Tuesday, September 15, 2015

2015 Leadville 100 Trail MTB Race

One of my goal races for the summer was the Leadville 100 mountain bike race.  A few years ago I tried to race the 100 mile run and flamed out spectacularly after 87 miles.  Unable to walk, I scored a DNF, and have enjoyed the memory of that dramatic day since.  I recall the electricity coursing through the town of Leadville and every runner there.  I recall the elation and weightlessness I experienced running near the front of 1000 runners for over 50 miles.  I recall and laugh at the mental image of myself hobbling along while runners passed me by the hundreds.  In spite of the outcome, it was a tremendous day and I felt strong even though my body failed me.  Returning with a bike, I was curious if I could recreate the experience (except I wanted to finish this time).

Having owned a mountain bike for about a year prior to the race, I knew that my major weakness would be my bike handling and downhill ability.  I hoped that Leadville's reputation as being a non technical mountain bike race would suit me rather than expose me as a fraud.

Since my kids are still little, I left them home and traveled to Colorado solo to be able to focus on the race and actually get some sleep.  Troy and Darcie Gorman were out as well and Darcie kindly offered to help crew me throughout the day.  Further, they contacted me previously to offer an extra hotel room, since like most things in life, I had procrastinated until there were none available in the whole town.

The day before the race, I attended the cheesy pre race meeting with the crazy Ken Chlouber who said a bunch of crazy stuff.  I actually really enjoyed all the hype as they do a corny but good job trying to inspire 1500 people.  After, I bumped into the youthful Jon Brown, and he also offered the support of the Griggs Orthopedics team as he was there to crew his super fast lady friend, Amy Beisel.  These guys were incredible.  They gave me a jersey and welcomed me like family.

With all logistics now in place, all that remained was the fidgety waiting game.  Fortunately, the mountain bike version starts at 6:30 AM instead of 4:00 so I had a decent sleep before rolling into the my corral at the start line.  The start is divided up into numerous color coded corrals based on one's qualifying time.  I was just able to sneak into the gold or first one and snag a good position.  I lined up about four riders back from the line as over 1600 other packed in behind and around.

A previous start, stolen from the internet

Another from the internet
With more fanfare, speeches, and a great rendition of the national anthem, they fired a shot gun and we all lunged forward.  The energy of 1600 riders and thousands others working toward the same end made for the least neutral neutral start ever.  From the gun, it was madness.  We were pinned, riding 40 mph, bar to bar, out of town.  Once we hit the dirt, the chaos continued but the speed slowed and the mass of nervous riders seemed more manageable.

Then abruptly, the course heads uphill and the whole field was blown apart.  The big five were off the front and a group of 10-15 of us managed to give chase.  This continued through a series of rolling climbs and descents until we climbed once more to the top of the Powerline descent.  I was in good position (6th-15th), feeling strong and confident.

Thirty seconds later, confidence shot, I was gripping the brakes while my cohorts left me for dead.  This non technical descent was technical enough with loose rock and deep ruts that I completely lost contact with the riders of similar climbing ability.

When I finally hit the pavement, I was alone.  What ensued was a long and hard effort to "get back in the race" by the time the course tilted upward again.  Riding through the Twin Lakes aid station, the throngs of people resembled a scene from the Tour de France  Through the crowds, I could see the Griggs Orthopedics team holding out bottles for me and I was able to ride through without stopping.

Now heading up the long Columbine climb, I was feeling fresh and began to pass a number of guys.  I believed a move into the top ten was possible.  It seemed like I was just out for a ride up Big Cottonwood Canyon, or so I told myself.  Of course those good feeling didn't last as the air thinned and the road tilted upward and became more rocky.  Here, up in the sky, I could feel the impending cramps and immediately shut it down.  I got off the bike, stretched, and resumed riding at a much diminished pace.  I wasn't even half way!

The Columbine aid station, half way through the race with insane two way traffic. Photo from the internet 
Finally at the Columbine aid station, I rolled through, zipped up my jersey, and started the long descent.  I was in 14th place.

A few minutes later, I was in 19th, having been passed by every rider I had passed on the way up.  This descent can't even be contrived as technical, even by me.  It was unique though with 1600 other riders climbing up while we descended at high speed right next to them.  Miraculously, no one has ever been demolished on this section.

Back on the flats, I was again alone, riding into a headwind, and still dealing with misbehaving legs and threatening cramps.  I plodded alone, taking on calories and drink until hitting the Powerline climb.  There, without even making an effort, I got off the bike and walked.  Normally, it would be a non event to ride this but I was in conservation mode, just trying to get home.  Spectators yelled for me to get back on the bike so they could push me and others doused me with cold water.

At the top of the steep lower section, I got back on and rode easy to the summit where I was passed for the final time.  Some of my more ambitious goals were clearly shot, but I still thought I might have a chance at breaking 7 hours.  On the penultimate descent, I saw JB for the last time as he handed up one more bottle.  Drinking thirstily, I told my cramping legs to shut up and got about the business of the last climb and descent back toward Leadville.

Doing the math, I thought I'd be close.  I took chances on the descent and was outwardly smiling as I was having fun.  Exhausted as I was, riding fast downhill was thrilling instead of punishment as it would be in a running race.  Nearing town, my GPS clicked past 100 miles and the time was in the low 6:50s.  I couldn't quite remember how much was left but it was a lot more than I hoped.  Four more slightly uphill miles took some time and I finally crossed the finish in 7:07:07 in 20th place.  

I didn't meet a single pre race goal but the race itself exceeded pre race expectation.  I count it as one of the more satisfying races I've done.  I rode hard, suffered well, met a bunch of cool people and reconnected with friends from around the country.  Although I'm still somewhat torn on what to do in the summers, I plan to return with some better DH skills next year.

Some Details:

I rode a Cannondale FSI hardtail with the Lefty 2.0 fork.  I built it to be super light ~17 pounds.  I think it's a great bike for this race.

I rode Schwalbe Thunder Burts with snake skin protection tubeless at a PSI of 29-30 which was much too high.

I put 3-4 gels in half my bottles mixed with Scratch drink mix.  I drank 9 bottles.  It's fast and easy without any mess while riding.

The GO Ride team (Griggs Orthopedics out of Crested Butte) was amazing.  It felt very professional to ride through an aid station and have them holding out staggered bottles so I never had to stop.  I was proud to be an honorary member for the day.

I owe the successful weekend to Darcy and Troy Gorman for arranging for a hotel, providing beta, and helping crew as well.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

2015 Crusher in the Tushar

I've put this off for awhile, not because I wasn't psyched about this race, but rather because I've been more psyched about riding my bike in my free time.  As the summer rolls along, I need to put a report on paper so I can remember the Crusher and reference my thoughts and mistakes later.

The short of it is that this was the most fun race I've ever done.

The long version is about 70 miles with 10,000 plus feet of climbing on mostly dirt roads through the stunning high elevation terrain of the Tushar mountains.  It took me four hours and thirty six minutes.

The even longer version is below (with photos taken from the internet, likely attributable to Winger Studios and Cotton Sox Photography).

The Crusher was one of my goal races for the summer as I don't have the time with work or feel the desire to leave my family to travel often.  Thus, I tried to pick out a few races that are well known to have good competition, good courses, and a good vibe.

My preparation seemed to go well and I spent a lot of time on my cross bike riding some gorgeous dirt roads above Davis County, Squaw Peak, Heber, and in Park City.  One of my biggest concerns was my suspect bike handling but a day out with Josh Whitney and THE Burk Swindlehurst showed me that the bikes are solid and that on long straight dirt, I need to just let off the brakes and go for it.  I even got a chance to pre ride the majority of the course but was cut a little short by a powerful electric storm.  I hoped it would be stormy and cool again on race day.

The week, night, and hours before the start, I agonized over tire size and tire pressure.  It seemed most folks were running 35-40c tires while I was on standard 33c cross tires.  Then Danny Pate of Team Sky rolled up during the pro call out and he was on 25c road tires.  I quit worrying.

From the gun, a couple guys shot away in a clearly preplanned break.  The rest of the field was content to meander up the road to the start of the dirt and the real climbing where we were already eight minutes in arrears.   I was kicking myself for not being up the road with the other two as I would have liked an advantage for both the climb and the subsequent long descent.

We settled into a nice tempo with Robbie Squire and Alex Grant setting the pace.  I felt comfortable for the majority of the climb but near the top felt like I was starting to push a little too hard considering how early in the race we were.  I let the lead group of 6-8 pull away but soon found myself in no man's land for the next 10 miles of rolling terrain.  I also dropped my bottle in which I had mixed four gels and had to go back and get it since that represented the majority of my nutrition. By the time I looked up those guys were out of sight.

I worked hard over the high plateau and regained contact with the lead group, who looked up with expressions that seemed to say, "Where the hell did you just come from?"  That was pleasing for a second and then we were all launching off the edge of the world down the long descent toward Junction.  I quickly moved to the back of the group so as to not wreck anyone's day.  The guys looked like dirt missiles with plumes of dust trailing behind.  Near the top Jamey Driscoll streaked past me as I yelled at him how sketchy it all felt.  The sketchiness didn't seem to bother him in the slightest.  Speaking of sketchy, Danny Pate and his skinny tires gave us all a clinic in bike handling.  Near the top as he went around me on a switchback, he seemed to be laughing while drifting his rear wheel through the turn.

Dirt Missiles (Photo by Winger Studios?)

Fortunately, Robbie Squire played the descent a little more conservatively and I was able to follow his line and we hit the pavement together.  We had lost maybe 20-30 seconds but with some collaboration, were able to regroup by the time we hit Junction.  We were now a pack of five as Alex, Jonathan Paige, and another guy had mechanicals on the way down.  The original two from the initial break were still off the front.

Photo by Cotton Sox Photography (found on the internet)

Pacelining through the valley was kinda surreal and I definitely felt a little out of place in that group.  In my pre race aspirations, I had envisioned myself right there.  To actually be there was quite nice but I would soon pay for my previous efforts.

Pretending like I know how to pace line with the pros (Photo by Winger Studios)

As we began the dirt climb from Circleville, we passed LeRoy Popowski, and as the road steepened, Robbie made what would turn out to be the winning move, powering away from the group.  Jamey was the only one to give an honest chase while the rest of us splintered apart.  I followed Jamey, well gapped, with space between each subsequent rider.  Through this "Mojave Deseret Hell "(Strava segment name) there is a short downhill where I once again got in the way of Danny, who eventually passed me after I accidentally cut him off.  I apologized for my DH skills and he kindly said his aren't great either.  I knew that to be BS and commented on his descent of the Col de Crush to which he replied that it was his bike that was performing well.  Whoever said roadies are all dicks hasn't met this guy.

Hitting the real climb up the Col de Crush, other racers were descending and cheering us on.  The lead car handed up a Coke and I was excited.  I felt strong, was in good position, and started to dare to dream about the podium.  I settled in at a effort I felt I could maintain to the finish.  LeRoy passed me back, but I passed Danny and then Ben Blaugrund (one of the original break) to move into fourth on the road.  I was exceeding my expectations but was quickly brought back to reality when my right leg began to cramp quite suddenly and without warning.

With only a few hundred meters to the top of the KOM climb and some 10 miles of rolling terrain to the finish, I thought I was done.  I stood at the side of my bike pissed as first my hamstring and then my quads would cramp while I tried to stretch the other.  Finally, the leg relaxed and I started walking backwards up the hill.  Then I could walk normally, then I could ride, but with greatly reduced power for fear of cramping again.  Now in seventh, I could see Alex, who had recovered from a flat, charging up the climb behind me.  He went by just past the top and laughed that when he saw me standing there he could tell I was an easy target.  He offered some encouragement and blasted away for an eventual fourth place finish.

Now, hoping to limit the damage, I set about the frustrating game of trying to ride as fast as possible with limited power and ever lurking cramps.  Neil Shirley, was the next to go flying by.  He mentioned that behind him there was a big gap and also offered some words of encouragement.  His words were nice but a strong tailwind was nicer.

Climbing the final pitches to the finish were comical.  I was zig zagging across the road to lessen the pitch and keep the quivering quads at bay.  I felt amazing but was joking with people on the road about how pathetic I must have looked.

After looking back a dozen times over the last kilometer, I finally crossed the line, barely holding onto ninth.  It was done in my typical suicide style but it was a fantastic way to almost die.  Burke was standing there to shake my hand and even though I could barely pedal my bike at that moment, I was already thinking about next year...


A "podium" of 10??  Not complaining.  


  • Maybe I should try to get into the break next time since I did so much work in the first half alone anyway. 
  • I think my cramps were due to neuromuscular fatigue and not secondary to nutrition.  I ate and drank well, had a good stomach and good energy.  I'll need to do more hard sustained efforts with change of pace to simulate a race.  I hadn't experienced anything similar prior to the Crusher.  
  • My bike was perfect.  Everyone seems to worry about bike choice, gearing, tires, etc.  This year, the course was in great shape but I likely won't change a thing next time.  I rode a Cannondale SuperX cross bike with 50/34 rings and an 11-32 cassette with a mid range rear derailleur.  I went with Stans Valor clinchers and tubeless Hutchinson 33c tires.  
  • The volunteers, aid, marking, and entire event were of the highest level.  As I mentioned previously, this was the most fun race I've ever done.  
  • In the same vein, I felt the race offered a good return on investment.  The schwag bags included a cool shirt, socks, and some nutritional products.  The event was amazing.  There's a decent meal afterwards.  And they paid $$$ 10 places deep!  I felt a little sheepish cashing a check for 9th but I did anyway and now I'm even more motivated to return next year.  
  • We got lucky with the weather.  It was cool, overcast, and we benefited from a tailwind over the last 10 miles.  
  • I need to remember to register in January as it sells out quickly.  

Monday, May 11, 2015

The White Rim Trail

Last Saturday, Jason, Tom Goth, Jason Prigge, and I rode the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park.  I was expecting dusty and boring but got mind blowing scenery and cool perfect weather.  

Jason and Tom skipped town Friday evening and stayed in Moab while Prigge and I opted for the early alarm and left my house at 5 AM.  By 9:15, we hopped on our bikes and rode down the Mineral Bottom road, heading in a clockwise direction.  

Every few minutes we kept screaming about how beautiful and wild the landscape was and I think this fueled our early hot pace.  We stopped a few times to hike over and look down from the rim and a few other times to scrap myself off the slick rock or to fix a flat (just one on the day).  Otherwise, the day went off without a hitch and we returned to the car about 8 1/2 hours after starting.  We even made it back to SLC that evening so as to not miss out on the mother's day celebrations the next morning. 

Regarding my crash, I was so stunned by the scenery that I kept trying to take photos while riding and eventually it caught up with me.  I'm lacking in bike handling skills and on a flat section of trail, somehow managed to end up slamming my shoulder and head into the slick rock.  My head being hard and covered by a helmet was fine but my shoulder felt destroyed.  I lay in a heap while Jason and Tom actually expressed concern instead of the typical laughter.  Eventually, I wiped away waves of nausea, got back on the bike, and was happy to find that I could ride without trouble.  I just couldn't lift my arm up.  

Not even my stupidity could ruin the day.  

My interest is now piqued to return and ride it as a TT or to take the bikes elsewhere and explore other corners of the desert.  I've always thought of adventures in terms of how far I could run in a day.  Now that we are on bikes, I have to readjust my scale of what is possible. 

Suggestions for adventure rides are more than welcome. 

Early in the ride near to top of the Hardscrabble climb

The guys and the Green River

Investigating big holes

Look closely, Jason and Tom should be visible at the edge of the sage. 


Monday, April 13, 2015

Mount Sopris: Crystal Couloir

Some years ago, I raced the Heathen Challenge at Sunlight Mountain outside of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.  At the time, I was psyched to to be racing but kept looking at Mount Sopris across the valley.  Why wasn't I skiing that big aesthetic mountain instead?  

We are just back from a family vacation to the Roaring Valley and I finally got my chance to ski Sopris when I crashed some local guys' plans.  I had stopped by the Cripple Creek Backcountry store and chatted with Doug, one of the owners.  He invited me to ski Sopris the next morning and said to meet outside the shop at 5:30.  Up at 4:20, I readied myself in the dark and drove down the Frying Pan road to Carbondale.  We were staying up by the Ruedi Reservoir and chose the place as randomly as throwing darts while blindfolded.  Fortunately, we have good aim.  

Just after 5:30 Randy, the other co-owner, pulled up and seemed surprised to see me.  Apparently, Doug had bailed but didn't tell Randy or Tony that I was coming.  They rolled with it and soon we were navigating dirt roads in the predawn light as the guys had gotten permission from a local ranch owner to start on their property, just underneath the Crystal Couloir of Sopris, which was the day's objective.  

Out of the truck, I had another idiot moment when I realized I left my liners in my car back in Carbondale.  Not only did I just meet these guys fifteen minutes ago, but now I was about to ruin their day, or at least mine.   Luckily, Tony had a spare set of Alien liners that fit my boots in his truck and didn't seem squeamish about the fact that I was going to return them smoking with foot sweat.  What a guy!

We walked through the rancher's property, navigated some game trails until we hit snow, and booted around 4000 steps to the top of the Crystal Couloir.  It was mostly bullet proof with swaths of blown in powder that was an inch or two deep.  The skiing was going to mostly suck but it would still be a glorious spring descent.  

At the top of the face, the guys sat down for some snacks but since I'd never been up there before, I headed up to tag the summit.  A few minutes later, I was atop a false summit and out of time.  It was already 10 AM and I was supposed to be back at the cabin by now to take on a full day of adventures with the boys.  I quickly texted an apology to my wife and turned it around.  From there, I skied  a rocky strip of snow back to the guys, and then we all clicked in for thousands of feet of spring skiing on that very face that had captured my attention years ago.  

It's not that steep or really that long, but it dominates one's view driving up the valley and was an unexpected bonus of an already great family vacation.  

Sidenote: The rancher sent a photo of us to Tony crossing his property taken from a security camera that was apparently taken just moments after a couple mountain lions had stalked through.  Let those stand as two reasons (cameras and lions) to not trespass.  

Randy just below the snow line

Randy and the Crystal Face

Booting forever

The Elks are just a little bigger than the Wasatch!

Looking back at the guys having a snack. 

Randy dropping into the firm sustained face with race gear. 



Back with the family, Lars was all business.  He will race anything that moves. 

Most days involved at least some time throwing rocks into the lake.  

Saturday, March 28, 2015

V Notch, Apocalypse, and the Son of Apocalypse Couloirs

After our late start on Wednesday, we knew we needed to get up early and get high to beat the heat and find good snow.  We are lucky to know Zahan Billimoria, who made a couple suggestions, gave us the beta on route finding, and even fed us dinner and welcomed us into his home for a short night's sleep.  Z is one of the nicest guys on the planet and is always psyched, always supportive, and is one of the most inspiring people I've met.  He has a family with two kids a little older than mine and I hope that I can emulate him in more ways than just his ski mountaineering.  

We sat by his computer and bounced around ideas for the day.  Eventually, we settled on the following.  The plan was to get up early, cross Phelps Lake in the dark, and ascend to the top of the Apocalypse Couloir.  From there, we would get a look at the V Notch Couloir, perhaps link them both, and then if conditions allowed, add on the Son of Apocalypse.  Sometimes, everything goes exactly according to one's whimsical plans. 

We broke trail the entire day, didn't see a single soul, and skied steep but stable powder until Jason declared, "Well, I think we've gotten our Teton fix for a bit."  That usually means about a day but at least we were content.  

We were reasonably high by the time the light turned sharp

Near the top of the V Notch, there was a bouldery ice step that prompted the use of ropes and sharp objects.  

photo by Jason Dorais

We topped out the line and found nothing but white.  It's just as well since the summit of Prospector is apparently closed to human traffic to protect the big horn sheep.  Photo by Jason Dorais

We skied back to the small rock band and placed an anchor. 

A look down at the minimal but engaging crux

Time to ski.

This chute is reasonably steep but the soft snow made it carefree.

Photo by Jason Dorais

Photo by Jason Dorais

Out onto the apron.

The aptly named V Notch decorated with our tracks. 

We skinned back up to the top of the Apocalypse and after some rooting around, found the slings at the base of a large tree.  We knew there would be three rappels but it still seems odd that this line doesn't fill in to the top.  I suppose the prevailing winds prevent it, but DAMN would that be nice.  

For the first rap, the rope was handy.  For the second two, it was only useful to lower over a couple small rock steps that interrupted the steep snow.  This was nice as our rope was just a little short for the second rap (we were using one 60).  

Once in the cave, we donned skis and I belayed Jason as he ski cut the hell out of the upper Apocalypse.  I then skied to his position and gave it my best shot while he belayed.  Satisfied, we laughed our way down this insanely classic Teton chute.  

From the top.  Photo by Jason Dorais

The second rappel with the small rock step below me.  Photo by Jason Dorais

Jason rappelling the upper Apocalypse

The third and final rap with the last rock bulge below Jason.

Free of the rope! Photo by Jason Dorais

Around the corner and entering the main couloir.  Photo by Jason Dorais

Jason approaches the icy choke

Jason trying to decide if it "goes"

It goes!  But required some ugly turns and hip checking into the rock wall on the left.  Photo by Jason Dorais

Through the ice crux, happy to have kept skis on. 

Photo by Jason Dorais

Pleased with the day but not ready to be done, we skied to the apron of the Son of Apocalypse to get a look.  Our main concern was the sun and the danger involved in climbing a chute with some big terrain above us.  Fortunately, the wind picked up and the skies were becoming more overcast so we decided to start up with the pact to turn around at the first sign of instability.  

The only instability we found was in ourselves.  The benefit of being alone in the mountains is paid for by trail breaking and this seemed to be taking a toll.  With heavy packs and deep snow, I resigned myself to just be uncomfortable.  We thought it would take an hour to boot the chute but the truth was closer to two.  

As we topped out I got a text from Z that read, "How are we doing boyz?"  

About to drop into the Son of Apocalypse after two great lines already, the answer was most definitely, "Psyched!"

Jason booting up the Son of Apocalypse

Skiing the upper bowl before it funnels into the chute. Photo by Jason Dorais

Photo by Jason Dorais

Photo by Jason Dorais

The long walk home across Phelps Lake