Just a heads up, this is long. If you want my final thoughts, skip to the last paragraph, or you could just return to watching videos of dogs on Facebook.
So here goes….Alarms went off at 5am with the goal to be at the start line for around 6:15am. For me, race morning food is a bagel with cream cheese, coffee, and water with electrolytes. I woke up feeling good and ready to go, had breakfast, got dressed and headed for Leadville. Unlike an Ironman, for these bike races you just show up at the start with your bike. It’s so much easier than triathlon. So we made our way to the start line. Kristen, Adam and I were in the white corral, which basically meant we started at the back because we’d got our place in the race by lottery. I had meant to take an ibuprofen and a stinger wafer on the start line but forgot. Not a big deal.
So the race began and we started the 3 mile decent towards the bottom of St Kevins. As soon as we turned onto the dirt road to start the climb there was a bottle neck of riders. I knew that this would happen so I slowly kept moving forward as riders gradually spread out. This is about a 1000ft climb and throughout it I felt short of breath. This race starts at about 10,000ft above sea level so you start with a base of oxygen deficiency then set out to ride 100 miles. Anyway, I was really struggling to breath and this makes it really hard to take on nutrition. After about 45 minutes, my heart was 165 (my max heart rate is about 173) and I hadn’t taken on any nutrition yet. So I pulled to the side to enable me to take on a gel (I used only SIS energy gels throughout the race). I probably stopped for around 30 seconds, then set off again. My camelbak that contained my hydration was making it hard for me to pull gels out of my back jersey pocket, I’ll need a better system in future. I got going again and felt good that the summit came quicker than I anticipated. I think I took on one more gel before the decent. The decent is on the road and I blasted down there. I have a dropper post that allows me to lower my saddle and decend more aggressively, I can get low and further back on my bike than you can without one. I flew past probably 20 to 30 people. I love descending!
The next big climb of the race is Sugarloaf and the trail up there is Hagermans Pass. I was feeling much better by the time I got here. To my memory, I rode all of this climb. I wasn’t super quick but I found it easier to ride slowly than walk. Most of this climb is loose stone and baby head rocks which makes line choice challenging. My lower back was starting to tighten up by the point. Much like St Kevin’s, the summit came fairly quickly. At this point I was on target to consume 1 gel (100 calories) every thirty minutes and drink 500 ml per hour (energy drink). I descended powerline relatively conservatively, I was concerned that I would get a flat if I went all out and I’m not confident in putting in a tube.
The view from Sugarloaf
Throughout this race cut offs were at the forefront of my mind. They’re aggressive for riders like me that are pretty new to mountain biking, and they were always going to be a struggle. The first one I had to reach was mile 40 by hour 4. That’s a 10 mph average over the first 40 miles (Twin Lakes aid station). I made it by 15 minutes, not a lot but I made it. That was a success and about 2 miles after this aid station was our crew who were situated at Twin Lakes alternate aid station. They were awesome. I pulled in and about five people descended on me, Toby was up front holding my bike and asking me what I needed. I’d spent the last 10 miles memorizing what I needed. Check my tires, tighten my shoe laces and get me lip balm. They already had a list of things I knew I’d need….my camelbak bladder switched out for a full one, offer me ibuprofen, rub a pain relieving gel on my shoulder, take empty gel packets, put new gels in my pockets, remove my waterproof vest and offer me a mouth full of salt and vinegar potato chips. I was in and out in just over 2 minutes. They were amazing, each time I remember Isabella most, Kristen and Toby’s 17 year old daughter. She was so good, she was loud and clear, she told me I’d done great and drunk all 2 liters of my hydration and that I’d taken most of my gels. Having crew that are clear and concise with instructions is so helpful. You get this brain fog when you race and can’t take on a lot of information.
Next was columbine climb, around 3500 ft of climbing over 7 torturous miles. I’m going to try and explain this to you, but I don’t know that I can put into words the utter despair of this climb. It was longer than I could ever of imagined. It took me about 3 hours to climb this and it was so incredibly painful. I believe I rode about half of it and pushed my bike for the rest, over the steep rocky terrain. Once you get up to about 11,000 ft, the trees end and it’s alpine tundra. That means you can see far ahead and even writing this I feel a rush of emotion at the memory. I was exhausted, I’d been climbing this mountain for what felt like forever, I believed I was almost there, I was terrified about missing the 2:15pm cut off at Twin Lakes return and I look up and all I can see is this trail disappearing into the distance with a line of athletes getting smaller and smaller, like a line of ants. I couldn’t even see the top. To think you’re close to the top and see miles ahead, going up and up, with 100s of athletes all in a slow death march to the top. This was the first time that voice in my head said “I can’t do this” but I knew I had to keep moving forward. I started chanting “keep moving forward, I don’t quit”. Everyone up there was in there own personal battle and if they heard me repeating this time and time again, no one said anything.
This race is an out and back so I saw Adam descend past me as I climbed and was happy to see him safe and on his way down. Kristen was around twenty or thirty minutes after Adam. As she descended (I was still climbing), she caught sight of me, she looked exhausted too and pulled over. She just said to me “don’t give up”, I told her “I promise I won’t”, and we both carried on. In the last 45 minutes of the climb my cough from the chest infection I caught a few weeks ago reappeared. It was so painful and made it so hard to get enough oxygen. I was already at 12,500 ft above sea level and coughing my lungs up.
At the summit of columbine is an aid station and a medical tent. One of the medics waved me in and said he wanted to listen to my lungs, I felt awful so agreed but asked them to be quick. At this point I thought I’d climbed too slow to make that 2:15pm cut off at Twin Lakes (it was around 1:20pm at this time). But they checked me out so fast. My pulse was 140 (understandable) and my oxygen saturation was 90%. He was happy enough with my lungs and told me to get some water and hurry up if I wanted to make cut off. I got my water bottle filled up and set of like a woman on a mission. When I started to descend, I remembered that I’m actually really good at descending. So I let rip, honestly I took some big risks, I would estimate that I passed about 25 people. I flew, my arms were burning as I clutched my brakes and handlebars. I came down in about 30 minutes, 10 minutes faster than Adam or Kristen. I got to the bottom and realized I’d made up enough time to be able to stop at our crew again on my way back to Twin Lakes to still make the next cut off. I pulled in and they set to work, pulled out my full bladder (the straw was broken so I couldn’t drink anything out of it) and pulled out my many unused gels. All I remember is Isabella, right in my face, yelling “you drank nothing and took on no nutrition, you must drink”. She put the gels in the leg of my shorts rather than my jersey so I could see them on my thighs and get to them easily. Again, exactly what I needed, clear and simple instructions. Toby said “get on someone’s wheel to Pipeline”. He was telling me to find someone to draft off to help my speed. I remember saying “I’ve got to go” and set off as fast as I could. It was a forty second pit stop. I got through Twin Lakes cut off with 20 minutes to spare. I’d gained 5 minutes from the last cut off. But I knew the next leg would be the hardest. I had to average about 14mph to make the next cut off.
I tried so hard to average that speed but my legs just couldn’t generate that kind of power. I was with a group of the most panicked, desperate people. Everyone had worked for this for a year (minimum) and we were putting everything we had into getting to Pipeline by 3:15pm. We were exhausted, working as a group to try and pull each other along. Every couple of minutes, someone would ask “do you think we can do it?” and every time the answer from one of us was “I don’t know”. We got there 5 minutes after cut off and the race director let us know our race was over at mile 74. He pulled the timing chip from my number and that was it.
Exhausted and heartbroken to have missed cut off at mile 74.
I pushed my bike over to a patch of ground away from everyone else, sat down and cried. I was so tired and I had put everything I had into making that cut off and I’d failed. I was grateful that everyone there just left me alone. I needed some time to mourn the finish that I’d lost. So I sat there for about 20 minutes, cried and rested. A guy came over and sat near me. He had tear stains streaking the dirt on his face too. He told me he’d come all the way from Hungary to race this and he’d also missed cut off. He said he’d be back next year and he hoped to see me back too. That we’d finish it next year. I had no words for him at that moment.
After I’d had my little pity party, I got up, dusted myself off and started to figure out how I’d get myself down to the finish line to celebrate Adam and Kristen’s finish. I was told that there would probably be a ride soon in a volunteer’s car but I decided to just ride down. It was only 6 miles and although I didn’t have to speed make that 74 mile cut off, I did have the legs for 100. So I rode my bike back to town.
Waiting at the finish line with the crew
Getting to see Adam finish was the silver lining. That rarely happens because he’s faster than me. I found our crew, got a round of hugs and we headed for the finish. Adam finished in 10:59, he was exhausted, bloodied from a fall and soaking wet from the hail. Kristen came in about thirty minutes after him, she’d PR’d by nearly 30 minutes.
Getting to celebrate his finish definitely brightened my day
Yesterday was so tough. Failing to complete something you’ve worked so hard for is brutal. I know I’ve only been mountain biking since April and I’ve improved a lot but I had my heart set on finishing. That said, I really believe that there’s no shame in trying something really hard and failing. It tells me that I’m pushing the limits, if we don’t find our limits, and then move them, where’s the fun!?!
Fantastic to see a teammate and friend crush her goal