Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dmac & the Dakota Five-0

“Our life is apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

It has been awhile since I have taken the time to pen a post race report.  For many years, I had taken to a recap of my race events through my experiential lens as a participant.  I’m not sure why I tapered off in these efforts.  I suppose it was mostly due to my belief that those whom did read my musings, had probably lost interest after 8 Etape du Tours and 8 Leadville 100’s.   Perhaps my writer's block has been driven by my “event block” of doing the same events each year, testing my ability to PR, as well as seeking the enjoyment of the community one becomes a member of surrounding these events.

For years, my friends and co-workers have been telling me about the Dakota Five-0 in Spearfish, South Dakota and how great of an event it is.  For one excuse or another, predominantly centered on August historically being incredibly busy for me, I have not signed up.   This year, I decided to sign up out of the belief that I didn’t get into the Leadville 100.  I found out later that it was an email spam filter issue and I in fact did get in.  So I now found myself looking forward to giving it a try with our Midwest Cycling Community and a whole host of friends from around the region.  That’s the community part…which is in many ways the best part of it.

I expected to have a great time at this event due to the accolades it has rightfully been given.   However, I had no idea what was in store when Shawn Hansen messaged me that he had an entry available if I wanted it.  Shawn was unable to attend this year and the kind folks in Spearfish were allowing entry transfers.   I threw it out to my son Dillon (Dmac) not expecting him to jump at the chance just quite yet at age 12.  His longest MTB ride at that point was a lap of Swanson and Jewell with my buddy Steve Jarrett.   Well… as it often turns out, I was wrong.  He didn’t hesitate to say yes and accept the spot.

He had just started racing MTB’s this year.  Through the Omaha Devo youth mountain bike program, he has really started to come into his own.  Along with that, he has made it his mission to earn himself a buckle in the Leadville 100 mountain bike race in 2019.  That is the year he will be allowed to attempt it due to minimum age requirements for that race.  He has spent the last 7yrs in the feed zones doing sag support for me in this event.  Always there, always dialed, anxiously nervous for my performance and encouraging me at every stop along the way.   That is 28 feed zone hand ups over the years if my math is correct.   He has supported my teammates, family and friends.  He always is at the finish line to take our bikes.  He does this so that we can catch our breath just enough to answer his instant line of questioning on how it went.  He wants to know the details, how it played out, who passed who when, how did you overcome adversity, and the annual musing of…how do you think you would have done if you acclimated to 10,000ft?   He has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.   He has seen me when I couldn’t touch my knees due to back pain, hypothermic, bloody and broken.   He has seen the heartbreak of riders with missed time cut offs, cramping, bonking delirium, and the despair of those that could not finish.   So why would he want to do this type of thing?  Well he has seen the other side of sacrifice as well, and I believe it has left an indelible imprint on his soul. 

From a very young age, while I was racing Etape Du Tours in France each July, he would get up early and watch Tour De France coverage….in it’s entirety….21 stages, 3hrs a day, during the month of July.  He continues to study the teams, knows the riders and loves to talk about it in such a way I think Paul Sherwin and Phil Liggett should watch their backs.   When Lance Armstrong lined up to race the Leadville 100, I was lucky enough to be in the starting row with him and I could see the look in Dmac's eyes…the one that told me his wheels were turning, he was setting big dreams for himself one day.  I couldn’t have imagined at that time the gift I would receive along those lines just 5yrs later…a glimpse of the next circle that would be drawn.

Fast forward to Labor Day weekend 2014.  My biggest concern going into this event was the marathon nature.  I had complete confidence in Dmac’s ability to ride a mountain bike.   Our Omaha Devo coaches have done a great job teaching and demonstrating the skills he has acquired.  The part that was the outlier, the unknown, was the duration.  He had not ridden more than 2.5hrs in any one setting.   He had certainly never climbed 7,000ft in one day.   How would he handle his hydration and nutrition?  How would he handle the pain cave?  How would he handle his first real bonk?  What if he gets cramps? All unknowns, and as a parent I wondered if at age 12, I had maybe allowed him to attempt something too early.  I hadn’t pushed him into it…but maybe I should have pulled back on the reins a bit?

Like any good parent/coach would do, I nagged the ever-loving heck out of him leading up to the event on how to manage his nutrition, and drink often.   Something I have never seemed to dial in, but surely he must.  I borrowed a Garmin that was set up with drink/feed alerts every 15 mins and 200 calories.  No doubt, with my oversight, this would do the trick, right?  Perhaps, if this worked, I might even pull it off for once as well.  Ironically about 3.5hrs in another rider we were pacing with, heard the beeps and shouted, “It must be time to blow up!” and he immediately slowed down and we passed him.  I mentioned it was for reminding us to drink and eat.  He relayed “I should have thought of that!”

As we continued to discuss strategy for the day, we opted to start in the 2nd wave of the event just 10 mins back from the Pro field in Wave 1.   We discussed the pace strategy and need to get into the single track in as good of a position as we could, due to the difficulty in passing after that point.   We discussed my role as “domestique” (a term commonly used in cycling for the riders that support the team captain).  I would refill bottles and grab nutrition in the feed zones and ride them up to him to hand up since we didn’t have a sag crew and he was running a camelbak.   I figured it was the least I could do for 7yrs of sag support, 28 hand ups and over 56hrs spend in feed zones on my behalf.  He embraced this assignment of roles fully as I soon found myself putting his number plate on, tuning his bike, lubing his chain and pumping up his tires.  I drew the line at fluffing his pillows and cutting his french toast.   One has to retain some level of self-respect!

Dmac on the  start up the gravel road

All the strategy had been set, discussed and agreed upon.   Race day was here and I was excited to line up on the front row of wave 2 next to Dmac.  I've had lots of nervous smiles on the start line over the years, but not bigger than at this moment.  The gun went off and we were on our way.  It was a neutral roll out behind a four-wheeler until we got to the start of the long climb to the trailhead.   Dmac tucked right in behind me and I set the pace near the front of the group.   I could tell the pace was a bit high as I listened to his breathing rate and backed it down a notch.   We held solid position and found ourselves dumping into the single-track with my long time friend and teammate Lowell Petersen.   I was in front of Dmac at this point, and Lowell was behind.  We had a double chaperone set up, something I know he enjoyed a lot more at that moment, than he likely will at Senior Prom. 

As we made our way up to the first feed zone, it became apparent to me that I should not be pace setting in the front.   Dmac, being a tad bit competitive, was likely going to fight to stay on my wheel and blow himself up, instead of riding his pace.  I’m pretty good at reading his exertion levels on road rides, but found it difficult to do on single track due to the gaps needed between riders.  I stopped and let him by and from that point forward, kept talking him through the “Your Race, Your Pace” strategy as we set out knocking off the miles. 

Lowell ended up in front at this point which was great.  It gave Dmac a rabbit to chase on the climbs without feeling he had to stay with him.  And it was great to see the teamwork and camaraderie taking shape as I thought to myself ....  "How cool is this?  I’m riding with one of my best friends in his late 50’s, I’m in my early 40’s, and we have a 12yr old right with us.  What other sport could you compete in and have that experience?!”  It was pretty darn cool to say the least. 

By riding behind Dmac, I could see all the signs and know if he was crossing the red line into the death zone of exertion levels.   He did a great job settling into his pace.   Interesting enough, I found this pace to be harder than I thought I would be riding that day.  As we passed one rider he asked me “Is it wrong that I want to beat your son?”   I smiled, “No, it is not.  I want to beat him too!”  He joked with me that he was sure I could.  I reminded him at that point, that my days are numbered in doing that, and I’ll take any win I can get!

A fellow teammate, Rafal Doloto, had told me prior to the race that your time at Aid Station # 2 is very good indicator of your overall time when you double it.   Dmac, in the process of goal setting, had read past year’s results on the way up in the van and noticed some juniors his age from Colorado Springs had turned sub 5hr times.  As a result he had decided to set his goal as such.   I, of course, was trying to buffer that and reminded him this was his first year racing MTB’s, his first marathon race and we were at altitude.  I told him we just needed to ride his pace and see where that put us.  We could set goals off of that for the future years while training for "Leadville 100 2019".  He agreed, or at least placated me.  He then told me that sub5 was his goal.  Hmmmm…. he must know something I did not.  Honestly, I was hoping for sub 6hr for him and was still very concerned about all the unknowns.

Onward and upward we go to Aid Station #2.   I was refilling bottles and his Camelbak while I took a look at my Garmin. We were in the neighborhood of having not just a sub 5hr finish, but well under 5.   I was shocked and elated and began wondering when the “crack” was going to happen.  Could he get through it?  Could he really pull this off?   We were at his longest ride time and I knew the next 2hrs would be very telling. 

A funny side note, after I had filled his Camelbak I decided I would wear it to chase back up to him.  Turns out I’m not cut out for a youth size Camelbak.  Those straps had my arms pinned back like a T-rex.  When I finally caught him, my hands were numb.  He pulled over to take it back from me.   I couldn’t get it off.   "Fat guy in a skinny jacket" was going through my head from the movie Tommy Boy.   Finally after I struggled for what seemed like an eternity, I looked at Dmac and said “A little help??”   That snapped him out of whatever mind warp he was in, probably imagining I was Tommy Boy as well, and he slid one shoulder down and took his Camelbak.   Dumb and Dumber jumped back on the trail and we headed out.

As we rolled past the 3hr mark, I noticed he had his eating and drinking dialed.  He even began to do so without my or the Garmin prompting him.   He asked a little over 3hrs in how long we had been riding.  I let him know and asked how he felt knowing we were past his longest ride ever.   He said, “I don’t know, Ok I guess,” I could tell the early signs of bonking were happening and I had him take in a few more cliff blocks.  He kept his pace as we headed toward the feed zone #4, the last feed zone before the final “Bacon & Beer” Aid station.

During this time, on the final climb, the wheels began to fall off.  It wasn’t a matter of if it would happen, but when.  That time was now.  He was struggling big time in the pain cave…asking how much further, how much more climbing, cries of exhaustion and pain coming from his legs and lungs.  I knew from being in the pain cave many times myself before, that there is one thing, and one thing only that can take the edge off of that pain.  I decided this was the time to let him know…he was crushing his goals and on the ride of his life.  I said, “Dmac, do you have any idea what you are doing right now???  You are on the ride of your life.  You are absolutely crushing 5hrs, and every bit of yourself you leave on this course, right now, will turn into sweet celebration in the end.  It won’t be easy, but you are blowing this course up.  You can do this and I couldn’t be more proud of you than I am right now.  You’re a machine!”   I knew somewhere in his head, he was channeling his inner Ken Chlouber of the Leadville 100 MTB race, hearing the mantra that is repeated over and over ad nauseam over the past 8yrs in the pre-race pep rally’s in Leadville.… “You are better than you think you are.  You can do more than you think you can.  You must commit not to quit!”  I kept drawing parallels for him to the Leadville race.  Letting him know this is what it is like on Power Line, or this is what it is like when you have to dig deep on the finish climb heading into town.   I could tell he was beginning to visualize and put things together.  I could see him become more calm, more focused, more determined.  He was living his dream.

As we bounced out of the single track and onto the final double track climb, I looked and we were at the 4hr mark and we had 12 miles to go.   At this point, I knew barring a mechanical, he had achieved his goal of sub 5hrs.   The emotion hit me.  I was overwhelmed with pride and joy in seeing this kid turn himself inside out to achieve his goals.  I thought of my dad, who would have loved to have been there to witness this and said a little prayer that if he was busy up there in heaven, someone would tap him on the shoulder and have him take a look down.  His grandson was on fire today.
 The 4hr mark with 12 miles to go!

I could hear the pain still coming from him audibly, so I rode up beside him, repeating everything I said above and I saw that pain numb, the effort pick up and the sheer determination on his face grow.   I’m at a loss of words to describe how that truly felt as a father.  It was surreal.  It was unreal.  To be there, by his side, watching every second, every pedal stroke, hearing every groan, every breath taken,watching him persevere and overcome….it was beyond words one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life.   I imagine the wave of emotion I was feeling at that moment was similar to an athlete winning a gold medal in the Olympics.  I have no words…

As we went through the “Bacon & Beer” station, the volunteers held out a beer for Dillon…and then quickly pulled it back once they realized he was slightly under age.  He was receiving all kinds of encouragement from riders, spectators and volunteers along the way.  But none was more spirited than here.  I think it must have been the bacon that was driving the crowd’s enthusiasm for cheering on the yute as he went through.  It was the final aid station and he knew it….we were getting closer.

There were a few more kickers from there to get up to the top of the descent that would take us down, all the way to town.  I kept encouraging him that it was mostly downhill from here, except where it wasn’t.  He didn’t quite appreciate my humor at that point, but when he recognized the part of the course that signaled it was all down hill (he noticed this from our pre-ride the day before), I could see his afterburners kick in.   He was riding even more confident now.  Out of the saddle over the kickers and chasing down riders in front of him.  He asked the time and I told him “4:30! You are killing it!”

As we cleared the single track and headed down the gravel road into town, he was in his biggest gear drilling it.   Riders were zinging by, because as it turns out, 80lbs doesn’t go that fast down hill on gravel.   Each of the adult riders, as they passed was cheering him on and encouraging him.  He kept digging as he tried to hold my draft, down to where the pavement into town began.  I turned to him and said “This is all about you, you take us into town!”  

As he came around me I reached into my pocket and pulled out my IPhone.   I decided I would try and take a video of his finish.   He kept drilling it and I was able to catch the final minute of his finish.  “4:46” I shouted to him as we neared the finish line.  He looked at the adult rider next to him, stood up and accelerated just enough to best him to the line.   I couldn’t read the timer on my Garmin at that point due to the tears welled up in my eyes….but I knew, without a shadow of a doubt….I was getting a glimpse of the circle that is being drawn.  I am beyond blessed to have experienced it that day, in that way.

Looking pretty good at the finish

Proof he beat me....

3rd on the podium in 19 & under
11 riders in his category
 107th overall out of 465 finishers

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Inventory Season "Open"

Growing up in western Nebraska, Fall always brought upon us Hunting season.   My father started bringing me along on hunts as soon as I was strong enough to walk the fields or old enough not to cry about not feeling my frozen toes sitting in a duck blind or goose pit.  He let me carry my fake gun, which eventually evolved into a Red Ryder BB gun and on to my first shotgun, a bolt action single shot 20 gauge.   His intent there was to make me a good shot by only giving me one shell and telling me to make it count.  Well, as it turns out, for any of you that have gone hunting or shooting with me...that is not exactly my strength.  I was told once after blowing many holes into the air... "You couldn't hit the side of a barn with a handful of rice".   Indeed that may be true.

Unfortunately for me (as well as the ammo manufacturers), today living in Omaha, running a business and raising three kids, I find very little time to pursue this childhood passion.  I have taken up shooting with my oldest daughter.  She's a chip off the old block.  Last time we were out, she shot the back of the trap house on accident.  At least she hit something.  Grandpa would be proud.

Luckily I have found things I am a bit better at in life.  In this particular case, I wish I wasn't.  One lesson you should take away from this: never do anything well you don't like doing, or you just might get stuck doing it for a long time. 

I have traded in Hunting season for Inventory Season.   One of the absolute delights of owning a retail business is doing physical inventories for each location.  Every year I get to go through each of our stores with a team of dedicated (by dedicated I mean willing to be at work at 6am, drinking Red Bull, and listening to 1980's Hair Bands) co-workers whom scan and count every single SKU in our company.  Currently we average around 5,000 SKU's per store X 6 stores and you can see what a thrill awaits us.  As I type this "Run to the Hills" by Iron Maiden comes to mind.....

Yep, that's part of living the dream in a retail business.  It is particularly important in our business model because we rely on just in time inventory process that is triggered and set in motion by established minimum inventory levels.  If the inventory isn't correct, the product doesn't flow through the stores accordingly.  

There are many other reasons we do this.  It helps us to gauge "shrink" as well as turn up some dead inventory we need to move.  Not to mention the fact that the bank sure appreciates knowing your inventory is accurate.  They hate big surprises.  Believe me, we know.

I won't complain too much.  Our first inventories used to take 3 days working around the clock using the old pencil and paper method.  We now have electronic scanners and can finish a store inventory under 12hrs. 

Well...I'm of to St. Louis for the season Opener.  If you see me over the next month and my eyes are glazed over...it's not an endorphin high from a long ride....or too much time spent at Oktoberfest, it's "Inventory Season" and I'm just living the dream!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Trek World 2013

So one of the benefits of being a bike dealer is trade show time.  It is like Christmas for those of us adults that drool over what the bike industry will set before us each year.   Every year, they up the ante.  Think about that.  This industry every year brings us improved product and new innovative designs.  Very seldom is it C&G (color & graphics) changes.  I have to hand it to those engineers and product development guys.   No coasting is allowed.  And we are not just talking about fixies here.

I could go on and on about why "model year' is not a good thing for our industry.  It was for a time, but that time has past and gone the way of Schwinn.  The model year idea, taken from the automobile industry, doesn't stand to leave our industry anytime soon.  So...let's focus on what we can control.  It's called PERMAGRIN when thinking about all the new 2013 product.   And since we sell predominately Trek product, Trek World is Christmas for us. 

Each year Trek World kicks off with an opening address from Trek President John Burke.   Each year he tells us this year their product is the best yet.  And every year I think, how the heck can he keep telling us this year after year.  Then we go down to the showroom floor and sure as your new bedroom furniture was made in China..he is right.  This year...my favorite was the vastly improved 29er line.  While there was a considerable amount to talk about in new product coming our way, this was my favorite.   I won't bore you with the details, as there are plenty-o-blogs that can give you that scoop.  If you're into 29ers, it is worth you time to review what others are saying about this year's industry leading line up from Trek and Bontrager.

Now let's get down to my dream and why I like living it.  This year, Mr. Burke and company decided to spoil my business (and I stress business) partner Jay Thomas and myself by putting us up at the Mansion on the Hill in Madison.  If you ever get a chance to stay in Madison, I highly recommend booking a room here.  It is right off of the Capitol square and you won't find a better place to stay in Madison, hand down the best.

I'm not sure why we were put up there. I'm very grateful we were.   I suppose it was to keep us from continuing to complain about why we couldn't stay there.  It was fun to ask other dealers (bigger than us) where they were staying.  And then not so humbly offer up we were at the Mansion.  Squeaky wheel gets the grease fellas.  Take one from our playbook.

So...here is what I think is memorable about Trek world aside from the product, the cheese and of course the beer.(we were in Wisconsin mind you).  This year, the other residents of the Mansion included Jens Voight, Bo Jackson, Livestrong team riders and coach Axel Mercx, and the para-athlete Wounded Warriors world Triathlon champion.  And of course, the aforementioned two joe-bag-of donuts riders, Jay and myself.

The most notable of encounters with the other guests revolves around Jay and Bo Jackson.  So..this guy walks into a bar...really I am serious...this guy is Jay.  Sitting at the bar is Bo Jackson.   Jay walks in and says "Who are you?"  in which Bo promptly replies "I'm Bo Jackson".   Jay hesitates, raises an eyebrow and looks at him.  "Who?".   Bo looks up at him a tad confused, and says "Who the hell are you?"  Jay responds, "I'm Jay Thomas" with some sort of authority like Bo should know.   Jay lets this hang for a moment....and then cracks a big grin and says to Bo "Don't worry, I know who you are!" 

After that Bo and Jay hit it off like old buddies reconnected.  I sat and listened to a funny story Bo told about how he left his sister at KFC 7miles from home and made her walk home.  As you follow my blog, you realize I am a lot like Forest Gump.  I tend to find myself in places and with people I have not business being with.  It just makes me smile when I find myself in these places.  Life is like a box of chocolates.....

Well.. that is enough of my dream for today.   Next stop..who knows.  Stay tuned and I'm sure it will be something interesting.  Never a dull moment here in dreamland!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Leadville 2012 - Somewhere in the middle

So why does one go back for their 6th “Race Across The Sky”…. to get 10 of course.   That is how this addiction starts you know?  You do one race…and then before you know it the savvy promoters have you hooked on doing 10 to get your 1,000-mile buckle.  Now you may have seen the nice NFR style belt buckle (NFR stands for National Finals Rodeo for those of you with less humble beginnings) you get when finishing the Leadville Trail 100 under 12hrs.  However, the 1,000-mile buckle is nothing short of a WWF buckle.  One can only imagine the hush that would fall over the room when one would don this buckle on his belt and walk in with swagger. 

Ok, truth be told, I have no idea where I would wear this buckle, should I earn it…besides the rodeo of course.  But even then, I think the bull riders would sniff me out, toss me in a barrel with cut off overalls and suspenders and gym socks pulled up to my knees and see if I could make my way back to the grandstands alive.

So…beyond the buckle, lay the real reason I am drawn back each year.  It is the LT100 family reunion.  And with this reunion each year comes new goals, new achievements and the satisfaction, and sometimes regret, of goals obtained and goals unattained.  

Our crew before the start.  Steve had his THOR wings on!

I am often asked, “Who are you racing against this year?” inquiring of the big name riders who might be at the start line.  I honestly didn’t even know this year until I was at the start.  Turns out current World Marathon MTB Champ Christoph Sauser was on the line along with Hall of Famer Tinker Jaurez. 

Start line photos.  You can see Tinker just over my right shoulder

If you have read my previous posts, this race for me is a race against myself.  To better myself, to push through the pain cave and see where I end up on the other side of the finish line.  This year was neither my best nor my worst finish time.  It was somewhere in the middle. 

With 3,000 registered athletes and I believe around 1800 starters, there were all 50 states represented along with 38 countries at the start line.  The field has more than doubled since I started doing this event as well as diversified.  A comical example of this was a rider from the Dominican Republic with a facemask on at the start.  Why? Because 40 degrees is the dead of winter where he comes from. :-)

Overall, the race was fairly standard for me.  I had been nursing a low back injury going into the event that I was hoping would stay dormant.  As it turns out, it decided to flare up on the Columbine climb and I had to shut it down and lightly spin the pedals to the top.  I knew I had lost about 20 minutes on that climb so I decided the best way to make some of it up was to hang it out on the descents.  Outside of passing a four wheeler on a two way traffic descent at high speed threading the needle between it and the line of racers climbing up…I managed to escape coming close to any serious accidents and was able to pass quite a few folks coming down. 

As I headed back from Twin Lakes to the Power line climb, the winds and really picked up gusting 30-40mph.  I could tell I was well off pace of a PR and my back was still seized.  I looked over my shoulder and saw a female rider form Topeak “Sonya” who was hung out without any other riders to pull into the wind with.  Knowing my PR was lost, I decided to let up until she bridged up to me and then pulled her in the wind across to the climb of Sugar Loaf.  She was grateful and it reminded me how different MTB racing is compared to road.  We are all out there cheering and pulling for one another.  I enjoyed seeing her finish so well at the end of the day.

Knowing PR was lost; I decided to re-adjust my goals.  My IT band was on fire and the thought of pushing my bike up a portion of Powerline did not amuse me.  So…I decided one victory I could have for the day, in addition to setting my PR’s on the descents and not crashing…was to climb and clear Powerline.  For those of you not familiar with this climb…very few riders including the winners clear it in the race.  3/4th of the way up, my back was telling me in no uncertain terms it wished my IT band would take one for the team.  I’m fairly used to catch 22’s, so cleared the climb I did. 

The downside to this is that I had not noticed due to the 25%+ grade that my nutritionals had slid out of my feed pouch attached to my top tube.  Kevin Bratetic was at the base of Powerline and gave me a life saving bottle of water.   As I headed down the descent I knew I was in trouble without fuel and only water.  As things go in Leadville, the bottle found a way to eject from my back jersey pocket without me ever taking a drink and I was descending way to fast to consider trying to stop and hunt for it.  There was quite a bit of race left, and despite my fantastic support crew lead by my main hand off man, Dmac, I was out of fuel and water.

        Pictured here are Dmac in fine form and my nephew Brian having just executed a great hand up.

Let me take this opportunity to say how much our sag crews have meant to us over the years.  While it goes without saying we couldn’t finish with out them, there is nothing more exciting when in the middle of this suffer fest, than to come in and see a familiar face, excited and cheering you on.   This year I as fortunate enough to have my sister and her kids along for the first time, accompanying my oldest two children who were the seasoned veterans of this years crew.  DMac does the musette bag hand ups and E does the tweeting and texting to keep all informed of our progress.  Over the years we have had several people sag for us, those that come back more than once are inducted into Sainthood.  Our Sag Queen Kerri Peterson was unable to join us this year, but coached from the sidelines to make sure our logistics were solid.  Combine that with my Sis’ efforts, and help from sag crewmembers Jason and Don, solid they were.

As I started up the final climb of the day, there in the distance were the Strava “Angels”.  Was it true, could it be a mirage?  Were they really there handing out cans of Coca-Cola?  Sure enough they were.  I was so happy to see them I almost proposed marriage right there on the spot.  Off I went with a can of coke knowing I might just make it to the top of St. Kevins without cramping or bonking. 

Well, at least the cramping was avoided.  When I arrived there, neutral support filled my bottle with water and gave me a Gu packet.  I was bonked at this point, so I took the Gu and washed it down with what turned out to be some form of Herba Life drink mix.  Do not try this at home.  My system was so confused.  Happy for the calories and fluids, but felt like I took a cement mixer shot at the local bar.  I figured I could gut it out to the finish though and took off to set my PR on the final descent. 

As I made my way into town, I realized this year was one of success and regret.  I had failed to break my PR, but had some small victories along the way.  I suppose that within 10,000 miles you can’t set a PR every time….or can you?

The highlight of this trip for me was seeing my longtime friend Lowell Petersen set what was once again a PR for himself in this race.  What was particularly exciting was watching him break the coveted sub 9hr mark to win the BIG Buckle with only a couple minutes to spare.  As I sat with Ellie and Dillon at the start line (rather laid in the grass fighting cramps), I heard them announce his name just under the wire.  I jumped up and told Dmac to go grab his bike and we all  “high fived” in celebration. 

To top off the day, Jim Maaske who had missed his buckle last year by a mere couple of minutes, finished this year with 20+ minutes to spare.  And not to be out done racing the shotgun, Kevin Galinsky came in with a couple of minutes to spare to claim his sub 12hr buckle.  The rest of our crew all came in somewhere in between, all with stories of overcoming and persevering through mechanicals, cramps, vomiting and the like.  What else could one ask for?

This year’s finishers and buckle winners with our Flatlander crew (from L to R) were: Ken Peterson, Jim Maaske, Lowell Petersen, myself, Kevin Galinsky, Chris Peterson, and Steve Jarrett, along with Kevin Limpach and Jason Schuster- (not pictured) 

Our crew after the race.  Smiles all around!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Leadville 2009 – A Regular Joe’s Perspective

I won!  Now I know you’re thinking the altitude has truly gotten to me this time.  You’ve probably read in the post race reports, that in the re-match of Armstrong vs. Weins, Lance won and did so by a large margin. 

But I am here to tell you I won.  That’s right, a regular ol’ Joe, a flatlander, in fact won at Leadville.  Now before you chalk this up as the ramblings of a delusional and probably still hypoxic participant, let me give you a short disclaimer.   This recap is full of delusions, surreal experiences, and romanticized accomplishments.  It is with this basic understanding, that you can begin to understand the attraction, no, rather the addiction, of the Leadville 100. 

So how did I win you ask?   Well, you see, for most of us, racing the Leadville 100 is a personal battle, one that is fought between the rider, the course, and our goals.  For some the goal is to finish, for others to finish within a certain time.  For Lance, it was to beat a certain rider like Dave.  For me, I set a goal to beat myself…….. and I won.

 I had what I felt was a very good ride the year prior, breaking 8hrs and finishing 18th.  I decided that I would measure my goal by improving my time.  By doing that, I was not sure I would finish with a higher placing, but at least I would know that I had improved.  The level of top riders was rumored to be deeper this year so a higher placing was not guaranteed.  However, I knew I would have beaten the only rider I had a debt to settle with, and that rider was me.  To win, I would have to turn myself inside out and back in again.  I chuckled when I filled out the survey at registration: Average hours per week trained = 6   Altitude trained at = 800ft….clearly I was prepared. (-:   Without going into detail, this year has been one of the toughest years of my life personally.  For me, Leadville was to be a release of much of that.  No training needed.

At 4am the alarm sounded.   I hadn’t been able to sleep much due to the excitement and anticipation of what the day might bring.  I opened my balcony door to get a feel for the temperature and much to my dismay it was raining and I could see my breath, the worst possible combination of elements.  I began to have flash backs of one of the most miserable races I have ever done racing up and over the Tourmalet 2yrs ago in the Etape du Tour.  I don’t mind cold, but adding in rain and starting a 100+ mile day off with that type of weather is about the worst way you can start a day.  I knew this was going to be a difficult year.  I began to doubt that I was going to be able to beat my time from the previous year.   I had heard the day before that the course had been lengthened by a couple of miles due to a necessary trail re-route.   Add in wet muddy conditions and things did not look too promising.

As we drove into town for the start, I was staring up into the sky, watching lightning flash across the mountain peaks above the tree line.  “That is where we are headed.   This is going to be more difficult than I thought” I said to myself.  Just then a shooting star shot across the sky and I began to get excited about the challenge. 

As I sat in the start gates, the rain had stopped and I was hopeful we might have a dry day after all.  In the distance, a double rainbow developed through the clouds as the sun rose up over the mountains.  As I was standing there, a camera man waiting on Lance to show up, asked if I would be willing to do an interview.  I set my bike down and answered a few questions about what it was like for an average joe like myself to be in a race with Lance Armstrong.   I was then asked if I had changed my strategy as a result.  Clearly this gentleman didn’t know who I was.   Apparently he thought I might actually contend against Lance Armstrong.  Only he and one other person were that confused.  The other was my 7yr old son who came up to watch me race and work the Twin Lake sag crew for me. 

I call it the “Forrest Gump” effect.  If you look at the start line photo, you will see one of the world’s greatest cyclists.  And then, conversely, off to the left, you see me.  In the old sesame street way of presenting the oddity, I offer up:  “One of these things is not like the other”.  However, in my mind, at that moment, I allowed myself to slip into the delusion that I did.  In my mind I was on the start line of a race with over 5 million worldwide watching.   As the helicopters hovered over the start line, I was interviewed by a camera crew, flash photography was everywhere, Lance was there.  I smiled.  I felt like I was getting away with a masterful heist.  Just like Forrest Gump, I was there, somehow, even though I didn’t belong.  My ipod was playing Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself” and that is just what I did.  I was lost in the moment and couldn’t help but smile like a kid at Christmas time.

You can see me (Forrest Gump) just to the left of Dave who is
pointing out the rain clouds ahead to Lance. 

As the sun lifted and the clock counted down the crowds began to fill the start area and you could feel the excitement in the air.  To top off my excitement I was feeling good.  My legs felt good and I knew I was going to have a solid ride if all mechanical things held up well.  The helicopters hovered over the start area. The television crews were all across the start line.   Lance and Dave had made their entrance.  A friend, Travis Brown, had lined up just to the left of them, but it was too loud for me to get his attention and say hi.  He was a last minute entry that I had not expected to see. 

The countdown from 10 began and the race started at the sound of a shotgun blast. As we headed out of town you could see rain clouds beginning to reform and a double rainbow appeared through the clouds.

 I surged forward and found myself right on Lance’s wheel.  After rolling for a while there, I decided I had something to say to him and I might not ever have the chance again, so I pulled up beside him. 

“My Dad called me last year from his chemo treatment room at the hospital and asked me ‘What’s it like to race against the “Big Number One”? I said.  Lance turned, looked at me and smiled and chuckled at the comment.  “I lost him this past April to small cell liver cancer” I said.    His smile quickly turned to a grimace; he sighed and said “I’m sorry to hear that, that’s tough!”   “It is” I said, “And the reason I tell you this, is that despite what you do on the bike, please don’t ever retire from the fight against cancer.  We need more survivors like you and I.”   More than his accomplishments on the bike, I admire his work and passion fighting cancer through his Livestrong organization and felt compelled to tell him so.   “You’re a survivor?” he said.   “Yes, and I just wanted to thank you for all you do to fight it.  Don’t ever retire from that.”  He smiled.  “Well, good luck today”   “Thanks, and good luck to you on setting the new course record.” I said.  We then continued to talk about the onset of the looming weather, the difficulty in setting a course record in such conditions, the chances of hail, lightning or even snow at the top of Columbine Mine.  As we neared the gravel road turn off, we wished each other luck one last time, and the race was on. 

At this point Travis Brown had gone to the front of the pack and was pulling us down the dirt road at a solid pace.  I then hear over my shoulder “I see you everywhere” as I turn to see Jason Tullous, a friend of mine from Tucson that I had ran across in a pace line while racing in France in July.  Jason is a Masters World Champion mountain bike racer from Tucson, AZ.   As we were chatting, all of the sudden there were riders shouting out and I looked up to see a small herd of cattle stampeding beside us and diving across the road in front of us.  We all had to brake to miss colliding with them as they moved across the road.  I turned to Jason “I thought we only had that type of thing happen in Nebraska”.   He laughed.  

Travis Brown leading us out..
Yes those are drop bars!

The pace stayed steady to the base of the climb.  As we took the left hand turn to start up St. Kevins, the first major climb of the day, I noticed I was sitting in 5th place right on Lance’s wheel.  I smiled once again and let my delusion continue.  Up the climb we went, the helicopters filming overhead, in my mind I could see Versus showing me, on Lance’s wheel, climbing and holding pace.  There were fans along the climb cheering.  I was having the experience of a lifetime.  Oh boy, I thought.  This is not going to help my son’s delusion if he sees this coverage. 

My son Dillon has always had the idea that I race in the Tour De France every year WITH Lance Armstrong, even though I am always doing the Etape Du Tour on the day the real guys rest.  Self confession, I have let him have that delusion, and I suppose him seeing me on the start line in Leadville with Lance only strengthened it.  But hey, your kids are only young once and I’m sure at some point I will go from Daddy “Hero” to “Zero” and I am just not ready for that transition yet.  I’m going to milk this Hero status as long as I can.

About two thirds of the way up the climb, it takes a 180 degree turn and continues to climb in a rolling fashion.   At this point I had slipped back to 10th and the top 8 riders had gradually pulled away from us.  Delusion over : Time to race.   I knew how important it was to try and not get stranded in between groups.  We had 6 of us that were coming back together towards the top and I would start the descent solo as the 5 riders caught up with me.  By this time the cold rain had started and my core temp was falling.  I decided to just ride hard and let the group come up to me as I wanted to say warm. 

As we headed toward the 2nd climb our group came together, but drafting was bitter sweet.  You could get a break from the wind, but the cold wheel spray from the rider in front of you was a high price to pay.  We all rotated through and made it to the top of the sugar loaf climb together and began the descent down pipeline.  By this time the rain was coming down hard and my glasses got so filled up with dirt I had to shed them. Not seeing the lines on the descent was more risk than I wanted to take.  However, I soon found out the trade off was sanding my eyeballs with grit.   It was a no win situation and to add to the misery the numbness of feet and hands were settling in despite the hard efforts.  It appeared to be getting colder as my breath was even more evident.  I assume it was if for nothing else, due to the gain in altitude.  I was miserable!

Our group was whittled down to around 4 riders by the time we got to the base and started making our way to twin lakes.  As we went through the feed zone I got separated from the group.  I managed to get a feed from my son Dillon who was hanging out with his cousin Connor and my aunt and uncle in the feed zone.   It was great seeing him in the feed zone, jumping up and down cheering me on.  I could see the sense of pride and excitement in his eyes and a big smile came across my face as I rode away to start the climb up to the top of Columbine Mine.   The rain had stopped and I knew I could warm up from my effort on the climb.

Yes, that is my boy in the Husker hoodie, throwing up his best Leadville Posse gang sign.  (-:
My aunt Lois and cousin Connor beside him

At this point I could tell by my splits I was ahead of my previous year’s pace despite the wet, cold and miserable conditions.  I settled into a comfortable pace and headed up the mountain.   About half way up Jason Tullous passed me back.  “Keep it up, your climbing awesome” I said.   I continued on, knowing the hardest part of the climb is above the tree line.  Just as I broke through the trees, I could feel the wind and cold air picking up.   The dark clouds were rolling in and the sleet started to pelt me.   The wind was gusting in the 20-30 mph range and I could again see my breath.   Misery loves company, and I had none.  The gaps at the front of the field were opening.

As I approached the top, down came Lance and he was focused and intent on his way by.  I offered up a word of encouragement and away he flew.   I looked at my watch, waiting to see the gap before Dave Wiens would roll by.   It was 8 or so minutes and then came Dave.   As he rode by me we exchanged words of encouragement.  If you don’t know Dave or have never met him, he is a consummate sportsman.   He probably would have shaved 15 minutes off his time if he didn’t feel he had to personally encourage all 900+ riders on his way back to the finish. 

I finally saw the turn around and was feeling good.  I had counted the riders coming down and I was sitting well inside the top 15.   All I needed to do was not come apart in the next 50 miles.  How hard could that be?  I already knew.  I turned to charge down the mountain in search of warmth and oxygen at lower altitudes.  On the way down I started to see our team guys and friends riding the race.  Words of encouragement were exchanged and I charged on.   One of the unique things you notice on the descent of Columbine is the variety of folks participating in the event.  From male to female, young to old, big and small, all types of folks take on the Leadville challenge. 

As I hit twin lake feed zone, there was my crew again, the boys jumping up and down in the road and handing me my feed. 

I was frozen coming off the descent in the sleet but didn’t want to stop and take time to put on dry clothes.  I pushed on.  The weather began to let up and I started to regain feeling in my hands and feet.  The way back was a lonely one.  I rode solo for the last 60 miles of the race.   As I went up and over the steep base of the powerline climb I was sitting in 10-12th depending on which spectator I talked to.  I ended up getting passed by two guys towards the top of Powerline.  I was bonking and knew I had gotten a bit behind on nutrition.   I started drinking and eating jelly beans for a quick sugar rush.   It took me about 20-30 minutes before I felt ok again.   I pressed on.   I could not see any riders ahead or behind so there was no ability to draft or work with other riders in the open sections between climbs.  As I neared the top of St. Kevins, I could see one rider up in the distance.   I decided to make catching him my goal before the finish, in hopes we could work together on the stretch into town.  

As we came off the final descent and headed into town I was able to catch Ethan.  He had finished 4th the year before and I offered to rotate with him.  He was not feeling well and told me to charge ahead.   I did.  I could tell by my watch that it was going to be close if I was going to finish under 7:45 which was my goal.   I had to win. 

The last 5 miles were an all out prologue and I was hurting.  I used my father as motivation, thinking about how much he suffered in his final stages with Cancer, how he pushed through it to be with us as long as he could.  I thought, I could, at the very least, suffer for a few hours to achieve my goals and win in Leadville.  Besides, Leadville was something he got excited about.  He wanted to see me race and couldn’t due to his cancer, but managed to call me last year several times wanting to know what it was like.

As I turned the final corner and looked at my watch, I needed to dig deep to win.  I gave it everything I had left and rolled in just under 7:45 finishing 13th  overall.  

I collapsed over my bike as they hung a medal around my neck.   I looked up to see my son Dillon and my Dad’s twin brother standing there with my friends with big smiles on their faces.  A sense of euphoria set in.  I had done it.  I won!  Despite the weather conditions, despite the couple mile course extension, I had set my own course record. 

My uncle behind me, Dillon to my right and good buddy Steve to my left

I turned the corner and embraced my family and friends as we headed to the recovery tent for some warm ramen noodles, coke, and some cookies.  As I sat there in recovery I thought about how special this year was.  Having my son Dillon take part in the experience, and to see the excitement and pride in his eyes was worth it all.  And even though my dad could not be there, my uncle (his twin brother) was, and I knew he would have wanted it that way. 

Well Dad, you asked “What is it like to race with the Big #1”   Well, it is an amazing surreal experience for a regular joe like me.  Especially when I win! (-:

The Rest of The Story

Ok, so that is my experience.  One of the other great things about Leadville is experiencing it with friends and family.   This year we were able to add David Renvoise to our 6 man team.  If you have read my yearly Etape du Tour recaps, you know David as our French guide who is a very talented climber and great friend to Steve Jarrett, Jim Maaske, my cousin Jon and me from our last 7 years of racing in France.  We were excited to have him on our team and he had a tremendous race finishing 26th.  I have put some photos below of friends and fellow flatlanders that did this event.  Captions tell the story.  Enjoy.

That’s right folks.  10,200 is where we started from. We live at 800.  Oh Yippy!

So, here is where I suggest we hide some motorcycles.

Our Pipeline feed zone crew.  They were not there for a good time, they were there for a LONG time.

Some of our trusty feed zone crew from Kansas and Colorado

The crew upon arrival.  We didn’t look this good leaving!

We gave Lowell a hard time about his trash bag photos from last year, so he stepped it up a notch.  He had a great finish coming in
an hour faster than last year.  Sponsorship helps of course (-;

If we only knew what we were in for!

David awaiting the start

Kevin on pace for an awesome finish coming in 52nd. 

No trash bag here and riding strong is Lowell Peterson, one of our three cancer survivors on the team.

Chris Peterson on pace to “Win” and beat his time from last year, despite two flats.  One of three cancer survivors on the team.

Steve rolling through the first feed on the way out.  He suffered from Hypothermia on Columbine and had to pull out.

If your suspension seat post is gonna break, it best be at the end!

Cousin Jon Winning! 

David Winning!

What Leadville can do to a man….Turn him into Greg Lemond!

Cousin Connor, Dillon, Me, Cousin Jon, and David

David post race with Steve. 

Scott Bigelow from Lincoln Winning!

Winners circle

What the winners got

What we got