20 years ago this Saturday I rolled to the line in what was the first ever 100 mile mountain bike race. The facts that we were at 10,100' and going to ride to over 12,400' over a distance that seemed unfathomable to me and that it was raining weighed heavily on all 250 or so of us nervously wondering what the hell we were doing here?
The chatter and banter among most of us over the previous day or two, around coffee and then the medical checkin (where we were told in no uncertain terms what the risks and hazards and possibilities of death were) and then at the bar, was simple and straight forward.... Can we do it? Can it be done? How long will it really take? And how much, really, must one suffer to get it done?
All legitimate questions with no true basis or experience for answers. This was the first, the beginning step into a void that has since been filled with legend and lore and incredible examples of perseverance and suffering.
I was 28 years old, full of attitude and anger and fitness and ready to test myself against that which had never yet been done. I was in over my head (and I knew it). And, I was scared shitless! (This was a place I had learned that I liked to be and have since developed a serious infatuation with, both being in over my head and being truly, truly afraid.)
My suffering that day only lasted 9 hours and 22 minutes as I become the 28th person in history to complete the now iconic, now historic, Leadville trail 100 mountain bike race. The fallout though has had a more profound impact on my life then perhaps any other single event in my being. The wheels set in motion that day have since guided me on a path of profound change, deep deep pain, fear and suffering and most importantly a dedicated commitment to sharing my love of sport and fitness and challenging ones self against whatever it takes for you to learn the benefits of stepping outside of what you know you can do into the arena of what you are absolutely scared shitless to even attempt to do! The rewards I've reaped from this continuous personal test and challenge of me against me is a gift that I've since become compelled to share as it has defined who I am (as it has done to others as I have witnessed) and continually improves me as an individual, a father, a son, as a friend and as one man on this planet with the desire of making a positive difference in lives of the people I come in contact with. Ultimately this journey led me to create GECKO and to create races that give athletes all kinds of ways to get uncomfortable while at the same time giving kids scholarships to get uncomfortable too.... For weeks at a time!
My dear friend Mike defines it simply as "getting out of your comfort zone" and it is as simple as that.
Or, so it may seem... I have another friend, who like to remain anonymous, that says, when speaking in the context of some of his incredible accomplishments, (like being one of only a handful of people on the planet to drive a car at over 350 mph.... Yes, 350) that he is Fear-less! I know him well enough to know that in that arena he actually has no fear.... However I also know that he is working extremely hard to prepare himself for his first ever running race, GECKO's Chile Cha Cha 5k in 2 weeks. And I will bet my Leadville big buckle against his 300mph+club hat that come the start of that 5k he will taste that cold metallic steel of fear in the back of his throat. And I will go further in saying that the accomplishment of crossing that finish line will rival any of his car race finishes.
But, I digress.... Back to Leadville 2013 year 20 and my 10th time to line up at a Leadville 100 event...
I admire those around me that come here every year and finish. Many bikers and runners have completed more then 10 or even 15 and one or two even 20 finishes in one of the worlds toughest races. But my story (and this is my story) is different. For me, and I recommend for you, it is about being uncomfortable. Not so much physically, that comes with almost every event. But mentally and emotionally. That is the arena where you get to amaze yourself. Where you get to prove to you (not those around you) who you are and what you are capable of.... And that my friend(s) is where the beauty is. Where you get to make you a better, stronger, happier, more confident, more secure, more gracious you.
Taking my own advice then (and wrapping up this chapter of my story) I chose to roll to the line at Leadville one more time, not with the simple goal of finishing (I've proved to myself many times now that I can do that) not with the goal of my fastest time yet (I've passed that test too improving my time each time I have entered)... If you know me you know I have an admitted love affair with racing in Leadville so I wanted to find a reasons and a personal challenge to do it again.
At the same time I knew that for the experience to be the most rewarding I had to get uncomfortable,,, really uncomfortable.... 20 years later than the first time my comfort zone is pretty vast. With more than 40 years of racing experience, competing in many of the most challenging races on the planet doesn't leave me much room to "scare the shit out of myself" on my turf and in what is essentially my backyard.... It took a little thinking, and then a bit of soul searching because once I hit on the idea I really realized that I was scared, truly about what I was considering. And, of course once I realized I was truly afraid I couldn't resist the challenge.
So here I sit. 20 years and 24 hours away from rolling to the line at the Leadville trail 100. This time with 2,000 brave souls. This time with 2 decades of experience and wisdom. This time with a tired 48 year old body that knows exactly how bad it is going to hurt and how deep the suffering will reach.
This time knowing it can be done. That I will finish it. But, and it's a big but (not literally, my but has always been kinda small) but figuratively, as I've chosen to take this 20th anniversary challenge in the hardest variation possible on a bike. How's that? By riding a single speed bike with no suspension. "Old school" that is even older school then 20 years ago. With more than 14'000' of climbing in the race and long long flats in between when everyone else is shifting back and forth selecting the best of their 20-30 different gear options I will have but one. One that is way to hard to climb the climbs with and way, way to easy to hammer the flats with.... And when it comes to the fun parts, the downhills, the rocky, rutty, gnarly downhills when everyone hoots and hollers and hauls ass on full suspension bikes with 5" of shock absorption, or the "hard cores" with their front suspension only "race bikes" I will be hanging on for dear life. Eyes rattling, kidneys slapping, hands burning, forearms pumping on my solid steel rigid everything little single speed. And just to ensure I don't let the challenge be my crutch. My commitment to myself is that I will do what I have always done and throw down my best time yet.
So, that's my Leadville story and this is my point.
Whatever box you are in get out of it.
Wherever you find comfort pick a spot that is uncomfortable and get in it!
When you feel like you are on top of your game enter a new one. Totally new.
When you find something you love, find ways and angles to love it that keep you motivated, rewarded and focused.
And most important of all... When you are in a spot that you are scared shitless and there is not a porta- potty in sight repeat the sacred Leadville mantra; "You are better then you think you are and you can do more then you think you can".
I absolutely promise you, you are.
Yours in the outdoors,