Today I got to do the coolest thing ever

Posted on Mar 27, 2018 in General | 0 comments

SAVE A LIFE! And it was easy. I’m so unbelievably honored to have been given the opportunity. Where does life even go after something like this? I kid… Enough emo. Let me tell you all about it!

Step 1 – The Call

A few months ago I received a call that felt like a scam. First, it was from Florida. I don’t know anyone who would call me from Florida (that’s right, Jamie, you wouldn’t call me). Second, they mentioned an event I had no recollection of. Third, the offer was too good to be true.

The first part? Nope, nobody I knew from Florida.

The second? After some deep digging, I recalled that in May 2010, one of those insurance people
came into work to explain our benefits. He, or someone close to him (I can’t remember) had had leukemia, received a bone marrow donation, and lived happily ever after. Would we like to swab our cheeks to get in the database? Having witnessed a “niece” battle (and beat) leukemia right around that time, it was a no brainer.

The third? The chance to save a life for so little effort. I’d be inconvenienced a few days, maybe feel crappy a few more, but SAVE A LIFE. I wouldn’t have to stop a bullet, run in front of a speeding train, or anything truly heroic. Having lost Mom to cancer, Rebecca’s Dad (day after my donation – he was terminal at the time) to it, and knowing too many others who have beaten its ass, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

On this call I found out the recipient was a 37 year old female with acute leukemia (I don’t know the subtype). That’s all I may ever know.

Step 2 – The Wait

Someone looking for a match can have several matches. You’re not informed how many they may have, but further bloodwork must be done in order to find the best one. I had this done at a clinic near home and waited. During this time (it was a month) I scoured the internet for all the information I could find. Conclusion? The chances of donating at this point were still pretty slim [ref.]:

  • To start, only 1 in 40 on the registry ever receive a call
  • After receiving a call and doing more bloodwork, only 1 in 7.5 are determined to be the best match
  • After being determined to be the best match, only 2 in 3 actually donate

A podcast [linked below] provided a great metaphor on the likelihoods of all of this. Think of the recipient as a golf ball in flight. For them, the chance of landing in play is good, and that is akin to finding a match. The donor? They’re a blade of grass. The chance of that golf ball landing on them specifically? Ridiculously small.

Step 3 – The Physical

Once I was determined to be the best match, a date was set for the donation – three weeks out. Two weeks prior, I’d have to go to the donation site for a physical and more bloodwork. Since my safety is in their hands, the previous bloodwork combined with the physical I had received on my own just a few weeks before would not suffice. Conveniently, the donation site was in Annandale, VA, where all my college pals still live, and an area I’m very familiar with since Dad worked basically next-door to the place for near thirty years.

The physical was a simple physical plus blood draw and paperwork. In and out in less than two hours. The back and forth across the country in less than a full day was less than ideal, but I survived.

Step 4 – The Shots

The shots last for five days, but let’s back up a few days. Roughly (depending on when the transplant is) three days before my shots, the recipient undergoes what I believe is the most intense chemo and/or radiation possible. The goal of it is to basically kill her and allow “me” to grow inside her without any defense. While we have matching “defense” proteins (and I think really close DNA? Haven’t verified that), the body still recognizes foreign matter and wants to fight it so they destroy her immune system. If for any reason I wasn’t able to donate, she would die. Wild. Friend, if you’ve been wondering why I’ve not been on sunny day group rides, now you know.

My shots are of a drug called filgrastim. It’s most often used to boost the immune systems of folks following chemo, suffering from HIV/AIDS, or to give people donating stem cells super powers. It tells your body “Hey, we’re at war! Mount up!” My limited understanding means this tells your bone marrow to create the heck out of white blood cells and stem cells. It does so to a point that they actually leak out of your bones and into your bloodstream.

I had my first shot at an urgent care, the second from a home nurse, and the final three at the clinic in VA. On day one I could tell something was a little odd, but nothing acute. By day three I had some very light throbbing in my chest, lower back, tightness in my hips, and the most mild headache imaginable. I didn’t need Advil, but they recommended staying ahead of any possible pain so I took it anyway. By day four the symptoms were mostly gone and day five they were even less. One of the five shots burned for 30 seconds in each arm, but it’s unclear why.

There were some lifestyle restrictions while drugged up, but they weren’t too bad:

  • No strenuous activity. I continued with my daily no-sweat riding, but the drug made it clear I didn’t need to do more than 20-30 minutes a day so I got some walking in.
  • No alcohol. The day I found out I was doing this I tried to live life as cleanly as possible and cut it out completely. Not a problem.
  • Be safe. I had to miss a couple of amazing team/group rides and some races I would have liked to have done, but a small price to pay. A couple of them had garbage weather anyway so having a badass excuse to not go do something terrible was a-ok.

Step 5 – The Donation

No coffee that morning. Probably the hardest part of donating. Ugh.

30ish minutes following my fifth shot, it was time to hook in. An outlet went into my left arm and a return in my right wrist. In between is a centrifuge. The process is called apheresis and is the same as you’d experience if you were donating platelets, plasma, or a number of other things that can be separated out of your blood. While being fit has the advantage of making my veins incredibly easy to hit, it also means there’s no fat in which to smooth them out; they turn at hard angles that the needle had trouble coping with. We’d have to proceed at low speed until they were able to get my body temp up, which resulted in my veins relaxing.

From there, it was about 3.5 hours of laying in bed and farting around on my iPad. I got a bit restless, but I think that was mostly because I had to pee and knew that was an ordeal so I held it for two hours (they urged me to not drink anything morning of… I thought they only meant before and not during).

And then it was done. Unhooked, bandage up, received discharge instructions, and then I was released to a pretty normal day. Ate well, got some exercise in, and as I write this I can tell the drug is still working its magic, but I feel close to normal and am eager to get back to 100% in the next two days.

Step 6 – The Contact?

The information I mentioned above regarding my recipient is all you’re given for a year (anonymity is required for the first year to protect both parties as future donations may be needed) or possibly ever (some countries never allow contact and even if they do, both parties must opt-in). Yes, I would very much like to get in touch with or meet my recipient.

Regardless of laws or desires, I will receive a 1-month, 3-month, 6-month, and 1-year update on my recipient’s well-being. I think they might go yearly after that.

You probably have some questions. Good, I have some more things to say AND have a few answers.

  • Dad came up the day before donation. Was great to have him here and get to spend time we otherwise wouldn’t have had together.
  • I got to see SO MANY friends’ kids. Such a great time.
  • A lot of recipients call their transplant day their second birthday since they’re effectively brought back from the dead.
  • Data on transplant success is all over the place and dependent on more specific information I don’t have, but figure 50-70% survival after one year, and 40-65% after three years. Kind of disheartening, but way better than it used to be.
  • Everything was paid for and handled for me. Last minute flights, food, transportation, hotel. I would assume the recipient’s insurance paid for it.
  • Everyone I’ve spoken to has been scared of the donation process. We all grew up hearing about drilling into your hip bone. Fake news. They only drill into hips 10% of the time anymore. Everything else is PBSC (glorified blood draw that I went through).
  • 250 million stem cells were extracted. That’s apparently a low number and is the product of my recipient not weighing much.
  • Only the recipient’s blood and bone marrow are rebuilt from my code. That means she will receive any allergies I have (none), and probably get my flu shot for free, but nothing else will change.
  • Overall, the process was not at all painful. Uncomfortable at times? Sure, but .5 out of 10 on the pain scale.
  • My white blood cell count was “28” (I don’t know the unit of measure). Normal is 4-11. Someone with leukemia might be at several hundreds.
  • There are no known adverse effects from the process, but there isn’t much data beyond five years. The science in me says the risk would be an increased likelihood of cancer, but I’d imagine if no mutations were found after five years, they’re not going to happen. I was comfortable with this, but it’s probably the biggest hanging point. I’ll also participate in any long term study if they ask (I think they will).

Shoutouts and Links

  • Gift of Life is a great organization. Everyone I had the chance to interface was great. Loretta, Ana, Hildy, and Sarah, THANK YOU FOR MAKING THIS SO EFFORTLESS AND SAVING LIVES EVERY DAY. I also got a sweet pin and hand-signed blanket from the staff.
  • AANOVA Apheresis is great people. Added bonus was a good friend’s mom worked there for decades so I’d like to think I got more of the family treatment. I’ve been told they’re likely the best place to donate since they’re able to get lab results so quickly (this gets you out the door faster).
  • Reddit has a really good AMA from three donors if you’re more curious about the process.
  • Radiolab has a good podcast on the subject. It gets a little spiritually heavy, but still good.
  • You should totally get swabbed. It’s free. I’m planning to setup drives at work and for my bike team.

Note: I am not a doctor, just a guy who is really good at the internet and needs to know how everything works. That said, it’s likely something I wrote above is not entirely correct. Are you an expert? Did I get anything wrong? Let me know.

Board Games, they’re what’s for lunch

Posted on Feb 8, 2018 in General | 0 comments

The following is a post I made to our company-wide intranet, a highly trafficked space for our 12,000 global employees to share things from their lives, work, research, etc. “Adult” board gaming is a subject a lot of folks don’t know about, but are intrigued and hooked by when introduced so here’s me trying to intrigue and hook you.

Our daily Slack interest gauging poll

If you’ve ever found yourself in [my office] at noon, chances are you’ve seen a group of employees crowded around a table lying, cheating, stealing, and sometimes threatening ruin upon one another. Other days, things are a bit more friendly as they expand medieval kingdoms, colonize the far reaches of space, improve Caribbean islands, or construct the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Regardless the theme du jour, they’re having fun, flexing their brains, and building a stronger team via board gaming.

If “board gaming” evokes fond childhood memories of Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley favorites, and nothing else, that’s okay, but allow me to introduce you to “Eurogames.” In 1995, Settlers of Catan was released in Germany, and reinvented board gaming as most of us knew it. It introduced deeper strategy, advanced mechanics, less randomness, and a universally appealing (or acceptable) theme; characteristics shared by nearly all games in this category.

Over the decades, Eurogames have spread across the world like wildfire with some estimates showing ~30% year over year growth in the US. No longer are board games and board game stores the sole purview of the prototypical male geek toting their collection of hand-painted miniature figures and Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks. My own anecdotal data reveals these businesses visited by a healthy dose of children, families, women, and hygiene! For years here in Portland we’ve had numerous Meetups for board gamers, but recently we’ve had a bar open specifically for them! Conveniently, it’s on the bike route home for a number of us.

The benefits of board gaming are numerous. They improve relationships, lower stress and blood pressure, improve cognitive ability (logical reasoning and critical analysis skills), reduce the risk of mental disease, and in our own case tend to encourage employees to bring their own lunches; saving a few dollars and [usually] calories. Beyond the science, these daily sessions have done wonders to build bonds within our team and opened relationships between teams that would have otherwise been unlikely to occur due to the nature of how we [as human beings] work.

If you’re interested in learning more about this type of gaming be it for home or with your work team, you’d be well served starting with a “gateway” game. These have simpler mechanics, more universally enjoyable themes, and many are cooperative. Titles to look for are Ticket to Ride (my personal favorite for new players), Settlers of Catan, Forbidden Island, Carcassone, Codenames, Pandemic, Splendor, King of Tokyo, For Sale, and Sushi Go! If you’re looking to dig even deeper, BoardGameGeek is the site for all things board games.

Please accept this post as an open invitation. If you find yourself in [our office] for lunch, grab your meal at the cafe downstairs and join us for a game. We are experiencing a golden age of board gaming. Are you in?

Special thanks to hand models [redacted] and [redacted]

The chances of seeing Rebecca’s purple yoga pants on TV

Posted on Jan 16, 2018 in General | 1 comment

Days I watch the morning news… 1 in 30
Days my TV is accidentally still tuned to Fox (days after football games I cared to watch)… 1 in 182.5
How often a plane is hit by the deicing truck… I’d like to think this doesn’t happen often
How often someone makes the news without knowing it… Rare
How often someone makes the local news while on the other side of the country… Rare

So it was pretty wild to see her purple yoga pants on TV this morning.

EDIT: The chances were even slimmer. I’ve been informed those are not her pants. Damn! So close. Anyway, still her flight.

Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial

Posted on Jan 10, 2018 in Books | 0 comments

Did you know your posthumous options are greater than pumping your heavy metals into the atmosphere and enclosing yourself in many thousands of dollars worth of metal box inside a concrete box only to turn into a hot stewy mess? For the most part, I didn’t.

This book dives into those alternatives, provides the history of them and the current funeral industry (hint: it’s mostly a product of the past century), and ultimately left me curious to find out more. How can I save my family money, time, effort, and give back when I’m already gone? All of these things are appealing and there are ways.

I won’t go into the various methods that are better than what we currently have at our disposal (hah), but suffice to say I have reached out to a local cemetery that is the largest in the country [and that I happen to often ride my bicycle through] performing “natural” burials.

With the subject of death being taboo in general, I found myself unable to put this one down as I was learning new things left and right. I won’t lie, I’m fascinated by the mortuary arts, but only in text; absolutely no desire to do that stuff. Anyway, after a few days, I did find myself a bit burned out on the subject of dying and decaying so my reading did slow, but the author wrapped it up nice and tight and drew things to a close before dragging on.

Highly recommended read. Even if you don’t, you should probably think about “life” after death. Never hurts to have plans. We’re all gonna die.

Raw Notes

  • The idea is to allow the body to rejoin the elements, to use what remains of a life to regenerate new life, to return dust to dust.
  • Cremation, with its consumption of natural gas and electricity and release of mercury and other potentially hazardous emissions into the atmosphere.
  • Brackish blood streams from the tube and spills into the gutter that rims the embalming table. From there it flows into a porcelain basin at the head of the table called a “slop” sink and gurgles down the drain on its way to the city sewer system.
  • No federal law requires that a body be embalmed.
  • The few studies that examine the public health benefit to embalming show decidedly mixed results.
  • The state of Hawaii prohibits the embalming of a body infected with any of half a dozen communicable diseases.
  • Formaldehyde is nonetheless a human carcinogen, and because of its potentially toxic effect when released into the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency regulates it as a hazardous waste. The funeral industry, however, legally buries over three pounds of the formaldehyde-based “formalin” embalming solution every time it inters an embalmed body.
  • The growing middle class worked to emulate the refined lifestyle—and the more involved funeral etiquette—of its “betters.”
  • When it came to elaborating on the simple funeral, capitalism and gentility proved a winning combination.
  • Areas of Anglo-Saxon Britain, where the dead were burned upon the “bone fires” from which we inherit the less funereal English word bonfire.

2017 Year in Review

Posted on Jan 3, 2018 in General | 1 comment

Life – Sold my first house, bought another, went for a hike with a girl in May and still go on them regularly with her (we even do sleepovers sometimes!), lost a job after ten years, got a new job, happily bid farewell to my last client, became comfortable on a snowboard, exercised every day of the year, and did a bunch of bicycles.

Travel – Snowboarding trip with the college guys (January), a weekend in a freezing cold cabin on Mount Hood (March), wine weekend in California (April), a few days in Boulder to bid farewell to my old company with the old coworkers (April), DC for Race for Hope and VA Beach to visit friends (May), camping cycling weekend at McKenzie River (June), annual rafting weekend in White Salmon (June), camping weekend at Stub Stewart (June), weekend in Bend for road bike racing (July), long drive to and weekend in Tahoe for mountain bike racing, (July), week in Leadville for mountain bike racing (August), B&B weekend in Hood River (October), weekend in Bend for cyclocross (October), week in North Carolina for Christmas (December).

CyclingI’ve already written all there is about cycling. Ended the year with 8,005 miles. +24.5% over last year. 2,552 of that was on the trainer. Sorry, haters, that’s still 5,453 outdoors.

Running – Ran 6x more than I did last year (74 vs. 12 miles), but it was mostly at the end of the year and those numbers are laughable. Still managed to eke out an 18:28 5k.

Hiking – She’s all about this so I had to step up my game big time, which I wanted to do anyway. 6.2 hours last year was crushed by 26.2 this year. Up to Tilly Jane, The Flatirons, a first date in Forest Park, Elk Mountain, coordinated a group hike up Mt. St. Helens, made it halfwayup Mt. Adams, Dog Mountain, and Hamilton Mountain.

Health – Yearly average weight was more or less the same as last year (168.8 v. 169.1). Burned 435,095 calories – 26.6% more than last. I think that means my body composition should be much better? Haven’t been tracking it. Maybe I should. I think I look more fit.

BooksRead 25. Absolutely loved Modern Romance and Dreamland. I Love You, Michael Collins was the surprise of the year.

TV and Movies – Netflix has gone full idiot with their rating system so it’s hard to look back on the year and gather any real data. I can’t recall really loving anything. Ozark and The Great British Baking Show (spoiler alert!) got some pretty solid attention.

Losses – Lost two former coworkers unexpectedly. Both young men. One was in the “friend” zone. Most “gentle” (shut up, peanut gallery) guy I’ve ever met. He’ll be missed.

Next Year – How about a little bit more of everything? A good bit more running, a tiny bit more riding, some swimming, Mount Adams will be conquered, an upgrade to Cat 3 on the road (seriously, why does this elude me?). Aiming for same number of books because it’s not feasible to do more of everything forever.

Previous years in review: 20162015201420132012201120102009200820072006.

With that, it’s over

Posted on Nov 20, 2017 in Cycling | 0 comments

The season. Bike racing season. OVER. It was a long one and quite frankly, it lasted too long. First race March 5, last race 8.5 months later, roughly 47 races in-between with a few taking the better part of entire days. After a big diet and effort push to Leadville, my interest and energy waned heading into cross season. Despite some great early results, I didn’t have as much fun as I should have, completely ran out of steam, and barely made it through, BUT MADE IT THROUGH I DID. All in all, I probably only “skipped” three races due to burnout. That’s not so bad.

I found my way onto the podium 13 times of which three were on the top rung. An unprecedented year.

OBRA Results | Strava data

Let’s work our way back through the seasons, shall we?

Cross

It went well. Turning 35 allowed me to race in the 35+/old man category. I ran away with a few Cat 3 races, earned a leader’s jersey, and was bumped to Cat 2 following three wins and a few other respectable finishes. Despite only getting a handful of races into the early season series, I still finished second overall, although I didn’t qualify for final standings due to lack of results. In order to truly “win” in a lot of bike racing overall competitors you need the perfect balance of finishing well, but not too well to upgrade – think 8th every race. Funny thing.

Following my upgrade to Cat 2 I was faced with racing Open 2/3 (45 minutes) or Masters 1/2 (60 minutes with the big dawgs). I opted for the former in all but one race and finished mid pack. No longer capable of finishing at the top and really feeling the mental fatigue, I kind of let my training and diet go, and more or less slogged through the rest of the season. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable, but a lesson learned; ~50 races is too many.

Next year I’ll likely focus on smaller races as I think I get more enjoyment out of spectating the larger ones than racing them. Will still likely keep in the Open 2/3 category too as the one race I did in Masters 1/2 had me battling for close to last place, that’s no fun, and neither is racing last in the schedule of events; my ~1ish starts allow me to sleep in, race, and then chill/spectate for a couple of hours.

Mountain

I’ve previously written about this in a multitude of posts. I progressed leaps and bounds here mostly by a) doing it and b) getting a fantastic new bicycle.

Next year I’ll find myself in Cat 1 for Short Track so that’ll be entertaining. Also planning to do the big local races, Tahoe, and Leadville if I can get in.

Track

I tried it. It’s scary as hell, but fun as hell. I want more of it. Lots of room to improve skills here so a worthy option for focus next year.

Road

This proved to be a tricky road year for me. I came out of a great off-season feeling crazy strong, but it’s the only discipline I don’t feel I really saw huge improvement in. My placing were more comfortable than years past, but I felt an upgrade was inevitable and it didn’t happen.

Next year I’m going to focus on that upgrade. It needs to happen as it’ll likely be the only one I get for a long while.

For now, I’m going to get back to enjoying aimless outdoor riding when weather permits, and when it doesn’t I equally look forward to spending a lot of time on the trainer catching up on Netflix and reading. It’s gonna be real nice.

Leadville, Leadville, Leadville!

Posted on Aug 19, 2017 in Cycling | 0 comments

 

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It happened and I survived to tell the tale. Here is that tale.

About Leadville

Leadville was a silver mining town in the 19th century. At its height, there were 40,000 residents. The silver ran out, but some dude discovered molybdenum, a mouthful of a metal used in steel hardening. That has propped the town up numerous times over the past hundred years, but only marginally, and the population is now below 3,000.

The last time the mine closed due to lack of demand. unemployment in town hit a nationwide high so a dude named Ken Chlouber and his wife, Merilee (pictured above), decided to do something about it. Looking around, they recognized they had something unique – they were surrounded by beautiful mountains, great trails, and less air than any other city in the US… So they created the Leadville Trail 100 in 1983, a 100 mile run starting at 10,000 feet. Nuts. I would never do something so insane.

In 1994, seeing what the race was doing for the town, they added a weekend to August’s festivities (they also have a festival at the start of the month) with a mountain bike race. 104 miles and 11,000 feet of climbing, again starting at 10,000 feet. That’s more my jam.

Why?

Why not? It’s not something I’m going to be wanting to do when I’m old (the oldest rider was 84 and that is awesome, but I think I just want to read books at that age). I’m able-bodied now (I do still read books, though) so I’m gonna do all the things.

Getting In

I only recently (two years ago) learned about the race through a friend. He explained there was a lottery and it was really hard to win it. If we signed up together we’d have twice as good a shot; if one gets in, you both get in. We didn’t get in. He had been trying solo for years. I’ve heard stories of folks trying for over a decade with no luck. Fast forward a year to this past December and he was a month out from having a kid; I’d be going at this one alone. My life was beginning to have a lot more free time, and besides, the chances of winning the lottery are SUPER slim so I entered… And got in. When I received that e-mail my heart skipped at least a single beat. I didn’t even remember entering (the drawing is months afterward). This was a big commitment and I’ve only ever dabbled in mountain biking.

Prep

Step one was to get a bike. I did a light amount of research and being loyal to Norco, chose a Revolver 9.2 FS as my weapon of choice. It’s a full suspension cross-county race bike. It can’t downhill or trail ride with the best of them, but when the stuff is non-technical (like Leadville and all the riding I like to do), it goes like a rocket ship and comfortably so (the low travel rear end is great for the old back).

Step two was to learn how to ride it. Immediately, I signed up for Sisters Stampede, learned I had a lot to learn, and planned out the rest of the summer – regular rides and a pair races that would be similar to Leadville and in increasing length. I would go on to compete in a full season of Short Track, the Mount Hood Endurance Classic, and Tahoe Trail 100, the latter of which was a great simulation for the big day. It also provided me a spot in a much faster corral at Leadville, taught me about nutrition/hydration over really long events, and gave me an indication of what I would be capable of by comparing my time there with those of folks who did it and had previously done Leadville.

Getting There

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Like a glove

I had planned to drive the 18 hours each way, but about a month before it was time to do so a friend mentioned that Alaska Airlines treated bikes as regular bags. Having their credit card, I get a free checked bag, which means FREE CHECKED BIKE. Life and travel will never be the same. Flight options weren’t great, but they were cheap. I’d end up spending an afternoon at SFO (took advantage of the time to walk to a pancake house I knew of), but total cost with everything was going to be around $315. I couldn’t come close to that cost with driving beside the whole four days spent on the road bit.

Being There

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Peekaboo

I didn’t alter my work plans so I ended up arriving to town Wednesday (race on Saturday) as opposed to late on Thursday as I would have via the driving plan. At first I thought it might be a bit too early as your body goes into a transition phase as it acclimates, which puts you in worse shape than either being acclimated or arriving hours ahead of time, but I ended up liking the extra time.

I learned the town, relaxed, had ample time to get the bike together and tuned, and ultimately I didn’t even notice the altitude effect during the race. Yes, walking down the street at that elevation puts you out of breath, but on the bike for such an event your only goal is to keep yourself below redline, which I did. Sure, that redline may have been geared down a mile per hour, but the feeling was the same at no elevation – simply an exercise of keeping the body going.

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Afternoon cruise

Leadville is a cool little place. Without these events who knows if it’d even exist? Most locals recognize that fact and the events make it fairly clearly by dumping huge amount of money into the local economy and granting every high school graduate money towards higher ed. It’s an expensive weekend of bike racing, but it feels good to know it’s going to a good place.

Over my one week stay I did and ate all there was in town. City on a HillTennessee Pass Cafe, the Mineral Belt Trail, and my AirBnB get many thumbs up.

The Goal

Finishing under 12 hours is the thing everyone strives for. I knew I’d have no problem with that. Finishing under 9 hours gets you “elite” status and a more significant reward. Some number crunching on very little data (a single elite rider’s performances) told me I might be able to finish in 8:45 so I set my sight on that sub-9 finish.

The Race

2,000 sign up, 1,400 start, 1,200 finish. Start is 6:30am, which at that elevation means it’s cold. I believe it was 39 when our tires began rolling? Minutes later, the sun has peeked through and you instantly feel 10 degrees warmer. Far too much thought and effort went into keeping warm and then not being too hot, but it is what it is. It doesn’t make sense to start any earlier or later.

40 seconds after the shotgun went off, I was through the starting gate. At this point I was out for a morning ride with friends. My adrenaline was not pumping knowing I had a full day of riding ahead of me, and I honestly hadn’t done any sort of course recon other than having watched the video about the race on Youtube, which had been months ago and was completely gone from my memory aside from remembering that Lance is a cheater asshole. I was flying blind and I think that was beneficial. Looking back, it was kind of ridiculous, but at the time not knowing the challenges ahead kept me cool headed and focused on a single pedal stroke at a time.

The first handful of miles were paved roads. We were absolutely flying at 20+mph. I noted this for the finish – if time was tight, I had some road miles to power through, where I’d be able to pick up minutes over trail speed.

Once we hit the trails, it became apparent that I should have put more effort into the road sections. For the next five miles of trails I’d be help up by traffic at a speed far below what I would have gone on my own. There was nothing I could do about it at this point and with 90 miles still ahead, I figured the energy saved here would eventually work itself into time saved elsewhere so it’d all be a wash.

Being a huge, hard, and expensive ($425) race, it is very well supported with aid stations and neutral support (a mechanic who will fix your bike) every hour or so. Around mile 24 (that’s how they list it, but I swear my GPS said 26 or 29 or something far beyond that and confirmed it on the way back, but I digress) we hit the first aid station that crews can be at. I did have a crew. I’d go on to see them an hour later at mile 40, a few hours later at mile 60, an hour after that at 74, and again at the finish. It was amazing and I am forever grateful, but more on them later as they deserve to not be lost among the sea of text here.

At mile 40 the going gets tough. We’d been up two good hills past 11,000 feet already, but they were nothing compared to Columbine Mine, which tops out over 12,200. Not only is the air stupid thin up there, but halfway into the climb the trail turns into loose rock and becomes just a bit too much for most to handle… so we walked. Well, more of a death march… For about two miles. I would reach the summit and halfway point of the race at 4:50, 20 minutes slower than the arbitrary goal I had set for myself, but the harder stuff was behind us and rather than walk back down that 2-hour segment, I had a 35 minute descent ahead. I was hopeful. I grabbed a good amount of food and beverage at the top and cruised my way down, skipping the next aid station (mile 60) for anything more than a quick hello.

Around mile 62 I felt my energy wane. This was a flat road section and my legs just didn’t have the go left in them. Of note, I ran out of gas in Tahoe about an hour earlier so things had improved, but on this day I still had a long way to go. Coincidentally, right as my crew passed by in the car, my left leg cramped just above the knee. Ugh. I’ve never cramped before and at the summit I had even taken this expensive “no-cramp” product (I didn’t and wouldn’t pay for it) that almost made me puke (it has capsaicin in it). They saw the look on my face and had to be worried – it was excruciating pain and literally the moment they passed. Luckily, I was able to work it away and it didn’t return.

Note: two weeks before Leadville I did the final Short Track race of the year and went down hard in the team relay. I took some seriously large chunks of meat out of my hip on arm, and had massive bruising on my hip, which to this day still has not subsided  much and the gash in my hip could still pass for a fresh wound. I honestly didn’t know if I’d get through or even start the race due to the injuries. I’d been limping severely for two weeks and had done some long walks in that time because I needed to stay active and wasn’t able to bike in comfort. I’m sure this created some fatigue imbalances in certain muscles, which I think was the cause of the cramp. Long story short – cutting off racing even a couple of weeks before a big event isn’t enough. Be smart. While I don’t think this all cost me too much time, the two weeks of worrying about healing, sleeping poorly due to pain, and the energy my body had to put into rebuilding couldn’t have been beneficial.

At mile 74 I did some quick math and it told me I had a shot of meeting my goal. I had found someone’s splits online and while I was a little bit behind them, I felt they had 20-30 minutes buffer built in because the math didn’t add up. By my best guess, I had a mile of buffer to work with at this point. I made a quick pass through the aid station full of hope and was off.

At mile 90, just about at the 10,000 total ascent advertised, and after another lengthy bike walk, I calculated I had 10 flat or downhill miles ahead and 45’ish minutes in which to do it. Not a cakewalk, but well within my means. I chatted up some riders around hoping to build up their motivation and then it all came crashing down. An experienced rider told me the race was actually 104 miles and 11,000 feet of ascent, we didn’t finish on the road section I had counted on, and even the fastest guys barely do what laid ahead of us in under an hour. It was over.

Honestly, I was kind of relieved by the news. It turns out the math of the guy’s splits I had copied were not wrong and I am in fact a mere mortal (I would not win the big prize at the biggest mountain bike race anywhere in my first year of riding mountain bikes). I was now able to pedal comfortably into the finish knowing I gave it my best, it wasn’t enough, I didn’t break anything, and didn’t even draw a drop of blood! On my best days I have trouble walking down the street and accomplishing those things!

I crossed the finish line in 9:27 flat for an 11mph average. It was a pretty emotional thing.

GPS | Results

The Rewards

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Bling

SWAG! Lots of it. Too much. A tee shirt (note to events people: I never want a tee shirt unless it’s really awesome, which they never are), a jacket sweatshirt thing with my name and time printed on it (kind of cool), a finishers medal (why?), and A SOLID SILVER HAND-ETCHED BELT BUCKLE. The buckle is what it’s all about. It’s my first belt buckle and it’s freaking sweet. It was the smallest of all those awarded (sub-9 is probably 50% more material, 10 year finisher is likely 100% larger, and 20 year finisher 100% larger than even that [chest sized]), but it’s mine and I freaking love it.

The Crew

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Those smiles… every hour

I was lucky enough to have a crew of three. I don’t know how many other racers had crew at all, but it was a huge thing that I don’t know I could have done without. Something I’ll be forever grateful for, and not just for the obvious reasons of them saving me time by having what I needed at the ready, which they did, but when the going gets tough knowing there are people ahead rooting for you and soon to be greeting you with smiling faces, hugs, and maybe even kisses was an enormous help… Probably even more than the help that handing me bars, drinks, and other necessities was, and I’m talking in terms of race time.

Dad, Karen, and Rebecca, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Dad, we’re even for Mount St. Helens. Actually, no, no we’re not. That was way bigger.
Karen, I owe you beyond what I can put into words not only for this event, but for putting up with him.
Rebecca, I’ll return the favor when you do the 100-mile run next year.

What’s Next

I will happily do the race again, but without getting WAY faster and “winning” (placing in the 10%) a qualifying event that all require significant travel (Tahoe is the closest) or dumping a few $k into a charity spot or mountain bike camp, I’m faced with the lottery.

The chances of getting in again next year are slim, but I’m going to rally the troops for a large group entry (I think that increases our odds greatly?) and hope for the best. It turns out that volunteering at the running race the following weekend is a pretty much assured entry into next year’s mountain bike race. Perhaps I stay in town a week and a half next year (if I get in) or head down for that weekend alone to make that happen and cement my spot for 2019?

I’m currently enjoying a week of not riding seriously and eating anything and everything (I burned 7000 calories so I’m pretty sure I can never catch up). Cyclocross begins in another couple of weeks so come Monday I’ll get back to pouring in miles and caring about my diet. Fun, fun.

Parting Thoughts

  • The men’s podium didn’t show up for awards. Totally classless. Sure, one of them might have had a great excuse, but all three? Give me a break.
  • A beer after such a race is disgusting. I took one sip and threw the free one out. It wasn’t bad beer, but it was the last thing I wanted to put in me.
  • I need to pay attention to the notes I take after races. There were a couple of things I had told myself to do to my bike after Tahoe that I was kicking myself for having not done when I realized the mistakes a few miles into the race.
  • The pre-race rider meeting is not one to be missed. I wish my crew had attended, but we assumed it wasn’t important. They call it mandatory, which is funny, because last year’s race winner who is also a local wasn’t in attendance when they called his name. Somehow he was still allowed the race the next morning!
  • The camaraderie amongst “competitors” was great. They make it a point to call us family all weekend and it really does feel that way. Unless you’re a world-class athlete you’re only racing yourself. There was lots of chatter, working together, and courteous riding out there. I would get to know a couple on a tandem and One-Armed Willie throughout the day.
  • I would have been really well served by doing more long rides. I’m talking the 5+ hour type. I knew this, but they’re not an easy thing to comfortably fit into life, whereas my daily 1-2 hours are.
  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Rebecca did the 10k the morning after my race. She ran well, but was definitely not a fan of the altitude. While it didn’t affect me much, running a 10k is a much more anaerobic ordeal than what I did. As soon as you’re out of breath, you’re screwed, and you’d damned well better run out of breath in a 10k. I was not jealous, but I am proud.