Take a look at our photos from this adventure, and then find your adventure.
In January of 2014 I met a gentleman named Doug McGhee. Doug was introduced to me by his brother Stephen who is an outstanding leadership coach in Denver. I shared my vision with Doug for creating an executive coaching group that revolved around outdoor adventure as a means for connecting, serving, building community and trust and ultimately creating business momentum and growth for business leaders. I called this project BizAdventure. Doug has his own version of this concept called the Leadville Challenge that uses the Leadville 100 mountain bike race as an experience to realize one's own potential. The Leadville 100 was the brainchild of ex-miner and Leadville town councilman Ken Chlouber. It has been staged in Leadville, Colorado every year since 1993. The running version dates back to 1983. Doug offered me a spot on the 2014 team and I accepted.
I have to admit that I did not share my intention to race Leadville with anyone except for my wife, for several weeks. Why, because I had a healthy dose of self doubt. I had not ridden my bike to any degree since our daughter Ava was born four years ago. At my best fitness level, back in the late 90's I recall thinking the Leadville 100 was for insanely fit mutants. Now of course, there are even more formidable contests as athletes and promoters up the ante and re-draw the boundaries of the sport. I couldn't imagine how one could race for 100 miles on a mountain bike climbing 12,000 vertical feet. I had not previously ridden a mountain bike beyond 40 miles in a day at a casual pace. I have a demanding more than full time career. How would I make the time to train? And I would be 55 years old on race day.
"When you pray, move your feet" African Proverb
When I have a big goal I get serious about the preparation and just start by creating the slightest momentum. I can't get overwhelmed by worrying how I'll get there, to this place I've never been and so seemingly far away. As I was reminded, a journey of 10,000 miles starts with the first step. I starting training in February by spinning indoors 3-4 times per week early mornings. This helped to create some base line fitness. I read about training and nutrition and sought advice from more experienced athletes and trainers. This knowledge combined with the incremental fitness gains built my confidence and ignited my imagination about the possibility that laid before me. I started to get truly excited. By April I could feel some changes stirring in my legs. On a trip to Moab in early May, I felt pretty good.
Part of our training in July included participation in the Camp of Champions where we would ride the entire course of the Leadville 100 over 2 days. A week after that, we would compete in the Leadville Silver Rush 50. Many people say the 50 is harder than the 100. It gains over 7400 vertical feet in less than 50 miles. This would be my first moment of truth. My wife and daughter crewed for me and provided much needed nutritional and moral support along the course. Shortly after the start, which is a footrace up a steep hill at the defunct ski area, I looked at my heart rate and was alarmed to see it at 158. I just started and I'm already too close to my max - bad sign I thought. Maybe I'm really not ready for this. Then I gathered myself and realized it was just my race-affected heart rate due to the excitement and adrenaline. I settled in, focused on breathing, calmed down and things got better.
For the first twenty minutes I found myself surrounded by racers on every side of me. I was pushing hard but also focusing on my line so as to be as efficient and crash-free as possible. I was reminded many times not to be concerned about others passing me. People get pretty excited and some just charge from the get go. "Let 'em go" Doug said. This was good advice because I found myself passing many of these same guys later in the race.
A heart rate monitor is a handy device. I trained with mine for months so I knew where my heart rate should be for a given amount of effort. This is pretty subjective but after a while I found this to be reliable. Typically if my rate was low and I felt ok, I could press a bit harder. As I had not seen this course before the race, I was hesitant to "burn too many matches" early. I won't share every thought, but suffice to say this was one the hardest physical and mental tests I had experienced. On July 12th I successfully completed the 50 in just over 5 and half hours including having to fix a flat. No speed record but a respectable finish I reckoned. What an incredible event and confidence booster! With just 4 more weeks to the 100, I felt prepared.
Adventure is a metaphor for life
The point of Doug McGhee's Leadville Challenge was to use the Leadville 100 as a metaphor for creating positive change and to realize a new possibility in another aspect of life. In other words, I made a commitment to train, compete and finish the Leadville 100. I also made a commitment to create and launch BizAdventure. Doug is a super supportive man who is guided by his heart but is also very practical. Doug provided constant and nuanced support to every insecurity I threw at him and he also smoked out every piece of BS and procrastination, so that I could see it for what it was. I could not get away with anything. This is really how you serve someone I thought. We all possess the answers to our own questions and a good coach allows you to see that in a supportive, consistent and loving way.
Two weeks before the Hundred, I raced in the Bob Cook Memorial Mt Evans Hill Climb. This is another classic competition starting in Idaho Springs and reaching to the top of Mt Evans, 28 miles and 7000 feet of climbing. It's a beast. A couple thousand type A cyclists charge the course in waves according to age and gender. There were about 30 or so men in the 55+ category. I could see from the no-nonsense demeanor of most of these roadie blokes, that I was seriously outgunned. No worries, this was all for fun and training. The gun went off and off we went. I hung in the peloton for about 6 miles. Then as the pitch started to increase, but the pace didn't decrease, I decided discretion was the better part of valor. I settled in to my own zone of manageable and sustainable discomfort. Cycling is all about the balance of energy output and managing the discomfort of stressed lungs, legs, low back, neck, hands, shoulders and other body parts that don't see the sun. Oh yeah, and nutrition is a critical element. You get that wrong, you bonk or at a minimum you will struggle big time. I made alliances along the way as you typically do in bicycle racing. Everyone is dealing with their own pain in their own way. This is a humbling experience. It's all about your own truth. Again, there's no need or room for BS (aka ego) here. It is an unnecessary leak of energy. You need to focus on the task at hand. You are either prepared or you're not. You will feel it very quickly on the course and the results will be obvious. You do get a lot of verbal support by other racers and crews along the way. Again, my beautiful wife and daughter were there to cheer me on around the half way point. More cowbell please! It's a very cool experience. I finished in 2:46 - respectable for a first timer I reckoned.
Moment of truth - butterflies
Race Day in Leadville. The moment of truth. Eight months have led up to this day. I could hardly sleep the night before. Start time is 6:30 am. Even on July 9th, in Leadville at that hour it is just above freezing. How to dress? Shit, check my tire pressure! Jeez, it's dark and cold. Don't forget to start my cycle computer. Do I have everything I'll need in my pack? Enough Gu and clothes? Maybe I should have packed a sandwich? Hope I didn't eat too much breakfast. Hope I don't need to take a shit. Hope I didn't bring too much in my pack. Look at all these other racers…why aren't they wearing packs? Most just have 2-3 water bottles with them. What do they know that I don't? I'm just standing still and I don't even want to look at my heart rate with this much adrenaline pumping. STOP!!!! I tell myself it's all good and to calm down. I'm ready for this.
My wife, daughter and brother-in-law Steve are all here to crew for me. Wendy and Ava made a big sacrifice in order for me to train for this day. The same thing happened for all 1700 people at the starting line. This Leadville 100 is a big deal. When you consider all the expensive purpose built bikes and other gear, nutritional supplements, training systems and coaches, travel expenses and myriad other expenses that it takes to compete in something like this, you realize it's a kind of Mt Everest of mountain biking and quite a business venture. Many of the Leadville residents are out on the street cheering for you. Many others have left town and rented their homes to make a small profit from this extravaganza. If there are 1700 racers, there must have been three times more spectators and crew in town. The circus has come to Leadville! Lifetime Fitness now owns the race and they have expanded into a full-on race series of national qualifiers that all funnel into the Leadville 100. I learn that there are competitors from all 50 states and 40 countries represented. This thing has gone global! I heard Norwegian, German, Japanese and French being spoken in the starting coral. For me and for most others I would guess, this has been a journey physically and mentally.
Approaching the Twin lakes aid station through the half mile gauntlet of cheering support crew. I was moments away from seeing my wife and daughter and got a touch emotional right here.
The LT 100 exits town on paved streets for a couple miles and then takes a hard right onto a dirt road. Shortly after hitting dirt, we start the first climb called St Kevins (pronounced Keevins). I started quite far back in the pack. I feel like a salmon swimming upstream to spawn in a river choked with my mates, all driven by our primordial instinct. As we climb St Kevins, everyone settles in. It's just a dirt road but it's rutted and the surface is loose gravel as the pitch increases. I am focused on my line and everyone else's because I am wheel to wheel, handlebar to handlebar with racers on every side. If someone bobbles, I will be affected. I am very conscious to meter my energy and don't want to expend any more than necessary. After breaching the top of St Kevins the terrain rolls and we are still tightly packed but loose enough to let our guard down a bit. There were some good opportunities to pass on small declines and I carefully leverage those moments.
We blast out onto Turquoise Lake Road and a long fast but twisty decent on pavement followed by a shorter climb up to Hagerman Pass Road. Hagerman Pass is a slight inclined dirt road for several miles then a hard left onto the rocky, rutted Sugarloaf Mtn. road. Here my focus returns because the terrain is more taxing and therefore, the line more important. There are some punchy, off - camber climbs as we approach the top of Powerline. I lose contact and slip out on one of these side- hill bumps. We were wheel to wheel and the guy behind me calmly but firmly says "Easy" encouraging me not to overreact. He slows ever so slightly allowing me regain my pedals and I am back in business in 3 seconds. Now the dreaded decent down Powerline. Actually it's really fun for those that like the down part of riding. The upper section is very rocky followed by the steepest section of deep, rider swallowing ruts with a marble slick decomposed granite surface. Oh yeah, and it's off - camber and there is only one rideable line down this section. I am constantly fighting gravity that's both pulling me down to the valley floor and sideways into these V shaped vortexes of death. Again, fun if you are comfortable on the downhill.
Then onto pavement again, past the Fish Hatchery and heading south toward the first aid station, Pipeline. As I pass a few guys, I know shortly, they will be on my wheel like a remora hitching a ride on a Great White. Sure enough, I look back a moment later and there is pace line of nine or so. The guy directly behind me provides some words of encouragement. Away we go with the wind at our back. We share the load taking turns out front and make quick work of these flats. I know it will not be so easy on the return. I take some Gu on the fly at the Pipeline aid station, not feeling the need to stop.
Hydration is a hugh factor with any endurance event. I have always used a backpack style hydration system because it's easier for me to drink regularly. I also have my computer set to sound an alarm every fifteen minutes as a reminder. I am very conscious and somewhat anxious about hydration during this race because I cramped during every other long training ride leading up to today. Anyone who has seriously cramped knows it's no joke. Cramping can totally debilitate a person. I have almost seen stars in previous cramping episodes. So today, I am very aware of staying adequately hydrated. This liquid fuel mix also serves as my main source of nutrition. I am using a product that is loaded with all the nutrients my body needs. I tested this stuff for months to see if my stomach could tolerate it. It worked so I am not changing anything today. This liquid combined with energy gels are enough to support my needs for this rigorous event. Mostly carbs with some caffeine, these gels enter the bloodstream quickly and make a noticeable difference when you most need it.
As I approach the main aid station at Twin Lakes around mile 40, I become a bit emotional. In a few moments I will see my family. This is what it's all about I think. Wow, tents and crew were posted all the way to highway 82! I ride through half a mile of cheering spectators holding signs and sharing words of encouragement. One sign reads "smile, you're not wearing any underwear". I reach our tent and my pit crew. Brother-in-law Steve quickly refills my water bladder while I quickly empty my own bladder in the nearby port-o-john. Good sign that I'm drinking enough. A quick hug and kiss from Wendy and Ava and off I go to climb the formidable Columbine, 10 miles and about 3000' vertical feet reaching the high point on the course at about 12,500'. This is the turnaround point. Shortly after leaving Twin Lakes though, I start seeing the leaders coming back. Unbelievable to see how fast these guys are. I still had 3 hours before I return to this point and here is the leader Todd Wells followed closely by Austrian star and current course record holder Alban Lakata already well on their way home. I joked "I'll catch those guys" as I approach some support crew and they laugh.
Columbine is a grunt. There are several super steep sections that are choked with racers. As soon as one racer gets off to walk, everyone walks. By the way, walking is not relaxing. I am walking as fast as possible, passing others and my heart rate is still over 150. By now hundreds of racers are passing me on the return including my teammates JR, Doug, Greg and Ned and I give them heartfelt cheers of encouragement. I see a guy pulled off to the side looking towards the summit, then down at the ground obviously in a moment of darkness. He is sporting a prosthetic leg. As I pass him, I offer "great job brother". Mind blowing! It struck me that I have nothing to be sorry for. That is the magic of this race. I am grateful to be with such a diverse group of inspired individuals. I get to the top of Columine, stuff a few handfuls of potato chips into my mouth, down a couple shots of Coke and away I go. The descent of Columbine is no joke. Now I am carefully passing hundreds of riders on my left just inches from my handle bars. My forearms are flamed from applying constant brake and then my fingers cramp. I shake 'em out and continue on to the super fast lower decent. I hit 47 mph on a straight section but quickly hit the binders as a tight right hander comes into view. What is very obvious is that even if you are a fast downhiller, you don't make up much time on the descents. Everyone is fast enough going down, plus a crash could end your day quickly. It's the climbs that separate the fittest racers.
A quick stop at mile 60 for liquid refill back at Twin Lakes, and away I go. This is where the race really starts. Now, later in the day and due to the elevation of this course, in the shadow of Mt Massive, Mother Nature will do her best to mess with us. Sure enough the sky is getting dark, virga is forming and it starts to spit as I head north across rolling BLM terrain. A little precip is fine, it's just an all out douching that I'd rather avoid if possible. As I head north the wind is picking up. I roll through the Pipeline aid station without stopping. Now I am on the pavement in a full-on headwind. I have never been a fan of headwinds. They demoralize riders. Of course like most things, it's a spectrum and a lot of factors come into play. If you can tuck into a pace line and hang, this can dramatically reduce the impact of headwinds. I make an attempt to draft some guys that pass me on the road. I spend 60 seconds with these blokes seeing the gap spread and get flushed out the back. Oh well, I am resigned to settle in and just endure the lashing from these gusts. Moments later, I catch a fit young Lass that seems about my speed and we form an alliance that gets us back to the Fish Hatchery and inside the wind shadow of Mt. Massive and some relief. The respite is short as the Hell that is climbing Powerline at mile 80 can't be avoided. Now off my bike on the steepest, loosest section of the climb, with the Sun back out and frying my brain, there is a woman dressed in a devil costume greeting riders "Hello everyone, welcome to Hell!" Thank you for that bit of comic relief. Powerline is just a slog. I accept some Gu and Coke from some support crew on the way up. This course is now handing me my ass big-time as I knew it would be. I am now in my dark place. The tag line I created for BizAdventure is Grit. Growth. Results. I use this as a mantra to get myself to the top of this nightmarish ascent.
As I roll over the top of Sugarloaf, my spirits soar. "This thing is about over" I say to myself. I still have 23 miles to go but due to my training, this is not a big deal. I roll on. Then, that fun fast descent on pavement on the outbound leg becomes a bitch of a climb coming home and I replay this little Q and A in my mind - "Where the hell is the top of this thing? Oh, I'm sure it's just beyond that next turn." Finally I get myself to the mini aid station at Carter Summit. It's about mile 90 and there are still 14 miles to go with some rolling terrain punctuated by some punchy climbs - it's not over yet. I figure if I can just get to the top of St Kevin's with a minimum of reserves, the rest is downhill, save for the dreaded Boulevard - the final three mile slight incline into town and the red carpet. In practice, this last stretch into town didn't even register as a hill. Now, I am bonking on it. Quite suddenly as I press the gas pedal, there is nothing there. I am limping in on vapors. Another period of darkness. It's so bad, I even consider quitting. I can't even count how many people pass me on this final section.
During the weeks leading up to today I had imagined how the finish would be. Wendy and Ava on the left side of the course about 30 feet from the finish line. As I crossed the line they would come out and we would all celebrate with hugs and maybe tears of joy. As it turned out they were standing on the RIGHT side of the course farther away from the finish line. As I passed them and they cheered, I actually managed to laugh out loud because they were not where they were supposed to be in my mind's eye. I guess I should have told them about my vision. It didn't matter because I was present only to my pain and couldn't muster disappointment. Then, a moment later, as I crossed the line in 10:24, the darkness immediately lifted. What an amazing and worthwhile experience. I didn't achieve my sub-10 hour goal but I was pleased because I gave it all I had. During the day I had shared the course with racers in their 20's to racers in their 80's. With current and ex-professional athletes from many sports including national and world champions of cycling. With ex-navy seals sporting prosthetic legs. Everyone experiences highs and lows and that is the bond that makes you want to come back for more. For a everyday Joe like me to compete in such a world class event with such high caliber people is very rewarding.
The LT 100 is not for everyone. I do humbly believe though that any adventure that stretches you and takes you outside your known boundary of comfort, is worth it. As Ken Chlouber says "You are better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can". What struck me the next day as we were driving back home, was that there were countless "moments of truth" during the race. Times when I had to have complete focus on what I was doing. This reminded me that every day, we have moments of truth if we chose to recognize and act upon them. Opportunities to bring our best to any and every situation, regardless how seemingly insignificant. As I reflected on the learnings from this day, I felt that sharing this experience might serve others as a way to propel growth and inspire them to explore their own edge...both inside and outside.