Monday, September 9, 2013

Leadville

As I mentioned in my last post I qualified and accepted a spot to "Race Across the Sky" at the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race last year at the Tahoe Trail 100.  This would be by far the longest my ass had ever spent on a bike saddle and to say that I was just a little bit nervous about the whole thing would be an understatement.  Thankfully I had a good crew here in Tucson sharing in the whole experience to train and bounce ideas off of and even better my coach Jimmy Riccitello had done the race himself in 2011.  (and yes I did kick his butt!!!) Paul Thomas introduced me to the secret Leadville training grounds, otherwise know as the backside of Kitt Peak and more than a few days A WEEK were spent climbing Mt Lemmon.  I was really set on approaching the race with no expectations but had in the back of my mind set out two goals of getting under the 9hrs mark for the "big buckle" and finishing top 10 overall for the women.  

Backside of Kitt Peak
For those of you not familiar with the race here are the stats :0-  
  • 100 mile out and back course (which actually means 103.3miles)
  • Starting Elevation 10,152 FT, Low Point 9,200FT, High Point 12,424FT (ouch!!)
  • 12,612FT of Elevation Gain (hey, why not)
  • Over 1,500 people on the start line - 1,375 Finishers

Extra long training days in Tucson in the middle of summer also posed a bit of a problem, and some serious suffering.  My big training block heading into the race consisted of 3 mid-week rides (3,4, and 5hrs) then two big ones on the weekend, with a couple of short swim and runs thrown in just for good measure!! The solution to the heat issue was to get in a couple of hours around town then start climbing up the Mountain hopefully before you melted.  Sunday was reserved for Kitt Peak reps (one road, one dirt, one road).  There were a couple of days when I physically couldn't digest enough fluid to keep me hydrated, my last long ride ended with me spending the next 14hrs in bed.  But overall I truly enjoyed the training and best of all my body responded really well to it.  I felt stronger and stronger every week and did my last long session on Kitt Peak 2 weeks out knowing I had done everything I could to be ready to race. 

Winter Park 
Exactly one week out I packed up the little Echo and headed UP.  Shelby Katz saved the day and offered her condo in Winter Park, CO to be my training base for the week so I could get used to the altitude as best as possible.  For me day 3 and 4 at altitude are death days and having put so much time and effort into training I didn't want to throw it away race day feeling like complete crap.  Winter Park was perfect with a elevation just above 9,000ft, lots of awesome singletrack and close enough to Leadville to get in a couple of pre-rides during the week.  Having ridden the climb up Columbine a couple of years ago with the infamous Mr. and Mrs. Smith, yes I actually blame Jenny for planting the seed that eventually lead to me racing Leadville, I didn't feel the need to do it again.  (Jenny did redeem herself by providing amazing insider prep information and race day sherpa services;)  Thanks Jenny!!) I split up the rest of the course in half and enjoyed two pretty magical solo days out on my bike, soaking up the spectacular views.  

Turquoise Lake from the start of the Sugarloaf Climb
Looking back over Twin Lakes
Twin Lakes looking up at the Columbine Climb
The weather all week was dramatic and stormy with dry mornings and scattered afternoon rains.  The result was perfect conditions!! The rest of the T-Town crew rolled into town Wednesday and Thursday and soon enough it was Friday and we were all nervously going over our gear, nutrition strategies, and feed bags.  It just wouldn't be a race weekend without something going wrong and thus a huge shout out and thank you to Absolute Bikes in town from Salida who spent a couple of hours Friday morning fixing a loose cassette and bent derailleur hanger!!

Race morning was an early one with a 6:30 start time.  George Varhola and I were both in the Silver Corral and headed over to the start just after 5:00am to get well positioned.  I was feeling good, a bit nervous but still relaxed.  The start ended up being so mellow I had to laugh at all the pre-race anxiety I had over the roll-out.   Everyone was super chill and gave each other plenty of space, I love mountain bikers.  I held my position and used the riders around me to control my pace even though my legs were jumping to go faster!!

George and I on the start line
The one and only PT leading the charge
Up St Kevin's nice and easy and happy to see the field start to spread out.  Dropped out onto the road and enjoyed the fast paved descent to Turquoise lake.  Started the climb up Sugarloaf and started to pick people off, a little nervous about the Powerline descent but overall still feeling great.  At the top of Powerline I was delighted to have found my own little space of trail.  I couple of guys came flying past me but overall I got to ride it smooth and controlled, big smile.  Back onto a paved road I quickly sprinted up to the peloton forming just ahead of me and enjoyed a super fast draft into the Pipeline Aid Station at just under 2hrs, right on plan.  Into the aid station I was happy to quickly find Jenny at the Stan's NoTubes tent.  Even happier to have her look at me with a surprised smile and say "I think you are in 3rd???" I replied I'm feeling great, switched out my bottles, grabbed my nutrition and headed out onto the Pipeline.  I didn't quite believe I was in 3rd, but figured I wasn't too far off, maybe 4th or 5th!!  I caught up with sometimes Xterra racer Jari Kirkland just before Twin Lakes and after a bit of a cluster at the aid station started the long climb up Columbine.  I remember thinking to myself quite happily, 3hrs done - only 5hrs or so yet to go, then promptly realized I had officially transitioned over to the darkside.  I mean seriously, who gets all happy and smiley thinking about ONLY having over 5hrs to go!!! 

The magic continued up the climb, the legs were effortlessly ticking over.  I was flying past everyone, just picking them off one at a time.  The right hand turn up onto the goat trail and the legs were still powering away, breathing was controlled and HR was staying steady right below threshold.  I was carefully maneuvering around guys off their bikes walking determined to ride mine all the way when the stomach wrenching sound of my chain snapping in half stopped me in my tracks.  No F-ing way, not here, not now, unbelievable!! The ensuing 10 minutes of me frantically fixing my chain (thankfully I always ride with a masterlink and chain-breaker) were the longest of my life.  I watched 3 girls catch and pass me before I finally got my chain back on.  Tunnel vision, now I was pissed and full of adrenaline and ready to throw down, everyone out of my way.  I have to admit I was "just a little" aggro with everyone walking and literally rode ride up the middle of the goat trail elbowing people out of the way when I needed to clear the trail for a downhill rider.  Sorry...but only just a little, you were all walking ;)

Around the turn at the Columbine mine shaft in 4:25, no problem, half way done and ready to pull out a huge negative split.  I caught 2 of the girls right at the top and headed down hoping I could catch back up to Jari.  Quickly through the Twin Lakes Aid Station I settled back into my pace across the Pipeline, glad to have a couple of guys to ride with, trying not to think of the looming Powerline climb.  

Twin Lakes Aid Station - homebound!!

Into the last aid station and happy to hear that Jari was only a little ways ahead.  Jenny warned me that the last section was going to be longer than I thought and insisted on stuffing some more cliff blocks into my pockets.  I was now carrying no less than four partially eaten packs!! Powerline, the climb everyone dreads no matter how good you are feeling.  I gave it everything I could to stay on my bike but eventually had to jump off and start pushing my bike.  Yep, it sucked, but it was over pretty quickly and I was back up riding. The thing about the Powerline climb is there are many false summits.  I one point, thinking we were at the top, I let out a big Woohoo.  Strangely no one around me shared in the excitement ;) Hmm oops.

Powerline :0
Up and over the climb, fast descent back to Turquoise Lake then up the last long climb, St Kevin's.  Funny, the descent 7hrs earlier seemed a whole lot shorter.  Down the last descent and I was completely surprised to have Jari roll up behind me?? Tummy issues had plagued her all day and it seems she had had to make a bit of a trail side pit stop :(  Only a couple of miles to go I put my head down and gave everything I had left. 4th overall in 8:22:08!!  BIG BUCKLE :))

Yes, I put it on :)
In over 20yrs of racing at the elite level I can count on less than one hand what some people might call "Magic Days".  I not sure I really even believe in them, but Leadville 2013, whatever I want to call it, was certainly one of my best days ever!!  Will I be back in 2014?  Not sure.  I believe that I can go a whole lot faster, but part of me wonders whether I should just let it be and always remember the race as the magical experience it was.  Time will tell I suppose :)

Thanks for reading,
CJ

2 comments:

bre said...

first, congrats on a magical race- you were a rockstar out there! and second, thanks for taking the time to write it down so we could come along for the ride. racing across the sky sounds incredible :)

Christine Jeffrey said...

Thanks Bre!! Just glad people other than Mom read it ;)-