The City of Leadville

Not many people would have a reason to visit Leadville, unless you are a miner or endurance athlete. At the peak its mining economic glory, Leadville was home to over 30,000 people. That’s hard to imagine as you drive through the town today with only 3,000 full-time residents. Of course, we happened to be in the city on one of its busiest days of the year for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB. Immediately, we noticed that the city was almost frozen in time. It has amazing old relics of a city in its prime with amazing Victorian architecture and the stereotypical quaint main street. While there isn’t a huge selection, the restaurants in town had unique ambiance and suprisingly good food. If you’re ever in town, we would highly recommend you give La Resistance a try for brunch–the eggs benny are amazing.

Perhaps the most defining characteristic of Leadville is the fact that it is the highest city in America at 10,200 feet. In case you were wondering, you will feel it almost immediately. In fact, we felt it acutely when we walked up stairs. By the time we reached the top, we felt short of breath and didn’t recover quickly either.

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The Anticipation

Early in the year we registered lottery positions in the Leadville Trail 100 MTB, but neither of us scored an entry. We were bummed, but knew it was a logshot anyway. A few days later, I received an invitation to particpate in the Executive Challenge, which I eagerly accepeted, but I really wanted Melissa to join me. In order for that to happen, we had to particpate in the Lake Tahoe Event in hopes of Melissa winning a lottery position, which she did. Since that time, Leadville has been on the forefront of our minds. Every week we planned our rides and did out best to complete our training plan, without neglecting our kids.

The week prior to the event was crazy. We started with the Keith Family Reunion near Zion National Park. After we had a great few days with them, we drove to Sun Valley Idaho as a family. I mostly worked, but Melissa and the kids had a great time ice skating outdoors in the summer and exploring Ketchum. The whole time we were there, I felt quite ill. We departed on Wednesday morning for the 11 hour drive to Leadville. We stopped midway to drop the kids off at home and pick up our bikes before Melissa and I pushed through for the remainder of the haul. In the days preceeding the event I continued to feel sick.  I assumed I was experiencing gall bladder duct issues from my surgery a couple of years ago since it felt so similar. We literally sat in the Utah Valley Hospital ER parking lot for 30 minutes debating whether we were going to make the trip or not. After calling a few nurse and doctor friends, we concluded the pain and fatigue were probably associated with an ulcer and Prilosac and Tylenol would probably resolve the issue, albeit temporarily. So, we hit the drug store and completed the drive. We arrived late in Copper Mountain Resort where we stayed in a condo.

The following day we started to sorth through our equipment, supplies and nutrition. Soon, I realized that I forgot a suitcase full of all my cold weather gear back at home (the forcast called for the lows in the upper 30’s and a chance of rain)! Ugh! After a quick shopping spree to an REI Denver, we determined we were as prepared as we could be.

By Friday, we were ready to be done with it. The buildup and anticipation were exhausting. Nevertheless, we had a great day with the CenturLink Executive Challenge team. We met amazing people, enjoyed great food, and rode the first and last few miles of the course.

That afternoon, all riders gathered in the local high school for a safety debrief and evangelical pump-up sermon on grit and determination by the race founders. These two characters are so motivating I wish I could listen to them every day. It’s the same “sermon” they give every year, but it still lights a fire. One of the classic line is, “You’re tougher than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can.”

We returned to our condo that night feeling anxious, but ready to get going. Neither of us slept real well. After tossing and turning, we got up at 4:00am to make final preparations and depart for the 25 minute drive from Copper to Leadville.

The Ride

Melissa and I were assigned different starting corrals based on our finish times at the Tahoe race.  I had the whole course and race plan programmed into my Garmin and when I went to fire it up minutes before the start gun, it wouldn’t turn on! This was a huge distraction, but I had to tune it out and just ride based on how I was feeling.

The start time temperature was around 38 degrees and once the peloton of riders started moving, it got cold real fast. Our hands were numb until we reached Sugarloaf Pass. The throng of cyclists was pretty tight until we reached the bottom of Powerline where it started to spread out. By this point, we were feeling pretty good. We were sticking to our nutritional plan and making good time. A Leadville finisher once said, “Leadville is an eating contest disguised as a bike race.”  We would soon learn how true this statement is.

As we headed into the Twin Lakes aid station my head was filled with dread knowing (or at least I thought I did) was awaited me on Columbine. However, unless you’ve done it before, I don’t think anybody can really anticipate how difficult this climb is. I actually felt pretty as I made my way up the dirt road. I expected the summit shortly after we passed the treeline. That was one of the biggest shockers of the whole event was how the road stretches beyond several false summits. At this point I was starting to feel weak as a result of the high altitude. I also found it hard to eat any food. Once I hit the hike-a-bike portion I was pretty spent. My mind started going to dark places and searching for justifications to quit. Melissa and I talked about this as we drove home the next day agreed that the primary motivator was the shame of telling our kids we didn’t finish because we weren’t strong enough.

By the time I summited Columbine I was worried that I didn’t have enough food. Contrary to my plan, I stopped at the aid station and drank 1.5 cans of Coke and ate two pieces of watermelon. I immediately started the rocky descent and felt the consequences of consuming so much food. The extremely bumpy ride jostled the food in my gut and I started to feel bloated. I also began to worry about Melissa. Melissa is a dang fast climber, but she is so very cautious on the downhill, especially if it has technical components. I fully expected to see her before I reached the summit of Columbine. I never noticed her, but she saw me descending.

Leadville Profile

By the time I reached the inbound aid station at Twin Lakes my stomach was a mess. I felt like I had a basketball sitting in there. I couldn’t eat anything, so I had them spray me with sun screen and I took off. I was on pace for a 10:30 finish and feeling good about my time, but I knew something was not right. It was going to be a long 43 mile ride back to Leadville.

Not long thereafter, Melissa caught up with me. Seeing her provided me a huge sense of relief. I was worried she crashed or didn’t make the time cutoff. It was great to be riding with her. We hit the single track portion on the inbound route with me leading when things started to decline for me. The feeling of nausea was overpowering me. I pulled over and let the group I was leading, including Melissa, blow by me. I knelt over, but nothing happened. I waited a couple of minutes and then pressed on. About 10 minutes later I summited a small plateau and tried to take a salt tab and eat some gel. The minute the gel hit my tongue I vomited hard. After 5 minutes of retching, I felt so much better. In fact, it was like I caught a second wind. I started to haul towards the Powerline aid station hoping to catch Melissa.

I briefly stopped at the Powerline aid station. Now that my nutritional plan was a complete mess I wasn’t sure what to do. I threw some pretzels in my supply bag and pressed on determined to catch Melissa. I was making great time and on a long flat stretch so I thought for sure I would catch her. By the time I hit the Powerline hike-a-bike I had serious doubts that I would see her again because she is such a strong climber.

Midway up Powerline I started to bonk hard. By this point, I had only a few pretzels and water since vomitting on the single track. I needed food, but I couldn’t put anything down. I simply forged on determined to catch Melissa or finish with a belt buckle.

Both Powerline and Carter Summit seemed to ascend forever and have several false summits. I continued to decline in my energy levels and started to worry about finishing under the necessary 12 hours. The sense of urgency allowed me a little adreneline rush and I started to pick up the pace. I soon realized that I was going to make the cutoff, but I really wanted to catch Melissa. At this point in the race, a slight rain started to fall and I started to get a little cold. I had ditched my vest at the Twin Lakes aid station when the sky was blue and not a cloud could be seen in the sky.

As I made the final turn up the boulevard, I was feeling the joy of knowing I was going to make it. I’ve never finished a cycling event where there are crowds at the finish line cheering you on. It’s like the Tour De France; spectators formed a narrow path to the finish line yelling, cheering, giving high-fives, and motiviting riders on. I actually got a little emotional.

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As I crossed the line I immediately started to look for Melissa, but I couldn’t spot her anywhere in the sea of people. I waited a few minutes, but I started to shiver uncontrollably. I was also light-headed and needed to eat some food quickly. I grabbed some chicken and quinoa salad and attempted to eat. Despite being completely calorie deprived, I couldn’t eat. I tossed the food and started my path back to the Century Link house. As I was about to leave the corral, Melissa and I ran into each other.

It turns out that she stopped to use the bathroom at the Powerline aid station. Of course, I thought she was ahead of me, so I kept pushing to catch her. In the meantime, she thought I might have dropped out of the race because I pulled over back on the single track. Anyway, I finished only 7 minutes before her and we totally missed each other.

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Kevin- 11:37

Melissa- 11:47

Our times aren’t great, but we earned our belt buckles! We were both in pretty bad shape. We were shivering, hungry, and totally bonked. We grabbed our gear and headed back to our condo. We finished the night at a Japanese restaraunt where we had ramen and sushi. Neither of us slept well again, but the following morning we were excited to get our belt buckles, which we will wear with pride (except neither of us have belts that are meant for buckles).

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Lessons Learned

  • Triple check Garmin
  • Make sure everything is packed
  • Tape the course profile to your handle bars
  • Tape hand warmes to gloves to keep fingers warm
  • Put a Tyvek (fedex) envelope under your jersey to keep warm
  • Don’t bollous eat; nibble, nibble, sip, sip
  • Tire pressure 28 psi on Continental Race Kings
  • Always carry a vest in your pocket, even if the sky is blue

The Route