Monday, June 5, 2023

Unbound Gravel 100 Race Report - 2023

The adverse conditions at Unbound Gravel this year were exactly what I needed.

I've started and deleted two posts on this blog this year. The first was a comparison of mountain biking and swimming (strength helps for both, but what you really need is skill). The week after I wrote that post, I raced at the Ouachita Challenge, which completely shook all my confidence. With a DNF at that race because I could not navigate the technical mountain bike trails within the time cuts, who was I to write a blog post about how important skills are in mountain biking? And, I was too embarrassed about that failure to write a report, even though I know we shouldn't just be sharing the happy highlight reel.

Even the gravel race at the Ouachita Challenge was hard for me, but riding with my lovely friend Ari was wonderful.

My second event of the year was the Rule of Three - an awesome party in Bentonville disguised as a bike race. It's made up of one part road, one part gravel, and one part single track. Another rider said it best: at Rule of Three, you're supposed to feel like you picked the wrong bike for most of the day. I chose to ride my mountain bike, and I actually felt like I picked the right bike for me. If I'd picked my gravel bike that day, I would have been a puddle of tears on the single track sections. Even on the "right bike" I wasn't confident in my ability. The day was long and tough and I was grateful to have chosen the shorter 50-mile distance.

Rule of Three had the best post-ride party ever!

Leading up to Unbound, I wondered if I'd have the endurance for an 8 or 9 hour day on the bike for 100 miles. I'd been working on mountain bike skills, doing one- to two-hour rides nearly every day of the week, but nothing like the weekend volume I did last year. Finally I texted my coach about three weeks ago. "Should I be concerned that this time last year I was doing 7-hour training rides on the weekend and right now I'm not?" "No," Nell replied, "You have such a huge aerobic engine, you will be more than fine come race day." I told her that I believed her. I also cursed Strava for showing me what I was doing last year. 

I traveled to Emporia on Friday, ready to have a great time with Shelly (racing the 50, her third-ever gravel ride) and Orissa (who I had gleefully raced the 50 with last year and couldn't wait to tackle the 100 with this time). Exploring the expo was awesome, being with my wonderful friends was great, staying in our cute and cheerful airbnb was perfect. We were set up for a great day. 

Except. It had been raining for a week or so every day in Kansas. At the start of the 350XL race on Friday afternoon, the sky opened and the rain poured down for several hours, causing some of the county roads to turn into sticky, thick, "peanut butter" mud.

Happy at the start.

The 200-mile race started at 6 am and Orissa and I toed the line for the 100 at 7 am. The gun went off at 7:05 and we were on our way. After maybe one minute had elapsed, the entire field was stopped by a train going through town. We just had to laugh. Our goal was to ride "easy" to the first aid station, the Water Oasis at mile 42, then to pick up the pace if we felt good. What's easier than standing still waiting for a train?

The ride was uneventful for the first half hour. You couldn't even tell that it had rained. The gravel was smooth and felt almost as packed down as the Boulder backroads in many places. I laughed, remembering how Orissa had said she expected the event to take us 10 hours to finish. "That's ridiculous," I'd told her, "we'll go much faster than that." Woo hoo! Here we were at mile 10 and only 36 minutes had gone by. 

Then, we turned onto what I now know is called the infamous Road D. The conditions of the road changed abruptly to wet, sticky, suck-your-shoes-off mud. All you could see was people walking with their bikes for miles ahead of you. Orissa and I dug in and started walking, careful to keep our tires off the mud as much as possible. We rolled the bikes through grass when we could, and carried them when we couldn't. Even so, after about a mile of walking like this, we were stopping like everyone else to use paint stirrers to scrape the mud out from between the front wheel and the fork, and from between the rear wheel and the chain and derailleur. We even had to scrape heaps of sticky mud from our shoes to lighten our feet and allow us to walk.

True to her Instagram name, Orissa Tri-For-Smiles Loftin never stopped smiling.
The sticky mud spared nobody.

Reports vary widely about how much hike-a-bike we actually did. I know that when I finally did get back on my bike and attempt to ride it with muddy cleats that would not clip in, an hour and 35 minutes had gone by and 13.1 miles of the race were complete. I joked out loud to nobody in particular that I'd gotten a great new half-marathon PR today.

Many people were joking and laughing through the mud. One guy was even handing out sips of whiskey from a flask. Others seemed defeated and devastated by it. I was grateful to be one of the ones who was making the best of it. I can honestly say that I was enjoying myself. Adventure!

Orissa and I had gotten separated a few times during the mud walk and by the time I reached the end of it, I couldn't see her anywhere. I looked up the road and back down, then finally gave up and decided to ride. She's probably ahead of me. I'll see her at mile 42 when we stop for water. I rode tentatively down the road, soft pedaling for a bit in case she was behind me. Then, I picked up the pace. If I'm doing this by myself today, I'm going to do the best I can do.

It was exhilarating to speed down the road, on dry, smooth gravel again. The sun was shining and the views of the prairie were magnificent, just a huge, vast, brilliant green and blue landscape as far as you could see. The other riders were friendly and I felt so strong and happy as I made my way down the road, ticking off the miles. I don't remember a time in recent months that I've felt so happy.

When I arrived at the Water Oasis, there were two RVs at the top of a hill, a bunch of bikes laying on the sides of the road, and a huge line with people waiting to fill their water. Apparently the official aid station had run out of water earlier, and a couple of people with their RVs were filling up cyclists' bottles with their own water supply. I had intended to fill my whole 2.5L hydration pack and two 24-ounce bottles at this station. I panicked when I heard someone say they'd only fill one bottle per person. The next aid station was 20 miles down the road. But I got in the right line and the man at the end of it filled my whole hydration bladder with water from a hose, plus 3/4 of each of my bottles. That would do.

I added Skratch powder to the bladder and sped away again, drinking happily from the straw. As we rolled through a part of the course with steeper climbs and descents and loose gravel, I realized two things: my legs felt strong and confident climbing the hills. And I felt confident descending them and navigating the loose gravel too! All the mountain bike practicing has not been for nothing. All the balance drills I've been doing helped me to stay upright in some sketchy sections. I felt amazing. It was also getting really warm outside and I drank every drop of the liquid in my backpack before I arrived in Madison, KS, where the main aid station was. 

Unbound is meant to be a self-supported race, meaning that you can bring a crew and have them meet you at certain checkpoints to help you refuel and to work on your bike if needed. You can also hire a crew. Orissa and I had agreed that there was no need to have a crew for the 100 - there were two water stops and we could carry all the food and drink mix we needed. As I rolled into the Madison checkpoint, I looked through the tents of support crews for the neutral water stop. I couldn't find it. I was directed further down the road by one volunteer; once I arrived there, another volunteer told me it was back the way I came. 

I made a quick calculation: I had two bottles on my frame that together, contained maybe 40 ounces of water. I had 40 miles to go. I dumped the two bottles into my hydration bladder and mixed in some Skratch. That would have to do. I wanted to get going again.

As I rolled away from Madison, I started to calculate again. Forty ounces on a road ride would be fine for 40 miles. Forty miles on this gravel bike might take many more hours, especially if there was more mud up the road. I recalled how Trent finished Rule of Three in four hours with only 2 bottles, and decided that if he could do it, so could I. I also decided I needed to make it to the finish line as fast as possible, conserving my water as I went. 

I looked at the time of day and laughed out loud. How could I have cursed us by mocking Orissa for projecting a time of 10 hours? I'd be lucky to make it in that amount of time. At that moment, a sub-10 hour day became the only thing I wanted in life, for no other reason than that I needed a goal to propel myself forward.

Around mile 70, I started counting down miles. I didn't feel happy not being able to drink freely from my pack whenever I wanted. I had a headache and started to feel lightheaded, then nauseated, as the heat of the day rose and the miles went by slowly. I was probably dehydrated, and there was nothing I could do. 

I did stop to take some ibuprofen and the last of my caffeinated Skratch chews to help with the headache. My body was getting tired, but not in the way that I expected. My legs felt fresh and smooth and much better than they've ever felt in the last half of a 100-mile ride. But my hands were sore and numb. My back was sore. I had hot spots and blisters on both feet, souvenirs of the hike-a-bike section. I kept stopping to stretch my back and shake out my hands. It was annoying to be making progress, passing people, and then having them all pass me back as I stood on the side of the road. 

Spectators had been sporadic on the course all day, but they started to appear more frequently in the last quarter of the race. One group offered me a beer. I almost stopped because the beers looked cold. At the next group, I pulled up to their table that was laden with orange slices, a large Gatorade container, and a cooler with mini Cokes. "I'm sorry to ask," I said, "do you happen to have some spare water for someone who isn't one of the people you're crewing for?" 

The man at the table smiled. "If we were here crewing for someone, they'd be disqualified. This is a self-supported race. We're here to help everyone." And he took one of my bottles and filled it with cold water as his wife offered me a Coke. It was exactly what I needed. I almost cried with gratitude and told her several times that she was literally saving my life. They sent me on my way. Okay....15ish miles to go.

The wind began to pick up and I heard thunder in the distance. Luckily, at the same time, the course seemed to level out. The continuous climbing and descending had turned into flat-ish, fast, packed gravel. I watched the time and miles tick away. Would I make it under 10 hours? It would be close.

With five miles left to go, the sky opened and the rain poured down. It felt incredible. The cool rain soothed my hot skin and made me smile again. As I drank from my precious cold water bottle with the finish line and the goal in sight, I felt so grateful for the day. I screamed as I crossed the flooded finish line in nine hours and 45 minutes.

So much of my confidence was restored this Saturday. I'll never question Nell again about my training plan. She's right: I have nearly 15 years of aerobic engine inside me. This 100-mile ride felt physically easier than any 100+ miler I've done. My handling skills have improved and my climbing and descending skills have improved. A week ago, I was apprehensive about Leadville coming up in just two short months. Now, I feel like I'll be ready. I just need to keep working on the skills. 

After I finished, I hung out with Shelly and heard about her success at the 50-mile distance while we waited for Orissa, who'd had a couple extra adventures out there. The afternoon rainstorm had created more mud pits, and she'd had to hike another two miles. When Orissa crossed the line we all celebrated together.  I knew immediately after finishing that I want to try the 200-mile distance next year. They're not so sure, but I've got a year to convince them. Either way, the three of us will be back in Emporia next year. The Spirit of Gravel is real.

Happy friendies at the Finish Line party!

And finally, at 47 years old, I worked up the courage to get a tattoo a couple of months ago, something I've wanted to do since college but could never decide on something important enough to get. Last year, while descending Columbine at Leadville, it occurred to me that a tattoo of Columbine flowers would be the perfect thing. They grow at high altitude and they flourish under the most adverse conditions. I needed the reminder at Unbound Gravel that I can too. I don't think I'll forget that anytime soon, but if I do, I've got the tattoo to remind me. 


Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Another year, another Leadville

The moment I was pulled from the course at the Leadville 100 mountain bike race last year, I knew I wanted to try again. I did not expect to get the opportunity to race there again so soon, but a week ago, I learned that I won a spot in this year's race through luck, fate, or the kindness of the Lifetime Fitness gods. (Note: Let's hope the same gods smile upon me when the results of the Unbound Gravel lottery are revealed next week.) 
The snail mail letter was a nice touch.

Why Leadville?

I've spent a large portion of my summer in Leadville every year for the last 6 years. I can either thank or curse my friend Doug who started all of this by asking me and Trent to pace him for the 100 mile run in 2017. Since then, I've done something up there every summer except 2020. The marathon, the Silver Rush 50 run and mountain bike races, the 10k, the 100 mile mountain bike race and 100 mile run: I've stood on all of their start lines and crossed most of their finish lines. Why? Because Leadville is magic. If you know, you know. If you don't know, you need to go. I love it there, it's my favorite place in the world, and I am beyond excited to have a reason to go back again. 

The luck of the draw

If you know me, you know I've got a good track record when it comes to winning contests and lotteries (see Norseman x2). So it might not surprise you that I won this year's Leadville lottery, but it does surprise the heck out of me! I was so sure that I'd never get in through the lottery that last year, I guaranteed myself a spot by signing up for the full Lead Challenge (I was going to do the marathon anyway; it was basically saving money if you think about it). People try over and over again to get into this mountain bike race and they get declined year after year.

After my DNF last summer, I came up with a plan for getting on that start line again. Instead of entering the lottery, I decided to sweet talk Trent into agreeing to go up in July for the Silver Rush 50, then stand around after that race to win a spot through a random drawing for entries to the 100 mile race. Last year, they didn't have enough women present to claim the available spots. What a brilliant plan.

However, about a month before the lottery opened in mid-December, one of my new Arkansas friends contacted me through Strava. I'd met Jimmy John and his friend Audy last year when all of us were training for Leadville out at Lake Sylvia. We followed each other on Strava and cheered for each other virtually throughout the summer. Still, I was surprised when Jimmy John asked if I wanted to enter the 2023 Leadville lottery with him, Audy, and another one of their friends as a group. Groups seem to do better in the lottery, he told me. Hmmmmmmm. Again, if you know me, you know I'm great at saying SURE, WHY NOT? when I should be saying, hmmm, let me think about that

Note: entering the lottery as a group does seem to work. One of my Smash teammates also entered the lottery as part of a team, and her team also got in.

Getting prepared

I know I didn't get to the 42-mile checkpoint quickly enough last year because of my technical skills, not because of my endurance. So I know exactly what I need to work on. I've been working to get better and braver on my mountain bike since the summer - I took an official private lesson with a coach with the Women of Oz and a few unofficial private lessons with my amazing friend Ari. But as soon as I won the entry last week, all of this has taken on a new sense of urgency. I've got seven months to prepare. Let me make everything I do contribute to a successful day in August.

In no particular order:

  • Practice pushing my bike fast uphill. I know I'm going to be on foot for some of this race, but I can move faster than I did last year. This means practicing pushing my bike and wearing better, grippier shoes that don't give me blisters.
  • Practice riding scary downhills on single track. Otherwise, how am I going to descend the Powerline section without walking? (Walking downhill is a waste of time, Kris.)
  • Practice riding steep uphill single track, preferably with other people nearby. I need to be able to stay on my bike and ride up St. Kevins while people are passing me.
  • Practice racing. If you know you can do it, you can do it. I've got a great opportunity at the upcoming Ouachita Challenge to practice a tough, technical mountain bike race. I need to enter allllll the races and get as comfortable on this bike as I can.
  • Focus on the bike. I still want to do the Big Sur marathon in April (another lottery that I won, along with Shelly and Orissa, so I'm not willing to drop out or drop to a shorter distance). But I found myself asking my coach last week if I can train to "just survive" the marathon. After all, it's just a scenic foot tour of the Pacific Coast Highway, with 2600 feet of gain over 26 miles. I don't need to win it or anything.

These are just some thoughts I'm having as the 2023 season begins. I hope everyone has something on your calendar that makes you as inspired, nervous, happy, and excited as Leadville makes me. Here we go again!

Monday, September 5, 2022

Summer of Leadville 2022: Leadville 100 Run Race Report

It took me two weeks to unpack all my stuff from my trip to Leadville. It just sat on the floor in the closet and I put a few things up each day until all evidence of my adventure was packed neatly away. I think it's taking longer for me to unpack my thoughts about the experience, but if I don't write about it now, I won't write about it at all, so here we are. 

When I signed up for the Lead Challenge, my big goals were to get an official finish at the Silver Rush 50 run (I missed the time cut in 2018 by 8 minutes) and to finish the Leadville Mountain Bike 100. I love running the marathon in Leadville and the 10K is pretty fun too, so what would be the harm in signing up for a challenge where I felt fairly confident about everything except the final event, the Leadville Trail 100 Run?

Nothing went the way it was supposed to this year, but I have learned that that's part of the adventure. With a knee injury in April, it was clear that I wouldn't be running a 50 mile race in July. Luckily I was able to switch to the Silver Rush 50 bike ride instead, and that was one of the best race days of my life. You can read about it here. But if I couldn't run a 50 miler in July, I certainly would not be ready to run 100 in August, and that's what I've been trying to unpack.

With the switch to the bike race for the Silver Rush, I placed all my attention on getting ready for the 100 mile mountain bike race. You can read about that race here. I'm incredibly proud of my effort that day. I feel like everything else is completely worth it for the amount of growth as an athlete that I experienced on that course. I'm determined to get stronger and faster and more skilled at mountain biking and cross that finish line in the future. But that's not what this story is about today!

By placing all my attention on the bike, I barely ran at all this summer. When I did, I ran easy on pavement in between days of biking. I can count the number of times I ran on a trail this year on one hand. I hated it. After falling in April during that 50K, I was scared to fall down. In general, here are all of my excuses: running in the heat and humidity in Arkansas in the summer sucks, my knee is still not 100%, running doesn't feel good, and I hated doing it. For some relief, I ran on the flat river path where there was a little bit of a breeze, but even then my longest run was 12 miles, or just over 2 hours.

My logic was that I was able to muscle my way through the marathon in June without much run training, so I wondered what I'd be able to do at the 100. It would be pretty cool to make it to mile 50, up and over Hope Pass, and get to see the llamas at the aid station up there. It seemed silly to invite people to crew and pace for me, but I did it anyway. Amy and her friend Jen came up to crew, and Lindsey came to pace if needed (pacers aren't allowed until mile 62; it was highly unlikely that I'd need a pacer). I am grateful to these girls who kept me company up in Leadville for the weekend.

I toed the start line at 4:00 in the morning. I noted that there's far less fanfare and energy at the run start line as there was at the mountain bike race, but maybe that was just my own energy reflecting back at me.  I ran down the familiar gravel road that gave way to trails after three miles. I ran and smiled and felt fine until I didn't. 

All smiles at the start line.

By mile 13 at the Mayqueen aid station, I was feeling nauseated and my feet hurt. I smiled for my crew who surprised me by showing up there, and then headed with as much purpose as possible up the trail. Then, the Colorado Trail portion of the course kicked my butt, more mentally than physically. I picked my way so cautiously over the roots and rocks and cursed trail running the whole time. I was just so scared to fall down the way that I did during the 50K that I DNFed in April. Time ticked away and after I finally popped out onto the gravel road up to Sugarloaf, I had resorted to a "run for 30 seconds, walk for 30 seconds" strategy. 

I'm telling you now, if you can get Amy Machael to crew for you, get her.

Turning onto the Sugarloaf climb, I smiled to myself thinking about riding up it the previous weekend, and how much more energetic and confident I had felt then. Picking my way down the Powerline descent on foot, I laughed to think that I was so scared riding down it last weekend, only to be wishing for a bike now. On my way down, I was passed by a few runners who were still making an effort to get to the next time cut on time. I knew I would miss it because I was walking too slowly. I stopped to talk to a chipmunk. I called Shelly to tell her that I was on the Powerline and wished she was there, because it had been so fun practicing on it a month ago with her. I texted Amy, who was waiting at the Outward Bound aid station at mile 23 that I would not be making the time cut.

Finally, gratefully, I walked onto the paved road towards the aid station and texted Amy again, "if I drop a pin, will you come and pick me up?" Almost instantly she drove up in her car. I tapped out at 22 miles. The time cut had come and gone.

I didn't even get all the way to Outward Bound for a hug from the cutoff queen, so she sent me a virtual one.

We went for burritos and beers and I wasn't particularly disappointed with my day. I mean, what could I really have expected? It's kind of funny to think of the difference between my effort at the run and how I felt the previous weekend on the bike. During the bike race, I was absolutely not going to make that time cut and I knew it, but I raced like my life depended on it anyway. This time I just didn't bother. That's what I'm unpacking. 

Should I even have stood on the start line of something that I wasn't going to do my best to finish? Should I have started something that I knew I hadn't even done my best to train for? That's what I'm thinking about.

After lunch, Amy and Jen drove home and even though no pacing was necessary, Lindsey drove into town anyway, just to hang out. We watched the first place finisher cross the line, which was insane and inspiring. It was great to catch up with Lindsey and spend time around the infectious energy of people who love Leadville. The following morning, it was even more inspiring to walk outside the airbnb and hear people cheering for finishers who had been out on the course all night. As I packed up my car for the long drive home to Little Rock, the town was filled with the cheers for people who had fought like hell to finish this insanely difficult event.

Now that I'm home and have had a little while to think about it, I'm still unclear on my feelings about ultra running and even trail running in general. I know that don't want to do it right now. Give me roads and easy gravel paths. I don't like being scared to fall down all the time on a run. On the other hand, I've been out a couple times on my mountain bike since I got home because I'm more determined than ever at working on my skills. I used to be afraid to fall down on my mountain bike, but now the determination outweighs the fear. Will the same thing happen with running?

What's next? In 15+ years I have never finished one big event without having the next one already lined up. This time I don't know what the next big thing is! I haven't figured it out yet, and I admit that I'm not really excited about whatever it is yet, but I'm grateful that I know I want the journey to continue. 

Thank you as always for reading. 💗

Leadville: even though you keep hurting my feelings, I'll keep coming back for more. 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Summer of Leadville 2022: Leadville Mountain Bike 100 Race Report

At the athlete meeting for the Leadville Mountain Bike 100, the founder of the race Ken Chlouber said, "Just finish. That way, when someone asks you, 'did you finish?' you can say 'yes' instead of spending the next 30 minutes telling them all the excuses why you didn't." He went on to tell us you can do more than you think you can, you are stronger than you think you are, and to DIG DEEP. We ended the meeting shouting together, "I COMMIT! I WON'T QUIT!"

I don't need 30 minutes to explain why I didn't finish, but I do want to talk about the events of my day and the lessons I learned.

The athlete meeting is held outdoors now instead of in the gym due to Covid.

The race started at 6:30 last Saturday morning. We were divided into corrals that stretched down Harrison Street towards Twin Lakes. As each corral went off, racers turned left onto 6th Street, crossed the start line, and raced up and over the hill, turning to the right at the bottom instead of to the left, where the run will go this Saturday. With the other Lead Challenge participants, I was seeded in the Orange corral, which is right in the middle of the pack. We started at 6:40.

I knew that the key would be arriving at the Twin Lakes timing mat at mile 41 before 10:50 am. That would require a 10 mph pace for four hours, which I've only rarely achieved on a mountain bike. I would race to that checkpoint as if my day depended on it, because it did.

As soon as we left the corral, the other Orange riders left me behind. That's okay, it takes me a few minutes to warm up, I know I'll be fine. Then five minutes later the Blue corral went by. Rick, my Silver Rush trail angel, was in that corral. He slowed to talk to me and I yelled at him not to wait and to have a great day. I didn't want to be responsible for slowing anyone down and I wanted to race my own race. 

We turned onto gravel and then turned again up St. Kevins, the first climb of the race, a fairly steep doubletrack road with plenty of loose rocks. People were still jostling for position and the chaos freaked me out. As soon as someone in front of me got off their bike to walk, I did the same. I walked more than I should have. I was too scared to try riding my bike next to all those people who were racing erratically passing each other.

I'd been told I should reach the Carter aid station in an hour or an hour and fifteen minutes: I arrived at 1:20 into the race. I was not worried about time yet. As soon as I turned past the station onto pavement, I picked up my pace as much as possible and hurried down the hills. The next climb was up Sugarloaf. I ran up Sugarloaf in 2018 as part of the 100 run, so I was aware of what it was like — another loose, rocky climb, but not as steep as St. Kevins. Also not as crowded, because by this point there were only about 20 of us riding together after the rest of the race had left us behind.

When we reached the campsite at the top, I knew we'd soon be turning right onto Powerline, a steep four mile descent that was chunky at the top and loose and super steep at the bottom. I had practiced this in training just a month ago, and I'm so glad I did. I was still terrified as I turned onto the steep, rocky descent with several other riders. On my way down, I stopped to walk a few times. I was shaking with fear. I passed another woman who was crying because she was so afraid. I was so proud to ride down the steepest portion, a dusty, loose, 20% grade towards the bottom. I said to myself "I'm doing this, I'm doing this," and once I made the final turn towards the gentle grade along the fenceline, I screamed "WOO HOO!" and my self-talk turned to "I did it, I did it."

I caught up to a strong-looking bearded man in blue who had climbed Sugarloaf with me but who had dropped me on the descent. I knew we were now behind schedule to get to the Twin Lakes cutoff. "Let's GO" I shouted at him, as I climbed on the pavement. I knew I had to race as fast as possible from now on or I would miss the time cut. I decided I wouldn't take the time to stop to eat, I would just drink sports drink from my hydration pack. Who cares if I'm fully fueled if I miss the cutoff? 

A few minutes later, the guy that I'd passed caught up with me. This was the flat section where we'd been instructed to work together. "Get on my wheel," he said, and I did. I told him, "pull off to the left when you want me to take a turn." "No," he insisted, "just stay on my wheel. We're getting you to your goal." I didn't argue. I just pedaled behind him for the next few flat miles, until we turned onto the doubletrack towards the Pipeline aid station. At that point I passed him and thanked him. He told me to keep moving. I didn't see him again.

I blew through the Pipeline aid station without even noticing that my friend Jen was there taking pictures. I was so completely focused on getting to Twin Lakes in time. I caught up with some other riders and rode with them, then passed them. There was some beautiful single track on the way to Twin Lakes that reminded me of Marshall Mesa where I rode all last year with my friends. I smiled and thought it would be really fun to run here. Then laughed as I realized that thinking about running during a bike race was probably not a good sign.

Racing through the Pipeline aid station.

The minutes ticked away faster than the miles. I saw the pros start to come back along the out-and-back course. They yelled encouragement at me as they went by. Oooooh this is LEADVILLE. But where was Twin Lakes? At each turn I expected to see the dam with all the tents and spectators. As the time of day ticked past 10:50, I knew I had missed the time cut. I didn't let off. What if they changed the time? Every race I've done up here this summer has had an adjusted time cut for one reason or another. I kept racing.

I passed riders who had clearly given up. Finally, I saw the dam, and I smiled. As I rode along the corridor of tents and crew and spectators, they all cheered for me even though they knew I wasn't going to make the cut. Eventually I saw the timing mat and rode towards it as fast as I could. Matt, the timing guy who'd shared a sandwich with me at Silver Rush, yelled encouragement as I went by. 

At the far end of the dam, a race official stood in front of the timing mat, telling me to slow down. I let off the gas and prepared to feel the disappointment of not making it. I knew my crew was just on the other side of the mat — I had told them to set up after the timing mat in case of a down-to-the-minute situation.

As I slowed and looked at the race official who was talking to me, an arm reached out from the other side, grabbing my handlebar and pulling my bike towards him and away from the timing mat. I went down with my bike onto the dirt in front of the timing mat and laid there with my bike on top of me, one of my feet still clipped in, confused. What had just happened?

"You didn't have to do that," a spectator was yelling at the man who had pulled me over. Another man helped pick me up. "Are you okay?" he asked. No I wasn't okay. I burst into tears, ugly crying as they removed my chip from my plate and dragged me and my bike to the side of the mat.

The man who had grabbed my bike came over and put his arm around me. "Don't cry," he said, "it's okay that you missed the time cut." I'M NOT CRYING BECAUSE I MISSED THE TIME CUT. I'M CRYING BECAUSE YOU KNOCKED ME OVER. "No I didn't," he said. I didn't argue, I just grabbed my bike and pushed it over to an empty place behind the row of crew tents, then sat down and cried heavily. 

I cried for only getting to see the first 42 miles of the course. I cried for being out of the Lead Challenge. I cried for all the early morning workouts at hot, humid Lake Sylvia this summer. What had it all been for? I cried in anger about the race official who had found it more important to prevent me from crossing the timing mat than preserving my dignity.

A man and woman ran over to comfort me. They asked if I was okay and if I needed anything; I didn't. I saw Becca, my friend who was crewing me, approaching. "Are you okay?" she asked, but I was still hysterically crying. "You can keep going," the other woman told me. "They will never know." Later, I learned that the woman had done the race before and knew they wouldn't stop me from continuing. 

This encouragement was what I needed to hear. I let them help me up. Becca rolled my bike to the tent where all the supplies were. I briefly saw Chris and Erika McDonald and Kellie Ramirez who were there crewing my amazing friend Michael from Texas. "I'm going to keep going," I told Chris, looking at him for approval even though I'd made up my mind already. He said, "good, but you know they took your chip, right?" I didn't care.

I dusted myself off and got back on my bike and headed up towards the Columbine Mine turnaround, which was 10 miles and 3,000 feet of climbing away. I climbed as people from the gold and silver corrals passed me going the other way. Then came green and orange and blue. I saw my friends Maggie and Jorge and Rick descending. Nearly every person who passed me offered encouraging words. It was amazing. This is Leadville. I decided to try to catch up with someone, anyone heading up the mountain in front of me. 

As I pushed higher up the mountain, I ran into Lead Challenge participant Ricardo, who I've called my brother all year because we share a last name. He was standing taking a breather with another rider. "We've been waiting for you for 45 minutes," he joked. We pushed our bikes up the hill together. At some point it had become impossible to ride. I pushed on, and eventually found myself alone again. I'd push past another racer here and there, but the crowd was thin at the top of the hill. I saw Michael riding back down. I cheered him as he went by, although we both knew he had already missed the next time cut.

Suddenly, a large thunderclap crashed across the sky. What should I do? The smart thing would probably have been to head down the mountain instead of heading up towards the storm, but I was beyond doing the smart thing. I was fixated on seeing the turnaround at the top of the climb. I don't care if I die trying, I thought to myself. It's kind of terrifying to think back and know that I meant it.

It started to rain. Another cyclist came down towards me. "They're turning people around up there," he said. I pushed on anyway. Sure enough, a moment later two ATVs came down towards me and asked me to turn around. A jeep carrying the contents of the aid station was behind them. I put on my raincoat and headed down the mountain back to Twin Lakes, past all the folks I had seen on the way up. Descending on slippery rocks was scary but eventually the terrain changed back to smooth gravel, and I rushed down, knowing it would be warmer at lower elevation.

Eventually I sensed that the ATVs were behind me again. I realized that they were following me to Twin Lakes. All the other riders had accepted rides back to town. "We have a bike rack on the back of this ATV," I was told. "You can quit anytime you want and we'll drive you back." "I want to ride back," I said, "is that okay?" The ATV driver said yes and we continued down the trail, a ridiculous procession of a slow, exhausted biker and two search and rescue ATVs, all the way back to Twin Lakes where Becca was waiting with the car. 

When I saw Becca I stopped my Garmin, thanked the ATV escorts who both gave me fist bumps, and finally breathed. My day was done after 62 miles, 6000+ feet of gain, and nine hours of riding. Matt the timing guy approached. "Oh it's you!" he said, "I was supposed come and take your chip but I know it's already been taken." I smiled sheepishly. "Everyone's been talking about how you got tackled at the timing mat," he said. He also told me that I was not the only one, and that apparently some guys actually got in a fight about their treatment at the mat. Good lord.

Becca and I drove back to the condo in Leadville and got cleaned up, then headed over to the finish line to watch the finishers come in. I was so jealous of the people crossing the line. I had so badly wanted the full experience of the day. 

I had a personal pity party for about two hours. I told Lindsey, who plans to crew and pace me for the 100 mile run this weekend, that I was just going to go home and skip it. I was out of the Lead Challenge and I'd spent all my energy training for the bike race, so what was the point of even starting the run? She told me to think about it. I talked to Laura who reminded me that I've already paid the race entry and some nonrefundable airbnb fees. I'm already here. I should go out there and have as much fun on the run course as they'll let me have. I have some really smart and wonderful friends.

I got up the next morning feeling like garbage after the effort of the bike race. There was a 10K run that was part of the Lead Challenge. I had to at least start that race to be able to move on and do the 100 mile run the following weekend. I went to packet pickup and got my bib and ran the slowest 10K of my life, feeling tired but feeling more positive as the miles progressed. 

As I jogged down the 10K course that also makes up the first and last 3 miles of the 100 mile run, I visualized running there again in one week. I also reflected on the previous day. Surprisingly, I wasn't devastated about the DNF. I knew that I tried as hard as I could. I kept pushing myself to try to get something that I wanted. I committed and I did not quit. Even when my chip was pulled, I didn't quit, and whether that was smart or stupid, I'm incredibly proud of myself for continuing on and giving the day all I had. 

I raced my heart out to get to that time cut at mile 42. I dug deeper than ever before — in 15 years of endurance racing I have never dug so deep. I was stronger than I thought, and I did more than I thought I could. All of the motivational talk from the athlete meeting applied to the race day that I had. I walk away from that mountain bike race amazed at all I learned and excited and interested to see how far I can go. I feel energized rather than defeated.

A 10K finish line with Becca, my lovely crew.

I'm glad I listened to Laura and stayed here in Colorado instead of going home with my tail between my legs. I'm working from "home" in an airbnb in Keystone this week,and I'm heading back up to Leadville tomorrow to start another 100 mile journey all over again. While the Lead Challenge is over for me, the Leadville challenge is not, and I'm excited to see where it takes me. This is Leadville, and I love it.

A little shakeout ride yesterday at Lake Dillon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Summer of Leadville 2022: Silver Rush 50 MTB Race Report

The Silver Rush weekend features a 50 mile run on Saturday and a 50 mile mountain bike race on Sunday, both on the same course. The race starts in Leadville at 10,200 feet. First, you run or push your bike up a ski hill. You reach 12,000 feet 4 times in 50 miles, with a total elevation gain of 7,000 feet. The surface consists mostly of jeep paths and gravel roads, with a little bit of single track and a little bit of asphalt. Runners get 14 hours to complete the course and cyclists get 8 hours and 20 minutes.

In 2018, I failed to reach the finish of my one and only 50 mile run before the shotgun went off — at 14:08, I was eight minutes late to the line. One of the reasons I signed up for the Lead Challenge was to get an official finish at the Silver Rush run, but I injured my knee in April and had to scale back my running dramatically. There was no time to recover and then train for a 50 mile run. The only viable option for completing the Silver Rush requirement of the Lead Challenge was to do it on a bike. 

I clearly remember spectating the bike race, standing at the Printer Boy aid station and watching the bikes squeeze between two large boulders and down a short, steep hill. I thought to myself I could never do that on a bike. I also remember watching the cyclists going up and down the out-and-back hill into the Stumptown aid station at the halfway point and thinking I could never ride up or down that on a bike. It was so rocky and steep. One cyclist lost control at the turn at the bottom of the hill and crashed. I thought: I would never do this on a bike. I remember during the run, using poles to pick my way down a rocky, steep descent, at least I'm not doing this on a bike. Five years later...I was about to do all of that on a bike.

Building Confidence

My new Little Rock friend Ari talked me into doing one small local mountain bike race here in May. When Trent and I drove out the day before and pre-rode the course I was so nervous that I was almost in tears. It was ridiculous. I panicked at a creek crossing and tried to stop, couldn't unclip in time, lost my balance and fell over. After that I was terrified to clip in on my mountain bike and I switched back to flat pedals for the race the next day. It worked fine and I actually had fun instead of being scared. Finishing that race gave me a huge boost of confidence. I even got to stand on the podium in third place in my category!

Category 3 podium at the Ugly Gnome MTB Race!

At the Unbound Gravel 50 miler in June, as I floated up hills on my gravel bike, I realized how much stronger I've become. I gained just a little bit of confidence for the mountain biking I'd be doing this summer in Leadville. Another confidence builder took place two days before the Silver Rush race — I rode my bike up and down the Powerline segment of the Leadville 100 MTB course. Even though there was definitely some pushing of the bike uphill and walking of the bike downhill on that ride, knowing that I navigated the scariest part of the 100 course was a relief.

Pre-Race Joy

I decided to drive to Leadville to make it easier to transport my bike and avoid the hassles of flying. When I was mapping the route, I realized that one of the options took me through Oklahoma and past Amarillo. Could I talk a friend into driving up from San Antonio to go with me?! Shelly was up for it and we met on Wednesday night, leaving her car at the Amarillo airport. I can't say enough about how wonderful it was to share this experience with Shelly. I miss my friend so much and it was just incredible to spend several days together doing what we love to do. Shelly was even able to sign up for the Silver Rush 15 mile run on Saturday, so she got to have her own experience racing in the mountains. I know she's hooked. 

My Gravel Girl friends, Amy and Terri, were also racing the 15 mile run, and we all stayed together in an Airbnb that looked like it was built from Lincoln logs. It was adorable and we had a wonderful girls' weekend. Because they were all racing on Saturday, after I saw them off at their start I was left to my own devices. I hopped on a shuttle to try to get out to their turnaround point. The shuttle wasn't running to that aid station, but it was running to Printer Boy for people spectating the 50 miler.

At Printer Boy, a small group of spectators and crew gathered to watch their runners come through. As I watched the runners navigating the steep hill and the two large boulders that I remembered from 2018, I took a deep breath and wondered aloud if I'd be able to make it up and through that little section on my bike. "Of course you can," said my new friend Matt, who was running the timing mat right there at the rocks, "and I'll be here to cheer you up it tomorrow!"

Cole Chlouber, the son of race founder Ken Chlouber, was out there spectating too. When someone commented on the difference between a 50 mile race and a 100 mile race, Cole said matter-of-factly, "it doesn't hurt more. It just hurts for longer." I sat there soaking up the experience and the knowledge from the folks around me for as long as I could, then realized I needed to scoot back to the finish line to see my friends cross it. 

Around the four-hour mark, they started coming through. Of course they had all made friends during their race. One of Amy's new friends was Matt the timing mat guy's wife! It's a small world in Leadville. I love it. I love the people and the experience and the community and everything about it.

Three happy finishers: Shelly, Amy, and Terri.

Race Day

There were two waves to start the race: one at 8:00 and one at 8:05. I opted for the second wave because I didn't want to get in anyone's way. The gun went off for the first wave and the song that played to kick off the race was "Kick Start My Heart" by Motley Crue. That's my favorite pump-up song — Terri and I had even been talking about it the night before! I shrieked when it began to play. This was the sign of a good day.

My Team SFQ teammate, whose husband was also racing!

As I lined up for the start, the man next to me noticed my Lead Challenge plate. He had one too. "I did the run yesterday," he said, "did you?" No I did not, thank goodness. Then he said, "Remember the Trail of Tears from the marathon? I can't believe they're making us go up and down that." What? I was going to have to ride up and down the steep, rocky, one-mile segment that makes you question your will to live at the marathon?? I pushed it out of my mind as I pushed my bike up the hill. 

That Hill.

My plan was to keep moving forward while remaining aware of the time cuts. The first cutoff was at the halfway point at the Stumptown aid station at 12:30. That gave me almost four and a half hours to go 23.5 miles (the course was short at 47 miles this year because of a water table survey that was taking place). I had to stop and take a deep breath at the top of the hill. It felt like T1 of a triathlon. I stepped over my bike and was on my way, uphill for the first 11 miles of the race.

Because I started almost dead last, I began passing people right from the start. I assumed they would pass me back again on the descents, because that's how it usually goes when I run trails. They didn't. You guys, my descending has improved so much. 

I felt so joyful riding the parts that were rideable and walking the parts that weren't. There's a steep uphill segment around mile 10 that makes you question your sanity, and then you turn onto a four-mile descent. I was so happy to make it up that first long climb and descend into Printer Boy. When I got there, I zoomed up the little hill and saw Matt at the top of it. "I did it!" I exclaimed at him. I don't think he knew who I was. Then I panicked and put my foot down trying to maneuver through the two boulders. Oh well, at least I made it up the hill.

Onwards to Stumptown and up the Trail of Tears. I swear that after the marathon they went through there and dumped out more rocks. As I pushed my bike up one side, the winners were descending the other side. They had no choice of what line to take because of all of us on the right side, so they just rode over all of the loose, large, baby heads. They floated down, actually. It was amazing to watch.

As I turned the corner to Stumptown where I'd seen the guy wipe out a few years ago, I was overwhelmed with the realization that I was doing something I'd said I could never do. I choked back some tears. I'm doing this, I thought. I am a mountain biker.

I reached Stumptown with time to spare and hugged Shelly, who was prepared with a cooler full of my stuff. She switched out my water bladder, two bottles, and a supply of gels while I stepped into a porta potty. I took a couple of motrin for a headache and ate an incredible banana and two squares of grape uncrustable at the aid station. Shelly said she'd see me at Printer Boy inbound and I was on my way again.

Four hours into this race and I'd been having fun! I heard a spectator yell the familiar, "Go Pinky!" at me, which made me smile. The other racers were so friendly and encouraging. I was eating and drinking and feeling good. And, it was probably all downhill from here, because it had been all uphill on the way out, right? Nooooo. Pretty much as soon as I turned back towards the start, it started getting tough. 

I stopped to have a snack and another cyclist pulled up next to me with an orange Santa Cruz Blur identical to mine. He told me he had a nickname for me, that he had been calling me "Pink Joy." "We have the same bike!" I exclaimed, and instead of telling him my name, I said, "my nickname for my bike is 'Santa Baby.'" He looked a little bit confused. "You're so joyful on this course," he told me. Perfect. That's exactly what I was trying to do, and the fact that it came across to other racers was not lost on me.

Rick and I ended up riding together for the rest of the race. He's done the Leadville 100 six times, but this was his first Silver Rush. When I asked him what he thought of the course, he told me that it's been described as "the Leadville 100 with all of the easy parts taken out." I'd heard that before. "Is it true?" I asked. He confirmed that so far, it was definitely the case.

He rode ahead of me through the Trail of Tears and told me to stay within myself and take what the trail, the bike, and my body had to give. "Come on, Pink Joy," Rick would yell. I still had to stop and catch my breath and collect myself halfway down. It was scary to try to navigate a line down the steep, loose, rocky section. But I made it!

There was some unnecessary walking.

When I reached Printer Boy, Shelly was there taking pictures and yelling. I stayed on my bike through the two large rocks. Matt recognized me this time and yelled "you did it!" and tried to give me a fist bump. (If I'd returned it, I would have fallen off my bike.) I was so excited for this small victory as I flew down the little hill to the aid station. Amy and Terri were there and they helped to refuel me again. I asked them to confirm that Rick with the Santa Cruz was indeed standing there at the aid station — I thought I had hallucinated him because his encouragement and presence on the course was helping me so much. They confirmed that he was indeed there and we headed up the four-mile hill. Just 15 miles to go.

Amy and her freezing cold ice towel at Printer Boy.

It was difficult to climb the hill, but not that difficult. I thought to myself that I'm much better at riding bikes in Leadville than I am at running there. I was scared to turn onto the rocky descent, but again Rick was in front of me, literally riding my same bike, proving to me that it could be done on the equipment that I was using. I descended well, stopping to walk on a few of the sketchier, ruttier sections. I watched a guy slide out in front of me and do a perfect cartwheel off his bike, dismounting with his arms up like a gymnast. "Did you see that?" he asked in disbelief. He was fine and his bike was fine. It was wild.

With about seven miles left the storm that had been threatening for a couple of hours finally opened up and rain poured from the sky for the last part of the race. I was soaked and frozen and my glasses were difficult to see through. As usual time had ticked away rapidly in the second part of the race, so I didn't waste time stopping to put on my raincoat. Rick had arm warmers that he'd been pulling up and down all day. I made a mental note to do the same thing at the 100 next month.

We rode though the cruel mile of single track at the end that I remember from the run (Amy called it "the bullshit section"), down the steep hill to the finish (I walked my bike down), and finally across the finish line. As I finished the race I was laughing hysterically with joy and relief. My friends were there to greet me, including Sarah, another Gravel Girl whose husband had finished hours earlier, who has been giving me advice and encouragement for Leadville all year. Other racers standing there under the tents congratulated me. I had made it across the line at 8:01, with 20 minutes to spare before the cutoff.

A failed fist bump from trail angel Rick at the finish line. 

With the help of my friends I changed my clothes. Shelly and I went back to grab some food (it was all gone at that point) and a beer. It was still raining so we didn't stand around long. We jumped into the car and started our long drive back to Texas.

I cried when I left Shelly in Amarillo to continue on my own to Little Rock. It was just such a joyful weekend. I'm so grateful to my friends, new and old, for making this experience so incredibly positive. I'm so grateful to my coach, Nell Rojas, for helping me become a mountain biker over the past year. I know that the Leadville 100 mountain bike race will be really, really hard, and I'm so motivated to train for the next few weeks to get as strong as I can to do all of those climbs and descents. I know that if I keep the positive attitude and bring "Pink Joy" to the race with me like I did at the Silver Rush, that I'll have a good day out there. I can't wait.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Summer of Leadville 2022: Leadville Marathon Race Report

With 40 minutes left before the final cutoff of 3:30 pm, I was rushing towards the finish line of the Leadville Marathon, fully aware that I was in trouble with time. My friends were expecting me in ten minutes based on my prediction from previous finish times (8:03 in 2018, 7:57 last year) but I was three miles away from the finish. My Lead Challenge was almost over before it even began. 

When I signed up for the Lead Challenge in December, I was confident about running and very, very intimidated by the 100 mile mountain bike race. I was so intimidated, in fact, that when given the choice of a 50 mile run or a 50 mile MTB ride at the Silver Rush race in July, I selected the run option.

Who would have known that six months later, I'd be feeling so much stronger and more confident on the bike, but feeling weak and wobbly on the run. Moving to a new home in February meant new running routes, most of which are asphalt and concrete. As my training ramped up, running on hard surfaces started to take its toll on my body. Then I fell off my bike a couple of times, as you do when you're learning to ride a mountain bike. Then I fell twice during a trail run. All of these things led to an injured right knee in April. 

It's still hard to even type the word "injured." After being in denial about it for longer than I should have (aka wasting two weeks wishing it away), I spent two months at PT rehabbing my knee and strengthening the muscles around it. I could only run short distances every other day. I felt super strong biking, but I really questioned my ability to run the marathon. 

Eventually, one week before the race, I went out and ran 12 miles on trails - my first "real" training run for the race. My knee was fine, but my feet and legs were very sore afterwards just from the time on my feet. I knew that my body would be feeling miserable for at least the last half of the marathon. I also knew from prior experience last year (stress fracture in February) that it's possible to do this marathon off a lot of bike volume and not a lot of running.

I was really excited to get up to Leadville, but I was also really nervous about how my body would feel. Would it be impossible to breathe? I live at sea level now. I flew into Denver on Thursday and stayed the night in Lafayette with my lovely former neighbors Lindsey and Mackenzie. It felt really weird to be back in my old apartment complex. Lindsey and I headed out for a shakeout run on Friday morning, and I loved running on one of my old routes and saying hi to the prairie dogs and bunnies that I've missed so much! I was happy to note that running felt pretty normal in Lafayette, in fact, it felt better than running in Little Rock's heat and humidity! This was a good sign.

Lindsey and I drove up to Leadville on Friday afternoon. We checked into our perfectly located airbnb and headed over to the expo. I was thrilled to get to meet my Team SFQ teammate, Kara, and to see my former BSR teammate Zach, his fabulous wife LindsAy, and their ridiculously cute puppies. We also took the opportunity to meet ultrarunning legend Courtney Dauwalter. The exchange went something like this:

Courtney: Hi, what's your name?
Me: Hi, I'm Kris.
Courtney: Hi Kris. I'm Courtney.
Lindsey: *shakes head, apologizes on behalf of her friend

Lindsey and I headed back to the airbnb and got our stuff ready for the next day. We made our own dinner (she had pasta, I had my favorite meal of late: rice, eggs, and avocado). We watched some TV and went to bed fairly early.

Race morning came around and before we knew it we were off and running. I knew what to do. You just have to keep moving and spend as little time as possible at zero miles per hour. I preach this all the time. That turned out to be hard to do with so much socializing happening on the course. My absolute favorite thing about the day was that every few miles I got to see someone I knew. But even knowing a lot of people out on the course, I basically spent the whole day alone. I was moving slower than usual. I'll blame the altitude and my lack of run training.

Josie! My wonderful friend from Lakewood Masters, who crewed me at the 100 run in 2018!

Jess, my Gravel Girl friend!

Holy cow, y'all. I think it took me SIX YEARS to meet Cheryl Miller in person, of course I was going to stop for a photo.

The race starts at 10,200 feet in Leadville and then climbs up to 13,200 feet at the top of Mosquito Pass. There are some other climbs and descents in there as well, so you end up with 6,000 feet of gain by the end of 26.2 miles. As usual, I felt better climbing than descending. I had my poles with me and I pulled them out at the bottom of Mosquito Pass for the climb. I used them for the rest of the day - they were more useful for descending than climbing. I used them as makeshift crutches to protect my knee. 

I saw Lindsey running back down the pass as I was heading up, on her way to fourth place overall female and first in her age group. Then I saw Josie and Kara on their way back down. Finally, as I was reaching the top of Mosquito Pass, I saw Zach on his way down. He stopped and said we should take a picture. "I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS, ZACH," I yelled, "I have to make the cutoff!" But he had his phone out so I stopped to snap a pic.

Zach commented later that he was worried I'd miss the cut by a minute and then he'd feel responsible.

I was four hours and 30 minutes into the race when I reached the turnaround point. I didn't even stop to take a selfie at the top of the pass. I knew I was in trouble with time. I hurried down as fast as my legs and poles could carry me. I stopped at a porta-potty at mile 20 and then headed up the Trail of Tears, the one-mile segment that is straight up a steep hill, with loose rocks and no good line to take. I saw a man sitting on the side of the path about 3/4 of the way up. I told him he had a quarter of a mile to go. A few minutes later, he passed me on the descent, jokingly complaining that it had been more than a quarter of a mile. We had about four miles left to go.

At this point, I switched my watch from race time to show the time of day. I knew the finish line cutoff was at 3:30. I kept moving forward, slower than I'd like, but my legs were done. Approaching the final aid station, there was a volunteer standing at the top of the hill. "Once you pass me, it's less than three miles to go," he said. I looked at my watch. I had 40 minutes left. I know how great I am at wasting time on Leadville race courses. I thought to myself that it would be completely humiliating to not even officially finish the first race of the Lead Challenge. 

Passing the aid station, I saw someone lying on the side of the trail ahead of me. It was the man who had passed me earlier. I yelled to the volunteers that there was someone in trouble. They rushed up to help him and I heard him protesting: "I'm just resting." A few minutes later, I guess he was fine because he ran by me, telling me to hurry up, that the race was almost over. What the heck. 

I ran as fast as I could towards the finish and counted down the miles. My quads, feet, and calves were burning.

My watch buzzed: It was a text message from Shelly. "I'm thinking about you." I ran, grateful for the encouragement, grateful to her for somehow knowing that I'd need it.

My watch buzzed: It was an Instagram message from Jess. She was sharing the pictures we'd taken on the course. Great, but uggh. I still had more than a mile to go.

My watch buzzed again: It was Lindsey calling. God DAMMIT Lindsey do not call me to ask me where I am and why I'm not done yet. (I love you Lindsey.) 

As I approached the final descent into town, I knew I was going to make the cut. Lindsey and Kara greeted me and ran in the last tenth of a mile to the finish with me. The time limit had been extended for some reason - we had been given an extra three minutes. I crossed the line at 3:25. I'd made the cut by 8 minutes.

My teammate, Kara, who had finished an hour earlier. And Lindsey running in her slippers.

I am so grateful to my amazing coach Nell Rojas who got me to this start line. I know that with her guidance I'm in good shape for the rest of this series. I'm thankful for my amazing friends and Team SFQ teammates who cheered and supported both in person and from a distance. And I'm so grateful to have a husband who understands me and supports this training that's taking hours of my time (I'm also grateful that he's not mad at me for being faster on the bike now than he is. 😉 )

My love.

I'm so happy and relieved to still be in the Lead Challenge. As long as you start one race, you get to start the next one. I just really, really, really want to finish all of them. My next start is the mountain bike race (yes, that's right, I switched from the run to the bike) at the Silver Rush on July 10. 

Wish me luck because I'm going to need it! 💕