This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. Although I will still continue to write on this website, this is the last post in the series. Better late than never.
It was about five seconds after the shotgun went off, if not the 50 minutes before, that I was sincerely and deeply wondering why I signed up for this. The turning stomach, the consequent multiple trips to the port-o-johns, and the rock-solid knot, somewhere in the area of my solar plexus, had a full stranglehold on me. I could not relax, regardless of the deep, intentional breaths I was taking. Deep breaths in between final words of strategy between Lee and I, and last-minute wishes of good luck to fellow racers. Deep breaths as the speakers played the same canned Leanne Rhimes version of the National Anthem they play at every race. Deep breaths as we were heaving our bikes up the first unrideable pitch that is Dutch Henri Hill. Deep breaths, as we were finally on our bikes, with people pushing, elbowing, and yelling their way towards the front of the race, while some, like me, were just trying to avoid becoming roadkill within the first half mile. Deep breaths, as the dust kicked up and made breathing and seeing that much harder, and deep breaths to control the mild panic as our train of racers would finally gain some speed only to come to a screeching slow-down when the course changed direction, terrain or surface abruptly.
The rest of the Silver Rush 50 only got harder. After a relatively mellow first few miles of climbing, by Mile Eight, I was counting down to Mile 13, the first aid station. After that, a brief respite of downhill, then I resumed my arbitrary countdowns, taking the course in piecemeal, from that section I could ride, to that section that I had to walk, to that section that I had to white-knuckle and dodge oncoming racers, to the turnaround and back. There were several times during the day I was holding back tears, contemplating quitting, wallowing in my incompetence, but too embarrassed to cry in public and also trying to conserve any fluids left in my body since I was clearly not drinking enough. My food plan solely relied on the opportunity to eat while hiking my bike, only to remember that it often took both hands to push the bike over the steep, uneven terrain. On the occasion that I did have a free hand to grab a snack, I found that it was almost impossible to chew, swallow, and keep down solid food with a dry mouth and upset stomach, while gasping for air.
Somehow, in the face of it all, I finished the race…three times. In the three different years that I have ridden the 50, I have had almost identical experiences each year, with almost identical results, my overall times being within minutes of each other, regardless of the bike I was using or the fitness, skill, and knowledge under my belt. It wasn’t all bad. There were certainly some redeeming qualities to those experiences. There were moments when I would forget about my misery and just settle into the grind. There were moments when the misery was salient, but all I had to do was look around to see I that wasn’t alone in my suffering. There were moments when I saw friends out on course, and saw other friends supporting with food, drink, and kind words at the aid stations. There were moments of mustering strength I didn’t know I had for final pushes, and the sweet final few minutes of the race, where I could see, hear, and feel the energy of the finish area. The Leadville Silver Rush 50 is the epitome of Type 2 fun. The kind of fun one has when the actual event or activity is over. The fun lies in the reward of completing something perhaps previously thought incompletable. It is the fun of looking back on the experience, even if no actual enjoyment was had during the event itself. Maybe the enjoyment was there, but it went unnoticed among the circling thoughts of misery and self-flagellation.
Type 2 Fun is an incredible teacher and motivator that has shown me how to deal with physical and mental discomfort. Type 2 situations pushed me to keep moving forward, even when I thought I had nothing left, when I was at my worst. They were also not limited to long races. For the better part of my riding “career”, it was Type 2 Fun that kept me biking at all. I went through so many rides and races carrying the extra weight that no amount of carbon components could make up for, of unmet expectations, low sense of self-efficacy, and persistent, underlying anxiety, if not full on dread, but the afterglow of accomplishment and race results that were not entirely horrible kept me coming back to the bike.
It wasn’t until I started my Singlespeed Leadville mission, perhaps one of the most goal and results-oriented processes that I have ever been through in my life, that I ironically transitioned from focusing and ruminating on results, to actually enjoying the process. As I followed a consistent training program, I started doing other things to take care of my mind and body, like eating better, meditating, quitting booze, and even subjecting myself to some low-dose anti-anxiety medication. All of which made mountain biking a little bit easier and more motivating in and of itself. As I began to celebrate small victories in higher power meter numbers and lower bathroom scale numbers, I also began to experience more moments of flow on the bike. I celebrated as I began seeking out more singletrack and harder lines, even though my technical riding skills are still not that great, and I celebrated for not entirely losing my shit if I failed at riding them. I celebrated that I made myself go to the gym or get on the trainer, even on days that I didn’t want to. I even somewhat allowed myself to celebrate good race results without completely diminishing them with excuses even when I felt compelled to let the world know that I was the only one in my category. Over the course of those eight months, biking and training simply became fun! The good, old-fashioned fun that I got to enjoy as it was happening. It wasn’t all roses. My focus on nothing but the training forced me to neglect some areas of my life. The house wasn’t as clean as I wanted, I was not the ideal partner my husband wanted, only the friends that were able and willing to ride bikes when it fit in with my training schedule were able to see me, and I became an insufferable bore.
Fast forward to almost three months after the 2019 Leadville 100MTB. It took me this long to write anything about it, because it went so uneventfully well for me. The weather and conditions were perfect, I was super well-trained, very prepared, and had a wonderful support crew in my friends and family. The race was so anti-climactic and predictable; everything from when and how I would take on more fuel, to knowing exactly how I would feel going up Powerline, to remembering to actually put my inhaler in my jersey for that asthma attack I figured would happen. In the end, I blew my expected finish time out of the water. What stood out to me the most however, was how was how much fun I was having. The race was still as hard as I remembered it. I was still mentally taking the course apart by sections and miles, like I do at all my races, so that I didn’t have to take it on all at once. I still spent a lot of time feeling like I have very little left in me, and still had to look around to make sure that everyone else was in the same boat, suffering adequately. Yet, I had no questions about why I signed up for this, I had no intention of quitting, or crying, or wasting energy on willing the race to be over. I knew I would get through it and I allowed the physical discomfort to exist without all the extra mental anguish. In fact, during those 10 hours, I rarely stopped smiling.
Since Leadville, I put in a few more race efforts, but stopped training consistently for the year. I was amazed at how quickly the excuses came for not going out riding and exercising when there is no plan and no accountability, and no goal. I’m also amazed at how much pure, actual fun I have when I get past my excuses and get on the bike. I rode with friends, I attended a skills clinic, I squeezed in some glorious leaf-looking rides this fall, as well as my very first overnight bikepacking trip. I rode new trails and conquered some obstacles I never thought I could ride. I am also still trying to catch up on parts of my life that I had ignored since last December, and some of those parts are catching up with me. I have some decisions to make that will affect my goals and race plans for the following year, some of them will likely throw me deep into Type 2 territory. I just hope that whatever I decide, I will apply what I learned this year about mindset and hard work, and manage to create some actual fun along the way.