August 11, 2007. 6:30 AM. The legendary shotgun blast starts 1000, that's one thousand riders who all are taking a stab at possibly the most famous endurance offroad bike race that has ever been. Up front are luminaries such as Floyd Landis, Nat Ross, Jake Rubelt, and of course the greatest Leadville bike racer ever, Dave Wiens.
There was plenty of hype about Floyd, and there were rumors that His Lance-ness would show up. Floyd did show, and he showed up fit and ready to rumble. But Dave drew a line in the sand. He broke the course record by nearly 10 minutes, beating Floyd by about 3 minutes.
So sure, it was pretty cool to be on the same course with hotshots like those guys. But how did my day go? Damned well, thank you very much.
One of the important things about the Leadville Trail 100 is that everyone's experience is valid. Dave Wiens battles all day to retain his place as the King of the LT100, and the everyman (or everywoman) battles through an even longer day to finish in 12. Both of them have to dig deep, and their peers respect both for having the patience to prepare and the tenacity to reach their respective goals.
My basic goal at Leadville has always been to finish in 12 and do the best I can, and to do it in a way that respects my fellow racers. That means staying as cheerful as possible, looking out for the safety of everyone, and offering congratulations and encouragement to all my peers. Since I started doing this, I've also wanted to finish in under 11 hours.
My first year, 2005, I finished in 11:15--but I was rarely cheerful during those hours. I had a tough time, dogged by uncertainty and surprised by the difficulty of the final 25 miles.
Last year I was caught in a huge rainstorm, but was proud of the way that I kept a smile on my face even as I wondered whether I would finish in 12. I wound up finishing in 11:25 and was pleased for myself. But I still wanted to finish under 11 hours.
This year's LT100 was a great race for me. I went out hard, maintained a tough pace through the first three quarters of the race. During the tough final climbs the temperature was up there and the sun shone clear through the thin air of the high-elevation course. I had a hard time keeping enough water with me, and it was difficult to eat enough since my body needed more water to digest the food. But I marched through it, stayed positive, and finished strong.
I'm thrilled with my 10:25:35 finish. I'm thrilled that Dave Wiens maintained his dominance of the race. I'm proud of the many friends of mine who raced--all of them, even the ones who did not officially finish put in efforts that we can all be proud of.
It's just a bike race.
How many chances do we have in life to be excellent? To face a daunting physical challenge with a chance to prove to ourselves that we can--win or lose, finish or not, doing the best we can; this is a wonderful thing.
It's just a bike race, but it's a damned fine one. Hats off to the folks up in Leadville who give us this arena for self-assessment. They do it with style and they make it fun and rewarding. And they have created a culture of cooperation. Riders like me who will never break 10 hours get hearty congratulations from the fast folks. And we all encourage the ones who try, whether they succeed or fail. We celebrate each others' success.