We did it. 8:55:21. 32 minutes faster than last year. The big buckle is in my possession. For scale, stack two dollar bills. It’s awesome.

The start

I arrived to the start around 5:45AM. I was in the green corral (same as last year) and pushed forward a touch more than last time, but was still many rows back. The temperature was a brisk 39 degrees. With arm warmers, leg warmers, and a fleece, it wasn’t too bad, but my MTB gloves were a touch thin and I did lose feeling in my fingers. Thirty minutes into the race that was resolved.

Having gone out comfortably last year, getting caught in traffic up the first few climbs, and being forced to walk, the plan was to go out harder and avoid all of that. It worked. I didn’t go out hard enough to burn any matches, but hard enough to improve my overall standing and surround myself with talented riders who were going hard all day (some talented riders get great corral spots, but for one reason or another are cruising – nothing wrong with that, but it can slow a man or woman on a mission down).

The first two-fifths

On the first climb of the day, I found myself on the wheel of Elden “Fatty” Nelson, host of the podcast I used to help me prepare this year. He was on day seven of an epic mountain biking adventure (the six days leading up to the event he had raced the Breck Epic), someone said “hello” to him (he’s a recognizable figure), the mental exhaustion caught up to him, and he turned straight into a ditch. Fortunately, he didn’t collect anyone and still finished in an incredible 9:05.

I felt really good. The taper plan had worked. I was fresh, but not detuned.

On the flat sections I went a bit out of my way to find groups and wheels to suck on. I think this was a key to my day. I did my share of pulling, but also received a lot of help from my friends out there.

This year we opted to skip the initial crew aid station (Pipeline) as I was starting the race fueled and hydrated, and could carry plenty to keep me going to the next stop. I smiled to the crew, dropped a bottle (at speed it turned into more of a  throw and almost killed a woman, but I digress), and continued on my way. I had planned to drop two bottles at this point, but more on that in the notes section.

The goal for this beginning segment was 2:00. I went over the timing mats at 2:00:02. Check! Could this really happen!?

The middle bit

After meandering through some hills, I made it to  Twin Lakes Dam. Target? 2:50. Actual? 2:46:03. I don’t think I made up four minutes over this section. I do think the targets are not too precise (they were a combination of suggested times found on the internet and results from last year).

Three hours in and in theory my bottles should be spent and I’m out of food (my goal is a bottle of Skratch and an edible per hour – my edibles are Clif Bars, Gu shots, and Gu Bloks, which averaged out come to 267 calories in per hour, about the max the body can absorb) so a stop would be necessary.

Rather than being at the main Dam area, which is highly trafficked and difficult for riders and crews alike, we opted for the alternate station a couple of single track miles further. I got my first proper greeting of the crew and was back rolling within seconds. We were dialed. The alternate crew station was a good call too.

And then the hard part began… The climb to Columbine Mine is a near constant grade from 10.5k feet to 12.5k over ten miles. Save for a few short bits (well, nearly two miles so I guess not that short?), it’s rideable, but it’s a long grind, and is very exposed at the top. I felt really great up it and shaved a ton of time off of last year – the body and bike diets paid great dividends here. At the turnaround the clock showed 4:34:12 (goal was 4:40). I skipped the aid station and made my way back down to the crew.

Somehow, despite feeling like my skills were much better this year, I was slower on pretty much all the downhills. Perhaps it was knowing that I had a clear goal in mind, knowing that there’s very little time to be made downhill, and knowing that the entire day can be thrown away with one stupid mistake? Anyway, I got down comfortably, grabbed a single bottle (was going to be stopping at Pipeline for a full refill), Rebecca stuffed a Nutter Butter (guilty pleasure / sometimes nice to change up the nutrition during the day) in my mouth, and I was on my way. I’d cross the Twin Lakes checkpoint in 5:11:22 (goal 5:15). I had lost a little time, but still a nice window. I must admit this narrowing window caused significant internal panic because I knew the day wasn’t going to get any easier.

An hour of pace lining later, I found myself at Pipeline for the second time. The sun was getting hot and I was gassed. It was here I told Rebecca that had I not been on pace, I’d probably quit. I was that done. I never felt that way last year. Going faster is harder? I got three bottles, refilled my nutrition, and was off. Time? 6:09:12 (goal 6:15). A healthy window again, but the hardest part was yet to come.

Four-fifths through – Powerline, you absolute POS

On paper, Powerline is just one more climb. In reality, it was 90+ degrees at its base, it’s entirely exposed, it’s not rideable for ~50% of its length, and it’s something like 1500ft in a handful of miles. You’ve also ridden your bike for 7 hours at over 10k feet.

Powerline crushed me. I was seeing stars at the end and numerous times didn’t believe I could put another foot forward, but I did… Seeing the stars, and hearing my heart thump madly in my ears, I fully shut down at the summit, stopped for a minute, sucked all my water down, ate, regained my composure, and was back on my way.

At this point, I thought my day was done. There was no way I had gotten up in a respectable time given how I felt. Luckily, I was wrong; results show I was five minutes faster on this section than last year. Madness, I say.

The final bit

Keep in mind that at this point I still thought my goal was out the window, but I really didn’t know. Carter Summit was the next checkpoint I knew of. I didn’t have it written on my cheat-sheet, but I knew it was roughly an hour from the finish.

On the climb to Carter, an angel presented itself in the form of a Lifetime Fitness employee with ice cold towels. This saved my day. While it appeared that most people would dispose of theirs within a few minutes, I kept mine on for half an hour. The cooling effect that the eventually warmed water would continue to provide proved incredibly valuable. Without this, I don’t think I would have been able to come back from the depths I had been at.

With my cooled and moderately fueled body, I found a second wind, had a strong effort to Carter, cheered on everyone I passed on the way, and hit the station at 8:04:00. It was going to be close.

Maybe a bit more

After mile 93, the course is all downhill save for a low-grade gravel grind from miles 100-102. Again, not wanting to throw the day away, I exercised caution. On this downhill a woman would pass me. Once we hit pavement, that would turn into a blessing for her; she had cramped and found herself mingling with a roadie who was suddenly feeling like a million bucks. With her on my tail, I had additional motivation, and dropped the hammer. Was the race 103 miles? 104 miles? I couldn’t remember, but I knew we were going to be cutting it close. HAMMER, HAMMER, HAMMER, HAMMER for half a dozen miles.

At the base of The Boulevard (the cruel arrow-straight uphill gravel grind to the finish) she would lose my wheel, but the work was done and we were looking to be in good shape. It was around this time my left quad would cramp. My solution for cramping is to scream and keep on pedaling and that would prove enough on this day.

It’s funny how these races go, but I found myself on this section with the same couple of folks I’d been trading places with all day. A look at the results show I was never better than 208th and never worse than 225th; I’d pretty much been riding with the same 20 people all day, and a few of us had gotten to know one another. I was finishing with friends, comrades, brothers, and sisters. I love that about races like this.

The finish

They don’t call the final mile of the race the Miracle Mile for nothing. Well, for me at least, no miracles would happen on this segment today, but knowing its name and knowing there was a mile to go and eight minutes to do it in, hitting the pavement was at least a blessing. It was here where I began the internal celebration. Many years of riding went into this, two years of specifically focusing on this event, four months of heavy dieting, a month and a half of absolutely crushing my body… Tears. Except I was so dehydrated they wouldn’t come out. A very odd feeling.

I would cross the line in 8:55:19 full of emotion and empty of just about everything else. I turned myself inside out for this and I have a big belt buckle to show for it.

Rebecca spent many hours planning out our crewing strategy, listening the the same podcasts I did, reading everything she could on the race, and forcing me to make a concrete plan. All for what ultimately turned out to be less than a minute of total interaction through the day.

She, Dad, and Karen spent many days in town to support me, and a full day out in the crushing high-altitude sun to support me. If you’ve ever seen my mountain bike, you probably have spotted the “MOM” printed on my top tube. When I think of her, I think of strength. I thought of her a lot on this day. She got me through some of the hard stuff. She didn’t quit, and I wouldn’t quit. Had these people not been there for me on this day, that five minute window would have very easily vanished.  We have a big belt buckle to show for it.

Random notes

  • The woman I pulled for the last few miles would finish a minute behind me. I congratulated her at the finish. I may have been delirious, but I’m pretty sure she responded by telling me she loved me.
  • I popped Endurolytes all day. I’d never taken one, but having cramped at Mile 60 last year, I knew it was a real threat. Getting to 102 miles on a harder day before cramping leads me to believe they work. These are the only two times I’ve ever cramped.
  • I was unable to eat solids after the halfway point. My training didn’t prepare me for this kind of intensity. I’ll pack more gels and semi-solids next time.
  • I did not hydrate enough. I knew from all my training that I needed a bottle per hour, but the medical director cautioned us from drinking too much as [he claimed] hyponatremia (over hydration) would affect more of us than dehydration. His quote was “If you’re thirsty, drink. If you’re not, don’t.” I would conclude this to be over simplistic, but only after it had bitten me in the ass. I ended up getting through 8 or 9 bottles, but only because I made an unplanned stop at one of the aid stations to refill empties.
  • I hope someone was able to help the guy who needed my CO2 inflator at mile 95. I was cutting it close and denied his request. He was not pleased and made that clear. Sorry, dude, I worked my ass off for this, and I’m not letting your mishap take us both off our goals.
  • Someone needs to invent some sort of nose lotion. I blow my nose [into my gloves or the dirt] constantly during the race. My gloves have suede patches at the “wipe areas,” but my nose was raw for many days afterward.
  • There was an older gentleman on the course sporting a big buckle. I had to have seen him half a dozen times and he must have known I was right on the edge of earning one. Every time we’d make eye contact, he’d shout encouragement, and I’d throw up some sort of acknowledgement. His presence was huge for me.
  • Test your setup before the race. I had never installed my top tube bag on the mountain bike. I’d had it for years, never had any problems, but never used it on this bike. The shape of my bikes tubes would barely allow it to fit and then only with sub-par securing.
  • Shout out to “Salt Lake City,” the guy I traded places with the most throughout the day.
  • Julie Young (see 1992) kicked my ass yet again (we’ve raced together four times now, usually in close proximity). I thought I had gapped her and never saw her again, but it was only because this 52 year old on a singlespeed was 20 minutes ahead of me.
  • I ran into two Portlanders on the course. The first was Dustin Einig, who beat me by a couple of minutes, and the second was Derek Bowers, a CX racer who was spectating and provided me a nice cold splash of water down my back on Powerline. When he found out my name he said “Oh, you beat me all CX season last year.” He eventually got his upgrade too so I don’t feel too bad.
  • I had my rear suspension locked out nearly the entire day. Sure, when locked out there’s still a few millimeters of travel, but I firmly believe a hardtail might be the faster way. Unfortunately, it’s hard to quantify how much worse my back would have been (it cramped later that evening… yes, backs can cramp).
  • SRAM Eagle (a monster gear ratio) looks nice and sounds nice on paper, but folks who had it almost always relied too heavily on that monster gear and went slower uphill because of it. I’m not sold.
  • A disgruntled local apparently left tacks along the course, ruining many a day. Yes, there are a few weeks where town is turned upside down for this mountain bike race, the running race, and a couple of other events, but without them the town would wilt away and die. I suppose some would prefer this? A real shame people can be so ignorant. The economic benefit of these events is very well documented. Fortunately, most of the town is intelligent enough and kind enough to support the events and the people who come with them… Some of the nicest and hardest working people I’ve ever met call Leadville home.
  • My friends all had great races. Peter finished in 9:25, Ryan in 9:45, and Fenton in 10:25. Special thanks to Fenton for hauling my bike to and from Colorado for me. I owe you a few beers, dude!
  • Rebecca ran the 10k the following morning again. She really hates this race and I don’t blame her as it’s an out and back on the worst part of the race course. She improved her time from last year by a minute, but most notably she’d crush her race pace in a 12-mile regular run around town the following morning.
  • A big thanks to our team’s title sponsor, Mike Colbach of Bicycleattorney.com for his support of our team and my participation in this event, to our team’s shop sponsor, Western Bikeworks for all the little things they do for me, and to Norco Bicycles for making one fast and tough as hell bike.


The plan


When we returned home at midnight on Sunday, we returned to the home that has Rebecca’s name on the mortgage. She had brought over my cat, my pillow, and a couple of other things. I had officially moved in. So that’s what’s going on now. I’m moving in at a very casual pace; her place is already completely furnished and neither of us feels like setting aside a day for a big move. I’ll eventually rent my place out furnished.

I’ve stopped counting calories and just yesterday had a milkshake, about eight cookies, a whole bunch of bacon and chips and fried foods, and two beers. Slightly out of control and I do plan to reign it in soon.

Biking? I’m doing it for fun. I may do the final weeknight race at the racetrack on Monday, but that’s all that’s scheduled. I need to mount some tires to the cyclocross bike and clean it up, but no races on the calendar; I’ll do what feels fun.

I really want to focus on the outdoors right now. Hiking, running, climbing, mountaineering. Look for a speed run/hike up Mount St. Helens before fall arrives.

Leadville next year? Yeah, I’m in, but the goal is complete. I don’t anticipate caring to improve upon my time. I’ll go, have fun, not break myself, finish under 10 hours, and grow the buckle collection. Of course I have twelve months to renege on that…

For related reading, check out my diet and training posts, and maybe my 2017 report.