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Cheslog conquers Leadville MTB Race

"If you’re looking for a big opportunity, seek out a big problem." - H. Samuel Brown

It was freezing outside and the ground covered with a lot of Minnesota snow when I watched the live lottery selection for the 2018 Leadville MTB race. I had put my name in the lottery for the Leadville MTB race with little or no expectations for being selected. I, much like everyone else never win anything and then I got the big surprise. As my name scrolled up, my heart and bank account went down, I had been lucky or unlucky depending on how this deal turned out. 

Leadville said to me, ‘you wanted a big opportunity, well here’s a big problem for you to solve’. We have 103 miles with 12,000 of climbing at altitudes that you have never experienced. I began watching YouTube videos about the race, talking to some friends that had raced it and then I really began to understand what I had gotten myself in to. I have raced a few long-distance events, including a 24-hour race, but the climbing and thin air was going to be a new challenge. Well ‘buckle up buttercup and deal with it, if you want to finish this race come August’.

I was fortunate enough to go to Leadville and pre-ride the course with some very good riders who have finished the race in previous years and earned their Leadville buckles. The first two days of pre-riding the course was fun with no real issues but on the third day the reality of this opportunity began to set in. I began to feel the effects of the altitude. The first climb that you experience on the Leadville course during the actual race is the St. Kevin’s climb. It is a series of short, punching climbs that during the third day of the pre-ride I found myself walking while the others continued to climb. Real doubts began to set in as I continued to learn the course and climbed Sugarloaf and descended the infamous Powerline. 

This is where I began to learn more about myself and really started on my journey to solving the problem of Leadville. Do I go back up the Powerline and finish the ride or do I stop and soft pedal back to our host home? Within a half of a mile of my decision to suffer, I found myself hiking my bike back up the Powerline and questioning the wisdom of my choice. Is this really something that I can do or am I going to come back here in August surrounded by 1,500 other racers and fail? If I don’t finish this race what am I going to say to my family and friends? What big problem did I get myself into?

5, 4, 3, 2, 1, shotgun blast (yes, a real shotgun, remember this is Leadville) and we are underway in Leadville. The morning temperature is about 25 and the Windchill is much lower than that due to the race starting with a big downhill section with speeds topping 30 mph. I found myself freezing with thoughts that this is a lot like Fat Bike racing in Minnesota. I hate being cold. Unlike the pre-ride I was looking forward to the St. Kevin’s climb, not only to prove that I could get myself up it without walking, but just to push the heart rate up and thaw out.

The Greek poet Archilochus wrote that ‘we don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training’. It is a sweet moment when you realize that the level of your expectations converges and intersects with your training. Riding up St. Kevin’s and passing on the left while many riders were hiking a bike on the right brought a smile to my face. I knew right then I had the buckle, I just had to ride my race and be me.

Racing my bike over the past 3 years has taught me a lot about cycling and life in general. One of the mantra’s that I remind myself of each race is ‘let it pass and be here’. Whenever I get to a large climb I recognize that if I keep pushing forward I will get to the top and then comes my favorite part, the fast and furious descent. But that doesn’t last either and soon enough you find yourself climbing again. Understanding it is enough to just ‘be here’ and enjoy the sweet ride that is right in front of you, regardless if you are going uphill or in the fast lane.

Leadville is a unique place that offers some unique challenges, but slowly and surely you put them all in your rearview, you get the wave onto 6th street from a volunteer, note the hospital off to your right, take a moment to be grateful that you did not end your day there, and then turn your attention to what matters. Just ahead barely visible beyond the crush of well-wishers is the red carpet, a strip of fabric that confirms that this is a big damn deal. You soak it in and straighten your jersey, its nothing but high fives, fist bumps, and smiles now (also a finishing wheeling). As you hit the line and unleash your finishing flourish they call your name, the moment is yours, there are videos and photos to prove it, but you know that a person cannot earn the coveted buckle without help. Whether it is family, a coach, friends, a great bike shop with mechanics that allow you to race and not worry about your equipment, volunteers at aid stations, other riders to share a few pedal stokes with during a moment of suffering or some stranger with a sign that makes you smile, it all adds up helping you be successful in a journey.

I was able to have a big opportunity and solve a big problem, not alone but with a lot of help. Thanks to everyone that was a part of my Leadville buckle. Next up…Breck Epic, what can I say I love getting myself into trouble.