the climb, as the intimidation settles in, I've developed a habit of slowing-up my pace. I think that brief hesitation is my way of paying respect to what I know will be a long battle between the mind and the body Alternatively, or perhaps in addition to, it's a chance for the mind and body to take in a very deep breath. Yet, in 2015, that wasn't enough. As I approached the first of the climbs, I already felt defeated. And for this reason, my race, for the most part, ended at the base of the Powerline Climb. As much as I wanted to climb as I had the year before, or better ideally, overtraining meant that my legs were on borrowed time when the shotgun blasted to signal the start of the race at 6:30 am that morning. My borrowed time ran-out at the base of Powerline, even though my mind wanted to dig deep, as race founder Ken Chlouber encourages all of the LT100 participants to do, the body can't access what the legs have given-up prior to the race and not replenished..
Reflecting on the wisdom of the Four Agreements from Miguel Ruiz, our best will not be the same every day. My best on 15 August was not what it was on 9 August the year before; and dreadfully, it wasn't even better than what I had accomplished my first year of racing in 2013. From the base of Powerline to the finish line., my times on this final section in 2013, 2014, and 2015 were 2:15:24, 2:01:13, and 2:17:21, respectively. As these numbers show, from 2014 to 2015, I added about 16 minutes to the last 25 miles of the race. As much as I wanted to feel good about the race, and certainly the season as a whole, the images, below, taken at the finish-line reveal another reality, one of disappointment. Yet, I did do my best that day. no doubt Miguel Ruiz would be pleased. I will be working on getting there too ... as I consider what my training and racing future might look like in 2016 and beyond.
More blogs are coming soon from Andre-Breton-Racing-Dot-Com. Including perspectives from life bound to a recreational (R)-pod, my life in Germany, and some very preliminary thoughts about my racing future. Thank you for dropping in .... and for your support elsewhere including on Facebook.
I want to thank Rodney Breton, Diane Breton, and Chris Breton for flying-out from the Boston area, in Massachusetts, at their own expense to crew for me a second or third time in Leadville. Thanks to Kelly Breton as well for loaning me her husband for nearly two weeks! Two friends from Fort Collins took time out of their schedules to help at Lost Canyon, thank you Dirk and Anne! I also want to thank two new friends, that not only bought me dinner the first night I met them but they also, the same evening, enthusiastically said "yes" when I asked them to crew for me at the LT100! Thank you Ron and Karen for sharing your generous positive energy with me and for your assistance at the race. I want to thank a friend that I serendipitously met on the side of the road a few years ago, not awfully far from Leadville, her friendship has been an asset especially as I've struggled with the disappointments of not meeting my racing goals in 2015. Thank you Becky for your help in Leadville and for your encouragement since we met! From the Leadville Race Series, I'm grateful for the kindness and friendship provided by Abby Long. and Josh Collie. Thanks as well to Dave Wiens for inspiration and for always being willing to pause for a conversation with the mortals.