Yes to the Leadville Jitters: Aspire to Do Epic Stuff

Today I find out if I have to dig deep in August. 

Thousands of nut jobs enter the lottery to get in to the Leadville Trail 100 MTB each year, and this year, against my better judgement,  I threw my name in, too.  I’m both excited and worried that I might “win” the lottery. If I do get in, i’m sure I’ll have to go pretty far into my suitcase of courage to get through it.  If I don’t get in, I’ll chalk it up to bad luck and commit to being the best crew member/driver/helper I can  be for my friends who do get in. 

The lottery results are announced today and the time for being ambivalent will be over.  I’ll have to get off the fence and commit one way or another. 

The Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race is one of intimidating monuments of endurance cycling: 103 miles on an out-and-back course covering 10,000 feet of climbing at altitude in the Rockies.  It is 10-12 hours of pain for most racers, a steady mix of grinding trails, harder climbing, and a battle with the dark-side voices in your head. 

I’ve done the race before. After wondering about it for years I finally got in via lottery in 2018. I went with a group of 4 other guys and we all got the portfolio of experiences we were seeking, good and bad. In a lot of ways, the 2018 ride was a peak life experience. I can’t believe I really did it. It seemed almost out of reach before I got to the line. So, completing it created a sense of pride and satisfaction, relief that the plan came together.

But, did I need to do it again?  I wasn’t convinced, yet I said “yes” to adventure and challenge. So, here I am, the day of  the lottery, wondering and waiting and worrying. 

In my heart of hears, I know I really want to take it on one last time. 

I know it’s going to hurt a lot. The ride is just really hard on a middle aged body. 12 hours on the bike is never easy at any rate or on any surface. I remember seeing people crossing the finish line all hunched over from the pain, their backs and arms seizing up with cramps. I’ll have blisters and raw skin in places you wouldn’t expect and I’ll be sore for a week afterwards.  In 2018, coming over the finish line, I was sure I’d be a “one and done” rider. Despite all that, I’m still hoping to get in. 

One one hand, it’s just a bike ride. A stupid long one that is expensive and irrationally hard. With all the craziness in the world right now, it could be seen as a gross indulgence to spend that kind of time and energy on a group ride to the top of the hill and back. On, the other hand,  what better way for  a middle aged laptop jockey like me to remind himself what his body is capable of? Epically stupid bike rides can still be epic challenges. 

Here’s the thing about the epic challenges: They force you to strip away all the bullshit and niceties and civilization. What might have started as a lark – a decision made after the third beer – gets serious really quick. Between now and August 15th, I will need to be committed to a hard plan, and gut my way through a lot of “practice” challenges to make sure I’m ready for the real one. 

To get through ordeals like Leadville, you just have to cut through your rationalizations to the truly primal stuff, you have to go deep down into the basement of your soul and see what’s in there when it’s as hard – physically – as it’s ever been for you. When you take your body to the extreme, your mind and heart have to go along and it becomes a spirit challenge: Do you have it in you or don’t you?  

For me, Leadville was one of those “before & after” experiences. Life “after” my ride in 2018 was more meaningful in ways I’m still trying to understand. I found out some things about myself that I didn’t expect to find and I was surprised at what was revealed (in a good and bad way). 

I’m pretty sure the odds will be in my favor today and I’ll be heading to Leadville to Race on the 15th of August. These things get harder as I get further up the road, but they also become more meaningful. Wish me “luck”!

2 Comments

  1. Sounds like an amazing and grueling ride, Jim! Wishing you luck in both the lottery, and if selected, the ride!

    Enjoyed how you shared the before and after reflections of your experience in 2018.

    Cheers, Andy

    Reply

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