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by Karen Jarchow on August 17, 2011
Many of you may have read Chris Hobb's recap of the Leadville 100. Hats off to both he and Scott who had a great day and finished very strong. My day and recap may not be as bright and cheery, but hope you find some enjoyment and maybe a little inspiration to push through when times get rough. Like Chris, I apologize as this post will be pretty long.
So, first of all how did I get myself into this? Well, a few weeks ago I thought it would be a great idea to do a Leadville Qualifying race in Tahoe. Since moving away, I've been a bit homesick and thought the best of both worlds would be to race and visit the friendly faces of home. I pulled off a decent time and placed in Tahoe to get me a spot in Leadville, so blindly I took it. Little did I know that although a 100k race took me little training and commitment, a 100 mile race above 10,000ft would take much more to perform at what I feel my ability would be. A painful lesson I'll never forget.
The days leading up to the race I didn't really feel 100%. I have acquired this new feeling called "stress"; that tightness in the chest, never fully rested feeling that seems to infest your day to day with a big move, and lots of new variables that have taken more of a toll than I let myself think. When it came to race day, I knew I wasn't where I needed to be physically to do my best but my stubborn nature still convinced myself this was going to be great and I was feeling fresh as a daisy.
The gun went off to start this 100 mile tour of Leadville, and the day in the saddle began. It was a relatively fast pace but being in a big pack I was able to suck some wheels to the dirt of the first climb up St. Kevins. Normally I love climbing. Typically feeling fast and light up steep terrain, but on this day I was feeling more like I was inching a downhill bike up Vail Pass while breathing through a straw. This is where I kept telling myself to smile, it hurts less when you smile. Bummer this technique wasn't quite working.
After the second climb, I kept looking forward to descending Powerline knowing it was a bit of a relief. Little did I know that falling back in the pack would prevent any kind of "letting go" or fun on the descent. So, there started the first of many "factory line" scenes of the day. Hitting the bottom of the descent and rolling on I tried to keep telling myself I'd start to feel better, I'd catch my breath, and my legs would wake up. Rolling along, I came to the first familiar face and sign of salvage; Colorado friend, athlete, and general great support Rachel. I'm not sure what overcame me, but as I stopped and shed my vest gave her a hug, I couldn't catch my breathing and started hyperventilating; a repeat of what had already happened a couple times prior to seeing Rach. Gasping for words I asked how far the next aid station was where our other friend Amy and her family were waiting. I didn't think I could make it. Thoughts of quitting #1. Rachel wouldn't listen to my whimpering and pushed me back on my bike. True friend.
More pedaling and more hurting... my concept of time or anything fun during the two stations are inexistent. Rolling through Twin Lakes gave me a touch of energy as crowds of support lined each side of the road. With blurs of cheers on either side, trying to smile, and have some fun I pedaled through knowing Amy and family were past all the crowds closer to the climb of Columbine. Seeing the familiar faces, I got off my bike and immediately said, "I'm done"..."this isn't fun"... and the tears rolled. "There's no crying in baseball" ?!?! Quitting attempt#2. Little did I know, Amy wouldn't take pity on my weakness, and wouldn't have any of my rantings. Another true friend. I went back to my bike with my tail between my legs and told myself, "just go to the top and enjoy the view, you can quit after that". I rolled on.
[Amy Owens is a good friend of mine from Colorado and general badass. She's completed LT100 two years in a row now on a single speed. Yes, one gear. She's been a great support through this last minute decision on doing the race with her detailed emails on what to expect. Everyone in the Vail community knows her as both mentally and physically strong, which has been tested with health complications resulting in recent brain surgery, and preventing her from competing this year. Her attitude towards it all is a tremendous inspiration. The hardest part about wanting to quit was and still is having shown weakness around someone so strong.]
The climb up Columbine was demoralizing, and a great time to start the day of cramping. Both adductors were on a time clock of cramping every 20 minutes, I'd attempt to pedal through, then have to get off my bike and try trigger points to get my muscles to stop jumping around. As I'd attempt to pedal through it, this is where not one but two men at different parts of the climb passed me and said, "Aren't you the girl from Tahoe, aren't you suppose to be fast?!?". Thanks guys. After a far too long stretch of "factory line" Columbine hiking that I had just ridden a few days prior...and I was finally at the top. As I sat there with a view of the rest of the course, I thought to myself, I'm done... this is stupid; not healthy, what am I doing? Quit attempt#3. With a quick descent back to Amy and her family, I was hyperventilating again and everything hurt. Attempt#4. This is where my thoughts went from "this is stupid" to "this is horrible". With Amy, Rachel, and Jon's coaching and trickery I was convinced to "spin" to Pipeline. Amy's words, "It's all downhill to the next stop".... lies.
I don't remember much of the next stretch, and as I came to my friends again I put my bike down and said, "you can't trick me this time, I'm really done". Attempt #5. I curled up into a ball as my muscles were all locked up and apparently it was really hot as all I asked for was ice. This is truly the worse I've ever felt on my bike; dizzy, sick, cramping not to mention emotionally a wreck. "Hot mess express" and "that girl" could be used to describe my state. Once again, I was tricked by my friends. This time it was Amy's soon to be 7 year old who fooled me into getting back on my bike with this statement.
"Karen... when I'm at a really long day at soccer camp... and... I'm really tired... and want to go home... I don't quit."
I had to go on. Well, I went on with the promise from Jon that if I were still feeling so terrible a half mile down the road that they'd be right behind me to pick me up. So, I rolled a half mile down the road with continuous cramps. Got off my bike... and shamefully laid on the side of the road, cramping, and waiting. Attempt#6. They never came. Tricked again.
Back on the bike, and the pain actually let up a little. Knowing I was stuck to finish, my perspective started to switch. I got closer to the Powerline climb and knowing people would be there, I couldn't be such a wimp anymore. That's when I took a PBR handoff from the shirtless drunk guy running alongside the trail, my smile was back, and climbed the lower portion of Powerline passing the "factory line" of hikers. I vaguely remember one man saying, "I thought you were dead on the side of the road... now you're riding this!?!?". The power of PBR and a smile I suppose?
Fast Forward to not much descending, more cramping, and two more attempts at quitting, and I could see the finish line! Delirious, dehydrated, and just disappointed in myself I happily handed my bike away and went straight to my friends. I finished in 10:59, and hour before the cut off. Medal, belt buckle, cold beer, and great company... my smile was back; but was still cursing the race.
This has been my first disappointing performance and has taken me a few days to process it all. First lesson is that this is not the kind of race to just jump into. I'm far too new to racing to not race all summer and decide to do the LT100 3 weeks before race day. The next, is an obvious one and one any endurance athlete knows. EAT! 400 calories is not enough for 100 miles above 10,000 ft... if you're not hungry, you have no option but to force food. Proper nutrition in a race like this is crucial. Another lesson is a great point brought up to me by Josiah Middaugh a top national XTERRA athlete and friend. "Take away what you can. You don't learn anything from winning." This phrase along with encouraging words from many good friends in Colorado made me really think and process not only the race, but everything each painful pedal stroke brought up throughout the day.
I'm still processing it all... but the most important part of the week being back to Colorado made me realize how fortunate I am to have such a supportive family, group of friends, and community believing in me. I can't be so rough on myself and have to look back and just be happy with finishing, regardless of how long it took me. I also need to let go of other people's expectations, opinions, and comments; I don't race for these reasons so why should I let it get to me so much? HTFU
So, there you have it. I'm sorry it's not all stars and stripes, butterflies and rainbows... but that was my day and its in the books. Thank you to the amazing friends and family who were there to help me through it. Not to mention all the kind words of encouragement pre and post race from the Bay Area.
Just remember, "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly know how far you can go." - TS Eliot.
I'll see this race again.