It’s been a long time since I did so few races in a year. While my maximum was just north of 80 days in 2010, I’ve averaged over 50 race days a season since the green age of 14. That’s over 600 race days!
But 2014 has been different. I skied more days than I raced…I actually skied more days than I have even ridden a bike this year! It was a great season for snow…
So going into the Leadville 100, I had pretty low expectations. The goal wasn’t really even a time, or a placing—the goal was to have a Clean Race. For all you folks who’ve pinned, painted, or twist-tied a number and toed a magical line across a patch of pavement or dirt, this concept is elusive. How is it achieved? Do the Gods grant this to you, maybe as a reward for so much good karma, or so many unlucky, unfortunate past events?
I didn’t know but I was doing everything I could to make it happen for me on Saturday, August 9th, 2014.
To be honest, although there’s a lot of planning and experience that goes into having a Clean Race, much if it has to do with the mental side. I’ve gone into races *needing* to have a good result, and had some of the “dirtiest” outcomes in my career—flats, crashes, broken wheels, broken helmets, missed opportunities, thousands of watts and KJs thrown into the wind, nutrition rejected and ejected, etc. “If you need it, you cannot have it.” I feel like that’s a Zen Master quote from some Tibetan monk, but if it’s not, one of those guys needs to speak it.
So I went into this epic brute, 105 miles (depending on how straight your line is) of high-altitude misery, with a clear head and a smile. I was channeling Chris Horner. I was also using a little bit of my recent Buddhist learnings, to be present and thinking only in the moment. It’s easily said, and rarely done.
Josh Colley, race director of the Leadville Race Series and happy Boo RSX Disc customer, fired his rifle to get all ~2000 of us clipped in and pedaling towards Fate. I was smiling and stoked to make it to the Big Day fresh and present. The nerves weren’t there…because I don’t do well with nerves. So I decided not to have them. Who really cares enough about anything to be so nervous? What will happen, will happen—the key is to deal with it and take it as it comes. Everyone has some war stories after LT100, and the best guys and gals just keep rolling towards that finish line as fast as possible.
While I could write for hours about the race, who attacked, who bridged, who dropped, how I felt, etc. it’s really boring. Because all races feature tactics and skills, but few folks really dive deep into the most important muscle involved: the Central Governor.
Herbalife brings together an amazing group of elite, world-class athletes every year for the LT100. The main gathering is a fantastic sushi dinner in Vail, hosted by CEO (and another happy Boo RSX Disc customer) Michael Johnson. I’m usually just stoked to be drinking saki I’d never be able to purchase on my bike company salary, but am consistently blown away by the other riders I meet at this dinner…this year, it was world-famous triathlete Chris Legh.
I saw his famous bonk video. I was reminded of the incredible power of the mind to overcome everything the body is telling it. While I’m sure he regrets his hydration mistakes in that event, pretty early (I think) in his career, it’s impressive to watch how much physical punishment an athlete can handle when the Central Governor is lifted.
The interesting aspect, I feel, about the Central Governor is this: you don’t lift it by forcing yourself to lift it. At least I don’t. I lift it by being present in the moment, in the suffering, and realizing that I am ALIVE. The loved-hated former hero Lance Armstrong made this famous, because he came so close to death that the bike made him feel alive through pain and suffering…feelings you no longer have when you die.
While this may come off as morbid, I don’t actively think that way…I mostly just enter a state of Being There in the race, not Being Elsewhere. The mountain bike makes this a little easier, since there are so many things to consider you really cannot mentally remove yourself. Maybe that is why I’m not a roadie anymore. But I think the other key is Less is More.
I’ve trained less. I’ve worried less. I’ve raced less. I care a lot less. And because of all of that, I’m more mentally fresh and present than ever before, since I started racing a bike in 2001 at the age of 14.
I wish I could have seen this light years ago, but everything is for a reason.
So the LT100 was a very Clean Race for me, and the result was just a tasty icing on a massive layer cake of chocolaty bliss. The way it should be. Focus on the process, being present, and don’t think about the future, the result. It will come…time moves on, the result happens, it’s over, time moves on even more. Time doesn’t give a shit about your result.
The best part about a Clean Race: I couldn’t have done better. It was the best I could have ridden, with these legs and these lungs, and there are no regrets. The bike was perfect, telepathic in fact. The support was amazing, having some of my closest friends and former teammates in the feed zones, knowing they were in my corner whether I could see them or not. The other racers were great—really I couldn’t have gone that fast without some key folks I’ve known for years. And when all this is combined, the experience is one of such satisfaction, such contentment, it’s really powerful.
By the way, the bike really helps. I know, I know—I’m partial. But I feel like I’m wearing this bike, like it’s an extension of my arms and legs. The bamboo really does help significantly in a race of this distance, I can tell it’s so much more forgiving and supple…when I was tired and riding with a bit less precision, it was obvious the bike didn’t punish me too much. The descending was so sick, the way the bike can be thrown into corners is magical. I had this to say after the race, with a longer edit coming soon.
The tire and wheel setup was perfect for this event. Enve XC 29 rims, Project 321 hubs (120 engagement points!!), and Spaim CX-Ray spokes wrapped in Maxxis Ikon rubber (2.35” front, 2.20” rear). I got the Ikon with EXO protection as a tubeless-ready tire…it rolls VERY fast, but has tons of protection.
Speaking of tires, I think Specialized folks had more flats than everyone else combined. One of those flats was Christoph Sauser. He’s pretty danged fast, especially up climbs, way faster than I am. But his flat was early enough in the race, on the descent of Powerline (about ten miles into the even), that I linked up just as he had taken a wheel from another teammate and got back on his bike in the middle of the ripping downhill.
So naturally, I was *screaming* down this descent trying to make up some time I’d lost on the climbs to that point in the race…so I caught Sauser and descended with him. WE RIPPED SO FAST I was surprised we didn’t melt people’s eyeballs out of their sockets. The screams of small children were drowned out by rubber scorching rock, creating a hail storm of pebbles and dust clouds throughout the forrest. I’m sure it was horrifying for those being passed, and those looking on from safer ground witnessed a rare spectacle.
At one point, not knowing this was THE Sauser, I was going to try to pass him! In my mad rush down the hill, I saw I could have taken some better lines and been even more aggressive, even while he was on his full-suspension Specialized steed. But then I noted the five-color bands around his arm, green-yellow-black-red-blue. World Champion stripes. So then I decided not to pass, and potentially crash or piss off, the World Champion.
Rotors blue and smoking from the thousand-plus foot descent at gradients approaching 30%, we finally hit flattish ground and Sauser proceeded to drop me like a bad habit in less than a quarter mile. The power was…unbelievable. For a skinny guy (5’11” and 139 pounds), those legs produce immense wattage. I knew he’d be a great wheel to hold through the small, rolling terrain on the way to Columbine, but it wasn’t even really a decision to stay on the wheel or not!
The rest of the race was less eventful, save for being able to ride with a couple good old cycling buddies: Paul Thomas, of Tucson, and Caley Fretz, of Fort Collins. Those guys had incredible races, finishing 17th and 22nd, respectively. Full results here. Without linking up with both of them and some others along the way, I never would’ve finished 21st…and this is one of the beauties of mountain bike racing: it’s really you versus the course. We all worked together as much as we could, sharing the load of wind on the way out and back, but when the trail tilted up, we were racing full-gas.
It’s a great feeling to do just a few races this year. I only have one more! It’s the Fall Classic in my backyard in Breckenridge, on September 7th. My first race was June 14th, the Leadville Heavy Half Marathon up Mosquito Pass. That’s less than 12 weeks of “season”, and just five races (and two DNF’s I’m not counting!). Each one really counted, and I had a proverbial smile on my face the entire time.
Thanks again for reading, and while I’m sorry to you that I don’t have more war stories from the Hundred, it’s great to finish Clean 😀