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Leadville trail 100 – Endurance racing goes big time

February 19, 2009

I remember the first time I saw a Leadville Trail entry form.   I was working at Walt’s Bike and Fitness in Columbia, MO.   One of our regular customers, who bought a Trek y22 from me,  brought the entry form into the shop to show me.  He was a paramedic and was thinking about doing support at the event.    Endurance racing wasn’t really happening at that time.  There was Canaan and there was Leadville.  I’m sure there were more, but those were the only ones that were ever “talked” about in print magazines.   The entry form mentioned “you could die” in the text.   He asked me if I would ever do an event like this?    From that day on, I was obsessed with Leadville.

After moving back to the Twin Cities, I still had it on my mind.  I was living with my sister, working at QBP as a customer service agent and riding big miles.   I had no commitments.  My biggest chores for the day were to get up, figure out where I was going to ride for breakfast and coffee, work, figure out what was for lunch, work, then ride, eat, shower, then sleep.     I went out on a whim and sent my entry form in.  I figured why not?

Well….I got in!   Yes.   I started training in February.   By March I had done a couple of hundred mile long road rides.  By April I was doing them every weekend.   I even did a couple of back to back hundies on a Saturday and Sunday in June.  I also did a scouting trip to Colorado where I rode about 80% of the course and did the Mt Evans Hillclimb (not part of the official race), but I did it.    I capped off my training with 3 back to back 100 mile days over the Fourth of July.  I figured this would allow me to taper until the race in August.   I was ready.

Old memories and new dreams!

The view from my desk - Old memories and new dreams!

It was a crazy build up to the event.  My ride to Colorado backed out at last minute due to dental school commitments.   My car broke down.  I was out of money.  I had just met a girl who is now my wife.  I called her to tell her I couldn’t go.  She said you gotta do it.   So…I rented a car using my last remaining credit card available balance and drove 16 hours out there.  Slept for about 6 hours and drove up to Leadville with a friend who was also doing the race.

Way back then, I didn’t worry too much about proper nutrition.  I just worried about calories.  I had planned a sub 9 hour time.  I packed 9 Gu packets, 1 for each hour.   I put a box of pop tarts and a bag of ibuprofen in my drop bag at Mile 50.   That’s it.  I had no support.  I hoped there was water at the aid stations.   If it started pouring rain, I was wearing wool and figured I’d find coverage somewhere if needed.

Well…It all went perfectly.  I was a bit worried about the speed of the roll out.   We were flying and at the elevation, I just couldn’t hold it.   I backed off and came into the first water station in about position 100-125.  Damn.  Not what I was expecting.   I quickly filled my bottles and got back on my bike.  No rest.  No chit chat.

I pulled into aid station #2 in about position 75-100.   I was moving up and felt great.   I had about 42 miles down and I was headed up the Columbine climb.  It was 8 miles of climbing to over 13,000 feet.   The climb is an out and back so it pays to be closer to the front.   I wanted to see how far I could get before the first place folks were coming down.  I made it pretty darn far and started counting folks coming down.  I reached the top in roughly 70th place.  Sweet.  Not bad for a MN boy with zero acclimation at 13,000 feet.

At the 50 mile mark, I looked at my HR monitor and stop watch and I was at just under 5 hours.   I figured there was no way I’d get sub 9.   I kind of let the sub 9 dream go.    Little did I know the next 8 miles of downhill wouldn’t take long.  I got to the bottom, after a crash at about 30 miles an hour, and saw that the goal was still in sight.  4 rest stops down and 1 to go.  I had 42 miles and just 2 hours and 30 minutes to make it.   I put my head down and started hammering out the miles.   I must have passed at least 20 people between the rest stop 4 and 5.  I had a pack drafting me for at least 10 miles.  I did not care.  I just kept going.

In the end, I made it back to town and knew I was going to make it.  I was cramping and dying at the end.  On my final turn into town, a motorist ran a stop sign and almost killed me.  This gave me my last little adrenilan kick I needed to finish.   My finish time was 8 hours 44 minutes.  I finished in 39th place overall.   To this day, it is my greatest cycling race memory of my life.  I quickly ate (with John Stamstad I might add) got back in the car and drove back to MN.   It was a crazy 4.5 days.    This memory formed my definition of endurance racing.

Since the old days of Leadville, endurance racing has really grown and changed.  Leadville now has had Lance Armstrong and a ton of publicity.   Nutrition and coaching.   Faster times.   International coverage.   Bikes have gotten lighter, more comfortable and more efficient.   Corporate race entries.   Huh?  What was that last one?

Well, my wife called me on the way home from Lifetime Swim and Fitness and told me that  Lifetime had something like 81 entries for the race.  They were running a promotion for members that involved writing a story for a chance at a spot.  Seriously?   81 open spots!?  I’ve read several posts from endurance racers that didn’t get in and then I hear that some business has open spots for 81 entries.

Wow!  That’s crazy.   My how times change.

To me, this validates that XC and endurance racing is here to stay and that it will continue to grow.  It’s now moved from super niche sport to corporate strategy.   I can’t blame Lifetime.  In fact, from a business perspective, I think it is brilliant.   However, I do feel for some of the endurance folks that either haven’t ever gotten in or couldn’t get in again.    Many of these folks that didn’t get in  are the same people that helped build endurance racing to what it is today.

So….I’m not really taking a side.  I will say though that if you got rejected and are willing to do some research, there is still a chance to get in if you really want too.

What’s next, a UCI governing body with controversial drug testing and shoddy detective work?  Nope.  I bet that the folks that built endurance racing to what it is will find new venues and events to keep pushing that envelope of what is possible on a bike powered by a human body.

I can’t wait.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 19, 2009 6:04 am

    One of the best GNAT posts-EVER!

  2. Gnat permalink*
    February 19, 2009 6:43 am

    Thanks J.

    To me, this validates what you are doing, both on the bike and behind the computer.

  3. captain bob permalink
    February 19, 2009 6:51 am

    I agree. very good post.

  4. February 19, 2009 7:35 am

    Great post +3!!

    And on the issue of “corporate entries”. This is the first I’ve heard of that. I find it sort of shocking, especially as a promoter of an endurance event myself.

    I can totally see it now though. Something has changed in the last year. I have seen it and felt it with Trans Iowa. Many folks are beating the doors down with offers and begs, and pleading. Crazy.

    Still, I am holding my ground. Of course, Trans Iowa is sort of weird that way, just like the guy that runs it. 😉

  5. captain bob permalink
    February 19, 2009 6:47 pm

    Sorry for noticing but Gnat, you need a new, slimmer, photo next to your name where you comment. This one looks good but you are so much hotter now!

  6. Gnat permalink*
    February 19, 2009 7:48 pm

    CB, I’m just big boned!

    Well….Since the Gnat Blog got updated, I’ll put a temp photo up and try to get something one of these days.

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