Riding more than 100 miles. At altitudes over 10,000 feet. With more than 10,000 feet of cumulative climbing. On a Mountain Bike. On my 31st birthday.
This is the Leadville 100 MTB race. And I’ll use that word “race” loosely, as for me it will be more a question of survival. There will be time checks that have to be made out on course just for the right to continue on the death march. If you cannot repair your bike, you’re out. If you accept medical aide, you’re out. Why even bother? And what exactly will go into making this a reality?
Today starts my public journey to completing the Leadville 100, hopefully in 2017. It’s going to be an uphill battle; If I miss the lottery, I will have to claim a spot by qualifying in one of a number of pre-races. To do this, I will not only have to train for the long endurance of the final goal, but also the short & high intensity effort of a one-off MTB race. My closest qualifier will be at Whiteface Mountain, an area not known for its miles of flat corn fields but rather one of the tallest, nastiest climbs in the northeast. Oh, and did you know Whiteface is in the Adirondacks, known for its plethora of peaks over 4,000 feet?
All of this seems like a lot of effort just for one event that will last, at most, 12 hours, right? As a “slightly better than average” cyclist on the road, I’ve accomplished many of the goals I’ve set out to achieve. I place high consistently in the NJ TT Cup each year, I’ve won the NJ Category 3 Cup, I’ve won the NJ Cat 4 State Championship, and have won a number of races, including one MTB race. I’ve ridden in a number of states, and have done at least one ride that lasted over 135 miles with 9000+ feet of climbing. As an athlete at any level, whether you’re just getting started or you’re an ex-pro, you’re always looking for the next big thing. For me, Leadville 100 has that perfect mixture of possibility and absurdity. It’s within reach, but not without an awful amount of dedication.
The training will fit well into my usual regimen as well. Long days on the bike, whether it’s mountain or road, will certainly help my road season next spring. Quick interval work to focus on the qualifier will help me stay on top of my TT efforts. And weekly crit races will help keep my legs in shock, providing a balance to the over abundance of endurance training. The off road work will improve my handling skills on the road, and my on road work will improve my efficiency when hitting dirt.
And that’s just the riding portion. In the latter half of 2008 I weighed in around 250 pounds and absolutely hated the way I looked. I had grown from a “slim” 180 cross-country runner in high school to a shotput and discus athlete with all the wrong type of weight by the end of college. It was time to change my habits and improve myself for the sake of being who I wanted to be, who I thought I was on the inside. And so over 2-3 seasons I was able to drop my weight down to an incredibly slim 175 pounds. Over the last year this trend has been reversed and my weight has started to climb. There are many excuses as to why this happens and some of them can be good, like the saying that “happy people gain weight”. And certainly I’ve had a lot of happiness in my life the last few years. But excuses are just that, and need to be thrown in the trash bin while attention is paid to action.
To be successful next year, in general and at Leadville, I will have to drop weight and gain muscle. This is going to require an adjustment to my diet with closer attention paid to fuel intake versus fuel output. A more balanced diet, based on the needs of my body, will have to be taken up. And yes, this will most certainly include a cut back on the more exciting things in life. At the very least, it will be interesting to see how much my own will can overcome the marketing empires that would love nothing more than for me to try all 30 some odd flavors of Oreos. (And don’t think I haven’t thought about doing that all at once).
And last, and most importantly, I’ll need a support crew. Fortunately I’ve got the most amazing woman in the world to help me make this a reality. It’s enough that as a cyclist she understands not just the reasoning, but also the work required to make this goal achievable. But it’s over-the-top awesome that she is willing to compromise on her goal race for me. Just as I made the trip for her to compete in the National Tri Championships in Milwaukee (driving 17+ hours to get there!), she will make the trip with me and provide moral and dirtside support. And I’ll need it – the nutrition for the day, including water intake, will be at downright scary levels.
In the end, this is not about whether or not I succeed. If I may be cheesy for a moment, life is about the journey – not the reward. I’m curious to see where I will land when all of this is done. Hopefully you are too. Because all the planning, all the fun, the riding and the anxiety leading up to the big day… it all starts now.