Leadville...The Calm Before the Storm [2 of 4]

Posted: 08/16/2000 by Scott Anthony


My arrival in Leadville, CO was proceeded by the most beautiful drive up through the Arkansas River Valley. The sight of so many fourteeners (huge chunks of ground in excess of 14,000') was breathtaking. Or was that just the lack of oxygen??? The sights were very nice and so is Leadville in a quirky, old mining town kinda way.

Not much to it, but huge elevation. 10,158' is the official count. The cabin that I was sharing with another racer, and acquaintance, soon to be good friend, was at 10,500' on a hill overlooking town. Hill.....the whole place was a hill. I couldn't find a piece of level ground to do any "spin" work no matter how hard I looked. The first day I was there....I got winded walking from the kitchen to my bed in the cabin. Not a good sign, but I guess that is why I came up a week ahead of time to acclimate.

Out at night, I was stunned at the clarity of the Milky Way. It looked so dense and close......as if you could reach out and grab a "chunk". (Again, oxygen deprivation at work) The air was crisp......and soooo thin. Sometimes I had to pace my breathing just walking up the road from town.

My trainer, JR, wanted me to go out and do a 45 min spin ride, to include 5, 1 minute sprints. This was on Monday. I was supposed to do this each day, decreasing the sprints by 1 each day, until Friday, which would just be a 15 min. spin. Well, I went out on Monday full of myself. Urged on by 3 cups of coffee that could pass as poor man's espresso, I headed out. I was feeling good....and couldn't wait to get on the bike. And 1 minute sprints.......this is gonna be a piece of cake.

Yeah, right! After the first one, which was downhill, I thought that I had swallowed a bunch of fire ants. My lungs were absolutely on fire! I recovered for a few minutes and did another. Suffering through each one, like I was going to pass out and fall off my bike at any minute....I dragged myself back to the cabin. Mark looked at me as I walked, drug my bike inside, and immediately asked if I was ok. I sat down and the world finally stopped spinning. I was starting to get scared. This was not going to work. There is no air up here!

I had become very reverent concerning this race a long time ago. I had the elevation profile on the bulletin board next to my desk at work. On a scrap piece of paper next to it, I had jotted the pertinent statistics. Start....just over 10,000'. Mileage.....100 miles. Approximate climbing.....over 11,000'. Highest elevation.....12,600'.

I stared at this so often that I could repeat the stats in my sleep.....and probably did. Now I was here, and I couldn't even put in a "hard" effort for a minute without wanting to crawl away whimpering. Well, all I could do was wait. So, the next day I tried again. And what do you know.....it wasn't as bad. Hey this is working! The sprints were opening up my lungs and allowing me to breathe deeper.

The only problem with all of this, was the waiting. JR had told me ...."Do nothing else! Eat, sleep, rest, and only the workouts that I specify." Mark and I were going nuts. He had been there for 3 days before me and we were just supposed to be "hanging out." Well, we decided a little back country exploring was in order. We took my subaru up the climb to Columbine Mine. This is the climb that goes from 9200' to 12,600' in 8 miles. Well, the trusty car made it up the 6 miles of fire road, but the last 2 miles got too rough. So we decided to hike.

Well, tree line stopped at just over 11,000 and the air wasn't getting any thicker. As the veteran, Mark, is pointing out lines....I am panting and wondering how it could be possible to ride a bike up this mountain. Especially, after riding over 40 miles to get here......and then ride 50 miles back???? Oh my god! What did I get myself into? Scared, but knowing there is no turning back now, we continue to climb. He comforts me by saying that most people are walking these sections on race day anyhow.....it is just as fast as trying to ride them he says. He was right!

Wednesday, I wake up to legs that feel like cement from the previous day's hike. Crap! Now, I know why JR didn't want me doing anything else. Mark and I decide to go out and do a very easy spin. We do.....no efforts worthy of mention, just loosening up the legs. Thursday, I toe the line. I do my 2 sprints and 45 min. of spin work. The first one scares me, because I don't have any "snap" in my legs and my lungs hurt again, but the second sprint which is uphill, feels much better. I ride back to the cabin feeling good.

Earlier in the week I had visited the Leadville Trail 100 merchandise store. While there, I purchased the only jersey that I have ever paid "full" price for. The Leadville 100 Jersey cost me $70 and is beautiful. I told myself, not like I hadn't already committed to it, but now I really had to finish to earn the "right" to wear this jersey.

Sylvia and Michael made it up Thursday night and we all feasted on BBQ'd chicken breasts, mounds of pasta and vegetables and a huge tossed salad. Tomorrow was the big day. Time to register and the final preparations begin.

Friday was here and we went down to get registered. During the orientation speech, the race director did a little "pep talk." The jist of it being that you are better than you think you are and that you can do more than you think you can. I don't think anyone else saw me, but I shed some tears. I wanted this so bad. I wanted to prove to myself....nobody else... to me, that cancer did not take me down; that it reshaped, remolded, and improved the temper of the blade. I wanted to go do this race, to finish, cross that finishline with hands held up high. I wanted this worse than any event that I have ever been involved with. This wasn't just about a bike race. This race would be my freedom from the shackles of cancer.

In the crazy mass of people Will spotted me and that awesome CCC T-shirt. We chatted briefly during and then after the orientation meeting. It was wonderful to meet Will and his wife. My only regret for the weekend....not having more time to get to know Will better. Pictures were taken and then the game faces were back on and it was back up to the cabin.

One of the things that I noticed was the mood and the way that the fellow racers interacted with each other. There was none of the "bravado" and "posturing" that is so often evident at the more "typical" mtb races. There seemed to be enormous general respect for each other and racers were often heard telling each other things like: "Be careful out there" and "Just remember, it is a long day". This just reinforced my impression, that I was in for the ride of my life. I never heard anyone say....."Yeah, lets go kick some butt", or anything like that......Again, the weight of the deed ahead felt very heavy.

Back at the cabin, Mark and I made final preparations. We rechecked every bolt and nut on the bikes. I packed all of my food and clothes into boxes for my crew. I went over the instructions for my crew: What I wanted them to hand me at each aid station, what they needed to remind me to do (EAT!!!), it was all choreographed. I had talked to every person I could get a hold of about strategy. What to eat, how often. What to wear, what to pack. What emergency supplies to have on hand. I had lived, breathed and ate everything I could find on this race. I felt like it was now a part of me........but I was mistaken......I was about to be a part of it!

Strangely, the anxiety of waiting, was being replaced. A calmness fell over me as I went to sleep...knowing that the day that I had waited almost a year for, was finally here.......



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