Saturday, January 29, 2011

Leadville 100 on a tandem 2010 edition

I meant to post this several months ago - better late than never, right?

Installment number two of my blog (one year later). Somewhere between August 15th 2009 and January 2010, the painful memories of the Leadville 100 mountain bike race apparently faded. In January 2010, when Leadville registration opened, there seems to have been a momentary lapse of reason and we threw our hat in the ring again. Flash forward eight months and we’re at the starting line of Leadville again on our big green bike.
The temperature was in the high 30s and a bit brisk. Similar to last year, we have the splits for each aid station for an 11 hour finish, 12 hour finish and last year’s actual time taped to Bevin’s handlebars. This should help us understand how we are riding relative to our goal of breaking 11 hours.

The downhill start at this temperature is enough to make your fingers go numb pretty quickly. We did not see any crashes in the first section of the race this year, making for a positive start. Leading up to the St. Kevin’s climb, I went to shift into the granny gear and “no-go”. I had a bit of a panic moment and somehow managed to get into the small chain-ring before the road really turned up. Lesson learned, don’t jack with the limit screws on your front derailleur the week before a race!!

This year 13 tandems were entered in the race and 12 ended up starting. We did not see any tandems in the first miles of the race and then we saw our new friends from Belgium (Doris and Lieven). They passed us in the early steepness of St. Kevins , then a few minutes later we slowly went by them and did not see them again until the turn-around when we were coming back down Columbine. We saw another tandem as we were climbing St. Kevin’s and slowly managed to ride away.

The descent around Turquoise Lake was fast and uneventful. We had a nice climb up Haggerman pass road and managed to have a handful of riders sitting on our wheel (this will be a common theme for the day). We turned left onto the Sugarloaf climb and got into a nice groove, we had the tunes going and struck up a few conversations with other riders, primary themes were about how they would never ride a tandem with their significant other, does the DJ take requests and is it harder riding a tandem??

After what seemed like a quick climb and some rollers, we were on to the Powerline descent. This portion of the course tends to give some of the riders a hard time. I do not think it is that difficult, but it does help to have some mtb skills. As usual there were a couple of crashes. We came upon one group of riders franticly waving and shouting, “rider down”. Everyone slowed and passed a gruesome scene of a bloodied rider and several people trying to help and radio for help (turns out this rider ended up SERIOUSLY injured was still hospitalized last time I heard). About this time, we passed a rider with a Lifetime Fitness outfit on and he told us he was shooting some video and that we were on camera. I think he followed us for a bit. Not long after that we hear a crash and someone right behind us apparently grabbed too much front brake and was down. A few minutes later, some dude washes out RIGHT in front of us, on an off-camber lose section. I managed to stop the bike on a dime and not go down. He picked himself up and quickly got out of the way (I think he was fine, just a little shaken up). Finally we get near the bottom of Powerline where it is steep, loose traction and multiple large ruts and gullies. There were course marshals instructing people to go slow and not end their race here by trying to go too fast. I think we only saw one person go down and we came away staying upright as usual.
The next section of the course is relatively flat and we ended up with a large group of riders sitting in behind us (wheel sucking). I would not mind if someone would just come up front once in a while and take a turn, but oh well. We rolled through the first aid station, lots of cheering and good vibes. Moving right along we clicked off the miles to the 2nd aid station (Twin Lakes). As we arrived, the crowds were even bigger and countless “go tandem” cheers. Just like last year, we had the world’s best crew, Lori. Looking across the sea of people we spied her pink balloons. This year she tied the balloons to a tent pole, so they were several feet above the crowd and VERY easy to spot. So I need to describe just how organized Lori was, here’s how it went. 1) She gives Bevin her other camelbak (already filled with ice cold water). 2) She grabs my camebak and refills it. 3. Switches out Bevin’s bottles and mine on the bike. 4) Asks what else we need? …and we’re off!!!

As we’re leaving the last bit of spectators around Twin lakes I hear someone call my name, its Nate, he says hi and gives me a high five. Prior to the Columbine climb, there’s a short up and a couple of rollers before you hit an open field, it’s as we are coming to the field when we see two riders coming the other way. It is not until later that we find out that it was Levi Leipheimer and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski. Also as we are crossing the field, we see a tandem in the distance (Bevin says “don’t go chase them” and we don’t). We had heard from a couple of people that we were the 6th tandem that they had seen.

So we begin the ascent up to Columbine mine. This is a long section of the course and its about 8 miles up with approximately 3000 feet of climbing. It’s a steady grade for about 5-6 miles and then it gets a little steeper and rockier. As we are ascending we pass the 5th place tandem (from Kansas). We are climbing well and the time seems to go quickly (gotta love having the tunes for the climbs). As we reach the first ungraded rocky section, I am surprised as to how many people are walking their bikes on the first steep pitch. In everyone’s delirious state, they don’t comprehend that someone is still riding, so many of them are walking in the most ride-able line. So I’m calling out, “we’re still riding, can we get a line?”. The problem is that the downhill riders are FLYING down on the left side, so I don’t have much room to ride. With a bit of begging and pleading, the walkers graciously moved and we remained upright and pedaled the entire first section. Then the hiking/pushing/slog begins. At 12,000 feet, pushing a 45+ lb bike is no fun (even with your awesome wife doing more than her share). So we push and then ride and then push and then some dude with a movie camera thinks it’s a good shot to focus on the couple pushing the big bike – what’s up with that?

So we get towards the top and start riding again. Meanwhile I forgot to mention that the first place tandem had passed us at least 30 minutes ago and then the second place team (Jay and Tracy Petervary) following a few minutes behind – which was a big surprise. We saw the 3rd place team (turns out they are from Parker Colorado) and then finally Chuck and Karla who were racing for their 10th Leadville tandem finish that HUGE 1000 mile belt buckle. It appeared that the top 4 places were spread out enough to not allow for any changes in order. We ride across the top of Columbine and descend to the aid station and loop around (not stopping) and back up a short climb and then on to the downhill. We ended up behind a couple of slower riders on the narrow/rocky double-track and went a fair bit slower than I would have preferred, but we kept is safe and when it widened, we were off and running. Back across the field and up and over to Twin Lakes. We roll in and see Lori and her pink balloons. Quick refill of the camelback and a couple of new bottles and we’re off – it’s like an Indy pit crew!!

More cheers for the tandem and lots of people. All of the sudden a wind gusts and someone’s EZ-up tent flies up into the air and is coming down exactly where we are riding. I come to a skidding halt and stop with my nose within inches of the now upside down canopy. Meanwhile I had jammed my knee into the handlebar and nearly had me singing soprano. Many apologies from the people with the EZ-up tent and a nice push off and we’re rolling again. We had an uneventful ride to Pipeline II after the tent incident.

No problem finding Lori with her pink balloons. Quick refuel, a change of Bevin’s left shoe, and we’re off. There was a major headwind heading towards the Powerline climb. We managed to get in a pace line for a short period, but it was mostly just people sucking our wheel. The bottom section of Powerline is a pretty nasty climb. Its about 18% to 22% grade and is not ride-able by most at this stage in the race (I will say that we “cleaned” it during our 45 mile pre-ride a few weeks before). We get off and start pushing. It’s hot, its steep, we’re tired. We get to the top of that first hill and we get back on the bike. We’re both pretty spent from pushing the bike up that nasty grade. We get back on the bike and manage to ride the rest of Powerline and try not to think of all the “false summits”. We had a great descent down Sugarloaf and managed to pass quite a few people. Then hit the graded Hagerman Pass road and got in a good groove, this year we pedaled and did not slack like last year.

So we’re 80+ miles into the race and feeling it. Even though we were actually on a good pace and I was thinking maybe we could stretch for 10:30. Bevin was delusional. Struggling with her “head-math” she was convinced we weren’t even going to reach our 11 hour goal. I did not have the energy to argue or convince her otherwise, we just pedaled onward. We hit the pavement and got up to speed and coasted for a few. Just a 3ish mile climb on the pavement and we’re about home free. That climb still sucks though. We managed to stay in the middle chainring and push it. I was still thinking 10:30, I think Bevin was still wondering if we could break 11 hours. Quick stop at the mini aid station and we’re off again (no lounging around like last year!!!). Back on the bike two short steep pushes and its downhill for a while, we rode both of these while quite a few of the riders around us were off pushing again.

Now we’re heading downhill on St. Kevins - woohoo!! Seemed like an eternity ago that we were elbow to elbow with hundreds of our best friends on that climb on the way out. Fast downhill, several shout outs of “on your left” and we’re down. Some flatish dirt road and I was not going to loli-gag our way back to the finish like last year. Kept the pedals turning, not much coasting. Next thing we know where at “the boulevard”, a short section that is rocky and some say steep, but it’s just b/c you’ve been riding 99 miles already. Just a few more miles to go (yeah, its not really 100 miles, more like 103). We pushed the middle chain-ring again for the rest of this dirt road (partly because I couldn’t shift into the little ring again). Hit the pavement and turned the corner for onto 6th avenue. It’s hard to describe the feeling of being so close to the finish but being so completely spent. I decided to put my head down and just hammer for to the finish. We passed at least a half a dozen people and were moving like a freight train coming to the red carpet.

10:33 final was our time (5th place). We went 50 minutes faster than last year! Turns out Bevin’s math skills are nonexistent after riding 80 miles between 9,000 and 12,500 feet (and she is in the Finance field). I got off the bike, someone gave us finisher’s medals and I gave Bevin the biggest hug. It’s pretty cool to be able to do something like this with your wife/partner/best friend. We’ll never win or even place at a race like this, but it is our own accomplishment that drives us to push ourselves. I’m pretty sure we won’t be doing Leadville again anytime soon. I know that we said that last year, but we’re ready for a different challenge and that race has a crazy amount of people now that Lance & Levi have come to play.

I need to add that we had the chance to race with and meet Eric Weihenmayer. Eric is the first blind Leadville finisher (as far as I know). He and John Lemon rode their tandem to an 11:44 finish. Hats off to those guys. There were 11 tandems and 10 under 12hours. Andy & Cara Applegate are this first tandem (to my knowledge) to break 9 hours on a tandem and get the BIG buckle, 8:42 to be exact - nice work you two!! I also have to give big props to Chuck and Karla for finishing their 10th Leadville on a tandem - they rock!!!

I suppose if I’m going to ever post a 3rd edition to the blog, I may have to change the blog name to something other than Leadville… I’ll have to figure out how to do that maybe next year?

Here's the links to the gps stats, profile, maps etc.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Leadville 100 Tandem 2009

Leadville 2009 on a Tandem

My name is Dan and my wife's name is Bevin, we are a couple of everyday people who enjoy cycling especially tandems. Last fall we decided to make the move from road tandems and bought a MTB tandem with the goal of registering and completing the Leadville 100 in under 12 hours. Here's my recollection as to how that day unfolded.

It was 6:20 and we lined up near the very back on 6th avenue in Leadville Colorado and about 38 degrees. We had time splits taped to Bevin’s handlebar for each aid station for both an 11hr and 12hr race, this will prove helpful later. For reference, if you break 12 hours you receive a silver “rodeo style” belt buckle. If you break 9 hours, you get BIG “rodeo style” belt buckle. If you break 7 hours you are either Dave Wiens or Lance Armstrong. Realistically I thought we could do 11:30.

The next thing I know, the shotgun goes off. Two minutes later we crossed the start line. After a cold but uneventful ride down the pavement and a right turn onto dirt, the race actually begins. A few more miles and we begin the grind up St. Kevin (pronounced St. Keevin). This climb would otherwise be ride-able by most moderately skilled mountain bikers, but today with riders shoulder to shoulder moving about as slow as you can in the granny gear, it’s a challenge. We managed to ride the whole thing despite numerous riders dismounting right in front of us. It was nothing short of a miracle, did I tell you we were on a tandem?

We proceeded up the rest of St. Kevin at a snail’s pace due to the volume of riders. By the time we reached the pavement, it was raining and cold. The pavement was fast despite the rain, a few miles later and we were on the dirt road to Hagerman pass.

The second climb takes you up Sugarloaf to the first real challenge of the day, Powerline. Powerline can be challenging on a good day, but today it is raining and cold. It is a double track that has some rocky spots and some deep gullies. There are 2 or 3 short ups on this descent and when shifting down our chain sucked. I don’t know exactly what was going on (it had to be the mud on the chain), but we could not use any of our 3 lowest gears. So we walked those couple of ups, fortunately we did not break our chain, we somehow managed to backpedal before it got jammed. About three fourths of the way down, some idiot comes screaming by (recklessly) and not 15 seconds later, he’s down (karma). We managed to keep the bike upright, no small feat on the big bike, in the rain/mud. So we’ve completed about 20 miles and its freakin cold and we’re wet. If this continues, its gonna be a LONG day!!!

We blow through the first aid station at Pipeline. We were 1 minute ahead of our 12 hour pace (uh oh) mechanical difficulty coupled with the rainy Powerline descent had slowed us up. We continued to have problems in our lowest 3 gears. Fortunately the section between Pipeline Aid stations and Twin Lakes aid station is relatively flat, only one climb that required our low gear – so again we walked. As we’re walking and pushing the bike I ask Bevin to push from the front so that I can try spraying the chain(s), chainrings and cassette with my water bottle hoping that we can resolve our muddy chain issue. The troubling part is that if we can’t use our low gears, it could mean our day ends with us NOT finishing…

We roll into Twin Lakes aid station (#2), the crowds are nuts! We continue to get major props (tandems are quite novel at a race like Leadville – 5 total this year). It is warmer now. Time check – we were exactly on our 12 hour pace, more uh oh, disappointing. We roll through the aid station looking for our crew, pink balloons, where are the pink balloons? Amongst a sea of spectators and crew, we finally spot Lori and the pink balloons. Lori by the way is awesome!! We stop, exchange camelbaks, I attempt to wipe down the chain(s) and lube as well. Several minutes later, and we’re off, heading for Columbine (about 3k feet of climbing over 8 miles. About 2 minutes out of Twin Lakes and what do we see? Lance FLYING down the left side of the trail. This dude looks intense!!! He’s all business. Followed closely by the motorcycle (film crew?). About 5-7 minutes later we see Dave Weins. We both shout, “Go Dave!” and he says something back to us, words of encouragement. This is one cool dude.

So as we are climbing the first mile of Columbine and the rain starts again. About this time I realize that I left my rain jacket sitting with my crew back at Twin Lakes. UGHH!! If this rain continues up all the way up Columbine, which climbs to about 12,500 feet, I’m hosed. I can’t stop thinking about the potential for hypothermia. About 15 minutes later the rain stopped. YEAHH. We continue our long climb and surprisingly we were slowly passing quite a few people. About 2/3 of the way up Columbine, the road changes from a graded dirt road to a steeper and rockier road. The uphill riders are now walking, we continue to ride, but have to call out to the walkers to give us a line. We don’t have a lot of room b/c the downhill riders are coming down quite fast on the left side of the road (double track). We manage to ride this entire section, very cool. It was not much longer and we hit the really rough road, now we’re walking too. It is a slog. The air is thin and the footing is not great either, but we are moving. Looking off into the distance we see our destination and it looks like a trail of ants heading that way, only the ants are riders walking and later riding as the get closer to the Columbine aid station.

It is windy at the top, surprisingly not bitter cold (remember I have no jacket). We made up almost 20 minutes on our 12 hr split on the climb and that made us feel good. We stop at the aid station, I slam a cup of coke, some PowerAde and a handful of Fritos. I am gone for 30 seconds using “the facilities” and come back to the bike only to find Bevin getting interviewed by some camera dude. I’m not sure if she got to say much b/c she was trying to eat. I tell her we gotta roll and we’re off. It’s a short uphill leaving the aid station before the descent. Again people are walking…What is up with this? We have to call out to get people to move over so that we can ride and not get hit by oncoming traffic. We successfully ride the short up and then we start the descent, this is usually pretty loose good sized rocks, but there is actually a good line and the dirt is pretty tacky due to the rain. Then we FLY down the rest of Columbine passing everyone. “On your left” was the only thing coming out of my mouth. When we arrive at Twin Lakes again, we had made up another 8 minutes on our 12 hr split (means we were actually approaching 11:30 expected finish). Quick change of camelbaks and we’re off to Pipeline aid station.

Leaving Twin Lakes, going through the crowds was cool. “Go tandem” is echoed again and again. We begin a short climb after and begin talking to some dude (Bevin says we “talked him off the ledge”). He says, “Are we gonna make it”? To which we say something like, “if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, 12 hrs should not be a problem”. He’s in a bad spot mentally, but with words of encouragement, he continues on with a strong pace and pulls away from us. We proceed on towards Pipeline. The miles are ticking along, 65-70 miles and we’re feeling the miles and time on the bike. I think there was a small tailwind. We pull through the aid station looking for the pink balloons, where is she? We get all the way past the official aid station and are about to give up and stop to get our own drinks, but there she is, again Lori rocks!!! We stop, I again lube the chain, we change camelbaks and Bevin has Lori do some re-arranging of the cleat on her shoe to relieve a “hot-foot” issue that she was having – good news is that it worked. We’re off, now we have 4 hours to finish. Our 12hr split only requires 3 ½ hours, so we’re lookin good.

Leaving Pipeline, there’s a hard crosswind that turns into a headwind after we turn the corner heading back towards the Powerline. We had a bunch of people riding our wheel and I eventually pulled off to make someone else do some work. We settle in on the back end of a 6 person train. It was a nice break, but not too long and the road turns up and I decide to sit up and not kill ourselves trying to stay on. Big crowds again at the bottom of Powerline.

I don’t know how to describe the Powerline, but the bottom section is virtually unrideable and that it is a tough climb that seems to go on forever. I say virtually unrideable, b/c we rode all but the last 100 feet during our pre-ride, but on race day, everyone walks (except Lance). Walks SLOWLY, is a better way to say it. The grade gets up to 22%. The other thing about Powerline is that there are 3 or 4 “false summits”. It is both mentally and physically challenging, especially after you’ve already ridden 80 miles and those false summits mess with your head. We ride most but walk a few sections. I was surprised again as to how many people were walking sections that we rode. But I chose to walk a couple of sections that Bevin wanted to ride – two reasons; 1) I was beginning to bonk and 2) as a result, my driving skills may have been impaired and I did not want to dump us on the ground. Bevin was hurting too and the walking sections were harder on her than riding, so I did my best to ride where I could. We finally summited after what seemed like an eternity.

We bombed down Sugarloaf and exited to the graded dirt road. At this point we were tired and had lost motivation to push hard knowing that we just had to keep moving and we’d easily achieve our sub-12 hour goal. We coasted down this road and did not pedal (mistake #1, more later). We made it to the pavement, short downhill and then a 3 mile climb to the final aid station. We stopped at the aid station for at least 5 minutes (mistake #2), ate watermelon, dumped camelback and filled with PowerAde, had a cup of sprite and we were off. Bevin had some Fritos and some dude offered her a PBR to go with her chips – funny. But we did not stay for beers.

We got moving again, but not moving fast. Made it up a couple of short climbs, again people were walking, but we rode. We BOMBED down St Kevin, the trail was in great shape due to the earlier rain. We soft pedaled the flat dirt road (mistake #3) and exited to Leadville junction. A mile or so of pavement into the wind, we did not work hard (mistake 4). The last 3-4 mile is called the Boulevard. It is rocky at the bottom and then a gradual climb back to the start/finish. We cruised along and did our thing, we got passed by more riders on this section than the rest of the course. We turned on to the pavement and someone said 8 tenths of a mile. We picked up the pace a little for the last ½ mile and managed a 11:23 minute finish. This was amazing!! Someone put medals around our necks and we got off of the bike and I gave Bevin the BIGGEST hug and told her I loved her and that I was so proud of her (and us). We took 4th place in the tandem class (out of 5)

Oh back to the mistake(s). The third place team was only 4 minutes ahead of us…Wow, if we had any idea we would have ridden our last 15 miles very differently. I have absolutely no regrets, in all seriousness, the “mistakes” were not actually mistakes, but its one of those things if you knew then what you know now…we could battled for 3rd. We rode our race and 11:23 is better than I could have ever hoped for, so I am ecstatic with our achievement!

It was a LONG day! Bevin said it’s the hardest thing she’s ever done and I agree. I did Leadville by myself 5 years ago and managed a 10:03 finish. The tandem was harder, but it was amazing. I cannot put into words how proud I am of my stoker, wife and best friend. She is a rock-star! Completing Leadville on a tandem is exponentially more fulfilling than on a single bike. The fact that we chose to take on this challenge and absolutely conquer this 100 mile beast (together) is freakin awesome!!!

Let me finish this rambling report by quoting the Race Director Ken. He’s a great guy and gives an inspiring speech the day before the race. After he got done telling us how much its gonna hurt and how thin the air is and how much we’ll want to give up, he said a couple of things.

1). Paraphrased, “It WILL hurt, but it will only hurt for 12 hours. If you quit, it will hurt for a lifetime”.
2). “You are better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can”.
3). He made everyone chant, “I commit, I won’t quit!”

I had to resurrect those thoughts a few times on Saturday.

That's it. We came to get a couple of belt buckles and we did. Thanks for reading.