My 1st Leadville Trail 100 and my 2nd | Endurance Cycling

by John Satory January 24, 2022

When I first learned about the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race, it was from an article in a mountain bike magazine sometime in the mid-'90s, and it was considered one of the top five most challenging mountain bike races in the world. Bike Magazine described the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race as "high, lonesome pain." And I asked myself, why wouldn't I want to do that? Frankly, I do not remember much, if anything, about training for my first LT100 race that was in 1997. But one thing that I know now but didn't know then was that I had no clue what I was getting into. That's for sure!
ic:  The group us us with the RV ready to head to Leadville, Co.

For the race, a group of friends and family went out to Leadville, Colorado. We rented an RV for the 1,400+ mile trip. We loaded up our bikes and gear and headed west. Fortunately, we had my dad and father-in-law with us to help with the driving and race support. We planned to get up to Leadville two days before the event. At the time, there were two philosophies regarding altitude acclimatization; get up to race altitude two days before the event or two weeks prior. Since we didn't have the two weeks or the finances, our only option was the former. We set up camp at Sugar Loafin' Campground, located a few miles west of town Thursday before the race, and settled in. We experienced the storied Ken Chlouber's "It's gonna hurt. You're gonna have to Dig Deep" motivational speech in the auditorium Friday after checking in and a medical check.

The race started early at 6:30 am the following day. It was clear and cold that morning and the sufferfest began at the first climb. I made it down the Powerline descent intact. At about 23 miles in, I met up with Chris K on the pavement section. We were moving at a pretty good pace until another rider saw her crew parked on the left side of the road and, in a split second, without any warning, cut across in front of us and clipped Chris's front wheel, sending both of them to the pavement. She started yelling at Chris as if it was his fault. Chris countered her verbal attack with some choice words. After making sure that Chris was ok, I motored on. Little did I know that Chris had a fractured wrist, but he continued on.
Instead of dredging up the sufferfest that was the next 63+ miles, I'll fast forward to about the 90-mile mark, the Carter Summit mini aid station, a.k.a. the John Satory memorial rest area, where I quit. Located at the top of a 4.6 mile paved climb, around the western point of Turquoise Lake, and shortly after the infamous 7+ mile long/1,300' of ascent Powerline climb, this was where I gave up. I know what you are thinking, "you quit with only 10 miles to go?" Actually, yes and no. The race is, in fact, 103.48 miles. So I quit with only 13.48 miles to go, and I came to realize a few years later that the last 3.48 miles were a sick joke.

ic:  Me in the ER after my first LT100 MTB.  Wrecked.

I ended up getting a ride back to town and ended up in the emergency room at St. Vincent General Hospital. I was diagnosed with high-altitude pulmonary edema and severe dehydration. I was a wreck. The doctor gave me the option of being admitted for the night or getting immediately off the mountain to a lower elevation. I chose the latter since the rest of the group were waiting in the RV, in the parking lot, ready to go. All I can remember of the trip back home was lying in a fetal position in the area above the cab, trying to breathe.
Even after everything that I went through, I wanted to go back and give it another go for some reason. I entered into the lottery again for the next race in 1998. Did I mention that there was a lottery? This lottery was one of the most coveted and most respected. The stories of rejection letters with returned checks were legendary. The lottery effectively leveled the playing field. I remember checking my bank account balance in January to see if my check was deposited. Fortunately, I won the lotto again.
I honestly do not remember much about training, only that I rode and lifted weights more. I incorporated more road riding into my training schedule. As mentioned in a previous post, I competed in the National 24 Hour Challenge, logging 213 miles. I also did some running. A few months after returning from Colorado, I completed the Columbus Marathon at 3:59:00. It shows that you don't have to do traditional marathon training to finish one. I did as much training as possible while balancing a family and running a bike shop.

ic:  Finishing the 1997 Columbus Marathon after no marathon training.

I took a different approach with my second LT100. I stayed with my family at 8000' for five days, and then we worked our way up to Leadville (10,152'), arriving there a couple of days before the race. This time, the cliff notes version of the race was that I made it again to the 90-mile mark and quit. Again. But the silver lining (if there is a silver lining when quitting) is that I didn't end up at the hospital. Afterward, even though I didn't finish the race again, I considered that an improvement. Maybe being up in elevation longer before the race helped? At least I thought so.
So if you are keeping score, I'm 0-2 at not only finishing the LT100 but also finishing under 12 hours for me to get that damn silver belt buckle. Spoiler alert, I make a third attempt three years later. That, my friends, is the topic of the next blog post.

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