Thursday, August 29, 2013

Tour de Poison Ivy

I went out this morning to revisit the Dinosaur Eggs on the southern flank of Dinosaur Mountain. The routes to the summits of these rocks are 5.6 and I wasn't sure I wanted to solo them. I was just going to go give them a look.

I left NCAR at 6:30 a.m. and, following Roach's Flatirons Guidebook, tried to head up Bear Canyon from the Mesa Trail. This was a horrible, poison-ivy bushwhack and I eventually turned around. Not wanting to repeat the bushwhack on the descent, I finally broke out of the gully and headed up very steep dirt terrain to the Bear Canyon Trail above. I followed this for just a few minutes before descending once again into the canyon, but this time, right across it and up the other side towards the Southern Dinosaur Egg. The poison ivy was here as well, but slightly easier to avoid. 

I soloed up the first pitch of Hatch (5.6), through some very cool chimney climbing and stemming until I got to the large chockstone below the crux headwall. I switched to my climbing shoes here and very carefully and methodically climbed the vertical face to the summit. I tried to memorize all the moves for the descent. I didn't spend long on top, as I was afraid I'd forget all the moves on the descent. This was pretty intimidating for me as it is very steep and quite exposed, but the holds are good if you find the right ones and I took a lot of time to make sure I was 100% solid.

After changing my shoes I downclimbed to the west and then up a ramp, wrapping around the Southern Dinosaur Egg to the saddle between it and the Northern Dinosaur Egg. I carefully picked my way through more poison ivy past Bear Cave to the base of Rehatch (5.6). I was short on time at this point and decided to just head back. I traversed past the base of Der Freischutz and hiked up the gully between it and Dinosaur Rock to the Mallory Cave Trail. I trotted slowly, feeling tired and clumsy (my usual state these days), back to the car by 8:20 a.m.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tiny Tower

This is another of the Roach Flatiron Classics that I hadn't visited in a long time. The crux was just a few moves of 5.6, so I was hoping to solo it. I followed the South Shanahan Trail to the Mesa Trail and followed that south for about a tenth of a mile before heading up the slope on a diagonal towards the tower. At this point I could clearly see the tower, but soon I entered the woods and could no longer see it. I made my way by dead reckoning up the slope, across a loose talus field and into a draw, which I followed to the base of the rock. At first I thought it might be the Sphinx, but it wasn't. I changed to my climbing shoes here and left my approach shoes at the base.

The first 150-foot pitch involved really fun scrambling on great rock with good holds. There were a couple of steep sections, but everything was pretty easy. This put me just right of a sharp fin, which I need to climb onto for the second pitch. A awkward, leaning move but with good holds brought me to an 8-foot high wall. Here was the crux. There were two key footholds on this wall and they were quite positive but very small. I was thankful to have my climbing shoes on, as the handholds were marginal sidepulls and insecure dishes. It was essential to stand solidly on your feet and I did so. The rest of the pitch was easy and finished up a slot/chimney.

I looked down the West Ridge and thought it would go, but decided to take the regular descent route to the ground. I then dug out the book and found that the West Ridge was a route in Roach's book and was as moderate as it looked. It is only about fifty feet tall and so I climbed up it to the summit and then climbed back down it.

I descended steep slopes to the north of the tower back to my approach shoes, which a large group of ants had found particularly interesting. I didn't notice this until I had one shoe on and needed to remove it to clean out the ants and brush them off. I wonder what attracted them?

I headed back to my car and decided to stay in the draw the entire way. This became choked off lower down and I exited to the north and then crossed back over to the south. I ended up hitting the Mesa Trail way down at the Bluestem Junction. This is not the direction I wanted to go, but would be a nice way to descend if you wanted to link this tower to the next classic to the south: The Fatiron.

I hiked up the Mesa Trial to the north until I hit the Shanahan Trail Junction and then trotted easily back to the car.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Longs Peak Duathlon

After my last two, no three, no many weekends, I was looking forward to taking a weekend off from a big effort. Then I got an email from my buddy Eric. He was doing the Longs Peak Duathlon. I had already done the Mt. Thorodin Duathlon (twice, once with Eric) and the MAD this year and had wanted to do the grand daddy... Also, I had not been up Longs Peak all year. That's a travesty.

I didn't need to be as tough as Eric - he's training for the Run Rabbit Run, his first 100 miler - so I didn't bother. He started from Longmont and I started in Lyons, adding 45 minutes to the ride. He rode a mountain bike weighing twice as much as my carbon road bike. Part of the appeal to this adventure was to show Eric the North Face of Longs Peak - the shortest way to the summit. It feels good to be useful.

Meeting us at the trailhead were Jason Antin, Dan Miller, and Kirk, Eric's pacer at Run Rabbit Run. Jason even provided support for us and took our running up to the trailhead so that we could bike unencumbered.

I awoke at 2 a.m. and was driving by 2:10, having got everything ready the night before. After costing down the McCaslin Hill toward highway 36 a touch fast, I noticed a cop in a lefthand turn lane. What's he doing there? He fell in behind me, but didn't turn on his lights until I had merged onto the highway. He was cool and just gave me a warning for going 55 in a 45 mph zone.

I passed by Eric as I entered Lyons and he found me at my parking spot. I was ten minutes away from riding, so Eric continued on. I geared up in short-fingered gloves and short-sleeve jersey and no leggings. At the last minute I pulled on my armies. It felt warm even though it was just 3:02 a.m. I had a rear flasher and a headlamp on my bike.

I caught Eric after about 50 minutes and we rode together the rest of the way. The two big descents were really cold (40 degrees out and we were riding at 30 mph downhill) and our hands and my feet got very uncomfortable. With less than ten miles to go, I flatted and we struggled to use our frigid hands to change my tube.

Jason came by us in his Jeep ridiculously early. We were all supposed to be meeting at the trailhead at 5:30 a.m. and Jason got there at 4:30 a.m. getting the last spot in the parking lot. the other two arrived  right on time. Eric and I were ten minutes late, mostly due to my flat tire. We transitioned to our hiking gear and hit the trail at 6 a.m.

Eric announced, "I won't be running to begin with, as I'm transitioning from my cycling muscles." "To begin with?!" I thought, "I won't be running at all on the way up." I showed the crew all the climber shortcuts. It was apparently early on that Eric wasn't having his best day hiking. He dealt with some cramps early and Kirk fed him a salt tablet. Further up, Eric faded further. At the base of the North Face route he'd say, "This is the worse day I've had in the mountains in a couple of decades."

We separated into two groups for most of the hike. Jason, Kirk and I led the way and Dan stayed back with Eric. As we approached the North Face the winds picked up considerably and the skis grayed over. We hunkered down out of the wind and waited for Eric and Dan to catch up, but Eric was falling back immediately as soon as we started moving. To his credit, he never considered turning around and calling it a day. This perseverance to keep going even when going through a very bad patch is the key attribute in finishing a 100-mile race.

I asked Eric if he was solid to solo the 5.3 crux of the North Face and he gave me the thumbs up. I led the way with Eric following, then Jason, Kirk, and Dan. The two crux sections were wet and this provided a little extra stress. Everyone was a climber to some extent and everyone kept it solid. Dan had a touch more trouble than the others, but Jason and I watched over him. Dan didn't like the second crux and to his credit he asked for help. He didn't push through when he wasn't solid and he didn't panic. He just asked me to downclimb a bit to him and give him a hand. Problem solved.

Dan and I climbed the rest of the way together, overtaking the other three by going a more direct way, aka the wrong way. Dan is a Cat. 3 bike racer and very fit. I'd raced against him in my racing days, and he always schooled me. Kirk is a former 2:30 marathoner and despite working pretty hard on the hike up there, I never heard him even breathing. Jason is about my height, but probably weighs 200 pounds, 35 pounds more than me and I'm sure he has less fat on him. He looks like a body builder. He's also running Run Rabbit Run for his third hundred of the year. The most amazing thing about Jason is that he was a Division I defensive end. When he played football he weighed 260. How he could handle 60 more pounds of muscle on his frame, I don't know. His arms must have been bigger than my waist.

We topped out around 9:30, doing the ascent in about 3.5 hours. So, Eric "slow pace" was probably faster than anyone else who climbed the peak that day. We took summit photos and signed the register. We split up on the descent with Jason and I going back down the North Face and Dan, Kirk, and Eric descending the Keyhole Route. I was slow and clumsy on the descent. I told Jason that I hadn't recovered enough from Pikes to do a 5000-foot descent with any agility, but I don't know if that was a valid excuse. I hope so.

Back at the parking lot I leisurely transitioned back to my cycling gear and then took off for Lyons. I descended the steep mile of the Longs Peak Road and then a quarter mile down the Peak-to-Peak highway, I flatted again! Cheap tubes... I pulled out the tube and located the hole, but I was out of CO2 and didn't bring a pump. Stupid. Luckily, I was near the stage for the US Pro Cycling Challenge, which was riding above Estes Park and there were many riders out. A CU student stopped first and gave me a CO2 cartridge. I thought I was good until I opened up my patch kit and only had patches in it - no glue. An older guy came by and he gave me a tube. What generosity. I got the number of the first guy so that I could pay him back but the older guy just said to pay it forward. Will do.

Back turning the pedals I struggled up a steep hill into a strong headwind. I was fading a bit. On the ride up that morning, in 2h40m of riding I had two sips out of my bottle and no food. I felt fine at the trailhead and hiked strong, but if I was trying to go fast, I wouldn't have. I ate another Honey Stinger Waffle and labored up the remaining hills before the cruiser descent to Lyons.

I did roughly 53 miles of cycling and 10 miles of hiking/running. The total elevation gain was 11,500 feet and it took me 10h17m. That's not too impressive, but this was supposed to be a rest weekend. It was not... But I had a great time with some new and old friends. And finally climbed Longs Peak for 2013.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Matron with Mark

I've been trying to revisit all the Flatiron Classics from Gerry Roach's book and today Mark joined me to link up the East Ridge and the North Face, both Classics, of the Matron. We met at 5:30 a.m. and hiked in rather slowly to the Matron. My legs were still a bit dead from the Pikes Peak Marathon and I had little energy to go uphill, though the soreness in my legs had ebbed considerably. We did run into a bit of poison ivy on the approach, but were able to avoid it in the nick of time.

I led the steep first pitch of the East Ridge and belayed Mark up. We unroped and scrambled up the easy but spectacular East Ridge to where the North Ridge joins it. Here we put in a rappel anchor and rapped to the ground, barely reaching it with our one 60-meter rope. We pulled the rope and I led the North Face back to the East Ridge. Mark followed and we unroped again to complete the East Ridge.

We did two rappels down the west ride, hiked back to our gear at the base of the East Ridge and hiked/trotted back to the car.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Pikes Peak Marathon: Race Report

Pikes Peak Marathon: Race Report

My buddy Corey called it “dancing with that big honking mountain”, but if that’s the case, I’ve got two left feet. This is a brutal race and it never fails to inflict tremendous pain on me and this year was no exception. I’d run twice in the last 33 days and one of those runs was a run/walk the day before. The other was 3 miles this past Wednesday. I basically hadn’t run since the Barr Mountain Trail Race. Why would anyone do something like that? My excuse is that I overloaded my schedule. I spent two weeks in Switzerland climbing the Eiger and other peaks with buddy Homie (also running the PPM) and then, last weekend, I raced the Leaville 100-mile Mountain Bike Race with my brother. I could have dropped out, but what would I tell people asking about that decision? I could easily say that I wasn’t prepared to do well, so why suffer for a mediocre time? But that’s the coward’s path.

Sheri drove me down and we left the house at 4:30 a.m. She’d see me off and then drive to the summit to give me cushy pair of shoes. I went up in minimal footware, my favorite Helios, but wanted more protection for my feet and knees on the way down. I checked with Matt Carpenter about the legality of this and he confirmed it was okay. Cameron Clayton, a world-class ultra-runner and running in his first Pikes Peak, did the same thing. Sheri talked with his parents on the summit.

I saw my friends Galen Burrell, Dave Mackey, Jeff Valliere, George Zack, and of course Homie at the start. I lined up next to Homie with hope that I’d be able to stay with him for a good portion of the race. He hadn’t run hardly at all since Hard Rock, but Homie is a very tough man... Tougher than me and it was perhaps conceit that I would think I could match him.
I went out easy, I thought, but my heart rate was a bit high and I backed off. I had my watch set to beep if I ever went above 165 bpm or below 150 bpm. My initial plan was to run until my heart rate went above 165 and then walk until it dropped below 150. It turned out these weren’t the right values. These turned out to be the wrong settings. I couldn’t really get my heartrate above 165 so I never had my watch beep, telling me to walk. That wouldn’t do. I lowered it to 160. Also, when I was walking I could keep my heart rate above 150, so I never was forced to start running again. This wasn’t a problem and I walked a lot. I knew I would be walking a lot and it was disappointing to not be able to run more, but my heartrate was high and I was working hard, so it is what it is. I was back in a part of the peloton that I’m not used to, but it’s getting a lot more familiar to me.

Halfway up the W’s I missed a turn, which is hard to do, and Homie went by. It wasn’t long before he was out of sight and I wouldn’t see him again until he was coming down. I walked a lot and only ran when the angle eased. It was humbling, but I just told myself that I didn’t deserve anything better. I didn’t do the proper preparation, so that’s what I got. And going conservative wasn’t just to make things easier on myself. I knew what was coming. The descent is hellacious with the pain increasing exponentially the entire way. I knew I wouldn’t escape this mountain unscathed, no matter how slow I was on the ascent.

I got to Barr Camp in 1h40m. I had less than 6 miles to go to the summit and was hoping to match that time on the upper section, but I could not. My heartrate dipped further and I had to adjust my target rate to 140 bpm so that it would stop beeping. Some of this was due to the altitude - it’s hard to get your heartrate up when there isn’t much oxygen - and some was my legs, which were rapidly fading. I was getting some cramping on the sides of my calves. I experienced this for the first time at the Barr Mountain Trail Race and I think this is mostly due to my poor running. I land on the outside of my feet and I think this is putting strain on the outside of my calves. I was cramping already, but it wasn’t like a cramp in the center of my calf, as I could still move through it and stretch it as I ran or walked. This would plague me the rest of the race, but never stopped me from moving.

I walked my way to the top and cheered on former-winner Galen as he came down in fourth place, which he’d hold to the finish. Cameron came down in 5th place and then the amazingly versatile Dave Mackey in 6th place. Dave still owns the speed record on the Third Flation, a 33-minute effort, yet he’s still setting course records on 50 and 100-mile races, including the fastest Masters’ time ever run at Western States. He excels at every outdoor sport, but is world-class at ultrarunning. Jeff Valliere came next and he’d end up as the 4th overall Masters. Then George Zack, having a rare tough day. I got pretty close to the top before I saw Kristi Anderson and Homie coming down. Kristi made the summit 7 minutes faster than me and Homie was three or four minutes faster. Chris Reveley, former winner of this race, was also right around here.
I saw Sheri just before the turn-around and went by, wanting to complete the ascent first. I came back down to where Sheri had a great rock seat for me. She helped me change my shoes and filled my bottle. I started down, taking it very easy and was surprised to find that I could run okay. I took things super easy, knowing that any pressing here would jeopardize me even finishing. Still, I passed a number of runners who were having some trouble on the more technical upper section. I wasn’t spry by any measure and I took things slow and careful on the technical sections as well, but clearly I was more experienced on this terrain than the runners around me.
This year every runner had their first name printed in bold letters on their bib. I’d never seen this before and I absolutely love it! It created an incredible sense of camaraderie among the runners. Everyone was cheering on everyone else, by name! This included the incredible female winner Stevie Creamer. She came within two minutes of a decades-old course record and yet was cheering on runners as she went by me. I saw her walking the streets after the race and she is super nice and by far the biggest badass female in this race, winning by a huge margin and placing 12th overall.
Many of the runners ascending as I descended would say, “Way to go, Bill!” or “Looking good, Bill.” I responded with, “Right back at you, Kym. Go get that summit, Calvin! Looking strong, D’Squarius!” It was so fun.

A mile and a half down I was shocked to notice that I had closed on Kristi. She is a much more accomplished runner than I am and she beat me pretty nicely on the ascent, supposedly my strength, at least versus coming down. Before I could say anything she called out, “Is that Bill?” without even looking around. She obviously heard me talking to all the other runners. She stepped to the side and let me pass and I said, “You’ll be passing me back further down, just like at Barr Mountain.” But she didn’t. Apparently the technical parts up high allowed me to build a big enough lead to hold her off, despite the troubles that lay ahead of me.

Things went reasonably well down to Barr Camp and I didn’t get passed at all. I was running alone at this point. I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me and nor anyone behind me. Down in the trees the line of sight isn’t that far, but it was quite a change from the crowds above treeline. This race starts in downtown Manitou Springs with a crowd of 800 and throughout the morning the field is spread like peanut butter on bread over the flanks of Pikes Peak.

I stopped briefly at Barr Camp to get my bottle filled and grab some pretzels, as I was on the edge of cramping. I tried to run as smooth as possible, with no sudden jerks of my legs, for that would have surely locked me up. There is a short uphill section on the way to Bob’s Road aid station and I walked this hill. My watch beeped at me and I was sure it was because my heartrate had fallen below 140. I figured I must be bonking because I sure felt like I was working hard and I couldn’t really work any harder. I took a sip of my bottle and finally remembered the two GUs I had put in my bottle holder. I thought I was out of GU because my pockets were empty. Then I looked at my watch: 160 bpm. That was good. It didn’t make me any faster and I was still a dead-man shuffling, but at least I wasn’t bonking.

As I entered Bob’s Road Aid Station, my right thigh locked up completely and I couldn’t move. I staggered around, trying not to fall over and a medical volunteer trotted up to me, “How are you doing, Bill?” “Not so good, right now.” I massaged my thigh and walked, Frankenstein-like, into the aid station. I grabbed more pretzels and some grapes and was able to start running again, albeit very slowly.

I was starting to watch the time now and did some calculations. If I could run 9 minutes/mile I’d break 5:30. Normally, doing this on a smooth, downhill trail wouldn’t be an issue, but there is nothing normal about the Pikes Peak descent. Things just progressively fall apart for me. I already had one wheel off and by the time I got to No Name Creek, I was in such a world of pain that I could only think about stopping, about walking, about lying down. I feared I wouldn’t break 5:40 but never seriously thought I’d do a personal worst, going over 5:44, though if I had to walk much, I’d go over six hours. Many runners caught and passed me, including Chris Reveley with about three miles to go. I thought he was ahead of me, but he had cramping issues above treeline and had to stop for five minutes. The race can bring even the very best, the most experienced to their knees...

I continued to descend in my world of agony, going embarrassingly slow. We were all extremely lucky for some cloud cover on the descent and that saved the day for me. Thunder rolled even and I prayed for rain. If it had been clear, the heat might have ended me. I was hot, but the pain in my legs was the overwhelming factor for me here. Hikers would give me passage and I wanted to explain to them why I was going so slow. I wondered if they thought, “Dang, this race isn’t very fast. Maybe I’ll enter next year.” The first year I did the Ascent, in 1998, I got to the top and thought, “I feel great! I could easily run down.” Ignorance is truly bliss compared to the suffering of intimate knowledge. I thought to myself, “never again.” As I write this the day after the race my attitude has already changed, at least somewhat, even though I still can hardly walk. That ability to forget pain and suffering is essential if you want to continue doing things like this.
I finally made the last turn and now only had a mile to go, though it was the steepest mile of the entire race. As I hit pavement, there were Sheri and Buzz encouraging me. Buzz waited for Kristi to come down, not far behind, and Sheri fell in beside me to encourage me to the finish. Normally I’m a chatty guy, but I wasn’t then. I was just in so much pain and could only think about stopping. It crowded every other thought from my mind. With a half mile to go, my right thigh locked again and I nearly toppled. Sheri massaged out the cramp and I continued. Anyone who has ever done this race will tell you that this final mile is interminably long. I knew this and just focused on my watch. It should all be over before 5:35...

I finished in 5:31:37, good enough for 5th place in the 50-54 division, 93rd overall and 82nd male. I was surprised how close I came to my goal and glad the finish came a few minutes early, but I couldn't get myself to go any faster. My body was failing, but I'm sure a stronger mind would have succeeded. That was my slowest ascent ever and my second slowest marathon, only exceeded by crampfest of 2001. I thought I could break 5:30 and I was on track for most of the way, but I got what I deserved and I’m fine with it. I sat in the shaded, finishing tent for a long way with bags of ice on my knees, neck and forehead. Homie joined me in the tent, already looking fully recovered. I thought about the fact that the Hard Rock 100 is almost exactly like doing four Pikes Peak Marathons, back to back to back to back. Homie has done that twice. So, essentially, he was recovered already. He finished around 5:21. Full results are here. My history of results on Pikes is here. The 3:45 ascent time in 2010 I don’t really count, as I was pacing Sheri. Also, the 1999 marathon time is actually Mark Oveson. I broke my back a couple of weeks before the race and he took my spot. That is illegal nowadays and they prevent that by requiring ID to pick up your number and they put a wrist band on you, though this is easy enough to circumvent if you really wanted to cheat. So, this was my sixth time doing the Marathon. I’ve also done the Ascent five times. I’ve also run up/down the Peak for training in February before, taking shortcuts above treeline. And I went up only once, getting to the top so wasted that I hopped on the train to come down.

Somewhat embarrassingly this result earned me the title of USATF 50-54 National Trail Marathon Champion and 10th overall. This is cool, of course, but a bit of a joke, as it only takes into account people that are actually members of the USATF. I guess that will give you an incentive to join the USATF, but it change the fact that four other Americans in my age group beat me and probably thousands more in the US could have beaten me, if they had raced.

The day before, on the Ascent, the Masters record-holder Lisa Goldsmith had a tough day, running uncharacteristically slow. She texted Sheri: “Training is not overrated.” She hadn’t been able to train like she has in the past and it showed. I find myself concurring with this conclusion. I think training can definitely improve your times. Maybe I’ll try that next time...

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Leadville 100: Mountain Bike Race Report

Starting up the Powerline climb on the return trip

“I commit. I will not quit”
- Ken Chlouber, founder and spiritual leader of the Leadville 100

At the pre-race meeting on Friday Ken had 2000 cyclists on their feet chanting. “I commit! I will not quit! I commit! I will not quit! He tells everyone that “you’re better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can.” He gives the same sermon before the Leadville 100 Trail Run and it touched me deeply. It inspired me. I had never run 100 miles and I knew that less than 40% of the entrants don’t even finish. I knew there was a real chance that I wouldn’t finish and these words meant something. But hearing the words for the cycling race was different. I wouldn’t quit. I felt that this would be a pretty casual event for me. I’d be wrong.

Ken Chlouber

Casual? How can that be? 100 miles, 12,500 vertical feet, mostly above 10,000 feet? That’s because I wasn’t really racing. I was in this race because of my brother, Chris. My younger brother Chris is my idol. He has all the qualities anyone would want. He’s brilliant, he’s hard working, he’s a risk taker. He’s a great educator and speaker and salesman. He’s founded, led, grown and sold companies with over 100 employees. He loves his family and his friends. He’s amazingly generous, always sharing his tremendous financial success with his entire extended family. He’s a huge contributor to the Northern Lights Oakland inner-city school and had just hosted the entire 8th grade class at his house in Montana as a reward for graduating and moving on to high school. He works tirelessly to make the world a better place. He only deals ethically and will turn down anything that isn’t right. He recently addressed the House of Lords in London. He’s written countless technical articles; won numerous awards. If you’re looking for a role model, he’ll do.

Chris’ middle-school friend was Dave Weins. They had kept in touch and Chris was happily surprised to hear that Dave was a pro mountain biker and a Leadville legend. This got Chris very interested in doing Leadville. I'd known about the race for a long time and it was definitely on my bucket list.

When Chris trains, we are about equal on the bike, but this year his hectic business schedule (he’s the CEO of two companies) and a hip issue limited his training. He’s lean though, at least ten pounds lighter than I am and a bit taller. He’s very tough, too. He’s ridden the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands in a day and he’s done the Markleeville Death Ride in the Sierra. Despite this, I think he was a bit concerned about the race. I told him the keys to our race were pacing and fueling. He added, “And there is one more key factor for me: you.”

That’s true. I was there to take care of my brother and to have a great adventure with him. Through him I’d had some great adventures with incredible people. I’ve ridden the White Rim and Kokopelli Trails with Greg LeMond. I’ve started on the very front row, next to Greg LeMond, in the 8000-rider L’etape d’Tour in France. Chris flew me up to Montana to climb a remote frozen waterfall with Conrad Anker. I’ve done a track workout with multiple-Olympic-gold-medalist and 400-meter world-record-holder Michael Johnson. I’ve skied with Olympic silver medalist Hank Kashiwa.

So, I wasn’t there to race. I was there to bond with my brother and, if possible, if necessary, to give back just a tiny bit of what he’s given me. There is no shortage of people who could have filled this role for Chris, stronger, better riders, but he wanted his brother. The truth is that he didn’t want to just ride the Leadville 100. That was mildly interesting at best for him. He wanted to ride the Leadville 100 with me.

Chris is a type-I diabetic and that has serious implications for events like this. When I don’t manage my fuel intake, I bonk. That sucks, I slow to a crawl and enter a world of pain. If Chris gets his fuel intake too far wrong, he’ll die. So, when he says we need to stop and eat and wait for his blood sugar level to come up, we stop and eat and wait.

Race Day:
On race morning we were up at 4:30 a.m. as we were staying at our condo in Breckenridge. We realized that Liz did not have the bike rack on her car and Chris’ disc brakes prevented it from attaching to my roof rack. My car was too small to get his giant 29er inside, so we had to draft Liz into driving over as well, with Chris’ bike inside their SUV. She didn’t complain and was ready to go before Chris and I.

On the drive over, Chris dressed for the race. The previous day I had spotted some chamonix cream specifically for cold weather riding - it supposedly produced some heat. I told Chris, “Won’t that feel great on a cold morning? I figure it will feel just like your car’s seat heater.” Well, that was mostly right. If sitting in your car was like sitting on an electric stove burner, that is. Chris slathered on this evil substance and was almost immediately incapacitated as the fire on his junk had him squirming in excrutiating pain . He doused himself with water in a frantic attempt to ease the suffering, but the next thirty minutes were torture. Sitting in the car, well before the race started, Chris experienced his most painful moments of the day. This is saying quite a lot, as you’ll come to realize. Remember this when you get to the end of this report.

Due to a mix-up with my entry, we got moved up to the purple corral for the start. Leadville does not have a wave start, everyone starts at the same time, but they do use corrals to order people by speed. Us first-timers that got in via the lottery (in theory), should be starting in the back, the last corral, of eight. Instead we were in the fifth corral.

After an inspiring National Anthem they counted us down from ten and then...we stood there. It was about a minute before we started to move and a total of 90 seconds before we crossed the start line. The race is chip timed and this delay would turn out to be significant...

The starting temperature of 35 degrees had most riders wearing leggings and capes, including ourselves. The 4-mile downhill start didn’t help and my hands and feet were quite cold. My hands warmed up on our first climb, St. Kevins, but my feet remained cold until getting down off the second climb, Sugarloaf. We stuck to our game plan of relaxing, taking things easy. This start was forced on us, as things clogged up nearly to a stop on the St. Kevins climb. Many got frustrated with this and under different circumstances I would have been as well. This is a double-track trail and we climbed it three across, but at a speed of about 3-4 mph. In a race, this is tough to handle, as the climb isn’t that steep. But since there are 1600 of us jammed onto this trail we have to climb at the rate of the slowest section of the trail, since that is where the riders are ahead of us. We never had to unclip on this climb, but we came really close.

At the top of the climb, we rolled for a bit and descended some steep dirt hills that I would completely forget about on the return trip. We hit the first aid station, Carter Summit, after 10.7 miles. We stopped here to fill our bottles and eat a couple of gels. I mistakenly started with just a single bottle. I wasn’t too worried about this except for one section - the huge Columbine Mine climb - but I just picked up one of the bottles that littered the course. In fact, I did this a number of times, finishing with two bottles I didn’t have at the start.

We exited onto pavement and cruised down 700 vertical feet and immediately started climbing up Sugarloaf Pass, first on pavement, then on a smooth dirt road, and finally on a rougher 4WD road. Chris and I rode together for all this, with me usually leading the way. At the start of the 4WD road, I stopped to pee and Chris went by. I quickly caught up, as it was now pretty easy to move up. There were still tons of riders all around us, and you couldn’t move at will, but you could steadily move up, if you wanted. In general, we didn’t want to and just stayed put.

By the time we got to the summit we were a bit separated. As soon as I knew we were starting the descent, I pulled over and waited for Chris. This was the infamous Powerline descent and it was fast, rocky and, at the bottom, deeply rutted and dangerous at speed. We had talked before the race about taking this particular descent very conservatively, as a crash this early in the race could end it for us. Plus, neither of us are very good descenders. The good news was that our conservative pace put us among riders who, in general, weren’t any faster than us on the descent and I easily kept up with the rider in front of me, lowering any pressure to go too fast. This was in great contrast to my descending experience at the Firecracker 50.

At the bottom, we rode about a half mile of dirt before hitting the paved road that goes by the Fish Hatchery. Here we got into a paceline, which was frustrating, since mountain bikers, at least the ones back at our speed, have no clue how to ride in a paceline. This wasn’t surprising as most Cat. 4 road riders have no clue about this either. This type of riding is my specialty and I wanted to go hard here, but Chris wisely kept me in check and we stuck to the plan.

Mostly road riding got us to the next aid station, called Pipeline, not to be confused with the Powerline climb. Liz was waiting for us there and while Chris checked his blood sugar, I dashed to the vehicle to ditch my helmet cam since the battery was already dead and to pull off my skull cap and armies. We were soon cruising out of there, headed for the only section of singletrack on the race course.

We rolled up and down a bit on doubletrack before getting to a nicely-graded, switchbacked, singletrack descent. Racers clogged up a bit here, but it was no cause for concern. This descent probably drops 400 feet and then we were back on roads, paved and dirt, into the aid station at Twin Lakes, at the base of the giant, 3500-foot Columbine Mine climb. Once again Liz met us and while Chris fueled and checked his blood, I visited the porta-potty. This was the first point where I became aware of the cut-off times. We had to get to this aid station in four hours and we arrived at 3h47m. We didn’t leave here until we were at 3h55m. We had to get back here by 7h45m.

We rolled out and up, starting the long grind to the top. Dave Weins had told us about this climb and that we should break it up into two climbs in our minds. The first part, up to about 11,000 feet, was up a relatively smooth dirt road. Above there the climbing gets much steeper and much rockier, and with all the riders descending we’d be forced to a singletrack on the right side. Dave told us that all these factors would make this section mostly pushing for us.
Drinking chocolate milk at the Pipeline aid station with an enthusiastic Derek in support

I was feeling good on the climb and would just go at my pace, mostly, and then stop to regroup with Chris. I’d ride with him for a bit and then creep up in the field. I’d pass and then get re-passed by the same people over and over. One of them was a really big, muscular guy - a former college football player. He was nice and we chatted quite a bit throughout the race. Another memorable rider was a chick with “All Things” written on her left calf and “Through Christ” on her right calf. In my mind I referred to her as the “Church Lady.”

As promised the upper section was very steep and rocky. I cleaned the first hard hill and it was cool how people would give me track. The call would go up, “Rider!” and people would try to give me some room to keep riding. It reminded me of the call out at the Pikes Peak Marathon where the uphill hikers call out, “Runner!” for the descenders and then move to the side. Alas, it soon got too steep for me and the line of people walking made it impossible.

Eventually I couldn’t ride any more. It was just too steep, rocky, and sustained. I walked for a bit and then stopped, laying my bike down. I walked back down the hill to find Chris and walk with him. Once back together and back at my bike the terrain was rideable again and we pedaled up the last steep sections and into the aid station at the Columbine Mine turn-around. We didn’t stay here long, just enough to refill our bottles, eat a touch of food and put a gel or two in our pockets. Just as we were leaving, a couple dressed as a bride and groom arrived. They were getting married here, halfway through the race. That was cool. Unfortunately, they didn’t make the 12-hour cut-off and I was concerned about us making it. I told Chris we had only an hour and 15 minutes to get back down and that we should get going. Chris didn’t argue about moving on, but he said, “We’ll do the descent in 45 minutes.” I was skeptical because of the top rocky section and some small climbs at the bottom of the descent, but Chris was dead-on.
Leaving Pipeline Aid Station with about three hours to go. Still blissfully ignorant of our desperate situation.
The descent went smoothly, with us staying close together almost the entire time. I lost a bottle on one of the rocky sections and didn’t bother to stop - I knew I’d find someone else’s lower down and I did. When we re-entered the aid station at Twin Lakes a volunteer said to us, “Welcome back.” Such a simple line, but it resonated with me. Welcome back, indeed. The Columbine Mine climb is an absolute bear and the obvious crux of the ride. Getting to the top and back without being slammed with weather or bonking is a feat in itself. It was a still a long way to the finish, but this beast was now behind us.

Liz was there waiting to take care of us, as were all the great volunteers that man all the aid stations. These people are so helpful and so positive and work so hard for every rider. It’s a very cool experience. We ate a bunch here and left just before Sheri and Derek arrived. They’d catch up with us at the next aid station, which was Powerline.

The section over to Powerline was a lot of smooth roads and then the singletrack, switchbacked climb. Here we passed a couple of riders who graciously pulled over, but then got stuck behind a slow rider who would not yield the track. I was frustrated but behind me Chris was thankful for the more relaxed pace and would have stopped me if I had tried to pass. At the top the trail goes to doubletrack and we went by. I rode a ridiculously steep hill a bit further on and went anaerobic. At the top I was breathing heavily and stopped to wait for Chris, who was pushing up the hill like everyone else. I should have done the same, but at this point I wasn’t worried at all about making the 12-hour mark. I should have been...

As we cruised the last couple of miles to Pipeline, Chris had me back off a bit. This was the first indication that Chris was fading, but I quickly forgot about it as we hit the aid station and the joyous support of Liz, Sheri, and Derek. Sheri and Derek had just nailed La Plata Peak and Derek in particular was very excited about supporting the race. We fueled with a variety of treats, the best one being a bottle of chocolate milk. We left only 7 minutes under the cut-off time, but I still wasn’t worried for some reason. It just wasn’t sinking in.

The next section was again on roads, some of it paved. Unfortunately, it was into a very strong headwind. Chris rode my wheel and I pulled hard into the wind. Chris had me back off a bit as I was gapping him. He told me then that his legs were gone and this was the start of a desperate struggle to make it in under 12 hours. A few other riders tacked onto our train and rode the draft. One guy came around to do his share of the work, but he rode too fast and I had to let him go or Chris would get gapped. He was off the front by about fifty feet, helping no one, and eventually dropped back into the line behind me.

It was painful riding the little paved rise around the Fish Hatchery and then we turned onto the dirt and headed up the crux of the return trip: the Pipeline climb. We were happily surprised to see Sheri and Derek, walking up the hill in front of us. I called out to them and they cheered us on. As we rode by, Derek pushed Chris for about 50 blissful yards. Shortly after this the terrain was too steep and we walked the hill like everyone else, including, in previous races, Dave Weins.
Derek giving Chris a much appreciated push at the start of the Powerline climb
The really nasty part at the bottom didn’t last that long. We pushed for probably 10-15 minutes before I could get back on. Most people around us walked the remainder of the long upper section, but I rode some of the steepest sections just to see if I could. I still had plenty of power left. This was stupid pride and conceit, made all the more silly and petty because I’m a bad mountain biker. That isn’t false modesty. Compared to my buddy Stefan I’m an atrocious mountain biker and, as nice of a guy as Stefan is, he’d back me up. The only reason I was cleaning these climbs over my fellow riders was because I had more in the tank than they did. I wouldn’t doubt that they were all better riders than me over a short distance.

What’s more, I wasn’t with Chris. My reason for being there was to ride and be with my brother and I was showing off for riders struggling to make the cut-off time. Chris was thankful for the help I gave, but I could have done more and I didn’t. I’m not proud of that. I’ve got a bit more work to do to become the person I want to be...

The next day Chris told our sister Kim about the only moment where he almost had a blood-sugar problem. On the long climb up to Columbine Mine, he felt himself fading. He ended up asking the rider in front of him for a GU. The rider immediately whipped out a GU and said there was plenty more where that came from. This is just one example of the great camaraderie in this race. Maybe it’s more blood thirsty up front, but from where we rode, everyone wants everyone else to do well. I was up ahead squatting in the woods. I had gone ahead to get a gap so that I could take care of that. I’ve had some G-I issues since my trip to Switzerland. It must have been the water. Chris didn’t view it as any big deal, but I sure wish it was me that handed him that gel.

So, I’d ride each steep section, until it rolled over to a flat section. Here I’d stop, lay down my bike, and wait for Chris. While I was waiting, I’d give pushes to anyone riding their bike. I’d always ask first, but no one turned down a push. Everyone thanked me and then someone said, “Thanks so much for being out here.” I realized that they didn’t think I was in the race at all. The only number we had was attached to our bikes, so I just looked like a spectator that had ridden out to some location on the course to watch. It made sense. Why would anyone in the bike race stop and push other riders up the hill?

When Chris caught up, I’d hop on my bike and ride up the next steep section and repeat the procedure. After one of these stops the trail headed down just a bit. When Chris went by, I got on my bike and followed. An older guy just in front of Chris, obviously tired, hit a big rock and flew over his handlebars, crashing in a bloody mess. Chris and I both stopped to help the guy and soon a woman who was a ski patroller stopped as well. She took charge of the situation and I assisted. I told Chris to keep riding and I’d catch up when this guy was in good shape. I stayed for 5-7 minutes, though it felt like a lot longer, until an EMT rider came by. I convinced him to take over the situation and told the patroller that I needed to catch up to my brother, as he was extremely tired himself and might need my help. With that, I was on my way and caught Chris at the top of the next climb.

I rode by and up to the top of the last climb before the big descent to Turquoise Lake, where I stopped again. Chris came by and he led the way down the 4WD road to the smooth dirt road below. I went by here and rolled much quicker down this road to the pavement, where we regrouped again and descended around Turquoise Lake and then started the 700-foot paved climb to the final aid station.

Here, for the first time, I started to physically help Chris. I knew time was getting tight and figured this would ease his effort and get us a little breathing room on the 12-hour deadline. I put my hand on Chris’ back and pushed him. And I worked hard. The climb was littered with other racers all desperately doing what they could to make the cut-off and all fearful that they wouldn’t get there. In fact, none of these riders would make it. I bent to the task and pushed my heartrate up over 160. We flew by the other riders and Chris said to me, “Billy, we are going twice as fast I would be on my own.” This motivated me further and I went deeper, wishing I had more to give. The race went from something that had been casual to now giving everything I had.

I thought back to my cleaning of the Powerline climb and how I had foolishly wasted energy there that I desperately needed now. I pushed the past from my mind and tried to endure more pain in my burning quads. As we passed more riders I wondered what the other riders thought about me pushing Chris. Was this legal? People got pushes on the big climbs. I had pushed a bunch of people that day. Back here where everyone is doing all they can to break 12 hours, they didn’t care. I didn’t. We were a team and the fact that there is no such thing as a team in this race didn’t mean anything to me. We would finish together. Period. The only unknown was the time and we were both determined to push to our absolute limits. I commit. I will not quit!

I’d push for as long as I could and then give Chris a big shove. I’d recover for a few seconds, catch up and start over again. To start with I pushed for at least a mile continuously. Then it was progressively shorter bursts. I buried myself. Deeper than I’ve gone in a long time. This wasn’t just for me, this was for us. I’ve always found I can dig deeper when the cause is more than me, which is why as a kid on my summer swim teams, above all else, I loved the relays. I’m not alone there.

In the 2008 Olympics Michael Phelps was trying to win eight gold medals in one Olympics - trying to surpass the legendary feat of seven golds, seven world records by Mark Spitz in the 1976 Olympics. As everyone knows, he did it, but by the slimmest of margins. In the 100-meter butterfly he won by a hundredth of a second. But his second final was the race he should have lost. It was the 4x100-meter freestyle relay. The favorite was the French team, anchored by the 100-meter world-record holder and newly crowned gold medalist Alain Bernard. Before the race Bernard told the media, “The Americans? We are going to smash them! That’s what we came here for.”

Phelps was the lead-off swimmer and finished his leg in second place, slightly behind the Aussies who led off with the world-record holder in the 50-meter freestyle. Swimming the anchor for the US team was Jason Lezak. He didn’t start until after Bernard, who then pulled away in the first 50-meters. Now to the billion people watching these Olympics, that is game over. Lezak is a second behind the world-record holder. To everyone in the stands, that is game over. It would take a literal miracle to overcome that deficit. To everyone, that is game over...except to Lezak. To him it was game on!

Lezak closed all the way back and out-touched Bernard for the gold medal! He swam 46.06 - the fastest 100-meter split by nearly six tenths of a second! Swimming just for himself, Lezak did not do that, could not do that. But for his country, for his teammates, he went beyond what he could do. He never swam remotely that fast again. The current world record for a non-relay 100-meters is still just 46.91.

I don’t mean to imply any comparison of myself with the miraculous Lezak, and only use this story to illustrate how hard you can push with more on the line than individual glory.

We thought the summit was at 10,600, but that came and went. I’d try to push for 50 vertical feet, maybe a 100 vertical feet, then shove, rest, catch up and repeat. At the same time, Chris was working harder and longer than he had ever done before. We were a team, bonded together in our fate and equally committed to doing absolutely everything we had until the twelve-hour mark expired.

Chris was very concerned about not making it and talked to other riders. Near the top of Sugarloaf a guy told him and another rider, “There is no way we’ll make 12 hours, but breaking 13 is important too.” This demoralized Chris a bit. I didn’t know about this until after the race. I kept telling him we were going to make it and I believed this, which was somewhat strange, since I hadn’t done any calculations; I hadn’t done the race before. I didn’t really know where we were timewise. I think, at that point, I just couldn’t even conceive of not making the deadline. Someone else told him it was at least hour from the Carter Summit aid to the finish. We left there with 61 minutes to go. The aid station volunteers told us, “You can do it, if you have the legs.” I’ve got the legs, dammit!, I thought.

As I said earlier, I had forgotten how much climbing on dirt there was beyond this aid station, despite having been here just 9 hours ago. I had hoped it was all downhill. It was not. For the first time, doubt crept into my mind. I had counted on sixty minutes to the finish starting from the descent, but now we wouldn’t reach the start of the descent for fifteen more minutes. Worrying didn’t help though. I switched my watch to only display the elapsed time and concentrated on the minutes we had left and on what we could give during those minutes.

Chris couldn’t really pedal uphill anymore, at least at this grade, and he had to walk some sections. As he approached the crest of the steepest section he said, “I need a GU and some water.” I had it waiting for him. He downed the GU and took a pull on the bottle and was then breathing deeply. I said, “We have to go. Drink or ride, but don’t just breathe.” He got on, and off we went.

Chris’ cape was falling out of his jersey pocket. I yanked it out and stopped to stow it my already overfilled pockets. When I caught him, he was doing a great job on the steep, fast descent. I couldn’t ask him to go faster, as he was already going fast. He even passed a couple of riders. At the bottom, still on dirt, the terrain rolled. I compelled him to get on my wheel. “Come on, Chris! Get on my goddamn wheel!” I slowed up, but any turning of my pedals would create a gap. I told him to grab my jersey pocket and I’d pull him. This was easier for me than pushing him as I could grab both handlebars and really bear down. I went hard.

On rolling dirt, double-track, hanging onto a jersey pocket and controlling your bike with one hand is a trick. Chris was physically almost completely gone and losing coordination, yet he had to ride one-handed. He hung on to my pocket with a vengeance. When he lost balance, I’d be jerked sideways and he pulled hard on me to keep upright. Occasionally his handlebars would bash me in the thighs. We barreled on with everything we had and that is no euphenism. He teetered side to side, on the edge of crashing.

On the short downhills, Chris would let go and coast down the hill, then latch on again. We hit the pavement and Chris asked, “You have the energy to keep pulling?” “Fuck, yes!” I responded. We were raw now. Stripped of any nicities. I switched into my big ring and pounded my pedals. At each junction volunteers would yell at us, “You can make it! Go! Go! Go! Everything you have!”

We left the pavement and rode the half-mile, dirt section leading to the Boulevard. This rolling section was technical enough where we disconnected. A yelp from Chris had me look back, but he was still upright. We turned onto the Boulevard, a two-mile dirt road climbing back to town. The start was heartbreaking. It was very steep and rocky. Chris couldn’t ride it hanging onto my jersey. He had to walk it. That was it then, I thought. Game over. I can’t help him if he is walking. “Walk with me,” Chris said and I dismounted, walking a bit ahead of him. He worked hard up the hill, passing a couple of other walkers. While I was demoralized, he continued to give all he had. Thankfully the angle eased and there was one singletrack path that wasn’t very rocky. I laid my bike down as Chris approached and told him, “You have to get on your bike. I can’t help you on foot.” He nodded. He knew the score. It was get on or give up. I commit. I will not quit. He mounted and I pushed him to get him started. I returned to my bike, got on, and sped up on the rocky side to pass other riders. I pulled even with Chris and he grabbed my jersey pocket. I called out, “Twelve minutes.” Twelve minutes of pain. It didn’t matter where the finish line was, as that was irrelevant to our pain. We had to suffer for twelve more minutes and then it would be over. We’d still finish, of course, but we could sit up. We could even stop to rest. But not before we suffered for twelve minutes longer.

The pain in my quads was now intense. I had gone from a casual ride at a heartrate of 130 bpm to working at my absolute limit for the last 90 minutes. Eleven hours and fifty minutes into this race everything in my body said “STOP!” But it was still possible. I willed myself to be stronger, to endure more pain, but I was fading. I was bent far over my bars, leaning into the hill and away from the tug on my jersey. I commit. I will not quit.

“Ten minutes.”
“Nine minutes”
“Eight minutes”
“Seven minutes”

I stared at my watch and called out the remaining time. We were still on the dirt road climb. I figured we needed five minutes by the time we hit the pavement, where it still climbs the last mile to the finish. I called out the times so that Chris, who was barely able to stay upright, would know how much longer he had to stay in the game. If he could just push, just concentrate for a few more minutes, then it would be over.

We hit the pavement and turned into the last mile with five minutes and two seconds to go. The road was lined with people who are screaming and yelling encouragement with such conviction that I’m utterly convinced they wanted us to make it as badly as we did. One person yelled, “You need to go with everything you’ve got! Go!” I was toiling up a steep roller, at my absolute limit, towing Chris. I wasn’t moving fast, but it was all I had. Two rollers later and we saw the finish, crowded with people. There was a final descent down the roller and then a 500-meter climb to the finish.

At the finish, Sheri, Derek, and Liz all spotted us. Moments before, Liz had texted our sister Kim, “They aren’t going to make it.” And then we came over the rise. They started to run down the hill to give us further encouragement. They knew we were dealing with seconds now. We were inside of three minutes to go.

Just past the bottom of the hill, at our highest speed, I heard Chris cry out. Out of the side of my eye I saw him lose his grip on my jersey, finally too tired to hang on any longer. He crashed onto his right side. Hard. Immediately I knew he wasn’t getting up. It was horrific. People rushed to him in seconds. I stopped, wheeled around back to him and laid down my bike. What followed was one of the strangest minutes in my athletic life. Chris was conscious and knew exactly where he was. Despite having a cracked helmet, he seemed ready to negotiate a business deal. If it wasn’t for his elbow being flayed open to the bone, you might think he was okay. That is, if you hadn’t seem him strike the pavement.

With Chris seemingly out of any emergency danger, everyone started telling me to “Go, go, go! You can still make it.” They didn’t understand. This wasn’t just another rider that I was finishing with. This wasn’t just my buddy. This was my brother. Breaking 12 hours wasn’t important to me. It was important to us, sure, deeply so, but to me individually, it held no meaning for me. I was there to finish with Chris, one way or the other. I was confused now, though, since it was obvious Chris wasn’t finishing at all, already it was assumed his collarbone was broken. Still, how could I ride away...
Chris in the Leadville hospital, yet very pleased with the day...overall.
I saw Sheri running hard at me, Derek by her side. I looked down at my crumpled brother, then up as Sheri, tears forming in her eyes, embraced me. She said, “We all knew you were doing all you could for him...” On the ground Chris was supposedly telling me to finish as well, though I couldn’t hear him. I bent over and put my hands on him, but I was in the way. Liz came tearing up and once she checked on Chris she ordered me, “Billy, go!” It was a command and it jolted me into action. I grabbed my bike and hopped on. Ambivalent before, once on the bike, I sprinted with everything I had. I flew by two other riders and entered the corridor of fans, crowded so close that I almost hit them, all screaming at me to “Go, go, go!” I dug and dug and dug and the lactic acid burned so deeply and so hard. I saw the clock tick past 12:00:00...

Still, I drove on and finished in 12:00:09. My chip time would give me a time of 11:59:05. I immediately turned around, barely clearing the timing mat, not getting a finisher’s medal, and rode back to Chris. As I got to Chris I heard the cannon blast signifying the end of the belt buckles. Two out of three criteria indicated that I’d made it, but I wouldn’t know for sure until the next morning.

We all converged on a very overloaded Leadville hospital. Chris was on a gurney in the emergency room and not even in a room, but in the center, since they didn’t have any space. I walked back to check on him and he was clutching his finisher’s medal and belt buckle. He was visibly excited about the day, so positive about the overall experience. This stunned me. I wondered if he realized where he was or the extent of his injuries, but it was apparent he knew exactly his state. He looked up at me and said, “I love you so much, Billy...” It is a day I’ll never forget and I’m sure I’ll be telling these stories for decades.

The Day After:

The next morning I was up early to head back over to Leadville. I checked my email and found that Chris had been transported by ambulance to Swedish Hospital’s Trauma Center that night. A broken rib had collapsed Chris’ lung and he’d spend three nights at Swedish before he was given clearance to safely return home. The final tally on his injuries was a collarbone broken in four places, a broken scapula, broken rib, collapsed lung, severely lacerated elbow requiring stitches, and various bruises and road rash. Ouch.

This was the 20th anniversary of the race and at the awards ceremony Ken said it was the first year that not a single rider quit. Obviously not everyone finished, but they were either pulled from the race, crashed out, or had unrecoverable mechanical problems. We saw one of these rides at the top of the singletrack climb, around mile 70. He had torn the derailleur off his bike and was walking back to the nearest road. No one just said “No mas.” There were 1549 starters (only 163 of which were female, 10.5%, of which 131 finished) and 1375 finishers (under 14 hours). 89% finished - the highest ever percentage. There was an 80 year-old finisher who came in at 13:10:26 hours. That is flat-out amazing and he received a standing ovation at the awards - more than even the outright winners of the race. Accomplishments like this don’t get much attention outside of this single applause, but this is probably equivalent to a 6:00 time for a 25-year-old.

The female winner, Sally Bigham, a Brit, I think, won by five minutes in a time of 7:17:01. Alban Lacata, an Austrian who won last year as well, won by just over a minute in also a course record of 6:04:01. The fact that he was in a group of three riders, where they presumably shared the work on the flat sections, probably contributed to this fast time. The full results are here.

Though not racing this year, prominently featured Dave Weins gave some pre-race comments and presented the winner with his trophy. Dave is the favorite son of this race. Not just because he’s such an incredibly nice guy, as there are lots of great people associated with this race, but because he’s a 7-time (in a row) winner of this race and yet the most humble champion.
Dave Weins

Ken Chlouber introduces Dave as the 6-time winner and Dave would tell you the same, but his loss to a massively-doped Lance Armstrong in 2009 wasn’t a loss in my book. Lance tried to race clean in 2008 and found out he isn’t the equal of Dave Weins. No shame there, but if you are a psychopath and the greatest cheat in the history of cycling, you have to come back. Lance returned to road racing and his needles, pills, and blood bags. If you think Lance beat Dave clean, then you are one of two things: an idiot or an ignoramus.

With over 1200 finishers, it takes a very long time to pick up your medals and jackets, as they call out every person’s name. I sat in the gym, typing this up, for a couple of hours. Dave was still there two hours after things started and I went up to him. He smiled warmly, shook my hand, and asked, “How did it go?” I said it was epic and Chris was pushed beyond his limits. Dave joked, “Is he in the ICU?” Well, sort of.