Great cause. Congrats.
"Kevin, prepare for the summer."
-Mr. Sorkin, 10th Grade Geometry teacher
I’m done. It’s over. 102.73 taint killing miles are under my belt. The good news is that I MADE IT! The somewhat bad news is that I did not complete the course in the required 12 hours, so my efforts did not get me a Leadville 100 silver belt buckle and the sweatshirt with my name and time on it. My time: 12:20.37. This was, by far, the single hardest thing that I have EVER attempted. And with the exception of convincing Jill to marry me and fathering three incredible kids, it is, by far, my greatest accomplishment.
A little about the race: it is an “out and back” course. 50 miles out and 50 miles back. My fancy GPS tells me that I climbed 12,700 feet of mountains over the 102 mile course (clearly the Leadville 102 does not sound nearly as sexy as the Leadville 100). The race starts in downtown Leadville, literally a one stop light town. 900 riders lined the start yesterday morning broken down by intended (hoped for) finishing time. I placed myself in the 11-12 hours finishers area. Floyd Landis and Dave Weins, the four time Leadville 100 champion, were probably at the front. The atmosphere at the start was an incredible mix of nerves, testosterone, and anticipation. I expected my stomach to be riddled with butterflies (huge ones) but I was eerily calm and excited. The starting area is lined with hundreds of families, support personnel, and Leadville residents, all cheering on loved ones and all wondering what in the hell would prompt someone to do this to their bodies. The race organizers count down the start, giving warnings at 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 15 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes and 1 minute. They must have taken classes in Chinese water torture. Finally, when the clock struck 6:30, the race director aimed a shotgun in the air and fired. Race on! What followed was a symphony of cheers, best wishes, and the whirr of knobby tires cascading over the pavement.
We rode out of town in a huge peleton. The first three and a half miles are on pavement and are all downhill. That is great for the start but, if you dare to think ahead, it means an uphill finish. The course then shifts to a 3 mile gravel/sandy trail leading to the base of the day’s first climb: Mount St. Kevin’s (pronounced Keevins). St Kevin’s is a very steep, 2+ mile dirt/gravel/sand road complimented by fist size rocks just for good measure. As if that is not enough, the trail was scarred with ruts from last weeks rains. The peleton crawled up the first climb in some semblance of order. We had all been warned from veteran riders not to “get caught up in the adrenaline rush” of riders flying up the first climb. Going out too hard, too fast is a recipe for disaster we were told. So I was very excited to see the large pack moving at a very comfortable pace up St. Kevin’s. Before I knew it, we were close to the top (10,800 ft) and I was “on time” according to my pre-race time splits. After St. Kevin’s, you descend down some rocky dirt trails and come out onto a paved road. For the next 3.5 miles, there is a blissful descent on this windy mountain road at very fun speeds. According to my GPS, I hit 45 mph on this descent. But going down means having to go up the other side. Enter the next climb: Sugarloaf.
The Sugarloaf climb starts at the bottom of the aforementioned 3.5 paved road descent. The first 1.1 miles are also paved road, a surface condition that I would grow to crave during this race. On this climb, I wanted to get into a comfortable (relative term) rhythm, keeping a pace of about 7-8mph. Once up this paved section, you turn 180 degrees onto a dirt/sand/gravel road and climb some more, a lot more up to 11,200 ft. But before you get to 11,200 feet, you make another 180 degree turn off of the relatively smooth dirt/sand/gravel road onto what has to be Leadville’s signature surface condition: sand/dirt/gravel/fist and larger sized rocks that toss you around and make for a VERY bumpy, difficult ride. The bumpy and difficult part was, unfortunately, the longest part of this climb. The reward for summiting Sugarloaf is a descent down the Powerline, so named because of the electrical powerlines that are immediately overhead. Powerline is a rutted, steep, rocky mess that dares you to go fast at the risk of crashing into the trees lining the sides and/or breaking a collarbone from an endo when your wheel gets caught in a rut or stopped by a large rock. My strategy going into Leadville was to scream down all descents and push as hard as I could on the flats since climbing is/was my weakness. I held to strategy on Powerline and, as I passed rider after cautious rider, thought to myself that no one should be allowed to have this much fun during such a hard race. I flew down Powerline and made my way back to flat pavement on my way to the first aid station and check point at mile 26: Pipeline. My goal was to reach Pipeline in 2:30 minutes. I was delighted to look down at my GPS and see that I was on-time.
The next 14 miles are as flat as Leadville gets, meaning there was only about 900 feet of elevation gain over this portion of the course. This section is a mixture of some paved road and a lot of the now very familiar dirt/sand/gravel mix, but at least there were no fist sized rocks!! My goal was to ride this section in about 1:15. I teamed up with other riders to form a paceline to allow aerodynamics to help us. At about the 12 mile mark on Pipeline, we were descending a very steep dirt hill known as the North Face. Race volunteers were telling us to slow down because there was a rider at the bottom with a broken femur. That was sobering. Before I knew it, I was looking down on Twin Lakes, two huge, beautiful mountain lakes which serves as the next checkpoint/aid station and eagerly anticipating seeing Jill and Olivia who were waiting for me there. I flew down a paved hill, crossed a highway (they stopped traffic for us Leadville riders) and started riding through a ¼ mile of supporters who, regardless of who you were, cheered for you as if you had just saved their drowning baby. I was literally moved to tears. I felt invincible. About a half mile away, in the official “crew” area of the Twin Lakes aid station were Jill and Olivia. Again, tears but also a HUGE smile. I was so happy to see them. Jill had taken a Camelback bladder and filled it with my energy drink for the ride up Columbine. In my excitement and haste, I forgot to fill my water bottle with straight water, a mistake for which I would soon pay dearly. I gave Jill and Olivia a lot of very smelly hugs and kisses and hopped back on my bike and rode out of Twin Lakes to the cheers and well wishes of the hundreds of people there. What a great feeling!! After I turned the corner out of Twin Lakes, I started the 10 mile climb up Columbine and immediately started feeling a bit queasy.
Sidebar: In order to ride for a 100 miles, you have to maintain your energy. I had trained with a product called Sustained Energy which contains just about everything I would need to fuel my body for the entire 12 hours. Based upon the recommendation of a veteran rider, I mixed the Sustained Energy into my main water supply in my Camelback and set the timer on my GPS to take sips every five minutes. Your body can only process about 250-350 calories per hour. Moreover, your stomach can only process about 24-30 ounces of water an hour, depending upon heat, weight, etc. I thought that my nutrition program was right on. Enter the Columbine climb.
So here I am at the start of the longest climb of the day, having just kissed Jill and Olivia goodbye for what I had hoped would only be 3 hours and 15 minutes. I figured the climb to Columbine would take me 2:30 and the descent would add 45 minutes to that. After the first half mile, I decided to stop and try and pee. I had consumed over 100 oz of liquid and had not peed at this point. I pee and then go to my water bottle to clear my mouth of the film left by my Sustained Energy, and realize that I had little to no plain water. I was instantly dismayed. Rather than turning around and going back to the aid station, I decided to push forward. The first 8 miles of Columbine are the dirt/sand/gravel mix with your fist sized rocks thrown in very sporadically for good measure. Most riders can push a good pace through this section. I was hurting. Badly. I was in granny gear (the lowest gear on my bike) barely riding 2.5 mph. I felt hot, queasy, and very fatigued. I was drinking regularly from my Camelback but I was hating the taste of the Sustained Energy. Unfortunately, I had no choice. I stopped several times on this “easy” portion of Columbine to catch my breath and gather my wits. I eventually made it up to the final two miles of Columbine. At this point, the trail to the summit turns nasty. The pitch becomes twice as steep and the surface becomes a lot worse. Fist sized rocks? Sure. Try head sized. When you look up, all you see is a two mile stretch of riders walking their bikes. It’s not a pretty sight and is certainly not great for motivation. I started walking my bike up the steep section, stopping every 10-15 steps to catch my breath. At this point, I was having VERY bleak thoughts. I was, as a prior Leadville rider wrote in his post-race blog, wallowing. I was feeling bad for myself. For the first time, I was very seriously considering turning around and riding back to Twin Lakes, my race over. I was an instant from acting on this thought then, the angel appeared on the other shoulder, albeit an angel who could be mistaken for Vince Lombardi. I thought of the fact that my parents did not raise a quitter. I thought of the example it would set for my children. I thought of the training that we had done to get to Leadville. I looked down on my handlebars and saw the quote that I had written from Herb Brooks when he was the coach of the 1980 USA Olympic Hockey team. After beating the Russians., they were losing the gold medal match. Brooks walked into the locker room at the end of the first period, starred down his players and said the following, “If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your ****ing grave.” He started walking out of the locker room and turned around, “Your ****ing grave!” They ended up winning. If I quit Leadville, I’ll take it to my ****ing grave I thought. Finally, there was the thought of Daryle (one of my best friends, business partners, and #1 competitor in every thing that we do) riding Leadville next year on a unicycle and telling me it was no big deal. I had to finish!! I also knew that there was plain water at the top, something I desperately wanted.
I’m not quite sure where I found the energy but I made it to the summit of Columbine at 12,600 ft. in slightly over three hours, well off my budgeted time. A volunteer took my bike and asked me what I needed. Besides new legs, I told him, I wanted a banana and some PLAIN WATER. I drank three cups of plain water and chomped down on the banana. I stood for a second enjoying my feast when I felt the sudden rumblings of an angry interior. Look out folks, he’s going to blow! And blow I did. I painted the top of Columbine with a torrent of Sustained Energy, water, and banana. Five full heaves later, my stomach was empty and I was a new man. I actually felt good again. Plus I knew that the next eight miles was all down hill. I texted Jill that I had summited Columbine. I believe that my exact words were, “HOLY **** THAT WAS HARD!”I mounted my mechanical steed and pointed it down. Again, I was having fun. I was passing the cautious with reckless abandon. My bike was bouncing all over the place, thrown left, right and up from the huge rocks and ruts, and I was loving it!!! I was having fun again. I eventually made it to the bottom in my budgeted time of just over 45 minutes. I again rode through the Twin Lakes aid station and, this time, felt almost embarrassed by the cheers and encouragement. Didn’t these people know that I almost quit? I took close to four hours to go up and back. Why are you cheering me? Because that’s the spirit of Leadville, and I was ready to start drinking the Kool-Aid.
There, at Twin Lakes stood two of the most beautiful images a guy could see: Jill and Olivia. I told Jill to empty my Camelback of the Sustained Energy and fill it with just plain water. As between drinking more of that stuff or risking a bonk later in the race, I chose the bonk. I told of my permanent mark at the top of Columbine. I was also encouraged to know that one of my teammates, Dean Gregory, also had “prayed” on Columbine. I came through Twin Lakes in-bound with about 7 hours of the race complete. I beat the 8 hour cut-off at Twin Lakes in-bound. That meant I had the honor of proceeding onto the Pipeline aid station 14 miles away and beating the 9 hour cut-off there. It also meant that I had 5 hours to tackle the remaining 40 miles, including the dreaded Powerline ascent.
I rode out of Twin Lakes on auto-pilot. I was fueled by the incredible encouragement of my wife and daughter, Lisa Golstein, Allan Goldberg and a slew of Brent’s Colgate fraternity brothers who came to the race. Then I started doing some math. I had five hours to finish to get the buckle. It was going to take me at least 1:20-1:30 to do the Pipeline section on my weary legs and then I had to climb Powerline. Oh boy. I budgeted an hour for Powerline. I figured once I finished Powerline, “all” I had to do was enjoy the fast descent down the other side of Sugarloaf, hammer up the 3.5 mile paved portion of St. Kevin’s, descend the far side of St. Kevin’s and race into town for the final 6.5 miles, the first half of which is flat, the second half of which rises 500 feet over 3.5 miles. Harder things have been done.
The ride through the Pipeline section was harder than I had anticipated. I had conveniently forgotten about the incredibly steep pitch of the North Face, a two tiered quarter mile climb that no one rides. That hurt. After the first 5 miles of Pipeline in-bound, things got better and I hit some flat sections that I worked to speed through, trying desperately to make up time. I began to see the familiar sight of cars and people, signifying my arrival into Pipeline aid station. Again, more cheers and praise from complete strangers. Just amazing. I arrived at the Pipeline aid station with 3:20 minutes left in the race. I quickly ate two bananas and had some water. Thankfully, I was able to keep both where they belonged, in my stomach. I got back on my bike and headed to Powerline.
You can see Powerline from the road after the Pipeline aid station. It has been described as, “a scar that runs straight up the mountain.” Making matters worse, there are three “false summits” to Powerline, meaning that after you climb these incredibly steep, rocky, rutted sections and think you’re done, you’re not. The first third of Powerline was too steep to ride. I walked the bike up taking baby stpes and stopping to catch my breath and relieve cramping every 20 steps or so. It was on this climb that I met a guy from Wyoming. He is in the Air Force and is responsible for an ICBM silo. I started calling him, “Rocket,” because I didn’t know his real name and, quite frankly, was too tired to ask. So Rocket and D.C., his name for me, trudged up Powerline, baby step by baby step, cursing the sadistic race organizers that placed this, the hardest ascent, at the 80 mile mark. As I walked my bike up Powerline, I kept an eye on my timer. I was deflated to see the one hour mark pass with at least one third more of Powerline to climb. I made it to the top of Powerline in 1:30, did some quick math and realized that I now had only 1:50 to finish. The good news was that I was on another descent. I flew down the other side of Sugarloaf, again bouncing over rocks and ruts at speeds that only my teammates Brent, Gary, Dean, Wobber, and Allan could appreciate. I hit pavement and made the 1.1 miles pavement descent to the bottom of Sugarloaf and started the 3.5 pavement climb up St. Kevin’s. I would have ordinarily done this climb in granny gear, taking my time at 3 mph. I knew that I did not have this luxury. I shifted into my middle ring and started hammering the pedals. I was very encouraged that I could keep a pace of 7-8 mph going uphill. Moreover, I was astonished at how good I felt doing it. I had ingested a banana and two Hammer gels since leaving Twin Lakes. I had no clue about the source of my energy but I was not about to question it. I fought my way up the 3.5 miles and arrived at the final aid station, the Carter Summit. I had been told to drink a Coke here for fuel for the final 11 miles in-bound. Again, one of the incredible race volunteers took my bike and asked me what I wanted. “A Coke” I said. “We have Sprite,” was the answer. No, no, you see, I’m supposed to have a Coke here. That’s what everyone said you were supposed to do!! I drank the Sprite, ate two more bananas and was told I had 50 minutes to finish. As I left the aid station, the volunteer who helped me said, “Enjoy the downhill.” So, belly full of Sprite and banana (I kept it all down again, yeah me!) I rolled out having wonderful thoughts of bombing another down hill section, only all I could see were people walking their bikes ahead of me. No, you see, this is supposed to be a down hill. The aid station guy told me so!! Curses on him!! I was deflated and hiking my bike up a series of short, steep climbs once again. I then made it to the top of St. Kevin’s and the beautiful down hill. I was angry. I was tired. My ass was filing divorce papers. I had 8 miles and less than 30 minutes to finish in under 12. Not even DB could pull this one off. Nonetheless, if you don’t try, you’ll never know. I bombed the descent and made my way to the flat dirt road at the bottom of St. Kevin’s. I pushed as hard as I could over the next three miles until I came to the railroad tracks that separate Leadville from the mountains. I’m not sure which side is the wrong side of the tracks. I didn’t care. I was just happy to be crossing. I was on a paved road for about a mile which directed me to “the Boulevard” the final climb of the day. The Boulevard started with a steep rocky section like I had ridden on the out-bound sections of St. Kevin’s and the upper section of Sugarloaf. This section is relatively short and then gives way to a false flat, sand/gravel/dirt road that leads you up towards Leadville.
When training, we contemplated the doomsday scenario of what would happen if you were at the bottom of the Boulevard with 15 minutes to finish. There I was, at the bottom of the Boulevard, though I only had 8 minutes to finish. The belt buckle and the sweatshirt were gone. I was crushed. But god damnit, I was finishing!!
I labored up the Boulevard with thoughts of all of the training I had done, the time lost on Columbine, and what I could have done better/differently to meet my 12 hour goal. Dark clouds filled the sky, mirroring my mood at the moment. And then, it began to drizzle. Great. As if I needed another reason to feel poorly. Then, “screw you!,” I thought. I’m finishing! So I completed the Boulevard and hit pavement once again, took a quick right onto E 6th Street and the .6 mile climb up the street to the finish line. I heard more cheers and encouragement as I made my way up 6th Street. I thanked everyone who cheered for me but hung my head, knowing I hadn’t made it in time. As I approached the finish line, there stood Jill, Olivia, Meredith and Danielle, adorned in all of the party gear sent to us by the Bobb family. They were cheering wildly. They were jumping up and down. They ran the last 50 yards along side of me to the finish line. Any dark thoughts that I had, any feelings of despair or failure, instantly vanished. I rode 102.7 miles in 12:20. I beat the demons. I had pushed myself harder and father than I ever had. I jumped off the bike with a yard to the finish, raised my bike over my head and let out a primal scream. “YES!!!!!” I did it and, more importantly, it’s over!
My wife and kids for putting up with all of the time out of the house training. Jill and Olivia for being the best crew a guy could ask for. To Meredith and Danielle for your unbridled exuberance at the finish. I love you guys!!!
To Brent for being the unofficial/official team captain and coach. Brent, as is his nature, took the lead and organized training sessions, found us a coach, and otherwise gave great order to this entire experience. Thank you for pushing me and for setting a great example.
To Mike and Rikki Postal for their incredible generosity in allowing us to use their home in Vail for the time that we were here for the race. BTW, we changed the sheets.
To all of the donors that supported our team. Your generosity is greatly appreciated and will benefit the First Descents attendees more than you will ever know.
THE FIRST DESCENTS TEAM:
Brent Goldstein, he whom I anointed team captain, finished in 11:15. Brent fought through severe leg cramps the entire final 40 miles of the race. His courage and grit, both during the race and prior to that with training, are incredible. Moreover, he is responsible for raising over $78,000 for First Descents, an amount of money that will send countless kids to a First Descent camp, helping their mental and physical recovery from cancer. That alone deserves a buckle.
Gary Morris was the stud of the group, finishing in 10:58. Gary had a great race. He trained very hard and reaped the rewards of those efforts yesterday. Oh, and Gary did the race on a hard tail – i.e. no rear suspension. If my ass is filing for divorce, his is calling the police for assault and battery. Congrats, G-Mo.
Dean Gregory finished in 12:07. Dean, like me, was hurting on Columbine and that made the difference in the race. Dean is very strong and will buckle. We may even get him to wear a hearty rate monitor next year.
John “Wobber” Wontronski finished in 12:50. Wobber “held my hair” and gave me water at the top of Columbine when I was donating my stomach contents. That’s Wobber. He is as genuine and kind and selfless a guy as you will ever meet. He lost time helping me and probably others along the course. He is a true champion.
Allan Goldberg busted his ass to get to the Twin Lakes aid station within the four hour cut-off. Allan is an accomplished tri-athlete and will ride your legs off on a road bike. A mountain bike, not so much. Nonetheless, Allan, as is his nature, gave it his all and fought hard to complete the race. When he missed the cut-off at Twin Lakes, he hung around with the crew and helped everyone of us as we came through. Allen, you are an incredible friend and competitor. See you at the starting line next year.
Which answers the question, “Will I do this again?” You bet. And I will buckle, come hell or high water.
The race director gave the field a “rah-rah” speech on Friday, punctuated the lecture with the mantra that, “You’re better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can.” You bet your ass. See you all next year at the starting line
"Kevin, prepare for the summer."
-Mr. Sorkin, 10th Grade Geometry teacher
wow, congrats. good luck next year in getting the hardware.
Nice job man! Congrats on the finish! Feels really good to accomplish a goal like that...that's mainly why I do it!
Now, to make your taint feel better...use Gold Bond medicated lotion and some antibiotic cream...your a$$ will love you again and tear up the divorce papers!
Warming the globe 16 cylinders at a time.
Great story and I only read a 1/4 of it so far. I used to live in Aspen and was supposed to do the first 24 hours of Moab race back in the early nineties. I did a bunch of NORBA racing all across Colorado and even did the 24 hours of Snowshoe with a team called "Fuzzy Pistons" a few years ago.
They asked me to do the 24 Hours of Cranky Monkey but I had to turn them down. They said the trails at Quantico were awesome.
We should get a ride n here in the DC area. I remember talking to you briefly a few years ago. I live in Arlington now and I've got a vintage Full Suspension 1995 race bike from Ventana I bought off a racer in Aspen when I lived there. A good friend of mine ran in the Leadville 100 one year too when I was out there...
great story! man, i know i couldn't do a hour of that , much less 12 trying to beat a clock..congradulations!!!
funniest statement, "my azz was signing divorce papers"...
Now that you've tacked Leadville (well done), you need to try the TransRockies. It's going on right now.
I did it in 2005. Seven days, 600 kilometers of mountain biking through the Canadian Rockies. You average about six to eight hours a day in the saddle. It's tough (body definitely starts to break down around day four) but it's beautiful and so, so worth it.
I'm doing it again 2008. Hope to see you there.
I suffer from sever ostheoarthritis in my lower back and have herniated discs L4-L5; my reward for spending 25+ years of keeping people safe 7 miles up in their private jets. I'm in constant pain and am trying to avoid surgery at all costs, and Madison, WI is my next stop. Reading your story of overcoming similar circumstances only increases my resolve to beat this. I have a 2 1/2 year old I'd like to be there for (hopefully standing) later in life.
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