Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"At the Leadville 100, it's not what time you start the race that matters, it's taking the chance to finish.
- David L'Heureux, post-race article on the bicycling.com website


The same can be said for any endurance event. In my opinion, just getting to the starting line in a healthy, uninjured condition is an accomplishment. Doing your best during the race is also an achievement, even if you don't finish. Toughing it out to finish is the goal, of course, and "to finish is to win" in the opinion of many. The first one across the line is the actual "winner," but anyone who even starts these events after training diligently for them is a winner in my book.

There are those who will argue with that, of course. They can express their views on their own web site!

Today there would be 589 "winners" of the Leadville Trail 100-mile mountain bike race, 73.9 % of the 797 riders who began the race at 6:30 AM. "Many more" finished unofficially after twelve hours, according to Merilee.

And you might be surprised who was the first to cross the finish line, deemed by most of the sports world to be the only real "winner" of the race. It must have been exciting at the finish line at 1:28 PM. We were still serving riders at the 50-mile turn-around aid station when the first racer crossed the finish line.

Jim and I were up early to see the start of the race. Well, sort of the start. Our camper sits near the course at the end of Sixth Street where it intersects with McWethy. This is the spot about 3/4 of a mile into the race where the riders make their first 90-degree turn. We watched from here last year and it was so cool to see over 500 cyclists riding so close together making that turn. Only a few spectators are cheering the riders from this vantage point, and the main sound you hear is the whirring of hundreds of wheels and the breeze created by the bikes and riders as they cruise by.

Add to that the back-drop of the sun shining on the top of Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert (below), and we think it's a much better place to view the "start" than at Harrison and Sixth Streets downtown.

We could hear the starting gun go off as we stood at the edge of the road talking with Brent Craven and the course monitor, ultra runner Karsten Solheim. It didn't take long for the lead vehicle and almost eight hundred -- yowza! -- bikes to reach our viewing point:


It just amazes me how close these folks can ride and not crash into each other! In the photo below they are making the right-hand turn onto McWethy for the descent on Turquoise Lake Road. That's Jack's home-building office in the background. Our camper is parked to the right of it, hidden in the trees.

The riders kept coming and coming in one long wave of whooshing and whirring until they eventually were more spread out near the back of the pack. There was more talking going on in the rear, just like in a long run. The competitors in the front are more focused on jockeying for position, while the ones in the back are there more for the journey. Their goals are just as serious to them as the elite riders or runners, however. Few are out to DNF. They've worked hard to get here and most really want to finish.

After all the riders passed, we hopped in our truck and headed south to the little village of Granite to rendezvous with the other volunteers we'd be working with all day at the Columbine Mine aid station.

In past years, our group of about fifteen people has met for breakfast at the Country Peddler in Granite. This year we had to improvise because the restaurant is closed and up for sale. Bummer. That was always a treat for us. This time our AS coordinators, Mike and Marge Hickman, picked up a bunch of breakfast burritos at Subway and brought them down to the parking area.

While we were waiting for everyone to assemble, someone spotted these eight mountain goats having breakfast among the rocks in the canyon on the other side of the Arkansas River:

Below are several of the volunteers watching the goats, which we could barely make out with the naked eye:

Before we dug into the burritos, Jim Ballard started taking $1 bets for time of the first rider to our aid station at the half-way point. Everyone's getting a laugh, below, as Ballard tries to determine if one young man is old enough to enter the lottery:

Then we dove into the burritos -- thanks, Mike! He's in the red jacket below:

We headed up bumpy Lost Canyon Road for seven or eight miles to the site of the Columbine Mine, where we'd be setting up our aid station. The race participants ride up about five miles of this road through aspens, firs, and finally above tree line to the tundra. The high point is 12,600 feet, the same as Hope Pass. It's the perfect spot for ultra runners (which included at least half of our volunteers) to acclimate all day! OK, so we're not totally altruistic.

There's an interesting story about the location of our aid station. Until last year, we've been able to set it up right near the old mine buildings. Last year the Forest Service determined that we'd be doing less harm to the mine site if we set up the AS farther up the hill away from the buildings. The riders were pleasantly surprised that they didn't have to ride down the saddle east of Quail Mountain quite so far, and then back up on the return.

Some time in the past year the Forest Service learned that it doesn't "own" the mine site. The city of Aurora does. (I'm not making this up. Mike Hickman, who is also a Lake County commissioner, told us this.) Apparently there are negotiations between the Forest Service and Aurora for a land swap so the Forest Service really will have the mine site eventually.

In the meantime, we had no Forest Service person over-seeing our operations this year and we set up the aid station near the buildings again. These remnants are behind the aid station:

This is a much better location for the aid station. There is more flat land and the wider turn-around area is safer for the riders. Many of the first fifty riders zoom right by and don't even stop to refuel. They want to go as fast as possible. Some folks who rode last year grumbled about having to go down the hill farther, but it adds only about a quarter mile to the total race distance. The bike course is a little over 101 miles officially anyway. (The run course probably is, too, with all the trail relocations on Mount Hope and the Colorado Trail, but race management still calls it 100 miles.)

It took twenty-one volunteers (more this year with more riders) about an hour to set up the aid station, medical tent, porta potty, prayer flags, and drop bags:

There were numerous food choices, from fresh fruit (watermelon, cantaloupe, bananas) to sandwiches to salty foods to sweets:

Morgan helps Brent set up his flag, below, with Mike assisting with the ever-indispensable duct tape:

Brent cooks up hot soups, ramen noodles, and rice in the back of his truck every year. Yum!

I was in charge of filling up the large water container and mixing up four five-gallon containers of Poweraid before the race and refilling them as needed throughout the morning and afternoon:

Newbies have the honor each year of setting up the porta potty, which ended up attached by ropes to the front of our truck so it didn't end up blowing away in the wind! The weather was perfect for us all day (a first) but it did get windy at times. Here Chris and Greg show off their handiwork:

We got done about fifteen minutes before the first riders appeared, enough time to pose for our annual group photos. I'm in the first one (on the far right) taken by Jim Ballard, and he's in the second one (blue hat):


I had time to get some other shots of the aid station and our location before the first riders appeared. We had excellent views into the Clear Creek valley (road to Winfield) and the mountains to the south:

The next view is what the riders see as they approach our aid station heading east and going downhill a bit from the high point. They make a left turn around the cones and head back up the hill, then ride downhill for about five miles on Lost Canyon Road. Marge and Lisa are sitting in the foreground, ready to record numbers and times. We also had a radio communications person in our group:

By 10 AM we were eagerly anticipating the first competitors. Last year Dave Wiens came through first about 10:12. I guessed earlier in out little lottery game (10:10), thinking Wiens and Landis would be pushing each other. We could see down the road about a mile and knew the first two riders were neck and neck. Even with binoculars we couldn't tell who they were, but the radio guy knew:

Look how close they were at fifty miles!! It was Wiens in front, with Landis right on his tail. Marge won the bet (and about $20), guessing the time most closely. It was 10:08, about four minutes faster than Wiens' time through here last year.

Here are close ups of both men, with Wiens first:


What you can't see very well in the photo above are Landis' bloody leg and arm. He fell on the first big downhill had a flat tire that had to be fixed. Would he have been ahead of Dave at this point if those two things hadn't occurred? We'll never know. Those guys were very close the entire race.

Here's another view of just how close they were as they zoomed through our aid station and headed back up the hill:

A lot could happen over the remaining fifty miles, and we wondered who would win. It might not even be one of these two guys!

It took a few minutes for the third rider to come in, then we got increasingly busy the next four hours as most of the 797 riders came through our aid station. We never got totally overwhelmed by the "bubble," however. Even during the middle of the pack we had enough volunteers to assist the riders. We all worked very well as a team.

Many of the first riders didn't even blink as they entered the aid station and kept right on going. We offered them fluids and goodies and cheered them on their way. Once riders began needing us, our AS looked like an Indy pit stop.

First, we'd ask if they needed water or Powerade. Several volunteers filled bottles and bladders with water from a jug and others provided Powerade. Until the AS got congested, the riders could stay on their bikes and we'd bring them whatever they needed. Then they were off. In the photo below, "my" Jim (in wide-brimmed hat) is bending down for some Powerade for the rider while Kathy Lang gives him water:

There were at least three men named "Jim" in our group, so we had to use last names sometimes. There are two more Jims on the right in the photo below:

When more riders started coming in at once, we encouraged them to hand over their bikes to leave more room at the tables. We'd tell them where we were taking their bikes and direct them to the table. Often the people filling the bottles would replace them on the bikes before the riders returned to them. That's service!

Jim stayed in front of the tables and mostly handled bikes and gave out water and Powerade. In addition to those jobs, I also retrieved drop bags, mixed up Powerade, cut up fruit, and kept track of all the empty water jugs. When I saw the empty jugs were just being thrown behind the tables and began cluttering up the area, I realized they needed to be herded back into the empty crates. Since we'd be returning them to the LT storage area after the race anyway, I rounded them up as the race progressed and put them back into the truck bed.

Every once in a while I had a chance to look up and see the riders coming in. In the photo below you can see one of the mine buildings on the left and the hill the riders come down in the background. The summit of Quail Mountain is out of view on the left, and Hope Pass is beyond that, less than a mile away as the crow flies:


An advantage of riding a hundred miles on a bike is that it's much faster than running a hundred miles on foot. However, a cyclist may be feeling great but the bike breaks down. If the rider can fix it, he or she has lost some time and might not make cut-offs. If the problem can't be fixed, the race is over. We saw several riders making repairs at our aid station:

Volunteers can't help with repairs; it's against the race rules. These guys were able to get back out on the course, but one fella had serious brake problems and had to be picked up as the aid station volunteers drove back down the mountain.

Serious injuries are also more likely during the bike race than the run. There are a lot of rocks on the course that can throw a rider, there is two-way bike traffic on the route, and steep climbs and descents with loose rock and grit can make riding more dangerous than running.

We were alerted by radio that one of the male riders, Jan Baer, was air-lifted to the hospital with a broken femur from a nasty fall (ironic, as he's an orthopedic surgeon). We were to look for rider #328, which was his wife, Kim Baer -- the gal going for her tenth finish! By the time she got to Columbine, she already knew about her husband's injury and knew he'd gone to the hospital. She saw him before he left and was upset about his injury. However, he strongly encouraged her to go on since the finish was so important to her.

She continued on, finished her tenth LT100, and then went to see her husband. Not one of us criticized her for that decision. There wasn't anything she could do in the next four hours to help him, and everyone knew he'd want her to continue the race after all the time and money she'd spent training for it. She probably finished faster under the circumstances, too!

We heard that a second person was also taken out by helicopter to a hospital but don't know the circumstances or identity.

Remember the amputee from South Africa? Unfortunately, he was one of the last to reach our aid station. That's him in the green jacket below, getting ready to head back down to Twin Lakes with the assistance of Sylvia, Jim, and Karen:

He was in good spirits but I doubt he made the cut-off at Twin Lakes. Because we can't transport bikes and riders down from Columbine very easily (we have only five or six vehicles up there, and they're loaded with volunteers and supplies) there is no cut-off at the turn-around. The cut-off at Twin Lakes, ten miles below us, is 2:30 PM, so anyone leaving Columbine after 1:30 probably will get pulled at Twin Lakes. With so many first-time LT100 riders, I was surprised there weren't more people coming in late to our aid station.

We broke down the aid station after the last rider came through about 2 PM and headed back down the mountain. I got better "windshield series" photos going down than driving up. What a beautiful view for the cyclists as they descended from our aid station:


I hope the cyclists weren't so trashed by then that they couldn't enjoy the scenery. They did need to keep their eyes on the rutted, rocky road, though. It is probably easier to negotiate the worst sections above tree line with skinnier tires than those on our trucks. Because of the rough, narrow road and the fact that the cyclists go up and down it, no crew vehicles are permitted at Columbine.


So you're probably wondering who "won" the race, aren't you? Our radio guy was able to tell us the results while we were still on the mountain.

Besides the 588 other winners who finished the race, the first one across the line was Dave Wiens in his fifth LT100 win. With perfect weather and Floyd Landis pushing him the entire way he broke seven hours for the first time with a fine 6:58:46. Landis also beat Wiens' previous record by several minutes, finishing in 7:00:30. Both were gracious and sportsmanlike after the finish, as reported in interviews at yahoo.com and bicycling.com.

The first female was Gretchen Reeves in just over eight hours. As mentioned earlier, about 74% of the field finished in under twelve hours and quite a few more after that.

It took about an hour to get back down the mountain and to the LT storage facility in Leadville. We drove past the finish line at Sixth and Harrison about 4 PM and could see a couple riders coming in. After unloading the truck we headed back to the camper to get cleaned up and rest before going to a friend's house for a post-race party.

On the way out of Jack's property at 5:43 PM, just forty-seven minutes before the 6:30 PM cut-off at the finish, Jim spotted a woman on a bike with a race number heading toward Turquoise Lake Road. She'd missed the turn on Sixth Street, less than a mile from the finish! Karsten was at the top of the Boulevard, where the riders return, but she blew by the next turn where there was only a cone and no course monitor. I'm so glad Jim noticed she was in the race, because I didn't think much about it. There have been so MANY cyclists ride past our camper the last couple weeks.

She was grateful we stopped her and she got turned around. Who knows how far she might have gone if Jim hadn't noticed her race number. I hope no other riders made the same mistake. Your brain just isn't the same after a hundred miles, whether you're riding or running!

After socializing with friends all evening, we were too tired to get up early enough to attend the awards ceremony on Sunday morning. We haven't heard any more stories from the race. If we learn anything interesting next week, I'll do an addendum to this entry.

We had a great time volunteering and are looking forward to the same jobs before the run next week. Stay tuned. Meanwhile I'll report any more interesting training runs we have.

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil