My Pity Party

September 11, 2012

The Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race 

My fitness was extraordinary- 9 months of training for my second Leadville 100 mountain bike race.

The Leadville 100 also known as “The Race Across the Sky” started in 1983.  Dave Wiens, Lance Armstrong, Rebecca Rusch, Todd Wells and Levi Leipheimer are all champions. There are thousands of champions who have competed each year for their own glory.  The race draws an international field of athletes who compete for the coveted Silver and Gold Belt Buckle’s.  The race is referred to “The Race Across the Sky” because the course climbs to over 12,000 feet in altitude. Leadville’s elevation is 10,200. For 104 miles the elevation of the race meanders between 10,000 and 12,400 feet. Not only is the race a race of altitude, it is a race of attitude.

In 2011 I completed the race as rookie from the back of the field of 1600 athletes in 9 hours and 33 minutes.  As a “roadie”with a limited skill set as a mountain bike racer and racing the course sight unseen, I was ecstatic with my result and in love with the heartbeat of the race and the community.

For 2012 I was going to break 9 hours and felt that 8 hours and 33 minutes was a stretch but certainly obtainable with the additional focus on my training and the knowledge of the course.  My affirmation was 8:33 is to be!!!!

To reach my goal there were critical splits to reach at each segment of race. My thought was to break the race into parts and succeed at reaching each time split for the overall success of breaking the 9 hour mark.

As I have already mentioned, my fitness was extraordinary. Training rides on and off the Leadville Course with my buddy Steven,  I posted  a 7 year PR on Mount Evans a 28 mile hill climb topping out @ 14,200 feet and in July I completed the 50 mile Silver rush in Leadville, 30 minutes faster than the previous year. I was also now racing under 170 lbs.; these were all positive signs of what I was going to achieve.

My family and friends were all in alignment too. My wife Leslie supported me on my long days away from home and the noisy and sweaty intervals I raced to complete in the dead of winter in our basement.  My brother Stephen also understands endurance racing. He is a mountain goat as a runner and led a group of men to summit Aconcagua in Chile in February of 2010. My mother quietly and unsure of why I was attracted to the event, was encouraging and slightly nervous for her 48 year old son.  My father with his southern accent, another critical supporter and was always wishing me well and offering his prayers on our Sunday morning phone calls.

I confess that rarely in my life have I “put myself out there” always playing a more practical conservative hand.  This was a new behavior, a little risky and exposed with “8:33 is to be”

Other racers, coworkers, face book friends were all aware of my commitment.

As a Life Coach, I know that anything is possible and I coach to this paradigm. I utilized “A Path with Purpose”- a 7 Step process for creating my training plan. This is outlined on my website

Today, 3 weeks after the event, I am writing, I am giddy over my preparation, commitment and support from my family and community.

A 9 hour race or any endurance event or an epic goal in life that is edgy certainly must be honored and respected. Be willing to claim your intention and direct your attention forward toward a successful achievement. The attitude includes being positive and confident but arrogance and disrespect crosses the line and will lead to an unexpected result.  I know now this was the first flaw in my training.  I underestimated the 104 mile course, the amount of energy it would take to race at the altitude and the amount of calories I would need to consume the week leading up to the race and during the race.

“8:33 is to be” was my mantra and that is what was on my mind when the final alarm sounded @ 3:30 AM.  It was a 45 minute drive from Copper Mountain to Leadville and the staging for the starting corral started @ 5 AM.

I had a restless sleep the night before the race.  After falling asleep @ 11:45 the alarm in the condo I had rented sounded @ 12:00 midnight. UGHHH- Part of the restlessness was I must have gotten up to pee 6-8 times that night. Another sign of something flawed. I had been taught that clear urine was a good sign of hydration. I now know that my sodium levels were low and I was not retaining enough liquid.

The big day I had been training for the last 9 months.   I was fit, my weight was down, my attitude was great, and I had tremendous support from my crew. I was going to kill it. “8:33 is to be”

The crew for this event is a critical element. I was lucky to have a veteran, my friend and neighbor David Hornick along with my brother Stephen, my wife and my training partner Steven. The crew provides incredible encouragement before during and after the race. They are up early and stake out locations at the critical aid stations along the course. Specifically Twin Lakes which is said to have 10,000 people supporting and enjoying the race.  Passing through this aid station and hearing the support, cow bells, and encouraging words brings tears to my eyes.

The Twin Lakes aid station is the first significant time split for the race and quite critical to be sure to reload with food and hydration prior to the grueling 10 mile 3,000 foot climb up to the highest point of the race, Columbine Mine at 12,400.

Ricky McDonald-an 18 year finisher-

Ride conservatively at the beginning, every minute you ride too hard in the beginning will cost you 5 minutes by the time you get to the Columbine climb”

I arrived at Twin Lakes on schedule @ 2 hours and 49 minutes, but I felt emotionally depleted and empty. Physically, I was already on the edge. My smile was absent and I was concerned about my day ahead.  I was challenged to find my crew and once I did, I felt rushed and disconnected. I wanted to hug my wife and acknowledge my crew but my will to do so was also absent.  I rolled out of the Twin Lakes aid station on schedule but there was something very eerie about my departure. I felt empty both emotionally and physically.  I had lost my perspective on the race and the day and the grace and euphoria I experienced in my rookie year had disappeared.  I felt alone and scared.

40 miles and 3 hours into a 100 mile day I was out of gas.  Reality hit me. Shit! What happened?  How could this be?  I did everything for the last 9 months to achieve my goal. This could not be happening to me. Desperation started as I tried to eat and drink more to avoid the crash I was experiencing. I was going backwards on the climb to Columbine. I lost over 200 spots and was consumed in my pity party for over 2 hours. My day was done.  “8:33 is to be” was now a dream for another year. I wanted to crawl behind a tree and cry. I was disappointed, discouraged and flat.

It is amazing what went through my mind for the 3 hours it took me to return to my crew @ Twin Lakes. The course is an out and back which means I would return to my crew @ Twin Lakes on the inbound route to Leadville.  Maybe I will have a mechanical, a flat tire, crashing is a possible way out of the hell I was experiencing. The darkness and self-pity I was experiencing was now my biggest challenge. My race was to overcome the darkness and limitations I was experiencing. I wanted to quit, I wanted to pull over and scream to everyone that I trained my ass off and this “should” not be happening to me.  I enrolled my family, friends and crew in my “8:33 is to be” and just over half way through the race it was not realistic to achieve.   FUCK!!!!

I know now what I was experiencing was perfect for me and an amazing metaphor for life.

I  rolled into Twin Lakes still depleted and empty but something had shifted emotionally for me. I was experiencing gratitude and humility and did get to hug my wife. My crew knew I was spent and that something powerful and extraordinary would have to be created by me to finish.  My brother, screamed to me, “Get your head on straight.”  Leaving the Twin Lakes aid station I wrestled with what he meant.

The rest of the race was extraordinary. I found my groove and I was grateful for my fitness and training. I began to encourage others and my pity part was over. I was still tested and tired for the remaining 40 miles but I was able to generate the joy that initially inspired me to ride my bike @ age 7.

Life offers us all opportunities to be tested. A race, a relationship, a career, a project or any goal can be an opportunity to watch how we show up when things get off track.

I was unconscious during my pity party. It does not matter why, altitude or physical exhaustion I was not able to create an alternative perspective and lift myself out of the darkness. The result of my limitation impacted my day and attitude during my race. My family was worried about me and I was not having fun. Once “I got my head on straight” the darkness lifted and I started smiling and having fun again.

I believe these challenging moments show up at exactly the perfect time to offer our character opportunities for rich and tangible growth.

The Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race is a life event.  Life events offer us opportunities to gain perspective and either cave to the challenge or elevate and harvest the golden nuggets present.

Although I was ultra-prepared for my race physically, as a second year athlete, there was a flare of disrespect and arrogance. I underestimated what fuel would be required by my body to successful complete a 100 mile mountain bike race at the highest altitudes in world.  After 9 months of training it came down to three judgment errors:

1)     I did not respect the race and the course and underestimated my fuel and sodium requirements.

2) I lost my smile and perspective and why I loved to ride my bike.

3) I took my splits too serious and went out too fast.

“Ride conservatively at the beginning, every minute you ride too hard in the beginning will cost you 5 minutes by the time you get to the Columbine climb”      

                                                          Ricky McDonald

The learning was painful and my ego was bruised.  I rolled into the finish @ Leadville @ 4:12 PM which was 9hours and 42 minutes after the 6:30 AM start. A twinge of disappointment started back in as my Stephen, Leslie and the rest of my crew welcomed and congratulated me.  I greeted the disappointment with a tear and a smile and realized the psychotic nature of the feeling.  The pity party was over and the incredible nature of the accomplishment and the joy and grace of the completion was finally present for me.

The integration of the day flowed into my consciousness for a few days.  I believe the nature of the event and the challenges created by the length of the race and the altitude magnified my learning’s.

The irony is the physiological components that I failed to handle offered me the psychological and emotional golden nuggets for the day.

1)      Create strategic partners and draw upon mindfulness to elevate and lift awareness to avoid hours, days, months or years in self-pity and victim consciousness.

2)     Continue to pedal or take forward action to move through the darkness and limited perspectives. Be open to the learning’s and the experiences.

3)     Reveal joy, grace and appreciation when challenged with life’s events. Smile and hug your loved ones. Move your attention away from yourself and be in service to others.

I will compete in the Leadville 100 in August 2013 and I will re-member the learning’s and riches from my 2012 race. I intend to break 9 hours and dance with my Gold Belt Buckle and know that is not what will define me as a man, husband, friend, son or brother. I look forward to the challenge and the learning’s that will be revealed so I can integrate them into my life and share them with you.