Early in 2013 a group of 30+ Vision Quest (http://www.visionquestcoaching.com/) athletes had signed up to do the Leadville 100 MTB race many were roadies, some were triathletes (me) some were avid mountain bikers. I did have a little background in mountain biking but it was a long time ago and pre-diabetes. At the info meeting I found out that there was another t1 diabetic amongst us, what were the chances. Eric, was dx’d just a couple of years back just before this very race. As I would find out, mountain biking certainly brought whole new level of effort to controlling blood sugars during riding. The last time I mountain biked I didn’t have diabetes. At the time I asked Robbie Ventura (vision quest owner) if I was crazy to do this, he admitted he had his doubts and told me I’d need to execute training perfectly. I appreciated his honesty. It just meant I’d need to work extra hard.
Anyway, we/I followed a rigorous training schedule, some of us went to the 4 day camp where we rode the course and got tips from the likes of Dave Wiens and Todd Murray. I didn’t get in by lottery and didn’t get in by qualifying so my only option was to go to camp (basically paid to get in). Camp proved to be well worth it from a confidence stand point for me. You can find my rides on http://www.strava.com/activities/75414630#. Based on my times at camp I knew that i had a chance of finishing. For camp, I had spent some time in Boulder and Vail prior to getting to Leadville which I think aided me with the acclimating to the altitude for camp. See my post here for https://endurancediabetic.com/2013/07/04/leadville-training-weeks/ for more on that trip.
The following is my long winded recount of race day.
My main concerns prior to the start of the race were as follows in no particular order:
- Making the first twin lakes cut-off (4hours)
- The small chain ring that had been replaced just prior to the race
- How I was going to react to altitude.
- Getting a flat.
- How my blood sugar would be.
- The expected weather for race day was not looking good. Very cold and rainy.
- My camelback was too heavy (VQ’er Dave Noda always joked that i was carrying around a tent in there) early on i had gone with the Osprey Synchro which allow me 300 litres of water, tools, extra jacket and gloves and had a mesh back keep allowing air to pass through the back . http://www.ospreypacks.com/en/product/hydration_packs__osprey_hydraulics_1/syncro_10
- I was too heavy and should have lost more lb’s prior to the race. I really tried but couldn’t lose those extra pounds. Thankfully my Trek superfly was superlight.
- The downhill’s, I hadn’t practiced once since the camp. The one piece of advice Dave Wiens told us to do after camp was to practice the downhills.
I had tracked my blood sugars during camp using my constant glucose monitor the dexcom. As you can see in the links below the main days of camp Friday and Saturday look like the ride itself with highs above 300’s. My inexperience with mountain biking and controlling blood sugars showed. Unfortunately there was no way to replicate the conditions in Leadville in Chicago so practicing was out of the question. I had planned to wear the monitor on race day but I had forgotten it.
We arrived in Leadville on Friday morning, the day before the race. I had Eric – bike guy extraordinaire swap out my small chain ring again to a new one I had brought with me. Going against all race day rules of not changing things before a race. I got out for a short 30 minute ride doing some short 20 foot downhills on the mineral belt trail. As I was riding I heard the thunder roll in, so I raced back to the hotel and started to get ready for race day.
Getting ready involved preparing my drop bags for the aid stations, mixing my nutrition bottles and getting my clothing planned out. I had brought several pairs of bike gloves for all weather from 20 degrees to 60 degrees I also brought several throw away jackets for warm and rain, throw away pants, rain jackets, and wind jackets. You name the weather I had the jacket. I had my bags and my nutrition plan well thought out. Meal Plan
At the course talk we heard the notorioius speech of race founder Ken Chlober :
YOU ARE BETTER THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE, YOU CAN DO MORE THAN YOU THINK YOU CAN! DIG DEEP!
We were also introduced to a double arm amputee who was participating in the race. If that wasn’t motivation I don’t know what was.
How true are those words? I am a notorious self-doubter and don’t give myself credit for my hard work and determination. My coach caught on to this early in my training and encouraged me to work on positive self-talk and confidence.
At one point in my training, it was during my stay in Colorado for training I emailed my coach to say that I was thinking of backing out of the race. Basically I was scared shitless and I convinced myself that I had no business doing this race. My confidence had dropped to zero. I had been out on a couple of technical courses with a friend’s husband and crashed a couple of times, I felt like my downhill skills were terrible and I was afraid of every rock. I arrived at the course training camp (camp of champions) with some serious doubts and I’m sure I was white as a sheet with fear. The nerves were bad but the fear was paralyzing.
Camp gave me a renewed belief in myself and my abilities. Aside from my blood sugar issues I felt great and strong. I left camp feeling good and learned great downhill skills from Dave Wiens- six time Leadville champion, Lance Armstrong and ass kicker and nicest most down to earth super athlete you will ever meet.
I took a break from packing to go to the group dinner and talk. At the talk Robbie gave us some good advice. Focus on these things:
- First and foremost be safe.
- Then smile.
- Have Fun.
- Ride strong.
After dinner I felt a bit restless so I hopped on my bike and rode into town to see Melissa, who came all the way from Chicago to see the race and Clare who lives in Vail.
I shared a beer (aka I drank a beer) with Tom then head back to the hotel to finish packing. After a long day I was tired and with a 3:30 wake up I turned in at 9:30. The bed was small and soft when one of us moved the other did too. I was wide awake. I didn’t feel like it was nerves but the longer I was awake the more nervous I got and the more my mind raced.
I think I might have fallen asleep for about an hour at 2:30.
The alarm went off at 3:30, exhausted I laid in bed for another 15 minutes. I got up and started to feel nauseous. This was not a good combo- tired and nauseous. I felt so terrible that I couldn’t even drink coffee, which is rare for me. I had stopped drinking it for the week prior to get that extra boost for the race. I made my usual race breakfast – a bagel thin with Jason’s chocolate hazelnut butter and a banana. I tested at an ok BG of 210 and fully bolused for the meal. During training I had not increased my Basal for the ride so wasn’t planning on it for Leadville; typically for ironman races I will raise my basal on the bike to 120%. But those rides it is easier to control effort and heart rate.
I got dressed and grabbed my bags getting ready for freezing cold temps outside. I stepped outside and determined that it wasn’t as bad as I thought. It was still pitch black out. I walked across the street to camp central and dropped off my aid station bags. The first had a dry jersey and long sleeved top, some blocks and a mojo bar. The second bag for the twin lakes aid station had plenty of warm dry clothing just in case the weather turned on Columbine, there was a high chance that we would get rain up there. It had rained every day for the past month and combining that with a fast descent there is a chance that you could end up with hypothermia if you were not too careful. Knowing I needed to eat more I tried to choke down the oatmeal provided. I sat at a table just feeling sick to my stomach. I knew something was up as I was having some serious bathroom issues on top of the nausea. Was it something I ate or altitude sickness? I found out that Eric the other diabetic had gone to the hospital with altitude sickness and wasn’t going to race.
I ran back to the hotel to gather the rest of my things. I decided to go with the knee warmers, booties and thicker cold-weather gloves. I was better off being too warm than to cold. Then I put an old fleece over everything for the wait at the start line. It was still dark and we all rode into town together.
I knew based on my times at camp on each section of the course that I would be cutting it close with the cut-offs but even so, putting the pieces together, it wasn’t impossible for me to finish under 12 hours and claim a buckle.
I taped the following times to my top tube.
The biggest challenge would be the Twin Lakes cut-off at 4 hours. Following that the 2nd twin lakes would be easier to make and as long as I has some cushion there it only made sense that I would make the final cut-off. So in my head if I made the first twin lakes cut-off I would finish the race.
I stood in the corral on that cold morning trying my best not to throw up my breakfast, feeling every part of nauseous and sleep deprived. It was a brisk 34 degrees. I glanced down at my top tube and took a deep breath remembering who I was riding for that day. I had taped a picture to my top tube for a reminder of how lucky I am that I could even be here and although there is no cure I can still live a somewhat normal life with insulin albeit difficult.
Several months ago one of my dearest friends Katie was diagnosed with neuroendocrine carcinoma a very rare form of cancer. She walked in to get some tests for her gallbladder and walked out not knowing whether she would survive the year. They found several tumors, specifically an 8 inch one on her liver. Katie is a tiny girl an 8 inch tumor? It was inconceivable. She has now gone through 8 rounds of very strong chemo and has several more ahead of her. Katie has been very brave; despite everything she still manages to keep up appearances and still manages to attend some of Chris’ (her boyfriend) races. A lot of times she is in pain and suffers greatly but you would never know it. She has been so strong.
At one point during the race someone asked me who the picture was of. I told him and he said he would remember Katie as he rode. I was so touched. Throughout the entire race, especially at times of suffering and feeling sick I looked down at the picture and smiled and told Katie I would keep pushing for her.
The gun fired and we were off. I ditched my fleece. I saw my friend Joanne who was there supporting her husband Ian. Back when I was living in Toronto Ian and I did several long distance MTB races together on a team and several 24 hour mountain bike relay races. I was always the weakest link but gave them the co-ed status! I didn’t see Tom but saw my friend Clare as I made my way across the start line with 100’s of riders in front of me.
The first few miles are on road and downhill. The coldness cut like a knife. My hands became numb despite the hand warmers which didn’t seem to be working very well. I was also thanking god that I had shoe covers and Wind Stopper knee warmers on. As soon as we made the turn onto the dirt the crowd thickened and it was all about not crashing into someone or having someone crash into you. Then the climb up St. Kevins, a killer first climb with some tough grades of over 10%. It was a shorter climb but burning the watts now would get me later. As soon as it got too slow to ride I got off and joined the walkers up to the sharp left turn where the pitch mellowed out somewhat. I realized after about an hour I had not followed my meal plan at all. I tried to eat some blocks. I couldn’t stomach anything else. I drank some of the skratch powder mix from my camel back and tried to defrost my hands which hurt from the cold. I arrived at Carter Summit, mile 10ish in an hour and 10 minutes mile I was already behind.
The backside of Carter Summit was some road already a welcome break from the grueling rocky trails. Here I reached speeds of nearly 40 mph. It was during this section that I first saw the bride and groom. Unfortunately what goes down must come up. I reached the turn on to Hagerman’s pass a 4 mile rocky uphill with 1,100 or so feet of climbing. The prize here is the most stunning views I have ever seen. Turquoise lake glistening in the sun below. I wish I could have stopped to take a picture. I slipped into granny gear and slowly made my way up to the top knowing that I had the powerline descent after that. I had felt fairly confident on power line during camp, both going down and up. In fact was able to ride a good portion going up we’ll see if this is the case doing the course all in 1 day versus two days at camp. I crested the summit of sugarloaf pass and started the downhill of powerline, remembering Robbie’s advice to stay safe. I took the downhill fairly slow but confident. I weaved back and forth teetering on the edges of the massively deep ruts that had formed from all the rain.
All in all I made it down in 20 minutes. Happy to be on flat land again and a nice stretch of pavement to the first aid station at pipeline. I tried to draft off of a group of several riders and just missed a crash at the turn off to pipeline as a rider realized he had gone past the turn off and stopped suddenly causing the rider behind him to crash into him.
I arrived at the pipeline aid station a hair under 3 hours. I was close to 15 minutes behind schedule and I knew based on camp that my time to Twin Lakes from here would be at least an hour. Not much time to waste. I felt honored and privileged to have Allen Lim from Skratch Labs there to support our team. Previous to developing Skratch, Allen worked with top American cyclists including Team Garmin and Radio Shack and the Tour de France. How cool is that, here he is helping little old me! Allen develops recipes and clean foods to fuel riders during races. I just love his cook books The Feed Zone and The Feed Zone Portables. http://www.skratchlabs.com/products/feed-zone-portables Unfortunately today I wasn’t able to enjoy his awesome and famous rice cakes because of my nausea, totally unlike me as I’m used to eating anything and everything during a race. Just as important was the friendly face of Dick the mechanic from Trek Highland Park, who got my bag and helped me with what I needed. I tested my blood sugar. Wham! A whopping 400. During my ride I had thought I felt the unmistakable feeling of the cannula (small tube inserted into abdomen administering insulin from pump) from my insertion site rubbing on something. It feels like a burn, I picture it as rubbing against one of my organs (this is not the case but this is what I picture) and as such the insulin stream somehow being blocked although I wasn’t getting any error signals. In my panic I whipped out my syringe and insulin vial and gave myself 5 units of insulin. That is right FIVE!!! For those diabetic endurance athletes out there you will know that this is WAY too much. I just knew that if I didn’t take any insulin I wouldn’t be able to eat and without eating now I definitely wouldn’t finish the race. It didn’t even click in about what I did until much later. Not having much time I quickly ran to the porta potty stripped down peed then re-dressed and hopped on my bike.
I headed off trying not to think negatively but also trying to come to terms with the possibility of not making the cut-off. I didn’t want to let myself or my team down. I know that I was an underdog going into this and even had Robbie express his doubts to him when I signed up. I wanted to prove to myself and to him that I could do this. I wasn’t giving up quite yet. It was during the ride to Twin Lakes that I met my on line Facebook pal Jacque Felt. We both were coming from the Midwest and had similar capabilities although I think she definitely had better mountain biking experience! She recognized me and called me out. We chatted for a while then continued on our way. It was close to here that I saw the lead riders making their way back to Leadville. Holy Cow! They had already been up Columbine and back… how depressing. The route to twin lakes was no piece of cake either especially coming from the mid west. There were some decently long climbs albeit with less of a pitch than other parts of the race. As I approached Twin Lakes I had my eye on my watch it was going to be close. I pushed as hard as I could to get there in time, not something you really want to do 40 miles into a 100 mile race but I needed to push it to get to the cut off. As I approached the aid station with rows of tents and cow bells out of the corner of my eye I saw a lone man standing in a crop of grass near the turn off on to the dam. It was Eric, I yelled to him he yelled back “go get em girl you are going to make it!!” Really? Was I going to make the cut off? Seeing him made me sad that he wasn’t out there but it gave me that extra motivation to make him proud. I hammered past the crowd not knowing how close I was and not knowing how strict they were about the time cut off. I did not want to be that person in the movie that was the first to not make the cut off. I sped past the large inflatable arch and grinned ear to ear… I had made it. I made the cut off!! Ok milestone 1 – check!! From here I settled down a bit and got my heart rate back to normal. Knowing I only had a few miles to go before the next skratch aid station where Tom, Clare and Melissa would be. Nothing was more comforting that knowing that Tom was going to be there.
As I rolled across the farm land, I heard the unmistakable bark of a dog. It was Clare’s dog Beacon.
We had become close friends during my stay in Vail earlier in July. This time he did not have his cone on. I yelled at Clare as she cheered and cheered. Happy times. A few hundred yards down a dirt road I could see the skratch tent. I pulled up and gave Tom a huge hug. I was still reeling in the glory of making the first cut off. I got off my bike and tested my blood sugar it was 115 but my worry was that it was still dropping and I still wasn’t able to eat much. I had been choking down the blocks and drinking the skratch. I tried to eat a rice cake also. As I was sitting in the chair Robbie came whizzing by, wow, he is amazing. I saw my coach’s family and asked how he was doing, the said he was expected soon and he was doing fine. Yay Mike! As I stood there Jacque went whizzing by, she made the cut off, we ended up playing cat and mouse quite a bit. Seeing another familiar face from a previous VQ camp – Kelly Oliver also filled me with motivation. I hoped on my bike and started on the route to the top of Columbine a 7 mile 2000 foot climb at an average grade of over 7%. It didn’t scare me because I had done it before but I still felt sick and the last time I had done it my blood sugar went terribly low.
Remembering the effort at camp I slowly made my way up the switch backs (10!!) and passed several folks on the way up as more and more people were walking. The best part of the climb was seeing my team mates speeding downhill towards home. I saw Mike, my coach, Carlos, Kris (the other girl on the team who is a rockstar), Noda and a few others. As I climbed I could feel the unmistakable tremors in my hands and heart from low blood sugar. I was a couple of miles still from the top, just passed the tree line I stopped and tested, yep I was 50, damn 5 units of insulin. I quickly inhaled a MOJO bar and some blocks and started walking and sipping my skratch…. I walked and walked then tried to ride for a bit but it wasn’t happening I got off and walked again. It is here where the trail gets really rocky and rutty, they call it the goat trail. It was a long 2 miles. It is during this 2 miles that digging deep was necessary… I could hear people talk about the time and cut off issues, I saw riders crying as they tried to keep going it was the worst 2 miles of my life and it took me an hour of the two hours it took me to get to the top. I got to the top and sat, I told the volunteer I was diabetic and he got me medical attention. They were so, so kind. They got me coke and watermelon and m&m’s I just inhaled it all. He asked what my BG was and if I had done something similar to this race, obviously trying to gage what my experience was and if I should continue. By the time I left his chair I was up at 90 BG. Safe enough to keep going.
I had later emailed the medical staff to thank them for their help. The head medic was excited that people with type 1 diabetes were now able to compete in such events with the help of all the new technology. It is so true, without my tester and insulin pump doing these races would be that much difficult. I am thankful every day for the research and money that gets donated to the cause so that I can live a normal life and compete in these races. One of the medics even remembered me and gave me kudos for being there, I really feel lucky. I also got to see the bride and groom again, who were actually getting married at the top of columbine! The picture is me during camp at the top of Columbine.
Unfortunately once again I was going to have a cut off issue. I had 1 hour to get down Columbine, past the aid station and to twin lakes. This nervous tension about the cut off was getting old! Although I had made it down powerline, I still needed to make it down Columbine. I clipped in and summoned my inner Dave Wiens remembering his tips, keep my head over my handle bars, keep my head straight and move the bike, keep my legs engaged and my arms loose, look down the road then immediately in front keep looking ahead then look down, lay off the brakes for as long as you can then feather the brakes to slow down, keep doing this on and off. The biggest lesson of all “trust the 29ers”. This was so true, if you let those brakes go those baby’s will roll over just about anything! The downhill is, well, 7 miles; you don’t want to be holding the brakes for 7 miles. I felt a little discouraged knowing that the 15 minutes sitting recovering was going to cost me. There are some tough rocky sections and some not so tough sections, luckily my inner Dave Wiens ruled and I felt good and confident the whole way down picking up to speeds of 27 mph, the nice thing about being so slow is that there is little or no uphill traffic so you can take nice wide turns. I made it down in 30 minutes.
Back at the aid station I didn’t waste much time a quick hug and kiss and hello and I was off to twin lakes. I tried to eat a rice cake and put one in my jersey for later. I still wasn’t keen on eating and was trying to drink as much skratch as possible, I think in the end it saved me. I also tested at 150. Good and normal. I remember saying I didn’t think I was going to make the cut-off but they all said I could. I pulled back into twin lakes at 2 pm 15 minutes shy of the cut-off. And about 15 minutes behind schedule. But I had cushion! I had an hour and 15 minutes to get to the next cut-off. This time it was climbing up the single track and up lil’stinker a small nubbin of a hill with a steep grade. I remember pulling into pipeline aid station during camp feeling great and strong, I hope this was the case this time.
I was watching the clock again, I’m not sure where I “lost” the 15 minutes during my trip from twin lakes but I did. A few hundred yards (not exactly sure) from the inflatable arch marking the cutoff people started yelling go go go! I had only a few minutes left for the cut-off. I literally sprinted for what seemed an eternity. I truly thought I it was 4th and inches. Mile 74 and I was sprinting. The results show that I came across the cut-off with 1 minute to spare at 15:14 with a cut off of 15:15. I felt bad for the folks behind me thinking that they were not going to make it.
I pulled up to the side after the timing mat heaving to catch my breath. I definitely burnt a match or two sprinting to make the cut off, hell I may even have burned an entire match book. I just remember Allen Lim running after me and telling me that he’d be right back. He then ran back to the tent and came back with a bag full of goodies. As I was standing there i ate some delicious orange wedges, one after the other and the volunteer taking all my peels. I also remember drinking from a tiny coke bottle that Allen gave me, it was so good. I tested again and was at 80, I had not been eating enough. Allen told me that I was going to finish, I squeaked out am I? He said yes! I finally caught my breath, although it cost me another 15 minutes. As I was standing there I noticed that other riders will still riding by, I guess they were not so strict on the cut-off after all, oh well. I left Pipeline knowing that there was no more cut-offs just the 13 hour cut-off , surely I could ride the last 26 miles in 4 hours and 15 minutes right? However, I was not home free, there were still some daunting uphills ahead, remember when I said I was flying down one hill at 40 mph well now it was time to pay the piper, meet my maker and ride up said hill. Also remember the technical powerline I so proudly rode down without falling? Well now, I had to go up that also. Oh no folks, there was not get out of jail free card here, there was some tough road ahead.
The 6 mile ride to the base of powerline was windy and unforgivable, this was supposed to be an easy section but my mph did not translate. I tried to drink, I hadn’t even gone through a 5th of what calories I had planned and still felt ill. I just kept thinking of the finish line and thinking, I will throw up then. What?!
The turn off to powerline arrived before long and I headed down the dusty road and started up the treacherous climb, a 3 mile 1600 foot climb with an average grade of 7% or so. I probably lasted about 10 minutes before I had to get off and walk. The bottom of the climb is steep getting up past 10% grade. This is where it all starts. I looked at my watch still plenty of time, I think I even considered at that time that I might make the 12 hour cut off! I had 2 ½ hours to go 20 miles… surely that was doable! Surely!
As I made my way up I couldn’t help but be amazed that I actually was able to ride down this puppy. It looked way more treacherous on the way up than it did coming down. Edges were narrow and the ruts seemed to be 2 feet deep, no joke. In most cased there were two huge ruts, an outside edge, a huge rut, a middle piece of land, and then another huge rut followed by another edge. Picture a big W shape. I followed the trail trying to keep myself up right and moving forward. Yes, simple things that you might take for granted were difficult. I was by myself for most of it, passing a couple of people but other than that I was a long ranger on a death march. Literally, it felt like a death march. Oh, we were told about the false flats (9 of them) and the fake down hills and although I had ridden it before it was like a whole different trail, last time I was able to ride up parts of it and felt pretty good about it. Here I tried to ride up as much as I could but inevitably my wheel would catch a large rock or rut and I didn’t have the power in my legs to push through. So off the bike I got. It truly never seemed to end. It took me 1 hour to go 3 miles. So much for the 12 hour buckle but surely I had enough time to get in under the 13 hour cut off! Nothing was for sure any more.
You might think, great now it’s a downhill section. Well, this brought new challenges; Hagerman’s pass is extremely long and extremely rocky. There never seemed to be an easy line it was not stop pummeling. My arms, neck shoulders and body could barely take the beating. It was never ending. I don’t know what was worse the walk up powerline or the bump and grind of going down. At the bottom of the pass was the gravel road to the 5 mile stretch of road before St. Kevins. At mile 88 I began the uphill climb on the road this stretch was 1000 foot climb at close to a 5% grade for 4 or so miles with some parts getting up to nearly 7%. I remember passing an older man who was walking his bike, it turned out he was the oldest rider that day. I don’t remember exactly how old but I want to say 70’s. Woo hoo I beat a 70 year old… ha! Although it was on road and not to steep it also felt never ending as the road snaked around, again always thinking, ok just around this bend and it’ll be over but the road just kept coming and coming. Up and up. As I waivered I looked down to see Katie’s smiling face and kept going.
Finally I reached the turnoff towards the aid station at Carters Summit, I had no idea what to eat nothing seemed good, the only thing I asked for was coke. They had run out. I ate watermelon which tasted pretty good and grabbed a handful of M&M’s and shoved them in my mouth half chewing half spitting them out. It couldn’t have been a pretty sight!
10 miles to go and I had an hour and 15 minutes to do it in with a big downhill coming up and relatively flat until a mile or two out. I was shocked that it had taken me this long to get to this point. Well, I certainly wasn’t going to “buckle” but I certainly could finish in an hour and 15 to make the 13 hour cut off right? I wasn’t making any presumptions at this point.
I made my way towards the top of the first St. Kevins climb, where I had been 12 hours ago. Wow, I had been doing this for 12 hours. There were some steep short climbs at the top then a nice steep descent. I made it down nice and quick, it felt good. Then made my way on the dirt path to the trail, which seemed to take forever, I crossed over the cow grates and thought that I was home free. Seriously, this was not home free, the dirt road was sandy making it hard to ride on, a few miles later I got to the road then off the road on to another dirt road the route followed the tracks for a few miles, I remember Todd at camp a 20X Leadville finisher warning me about this section and saying, it isn’t over yet. Well as you turn off this road onto another dirt trail known as the Boulevard you hit a steep pitched hill requiring further dismounting then its uphill for about 3.5 miles. As I watched the clock tick I truly questioned if I was even going to finish in 13 hours. The finish line never seemed to come, this partly because the race isn’t really 100 miles it’s more like 103 and believe me those 3 miles are hard! 3 miles at 3% grade at the end of this race took me 30 minutes. As I made the turn on to 6th Ave I looked at my watch I had 15 minutes and I could see the finish line. I climbed up the hill with all the energy I could muster and rode over the red carpet at 12:47. Good enough for a finish and good enough for a medal. No buckle but a finish is a finish. Funnily the bride and groom just came in just before me so I held back in order to not get in their pictures!!
Tom, Clare, Melissa and Eric were there to greet me. I just looked at Eric and burst into tears. I had seriously given all I could give and was done. I think maybe even that tough guy shed a tear or two. Since, they announced me as Gillian Forsyth from California none of the others recognized that I had crossed. I saw the group, already showered and looking fresh and flagged them down; they had been waiting for me. Robbie, Mike, Kris, Carlos – they waited. In my disgusting sweaty dirty mess Robbie gave me the biggest hug and told me how proud he was. He said you will remember this day for the rest of your life. It is so true. You couldn’t put a price on how I felt at that moment. The weather turned out great and I wouldn’t have traded that day for the world.
Would I do this again? In a heartbeat. I love Colorado, I loved Leadville and I loved the race.
Not only will I remember the day, I will remember the months of training. It was me and the guys. Me trying always to hang on to the end of the chain of mountain bikes for dear life. There were training rides where I pushed myself farther than I ever thought possible, there were also times when I just said. I can’t keep up but did anyway. I don’t remember a ride where I got back thinking, that I didn’t give it my all. To all the guys in the group, you know who you are, thank you. I will never forget you. To Kris Sudiak the other girl from VQ who did Leadville, thank you for the hug the morning of the race, you are such an inspiration and one hell of a cyclist. This amazing woman actually stopped during the race for ½ hour with a fellow teammate who was injured, she sacrificed her time in order to ensure the safety of another. She still finished in 10:44 by the way. This is how this team worked together. Chris Joyce, Dan Johns and Steve Harrop you all helped me in so many ways. Greg Duckworth who approached me at camp because he saw the fear in my eyes, we both supported each other and took some time to stop for photo ops! Thanks to Dave Wiens for your incredible patience at camp and telling me to trust my 29ers. Mike Peters my coach for helping me keep my head on straight and sending emails with his guidance, support and motivation. I asked that Mike coach me because in May at the end of base camp after 4 days of solid riding and a 20 mile balls to the walls effort on the last day when I sat and wept he understood that it had been a hard 4 days for me and comforted me. I knew it was a special guy who although is a hard core cyclist could still understand what it takes to finish 4 days of cycling for someone like me. Thanks to Robbie and the VQ team for putting this once in a life time event together and once I won him over , provided me with the support and motivation I needed.
Several weeks after we got back from the race I went up to VQ Highland Park to ride with the group. Afterwards, Robbie, Mike and Noda took me into the office and presented me with an awesome gift. Robbie was so genuinely proud of me that I finished and spoke some very kind words which I will take with me to future races.
Thanks again to everyone for your support through the entire ordeal, for all the kind words I received via text and Facebook, they meant so much to me. Thanks to Melissa and Clare for making the trip to cheer me on. Thanks to Tony Apuzzo for your patience and taking the time to ride with me in Boulder/Breck. Thanks to Tom for putting up with my crazy antics and my crazy training schedule.
If you have made it this far, I ask that you send your prayers out to Katie whose strength during her chemotherapy treatments as she battles this terrible disease is undeniably a million times tougher than doing any race. Do not take your life or your health for granted.