Welcome back, it’s been a while! Twenty-five months and a bit, to be a little more precise. As you can see, I’ve also redecorated the place a bit, but that is not to say it’s not a perpetual work in progress. This throat-clearing (as an editor I know calls it) is probably the hardest part of writing because it really has nothing to do with the subject matter, so I’ll just give you the tl;dr and we’ll skip to the fun stuff. I raced the Tahoe Trail 100 MTB race on Saturday in an attempt to secure a spot in the Leadville 100 MTB race.
Tahoe Trail 100
After a very lackluster performance in Austin, TX, at the Rattler, due in part to fitness and in part to mechanical issues, I was looking to give another Leadville qualifier a go. Luckily there’s one virtually in my back yard, Tahoe Trail 100. The race had been on the calendar since March, and I continued to put in the miles on dirt to get my body ready for 100 km at altitude. The weekend before the race was my final training block. I put in a near 6-hour ride on Saturday, and pre-rode the course of the race on Sunday. Needless to say, Sunday’s pre-riding exercise was an interesting endeavor. While I got to see the course and the terrain (special shoutout to Conrad of MarkPro-Strava for letting me ride with him and showing me the course), I really couldn’t judge pace because my legs were cooked from the day before.
With some stopping, getting lost (before running into Conrad) and not really hammering it, I did the loop in 4 hours. Accounting for all those factors, I figured 3:15 laps were a good conservative estimate, which would still advance me one corral over my current placement.
Race day morning was cool and calm. For me it was an armwarmers/vest kind of morning, but many lined up in just their shorts and short-sleeve jerseys. Some people don’t like to carry extra clothing because of weight knowing they’ll eventually warm up; I don’t like to lose calories shivering cold at the start line. I think I have my priorities right.
While I typically race long MTB events with a Camelbak, this time I decided to go with bottles. It was the right choice. It was cool enough where aid stations were enough for extra water, and my drop bag contained my other two mixed bottles and more GU. In a course with many extended climbs, shaving substantial chunks of weight was definitely a priority.
The first climb was fairly uneventful as I settled into a pace for the first 3 miles of uphill. My only point of concern was the steep 50-100 yard lip coming up to mid-mountain, which I knew many would have to walk. While that was the case, luckily there was a line in the middle for those able to ride to get through. Once the climb was done, it was time for a long downhill. While the downhill was not at all technical, it was insanely dusty, and due to the crowds of the first lap, the visibility was next to zero. I almost overcooked a corner going into a cloud of dust, but luckily managed to catch myself in time.
Once we hit the long stretch of singletrack, I made a point of catching a wheel, and the miles started flying by, 7, 8, 11, 13, 17, the markers kept coming at me, and I was making great time. Then came Tavis. It’s not too long, and it’s not too steep (although many would disagree), but just long enough and steep enough to really sting the legs and forgive no errors in steering – so picking a good line was important. Half way up the climb, I came to a bottleneck and was only able to move as fast as the guy ahead of me. I looked up, saw the finish and figured I could drive up from about three-fourths of the way up, so I took the rough left line and passed a bunch of people fighting the hill to get to an open spot. After Tavis, it was pretty much smooth sailing to the bottom until it was time to climb up again to the finishing descent.
I made it to the start of the finishing climb on lap one in 2:15, and it looked like it was going to be a sub 3-hour lap. I came through the village around 2:50 and already left mid-mountain (after doing the steep lip a second time) at 3:01 after grabbing new bottles from my grab bag. I was stoked, as this may be a sub 6-hour performance – something I was hopeful for, but uncertain about post pre-ride of the prior week.
I paced the second lap about .5mph slower than the first and made it across the finish line in 6:00:53, chip time. The only thing different on lap 2 was fewer people as the race spread out and all the 50K racers finished and got off course. I wasn’t really that concerned about not coming in under 6 hours, but I was ecstatic that I came in under 6:10, because that moved me up all the way to the red staging corral. Now it was time to relax and wait for the drawing. I felt I had raced a great race against myself: paced evenly, fueled properly, finished faster than I expected, didn’t crash. Something inside told me that it was going to continue being a good day!
I went to my car and changed. Got a beer. Cooled down my system and lined up for some food! There was some room on the stairs in the sun, so I sat next to Merilee (one of the race founders); Ken Chlouber came by a few minutes later (the other "co" of the co-founders). We made some pleasant conversation. I finished my food and went to lie down – it was at least an hour before awards would begin.
At 4:00PM, the awards began rolling out, and once the last bottle of Champaign popped, it was time for the drawing. Qualifying for a spot in my age group (30-39) is no small task, so while perhaps in a year or two I can make those advances, at TT100 my goals were to get a good corral time, and hope for the best in the drawing. Based on the number of available coins, awards given out, riders opting out and the remaining participants, I calculated the odds to be around 1 in 4 to 5. Good, but very far from guaranteed.
As Dave Wiens got down to the last 10 coins (out of 60 they brought for the drawing), I probably started getting visibly nervous because Ken came up to me and asked:
“What number are you?”
“One sixty,” I replied.
“I’ll be rooting for you!”
Just a few minutes later, the last number was drawn and it was not 160. “That’s all folks, thanks for coming to another great Tahoe Trail 100, yada, yada…..” said the announcer and folks slowly started to disperse. "I guess I'll have to try it again...." I thought.
Something told me to stick around, as if there had to be more! And lo and behold, a few moments later the announcer was back on the mic: “Folks, we just had one coin returned, so we’ll draw one more number!” By that time the numbers were tossed from the drawing hat into a Champaign box. Everyone still hanging out suddenly perked up, he reached in, and called a number that also wasn’t 160. But you have to be present to win, and the owner of the number had already departed. By that time, everyone seemed to be in a huddle (Dave, Ken, the guy calling the numbers), and when the next number was announced, I heard a loud “ONE SIXTY” come over the microphone! Needless to say I was both incredibly thankful and excited. I came up to Dave, shook his hand, grabbed my coin, and made my way to the "Merilee line." As I was making my way to the line, Ken put his hand on my shoulder and said, "I really wanted to see you in that race!"
Leadville 100 has been on my bucket list for a few years, from a vague “I might want to do that some day,” to “how do I get myself there?!” And now I have my ticket. My goal will be to finish the race in under 9 hours and bring back a big buckle back from Colorado. It's time to reconnect with the part of myself that loves to suffer.
The adventure begins!